Friday, Apr 28, 2017

Crisis: Trump's Tax Plan, On String Theory, American Voters, 100 Days

Sections                                                                     crisis index

1. "A Land Grab by the Ruling Elites": Trump's Tax Plan Derided
     for Benefiting the Rich

Why String Theory Is Still Not Even Wrong
3. Are American Voters Actually Just Stupid? A New Poll Suggests
     the Answer May Be Yes

The 100 Days That Turned America Upside Down

This is a Nederlog of Friday
, April 28, 2017.

Summary: This is an ordinary
crisis log with four items and four links: Item 1 is about a good article on Democracy Now! about how Trump's tax plan will benefit the rich; item 2 is in fact about a non-crisis item, but it is here both because I am interested in physics and because it gives some background to my extensive experiences with postmodernism; item 3 is about what seems to me a mostly misleading article by DeVega; and item 4 is about what seems to me a mostly misleading article by Gabler.
April 28: As to the updating problem: The Danish site was again on time today. The Dutch site is running behind at April 26. They did it well from 1996 till 2015, updating within minutes at most. I think they totally stopped doing this to limit the readings of my site.

These horrors happen now for the 16th month in succession. And they happen on purpose, because it is extremely simple to do this properly, and it was done properly from 1996 till late in 2015. (If you want these horrors, then sign in with "xs4all.nl"; if not, avoid them like the plague.)

And I have to add that about where my site on xs4all.nl stuck for others I have NO idea AT ALL: It may be December 31, 2015. (Xs4all wants  immediate payment if you are a week behind. Xs4all.nl has been destroying my site now for over a year. I completely distrust them, but I also do not know whether they are doing it or some secret service is.)
1. "A Land Grab by the Ruling Elites": Trump's Tax Plan Derided for Benefiting the Rich

The first article today is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:
This starts with the following introduction:
The White House has outlined a plan to give the nation’s millionaires and billionaires a massive tax break while adding trillions of dollars to the U.S. deficit. The plan would lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, end the estate tax and end the alternative minimum tax—a move that would solely benefit the richest Americans, including President Trump. A leaked 2005 tax return shows Trump paid out $36.6 million in federal income taxes that year—most of it due to the alternative minimum tax. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich described Trump’s tax plan as a form of class warfare. The tax plan was unveiled on Wednesday by two former executives at Goldman Sachs—Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—who hailed the tax cuts. We speak to economist James Henry of the Tax Justice Network.
Incidentally, most of the articles that appear on Democracy Now! are interviews, and - I think, but am not quite sure - all interviews come with introductions like this one. Also, I like the idea of short introductions to interviews (i.a. because spoken prose is not quite the same as written prose), while the introductions on Democracy Now! are always good.

This was just a brief introductory explanation, and here is James Henry:
JAMES HENRY: Well, this is nothing less than the largest wealth transfer that has ever occurred, if it were passed. I doubt that it will pass. But it amounts to a tax heist by the ruling class, by Trump and the richest administration we have ever had. It would not only effectively gut the progressive corporate income tax and initiate a race to the bottom among all countries that have corporate taxation around the world, because they would be competing with each other, it would also effectively gut the estate tax, eliminate that, so we’re basically heading toward a kind of oligarchy. And it would reduce the top rate for personal income tax to—from 39.6 percent to 35, so it’s an immediate paycheck.
Yes, I think that is correct. And in historical terms, what the Republicans want seems to go back to the days of the 1890s or the 1920s, when there was much more inequality.

Then again, there are also considerable differences:
It’s, I think, especially interesting to see what’s going on with the corporate income tax, because, basically, most of the benefits of this tax plan will actually go to the Googles and Microsofts and Apples of the world, which have—now are going to get an enormous tax rate on the $2 trillion of offshore assets that they have accumulated, many times using bogus schemes like transferring intellectual property to places like Ireland. Now they’re going to be able to bring all that back and only pay, at most, 8 percent on it.
Three of the considerable differences with the 1890s and 1920s are that (i) quite a few of the present rich are new rich who got their riches from programming or computers (and since riches massively corrupt, the new rich are as bad as the old rich); (ii) the new rich exported most of their riches to places outside the USA, where they need to pay less taxes (and under Trump may return it to the USA for a measly 8 percent); and also (iii) these extremely rich firms work with far less human beings, and far more software, than extremely rich firms did in the 1890s and 1920s.

