Thursday, May 31, 2007

Misc wonders...

For many years I have consulted with government agencies (e.g. DoD, CIA, AirForce, DTRA and Homeland Security) about potential “unusual threats and opportunities.” So have several of my colleagues in the futurist/science-fiction game - proving that there are many skilled professionals at the upper-middle ranks who know the value of technologically informed imagination, in peering at the dangers that may lie ahead. Some scientifically qualified authors even formed a think tank consultation outfit called SIGMA years ago, in order to provide this kind of service at a larger scale. Alas, SIGMA never really took off...

...till now, that is. In a recent issue of USA Today you can read about the latest DHS conference at which SIGMA members explored dire scenarios of peril for the US Homeland. I was unable to attend. But do read abouyt Greg Bear and Larry Niven and others, hard at work using those “lamps on the brow” to peer ahead for the greater good.


----- More Misc Items ----

-- Consider someone who has just died of a heart attack. His organs are intact, he hasn't lost blood. All that's happened is his heart has stopped beating—the definition of "clinical death"—and his brain has shut down to conserve oxygen. But what has actually died? As recently as 1993, when Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote the best seller "How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter," the conventional answer was that it was his cells that had died. The patient couldn't be revived because the tissues of his brain and heart had suffered irreversible damage from lack of oxygen. This process was understood to begin after just four or five minutes. If the patient doesn't receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation within that time, and if his heart can't be restarted soon thereafter, he is unlikely to recover. That dogma went unquestioned until researchers actually looked at oxygen-starved heart cells under a microscope. What they saw amazed them, according to Dr. Lance Becker, an authority on emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "After one hour," he says, "we couldn't see evidence the cells had died.

But if the cells are still alive, why can't doctors revive someone who has been dead for an hour? Because once the cells have been without oxygen for more than five minutes, they die when their oxygen supply is resumed. "It looks to us," says Becker, "as if the cellular surveillance mechanism cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and a cell being reperfused with oxygen. Something throws the switch that makes the cell die."

With this realization came another: that standard emergency-room procedure has it exactly backward. When someone collapses on the street of cardiac arrest, if he's lucky he will receive immediate CPR, maintaining circulation until he can be revived in the hospital. But the rest will have gone 10 or 15 minutes or more without a heartbeat by the time they reach the emergency department. And then what happens? "We give them oxygen," Becker says. "We jolt the heart with the paddles, we pump in epinephrine to force it to beat, so it's taking up more oxygen." Blood-starved heart muscle is suddenly flooded with oxygen, precisely the situation that leads to cell death. Instead, Becker says, we should aim to reduce oxygen uptake, slow metabolism and adjust the blood chemistry for gradual and safe reperfusion. WOW!

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a way to stimulate the slow waves typical of deep sleep by the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to send a harmless magnetic signal through the skulls of sleeping folks.

India Looks To Produce World's First
European researchers have integrated thin-film organic solar cells with a flexiblehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif polymer battery to produce a lightweight and ultrathin solar battery for low-wattage electronic devices, such as smart cards and mobile phones. The battery can recharge itself when exposed to natural or indoor sunlight

Scientists at Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (Spawar) claim they have achieved a low energy nuclear reaction (LERN) in an experiment that can be replicated and tested.

Much more efficient solar cells that make solar power about as cheap as electricity from the electric grid may soon be possible as a result of technology that more efficiently captures and uses light.

NASA will likely shut down its Institute for Advanced Concepts, which funds research into futuristic ideas in spaceflight and aeronautics, such as spacecraft that could surf the solar system on magnetic fields, motion-sensitive spacesuits that could generate power, and tiny, spherical robots that could explore Mars.

"metamaterial" that selectively filters terahertz radiation could perhaps be used for short-range wireless communications. The device is essentially a sheet of metal foil incorporating a carefully designed pattern of holes. It is a so-called metamaterial, since it interacts with electromagnetic waves in novel ways.

A sensor chip controlled not by wires and transistors, but by a living slime mould marks an important step towards more widespread use of biologically-driven components and devices.

Interesting interview re the quest for “intelligence” in . ”Ihave set these goals: the object recognition capabilities of a 2-year-old child, the language understanding of a 4-year-old.”

To which I would add a third & hardest far-out goal. The common sense of a chicken.


TerraPass is a company that sells "carbon offsets," mostly to individuals. What is a carbon offset? I’m glad you asked. Here’s how it works - customers come to the website, plug in the cars they drive, home energy usage, and airplane travel, and get back a calculation of how much carbon dioxide they are putting into the atmosphere every year. TerraPass then lets them pay renewable energy and efficiency projects to reduce emissions by the equivalent amount. So for example you might find that the "carbon footprint" of your minivan is 4 tons of carbon dioxide/year. Through the TerraPass website, you pay about $35, and your money is bundled with money from other customers to pay for reduction projects, or to keep ongoing projects in business. Typical project might be a landfill that is seeping methane gas (one of the worst of the global warming offenders), and TerraPass customer money is paying a developer to destroy or flare off that methane so it never enters the atmosphere. TerraPass is still small enough that we aren’t supporting projects single-handedly, and some projects also make some money by selling electricity, but you get the idea.

At the other end, Russ Daggatt offers this: ”By the time global warming got to the point where there was a broad scientific consensus that action was required there wasn't a whole lot of time to act before the problem gets beyond our ability to mitigate it. To our great misfortune, George W. Bush became president just as recognition of the problem became clear. Eight years is a long time in that context.

“Of course, it hasn't helped that ExxonMobil has spent $23 million since 1998 ($2.1 million in 2006 alone) funding various global warming denier groups http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-david/catching-the-tiger-in the_b_48787.html. There should be a special place in Hell for them (actually, if Houston, where they have their headquarters, gets any hotter and smoggier than it already is, it might qualify). But even Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson now says, "It is clear that something is going on. It is not useful to debate (the issue) any longer." Not that he is actually doing anything about it (like ... you know, maybe cutting off funding to deceptive pseudo-science).”


A special place in hell, indeed.

Speaking of which...

"Star Wars" documentary reveals nothing.

In interview after interview, punctuated with film clip after film clip, one "Star Wars" authority after another compares the stories in the films to great epics and classical mythology. Over two hours, experts (an assortment that includes anchor Dan Rather, director Peter Jackson, journalist Linda Ellerbee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and political satirist Stephen Colbert) find parallels to "The Iliad," "The Odyssey," "The Lord of the Rings," "Paradise Lost," "Jason and the Argonauts," "Hamlet" and the story of Christianity, among others. Rarely has so much time been spent on elaborating the obvious.

On this, the 30th anniversary of the first "Star Wars" film, it would have been more interesting to assess how well Lucas fulfilled his vision, but there is not a syllable of criticism uttered. Not even about JarJar Binks. And, although Lucas' production company helped make the special, there isn't a single frame of Lucas discussing the underlying philosophy of "Star Wars," how it evolved and how well, in retrospect, it was reflected in the films. Was he off in some galaxy far away?

ah well....


And now, from the Transparency front...

The Visible Man: An FBI Target Puts His Whole Life Online

Hasan Elahi whips out his Samsung Pocket PC phone and shows me how he's keeping himself out of Guantanamo. He swivels the camera lens around and snaps a picture of the Manhattan Starbucks where we're drinking coffee. Then he squints and pecks at the phone's touchscreen. "OK! It's uploading now," says the cheery, 35-year-old artist and Rutgers professor, whose bleached-blond hair complements his fluorescent-green pants. "It'll go public in a few seconds." Sure enough, a moment later the shot appears on the front page of his Web site, TrackingTransience.net.

...Elahi's site is the perfect alibi. Or an audacious art project. Or both. The Bangladeshi-born American says the US government mistakenly listed him on its terrorist watch list — and once you're on, it's hard to get off. To convince the Feds of his innocence, Elahi has made his life an open book. Whenever they want, officials can go to his site and see where he is and what he's doing. Indeed, his server logs show hits from the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, and the Executive Office of the President, among others.

