Friday, January 05, 2007

A Timely Warning To All New Democratic Members Of Congress

In observing - with some approval - today’s official transition from the corrupt, incompetent and astonishingly lazy 109th Congress, it is not without some worry that we greet the young and hopeful 110th. Will the cynics prove right? Will politicians do what they have so often in the past... fall into bad habits that soon tarnish their idealism?

Let me say that I am less worried about the things that dour pundits normally dwell upon -- e.g. political temptations like earmarking and lobbyist dinners -- than by something far more profound and potentially devastating. Today's topic is a vital alert that I hope will percolate through channels to every officeholder and/or sincere civil servant, during an era of political transition.

Indeed, it may also be pertinent to some members of the Republican establishment. For we are about to discuss a danger and an opportunity that cross party lines. We’ll be dealing with traits like honor and pragmatism, cynicism and patriotism, cynical self-protection... and courage.

While negotiating the ethical and political minefield that is Washington, always remain wary of a particular worst-case scenario... one that can systematically undermine even the most well-meaning politicians.

That worst-case scenario is BLACKMAIL.

--------- A Little Background -------------

blackmailAll of you enthusiastic neophytes to national power, this may be the very moment for a little protective paranoia. Remember, some powerful people will see you as a threat to their interests. Some of the more unscrupulous may seek to neutralize that threat, using some classic methods known across history. One of the most basic ancient techniques - going back to biblical times - has been entrapment and blackmail.

Remember the U.S. Marine guards at our embassy in Moscow, some decades back? It all started when a few boys -- lonely and far from home -- were invited to party with some local "students." A little alcohol, then sex with local hookers... (where's the harm?)... were followed by a drug high or two... and a few lewd pictures... then some incriminating ones...

At any point, early on, those young men could have saved their own lives and served their country, simply by turning themselves in. The very first to do so might even have saved his career. Others could have escaped with minor punishments. Instead (alas), they let themselves be blackmailed, by gradual stages, into doing the KGB "just a few harmless favors"...

...relatively harmless, at first. Xeroxing a few embassy visitor lists. Penny-ante stuff. Only then, the Soviets had real dirt on the poor fellows. Proof of espionage that could produce real prison time. And meanwhile the girls and drugs kept coming. Plus flattery. ("You are special, james Bond types - above normal loyalties and laws." Very similar patterns of ego-milking helped to suborn the Walkers and that FBI agent, Hanssen.) Very soon, they were trapped. Fully in the pockets of their nation's enemies. And betraying really harmful secrets.

---------Do You Doubt That It Still Goes On? ------

Security experts and intelligence agents know all about this process, which has been used by kingdoms, empires, syndicates and unscrupulous groups since time immemorial. Indeed, all through World War Two and the Cold War, it was a key job of counter-intelligence professionals to watch carefully for hints of subornation. They collected and correlated patterns of travel, or unaccountable wealth or crony-favoritism, keeping a wary eye open for anything consistent enough to merit closer scrutiny.

So now? Does it really matter that our roster of “enemies” has changed a bit? The KGB is gone. But there are others who do not want our civilization to thrive. Or who would influence our top decision-makers in order to be better parasites. Anyone who thought that this classic danger ended with the Cold War has got to be titanically naive.

Moreover, consider this. Bribery is actually far less efficient and reliable than blackmail! If you bribe an official or representative, they may demand more, next time, or simply say “I helped you enough, this year.” But blackmail puts them in your pocket for good. It makes the victim less a business associate and more your personal servant.

Has this scenario already been in play, among members of the present ruling caste? Of course the imagination can run wild - colored by your degree of paranoia and your personal politics. (How else would you explain some decision patterns, in recent years, that seem relentlessly to benefit just a few hostile interest groups, over and over again? Always start by listing the big winners.) No, I won’t go into detail here as to who I think may be orchestrating present-day attempts at subornation. I have no proof... nor does that matter, since nobody can point to a single era of history when it did not happen.

We are better off assuming the tradition goes on. And that some enemies of our republic, our civilization, and the Western Enlightenment are doing it right now.

----- The Warning Applies To You. ----

Oh, you incoming Democratic lawmakers, don't be fooled by the fact that most known American traitors, across the last 40 years, were Republicans! (e.g. the Walkers, Hanssen, etc.) Democrats are fallible, corruptible and human, too! Indeed, there may be forces at work in DC, right now, who aim to test this methodology on the newest players in that wild and ethically-challenged town.

(Hence, even veteran Democratic representatives may only lately be interesting targets for subornation, now that their party has a majority.)

Even if I am exaggerating the current extent of suborned betrayal within the many branches and agencies and media that make up the American Establishment, this will always be a danger. A peril that can turn almost any friend of our civilization into a snake, dwelling in our heart.

Hence, let me offer a little advice to all loyal Americans - whether Republican or Democrat - who may be embarking upon careers along avenues of power.

------Take some simple precautions ----

1) Consign yourself to live a super-clean life. Become a personal prude. Back away from temptations, even if they take place in the apparently secure confines of (say) a billionaire's yacht or on a private estate, or a royal palace in some foreign land.

