Monday, July 6, 2015

Re: [tt] NYT: Billionaires to the Barricades

"I don't subscribe to the zero-sum thesis, appropriate in the Old Stone Age as it may be, that the rich gain at the expense of everyone else."

It was probably an oversimplification even in the Stone Age. And there were probably wise people in the Stone Age who knew this.

That's not the point of any of this. In fact, some of these billionaires are trying to explain to other billionaires that it's not a zero-sum game -- that some ideas that seem to involve short-term losses for the rich can deliver longer-term gains, positive-sum for all, while some strategies that generate short-term gains for the rich can be negative-sum, even making the rich poorer in the longer term. Many of the rich are able to get this. Which is hardly a new thing. FDR's Fed chief, Marriner Eccles, a wealthy, conservative industrialist and banker from Utah (a Republican and a Mormon) outlined pretty much the entire New Deal before FDR took office, and joined FDR's administration. Republicans want to forget him, because they saw him as a class traitor. Democrats want to forget him, because it means acknowledging that there have been great Republicans besides Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln. But some people haven't forgotten him: the Federal Reserve building is named after him.

Of course, the rich aren't all alike, and that's another factor here. What happens when, to a rich person, what matters is the /status/ difference between himself and the Lowly (a factor not to be underestimated - Tom Wolfe's "the pleasure of seeing 'em jump") rather the absolute level of wealth? Then you're back to Gore Vidal's quip: "It's not enough to win - others must lose." If you inherited your wealth, you're not likely to appreciate it very much as an actual winning -- you grew up with it as normal, you didn't work for it, so you have little idea of what goes into wealth accumulation or what it's like to be without. You might be more inclined toward strategies that cause others to lose, as a source of self-satisfaction. Entrepreneurs, whatever their politics, are able to "get" what inequality of opportunity means, and why it's unfair. The smart ones have some appreciation of how lucky they were, not just of how hard they worked or how capable they are. But the real inequality issue now is not entrepreneurs. It's inheritors. People with inordinate skill in .... choosing their parents.


Regards,
Michael Turner
Executive Director
Project Persephone
K-1 bldg 3F
7-2-6 Nishishinjuku
Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 160-0023
Tel: +81 (3) 6890-1140
Fax: +81 (3) 6890-1158
Mobile: +81 (90) 5203-8682
turner@projectpersephone.org
http://www.projectpersephone.org/

"Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

On Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 9:42 AM, Frank Forman <checker@panix.com> wrote:
I don't subscribe to the zero-sum thesis, appropriate in the Old Stone Age
as it may be, that the rich gain at the expense of everyone else. I
welcome evidence otherwise as I don't want to be chasing after bad
hypotheses.


Billionaires to the Barricades
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/opinion/sunday/billionaires-to-the-barricades.html

By ALAN FEUER

EARLIER this month, when the billionaire merchandising mogul Johann
Rupert gave a speech at The Financial Times's "luxury summit" in
Monaco, he sounded more like a Marxist theoretician than someone who
made his fortune selling Cartier diamonds and Montblanc pens.
Appearing before a crowd of executives from Fendi and Ferrari, Mr.
Rupert argued that it wasn't right--or even good business--for
"the 0.1 percent of the 0.1 percent" to raid the world's spoils.
"It's unfair and it is not sustainable," he said.

For several years now, populist politicians and liberal
intellectuals have been inveighing against income inequality, an
issue that is gaining traction among the broader body politic, as
shown by a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that found that
nearly 60 percent of American voters want their government to do
more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. But in the
last several months, this topic has been taken up by a different and
unlikely group of advocates: a small but vocal band of billionaires.

In March, for instance, Paul Tudor Jones II, the private equity
investor, gave a TED talk in which he proclaimed that the divide
between the top 1 percent in the United States and the remainder of
the country "cannot and will not persist." Mr. Jones, who is thought
to be worth nearly $5 billion, added that such divides have
historically been resolved in one of three ways: taxes, wars or
revolution.

A few months earlier, Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate
entrepreneur, suggested on CNBC that the superrich should pay higher
taxes in order to restore what he called "the inclusive economy that
I grew up in."

And in June, Nick Hanauer, a tech billionaire from Seattle, wrote a
blog post laying out the capitalist's case for a $15 minimum wage.
The post echoed sentiments that Mr. Hanauer made in a separate
polemic he wrote last summer for Politico, in which he addressed
himself directly to the planet's "zillionaires" and said: "I have a
message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our
gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won't last."

What's going on here? Are all these anxious magnates really
interested in leveling the playing field or are they simply paying
lip service to a shift in the political winds? Or perhaps it's just
a statistical blip, given that most of the world's 1,800
billionaires are not exactly out at the barricades lifting
pitchforks for economic change.

According to Chrystia Freeland, author of the 2012 book "Plutocrats:
The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone
Else," the phenomenon of the socially conscious billionaire is
significant and good. "It is absolutely happening," Ms. Freeland
said. "After my book came out, a few billionaires quietly got in
touch with me to say that they agreed that the current system isn't
working. It makes sense that the people who have benefited most from
the economy have the greatest interest in making it sustainable."

Ms. Freeland, who is also a Liberal Party member of the Canadian
Parliament, pointed to the so-called Conference on Inclusive
Capitalism, organized in London last year by Lynn Forester de
Rothschild, a member of the storied Rothschild banking clan. While
the one-day event was derided by some as a nervous hedge against the
threat of insurrection, the ostensible purpose of the gathering was
to reorient the 1 percent toward public-minded goods like long-term
investing, environmental stewardship and the fate of the global
working class.

Financiers like George Soros and Warren E. Buffett have trod this
ground before to great attention, but now that other billionaires
have been moved to join them, it has helped to change the
conversation, said Darrell M. West, a scholar at the Brookings
Institution and the author of "Billionaires: Reflections on the
Upper Crust."

