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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
Update — consider this an open thread. I'll be putting whatever I have to say in the comments. You should do the same. This thread will be open for a month, though I'll probably write some things before that. As I've said, I'm pretty disgusted with humans right now. — Dave Outside of playing some guitar, the only thing I want to do today is watch the season 2 finale of Mr. Robot. I doubt that anybody reading DOTE gives a damn about Mr. Robot, but then again I don't care. In so far as I am living in a... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Reader MP alerted me to Bloomberg's Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's Renegade Blog (April 29, 2016). I assume DOTE readers are familiar with the site. Colin Lokey was one of the "Tyler Durdens" writing the content. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is the well-known character from the cult movie Fight Club. I'm going to quote only one section of Bloomberg's story. Profit Motive Despite holding itself out as a town crier for market angst, transcripts from Zero Hedge internal chat sessions provided by Colin Lokey reveal a focus on Web traffic by the Durdens. Headlines are debated and... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Decline of the Empire
The phlogiston theory is an archaic scientific hypothesis, which stated that phlogiston, a fire-like element, is contained within things that are able to burn and is actually released during the burning process... Despite its [widespread] use, the theory could not explain many phenomena... — What Is Phlogiston? Because of their lack of formal macro-economic training, or in spite of it, some people are able to make useful observations about the state of the U.S. economy. These observations are always data-based, even though in many cases there is good reason to believe that the data is flawed. For example, we now... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Nearly 24 hours have passed since I posted yesterday's critique of the Census Bureau's rosy view of household median income (HMI). The huge, historic leap (5.2%) in HMI was simply not credible on the face of it. There had to be something going on. In fact, it turned out there were several interacting factors which inflated the headline HMI number. (Also, see this important New York Times article from August, 2016, which I incorporated into yesterday's post. That article describes the Sentier results I discussed yesterday.) If you do the right Google searches, you will find only two reports critiquing... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
When I learned yesterday, 55 days before the 2016 election, that the Census Bureau and the White House had announced an historic leap in real (inflation-adjusted) median household income, my bullshit detector went into the red, went right off the scale and then ceased functioning. I'll have to get a new one Look at that jump! The biggest since 1967 when record keeping began. How fucking likely is that? My first clue appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The clue is circled. Redesigned income questions? And while I'm quoting the Los Angeles Times, there is this— Obama, stumping for Clinton... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
American's elites are all in with Hillary, yet in the polls she leads Donald Trump on average by 2.4 percentage points. How can this be? Donald keeps telling one outrageous lie after another. Then the lame-stream elite media does a bunch of fact-checking to expose the lies. They say, "See? He's lying!" That's supposed to convince people to vote for Hillary, but it doesn't. Well, this is politics, which is tribal conflict. And there's a psychological defense mechanism—it's an evolutionary feature, not a bug —called the "backfire effect". When their tribal identify is put at risk, which poses an existential... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Writing in Adbusters, Sam Alexander wrote a piece called The pain you feel on September 6, 2016. Morris Berman quoted Alexander's post approvingly on his blog Dark Ages America, which led me to the original. Alexander's post reflects in part Berman's "dual process" theory of the future (and read here.) Here's Alexander's short post— I was drifting through cyberspace recently, not really absorbing the words in front of me, when I came across a sentence that tripped me up, so to speak, and forced me to pay attention. That sentence read: “The pain you feel is capitalism dying.” Alexander is... Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Well, it's Friday, which is good because our suffering is reduced on the weekend when the "news cycle" stops cycling. Despite the week being shorter due to the Labor Day holiday, we did not get through it unscathed. Not by a long shot. First and foremost, there was Vox's Matthew Yglesias, who argued for less transparency from politicians. I'm sure Mr. Yglesias thinks of himself as a journalist. Here's Mr. Obsequious, who is a child of the 80's. Somebody should bitch-slap this guy This did not go unnoticed by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who had some choice things to say... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
