Sunday, February 25, 2007

Taking a break from politics: cool stuff

July 7th, 2007 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Heinlein. The Heinlein Society is planning on publishing a Centennial Reader made up of contributions from people who may have known or felt Heinlein’s influence in their personal or professional lives. “We are looking for stories, anecdotes, or scholarly essays on Heinlein's works.” Pass word along. Pay it forward.

Danone, one of the largest dairy food and water producers in the world, is forming a joint venture with Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank to form what Yunus calls a "social business enterprise." By truly marrying the interests of corporations with economic development, the model calls for corporations to "draw on microcredit-funded businesses to incorporate nonprofit models into their bottom-line operations, seeking not just revenue but social returns, and returning the profits to the communities where they operate."

And let me pass along some cool items collated by Ray Kurzweil...

An unusual study of people with brain damage, caused in most cases by a stroke, suggests the compulsion to light up might be driven by the same little studied brain region, the insula, that helps us make sense of hunger pangs, nervous twitches and all sorts of visceral body signals. If only some high level types would see the need to study addiction as a GENERAL TRAIT OF HUMAN NATURE. Alas.

The discovery, announced last week, that the H5N1 bird flu virus is widespread in cats in locations across Indonesia has refocused attention on the danger that the deadly virus could be mutating into a form that can infect humans far more readily.

EEStor claims that its system, a kind of battery-ultracapacitor hybrid based on barium-titanate powders, will dramatically outperform the best lithium ion batteries on the market in terms of energy density, price, charge time, and safety. Such a breakthrough would have the potential to radically transform the transportation sector

Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran believes that "other awareness" may have evolved first and then, counterintutively, the same ability was exploited to model ones own mind--what one calls self awareness.

Polygraph tests are notoriously unreliable, yet thousands of employers, attorneys, and law-enforcement officials use them routinely. Could an alternative system using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technology that indirectly measures brain activity, better detect deceit? The U.S. government is certainly interested. "The great danger is that something like fMRI is adopted as a means of lie detection and becomes the standard before it has been scientifically evaluated for this purpose..."

I would add a second danger. That elites of government, commerce and wealth will gain access to such techniques before the masses can use them reciprocally.

Space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.

Blinkx's technology allows users to search more than seven million hours of Internet video to find exactly the clip they want. It employs speech recognition, neural networks, and machine learning to create transcripts, allowing for the words spoken in the videos to be searched.

Researchers at MIT have designed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that assembles itself out of microscopic materials. This could lead to ultrasmall power sources for sensors and micromachines the size of the head of a pin. It could also make it possible to pack battery materials in unused space inside electronic devices.

Bio-era released “Genome Synthesis and Design Futures: Implications for the U.S. Economy”. The report 1) examines the present state of biological technologies and places them in the context of technological revolutions from the past 100 years, 2) examines economic and market impacts of biological technologies in three sectors important to the U.S. economy, biofuels, vaccines, and chemicals, and 3) develops four scenarios exploring the consequences of certain technological developments and of governmental policy.

Then there are some ruminations on interstellar travel.

An article about the eerie tendency of human beings to “recognize” faces almost anywhere.


And now to the ridiculous: I recently received, by old fashioned US post, a bit of junk mail for an organization selling books and promoting "geocentricity." Their wares supposedly reveal "what scientists haven't been telling you for four centuries" -- naughty scientists! - that "written evidence and ancient witnesses around the world record a time when an unusually long span of daylight or night occurred. But scientists cannot explain why this event did not cause massive earthquakes or coastal flooding."

In case you can think of an explanation, Mr. Scientist, heed the words of the website http://www.geocentricity.com that whenever astronomy and the Bible differ, "it is always astronomy ... that is wrong."


And now, from “RU Serious”... a new book True Mutations: Interviews on the Edge of Science, Technology, and Consciousness with contributions from luminaries like Jaron Lanier, Cory Doctorow, Jamais Cascio, John Markhoff etc.

