Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Enlightenment Keeps On Kicking....

America's big names in engineering, as well as millions of Internet users around the world, are being asked to weigh in with their picks for the greatest technological challenges of the next century — a nine-month process that could give birth to new research initiatives. The project, called the "Grand Challenges for Engineering" program, is aimed at gathering up all those ideas and distilling them into a list of 20 puzzles for engineers to solve — in fields ranging from energy to communications to aerospace to advanced materials. The National Academy of Engineering, an arm of the Washington-based National Academies, is supervising the project, armed with a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The academy is a congressionally chartered, nonprofit organization that provides the U.S. government with expert advice on engineering issues.

More important and closer to the heart of CITOKATE...

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the west who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.1 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.”

I have long pushed for something like this, hoping that some billionaire like George Soros would fund it well enough to truly draw forth whistleblowers from the top tiers of the kleptocracy. But even without help from a billionaire, the tools and hard work seem to be falling into place for anti-corruption transparency to start flowing at the lower end, where it may be needed even more. (Of course, we always need to stay 1% paranoid that things like this are fronts, suborned or co-opted by the very same elites that should fear them. Such things have happened often enough to keep the tickle of doubt always there, in deep background.)

Project Witness tries to use transparency against corruption in the 3rd world by providing video cams to local activist groups. But Witness's standard approach may be about to be put out of business in the best possible way, by the stunningly rapid proliferation of cheap cell phones in developing regions. When these have cameras and audio recording ability, they will empower common citizens with powerful anti-corruption accountability tools. In fact, I have suggested that Witness re-allocate effort to leverage this phenomenon in ways that interact well with endeavors like Wikileaks.

Now (breaking news) I now find that Witness is trying to take steps in that direction, developing a participatory website - the Video Hub, where anyone with human rights related footage can upload video that can be used to create change. Using technologies such as cell phones and other mobile devices, web-based video upload and content distribution, online community building, advocacy and organizational tools, the Video Hub will provide new opportunities to feed the populist shift toward user-generated content with media in the service of global human rights advocacy.

Lacking a billionaire sponsor, let me ask that you folks at least spread the word to people who you think may have the skills to help this worthy effort.

... And added late note. Apparently Witness has some transparency related JOBS posted at their web site! Witness.org. If you (or somebody you know) have skills related to the program, I can think of few kinds of work that are more relevant to saving the world...

And meanwhile, innovation continues. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will launch Wikiasari, a search engine to compete with Google, Yahoo, Ask and others early this year. Wikiasari would apply the "wisdom of the crowd" to judging the value of a Web page.


----- WHAT'S SIMILAR IN SCIENCE FICTION? -----

See a “literature map” that shows “what else readers of David Brin read.” Some expected results... but also several different misspellings of Michael Crichton, including one that’s closest in! For many years O.S. Card and I have been “irked” by the massive overlap in our readership... though my own “irk” is with a wry smile. All told? I am rather pleased by the company I keep.


------ AND NOW SOME MISC ITEMS! ----

(...many of them with a nod of thanks to Ray Kurzweil, a modernist who makes me look quite pallid-grumpy, by comparison...)

-- Google, HP Labs, Yahoo, and Microsoft are among companies using "prediction markets" to improve forecasts. The technique rewards employees for success in making predictions....

A device the size of a sugar cube will be able to record and store high resolution video footage of every second of a human life within two decades, according to speakers at the Memories for Life conference at the British Library. Also see: Memories for life: a review of the science and technology, J. R. Soc. Interface (2006) 3, 351-365...

IBM has created 12 islands in the popular virtual world Second Life, where employees and customers can hold meetings, take orientation and training sessions and discuss projects. Too bad the interface limits discourse to one sentence at a time! If that’s IBM’s notion of “discussing projects”... well... I am buying competitor stock.

DARPA's Urban Challenge, safety issues, artificial muscles, a multifunctional home robot, and Microsoft involvement will be the five key developments in robots

Chinese astronauts walk on the moon, the world has splintered into currency blocs after an international exchange rate shock, and even robots have the vote. It sounds like the exaggerated vision - utopian or distopian according to taste - of a parlour futurologist. But these scenarios of what life might be like around the middle of the century have emerged from 270 rigorously researched papers commissioned by the government that together purport to be the world's most extensive look into the future. The Horizon Scan covers a vast range of science and technology, politics, economics and society - from internet crime to robotics, banking to the computer-brain interface, stem cell research to "grey power" in an ageing population. While still in the development stage, the horizon scans have already started to influence policy-making. Ahem... there are two criteria needed for a successful horizon scanning program that they seem to be missing (1) metrics for tracking credibility/success... and (2) getting the right scie fi guys involved...

