Monday, January 15, 2007

Misc worries... plus the insanity of "Surge"...

We’ll dive into a strongly-worded political riff about surge insanity. But first, a few miscellaneous postings, starting with a question...

...did any of you especially like my brief TV “series” on the History Channel called “The ArchiTechs”?

I mean really like it... perhaps enough to create a fannish web site? I could probably persuade the producers to provide some material/content... if there’s one or two folks who would maintain the site. Would also provide a place for future announcements, in case there is a re-run... or they ever decide to run the first pilot. It’s just a thought.

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Here’s a scary on: Today, both the Financial Times and Forbes published the predictions of the Global Risks prediction market. Take an excerpt from the Forbes story: The predictive market contracts … are currently forecasting the outbreak of bird flu in 22 countries in 2007, which Thomson Financial calculates will result in a fall of in the Dow Jones Industrial Index of 0.4% during the year. However should the spread of bird flu reach 60 countries it is anticipated that this would cause a fall in the Dow of over 10%.

Creepy scary. Now imagine something big (or several somethings) happening while all our troops and reserves are away. Where are all those kooky, paranoid “black helicopter” boys, now, when we need their dour, crazed imaginations? Bloody hypocrites.

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This ancient conquest map of the middle east is kinda cool and informative... but also neglectful. Nothing of Sargon or the Sumerians. Noting showing the rise and fall of the Hashemites or the rise of the Saud family. And so on. Still, it frames stuff.

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Lookit how far they’ve progressed on that Crazy Horse statue in SD.

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And then see how three new websites:
http://www.zillow.com/
http://www.addresses.com/
http://www.wikimapia.org/
can be combined to produce the "seating chart" for most American neighborhoods, at least for those houses that have listed phone numbers. This can be done by anyone, anywhere on the Internet on any American neighborhood. Just take a look at the results for Barron Park.

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And take an amazing tour of the Hubble Deep Space Field project.

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And now some political ranting, that partly features great riffs by Russ Daggatt on the topic of SURGE... or insane/dismal/incompetent leadership compounding itself, over and over again.

Now that Democrats are in control of Congress, the Republicans are whining like little kids on a long car trip. Listen to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH):

"What we really expect out of the Democrats is for them to treat us as they would like to have been treated."

Boehner's Golden Rule: We hope that -- no, we expect -- you to treat us the way we should have treated you.

But if you treat us even a little bit the way WE DID TREAT YOU -- then watch us scream bloody murder.


I swear. Every time I thought these monsters could not possibly become more loathesome...

From the Carpetbagger blog:
Under the Republican majority, legislation was written without Dem input; bills were passed without letting Dems read it; Dems’ bills were denied hearings and votes; Dems weren’t allowed to offer amendments to legislation; Dems weren’t even allowed to use hearing rooms. If Dems managed to win a key vote on the floor, Republicans would simply keep the vote open — literally for hours, if necessary — until enough arms could be twisted and/or lawmakers bribed. Being a congressional Democrat in recent years was frequently nothing short of humiliating.

Now, the process is going to be far more pleasant. Or, at least, it’s going to start out that way.Dennis Hastert was poised to get a lousy office-space assignment, so Nancy Pelosi intervened and got him a better one. Pelosi has also reached out to House Minority Leader John Boehner to help create a task force on congressional ethics rules and supervision of the page program. For the first time in 12 years, conference committees will actually have members of the minority party participating.


But back to Russ Daggatt:
This "path forward" is an escalation of our military involvement in one last throw of the dice. But Bush faced some big problems with his approach. For one, of the American people support escalation (by contrast, three times as many -- 34% -- support and ). Not that Bush really cares all that much what the American public thinks -- he doesn't have to run for election again and he is an authoritarian at heart anyway.

Even more problematic for Bush is the fact that the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously oppose escalation as does the head of the Central Command (which includes all of the Middle East), Gen. John Abizaid, and the head of all US forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey. He can ignore the Joint Chiefs, because they aren't in the direct line of command (which goes from Casey to Abizaid to Gates to Bush). But obviously Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Casey presented a problem.

