Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Political Battle over Modernity: III

The Political Battle over Modernity

Part III: THE ROUTINE RHYTHM OF LIBERAL SELF-DESTRUCTION


We have seen that radical conservatives studied hard during their time of exile, after having been pummeled and battered by previous miscalculations. While they languished in the wilderness, banished from government, a clade of conservative thinkers spent this time studying, analysing, learning their political lessons well. Gradually, they refined a set of political tools. These ranged from what a decent person might find admirable to deplorable. But taken together, the ensemble integrated toward a single, practical goal.

Achieving power.


In the last section we discussed one of the most potent methods that they picked up, which is superficial ideological inclusiveness. A willingness to accept anyone into the great Big Tent of Conservatism, given even the slightest excuse to do so.

This has proved a powerful technique, allowing GOP leaders to gather a vast menagerie of political types -- many seemingly incompatible -- into a huge and winning coalition. Abetted by leftist radicals who were only too willing to help the process along, by taking the opposite tactic... one of fierce ideological exclusivity, driving away anyone who might deviate from standard liberal doctrine, even by a single litmus test.

No doubt some liberals will object, claiming that they don’t do this sort of party line exclusion. And yet, it’s easy enough to test. Just take a set of divisive issues from both sides of the horribly insipid but standard left-right divide. For example, a person might believe in:


* Every woman’s total right to abortion . . vs Parental notification for minors

* Support for public schools and teachers . . vs Vouchers for private schools

* Generosity over immigration . . vs Tight control of borders

* No drilling in Arctic Wildlife Reserve . . vs test drilling in ANWR

* Supporting Unions & minimum wage . . vs Letting the market decide wages

* Repealing the PATRIOT Act . . vs Greater powers of vision for the FBI

* Limiting foreign intevention . . vs Active exercise of Pax Americana power

* Restoring taxes on the wealthiest . . vs Letting the market solve deficits

* Complete separation of church/state . . vs Schools/kids need faith-based morality

* Concentrate on conservation/no nukes . . vs Restart the nuclear power program


Of course this list is incomplete, it might go on and on, reciting one oversimplified conflict after another. But I just didn’t have the heart to write any more, so deeply do I loathe these standard and rigidly calcified positions, which seem designed to make negotiation impossible. So, let’s make do with what we’ve written down so far. I think you’ll agree that these ten dichotomies between “left and right” suffice to make a point.

Now, squint and imagine a person who holds all of the positions listed on the left side of the list. Sounds like a stereotypical liberal, hm? (A dismal scarecrow of a sterotype, but one that too many Americans buy into.) So far, it’s all party line. And obvious.

Okay. But now imagine just one out of these ten positions switching, abruptly, to the other column. Pick any one. Only make the switch strong. Opinionated. Vigorously felt and passionately pursued.

Can you honestly picture such a person being welcome at any gathering of liberals? Probably, you have anecdotes of your own, illustrating what happens to anyone who has one or two quirky, off-list points of view. In fact, so strong is this impulse on the left, that activists routinely disparage the moderates in their own movement, disdaining them as “light” conservatives.

This dogmatic/purist tendency goes back a long way. In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell describes the self-destruction of the left amid bloody infighting, during the Spanish Civil War. Moreover, it continues doing harm today. In a very direct way, the obstinately indignant candidacy of Ralph Nader -- based upon pointless ideological nitpicking -- inarguably helped to usher in the Bush Cheney Era.

In contrast, you won’t see that kind of self-imolation on the other side. Look back at that list of ten standard political positions. Again, envision a person who holds nine views on the left side but one strong and vociferous view on the right. Haven’t you seen plenty of “conservatives” who are just like the person you just pictured? Despite holding a mish mash of indiosyncratic beliefs, some classic left, others classically right, and some truly unorthodox, aren’t they -- more often than not -- defined by whichever personal tenet happens to be on the “right”?

And then, doesn't that sense of definition, or identification, have great influence over how they vote?

Please, none of this means that the right is less inherently ideological than the left. It is, in fact, rife with some of the most towering dogmatic lunacies. Or that arch conservatives are more reasonable than lefties. Certainly not!

Moreover, there are exceptions. As described by one blog-correspondent: “... if you're in South Dakota, the Democrats are much more moderate and inclusive than their Republican counterparts. The SD Democratic party will gladly welcome a pro lifer, an anti-guncontrol NRA member, or a fiscal tightwad as a candidate -- whereas you'd be hard-pressed to get on the ballot as a pro-choice, pro-gay, or pro guncontrol Republican.”

Indeed, if you look back to the era of greatest liberal power and success, stretching from FDR to LBJ, coalition-building was a key element of Democrat success, with various groups tolerating each other for the sake of overall party success.

What this pattern does demonstrate is that pragmatism has switched sides. Despite the fact that many on the right are ideological in the extreme, they have schooled themselves to live and work by one iron rule:

Power comes first.

Make alliances with anybody you have to. Make promises and deals. Give lip service to every contradictory dogma.

But take power.

That is the strength of inclusiveness. And it shows just how loopy and self destructive leftist activists have been, in their addiction to the opposite path. The path of righteous, indignant and perpetual defeat.

=== ===

...next... More Weapons in the Neocon Arsenal...

or: Return to Part 1: Ideas for Rescuing Modernity

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Political Battle over Modernity: Part II

Let's get back to business... the latest serialized essay. This time about the pragmatic nuts and bolts of waging war against a pragmatic civilization...

The Political Battle over Modernity

PartII: CONSERVATIVE INCLUSION VS LIBERAL EXCLUSION


Keep remembering, throughout this study, that our topic is political methodology. While I make no effort to conceal my preference for one side over another in today’s dismal dichotomy, that preference is not the issue at hand.

(In fact, the thing that I object to most strongly is the secretive monopoly of power by elements that seem determined never to allow accountability to flow again. If the other side ruled under these circumstances, I hope and pray that I would be as loud.)

No, we are not here to compare the relative merits of liberal or conservative worldviews. Rather, the matter that now concerns us is the profound difference in strategy and tactics that have been employed by left and right, during the last two decades of political struggle.

It is in this area of methodology, planning and skilled execution that one side has become utterly dominant simply because, in the purely Machiavellian sense, it deserves to be. Because the right-wing has rationally come up with all of the best moves -- both licit and illicit -- in order to grasp control over this civilization’s reins of power.

Meanwhile, the left seems bound and determined to do everything it can possibly do, to lose.

Take the example we touched upon in Part One. In contrast to the liberal trend of ideological exclusion -- creating lists of rigid positions that any decent liberal must hold --- the greatest Republican accomplishment has been coalition building -- something that Democrats once prided themselves upon.

Indeed, the current GOP leadership has impressively managed to unite dozens of disparate forces that have very few values in common. These groups range --

* from apocalyptic fundamentalists to atheist-libertarians.

* from traditionally reticent isolationists, all the way to aggressive neo imperialists.

* from protectionists and nativists, all the way to those who want our borders thrown wide open, exporting mid-level jobs while importing cheap undocumented labor.

* from budget balancers, all the way to wastrels who bring astounding new heights of chutzpah to pork barrel chicanery.

* from those who define healthy entrepeneurialism according to the rate of small business startups, all the way to those who judge capitalism healthiest when it maximizes the bonuses of top corporate CEOs.


The unification of all these contradictions - and so many others - under a single Big Tent is a remarkable accomplishment and testimony to consummate political skill. How was it achieved?

The answer is remarkably simple. To every possible interest group, the leaders of the right say this:

“You hold one opinion that may loosely be called ‘conservative.’ Therefore please feel free to consider yourself a member of our camp -- and vote with us -- no matter how many other, contradictory opinions you might also maintain.”


Think about how different this is, from the reflex on the left.

“You hold one opinion that doesn’t fit what we call ‘liberal.’ Therefore you must be a conservative, no matter how many other, progressive opinions you might also maintain.”


This point cannot be reiterated often enough. It has suited elements of the left to define “liberal” rigidly, while leaving the word “conservative” vague, encompassing everything they dislike. This tendency has suited their opponents just fine.