A glass microscope slide covered with bits and pieces of genetic information from nearly 30,000 different viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites can quickly tell disease hunters whether a patient has malaria, influenza or myriad other diseases, researchers say.

In a recent study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains that a hydrogen economy is a wasteful economy. In contrast, in an efficient "electron economy" most energy would be distributed with highest efficiency by electricity and the shortest route in an existing infrastructure.

Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution New York Times December 10, 2006 . A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago

Web 3.0, expected to debut in 2007, will be more connected, open, and intelligent, with semantic Web technologies, distributed databases, natural language processing, machine learning, machine reasoning, and autonomous agents. Wait a minute! What ever happened to Web 2.0?

 A new concept, "vehicle-to-grid," would allow plug-in hybrids to help stabilize the power grid. Millions of cars, each with several kilowatt hours of storage capacity, would act as an enormous buffer, taking on charge when the system temporarily generates too much power, and giving it back when there are short peaks in demand.

New recordings of electrical activity in the brain may explain a major part of its function, including how it consolidates daily memories, why it needs to dream and how it constructs models of the world to guide behavior. The recordings capture dialogue between the hippocampus, where initial memories of the day’s events are formed, and the neocortex, the sheet of neurons on the outer surface of the brain that mediates conscious thought and contains long-term memories. Such a dialogue had been thought to exist, but no one had been able to eavesdrop on it successfully.

27 comments:

Naum said...

Lacking a billionaire sponsor, let me ask that you folks at least spread the word to people who you think may have the skills to help this worthy effort.

It doesn't take a billionaire.

Eventually, if it scales large enough, it does take some funds to keep servers humming, system administrators tuning and code monkeys enhancing and fixing the system. But entry costs for these projects are lower than they ever have been. Just requires time and ingenuity.

Linus didn't start with a large bankroll, he just wanted to hook his 386 PC into the university system and desired a desktop Unix system…

The Wikipedia folks weren't backed by money men (and if they were, they sure didn't proceed like it…), they just built it and then they came and then they figured out how to keep the lights turned on and the juice flowing to the servers…

The youTube owners, less than a year ago, were awash in bandwidth charges they couldn't meet and fretting over potential lawsuits… …look what happened there…

The young folks over at slashdot.org developed a blog before blogging was easily accessible via all the F/OSS that soon came to be available for all for the cost of a net connection. They sold their creation, and were able to hang around to tinker with their baby.

It takes time, but that doesn't require a billionaire, just enough spare time, or maybe thousands to feed and house a hacker…

David Brin said...

What all those groups had INSTEAD of big cash was: passion, focus, creativity and teamwork.

I got passion and creativity. But I am scattered among about forty endeavors at any given time. So focus ain't even remotely possible.

At least folks like WikiLeaks are giving flesh to some of the ideas. We gotta hope.

David Brin said...

One of you recommended I cross link on Daily Kos. Care to explain to me how that works?

Woozle said...

Re wikileaks:

(1) I don't think an investment is needed so much for the purpose of building the site itself as for hiring people to find the leads, advertising/publicity, and perhaps to enter and nicely format any documents received in non-web-compatible files (though I suspect much of the latter could be farmed out to volunteers).

If they've already got the documents to post ("We have received over 1.1 million documents so far."), why aren't they posting them?

The "cutting-edge cryptographic technologies" mentioned (but not much explained) on the site seem redundant -- without getting too specific (because this is an area in which I'm not well-versed) it seems to me that there is already a wide variety of F/OSS anonymization and encryption tools available off the shelf. Part of such a site's usefulness would be in documenting such tools so that newbie document-spillers would have a better chance of not being caught.

(2) There have been serious questions raised about the degree of bluffing involved: do they actually have these "advanced cryptographic technologies for anonymity and untraceability" ready to go, or are they hoping to attract investment capital so they can develop that technology? Why is there no technical discussion?

The optimist in me says that the concept is so doable that even if they are bluffing, perhaps the intensity of focus will, one way or another, make the site happen (e.g. along the lines of a wikipedia / slashdot model) regardless of whether there is a big initial investment.

