Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Strategic/Tactical Use of Openness

Andrew said...This thread isn't political enough.

All right then… the political lamp is lit!

He also said: "The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter."

Rob further said: “Still and all, two things come to mind: it still freaks me out, unless something like David's contrarian idea of making all the records completely public were to take hold, and even then it still changes the landscape of privacy quite a lot.”

Actually, that oversimplifies. I do not call for all personal records to be public. Even in the radically open society after the Helvetian War, portrayed by my novel EARTH, secrecy is still possible... though you must cache your secrets in some legal way that BOTH protects them and still allows them to be subject to due process. Moreover, the government – too – can do this.

Indeed, in the case of government, considerable latitude should be given to those public protectors who claim to have a need to operate in cryptic ways. I have consulted for the CIA and believe me, I do NOT want them to instantly drop their pants and go naked before enemies of the West! I want them to win tactical battles, and it is the tactical battles that require secrecy most.

Still, the situation is very different over the span of strategic time... years and decades. Over those spans, it is important to recognize the big picture. That our CIVILIZATION prospers - and its opponents tend to shrivel - the more open the world and its varied competitive battlefields become. The more open is the competition, the more it becomes a matter for the accountability arenas - markets, science, democracy... that create beneficial synergies out of competition, instead of reciprocal destruction. Further, the more open the playing field, the more standing individuals have, contributing their billions of eyes to a network that can detect errors and criminality, helping the professionals to do their jobs.

All through the Cold War, the Soviet Union operated under a “logical-sounding” premise. ”If we keep a 99% CLOSED society, and the Americans keep a 99% OPEN society, then we will know 199 points of information and the Americans will know 101 points… and we’ll win!" Throughout all that time, they got more information about our defense from issues of AVIATION WEEK than we got about theirs, through all of our spies in the USSR. And yet, did they win? (Indeed, this is a prime example of the human tendency for self-hypnosis and delusion, based on repeating logical-sounding mantras over and over again… today part of the insanity of the right.)

WHY did we win – (and overwhelmingly) – this competition, despite the purported advantages of closed-control? Of course we credit open markets, for their creative fecundity, producing so many innovations that our rivals were overwhelmed. They simply could not copy them fast enough. But worth noting: it is not the corporations that make these markets. Nor the CEO aristocracy. Rather, it is openness itself. If you have it, something like creative markets will happen, no matter how the structure is set up.

Evidence? In 1945, at the end of WWII, the United States was ten years ahead of the Soviet Union in atomic technology and maybe just a couple in electronics. Spies helped the USSR close that ten year nuclear weapons gap, so we clamped down, classifying that entire field under tight wraps of security. Meanwhile, the field of electronics was left open. Forty years later? Our lead in electronics and cybernetics had grown spectacularly, into a gap of many generations that could never be crossed. Meanwhile, in the area of bombs, everybody agreed that the Soviets were essentially even with us. Conclusion? Any field in which we foster creativity through openness is one that will utilize our civilization’s strengths. Fields that we shut down, by short-term thinking and reflex, will play to the strengths of our opponents.

(And mind you, it was cold warrior Edward Teller who pushed this point, demanding utter opennes NOT as a good-goody stance, but in order to crush communism, decisively!)

Getting back to my core point: a SECULAR TREND toward a more generally open world should be our grand goal, even if it has irksome effects in the short term.

Indeed, it is no paradox to envision the CIA using cryptic tactical methodologies toward the aim of fostering secular openness trends! It is no paradox… but it does require agile, nonlinear thinking. It takes the intelligence to realize that our civilization is not about the convenience of its leaders.

No, I’ll go farther. That secular openness trend is the very thing that such officers should realize they are loyal to! It is more fundamentally a trait of “freedom” and “America” than any word or flag, or even any particular land mass.

Sticking my neck out, it is just this secular trend that has (I believe) driven most of the anti-modernist forces crazy. They are frantic, right now, across all standard borders of ideology. It is why the Iranian president recently sent a letter to President Bush, pleading that Bush take in the “big picture” and see a wider perspective. Asking him to realize that they are both allies, inherently the same. Co-belligerents against a secular-scientific and “liberal democratic” (his very words) civilization.

It would be a mistake to shrug off this letter (the way the press has) as a bit of other-culture looniness to scratch our heads over and then dismiss with a chuckle. I am deeply impressed with the Iranian’s ability to step back and see things from a wider angle than mere Shiite Islam, but rather, as a matter of deep social and psychological agendas. He does represent the same fundamental personality, the same fear of an open future, that has dominated American power in the 21st Century.

This is important because a crisis is coming. The forces of traditional authority span every spectrum of religion and culture and politics (e.g. left-to-right). What they all share is a reflex, a 4,000 year habit of preferring unidirectional vision and evasion of accountability. They will not go gently into the coming good light.

Is it truly coming? In EARTH (1989) I forecast a worldwide "Secrecy War" in the 2010s, almost an visceral and spontaneous uprising (like those fed-up Union soldiers who stood up, against orders, during the Battle of Missionary Ridge). Retaliation by an increasingly well-educated and outraged world population. A drive to cleanse the shadows wherein parasites have always prevailed.

At one level or another, this will have to happen. Not only to end corruption and make markets truly (at last) the cornucopian problem solving machines we are told they ought to be... but also, above all, so that errors in fields like nanotech and biotech et. al. are detected and discussed, openly, before they can become world-killers.

But again, let me reiterate. I am not a “nakedness radical”. What is scary about the NSA stonewalling of Justice Dept investigators is NOT that the NSA acted to preserve operational secrecy. It is that they did so in a way that in effect rejects the very notion of accountability ever applying to them and their secrets.

There is a potential middle ground. A compromise position, that could preserve their operational secrets while ensuring accountability. It is inherent in my longstanding proposal to create the office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS) who could bridge the two worlds, by creating a corps of trusted observers who can watch the watchers for us.

But it is in the nature of human beings that we rationalize. And it is in the nature of the paid professional protective caste that they will tell themselves that they are trustworthy. That they do not require watching.

Alas, though they are our beloved protectors, they WILL forget (if we let them) that they are also our servants.

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Anonymous said...More political fuel. There is an excellent post over on Professor Balkin's blog about the risk profile of the Bush presidency going forward. The conclusion is that Bush has every incentive to make bigger gambles irregardless of who controls Congress after this coming election. I hold out hope, though, that the average person is smart enough for such a policy to backfire.

One more reason I have said repeatedly - THE top priority for all modernists (e.g. liberals, democrats, libertarians and Goldwater Conservatives) MUST be to reach out to the abused members of the Officer Corps and the Intelligence Community and the Protector Caste. Only they are positioned to detect and thwart such ploys.

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Erik, the child labor stats are amazing to me, yet credible. The people of Latin America have decided to awaken. According to my 1987 meme war theory, they had to choose whether to spiral down into macho frenzy, or rise up and become modern people, shrugging off the chains of dogma and class interest. The BIG emphasis on providing free education down there is evidence of the latter...

...But I’ll only really believe it when Spanish language SCIENCE FICTION takes off in a big way!

(BTW Steve, that’s simply wrong. Yes, in the past child labor sometimes was the 1st step up the ladder, especially seasonal farm labor. Still, that transition is all-too easy for aristocratic elites to stymie, as they have repeatedly in every culture OTHER than the most recent ones, consigning the children of child-laborers to be child-laborers, as well. A decent modern state must break such cycles! It must ensure that these children leap over that phase and devour education. There is no better role for a state. (And it is perfectly compatible with free-market capitalism.) We cannot afford to wait. Nor is waiting prudent, in an era when angry young men can become technologically super-empowered. This is a leap that must be accomplished in one more generation, or we all may die for having failed.)

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Other political matters:

More from Russ Daggatt: “Read about the latest Christian right war on contraception. You really MUST read it. The logic seems pretty simple. Contraception results in fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer abortions. This should be something that brings together all parties -- pro-life and right-to-choose. But a growing contingent among the moralists who increasingly are dictating the affairs of our country oppose contraception because, they believe, it makes pre-marital sex "consequence-free." Even within marriage, it diverts sex from its holy objective to the mere pursuit of pleasure. No sex before marriage, and thereafter only for procreation.

“The Bush administration is spending $200 million a year for "abstinence only" programs in our schools. The little hard data available suggests these programs are not only ineffective, they are counterproductive. The don't prevent sex. They just prevent acknowledging the possibility of sex and preparing for it ahead of time. Internationally, the Bush administration is diverting money allocated to HIV/AIDS prevention into abstinence only programs -- away from other priorities that actually save lives.“

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/07/magazine/07contraception.html

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Re possible democratic strategies... like many, I find it clear that the Dems are having trouble formulating a response to Iraq that does not sound like a plaint that Saddam should have been left in power.

Effective points being made:
* incompetence
* civilian meddling/ignoring professional advice
* corruption (!)
* WMD lies

Potentially effective points NOT being made:

1. We were not greeted with "kisses and flowers" (Rummy's words). Why? We WOULD have been so greeted if we had liberated the Shiites when we promised to... in 1991! But instead of continuing 12 more hours to Basra, THESE SAME MORONS consigned the Iraqi people to 12 more years of hell. At Bush Sr's call, those people rose up against Saddam, having been promised that "We're on our way!" That betrayal - one of the worst stains on American honor in a century - was one reason why I WANTED to go get Saddam.