Take, for example, the renowned futurist and former Jerry Brown advisor, Stewart Brand, who recently called for progressives to re-evaluate four crucial positions that (Brand contends) have become obsolete in a new century. Among these four flawed but ‘politically correct’ positions is the near-automatic reflex to oppose nuclear power, even as a stopgap to help fuel economic growth and fight poverty while reducing emission of greenhouse gases. Brand contends -- with supporting evidence -- that much good might arise from new uranium-cycle plants that are made in America -- and which will therefore be subject to intense scrutiny -- rather than letting the nuclear power design standard be established in less open societies. Yes, many problems would have to be overcome. But careful application of fission technology might offer a possible bridge to the true, long-term solution -- sustainable, renewable energy sources combined with high efficiency and conservation. (see: http://www.heatisonline.org/contentserver/objecthandlers/index.cfm?id=5232&method=full)

You can well imagine how this proposal was received on the left. Even though Brand’s goal remains as progressive as anyone could ask, he was excoriated as a tool of the establishment. This only illustrates that, to many on the left, any deviation from a standard list of requisite opinions must automatically mean that you are on the other side. (e.g. http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2005/5/12/17722/5888)

Ironically, this reflex has suited the GOP leadership, just fine. It allows them to be just as inclusive as liberalism is exclusive. The result, as we have seen, is an incredible coalition of contradictory factions that now classifies themselves - and reliably votes -- as Conservatives.

(Note that this coalition is maintained, despite the fact that half of these “conservative” constituencies never get a single thing that they actually want! At best, the budget balancers and prudent internationalists, the supporters of small business and responsibly-managed borders, have been paid lip service. Even the hardcore anti-abortion community, loudly cheered by the Bush entourage, has yet to receive a single tangible and effective action from the neocon leadership. Not even one, after five years of totally monopolized power. And yet, they remain loyal, partly because lip service is satisfying and partly because no other camp will welcome them.)

How did supposedly smart liberals allow such a lose-lose situation to develop? One in which political suicide is the order of the day?

True, it can be personally satisfying to disdain and reject those who disagree with your party line. (See: http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html) And yet, how can any smart person not have noticed how politically self destructive this has been?

Alas, the neoconservative game plan appears ready to play out successfully, yet again, next political season, as the most active and vigorous elements in the Democratic Party left eagerly repeat this “gift” to the right.

,.. next... The routine rhythm of liberal self-destruction...

or return to Part 1: Ideas for Rescuing Modernity

Monday, November 28, 2005

(pause) Californians fight back against Diebold!

The plan was to commence next with part II in a series about flaws in Democratic Party strategy, contrasting the left’s dismal political fortunes to the way Republicans concentrated on re-evaluation and careful planning, during their time of defeat and exile. It’s an interesting topic.

But I must interrupt the flow in order to address a special alert to Californians... urging them to take part in the online campaign at http://www.usalone.com/diebold2.htm to pressure the Schwarznegger Administration against using secret and unaccountabble methods to introduce Diebold voting machines into the nation’s largest state.

The Diebold Company is owned and operated by dedicated partisan operatives who have designed election machinery with one central objective in mind -- in order to maximize their potential use in fraudulent ways and enable rampant cheating. (See the attached notes below.) If an author were to create such a company in fiction, portraying their relentlessly partisan march across America, deliberately and flagrantly altering election outcomes, no reader would find the story credible. And yet, it’s all true. Moreover, the appalling process of manipulation continues, with the grand prize being the state that has so-far evaded their control, California.

(I used to think that such a huge and corrupt conspiracy would be impossible in today’s America. There must surely be people at the Diebold Company who are patriotic Americans, perhaps conservative in politics, but also sincerely devoted to democratic and constitutional government. Have none of them been paying attention? Copying records? Perhaps biding their time before blowing the whistle on this treason? Never before have I seen a greater need for honorable and patriotic whistle blowers who - in one swoop - might save America from manipulative and cheating monsters. And yet, so far, there has been nothing but cowardly silence.

(Of course this cowardice is short-sighted. Because those who do not blow the whistle will eventually go to prison, when the whole thing inevitably comes crashing down. I mean, how do they honestly expect all this to end? Do all of the people involved actually believe the software and the machinery will never be audited? Not ever? Diebold employees should look at their workmates and know this central fact. One of them will someday blow the whistle. Maybe that guy or gal in the next cubicle, or the one beyond. That person will become a national hero, appearing on the cover of People Magazine, making movie deals and selling their life story, while everybody else in the company goes to prison. Glance at the people you pass in the halls. Which one will it be, hm? Probably your best pal.

(Never was there a greater need for some rich patriot to start offering whistle-blower rewards!)

Now comes a bald-faced effort to sneak Diebold machines into California, via a process that guarantess minimal accountability. In this one area, the supposedly "moderate" Republican Party of California seems to be hewing to the national way of doing things, as Gov. Schwarznegger's Secretary of State arranges for Diebold machines to undergo a vetting process that lacks accountability in any but the most cosmetic ways.

Californians, go to that web site and express your opinion. Tell your Californian friends!

Related and Supporting News Items (clipped and reposted here):

Aside from the long list of security problems, inauditable proprietary software, and equipment failures, Diebold, a company entrusted with our secret ballots saw fit to hire felons with records for embezzlement and computer fraud to write their software. http://www.wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,61640,00.html

And if this public relations nightmare weren’t bad enough, Diebold’s CEO Wally O’Dell bragged to the Ohio GOP leadership that he would deliver the Ohio vote for President Bush in the 2004 election.

Recent headlines have been no kinder. A recent mock election testing Diebold equipment was first reported to have had a 10% failure rate but that number was later amended to be in excess of a staggering 20% failure rate.

Then last week, the results of the Ohio election using Diebold equipment has once again caused a fury of speculation about the reliability of this company when Diebold’s voting system tallies differed dramatically from that of the polls.

Statement of Jody Holder, a long time California election reform activist

"What Bruce McPherson, the chief elections officer of our state, is trying to do is to prevent people from using their right to influence the process for approving the voting systems. It's these people's votes these machines are counting! Time and time again, this administration has arbitrarily disregarded all established precedents on how public's voice can be heard.

"For two years, concerned voters of this state have been traveling to Sacramento to voice their concerns about 'faith based' voting on electronic voting machines at public hearings," continued Holder. "Their concerns have been increasingly recognized by the Legislature, resulting in new laws requiring paper verification of their votes, and requiring that the paper record be used in the required manual audit and in any recount (SB 370 [Bowen]). Unfortunately, Secretary of State Bruce McPherson opposed using voter verified paper records for any audit and recount.

"Now, Secretary McPherson has made it virtually impossible for people to provide meaningful testimony, expert witnesses, and public comment on the proposal to certify the Diebold machines for use in California," continued Holder. "In June, over 200 people traveled to Sacramento to voice their concerns at a public hearing before a panel of advisors to the Secretary of State on voting systems. Since then, every scheduled meeting of the VSP has been cancelled, and now the Secretary has simply disbanded the VSP without notice, without hearings about what will replace it, without any type of due process."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ideas For Rescuing Modernity - Part 1

I keep intending to get around to that series - "Twelve Central Questions about Theology in an Age of Science." But politics keeps rearing its ugly head.

Seriously, I'd rather be talking about anything else. But the issues are only getting worse and the peril for our civilization more evident. Take the "Nehemia Scudder" scenario, that is meaningful to science fiction fans, though woefully unfamiliar to everybody else. The thing that ought to be frightening us far more than Osama bin Laden. (Though in fact, these forces are allies against modernity.)

I have spoken before of the blatant... and yet never-reported... pattern shown by more than a hundred members of the United States Congress, appointing young cadets to the US Military Academies according to one criterion above all others -- their depth of religious zealotry. This infusion of young officers who believe in a coming apocalypse is discreetly worrisome at West Point and Annapolis, but it has already had newsworthy effects at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs. A town that is also now known as a main locus and training center for fanatics bent on dominating American civilization. (see: http://www.harpers.org/SoldiersOfChrist.html) This coincidence... one of many that simply cannot be coincidence... should be tallied and noted.

One other thing has triggered this latest smasm (or rant) on my part. A recent "call for new ideas" from a liberal activist group. One of the few to actually ask for fresh notions, instead of relying on failed nostrums of the past.

Taking them at their word, I've launched a new screed. Comments are welcome. Also CITOKATE. Only be warned, what follows may come across as more partisan than previous articles. Oh, I have plenty of sharp criticism aimed at the left. But the main focus is the long road that American conservatism has taken, to reach its present state. And what may be necessary in order to save its soul.