The volume “looks at the wild changes that may be coming to the human species during the 21st Century. In a series of interviews, author/host RU Sirius explores a series of (r)evolutions in disciplines ranging from the evolution of clean energy to the possibilities of endless neurological ecstasy; from open-source free access to nearly everything under the sun to self-directed biotechnological evolution; from psychedelic culture mash-ups to the possibilities of a technological singularity that alters not only humanity but the entire universe. In 2007, True Mutations takes up where his earlier book (with Rudy Rucker) Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge left off. I hope these playful, informative, occasionally skeptical, frequently trippy, and sometimes funny conversations turn you on to new ways of thinking about these sometimes scary and definitely wiggy times and inspire new forms of creative work and play among those who read it.”

anon....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Planning for the "Pardon Tsunami"

At my DailyKos blog I’ve started posting segments copied from my posted article on “Suggestions to the new Congress”. Although you folks have seen it all, you are welcome to weigh in there (and possibly boost my Kos ratings). Certainly the topics merit further exposure. Right now we are discussing suggestions 1,2,3 which are about investigating corruption.

There I only hinted at what I think would be the cleverest gambit of all. To try and HEM IN President Bush's power to issue vast numbers of "get out of jail free" pardons.

There are several ways to do this without attracting automatic cancellation by the Supreme Court. Any solution must not infringe on his actual right to pardon. And yet, with sufficient cleverness, it should be possible to...

option 1- Hem him in POLITICALLY. A top Dem should issue a dare. "Will you promise not to pardon more people than the previous two presidents COMBINED?"

The idea is to put him between a rock and a hard place. If he accepts the dare (unlikely) each of his myriad corrupt cronies will worry whether their promised pardon will make it under the cutoff. They may contemplate whether to instead take the bird in front of them - if Democratic Congressional committees start offering immunity for testimony.

If (more likely) he refuses to make the promise, then a seed of wonder is planted in millions of American voters minds, about just what he may have in mind for after the 08 elections.

At minimum, it will enhance the political damage when (not if) he issues the pardon tsunami,


option 2. Hem in the DEFINITION of a"pardon". Congress may be able to get past the Supremes a definition that restricts a pardon's ability to let a bastard get off scott free. For example: "A pardon can only apply to actions that a person openly admits and avows. It must specify whatever illegal actions it is meant to cover. Furthermore, the person pardoned must testify and answer questions, in order to qualify for complete erasure of responsibility."

This would still let this monstrous cabal of thieves pardpn wretched-awful SOBs who have been ripping us off, saving them from going to prison. That can’t be helped. But it would mean that they must testify (perhaps in the original, latin meaning of the word!) They must point fingers at others. And restitution of ill-gotten gains would remain a possibility.

Above all, by drawing attention to the approaching pardon tsunami NOW, we would put it up front in the public's mind. They will start viewing items in the news in this light and perceive patterns. It is something to start pondering now.

-----

Other matters: See an interesting new book:  Reinventing the Bazaar: A natural history of markets, written by John McMillin of Stanford’s School of Business.


And finally: YOUR NEXT ASSIGNMENT IN THE POLITICAL BESTIARY!

Apparently, some folks in my area are willing to start reconsidering their policy of trying to run classic Santa Monica liberals in districts that have been gerrymandered to be conservative by personality. When I wrote to our recent democratic candidate, Francine Busby: "Help recruit military veterans who can resonate with local voters and LOOK conservative... while being faithful to core liberal values..."

She responded: "If you are aware of anyone who is a good match and is interested, please let me know."

Aha. A counter-dare. Fair enough. Let's all ponder, then.

I know that by now all of you have chosen an "ostrich conservative" -- a decent person who remains obstinately delusional about the neocons -- to clamp onto like a lamprey and never let go until they open their eyes. And you are all spreading this meme, recruiting others to be ostrich-awakeners. I have faith in you all and I know you won't let us down.

Now another task: look around you for another creature in the zoo. Look for a mongoose!

