Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Miscellaneous announcements & items

An announcement for young intellectuals: In honor of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Felix Morley, the Institute for Humane Studies awards $5,000 in cash prizes to outstanding writers whose work reflects the principles of individual and economic freedoms including the First Amendment, voluntarism, the rule of law, and inalienable individual rights. The competition is open to young writers (25 years of age or younger as of December 1, 2005) and all full-time students. Articles published July 1, 2004 through December 1, 2005 are eligible for consideration. For more information or to apply online, please visit the contest website at www.TheIHS.org/morley or apply directly at apply.theihs.org.  Deadline: December 1, 2005 If you meet the eligibility requirements for this competition we strongly encourage you to apply. We also encourage you to pass this information along to students and young journalists in your network, and to your readership. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at cwilcox1@gmu.edu. - Chad Wilcox Program Assistant Institute for Humane Studies


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The latest newsletter from international tech-industry maven Mark Anderson includes the following insight. “About four-fifths of the fake science done to rebut global warming had been paid for, directly or indirectly, by ExxonMobil.”

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Finally, this bit of gloom that some of you have already seen. Chris Phoenix wrote: “It's tempting to think that the world has developed a new worldview--the Enlightenment--that will provide internal moral limits. However, the Enlightenment may be fading. It was supported by, and synergistic with, the brief period when people could be several times as productive with machines as with manual labor. During that period, individual people were quite valuable. However, now that we're developing automation, people can be many times as productive, and we don't need all that productivity. And indeed, as abundance develops into glut, the Enlightenment seems to be fading.”


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My cousin, Adam Frankel, served (at age 23 ) as a speechwriter on the Kerry Campaign. He describes this experience - and lessons learned - in an insightful and well-written article that you can see at: http://www.alternet.org/story/28433/ We don’t agree in every way, about why the Kerry Campaign lost. But I am very glad that bright fellows like Adam are in this fight. He is an example of the kind of youthful brilliance and energy that the country and the world need right now.

18 comments:

Tony Fisk said...

I feel that the sort of political campaign machine described by Adam is very similar to 'Noh Face' in 'Spirited Away' (Kerry 'the mask' is all you see, but what lies behind? Something you'd rather not know about. Except you'd better, when the promises start!). Probably the main difference between the GOP and Democrat machines is that the Democrat machine lacked the hunger!

Interesting to compare ExxonMobil's attitudes to those of British Petroleum.

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Stefan pointed out an article on the Pentagon's attitude to embedding vs non-embedding, including the following remark (of the non-embedded):

"We lost control of the context," Rendon warned. "That has to be fixed for the next war."

Since we're speaking of context, it would be well to keep an eye on this rumour:

"The White House has dismissed claims George Bush was talked out of bombing Arab television station al-Jazeera by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair."

(FWIW al-Jazeera is not just an Al-Qaedda mouthpiece)

Anonymous said...

Taking out al-Jazeera's HQ would mean bombing Qatar, a Gulf ally. For that reason alone, the mere suggestion that Bush considered an attack is highly troubling.

Even worse than attacking an ally: al-Jazeera is highly popular and highly influential. Bombing it would not just suggest, but prove that the U.S. Administration are the worst sort of bullies.

* * *

Chris Pheonix's observation might have a grain of truth to it, but I don't think economics are sufficient to explain the diminishment of Enlightenment thinking. I think there's a measure of fear involved; fear of what we've discovered and what is yet to come.

I sometimes feel we are in a situation similar to the ones that Olaf Stapledon puts his imaginary civilizations into in his future histories. Faced with a crisis, they either face it with a mixture of sadness and resolution, or shrink into madness and illusion.

Alas, there are no Last Men on telepathically guiding us from Neptune two billion years in the future.

Stefan

Tony Fisk said...

Stefan,
Before you go off the deep end, I would emphasise that the story about Bush wanting to bomb al-Jazeera is a rumour. He may not have said it. It may have been as a joking aside (remember 'we begin bombing (Russia) in ten minutes'?)

(BTW: before someone claims coverup conspiracies when they can't get to the report, the above link is corrupt. Try this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4459296.stm)

Anonymous said...

anonymous

"Taking out al-Jazeera's HQ would mean bombing Qatar, a Gulf ally. For that reason alone..." it is obviouse that the story isn't true

Palliard said...

However, now that we're developing automation, people can be many times as productive, and we don't need all that productivity.

I think the meme is the future doesn't need you.

We're going past the point where everyone shops at, and works for, WalMart... thanks to self-service checkout at WalMart, you may not even be able to get a crappy job there.

Meanwhile, our society is becoming more economically stratified rather than less. Maybe that horrible dystopian future we were all looking forward to isn't that far away.

Rik said...

Fukuyama claimed an End of History (no more ideological development). He got it all wrong: the 20th century ideologies were all romantic AND anti-modern. That meme is around again. The US is slowly getting sucked into a European fin-de-si├Ęcle. What do you think: The Enlightenment will defend itself? Hello? Fight for your right you must!! (sorry, dr. DB)

The kind of tech Chris Phoenix desribes will create a world where there is no Wal-Mart. Molecular manufacturing - if we ever get it - will do away with scarcity (and the entire system that is built on it).