1a. But I wanted it done competently, surgically, honestly.

1b. THESE morons are the very last people who should lecture to ANYBODY about Saddam! Having coddled him in the 80s, then having let him take them by surprise in Kuwait… and thereupon having decided to lift him back up, brushing him off and propping him back up in 91, committing the heinous Shame of Ninety-One… they have no right. And we should all say so.

2. I just said " competently, surgically, honestly..." You mean like in Afghanistan? Exactly! Only these morons don't deserve any credit for Afgh. Bush and Rummy only had time (after 9/11) to say "go!" to a war plan that was already on the books! A war plan devised and okay'd by... wait for it.. Welsley Clark, Gen. Shinseki and Bill Clinton.

Proof of this is that the Taliban assassinated Massoud, head of the Northern Alliance, days before 9/11. They knew all about the War Plan in place and that it would rely upon the Uzbeks, Tajiks etc led by Massoud.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that THE main goal of 9/11 was not simply to harm us but to draw us into a "land war of attrition in Asia." Remember this is EXACTLY how bin Laden achieved his greatest glory, bringing down a Soviet Behemoth Empire, humbling it in Afghanistan...

...only to his shock, our agile war plan and stunning professionalism and diplomatic skill with allies resulted in him and his friends having their asses kicked! Not since Alexander has an imperium entered the Kush without regretting it, amid howls of pain. Yet, Pax Americana surprised OBL, and did it well.

Only then... out of the blue... WE DECIDE TO GIVE HIM EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED... an utterly incompetent "land war of attrition in Asia." What were the odds? How likely is it, that a great nation would reverse every military doctrine that had just won miraculous victories, in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and suddenly turn around to repeat every error of Vietnam? If a sci fi author had written it, the readers would have snorted in disdain! It could never happen!

But it did. And, even more amazingly, the administration’s critics won’t even point this out.

Yes, this is a little complicated to express to voters. But impossible? I doubt it.

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Oh! The Buffet is served! Yes, the April edition of Armageddon Buffet is online and ready for your consumption. Not ENTIRELY the same as my take on things, but entertaining as all get out.

35 comments:

Doug S. said...

First post! ;)

Oh, and I agree with pretty much everything that was said.

Stefan Jones said...

Going around the net:

"Remember to give Mom a call this weekend . . .

. . . the NSA needs to calibrate their systems."


There is a lot of "chatter" out there suggesting that some of the first people to air objections over the use of unwarranted wiretaps were NSA workers alarmed and disgusted with the administration's demands on them.

And there's more to come.

Rob Perkins said...

Fair point, David. I agree I overgeneralized.

Even so, I'm still left wondering where the illegality is in mining phone records given over voluntarily by a private company to the NSA. Is it in the NSA's lack of a right to ask for the data? The telco's lack of a right to publish it to others? The individual's statutory right to keep the data private?

More to the point, if you agree with any of those stances, can you cite the specific basis for it? and whether or not a court or congress has already agreed with your stance?

Doug S. said...

A couple of interesting articles from the latest New York Times magazine:

My Pain, My Brain


The Perils of Soft Power

Nate said...

Rob Perkins said:

Even so, I'm still left wondering where the illegality is in mining phone records given over voluntarily by a private company to the NSA. Is it in the NSA's lack of a right to ask for the data? The telco's lack of a right to publish it to others? The individual's statutory right to keep the data private?

I'm not sure where to look on court cases or laws, and honestly don't feel like putting in the effort right now, so this is just my thinking on it.

And I'd say it's the individual's right to keep the data private. There's no reason the phone company should be able to turn over my phone records to ANYONE without either my permission or a warrant. Not marketers, not credit reporting agencies, not government agencies who don't want to go through the bother of getting a warrant. It's basically the same way I feel about other kinds of records, such as credit reports, email addresses, phone numbers, etc.

And, honestly, above and beyond that, the whole program seems pointless and stupid. It's not a matter of not enough data. The intelligence agencies have plenty of data. What they need are more trained people to interpret it, not more data thrown on the haystack.

GR said...

David, please, drop that "4,000 year" bit of information! It's "5,000 year", in fact. (Am I being pedant? :-)

Kevin said...

The comparison between secret atomic technology and open electronics technology and the results was mind expanding. Thank you.
Physicists may enjoy the following discussion of Quantum Wrongo Dynamics. We may need these new equations over the next couple years:
http://cosmicvariance.com/2006/05/05/the-wrongness-singularity/

Mentifex said...

Openness in artificial intelligence design will lead to a Technological Singularity and to a Joint Stewardship of Earth between homo sapiens and intelligent robots.

OdinsEye2K said...

David,

With the nuclear/electronics comparison, would you say that is fair to go a step further with your thought?

What I'm thinking is, it may be the secrecy that both hampered progress (by keeping young hobbyists from entering the field and growing and maturing into imaginative practicioners) and promoted an active antagonism toward the technology.

While anyone can demo a simple circuit and show that your TV won't rise up and kill you in the middle of the night, the same couldn't be said about nuclear power. All those complex controls, the uncertain properties of radio-isotopes with "keep out," "secret," and "biohazard" stickers everywhere had to provide a visceral feeling of some other-worldliness to this technology.

Yes, I took field trips to the local not-yet (and not-ever) commissioned nuclear plant in Washington state, even getting to see the core since it was clean, but there was still a lot of mystery involved.

When everyone has to be cleared to see something and special arrangements made, there aren't a lot of informal teaching opportunities. Meanwhile, everyone and their brother has a WWII airplane museum and these craft, although weapons of a devastating war, somehow feel like comfortable relics from the past. They seem just as innocuous as a family's old desklamp or some other heirloom.

Rob Perkins said...

And I'd say it's the individual's right to keep the data private. There's no reason the phone company should be able to turn over my phone records to ANYONE without either my permission or a warrant.

There's the rub, I think. Is something written by someone else about you doing something they see your property? If they don't have the right to tell others what they saw you do, what does that make of the rights of journalists in general?

I'd bet that Verizon et. al. would aggressively assert that phone records are *their* property. Their work produced the records, their network carried your call, and especially in this day and age, you have a choice about whether to do business with them.

Or so the logic would go. Verizon's press release on the issue is understandably vague; it's an NSA program, after all, and the rules are likely more than byzantine. (Take it from me, as a former employee of a *small* phone company: *Everything* about phone companies is more than byzantine.)

And I reiterate, I heard the reporter talk about "what she'd found" etc etc. She overstated her case in the NPR interview and when pressed, modified and corrected her original hyperbole.

Honestly, though, I feel the way you do about phone privacy. I've had a non-published number for years, I can't be readily googled for much information at all, unless you mine my Usenet postings, and I'm certainly tired of all the economic letter-spam I get in my mail, offering me more credit cards.

But my point is, *you'd* take the stance you have on privacy data. I don't think the phone companies themselves agree at all. Most of the CPNI information I've found since this story broke is directed almost entirely at marketing practices, and there appears to be no rule at all about sharing with governmental agencies. Breaking phone number activity records out from CPNI, and giving that to the government for its use appears to be legal. I'm Not a lawyer though, even if it seems to me the whole issue is in flux. Maybe that's the president's fault, I dunno.

Stefan Jones said...

Federal sources have told ABC News (and probably others) that their outgoing calls are being traced in order to track down leakers:

Because if we hold the government accountable for its lies, waste, corruption and folly, the terrorists have won.

Woozle said...

In an ideal world (not necessarily the only possible ideal world), what the phone company did with your customer records would be between you and them, in the form of a negotiated written agreement signed by both parties. This agreement would then be enforceable by the usual state laws regarding contracts.

(Yes, Verizon did the work and provided the service... but you're paying them for it! Is that payment sufficient to cover their costs and make a profit, or not? Are they offering you a slightly cut-rate deal because they know they can make it up by selling your contact info to mass marketeers? Or are they charging you what it costs them to provide the service and still selling your info to marketeers?)

You would also have a choice of (local) phone providers, so that if you didn't like the "you must agree that we can do whatever we want to do with the information we get from you" clause they insisted on including in the contract, you could choose another company.

In the world we have now, although phone company deregulation was (as I understand it) supposed to allow for such competition, most areas (including where I live) have a choice of exactly one provider for wired telephone service.

So in order to keep things fair, we are stuck with trying to legislate a reasonable set of rules for all customers and phone companies (thus playing a large part, no doubt, in the creation of the "Byzantine" complexity mentioned by Rob Perkins), when competition probably could have allowed for better rules to be worked out between users and their preferred companies.

Whatever did happen to that local phone company competition we were supposed to be getting, anyway?

gmknobl said...

Someone once said something like -

Security is fundamentally at odds with Democracy.

Meaning if you really want a democracy, where people basically live in freedom, then you cannot have a society where security is what the government strives for. When security is the most important thing, you loose individual rights and secrecy in government becomes rampant. Then everything spirals down into a totalitarian mess.

