Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Transparency, Accountability, and the Enlightenment

tsdefenseAlert! My response and rebuttal to Bruce Schneier’s recent article “The Myth of the Transparent Society” has been posted by the good folks of (Now also on my website:  In Defense of a Transparent Society.)

Alas, the argument over how to best protect freedom and (yes!) privacy has not advanced much beyond the simplistic nostrums of ten years ago. Those who dispute that transparency can ever engender freedom and (yes) privacy routinely begin by claiming that my book is about the end of privacy, rather than how to preserve it by empowering people to defend it themselves. The exact-same method that underlies the entire Enlightenment Experiment:

For we already live in the openness experiment, and have for two hundred years. It is called the Enlightenment -- with "light" both a core word and a key concept in our turn away from 4,000 years of feudalism. All of the great enlightenment arenas -- markets, science and democracy -- flourish in direct proportion to how much their players (consumers, scientists and voters) know, in order to make good decisions. To whatever extent these arenas get clogged by secrecy, they fail.

Judge for yourself. But don’t come into just dip a toe and never to consider new ideas. That’s not how to defend the only true revolution in the last ten millennia.

More on the Transparency Wars.... ”London's Metropolitan police a new counter-terrorism PR campaign complete with anti-photography propaganda. The campaign is meant to encourage people to turn in "odd" seeming people that they see taking photographs. "Thousands of people take photos every day," reads their advertisement being run in London's major newspapers. "What if one of them seems odd?"”

Ironically, both the London Metro Police and their critics completely miss the point. In fact it is perfectly legitimate to ask that citizens be aware of what is going on around them, and for them to serve as an outer line of detection and defense against those who might be seeking to do harm. But the odds are SO microscopic in any one case, that our professional protectors simply have no business at all, getting involved at such a low -- and vast(!) -- level.

the way to do this is not to turn neighbor against neighbor, reflexively reporting each other to paranoid state authorities. The answer, indeed, is to make greater use of the tool in question -- photography. People who spot suspicious photography taking place should simply take their own pictures to those doing it!

Generally, these should NOT be given to the police! That is the road to Big Brother. Nor does it inherently threaten any rights for one citizen to view and “remember” another, who was in the act of doing precisely the same thing. The mere act of expanding the number of citizen “eyes” at the roam does not by itself impinge on other peoples’ right to look and record. It is simply the same right, after all. And if it helps us to become better witnesses, on rare occasions, fine.

We need, as citizens, to restore our habit of being slightly wary but politely tolerant and reciprocally protective neighbors. Not a trivial balance to strike, but then, what is, these days? Anyway, it’s our job, not the cops.

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Want more about one of my perennial themes - the rise of tech propelled Citizen Power? Taking the whole “smart mobs” scenario a step farther, see Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky.

shirky-here-comes-everybody2Here’s a riff from a recent Salon interview with Clay: ”We are used to a world where doing anything at large scale requires a formal and hierarchical institution. The great debate of the 20th century was, Are really big activities better taken on by governments -- the communist answer -- or are they better taken on by businesses operating in the marketplace - the free-market answer? But the "dot dot dot" at the end of that answer was, "because obviously people can't just get together and do these things on their own." That is increasingly what is happening now. Groups that were once so disassociated from one another that they couldn't do anything are now starting to work together.”

This is a take on the old “Cathedral vs Bazaar” argument. And - despite being one of the early promulgators of the “Age of Amateurs” I must tell you that there are many ways that the jury is still out.  Or, rather, we clearly all win when neither side dominates. Indeed, the Bazaar has had its failings. Take the inability of the Linux community to settle on a set of standards that would turn it into a truly great, people-generated rival to the cathedral operating systems of Apple and Microsoft.

Shirky offers many great examples, such as self-organizing networks of disgruntled airline passengers, getting redress in ways they never could have, before. (Now, if only this sort of thing could make a revolution in stockholder “democracy”, ending the crony-control of top corporations by an interlocking cabal of golf buddies.)

===== Tech Tsunami =====

Looking down the rifle barrel of a nearby (only 8,000 LY) star system that could go supernova any time. Dang, I really needed that worry, too!

Fascinating new work on the “altruism hormone” oxytocin. It seems that it only increases generosity in humans when humans actively have to imagine or picture the point of view of another. It does not affect philanthropic behavior much at all, in test games where the subject wasn’t prompted to consider the other player’s perspective. In other words, it seems to be involved in turning empathy into sympathy... but for it to happen, there must be empathy (in the true and neutral sense of the word) in the first place.

Okay, this is just too cool and fun. Top 10 Barely-Legal Gadgets for the Modern (Amateur) Spy. (Every student at Caltech learns to pick locks, by the way.) And no, I don’t endorse all of these gadgets. But I do have teenagers..

Stewart Brand is one of my heroes. His Long Now Foundation is exploring interesting avenues for provoking modern minds to think over wider horizons in time. He also has a terrific blog. Drop in and see Stewart’s summary of a seminar given by gene-mapping pioneer Craig Venter.

See George Dvorsky’s cool blog-essay about Seven ways to control the Galaxy with self-replicating probes. Cool and fun...

... and a nice counterpoint to my novel Existence (In fact, I think that story covers a few bases that George missed.) George does (courteously) cite my Uplift notion as one of seven possible motives/goals for self-replicating probes. (Thanks George!) He also goes into a very smart riff about why we don’t see any of these probes yet, even though they seem logically to be the way to go. Indeed, at the Los Alamos conference on Interstellar Migration, back around 1982, I saw the work of Jones and Finney suggest that ONE such probe might fill the galaxy with it descendants in just three million years.  An eyeblink that really pushes the Fermi Question hard.

One of the scenarios that George leaves out is the “voyeur-lurker” possibility. That probes might be out there, nearby, right now, listening in. Even tapping our... well... web discussion groups. See my take on this at:

See the following article from Snopes... the great mythbuster site. (explore it!) The great “Cough-it-off” rumor, about how to survive a heart attack, is itself under attack. It should only be tried if the heart has definitely stopped... and loss of consciousness looms. A weak pulse? Angina? Coughing might make it worse. It seems that chewing an aspirin, the moment you have heart pain, then calling 9/11, is still the best thing.

The first detailed images of a binary asteroid system reveal a bizarre world where the highest points on the surface are actually the lowest, and the two asteroids dance in each other's gravitational pull.

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For the Predictions Registry... or that Brin Forecast Wiki... India Nurtures the Business of Surrogate Motherhood -- with shades of my short story “Piecework.”

TribesGame impresario Steve Jackson and I have spent more than a decade, "Tribes!" a realistic role playing game (formerly called "Darwinopoly"), that offers fun for six to eight players (or multiple tribes of 8 players each) who follow simple rules to simulate life as it must have been for our ancestors, anywhere from 10,000 to 500,000 years ago -- hunting, foraging, mating, and occasionally fighting.

Can you figure out how to survive... and have successful offspring... in a world where only your own wits stand between you and harshness of nature? Tribes! has been created with the advice of several prominent anthropologists, as well as one of the most experienced game designers on the planet. (For more information see the web site for Steve Jackson Games.) Among the things people have found most fascinating is the sexual politics that can arise from a very simple rule set.

Recently play-tested with more than thirty players! Hence, we’re interested in finding a few anthropology professors who might like to try the game out on students, as a whole-classroom exercise.


The Guy said...

Our world will be revolutionized when anyone can own a wireless web-enabled video station. Impeccable witness systems and perfect transparency of our public servant's dealings would prevent much of the remaining abuses of power which the constitution was unable to banish.

One a total off-topic note: here's a super cool story about a dolphin saving a whale off New Zealand's coast.

Robert said...

I've run Tribes games for classes of 30+ grade 10 students. The results were quite interesting.

To make things rewarding, I promised the kids home-made cookies: one for every victory point they earned in the game. Some kids focused on maximizing their own cookies, others on having more cookies than anyone else.

I had some interesting results. One girl shocked her mother by announcing one night that she was pregnant! Again!! (Lesson to self: kids tend to identify strongly with their characters.) A boy discovered, after borrowing the rulebook, that there is nothing preventing a group of characters from intimidating other characters into mating with them. Which may make anthropological sense, but I had to disallow on practical grounds. (Lesson to self: explicitly disallow rape at the onset of future games in a school setting.)

The most successful character died for his children. At the end of the game the character was injured, and his player worked out that she stood a better chance of winning chances of winning if the character died and his body was fed to his children (who might otherwise have starved).

Fun times.

Aaron said...

This issue is something I have been thinking about for awhile and wondering at as I see more and more kids willing expose their lives with no fear of judgement or fear of consequences (which has good and bad consequences).

Anyway, I just put a post on my blog ( regarding your article.

A quote regarding how openess could help ensure privacy:

Along this extreme, you realize that if all your secrets are out, then it becomes difficult for any one to use them against you (You could call this the Clinton Theory). Of course, this would assume a free, liberal society where you would not be prosecuted for what you think and say. Also, this type of thinking has worked on the Internet to a point, because when people do say things beyond the pale they risk being ostracized, not by the government, but by their peers. Freedom of thought and speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

As Brin states, this could help protect privacy, in the sense that while much of your life is public, your can still live your life privately from the government, from corporations, etc. Also, from other citizens, in a kind of MAD strategy. You have bombs, I have bombs. If we launch, we are all destroyed. Maybe, we should not launch them.

Stefan Jones said...

I think it's great that SJGames is giving Tribes another outing. The original had plain-paper b&w charts and simple counters. It looks like a much fancier production this time around.

I remember playtesting the initial drafts. My test group at Stony Brook's SF club came up with some important rules changes. The way spears are handled, for example.

* * *

Interesting article about Hyenas, social structures, and intelligence. The size of the frontal lobes of four hyena species seems related to the complexity of their social structures.

David Brin said...

Robert, terrific story! I'll pass on to Steve Jackson.

Aaron, tho I am "Mr. Transparency," oddly I am a moderate on the issue. I chide people who demand total exposure and 1/4 of the book is about the virtues of (some) privacy!

In ch 9 I also discuss ways that a VERY transparent society could go very wrong. Sure, there'd no longer be fear of domination by a powerful, elite minority. But MAJORITY rule can also be oppressive, if the 60% is close-minded, intolerant, homogenizing, oppressive.

Implicit is a continuation of the "horizon expansion" and "suspicion of authority" ethos that I talk about elsewhere, plus the dogma of Otherness. If these cultural norms accompany transparency, then harmless eccentricities will not only be tolerated but valued and disagreement won't be a sin, but rather "interesting."

Yes, it demands a humanity that grows up, incrementally. But I show, in my Google Tech Talk: that this maturation has already been going on!

But you can see why this picture is hard to get across. It violates religion #1 -- cynicism. And it is complex, a major sin.

Oh! BTW, the URL for "Lungfish" is:

Woozle said...

Re potential supernova: if we had a rational society, we could (fairly cheaply, I'd think) deploy a fairly small shield to go sit out between the Earth and the star, and block the Earth from the star's radiation during the worst of it.

Of course, it could be a long time before the star goes off (if it ever does), so either you'd have to have the shield keeping station the whole time (burning fuel, or possibly using the solar wind to counteract the sun's feeble pull at that distance? but it would still need to track the earth's orbit, of course...) or else have it in a stable orbit as ballistically "nearby" as possible -- which raises the question of what the numbers are: What's the window of notice before action would need to be taken? How long would the worst part of the radiation last (i.e. how long would the shield absolutely need to be in place to be worth the trouble? How long should the shield ideally be in place, in order to reduce minor radiation effects? (Might turn out that we'd need a "necklace" of shields in solar orbit, so there'd always be one close enough to deploy.) What's the maximum angular diameter the dangerous part of the radiation might achieve? And so on.

At the very least, we'd be funding a group to work out answers to these questions and pose a solution. Maybe NASA is on this already? The problem, of course, is convincing anyone to fund it. As we have discovered recently, there's far more immediate profit in chaos and disaster than in saving humanity.

Re here comes everybody: What we lack now is (are?) the tools for self-organization. The internet is tremendously fertile soil in which to grow such tools (pardon the mixed metaphor) and I'm seeing various web sites gradually approaching this problem from several different angles -- but there's still some distance to go.

What I think needs to happen is that we need a way of forming what I call "opinion-forming entities" or "decision-making groups" -- groups of people who get together via 'net with no particular cause in mind and work out what they think about various issues. Groups which agree can form alliances, groups which disagree but are sincerely seeking the best outcome can compare notes and work out their differences, and those who are dogmatic/doctrinaire will (hopefully) be marginalized by the overwhelming flood of moderation. (Wouldn't that be nice?)

Maybe we could start by creating our own Office of Technology Assessment.

Dennis said...

DB, I just read through the comment trail on your Wired rebuttal article. The lasting statement that sticks with me is your exhortation to make the Enlightenment our business. My question is... where do I start? :)

Robert said...

liquid water has been found on Saturn moon. The Cassini space probe recently flew through a geyser at the southern pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus to determine the composition of the geyser. Preliminary results suggest the geyser contains pure water-ice and water-ice mixed with other particles, suggests there may be a hot water source in the moon. While this is not definitive that life exists in the moon, it does increase the possibility.

We may in fact encounter our first alien lifeforms... as natives of our own solar system. And while these won't be the grey-skinned aliens of popular lore, these bacterial inhabitants may very well help give us a glimpse of just what life was like back when it first evolved on Earth.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Catfish N. Cod said...

woozle wrote:

"Re potential supernova: if we had a rational society, we could (fairly cheaply, I'd think) deploy a fairly small shield to go sit out between the Earth and the star, and block the Earth from the star's radiation during the worst of it."

Have you read the Clarke/Baxter novel, Sunstorm? It's basically the same idea, except the shield is deployed at terrisolar L1 to guard against an induced solar flare designed by aliens to sterilize Earth. (Not only does it fail due to Our Heroes' efforts, but it does all the heavy lifting to make Venus and Mars easily terraformable!)

Big C said...

Hey Dr. Brin,

I think you rebuttal in Wired made a lot of great points. And I think the discussion here has continued to enlighten and educate me. However, I winced a bit after reading your reply to the other commenters on the Wired page.

I understand your frustration with being misunderstood regarding your ideas in The Transparent Society (I still need to get and read a copy), but I think the style of your response to the Wired readers will be off-putting, and work against getting them to dig deeper that that little toe.

On your blog, the discussion is fairly mature, and we all have fairly well-developed thick skins. We care most about coming to a consensus on ideas, and making sure our conclusions reflect the facts and reality. Not that people don't care about this elsewhere, but as a longtime lurker/commenter here, I see that most people are willing to ignore/let slide perceived insults, slights, condescensions, etc. and focus on the substantive points of discussion. This makes for a great proto-disputation arena, and there are few worries about hurt feelings and flame wars.

Fortunately and unfortunately, your Wired article is going to a much wider audience, and one that is not quite as open to your ideas as we are. I think if the goal is to persuade those people to give your ideas a fair hearing, you have to care about your perceived tone and style in addition to providing a coherent and educational message.

When I read your response to the commenters, I got an overriding impression of condescension and arrogance. My first thought was that the people you responded to are going to storm off in a huff, rather than ingage your ideas. To whit, see the next comment from Badams76 right after yours:

Anyone else think that Brin is being a bit of a, well... dick? Schneier at least makes his points with eloquence and manages to refrain from biting sarcasm.

