Monday, October 31, 2005

Am I a good "predictor"?

I have continued to probe at the idea of Predictions Registries, in hope that it may eventually lead to some kind of accountability engine (or arena) that would help evaluate a very critical question that may determine the future of humanity and civilization... is there any way to identify which individuals tend to be right a lot - distinguishing them explicitly from those who mask with flashy legedermain the fact that they are often terribly wrong?

PredictionsRegistryWhat possible service would be more valuable? It is a GENERAL concept, that could enhance every other human endeavor, from government to philanthropy. And yes, with profound potential commercial uses, as well. The first to invest in such a process might benefit profoundly. So why have people only nibbled at the edges?

(I believe this is closely related to the mypoia that has kept people from studying the fundamental common elements of markets, science, democracy and law, treating each of them as completely separate when, in fact, their basic processes have deep, common roots.)

All I can do is keep tossing out there items that seem relevant, hoping they may add up. Here are a few interesting sites I have found so far (one of them admittedly self-serving):

1. Marketocracy Data Services is a research company whose mission is to find the best investors in the world and then track, analyze, and evaluate their trading activity. (I'm going to get my son an account.) At www.marketocracy.com folks compete to become the best investors. For over 3 years they have tracked, analyzed, and evaluated their virtual trading activity and have accumulated a massive database; following over 10,000 stock positions at any one time and more than four million trades. Marketocracy constantly analyzes and ranks the stock picking ability of members using a complex algorithm that incorporates long and short-term performance, as well as an attribution analysis that accounts for market, sector, style, and trading contribution so that they can isolate comparative returns.

These guys appear to be the closest to the real thing so far. You could squint and imagine their software and approach being applied on a much broader scale to predictions across a huge range of topic areas, from politics to sports... and even to science. If I ever find time, I may try to contact them about this possibility. I can think of few endeavors that have greater potential for helping a society in flx, than to come up with methodologies for identifying people who are right a lot... and those who are too often wrong to deserve our credibility and trust

2. Then there's this: "Prediction Company is bringing two main forces to bear against this changing environment: world class technology and world class science. Our technology allows us to build fully automated trading systems which can handle huge amounts of data, react and make decisions based on that data and execute transactions based on those decisions - all in real time. Our science allows us to build accurate and consistent predictive models of markets and the behavior of financial instruments traded in those markets." http://www.predict.com/

Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, in a group's self-serving public statements. I have it from other sources that these guys followed an all-too familiar course, betting so heavily on their computer model's infallibility that they did not take into account any model's inevitable failure. Still, gotta envy their URL.

3. Someone recently pointed to the Technovelgy Site - a very cool attempt to cite technological predictions made in sci fi novels. This is nothing like the systematic approach to registering predictions that I am urging but it certainly is a step... though a glance at my own entry seems fairly skimpy, given that my novel Earth just had its 14th predictive "hit".

(Alert! Danger! Egomaniacal preening is about to begin!) Right off the bat I can think of plenty of other items that someone (ahem) might suggest to the site manager. (I think they also want to cite an actual passage from the book, making this process more complex and too time consuming even for an egotist like me, alas.) For example:

Subvocal user-computer interface shown in EARTH (1989) which NASA reports inventing in 2003.

Personality profiling (SUNDIVER) which is now a hot topic using PET scanning... though no one is using yet the inherently superior method of eye-tracking.

Uplift genetic engineering of animals (um....)

WOM or Write Only Memory (Brightness Reef) a recording device that is required to be carried on all ships or cars, that cannot be read until the owner releases the information, or for an extended time.

Predictions Registry (EARTH) hey, might as well get credit for this, too.

EMILYPOST viral politeness programs (EARTH) target rude internet users.

Information sieves (EARTH) - programs that sift the Net for content according to your tastes and priorities, learning as they go. They can either enhance productivity or be used to exclude all incoming information that might disagree with your favorite illusions. (Sound like Rush dittoheads?)

Illusion-breaker programs that pierce these sieves and force Net users to perceive news or opinions outside their tailor-made perception range. (EARTH)

Hostage Gas (The Uplift War) forces a population to voluntarily go to internment camps in order to get antidotes to a toxin.

Waldo Whale (Sundiver) lets a human swim like a dolphin or orca.

Waldo walker and tools (Startide Rising) allows dolphins to move and work outside of water.

Needle-Gym - A simulation-exercise room with needle floor ("NatuLife"). A million needles on the bottom of a tiny, closet-size "exercise room" rise and fall to simulate any ground or surface, from a street to forest trail, acting also like a treadmill, so that you can run and feel under your feet any surface that the computer shows you in your simulation goggles.

Tether space station. A station in two parts, separated by a 100 mile tether, will orbit the Earth in a way that aligns along a radius, deriving "gravity gradient" forces that let liquids settle and provides a sense of up and down. ("Tank Farm".)

A Womb with a View. Intra-utero teaching unit. Installed to help a fetus learn before birth and get a leg-up on other pre-pre preschoolers. ("Dr. Pak's Preschool")

Fabricows - cattle and other creatures that create gene-designed biomachinery in their wombs. Also complex synthetic chemicals instead of milk. Poor women might also do this, creating super-advanced organic entities the old fashioned way. ("Piecework").

GAZER or gravity laser (EARTH) uses singularity "mirrors" to tap the higher energy levels within the Earth and emit tuned, focused, coherent graviton beams.

I just dashed these off. Any others occur at a thought? Anybody care to compile and tell these guys? (I guess this topic thread can be continued here while we move on.) Hey, these days, below a certain level of fame, you gotta do your own $$#@! preening.
All right, because you guys nagged, I tried again. I used the Blogspot posting template, as usual, but tried the "insert link" button that looks like a pair of eyes. Highlighting the text that I wanted to be linkable, I then pressed that button.... and all of my to-post text vanished, replaced by an href statement... and my entire posting was completely unrecoverable. Vanished. Gone.

There was no link "inserted". The link REPLACED everything I wanted to post.

Would anyone care to explain to me why I need the tsuris?

This was using netscape on a Mac. I tried Explorer and it was even worse, not even bothering to display the edit icons.

I will continue to simply post the url. If you are interested, paste it into the go to line. I do not have time for this.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

(pause) Extinction ... and avoiding it...

Taking a brief break from "Catastrophe,." let me cover a few misc items.

1. Some good comments from folks. I enjoyed the site about the Fermi Paradox and Extinction-by-Singularity, at http://www.faughnan.com/setifail.html even though half the terminology the guy uses came from my 1983 "Great Silence" paper... which he never cites!

2. (politics) ....... I have long bemoaned the trend for many liberals to simplistically call themselves "anti war" instead of "anti-Stoooopidwar". Why deliberately accept Karl Rove's "wimpy" label when you can point to recent examples of America acting toug, bold and forceful in ways that are both good and smart?

The best alternative to today's insanity in Iraq was not to leave Saddam in power. (THAT choice had already been made, in 1991, by these same morons.) No, the best alternative was to pay our debt to the Iraqi people by removing Saddam calmly and professionally, the way we helped remove tyrants in the Balkans and Afghanistan. (See a detailed comparison of two diametrically opposite sets of diplomatic and military doctrines at http://www.davidbrin.com/neocons.html.)

Now there is a fascinating article on the GLOBALIST web site, that shows just how successful Bill Clinton's Balkans intervention really was. Yes, he took his time intervening, trying every possible avenue of diplomacy first -- as should be the way for a decent and mature and modern Pax Americana (which all decent people hope will eventually be the last empire.) Especially, Clinton gave the Europeans every opportunity to take leadership in solving a crisis in their own yard. The people of Bosnia and Kosovo and Serbia are deeply aware of how the EU screwed this up. Their gratitude to Clinton is manifest in posters and pictures and American flags (even in Serbia) as well as in public opinion polls.

