Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Bayesian Logical Positivism

I just read Eliezer Yudkowsky's introduction to Bayes Theorem. Quite illuminating.

Eliezer writes:

"Previously, the most popular philosophy of science was probably Karl Popper's falsificationism - this is the old philosophy that the Bayesian revolution is currently dethroning. Karl Popper's idea that theories can be definitely falsified, but never definitely confirmed, is yet another special case of the Bayesian rules; if p(X|A) ~ 1 - if the theory makes a definite prediction - then observing ~X very strongly falsifies A. On the other hand, if p(X|A) ~ 1, and we observe X, this doesn't definitely confirm the theory; there might be some other condition B such that p(X|B) ~ 1, in which case observing X doesn't favor A over B. For observing X to definitely confirm A, we would have to know, not that p(X|A) ~ 1, but that p(X|~A) ~ 0, which is something that we can't know because we can't range over all possible alternative explanations."

Of course, this raises the possibility that we can reformulate logical positivism in Bayesian terms:

For every meaningful proposition Q there is some finitely executable experimental test E for which:

p(E|Q) <> p(~E|Q)

That is, for a proposition to be meaningful, there must be some repeatable experience that is more likely to occur if the proposition is true than if it is false.

Definitely food for thought.

I'm just beginning to read about something called postpositivism. At first glance, postpositivism this looks like another sad attempt to revive metaphysics by focusing on the weaknesses of prototypical logical positivism all-the-while ignoring the central principle of positivism. In other words, postpositivism seems to score highly on the waffle-o-meter... Stay tuned!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Robot Descendants

At the last WTA chapter meeting, I posed the following rhetorical question:

Which scenario is better: a) that humanity destroy itself in a thermonuclear fireball, or b) that we develop an AI that learns everything we know before supplanting us as the dominant (or only) life form on Earth?

Normally, I hate this kind of question. You know, questions like "would you rather lose an arm or a leg?" Of course, I don't want to lose either.

Still, my question about alternate futures serves to highlight an interesting point. I think it is the dream of most scientists, inventors and artists to produce work that will be appreciated long after they are dead. They don't care who is doing the appreciating. They don't produce a new cure for disease just for their family, their country or their race, they do it for humanity. But what is our individual connection to humanity? How much of an emotional connection do we really have with homo sapiens sapiens in particular? Not that much, I would argue. It's too abstract a concept.

Suppose that in 10,000 years, our descendants have brains that are twice as large as ours, have twenty times our strength and virtually unlimited lifespans. If you met such a creature today, would you call her human? More than human? And if our woman of the future says she appreciates your paintings, your novels and your contributions to science, would you be offended? And if her body were made of silicon and carbon nanotubes, would this change anything?

The bottom line is this. Any creature that we consider to be intelligent and virtuous is a good person, independent of its biology.

D'Lenn, Abe Sapien, Stitch, Arwen, Romanadvoratrelundar, Yoda, John Parker, Kalel, Data... if they were real, would we not consider each of their lives as important as any human life?

As an aside, I wonder how appreciation of science fiction correlates with tolerance for homosexuals. Surely, the sexual practices of fictional alien species must be more bizarre than homosexuality.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

And so it begins...

Taking a cue from George W. Bush, Maryland's Governor has banned certain representatives of the press from speaking with state officials because the journalists refuse to write what the Governor wants to read.

Control of the media is one of the hallmarks of fascism.

Read this list of fascist principles and see how many are being employed today:

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.

5. Rampant sexism.

6. A controlled mass media.

7. Obsession with national security.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.

9. Power of corporations protected.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.

14. Fraudulent elections.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Principle of Verifiable Equivalence

The Principle of Verifiability says that the meaning of a proposition is its method of verification, or, as I (and Karl Popper) prefer, its method of falsification.