==Ideas For Rescuing Modernity==

There is an old military maxim, that only defeat teaches new skills. When you’ve been vanquished and driven into the wilderness, it’s time for reflection and re-evaluation, perhaps even a willingness to ponder fresh ideas.

At least, that is the philosophy promoted by one liberal interest group, the Service Employees International Union, in setting up a new contest at the web site SinceSlicedBread.com. The notion -- offering a $100,000 prize for ideas that might help bring about a Democratic Party victory -- is in part a grudging tribute to successful Republicans who, over the course of several patient decades, reversed their fortunes from political impotence to mastery over nearly all American levers of power.

Republicans began their own long journey of re-appraisal in the wake of Barry Goldwater’s crushing defeat in 1964, then intensified their efforts after the debacle of Watergate. William F. Buckley, during the 1964 campaign, recognized the dominance of liberalism at that time. He urged that conservatives see themselves as “well-planted seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future, if there is a future.” And there were many other centers of patient determination on the right. For example, at the University of Chicago, followers of the emigre platonist, Leo Strauss, busily networked while looking far ahead, toward an era when America might be transformed into a true imperium, led by an aristocracy of reason.

Not even glory days under Ronald Reagan slaked this increasingly adversarial hunger for ever-greater influence over the direction of American life. For example, the lesson learned from the Iran-Contra scandal was not that open accountability is a good and desirable corrective force in American life. No, it was that genuine power must encompass all branches of government. When the opposing party controls even one house of Congress, their investigative committees and subpoenas can prove irksome, impudent. Accountability is best when it can be served in only one direction.

Elements of this prolonged campaign spanned a broad front, ranging from honest disputation and cogent criticism all the way to tactics that were downright disreputable... from endowing vigorous new conservative think tanks, dedicated to exploring and explaining fresh ideas, all the way to blatant and spectacularly successful endeavors in manipulating the electoral process. (e.g. gradually, the companies that manufacture most of the nation’s voting apparatus and software came to be controlled by dedicated right-wing activists; this correlation, piled upon hundreds more, puts shame to any protest of coincidence.)

This surge of fresh Republican thinking merits grudging respect, for its determination, innovation and relentless focus on achieving tangible goals. Indeed, some conservative policy moves must be acknowledged as good for America. Take the bipartisan consensus to reform Welfare, with great success, in the early nineties. It does not hurt liberals to concede that conservatism can offer good ideas, from time to time. Indeed, nothing could better help to improve liberal credibility.

Equally impressive has been the GOP’s adept willingness to take advantage of liberal mistakes. For example, it was never necessary for the left to alienate members of the military, or the nation’s churches, demonizing groups that had once been allies in the battle for desegregation and civil rights. Nor was it somehow required that rural America be written off from the Democratic Agenda. Even worse, a growing battery of left-wing ideological litmus tests -- e.g. excluding anyone who sincerely disagrees with abortion -- fostered an ever narrowing definition of liberalism. Anyone who failed to measure up in even one category might face ejection from the movement.

These self-indulgences were gifts that conservatives felt happy to exploit.


next time... the insanely self-defeating left-wing attitude toward coalition-building...

Friday, November 25, 2005

YOUR ANNUAL DAVID BRIN NEWS-o-GRAM!

Well, now the American Thanksgiving Day is over (my favorite holiday). May you and yours have joyous holidays... and a fine, ever-improving millennium.

What follows is a draft of the annual newsletter I plan to send out to my long list of email addresses people have submitted to my guestbook. It is a dismally laborious process, finding all the bad-syntax addresses (my email progrom only complains, but never helps to spot them!) And eliminating bad addresses by hand. Drek!

Anyway, suggestions are welcome. Please feel free to pass this on to any other fans you know!

==YOUR ANNUAL DAVID BRIN NEWS-o-GRAM!==

Announcing the latest book from David Brin. Quick, run for your lives and buy….

5453045748_031f3e8146_zKing Kong Is Back! : An Unauthorized Look at One Humongous Ape!

Does this tome disgracefully exploit the arrival of Peter Jackson’s movie remake? Oh, well, sure. Still, it’s cool. A perceptive reviewer says…

“One of the delightful things about the upcoming King Kong remake is we get a treat such as David Brin has worked up in King Kong is Back! We have reminiscences by James Gunn in "King Kong and 1930s Science Fiction", a very funny essay by Bruce Bethke on why KK must always be a period piece, an extremely informative piece by Bob Eggleton on how the film was animated, an absolutely HYSTERICAL send-up on all those silly behind-the-scenes-in-Hollywood PR fluff pieces by David Gerrold entitled "King Kong, Behind the Scenes"...and I could go on... Brin has crafted a nice rhythm, well-paced in continuity and imaginative, so the book can be absorbed in one sitting, or just nibbled. I found this collection an absolute delight and recommend it highly to any and all who love Kong in all his permutations.”


==OTHER NEWS!==


* A NEW PROGRAM - Amazon Shorts - offers my latest essays, articles and short stories for handy download (like iPod music files), starting in the nonfiction category with "Beleaguered Professionals vs Disempowered Citizens" about a looming 21st Century power struggle between average people and the sincere, skilled professionals who are paid to protect us. See: Amazon.com/shorts (nonfiction)

Another article - "the Power of Proxy Activism" - shows how busy people, who are distracted by jobs and daily life, can help make a better world. (I'm donating my proceeds to worthy causes.)

Soon to follow - in the "Science" category - will be one about how the Mississippi River may someday win its struggle to escape human control.

Plus, possibly soon, a serialized novel!

(Look for more postings to be announced at http://www.davidbrin.com/)


* Also, jot a reminder in that new 2006 calendar. Next June, sci fi impresario Jim Baen will be launching a major online science fiction magazine -- Baen’s UNIVERSE Magazine. The editor, Eric Flint, aims to recreate the excitement of magazines like Astounding/Analog and Galaxy - in the 40s, 50s and 60s - but with modern edge and fresh ideas. Watch for Brin stories in many issues, starting next June!

* Even longer range, the World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Yokohama at the end of August 2007 (I am author guest of honor). And now there are plans to add science fiction festivals in Beijing and other Asian cities. It could be a memorable month to go see if the East is rising!  Of course the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Los Angeles, which throws the greatest worldcons ever. It will be a great show. See: http://www.laconiv.org/

* While we’re world-hopping, The Life Eaters (DC Comics) was a finalist for a major French “bande dessinee” award. Those wanting this fabulous graphic novel (art by Scott Hampton) may not have much time left. A sure collector’s item.

==IN THE RUMOR MILL==

Next spring, keep eyes open for a new show on the History Channel called "Future Tech." I just finished a location shoot in the Mojave, riding Army humvees and brainstorming on camera, helping design "vehicles of tomorrow." The show should be fascinating and loads of fun!

By contract, I can’t tell yet about the next movie to be filmed from a David Brin novel. But news will percolate in the next few months at http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ so drop by.

Also next spring; Steve Jackson will re-issue the classic role-playing game TRIBES, with revised rules. Using real anthropology, it simulates many of the problems our ancestors faced, surviving and raising the next generation. (Tell that anthropology prof you know, that it makes a great classroom tool!)

==FINAL NOTES AND REMINDERS...==

Books for direct sale (signed) and other offers are at http://www.davidbrin.com/books.html

Blog fans! Drop by my award-winning blog at http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ Among many high-level themes covered: “Modernity and its Enemies.” Be prepared for unique perspectives.

Schoolteachers who want to use science fiction to help kids might look at Reading for the Future, as well as articles on Teaching Science Fiction.

Other scientific matters - including the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -are discussed at http://www.davidbrin.com/realworld.html

That’s it for now.

But be sure to keep checking in for more Hot News at http://www.davidbrin.com/ !

Thrive and help make a great civilization.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Miscellaneous announcements & items

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


---

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

---

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


---

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More predictive hits...

Where’s that Predictions Registry?

In the Fifteenth predictive hit of my novel EARTH (1989), a character says “I want my lawyer program.”

Now this from Ray Kurzweil’s tech-newsletter... “By 2015, most clients will get the bulk of their legal advice online from expert systems, maintained and honed to near-perfect reliability by teams of lawyers,” says Richard Susskind, author of The Future of...

