The frumping of Trump

Trump is an egotistic windbag, and his lying incompetence is catching up with him.*

This retired military officer calls his “march to the border” a political stunt that risks the military’s integrity and loyalty to the Constitution.

The Trump administration tried to bury a new, massive report by 13 US government agencies  on the current and future damages from climate disruption by releasing it on Black Friday (when most Americans are shopping or recovering from overeating on Thanksgiving). Trump thinks that cold weather “disproves” climate disruption (like he thinks that people like him rather than his money), but this report buries his ignorance under 1,600 pages of science and data. Go read it — and then get angry that America’s “leader” cares more about golf than defending the country.**

My one-handed conclusion is that the best defense against lying deception is truth, facts and protest. Have you called your representative lately?


* I’m usually polite about leaders, but Trump is such a failure that I cannot see any redeeming qualities or mitigating actions. One reader of my newsletter was not happy with my criticism:

I suggested that the Swordmaiden unsubscribe as she (like her hero Trump) does not seem to engage in critical thinking. Related: Russia (as a dictatorship) benefits from confusion and disinformation, much as the U.S. (as a democracy) suffers. Support truth.

[I just did by subscribing to the New York Times (over 3 million digital subscribers), Atlantic and Guardian (they just hit 1 million subscribers). Good journalism needs your support.]

** Speaking of not caring about people, I’m pleased to see the wheels falling off Facebook, as Zuckerberg’s business model of using your data against you and hiring sockpuppets to attack his critics (via… yes, “fake news”) backfires. I hope that the UK’s seizure of internal memos reveals more Facebook manipulation, if only to force people to recognize it. The result? “Zuckerberg’s could be the first in history to collapse simply because its citizens logged out.

Weekend reading

  1. Watch this YouTube on African innovation, which is only starting to recover from centuries of colonial destruction.
  2. Anti-terror laws in the UK are shutting down academic debate
  3. Social media encourages lazy thinking. How bad might it get? Read this (perhaps) fictional piece on how people are set off against each other.
  4. Sir David Attenborough is covering up, rather than exposing, environmental destruction
  5. Joseph Stiglitz: ‘America should be a warning to other countries‘ …in failing to reduce inequality
  6. The Rise, Fall, and Restoration of the Kingdom of Bicycles
  7. Canada’s health system continues to fail First Nations (as was planned)
  8. Tyler Cowen explains why “demand slopes down” is so important (and central to all social sciences). Also, listen to his interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google Alphabet and a really clever guy (unlike the CEO of the US).
  9. American telecoms companies promised that they would invest more if they got tax breaks and an end to net neutrality. They aren’t.
  10. The Catholic Church struggles with its dogma over celibacy

Review: Valley of Genius

I bought this book for two reasons. First, I went to high school with its author Adam Fisher. Second, I am always interested in learning more about the history of innovation, entrepreneurship and start-ups.

I haven’t talked to Adam in 30 years, so my relation with him was more relevant in alerting me to the book’s existence than it was in my decision to buy it. That decision was based on Adam’s unusual method of telling the “uncensored history” through a “mashup” of first person perspectives on various Silicon Valley companies and trends. (Here’s the he-said-she-said excerpt on Facebook.)

The book’s 28 chapters are arranged into “waves” that struck Silicon Valley, moving from hardware (70s and 80s), to the internet (90s) and then to social media (00s). These topics overlap and intermingle, but the groupings provide structure in a history book with nearly as many characters as the cast of War and Peace. 

I found this book to be an exciting read due to its broad coverage of most of the major players in the Valley over the past 50 years and its technique of telling stories using the fresh perspectives of actual participants. In combination, I learned a lot more about the evolving culture in my “home town” and how that culture changed itself before it changed the world.

And what do I mean by culture? Try this (Loc 382):

Your basic values are essentially the architecture of the project. Why does it exist? And in Silicon Valley there are two really common sets of values. There are what I call financial values, where the main thing is to make a bunch of money. That’s not a really good spiritual reason to be working on a project, although it’s completely valid. Then there are technical values that dominate lots of places where people care about using the best technique—doing things right. Sometimes that translates to ability or to performance, but it’s really a technical way of looking at things. But then there is a third set of values that are much less common: and they are the values essentially of the art world or the artist. And artistic values are when you want to create something new under the sun. If you want to contribute to art, your technique isn’t what matters. What matters is originality. It’s an emotional value.

This quote captures the main tension that’s explored in the book (and prevalent in Silicon Valley), i.e., the tensions between free and corporate, hippy and troll, community and individual, art and engineering, acid rainbows and beery white dudes. 

Thus, the Valley’s inhabitants face a struggle between creating “insanely great” improvements in our lives and sacrificing us to their greed, ego and power. The book is full of warnings and wisdom from this struggle:

There was kind of a social policy: “You own your own words” was mostly about people had to get permission if they were going to quote you, but it was also about taking responsibility for your words.

