Saturday, March 31, 2007

Deep Political Suggestions -- Curing the Underlying Disease

ONE WAY TO FIGHT THE MADNESS...

....INVITE SOME OF THE NEOCONS TO “COME HOME”

In the post-election, I unleashed a series of proposals and concepts that may (in the view of a “futurist”) seem worth turning into law... resuming America’s cautious but ever-optimistic progress, after a dozen years of agonizing betrayal that followed the much-vaunted (but never implemented) “Contract With America.”

(The last time we saw anything like idealism or ambition - other than for graft - in the GOP controlled Congress of the United States.)

ostrichpapersAfter laboring over my own wish list, please don’t imagine I am sanguine about the chances that all... or any... of my suggestions will actually come true!

Some of the proposals may be hard to pass in today’s politically poisoned environment. A few others seem so logical that it is hard to imagine them as anything but win-win-win slam-dunks... or “no-brainers”...

...but relax. I won’t hold my breath.

Still, we have to try, right? For, it is the sublime madness of our Great Experiment.... whether you call it the Enlightenment or the American Dream or the modernist agenda... that many of us actually convince ourselves to believe tomorrow may be different. And possibly better. That we do not have to slip back into the dull mundanity of evil that characterized nearly all other human cultures and times, when fancy dogmas and incantations all served one monotonous purpose, making excuses for a few to enforce feudal power.

In fact, I hope we are seeing - at long last - a national emergence from the bad case of Y2K Future Shock that hit us in 2000, harder than anyone (including this “futurist”) thought possible. (How else to explain the surge of romantic nostalgia filling minds both left and right?)

If so -- and bearing in mind that new centuries seem to “begin” about 15 years after the calendar flip -- then we are confronted with a serious question.

What must we do at a deeper level to ensure that the Third Millennium really will be one that empowers free minds?

Well, in a spirit of taking the long (and always unconventional) view please bear with me, while I build a case for America’s liberals and moderates to try a sudden new social tactic.

A jiu jitsu move so agile and fresh that it could strike at the very heart of neoconservatism. Another win-win... only this time it would take real guts.


Warning, this will be a long one, for the table must be set, before serving A surprising main course.

Also, what follows may seem a little bit carnky and“crack-potty.” What it DOES feature is my patented approach to polemic. Whenever anyone starts being too sure of what “niche” or category David Brin falls into, I make sure to do a sudden veer. It may superficially seem right or left or weird. But the cliches don’t matter... so long as it is interesting.



NEXT TIME: HOW THE ORIGINAL NEOCONS MADE A PACT WITH THE DEVIL

See also: The Ostrich Papers: How it will take ALL Decent Americans to restore decency to America

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Science Fiction, Media, Podcasts & Events!

PODCASTS ON SPACE & FICTION!

Planetfest-David-BrinMy speech at Planetfest '97 was recently You-Tubed. A classic about our future in space!

I was interviewed on the topic of “Messages to ET” on the radio show CULTURE SHOCK of the BBC World Service. See more articles on SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Meanwhile David S. Levine of the Stanford Law School interviewed me for a podcast on the continuing importance and relevance of Transparency and my nonfiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Security? as the book approaches its tenth anniversary. Indeed, it is one of the only public policy tomes of the nineties still in print and still widely discussed.

PBS has posted a podcast of a panel discussion about spying and censorship on the Internet.

PredictionsRegistryOther podcasted topics include "Science Fiction Writing" and "Evaluating Horizons" recorded at Accellerating Change in 2004. The latter explores how we explore future possibilities, including far-out ones like the "singularity" - and whether humans really want to become demigods.

See also collected Audio & Video Interviews with David Brin!

As you may know, I have long called for improved methods of anticipation and prediction. (See my article: Accountability for Everyday Prophets: A Call for a Predictions Registry.) The latest fad, prediction markets, holds great promise for a limited range of situations. I am involved in some of the work. Now the next stage of legitimacy. The Journal of Prediction Markets is now available in print and online. There is a free access trial period available for a short time.


SCIENCE & SCIENCE FICTION

EonTRAILERS TO SCI FI MOVIES THAT "OUGHT" TO BE: The latest "Computer Graphics Challenge" has been judged! It not only includes wondrous still images from artists around the world, but several stunning movie trailers for Greg Bear's epochal novel EON.

They'll do one of mine, soon -- with a challenge for images and videos for the Uplift Universe, my novels including Startide Rising and The Uplift War, as well as the newer trilogy that begins with Brightness Reef.) Check it out. And spread word to any graphics or Indie Movies folk you know.

*Later addition: You can now see the provocative award-winning entries from the Computer Graphics Challenge: Alien Relations: Uplift.

hyperspaceOne of the best "gosh-wow" documentaries about the cosmos, in recent years, was HYPERSPACE: From the Birth of the Universe to the End of our World, narrated by Sam Neill, and featuring a whole bunch of interview segments with yours truly. It is a beautiful and entertaining and informative show. Well worth ordering on DVD.

SCIENCE FICTION MONTH IN ASIA. Starting August 30, the World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Yokohama, Japan. (I am the featured International Author.) It may be one of the most spectacular - and generously hosted - worldcons ever.

Adding spice, there will be SF events in China, a week before! First an academic conference in Beijing and then a larger gathering in the exotic Sechuan city of Chengdu (www.chengdu2007.com), August 24-27, near panda country, hosted by Science Fiction World, the largest-circulation (over one million) science fiction magazine of all time. The organizers in China are getting their web sites up. (Any volunteers to help? Especially Mandarin speakers?) Drop them (or me) a line to be put on the mailing list, as news develops.

