Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Decrypting My Own Central Theme: Increasing "Aggregate Intelligence."

Been remiss in posting. Swamped with work, taking my holocene project to its next level. Now that the patent is being granted. Still, I can at least put up some informally interesting items.

One of you pointed me to Jamais Cascio’s attempt to offer a two dimensional axis-landscape representing belief sets about the future. As ever, when this quintessential New Modernist speaks, it is well worth your time spent listening! See this spectrum metaphor at: Open the Future.

(In response to an earlier draft of this posting - and other commentary - Jamais has posted a revised version  I will nevertheless continue to post my comments because I just learned of his revision, of-late. Readers are free to view this as a dynamic exchange.)

There is much to agree with in Cascio’s metaphor -- especially his caution, almost a core tenet of the New Modernism -- that the map is not the territory. Metaphors are tools, not crutches or constraints. The sooner we admit that simplistic models can’t encompass human complexity, the sooner that complexity will become (somewhat) tractable.

Good stuff! Still, in the spirit of CITOKATE, I find it far more interesting to (respectfully!) carp and poke. So let me point out a few aspects of the chart and explanation that Jamais presented.

First off, he is quite right that there is more than a little frenetic and quasi-religious millennialism to be found in the “Idealist-Optimist” camp of Ray Kurzweil and the extropian-singularitans. See my paper about the yin/yang of a coming “technological singularity,” where I take this tradition all the way back to Teilhard de Chardin. It is a vein of “techno-transcendentalism” that seems (as Jamais says) to be at least as much a function of personality as evidence. See Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism About the Human Future.

singularityStill, if you trace the persistence and age of this tradition , you quickly see how it blends with and emerges from other strains of millennialism. Personality traits do not seem to map on Cascio’s axes the way he suggests. Indeed, the people he put in the lower-right corner -- e.g. classic Marxists and rapture-revelation fundamentalists -- would hardly agree to call themselves “pessimists”! They perceive a happy ending in the offing, with all of their incantations are proved right as the curtain is rung down at the completion of history.

True, by Cascio’s defined standards, the fundies are “pessimistic,” in that WE (those of us reading this) would all be losers, consigned to perpetual torture for the fault of having believed (with all good intent) in a Creator who spectacularly made trillions of worlds, rather than a cramped and boring little one. Yes, their definition of “success” is highly discriminatory, bigoted and exclusive. We New Modernists are especially slated to gush blood from our eyeballs, when The Day arrives. Yum. Still, it is a goal, and you gotta hand them that. They are cheerfully optimistic and working hard to achieve it. God bless em.

This raises the first very important point, when it comes to efforts like this one, to create new “axis” metaphors, by which to make sense of a political or personality landscape.

1. A spectrum should not be pejorative. Ideally, you should choose axes that everybody can agree upon, because the values represented by those axes really do reflect how each person and/or group sees themselves. No one should much mind or disagree with where they fall on the chart.

Let me admit that I’ve thought a lot about this. I, too, have tried my hand at this kind of arrogant modelling. Enraged by the continuing use of that French Monstrosity... the hoary-horrific and nearly meaningless so-called “left right political axis,” that nobody can ever define, yet constrains and hampers 21st Century minds... I tried to present an alternative or two.

Of course others have done likewise. But if you look closely at those presented by the Libertarian Party, by Jerry Pournelle, and so on you will see that they all suffer from yet more demeaning faults.

2. Tendentiousness. The axes seem designed to coax people into choosing a predetermined quadrant. They are polemical, aimed at recruitment, or drawing a foregone conclusion.

3. Axes aren’t orthogonal. You learn this in physics. It’s best when the two or three “axis traits” don’t have anything in common. This allows a far better separation of variables and a better picture to form. Example, both Pournelle and the LP use “statism” and “coercion” which certainly shadow each other, as does a belief in proactive human and social perfectibility.

4. The axes should pragmatically separate groups that clearly do not like each other and have different goals. Likewise, they should illustrate nearness when groups share goals and the means to achieve them. And above all, nearness and farness ought to matter.

addictionGetting back to Cascio’s personality spectrum, one can immediately see a problem in that all of his examples are people who CARE about the future! They all believe that better days may lie ahead. There are huge differences between those who believe that apotheosis will arrive through hard work and hard negotiation vs those who expect it to be hand-delivered... and I applaud Jamais for pointing this out. But even this trait is not cleanly distributed across his chart.

Take Julian Simon & Bjorn Lomborg and other champions of FIBM (Faith In Blind Markets) - the cult that opposes the equally fanatical cult of fatalistic environmental doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich. The FIBMers clearly belong in the lower left of Cascio’s chart and the doomies in the lower right. (Indeed, the latter are far better examples of “pessimists” than the ones Jamais offered.)

And yet, would you call Paul Ehrlich an ally of fundamentalists, or Simon an extropian? YES, Jamais is talking about Personality As It Reflects Upon The Future. A narrow conceptual range. Yet we are behooved to pick at limits to this metaphor.

Finally, about the word “modernism.” Clearly I am a complete (welded at the hip) fellow-traveller with Jamais at the top of his spectrum, a “realist” who yearns to be optimistic, but who knows how much work it will take. And yet, are the extropians not modernist too? In their own way? Their cloud-cuckoo idealism may seem dreamy and silly to us. But we love to be invited to their meetings and play the role of grouchy elder brother. If they claim the title of New Modernists, I will be the last to eject them.

