Friday, April 18, 2008

A New Nostradamus? The Art (And Pitfalls) of Forecasting

Given my long term interest in the difficulties and rewards of the human obsession with prediction, you can expect that I would find fascination in the attention that has focused on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, chairman of New York University's Department of Politics, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and the author of many weighty academic tomes. He regularly consults with the CIA and the Department of Defense most recently on such hot-button topics as Iran and North Korea and has a new book coming out in the fall that he co-wrote with his pal Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Now, one might take that last fact as prima facae evidence that Bueno de Mesquita is not really “the New Nostradamus”... at least not in the complimentary implication of that phrase. That of actually being able to forecast future events. (Though, there are other, less salutary implications accompanying that comparison.) Still, one’s fascination with the whole topic should maintain an open mind. Essentially, Bueno de Mesquita claims to be somewhat of a latter day (or earlier day) Hari Seldon -- (Isaac Asimov’s character and inventor of “psychohistory”) -- using prim, mathematical models to forecast future mass events, and even the behavior of individual personalities.

An article in GoodMagazine kvells over Bueno de Mesquita, without offering anything like systematic analysis or balance. But clearly, here is a fellow who should be invited into prediction markets and Long Bets, as a player to be tested with close attention to the factor that was most dubious about the original Nostradamus... specificity. Testability.

Of course he has been around for a long time... Rational Choice theory is an offshoot of general game theory and at one level, it is pretty validly rooted in experimental evidence. If he really is onto a valid technique, I would be the first to want to know! Moreover, I explain why it should be among society’s highest priorities to scrutinize all would be seers - not only to debunk charlatans, but also in search of genuine new tools of anticipation.

Alas, the fact that the government agencies consult Bueno de Mesquita is not by itself any big deal. The CIA for many years gave credence to flaky psychics, and Bueno de Mesquita’s political connections speak for themselves. Even if the majority of Intelligence officials have not been suborned by the extremely political administration, certainly groups and elements have been, and that’s all it takes to get “The CIA likes me” on your resume. (Heckfire, I’ve got that, too!)

I admit I have only read the popularized article, so far, though it is redolent with suspicious sounding bits. e.g. a commitment to “nonpartisan rationality”... by a chum of the neocons who flushed away the entire staff and apparatus that Congress once had, for nonpartisan scientific and technological appraisal.  Still, one can keep an open mind. Perhaps there are success correlations better than he’s shown. The CIA may want to protect his methods from the copycat effect... the tendency for a predictive trick to grow obsolete, when it starts to be used by masses of competitors. (Only, the insights we might learn - through open scrutiny - could be worth it.) Perhaps time will tell.


The European Union... and especially Germany... is coming down hard on Swiss Banking secrecy.“This land of stunning Alpine vistas, which has chosen to remain outside the EU, has always loomed large in the global imagination as the place where the wealthy stash their money beyond the tax man’s reach. The best estimates suggest that image is true, to the tune of $1 trillion to $2 trillion.”

“The scandal that threatens that lucrative business began when German authorities obtained secret financial data from Liechtenstein, Switzerland’s tiny neighbor with similar banking laws. The information in hand, investigators fanned out across Germany to seize documents thought to be related to tax evasion by hundreds of wealthy Germans.”

Cause and effect? All of this started hitting the fan just two weeks after I went to Liechtenstein to try to explain the general concepts of transparency.

I know that two of you have set up wikis to track my predictive score. Is it time to update those? I have collected a slew of material of late....

----- AND ANOTHER ONE ----

How dedicated are you to using a Bluetooth microphone with your phone? Are you dedicated enough to drill a small hole in your teeth to install a tiny mic? Sigh. At least Clarke got credit for not patenting stuff. ;-)

As for cosmic rays being a disproof-by-absence of micro-black-hole MBH disaster scenarios, I have to say that my GUT instinct is that the sheer number of such events would have to have resulted in some fraction of the resulting black holes entering into solar orbit and subsequently colliding with planets, especially since we also have the MBH fluxes from OTHER star systems entering our own, at a wide variety of angles, resulting in more such captures.

I have not done the math. But how many years of CERN collisions would it take to emulate one day’s cosmic ray-generated (and MBH producing) collisions? I’d love to see that figure as the start of a scaling though experiment, to give us an estimate of the number of MBHs that must be part of an ambient background by now, in the galaxy. Our estimates should start there.