The globe-hopping prof says his overexposed life began in 2002, when he stepped off a flight from the Netherlands and was detained at the Detroit airport. He says FBI agents later told him they'd been tipped off that he was hoarding explosives in a Florida storage unit; subsequent lie detector tests convinced them he wasn't their man. But with his frequent travel — Elahi logs more than 70,000 air miles a year exhibiting his art work and attending conferences — he figured it was only a matter of time before he got hauled in again. He might even be shipped off to Gitmo before anyone realized their mistake. The FBI agents had given him their phone number, so he decided to call before each trip; that way, they could alert the field offices. He hasn't been detained since.


I’d have to classify this as something that may have started out 80% self-protection but is now 90% “art”. Great art, but the story hardly looks like top case on my Amnesty International intervention list. The guy seems to have seized the initiative in ways that we all approve-of, here. You go, boy.

And finally...

Gotta see these way cool handmade Steampunk Rayguns From the F/X Guys at Weta.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Back to Politics

The political lamp is lit. Not in my usual way but a bit hurried and haphazard. (Still catching up, carelessly!) ANd yet, important stuff.

Before other matters, let us turn to Russ Daggatt:

Yesterday, Memorial Day, 10 more American troops were killed in Iraq. That brings the total so far this month (with two days to go) to 117. Last month it was 104. That is the first time since Bush started this war that over 100 US troops have died in each of two consecutive months. Over 80 have died in each of the past six consecutive months -- prior to that, there had been no two consecutive months with over 80 US dead. It just keeps getting worse and worse. 557 in the past six months. In the six months prior to that it had been 417. 974 in the past year -- exceeding the 807 of the year prior to that. Every year is worse than the previous year. Every six months is worse than the six months before that.

And yet, as I've noted repeatedly, I'm now more worried about the next war -- against Iran -- than I am about Iraq. Bush is going to run out the clock on the Iraq war and there is probably little we can do about it. Unfortunately for those of us worried about an Iran war, there are mounting signs that we will attack Iran before the end of Bush's presidency. Not a certainty, but better than even odds and growing. Take this tidbit:

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.


The pretext, that Iran is allying itself with Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq, adds yet another layer to the head-scratching that any sensible person ought to be doing till he’s bald. Um... exactly who are our “friends” over there and who is attacking us?

The Shiite-dominated and Iran-friendly Baghdad government? Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army? The Sunnis who oppose Al Sadr and the government? But aren’t they Al Qaeda? Isn’t the answer than NOBODY is on the friends list and EVERYBODY is on the enemy list?

So what the $#@$&! are we even TRYING to do over there?

(An aside, are leaks like this a sign that the professionals are acquiring some backbone, at last?)


---- More items -----

The Globalist remains an online journal that churns out brief pieces ranging from utterly dreary-boring to perspective broadening to downright boggling. One in the last category tells about a concept called the “Palestinian Arc” that would seem to be one of the foremost examples of modernist, problem-solving ambition that I have seen in a long time! (And to qualify, an idea has to have aspects that seem at least a bit, well, crackpot.)

It is well-worth looking at, just to sit back and go :”huh! If only people were that sensible!”

Alas, the article ALSO ties this project it to “redeeming Dick Cheney’s legacy”... a dubious and vastly more far fetched project. Moreover, it assumes that the very people who have deliberately kept their Palestinian cousins in camps for three generations, in order to maintain a festering wound to blame on Israel, will suddenly change their mind and share some oil -wealth pocket change, in order to vitalize a vibrant and modern Palestine, that would only spread modernist memes throughout the Middle East. Oh, yeah. That’s gonna happen.

A side note, this project contains some elements of applying geometry to developmental planning. Something I have long urged.

Ah, but here’s something more “believably Cheney.”

“April 10, 2007 Halliburton Says It's Done in Iran - The Halliburton Company said yesterday that its subsidiary that does business in Iran had completed all its commitments and was no longer working in the country. In January 2005, the company, which was once led by Vice President Dick Cheney, said that it would not accept new work in Iran but that it would complete existing contracts there.” Comments Russ Daggatt: “I could never understand how Cheney got away with this Iran business. The sanctions law prohibits using a foreign subsidiary to get around the sanctions unless the foreign sub is truly independent of the parent.”

My answer is that treason is only treason if you aren’t the one calling the shots and controlling the government.

In a grim sign of the times, the "Wall of the Fallen," set up by House Republican leaders in June, is almost full. The mounting death toll from Iraq has forced U.S. House staffers to study how to reconfigure the display in the lobby of the Rayburn Building - the largest office building for members of Congress - to squeeze in more names.

-------
Jamais Cascio has delivered another concise bit of wisdom in the form of a book review of John Robb’s BRAVE NEW WAR. Which joins the clade of modernist tomes that urge a model of western civilization that is based upon openness, adaptability and resiliency.

From Jamais’s essay:

Robb makes it clear that the tactics the United States (and, to a lesser extent, Europe and other post-industrial nations) now employs are bad, bad ideas. "Knee-jerk police states" and "preemptive war" fall into a category Robb borrows from security specialist : Bruce Schneier "brittle security." The big problem with brittle security is that, when it fails, it fails catastrophically; moreover, by employing these tactics, the U.S. (etc.) undermines the very moral suasion and memetic influence that are among the most important tools to fight empowered extremism.

I’ve not read Robb’s book, but I have to wonder if he cites Arquilla and Ronfeldt and their classic NETWAR and also IN ATHENA’S CAMP, two books that some years ago spoke cogently about matters of dispersed organizations taking on lumbering titans.

Cascio continues:

Looking more broadly, Robb lists three rules for successful "platforms," or sets of services, operating under his resiliency model: transparency (so all participants can see and understand what's happening); two-way (so all participants can act as both providers and consumers of the services); and openness (so the number and kind of participants isn't artificially limited). Again, these rules should sound very familiar to readers of (among other sites) Open the Future and WorldChanging. (Um... and, Jamais, some EARLIER sages on these topics? Ahem?)
I make a point of highlighting these similarities in order to demonstrate that the concepts that Robb discusses as a way of dealing with a particular kind of challenge actually have far broader applicability. An open, transparent, distributed and resilient system is precisely what’s needed to survive successfully threats from:

Natural disasters, such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and pandemic disease.
Environmental collapse, especially (but not solely) global warming.
Emerging transformative technologies, such as molecular manufacturing, cheap biotechnology and artificial general intelligence.
Open source warfare. and so on...


Jamais is one of the wise guys.

---
A final aside: watching Ken Burns’s wonderful CIVIL WAR documentary with my kids, I heard the way one Confederate soldier reacted, upon learning that poor men were to be drafted and kept in for the duration, while rich men were set loose to guy home and prosper and “keep an eye” on their slaves.

“Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight,” he muttered, in an expression that could easily apply to today’s war in Iraq, For we now face an incredible situation. In all of our past wars, the rich and mighty at least had the patriotism to step up and help pay for the struggle. But the elites behind today’s GOP, while calling upon the nation to sacrifice, deem nothing to be more sacred than their precious tax cuts.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Misc causes for guarded optimism.

Progress on some environmental fronts only proves that we are capable of “creation tending”. That means we are also obligated to do more. (And that those who rationalize a “disposable Earth” before the Book of Revelations comes true... are doing the devil’s work.).

From The Progressive Policy Institute:

The Numbers:
World chlorofluorocarbon consumption, 1986: 1.08 million tons
World chlorofluorocarbon consumption, 2006: 0.04 million tons

What They Mean:
The Americans who observed the first "Earth Day" in 1970 must have been short of breath. That year, American factories and cars pumped 197 million tons of carbon monoxide, 27 million tons of nitrogen dioxide, 12 million tons of soot and ash, 31 million tons of sulfur dioxide, and 220,000 tons of lead into the air. Four decades later, after two versions of the Clean Air Act, the air is better.

By 2005, the air-pollution output had fallen to 89 million tons of carbon monoxide, 19 million tons of nitrogen dioxide, and 2 million of particulate matter; lead, at 3,000 tons, is all but gone. National figures for "fishable" and "swimmable" rivers and lakes have also improved, and the nest-pair count for bald eagles in the lower 48 states has risen from 417 in the 1960s to almost 7,100. Meanwhile, the national GDP has tripled in real terms (from $3.8 trillion to $11.4 trillion in 2000 dollars) as employment has risen from 71 million to 137 million.

