Friday, September 30, 2005

Suspicion of Authority -- a prevalent meme

I am on an elite advisory board having to do with nanotechnology. In that discussion I engaged in a review of some topics many of you have heard before, summarizing a lot of ideas more compactly. Anyway, it should be archived and available - so I'll post it here before returning to the essay on gerrymandering. 
                                                       ---    ----   ---

One question rose: "Are nation-states really the right object of focus? Or is it is more likely to be a multi-national mega-company or a small group of hyper-rich individuals?"

Sometimes it makes sense to generalize a little, before getting back to specifics.

What are we talking about here? Will you bear with me through a riff that may seem a bit lectury. It really will become relevant to the topic at hand.

Each of us in this group was raised in a culture that’s featured a weird propaganda program Nearly every novel and hollywood film has promoted Suspicion of Authority (SOA). Often two subsidiary messages accompany SOA. These are:

   -- Tolerance of Diversity (TOD) and

   -- Personal Harmless Eccentricity (PHE).

Often, in a movie, the protagonist will bond with the audience in the 1st five minutes by:

   (1) exhibiting some quirky eccentricity to establish individualism, and

   (2) having a run-in with some dislikable authority figure (often over the eccentricity.)

And if you want to establish viewer dislike of an authority figure, by all means let him perform some act of intolerance commensurate with the comeuppance you plan him to receive later on. If the intolerance was verbal, he may “learn a lesson.” If he kicks a dog, sucka gonna die. (See my essay: Our Favorite Cliche: The Idiot Plot.)

I raise this here because it is important for us to recognize the cultural roots of our worry. Not only do these three themes -- Suspicion of Authority, Tolerance of Diversity, and Personal Harmless Eccentricity -- express Western/Enlightenment/American/Frontier/Californian value sets. They are also rooted in the Scientific Pragmatism that has been a successful guiding principle for a century -- also called “modernism.”

Suspicion of Authority is not, in itself, completely wise. Many people in our society take the SOA message and use it as an excuse to dive into cycles of addictive self-righteous indignation, often focusing extreme “suspicion of authority” toward on one side of an insipid, ill-defined and fundamentally unhelpful metaphor... the 300 year old French “left-right political axis.”

For more on Indignation addiction, see my article: Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry and Social Psychology.

This simple-minded version of Suspicion of Authority tends to be blinkered and myopic. Such people tend to minimize or ignore the dangers posed by the authority figures on THEIR side.

That’s the immature version of SOA -- which is fueling the so-called “Culture War.”

At its more mature end, Suspicion of Authority is simply an expression of the fundamental lesson of the Liberal Enlightenment -- that we are master self-deceivers. We fool ourselves - as Nobel laureate Richard Feynman said - all-too easily. Therefore, truth and decency cannot be delivered by hierarchically-empowered kings or priests, who have proved they can rationalize doing anything they want and calling it the Greater Good.

Instead, the Liberal Enlightenment says that both truth and good behavior can only come from markets of interaction, in which free players are empowered to hold each other accountable through criticism --  CITOKATE .

Forgive me. CITOKATE is my acronym for  Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error.

Elsewhere I talk about the four biggest “accountability arenas” -- Markets, Democracy, Science and Courts -- each of which handle the process of reciprocal accountability very differently.... but with similar underlying processes. (See: Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit.)

In fact, the SOA is a very important part of how these four arenas work. It empowers players to resent established centers of orthodoxy, giving many of them the balls to jump in the arena as challengers.

Can you see that this supplies a contextual framework for what we’ve been discussing?

What the previous discussion shows is that, in general, each of us fears seeing technological breakthroughs monopolized by some set of elites. The difference between a liberal and a conservative is often over WHICH elites you fear trying to become Big Brother. The irony is that both sides are often right!

Naturally, we feel less threatened by “the United States” developing such powers first, in part because it is home to most of us and partly because of Pax Americana’s (until recently) above average record as a fairly benign imperium, by historical standards.

Also (until recently), the principal modus for error-prevention (or palliation) in the US was open criticism. How many of those other elites instead base their methodology on secretive central control?

The prospect of others taking a leap in this massively empowering technological area naturally seems worrisome. Not only other nation states, but other elites, such as unaccountable multinationals, criminal gangs, terror groups, mad billionaires, mad scientists.... etc.

Having laid that out, let me ask this; is our fear best expressed in specific terms, e,g, about China, India or Rubert Murdoch getting disruptive technologies and taking over? Or might it be better to look at it the other way.

* What fundamental cultural tools should be in place, in order to assure that is DOES NOT MATTER who gets a disruptive technology first?

Implicit throughout our discussion has been some degree of fealty toward the basic assumptions of the liberal enlightenment. That competition, reciprocal accountability, openness, skepticism, criticism (error detection) and flattened access hierarchies, are all good things.

We can see from history that the rate of grievous ERROR in a society is inversely proportional to the presence of these traits... even though every one of them runs counter to human nature and the self-interests of leaders.

The question is this. Can openness and reciprocal accountability prevent terrible mistakes and abuse of nanotechnology? Ray Kurzweil thinks so. I agree, provisionally. In contrast, many thinkers, ranging from Francis Fukayama and Bill Joy to the Unabomber and Michael Crichton and Margaret Atwood believe our only hope is to reject and repress whole areas of endeavor.

The Fermi Paradox seems to be saying that SOME kind of worrisome mistake may wipe away  intelligent life forms. Is this it? Nano stuff? Is Crichton right?

Hell, I am loyal to the Enlightenment.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

On Copyright, Royalties, and The New Economy

I will string out my wonderfully cogent and insightful gerrymandering piece, alternating it with postings of misc interesting items.

One note, though... may I ask you please feel free to mention even misspellings in comments! This is one reason I post drafts! Tweaking before publication in other places. CITOKATE, right?

=On Copyright and Google=

Google Takes On Copyright Laws -- (Wired -- September 19, 2005)  With Google's book-scanning program set to resume in earnest this fall, copyright laws that long preceded the internet look to be headed for a digital-age test. The outcome could determine how easy it will be for people with internet access to benefit from knowledge that's now mostly locked up -- in books sitting on dusty library shelves, many of them out of print.

I am less worried than some, about mass availability of literature. iTunes shows that I was right in The Transparent Society. Decent people will pay what seems fair.

