Thursday, September 01, 2005

Seeking Distraction From Disaster in Abstraction: The roots of empathy

The loss of a major American city is an unusual event in all our lives. Of course, this will affect us all - economically and otherwise - far more than the sum total of all terror strikes against America so far. Which shows that it wasn’t ONLY the Louisiana National Guard that has been mis-directed away from truer purposes. It has been our whole civilization.

I am not yet as angry as some (see: Brad DeLong's entry.) But I am angry.

And so upset that I must think about something else for a while. Hence my decision to post a rumination about some underlying aspects of philanthropy

HORIZONS OF INCLUSION- Part I

philanthropy- On another list -- the Philanthropy Round Table -- there has been discussion of my "horizon theory." (Some of you may have read an earlier version called the “Dogma of Otherness.” Or else seen some of these ideas at: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy.

A capsule presentation: Anthropologists have long known that FEAR is not the same thing as WORRY. As monkeys with a high-investment reproductive strategy, we are born worriers.

WHAT we worry about... and how far we project those worries in time & space... generally depends on the ambient level of fear.

If you have real fear of starvation, you worry about your kids' next meal, not the next harvest. If you have some food, but the harvest looks iffy, your worry isn’t much about erosion. We who have never known hunger can barely imagine it. So we fret over more distant abstract worries, e.g. whether our grandchildren will have enough topsoil. (At this rate, they won’t.)

Expanding worry horizons can accompany something else... an expansion in what’s called the INCLUSION horizon. Let me explain.

A sane culture (or person) is essentially satiable. Indeed, satiability is one of the four hallmarks of the New Definition of Sanity. Truly, if you survey nearly all mental health caregivers, no matter what their theory or “school” they will almost all agree that people who are “mentally ill” display some underlying common traits, and one of the foremost of these is insatiability. If you get the very thing that you say you desperately want, should that not make you at least a little happier? And should that not reduce your need for it, at least a little? Not so for people who are - by consensus - deemed mentally dysfunctional, by a huge range of subjective standards.

In any event, let us posit that satiability is desirable, if only because it allows us to notice when we get what we wanted, and to re-adjust accordingly.

Now, assuming satiability... when such a person or society gets a surfeit of good things... and continues to get it for an extended period, long enough to grow accustomed (say, for generations), the expected outcome is for that person or society to become SATIATED. (Not necessarily indolent or un-ambitious! Satisfaction with one achieved-goal can simply mean moving your emphasis on to others.)

Summary: . Satiability + extended surfeit => satiation

This has important consequences. A satiated society can expand horizons prodigiously. For example, it can then look upon outsiders NOT as threats but instead as fellow members of a larger macro-tribe. This expansion exactly parallels the way the last century featured expansion of rights, to women and minorities, for example. And more recently, efforts to include dolphins, whales, apes and even ecosystems within the tent of tolerance.

But not everyone is satiable (sane). Even having lived a life of surfeit, many people are incapable of feeling the sense of satiation that allows horizon expansion. Fear remains high in such people. They tend to perceive the world filled with zero-sum or even negative-sum games, despite plenty of evidence for the existence and benefits of positive sum action.

Try to see all the last century’s liberal movements through the eyes of such people. To them, the recent expansion of horizons-of-inclusion often seems to have been, at best, a naive, goody-goody exercise. At worst, it is treason, a lowering of the nation's drawbridge to hostile outsiders.

Mind you, I do not claim that satiability is the ONLY hallmark of sanity. If many right wingers lack satiability, many left wingers are total indignation junkies who are incapable of getting or comprehending WHY their horizons of inclusion have expanded. (See: An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry and Social Psychology.)

Unable to see that their inclusion-ism is a PRODUCT of satiation and wealth, they cannot give credit to the markets (for example) that spilled the cornucopia that made their own tolerance-fetishism possible. This is not only myopic, blinkered and ungrateful. It’s also counterproductive vs the very ends they seek! (Since one might say that increased wealth and satiation will make more liberals.)

And thus, it’s just not sane.

Next time... how this affects the theory and practice of philanthropy. That is, unless I feel up to ranting against the people who - through their deliberate neglect and anti-scientism - are directly responsible for the total destruction of a great American city....

==Continue to Part II

29 comments:

Nate said...

I don't know if I'd say "directly responsible", though they are largely culpable, since their cuts and their lack of preparation are largely responsible for the utterly-half assed recovery efforts. A hospital ship is leavin Baltimore to get there next week. When a Category 5 hurricane was going to hit somewhere on the Gulf Coast. Why the hell wasn't it already down nearby? Why did the President stay on his vacation? If he was really able to do everything from Crawford, why's he back in DC now? Isn't Crawford closer, anyway? Why didn't he call up nearby lifting companies and bus companies and say "Hi. This is the President of the United States. Get your asses down to New Orleans, and start helping repair the levees and get people out of there. Oh, and bring food and bottled water when you go."

I mean, sweet monkeys, how hard is that?

Well, okay, considering that hurricanes never hit the US, and never cause this much damage, and nobody had ever warned about the fact that New Orleans was sitting below sea level, right on the coast, without any of the old swamps there to break the hurricane's force... Gah.

