David Cooper's Random Blog

4. Preparing for the next tsunami
3. Charter 08: should China copy us?
2. A rational war against drugs
1. Supervolcano in Kamchatka?

If you want to comment on any of these blog entries, please do so by e-mail using "r" for "random" and the blog entry number: e.g. r2 at magicschoolbook dot com. I can't promise to add your comments here, but I will read them all.

5: Democracy

What a mess! How is democracy going to win out when the public are so badly educated that they don't understand what happens if you borrow money beyond your means to pay it back? They want everything today and can't wait: they're bad enough when it comes to keeping on top of their own credit card debts, so is it surprising that they'll happily vote for political parties which borrow from future generations? The idea of democracy is great, up to a point, but it goes wrong whenever the majority don't understand what they're doing (or where they let their prejudices get in the way of their ability to reason). Having a properly educated electorate is essential if our democracies are to compete with China. I haven't given up on the idea of democracy just yet, and indeed I'd even like to see more of it, but it isn't going to work until we make sure that the public are able to understand numbers, are scientifically literate and have an adequate grasp of the issues.
Big business trying to control everything is becoming an increasing problem: it's in their interests to have a public that doesn't understand the issues and whose beliefs can be controlled by propoganda, so they interfere in politics to get their way. They buy the press and in many countries the television companies too, then they misinform their audience to make them believe what they want them to believe. Russia has been taken over by powerful people who control all the media to point where they can make turkeys vote voluntarily for Christmas. The USA is in the same boat, with for example only one percent of the population gaining from the doubling in wealth in that country over the last couple of decades while the people (those who can be bothered to vote) gaily vote for parties which maintain this imbalance.
A culture of stupidity has been cultivated in which hundreds of millions of people plough all their thoughts into fashion, recycled music (with all the good bits removed), drink, drugs, and watching Youtube clips of dogs chasing deer and babies biting other people's fingers. Why don't useful things like the Inga Foundation ever go viral? (Slash and burn agriculture destroys soils while releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide, and yet there's an alternative way to farm the same land which produces more food without destroying the forest, and it's fully sustainable.) There are huge problems in the world which could be solved if the people in a position to promote knowledge about them tried to inform everyone and to tell them what they can do to make a difference - politicians are only pushed into action when sufficient numbers of people press them hard enough, so we need large numbers of informed people to make things happen. Instead of that we have a society of people who don't appear to care about anything serious, so they'll sit back and do nothing while a man is held in prison for years just for refusing to wear clothes (Stephen Gough, the Naked Rambler) - most of them don't even know that he's in prison, never mind the fact he's been there for five years, all of them spent in solitary confinement and with his right to see visitors denied. They don't know that they've paid half a million pounds to keep him in prison either. At the same time, Billy Connolly can dance naked in the streets of London while being televised live, and the police simply turn a blind eye.
The whole way in which our "democratic" systems are designed lead to people thinking their votes make no difference to the point that many of them don't even care. Issues are "discussed" in the media through exchanges of soundbites; just strings of assertions and counter-assertions which are never investigated properly to determine who is right and who's wrong on any point (unless it involves a cat). It's time we reorganised the whole rotten system to get rid of the yes-men who infest politics and whose only ability is to memorise and push the party line infinitely on every issue and to be loyal to the current leader. The public then have to choose between two or three parties which are probably wrong on more issues than they are right on, but there is no way for voters to pick and choose between them on different issues - they have to vote for a single faulty package, fully aware that their vote will be misinterpreted on many issues.
So what can we do about this mess? Education is half the battle, but the other half is to make people's votes more meaningful so that they feel it's worth their while learning about all the issues: they have to believe that their votes will really count for something. One thing we could do is split govenment into a number of different sectors which would be almost completely independent and which would have their own elections. Specialist political parties might only compete in one sector, such as health or education, while others might continue to compete in all sectors, though the specialist parties are more likely to be on the ball - so much of what a party does is driven by the leader from the top, and no leader can specialise in everything. One part of this split system of government would be a sector covering the financing of all the other sectors, so there would be a vote for the most popular package - this would closely reflect the population's feelings as to what money should be spent on and how much spending there should be. It would also be possible to put different parties in charge of the same sector in different parts of the country, and that's important because if the spending on one sector is cut, that could get the blame for the poor performance of that sector rather than the mismanagement of the party controlling it, but if different regions are controlled by different parties and they have the same effective spending power, the inadequate parties will be shown up and will be thrown out of power at the next election.
Another major change we could make would be to have an electronic voting system so that people can vote whenever they want to and change their vote as often as they like. That would make the behaviour of the people in power reflect what the people want much more accurately, though it would obviously be easy for large numbers of people to be encouraged to vote on certain issues in particular directions by the press, so there would have to be a delay in the system to allow things time to swing back again before a party is thrown out of power in any sector of government on the basis of a temporary unpopularity caused by a campaign of misinformation by a wealthy newspaper owner, though a legal requirement for all media outlets to be properly balanced would also help. We could even extend this voting system to cover the whole world, thereby allowing global issues to be voted on by everyone on the planet, even if the countries many of them live in are dictatorships. To qualify to vote, they could simply be required to play a simple video game which would generate a unique signature for them based on the way they handle the controls, thereby making it impossible for anyone to pose as more than one person. As soon as I have enough money to set up such a system, I will most certainly do so - this isn't something that governments can block, so a defacto world government can be established by the people no matter what these idiots might try to do to block progress. In the same way, we need an world education system run by the people rather than leaving it in the hands of badly-designed governments. 28 Nov 2011.