We need all the help we can get.

==ANOTHER COMMENTARY==

Chris Phoenix eloquently weighs in: ”Jamais asks at the end of his post, "What does this matrix miss?" The matrix can't really describe me, because it assumes I have a dichotomous view of the future--that I see the future as either good or bad, either transcendent or mundane.

“Now, I do recognize the possibility that things will go so sour that we wipe ourselves out, and I also recognize the possibility that we'll all live happily ever after, for ever and ever amen. But my view of the future goes beyond ignorance about which of two choices we'll end up in. I see the possibility of a weird superposition of states. We could all be happy slaves. Or we could be struggling individualists who have transcended today's problems but face bigger ones. Or we could split into a race of terrestrial couch potatoes and adventurous starfarers (one of Brunner's books has this theme). Or...

“Ask yourself this koan: Are we happier than our caveman ancestors? It is not only ignorance of the past that prevents us from answering.”


==AND NOW A PERSONAL REFLECTION==

Stepping back, it seems that my version of the New Modernism is way up at the realist-pragmatist end of Cascio's spectrum and I am proud of it. Reciprocal Accountability and Citokate and all that...

. . . .and yet, I now realize that this isn't all of what's going on. In fact, there is a corner of me that's deeply worried - even a little HOSTILE - toward notions like lifespan extension and nanomanufacturing and all of that. Because part of me fears we are still way too stupid to deal with these things in ways that will make us the exception to the Fermi Paradox.

PredictionsRegistryWhen I look across the innovations that I have personally pushing... ranging from research into indignation addiction to to predictions registries to my newly patented Holocene communications software, to all this blather about transparency, I think I now see what's in common.

I feel we have to get smarter. Maybe a LOT smarter, before we will be able to deal with AI and immortality and molecular manufacturing and nanotech and bioengineering. Effective intelligence is where we really should be investing research and development. Because if we do get smarter, or make a next generation that is, then the rest of it could be much easier.

Frankly, when I look at Aubrey de Gray and Ray Kurzweil... and when I look in a mirror... I see jumped up cavemen who want to live forever and get all pushy with the universe and quite frankly, I am not at all sure that cavemen are ready to leap into the role of gods.

Not without either becoming more godlike in the best ways... or making gods who are far more worthy of the tasks ahead.

-----
Chris: “I have sometimes thought that rather than focusing on MM policy and implications and all that stuff, we should just put an all-out effort toward neurotech research--the stuff that Zach Lynch talks about. Neurotech could be developed before MM gets here, and it might well be sufficient to save us--if we actually use the technology once we have it.”

DB: Actually, I consider this to be vastly too important to leave to the dubious powers of biological science. I do not expect it to be easy to artificially augment human intelligence, which may be our most complex and delicate quality. Initial attempts may bring 90% madness. We ALL know very bright people who --- well --- do not handle it well. There are a myriad synergies involved, almost none of which are understood.

This is why I concentrate on the methodologies that have already enhanced human effective intelligence. Our error-detecting transparency traditions and accountability arenas. Sum-of-the-parts citizenship. Suspicion of authority memes. Citizen resiliency + professional anticipation. Philanthropy, markets...

DisputationArenasArrowCover...and have pushed for extensions of these things, so that they can be more effective: predictions registries, philanthropy ideas, neo-markets, a “fifth accountability arena of disputation,” improved online conversation interfaces, and so on. This really is held together by the common theme that human aggregate intelligence is far easier to engender, enhance and fine tune than it will be to make individual humans smarter.

This has been very interesting. I don’t think I ever put all my interests together and saw the unifying theme, before.

====    ====    ====

See:

  Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit

  An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry and Social Psychology

  Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism about the Human Future

  Accountability for Everyday Prophets: A Call for a Predictions Registry

=====


David Brin
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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good News... Bad News...

==An Aversion to Complexity==

One thing you’ll find in common among romantics, nostalgics, ideologues and all foes of modernism is an aversion to complexity. An abiding distaste for the never-ending flood of intricate detail, adding up to both good and bad news -- along with an even bigger wave of perplexing it’s-too-soon-to tells.” A steady stream of successes and failures, sparked by endeavors of all kinds, both market and state.

Take some recent examples:

The ozone hole over the Antarctic is likely to begin contracting in the future and may disappear by 2050 because of a reduction in the release of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting gases, according to a team of Japanese scientists.

Could you ever hope to find a better example of modernist error-discovery and problem-solving, than this one?

 When scientists first discovered this threat to Earth’s health, the reflex of the right was to suppress the news... and then any thought of action... while the reflex of the right was to screech that (literally) the sky was falling. Fortunately, ideologues weren’t involved in the solution process. What happened was that society exercised its right to conceive general and systemic corrections, but wisely included the market in the details of implementation. A phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons and other gases blamed for the ozone hole seemed too slow for the activists, but it allowed the markets to adjust, delivering new products at a greatly accelerated pace, without provoking a panic-drive ruction and forcing a recall of every air conditioner on the planet. The state did its job, fine tuning market rules so that they included the hidden costs to our descendants... without giving in to the temptation of overly-meddlesome bureaucracy.