Here's an example. Suppose I say "the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest aircraft in the world." I could mean several different things. I could mean that it accelerates faster than any other airplane. I could mean that it flies in a straight line faster than any other plane. Or, I could mean that it climbs fastest, etc. I can tell you precisely what I mean by telling you the conditions of the experiment that falsifies my statement, e.g., "In level flight, no other airplane that can take off under its own power and is powered by air-breathing engines, can sustain a higher speed than the SR-71 over a 500 mile course."

Okay, that was an easy one.

Look at this proposition: "All Carbon 14 nuclei will eventually decay." Thanks to Nicolas for presenting me with this puzzler. At first glance, scientists will agree with this proposition. The problem is that, as written, we can never falsify it. We would have to wait for all time and observe all C14 nuclei in the universe decay before we were satisfied. This isn't even possible in principle, let alone in practice. This means that, as a logical positivist, I can assign no meaning to this proposition.

This is typical of the kind of challenge philosophers have put forward in opposition to logical positivism. By carefully wording accepted scientific knowledge, opponents of logical philosophy hope to find places where science and logical positivism cannot be reconciled. Poor them - it's a hopeless cause.

The actual law of radioactive decay for C14 says this: "the mean lifetime of C14 nuclei is 8,000 years." Of course, this proposition is perfectly falsifiable. Indeed, the law of radioactive decay does not say that a given nucleus must ever decay. It just says that it will last on average 8,000 years before decaying.

Equivalence
Given a proposition, I can generally reword that proposition in some equivalent form. Instead of saying "I am soaked," I could say "I am covered in water," or "I am drenched." There are a very large number of ways of saying the same thing, though many of these ways become more and more verbose. How do we know whether our alternately-worded propositions are equivalent or not?

Certainly, two propositions cannot be equivalent if an experiment will falsify one proposition, but not the other. That is, verification is one (and, in my opinion, the only) arbiter of equivalency. (Note: I include rigorous mathematical proof as a form of verification of mathematical propositions, so the principle applies to mathematics also.)

This might be called the "Principle of Verifiable Equivalence" (okay, so I'm not good at naming principles). It's weaker than the Principle of Verifiability for two reasons. First, it can be used to compare two similar propositions that don't have identical meaning, but which have overlapping meaning. If I say that "George is lying to me," I am also satisfying the condition that "George is being dishonest towards me." If I falsify the latter proposition (dishonesty), I must falsify the former proposition (lying).

Second, the Principle of Verifiable Equivalence is weaker because it does not say anything about propositions that cannot be verified or falsified. It merely says that any two such propositions can never be shown to be equivalent.

Directives
Thanks again to Nicolas for this proposition:
"Homosexuality is unnatural."

This type of proposition is confusing to people because they make the mistake of thinking that it is a proposition about the world. It isn't. Those who utter this proposition are not talking about social convention - they generally do not mean that "homosexuality is practiced by less than 10% of humans." If they did, their utterance would be no more controversial than saying "private aviation is practiced by less than 10% of humans."

What is controversial is what they are really saying, namely: "I consider homosexuality to be wrong." This isn't about the world, per se. It is about how the speaker feels about the issue.

Similarly, if I say "eating fast food is bad," I really mean either "I don't like fast food," or "do not eat fast food!" Of course, this proposition is either an expression of opinion/strategy, or else it is a directive. Neither one can be true or false at all.

So, before you get too deep trying to analyze the proposition "God is good," just remember that this proposition is, at best, not about the world, and, most likely, utter nonsense.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Incredibly, it's not just me

I knew I couldn't be the only one who sensed right-wing undertones in The Incredibles. Check out this piece in the New York Observer:
The simple message that President Bush managed to dumbly repeat until it seemed true for so many can find itself illustrated in diverse places because it sticks so easily. Team America and The Incredibles are different films that arrive at the same conclusion: At some point the Evil Ones must die, and at some point a special, chosen, brave and happy few will vanquish them; it’s up to the rest of us to sit by and trust them to take care of it, without questioning their methods. In The Incredibles, Mrs. Incredible—voiced by Holly Hunter—lectures her children pointedly: These people will kill you, she says, unless you use your superpowers.

