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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
... it means Typepad has successfully fended off yet another Denial of Service attack. There may be more in the near future, so don't be surprised. It's not my fault, but I apologize to those who visited here and couldn't access the site. Thanks to the undoubtedly weary Typepad team for working to get DOTE and other websites up again. Don't forget to read yesterday's long essay (directly below this on the homepage). — Dave Continue reading
Posted 8 hours ago at Decline of the Empire
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Lately, here in the United States, we have witnessed an astonishing socio-economic trifecta which tells us where we stand. Unfortunately for progressive thought, we are not in a good place, to wit— 1. In the McCutcheon decision, wealthy campaign donors were given the go-ahead to buy political candidates and elections by the "conservative" majority on the Supreme Court. This decision follows on the heels of the Citizens United ruling, which got the ball rolling vis-a-vis dismantling the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act. The court's four liberal justices understood the consequences. In their dissent, the court's four liberal justices called their... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Decline of the Empire
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... the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy — Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page [study cited below] There’s got to be a difference between these two men, or else we’re all part of a cruel, cruel joke — Stephen Colbert, upon being asked whether anything meaningful separated Barack Obama from Mitt Romney Some stories write themselves. I'll quote from the Huffington Post's U.S. Policies Favor The Wealthy, Interest Groups, Study Shows. U.S. government policies reflect the desires of the wealthy and interest groups more than the average... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Decline of the Empire
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A Google News search reveals that Obama's 2015 budget includes a much-needed Boost in Ocean Funding. And the best news of all is that there has been a 150% increase in funding for ocean acidification research. Ocean Acidification Research Funding Sees a Big Increase— Notably, the president’s budget would provide a much-needed $15 million for ocean acidification research, an increase of $9 million. As the ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the carbon dioxide is changing the chemistry of the ocean and adversely impacting marine life. This is already having serious economic... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Decline of the Empire
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Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power — Adam Smith I love this kind of stuff. I've got time on my hands, so I was perusing the latest wealth/income inequality data. There's been a flurry of activity on this front, especially after the publication of Thomas Piketty's Capital In The Twenty-first Century. Long story short, denizens of Flatland, especially economists, love to measure shit. Based on recent work by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, both of UC-Berkeley, those happy House of Debt guys Atif Mian and Amir Sufi (University of Chicago) wrote a post called Measuring Wealth Inequality. Before I... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Being a weird guy, I was delighted by yesterday's edition of the Diane Rehm Show, which included Elizabeth Kolbert talking about the Sixth Extinction. Unfortunately, Diane was trying to swim in the Deep End of the Pool, so she was way out of her depth. Thus the show was called "Bringing Extinct Species Back To Life"—the de-extinction fantasy/stunt/sideshow—and thus Diane also included delusional fantasist Ryan Phelan in the discussion. Ms. Phelan is the executive director of Revive and Restore, which advances "genetic rescue for endangered and extinct species." What made this so entertaining for the weird is that everytime Kolbert... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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I started the day in my usual way. I made some coffee (gotta have it), turned on National Propaganda Radio, and started browsing the intertubes, starting at Tim Iacono's site. Tim is kind enough to put up a list of economy/finance links everyday. Within 15 minutes of getting out of bed, I had learned (from Matt Taibbi) that "white collar" criminals (bankers) are above the law (the Holder Memo). I learned that there is a bug in the SSL (https) protocol which protects secure transactions online. It's called the "heart bleed" bug, and the Business Insider told me to assume... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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The other day I noted the end of climate "exceptionalism" in the latest IPCC report (5th Assessment) on the impacts of climate change. But I didn't know the half of it when I wrote that. As The Dude said, new shit has come to light. Let's look at some of that new shit (The Economist, April 5th, 2014). In the oceans both animals and plants are migrating from the tropics to temperate latitudes in pursuit of cooler waters. Benthic algae—seaweeds, to the layman—are shifting their ranges polewards at 10km (6 miles) a decade. Their single-celled planktonic cousins are moving much... