Monday, June 30, 2008

So Many Ways Obama Could Use Jiu Jitsu...

The LA Times recently presented an unusually insightful editorial about ”Obamacain” -- relating to the few - but noteworthy - areas in which the two candidates overlap or share important views.

“It has been a refrain during the exhausting battle for the Democratic presidential nomination that once Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama emerged as the party's choice, we could finally dispense with the personality battles and get down to nitty-gritty policy differences. Indeed, now that Obama seems to have the position locked up, he and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain will have plenty to argue about. But some might be surprised at the breadth of issues on which they largely agree.”

The editorial goes on to cite surprising consensus in areas of National Security, Immigration, environment and social issues. The Times suggests that the thought of consensus, instead of Fox-style reflexive opposition, ought to be attractive, now and then.

Alas, the Times essay stops short - way short - of taking this notion to its logical conclusion. If a majority of voters in both major parties have already pledged general allegiancve to one of two presumptive nominees, haven’t we already voted, many months before the general election, to trust their wisdom enough to listen... tentatively... to areas where they both agree change is needed?

One of the very worst immaturities to be foisted on America by the culture warriors has been the oversimplification of reflext opposition. If your side likes something I must be against it. If you open your eggs at the small end, I must open mine at the big end. The biggest actual result of this wretched reflex has been to ensure that very little gets done. We’re doing fine, vetoing each others agendas. But to actually move ahead, we’ll have to re-learn how to negotiate, sometimes compromise, or else let your opponents have the part of their agenda you object to least... in exchange for them doing the same for you.

Above all, where ae actually agree, should it not be politically safe to actually say so?

I go into this in some detail in an essay that I have recycled during each of the live FIVE presidential elections... Why The Candidates Should "Stipulate"...

... proposing that a contest between two mature and intelligent adults does not have to be entirely about a battle of opposites. America and the world might benefit most by hearning where they have discussed a certain matter, and reached a consensus - a stipulation - that it is time to stop the rigor mortis inaction that arises from rigid opposition, and to start talking about how -- rather than whether -- to act on a major problem.

“One of the chief flaws of our electoral system is that real candor is punished. Both sides may rail against each other, but they'll never aim bad news at us. Even if both nominees believe in their hearts that the public needs to face some hard truth, neither will dare be first to say it, lest the other side take advantage.... only now consider this. There is no political cost to telling voters what you really believe... if your opponent has agreed, in advance, to say the same thing.

“The process is called stipulation... as when the attorneys representing opposite sides in a trial agree to agree about a set of points. By stipulating these points, they help move the trial forward, focusing on areas where they disagree. Consider this year. For all of his faults, McCain has done this sort of thing before. So has Senator Obama. In fact, the only ones to object would be those at the extremes, in both parties.”

I go on to cite the greatest-ever example of this kind of bipartisan maturity, in the 1940 Roosevelt-Wilkie election, in which both candidates agreed to support aid to Britain, instantly undercutting the isolationists in both parties. Of course this suggestion was pure fantasy during the poisonous atmosphere of the last eight years, while one of the major candidates represented nothing but stupidity, lunacy, compulsive deceit and rabid partisanship. But if we really are returning to an era (as in the Clinton-Dole contest) when grownups might argue sensibly, then this idea really needs another look. So please do...and possibly spread the word!

And while we’re at it, see another -- somewhat related -- idea: Honoring the Losing Majority --  that might also restore civility, consensus, negotiation and mutual respect back into the lexicon of American political life. In fact, this idea is - at one level - simply common courtesy and would score points to whichever candidate made the pledge that I suggest.

“Originally, the Constitution awarded a prize for second place -- the Vice Presidency. If little else, at least the electoral runner-up got a bully pulpit. But after near-disaster in the flawed election of 1804, the system was amended to make the Vice President more of a deputy, chosen by the winning party. Nevertheless, this precedent does show what the founders had in mind. They always intended for the losing side to get something. Might there be some way to acknowledge the losing minority in a presidential election, without grinding their face in humiliation, making them determined to do the same thing, when their turn comes around?”

Check out an original suggestion for how this miracle might be accomplished -- in a way that might also make your side’s candidate seem vastly more statesmanlike and mature.
---- From the Transparency Front ---

The US & EU will let security agencies to obtain private information — like credit card transactions, travel histories and Internet browsing habits — about people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The potential agreement, as outlined in an internal report obtained by The New York Times, would represent a diplomatic breakthrough for American counterterrorism officials, who have clashed with the European Union over demands for personal data. Europe generally has more stringent laws restricting how governments and businesses can collect and transfer such information.


Here’s a news item that I have re-written in the form of “what if Clinton had done this?” -- as part of my continuing series offering you bait for that “decent conservative” or Ostrich, who might yet be lured out of that hole of denial, rousing him or her to recall that he or she is an American first, and a Republican second. See also: Ostrich Hunting : The Bill Clinton Gambit.

“Imagine how a Republican might feel if - late in the Clinton Administration - the Justice Department's own Inspector General reported that Clinton's White House staff had meddled with nearly all Justice Department hiring decisions, ending the traditional practice of hiring and promoting on advice from neutral commissions and instead applying blatant political tests, transforming the U.S.J.D. into a massive, private law firm serving one political party... relentlessly ignoring crimes by their "side" and pursuing vendettas against the other.”

If this happened under Bill Clinton, and only fiercely partisan liberal Democratswere allowed inside Justice, would you have called it a scandal? But the Inspector General says that this did NOT happen under Clinton. It happened under Bush and the Republicans. So where's your righteous sense of anger?

While you’re at it... try rephrasing the following items the same why! “What if Clinton and the liberals had...?”