Yes, this perfect example is almost too perfect. It will be far harder to solve global warming, or teach the benefit of new, revisionist compromises on, say, DDT and Nuclear Power. The right may be more insane, right now and vastly more dangerous. But the left remains far too intransigent and unwilling to re-evaluate. Unwilling to see complexity.

Having earlier spoken up for optimism, that the world is getting better as a result of deliberate human effort... and therefore such effort should be increased... let me now turn around and avow that there is so, so much farther that we have to go.

World poverty may be going down, but not at a sufficient pace to save us all. A couple of brief articles lay this out cogently. See: Poverty Traps and Global Development.

also: How to Help the Poor Out of Poverty.

-----
And under the category of “Will anybody EVER listen to me?”: Personal information on 26.5 million U.S. veterans was stolen from an employee of the who took the data home without authorization, exposing them to possible identity theft, the department said on Monday.

A snippet someone sent me, with interesting implications. All about “the web's evolution from simple initial conditions of URL, HTTP, and HTML (which I generalize to Identity, connectivity, and relationship)... and a certain common reoccurrence of triplets in initial conditions... The constraint that web founder Berners-Lee put on the web (that it use the Interrnet protocol (IP), instead of proprietary protocols (AOL or Compuserve) ) is what made it open - good fences make good neighbors kind of stuff...”

==Science Updates==

Thanks in part to molecular manufacturing, accelerated developments in AI and brain reverse-engineering could lead to the emergence of superintelligence in just 18 years. Are we ready for the implications -- like possible annihilation of Homo sapiens? And will we seem to super-intelligence what our ape-like ancestors seem to us: primitive?

The deadly human form of mad cow disease, vCJD, may have infected far
more people than previously thought...

The way the body's immune system responds when its cells are under attack has inspired a new way of protecting computer networks from viruses and hackers. Software has been developed that behaves like
dendritic cells, scouring the network looking for danger signals such as sudden increases in network traffic or unusually high numbers of error...

The Anthropic Principle -- which argues that our universe is finely tuned to support life and there is no point in asking why it is so -- has been criticized as lazy, untestable science. Now there may be a way to test the theory for one of the most problematic instances of fine-tuning. Cosmologists have observed that the expansion of the...

== Finally, I gave you earlier a flawed URL for the Wiki that was set up by the New England Complex Systems Institute NESCI, relating the abstract of the talk I plan to give at their conference in Boston, late June... and further laying out a “best” version (so far) of the list of predictive hits from EARTH.

Here is the correct URL:
http://www.necsi.org/community/wiki/index.php/ICCS06/David_Brin

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Cato Hypocrisy

I have long held that the greatest tragedy, among countless misfortunes that recur in the long and agonizing human story, is not when evil triumphs over good, or when oppression overcomes freedom, or even the wretched loss of ten billion potential might-have-beens. No, the most devastating defect in our character -- a trait that held us down ever since the caves -- is the very same twist in our natures that makes us such fine storytellers.

I am talking about our incredible penchant for -- and creativity at -- self delusion and rationalization. The lengths that we all go to, in order to convince ourselves that we are the smart ones, virtuous and right... often in complete denial of blatant evidence to the contrary. It is the one magical act that all of us can easily perform, at near genius level.

Elsewhere I talk about the organic mechanisms of reinforcement that make us addicts to this sort of blithe, self-righteous assurance, while dismissing all opponents as vile or stupid strawmen. Indeed, I can step outside myself and watch these very tendencies play out -- the same smug assumption of privileged knowledge and superior perception -- even as I type these words. Well, we are of the same clay. This ecumenical allure tugs at even the wise. Even the shy.

Can we escape the bewitchment of solipsism and seductive self-hypnosis? For millennia, the prescription in every culture was to accept, with utter fealty, whatever mythic system was taught by local authority figures. Parents. Lords. State and church. This method replaced (or overlaid) some individually vain "realities" with shared/consensual ones. But while mantric uniformity helped to maintain peace within some communities, it absolutely guaranteed conflict against others.

Above all, the top aim was to make sure no one asked: "Isn't it just a little suspiciously pat and convenient, that my bunch just happens to be 100% right, and my opponents are so completely deluded?" One nation and culture after another imitated the same obstinacy that we see in countless individual neighbors. A steadfastness that is often portrayed as admirable, even -- especially -- in the face of contrary evidence.

Are we screwed, then? Betrayed by an utterly consistent human character flaw? Doomed to repeat the same patterns over and over, with only minor variations of cult and incantation?

Fortunately, a slim ray of light appeared. Gradually, over time, a completely different approach took shape. Instead of clutching a consensual delusion (to augment your private ones), this new method called upon human beings to adapt their subjective perceptions to evidence. By referring both to objective reality (experiment) and the cross-checking feedback of other people, we can catch a relatively high percentage of our mistakes and misperceptions.

It isn't magical. The process requires deliberate effort, overcoming our own egos, as well as humanity's greatest paradox.


THE PARADOX

If "criticism is the only known antidote to error" (CITOKATE), then suppression of criticism must be the greatest single cause of error, not only in daily life, but especially among the leaders who have been entrusted with statecraft. Name a nation or time when a society's need for cleansing information and argument did not inherently conflict with the most driving need of leaders and oligarchs - to stifle dissent and maintain confidence in their rule.