OdinsEye2k said...

Yes! I love the National Academies. They produce an avalanche of good technical material, and publish a lot of it for free. I've actually read a couple of their books now (Dr. Brin, since you have a side computing interest, may I suggest "Simulation Based Engineering Science?" (or a title very much like it)).

I'm hoping they put down commercially viable space resource gathering as one of the Grand Challenges. Seems pretty big to me. But then, I'm a little biased as a space cadet.

Anonymous said...

A very odd story about the Bush-appointed San Diego US attorney:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20070112-9999-1n12lam.html

The gist is that she's being fired (after succesfully prosecuting the Duke Cunningham case), what's doubly odd is that:

1) This is apparently very rare (“It's virtually unprecedented to fire a U.S. Attorney absent some misconduct in office,” said criminal defense attorney Michael Attanasio, a former federal prosecutor.)

2) There been multiple forced retirements of US attorneys recently and an obscure Patriot act provision allows these posts to be filled on an interim basis without normal Senate approval (New Mexico and Arkansas just a bit earlier).


A further example, I guess, of professional competence under attack by this administration.

Naum said...

What all those groups had INSTEAD of big cash was: passion, focus, creativity and teamwork.

I got passion and creativity. But I am scattered among about forty endeavors at any given time. So focus ain't even remotely possible.

/agree

Absolutely, I have to concur here... ...I too have way too many projects and already split apart too much... ...a disadvantage that youth is not burdened with...

At times, I believe I need to do addition by subtraction and undergo radical change to completely drop everything so that I could begin anew in such a project...

But I just wanted to also drive home a point that small is often better. Smaller teams are more focused and exercise teamwork more... ...which is why we witness how once a company gets so large that most of its innovation comes from buying out new small creative startup efforts instead of building anything successful in-house.

Andrew Smith said...

David, do you have links to any papers/reports produced by The Horizon Scan that are longer than FT & NYT articles?

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Wikileaks would be wonderful, but there's too many issues there.

Reading the slashdot thread (even ignoring the trolling), then looking at their site ... no, I don't see it. They're going in precisely the wrong direction.

Actually they're going in several wrong directions at once, but hey.



Web 3.0: No. Not happening. "semantic web" has been a buzzword since before Web 2.0 started, and it's precisely as close to being useful now as it was then.
NLP sucks. If you don't know the context - and for anything general-purpose you do not - NLP won't do you much good. There's too many little unconsidered assumptions we make as humans.

It can happen, it will happen eventually, but the cutting edge of NLP is nowhere near what is needed to cause serious breakthroughs for the general public.



Back on the idea of Wikileaks:
First of all, a wiki is simply not the way to go here. Any such thing that's popular enough to matter (ie, be known at all to those contemplating leaking things) is also going to be popular enough to get flooded by cranks; indeed, the cranks will hit first, simply because they have so much more time to invest and so much less to lose. If you follow the wiki philosophy of "free editing", you're going to be in trouble. Wikipedia works because it demands verifibility; this means that someone who knows nothing about a topic is able to remove crankery from articles on that topic, while leaving valid information.

Something that wants non-easily-verifable information (ie, leaks) needs a way to handle the dilemma of the nugget of gold in a sea of crap. Further, deletion is not an option (for obvious reasons!), and it must be clear that tracking is impossible.


Also, there's the legal issues. I'm not a legal scholar, of course, but it does seem incredibly unwise to have any sort of suable organization - which would also mean no hardware.


That limits your options significantly. Indeed, I think the only way you could get anywhere would be with some form of P2P client that provides some serious inbuilt anonymization. There are ways I can see to achieve this at least, even over a completely untrusted network. (but it does require SSH-style encryption that's "unbreakable" except at the endpoints. And I haven't worked out the details of the algorithm... maybe I should work on that tonight, after I'm done with this day's part of the prelims. Hmmm.)

But ... a P2P client has issues as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Michael on the subject of wikileaks. Even cranks aside you just have to look at the huge amount of sheer spam and joke edits made by people in wikipedia to see that without the casual users that browse wikipedia for information and fix bad edits as they come by them a wiki really can't survive. Worse, wikileaks seems like just the kind of project that will support more crankers than legitimate viewers (on a side note, does this remind anyone else of the fact that the capitol building IPs are blocked from wikipedia for vandalism ...?), I for one know that browsing documents detailing corporate corruption is not exactly my idea of a good time.

