Monday, April 19, 2010

More Insights into the Future

Here in this catch-all posting, there will be a potpourri of treasures including some science below.
- I was interviewed on the BBC World Service regarding President Obama’s new space plan.  See if you can find the podcast! (And somebody send in the link?) 

- My longstanding push for more emphasis on citizen-involvement, in preparing for robust reaction to crises, is finally getting some traction.  Apparently, my editorial suggesting a change in National Security priorities (to emphasize resilience, as a partner to anticipation) has gone viral, with hit rates up toward five figure in each of the last three months.   

Moreover, some companies and groups have started their own endeavors to create the kinds of enabling technologies that can keep us agile and ready for an ever-changing tomorrow. Take for example “CiviGuard” which offers cell phone aps that allow location based govt-to-citizen alerts. Now to vastly expand this all the way to something that could unite the country, should even the worst happen. 

In a measure of whether we are wise enough to support cogent/important art - I see that the magnificent - though under-rated - online graphic storyteller Patrick Farley has started a Kickstarter fundraiser; if he succeeds he figures he'll has enough support to try to make a go of resurrecting Electric Sheep as a paying proposition. Suggested donation is $2.00 . . . maximum $25. The donations don't actually happen unless the full $6,000 limit is reached. He's got ten days to go and needs to raise about $2,800. I highly recommend him and hope that folks will take part in reviving his career. 


- As most of you may know, I consider “discourse” one of the core problems of our day. We desperately need to recall that our entire Enlightenment Experiment... and the American Branch, in particular... was based upon the notion of moderate/calm and rule-centered competition. Conflict is a fecund generator of creativity -- e.g. in markets, democracy, the arts and science -- but only if we find ways to keep it positive-sum.  That-is, focused on finding whatever true things may lurk amid the morass of indignant opinion, and not on the “kill my enemies” emotion set that we inherit from the bad-old past.

In my novel EARTH (1989), I portray people using the internet (in our time) in ways that exclude differing views. A tech empowered reiteration of delusion.  To combat this, I depicted hackers finding ways to expose folks to alternative points of view. Now comes a beta experiment from Intel -- Dispute Finder -- which will let you scan documents and sites and find places where someone credible out there disagrees with the statement in question. 

It seems to be the embryo of a terrific and sophisticated and necessary tool. Though there are a myriad problems to solve, including aspects of reputation management, topic gisting, etc.  Some folks give it a try and report back here?

Along related lines... Brian Douglas writes in to tout Morgan Spurlock's show, "30 Days" - “I discovered it on Netflix and he's essentially doing what you talked about in Evaluating Horizons about getting the reds and blues to walk in each others shoes. In each episode, Spurlock, or some other person or group of people, spend 30 days immersing themselves in a particular lifestyle with which they are unfamiliar (e.g. working for minimum wage, being in , a  living as a etc.), while discussing related social issues.” Aye, it sounds wise... and hence something that will never run on the media channels - like Fox - where eyes need it most.


Restoring the Office of Technology Assessment or OTA - and other independent advisory agencies - was one of my core suggestions, during and after the last election.   No action proved the GOP’s commitment to Know-Nothing anti-sicence than their elimination of a nonpartisan technological advisory board. Hence, I heartily concur with efforts to restore funding to the agency and I urge anybody who cares about having a technologically savvy and well-informed Congress to learn more, and sign the petition on the bottom.  ONE TRICK?  The Republicans never disbanded the OTA.  They simply zeroed out all funding.  The Dems should respond by pre-funding the agency for 20 years.


From Publishers Weekly re: Rebecca Solnit’s new book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.  ” Natural and man-made disasters can be utopias that showcase human solidarity and point the way to a freer society, according this stimulating contrarian study. Solnit (River of Shadows) reproves civil defense planners, media alarmists and Hollywood directors who insist that disasters produce terrified mobs prone to looting, murder and cannibalism unless controlled by armed force and government expertise. Surveying disasters from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, she shows that the typical response to calamity is spontaneous altruism, self-organization and mutual aid, with neighbors and strangers calmly rescuing, feeding and housing each other. Indeed, the main problem in such emergencies, she contends, is the elite panic of officials who clamp down with National Guardsmen and stifling regulations. Solnit falters when she generalizes her populist brief into an anarchist critique of everyday society that lapses into fuzzy what-ifs and uplifting volunteer testimonials. Still, this vivid book makes a compelling—and timely—case for the ability of ordinary people to collectively surmount the direst of challenges.”  I’ve reviewed solnit before.  A quirky, sometimes self-indulgent, but often wonderfully on-target author who has a knack of choosing fascinating topics. 