Thor-Meets-Captain-AmericaHave a sneak peek at my new short novel SKY HORIZON, that will be available July in a special, signed, limited hardcover edition from Subterranean Press. A very unusual first contact story. Illustrated (cover and five interiors) by the great Scott Hampton!

Scott Hampton also illustrated the gorgeous graphic novel, The Life Eaters -- based on my short story, Thor Meets Captain America.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Data Dump of Interesting Stuff...

On occasion, I fall so far behind that I simply have to do a great big “dump” of cools stuff, knowing full well that folks will blink at the stack and click away. It’s an itch. So here’s one of those periodic piles of semi-random items.

First off, from internet chatter, it appears that Danny Boyle's new film Sunshine is one more case of creeping ripoff... er, I mean uncanny similarity to my stuff. A few years ago, The Core blatantly grabbed scenes from my own EARTH and Paul Preuss’s novel, Core. Now we have a “go to the Sun” sci fi epic.

All right, it’s actually part ripoff of my novel, SUNDIVER and part a remake of… the movie,“The Core.” Believe it or not. “'the Sun is going to die in 50 years, think of something, will you?'” says Cox. The “something” involves a "Q ball", the nucleus of a supersymmetric particle, getting itself lodged in the Sun. The hypothetical Q ball eats through normal matter, ripping apart the Sun's neutrons and protons and converting them into supersymmetric particles.” And let the arm-waving begin! Sunshine is released in the UK on April 5. The US release date is unknown at time of posting. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Speaking of which... but this time with a smile... it appears that Scott Adams has unscientifically arrived at an indignation-addiction theory like mine. Maybe now it will get some attention....

PODCASTS!! I was interviewed on the topic of “Messages to ET” on the radio show CULTURE SHOCK of the BBC World Service.

David S. Levine of the Stanford Law School interviewed me on the continuing importance and relevance of The Transparent Society as the book approaches its tenth anniversary. Indeed, it is one of the only public policy tomes of the nineties still in print and still widely discussed.

Watch for a featured interview with me in a coming issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE (one of the best zines of all time) on the topic of “what science and humanity are now able to perceive.”

One of my favorite worldchanging groups, Project Witness, is currently interviewing for SEVEN new staff positions... some in the US and some others requiring some (ahem) courage in overseas postings. In case any of you know someone interested in a career pushing the frontiers of transparency.


== RANDOM CLIPPINGS THAT MIGHT INTEREST ==

As documentary filmmakers, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine looked up to Michael Moore. Then they tried to do a documentary of their own about him — and ran into the same sort of resistance Moore himself famously faces in his own films. The result is "Manufacturing Dissent," which turns the camera on the confrontational documentarian and examines some of his methods. Among their revelations in the movie, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the South by Southwest film festival: That Moore actually did speak with then-General Motors chairman Roger Smith, the evasive subject of his 1989 debut "Roger & Me," but chose to withhold that footage from the final cut.

But some media improve. MIT’s TECHNOLOGY REVIEW magazine (online) is now publishing science fiction. The debut story “Osama Phone Home” by David Marusek is clever and diverting.


Here’s some Top-level reposting of some items that you folks sent in during comments:

Regarding the topic of hemming in Bush’s expected PARDON TSUNAMI - here are Dept. of Justice guidelines for presidential pardons. Only remember, these just apply to regular criminals. Politcal pardons can (and often do) bypass such procedures.

Stefan pointed out that Halliburton is moving its HQ to Dubai. One of those rare stories that needs no comment, only chills... plus a litlle DBrin “I told you who was in charge.”

Hawker pointed to a howler, the outrageous 9:1 ratio by which the Justice Department has investigated low level Democratic office holders, compared to low-level GOP officials. The Krugman piece asks why Atty Gen Gonzales would need to fire eight US Prosecutors, if they were delivering that level of partisanship, already. I have an answer.

Try translating this tabulation into actual numbers of convictions. I will wager that the ration is far more even, triggering Gonzales’s unhappiness. But what can you do? Investigations can easily be politically driven. But convictions ought (for now at least) to be based upon actual facts presented in court. It takes some subtlety of thinking to realize that Krugman should have shown this ratio of convictions and revealed how the LOWER ratio there actually helps to prove partisan bias.

On later pondering, I realize that this is the GHOST AT THE BANQUET. Instead of harping on the eight prosecutors who were fired, we should be asking about the other eighty five! In order to keep their jobs, by this administration's standards, what kind of people are they?


Some non-political, science and engineering items.

Under a plan being considered by the British government, babies could be vaccinated with brain-altering chemicals to stop them getting hooked on drugs and cigarettes in later life. Newborns would have jabs which could prevent addiction to cocaine, heroin or tobacco. See my own unusual take on “addiction” and ponder why these folks may not be as smart as they think they are!

Robots that artificially evolve ways to communicate with one another have been demonstrated by Swiss researchers. The "genomes" of the bots that found food and avoided poison most efficiently were recombined, mimicking biological natural selection. "We saw colonies that used their lights to signal when they found food and others that used.

Called Superbots, these robots are made up of identical modular units that plug into one another to create robots that can stand, crawl, wiggle and roll. The robots are being developed mainly to carry out multiple complex tasks, such as assembly, inspection, maintenance, habitat construction, surface landing, and exploration in space and on planet surfaces. Perhaps their paramount feature is flexibility: The different modules can be connected to let a robot handle a variety of tasks, rather than have that robot dedicated to a single task.