So, not surprisingly, both Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Casey will be moving on. This, of course, brings to mind former Army Chief of Staff Erik Shinseki, who famously said before the war that it would require several hundred thousand troops. For that he was ridiculed by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and forced into early retirement. His name has now become a verb: to be "Shinseki'd". That is what is now happening to Gens. Abizaid and Casey.

Bush has been insisting ever since he started the Iraq war that troop levels were determined by the commanders on the group in Iraq. To take just one of many examples, this is what Bush said :

“General Casey will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there. And that's important for the families to know. It's really important. General Casey is a wise and smart man who has spent a lot of time in Baghdad recently, obviously. And it's his judgment that I rely upon. He'll decide how best to achieve victory and the troop levels necessary to do so. “I spent a lot of time talking to him about troop levels, and I told him this,; I said, you decide, General. I want your judgment, your advice. I don't want these decisions being made by the political noise, by the political moment. It's just unfair to our troops and it's unfair to their families.”

But Gen. Casey wasn't going along with Bush's escalation, so now he is out of the chain of command. Meanwhile, Bush is replacing Gen. Abizaid as the head of Central Command with an Admiral. It is hard to figure out why you would put a Navy guy in charge of two land wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I guess he couldn't find any Army guys who wanted to completely destroy their service.


And yet, there is no monopoly on incompetence. Can you see, anywhere, the democratic of liberal polemicist who has an eye - or ear - for the polemical jugular?

. . . Take the NUMBER ONE EXCUSE FOR DEFEAT IN VIETNAM that we have all heard, for decades, from jingoist morons on the far right.

“We lost because of outrageous meddling in military decisions by a bunch of arrogant and clueless politicians.”

Yes, that is verbatim what we all heard, ad nauseum, for 30 years -- ever since Donald Rumsfeld oversaw America’s LAST utter humiliation in a stupid and goalless land war of attrition in Asia.

No commentary is necessary. Just a fierce and unrelenting dedication to confront these assholes with the very words they yammered at us, since 1974. DO IT!

Lay it out there.

Daggatt concludes: “Can you even begin to comprehend what the Republicans would be doing right now if it was Clinton who got us into a disastrous war and then proposed to escalate it for political purposes in opposition to all his top military leaders?“

20 comments:

Nate said...

The Republicans would have convened a special session of Congress to impeach President Gore in 2000 if the Supreme court had gone his way or if the votes had been properly counted. If any Democrat, not just Clinton or Gore had been in office on 9/11, much less in charge of an incompetent and misguided invasion of Iraq like this, impeachment would have been the least of their tactics. The right wing hate squads on radio and TV and newspapers would have been calling for the death of all liberals as traitors (even more so than they already have been). Ugly does not begin to describe it.

But nightmare theories about our home-grown fascist movements aside, I spotted something neat, on this list of "Must-know terms for the 21st century intellectual", Participatory Panopticon got mentioned, including a link to this essay on your site, Dr. Brin. And it's also an interesting list on the whole.

And about your TV show, unfortunately, I don't have cable, so never got to see it.

Also, I suspect the lack of liberal pundits going for the jugular is related to two things. One, a lack of liberal pundits at all, with any kind of widespread non-internet presence. Or at least with any spine, most of the "liberals" on the talking pundit shows and newspapers are the lazy kind of "centrist" who figures the truth must be between the two sides, even when it's not.

And the second reason is because frankly, most of what conservatives say and have said about Vietnam is flat-out lies, so adopting the lies would be lies, and would be giving power and credence to the original lies. Lies that are already powerful and prevalent because of my first point.

David Brin said...

Great list of needed terms for the 21st Century. Thanks.

Calling them on past lies is not giving credence to those lies. Hypocricies need skewering. Using their EXACT words against THIS administration would cut them to the quick.