I also found this nice post at the Turk's Head Review blog.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Drill Deeper

One of the big stories this week is the extent to which Saddam Hussein cheated the U.N. Oil for Food Program.

Apparently, Hussein was able to obtain influence among corrupt officials at the U.N. and in neighboring states by awarding them "oil allocations." The allocations could be sold to oil companies who were supposed to be the sole recipient of such allocations from the Iraqi government.

So, let's get this straight. The authoritarian regressives on the right highlight corruption at the U.N. as evidence that the sanctions weren't working. The Republicans then hold Democrats responsible for the failure of the embargo, citing misplaced trust in the U.N. See the problems here?

I'll spell it out.

First, you can't blame the reality-based community for the failure of sanctions WHEN THE SANCTIONS WORKED!!! Saddam was contained, and posed no threat. We had leverage right up until Bush traded Iraq's secular state for a fundamentalist, fanatical chaos.

Second, the corruption was obviously facilitated by your beloved oil companies! You know the ones. Like Halliburton, which may have paid \$180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials while Dick Cheney was still CEO. Don't try to tell me the CEO won't notice that little \$180 million line-item.

There's your real national security threat: big oil and its influence.

3D Politics

Last week, I figured out that Liberal is not the antonym of Conservative. Liberal is the antonym of Authoritarian. Simplisticaly, I thought that the opposite of Conservative would be Progressive.

However, the resulting 2D plot of political space failed to generate the depth of insight I was hoping for. The problem is that Conservative, the tendency to want to keep things the way they are/were, is loaded with too much historical baggage. Conservatives were the first to work to protect our environment; Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in 1973. However, if go back in time to 19th century, the colonial push towards the West was marked by environmental disregard. Settlers killed millions of Buffalo without consideration for the ecological or economic damage they were doing. In other words, whether a position is conservative or not depends on how far back you want to go.

Obviously, using a continuum from progressive to conservative to regressive isn't an ideal analyical tool for mapping political positions. Still, referring to contemporary right-wingers as regressives is both apt and gratifying.

So what is it about the conservative/regressive worldview that is time-independent?

Pessimism
Certainly, there's the view on the right that problems of human affairs are fundamentally intractible at the social level. This is a pessimism that resonates with the religious: man is too deeply flawed to solve his own problems, so he must appeal to a divine power for help.

Power to the Powerful
Conservatism primarily conserves power among the already powerful. It's no coincidence that "conservatives" are identified with efforts to preserve racial segregation, regressive tax schemes, elimination of social benefits for the underprivileged (including affirmative action), and the transfer of public assets and public enterprise into corporate hands.

Nepotism
Who among the powerful can be trusted to maintain the status quo? Friends and relatives, of course. Consider the Bush administration's current priorities. No bid contracts in Iraq have benefited Halliburton (the company formerly led by the Vice President) and Bechtel with lucrative contracts. George Shultz, the former U.S. Secretary of State, and the man credited with the ascendency of George W. Bush to the Presidency of the United States, served on the board of Bechtel and was Executive Vice President of the company in the 1980's. The recent Medicare prescription drug benefit is a benefit not for seniors, but for HMO's and pharmaceutical companies. The new priority, social security privatization will benefit the brokerage industry by mandating that every citizen risk part of his earnings in brokerage accounts.

Foreign Policy for Profit
Until recently, conservatives supported foreign policy that was designed to benefit American multinational corporations, while protecting U.S. treasure with defensive use of military power, and offensive use of covert power. Republicans have generally favored economic engagement with corrupt and oppressive regimes when there are profits to be made. The interests of the downtrodden are of no sincere interest to them. Communism was a threat that merited special attention, for the communist worldview swore to eliminate private property and sweep away privilege.

Continuing in this tradition, George W. Bush saw an opportunity for profit in his invasion of Iraq. Unlike his predecessors, Bush has completely ignored the defense of treasure paradigm. He has permanently damaged the America's brand, exposed us to increased danger of terror attack, bogged down the military in an unwinnable war, and risked the entire economy in a gamble for Mid-East oil. However, his friends and family stand to make out like kings.

