Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Welfare Matrix; a modest proposal

 The Welfare Matrix; a modest proposal


          What becomes of society’s losers? Jared Diamond asked a similar question; what becomes of the losers of tribal warfare? He found three solutions. For sparcely-populated hunter-gatherer societies (politically-incorrectly called ‘savage’), the losers are driven off the land, to starvation or more marginal land or dispossessing someone else. For middling-density pre-state agricultural societies (‘barbarians’), the losers are exterminated, down to the last woman and child.  And for high-density state-dominated farming societies (‘empires’), the losers are enslaved.

          These three solutions translate to the modern criminal code. The savage ‘Jacksonian’ solution is exile; the barbaric ‘Hitlerian’ solution is capital punishment; and the imperial ‘Pharaonic’ solution is imprisonment. But are these the only alternatives?

          The Romans experimented with another solution; bread and circuses. The idea was to keep potential trouble-makers too well fed and entertained to desire revolt. It’s a drain on the imperial economy, but less than revolt is, so it’s a sound insurance policy; an investment in public order. How would this translate to the modern age?

          I propose the “Welfare Matrix”. It would work this way: when one of the losers of society’s internal wars needs Welfare money, he has to put on the virtual-reality helmet and go into the Matrix, where the Welfare Bureaucracy resides. So instead of standing in endless lines in a brick-and-mortal building, you stand in endless lines in a virtual building. There will be video-game characteristics built in - you have to zap demon attacks, first-person shooter stuff like that - just to keep people busy and venting their frustrations. The Matrix is hard enough that you have to work all day for the Welfare, and the Welfare is stingy enough that you never get off the Matrix.

            This suggests the question; are we already in the Welfare Matrix without knowing it? Given endless virtual work for virtual pay? 


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The James Brown Bill, A Modest Proposal

 The James Brown Bill

A Modest Proposal


          On December 26, 2006, I was driving south on I-280, with my daughter in the back seat. We passed Colma, and the big flag there was at half-mast.

           Over the noise of traffic, I called back to my daughter, “See that flag? It’s at half-mast; and that is in honor of someone who died recently. Now it happens that recently two well-known people died; Gerald Ford and James Brown. Gerald Ford was the President of the United States; an important politician; and James Brown was the Godfather of Soul; a great musician. Now the usual story is that the flag is at half-mast in honor of the President, and James Brown happened to die the previous day.  But as far as I am concerned, it is the other way around. That flag is at half-mast in honor of the Godfather of Soul, and Gerald Ford happened to die the next day! That is my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

           Hannah listened to this quietly. She’d heard this sort of thing from me before.

           And it’s true; I’d rather live in a country where flags fly at half-mast for the Godfather of Soul. In keeping with this vision, accidentally realized on that day, I here propose a new system of honoring Americans on the coins and currency. I suggested that we honor more than dead Presidents, and expand the gallery to poets, inventors, scientists and other valuable citizens.

           Here is an example of what I suggest:


          On the 1 dollar bill and the 1 cent coin we honor Presidents:

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln


 On the 2 dollar bill we honor Actors:

Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn


On the 5 dollar bill and the 5 cent coin we honor Athletes:

Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Jesse Owens


On the 10 dollar bill and the 10 cent coin we honor Poets:

Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost


On the 20 dollar bill and the 25 cent coin we honor Inventors:

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Jonas Salk


On the 50 dollar bill we honor Writers:

Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway


On the 100 dollar bill and the 50 cent coin we honor Scientists:

Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman


On the 500 dollar bill we honor Philosophers:

William James, Ralph Emerson


On the 1000 dollar bill and the 100 cent coin we honor Musicians:

Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, James Brown


I put popular musicians over philosophers, and presidents at the bottom, because I think that’s an apt description of American values. There are up to three of each denomination. Get them all! Later of course we could expand the list.

 Note that having a 1-dollar coin would be a cheap way for a poor person to have an Armstrong or a Presley or a Brown, for which you’d need 1000 dollars, in a bill.

 Who would you recommend for third position for Scientists and Philosophers? And what changes to the other categories? The intended theme is iconic achieving Americans.




Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Federal Receipt, a Modest Proposal

The Federal Receipt

a Modest Proposal


I propose that there be a Federal Receipt. This Receipt is to be mailed to each taxpayer soon after April 15; detailing, for each taxpayer, both taxes received, and how much of those funds went to which federal program. It would look something like this:



Dear Joe Blow:

We got from you:

Income tax:                  $ X

Social Secuity:             $ X

other taxes:                  $ X

total:                            $ X


We will spend that on:

Interest payments:       $ X

Social Security:           $ X

Medicare:                   $ X

Medicaid:                   $ X

DOD:                           $ X

... (many more) ...

