Sunday, January 31, 2021

digital smashes the banana

Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum on the origins of Makey Makey

I downloaded Jay Silver’s PhD thesis, Lens x Block, a while back and took some notes. When I came to the bit about “world as construction kit”, I thought, at last, a modern rationale for the Maker Movement. This feeling has persisted, that Jay explains it deeply, whilst others who are great practitioners haven’t found the right words. They use more mundane rationales, such as “we are all makers”.

I won’t try to summarise all my notes to Jay’s PhD here but was reminded of them when I read the Forward to the book by Colleen and Aaron Graves about the Makey Makey.

It took me a while to buy my own Makey Makey because initially I thought it could be just a gimmick without much real depth. But once you realise that the concept is for the digital to smash the banana then that all changes.

I’ll just extract a few words, from the above mentioned Forward, from Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum, the inventors of Makey Makey below to illustrate.

We were super obsessed with the everyday world, skin to skin contact, and touching things in nature ...

Scratch has this powerful flexibility and open endedness. We also wanted that kind of flexibility for physical stuff and how to hook things up in a super flexible way ...

Computation is the greatest practical power but it is tied up in coding. And coding has barriers to access no matter how simple you make it ...

We thought a lot about making things tinkerable. One way to do that is to make them really immediate, so you could try something and see its effects right away…. So the idea of the keyboard hack and making a device that thinks it’s a keyboard partly came from that...

In Lifelong Kindergarten (LLK) we’re obsessed with creating the building blocks and fingerpaints for people of all ages...
The reason we were in LLK was because we want to live in a world created by everybody. That can only be possible if you create tools that help people create the world and those tools are very easy to use.

I think this video presents the best rationale for the modern maker movement that I’ve seen Hack a banana, make a keyboard (NY 2013)

"what kind of tools can we give adults who know too much ..."
“Let us smash computers with everyday objects…”
“the world as construction kit”


Graves, Colleen and Aaron. 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius (2017), Foreward.

Lens x Block: World as Construction Kit (Jay Silver’s PhD Thesis)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

making an arduino lilypad monster

I heard about Leah Buechley’s program to make electronics and coding more available to girls and women through linking it to fabric design. So I bought a copy of her Lilypad kit through Sparkfun and her tutorial book, Sew Electric.

This one slowed me right down because I had to learn to sew and learn the Arduino interface C language, both of which I’ve avoided in the past.

During the Christmas holidays I jumped to the third tutorial, an interactive stuffed monster. A trip to Mad Harry’s to buy felt, stuffing and a few other goodies and I was good to go.

First step was design. Initially I designed my monster with 2 eyes but changed that to one when I realised there was only one LED in the kit.

The tutorial explained how to setup the circuits and how to get started on the sewing. I’m sewing with metal conductive thread. Doing the loop to obtain a knot was new to me. Also, I read a tip in another tutorial to put clear nail polish on the finished knots to prevent them fraying, so that’s important as well.

This picture shows the LED connected by conductive thread to the Lilypad Arduino SimpleSnap

Then I went to the Arduino site and copied the code to make the LED blink. Success!

Next step was to attach the speaker, more sewing and then code to make the monster sing! It worked!

For a minute I thought I was nearly finished. But the next section was to attach some Aluminium paws to the monster. So, I had to order some Heat n Bond online and wait for that to arrive. Then with the Heat n Bond I added 4 little aluminium paws to my monster!

Then I sewed more metal thread so the paws became a part of the circuit too. Then back to the Arduino site to do more coding, so that when you hold the paws the monster sings; when you let go the monster blinks.

Just about finished now. Sewed up the monster and added some stuffing. Then I made an eye, mouth and teeth and stuck them on.

Back view
Front view

The LilyPad system was designed by Leah Buechley while pursuing her Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder. The commercial version of the kit, which launched in 2007, was collaboratively designed by Leah and SparkFun Electronics

The Lilypad was pioneering in its time but is a bit dated now. Next time I’ll make something using the CPX and Flora RGB neopixels from adafruit.

Sew Electric: A Collection of DIY Projects the combine Fabric, Electronics and Programming by Leah Buechley and Kanjun Qiu (2013)
Arduino create web editor
Spark fun Lilypad

Footnote: How the code works. The analogRead values of the circuit are roughly 1024 by default. When we hold the aluminium foil hands of our monster, this drops the analogRead values below 990. The Serial.println(sensorValue) part of the code was used to obtain these values through the serial port. We write an ifelse statement, so that, by default, the LED in the eye blinks but when we hold the monster's hands the song plays and the eye stops blinking, temporarily. This part of the code is shown below:

void loop() {
sensorValue = analogRead(aluminiumFoil);
Serial.println(sensorValue); //send sensorValue to computer
// touching the aluminium foil drops the analogRead value below 990
if (sensorValue < 990)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

building the Circuit Playground Express inch worm

This shows the potential to build simple cardboard robots with the Circuit Playground Express. It's a good place to start to illustrate the making side of the CPX.

The instructions here are comprehensive.

Materials: Cardboard 35x11 cm, Velcro, Duct tape, Scissors, Box cutter, Googly eyes, Paper clip (small)

Electronics: Circuit Playground Express; Battery pack, 3 xAAA with on/off switch; Micro servo; Alligator clips to male jumpers

When constructing the inch worm I had a few minor issues with the online instructions. I'll record them here:

To make sure I had the servo arm in the correct starting position I jumped ahead and wrote the code that moved the servo. Then set it up on the cardboard strip and ran the code to make sure it was moving as shown in the online video.

You need a small paper clip to connect the servo arm to the cardboard. The larger one I had was too thick to go through the holes on the servo arm.

I didn't have any strong adhesive dots, as recommended in the online materials, so for the servo and the battery I used duct tape. But use velcro for the CPX for ease of removing if you need to edit your code.

I did follow instructions for adding teeth and toes to the feet. It needs grip to move. But in the end my inch worm hardly moved on felt. But it did walk well on my work tray and I provided a downward slope, too, for the video shot.

Coding: The final code includes a clap (and finger click worked too) start, which is great.

Here are a couple of short videos showing my inch worm moving, with a finger click start. There is a deliberate 2 second delay while the lights flash before it moves off

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Round Square Scratch Coding Competition

I ran a Round Square Scratch Coding Competition for Year 7s at my school last year. My school is affiliated with the Round Square organisation.

It began with me providing a starter template:

I advised students to do letter magic with synchronisation, cloning, music and X factor to win the prize. The prize was a micro:bit. Any year 7 could enter at any time throughout the year. The criteria for winning was simply a quality entry as judged by me.

In the end there were 6 winning entries. I've put them all together in a Scratch studio for anyone to see. Go here.

Some great work by young students. Check it out!

Friday, January 15, 2021

scratch course upgrade

I'm sticking with the story theme which is certainly possible even for introductory projects.

Art has more of a place! I've noticed that quite a few students spend a lot of time tweaking the looks of their sprites and backgrounds. So, here and there, I've encouraged that. Although, overall, I'm far more focused on the coding I am keen to encourage the artistic flair as well.