The first two points are mostly facts.

The last point may become very important in the near future, especially when programs get personhood (as is now considered): If programs become persons, rather like corporations became persons, this means real persons soon may be left to die (by the very rich).

Indeed, according to the "neoliberal" though in fact neofascist principles of Milton Friedman they ought to be left to die, for this is Friedman's neofascism (and the bolding is added):
"Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundation of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This is a fundamentally subversive doctrine. If businessmen do have a social responsibility other than making maximum profits for stockholders, how are they to know what it is? Can self-selected private individuals decide what the social interest is?"
You see, private individuals are all too stupid to make private choices, and the only "choice" CEOs have is to maximize their profits, which means - in effect - to kick out humans in favor of programs because humans are more expensive than programs.

We are not as far yet, but we may be quite close. Here is the last bit of Henry that I am quoting:

This is going to be a tremendous boon to Trump’s own personal pocket, because the only reason he paid any taxes at all—we only have one tax year for him. That was from 2005. The only reason he paid any tax that year was really because of what’s called the alternative minimum tax. And he’s abolishing that under this plan. And all of his rich friends are actually also subject to that same alternative minimum tax.

So the list goes on and on. But basically this amounts to transferring the costs of essential services of government, the federal government, to middle class and the poor, that are not going to be able to benefit this.
Yes, and the reason the "middle class and the poor, that are not going to be able to benefit [from] this" is that they must pay taxes, but the taxes are mostly going to the rich the last 40 years, while the non-rich now are supposed to pay for all their own costs, without sharing them with others (for their shares go mostly to further increase the riches of the few rich), and this is now even extended to health-insurance: The sick must pay more.

There is considerably more in this article, which is recommended.

2. Why String Theory Is Still Not Even Wrong

The second article is by John Horgan (<-Wikipedia) on Scientific American:

This article needs a little introduction to explain why it is here:

In fact, this is not an article about the crisis that my crisis series (that started on September 1, 2008) is about, though it is about something like a crisis in physics,
but of a different kind, most of which is down to philosophy of science.

And originally I am a philosopher of science, who only did not get his - excellent - M.A. in philosophy because I had criticized my "teachers" of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam - all of whom (except Jon Dorling) may be safely said to have been utterly incompetent parasites, thirty years later - for their lack of competence [1]:

It turned out I was not allowed to say so (!!), in public, in a public and invited speech, in the University of Amsterdam, which in fact was marxist/communist/postmodernist between 1971 and 1995, and was effectively ruled, like all Dutch universities at that time, by the students, who made an enormous extremely corrupt mess of it, helped by "social democrat" political parasites, and I was simply - illegally, and I was also ill - kicked out (as a student) from the faculty of philosphy very briefly before taking my M.A. in philosophy.

That is about half of the minimal background you should know. The other half you should know is that I was very much a mathematical kind of philosopher, with strong interests in physics, who did read and enjoy Richard Feynman's books. So I do know
some physics, but should add this probably doesn't get much farther than 1980 or so,
and that I did have a very similar reaction to string theory as Feynman did (in the 1980ies). In terms of Woit's and Pauli's phrase: "It is not even wrong" simply because it produces no verifiable predictions, which makes it all much more like metaphysics than like physics.

This, together with my disease (I have ME/CFS since January 1, 1979, when I was 28) also stopped most of my interests in physics. I am still somewhat interested, but I am no longer physically or mathematically qualified (if I was at all) since the early 1980ies.