Well, the people at wikipedia arn't dumb, but the FAQ seems to point to the belief that wikileaks will end up the same as wikipedia, which seems implausible.

Oh, and the wikileaks FAQ also mentions that some of the poster protection will be done by a modified version of Tor; distributing the content with the Tor-esque servers is interesting to thing about.

David Brin said...

Woozle, having been involved in the encryption debate almost from the beginning, I have to tell you that I am unimpressed. Agencies like NSA have a bazillion backdoor methodologies. The smoking gun in all this is the “dog that didn’t bark.” After 9/11, one might have expected the security services to come back and ask for Clipper style keys to commercial cyphers. They did not come back or even raise the issue. In fact, the silence was deafening. The reason? They simply do not need such keys. Never did.

Anonymous, the firing of US Attorney Carol Lam is absolute proof of the utter hypocrisy of the Hannity crowd. If this had happened under Bill Clinton... firing a prosecutor for doing her job and for going after corrupt high officials... it would have triggered a firestorm of outrage. As-is? It almost fades into the background of general secrecy, thievery, and utter moral turpitude of a gang/cabal/movement whose souls suffer from final-stage gangrene.

Andrew, I am not sure I follow your question.

Sotek, you raise good points about Wiki flaws possibly hampering a good leak site. What about the modified Wiki method being implemented in the Citizenpedia project? And yes, insulation from lawsuit exposure is another necessity. Indeed, ALL of the problems of credibility, reputation, bias, unfair interference by the mighty... all are terrible problems that need solution. And yes, a billionaire sure could help.

I will be speaking about p2p soon.

Andrew Smith said...

@ Michael "Sotek" Ralston

The anonymization problem could be solved by making the Tor network more robust.

Tor is a project started by the US Naval Research Lab. Basically, packets randomly bounce around all over the internet through volunteer servers (that don't keep logs) before reaching their actual destination.

Andrew Smith said...

David, I was looking for the actual "270 rigorously researched papers commissioned by the government," but I found them at:

http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/2/Home

Anonymous said...

What about the Freenet network?

Doug S. said...

"Uncensorable" seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. What's to stop China or Saudi Arabia from, say, simply blocking the IP address of the project's servers? If you can't access it, you can't read or contribute to it. Or, take the extreme case, North Korea, in which even possessing a radio tuner gets you shot.

Woozle said...

On the wikileaks liability issue: it seems to me that the most you should have to do is post a disclaimer to the effect that "much of the information on this site may be untrue, unreliable, maliciously intended, or otherwise inaccurate, and that any information which might be considered defamatory or in any possible way worthy of litigation should be disregarded by all readers until substantial evidence becomes available".

If that isn't sufficient, then we'll have to hold a little funeral for Freedom of Speech.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Woozle: The issue from the legal perspective isn't the crankery. It's the really damaging leaks.


On the Tor issue: Hmm. Looks like I was trying to reinvent it. Go me. I can identify some weaknesses of Tor (not least of which being trust - I believe it's possible to provide security and some level of anonymity even if you can't trust all the involved routers to behave [but you do trust them to follow the protocol - because that is instantly detectable and can be treated as network damage to route around], but I don't think Tor provides that.)

On the citizenpedia question: I ... don't actually know what citizenpedia would be, though the name suggests things that wiki-style approaches could handle. I reserve proffering an opinion until I know more, however.




Also, on the general issue of crankery showing up on any form of "leak project" - that may not be too damaging to the right form of architecture. If documents, once added, are forever sancrosanct and can't be removed, then any valid leaks will remain intact until such a time as someone with the required knowledge to prove it comes across said leak.
This'll only work for some types of leaks, but it is still helpful.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

On the freenet issue: Hey! Useful.
Not a perfect solution. Not even close. I'm still installing and setting up a permanent node right now.

Anonymous said...

s/Citizenpedia/Citizendium/g.

wilde said...

According to the story about US Attorney Carol Lam being fired, there have been 11 vacancies (unclear if that includes Lam) since March 2006 when the administration gained the authority to bypass Congress. That's out of 93 total USA's (90 in the US plus 3 in territories). It's unknown how many of the 11 were firings, but the article mentions 3 - and that tidbit that firing a USA is unheard of.