Estonia plans to become the world's first country to allow voting in a national parliamentary election via the Internet.

You, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, it's only too real. In the United States, gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctors. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: A test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.

A new, cheap pill to treat malaria has been introduced, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

Regrowing Teeth?

Wow... GATTACA... The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), introduced into Congress on January 16, if passed, will become the first federal law to prevent employers from collecting genetic information on their employees. It would also outlaw genetic discrimination, preventing insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on a DNA test. Hint... this is NOT the solution. GATTACA shows that it will not work. The real solution is to ensure that insurance companies and CEOs are JUST as exposed, and thus have it in their interest to promote a tolerant society.

The world's smallest and thinnest RFID tags have been introduced by Hitachi, measuring just 0.05 x 0.05 millimeters. The new "powder type" chips have a 128- for storing a unique 38 digit and could be worked into any product to assure theft of consumer goods would be practically impossible. These devices could also be used to identify and track people. For example, suppose you participated in some sort of protest or other organized activity. If police agencies sprinkled these tags around, every could be tracked and later identified at leisure, with powerful enough tag scanners.

The energy consumed by data center servers and related infrastructure equipment in the U.S. and worldwide doubled between 2000 and 2005, according to a new study. A jump in the volume of servers in data centers is accountable for 90 percent of the growth in power consumption.

Researchers at Purdue University have led development of a portable "tactical" biorefinery for the U.S. Army that turns a variety of waste streams into a mixture of ethanol and methane gas, which are burned in a modified diesel engine to produce electricity.

Couple mounts a camera and radar to catch speeders. Catch a police officer speeding. He sends the authorities to tell them he intends to press stalking charges against them. This is precisely what happens as the Age of Amateurs confronts the guild protection rackets of the professional protector caste. see: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BY2PRQ MISC ITEM: Does anyone know a web site that will log REMINDERS possibly even years in advance and email you reliably when the time comes? e.g. re recurring events like renewing your URL every five years or so? A hazard of modern life.

The U.S. 'Commercial Services' Trade Surplus Reached $100 Billion Last Year

General: The United States is more a seller than a buyer of services. As of 2005, the United States supplied about $190 billion of the world's $1160 billion in commercial services exports. (The United Kingdom is second at $60 billion; fast-rising India is eighth at $44 billion.) American statistics, a bit more up-to-date than the WTO's, show exports and royalties rising by $84 billion between 2001 and 2006. (From $156 billion to $240 billion.) Meanwhile, commercial-services imports rose by $66 billion, from $74 billion to $140 billion. Thus a $76 billion commercial-services trade surplus in 2001 grew to $100 billion by 2006.

Finding the Future: A Science Fiction Conversation is an independent documentary feature about science fiction, fandom, and the future. Apparently (I haven’t seen it yet) I am featured. See: http://www.findingthefuture.com/

Many of you will recall my article about how the events of 9/11 and Katrina illustrated the positive and negative possibilities of empowering (or hampering) citizen networked self-organization in a crisis. Now David Stephenson of Stephenson Strategies has encapsulated some of the same notions in an important paper about “Expecting the Unexpected: The Need for a Networked Terrorism and Disaster Response Strategy.”

I never thought anyone could make me feel sorry for one of those scammers, but I gotta tell you, it got pretty darn mean.

I believe in the multi-mind model of human beings. The part of obo who was tormented wasn't exactly homogolous with the scammer. The vengeance was only partial. Ah well. Still fascinating.

FINALLY: What, nobody has an informed opinion about when Apple OS Leopard will ship? Any other BATTERY experts out there who might want to read/critique a book on the suject? (Lots of history of cool stuff on science/engineering.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Stop the IRAN War now...

To the dismay of many observers, current U.S. strategy towards Iran is shaping up to be a near-repeat of the path that led to the current situation in Iraq. Yet, as Poland's former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Professor Grzegorz W. Kolodko argues, a U.S. attack on Iran would serve only to stymie the potential for a democratic, free-market revolution in the country.

Contemplating (in The Globalist) the possibilities of a “velvet revolution” in Iran -- as someone who lived through similar events -- Kolodko found many of the ingredients already in place.

”In my visits, I have found people to be open-minded, multicultural, pragmatic and looking both towards East and West. They are definitely not hostile to the West in general — or to the United States in particular.”

In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll conducted in 27 mostly Muslim countries, only in Iran have sentiments toward the United States improved. The percentage of people with “unfavorable views” of the United States fell between 2001/2 and 2005/6 from 63% to 52% — while, for instance, it rose from 33% to 62% in Turkey.

At the same time, we all know that Iran is neither an epitome of democracy — nor is it a part of any axis of evil. We would do well to remember that it does have a fine and functioning system of checks and balances, including the right to undertake votes of no-confidence in parliament against the sitting president — something that even the United States cannot claim for itself.


(I don’t know if I would call it “fine and functioning. But Iran does have far more institutions and habits of lawful and accountable civil society than any of our so-called “allies” in the region, by a far cry. Institutions and habits that could function ten times as well the moment the corrupt and oppressive top-theocratic hierarchy were removed. Indeed, I wonder if Iran may be a model of where WE seem to be headed... a future America that still maintains many institutions and processes of an accountable democracy, under the heel of a narrow and corrupt ruling caste. This notion -- that a tyrannical situation need not be uniformly on-off -- is one that we should ponder, whether it is our fate (and Iran’s) to spiral downward into sham-democracy or else shrug off corrupt castes and bring civil society to full vibrancy and life.)

