Monday, May 30, 2005

see "Kingdom of Heaven"

It's almost out of theaters and this is one you really have to see on the wide screen. It's not Ridley Scott's best film, but it is by far his most vivid - and that's saying a lot.

Entering the theater, I passed posters for "Bewitched", "Mr & Mrs Smith", "Zorro," "Fantastic Four", "Willie Wonka", "House of Wax", "Star Wars", "Batman", "The Pink Panther", "War of the Worlds:... and several other ripoff-remakes that I cannot now remember. And it made me wonder what kind of chickenshit era we are in.

Sure, some of them will be cool or funny or well-made. But is there anybody OTHER than Ridley Scott who has the guts to try something new?

KINGDOM of HEAVEN may not have the world's most stunning script, but it is very evocative and the big battle is simply fantastic. A real breakthrough. You really felt you were there.

Get a ticket before it vanishes! Support originality.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

another pause: recent events

I just returned from the annual Future in Review or FiRe Conference, in San Diego. A terrific gathering of technologists, venture capitalists, visionaries and explorers. A highlight was an onstage interview with Elon Musk (founder of PayPal) whose Falcon rocket may soon offer cheaper unmanned access to space and start beating the hell out of Lockheed and Boeing... and Burt Rutan, whose Spaceship One opened the way for commercial, private human access to sub-orbital space.

While chatting in the hall, I offered the following joke that they seemed to enjoy:

"Want to help Russia and America at the same time?

Send half our lawyers, freedom in both countries will go up.

Send half our business school grads and MBAs, both economies will skyrocket.

And send half of NASA's managers. America will get a great space program and Russia some good farm labor."

(Actually, I've been telling that one since 91. Don't get me started.)

=== === ===

Norman Spinrad - often a ranting bad boy in the genre of science fiction - also happens to have one of its sharpest critical eyes. In a recent issue of ISAAC ASIMOV'S MAGAZINE, he offers the following quotables, relevant to our ongoing topic.

"Science fiction can envision not just technology and science beyond that presently existing in the universe of the reader, but cultures evolved beyond our own, and create a belief in the reader that such things are possible, indeed MUST demonstrate that they cohere with the realm of the possible in order to do so.

"And if we believe that something is possible and it really is, one can be moved to attempt to make it so. Thus science fiction is not only a visionary literature that can transcend the culture in which it is created but a transformational literature that can, and has from time to time, evolved those cultures onward."


This just came in from a reader. Some of you may have seen it already. An absolutely brilliant faux scientific talk about the process of resurrecting the lost subspecies of vampires. The callous, smug amorality is exactly how science can and often DOES go wrong. . It is also gruesomely hilarious and eerily plausible.

And yes, it has a slight anti-modernist tinge. But not really! Satire, dire warnings and self-preventing prophecies are very much part of the process by which science tames its own arrogance and modern people have managed (so far, much of the time) to generate positive sum games... getting the good while preventing the worst or most obvious mistakes. Anyway, this thing is a hoot.


I was especially amused that one of you tried to make a case that democrats are the ones engaged in blatant attempts at election stealing nowadays. We should all re read that fellow's remarks. (1) in order to contemplate just how contorted logic can be used to set up weird points of view... and to see Limbaughism in action. (2) in order to stretch your OWN minds to see an alien point of view.

At one level, like many Limbaughisms, this one may contain a grain of truth. Events in San Diego and WA state show that democrats can hypocritically do some of the same things they criticize. (You all know that I do not shy away from skewering leftist hypocrisies.) At another level, of course, it is the coal mine calling a pencil black, Rush's standard technique. If even one of HUNDREDS of electoral allegations are true, the present administration is illegitimate. And on no level even imaginable can it claim to have a mandate.

Two out of ten thousand issues:

(1) Rush promised us indictments. Hunneds. Tousens. Milliuns of indictments, as soon as "honest men take over the filing cabinets" in DC. It would be an entertaining housecleaning as the "most corrupt administration in human history" (the Clintons) met justice in greater numbers than French aristos in tumbrels.

Only... a funny thing has happened on our way to the guillotines... The number of former Clinton officials indicted for actual malfeasance in office has been - after 5 years - ZERO!

It is the 1st time an 8 year administration has ever had ZERO indictable corruption revealed in its aftermath. This "black-is-white" reversal of expectation is not only deeply disappointing for those who want a good scandal-show... but is typical of Limbaughism. The railing incantations fill true believers with indignant wroth, so much so that they can evade any glimpse at actual facts. So much that they can convince themselves that a bunch of aristocrats who hold tightly to EVERY rein of government for their own enrichment, controlling nearly all media, are STILL UNDERDOGS. And honest ones, at that.

(2) Another of a million betrayals of this country that WILL be indicted someday -- my contention that this administration has overseen the steepest plummet in US military readiness in our lifetimes. I'll finish with one latest bit of supporting evidence.