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Here's a funny video (in a dark kind of way) from The Daily Ticker. Lauren Lyster interviews Nomi Prins, author of Nomi Prins, author of the new book All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power. "She tells The Daily Ticker in the video below that the relationship between bankers and presidents is historic and runs deep." No kidding. Listen for the discussion about whether there's been any "progress" in stifling the cozy relationship between bankers and politicians over the last hundred years or so. And have a nice weekend. Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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One can view the previous decade in the United States as a history lesson. Here's the abbreviated timeline. Housing Bubble (2004-06) Financial Meltdown (2007-08) "Great" Recession/Painful Aftermath (2009-13) Consolidation of the New Normal (2014) And what have we learned? Yesterday's headlines explicate the lesson. The Perpetual Bubble Economy (New York Times, April 2, 2014) Want a thriving labor market? Blow a bubble. The big idea is that — absent extraordinary intervention in the economy through fiscal policy, monetary policy or both — growth and employment will prove lackluster. That has been true since the late 1990s for the United States,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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As a former member of the so-called "peak oil blogosphere" I don't write much about oil much anymore. That's not because I no longer think oil is important to our global industrial civilization—I do. It's more because every time I wrote about oil in the past various & sundry peak oil acolytes, unburdened by considerations of the data or the ravages of rational thought, would take that as an opportunity to foist their "oil collapse" religion on me and my readers. Jesus wept. Generally I have found that all human discussions of anything important (like crude oil) are primarily faith-based.... Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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Associated Press April 1, 2014 Reporting by Arthur Schopenhauer, Jr. Humans all over the world woke up dazed and confused today after last night's "clue" miracle. Some said the clue came for God, while others said it didn't matter where it came from. "What the fuck have we been doing?," asked Wanda Fahrenwald of Bloomington, Indiana. "We're fucking up the climate, we're fucking up the oceans, and, God Knows, there are way, way too many of us consuming too much shit we don't need. I mean, they're having trouble finding that missing airplane because there's so much garbage in the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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Following up some recent posts, Suzanne Goldenberg, an environmental correspondent for The Guardian, is quoted concerning the IPCC's latest bureaucratic tour de force regarding the economic impacts of anthropogenic climate change. We just got to one of the really tricky sections of the report - how much will climate change hurt the bottom line? This is one area where there really isn't much hard data, because of a lack of reliability in economic models. One number that is out in the report is that climate change will shave between .2 and 2% of global income, if warming remains at about... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Here's a follow-up to yesterday's post The Death Of "Climate Exceptionalism". Although only a few hundreds of people read it, that post's message was surely a major bummer for anybody who cares about the long-term health of the Earth's biosphere. I want to call your attention to this part of the post. (Quoted text is shaded.) Indeed, the IPCC finds that climate change poses no substantial economic risk to our ever-growing global economy. And the report is, on the face of it, more optimistic than the famous review of the economics of climate change by Britain’s Nicholas Stern in 2006.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
Human psychology is an astonishing thing to behold. For all sorts of reasons I don't want to get into today, the simple rule of thumb says— You can only tell humans what they want to hear. If you try to give them some Bad News, they won't (can't) listen. If you tell them stuff they want to hear, they applaud wildly and then go off and continue doing the stuff which makes the news bad. Nothing changes with humans. A forthcoming IPCC report on climate change impacts beautifully illustrates this simple rule. Those who have seen the almost-final draft have... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
In so far as humans seem perfectly incapable of making the connection between "growth" (in populations or consumption) and long-term, looming destruction of large parts of the biosphere, I have hypothesized that the urge to grow is an instinctual behavior of the human animal and thus unalterable. It follows that humans should behave in precisely the self-destructive ways we readily observe every day. This hypothesis also predicts that humans will be blind to other considerations which might be deemed important if they did not conflict with the instinctual urge to grow. Both of these tragic consequences are on display in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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I would like to make some personal remarks today. It may surprise you when I say this, but it is true at this late date that I still find the stuff I write about—the Human Condition—almost impossible to believe. As I've reported this stuff these last five years, and as the evidence became more and more overwhelmimg that human beings are very fucked up indeed, I've thought oh, c'mon, how can this be? For most of my life I knew things were bad, but, really, this bad? Give me a break! Let me give you an example I've written about... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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I just received this brief note from Xinthius, Executor in Chief of the Exalted High Command and Grand Poobah of the planet Fukwityu, which revolves around a star in the constellation we call Cygnus (actually, Kepler-24b). Greetings Dave! Earthlings are making up all sorts of stories about that missing Malaysian plane, so here's letting you know we snatched that sucker right out of sky for study purposes. We're on our way back to Fukwityu, so you won't be seeing those people again. All those ridiculous explanations. My, what fertile imaginations you Earthlings have! We read your excellent blog every day—it's... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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I was reading through a mostly uninteresting book by William Ophuls called Immoderate Greatness—Why Civilizations Fail. Right there near the beginning, in the "Biophysical Limits" section, at the beginning of the "Exponential Growth" chapter, was physicist Al Bartlett's famous quote. The greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function. NO, NO, NO! Humans (including economists) DO understand the exponential function. The problem is they don't think it applies to them. Allow me to explain. Lately I've been reading about the work of Thomas Piketty, whose new book on economic inequality is causing a stir... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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Thomas Piketty's new book Capital In The Twenty-First Century is causing a revolution (small "r") among American economists. I'm sure this upheaval (small "u") will blow over soon, but I'm pleased as punch that Piketty (a Frenchman educated at MIT) is repeating so many of my DOTE themes. In a review of Piketty's book, economist Heather Bouchay covered a few of these splendid points. Among other conclusions, the data lead Piketty to describe the popular argument that we live in an era where our talents and capabilities matter most as “mindless optimism.” The data also lead him to reject the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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I've been writing lately, but I'm just keeping busy. I've lost much of my former interest in the Human Condition. It exists, it sucks, it can't be changed, there are no alternatives to it, so I've got to live within it. And that's all there is. I can't help thinking about this stuff today as I complete my 61st year on this planet. I see stuff here and there, little islands of sanity in a sea of cluelessness, which don't give me hope but do reflect my own views. Not that I require outside validation—I don't. It's simply nice to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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This is a detailed follow-up to my long essay Moral Failure In Liberalized Market States, and particularly the introduction to that essay, in which I talked about wages versus productivity. Please read or review that text if this subject interests you. As Yogi Berra said, "you can observe a lot by just watching." Indeed you can. For example, at the Washington Post's Wonk Blog, we see The top White House economist’s favorite graph might restore your faith in the future. At the end of a briefing Monday on the Economic Report of the President, I asked Jason Furman, the Council... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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File this under Astonishing Human Antics of the Recent Past Yesterday's post Q.E.D. was prompted by a scathing 2009 Elizabeth Kolbert piece called Green Like Me. It makes for hilarious reading because this Colin Beavan guy is the King of Delusion. That didn't stop them from making a movie about him of course (trailer below). Here's the excerpt and continuation which prompted yesterday's response. And needless to say, we don't make this stuff up. 2006, Colin Beavan, the author of two works of popular history, was casting about for a book idea. Beavan was living in lower Manhattan, near N.Y.U.,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
I have never been contacted by a book publisher. I never will be. I refuse to self-publish. Fuck it. Here's why. Hypothesis Homo sapiens is screwed up Proof In 2006, Colin Beavan, the author of two works of popular history, was casting about for a book idea. Beavan was living in lower Manhattan, near N.Y.U., and that winter there was a weird heat wave that sent bevies of coeds out onto the streets in tank tops. He didn’t know much about global warming, but the sight of all those bare-armed girls in January got him thinking. Maybe his next project... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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Bored on a Sunday ... Schopenhauer said keep busy ... so here we are. And there's a bonus rant at the end. CNN Money asked the title question in a January 30, 2014 article called 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. OK, I can hear you laughing already. Stop that! This is a serious matter So why aren't Americans saving more? Last week, online lender CashNetUSA said 22% of the 1,000 people it recently surveyed had less than $100 in savings to cover an emergency, while 46% had less than $800. After paying debts and taking care of housing, car... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2014 at Decline of the Empire