Of course, if MBHs do fall into the Earth, then should we seek gravity resonance effects, as in a certain novel? ;-)


Apparently, my recent single-speaker event on Second Life -- speaking in Extropia during commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s first manned spaceflight -- was one of the most popular and well-attended events in all of 2L history.

TinyTransparentAnother nice stroke... the next Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference will feature a special panel discussion: 'The Transparent Society' -- Ten Years Later, on May 22, 2008 at 3pm eastern, at the Omni Hotel in New Haven CT. CFP conferences top the gatherings of folk who believe in the liberating power of the internet and new media -- and who fight hardest to keep the web a font of freedom. I first challenged audiences about transparency issues at a couple of CFPs, back in the early nineties, learning from many spirited and informed responses and benefiting from citokate! (Criticism is the only known antidote to error!) I cannot attend the decadal panel of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between privacy and freedom. But a special hookup will let me participate by remote. (Any New Englanders out there, who are also passionate net-freedom defenders? Consider attending!)

See a recent newspaper writeup (and cool picture of me in front of Xian’s terracotta soldiers). Those of you living in Australia and New Zealand may catch some interviews I just gave, helping to promote the History Channel’s “Life After People.”

----- And yet, of course, every time I start getting too big an ego, something happens. My kids deflate it for me. (Thanks guys!) Or else... well... I was prompted to laugh at myself, and my own addictively burdensome self-esteem, when one of you wrote to me recently with the following:

Hi Mr. Brin… Big fan of your site and your works (Earth, Uplift series, and Glory Season). In case you haven’t seen it yet, “I, Cringley” mentioned you in the same breath as Einstein and Knuth – “Our society will continue to create great artists, writers, scientists and engineers because people will be internally driven to greatness in all those fields. How many Picassos do you need in a society? How many Frank Lloyd Wrights? How many Einsteins? How many Bechtolscheims, Knuths, and Brins?”

Seeing as how I think highly of Mr. Cringley’s work as an essayist, I got ever so slightly excited -- well, more bemused -- till I recalled. My days of being the “most famous Brin” are pretty much over. Recognizing the name Bechtolscheim pretty much sealed it. (A brilliant early investor in Google.) And while I console myself that Sergey had me spit into a jar and found that we have a 74.38% genetic overlap, that is just enough for a distant, cousinly nod, now and then. I send him a signed book or two. He gave me a card that’s good for a lifetime supply of free Google searches!

Clearly, Mr. Cringley had this one right. Down ego! Bad boy! Down! (Yeth, Math-ter!)

-------- But hard SF did receive a favorable mention in the mainstream press recently. Read science fiction, especially "hard science fiction" that sticks rigorously to the scientifically possible. "If you look out into the long-term future and what you see looks like science fiction, it might be wrong," she says. "But if it doesn't look like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

-------- When you are in the Futurist game (either directly or through the imagery of science fiction), you get asked a lot about your “score” or how often the things that you forecast have come true. And, yes, I can wave my arms and point to this list or that gimmick in a twenty year old novel and say “That’s come true at last - what too you all so long?” (I just came across a 1985 essay poo-pooing the then-rife paranoia about “Japan’s gonna own everything!” I think I was one of six people urging historical perspective and calm.)

In fact, though, it seems no great shakes (to me) to take some little trend or news item and extrapolate the way it might affect the future. I find far more intriguing the notion of the self-preventing prophecy, those occasional warnings that stir people so much that they take action, change their ways, or apply wariness -- and thus stave off something dire, something awful. George Orwell did this, so (I contend) did Karl Marx. Rachel Carson, Harry Harrison. That is when a futurist or author shifts from being an unheeded Cassandra to a real world-changer.

I am provoked by two recent articles. The first describes the approaching completion, after 14 years and $8 billion of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, where high energy particle collisions should reveal much more about the underpinnings of natural law. And where - a few worry - there might be accidentally created some kind of planet-devouring monster. A “strangelet” or possibly a microscopic black hole that, contrary to present-day theory, might not dissipate, but instead absorb neighboring atoms and keep growing, voraciously, eventually gobbling up our world. Despite having written a best-seller around this notion, a couple of decades ago, I have never credited the scenario with high likelihood. Still, it falls under the increasingly important field of Risk Analysis, dealing with unlikely but high-stake threats. It seems our destiny, in this new century, to deal with many of these. To learn more drop by the Lifeboat Foundation and see just how calm and rational - and even fun - it can be to wallow with the worrywarts. (I have my own low probability/high consequence cause.)