Okay, I'm done ranting now. Can sheer incompetence count as "high crimes and misdemeanors"?

And the inclusion thing reminds me of the "Heiarchy of needs" which I'm sure you've seen before, but yeah. That's why one of the most important things with foreign aid is projects designed to lift people out of desperate poverty. Especially the ones that can be done without totally ruining the environment for their kids and grandkids, so there's somewhere for THEM to farm.

tng said...

nate said "Can sheer incompetence count as "high crimes and misdemeanors"?"

Funny you should say that. It's exactly what I was thinking when I commented on Dr. Brin's last entry here. If incompetence in involving the U.S. in a wrong-headed war for the profit of your oil rich Saudi buddies didn't count as high crimes and misdemeanors, then I would hope that same incompetence causing the destruction of an entire major American city and a good deal of a city (and region) in a neighboring state would be a wake up call for the Bush administration's supporters. I doubt it will though.

Rob Perkins said...

Let's have a little sense of perspective on two things, huh?

1 -- Hindsight is always 20/20
2 -- For crying out loud, not everything is the fault of the Federal Government!

Spread the blame a bit, neh? And as long as we're doing acrimonious hindsight:

1 -- What kind of benighted *city* government, knowing it has hundreds of thousands of completely indigent people in its stewardship, doesn't provide evacuation plans which can actually help its poorest? Can someone refute me on this? Have the Governor of LA and the Mayor of New Orleans been as engaged in disaster planning as *they* ought to have been? Where were the fleets of school and municipal busses, the NatGuard personnel trucks from around the area and the neighboring states to move the poor to tent cities on higher ground?

2 -- What of benighted *private landlords* and *slumlords*, (and the equally culpable city government) continuing to collect Section 8 housing money in behalf of those poor, without making improvements to their collective property (that is, *raising the land*) so that catastrophe doesn't cause the human hell that we now see this week?

3 -- What of benighted *private industry*, who, as the owners of technology and manpower which can help, upon seeing the hardship, *wait* for some government sycophant to come tell them they have money coming their way before they start keeping people from dying!

4 -- What of benighted *voters*, especially middle-class and wealthy, who, when faced with the odds of this week happening to any place at all, consistently vote down the sort of funding for DRM that this kind of disaster requires?

5 -- And not least, what of benighted *anarchists and looters*, or those armed and scared civilians who either ignored or couldn't heed the mandatory evacuation who, today, *shot at rescuers* and *commandeered their boats*, either for fun and profit or out of fear that their belongings would be looted! If you want to talk about our civilization at stake, talk about that!

I mean really! Only 6,000 NatGuard troops from that region are deployed overseas. This was the worst possible scenario, and as someone who knows a thing or two about DRM, I can say that noone plans for the death of a whole city.

And I get so very sick and tired of the deep acrimony I see when people who have already stated that they hate the President use *everything which happens* to construct some kind of rosy "coulda-woulda-shoulda" out of their hindsight!

As if that's gonna convince me to be angry! Well yeah, I'm angry! At the *looters*, and *armed gangs* who now stand in the way of FEMA's boat rescue crews. And not a little bit at the people who stand there and do *nothing* until Bill Clinton and George Bush tell 'em to.

A hospital ship is leavin Baltimore to get there next week. When a Category 5 hurricane was going to hit somewhere on the Gulf Coast. Why the hell wasn't it already down nearby?

Not to put too fine a point on *this*, but had it escaped your attention that there was a CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE bearing down on the region?

That's the sort of narrow-myopic hindsight, crystal clear as a contrived ideology, that I'm talking about.

Can sheer incompetence count as "high crimes and misdemeanors"?

No.

Stop thinking only in terms of the guy you love to hate, people. There's enough *blame* and enough *credit* to go around for almost everyone. No amount of anti-Federal ranting is gonna totally solve it, and while it might shift the balance of power all over the South and in the Congress next year, it certainly won't get the President impeached!!!

As far as DB's technocratic suggestions for New Orleans, I have to say, they raised Seattle when they had to. Something similar for New Orleans ought to be possible.

michael vassar said...

One of the major problems with thinking about satiability is that formal models of decision making, especially in economics, Explicitly rule satiability out.

More dangerously, by default, most proposed systems of AI motivation are intrinsically insatiable. We need to learn to think about satiability. Right now we don't have a good model of how to do this (Maslow doesn't count as a model at all, at best it's good folk-wisdom). True inhuman insatiability can end everything in any of a large number of ways.

Rob Perkins said...

Which human institutions teach satiability to people today? Certainly not marketplace capitalism?

Do Churches do it? The Catholics include "gluttony" as one of the seven deadlies; would you consider that a force for civilization? (They were certainly the stewards of civilization for many centuries, before the Reformation and Enlightenment picked up where they atrophied...)

Churches also teach explicit philanthropy, even if only in the direction of the Churches themselves; they quote the Bible in places, and ask for a tithe for this or that cause. I think the impluse is also present in the Islamic sphere, and I've been told that Confucianism places a high value on human charity.