So (at least for this commenter) style overrides the substantive points in your comment, and your entire argument is dismissed out of hand. As someone who generally agrees with a lot of your notions, this is exactly what I don't want to happen.

So I offer this bit of CITOKATE, not about the substance or tone of your original rebuttal, which I thought was great and informative, or the substance of your later comment, but I think the tone you struck in this comment response is likely to turn some (perhaps many) people off.

I know it sucks to be misunderstood and misrepresented by your critics, and it can get quite frustrating when good ideas are continually ignored. But I think your comment here plays right into the "stuffy know-it-all guy who is never wrong, and if you don't get it you're just stupid and/or ignorant" stereotype. I know this is the farthest from the image you actually do portray and want to portray, but this was my honest first impression after reading that comment.

David Brin said...

Thanks for the citokate, big c. I have gone and revised some of my responses.

Dennis asks “where to start” making the enlightenment his business.

Argh. There are so many battle fronts. Of course the biggest is political, since getting pirates off the helm should help a lot. We’ve talked about this.. Helping a national campaign. Recruiting or helping a savvy moderate to run in a more local race, like assembly or congress. Grabbing the lapels of a few ostriches and waking them up...

But there are other fronts. If your business can get engaged with some worthy local activity - engineering firms sponsor the nearby high school’s robotics team with both dollars and mentors, for example. There are lots of sponsorship/mentoring opportunities at most schools, appropriate for almost any business. (Best approached in an organized way.)

Then there is “proxy power”... my point about how there’s now an NGO for almost any opinion or passion you might have, and adding your dues to - say - the Sierra Club or Project Witness lets that group (1) have a bit more working funds to achieve your goal, (2) claim a bigger citizen membership, and (3) keep you informed on the topic.


I personally believe that spreading a love of science fiction would help civilization no-end! But I was naive to think that SF fandom would want projects to do just that. Most fan groups, except a few back east, seem to want fandom to die out with them, like the shakers. Still see:

I’ve donated thousands of books to military bases. It’s a worthy activity. Always seems chaotic, though. (Anyone know any bases in Iraq?)

Next Generation? My boys are in scouting. Still the best way to ensure all the boxes get checked. Though there are flaws.

Robert said...

I hope when you modified your responses, you noted that you did the editing. One thing I've noticed on the web is the tendency of some individuals to alter what they said in the face of criticism without acknowledging what they had originally said. It's far better to admit to being wrong or apologizing for tone when rewriting than to pretend it never happened.

It is perhaps one thing I like about the comment system on this blogsite. You can't edit out (though you can delete) your comments. While it makes correcting typos and bad links difficult, it also decreases the ability of people to "erase" controversial comments without accepting responsibility for them.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Depends on whether you have left in place FOLLOWING remarks by other people. If you edit, and leave those remarks in place, then you are sabotaging them, making their reply look incoherent or improperly motivated.

Simply fixing up the tone of a terminal remark is much less problematic.

Dennis said...

David, thanks for the detailed answer. I'm glad I asked, because based on your answer I feel like I'm already in the mix. Thanks :)

My personal situation restricts some of my ability to act - as a resident alien, I fear getting personally involved in politics (partly fear of backlash against a perception of me as a meddlesome intruder, and partly fear of jeopardizing my residency status - you never know with this gummint), so I'm limited to persuasion by rational argument. Also as a new parent I've got a time/energy crisis. It helps to imagine that I'm raising a future Nobel laureate ... ;) I can't remember - who was the Gaia matriarch character in Earth?

I've roused some ostriches. I've got a 2-time Bush voter pulling for Obama now.

Thanks for the other tips. I'll definitely use some of them.

Hawker Hurricane said...

Dr. Brin...
As a former ship's librarian, I can tell you it looks chaotic because it IS chaotic. A couple of military truisms can be invoked: if you don't tell somebody that they're responsible, then no one will take responsibility AND only officers can be responsible, enlisted men merely get blamed.

Navy (and Marine) librarys are 'run' by the Chaplain Corps, who often believe that they have better things to do with thier time. Add in the fact that getting sailors to read isn't on the list of Things Required to Make Admiral and you get ships libraries like mine: improvised bookshelves in the crews lounge, overfull with Harlequin Romances (NOT popular reading with all male ship crews) and multiple copies of Dianetics.

Matt DeBlass said...

Hawker- Scientology at Sea? That is a scary thought.

I've been finding the economic argument to have some potency in ostrich-wrangling, by the way. A lot of folks who have bought the party line about security and moral necessity or whatever they're selling this week get pretty freaked out when you start talking about how much it costs...and how that's going to affect the bottom line back home.
It may not be the most important argument, but it's one people can get their heads around.

Robert said...

Two small tidbits here. First, Republican Senator Wayne Allard offered an amendment Thursday that was said to total up the costs of Senator Obama’s favored initiatives. These initiatives were to the tune of $1.4 trillion, which would then be added to the $3 trillion budget.

It was ridiculed as an attempt to smear Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal. Further, Obama and Senator Clinton came into the Senate and Obama ridiculed Allard by saying "Hey, Allard, you working this hard?"

The amendment was voted down 97 to 0.

Second, continuing on your theme of transparency in government, Obama has released a list of his earmarks since he's been in the U.S. Senate. It includes what he asked for and what he received (which is about 30% of what he requested). He has requested Clinton do the same, but she has resisted releasing her earmarks.

Questions about some of the earmarks (including a $1 million earmark for a hospital where his wife works) have been mostly dismissed (the hospital one, for instance, was turned down and was part of a series of earmarks for a number of hospitals rather than something specifically for where she worked).

This is just another reason why transparency in government is needed. Why Clinton is refusing to release her records when Obama has freely done so is puzzling, as this can only damage her politically, showing she appears to have something to hide.

Rob H.

Dennis said...

Another optimistic turn, Obama's superdelegate momentum is outpacing Clinton's, to the point where he has almost pulled even.

I saw a headline recently (can't find it now) that the Clinton camp has stated that Obama's abandoned PA. He should counter that since the Clinton campaign hadn't planned for beyond Super Tuesday, she never even considered Pennsylvania until recently, whereas he considers all states important...

zorgon the malevolent said...

Dr. Brin's rebuttal to Schneier's criticism of the Transparent Society concept seemed unconvincing to me.

Bruce Schneier made several cogent points, but he neglected to point out other weaknesses of Dr. Brin's flawed arguments in favor of souveilliance. For example, a keystone of Dr. Brin's argument is the claim that historically, transparency has always increased and never decreased. Dr. Brin constantly challenges objectors to cite one isntance where rules have been successfully passed to limit the availability of knowledge.

It's surprising that no one has taken up this challenge, since so many examples erupt from the pages of history.

During the 18th century, all Prussian women were required to list their monthly onset of menses with local police stations. This is a clear and obvious example of the kind of information which subsequent generations have taken drastic steps to limit. It is now regarded as no one's business whether, or when, young women menstruate, and it is certainly not regarded as a necessasry piece of public information required by local officials. Current privacy strictly forbid the dissemination of this kind of personal information, as, for example, in leaked medical files.

That's one example. But there are many others. During the 19th century in the deep south, whole classes of people who looked caucausian but had small amounts of African-American ancestry were required to legally register with the locla authorities. Known as "quadroons" and "octaroons," and so on, these people had to carry special indentity cards and were forbidden under penalty of law from owning property, entering certain types of establishments, etc. etc. Once again, today no one gives a damn about this kind of information, and efforts to disseminate this kind of info are regarded as being criminal, since it once again would require disclosure of medical records -- specifically, a DNA test.

Once again, in ancient Rome, all slaves were required to wear talea which identified their owner. The modern equivalent would be publicly broadcasting your motrage holder and mortgage bank account numbers and employer identification number and social security number. These are once again all against the law.

So, contrary to Dr. Brin's claim, in many cases laws have been passed against the dissemination (or even the collection) or many types of information. Tranparency has in many cases gone down over historical time since past eras, and there's general agreement that this has in most cases improved the functioning of society (viz., it's now illegal for an employer to demand an I.D. card or DNA test guaranteeing that you're 100% caucasian with no mixed blood in order to qualify for employment).

However, I'd primarily like to concern myself with Dr. Brin's comments about the size of the military budget. Dr. Brin claimed that this was due to fraud and waste, and his remarks seem to imply that if we just get the kleptocrats out of power, the U.S. military will return to its former glory and effectiveness.

However, Dr. Brin's asssertions about the miilitary seem entirely simplistic, and the notation that our military effectiveness has collapsed (which it has) due to someting as jejune as a "great kelto raid" seems to me to entirely miss the point. It's simply inaccurate.

Consider the following data point:

"So while at the micro level an American Army colonel has a merc security detail, at the macro level mercenaries are filling the gap between American military forces engulfed in their own war and the security units of Iraq’s Vichy regime, most of which are less than keen to fight.

"What does the return of mercenaries on a large scale, in a theatre of war, tell us? It tells us that state militaries have become so bureaucratic, expensive and top-heavy that they are losing the ability to fight.

"As expensive as mercenaries are – and the Post article quotes a figure of $1,000 per day for skilled bodyguards – they are still cheaper than state military forces. This is not because the U.S. Army overpays its privates and sergeants, but because the $400 billion America pays each year for defense buys very few privates and sergeants in the combat arms, guys who can actually fight. Most of the money goes for overhead: contractor welfare in the form of multi-billion dollar programs for irrelevant weapons like the F-22, endless consultants (most retired generals and colonels who already collect large pensions), a bloated officer corps above the company grades, a vast rear area made ever-larger by the needs of complex, computerized "systems," and layer upon layer of headquarters, each with a small army of horse-holders and flower-strewers. If you want to imagine a modern state military (others differ from our own only in degree), think of a brontosaurus with three teeth."

[William S. Lind, "The Withering Away of the State, Continued," 21 February 2004]

Cost of Buying, Flying Military's New Jet Fighter To Hit $1 Trillion, Audit Says

The Pentagon's bureaucracy has become so byzantine and so inefficient that the Pentagon itself literally does not know where its money goes. The Pentagon has failed the last 10 audits, and more than a trillioin dollars of Pentagon money are now unaccounted for:

Military waste under fire - $1 trillion missing"

Missing trillions make mainstream at last

Let's be clear about what's going on here: this is not a case of theft or mismanagement. Instead, the Pentagon procurement process and the entire military-industrial complex has become so large and so complex that it has escalated beyond human capacity to control it.

We see this in other areas. Beyond a certain level of complexity, national power grids become unstable and shut down in cascade failures for unanalyzable reasons. Likewise, beyond a certain size, computer programs become too complex to produce. As a result, more than 50% of all large computer programming projects are abandoned as unworkable.

S the claim "all we need to do is get the kleptocrats out of power and the U.S. military-industrial establishment will start working again" is flatly and provably false. How do we know the problem isn't simple theft, or mismanagement?

Take a look at the military's tooth-to-tail ratio (T3R). The tooth-to-tail ratio was 1:1 during WW II and has steadily declined to 1:2 today. That is, 2 logistics support and management personnel for every person in the field today. The degradation in T3R continues, and it's now actually worse than 1:2 and approach 1:3. Soon, the t3R will become 1:4, then 1:5, 1:10, then 1:20, and so on. This is a structural problem, it's not due to theft or mismanagement. More complex weapons systems, like the Patriot missile battery or the B2 stealth fighter, require proportionately more support personnel than the old artillery pieces and prop planes used in WW II. As the weaponry gets more complex, more and more support personnel are needed to service it and operate it.

Dr. Brin will predictably deny that this is the cause of the U.S. military's bloated budget, so let's take some specific concrete examples:

[1] Apache helicopter rotor blades delaminate during service and must be duct-taped to keep them working. Even this remains only a stopgap, however. As a result, apache helicopter squadrons typically have many helicopter shells from which the rotors have been stripped to keep the remaining helicopters operational. This is a problem caused by the complexity of the helicopter's design, not by theft or mismanagement.

[2] The complex electronics in modern F-18 fighter jets tend to fry and die because of the high temperatures and extreme operating conditions. All U.S. airbases now have row upon row of F-18 fuselages from which the electronics have been stripped to keep the remaining jets in service. This failure rate has gotten much worse in Iraq, but it's not because of a design failure or becuase of theft or mismanagement. Instead, it's caused by the extreme temperatures in the mideast, which typically hit 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer on the ground, and soar proportionately when the engines get fired up.

[3] The ablative reactive armored laser-targeting M1A1 Abrams tank must be followed by a suite of support vehicles. Without the support vehicles, the tank can't function for long, in part because it gets 4 miles per gallon, and in part because it needs consntant repair. This once again is not due to bad design, but simply because of the size and weight and complexity of the M1A1 Abrams tank. A more complex machine tends to break down more often than a simpler machine.

[4] WW II jeeps were light and used a minimal design with a manual transmission and a mechanical distributor and no fuel injection. As a result, WW II jeeps didn't break down very often, and when they did, they could be repaired quickly, often using improvised tools like a penknife or a screwdriver. Today's humvee uses an automatic transmission with disel fuel injection and EMP-hardened computer-controlled electronic ignition. As a result, today's humvees break down much more often, and when they do break down, can't be repaired as quickly or as easily as a WW II jeep. For exmaple, if there's a problem with the computer that controls the electronic ignition in a humvee, you need to swap out the electronic ignition assembly -- you can't just go in with a penknife and fiddle with the mechanical distributor to fix it, because the humvee doesn't have one.

Lastly, bureaucracies that grow beyond a certain size fall victim to Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. This is what has happened to the Pentagon.

Pournelle's Iron Law states that an institution finds itself populated by two different groups of people: the people who actually do the work, and the people who become expert in making the bureaucracy function, and the second group always winds up in control of the organization.

A recent example is the well-known process of "wikitization," in which ever more labyrinthine procedural rules clog up the functioning of an organization until it drops dead of paralysis, as is happening with Wikipedia. The same thing has occurred with the U.S. military-industrial complex. Most money poured into the U.S. military now goes not to contractors and not to pay the salaries of soldiers, but to service vast masses of red tape. Attempts to "cut the waste" always fail because these end runs around the Pentagon bureaucracy wind up wasting even more money on outside contractors. For example, it turns out that the wholesale privatization of the U.S. military which costs so much money today was actually started as a way of trimming costs:

"Iraq Needs Contractors"

Kikrpatrick Sale has discussed this phenomenon in ths classic book Human Scale. Beyong a certain size, all large systems become so complex that they stop working reliably. The human mind is not capable of managing or maintaining systems beyond a certain critical complexity and size.

Incidentally, the same problem explains why Dr. Brin's vision of the Transparent Society can't work. As smaller databases get merged into ever-larger ones, more and more errors creep in. Eventually, the entire sousveillance database becomes so corrupted with garbage information that it becomes useless.

Transparency only works if the information is accurate. But universal surveillance means universal GIGO, databases so large they're full of useless misinformation.

"At the current rate of growth, the U.S. watch lists will contain a million records by July. If there were a million terrorists in this country, our cities would be in ruins" said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program. "The absurd bloating of the terrorist watch lists is yet another example of how incompetence by our security apparatus threatens our rights without offering any real security."

The new counter features a rolling, odometer-style display with a real-time readout showing how many individuals are on the list at a given moment. The figures are extrapolated from a September 2007 report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, which reported that the Terrorist Screening Center had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007, and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month. As of today, the list stands at approximately 917,000 names."

