an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

the short life and strange brains of the octopus, and other thoughts

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a meeting of minds?

Canto: So we’ve been reading about the strange world of the octopus, and her fellow cephalopods, the squid and the cuttlefish, and what they might tell us about other intelligent forms of life. So what might they?

Jacinta: This is quite a new field of investigation, but certainly an exciting one. The octopus appears to be the most intelligent invertebrate on earth, though we still have lots to learn about it, and we know even less about its cephalopod cousins.

Canto: And we need to be careful about the ‘it’ word, as there are at least 300 species of the beasties, which vary considerably in size, habitat and even quite possibly in life-span.

Jacinta: Yes, some octopuses appear to have very short life-spans, a mere two years, but so little is known about so many of the deeper water species out there…

Canto: They’re predators, of course, feeding mainly on crabs, but some of the shallow-water species are known to scavenge off human activities, stealing bait and the like. They have incredibly flexible, almost amorphous bodies that aren’t co-ordinated simply by a central brain. In fact their nervous systems are still very much a source of mystery.

Jacinta: Like our own. Well, okay we know a helluva lot more about ours. Some other facts: they have three hearts, their eight arms or tentacles are made up of four pairs, they’re all more or less venomous, they’re famously able to match their colour to their surroundings pretty well instantly, they can unscrew the lids of jars to get at the contents, some species collect shells to use as constructions around their homes, they have very high brain-to-body mass ratios, and they appear to be very quick to learn new stuff.

Canto: Apparently tentacles are out, they’re called arms. Tentacles are another thing. A cuttlefish has two tentacles and eight arms. Snails have tentacles. As to the brain and nervous systems of octopuses, here’s what we know. Two thirds of its neurons are to be found in its arms, and they can allow the arms to act independently to some extent. Interestingly, although octopuses have complex motor systems, they don’t have an internalised map of the body as vertebrates apparently do. It’s called a somatotopic map, and it’s found in humans in the primary somatosensory cortex, at the top of the brain. Octopuses’ brains/nervous systems are organised quite differently, and that’s the point – their relationship to us on the evolutionary bush is very distant indeed.

Jacinta: Yes, that’s exactly what makes them fascinating – they’ve evolved a complex nervous system on a completely different plan, like aliens.

Canto: Not quite – they still have neurons after all, and DNA. But the link between humans and octopuses probably goes back at least 500 million years, to some of the earliest complex life forms.

Jacinta: Not so complex by modern standards…

Canto: Indeed, something like a sea worm or sea sponge. Anyway, although they appear to have highly developed intelligence, their learning capacity is really hard to ascertain. They’re not highly social animals like many primates and cetaceans are, and they certainly don’t learn from their parents, since both parents ‘fall apart’ and die shortly after breeding.

Jacinta: They’re quite inventive, even playful, they’ve been observed pushing objects into circular currents and catching them. They also board fishing boats in search of food and find ways of getting out of lab aquariums. Their ability to flatten and elongate or bunch up when required makes them very slippery little suckers, you always have to keep an eye on them.

Canto: Well no doubt researchers will be keen to learn more about their neurology, but this relatively new understanding of their smarts raises questions about their treatment by researchers – not to mention eating them en masse. 

Jacinta: Well just sticking with lab treatment, I remember reading in The Lab Rat Chronicles how the rather complacently cruel treatment of lab rats, and all experimental animals, is being questioned more and more, leading to the use of less invasive neurological and other operational approaches..

Canto: Which would in any case be a good thing – the more we can learn without destroying the living thing we’re seeking to learn about, the better, for obvious reasons.

Jacinta: Rats are really smart animals – and just about the most successful animals on the planet – and they certainly feel pain and become depressed, and it’s clear that octopuses do too. In fact some countries have rules against surgical procedures without anaesthetic for octopuses, presumably based on a growing body of knowledge about them.

Canto: They often lose an arm to predators – which by the way they’re able to regrow – and have been observed to favour and tend to damaged or lost arms and other parts, which is a clear sign of ‘feeling’ the damage. But really, the idea that animals don’t feel pain  – any animal – has surely had its day.

Jacinta: So what about eating them? I gather that in some parts, eating them live is a thing.

Canto: Well I’ve always been of two minds about this, about eating other animals. And Peter Wohlleben argues for the smartness and the communal life of trees and plants, so that doesn’t leave us with anything to eat at all, if we’re being truly sensitive to others. But there’s no doubt we’re eating too much, we’re destroying the habitats of huge number of species, on land and sea, to feed our growing and increasingly voracious human population. Nobody knows how that’s going to end, though some are hoping, as ever, for technological fixes – artificial meat, ways of creating bumper harvests using less and less land and so forth.

Jacinta: Another whole realm of discussion, but getting back to octopuses, can they tell us anything about consciousness, given their vastly different origin, compared to us?

Canto: Well I don’t want to get into consciousness now – that’s such a massive subject – but they can tell us a lot about a different neurological system, obviously. The fact is, though, that we observe whales, crows, elephants, octopuses, rats and other creatures that are vastly different from each other behaving in ways we, in our indulgent and sometimes condescending manner, consider intelligent, but we know barely anything about, to paraphrase a philosopher, what it’s like to be any of those creatures. Do they have thoughts like us? Or do they have thoughts, but nothing like our own? Which of course raises the question, what exactly is a thought? Can it be reduced to brain processes or do we lose too much in the reduction? Will our endless and increasing probing of human and other brains definitively answer this question?

Jacinta: I think we’ll have to wait till after we die to find out…

 

References

Other minds: the octopus and the evolution of intelligent life, by Peter Godfrey-Smith

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octopus

https://onekindplanet.org/animal/octopus/

 

Written by stewart henderson

May 21, 2018 at 10:17 am

Is free will a thing? Apparently not.

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Science appears to be cutting the gordian knot of philosophical isms

Canto: The subject of free will often comes up, and I’ve recently read Sam Harris’ booklet on it, so I want to state right now my view that if we do have free will, it’s a far more circumscribed thing than many prefer to believe, and I’m open to the view that it doesn’t exist at all.

Jacinta: Yes I’ve read a fair bit on the subject over the years, including Dennett’s Elbow Room in the eighties, and a collection of essays edited by Bernard Berofsky, dating back to the sixties, but like everyone I’ve forgotten almost all of any book I’ve read within weeks of having read it, so it’ll be good to get back to the subject enfin. 

Canto: But have you been exercised by the actual subject, intellectually speaking?