On an unrelated matter... I finally watched the third XMen movie, tonight... and I declare it to be a BONA FIDE MIRACLE!

Oh, by normal standards it rated only a B... maybe a Bplus. There were some good effects and character development and a better-than-average level of attention, by director and writer, to plot consistency. I appreciated seeing civilization itself depicted as somewhat less than stupid. But no, it was not an epochally wonderful film. Merely pretty good.

But that alone is a MIRACLE! Because the third movie in a science fiction series is nearly always a total travesty, an utter betrayal of anything decent that was in the first two.

Take your pick of a sci fi series. Star Trek. Star Wars, Aliens (shudder). And so on.

Terminator III actually quite pleased me because it was merely below grade and not an offense to storytelling.

Mind you, some betrayals don't wait for number three. Highlander. Poltergeist.

There APPEAR to be exceptions like BACK TO THE FUTURE III and RETURN OF THE KING. But these don't count. They were filmed by the direction as a continuum with part II and partook of the good luck of that number opus.

Does the latest X Men bode well for breaking the curse of Number Three? I hope so, because Spiderman III is coming, this summer, and I kinda liked the first two. They were fun, senstive... and both of them showed courage and true citizenship on the part of average men and women on the street, supplementing and sometimes even saving the main hero.

I like that. A lot. And I hope we see more of it in a great film, this summer.

Anonymous said...

"For one, of the American people support escalation (by contrast, three times as many -- 34% -- support and )."

Garble alert. Please proofread the original article, to spot the problem, and fix...

Warren said...

Now imagine something big (or several somethings) happening while all our troops and reserves are away.

Imagine, even, our troops being exposed to a novel pathogen -- not the BC part of NBC warfare, just something locally grown to which their immune systems have no inoculated response.

CJ-in-Weld said...

I have to disagree on the Terminator III issue, there was way too much "true prince" crap. It made me think of a quote from a truly great movie:

All right, you win. You win. I give. I'll say it. I'll say it. I'll say it. DESTINY! DESTINY! NO ESCAPING THAT FOR ME! DESTINY! DESTINY! NO ESCAPING THAT FOR ME!

Blake Stacey said...

A few friends and I watched both Batman Begins and Terminator 3 over what must have been a very rainy weekend. Both of them pushed us into full-blown Mystery Science Theater 3000 mode. Our reaction to the former was mostly to scream, "less talking, more fighting, dear God", while the latter made us mourn the collapse of an SF saga into ADHD explodophilia and music-video cinematography.

As for X-Men 3, my first and most important reaction was to wonder, "If I could move a suspension bridge at will, wouldn't I just drop it onto whatever I wanted to destroy?"

I'm not the first to wonder this, of course.

I was concerned going into this that there'd be a lot of painful pseudoscientific gobbledygook in an attempt to explain how all this stuff worked. There was one throw-away line about how all these different powers are produced by a single X gene, and they can be blocked with an antibody, at which I boggled and was ready to shake my fist at the screen and embarrass my kids...but then the movie threw all this super-powerful magical impossible stuff at me, and a proper sense of perspective was restored. It's all BS. You gotta go with the flow.

I even thought of a better conflict, which could actually turn the premise into a story with some depth. If our boffins can block the X gene, any grad student should be able to figure out how to activate it, how to introduce it into a host genome. . . how to make mutants. Imagine a world where mutants can abandon their superpowers if they wish — but anyone can inject themselves with Mutagen X and gain mutant powers!

All right, you won't be able to predict what power you will develop (presumably there's some genotype/phenotype issue at work here). But if These Kids Today are willing to take unproven psychiatric medications to spruce up a dance party, I'm sure we can find a hefty number of ravers willing to try a new magic pill.

Hmmm. Between Mutagen X and Moral Code Zero, I seem to be building a decent collection of alternate takes on popular franchises. Join in next week, when I explain how the Star Wars prequels should have been done. . . .

Blake Stacey said...