Total:                            $ X


Difference = deficit:    $ X



The spending receipt entries will equal total taxes taken, times respective fractions of the federal budget. How far to break it down is a matter of politics. Let’s say, just enough detail to cover a side of a page. No doubt the political parties will quarrel over details. The point is to clarify and demystify. Let the general public be more accurately aware of our nation’s true budgetary priorities. Such a receipt will, for instance, dispel the popular illusion that NASA or foreign aid are major programs in federal terms.


Monday, March 28, 2022

Political Information Dilemmas

 Political Information Dilemmas


          American education poses a dilemma for those who run the political system, namely; shall the people learn or not? If the people do not learn, then they become unproductive and the economy collapses; but if the people do learn, then they become productive but out of control. Indeed, the more they learn, the more they want to take over!

          Recent history gives vivid illustration of this dilemma. In the 60’s, we saw the post-Sputnik initiative. What was the result? By the end of the decade, Americans were walking on the moon, and rioting in the campuses! In 1980, an anti-intellectual was elected President, and a different attitude towards education took hold. The result? Much more political stability, but decades of stagnant median income. 

          Explosion or collapse? The ideal solution, from the 1% point of view, is a kind of golden mediocrity, where education teaches the masses just enough to work, and not enough to make trouble. The trouble is that the lines sometimes cross, and you need to know more to work than you need to make trouble; then mediocrity gives everyone trouble but no work.

          60’s or 80’s? In the 60’s, America went to the Moon. In the 80’s, America went to Hell. All in all I prefer the Moon.

          Snowden and Assange have taught us that there is a similar dilemma concerning secrecy. If internal communications of secretive agencies are not censored, then the agency risks exposure by leak; but if internal communications are censored, then the agency becomes stupid. As in the education dilemma, the operators and owners of the system face a choice between controlled collapse into stupidity and uncontrolled ascent into rebellion; and as in the education dilemma, golden mediocrity fails when the lines cross, and it becomes easier for a disgruntled agent to rebel than to report.

          In both cases information flow is a problem. From the 1% point of view, information is a kind of explosive lubricant; if it doesn’t flow, then the system seizes up, but if it does flow, then the system blows up. Golden mediocrity fails when revolt is simpler than labor.

          There is a deeper problem, and it is political. Why the revolt of the informed public? Because knowledge gives power, and refutes excuses.



Friday, March 25, 2022

On Hoplodementia

       On Hoplodementia


The suffix “hoplo-” means “weapon”. This suggests words; “hoplophobia”, meaning fear of weapons; “hoplophilia”, meaning love of weapons; and “hoplodementia”, meaning mindlessness about weapons.

          Our plague of armed murderous beta-males is a clear instance of such mindlessness, but I think the mindlessness is far more widespread that that. Consider for instance Ben Carson’s lame-o brag that we all should rush the next shooter, for that is what he would do. Except that when he was stuck-up at a Popeyes, he said, “I believe you want that man behind the counter”. Many have mocked his cravenness at that moment, but I don’t mind; it was a rational cowardice; what I object to was his idiotic braggadocio.

          The thing is, not only is hoplophobia rational; not only does it obey natural instincts honed by megayears of evolution; on top of that, hoplophobia respects the purpose of weapons! You are supposed to be scared of weapons! That’s the point of weapons; inspiring fear is what they’re for! (Or failing that, leaving behind a pile of corpses.) To fail to express hoplophobia is to express hoplodementia! Carson managed to do both.

          The open-carry people also express hoplodementia. They don’t get why most people react to their strutting with horror and revulsion. They say, we just want people to get used to the sight of weapons. Used to them?! If the open-carry clowns were death-cult terror gangsters lording it over cringing disposable untermenchen, then they’d be making sense. Evil sense, but sense. But as is, they are not even aware of the vile figure that they cut.

          Or how about the nukes? Including specifically the nuclear power plants. The original bomb-makers passed over the thorium cycle for the plutonium cycle, precisely because the thorium cycle is useless for building devices that can kill a million people in a fraction of a second. (The thorium cycle makes plutonium contaminated with a gamma-emitter; this is hazardous to work with, it messes up electronics, and reveals its presence to the enemy.) So the existing ‘civilian’ nukes were weapons-feeders from the beginning. The nuclear technicians are well aware of this, yet they are miffed that the civilian populace is scared of their nuclear power plants. They blame Greenpeace, superstition, technophobia... everything but whom they see in the mirror.

          And as for the bombs themselves; the entire Cold War was hoplodemented. It was thermonuclear superpower state terrorism, designed to remind everyone at all times that our lives were worthless, meaningless, disposable at a moment’s notice. It was a crime against humanity, a crime against the very idea of humanity. Under the Cold War, nobody was any better than a speck of dirt; and that was the foundation of world order!