A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq. “For the first time, the extent to which some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources. ...A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations..... And example cited in the article: “In the run-up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president. Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.”

Now look back at how thr far-right howled over the UN’s “Oil for Food” program and some possible graft that might have added up, over a decade, to a billion dollars. Where is the same indignation over theft that directly betrayed our troops in the field, amounting to tens and even hundreds of times as much?

While we’re at conspiracy explanations for the , go see this intervirew with Vanity Fair editor Craig Unger on the Bush family feud, neoconservatives and the Christian right. Unger is author of House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties, which traces the intense links between those two royal families, which helps to explain why the Saudis and the Iranians are the only real winners to emerge from the neconservative era. Unger’s latest book The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War and Still Imperils America's Future tracks the civil war between Bush Sr.’s moderate republican circle and the neocons who (metaphorically) hijacked his son. See an interview with Unger that, except for some flickers of Israeli conspiracy fetishism, are deeply informative, fascinating and rather scary.

And what would Timothy McVeigh have said? That is... if liberals did this? The Senate’s subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government,” chaired by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis. Growing use of secret law “is implicated in fundamental political controversies over domestic surveillance, torture and many other issues directly affecting the lives and interests of Americans. ... Secret law excludes the public from the deliberative process, promotes arbitrary and deviant government behavior, and shields official malefactors from accountability.” At this very Senate hearing, John R. Elwood, the Office of Legal Counsel’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General, provided a startling example of the Bush administration’s justification for the imperious essence of secret law. As reported in the May 1 New York Times, Elwood “disclosed a previously unpublicized method to cloak government activities.” The Bush administration believes, he said, “that the president could ignore or modify existing executive orders that he and other presidents have issued without disclosing the new interpretation.”

Next time... why Obama should do several more “jiu jitsu moves”... including a bold statement in favor of “states rights.” Now it’s blue-staters who want relief from an overbearing central government that takes their taxes, returns little, and quashes every attempt to make progress at the state level.

The ul;timate irony will come when liberals add gun ownership to states rights, as positions that suddenly make sense from THEIR perspective... while the far right consinues being hereded toward defense of authoritarianism.

But then, ironies are generally overlooked till theyhit people on the head…


The latest Armageddon Buffet is out! See some wonderfully inflamatory (and yet twistedly wise) articles that leap out from the rest.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The (far) Future We Are Fighting For

Startling Prescience...

BernalHere are excerpts from JD Bernal's unbelievably farsighted essay -- The World, the Flesh & the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul, published (astonishingly) in 1929!

The whole thing is well worth reading, carefully, but here are some pertinent excerpts:

-- from THE WORLD

Imagine a spherical shell ten miles or so in diameter, made of the lightest materials and mostly hollow; for this purpose the new molecular materials would be admirably suited. Owing to the absence of gravitation its construction would not be an engineering feat of any magnitude. The source of the material out of which this would be made would only be in small part drawn from the earth; for the great bulk of the structure would be made out of the substance of one or more smaller asteroids, rings of Saturn or other planetary detritus. The initial stages of construction are the most difficult to imagine. They will probably consist of attaching an asteroid of some hundred years or so diameter to a space vessel, hollowing it out and using the removed material to build the first protective shell. Afterwards the shell could be re-worked, bit by bit, using elaborated and more suitable substances and at the same time increasing its size by diminishing its thickness. The globe would fulfil all the functions by which our earth manages to support life. In default of a gravitational field it has, perforce, to keep its atmosphere and the greater portion of its life inside; but as all its nourishment comes in the form of energy through its outer surface it would be forced to resemble on the whole an enormously complicated single-celled plant....

However, the essential positive activity of the globe or colony would be in the development, growth and reproduction of the globe. A globe which was merely a satisfactory way of continuing life indefinitely would barely be more than a reproduction of terrestrial conditions in a more restricted sphere....

As the globes multiplied they would undoubtedly develop very differently according to their construction and to the tendencies of their colonists, and at the same time they would compete increasingly both for the sunlight which kept them alive and for the asteroidal and meteoric matter which enabled them to grow. Sooner or later this pressure, or perhaps the knowledge of the imminent failure of the sun, would force some more adventurous colony to set out beyond the bounds of the solar system. The difficulty involved in making this jump is probably as great as that of leaving the earth itself. Interstellar distances are so large that high velocities, approaching those of light, would be necessary; and though high velocities would be easy to attain - it being merely a matter of allowing acceleration to accumulate - they would expose the space vessels to very serious dangers, particularly from dispersed meteoric bodies. A space vessel would, in fact, have to be a comet, ejecting from its anterior end a stream of gas which, meeting and vaporizing any matter in its path, would sweep it to the sides and behind in a luminous trail. Such a method would be very wasteful of matter, and one might perhaps count on some better one having been devised by that time.

Even with such velocities journeys would have to last for hundreds and thousands of years, and it would be necessary - if man remains as he is - for colonies of ancestors to start out who might expect the arrival of remote descendants. This would require a self-sacrifice and a perfection of educational method that we could hardly demand at the present. However, once acclimatized to space living, it is unlikely that man will stop until he has roamed over and colonized most of the sidereal universe, or that even this will be the end. Man will not ultimately be content to be parasitic on the stars but will invade them and organize them for his own purposes.