Continuing with the article:

This nation of almost 70 million well-educated people is also a country of robust changes. Few people in the West realize one of the mullahs’ biggest challenges: Two-thirds of the population is too young to remember the triumphant comeback of Ayatollah Khomeini 28 years ago.


Kolodko’s key point is that saber-rattling and “axis-of-evil” rants have only served to delay an inevitable transformation in this country, which is the ONLY one in the middle east where the neocons’ dream (establishing an oasis of democracy in the Middle East) would seem to have a chance of actually coming true. I said all of this at a presentation before the CIA way back in 2002. Alas, at that point, a Nixon-to-China peace offensive to Iran would have been low-risk and potentially a strategic jiu jitsu move of potentially staggering effectiveness.

What do we see instead?

The second worst cliche of strategic thinking is to assume that those who dislike you are automatically evil and stupid. The fact that this has been true for most of American history does not guarantee that it will continue to be so, especially in an era when stupid leadership has dissolved our alliances and eviscerated our popularity, even among friendly nations. In the case of Iran, this cliche tends to make us assume that “Iran” is a monolithic badguy, instead of a land of opportunity for us, diplomatically, socially and commercially, if only the people could be helped to deal with their local bad guys.

The worst cliche of strategic thinking is always this one: “If we smack our opponent hard, across the cheek, he will respond by backing down.”

Um, does anyone recall that this was the exact thinking of the Japanese High Command, when they ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines? Indeed, it is the logic that nearly always draws nations into miscalculated wars... falling for the smug and alluring psychological trap of assuming that your enemy is a bunch of cowards. Above all, never imagine that they might respond to a slap the way you would. By standing taller, with a sense of outrage and patriotic fervor.

The assumption that your (dehumanized) foe will react to force in the exact opposite way that you would is not only stupid, it is cosmically self-indulgent and unsupported by history. We always need to ask - “How would Americans react, if such a strike was aimed at Duluth.” Indeed, how DID we react to the slap of 9/11?

This is a fundamental fact, one that the right wing needs to have crammed down their big, loud craws.

A few dozen pin-prick missile attacks on Iran will not force them to change a single policy. It will cause them to mobilize, as a nation under attack. Exactly the effect it would have upon us. It will turn millions of youths from angry, anti-mullah protestors and liberal reformers into angry recruits for the Revolutionary Guard.

A nation three times the size of Iraq, ethnically united, sophisticated and educated and oil-rich, will thereupon be politically united. United in a central goal of helping to re-forge the Islamic Uma.

Dropping all thought of Sunni-Shiite division, they will fall into line with the real leaders of the Uma movement. And we will have accomplished the chief goal of this administration. Uniting the entire Islamic world as never before.

See also: A Rush to War?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Happy Slapping" and other gallic perversions...

Citizens who videotape violent acts witnessed on the street and/or publish them online in France could now face jail time, passed by the French Constitutional Council. Only "professional" journalists will be able to videotape and broadcast acts of violence. The purpose of the law is to prevent regular citizens from provoking fights in order to create video to post online and profit off of (à la "bumfights," or "happy slapping"—physically attacking someone to generate a reaction and take video), but the wording of the law is broad enough that it has some civil-liberties groups concerned.

Some of the repercussions for citizen journalists, according to the new law, include up five years in prison for the videographer and fines of €75,000 for disseminating images of the acts. Part of the law specifically mentions acts of violence "committed by an agent of the state in the exercise of his duties," which is included in the list of violent act covered by the statute.

"The sections of this law supposedly dealing with 'happy slapping' in fact have a much broader scope, and posting videos online showing violence against people could now be banned, even if it were the police who were carrying out the violence," read a statement from Reporters Without Borders. Ironically, the law was passed on the anniversary of the Los Angeles police beatings of Rodney King which were videotaped by a citizen on the street in 1991. Such a videotape could land the citizen in jail if it occurred in France today, and any web site that hosts images or video of it would be paying hefty fines.

AND NOW ANOTHER REFRESHING VEER FOR “BALANCE”... A SWIPE TOWARD THE LEFT... AT OUR COUSINS IN THE ENLIGHTENMENT MOVEMENT’S “PLATONIST” WING...

Some of the leading lights in the “soft” sciences have been passing, of late. Take Jean Baudrillard (June 20, 1929 – March 6, 2007) a French cultural theorist, philosopher, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism. In popular culture, he was perhaps best known as the inspiration behind the Wachowsky Brothers’ promising -- but ultimately disappointing -- Matrix series.

Meanwhile, sociologists are mourning other milestones. “The death in late December of the distinguished political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset was an event of great importance in its own right. But it also symbolizes a more general loss to the world of ideas. The eminent sociologist Philip Rieff, whose 1966 book, "The Triumph of the Therapeutic," transformed the way we think about modern secular societies, also died recently; only a few years ago we lost David Riesman, the man who made sociology into a form of public self-examination in "The Lonely Crowd" (1950).”

Ah well. Milestones provoke thoughts. I have opined elsewhere upon the debilitating and cynically futile effects of postmodernism in its most blatant forms, ranging from Derida and Foucault all the way to today’s US English and literature departments, which are dominated largely by anti-science, anti-future and anti-science-fiction dittoheads. So, no, the problem is not purely French... though the purest essence of this galling trend seems to be Gallic.

Sociology is, I'm afraid, one of a dozen or so academic specialties that seemed quite hopeful, in the 1950s, but ran up against their inability to pass the fundamental test of a science... the making of falsifiable predictions that then allow selection choice among increasingly accurate models of the world.