"The messenger matters," Mr. West said. "When people of modest means
complain about inequality, it usually gets written off as class
warfare, but when billionaires complain, the problem is redefined"
--in a helpful way, he added--"as basic fairness and economic
sustainability."

This is not to say that the current crop of concerned tycoons is
working purely out of altruistic motives. "There's been a major
backlash against inequality," Mr. West said. "And some wealthy
individuals have felt a pressure to address it."

Given the political groundswell for decreasing wealth disparity, Mr.
West added, "There's a realization among the billionaire class that
it's actually in their own self-interest to at least spread some of
the wealth around."

Of course, it may be that some of these outspoken billionaires are
not responding to politics so much as playing it themselves. "I'm
not surprised to hear the wealthy saying these things, but talk is
cheap," said Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, which
advocates financial reform. "These people know exactly how to move
the levers of power and, until that happens, whatever they say is
nothing but empty words."

According to William D. Cohan, a former Wall Street banker who has
written frequently about billionaires, if the investor class were
truly interested in targeting unfairness, its members would try to
alter the policies of the Federal Reserve, which tend to help the
rich, or do away with inequity-inducing programs like tax incentives
for hedge funds.

Mr. Cohan said that proposals like increasing the minimum wage, a
popular rallying cry among those decrying income inequality, would
have, at best, a minimal effect on reducing the rift between
ordinary people and the 1 percent.

Most billionaires, he added, are apt to address inequality by
donating portions of their fortunes, not by seeking systemic
economic change. "Charity? Yes," Mr. Cohan said. "But leveling the
playing field? No."

And yet the extremely wealthy do face an abiding risk from festering
inequity: The have-nots might finally lose patience and turn upon
the haves.

"That's the real danger," Mr. Cohan said. "This little thing called
the French Revolution."

Alan Feuer is a metropolitan reporter for The New York Times.
_______________________________________________
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[tt] NYT: Billionaires to the Barricades

I don't subscribe to the zero-sum thesis, appropriate in the Old Stone Age
as it may be, that the rich gain at the expense of everyone else. I
welcome evidence otherwise as I don't want to be chasing after bad
hypotheses.


Billionaires to the Barricades
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/opinion/sunday/billionaires-to-the-barricades.html

By ALAN FEUER

EARLIER this month, when the billionaire merchandising mogul Johann
Rupert gave a speech at The Financial Times's "luxury summit" in
Monaco, he sounded more like a Marxist theoretician than someone who
made his fortune selling Cartier diamonds and Montblanc pens.
Appearing before a crowd of executives from Fendi and Ferrari, Mr.
Rupert argued that it wasn't right--or even good business--for
"the 0.1 percent of the 0.1 percent" to raid the world's spoils.
"It's unfair and it is not sustainable," he said.

For several years now, populist politicians and liberal
intellectuals have been inveighing against income inequality, an
issue that is gaining traction among the broader body politic, as
shown by a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that found that
nearly 60 percent of American voters want their government to do
more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. But in the
last several months, this topic has been taken up by a different and
unlikely group of advocates: a small but vocal band of billionaires.

In March, for instance, Paul Tudor Jones II, the private equity
investor, gave a TED talk in which he proclaimed that the divide
between the top 1 percent in the United States and the remainder of
the country "cannot and will not persist." Mr. Jones, who is thought
to be worth nearly $5 billion, added that such divides have
historically been resolved in one of three ways: taxes, wars or
revolution.

A few months earlier, Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate
entrepreneur, suggested on CNBC that the superrich should pay higher
taxes in order to restore what he called "the inclusive economy that
I grew up in."

And in June, Nick Hanauer, a tech billionaire from Seattle, wrote a
blog post laying out the capitalist's case for a $15 minimum wage.
The post echoed sentiments that Mr. Hanauer made in a separate
polemic he wrote last summer for Politico, in which he addressed
himself directly to the planet's "zillionaires" and said: "I have a
message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our
gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won't last."

What's going on here? Are all these anxious magnates really
interested in leveling the playing field or are they simply paying
lip service to a shift in the political winds? Or perhaps it's just
a statistical blip, given that most of the world's 1,800
billionaires are not exactly out at the barricades lifting
pitchforks for economic change.

According to Chrystia Freeland, author of the 2012 book "Plutocrats:
The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone
Else," the phenomenon of the socially conscious billionaire is
significant and good. "It is absolutely happening," Ms. Freeland
said. "After my book came out, a few billionaires quietly got in
touch with me to say that they agreed that the current system isn't
working. It makes sense that the people who have benefited most from
the economy have the greatest interest in making it sustainable."

Ms. Freeland, who is also a Liberal Party member of the Canadian
Parliament, pointed to the so-called Conference on Inclusive
Capitalism, organized in London last year by Lynn Forester de
Rothschild, a member of the storied Rothschild banking clan. While
the one-day event was derided by some as a nervous hedge against the
threat of insurrection, the ostensible purpose of the gathering was
to reorient the 1 percent toward public-minded goods like long-term
investing, environmental stewardship and the fate of the global
working class.

Financiers like George Soros and Warren E. Buffett have trod this
ground before to great attention, but now that other billionaires
have been moved to join them, it has helped to change the
conversation, said Darrell M. West, a scholar at the Brookings
Institution and the author of "Billionaires: Reflections on the
Upper Crust."

"The messenger matters," Mr. West said. "When people of modest means
complain about inequality, it usually gets written off as class
warfare, but when billionaires complain, the problem is redefined"
--in a helpful way, he added--"as basic fairness and economic
sustainability."

This is not to say that the current crop of concerned tycoons is
working purely out of altruistic motives. "There's been a major
backlash against inequality," Mr. West said. "And some wealthy
individuals have felt a pressure to address it."

Given the political groundswell for decreasing wealth disparity, Mr.
West added, "There's a realization among the billionaire class that
it's actually in their own self-interest to at least spread some of
the wealth around."