Especially in those environs! Because those may be the very people who would like to “own” a Representative or bureaucrat. The more flattering and friendly and ego-stroking they may seem - assuring you of secure and private pleasures - the stronger the possibility that the very walls may have cameras. Aimed in order to guarantee that you will remain a valued friend.

2) Hire a good professional paranoid for your staff. Someone who knows all about these nasty tricks and who can spot bait-lures on the horizon. Likewise, have a truly wise confidant to whom you can turn, when temptation comes your way. And don’t entirely trust either of them.

3) Have a scenario-plan worked out, for when you are approached with either a potential entrapment or a followup blackmail threat. Those first instants of surprise and confusion could be critical. If you are prepared (especially technologically),you may be the one to turn the tables on your persecutors... and thus do your nation a service out of all proportion to any "goods" that the bad guys have on you.

Indeed, talking this over among yourselves, you may also be well served to look into whether agencies like the FBI may offer pre-training services, empowering you, and others like you, to act decisively and confidently, when and if such a time comes. (And if they don’t offer such services, they sure ought to! Ask why not.)

4) Contemplate the algebra of forgiveness. Some of you reading this may have already tumbled over the edge. It may already have happened to you. Some moment of weakness or falling into temptation. Perhaps even blackmail based upon faked photos, or something you never did! Maybe you have been on a hellish spiral for years, hating yourself...

...or else rationalizing that you are really serving a superior side. That’s what human beings often do. Even the worst traitors seldom view themselves that way.

However it has come down, consider this. It's never too late to do the right thing. If the subornation process that I describe has been going on in a systematic and pervasive way, polluting our institutions and corrupting our trusted public servants, how do you think history will view the first of you to show some guts? The first to stand up and fight back?

If you do it with savvy and skill, somehow turning the tables on your blackmailers, can you even doubt that your nation will value the service, far higher than it disdains your original, disreputable deed?

5) Help foster a civilization that rewards openness and forgiveness. This is a long term goal. But if we keep making progress toward a civilization that has a sense of proportion about lesser human failings, then we may neutralize many situations that were, or remain, “blackmailable.” Little sexual lapses should matter less than graft and treason, for example. (but remember, once you are blackmailed for the one, you may then commit the latter and be blackmailed for THAT!)

In any event, we all need to help foster trends toward a nation and a world where people will feel safe to own up to their faults, rather than feeling terrified that their smaller slips and faults will doom their hopes. We should not be led by folks who are afraid of light.

--- The Situation Is Unstable: So Pick The Ultimate Winner. Civilization. --

The crux?

Consider this: blackmailers love to give their victims a sense of helpless isolation. But the sickness may be far more pervasive than you imagine. and spreading. For it is the nature of evil men that they are insatiable. They will keep trying whatever has been working, casting their nets wider and wider, under an illusion that the good times can go on forever...

...until, at last, they try these tricks on people who do have the courage, wit and patriotism to fight back. At which point, the whole vile deck of cards may come tumbling down.

Where will you be, when that happens? According to the algebra of redemption, only the first who blow the whistle will get to be heroes, forgiven all, rewarded with everything. After them will come the most agile rats, abandoning a sinking ship, tattling and pointing fingers, in exchange for partial clemency...

...and the last to come out will be hung.

History shows that this kind of thing is never stable. Either it will result in democracy being thoroughly corrupted and destroyed... as has happened many times before...

... or else such schemes will collapse, as American civilization continues its inexorable progress toward an open and transparent and accountable society.

In the first of these two eventualities, you may thrive, having sided with the new oligarchs. But you will know (deep inside) that you helped to end the Great Experiment. May it gnaw your guts.

But suppose what happens is the second outcome (and I have strong reason to believe that it will be so). Then the cowards who let themselves be blackmailed or cozened or suborned or bribed or flattered into treason will eventually be brought to light. And they will be sorry.

Either way, you can see what is at stake. So be careful. Take precautions. Cut through the rationalizations. Keep your eyes open.

--- You Chose This Path: So Remember Your Oaths. ----

If you seek the people’s trust and to be granted political power, that makes you a soldier. Live with it.

We are a civilization that is at war for its very survival. Moreover, “terrorists” are among the most pallid and laughable of our enemies. There are worse threats to the continuation of a Great Experiment in open civilization, in science and democracy, in social mobility, in truly free markets and a joyfully open mix of competition and cooperation.

None of those great things can work well in darkness, manipulated by cheaters.

Stand up. Know what the enemy can do. And deny them the power.



Doug S. said...

Remember: They can't blackmail you if you don't care what gets revealed about you. Does anyone today still care about Bill Clinton's affairs?

I wonder if Mark Foley has ever been blackmailed...

Fhydra said...

From what I've heard, what Foley was doing was pretty much an open secret in Washington for awhile. I think someone was saving it and then used him as a story at just the right moment.

Actually, I've been wondering lately whether John McCain is being blackmailed. Lately he's been looking really stressed out whenever he's being interviewed and trying to give explanations for all the failures in the Republican Party.

But I don't think he's being blackmailed with his history of drug use or anything like that because I'm fairly certain that he has done none of those things. No, blackmail can hold greater things hostage than someone's dirty secrets.