Officers Plot Exit Strategy - By Mark Mazzetti
LA Times Staff Writer, May 22 2005

KILLEEN, Texas — Army Capts. Dave Fulton and Geoff Heiple spent 12 months dodging roadside bombs and rounding up insurgents along Baghdad's "highway of death" — the six miles of pavement linking downtown Baghdad to the capital city's airport. Two weeks after returning stateside to Ft. Hood, they ventured to a spartan conference room at the local Howard Johnson to find out about changing careers. Many young lieutenants and captains, key leaders in combat, are deciding against Army careers in light of the open-ended war on terrorism.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Myth of Majority Rule: Part III

The Myth of Majority Rule: Part III  (or return to Part 1)

We've taken a two part detour into "propaganda" -- specifically, the kind of pro-enlightenment propaganda that helped to make most of us the people that we are. A system of relentlessly repeated messages that have helped our Enlightenment/modernist civilization to push upstream against the hard current of human nature -- an everpresent tide that keeps trying to drive us into the more typical social patterns that dominated nearly every other culture.

Especially rule by bullying, self-interested and coercive elites. And the incantatory lackeys - the wizards and priests and spin-doctors who used tools of romantic persuasion to rationalize aristo bullying as a good thing.

Which brings us back to today's politics. What I plan to do now is to intersperse recent comments with some material that I wrote about the issue of "minority veto"... back in different times. Specifically, I am disturbed by the recent spat over the US Senate filibuster rules. We have just seen one party - the party that used filibusters far more often, in the past, suddenly using their (highly debatable) recent razor-thin electoral victory as justification for promoting a new agenda, claiming that all they want is to simply allow "majority rule" to manifest in an efficient manner, giving the President's judicial nominees the "courtesy" of a simple up down vote. *

But can 50.1 percent legitimately over-rule the wishes of 49.9 percent who disagree? Pushing a radical agenda that at least 49% of the electorate actively despises?

Actually, majority rule has long been already tempered in much of American political life. Until recently, Congress seldom passed a law supported by just 51% of the people, while vigorously opposed by nearly half. We've already discussed how minority objections are traditionally palliated by negotiation, mollification, and tradeoffs. The power of opposing groups can be measured by multiplying their numbers by their fervor, so that small but intense lobbies may effectively veto measures desired only tepidly by much greater majorities.

(I wrote that paragraph, and the next one, before 2001. It now seems like another century. In any event, you can see how the filibuster was originally intended to fit this purpose... and how it would also have been abused, when the cloture rule was 66% instead of a mere 60%.)

This dance of factions can be frustrating, as when popular measures such as gun control are stymied by vigorous advocacy groups like the NRA. But on the whole, it is a better, more mature way of doing things than pure majority rule, or tyranny by 51%. Minority veto slows progress, but it also forces legislators to keep seeking that elusive, worthy goal -- consensus.

I could go on about how this applies to the whole notion of civil disobedience, which can be viewed as the legitimate resort of minorities whose passion matches their sense of disenfranchisement. Innovators like Thoreau, Ghandi and Martin Luther King emphasized that breaking the law should never be a first resort, and that the state has some right to imprison protestors who stage sit-down strikes or block traffic. Indeed, only half of the effectiveness of any act of civil disobedience arises from inconveniencing the obdurate majority. The other half comes from proudly and willingly accepting proportionate punishment, demonstrating sincerity, courage and commitment. Protestors who whine about serving a small amount of jail time, for protesting in some provocative manner, miss the whole point.

As do authorities who use disproportionate force. Very few cultures in history would have let Gandhi or King live long enough to try out their methodologies and begin the long process of rousing the conscience of a semi enlightened majority. Today, though, civilization appears to (at least for now) 'get it'. If you protest something with letters to the editor - or a posted irate blog - there are (supposed to be) no repercussions. If you picket, you get more attention, perhaps, but pay a deterrence penalty of lost time and possibly abuse from passersby. If you lie down in front of trucks, you may be fined. Even in the unenlightened fifties, when Rosa Parks sat in the wrong part of the bus, she went to jail, but wasn't shot. And like Rosa, if your protest succeeds, you may be rewarded later and lionized as a cultural hero for the second half of your life.

(As you can tell, I am cribbing a bit from a never-published essay that I wrote in more innocent times. For example, consider the next two paragraphs, that seemed applicable until just the last few years. On today's context, they illustrate just how badly things have become poisoned.)

Minority factions may not be able to get their assertive agenda passed. But almost any group can veto actions it dislikes, providing its size, multiplied by its vociferousness, reaches a certain level. Political rigor mortis is one possible result, which is fine for the sanctimonious on both sides, who don’t want action, only a continued state of warlike threat, in order to keep the adrenaline and endorphins flowing.

But this is adversarial gridlock is a serious problem for any group or ideology that’s serious about accomplishing action. It means that a 51% majority will do you no good at all if a strong 40% opposition is truly determined to block you. In order to succeed, proponents must divide the enemy by reaching some sort of compromise consensus with ‘moderates’ on the other side... something that is loathsome to the purist. More loathsome, perhaps, than inaction.