Of course, it may be that some of these outspoken billionaires are
not responding to politics so much as playing it themselves. "I'm
not surprised to hear the wealthy saying these things, but talk is
cheap," said Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, which
advocates financial reform. "These people know exactly how to move
the levers of power and, until that happens, whatever they say is
nothing but empty words."

According to William D. Cohan, a former Wall Street banker who has
written frequently about billionaires, if the investor class were
truly interested in targeting unfairness, its members would try to
alter the policies of the Federal Reserve, which tend to help the
rich, or do away with inequity-inducing programs like tax incentives
for hedge funds.

Mr. Cohan said that proposals like increasing the minimum wage, a
popular rallying cry among those decrying income inequality, would
have, at best, a minimal effect on reducing the rift between
ordinary people and the 1 percent.

Most billionaires, he added, are apt to address inequality by
donating portions of their fortunes, not by seeking systemic
economic change. "Charity? Yes," Mr. Cohan said. "But leveling the
playing field? No."

And yet the extremely wealthy do face an abiding risk from festering
inequity: The have-nots might finally lose patience and turn upon
the haves.

"That's the real danger," Mr. Cohan said. "This little thing called
the French Revolution."

Alan Feuer is a metropolitan reporter for The New York Times.
_______________________________________________
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[tt] NYT: Enduring Summer's Deep Freeze

Enduring Summer's Deep Freeze
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/sunday-review/enduring-summers-deep-freeze.html

By KATE MURPHY

IT'S summertime. The season when you can write your name in the
condensation on the windows at Starbucks, people pull on parkas to
go to the movies and judges have been known to pause proceedings so
bailiffs can escort jurors outside the courthouse to warm up.

On these, the hottest days of the year, office workers huddle under
fleece blankets in their cubicles. Cold complaints trend on Twitter
with posts like, "I could preserve dead bodies in the office it's so
cold in here." And fashion and style bloggers offer advice for
layered looks for coming in and out of the cold.

Why is America so over air-conditioned? It seems absurd, if not
unconscionable, when you consider the money and energy wasted--not
to mention the negative impact on the environment from the
associated greenhouse-gas emissions. Architects, engineers, building
owners and energy experts sigh with exasperation when asked for an
explanation. They tick off a number of reasons--probably the most
vexing is cultural.

"Being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of
power and prestige," said Richard de Dear, director of the Indoor
Environmental Quality Laboratory at University of Sydney, Australia,
where excessive air-conditioning is as prevalent as it is in much of
the United States. He said the problem is even worse in parts of the
Middle East and Asia.

Commercial real estate brokers and building managers say
sophisticated tenants specify so-called chilling capacity in their
lease agreements so they are guaranteed cold cachet. In retailing,
luxury stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth
Avenue are kept colder than more down-market Target, Walmart and Old
Navy. Whole Foods is chillier than Kroger, which is chillier than
Piggly Wiggly.

There's also the widely held misconception that colder temperatures
make workers more alert and productive when, in fact, research shows
the opposite. Studies have shown people work less and make more
mistakes when the air temperature is 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit
versus 74 to 76 degrees. Moreover, some research indicates feeling
cold can take a psychological toll, making people untrusting,
uncommunicative and unfriendly.

As infants we learn to associate warmth with the safety of our
parents' arms. Our subconscious equates cold with vulnerability,
which partly explains why people can be so miserable when they are
chilled.

A region of the brain called the hypothalamus is responsible for our
body's thermoregulatory system, constricting blood vessels when we
are cold and dilating them when we are hot to maintain a safe core
body temperature. Your physical discomfort is essentially the
hypothalamus prodding you to say, put on a sweater if it's chilly or
fan yourself when it's hot.

Extreme temperature changes like entering a freezing lobby on a
sweltering summer day may feel good at first, but it makes the
hypothalamus go nuts, intensifying physical and psychological
discomfort when the initial pleasure wears off--as if to say: "A
blizzard is on its way! Do something!"

"It's left over from a time when it was dangerous to have that kind
of change in temperature," said Nisha Charkoudian, a research
physiologist with the United States Army Research Institute of
Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass.

The problem is compounded by building managers who, surveys
indicate, typically don't adjust the temperature set point higher in
summertime when people wear lighter and more revealing clothes than
they do in wintertime. Since thermoreceptors (nerve cells that sense
temperature changes) are on your skin, the more of it you have
exposed, the colder you are going to feel. Sixty-eight degrees feels
a lot different if you are wearing a wool turtleneck, slacks and
boots versus a poplin sundress and sandals.

However, you can understand managers' bias toward keeping the lower,
wintertime setting when many are men and might wear ties and jackets
no matter the season. They may be even less inclined to bump up the
thermostat if they are heavyset, as body fat is the ultimate heat
insulator.

Air-conditioning systems are also usually designed for worst-case
scenarios--full occupancy of a space on the hottest day of the
year. As part of that calculation, designers might have assumed heat
loads that factor in older-model computers and less energy-efficient
lighting that radiate much more warmth than the machines and bulbs
used today.

And, engineers say, they might add a 20 percent upward correction,
just to be on the safe side. A result is systems with ridiculous
overcapacity that don't run well on low settings.

"It's analogous to a high-tune car where you have to keep your foot
on gas to keep it from stalling out," said Edward Arens, professor
of architecture and director of the Center for the Built Environment
at the University of California, Berkeley.

Paradoxically, another reason for aggressive air-conditioning is
energy-efficient building construction. Better sealing and
insulation keeps air-conditioning from escaping but it also keeps
fresh air from entering. So cool air is often kept blasting to meet
mandated air quality standards for levels of carbon dioxide that
build up in the absence of outside air. The cool air also controls
humidity, which can lead to every building manager's nightmare:
mold.