(Imagine that. An intervention that leave people grateful and glad that we came? One that left our alliances bolstered, instead of in tatters? That cost almost nothing, in dollars or US lives? That left our readiness completely unimpaired?)

Clearcut goals, diplomacy-first, detailed and farsighted planning, then fierce but scalpel-precise application of overwhelming force while capably leveraging local coalitions, followed by professional and careful execution of a goal-centered aftermath, while minimizing both civilian and US force casualties.... (not a single US soldier was lost to enemy action in the Balkans Campaign)... this approach not only worked in creating a New Europe, at peace for the first time in 4,000 years...

... but it is the same set of doctrines that made the Afghanistan Intervention a tentative but astounding success (so far). To be clear, George W. Bush did nothing to plan (or meddle in) the Afghanistan endeavor. Clinton-era plans were already in place -- he had time only to say "go!"

Drop in on the GLOBALIST article at http://www.theglobalist.com/storyid.aspx?StoryId=4869  And spread word to your liberal friends that there is, at present, no lawful alternative to American Power in this world. That may change (work for it?) But meanwhile, the thing we should seek is not some wimpy isolationism that plays into Karl Rove's game plan. Rather, our goal should be to learn what is the right way to use that power during the rest of this transition era. Ways that are both good and smart. To make America's unavoidable role (and obligation) a blessing to the world, instead of a curse.

To ensure that our service men and women continue their evolution into overwhelmingly skilled problem-solvers and rescuers, instead of the capricious playthings of morons, who treat our brave soldiers as their personal toys.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Parameters of Doom: Part I (intro)

The following very long article - series is about catastrophic doom, a concept that I view from many perspectives. It was deemed TOO broad for a coming academic book on the subject and if I collect much more material, it might make a book! Or else a series to post on Amazon Shorts. (For that reason, please read/comment, but don't copy.)

The Parameters of Doom:
What We can Tell from History, Geology
Human Nature... and the Stars


Optimism and pessimism come in ironic shades. Some expect the future will take care of itself -- solutions will arise naturally out of market forces, or we'll just continue our run of incredible luck. Then again, might we already be on a failed path? Doomed by ignorance, complacency, sin... or perhaps by a sequence of events entirely outside of our control?

The universe contains quadrillions of stars, many far older than our sun. Logic suggests that intelligent life should have prospered and spread, to such a degree that signs of that proliferation would be visible by now, in much the same way that way humanity has laid unmistakable imprints across both the Earth and the electromagnetic spectrum. Yet, despite scans of both the sky above and rocks below, no trace of nonhuman technological achievement has yet been verified. Some conclude that the universe may be a more lonely place than optimistic searchers predicted.

In other words, intelligent life may not be an easy game to play.

This clue -- along with many others from history, biology, physics and our own hard life experience -- may caution us, provoking redoubled efforts to probe the territory just ahead, searching for possible failure modes. Human beings already have a talent for this kind of dour fretting. As obsessive worriers, we know, deep in our hearts, that life is hazardous and nothing is guaranteed. Success often depends on both good planning and good luck.

In this extended series, I plan to cover each of these themes in a wide-ranging overview, surveying the topic of failure from several perspectives.


* At its core, our aim is to explore possible futures -- both good and bad -- before any of them have a chance to come true. How do humans do this? Is there any chance of success?

* Other societies were able to envision catastrophe, but cultural assumptions limited their ability to consider the worst failure modes. The ones that would bring them crashing down.

* For a century, we have probed more deeply into why civilizations collapse, but even these appraisals have been colored by cultural bias.

* “Singularities” represent the extrema of transforming change, both success and failure.

* Is the rocket of progress aimed up or down?

* What boundary conditions to calamity can be see in the sky overhead and rocks below?

* What general processes can we use to encourage best possible outcomes? How might we best avoid calamity during the years ahead?

* Our urgent goal is to find a wide range of quicksand pits - potential failure modes -- as we charge headlong into the future. Nothing could be more important than improving two skill sets -- Anticipation and Resiliency

* After dealing with generalities, is there any one practical step that could make a crucial difference, right now? How about a method for finding out which human beings tend to be “right” more often than others?


This promises to be a very wide-ranging discussion. We'll start by considering some of the limitations that have been imposed by culture and our own natures, often hampering our ability to look ahead.

.

comments, suggestions, references welcome...

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Holodeck Scenario: Part II

From last time: All right, then, folks. Can YOU see anybody around you whose life we must clearly all be revolving around, in his personal holodeck program?

All right, some of you guessed... (and some had heard it before).

I think Bill Maher had it right. "The real exit strategy for the US in Iraq has already begun. Not because the war is won. But because W has begun to get bored with his latest Fantasy Job."

And what that implies may be the scariest possibility of all.

Come on! A youth spent in unbelievable frat boy party-stupor mode, with plenty of geeks to write your term papers while you get to torment em unmercifully.

Then... jet pilot! Wearing a snappy uniform and silk scarf while screeching over the Gulf, taking free flying lessons as you bravely defend your land from... Fidel! And each evening sipping margaritas by the beach, while a million other sons go off to battle Charlie in Nam...

...till that got boring. So then there came a series of other fantasy jobs: political operative, cowboy, oil man... oh!... and then baseball team owner! (The fantasy can't be baseball player, since that's real work.)

...then governor of the great Lone Star State of Texas. Yee haw! (Especially the way it starts, by putting down that Ann Richards bitty, who said all those mean things about people who are born with a silver foot-in-the-mouth. Here's my silver foot, Annie. Yeah!)

All right, so each of these jobs palled after a while. So each time you move on to something else, it means that you leave a train wreck behind you? A trail of steaming failures for others to clean up? Isn't that what nerds are for?

Oh, this kind of thing inevitably taxes the Holodeck. A long series of extreme improbabilities simply has to be hard on the machinery. Especially when a crucial parameter/rule is to keep everything consistent with some kind of "reality". How do you fill a world with smartypants types to defeat, while keeping those nerds from seeing the overall pattern? In other words, how to explain a string of impossible luck?

UNIVERSEFAKEWell, within the simulation, smarty-pants pundits can be diverted, pointing to all sorts of “real world” explanations. Such as cronyism (so?) and Daddy's Friends (and your point is?) and even "genius Carl Rove (take THAT all you Nobel Prize pansies!) as the agents for this amazing string of events. (And that dipwad David Brin can yatter all he wants to, about the "return of boring old aristocratism" and the ultimate crony-subornation-influence of a certain foreign R-oil House. Let him!)

Even crank conspiracy theories only help distract from the real explanation for this incredible run for a fellow who frequently cannot even pronounce the name of his latest fantasy job?

Then there is religion. Isn't being the favorite of God an even better explanation?

Or maybe something a whole lot like God, in the present context? (In that case, haven't you been honest with us all along? Since you are the one who speaks to the Computer?)

If we need a QED for this hypothesis, just look at our situation today. The Presidency is the ultimate fantasy job. Especially if there's no duty, no hard work, no responsibility for outcomes, and none of the worry or care that has prematurely aged so many other occupants of the office.

Instead (since you wrote the holodeck program) you get to take more vacation days than your four most recent predecessors PUT TOGETHER... and have fewer news conferences in 5 years than even McKinley had in one. Take all the money and give it to your friends? Got a problem with that? You win through the weirdest series of accidents and blatant tricks that anyone has seen since cemeteries voted in Chicago? Nu? Accountability? That's for real life, not a holodeck fantasy! Anyway, what's the point in being Commander in Chief if you can't have a cool war? No, not one of those prissy responsible wars, like Clinton's Balkans Campaign. (No US deaths and all objectives achieved in two months? Where's the fun in that?)