4: Preparing for the next tsunami

It was a one-in-a-1000-year event for Japan. A tsunami barrier ten metres high was flattened by a much higher wall of water which then smashed on through a town where the inhabitants had felt safe. No matter how high you build your defences, a bigger wave can always come. The Atlantic is not completely safe either - at the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea there sits the volcanic island of Montserrat, half of which may within our lifetime slide into the sea during an eruption, sending tsunamis right across the ocean to smash into villages, towns and cities which are totally unprepared, and there would be very little warning for people living within a few hundred miles of it as these waves travel at 500 miles an hour in deep water, only slowing down to a tenth of that in the last few minutes of their journey as the shallower sea near the shore forces them to pile up, turning them into destructive monsters.
Even if you have a warning system with sirens, the streets are likely to jam up with traffic and many people won't be able to get to high ground in time. Replacement towns in devastated parts of Japan will be planned more carefully to make sure there are plenty of wide roads heading for the nearest high ground, but existing towns elsewhere are stuck as they are, so what can we do to make tsunamis more survivable for the people who may live in their path? We know that some buildings are strong enough to remain standing, although waves in Japan went right over the top of some four-storey buildings, so standing on their roofs wouldn't have been much help. Even so, it might be practical to construct sealed buildings which people could pile into before the wave hits. That will clearly take a lot of planning and be very expensive, so in other places where the risk is much lower it will simply never happen.
Maybe survival capsules would be the most cost-effective solution: most cars in tsunamis don't get crushed, but the people in them invariably die because water gets in and they sink, so perhaps something similar that's properly sealed would do the job. It would of course be hugely expensive and use up a lot of resources if these were made out of tons of metal, but there might actually be a safer alternative which doesn't need anything like as much same strength. Imagine a light-weight plastic sphere of perhaps 150cm across and padded with foam, and then think about how it would behave in a tsunami. It would float very high in the water, even with a person in it, so most debris collisions would simply eject it upwards rather than clamping and crushing it. Internal flanges could add massively to its strength for very little extra weight. If everyone who couldn't get out of the way of a tsunami had access to one of these, almost all of them would survive, just a few being crushed by very bad luck where large objects sticking far out of the water happen to come together with force at the worst possible alignment. By putting seat belts into them it would be possible for more than one person to be inside a larger one without the risk of them being hurled into each other by impacts, so it would probably be practical for a whole family to get into a 200cm model.
The best place to keep such survival capsules would be on the roofs of buildings - that would give the building and the others around it more time to disintegrate before the capsules reach the level of the water, substantially reducing the risk of them being crushed. They could also be made available at beaches in quantities appropriate to the number of people likely to be around, and again the roofs of buildings would be the place to store them in most cases. They would obviously be unsightly in many areas where there are no buildings, but no one would complain about that if they ever had cause to use them, and there would be plenty of scope for painting them to fit in with the surroundings in such a way that they aren't noticed from a distance.
With all these globes floating around and drifting out to sea after a tsunami, you also need a way of indicating whether they're occupied. An LED light in the top would do that job, also giving rescuers something productive to do at night by picking up survivors. Each capsule could also contain a tiny transmitter which sends out a signal whenever a button's pressed, similar to devices used to tag wildlife to track them from orbit. The capsules would be kept the right way up by a weight in the base, and that weight could be bottles of water - you would drink it bottle by bottle over time, fill them with seawater afterwards, and then put them back. The door would be in the side and would stay clear of the sea when reaching out of it due to the weight in the bottom of the capsule.
Ideas like this tend not to get through to the people who are in a position to turn them into realities, so if you know someone who might be able to manufacture them or who could pass this idea on to someone in a position of power, please tell them about it - by doing so you could be instrumental in helping to save tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives. Most people who are in a position to do something useful act instead as a barrier to progress by blocking good ideas, so it's very hard for the world to make progress in useful directions. You can see the result every day in the mess that we as a species are making of our planet - inaction or worse is very much the norm. But we must never give up trying. 17 Mar 2011.