Indeed, I consider it premature to pick any one fear, or hope, to zero-in upon, monomaniacally. There are just too many possibilities, both up and down.

With so many ways for things to turn, it seems prudent to concentrate on choosing leaders who demonstrate some flexibility of mind, and who do not disparage intelligence as the very opposite of wisdom. Because, at the fringes of this topic, there lurks the Fermi Paradox -- the notion that the universe ought to be teeming with evidence for advance interstellar civilizations, by this late date. And yet, there is no credible proof that we aren’t alone. Did some of those “high consequence” mistakes bring most of our predecessors down? Might it have been one particular error, so alluring that every species tries it, whenever they reach a certain level of development... just before they would have built starships?


Folks at the recent TED conference cannot kvell enough about Jill Taylor’s talk about her own experience with a brain hemorrhage. “This is an absolute must watch. Set aside 18 minutes and prepare to be floored. Consensus among TED’sters is that this may be the most memorable and important TED Talk ever. It was certainly the most talked-about presentation among those at TED2008. Enjoy and share with others. And let Jill’s experience inspire, motivate, and change the way you look at life.”

Well, yes. And yet, the biggest part of me -- the contrarian who keeps returning to Earth to be strangled at a young age, again and again as a sort of bohddisatva of “yes, but!” -- that part of me, the part that tried nirvana-seeking, as a sort of demi hippie, during the sixties, can only respond with the same “yes, but” to Dr. Taylor’s vivid and inspiring presentation. Yes, but your fully rightbrain experience was pure, in part because of sudden novelty. Do people feel the same, who are trapped in that state year after year, helpless to be anywhere else? Yes, but can you promise that people, once able to travel fully into lala land at will, won’t become lotus eaters... and did not our ancestors develop left brain dominance for solid reasons?


Anonymous said...

I have to ask, have you ever read "A Legacy of Ashes"? That book (among others) convinces me that saying "The CIA likes me" is a reason to *never* trust anything that person says again. Sorry to be blunt, but after that oraganization's 60-year plus hitsory (if we count the OSS) I think that we need to seize all of their records, burn the buildings to the ground, grab every employee and drive a stake through their hearts, stuff their mouths full of garlic, chop off the heads and burn the bodies and heads separately before scattering the ashes to the winds. That agency has gotten almost everything wrong, and the few targets they've hit (setting up the Shah of Iran) came back to bite us big time.


Stefan Jones said...

DB, I think the answer is clear:

The payback for writing kick-ass new novels is better and surer than for trying to claim credit for all the stuff that comes true.

* * *

I keep coming up with ideas for products and services related to my field of work that horrify me and hope never come to pass. Like, TV screens at supermarket checkout counters (we have those already) that pick up on your supermarket "loyalty card" ID and display tailored adverts while you're waiting on line. (I thought of that one before "Minority Report" showed something like it in operation. But I'm not surprised or bitter.)

Travc said...

I'd love to see Dr Brin and Neil Stephenson debate banking transparency.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, read Cryptonomicon. Hell, read everything Stephenson has written while you are at it.

PS: Just in case, this is a hint for a followup post (or more likely link to previous essay).

NS said...

It's Neal.

idiotgrrl said...

And Japan didn't end up owning everything because they were, at the time, in one of those bubbles of speculation that comes along every so often - and the bubble burst very early in the 1990s.

Anonymous said...

Is any of the presentation and discussion at Second Life going to be available to watch via the net?


Anonymous said...

The CIA's main facility is called The Campus for good reason. Though the CIA has done a lot of awful stuff over the years, they also recruit a lot of academics, and overall they tend to be a bunch of pretty smart and capable people.

We definitely need someone looking at their records, though. GAO?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, all I ask is that you read a copy of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner (a lot of this was taken from their own internal history and declassified papers) from your library. Then tell me what you think of them.

I'd always thought that they were a bit dodgy and underhanded but now I look at all of the paranoid beliefs people used to have about them (They have a secret mind control laser! The killed Kennedy! They run everything) as ridiculous. If they'd tried to kill JFK he'd be celebrating his birthday this year, just like Castro. They made so many awful predictions (The USSR would never invade Afghanistan, Saddam Hussien would never invade Kuwait after the Iran-Iraq war, They missed the Soviet potential for nukes and missed India's and Pakistan's progress in nukes, They misread the USSR several times, didn't see its collapse coming, got outwitted by the KGB several times, dropped and lost a ton of agents during the Korean war (and others), the list goes on and on.