While it is true that the "soft sciences" do not have to replicate the predictive specificity and rigor of physics...indeed complexity theorists (some of them physicists) sympathize with the difficulty in grappling with systems as complex as organisms and societies...

...nevertheless, a "science” is supposed to become (even gradually) better at this Popperian process. With very few exceptions, social and political and psychological theorists have utterly failed this test. (One sad example; in 1990 the now-defunct magazine PSYCHOLOGY TODAY queried dozens of psychologists about what they would call the “breakthrough of the eighties.” Not one of them mentioned the same thing. A sure sign that there were no breakthroughs at all.)

What resulted was psychological in its own right. Those who were "splitters" by personality type decided to get MORE scientific by concentrating on dividing up organisms or brains or societies into smaller units until experiments COULD show results. Brain and neuronal sciences are making great strides, for example, creating a tool set that may yet open doors into a genuine psychology, showing how we think. (Ironically, Freud started out this way, as a neurologist.)

The other famed personality type is the "lumpers"... folks who aim at grand models and theories. Such people can co-exist with splitters in sciences like physics, or even biology. But in "soft" topics, the gulf becomes almost unbridgeable. In sociology, etc, the grand arm-wavers realized that they could never, ever pass Popper's test. To a large degree, their reaction was simply to reject Popper. Indeed, to reject rigorous science and everything associated with it.

The roots of campus postmodernism can be found in the frustrated realization that these scholars could make no predictions, could propose no testable statements, and could offer no utility other than mantras aimed at stirring social conscience and moral outrage.

This latter is not to be totally dismissed. Moral outrage can be useful. Yet, the greatest reformers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King were effective precisely because they combined idealism with fierce pragmatism and a willingness to negotiate. Something that is anathema to purist radicals in ivory towers.

Indeed, the pragmatic wing of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on incrementalism, negotiation, market solutions, science and technological innovation, is viewed with loathing by the "french wing" of the Enlightenment -- the home of postmodernist platonists who preach that all is textual and (in extremum) that objective reality does not exist. That - indeed - the very concept is inherently colonialist and oppressive.

Please, I have a portion of my brain that is artistic, romantic and passionate. You can see it erupting, in rhythmic riffs, in any of my novels. I will gladly toy with psychic powers and secret arts. Sometimes my characters alter reality by simply believing in alternatives, hard enough, or by talking the cosmos into compliance... exactly as the postmodernists seem bent on doing. In other words I know that side of life. I was born a shaman. An acolyte of Socrates. A weaver of linguistic legerdemain.

Hence I know bullshit when I hear and see it. And, sorry. But in the end you should be able to put your money where your mouth is.

Anecdotes are fine, but a field of endeavor is useful to me if I see a practitioner WINNING WAGERS with it. Making predictions that come true. Adding to the human tool set.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Could You Remind Me Again... Just Who Is The Enemy?

One of my contacts in the intelligence community just wrote to me: “Saw in today's Early Bird that Liz Sly at the Trib has caught up with what you predicted 3 or was it 5 years ago. The winners in the IQ incursion would be Iran. Your logic was unpleasant and unassailable. It just took a while for the rest to catch up with you.”

Somebody please write in when this article he refers to is available online. Alas, will anyone remember that I stood at the CIA in 2002 and preached a "love offensive" in Iran? A "Nixon-to-China" that would throw the mullahs off balance and help the students and moderates re-take their country? Certainly not guaranteed to succeed, but with no downside cost if it fails. Moreover, no priority in the entire region should have been higher than restoring the longstanding friendship between the Iranian and American peoples. And no country was better poised to become an “island of democracy in the middle east” than the only regional muslim nation that already had a moderately functioning civil society and institutions, only awaiting a velvet revolution to give them real life.

It would have been a jiu jitsu move worthy of Kissinger, with some real chance of improving the world, while ruining the day of all of our three enemies over there, Saddam AND the mullahs AND the Saudihouse. If Condi Rice had even a sliver of Kissinger’s brains....

Where is a prediction registry when you need one? I was laughed at then. And being right does not change opinions. Still, some people are starting to talk the way I did, four years ago. There’s some satisfaction in that.

And now, while we are on this topic, Russ Daggatt is on top of his game. Here’s his latest:


Bush is Still Trying to Figure Out Which Side We're On

At this point, you may be getting really confused. It's really not that complicated:

We were attacked on 9-11 by al Qaeda which was in cahoots with the Taliban, all a bunch of radical Sunni Muslims.
Most of the 9-11 terrorists were Saudis and Saudis provided the money and ideology for al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia is our ally.

When we drove al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan, they regrouped across the border in Pakistan where they have been more or less unmolested ever since. Pakistan is the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons, the technology for which they provided to North Korea, Iran and others. Pakistan is our ally.

Saddam Hussein, a secular Arab nationalist, had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks and brutally repressed racial Islamic fundamentalists. He also was the major rival of the radical Shiite government of Iran next door. He was a close friend of the Bush family foreign policy entourage... until he stopped being controllable and made the mistake of offending neighbors who were even closer Bush family friends.

So, we overthrew Saddam Hussein and... installed a pro-Iranian Shiite government in Iraq. Are we having fun yet?