What has changed? One of our parties has become utterly radicalized. Under conditions like this, no amount of fervor or remonstration by 49% can avail if 51% have total control of all branches of governance. Individual mavericks like John McCain may speak up occasionally for compromise. But the proof is in the pudding. GOP party discipline is so perfect that, after four and half years, George W. Bush has yet to use a single veto.

We might as well have a European system of ideology-based parties. We are certainly moving away from the American principle of emphasizing the individual candidate/delegate over the party manifesto.

 ====     ====   =====

All right, what about the executive branch? If Congress used to be a nexus for negotiation, the US political process seems to have chosen an almost military command structure for our executive. When a European country's cabinet votes, the Prime Minister generally obeys. When a president's cabinet votes, he ponders their advice and does as he likes.

Often an ideologue, riding into the White House by a slim margin, acts as if he's been anointed the mantle of history. Even when just forty percent are left out, in a landslide, should tens of millions be lightly dismissed? Of course, things are even worse when the electoral margin was razor-thin. We'll talk more about this next time..

culturewarbattlegroundI get into many specifics about the most recent election at:

====  ====  =====

Summarizing this section. Those who push "majority rule" as something sacred are doing the same thing that prior generations of ideologues did, when promoting the divine right of kings - or minority rule by a privileged elite. They are pounding the pulpit for a pure platonic essence that also just happens to support the power needs of their aristocratic patrons.

Yes, majority rule was an improvement over earlier systems of governance. But western civilization has long-since become more sophisticated, developing methodologies of minority veto and negotiated consensus.

Those who would have us abandon all of the hard-won pragmatic progress and subtlety of modern democracy, in favor of a gross oversimplification, are not friends of democracy in any form.

Next: a modest suggestion for how to respect minority opinion in the presidency, during an era of increasing polarization...

==See also:

Part 1: Why Majority Rule is a Deadly Ruse
Part 2:  The Propaganda of Enlightenment
Part 3: The Myth of Majority Rule
Part 4: The L-R axis redux: More on the war of ideas

==And on another topic…

Finally, a few comments in the Star Wars thread. I agree SW has common elements with both Faust and classic Greek tragedy. Indeed. In Poetics Aristotle defines a tragedy as watching the inevitable suffering of a hero who is doomed by Fate, with no way out. This defines tragedy in the old style I've been calling nostalgist, fatalistic, or romantic...

...and because it's old, that does require us to approve. Yes, when I watch a good rendition of Oedipus, I cry in sympathy as he twists and turns, caught by the gods like a fish on a hook. But I ALSO want to leap on the stage with a pistol, put poor Oedie out of his misery, then use the rest of the bullets to hunt down the nasty "gods" who committed this crime against him .

That possibility - of average (or above average) folk holding capricious elites accountable - was inherent in the sappy-silly but wonderful "Xena" and "Hercules" series, a few years back. Though they were demigods, both characters chose to side with humanity. Average joes could matter. Both main characters dabbled with anger quite often, demonstrating mature choices, instead of automatically turning irreversibly evil.

And yes, you can have "tragedy" without assuming it's fated or ordained. There was never anything ordained about nuclear war. Hence, "On The Beach" and "Dr. Strangelove" were terrifyingly tragic tales precisely BECAUSE the destruction of all life was inherently avoidable. In modernist view, drama concerns the making of good-bad choices, not twisting in the wind because three old crones happened to spin your fate that way. (For more on these fabled creatures, see my short story, "The Loom of Thessaly"!)

Oh, one more thing: someone said "films don't deal with contrition". Really? Spielberg's magnificent "Schindler's List" teaches precisely the opposite moral lesson than SWIII ROTS. Think about it. Enough. Back to this culture of ours and trying to make it work. The gritty hard work of pragmatic modern problem solvers, negotiating in good faith to make things better.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Smell the SWIII that ROTS....

Tomorrow I'll return to posting ongoing serious remarks about majority rule...

But first....

Star_wars_episode_three_poster2People expect that I will comment on the latest Star Wars film: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

Sigh. Haven't I wasted enough lifespan criticizing anti-civilization drivel? Why is this particular swill so popular?

I believe there was always an inherent market for really creative and bold SF, held back by stodgy studios and the ill repute caused by all those really BAD 1950s monster movies. The true pioneer was Gene Rodenberry, who managed to persuade TV mavens to invest in what must have seemed a totally weird concept. Visionary and unprecedented!

The stage was ready for somebody to do the same in motion pictures... and reap the rewards. The first guy to get this break was a kid named G. Lucas... and he has been making huge, lavish toy commercials based on that bit of luck ever since. It could have been anybody. And knowing who was around then, it could have been worse, I guess. The original Star Wars did rock, in its silly way.

Still one ought to think back now and then. Way back when, Thomas Edison said to the early film industry he helped create: “I believe, as I have always believed, that you control the most powerful instrument in the world for good or evil. Remember that you are servants of the public and never let a desire for money or power prevent you from giving to the public the best work of which you are capable. It is not the quantity of riches that count; it is the quality that produces happiness, where that is possible. I wish you a prosperous, useful, and honourable future.”

How sad.

Now for some laughs. A fan wrote:
starwarsontrial"In your Star Wars article you said - "Next movie will surely have a Chicano low rider caricature help Obi-Wan make his escape with the twins."