But I also still am a philosopher of science (more so than a psychologist, although I do have an excellent M.A. in that), and the following is a good introduction to philosophy of science, and indeed also gives some of the methodological backgrounds which make me agree with Feynman and Woit: Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism.

Now to the article, which starts as follows:

At its best, physics is the most potent and precise of all scientific fields, and yet it surpasses even psychology in its capacity for bullshit. To keep physics honest, we need watchdogs like Peter Woit. He is renowned for asserting that string theory, which for decades has been the leading candidate for a unified theory of physics, is so flawed that it is “not even wrong.” That phrase (credited to Wolfgang Pauli) is the title of Woit’s widely discussed 2006 book (see my review here) and of his popular blog, which he launched in 2004. Woit, who has degrees in physics from Harvard and Princeton and has taught mathematics at Columbia since 1989, tracks mathematics as well as physics on his blog, and some of his riffs (like a recent one on the difference between Lie groups and Lie algebras) are strictly for experts. But he provides plenty of clear, non-technical explanations for non-experts like me. 

Yes, I agree (this is also why I keep following Woit), and indeed also about the fact that some kinds of purported physics "surpasses even psychology in its capacity for bullshit": I think myself since 1980 that psychology is not a real science, except for
statistics, methodology and some bits that were called psychophysiology in the 1980ies (in Holland) and that these days are probably called "neuroscience". [2]

Also, the reason why
physics "surpasses even psychology in its capacity for bullshit" is that ordinary people do know rather a lot, naively but factually, about psychology, but
ordinary people do not know the facts about physics, nor do they have either the methodological expertise or the mathematical knowledge to say anything definite about - what is presented to them as if it were - physics.

Next, here are some parts of the e-mail interview that Horgan had with Woit:

Horgan: You've recently denounced “fake physics.” What is it? Are journalists mostly to blame for it?

Woit: By "fake physics" I mean pseudo-scientific claims about physics that share some of the characteristics of "fake news", in particular misleading, overhyped stories about fundamental physics promoting empty or unsuccessful theoretical ideas, with a clickbait headline.  Those most to blame for this are the physicists involved, who should know better and be aware that the way they are promoting their work is going to mislead people.  Journalists need to be skeptical about what they're being told by scientists, but often they're more or less accurately reporting impressive sounding claims being made by physicists with impeccable credentials, and not in a good position to evaluate these.

Here I think I need to - briefly and incompletely - explain three things, namely fake news, postmodernism and the Sokal affair.

First fake news.

The news, which is for everyone reported by the media, is supposed to be true (or probable [3]), simply because everyone must rely on "the news" to make many personal decisions (which are always based on a mixture of the person's values and the person's knowledge of the facts).

The news was never free from propaganda (defined as: Slanted, biased, prejudiced or partial presentation of something that is meant to produce a state of belief that is not proportional to the evidence) but over the last 40 years, and especially since the partial collapse of the press around 2000 due to the influence of computers, that diminished the number of readers and radically diminished advertise- ments, much of the news has been replaced by propaganda (which also includes simply not giving the news there is) or by plain lies, and this is fake news: A mixture of facts, propaganda and lies that no longer is meant to inform its readers or viewers, but to manipulate them, as does propaganda.

Next, postmodernism.

Fundamentally, postmodernism is the thesis that "Everybody knows that truth does NOT exist". (And here perhaps you should also remember Timothy Snyder's - much later - "Post-truth is pre-fascism".)

I was confronted with precisely that thesis in the year that I started studying psychology, in 1978, and that thesis was pronounced - proudly, insistingly, as if he stated an important truth - by the official opener of the academic year of 1978 in the University of Amsterdam.

It has turned out that this thesis that "Everybody knows that truth does NOT exist" dominated everything in the University of Amsterdam between 1978 and 1995, and it did so because at most 1 in 20 of the "scientists" - professors, lecturers - who were employed by the UvA (and very well paid) - was willing to defend the thesis that they believed in truth, and that indeed real science is founded on real truth, while most students embraced the thesis that there is no truth, if only because this implied they could not be falsified in any of their opinions.