If these people tell you that the sky is still blue, run outside and check and be ready to bet your life savings that it isn't.


Sociotard said...

That sounds like a fairly biased and sensationalist book. I know there were people within the CIA who predicted the fall of the Evil Empire, if not so soon.

ThoughtCriminal said...

Here's a simple method for making accurate geo-political forecasts. Read the rosy predictions of right-wing neo-cons and you can be reasonably certain that the exact opposite will occur. They are the Anti-Cassandras of our era.

Stefan Jones said...

It's not just a Military Industrial complex any more. It's a Military Industrial Media complex.

Big story in the New York Times tomorrow:

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

zorgon the malevolent said...

Great op-ed by Ray Kurzweil here -- "Expect Exponential Progress":

Yes, Kurzweil often acts like a kook, and, yes, his AI website is full of complete twaddle. But his stats and overall predictions in this op ed are right on the money. I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who remarked that short-term future predictions usually turn out to be wildly overstated while long-term predictions of progress typically vastly understate the situation.

For example -- researchers have now discovered that carbon nanotubes can, under the proper circumstances, conduct electricty as efficiently as metal wires do:

And speaking of computers, this exciting new development:

Researchers have built the world's smallest transistor - one atom thick and 10 atoms wide - out of a material that could one day replace silicon.
The transistor, essentially an on/off switch, has been made using graphene, a two-dimensional material first discovered only four years ago.


Speaking of futuristic stuff, here's a great article about 10 amazing architectural masterpieces that haven't been built yet...but soon will be: Link.

The Green River complex, the China central TV office building, the orbital hotel...8 years into the 21st century, it's finally starting to look like the future. Cool!

And here's a great article about how to kick-start the book business. Lots of wonderfully clever ideas here for creating a reading culture: Link.

And here's a wonderfully optimistic 2005 speech by (of all people!) Tom Hanks, making use of some intriguing stats about traffic jams: Link.

Anonymous said...

Another blogger commenting on a presentation David Brin gave.

Anonymous said...

According to we have seen a number of cosmic rays with energies in the 10^11GeV range. What is the collision energy in the LHC? Less than 10^4GeV, methinks.

In four and a half billion years, at a rate of at least one 10^11GeV cosmic ray per fifty years, Earth's been hit by at least 10^8 of these ultra-high-energy ones.

It's likely that if the LHC, with one millionth as much collision energy, could doom the planet, said planet would already be long gone.

One nitpick seems to be that the number of collisions over LHC's lifetime will probably vastly exceed 10^8. But then the number of cosmic rays that have hit the earth with the LHC's 10^4GeV energy or more will be truly stupendous.

The other is with the stable-strangelet threat specifically. There's some speculation that having quantities of liquid helium near the high-energy collisions considerably increases the risk. Liquid helium does not occur in nature on this planet and the mass-energy of a strangelet is easily produced in the LHC.

There, the major thing to note is that two other particle colliders, the Tevatron and RHIC, have cryogenic magnets cooled with liquid helium and achieve the requisite energy, and both have been operating for years (nearly a decade in the case of RHIC and over two in the case of the Tevatron). The planet's still here. There were even concerns about stable strangelets voiced when RHIC first came on; nine years later and nothing bad has happened yet. (The relevant Wikipedia articles should confirm both the ages of these instruments and that they use liquid helium for magnet cooling, and that they achieve 10^3GeV collision energies.)

Anonymous said...

Blasted URL got truncated!

Go to wikipedia, type "cosmic ray" in the go/search box, hit enter, and click the link for "ultra-high-energy" ones that is right near the beginning of the article, in the second paragraph.

David Brin said...

The pessimists' answer re collider-created "world gobblers" is that the cosmic rays sleet in a relativistic velocity, which will then be emparted to any created monster. Thus the ones made by CRs all have been kicked out of the solar system, while the collider-induced ones will emerge at relative rest and sink into the Earth.

But then, the galaxy should be rife with these things and a statistically significant fraction ought to be swept up by the earth as lower relative velocity.

Tony Fisk said...

...not to mention every other large body of matter out there.

Incidentally, Preliminary thermal modeling accounts for some (but not all) of the Pioneer Anomaly

David Brin said...