No, for THIS war you'll bring back one of Daddy's pals, the guy who oversaw our final humiliation in Vietnam and always muttered that he never really had a chance to prove himself. Good old Rummy. In this new simulation gameworld, he'll SHOW all those wise-guy nerds that you don't need a plan, or skill, or to act responsibly, or study the enemy, or any of that boring professional stuff, in order to kick ass!

And still all the smarty pants fail to catch on. (Actually, that damned computer glitch, Al Gore, seems to have noticed something. His most recent speech even called today's America a "weird alternate reality." But then, Gore was designed to be the ultimate nerd. What a hoot to watch him squirm and almost get it!)

(Here's something interesting. Why would any alien or future uber-human want to pretend to be someone like this? No, what we see in the very nature of this fantasy puts parameter-limits on the identity of the customer in the holodeck. It very probably REALLY IS George W Bush... at some time mid-singularity, probably just twenty years from now, choosing to re-live life the way it ought to have gone. Otherwise, why all the cheap grudges, so localized and petty? Probably a great way to distract one's self and forget about the galling re-election of World Modernist Mediator Chelsea Clinton....)

StonesSignificanceCoverAll right, there's a limit to how much a holodeck can do. There are some basic rules of cause and effect in a closed system that even fantastic doses of "luck" cannot overcome. As Bill Maher points out, the treasury is empty, the Army is used up, the storms have arrived at long last. (Ignore the prissy Holodeck Computer as it mutters stuff about Butterfly Effects or pent up balance of forces...)

So what next, now that the Presidency is starting to pall? Maher suggests that you appoint yourself to the US Astronaut Corps. Talk about the next fantasy job!

But the shuttle seems so, well, constrained and limited. Not at all like Star Wars. (Dang! Should have dropped in a few more quarters and made sure there were better space ships in this world.)

So what's next? My best guess is that the next fantasy job for George W. Bush will be Movie Producer! There's no end of fun to be had there. Nerdy writers to wedgie. And all the sobriety stuff can finally get tossed, phew!

But not yet. There are still smartyass intellectuals and professionals out there. In fact, they appear to be closing in. (Cruddy #$@$*&! 37% popularity rating; what do #$#@! pollsters know.) So how many years are left?

The Pardon-every-crony festival isn't scheduled till 2008. And Armageddon isn't programmed in the Holodeck simulation till 2012! So what to do in the meantime?

Well, there is always S&S... Sulk & Spite. When in doubt, start giving more wedgies! And what better way to show that you don't care what smarty pantses think than to go eenie-meenie-miney-mo when it comes time to appoint a Supreme Court Justice!

(Well? What are you all going to do about it? Ha! I can do anything I want.)

Well, that brings us up to date.

The evidence is clear. We are all ciphers and background figures in the lifelong simulation-illusion weaved by a a grouchy-bitter old man (or cranky boy) with a pile of issues and with a whole lot of quarters to drop into the Holodeck slot.

It's the only explanation that makes any sense. And there's not much that we... or even Al Gore... can do about it.

But I know how to fix him.

Turn zombie. All march on the White House and slur "Yeeeeth Math-ter!"

At least we can take all the fun out of it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Holodeck Scenario: Part I

GlobalI just finished a 13,000 word contribution to Nick Bostrum’s new anthologized nonfiction treatment of calamity, to be titled GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS, containing articles on everything from nuclear war to nanotechnology “gray goo” to cometary impacts. I plan to serialize my draft here, seeking feedback before putting it online, either on Amazon Shorts or Jim Baen’s exciting new zine ASTOUNDING SF. (Yes, he has the title.)

Won’t that be a nice break from politics?

But first, before I start in on that heady tome, let me weigh in on what I consider to be the worst possible catastrophe of them all. One that would explain every stupidity in the world today. That we are living in a very poor simulation.

StonesSignificanceNuevoCome on, guys, face the evidence. Science fiction (starting with my own stories "Reality Check" and "Stones of Significance") has been toying for some time with the notion that we are living in a simulation. This notion has been supported from two directions.

First, witness our own burgeoning ability to create vividly realistic simulations, using computers, making ever more plausible the notion that simulations might someday become so detailed that the entities within it would experience ersatz emotions and memories indistinguishable from the "real thing."

Then there are strange results from science. Physicist Alain Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them. It doesn't matter whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart, apparently violating standard notions of "causality connection" which are supposed to be limited by the speed of light. University of London physicist David Bohm believes that Aspect's findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram has also become persuaded of the holographic nature of reality, from the
The-Holographic-Universe-Talbot-Michael-9780062014108completely different direction of explaining the power of the human brain. (For more, see Michael Talbot's book The Holographic Universe.)

All right, the notion is gaining some degree of plausibility. But suppose it's true. In that case, whose simulation are we living in? Some vast future Omega Point consciousness? Aliens, simulating weird alternative life forms? (Plausible, since human beings are so crazy.)

Naw, it should be simpler than that. And much more consistent with the irrationality we see around us?

How about this one? That we are all living inside someone else's Start Trek Holodeck dream. Is there any way we could test this hypothesis? A method that goes even deeper than cybernetics, neurophysiology or even physics?

Simply look around and see who has been impossibly fortunate, vastly out of all proportion to personal talent and competence, or even family privilege, or even any possible intervention by anomalous good luck!

Next, consider that a long-lasting Holodeck experience will not just be about being lucky, winning every poker hand and getting every girl. Heck, that's boring. Sitting around in a harem on a pile of jewels? feh. Gets tired quickly, take my word for it!

UNIVERSEFAKEAnyway, if you simply win every hand, it's hard to forget that this is a simulation. If that is your aim -- to live in a wish fantasy while still being able to pretend it's real -- well then you want all the cool stuff to happen in ways that at least marginally let you fool yourself... into believing that you earned it all. Not because you dropped a lot of quarters into the Holodeck slot, but because you're more deserving. Because you’re gooder. Because you're better than everybody else.

Yeah! That’s the ticket. Tell the Holodeck computer to simulate real opponents - all the smug, assured, brainy types you hate. Only in this new universe they will lose despite all their fancy book smarts.

And your allies? Fun guys who know how to party and help you give wedgies to the smug, smartypants nerds. Yeah! As for luck? Well, set the game to easy, of course, but with LOTS of nerds to overcome and lots of social rules to flaut. And while victory should follow victory, it should never be TOO obvious. Make it gradual enough to last. So you can avoid the real enemy. Boredom.

All right, then, folks. Can YOU see anybody around you whose life we must clearly all be revolving around, in his personal holodeck program?

Continue to the Holodeck Scenario Part 2...

The Holodeck Scenario: Part I

GlobalI just finished a 13,000 word contribution to Nick Bostrum’s new anthologized nonfiction treatment of calamity, to be titled GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS, containing articles on everything from nuclear war to nanotechnology “gray goo” to cometary impacts. I plan to serialize my draft here, seeking feedback before putting it online, either on Amazon Shorts or Jim Baen’s exciting new zine ASTOUNDING SF. (Yes, he has the title.)

Won’t that be a nice break from politics?

But first, before I start in on that heady tome, let me weigh in on what I consider to be the worst possible catastrophe of them all. One that would explain every stupidity in the world today. That we are living in a very poor simulation.

StonesSignificanceNuevoCome on, guys, face the evidence. Science fiction (starting with my own stories "Reality Check" and "Stones of Significance") has been toying for some time with the notion that we are living in a simulation. This notion has been supported from two directions.

First, witness our own burgeoning ability to create vividly realistic simulations, using computers, making ever more plausible the notion that simulations might someday become so detailed that the entities within it would experience ersatz emotions and memories indistinguishable from the "real thing."