Fear
Unofficially, the view from the left is that the Republicans are a haven for racists and bigots. This could just be coincidence. Racists aren't going to admit to being racist, so they have to find a legitimate cover story. The Republican's just happen to have economic reasons for maintaining the status quo. Nonetheless, the right's opposition to the progression of civil rights is real enough.

Naturally, any party whose political platform is fundamentally based on pessimism will benefit in a climate of fear. That's why we are now engaged in a "war on terror." Conveniently, this war, inasmuch as it has been defined, is interminable.

So, let's return to our political geometry. We now have as axes: Liberal-Authoritarian, Optimistic-Pessimistic, and Fairness-Nepotism. There are eight combinations of these attributes, more if you include neutral positions.

Here are some of those combinations:

Political LocationPositions
Liberal-Optimistic-FairnessDemocratic idealists
Liberal-Optimistic-NepotismCorrupt Democrats
Liberal-Pessimistic-FairnessLibertarian idealists
Liberal-Pessimistic-NepotismLibertarian with pro-corporate agenda
Authoritarian-Optimistic-FairnessSocialist revolutionary idealists
Authoritarian-Optimistic-NepotismSoviet-style communists
Authoritarian-Pessimistic-FairnessReligious right-wing idealists
Neutral-Pessimistic-FairnessThe original American right
Authoritarian-Pessimistic-NepotismFascism
Neutral-Pessimistic-NepotismThe new American right

Seven Generals

Seven Generals explain why the Bush still doesn't get it:

The people in control in the Pentagon and the White House live in a fantasy world. They actually thought everyone would just line up and vote for a new democracy and you would have a sort of Denmark with oil. I blame Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the people behind him -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary Douglas Feith. The vice president himself should probably be included; certainly his wife. These so-called neocons: These people have no real experience in life. They are utopian thinkers, idealists, very smart, and they have the courage of their convictions, so it makes them doubly dangerous.

-Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak
Air Force chief of staff, 1990-94

Movie Reviews

I'm working on another "deep" post, but for now, here's are three (short) movie reviews.

Saw the Incredibles last night. I rate it 6.5/10. Technically, the movie is well crafted. I thought the violence and suspense were a bit strong for young children, though none of the young kids at the movie theater cried during the show. The thing that spoiled the movie for me was the dialogue. They just had to go and throw in references to terrorism and tort reform. I dunno, maybe I'm getting overly sensitive in my old age. Also, Pixar's opening short, Bounding, was their lamest ever.

7/10. Nice, romantic film. Young Hugh Grant put in a good performance as Chopin. Don't know why, but I always find Bernadette Peters annoying. Loved Emma Thompson, as usual.

I really enjoyed this movie, even more than the original. 8.5/10. Bridget's hilarious friends played a less prominent role in the story :(, but the embarrassing moments weren't quite as embarrassing as in the first picture :). If you liked the first movie, you'll probably like the sequel.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Liberal vs. Conservative: the false dichotomy

We tend to think of there being two competitors in the political ring...

On the left, wearing the blue shorts, friend to the arts and sciences, tree-hugger extraordinaire, progress is his middle name... the Liberal.

On the right, wearing the red trunks, friend to industry and millionaire alike, Mr. "Three Strikes and you're out!", God bless this contender... the Conservative.

However, this is a very poor, one-dimensional approximation to something that has at least two dimensions.

Dictionary.com defines conservative as: Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

The opposite of conservative is progressive: Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods

Neither conservatism nor progressiveness is a panacea. In extreme doses, both are dangerous. I suppose conservatives would say that change brings unpredictable results, including the potential loss of something that is good. Progressives might say that we never have the perfect solution, and that changes made with due deliberation have the potential to improve our lives. Fundamentally, conservatives are pessimists and progressives are optimists.

What is the opposite of liberalism? To be a liberal is to value freedom. The closest antonym for liberalism I have found so far is authoritarianism.