I do NOT agree with all of this! (
e.g. I think Afghanistan was justified and is STILL a relative success. And Roberts goes way over the top in several ways.

My biggest complaint is that he appears to relish the systematic demolition of American leadership in the world when, in fact, the world was never better off than during the "unipolar" Bill Clinton era, and the destruction of Pax Americana by the Bush Cabal is arguably their greatest crime against humanity.

Indeed, it is here that, while I am much calmer than Roberts, I also out-paranoid him! Because I believe it is quite a tenable hypothesis that this systematic tearing-down of US leadership in the world may have been quite deliberate, an act of high treason comparable to the governor of the Great Wall, who handed over the keys to Ghengiz Khan.

Robert said...

Thought I'd link a recent blog post I wrote about Senator Obama and his church... and how his refusal to sacrifice his church and its community for the sake of his political aspirations shows a sense of loyalty to community, not to the words of his minister. I also point out that Senator Clinton and many others have forgotten about this community in their insistence that Obama should have left his church.

Just some food for thought. It's a concept that needs to be spread, and quickly, to kill any further attempts by Clinton or the Republicans to use Reverend Wright against Obama.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

A good point, Rob. A church is nothing if not a community. Indeed, a church who identifies totally with its leader is a cult.

From where I'm sitting, Obama's weathering the barbs and slings just fine. (I thought 'We have had enough of the politics of fear' was a great foil for all the 'I'm ready for anything, is he?' bruhaha coming from the Hill camp.)

Still, I guess we're about to find out what the Philadelphians think about it all.

Sociotard said...

Did anybody else see the clip of the three major candidates appearing on WWE? (one of those goofy wrestling things)

I had to roll my eyes at it a little. Even so, I am comforted knowing that whoever will be the next president will be able to appreciate the opportunity to be silly and enjoy jokes made at his/her expense.

Robert said...

Army General Petraeus has been nominated to command CENTCOM. I leave it to brighter minds than myself to contemplate what this means for any possible Shrub-commanded attacks on Iran before the Presidential Primary.

Note, I'm a tad concerned by Senator Clinton's declaration she would "annihilate" Iran should Iran use a nuke on Israel. This sounds very much like the warmongering of the Republicans, and is rather worrisome for me. Sadly, these words did not damage her bid in Pennsylvania.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Jester said...

She did NOT say she would "obliterate" I ran if they made a nuclear attack on Israel - a threat even I am not entirely certain I disagree with.

She said she would "obliterate" Iran if they *attacked* Israel, which a whole 'nuther kettle of fish.

The US has a role in making sure nuclear weapons are never used again, by anyone.

However, if Israel commits an act of agression against Iran, and Iran attacks in retaliation, she's left us comitted to "obliterating" Iran?

When some Revolutionary Guards get caught one day helping Hizbollah launch rockets, we're going to "obliterate" Iran?

She's in the "bomb, bomb Iran" club with Senator McCain, at this point.

Dennis said...

The latest Tom Tomorrow offering illustrates exactly why I think John McCain will win the presidency. The last pane especially.

Good luck, humanity.

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

But Dennis, that man behind McCain is Joe Lieberman, McCain's "national unity" VP! Who then either:

1) becomes his Cheney or

2) bumps McC off and re-declares his Dem allegiance, and proceeds to appoint as HIS new VP...

...Al Gore

Depends on whether Lieberman is a real Vader or the "secret mole" Anekin... and don't I got an imagination?

But no matter. Petraeus is in. The Navy is out.
Buy canned goods. I mean it.


Oh! can somebody tell me what the RSS feed URL for this blog is?

I have a new blog only for literary matters
I could use the RSS URL for that one, too.(It's primarily for amazon-connect)

Feel free to make a "welcome" comment there!

Dennis said...

Either version of Lieberman is disturbing. Anikin was prone to fits of genocidal rage. "I killed them. All of them."

I've been canning vegetables, not because of a sense that it will be soon needed, but because when I can pick up 5lbs of tomatoes for $3 at the market, I want to take full advantage. Makes for a lot of salsa. Still, good advice. I'd stock up on rice too, except for the run on the rice market.

Food supplies being displaced for fuel. Iran war and $4 gas both looming. Otherwise perfectly rational people telling me that Bjorn Lomborg has a point...

Oh well. It's Stanley Cup season. That should keep me in a semi-distracted state of artificial satisfaction for a couple of the remaining 9 months of Bush.

I keep hoping for good news. Maybe is it.