Right now the Republican Party is in danger of collapsing because of recent scandals and scandals waiting to happen. And McCain has had to make compromise after compromise on issues involving torture and the Iraq War. He's negotiated a compromise suspending habeus corpus for "unlawful combatants," granted immunity to those who have tortured, and "interpret" the meaning of the Geneva Convention standards.

I know your message may be mostly directed to the new Democrats coming in, but there is plenty of time for Republicans to be heroes too, Brin. Perhaps McCain is thinking that he can save his party by making these compromises and then trying to put the situation in a better light. But I'm sure this can only delay the end result.

He needs to know that by blowing the whistle on the neo-cons who are out of control right now, he might not only keep himself out of trouble and help his country, he might ultimately save his party.

Don Quijote said...

That worst-case scenario is BLACKMAIL.

Why bother?

Your average congress critter is going to have to spend $1,308,319 to get reelected two years from now.

Your average Senator is going to have to spend $5,655,582 to get reelected.

In other words, they will have to raise half a million a year every year they are in office from this tiny group of people.

Woozle said...

Clinton's affair is, sadly, still being used (or was, as of just a few months ago) to argue that he was just as bad as Dubya. See the discussion starting here.

Personally, I'd love to see the Monicagate scenario repeated but with a small change in that the president in question says immediately "yes, I had an affair, it was a stupid mistake and my wife knows about it; now, did you have a non-personal question to ask?" ... which more or less reiterates Doug S.'s point about the importance of not caring what gets revealed about you.

"Ultimately, everybody will find out everything." – saying at Google

reason said...

I often wonder about Cheney and his former employer. I would really love to know.

reason said...

David - did you email this to Pelosi and Reed?

David Brin said...

Reason... how could I do that? My only hope of influence is via the rumor mill. That lots of people send lots of messages to lots of people saying "have you seen this?"

My paranoid rumblings about blackmail have arisen out of puzzlement. I really thought that by now there would have been more decent American conservatives stepping forward to denounce the betrayal of their own side, by bona fide monsters. And especially to have noticed that a consistent patten of demolishing America's readiness, budget, alliances science and standing in the world might be the result of something far worse than mere incompetence.

In theory, an increasingly transparent society ought to have drawn an increasing flood of decent, Goldwater types, motivated by both patriotism and a desire to save their own movement. I began wondering... what's stopping them?

Look, as a novelist I am paid to come up with garish scenarios that also fit the facts. Moreover, while I may be out in left field - imagining a veritable PLAGUE of BLACKMAIL - can anyone doubt that it happens, at least on a small or moderate scale?

Again, consider if you were a nefarious plutocrat or foreign elite who has been slipping big bribes to a highly placed, corrupt official. Think. A few hookers in a mansion bedroom suite, and you can have the fellow REALLY in your pocket, behaving more respectfully and responsively from then on.

Can you offer a reason why top aristos WOULDN'T be doing this? On an industrial scale?

On another - related - thread:

BURIED IN THE NEWS last week was one of the most potentially significant stories of recent years. The Military Times released its annual poll of active-duty service members, and the results showed something virtually unprecedented: a one-year decline of 10 percentage points in the number of military personnel identifying themselves as Republicans. In the 2004 poll, the percentage of military respondents who characterized themselves as Republicans stood at 60%. By the end of 2005, that had dropped to 56%. And by the end of 2006, the percentage of military Republicans plummeted to 46%.,0,3406790.column?coll=la-opinion-columnists

Can any of you name any other site where you heard of this befaore you heard of this issue here? If liberals had three neurons to scrape together, they would pounce on this trend, make it their own, go all the way.

I must tell you now that the dark scenarios that are coming to mind about "surge" in Iraq are as gloomy and paranoid as any that I have had, in years. Think about it. We may commit the last of our ready/equipped/trained brigades. Am I the only one who sees that as a potential warning sign of a terrible trap?

Buy spare food. Join your local CERT team. Talk up neighborhood civil defense. Contemplate the possibility of some really bad surprises.

OdinsEye2k said...

Can any of you name any other site where you heard of this befaore you heard of this issue here? If liberals had three neurons to scrape together, they would pounce on this trend, make it their own, go all the way.

Does this include or not include the pronoucements of soldier advocacy groups like the IAVA (Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans for America), or the many recent servicemen and women that were so irate over the Republican rule that they not only became Democrats but also made strong challenges for civil service (aka the Fighting Dems)?

But yes, it is nice to see that the Democrats "weak on national security" meme is fading. Hopefully, this will lead to a more mature version of Democratic strength than hyping "missile gaps" and actually leading to mature discussions as to how much of our country's treasure we really need to pump into superweapons that are useless in urban situations. Pulling our minds and money out of destruction and back onto real security issues - global warming, the coming population/material-standard-of-living bottleneck (were things get tight, and then hopefully more forgiving as the population fades from its 10 billion peak) - would be a huge boon to this country, and likely many others in the world.