We can see the same three problems that afflict the U.S. military-industrial complex at work to destroy the effectiveness of U.S. security surveillance efforts. [1] As the bureacuracy becomes more and more complex, more and more money gets wasted on the systems for controlling and organizing the surveilliance and security apparatus, and less and less on actual security or surveilliance -- i.e., the "tooth to tail ratio" constantly drops as time passes. [2] As the bureaucracy gets larger and larger, Pournelle's Iron Law takes over and security and surveillance becomes less important than maintaining the size of the DHS & TSA fiefdoms and expanding pensons and benefits of the TSA & DHS employees. As a result, an ever-expanding list of supposed "threats" get discovered (example: liquids on planes, kiddy porn on incoming travellers' computers) and ever more security personnel must be added to deal with these nonexistent "security threats." [3] As the bloated organization produces more and more intel, the databases get more and more corrupted with garbage info. This in turn requires that the organization add even more personnel and even more rules in a futile effort to purge the databases of misinformation, which is turn feeds back to [1] and [2], worsening the entire situation in a Catch-22.

Zechariah said...

For the Rube Goldberg in all of us:

an Etch-a-sketch clock

Every minute it erases itself and draws a new time.

Robert said...

Zorgon, the problem with your hypothesis is that it fails to function with improvements in technology. If we go with "contractors" for our military, we risk not only someone who may be unreliable (if they are willing only to fight for pay, then might they not reneg on a contract if offered significantly more from someone else? Might this not thus hand a country defended by mercs over to an invading richer nation?) but also someone who uses outdated materials to fight with.

If we stayed with the fighters from World War II and never bothered to improve our technology beyond that, then the Soviet Union would have invaded and we'd be all under a dictatorship far worse than what we have currently in place.

The Soviet Union would have seen our avoidance of new technology as a sign of weakness and attacked, even with the U.S. possessing atomic weaponry, because they could overwhelm us. (And also because we'd not have the missile technology to nuke them into oblivion, having stayed with bombers for delivery of the low-level nukes we'd have.)

Technological improvements are needed in our military hardware. They help foster improved technologies for the commercial sector and encourage government investment in scientific discoveries that fuel the economy. The technological improvements also help save lives through better protections and improved surgical techniques. Ignoring them or relying on other parties is foolishness.

As for transparency, there is a difference between needless meddling and transparency. What you were listing before was not transparency. It was bureaucracy. It was information for information's sake. It was a means of dividing people and lessening them. Transparency in government, in industry, and in our own lives is much more than simple statistics revealed. It is accountability. Take the recent action by Senator Obama. He is laying on the line his earmarks and holding himself accountable to people who view those earmarks. That Senator Clinton refuses currently to do the same suggests that she does not want that information getting out... which is systematic of abuses in government.

Rob H.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Robert remarked:

Technological improvements are needed in our military hardware.

That's the very attitude that has led us, step by logical step, to a vastly bloated U.S. military which is no longer able to fight.

Robert's comments on the former Soviet Union are insightful, but, alas, not germane. The point is not that we ought to stay with obsolete technology -- indeed, if we did, it's easy to deduce that an equally elaborate and complex support and logistics process would spring up to service those ever-more-obsolete specimens of antique tech. Custom-building old WW II prop planes by hand would be used an excuse to justify fabulous expenditures, vast amounts of red tape. layer upon layer of management to make sure the money for all those painstakingly hand-tooled pistons and hand-lathed reproductions of the 1939 Rolls Royce merlin engine wasn't wasted.

Rather, my point is that as the U.S. army has grown in size, it has stopped being able to fight. This is in the nature of all bureaucracies: they all eventually turn into the Kremlin and collapse if they are not put on a drastic diet.

Ironically, this is a highly conservative view, as my citation of Pournelle and William S. Lind (notable conservatives) makes clear.

Robert went on to aver:

there is a difference between needless meddling and transparency.

Really? What is it? Can you define it succinctly?

This, once again, is precisely the problem to which I alluded. Just like pornography, you can't easily define total transparency. Your needless meddling is my total transparency, and vice versa.

A fine illustration of the fatal error in Dr. Brin's "transparent society" argument arises in the case of the lone stalker. A transparent society is a stalker's paradise. Rapist-stalkers would love it. "Ah, but the transparent society would work both ways," goes the counterarguments, "so the rapist-stalker would be easily identified by the police and caught before he struck!"

That's a fanciful fiction that just doesn't work in real life. In the real world, a lone rapist-stalker is much much much harder for an understaffed typical urban metro police force to identify and stop, than it is harder for the lone stalker-rapist in a tranparent society to identify and do whatever he wants to to his lone victim.

"Oh, well," continues the counterargument, "we'll just add more police. And more surveillance!"

Nope. That way lies Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. The police just become the Kremlin, a vast bureaucracy gobbling up so much of society's resrouces that they become more concerned with maintaining their vast bloated institutional budget by inventing phoney makework "crimes" and arresting "perps" (who really arent' doing anything dangerous) than with actually doing their jobs by doing the tough work of ID'ing stopping the real criminals.

And so, in such a fully transparent society manned by immense armies of sousveillance police, the vast police bureaucracies who spend their lives staring through vast phanalxes of universal surveillance cameras and listening to rank upon rank of microphones and doing millions upon millions of database searches in quest of wrongdoing, would spend all their time ID'ing and arresting litterbugs (the low-hanging fruit), while the stalker-rapists went on their merry way undeterred.

Every once in a while, a rapist-stalker would be caught. But not often. Most of the "perps" would be harmless ordinary citizens dragged in on trumped-up charges to justify the omnipresent security-surveilliance state.

Why? Because those vast armies of surveilliance cops would be compelled to justify their immense budgets and workforces...which they would obligingly do by producing an ever-expanding list of "perps" who have been arrested for an ever-expanding list of ever-more-trivial trumped-up "crimes."

Want proof?

Cops raid legal herbalist in Nebraska.

Police just raided an herbal shop that sells the legal herb Salvia Divinorum. Pressed by the urgent need to justify their ever-expanding budget, the DEA and the cops must invent a constant list of new "crimes" which aren't actually crimes at all. Soon, cops and the DEA will be raiding ice cream parlors for selling coffee ice cream with too much caffeine in it, the DEA will break down the doors of private homes to arrest people having party where people are drinking too much Mountain Dew, and they'll smash in the windows of people's homes with squads of body-armored machine-gun-armed SWAT teams backed by SWAT tanks and helicopters and riot guns because incense is being burned that now appears on some new "prohibited herbs" list put out by the DEA.

If these hypothetical cases sound insane and ludicrously exaggerated, ask yourself if they're any more insane and ludicrously exaggerated than these real world examples of the security-military-industrial complex run amok:

Two four-year-olds handcuffed by school safety officer for refusing to take a nap.

Police use taser to subdue six-year-old.

Sick man driving to hospital for treatment arrested for DUI even though he blew 0.0 on breathalyzer.

Baltimore man arrested for paying his parking tickets.

Woman arrested for overdue library books.

People arrested in a New York subway for "taking up more than one seat."

Couple arrested for flying American flag upside down outside their house.

Robert said...

Senator McCain floats the theory that Al Qaeda or other terrorists may attack before the general election to try and thwart his efforts to be elected President. Hmm... Dr. Brin, I seem to recall you suggesting a scenario very much like this and that the Democratic candidates should make a statement sooner rather than later to avoid the Republican from capitalizing on such a scenario. And now we have Senator McCain saying that terrorists might attack to keep him out of office.

Why do I feel the need to don a tinfoil hat now?

Rob H.

Robert said...

Oh, and Zorgon? Stalker-Rapists already can perform their horrific crimes without transparency in place. How do you see transparency as assisting them more than it stops them?

Indeed, genuine transparency laws could be used with mandatory DNA registration for all people. The DNA segments that are used for identification would not be usable by the insurance agencies because of its lack of relevance for diseases and the like. The person who commits the crime would leave some form of DNA evidence and thus would quickly be arrested without infringing on the rights of people. With true transparency in place to ensure the government and industry does not abuse the DNA information, safety increases and the Stalker-Rapist finds himself unable to indulge in his sociopathic attacks on women.

You claim that if a situation ain't broke, don't fix it. The problem is, it's already broken. And Transparency can help fix a lot of issues.

Rob H.

Dennis said...

Zorgon, it seems you're making arguments for a transparent society. Every instance of power abuse you cite would be less likely if those in power know they're being watched. Consider that we only watch those who we deem worth watching - if we can watch those in power, we will. If a brutish cop knows that everyone is watching him, he might not tase that 6-year-old bro.

As to the stalker-rapist scenario, while it may not be prevented, the ensuing investigation would be rapid and conclusive in a technically-enabled transparent world - with cameras everywhere, instantaneously recording everything (I know, it sounds Big Brotherish, but I'm thinking more like the TwenCen geezer gogglers in Earth), after-the-fact investigation becomes a breeze. And it becomes difficult to tamper, as long as the investigators are equally transparent (Who will police the police? We all will.)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of matters of transparecy:

Charlie Savage has a story on the Bush Administration dismanteling the reforms put in place by the Ford Administration, after Nixon screwed the pooch.

Robert said...

And now for an interesting article where a critic of Senator Clinton defends his remarks and talks about how the Clinton Cult is behind the racist talk... and that Geraldine Ferraro's comments were deliberate and part of an ongoing attempt by the Clinton Cult to insert race into this political campaign to destroy Senator Obama's chances of being a viable presidential candidate.

The more I see of her, Dr. Brin, the more I'm thinking that Senator McCain (who I am deathly afraid of and who I believe will drag us into a war if elected President... and I'm not talking Iraq) would be a better political candidate than Clinton.

Rob H.

Dennis said...

Robert I'm starting to agree on that point (that a Clinton presidency could be as bad as a McCain presidency). Till recently I've considered her and Obama somewhat equivalent in administrative potential, agreeing with DB's assertion that either one would re-install real professionals to the civil service. But now... professionals like Mark Penn?

David Brin said...

Oy, Zorgon, I’ve been trying to make this blog LESS of a TIME SINK! Hence, do not expect me to answer (or even read) it all. I have children to feed.

“For example, a keystone of Dr. Brin's argument is the claim that historically, transparency has always increased and never decreased.”

This is one of the most bizarre paraphrasings of my work I have ever seen. It runs counter to everything I have written and proves, right off the bat, that Z hasn’t a clue, alas. Nearly every civilization across 4,000 years, squelched transparency. ONLY the Anglo Saxon wing of the Enlightenment saw increases in Transparency, and this has only been across 200 years... and in many cases, the increases were merely compensations for the naturural growth of secretive elies.

“Dr. Brin constantly challenges objectors to cite one isntance where rules have been successfully passed to limit the availability of knowledge.” He then cites an obscure example of deregulation of menses records to say that the elites were blinded. Oy! How silly. (1) Prussia was accepting a bit of the Enlightenment. But (2) The elites did not feel they NEEDED that knowledge. All the examples clearly miss the point. The top social elites maintained info flows that let them keep their status. Period.

The military screed (I skimmed) is more of the same. Z tallies example of example of Iraq War bloatedness and deliberately-fostered inefficiency, and somehow concludes that all this supports HIS argument that the size of the military has increased. Let’s just call this one a case of being from different planets and reasoning systems.

I just read the next screed. Oy vayzmeer. More of the same. Hey Zorgon, I’m over here! Exactly what do you think you are yelling at? I doubt that even you know.

Robert, I, too, do not like the side of HR Clinton we are seeing. Argh, using the initials made me realize it is “Her Royal”... both ironic and part of the “name weirdness” of this political season. Anyone know what McCain and Huckabee mean? (Son of Cain? Yipes.) Yes, she feels entitled, is desperate, and does not put much care to management tasks in her campaign. All bad.

Worse, she would prevent a blowout.

Still, I care foremost about those 5,000 appointments. My eyes are on the prize., I want the Civil Service (the fourth branch of government) to function again. When that happens, the immaturity and stupidity of the other three branches will be bearable. We already have enough laws (almost) and once we have allies again, the world will be less dangerous. She can then fight Rush Limbaugh for 8 years. I’ll hate it. But we’ll be okay.

The good news? If she keeps this up, she WON’T get the 1,000 patronage slots BHO has probably offered. (Through deniable third parties.) And Mark Penn will go chasing ambulances.

I'm hoping she's take the patronage slots (her own people may start pressuring her to do so) puls a few nights in the White House. I don't mind here running till the convention, for the sake of pride. But her target needs to be Bush.

Robert said...

I don't have the URL or the time at the moment to look for it, but apparently during their time on the floor of Congress Senators Clinton and Obama had a chance to talk privately and agree to a few ground rules. While the damage she has inflicted has already struck (especially with our dear friend G. Ferraro and her very divisive remarks concerning race in this campaign), voters have a relatively short memory.

Five weeks is plenty of time for Obama to cover a huge amount of ground in Pennsylvania, meeting with a lot of people and getting the word out. It seems that Obama works best when he meets people and talks to them... and they realize that there truly is something to him. He's not just words. He also researches things and will alter his mindview if you put up a well-informed and intelligent argument. (That's another URL I don't have time for at the moment.)

Back to the words on the floor, it seems Obama and Clinton have declared peace. It could be that words were spoken, Clinton remembered that hey, they're both Democrats here and both political allies even if they're fighting for the Presidency.

It could also be that Clinton was met by the remaining undeclared SDs who let her know in no uncertain terms that she will not be getting the nomination, but that if she tones back the rhetoric to help Obama strengthen his arguments and create defenses against expected Republican attacks (that aren't ad hominum attacks) then she may very well get a position in his government. Heck, maybe even head of the Senate with Pelosi taking on a Cabinet position. (Which would also put her in line for the Presidency should worse come to worse.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

“It seems that Obama works best when he meets people and talks to them... and they realize that there truly is something to him.” Want irony? That is PRECISELY what worked for Bill Clinton and turned things around for him, in 92. An example of this, see the blog by web browser inventor Marc Andreeson, that I linked-to a while back. He spent 90 minutes with BHO and kvells over him.

I doubt that HRC would consider many cabinet positions to be higher than being a senator, except Sec/State. But 1,000 patronage slots (most of them people BHO would appoint anyway) would let her and Bill stay labeled as top “lords” insofar as status is judged. One can hope.

But note, Pelosi is in the House. HRC is in the Senate. She could try for President ProTem and be 3rd in line of succession... I’m not sure I like that and it usually goes by seniority.

Robert said...

The article on how Obama researches things and can modify his point of view.

Democratic candidates agree to play nice.

Anonymous said...

"George Dvorsky’s cool blog-essay about Seven ways to control the Galaxy with self-replicating probes."

George Dvorsky's 404, you mean. Blogger claims that there's no such blog.

Tony Fisk said...

Try this:

(and in future, try googling 'George Dvorsky' before complaining about typos in urls: it isn't hard! Easier than grumbling, in fact!)

David Brin said...

and then add to the end


Stefan Jones said...

Remarkably spleenful analysis of Libertarianism from The American Conservative:

Marxism of the Right

David Brin said...

Thanks, Stefan, for pointing to the article in The American Conservative, deconstructing libertarianism. I can well expect it aroused an uproar... and that the responses from fervent libertarians wholly missed the point, as much as Robert Locke (the ironically named author) did.

Yes, he poses many interesting points, revealing a few of the many logical oversimplifications perpetrated by most American styles of libertarianism. Locke's second paragraph, and somewhat the third, are especially cogent. Indeed, I have long made the clear parallel between libertarianism and Marxism, at many levels, all the way from their common emotional and romantic underpinnings to their eerily shared vision of an ideal society.