- A movie based on Marvel Comics' "Thor" superhero character is now scheduled to be released some time around May of 2011.  Marvel once threatened to sue me over the title of my (Hugo runner-up) novella "Thor Meets Captain America" which DC Comics later asked me to expand (with the great graphic artist Scott Hampton) into THE LIFE EATERS.  Alas, DC printed maybe twenty copies, in America, though the graphic novel did very well overseas and came in third for the grand prize in France, where they adore such things. Only now, DC may have a second chance!  They have, in hand, a GN that can leverage on any "Thor" hysteria, next spring.  Oh, and it would be a great dig at Marvel, since my GN portrays Thor as the villain! ;-)

- See this!  Remember, these guys have waged four wars and have nuclear weapons. Pompous and strange.... And yet the silliness seems rather dignified and cordial.

- See incredible footage of San Francisco, just days before the 1906 quake. The number of automobiles is staggering for 1906. The clock tower at the end of Market Street at the Embarcadero wharf is still there.  And no traffic lights, no cross walks, no painted lanes, no road signs, no cell phones (!)  AND NO RULES - yet folks seem to survive okay...!

- Some libertarians are starting to get it

- The usual 3D technology uses a stereoscopic principle in which a slightly different image is presented to each eye, thanks to the special glasses the viewer has to wear. Now a device named pCubee gives you the experience of 3D without the need for the glasses. The pCubee consists of five LCD screens arranged as a cubic "fish tank" box that viewers can pick up, tilt, shake or turn to watch the 3D content or play games with virtual objects that seem to be within the box.  Kind of like the alien artifact in my next novel!!


The brain can handle two tasks by distributing them between the two hemispheres of the brain, assuming it perceives a worthy reward for doing so, but with large dual-task costs.

A quantum random number generator called Quantis can produce truly random numbers.

A gold nanoelectrode that can extract one picoampere
(generated by photosynthesis) from algae cells. 

A hand-held projector called Twinkle can now create virtual characters and objects that interact with the real world.

Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades.  Now that takes me back...

wow! 5 Axis Robot Carves Metal Like Butter (Video) 

DARPA is starting a new program called "The Mind's Eye" to create an AI-based camera that can report back on war-zone activity with the same detail a trained human operative could offer.

GM Develops Augmented Reality Windshield

General Motors has unveiled a trio of concept electric "urban mobility vehicles" that are about one-sixth the size of a conventional car.

NASA's WISE mission has spotted 16 formerly hidden near-Earth objects with orbits close to Earth's. WISE is expected to discover as many as 1000 near-Earth objects, but astronomers estimate that the number of unknown objects with masses great enough to cause ground damage in an impact runs into the tens of thousands.

The real Avatar: ocean bacteria act as 'superorganism' .

Recognizr, an application that lets users point a smart phone at a stranger and immediately learn about them -- combining computer vision, cloud computing, facial recognition, social networking, and augmented reality ....

A midday 90-minute stage 2 non-REM sleep (takes place between deep sleep and the dream state known as Rapid Eye Movement or REM) period refreshes the mind and can make you smarter, UC Berkeley researchers have found.

IBM researchers have developed a system called Catchup, designed to summarize (verbally) in almost real time what has been said at a business meeting so newcomers can quickly catch up. It identifies the important words and phrases in an automatic speech recognition transcript and edits out the unimportant ones.

Turkish scientists have developed spray-on liquid glass that is transparent, non-toxic, and can protect virtually any surface against almost any damage from hazards such as water, UV radiation, dirt, heat, and bacterial infections, making cleaning products unnecessary. The invisible coating is also flexible and breathable.

Thrive on and fight for the Enlightenment.


Stefan Jones said...

The Prelinger Archive has more footage of pre-quake San Francisco, and also some truly amazing post-quake footage.

There's a picture, taken after the earthquake and fire, from a balloon tethered to the Ferry Building. It shows a smashed city that makes you think "Hiroshima."

There was no fallout in SF, and the disaster happened more slowly, but still . . . people made do, helped out, and rebuilt.