"Well, you were pretty close; it was Yoda he helped out, instead. Art imitates jokes!"

Stefan Jones sent this about seeing the new SITH flick: "My manager surprised everyone on the development team with free tickets to _Revenge_. All of my testing was on automatic today, so why not? Wonderful eye candy of course. But . . . God. The dialog and acting and characterization were hideously, egregiously, graceful-as-a-engine block-tumbling-down-a-spiral-staircase AWFUL. Anakin / Darth and "Padme" in particular. The only actor who earned his pay was the guy playing the slimy Chancellor / Emperor. Virtually no humor beyond a few moments of slapstick early on."

"Now, there's something particularly revealing about the ending, in which (no surprise) things get set up for episode 4. It's really portentous and full of gravity . . . an admission, I think, that this tedious pre-trilogy was a heap of stink and the REAL fun and genuine adventure begins with the first, innocently goofy entry. Never see this again, I will."

DarkSideCoverNHrm. With so many bad reports, what to do? Despite my longstanding criticism of the Lucasian zeitgeist, and its lengthy, high-budget toy commercials, I never kept my kids from playing with Lego X-Wings and such When Episodes I & II came around I was very mild mannered. I urged people to go to a half price matinee after waiting 2 weeks... but otherwise enjoy the crap because it's GORGEOUS crap. Lucas subsidizes 10% of the best artists on the planet.

This time tho... I just can't do it. The point that no one seems to raise re Star Wars is that only two out of six have happy endings.

Sure, that CAN be okay. Everyone agrees that the one Lucas did NOT write - The Empire Strikes Back - was by far the best. Its downer ending was magnificent, brave, hopeful elegiacal. But episodes I,II, and III? You know in advance that every decent and brave and heroic act will be futile, futile futile futile futile futile futile futile futile!

Gah! It's like he wants us to not only worship a nazi mass murderer, but also evil green oven mitts... while losing all hope. feh.

If you refer anyone on line to rants about this, here's one recent very colorful review in the New Yorker: Space Case.

(I don't have any love for the New Yorker editors. The guy who wrote the article obviously likes good SF, but those New York postmodernist editorial smofs always lop off all the favorable contrasts in order to give an impression that this garbage represents the whole field.)

And of course, take a look at Star Wars on Trial and my own series about this idiocy: Star Wars: The Dark Side: Mythology and Ingratitude 

Oh, want some subliminal clues? Try STAR WARS backwards? RAW RATS Now try the initials of the new film: SWIII ROTS. Squint a little at RAW RATS SWIII ROTS and just say it out loud! What can this clue mean?

Here is my eerie-romantic-horror tale interpretation. The George Lucas who brought us Indiana Jones and Eps IV & V is still in there! Shouting for help! Like Anekin trapped inside Vader... Ah symbolism....


Soon, I resume with Majority Rule....

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Propaganda of Enlightenment

Last time, we took up the issue very much in the news, of "majority rule"... and got sidetracked into the following question.

Are "modernists" immune to propaganda? No! We are human and thus can be swayed. Indeed, for most of our lives we have been subjected to pro enlightenment propaganda in the greatest indoctrination campaign of all time!

Some of you have heard me point this out before. But please bear with me. At many of my public talks, I ask audience members if they think their neighbors are subjected to propaganda and nearly everybody raises a hand. Yet, when asked to name the message that has warped their neighbors' perceptions, people offer a strange variety of suggestions, never making a coherent pattern.

QuestionnaireNCommercial advertising? Most Americans have grown pretty thick skins toward ads. Propaganda favoring religion? Or homosexual rights? These tend only to be mentioned if you angrily hold the opposite view. Interestingly, nobody names as "propaganda" a belief system that THEY hold dear. (See how this works out by taking the "questionaire on ideology" at:

In all the years I have asked this question, very seldom has anyone mentioned any of the truly pervasive messages.

Which is what you would expect! The most effective "propaganda" should be messages that you tend not to notice, because you agree with it. Because it has already been effective. And effective on you. (Think. We all like to point away from us at the "masses." But isn't it at least somewhat probable that we are part of the masses, at least in some ways.)

Go through all the movies you've enjoyed - and stirring novels - during the last few decades. Find one in which the hero doesn't bond with the audience in the first ten minutes by confronting some kind of authority figure. Suspicion of authority (SOA) is such a potent, dramatic message, that even anti-modernist rants like the Star Wars series play lip service to it.

(The superficial plot always features underdogs prevailing against garish baddies... even if the underlying story arc pushes the long term failure of democracy and citizenship, extolling the traditional alternative of rule-by-demigods. If you think about it, these two messages are not incompatible! In The Matrix, the "chosen one faces dire peril against tiitanic entities... while the rest of us are clueless, hapless, bleating sheep.)

Look carefully. Are there other messages pervading our media? Most of our modern myths supplement Suspicion of Authority (SOA) with two other lessons: tolerance of diversity and appreciation of individual eccentricity.