Just a random muse or two on the idea of civilizing forces. Churches haven't been more perfect (and 'way too often much less perfect) than other ideas, especially since the Enlightenment, but they've been, up until very recently, *tools* of the Enlightenment in expanding some Otherness memes, such as the abolition of slavery.

Might be interesting to compare a loosly confederated movement like World Socialism with something like the Reformation, to see if we're really in the middle, or close to the end, of a similar paradigm shift?

David Brin said...

Michael, you just scared me and showed the justification for paranoid anti-AI fantasies like the Matrix!

Rob, take every word you just wrote and replace just enough of them to apply during the nineties. That's how many of us felt during the bilious, raging, venomous anti-Clinton fury. Except...

Except that the government was running like a top. Officials were appointed to DO their jobs, instead of ride a graft-ridden revolving door.

Deficits plummeted.

Pork was at an all-time low...

... and not a single public official did anything that blame-hungry neocon prosecutors could nail them with after the fact.

Pax Americana interventions were handled capablly, with attention paid to professionals and minimal losses to US forces or prestige.

The economy soared.

And yet we were subjected to a six year fuming, volcanic hate-fest.

And now you plead that we should NOT blame the men who say there's no climate problem, no new trend toward mega storms? Who appoint lazy hacks to the EPA and zero out preparedness budgets? Who cripple the national guard and can't be bothered to leave vacation when a category 5 is on the way?

Who say "Duh-uh, nobody *I* know said anything about the possibility of levees breaking!"

By the way, that mayor and guv... might they be part of the same political machine?

Tony Fisk said...

@Stefan
Your report on Condi's activities (not to mention where ole' Wobbly was spending his time) has an eerie resonance with the situation just after cyclone Tracey flattened Darwin on Dec 25, 1974. Australian gov't officials were a long time getting back from their christmas vacations...

More recently, the opposition leader was criticised for not making any sort of public statement following on from the Boxing day tsunamis (turned out he was suffering from a severe bout of pancreatitis and was bedridden)

Mind you, in neither case did the people concerned have anything like the forewarning that Katriana provided the US administration. Nevertheless, their slowness in reacting was taken as a sign of being out of touch and that, for a politician, is fatal.

On da Fastar de Pasta:
Personally, I prefer to invoke 'Benjism' when referring to ID. The time needed to explain the relevance of flying spaghetti to the Intelligent Design debate sort of robs it of its satirical content.

OTOH, you can simply define ID as 'evolution being guided by the influence of 'pan dimensional super beings' and let two decades of general exposure to the memes of Douglas Adams do the work for you.

However, Benjism also suffers from the same shortcoming as Pasta' that DB pointed out. I have another guerilla tactic to provide a 'lose lose' scenario for IDers, and that is to emphasise the second commandment ('thou shalt not take the name of God in vain.') each time it can be shown that 'proof' of ID can be explained by base principles.

I'm not referring to swearing.

Nate said...

@ Rob Perkins

"1 -- What kind of benighted *city* government, knowing it has hundreds of thousands of completely indigent people in its stewardship, doesn't provide evacuation plans which can actually help its poorest? Can someone refute me on this? Have the Governor of LA and the Mayor of New Orleans been as engaged in disaster planning as *they* ought to have been? Where were the fleets of school and municipal busses, the NatGuard personnel trucks from around the area and the neighboring states to move the poor to tent cities on higher ground?"

Agreed. I don't have the slightest idea why there weren't evacuation plans for everyone. I have heard, but not substantiated that there were such plans, but they would take 36-72 hours. The evacuation order was given what, 24 hours beforehand? Even so, there's tens of thousands of people, would take many bus trips.

"2 -- What of benighted *private landlords* and *slumlords*, (and the equally culpable city government) continuing to collect Section 8 housing money in behalf of those poor, without making improvements to their collective property (that is, *raising the land*) so that catastrophe doesn't cause the human hell that we now see this week?"

I'm not sure there's any good way to raise the land underneath things. It'd require filling, then building on top of. Which is more expensive. So that's probably why not. And I'm sure there's also fights over who'd pay for it, the city, state, federal government, or the landowners. Which still doesn't excuse it.

"3 -- What of benighted *private industry*, who, as the owners of technology and manpower which can help, upon seeing the hardship, *wait* for some government sycophant to come tell them they have money coming their way before they start keeping people from dying!"

Agreed, although for any kind of major relief effort, there has to be some kind of coordination, either from a central group (like, oh, FEMA?), or distributed, which we haven't really set up the technology for very well, or else things get messy. And people, sadly, often don't tend to do anything unless someone asks. Partially that's because there IS the federal (and state, and local) government, and people figure "If they needed/wanted our help, they'd ask."

"4 -- What of benighted *voters*, especially middle-class and wealthy, who, when faced with the odds of this week happening to any place at all, consistently vote down the sort of funding for DRM that this kind of disaster requires?"

The voters themselves don't usually get to vote directly on things like disaster relief funding, that's voted on by Congress. And, honestly, many people who're middle class and up won't think about this kind of thing, because "it won't happen to me," and live in areas less likely to be struck (and more able to recover from it)

"5 -- And not least, what of benighted *anarchists and looters*, or those armed and scared civilians who either ignored or couldn't heed the mandatory evacuation who, today, *shot at rescuers* and *commandeered their boats*, either for fun and profit or out of fear that their belongings would be looted! If you want to talk about our civilization at stake, talk about that!"