Stefan Jones said...


The contents page for Electric Sheep Comics is

Read 'em all. Some are gut-spilling autobiography ("The Guy I Almost Was," "Terrors of the Night.") Some are funny ("Thanksgiving Special.") Some are artsy and thoughtful fantasy ("Jain's Death").

Ian Gould said...

The principle behind 3D printers goes large scale.

"An Italian inventor, Enrico Dini, chairman of the company Monolite UK Ltd, has developed a huge three-dimensional printer called D-Shape that can print entire buildings out of sand and an inorganic binder. The printer works by spraying a thin layer of sand followed by a layer of magnesium-based binder from hundreds of nozzles on its underside. The glue turns the sand to solid stone, which is built up layer by layer from the bottom up to form a sculpture, or a sandstone building."

Of course, at this stage it's impossible to tell if this is going to be THe Next Big Thing or the next Seacrete.

mythusmage said...

Good God, David Brin is a Tea Partier.
What is a Tea Partier? Someone who insists he's capable of taking care of himself. Someone who doesn't feel he needs the government handling all his problems. For isn't that what people do after a disaster, get back on their feet mostly through their own efforts?

Look into the long term unemployed and why they remain unemployed sometime.

If you agree with David regarding human capabilities, then you are more a Tea Partier than you think. Think about it.

David Brin said...

Ah, the simplistic troll is back.

Nothing to learn from anyone else. Glom onto a "correlation" and perceive... even WILL it to be true!!!

Why, that's a... a... TRIUMPH of the WILL. I guess that makes Mythusage a... a Nazi!

Enough. I love it when dopes show up to prove my point. The difference between the far left and the far right is not which end is insane. They both are.

The difference is that the loons on the left are marginalized and do not run a political party. They do not (currently threaten the health and existence of the republic. Those on the right do.

John's Secret Identity™ said...

That spray-on liquid glass raises a question:

Which will come first: tooth replacement via stem cells and/or cloning, or decay-proofing via acid proof coatings?

David Brin said...

Either way, it's on time for my kids, not for me.

John Kurman said...


I have serious doubts concerning Dini's numbers. 4 times faster than conventional means, at half the cost or less? Using the smae materials, me and a team of hard-working illegal immigants could job him out of the market.

About a year ago, over at backyardmetalcasting (fun bunch of kids, mostly engineering students in college, but a few old fossils like me there too), we had a discussion of 3D printers, and the tentative conclusion was it was all very cool, but not quite there yet. Give 'em five years. I mean, you can fab a doorknob out of plastic or resin in four hours minimum, or I can sand cast one for you in about thrty minutes using proven 9,000 year old tech.

Robert said...

@mythusmage: My major complaint with the Tea Party is this: Where were they four years ago? Where were they even two years ago? The Tea Party comes out swinging, shouting "you are taking away our freedom! You are Nazis! We will not go quietly into the night!" and claim that Obama is the worst thing since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service. But they were silent when the man who stole so many of their rights and through his decisions killed thousands of our young and wounded thousands more, and killed however many tens of thousands (or more!) of Iraqis and people in Afghanistan. Where were the non-liberal protests and rallies under Bush? You speak up now because a black "liberal" (and he's only liberal if you compare him to the Far Right of the U.S., which has seized control of the voice of Conservativism) is President.

Dr. Brin is a Libertarian. Do not believe for a moment that Tea Drinkers are Libertarians. They are whiney little fanatics who are upset because their Old White Man was defeated. And while there are some Tea Party members who are genuinely worried about this country... they are not the visual front of the Tea Drinkers. Indeed, there are likely three types of Tea Drinkers: the vocal wingnuts that are the perceived Leaders of the movement (because they are the ones everyone hear and see), the quiet but concerned people who have genuine concerns and joined the Tea Drinkers as the only method they can think of for being heard, and the Neo-Conservative Sheep who passively do what their mouthy brethren tell them to do.

True Conservatives are becoming rarer and rarer. A number of them have ironically moved to the Democratic party because they perceive Democrats are creatures of change... and they hope to change Democrats to become more conservative (Blue Dogs, anyone?). Many more have joined the ranks of the Unenrolled (and damn Perot for seizing the "Independent" title, it was much easier to call the diverse non-affiliated voters as Independent).