Think about it. If the director wants you to hate a villain, he will have the bad guy perform some intolerant act early in the film. If it is VERBAL intolerance, he/she might get away with an act of contrition after the climax. But if he kick a dog, he gonna die. Likewise, you will bond with the protagonist in direct proportion to the degree that she or he displays some quirky-but-harmless personal eccentricity.

Is it weird that I point out the existence of Enlightenment Propaganda, when my loyalty to the Enlightenment is supposedly based upon its promotion of individual responsibility, accountability, openness and pragmatism? Aren't those much more mature and sensible reasons to support the modernist agenda?

Well, please recall that we are talking about HUMAN BEINGS, here. Weirdness-& Inconsistency-R-Us. Our complexity is our wealth, even if it combines many aspects of Cave, Castle and Civilization.

Anyway, consider this. Most propaganda is diminished in its effectiveness when you see it AS propaganda. But did that happen to you, just now? Did you become less devoted to tolerance, eccentricity and suspicion of authority, when you saw how relentlessly you have been taught those values in popular media? I doubt it.

Enlightenment propaganda doesn't mind being looked-at. In fact, when you realize that you suckled these messages all your life, from a civilization that at some level WANTS you to be different (an individualist), and tolerant and suspicious of authority, doesn't it make you kind of smile at the irony? Maybe even become a bit more confident in the process, in its prospects for success. And in your neighbors, for sharing the key values?

Well, it oughta.

Moreover, the need for this kind of propaganda must be obvious. We are inherently romantics, as shown by 4,000 years of kings, priests, wizards and demigods. Reason alone won't propel us the other way. There must be other forces, plucking at our deeper feelings. No, I will not reject these messages, simply because I have noticed the campaign.

(A side puzzlement: who ordered this indoctrination campaign into being? Our typical notion of propaganda is to picture it done at the behest of some narrow clique of Illuminati-type conspirators, in some richly-paneled room. But can you actually parse out that scenario, this time? Some plutocrat-gnome telling his pals: "Hey guys. Let's pump up the suspicion of authority messages, this year." ?? It is just too weird.)

No, we have to recognize what forces are operating on our side, before we can properly analyze the weapons being used against us. Both sides of the Culture War engage in propaganda. Only understanding will help us to prevent the re imposition of ancient systems of oppression in our lifetimes.

Next time: back to a discussion of Majority Rule...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

pause - answers for commenters....


My last posting elicited a storm of very intelligent comments, so I will pause and offer ten capsule replies here, before resuming my riff on "majority rule in American political life."

1 - I do not claim that "consensus" can always replace majority rule. That would be as simplistic a notion as majority rule itself.

What I MEAN is that consensus should be a mature goal of anyone who prefers a decent civilization over one riven by divisiveness, rancor and bitterness. Imposition of majority will upon an angry minority is at minimum regretable. More often it is a sign of political immaturity and failure to communicate.

Such an imposition of majority will may (though regretable) also be utterly right! As in the banishment of slavery and - later - Jim Crow. But the pain and danger were undergone as a last resort.

A pretty good example of mature politics happened during the Clinton Administration, when democrats stopped ignoring the useful portions of GOP criticism of the welfare system and started listening, at last, to the parts that made sense.

The resulting Welfare Reform Bill had its problems. As usual, the goody portions wound up with less funding than they needed (e.g. remedial job training for those forced off the dole.) But the overall results were a tonic for the nation and the exercise proved that "liberals" were NOT the sort of intransigent fools that they were soon to be portrayed... when this spirit of negotiation was abruptly dropped in favor of all-out "Culture War."

2 - I do not agree that political indecision is always good. (Notice that many on the right, who praised divided govt under Clinton, are now happy to ignore the loot-and-spend frenzy that has taken place once their side got all the reins.) Government has jobs to do. We need accountability! That will allow some degree of vigor, where govt is needed... while allowing us to quickly notice and act when it starts putting its hands where they don't belong.

3 - I am willing to stay with our present system. Which emphasizes the individual representative and not the party. You are more likely to get both kooks and statesmen... each with some value, now and then. Parliamentism forces you to believe in a party line. An official ideology. An imperfect model of the world, interpreted by an imperfect party hierarchy. The US system lets local constituencies vote for the specific man or woman, sometimes quirky and willing to cross party lines. (Though not, alas, at present.)

4 - I have many suggestions to improve the present system, but they must be ranked by plausibility. And any tinkering with the Constitution is by nature (and perhaps rightly) implausible. (I'd love to see a preferential ballot like Australia (and the Hugo Awards) in which you can 1st vote your heart and then get a second chance to vote pragmatic.)

Hence I would reform the Electoral College with a couple of tweaks that DON'T require amendments.

(a) File a lawsuit against winner-takes-all allocation of electors and force proportional allocation, as is done in Maine and Nebraska.

(b) Encourage electors to realize that they are supposed to DELIBERATE! They might even (as I had hoped in 2000) make a gesture now and then. Lieberman should have been W's veep. Just two electors could have made it happen! And the message thus sent would have outweighed any actual power Lieberman attained.