-- from FLESH:

If a method has been found of connecting a nerve ending in a brain directly with an electrical reactor, then the way is open for connecting it with a brain-cell of another person. Such a connection being, of course, essentially electrical, could be effected just as well through the ether as along wires. At first this would limit itself to the more perfect and economic transference of thought which would be necessary in the co-operative thinking of the future. But it cannot stop here. Connections between two or more minds would tend to become a more and more permanent condition until they functioned as a dual or multiple organism. The minds would always preserve a certain individuality, the network of cells inside a single brain being more dense than that existing between brains, each brain being chiefly occupied with its individual mental development and only communicating with the others for some common purpose.

Once the more or less permanent compound brain came into existence two of the ineluctable limitations of present existence would be surmounted. In the first place death would take on a different and far less terrible aspect. Death would still exist for the mentally-directed mechanism we have just described; it would merely be postponed for three hundred or perhaps a thousand years, as long as the brain cells could be persuaded to live in the most favorable environment, but not forever. But the multiple individual would be, barring cataclysmic accidents, immortal, the older component as they died being replaced by newer ones without losing the continuity of the self, the memories and feelings of the older member transferring themselves almost completely to the common stock before its death.

Whew! Some people are simply ahead of their times. Though it truly is noteworthy that Bernal's essay was widely published and discussed, back in the 1930s... and no, the Harry Bellafonte movie simply used the provocative title, nothing more.

A note on Bernal’s approach to interstellar travel. Of course we would recognize the overal concept as the vast community of rotating space colonies projected in the 1970s and 1980s by Gerard O’Neil -- leading eventually to some of this vast, living “cells” leaking - as if by osmosis - intothe interstellar realm. If this gradualistic approach works, then human colonies will expand outward in a natural, even organic way. And, once the first ones are established, sending further colonies onward, the pace should accelerate. Simple calculations suggest a migration rate that might fill the galaxy with our descendants within just 60 million years.

The relevance to SETI is obvious. Why haven't aliens already done this? If they had -- and even if the Earth were missed or bypassed or set aside by those predecessors... then would we not have seen or heard signs of them by now?

Still, dig it. “The World, the Flesh & the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul,” by J. D. Bernal 1929. Ninety years ago they were talking about something that seems to have slipped completely our of our own lexicon. The “rational soul.” As Ghandi might have said -- what a quaint idea!


While we’re dipping in the past...

- Look up the prescient speech by Vannevar Bush, after WWII, forecasting many of the advantages of computers and advanced communications in the coming world.

- In 1934, Belgium visionary Paul Otlet sketched out plans for the the Mundaneum - a global network of computers (or "electric telescopes") that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a "reseau," which might be translated as "network" or "web." He laid out his vision of a "mechanical, collective brain" that would house all the world's information, made readily accessible over a global telecommunications network, using telegraph messages. Like the Semantic Web, the Mundaneum aspired not just to draw static links between documents, but also to map out conceptual relationships between facts and ideas.

--- More Misc Stuff!

Spore has arrived! Well, part of it. Stefan reports: “Maxis released the first module, the Creature Creator, last week. Here is Joel Johnson's "straight" demonstration:  I once joked on Slashdot that SPORE wouldn't really take off until Wright pursued the Sims demographic with the Spore Interplanetary Brothel module.”

exorariumIt's two years since Wright had me and Sheldon Brown over to his Berkely shop, to show him our Exorarium Project. Sheldon and I felt flattered that Wil was even remotely worried about us! How could we know that the wonderful Spore prototype we saw that day would be delayed two years?

Oh, a cute moment came when we pointed out that - while our approach uses evolution - Wil's Spore is clearly Intelligent Design.

Another (pressure driven) hit?

Here’s an obscure one for the “predictive hits” registry. Scientists have found that the superconducting state in so-called "high temperature" superconductors can be induced by high pressure as well as low temperature.

Um... duh? I considered this to be so obvious that I made it a major plot element in my novel,  EARTH. When I realized that the most common mineral state in our planet’s mantle layer -- perovskite -- happens also to be the mineral state of some of the best “high temperature superconductors.” Of course “best high temperature superconductors” in 1990 still meant only a few dozen degrees above absolute zero... and the Earth’s mantle is many thousands of degrees hot. So, the two domains should have zero overlap, right? Except for the intense pressure, down in the mantle! Should this -- might it -- result in occasional highly-conductive domains down there, deep below the surface? The mere possibility led to one of the most , well, unusual plot veers in any science fiction novel. (Or so I’m told.) It seemed reasonable (to a sci fi author) to ponder that vast, vast zone crisscrossed with conductive domains that might imprint with all of human knowledge in a very short time... bringing Earth itself to consciousness.

More Misc.....

See an excellent article about why scientists need help from rhetoricians to foil the machinations of today’s malignant sophists.

For anyone interested in the long, long road of libertarianism, as it wrestles with its oversimplifying demons and creeps slowly toward adulthood, there is a new site.

A global effort to develop an open-source "self-replicating" machine that ‘prints’ three-dimensional objects, is celebrating after the prototype machine succeeded in making a set of its own printed parts. (I betcha they don’t include chips and print heads.)

NASA's Solar Probe+, a heat-resistant spacecraft, will plunge deep into the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, where it can sample solar wind and magnetism first hand, by 2015. Trajectory of Solar Probe+ The two mysteries prompting this mission are the high temperature of the sun's corona and the puzzling acceleration of the solar wind.

Holocene related -- Researchers conducting brain scans of people listening to multiple sounds, say that the secondary auditory cortex -- located in the temporal lobe at the side of the head -- does much of the work in filtering out a single thread of conversation from a tangle of similar background noises (the "cocktail party. And why has almost no effort been made, to provide the same services to folks online?

Botnets control just over a million hacked computers on the Internet and are capable of flooding the Internet with more than 100 billion spam messages every day.