In fact, the Tea Drinkers are already betraying their beliefs. They are starting to march under the Republican Banner, having admitted to themselves that they are powerless by themselves. So they are once again returning to the very party that has betrayed them time and time again, hoping like an abused woman that "maybe this time things will be different."

Consider this an Intervention. I want you, mythusmage, to take a hard long look at the Republicans. I want you to pretend for a moment that Democrats don't exist. Look only at Republicans. Have they changed? Have they moved away from the very things they did from 2000 to 2008? Or are they still the poisonous snakes that drove our nation (and the world) into near-ruin?

For all the faults of the Democrats, they have one massive advantage: They are not Republicans. They are diverse enough and varied enough and contrary enough that they do not march in bootstep. Democrats? Can be worked with and negotiated with. Republicans? Insist "you will do this my way or no way at all." I'd rather work with people who give and take than people who only take and call you a traitor if you complain.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Stuart said...

Regarding Reason's Up From Slavery article:

It gets my goat that so many white Southerners (Alabamian here) take pride in the Confederate flag. Aside from showing a lack of empathy for slaves, they overlook the fact that they - as working class whites - would have competed against people who literally worked for free. If they resent cheap Mexican labor, what should they think about that?

People tend to think that if the system changed to favor one group over another, they would be in the favored group. They never imagine themselves working in a sweatshop for a gilded-age tycoon or having their protestant kids pray the rosary in public school because separation of church and state was destroyed and Catholics won the popular vote.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Re 5-axis machining:

My dad is the shop manager for Centroid Corp., which produces CNC milling controls and programming (and more recently, they've been moving into supplying the entire machines themselves instead of just the controls and control programs), and they have been pushing their way into a leading position in the CNC machining market, especially their recent ventures into high-performance engine modification. One of the factors in their success? They're one of the leaders in 5-axis machines and controls, and have had these things for years. It's pretty awesome what these things can come up with.

Re discourse: Dr. Brin, you'll probably be really interested in the Coffee Party. I've gotten pretty involved in it of late, and while there's a lot of talk and debate about various issues and solutions, the one thing that everyone agrees on and that unifies everyone is the need for civil and mature discussion, and the emphasis on that point is what has drawn a lot of the members. There's also a mounting push within the group to make that the sole major focus of the party, restoring and encouraging civil and mature discussion.

LarryHart said...


People tend to think that if the system changed to favor one group over another, they would be in the favored group. They never imagine themselves working in a sweatshop for a gilded-age tycoon or having their protestant kids pray the rosary in public school because separation of church and state was destroyed and Catholics won the popular vote.

It seems to me that a big part of what has shaped my character is a clear understanding of what it is like to be on the "losing" side. I've tended liberal over the years precisely because I feel that "freedom and justice for all" requires a commitment from the powerful to use their power for good rather than for evil.

The people who are most vocal about "freedom" meaning the rich and powerful being able to do whatever they wish without interference from "the guvmint"; about religious "freedom" meaning that non-Christians are second-class citizens living in someone else's home at someone else's suffrance; about the first amendment meaning Rupert Murdoch's freedom to cause whatever harm is most profitable for him--it seems to never OCCUR to them that they'd ever be on the losing side of force or fraud by private individuals more powerful than themselves.

Ian said...

"People tend to think that if the system changed to favor one group over another, they would be in the favored group."

When asked if he ever wished he lived back in the good old Dasy when servants were cheap, Isaac Asimov replied "No, because the odds are 10-to-1 I'd be one of the servants."

Tony Fisk said...

There's the perennial question, especially at the scales of D-scape, of what to do with those miscreants who leave their printouts behind. Clarke and Kubrick made a movie...

(Actually, I think that Bindeez could be considered as fabbing for children)

Kind of like the alien artifact in my next novel!!
Which you are just writing the scene for? (Ducking for cover, but it was going begging! ;-)

tinglea: Spiderman's special sensory organs.

Rob Perkins said...

The TEA Party movement is more fundamental than just resentment over the loss of Old White Man Leader.

Even in hyper-hippy Portland there is a significant faction of these people, resentful over the behavior of national and state governments.

I've seen 3D printers in action; I have a bearing wheel assembly made of resin, complete with little ball bearings inside. I think it took about 10 minutes to print it (on a printer that could have made 40 of them at the same time). It's especially good for lost-wax castings and non-durable mold patterns, say for one-offs and tests.