Then there are strange results from science. Physicist Alain Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them. It doesn't matter whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart, apparently violating standard notions of "causality connection" which are supposed to be limited by the speed of light. University of London physicist David Bohm believes that Aspect's findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram has also become persuaded of the holographic nature of reality, from the completely different direction of explaining the power of the human brain. (For more, see Michael Talbot's book The Holographic Universe.)

All right, the notion is gaining some degree of plausibility. But suppose it's true. In that case, whose simulation are we living in? Some vast future Omega Point consciousness? Aliens, simulating weird alternative life forms? (Plausible, since human beings are so crazy.)

Naw, it should be simpler than that. And much more consistent with the irrationality we see around us?

How about this one? That we are all living inside someone else's Start Trek Holodeck dream. Is there any way we could test this hypothesis? A method that goes even deeper than cybernetics, neurophysiology or even physics?

Simply look around and see who has been impossibly fortunate, vastly out of all proportion to personal talent and competence, or even family privilege, or even any possible intervention by anomalous good luck!

Next, consider that a long-lasting Holodeck experience will not just be about being lucky, winning every poker hand and getting every girl. Heck, that's boring. Sitting around in a harem on a pile of jewels? feh. Gets tired quickly, take my word for it!

UNIVERSEFAKEAnyway, if you simply win every hand, it's hard to forget that this is a simulation. If that is your aim -- to live in a wish fantasy while still being able to pretend it's real -- well then you want all the cool stuff to happen in ways that at least marginally let you fool yourself... into believing that you earned it all. Not because you dropped a lot of quarters into the Holodeck slot, but because you're more deserving. Because you’re gooder. Because you're better than everybody else.

Yeah! That’s the ticket. Tell the Holodeck computer to simulate real opponents - all the smug, assured, brainy types you hate. Only in this new universe they will lose despite all their fancy book smarts.

And your allies? Fun guys who know how to party and help you give wedgies to the smug, smartypants nerds. Yeah! As for luck? Well, set the game to easy, of course, but with LOTS of nerds to overcome and lots of social rules to flaut. And while victory should follow victory, it should never be TOO obvious. Make it gradual enough to last. So you can avoid the real enemy. Boredom.

All right, then, folks. Can YOU see anybody around you whose life we must clearly all be revolving around, in his personal holodeck program?

Continue to Holodeck Part 2..

Propertarianism IV: the only (if crackpot) solution

In my last post,  I spoke of how it is human nature for dogmatists and aristocrats to join forces, finding lovely phrases and justifications for taking over the machinery of the state and then using it (and the distraction of war) to enforce a pyramidal hierarchy of privilege. Suppressing true markets and finding excuses to quash competition from the lower orders. Taxing everybody but themselves. Granting themselves contracts and/or even gifts from the state treasury. Justifying secrecy and closed courts and cronyism and evasion of every kind of accountability.

Hence my suggestion that transparency should precede any push for universal property law. The people of the world will (rightfully) be suspicious that "property rights" enthusiasts are allies of the "propertarians" who want the social pyramid back.

Right now, there is a weird alliance among "social" conservatives, "aristocratic" conservatives, and "market" conservatives who, in fact, have very little common ground when it comes to their vision of a future world. (see: http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.html for a poll or "questionnaire on ideology" that is designed to draw our such dismal, ill-considered alliances into stark contrast. Should you ally yourself with someone who uses similar terminology for surfaces, but has a totally different long term goal than you do?)

Right now, the very word "conservative" is used to mask the fact that one group wants dynamic markets and measures our success according to the rate of small business startups, vigorous investment in new business opportunities, social mobility for those who exhibit honest ambition and hard work, and rapid rewards for innovation. Sooner or later, champions of markets will realize that these traits are being systematically quashed by others who use "conservative" to mask a different agenda. The old agenda that destroyed every other market system on record.

Markets are the OPPOSITE of aristocratism. When we acknowledge this, "property rights" can be detached from "propertarianism" for good,

One sign of this will be the push for transparency... the trait that feeds science, democracy, justice and markets. The trait without which they all die.

Let's try a thought experiment. Suppose it were declared, by worldwide treaty, that everybody who owns something must step forward and avow that "I own that". Would this harm markets and/or genuine property rights?

How could it? The whole theory of capitalism is based upon making informed deals, whether you are rich or poor, based upon reliably enforceable contracts, entered into by knowledgable parties. The parties need not be equally rich or empowered for this to work! (An oversimplifying misconception of the left.) Economists have long held that a well-informed and legally free peasant should be able to dicker for his labor and at least gradually bargain for an improved situation arising from that labor. Even if you are a social darwinist, you should at least agree that all parties should be well-informed and legally free.

(Ask your libertarian friends if they would have supported southern slave owners or King Louis. The myopic temporal shortsightedness of, say, the Cato Institute, is mind boggling.)

If world market capitalism cannot be a process based upon fair and open knowledge, plus equality under law, then the people defending it are hypocrites. If they are not hypocrites, then there should be no problem with every person on Earth knowing who owns what, so that all decisions can be well-informed. (It could be accompanied by all sorts of amnesties and legal assurances against confiscation.)

Indeed, this is the one way to prove that right-handed solutions, empowering all the world's people to participate in fair markets, can engender as much progress as any solution offered by the left.

Heck, if that happened, there would be one staggeringly huge side effect. There'd be lots of UNCLAIMED property. The amount might be so huge that we could do without any taxes, worldwide, for a decade! The undermining of criminal gang wealth, alone, could make the whole thing worthwhile. (Drug dealers and state-corruption kleptocrats would not dare to openly claim most of what they've grabbed.)

Yes, there would also ensue a decade of frenetic lawsuits, where openly-avowed claims overlap. But would not that very process establish the property law we all want to see in those nations?

If that happened, there would be no need - at least on the first order - to confiscate any legitimate property from the honest rich. Moreover, the world's poor would see in this an act of tremendous good faith. One that could thereupon smoothly flow into genuine property rights for everybody, including the poor. One that might also help to forestall any slide into class warfare, a disease that feeds upon resented unfairness, as much as on actual disparity of wealth.

Yes, it sounds like science fiction. But is it really all that implausible? Simply to declare, "you all have five years to openly declare that you own what you own." How is that any more unfair to the rich man who must acknowledge that he owns a leaky tanker, than it is to a poor seamstress who must admit that she owns a leaky latrine?

---
Sorry to have gone on. But this needed some analysis. In any event, I think that it is essential to emphasize this point. It is one thing to point out the genuine conceptual flaws of the socialists "left". I agree for the most part. Marxism is as loony as Rand-ism. A sci fi tale about some other species. Not humanity.

Still, it is another matter to utterly ignore the fantastic hypocrisy of the "right"... to deny that aristocratism is a natural human evil that killed nearly every truly competitive market - and freedom itself - in nearly every human society.

It is the great enemy of the enlightenment and of genuine property rights. Show your honesty by facing that fact. Dealing with it.

And see clearly the problem that lies before us... a new church-state-gentry alliance that has reared up to assail our Enlightenment, yet again.

return to Part 1 of this series

Friday, October 21, 2005

Looking Toward Tomorrow: Best Future-Oriented Books and Blogs

I have been asked by an international newsletter to cite books and blogs I liked in the last year. It's a good tradition so I'll post a draft list below. Comments are welcome, plus your own suggestions. Some are very relevant to our task here. Some of these recommend nonfiction books are featured in reviews I've re-posted on my website.

==Future-Oriented Books==

Will the first decade of the 21st Century be known as the time when our Scientific Age came to a whimpering end? The one trait shared by anti modernists of both left and right appears to be disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things.

Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, explores (a bit one-sidedly) how partisanship can explain much of this collapse of confidence. See also my review of The Republican War on Science.