Still, my personal bugaboo is works of copyrighted material that are kept SECRET by the copyright holders. This is not what patent and copyright law were for! They were set up as bribes to lure creative people into the open! Judges who supported Scientology, for example, in prosecuting people who shared Church of Scientology documents, were simply clueless. Those data thieves needed to be fined to compensate the CoS for the real damage in LOST ROYALTY INCOME that those pirated versions took away from normal sales. (Hint: normal sales were zero, because of secrecy. But that is none of the law’s business.)

But this does not piss me off as much as the deliberate imprisonment by MOVIE STUDIOS of something like 10,000 screenplays! Every year studios commission these as works-for-hire or buy rights outright. Fine The writer gets good money. But then the soul-killing thing happens. Only a few scripts get filmed. The others? (And other DRAFTS?) These get sealed away in armored rooms, never to see light again. If the writer so much as circulates a few private copies? Whammo!

More than 10,000 works of art (many awful, of course, but some possibly gems) have been locked away this way. A crime against literature! I favor a law, allowing screen writers to at least post their scripts AS STORIES.

Who knows? Maybe groundswell opinion would even convince studios they have untapped wealth and a few might even be filmed.

One thing, I would love to be able to post-compare three Postman scripts. Eric Roth’s original horrid, nasty evil piece of doggy doo... vs Brian Helgeland’s filmed version, which was pretty good in places, though uneven and faltering in the end (probably not his fault)... vs one that I wrote, that has been seen by only a dozen people on Earth. Sigh. I bet mine would win any blind taste test.

= The New Economy=

New-EgalitarianismIn a new article, PPI’s Rob Atkinson writes that its time for a new approach to addressing growing income inequality. The chapter appears in a new volume The New Egalitarianism edited by Anthony Giddens and Patrick Diamond (Polity Press, June 2005).

Atkinson writes that while the New Economy has brought renewed growth and dynamism, it has also brought a disturbing increase in economic inequality. Compared to the prior war mass production economy that provided a comparatively egalitarian labor market in which there was robust growth, widely shared, today the U.S., and a number of other advanced economies, enjoy growth, unevenly shared.

Where tens of millions of poor and working families, even ones without much education, were propelled into the ranks of the middle class in the old economy, today we are creating relatively few middle class jobs. Where President John Kennedy could confidently proclaim, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’, today a rising tide lifts the yachts much higher than the dinghies. Where a confident welfare state ‘leaned into the wind’ of the remaining income inequality with tax, spending and regulatory policies, today’s conservative policies make existing inequalities worse.

If we are to develop a third way on income inequality it will have to be based in the recognition that the New Economy has brought about fundamental new realities that can’t be ignored or reversed. It will require new kinds of pro-competition, pro-innovation policies that foster both greater growth and egalitarianism. But it will also require embracing policies such as more progressive taxation, better skills training efforts, and labor law rules that level the playing field for workers engaging in collective bargaining.

In short, we need an agenda that takes both growth and progressiveness seriously. View the article on the PPI website.

=See this op-ed by Peggy Noonan  It fits right in with what we've been saying about how Katrina illustrates the “war” between citizens and their paid protectors. Yes, it isn’t as good as if your favorite author had a better soapbox...

=The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released the results of a national study of election practices. Created in the wake of the 2000 presidential election, the commission is charged with improving how elections are run.

= Charged with Murder, Connected to Abramoff Two of three men charged with the mob style hit of a businessman a few months after he sold a fleet of casino boats to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff were ordered held without bond Wednesday.

=The Republican Money Machine: The Hammer Falls  It isn't just Tom DeLay. The vast corrupt money machine that funded the Republican Revolution is exploding before our eyes.

=Solar Minimum Explodes -- (NASA -- September 19, 2005)  On Sept. 7th, a huge sunspot rounded the sun's eastern limb. As soon as it appeared, it exploded, producing one of the brightest x-ray solar flares of the Space Age. In the days that followed, the growing spot exploded eight more times. Each powerful "X-flare" caused a shortwave radio blackout on Earth and pumped new energy into a radiation storm around our planet. The blasts hurled magnetic clouds toward Earth, and when they hit, on Sept 10th and 11th, ruby-red auroras were seen as far south as Arizona.
Dang! I guess they were right about Global Warming... ;-)

And finally...As for my web site http://www.davidbrin.com/ I get a lot of overtures offering to make it “updated” or more similar to everything else out there that follows collective wisdom. Simplicity rules! Go with simple and large graphics! Lots of open space and big type! Be easy on the eye! To which I reply Bah! (sorry ;-) I WANT to be different. I want it clear that this is a place that is SUPER content-rich! You could have a 27” screen and still the menus only begin. I want the range of fun to be clear to the eye, even if you have to squint! This is a place for serious, not casual visitors.

American Democracy ... more complex and fragile than we think

A ten-parter by David Brin
(American Democracy: More Fragile than we think: The Gerrymandering Gambit  -- now on my website.)

While “reform commissions” fiddle around the edges, fretting and tweaking voter registration and ID cards, the most insidious damage to our electoral process has already been done by politicians themselves.

Here is one topic that has been avoided at all costs. How extreme gerrymandering has effectively robbed most Americans of a vote...

....and how citizens may use some clever innovations of their own, in order to rise up and fight back.


-------------------------------------------

Introduction -- American Democracy in the 21st Century:
... finger-pointing in all the wrong directions.


GERRYMANDEROn September 19.2005, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III and sponsored by the American University Center for Democracy and Election Management, issued a report containing 87 important recommendations for how to improve the U.S. Electoral process, ensuring better credibility, accountability and confidence in the nation’s most basic political process.

The twenty-one distinguished members of the Commission - including leaders from political parties, academia and nonpartisan groups - focused on problems such as innacurate voter registration, individual voter fraud, corruption of local and statewide procedures, improved voting machinery, absentee balloting, and so on. (To view the report or a summary of recommendations, see: http://www.american.edu/ia/cfer/)

This bipartisan endeavor, initiated in response to scandals that erupted during the 2000 and 20004 election cycles, is clearly sincere. Many commission recommendations are laudable, even obvious, although a few sparked controversy. Especially a proposal to achieve greater security by moving toward more standardized voter identification -- a trend that is already underway nationwide, as states unify procedures for issuing drivers’ licenses. As I discuss elsewhere (e.g. in The Transparent Society ), Americans tend to be prickly over the notion of a “national ID card.” This will certainly be a hot issue during the coming decade, with technology itself casting the final, deciding vote.