I’ve upgraded use of the music extension tools, showing how to make your own music. In the past I just used random, which I now see as a copout. I’m also trying to get them to tinker more, not just copy what I have done. Of course, that will have to be reinforced more in class.

Weird animals: The cat barks and the dog meows. Rearrange some body parts too.

Speak: The cat changes into a horse. This introduces the text to speech extension. There is a little action before and after.

Rooster wakes up Frank: Shows how to send a message from one sprite to another to co-ordinate the action

Cat glides to mouse: To show how the glide block works in an interesting way. This time I plan to quiz the students more to check their understanding of Cartesian co-ordinates

Teleport: How to switch backdrops and code the stage

Interactive whirl: Painful things happen to the squirrel when you move the mouse. I have introduced a 2 colour gradient background so more students will utilise that feature in their own projects later

Dance then add a sound: Dance character, code the stage and add your own voice

Ten blocks challenge: Time for students to have a go at creating their own stuff, using these ten blocks: go to, glide, say, show, hide, set size to, play sound until done, when this sprite clicked, wait, repeat

Create a project using only these 10 blocks. Use them once, twice, or multiple times, but use each block at least once

Two player maze game: Coding the arrow and WSAD keys to setup a game.

Scribble 1: Use the pen extension to create some random scribble

Scribble 2: Remix a more elaborate scribble program made by the teacher. Students are then invited to tinker with the background gradient, colour range, pen size range, lengths of lines and background music (stage code)

Twinkle Star: I show them the codes to make a nursery rhyme and then add an animation to illustrate

Previous course: introductory scratch projects with a story theme

Thursday, January 14, 2021

artbotics curriculum proposal

Here’s a proposal I put to my school about a new course, called Artbotics, a combination or portmanteau of Art and Robotics.

Proposal: That a new, experimental class be created to trial an integrated curriculum STEAM approach in the Middle School in 2021. This particular integrated curriculum would combine Science, Digital Technology, Engineering skills, Art and Maths in a Design, Make and Appraise format.

Curriculum Goals possibilities: Two possibilities are mentioned here: Students would be skilled up to the level where they can, usually working in a team, design and make projects that:
A) they find personally and / or socially meaningful. These projects will be displayed publicly as part of their evaluation
B) can be used to help educate other students. These projects will be evaluated by testing them against other students in a cross age tutoring context.

Implications: For it to work well these changes would need to be made:

  • Block times of 2 sequential lessons, eg. 2*2 = 4 lessons a week. Achieve more curriculum integration by having the same teacher(s) for the same class in Maths and / or Science and / or Art.
  • Team teaching desirable for upskilling of some other teachers
  • Projects involve planning, building, coding and testing. Necessary skills include problem solving, dealing with complexity, persistence in the face of difficulties, teamwork, communication and flexibility. Assessment should be structured against these traits.

Class composition: This could be Year 7 or Year 8. Or, vertically integrated across 7, 8 and 9 (possibly a gifted class). Or, an extension of the Polly Farmer concept into the mainstream curriculum (indigenous class).

Gender balance is important so the outcomes do not reflect “toys for the boys”. The art and craft components of the projects should have appropriate weight. Artbotics rather than robotics. Build provocative, tangible sculptures with robotic actuation and sensing. The curriculum content can help build a gender neutral culture as follows:

  • Themes not just challenges
  • Encourage story telling
  • Exhibitions rather than competitions

Rationale: Different rationales can be argued:
1 The new literacy: Multimedia (music, sounds, animation) + block coding (eg. Scratch, Make Code etc. has become the new dominant literacy (replacing print). Everyone should have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the new literacy

2 The computing revolution has moved on. The new game changers are physical computing and fabrication labs (growing exponentially around the world). The inventor of Makey Makey, Jay Silver, expresses the movement of computer labs outwards in this way, “the world as a construction kit”

3 Anticipating the future:
“The future is here today: it’s just not very evenly distributed” William Gibson Fab Labs are the new big idea. A fully fledged Fab Lab is expensive but could be developed, with Government support, as a Community Drop in Centre. The global digital world interacts and informs the local physical world is where our society has evolved to. In one phrase: bits to atoms. This becomes more relevant in a post COVID world where human movement is restricted.  

Bernstein, Debra. Developing Technological Fluency through Creative Robotics (2010)
Cross, Jennifer. Identifying and Cultivating Diverse STEM Talent through Creative Robotics (2014)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

don't separate the what from the how

Who is Mitch Resnick? He is a leader of the amazingly successful Scratch site, which has many millions of great projects developed by a mainly young community of coders. It also has a very well thought out interface which helps teachers like myself keep track of their classes and students work.

I'm summarising here some of Mitch Resnick’s insights into criteria to use in teaching digital technology:
  • The maker movement and the coder movement fosters creativity far more than using computers for delivering and receiving information
  • Computational participation is a better guiding framework than computational thinking. Computational participation is broader in that it includes personal expression, creative design and social engagement.
  • Our aim should be that our students think, “I want to do this!”, far more motivating than the self efficacy aim that our students think, “I can do this”
  • Curriculum reform ought to be changing what we teach, eg. design a project around an idea or interest, not only how we teach

These points can be combined with those made in an article by Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman which I summarised 18 months ago (how to evaluate construction kits: ten design principles)

In that article I'm thinking, in particular, of point 2 wide walls; point 3 make powerful ideas salient, not forced; point 5 keep things as simple as possible; point 7 a little bit of coding goes a long way, and, point 10 iterate, iterate and iterate again as a design principle

Taken together, these points are a powerful critique of the ACARA curriculum guidance approach which read this way:


  • Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict output for a given input and to identify errors (ACTDIP029)
  • Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language (ACTDIP030)

This could be critiqued as boring wooden language generalities but it's worse than that. ACARA tells us what without the how. The what and the how should not be separated but rolled together in an engaging package taking into account where the learner is starting from.

So, in practice, schools dodge around ACARA by tying up their teachers with mainly meaningless paper work for the audit and then if any energy and understanding is left over letting them get on with the interesting stuff.

So, what is both laughable and tragic is that Mitch Resnick still has to argue these principles with Mark Guzdial (who in the end admitted Resnick was correct) because in Guzdial's words the whole education system is permeated with the philosophy that Thorndike won, Dewey lost, that is we are stuck with standards based education, rather than education that stimulates the natural curiosity and capabilities of children.

Kafai, Yasmin B and Burke, Quinn. Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming (2014), Forward by Mitchel Resnick
The first goal of a CS course should be to promote confidence ...(see comments 2, 3, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 for discussion b/w Mitch Resnick and Mark Guzdial)
Thorndike won, Dewey lost

the real political problem in America

update Feb 14:
Go here for the full text of the letter by the former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to Nancy Pelosi. Main points (1) Intelligence services did not anticipate a violent attack (2) the police chief's request for National Guard before the day was denied due to bad "optics". (3) the police chief's urgent request for National Guard on the day was held up for approval for 4.5 hours.

Such levels of incompetence are impossible to believe.