CollapseWhen it comes to Earth's future, we tend to be offered two simplistic choices, either guilt-ridden pessimism or a pollyanna faith in market forces. Too much planning or too little. Jared Diamond's new book, COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, makes one thing clear. No society ever succeeded using the prescriptions we hear touted from today's Left OR Right. But history does offer some alternatives.  See my review of Collapse on my website.

Two books that tout assertive problem solving are:

--The Past and Future of America's Economy: Long Waves of Innovation that Power Cycles of Growth by Robert D. Atkinson and ....

KurzweilSingularityCover--Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

The first, by Atkinson, explores measures that could allow us to play our roles better in the world economy, taking advantage of technological innovation to accelerate economic growth.

The latter pursues the bold concept of the Singularity, and Ray Kurzweil's argument that our scientific competence and technologically-empowered creativity will soon skyrocket, propelling humanity into an entirely new age. I don't entirely agree ... but boy, what a vivid ride!

radical-evolutionTaking up where Kurzweil leaves off... Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, our 
Bodies -- and what it means to be Human sheds light on the notion that most scares the nostalgists and romantics... that we may soon pick up creation's tools and start altering, even enhancing, our bodies and our minds.

 This is the stuff that Francis Fukayama writes about with dread in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.

(Both concepts fed archetypes into my alternate history graphic novel The Life Eaters.)

Still highly relevant is The Progress Paradox: How Things Get Better While People Feel Worse. Gregg Easterbrook suggests we may be better than we think... and we really need to realize it. Those who spread either complacency or gloom aren't helping. What we need is confidence and a sense that our efforts can matter. See my review of The Progress Paradox on my website.

111917
Like so many authors with an axe to grind, Kevin Philips makes a wonderfully erudite case in Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, that civilizations are always endangered when elites reach heights of unaccountability. We who grew up under the threat of communism tend to forget that 99% of past cultures saw their freedoms cauterized by cabals of church and aristocracy, historically far worse enemies of markets that socialism ever has been. And yet, read Philips with a healthy "Yes, but..." He neglects to mention the marvel of 1950s and 1960s America, when wealth burgeoned while wealth disparities plummeted. If we could do it then...

Nobel Laureate Douglass North, in his recent book Understanding the Process of Economic Change, acknowledges that we just don’t know understand the process of economic change. But we have learned that important "institutions" are not just formal ones such as banking laws and tariffs, but also "social norms and cognitive styles". North argues that economic change depends largely on "adaptive efficiency," a society's effectiveness in creating institutions that are productive, stable, fair, and broadly accepted--and, importantly, flexible enough to be changed or replaced in response to political and economic feedback. Thus the sort of property rights reforms proposed by Hernando de-Soto in The Mystery of Capital may not work until systems of accountability are in place first, backed by a sober populace insistent upon enforcing them.

9780815728658In The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running a New World, Ann Florini dares to raise a long-neglected question -- how will Planet Earth be governed during the next century and beyond? Some say this is just the latest in a series of imperial ages -- Pax Americana. Even if itis the 'best' pax, should we count on its beneficial hegemony lasting forever? Or might it be wise to start using that great influence while it lasts, to lead in designing Whatever Comes Next (WCN)? Florini's discussion is narrow and Sometimes flawed, but at least it starts the conversation.

For forward-looking fiction, see my list of Favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.

==Best Future-oriented Blogs==

--Ray Kurzweil's Accelerating Intelligence blog tracks the latest news on future technologies...and our progress toward the Singularity.

--The IEET: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies tracks which technological developments are likely to have the greatest impact on human societies in the 21st century.

--Futurity.org provides news updates on recent developments in science and technology that affect our near future.

worldchanging
--WorldChanging  edited by Jamais Cascio and Alex Steffen is so good, so extensive and far-reaching, that it is departing the blogosphere and becoming a highly influential Netzine. One of the most interesting places on the Web. See also their insightful book WorldChanging: A User's Guide to the 21st Century.

--The Futurist, from the World Future Society, explores how social, economic and technologic developments are shaping the world...and the future.

--George Dvorsky's Sentient Developments comments on the impacts of cutting edge science and technology.

--The Foresight Institute provides information on recent developments in nanotechnology.

--Paleofuture, by Matt Novak, takes a look at the future that never was...

--Open the Future: Jamais Cascio explores futurism, foresight, big ideas and transformative technologies.

--Institute for the Future Blog comments on future-oriented books, as well as citizen involvement, policies and politics that impact our future.

--Next Big Future explores potentially disruptive science and technology advances.

--Innovation Watch looks at trends in innovation, and how disruptive change will affect industry.

--Considerably more radical, but entertaining, is Armageddon Buffet: An online journal of end-of-the-world fiction and commentary.

=====     =====     =====

GlobalI will shortly begin a new series... a draft of my 11,000 word article for a new book on GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISK, edited by Nick Bostrom. This piece should be a bit more apolitical than some recent posts.

Rob Perkins has been kind enough to set up a mirror site for http://www.davidbrin.com/ so that people in Asia and Australia can get easier access. (Rob, does it refresh automatically? I don't want this to be a chore.) It is http://brinmirror.parasiticmeme.com If you feel like it, check it out. I am concerned that the "Guestbook" and "email brin" feature may not work, so if your last name starts with S-Z feel free to experiment with those features. If I DON'T reply, please email me separately at davidbrin@sbcglobal.net and let me know it failed.

Gary Nunn has kindly taken this to the next level, setting up http://www.davidbrin.net which should call up http://brinmirror.parasiticmeme.com automatically. Unfortunately, nothing I can do will get this to happen on my Mac (OS 9.2) Any suggestions? I especially hope that the ID description up top will say "mirror for http://www.davidbrin.com/ "

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Propertarianism III: Revisiting the Estates General

I must constantly make clear that these are not lefty-rants I am offering. If you think that, then you are seeking comfort in reassuring delusions. You are not actually reading or exploring, and you are not trying to see things from a fresh angle. (As if this "you" applies to any of the modernists who haunt this place! ;-)

In fact, I'm a big promoter of market-based solutions to problems. Like many of my honest-modernist conservative friends, I deeply believe that expanding a sense of market involvement among the world's poor will help us all. My paper on accountability arenas focuses specifically on the vital importance of Liberal Competition, not only markets but also science, democracy and courts, which enhance progress through reciprocal accountability. ("Liberal" in this case is in the classic and truer usage, going back 200 years.)

But that's the point. Mystical Propertarianism is not about markets. Nor is it about achieving practical aims; like reducing deficits, propelling research, spurring the economy, stimulating investment, or any of the other surface rationalizations.

No, Propertarianism is a romantic-dogma, a faith-based cult that pushes an agenda of cheating markets in order to re-establish the traditional aristocratic social order.

And make no mistake, you cannot avoid the historic fact. I will reiterate it till you yell uncle! Across 4,000 years, vastly more markets were destroyed by aristocratic cheaters than were ever destroyed by socialists.

---

May I re-state this in a clear historical illustration?

Let's go back in time to the origins of the insipid and horrifically stupid left-right-political-axis which is currently hobbling all subtlety in 21st Century social thinking. At least back when it started, left-vs-right bore some marginal relevance... to the French Assembly in 1789, right after it was formed out of the older Estates General.

What were the Estates General?

In 1789, facing bankruptcy, Louis XVI called the Estates General in a desperate hope of raising money. The Estates General had three chambers, one for each of society's three "estates" or status groups. The nobility, the churchmen (including vastly wealthy monastic orders), and the commoners. Of these three, only commoners paid taxes - lots of them - even though the aristocracy and monasteries held nearly all the land and money.