HP has announced an under-$500 laptop computer called a "Mini-Note" that weighs less than 3 pounds, with a screen that measures 8.9 inches diagonally (prices go up for Windows Vista models with faster processors). The Mini-Note will compete primarily with Intel's Classmate PCs, Asustek's Eee PC.

Vivaty of Menlo Park, California, is creating a hybrid of conventional social networking sites such as Facebook and virtual worlds like Second Life. To be offered to Facebook users, Vivaty users will get access to a virtual room where they can adorn the walls with photos, watch a virtual television that plays YouTube, invite friends...

Astronomers have discovered a planetary system orbiting a distant star which looks much like our own. They found two planets that were close matches for Jupiter and Saturn orbiting a star about half the size of our Sun and about 5,000 light-years away.

And More (thanks to Ray Kurzweil).....

Twins' DNA can differ due to copy number variants (different number of copies of the same gene). These differences in identical twins can be used to identify genetic regions and genes that coincide with specific diseases due to copy number changes. Differences between identical...

Columbia University scientists presented evidence today that desert heat, a little water, and meteorite impacts may have been enough to cook up one of the first prerequisites for life: The dominance of left-handed amino acids, the building blocks of life on this planet. The finding suggests a higher probability that there is life somewhere similar to ours.

Now that computers can emulate many of the sequential skills of the brain's left hemisphere, Daniel Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind," argues that it's time for our imaginative right brain, which sees the entire forest all at once, to take center stage.

NASA engineers are testing out a giant, six-legged robot that could pick up and move a future Moon base thousands of kilometers across the lunar surface, allowing astronauts to explore much more than just the area around their landing...

Harvard Medical School and Boston College researchers have found that taking music lessons can strengthen connections between the two hemispheres of the brain in children, but only if they practice diligently. For the children who practiced at least 2.5 hours a week, a region of the corpus callosum that connects movement-planning regions on the...

No link necessary

85 per cent of the 4.3 billion available Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which identify devices connected to the net, are already in use. Within three years they will all be used up.

Researchers at IBM and the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin have demonstrated a prototype that integrates a water-based cooling system into 3-D chips by piping water directly between each layer in the stack. The method is one of the most promising approaches to enhancing chip performance in "3-D chip stacks" beyond its predicted limits

Decreased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin increases emotional response to a perceived unjust or unfair situation. Volunteers who had their serotonin levels temporarily lowered were much more likely to reject unfair offers in the Ultimatum Game. So, Oxytocin increases trust susceptibility and serotonin makes folks less skeptical...


As part of the push for a National Science Debate, SEA and fourteen other science organizations have come together to ask the 2008 congressional candidates seven questions on science and technology policy. There is also a handy clickable zipcode search to help you find your local Congressional candidate and to urge him/her to answer the questions. (A special hint -- they give the address of your local representative and opponent. Drop by both, and see if one of them pleases you enough to offer some help!) This is important.

Help show the politicians that a top issue is whether America will be an advanced and forward looking civilization.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cool Signs of an Ongoing Enlightenment

Dousing the Politics Lamp - a bit - here’s a survey of what progressive innovators, entrepeneurs etc are up to! Remember, leader-politicians are important, but they can only help a civilization and citizenry who are helping themselves!

But first, a challenge and a puff item:

Whatever your politics... sign a petition for the great big National Science Debate! Make the candidates tell us how they’d make the U.S. once again a leader in science & tech-innovation for improving the future.

Also see the winners the still-image part of the “Uplift” Computer Graphics Challenge. There’s a LOT of vivid, skilled and imaginative talent out there! Check Michael Dashow’s 2nd place winner. It’s not a scene from any book of mine, but it’s uplift! And way fun. And now I have an idea for this story....

Next to be judged - the "video trailers"... promos for science fiction films that have never been made... yet...

....and now more cool items... plus some "brinmaterials" at the very end.

IEEE Spectrum’s special issue on “The Singularity” is singularly worth a look. With deeply insightful articles by my friends Vernor Vinge, Robin Hanson and Ray Kurzweil... and an interactive article letting you add bionic components to a futuristic “shopping cart”... it is exceptionally useful & entertaining.

Dave McCabe writes in to say “There’s a group having a stab at doing something like your Disputation Arenas.” Another approach to improving online argument is this worthy effort. Of course this is the focus also of my Google Tech Talk. We can hope that projects like this get some leverage.

Meanwhile, GadgetTrack and other technologies that let your possessions communicate across the web are having the incidental effect of catching thieves. Ah transparency.

Brin heads into space! No... a different Brin. Google Cofounder Sergey Brin will also take a personal step into space as one of two space tourists on a 2011 private Soyuz flight. Brin has already put down a $5 million down payment towards his future flight as the first member of the newly established "Founding Explorer" group. "I am a big believer in the exploration and commercial development of the space frontier, and am looking forward to the possibility of going into space," Brin said in a press statement. (Huh! Well, maybe I can get him to take one of my books along. Grumble. “Brin in space.” Have fun Sergey! ;-)
Stefan reminds us... Sign the petition for the great big national Science Debate! Get the candidates to step forward and discuss how to make this country, once again, the leader in science and technology and innovating for the future.

Kevin Kelly’s latest article on the advantages of an era when information is infinitely copyable... and how to still make a proft.

Have a look at a summary of this year's Future in review Conference (FiRe), where Vinod Khosla was delightfully contrarian optimistic about our coming ability to develop cellulosic fuels and solar thermal energy.