STILL, Mr. Arens and his colleagues found that when they reduced
airflow in several office buildings during the summer, including
ones on the Yahoo campus in Sunnyvale, Calif., air quality was not
diminished and it cut employee cold complaints in half as well as
reduced the energy bill by as much as 30 percent.

While architects like Mr. Arens point the finger at engineers for
designing air-conditioning systems with too much capacity, engineers
can justifiably point the finger back at those architects who often
have an aesthetic aversion to thermostats.

"Architects try to convince mechanical engineers to hide sensors so
they don't mess up their beautiful design, so you find them in quite
out-of-the-way locations" like within air inlets on the ceiling,
where, because heat rises, they provide less than accurate readings,
said Jon Seller, general manager of Optegy, an energy management
consulting firm based in Hong Kong, which specializes in maximizing
the efficiency and automation of air-conditioning systems.

A couple of computer scientists have developed a smartphone app that
proposes to solve that problem by making people the thermostats.
Users can tell the app, called Comfy, whether they are hot, cold or
just right. Over time, it learns trends and preferences and tells
the air-conditioning system when and where to throttle up or
throttle back the cooling. So far it's used in a dozen buildings,
including some of Google's offices and some government-owned
buildings, for a total of three million square feet. The developers
claim Comfy-equipped buildings realize savings of up to 25 percent
in cooling costs.

"We have a lot of data that people are most comfortable if they have
some measure of control," said Gwelen Paliaga, a building systems
engineer in Arcata, Calif., and chairman of a committee that
develops standards for human thermal comfort for the American
Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, or
Ashrae.

Of course, for fresh air and comfort, engineers and architects tend
to agree the most effective control is being able to open and close
the windows. No app required.[]

Kate Murphy is a journalist in Houston who writes frequently for The
New York Times.
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[tt] NYT: Nathaniel Popper's 'Digital Gold' Looks at Bitcoin

Nathaniel Popper's 'Digital Gold' Looks at Bitcoin
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/books/review/nathaniel-poppers-digital-gold-looks-at-bitcoin.html

Bethany McLean is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the
co-author of "All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the
Financial Crisis."

DIGITAL GOLD
Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying
To Reinvent Money
By Nathaniel Popper
398 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $27.99.

If you wanted to create an entirely new world, like that in "Star
Wars," or in Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," you would certainly
need an entirely new form of money. As Nathaniel Popper points out
in his new book, "Digital Gold," which tracks the roller-coaster
ride of the digital currency called Bitcoin, it's not surprising
that part of its appeal to its devotees is that it could enable the
creation of that new world, a libertarian utopia. Bitcoins--which
are created, or mined, via complex computer algorithms, and are
stored in digital wallets--offer privacy: Although every
transaction is recorded, the users are identified only by wallet
IDs, which are difficult, if not impossible, to track back to their
owners. Theoretically, Bitcoins also allow users to avoid any fees
or meddling by a middleman like a bank, because buyers and sellers
can deal directly with one another. At its grandest, Bitcoin
promises freedom from the clunkiness of cash, from the dominance of
central banks and from technology that allows us to be tracked, even
by our own governments. On a more prosaic level, why shouldn't money
be as vulnerable to technological disruption as, say, music?

Popper tells his story through a global cast of characters--
technologists, altruists, evangelists, crooks and money men--who
are every bit as memorable as Han Solo. There is the enigmatic,
mysterious figure calling himself Satoshi, who in 2008 wrote what
came to be known as the "Bitcoin White Paper," which provided the
basis of the code that created Bitcoins. "I've moved on to other
things and probably won't be around in the future," Satoshi writes
just as his invention is becoming more widely adopted, and while
Popper never figures out who Satoshi actually is, he does, toward
the end of his book, come to what seems to be a decent guess. (In a
subsequent article, Popper has elaborated on what he calls "one of
the great mysteries of the digital age." He writes that there's a
"quiet but widely held belief" that Satoshi is one Nick Szabo, a
reclusive American man of Hungarian descent who has played a
critical role in Bitcoin's development, but who denies that he is
actually Satoshi.)

One of the early adopters of Satoshi's invention was a man named Hal
Finney, who was, Popper writes, "particularly drawn to Satoshi's
claims that users could own and trade Bitcoins without providing
identifying information to any central authorities." The late
Finney, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's
disease, and used his early stash of Bitcoins to pay for home care
as his illness intensified, was a true and pure believer, as is the
entrepreneur Roger Ver, who described Bitcoins as "the most
important invention since the Internet itself. The world is changing
because of Bitcoin right in front of our eyes."

But Popper uses his characters to show the diverse set of intentions
and motivations among Bitcoin's promoters. He introduces us to the
Argentine entrepreneur Wences Casares, who sees in Bitcoin a way to
fix the woes his own country has experienced with a currency its
citizens can't trust. It's Casares who helps get money men into
Bitcoin--including Pete Briger, who runs the Fortress Investment
Group--and they have their own reasons for buying in. "Pete's job
as an investor in distressed companies made him good at spotting
broken systems, and the more he thought about it, the more broken
the current methods of moving money around the world seemed to him,"
Popper writes.

Bitcoin grows, and Popper pulls its contradictions to the surface.
For instance, many people were willing to compromise the purity and
power of the code for the convenience of having someone else handle
the work before them. As Popper writes, "The choice was between
security and principles on one hand and convenience on the other."
So Jed McCaleb, an iconoclastic math and science prodigy, creates a
site called Mt. Gox, where people could buy and sell Bitcoins
without having any understanding of the code themselves. After the
demands of running it prove too much, McCaleb sells Mt. Gox to a
disenfranchised young man named Mark Karpeles, whose inability to
deal with real human beings would prove to be his, and perhaps
Bitcoin's, downfall. Popper reports that Karpeles, who sets up shop
in Tokyo, was "two years into running the world's largest Bitcoin
exchange, but he had still not attended a single Bitcoin event
abroad--a fact that he blamed on the sickness of his cat, Tibanne,
who needed daily shots that Mark believed only he could administer."
The meltdown at Mt. Gox, which filed for bankruptcy in 2014, is a
story so deliciously weird that it would stand all on its own.