But as for the blackmail/McCain thing, I think it is simply political blackmail. The Republican party is currently held hostage by their anti-Enlightenment monsters that actually celebrate the idea of the world coming to a violent (for we sinners) end. They are the only ones at the moment that are reliably brain-washed by regressive and hierarchical memes, while the rest of us desire to transcend our current problems. Unfortunately, any Republican national candidate (or even statewide where these dead-enders are prevalent) will be beholden to this group until someone is brave enough to challenge the standing Rove "feed the base" paradigm.

Fhydra said...

I think you're right about the whole Republican Party being held hostage, odinseye, but I've always felt that McCain was affected more by the blackmail.

The thing is, I don't think any of the Republican politians could tell everyone about what the Party has been doing for the past few years alone. It's just too hard and the isolation's too great. It would take a group of them to support each other and and blow the whistle together. It would be hard, but it could be done.

David, it might be easier to get these rumor mills started if you condensed your ideas into something a bit, uh, less long-winded and then group them together with some articles that support your theories. Then we could send these ideas to our representatives, senators, and get people asking questions.

Doug S. said...

Well, here's a bit of good news:

Dems prepare slew of oversight hearings

Stefan Jones said...


Dick Cheney's Stock Options

Fhydra said...

Might want to add to the good news in response to what stefan gave us:

Leahy Introduces Bills to Combat War Profiteering

Don Quijote said...

The Independent - Future of Iraq: The spoils of war

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.


Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through "production-sharing agreements" (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, is state controlled.


I hope they pay the poor suckers who take those engineering jobs in Iraq lot's of money, their family will need it.

Blue Girl, Red State said...

These new congresspersons need to draft the legislation to allow the Energy Department to shift $500 million to fund research in the physical sciences. This will help palliate the de facto 4% cut that the sciences suffered as a result of the feckless 109th not passing the budget and instead operating the government at the previous years spending levels via continuing resolution.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin
Well, since you are basically asking where the responsible conservatives are hiding I guess I have to hit the keyboard.

Partly to agree, in a nonpartisan sense. Power corrupts. I do not regard Democrats as being significantly less susceptable, although I might give them a few points for idealism.

But if I might, a mild warning. Non specific comments on "evil forces" are a concept that makes me just a bit queasy. True, there have been minor incursions of South Korea and China into American politics, during the Clinton era iirc. But some people reading those words will make the jump to assuming you mean Isreal, and from there it is only a half jump to the sort of toxic sludge you can, and should, read on Al Jazzera regarding the iniquity of the wicked clever Jews.
I am hesitant to even mention this, as you are of Jewish background and I am not.

But proceeding with due caution, a little paranoia can be ok.


OdinsEye2k said...

Blue Girl,

Me likes the physical sciences boost.

Acutally, further, a new barrage of alternate energy funding and research structure should be big on the Dems' platter. Hopefully, they find some good people to help them build a good long-term portfolio to balance high-risk initial research with immediate payoffs that are essentially "off the shelf" right now.

Overall, it should be good to have a party that actually knows how to govern back in power for a while. Rather than being cowards and allowing government to careen along with minimal direction, these guys will actually be out to make some intentional policy.

In my mind, just about anything redeeming about the Republican party became a Democrat in the last couple of years.

Tom said...

Surely, they were blackmailing Kerry. Else, there is no explanation of why Kerry let his own genuine and distinguished military record be trashed while never once allowing any mention of the cowardice and dereliction of duty by his opponent, who was hiding out from the war at best, AWOL at least, and a deserter by any reasonable measure.

donna said...

I've been convinced for years that the Republicans have "naked puppy pictures" as one of my bosses used to refer to them. It's the only way to explain some of their actions, as well as their insistence that homosexuality is a perversion, etc. Why would it need to be unless you wanted to blackmail someone for it?

SpeakerToManagers said...

"BURIED IN THE NEWS last week was one of the most potentially significant stories of recent years."

This one seems to be coming out of the closet. The story was printed in my local Sunday fishwrap, The Oregonian, in more than a full column in the Editorial section. Now this paper is not known for its trenchant national coverage ("parochial" is the kindest way to put their editorial selection processes, I think). So their publishing the story is a good indicator that it will be become common knowledge in the next week or two. Especially if the Democrats have two brain cells to rub together and start talking to the military, instead of preaching at them as they did for 20 or 30 years.

Don Quijote said...

Can GM's Electric Car Go the Distance? - Newsweek Business -

This week at the Detroit Auto Show, GM hopes to shock the car-buying public by unveiling its catch-up vehicle: The Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that GM says can go 150mpg or more. There's been plenty of buzz about plug-in hybrids over the last year. But so far there are no hybrids on the market that you can recharge by plugging into a wall outlet. Instead, today's hybrids recharge their batteries by capturing energy from braking. But the Volt is a different kind of hybrid. Unlike those on the market that are primarily powered by a small gasoline engine, this sexy little four-seater runs on pure electricity. The tiny three-cylinder gasoline engine under its hood is only used to recharge the batteries, never to turn the wheels. You can also recharge the Volt by plugging it into a standard socket for about six hours.

Will wonders ever cease?

Andrew Smith said...

The hearings are beginning...

David Brin said...

fhydra, thanks. My main suggestions to the dems are at:

They WERE condensed and distilled.