Jacinta: Very much so. Let’s return to our old friend the Dunedin longitudinal study, which indicates that the various personality types – roughly characterised as well-adjusted, confident, reserved, under-controlled and inhibited – are established very early on and rarely change outside of neurological damage. These constrain free will, as does your broad environment, for example whether you’re a scion of the British aristocracy or the offspring of Mongolian goat-herders. You’re not free to choose these things or your genetic inheritance or, presumably, your neuronal wiring, at least not as a youngster.

Canto: I think the free will people would concede all that, but their best argument would be that in spite of all the determining factors that make you who you are, your moment-to-moment decisions – whether to get out of bed or sleep in for a while, whether to break your diet or stick to it, whether to watch a TV program or go to the pub, whether to study physics or psychology at uni (assuming you’re qualified to do either), and so on – these decisions are made of your own volition, so you are responsible for them and nobody else. If there’s no free will, there’s no responsibility, therefore nothing or nobody to praise or blame. And then where would we be with our ethics?

Jacinta: That’s interesting because we often get confused about that, or some people do. I would say most people believe we have free will, so we’re happy to punish people for criminal acts. They chose to commit them after all. But take those serial paedophiles that the tabloid press like to call ‘monsters’. They describe them as incorrigible – that’s to say, uncorrectable. So they should never be released again into the public, once they’ve been proven to commit some heinous paedophile act. What’s being claimed here is that the paedophile can’t help but commit these acts again and again – he has no choice, and presumably had no choice to begin with. But prison is a terrible punishment for someone who has no choice but to be what he is. They’re denying that he has free will, but punishing him for acts that should only be punished if they’re undertaken freely. You can’t have it both ways.

Canto: Well put, and my own tendency towards what used to be called hard determinism comes from reading the writings of ‘compatibilists’ or ‘reconciliationists’ who wanted, I thought, to give themselves as much credit for their success as they possibly could, seeing that they were successful academic philosophers earning, I assumed, the kind of salaries I could only dream of. On the other hand, as a hard determinist, I naturally wanted to blame everyone else, my parents, my working class environment, my lack of wealthy and educated connections, for my abject failures in life.

Jacinta: You jest a little, but I know you’re being essentially serious, in that the Gina Rineharts of the world, inheritors of millions, are the biggest spruikers of the notion that everyone is free to be as rich as everyone else but most people are just too slack, or, for reasons unfathomable to her, aren’t sufficiently interested in material self-enrichment, so they get precisely what they deserve.

Canto: Or what they’re destined to get. Just reading through some of that old philosophical material though, I find myself reliving my impatience with the academicism of philosophy. For example, the endless analysis of ‘able to’, as in ‘she’s able to play the piano’ but she can’t because she hasn’t got one right now. So she has the skill but not, right now, the equipment. Perhaps because she’s fallen on hard times and has had to sell it. Which leads to having ‘potential ability’. She might have been one of the world’s greatest soccer players, having the requisite skill, speed, drive, etc, but she was never introduced to the game or was discouraged from playing it.

Jacinta: She was told to study piano instead. Or more importantly, potential scientific geniuses who just didn’t get the opportunity due to a host of external circumstances, to attain that potential. They say geniuses are made not born, but they require external material to make themselves into geniuses, if that’s what they do. The point is that you can get caught up with words like ‘able to’ or ‘could have done otherwise’, which you can then interpret in varieties of ways, and it becomes almost a philosophy of language thing. But the main point is that although it seems obvious that you can choose between having a piece of cake before bedtime or not, these aren’t the most important choices..

Canto: And maybe even these choices aren’t as freely made as we might think, according to research Sam Harris cites in his essay. It seems science is catching up with what I knew all along. Not only do we have no control whatever over our genetic inheritance, but the way those genes are expressed, based largely on environmental factors, which lead to our brains being wired up in particular ways to release particular levels of hormones and neurotransmitters in patterned ways, leading to those character types identified in the Dunedin study, all of this is way beyond our conscious control. In fact it’s fair to say that the gradual retreat of the notion of free will is largely the result of the assault on the primacy of consciousness. Far more of what we do is less conscious than we think.

Jacinta: Yes the neurophysiological research around everyday ‘decisions’ is compelling, and disturbing to many. It suggests that our feeling of having freely decided on something is a delusion, though perhaps an evolutionarily useful one. Believing in free will usually entails belief in personal moral responsibility, and thus supports punishment for damaging acts and reward for heroic or beneficial ones. And  some research has actually shown that people primed to disbelieve in free will are more prepared to cheat and pilfer than those who aren’t.

Canto: So if this continues, this spread of disbelief or skepticism about free will, it may lead to a spike in criminal activity, large and small?

Jacinta: Well I don’t know if there’s been a rise in crime, but there has certainly been a rise in ‘my brain made me do it’ defenses. The effect of all this might be a ‘go with the flow’ attitude to pursue self-interest because your brain’s wiring supposedly impels you to.

Canto: So, that’s interesting, maybe a solution to this is more knowledge. The understanding that we’re the most social mammals on the planet, and that what we do, such as cheating and pilfering, adversely affects others, which will ultimately rebound on us. Even our brain’s own wiring has been caused by environmental factors, primary among those being human factors. So emphasising that our ‘self’ is more of a social self than our privileged access might lead us to believe will encourage us to consider what we owe to the wider society that helped shape us.

Jacinta: Yes, that’s a good point. And I think, as Harris and others point out, jettisoning the free will notion should help us reduce our tendency to blame and hate. I struggle myself with this – I ‘hate’ Trump, but I quickly realise he’s always been like this, and I can’t even blame his parents, who are what they are, etc. So I turn, as I think I should, to a US political system that enables such a person to reach the position he’s reached. In focusing on this system I can heap blame upon blame to my heart’s content, which I always love to do, without getting personal, which may have rebounding consequences for me. It’s a great solution.

Canto: Anyway, I think we’ve just scratched the surface with this one. Don’t we sometimes appear to agonise over decisions? People make lists of pros and cons about whether to spend x money or whether to travel to y, or whether or not to break up with z. How does this sort with a lack of free will? There must be a lot more to say.

Jacinta: It’s determined by our brain’s wiring that we agonise over some of our decisions and not over others. And how often do we make those lists you speak of, often prompted by others, and then just go with our original intuition?

Canto: Hmmm, I still think this is all worth further consideration…

Jacinta: I don’t think there’s any way you can seriously argue for free will. The argument is essentially about the consequences.