This is a companion piece to my recent post Trivializing The Anthropocene. I would claim that very few humans properly understand the Anthropocene. For example, geologists have their own view of it, to wit— To define a new geological epoch, a signal must be found that occurs globally and will be incorporated into deposits in the future geological record. For example, the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous epoch is defined by a “golden spike” in sediments around the world of the metal iridium, which was dispersed from the meteorite that collided... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Some weeks ago I received an e-mail from Mitch Diamond and subsequently corresponded with him. Mitch self-published an interesting book on the evolutionary origins of religion called Darwin's Apple. He sent me a copy and I read it. That book and his e-mail notes are the basis for this post. In the context of my Flatland model of how humans work, which Mitch likes, I have not had much to say about religion. I've never viewed religion as fundamental to the human project, and my reluctance to say much about it is (in part) a reaction to the misguided views... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Some of what I'm going to say here is speculative, but I want to talk about a pattern I've noticed recently. Let's start with Human trials on Earth are the key to how we will survive on Mars (The Conversation, September 1, 2016). Here's the part I'm interested in. Why Mars? Still, critics complain and ask, what’s the point of exploring Mars, anyway? We have pretty good pictures and science data already. Why spend huge amounts of money on such a venture? Shouldn’t we wait until we’ve solved some of the really pressing problems that face us on Earth, the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 2, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Thanks to reader Jacob Horner. Here's a partial transcript of this True Detective video. I'd consider myself a realist, alright? But in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist... I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. This is correct if our consciousness is a misleading trick. After all, the Buddha was right to say life is suffering. It's a raw deal (see below). Raw awareness of the human tragedy is very painful. In Flatland, by definition, self-awareness is limited. This fundamental incapacity to grasp our true condition makes human life, such as it... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Here's a re-print of parts of Think the world is on fire? Obama’s national security adviser says things are better than ever by Zack Beauchamp (Vox, August 18, 2016). With a few gratuitous comments by yours truly. Between ISIS attacks, Russian aggression in Syria and Ukraine, and Brexit, it can feel a lot like the world has been falling apart these past few years. So it’s surprising — and perhaps a little disconcerting — to learn that Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, is actually optimistic about the state of the world right now. "This is a much... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Yesterday evening, about 6:15, it started to rain. And it kept raining. Really hard. Then there was hail and very high winds, winds strong enough to knock down a lot of trees, lots of power wires, basically anything that's not already laying on the ground. I'm guessing we got about 3 inches in approximately 90 minutes in my neighborhood. This morning, looking out from my back porch, there were two large trees sprawled across a neighbor's fence laying on the ground in front of the garages. Almost all my back porch plants were damaged, the terracotta pots destroyed. In the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Reading one of those mind-brain articles by John Horgan yesterday, I ran into this text— And even if we don’t [manage to] explain consciousness, our investigations will surely yield lots of practical applications, such as neural prosthetics and bionic upgrades. Say what? WTF? But that raises another question. What if science boosts our minds’ power without giving us greater self-understanding? Shouldn’t that be cause for concern? LOL! Yeah, John, that should definitely be cause for concern Following that link, I found Why You Should Care about Pentagon Funding of Obama's BRAIN Initiative. [The Brain Initiative's] biggest funder is the Pentagon,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 26, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Reader Mike Roberts pointed us to a slew of articles on the so-called "mind-body" problem in a comment yesterday. So I started reading them. These posts were written by John Horgan for Scientific American. Horgan is a reasonable guy. Those working on the mind-body problem seek the origins of consciousness in the physical brain. Horgan goes through the current theories, noting that this scientific endeavor is regressing. Many researchers have simply thrown up their hands, saying that the problem is unsolvable. And to my mind, the current theories, for lack of a better word, are ridiculous. So I won't comment... Continue reading