Louis had already erected walls around French cities to collect levies and tariffs on goods entering and leaving... a restraint of trade that we now know to have been impoverishing madness. Every other attempt to squeeze the farmers and tradesmen and workers proved just as counterproductive... as British mercantilism had only spurred the American colonies to revolt.

Now, in desperation, Louis turned to the gentry and bishops and monks, asking them to vote an end to their tax exempt status.

A few saw what was happening and were willing. Most dug in their heels, calling it "Our money"... or "our ancient privilege"... or "God's money"... The few who weren't blind walked across a tennis court and joined the Commons in forming the new Assembly. But it was too little, too late, to stanch the anger - and the rage.

I could cite a myriad other examples - from Czarist Russia to the Old South - from Babylon to Charles I - but the pattern is simply too common, too banal, too predictable... and yet too-commonly ignored.

It is human nature for dogmatists and aristocrats to join forces, finding lovely phrases and justifications for taking over the machinery of the state and then using it (and the distraction of war) to enforce a pyramidal hierarchy of privilege. Suppressing true markets and finding excuses to quash competition from the lower orders. Taxing everybody but themselves. Granting themselves contracts and/or even gifts from the state treasury. Justifying secrecy and closed courts and cronyism and evasion of every kind of accountability.

It is - alas - boring old human nature. Church and nobles and the State - wedded against the people who make and build and think and grow and toil. Remember, this is me talking, not some socialist. So you cannot dismiss this as a socialist rant. You know it is what nearly always happened. And you know it's happening now.

In fact, the only surprising thing is that - for a few hundred years - we seemed to evade this repetitious pattern... of aristocrats combining with clergy to take over government and use it for their own ends. Destroying markets because true markets engender upward mobility. Wrapping themselves in the flag. Evading accountability. Thinking themselves smart, while their every move is too staggeringly stupid to believe.

===Continue to Part IV

or return to Part 1 of this series

See also: Class War and the Lessons of History

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Propertarianism II: Pause to reflect (again) upon the relentless pattern of history

Last time we discussed how - sadly - it is unlikely the world will enact the reforms called for recently by Hernando de Soto, to vest usable property rights in the vast numbers of Third World poor who do own some land, but who cannot now borrow or develop it using capital markets. This seems a wonderfully practical and achievable "right-handed solution" which calls for establishing clear title rights and open, honest banking systems that should benefit everybody.

EcoomicChange(This is part of a generalized interest in institutions as facilitators of practical development. According to one of my philanthropy correspondents: "Douglass North, in his recent book Understanding the Process of Economic Change, acknowledges that we just don’t know understand the process of economic change. At the same time, he acknowledges that we have made some substantial progress. Part of the progress that we have made is that we know that institutions matter, but that those institutions are not merely formal institutions such as banking laws and tariffs, but that those institutions include “soft institutions” such as social norms and cognitive styles. It might well turn out to be the case that successful economic development depends on several necessary but not sufficient conditions. Insofar as judicial independence and even property rights enforcement may, at the local level, depend on such soft institutions, it may be very difficult to implement or evaluate the effectiveness of both formal and informal institutions from the outside."

 For a different approach to the same issue, see: "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit."

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that de Soto will be heeded in any meaningful or large-scale way, because we appear to be headed back into an era of class warfare and radicalization that will increasingly resemble Europe in the 1780s and 1840s and Russia at the dawn of the 20th Century. I know this sounds dour for a "Prince of Optimism". But the very same social features that decreased radicalism in the lower and middle classes, during our lifetimes, do seem to be in retreat, while the inequalities and injustices that exacerbate class bitterness appear to be on the rise.

"Property Rights" movements will be stunted because the world's masses will increasingly, across the coming decade, see "propertarianism" as the great mystical push by this generation of aristocrats toward justifying a re-institution of aristocratic rule.

(The similarity in names encourages conflation of two very different concepts. But then, parasites are like that. They are uncreative, so they develop mimicry in order to live off others.)

In order to properly understand "propertarianism" we must take some asides into human history. We'll begin by confronting, directly, a bald fact that our friends on the right are always at pains to obscure.

==The thing that destroys market competition==

We have been told all our lives that socialism is the chief enemy of markets. Hm, well, that was true for a little while, I guess. Indeed, Ronald Reagan was right to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire." But for how long? From 1917 to 1989?

Big deal!

For most of the rest of human history -- 99% of urban cultures -- the great enemy of accountability and market systems consisted of conspiratorial aristocratism. The deliberate collusion of those with power, money and influence to take over the organs of the state and use the state's power to enforce their family privileges. Their right to cheat and own other people. And then to ensure those privileges would be inherited. This happened so consistently, across all cultures, that it must be one of the core human traits that modern civilization is challenged to overcome.

Seriously, conservative friends, look over the paragraph above and try your best to evade it.

There is no way you can. It is the salient fact concerning every human society that achieved metallurgy and agriculture. Big men - assisted by fast-talking priests or ideologues - picked up iron swords and took other mens' women and wheat, then conspired to arrange things so that their sons could do the same. If you cannot start by admitting this was true 99% of the time... and that we are seeing similar aristocratic moves today... then puh-lease, just go back into your holodeck fantasy.

-----

A defining moment: Let me make clear something that I've said many times. Being a wealthy "aristocrat" in today's world does not automatically make you a class enemy of everybody below you. Nor does it mean that you are programmed, automatically, to cheat or repress market competition, now that you've got yours. True, this is the historical pattern. But many of today's wealthy seem to 'get it' about the modern world. Elsewhere I have called them the 'satiables' - or those capable of feeling gratitude and loyalty toward a new style of civilization. One that has given them so much. Satiability does not mean they cease seeking even more money! But they tend to do this with a joyful sense of market participation - creating more goods, services and/or financial efficiency - rather than clamoring for state-protected rents and state-subsidized profits. A good example might be the 'world's greatest investor' Warren Buffett. Newer candidates: Jeff Bezos and Sergey Brin. The new-style aristocrat appears to want the rest of us to become ALMOST as rich as they are, and does not mind if his sons and daughters have to compete a little, showing what they've got inside. This isn't simple goodness; they are also smart enough to see what happened to dismal cheaters, like the Czar. Alas, there remain plenty of the old kind, doing what history says they always do, who are too stupid to see where their long term self-interest lies.

-----

So what about that distinction I made, between a Property Rights Reform Movement and those who might be called Propertarians? It is one more case where superficial left-right differences in dogma are less important than matters of personality.

Property Rights is a movement aimed at pragmatic, modernist reforms that will give poor farmers and tradesmen in the Third World the ability to leverage a bank loan off their collateral in flourishing and creative capital markets. While this concept has been proved and is generating excitement in development circles, it also faces towering difficulties, especially in corruption by local elites. (One reason for my claim that transparency and systems of universal accountability must precede any broad effort to register property titles.)

Propertarianism, in contrast, is a quasi-platonist, quasi-religious, mystical romantic cult with an underlying agenda aimed at destroying markets. The way that aristocratic wealth always destroyed markets, elsewhere and elsewhen.

Go ahead. Ask some of today's "insatiable-style" aristos and propertarian mystics how they can support tax cuts for the rich in good times and in hard times...

...tax cuts for the rich during peace and during war. Tax cuts during huge deficits and tax cuts during surplus...

...tax cuts to "supply side" us into prosperity through investment in research and factories...

... and then -- when the aristocracy demonstrably does not invest their tax gifts in capital -- they switch to "demand side" justifications, calling for yet more tax cuts, so that the aristocracy can spend it all on employment-generating toys.