"It is not every day that you get to hang out with Noble prize winners, top climatologists, renowned science fiction authors, CTOs of Fortune 100 companies, top researchers in medicine, broadband, environment, and fuels, #1 VC on the planet, friend of every Chinese leader since Mao, and more – and all within 48 hours. Well, Future in Review (FiRe) conference last week in San Diego provided such a thrill." Alas, the author of the writeup only mentions one "famous science fiction author" -- guest Bruce Sterling, who was entertainingly ornery, interviewed (by my arrangement) by the great tech artist Sheldon Brown. Um, the SF writer in residence at ALL of these conferences, organized the "Architechs CTO Innovation Challenge"!

Some fascinating companies touted or highlighted at the recent FiRe Conference?,,, To see these events as podcasts, from by the FiRe site, drop by over the course of the next few months. And see the FiRe site for more...

But seriously, are we a community or not? If Khosla is right (and he often is) then we should be looking very closely at solar thermal companies and trying to figure out which ones are the winners. Because Khosla thinks this field will boom like crazy in just three years. Go research & report back! (Otoh, Elon Musk sees a coming surge in photovoltaics. Let’s hope this rivalry between optimists really goes!

------- behave boys! A study shows that a big part of the flight of well-traiuned women from science and technology-related fields (where trained workers are desperately needed) is not just the old choice between career/family. No, around ages 30-40 much of it seems to revolve around workplace sexism, which may be worse among nerds than in the military! So watch the jokes and innuendos and ham-handed flirting, guys. Turns out it’s unpatriotic as well as uncool.

---- Other cool horizon techs.

- an aluminum-gallium alloy which, when combined with water, releases hydrogen for energy use. Basically you buy this compact energy source, then any supply of water can be poured in to become hydrogen fuel. Although the technology is still in its infancy, envision its use as a supplemental source of energy in hybrids and diesel-electric freight trains.
- using carbon credits to cut greenhouse gases through financing the installation of anaerobic digesters on dairy farms across the U.S. The digesters capture methane (currently 10% of all greenhouse gases) released by cattle and turn it into electricity for farm use.
- new computerized pen, which captures and digitizes written text with the option of translation into other languages. Go back and touch the pen to anything it wrote (even on a regular paper pad) and it will playback any sound recorder when that text was first scribbled. I kid you not.
- cell phones will soon use their cameras to scan barcodes , which will bring up information about a product via mobile Internet, along with the ability to wirelessly purchase and ship that product.
- an Intel team in Beijing that has developed a parallel app that watches television, for those who don’t have enough time to watch TV, saying that Tivo goes only so far. The computer can create a highlight reel...
- Sensors/implants, such as “smart wireless band-aids” – biosensors in a peel & stick package with a radio and processor – can be applied throughout the body and can then talk to another device, such as a mobile phone, another piece of medical equipment, or an access point on a wall in a hospital.

----------- Refreshing candor from a capital player Anyone who thinks all capitalists are dogmatic fools should have heard Bill Janeway of Warburg-Pincus: ”People who have been [complaining] about politics and politicians and the political process, and why don’t we just let the market solve it all, are again in the process of learning why we have politicians, why we have political processes, so that there are avenues of appeal from the market – not just for the losers, when the market works well, but for everyone, when the market ceases to work at all.”

Also sobering: “We do not know how deep and long the recession will be. We know that in Japan, it was 10 years, not two years – 10 years of slump, of rebuilding the financial health of the banking system, which is still somewhat problematic... with massive amounts of bail-out money for corporations.” The crux? Markets are marvels of the Enlightenment and the greatest generators of positive-sum wealth ever seen. But they not magical and they do not work well “blind.” FIBM (Faith in Blind Markets) is armwaving Juju, incanted by fools, or else by manipulators who really want less government-based accountability, but want plenty of government handouts and assumption of costs and risks.

Other insights

Ricardo Salinas-Pliego reminded us to consider the “bottom of the pyramid” and the millions upon millions of people who inhabit it, especially in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. His suite of companies, Grupo Salinas, is focused on bringing this demographic into modern financial systems, beyond microcredit, including offering accessible payment and savings systems. This is a demographic that also needs broadband, Internet access, and social action.

There are about 300 billion square feet of buildings in the U.S., and at least another 150 billion are expected to be built in the next 30 years. Additional projections: 50 billion will be demolished and 150 billion renovated – meaning that 75% of our built environment will be new or renovated. Now consider that buildings today consume 50% of energy in the U.S. in construction, operations, and maintenance, so if we can reduce demand by 50%, it will be like removing the entire transportation industry (25%) from the equation. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, of which Mark Foster is a Partner, is working hard to push the concept of “net zero” energy use. The annual energy budget for your building or site will be the annual incidence of its solar radiation. “Live with that,” as Mark phrased it, with good cheer. Your annual water budget will be the precipitation that falls on your site.

From 60 year China hand Sidney Rittenberg: “In 1943 Mao had applied to come to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt to talk about postwar China. An intense nationalist, he had never previously left Chinese soil. And here he was, appealing to us, to invite him to go to Washington, during the war, in 1943. And to all of this, we turned a deaf ear. We rejected his request for an invitation; we wouldn’t talk with him about loans, or about anything else. I think that if we had not been so ideologically driven – so narrow – we would not have had to fight the war in Korea or the war in Vietnam.”

We just gotta do better at foresight. At not letting dogma drive us. At believing we can make a more open and better world.

--- Ah, but in the short term?

A key hint to what’s going on is the disappearance of scores of oil tankers. Not in some thriller or sci fi plot. They are simply waiting, full, near ports. Speculators seemed to be storing oil in very large tankers and "slow steaming" them to port in a bet that prices would rise. When everyone is on the same side of the trade, the time is right for a reversal. This is especially true when there is a large potential supply sitting on the sidelines. It seems a good bet there’ll be an oil price plunge sometime soon, though a “dip” may be more like it. I wonder if it will be timed in oder to make it seem Bush or McCain were somehow responsible. Analyst John Mauldin also thinks that regulators may discourage some of the speculation that has driven up other commodity prices.