Especially their own sense of confident superiority and right-to-rule, whether they were emperors, aristocrats or commissars. This conflict of interest runs so deep, it is very likely biological. Don't all of us descend from the harems of kings, who gained reproductive advantage by seizing and holding unaccountable power?

Despite countless, contradictory definitions we've heard it seems to me that the core endeavor of the Enlightenment Experiment is quite simple -- to find ways out of this trap. To escape the paradox of criticism. All of our great accountability arenas - science, markets, justice and democracy - have their roots in this realization... that no man is trustworthy to declare what's true. As Richard Feynman said - "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool."


CASE STUDY OF A MODERN CULT: THE CATO INSTITUTE

Alas, the paradox only gets worse, the higher your IQ! In every walk of life we are surrounded -- especially at all extremes of the hoary/insipid "political spectrum" -- by bright fools who wallow in sanctimonious just-so stories, blithely dismissing contrary evidence, always ignoring the suspiciously pat convenience of just-happening to be oh-so right.

Take for example* the erudite, "freedom-promoting" scholars of the Washington DC Cato Institute -- purported to be the key think tank for studying and propounding principles of libertarianism. Let me zero in on them, because right now they offer a marvelous case study illustrating our problem -- the mountain of rationalizing human nature that we must still overcome.

Why pick on Cato? I mean, other than the fact that they wear they IQs on their sleeves. You see, these passionate and articulate champions of the free market have lately found themselves in a difficult situation. A real bind.

Year after year, members and affiliates have maintained a marvelous high wire act, claiming surficially to be nonpartisan - to find equal fault between "Republicans who oppress freedom of the bedroom and Democrats who oppress freedom of the marketplace." And yet, as donations poured in from well-heeled private sources, a funny thing happened to the production line of scholarly documents and position papers. It veered right.

Oh, occasionally (for credibility's sake) Cato fellows would fire a very general - and very soft - fusillade in favor of abortion rights or against Alaska's pork "Bridge to Nowhere." Still, as the propaganda wheels turned, there appeared to be one guiding principle behind almost every missive produced by the Cato Institute.

We, who style ourselves as the defenders of a free market, shall obsessively and relentlessly ignore the market's greatest enemy. We will never mention or acknowledge the blatant fact that, for 5,000 years, the most deadly foe of free enterprise has always been conspiratorial aristocracy.

Indeed, the Cato Institute has long promoted the worst social, economic and political conflation of modern times. A delusion that Adam Smith warned against. The notion that ownership of capital is the prime correlate with wise market capitalism. A very different concept, fundamentally, than saying that markets are themselves wise at allocating, rewarding or promoting innovative goods and services.

Just scan Cato's sage and scholarly think tank documents propounding upon the inherently superior wisdom of markets. Apparently, "pre-selecting outcomes" is a sin when it is done openly, by a nation's broadly-inclusive and constitutional deliberative process. Even (especially) when it is shown that intergenerational costs cannot be accounted-for without some regulated market tuning, this kind of accounting is dismissed as an impossibly utopian and unachievable, due to the limited knowledge and predictive power of governing bodies.

Point taken. Score one for Hayek. And yet, "pre-selecting outcomes" is somehow portrayed as perfectly okay, when it is performed by much smaller clades of secretively collusive owners, scheming in small groups to allocate resources, labor and capital as capriciously as the feudal lords of any other era. Eras that, though less trammelled by well-meaning social tinkering, somehow managed to be far, far less successful than our own.

Somehow, under those conditions, nobody speaks about "limited knowledge and predictive power." The secrecy that nearly all economists call poisonous to markets, is somehow portrayed as just fine when it is used by a few golf buddies to manipulate those same markets and squeeze out all players who aren't in-the-know.

While the obsolete, ridiculous and long-discredited spectre of socialism continues drawing ire and alarm, the Cato and its allies keep on shrilly pointing at "government" as the sole and inherent foe of enterprise, never allowing attention to drift toward those who (increasingly) control government for their own enrichment. Aristocracies who exercise extreme influence over law and regulation, ensuring that government favors elites, in ways that Adam Smith cogently denounced during his own era.


THE "FALL" OF THE GOP... WITH AN EXCUSE...

catosletterv4n2Take the most recent "Cato's Letter," issued quarterly by the Institute, this time featuring an article by Tucker Carlson (host of MSNBC's The Situation) entitled - "The Decline and Fall of the Republican Party."

Wow. With a title like that , you might think the Catoins have seen the light! That they've realized, at long last, how deeply one of our great parties - and through it, nearly all of our government institutions - is suborned by a narrow cabal of native and foreign elites. That most insatiable subset of aristocrats, imbued with a deep sense of righteous privilege, who have engaged in one of the most reckless campaigns of kleptocratic mismanagement in all of history.

Have the Catoins decided - belatedly - to rise up and help us all deal with the cakocratic fecklessness. The rampant deceit, corruption, willful ignorance, indolence, violence, and anti-scientific dogmatism that has threatened civilization at all levels?

Well... um... not quite.