In the following table, I've tried to classify certain political positions within this two-dimensional political universe:

If you want to know who Bush is talking about when he refers to those who "hate freedom," it is the occupants of the bottom half of this diagram.

Now to political parties. Democrats are liberal progressives with a hint of environmental conservatism. Republicans used to be conservative in general, now they are squarely in are bottom right quadrant (a.k.a., conservative freedom-haters). Ralph Nader is probably in the bottom left corner. The libertarians live in the top right quadrant.

I feel sort of dim for taking so long to figure this out. I'm optimistic that eliminating the false liberal/conservative dichotomy in the minds of voters will lead to positive results. However, there are dark forces that don't want the dichotomy to go away.

So when Ann Coulter (may her name be cursed throughout the Local Group) spits her venom at us liberals, just remember that she's an authoritarian: she hates freedom.

Election Analysis

Dick Meyer at CBS has some interesting post-election analysis.

Meyer convincingly argues that moral values were not the most significant factor in this election. The way the question was asked in the exit polls, and the cultural definition of morality skews the question in favor of the Republicans.

First of all, Terrorism and Iraq were not grouped together as a category. Had they been, the Terrorism/Iraq category would have been the biggest single issue for voters at 34%.

Second, the question effectively reads something like: "Do you favor the Republican view of morality?" Not surprisingly, 80% of them voted for the Republicans.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Who doesn't want to be a liberal?

We live in a liberal democracy because human nature makes it impossible for us to reach anything but a broad consensus. Before we start throwing our freedoms in the trash, let's take time to ponder what we might lose if we surrender our liberal ideals.

Privacy
If we don't watch people all the time, we won't know what they're getting up to. They could be plotting a terrorist attack. They could be printing counterfeit money. They could be having sex in illegal positions! We had better install cameras in every room of every home, just in case. Big Brother is watching!

Our liberal philosophy is what gives us the right to privacy. We accept responsibility to use our privacy wisely, and grant others the right to do the same. In certain locations (like airports), privacy may be curtailed due to the immediacy of the threat to public safety. Libraries are not such locations.

Guns
The United States has liberal gun ownership laws. Not conservative gun ownership laws, liberal ones. We allow people the freedom to have guns, and trust that they will use them responsibly. Yes, a gun owner might kill someone accidentally or on purpose, but we should not take rights away from people unless we can show that those rights would serve purely anti-social purposes. For example, assault weapons are designed to kill people in large numbers. The only reason to justify the availability of assault weapons is to enable the populace to resist tyranny. The government owns tanks and attack helicopters; should we allow individuals to own those, too? I don't think that the tyranny argument justifies private ownership of military class weapons.

Hunting
You want to shoot a defenseless animal for sport. It's perfectly legal. Such courage, such guile. What a sense of power, what a thrill, what a man. Why don't you strangle your dog with your bare hands? That would be thrilling wouldn't it?

As you can tell, I don't think hunting for sport shows good character. If you hunt because you must, that's another thing entirely. Hey, I'm as happy as the next guy to eat burgers and chicken nuggets. I just don't think that the act of killing the weak and the innocent should be a source of pleasure. However, this is a liberal democracy, if you want to kill an animal for pleasure, you have the right to fire away! As long as hunters don't kill endangered species or turn their guns on people, I don't see an imperative to take away their rights.

Choice.
When does human life (as we know it) begin? We all agree that a viable fetus is a human being with human rights. However, choosing the moment of conception as the start of life is ARBITRARY!! Where will this insanity lead? Is it better to treat women as chattel - mere breeding machines that we value less than an undeveloped fetus? Is it better to kill a sentient woman than to kill an embryo? Should we force women to salvage their unfertilized eggs during menstruation so we can fertilize the eggs and implant them in any available woman? Should all women of child-bearing age be pregnant to ensure that no potential human lives are lost?