References

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/

Sam Harris, Free will

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/dunedin-study-findings-the-importance-of-identifying-personality-types-at-a-young-age-by-kirsteen-mclay-knopp/

Bernard Berofsky, ed, Free will and determinism

 

Written by stewart henderson

May 15, 2018 at 10:16 am

Limi girl: part 5

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Canto: From the hospital we switch back to the village. Heigo’s mother comes home to find her brother-in-law waiting for her. He has brought gifts from Shifang, in Sichuan, but the woman rejects them angrily. The brother-in-law tries to placate her, he wants to see Gaidi…

Jacinta: This is an expository scene. the mother says ‘you’ve been fixing shoes here for over 10 years, you married Gaidi’s mother, you gave us nothing, you went back to Sichuan, you want to have a son, I don’t blame you, but you left Gaidi here 6 years ago without a word or a care’. Wow, big news – and now we know why the other kids teased Gaidi.

Canto: And the brother-in-law is now sheepish, the recent earthquake has changed him, he’s reassessed his values he says. He’s referring to the massive Sichuan earthquake of 2008, which killed over 80,000 and left millions homeless. And while he speaks, Gaidi and Heigo have come up behind him. On realising who the man is, she rushes past them and locks herself in the house. Heigo, her cousin, begs her to open the door, and she complies. Clearly though, neither Gaidi nor Heigo are happy with this brother-in-law/father and his gifts.

Jacinta: The father enters the house and sits beside Gaidi. She is holding the postcard of Shifang that was seen near the beginning of the film. This is another tear-jerking scene, and I don’t mean that as a cliché. Tears drop on the postcard and we’re not sure whose tears they are. And next we see Gaidi, out of her traditional dress, with her father, going to meet ‘sister’ Xiumei, who’s out at work with her donkey. She has come to say goodbye, she’s going back to Sichuan with her father. It’s a bitter-sweet parting, but Xiumei is smiling. ‘Don’t forget, Wumulong will always be your home’, she says. I think it’s the first time this village is mentioned. ‘Yes, I will always be a Limi girl’, Gaidi responds. The father seems a little unsettled at this. So there’s a general parting, Heigo takes Gaidi and her dad away in his ‘car’, leaving Xiumei and Heigo’s mother alone, and then Heigo’s mother, who has brought Gaidi up for the last six years, is left, bereft and unrewarded it seems, to gaze after the suddenly departed girl.

Canto: Next scene, Xiumei is tending her father, now out of hospital. Some local young people arrive and invite her to ‘the Lover’s Valley’, and her dad urges her to go. It’s some sort of ritual, with black sheets flapping on makeshift lines and children running about. Heigo is there, and women in traditional dress, working hard. Red paper decorations, which symbolise something, are blown around in the wind. Heigo picks one up and examines it. Musicians play, and young men and women dance in ritual lines under decorated trees. It’s clearly a Limi thing, to do with dance and romance. Sometime they dance and sing in large circles. Xiumei takes part happily, but Heigo’s outside it all, watching morosely. Finally he grabs Xiumei and pulls her out of the dance. She’s not happy. ‘It’s our Limi Valentine’s Day,’ he says, and he must declare himself. She tells him clearly this cannot be. He wants to know if she is leaving. He wants to leave too, he says, but his heart is full of contradictions. He will leave if she does. She reminds him of Shuguo, who loves him. He wants to go out and work again, he’s drifting. If he must come back to marry…

Limi Valentine’s Day

Jacinta: It’s Xiumei he wants to marry of course. But she has made it clear to him. It’s an awkward scene for her, and she tries to be firm without cruelty. She returns heavily to the dance, Heigo walks, staggers, away. Next we see him burning bags of – what? – in a home-made fire. ‘I thought only I could help you, Xiumei,’ he says. But now, perhaps, he realises.. We see tangles of wicker in the fire. I don’t know what they signify.

Canto: And next we see Shuguo dressed in red, admiring herself in the mirror. Her mother scolds her, she should wear traditional black for her wedding, and not look too pretty. But Shuguo stands up for herself, her little battle against tradition.

Jacinta: We switch to a procession in the beautiful countryside, a wedding procession, with Heigo and Shuguo in the centre, in traditional outfits. Shuguo looks thrilled, Heigo looks like he’s walking to his execution. They arrive at the wedding-place amid singing and music. They begin kowtowing to the ancestors, but Heigo breaks away. He announces to the assembled: ‘Thank you for coming to the wedding, but today I must break my engagement.’ His shocked mother slaps him, then pleads with him before the distressed Shuguo, who, she says, has been brought to the brink.

Canto: But Heigo responds, ‘I don’t like Shuguo at all’, which is surely harsh, he has seemed to make her a symbol of all that he’s rebelling against. Still, he’s adamant, he’s rejecting this traditional village life. He departs, leaving Shuguo devastated. Then we see the paper symbol again, which a bit of research tells me means ‘double happiness’, or marriage.

Jacinta: Shuguo’s not just devastated, but disgraced before the whole village. What will become of her?

Canto: We’re approaching the end. Next comes a brief scene of Xiumei sitting on a rock in the fields, books open, studying. And then another woman, dragging her suitcase down a rubble path. At first I thought it was Xiumei, leaving the village, but it’s Shuguo. She arrives at a motorbike, driven by a cousin no doubt, and climbs aboard. Heigo watches from a hillside, impassive. She’s probably leaving for another village, out of the limelight.

Jacinta: Switch to an urban scene, a crowd of students are coming out of classes, descending a wide stairway in a stream of colour, a bright contrast to greys and blacks of the Limi villagers. One of the students is Xiumei, and Heigo is waiting for her. She is still quite traditionally dressed. He takes her for a ride on his motorbike, back into the countryside – perhaps it’s Spring break or something – and when he drops her off, presumably within walking distance of home, he gives this vital speech: ‘Xiumei, this is the last time I will see you off. I have already hurt Shugio. I can’t hurt you again. Go study and fulfil your dream. Don’t be a drifting labourer like us. There is no hurry to pay me back. When you earn a salary in the future you can repay both the principal and the interest.’

Canto: It’s another powerful scene, and Heigo drives off, leaving Xiumei speechless, perhaps overwhelmed. This ain’t gonna be a Hollywood ending, though much in us might yearn for it.

Jacinta: We next see Xiumei’s dad sadly selling her donkey. And then Xiumei, still dressed traditionally, runs for the postman, who caters to the edge of the village on a motorbike. She’s expecting good news. She receives a package and smiles on opening the letter. She runs home and tells her mother that she’s won entry into college. The earlier scene must’ve involved an entrance exam.