A mongoose is a person who has utter toughness and willingness to face cobras, combined with big-hearted ability to stand up for the little guy. Ideal are former military men or women, who convey the surfaces of old-fashioned, patriotic and crewcut conservatism -- and certainly adhere to the best values from that side of things -- while also being open-eyed aware of what's going on around us and eager to strengthen the one institution in American life that stands of chance of saving this country -- The Democratic Party. These are the candidates we need to find for every gerrymandered GOP district. So that when folks in such inherently (by personality) conservative districts are fed-up and looking around in 2008, we won't make the insanely self-destructive mistake of forcing them to choose between Dick Cheney and Ellen Degeneris.

All of you. Find a mongoose and start twisting his or her arm to consider running for office in 2008. It is NOT TOO SOON!

Of course, given the odds, maybe you should talk to five or six of them. That's why we must start now. It's a talent search that could take some time.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

ALL SORTSA STUFF

Been busy lately. But I have enjoyed the rambunctious and intellectually stimulating discussions going on, down below in the commentary layer. You are the brightest bunch on the internet!

Hence, let me toss in a batch of news items for you to chew on, before I get around to another contrarian rant! ;-)

In an article for The Edge, Chris Anderson writes: "Percentage of males estimated to have died in violence in hunter gatherer societies? Approximately 30%. Percentage of males who died in violence in the 20th century complete with two world wars and a couple of nukes? Approximately 1%. Trends for violent deaths so far in the 21st century? Falling. Sharply.” (Let me add that the distinction sharpens when you pan ACROSS the 20th century, with the steepest drop of all time happening in the 1950s though 1990s.)

Then there is the possibility that we are RIGHT NOW experiencing not one aha moment but two of them -- in the Great Big War On Cancer -- similar to the one when Jonas Salk announced the polio vaccine. A moment everybody, forever after, remembered. Well, it’d be nice. http://physorg.com/news87565573.html

The government's ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all kinds is in danger because of deep cuts facing many Earth satellite programs and major delays in launching some of its most important new instruments. A two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that NASA's earth science budget has declined by 30% since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars

A study has found that people who are temperamentally pessimistic are more likely to die of heart disease and other causes than those who are by nature optimistic. Yup, and Nobel Prizes add 2 years to the winner’s life. So do Academy Awards. I need more Hugos I guess. (Still, didn't I say that personality matters? Often much more than our surface ideologies and rationalizations.)

Green architecture has become glamorous, and even economical. The cycle of innovation for sustainable building technologies is now staggeringly short, given how long it takes to complete a building. We are close to the tipping point at which green design becomes the default option for smart building.

Oh, and the latest news. What is the state in the Union with the highest energy efficiency? Flamboyant and individualistic California! More proof that the positive sum game is possible. Combine reasonable legislation and honest government with moderately higher energy costs and a business environment that is unafraid of challenges, and you get good energy economy PLUS a good economy. Some regulation to help our descendants, WHILE encouraging flagrant individualistic eccentricity. Modernism is alive. I only wish we had a presidential candidate to offer the rest of you.

This has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the century so far. Signs of an economic boom are everywhere in India's cities. If trends continue, India's economy may then surpass the US and be second only to China's by mid-century. Within 15 years Indians should, on average, be four times richer than today, buying five times as many cars, and the country will burn three times as much crude oil to power its growth, putting yet more strain on the world's resources.

Computer experts have traced a $1 million online bank heist in Sweden to a Russian hacker known only by his colorful sobriquet - the Corpse - in one of the more brazen Internet banking crimes of recent memory. As the extent of the fraud became known this week at the Scandinavian bank involved, attention shifted to the Russian-made virus behind the crime and the darker world of Russian programming, where talented minds still struggle to find legitimate outlets for the computer skills.

People may not perform selfless acts just for an emotional reward, a new brain study suggests. Instead, they may do good because they're acutely tuned into the needs and actions of others. Scientists say a piece of the brain linked to perceiving others' intentions shows more activity in unselfish vs. selfish types.

