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Dave Cohen
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Interests: evolution, energy, the economy, climate, astrobiology, music, paleontology, culture
Recent Activity
A few links, one graph and some music. What Would Hunter Thompson Do? (not the actual title, Counterpunch, hilarious, must read). A trucker explains why we Americans are totally fucked (Vox interviewer doesn't get it) NPR celebrates the DNC (Hillary hagiography, fawning, suck up, brown-nose, ass-kissing, have a bucket handy) The DNC was one big corporate bribe (The Intercept, lots of disgusting details, bucket again) Our Next Secretary of the Treasury? (The Intercept again, "shadow banking" is such an ugly term) Meanwhile, our phony economy is limping right along, but Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are the only thing the... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Decline of the Empire
The Huffington Post tells the story Democrats want us to internalize. Their front page title for that story is The Audacity of Hope. Optimism versus pessimism. Hope versus despair. Light versus dark John Cassidy at The New Yorker quotes Obama to the same effect. What came out of Cleveland “wasn’t particularly Republican—and it sure wasn’t conservative,” Obama continued. Rather, it was “a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems—just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Decline of the Empire
This week we've got the DNC. The big news (today) is that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been forced to resign her position as party chair because a Wikileaks e-mail release shows that the party apparatus supported Hillary and opposed Bernie all the way. And since that Wikileaks break-in was apparently carried out by officially encouraged (if not sanctioned) Russian hackers, the even bigger news is that Vladimir Putin is attempting to influence the American election by sabotaging the Democrats. If Putin wants to hack hypocritical Democrats, more power to him. The problem I have with this recent coverage is the... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Elizabeth Warren campaigned to be Hillary's VEEP pick in the last few months, which I thought was sad and pathetic. And had she been plucked from the Senate, where she's actually done some good, that would have been sadder still. But there was no need to worry about the defanging of Warren. Hillary picked Virginia senator Tim Kaine, who was waging his own more effective campaign for the office. Tim certainly knows how to get on Hillary's good side. On Monday, Kaine signed onto two letters, one to federal banking regulators and the other to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Decline of the Empire
The usual disclaimer — we don't make this stuff up. Weekend open thread. These are headlines which are often different from the underlying URL. That means somebody in charge stepped in and changed them. Donald Trump and the Dark Soul of the GOP (Mother Jones) His Tone Dark, Donald Trump Takes G.O.P. Mantle (New York Times) Donald Trump's Dark Vision (Bloomberg) Donald Trump Takes America on a Journey to the Dark Side (NBC) Donald Trump's Dark Dark Convention Speech (New Yorker) It’s Donald Trump’s Party Now (Huffington Post, quote below) Clinton’s campaign and supportive super PACs, meanwhile, sent out dozens... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
This is a brief follow-up to Bad Climate News Keeps Pouring In (April 8, 2016). That one was about observed negative effects of cloud feedbacks on climate sensitivity. Now, a new study released last week in the journal Nature yields more bad news about the role of clouds in global warming. This is not unexpected. I'll quote the end of the Slate story about the finding. Taken in context with other recent studies, the new results show the net effect of climate change on clouds could in fact be to encourage warming, in contrast to the consensus from just a... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Commenting on second marriages, Samuel Johnson, who is quoted by his biographer James Boswell in 1791, called them the "triumph of hope over experience." It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone since that this wonderful phrase expresses a fundamental insight into the human condition. A recent article by James Lind reminds us of why this is true. It's called Our Greatest Enemy: Optimism — why optimistic groupthink is a threat to humanity. I couldn't agree more. In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
New polls indicate that Hillary and Donald are basically deadlocked, even in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. This virtual tie follows the disgraceful corruption which let Hillary walk in the wake of that e-mail server nonsense Just now, in The Atlantic, a mainstay of the elite media, I read the following: The collapse of [Hillary's] credibility was totally predictable, and totally avoidable. That makes Clinton’s actions particularly galling to Americans like me, who would never vote for Trump but who don’t want to condone her conduct; who don’t know whether they can trust her; and who now face... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
In the last year or so there has been a spate of articles by liberal economists exploring the causes of and possible solutions to declining productivity and increasing inequality in the United States. Not only has economic growth been anemic, but what growth we've gotten has not been inclusive, which means the top earners continue to receive an outsized share of the income gains as they have for the past 35 years. I'll provide some links at the end of this post for those who want explore these issues further. The basis of Bernie's campaign was that the U.S. economy... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Last week two unarmed black men were killed by white police officers for no reason at all. A few days ago, a black man and ex-military man named Micah Xavier Johnson shot and killed five police officers sniper-style at a black protest march in Dallas, Texas. There is more than ample evidence that Johnson had become completely unhinged before his attack on Dallas police officers. In short, there is ample evidence that Micah Xavier Johnson's big brain had gone haywire. In the wake of all this, humans have once again become very, very confused. Here is only one example among... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The other day I wrote a post which introduced implicit bias, which is usually used in connection with racial bias (humans have an unconscious, automatic bias against other humans who are a different color). In fact, I was taken aback when I heard the term "implicit bias" on the radio this morning. And the reason I write stuff like that is because that stuff is visible in "Flatland" every day. In the last few days, two white police officers killed two black people for no good reason. At the end of the day, that was implicit bias. Then a guy—presumably... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I was reading about student debt slaves (Reveal News, June 28, 2016). 42 million people owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. It’s a profit center for Wall Street and the government. Here’s how we got into this mess... Step by step, Congress has enacted one law after another to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans – and the best kind for banks and debt collectors. Today, just about everyone involved in the student loan industry makes money off students – the banks, private investors, even the federal government. Follow the link if you want the gruesome... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The progressive website Naked Capitalism provides a links page everyday which I have found useful lately in so far as this has been an Outstanding Year in Flatland (see most of the posts I've written in the past 6 months.) Today's links include an excellent article called What Liberalism Has Become. That article cited an Amazon review of Thomas Frank's new book Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened To the Party of the People? The theme in all cases is that classic Democratic "liberals" actually represent and embody America's elites. No argument here. In fact, that's been a major revelation... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