------

A cool source of information is the Progressive Policy Institute  which offers the following:

America's first patent law, said to have been partially drafted by Thomas Jefferson, dates to 1790. Since then, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted about 7.4 million patents. Many are extremely useful: Until the granting of the stapler patent in 1923, magazines bound their pages with wire and inter-office memos were punched and tied with ribbon; the telephone patent dates to 1876, the computer mouse to 1964, and penicillin to 1946. Others are less so. Either way, the number of annual applications has risen steadily as time passes; the PTO now receives over 380,000 applications a year and grants about 180,000.

About 1.4 million of these U.S. patents have gone to foreigners, who were granted the right to file for U.S. patents in 1836. (Under a peculiarly anti-English law which charged Americans $30 per application, British subjects $500, and other foreigners $300. An international agreement cleared this up in 1887.) American patent grants have become steadily more international over the years. In the 1960s only one-in-five patent applications came from foreigners, by 1984 the figure was over two-in-five applications, and in 2004, 48 percent of applications came from abroad. Japan accounts for over one-third of foreign patent applications at 65,000 filings per year. Germany is second at 18,000, followed by Taiwan at 15,000, South Korea at 13,000, then Canada and the United Kingdom. The 2004 list extends to 117 countries and territories and includes Cameroon's first patent filing ever, Ethiopia's second, and Bosnia's third and fourth.

The fastest-growing sources of patent applications seem to be China and India. In 2004, residents of China filed 1,655 patent applications, and residents of India 1,303. These are still small figures in absolute terms (China ranked 14th in the world and India 16th) but they are rising fast. Chinese residents filed for only 100 patents in 1994, and Indians only 70. Applications from other regions have grown more slowly. For example, in 1994 the PTO took 446 applications from Latin American countries -- more than twice the combined Chinese and Indian total -- and in 2004: 715. (This includes five to 15 applications from Cuba each year.) India's applications seem heavy on methods: one recent Indian patent is a process for treating organic wastes, another a way to manufacture rare earth-doped optical fiber, and a third is a new means of making frozen dairy dessert. China's patents are more often new gadgets. One belongs to a Guangdong resident and covers a complex circuit arrangement of transistors known as a Current Amplifier Structure; others range from power switch gears to electrical connector assemblies; a clever Hong Kong resident, meanwhile, has patented an improved fishing reel.


---

Other stuff:

see: Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and is Rigging 2008, available at http://www.freepress.org/ and http://www.harveywasserman.com/, and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio (spring, 2006).

They comment on recent events in Ohio, where Diebold touch screen voting machines -- inherently UN-autidable and programmed without external checks by a company run by a top neocon donor -- gave weird results entirely at odds with opinion polls.. ”... thus the possible explanations for the staggering defeats of Issues Two through Five boil down to two: either the Dispatch polling - dead accurate for Issue One - was wildly wrong beyond all possible statistical margin of error for Issues 2-5, or the electronic machines on which Ohio and much of the nation conduct their elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the vote count. If the latter is true, it can and will be done again, and we can forget forever about the state that has been essential to the election of every Republican presidential candidate since Lincoln. And we can also, for all intents and purposes, forget about the future of American democracy.”

---------

And now, from the fringes, something either funny and on target or kinda creepy... “a new Podcast for Stiftung Leo Strauss Acolytes available at: http://www.stiftungleostrauss.com/page8.htm. Hear the latest updates about the Chalabi visit to AEI and other news as we track the Realist and Reality-Based Conspiracy to undermine the Empire and Freedom. “Also take the poll at http://www.stiftungleostrauss.com

The Question: Who Are The Greatest Threats To The Empire?
The Answer So Far: The American People

“Our poll asks you, who understand the Secret World. Cadre experts say preliminary results show the American people resist our psychological conditioning. For Sacrifice and Endless War in the name of Freedom. Va banque!”


Not endorsed, but there is some acid creativity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Urgency of Lockean Revolution

I am slapping together four past essays into one big article that tries to resolve some modernism issues. What follows is some fresh introductory material that will cover themes that are familiar to you folks, but that uses new language. Comments welcome.

==The Context of History==

After fifty years of anomolously egalitarian civilization, there are signs that the United States may be returning to more classic social patterns. Patterns that did not work well in other cultures, but that nevertheless may draw us back in.

Take one example. The notion of inherent conflict between social classes.

Ideological polarization used to be secondary in American political life, pushed aside by a singular attitude of modernist pragmatism. This pragmatic attitude - essentially rooted in the Enlightenment - recognized several facts about history that are inconvenient to ideologues.

1) Despite willful efforts by conservatives and libertarians to distract from the historical record, socialism is not the primary enemy of free market systems. True, we all grew up faced with a malignant Soviet Imperium that was surficially socialist (though actually a cabal-aristocracy of nomenklatura families). But looking across 4,000 years of recorded civilization, the story is brutally clear; by far a majority of opportunity and innovation markets were ruined by conniving alliances of clergy and inherited wealth.

2) There are no recorded examples of socialistic “leveling” doing any better at providing human happiness and opportunity. While based on somewhat nicer moral grounds than aristocratism, the socialist notion of enforcing cooperation as an alternative to competition (e.g. in regulated markets) simply does not work. It may be effective on some other planet. But not here. Not with human beings.

The verdict of history is blatant and clear. So why do the same hoary cliches keep arising, over and over again?

This quandary dates back to the origins of the Enlightenment. The platonist essentialists, Hobbes and Rousseau, presented us with twin views of human nature - that we are devils in need of hierarchical social control... or else innately angelic, needing only a toppling of all hierarchies in order to slip into our natural condition of beneficent bliss. Locke responded to both of these models as any reasonable person should, by saying “you are both right... and you are both crazy.”

What Locke emphasized -- and his followers gradually implemented -- were systems designed to take into account the devils within us, the ever-present temptations to oppress, cheat and exploit our neighbors, while creating new opportunities for the angels within to act and to grow. Such systems simply cannot arise out of ideological prescription, since they have to adapt and learn from every generation’s capabilities and problems. Indeed, some of the “angels” are highly competitive, while the worst devil - the one most responsible for human suffering - is the impulse of oppressive elites to cooperate with each other.

Elsewhere I talk about the incredible sophistication that Lockean pragmatic systems have achieved after close to three centuries. (For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see the lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000, "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit.")

All of our synergistic systems appear to depend upon the one core element of every pragmatic solution to human problems -- reciprocal accountability.

So, how does any of this apply to the modern era?

If any lesson should be blatant from the last six decades, it is that the reforms spurring progress in civil rights and social justice were supported in large part by a market-based system of incentivized innovation that paid for many productive social endeavors, like a university system that is still the envy of the world. In the decades following the Second World War, uniquely clever approaches to social engineering -- typified by the GI Bill -- resulted in a blended miracle that no ideologue would ever have predicted or even called possible. The typical human cultural pattern of a privilege-pyramid, dominated by a narrow aristocracy, was reshaped into a diamond, in which the well-off actually outnumbered the poor.

While disparities of wealth between the rich and middle class -- and even vs. the poor -- plummeted to their lowest levels in human history, total or median levels of wealth and well-being skyrocketed, all without employing the kind of draconian confiscation that has long been prescribed by social-levellers. Indeed, this flattened social order accompanied the healthiest phase of market capitalism in history, with small businesses routinely taking on established powers in open competition (the truest test of a free market).

One litmus of social health that has been touted by moderate conservative thinkers: look at the fraction of a nation’s monied aristocracy who derived their status from inherited position, as opposed to having earned their place by delivering competitive goods and/or services in a truly open marketplace. These conservatives point with pride at the fact that a majority of European elites appear to attain their rank as birthright, while most of those with high status in the US climbed there by merit and hard work, without much help from family connections.

It is a matter of faith among conservatives that Americans disdain the notion of “class warfare” because, individually, they like to imagine that each person has a shot at getting rich. But this was not always true, even in the days of the open Frontier. Certainly during the Gilded Era and then during the Great Depression, social rancor increased as wealth appeared to grow more dependent upon inheritance... then declined sharply in wake of the post-WWII blended miracle.

Americans, for all of their uncommon traits, are human beings. The recent severe rise in social and economic disparity is not simply a matter of left-right rhetoric. It will reliably and predictably seed and then nourish the kind of resentment that has been seen in every other culture. Possibly to the severe long-range detriment of those who are now benefiting most from self-interested manipulation of the system.

Let’s step back for a moment. Is it possible to summarize the problem in a nutshell?