A new, major environmental report highlights a growing disconnect between the power of global risks to cause major systemic disruption and our ability to mitigate them. Many of the 23 core global risks explored in the report have worsened over the last 12 months, despite growing awareness of their potential impacts, according to the report. In addition to specific risk mitigation measures, institutional innovations may be needed to create effective responses to a complex risk landscape.

By the end of this year, the contents of all 1,800 courses taught at MIT will be available online to anyone in the world. Learners won't have to register for the classes, and everyone is accepted. The OpenCourseWare movement, begun at MIT in 2002, has now spread to some 120 other universities.

Chew on that... and more soon.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More on the War Against Professionalism in Government

TODAY'S TOPIC: I have long held that the Democrats should focus strong attention upon one of the most outrageous campaigns waged by this administration and the neocons -- a concerted effort (openly planned by the Heritage Foundation) to intimidate, cow, repress and subdue the thousands of dedicated and skilled men and women who make up both the Civil Service and the United States Officer Corps.

Indeed, it is a travesty that liberals have reflexively turned their backs on this tragic betrayal, in some cases because civil servants and officers tend to be "crew-cut" types. This is just dumb. Not only are these fellow Americans who are now in great pain -- in fact, they are the main victims of this administration -- but they would also be terrific allies in helping to solve the problem!

Drop in to see a New Yorker article: “Knowing The Enemy: Can social scientists redefine the “war on terror”?” which details something I have long maintained... that our memic “wars” are much less about superficialities like ideology, Islam, Communism or even nationalism, and much more about deeper psychological drivers. Something that I wrote about way back in the 1980s when I was among the few predicting the imminent fall of the Berlin Wall.

I want to share with you a particularly telling passage: ”Just before the 2004 American elections, Kilcullen was doing intelligence work for the Australian government, sifting through Osama bin Laden’s public statements, including transcripts of a video that offered a list of grievances against America: Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, global warming.

The last item brought Kilcullen up short. “I thought, Hang on! What kind of jihadist are you?” he recalled. The odd inclusion of environmentalist rhetoric, he said, made clear that “this wasn’t a list of genuine grievances. This was an Al Qaeda information strategy.” Ron Suskind, in his book “The One Percent Doctrine,” claims that analysts at the C.I.A. watched a similar video, released in 2004, and concluded that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.” Bin Laden shrewdly created an implicit association between Al Qaeda and the Democratic Party, for he had come to feel that Bush’s strategy in the war on terror was sustaining his own global importance.”


There’s more. Paul Krugman is at the top of his game, riffing on something that I have attacked since day one. (Indeed, before almost anybody else) -- this administration’s war against not only the US Officer Corps, but also the Civil Service and professional competence, in general.

”The blueprint for Bush-era governance was laid out in a January 2001 manifesto from the Heritage Foundation, titled "Taking Charge of Federal Personnel." The manifesto's message, in brief, was that the professional civil service should be regarded as the enemy of the new administration's conservative agenda. And there's no question that Heritage's thinking reflected that of many people on the Bush team.

“How should the civil service be defeated? First and foremost, Heritage demanded that politics take precedence over know-how: the new administration "must make appointment decisions based on loyalty first and expertise second."

Second, Heritage called for a big increase in outsourcing—"contracting out as a management strategy." This would supposedly reduce costs, but it would also have the desirable effect of reducing the total number of civil servants. “The Bush administration energetically put these recommendations into effect. Political loyalists were installed throughout the government, regardless of qualifications. And the administration outsourced many government functions previously considered too sensitive to privatize: yesterday's Times article begins with the case of CACI International, a private contractor hired, in spite of the obvious conflict of interest, to process cases of incompetence and fraud by private contractors. A few years earlier, CACI provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib.

The ostensible reason for politicizing and privatizing was to promote the conservative ideal of smaller, more efficient government. But the small government rhetoric was never sincere: from Day 1, the administration set out to create a vast new patronage machine.”


Indeed, the Times reports that "fewer than half of all 'contract actions' — new contracts and payments against existing contracts — are now subject to full and open competition," down from 79 percent in 2001. And many contractors are paid far more than it would cost to do the job with government employees: those CACI workers processing claims against other contractors cost the government $104 an hour.