One of my problems, as one of the very few defenders of real science in the University of Amsterdam, was that I did not read anyone else (!!!!) who protested against the fundamental quackery that is postmodernism from 1978 till 1989 (!!!!), when I found - in the end of 1989 - Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind - How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students" which I reviewed in my Truth and Value of 1989.

Incidentally, this is not because there was no criticism (there was some, although surprisingly little), but because I could not find it, since these were pre-internet days.

Finally, the Sokal affair.

In fact, postmodernism only was scientifically attacked in the middle of the 1990ies, by several writers, of whom Alan Sokal (<-Wikipedia) was one. This is from the Wikipedia's Sokal affair:

The article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense [...] structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics".

The hoax sparked a debate about the scholarly merit of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general; academic ethics, including whether Sokal was wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether Social Text had exercised appropriate intellectual rigor.

I note - again - that this was "a mere" 18 years after I had first heard the thesis that "Everybody knows that truth does NOT exist", that then turned out to be the dominant thesis in the UvA between 1978 and 1995, that also hardly anybody ever attacked in that university, and that this also was "a mere" 8 years after I had been illegally removed from the right of doing my (excellent) M.A. in philosophy, briefly before doing it, because I had dared to criticize my "teachers" (all but one of whom were postmodernist fakers, liars and - extremely well-paid - moral degenerates). [1]

After these explanations I rerturn to Horgan's interview:

Horgan: Do you still think string theory is “not even wrong”?

Woit: Yes. My book on the subject was written in 2003-4 and I think that its point of view about string theory has been vindicated by what has happened since then. Experimental results from the Large Hadron Collider show no evidence of the extra dimensions or supersymmetry that string theorists had argued for as "predictions" of string theory.
As I said in my introduction, I mostly agree with Woit (and Feynman and some others), but I am not a physicist and not a mathematician (and that does make a difference).

There is also this:

Horgan: Are multiverse theories not even wrong?

Woit: Yes, but that's not the main problem with them.  Many ideas that are "not even wrong", in the sense of having no way to test them, can still be fruitful, for instance by opening up avenues of investigation that will lead to something conventionally testable.  Most good ideas start off "not even wrong", with their implications too poorly understood to know where they will lead.  The problem with such things as string-theory  multiverse theories is that "the multiverse did it" is not just untestable, but an excuse for failure.
This is about one of the other reasons I object to string theory: It introduces other universes that are fundamentally untestable. The "excuse for failure" is that these
other universes are supposed to be untestable - which in fact means they are not scientific hypotheses.

Here is the basic fact that makes something scientific: Theories with testable consequences:
To convince people this is science they need to start showing that such claims have non-empty testable consequences, and I don't see that happening.
Then there is this:

Horgan: Are you an optimist or pessimist about the future of science? What about the future of humanity?

Woit: I've always liked the Antonio Gramsci slogan "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will" [written by Gramsci, an Italian politician and philosopher, while he was in prison in 1927].

"Science" seems to me a very heterogeneous activity, with some parts of it healthy, others in decline, sometimes a victim of their own success in a way you identified in The End of Science.  I'm pretty ignorant about most subfields of science.  Of the two I know best, one (fundamental physics) is in trouble, while the other (pure mathematics) is doing as well as ever.

In fact, Antonio Gramsci (<- Wikipedia) was a neo-marxist and an Italian communist, who was both brave and smart (and who died at 46 after being locked up for a long time by Mussolini).

As to science: I agree with Woit that it is "a very heterogeneous activity", but I also think most of real science has been destroyed by postmodernism; by the lack of interest in real science of most real academics (their salaries are much more important to them than is science or "science"); and by the effective destruction of much of the universities, for these now offer many courses and many diplomas that are not really scientific ("media studies", for one example) and that are also open to people with an IQ of around 100 (which is Blair's sick ideal of what "a university" is supposed to mean: a training school for jobs which almost anyone can attend, who can pay).