But read between the lines. Locke's piece has an agenda. The masters of neoconservatiism can see that the occupants of the Karl Rove's Big Tent are getting restless. Huckabee roused the restive fundie herd to lift its head and start demanding a real voice (at which point, the more populist impulses of Christianity might burst their bonds). Moderates are deserting the GOP en masse for Obama. And Ron Paul put a real scare into the kleptocrats -- the one group that had, till now, been able to take the rest of the red coalition for granted, simply by shouting the curse word "liberals!"

The kleptocrats have invested twenty years and close to a billion dollars in dazzlers and court rationalizers, like Perle, Nitze etc... and now Robert Locke. The same coterie of shills who brought us a catechism of New Conservatism (reversing almost every responsibility principle of the old), now must come up with fresh distractions, in order to keep everyone from noticing one raw fact: that neoconservatism stands only for the empowerment of a new aristocracy.

A new oligarchy of inherited privilege. A return to feudalism. Nothing less, nothing more.

Hence a need to savage libertarianism. Forget the silly excesses of Ayn Rand. The thing that the Masters find most terrifying about libertarians, is the possibility that some of them might actually go back and read Adam Smith! Whereupon, they might realize that freedom and markets always had an enemy far worse, far more persistent and destructive, than any paternalistic bureaucracy, or even socialism. The very enemy that Adam Smith railed against, for engaging in collusive power-abuse, secretive market manipulation, contortion of state authority to personal advantage, and restriction of opportunity for any conceivable source of competition.

Thus, Locke does the perfectly expected. He creates a caricature of libertarianism, to taunt and mock and marginalize as a realm of kooks. True enough, a large fraction of libertarians do adhere to enough of the cartoony beliefs, so that every arrow hits a real target -- Locke's strawman goes ouch!

But that's the point! One can critique today's libertarianism for being a simpleminded, indignation-drenched, silly-ass romantic version of something with real potential... as I have done at:

Or, one can engage in the demeaning act of slagging an entire worldview, just because some of its frenzied adherents happen to be silly people. Locke chooses the latter approach not because libertarianism is fundamentally flawed, in any of the ways he describes. (A mature, adult version would correct all of them, quickly.)

No, he does it because the kleptocratic rulers of the far-right have to dispose of the Ron Pauls out there. Marginalizing them as freaks, not as role models... just in case their anxious, confused lowing ever turns into a dangerous murmur and growl. Especially in case they ever realize (or remember) that freedom is always under threat by an ancient foe.

One with a far longer history of suppressing liberty than any combination of goody-meddlers or pathetic socialist ideologues..

David Brin said...

Someone post the above in an appropriate place?

Brother Doug said...

David Brin said:
Most fan groups, except a few back east, seem to want fandom to die out with them, like the shakers.

Hey! Not all of us Shakers want to die out! That was just a few old sisters, and they were too trusting of their lawyers. It was the lawyers who wanted control of Shaker villages and artifacts once they were dead. They are all gone and, we are still accepting new converts just as we have for over two centuries. The problem is everyone has been culturally conditioned by an insanely materialistic society to settle for what marketing will provide.

Sorry to rant off topic, but these myths keep getting propagated like some bad urban legend. In the meantime the human population is rapidly using all the clean water, destroying the environment, and wiping out eons of biological memory. I don’t get how everyone thinks there is something suicidal about a small minority not having children. That may have been true thousands of years ago as cavemen. When you look at the worlds two biggest nations India and China, for the last thousand years you see two nations that actively promoted monasteries and a chaste lifestyle. And what did they get for this supposedly crazy idea? A big time payoff in the genetic lottery.

That is me third from the left. The Picture is seven years old and I no longer live in Maine, but other than that we are still here.

Brother Doug

David Brin said...

Yeow! I LOVE cognitive dissonance and surprise! (No wonder I was throttled in all my other lives, before age 15)

Brother Doug, you rock me back, eleven ways. To find a shaker among this modernist community, well, you just feel free to tell us more, whenever the mood strikes you!

As for SF fandom dying out, however, let me say that I have cultural and practical reasons for wanting the"cult of sci fi" to spread and flourish, rather than die off, or fade into quaint obscurity. The correlation of anti-youth sci fi fan Smofs and those who have no kids is one that I came to observe in harsh, practical experience. Those who are invested in the next generation in one way, often are in others.

Look, I am an eco-guy. China's one child policy saved us all. But I'm fully invested in the time stream. I want kids (mine and others) to be problem solvers and Earth-savers.

Hey, it could happen. Especially if they love SF.

Stefan Jones said...

Or as Bruce Sterling once said, "Real futurists have kids."

I wouldn't worry too much about the non-breeding Science Fiction fans; plenty of Science Fiction readers I know have kids, and are encouraging them to be avid readers. They're not steeped in SF culture or go to conventions, they just read the stuff, and a fair amount of it.

David Brin said...

Of course you are right, Stefan. Fandom may have been its own thing, not really crucial at all. Maybe the solution is more amorphous. Something already happening.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Dr. Brin's reading of the Locke anti-libertarianism editorial as a hit piece against Ron Paul supporters seems insightful. I think the kakistocrats who run the collection of lunatics now misnamed "The Republican Party" correctly recognize that Ron Paul and his followers represent the single biggest threat to their gigantic smash-and-grab operation. Put simply, the past 7 years has been a smokecreen for the kakistocrats to smash the U.S. economy, smash the U.S. army, smash the U.S. government, and grab as much loot as they can and beat feet before the cops arrive.

Robert Locke's editorial seems like a fancy version of telling the Ron Paul supporters: "Shut up and get back down on your knees and keep sucking Karl Rove's c**k."

Dr. Rbin urges us to "read between the lines." But you don't have to read between the lines to see the problems with Locke's editorial. He starts out using the most intellectually & morally bankrupt attack of all, the ad hominem attack:

ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual eccentrics often find an attractive political philosophy in libertarianism

Wow! So libertarianrs are drug-using commie perverts! Boy, I sure don't want to have anything to do with libertarianism!

We would just as easily employ this bankrupt sort of ad hominem attack against the Republican party: closet homosexuals, embezzlers and sexual predators who prey on underage boys often become members of the Republican party...

Or we could use the same kind of debased attack against Democrats:
presidents who get adulterous oral sex in the Oval Office and New York governors who hire $5000-a-hour hookers find the Democratic party attractive...

When someone opens a purportedly serious op-ed piece with a backstabbing underhanded attack as low as the ad hominem smear, it sets off flashing red alarm lights that whatever follows should be taken with metric assloads of salt.

That said, Dr. Brin's attempted defnes of libertarianism seemed to me to fall (msotly) flat.

Dr. Brin did a good job of exposing the scurrilous motives behind Locke's attack. However, Locke made quite a few good points. In fact, while the motives behind Locke's op ed seem underhanded, and his opening salvo was simply scurrilous and greatly undermined his credibility...overall, the article does a fine job of explaining both the drawbacks of libertarianism and the practical reasons why it's not a credible oplitical philosophy.

Calling libertarianism "the Marxism of the right" once again involves an ad hominem attack: to my knowledge, no libertarian government has yet set up gulags or conducted show trials or tortured people into phoney confessions. But Locke hits on an essential point, because, like Marx's crackpot philosophy, libertarianism represents a wildly unrealistic extreme fringe of the political spectrum.

Dr. Brin's attempted defense of libertarianism fails on multiple levels. Brin contradicts himself:

True enough, a large fraction of libertarians do adhere to... cartoony beliefs...

contradicting his later statement

one can engage in the demeaning act of slagging an entire worldview, just because some of its frenzied adherents happen to be silly people.

If most of the adherents of a worldview hold crazy beliefs, we are justified in rejecting that worldview. Dr. Brin's use of deceptive qualifiers and bogus weasel-words like "a large fraction" (read: MOST) and "enough cartoony beliefs" (read: ESSENTIALLY ALL) and "some of its adherents" (read: VIRTUALLY ALL OF ITS ADHERENTS) greatly weaken Dr. Brin's claims.

As a practical matter, virtually all the liberatarians I've ever read or heard from or talked to subscribe to essentially all the "cartoony" beliefs Locke describes. Moreover, essentially all the liberatiarins I've read or encountered personally seem, as Dr. Brin remarked about Ron Paul, "half crazy." They make some solid sensible remarks and then veer off into batshhit-crazy-land with schemes like allowing underage kids to consent to sex with adults, or eliminating all pollution laws, or getting rid of government-issued currencies. Locke zeroes in on these crazy aspects of libertarianism and I think he's correct to do so. This craziness seems inherent to libertarianism, just as gulags and secret police seem inherent to Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism. Libertariasm needs these crazy schemes because the crackpot philosphy of pure freedom breaks down without it, just as the former Soviet Union needed gulags and secret police because their version of communism would break down without 'em.

Dr. Brin goes on to make the mistake of attack Locke for his motives rather than for his facts and logic. This is once again a poor argument, because a person can make an accurate and true argument for the wrong motives, and this doesn't impeach the accuracy of his debating points. I think that's what's happened here, in fact. Locke's motives for trying to demolish libertarianism are underhanded...but Locke's facts and logic remain valid. Essentially all liberatrians seem to hold so manyc razy beliefs that libertarianism can't be taken seriously. There does seem a large self-serving component to libertarian beliefs -- I don't see a lot of homeless people speaking up for libertarianism, only well-off folks who hate paying taxes. And libertarianism does center around egocentric selfishness -- there's no other way to put it.

Nothing in Dr. Brin's failed rebuttal successfully denies or refutes any of the observed realities.

Lastly, Dr. Brin jaunts off on a bizarre tangent and proclaims that what is currently generally understood to be "libertarianism" is not true libertarinism. If only genuine mature real libertarianism were espoused, Dr. Brin assures us, everyone would recognize as the wonderful political philosophy it really it.

But this is simply deceptive. Dr. Brin is being deliberately disngenuous when he claims that every aspect of the political philosophy which is generally understood to be "libertarianism" is not actualy libertarian at all, but merely a debased inaccurate caricature of the true liberatarianism. Brin's claim fails because it is unfalsifiable. This is edactly the same kind of intellectualy bankrupt defense Marxists tried (and failed) in defnse of the former Soviet Union: "The Soviet Union isn't true communism, so criticizing the USSR is pointless. Real communism has never been tried! So all attacks on the Soviet gulags and torture chambers are beside the point."

This attempted defense is dishonest because, in fact, the USSR had enough of the features of genuine communism that crticizing it as a form of communism was valid. And, second, this ia a fundamentally dishonest defense because you can never disprove it. Any time any communist regime fails and descends to torture and secret police and phoney show trials, you can always claim, "Well, that's not real communism!"

Thus, according to this phoney and dishonest argument, communism can never fail...since every version which fails is by defiition not communism. The dishonest and cravenness of that kind of argumetn becaomes obvious as son as you ask: "So how do we test whether communism works in the real world?"

You can't. Because any time communism gets tried and fails, it is simply declared to be "not communism." This dishonest argument equates to the claim that "communism can never be tested to see if it actually works in the real world," which is obviously a scam. That's the same kind of scam run by ufologists or psychic surgeons or dowsers. Every time you ask "How do we test whether ufos actually exist?" or "How do we test whether dwosing really works?" the ufologist comes up with some elabroate new reason why ufos can't be detected by raradr or photographed: the ufos have special force fields, etc. It's all just a scam, ad transparent attempt to avoid having to admit that your claims are vacuous and there's absoltuely no hard evidnece to support 'em.

Likewise, every time someone tries to test a dowser's claims, the "negativ aura of doubt" caused by the test destroys the dowsers "delicate spychic equilibrium," so the test doesn't work. Once again, it's just a scam.

Likewise, Dr. Brin's failed argument in favor of liberatarianism seems to me to represent the same kind of scam. ANy time any aspect of libertarianism fails in the real world, Dr. Brin merely declares it to be "not true libertarianism" and dismisses that evidence of failure as irrelevant to criticisms of libertarian philosophy.

The proper response to this kind of scam is always to ask: "What evidence would you require to disprove your claims?"

This always shuts up the ufologists and dowsers real fast. Ask them so specify a double-blind experiment whose results would conclusively disprove their claim, and they fall silent. The reason? Because their claims are vacuous and untestable, thus meaningless.

So I would like to ask Dr. Brin: "What double-blind economic or social experiment would suffice for Dr. Brin to consider libertarianism disproven as a valid political philosophy?"

We can see the disingenuousness of Dr. Brin's paeans to libertarianism, because it's pretty clear that he won't be able to answer. Any time any aspect of libertarianism fails in the real world, Dr. Brin simply declares it to be "not real libertarianism" and sails smoothly on, undettered for facts or reality.

By contrast, let me specify some conditions under which representative democracy with divided government and universal suffrage and a balance of powers would be disproven as a political philosophy:

[1] It's often said that "all democracies eventually become corrupt when the people discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public coffers."
I don't see this happening in any current liberal democracies. There is current liberal democracy in which most fo the people have stopped working and have simply voted themselves a stipend. The evidence seems to show that most people enjoy working for a living, and they do it even when they don't have to (i.e., bored retirees who return to the workforce).

If we saw a large-scale trend of the poplations of liberal democracies slacking off and stopping work and voting themselves lifetime sinceures, I would consider this is a powerful disproof of democracy as a political philosophy. But it simply hasn't happened. Wherever democracy has been tried, this just doesn't happen.

[2] "Mob rule" is often proclaimed as the great danger of representative democracy. If mob rule became SOP in democracies, this would be a valid disproof of democracy as a political philosohpy -- it's the one Plato constantly emphasized.

But once again there's no sign of this. Occasional outbrekas of mass insanity (i.e., the WMD craze and the 2003 Iraq invasion) are always tempered by a rapid return to sanity. The history of the last 200 eyars seems to show that democracies hew to generally moderate policies, with a few rare exceptional outbursts of insanity. The craziness isn't sustained, however, and democracies always seem to self-correct fairly quickly.

Compare with fascism or communism, which failed to self-correct, and whose pathologies reached horrific extremes.

[3] Suppression of exceptional indivdiuals is another claimed weakness of demcoracies. This one is so contrary to observed reality that, if it were true, we could certainly accept it as a disproof of democracy as a political philosophy...but it's so much the opposite of what we observe that the contrary seems true. I.e., all other political philosophies other than democracy seem to suppress exceptional individuals. For bringing out talented musicians and artists and scientists and scholasr and writers and businessmen, nothing seems to work anywhere near as well as democracy.

So what conditions would suffice to disprove libertarianism as a valid political philosophy?

I challenge Dr. Brin to asnwer.

Some historical experiments come to mind: the old west in America had a lot of traits we generally accept as libertarian: lack of laws, personal freedom, lack of central government, etc. The old west in America consisted of a lot of thievery and killiing and stealing and the main effort seems to have been to extend govenrment and law as rapidly as possible into stateless territories in the American west, in order to cut down on all the thieving and killing and lynching.

Chile in the 1980s was a testbed for the Chicago School of Economics in which essentially all the aspects of economic libertarianism were tried. They failed. The Chilean economy collapsed to the point where the deregulation had to be abandoned and normal market contrlls and standard economic regulation had to be put in place.