Krugman adds ”What's truly amazing is how far back we've slid in such a short time. The modern civil service system dates back more than a century; in just six years the Bush administration has managed to undo many of that system's achievements.”

No Paul. What’s amazing is the capacity of otherwise decent conservatives in America to rationalize away such monstrous trends, never asking themselves, “How would I have reacted, if Bill Clinton had done one-ten thousandth of these things.”

Take this to your ostrich. Be tenacious and do not let go! When an administration commits more graft during any given five minute period, than the previous administration did in its ENTIRE span, and our decent conservative neighbors merely squirm uncomfortably and cover their ears... then we know the locus of the problem.

It is not in the monstrous neocons, the kleptocrats and the dogmatists. It is in those neighbors. The “decent conservatives” who have the power to stand up and help America clean out this nest of parasites and thieves.

 They have the power, but somehow convince themselves that this is not the time to rise up, to do their duty and save American Conservatism ... indeed, America itself... from a cancer at its very heart.


And Finally…

Recently hot on YouTube! A 10-year old speech that I gave at Planetfest '97 - celebrating one of the Mars landings. Sci-fi author David Brin speaks.

Friday, February 09, 2007

DARK & LIGHT SCENARIOS: Swinging from optimism to pessimism to hilarity

As you all know, I often test-run concepts here before posting them permanently at davidbrin.com. For example, my recent thoughts about how the incoming U.S. Congress might change the nation's way of doing business. Many of these unconventional proposals may sound good to reasonable people from all sides, including both conservatives and liberals.

Now for something much darker, cynical, and paranoid! Come see a chillingly plausible way that powerful forces may try to affect our politics by using the age-old trick of blackmail.

Speaking of suggestions... for those wanting to see some serious action out of Congress: Energize America is a comprehensive and compelling 20-point plan developed by informed citizen activists to wean the U.S. from its fossil fuel addiction and provide the U.S. with Energy Security by 2020, and Energy Freedom by 2040. Definitely worth all our support. A great start on implementing the energy portion of my list of suggestions.

And for you “voting process” nitpickers, the Center for Range Voting web site,started by a Princeton math professor, takes mathematics and technology applied to the problem of truly responsive democracy. Always an interesting topic.


---- PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Yes, we have started (already?) thinking about the crucial 2008 election, with its historical goal - rescuing Western Civilization from genuine monsters. To that end, I believe we should try to tune our efforts for maximum probability of success. And that means tuning down culture war. Finding candidates who can - while powerfully expressing modernist-progressive policies, nevertheless reach out to moderate/sincere conservative Americans and thereby leave the fanatics isolated, marginalized. The best possible outcome for America and the world.

As I’ve pointed out, the current democratic front runners are all US Senators. In most cases, they seem generally admirable people. Solid folks who are liberal in the best sense of the word and not really “leftist” in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, some, such as Hillary Clinton, carry divisive baggage that they never earned. Tragic, but true. And as a pragmatic matter, the prospect of another decade of “culture war” fills me with dread. As for Edwards and Obama and several others, I have to ask, “What did you ever accomplish, that qualifies you for such a role?”

So - in order to clear the slate and look a little harder - I came up with a slogan - ”No senators!”

Yes, that may strike some as bigoted or unfair. But I respond that this time, we simply cannot afford to take chances. Only one person in a hundred years has gone from the Senate directly to the White House... and JFK barely succeeded. Moreover, he proved to be a very (ahem) uneven individual, for example, completely maladroit at actual arts of administration.

No, let’s face facts. the title “senator” is a political kiss of death. Moreover, governors appear to be - by temperament AND training AND experience - better suited to both win and manage an executive office like the presidency.

Please try “no senators” on for size. Roll it across the tongue.