Related to the topic of wikileaks, there was an interesting story several months ago about a confidential document the NYT received. The administration tried to get around the Pentagon Papers precedent by getting a subpena issueed for ALL copies of the document in question. After some rounds in court, the administration backed down to avoid a precedent (they were about to lose) and the document when finally published turned out to be almost entirely innocuous.

The point being, people in power can go to great lengths regardless of what the law says in the matter (even assuming they don't get the law changed) to make trouble for even large organizations that try to bring transparency to government. I hate to say it, but I don't think there is necesarilly a legal framework to protect a wikileaks-like entity. The real protection needs to be technological.

ChaosShade said...

With the second life client going open source perhaps we'll see improved communications tools available in the virtual world in the near future. Perhaps even an implementation of holocene?

David Brin said...

Citizendium... yeah, right. Incorporating at least a small attempt to utilize reputation.


Elsewhere, discussion of space elevators.
I doubt the 40,000 km Clarke-Sheffield space elevator, the classic, would ever be allowed above Earth. due to the dangers if it split. Would never pass an env.impact statement!

But there are alternatives.

In my first novel, SUNDIVER I posit a tower about
100km high, hollow and pressurized to high atmospheres
so that cargo BALLOONS can lift materials to a very
high station from which launch into orbit is easy.

David Brin said...

Citizendium... yeah, right. Incorporating at least a small attempt to utilize reputation.


Elsewhere, discussion of space elevators.
I doubt the 40,000 km Clarke-Sheffield space elevator, the classic, would ever be allowed above Earth. due to the dangers if it split. Would never pass an env.impact statement!

But there are alternatives.

In my first novel, SUNDIVER I posit a tower about
100km high, hollow and pressurized to high atmospheres
so that cargo BALLOONS can lift materials to a very
high station from which launch into orbit is easy.

David Brin said...

I'm about to do another posting, so I will use the bottom of this comments section to reprint Keith Olbermann's latest cogent and articulate polemic vs the President. Let me only comment that I think Olbermann is still (like all dems) incapable of asking the truly jugular questions like:

1- If Clinton had done even ONE of these things, would right wing hypocrites have made the same excuses that they make for ALL of Bush's blunders?

2- Readiness. Our military is supposed to be ready to protect us. Readiness. It is lower than at any point in all our lives, and soon to sink lower. Readiness. After 9/11 it should have gone up. Say the word. Readiness. Hammer it.

3- Consider. Consider just the slim possibility - as if in a cheap thriller novel or film, that all of these outcomes did not come about from towering stupidity, but perhaps from towering treason.

Here's Olbermann.


Bush's Legacy: The President Who Cried Wolf

By Keith Olbermann

MSNBC "Countdown"

Thursday 11 January 2007Olbermann: Bush's strategy fails because it depends on his credibility.


Only this president, only in this time, only with this dangerous, even messianic certitude, could answer a country demanding an exit strategy from Iraq, by offering an entrance strategy for Iran.

Only this president could look out over a vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq, and finally say, "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me" - only to follow that by proposing to repeat the identical mistake ... in Iran.

Only this president could extol the "thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group," and then take its most far-sighted recommendation -"engage Syria and Iran" - and transform it into "threaten Syria and Iran" -when al-Qaida would like nothing better than for us to threaten Syria, and when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us.

This is diplomacy by skimming; it is internationalism by drawing pictures of Superman in the margins of the text books; it is a presidency of Cliff Notes.

And to Iran and Syria - and, yes, also to the insurgents in Iraq - we must look like a country run by the equivalent of the drunken pest who gets battered to the floor of the saloon by one punch, then staggers to his feet,and shouts at the other guy's friends, "Ok, which one of you is next?"

Mr. Bush, the question is no longer "What are you thinking?" but rather"Are you thinking at all?"

"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," you said last night.

And yet - without any authorization from the public, which spoke so loudly and clearly to you in November's elections - without any consultation with Congress (in which key members of your own party, including Senators Sam Brownback, Norm Coleman and Chuck Hagel, are fleeing for higher ground)- without any awareness that you are doing exactly the opposite of what Baker Hamilton urged you to do - you seem to be ready to make an open-ended commitment (on America's behalf) to do whatever you want, in Iran.

Our military, Mr. Bush, is already stretched so thin by this bogus adventure in Iraq that even a majority of serving personnel are willing to tell pollsters that they are dissatisfied with your prosecution of the war.