You can use a sand cast process to get a doorknob in 30 minutes, but you can't use that process and address issues related to mass production, nor is a soft-sand mold appropriate for every alloy or purpose, while also taking into account things like environmental impact, worker equity, or the welfare of those illegal immigrants.

So, yeah, you could find some illegal immigrants and price someone out of a market, but then people would find away to arrest you for exploiting other humans and making people sick from pollutants. You get what you pay for.

Tacitus2 said...

Still watching ash plume over the North Atlantic.

A thought for the day:

Ash was falling onto the ships now, darker and denser the closer they went. Now it was bits of pumice, and rocks that were blackened and burned and shattered by the fire. Now the sea is shoal; debris from the mountain blocks the shore. He paused for a moment wondering whether to turn back as the helmsman urged him. "Fortune helps the brave," he said, "Head for Pomponianus."

This is from Pliny the Younger's account of Pompeii, as related to the "original" Tacitus!


Tacitus2 said...

Regards criticism of the Tea Party.

"Where were you" is a fair, but limited criticism. Fiscal conservatives were home getting quietly mad. And as for Republicans in general, I think it is fair to ask how long a time in the wilderness is the right amount. I trust none of you still harbor hostility towards the Democrats for their long held but entirely repudiated support for slavery and Jim Crow? Or still agonise over Labor's flirtation with Stalin? (I mention this only in as much as Labor is an essential componant of the D party).

Parties and movements change, and while as a conservative I am not always happy about it: change happens faster now.

As to the current Tea Party, my experience is far from encyclopedic. But I think Robert is being a little unfair to use terms like Old White Men, or to imply that Obama's race is a major animating cause. Of course in American politics there are always a few meatheads, and a very few agents provocateurs like that
Crash the Tea Party fellow. (who appears to be BOTH a meathead and an A.Provoc.).

Most of what I am seeing is actually rather idealistic, and hence somewhat impractical, talk of using the ballot box and the Constitution to change society. I trust nobody here is opposed to that?

But you have to also look into the future. You can criticize Tea Party thinking based on the moment. I mean, on paper Obama's health legislation breaks even and he has cut taxes. But on contact with the real world these momentary, and I think debatable "facts" may well change in radically unpleasant ways.

I have previously challenged our California commentators to look at the notion that the Golden State may be a forerunner of America under permanent progressive management.

I can frame up a few parameters for discussion...any takers?


"California, what have you been up to?"

(If the Devil is fond of quoting Scripture, his advocate confines himself to literature!)


PS Mythusmage, I am always happy to have some conservative support in here, but please, bring your A game. You will not "change" minds on the internet, and even influencing them takes organization and clarity.

Robert said...

I don't trust the Democrats, Tacticus. I've long felt them to be mistaken in a lot of areas. Of course, I also felt the Republicans were mistaken in a number of areas, but as a non-liberal person raised in Massachusetts, my political immune system shifted me to the Right due to the extreme Leftist nature of a number of Mass. Democrats (though in hindsight, it's more that Mass. Democratic Politicians are just corrupt).

I was for a while a strong espouser of the Libertarian ideals. However, due to the churlish attacks of one Libertarian candidate on Ted Kennedy (who, I admittedly, did not like and still don't like even though he's now dead) concerning the U.S.S. Cole, I stepped away from organized Libertarianism and became a libertarian without a party. In the wake of the 2008 financial screw-up and the utter greed of the financial companies begging for holdouts and then refusing to play ball with loans after the Feds gave them what they wanted (and wasting that money on damn bonuses), I realized that the Libertarian belief structure is flawed.

Thus I'm now a self-styled Social Libertarian. This does not mean I trust Democrats. I don't. I've not forgiven them of any number of things. However, the Republicans did a boatload of damage to the country and blindly and blithely are ignoring that and claiming that Their Way is the Only Way, no matter how much damage it does. Republican Politicians have not learned their lesson and need to be taken down.

As for the past crimes of Democrats over Slavery and the like? The politicians responsible for that are long dead. Once the people responsible for the screw-up are gone from power... then the Party does not hold nearly the responsibility. If every single Republican Politician responsible for the Financial Screw-up and for Bush apologized and retired, and all new Republicans replaced them? Then I'd cautiously accept that they might have changed.