This, of course, is directly in line with what you say, Mr. Brin, on openness. In a successful democracy, openness is one of, if not the primary trait.

Y'think, maybe, we don't live in a democracy (okay, rep. republic) anymore?

Andrew Smith said...

I made a crack a few days ago about the Government using the phone-call database to spy on news outlets, and track government whistle-blowers. Now it looks like it's actually happening!

http://blogs.abcnews.com//theblotter/2006/05/federal_source_.html

David Brin said...

gmknobl... please, the rant that follows is not directed at you but at a bugaboo you raise.

Actually, I have never accepted the dichotomy you speak of. Security and freedom are not opposites, they are synergistic. Each rises with the other... or they fall together. The ultimate proof is...

...us. In all of history's 5,000 years (!) no people have ever been so free... and no people have ever been so safe. I refuse to even begin to follow the logical pat we are offered by that dichotomy. It is not modernist.

Moreover, nobody tells me I must choose between my childrens' safety and their freedom! The very suggestion is a nonstarted. I live my life dedicated to maximizing both.

Oh, did someone say "John Stewartship" of the world? Guy's a monster! A phenom. My wife cuts out pictures of him. Wants me to write more nonfiction in order to get invited on the show. Grrrrrr. So she can meet him, of course.

Steve said...

Dr. Brin,

That was my point. Child labor is not simply "bad" it is a complex issue. It can be a stepping stone for creating your "diamond-shaped" society. Or it can put beyond-corrupt people in power who perpetuate the system. A similar situation exists on the ship breaking beaches of Alang in India (see The Atlantic Monthly
August 2000; Volume 286, No. 2; page 31-49.)

So, do declining numbers of child laborers mean that families are not being driven to such exingencies, or are they still as desperate but due to other factors cannot even do this to survive? I have no idea.

I loathe the idea that any child would have to work to survive rather than learn. But I think it might be instructive to try to take a view of child labor as a transitional stage and consider what systems would need to be built to insure that it is that only and not self-perpetuating. Rather than have someone from a rich Western country go in and say, "Stop that! Its bad!" to people whose families would starve as a result of laws preventing child labor, how about spending that time and energy finding a way of using market forces to insure that the current generation of child laborers is the last? I mean, who INCLUDING the families of working children could object to that?

Stefan Jones said...

"John Stewartship"

** We went through a "downsizing" at work a few weeks back. In the days leading up to it, I had a few sleepless nights in which I went over how long I could stretch out my "layoff fund." One expense I considered ditching was expanded cable.

Then I remembered:

Colbert and Stewart.

Cable stays. Even if I had to eat rice and beans three nights a week.

** DB, have you seen "V for Vendetta" yet?

It has a character, a beloved TV comedian, who . . .

. . . well, just go see it if you haven't!

Don Quijote said...


Whatever did happen to that local phone company competition we were supposed to be getting, anyway?


Are you familiar with the concept of a Natural Monopoly. Your phone, cable, electricity, gas and water suppliers are Natural Monopolies, don't expect any real competition in any of those industries.

Don Quijote said...

like many, I find it clear that the Dems are having trouble formulating a response to Iraq that does not sound like a plaint that Saddam should have been left in power.

He should have been left in power, we have absolutly no clue as to how to manage that country. How many people have died for the arrogance and stupidity of this administration?

in 1991! But instead of continuing 12 more hours to Basra, THESE SAME MORONS consigned the Iraqi people to 12 more years of hell.

At least Bush sr. had the good sense of staying out of Iraq.

BTW, how is that democracy working out in Kuwait?

At Bush Sr's call, those people rose up against Saddam, having been promised that "We're on our way!" That betrayal - one of the worst stains on American honor in a century - was one reason why I WANTED to go get Saddam.

Not even close to the worst stain, You keep forgetting our fine work in Central America in the eighties, our fine work in Chile on the 70's or our fine work in Iran in the 50's, not to mention our fine work in the 1900's in the Philipines.

And I won't even bring up our fine work in South-East Asia in the sixties.

Nicq MacDonald said...

"our fine work in Chile on the 70's"

You mean the country that has the highest per capita GDP and UN HDI in South America? That was good work. Too bad we forgot about it when we went into Iraq...

...remember kids, sometimes all you need is a friendly right-wing dictator to manage the transition to capitalism and democracy. Not only Chile, but Taiwan, South Korea and Spain are testaments to this...

Don Quijote said...

You mean the country that has the highest per capita GDP and UN HDI in South America?

No thanks to your friendly dictator.


...remember kids, sometimes all you need is a friendly right-wing dictator to manage the transition to capitalism and democracy.

Chile was a democracy prior to the installation of our friendly dictator.

Not only Chile, but Taiwan, South Korea and Spain are testaments to this...

Tell that to all the people who lost family members to Franco.

David Brin said...

Agh! Nicq! You managed to fire me up to be on Quijote's side!

I will not ever ever ever ever allow myself to rationalize an excuse for propping up blatant evil, in opposition to democracy. Realpolitik may prevent me from acting against it, but I will not twist about to find excuses for guys like Franco and Pinochet. Please don't be tempted by that $#$?!* stuff.

And by the way, while Chile grew under Pinochet, Spain languished under Franco. It only burgeoned into dynamism with Juan Carlos and freedom.

Oh, I will admit that the process of building a nation's accountability arenas can go thru fits and starts. It can happen undevenly.

Some get democracy first and must wallow in unproductive quasi socialistic (and dingbat) populism before finally wising up and unleashing entrepeneurship. (Take India for example.) Others open up markets first, building capital and exploiting the masses, but letting them get educated till the people finally rise up and demand democracy (Korea, Taiwan, and we must hope for China). But this ignores other nations that did it in parallel. No, the better theory is that this unevenness is tragic and silly, NOT that it is a natural phase of development!

True many have arrived at the same place by different routes. It is HOPED that this proves that human creativity and openness will find a way, if even ONE of the arenas is allowed to take shape unhindered.

But that does not mean at all the same thing as suggesting that it takes a dictator to develop an economy. 5,000 years of human history do NOT support that. In every case, it can be argued that these things happened DESPITE lack of freedom.

In the case of Chile, a highly educated population had rich resources and - when freedom to speak was denied - they turned their attention to money. Big deal. He was still a monster and we still did a very bad thing.

But it was not as DIRECT a betrayal as telling the Iraqis "Rise up NOW! And I George Bush give you our word, as Americans, that we'll be there in hours!"

That STANK! (And the dems should use it against them. )

(BTW. DId any of you see Howard Dean on The Daily Show tonight? Argggggh! What a weeeenie! Offering a DOOR HANGER FILLED WITH PATRONIZING AND MEATLESS SLOGANS as a substitute for an assertive and focused Democratic program? Compare his list of silly slogans to my "Democratic Contract with the American People"! )

Only now, after agreeing with him...
... no Quijote, you are wrong, wrong, wrong that we had no moral obligation to topple Saddam. A pax is judged by how it uses its moment of power in the sun. We were right to use it for good in Bosnia - and Europe is at peace after 5,000 years and they all bless us for that intervention. We were righteous to use it in Afghanistan... in both cases carefully, intelligently, and toward positive ends.

Would 1991 have been easy, if we went ahead and kept our word? Maybe (if we simply broke the country up, as nature intended.) Or maybe not. But it sure would have been easy-ER! There WOULD have been kisses and flowers. At least long enough to buy time for us to get the $$%#$@# out.

Oh, Steve? Sorry. But it's still dead wrong. Look, I believe in fine-tuning markets so that poverty goes away via enterprise innovation and hard work. I believe that this is the best CHRONIC solution to any problem. But child labor (and children who are not in school) is an ACUTE problem. And addressing acute problems is what government does best. There is no justification for a state that can scrape another dime together not to spend that dime putting the next kid in school. This is where the left is simply flat out correct and there is not a shred of $$#$#*! in arguing that it isn't.

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Oh! Under the category of: “can you imagine how the right would have reacted, if Clinton did this?”: U.S. to Renew Diplomatic Ties With Libya
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060515/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_libya

Steve said...

Uhm, Dr. Brin? I'm not sure I understand where you disagree with what I am saying, so I can't even paraphrase. As far as I can tell, we are agreeing on pretty much everything. Perhaps I am being unclear. I am not trying to defend child labor, I am trying to consider realistic ways of making it stop.

I am trying to expand on why child labor is a complex issue not a sound bite, and why someone from the West going into a country and telling someone to stop sending their kids to work is not realistic, and will get them kicked out by the very people they are trying to help. Maslow's Hierarchy rules the day.

Or perhaps the disagreement is how to best solve it? I think that in many cases the government of the country cannot be trusted to solve the problem due to the 5,000 (or more likely 20,000 years) of human history you recall. Our government did try to make this better by giving tariff breaks to countries that tried to do the right thing with their labor policy, like Cambodia. (Skip to eighteen minutes into This American Life for a humbling story about how Cambodia is trying to keep fair labor practices even though the US under Bush is eliminating the breaks the US gave to implement them.)

