Tuesday, June 12, 2007
An Ego Splurge (with a little whimsey...)
First an aside. If you get a chance, grab a copy of the June 11, edition of NEWSWEEK (or check it out online) just in order to read Fareed Zakaria’s After Bush: How to Restore America's Place in the World.
Look, I sometimes (almost always?) seem arrogant and egotistical. (See much of what’s written below!) But I have priorities. And two that are much higher than my ego are (1) civilization and (2) an eagerness for good ideas, clear thinking, and good writing. Zakaria exhibits all of those traits.
And yes, I grumbled, “how come HE gets to say all these things in such a worldwide forum, when I was saying some of them five years ago?” But it’s with a wry smile. Because at least somebody is getting to say it all. At last.
Go read Zakaria. He’s better than me. There are some adults.
I bitch and moan and whine like a cranky child about lack of attention. But, well, I must be getting some traction somewhere. For example, one kind person wrote in to suggest people Google the phrase “self-righteous indignation”. Go ahead. I'll wait. Huh!
Even just “self-righteousness” puts me high on page 2. Oh, what pride.
But it gets better. Indignation is a topic that took a sudden surge when WIRED Science (online) posted a brief interview with me about “What science might do to help progress in the future.” My answer took a veer down unconventional avenues. For example:
“Given the daunting range of problems and opportunities that we face, I’d have to say that our most urgent scientific and technological need is to develop better methods for pragmatic problem-solving. Specifically, better tools for perceiving, for allocating scarce human attention, and for arguing usefully with one another, so that we can either compete creatively or reach effective consensus on measures to reach a better tomorrow.”
Well, well. This one certainly elicited a storm of nasty screeches in the comments section, calling my remarks “shite” and garbage and much worse.
No telling how many, though. One fellow was caught posting attacks under three different names... kind-of proving my point... which some others pointed out. Immature polemics are one reason the internet has remained noisy and noisome, almost bereft of actual discourse that can get anywhere...
...and yes, these kind people could be answered (as some did) with: “saying that my words just prove the author’s point is just another polemical trick!” That point is well taken.
Along with the suggestion that “Brin imbibes self-righteousness with the best of them.” Har! Anyone familiar with CONTRARY BRIN will recognize the wry wink that accompanies most of my postings, amid interactions with a lively and bright online community of skeptics. As for indignation addiction, well, I never denied being human.
But since my CORE push - pervading everything from EARTH to THE TRANSPARENT SOCIETY is for universal reciprocal accountability... and my aphorism-acronym is “Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error” .... I guess that makes accusing me of hypocrisy about as valid as calling any decent man an “inherent rapist,” simply because he's male and has some hardwired (but never implemented) stone-age impulses, now and then.
Oh, sure, there's a level at which the accusation may have some philosophical validity. But it’s a level that is pretty dumb.
Generally-speaking, the level of behavior over at the WIRED site was pretty dismal, compared to you folks, here. If I am proud of anything in my online life, it is having fostered a few places where the discourse - if not as well organized and goal-oriented as I would like (see my article on Disputation Arenas ) - at least feels eclectic and intelligent, with a shared theme of - above all else - a willingness (eagerness?) to entertain new ideas.
And the privacy wars continue...
------- OTHER NEWS! -----
Webscriptions style downloadable files for Jim Baen's Universe are now available. PDF's will be delayed for a while, but if you've been waiting to download to your PDA or laptop or e-book reader. Consider starting with my serialized novel!
For the latest from the “Age of Amateurs”. (You heard it here first.)
As for another of my catch phrases, see a fascinating article about the use of satellite imagery to monitor the tragic and continuing genocidal crimes in Darfur. "What this satellite technology does, it makes it possible to break down those walls of secrecy. Not only to get information, but to get information in a way that's irrefutable," says Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA."
One person writing in (Andre Love) says: “The methodology is very much from The Transparent Society playbook.”
See insightful comments by David Stephenson of Stephenson Strategies, re amateur action and the potential for a resilient citizenry: By contrast, Brin said that things were worsened during Katrina "...by a professional protector caste ....whose sole ambition appeared to be to staunch any citizen-organized activity" ...and that communication technology failed the public. An example of the potential: Douglas Brinkley detailed in The Great Deluge how one Richard Zushlag, of Acadia Ambulance, was a one-man technology emergency provider, via his company's own tower and his many satellite phones..)....
Now, if only we can start getting some leverage. _-- Anybody have suggestions what I should say when I speak at Qualcomm, next month? Beyond suggesting they incorporate self-healing mesh networks for text, beneath the cell-tower mediated main level?
Another item for the prediction registry. (Is anyone collecting these for me? A simple file will do, till we have a place to post em, along with other sci fi forecasts that came true).
David Melikoff writes: ”I just read your story “The Giving Plague” on your website. What struck me was that there is a real-world aspect of it: some people actually do feel a lot better after donating blood, and as a consequence they may tend to donate blood periodically.
“You may be aware of the hereditary disease that causes this: hemochromotosis. Apparently it is the result of a mutation during the plague years in Europe a few centuries ago. It causes iron from food to be horded in certain parts of the body, but not in the white blood cells. As a result, when the white blood cells attack plague bacteria, the immune system works far better than usually, as the plague bacteria do not get access to iron. The downside is that too much iron tends to collect within the body, and such people over time gradually feel ill from the extra iron, the only real symptomatic relief is achieved by removing blood from the body.
“I guess the real question is: do people with hemochromotosis, who give blood frequently (as it makes them feel good), tend to become altruistic, as in your story?”
Huh! I didn’t know of this. When did science learn about hemochromotosis?
Enough for now! That is... except for a final miscbit:
Last October, scientists at Duke demonstrated a working cloaking device, hiding whatever was placed inside, although it worked only for microwaves.
In the experiment, a beam of microwave light split in two as it flowed around a specially designed cylinder and then almost seamlessly merged back together on the other side. That meant that an object placed inside the cylinder was effectively invisible. No light waves bounced off the object, and someone looking at it would have seen only what was behind it.