There's more than enough blame to go around. I'm not excusing anyone's actions, this is a cascade of failures all the way around. But at the same time, other people's bad actions don't excuse other bad actions. And, IIRC, some of the construction like the levees and flood control systems are the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers, and out of the hands of state/local control. But I may be wrong on that, I don't know the specifics.

"Not to put too fine a point on *this*, but had it escaped your attention that there was a CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE bearing down on the region?

That's the sort of narrow-myopic hindsight, crystal clear as a contrived ideology, that I'm talking about."


There is a lot of ocean between Baltimore and Florida that wasn't being hit by Katrina. Mobilized rescue and hospital boats could have staged out of North Carolina or somewhere, out of the hurricane's path, but much closer and much faster to respond.

"I mean really! Only 6,000 NatGuard troops from that region are deployed overseas."


"Today's Louisiana Army and Air National Guard consists of 74 units spread among 43 cities and towns of the state and numbers some 11,500."


"Just" 6000 is more than half. There are National Guard coming from surrounding states (at least, the ones not also battered by Katrina), but that takes time (Why weren't they called in before? I don't know. Failures all around.) especially with many of the roads in and around New Orleans flooded.


But the reasons I targeted Bush specifically are fourfold. One, I must admit, my longstanding distaste for the mand and his many features that I won't get in to right now.

Second, as the President of the United States, he's the one most involved in all this who is theoretically accountable to me. The one who (again, theoretically) represents me.

Third, because this is exactly the kind of disaster that the federal government is best suited to dealing with. From the standpoints of coordination, resources, legal enforcement, contracts, budget, and so on, the federal government is the ideal tool for disasters on this scale. And probably the only good one. We're the United States of America. Why aren't we dropping food and water into the Superdome from helicopters and transport planes? We could do that in Afghanistan, why not so much closer?

And fourth, because this is the kind of crisis that requires leadership. Coordination. Competence. Bush ran on his record as a "war president" and promised to keep us safe, yet he's been flailing. Here we are, four years after September 11, and the much-vaunted Department of Homeland security didn't have any kind of plan to deal with the evacuation of a major metropolitan area? Despite all the talk of terrorists and dirty bombs? Where's the leadership? What if some terrorists had decided to bomb the levees in New Orleans? This was not some obscure, unlikely event. This was listed as one of the three most likely disasters by FEMA. Why, with all the billions of dollars that've been poured into "Homeland Security", were we caught with our pants down when they were needed? Where is the "steady leadership" Bush ran on? (well, okay, mostly he ran on "John Kerry is a French-surrender-monkey in flip-flops! Windsurfing! but)

Oh yes. That and the "No one expected the levees to break," line. That was what really set me off, and transformed some of the "OMFG, what happened? Gack." and other inarticulate despair and horror into anger. Emotions have a tendency to do that, and that one line just summed up nearly everything about Bush that makes me dislike him.


@ David Brin:

"By the way, that mayor and guv... might they be part of the same political machine?"

Well, Mayor C. Ray Nagin used to be a Republican, but switched his part affiliation days before the mayor's race.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco is a Democrat.

Now you know as much as I do about them. I have no knowledge of the political machinery of Louisiana other than what I've found on the interweb.

@ satiability

Indeed, one of the things that was drummed into me during the one economics class I've taken (so far) was "Economic wants are unlimited." Economics is in large part about trying to balance the unlimited wants with the limited supply. (Okay, from that class and reading Brad Delong's blog)

People will always want more, if they can get it. The real question is how MUCH more do they want, and what are they willing to do to get it?

Rob Perkins said...

David,

No no no. Oh no no no no no no no.

Not excusing Bush. Not one iota. There's blame in this for him, maybe. Not that I can really tell from where I sit what the Feds are really doing. Not that I'm gonna just take a blogger's word for it, especially if all the other articles he writes hate Bush for every other reason possible.

But at the same time, I'm not gonna rally the emotion I have agin' him, because there's a disaster afoot. The seeds of this mess are *thirty freeping years old*, or older, and include the malfeasance of more than fifteen Congresses, as well as the polyanna-ish la-la-land of rightist-faith-basis politicking, which got our science and large-scale engineering budgets cut.

Case in point, the Washington State WPPS (WPPS? The nuclear power plants over by Gray's Harbor...) project was cancelled decades before Karl Rove talked Dubya into running for President...

(And, don't forget, these factions think I'm just as Hell-bound as you, DB!)

Who appoint lazy hacks to the EPA and zero out preparedness budgets?

Erm, what on earth would the EPA have to do with emergency preparedness? Forgive if I'm ignorant, the Fed bereaucracy is just that huge...

Who cripple the national guard and can't be bothered to leave vacation when a category 5 is on the way?

I see the coast guard and nat'l guard deployed, and don't consider the Nat'l Guard crippled. So I'll call on you to support that one.

I rather despise the "Bush Vacation" criticisms. He's the best-connected man on the planet, no matter where he goes. Wringing hands at a storm can be done just as easily from Crawford as from Penn. Ave.