I hypothesize that if the US were to require, say , the Social Accountability standard SA-8000 for all imports, this would starve families who depend on that income. And I don't think Americans are on the whole any closer to paying more at Wal-Mart to get SA-8000 certified products, either. But there are other ways of effecting such change where you get the support of the local government and the impoverished people and drive the change you want using the diamond-shaped society model - a win-win that is more likely to succeed.

Don Quijote said...

In the case of Chile, a highly educated population had rich resources and - when freedom to speak was denied - they turned their attention to money. Big deal. He was still a monster and we still did a very bad thing.

Tinker Bell Pinochet and the Fairy Tale Miracle of Chile

In 1973, the year the General seized the government, Chile's unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after ten years of free-market modernisation, unemployment reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under military rule.

In 1970, 20% of Chile's population lived in poverty. By 1990, the year "President" Pinochet left office, the number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle.


We could call the Bush Economy the Pinochet Economy.

WatchfulBabbler said...

A few more N.Bs on top of the healthy discussion here:

1. Telephony and net are not natural monopolies (disclosure: I used to consult for CLECs, so I've got a credibility investment in arguing this point). There is some barrier to entry in wiring the last hundred feet, but even that is becoming negligible with wireless infrastructures, and arguably was never as great as once assumed. Certainly there is no "natural monopoly" inherent in long-haul data traffic. Beyond that, the economic argument for the existence of natural monopolies is not airtight; scratch a natural monopoly and you'll find a legislative or regulatory framework preventing competition.

2. A former NSA employee I worked with once likened her agency's abilities to a magnifying glass focusing the sun -- blindingly powerful, and thus in need of very careful focus. Her main point was that NSA never, /never/ turned its powers of detection and analysis on American citizens and residents. Period. The Bush administration chose to trample on that ironclad operational rule, not the agency itself.

3. Rob: On a preliminary basis (with the caveat that I haven't yet spent more than a few hours on the issue), the problem with the snort-and-sweep surveillance is that it violates statutory law: 18 USC § 3121 and 50 USC § 1842, in particular. There are /probably/ no Constitutional issues due to Smith v. Maryland (holding that government access to third-party telephony meta-data, as we would call it today, does not implicate Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure protections). However, the Congressional prohibitions against access of pen-register data without a court or FISA court order don't allow for much squeak room. The fact that the NSA refused to even produce a DOJ analysis, let alone a FISA order, to Qwest suggests that the persons involved knew they were acting outside the law.

Rob Perkins said...

@watchful

That suggests (and I looked up the statutes you cite and let my eyes glaze over them for a bit; I assume "pen register" is the name of a device which logs calls) that the Administration has been defying the Congress rather than the Constitution.

It sounds like a job for (trumpet fanfare here) the Supreme Court! At least if my schoolhouse rock cartoon was right about things... :-)

@David -- I just watched Dean's performance on the Daily Show. I think he had marvelous things to say about "all Americans" at the top, and I'm looking at the door knocker now. It's full of platitudes.

Heh. I wonder if Newt would consult with the Democrats, given the outsider status he seems to now have with Republicans-gone-mad.

WatchfulBabbler said...

Rob --

Under the current climate, I'd put even odds on SCOTUS declining to hear any challenge on "political question" grounds (see, e.g., Goldwater v. Carter, 444 U.S. 996 (1979)) without affirmative action by Congress opposing the program -- not going to happen unless the Dems get a sizable majority in both houses in the midterms.

Despite what I would consider the patent illegality of the phone-register program, Congress has refused to oppose the President in his actions. Given that, it will be very, very difficult to get any legal challenge into the courts since it's hard to determine who has standing to sue. (One of the benefits of a black program is that its very secrecy tends to inoculate against legal challenges, even once its existence becomes known.)

The key issue here is that, under what I've come to call the Yoo Doctrine, the Bush administration believes that the Executive's warfighting authority (Art II, Sec. 2, Clause 1) and his "executive Power" (Art. II, Sec. 1, Clause 1) override the Legislative's enumerated powers under Art. I, Sec. 8, Clauses 9-16. Pursuant to this, they argue, Congress cannot dictate any aspect of war -- from sending troops abroad to ending the prosecution of hostilities to dictating any rules under which wars are to be conducted. And don't get them started on treaties! (Though see, in opposition, Art III, Sec. 2, Clause 1 and Art VI, Clause 2.)

So, to the administration, the NSA program is simply part of warfighting, and FISA not only doesn't apply, but is itself unconstitutional. Same with any attempts to shut down the Guantanamo tribunals or illegalize the use of torture, to use just two examples.

This is a remarkable interpretation that exists wholly outside of the American experience; it stands, I argue (and will soon hopefully argue at length) within the tradition of European civil law and its development in the 20th century as an anti-liberal force that privileged executive energy over legislative contemplation -- auctoritas over imperium or, to use a loaded phrase, the fuhrerprinzip. (Agamben has successfully, I think, made this point before.)

As for Newt, well, I think he's staging his political comeback. His public alliance with Sen. Clinton is a very cagey and smart maneuver; I suspect he's just biding his time while the men who forced him from political life collapse in the mire of their own making. I'm not much of a Newt fan, but he's closer to a GOP I can support than the current crowd.

Nate said...

But my point is, *you'd* take the stance you have on privacy data. I don't think the phone companies themselves agree at all.

Of course not. They'll take whatever position nets them the most money. I fully understand that, I was talking about what I think should be, not what is.

On the competition thing, as I understand it, the phone companies were supposed to offer their networks as neutral platforms for other competitors in DSL and I THINK local phone service, but that never happened. Oh, technically it did, but in reality, for mysterious reasons, the competitor's service would always be slow to set up, faulty, and crash-prone, completely unlike the phone company's service. Surprise surprise.

But yeah, since the local phone companies are entrenched monopolies and manipulate the legal process to keep out any competition, there is no choice. Any abstract ideas about competition or contracts just won't work, in this case. At least right now.

And if this turns out anything like any of the other cases where the Bush admin has been taken to the Supreme Court over spying, detention, torture, or what have you, shortly before the Supreme Court takes the case, the Bush admin will do something to make the case irrelevant and push for it to be dismissed. It's kinda MORE scary they don't even trust their legal arguments enough to figure they'll pass a Supreme Court that appointed Bush and has had two of his hand selected ringers appointed.

Markbnj said...

Two NSA Posts:

first, I've taken a current meme and transformed it into a NSA-Trolling exercise (here: http://markbnj.blogspot.com/2006/05/humor-my-48-questions-for-nsa.html
please feel free to copy it, and make your own NSA appropriate answers.
but I recommend a warning/disclaimer, so you can protect yourself from our HUMOR impaired DICTATORS and bureacrats.

TWO:
A list (only partial, feel free to add to it) of (I thinK) indictable actions of our "president"
http://markbnj.blogspot.com/2006/05/freedom-partial-list-of-charges.html

Markbnj said...

oh yes. I really do have a problem with ouradministraton NOW supervising and SPYING on our journalists.

yet another nail!

Mark said...

Compare his list of silly slogans to my "Democratic Contract with the American People"!
...
Heh. I wonder if Newt would consult with the Democrats, given the outsider status he seems to now have with Republicans-gone-mad.


Newt did not actually write the original Contract With America, he just commissioned the work. The wording all belongs to Frank Luntz.

I believe Luntz is more of a mercenary, hire-hand type then true believer and is quite available for hire. In fact, he may be switching sides. Just a thought.

fpoole said...

Some of your best writing yet.

David Brin said...

This is a week of hifalutin conferences in Diegotown, so I am away a lot, seeing Venture Capitalists about my patented software invention for new ways to visualize conversation/information online. (Don't worry, if I become a billionaire I be the Bezos,Musk,Soros,Buffett kind! Those who are loyal to the diamond and to civilization!) (Yeah, right, that's gonna happen!)

Actually, Elon Musk had great things tosay about his new space venture. It is truly wonderful. The guy who brought us PayPal may bring us colonies on Mars.

Oh, the conference on Complexity that I'll attend in Boston has set up a Wiki with a short abstract of my planned speech PLUS the predictive hits from Earth. Have a look at:
http://www.necsi.org:16080/community/wiki/index.php/ICCS06/David_Brin

Get familiar so you can tell when it's sabotaged!

Will I ever know if I helped shift Newt? Ill be in DC late June...

Oh, here's some snippets.

Cloaking Device Idea Proposed -- (BBC -- May 3, 2006) The cloaking devices that are used to render spacecraft invisible in Star Trek might just work in reality, two mathematicians have claimed. Researchers propose that placing certain objects close to a material called a superlens could make them appear to vanish. It would rely on an effect known as "anomalous localized resonance".http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4968338.stm

New Penicillin Found in Wallaby Milk -- (Sydney Morning Herald -- April 23, 2006) Scientists have discovered a bacteria-fighting compound 100 times more effective than penicillin - in wallaby milk. Researchers found the highly-potent compound, tagged AGG01, was active against a wide variety of fungi and bacteria including antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Research team leader Dr Ben Cocks said the discovery could have a profound impact on both human and animal health.

Bill Would Prohibit Mandatory Microchip Implants -- (Duluth News Tribune -- April 24, 2006) A proposal moving through the Wisconsin state Legislature would prohibit anyone from requiring people to have the tiny chips embedded in them or doing so without their knowledge. Violators would face fines of up to $10,000. Schneider aides say the legislator wants the law in place before companies and governments could use them to keep track of their employees.