Four decades later, with environmentalism focused as intently on climate change and other global issues as on local and national concerns, is it possible to repeat the achievement? Though international environmental policy is far less developed than national laws, a look at one of the most successful multilateral environmental agreements -- the 20-year-old ban on use of "chlorofluorocarbons" -- offers reason for optimism.

Chlorofluorocarbons, known as "CFCs" for short, are carbon atoms or chains with the halide elements fluorine and chlorine substituted for hydrogen atoms. First synthesized by an American named Midgley in 1928, they were used between the 1930s and 1980s (along with some related chemicals) as refrigerator coolants, and sometimes as industrial solvents and cleansers too. Their makers regrettably did not know that CFCs react easily with ozone gas, which, floating about 15-35 kilometers above the earth, blocks ultraviolet light and so helps to prevent skin cancers. Early in the 1970s, scientists found that high-atmosphere CFCs had begun to thin the belts of ozone in the stratosphere and troposphere; and by the 1980s a large hole in the ozone layer had developed above the Antarctic.

Governments banned further production of CFCs in 1987. At that time, the world was using about 1.1 million tons of CFCs a year. Two decades on, the total is down to 43,000 tons, with the residual emissions said to be mainly from old refrigerators and fire extinguishers rather than new products. CFCs persist in the atmosphere for varying periods, and concentrations are only now beginning to decline. The shortest-lived gas of the group, methyl chloroform, is now all but gone; others will decline at slower rates, with the most persisting lasting until the 2050s and 2060s. Nonetheless, ozone-depleting chemical concentrations peaked in the late 1990s, and have now fallen by about 8.5 percent, declining first in the lower atmosphere and more recently in the stratosphere.

The U.N. Environmental Program's most recent assessment finds that ozone layers outside the poles are showing signs of recovery, and that the "hole" in the ozone layer above Antarctica has stopped growing. The o zone layer generally will likely return to natural rates by 2065 or 2070, as today's children pay for their grandchildren's college bills.


Other topical matters:

(Note: I am way too swamped to even spare the time to hot link all these tidbits that I've gathered. Most are worth pasting. Good luck all!)


http://www.10zenmonkeys.com/2007/05/09/keith-henson-back-in-jail-space-elevator-will-have-to-wait/ A matter on which I do not express opinions, but one which remains of topical interest to those who are interested in stuff like religion, transparency and the vaunted influence of science fiction authors... for well or ill.

http://www.physorg.com/news96287560.html New research shows that black holes are not the ultimate destroyers that they are often portrayed to be in popular culture. Instead, warm gas escaping from the clutches of enormous black holes could be one source of the chemical elements that make life possible.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18053937/ Russia is working on a space transport system that could eventually lead to the industrialization of the moon. Backers of the idea argue that the potential benefits - such as resource harvesting or pollution outsourcing - easily outweigh the risks and necessary investment capital.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/30/business/30energy.html?_r=2&ref=business&oref=slogin&oref=slogin Money is flowing into alternative energy companies so fast that “the warning signs of a bubble are appearing,” according to a report on investment in clean technology by a New York research firm, Lux Research. The report also suggests that companies that make equipment to cleanse air or water, or that process waste, have been overlooked by investors.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/050307R.shtml Agrichar is the term for what is left over after the energy is removed from biomass: a charcoal-based soil amendment. The agrichar process takes dry biomass of any kind and bakes it in a kiln to produce charcoal. Various gases and bio-oils are driven off the material and collected to use in heat or power generation. The charcoal is then buried in the ground, sequestering the carbon that the plants had pulled out of the atmosphere. The end result is increased soil fertility and an energy source with negative carbon emissions.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/07/technology/07copy.html?ex=1179201600&en=69c70399fc6dc794&ei=5070&emc=eta1 Agh, nobody ever listens to me! I proposed this exact thing to NASA in 1983.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070502143631.htm Rice University scientists today revealed a breakthrough method for producing molecular specks of semiconductors called quantum dots, a discovery that could clear the way for better, cheaper solar energy panels.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6773&m=15453 Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered to their surprise that nerves in the mammalian brain's white matter do more than just ferry information between different brain regions, but in fact process information the way gray matter cells do.

http://www.technologyreview.com/Biotech/18618/ The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is now considering a project, dubbed the human microbiome, to sequence the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies.

http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/news/C4F1278703F2238BCC2572BC00157CC9 The US military plans to test an internet router in space, in a project that could also benefit civilian broadband satellite communications. Potential non-military benefits of DoD's Internet Routing In Space (IRIS) program include the ability to route IP traffic between satellites in space in much the same way packets are moved on the ground.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6734&m=15453 The founder of the ambitious "$100 laptop" project, which plans to give inexpensive computers to school children in developing countries, revealed Thursday that the machine for now costs $175, and it will be able to run Windows in addition to Linux.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6767&m=15453 Shades of GATTACA! US to outlaw corporate prejudice based on genes

http://physorg.com/news97255464.html -- Pratim Biswas and his group have developed a method to make a variety of oxide semiconductors that, when put into water promote chemical reactions that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The method provides a new low cost and efficient option for hydrogen production.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/email/newsRedirect.html?newsID=6721&m=15453 Large swaths of garbled human DNA once dismissed as junk appear to contain some valuable sections, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California-Santa Cruz. The scientists propose that this redeemed DNA plays a role in controlling when genes turn on and off.


...(there... that oughta hold the little buggers....)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Unleash problem-solving

I've been asked to contribute to a coming WIRED issue that discusses "what we need from science." Here's a draft for comment. Of course, much of it will seem yawningly familiar to you folks....


Given the daunting range of problems and opportunities that we face, I'd have to say that our most urgent scientific and technological need is to develop better methods for problem-solving.

Some pieces to the puzzle are already getting attention. Governments and big institutions are developing ways to combine sensor meshes and data mining with powerful analytic and projection tools. But this emphasis on centralized or professional-level anticipation ignores the other half of the solution -- generating a resilient citizenry. A populace so knowing and capable that all problems get noticed and addressed, quickly, by a billion eyes.

Naturally, quild-credentialed professionals have mixed feelings about such a prospect. But, in fact, this trend is in keeping with the way markets, democracy and science all use lateral feedback, rather than than top-down control.

Of course, that won't be enough. We also need help from science to achieve rapid increases in effective human _intelligence and _sanity. This may be achieved somewhat through rising individual abilities, both at thinking and using advanced tools. But the real potential may be in better collective intelligence, through improved methods of positive sum debate and discourse. That will call for tools that are vastly better than the drivel that passes for "discussion" on today's websites and blogs.

Finally, I think the word "sanity" is ripe for rediscovery, after years of well deserved exile (for past, horrific mis-uses). We may be ready for a new, modern and eclectic definition -- one that is based upon tolerance, adaptability, satiability, positive-sum ambition and openness to change.

Above all, we may benefit immensely if science proves, at last, that self righteous indignation is an addictive, self-doped drug high. Imagine how moderate problem solvers of all kinds will be empowered, when they can point to yammering indignation-junkies at every end of the political spectrum, and tell them to get help.

Then, we might roll up our sleeves and start negotiating with each other like adults, finding ways to heal the world.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Catching up on cool stuff...

Have any of you rushed out and bought the latest (June) issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE? It’s well worth the cover price! (And spread the word.)

There are a few mistranscriptions. At one point it should say” “Try to imagine when biochemists do to their room sized labs what cyberneticists did to room-size computers of the past.” (The way they printed it doesn’t make any sense!) Still, it’s cool and you’ll catch a glimpse of my office.

Again, alas, amid a month that is hellishly busy, I have fallen terribly behind, so here’s a huge data dump of “cool items.”

 -- Scientific research conducted by Walker Reading Technologies has concluded that the natural field of focus for our eyes is circular, so our eyes view the printed page as if we’re peering through a straw. Every time we read block text, we’re forcing our brain to a wage a constant subconscious battle with itself to filter and discard the superfluous inputs. Randall Walker MD, believes he and his team have developed a solution with a product called that allows online publishers to improve reading speed and comprehension. Live Ink works by analyzing written language for meaning and language structure, and then applies algorithms that reformat the text into a series of short, cascading phrases. It breaks complex syntax into simpler syntax, which makes it easier for the brain to absorb the material.