Re 6000 troops missing, that's a figure over two states, not one: Mississippi and Louisiana. I don't know the actual figures for each state, but I note reciprocity agreements must be in place for them to pull from Texas, Arkansas, Florida, etc etc, if requested. And I've asked people to refute me if I'm wrong about that.

And whether or not they get requested isn't precisely under the purview of the *President*, dontchaknow...

We'll see what else happens once $10.5 billion more is cut loose from the Fed Treasury for this.

As far as those oh-so-rosy Clinton years, I maintain, as I've *always* maintained, that the President doesn't heat up the economy.

And while I wasn't part of the volcanic hate-fest, I note, since *you* bring it up, he *did* lie, and he was caught in it. Dunno if that should have meant impeachment, but I saw that more as Revenge for Nixon, part of the ongoing feud between those two silly factions.

And I always *always* wondered why NOW and other orgs like them weren't furious with him for taking advantage of Lewinski. Instead, they ignored disasterously predatory sexual behavior in Their Leader in order to further their own agenda. Very tactical, and apparantly hypocritical as well. Sorry, that's just the way I see it!

And in any case, he *could* have stepped aside, and his faction would still have been in power!

For my part, tho, I forgive him, and I'm glad he's gone on to do other good work. No hard feelings, really!

But he's *not* responsible for the Internet Bubble. Or its collapse. We 'Mericans did that to ourselves all by ourselves, and would have no matter who was in power.

(The economy, by the leading indicators my company has to follow, since we consult to cast metal foundries, started losing steam in 1998 or 1999...)

Minimized pork? Hey, that's a function of the Split Ticket! If Unpleasant Faction D is in the White House, install Unpleasant Faction R in the Congress, and the resulting tension creates a bit of fiscal responsibility. Republican-type government at its best!

daveawayfromhome said...

@nate: After the Galveston hurricane of 1900 scoured the island, what buildings remained were jacked up and underfilled. (see: http://www.1900storm.com/rebuilding/index.lasso) The city paid for the fill, the property owners to raise the homes and such.

@Rob Perkins: "only" 6000? Currently Natl Guard sez there are 5,700 guard there now, with more arriving at a rate of 1400 per day. That means over 4 days to get the 6000 that would have already been there! Look at how things have deteriorated in the three days since the hurricane hit. Imagine four more days!

@nate again: As for leadership from Bush in a crisis, your not gonna get any. Remember Bush the morning of 9/11. He was running scared, panicking his way around the country as if we were being invaded by hostile forces, rather than terrorists. Just how manueverable did he think the attackers were? (his behavior that day is the best arguement against any govt "plot"; if Bushco knew the attack would happen he wouldve been standing at a podium somewhere acting "brave" and knowing he was safe. He didnt)
Dubya's a conman, not a hero.

@DB: I've thought for a long time that this country has grown too soft, too insulated. I think, in lay terms, that's the same thing as "satiated". We are fat, we are full. We've been sitting outside our cave, belching and thinking we've got it made. It's been so long since someone tried to take away our stuff that we're at a loss when it finally does happen. Some of us shoot at yet another helicopter flying over but not coming to rescue us, or maybe we let madmen talk us into invading foriegn countries.
I'm not saying we need disasters to happen to us; I certainly dont want any. But I think we're too insulated from the ugly side of the world here. Even something as simple as well-reported news, rather than news that "keeps our attention" would help.

-dcc-

David Brin said...

daveaway, I see your point (and Rob, I see yours too... and I mistyped EPA for FEMA. Sorry.)

Still, I don't accept the Americans-are-decadent stereotype.

Yes, I find em infuriating. Their addiction to the left right axis, when their real genius is at pragmatic problem solving, is one example.

Still, Americans-are-decadent is exactly what every enemy has told themselves, when faced with the blatant fact of our success and happiness. Zero-sum thinking means we HAD to have paid for it all by giving up something else. With our manhood, goes the usual tale (e.g. Hitler) or our souls (Osama) or our soul (the Russians, something actually quite different.)

They have to believe this, or else admit we are better at civilization than they are! (In fact, we are, because of POSITIVE-sum game thinking.)

They reach this conclusion, decide that we are wimps, and act on it.

So, alas, every generation of Americans is forced to prove this canard wrong.

As we did on 9/11. See a 'futurist essay' pointing out a rather unnoticed aspect of the tragedy of 9/11/01 -that citizens themselves were most effective in our civilization's defense. The only actions that actually saved lives and thwarted terrorism on that awful day were taken amid rapid, ad hoc decisions made by private individuals, reacting with both resiliency and initiative -- our finest traits - and armed with the very same new technologies that dour pundits say will enslave us. See: http://www.futurist.com/portal/future_trends/david_brin_empowerment.htm

Alas, our paid protectors also buy into this canard! Like when W told us to spend money, after 9/11, as if that's all we're good for. NONE of them admit that we were NOT scared after 9/11, or that citizens did the only things that worked, that day.

Even the military Officer Corps, that I defend publicly, has abandoned 200 years of tradition by simply assuming that they will never again need waves of civilian volunteers, in a crisis. I've asked! They not only don't want a draft, they have no remote contingency plans for how to accept and use a million volunteers, even if we all answered the call in a crisis.