Unfortunately, despite all their sincerity and wisdom, the commission ultimately nibbled at the edges, avoiding the worst problems and faults of our American electoral process. While some of the most egregious and blatant abuses from 2000 and 20004 may get fixed, nowhere does the report address a far more basic problem - that some American votes are more influential than others. Sometimes a whole lot more.

In fact, under conditions that are growing worse daily, millions of Americans who think they have a vote, do not actually have one. Not one that is meaningful, at all.


One can hardly blame the Carter-Baker Commission for shying away from this larger issue of vote-effectiveness. After all, much blame lies rooted in the distribution of power among the states - large vs small, rural vs urban - that we inherit from history. Then there is the Electoral College, an archaic beast that cannot be killed or reformed, because that would require a Constitutional Amendment. (Or would it? See: http://www.davidbrin.com/electoralcollege.html)

And yet, even those relics of the past are not the worst culprits. In the coming series of short chapters, I want to guide your attention down a path that this Commission - and may others - could and should taken, exploring one of the most horrific betrayals of citizen sovereignty. One that threatens the very heart of our democracy.

It is a path with many complex twists and turns (hence ten short chapters!) But when all of the effects are tallied, you will see that this problem adds up to something far worse than the Electoral College... plus vote fraud, corruption, miscounted ballots and all those other messy issues... combined.

Indeed, when it comes to certain types of elections - those that choose our delegates for the legislative branch of government - most Americans have been denied any chance to choose their representatives.

 They have no real choice at all.

For an unusual suggestion for how individual citizens can find a way around gerrymandering, see: A Modest Proposal to Neutralize Gerrymandering. 

By quietly and gradually cranking up a process called gerrymandering, members of the Political Caste - in both parties - have managed to effectively seal most of us away from the very franchise that we all consider to be one of our most basic American birthrights.

Alta Sedent civilis vulnera dextrae...
....(Deep are the wounds inflicted by civil strife.)

==Continue with series on American Democracy

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A small Miscellaneous before the big essay...

I just finished pounding out 8,200 words about Gerrymandering and the evisceration of American voting power. Along the way I have depressed and scared myself. I never realized all the implications before. In fact, I am not at all sure that I do yet.

I'll test the essay here, asking you all to offer citations or examples items you think might help... or else corrections via CITOKATE.

No word from Worlchanging. Maybe I got blackballed.

Meanwhile, here's an item or two you may find interesting.

Less Political, But Historically Interesting (From the Progressive Policy Institute).

Political science classics come in two types: short aphoristic books like those by Machiavelli and Han Fei-tzu, and heavy encyclopedic tomes like those of Aristotle and his rough contemporary Kautilya, said to have served as Prime Minister for Chandragupta Maurya sometime around the year 300 B.C. Kautilya's Arthasastra exceeds 800 pages, and covers everything from the eight mental qualities of a good king to the most effective poisoning techniques and tips on elephant breeding. As a political thinker Kautilya is a "realist;" economically he seems to be on the liberal side. Ranking trade the third-most important element of state policy, Kautilya recommends:

1. Road-building and maintenance, and protection of trade routes from (in order of likelihood?) potential threats from courtiers, state officials, thieves, frontier guards, and herds of cattle.

2. Export promotion, but with national-security exceptions for grain, cattle, gems, and weapons.

3. Import promotion, for example through exemption from taxes for caravan managers -- unless the goods in question are harmful or totally useless. Kautilya recommends a 17 percent tariff on salt, but duty-free status for products intended for wedding celebrations and religious events.

4. Expert-quality officials, in particular a "Trade Minister" able to advise merchants on the profitability of export ventures.


I find this both inspiring and depressing. Depressing because it proves that wisdom can be lost and ignored... as may happen to all our bright hopes for the Modernist Era.

----

Also... a predictive hit for THE POSTMAN?

(Submitted by Steve McClure. From http://www.nola.com/newslogs/opinion/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_opinion/archives/2005_09_27.html)

JARVIS DEBERRY: There is honor among thieves (NoLa Times-Picayune)

“Not the New Orleans Police Department. Not the United States Army. Not the U.S. Coast Guard or the Louisiana National Guard. Not the New Orleans Fire Department or the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. And certainly not the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“When Vivian Buckner, her mother Jessie Richardson and dozens of others huddled at the Lafon Nursing Home needed relief after Hurricane Katrina, the items they needed to sustain them arrived on a mail carrier's truck. But the occupants were not affiliated with the United States Postal Service.

“They were thieves. They had stolen the postal truck and were using it not only to deliver needed supplies to people along Chef Menteur Highway, but they were also offering rides to the Superdome for those who wanted to go.

...

“"First when they came we were really afraid of them," Buckner told me. "We knew the Post Office wasn't open."

“But the people on the truck didn't menace them. Instead, "They said, 'Y'all need anything?' Buckner said she and the rest of the ad hoc staff could look through the open door and see what was on the truck: water, juice, potato chips, cookies, peanut butter and crackers. So that became the list of things they needed.

“The thieves promised to return, and Wednesday they brought back baby wipes and adult diapers, night gowns and Gatorade. They also brought back chicken and red beans and rice they'd taken from Popeye's. Buckner told me she didn't know how or when the food had been cooked, but the residents hadn't eaten since Monday, so they had no choice but to serve it. "Everybody ate it," she told me, "and nobody got sick."


The thieves were also good stewards of their loot. "They told us, 'Take whatever you need, but you gotta give us back the rest.' "

“She had used the word "they" so often, that I finally asked Buckner how many men were on the truck. "They weren't men," she corrected me. "They were boys."


Even during Katrina, when the professionals hammered every citizen effort.... citizen power stands up.

-- finally, everybody stop sending me clippings about supposed navy dolphins equipped with stun guns who purportedly escaped pens at a base near NoLa. even if this likely urban legend is true I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE!

 Anyway, they are probably ATLANTIC bottlenose dolphins. I can't even speak Atlantic.....

Monday, September 26, 2005

Some items to tide you over...

I am finally preparing my big screed on Gerrymandering. So you'll have to hold out a bit...

Do you think this blog is doing any good. Should I switch over and become a columnist somewhere like Worldchanging.org? That might actually be a better idea. Fewer deadlines and more readers. Force me to edit for quality.