Last but not least: sigh. So polluting Big Corp has got something to lose and greenies don't ...rrright. I do prefer The skeptical Environmentalist. It's like most enviro's think science justifies economic stasis and we will all be perfectly happy in a neo-agrarian world. And there all these silly predictions: no one trusts the weather forecast for next week; why - let alone use it to abandon everything - would you trust the weather forecast for 2100?
You know, I would rather trust Shell than Greenpeace. Shell was severy punished for nonexisting reserves, but GP cannot be held accountable. One wishes it too was traded on the stock market...

Anonymous said...

Rik...

Greenpeace is a gnat... annoying, but not dangerous.

Shell oil has bought Presidents in the past. It has overthrown governments.

HH

Woozle said...

What always bothers me about these "Robots Ate My Job!!" scenarios (which I've personally been hearing since the 1970s, though I'm sure they've been around longer than that) is this: So you have a situation where people have to do less work to create more wealth. This is bad?

Well, it can be bad if that wealth is in the hands of a smaller number of people, instead of being distributed by (for example) the workable but somewhat arbitrary means of paid employment.

The ongoing task is always to make sure that the wealth doesn't stop getting shared just because fewer people are needed to occupy the slots through which it used to be allocated. The increasing economic stratification we're seeing is a sign that it's time to work out a new system, or at least some new plug-ins for the old system.

One thing which has been emerging at least since the Industrial Revolution (wherein we were all replaced with steam shovels, and have been out on the street ever since) is the increasing economic share of the entertainment industry. This won't work for all the former WalMart greeters, I suppose, but it's an example of how new forms of distribution can happen.

<glib mode=on>It's largely just a matter of finding ways to (1) optimize the distribution of labor while minimizing the possible negative impacts of individual instances of sub-optimal allocation, and then (2) convince the owners of {wealth generated/collected by more traditional occupations} to part with some of it in exchange for the work done.</glib> Only more complicated.

Just my 2 cents worth (I accept PayPal and credit cards ^_^).

Rik said...

Woozle,

If only it were that easy. It's not just 'robots ate my job'. There's an old line from Data, from one ST NG ep: "That form of entertainment is no longer popular." Suppose, by the time robots enter the workforce, there are neural interfaces for oldfashioned, run-of-the-mill humans. OK, reality is boring, there's nothing to do, why not jack in & be zonked out of your mind for the remainder of your lifespan? I can see that happening, you know. There are far too many people who simply haven't learned to amuse themselves.

Suppose too that, say in ten years time, we get desktop nanofactories. Oh yeah! Why, you could kidnap Paris and print her anything she desired! If you get a supergizmo to make you any organic or inorganic material you want, then... we're not in Kansas anymore.
No one knows what's going to happen, but Mike Treder (the other guy from CRN) posted an nice quote by Arthur C. Clark. I'll parafrase it here: there are three stages in revolutionary ideas, 1) it's impossible, 2) it's possible, but not worth doing, 3) I told you all along it was possible. CRN thinks we're in stage 2, but I can't wait for stage three, I really do!

Something personal: I'm 34. I managed to screw up three higher educations & have been on / off temp jobs. Been unemployed (those fancy Dutch welfare benefits) for the last two years.
I can live forever reading & writing, but it has its drawbacks.
I'm still ambitious: I would like to built my own house (no construction skills whatsoever), I'd like to construct a boat and sail it.
I mean it when I say I look forward to these machines (we'll survive the disruption), because I think it's the only way to make some dreams come true.

Anonymous said...

I'm still ambitious: I would like to built my own house (no construction skills whatsoever), I'd like to construct a boat and sail it.

Don't wait for some pipe-dream future technology to learn skills, do interesting things, and to improve your situaton.

People of all ages learn how to build houses and boats and airplanes.

Go read MAKE magazine! http://makezine.com/blog/

Stefan

Tony Fisk said...

The creed of economic rationalism in government overlooks one little detail: government's have a social obligation to society as a whole, as well as to the shareholders.

Best summarised in the expression 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'.

A thriving economy requiring no employees is a weird and ultimately bleak prospect. (Read the wickedly satirical 'Midas Plague' by Fred Pohl)

I think that the feeling of uselessness is one of the most debilitating and socially destructive effects of being unemployed (not that I speak from a huge store of experience, but I've had a few 'fallow' periods, and can certainly appreciate Woozle's remark that you *really* need to know how to keep yourself occupied)

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Speaking of the devil finding work...

A follow up on the al-jazeera scuttlebutt. The Daily Mirror has now been gagged. Well, the tape on which this tale is based is marked 'Top Secret'. But actions like this do look suspicious. What other officials need protection?

@anonymous: Certainly *not* obviously false, but it's still too early to tell whether the tale's true or not.

Anonymous said...

A couple more "unemployment" SF tales of note:

Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage"

Kress's "Beggars in Spain."