For the sake of discussion, I am simply going to assume these consequences of Interpretive Sensory-Access (ISA) theory as discussed at Aeon— The ISA theory has some startling consequences. One is that (with limited exceptions), we do not have conscious thoughts or make conscious decisions. For, if we did, we would be aware of them directly, not through interpretation. The conscious events we undergo are all sensory states of some kind, and what we take to be conscious thoughts and decisions are really sensory images – in particular, episodes of inner speech. These images might express thoughts, but they need... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I want to explain a few things. As regular DOTE readers know, I don't believe that humans are exercising "free will" because there is no such thing. Thus I am a determinist. Now, when we think about "free will" we (and researchers) naturally think about individuals—his brain, or her brain or, more rarely, my brain. On the other hand, I've also arrived at the conclusion that the most important stuff going on in the unconscious mind is social in nature. Social instincts (like harmonizing) are hard-wired and therefore wholly automatic, just like fight or flight, negativity bias and many other... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
In the wake of the Brexit, we're hearing a lot about xenophobia and calls for a second referendum, but we're not hearing much about the UK economy since the financial meltdown in 2008. My view is that prosperous people do not rock the boat. Prosperous people favor the status quo. So it behooves us to look at macroeconomic trends in the UK. Since 2008, the real wage data is dismal (pdf). So is house affordability. You can review those documents if you like, but we can get a real feel for what's going on in Why UK wages aren't growing... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The neoliberal, globalized "world order" we've been hearing about for years is now falling apart. There is Brexit hysteria everywhere. Elites are panicking. The people have spoken! That's the last thing elites wanted to happen. NPR actually did us a service today by interviewing Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in political theory at Harvard University and a fellow at New America. I subsequently found a recent article by him called Illiberal Democracy or Undemocratic Liberalism? (Project Syndicate, June 6, 2016). That's where I got the title. Take it away, Yascha! CAMBRIDGE – How did it come to this? In the space... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I recently exchanged e-mails with a new reader "Peter" who sent me the following thoughtful note. I came across your blog today by accident and just want to express my enjoyment of a well-written and well-researched series of posts that contain a great deal of sensible commentary rather than the too-frequent empty rantings one generally encounters across the 'Net. I tried to subscribe to your blog via my Facebook profile but unfortunately encountered a fatal TypePad error. I'll try again later and see if I can successfully subscribe. My own intellectual interests and concerns overlap with yours to a significant... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
A long time ago—it seems like a long time ago to me—I published Jeremy Jackson's short lecture How we wrecked the ocean. Now, five years later, I see that Jackson received a lifetime achievement award by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. I've embedded his acceptance speech below. You will recognize many DOTE themes in his remarks, especially near the end. Listen for his reference to his "pollyannish" wife as he talks about fixing our wrecked oceans. At least, I hope you will recognize DOTE themes in his remarks. I'm not feeling optimistic about that or anything else lately. For good... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I ran across an article by Jacob Burak called Humans are wired for negativity, for good or ill (Aeon, September 4, 2014). This short essay is worth considering. I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first? If it’s bad news, you’re in good company — that’s what most people pick. But why? Negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives. Farewells, accidents, bad parenting, financial losses and even a random snide comment take up most of our psychic space, leaving little... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I have seen some stuff lately (e.g., here) which has re-stimulated my interest in the Flatland model of how the human mind works. I don't know how long my new-found interest will last, but my intention is to start posting about it again. Much to my surprise, there is indeed a theory of mind out there which is compatible with (part of) the Flatland model, and even fleshes it out a bit. That part rests crucially on what researchers call confabulation. Even when we think we are making rational choices and decisions, this may be illusory too. The intriguing possibility... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Make no mistake about it, humans are hard-wired to worry about other humans and the shit they do. Not many humans worry about coral reefs. So here at the outset, I want to praise the few who want to save the reefs. I'm talking about anthropocentrism here. On the other hand, in other respects, those few who worry about coral reefs are just like everybody else. They want to be hopeful. They need causes for optimism to keep them going. A new Nature study purports to give them reasons to carry on. For those who study and want to preserve... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I've watched and enjoyed the first two Hunger Games movies, and seen clips from the third and fourth movies. These movies tell a simple but compelling story—there is a rich capital served by twelve poor outlying districts. The whole is called Panem. The districts eventually rebel, a young woman (ultra-talented Jennifer Lawrence) becomes the symbolic leader of the resistance, and there is civil war pitting the districts against the elite capital. You can guess the rest. During the fictional Hunger Games, two children are chosen randomly from each district every year to fight to the death in a high-tech arena.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
There's been a spate of articles lately on the question of whether we are living in a computer simulation. Those articles were prompted by some off-the-cuff remarks by Elon Musk. Crazy Elon thinks we are indeed living in a simulation. What else would he think? In Flatland, Elon is a Very Important Person. Follow the Vox link above to review Elon's silly argument, which derives from the original silly argument made by "post-human" futurist Nick Bostrum. Now the New Yorker has picked up this—I need a synonym for silly—theme. And that's where I read this paragraph, which I broke up... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The Huffington Post has a new section called What's Working, and there's a subsection covering the oceans. I read an article called What’s Working? Inspiring Ambitious Coalitions for the Ocean and Climate. Here's the blurb I found at the bottom of the page. This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Ocean Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost’s “What’s Working“ initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2016 at Decline of the Empire