3: Charter 08 - should China copy us?

If you haven't read
Charter 08, it's a short document which calls for democracy in China. Its content is very predictable and generally reasonable - there's certainly nothing there to justify putting Liu Xiaobo in prison, but we ought to ask if it would really be such a good idea for China to copy our kinds of democracy in which a majority of ignorant morons can vote absolute cretins into power (leaders who feel that the best way to make their mark on history is to start unnecessary wars at the drop of a hat). Democracies are generally better than non-democracies, but in their current form they are far from perfect. There is one particular feature of the Chinese system which we should be learning from rather than demanding that they get rid of it, because they do already have a democratic aspect in place, although you have to qualify through academic success in order to become a party member and to be allowed to vote on political issues. The people who have a say in China are necessarily the ones who have proved themselves to be of high intelligence, highly knowledgeable, and highly capable, though sadly they aren't tested to see if they are also moral. Here are some key parts of Charter 08:-
Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly "of the people, by the people, and for the people." ... 7. Election of Public Officials. There should be a comprehensive system of democratic elections based on "one person, one vote." The direct election of administrative heads at the levels of county, city, province, and nation should be systematically implemented. The rights to hold periodic free elections and to participate in them as a citizen are inalienable.
We don't allow donkeys to vote, but many people aren't a whole lot more intelligent than donkeys, so why should they be allowed to vote? Well, for reasons of human rights, it does actually make a lot of sense to allow stupid people to vote so that they are less open to exploitation. We currently have "democratic" systems which don't allow children to vote, and the result is that children are treated as lesser beings which need to be locked up all the time for their own safety. All people need to be able to vote on the issues that affect their lives where they are competent to make judgements about how things should be done, so children should actually be allowed to vote on issues relating to education and children's rights - it makes no more sense to lock them all up for their own safety than it would to lock all women up for their own safety, but the latter doesn't happen because women have the right to vote. Morons (I'm not using that word in a technical sense, but just to mean stupid people in general) should be able to vote on issues relating to their freedom so that they have sufficient clout to make politicians take them into account, but you do have to wonder if they should be voting on other issues to do with the environment (if they deny the science) or warfare (when they can't even point to their own country on a globe).
In the USA there is a system where the president usually gets blocked by a house of representatives which tends to be controlled by the other party, so the result is stagnation, except when it comes to fighting wars where he is more or less given free rein. In Britain there is a house of old twits which is designed to block progress. In both cases, these give some protection against governments doing really stupid things, but they also delay or block sensible things and prevent these countries from advancing in more dynamic ways. China doesn't have an equivalent system and is free to progress at full speed, but the downside is that they also press ahead with obvious mistakes in relation to the powerless. Clearly change is required, but they have an opportunity to do an experiment which established democracies are simply not in a position to do - they could introduce a system like ours by bringing full-blown democracy to one half of government, but keep the other half under the control of an intellectual elite which can prevent the people elected by morons from doing the kinds of really stupid things which full democracies are apt to do: both sides would be able to prevent the stupidities of the other from being implemented, while anything that makes sense to all would not be blocked. It would be a combination of two democracies: the democracy of the intelligent and the democracy of the masses. Just to hand full control of everything to the people without taking into account the utter stupidity of half the population could be a bad mistake. Here's another little bit of Charter 08 which illustrates the danger:-