Ah, but would Jamais even want a crackpot like me over there?

Anyway, here are some items to tide you over.

Brain-imaging techniques that reveal when a person is lying are now reliable enough to identify criminals, with 99% accuracy, claim University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers. When someone lies, their brain inhibits them from telling the truth, and this makes the frontal lobes more active, which can be monitored with functional... 


Critics maintain that the technique will never be useful for such investigations, arguing that, as with traditional polygraph detectors, liars could learn to fool the tests. And researchers in the field have previously admitted that the approach needs more work. But neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia believe their test is ready for real-life scenarios.

The main advance is being able to distinguish lies from truthful statements in a given individual. Although previously scientists could see how the brain lit up when people lied, results were based on the averaged brain activity of a group of people and did not look at individual fibs for each person. "Now we can tell when an individual lies on a specific question," says Gur. "This is a major step forward."
http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050919/pf/437457a_pf.html
-


The gerrymandering article should be pretty good....

Friday, September 23, 2005

A society of addicts?

No time to organize fresh thoughts tonight, so here's a clipping from John Mauldin's highly rated newsletter... an item that relates strongly to my "Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology."

It suggests that science may yet come up with solutions to the things that are driving millions of people to wage war against science. Well, one can hope...

-----

"Mirapex was among the top-selling Parkinson's drugs last year, with more than $200 million in sales in the United States. The drug reduces tremors and the slow, stiff movements that are a hallmark of Parkinson's disease. Mirapex belongs to a class of drugs that mimic the effects of dopamine.

addiction"A medical anomaly caught our attention: A recent Mayo Clinic study describes a compulsive gambling problem that developed among many Parkinson patients being treated with dopamine-enhancing medications. This is an unusual side effect.

"Also anomalous is the current U.S. obsession with the game of poker. Computer online gambling is booming, with poker sites alone expected to take in $2 billion this year. More than 50 million people describe themselves as poker players.

"As many as 10 million U.S. adults meet the "problem gambling" criteria, according to the National Council on problem gambling. Kids are hit even harder. The rate of problem gambling among underage players is between two and three times the rate for adults. Health officials want to know whether the damage can be curbed. What separates addictive gamblers from occasional ones? Another American oddity is obesity, which in turn may lead to diabetes.

"The medication for Parkinson's, the desire to gamble and the craving for excess food have one common denominator, dopamine.

"Dopamine is a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, a neurotransmitter that controls action. Dopamine is associated with addiction of all types. Recent studies have indicated that dopamine responds more to unpredictable rewards than to predictable ones. A part of the brain called the striatum where dopamine exists seems to care more about what it cannot predict. In a sense, dopamine produces a need for novelty.

"Dopamine has been associated with the novelty of drinking, gambling and other addictions, but it is also connected with curiosity, adventure, entrepreneurship and accomplishments. An experiment performed by Dr. Gregory Burns, author of a book on dopamine, Satisfaction, shows a positive side of dopamine.

"In this research probe by Dr. Burns, patients connected with MRI brain scanning were given a computer puzzle. When completed successfully, an award of $10 was produced. Under these conditions, the dopamine was high. There was uncertainty as to the outcome. Conversely, when the same patients were given $10, the level of dopamine was very low. Predictability was certain and effort was not required.

"Dopamine helps to produce results in an uncertain world.

"Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, a psychiatrist and author of American Mania postulates that dopamine has produced a manic America. He cites the words of satirist George Carlin, describing this land of puzzling contradictions, 'bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences but less time; more knowledge but less judgment.' As a practicing psychologist, Dr. Whybrow finds this frenetic chase in America reminiscent of the manic-depression cycles in individual patients.

"Dr. Whybrow connects the excessive dopamine characteristics of America to migration. Approximately 2 percent of any population has enough dopamine to create the curios risk-taking necessary to leave the group. America basically is built through immigration. As a nation we have perhaps 50 percent with high dopamine characteristics. This drive has made America great.

"When explaining the difference between the American and European mind set, Dr. Whybrow cites and observation from Alexis de Tocqueville's famous 1835 treatise, Democracy in America. Tocqueville uses a merchant seaman as a metaphor. The European seaman is prudent when adventuring out to sea. When an unexpected event happens, he returns to port. The American, neglecting such precaution, braves these dangers. He sets sail while the storm is still rumbling. He spreads full sail to the wind. He repairs storm damage as he goes. The American is often shipwrecked, but no other sailor crosses the sea as fast as he does.

"The same mind-set difference between Europe and the United States is visible today. The Washington Post this June states, "In France, not a single enterprise founded in the past 40 years has managed to break into the ranks of the 25 biggest French companies. By comparison, 19 of today's largest U.S. companies didn't exist 4 decades ago. That's why France is looking to the United States for lessons."

"The dopamine drive exists in the United States, not France. Expect a series of American manic excesses and bankruptcies as well as successes."

      ----from John Mauldin's newsletter


Interesting.The facts are... even if some conclusions are a bit... well... romantic.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lies... and urban myth/conspiracy lies

How we wage war:

Similar to Vietnam? "The differences are so notable that it would take too long to list them," Def Sec Donald Rumsfeld remarked. Administration officials blanch at comparisons with Vietnam. And yet, the similarity in wording of presidential assurances can take on a creepy tone.

"America is committed to the defense of South Vietnam until an honorable peace can be negotiated," Johnson told the Tennessee Legislature on March 15, 1967. Despite the obstacles to victory, the president said, "We shall stay the course."

After fourteen Marines died in a roadside bombing on Aug. 3, Bush declared: "We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy."

Still, though Truthout and others leap upon such similarities, I haven’t noticed anyone pick up on the two biggest ironies.

(1) The Right has long diagnosed failure in Vietnam as due to “politician meddling in military matters” (deeply underplaying Vietnamese Nationalist will & tenacity). Yet no war in American history has featured so much meddlesome fiddling by complete amateurs, over-ruling professional soldiers, than this intervention in Iraq.

(2) The guy who supervised our final humiliation in Vietnam was... Donald Rumsfeld.

And finally...a good old blog-style rant!

We all have pet peeves. One of my own came up recently in the form of an urban legend conspiracy theory. (Feel free to clip the following and use it whenever you see this old chestnut raised.)

