William Gibson Reimagines World After 2016 Election

“Agency,” Mr. Gibson’s next novel, which Berkley will publish in January. The story unfolds in two timelines: San Francisco in 2017, in an alternate time track where Hillary Clinton won the election and Mr. Trump’s political ambitions were thwarted, and London in the 22nd century, after decades of cataclysmic events have killed 80 percent of humanity. In the present-day San Francisco setting, a shadowy start-up hires a young woman named Verity to test a new product: a “cross-platform personal avatar” that was developed by the military as a form of artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, characters in the distant future are interfering with the events unfolding in 2017, through technological time travel that allows them to send digital communications to the past.”

New York Times book review »

“The whole world is on disability”

“Between 1996 and 2015, the number of working-age adults receiving disability climbed from 7.7 million to 13 million. The federal government this year will spend an estimated $192 billion on disability payments, more than the combined total for food stamps, welfare, housing subsidies and unemployment assistance.”

The percentage of people on disability in Dunklin County, Missouri (where I grew up) increased 33.7 percent since 2004. In Cole County, MO — where I now live — the increase was 40%.

“Disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults live on monthly disability checks, according to a Washington Post analysis of Social Security Administration statistics.”

Washington Post

CSPAN meets YouTube


(Business Insider) “A new site called Digital Democracy aims to help voters hold their elected officials accountable by making local government hearings searchable by speaker and subject. You can think of the platform like CSPAN meets YouTube. […] A bot makes daily transcripts of state senate and assembly hearings. It uses facial recognition to monitor who’s talking. Users can see legislators’ financial ties on the platform, and easily share video clips on social media. […] Users can look up hearings by date, topic, speaker, or committee. Or if you want to hear a specific speaker, the video will automatically jump to the point when that person starts talking.”

“Digital Democracy only posts footage from hearings in New York and California right now (the nonprofit launched the platform in California in 2015, and it became available in New York in February). But Blakeslee says that his team hopes to eventually expand the platform nationwide.”

Will we see a day when I can tell my personal AI to find everything my state rep says on topic XYZ? (Sound of thousand of tiny cockroach feet scurrying from kitchen light)

What does a successful transition to a digital government look like?

Well, it looks like Estonia. In the 20 minute interview above, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former President of Estonia talks about how that country made the transition from Soviet satellite to one — if not THE — most tech savvy countries on the planet. They are sooo far ahead of the US.

At one point in the interview he makes reference to the “borderless world” in which we live. Build all the walls you want, double the TSA goons… but we’re all connected now and more so every day. Put the cap on the toothpaste. Since I first heard the sweet screech of a modem, my sense of place and geography has been fading. I’ve never thought of myself as a “Missourian” and “American exceptionalism” has always seemed like something a shirtless Packers fan would scream at the other team.

Corny as it sounds, I’ve long felt like a citizen of the world. Even though I haven’t seen most of it. So to hear how countries like Estonia and Finland are using technology to better serve their citizens feels like a win for “our team.” Listen to the interview for a glimpse of what can be.

One other point: the person doing the interview (if he even said his name I missed it) was excellent. Short, concise questions. Allowed Ilves time to answer, without interruption.

A boy’s idea of a man

Washington Post political columnist Richard Cohen (February 6, 2017):

“My friend has a teenage son. He’s a good kid, well-behaved, impeccably mannered and exasperatingly unpredictable, as many teenagers are — a man one minute, a boy the next. My friend has schooled his son in the verities of life — be truthful, be reliable, be civil, be patient and, above all, be humble. Now, though, my friend does not know what to say. Donald Trump has left him silent.

There are many reasons to loathe Trump. His policies are mostly wrong, and even those that are right have been chaotically announced or implemented. He prescribes barroom oaths for an economy that needs thought and creativity. He would let the Earth bake rather than take the most rudimentary of steps to moderate global warming. He alienates allies and friends, embraces enemies and indulges in a noxious moral relativism in which, somehow, Russia and America are on the same level.

But it is my friend’s dilemma that best evokes what is so repellent about Trump. He is the winner who was supposed to lose. He is the bully in the fourth grade who never meets his match. He is the liar whose lies somehow don’t matter. He is the braggart who is never humbled. He refutes what Johnny Tremain was told and every child once instructed: “Pride goeth before a fall.” No, with Trump pride goeth before everything .