Ted Cruz wanted to question Nancy Pelosi about her knowledge of the above but Democrats decided not to continue with witnesses in the impeachment process.

update Feb 12:
Did you hear that a police officer, Brian Sicknick was bashed with a fire extinguisher during the Capitol riot and later died? It turns out that that was fake news. Nobody seems to know how he died or even when he died. Read this.

update Jan 27:
(14) Rand Paul pushing back on Democrats double standards about inciting violence: link

(13) Tulsi Gabbard (combat veteran Iraq war, Democrat, 2020 Presidential candidate, accused by Hilary Clinton of being a Russian asset):
"The mob who stormed the capitol to try to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional responsibilities were behaving like domestic enemies of our country. But let us be clear, the John Brennan's, the Adam Schiff's, the oligarchs in Big Tech who are trying to undermine our consitutionaaly protected rights and turn our country into a police state with KGB style surveillance are also domestic enemies, and much more powerful and therefore dangerous than the mob who stormed the Capitol .... (cuts to John Brennan clip) ..."

(12) Capitol Police chief apologizes for security failures during the assault, including a delay in calling for Guard troops.
Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of police, also confirmed that the Capitol Police Board, an obscure panel made up of three voting members, had initially declined a request two days earlier for National Guard troops and then delayed for more than an hour as the violence unfolded on Jan. 6 before finally agreeing to a plea from the Capitol Police for National Guard troops
(lots more detail in the article)

update Jan 25:
(11) Scott Adams listed 7 unanswered questions about the security of the US election system (link):
1) Has there ever been a large scale election fraud that was only discovered by chance? If so, does the opportunity for a similar fraud still exist?
2) Could a hacker with 'God Access' to election systems change a national election result in a big way that would be undetectable via recount, audit or any other method?
3) Would selective recounts and audits requested by the losing side be sufficient to detect fraud that could be spread across multiple precincts so as to look nothing like a good turn out?
4) Would the combination of physical ballot recounts plus statistical sampling to make sure that some number of individual ballots were valid, detect all forms of large scale fraud?
5) On a scale of 1-100%, how secure are our state election systems in terms of any opportunities for large scale national fraud?
6) Have US elections ever been rigged in ways that election officials never contemplated until it was discovered?
7) Have election EXPERTS seen any red flags for widespread fraud in the 2020 elections?

update Jan 21:
(10) Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) led nine of her colleagues in sending a letter to Congressional leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging that national security powers not be expanded in light of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that occurred two weeks ago, as such measures often lead to the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties.
Press release
Full text of letter

(9) Why the Dems impeached Trump a second time: to pressure him not to pardon Assange and Snowden
He believed it might swing a few Republican votes for the impeachment

update Jan 17:
(8) Video with commentary showing a highly organised group leading the break in to the Capitol building. They were not typical Trump supporters (dressed alike in black, wearing masks). Who were they? The commentator says antifa. What seems clear, from a variety of sources, is that nearly all the protesters were peaceful but there was also a highly organised, military style group of unknown origin, who came with a plan and equipment to break into the Capitol. Will we ever know who they were? They were wearing masks so harder to identify. Here is the video.

update Jan 16:
(7) Credible eyewitness account from Jan 6:
I saw provocateurs at the Capital riot on Jan 6
Summary: Police acted very strangely tear gassing a crowd who supported them; well organised provocateurs (political persuasion not known) led the attack.

This account seems to me to be consistent with Giuliani's (point (2) below)

(6) The true voice of the new elite ruling class in the USA, expressed by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, describing the people who went to the Capitol:

Here they were, a coalition of the willing: deadbeat dads, YouPorn enthusiasts, slow students and MMA fans. They had heard the rebel yell, packed up their Confederate flags and Trump banners and GPS-ed their way to Washington. After a few wrong turns, they had pulled up into the swamp with bellies full of beer and Sausage McMuffins, maybe a little high on Adderall, ready to get it done.
Glenn Greenwald comments on the above:
"[T]hese people know they are scorned and looked down upon...& the more you humiliate & make them feel powerless, the more you take away their ability to organize and express that rage, it's gonna find an outlet in more destructive ways."
(5) Manuel Lopez Obrador, President of Mexico:
“I can tell you that at the first G20 meeting we have, I am going to make a proposal on this issue,” López Obrador said. “Yes, social media should not be used to incite violence and all that, but this cannot be used as a pretext to suspend freedom of expression.”

“How can a company act as if it was all powerful, omnipotent, as a sort of Spanish Inquisition on what is expressed?” he asked.
- Mexican president mounts campaign against social media bans

(4) Profiles of some of the people who entered the Capitol on Jan 6th. Here. Note that some of them were not Trump supporters and played the role of provocateurs, see entries 6,7, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. According to the last entry (23), John Sullivan may have been partly responsible for Ashli Babbit's death (10, 11)

(3) update Jan 14:
Just listened to a great podcast from Megyn Kelly, Tech Censorship And Independent Media, with Glenn Greenwald and the CEOs of Parler and Substack (2 hrs). She begins with her own analysis, then interviews John Matze, Parler CEO, then the CEO of substack, Chris Best and finally Glenn Greenwald. I found out a lot about Parler (not setup to be a right wing feed). At the end, Glenn Greenwald gives his opinion that the current craziness is a vengeful outpouring, built up since 2016, of those forces who saw their rightful ownership of the Presidency snatched away from them. Am I asking you to listen to a podcast that goes for a whole 2 hours? Yes, if you want to understand America, the world and freedom of speech.

I'll put this up now and add detail later if necessary. Glenn Greenwald correctly and succinctly identifies the real political problem in America at the moment:
Tech monopolies -- FB, Google, Apple, Amazon -- have more concentrated wealth & power than any in history. They have used brute force 3 times in 3 months to manipulate US politics: censoring NY Post, banning Trump, destroying Parler.

And liberals are overwhelmingly supportive.
- source
(2) I went to Rudy Giuliani's site to get his take. Then found that a video he had made about the January 6 Capitol protest has been censored by YouTube so he has republished it on rumble. So, better watch that one now before it disappears totally!

I watched it. Go here. I do think Rudy's analysis is important to obtain the full picture of what is happening. I'm not saying he is right, I can't tell, but do think he is very credible.

But one irritating issue is that his analysis is punctuated by ads. It destroys the ambience. He is discussing really important issues and it is broken up by adverts.

Anyway, Rudy was at the rally and did speak. He says there was no sign at the rally proper that there would be violence. The violence was planned beforehand and separate from the rally, he say, by antifa supporters. He presents evidence in his video in support of that claim.

One final thought here: What possible justification can YouTube have for censoring this video? They are Orwell's Thought Police, no other explanation.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

US elections: the Kraken?

update Jan 3: Ted Cruz and 10 other Senators will not endorse US Presidential election results (link to full statement)
"Voter fraud has posed a persistent challenge in our elections, although its breadth and scope are disputed. By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.

"And those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.' That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).
"Ideally, the courts would have heard evidence and resolved these claims of serious election fraud. Twice, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to do so; twice, the Court declined.

"On January 6, it is incumbent on Congress to vote on whether to certify the 2020 election results. That vote is the lone constitutional power remaining to consider and force resolution of the multiple allegations of serious voter fraud.
Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission's findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

"Accordingly, we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given' and ‘lawfully certified' (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.