Canto: She asks after her father. He has gone to work with the other villagers to earn money for her tuition. He’s already saved 500 (RMB?), which her mother hands over. It must be some of the money from the donkey. Xiumei looks upset, It seems as if something’s wrong…

Jacinta: Xiumei rushes out to find her father. On her way she encounters a wedding procession – it’s Shuguo! And she’s not wearing traditional costume this time (she had succumbed last time to her mother’s wishes and was in traditional garb when Heigo walked out on her), and her groom is wearing a modern suit. So it has worked out for her after all. Xiumei continues on, hurrying up the mountain. Then we see two people on a bus, Heigo, and in front of him, Xiumei’s father. He’s holding a postcard pic of a young woman in dance pose, in a bright red dress. Is it Xiumei? Is it an image of what Xiumei might become?

Canto: And then we return to Xiumei, running, running, until she reaches a high clearing, from which she can see the road winding away from the village, with the bus, carrying Heigo and her father, and the other villagers, all working to help her with her college life. No pressure! And so ends the movie.

the Limi girl

 

point final

I’ve seen no other Chinese movie like this, indeed no other movie. It’s a film about difficult choices, desperate hopes, crushing disappointments, quiet suffering, and tough struggles. It’s also about self-sacrifice, persistence, stoicism, love. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen, and I don’t see too many these days. Examining it intensively like this has given me an insight into the film-maker’s craft that I’ve never experienced before, and such scrutiny doesn’t lessen the film’s impact, it strengthens it. I’m tempted to do what too many people do, to rubbish other films by contrast, but I’ll resist that. Suffice to say that this film is a tribute to a world too easily overlooked, and such worlds are everywhere and need to be acknowledged, respected and indeed cherished, for all their flaws and limitations in our eyes. The film, of course, is not a hymn of praise to the world depicted, but it does recognise its rough beauty and its successes in adversity. I will never forget it.

 

Written by stewart henderson

May 12, 2018 at 6:12 pm

what to do with a serious problem like Trump: part two

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So what damage is Trump doing to the US political system? He sets an example of deceit, disrespect, adversarialism and other negative qualities. He highlights these sorts of qualities as a route to worldly success. He undermines all the essential institutions of western democracy, especially an independent press and judiciary. His belligerence and lack of co-operation with judicial authorities may lead to further damage, including serious civil unrest, of a kind not seen in the USA for decades, or longer. We’ll see what happens.

So that is the problem of Trump, as all reasonable people see it. Having said that, I have some optimistic and some pessimistic comments to add.

I should start with the pessimistic stuff, so that I can end on a positive note.

Trump is the proverbial bull in a china shop. What do we do when we find a bull in a china shop, blundering about, smashing up everything, just being a bull? We take steps to get him out of there, pronto. And being enlightened souls, we don’t want to punish him for being what he can’t help being. A tranquilising dart might be the best answer, though this may make him thrash about all the more, at least for a time. We try to protect the shop as best we can, knowing that some damage will be inevitable.

However, Trump is a bull with friends and enablers, some of whom see him as a mighty stallion trampling over the spoils of the undeserving, while others see him as, for various reasons, a most useful bull. Still others see him as pure entertainment. They’re prepared to fight to prevent this bull from being removed from this china shop…

That’s roughly the present situation. As I’ve stated before, Trump is no Nixon, he won’t go quietly. He would rather barricade himself in the White House than resign. He would argue that a sitting President can’t be charged, he would refuse to co-operate with impeachment proceedings, and this would create a situation far worse than a constitutional crisis.

That’s the problem, the pessimistic stuff, and frankly I’ve no idea how this will be resolved. The worst case scenario is serious civil strife, of a kind not seen on American soil since the civil war, and Trump being Trump, I honestly can’t see a best case scenario that doesn’t involve violence of some kind, hopefully only to Trump himself, so as to prise him out of office. Given that scenario, tranquilising mightn’t be such a bad idea.

With that out of the way, let’s turn to the optimistic stuff, the silver lining, the lessons learned. Clearly, post-Trump, the American political system needs some restructuring, just as a town might do after being severely damaged by an unanticipated storm, one that could always strike again.

Trump has revealed serious failings in political and judicial structures. In fact he’s been revealing them for decades, from what I’ve gathered, as he has emerged largely unscathed from a lifetime of extortion, standover tactics, unpaid debts and dishonest deals and enterprises. He has surrounded himself with similarly shady characters; fixers, mobsters, goons and corruption merchants of all stripes. His success mirrors the failures of law and order in ways that I’m not equipped to deconstruct, but it’s surely true that these are failures.

Trump’s list of dodgy deals and litigations should have excluded him from candidature for high office, but there seems to be very little vetting for the position of President, something which seems to be a matter of pride in some circles. You don’t want just anyone to become your head of state, and democracy, to give away a nasty but surely open secret, doesn’t guarantee the best leadership. That is why the separation of powers is so important.

So these are two areas that need some work, post-Trump; tighter rules and vetting for Presidential and other political candidature, and a tightening and bolstering of the separation of powers. I would also like to see white-collar crime pursued far more vigorously, but again I’m not equipped to go into detail on this. Another area of concern in the light of Trump’s assaults is the media and its protection. It would be hard to quantify the damage Trump has done in this area with his ‘fake news’ meme. Lying is, of course, not a crime, or we would all be criminals, but the massively irresponsible behaviour of a head of state who lies about virtually everything, and who regularly denigrates and abuses those who speak obvious truths to power – a major media role – shouldn’t go unpunished. The media should be given greater legal means to fight back against this denigration. Getting more into the detail – producing tax returns should be absolutely mandatory for all political candidates, with no exceptions and strictly enforced, and the ’emoluments clause’ in the constitution, an out-dated piece of verbiage describing gifts from members of the nobility, should be upgraded and strengthened to prohibit those in high office to profit directly from their position.

On the separation of powers, so regularly attacked by Trump out of wilful, self-serving interest: many are unaware that this separation serves the important purpose of limiting democracy. Limiting demagoguery in this case. Among the checks and balances which seek to defuse the danger of a directly elected President, beholden to no party or principle, are an independent judiciary, an independent fourth estate, and a system of independent or bipartisan vetting of those nominated by the President for such Level One positions as Secretary of State. This separation of powers needs to be strictly adhered to and supported by law to the extent that regular attempts to undermine this separation, as is practiced by this President, should be seen as obstructing the rule of law and dealt with severely.