But Mt. Gox is only one of the strange threads Popper follows
through the history of Bitcoin. He also tells its darkest side
through Ross Ulbricht, the surfer scientist and libertarian child of
hippies, who created Silk Road, where people could engage in illegal
transactions under the shroud of anonymity generated by Bitcoin.
Silk Road became the Internet's most infamous illicit bazaar and was
the first killer app for Bitcoin. Popper perfectly juxtaposes the
tale of federal agents' old-school efforts to apprehend Ulbricht--
who took the name Dread Pirate Roberts and justified his most
morally reprehensible decisions in the name of freedom--with the
growing mainstream interest in Bitcoin, from Silicon Valley to New
York to the Federal Reserve itself, not as a revolutionary tool but
as a practical way to update our currently creaky and pricey methods
of moving money. (In May, Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison.)
In an irony of sorts, the cryptographic technologies at the heart of
Bitcoin might themselves have great value as a tool for
authenticating previously hard-to-trace transactions.

As Bitcoin is adopted by the moneyed class as a better mousetrap for
the establishment, it inevitably risks becoming something its
original adherents despise. Popper also charts the rise of a stealth
company called 21e6, backed by the Valley's elite, which harnesses
technology to create Bitcoins more efficiently than anyone else,
thereby mining money for those who already have plenty. The most
poignant moment in the book comes when Popper contrasts a conference
for the more ideologically minded Bitcoiners at a racetrack on the
outskirts of Austin, where Ulbricht grew up, with the gathering of
the rich and powerful at the South by Southwest festival, where
Ulbricht's mother is politely dismissed as she pleads for funds to
help defray her son's legal costs. It was an "unhappy reminder of a
side of Bitcoin" that its new adherents "wanted to put behind them,"
Popper writes. And as he notes, "If this was the new world, it
didn't seem all that different from the old one--at least not
yet."

Popper wants to tell us every last detail, and while the anecdotes
have a you-were-there quality, the book does border on becoming
encyclopedic at times. I wish he had left some characters out in
order to let other stories unspool a little more slowly and
pointedly, like when a hacker who manages to track Finney through
Bitcoin targets him and his family, demanding ransom as Finney is
dying.

Nor can "Digital Gold" be a tale with a satisfying ending, because
the future of Bitcoin is unknowable right now. As the venture
capitalist Barry Silbert says at a Goldman Sachs conference, Bitcoin
"is either going to change everything, or nothing." But if Bitcoin
doesn't change everything, people will keep trying to find something
that will, and so Popper's book stands as necessary reading, and
very intriguing at that, regardless of the eventual fate of his
subject.
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[tt] WaPo: Marcia Bartusiak: Where human questioning led us

Marcia Bartusiak: Where human questioning led us
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/where-human-questioning-led-us/2015/07/01/abbed528-18f2-11e5-bd7f-4611a60dd8e5_story.html

Marcia Bartusiak is a professor in the MIT Graduate Program in
Science Writing. She is the author of six books on astronomy and
astrophysics, including her latest, "Black Hole: How an Idea
Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by
Hawking Became Loved."

The Upright Thinkers
The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos
By Leonard Mlodinow
Pantheon.
340 pp. $27.95

'The nobility of the human race lies in our drive to know," says
Leonard Mlodinow. And by tracing that voracious impulse through the
millennia, Mlodinow has fashioned an entrancing tale of scientific
history in his book "The Upright Thinkers."

This is, of course, a familiar journey, featuring all the usual
suspects: Galileo (check), Newton (check), Darwin (check). But what
makes this oft-made trip worthwhile is Mlodinow's captivating voice,
sly humor and intellectual vitality. If high school history were
taught in this way, college history departments would be swamped
with applications.

He starts not with the Greeks or the Egyptians but much further back
--with Protungulatum donnae, a small mammal from the age of the
dinosaurs whose progeny evolved over the eons into primates,
including us. Once we acquired the ability to fashion tools and
obtain protein-rich meat, our brain size increased, thus boosting
our cerebral powers. So, upon encountering the unknown, our
primitive species moved beyond mere instinct and began to ask,
"Why?" "The act of questioning is so important to our species," the
author writes, "that we have a universal indicator for it: all
languages ... employ a similar rising intonation for questions."
We began to think.

Humanity's queries continued as we erected first villages, then
cities. A division of labor freed us from farming alone, with
weavers, builders and brewers serving as humanity's proto-engineers
and chemists. We started to seek rational explanations for such
natural disasters as earthquakes, windstorms and floods. Before
this, Mlodinow writes, "the gods were thought to be constantly
causing calamities through their anger ... as if they were bulls
in a china shop and we were the china." Now early philosophers began
to view the universe as ordered, not random. Pythagoras and company
uncovered mathematical laws behind this order. "It is hard to
overstate what a profound shift that was, or the degree to which it
has shaped human consciousness ever since," the author notes.

But there were limits initially. Aristotle, who resided in the top
tier of Greek philosophers, was not fond of quantifying his
observations. "He had just a vague understanding of speed--as in
'some things go farther than others in a similar amount of time,' "
Mlodinow points out. "That sounds to us like a message we might find
inside a fortune cookie." What Aristotle sought was the purpose or
intention of all natural phenomena, an emphasis that, according to
the author, impeded science for some 2,000 years.