The Coming Resource Wars -- (AlterNet -- March 10, 2006) In a major London address, British
Defense Secretary John Reid warned that global climate change and dwindling natural resources are combining to increase the likelihood of violent conflict over land, water and energy. Climate change, he indicated, "will make scarce resources, clean water, viable agricultural land even scarcer" -- and this will "make the emergence of violent conflict more rather than less likely."
Ozone Layer Shows Signs of Recovery -- (Reuters -- May 3, 2006) The ozone layer is showing signs of recovering, thanks to a drop in ozone-depleting chemicals, but it is unlikely to stabilize at pre-1980 levels. Depletion of the earth's protective ozone layer is caused by the chemical action of chlorine and bromine released by man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used in aerosol sprays and cooling equipment. Ozone-depleting chemicals were banned by the 1987 Montreal Protocol which has now been ratified by 180 nations

Stefan Jones said...

Don't have a link yet, but NPR ran a story about a London district whose ubiquitious security cameras feed to websites that are publically accessible.

Along these lines:

Sousvaillance

It references The Transparent Society at the end.

Lorraine said...

...

{{{{Even in the radically open society
after the Helvetian War, portrayed by my novel EARTH, secrecy is still
possible... though you must cache your secrets in some legal way that BOTH
protects them and still allows them to be subject to due process.}}}}

I didn't understand that feature of the "Earth" world, in terms of its nuts and bolts.
It seemed to involve cash and safe deposit boxes.
It's unclear to me how those elements subject one to due process.

{{{{Moreover, the
government too can do this.
Indeed, in the case of government,
considerable latitude should be given to those public protectors who claim to
have a need to operate in cryptic ways. I have consulted for the CIA and believe
me, I do NOT want them to instantly drop their pants and go naked before enemies
of the West!}}}}

I guess that makes you a public protector who claims to have a need to operate in cryptic ways.
Claims are like opinions...everyone has one.
Being a mere civilian, I guess my role is to sign the blank check and shut up.
I don't know who the enemies of the west are, but I'm rigid and inflexible enough
in my allegiance to anarchist dogma to insist that the enemy of freedom is authority.

That being said, way back in 2002 I voted for Matt Petering.
I first became aware of him reading an editorial in the Detroit News (detnews.com).
This was the Sunday-before-election-day issue in which newspapers
customarily roll out their bedsheet ballot of endorsements.
Petering was one of the two Green candidates for the two seats on the statewide-elected
Board of Regents of the University of Michigan that were in that election year's rotation.
Given the not-so-subtle right-of-center editorial position of said paper,
it garnered one of a few bona fide double takes so far in my life as a consumer
of ma$$ media.
When I allthewebbed Mr. Petering, I found myself in for an even bigger double take,
although these of course are less exotic in the internet context than
the main$tream media induced ones.
The "resume" part of Petering's campaign website indicated he had worked as a "mathematician"
at the NSA.
The "stands on the issues" part identified him as an opponent of affirmative action.
Needless to say, my internal paradox engine proceeded immediately from wrestling with
speculation as to what could induce a hardline conservative newspaper to endorse
a Green candidate to what could induce an individual with conservative views concerning
subjects as incendiary as intelligence and race to join the Green party.

Needless to say, I sent him an e-mail. I indicated that I'm a proud alumnum of Big Blue
U., and want the very best for my beloved alma mater. I shared with him the fact that
my biggest regret from my college years is not having involved myself in the campaign
to exclude the CIA from the on-campus recruiting facility. Then, phrasing it as a transition
from personal small-talk to questions about "stands on issues" that are really relevant
to university policymaking. I had only one such question. I asked him what
his stand was on the university allowing itself to be used for classified/proprietary research.

His speedy response was that he's "opposed to it," with neither elaborations or explanations.
This was good enough for me, and he got one of my two votes, the other of which went
to the other Green candidate, about whom I knew literally nothing.
I guess I'm not really an anarchist, since voting isn't against my religion.


...

{{{{All through the Cold War, the Soviet Union operated under a
"logical-sounding" premise. ”If we keep a 99% CLOSED society, and the
Americans keep a 99% OPEN society, then we will know 199 points of information
and the Americans will know 101 points and we'll win!"
}}}}

Apparently it sounded logical at the time because of an assumption
that the concepts of OPEN and CLOSED work both ways. Enter "mirror
shades," or one-directional transparency. This is akin to what
economics calls "information asymmetry." Another nomenclature that I
have seen, that pertains to transparency of the mirror shades type in
the Internet context, is "webstacle." The prevalence of webstacles is
evident in the fact that CGI-powered web sites dispensing single data
points, usually embedded in megabytes of noise, are far more numerous
than, say, publicly accessible telnets to SQL servers.

Utter the phrase "mirror shades" in casual American discourse, and I would imagine
the first image that pops into the average listener's mind is of a cop,
probably a traffic cop if said person is of the "law abiding" mold.
I think this is apropos, because I think it is legitimate to form
a mental link between asymmetric transparency and Authority (in the abstract, if you will),
which I still insist is as "central" or "essential" as anything,
as potential or imagined threats to freedom go.

Another example of informational mirror shades is the algebraic relationship
(in a relational algebra sense) between my dupermarket loyalty card and my debit
card. Both are uniquely numbered. Both generate (often jointly, in the sense
of 'table join') database records, or data points, if you will. These records can
be queried (at what I assume to be micro-scale cost) into "informational products"
exhibiting varying degrees of "resolution."

One such product is the store receipt, which is a printed table with
"item" and "price" columns. Another such product, also for my
consumption is a checking account statement, which is a printed table
(which I can also "visit" online) with "transaction" and "amount" (sum
of price) columns. It is not hard to imagine what a "join" of these
two tables would look like. It is of course well within my technical
capabilities to actually generate such a join. The catch is that I
would have to sit down and do some computer data entry from my shoebox
full of receipts. The bank statement, of course, is (can be)
delivered to me electronically. Digital delivery does *not* imply
"machine readability." I haven't bothered to find out whether there
is a more or less automated way to possess such CGI-generated pages in
a format which can be, say, imported into a "consumer-grade" database
or spreadsheet application. I haven't bothered because of the dictum
that says that if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

...

{{{{In 1945, at the end of WWII, the United
States was ten years ahead of the Soviet Union in atomic technology and maybe
just a couple in electronics. Spies helped the USSR close that ten year nuclear
weapons gap, so we clamped down, classifying that entire field under tight wraps
of security. Meanwhile, the field of electronics was left open. Forty years
later?
Our lead in electronics and cybernetics had grown spectacularly, into
a gap of many generations that could never be crossed. Meanwhile, in the area of
bombs, everybody agreed that the Soviets were essentially even with us.}}}}

I guess that would explain the atrocities described in the novel "The First Circle."

...

{{{{Indeed, it is no paradox to envision the CIA using cryptic
tactical methodologies toward the aim of fostering secular
openness trends! It is no paradox--but it does require agile,
nonlinear thinking. It takes the intelligence to realize that our
civilization is not about the convenience of its leaders.}}}}

It requires more agile and nonlinear thinking than I am capable of.
I lack the intelligence to realize that sane civilization is not about the inconvenience
of our leaders.

Clearly, the aim (or end) of fostering secular(?) openness trends
justifies a broad range of means, if not any means.
Nevertheless, I'd be a little miffed about having the CIA to thank for it.
It's bad enough having something as dark and spooky as DARPA to thank for the Internet.

{{{{No, I'll go farther. That secular
openness trend is the very thing that such officers should realize they are
loyal to!
It is more fundamentally a trait of "freedom" and "America" than
any word or flag, or even any particular land mass.}}}}

Clearly, they perceive "intelligence" as a "positional good."
Again, I think the secular openness trend can hold its own without their help.

...

{{{{EARTH (1989) I forecast a worldwide "Secrecy War" in the 2010s, almost an
visceral and spontaneous uprising (like those fed-up Union soldiers who
stood up, against orders, during the Battle of Missionary Ridge). Retaliation by
an increasingly well-educated and outraged world population. A drive to cleanse
the shadows wherein parasites have always prevailed. At one level or
another, this will have to happen. Not only to end corruption and make markets
truly (at last) the cornucopian problem solving machines we are told they ought
to be...}}}}

We're told a lot of things, aren't we?

{{{{but also, above all, so that errors in fields like nanotech and biotech
et. al. are detected and discussed, openly, before they can become
world-killers.}}}}

That's what happens when bright people think it's OK
to get entangled in classified and/or proprietary research careers.

Nevertheless, we all must pick our battles.
A de-facto abolition of CPR seems unreasonably utopian.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is the rise of an amateur "tinkerer"
community a la V. Vinge.