 -- After more than a quarter-century of market-oriented economic policies and record-setting growth, China recently approved its first law to protect private property explicitly. The measure, which was delayed a year ago amid vocal opposition from resurgent socialist intellectuals and old-line, left-leaning members of the ruling Communist Party, is viewed by its supporters as building a new and more secure legal foundation for private entrepreneurs and the country's urban middle-class.

 -- Physics professors have definitively shown that light is made of particles and waves, a finding that refutes a common belief held for about 80 years. Previously, the scientific community had tended to support Niels Bohr’s ideas, commonly known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, which stated that in any experiment light shows only one aspect at a time, either behaving as a wave or as a particle.

 -- Microscopic medical devices could one day be steered through a patient's bloodstream using magnetic resonance imaging machines.

 -- The spread of a particularly virulent form of tuberculosis in South Africa illustrates a breakdown in the global program that is supposed to keep the disease, one of the world’s deadliest, under control.

-- Mosquitoes genetically engineered to resist infection with malaria have outbred their normal cousins and may be used to help control malaria. Also long overdue for extinction -- the reflex lefty dogma against GM, which is just about as loony as anything believed by the far-right, including “intelligent design.”

 -- A fascinating demonstration of leading-edge technology with numerous potential applications.

 -- See this kinda cool video (1min) which gives the “secret of immortality.”

 -- Commonly used lab bacteria called E. coli can be converted into light-harvesting organisms in a single genetic step, according to new research from MIT.

 -- Citizendium, just launched, is intended to avoid the errors, juvenile vandalism, and lack of accountability of Wikipedia. Citizendium's volunteer contributors will be expected to provide their real names. Experts in given fields will be asked to check articles.

 -- Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Santa Barbara genetically engineered mice to express a third, humanlike photoreceptor, giving them human color vision. Can they do the same for humans? Turns out some people may actually have a fourth photoreceptor that detects within the visible range at a slightly different wavelength range than the other three.

-- In Google Inc.'s vision of the future, people will be able to translate documents instantly into the world's main languages, with machine logic, not expert linguists, leading the way.

-- Human Heart Grown from Stem Cells -- (Guardian - April 2, 2007) A research team led by the world's leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If animal trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years.

-- Alzheimer's Vaccine Works on Mice -- (Guardian - March 29, 2007) Scientists have developed an oral vaccine for Alzheimer's disease that has proved effective in mice, raising hopes that an effective treatment for humans can be found. The vaccine reduced the amount of amyloid plaques - believed to be the cause of Alzheimer's - and improved brain function when administered to mice that had been genetically modified to develop the disease

 -- Enzymes Convert All Donor Blood to Group O -- (New Scientist - April 1, 2007) You're rushed into hospital and need a blood transfusion – but what is your blood group? In future, it may not matter, thanks to enzymes that scrub antigens from red blood cells, turning all donated blood into group O – which can be given safely to anyone.

 -- Welcome to the singularity. Actually, I find very little of that presentation frightening. What I find frightening is that so many of our fellow citizens find the future frightening. And thus, they may do unfortunate reactionary things.

 -- Remember the odd, six-sided, honeycomb-shaped feature circling the entire north pole of Saturn? Then there is WC 922: The Red Square Nebula "What could cause a nebula to appear square? No one is quite sure. The hot star system known as MWC 922, however, appears to be imbedded in a nebula with just such a shape..."

An interesting amateur investigation of the proposition that human knowledge has been doubling at an accelarationg rate:

 -- My friend Ben Goertzel explicates his optimism for superhuman AI in the near future at Ray Kurzweil’s site.

 -- From the Arlington Institute” “This twenty minute video was constructed almost entirely using government/military quotes, animations, videos, images and photos. The narrative is sourced from government quotes from start to finish. It unveils the government’s numerous and ongoing programs related to artificial intelligence., “NBIC”, the “Global Information Grid”, nanotechnology, biotechnology, autonomous drones, “naval sea-bases”, space weapons and weather modification. The makers of the video clearly had an agenda that exceeded mere information. Leaving aside the agenda, the video is nonetheless an introduction into types of technology that many civilians know little about.”

 -- Thanks Zecharia for referring us to an article about cell phones being upgraded with sensors to detect Chemical/Nuclear/Biological threats. Smart mobs! Where’s that prediction registry?

 -- Do we even have to be restricted to five senses?

 -- Old dreams are reborn... Pentagon Considering Study on Space-Based Solar Power.

 -- Finally. By now you all know that astronomers have detected water in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system for the first time. I’ve commented before that water would still have a hard time pooling in large quantities, even if size and insolation are right, because a planet with a 13 day “year” around a red dwarf would be tidally locked, with one side always sunlit and another always dark, pulling in and freeze-storing all the water in vast ice sheets.

Still, here are the numbers:

Star Gl 581
Distance: 6.26 pc
Spectral Type: M3
Apparent Magnitude: V = 10.55
Mass: 0.31 Msun
Age: 4.3 Gyr
Radius: 0.38 Rsun
Metallicity [Fe/H]: -0.33 (± 0.12)
Right Ascension: 15 19 26
Declination: -07 43 20

Planet Gliese 581c
M.sin i: 0.0152 MJ
Semi major axis: 0.073 AU
Orbital period: 12.91 (± 0.007) days
Eccentricity: 0

Saturday, May 12, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous... to the Just Plain Ugly... Part Four

Returning to finish our series. I started this part a couple of weeks ago. The article mentioned here has already been discussed pretty widely. Still, I think you’ll find my take on it a bit unique.


EXAMPLE #4: A mind that is larger can still be deliberately ugly.

Want to read something infuriating? The court rationalizers have begun getting frantic. No longer able to defend recent power-grabs on the specifics, they are now reaching out for general philosophical justifications for Bushite consolidations of power. Moves that would have driven them into a fury, had Bill Clinton done the same - or far milder - things.

And now, they are even conjuring up John Locke - founder of the Western Political Enlightenment - by tossing carefully twisted slices of his work into a stewpot, along with Machiavelli, Aristotle and Plato, trying to use democracy’s greatest philosopher to justify their inherent and deeply cynical distrust of democracy:

By all means, do have a look at: The Case for the Strong Executive: Under some circumstances, the rule of law must yield to the need for energy. BY HARVEY C. MANSFIELD (Harvard) Reprinted in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Go ahead and give him a chance, before coming back to my reply.

Gosh, no wonder Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the WSJ. Let me get swiftly to my overall reaction to this pile of erudite drivel.

First: I must amend my earlier missive - “Invite Them Back” - which appraised the way that leftists helped to forge today’s rabid neocons by driving many of them off campus, into intellectual whoredom for the owners of the Heritage Foundation and other aristocratic-private “academies.” Clearly, Mansfield proves that not all of the neocon monsters were driven off-campus, after all. Some stayed put, protected by tenure and by a thick enough skin to withstand sniping jabs from the PC Police.

Second: Cutting through all the convoluted horse-hocky, Mansfield has one tendentious goal, to justify the elevation, above systems of routine legal accountability, a central authority figure who stands above and beyond the rule of law. Mansfield even says this, explicitly, on several occasions!

What fascinates me is pondering why he would even try to make such an argument, so flagrantly in opposition to the fundamentals of the American social contract. Mansfield’s pile of rationalizations, so convoluted and inane, will not convince a majority of Americans - even those who never heard of Locke - let alone the scholars to whom his words are superficially addressed. Evidently, Mansfield’s arguments are not meant to convince a majority, or his peers.

Rather, they appear aimed to achieve a more modest but crucially pragmatic aim - to help stanch the hemorrhage of neoconservatism patronage by educated people in every walk of American life. His aim is not to convince many, but to offer just enough ostrich conservatives a little temporary mantric cover. Propping up some crucial Reagan Republicans, helping them rationalize, so that they may to continue supporting the insupportable for a while longer.

Mansfield does this by nursing a current of patrician fear-of-the-masses, exactly as happened in 1932 Germany, when members of the old Junkers aristocracy talked themselves into backing another “strong executive.”