In fact, the Cato guys pretty much had to issue some kind of denunciation at this point in time. The national wave of revulsion toward today's GOP has risen toward tsunami proportions. The henchman defections that I have long called for are starting to trickle and stream from a myriad cracks in the neocon edifice. Soon, when whistleblowers start feeling safe to emerge, these cracks will grow so wide that Karl Rove will no longer be able to patch his coalition with liberal... oops... I mean generous... dollops of culture war. Under circumstances like these, it is not surprising to see Cato join in, if only to hold onto a little residual relevance.

But the line they are pushing! Ah, that's where things get really cute. Hang on and watch closely. It is better than a streetcorner game of Three Card Monty!


OFFERING EXCUSES FOR THE "LESSER OF EVILS"...

For starters, it seems that the most dogmatic administration in living memory has failed because it was not dogmatic enough.

Oh, but it gets even better. For, according to Tucker Carlson -- the great sin of the Republican Party is that (horrors!) it has sunk down almost to the dissolute, immoral, spendthrift, corrupt and despicable level of Democrats!

Shudder. That low? Mea maxima culpa! If the far right does not renew itself soon, it is in serious danger of drifting down to the level of... liberals.

Talk about blame shifting legerdemain! Didn't I say these guys were bright? Prepare to hear this line more and more, as the political season advances. Let me paraphrase some more.

Yes, the neocons and their fellow travellers have proved to be disgusting, greedy and incompetent. But you must still rationalize holding your nose and continuing to vote for them, because democrats are inherently worse.

Clever, for sure. Only there's a problem with this line. It doesn't match the facts at any level. Not even when you lean upon the insipid crutch of left right cliches. Because the neocons' long road into hell did NOT take them into Democratic territory. In fact, they did it by heading - at warp drive - in diametrically opposite directions.-

-- by massively increasing secrecy in government, rather than reducing it. (The unambiguous trend across the nineties.)-

-- by massively increasing deficit spending, rather than reducing it. (Ditto.)-

-- by massively increasing pork barrel graft, rather than reducing it. (In fairness, the decline of pork in the nineties may have resulted from divided government, with President Clinton forced to co-habitate with the very different (and somewhat lamented) neocons of Newt Gingrich's wave.)-

-- by undermining America's alliances and status in the world in favor of cowboy adventurism, rather than building worldwide consensus and acceptance of mature U.S. leadership.-

-- by rejecting all sources of objective evidence or criticism that might conflict with doctrine, relentlessly undermining both science and the autonomy of skilled professionals, demolishing or repressing advisory panels and suppressing independent thinking in the intelligence and military officer corps.-

-- by crippling the Border Patrol in a blatant effort to emphasize and promote illegal immigration, in preference over legal immigration (the democrats' preference.)-

-- by systematically demolishing government contract-vetting and purchasing procedures, finding every excuse to grant sole-source contracts on the basis of whim or crony connections.

Will a Catoin ever do the correlation - that more actual deregulation of major industries took place during the Carter and Clinton administrations, than was ever proposed during the sum total of the Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush tenures? Never. Cognitive dissonance -- an inability to perceive that which conflicts with comfortable assumption -- will keep that from ever happening.

This list could go on and on. But the core point is clear. Tucker Carlson and the other court savants -- nay, courtesans -- of Cato and the right never look to any of these factors. In calling up an image of today's fallen GOP as nearly as bad as democrats, their sole criterion is to wag a finger and make tsk-tsk noises at the hemorrhaging federal deficit, while propounding that these conservatives have failed us, by becoming -- in effect -- liberals.

But even that tunnel-vision selection of a single litmus test fails utterly! Because it rests upon an obsolete cliche, frantically ignoring the Clintonian surpluses of the nineties... along with every other possible way of looking at a sick elephant.


SO, WHY DO I BOTHER DENOUNCING THESE BRIGHT FOOLS, ANYWAY?

Up to this point, I have been describing truly grotesque hypocrisies, putting shame to any pretense that these Cato guys are "libertarians," let along honest intellects. Their current program -- promoting clever mantras to help keep in power the most outrageously anti-market and anti Enlightenment clade of cacocrats in US history -- beggars any explanation short of complete sellout or frantic rationalization.

Nevertheless, having just colorfully vented my indignant wrath, I must recall that a truly honest man contemplates limitations to the validity of righteous anger. Especially righteous anger. So let me admit that the Catoins do have one policy difference between neocons and liberals that they can legitimately point to with favor -- from a quasi-libertarian perspective.

Tax Cuts. At the surface, one can at least envision why they'd like this Bushite obsession. For although democrats have transformed into the new puritans, calling for budgetary responsibility and fiscal prudence (as well as waste-not notions of efficiency) there is no doubt that they would begin doing this by rescinding some of the cuts that have amounted to flat out gifts to a narrow and increasingly powerful aristocratic class.

Yes, rightists offer reams of arguments for why the rich should get to keep vastly higher fractions of their passive rents (read what Adam Smith said about this!) than any average working stiff may keep from the sweat of his brow. We've all seen these incantations, so I'll not confront them here. Instead, let me counter with a challenge that is far more general, again turning our gaze to the vast majority of human generations:

While you ignore 5,000 years of human history, I look across that time and see a single failure mode that killed nearly every opportunity, almost every chance for fair market competition, every level playing field, every renaissance of freedom and fair play.