{{{{But again, let me reiterate. I am not a "nakedness
radical." What is scary about the NSA stonewalling of Justice Dept investigators
is NOT that the NSA acted to preserve operational secrecy. It is that they did
so in a way that in effect rejects the very notion of accountability ever
applying to them and their secrets.
There is a potential middle
ground. A compromise position, that could preserve their operational secrets
while ensuring accountability. It is inherent in my longstanding proposal to
create the office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS) who could
bridge the two worlds, by creating a corps of trusted observers who can watch
the watchers for us.}}}}

Trusted observers? Observation by proxy?
Smells to me like just another blank check.
And another layer of paid professionals.
I propose an alternative middle ground.
Have a default "timeout" on "classification."
Instead of trying to make them accountable to law, which
in its legitimate form is the domain of speedy and public trials,
and court transcripts in the public record and available on demand,
make them accoutable to history.
This way tactical advantage is enjoyed by the above-law agencies,
while strategic benefits accrue to the much-touted secular openness trend.
Perhaps iGus can handle applications for timeout extension.

"Watching the watchers" is a phrase I associate, rightly or wrongly, with Skinner.
(Burrhus, not Leonard or Nancy)

{{{{But it is in the nature of human beings that
we rationalize. And it is in the nature of the paid professional protective
caste that they will tell themselves that they are trustworthy. That they do not
require watching.}}}}

It's in my nature to trust people, so I regard them as trustworthy
no matter what they tell themselves.
It's not them that require watching, it's their employer.
It's not in my nature to trust institutions.

Readers: if you've ever been up against a wall enough to do character-building through
telemarketing, it wasn't you I rudely hung up on, it was your employer.
But you knew that all along.

Too many "libertarians" of the right-hand-path or "science fiction" type
draw the battle lines between public sector and private sector.
I, of course, draw the battle lines between "individuals" and "institutions."

{{{{Alas, though they are our beloved protectors, they WILL
forget (if we let them) that they are also our servants.}}}}

I don't think of them as my servants. Non Servitur, or whatever would be the
Latinate synthesis of
rebellion meets Golden Rule.
Whether I hold out hope for the future hangs not on whether the
civil servants actually think of themselves as servants,
but whether at least a few of them have compartmentalized their careers
in their own minds as mere means to personal ends, such as the simple
dignity of being self-supporting.
The seeming presence of such persons in virtually all bureaucracies is what
keeps me dragging myself out of bed each day.



{{{{{{{{Anonymous
said...More political fuel. There is an excellent post over on Professor
Balkin's blog about the risk profile of the Bush presidency going forward. The
conclusion is that Bush has every incentive to make bigger gambles irregardless
of who controls Congress after this coming election. I hold out hope, though,
that the average person is smart enough for such a policy to
backfire.
}}}}

One more reason I have said repeatedly - THE top priority
for all modernists (e.g. liberals, democrats, libertarians and Goldwater
Conservatives) MUST be to reach out to the abused members of the Officer Corps
and the Intelligence Community and the Protector Caste. Only they are positioned
to detect and thwart such ploys.}}}}

I don't know whether I'm a modernist. Based on my lurking around the
Brin blog for the last few weeks, I'd have to classify myself as a
knee-jerk emotionalist. I actively oppose liberals, democrats,
libertarians and Goldwater Conservatives. I do, however, appreciate
Goldwater's apparent deathbed conversion to opposition to settling for
"don't ask, don't tell." Also, I might qualify as an "old-school"
libertarian, say a Goldman Libertarian. Goldman's deathbed conversion
to anti-Russian-Revolution is of course not so much unappreciated as
just plain depressing. Revolution "counter-vindicated" is far more
depressing than revolution denied or "counter-revolved."

As for the operatives of the Military Intelligence complex being uniquely qualified
to detect ploys of the type being discussed here, I agree entirely.
After all, any existing technology capable of detecting, let alone documenting
the various informational (or operational or even historical)
elephants in the room is a technology built around strongly asymmetric
transparency.
I read the piece in Contrary Brin on the Platonic Republican class.
Surprisingly enough, even I have evolved
beyond the particular type of knee-jerk anti-militarist (or possibly anti-careerist)
sensibility it seems to be appealing to. I did, after all -vote- for an ex-spook.

{{{{Erik, the child labor stats are
amazing to me, yet credible. The people of Latin America have decided to awaken.
According to my 1987 meme war theory, they had to choose whether to spiral down
into macho frenzy, or rise up and become modern people, shrugging off the chains
of dogma and class interest.}}}}

Upon reading this, I'm not sure exactly which Latin American political events
are being referred to. I'd like to think it's the rather noticeable trend within(?)
continental South America toward left-of-center election outcomes, and if so,
whether it's more the neoliberal-friendly Bachelet, or the more militant leaders
in the countries of the ALBA bloc. Given my emerging take on who exactly is this
David Brin we're hearing so much about lately, it would seem the former.
I can understand such sensibilities, if not such sentiments.
Curiously, pro-Chavez elements of American public opinion appeal
strongly to me socially, even as Chavez himself doesn't.
I do preferentially shop at Citgo.
I figure even a worst-case estimate of how authoritarian Chavez is
would still leave him a lesser evil than some of the truly spooky business entities
associated with the domestic petroleum industry, such as Phil Mickelson's headwear sponsor.

Alternatively, it occurred to me that Brin is referring here to Fox's toppling of the PRI
hegemony. I don't follow Mexico enough and I don't know anything about PRI or Fox, but
my intuitive sense is that the transition from the former to the latter is unambiguously
a "rightshift." I have a deep emotional investment in the notion that civil service
bureaucracy at its worst is a lesser evil than "structural adjustment" at its best.

{{{{The BIG emphasis on providing free education down
there is evidence of the latter...
...But I'll only really believe it
when Spanish language SCIENCE FICTION takes off in a big way!}}}}

Would you settle for espionage fiction?
What about chick lit?

{{{{(BTW Steve,
that's simply wrong. Yes, in the past child labor sometimes was the 1st step up
the ladder, especially seasonal farm labor.}}}}

I'm guessing that it was the seasonality, not the agriculturality of the labor
that made it at least sometimes compatible with education, or even upward
mobility.

Like a lot of people waffling along the red-black continuum, I value leisure
and devalue work, by which I mean work in the economic, specifically "livelihood" sense, referring
to it often even in Biblical terms as "Adam's curse."

My own employment history evidences a decisive preference for
less-than-100%-of-waking-hours employment over employment that doesn't
insult my intelligence. The existence of such a tradeoff is evidenced
by the prototypical standard-issue "entry level college graduate type
job" that pervade every corporate payroll. These are inevitably precisely calibrated to
set the number of leisure hours of the "apprentice"
to precisely zero.
Leisure hours, of course, equal total hours (the 168-hour work week) minus sleep time
("nominally" eight out of 24 hours or 56 hours a week) minus commute time (which theoretically
could be literally any non-negative quantity).

I have never had a problem with the 60-70 hour work week.
This is in spite of the fact that in my case (given the trend away from "permanent full time jobs")
I have most always accrued the hours through moonlighting rather than overtime.
It should be noted that
moonlighting part time jobs has two significant disadvantages to overtime.
One is overtime work without overtime pay. The other is double the commuting expenses, and of course
commuting time. This is especially painful here in metro Detroit where alternatives to the
automobile have been systematically eliminated. But I have discovered that two permanent part
time jobs (or even two temporary part time jobs) are preferable to one full time temp assignment.
This, of course, is because one layoff (or termination with prejudice, or cause, or whatever)
results in a less-than-100% reduction in income.
Less-than-100% is an important mathematical concept, it seems.
One of the elephants in the room that is post-Reagan America is that the proverbial
"permanent full time job" is the holy grail, and the hard constraint evident in the range of
feasible employment opporunity for many Americans is "pick one."

Still, in my book, having a half hour a week of leisure time (the 111.5 hour work week)
rates significantly higher in my "utility function" than the proverbial 112 hour a week
yuppie-in-training type job so increasingly prized with each new generation of
"recent college grads." I have nothing against the yuppies, of course.
They are, after all, individuals.

I have no regrets for falling into the liberal arts poverty trap.
I also have no apologies to society for "letting my talent go to waste."
This doesn't change the fact that decisions (and the priority frameworks
upon which they're based) have consequences.
I am, after all, living in the Age of Reason (in the Sartrean sense).
While main$tream America engages in strained shouting matches over whether
the world of 2038 features privatised or individually accounted-for Social Security,
I lose sleep wondering whether it will feature effective recourses against
de facto age discrimination. And of course whether they find a cure for Alzheimers.
By my calculations, I'll be one of the "gremmers" with the cool shades full of
remote sensing equipment. I need to know how many gremmers and grempers will
be competing over those Wal-Mart greeter jobs by then. And how the price of
the cool shades compares with the greeter paycheck. And how disabling aging-circa-2038
will be vis-a-vis the physical and mental demands of, say, taking martial arts lessons.
Not to mention the going rate for those. And on and on.

If you've stayed with me this far, you have of course noticed that I'm talking about
the American adult job market, not the international market in child labor. This is
merely to establish some baselines.

If nonzero leisure versus zero leisure is a strong tradeoff in the eyes of at least some
adults, even ones without specific "continuing education" goals, what could possibly be
more cruel than people having to deal with such tradeoffs during the supposed innocent
years? Or worse yet, having the decisions made for them by parents, driven by (maybe?)
DEBT??