That changed as Greek knowledge, valued and extended by the Islamic
world, was rediscovered by Europeans in medieval times. The rise of
universities and improvements in technology--printing presses,
clocks, mechanical devices--encouraged the reexamination of its
tenets. No one did this better than Galileo. Rather than carry out
experiments merely to illustrate various phenomena, as scholars had
done for centuries, he used them to gather quantitative data that
tested his hypotheses. More than that, he didn't throw out the
measurements that went against his preconceived notions. It was that
turn of mind that later allowed Isaac Newton's breakthroughs to
emerge.

Here Mlodinow vividly illustrates that Newton's momentous laws of
motion and gravity did not arise from an apple-driven "epiphany" but
rather from years of dogged struggle. His success was so great that
his findings and chosen language are now woven into our very culture
and vocabulary. "We speak of the force of a person's character, and
the acceleration of the spread of a disease," Mlodinow writes. "We
talk of physical and even mental inertia, and the momentum of a
sports team. To think in such terms would have been unheard of
before Newton." Such insights are what make this book singular.
Mlodinow provides many cultural touchstones and tells personal
stories, both poignant and amusing, about his experiences as a
theoretical physicist to draw us even closer to the history.

After Newton, the pace of discovery quickens, into chemistry and the
unveiling of the ultimate nature of matter. Being rich helped,
enabling people like Englishman Robert Boyle and the Frenchman
Antoine Lavoisier to draw on their families' aristocratic wealth to
set up state-of-the-art laboratories for their pivotal thermodynamic
and chemical explorations.

Advances in biology are limited to a single chapter introduced in
the author's poetic style: "It is a great wonder that the sum of our
cells' activities, the interaction of a galaxy of unthinking
individuals, adds up to a whole that is us." In this section we
learn about the astounding work of Anton van Leeuwenhoek (the
Galileo of the microscope) and, of course, Charles Darwin (whose
"Origin of the Species" serves as the biological equivalent of
Newton's "Principia"). Once Darwin introduced the concept of natural
selection, biologists became comfortable with the role of chance in
nature's behavior. And soon physicists had to make a similar
adjustment in understanding the goings-on of the atomic world, where
light and matter are ruled by probabilities rather than Newtonian
cause and effect. It is a domain where particles are waves and waves
are particles--all at the same time. Though still difficult for
our macroscopic minds to grasp, this realization ultimately led to
the wonders of our 21st-century digital technologies.

Mlodinow is selective in the moments he chooses to emphasize--we
get the grand vista rather than the rugged topography--which is
perfect for those who are looking for an overall arc of science's
evolution. As he puts it, he focuses on the thinkers who were
"capable of looking at the world just a little bit differently.
Galileo imagining objects falling in a theoretical world devoid of
air resistance. Dalton imagining how elements might react to form
compounds if they were made of unseeable atoms. Heisenberg imagining
that the realm of the atom is governed by bizarre laws that are
nothing like those we experience in everyday life."

He has whetted my appetite for the day when future explorers unravel
today's deepest mysteries--such as dark matter, dark energy,
quantum gravity and the origin of the mind of each upright thinker.
_______________________________________________
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[tt] TLS 5856: Eric Schliesser: Throwing caution to the wind

TLS 5856: Eric Schliesser: Throwing caution to the wind

Eric Schliesser is Research Professor in Philosophy at Ghent University and has
been appointed Professor of Political Theory at the University of Amsterdam. He
is the editor of Sympathy: A history, which is due to be published in August.

Steven Shaviro
THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS
On speculative realism
180pp. University of Minnesota Press. Paperback, £15 (US $20). 978 0 8166 8926
2

Published: 24 June 2015

When Albert Einstein overthrew Isaac Newton's conception of physics at the
start of the twentieth century, one casualty was the reign of Immanuel Kant's
philosophy with its conceptions of causation, time and space, which are
incompatible with the new relativistic space-time and subsequent developments
in quantum physics. The effect was an extraordinarily fertile period in
philosophy. When the dust had settled by mid-century, practitioners of the
subject had broadly divided into opposing analytic and Continental camps that,
with a few isolated exceptions, stopped engaging with each other intellectually
after the polemic between Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Carnap in the 1930s.

Yet Kantian principles did not disappear from the two traditions. In
particular, on the Continental side some version of "correlationism" - the idea
that "our very experience of the world can take place only under conditions of
our own making", as Steven Shaviro puts it in The Universe of Things - tends to
be assumed. Moreover, advances within the Continental tradition often occur by
direct engagement with Kant and his reception in the work of figures such as
Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger.

On the analytic side, the new mathematical logic proposed by Gottlob Frege was
developed further and systematized by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand
Russell in their three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910-13). The
extraordinary developments in logic were accompanied by an all-encompassing,
systematic intellectual caution, expressed in various ways within the analytic
tradition. In the hands of Rudolf Carnap and W. V. Quine, the caution was
technical, and entailed deference to the constraints of formal logic and
natural science; in other hands (such as those of David Lewis), the caution was
methodological, in that any philosophical system had to find some optimal
cost-benefit equilibrium between common sense intuitions and theoretical
desiderata; in yet other hands (J. L. Austin's, for example), it entailed an
obsessive focus on the mundane details of ordinary language. Others explicitly
reverted back to structural features of Kant's philosophy, most notably P. F.
Strawson at Oxford, whose "descriptive metaphysics" is a metaphysics of what
Wilfrid Sellars, that other important Kantian, would call the "manifest image"
of ordinary life; it is not a theory of fundamental reality.

More recently, analytic philosophy has embraced metaphysics, but many analytic
metaphysicians discuss their projects in terms of the features of a
hypothetical, ideal language imagined as the result of completed science. The
revival of a speculative metaphysics within analytical philosophy is associated
with the influence of David Lewis's system. Shaviro's book, by contrast, is
primarily devoted to describing and extending the revival of non-Kantian
metaphysics within Continental philosophy. But he does consider Lewis's denial
of necessary connections among genuinely distinct entities, which he takes to
be a "contemporary version" of Hume's and Kant's claim that we do not "perceive
... causality itself". Shaviro thus slyly implies that analytic philosophy is
still in the grip of Kantian correlationism without being aware of it. On
Shaviro's view, the hip philosophers, who have decisively broken with Kant, are
to be found on the Continental side: the so-called Speculative Realists. In
addition to rejecting correlationism and embracing the legitimacy of
metaphysics, all Speculative Realists agree that philosophy should not
privilege the human, or what they call "finitude".