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this interview (and Woit is writing):

As for the future of humanity, the collapse of any semblance of a healthy democracy in the US last year with the advent and triumph of "post-truth" politics has for me (and I'm sure many others) made it much harder to be an optimist.  The longer-term trend of increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a minority seems unstoppable.  The "disruptive innovation" of our new Silicon Valley overlords and brave new world of social media and omnipresent digital monitoring of our existence is starting to make some of the dystopias of science fiction look frighteningly plausible.  I'm still waiting for the future of peace, love and understanding promised when I came of age during the late 1960s.

I agree for the most part with Woit, but I do have two observations:

First, for me "
the advent and triumph of "post-truth" politics" happened in 1977 (when I was told I was a fascist because I was not a communist, by people who did not know that both of my parents had been communists since the 1930ies or early 1940ies, as was my grandfather, and that my grandfather had been murdered in a German concentrationcamp, while my father survived more than 3 years and 9 months of the same) and in 1978, when I was told that in the University of Amsterdam the vast majority believed that "Everybody knows that truth does NOT exist".

And second, while I mostly agree with Woit that "
I'm still waiting for the future of peace, love and understanding promised when I came of age during the late 1960s" (although I long ago gave up the hope I would live in that future), I think Woit forgot that in 1969 (the last year of the 1960s) Woit was 12, since he was born in 1957. (I was 19 in that same year. And in fact I got to be a legal adult only in 1971, when I was 21 and Woit 14.)

But this is a fine interview, and it is recommended.

3. Are American Voters Actually Just Stupid? A New Poll Suggests the Answer May Be Yes

The third article is by Chauncey DeVega on AlterNet and originally on Salon:

This starts as follows:

Are tens of millions of Americans really this stupid? If the findings from a new poll are any indication, then the answer is yes:

There’s no honeymoon for Donald Trump in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll but also no regrets: He approaches his 100th day in office with the lowest approval rating at this point of any other president in polls since 1945 — yet 96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do so again today …

Among those who report having voted for [Trump] in November, 96 percent today say it was the right thing to do; a mere 2 percent regret it. And if a rerun of the election were held today, the poll indicates even the possibility of a Trump victory in the popular vote among 2016 voters.

This is despite all the lies Donald Trump has told and all the campaign promises he has betrayed (...)
Hm. I agree with DeVega that many Americans are stupid or ignorant, but not at all - it would seem - on his grounds. In fact, my grounds are these:

First, half of all Americans have an IQ that is not higher than 100. And while I do not think that IQs are a good indication of real intelligence, they are a fair indicator of scholastic ability (and explain why I got the best marks in both of my studies without ever attending any lecture because I was ill: My IQ was above 150, in 1978, and that
made studying rather easy in a university where the average IQ was 115, in 1984.)

And second, most Americans did not have a good education in science, literature and things worthy to know, while most Americans did not (even) make a B.A.

Then there is this:
Moreover, that 96 percent of Trump’s voters would make the same decision again despite overwhelming evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of installing Trump as a puppet candidate raises many troubling questions about how tens of millions of American voters were “flipped” by a foreign power to act against their own country.
I am sorry, but I have been following the "evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election" quite closely, and I have not seen
any evidence
, and neither have many other people I do respect, and who do know very much more about the NSA and the CIA than I do.

Also, I totally reject the completely unevidenced claim that "
tens of millions of American voters were “flipped” by a foreign power to act against their own country":
That sounds like total trash to me.

Then there is this:
Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge of political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.
You do not need to consult "political scientists and other researchers" to establish these facts: All you need to know is that half of all Americans has an IQ less than 100, and most Americans lack a B.A.

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:
This ABC News/Washington Post poll also signals a deeper problem. In different ways, both Trump and Clinton voters appear unable to connect their personal political decisions to questions of institutional power and political outcomes. This is a crisis of civic literacy that threatens the foundations of American democracy.