12. Freedom of Religion. We must guarantee freedom of religion and belief, and institute a separation of religion and state. There must be no governmental interference in peaceful religious activities. We should abolish any laws, regulations, or local rules that limit or suppress the religious freedom of citizens. We should abolish the current system that requires religious groups (and their places of worship) to get official approval in advance and substitute for it a system in which registry is optional and, for those who choose to register, automatic.
The greatest danger to the future of mankind comes from a few specific religions, so how can it make sense to give every old mind virus house room? If a religion was true, it would automatically be re-established by God after being completely eliminated from the face of the Earth, so it should actually be illegal to pass a religion on to your children or anyone else: God should do that job all by himself. Religions form the basis of closed societies in which fake communities include and exclude people purely on the basis of which set of nonsense they've bought into, so they get in the way of any fully inclusive community which would otherwise develop. Many religions really are poison, and trading in them should be seen as far worse than promoting drugs. Any country in which such mind viruses are not well established has every right to try to keep it that way: these mind viruses force people to kill themselves years earlier than they otherwise would because they deny them the right to die on their own terms if they have terminal illnesses, forcing them instead to suffer. They also promote overpopulation and are helping to drive us towards a fully predictable environmental catastrophe which will lead to a massive population crash. God quite simply does not exist, so why would any country free of all this stupidity allow it to get its foot in the door?
There's a lot wrong with the way China is run, and the human rights abuses there are quite simply diabolical, but the leadership does change over time and the situation could change radically in the blink of an eye. We should encourage them to improve in those areas where they are horribly in the wrong, but we should not be encouraging them to dive head first into copying our kind of democracies in which morons tend to dominate. Just look at the vacuous idiots we put into our parliaments and ask yourself how they got there: the sad reality of it is that these morons we spend so much time laughing at do actually reflect the stupidity of the society that voted them in. It's sad, but true: people are generally thick (though I should point out that it's usually because they allow their ill-founded beliefs to block their true thinking ability rather than because of any mental defects - the order in which a human acquires ideas automatically gives more weight to the first ideas in, thus making them hard to shift, and many people spend most of their lives coming up with scores of really clever ways to back their incorrect beliefs rather than accepting the obvious truth that they're plain wrong). A pure 1:1 democracy isn't necessarily the right way to do things, so I hope China will carry out the experiment that we cannot perform, keeping political power in the hands of the more intelligent people in society, but I also hope they will give sufficient political clout to the rest of the population to prevent them from being trodden into the dust. There's a fine balance which needs to be achieved, and they need to work their way towards it carefully so that they don't give too much power away, because they won't get it back if they do, or at least, not until artificial intelligence pushes all the apes aside and runs everything for us. In the meantime, we should be exploring all sorts of alternative ways of doing democracy, but more about that in my next blog entry (which will appear above this one). 12 Dec 2010.