I hope to similarly post this warning about Blackmail. Maybe condensed a bit. But the problem is that many of my scenarios sound so crackpot on the surface, that I have to lay them out carefully, logically... and that loses a lot of modern folks who habitually skim.

Stefan’s link (above) is too spectacularly awful. Tell the world. Throw it in the faces of people who screeched about “Whitewater.”

Anonymous, you are reading much in when I speak of evil forces. If you were resident here for long, you would know that I am quite a bit more concerned about foreign and local entities who have far more influence and power than Israel. Indeed, always look at who has been the biggest winners! Has Israel won, in an era when the US Administration did absolutely nothing whatsoever to propel the Peace Process? Others are the winners of the last 5 years.

donna... homosexuals who come out are pretty safe from blackmail, these days. It is a trend that terrifies all blackmailers.

Anonymous said...

If you were resident here for long, you would know that I am quite a bit more concerned about foreign and local entities who have far more influence and power than Israel.

Just to make things easier on the new guy, you mostly mean Saudi Arabia, right?

Fhydra said...

I know those suggestions, David. I read them back in November and I've repeated those suggestions in blogs and by word-of-mouth, especially your favorite one about an independent Inspector General. But you and others here have made suggestions over the last two months that belong in another list. You link to a few of them at the bottom of your first list, although they could be condensed a little.

But what I was originally asking for were your theories on what's happening right now. However, since you mentioned that you were going to post a condensed warning about blackmail (perhaps along with some other warnings?), then I'll let you do that instead. I'm looking forward to it :)

David Brin said...

Look, I have this reputation as a cloud-cuckoo optimist. But what I am is contrarian. Yes, I believe that citizen-power might prevail and fully reify the Enlightenment if we fully embrace transparency and unleash mature, reciprocal accountability...

... but I also believe some of the cleverest and most well- financed people in society today ALSO see this possibility and realize that this may be their last chance to prevent it. Whether they see it CLEARLY or have rationalized their quest in religious/aristocratic terms, I cannot say.

Nor can I say for sure that they are now engaged in a concerted and distilled campaign against the Great Experiment. It may indeed be what most intelligent observers perceive -- a combination of short-sighted kleptocracy and imbecillic frat-boy stunts, all coming together in unison, AS IF it were concerted and intelligently planned.

Either way, the effects have been profound ... and profoundly uniform. An utter demolition of US military readiness is the foremost effect, and even more staggering for the fact that the press barely seems to have taken notice.

Combine that with the dissolution of our alliances, evaporation of our worldwide moral leadership, frittering of our finances, torching of our social cohesion, lobotomizing of our political processes and gelding of the mass media and you have a cocktail that PERHAPS may have been mixed by incompetent, doctrinaire, thieving morons. That is one theory. I hope it's true.

Because the alternative is one that only a novelist could come up with, as the unlikely and far-fetched plot of a thriller like "The Manchurian Candidate." Unlikely, and perhaps even absurd...

...except that it fits every single fact. Plus one more; it does not depend upon the strange notion that men who are brilliant in some ways are uniformly stupid in all others... or that they would just happen to do every single thing wrong. If stupidity were the explanation, would they not have stumbled into ONE correct action or policy, simply by accident?

Wel, well. We seem to be about to make the experiment that will see if my dark, authorial suspicions are right... or merely the maunderings of a fellow who has been too long without a major novel on the shelves.

Here's the test. If our last ready brigades are called into action... and they manage to survive over there... if our boys and girls do make it home safely and manage to rest and re-train and re-equip, putting Iraq behind them and restoring our wretchedly ruined readiness... and if the recent election was only the start of a gradual return to sanity that is NOT spasmodically thwarted at some point... then I will shrug and be glad that my suspicions proved wrong.

OTOH, if some disastrous event strikes while all our land forces are spewed and frittered away on some foreign wild goose chase, well...

...well I won't be able to crow "I told your so." Because in that event, I will probably already be dead.

Tony Fisk said...

At least there will be some debate as to whether those brigades are allowed to go or not (Democrats warn Bush on Iraq plans - BBC News).

Assuming that debate is permitted to proceed...

Doug S. said...

More "transparent society" stuff:
AP: Cell-phone videos transforming TV news

Fhydra said...

@ Anonymous, or Tacitus

I think Saudi Arabia is part of it, and Iran, as well as certain groups of people in the United States.

ERic said...

Wow, DonQ. I'm saddened by your sudden illness. After regularly being the critic of everything on this blog, you post something about yet one more Detroit concept car, and say 'will wonders never cease?'

Please bring back the old Don. The one who would've responded to someone else posting the link you did with something along the lines of "I'll believe it when I see it in the dealerships."

SpeakerToManagers said...

How very disappointing. The Cheney article that Stefan posted boosted my blood pressure sufficiently that I emailed the link along with some "view-with-alarm" verbiage to both my Senators and my CongressThing. Although there's a common email server for all Representatives, with the standard default email addresses (, Congressman David Wu's mailer autoresponds with a link to the homepage of his website, where (if you look closely) you can find a link to a standard web contact page for all congresscritters where you have to enter your zip+4 code to identify the addressee, after having come from his website!. How many people remember the zip+4 code for their residence? I didn't, and was forced to go through a Post Office site to find it out so I could go back and enter it.