                                                               ----

Oh, Mansfield makes some good micro-points, for example describing how the American Founders wanted an executive capable of applying “energy” to the enforcement of laws - a chief of state and government who is able to take urgent action, when matters are dire and time is short.

(See below, where I discuss the distinction between “emergency room operations” and “elective procedures... an almost perfect metaphor for when the commander-in-chief override power should - or should not - be applied.)

Yes, there are some valid points. But that is Mansfield’s job, as an eloquent shill, to mix five parts reasonable with three parts questionable and one part stark-jibbering-lying-insane. After all, a spoonful of sugary validity helps the cyanide go down.

You can’t believe a Harvard Professor would spew such things? Actually dissing the very notion of the rule of law? I must be exaggerating? Let me offer you a snippet passage:

”Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."

“The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

“The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.”


---

Where does one even begin, trying to answer stuff like this? By pointing out that Machiavelli was the neoconservative turncoat of his day? A once-event warrior for Florentine democracy, who only turned to flattering aristocrats and tyrants when it seemed that his beloved cause was lost? And - well - a guy’s got to earn a living?

Or reminding Mansfield what he well-knows, that the rule of law was established precisely because one-man rule has - historically - nearly always been an open invitation to outright disaster?

Or by asking him how is argument will stand up, when the towering authority figure up-high is someone from a faction he doesn’t like so much? One who doesn’t flatter him, or invite him to the right parties, or make policies that he cares for?


But I get ahead of myself. Russ Daggatt offers a clearcut rebuttal.

According to Bush, Congress doesn't have the power to condition its war funding on a directive to redeploy troops from Iraq. This is just a continuation of his practice of appending signing statements to legislation making it clear that he reserves the right to ignore any laws he doesn't like. Lately, many Administration apologists have been yapping that Congress has no business involving itself in matters like oversight or Foreign Policy at all!

In fact, and as a reminder, Article I of the US Constitution makes it pretty clear that Congress is the branch of government that sets war policy. Among the powers of Congress:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;


And if that is not clear enough, it also gives Congress the power,

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.


---

Thanks, Russ. Only I feel the best refutation to Mansfield’s screed is to reiterate the key point. One that cuts past every bit of theoretics and returns to the fundamental pragmatism that underlies our Great Experiment in reciprocal accountability as a way of life.

“Again. How will you neocon shills feel, when your words of support for unaccountable presidential prerogative are hurled back in your face by some imperial prexy who you don’t like?

“Are you really such unimaginative boors that you cannot picture your worst nightmare -- some scarecrow caricature of Bill Clinton, perhaps -- saying “gee, thanks for all the nifty rationalizations” and then using it all against you?

“Or do you already have it worked out so that (you think) the pendulum swings of American politics will stop here, with your team on top? Forever?”


That last point...

...do they really think this?

... is the one that should keep us sleepless and worrying at night.

(Return to Part 1 of this series.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Discover Magazine Interview

Interrupting my series on "From The Sublime to the Ridiculous"...

...for a sideways veer into the handsome and sagacious!


The June 2007 issue of Discover Magazine features a four page spread and interview about yours truly - and my record as a prognosticator. My successes and failures at peering into the future. Despite a few awkward mis-transcriptions, they did a good job. I even look credibly penetrating!


See: David Brin Predicts the Future

Recognize any of the books on my table?

Oh... because they are changing their domain, DISCOVER is allowing free access to their site for a while! One of the best magazines, ever.


Would you rather be living 100 years from now, when we’ll presumably have access to so many more answers? 
Is it better to sow than to reap? Jonas Salk said our top job is to be “good ancestors.” If we in this era meet the challenges of our time, then our heirs may have powers that would seem godlike to us—the way we take for granted miracles like flying through the sky or witnessing events far across the globe. If those descendants do turn out to be better, wiser people than us, will they marvel that primitive beings managed so well, the same way we’re awed by the best of our ancestors? I hope so. It’s poignant consolation for not getting to be a demigod. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous... to the Just Plain Ugly... Part Three

EXAMPLE #3... THE HORRIFICALLY IRONIC AND HYPOCRITICAL.

Guess what irresponsible Defeatocrat made these statements:

"Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is."

and

“I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long [our troops] will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.”


(Continued from Part 2) Yes, it was the man who stood before a “Mission Accomplished” sign aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, back in ‘03.

All right, he said these things a few years earlier. It was a different war and a different president. Bush made the comments quoted above during the brief campaign by NATO forces to expel Serbian forces from Kosovo and Bosnia, led by President Bill Clinton and Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark. Without the loss of a single US life, that ultimately brought about the downfall of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who died last year while being tried for war crimes.

Using diametrically opposite doctrines that avoided every mistake of Vietnam (instead of repeating them all) Clinton-Clark respected and gathered allies, respected military professionals, respected civilian populations, while applying fierce but targeted force that accomplished every objective.

Toppling a brutal dictator,
Bringing peace to an entire region,
Bringing democracy to an entire region,
Increasing our influence in the world and even our popularity in muslim lands,
Without allowing our alliances to suffer...
...or our readiness...
...or our budget...
...or our social cohesion...
...or even losing a single American life...

...while bringing an end to tyranny on the European continent, for the first time in 4,000 years. One of the most significant foreign policy triumphs in all of history.


Indeed, then-candidate George W. Bush was RIGHT to speak of timetables and exit strategies, even for a campaign that accomplished so much, so quickly, at so little cost. (Go over that list of Balkans Campaign accomplishments and compare it to Iraq. Well, one out of ten ain’t...bad?)

A side note - Clinton-Clark applied the same military doctrines to the war plan for Afghanistan, a plan which was already on the shelves, ready to be taken down, when George W. Bush suddenly had to act, days after 9/11. Lacking time to say anything but “Go!” Bush had to unleash a scenario that had been crafted by professionals, in dispatching that quick-effective slash at the Taliban.

One need look no farther in order to explain the difference between stunning competence that we displayed in Afghanistan (at least the first couple of years) and our noxiously vile/incompetent adventure in Iraq, where outrageous graft and meddling by clueless politicians has shoved our military near the breaking point.

(Dems really should use phrases like “meddling in military affairs by clueless, draft-dodging politicians.” It slices through the hypocrisy of a generation of right wing jerks who used exactly that phrase to explain the loss of Vietnam.)

Oh, about that brazen bragging, back in 2003 -- aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln? Let me quote Russ Daggatt, for concise and sharp gutting:

As you may recall, when the "Mission Accomplished" banner later proved to be an embarrassment, Bush tried to blame it on the ship's crew, claiming that the White House had nothing to do with it.

At a news conference on October 28, 2003, Bush said that the sign, "of course, was put up by the members of the USS Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way."

Later, the White House admitted that, in fact, they had the banner made up for the occasion. Typical of Bush to lie, evade responsibility and use those serving in the military as mere props to serve his own political agenda.]


Oh, when the sign was raised, we had lost 139 people in Iraq. On May1, 2007 the figure was 3,351.
“Accomplished.” Oh, yes, these guys - (the same ones who coddled Saddam for twenty years, then slapped his wrist in 1991) - have a right to preach about “judgement” and competence to “command.”

----

And now a self-serving but called-for query to you all.

Was I not the first person you heard raise this issue? That the Bushites are destroying US military readiness, waging all out war against the professional officer corps, and hollowing out our nation’s resiliency in challenging times? (Hint: I’ve been saying it since early 2004.)

Well, even worse has been the plight of the corps of non-commissioned officers... the sergeants etc who keep everything working.

Washington - Thousands more mid level enlisted soldiers are leaving the Army than in each of the past two years, forcing the service to increase its use of pay-to-stay programs and find other ways to keep GIs in the fold.

Four years into the fight in Iraq, the Army continues to be successful in retaining enough soldiers overall – "a miracle" to some observers, because the war has lasted so long, though at cost of increased bonuses and other inducements. But that success masks a growing problem within the ranks: Fewer mid-grade sergeants are opting to stay in the Army as many face yet another deployment to Iraq – and, more important, Army officials say, less time at home.