After 9-11, Iran supported us in our overthrow of their other major rival, the Taliban in Afghanistan (who, you will recall, harbored al Qaeda who attacked us on 9-11). Having overthrown Iran's two major geopolitical rivals, Saddam and the Taliban, we actually managed to make relations with Iran WORSE in the process -- saber-rattling at intervals perfectly timed to drive Iran’s moderates and students back into the mullahs’ arms -- demonstrating political finesse that would have made Machiavelli -- well, Don Rickles -- proud. (Bush called them "evil". Showed them. heh, heh, heh)

In summary, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (which has nuclear weapons), who finance and harbor al Qaeda, are our allies. Iran, which had nothing to do with 9-11 and helped us overthrow the Taliban, is "the enemy." So we overthrew the largest secular Arab government, and Iran's major rival, and installed a pro-Iranian government in Iraq. Because Iran is an existential threat. Which aspires to acquire nuclear weapons (like Pakistan, which is harboring al Qaeda and the Taliban -- and is our ally). Got it yet?

And since Iraq seems to be in the midst of a sectarian civil war between the Sunnis (backed by our Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere) and the Shiites (backed by our existential enemy, Iran), it's clear we need to stay and fight in Iraq on behalf of our existential enemies, the Iranian-backed Shiites.

Simple.

Well, maybe not so simple. But, fortunately, we have the geopolitical genius of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney figuring this stuff out so we don't have to. All we need to know is that they're fighting "The Enemy" and "The Terrorists" (whoever that happens to be today -- it's classified).

Seymour Hersh has the one MUST READ piece this month, in . I hate to edit it or pull out selective quotes. Read . But the crux of his piece is that the Bush administration has essentially decided to REDIRECT ITS ATTENTION away from radical Sunni jihadists -- i.e., the folks who attacked us on 9/11 -- and instead take sides in the brewing Sunni-Shiite civil war in the Middle East. In fact, he says we've pretty much decided to throw in our lot with the Saudis and buddy up with the al-Qaeda wannabes:

"This time, [a] U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that "they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was 'We've created this movement, and we can control it.' It's not that we don't want the Salafis to throw bombs; it's who they throw them at -- Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran."

But if they created and control it... doesn’t that mean that, back in the summer of 2001...



Ooooog. Now Russ has me depressed. And confused. So let’s simplify. Time for a modified truism.

Fool my leader once, shame on you.
Fool my leader twice, shame on my leader.
Fool my leader a zillion times?
Clearly, my leader is cahoots with you and I am the fool.


Continuing with Hersh: Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Administration National Security Council official, told me that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. “The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett said. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.” ...

Of course the inevitable winners out of all this will be the winners of the last 6 years... BOTH the Saudis and the mullah-party in Iran. Do not let Sunni-Shiite violence on the street fool you! That is a deliberately set-up distraction and a quagmire to suck in and destroy the US Army. It has nothing to do with the oil zillionaires in Riyadh and Tehran. Who have no reason whatsoever to wish each other ill will.

There is no conceivable scenario in which they do not both come out ahead, even in the event of some pin-prick air strikes into the heart of Iran!

If that happens, the chief result will be to rally the Iranian people behind the mullahs for an entire generation, completing the core effort of this administration, to snatch defeat out of the very jaws of victory.


All in all, the “Stupidity Theory” for this administration is simply falling apart... the almost-universally held notion that obstinate, dogmatic, microcephalic incompetence is sufficient to explain the steady and relentless demolition of US military readiness, our professional officer corps, our skilled intelligence community, our reserves, our alliances, our world popularity, our budget and fiscal health, our science, our internal social cohesion, and our ability to even PARSE who our enemies are.

The problem with the Stupidity Theory is that it depends upon a statistical impossibility. For even loony, moronic frat-boys should have stumbled into one correct decision in six years, simply by accident. At least one decision that actually benefited the United States of America.

When does a pattern of absolute purity and perfection finally suffice to make people change their minds? Or to consider an alternative scenario? The possibility that these are NOT stupid men, after all? Ask yourself this... how many MORE coincidentally perfect “blunders” will it take, before you would be willing to ponder even the remote possibility that a new theory is needed? One that is more consistent?

When the single, historic effect of an administration is to demolish Pax Americana, it does not require the author of garish thriller novels to come up with a possible explanation. When the winners of every US policy are the same hostile foreign interest groups, every single time, is it possible to at least ponder an alternative scenario?

Alas, all of the true paranoids, who are mentally equipped to notice such patterns -- the fellows who used to scream at us about “black helicopters” and “Whitewater” -- now seem incapable of noticing the “Blackwater” helicopters that are streaking back and forth, inside America and abroad, portending a new era of private and completely unaccountable mercenary force. Where are some paranoid screamers, when you really need them?

Well, there are some PROFESSIONAL paranoids and pattern recognizers who should be on top of this. Guys at the FBI and CIA and such. But, apparently, they are too busy keeping their heads down.

Shame on all of us.


=== followup ===

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/23/AR2007022301595.html
There are some sane people out there. New Mexico Governor (and Democratic presidential candidate) Bill Richardson (who negotiated the Clinton administration's Agreed Framework with North Korea back in 1994) had this recent piece in the Washington Post.

And when Director of National Intelligence, John D. Negroponte, took a transfer to the slot of deputy secretary of state, everyone in town recognized it as a fellow getting out of a ship that was not only sinking and on fire but also headed for sharp rocks. The number of clandestine operations around the world that are being financed directly out of the Vice President’s office, bypassing the professionals of the CIA, has reached a level that makes Iran-Contra look like a cooking school.

Which makes me a bit dubious about the latest rumor in circulation. “Speculation is mounting in Washington about the future of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. With the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq and the recent indictment of his former Chief of Staff, Cheney is fast becoming a political liability to the Bush Administration. We predict he will resign in order to give the powerful political position to one of the GOP’s rising stars.”