The current deregulation of banking, the airline industry, the airwaves, food safety, etc., has resulted mainly in the collapse or near-collapse of all these industries, massive corruption, a catastrophic decline in the quality of bank loans, air travel, food safety and so on. The 28 years since the senile criminal Reagan slithered into office have represented a grand experiment in deregulation and libertarianism, and it has failed as decisively as any political philosophy can be said to have failed throughout history. Removing the rules from the economy makes everything break down. Capitalims simply doesn't work without rules.

So what set of conditions, what historical example, which double-blind social experiment, would be sufficient for Dr. Brin to consider libertarianism disproven as a valid political philosophy?

I don't believe Dr. Brin can answer. This suggests that his claims about libertarianism are vacuous, and that whatever he calls "libertarianism" remains such a shadowy indefinable will-of-the-wisp that it's essentially meaningless.

As a larger issue, I've noticed that Dr. Brin tends to define-out-of-existence a number of different poltical and economic philosophies. For example, Dr. Brin appears to consider what most people think of as "the Enlightment" as not the true Enlightenment, but a mere caricature of the real, genuine Enlightenment.

The problem with these kinds of word-games is that words have recognized generally accepted meanings. You don't get to define any word as meaning something entirely different from what people generlaly recognize as the meaning of that word. You especially don't get to define a word ot mean something completely different, and then use that bizarre new meaning as though it were common accepted, or had some actual grounding in observed reality.

Words that Dr. Brin has defined out of existence, to the point where they have essentially no contact with their commonly recognized meanings, include:

* Libertarianism
* Laissez faire free markets
* Capitalism
* the Enlightenment
* Democracy
* Aristocracy
* Feudalism
* Free trade
* Globalism

Robert Locke succinctly summarzies the commonly accepted meaning of "libertarianims." Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning for libertarianism is, as far as I can tell, "1950s moderate Republicanism." I happen to agree with Dr. Brin that's what this country needs right now as a political philsophy -- but let's be clear, that ain't what the word "libertarianism" means!

Laissez faire free markets actually means "socialism for the rich and savage market discipline for the bottom 90% of the population." But Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning for "laissez faire free markets" seems to be "Adam Smith's community of small businessmen handcrafting products in their home workshops, unfettered by either large economic cabals, or government regulations." That's all very well, but the reality is that we live in a world of giant markets, mass production, and colossal multinational corporations. Adam Smith's vision of an economy made up entirely of small home workshop businesses has no relevance to today's world.

Capitlism actually means "a rentier economy in which money means everything, and all other values mean nothing." But Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning for "capitalism" seems to be "daring imaginative entrepeneurs building businesses like Google out of nothing and adding wealth to the economy and creaitng value in people's lives." A few businesses like google do get built, but the reality of today's world is that c(r)apitalism nowadays mainly involves figuring out new ways to sell snow to Eskimos and charge them 35% compounded interest on it, then change the bankrupcy laws so people can't default when the payments overwhelm them. Most capitalism today involves selling average people toxic poorly-made crap they don't need at exorbitant interest rates and hornswoggling 'em into debt slavery in the process.

"Aristocracy" actually means "the rule of the best" from the original Greek (aristos = best, krateo = power). Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning seems to be "an inheritance oligarchy which uses chianery to maintain pereptual power and suppress talented people from rising in station." Arguably, the big problem with America today is that it isn't an aristocracy. America today is more like a kakistocracy -- rule of the worst. If our best people held perpetual power, I wouldn't have much problem with that: if Freeman Dyson and Steven Beinberg and Ed Witten and Sam Harris and Chirsotpher Hitchens were our leaders, isntead the drunk-driving C student, I think things would be a lot better in America. There's nothing wrong with aristoracy per se, as long as it a meritcoratic aristocracy. What's we've got is a akistocratic aristocracy -- you can only rise high in America by failing, badly, and multiple times. The more you fail in the real world, the higher you rise. That's not an aristoracy.

"The Enlightnement" mean the overthrow of religious rule and the susbtitution of pure reason, with an excessive reliance on logic and an unleathy attempt to scientize social policy and government. Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning of "the Enlightenement" seems to be "modern liberal society including traits taken from as early as the Magna Carta to trends as recent as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the gay rights movement." I agree that modern liberal society represents history's most successful mix of social and economic policies...but that's not "the Enlightenment." The Enlightnment was a very narrow and often fanatical policial/social movement that led to great exccesses, and eventually gave rise to the Great Terror in France and the first mass executions for purely political ideological reasons. Volatires correctly ridiculed many of the aspects of th e Enlgithnement, especialy its tendecy to go hog-wild for reason as opposed to common sense and humane emotion. Voltaire called logic "The art of going wrong with confidence," and it's hard to fault him on that. Whenever we replace common sense and humane sensibilities with pure logic, we're following the Enightenment's lead, and it's always resulted in disaster. Incidentally, Freidrich Herxcer and the counter-Enlightenment led to the Romantic movement, which corrected a number of the excesses of the Enlightment (but introduced new excesses of their own). An illuminating study could be made of Soviet communism as a nearly pure expression of the Enlightenemnt carried to its logical extremes, with German Nazi fascism as a nearly pure expression of the anti-rational pro-feeling Romantic movement carried to its logical extremes. Dr. Brin appears to have no place in his political or social philosophy for Friedrich Herder...but he should.

"Demcoracy" common means "majority rules with preservation of minority rights" but Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning seems to be a combination of "smart mobs" and "beneficent emergent order." In the real world, democracy tends to beget lynch mobs, and representative government is necessary because 60% of the elecotrate currently disbelieves in evolution. It's worth noting that in an America in which a pleinpotentiary supermajority of the citizens disblieve in evolution and think creationism, in which "all forms of life were created no mroe than 10,000 years ago" is the correct description of the observed unvierse, nonetheless virtually all our schools ban teaching creationism and instead teach evolution. That's not decmoracy. (And a good thing, too. Facts are not subject to majority vote. The laws of nature don't get written by legislatures.)

"Feudlaims" has a generally accepted meaning that involves a complex web of social relationships and obligations, including pecularities like droit de signeur, along with a rigid class structure and many reciprocal obligations between classes, plus plenty of laws which seem bizarre to us today. For example, if you could read in a feudal society, your punishemnt for murder was commuted to branding instead of hanging. Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning for feudalism seems to be "backward ignorance as caracature din a 1950s Charlton Heston movie, with evil barons raping helpless peasant womena nnd stealing the farmers' livestock." In reality, feudalism involved signficiant amounts of what Dr. Brin would call libertarianism, with peasants working together voluntarity to build cathedrals, and the lord of the manor sheltering common folk during times of drought or plague. The point is not that feudalism was wonderful, but that the middle ages wasn't a period of ignorance and tyranny: medieval peasants used a form of "memory theoater" to compensate for lack of literacy, and their memories were astonishingly good, far better than ours. A medieval peasant knew the neam and characteristics of every bird in the forest and every flower in the fields. The troubadors were especialy remarkable for their feats of memory. Feudal peoples knew as much as we know, they just knew different things than we know today. They were also just as rational as we were, but in different ways: compare the medieval superstition about witches to modern superstitions that "free markets will generate wealth." The foolish feudal peasant usually wound up hanining as a witch someone who was innnocent, while the foolish modern capitlist usualy winds up getting swindled by an Enron con artist rather than becoming wealthy. There's just as much supersitition among ordinary people today as there was unde feudalism, it's just distributed differently, about different things.

"Free trade" as it commonly accepted today means "Ricardo-style mercantilism in which the wealthy first world forces the poor third world to export its intellectual capital as artificially low prices, then uses that intellectual capital to produce overpriced goods like Microsoft Windows and Hollywood movies, which are then sold back to the poor third world at artificially inflated prices." Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning for "free trade" is "a fair global market in which all comers, from rich nations or poor, compete on an equal playing field." This doesn't exist, as simply facts demosntrate incontrovertibly: for example, bogus artificial trade restrictions make it legal for Hollywood studios to sell artificially cheap DVDs to China, but region-coding and bogus trade laws make it a "crime" to take those selfsame region-coded DVDs in China and sell them back to customers in the U.S. In other words, "free" trade is free for giant corporate monopolies...but not for you and me.

"Globalism" has a now commonly-accpeted meaning of "a worldwide scam run by the powerful financial interests of the first world to trap the third world in a never-edning cycle of debt slavery, in order to secure an unlimited supply of cheap labor and cheap oil, enforced, if necessary, by military force, as in Iraq, and on occasion by genocide, as in Iraq."
Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-ezistence new meaning of "globalism" appears to be something along the lines of the Pesi commercial in which a multiracial choir sings "in perfect harmony." The actual reality of globalism as it is currently rpacticed entails landless peasants in Brazil getting beaten down by body-armored riot troops when they resist being thrown out of their makeshift shanties to make way for a new factory to produce toxic lead-tainted toys for sale in the U.S. Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has described globaism as it currently practiced as a "failure" and "a war of the rich against the poor" and "one of the primary agencies for spreading misery in the third world" in his book GLobalization and its Discontents. Naturally, this makes no impression on Dr. Brin, sicne he has already defined "globalism" out of existence to mean something entirely different from its current generally-accepted meaning.

Robert said...

Zorgon, I prescribe to the Libertarian beliefs and was a member of the Libertarian party at one time (until one of them had the audacity to accuse Senator Kennedy of murdering the sailors of the USS Cole - I might hate the Kennedy clan with tremendous passion, but I found the attack to be without merit and baseless).

Am I insane as well? You all but stated I am.

There are a number of Libertarians out there, both members of the party and those of us who left out of disgust and became Independents, who do not believe in the precise statements that the primary Libertarian leadership claims is the true ideal of being a Libertarian.

You paint us with a mighty broad paintbrush, and splatter yourself with paint in the process.

And yes, I am Libertarian at heart and yet am voting for Senator Obama because I realize the Republicans are far worse for civil liberties at this point than the Democrats. Sometimes the cure can be distasteful at some level... and yet embody elements much needed as a whole. I see Obama as being an inspiration for a new generation of politician who avoids the politics of old and embodies something nobler.

So perhaps I am insane at some level, to believe in hope. The alternative is to slit my wrists and wait for the oblivion of the atheist non-afterlife.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Zorgon, PLEASE start your own blog and then bring excerpts here!

1) You really have a lot of interesting things that you say very well... and I mean that, I only find 10% silly and another 10% cockeyed diametrically wrong. The rest is interesting! Why spend all that effort in another guy’s comments’ section?

2) For heaven’s sake, I mean, in a blog you could categorize and divide this stuff into DIGESTIBLE LUMPS! As is, you wind up being skimmed.

Good pts re Locke’s ad hominemism. To the counter attack slur, add that all of the worst traitors who sold out the US to enemies, for cash, since 1950 or so, have been goppers.

Yes, I seem to be dreaming when I try to awaken maturity and pragmatic balance in a movement dominated by immature, oversimplifying, lapel grabbing indignation junkies. (Many American liberals tried to do the same thing, reaching out to their Marxist and socialist friends... until the hopelessness became apparent and they had to bite the bullet, performing the “Miracle of 1947.”) My efforts encouraged a few minor insurrections. But, clearly, I ain’t gonna be that savior of libertarianism. Point taken.

And yet, I do not have to over-react with resentment toward what is right about the core idea of libertarianism. Their notion of reflexively resisting, whenever authorities try to tell people what to do or think is basically right. And increasing reliance upon an increasingly skilled and knowing citizenry is a major theme of mine... one that I refuse to let them ruin.

I do not have to offer a refutation test for “moderate libertarianism” since our present society is a living, breathing tribute to all of the processes of reciprocal accountability and open opportunity that underlie the entire Enlightenment. Yes, public education and state highways were essential to create feedstock for a vibrant entreprise system. So would public health. I also think it is essential to limit inherited wealth. Sounds socialistic? Indeed, Robert Heinlein (of all people) thought the basics of life should be free.)

But I see one foremost aim of such cooperative endeavors -- the delivery of confident and independent adults to the starting line from which they should then compete! And at that point, I turn vigorously libertarian and it is the precise point where many of their arguments turn from silly to simply right.

Zorgon is right to despise that “largesse” quotation, which is bandied a lot by assholes and was originally written by a truly major colon. Today, it is the middle class that has been willing to cinch the belt with taxes, in order to balance budgets.

Alas, Z, I see what you are doing with the rest of your post, really. Alas, I found it less interesting. You are slagging me over minitiae of definistions, knowing full well that I am already on the good side of nearly all of the issues you raise. Who has the time?

I have a request... primarily, I guess, for Stefan. Has Patrick Farley ever re-posted his electric sheep comics? I use “Spiders” frequently to make points with defense folks. It is an important memic weapon and we’re better off if I am armed with this good set of images.

Stefan Jones said...

Patrick Farley said he'd shortly be resurrecting his site (under another domain name, But that was on New Year's, and there's no sign of it other than a placeholder site.

His blog ( is the only way I know of communicating with him.

Sometimes I wonder if Farley doesn't realize what a unique voice and perspective he has.

Or maybe his current work, some kind of film project, has his full attention. If it does, and he's as talented at that as he is at comics, gawd bless him. Something as subversive and brilliant as The Spiders on (say) the "Cartoon Network" Adult Swim slot would be most welcome.

Tony Fisk said...

It would seem that 'Spiders' (all parts) has been archived, and is available here:

And, as Stefan has just mentioned, Patrick Farley also has a blog:
Elements of Past & Future Combined Into Something Not Quite as Good as Either, wherein he discusses the current demise of the e-sheep domain, and his intention to start a new one (sans hyphens)... whenever.

At least he hasn't been renditioned by the auditors of reality, yet.

Rob said...

The first thing that is true: When I see "zorgon the malevolent" at the top of the comment, I don't even read anymore. Not enough hours in a day.

Second: As a father of *five* children, I tell people who attempt to malign my decisions: a) We (wife and I) haven't significantly raised the average number of kids per woman in the U.S., which is not at a sustainable number anyhow. Our population grows because of immigration.

And b) If you disagree with me, make a baby and teach it your memes, because otherwise mine will win.

I am not at all convinced that China's one-child policy has been a long-term good. I hear horror stories about elective abortions based on the gender of the fetus, or worse, and it makes me wonder: if that sort of thing continues for four generations, will the Chinese outlook be similar to the Western/American one at all enough for our two peoples to maintain any kind of accord?

Doug S. said...

Dr. Brin's defined-out-of-existence new meaning seems to be "an inheritance oligarchy which uses chicanery to maintain perpetual power and suppress talented people from rising in station."

Um... that IS the accepted definition: a system in which the primary determinant of power, wealth, and status is who one's parents were, and in which exceptional individuals don't have a chance to change their station. If the king's son is a raving lunatic, he's still the next king unless somebody kills him first. It's a term generally associated with titles of nobility and caste systems.

tintinaus said...

Completely OT.

Gotta say I loved the NY Times Op-Eds on Iraq. Especially Richard Perle's It was all Colin Powell's fault(This guy really cracks me up) and Danielle Pletka's What are they complaining about? We gave them FREEDOM!

Here is Rick Taylor's take on Pletka's piece. His best line was

Yes, those of us who opposed the war were just bigots who thought Iraqis were less than fully human and didn’t deserve to be free.

Anonymous said...

Posting comments to George Dvorsky’s blog doesn't seem to be working. Blogger does the usual thing of showing green success text at the top of the page but the comment doesn't actually appear.