In the latter, cheap fusion energy and synthesis technology result in society fissuring between "donkeys" and "aristos." Things don't come to a head until the sequel, whose title I forget.

Stefan

David Brin said...

Rik said: “Last but not least: sigh. So polluting Big Corp has got something to lose and greenies don't ...rrright. I do prefer The skeptical Environmentalist. It's like most enviro's think science justifies economic stasis and we will all be perfectly happy in a neo-agrarian world.”

Sorry, Rik. This is utter drivel. You take one fact... that a greedy, shortsighted pluto-corp has deliberately bribed and subsized outright lies in order to prevent society from perceiving a possibly mortal danger...

...and call that LESS disreputable than environmentalism. And to do this, you posit a carricature of environmentalists that is a cartoon strawman, having no relationship to me, or any of the environmentalists I associate with.

You are doing the classic thing. Picking a left-right side and then justifying monstrous misbehavior by hugely corrupt and powerful elites, by claiming that the other side’s elites are worse. What GREENPEACE????? Exactly how are they a threat to anything at all? All they do is yell. And half the time their yells are right. Half the time their yells are wrong. That’s how criticism works. That is NOT the same as using vast power to bribe and coerce and suppress science.

The oil company I own shares of is British Petroleum, the heir of ARCO, which under Thornton Brandshaw was the “good guy oil company”. And it carries through today. BP tells the truth, invests in renewables (while making loads of money off their petroleum business) and has relentlessly conceded that global warming is real.

ALL YOU GUYS... did I serialize my paper on global catastrophe? I recall intending to.

It skewers BOTH the romantics of the left -- like Paul Ehrlich -- and those of the right, like Lomberg and Simon. But there is a key difference. Listening to Ehrlich may prompt us to invest in renewables outr of fear of dangers that he has overstated. SO? Even if Ehlich proves wrong, there are good things we can do right now that will benefit the world WHILE getting ready, in case he’s right.

In contrast, the supporters of Simon & Lomberg prove their underlying agenda, to be profit-grabbing ostriches. They say “climate change isn’t proved! We need more research!” And then they do everything in their power to cut the research!

True, some Ehrlich types are silly. They would “solve” the problems by “shivering in the dark.” You have seen me pillory those guys. But this is not all of “enviro” as a movement. Neo-modernist liberals like Stewart Brand (and me) are calling for a restart to the nuclear power industry! And I am a life member of the Sierra Club.

So is anyone who can afford it and cares about the world.

Tony Fisk said...

ALL YOU GUYS... did I serialize my paper on global catastrophe? I recall intending to.

If that was 'The Parameters of Doom', you published part 1 about a month ago...

Anonymous said...

However, the Enlightenment may be fading. It was supported by, and synergistic with, the brief period when people could be several times as productive with machines as with manual labor. During that period, individual people were quite valuable. However, now that we're developing automation, people can be many times as productive, and we don't need all that productivity.

With all that productivity, individual people are no longer that valuable. Could that be a factor?

Anonymous said...

WorldChanging has a description of an utterly brilliant and practical idea for bringing Third World cities into the 21st century:

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003779.html

A solar-recharged streetlight that also acts as a WiFi node and a charger for "small devices."

Note that something like this could installed in OUR cities, as part of a parallel, disaster-resistant communication infrastructure! Imagine stringing these up along major boulevards, along with backed-up traffic signals and message boards.

Palliard said...

With all that productivity, individual people are no longer that valuable. Could that be a factor?

I'll go you one better: have human beings been rendered obsolete?

Tony Fisk said...

Quoth Palliard and anonymous:
With all that productivity, individual people are no longer that valuable. Could that be a factor?

I'll go you one better: have human beings been rendered obsolete?


Arthur C Clarke, musing on this possibility, concluded that 'it would serve us right' if we let it happen.

But this is all a matter of perspective. Certainly, it appears that the economic engine can be powered on far fewer human beans than we currently have in stock.

But to what purpose?

Ultimately, I suspect that those who are left out in the cold will sigh sadly, shrug... and proceed to self-organise into their own alternative economies. Remember, people in this predicament don't necessarily lack for basic skills and initiative (and certainly not for communication infrastructure these days!). It's just that they're not required by the mainstream.

Well, fine! The flip side is that they don't need the mainstreeam. (Case in point: there is a flourishing and quite sophisticated barter system in Australia, at least, which is probably well served by such things as e-Bay these days)

(One more SF reference: Greg Bear's 'Strength of Stones')

On solar powered street lights: without wishing to belittle the impact of such a thing, I've seen them around here in parks for years! (although the wifi point is a new angle!). Then again, that's the point of Worldchanging: picking up the pieces that already exist to make a better world.

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The al-Jazeera story isn't going away.

Lest y'all be overly eager to 'stuff the turkey' at this time, I should point out that the most likely scenario is that the tape records a joking aside (in admittedly poor taste) amongst other more sensitive material.

Whatever, the story isn't going to go away until the relevant parts of the tape are released, or at least scrutinised by an indepedendent authority.