None. No plan at all.

I find that historically irresponsible -- and also offensive.

So I can't drive an F-15. So?

There still may come a time when ten million of us could make a difference of life and death for civilization, say when the pros have taken several surprise blows and a hundred thousand survivors are barely holding some thin red line. Or a dozen thin red lines. It could happen. It has before.

To assume that we'd just be useless...

Well... that's not just offensive, it's just plain dumb.

Anonymous said...

David

A total aside but this is the only way I know of reaching you

I keep tryinh to reach your website from Hong Kong, but i suspect your ISP is blocking all chinese IP addresses, highly likly without telling you, could you ask them to let us access you site please, otherwise how can i recomend it to people out here?

Evan said...

Here's an aside I thought you might be interested in. It rather reminded me of "Earth." How private citizens used omnipresent photo capabalities coupled with the internet to reduce crime and protect themselves. Check it out. http://www.wnbc.com/news/4923338/detail.html

Anonymous said...

I keep trying to reach your website from South Korea, and it doesn't work for me either. I don't believe the government here censors to that extent.

Perhaps there's another explanation (or perhaps China is censoring, and my problem is completely different)

Anonymous said...

David... (and others)
I was a career Non-com... and when I read your comments on the draft, I felt... well, layers of feeling. So, let me pick at the layers and see what we find.

1. I am personally against the draft. "Involuntary servatude" is wrong, no matter how you call it. In addition, the nightmare of any Non-Com is the punk with the "I don't want to be here" attitude. I imagine that a draftee would be worse in this than a volunteer. When things go to hell in a handbasket, the last thing I want is some punk who won't do his job. I'd rather be shorthanded than have a man who won't be there when he's needed.

2. This is one of those personal paradigm shift things. I worked at a Navy Recruit Training Command (boot camp) as a instructer. The year before I started working thier, they had a 'perfect storm' of too many recruits, not enough Drill Commanders or support personnel. So, the summer after I arrived, there were no leaves allowed, the reserves were called up, they braced themselves for catastrophe part 2... and it didn't happen. Hey, better to be ready and have it not happen, yes? Except... why weren't they ready the first time? This was not a natural disaster or enemy attack, these were kids coming to training faster than planned... anyone could have seen the lead up numbers, compared them to the previous year's and done a 'oh crap, look at all these people coming, we better get ready'. THEY (WE, dammit) were caught with our pants down for no reason. They don't sign a kid up then ship him to Boot the next day, there were months of warning... or should have been. Why weren't we ready? Why were we over-ready a year later? (Don't ask me, I wasn't there the first year and I was only a junior Non-Com at the time). Looking at what had happened and our reaction to it, I can only imagine what kind of disaster it would have been if we had gone to war and a million volunteers had signed up. There was no 'what do we do if' plan. And that's just plain pathetic.

3. The military has a department in the Pentagon (no, I don't know what it's called) whose entire mission in life is writing plans. Call it the war plans department. They plan for everything. When we fought WW2, this department had plans in place... and we followed the 'war with Japan' plan so closely that it's shocking. (Look up 'Warplan Orange' for the plan against Japan, 'Rainbow 5' covered all the plans.) Doesn't FEMA (or Homeland Security) have a similar office? A office where there only purpose is 'What do we do if *blank* happens?' That researches the resources needed for any disaster they can think of and writes plans accordingly? Where were these guys? Plans used to 'evacuate New Orleans because of a dirty bomb' could be used with little modification to 'evacuate New Orleans because of a catagory 5 hurricane'.

4. I've gone on too long, and need to think more about this... But David B, if it all went to hell in a handbasket, I'm quite sure that even with your lack of ability to fly a modern jet fighter, your current skills or skills you could easily be trained in could be useful. At the very least, you could write training manuals.
And I could teach you who and what to salute and when.

HawkerHurricane, SM1(SW) USN (ret)

Rob Perkins said...

@David Brin -- I agree, we shouldn't ever mistake prosperity for decadance, especially when thinking in terms of Americans natural desire for help, see the tsunami relief response, and the 9/11 relief response, and especially the backlash when it was found that some agencies were lining the budgets of other programs with that response.

(BTW, word verification, or something, has added a dead link to "service.urchin.com" which times out as a dead link, and makes it difficult to use the comments page's collapse features. As well as making it frustrating if there's only one paragraph to write...)

Anonymous said...

SF author China MiƩville has dug an interesting piece of history modification by Innovative Emergency Management, the private firm that NO disaster planning was turned over to:

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2005/09/politics-of-weather-3-shyness-of.html

RE private citizens helping, a tongue in cheek report from a blogger:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangemike/3749.html

"I've just gotten news on HordeNet that there are relief convoys of members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms from all over driving into the South to do what they can; and looks like as well organized as the FEMA seems to be right now. Guess all that time recreating the Middle Ages may come to some good use after all!"

Stefan

daveawayfromhome said...