Speculative Realism was launched in 2007 during a conference held at Goldsmiths
College, University of London, where Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham
Harman and Quentin Meillassoux presented papers. There are serious
disagreements among these thinkers, and Shaviro's book works its way
dialectically through some of their most distinctive doctrines and some of
their intellectual interlocutors. He is sympathetic to their rejection of
correlationism and their embrace of metaphysical realism. Shaviro's summaries
of the four Speculative Realists' main doctrines are generally helpful to
beginner and advanced student alike; they are also judicious.

Sadly, Shaviro does not pause to reflect on the consequence of rejecting the
Kantian edifice if one fails to exhibit logical, systematic or methodological
caution. In particular, he complicates matters by drawing on and appealing to
Whitehead's philosophy. In the first sentence, the book presents itself as a
"new look at the philosophy of Whitehead in the light of 'speculative
realism'". Shaviro uses the rejection of correlationism to support two of
Whitehead's most controversial doctrines: panpsychism, the idea that
consciousness is ubiquitous throughout the universe; and the idea that
aesthetic value is (in some sense) foundational not just to all other thought,
including philosophy, but also to "ontology as a whole". In Shaviro, the two
doctrines are connected because all entities are "centers of autonomous value".

The turn to Whitehead calls for some historical comment, because Whitehead is a
notoriously difficult thinker who presents his views idiosyncratically. After
his joint work with Russell, Whitehead moved from Cambridge in England to
Harvard, where he taught both Quine and Donald Davidson during the 1930s.
Although Quine became critical of Whitehead late in life, he wrote perceptively
about the connection between Whitehead's work in logic and his later
metaphysics. Even so, in Davidson's intellectual autobiography published in
1999, Whitehead is presented as unintelligible and uninterested in truth - the
terms usually reserved by analytic philosophers to disparage their Continental
counterparts. Unsurprisingly, Whitehead has largely disappeared from analytic
philosophy's self-understanding.

The revival of Whitehead's intellectual fortunes was greatly facilitated within
Continental philosophy by Gilles Deleuze's engagement with Whitehead's work.
Deleuze saw in Whitehead a fruitful anticipation of his own philosophy. It is
no coincidence that the proceedings of the Goldsmiths conference appeared
alongside tributes to Deleuze.

Unfortunately, Steven Shaviro's articulation of the fundamentality of aesthetic
value leaves so much obscure - aesthetic contact is described as "vicarious"
and likened to "occult influence" - that it is very hard to engage with
critically. His defence of panpsychism is also less than thorough or
convincing. To borrow an idea from Daniel Dennett: what problem does one really
explain or solve by claiming that all atoms can feel? One has not eliminated
the problems related to consciousness and value, but multiplied them.

[tt] TLS 5856: BARBARA J. KING: IN COMMUNAL WATERS

TLS 5856: BARBARA J. KING: IN COMMUNAL WATERS

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and
Mary. Her most recent book, How Animals Grieve, was published in 2013. She
contributes weekly to National Public Radio's Cosmos and Culture blog.

Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell
THE CULTURAL LIVES OF WHALES AND DOLPHINS
417pp. University of Chicago Press. £25.50 ($35). 978 0 226 89531 4

Published: 3 April 2015

Until the emergence of human culture "an evolutionary blink" ago, a few hundred
thousand years at most, the most significant cultures on Earth were in the
ocean. The cultures of killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales and
humpback whales today, just now beginning to give up their secrets to marine
researchers, emerged in their stunning complexity from those of ancient
cetacean relatives, and still continue to shape whole ecosystems. Supporting
these central conclusions in The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, the
biologists Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell offer a stunning account that
enriches our understanding of cetacean behaviour and complicates in profound
ways the claims of human exceptionalism.

Extreme statements are sometimes made about the intelligence of whales and
dolphins, or about ethereal encounters between our species and theirs -
sometimes that happens, too, with elephants and apes. In their opening pages,
Whitehead and Rendell note that the cetacean science community "has worked hard
to rescue the study of cetacean behavior from misguided mysticism". What
follows are eleven chapters in which the authors present knowledge hard-won
from their own decades of studying sperm whales, analyse comparable material
from other long-term cetacean research, and offer informed speculation where
the data still fall short of hard conclusions. The book represents a gorgeously
choreographed dance that depends on balancing what we know for certain about
the cultures of whales and dolphins with what seems highly probable but must
still be considered speculative.

There is no doubt that some whales and dolphins are cultural beings, if we
resist adopting a definition of culture that insists on the linguistic and
symbolic meaning-making characteristic of our own species alone. "Culture",
Whitehead and Rendell write, "is behavior or information with two primary
attributes: it is socially learned and it is shared within a social community."
Explanations of genetics or ecology must be excluded before some behaviour is
understood to be cultural in origin.

The first step for the terrestrial bipeds who study cetacean culture is to
understand how the ocean shapes the evolution of cetaceans' bodies and brains.
Their world is one where "everything moves all the time, where heat is hard to
conserve and sound travels much better than light". It's no evolutionary
accident, then, that the singing of humpback whales - made famous by Roger
Payne's record Songs of the Humpback Whale (1970) and Judy Collins accompanied
only by humpbacks - provide evidence of exquisite whale cultural adaptation.
The song is loud and long, and may cover three octaves below middle C to four
octaves above it. What does it sound like to our ears? "Purest whistles, low
moans, coarse grunts, and prolonged rattles", say Whitehead and Rendell. But
this is no random cacophony: there's a clear strong structure, with notes
arranged into themes that are sung in a rhythmical sequence. Only the males
sing; the function of the songs is not decisively known, but they may act to
organize male collaboration or to excite female interest in mating.

