The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: August 2013 Page 1 of 2

The intolerance of genius

One of the reasons, today, that we have such mediocre progress on important issues, is the unwillingness to put up with geniuses who don’t have “soft skills”, aka. who don’t play well with others. (Obligatory note, this isn’t a post about me.)  There is this odd belief that 10 very smart people can do what one genius can.  They can’t.  There are thresholds of ability (not intelligence, ability) and if you’re below them, you just can’t do the things that people at that level can do.  Period.

Related, but not the same: in terms of intelligence, there are levels at which you can learn everything, but not anything (ie. you can’t be a real polymath) and without that knowledge, in one person, not spread out through a team, many connections cannot be made and when they can, the process is vastly slower. (Aka. no, you can’t look it up.)

True genius, and I’ve known a few, is alienating.  Geniuses perceive the world in a different way than other people do, and as a result they have trouble interacting with other people.  One acquaintance told me that it takes him six months to tool down from high level work to the point where he can talk to bright normals and have them understand him.  Genius is also about obsession, about living with a subject till you breath it, till it’s obvious to you.  Even on a pure IQ level (and again, genius is not always about IQ) once you move more than 2 standard deviations in either direction, communication becomes very hard.

In the old days, geniuses were tolerated, even coddled.  If it was necessary for GE to hire a secretary to act as interface between a genius and the rest of the world, that was done.  Geniuses were surrounded with other geniuses, their eccentricities tolerated, and allowed to run.  Today it’s “if you don’t play well with others, even if you can do things they can’t, you’re out.”

This is the symptom of a society that doesn’t really care about progress.  We live in a courtier’s society, where ability is secondary to social skills, where who you know and who you blow (as the cynical saying at one of my ex-employers ran) is far more important than how good a job you do, because your job isn’t to actually solve problems or get things done, it’s to manage your superiors and get along with your peers.

One might say “it has ever been thus”, but this is only partially true.  The brilliant mavericks were far more tolerated in the war era and cold war period, because they were needed.  The possibility of losing a war, or of there even being a war which was an actual risk to the western powers, kept us honest.

Now those people are sidelined.  Socially skilled mediocrities fail to the top, our society shudders from crisis to crisis, out actual scientific and technological process has slowed to a crawl, and deployment of what technological progress we do have is slow and uneven and often happens faster in other nations.

Genius, actual genius, is uncomfortable.  They do things for reasons they often can’t explain to people who aren’t geniuses. They’re obsessive, and they’re often alienated from other people who simply can’t or won’t understand what they’re doing and why.  If you want to benefit from society’s geniuses, you have to tolerate much of this.

I will add that not only do we not tolerate geniuses any more, we largely don’t even cultivate genius.  The people who go to the “best” colleges in the US these days are not geniuses, not in any creative sense.  They are exactly chosen to be conformists who have done exactly what they were supposed to do for their entire lives.  They are courtiers in training, the senior servants to the oligarchy.  Again, in the old days (we’re talking all of 25 years ago), while those people made up most of the Ivy League, broad exceptions were carved out for the truly brilliant, whether intellectually, artistically, or otherwise.  Some of those exceptions still exist, or slip through, but they are the exception now.

And this, this is another reason why the future does not happen, and when it does happen, it mostly does not happen in the US any more.


Twain’s War Prayer

(note that it was rejected for publication during his lifetime. The truly important writings often are or sell atrociously.)

The War Prayer

By Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation


*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

The difference between Obama going to war with Syria and Bush going to war with Iraq

is that Bush had more respect for the UN, and more respect for Congress, getting from both something which could at least be called approval. Obama isn’t even bothering.

The similarity is that both wars appear to be based on lies: Iraq had no WMD (and was not involved in 9/11), and it is highly unlikely that Syria used  chemical weapons on its own people,  not because Assad is a nice guy (he’s a torturing scumbag) but because they don’t  need to, they’re winning the war.