The article writer concludes that Rudy Giuliani - former Governor of New York State - would be the obvious choice, and let the religious right lump it. A guy with a chance in 08, especially in light of the (debatable) status as a “hero of 9/11.”

Cute. But I doubt it. The VP office is the very center of scores of clandestine operations that are too political to entrust the professional services like the CIA, any one of which will fall apart without a steady hand at the helm, to keep all participants focused and terrified and silent. Cheney is the glue, holding together the entire frankenstein alliance.

Ah, but thank God that Western Civilization has more than one center.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

THE SOLUTION TO AMERICA'S WAR

MORE FROM THE WAR FRONT (IN THE BATTLE FOR MODERNITY)

1) I have been kos-posting some items that first appeared here, in hope that some memes might spread beyond this brilliant but rather inbred little group. Mostly I’ve been serializing my “Suggestions to the New Congress.” Alas, these postings appear to merely blip over there. Taking center stage? The usual tired ideas and same-old rants. The dems may be our only hope, but do not count on them for anything remotely resembling imagination or boldness.

2) While the (unambiguously-blatant) real winners of the last six years -- Iran and Saudi Arabia -- met last week in a summit conference to forge closer Sunni-Shia cooperation at the top levels (they don’t give a hoot about the continuing ethnic slaughter lower down, which - in fact - suits their purposes just fine)...

...a blue ribbon panel has reported about the state of readiness of the US National Guard and Reserves. The finding? “They are at their lowest level of readiness in decades,” said Arnold Punaro of SAIC and chairman of the Commission on the National Guard & Reserves. The fact that readiness has not been made issue #1 by the Democratic Party suggests that something is very wrong over there. Perhaps stupidity is contagious.

3) Want yet another example? Democrats have been writhing, trying to come up with a strong way to oppose the insane Iraq War without getting tarred by get-out-now specifics that make them seem eager to “cut and run” -- abandoning everything that we’ve already poured a trillion dollars and thousands of lives into achieving. Just because we can now recognize the Iraq Incursion for what it was - an almost perfectly-planned way to demolish Pax Americana, by destroying our alliances, our popularity, our readiness, our budget and our national cohesion - that does not require that we automatically cry out to “immediately withdraw,” abandoning those Iraqis who we’ve made dependent upon us, leaving Iran and its ally with total victory.

Why should we do the mad goppers the favor of letting THEIR horror be OUR political millstone?

There is another way. The Ideal Solution to America’s Iraq War Mess.

Ready? Here it is.

Declare that it is time for America’s wealthiest citizens to do what they always used to do, whenever the nation was in crisis. It is time for them to step forward and help pay for a war that is fought by other peoples’ children.

There is a high-octane publicity mill and incendiary propaganda machine, ready to pounce on any talk of a tax boost for the rich, so the slogans would have to be tested before focus groups, refined beforehand. It must be couched in strictly patriotic, war-fighting terms. Nothing even remotely “socialist” or interpretable as “class warfare” or “the politics of envy.”

Nevertheless, once the message is properly tuned, the logic would be simply inescapable. Other generations of the super-wealthy put their nation first. From the Revolution and the Civil War, all the way through to World War Two and beyond.

Yes, it appears that today’s rich - or at least the right wing of the aristocracy - is made of shallower stuff. This generation cares only about their tax cuts, justifying them as “good” when times are lean AND good when times are fat. Just the right thing during surpluses AND deficits, prosperity AND recession, war AND peace. It is an elaborate edifice of rationalization concocted over decades by well-paid intellectual shills.

Nevertheless, supply side rationalizations evaporate in the face of simple patriotism. It is time to turn their “either you are with us or against us” notions around, and into their faces. We can answer a tower of sophistry with one simple statement.

“You are supposedly the smartest people in America. Well, right now, we need more than just your money, but also your focus, creativity and undivided attention.

“Yes, America needs you to pitch in with cash right now, in order to stop bleeding future generations for this administration’s outrageous mistakes. But what we really need is for your attention to be focused on this problem -- on either winning this war or solving the problem by helping innovate an exit strategy.

“Either way, one thing is clear. You cannot treat our nation’s struggle as a little sepoy tussle, irrelevant to the voluptuous pleasures of the aristocracy. Nothing will focus your vaunted attention on helping to solve this mess better than a surtax on the rich, one that will last until all war costs are paid for... and then terminate the moment that is done.

“It is as simple as that. Apply your genius to fixing this war, so we can all move forward together into a future of market-generated splendor, achieving our nation’s urgent goals, restoring peace, prosperity and fiscal prudence while moving back to the natural benefit of peacetime -- (long the principal reason why conservatives disliked “foreign adventures”) -- low taxes.


That is the meme, the idea, that I’d like to offer to the Democratic Party. Instead of letting yourself get trapped into “setting a date for withdrawal.” Simply say “As long as we are in that quagmire, let’s gather our resources as if we really were at war. And let’s get the attention of our aristocracy focused on solving the problem.”

---------
Finally, turning around and making a leftward blast for the sake of evenhandedness and credibility, a correspondent wrote in to me with this item:

Today I was reading an obit about Arthur Schlesinger and found this quote that seems to fit: "The left-wing critique of the Kennedy administration," he wrote at the time, was "a new expression of the old complaint by those who find satisfaction in large gestures of rejection against those who find satisfaction in small measures of improvement." In other words - the myriads of small improvements incredibly make the whole thing go round.


Next time: some more non-political, science and engineering items.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Eschatology & Cosmic Evolution - (bet you can't make THIS political!)

The poilitcal lamp is definitely OUT for this one!