Larry Brilliant: And the reason that The Well succeeded was because of those things—not because of the software, not because of the money.

The tension between taking responsibility (and being held accountable) for your actions and denying that responsibility in a quasi-libertarian excuse to screw over others also plays an important role in my research and teaching. In many instances, water policy affects the social distribution of costs and benefits. In many instances, those policies are flawed because some group is able to take benefits for themselves at a cost to others. That’s the tension between a farmer’s consumption of groundwater and the community’s security. That’s the tension between Facebook’s promise to connect the world, and its business of profiting from manipulating those connections.

I highly recommend (5-stars) this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the humans who built a Valley of Genius. Is the genius good or evil? The answer depends on who takes responsibility and who is held accountable.


To read all my reviews, go here.

Weekend reading

  1. The trouble with American politics is that the Republican-Democrat duopoly (like any monopoly) is more interested in profits than adding value
  2. Trump is also screwing with water management in the West. That’s no surprise to me, given the brown-nosing of Devin Nunes.
  3. I was in California last week and I gained a kilo from the excess of food that results from eating out. We know that caloric intake is more important than exercise for maintaining weight (exercise is good for many other things!), but we don’t know much more than that. Listen for more.
  4. If you care about online security, then swap SMS for 2FA authentication. Speaking of security, the USPS has made identity theft easier, weak passwords are your fault, and how a Dutch company lost $20 million to a (spear)phishing scam.
  5. Want better sex? Pay attention.
  6. We’re learning more about how marijuana affects us (and the news is good)
  7. Scientists are trying to save the Internet from greed and censorship, but their methods (voluntary restraint) might not protect the commons.
  8. Students are stressing themselves out chasing perfection
  9. The longer Bannon spoke, the clearer it became how empty the populist program is
  10. Forget occasional vacation: Try everyday leisure.

Everyone is trading your data

I went to dinner with some friends in San Francisco about a week ago. In the process, I learned a little more about how our data are tracked, traded and used to solicit our time and money.

The key is that my friends used “car share” services to get to and from the restaurant. (In the past, we might have walked to a local restaurant, but “cheap and seamless” makes it very easy to “tap the app” and get a ride.)

At one point in the past, I had Uber on my phone, but I had never used Lyft deleted Lyft’s app off my phone months ago. so imagine my surprise when I got this email the next day: 

So there are two possible reasons why I got this email from out of the blue the Borg:

  1. Some remnant of the deleted Lyft App on my phone was tracking where I was going and matched my physical presence to that of the Lyft driver.
  2. My location was matched with a Lyft driver, which then triggered an “account update” email to me that I had never signed up for.

I think that #2 is more likely, but both options are bad in the sense that they reveal the degree to which Americans (without knowing it) and Chinese (often knowing it, but not caring) are being tracked in their daily movements. (Tracking is probably also happening in the EU, but  GDPR makes that harder as well as illegal.)

How pervasive is this loss of privacy and gain in stalking? Read this article outlining how our data are collected, traded, aggregated and used to advertise to us. Then read this one on how “restaurant waiting list” apps are being used to record what we eat (digital menus), with who (location data!), and for how much (credit card bills). Finally, read this industry profile* of how a “decentralized internet” will weaken aggregation services and  platforms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon that track our browsing, logins, friends, finances and so on.**

My one-handed conclusion is that companies and governments are collecting far more data on your location, friends, activities and (probably) thoughts than you will ever suspect. The panopticon is now.

Postscript: Just a few days ago, I bought a swimsuit in a used-clothing store in Southern California. When I wanted to pay, the cashier asked me for my mobile phone number. “Why? You want to call me in the Netherlands?” “No, don’t worry,” he said. So I guess that the NSA, Facebook and Amazon are going to have to wait a bit longer to know what color swim trunks I wear.


* If you want to give them your identity; for some reason, I read it without signing up.

** I was annoyed to hear Mark Zuckerberg say “Now we’re going to change Facebook’s whole mission, as a company, in order to focus on [more community and connection]” as that’s a lie. Facebook, like Google, is an advertising company that makes 90+ percent of its revenues from advertisers who pay for access to your personal and “community” data.

Weekend reading

  1. Climate disruption is hitting Antartica hard
  2. Japan’s system for taxpayer-directed budgeting
  3. Our un-natural history sitting in chairs
  4. Forget supply as a business model. Many companies (e.g., Uber, Airbnb, Amazon) are making their money controlling (aggregating) demand
  5. CBD oil is everywhere, but nobody knows if it works or what dose to use
  6. The public (good) value of sharing our social information (start at 45:00)

Are class and country similar?