While a reenlistment shortfall in any Army group is cause for concern, many consider the declining rate among mid-grade sergeants to be a sign of potential bigger reenlistment problems for the Army down the line. In addition, the fact that more mid-level soldiers are leaving could have a long-term impact on the Army's ability to grow future leaders.


Why, oh why, are the dems to stupid to recognize this as an issue? THE issue?

The war being waged by a clan of super-empowered, spoiled brat amateurs, against professionalism of all kinds, at all levels - including the civil service and intelligence community and law enforcement, as well as the much beleaguered United States Officer Corps.

==Continue to Part 4

Sunday, May 06, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous... to the Just Plain Ugly... Part Two

We’ve begun a brief series that will take us on a tour illustrating the vast range and diversity of human nature... and governance.


EXAMPLE #2... THE ROLE MODEL

An administration-appointed independent commission reports that the country's leader rushed into a war without considering alternatives to full-scale conflict. He set unattainable goals, failed to adequately assess the military's readiness for the task, and did not have a clear exit strategy. "All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution," said the leader of the commission.

As a result of the report, it is virtually certain that the country's leader -- already low in the polls -- will be forced to resign.


Of course, that last sentence is a tip-off that we aren't talking about President Bush and the Iraq war. (despite record low approval ratings that have fallen to 28%.) Rather, these were the conclusions of the Winograd Commission in Israel with regard to prime minister Olmert's performance in last summer's war with Hezbollah.Isn't democracy and accountability a wonderful thing? I wonder if we can borrow the Winograd Commission for a little while. (R. Daggatt source.)

And now The Decider has become The Commander Guy as Bush enters his "Nixon-talking-to-pictures-on-the-White-House-walls" phase.

As Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post this week: Is George W. Bush even trying to make sense anymore?

On Wednesday, speaking to the Associated General Contractors of America, Bush gave himself a new nickname. Responding to a question from the audience, he asked rhetorically whether "the Congress or the commanders" should decide how many U.S. troops are needed in Iraq. “And as you know," he went on, "my position is clear -- I'm the Commander Guy." ...

The last six years are rife with episodes that, had Bill Clinton done it, would have been splashed across the cable news tabloids. Like when Bush welcomed the first blind summiter of Mt. Everest to the Oval Office and - instead of asking a single question relevant to the sightless hero’s accomplishment, proceeded to ramble about the colors of various artworks and furnishings, apparently forgetting that his guest was blind! (Not the only time he’s done that exact thing.)

As Daggatt says: “What I find astounding is that the right-wing has chosen this president as the vehicle through which to push their notions of authoritarian government to their most radical lengths. Throughout the history of government there have been arguments about the merits of a strongman running the show versus representative government and the rule of law. But the advocates of the former often assume some kind of enlightened philosopher king up against the irresponsible rabble. It seems pretty hard to make the case that an obviously-incompetent, incurious ideologue should be given unchecked powers.”

Do you need any further proof that the Ostriches are seriously in hysterical denial, seldom asking themselves “what would I have done (or what will I do after 09) - if this same thing were done by a Clinton?”

Like openly declaring that the president and his men have the intrinsic power to throw American citizens seized on US soil in prison indefinitely with no charges, no counsel and no judicial review.

==Continue to Part 3

Saturday, May 05, 2007

From The Sublime to the Ridiculous... to the Just Plain Ugly... Part One

I have several important extracts to share with you, across the next few postings (which are coming to you amid a big kitchen remodel and various other major distractions.)

I am linking theme in a series because they illustrate... in a kind of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly sort of way... the range of inspiration and leadership that we can find, if we only look around and open our eyes.

The first of these excerpts is cogent, brilliant, concise and brave. The second could serve as a perfect type-exemplar of utter hypocrisy, simultaneously laughable and terrifying. The final passage is taken from a recent work of scholastic erudition that aims to rationalize and justify today’s real war. Not the “war” on terrorism or in Iraq, but the ruthless offensive that is being waged against the Enlightenment and the rule of law, by a new class of would-be feudal lords.

---
Let’s start at the high end with a courageous fellow who is clearly a friend of civilization. I have already cited a recent article, published in the Armed Forces Journal: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/05/2635198 “A failure in generalship” by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, a young officer who had been considered a sure bet to make general himself, someday, until taking the bold (some would say suicidal) step of publicly criticizing the Army’s entire upper echelon.

Indeed, Yingling appears to typify everything I have said about today’s U. S. Officer Corps. (Indeed, he even uses that term in his article (see below), proving that I have not made it up during the last three years I bandied it around.) Committed, professional and self-disciplined, this corps of commissioned public servants is -- among other sterling traits -- the third best-educated clade in modern American life - just after college professors and medical doctors.

That, alone, does not guarantee courage or sagacity, of course. (As we will see in our third and last extract.) Indeed, it has taken far too long for members of the officer corps to overcome their emotional fealty to superficial emblems of crewcut conservatism and come around to realizing how thoroughly they - and the nation - have been had. Betrayed by the spiraling and accelerating madness on America’s far-right.

(As I have pointed out frequently, the insulting behavior of the far-left shares some of the blame. refusing to reach out and embrace our nation’s protectors, or at least talk to them. Is it possible to even calculate the stupidity of a movement that would hand its neoconservative foes whole swathes of influential and important American citizenry, gratis, without even trying to engage and persuade? Or to create a Big Tent that welcomes, instead of helping Karl Rove maintain his?

(Still the betrayal of the far-right is far worse. Professionalism is treated like dirt, careers spoiled and wasted, and the Constitution that these men and women have sworn to defend is trampled. There are no greater victims than our service personnel.)

I stand by what I have said since 2004. Though they have been slow to wake up, these volunteer soldiers are what they have always been -- the thin blue line that stands between the rest of us and a very cold wind. They are the guarantors of our Great Experiment. Even when we criticize the Officer Corps, it should be in tones of respect and perhaps a little awe toward men and women who grasp the word “dedication” better than you and I ever will.

But enough of my own quirky ranting. Here’s an excerpt from Yingling’s document.

”For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the U.S. fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq's grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war.

“These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's general officer corps. America's generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America's generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.”


If Yingling is any kind of example, the corps may at last be waking up. To the fact that our national leadership has stupidly (or perhaps deliberately?) plunged America into a checklist repetition of every horrid mistake we made in Vietnam.

A few commentators have suggested that Yingling’s article be read NOT as an indictment of generals, but as a slightly disguised attack upon the Bush Administration. Read it yourself and ponder: when he faults generals for failing to successfully advise policy makers in the probabilities of successful outcome, could that not also be taken to mean that policy makers ought to take the dogma plugs out of their ears and actually listen?

Likewise, when he speaks of Von Clauswitz’s famed advice that a nation should have “passion” commensurate with the sacrifices needed in a war, could he not only be criticizing contemporary America in general, for spending is soldiers without sacrificing at home?

”Popular passions are necessary for the successful prosecution of war, but cannot be sufficient. To prevail, generals must provide policymakers and the public with a correct estimation of strategic probabilities. The general is responsible for estimating the likelihood of success in applying force to achieve the aims of policy. The general describes both the means necessary for the successful prosecution of war and the ways in which the nation will employ those means. If the policymaker desires ends for which the means he provides are insufficient, the general is responsible for advising the statesman of this incongruence. The statesman must then scale back the ends of policy or mobilize popular passions to provide greater means. If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he shares culpability for the results.”

When he speaks of insufficient commitment of resources, might Lt. Colonel Yingling be referring obliquely to the greed exhibited by our top 1%? An American aristocracy who, for all their past faults, always used to step forward to help pay for emergencies in bygone days. But who now - while beating drums of “war” - seem to care above all for their lavish tax cuts. Some crisis.

You have to read between the lines, of course. Superficially, Yingling has done something that might blight a young officer’s career - criticizing the entire class of general officers. And yet, this may not be quite as suicidal as it seems, if in this case he had a nod and a wink from several top commanders. If they are true heirs of George Marshall, they would know that the Colonel’s bullets are actually aimed PAST them, at higher targets.

Wherever he accuses generals of failing to “give good advice,” you can easily infer the reverse side of the coin that Lt. Col Yingling cannot legally mention aloud. That good advice is useless if the policy makers are deaf, dumb, blind, obstinate and/or cosmically stupid.