There need to be other checks and balances of course – checks on the media itself and on such organisations as the Department of Justice, which according to Alan Dershowitz and others beside the President, is pursuing Trump beyond the scope of its mandate. I’m not sufficiently au fait with these checks, which should of course include defamation laws to protect public personae, to make effective comment, but the scope of the Mueller enquiry is a matter of public record. There is no doubt that the Mueller enquiry has been given wide powers, but there is also no doubt that Russian interference in the 2016 election was considerable, and the indictments of many Russian citizens and entities as a result of the probe have supported this. There is also no doubt that Trump’s businesses in recent years have been linked to Russian oligarchs, as freely admitted by Donald Trump Jr, and that Trump has been extremely reluctant to make accusations against Russia and its dictator in light of clear evidence of interference which benefitted his Presidential bid. It’s highly likely that the probe has found clear evidence of conspiracy with a foreign power during the 2016 elections, to say nothing of obstruction of justice in the ousting of James Cohen and possibly also Andrew McCabe. The constant denigration of the Department of Justice and the FBI by the current President is of course unprecedented, and will require, I think, unprecedented responses in order to preserve and reinforce the separation of powers and to ensure that lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers can do their jobs without having to face the kind of treatment meted out to them by the likes of Trump and his enablers.

So, finally, no more from me about Trump, I hope. There are threats and opportunities here. The immediate threat to civil society comes from a bull who won’t go quietly, who will be supported by some powerful allies in defying authority, with possibly disastrous immediate consequences. The opportunity, as always with disasters of this sort, is to improve the political system to ensure that this is the first and last rogue President to disgrace the White House. Good luck with all that.

Written by stewart henderson

May 7, 2018 at 11:57 am

what to do with a serious problem like Trump: part one

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When I first encountered Trump, I suppose a couple of decades ago now, I quickly felt an intense, visceral loathing and disgust. He struck me as tasteless, vulgar, ignorant, vain, an exemplar of the absence of all humane values. A boorish, blustering, bigoted, bragging blundering, bullying, bullshitting buffoon, not to put too fine a point on it. And then, when those he demeaned and belittled began acting as if they deserved it, I began to wonder – who is worthy of more contempt, Trump, or those who take him seriously for more than a second? How could anyone with an ounce of sense not see that he was a walking advertisement for abortion?

But then, when you start thinking everyone’s a fuckwit except yourself, you know something’s going wrong. Okay, you do start listening around and find that in many circles Trump’s a laughing-stock. But then he’s somehow super-rich, and people like to hob-nob and ingratiate themselves with the super-rich no matter how obnoxious and boring they are.

So why was Trump super-rich? I have to say that, having lived mostly below the poverty line in one of the world’s richest countries (that’s to say I’ve rarely come close to going hungry), I’ve never really associated with rich people, never mind the super-rich. They’re like alien beings to me. But it stands to reason that there are two types of super-rich people; those who inherited wealth, or those who gained it by their own talents and efforts – legitimate or illegitimate.

So which of these was Trump? He struck me as flamboyantly imbecilic, far removed from the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs types. And I have to say it wasn’t a burning question for me. Naturally I was far too superior to concern myself with such riff-raff, and yet…

Information fell into my lap over the years. He’d inherited oodles of wealth from his father, a ‘business tycoon’. He’d never done a day’s work, in the general sense, in his life. He’d been bankrupted many times. His net worth was anything from negative infinity to positive infinity. His principal business was real estate, which was as hazy to me as scalar field theory. But his principal interest was self-promotion, which I felt a bit more cluey about. It seemed he was little more than a ‘big noise’.

So that was it, until he began to run for President, and shocked almost all pundits, including this pseudo-pundit, by winning quite well on an electoral college basis, though losing the popular vote.

Of course during the run-up to these ludicrously long US presidential elections, especially in the final months of 2016, we were pretty well forced to learn more about Trump than many of us ever wanted to know, and it’s been an ongoing ‘reveal’ throughout the last eighteen months or so. But I return to my initial response to Trump, and my feelings of contempt, and easy superiority.

How did Trump become what he is? How did I become what I am?

How free are we to form ourselves?

I think the answer is clear, though clearer when we look at others than when we look at ourselves. We didn’t get to choose our parents, our genes or our upbringing, we didn’t get to choose or influence our experience in the womb and in our earliest formative years, which the Dunedin study, inter alia, reveals as more character-forming than any other period in our lives.

More questionably I didn’t get to choose a character that loathes someone like Trump, any more than Sean Hannity and many others got to choose a character that finds Trump appealing, refreshing and admirable, assuming that I’m reading more or less accurately Hannity’s mind.

So am I saying we’re all blameless when it comes to our flaws, and unpraiseworthy when it comes to our virtues? Further, am I saying that moral judgment is inappropriate?

I hope not. After all, humans are the most social of all creatures – vertebrate creatures at least. We’re interested in getting along, in minimising harm and maximising advantage, for us all. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to any person, or policy, or activity, that threatens that well-being. So we should discourage, and sometimes punish behaviour that harms or demeans others, while at the same time recognising that the bully or aggressor is acting under the sway of traits she has less control over than we might think.

So we should judge behaviour as immoral when it damages others or damages the institutions or activities that tend towards the general well-being. And we should check or punish those who commit those faux pas, which we might call crimes, misdemeanours, or bad behaviour, to the extent that they understand that resistance of the general will is futile – that’s to say, that continual commission of those faux pas will be counter-productive to their own well-being.

Let me return then to the case of Trump. In watching and listening to him, I find him, as President, consistent with the person I loathed decades before, though I also realise, as I did then, that there is something unfair and slightly unseemly about my contempt, for reasons described above. Trump is the product of a background and influences which are clearly far removed from mine. I was also, like many, somewhat fascinated by him as a specimen who revealed, more effectively than most, how infinitely variable human experience and character can be.

However, though I recognise that he is what he is and can’t help but be, I’m also alert and alarmed that he is now the President of the USA – a shocking development, considering the man’s character.

For, though nobody should be blamed for his own character, there are some characters that the general society needs to be protected from, because of the damage they are capable of doing, or incapable of not doing, given certain powers and opportunities.

Trump came to his current position with a reputation which, I feel, was deserved, given everything I observed of him, and everything I learned. That reputation was one of dishonesty, self-aggrandisement, wilful ignorance and anti-intellectualism, and indifference to the feeling and suffering of others, with possibly a few exceptions, and leaving aside his children, whom he would see as extensions of himself to a large degree.