That one move would have told W "You do NOT have a mandate. You have the power to prove you are a real man and a real american by leading us all." But all of his electors were loyal, unimaginative hacks.

(c) Main urgent item? SCREAM if your state and precinct still has touch screen systems that don't also create hand-autitable paper ballots that go into a sealed ballot box. Scream, then scream louder! Or you betray your nation. No less than that.

Also encourage EARLY voter registration by anyone reasonable and have them MAKE SURE THEY ARE ACTUALLY ON THE ROLLS, months in advance. Party-based exclusion in Ohio & Florida was rampant.

(d) Other suggestions? We desperately need to establish the office of Inspector General of the United States. Remind me! I will post my mini essay about this.

5 - Oh, fight plans to make your state political districts "fair and balanced" by taking redistricting out of the hands of politicians.

Surprised? See where I decry many ways that gerrymandering is evil. Our governator is proposing this measure and it sounds great. I HATE gerrymandering.

And yet I oppose Schwarznegger's move.

Because what we really need is either a federal law, so it happens everywhere, or DEALS that make it happen simultaneously in an equal number of democrat/GOP districts. GuvAhnold could negotiate such a deal with say Utah+Georgia+Fla. But he won't. ANd dang if I will support making things "fair" in blue states while leaving it all corrupt in the Confederacy.

( idea. Spread the word that we should change blue/red metaphors to blue/gray!)

6 - I have long believed that the virtual districts concept - creating representation by affirmative affinity, rather than majority stomping on minority - was a good idea! But the Constitution....

7 - Thanks for sharing the Limbaugh Big Lie that - ' Liberals never achieve anything. They just sit around and endlessly talk and are always pessimistic.' Goebbels would be proud! I hear Limbaugh (like many conservatives) even dares to display a picture of Martin Luther King on his wall! Gahhhhhh!

Dare me some time to present my "list of major US political accomplishments in the 20th Century." The list is very long. Most items are now - restrospectively - seen as good and great, by consensus. And only two items are even remotely related to initiatives proposed by the GOP.

It is absolutely devastating. And - mind you - I do NOT disagree with as many "conservative" or "libertarian" positions as you might think! There are many ways to contribute to a civilization and the conservative mindset has its creative roles to play.

But re: major US consensus or law-driven accomplishments, Limbaugh is spreading a diametric lie. RL's position would make even Goebbels blush.

8 - Oh yes, the other item "If liberals don't like someone, they and the liberal mainstream media will simply amplify everything negative about that person, be it Bolton, Owens, Janice Brown etc. and will never present them in a fair light."

Yeah? Let's recall the 8 year campaign of lies about the Clintons. Some of the lies were at least political. (e.g. predicting a "tsunami of indictments" after the GOP gained power: seen any?) But the relentless smear campaign against the Clintons' MARRIAGE? Where did that come from? And WHY???? Can there have been any reason at all other than petty meanmindedness?

I saw, first hand, under very credible circumstances, what "Bill & Hill" thought of each other. And lemme tell you something. Those two reeeeelly liked each other.

That entirely unnecessary, brutal and vicious assault upon their family was not only unnecessary and hypocritical (most of the "House Prosecutors" who went after BC had had messy divorces - some incredibly immoral). I was also simply evil.

(And the phrase -- "Liberal mainstream media?????" Eeeeeeek! Goebbels strikes again!)

9 - One of you suggested to limit the total number of words in federal law, so that new laws must first edit the old ones, or at least simplify. Good idea.

Al Gore was the first person in the republic's history to actually DO that. Fat lot of credit he got. Again, a great conservative idea... and nothing happens till a democrat "sees the light."

10 - I agree that "progressive" is a better word than "modernism".

But it is already freighted with left-right meaning, alas.

My whole reason to pick 'modernism' is that it has already obsolesced into disuse. It can be picked up and dusted off and given OUR chosen meaning! It lets us strike out at orthogonal angles.

If we establish from the start that Modernism has almost many leftist enemies (e.g. postmodernists) as those on the right, then we have a chance to convince millions of conservative modernists out there that we are offering them a real home. In exchange for pulling their support from the regressive troika (kleptocrats neocons-apocalypts) they may join reasonable moderates of all kinds and work together, finding pragmatic ways to make a better world.

A new movement that will push some libertarian-conservative values, as well... so long as they are aimed at the overall goal of human progress.

Well, it's a thought....

Thanks all. You are a very bright bunch. More soon.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Modern(ist) Political Subtlety - or Why "Majority Rule" is a Deadly Ruse

And now for something topical about the rationalizations used by those who either despise - or don't 'get" - the Enlightenment...

===Minority Veto===

This week's Senate imbroglio - featuring efforts by the majority to bypass a democratic filibuster of administration judiciary appointments - can be viewed as yet another front in the Great Big War Against Modernity.

On a purely political basis, this entire stance is simply stupid. Even George F. Will has complained that the GOP position seems to assume there will never again be a democratic president, with a democratic Senatorial majority. Under those circumstances, would not republicans wish for a way to stymie the worst, most doctrinaire and ideological court appointments? A method to force some kind of negotiation and compromise, or at least respect for the views of a large and strong-willed minority?