"We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit-conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20-would dramatically improve Americans' faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.


We have been waiting a while (2 months) for reliable evidence to back the claim that the US election was stolen from Trump.

Providing some links here for such a claim and evaluation of that claim by Scott Adams. Adams is a Trump supporter who has spent time and energy debunking other such claims that initially looked credible.

1) Tweet from Rudy Giuliani, Jan 1, 2021 (link):
In a country with a free press, you would know:

1. The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee issued a report demonstrating the vote was stolen from @realDonaldTrump .

2. The vote was unanimous and BIPARTISAN to audit Fulton County’s Absentee ballots.

3. And to de-certify Biden.
2) Summary of evidence (watch the 5 short videos) showing that votes were flipped from Trump to Biden by the computer system. The allegation is that the machines had a vulnerability and that Trump's votes declined and Biden's votes increased by the same amount at specific times. This should not be possible in a fair election.

update Jan 5: Data Integrity Group - Presentation to GA Senate Hearing 30 Dec 20 - Linda McLaughlin Data Analysis (14 min)

3) Scott Adams discusses the evidence here, watch from 18min 50 sec to 32 min. He points out that if this is not debunked within a day or two then it does discredit the whole US election process. If it was done in one place then obviously it could have been done in many places.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

three years in Alice

Never seen so much rain in Alice!

The Todd is flowing again. I have now seen it flow three times and so according to legend, I'll be here for life.

How to describe Alice? Lots of thoughts. I walk a lot and ask questions to my imaginary friends, "What do you see there?". Oh, a town camp, I would have missed that if I drove down Stuart Hwy (named after Australia's greatest alcoholic explorer). Did you hear that a house was burnt down there last week and the police say it was deliberate?

There are many fences in Alice. Quite a few high fences, some with sharp spikes. Indigenous youth crime is an issue that never goes away.

I think of it as gritty and a bubble town. Bubbles of social class and alternative jobs and lifestyles. Rednecks, LGBTQ+, ethnic minorities and 6 or more different aboriginal tribes. The bubbles need to mingle but it's not happening soon.

My initial goals here (to make a difference in indigenous education) have been partially met (I would have liked to achieve more) but I've been adaptable / resourceful and have been recognised in other ways (innovative technology).

The Todd River
my decade
a novice discovers the caterpillar
Mparntwe Dreaming, part two: wild dog creators

Sunday, December 20, 2020

books I am reading in 2021

BOOKS 2021

Adams, Scott. LoserThink: How Untrained Brains are Ruining the World (2019)
Adeept Sensor Kit for the BBC micro:bit (34 Projects Tutorial Book)
Bell, Adam Patrick (editor). The Music Technology Cookbook: Ready Made Recipes for the Classroom (2020)
Buechley, Leah & Qiu, Kanjun. Sew Electric: A Collection of DIY Projects that combine Fabric, Electronics and Programming (2013)
Cohen, Sahrye & Rodrigue, Hal. Make It, Wear It: Wearable Electronics for Makers, Crafters and Cosplayers (2018)
Frank, Thomas, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016)
Goldstein, Rebecca. Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel (2006)
Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future (2017)
Marcus, Gary and David, Ernest. Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence we can Trust (2019)
Powell, Sidney. Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice (2014)

Previous: Books 2020

parody foreshadows reality

The strange times are becoming stranger. Titania McGrath, the militant vegan who thinks she is a better poet than William Shakespeare, parodied a bunch of woke thoughts. It turns out that those parodies have become realities.

I've extracted the 10 cases from Titania's twitter account below, see the full thing here:
  1. On 22 December 2018, I called for biological sex to be removed from birth certificates. On 17 December 2020, the New England Journal of Medicine concurred.
  2. On 1 October 2019, I suggested that young women should be encouraged to travel alone in rural Pakistan. On 12 October 2019, Forbes Magazine concurred.
  3. On 19 September 2018, I criticised Julie Andrews (aka Mary Poppins) for chimney soot blackface. On 28 January 2019, the New York Times concurred.
  4. On 7 March 2019, I published my book WOKE in which I argued that skyscrapers are oppressive phallic symbols. On 6 July 2020, the Guardian concurred.
  5. On 22 January 2019, I called for the Oscars to prioritise diversity. On 12 June 2020, the Academy concurred.
  6. On 6 June 2019, I demanded an option to mute white males. On 14 July 2020, Instagram concurred.
  7. On 29 August 2018, I urged parents to give their newborn babies numbers instead of names. On 6 May 2020, Elon Musk concurred.
  8. On 2 May 2020, I criticised the NHS for appropriating the LGBTQ rainbow flag. On 6 May 2020, Forbes Magazine concurred.
  9. On 21 December 2018, I wrote an article to endorse fighting with relatives during the holiday season. On 28 November 2019, the Nation concurred.
  10. On 7 March 2019, I published my book WOKE in which I called out Helen Keller for her white privilege. On 15 December 2020, Time Magazine concurred.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

the scott adams theory of US election fraud

Bonus: Scott has an uncanny ability to make the most serious of topics wickedly funny. Regretfully, you won't find that in my summary, you will need to go to the source (links at the bottom).
  1. Rasmussan polls have been more reliable, they show that 30% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans believe there was fraud
  2. Lots of evidence for fraud (Here is the Evidence) but the dog (Main Stream Media) is not barking
  3. Early claims of fraud were mainly there to keep the issue alive while more substantial evidence was gathered
  4. 95% of fraud allegations will be weak or false (confirmation bias, if you think something is true then that is what you will see)
  5. Fraud was certain but we don’t know whether it was enough to change the result
  6. Fraud was targetted in the key swing states, not widespread (the MSM often claims there is no evidence of widespread fraud)
  7. The motivation to cheat was sky high, since Democrats believe their own propaganda that Trump is an orange Hitler
  8. The opportunity to cheat was present eg. Republican observers were kept at a distance, removed, intimidated. bullied. Scott speculates that there is evidence (in Michigan) that the bullying of Republican observers was organised.
  9. When motivation to cheat is high and the opportunity is present then cheating always occurs. You don’t need proof to know that
  10. The Dominion Smartmatic software Venezuela cheating story promoted earlier by Sidney Powell was a deliberate, professional disinformation scam (too perfect to be true). The whole situation is riddled with deliberate disinformation which makes it very difficult for the Trump forces to sort it out in time.
  11. It is likely that the fraud was “packetised” ie. done in a sophisticated and professional manner,a variety of different ways of cheating were implemented. If some of those ways are proved, but not all, then there still may not be enough evidence that the known fraud would reverse the result
  12. One of the professional packets would be to conceal Biden votes in previously apathetic black voters. The Trump black vote increased from 2016 but the Rasmussan polls predicted it would be even further up than it was
  13. MSM brainwashing language (eg CNN) morphs from no proof to baseless to unsubstantiated
  14. There is lots of circumstantial statistical evidence that fraud was extremely likely. See the Matt Braynard report, Voter Integrity Project: Findings and Conclusions
  15. Inability to audit the vote counting machine election software (because it is proprietary) invalidates the election. If this is not fixed by 2024 then we need a Tea Party revolution, throw them in the Bay.
  16. The Courts may decide to preserve the stability of the Republic rather than reverse the election result
  17. If you factor the bias of big tech (twitter, facebook etc.) and the deep state against Trump before the election then it is arguable / very likely that Trump is far more popular than Biden if we had a real democracy in the USA
The outcome? By my reading Scott Adams, at present, thinks that Biden will prevail but that there will be irresistible pressure to improve the voting system for the future. He is certain there was significant targetted fraud, probably enough to reverse the election result, but it was cleverly done ("the perfect crime") and there will not be enough time to prove it before Biden is confirmed.