Read the article yourself. It is important. Especially for “ostrich conservatives” who are still floundering about, grabbing at every possible rationalization and excuse to stay loyal to a GOP that has long ago mutated into something quite unworthy to command.


----
*(Uncivilized, for sure. Unsapient, perhaps. Indeed, judging by its owners' vampiric qualities... undead.)

==Continue to Part 2

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Officer Corps Stands Up... part way

You heard it here, first.

You heard it here in 2004, and 2005, when no one else even mentioned the two words "Officer Corps" together, let alone seemed willing to discuss the Bush Administration's relentless war against professionalism. Its drive to harass and chivvy and intimidate and quash the skilled men and women -- not only of the US military, but also the Civil Service, the Intelligence Services and the Justice Department.

Gradually, even the obstinate must see, and so some pundits have been adding their own voices, though never putting all the pieces together. And never cogently enough to crystallize this as THE political issue of our time. The one that could sink the Bush Cabal and seal the coffin on the trumped-up and unnecessarily divisive so-called "culture war."

An issue so powerful and overwhelmingly proved that it would make a perfect test for every "ostrich conservative." Either they wake up and realize that their party has been hijacked by monsters - and do something about it - or recognize that they have made an open choice to side with political monsters against the decent men and women who defend this country and make it work.

It is as simple as that.

And now...

And now things seem finally to be rolling. Ostriches, take note.


From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Rumbles in military hint at change

Published on: 04/30/07

Time and again, President Bush has tried to hide his incompetence behind our men and women in uniform. Repeatedly, criticism of his policies has been distorted into an attack on the troops; too often, questions about his strategy have been brushed aside with claims that his policy had been dictated by his generals.

Even now, with the House and Senate trying to force a change of direction, the White House accuses Congress of trying to "micromanage our commanders and generals," redefining the debate as a disagreement between Congress and the military, not with the president.

I think that game is about to end. I think President Bush is losing the American military, and that while he wrangles with Congress over deadlines, in the end it will be the military that forces dramatic changes in policy in Iraq.

Signs of that change abound. When the White House recently asked five retired four-star generals to serve as a so-called "war czar" overseeing our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, all five declined, a remarkable sign of disgust among those with a culture of service.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan said in explaining his refusal to consider the post.

That sense of a military establishment finally losing patience is also reflected in the behavior of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates has refused to toe the party line, asserting an independence that the Bush White House must find maddening. While the president was in Washington condemning Democrats for undercutting the troops, Gates was in Iraq announcing that the debate in Congress "probably has had a positive impact — at least I hope it has in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

Adm. William Fallon, the head of Central Command, signaled a similar change by banning use of the term "long war" to describe our struggle in the Middle East. "The idea that we are going to be involved in a 'Long War' at the current level of operations is not likely and unhelpful," a spokesman explained.

Perhaps the most telling signal, however, came in a devastating critique published last week in Armed Forces Journal by an active-duty Army lieutenant colonel, Paul Yingling.

The piece, headlined "A Failure of Generalship," is nominally an attack on today's military leadership, which itself is extraordinary. The main thrust of Yingling's argument is that too many generals have stood mute while civilian leaders misled the nation about what is really happening in Iraq, repeating a mistake that led to disaster in Vietnam.

"While the physical courage of America's generals is not in doubt, there is less certainty regarding their moral courage," Yingling writes. "In almost surreal language, professional military men blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters," and even though that has begun to change, "they may have waited too long."

Yingling has served two tours of duty in Iraq. As a graduate of the Army's School of Advanced Military Studies, he had already been identified as one of the service's best and brightest, and he has made clear his intent to stay in the Army. With this critique, he has placed that career and his chance at a general's stars in severe jeopardy, but his willingness to take that risk will echo through the ranks as an example of the moral courage he finds absent in many of his superiors.

All these signs point to a storm gathering within the military, especially as the strains imposed on the Army by the surge become more apparent. In that regard, it is interesting to note that Army Gen. David Petraeus, commanding officer of U.S. forces in Iraq, has recently and repeatedly stressed his intention to provide the American public an honest assessment of progress or failure by September. By then, he suggests, the effects of the surge and the willingness of the Iraqi government to reform will be more apparent.

Last week, Petraeus was asked whether that assessment could conceivably include telling the president that things aren't working and the troops should come home.

"I have an obligation to some wonderful young men and women in uniform ... who are serving in Iraq, and who deserve a forthright assessment from the folks at the top ... and that's what I'm going to provide," Petraeus said.

Gates and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, have joined Petraeus in setting September as an crucial time of reassessment. In other words, while Congress and the president wrangle about deadlines, a deadline of sorts may already have been set."


---

Oh... but this is still so mild, so tepid. And so long as the dems ignore the crying need and opportunity, they share the blame.

More cool, weird, worrisome "stuffs"...

"Stuffs"??? My kids came up with that one. Eeek. Anyway. I am still WAY behind with postables. So here are...

MISC COOL ARTICLES!

A complete physics mind-blow about “retro causality”. I know the physicist involved, John Cramer. Brilliant and also a sci fi guy. As if the two traits... went together? ;-)

NASA can find and track most of the nearby asteroids that could hit and damage the Earth, but there is not enough money in its budget to finish the project within a 15-year deadline mandated by Congress.

"An odd, six-sided, honeycomb-shaped feature circling the entire north pole of Saturn has captured the interest of scientists with NASA's Cassini
mission."

I used this method in my Brightness Reef Trilogy! Scientists have developed a new technology that uses bacteria DNA as a medium for storing data long-term, even for thousands of years. The new technology creates an artificial DNA that carries up to more than 100 bits of data within the genome sequence. The researchers said they successfully encoded "e= mc2 1905!" - Einstein's theory of relativity and the year he enunciated it - on the common soil bacteria, Bacillius subtilis.

Copenhagen University researchers theorize that propagation of sonic solitons is a much more likely explanation for propagation of signal in neurons than electrical impulses, because the nerve membrane is made of a material similar to olive oil that can change from liquid to solid, suddenly.

A new age of undersea mining may be dawning. Test digs from ocean floors around the world have produced rock samples with gold, copper and other precious metal concentrations far in excess of what is currently found in most mining operations. This new approach to mining comes as the industry reaches a critical juncture. Many of the major land deposits have been exhausted by the $225 billion-a-year industry. But demand for minerals has never been higher.

A web-based "expert system" that helped users prepare bankruptcy filings for a fee made too many decisions to be considered a clerical tool, a California appeals court said last week, ruling that the software was effectively practicing law without a license. (If this kind of guild protection racket steams you, look into Project HALT or Americans for Legal Reform.

University of Bristol researchers say caffeine eases withdrawal symptoms that build up overnight, but does not make people more alert than normal. The work showed that only people who have avoided coffee for a while will get a genuine buzz from that first morning cup.

The never-blinking surveillance cameras, rapidly becoming a part of daily life in public and even private places, may be sizing you up as well. And they may soon get a lot smarter. Researchers and security companies are developing cameras that not only watch the world but also interpret what they see. Soon, some cameras may be able to find unattended bags at airports, guess your height or analyze the way you walk to see if you are hiding something.

Cause for hope? United States venture capital flowing into clean energy leapfrogged to more than $2.4 billion in 2006, well more than double that invested in 2005, and more than triple from 2004. The ascent of venture capital in renewable energy has reminded some Silicon Valley venture capitalists of the early flow of money into the Internet in the 90s. (Still, my own experience with VCs does not engender much confidence that they see farther than the nose on their face, alas.)

Indeed, the solar roof and the usable battery car seem to be unstoppable, now. Time to start taking the names of those who delayed this. Because the new energy billionaires may help us hold accountable the old ones. If only.

General Motors Corp. has announced plans to produce the Volt all-electric car in 2010, to run for 40 miles on pure electric power. Meanwhile, Chery Automobile Co. plans to become the first Chinese automaker to crack the American market later this year, with its $3,600 QQ car, and Tata Motors of India plans to market a five-seat $2000.

Researchers at Berlin's Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience claim they have identified people's decisions about how they would later do a high-level mental activity.