That historic foe of enterprise was not socialism or "big government"... though we should stay wary of those newer failure modes. No, across more than fifty centuries, it was nearly always some cabal of privileged owners who gave into a deeply human and completely natural temptation, to use their status and power to cheat. To stop competing and instead crush competitors, often using state power as their favored tool.

Saying this does not make me a socialist or fomenter of class warfare, any more than a physicist who mentions gravity is trying to bind people to the ground! The historical fact that I describe is blatant, irrefutable and absolutely true. Any theory of modern society must take it into account, coming up with imaginative, realistic ways to foster competition and markets without letting the winners thereupon abuse their power and maintain it by cheating.

Do your theories do that? Or do they conveniently always seem to come up with rationalizations for following the Old Road? For flattering and sucking up to new, would-be lords?



THE DISMAL STATE OF DISPUTATION AND DISCOURSE

Do I expect any kind of answer to this challenge? Of course not. (See my paper on "Disputation Arenas" for an idea about how the very idea of "challenges" may improve the level of argument, in times to come.)

Indeed, at one level, I don't even care. Because the objects of my ire are irrelevant. Because their old-fashioned ways doom them to triviality. And because -- fortunately -- the Enlightenment ain't dead yet. Indeed, it has stronger allies than its enemies can even begin to perceive.

For example, I would wager that a majority of the wealthy in America and the West "get it" far better than those bright suck-ups at Cato do. From Warren Buffett to Paul Allen, from Steve Jobs to Jeff Bezos, the guys who made fortunes through the true delivery of goods, services and capital can see what kind of society made all of their opportunities possible. They realize what the parasitic cacocrats have done to America, and they do not like it one bit.

Like the abused professionals of the officer corps, like those henchmen who are starting to turn whistleblower, like thousands of bright sons and daughters who roil in shame over the selfish shortsightedness of their fathers... these market heroes will step forward when we need them most. They will stand up for a civilization that is not about left and right, after all. Or about insipid rationalizing cliches.

What are markets and enterprise and creativity and freedom really all about? They are about maximizing opportunities for individual human beings to argue and invent and reciprocally-criticize and come up with the solutions that we'll need, in order to cross the next century successfully.

Fortunately, this Enlightenment still has friends. Enough (possibly) that we still have a very good chance of making it.


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

* For the record, I could as easily have chosen some collection of bright fools on the left. There are so many, you could not shake stick at them all in a century. But this is not the direction where the greatest threat to freedom lies.

** See my own papers on libertarianism, and its potential - still only a glimmer - to serve as a third force in American political life.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cool Community-Interest Items...

All of the following seem worth following-up on, later, as members of the community perhaps report back later?

Dang! For the second time in as many months, archaeologists have discovered startling, anomalous discoveries of hitherto unknown, impressive civilizations. Last month, a gigantic pyramid in Bosnia, complete with passageways, that everyone had assumed to be a local mountain. (Someone alert us all when there’s more published.) And this month “Archaeologists discovered a pre-colonial astrological observatory possibly 2,000 years old in the Amazon basin near French Guiana.”

Google just announced a new service called Google Trends that I thought might be of interest... Anyone care to explore it and report back here under comments?

Fans of the singularity? Read up on the recent Singularity Summit at Stanford U... And report back here about whichever items struck you personally as new! New ideas, new approaches, etc. Help the rest of us track progress toward the apotheosis...  See also: http://www.downtheavenue.com/and: http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=3030and:

If you're anywhere near Stanford University on Memorial Day Weekend, you might be interested in this conference at the Stanford University Law School ($200 for registration, $150 for students).Some presentations that caught my eye include:

Illegal Beings: Human Clones and the Law

Christian Reflections on Radical Life Extension and Human Rights

Playing God: Theological Reflections on Genetic Enhancement

Cyborg Political Technologies: Citizenship, Democracy, Constitutions, and Bills of Rights

Feminists for Genetic Engineering

Anyone care to report on this after it happens?

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MIT Issues Call to Arms on Energy -- (Cnet -- May 3, 2006) The Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a preliminary report that calls for technology development and government policies to avert a "perfect storm" forming around energy. MIT's Energy Research Council report was the result of a year-long study. It concluded that industrialized nations need to accelerate a switch to cleaner and more efficient sources of fuel, a transition that could take 50 years.

The most realistic virtual reality
room in the world -- More than $4 million in equipment
upgrades will shine 100 million pixels on Iowa State University's
six-sided virtual reality room. That's twice the number of pixels
lighting up any virtual reality room in the world and 16 times the pixels now projected on Iowa State's C6, a 10-foot by 10-foot virtual reality room that surrounds users with...

The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online....

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The world is safer
By Carl Robichaud Mother JonesMay 15, 2006 Commentary: Over the past dozen years, virtually every trend in global security has been positive -- dramatically so. Article created by the Century Foundation

S ince 9/11 and the global war on terror, the world is a much more dangerous place. Right? Dead wrong, according to a recent in-depth study, which found that virtually every trend in global security in the past dozen years has been positive, and dramatically so. The world is today a safer place, according to the Human Security Report, a project funded by five nations and published by Oxford University Press. The study, which is the culmination of three years of research, offers a comprehensive look at the data on political violence from 1988–2005, and reaches some arresting conclusions:
Fewer armed conflicts. Armed conflicts declined by more than 40 percent since the early 1990s. During this period, fifteen more armed struggles for self-determination ended than started. Today there are fewer armed secessionist conflicts than at any point since 1976.