More recently he has said a civil war is necessary if
(a) the voting machines can't be audited
(b) the practice of trained bullies harrassing observers is not dealt with

Scott Adams twitter
Scott Adams periscope

Sunday, November 22, 2020

the fake news and Rudy Giuliani

Did you think that the Trump legal team presenting their opening statement of their preliminary findings and goals about the Presidential election on November 3rd would be reported objectively?

What we received from the main stream media was a shit storm of abuse directed mainly at Rudy Giuliani. Here are some of the headlines:

The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani’s post-election meltdown starts to become literal

CNN: Fact-checking Giuliani and the Trump legal team's wild, fact-free press conference

Politico: Giuliani and fellow Trump lawyers crank out conspiracies as legal challenges implode

Financial Times: ‘Crazy’ allegations by Trump legal team prompt Republican rebukes

The Western Star: Trump lawyers’ wild, sweaty press conference

A few of the reports drew attention to Giuliani’s hair dye running down his face. Imagine the mindset of reporters who focus on that when evidence of massive election fraud is being outlined.

Back home one of the ABC News 24 “informative” pop ups reads “Donald Trump maintains false claim he wins the election”.

In my opinion the main problem is not Donald Trump. The attempts by the main stream media to manipulate our thinking is a much bigger problem. Rudy Giuliani is far, far more credible in the way he presents information than they are.

I invite you to watch the 90 minute presentation by the Trump legal team and make up your own mind: Rudy Giuliani and Trump Campaign Officials Hold News Conference at the RNC

How will this play out over the next few weeks? The most credible source I’ve found so far is Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, who runs a daily entertaining / analytical podcast mainly (but not only) about this issue: here

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Understanding America?

It was an enormous surprise 4 years ago when Trump was elected. Another surprise was that this was predicted by Michael Moore. Btw Moore is again warning not to count our chickens before they hatch.

What then arose was a need to explain this. After a little research I thought I had discovered reasonable explanations:
  1. The elephant curve, that middle America was either making no progress or going backwards economically. They were angry and voted for an angry outsider from the political establishment, Trump.
  2. The Democrat candidate, Hilary, was a pathetic self serving liberal who promoted identity politics and eschewed class politics.

At the time I felt Michael Hudson was on the right track in calling for a break up of the Democratic Party. His analysis, along with the late David Graeber, identified the central problem that both Parties were and are captive to Wall Street.

Over those four years as a casual, part time observer of American politics I felt those two explanations were sufficient to explain what was going on.

Four years later, is there a need to update this analysis? I have been searching and now think I know a little more.

Russia gate, based on flimsy evidence, was a failure of the Democrats to face the main reason why they lost, namely that their candidate and policies served the elite and would not improve the situation of middle America.

BLM is a race based movement with some legitimate claims but does not clearly identify the key issue in America, namely, the dire economic situation of the growing precariat.

China. Niall Ferguson, when interviewed by Coleman Hughes, identified the main good thing that Trump has done: clearly identified China as a real and growing danger to the world

Joe Biden is in cognitive decline and his political history shows he is either a scumbag (eg. with regard to the whistle blowers Snowden and Assange) or a non entity. The Democrats could have appointed a moderate reformer like Bernie Sanders. They chose not to which indicates they have learnt nothing new of value over the past 4 years.

The Lincoln Project, Republicans who are anti Trump, do make occasional entertaining videos but are dishonest in the way they promote Biden.

Institutions such as the New York Times and Universities have by and large been taken over by the woke movement who believe such things as:
  • Democrats lost last time because of Russian interference
  • Russia remains an existential threat to US democracy
  • Free speech has some importance but anti racism is far more important
  • Only fascists, nazis, white supremists, terrorists and racists support Trump
  • Assange belongs in prison because he helped Trump last time

Now the social media giants (twitter, facebook) have yielded to the pressure and are censoring their feed in support of Biden. The fearless, free press, where is it?

The culture war against a main stream media that has long stopped trying to tell the truth will have to go on whoever wins the election.

There are people in America, outside the main stream media, who make sense to me. I describe them as just informed citizens, of varying political allegiance, who have the blinkers off, are passionate about finding the truth and have growing numbers of supporters. Here are some of their names: Michael Hudson, Glen Loury, Coleman Hughes, John McWhorter, Glen Greenwald, Niall Ferguson, Matt Taibbi, Joe Rogan

The current choice, in the words of Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper, is between one bowl of shit and two bowls of shit. Coleman Hughes is supporting Joe Biden since he feels it might lead to a less deranged left wing as opposed to a more deranged left wing (if Trump wins). Take your pick.

If you think the above is on the right track and want to hear it better argued then watch this interview of Glen Greenwald by Joe Rogan:

Monday, October 05, 2020

Watch this video about George Floyd's death

Watch this video about George Floyd's death, to the end: George Floyd, the Law, and the Absolute Necessity of Due Process

update Oct 13
I wrote below, "if we base our knowledge on a brief snapshot combined with a blinkered or incomplete view of how the world works then we are bound to get it wrong"

Unfortunately, this is what I did. When I look again at the original bystander video it is very clear that Derek Chauvin callously rejected, for 4 minutes, the repeated advice of spectators after George Floyd lost consciousness. This is ignored in the pro cop video.

One of the spectators who identifies as having trained at the police academy repeatedly calls out (supported by other voices) he’s not resisting … you’re stopping his breathing … various comments about what sort of person Derek Chauvin is, your a bum etc … he’s not responding right now (after GF loses consciousness) … check his pulse … the man ain’t moving …. he’s not moving (in the middle of this Chauvin takes his hand out of his pocket and grabs his mace to threaten the spectators) …. get off his neck … you gonna let him kill that man (to the other police).