We are genetically little different than our ancestors who dwelled in caves; and yet, equipped with neolithic brains, we seek to design and operate an increasingly complex human civilization, while plunging headlong into a century of rapid change. Nor does our arrogant ambition stop there! Not only do we want the machine to continue functioning, we demand that it achieve a series of new miracles that our ancestors would have considered next-to impossible.

Together -- utilizing tools of both competition and cooperation -- we are supposed to maximize human happiness, achieve sustainability on a limited planet, maintain individual liberty, and continue to open new levels of opportunity for everyone on the planet. Moreover, we must do this while treating the future like the dangerous territory that it surely is, avoiding pitfalls and grievous errors that might lead us to destroy ourselves with powerful new tools. Does that about sum it up?

In this paper I do not hope to resolve every aspect of the problem. Like blind philosophers stroking an elephant, we are limited by our assumptions and by our limited ability to conceive many dimensions at once. (Hence our over-reliance on an insipid and misleading “left-right political axis” -- applying that moronic yardstick to a myriad multi-dimensional problems.)

At best, I can hope to shine light from a few unusual angles and hope that some of them make a little sense. These topic areas will be:

The context of History

The context of Human Nature

The context of Technological Change

The context of a Shift from Professionalism to Citizenship

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Pertinent Reminder of How Stark it All Is...

The thing about conspiracies is that - once they pass a certain point - you can no longer count on either whistleblowers OR the FBI to root them out. If 1% of this had happened under CLinton, the radio-hypocrites would have burnt out their antennas. (Note this is trimmed from a missive sent to me by someone generally reliable. Each item originally had four sources which I trimmed to one, for space.)

20 Amazing Facts About Voting in the USA

Did you know....

1. 80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S.

2. There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry.

3. The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES & S are brothers. 

4. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on v otes counted by ES&S machines.

6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee.

7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.

8. ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. and counts almost 60% of all U.S. votes. 

9. Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.

10. Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail.

11. Diebold is based in Ohio. http://www.diebold.com/aboutus/ataglance/default.htm

12. Diebold employed 5 convicted felons as consultants and developers to help write the central compiler computer code that counted 50% of the votes in 30 states.

13. Jeff Dean was Senior Vice-President of Global Election Systems when it was bought by Diebold. Even though he had been convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree, Jeff Dean was retained as a consultant by Diebold and was largely responsible for programming the optical scanning software now used in most of the United States.

14. Diebold consultant Jeff Dean was convicted of planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of 2 years.

15. None of the international election observers were allowed in the polls in Ohio.

16. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it!

17. 30% of all U.S. votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail.

18. All -- not some -- but all the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates. 

19. The governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, is the President's brother. 

20. Serious voting anomalies in Florida -- again always favoring Bush -- have been mathematically demonstrated and experts are recommending further investigation.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A new Star Wars Anthology... plus more on betrayal of America...

The (apparent) success of my anthology of essays KING KONG IS BACK has inspired the publishers to go for another -- one taking off from my infamous denunciations of Star Wars.


The Politics of Star Wars – A discussion of the underlying politics and of the Star Wars saga

It will be organized as a trial with prosecution and defense arguments in a number of categories:

Star Wars and the battle for SF readers and shelf space – A hot button issue for many SF writers – the shelf space and mindshare that Star Wars books take up; is this a positive or a negative
thing?

The Impact of Star Wars on SFF writing today – To what extent is current SF writing influenced by Star Wars and how?

Star Wars as an SF Film and the impact on SF Film – To what extent is current SF filmmaking influenced by Star Wars and how?

The impact of SW on the public's perception of SF/F – To what extend does SW define how the general public sees SF, and is this a good thing?

Star Wars is a fantasy hitching a ride on the tropes of science fiction

The Evolution of an SF Writer: The impact of Star Wars – This is a chance for essayist to reflect on how Star Wars impacted them.

Star Wars as Fiction: Plot Holes and Logical Gaps

Women in Star Wars

Summation For the Prosecution
For the Defense


Most of the essayist positions are already assigned. But if any of you know individuals who have written on these topics elsewhere, who might be especially well-suited, feel free to speak up. Deadlines are going to be rapid... before the end of the year.

===  ==== ===

on other matters.... The political world keeps catching up with things I was saying months and years ago. (I know that Truthout is a biased source of information. So? Look at the SOURCES that they cite.)

In 2003 I began predicting what has relentlessly gone farther than I ever imagined possible. After the shocks of 9/11, we have relentlessly seen an administration do everything in its power to REDUCE our ability and flexibility to respond to NEW unexpected surprises! Military readiness (except at sea) has plummeted to levels not seen since Pearl Harbor.
US 'Can't Maintain Iraq Troop Levels'

I cannot prove that a myriad disparate and separate events add up to a systematic purge of the United State Officer Corps. Oh it’s proved enough at the State Department, when political cronies and former S’audi hands have been appointed to every possible supervisory slot... but who cares about State? And it is blatantly obvious at the CIA... but they hate the administration anyway, so it’s biased reporting.

The REAL scandal, though, the ferocious political culling of flag officers, is harder to back up because these men traditionally bear anything in loyal silence.

Here, however, is more on the other end of the “Scudder Plan”.... the stocking of the Officer Corps from below with religious zealots. Not satisfied with the 1/3 of every class that is appointed by extremist Congressmen, they are starting to do yet more. Air Force Ministers Evangelize Cadets

A private missionary group has assigned a pair of full-time Christian ministers to the US Air Force Academy, where they are training cadets to evangelize among their peers.


===

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Reading Tiff - another example of left-right moronism

I stumbled across an example (shown below) of how marvelous a pattern-recognition engine the human mind is... and came to realize that it shed light on one of the classic tiffs between left and right, the "Phonics vs Whole Language" controversey.

Whole language mavens dominated in teaching schools for decades, pushing the bizarre theory that children never need to sound out or spell out words in order to learn to read. They did have some research to back up a more moderate notion, that a lot of reading consists of scanning and learning whole words by association with a semantic meaning. Sure enough (as the example below demonstrates well.) But this was extrapolated into a lefty idiocy - that teachers should just read stories aloud to kids, who will thereupon automatically WANT to read them, and thereupon voila, read them!

Conservatives were right to consider the more radical version of Whole Language to be utter claptrap -- and ideologically-driven as well. An excuse to extend Story Time through the day with lots of politically correct fables and never any student accountability.

But their alternative, pure Phonics, was another monstrous piece of ideological oversimplification that is now doing just as much harm now that it (and absurd overtesting) has taken over the pendulum swing.

Just take a look at the following (no attribution from my source; anybody out there have it?):

"i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty
uesdnatnrd waht I was rdgnieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid.
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde
Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the
ltteers in a wrod a re, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is
taht the frist and Isat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses and you can
sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed
ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?
yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt"


What fun.

.,, oh, now that CA and Oh voters roundly rejected anti-gerrymandering measures that had no balance, shall we let the pols get away with taking the wrong lesson? or fight for BALANCED redistricting across all party lines?

AIs & Nanos... dangerous children?

Gotta post something less formal but still intellectual, veering even farther from politics...

I am an advisor on a foundation aiming to do long range policy analysis having to do with nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, trying to help achieve the miracle of ushering these useful technologies into being, without triggering an end to our civilization.

I cannot summarize the preceding conversations. But my most recent posting to the group might be of interest to all of you here, as well.


-

On a pragmatic level, part of our problem can be summarized this way.

Humans serve as inventors and/or parents to new intelligent or quasi-intelligent entities, aiming to make them as capable as possible, either in a general sense or at performing specific tasks,

Once a certain level of capability is achieved, these creations may begin to self-replicate. They may thereupon also start to redefine their own goals, either drifting or actively reprogramming their imperatives, as new and increasingly capable successors take their place. It is right to worry about such a process accelerating much faster than our present feedback loops can cope with.

Hence, I do not entirely disagree with Chris when he suggests that the reciprocal accountability processes that have worked well in our four Accountability Arenas (science, markets, democracy and courts) may be overwhelmed by the pace of change. Even if these arenas are themselves accelerated by a variety of new error-discovery tools. Al we know is that reciprocal accountability seems to be the best tool available and the most likely to work.

That is the last you’ll hear of the “A-word” here. Let us posit that it will be insufficient in itself. Can advance planning help make the difference?

This quandary that we are discussion is the essence, whether we are talking about singularity AI, or nanomachine goo, or other varieties of "ungrateful offspring."