Posted Aug 25, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Open thread. As Hillary hobnobs with the rich and famous in California and on Martha's Vineyard, she assures us that she will visit rain-ravaged Louisiana when her regal presence will not disrupt relief efforts there. Hillary, don't forget the hot sauce when you go! Juicy Marie Antoinette "let them eat cake" details under the fold. All of which reminded me of this. Reprinted from the American Conservative (first link above). Here’s why Hillary Clinton cannot be bothered to come to Louisiana: she’s got a slew of fundraising events set up with coastal elites. From CNN: What do Cher, Leonardo DiCaprio,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 23, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Clive Hamilton is put out about what we might call the trivializing of the anthropocene. His recent Nature commentary Define the Anthropocene in terms of the whole Earth argues that "researchers must consider human impacts on entire Earth systems and not get trapped in discipline-specific definitions." To understand what Hamilton means by "Earth-system science," watch the video below. The Anthropocene was conceived by Earth-system scientists to capture the very recent rupture in Earth’s history arising from the impact of human activity on the Earth system as a whole. Read that again. Take special note of the phrases ‘very recent rupture’... Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
From today's Diane Rehm Show weekly domestic roundup. It's a call-in show. The context required to understand this dialogue is easy to state— National mainstream journalists have talked endlessly about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and others) for many months now. Mostly they've rehashed every fucking thing Trump says in order to demonstrate his unfitness for office. This is the hottest year on record in the United States (and the globe). That has led to many devastating extreme weather events, a good number of which are >500-year events. Transcript starts at the 43:56 mark. Gina in Fort Lee Virginia —... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Naturally I was thrilled to learn that Uber's First Self-Driving Fleet Is Arriving In Pittsburgh This Month (story in Bloomberg, August 18, 2016). I live in Pittsburgh. Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field... “Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
This year humans got an up-close and personal view of a 1.5-degree world (C) and it hasn't been pretty. For example, Louisiana is experiencing a 500-year deluge right now. There have been literally hundreds extreme weather events all around the world this year. Speaking personally, the limits of my own endurance are being tested by tropical dew points which haven't subsided in the last six weeks. With that much moisture in the air, I sweat even when I'm sitting still. Consequently, the climate story changed abruptly this year — we've run out of time. According to a five-year prediction from... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
We've know for some time now that America's mainstream media types are merely hucksters for elite interests. It took the existential threat to those interests called Donald Trump to make that view official. That's what Matt Taibbi is getting at in The Summer of the Shill. ... We now have one set of news outlets that gives us the bad news about Democrats, and another set of news outlets bravely dedicated to reporting the whole truth about Republicans. Like the old adage about quarterbacks – if you think you have two good ones, you probably have none – this basically... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
From Productivity Crisis? — U.S. Workers Are Pulling Their Weight by Noah Smith. Over the long term, fluctuations in demand should roughly cancel out, so [total factor productivity] and labor productivity should generally move in the same direction. But even over decades, it’s questionable whether labor productivity really drives changes in the standard of living for most Americans. Median hourly compensation has gone up much more slowly than labor productivity for the last few decades — most of the gains from a more productive workforce have gone to higher-income workers [see the graph below]. So while faster productivity growth over... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
This is embarrassing, because the only websites which have reported what I'm about to say are zerohedge, Breitbart and The Hill (a conservative blogger there). The problem is that the latest BLS labor productivity report also includes revisions to real hourly compensation data (inflation-adjusted wages). Nonfarm business sector productivity decreased 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016--the same as the preliminary estimate--as a small downward revision to output was offset by a small downward revision to hours. Due to a 4.7-percentage point downward revision to first-quarter hourly compensation, unit labor costs decreased 0.2 percent in the first quarter of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
There's a new Nature study about threats to species. It's covered in The New Yorker. Over four months this spring, James Watson and Sean Maxwell, a doctoral student at the University of Queensland, used [some] new data to identify and rank the existential threats to nearly nine thousand species, ranging from otters to lilies. In a commentary published today in the journal Nature, they report that almost three-quarters of the species they studied are threatened by over-exploitation—human activities such as logging, fishing, and hunting. More than sixty per cent are threatened by the conversion of habitat to farmland and timber... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2016 at Decline of the Empire