It is so weary that many of the troops you have just consigned to Iraq will be on their second tours or their third tours or their fourth tours -and now you're going to make them take on Iran and Syria as well?

Who is left to go and fight, sir?

Who are you going to send to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria?"

Laura and Barney?

The line is from the movie "Chinatown" and I quote it often: "Middle of a drought," the mortician chuckles, "and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.!"

Middle of a debate over the lives and deaths of another 21,500 of our citizens in Iraq, and the president wants to saddle up against Iran and Syria.

Maybe that's the point - to shift the attention away from just how absurd and childish this latest war strategy is (strategy, that is, for the war already under way, and not the one on deck).

We are going to put 17,500 more troops into Baghdad and 4,000 more into Anbar Province to give the Iraqi government "breathing space."

In and of itself that is an awful and insulting term.

The lives of 21,500 more Americans endangered, to give "breathing space"to a government that just turned the first and perhaps the most sober act of any democracy - the capital punishment of an ousted dictator - into a vengeance lynching so barbaric and so lacking in the solemnities necessary for credible authority, that it might have offended the Ku Klux Klan of the 19th century.

And what will our men and women in Iraq do?

The ones who will truly live - and die - during what Mr. Bush said last night will be a "year ahead" that "will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve?"

They will try to seal Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad where the civil war is worst.

Mr. Bush did not mention that while our people are trying to do that,the factions in the civil war will no longer have to focus on killing each other, but rather they can focus anew on killing our people.

Because last night the president foolishly all but announced that we will be sending these 21,500 poor souls, but no more after that, and if the whole thing fizzles out, we're going home.

The plan fails militarily.

The plan fails symbolically.

The plan fails politically.

Most importantly, perhaps, Mr. Bush, the plan fails because it still depends on your credibility.

You speak of mistakes and of the responsibility "resting" with you.

But you do not admit to making those mistakes.

And you offer us nothing to justify this clenched fist toward Iran and Syria.

In fact, when you briefed news correspondents off-the-record before the speech, they were told, once again, "if you knew what we knew … if you saw what we saw … "

"If you knew what we knew" was how we got into this morass in Iraq in the first place.

The problem arose when it turned out that the question wasn't whether we knew what you knew, but whether you knew what you knew.

You, sir, have become the president who cried wolf.

All that you say about Iraq now could be gospel.

All that you say about Iran and Syria now could be prescient and essential.

We no longer have a clue, sir.

We have heard too many stories.

Many of us are as inclined to believe you just shuffled the director of national intelligence over to the State Department because he thought you were wrong about Iran.

Many of us are as inclined to believe you just put a pilot in charge of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because he would be truly useful in an air war next door in Iran.

Your assurances, sir, and your demands that we trust you, have lost all shape and texture.

They are now merely fertilizer for conspiracy theories.

They are now fertilizer, indeed.

The pile has been built slowly and with seeming care.

I read this list last night, before the president's speech, and it bears repeating because its shape and texture are perceptible only in such a context.

Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said nation-building was wrong for America.

Now he says it is vital.

He said he would never put U.S. troops under foreign control.

Last night he promised to embed them in Iraqi units.

He told us about WMD.

Mobile labs.

Secret sources.

Aluminum tubes.

Yellow-cake.

He has told us the war is necessary:

Because Saddam was a material threat.

Because of 9/11.

Because of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaida. Terrorism in general.

To liberate Iraq. To spread freedom. To spread Democracy. To prevent terrorism by gas price increases.

Because this was a guy who tried to kill his dad.

Because - 439 words in to the speech last night, he trotted out 9/11again.

In advocating and prosecuting this war he passed on a chance to get AbuMusab al-Zarqawi.

To get Muqtada al-Sadr. To get Bin Laden.

He sent in fewer troops than the generals told him to. He ordered the Iraqi army disbanded and the Iraqi government "de-Baathified."

He short-changed Iraqi training. He neglected to plan for widespread looting. He did not anticipate sectarian violence.

He sent in troops without life-saving equipment. He gave jobs to foreign contractors, and not Iraqis. He staffed U.S. positions there, based on partisanship, not professionalism.

He and his government told us: America had prevailed, mission accomplished, the resistance was in its last throes.

He has insisted more troops were not necessary. He has now insisted more troops are necessary.