{{{{Still, that transition is all-too
easy for aristocratic elites to stymie, as they have repeatedly in every culture
OTHER than the most recent ones, consigning the children of
child-laborers to be child-laborers, as well.}}}}

Here too, the less-than-100% principle arises, this time in complementary logic
as the more-than-0% principle. I like to call this the Horatio Alger principle.
The concrete existence of a real-world Horatio Alger figure serves as "proof of concept."
Proof of concept, of course, is the heart and soul of all Ponzi schemes.
I fully concede the point of the right-hand-path libertarians that Social Security
is a pyramid scheme. But that doesn't change the fact that the economy itself
is a Ponzi scheme.

{{{{A decent modern state must break
such cycles! It must ensure that these children leap over that phase and devour
education.}}}}

This also has the side benefit of a lower fertility rate, or at least seems to.

{{{{There is no better role for a state. (And it is perfectly compatible
with free-market capitalism.)}}}}

Which I hope is one of many things that justify it.

{{{{We cannot afford to wait. Nor is waiting prudent,
in an era when angry young men can become technologically super-empowered.}}}}

As Capt. Picard said to Cmdr. LeForge..."This might be one of those times."

...

{{{{Re
possible democratic strategies...
like many, I find it clear that the Dems
are having trouble formulating a response to Iraq that does not sound
like a plaint that Saddam should have been left in power.}}}}

I'm not a Dem, but I think the complaint is directed at me as well as the Dems.
If so, fair enough.
While I can say nothing in defense of Saddam Hussein, I can also say nothing
in apology for arranging my belief system around preferences and priorities of my choosing.
My priorities are such that not removing Hussein from power is a lesser evil
than creating a precedent for unilateralism, pre-emption doctrine,
the country-in-a-can development model and all the other stuff that comes with the package deal.

Naturally, my real agenda is to allay my abject fear that the Bush doctrines might find themselves
vindicated by history. This would negate the optimistic, anti-Hobbesian dogma that I've literally
planned my life around.

Still, it appears on at least the superficial level that the doctrines, not just on WMD,
but also the other, sort of theoretical stuff, are being counter-vindicated.

None of this changes the fact that Iraq's long-term prognosis has almost certainly
been improved by virtue of the removal of Saddam Hussein. But couldn't the same be
said, with comparable magnitude, of at least a dozen current heads of government?

...

{{{{Indeed, there is reason to believe that THE main
goal of 9/11 was not simply to harm us but to draw us into a "land war of
attrition in Asia." Remember this is EXACTLY how bin Laden achieved his greatest
glory, bringing down a Soviet Behemoth Empire, humbling it in
Afghanistan...}}}}

Which demonstrates that even a figure as universally vilified in America
as bin Laden is not entirely without redeeming qualities.
It's been said (don't know whether to believe it)
that to the extent that women had white collar careers in the Arab world,
they had them mostly in Iraq.
It's even been said in some circles that Hussein's Iraq tolerated
at least the existence of a very small number of out queers, and
even (gasp) out atheists. These tiny entries in the plus column
are of course negated many times over by the crimes against humanity.
Nevertheless, it is looking more and more like any conceivable combinatorial arrangement
of Iraq's present-day political factions is sure to result in a substantially more socially
conservative political and legal culture. And at best a marginally less violent or atrocious
one.

{{{{...only to his shock, our agile war plan and stunning
professionalism and diplomatic skill with allies resulted in him and his friends
having their asses kicked! Not since Alexander has an imperium entered the Kush
without regretting it, amid howls of pain. Yet, Pax Americana surprised OBL, and
did it well.}}}}

Unlike you, I have every bit as hard a time coming up with even one positive
thing to say about the concept of Pax America as about the person of Saddam Hussein.
What the former lacks (if even) in atrocity, it more than exceeds in what it has been given,
and therefore what should be required of it, in this context in terms of standards
of conduct, and even more importantly levels of sociopolitical "expectation."

{{{{Only then... out of the blue... WE DECIDE TO GIVE HIM
EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED... an utterly incompetent "land war of attrition in
Asia." What were the odds? How likely is it, that a great nation would
reverse every military doctrine that had just won miraculous victories, in the
Balkans and Afghanistan, and suddenly turn around to repeat every error of
Vietnam? If a sci fi author had written it, the readers would have snorted in
disdain! It could never happen!
But it did. And, even more amazingly,
the administration’s critics won’t even point this out.
Yes, this is a
little complicated to express to voters. But impossible? I doubt
it.}}}}

Because the case, as you have just stated it, condemns the war effort in Iraq
as a sin against military doctrine, not a crime against humanity.
Face it, Dr. Brin, you are a Machiavellian first and a Modernist second.
And maybe a supporter-of-Democrats-as-lesser-evil as a distant third.

...

{{{{OdinsEye2K
said...
David, With the nuclear/electronics comparison, would you say that
is fair to go a step further with your thought? What I'm thinking is,
it may be the secrecy that both hampered progress (by keeping young hobbyists
from entering the field and growing and maturing into imaginative
practicioners) and promoted an active antagonism toward the
technology. While anyone can demo a simple circuit and show that your
TV won't rise up and kill you in the middle of the night, the same couldn't be
said about nuclear power. All those complex controls, the uncertain properties
of radio-isotopes with "keep out," "secret," and "biohazard" stickers
everywhere had to provide a visceral feeling of some other-worldliness to this
technology. Yes, I took field trips to the local not-yet (and not-ever)
commissioned nuclear plant in Washington state, even getting to see the core
since it was clean, but there was still a lot of mystery involved. When
everyone has to be cleared to see something and special arrangements made,
there aren't a lot of informal teaching opportunities. Meanwhile, everyone and
their brother has a WWII airplane museum and these craft, although weapons of
a devastating war, somehow feel like comfortable relics from the past. They
seem just as innocuous as a family's old desklamp or some other heirloom.}}}}

I'm not David, to whom this is of course addressed, but I can't resist saying
something about it. Not being a technically trained person, I'm agnostic on the technical
question of whether nuclear power is safe. I'm also, of course, agnostic on the question
of whether the greenhouse effect is for real. I'm not a politically trained person,
but I am a member of a political species, and I'm also a citizen of a country in which
political training (or even subscribing to a "news service") is not a prerequisite for
having opinions about political questions. I'm politically anti-nuclear. I'm disappointed
that the vast majority of my political co-religionists insist on framing the nuclear question
as a safety concern. To me it is a primarily a cultural concern, specifically an issue of
workplace culture. A job in the nuclear power industry I would imagine is pretty much
by definition a job of the security clearance type. I'm not saying that I object in principle
to security clearances, or to employment in the security sector or some civilian sector assumed to
have strategic implications. I am simply saying that by my subjective standards, I'd consider
my "quality of life" significantly higher in a country where the tradeoff between avoiding
hardcore workplace authoritarianism and making a living is a comfortably negotiable tradeoff,
than one in which it is a hard, inelastic tradeoff or even a "pick one" proposition.
It gets back to subjective utility.
Even if
I were convinced that the PR types are right about solar and wind (the truly alternative
alternatives, as I call them) are unfeasible or even wasteful, it might be more than offset
for my purposes by the decentralizability and strategic non-relevance of the so-called renewables.

My hat's off to OdinsEye2K for framing the issue not just for the "mainstream anti nuke"
faction that believes in the irredeemable toxicity of nuclear industry, but also for
calling in to question my assumption that nuclear power is inherently centralized,
inherently large-cap. The big remaining question for me is, is it inherently weaponizable,
and therefore implementable only under
the auspices of national security types or their workplace-cultural equivalents?

Based on what I've read so far, I can vividly imagine Dr. Brin fuming at the Bush
administration for issuing an energy plan in which funding for fossil-fuel development
is so large compared to funding for resources other than fossil-fuel. Meanwhile
I'm absolutely fuming at the administration for funding for wind/solar being so small
compared to resources other than wind/solar. The "football" in the context of this
imagined(?) dispute is clearly
nuclear.

{{{{Rob Perkins said...
And I'd say it's the individual's right to keep the data private.
There's no reason the phone company should be able to turn over my phone
records to ANYONE without either my permission or a
warrant.
There's the rub, I think. Is something written by someone
else about you doing something they see your property? If they don't have the
right to tell others what they saw you do, what does that make of the rights
of journalists in general?}}}}

Or the rights of people in general. I myself recently described a series of
email correspondence between myself and an ex-NSA employee. I did so under the
assumption that talking about someone who's thrown his hat in the ring called
electoral democracy,
isn't name dropping.

...

{{{{Woozle said...
In an ideal world (not necessarily the only possible ideal world), what the
phone company did with your customer records would be between you and them, in
the form of a negotiated written agreement signed by both parties. This
agreement would then be enforceable by the usual state laws regarding
contracts. (Yes, Verizon did the work and provided the service... but
you're paying them for it! Is that payment sufficient to cover their
costs and make a profit, or not? Are they offering you a slightly cut-rate
deal because they know they can make it up by selling your contact info to
mass marketeers? Or are they charging you what it costs them to provide the
service and still selling your info to marketeers?)
You would
also have a choice of (local) phone providers, so that if you didn't like the
"you must agree that we can do whatever we want to do with the information we
get from you" clause they insisted on including in the contract, you could
choose another company.}}}}

So far, competition has never been an effective antidote against boilerplates.
They boilerplate you because they can, and the reasons why they can have
less to do with market power than with Power In The Abstract, which
is to say, the fact that they're bigger than you. The central problem is
corporate personhood, not monopoly.