The Senators are not much better: one, Ron Wyden, at least has a prominent link to a contact page on his homepage. The other Gordon Smith, has no link I could find; I had to go to the sitemap to find the contact page.

Now you would think that the Federal Gummint would have enough money to hire competent web designers (I do this for a living; I volunteer), but no. This design is not acceptable for a group of people whose job it is to communicate with their constituents.

Of course, the bad design does have the effect of filtering out a lot of email that might otherwise be sent by people without the technical sophistication or determination to find the right page. Could that be the intention?

OdinsEye2k said...

Please bring back the old Don. The one who would've responded to someone else posting the link you did with something along the lines of "I'll believe it when I see it in the dealerships."

I'll take up the slack in mentioning that electric vehicles tend to move the source of pollution in the current power system.

*However* - since electricity will likely be the only easily distributed source of energy once oil goes away, this is still a good placement of the rook in the great energy chess match we find ourselves in. Electricity is probably also one of the more efficient ways to move energy from centrally produced locations. And of course, there is the chance that in the future many of us will make our own power from new solar cells.

You don't even have to buy a system now. I have seen deals offered to use cells like services - rent them for multiple years at some kind of calculated rate equivalent to paying your power bill.

Another blackmail piece - one thing I had heard in the era of the Pentagon Papers was the blackmail of the security clearance. Since we are wired to love secrets, for many people it is a painful thing to leave the circle of those "in the know" and return to mere civilian status. This is another layer of ostracism feared by those that would go along to get along.

matthew jones said...

Great insight on the security clearance comment... As an engineer that worked on weapons systems in my youth I can attest to the worries about clearances. The economic consequences for a loss or denial of a clearance serve to keep many folks quiet about their opinions or criticisms.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Odin: While a "wall-powered vehicle" would just move the pollution out to the base station, in many ways it's easier to improve pollution from the base station than it is to do so from vehicles.

First: Contrast the number of vehicles and the number of power plants.
Second: We have a few ways to cleanly get energy that only work in certain places or with a minimum area. (Hydro, Wind, Solar), and some that may not be all that clean but still have use and are non-options for cars. (Fission, for instance.)

Likewise, if/when we ever get fusion working, it's likely it will have a minimum size for feasability. If that size is larger than would fit in a car ... well, you see where I'm going with this.

Also, even for things like oil, a stationary plant is easier to make clean than a car. There's a lot more design flexibility, and this can easily lead to cleaner output. (Or more efficient, or most likely both!)

Anonymous said...

If I were an evil-minded, anti-enlightenment bastard and I operated a major online service that included chatrooms I would write some software, or hire someone to write software to keep track of the real identities of members and keep track of what they say online under their assumed screen names. Given the amount of crude, rude and socially unacceptable behavior that goes on in even the most innocuous chatrooms I have to imagine that there are probably a lot of movers and shakers, or people who may one day become movers and shakers, engaging in online chats that they wouldn't want associated with their real identities. I hope I haven't given anyone any ideas, but if I thought of it I assume some evil computer genius has thought of it long ago.

Rob Perkins said...

Of course, the bad design does have the effect of filtering out a lot of email that might otherwise be sent by people without the technical sophistication or determination to find the right page. Could that be the intention?

Probably not. Most likely, the intention is to figure out whether or not someone is a constituent voter. Never ascribe to malice, etc., especially when dealing with programmers.

As to DQ's illness, let me help him along: *I'll* believe it when I see it in the dealerships. And I'll get one when it seats seven and carries a full sheet of wallboard with the seats removed.

Plugin. Hybrid. Minivan.

Don Quijote said...

Wow, DonQ. I'm saddened by your sudden illness. After regularly being the critic of everything on this blog, you post something about yet one more Detroit concept car, and say 'will wonders never cease?'

I am deeply touched by your concern for my health, but there is no need to worry about it at this time.

When talking about the corporation that gave us the Hummer, the Escalade & the Suburban producing a fuel efficient automobile, saying 'will wonders never cease?' definitely qualifies as Sarcasm (Now granted, it's not always easy to recognized it when it's in text on the web.).

OdinsEye2k said...

There's also that nice feeling of guilt-free SUV's like the new hybrids.

If there was an investor with any brains (or lower anatomy), I'd love to see a super-tech new American automaker come to kill the Big Three and show those Asian guys that we in the States can still show some engineering muscle. Maybe it will be Tesla, who knows (and no, the irony of Musk being South African is not lost).

OdinsEye2k said...

Completely unrelated (well, maybe not entirely, since we were prompted by Democratic Congress):

A little "let them eat cake" moment from our money handlers:

Our Esteemed Host has some correctness on the guilty joys of righteous indignation, I fear. I think I've gone a bit overboard there. But still read it for kicks.

[Oh, and one side suck-up moment - I just finished both Earth and the Postman over holiday. Really dug Earth and see that Costner's Postman is like a TV special version of some news event. I dig the message, although it may have been overdelivered in a couple of spots.]

tacitus said...