Now, mind you, I know I sometimes come across as a conspiracy theory fetishist. I’m not, really, but some of the things I say about who might really be calling the shots in this current administration do seem to wind up leading us toward a pretty darn conspiratorial scenario! (Hey, real world conspiracies can happen!)

ConspiraciesStill, most conspiracy theories revolve around one central motive... helping to make the theorist feel romantically cool and smart and much more in-the-know than his fellow citizens, or historians, or anyone else among the benighted masses. Conspiracies swarm through Third World bazaars causing no end of grief. One is responsible for a huge outbreak of polio in many Muslim countries, just as the World Health Organization seemed on the verge of wiping out that scourge, forever.

Busting these piles of nonsense is the job of any true modernist... hence the jazz one has to get from the “Myth Busters” TV show! Indeed, this is one of the strongest reasons to fight for a relatively transparent world.

All right then. Here I go. The "FDR Knew About Pearl Harbor" myth is the biggest piece of utter lying insane hogwash in circulation today. It is utter malarkey and drivel of the first water.

Yes, FDR was driving Japan against the wall in order to get them to commit a casus belli. That’s no secret. The oil and resource embargo against Japan, heroically assisted by the Dutch colonial government in Indonesia (despite threats against their families by the Nazis controlling Holland) was what succeeded in forcing Japan to attack. (Of course, the outrages in China more than justified an embargo.)

On the other hand... Think. will you? Yes, he wanted them to attack... and expected them to attack the Philippines. That’s what historians, FDR, and George Marshall (arguably the greatest man of the 20th Century) all said.

No, FDR did not want to enter the war with the Pacific Fleet destroyed! What insane doggy poo!

THINK! If they knew the Japanese were coming to Pearl, fine. Wouldn't they, thereupon, have wanted to win that battle? What’s even better than the enemy starting a war when you want it started? Why, having them start it and lose!

If the Japanese come 4,000 miles, stick their necks out, start a war... and LOSE... that frees FDR to send almost all US resources to what he considered the "real" fight... against Hitler. If he knew they were coming, he'd order an ambush! At LEAST he would have had Halsey's carriers ready to pounce. All the subs would sortie and stake-out along the northern approaches. Torpedo nets would be up. For freaking sakes, PLANES would take off, ready to make the attacker pay as soon as they legally start war by crossing Hawaiian air space.

This piece of arrant nonsense proves that cynics can be the biggest fools of all.

See also Conspiracies and Wishful Thinking: How to tell the difference.

==

News flash from David Brin - (Repeats an earlier announcement, but pass it on.)

Along with authors Stephen King, Amy Tan, Peter Straub and others, I have joined a fundraising auction to help the First Amendment Project, http://stores.ebay.com/AuctionCause an online campaign to support free speech.

Most of my peers are offering the highest bidder a chance to have naming rights for a character in a coming novel... or to be "killed" (in Stephen King's case). To be different, I’m auctioning the right to have your name given to either an alien race, to a garish building, or to a uniquely gruesome and inexplicable disease. Hey, it's for a good cause. Bidding opens Thursday Sept. 15, and runs through Sept. 25.


(Oh, finally, we won't see a "space elevator" above Earth in our lifetimes. Even if it would work, the liability insurance, in case the thing broke, would be staggering. The lower half would strike Earth at hypersonic speeds, paining a charred "equator line" all the way around!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The downer interpretation of anti-modernism... a symptom of mass future shock

CITOKATE (Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error) means being willing to admit that you were wrong. And, despite many anomalously on-target predictive “hits,” I can also be way off target, sometimes. Here’s an area in which I must have been influenced by wishful thinking.

I am growing ever-more convinced that we were all wrong about the psychological impact of the turn of the century and millennium. Surface features have blinded us to the undercurrents. We should have noticed earlier that modernity and confident modernism were in way-deep trouble.

But who knew? Back in 2000, it looked as if we had dodged the “Y2K” bullet and shrugged off almost any trace of “millennial madness”. There were no cults seen burning their homes and chanting on hilltops, awaiting the Rapture. In fact, people seemed almost jaded toward the whole thing. True, Al Gore’s fizzy arch-uber-modernism had failed to win him the presidency. Still, he did win the non-fluke electoral majority, despite a cosmic boredom and geek quotient. There did not seem to be a crisis of confidence.

Even when the future struck us like a hammer, nine months into the newborn Millennium, your average citizen took the events of September 11, 2001 with far more aplomb than almost any pundit seemed willing to credit. Far from “panicking,” they displayed remarkable agility and resiliency - or, at least, that is what we saw from the New Yorkers and Bostonians who were mostly affected, that day.

In any event, that is how I chose to interpret events. Given my penchant for finding a contrarian viewpoint (if one seems legitimately tenable), it seemed obvious to take an optimistic perspective, at a time when only officials and members of the “chattering classes” were the ones verging on panic. Just call me Mr. Sunshine.

It took some time - years, in fact - for me to come around to a much more pessimistic interpretation of the mood in our country and our civilization. A mood that appears to have swung away from the main theme of the post-WWII era. Even during the Cold War, and under Nixon and Reagan, modernism and apolitically pragmatic problem solving were often at the fore.

In contrast today, even as the spectacular success of modernist society is evident everywhere -- e.g. while the Cassini Spacecraft is transmitting home bona fide miracles, on a par with almost anything in the bible -- our confidence and pride in our accomplishments appear to have plunged to an all time low. (Do you even hear or see Cassini mentioned in mainstream news media?)

Even liberals, who used to fizz with can-do enthusiasm, can only oppose now, projecting surly, sourpuss negativity. Yes, the thing they oppose is monstrous - a version of antimodernism that would shove us back toward feudalism. But while opposing this reactionary madness,are liberals offering anything that remotely resembles a positive, assertive and joyful - even (yes) - entertaining - plan? One that keeps faith with the problem-solving spirit of George Marshall and Vannevar Bush and Martin Luther King? One that is for something, beyond simply opposing what is monstrous?

At least Bill Clinton believed in all these things (especially being entertaining). Moreover, he made us believe that he believed. (How ironic that he and Hillary completely blew their one ambitious, can-do endeavor - National Health Care - and never seemed to offer any others. You can blame the Gingrich Congress, I suppose... or else perhaps re-examine that word “seemed.” For, what other word than “ambition” can explain the weird shift in Bill’s attention, transforming his goal from trying to achieve something from the standard liberal shopping list to solving the one problem nobody expected him to take on... the budget deficit? An accomplishment of staggering scale. Yes, I agree with Michael Mandel that any surplus should have gone to scientific research. Still Is anybody else willing to see it for what it was?)

