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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
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Some time ago I published this updated Flatland model of how the human mind works at a broad level. Read the linked-in source for more detail. Today I want to illustrate how the Internal Representation of the "self" works. A new study published at PNAS nicely serves that purpose. It's called Memories of unethical actions become obfuscated over time. Don't be intimidated by the seeming complexity of the Flatland model shown above. You'll see that this stuff is not as hard as it might first appear. Here are the significance and abstract of the new study, which is so packed... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Decline of the Empire
I may post on some of this stuff at some point, but today I'll provide some links with short comments. This is an open thread. 1. Capitalists Without Borders Should the Middle Class Fear the World’s Poor? (Marshall Steinbaum, Boston Review, May 11, 2016) And I quote— "Capital mobility—not competition with the world’s poor—is the greatest threat to the working class in rich countries." Right. Capitalist Elites Want Cheap Labor. Now they can play off the workers of any nation (including the U.S.) against the workers of all the others. 2. "Again and again, faster and faster" AI will create... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Decline of the Empire
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1960's 2016 Security Lines Are Interminable, But With Good Reason (NPR Weekend Saturday, May 21). The Astounding World of the Future (personal favorite) Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
The phrase "bad actors" is not a reference to Ashton Kutcher, Adam Sandler, etc. Instead, the phrase refers to those who use nominally value-neutral "technologies" (like the internet or mortgage-backed securities) to exploit others. Basically, we're talking about predators here. Yesterday a reader linked-in a video on human nature which I watched for a while. It's very interesting. Those discussing the subject all sought to counter simplistic reductionist statements like "it's all in the genes" or "the selfish gene." We've all heard these kind of reductionist arguments. Instead, the researchers in the video cited environmental factors like upbringing and biological... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Long-time reader Jim mentioned Noam Chomsky in a comment last week, which got me thinking about that old fuckhead. Chomsky's views on all the subjects he's talked about for decades—power politics, elite repression of The People, elite-controlled media, socioeconomic arrangements, and, recently, climate change—are vacuous unless he has based those views on some theory (or partial theory) of how humans work at a fundamental level (human nature). And that's not true of Chomsky only; that's generally true. If this vaunted "intellectual" is so damn smart, why hasn't he realized this? Why hasn't he worked on the Human Nature problem as... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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The headline tells the story — North Dakota’s First Wolverine In 150 Years Is Immediately Shot And Killed By Rancher. The first verified wolverine spotted in North Dakota in nearly 150 years was shot and killed by a rancher last month. The rancher said the animal had been harassing livestock when he shot it, which would make it a legal kill, according to the Helena Independent Record. The rancher “came out to a calving pasture and the cows had surrounded the wolverine and he felt it was a threat,” state furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker told the newspaper. The wolverine, known... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Here at the outset I want to emphasize that I do not make this stuff up. OK, this text is from Brad Plumer's report on CO2 emissions from world air travel. Growth in air travel could swamp technology improvements. So what then? The other question we've danced around so far is how much aviation emissions actually need to fall to avoid drastic climate change. This is a little trickier. Remember, the most optimistic scenario that Schäfer and his co-authors looked at envisioned the carbon intensity of aviation — that is, CO2 per passenger-mile — falling 2.6 percent per year between... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Read the post below, re-printed from Dean Baker's blog. It is bizarre how many people feel the need to claim that a large trade deficit in manufactured goods does not cost manufacturing jobs. You can argue all sorts of things about the merits of trade, and even make a story about how a trade deficit is good (pretty hard, when we're below full employment), but it is almost impossible to tell a story that the explosion of the trade deficit between 1997 and 2006 did not cost manufacturing jobs (** see note below). Nonetheless that is the story the NYT... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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An open thread for you, if you've got something to say. Fort McMurray, Alberta, home of the tar sands, is threatened by wildfire. The town has been evacuated. Black Irony (photo below). Here's Elizabeth Kolbert on the deep causes of the fire (persistent drought, unseasonable warmth). No mystery there. And read a biased (Flatland) account of Hillary's money laundering operation here. Have a nice weekend. Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Here's one of the first things I read this morning (Huffington Post, May 5, 2016). By Elizabeth Warren Donald Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party. It’s real - he is one step away from the White House. Here’s what else is real: Trump has built his campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia. There’s more enthusiasm for him among leaders of the KKK than leaders of the political party he now controls. He incites supporters to violence, praises Putin, and, according to a columnist who recently interviewed him, is “cool with being called an authoritarian” and doesn’t mind... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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I have reached an impasse. Here in the United States, we have reached a level of silliness which is unprecedented in my lifetime. Or maybe it only appears that way to me because in 2016 my perception is so acute that there's hardly anything I can take seriously. Either way, the result is the same. I have no idea what I might write about to good effect. For example, here's Matt Taibbi quoting a line from Hillary's stump speech. "If we broke up the big banks tomorrow," Clinton asked, "would that end racism?" Say what? Logically, it was an odd... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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I've been writing about human-caused destruction of the biosphere for quite some time now. As new scientific studies come to light, the press coverage follows a depressing pattern. These stories are usually climate-related. Here's the standard Washington Post version along with some other details. The research institution in question issues a press release. The climate beat writer (i.e., Chris Mooney) explains the meaning and consequences of the new study. He quotes the lead researcher. Other mainstream stories follow his lead. If there's a good graphic from the study, Chris includes that. Chris calls upon Penn State climate researcher Michael Mann... Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. — Carl Sagan Elizabeth Kolbert's latest is called Unnatural Selection. It's about using genetic engineering to save various species, including dying corals and trees. I'll quote the ending. Advocates for techniques like assisted evolution and genetic engineering argue that the moment for being hands off has passed. Humans have already so violently altered the world that without “deliberate intervention” the future holds only loss and more... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Video by Patrick Mylund Nielson. Text by Carl Sagan. Music by Ludovico Einaudi. Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Let's start with a wise and telling quote from an anonymous source. Who wrote this? [When running for office a second time,] the path of least resistance — of fund-raisers organized by the special interests, the corporate PACs and the top lobbying shops — starts to look awfully tempting, and if the opinions of these insiders don’t quite jibe with those you once held, you learn to rationalize the changes as a matter of realism, of compromise, of learning the ropes. The problems of ordinary people, the voices of the Rust Belt town or the dwindling heartland, become a distant... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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The Paris climate agreement will be signed today in New York. Today is Earth Day. Sarcasm about the human prospect seems redundant given the fact that we reached 1.5°C during the first 3 months of 2016 (rounding up). Global leaders are meeting in New York this week to sign the Paris climate agreement. One of the expressed purposes of the document is to limit warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” A Climate Central analysis shows that the world will have to dramatically accelerate emissions reductions if it wants... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
A remarkably frank story appears in the May issue of The Atlantic. Writer and film critic Neal Gabler introduces his subject in the opening text. Since 2013, the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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I wrote the third Flatland essay in late 2014. Most of that essay tried to explain the prevalence of bullshit in human affairs. It is now 2016, an election year, and it is obvious to the cognoscenti—those with functioning Flatland bullshit detectors—that self-serving nonsense crops up everywhere all of the time. It might be useful to repeat the definition of bullshit used in that essay. In individuals or social groups, bullshit, or spin, is a self-serving post-hoc rationalization of some unconscious motivation. Bullshit arises when there is an unconscious need to— (1) maintain a positive self-image or manage positive impressions... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Today I ran across yet another article telling us that wages for American workers are going nowhere (Quartz, hat tip Tim Iacono). As you age and progress in your career, your earnings normally increase. And for many Americans that’s still the case. Using the US Census Bureau’s March Current Population Survey, I estimated median earnings of 31 to 36 year olds in 2000, a group made up entirely of those considered Generation X. I aged them one year, each year, until 2015 (ending with them between 46 and 51). And, like generations before them, the typical Gen Xer’s earnings increased... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I have from time to time quoted William Shakespeare on DOTE. And as regular readers know, I am not in the least prone to conspiracy theories. April 23, 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, but I have doubts about Will. I do not believe the man called "Shakespeare" (or "Shakspere", etc.) wrote the plays his name is forever linked with. That man existed, certainly, but was he the author of the plays? I don't believe it, and haven't for many years now. Read the declaration of reasonable doubt about the identity of William Shakespeare if you are unfamiliar... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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And then there is this— Based on observation-initialized weather model runs by DMI, almost 12% of the Greenland ice sheet had more than 1mm of melt on Monday 11 April, following an early start to melting the previous day. Scientists at DMI were at first incredulous due to the early date. "We had to check that our models were still working properly" said Peter Langen, a climate scientist at DMI. “Fortunately we could see from the PROMICE.dk stations on the ice sheet that it had been well above melting, even above 10 °C. This helped to explain the results”. The... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Yesterday I visited a doctor and got some prescriptions. One of those (at my request) was a simple tetracycline anti-biotic. These kinds of drugs have been around in generic versions for decades. I figured I'd pay about 10 bucks for a standard two-week course. The drugstore I use didn't even have it in stock and quoted me a price — $400. An alternative doxycycline would cost me $175. I went to another pharmacy and asked them did they have tetracycline in stock? What would it cost me? The guy quoted me a price — $11.79. He told me to come... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Politics is little more than group conflict fueled by motivated reasoning (i.e., self-serving bullshit). However, it is possible to know some things. For example, financial institutions which are too big to fail are too big to exist. Corruption exists. Powerful special interests, including financial interests, really are powerful. Existing institutions like the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury consistently represent and defend those interests. On these issues, Bernie Sanders among the candidates comes closest to engaging with reality, though he is also a starry-eyed idealist. And because Bernie understands that financial interests are powerful, and corruption exists, he must be... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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This is getting ridiculous. Hardly a week goes by where we don't get more bad news about global warming. Even worse, it's getting harder and harder to deny that climate models contain significant amounts of optimism bias. More precisely, that bias resides in the minds of those who build the models. Science is supposed to be self-correcting, and we can observe that process as the years go by, BUT the revisions seem to go in only one direction—things are worse than we thought. The latest blow concerns the role of cloud feedbacks in estimating climate sensitivity. There's always been lots... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Ah, population biologists. These are the folks who sometimes view Homo sapiens as being just like any other animal species. That's a refreshing take on things. The Stanford press release on a new Nature study of the human invasion of South America is called Populations of early human settlers grew like an 'invasive species'. ... the study ... finds that for much of human history on the continent, human populations grew like an invasive species, which are regulated by their environment as they spread into new places. Populations grew exponentially when people first colonized South America. But then they crashed,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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