What makes the singing a humpback cultural activity? One clue is that the song
evolves over time, with males in the same region adopting all the same changes
in frequency, contour, duration, combination of units, and rhythmical
patterning. Here Whitehead and Rendell state flatly that there's "only one way"
such evolution may happen, because neither genes nor individual learning could
be responsible. It's culture, and, what's more, the best evidence for cetacean
culture hands down. One research project analysed a decade's worth of recorded
humpback songs in the South Pacific, at numerous locations from Australia to
French Polynesia, across a range of 6,000 kilometres. Song types rippled across
the humpback populations in the ocean from west to east. One type, for
instance, diffused from Australia and New Caledonia in 2002, to American Samoa
and the Cook Islands in 2003, and to French Polynesia by 2004, at which point a
new song type took over in Australia.

The behaviour of the orcas - who, despite sometimes being called killer whales,
are dolphins - is equally fascinating. Orcas are picky eaters, they are
xenophobic and they are cultural, three characteristics that fit together and
reinforce each other. In the Antarctic pack ice, orcas forage for seals using
the wave technique: when a seal is spotted on an ice floe, orcas swim in
formation away from the floe, then turn together and do a synchronized
tail-flapping swim directly towards the floe, diving underneath the ice at the
last moment: the wave washes the seal into the water. But not any seal: the
orcas first eye the floe and determine if it's a Weddell seal sitting there. If
yes, the mission is a go, if not, they abort. In the eastern North Pacific,
resident orcas consume Chinook salmon avidly, but refuse all other types of
salmon even when Chinook populations go into decline. The fussy eating is
sometimes extreme: "Killer whales that eat baleen whales often just eat the
tongue and lips, and the Gerlache killer whales, when eating relatively tiny
penguins, often discard all of the carcass except the preferred breast
muscles".

What's fascinating is that orcas disdain other orcas who deviate from their own
behavioural patterns. Those Chinook-eater orcas in the North Pacific are called
"resident" to distinguish them from "transients" who eat not salmon but marine
mammals, and "offshores" who eat fish, with a preference for sharks. These are
three different ecotypes, meaning that the orcas adopt profoundly different
ways of life, and orcas of different ecotypes are not just prone to avoiding
each other but sometimes display what Whitehead and Rendell call an
extraordinary degree of antagonism. And the ecotypes do seem to be cultural -
not genetic or ecological in origin but based on learning. Orca intelligence is
fierce and communal, and it has quite simply restructured our oceans: as top
predators, killer whales have eradicated or decimated the populations of
numerous species, including sea otters along a stretch of the Aleutian coast.

Whitehead and Rendell embrace the principle that shared systems of meaning,
including language, are not requirements for culture, a view the authors
contrast with that of the anthropologist Jonathan Marks, who, using primates
rather than whales and dolphins as his non-human example, insists that
"Labelling ape behavior as 'culture' simply means you have to find another word
for what humans do". Human culture is unique, to be sure, in its reliance on
language and symbols. Animal cultures might also have unique features,
Whitehead and Rendell note, "but what unites them all is being a shared
collection of socially transmitted knowledge and behavior". Further, a feature
of human culture often cited by anthropologists as unique to our species,
cultural identity, may be present in some cetaceans, including orcas who sort
into ecotypes based on cultural preferences. It may even be that some cetacean
cultures are cumulative: exactly as Whitehead and Rendell say, it does seem
improbable that the complex, ever-changing song of the humpback whales could be
traced to the innovation of a single animal.

Whitehead and Rendell's engagement with anthropology is an uneasy one. They
cite the anthropologist Kim Hill as "one of the few actually willing to discuss
animal culture" and warn readers away from basing studies of culture on an
anthropological perspective because of "the turmoil within anthropology itself"
regarding how the term is defined. This rush to caricature anthropology's
engagements with animal culture amounts to a missed opportunity that comes off
as defensive. In my experience, animal cultures are discussed with critical
acumen, indeed with fascination, by many anthropologists. Consider the work of
the biological anthropologist and explorer Jill Pruetz, who uncovered
culturally specific spear hunting in the chimpanzees of Fongoli, Senegal, or
the anthropologist Eduardo Kohn, whose How Forests Think (TLS, April 14, 2014)
takes on human exceptionalism by explicitly questioning whether language and
symbols represent a superior route to thought and noting the ways in which
Ecuadorian forest animals do think.

Occasionally, errors or infelicities have slipped in; among them, the
primatologist Caroline Tutin is called "Dorothy Tutin" and an apparent typo has
the Pacific humpback songs moving both east to west and west to east in their
pattern of cultural diffusion. Given that the authors made the (correct)
decision to trust their readers with scientific terminology such as "the
non-Delphinoidae odontocetes" (a certain variety of toothed whales), they might
refrain from adding that another technical term represents "a fancy way" of
conveying some scientific fact.

These issues aside, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is an
illuminating look at the lives of cetaceans who think, who feel, and whose
lives are profoundly communal. There's no mysticism here, but there is mystery.
The dolphins and whales developed culture perhaps 30 million years ago when,
with their complex brains and intense mother-infant relationships, they adapted
to an environment that lacked refuges and readily defensible resources - prime
conditions to reward social learning. The modern-day ocean is full of the
cetaceans' emergent cultures, and yet we know almost nothing of most of them,
including those of the oceanic dolphins (as opposed to, say, the dolphins of
Shark Bay, Australia who forage with sponge tools, another example of culture).
We do know that some species of whales and dolphins are hunted mercilessly by
humans or suffer from the ocean's degradation; whole vibrant cultures are at
severe risk, because of us.