George Floyd is unconscious for 4 minutes before the ambulance arrives and then Chauvin takes his knee off Geoge Floyd's neck. Here is the link to the original bystander video: Full cell phone video of George Floyd Police Incident (complete video)

update Oct 6:
When I saw the original video I saw (along with the rest of the world) a callous cop, not threatened himself (hand in his pocket), brutally killing Floyd. But the new video shows the following:
  • cops doing their job by the book, including knee on the neck
  • knee being lifted at times by the cop
  • Floyd saying "I can't breathe" repeatedly before he had the knee on his neck
  • Floyd being continually uncooperative and acting as though he had taken something
  • Floyd admitting he was on drugs
  • Police calling ambulance twice
  • subsequent documentation that he had taken enough fentanyl to kill himself
  • much of this was hushed up for months

All of this has significant epistemological and political implications, eg. if we base our knowledge on a brief snapshot combined with a blinkered or incomplete view of how the world works then we are bound to get it wrong

The Hippocratic oath of activism: First educate yourself.

update Oct 8:
Read: George Floyd autopsy report, with cause of death and other factors

This comment at the YouTube site by Staff Reporter is consistent with my reading of the autopsy report:

This documentary does not go far enough and question why on the final autopsy, the hospital personnel inserted 2 chest tubes for drainage, a trach for breathing, 2 IO Catheters which are contraindicated for heart patients. Floyd had 4 major occlusions in his heart, 2 of which in the same blood vessel. He also had an IV Catheter taped to the left side of his groin and a needle puncture mark seeming to indicate that he died before they could make the incision to perform an angiogram for stent placements.

Also, his lungs were inflamed and edematous, because he had tested Covid positive and now we know hooping, which could mean he was shooting baskets or this can apparently mean he shoved crystal meth in his anus (ass), either in solid form or dissolved in water, resulting in a quick and intense high according to the urban dictionary. However, the final autopsy notes "the back, buttock and anus are unremarkable." Drug hooping can, but not always, result in irritation of the anus. Thus the benefit of the doubt goes to the officers.

There were no signs of asphyxiation, meaning no blood clots in the tissues, no petechiae hemorrhaging and no bruising. The neck and larynx were structurally intact as well.

Remember an hour and twenty four minutes passed from the time of the 911 call at 8:01 p.m. until the time of death was called at the hospital at 9:25 p.m. Clearly enough time to perform all of the above medical procedures and why they are documented in the final autopsy.

introductory scratch projects with a story theme

I've written an introductory course in Scratch multimedia / coding. I teach it to year 7s. After some experimentation and thought I realised I could have a short story as a feature of all the projects. ie. as well as teaching a technique or Scratch skill, use that skill in a story context. This makes things more engaging for a broader range of students.

1) Weird animals

Cat barks, dog meows then add a third animal that makes a weird animal sound

2) Fly around

Butterfly moves 5 times, makes a sound, changes costumes with a speech bubble at the end

3) Say something

Cat has two speech bubbles and text to speech then changes into a banana. This introduces the text to voice extension.

4) Rooster wakes up Frank

The rooster crows, changes costumes, pauses between costume changes, returns to original costume. Then sends a message to another sprite, Frank, who responds.

5) Cat glides to mouse

I made a cat glides to mouse game. Students have to make a remix and then find the mouse co-ordinates and type the correct x and y values into a glide block.

6) Teleport

Avery expresses a desire to teleport. Then her wish comes true. But after that the stage does some weird things.

7) Dance then add a sound

Choose one of the Dance characters since they have more moves. Your character dances to music, says something at the end. Then record and add your own voice. Finally, choose the Spotlight backdrop and program the Stage to make the lights change colour

8) Music

Use the music sprites since they have more variety in sound. Create multiple instruments playing random sounds together. Make the random number equal to the number of different notes in the instruments drop down box. The instruments grow and shrink too

9) Two player maze game

Put two different balls on the screen. One of them is steered by the arrow keys. The other is steered by the w,a,s and d keys. Then make a target object and build a simple maze for the two players to navigate through

10) Scribble

What sort of scribbler are you? Test it out on a blank sheet of paper!

Get the pen extension. Then put the pen down. Start with: pen size = 1, move random (50 to 100), pen color 1 to 100 (ROYGBIV) and turn (1 to 360) (full circle). Repeat lots of times.

Then randomise pen size and experiment with variations of moving randomly. See if you can produce more interesting scribble than the example shown!

11) Interactive Whirl

Twist the squirrel by moving the mouse. The squirrel feels pain if you twist too much!

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Shock: David Graeber dead at 59yo; "We are the 99 percent" more relevant than ever

Shocking news: David Graeber dead at 59yo

This man helped invent the most important political slogan of the current era, "We are the 99 percent", arising out of the 2008 crash, which led to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

More: Vale David Graeber by Michael Hudson 

Earlier this year I bought both Debt and Bullshit Jobs. I've yet to finish both of these books, partly due to work commitments. But I do believe they will provide me with invaluable insights into the inner dynamics of the modern world.

Update (Sept 11, 2020):
I'm still at an early stage of trying to understand David Graeber's ideas. Stephen Wright's essay, The death of David Graeber may be more about Wright's views than Graebers. But he does link us to three essays by Graeber which I read and comment on below.

Essays by David Graeber:
What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? (January 2014)
This speculative essay argues for more than "play is ok" or good for learning; that it may be deeply wired into the nature of matter

The Shock of Victory (2009)
Part one argues that nuclear power plants ought to be and were successfully opposed. I can't agree with that since I support nuclear power plants for their significant contribution to the decarbonisation of energy production. Part two describes the campaign against neoliberalism and claims it was successful despite the interruption by the 9/11 terrorist attack. Sadly, I wasn't involved in this so I should study Graeber's claims here more closely.

The Bully’s Pulpit (2015)
Where he outlines some surprising research about bullies and victims: (1) the overwhelming majority of bullying incidents take place in front of an audience (2) bullies do not suffer from low self-esteem (3) the ideal victim is one who fights back in some way but does so ineffectively. This reveals the deep structure of bullying: Bullying creates a moral drama in which the manner of the victim’s reaction to an act of aggression can be used as retrospective justification for the original act of aggression itself

Saturday, July 11, 2020

brief overview of Michael Hudson’s political economy analysis

Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy (2015) by Michael Hudson

In these times we need to shine the light in the right place. The problem is not just the virus but the underlying economic crisis that many were predicting before the virus and which obviously is further greatly exacerbated by the virus. Who understands those underlying economic issues?

The twelve themes of this book:
1) Tangible, productive or real economy v. FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), not productive
2) Banks don’t finance tangible investments, they do finance the FIRE sector
3) Asset price inflation (prices of home, office buildings, companies increase in the growth phase)
4) Debt deflation (at the point when debts can't be paid, the economy shrinks)
5) Austerity makes things worse
6) Debts grow exponentially (compound interest)
7) Debts are not paid, individuals, companies, governments sell off or forfeit their assets
8) Bubble economy sustained for a while by easier credit but led to 2007 crash
9) Banks and bondholders oppose debt write downs to bring debt in line with earnings and historical asset valuation
10) Financial sector, the One Percent and IMF, backs creditor friendly oligarchies and military dictatorships
11) Financial sector, not governments plan the economy, since 2007 they have seized political power
12) Support the Classical economic policy of taxing and de-privatising economic rent and asset-price (“capital”) gains

I'm part way through reading this book. The above is a thumb nail sketch of the contents. I'm struck by the straightforward, relative simplicity of Michael Hudson's analysis. The non productive FIRE sector took over the American economy after the 2008 Great Recession, the One Percent seized political power. Obama went along with it and bailed out the Financial sector with trillions of dollars. Since then the real economy has continued to stagnate even though the stock market appeared to recover that was just another bubble.