This is a liberal democracy, and women have the right to privacy, the right to self-defense, and have responsibility for their own lives. What a woman does with a non-viable embryo is between her and her doctor. We already restrict abortion to non-viable fetuses (except when birth would cost the life of the mother), so there's no threat to society from the practice of abortion.

Sexuality
There's a whole bunch of people whose sexual advances I would rather not receive. Only a subset of these people are men!

In my opinion, those who want to deny human rights to gays and lesbians (the right to marry, the right to work, the right to healthcare, the right to exist, etc.) are simply bigots. How do I know? I used to irrationally fear gays, too. Twenty years ago, I used to rationalize all sorts of stupid reasons why gays were bad people, or at least, doing bad things. When I finally met some gay people and learned that they're no different than the rest of us, my rationalizations melted away.

Decades ago, non-whites were seen as less than human, and all sorts of rationalizations were given for infringement of their rights. In time, that too passed.

Hey, bigots have the right to be bigots, but they don't have the right to make homosexuals (or anyone else) second-class citizens. There's no public safety hazard posed by gays and lesbians.

Conscience
I think organized religion is a form of mass delusion. For their part, superstitious people think my atheism is wicked. But as long as a man's delusion isn't a safety threat, let him be deluded. If you want to discriminate against me because I insist on seeing reality instead of fantasy, you had better be ready to be on the receiving end of the same discrimination. Once they've come after me, they'll come after you next. Yes, religion is yet another freedom guaranteed by liberal democracy.

Now, who doesn't want to be a liberal?

Virtue

Just blogging out loud for a bit...

Good is not absolute. Good is defined for each of us by the sum of our personal experiences. The "good" is a part of our brain that is co-activated when we have positive experiences: we see a beautiful scene, make contact with a loved one, or eat chocolate cake. Similarly, the "bad" is that part of our brain co-activated with negative experiences like physical pain, emotional loss and bad smells.

There's not necessarily a fixed, physical "goodness center" in the brain. Our neocortex is a highly generalized pattern matching machine; good and bad are just patterns we extract from experience.

The more distant an action is from simple pleasure or pain, the harder it is to assign a goodness rating to that action. Nonetheless, we can still say that filing away recipes in alphabetical order is good because it will reduce the pain of finding the recipes later.

Naturally, precisely what a man defines as good or bad is as unique as his life experiences.

Ethics
Ethics is a set of principles we adopt to facilitate living with others. Ethics are not absolute either. In free societies, promotion of the "common good" is a social objective. The common good is a sort of an average of the individual good over the entire group. A individual's personal goodness almost always differs from ethical goodness, even if only slightly.

Since a person is not an invariant machine, her individual experiences will change her perception of good and bad. Good and bad are not fixed at the individual level, so good and bad cannot be optimally fixed at a social level. Ethics must be adaptable.

Morality
I'll define morality as the set of principles an individual uses to determine right and wrong. Individual moral codes and ethical or legal codes frequently diverge.

Since moral code is defines by personal good, moral codes are not absolute either. Sorry.

Virtue
Following society's ethical rules to the letter would be considered virtuous behavior. Is that all there is to it? If a person follows the rules under duress, is that still virtue? I'm not so sure. In my view, it is the thought that counts, and a good act performed for the wrong reason isn't good, though it is preferable to a bad act.

An autonomous automobile that that never breaks traffic laws might also be considered virtuous by some. However, the car cannot visualize the consequences of breaking those laws, and consequently make the choice to obey them. The robot car is generally good for us, but it is not virtuous.

Finally, is it not a virtue to be able to see the good exception to the rule of law?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
-Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

Unless there's evidence of massive voter fraud on the part of the Republicans, it looks like George W. Bush has won re-election.

Before last night, I had spent quite a while wondering what I would do to protest a Bush victory. I really couldn't think of anything fitting.

After last night, I realized that this isn't really about America or politics anymore. It requires personal adaptation.