Less genocide. Notwithstanding the horrors of Rwanda , Bosnia , and Sudan, the number of genocides and “politicides” fell by 80 percent between the high point in 1988 and 2001.

Fewer international crises. The number of “international crises” declined by more than 70 percent between 1981 and 2001.

Fewer arms deals. International arms transfers, in real dollar values, fell by 33 percent between 1990 and 2003. This accompanied a sharp decline in total military expenditure and troop numbers as well.

Fewer refugees. The number of refugees dropped by some 45 percent between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end.

The longest peace between major powers. The period from World War II to today is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between great powers for hundreds of years.

The article goes on to discuss why these facts are ignored and who benefits from an ongoing state of drummed-up fear. But NONE of the explanations given by the authors seem at all as likely as the one I choose...

...that fear serves the purposes not only of political and protective and press castes, but of ALL ROMANTICS, who cannot cope with recognition that modernism and the enlightenment are working. In their loathing of the modernist agenda’s hubristic goal -- of gradual and relentlessly successful human self-improvement -- they engage in relentless acts of ritualistic re definition.

e.g. one guy wrote to me offline, recently, barging into my space to hector me about his “definition of left-right and the enlightenment.” It seems, that the left AND the enlightenment are both about “rigid predetermination” while the right (and presumably a comfy Protestant version of aristocratic feudalism) are all about freedom and self-determination. A speck of self-awareness, about how tendentious definitions that make one feel good ought to rouse skepticism? Nah. That kind of defining is the very core and essence of romanticism.

And do not believe for a moment that the “left” doesn’t do it too! Forever redefining things like racism and sexism and poverty, so that no array of accomplishments will ever be enough to warrant giving the people a brief pat on the back, an “attaboy” and “attagirl”... For having taken bigger (though still incomplete) strides toward equality and justice than all other generations put together.

THIS is why I rail against romantic dogmatists of all sides, even though only one group of fanatics presently holds all the power and is doing all the harm and poses the vastly greater threat to all of our lives and hopes... For the moment. Because I do not want us to EVER let this fall back down into that insipid horror of a linear “political metaphor,” ever again. To be a modernist is to be optimistic about the project for self-improvement. It means taking good news as encouragement, rather than something to be angrily rejected. (The finest way to tell a liberal from a lefty flake.)

It is time to spurn the canard that “moderate pragmatist reformers” who openly negotiate the full range of human solutions are therefor somehow bloodless, tepid sellouts! We need to be militantly moderate and angrily optimistic! Because we don’t have much time to get these big jobs finished, before a million kinds of awful shit hit the fan.

And yes, the neo-feudalists are the worst threat right now. They have wasted every single minute of the 21st Century (so far). But their allies abound, and in unexpected places.

Stand up. Be happy warriors. And fight.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Quick Queries!

I am still trying to clear decks to give you all the great big essay on The Insipid Way That Both Sides Are wrong in the Debate Over Markets...

But first, a couple of quick items:

1) A plea to mac experts! My ancient and beloved Laserwriter II (which is more rugged than an Abrams Tank) has stopped working on my Mac G4. It was working a week ago (and a test on the ancient G3 shows the printer is just fine). Clearly, the driver old laserwriter8, can't be found anymore. But when I go online I cannot seem to find any drivers on offer that might drive this wonderful old contraption. Help, anyone?

2) In honor of all the springtime colds going around... and the dreaded (but Karl Rove's beloved) Bird Flu, I will now offer, for your amusement, a little song. Only one half verse and the refrain are original (I memorized them years ago) while the rest I wrote myself. Still, I am curious if any of you could track down the original. It played once on NPR, back in December 1979, in a production called "Unpackaging the Eighties" by Jesse _______, and it was a true delight. Anyway, next time you sniffle and wheeze, let this song give you solace:

IT’S A VIRUS

Back in the Pleistocene,
When we were still marine,
a virus launched a quest,
to be the perfect guest
And re-arranged our genes.

So to this very day,
Whether you grok or pray
all your inheritors
count on those visitors
And what they make you pay.

.
REFRAIN

It’s a virus,
It inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... host.

.
Though you may curse microbes
who make you blow your nose,
evolution bends
to what a virus sends,
making us recompose.

Though when you least expect
You may be struck down next
thank the virus, he
put us in misery,
But then he gave us sex!


It’s a virus,
Its inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... host.



endure...

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.)

----
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.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More Catchup Misc Items (non-political!)

Thanks, those of you who have helped with computer-related problems. Interesting discussions... and the worst dilemmas were wonderfully solved.

Now for a data dump of wonderful miscellaneous stuff:

Under the category of “I predicted this!” ...A trend toward increased Citizen Journalism.

Eleven new essays about the implications of molecular manufacturing — an advanced form of nanotechnology — were released today. Written by members of a that we have organized at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, the articles offer promising opportunities and raise troubling concerns. Covering topics from commerce to criminology, from ethics to economics, and from humanity's remote past to the distant future, these essays illustrate the profound transformation that nanotechnology will have on all aspects of society. (See my essay in the previous batch.)