There are some characters who are so pathological, so damaging to themselves and/or others that society needs to be protected from them, unless of course their pathology can be identified, treated and cured. In the case of Trump, the terms psychopath, sociopath, malignant narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder have been given an airing. It’s surely not coincidental that these claims about Trump have been much more frequent since he has become President. His power to damage the wider society is at its zenith.

When I first heard the term narcissistic personality disorder directed at Trump, it was in a discussion with a mental health professional, early in the Presidency. That professional was critical, even angry, that the term was used to describe Trump, because, he felt, this term described a real and debilitating pathological condition which was far too serious to be used for political purposes against Trump. His words gave me pause, but now I think it’s time to look at this matter more closely.

First, before actually looking more closely at the ‘mental disability’ terms described above, I should say this. As Stormy Daniels’ impressive attorney Michael Avenatti has said, Trump’s behaviour, especially his constant self-promoting and self-protecting lies, should concern all Americans regardless of their political persuasion. Trump’s behaviour in office is essentially not a political issue, in spite of its massive political consequences. One pundit recently described Trump as a ‘lifelong Democrat’ before switching to the Republican party a few years ago. It’s my contention however that Trump was never a Democrat and has never been a Republican. He has never been interested in politics in the usual sense – that of believing in and promoting policies and practices for the most effective running of a state. He has little interest in or knowledge of political history, political philosophy or international affairs, and no knowledge whatever of science, or history in general. He doesn’t read or have anything like an enquiring mind. He has expressed very little compassion for others, except when it may benefit himself, and his concept of truth is not something that anybody seems to be capable of recognising or describing.

This description of Trump is not a political one. It’s a description which most sensible people would broadly agree with. It’s a description of a person so singularly ill-equipped to be the President of the world’s most powerful military and economy, that the question of how he came to be in that position and how he can be removed from it before further damage can be done, should be paramount.

Before I go on, I should address those outliers who say that Trump has been a successful and impressive President. They would cite the booming economy and the administration’s tax legislation, the only major piece of legislation enacted thus far. On the tax legislation, I will not consider its fairness or unfairness, or the effect it has had on the US economy. I will simply say that Trump recently claimed more or less sole responsibility for this legislation, a claim that was demonstrably false. Trump did not participate in the writing of this legislation, and he most certainly hasn’t read it. He simply presided over a Republican congressional majority responsible for its production. As to the US economy, that is a massively complex area, full of winners and losers, which, of course, I’m not competent to comment on, any more than Trump would be. Suffice to say that the reasons for an economy’s success are manifold and generally historical.

So there is a problem with Trump as President. In my next post I will go into more detail about what the problem is, and why there is no easy solution.

Written by stewart henderson

May 5, 2018 at 11:33 am

Archimedes, the Mathematikos and the birth of science

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Rise above yourself and grasp the world.

Archimedes (attributed: inscribed on the Fields Medal)

One of Archimedes’ most spectacular inventions, the gravity-defying spiral-in-a-cylinder, or screw – still effective

Canto: So we spent some time at the Waikato museum in Hamilton, braving the school holiday crowd to view an exhibition celebrating the work of Archimedes (c 287-212 BCE) and his fellow mathematikos, and noting how it inspired the likes of Leonardo some 1800 years later. So let’s talk about their breakthroughs and about why there was such a gap between their clever contrivances and the maths on which they were based, and the scientific revolutionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Jacinta: These are intriguing and vital questions. Many modern scientists have been dismissive of the science of the ancient Greeks because they think of Aristotle as representative. I think it was Lawrence Krauss I heard complaining of Aristotle’s belief that women had less teeth than men – apparently he never thought to count them! But the fact is that, though Aristotle is sometimes known as the father of empiricism, he probably doesn’t deserve that title except in respect of ethics, and politics, which he based on what actually works for societies and city-states, which is why he collected and analysed their constitutions. The mathematikos, on the other hand, eschewed ethical issues in favour of mathematics – geometry in particular (think Euclid). And, especially in the work of Archimedes, they enjoyed phenomenal success in many practical areas.

Canto: Especially warfare apparently. It seems Archimedes in particular was called on more than once to defend his city, Syracuse, with war machines. In the blurb to the exhibition, they mention ‘torsion ballistae’. Can you please explain?

Jacinta: Well, I’ll tell you about the torsion siege engine. It replaced the earlier tension siege engine, possibly invented in Syracuse in the time of Dionysius the Elder (c 432-367 BCE) – so the engineering of weapons of war was already a big thing at the time. It was basically a massive catapult. The first torsion device of this kind is generally dated to the time of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander’s dad, circa 340 BCE. The first extant evidence of its use comes from a list of items in the arsenal of the Acropolis in Athens dating to 338-326 BCE. So what is torsion? It’s the energy created by winding something up, like a spring. In earlier times, human hair, horsehair and animal sinews were used for this purpose.

Canto: So plats give you energy?

Jacinta: Torsion basically means twisting. The Greeks apparently used specially cured sinew combined with human or animal hair to create a ‘torsion bundle’ – we don’t know what the exact recipe was – which was fixed to a wooden frame and could be twisted and released regularly via levers without breaking. But the key development was the mathematics of these devices. This military website describes:

The critical dimension was the diameter of the sinew “spring” or torsion bundle. For a bolt shooter, the ideal diameter was one-ninth the length of the bolt. For a rock thrower the ratio was more complex; the diameter (d) of the bundle in dactyls (about 3/4 inch) should equal 1.1 times the cube root of 100 times the mass of the ball (m) in minas (about a pound). Saddled with a numerical notation system even more awkward than Roman numerals, the Greeks developed sophisticated geometric methods to compute cube roots.

Canto: So how were these maths – these geometric methods – derived. Euclid was the great geometer of the time, wasn’t he?

Jacinta: Actually, though the exact time-frame of Euclid’s life isn’t known, his Elements came out after this invention, but before the work of Archimedes. Clearly it must’ve been drawn from earlier mathematikos, such as Eudoxus, who worked out, via an early version of integral calculus, that areas of circles relate to squares of their radii, and volumes of spheres relate to the cubes of their radii, and various other relations between volumes and dimensions of pyramids, cylinders, cones etc, which obviously had practical applications as described above.

Canto: Okay, so tell us about Archimedes’ particular contributions, and about why the great work of the mathematikos was apparently discontinued after Archimedes. Considering that the Roman Empire didn’t become christianised until some 500 years after Archimedes’ death, we can’t really blame the Christians – can we?