So long as the current band of crooks are in office? I will hold them to a far higher standard because I've seen the damage they can do, and do not want to see them do this again. Add in the fact that Republican Politicians are embracing their Loony Right (in that the Loons are nearly the only Republicans who've not bailed ship at this point, outside of the Neocons and a few quiet Republican voters who don't know where else to go) who would gladly steal the rights of plenty of people (including myself) to enforce Their One True Way? I'm left with only one choice: side with the Enemy of my Enemy, and hope that their own contrary nature keeps them (the Democrats) from making too many mistakes of their own.

Rob H.

John Kurman said...

Uh...Rob Perkins. I think there's only a few hundred thousand companies throughout the world who have gotten around the various problems involving mass production of sand casting metals - especially in the BRIC bloc.

I'm certainly not pooh-poohing 3d fabbing. I really want one. It's just that they've a long, long way to go before they can compete with the lo-tech end of the market. Plenty of rapid-prototyping apps out there tho.

As far as the TPers go, they certainly are a diverse lot. One poll shows them as male, pale , adn stale, another as mostly female. I do think action points in the Contract are mostly naive and unworkable. They need to be fleshed out more beyond the bumper sticker slogans presented.

Robert said...

And off of politics (or at least party-politics at least), I'm curious as to thoughts concerning the new wave of Corporate Censorship that has arisen at Apple. The most recent example? Apple rejected an app to teach children the basics of programming, based off of the works of Alan Kay and using MIT's Scratch Platform, which in turn is built on top of Kay's programming language Squeak.

The reason? Clause 3.3.2 states iPhone apps cannot contain code interpreters outside of Apple's (so that Apple and Jobs can continue to thumb their noses at Adobe). This also continues to erode Apple's image; while there are plenty of Appleheads who will gleefully purchase anything Job blesses, more cautious buyers (such as myself) who wait until the technology is in the second or third generation (so to get a better and less expensive product) are likely to think twice of buying it because of Apple's censorship practices.

This also raises a question that started with the Kindle: e-book censorship. While e-books do allow for greater ease in purchasing books (especially those that are out-of-print), it is also much more difficult to police e-book publishers. If an e-book publisher decides not to carry specific genres or even remove specific information, it may be difficult to determine what is censorship and what is merely a lack of presence in e-formats.


Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus says:

Regards criticism of the Tea Party.

"Where were you" is a fair, but limited criticism. Fiscal conservatives were home getting quietly mad.

I suspect that you and Dr Brin are talking past each other here, so please allow me to attempt a translation. Obviously, I'm more in agreement with him than with you on the issue, but my point here isn't to persuade--only to facilitate communication.

When those of us on the "liberal" side here say of the Tea Partiers, "Why are you only against this stuff when DEMOCRATS do it?", we're not intending to defend the fact that Democrats DO the bad things. What we're expressing (rightly, I believe, but then of course I would) is an intense skepticism toward a movement that claims to be party-independent and oriented against policies carried out by BOTH political parties, and yet somehow is offended to the point of threatening violence and secession over government abuses ONLY when those (perceived) abuses are carried out by Democrats.

If, as you put it, the fiscal conservatives were "quietly fuming at home" when Bush and company were spending us into the stone age, then why is deficit spending (which most economists will say is the CORRECT thing to do during a recession) suddenly enough to whip up the hysterical anti-government frenzy?

It might be sincere, but from this side of the aisle, it looks suspicious.

There's a certain asymetry that you seem to be missing when you fire back "Why don't you guys slam the Democrats, then?" A lot of us do. At this point in history, I despise the Republican party, but I'm not a whole lot happier with the other one. Ironically, that's what the Tea Partiers will SAY is their own stance as well. And yet, they're literally hand in hand with Sarah Palin and Roger Ailes. Much as they fancy themselves independents, they look more like agents of the Republican Party.

Rob Perkins said...

@Rob H. -- Apple created a software ecosystem with the iPhone OS with features that prevent malware, viruses, and spinlocks on battery powered radio-enabled computers.

It really doesn't have to be more complex or sinister than that for such a computing platform to take the form that Apple's has. Not saying here that there *isn't* something more sinister, but there you are.

@John-- I'm well familiar with the foundry industry; I exhibit at CastExpo regularly and my company will be at GIFA next year, selling a low-pressure casting simulator. We have many customers in the BRIC block, though to be honest, in Russia they simply steal our offerings.