So who? Like many people, I had been fascinated by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, whose popularity in his home southern state was built upon genuine people-connection, without sacrificing fealty to liberal progressivism. (Well, 1990s liberalism that balances budgets.) So it was with some worried puzzlement that I - and many others - greeted news that Warner was dropping out of presidential contention. “spending more time with my family” is a standard nostrum for “it’s none of your damn business.” Still, the novelist in me comes up with scenarios (see above.) In any event, it’s a disappointment.

Alternatives? Bill Richardson of New Mexico is a rare governor with genuine national security and foreign policy experience. Former Energy Secretary, UN Ambassador and member of Congress. Also a Hispanic and someone able to relate to “red” America on a cultural level, nullifying the resentment of “cityboy snootiness” that underlies so much of the hatred of liberalism. I also like General Clark. Ponder the possibilities.


---- OTHER (HUMOROUS!) POLITICAL RIFFS


1) The latest Armageddon Buffet is online and ready for gourmands to gorge upon. http://www.armageddonbuffet.com/

2) Any Stephen Colbert fans out there? Like many others, I am fascinated by the gorgeous consistency of his shtick, maintaining the seamless image of an obstinate and troglodytic (but vastly more charming) Bill O’Reilly clone. Frankly, I have never seen a comic/satiric act performed with such dedication and unfailing dependability...

That is, until I suddenly remembered. Hannity’s sidekick and purported “liberal” voice for Fox News... Colmes! OMG! The fellow we had all taken for a dunce and foil for Hannity, deliberately chosen in order to NOT be his match or ever hold up reason in a good light, was not chosen by Rupert Murdoch because of defects, but because he is a genius! He has been doing the Colbert thing for years, in the opposite direction and without the humor, but with dedication and utter persistence, never receiving the plaudits or any of Colbert’s fun. Oh, what unsung brilliance. The Colbert/Colmes effect. Stephen really owes a debt.

And Finally.

3) I have further pondered the possibility of a satirical YouTube skit, doing a “round” using the names Bush and Clinton ad nauseam. Remember the funny “this land is your land” routine that got so much attention during the Kerry-Bush race? If done right, flashing pictures of Bush Sr then Bill C, then W, then Hillary, then Jeb, then Chelsea, then Jenna... with a timeline boundcng around at the bottom of the screen... it could be wonderful!

REAGAN-BUSH,
REAGAN-BUSH,
BUSH, CLINTON,
CLINTON, BUSH,
BUSH, CLINTON,
CLINTON, BUSH.


Actually, it’d have to be scripted a bit more complicated than that, in order to milk the humor. Id envision first doing it up to the present, ... then repeating the refrain and taking it slightly farther with a question mark leading to Hillary.... Then AGAIN, pushing even farther in time to Jeb, as the singers start to look panicky, yet unable to stop....

But stop is exactly what I will do, right now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The War on Science - and a counter-attack...

I cannot too-strongly recommend that you all read... and carefully re-read... an op-ed piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times a while back. Can Washington get smart about science? by Chris Mooney and Alan Sokal, cogently speaks up for the scientific/modernist “reality-based community” against a recent wave of know-nothing depredations by barbarians of both the far left and the far right.

Calling for re-establishment to neutral advisor agencies like the Office of Technology Assessment (also near the top of my own list of suggestions to the new Congress), Mooney and Sokal issue a challenge for both extremes to stop trying to bully society and objective reality to suit their own subjective notions about the world.

While Mooney is well known for his recent book THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE, Sokal would seem to offer (at first sight ) the perfect balance, since he is best known for having skewered blatant hypocrisy and inanity of the postmodernist/deconstructionalist movement, with his famous satirical essay that used deliberate gobbledygook-jargon to “prove” that physical so-called “laws” are nothing more than linguistic constructs created by western white males in order to perpetuate hegemony and oppression.

Sokal’s later revelation that his highly-touted article was a hoax and a trap set off what became known as the “science wars,” during which he became known as almost an archetype of calm reason, a rock against which the postmodernists dashed themselves furiously, before lapsing, spent and forever (one can hope) weakened.