(Hint, the last thirty years have shown that direct tax cuts to the rich are just about the LEAST effective economic stimulation of any kind. Proportionate to any other social class, they do not spend. (Hence their support of consumption taxes.) And they do not invest in risky factories or startups. (Venture capital languished even as the Bush cuts sent torrents into wealthy pockets.) They most certainly do no research! In fact, they mostly use any fresh infusion of money simply to be richer.)

When you probe through all the contradicting justifications for this universal rationalization of tax cuts for the rich - especially refusing to pay when your country is at war - the surface reasons all unravel and you'll easily get to the reductio answer.

"It's not the government's money. It's my money."

Try it and see. These old-fashioned aristocrats (and their apologist ideologues) are generally pretty honest about it, after a good push, readily admitting that "supply side" and all the other flummeries were just window dressing. To them, "it's our money" is a deeply-felt and indignantly moral position. A platonic essence, grounded on a purely self-referential axiom. And, like all axioms, it is not subject to question or doubt.

Also (like so many fellow hypocrites on the left) they refuse to ever consider how wonderfully convenient it all is. That their principled, moral stand just happens to support their own, personal self interest.

What a coincidence.-

==Continue to Part III  or return to Part I

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Property Rights vs Propertarianism: Part I

Here's a shorter series. Less cautiously prepared. More of an entertaining rant, with some insights into history.

---

Over on the Philanthropy discussion, we have been touching upon Hernando de Soto's widely discussed proposition, that the poor of the world will be best helped by the establishment of clear property and banking law in all of their own countries. This is a "right-handed" version of modernist-assertive-progressivism that (alas) is all too rare, these days, so I want to tout it before going into WHY such ideas are as rare as hens' teeth, over on the conservative side of the spectrum.

Apparently, "poor" people in most countries own vast amounts of property - a fact that simply escaped notice because of the widespread assumption that poverty means lack of resources. It can also mean an inability to use resources to benefit yourself and your family. Only recently have some sampling surveys penetrated this simpleminded stereotype in order to show that simple Third World farmers and fishermen and herders often - (when not enslaved by big time landholding gentry) - own appreciable amounts of land and other holdings. By some estimates, the value of property held by such people exceeds by far all of the world's combined foreign aid, as well as the national budgets of most equatorial nations.

Land that has little value or usefulness at present, for lack of capital investment in such simple things as wells (for clean water) or sewage, or a windmill or a useful road to carry produce to market. Classically, such property is supposedly leveragable by owners, used as collateral for reasonable bank loans that could then be used for development - either by increasing the land's productivity or through business startups. But there is a rub.

Well, actually, a lot of rubs. We'll put aside for now the need to do all of this with an eye for environmental concerns. The biggest foe of peasants uplifting themselves has - throughout history - always been the local gentry who do not want lower orders getting uppity. But even where that is not a problem, there is one crucial stumbling block. Peasants can only use their property as collateral if their title to the property is clearly established and an honest banking system exists to lend money based upon that title.

Leftists may not like all this talk of banking and establishing clear property title and lending through transparent and competitive capital markets. Their laudable instincts are to promote generosity in the form of aid, or debt forgiveness. Still, many moderates among the liberal community are increasingly willing to admit that it is time to start weaving market forces into the development mix. Especially after witnessing the roaring success of "micro lending" among urban and village women.

And then there is history. The richest and happiest nations - including those that care most about the environment today - are those that used this method. Our ancestors lifted themselves from grinding poverty. And they did not get foreign aid. They borrowed, invested, repaid loans, then did it again. Shall we tell the Third World's poor not to do what worked for grandpa?

de Soto's core point: it is arguable that no endeavor could make more of a difference to world development and eliminating poverty that simply improving law, title systems and banking in places where poor people own some capital, but cannot use it for their own benefit. No conceivable combination of national budgets and foreign aid could match the resulting unleashing of capital and market activity.

It is a fascinating concept and one that is related to things I've long said about anti-globalization fetishism on the Left. (Just about the stupidest of many moronic lefty notions has been to claim that globalization hurts the world's poor. Even if Addidas factories are scandalous by our standards, they are scandalous only in comparison to where the workers want to go,. (They want to be more like us.) Those factories are not scandalous compared to where they formerly were... slaving as serfs or sharecroppers for brutal local gentry who often had literal power of life and death over their tenants. Why else would those serfs eagerly flock for jobs at Addidas factories?

(If labor and environment and other abuses linger in globalized factories - and almost certainly they do - then the answer is more law, not less. All of those problems were mostly solved in western countries by more connectivity and more law. Not less. People who truly sympathize with those workers would help them organize to use globalization, rather than reject it and go back to indentured slavery under local thugs.)


Yes, I am in one of my more "conservative-sounding" phases. (Actually Hayekian-libertarian, in that I believe that genuine markets do help to solve human problems with great agility. There are right-handed and left-handed solutions. A modernist will happily listen to both kinds.)

But hold on to your hats. I will veer around very soon. I have no choice. After all, in today's world, the Left is a vapid, emasculated and silly force, without real power or (in the near term) any likely prospect of power.

Under such conditions (and see below for why this may change) any true believer in SOA (Suspicion of Authority) must be honest and turn back toward this decade's livid danger...
      ...from Monsters of the Right.

Oh, I agree with de Soto that promoting worldwide property law will do a lot of good. But pushing for adequate worldwide property law... without an accompanying that push for property ACCOUNTABILITY... will be self defeating in dozens of ways.

The biggest reason is that it will be viewed as yet another effort by aristocrats to anchor their traditional and age-old dominance.

Of course this is a tragic effect, conflating two things that should not be confused with each other. deSoto is fairly convincing that true property rights law will benefit the poor more than the rich. After all, the rich can already - in most countries - enforce their "rights" through bribery and hired force. A push for explicit legal documentation, court adjudication and banking will help those lower down, in their ongoing struggle to limit capriciousness of power.

But we must recognize that most people will not parse this subtlety.

They won't parse it, because they will increasingly, across the coming decade, see "propertarianism" as the great mystical push by this generation of aristocrats toward justifying a re-institution of aristocratic rule. And if you have not noticed this trend, then you are as blind to history as those on the freaky left who oppose property law.

Tune in. Let's figure this out. Maybe there's a way to separate something that is useful, exciting and good from something that is ancient, banal, boringly predictable... and evil as hell.

==Continue to Part II of this series

==See also: Class War and the Lessons of History

Monday, October 17, 2005

Designing the Jeep/Humvee of the Future!

Okay, so that's it for gerrymandering. Yes it was a long road. Circuitous and even long-winded. But I think you'll agree that I explored this matter... this guild protection racket by the Political Caste ... a bit deeper than you've seen it before. Perhaps a shorter version will find a published home. If not, well at least spread the word.

The gist?

1. I am very skeptical of state-by-state attempts to fix the problem, which are usually utterly hypocritical. I plan to vote (with a pang) against Prop 77 here in California, simply because if it passes, it might prevent the change in power in the US House of Representatives that we all desperately need, so that one of our branches of government will start investigating once again. (If ever we needed divided government!)

2. Still, an experiment in franchise-based reform is called for, so let's choose one state. One that was already a core site of desperate voting problems. Let's pick Ohio. Urge everybody you know, in Ohio, to vote yes on redistricting reform! If it passes there, then it will prove that it really can happen. Maybe we can get up a groundswell to deal with the problem nationwide. I don't expect it. But miracles happen.

3. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in a ridiculously gerrymandered district, where your (legislative) vote has been rendered meaningless in November even if you agree with the party of the district, there is another way. Urge everybody you know to re-register in the party of the district. Be a member of that party and speak up to empower the moderates of that party, especially in the primary. The only election when your vote can matter.

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

The Humvee of the Future!

I just returned from four days at the Army’s National Training Center, at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert, to inspect & drive Humvees, then participate in a unique on-camera team/marathon to design a replacement vehicle, suitable for the 21st Century.