Hudson argues that if the mortgages of the 10 million or so victims of the fraudulent loans (subprime mortgage crisis) had been written down and instead the perpetrators of those loans punished then the economy would be in much better shape today. He taps into the inside story of the 2008 power brokers (Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself (2012) by Sheila Bair) to illustrate that part of his argument.

Even though 2008 is a flashpoint, the book provides a historical overview of the centuries old struggle between the productive sector and financial sector for political control. I think Hudson would say that Marx volume 3 is more relevant to the current situation than Marx volume 1. It is both a relatively simple yet powerful analysis. I can't fault it.

Good review by John Repp here

Killing the Host chapter names here (scroll down)

Michael Hudson's blog

in April Roubini predicted a Greater Depression

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

the contrarian black and white voices matter

Update (July 15):
More shocks:
Bari Weiss resignation letter from the New York Times.

James Flynn's (known for the 'Flynn effect') book on free speech has been pulled by the publisher.

My poor imitation of a Dylan line goes like this: How many contrarians need to speak out before their voices are heard?

In the wake of a just cause (anti racism) we witness the cancer of anti racism religion, the woke cancel culture.

Now they are trying to cancel Steven Pinker. I'm shocked by the depths of their stupidity. As Jim said, "How childish ... Wittgenstein doesn’t have enough middle fingers for them."

The cancel attempt is here.

There is a great rebuttal here.

I say that the contrarian black voices matter because when I did not understand what was happening in America I searched and found coherent analysis from them.

I'm referring to Glen Loury (twitter), John McWhorter (twitter), Coleman Hughes (twitter) as well as Killer Mike (video) and rapper Lupe Fiasco (video). Read and listen to these guys if you really want to understand what is happening in America with regard to race.

So, which slogan should I support. "Black Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter". I think Steven Pinker has explained this better than anyone:
Linguists, of all people, should understand the difference between a trope or collocation, such as the slogan “All lives matter,” and the proposition that all lives matter. (Is someone prepared to argue that some lives don’t matter?) And linguists, of all people, should understand the difference between a turn in the context of a conversational exchange and a sentence that expresses an idea. It’s true that if someone were to retort “All lives matter” in direct response to “Black lives matter,’ they’d be making a statement that downplays the racism and other harms suffered by African Americans. But that is different from asking questions about whom police kill, being open to evidence on the answer, and seeking to reduce the number of innocent people killed by the police of all races. The fact is that Mullainathan and four other research reports have found the same thing: while there’s strong evidence that African Americans are disproportionately harassed, frisked, and manhandled by the police (so racism among the police is a genuine problem), there’s no evidence that they are killed more, holding rates of dangerous encounters constant. (References below.) As Mullainathan notes, this doesn’t downplay racism, but it pinpoints its effects: in drug laws, poverty, housing segregation, and other contributors to being in dangerous situations, but not on in the behavior of police in lethal encounters. And it has implications for how to reduce police killings, which is what we should all care about: it explains the finding that race-specific like training police in implicit bias and hiring more minority police have no effect, while across-the-board measures such as de-escalation training, demilitarization, changing police culture, and increasing accountability do have an effect.
(follow the link to The Purity Posse pursues Pinker to see the 6 references listed)
So, yes, the contrarian white voices matter too.

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate A statement signed by 150 people incl. Noam Chomsky, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Garry Kasparov, Steven Pinker, Gloria Steinem, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes and Salman Rushdie expresses concern over the illiberal trend intensified by our national reckoning

My Enlightenment fanaticism by Scott Aaronson

covid-19 Inspiring Black Rights Matter Protest Long discussion thread in which I became involved, attempting to assess the true nature of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

were you sprayed by the Extinction Rebellion's fake blood?

The Extinction Rebellion activists then opened up a fire hose and sprayed fake blood, which they had made from beet juice, onto the building. But they immediately lost control of the hose and ended up drenching the sidewalks and least one bystander.
It has reached the point where many, including myself, are reluctant to speak out. Who wants to be labelled a climate change denier = right winger = doesn't listen to the science, etc. etc.?

Ten years ago I read The Climate Fix by Roger Pielke jr which confirmed my belief that we were being told less than half the truth.

More recently, when people said to me things like, "Even after the (Australian) bushfires, Scott Morrison doesn't believe in climate change". The next sentence, "How dumb is that?" didn't even have to be said. I held my tongue. The Earth is not flat.

Hence, it's important that you follow this link, read the reviews and then read this book: Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All by Michael Shellenberger

How Badly Have Environmentalists Misled and Frightened the Public!
the ecomodernist manifesto
the environment, capitalism, modernity and marx
environmental talking points and references

Monday, June 29, 2020

in April, Roubini predicted a Greater Depression

In April, before he wrote The Main Street Manifesto, Nouriel Roubini predicted a Greater Depression. His analysis has induced me to resume study of political economy. I'll list the books I am reading at the end. Meanwhile here are Roubini's 10 reasons:

The Coming Greater Depression of the 2020s
April 28, Nouriel Roubini

1) Debt – public and private
The first trend concerns deficits and their corollary risks: debts and defaults. The policy response to the COVID-19 crisis entails a massive increase in fiscal deficits – on the order of 10% of GDP or more – at a time when public debt levels in many countries were already high, if not unsustainable.

Worse, the loss of income for many households and firms means that private-sector debt levels will become unsustainable, too, potentially leading to mass defaults and bankruptcies. Together with soaring levels of public debt, this all but ensures a more anemic recovery than the one that followed the Great Recession a decade ago.

2) Health care in aging societies
A second factor is the demographic time bomb in advanced economies. The COVID-19 crisis shows that much more public spending must be allocated to health systems, and that universal health care and other relevant public goods are necessities, not luxuries. Yet, because most developed countries have aging societies, funding such outlays in the future will make the implicit debts from today’s unfunded health-care and social-security systems even larger.

3) Debt deflation
A third issue is the growing risk of deflation. In addition to causing a deep recession, the crisis is also creating a massive slack in goods (unused machines and capacity) and labor markets (mass unemployment), as well as driving a price collapse in commodities such as oil and industrial metals. That makes debt deflation likely, increasing the risk of insolvency.

4) Currency debasement produces stagflation
A fourth (related) factor will be currency debasement. As central banks try to fight deflation and head off the risk of surging interest rates (following from the massive debt build-up), monetary policies will become even more unconventional and far-reaching. In the short run, governments will need to run monetized fiscal deficits to avoid depression and deflation. Yet, over time, the permanent negative supply shocks from accelerated de-globalization and renewed protectionism will make stagflation all but inevitable.

5) Accelerated automation
A fifth issue is the broader digital disruption of the economy. With millions of people losing their jobs or working and earning less, the income and wealth gaps of the twenty-first-century economy will widen further. To guard against future supply-chain shocks, companies in advanced economies will re-shore production from low-cost regions to higher-cost domestic markets. But rather than helping workers at home, this trend will accelerate the pace of automation, putting downward pressure on wages and further fanning the flames of populism, nationalism, and xenophobia.