Having taken on shibboleths (and their neo-mystical wielders) of the left, one might have expected Sokal remain focused in that direction. But “directionality” is, in itself, a trait of the romantic mind set and not of moderate, reasonable people, who can recognize similar nasty habits, wherever they arise. Indeed, Both Mooney and Sokal know - as would any reasonable person by now - that the silly postmodernists of the campus left are not one-thousandth as threatening to Western Civilization as their cousins, the neocon subjectivists who have been attacking western civilization from the barbarian right.

In this piece, it is easy to note the clear prose of Sokal, who has a rare gift - well-tested - of being able to disarm shrill adversaries with a single, rhetorical flick of the wrist. Take the following short paragraph:

“In truth, there was nothing wrong with inventing science studies; the error was to leap from the valid observation that science arises in a social context to the extreme conclusion that it is nothing more than politics in disguise.”

In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to keep subjecting science to reasonable scrutiny (or citokate) by appraising the myriad ways that fallible and all-too human individual scientists inevitably let cultural and subjective biases color their work. Nearly all honest scientists will acknowledge this tendency in themselves (at least in abstract mea culpas). Indeed, the obstinate flaw in human nature called self-delusion is the very thing that science was invented to help overcome!

(Once again, the over-arching theme of reciprocal accountability.)

And yet, as Sokal says far more efficiently than I do, here, it is quite another thing to claim that the only truly honest human truth-discovering process is inherently delusional! If the scientific process of perpetual re-examination and testing against reality cannot incrementally improve our models of the world, then why has scientific civilization learned so vastly more than all others combined?

We have discussed elsewhere the likely psychological reason for lefty postmodernists to have pursued this silly rant -- in what basically amounted to a jealous snit, attempting to drag down rival sages who have found much better -- titanically better -- methods of enquiry and truth discovery than the discredited incantatory paths of Plato. And yet, what has become clear in recent years is just what a service Sokal and his colleagues have done, by engaging the post-modernist movement in strenuous debate, rather than simply dismissing it as a pack of loonies.

Evidence for surprising, unexpected progress can be found int the chagrin expressed, lately, by some of the better and more aware postmodernists, over their role in having helped to tear down society’s greatest bulwark against other forms of mystical fanaticism. Others who are fully engaged in tearing down the entire Enlightenment Experiment.

Mooney and Sokal rightfully point to the all-out assaults upon science waged by an unholy alliance of Big Capital and reactionary Theocrats -- a coalition that has control over the Bush Administration, despite the fact that countless more-reasonable members of big business and the communities of faith want nothing to do with this vile cabal.

(Mooney and Sokal leave out a third group in the controlling triumvirate, one that has waned considerably, in recent years, ever since it instigated our “sicilian” quagmire in Iraq, but the very one that juxtaposes in eery ways against the campus post-modernists. That third group consists primarily of the Straussian Neoconservatives of the Heritage Foundation and Enterprise Institute etc, whose devotion to platonist incantation and the triumph of pure “will” bears worrisome similarities not only to the philosophy department lefties they claim to despise, but also to such reactionary and tyrannical movements as Nazism and Leninism.)

But I am quibbling. As I have said -- e.g. in my review of Mooney’s book THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE -- these two authors are bona fide heroes of the fight to restore American modernism. At the near-term, pragmatic level, they share with me a strong desire to see restored the independent Congressional scientific advisory boards that the New GOP so cynically and hypocritically dismantled.

What has become clear is that this fight will not be won by reason and science and moderation alone. It must be a militant moderation. One that - while promoting tolerance and diversity and openness and accountability and negotiation and science and fair-competition and pragmatism and other nice/liberal ideas - is also capable of recognizing genuine enemies. Foes who deeply despise all of the traits that I just listed and countless others... who indeed despise us for holding to them and attempting to build a decent civilization around such “wishy washy” and secularly “tepid” principles.