The worst kind of software bug, IMO, is the silent failure, where either there's no visible response or there's an actual success message but it didn't actually work.

If you can read this, the problem is affecting only some Blogger blogs.

Dennis said...

Obama's said to be planning a major speech tomorrow about race, etc. Given his speech prowess and all the ado about Wright-or-wrong going on, this strikes me as a potential JFK moment. Sure, Romney tried to do the same with his faith-in-America speech, but even if Barack's no Jack Kennedy, Mitt's no Barack by a long shot.

Wish I could stay home and watch CSPAN tomorrow...

David Brin said...

I need to do a data dump here, in order to clear out some of the politically-oriented dross that has filled my folder. Some misc items for you hardcore types who lurk down here in comments:

Mike Treder writes in: “Until today, I had not recognized the potential crony benefits of domestic chaos similar to that of overseas chaos. Then I read this on the perilous state of our national economy, and its likely ripple effects on the global economy, all occurring, arguably, as a result of policies championed and applied by neocons (and not strongly opposed by their Democratic enablers). Is this just an accident, an unforeseen and unfortunate mistake? Or is it possible to infer that the Cheney-Bush-Greenspan cabal deliberately chose to destabilize the economy? Was their goal in fact to inflict chaos and create more opportunities for "disaster capitalism" right here at home?”

Well, yes. This article cites does offer a downer economic view (that I don’t share completely) and a call to action. But it stops far short of pondering the ghost at the banquet. The possibility that such a systematic and perfectly consistent pattern of deletrious actions by our executive branch may have been deliberately focused upn achieving the results we see.
Indeed, one of my greatest frustrations has been the failure of modern American punditry - or agents of accountability - to realize that a state of “emergency” allows the administration to simply cancel all accounting and competitive bidding rules for major war and security contracts.

One does not need “manchurian” explanations for the Bush Cabal’s behavior (although that thriller scenario is the one most perfectly consistent with all administration actions). The lesser conspiracy theory - that this has been a Great Kleptocratic Raid, with terror-war as the distraction/pretext - is quite adequate all by itself. Even the third (and less-likely) explanation, that the Bushites have been sincere - if cosmically stupid - still leads to a blatant chain of actions that always boiled down to extreme opportunism and cronyism in time of war. In other words - treason.

Alas, not even those screeching for impreachment seem to have the imagination or good sense to focus on the right reasons. Even as the veil gradually lifts from the national psyche, there is no sign of clear-eyed focus.
Zorgon offers: “s now trying to dismiss Obama's questioning the phony premises for the needless and insane war in Iraq by calling such questions "an old argument.' He then tells us we don't have time for old arguments. ...McCain's message is: It's not time for old arguments--it's time for old candidates.”

There is an answer to the “old stuff” message. And it is simple. Past horrific blunders testify to a party’s competence, their values, their soundness of mind. Hell, I favor going back much farther... to the Bush family’s oft photographed kiss-sessions with Saddam Hussein and their history of warm support for Osama Bin Laden’s mujahedeen.

Here’s something we should get behind.,thompson,78873,2.html

---- And a copied tirade that’s entertaining, at least ---

The Fraud of Bushenomics: They’re Looting the Country By Larry Beinhart, AlterNetPosted on January 19, 2008,

The idea under which Bushenomics was sold is this:
• The rich are the investor class.
• If the rich have more money, they will invest more.
• Their investments will create more business.
• Those businesses will create more wealth, thus improving everyone's lives and making the nation stronger. They will also create new and better jobs.

Whether or not the people who say such things truly believe them, I cannot say. But that's their pitch, and the media certainly seems to buy it, as do most of the establishment economists.

A more realistic -- and less idealistic -- view of Bushenomics is that the Bush administration and its cronies came at the economy with the attitude of oilmen.
• They inherited a vastly wealth country.
• They looked at it like the oil under the Alaskan wilderness. They craved to pump it out, turn it into cash and grab as much of that cash as possible. Wherever possible, they literally sold off the assets.

This was called privatization. Our biggest asset -- in terms of size -- is, of course, our defense establishment. With privatization, one dollar out of every three for direct military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan goes to private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater. So when someone says, "Support the troops!" with budget appropriations, they should really yell, "Two-thirds support to the troops! One third support to Halliburton, et al.!" This is just an estimate. The degree of privatization is unknown. Presumably, that's deliberate. Nor does it count the amount of money the military spends with private purveyors to supply the troops and their operations. It is only the amount that goes directly to private contractors.

But for the most part, the assets of the United States, our collective wealth, could not be sold off in such a direct manner. In order to turn them into cash, what the administration did was borrow against them. That is, they cut taxes while continuing to spend lavishly, creating debt. The debt is owed by all of us, the collective people of the United States. The tax cuts hugely favored rich people. They also favored unearned income (dividends, capital gains, inherited money) as opposed to the kind of money people have to work for. The very richest got richer. The spending was -- to the degree possible -- directed to themselves, their friends and their supporters: Big Pharma, the medical industry, insurance, banking and financial, among others. And, of course, Big Oil, from whom they have spent close to a trillion dollars of our money to conquer a big oil field for private exploitation.
--- Larry Beinhart is the author of "Wag the Dog." [for the full story, see the url below]

And... for the record... I do consider Beinhart to be -- well -- pre-biased. Even if I agree with much.

David Brin said...

Oh, while I believe China's one China policy did put us into a parallel universe where peace and prosperity seem more likely, note that when Sanjay Ghandi tried to use heavy-handed methods toward the same end, in India, the people rebelled and now he's dead, and voluntary birth control was actually dealt a severe blow in India. Moreover, just because one sees benefits (a world with fewer people and more luck, that does not mean approving of the methods.

A factoid. How many US Presidents were only-children? Lacking experience with siblings?

The answer - statistically weird - is none. Not one Fascinating.

Brother Doug said...

"Or as Bruce Sterling once said, "Real futurists have kids.""

I enjoy reading Sterling’s fiction but this is one of the less believable examples he has written. I am a futurist and don’t have kids, and I am not the only Shaker who likes Science fiction. And what about Isaac Newton and Susan b Anthony? They were celibate and did more to advance the future than most people I know of. As to kids caring on your meme that did not work so well for the Russians and the Chinese to quote just two examples from last century. The fact is that the Shaker meme, through furniture and song and museums has extended far beyond its original base. In fact the Christian scientists and Mormons took some of our ideas and are propagating even farther than we ever could have.

I agree with Stephan about sci fi fandom no one I know of who reads Sci fi goes to the conventions with any regularity.

Brother Doug said...

The one child policy in China will eventually backlash. In the countryside farms of china most farming families have 4-5 kids and the local officials don’t care because it is extra tax revenue. And the central government is powerless to enforce its will their without damaging the economy. At one time every village had a Buddhist monk who would encourage excess population to become monks. I think that is a better solution. Iran and Vietnam have more successful programs to encourage one child families in a non coercive way.

Robert said...

Should Senator Clinton resign from her presidential run to preserve the Democratic Party's chances of winning the Presidency and unite the Democratic Party? Recent polls suggest that Republicans are voting for Clinton to ensure that a weakened Democratic Party go into the 2008 election.

Unlike the "Obamacans" who seem motivated by a genuine interest in this young presidential candidate, the "Clintocans" appear motivated by avarice and a desire to screw it to the Democrats. Some are doing this to extend the Democratic primaries. Some are doing this to keep Senator Obama out. Some are doing this because they believe Clinton will motivated many Republicans to vote against her despite their dislike of Senator McCain.

Further, evidence suggests that these "Clintocans" were responsible for Clinton's win of the Texas popular vote. Their presence has had an adverse effect on the elections and is harming the political process. (Indeed, I have to wonder if closed primaries will become the norm as a result of this... or at the very least that only Independents will be allowed to choose either ticket.)

It has pretty much been agreed upon that Clinton cannot win the popular or delegate race and that it will take the Superdelegates to put her on the ticket. Clinton needs to accept the truth: she lost, and her continued efforts to fight this battle will only damage the Democratic Party's chances in the general election. It is time for Hillary Clinton to step down.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tony Fisk said...

Hmm... the flip side of Brin's gerrymander counter-tactic: rather than voting for the most acceptable, vote for the *least* acceptable opposing candidate to improve their chances of failure.

If you contemplate the possibility that of the same tactic being applied to the republican primaries, then you will see what an act of spite it is. Talk about 'lose-lose'!

David Brin said...

In the true American Self-destruction scenario, thr goppers all register as dems and vice versa, leading to completion of the kakistocracy.

Re thegopper crossovers, not all are viciously dishonorable people. But it does seem easy to tell the diff.

What's fascinating is there seem to be about as many republicans voting for Obama. But the two groups differ radically when it comes to intent. 

In my own parlance, Obamicans are "wakened ostriches" while Clinticans are Culture Warriors who do not give a damn about honor.

But the crucial players are Clinton-backers. Are they able to see this happening, and react with a sense of proportion? Of long-term self-interest? Of honor, or even shame?

Dennis said...

DB, I don't doubt the notion of deliberate destruction wreaked upon us by the Bushites. 5 years ago I was ranting to coworkers that this administration could only be incompetent or willingly malicious. Add in the mini-agendas that they quietly embarked upon from day 1 (weakening water/air quality standards, etc.) and all signs point to exactly what you're saying.

What I don't get is the motivation. I can't tell if the end goal is destabilization/chaos or a return to feudalism. If it's feudalism, I don't see how it can be sustained (we the rabble can only be distracted by sports scandals and celebrities-gone-wild for so long).

If it's destabilization, then it's pretty much a sell-out to other forces intent on our destruction. But who? The Saudis? We're still their best customer.

Considering how successful the Bushites have been in their destructive efforts, they must have some exceptional planners on-board. Surely those planners have some foresight - they must see there's no long-term win in this.

The other option is that they're End-Timers, trying to hasten Armageddon. Is it truly a coincidence that Bush's landmark bill is called "No Child Left Behind"?

Jester said...

Shame? Clintons? :)

Bill went on Rush Limbaughs know, the guy who called Chelsea the white house ask Republicans in Texas and Ohio to vote for Senator Clinton.

Dennis said...

Obama's speech. Good read. I can only imagine his delivery.

Robert said...

Well, if we're going to go for the true tin-foil hat theme, it could be that the Shrub and associates are working to weaken the U.S. because of an upcoming alien invasion. ;) Unfortunately, that doesn't quite work seeing that China and the Russians are busy building up their military again.

On a more serious note, I am fairly certain we'll see blanket pardons sent out on the last days of the Shrub Presidency. All this is an effort to destabilize the U.S. so that the next administration is forced to spend a lot of money and rebuild the military and infrastructure. At that point the Neocon Republicans will come out again and point fingers and declare it "Tax and Spend" and say that they can save the U.S. from rampant and unnecessary spending, cut taxes, and all of that.

Seeing that voters have a short memory... it could work. And it's just part of a klepto raid by the Neocons. Look at the huge profits they've already reaped. What else besides money is needed for an excuse?

Rob H.

Robert said...

Here is a link to a video of the speech that Senator Obama gave, including a transcript for people to follow along with. For those of you who wanted to hear the words as well as read them. ^^

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I wrote a long reply to dennis, re the manchurian scenario, and I'll separate it and post it (next), so that folks can get their tinfoil hats ready.


Um, jester, did that actually happen? Did Bill Clinton appear on Rush Limbaugh and ask HIS republicans to vote for Hillary?

There is a level at which it’s non-heinous. I’ll bet the words he used were all about how Rush’s folk should snap out of it and vote for HRC because she’s great and the times demand it. At that level, I mean, who else would have the guts to go into Rush-land, on one of the few occasions when that big, fat liar-coward actually lets a strong opponent confront him on the air? Heck, I guess I’d do it, too.

Still, he can’t have been unaware of the truly nasty sub-level going on. What a silly-ass and shortsighted thing to do.

(On a glancing aside, what is with John Stewart and the panoply of deep-red neocons he keeps inviting on the show? I think it’s great and it sure builds cred, letting him laugh in the face of Hannity & O’Reilly over “balanced.” Still, it can get weird. I mean, Grover Norquist? Eek. At least have better questions for a guy like that!

Haven’t seen/read Obama’s speech, but I gotta tell you, this Wright thing has me chilled. There’s even a corner of my paranoid thriller plot-writing (certifiably loony) brain that can now come up with a NEW “manchurian” scenario... that I credit at the millionth of a percent level. But still makes me shiver.

Hey, I only said that here, among you guys. I am backing Barack to the hilt. All the way.

Robert, I actually hope you are right about the coming Pardon Tsunami. Because it seems the only end game alternative to the neocons bringing the house down upon our heads, in order to escape prison. If the guys in the CIA and FBI have finally awakened to their jobs and actively cauterize the October Surprise (or July/August/September), then a Noah’s flood of pardons will have to do for the Kleptos.

But as I suggested at
The Congress still has a little wriggle room, to make this easy-out painful to the traitors. They might pass a bill to define a pardon as covering only whatever the recipient describes in fully-confessed detail! Any detail left out remains culpable and liable for prosecution!

At a stroke, it would turn the tsunami into a full-confession tent meeting. A rconciliation commission on steroids. And the value of the information would thereupon be worth far more than any satisfaction of sending the creeps to jail.

Zechariah said...

So apparently the governor of New York had an affair. No, not Spitzer (but him too). David Paterson, the guy who replaced him, just confessed to adultery.

It's getting to where infidelity is looking like a prerequisite for public office.

N.Y. Gov. David Paterson, who took over the state's top job yesterday after Democrat Eliot Spitzer officially resigned amid a prostitution scandal, has told the Daily News that he and his wife, Michelle, had affairs during a rough patch in their marriage several years ago.

David Brin said...

Dennis, thanks for being one of the only guys to openly admit he shares my suspicion --

-- which I still deny officially believing except as a “minority or secondary theory.” I am willing to give 60% credence to the mass delu... I mean universally-shared notion... that the massive, relentless, totally uniform and studiously consistent demolition of the United States of America has been the result of opportunistic thievery and gross incompetence... and only (cough, cough, yeah right) thievery and incompetence.

Hey, I always have the excuse that I am both trained and paid to write entertaining thriller plots.

But let’s put the hat on and explore together. I call this the “manchurian” scenario because it riffs off of “The Manchurian Candidate”... the notion that the simplest way to ruin America would be to insert enemy operatives at the very highest levels of power. At which point, the conspiracy could stay very small - a modern necessity - while perpetrating vast amounts of harm. Systematically demolishing our alliances, our finances, our economy, our military readiness, our world popularity, our social cohesion, our science and technology and law and ethics...

Let’s be clear, none of this could have happened without first making it a top priority to wage war against the professionals of the US Civil Service, FBI, CIA, Officer Corps and so on. The political hacks and Bob Jones University shills that were appointed to oppress our public servants aren’t in on the plot! But they are dogmatic haters of competent government. And many of them are also venial/corrupt/incompetent. Slipping thousands of such people into supervisor roles had to be job one. It was done with relentless consistency.

I won’t go into lengthy detail, making this indictment. Suffice it to say that, if you were an enemy of the United States, with megatons of cash and a deep hatred of our experiment, you would look across the 20th Century - the American Century, when we proved lucky and smart at almost every turn - and ask yourself “What was the worst, most self-destructive mistake that these western pigs ever made?”

Obviously, it was to get embroiled in a draining, bankrupting, demoralizing, unpopular and stupid land war of attrition in Asia.