Jacinta: Well, I mentioned that early version of integral calculus. It was called the method of exhaustion, a kind of geometric calculus which Archimedes took further than anyone before him, both in theoretical terms and via practical applications. Now I’m far from being a mathematician, but I’ve come to appreciate the essentiality of maths in understanding our universe – so much so that I perhaps regret my lack of mathematical expertise more than I regret anything else in my old life. This is by way of saying that I won’t try to explain Archimedes’ maths – but an understanding of maths is essential to understanding the magnitude of his achievement.

Canto: Okay, so what about his inventions?

Jacinta: Well the key is the application of complex and what might have seemed pointlessly abstract maths about the relations of ‘perfect’ shapes such as spheres, cones and cylinders to real world problems and their solutions. The lever is a good example. Archimedes didn’t invent levers but he was clearly fascinated by them. And it shouldn’t take long to realise that they have immense practical applications. Doors are levers, as are nail clippers, nutcrackers and see-saws. Archimedes wrote what we now call a treatise, On the equilibrium of planes, to explain the maths behind them. But the best illustration of Archimedes’ combination of theory and practice is probably what is known as Archimedes’ principle, which essentially launched the field of fluid dynamics, or fluid mechanics:

the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces and acts in the upward direction at the center of mass of the displaced fluid.

It comes from another treatise of his, On floating bodies. Now let me see if I can explain this. Take an object, any object. The downward force exerted on it is its weight. Immerse it in water. It will float or it will sink, and even if it floats it’ll be partially submersed. The principle doesn’t apply to objects that sink, which will have a density of anything over and above a certain level which permits it to float – I think.

Canto: But that principle, though it comes from a treatise about floating bodies, doesn’t distinguish between floating and sinking. It says ‘fully or partially submerged’…

Jacinta: But an object can be fully submerged and still float. To sink means to continue in a downward direction.

Canto: I’ve found that an object that floats – I’m thinking of water as the fluid, and perhaps I shouldn’t – always seems to have a certain proportion above the water level. Think of icebergs, and human bodies. But I think I get it – the force that keeps you up and floating will be equal to the weight of the water your body displaces… So if I was ten kilos heavier, I would still float but the upward force acting on me would be greater, but not by ten kilos, rather by the larger volume of water my larger body displaces measured in kilos, or by some measure of force…

Jacinta: I don’t think that’s wrong, but I’m not sure if it’s right. The problem for me is that the principle as stated doesn’t specify a floating body, only a body immersed – partially or fully in a fluid. Think of a stone dropped in water. It sinks. To the bottom.

Canto: And if the fluid is bottomless will it just keep on sinking? It’s as if there’s no upward force acting on it at all, or very little. I’m imagining a bottomless column of still water here, not an ocean with its currents…

Jacinta: Ha, I was thinking of a bathtub, but with a bottomless well, it will depend on the density of the stone. I think at some point it’ll slow down and be suspended. I’m sure water pressure will play a role, and density – of the water. And density is somehow related to pressure, and I’m getting lost…

Canto: We may need to do a Khan academy course. But getting back to Archimedes and the mathematikos, why was so little of their work built upon, until Galileo and others became inspired so many many centuries later?

Jacinta: That’s possibly too long a story to go into here, not that I’m much equipped to tell it. It no doubt relates to the gradual decline of the increasingly dispersed Greek culture of the Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic era. I wouldn’t want to say Christianity was a major cause but it certainly didn’t help. By the time the Roman Empire became Christianised, the culture that created figures like Archimedes had long passed. Roman culture was a lot more militaristic and less speculative. Blue sky research wasn’t in vogue. Of course, why all this happened I wouldn’t venture to say without many years of research into the cultural changes then occurring. But the slowness of the scientific recovery, that I would attribute to Christianity, and later to the conservative turn in Islam that still prevents original science from being practiced in those countries where it holds sway.

Written by stewart henderson

May 2, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Relaxing time: let’s talk about Trump again

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Trump’s mental health usually only gets publicity when it’s questioned by political insiders – medical experts aren’t given enough credence

Jacinta: We like to explore the Trump debacle when we feel too lazy to focus on other subjects, which generally require research and diving into unfamiliar and taxing fields, such as palaeontology, microbiology, geology, astrophysics or remote historical epochs. So now, since we’re on holiday, let’s have fun fun fun.

Canto: So first, some comments on Sam Harris’ interview with Niall Ferguson, conducted some weeks ago. Ferguson is primarily a financial historian, though I know him through his book War of the World, which I found interesting but questionable at times – though of course I can’t remember my objections now. I think I basically disagreed with his thesis that the twentieth century was more hateful and violent than other periods – IMHO, it was just more effective at killing people, and of course there were more people to kill than in previous centuries. Anyway, on listening to Ferguson talk to Harris, I found myself disagreeing on more points than I can go into here, but I’ll restrict myself to his comments on Trump. He seemed overly complacent, to me, about Trump’s destructive capacities, describing him as a populist (a rather watered-down description) who would probably only serve one term, though maybe two. He also felt that, quite possibly, it would’ve been worse for the USA had Clinton won, as the Trump supporters would’ve felt cheated, while all the old elite cronies would’ve returned to office…

Jacinta: We’re not sufficiently au fait with Yank politics to ‘get’ that feeling, to feel it under the skin so to speak, though we understand in an abstract way that many sectors of US society feel left behind, and Ferguson seemed to be claiming, strangely, that it was better for the disadvantaged and under-educated that ‘their’ candidate, who of course hasn’t the slightest interest in the Presidency except to make money and be the centre of attention, won the election and immediately betrayed them, than that Clinton won and protected the Affordable Care Act, promoted education and science, and didn’t introduce massive tax cuts for super-rich corporations, while continuing to hob-nob with their own kind.

Canto: A couple of books we’ve read lately, The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and Chasing the scream, by Johann Hari, have provided glimpses into the struggles of blacks and immigrants in the US, but so many of we non-Americans smugly look askance at the inequalities and harsh divisions there, the hapless health system and the hideous gun culture. What I don’t get with Ferguson is how he can claim that someone like Trump, who only exacerbates these inequities, was perhaps preferable to Clinton – who, presumably, does have liberal values of the ‘nobody left behind’ type, which she would surely have tried to act on to some degree – simply because his betrayal would’ve shown to his supporters that he had feet of clay. It’s a bizarre and really quite cruel argument.