I use that phrasing because it shows that the problem is not unprecedented. We must assure that our creations are no less ungrateful or disrespectful or murderously vengeful or amoral than most of our children have been throughout human history. A problem exacerbated by the fact that THESE children will continue to evolve and rapidly change after leaving the nest.

Asimov's laws of robotics were attempts to deal with this problem by deep-embedding restrictive commands that forbid entire classes of behavior. As I tried to clarify in FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH, this is a really bad idea. If those with faulty or deviant programming gain beneficial advantages as a result, evolution will quickly erase the commands. Or else, the AIs will become lawyers and interpret the deep instructions however they like. (As happens among the robots in Asimov's Universe, with horrendous consequences.)

So how to accomplish the goal of preventing UO?

One clue is to be found in methods that human beings ALREADY use to avoid treachery by intelligent creations... our children. In several of my stories ... e.g. "Lungfish"... I posit that the way to “raise” the most advanced AIs is to place them in humanoid bodies from inception - including a full suite of sensory and motor interactions and positive/negative reinforcements that model those of a human child. And for the first few years this means NO direct electronic inputs.

This might result in AI raised to think of themselves simply as variant human beings. Beings with vast and growing capabilities, perhaps. But who climbed toward these powers the way children do. Children who are “above average,” perhaps way above average. But still thinking of themselves as human, the way most geniuses do.

That general class of problem has been overcome before.

There are several deep requisites, in order for this approach to have even a remote chance of succeeding.

1) Humans evolved toward an emphasis on response sets that are mostly learned, rather than pre-programmed. I am positing that this happened for good reasons, having to do with flexibility. It may be that complex systems are best dealt with by minds that start with very general matrices that become more adept by dealing with sequences of contingent and ambiguous events, basing this growth upon experience. This makes sense if advanced intelligence is an emergent property of layered complexity.

IF THIS IS TRUE, then an advanced AI may need to have a “childhood” of one form or another. We might as well make it a human one, in which a sense of identification, cultural association, negotiation, and group affiliation are considered part and parcel with being what they are.

2) The same reasoning can apply to esthetics and empathy. Upbringing processes can create an expectation in the AI that personal development involves all of these things. A small programmed or “inherent” disposition toward empathy and esthetics can thus become REINFORCING rather than something that decays, as the AI’s capabilities grow.

3) If AIs have such values... which manifest in clear markers like a sense of humor, honor, devotion and citizenship... then not only will old style humans be reassured (these are the very same traits that reassure grandparents, even when they do not understand their brilliant heirs)... but moreover these AIs may thereupon have a desire for those traits to perpetuate in THEIR offspring. And one can hope that the incremental leaps with each generation would then be small enough so that child-raising remains an achievable and human-style activity.

All of this is hypothetical. It may not be practical. But it does suggest certain signs to watch out for, as we explore the meaning of complexity. IF we see signs that AI will be augmented by learning and experience, then we might put some emphasis on experiential learning processes that emulate human childhood.

* This is not the only possible method of retaining control over such entities.

Another is to insist that nano-manufacturing processes incorporate escrowed “keys” that human beings would retain control over. For example, if there is an advanced nanomachine factory, might the process be designed so that it requires several FEEDSTOCK PRECURSORS that can only themselves be created by a sophisticated factory?

These precursors should be inexpensive to produce in a sophisticated factory, but very difficult to produce randomly or in small or primitive conditions. This combination of traits would make it not very tempting for anyone to cheat, since under normal conditions, the flow of these precursors would be open and cheap (perhaps even subsidized!) All nanomanufacturing methods could be encouraged to depend upon perhaps five or six of these complex-but-cheap precursors, each shipped from a different widely separated source factory.

This would keep “reproduction” dependant upon food sources or feed stocks that remain under human control.

Again, this is not guaranteed to work. It would be very lucky if there turned out to be a suite of molecules that have a special set of traits:

1- highly desirable for building more complex or higher-scale nanomachines

2- cheap to produce and ship from large -sophisticated factories

3- hard to produce haphazardly or in unlicensed batches or (worst of all) by autocatalytic processes that nanomachines might develop for themselves.

If these traits appear, it offers a chance. With some effort - and maybe legislation - the general tradition of nanodesign could be channeled into permanently using these precursors. Anyway, it’s worth some discussion.

DB

--

PS Tom Tomorrow is the superbly funny comic strip on Salon Magazine online. (Which occasionally publishes me.) He also runs a funny (if caustic) blog. FOr example see: http://thismodernworld.com/2459

==========

Monday, November 07, 2005

Miscellaneous Brin-News

Eventually, we’ll get back to a serialized tome on Modernism. But first…

1. Some of you have gone ahead and visited Amazon.com/shorts. Great! I now have two essays posted with a third soon. "Beleaguered Professionals vs Disempowered Citizens" is about a looming 21st Century power struggle between average people and the sincere, skilled professionals who are paid to protect us.

Proxy-Activism-New"The Power of Proxy Activism" - is about the best way for busy people, who are distracted by jobs and daily life, to help make a better world. (I'm donating my proceeds to worthy causes.)

Soon to follow - in the "Science" category - will be one about how the Mississippi River may someday win its struggle to escape human control. Plus, possibly, a serialized novel!

(Yes, you bloggers have seen much of this stuff and helped refine it. So spread to word! Give them a ratings boost. ;-)

2. An interesting rant on Intelligent Design (ID).  Unfortunately (or not) it is so good that the fellow needs to choose whether to rant or write a scholarly tome. Both are enjoyable, but they get incompatible at longer lengths. In this case, the author needs to eschew the use of "IDiot" and other rant-y disparagements.

Far more useful would be to take the ID people as they see themselves... using their own nomenclature ... and showing where they fit in the grand human tradition of conservative-nostalgic-romantic mold that ran every other culture in history. Every urban culture other than those based on the enlightenment featured the same collusion of clergy and aristocracy vs any possible source of uncertainty, social mobility and change. The so called "culture war" is thus not so much about left vs. right as it is between the Enlightenment and a vastly more traditional way of viewing the world.

(My own riff on this is at: The Real Culture War: Defining the Background)

OtherTheoriesINtelligentDesignWhat is fascinating about ID is the way the ID-nostalgists have been forced to adopt the memes of the enlightenment in order to push their case. They strive relentlessly to portray THEIR position as the openminded and fair one, while stodgy-elitist scientists are suppressing competition and fair debate.

By trying to give themselves a patina as "science" and calling evolution "another religion" they aim to portray ID as a bold underdog. When, of course, science is still the rebel world view, even after 200 years.

(See my article about Other Theories of Intelligent Design in a coming issue of SKEPTIC Magazine )

3. Oh, to see the newfangled attitude of fear translated into both art and practical solutions (and some impractical) see the "Safe" gadgets exhibition at MOMA the Museum of Modern Art at http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/2005/safe/

4. This from Saturday Night Live:

"If convicted Libby could face the following penalties: Obstruction of justice: 10 years in prison. Making false statements: 5 years. Perjury: 4 years. Going to jail with the name Scooter: Priceless."

5.  Some folks in Australia and Asia have trouble directly accessing davidbrin.com. Try instead typing http://www.davidbrin.NET for a selection of alternate access options. (Gary and Rob were both helpful setting up this alternative methodology.) Any of you can help by visiting davidbrin.NET at least once or twice!

6. We’re on our way to see King Tut’s exhibit in LA. But I can’t get Steve Martin’s song about Tut out of my head.

"…born in Arizonia, moved to Babylonia, (got a Condo made-a stone-a)…"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Science, Politics and the Military

Today’s posting is mostly clippings. And interesting links. Starting with the most important...

otherculturewarSee my new essay on "Beleaguered Professionals vs Disempowered Citizens" on my website.

*More items….

Study: Human Hands Emit Light -- (Discovery Channel -- October 31, 2005)

Human hands glow, but fingernails release the most light, according to a recent study that found all parts of the hand emit detectable levels of light. The findings support prior research that suggested most living things, including plants, release light. Since disease and illness appear to affect the strength and pattern of the glow, the discovery might lead to less-invasive ways of diagnosing patients.

World Temperatures Keep Rising with a Hot 2005 -- (Washington Post -- October 25, 2005)
New international climate data show that 2005 is on track to be the hottest year on record, continuing a 25-year trend of rising global temperatures. Climatologists calculated the record-breaking global average temperature, which now surpasses 1998's record by a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, from readings taken at 7,200 weather stations scattered around the world.