And hey, Dr. Brin, how does the Matrix series square with your "third movie" rant? Everybody I know says that it started tanking with movie #2.

David Brin said...

ACtually, Matrix 2&3 were made in a single unit... a major trend since Zemeckis did it in BTTF. Hence they were of a single quality. I was much more forgiving of Matrix2 simply because it ended halfway through a story that seemed headed into gobbledygook hell... but was so lavish that I was eager to watch it in a debilitated mental state, just to get it some slack.

But yes, they sucked.

On further pondering, I now realize that I did the same thing to XMen 3. Let me explain.

If I try to see movies with ALL of my critical faculties turned on, I will enjoy maybe 1% of them. My son does this and thus HATES all cinema. I lecture him to "Chill out and learn the tricks."

The main trick. I try to pre-judge a flick and then TURN DIALS in my mind in order to try and appreciate it in the spirit offered. Thus, going into THE FIFTH ELEMENT, I knew not to expect mature logic or plotting. I turned those dials down to ZERO...

...and then reached inside the box and ripped out the wires! Result? I was able to wallow in the sheer JOY that Luc Besson poured upon the audience in spectacular, childlike splendor. Likewise, to enjoy LOTR, I set aside my general philosophical distaste for kings and elfs and $$%#$@ feudalism. Anyway, Tolkien is more honest about it than Lucas ever was.

All right, so I simply shrugged aside a lot of BS in X3. The Golden Gate bridge? Sure, part of me objected... and was howled down by the kid inside who enjoyed the visual power of the scene. IN CONTEXT with the other comic book tales and prequels, it was no more implausible or preposterous. It betrayed no promises made by the others...

...which is more than can be said for Trek3 or STarWars3 or Aliens3 or Terminator3 and so on.

Indeed, the relative BENEVOLENCE of the US government and human soldiers, shown in X3 was really rather refreshing. Attacked with deadly force by demigods, they shoot back with normality needles. Huh.

I LIKED the insight (above) about GIVING THE X GENE TO NORMAL FOLKS. Of course I have ranted about this comic book option for years. The closest was a rant by the villain in The Incredibles. Remember?

Hawker Hurricane said...

"I LIKED the insight (above) about GIVING THE X GENE TO NORMAL FOLKS. Of course I have ranted about this comic book option for years. The closest was a rant by the villain in The Incredibles. Remember?"

Didn't Magneto attempt to do this to the world leaders in X1, using the logic that "if they're like us, they can't persecute us"?

Magneto's tactics in X1 (and X2 and X3) show him to be one of the ultimate hypocrits/fuedalist pricks. He's quite willing to sacrifice Rogue (a fellow mutant) for the good of all mutantkind, but not himself... and when Mystique sacrifices her powers to save him, his reaction? Dismissal: "She's one of THEM now"

Ah, a consistant villian... G. Lucas could have learned something.

OdinsEye2k said...

" Magneto's tactics in X1 (and X2 and X3) show him to be one of the ultimate hypocrits/fuedalist pricks. He's quite willing to sacrifice Rogue (a fellow mutant) for the good of all mutantkind, but not himself... and when Mystique sacrifices her powers to save him, his reaction? Dismissal: "She's one of THEM now" "

Heck, he might almost be a Holnist, like the "This is why pawns go first" line. He preserves and admires those with the greatest powers, whereas the merely freakish ... not quite so handy.

Then again, he also marches his army around with the mutant equivalent of a nuclear bomb in Jean/Phoenix, whom he watches obliterate his supposed best friend.

Blake Stacey said...

Somewhere along the line, I also picked up the skill of turning down the logic dials. That's how I could still enjoy Tron, say, if I happened to see it tonight. Choosing in advance which level you will use to appreciate a movie is fine. . . what irks me is when my choice of level is betrayed.

(Irrelevant SF fannishness combined with authorial delusions follows.)