And that is where their short-term advantage of passion has let them steal a march on us, seizing control over what has been (so far) a benighted and moronic 21st Century. For while they attack, it is not our reflex of natural inclination to think in terms of enemies! Like merchants and tradesmen and craftsmen and chemists, standing at the city gate, trying to bargain and reason with barbarians, we blink in dismay as they use swords to chop away the underpinnings of our city. And then we try reasoning some more.

Enemies? That is not the way that we who invented markets and democracy and science and the arts of practical compromise generally want to think. But make no mistake. Those who would take advantage of our good natures in order to destroy this way of life will attack from every angle and every dogma. Because fundamentally it is a matter of personality, not ideology. And we moderate-pragmatist-progressive-problemsolving modernists are gradually learning that the personality of rage can only be dealt-with from a position and an attitude of strength.

===

Friday, February 02, 2007

Challenges (computer graphic trailers!) and other kinds...

Many of you will recall that I touted the “CG Challenge” that calls upon computer graphic artist around the world to enter vivid contests to illustrate their skills. The latest challenge takes a big step from static, single frame art to animated shorts... either storyboards or a “movie trailer”... inspired by one of the great science fiction novels of all time, Greg Bear’s EON.

 Go to the main CG Challenge and sample the array of entries......then tell me which of my own works you think might make a good subject for a trailer or storyboard! (I am next in line.) I’m leading toward having the contest be about storyboarding, rather than a trailer. But the trailer sure is tempting! (Some of my short stories can be found on my website.)

Have a look at the entrants in the EON contest, and discuss em! Help us judge which deserve the prize. Then look at this one that missed the entry deadline, but is super cool.

Addenda: The winners of the Uplift Universe: Alien Relations Challenge can now viewed on the CGSociety Website.

==Miscellaneous Science News==

--An extremely thought provoking article about how major drug companies have been taking the process of testing new drugs for safety and effectiveness overseas, in part to avoid FDA stringency but also because Americans just don’t volunteer for drug testing, anymore. Read it and try not to react by reflex. There is some villainy involved, certainly. But perhaps more in the details than in the general trend.

--Likewise, a fascinating call by the National Association of Evangelicals for the conservative movement to re-examine Global Warming.

--University of Southern California researchers have found that cancer is rooted in stem cells.

--Circumcision appears to reduce a man's risk of contracting AIDS from heterosexual sex by half, according to U.S. government health officials. Yipe.

--Researchers report that small plastic pellets called "mermaids' tears", which are the result of industry and domestic waste, have spread across the world's seas. The scientists had previously found the debris on UK beaches and in European waters; now they have replicated the finding on four continents.

Finally, turning back a little political... though actually psychological...

A reminder to keep this one in your pocket, whenever you feel that lack of inttelligence explains the attitudes of troglodyte reactionaries.

A few of us discussed this Reactionary Catechism under comments, in the previous blog entry. But I wanted to cite it here at top level, as well. This fellow is another species. One that would prefer to stay feudal, terrified, and only half sapient forever -- though with confident expectation that God’s reality is a cramped, short term exercise, and so it does not matter.

He praises elitism, mythology, romanticism, nostalgia, mysticism, exceptionalism, ritualistic-dogmatic traditionalism, and prejudice in the purest meaning of the word - pre-judice - judging others and all thoughts based upon comfortable, self-serving assumptions and eliminating all processes that test those subjective assumptions against the genuine holiness of the Creator’s greatest work, a thing called objective reality.

Indeed, denial of objective reality or its relevance is the underlying commonality that this fellow howls in perfect synchrony with romantics of the far left, whose praise of ancient mysticism and tribal ways converge eerily on the extreme, with "reactionaries" like this guy.

(Naturally, my own theology, that were were meant to be apprentices and knowingly (through science) begin sharing and completing the art/craft of Creation, would send both types shrieking.

If you have not seen it, do. And know the full range of human personality that makes our task so duantingly difficult. Trogs who know that 6,000 years of trying their way never got humanity anything but pain, nevertheless bitterly resent us our turn, trying something new and blatantly better.

No wonder they are fighting back so hard, as we speak. They must re-establish the old way fast, or lose their chance forever, as humanity finally steps into the light.