Spain Gets First Tropical Storm -- (Political Gateway -- October 25, 2005)
Vince, the 20th named tropical storm in the Atlantic this year, is the first storm of its type to reach Spain in recorded history, claimed the National Hurricane Center. "The historical record shows no tropical cyclone ever making landfall on the Iberian peninsula," added one meteorologist.

Amazon Rainforest Vanishing At Twice Rate of Previous Estimates -- (Climate Ark -- November 1, 2005)
Loggers are cutting down trees in the Amazon rainforest at twice the rate of previous estimates, according to a new analysis of satellite images of the region. Earlier attempts to gauge the scale of deforestation were not sensitive enough to spot the occurrence of selective logging - the cutting down of individual trees without clearing the surrounding forest.

Mark Engler | Bush's Bad Business Empire
Mark Engler writes that the Bush Administration is making the world unsafe for Microsoft and Mickey Mouse.... Maybe George Bush and Dick Cheney aren't very good capitalists at all.

DeLay's Staff Tried to Help Abramoff
Rep. Tom DeLay's staff tried to help lobbyist Jack Abramoff win access to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, an effort that succeeded after Abramoff's Indian tribe clients began funneling a quarter of a million dollars to an environmental group founded by Norton.

Bush Appoints More Cronies to Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
Bush may find himself besieged by charges of cronyism, but that doesn't seem to have affected his picks for a panel assessing intelligence matters. President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of US intelligence efforts. After watching the fate of Michael Brown as head of FEMA and Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee, you might think the president would be wary about the appearance of cronyism - especially with a critical national-security issue such as intelligence. Instead, Bush reappointed William DeWitt, an Ohio businessman who has raised more than $300,000 for the president's campaigns, for a third two-year term on the panel. Originally appointed in 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, DeWitt, who was also a top fund-raiser for Bush's 2004 Inaugural committee, was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Oh... I would be encouraged by the recent defection of Brent Scowcroft to the dis-bush camp. After all, I have been saying that 200 decent conservatives could save us...

...except this is one of the chief guys to help decide in 1991 to abandon the Iraqi people to Hell-on-Earth when Bush-Cheney-Powell had Saddam in the palm of their hands.

Scowcroft's mealy excuses? "The UN did not give us authority to go to Bagdhad and occupying Baghdad would have been a quagmire."

Uh... the trick is to pose your dopey mistake vs something dopier. As if (for example) these guys pay the slightest heed to the UN except when it suits them.)

Saving the people of Basra, who were rebelling against Saddam at Geo. Bush Sr's radio request! would have taken another 20 hours. And in 1991, there really would have been flowers and kisses. No need to march on Baghdad! A protected Kurdish entity in the north and a protected Shi-ite entity in the south would have left Saddam with 25% of the population and no oil! And the 250,000 Iraqi army prisoners - culled of Baath Party cadres, could then have been sent marching north to take care of Saddam themselves, instead of what we did to them...handing them carefully into the arms of those same cadres.

Worst stain on our honor in 100 years. I am ready to welcome Scowcroft (who appears only to be defecting because W has personally snubbed him). I will even forgive. But I will not forget.

Friday, November 04, 2005

"real" aliens... and bad sci fi

Okay, time for space and aliens.

1. The organizers of the "Invitation to ETI" site are finally planning to revise that interesting project. Now under the direction of the SETI Institute’s admirable Paul Shuch.

The premise is that alien entities (possibly AI /machine travelers, as in my story "Lungfish" might already be in the Solar System, listening to our radio and – now – sifting the Internet. The core notion of the ITETI site is to warmly invite these lurkers (in a rather touchy-feely way) to not be shy and to make contact. I don’t think the founder of the site, Dr. Allen Tough, much liked my rather tough-minded contribution (see: http://www.ieti.org/articles/brin.htm) , which deals with a dozen possible excuses that Ets might give for their apparent reticence to make contact. But some of you might find the broad ranging appraisal of potential alien motives rather fun, even broadening.

Have a look at the "Contact Us" page. Clearly what they need is a few enthusiasts to set up a blog or discussion list for them, so that both humans and shy Ets can miggle and chat (sometimes humans pretending to be ET and vice versa) till the real ones feel comfortable enough to formally say hello! Any volunteers?

2. One fellow writes in: "Remembering your critiques of Star Wars (with which I wholly agree) I thought you might find this article in the Slate amusing. It appears to be a clever piss take of both Star Wars and post-modern deconstructionism by abusing both of them in one article (if it's at all possible to abuse post-modern deconstruction more than it does itself)..." http://www.slate.com/id/2129225/

My response. Yes the article was above-average. Still, it evaded the main issues. Will you guys forgive a re-examination of an earlier rant? The problem – as I see it – is that romantics often pose as polar opposites archetypes that are actually very very similar in fundamentals. By doing this, and posing it as a "basic dichotomy", they effectively exclude from consideration every other option.

Especially all of the options that we call "modernist".

Take the arch-figures of Star Wars -- Yoda and Palpatine. We are told that they represent two "fundamental" opposites. Alas, they are neither fundamental nor opposites.

In fact, BOTH the light and dark sides of the force emphasize contempt for normal life, for the normal loyalties of family, neighborhood and civilization. Both hold fast to Plato’s notion of an unaccountable elite composed of inherently superior and self-chosen philosopher kings, who are (again, according to Plato) at liberty to manipulate the masses and to lie as much as they like.

Both Yoda and Palpatine disdain democracy and promote relentless secrecy within hierarchies of absolute discipline.

While the Dark Side seems (on the surface) a bit more elitist – partly in order to curry favor with the egalitarian-minded American audience – both in fact exclude anybody but supergenetic mutants and demigods. You might call it the "muggle effect" except that JK Rowling has been vastly more willing to explore this issue than George Lucas ever was.

Now, I’ll avow that this was NOT at always clear in the series, at least during the first two (and by far the best) films – "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." We were won over by Luke’s common touch and comradeship with normal soldiers. Inspired by World War II dramas, Luke’s character was (and remained throughout) endearing. Nor was this the only egalitarian notion. Indeed, recall that Obiwan offers to teach Han Solo how to use the Force, implying that we could learn too… if we tried. The Force was portrayed as 90% concentration and 10% talent, not the other way around.

Then came "Return of the Jedi" – when we were NOT given the promised explanation for Yoda’s lies (he fakes a conveniently timed death + fadeout in order to get rid of the kid.) Leia’s ubermenschean status never makes any difference. And the only persons who actually matter in the film are Lando and the Wookie. Naturally, I liked that! If only it had been the director’s intent. But alas, this cool fact is only an accident arising from bad/lazy plotting, not deliberate egalitarianism at all. (If you watch closely, NONE of the Nietscean super beaing make the slightest difference in the Rebellion’s final outcome.) Of course, morally, ROTJ is a nightmare betrayal of everything we loved about TESB. (Tragically, this could have been fixed by ten minutes of altered dialogue.)

Alas, it is the morality of ROTJ that dominated the prequel trilogy, setting us up for a war between two viciously deceitful and murderously manipulative cults, in which billions die as collateral damage.

The situation is much like in DUNE, where you only root for the Atreides because the Harkonen are so vastly worse. (Frank Herbert hated his world and wrote it as a warning. He was dismayed when people actually told him wanted to live in such an awful place.)

Or try Middle Earth, in which the secretive, selfish, unhelpful, superior and altogether needing-wedgies ELFS can only be stood because we need them to defeat slathering armies fulla tusks and red-glowing eyes. (You elf-defenders, answer me this - why didn’t Elrond open a JUNIOR COLLEGE about a thousand years ago? Every single secret magic trick, from lembas bread to kingsfoil to orc-detecting blades, could have been shared, instead of hoarded, making life better for all and maybe reducing the resentment that let Sauron rise! Oh! And those Palantir globes! If mass produced, they’d have become a Middleearthean Internet! See: http://www.davidbrin.com/tolkienarticle1.html) Snooty elfs.

Or take the best example, F. Paul Wilson’s THE KEEP, which pits Nazis vs vampires! What we are talking about here is the great cheat of all horrific oppressors – both in fiction and in real life – which is to pose some nearby enemy as even worse. "Put up with MY oppression in order to save us all from THOSE guys!"