Obama’s just another war criminal, like Bush.  The Libyan war, whether you agree with it or not, was a straight up violation of the Constitution and even the War Powers Act.  He kills far more people with drones than Bush ever did, and he claims rights Bush didn’t claim, like the right to, on his own authority, kill American citizens without them having a trial, facing their accusers and so on.  Obama has taken virtually every bad Bush precedent and made it worse.

This is a transparent “Gulf of Tonkin” style false-flag attack, flimsy on the face, with the majority of Americans, French and British citizens opposed to war,  and Obama and Blair will use it as their excuse for war anyway.

And to be really clear, this is the exact same crime that Nazis were hung for at Nuremburg: the crime of unprovoked warmaking.

(Edit: Removed Del Ponte quote removed, as it’s from May.  My apologies.  Nonetheless, I sincerely doubt that Assad used chemical weapons, as, again, he has nothing to gain from it.)

The Real Reason the US and UK will attack Syria

is not because Syria used chemical weapons, since the UK says that even if the UN team does not find evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons they may attack anyway.

There is no reason why the Syrian government would use chemical weapons in any case, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose, since they are, with the help of Hizbollah, winning the war now.  The people who have something to benefit are the Syrian rebels, who are losing, and who need intervention.  If they can frame the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack, they get what they need.

And that, almost certainly, is why the US and UK will attack, because their proxies, the FSA, are losing.  If they don’t attack, Assad is going to win this civil war, not least because the rebels seem to have lost public support.

Surveillance States and the End of Freedom

The detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s husband has led to much hand wringing.  He was forced to give up the passwords to his phone and his computer, was threatened with jail, and was only allowed to have a lawyer if he chose one of the police’s list.  He was not, of course, allowed to be silent.  This is the law, nothing illegal was done.

But of more interest to me is an article by Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian.  He details the threats made by the government if he did not destroy or hand over the files, including the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement.  The most telling graph is this one:

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like “when”.

We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint.

It’s not just digital in the sense of online.  Again the endgame is this: recognition software linked to cameras, drones, even spy satellites.  Facial recognition, gait recognition, IR signatures and more.  This stuff is pretty reliable.  You will be tracked 24/7.  You will go nowhere without it being possible to know where you have gone.  You will do nothing online without it being tracked.  The hysteria over online bullying will be used to make online anonymity (as limited as it already is), straight up illegal.

Everything you do will be tracked.  Audio is being added to many cameras now, as well, so they won’t just see what you do, they will hear it.  Fools will dismiss this as paranoia, it is simply fact, this is the end game, this is where the surveillance web leads, when you add the telecom revolution on top of this.  This is more intrusive than what Orwell had in Big Brother, because they didn’t record, if someone wasn’t listening at the time, you were ok.

I have long said that I will know people are serious about change when it is a public ethic that a surveillance camera is evil, and the moment one is put up, it is destroyed.  If you want to stop this short of that, you will need draconian laws.

1) No audio surveillance.  Period.

2) The government cannot use surveillance to follow, watch or listen to anyone without a court warrant.  That court warrant expires in X years (probably 3), and once it expires, the person is given all records gained.  Furthermore there can be no blanket court orders, every one must be individual.

3) No public cameras.  If you need a place watched, hire someone to do it.  We have an unemployment problem anyway.

4) Private surveillance cameras in private places only, no transmission of those records off-site, no linking of those records to anything else (the standard practice in many stores is to photograph you as you pay and link that to your credit card) and all records are destroyed after 24 hours.  This applies not just to customers, but to employees, who should have rights as well.  As a business the results of their work are your business, the second by second record of how they do the job is rarely your business and if it is, hire a supervisor.

5) A right to privacy.  The current laws assume that if you are in a public place you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.  Those laws were not made with blanket surveillance and the telecom revolution in mind.  To put it in vulgar terms, regular photography is ok, but you cannot be stalked.  Someone cannot follow you around, photographing you, whether in person or remotely, without your permission, the above mentioned court-order or perhaps,  reasonable suspicion you are about to commit a crime.  I”m leery of the last, simply because of the abuse of such clauses we’ve seen from the police.  (ie. good laws cannot protect bad people, see Machiavelli.)