Well, Clinton was a 20th Century man, and those days are slipping away. However you put it, the national mood is weird, and weirdly downer. It is as if the very appearance of the "2" at the head of every date has driven huge numbers of otherwise bright people into a mental condition that festers and stews just below a surface of normality. A mood that manifests in frantic romanticism, oversimplification and devotion to downright insipid political dogmas.

All right. I can only maintain high grouch levels for brief intervals.

 Next time, back to problem solving.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Call for Help From Experts/Sci Fi Fans... (plus misc items)

I am helping the University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction set up an online Science Fiction Resource Center, including the following projects:

* Helping authors and fans to set up tests for the Accelerated Reader Program that currently controls the reading choices of tens of millions of American school kids. AR lists in most states are currently profoundly bigoted against science fiction.

* A new Speaker’s Bureau for Science Fiction Authors and Futurists that will offer a web site where anyone from a local librarian to a Fortune 500 CEO might search for speakers/consultants who have something to say about tomorrow. The database (any experts?) will be sortable by distance from the venue (by zip code), topic, range of speaker’s fee (adjusted for travel) and some other factors. This should have existed during the run up to 2000. Experts on database management, or people with serious experience in public relations, would be welcome to help out.

* A new accredited course for teachers, educating them about SF and how it might help to reach students. (I was once quite active in this. I formerly sponsored a contest aimed at using new tools - and science fiction - to benefit both teachers and kids. The resource list (and concept) are still useful!

*See a collection of resources for Teaching Science Fiction
as well as Using Science Fiction to Teach Science.

Those who are interested in the general topic mixing Science Fiction and Education might consider joining the Reading for the Future discussion group. (Or telling your SF-enthusiast teacher pals.)

Sometimes the topic also comes up on the “Brin-L” discussion list.

==Finally, some misc items==

A massive global increase in the number of strong hurricanes over the past 35 years is being blamed on global warming, by the most detailed study yet.   The US scientists warn that Katrina-strength hurricanes could become the norm. Worldwide since the 1970s, there has been a near doubling in the number of Category 4 and 5 storms – the strength that saw Hurricane Katrina do such damage to the US Gulf coastline late in August 2005. Peter Webster of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, says the trend is global, has lasted over several decades and is connected to a steady worldwide increase in tropical sea temperatures. Because of all these factors, it is unlikely to be due to any known natural fluctuations in climate such as El NiƱo, the North Atlantic Oscillation or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Now here’s a creepy item that should go in a novel. UC Berkeley researchers were able to take several 10-minute sound recordings of users typing at a keyboard, feed the audio into a computer, and use an algorithm to recover up to 96 percent of the characters entered. The researchers used spectrum analysis, statistical learning theory, spelling and grammar checks, and learning trials to obtain...

And now, under the category of “how much noise would this have caused, if it happened under Clinton?” Largest Theft in History: $1 Billion Missing in Iraq .The money missing from all ministries under the interim Iraqi government appointed by the US in June 2004 may turn out to be close to $2bn. Of a military procurement budget of $1.3bn, some $200m may have been spent on usable equipment, though this is a charitable view, say officials.

As GOP senator Everett Dirksen once said (back when “conservatives” believed in fiscal responsibility): “A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon, you’re talking about real money!”

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Some suggestions to ponder... plus some cool science...

Our recent discussions have whirled around the general notion of how to put moderation, modernism, negotiation and pragmatism to the fore in the coming political season. I am starting to fear that the Democrats, smelling blood, may turn to partisan vengefulness (well deserved, but immature) instead of changing this vicious cycle when they get a chance.

One example I cited before was my suggestion to create the office of Inspector General of the United Stated (IGUS). Something that people like us would call a no-brainer.

Other suggestions are more subtle. The one at Honoring the Losing Majority  may make you scratch your head for a bit. But it would let one candidate take the high ground simply by suggesting it. And imagine how this presidency might seem different if its present occupant lived by this principle.

While I’m at it, here are two other suggestions that never even got published as op-eds. (And believe me, I tried.)

Why Candidates Should Stipulate

and

The Electoral College: A Surprisingly Easy Fix

The last of these will segue into the topic I’ve long promised... my suggestion of what to do about the worst crime committed against us by the professional political caste. Democrats are almost as guilty as republicans in the egregious and foul sin of gerrymandering most americans out of any chance to vote meaningfully for Congress. It is time for citizen-amateurs to rebel.

more misc items:

Take a look at the New America Foundation.  The Board is quite eclectic, comprised of onetime liberals (James Fallows) and conservatives (Francis Fukayama) who have stepped back from the brink of their respective cliffs, so to speak. Are they trying to accomplish what I recommended last year, at http://www.davidbrin.com/alliance.html ? Is this a potential locus for the Enlightenment to fight back against left-right romanticism. Too soon to tell.

(Seeing Fukayama’s name here makes me wonder. Is he possibly less of a shill and court intellectual for the neocon-kleptocrat apocalypt troika than we thought? Could it be that, like Colin Powell, he is smart enough to notice some of what he has been a part of? Perhaps even enough to (tepidly) start to stand up?)

Here’s more from the philanthropy round table. Nextbillion.net is a project to eliminate poverty through directed free enterprise. ("Eradicating Poverty Through Profit: Making Business Work for the Poor.") http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003492.html#more

And here, startling and unmentioned in the regular press: The World Rushes to Our Aid! (see: the Progressive Policy Institute.) We are recipients. This is bittersweet. Americans like to think we stand alone, generous, but never needy.

* Little Rock Air Force Base, the center for relief flights, had handled 32 international flights by last Monday -- from Belgium, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, India, Israel, Italy, NATO, Spain, Russia, Tunisia, Thailand, and the United Kingdom -- with 1,225 tons of medicine, food, blankets, tents, and other goods. (Kind afterthought: relief donations are exempt from tariffs.)

* Financial help: Comes from countries that are aren't always flush with cash as well as wealthier ones. Afghanistan's $100,000 check has already been cashed, as has the $10,000 check from the Marshall Islands, the $25,000 from the Maldives, the $10,000 from Papua New Guinea, and the $100,000 from Kenya. Also on the way are $300,000 from Albania, $1million from Bangladesh, $6,000 from Bosnia, and donations from (among others) Cambodia, Djibouti, Iraq, Liberia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Palau, Romania, Samoa, Sao Tome, Sri Lanka, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Yemen.