Saudis, huh? Well, an almost completely unlikable bunch so perhaps. My initial reading of "who benefits" was more literal, iirc Egypt and Isreal are our two biggest foreign aid recipients, and neither appears to do that much to help our cause in the world. They are not nuking each other, so there is that.

David Brin said...

The pittances that Israel and Egypt get are nothing copared to the trillions we feed other nations, by refusing to even begin to wean ourselves of petroleum suckling. The main effect of recent years has been to pour our savings into the bank accounts of those who teach their children from textbooks that demand death to our entire civilization.

Beverly Price offers the following observation about Bush's proposal to "surge" US troops in Iraq:

"I suspect, based on conversations I've had -- and news stories read -- with military personnel from three of the four branches, that the move away from is being experienced more by Army and Marine personnel. The men I've talked to who have served in Iraq have a more nuanced view of the war than the Navy men I know, who are still pretty pro-war, pro-Bush.
"I think if Jonathan Swift were alive today he would suggest that Bush's "surge" troops should come from the Navy and Air Force. Both branches could produce thousands of fresh, commited, gung-ho troops."

As an almost Navy man, I do want to mention that the Navy has resisted conversion to dogmatic religious zealotry far better than the Air Force appears to have done.

Tacitus said...

You are making the assumption that the admittedly ludicrous energy policies of America are the result of a cabal of oil execs and Sheiks. Consider an alternative.
The American People love cheap, abundant oil. They want to drive what they want, where they want, when they want. They prefer highways over mass transit. They will be merciless in their treatment of any politican who even suggests that they will have to economize on driving. Or air conditioning in the South. If this is what the American people want, can we expect our leaders to say no?
You are mostly preaching to the choir here, I drive a fuel efficient vehicle and would be willing to tighten up further. 51% of the electorate is not of like mind at this point.

Hawker Hurricane said...

"The men I've talked to who have served in Iraq have a more nuanced view of the war than the Navy men I know, who are still pretty pro-war, pro-Bush."

As a former naval person, I'll add...
The USN people I served with STARTED the war with a more 'nuanced' view, and probably hasn't changed... while the army and Marines have grown more cynical about it.

(The Navy is sending some people to Iraq, mostly as prison guards, and encouraging people in several specialties to switch to the army without much success.)

SM1(SW) USN (ret)

Lenny Zimmermann said...

Clearances are very much equivalent to money in governmental (expecially DoD) parlance. Any threat in reduction of a clearance level, and especially in loss of a clearance all-together, is MASSIVE. And not just in terms of what you migth be in a position to be "in the know" on, but in terms of simple monetary value when talking about paychecks, or even the possibility of employment at all. This is even more true today with the increase of over-classification under this administration, remembering especially that such classification applies not only to documents or systems that individuals might access, but also increases in the required clearance an individual must have just to be able to apply for many, many jobs with the government at all levels (military, civilian and contractor!)

You're talking about some big, big bucks for quite a lot of people that they would be losing out on if they lost their clearance. Indeed, for some it would be their entire livelihood and that kind of fear is something the government, it seems, would gladly hold over the heads of potential whistleblowers.

It's definitely a very big issue.

OdinsEye2k said...

The American People love cheap, abundant oil. They want to drive what they want, where they want, when they want. They prefer highways over mass transit. They will be merciless in their treatment of any politican who even suggests that they will have to economize on driving. Or air conditioning in the South.

Ah - you bring up a very important point. One that Republicans have used against us pretty brutally over the years. It is a classic case of Pub propraganda - it delivers a false choice, ignores other facts and delivers a moderately emotional appear of one's own comfort versus some collegiate idealist. Reagan was a master of this crap (and probably should have at least some of the climate and oil-related deaths that have occured and to come counted against his leger in the Great Beyond).

However - what people want to maintain is their standard of living, not their energy source. No one cares whether it is oil, brewed corn stalks, hydrogen or electricity, just so long as it is available and affordable. The federal research community should have really been put on this case years ago (in fact, I think it was, but I'd have to spit on Reagan's grave again to mention it).

Yes, it won't make the Puritans happy, but I think the message of the hour is technology migration and replacement, not deep restrictions. Things like trading flourescents for incandescents aren't too hugely painful.

Also, I'm not entirely sure of the preference of highways to mass transit per se. The problem is the preference of *our* highways (which are pretty good, minus congestion) to *our* mass transit (which by and large blow). I have a feeling that politicians that offer to deliver people from their God-awful commutes from suburbia to urban jobs will do quite well - I would nominate Atlanta's Highway 400 and I-75 as very prime examples of traffic hell.

If the mass transit existed as a convenient option to escape the rush hour, I am quite sure people would go for it. Although I admit that no one has really figured out the "pick Johnny up after school" problem with mass transit.

I dunno - maybe we should run the mass transit thing like highways. Have the gov't subsidize the rails and let private car builders and operators (and likely private security at first) run on them.

Doris said...

There are other forms of blackmail, such as secondhand blackmail and extortion.