          Luckily for us all, Gorby was slightly saner than Ronnie, so he walked away from that cozy arrangement. The nukes remain, and with them their moral rot, but they are seen as an embarrassment; a vulgar explicit admission of the insane nature of state power; its unworthiness to exist, for look what it relies upon.

          With the end of the Cold War, all that slave-conditioning had to go somewhere. It did not escape my notice that the World Trade Center site was called “Ground Zero” after 9/11; but frankly I find a crotch-bomber to be unimpressive compared to Stalin’s 10,000 hell-bombs.

          And now the nation’s having a fit of gun dementia. There’s the beta-boyz; and also there’s the shoot-first cops. But I’ll give the Blue Gang this much self-awareness; they’re defensive about their crimes because they know that they’re in the wrong.


Addendum: Hoplodemented Foreign Policy


America’s foreign policy is also hoplodemented, at least amongst the so-called hawks. Dropping bombs is their first, second and last solution to any overseas problem, large or small. But their actual record of solving those problems is slim to none; in fact their bomb-dropping generally makes the problems bigger, so of course that requires more bomb-dropping. A positive feedback loop; hoplodementia in action.


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Nuclear Blatancy Day, a Modest Proposal

 Nuclear Blatancy Day, a Modest Proposal


          I have concerns about the political dangers of a standing nuclear army; yet I also agree that SAC’s power to destroy civilization should not be in the hands of recruits. How, then, do we reconcile citizen armies with nuclear technology?

          Jonathan Schell offers a partial solution in his book, “The Abolition”, which proposes that the USA become a “latent” nuclear power; that is, that it dismantle all actual nuclear bombs, but retain (and indeed strengthen) its ability to swiftly build those bombs. We keep the know-how and the infrastructure and the fissile materials, but hold off on building the accursed things unless we need them right away. You could call it just-in-time civicide; like taking the bullet out of the rifle over the fireplace. Nuclear latency is purified deterrence; a way for America to say to the world that we don’t feel like killing a million people today, so don’t make us want to. 

          I like Schell’s idea, but I think it’s incomplete. It’s too rational, it lacks the aura of apocalyptic histrionics so natural to all things nuclear. I therefore offer the following modest proposal: Nuclear Blatancy Day. It’ll work like this:

          Every Presidential election year, college and high school students across the country submit their bomb designs. The winning entries are cast into metal and chips (but no explosives and fissile materials, of course) and sent to the Nevada Test Range. There the bombs are loaded with plutonium from the armory, and lowered deep underground.

          The contestants arrive, and their families, and technicians, and generals, and reporters, and Presidential candidates, and foreign dignitaries. Also on hand are marching bands (pro-bomb) and satirical giant-puppet troupes (anti-bomb). Both groups are welcomed as essential components of the inherently mixed message being sent that day.  The Presidential candidates speak blandly of the People’s Bomb; the grandmother from Hiroshima pleads passionately for peace.

          The countdown starts. Five, four, three, two, one, zero! Suddenly new craters collapse in the Nevada desert. The marching bands cheer, the puppeteers boo, and the foreign dignitaries look at each other nervously. Technicians announce yields; the winning contestants get scholarships and job offers; and the dignitary from Japan quietly tells the other dignitaries that these Americans are indeed as crazy as they look, so don’t mess with them!

          The preceding three paragraphs are satire; but they are a satire that would work. It’s absurd, but slightly less absurd than what already exists. I offer it as my fulsome praise, and also my excoriating critique, of America and civilization and the entire human race.


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

On Nuclear Corruption

 On Nuclear Corruption


I suspect (well, actually, I hope against hope) that all nuclear weapons systems, worldwide, are deeply corrupt. You may call that wishful thinking, but my reasoning is material and secular. If you threaten everyone’s lives, then some people might act out.

For instance, what motivation has a bomb-maker for paying 1 cent extra, or 1 ruble extra, to make sure that the nuke will go boom? They’d be in legal trouble if it didn’t, but if nukes were being dropped, then lawsuits would be the least of their worries.

My friend Stan Tenen, recently deceased, once told me that during the Cold War, he stood up at a board meeting, for a defense corporation, and said, “Gentlemen, you know that the device we’re contracted to build is supposed to do something physically impossible. You know this.” They replied, “Yes, we know that, but we signed the contract, and we will deliver the product.” That was when Stan started to drift away from corporate technocracy to visualizing Kabballah in four dimensions. Nerds gotta nerd, but corruption is corruption.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The trouble with uploading


The trouble with uploading your mind into a computer (or into a clone, or whatever) is that the qualia get swapped around. Your experience of blue, red and green in your new body might not be the same as in your old. Ditto with the tastes; sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami get shuffled. High vs. low pitches might reverse.


You get used to it, eventually, but it’s never the same.