The Scales Fall
It is now apparent that more than 50% of American voters cannot make rational political decision. They vote based on their gut or based on wedge issues. They cannot see the big picture. To be fair, one can probably lump many voters on the left into this category, too. You know the ones I mean. The environmentalist who thinks that environmentalism trumps national security, or the pacifist who cannot justify war for any reason.

Yesterday, America re-elected the worst President in U.S. history. A man who has brought wide-scale corruption, environmental degradation, disastrous foreign policy and increased terrorism. What does a President have to do to get thrown out of office?

Under normal circumstances, Americans would fire the president when they feel an acute malaise. There has to be a noticeable drop in the standard of living due to unemployment or underemployment or due to high crime rates. Things are definitely worse than they were under Clinton, but that's no longer enough. Bush's perpetual "war on terrorism" is a political weapon that uses fear to keep people from voting the way they should. This means that terrorist attacks against America will actually help Bush win re-election, not hurt him. We shouldn't be surprised that the Bush administration pretends it's doing something abroad (e.g., the war in Iraq), while simultaneously weakening homeland security. The "American Death Spiral," if you will.

Things will get a lot worse before they get better.

The Stars Fall
Government funding for America's technological infrastructure is collapsing. Science funding is down, funding for education (including higher education) is down, and there is no government road map to keep America competitive.

The Bush administration's policy is to stack government science committees with representatives from industries that have something to lose if any progress is made. Drug companies to run the FDA, energy executives to set energy policy, polluters to govern the EPA, and right-wing ignoramuses to oversee stem cell research (or rather, to prevent it).

This is a perversion. Government exists to serve the needs of the people, and without it, people cannot compete with corporate influence. Government is supposed to do those things that corporations and private interests cannot or will not do.

Corporations will happily hire their PhD's in India or China, and build factories elsewhere. Why should they pay more to hire Americans? Americans have no special skills anymore.

America's star is sure to fall.

Personal Strategy
Politically, not much has changed. The Democratic political machine is just getting fired up, and it will be stronger in 2006 and stronger still in 2008. I shall redouble my efforts as a Democratic volunteer.

However, on a personal level, things need to change. I have always had faith in American innovation and American democracy. We had the best universities and the best scientific research. Our society was imperfect, but it was both liberal and wonderful. I always believed America could meet any challenge. I believed that the American dream would always be out there. I believed that an investment in America was an investment in myself.

I no longer believe this. I'm not saying that America is doomed to fall way behind the rest of the world. I just don't have any confidence that it can stay ahead. America's values are no longer much different from any other country. The United States is violent, ignorant, unjust, and now it tortures prisoners.

I can and I will work to change this, but I no longer fight for America's honor as if it were my own. America isn't me anymore.

I'm taking a card from the Republican playbook. In the Republican world, social Darwinism is the order of the day. They say that society must have its winners and its losers. Well then, I will be a winner. I will be more competitive than ever. I will fight for my own interests first, and my country's interests second. I will ask not what I can do for my country. I won't even ask what my country can do for me. I will ask what I can do for myself.

In practical terms what does this mean? I haven't had time to think things through in much detail, but there are a couple of areas that I can work on.

Financially, I need to get my house in order. I can't make financial decisions based on loyalty to America or to progressive agendas. I can't sit back and have faith that hard work and traditional virtues are enough. If I have to invest in overseas institutions or in oil companies, so be it.

As for homeland security, it doesn't really exist. The government is actually motivated to promote insecurity. I must learn to be responsible for my own security, and that means stocking up on food, water and medical supplies. It means ensuring that I am much more self-sufficient.

Darwin's Revenge
If you're a Republican reading this, you're probably celebrating right now. You're wondering why I wasn't some sort of survivalist all along. You have a point. I should be the master my own destiny, and not trust in the goodwill of others.

What you Republicans haven't figured out is that your strategy has destroyed America's reputation, and now it is destroying America. It rewards investment in the best solution for the individual, not the best solution for the country. It promotes disinvestment in the United States.

So, if it is social Darwinism you seek, it is social Darwinism you shall have. Just remember, in natural selection, only the fittest survive, and I am the fittest!