Scenario: It has been repeatedly reported that the Bush administration was bugging telephones before 9/11. A southern senator, firmly antiabortion, is presented with a recording of his teenage son urging the son's friend to have an abortion. If the senator goes public, he would shame his son. His own sincerity as a prolifer would be doubted by his constituents. He might not be re-elected if he were seen as a member of a pro-abortion family. So he votes for whatever the president wants.

About military readiness: At first, we assumed that the National Guard was sent to the Middle East because Rumsfeld was running a war on the cheap and guardsmen don't have the health and compensation benefits that regular military have. Then Katrina hits, and we discover that not only do we not have National Guard troops to help out, but National Guard EQUIPMENT is in Iraq. You're right, David. If we are actually invaded, we're toast. (Note also that the regular military is not allowed to fight within the United States; that's what the National Guard is for. Unless Bush added another signing statement to some bill . . .)

Tacitus said...

Well Odin, I realize the standards of courtesy on the net are a bit loose, but "Pub propaganda, false choice and this crap" seem a bit harsh.
And you miss my point.
First, there is no alternative to middle east oil that will not cause significant economic disruption in the near term. We import too darn much of it. Some of the alternatives have time problems, like building nuke plants, or environmental issues, like burning high sulphur coal. I am all in favor of the easy choices like the light bulbs. But what next?
As a "Pub" I have many bones to pick with W. But to make our ridiculous dependence on foreign oil his fault? Please. Start with the Interstate system, launched by Eisenhower, pursued with enthusiasm by Kennedy, Johnson, and succesors. A fine thing, but a government subsidy of road over rail. The federal mpg requirements for automobiles. I don't recall if it came into being during the Ford or Carter years, but the "exemption" for light trucks which allowed vans and SUVs to take over is a singularly bad bit of law. Where was Bill Clinton on this, as the rise of the minivan/SUV mostly happened on his watch.
Oh, my point.
Is it the job of government to tell the public NO when they want something stupid. Take your pick, interning Japanese civilians, buying Saudi oil, exterminating native Americans. The founding fathers had a healthy skepticism of democracy as it translates to "mob rule".
Is it the job of our leaders to tell us no? I tend to think so, at least sometimes. Now, where are the men and women with the courage to do so, and face certain electoral doom?

OdinsEye2k said...

Small quibbles with you Tacitus:

I never mentioned W. In fact, I went out of my way to kick the corpse of Reagan in the ribs, because he was the one that dismantled the energy initiatives Carter put into play after the oil crisis. We've been here before, but for God knows what reason, we chose to set ourselves up to be in the exact same strategic location again.

Carter did make the painful choice, and suffered political distruction. There were many factors in this, but the consultant class took the "sweater speech" as a major part. Ergo, questioning the cheap oil way seemed to be forboden.

That and those crafty Saudis were pretty good about over-production for some time. Better to fetch 1/2 the real price and string us out for 30 years (with a nice price spike at the end) than to fetch the full price and drive us to convert in 10.

I will also oblige you in giving Clinton a kick in the ribs for not challenging the oil industry more strongly. Especially when he had such a strong eco-advocate sitting in the chair next to him the whole time.

Tacitus said...

Glad you concur that foolish oil policy is not limited to one party. The Bush/Cheney links to the oil industry naturally made me assume you had them in mind, but all assumptions are suspect.
Most Americans feel kindly about Carter, myself included. He too had a mixed energy record I guess, The 55 mile per hour speed limit that most people credit to his administration was actually imposed by Nixon in 74, and the first mpg requirements by Ford in 75. And the whole sad Iran thing (nasty regime, but our "friends" and an important oil supplier, sound familiar?) blew up on his watch. But to be fair, several previous administrations had big roles in making the Shah what he was, and nobody was far sighted enough to see that first rising of modern Islamic fundamentalism as a political force. Enjoy the exchange as always,

starwatcher said...

When you can buy millions of benefits for yourself (and perhaps billions for your company) for a mere $25K, ok maybe 100K, or even 1000K, why bother with blackmail. Too risky that you might get caught. If blackmail was a real part of the system, there would be at least one 'breakaway' member who would have talked. Congressman aren't known for being good at keeping secrets. If you were dealing with someone really nasty, they might threaten to kill you, but then, how many congressman have ever been killed under mysterious circumstances. We have more to worry about from the legal extortion rackets, the Parties.

beedee said...

David you seriously need to start cross-posting on dailykos so that you can get a lot more exposure. I'm certain you'd be on the rec list every single time.

Anonymous said...

Mr Brin,
None of your sage advice will work. This is not how :they: do it. Only rank amateurs would begin in the ways you have suggested remedies for. Sorry.
Take the comment by Walter Mondale that blackmail is going on throughout Congress, and that the people doing it boast they control Congress that way (Mondale said it in 1993, FRONTLINE, PBS TV program). Let's see, 1993 - they will have been using blackmail by perversion and other crime scenes by then for approximately 30 years, and almost all the material will have been garnered under hypnosis. You were close to it when you talked about the Manchurian Candidate. And to the person who said, "who else is saying this?" - loads of people are. Take a look at some of the sites featuring mind control victims and victims of electronic harassment and gang-stalking in the streets of every town.
Liked your blog, thanks for raising such an important subject.

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