 It was all for a new History Channel show that should air in spring of 2006 called The ArchiTechs. (Tune in!) A fun, exhausting rush, playing soldier designer with five other guys, all of them super-bright. And we came up with a doozy of a vehicle.

-----

The Great Purge Redux

Ah, but it was more than just fun with skill,applied to a patriotic cause. My trip only reinforced a growing conviction about something that is desperately worrisome going on in America today. Perhaps the most worrisome thing, though not a single pundit or politician seems in a hurry to address it.

Many of you have heard this before, but I am charged to say it again. We are living through a deliberate and relentless drive, on the part of a small minority of super-empowered fanatics, to purge, oppress, harass, intimidate and re-shape the highly professional and apolitical United States Officer Corps.

Please, all you liberals out there. Do not automatically fall in line behind C. Sheehan and Truthout and those oversimplifiers who are currently dissing the US Military. This is a trap and it only serves the interests of those fanatics. Why maintain a divide that should not exist? Between you and the crew-cut, conservative, but intelligent and values-rich men and women who have dedicated their lives to our protection. (Especially since the military was the first nationwide institution to desegregate, remember that?)

The members of our military - and especially the US Officer Corps - are VICTIMS right now, not villains. Their professionalism in the Balkans and Afghanistan (two operations whose success reflected on an earlier era of maturity and competence) was everything we could have wanted from an agile, calm, determined, skillful and decent Pax Americana. The current Iraqi mess - a flip into apparent incompetence - cannot be their fault! Indeed, right now these soldiers, airmen and marines are suffering and dying in a war whose surficial aims had some worthy elements. (Can anybody deny that it was a horrid betrayal to leave Saddam in charge, in 1991? Or that we owed it to the Iraqi people to somehow help get him off their necks?)

But the WAY in which it has been done... so blithering, costly, bloody, clumsy, with the only long term beneficiaries being Tehran and Riyadh.... This intervention followed doctrines that were systematically the opposite to every doctrine that worked so well in the Balkans and Afghanistan. It could not have been worse planned and more horrifically executed had it been designed with that purpose in mind.

(How ironic that conservatives told us for decades "We lost Vietnam because of meddling by amateurs, by politicians." Only now amateurs meddle daily in Iraq, to a degree that would have made LBJ blush. And one of those amateurs was the same fellow at the helm when we lost Vietnam.)

Only now, to make things (vastly) worse, there is a relentless purge of the US Officer Corps, ongoing as we speak. This should be THE giant scandal exploited by the Democrats, who - if they were smart - would overcome their distaste for people with crewcuts. (Get over it!) People with crewcuts who stand between our Constitution and the cold wind. People who stand between our rights and a return of the Old Darkness.

Enduring insurgent bombs on one side, political meddling, rampant cronyism and corruption on the other, things would be bad enough for our military men and women. But the Great Purge adds pain upon pain and gets worse every year, as over a hundred fanatical neocongressmen appoint just as many 18 year old religious fanatics to each of our military academies, in an orchestrated effort to stock zealots at the bottom of the Officer Corps...

... while Donald Rumsfeld and his henches continues to ream and harry and harass those apolitical and superbly educated flag officers at the top. (The US Officer Corps is the 3rd best-educated clade in American life, after University professors and medical doctors. Get used to it.)

I know many officers who are bearing up, silently, under pain inflicted by monstrous, super-empowered amateurs, perching atop their chain of command, using them as toy soldiers and ravaging the careers of any who resist.

The fact that no democrat will step forward to document and then denounce this travesty not only reflects sixties era reflexes that are way out of date.

It also makes me deeply ashamed.

.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Finale: American Democracy ... more fragile than we think

A ten-parter by David Brin
(http://www.davidbrin.com/politics.html October 2005)

Part X. Can A Citizen’s Revolt Stand A Chance of Working?

We have been discussing a "modest proposal." One that probably has about as much chance of implementation as the one Swift offered, centuries ago. Certainly the politicians who guide our destiny will find it about as palatable.

A final reprise:

If districts have been scornfully reworked in order to make the November general elections worthless, then everyone in a district should join the party of that district. Make the primary election the locus of real argument, real campaigning over issues, real voter participation. Real politics.

Oh, if this is ever tried on a big scale... if a movement like this really started to take off... you can well imagine how the desperate fanatics and old-style politicos will fight back.

They’ll call it "cheating" - with far more venom than they ever used against real fraud at the polls. Cross-registrants will be called "carpetbaggers" and reviled for cynically betraying their beliefs. Or they will be called "spoilers,"who have crossed party lines in order to do harm, pull dirty tricks, or stack the majority party with bad candidates.

There may even be attempts to restrict party-switching. Will fanatics in each party try to stop it by requiring that party members pay dues and carry membership cards? Don’t underestimate the "villains" in this play, who get to write and pass laws.

And then, every even-numbered year, the inevitable Quixotic, lesser party candidate will urge you all to "come on home...."

Which you are free to do, in November! Re-registering as a Democrat (or Republican), even though you were always a Republican (or Democrat) before, will not keep you from voting the old way come autumn.

What it will let you do is vote for the lesser of two evils in the primary that is the true locus of decision making in your district. You may be a conservative in a hippie-college town, fine. But just because a liberal will represent you, does that mean you cannot have a say when it’s decided which liberal that will be?

Or if you are a progressive in a deep red county, okay, you are going to be represented by a conservative. Live with it. But maybe help support one who acts like a mensch, shows a smidgen of conscience, knows the meaning of compromise, and might even make Barry Goldwater proud, instead of shrieking hysterically like Rush Limbaugh? That’s quite a range. It may be worth fighting over.

*

To moderates and modernists, whatever their official party or persuasion, there is one enemy here -- gerrymandered political radicalization. That enemy has an ally, the insipid "team spirit" of identifying ourselves and our votes with the name, tokens and emblems of a simplistic political party, even when registering with that party makes no practical sense. Even when serves no purpose other than robbing us of our franchise.

201817627023164272_JGM4K3RK_cStand up. See labels for what they are, conveniences that can bind and enslave us, when we let them. If another label will let you do more with your citizenship, don’t be shy. Take it!

Call this a Voters' Revolt against calculated manipulation of the electoral process by professional politicians.

Call it a movement to transform the disenfranchised minority in every gerrymandered district into an important swing bloc.

Call it a way to help pick nicer conservatives instead of haters, in each red-county primary. And for decent conservatives in blue-urban America to hold accountable some lefty flakes.

If the politicians have arranges, manipulated, and effectively declared one party to be the party of your district, then join the official party of the district... and make it better.

It seems so logical, like an immune reaction by an inflamed body politic, responding against a cancer spread by self-interested politicos. Only now the rub. In this day and age, without help from billionaires or journalists or politicians, would something like this have even a the chance of an arctic glacier in global warming?

As for me? I plan to fight however I can to help one of the parties prevail over the other, because (in my judgement) it has better policies overall and shows greater overall sanity. And because lately, things have started to get very scary for a civilization based on accountability and the Enlightenment.

Still, there is another level. One where I know that political parties are busy turning themselves into dinosaurs. The Age of Amateurs is coming, and with it, a rising age of the New Citizen, smarter, savvier, more agile and empowered by both education and technologies that gather information faster than the speed of thought. It won’t be easy and the transition needs our help. We’re going to have to innovate, act swiftly, take the initiative. Prove that citizens are worthy of respect.

Lift your head, now and then, from the daily battles. Look at the horizon.

In a reversal of the "yellow dog" philosophy, I don't really care if it's a Democrat or a Republican, so long as it's reasonable, moderate, broadminded, forward-looking, honest, accountable... and human.

==Return to Part 1 of this series