Stefan Jones said...

In a few months, the people who allowed themselves to be panicked into buying five 20 lb. sacks of rice (because that's all that Sam's Club said they could have) will look in their pantry, wonder "what the hell will I do with all of this rice? I usually only buy three boxes of Uncle Ben's a year and it's a lot easier to cook," and donate it to the local food bank.

There is no rice shortage in the USA. Some Asian countries limited exports, so maybe the fancy Basmati you usually buy is in short supply . . . but this isn't a signal that there's a famine on the way . . . here.

David Brin said...

Larry King recently interviewed Jon Stewart, and specifically engaged him about the primaries.

He asked Jon if America was ready for a woman or a black president.

Jon looked at him quizzically and said: "This is such a non-question ... Did anyone ask us in 2000 if America was ready for a MORON”?

adiffer said...

I remember an interview with a NT Times reporter (I wish I could remember his name) saying essentially that. He couldn't speak out too much as his paper had yet to endorse anyone, but he worked around the subject by pointing out that the nation really, really, really needed a smart person in office for the next few years of challenges.


Travc said...

Dennis: I'm not terribly impressed with ThinkEV or any other 'smart-car' I've seen marketed yet. They are way way too expensive ($25K, where maybe 1/2 that would be a good price point.) It is also just not useful enough for most people, who can't afford a dedicated city-only car. Finally, it annoys me greatly that the article states it is meant to compete with the Prius... No, the Prius is a midsized car with no range limits and much better performance on the open road.

It would be nice if everyone in the US had access to several vehicles for different uses. Going camping in the mountains with friends... that SUV is looking pretty good. Going across town to visit friends, a small electric city-car fits the bill. However, for most of us poor slobs, affording the fixed costs, much less the purchase price, of having even one car is not so easy... so general purpose is the key, and hybrid drivetrains (preferably plug-in hybrids) kick every other option's ass at this point.

PS: This is what I want
Shadow RSTV
Well, maybe a bit more than I need... though a diesel-electric drivetrain where each wheel is its own motor is really cool. True all-wheel drive!

PPS: Apologies for the bit off topic... whatever the topic happens to be at the moment ;) Just had to get this one off my chest.

Travc said...

Back to the sadly real world...
Peteaus commanding CENTCOM. I am truly disturbed by this. Ousting Fallon, then Peteaus promotion, and today a rollout of some 9 month old 'intelligence' about Syria doing something with asian looking people (North Korean we are told) and a nuclear reactor (which was leveled like 6 months ago.)

Though I don't quite get this latest bit. Peteaus's promotion is easy... he will agree with whatever the WH tell him to do. But Syria and Iran aren't exactly allies. Is there another bait-and-switch in the works. Syria would be a much easier target than Iran (still insanely stupid to attack, but marginally less from a purely military standpoint). Is there some innuendo that Syria is helping Iran coming down the pike, or perhaps a N Korea connection to hype?

God, I hope they don't try going after N Korea... Not even Bush can be that stupid, can he? N Korea has enough artillery in range of Seoul to level the place...

Dennis said...

Travc, the gathering momentum in specialized EVs is:

(a) Providing a testing ground for EV tech, so hopefully in a few years the best price/mass/impact intersection will make its way to general purpose consumer vehicles.

(b) Reducing carbon a bit now, more soon, in the form of fleet deployments of NEVs in cities, campuses, military bases, etc. I noticed recently my town hall has several new Priuses (Prii?) with city plates parked out back - I imagine/hope, tech willing, that in a few years aging cars in the city fleet will be replaced with ThinkCitys and cityZENNs.

DB: thanks for the Jon Stewart laugh. Wish more like him would tell truth to the media monsters' faces.

Hawker Hurricane said...

Back in 2003, I knew people taking bets on who would be next after Iraq: Syria or Iran. If we were more concerned with Isreal, it would be Syria, if we wanted to prop up the Saudis more it would be Iran.
Well, they tried to push Iran on us and no one was buying, so now they're trying to sell us Syria.
THIS was another reason for attacking Iraq: Bases to attack other nations from. Unfortunately, reality made Iraq harder than they fantasized, and the bases are no where near as secure as planned.

Robert said...

The Fourth Fleet (for Latin/Central American waters) is being re-activated. It appears that the rumblings from Chavez and other anti-U.S. countries in Central and South America have finally caused the Shrub to start building up forces for closer at home.