Okay, then let’s have America do just that!

Would the nation put up with such a grotesquely moronic decision? Well, supply a nasty kick-in-the-balls to serve as a casus belli, for starters. (And have your manchurian send home all possible material witnesses, from the one country that supplied most of the terrorists.) Then? Use radio hate-merchants to get the stupid half of the country to hate the smarter half and to utterly support the manchurian who you’ve installed, at great expense and effort....

Are you getting the drift, Dennis? How it is... I mean, could be... even worse than an excuse to loot trillions? Or even an effort to end the Enlightenment and re-install feudalism? Far worse? Indeed, there are people out there who genuinely hate our entire civilization and have said so, openly, from pulpits that they have bought, across a third of the world. People with tons of motive and plenty of means.

All that’s left is the opportunity. And there I have to dip into “what-if” territory. You could start with the coincidence that a certain foreign prince was “like a second father” to a certain sonova-president. Add indoctrination in the New Feudalism - not hard, since it is flattering to weak minds). Now add the scenario you’ll find at: (Plenty of opportunities, at staged orgies, to get pictures with a donkey.)

Hey, I could write it really, really plausible. But I’m not a crazed conspiracy fetishist. I can make up a story. But I only actually believe the parts where evidence is overwhelming.

Look, I’m angry and I have the genes and training of a thriller author. As far as you citizens are concerned, it’s all right if you guys tsk-tsk and say that “Brin’s jumped the shark!” I don’t have to convince you guys. JUst fight hard, this year, to win back civilization. That’s enough.

But there are others reading this right now. Among them, the professionals whose job it is to be FAR MORE PARANOID THAN I AM! It is their sworn duty not to dismiss scenarios like this one. To look at the systematic correlations and to realize that something very, very peculiarly consistent has been going on.

There are procedures. Protocols that should have been put into operation LONG ago. As Goldfinger said to James Bond -- “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three (or a thousand) times is enemy action.”

So dig this. I don’t care if you guys have supervisors who keep ordering you on wild goose chases and threaten you if you sniff at the stink. You swore oaths. You said you were smart and we hired you to BE both brave and smart. To protect us from not just from silly, peasant terrorists, but from those way up higher, who share the same belief and goals, but with far more sophistication and relentlessness.

To protect us from enemies, both foreign and domestic.

But if you fail, don’t worry, we’ll be resilient, the way citizens were the last time you failed, on 9/11. Only, this time, we won’t let ourselves be distracted. We’ll remember who let us down.

Cliff said...

Dr. Brin, I've been reading this blog for a while now and it's great stuff.
I've noticed that you keep asking where the responsible civil servants were during the years of the Bush Administration. Have you considered the possibility that the CIA, at least, continually looks the other way due to his father's connections and history with the spooks?
I can easily see how a little bit of nepotism could go a long way in this situation.

Robert said...

Production of the Tesla Roadster has begun, according to the above news article. The Roadster is I believe a concept vehicle that was created to help hammer out details on the technology behind purely battery-powered automobiles, and created as a high-performance sports car to break the image of electric cars being boxy slow and unreliable vehicles that only hardcore econuts would want to drive.

Work is already underway on creating a new electric family automobile, which is currently named the Whitestar (the name will be sadly changed for the final production... sadly because I am a Babylon 5 fan and think "Whitestar" would be an excellent name for a car... and far more imaginative than most of the names currently used in the market). There are plans both for a purely electric car and a hybrid that uses a gas engine to recharge the batteries while the car is in use.

Personally, I see electric cars as the ultimate means for the U.S. (and the world) to break away from the oil companies. No doubt this is part of the reason why regulations and the like are designed to discourage innovations like this by smaller companies. Fortunately, Tesla Motors has been forging ahead despite roadblocks in their path.

Rob H.

Dennis said...

David, thanks for sharing the hat. You know, if nothing else you've got a ready cache of excellent material if you do decide to write a manchurian thriller novel. By the way, when do you plan your next one (I originally found this blog when I went looking to see if you had one out)?

I'm not yet willing to fully embrace the manchurian scenario, but... as an explanatory model it does fit so well. Occam's razor doesn't help me choose between that and the notion of a perfect storm of incompetency, kleptocracy, and future shock.

What is the old blessing/curse? May you live in interesting times?

Dennis said...

Heh, an amusing Uplift coincidence, the word-verification character set on my last post was "ifniii".

Ifni help us.

William_Shatner said...

I have to disagree with the "transparent society" with regards to what we are moving towards today.

We all have "information" available to us -- great web sites full of it. People like myself, don't find Fox News legitimate -- along with most of what shows up on TV. However, when I quote a particularly juicy bit of news I heard on a blog site, it's another "tin-foil-hat internet site." If the information does not jibe with what someone believes to be true -- there is no fact, and it doesn't matter where it came from.

Humans, may have a cultural and "emotional" limit to how much data they can act on. Hence, even though many people may not believe the TV News -- they cannot act on reading about atrocities in Darfur, because they are emotionally incapable. They are saturated. Intellectually, you may know something is wrong -- but you may be an emotional Zombie. Maybe it's just me who seems to be paralyzed by all this Quagmire we are in. But I suspect that someone may find this is part of our "monkey" nature. A transparent society cannot work -- because HUMANS cannot function with so much "atrocity." We will become numb.

Being outraged at Paris Hilton, requires more Viagra to do something when we are also outraged about a war we never see on the TV.

We have enough facts to convict many people in the Bush administration -- just on the face of it. But until you find a judge, and enough people with oversight to act on this information -- you get to howl in impotent rage like anyone else who is totally ignorant at politics. I can change other people's opinion, but they don't seem to work at the Department of Justice.

The whole system is arbitrary, and gets enforced when it benefits a paid Corporate member, and ignored when that member breaks the same laws we obviously must care about when Eliot Spitzer does it. You know, the one adult doing something about Wall Street?

As long as the media does not echo the meme. As long as there is no justice applied. It's as if it didn't happen.

I'm also sure, that if you tried to film somewhere inconvenient for those in power, they can find a judge somewhere to rubber stamp whatever they wanted to charge you with. In Atlanta, a few days ago, kevlar-coated agents in black and full riot gear (maybe they were police officers, maybe they were robots -- who could tell?), grabbed a person out of the "Anonymous" protest, and arrested them. The person was described as the "ring leader." If you can't find the right person -- punish someone, right?

A week ago, NASA, apparently observing the earth with more than a healthy interest for science would warrant, actually discovered a "suspect" who was responsible for the brutal rape/killings of some white + blond + College girls in the area (Georgia again). The kind of things people get riled up about (I do to, but, these incidents apparently are not important if you aren't already important as a person). From SECRET evidence, they say they got the right guy with 100% certainty.

Secret evidence. Well, until I start filming random bits of woods at night -- I won't be able to duplicate this intelligence gathering. But also, what convicts me and you, but lets the Oil Lobbyist off the hook is going to NOT be transparent. And, what we KNOW to be true, will just be an opinion.

Authority has human psychology on their side. They can tell the public that "JFK was killed by a single assassin." And I can say; "no there was a conspiracy -- how could the one guy in custody, arrange for JFK's brain to go missing?" Well you know what? People believe what they are told to believe, and then go on to claim they have free will -- because someone told them it is true. The alternative is to be ostracized from the herd.

We may have the technology to be transparent. But not the society nor, apparently, an advanced enough psychology to deal with it. Perhaps I'm an anomaly.

I'll tell my wife that we should be breeding more -- other than that, I don't see a way of fixing this fundamental flaw. Like Communism or Capitalism are great ideas and would work fine, if you could use them without involving people. -- I just invented that quote.

William_Shatner said...

Woozle said...

Re potential supernova: if we had a rational society, we could (fairly cheaply, I'd think) deploy a fairly small shield to go sit out between the Earth and the star, and block the Earth from the star's radiation during the worst of it.

Define cheap. ;-)

Of course, it could be a long time before the star goes off (if it ever does),

Woozle, when they talk about a supernova SOON -- it means; "judging from the starlight reaching us." That means that 8,000 years ago, the supernova already happened -- so, anything electromagnetic or traveling speed of light, is going to be arriving here NOW. What you see NOW in space, no matter how distant, has to be considered as being NOW. Until we get Faster Than Light travel, that is.

If their is a Neutrino or Gamma Ray burst, or some other nastiness that is still a threat 8,000 light years away -- we have yet to come up with any sort of shielding beyond UV sun glasses or lead lining to deal with it.

>> But personally, my own theories on physics would allow for certain tricks with laser light to stop gravity waves -- something along the lines of the "artificial event horizons" that have been making the news. Which I don't think of as event horizons -- but more along the lines of "impeding the higher dimensional pressure that creates space/time in our Universe." However, someone is going to have to beg me to explain that, because everybody thinks I'm an idiot, and the folks who might take me seriously, well, I'd like to patent one of the things I think about in my lifetime.

David Brin said...

I’ve had the privilege of stroking the lovely contours of a Tesla Roadster. Lovely thing, and going into production with impeccable timing. Elon is a genius.

Cliff, I don’t give a fig how many CIA guys have fond memories of Bush Sr. The nation is in jeopardy. The patterns are overwhelmingly suspicious. This is now about choosing sides. Either they are with the People and the nation and civilization, or against it, or sticking their heads so deep into the sand that it is tantamount to betraying their oaths.

I am willing to posit that most of these folks sincerely think that chasing “terrorists” -- low level suicide bombers and fanatic nincompoops -- actually translates into protecting the United States. But to ignore the blatant trail of money and ideological/dogmatic support that leads much higher, to people who have actively fomented rage agains our society for generations, would have to constitute criminally negligent stupidity. Let me be clear. I have spoken to many of these guys, at a variety of levels, and I am afraid this applies to quite a few of them. Alas.

There are others, though. Some who I know to be much smarter than all this. I’m aware that they can’t tell me what they know. And so I toss and turn at night, wondering if, maybe, they are already on top of this. If they have done their duty, penetrated and cauterized the plot... or else decisively proved that it’s all coincidence, and we really have just been the victim of morons. (Though how you could actually prove the latter, when the manchurian scenario is inherently smart, compact and deeply contained...)

We may already have been saved, and they are simply letting elections clean up the mess, without a demoralizing treason scandal. I doubt that logic - I think the people could stand a scandal. But it is plausible. I hope. I wish.

Dennis, look up Sky Horizon and see my serial at Baen’s UNIVERSE (online). But yes, I am way behind.

William_Shatner thanks for joining us. Loved the Twilight Zones. Alas, I cannot prove that widespread transparency will solve all of the problems you describe. All I can say is that if they can be solved at all, nearly all of them can ONLY be solved by reciprocal transpareency and “sousveillance” ....

In every case, the answer is more light, from more angles. As for the human capacity to see and know and address more information, see my
Google Tech Talk:

William_Shatner said...

"Manchurian candidates put into positions of power."

>> Hmm, well, Bob Jones University and that other nominal college that spits out most of our legal aids in Washington would be one. But Myoung Moon seems to be backing a lot of Evangelicals and politicians -- in pretty broad daylight. He had a coronation last year, and a Republican Senator brought him the robes for crying out loud. That would turn any good story into a farce.

Then you've got PNAC and the Likkud party with plenty of folks who seem to have dual alliances all over our Government.

Oh, and you can google how many Scientologists have become ensconced in the CIA and Secret Service.

And dang if we don't have a son of a fascist on the Supreme Court, and plenty of children of Nazis at the prayer breakfasts.

>> I think this country has survived a plethora of Manchurian Candidates, because they are still fighting over the spoils. It seems to be the UN convention of foreign spies -- the most ultimate case of double agents subverting a country, and then having to run it, thinking that they are in control while being undone by all the other double-agents.

The only people getting shot are the people who think they are working for the people. No country in the world wants to invade America -- they are too busy trying to subvert it, while getting corrupted in the process and becoming indistinguishable from Dick Cheney.

Was McCain brainwashed by the Vietnamese to one day follow a secret command? Who cares. Moon is already behind the scenes in the White House and Washington Post. Sharing the Closet with Pat Robertson. He'd have to wrest control from someone else successfully destroying America. Could they do a better job than Bush?

China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, North Korea -- do we have any allies in that list? No, but they are probably our most reliable saboteurs, who all would help us out, only because they are protecting their investment. If WE owned America -- we would want to be worried about this.

Cliff said...

Dr. Brin:
I agree with you completely that the CIA and others SHOULD have resisted the abuses of the Bush Administration, and have been criminally neglectful in not doing so.
I'm just trying to posit a reason as to why at least some of them MIGHT have let this kleptocracy go on. I feel as though HW Bush's connections to the CIA are in the same vein as the Bush family's connections to the Bin Ladens and the Saudi Arabian royalty.

William_Shatner said...


As you alluded to that anyone in the clandestine services would be able to see that the internal threats are far greater than people in caves who might wield box cutters, the problem is the same as Transparency, socially.

All these agencies are compartmentalized. It only takes a few people in authority to throw a wrench in there and create an atmosphere of "no initiative -- just stick to the task in front of you."

Brewster-Jennings was a group in the CIA doing the right thing; going after WMDs. If you read up on Siebel Edmunds -- it seems that was a cross purpose with what the administration was doing. Her translations of intelligence agencies in Turkey showed the FBI in the US hindering investigations into Nuclear Secrets sales to countries like Pakistan. Reading about A Q Khan takes it from there.

If you add that to how the FBI put the kibbosh on following financial transactions with the 9/11 gig, well, you can at least tell that higher ups in that organization are working for BushCo.

The absolutely best site on the web for getting info from CIA Whistleblowers, is the - he now charges a subscription fee. So, there are individuals who are the good guys -- but institutionally, I'd say the CIA has been in the Bush family pocket since Reagan, if not during the JFK era. Read up about the sinking of the USS Poet -- the navy boat that transported weapons to Iran. There were two people who flew from Texas to meet with Hoover the day after the JFK assassination, one was named George Bush -- and the CIA claimed this was someone else of the same name. The Bay of Pigs was run on ships of Zappata Oil, and was originally named "Operation Zappata."

Add to this the hookers and poker at the Watergate hotel. Paid for by limo fees to Homeland Security and run by the director of the CIA who resigned with little protest. Maybe there are more people on that "happy ending" list than just a governor from New York.

No, this has been going on a long time. People in the FBI and CIA at the very top are rewarded cronies.

Remember Robert Gates (I think I have the last name right), who ran the CIA under Reagan? Turns out he "exaggerated" the threat of the Soviet Union. Apparently, they weren't able to invade any country -- much less Afghanistan. Only 10% of their troops spoke Russian, they had massive equipment failures, and they were running on the margins for YEARS before Star Wars plans stole a lot of our tax dollars.

No, beyond all the foreign agents, you have to look squarely at "WHO OWNS EVERYTHING." That would be offshore banks, which are now the #1 source of credit for the US -- ahead of Japan and even England (well, last I checked). I'd say, that most of the governments of the "first world" are a sham, in that most of the people getting positions of power have been compromised in one way or another -- either by being in hoc to lobbyists, or sleeping with animate and inanimate objects.

The whole issue of international trade, has sought to lowball wages by importing everything. It doesn't really matter from where. As long as offshore banks are around to get a piece. Before getting the VP job, Cheney specialized in finding tax havens for rich folks to offshore their banking money. And, lest we think there is a light at the end of this tunnel, need I remind anyone that McCain was one of the Keating 5?