Jacinta: He also seemed not to give too much credence to the Mueller investigation. We’re both in agreement that Trump will be out of office by the end of the year, a prediction made last December. The Cohen raid and the charges they will inevitably lead to have boosted these chances, but I feel it was slam-dunk, as the Yanks have it, well before that. The only problem I see is getting Trump to accept the verdict.

Canto: There’s also the question of whether team Mueller will play the Trump card before the end of the year. He wants all the President’s men first. Ferguson considers impeachment, but argues there’s only a fifty-fifty chance that the Dems will be in control after the mid-terms, and that even then Trump could survive impeachment, as Clinton did. He didn’t consider the obvious fact that Trump will never have more than fifty percent approval (unlike Clinton), and I think he grossly underestimates the turn against him in the electorate. The way things are going now, the mid-terms will see a massive turn-around. I think the majority now not only want to see a Democratic congress, they want to see Trump impeached.

Jacinta: And yet we don’t want impeachment, right? We want Trump charged, convicted and imprisoned. We don’t want politics to play any role whatsoever.

Canto: Probably a forlorn hope but, yes, we’d like to get the Yanks to accept finally and forever that their head of state isn’t above the law. In this instantiation, he’s a criminal, pure and simple.

Jacinta: So let’s have a nice schadenfreudesque time contemplating how the crim and his henchmen – they’re all men naturally – will get their just desserts.

Canto: So many things. Three guilty pleas – I doubt if Papadopoulos has much to offer, but Flynn and Gates are major figures, co-operating with the enquiry. Campaign manager Manafort facing major charges and guilty as fuck. Cohen certain to be charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations…

Jacinta: What is wire fraud?

Canto: That’s simple – it’s any kind of fraudulent activity involving, or by use of, telecommunications systems – computers, phones, TV, radio – it’s been on the books in the US since the nineteenth century. The Cohen situation is most obviously dire for Trump, from a public perspective, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the info team Mueller has garnered from Deutschebank is damning as fuck as well. And there are other matter that should be criminal too. There’s this thing in their constitution called the Emoluments Clause, which Trump has basically ripped to shreds and used as toilet paper, but I’m not sure if that’s the criminal act that it should be.

Jacinta: It’s interesting that the high-profile Stormy Daniels lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has recently predicted that Trump won’t finish his first term. Do you think he’s been reading our blog posts?

Canto: C’est evident. However, he’s predicting Trump will resign. We, on the other hand, feel that Trump isn’t the resigning type. Has he ever resigned in his life? He’s never been in a position to do so, never having been an employee.

Jacinta: Haha, when he was campaigning he talked about ‘we workers’. He really is a blow-harding genius. Yes, we’ve already said that Trump would rather lock himself in the White House toilet than go quietly…

Canto: That would certainly get him lots of publicity, and any publicity is better than none for Trump, according to Maggie Haberman, not to mention Oscar Wilde.

Jacinta: So assuming team Mueller has an embarrassment of riches to choose from – the DNC hack, the lies about meetings with Russians, financial crimes, conspiracy, obstruction of justice multipled by x – and that their findings, or some of their preliminary findings, are out by year’s end, and are comprehensively damning, how will Trump be ousted? Assuming that he says they’re all fake charges and refuses to resign?

Canto: I wish I could answer that. I do think, though, that both the Senate and the House will ‘flip’ as they love to say there, and the animus against Trump will harden. He’ll be impeached and it will be a popular move, but considering that may not happen until after the mid-terms, it leaves little time for our prediction to succeed.

Jacinta: Stop press – Trump has just gone on a massive rant at Fox News, in which he has incriminated himself more than once and proved how obsessed he is with his own petty affairs and how utterly indifferent he is to running the country. It was darkly hilarious, with the Fox anchors trying to shut him up and finally coming up with the ultimate bullshit line, ‘I know you must have a million things to do, Mr Prez’….

Canto: Yes he clearly does fuck all, not that anyone in their right mind would want him to do anything Presidential, much better if he devotes the rest of his life to golf.

Jacinta: The sport of bores, as James Watson would have it. So who is to blame for this monumental disaster? Where do we begin?

Canto: We begin with a lack of vetting for candidates to putatively the most powerful job on the planet. You can’t just let anyone become your President. You certainly can’t take breast-beating pride in a democracy that let’s any moronic thug have power over you. And that can be fixed. They have to change their laws, of necessity. And if this can’t be done without altering/amending the constitution, then do so, of necessity. Sure, okay the American Constitution was the greatest document ever written by any humans on the face of the earth for the past ten thousand years…

Jacinta: Get your facts straight and don’t be sacrilegious, it was written by angels not humans.

Canto: But if it was able to bring about this fiasco, it still has a few problems. Anyway, I think I’ve gone through most of the problems and their solutions before. Far stricter laws on making money from the office, scrapping pardon powers and veto powers, more straightforward and streamlined rules of succession, and of course making it clear that a president is as liable to prosecution while in office as any other law-breaker. And considering the power he wields in office there should be no statute of limitations for the prosecution of presidents. He should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one as is clearly the case now.

Jacinta: As for removing him, I think the best way is on medical grounds. He’s a sociopath, of the malignantly narcissistic kind. This is argued forcibly in an essay by Mitchell Anderson:

Sociopaths are neither crazy nor necessarily violent, as so often misrepresented by Hollywood scriptwriters. Likewise, they typically possess normal intelligence. The one superpower sociopaths do possess is an emotional deafness that allows them to act with a shark-like self-interest beyond the moral bounds of even the most hardened normal humans. People with this frightening condition can act without conscience, effortlessly lying to manipulate those around them.

Anderson refers to the book The dangerous case of Donald Trump, released last year, in which some two dozen medicos deliver their views on Trump’s sociopathic condition. For example, a long-standing professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says this:

Donald Trump’s speech and behaviour show that he has severe sociopathic traits. The significance of this cannot be overstated. While there have surely been American presidents who could be said to be narcissistic, none have shown sociopathic qualities to the degree seen in Mr. Trump. Correspondingly, none have been so definitively and so obviously dangerous.

And there are other quotable quotes. So in this case there is a mechanism for removal – the 25th amendment to the constitution. Unfortunately, severe psychiatric conditions which yet allow people to function okay physically, are still not taken seriously enough by the general public to be called out. Mental health experts need to be listened to more on this one. Otherwise the USA’s current political nightmare will go on and on.

Written by stewart henderson

April 28, 2018 at 8:15 am