I dont think I would use the word "decadent" to describe America (aside perhaps for the sons of Old Money, or televangelists). "Complacent" would be more to my taste. Or maybe "jaded" (which is defined partly as "satiated", by the way). But decadent? No.
As for soft, to go back to the plump, belching tribe by the cave: those guys may be content, but they're also well-fed. Maybe the mistake so many enemies have made in underestimating us has been to assume that we are fat and lazy, rather than healthy and taking it easy.

-dcc-

David Brin said...

Hawker, your comments are deeply appreciated... as has been your willingness to join the thin line defending us. Especially at a time of political meddling that makes Vietnam look professional.

However we are talking on different pages. I have spoken with generals and admirals, who have told me that ALMOST no contingency plans exist for inducting and rapidly using vast numbers of volunteers. Even though this was the army's main job in eras past.

"A million volunteers?" One general said, staring at me as if I were mad. "I wouldn't know what to do with ten thousand."

I have spoken elsewhere of my deep respect for the US Officer Corps (OC). They are the third best-educated clade in American life today. Their intellectual level and character are awesome. (Making the rampant political interference we are seeing especially tragic.)

They even did what no other OC ever did, after a winning campaign. Usually, it is the losers of a war who re-evaluate and the winners who smugly assume the next conflict will be like the war they just won. But after the Cold War and 91/Iraq, our OC proceeded to de-emphasize (for example) the M1 tank, reasoning that no enemy in their right minds would ever again choose to face a US Armored Corps across an open battlefield. That's flexibility!

Alas, this does not safeguard the OC from making typically human mistakes. Their biggest has been to ride the psychological wave of the late 20th Century, assuming (patronizingly) that only top professionals know what they are doing, in any given field.

I have spoken of this often: why the pros in many fields deeply fear what I've called a rising "age of amateurs." The professional protector caste have frantically glossed over the way 9/11 demonstrated amateur/citizen power. (See: http://www.futurist.com/portal/future_trends/david_brin_empowerment.htm)

Not one initiative from Homeland Security has been aimed at enhancing what worked, that day. (DARPA wanted to fund a Citizen Action Network application of my holocene invention (see www.holocenechat.com/) but they got zeroed out in the TIA scandal.)

So, no wonder the US Officer Corps, despite their vaunted skill and high intellectual standards, has proved blinkered and blind to their duty... enhancing the ability of citizens to serve their traditional American role as eager volunteers, should the thin red line ever need backup.

There are a myriad things that might be done to narrow the "ramp-up time", say, to use a million volunteers. I could suggest dozens right off the bat. Cheap, too.

But the pros are not interested. And that - I think - typifies our problem at the turn of a new century.

Anonymous said...

A little jewel of human decency:

nola.com is the online presence of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. (Right now the site is how the paper is publishing!)

Their weblog (http://www.nola.com/weblogs/nola/) has some heartbreaking messages from people asking for help, directing rescuers to trapped relatives and asking for information on lost loved ones.

This message stood out:

Car available Uptown
3:30 pm

Name: Anne Rolfes

Home: (337) 349 - 7661

Email: annerolfes@hotmail.com

Subject: My Hurricane Story -- Car may be available uptown

Story: Hello to anyone and everyone -

I don't know if my car is underwater, but since it's uptown there's a good chance it isn't.

It is unlocked with a key under the mat - a red corolla at 507 Cherokee Street and St. Charles. It's in a drive way. If anyone needs it to get out, please go there!! My phone number is (337) 349 - 7661. There is a trunk in the back seat - throw it out and fit as many people as you can!

The car has a spare on it, so if you make it to the highway, don't go too fast.

Anne


In contrast, a transcript of an actual discussion between Bush and a refugee:


Bush to women: "There's a Salvation Army center that I want to, that I'll tell you where it is, and they'll get you some help. I'm sorry.... They'll help you.....

Woman 1: "I came here looking for clothes..."

Bush: "They'll get you some clothes, at the Salvation Army center..."

Woman 1: "We don't have anything..."

Bush: "I understand.... Do you know where the center is, that I'm talking to you about?"

Guy with shades: "There's no center there, sir, it's a truck."

Bush: "There's trucks?"

Guy: "There's a school, a school about two miles away....."

Bush: "But isn't there a Salvation center down there?"

Guy: "No that's wiped out...."

Bush: "A temporary center? "

Guy: "No sir they've got a truck there, for food."

Bush: "That's what I'm saying, for food and water."

Bush turns to the sister who's been saying how she needs clothes.

Bush to sister: "You need food and water."

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/9/2/163959/3853

Stefan

atama said...

I have been monitoring your blog for some time now dave. The rapidly decaying situation has forced me to communicate with the outside world. If men did not wage war we would have reached the stars by now.

Wintermute said...

@rob

As regards the idea that private industry might help out relief efforts of their own free will (that is, without being ordered to by government) this is inherently immpossible for those with the most capital (technology and manpower) - corporations. Since the time of Henry Ford it has been illegal for private corporations to do anything (including help people) unless it is in the pursuit of profit. If any CEOs decided to help out the relief efforts without a plan that was aimed at increasing the company's profit margins, they could be fired, fined, or sued by the shareholders.

Call me a psuedo-marxist (which I am not), but this has got to change (perhaps by democratic/public control of investment and/or control of that investment) before any corporation would likely help in relief efforts. Though that is a bigger issue than is at hand.