I've been thinking about this. If this is being built out of new forces and new recruits... then this could be a Neocon attempt to drive a religious stake into the secular heart of the U.S. Navy. If, however, the Fourth Fleet is more comprised of elements of other Fleets... then we have a little less to worry about (outside of the weakening of the other Fleets).

Still, I could think of some uses for the Fourth Fleet... such as "training flights" and "training patrols" that start working harder to cut down the amount of drug smuggling into the country. While drug dealers have other methods of getting narcotics into the country, it would drive up prices, lessen supply, and perhaps damage the illicit drug industry. Assuming that the U.S. President actually decides to use this fleet to help beef up overwhelmed law enforcement groups, that is. But then that might also be moving close to the concept of "martial law" and the like....

Rob H.

Robert said...

There's an interesting article over at the Daily Kos about George McGovern commenting on his campaign against Richard Nixon. One of the interesting things he comments on is that the reason he lost is because the other candidates continued sniping at him after he'd won the nomination... and also about changes in the rules for the nomination mid-stream.

While McGovern is a backer of Clinton, his comments hit home against Clinton. Daily Kos expects her to toss him to the wolves quite soon as a result.

Rob H.

Hawker Hurricane said...

When the USN activated the 5th Fleet, in the Persian Gulf, they didn't build new units for it... they just recognized that the number of units deploying to the area from both 2nd and 3rd fleets justified making a seperate command AND command and control diffuculties between 2nd/3rd/6th/7th fleet. I imagine 4th Fleet will be the same: we are deploying enough units on anti-drug ops that someone convinced the White House that they needed another Admiral's billet.

(The cynic in me says that the Navy wanted an excuse to promote more people: a Fleet rates 1 four star, 2-3 three stars, a dozen one and two stars, 25 Captains...)

Jester said...

The "reactor" is another case of Aluminium Tubes.

No water source. No electrial lines. Absolutely no space to produce significant ammounts of electricity on site.

Picture of a building that kind of looks like a North Korean reactor facility, and the docking of a ship of Korean registery which has not left the Med in a decade in a Syrian harbor. That's the "evidence".

William_Shatner said...

Brin said;
"planet-devouring monster."
>> I have a little experience with those myself. But as far as Black Holes are concerned -- I've read a few articles by some of the CERN scientists, and it sounds like they are saying; "We know we can't produce black holes because they are caused by such and such." Which is pretty scary to me, because part of these supercolliders and stuff, is to figure out what makes things like black holes, and to smash protons together, to form little crazy fluctuations in the aether that they keep describing as all these fun little quarks.

You know, only when you are REALLY, REALLY smart, can you attempt to create a Planet-Devouring Monster in order to see that they exist and figure out just in case -- how not to create them. That's like taste testing something on the ground so that you know if you should step in it. I think we are completely safe, only because these guys are extremely lucky. Lucky that Physicists can say things with a great degree of mathematical detail, and rely on the fact that nobody remembers that they abandoned the Previous String Theory that also had great mathematical detail because 99% of everyone was just pretending to understanding it and nodding sagely. It works every time.

[Editors Note: SysOp has deleted Copious text, if this is an issue, please refer to our SysOp policy and let lose impotent rage at our comment email address which is never read.]

While that is a really condensed synopsis of something I could use to melt your mind -- it only vaguely relates to Black Holes. The take-away is; the term; "Universal Escape Velocity is relative" and creating a black hole requires a sufficient "critical mass" that is near to the UEV (or relativistic speeds if you want to bring Einstein into this -- he never referenced previous work so why should I?)

[Editors Note: More blah-blah-blah.]

Anyway, these folks are just plain lucky. They are safe from destroying the world -- but not for the reasons they mention -- black holes, like Fission bombs, need a critical mass of matter that makes a self-sustaining reaction. Remember, when they tested the first atom bombs in the USA -- they had no real idea how much energy they would produce and were surprised when they produced more and thus they had to adapt nuclear theory to match. They could have asked me, but too few people would think to do that. ;-)

William_Shatner said...

----------A LATTER DAY NOSTRADAMUS? ---------
I'm wondering if you are using sublime wit and sarcasm like me now? A Buena Mosquito hanging out with the Bushies because he predicts things good? I thought they went for; "Tell me what I'm thinking and you get a cookie. Put it in a PDB memo and you get a condo in the South of France." I have a hard time believing Math can factor the future, given that it's hard to get all the variables in there, and people have a hard enough time with simple problems like; "Two trains leave the station going opposite directions."