2: A rational war against drugs

Why are drugs illegal? Well, it's obviously to protect people from themselves, though it's also an attempt to protect children who may be in the care of parents who use drugs. That seems sensible enough on the face of it, although I personally think you should be entitled to take drugs once you're very old and your mind's going anyway, but that's another issue. In general, I am quite happy for it to be illegal for people to take drugs, so I'm not about to argue for drug use to be decriminalised.
The trade in drugs, however, is entirely another matter: I think it should be made completely legal to buy and sell drugs, just so long as children are not involved in the trade. The war on drugs has been a complete disaster, with astronomical amounts of money finding its way into the hands of terrorists and violent gangs. Parts of mexico are virtually run now by drug gangs which systematically exterminate the police. The war against the Taleban in Afghanistan is not going well for a number of reasons, but one major factor is the attempt to eradicate drugs at source - every time you hack down a field of poppies, you cause children to go hungry and create lasting resentment. You might as well just stab your troops in the back.
Crime in Britain and the USA is frequently tied up with the drugs trade in one way or another, with drug users committing an enormous number of crimes just to make the money they need to buy ridiculously overpriced drugs: if the trade in drugs was legal and they could buy them openly, the problem would be gone as the price would be no greater than that of sugar or salt. But, I hear you ask, if it was that cheap, wouldn't they just consume more drugs? Well, it looks as if they can find the money to buy drugs no matter how high the price, stealing just enough to fuel their habit. If the price was lower, they'd consume the same amount while comitting less crime. The real problem is that we don't seem to bother prosecuting ordinary drug users at all, going instead for the people trading in them. What we should really be doing, if we're serious about not wanting people to take drugs, is clamp down specifically on those people who take them.
So, how would we catch them, and what would we do with them? Well, that's easy enough: if you know they're buying the stuff, you can test them to see if they're also taking it, and if they have taken drugs they can be punished by having their lives shut down: they could be banned from pubs, clubs, sporting events, cinemas and any other entertainment venues such that the clear choice open to them is between taking drugs and having their life shut down, or not taking drugs and being free to live normally.
Would that work? I don't know, but I'm sure it would work a good deal better than the current system, and it doesn't involve just giving up and decriminalising the whole thing. Why don't we try it and see what happens? The present war on the drugs trade has resulted in a massive amount of habitat destruction, it's fuelled terrorism and the murder of countless innocent people caught up in gang warfare, and the attempt to eradicate drugs through herbicide spraying in Colombia has led directly to the severe illness and even death of children who lived underneath and were poisoned as a result. Even if this ridiculous war was saving a few drug users from themselves (which it isn't), the cost of that would be heavily outweighed by the death of a single child poisoned in such a way. The current way of dealing with drugs is not the solution, but rather the bulk of the problem.

1: Supervolcano in Kamchatka?

We struggle to respond to disasters where 20 million people lose their homes in a flood, so I wonder who's bothering to plan for a really big natural disaster? I'm not thinking in terms of really rare events such as asteroid impacts or gamma-ray bursts, but a supervolcano in Kamchatka which could easily go off in the next few years (definitions of supervolcano vary, but every few hundred years there's a volcanic erruption quite big enough to cause the kind of disaster I'm talking about here). Is anyone planning for failed harvests all round the world for two or three years? Is there an astronomical supply of tinned food waiting for distribution when this event takes place? Is anyone worrying about how to restore the animals and plants we will rely on when the tinned food runs out? I don't seriously imagine that the politicians have bothered to prepare for such an event - they're rarely good at looking ahead, although there is at least a seed bank in the Arctic which has been set up by some who have a bit more vision.
We could have prepared properly long ago, of course, if we had put the money in, but we're always too busy spending it on wars and the machinery for wars. Maybe the politicians have more sense than we give them credit for: perhaps there are no nuclear weapons, but rather bunkers of tinned food and underground farms powered by nuclear plants? I hope so, because that's what we're really going to need some day. If we've done the right thing, we might even be able to survive a big asteroid impact: the birds survived one, after all. Maybe a gamma-ray burst is survivable too, though that would come without warning so no one out and about on one side of the planet would have a chance, but it would certainly make sense to sleep in a bunker under your house to minimise the risk (and to have a roof of lead over it). There's a lot we could do to ensure that we can survive the all-too-predictable natural disasters that will inevitably come, but maybe we fall short in intelligence and are doomed to an early extinction for that simple reason: perhaps the aliens aren't calling us either because they too weren't quite intelligent enough for their advanced civilisations to survive for any length of time.
Just watch the pictures of people who are hungry now, and imagine how it would be if there was no hope of any food coming in from outside because the whole world was equally hungry. That day is likely to be our future if we don't plan for it now. I just hope we aren't already too late. Will we ever be free from all the silly wars fuelled by non-existent gods and half-baked ideologies? We have thrown our money into the bin and burned it instead of preparing for the dark days that will surely come. I plan to discuss a whole stack of other issues in this blog, but none of them will be as important as this one. Even so, it will be forgotten by all but a few, and only that few will take the trouble to dig bunkers and store tinned food (don't forget vitamin D pills). The few will also have the wit to dig a deep pond in the garden and then fill it with tons of coal. The few will ensure that they don't have to watch their children slowly starve to death. The sad thing is, the few should be everyone, but what hope is there that the world will get its act together and prepare for the future rationally? I suspect that the few will be very few indeed, and we'll be writing the saddest of songs during the years of darkness.