Donald Trump is the most un-American of presidents. Think of Abraham Lincoln — “Honest Abe.” Will anyone ever call Trump “Honest Don”? Will he be known for his humility or for his lust for knowledge? Will tales be told about his industrious work habits or, as with Lyndon Johnson, his furious desire to end racial discrimination? What will Trump overcome?

Or George Washington. Could there ever be an equivalent of the Parson Weems tale about Trump’s honesty: “Father, I cannot tell a lie”? No, it would have to be “Father, some Mexican cut down the cherry tree.” Or Dwight Eisenhower and his chain-smoking determination on the eve of D-Day, or Ronald Reagan and his affable demeanor with a bullet in him, or George H.W. Bush, who left his cushy country club life and volunteered for war at the age of 18, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, standing on atrophied legs, the braces digging into his flesh, or Barack Obama, whose dignity in the face of Trump’s revolting “birther” taunts is now so sorely missed. Trump repudiates them all. He will leave no myth, just an odor.

Myths have a certain staying power because, really, they are aspirational — not always who we are, but always who we want to be. We see ourselves as good and generous. We believe we are a virtuous nation. There is no monarchy or dictatorship in our past. We have always been a democracy, and even our presidential palace is sometimes called “the people’s house.” I am aware, of course, of slavery and Jim Crow and enduring racism. I am aware, too, of the near-extirpation of the American Indians and the raw anti-Semitism that doomed many Jews fleeing Hitler. All of this is unforgivable, unforgettable too.

As a kid, I was a paperboy, and the walls of the place where we picked up our papers were plastered with pictures of former paperboys — some sports figures, some presidents, some military officers. Ike was one. Roy Campanella, the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, was another and so was the “G.I.’s General,” Omar Bradley, the last of the five-stars. I used to study that wall, wonder about those men and whether I could ever be like them. I envision it now. There is no room for Trump there. He does not qualify. Never mind that he was never a paperboy. More important, he is no role model.

A father instructs. He raises a child to be good, to be honest, to tell the truth, to be humble, to be fair, not to be petty, to respect women, to accept fair criticism, to protect the weak and not to injure the injured, such as the bereaved parents of a son who died heroically in Iraq and a reporter with a physical disability. Trump teaches otherwise. He shows a boy that the manly virtues are for suckers, that the narcissism of youth should be cherished and that angry impulses have to be honored. Lots of men have failed as presidents, as Trump surely will, but few fail so dismally as role models. He’s a boy’s idea of a man. He’s a man’s idea of a boy.”

The prophetic Mr. Adams

First the good news. I finished reading God’s Debris (for the umpteenth time, as we mathematicians like to say), the 2004 novella by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. This will be the final excerpt (until next time).

I was a long time fan of Mr. Adams’ blog and the ideas he shared there but stopped reading when he — like the rest of America — became obsessed with Donald Trump. As far as I can determine, Adams was the first person (of some notoriety) to predict Trump would win the nomination and go on to win the White House. He was saying that as early as September 15, 2015 and perhaps earlier.

I seem to recall Adams insisting he wasn’t saying Trump would make a good president, just that he (like Adams) knew some Master Persuader voodoo that would take him all the way. And I don’t think Adams ever wavered in his conviction. Like I said, I stopped following because my politics toxicity was already dangerously high.

I bring it up as background for this bit from the final chapter of God’s Debris (written 13 years ago):

“The great leaders in this world are always the least rational among us. Charismatic leaders have a natural ability to bring people into their delusion. They convince people to act against self-interest and pursue the leaders’ visions of the greater good. Leaders make citizens go to war to seize land they will never live on and to kill people who have different religions.”

I hesitate to put words in Mr. Adams’ mouth but I don’t think he’s using “great leaders” in the sense of good or admirable but rather in terms of effective. Achieving an objective. Hard to argue Trump did not do that.

The new face of the GOP

I’m ten weeks in on my TV news fast and I’ve dropped 50 pounds in psychic weight. No, I’m not living in a cave. I check the New York Times a couple of times a week (I even have a paid subscription), and I visit the BBC World News page for a more global perspective. Turns out there’s important stuff happening in other pars of the world. So I do get some news about American politics but now I’m controlling the spigot.