Maybe yes, maybe no?
The lower classes are poor in the sense that they are always at risk. A lower income country… puts citizens at greater risk.
The middle classes are stable. They control where they live, are insured against risk, and plan vacations and retirement. A middle income country… spends enough to reduce crime and effectively regulate, but citizens know they need to take care of themselves.
The upper classes are rich in that they do not need to work but choose what to do. An upper income country… treats citizens well and secures them against (most) poor choices.
Yes, it’s obvious that countries contain a mix of income classes, but isn’t it also obvious that income classes mix via work, daily life and/or family and friends? But it’s also true that lower and upper income countries can talk past each other in the same way that upper and lower income classes can, so that’s still a set of parallels.
My one-handed conclusion is that income changes your choices and risk-vulnerability, without necessarily helping you understand how people in other classes (or countries) make their choices.

Weekend reading

  1. The rise of the administrative state — a move that aided populist revolt.
  2. What Ayn Rand really meant by “selfishness”
  3. Great podcast on creativity (and how to protect it from “the system”)
  4. Know with the Flow” shows how to use tech to teach people about water
  5. Ride-share drivers make about $15 per hour, but they want more
  6. An update on Italian wines… and politics
  7. China’s social credit system might improve public behavior and interactions in the commons, but it also isolates and punishes. I predict that it will cause groups of excluded individuals to revolt.
  8. How futurists get it wrong (too much tech bros)
  9. Where will the next financial crisis come from? Views from me and 25 others
  10. CIty and utility bonds are getting downgraded as climate change risk grows.

H/T to MM

Stuff I wrote for other places…

Some industry blogs and magazines look for “thought bites” — short opinions on a topic. I wrote two recently that might interest you. (No sense in waiting for publication somewhere obscure 😉

Question from Source Magazine: Facing diminishing health, access, and supply-side options, how can water professionals ensure that markets become increasingly attractive, effective, and equitable?

My answer: Water markets, like markets for houses, cars, phones, etc., depend on clear property rights and low transactions costs to move water to its highest and best use. Water’s bulk, low value per unit, and dependency on green/gray infrastructure for storage and movement means that markets will only work at the wholesale level, i.e., among farmers and/or water/wastewater utilities. This structure can work as well for retail customers as the current structure for distributing oil works for consumers of gasoline. Equity in water markets is more tricky due to a past negligence for quantifying rights, missing information on the quantity of water available in time and place, and a failure to set aside environmental flows that should be owned in common (Public Trust). In cases where right remain with the State (and thus the people), some water should be reserved for the commons while the rest is sold to the highest bidder and revenues are distributed among citizens (the real owners of a nation’s water). In cases where rights are private property, some rights should be taken back from current owners and restored to the commons they should never have left.

Question from FE Insights blog: It’s been said that there’s a financial crisis about every 10 years. Currently, it’s been about a decade since the last one and with many analysts forecasting the global economy to begin slowing in the near future, we were wondering if you’d care to comment on when you think the next financial crisis will hit and what the catalyst(s) will be.

My answer: The next crisis has already begun, but we do not yet see the signs. The most likely sources of stress are opaque accounting and questionable governance at Chinese firms, Donald Trump’s fiscally irresponsible tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and the rise of various other populist leaders (besides Trump) who prefer mercantilist trade policies. Other factors of interest are over-compliant central banks that value economic growth over economic stability and the rising costs of climate disruption. In terms of a global recession, I think that corporate debt markets might be the first to run into trouble either due to fraud or regulatory interventions that reduce liquidity or the perceptions of risk. Although the international trading system is fairly robust relative to the situation in the 1930s, I could see a Trumpian-style war of all-against-all as a likely first casualty of any sizable macro disruption, in the same way that rising tariffs in the US (Smoot-Hawley) and elsewhere were erected in the years after 1929’s Black Friday. Although companies with large domestic revenues might appear as beneficiaries in an isolationist world, I think that their share prices will fall after a brief increase as they experience disruptions and other collateral damage from populist policies.

Here are all the answers from me and 25 other people

What would you answer to either of these questions? 

Weekend reading

  1. 250 things an architect should know… after a lifetime as a dilettante (fun)
  2. Bankers being bankers (ripping off citizens via legal fraud in Europe)
  3. The story of Ubernomics
  4. The World Bank launches a much-needed “human capital index” that should help clarify educational and health priorities in nearly 200 countries. How is yours doing?
  5. A few ideas on reshaping cities for people (rather than cars)
  6. My colleague Paul explains why carbon capture is more hope than solution
  7. A well-meaning, but counterproductive climate regulation on roofs
  8. Florida’s “tire reef” is now an environmental disaster
  9. The revelations of a first time (and not last time) hitchhiker
  10. Carl Bauer reviews Water Policy in Chile.

H/T to CD