And how about some apolitical science!

India's Smoking Gun: Dino-killing Eruptions -- (Science Daily -- August 31, 2005)
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050810130729.htm -

New discoveries about the timing and speed of gigantic, 6500-foot (2-km) thick lava flows that poured out of the ground 65 million years ago could shift the blame for killing the dinosaurs. The Deccan Traps of India are one of Earth's largest lava flows ever, with the potential of having wreaked havoc with the climate of the Earth.

Is brain Still Developing? -- (Newsday -- September 12, 2005)
http://www.newsday.com/news/health/ny-hsbrai0909,0,6946681.story?coll=ny-health-big-pix - Scientists have discovered a gene variation, perhaps involved in brain size, that showed up only 6,000 years ago -- a mere blink of the eye in evolutionary time. This discovery, along with another brain gene that arrived about 37,000 years ago, is providing scientists with strong evidence that the human brain is still a work in process.

Finally, do keep your eyes open for news & pix from the Cassini Probe! While modernism is on the ropes, we are still accomplishing bona fide miracles, on a scale to match (almost) the Voyager Mission. It is truly biblical... “naming the beasts” as I will refer later (in theology). Water vents on Enceladus. Mehtane rain and rivers and seas on Titan. Dang. What irony to be turning inward at a time like this.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Disaster Response: Reducing Blame to Fundamentals

In a veritable blamecasting festival, we are witnessing a variety of imaginative methods for distracting and passing the buck. One that is fast becoming an old favorite is “I take full responsibility.”

When delivered free of any rolling heads or changes in policy, it translates as “I hereby declare that I am the mature one; now tag! You’re it.”

Always try to see a way around standard polarized opposition. One way is to back away from the left-right chasm and parse the situation in terms that your opponents would have trouble denying. (even though they clearly want to.) Here are a few fundamentals to copy and pass on. These facts stand above partisan finger-pointing.

1) In the year 2000, a blue ribbon panel described three worst-case emergency scenarios: a terror strike on New York City, a levee-breaking storm hitting New Orleans, and a mammoth quake in California. Hence, warnings had been given. (This was, in fact, just one of many accurate predictions.)

2) On September 11, 2001 it became clear that the 21st Century would feature emergencies that strike suddenly and unfold rapidly. The very same complexity that makes our society creative and free also offers many points of vulnerability, to terrorism or natural calamity. The lesson: we should prepare to for what can be anticipated... but also bolster resilience against the unforeseen.

3) Despite a near-universal effort by government and media to suppress or ignore it, one salient fact stands out from the events of 9/11. An informed and fully empowered citizenry can react with fantastic agility and resiliency. We are told that America “panicked” that day. Yet, there were almost no events that supported such a view. Every useful action that was taken that day, to reduce the damage, ease suffering and fight back against our enemies, was taken by citizen amateurs, armed with cameras, cell phones and undaunted will.

In contrast, the one common trait of emergency response officials at ALL levels, during the Katrina Disaster, was to at all costs pevent citizens or amateurs from doing anything. Anything on their own behalf. Anything on the community's behalf. Anything illegal. Anything quasi-legal or even anything legal. Anything at all.

4) While “emergency” spending increased under the Bush Administration, the lion’s share has been spent on a war that at-best could be justified as “elective surgery”. In other words, removing Saddam, while desirable since 1991, could have been done at a deliberate pace, after careful advance planning and building a mature consensus among allies. Preferably a clever plan that used local forces on the ground, instead of our own, an approach that worked well in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

(Noteworthy and significant: those demanding his ouster in '03 were the same parties who deliberately left him in power, in '91.)

Instead, a frenetic “emergency” was invoked, based on flawed (and possibly deceitful) evidence, demanding that a complex and difficult task be performed in urgent haste, following a war plan concocted in secret by a small coterie of amateurs. Even those who admire the goal should admit, this was more clumsy and costly than it had to be.

5) While elective surgery in Iraq was pursued as an “emergency”, our nation’s actual emergency readiness languished to levels much lower than pre-9/11, and possibly pre-Pearl Harbor. At present, our active and reserve military strength is stretched thin while emergency stockpiles have gone the way of the Budget Surplus. Some - even before Katrina - legitimately questioned our ability to respond to a new shock of any kind. These questions now seem especially cogent.

6) One might have expected FEMA to be enhanced after 9/11, with critical attention paid to general flexibility - our ability to respond well to any national emergency, including - but not limited to - terrorism. Before Iraq, drills involving federal state and local agencies had uncovered countless command flaws of the very kind that we saw emerge, tragically, during Katrina. But contrary to assurances made at the highest levels, this process of drills and contingency planning ebbed after 9/11, with budgets transferred to Iraq.

The crux? Whoever bears tactical blame for this or that specific blunder - even if the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans were pinheads - it remains irrefutably FEMA’s job to prepare a fail-safe process that we all can rely upon. One that will react quickly and adjust with agility, overcoming all individual failings.

By definition, FEMA is the agency with responsibility for managing emergencies. Could anything be more clear? Can there possibly be a deeper and more profound test of confidence, than for a mission that was so clear to have been so clearly botched?

In the post 9/11 era, should any organ of the United States Government have received higher priority? We were warned.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Some Illustrative items...

Quick note... that “naming auction” is now up at http://stores.ebay.com/AuctionCause. Pass word along to your rich friends that they can benefit the First Amendment Project and get their names used in a coming book.

I just had a film crew in my home, interviewing me for CBS News Sunday Morning... maybe airing in a couple of weeks... on the usual topic of technology and privacy.

Speaking of which:

The State Of Surveillance -- (Business Week -- August 31, 2005)
Artificial noses that sniff explosives, cameras that I.D. you by your ears, chips that analyze the halo of heat you emit. Tomorrow's surveillance technology may be considerably more effective. But each advance in protection will typically come at the cost of more intrusion into the privacy of ordinary people.

And, in the 14th predictive “hit” for my novel EARTH...

Web Trade Threat to Rare Species -- (BBC -- August 31, 2005)
The illegal trade in wild animal products over the internet is driving the world's most endangered species to extinction, wildlife campaigners claim. A probe found 9,000 live animals or products for sale in one week on trading sites like eBay.