Early days for the new president but I’m wondering if it’s going to be as much fun as he thought. Time will tell. Of greater interest to me is to what extent Trump will become the new face of the Republican party. I’m sure this analogy has been worked hard because it’s so apt. After a night of Jägermeister shots the GOP wakes up to discover that dream about the tattoo parlor wasn’t a dream. Going to be hard to call yourself the Party of Reagan after a four year kegger at Sigma Tau Trump.

But who knows. That Trump tat might be good for free drinks for a long time. If so, party on! But if The Donald shits in the punch bowl, it’s gonna be hard to say it wasn’t his party.

Technocracy in America: Rise of the Info-State

“American democracy just isn’t good enough anymore. A costly election has done more to divide American society than unite it, while trust in government–and democracy itself–is plummeting. But there are better systems out there, and America would be wise to learn from them. In this provocative manifesto, globalization scholar Parag Khanna tours cutting-edge nations from Switzerland to Singapore to reveal the inner workings that allow them that lead the way in managing the volatility of a fast-changing world while delivering superior welfare and prosperity for their citizens.” Amazon »

Switzerland is so decentralized it does not have a president (or head of state), but rather a Federal Council of seven members whose chairman rotates each year. (Most citizens cannot name even three of the seven.)

(Info-states) define their geography by their connectivity rather than just their territory; their supply chains are as important to their map as their location.

Their only ideology is pragmatism.

As with natural selection, governance models evolve over time through adaptation, modification, and imitation. The more the world becomes connected and complex, devolved and data-saturated, the more the info-state model will rise in status. Global political discourse is shifting into a post-ideological terrain where performance—based on citizen satisfaction and international benchmarks—is the arbiter of success.

We are coming to appreciate that the difference between successful and failing countries today is not rich versus poor, left versus right, or democratic versus authoritarian, but whether they have the capacity to meet their citizens’ basic needs, empower them as individuals, and act or change course when needed. Everything else is window dressing.

Here then is a key reason to pay attention to technocracy: Because it is Asia’s future. Technocracy becomes a form of salvation after societies realize that democracy doesn’t guarantee national success. Democracy eventually gets sick of itself and votes for technocracy.

China’s spectacular rise versus that of democracies such as India has shown the world that it is better to have a system focused on delivery without democracy than a system that is too democratic at the expense of delivery. For democracy to be admired, it has to deliver.

In the long run, the quality of governance matters more than regime type.

“Chinese people don’t love their government, but they trust it.”

“The Swiss no longer believe in churches and religion,” muses Reto Steiner, a professor at the University of Bern. “They put their trust in deliberation, academics and experts.

Watches and knives, pharmaceuticals and chocolate, precision tools and encrypted hardware—almost everything Switzerland makes is better than anything anyone else can offer. This is because rather than shun vocational education, Swiss overwhelmingly prefer apprenticeships as a mode of skill-building for the global marketplace.

The top three most competitive economies in the world according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) are Switzerland, South Korea and Singapore, all of which have vocational educational systems and worker retraining programs and near-zero unemployment.
The state-builders, urban planners, and economic strategists of the 21st century all take their inspiration from (Singapore’s founder) Lee Kuan Yew, not Thomas Jefferson.

Singapore’s civil service is a spiral staircase: With each rung you learn to manage a different portfolio, building a broad knowledge base and first-hand experience. By contrast, American politics is like an elevator: One can get in on the bottom floor and go straight to top, missing all the learning in between.

At no point in the past decade has any official or academic in a foreign country told me they want their country to look like “America.” They want to have a Silicon Valley, a New York City and a Boston—hubs of innovation, finance, and knowledge.

The notion that western societies rule by reason and eastern societies by despotism is a tired cliché in a world of constant data feedback.

In the coming decades, global competition will punish the sentimental. A society that could do something better but doesn’t is either stupid or suicidal—or both. For political systems this means less emphasis on democracy and more on good governance. Success is measured by delivering welfare domestically and managing global complexity, not by holding elections.

Build it ourselves

“We should be cautious about putting too much faith or fear into elected officials. At the end of the day, this is just a president.” As citizens, we have immense power to change the world we live in. “Politicians do not simply do what they think is best, they do what people think they want to hear, they do what they think will gain them support. Ultimately, if we want to see a change, we must force it through ourselves. “If we want a better world, we can’t hope for an Obama and we should not fear a Donald Trump, rather we should build it ourselves.”

— Edward Snowden (Big Think)