----- Critical Matters from the Transparency Front

A brilliant activist shared this confidentially: Researching chemical surveillance turned up a federal project called SensorNet. The following information was taken off the web and not yet otherwise verified, but the overall pattern is clear. The system is not merely proposed; it is being actively tested. SensorNet is planned to be the information infrastructure for a nationwide sensor web collecting of a wide variety of information with complete data integration and access by law enforcement and other government personnel at all levels: "a standards-based comprehensive incident management system available to Federal, state and local governments and the private sector for the real-time detection, identification, and assessment of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) hazards." [2]

Purposes listed include terrorism detection, environmental monitoring, enhanced weather analysis and prediction, traffic control, aircraft surveillance, inventory tracking, earthquake monitoring, and the measurement of atmospheric gases in urban areas. [2] Locations planned include government buildings or bases, commercial facilities [3], and other "strategic sites" such as national parks and sports arenas [4]. Some sensing would be limited in time; other locations would perform continual sensing. In the "near future", the mobile version of SensorNet will be made as small as a PDA or cell phone.

Initial testing has been carried out at "numerous" sites including Washington, DC; New York; Nashville; Knoxville; Oak Ridge; Chattanooga; Memphis; and Fort Bragg, NC. Similar tests have been done in Boston, San Francisco, and Miami. Sensor technologies are expected to include nanotechnology and MEMS; the chips to be used are planned to detect "thousands" of substances. Communication/software technologies and tools being used, or planned to be used, include Linux, XML, Java, digital certificates, peer-to-peer networking, SourceForge, Web 2.0, Second Life VR software, and wikis.

Deployment cost has been estimated at $2 billion over four years to deploy in 120 major U.S. cities. The cost is relatively low and the time relatively short because much of the proposed infrastructure is already in place (e.g., cellular towers and cellular basestations).Although the system is described as "open", this appears to refer to the architecture, not who has access to the data.

Now tell me this. If this frightens you, how do you plan to stop it? Ban or delay it, and it will only return again with sensors that are harder to detect. "Privacy laws simply make the bugs smaller." -- Robert Heinlein.

Anyway, each time something bad happens, the government will blame it on not having been able to see. These sensor nets WILL come. The only question is who will have access and who will be empowered. Again and again I explain -- the only way we'll keep a little privacy is (ironically) if we all can see. Oh, and that is how our protectors will be able to see enough to do their jobs, while remembering they are guard dogs, not wolves.

=== Misc stuff! ===

Doritos' 2008 contest winning space-ad entitled 'Tribe' was voted for by the British public The message is being pulsed out over a six-hour period from high-powered radars at the EISCAT European space station in the Arctic Circle, directed at a solar system just 42 light years away from Earth, in the 'Ursa Major' or Great Bear Constellation. The cleverly created advert features a tribe of Doritos escaping from the pack and sacrificing one of their own to the God of Salsa, as soon as there are no humans around. It can be viewed online from today at

Oooog. What an image to represent us! Fortunately, to detect the signal, ET would need an antenna 25km across. Idiots.

But Bandit reports: “..just for fun ... they even have pocket protectors!!“

---- The Lifeboat Foundation discusses ways to ensure survival of human civilization vs “existential threats.” Now they are looking for a safe, capacious and reliable server to host their increasing website traffic.

Speaking of which... energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare, a la The Postman?

Along ironically related lines... are there still uncontacted tribal peoples on Earth? I have to really doubt it. Still, have a look at this.

And here are some clues as to how we might fail with a whimper. Journals Find Fakery in Many Images Submitted to Support Research. Related, of course, to what I said in The Transparent Society about “the end of photograpohy as proof.”

But then, some things Can’t Be Copied... or so Says Kevin Kelly, who explains eight "generatives," things that can't be copied and so still hold value on the Internet: Immediacy, Personalization, Interpretation, Authenticity, Accessibility, Embodiment, Patronage, and Findability.

See a plan to create autonomous, extranational retreats for the rich, in the open ocean. And yes, this is reminiscent of the "Sea State" in Earth... and an item for the prediction wiki... though the version that I envisioned was propelled by the poor and disenfranchised, while this one is apparently an endeavor by some of the world's richest men to both continue to benefit from and (when convenient) abandon global civilization. (To see another (more interesting) attempt to begin deep oceanic fish farming in a big way... with giant, 200 meter buckeyball enclosed habitats.

In my new novel-in-progress, "shoresteading" is a refuge for some of the poor... laying claim to abandoned beachfront mansions, lost to rising tides.

See the nightmare “author” who runs a small POD (publish on demand) empire produing “books” that compile public source documents into tomes on narrow subjects... 200,000 of them so far.

First time an orbiting spacecraft ever caught a snapshot of another one landing.

For the Predictions wiki... "A Japanese brewery Tuesday said it was planning the first "space beer," using offspring of barley once stored at the Space Station. Researchers said the project was part of efforts to prepare for a future in which humans spend extended periods of time in space -- and might like a cold beer after a space walk." Well, it’s not exactly the “Slingshot” brew I describe in “Tank Farm Dynamo,” but still....

---- Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers report that brain activity can be used to predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance, with gradual changes starting as much as 30 seconds ahead of time. The team used an imaging machine to scan the brains of a group of volunteers who performed a task in the presence of distracting information. When performing correctly the volunteers' brains showed increased levels of activity in those parts associated with cognitive effort, as would be expected. However, these areas gradually became less active before errors were made and at the same time another set of regions in the brain became more active. These regions are part of a so called "default mode network" and show increased use when people are resting or asleep[PDF]. While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks, the team hopes to correlate errors to changes in electrical activity in the brain with electroencephalography (EEG), using electrodes placed on the scalp. If EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality. Could of used that hat while dating! Brrrrr!

------- If you aren’t an Ayn Rand fan, but have done the requisite reading (because she IS important enough to read), you will find this astonishingly consistent and cogent and biting and well worth the time. If you are a devotee... you may not be amused.

Blogunity member Tracy McSherry does motion-capture animation. See his latest - a funny satire of the Clinton-Obama debates.

And that will just have to do for now...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." JFK - January 20, 1961


ADDENDUM of brin-focused matters:

While we're at it, like audio-told tales? A bright and fun site for science fiction audio podcasting is Tony Smith’s Starship Sofa where one of my shortest works (precisely 250 words long) has just been posted. To hear just the (very short, but complicated) story, click.

Meanwhile, one of my speeches has been podcast. In this one -- between allergy sniffles -- I talk about "Horizon Analysis" while dealing with a world of accelerating change.

Were any of you among those I sent copies of Colony High part one: Sky Horizon, (by email) to critique? We’re still interested and if you finish that one, a select few will get to read an early draft of New Mojave.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Ways to carry this revolution forward...How you can help!

Finally! Clarity. And now, each of us can find ways help to carry this revolution forward.

One way -- simply add a little to the tsunami of small donations to Senator Obama's campaign... and contributing to the Democratic Party, so the fight can be taken down to the level of Congressional and state districts, where the real transformation awaits. Seriously, if you donate to one, please match with the other.

Nevertheless, it is both futile and unamerican -- as well as rather pathetic -- to yearn for salvation at the hands of some charismatic leader-politician. That sends the wrong message, especially to the politicians! At another level, this year is about ending Culture War the only way it can be won... by swaying our fellow citizens, one at a time. Each of us taking responsibility to change this battlefield our country's become. Not by attacking Red America, but by shattering the Red Coalition. By aksing “decent conservatives” to leave the neoconservative cult that has ruined their movement and nearly ruined our country.

=======   ======     ======

Not all conservatives will be approachable. Even the minority who are still willing to talk -- like that quirky but lovable uncle of yours -- may take umbrage if you go after them with typical liberal cant or Michael Moore rants. The method I have recommended is to show the decent-but-in-denial “ostrich” conservatives that they have been betrayed by the GOP even in strictly conservative terms I’ve provided a detailed playbook, The Ostrich Papers: How it Will Take All Decent Americans to Restore Decency to America, for awakening such ostriches, along with a much shorter, handy Cheat Sheet for Ostrich Hunters.

ostrichpapersAnd there are plenty of “roused ostriches” out there who can make yours feel not-alone! Here’s an example: Frank Schaeffer writing in the Huffington Post.

Then again, if your ostriches can’t stomach Obama, steer them to the Libertarians! I am unabashed about wishing libertarians - who at least have a foundation of freedom-loving sincerity - would become more reasonable and pragmatic, then earn their proper place as America’s second party (while the Republicans go the way of the Whigs and Know-Nothings!) True, this year’s LP candidate is an especially nasty and noxious piece of work; still, if small government republicans were to flood into the LP, it could both help demolish the GOP and transform libertarianism itself, perhaps even turning it into something worth talking about.

There are other things we can do. Volunteer for poll-watching or precinct work. Help a local state assembly campaign! Again, these low-level races are where change matters most. Here’s my own favorite: Find and register any unregistered voters and help students prepare to vote absentee, in November. (This often messes them up.) Get better acquainted with any members of the military you know, and listen, humbly, to their concerns.

And listen for signs of whatever last-ditch trick the neocons have up their sleeves. Currently, paranoia is running rife over a possible attack on Iran, with betting that the US Navy won’t cooperate, but the Air Force is a-raring to go. Signs and portents are studied, like the recent firing of Admiral Fallon from head of Central Command... and the even more recent firing of several Air Force officials by Defense Secretary Gates. (The former was clearly a putsch by the Bush White House. The latter MAY be something of a counter-attack by Gates.)

Is Gates the “adult in the room” who will defend us from some awful stunt? Some final frat-boy prank? Will the intelligence community rouse itself, at last, and remember its duty to protect us even from monsters at the top? Stay tuned.

===As “Mr. Transparency”... Let’s say I approve...===

On the same day that he became the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Sen. Barack Obama submitted a bill to expand public access to information about government spending. The bill, known as “The Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008,” was crafted on a bipartisan basis with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, is also an original co-sponsor of the bill, as is Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). This is far bigger than it looks! Because I contend that the biggest ripoff of the Bush Administration was its use of “emergency” over-rides to bypass normal contracting rules!

Say what? Contracting rules? How boring! No wonder almost no pundits or newsfolk have even glanced at this issue. And yet, it is arguably the main purpose of the Iraq War! Forget Michael Moore’s ditzo-moronic explanation that “it’s all about oil.” Do YOU see floods of Iraqi oil pouring into the west? No, follow the actual money! While our armed forces suffer and bleed and lose their readiness, almost a trillion dollars has poured into the open maws of “field service contractors” like Halliburton, KBR and Blackwater, through no-bid, crony contracts to Bush family friends, bypassing normal procedures... because this is an “emergency.”