Either their sense of history is extremely myopic... or else they think they know something that we don't know, about the political shape of our future. (Ponder this paragraph at leisure, till that last remark makes sense. And shiver.)

But let's consider this issue at a more abstract level. In a very general sense, what we are seeing is one party - claiming justification based on a slim electoral majority - asserting that they thereupon have a sweeping mandate to rule without negotiation or compromise.

Let's break up that last sentence. One of the great, consistent patterns of human governance, seen in nearly all cultures, has been a tendency for some group to claim justification based on __________, and thereupon assert that they have a mandate to rule without negotiation or compromise.

Fill in the blank. What justifications were used by past ruling groups?

Rationalizations ranged from royal divine right to the verdict of the battlefield, all the way to some inherent, logical superiority of "philosopher kings." Often these excuses were articulated with great care and passion by clever, nerdy fellows - by priests, wizards, or court ideologues, who thereby won the privilege of hanging around real power - the big fellows who got their swords, or vast estates, or trust funds mostly the old-fashioned way. By inheritance.

This pattern was so universal that it really deserves to be noticed and discussed.

Instead we have allowed arm-waving romantic rationalizers to distract us with a myriad details and fast-talking incantations. Theologians and Marxist theoreticians. Aryan mystics and Hegelian dialecticians. Machiavelli, Confucius, Rand, Mao, Strauss and all their ilk wove verbal spells to justify the use of raw power by those who already had it - or soon intended to get it - free of any obligation to negotiate with those who might suggest alternative methodologies of statecraft.

I mean, really, were the Communist theoreticians who justified a narrow clique of Party Nomenklatura families any different from the churchmen who preached in support of the slavocracy in the Old South, or the Social Darwinists who wove excuses for robber barons in the 1890s?

This commonality keeps being obscured by a bewildering storm of particulars. Which, of course, serves the common interest of their Ideologist Guild.

Alas, we keep buying into one or another of these trips. Take the latest version: majority rule.

Now, please. Let me avow that majority rule is vastly better than any previous political oversimplification. Indeed, it began as a reform generated by the Enlightenment, won at great cost, overcoming desperate opposition by every kind of social elite. In other words, majority rule was better than minority rule. (But is there something even better still?

No quasi-mystical catch phrase ever contained more essential wisdom than the one asserting that states derive their legitimate powers from "consent of the governed."

But what does 'consent' mean? Majority rule helps guarantee against the worst kinds of tyranny - those featuring iron-fist repression by a truly narrow, unaccountable and coercive elite. Hence, if we ever do have a dictatorship, it will cover the fist with silken gloves, and suffer great lengths to convince us that "we" (the majority) voted for it.

Still, that will not protect minorities. Nor will it ensure that statecraft is performed with attention to CITOKATE. (Criticism is the only known antidote to error.) Indeed, it is quite possible for majorities to be flat out, cockeyed wrong.

Moreover, majorities can also be manipulated. Whether based on ethnic, religious, sexual, lifestyle or political differences, it is easy to create a sense of "us" and "them". Such distinctions can be leveraged through propaganda, as Hitler used his campaign against Jews, gypsies and other minorities, to mobilize large portions of Germany, both before and after the election of 1933.

Consider the statement above. "Such distinctions can be leveraged through propaganda" to manipulate majority opinion. Are we immune? And by "we" I mean even we modernists? (If you do not ever doubt or question yourself, you do not belong on this list. Go away. Now.)

Are "modernists" immune to propaganda? No! We are human and thus can be swayed. Indeed, for most of our lives we have been subjected to "pro-enlightenment propaganda" in the greatest indoctrination campaign of all time!

Some of you have heard my riff on this, many times. But it bears repeating. So, next time we will talk about Enlightenment Propaganda... how effective it has been... and why this very success may be the reason why the romantics are now fighting back so hard.

Continue to: Part II: The Propaganda of the Enlightenment

or: The Myth of Majority Rule Part III

See more: Politics for the 21st Century

=====     =====     =====

A couple of science notes that you'll find amusing, in light of some of my novels...

*Augmenting the Animal Kingdom Wired News May. 3, 2005 **James Auger in his controversial new book, Augmented Animals, envisions animals, birds, reptiles and even fish using specially engineered gadgets to help them overcome their evolutionary shortcomings. He imagines rodents zooming around with night-vision survival goggles, squirrels hoarding nuts using GPS locators and fish armed with metal...

*Chimeras on the Horizon, but Don't Expect Centaurs New York Times May 3, 2005 *** If research on human embryonic stem cells ever gets going, people will be hearing a lot more about chimeras, creatures composed of more than one kind of cell. Such creations -- of pigs with human hearts, monkeys with human larynxes -- are likely to be unsettling to...

*A journalist tracks down the source of a claim, often cited by
greenhouse denialists, that most of the glaciers in the world are
growing: This one is very important!