In the here and now the only concievable way that any corporation would help out in relief efforts would be if some innovative CEO realized that with all the media coverage it would be free advertising to be seen picking up refugees and maybe housing them or distributing wares and goods. I can see the Coca-Cola decaled helicopters now, swooping in to save the day. I can even here the commercial already.

"When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, flooding the entire city and turning an entire American city into refugees, who was there to help with supplies? Coca-Cola was there," which would be set to background images of red Coca-Cola clad workers handing out Dasani to all the people in the football stadium. Maybe some private security firms could volunteer to demonstrate their ability to provide law and order. I think it would make some sense (as regards profit motives, the foundational goal of any corporation) for a corporation to help out in relief efforts, but it would be unprecidented and risky, and the large corporations are rarely the most innovative. So I doubt it will happen without massive reform of the economic structure (i.e. not this time, and probably not next time something like this happens).

If any corporation does decide to help out because they think it may be profitable, they would need a solid action plan for how they plan to use this disaster to make money, which would likely take a few days to work out in full. Unless some corporation actually made philanthropic disaster relief a policy so that they could brag (advertise) about it...which actually isn't a bad idea. I bet it would be good for Wal-mart's image to be seen giving that woman Bush was talking to some clothes.

Jedi School Drop Out said...

Straying somewhat from the main issue and looking forward to a future that I'm sadly sure is merely wishful thinking...

After Sept 11th, the U.S. Gov't's response to 3000 deaths was to spend a mind-boggling amount of money and even more lives to fight an antagonist of uncertain and in some ways utterly ficticious identity.

Now a city of great history and culture has been wiped off the map almost as horrifically as if it had been bombed. Doesen't this warrant a response of similar nature? Oughtn't the same level or greater be put towards fighting the foe who is responsible for this?

Yet do you really think the capital 'R' Right (Sorry, D.B.) will be willing to admit that such a problem exists? Or is this an literal 'act of capital 'G' God?' For that matter, if the latter is were to be seen as the case, oughtn't an act out of the Old Testament be a really good indication that perhaps some poor choices have been made elsewhere? And that it's time for some smartening up?

Either way the 'correct' response could only be a positive turn. Yet somehow I doubt that will ever come to pass.

Anonymous said...

Wintermute:

Actually, a beer brewer DID broadcast just such a commercial about ten years back, featuring their aid in the form of bottled clean water sent to hurricaine victims in the Carolinas.

For what it is worth, local (Portland, OR) corporations have been very generous with aid. Heck, they were on the ball before the Senate.

Jedi school dropout:

"Doesen't this warrant a response of similar nature? Oughtn't the same level or greater be put towards fighting the foe who is responsible for this?"

Well, the enemy in this case is destruction of wetlands, overdevelopment, global warming, and indifference to the poor.

Therefore, I figure the administration's response will be to offer up a capital gains tax cut, subsidies for sand bag manufacturers, and a National Prayer for Good Weather Minute in public schools.

Stefan

Big C said...

Wintermute said:

"As regards the idea that private industry might help out relief efforts of their own free will (that is, without being ordered to by government) this is inherently immpossible for those with the most capital (technology and manpower) - corporations. Since the time of Henry Ford it has been illegal for private corporations to do anything (including help people) unless it is in the pursuit of profit. If any CEOs decided to help out the relief efforts without a plan that was aimed at increasing the company's profit margins, they could be fired, fined, or sued by the shareholders."

Are you sure about this? Can you cite the law stating that corporations can only do things that are profitable, or is this just a rhetorical hyperbole? Because I see corporations contributing to the relief effort already. My sister-in-law works for Verizon, and she got a memo saying that Verizon will match all relief donations by its employees 2-to-1. There doesn't seem to be much profit for Verizon in that. I don't think there's anything constraining corporations from making charitable contributions to any worthy cause, and they probably do it precisely for good PR.

Charles

Anonymous said...

Grover Norquist gets spanked:

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/9/2/153018/3558

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Perkins said...

@Wintermute --

Can't call you a marxist, since I don't know you much at all. But the idea that it's *illegal* for corporations to set out charitable giving, or volunteer their resources in time of national emergency, that doesn't make any sense!

So I'll ask that you provide U.S. Code Chapter and Paragraph, or CFR Part, Section, Chapter, Subchapter and Paragraph, requiring for-profit public companies not to volunteer their people and resources during such a time.

Anonymous said...

Hello, David. I hope you read the old stuff, so you get this.

I'm not active duty, I'm 'retired'. I 'transfered to the fleet reserve' in February 2004. I am subject to recall (involuntary) until 2014.

The funny thing (or not funny) is that I did not choose to retire. I was told to 'retire or else get no benefits'. My 'services were no longer needed', even though my contract (HAH!) obligated me until 2006.

The Navy cut 10,000 personnel in 2004, and again this year. In time of war, they cut people. Why? To save money so the Army could have it for use in Iraq. At a time when the military is hurting for personnel, the Navy is cutting.

HawkerHurricane, Signalman 1st Class, Surface Warfare Specialist, U.S. Navy (retired)