Again and again I say that we should look for new patterns. While the following does support the truth that we are led by morons, it also suggests that anything so across-the-board should be looked at in a new way.

Salon.com offers a “Timeline to Disaster” By Farhad Manjoo, Page Rockwell and Aaron Kinney. Much about the response to Katrina still remains shrouded in the fog of disaster. But several important themes emerge in this timeline. Every level of government failed, to one degree or another, in the aftermath of Katrina. But the lion's share of the blame must go to the highest level.

What new way should we see things? Any disaster worsens when amateur leaders hamper our professionals... and when professionals hamper the resilience of citizen amateurs. The Katrina disaster showed both effects, relentlessly.

Yes, professional police and agencies should observe what citizens do in times of crisis and hold them accountable for bad deeds... as citizens should reciprocate with intense scrutiny of actions by public officials. But what we have seen this time is both classes interfering with each other to a degree that stymied every positive effort.

And yes, this model is based upon labeling the politicians as “citizen-amateurs.” But who can doubt that the populist administrations of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia are at-best composed of hamhanded pols, far less educated and skilled than the professional public servants they supervise? At-worst, they are demagogues, whose contempt for professionalism extends to compulsive ideological interference on an unprecedented scale. Unprecedented in this country, that is.

I know this way of looking at things is odd. Rich amateurs like George W Bush would seem to be opposites of poor amateurs who are struggling to self-organize while hip deep in toxic sludge. One type is outrageously over-empowered which the other was prevented from driving themselves out of a calamity zone in school buses. I am not saying this is the one and only way to view this crisis. But it is a way that bears some thought.

The lesson? We will all suffer if new synergies of citizen and professional are not negotiated, and soon. Methods to enhance their ability to supervise each other, without getting in the way of each others' legitimate action. This will mean getting political hacks off of the pro’s backs... but also getting professionals to appreciate the creative power of citizen resiliency and responsiveness, seeking ways to enhance that resiliency for a new era.

As if in partial illustration: Stefan submits this creepy illustration of blameshifting: - E-mail suggests government seeking to blame environmental groups

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Power of Proxy Activism - Part II

Continuing from Part 1 on Proxy Power: I think this is a deeply under-rated aspect of activism in modern life. And it also has under-recognized potential. While fanatical groups have become very good at fund raising - especially through morally coerced church tithing - Proxy Power represents the alternative for busy moderates, whose lives and work and kid schedules simply will not let them study or devote huge amounts of time, passion and cash to saving the world.

Yes, there are dangers, e.g. that some people will pick up their copy of OXFAM or SIERRA magazine and say “There! I have saved the world.” and walk away. This certainly happens.

Another danger is that the citizen will be talked into joining an org that is all show and no substance, or whose efficiency score is very low, devoting most of the dues-income to further fund raising, or a magazine that is too expensive and glossy.

But I just don’t see these as major problems, compared to the benefits. What happens more often is an interesting psychological quirk. Simply by virtue of having joined one activist group, a member starts to think of herself or himself as THAT type of person. It is easier to persuade them to donate double-dues to that org, next year. Or to join another organization that will address yet another sector of that person’s own perceived problem-space.

ProxyActivismEssentially, what Proxy Power does is offer a wide array of activism PRODUCTS to consumers, well-packaged and pursued by devoted staff. It is a capitalist-style market of competing organizations - often using gloss and style as part of their pitch - presenting the potential small donor with a whole supermarket of philanthropic or activist choices.

Isn’t that what we want? (And yes, some of our chosen charities will oppose or cancel each other! Some of you out there send money to the Heritage Foundation, which opposes my libertarians and democrats in almost all ways, acting relentlessly to re-establish rule by aristocratic lords. So?

 The whole pragmatic process of the Enlightenment has been to foster lots of open ferment and competition. When it works, the result is a NET movement for the good of all. It is when such groups act to squelch others, erect barriers of secrecy, or evade debate, that we get a warped process.)

I am convinced that we need to look at this whole realm of activity with more than a cynical glance. It is working. It is doing good. Moreover, it does not ask of our fellow citizens - the busy ones, with frenetic jobs and school schedules - more time than they feel they can commit. (And time is the precious limited commodity!)

tpslogoSome contend that, by taking this approach, you fritter your charity dollars in small bits, when a single, large donation may have more direct impact. There is some validity to this point. On the other hand, this ignores how your contribution is effectively doubledin an interesting way, each time you join a worthy group. Because they then also gain political impact and momentum, with every increase of membership rolls. As their paid numbers increase, they are better able to lobby... or to approach large donors and say “help leverage our momentum with a big contribution.” (This means that poor students, who join at the Student Rate, are still doing good.)

Finally, there is a service to you, the donor. You get to create a profile of your own personality, your passion and commitment, by choosing a dozen groups who will be your deputies in saving the world, while you are too busy to save it, yourself.

EFF-logoIndeed, this concept may deserve some stimulating investment by bigtime philanthropy! I have long felt that a helluva lot of good could be accomplished by some millionaire funding a small effort to get PROXY POWER out there, as a universal desideratum. One million dollars, spent pump-priming, in order to get a million Americans to do this, multiplying the results 500 fold.....

Think about it. Radicals of all kinds are already connected and tithing (and marching and arm-twisting politicians). But moderate citizens? Yes, they send a check and bags of clothes in a crisis. But day to day? The world seems frustratingly big and daunting. “What can I do?” They (reasonably) ask.

What if someone got on TV and showed how huge is the vast array of excellent active organizations, and further said: “No one is trying to convert you to pick any one of these. But if you don’t choose a FEW... sending dues to groups that you believe will help to save the world the way you want it saved... then aren’t you simply part of the problem?”

sierraclub-logoWhat about a nice web site devoted to this? Or better, a clearing house that scored and rated several hundred of these groups, so that folks could pick exactly which ones they want to encourage?

philanthropy
Well. That’s it about Proxy Power. Your thoughts are welcome.

PS.... how to deal with the subsequent junk mail from all these organizations? Some - on their membership forms - have a box telling them “don’t send me the magazine!” On the other hand, you can strategically leave the magiazine where it might do some good, at a library or barbers shop... just deface your address first.

==For a broader perspective, see: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy


David Brin
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