We have MI-6 and Mossad agents, running around with abandon in the US. I'm pretty sure, it's just an "exchange program" they spy on our citizens for us, and we do it for them. But, really, the CIA works for corporations -- which used to be US corporations but are now extranational. If you read; "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" it shows the picture of US foreign policy for the last 100 years.

Sorry to be so depressing. But we'd be lucky if we actually had national rivalries. Foreign enemies are so very 19th century. There are only economic interests. And when Democracy and the middle class get too much of a hold on people, when they start believing the propaganda about the American dream -- then along comes the Powers That Be, to upset the apple cart. Make someone get angry at someone else. Maybe play the blue collar workers against the Mexicans -- as if our corporations weren't able to get more profits from that situation.

It doesn't matter who is having a civil war and you don't need to control anyone. Just keep enough chaos going so that you can trade weapons for cheap resources to both sides.

Look at the ownership of the contractors in Iraq. They are now almost all subsidiaries of the Carylse Group. Which is now headquartered in Dubai. Which is also where a lot of scoundrels are moving their assets.

It's just banks. That's your Manchurian candidate. And half of us are already in their thrall.

Zechariah said...

jeez, Shat. Somebody's trying to rival Zorgon for post volume.

David Brin said...

Yipes.I think we've found a good replacement for those Illuminati authors. Thanks, Bill, for making my paranoia look really mild.

In the end, I have to believe that a majority of our skilled professionals actually view themselves as - well - skilled professionals sworn to obey and defend the citizens of a civilization that has been very good to us all and responsible for most of the progress our species has made, across 4,000 years.

If any of this is going on, and a few of the pros actually got their act together, ran some stings and got the proof, then they would have in their hands the chance to be the century's greatest hero-celebrities. Even if their own hands were somewhat dirty. (See my blackmail article.)

Hell, even if there are micro bombs implanted in their carotid arteries and those of their kids. Somebody, sometime, would have had enough. They'd realize that humanity stands at a turning point. And a burst of light might be enough to let all of us LIVE in light, from then on, forever.

That's what Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln talked a lot about. I cannot believe that we are completely lacking in men like that.

t said...

RIP Arthur C Clarke,,30200-1309902,00.html

David Brin said...

Oy! Arthur....

Tony Fisk said...

There are still people 'like that'. You just aren't seeing them on Fox and Limbaugh. (All around us it bubbles up..)

What's this about 'The Wright thing'??

Ah! I've just seen what it's about.

Rather chilling to see such an embittered orator being described as 'like a father to Obama' (see one of Brin's earlier comments for an echo!)

Still, I must say this about Obama's response: if they're 'just words', they're words that can cross chasms, which is what words are for.

Zorgon, and Will (and me... and no doubt a few others) are possibly examples of people who hang around the comment sections of other people's blogs because they get a greater audience from reflected glory than from their own blogs (I'll expand on that... on my own blog, in due course)

Robert said...

Heh. And here I thought I got involved in blogs to help lure a few unsuspecting souls over to my review site to increase my web traffic. And also because I enjoy the truly intelligent dialogs that go on here which require people to think instead of mindlessly react.

Rob H.

Zechariah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Now guys, be nice. Will & Zorg may be a bit too lavish, but they THINK!

I have seen, lately, what passes for commentary in other blogs. The bozitude that supposedly educated guys hurl, after skim-judging a complex issue... or worse, simply skim-judging what they think is a tone of voice!

I really am proud that I see a generally elevated level of discourse, here.

Anyway, in honor of Arthur Clarke, let's keep is sweet for a bit.

Stefan Jones said...


Sir Arthur's ashes be interred in The Clarke Memorial Monolith buried deep beneath Tycho crater.

Tony Fisk said...

Oh, I'm happy to keep it sweet. I was just making an observation.

Subject to Clarke's own wishes, I second Stefan's motion, with a cache of rare earth magnets and an Amiga 9000.

Robert said...

I was just... indulging in some transparency. I suspect many of us have multiple reasons as to why we post in this site and on others, whether for increased visibility, to get our own thoughts exposed, or to indulge in some good old-fashioned thinking, among others.

*raises a glass of scotch* Here is to Arthur C. Clarke. I may not have liked all of his novels (such as Childhood's End, which I found particularly depressing and nihilistic), but he was a profound and talented writer. May he find what he truly desired on the other end of the Great Void.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I concur on all points, Robert (including your opinion of 'Childhood's End', although I can see it as an attempt by one race to prevent one singularity outcome by arranging for another. Either way, yuk!).

OTOH, against the latest tales of matrix-like simulations and virtual realities, 'The City and the Stars' still holds its own with ease.

Zechariah said...

RIP Mr. Clarke. Your life was full of stars.

On a more happy note, watch Big Dog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics for Darpa. It has a very lifelike gait. They even kicked it while it walked, and it righted itself about as well as my dog would. It also climbed rubble, walked on ice, and hopped.

Jester said...

I don't want to post this on the Clarke thread, so I hope you get back here, Dr. Brin.

President Clinton went on Limbaughs show the day of the Texas and Ohio Primaries, but there was a guest host that day.

He didn't talk much about Bush, he talked up Senator Clinton, and went on and on about "disenfranchisement" in Florida and Michigan, stating that their votes should count as-is.

He then asked that Republicans remember that they could vote for Senator Clinton. He didn't appeal to spoiler effect himself, but Rush had already been doing that for a week.

Transcripts aren't available without paying Mr. Limbaugh cash, and I'm not about to do that, so the synopsis comes from reading a couple of Huffington Post articles.

Matt DeBlass said...

The text of Obama's speech is available on the New York Time's web site,, it's worth reading.

Personally, I was pretty impressed with it. I was also impressed by Obama's willingness to take this one head-on.

And he made a very good point by putting a couple of seemingly self-evident ideas together in a way you too-rarely see in politics.
Eg.: Yes, it sucks to be poor in black in America. It also sucks to be poor and white in America. In fact, it doesn't matter what color you are, there's a lot of bad mojo out there, so why don't we stop worrying about who's fault it is and get on with looking for solutions for ALL of us?

At least, that's what I took away from it.

Of course, the critics from the Hill-Billy camp are already crying that the whole thing is "just words," but they're going to do that. Besides which, "just words" are pretty darn powerful tools, especially when applied to building bridges.

William_Shatner said...

David Brin said...

Yipes.I think we've found a good replacement for those Illuminati authors. Thanks, Bill, for making my paranoia look really mild.

Egads. I hope I didn't talk your ear off. A few posts back, I was cajoling your for trying to figure out WHY we had the war in Iraq -- well, I guess I set the example.

But you laid down the gauntlet with; "Who could be the Manchurian candidate." I just want credit if this makes it into the book.

I gave you my honest answer, in a short version that sounds conspiratorial, merely because it doesn't have "ibid" next to everything and a footnote. Nothing I say couldn't be backed up by a footnote -- or at least a single malt Scotch.

If you want the really short, short answer; "International banks" run things here through companies, and those companies, by proxy, lobby politicians. The HIGHEST people at our organizations, and in politics, probably have nice little glossy photos of them. This is not a THEORY, because, Hoover used to put it into practice, until someone got him in a dress. So, theory has become practice -- the only guesswork here is if it is going on again.

Which is why all the internal spying is going on.

And that business about Mi-6 and the Mossad? The CIA is not allowed to spy on American soil -- but they can look the other way when others do it. Just a loop hole. Otherwise, in all the incidents I see in the news when we catch these agents, say in the Chicago Subway, they might get arrested.

But I don't want to get off on the wrong foot and make you think I'm long-winded or deceitful. My last name is not Shatner, but it could be Shakespeare.

I wrote a long reply to dennis, re the manchurian scenario, and I'll separate it and post it (next), so that folks can get their tinfoil hats ready.

Well, I've had my foil sewn into my Derby so as not to clash so much with the Cardigans I'm so fond of wearing. If I didn't think that building materials were going to be a great short soon due to a world-wide recession, I'd invest in ALCOA with all the need for tinfoil in hats.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Once again, I must agree almost entirely with Dr. Brin. The Beinhart article certainly hits the nail on the head -- except that we really should call it Reaganomics, since Bushenomics is just Reaganomics on a larger dose of crack.

It baffles me that so few commentators trace back the catastrophic policies of this maladminsitration to the kook who initially popularized 'em, the Great Prevaricator, the Cruel Man With the Kindly Smile, Ronny Reagan. Xian fundamentalists in positions of power? Check. Rampant corruption? Check. Privatization run amok? Check. Anti-constitutional conspiracy inside the White House? Check. Wholesale war against the proffesionals, the Inspectors General and the oversight authorities? Check. (Q: Do you know who invented signing statements to subvert congressional authority and bypass all oversight? A: The Great Prevaricator, Ronald Reagan. Q: Do you know whose EPA had to be sued to get it comply with federal law? The EPA under the senile sociopath, Ronny Reagan.)

Most of the current pathologies endangering the Enlightenment took root under the aegis of the Great Prevaricator.

As for the Manchurian scenario, I do sometimes wonder if it can all be coincidence. However, methinks a genuinely dedicated and ingenious enemy would've managed a moer effective conspiracy. The gross incompetence and flagrant unconstitutionality have provoked such a huge backlash that I suspect we'll see a vast rebirth of overight, checks and balances, constitutional safeguards, and an immense extension of the War Powers Act after the current reptiles slighter out of office in disgrace.

A genuinely effective conspiracy would've gotten us to destroy our constitutional & economic system while everyone applauded how well things were going. In fact, we have come close to something like that -- a much worse period in our history, the Palmer Raids of the 1920s and subsequent Great Depression. Those of you who think we've never teetered so close to the edge dictatorship should remember Eugene Debs. This man merely gave a speech against WW I, and for that he was tried and convincted of treason, then stripped of his citizenship and thrown in prison with a sentence of 10 years.

That was much worse than anything we've seen during this current assault on our constitution....which is why I'm so optimistic about the prosepcts for Western civilization. Despite the best efforts of the thugs and oligarchs and warmongers, they didn't get anywhere near as much erosion of our basic civil society or constitutional protections or economic safety net as under Attorney General Palmer. Under Palmer, trying to form a union meant you were a subversive -- you could be jailed for it. You could be legally shot by hired killers paid by big businessmen. I don't know how many of you remember the photos of Ford's River Rouge plant ringed with machine gun nests manned by private goons, or the pictures of Walter Reuther being beaten with axe handles by paid Ford thugs... Things are bad right now, but they're nowhere near that bad.

Also, I must respectfully disagree with Dr. Brin when he claims: ask yourself “What was the worst, most self-destructive mistake that these western pigs ever made?”

Obviously, it was to get embroiled in a draining, bankrupting, demoralizing, unpopular and stupid land war of attrition in Asia.

Okay, then let’s have America do just that!

If we study history, it seems clear that America's entry into WW I was a far worse mistake than the Viet Nam war. WW I led to the Palmer raids, the Sedition Act of 1918 and the Espionage Act of 1917, both of which allowed citizens to be hurled into prison and stripped of their citizenship merely for speaking out against the war; but WW I also led Wilson the insanity of the Versaille Treaty, the reparations against Germany, huyperinflation, and the Great Depression, which gave rise to Nazism and the Soviet Union, and a whole host of other subversions of free society and modern liberal civil society and the scientific method, including Lysenkoism, fascist occultism, the rampant union-busting and outright murder of the Wobblies and Appalachian coal miners that culminated in the Matewan Massacre on 15 April 1920, where hired killers from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency were paid by coal operators to shoot down striking coal miners in the street along with any local law enforcement who got in their way. The spectacle of local sherrifs shooting it out with hired assassins paid by big business owners to murder strikers is something we haven't seen in America for quite a while, so please don't tell me things are worse now in America than they've ever been.

The Viet Nam war has had ugly reverberations...but nothing near as bad as WW I.

A better case could be made for a diabolically clever enemy of the West to fund various antidemocratic think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. Frankly, I would like to see the funding sources of those kinds of far-right cryptofascist intellectual whores. Are a lot of wahabi Saudis dumping big money into their coffers? I would also like to know where the funding of the Chicago School of Economics originally came from. These are the root cause of the current rot in our constitution. Intellectual whores like the loathesome Milton Friedman did their utmost to destroy civil society and wipe out all vestige of responsible oversight in our society while eliminating decmocracy and the scientific method and replacing it with the tyranny of a rigged marketplace and economic voodoo -- remember that Milton Friedman "argued that, in testing a theory, economists should consider only predictive ability, not descriptive realism" ... in other words, if the dowser finds water, don't ask whether his methods make sense! And all in the name of "freedom." A peculiar kind of freedom: you're free to choose which cardboard box you'll sleep in after robber barons steal your life savings in the stockmarket and manipulate your employer into Enron-esque bankruptcty. You're free to choose whether to go the emergecy room and bankrupt yourself because you can't afford health care when you get ill, or to suffer and scream and die in agony. You're free to choose between two right wing pols mouthing free-market mantras who both take bribes from the robber barons running financial institutions like Bear Stearns into ruin, robber barons who then walk away with 323 million dollar bonuses while the economy collapses. Yes, indeedy, free to choose. If there's a hell, let's a hope a special circule of it gets reserved for craven toadies of the kleptocrats who hate democracy but become famous and admired by constantly claiming to be in favor of freedom...economic freedom, of course. You're free to choose which credit card to pay 35% interest on. That's Milton Friedman's and the Heritage Foundation's perversion of the word "freedom."

I truly have to wonder if the funding behind destructive parasites like Michael Ledeeen and Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman didn't come straight from a cabal of wahabi Saudis dead set on the destruction of the Great Satan. You can just imagine them gloating: "Let's destroy the infidels with their own greed! Fund their fanatical market fundamentalist think tanks until the Western Great Satan becomes convinced money isn't everything, it's the only thing! Then they will destroy themselves..."

However, I can't really buy the Manchurian scenario, because truly clever conspirators would've planned better. The situation right now has gotten so obviously extreme that America is experiencing a backlash of epic proportions against the laissez-faire Chicago School of Economics lunacy.

"As we review the wreckage created by Wall Street's finest minds, it is tempting to entertain the possibility that the impulse to deregulate and privatize and `trust' markets to be their own best guardian -- that epochal reimagining of government launched by Ronald Reagan -- has finally run its course."

"Socialism Is OK For Rich White Guys, But Not the Rest Of Us":

"For years now we've been told that socialism is the worse thing ever, it's like a million Hitlers on roller skates, topless and singing Wagner in a new Stephen Sondheim play presented as a viral video on You Tube.

Unless, of course, you are the archetype of capitalism [like the wealthy bailout recipients on Wall Street], then socialism is awesome!"

"Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy.

The Wall Street titans have turned into a bunch of welfare clients. They are desperate to be bailed out by government from their own incompetence, and from the deregulatory regime for which they lobbied so hard. They have lost "confidence" in each other, you see, because none of these oh-so-wise captains of the universe have any idea what kinds of devalued securities sit in one another's portfolios."

If our current chaos resulted from a conspiracy, it was one of history's least successful. The backlash is tremendous and still building, as Obama continues to gain in nobility and stature and toadies of the kleptocrats like John McCain diminish steadily into microscopic stinging insects by comparison.

Dennis said...

I don't want to drag the ACC post into politics, so I'll post this here. A Pentagon ex-insider has a lot to say about the pre-war run-up. The part I found most interesting was how the other professionals in the room were equally unimpressed with the orders from above.