6) De-globalisation / Protectionism
This points to the sixth major factor: de-globalization. The pandemic is accelerating trends toward balkanization and fragmentation that were already well underway. The United States and China will decouple faster, and most countries will respond by adopting still more protectionist policies to shield domestic firms and workers from global disruptions. The post-pandemic world will be marked by tighter restrictions on the movement of goods, services, capital, labor, technology, data, and information. This is already happening in the pharmaceutical, medical-equipment, and food sectors, where governments are imposing export restrictions and other protectionist measures in response to the crisis.

7) Xenophobia
The backlash against democracy will reinforce this trend. Populist leaders often benefit from economic weakness, mass unemployment, and rising inequality. Under conditions of heightened economic insecurity, there will be a strong impulse to scapegoat foreigners for the crisis. Blue-collar workers and broad cohorts of the middle class will become more susceptible to populist rhetoric, particularly proposals to restrict migration and trade.

8) Decoupling USA - China
This points to an eighth factor: the geostrategic standoff between the US and China. With the Trump administration making every effort to blame China for the pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime will double down on its claim that the US is conspiring to prevent China’s peaceful rise. The Sino-American decoupling in trade, technology, investment, data, and monetary arrangements will intensify.

9) New cold war
Worse, this diplomatic breakup will set the stage for a new cold war between the US and its rivals – not just China, but also Russia, Iran, and North Korea. With a US presidential election approaching, there is every reason to expect an upsurge in clandestine cyber warfare, potentially leading even to conventional military clashes. And because technology is the key weapon in the fight for control of the industries of the future and in combating pandemics, the US private tech sector will become increasingly integrated into the national-security-industrial complex.

10) Environmental disruption
A final risk that cannot be ignored is environmental disruption, which, as the COVID-19 crisis has shown, can wreak far more economic havoc than a financial crisis. Recurring epidemics (HIV since the 1980s, SARS in 2003, H1N1 in 2009, MERS in 2011, Ebola in 2014-16) are, like climate change, essentially man-made disasters, born of poor health and sanitary standards, the abuse of natural systems, and the growing interconnectivity of a globalized world. Pandemics and the many morbid symptoms of climate change will become more frequent, severe, and costly in the years ahead.

Books I am currently reading:
Graeber, David. Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2014 edition)
Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2019)
Hudson, Michael. Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy (2015)
Hudson, Michael. J is for JUNK Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017)
Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013)

Interviews and links to his books at Michael Hudson's blog

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Main Street Manifesto

The Main Street Manifesto
Jun 24, 2020 Nouriel Roubini

The mass protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer are about systemic racism and police brutality in the United States, but also so much more. Those who have taken to the streets in more than 100 American cities are channeling a broader critique of President Donald Trump and what he represents. A vast underclass of increasingly indebted, socially immobile Americans – African-Americans, Latinos, and, increasingly, whites – is revolting against a system that has failed it.

This phenomenon is not limited to the US, of course. In 2019 alone, massive demonstrations rocked Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, France, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Pakistan, among other countries. Though these episodes each had different triggers, they all reflected resentment over economic malaise, corruption, and a lack of economic opportunities.

The same factors help to explain populist and authoritarian leaders’ growing electoral support in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis, many firms sought to boost profits by cutting costs, starting with labor. Instead of hiring workers in formal employment contracts with good wages and benefits, companies adopted a model based on part-time, hourly, gig, freelance, and contract work, creating what the economist Guy Standing calls a “precariat.” Within this group, he explains, “internal divisions have led to the villainization of migrants and other vulnerable groups, and some are susceptible to the dangers of political extremism.”

The precariat is the contemporary version of Karl Marx’s proletariat: a new class of alienated, insecure workers who are ripe for radicalization and mobilization against the plutocracy (or what Marx called the bourgeoisie). This class is growing once again, now that highly leveraged corporations are responding to the COVID-19 crisis as they did after 2008: taking bailouts and hitting their earnings targets by slashing labor costs.

One segment of the precariat comprises younger, less-educated white religious conservatives in small towns and semi-rural areas who voted for Trump in 2016. They hoped that he would actually do something about the economic “carnage” that he described in his inaugural address. But while Trump ran as a populist, he has governed like a plutocrat, cutting taxes for the rich, bashing workers and unions, undermining the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and otherwise favoring policies that hurt many of the people who voted for him.

Before COVID-19 or even Trump arrived on the scene, some 80,000 Americans were dying every year of drug overdoses, and many more were falling victim to suicide, depression, alcoholism, obesity, and other lifestyle-related diseases. As economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton show in their book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, these pathologies have increasingly afflicted desperate, lower skilled, un- or under-employed whites – a cohort in which midlife mortality has been rising.

But the American precariat also comprises urban, college-educated secular progressives who in recent years have mobilized behind leftist politicians like Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. It is this group that has taken to the streets to demand not just racial justice but also economic opportunity (indeed, the two issues are closely intertwined).

This should not come as a surprise, considering that income and wealth inequality has been rising for decades, owing to many factors, including globalization, trade, migration, automation, the weakening of organized labor, the rise of winner-take-all markets, and racial discrimination. A racially and socially segregated educational system fosters the myth of meritocracy while consolidating the position of elites, whose children consistently gain access to the top academic institutions and then go on to take the best jobs (usually marrying one another along the way, thereby reproducing the conditions from which they themselves benefited).

These trends, meanwhile, have created political feedback loops through lobbying, campaign finance, and other forms of influence, further entrenching a tax and regulatory regime that benefits the wealthy. It is no wonder that, as Warren Buffett famously quipped, his secretary’s marginal tax rate is higher than his

Or, as a satirical headline in The Onion recently put it: “Protesters Criticized for Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First.” Plutocrats like Trump and his cronies have been looting the US for decades, using high-tech financial tools, tax- and bankruptcy-law loopholes, and other methods to extract wealth and income from the middle and working classes. Under these circumstances, the outrage that Fox News commentators have been voicing over a few cases of looting in New York and other cities represents the height of moral hypocrisy.

It is no secret that what is good for Wall Street is bad for Main Street, which is why major stock-market indices have reached new highs as the middle class has been hollowed out and fallen into deeper despair. With the wealthiest 10% owning 84% of all stocks, and with the bottom 75% owning none at all, a rising stock market does absolutely nothing for the wealth of two-thirds of Americans.

As the economist Thomas Philippon shows in The Great Reversal, the concentration of oligopolistic power in the hands of major US corporations is further exacerbating inequality and leaving ordinary citizens marginalized. A few lucky unicorns (start-ups valued at $1 billion or more) run by a few lucky twenty-somethings will not change the fact that most young Americans increasingly live precarious lives performing dead-end gig work.

To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry.

The new proletariat – the precariat – is now revolting. To paraphrase Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto: “Let the Plutocrat classes tremble at a Precariat revolution. The Precarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Precarious workers of all countries, unite!”

REFERENCES, from the article
The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class by Guy Standing

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton

Decades of rising economic inequality in the U.S.
Testimony by Elise Gould, 2019

Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain by James Bloodworth

The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite By Daniel Markovits

The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets by Thomas Philippon

FOOTNOTE: For more about Roubini's background and economic ideas see Nouriel Roubini (wikipedia)