Consider the bridge stunt from X-Men 3. Was it visually cool? Yes. Could the filmmakers have arranged it to be visually cool and make sense at the same time? Again, the answer is yes. You could even bring more depth to it, introduce the sort of elements which come forth on a second viewing, tie it a little to the "ordinary folk vs. demigods" theme.

As Magneto prepares to drop the bridge on the island, smushing the biochemical facility, a doctor and a nurse grab the boy and jump through a window. One of them breaks an ankle, but the other carries the boy in a mad sprint to the shoreline, just as the bridge crashes into the building behind them — and then Our Heroes arrive from the sky! The fight and all its special effects then take place on the bridge (which, by the way, is rapidly losing its structural integrity, sending both soldiers and mutants into the drink, etc.).

See? Much like the beginning of They're Baaack — I mean, Return of the Jedi — a tiny investment in screen time could have made the whole thing make sense without sacrificing a jot of action.

OK, that example isn't exactly a "betrayal", because I went into the movie expecting very little in the logic department. But what about the infamous ending to Contact? The one which throws out all narrative sense while, by the way, stomping on the facts which the movie itself established earlier? Remember when Jodie Foster and her friends first detect the signal from Vega: like sensible astronomers who are well aware of interference from planes, satellites and other local sources, they verify that "whatever it is, it ain't local". In the very next scene, an Australian radio astronomer also pegs the signal as originating from Vega. Parallax alone means humans couldn't fake that!

In the novel, the politician character goes kooky and insists that the signal was a fake, perpetrated by S. R. Hadden ("Esarhaddon"). But he doesn't make a worldwide scandal out of it; he can't.

If the filmmakers were striving for a genuine ambiguity, they ruin it by telling us, the viewing audience, that Ellie Arroway's experiences were real. Her video unit recorded static, of course, but eighteen full hours of it. How plausible is it that nobody noticed this except the "analysis team"? And if all the tapes were sequestered, wouldn't even one member of that analysis team shoot for worldwide celebrity by revealing the evidence that Arroway was telling the truth?

I would risk getting fired for that. Hell, I could make more money on the lecture circuit than I did as a nameless NASA engineer!

How to do it better? Well, we could have Arroway return at the moment she left, leaving everyone all puzzled. They carry her off to the infirmary while trying to figure out what happened, and Kitz — the slimy politician — pipes up saying that she couldn't have gone anywhere and Hadden must have faked it all. In the tension of the moment, this seems pretty plausible, but then Palmer Joss feels a jolt of inspiration and tells the nearest technician to check how much static Ellie's video recorder captured.

We establish, on a personal level, that science and religion can be allies, a message which would have pleased Sagan greatly. And we do it while being true to the tone the movie had established from the beginning, without stamping all over its face with giant hobnail boots of stupidity.

David Brin said...

Blake. Fun and cogent ruminations. Alas, I save my ire for Sagan's aliens. For ALL snooty outsiders who step in to take credit for saving us, at the very moment when we seem about to save ourselves.

All right, these ones may have an excuse for not having helped us when we REALLY needed it... like any time in the last 100,000 years. If we limit first contact to purely radio. Or to BETWEEN high tech space warping, whirly-thing anchor machines (those were cool), then lack of past intervention is excused.

But we go to all this effort at their behest, send an emissary, and she gets sugary pat-on-the-head PABLUM? And is forbidden even to have proof of her message? WTF?

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

The "eighteen hours of static" just sounds SO DUMB to me.

I mean ... it's static. Isn't that a lack of meaningful signal? So how can you tell where it ends?

Ugh.



I could see a digital recorder giving you a meaningful version of "eighteen hours of static" ... but I don't think those existed at the time.

TwinBeam said...

"it's static. Isn't that a lack of meaningful signal? So how can you tell where it ends?"

It was an optical recorder - blank if not recorded upon. Still, if the aliens wanted no proof of the journey, I hardly think they'd make that silly oversight.

TwinBeam said...

Hmm - I thought this post was going to address why a surge is insane.