Let there be no mistake. THIS is a top reason for the war, because -- other than demolishing our alliances, economy, readiness, reputation and happiness -- it represents the number one assertive effect of all this trauma. Everything else is window dressing. And that is why Senator Obama’s bill is so important. (Note, as evidence for how important this is, Senator McCain is also behind it. He may be wrongheaded and half crazy, but at least he isn’t a corrupt traitor.)

===Make Science an Issue!===

culturewarbattlegroundIs Obama going to be the first politician who actually gets it, that all the polls and focus groups and pablum-advice from consultants follow public opinion? A politician can also lead it! And one place where a suprise turn might make a real difference is by assertively making science and technology an issue.

Yes, it would seem that middle Americans and battleground states aren’t interested. And yes, most scientists are already backing BHO. Still, even mentioning the devastation that the GOP has wrought upon our scientific and technological leadership could resonate more powerfully than any consultant would imagine. There are hundreds of thousands of savvy people out there who would see this as a sign that Obama can see a few steps beyond an election.

And nothing says “hope” better than expressing a belief in our ability to solve problems.

And yes, I’ve mentioned this before. Among my “suggestions to the Democratic Congress” l was one that should have been a no-brainer, automatic first-step. Upon entering office, Nancy Pelosi should simply have re-established the independent Congressional science and technology advisory apparatus that was dismantled by Newt Gingrich and his colleagues, as the very first shot in the Republican War on Science. I do not know why she and her fellow congressional leaders have abstained from such a simple, inexpensive and dramatic step, which could be achieved without even much worry about a presidential veto. It would make clear the most extreme partisan difference of all, between one side that is “reality based” and the other, with its dependence upon fevered dogma and rejection of evidence.

Of course, beyond scoring political points, it would also simply be the right and smart and responsible thing to do. Anyway, I’ll keep plugging at this -- and I hope you folks will, too.

Only now another thought occurs to me. Rep. Pelosi might consider adding a layer to the science advisory apparatus. Here’s what I recommend. In addition to setting up methods to ensure that the main science advisory panels remain politically neutral, she might call for an outer, advisory commission, consisting of one eminent scientist or other professional, appointed by each member of Congress, independent of party. These 535 luminaries (who would serve pro-bono) would receive all Congressional technical reports and have the right to post, online, their own appraisals and discussions. In effect, it would be the “scientific and technical shadow” of Congress, since each senator or representative will have chosen (upon advice) the “best” technically savvy person in his or her district, who is also basically compatible with his or her viewpoint.

At minimum, the resulting online deliberations should be interesting and involve a higher level of scientific discourse than those in Congress itself... though still having a strong correlation with the general views of the elected representatives of the people. But the advantages go further.

1) This could staunch propaganda about the main Congressional advisory panels being biased, since the shadow commission would keep a wary eye.

2) If this outer commission reaches consensus to accept (or revise) a particular proposal, then it would provide political cover for the Senator or Congressperson to do the same.

3) And now the less-elevated but politically potent part. There is a significant portion of today’s Congress that is genuinely loony and biliously hateful toward science. These men and women claim not to be, and hence, they would have to cooperate superficially, and appoint their own members to the commission. But this will put them into a terrible bind. If they choose somebody eminent, with genuine credentials and peer respect, they risk getting unwelcome news from their own appointee. On the other hand,, suppose they pick a “scientist” of the flaky, fifth tier, primarily on the basis of some dogma-driven agenda like climate change denial or creationism -- then this will put the representative on record, in the open. The appointment will be open for glaring scrutiny... and politically-damaging hilarity.

This commission would be a complete win-win for Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats. Alas, though. Bets whether anything like it will happen?

===And on a related note...===

Nothing better distills the need for subtlety, in this changing political environment, more than the news that (forced by a court order) the Bush White House has finally (four years late) released its official, compiled assessment of the likely effects of global climate change on the United States and its citizens. The good news? They now are on record admitting GCC is real, major, threatening and driven hard by human-generated pollution. The bad news? We are still being led by people who were forced to admit this, after years of lies and deception.

Where does subtlety come in? Don’t you want to just run around and rub this in the noses of all those morons who parroted the Fox News “balanced” line, calling for “more research” while at the same time torpedoing science budgets? Well, remember that we aren’t in this for the satisfaction of screaming. In order to achieve pragmatic results, we must distinguish between “ostriches” and “troglodytes.”

Trogs are folks who are hopeless. They are enemies of the Enlightenment for reasons that are too deep and psychological ever to rise up and offer loyalty to a modern civilization that’s been very good to them. Underneath their surface rationalizations -- e.g. religious dogma, ‘suspicion of government’ (while vampirically using it), or imperialism - lies a far more basic layer of loathing that you’ll never ease or palliate with reason. Facts mean nothing, since they have been wrong repeatedly, for the last half century - about civil rights, womens’ rights, the environment, education - yet they keep adapting with stunning agility, for example, putting pictures of Martin Luther King - and Clarence Thomas - on their walls and denying that they had ever been racist. Just watch how, within a year or two, these same folk will start denying that they had ever been Climate Change deniers! What’s needed right now is for folks to get these trogs on record, before the latest sudden veer of conservatism has a chance to really take hold. Get them to stake their future credibility upon their fast-decaying denial mantra. If possible get it in writing. But at minimum, get them to say it, aloud.

Ostriches are another matter. I speak of them extensively elsewhere. These folks are victims of the neocon madness. We need them to lift their heads, in order to end Culture War. In order to do this, the latest neocon veer should be used as a pointed example, to show them that they cannot trust Fox or the exploitive right. If they want a decent conservatism, they will have to rise up and help re-invent it, by separating it from the monsters now controlling the movement. First step: helping us send the neocons packing.


See more: Politics for the Twenty-first Century