All of the above laws must be backed up with criminal sentences, not fines, or they will not be obeyed.

As I have said repeatedly, individuals have the right to know what their government is doing, and government has no right to know what citizens are doing except under very prescribed circumstances.

If you want some form of surveillance, the only good form would be making sure that every police officer has a camera on them at all times.  Even that I have doubts about, since sometimes it actually is best to let someone off with a warning.

A working society requires people to have discretion and use it.  No set of laws works in all circumstances.  But as with children, if they won’t use their discretion, if they won’t behave properly, then draconian laws are necessary. It is clear that our lords and masters think they have a right to track us 24/7.  That can’t be allowed, and what will happen if it occurs (and it’s close) is far worse than a few criminals getting away because there wasn’t a camera nearby.

Need help with finding old Bop News Articles (aka. bleg)

I’ve decided, after some prompting, to put together an anthology of my writings.  Unfortunately they’re scattered over multiple blogs and some of those blogs don’t exist any more.  I had assumed this would be relatively easy, using the Wayback machine, but they seem to have made some changes.

Going to a later bopnews front page works fine. However, what no longer works is the drop down author box, which goes to Wayback machine’s own “bopnews” site.  It would probably be possible to find most articles by going through the archive day by day, but I’d really rather not.

Suggestions and/or solutions?

All registered users will have to re-register Thursday August 15th

Sorry folks, but the amount of registration spam is out of control and one of the things slowing down the blog.  I’m going to purge everyone who doesn’t have at least editor level access tomorrow, and you’ll have to re-register with the new captcha system.  Sorry about this, it’s not elegant, but I’m hoping it makes the site run faster, and cuts down on my admin overhead.

On edit: to clarify, this shouldn’t effect people who an email subscription, just people who log in at the website proper, usually to comment.  That’s very few people compared to the overall audience.

Why Egypt’s Regime Must Double Down

There have been more killings in Egypt today of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.  Of particular note is the death of Asmaa al-Beltagi, daughter of a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, Dr. Mohammed al-Beltagi (h/t MFI).  Martial law has been declared, the streets are being cleared, and military governors are being appointed.

A cynical man might say that clearly Egypt’s military and deep state want a civil war.

More to the point, the deep state—the Mubarak era civil servants, the military, police, the businesspeople in bed with them, and the judiciary, must now not lose power for the forseeable future.

It has been noticed that, miraculously, post coup, power problems, for example disappeared.  The belief of many (and I agree) is that the deep state sabotaged Mursi.  When the coup occurred, the government started working properly again.  The regime claims that Mursi was incompetent, but basic logistical matters like power distribution rarely fix themselves overnight unless they weren’t really broken in the first place.

What Mursi did not do, despite sacking some high level apparatchniks, was purge the state of Mubarak era supporters who were in any position to sabotage his new government.  Any new, actually democratic government, will likely learn that lesson, and if they take power, they will purge, purge, purge, as was done in Turkey, even if it requires being unjust and unfair, they will decide they cannot risk allowing Mubarak supporters to continue in any positions of power.

Having played their hand, having sabotaged Mursi, and having engaged in a coup, the military and its supporters are all-in.

Mursi did what he could, but I expect he feared a backlash if he purged the deep state.  He also, in my opinion, overreached in the constitution.  He tried to turn a temporary win, an electoral victory, into a constitution which locked down Egypt along the lines the Muslim Brotherhood wanted, and would keep it locked in that state even if secular forces won an election outright in the future.  That enraged a lot of people, and made them more willing to be cat’s paws of the military and the deep state.

Egypt has another fundamental problem.  It cannot feed itself.  Any government which takes power in Egypt, it truly wants to pursue the policies which will make it prosperous, must have a plan which will allow Egypt to feed itself, and which during the transition period allows it to buy food in a non hard currency.

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