I am sorry, but all I learned from the ABC News/Washington Post poll is that people stick to their opinions, which was not precisely unexpected by me. And how this poll suggests "a crisis of civic literacy that threatens the foundations of American democracy" is completely unclear to me.

4. The 100 Days That Turned America Upside Down

The fourth and last article today is by Neal Gabler on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

“Don’t you want God to show up and say He’s kidding?” Louis C.K. asked Stephen Colbert on The Late Show a couple of weeks back.

Of course we do. Instead, during these past 100 days, God seems to have doubled down on the prank. Although optimists predicted that once he faced the reality of governing, Donald Trump would be thwarted and even tamed into a more conventional politician, and although the media scoff at Trump’s claims of unprecedented presidential accomplishment, for once Trump may almost be right when he boasts, with his customary mangling of English, “I don’t think that there is a presidential period of time in the first 100 days where anyone has done nearly what we’ve been able to do.”

While Trump’s legislative achievements have been less than meager, he has nevertheless succeeded in doing something profoundly consequential. Call it the Great Inversion. In just 100 days, he has turned America and the world upside down, so much so we may never be able to right ourselves again.

I am sorry, but I don't believe much of this, although I agree mostly with Gabler on Trump's characteristics. But Gabler is less concerned with Trump's characteristics than with what he calls "the Great Inversion", that I disbelieve, and that Gabler explains in these terms:

Many of us suspected that this would be the consequence of a Trump presidency.  I wrote here the morning after his election that the idea of America had died. We didn’t just think that he was wrong on policy, though he was. We didn’t just think that he was psychologically unfit to occupy the White House, though he clearly is. We weren’t just afraid that he was an incurious lout who made decisions based on what fed his ego at the moment, though he is and does. And we weren’t just terrified at the political havoc he would wreak, though he has. We felt that he posed a mortal danger to everything that forms of the basis of our modern world, everything that knit us together as a society: reason, logic, language, values, science, history, common decency, community and democracy. And he is.

First, ideas don't die. Second, Trump does not have the ability to falsify or upset "reason, logic, language, values, science, history, common decency, community and democracy": These - I am sorry - are just the hyperboles of propaganda.

Here is more on Gabler's ideas by Gabler:

But he has not disrupted the system, if by “system” you mean the prevailing social order. If anything, it is more ensconced than at any time since Calvin Coolidge, more in the hands of the rich and powerful. His disruption has been of the epistemological and moral sort. Not for nothing is the key adjective of Trump’s new America “fake,” as in fake news, fake history, fake photos, fake charitable contributions, fake promises and fake achievements.

I agree that Trump works for the rich and the powerful, but the fact that "the key adjective of Trump’s new America" is "fake" strongly suggests that Trump did not succeed in carrying out his "epistemological" disruption, if indeed he ever intended it (for most Americans probably do not even know what "epistemology" is).

Here is the end of the article:

Which leaves us with this: God isn’t kidding. Our country is a parody of a democracy, our leader a parody of a president. We live in a nightmare. Nothing is the way it was. Trump only wins, though, if he and his cohorts manage to normalize this abnormality, to make the Orwellian seem commonplace. I think he may have already done so. Tens of millions of good Americans seem to think he hasn’t. I hope and pray they are right.

I don't pray because I am an atheist, and all of this seems to me to be both hyperbolic and pessimistic.


[1] In fact, my "teachers in philosophy" all seem to have "worked" around 4 to 8 hours a week, in which they sat in on "workgroups", while nearly all refused to publish in philosophy "because that is vanity", in their words. (In fact, they were all incompetents who refused to be found out.)

[2] Much by the way but personally relevant: My ex, who also has ME/CFS since 1979, also got a fine M.A. in psychology, and the probable reason for that fact is that she has an IQ of 142 (and started studying psychology because she was a psychological assistant who tested IQs, but who was never told what these tests were based on).

[3] In fact, most real science consists of theories that are probable only, but it does also comprise empirical facts. Then again, even this seems to complicated for most who know litte or no probability theory.

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