Monday, May 02, 2005

This Site named "Site of the Week"

As most of you know, I am a grumpy blogger, who resisted this innovation in self-publishing, even though I approve of it as a social trend. (See blogs portrayed in my 1989 novel EARTH.) Even after starting it up, I've only posted about once a week, distracted by so many other things in a modern, busy life.

Hence it is with some surprise that I've learned that the perceptive Ken Newquist, of (home of the Scifi Channel) has named this little corner of contrainess and hope "Site of the Week," giving it perhaps TOO much national attention!

Will our cozy little corner or rationality and courteous debate survive? Ah well. We all should be flattered. And it is a tribute to you, the erudite/rambunctious citizens-of-the-Enlightenment who drop in now and then to share your insights.

Here is the blurb

"Sanity and civilization. The nature of modernism. The legacy of the Enlightenment. The Star Wars universe's fatal flaws. U.S. trade imbalances and the death of mercantilism.

These are just a few of the topics that science-fiction author David Brin delves into on his personal blog, Contrary Brin. The writer of Startide Rising, The Postman and Kiln People uses his blog to ruminate about current events, post rough drafts of his latest essays and keep fans apprised of his current projects.

As the blog's name implies, Brin isn't one to avoid controversy. The man hates Yoda, and drew the ire of millions of Star Wars fans with his 1999 assault on the inherent contradictions, anti-modernist themes and undemocratic nature of Lucas' famous space opera. In his nonfiction book The Transparent Society, Brin acknowledged privacy in the public sphere is declining but advocated that everyone—especially those in power—live equally public lives.

These themes, as well as others from his novels and nonfiction, find a receptive—and thoughtful—audience on the blog. Most entries easily see a dozen to two dozen responses from visitors, which Brin reads and responds to. This back-and-forth is fascinating to watch, and as a fan, it's great to have a chance to interact with an author on a serious, nonsuperficial level.

—Ken Newquist"

===   ====  ===

As if I needed more pressure! I'll try to get back to my episodic treatise on "Modernity and its Enemies" some time soon. After that? Well, there's this article I last worked on way back in 1996. It has to do with "Theology in the Light of a Scientific Age."

Talk about asking for trouble! ;-)

Remember the basic philosophy here, folks. Most of you would have been burned at the stake 400 years ago. I know I would have. Nowadays, that is a compliment. Let's KEEP this a civilization in which that's a compliment.

Stay burnable.


PS... while I despise the character Yoda, who never says a single thing that is straightforward, honest and helpful... I am not universally opposed to all things Star Wars! Luke was cool, if dumb as a stone. Han was terrific. The wookie saves the universe. I loved TESB. And George Lucas provides employment to at least 5% of the finest artists our civilization has ever produced. I plan to see the new one JUST for that reason, alone!

But I will pay half price at a matinee. You do the same.


Examples of AntiModernism

Still too swamped to continue the formal essay. But let me call to your attention a TV show that has run in some markets, covering elements in our world that I have called anti-modernist. The following (italicized) is from the web site.

The Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organized terrorist network is an illusion. Director Adam Curtis theorizes that it's a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media.

At the heart of his story are two groups: the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists.

Sayyed Qutb: Father of Radical Islam
In the 1950s Sayyed Qutb, an Egyptian civil servant was sent to the U.S. to learn about its public education system. As he traveled around the county, Qutb became increasingly disgusted by what he felt was the selfish and materialistic nature of American life.

When he returned to Egypt, Qutb turned into a revolutionary. Determined to find some way to control the forces of selfish individualism that he saw in America, he envisioned an Arab society where Islam would play a more central role. He became an influential spokesperson in the Muslim Brotherhood but was jailed after some of its members attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Nasser.

In prison a more radical Qutb wrote several books which argued that extreme measures, including deception and even violence, could be justified in an effort to restore shared moral values to society. He was executed in 1966 for treason in Egypt. But his ideas lived on and formed the basis of the radical Islamist movement.
Leo Strauss Leo Strauss was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago.

Leo Strauss: A Neo-Conservative
At the same time Leo Strauss, an American professor of political philosophy, also came to see western liberalism as corrosive to morality and to society. Like Qutb, Strauss believed that individual freedoms threatened to tear apart the values which held society together. He taught his students that politicians should assert powerful and inspiring myths - like religion or the myth of the nation - that everyone could believe in.

A group of young students, including Paul Wolfowitz, Francis Fukuyama and William Kristol studied Strauss' ideas and formed a loose group in Washington which became known as the neo-conservatives. They set out to create a myth of America as a unique nation whose destiny was to battle against evil in the world.

Both Qutb and Strauss were idealists whose ideas were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. The two movements they inspired set out, in their different ways, to rescue their societies from this decay.

For more of this writeup, see:

What's really interesting is the spate of editorial cartoons, lately, lampooning the administration's slavish devotion to Saudi interests. Of course the trigger has been oil prices. When prices were a dollar lower per gallon, GWB attacked Bill Clinton for failing to "jawbone" them down. Now the solution (in lieu of research and conservation and alternatives) is to expand subsidies for coal and oil. Ah....

Mind you, I can go along when it comes to nukes. That's one area where liberals are doctrinaire and blind.