Some physicists have argued that the universe is doomed to be ripped apart by runaway dark energy, while others think it is bouncing through an endless series of big bangs and big crunches. Now these two ideas are being combined to create another option, in which our universe ultimately shatters into billions of pieces, with each shard growing into a whole new universe. The model could solve the mystery of why our early universe was surprisingly well ordered. 

(Um... did any of you read Heaven’s Reach? Does any of this sound familiar? )

In the new model, dark energy becomes very dense and sets the universe expanding at such a rate that it approaches the big rip. The universe tears into small patches that rush away from each other faster than the speed of light. But the destruction is then halted, as the density of dark energy becomes equal to the density of the universe. At this point, each patch crunches in on itself. "All the patches, of which there are a huge number, will separately contract into disparate universes," says Frampton. Each patch will then bounce outwards again, creating a new universe.
This has got to be the third or fourth or eighth variation on universal reproduction and/or birth that I have seen from astrophysicists in the last decade or so, an era of profound imagination and speculation! It is starting to look pretty wild out there, in the wonderful realm of eschatology. So, let’s try to put it all in a bit of perspective.

Everyone who is not still in Kindergarten -- either literally or theologically -- knows that overwhelming evidence has proved that a Big Bang started it all - everything we see - about thirteen billion years ago. Some of our neo-cosmologies do poke about earlier, speculating about vast realms of “context” within which the Big Bang took place. See my novella “What Continues and What Fails...”

Where there is even more confusion is about the future. All right, so there was a bang. Where is it all heading?

Take the Big Bounce... under which notion the universal expansion slows down due to gravity, decelerates and stops, then reverses into a Crunch... that thereupon rebounds outward in a fresh Big Bang! This concept was in the 60s brilliantly dramatized by Poul Anderson’s epochal novel TAU ZERO. (Get it, read it!)

physics_immortalityThe Crunch view was later pursued with fantastic quasi-theological passion by Frank Tipler is his amazing THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, in which he brought forward probably the most flamboyant and unabashed eschatology of all time... that the infrared radiation emitted by your own body, whenever you step outside, will someday all be collected by godlike descendants during the LAST WEEK of the universe and used to learn all about you! (And every other ancestor.) In order to resurrect you in effective (if totally subjective) immortality during the last few (objective) days of the cosmos, when computer-simulation power will supposedly be utterly limitless. Yipes!

Tipler thus vied with Freeman Dyson for the encomium of “greatest theologian of the 20th Century”... an honor that Freeman appeared to have won, when it was shown that HIS eschatology is probably more relevant, because our metagalaxy’s expansion appears to be accelerating rather than slowing, implying the existence of more than sufficient Dark Energy to keep the expansion going forever. Dyson’s quasi-theology describes how life might cope with and eventually resign itself to the final dissipation into absolute-zero nothingness. The big chill.

9780316013338_p0_v1_s260x420Only, meanwhile, Stephen Hawking and others had fixated on black holes, those marvelous, one way tunnels that may... possibly... emerge in a completely new cosmic “context” -- possibly even triggering new episodes of creation and universal inflation. And, if so, according to Lee Smolin, there may be vast cycles of “evolution” as mother universes use black holes as the eggs to parent new daughter universes whose genetic code it, in effect, the detailed set of physical parameters and laws and “gosh numbers” that get passed down the line, mutating slightly and experiencing “selection” in favor of maximum reproductive success, in probably the most mind-boggling concept of our age.

Meanwhile, OTHERS have been speculating that all of this is way, way premature. I was shocked, shocked, to learn recently that the SHAPE of the cosmos is still considered debatable, despite signs of endless expansion, and that some astronomers have re-discovered and legitimized the old notion that the “actual universe” is flat and infinite! In other words, the “Universe:” that we see may have come from a bang 13 billion years ago. but that happened in one small patch of a vastly wider expanse of already-existing spacetime that could contain vast numbers of such firecracker creations at the same time, outside of our light-cone of perception.

In other words, some are now saying that the Big Bang was really an explosion!”

An actual, honest-to-God explosion, taking place INSIDE a much vaster context, a truly immense “macro-universe” that is made of real distance, and boggling amounts of real space. Really? But... but... but didn’t you cosmologists yatter at us for generations about how naive that view was? How the bang was a sudden and impressive expansion of “metric” but did not explode “into” anything because it contained everything, period?

This new/old/rediscovered notion, which actually is easier to envision than the standard model of the last 50 years (a Big Bang that consists of expansion without any pre-existing setting to expand into) now seems completely boggling, simply because I thought all the big-domes had already declared it completely excluded. With many a snort of disdain.

Only now guys are talking seriously about a “meta” universe in flat space that is as much bigger than our measly teeny 13 billion light year “universe” as than universe is bigger than the solar system!

Confused yet?

TimeRebornOkay, NOW go back to the top and re-read the news article. That dark energy might drive accelerating expansion until it the metagalaxy breaks apart, then dark energy diffusion allows many long-delayed collapses, which trigger new black holes... new “bounce” creations...

Um, is this in the context-free standard Big Bang? The dimensionally separated “new universe” variation of the standard model preached by Hawking and Smolin? Or in the new/old/restored notion of a vast-flat mega context cosmos? I guess this dissipate-breakup-collapse-bounce idea could happen in any of the three!

Oh, wow, the Big Guy is really laughing now, I betcha. Smartass modernist humans.

Still, we are apprentices. Sniffing. Trying. Gotta make Him proud.

(See also: Is Theology Compatible with Science...Sci Fi and Progress?)