He has insisted it's up to the generals, and then removed some of the generals who said more troops would not be necessary.

He has trumpeted the turning points:

The fall of Baghdad, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam.A provisional government, a charter, a constitution, the trial of Saddam.Elections, purple fingers, another government, the death of Saddam.

He has assured us: We would be greeted as liberators - with flowers;

As they stood up, we would stand down. We would stay the course; we were never about "stay the course."

We would never have to go door-to-door in Baghdad. And, last night, that to gain Iraqis' trust, we would go door-to-door in Baghdad.

He told us the enemy was al-Qaida, foreign fighters, terrorists, Baathists, and now Iran and Syria.

He told us the war would pay for itself. It would cost $1.7 billion.$100 billion. $400 billion. Half a trillion. Last night's speech alone cost another $6 billion.

And after all of that, now it is his credibility versus that of generals, diplomats, allies, Democrats, Republicans, the Iraq Study Group,past presidents, voters last November and the majority of the American people.

Oh, and one more to add, tonight: Oceania has always been at war withEast Asia.

Mr. Bush, this is madness.

You have lost the military. You have lost the Congress to the Democrats.You have lost most of the Iraqis. You have lost many of the Republicans. You have lost our allies.

You are losing the credibility, not just of your presidency, but more importantly of the office itself.

And most imperatively, you are guaranteeing that more American troops will be losing their lives, and more families their loved ones. You are guaranteeing it!

This becomes your legacy, sir: How many of those you addressed last night as your "fellow citizens" you just sent to their deaths.

And for what, Mr. Bush?

So the next president has to pull the survivors out of Iraq instead of you?

Tyler August said...

Why the 100km tower, Dr Brin? Seems like a big, flashy, and I'm sorry to say, unnecessary mega-engineering project if we're talking about boyant-carrier stratospheric launches. We need the tower to keep the balloons on track, ne? Slap electric motors on the cardinal points, solar cells up top, and voila! Added cost on the balloon carriers, but we've just zepplined our way out of building a 100km tower.
This has the added benefit of flexibility. What if I don't want to launch from the equator for some reason? Yes, I know we usually want to swipe as much of good ol'e Gaia's angular momentum as we can, but if you want an oddly-inclined orbit, isn't it easier to launch into it rather than carry the extra propellent for orbital manouvers?
Since high-altitude airship technology is something in the works as we speak, ("stratolite" concept, and the like) a good portion of the RnD work going into such a system will have been completed; just a matter of scaling up the payload capacity to carry a Pegasus rocket or something similar.
Yes, I'm a Space Cadet, too. For the grandest challenges, just look up.

re: WikiLeak, I'm going to jump into the consensus that a wiki is probably not the best format for something like this. On the other hand, the wiki format could be exactly what is required in setting up a predictions registry. It would have some honesty issues when rated pundits and prophets (or fans thereof; Colbert and the elephant incident spring to mind) start trying to pad their resume, but if it reaches the critical mass of Wikipedia, their whiny voices will by drowned out by the honest masses of Joe and Jane Websurfer. Maybe. Getting to that point of criticality, however, is something rather more easily said than done, especially when there are a good many intrests vested in keeping such a record from the public eye. I don't have the social savvy to figure out what sort of marketing campaign one would have to run-- but I can imagine the sort they'd play against us on CNN. In fighting that, it could never hurt to have a billion or two in your back pocket.

Just my two cents-- but careful! They're Canadian.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

I agree that a wiki-style approach to prediction registries is viable. Maybe not optimal, you might want some other ways of organizing the same information, but definitely viable.



After reading up on the "Citizendium" ... eh. I do like the idea of experts having some additional authority, while it still remaining fundamentally a wiki. The issues I see are:
1) How do we know someone really is an expert?
2) How do you deal with the fact that for anything Wikipedia-like, you're competing with an established and still-popular alternative, given the huge network effect that applies to the overall method of doing things? (That is, the value of a wiki-style encyclopedia for all users increases as the number of users increases)
3) Not a general issue, but specific to this one project; it seems to be stemming from some of the sordid history Wikipedia has. The problem I forsee is that the people they likely have right now are going to lead to a nasty little culture where bickering is the order of the day - and won't get anything done. When you take the people who've been driven off of Wikipedia for being too abrasive (which is the general reason people leave who would be still willing to edit things elsewhere) ... you're selecting a bad seed group.

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