{{{{In the world we have now, although phone
company deregulation was (as I understand it) supposed to allow for
such competition, most areas (including where I live) have a choice of exactly
one provider for wired telephone service.}}}}

While other areas have telemarketing, slamming, spamming, gotcha clauses
(such as per-minute billing for using a modem on the line to an otherwise flat rate LATA) all
on infrastructure leased from the "local" baby bell.

{{{{So in order to keep things
fair, we are stuck with trying to legislate a reasonable set of rules for all
customers and phone companies (thus playing a large part, no doubt, in the
creation of the "Byzantine" complexity mentioned by Rob Perkins), when
competition probably could have allowed for better rules to be worked out
between users and their preferred companies.
Whatever did happen
to that local phone company competition we were supposed to be getting,
anyway?}}}}

There's no end of telemarketer scum competing over my business.
The problem is the assumption that competition is some kind of magic bullet.
The purpose of Byzantine complexity, in any context, is to thwart reverse engineering.

A defining characteristic of competitive markets that is every bit as important
as a plurality of firms is market transparency, or the idea that knowledge of
"the going rate" for various services isn't "inside information."

The real allies of consumers of telecom product are the hackers and hobbyists and a few
municipalities who
are setting up wireless broadband installations, typically outside the for-profit sector.


{{{{David Brin said...

gmknobl... please, the rant that follows is not directed at you but at a
bugaboo you raise.
Actually, I have never accepted the dichotomy you
speak of. Security and freedom are not opposites, they are synergistic. Each
rises with the other... or they fall together. The ultimate proof
is... ...us. In all of history's 5,000 years (!) no people have ever
been so free... and no people have ever been so safe.}}}}

Sure, but is it because they have been rising synergistically, or is it because
the possibility frontier representing the very real tradeoff between security
and freedom is expanding, possibly due to variables other than freedom and security.
Candidates would be the usual suspects, technological development, (grudgingly) economic
development, and I don't think you can underestimate the value of "rising expectations."

Also, if I feel more free than my ancestors, it may be because I am more free,
or it may simply be that authority, control and surveillance are exercised less
explicitly and more subtly, even invisibly.

{{{{I refuse to even begin
to follow the logical pat we are offered by that dichotomy. It is not
modernist. Moreover, nobody tells me I must choose between my
childrens' safety and their freedom! The very suggestion is a nonstarted. I
live my life dedicated to maximizing both.}}}}

As well you should. But maximizing both (both of anything, not just freedom and security)
is an exercise in optimization,
which is to say negotiation of tradeoffs.

...

{{{{Don Quijote said...

Whatever did happen to that local phone company competition we were
supposed to be getting, anyway?
Are you familiar with the concept
of a
rel=nofollow>Natural Monopoly
. Your phone, cable, electricity, gas and
water suppliers are Natural Monopolies, don't expect any real competition in
any of those industries.}}}}

There is reason to believe that residential implementation of solar and wind power
sufficient to sell some surplus energy back to the grid can have a profoundly decentralizing
effect on the electric grid. It also seems the wireless broadband movement is already
decentralizing the communication infrastructure, at least near certain hot spot they've
created. Water and gas, it seems, will require some technology of decentralized pipefitting.
A long time ago I posted a (admittedly technically naive) piece titled
"architecture minus easements." One of these days I'll alltheweb that and see if it's
still alive.


{{{{Don Quijote said...

...

BTW, how is that democracy working
out in Kuwait?

...}}}}

I hear they've been making progress toward democracy.
I hope there's truth to that.
It's been a long wait.
My understanding is that the Emir suspended the constitution in 1986,
prior to which Kuwait was largely democratic.
As I recall, the pretext was (predictably) a terrorist incident.
But my memory on this is sketchy so by all means look it up.

It's a crime against patriotism, but I'll mention it anyway.
When I first heard on the radio that Iraq had invaded Kuwait,
the first thought that popped into my head was "serves them right."
Obviously, I promptly flogged myself for having such a sinful thought.
Like most Americans, I probably couldn't find most countries on a map.
Prior to 1991, the only reference to "Kuwait" in my head was a piece
the TV show "60 Minutes" had done a few years previously.
They portrayed a small country where the per-capita income was double
that of the United States and the fringe benefits of citizenship were
generous even by Scandinavian standards. The catch was that citizens
are a minority of residents, the majority of whom are foreign "guest workers,"
of many nationalities, although a great number were Palestinian.

I don't know what's the deal with post-1991 Kuwait, but couple of years
ago Oprah Winfrey was making a big deal about how great the health care
and education benefits of Kuwaiti citizens are, but without certain
other details outlined in the 60 Minutes piece. This is so typical
of main$tream media types.

If it is a standing policy of the United States to intervene on behalf of illegally
invaded countries, why was she allied or aligned with the aggressor nation in Morrocco vs.
Western Sahara, South Africa vs. Namibia, Indonesia vs. East Timor?
Nicq MacDonald said...

{{{{"our fine work in Chile on the 70's" You mean the country that has
the highest per capita GDP and UN HDI in South America? That was good work.
Too bad we forgot about it when we went into Iraq...}}}}

Too bad we didn't forget about it. The economic development program that has been
unleashed on Iraq is the Chicago Boys program on steroids.

{{{{...remember kids,
sometimes all you need is a friendly right-wing dictator to manage the
transition to capitalism and democracy. Not only Chile, but Taiwan, South
Korea and Spain are testaments to this...}}}}

If you say so. But I insist on believing that a universe in which capitalism
has to kiss democracy's ass is possible. It's called optimism, and
I'm not the only one.

{{{{Don Quijote said...

You mean the country that has the highest per capita GDP and UN HDI in
South America?
No thanks to your friendly
dictator. ...remember kids, sometimes all you need is a friendly
right-wing dictator to manage the transition to capitalism and
democracy.
Chile was a democracy prior to the installation of our
friendly dictator.}}}}

Presumably they're now a better democracy.
This is an example of the break-em-down-and-build-em-back up mentality.
Or the proverbial "hit rock bottom" experience followed by a "born again" experience.
This is why I think it's naive to think that laissez-faire economics
can be somehow pried apart from the militarism and evangelicalism that are part
of the package deal that is present-day American conservatism.
What capitalism, militarism, and evangelicalism all have in common
is the shared belief that tough love isn't an oxymoron.

...

{{{{Steve
said...

...

I hypothesize that if the US were to require, say ,
the
href="http://www.sa-intl.org/" rel=nofollow>Social Accountability
standard SA-8000
for all imports, this would starve families who
depend on that income.}}}}

Perhaps. I shall look at the standard of which you speak.
Based on your hypothesis, I am guessing it amounts to a
"zero tolerance policy."

Here's a shameless plug:

http://scratchpad.wikia.com/wiki/Nonzero_tolerance_policy


{{{{And I don't think Americans are on the
whole any closer to paying more at Wal-Mart to get SA-8000
certified products, either.}}}}

I've never seen a product labeled as SA-8000 certified.
Is it new?
I've never been to a Wal-Mart store.
Is that where they're available?
I've tried fair trade certified coffee.
It currently accounts for about 10% by weight (about 30% by dollar-weighted reckoning)
of my coffee consumption. Another viable alternative would be consuming
coffee only on special occasions. This is an example of how I implement
a nonzero tolerance policy. It's a bitch that I'm as financially constrained
as I am, but of course I have my stupid career choices to blame for that.

...

WatchfulBabbler said...

...

{{{{Beyond
that, the economic argument for the existence of natural
monopolies is not airtight; scratch a natural monopoly and you'll
find a legislative or regulatory framework preventing
competition.}}}}

The economic argument for the non-existence of natural monopolies
always smelled to me of sophistry; a series of sleight of hand
tricks designed to pass of a mathematical derivation for an empirical
case. Heck, that seems to describe academic economics in general.
One thing it does have going for it, of course, is that their models
are always exquisitely airtight. Painfully airtight. Probably results
from the insistence on prying economics (the study of scarcity) apart
from politics (the study of Power).

{{{{2. A former NSA employee I worked with once
likened her agency's abilities to a magnifying glass focusing the
sun -- blindingly powerful, and thus in need of very careful
focus. Her main point was that NSA never, /never/ turned its powers
of detection and analysis on American citizens and
residents. Period.}}}}

This is comforting, but not as comforting as having some serious data
mining capabilities in publicly accessible databases would be.
What was it you said about "scratch a natural monopoly...?"

I'll take the fish bowl society over the mirror shades society any day.
I haven't yet read Brin's "Transparent Society."
On the present website he appears to be an advocate of the mirror shades model.
In the "Earth" monology he seems to depict a fishbowl society accessorized with
little hidey holes like the "skulls" and other knicknacks that pervade
pet stores everywhere.
A compromise compatible with my nonzero tolerance policy,
for the -near- future.

...