It's not like the saying about "doing the same thing and expecting different results" applies - sending in reinforcements sometimes does work. (I'm not saying it'll work in this case - the surge is probably way to small for a brute-force solution.)

It looks to me like the Democrats know they got elected to do something about Iraq, but also know they'll get blamed if they pull us out, triggering chaos there. They basically have no plan, but have to be seen to be doign something.

Fortunately, they knew GWB also had to be seen as doing something new. So they simply waited to see what he would do - and no matter what that would be, they'd oppose it, and thereby appear to be doing something about Iraq.

Anonymous said...

(repeated, as it doesn't seem to have been noticed before and it's serious)

"For one, of the American people support escalation (by contrast, three times as many -- 34% -- support and )."

Garble alert. Please proofread the original article, to spot the problem, and fix...It specifically looks like three words or phrases are missing from the article.

Rob Perkins said...

I dunno... I enjoyed Matrix 2&3, but it could have been condensed into one movie, instead of two.

I was a little put off by the way Zemeckis made "Contact" different from the book, not least by only sending one person in the wormhole ship. The dropping-from-great-height thing I forgive; Sagan's machine was not visually interesting.

But the thing that bothered me the most is that in the movie, Arroway kept the government's secrets, choosing to speak in gnomic parables rather than simply saying things she thought were true.

(Though, you know if I had a fundamental experience, and I knew the surrounding society would simply mock and reject it, I would probably behave similarly until I trusted the person I was talking to, so maybe that's not a valid criticism.)

...while in the book, she actually behaved like a scientist with unexplainable phenomena on her hands, recording her experiences and handing them off to be preserved, while doing other work related to her interest. One presumes the other four passengers on that ride did the same.

And the movie didn't end with the same note of hope that the book did, which was also sort of a disappointment, though not enough to be swept off by the pretty pretty movie.

OdinsEye2k said...

"It looks to me like the Democrats know they got elected to do something about Iraq, but also know they'll get blamed if they pull us out, triggering chaos there. They basically have no plan, but have to be seen to be doign something."

Horrendously incorrect. Enough of the "Republicans may not know what they are doing, but the Dems never come up with any alternatives." There may be a media silence about the alternatives, but they are there.

Currently, multiple bills are being tossed around regarding reductions in funding tied to changes in policy. The most austere is to fund active ops for six more months (those funds to be used for withdrawl) to continuing funding for all but escalation.

One example:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/17/112439/808

Further, it should be noted that the proposals include truly thanking the troops for service by fulfilling the commitments made to them before deployment (e.g., you will be taken care of, you are essentially 'made' from this day forward), and also not completely leave the Iraqis in the lurch. Resources will be provided to help the Iraqis get themselves together, which is going to include a long-term commitment to make the national army more than just a training ground and ammo dump for the various fighting factions.

TwinBeam said...

If the Dems have a plan, doesn't it seem at all odd that they didn't include it in their 100 hour agenda? The issue that arguably tipped the elections in their favor? The agenda's got something for just about every other major Democratic voting block, after all!

If they'd do it, the best approach would be a bi-partisan agreement, based on GWB realizing he's not going to get his way any more, and the Dems realizing they'll end up getting blamed for the aftermath if they force a withdrawal plan on Bush.

A possible strategy for withdrawal - pull out of Baghdad. If the Iraqi government has any chance of ruling the nation, they'll have to prove it by maintaining control of the city without direct US troop support. If they can't, there are less attractive follow-up options.

Anonymous said...

Before we talk about means of withdrawal, I'd like to see a talk about means of success - which first requires a definition of what success is.

I'd like to see us set a clear goal as to what we want to accomplish in Iraq, and then do what needs to be done to accomplish it.

At a minimum, the goal ought to include the notion that when we do pull out, Iraq won't fall to the radical Islamists, further emboldening them. Granted, a case can be made that there are dogmatists within the US government that need to be dealt with; but we need to be careful not to neglect the external threat while dealing with the internal one.