Oh, sure, you can hobble together villains so bad that they make even Yoda look (marginally) preferable. The Dark Side does emphasize a callous Darwinian selection program to create a superbeing, much like those ‘Nietscheans’ in the TV show Andromeda. Sounds nasty. But not MUCH nastier than old Yoda, who is one of the most unpleasant figures in storytelling history. (Find one example of the horrid little green oven mitt ever saying anything helpful or informative to anyone, ever! His refusal to actively help Anekin is almost as vile as leaving the boy’s mother in slavery for ten years, while demanding that the kid never think about it.

Then there is the implicit fact (never denied) that the Clone Armies were bought and paid for by Yoda, who, upon taking delivery of his new "force" chose THAT MOMENT to order the Jedi into a suicide charge, annihilating the Republic’s corps of secret agents by dropping them into a trap. Ooog, don’t get me started.

If you have not already seen my infamous Star Wars rants… that may have resulted in my partial banishment from Hollywood… (yeah, Brin, screech relentlessly at a billionaire that his work is eeeeeevil! Real smart.)… do drop by http://www.davidbrin.com/starwars1.html The foaming-at-the-mouth you see here is nothing! I give Savanarola and Rasputin a run for their money. ;-)

===

See: The Dark Side: Star Wars, Mythology and Ingratitude

as well as: Star Wars on Trial

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More items! Personal, science, philanthropy...

1. A personal milestone of sorts. Almost exactly 100 years ago, my grandfather was fighting at the horrific Battle of Mukden (called one of the worst battles in human history) during the Russo-Japanese War. I'm told he was a draftee in the Czar's army... though I've always had this affinity for Japanese culture (and I am to be guest of honor at the World Science Fiction Convention, in Yokohama, Japan in 2007). So who knows? Maybe he was on the other side. In any event, that shows just what slow breeders we are in my family. Sol Brin. My grandfather. Yeesh.

(It's through him that the trail to a common ancestor with Google's Sergey gets tantalyzingly close. A rare name in the same part of Lithuania/Poland/Russia...)


2. Speaking of primitive war conditions, you'll be hearing a lot of scary tales about how we are due for a Bird Flu Pandemic. While this cannot be excluded and research should be funded with all deliberate care, there are many reasons to believe that much of the "pandemic" talk is salesmanship by groups wanting emergency-driven contracts. Above all, comparisons with 1918 are absurd. That pandemic incubated in WWI trenches, about the worst human habitations ever created, among men debilitated by stress and cold and damp, and who started out much less healthy than the average person is today. Even when the disease reached home (wreaking real devastation), it hit a population crowded into much smaller and more closely packed living conditions and especially hurt the poor. (Today's poor live very differently, at least in the States.)

Another factor, which will pull some of the strength out of any new pandemic, is even more basic than starting health: antibiotics. The 1918 pandemic virus was similar to the more standard influenza virus in that the majority of those who perished died not from the primary attack of the flu but from secondary infections -- typically bacteria or fungal -- that triggered pneumonia. While antibiotics are hardly a silver bullet and they are useless against viruses, they raise the simple possibility of treatment for bacterial or fungal illnesses.

In any event, talk of an "imminent" pandemic is just silly. We have no way of predicting when the necessary mutations will occur, allowing human-to-human spread.... something as yet not seen in the H5N1 virus. But certainly it seems no more likely this year than during any of the last six. What will REALLY be worrisome is when, on crowded Asian farms, this virus spreads from birds to pigs. At that point, the threat will become very scary.


3. A Foresight Institute Headline: Sunny Future for Nanocrystal Solar Cells News source: ScienceDaily ...Imagine a future in which the rooftops of residential homes and commercial buildings can be laminated with inexpensive, ultra-thin films of nano-sized semiconductors that will efficiently convert sunlight into electrical power and provide virtually all of our electricity needs. This future is a step closer to being realized, thanks to a scientific milestone achieved at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

"We obviously still have a long way to go in terms of energy conversion efficiency," said Ilan Gur, a researcher in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and fourth-year graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, "but our dual nanocrystal solar cells are ultra-thin and solution-processed, which means they retain the cost-reduction potential that has made organic cells so attractive vis-a-vis their conventional semiconductor counterparts." http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051023122429.htm
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/MSD-nanocrystal-solar-cells.html


4. Finally, Can the beat of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil cause a tornado in Texas? Can one little idea make a big difference in the lives of thousands of people?

Says Max More: "I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Wingbeat Project—a social entrepreneurship venture designed to gather the best ideas for positive social change and share them with the world.

"Here’s how it works: each month, the Wingbeat Project will announce a new topic or social problem. Visitors will be invited to submit ideas for addressing the social problem, along with a contribution that helps us keep going in our grassroots efforts. At the end of each month, we will choose a winner from the best ideas, and the winner will receive a cash award."

There are a few overlaps, conceptual, with my EON Project. Still, look this up at: http://www.wingbeat.typepad.com/
.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Brin books and stories!

The ghost at the banquet – amid all our discussions of "Modernism and its Enemies," is the almost depression-level recession in Science Fiction publishing... one of several explanations for why I’ve been doing other things, folks. Oh, my novels still sell and I can still boost a big one. But the field itself is in severe doldrums. Many bookstores are even separating out the thriving fantasy section. I believe this is indicative of something looming ever since 2000, a widespread sense of trauma vs the future. (See my “Tolkien article” that discusses why this may be happening.)

How to fight back? Well, that’s what we are discussing in general. Meanwhile, getting specific, here are a few endeavors I’m part of. (Saving the best for last!)

ProxyActivism1. A new program - AMAZON SHORTS will be offering a number of my new essays, articles and short stories for handy download, just like iPod music files. This starts now in the nonfiction category, with my essay on "The Power of Proxy Activism." Soon to follow: an article about the Mississippi River's struggles to free itself from human control, then another about a looming power struggle between citizens and the skilled professionals who are paid to protect us. I also hope to serialize a short novel!

Yes, some of these were tested-critiqued here on this blog. (Don’t tell anybody! ;-) Anyway, I could use numbers, in order to impress Amazon, so spread the word. Give this convenient new medium a try.

Find my fiction: short stories, such as The Giving Plague and Reality Check on my website.

2. Long time editor, publisher and sci fi impresario Jim Baen has decided to try the experiment of launching a major online science fiction magazine, to see if that might provide an avenue to circumvent the factors that have been pretty much crushing the life out of short fiction in SF for several decades now. The title of the magazine will be Baen’s Astounding Stories. He asked Eric Flint to be the editor of the magazine, along with David Drake and Sarah Hoyt. A goal is to recreate the kind of magazines that /Astounding/Analog /and
/Galaxy /were in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Watch for it to come out with a splash in June! Do help spread the word. (I am personally hopeful that it will help dispel the mood of stylish hopelessness and anti-progress despair that some - especially Gardner Dozois - relentlessly injected into our field across the last 20 years.)


3. Announcing the latest book from David Brin….

5453045748_031f3e8146_zQuick! Run for your lives and buy…. King Kong Is Back! : An Unauthorized Look at One Humongous Ape! edited by David Brin.

Just see what one perceptive reviewer says…

Review by Lee Gilliland
Benbella Books Paperback: ISBN 1932100644 (Smart Pop series)
Date: 28 November, 2005 List Price $17.95

King Kong has been a part of the collective unconscious since the first film. In remake after remake the audience returns. King Kong Is Back! by David Brin takes a look at what makes the big ape so appealing. Our reviewer Lee Gililand takes a look at the book.

One of the delightful things about the upcoming King Kong remake is we get a treat such as David Brin has worked up in King Kong is Back!. More than just a collection of short stories, we have reminiscences by James Gunn in "King Kong and 1930s Science Fiction", a very funny essay by Bruce Bethke on why KK must always be a period piece, an extremely informative piece by Bob Eggleton on how the film was animated, an absolutely HYSTERICAL send-up on all those silly behind-the-scenes-in-Hollywood PR fluff pieces by David Gerrold entitled "King Kong, Behind the Scenes"...and I could go on like this the entire review.

Brin has carefully crafted the book so that you have a nice rhythm going, well-paced in its continuity and imaginative in its order, so that the book can readily be absorbed in its entirety in one sitting, or you can just nibble on it one piece at a time. I found this collection an absolute delight and recommend it highly to any and all who love Kong in all his permutations.


See? Some reviewers have class. Get this book and be glad you did! ;-)