An aside: I just had to re-offer this from one of you!
“The only thing worse than a society unprepared unprepared for great dangers is a society unprepared for great benefits.” -- Nato Welch

What do these two categories of folks have in common? Plenty, it seems...

cool tech

Subject: cool tech: Star Trek-Like 'Tricorder' Handheld Built At Purdue

Web site owner Suzanne Shell's lawsuit against the Internet Archive poses a question: "Can software programs be held liable for their actions?"

The next game controller--your brain?

Aethon Inc. today announced a system that uses robots to monitor the movement of medical equipment tagged with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and fetch it when needed by nurses or other hospital staff.

The House of Representatives passed a whistleblower bill (H.R. 985; ) that lays out explicit protections for scientists in government who expose abuses. The bill passed by a 331 to 94 vote, with 229 Democrats and 102 Republicans voting in favor.

It's 2045 and nerds in old-folks homes are wandering around, scratching their heads, and asking plaintively, "But ... but, where's the Singularity?" Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge--who originated the concept of the technological Singularity--doesn't think that will happen, but he explores three alternate scenarios, along with our "best hope for long-term survival"--self-sufficient, off-Earth settlements.

For adults who suddenly collapse, CPR is more effective if rescuers focus on chest compression over mouth-to-mouth ventilation. By interrupting lifesaving chest compressions, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may do more harm than good. (Careful!)

DARPA has killed the BICA (Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures) project to reverse-engineer the human brain. The brain effort linked experts from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, robotics and artificial intelligence, who wanted to replicate how different parts of the brain interact.

One of the largest supervolcanoes in the world lies beneath Yellowstone National Park, and activity has been increasing.

Is the universe a fractal? Written across the sky is a secret, a hidden blueprint detailing the original design of the universe itself. The spread of matter throughout space follows a pattern laid out at the beginning of time and scaled up to incredible proportions by nearly 14 billion years of cosmic expansion. Today that pattern is gradually being decoded.

Evidence that progress in surveillance will be uneven... unless we maintain vigilance.

The chief lesson of the story is that individual human beings with a conscience and courage can make more difference than all the cameras in the world.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vonnegut, Heinlein...and other wondrous things!

OTHER PASSAGES

player pianoLike countless members of my generation, I was strongly influenced by Kurt Vonnegut. I could praise all the same things that others do, but he lived for interest, not repetition. So, I'll merely comment that he always seemed torn between his root instincts as a thought-experimenting science fiction author - so clearly shown in PLAYER PIANO - and the "arty" side of writing, that beckons to us all, like a naked shaman, dancing in the rain, capering and shouting while lighting flashes about.

The best of us contain multitudes and authors like Vonnegut quickly learn to make use of the ecumenical contributions from many parts of the faceted brain.

Alas, there are sycophants and critics and professors and flatterers who must have their categories, and use every blandishment to fit complex pegs into simple holes. At times, Vonnegut seemed to accept their authority to limit him. To hem him into literary ghettos, using prods of praise.

BeyondHOrizonAnd another colleague came to mind, on the centennial of his birth. The thing that I think I liked best about Robert A. Heinlein (1907 - 1988) was something that went beyond plot or character or even the stories themselves. It was an attitude that pervaded his work - an ornery contrariness that seemed to run much deeper than any particular philosophy or dogma. Indeed, I believe that people completely miss the point, when they say "Heinlein was a libertarian" or Heinlein was this or that or the other.

"Whenever he heard oversimplifications like that, he tended to turn around and try for a surprise. For example by making actors and politicians the heroes of one novel. Or hippies in another. Or creating a prescriptive utopia that pushed both maximum individuality and a welfare state. When Heinlein spotted a cliche, he loved to torment it! Even cliches of his own.

"What Heinlein was - (I believe, with the tentative uncertainty that anyone should feel, when attempting to speak for another man) - boiled down to a unique personality type that was fostered by the mid-20th Century can-do spirit. A very American mix of skepticism and adolescent enthusiasm. Especially the unique notion that problems have solutions, but no one doctrine or voice will lead us to them.

"While Robert Heinlein gave us vivid tales of heroes, those men and women always lived within a context. They were always people who felt loyal to civilization.

But he was an unruly beast, impossible to geld. And he would chafe within the corral. breaking out, even in graying age, to seek the higher ground where untamed creatures stare across the cosmos, and into times to come.

TRANSPARENCY IS CHIC

See the recent issue of WIRED which touts the virtues of naked companies, who let the truth hang out, and benefit from increased customer trust.

Alas, though it’s the 10th anniversary of the “grand-daddy” of transparency tomes, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?, and the book is very much still in print, I got no calls or questions from WIRED.

Where I did get some is from DISCOVER Magazine. See a coming issue.

Finally, thanks Nate, for posting this: “Over at TPMuckraker (http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002809.php) , they took the document dump about the US attorney scandal, and had hundreds if not thousands of readers go through portions and post their summaries or other little bits on a master thread." Transparency in action.

Turns out I have delayed these non-political matters way too long. I must do several more right-quick or choke on the backlog!

Anyway, enjoy these reminders that Enlightenment Civilization still lives.

LIFE ABODES

In the news is something that anybody might expect a sci fi guy to get excited about... like the putative or purported discovery of a planet, just 20 light years from Earth, with a temperature and gravity range that might put it into the “Goldilocks” zone... capable of sustaining liquid water, and hence, possibly life.

Yes, well, maybe. Still, some cautions are in order. Note's one scientific skeptic:
Udry et al., make a good case for a planet being there, but the rest looks speculative at best. The planet has a MINIMUM mass of 5 Earths, the "1.5 Earth radius" is based on a density assumption with no data behind it, and the planet's insolation is about 2.44 times the Earth's (L/a^2 = 0.013/.073^2). The effective temperatures calculated didn't reference any atmosphere model. A similar calculation for Earth gets you about 256K, (-17C) depending on albedo. They used a Venus-like albedo to get down to 273K--actually not bad for the Venus upper atmosphere. Of course, we all know what the surface of Venus is like.

If an awful lot of things break the right way, well, maybe a terrestrial planet. But in my crystal ball, G 881c is a rather hot mini-Uranus.

The next planet out has an insolation of 20% Earths. If _it_ (big if!) were of similar density to the Earth, it would have a surface radius and gravity roughly twice as high as high as Earth's. And even if the top of the atmosphere were much colder, if it were a few bars deep, the lapse rate would produce a liquid water surface.


Nevertheless, even if neither planet proves suitable, it does remind us of a crucial fact, that 80% of our neighboring suns are small red dwarves. Their tidal locked, close orbiting planets would likely have a narrow sunrise band, with permanently light/hot and dark/cold heliopodes. Liquid water might be possible in the band, but it would drift toward the cold hemisphere and then fall out as snow. Hence lakes in the band would be sporadic, getting rain generally when volcanism or meteoroids melt some from the icy sink in back.

It would not be an easy life. Sorry Stephen Colbert! This "Earth II" won't let us dispose of our starter planet.

(Actually there is a theory. Human seem to hanker for lower gravity and a 25 hour day, as if we came from a place that had both traits. Um... Mars? Boy what a mess we made of that homeworld....)

CLOSER TO HOME

And now...see these wondrous images from the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft as it takes a boost swinging past Jupiter. Dang the little robot was busy during its rapid loop past the Big Guy! Wonderful stuff. How sad that events like this no longer transfix a great nation, which seems to be slipping from greatness.

Note, BTW a less noted milestone. for the first time, we have launched an object that travels faster than the Voyagers did, back in 1977. “Already the fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons reached Jupiter 13 months after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in January 2006. The flyby added 9,000 miles per hour, pushing the velocity of New Horizons past 50,000 miles per hour and setting up a flight by Pluto in July 2015.”
May it portend a return to adventure.


A BIT OF BRIN FICTION

Announcing Episode IV of my ambitious (and deliriously funny) serial novel “The Ancient Ones”!

You can only find it in one place, on Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE Magazine, one of the best online zines in the history of this planet! I really recommend subscribing, for the great stories and essays and news and articles and more for your money than anywhere else. And they match every paid subscriber with a free or steeply discounted one to a student or someone in a poor country!