Under the category of WOW!

DARK energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin. A new and as yet undiscovered kind of star could explain both phenomena and, in turn, remove black holes from the lexicon of cosmology.

World's Largest Rivers Drying Up -- (RHC -- March 14, 2006)
United Nations investigation has revealed that half of the planet's 500 biggest rivers are seriously depleted or polluted. The world's great rivers are drying up at an alarming rate, according to the report, with devastating consequences for humanity, animals and the future of the planet.

CHECK IT OUT: ”Dance, Monkeys, Dance!” a fun, though predictable bit of hypercynicism ranting. Reminds me a lot of the fun sci fi bit called “They’re Made Out of Meat.)

The Terasem Movement, Inc. has posted online streaming videos of a Moot Court Hearing on the Petition of a "conscious computer" to be treated as a legal person. A Moot Court Hearing is a legal role-playing exercise conducted by real lawyers and judges in preparation for anticipated actual adjudicatory proceedings.

NASA and Google Bring Mars to PCs Everywhere -- (New Scientist -- March 13, 2006)
With Google's help, web surfers can now navigate from the plains of Meridiani to the Proctor Crater Dunes on Mars as though they were two local destinations. Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility and Google teamed up to produce Google Mars, a mapping tool, which allows users to view and scroll across the surface of the Red Planet, visiting its many landmarks.

Suit Raises Copyright Questions -- (Yahoo -- April 12, 2006)
An ongoing lawsuit between a company and a popular archive of Web pages raises questions about whether the archive unavoidably violates copyright laws while providing a valuable service, experts say. The nonprofit Internet Archive was created in 1996 to preserve Web pages that will eventually be deleted or changed. More than 55 billion pages are stored there.

“Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post recently reported on South Koreans paying for U.S. couples to adopt their children so that they can gain access to Western education.” This illustrates a trend that I have spoken of for years. Unmentioned in the US press is the fact that - while we wring our hands and institute testing, in order to make American schools more like those in the Orient (e.g. No Child Left Behind) - similar handwringing takes place over there, yearning for education to be “more American.”

Brin-News

I sometimes receive word from musicians that my books have inspired their work. You can find examples - like Siderius - at davidbrin.com. The latest of these is Gravity +: The Eric Thompson Project. Cool, experimental, good guitar work. And free.

Some fans have set up a site to roleplay in a version of the Uplift Universe (albeit a heavily modified one). See: http://s3.invisionfree.com/Uplift_RPG/ And report back if it’s either great or awful!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Age of Miracles & Wonder...



First, another appeal for help.

Some of you may recall that a couple of years ago I called out for aid in finding a SIMPLE BASIC PROGRAM, to run on my son’s PC. Something that would run all those wonderful little programs that he finds in so many older text books. Slowly, unnoticed by almost any techwriters or pundits, BASIC has vanished from all of our computers, which no longer contain a useful programming language accessible by neophytes who want to learn how to code, line by line, like in the old days.

BasicI finally came across “Chipmunk Basic” for the Macintosh, which sufficed for a little while. At least we could plug in a few lines of code and PRINT results.

Only now it’s insufficient. We’d like to make pixels move around on a simulated CRT screen. And we DON’T want to do it using high-level complex stuff like VISUAL BASIC. Old fashioned line coding, iterating to move pixels according to simple algorithms. Is that too much to ask? (Apparently so. In fact, the number of peopls who (last time) simply could not even grasp what I was looking for, and kept recommending complex, high-level stuff, shows what a mental block this is.)

If any of you know of a good line-by-line BASIC that is abso-freaking -lutely easy to understand and use, with a good tutorial included, capable of easy execution making dots move on a “screen,” for either PC or Mac, I’d be very interested.

----

Also. Didn’t one of you say you worked for Apple? After a few weeks using OS 10.4, I have to say DANG!

1- it’s great, generally better than OS9.2 (though not in all ways.) And vastly better than Windows.

2- I have a FIST full of suggestions to improve it!

3- I really need an OSX expert who can answer some dumb questions that are frustrating the heck outta me.

Enough on all that. I have a HUGE NEW ESSAY on economic and political philosophy that I’ll be posting soon. Got you salivating? Yum.

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I've, been pondering the state of modernism in The Times We’re In... Especially as the crisis is expressed in art.

For example, I just today played Paul Simon’s epochal album GRACELAND (one of those monster hit albums you just don’t get anymore, when you said “THAT sure was a contribution to Western civ!)

51bzxbKWitL._SY300_One of the songs - the Boy in the Bubble, contained the following lines --

These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle some--where
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and baby

These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all, oh yeah

The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry baby, don't cry, don't cry
Don't cry


I have long pondered the strange mix of cautionary warning and profound confidence in human adaptability that seems to froth out of these lyrics. I won’t do Simon the disservice of analyzing them to death. I just wonder what it would take to make people feel that way again.

----

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero, statesman, orator and writer (106-43 BCE)

Ah... Now that’s more like it. A slumping back into nostalgic grouchiness! By all means, let’s do more of that. More of the things that failed for thousands of years.

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Postscript

World immigrant population, 2005: 191 million
U.S. immigrant population, 2005: 35 million

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