If you want some interesting Nostrodomi (plural, there are two of them), then go to or pick up some free bread crumbs from for free -- these guys use sophisticated searches of comments on the web, to find the change in how people use words on the Internet(s). Like the Oracle of Delphi, they come up with prosaic predictions like; "Electric Waters Rise in New Orleans" and "New Island in the Pacific" with a date that was one day off on a very rare (because it was first) witnessing of a volcanic island forming from nowhere (the sea floor) in the Pacific. Apparently, they think that people are subconsciously prescient, and that they have an "emotional" reaction to things in the future that cause them an emotional reaction. More of that right brain stuff.

My theory? I think there is no time but the present, and we have an overlap of causality waves. Kind of like "fate" but it's more of an effect of mass social subconscious. Meaning, we kind of know what we are ignoring, and we seek to create events that force us to resolve these issues. It isn't so much as mind over matter -- but a feed-back effect, wherein the "receiver" of the broadcast, can effect the transmitter through feedback. Dang, I think I used a redundant self-reference there -- if there is such a thing.

I have to agree with the first comment by Anonymous,... the CIA and its ilk have done diddly-squat to help "American's interests" but a cynical person like myself might think they've done a really bang-up job for weapons sales -- or those Uber Elite you were mentioning in your previous article. That was an awesome post by the way. It was really smart of you not to use the phrase "The Powers That Be" because everyone knows that wealthy people do not conspire to have more wealth...

William_Shatner said...


OK, I'm trying to condense my thoughts more,.. seems that Twitter discipline, is helping others to make short, witty statements. Whatever happened to "paid by the word?"

I recall a theory once about Human brain development. The scientists theorized that as recently as 1800 or so years ago, the Corpus Collosum of the brain was less developed. The prevalence of "visions" of Athena and Zeus helping Greek troops battle Troy, was a factor of this "stuck more in the right brain" phenomena. I suppose it might have been more like a brain "time share" where you were stuck on one side or another. At moments of calm, you could be the thoughtful scholar like Josephus, memorializing human events with some degree of accuracy, or like Euclids and his triangles doing things to annoy school children in future geometry classes. When the human got the adrenaline pumping, or perhaps, just some really cool trance music, they would jump full feet into the Right Brain imagery, and might come back later to witness some profound art, a revelation of a burning bush, or "oh my God -- I made love to a goat. There must be a Sadir demon tempting me!"

Just another theory to throw on the dead wood pile; the connecting of the Left and Right hemispheres is a New Thing, and that we might have modes of thinking like we have two nervous systems (one for fight or flight, and the other for waiting in line at the airport).

William_Shatner said...

I predict that the entire civilized world will come down on private banking very soon. Would a flotilla of boats off the coast of a tax haven like the Caymans fit the your Swedish prediction? If I'd known about that particular tax haven, it would make sense that it would be the first, since the Europeans are a little more keen on the "common good" philosophy.

One of the two Billionaires that I know is from Sweden. It really formed my opinion that; "The truly wealthy can decide not to pay taxes." He was frustrated by the high tax rate in Sweden but apparently didn't realize its connection with his high level of education. He had a credit card that allowed him to have access to offshore banks. If you have a multinational company -- you can make as little or as much "profit" as you like on paper. Seems to explain how GM can run in the red year after year.

The scenario is this; Globalism will be revealed as a scam -- because basically, the propaganda isn't doing much for our empty wallets. Fundamentally, most American ideals don't really go further than our wallets, so we love Reagonomics until it trickles down on us. The reaction to another Great Depression, is going to be easy to predict; "Tar and Feathers."

In a last ditch effort to save themselves, politicians and Banksters in the US, will quit pointing the fingers at swarthy foreign immigrants or Islamo-whatever, and say; "Hey, we found Bear Stearn's money right here -- so, I guess we've solved that whole problem with deficit spending too." Look, if they can do it, they can figure our a better set of reasons later.

Robert said...

I have seen a political cartoon for the ideal Obama/Clinton ticket. It shows a smiling Obama holding hands high with... Chelsea Clinton. ^^

Okay. I think I could live with that sort of Obama/Clinton ticket. Though I think Chelsea is too young to be VP, isn't she?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Makes sense. I heard one pundit opine that BHO is the son Bill & Hill never had. Wish they'd see that.

On the other hand...

If some web artists did thei:

it might end all this....