Around the world, I think I'd count closer to ten to twenty thousand sand foundries. Maybe more, maybe less, most doing what you say is cheap. You're right that most of them don't need a rapid prototyper or a 3D fab. In their opinion.

Still, when you fold in human rights, ecological concerns, global environment, democratic politics, and so forth, you get a milieu where the cheap green sand foundry (at least) is borderline *criminal* if it doesn't control its own emissions and waste and pay a living wage.

You made a true statement, to be sure. You can take some illegals and make castings; no one needs that technology for that. But you can't do that and expect people not to try and shut you down for pushing cleanup costs on grandkids.

LarryHart said...


I stepped away from organized Libertarianism and became a libertarian without a party. In the wake of the 2008 financial screw-up and the utter greed of the financial companies begging for holdouts and then refusing to play ball with loans after the Feds gave them what they wanted (and wasting that money on damn bonuses), I realized that the Libertarian belief structure is flawed.

What they did was worse than "begging" for handouts. They held a gun to their own heads and THREATENED to take the world fincancial system down UNLESS they were bailed out. And then--after being kept afloat with OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY--they have the audacity to continue to demand the right to do whatever they want without government interference based upon libertarian principles.

It's almost literally driving me insane that the tea party mob is ready to take up torch and pitchfork against the government in DEFENSE of these guys.

David Brin said...

Yes I am a libertarian... but only if I can own the word and not the ungrateful, snarling, history-ignorant Rand-droids don't. They are puppets of the enemies of freedom.

Stuart, mythologizing the Confederacy is, as you say, pure historical stupidity. a quarter of a million poor white fools marched off to die for the privileges of a few thousand proto-feudal lords. But it wasn't ever about self-interest or personal advantage. Just as in today's culture war, it was about tribalism and hatred of social trends that were steadily empowering (up north) a new clade of smartypants urbanites.

I can understand and sympathize, at one level. Today's redders have watched their best and brightest high school grads flee to the cities for generations, a horrific rebuke. Okay. But what I will not abide is being lectured to, about patriotism, by fellows who fantasize about riding with Nathan Bedford Forest

Ilithi. Here's a link to my Google Tech Talk, in which I clearly had too much caffeine(!) offering a big perspective about problem-solving and "discourse" in the modern age: The accompanying slides are at:
Tacitus you miss the point. The Tea Party has some legitimate talking points that appeal to the libertarian in me. Indeed, we must all watch out for later, creeping statism.

But I know the agenda. Since the Republican party is now admitted to be utterly horrible, there is only one place for Fox to go... to push the line that Democrats are "even worse, so hold your nose and come home." In order to go there, they have no choice left but to create a Big lie fantasy of prodigious magnitude, MANY Big Lies, e.g. birthers, accompanied by stirred up contempt for all intellectual sources of verifiable truth or refutation.

It is the only recourse.

Robert, if the dems who did slavery were still alive, they'd be gops. We all know it.

Robert said...

@Dr. Brin: Very true. That's due to President Taft, who basically flipped the very foundation of the Republican Party (which was once in essence the Democrats) while the Democratic party ended up scrambling for the bits that the Republicans cast off... and in turn created a hybrid political party that has become considerably stronger for its whole than its parts. The problem being that the parts don't always realize that! =^-^=

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

re civigard

San Diego County has had Reverse 911 for some years now.

Tacitus2 said...

Oh, I understand David's point.

And I agree, an intense degree of skepticism is appropriate. At some point it would not hurt your arguments to actually present some evidence that Roger Ailes is calling the shots.

I don't ask that you slam the Democrats, I simply ask for a degree of objectivity. There are best and worst case scenarios with current fiscal policy. I would be tickled pink to see something on the best case end of the spectrum.

On an earlier point, yes the Democrats have gotten past their Dixie roots, and there is something to be said for the passing of a generation of leaders being a benchmark. If we acknowlege Robt. Byrd as the exception that proves the rule, I have no gripes. Of course, as David correctly points out, Progressives move faster, and could in theory do more mischief in a shorter time.

I think most Tea Party folks hold Fox in little higher esteem than other media. As to the racism, birther, militia, homophobic picture of Tea Partiers, well, some percentage of that is media created for political points. We likely differ as to whether that percentage is over or under 50%.

But heck, lets put the entire party politics thing aside. I suggested we look at California as an interesting case study. There are paralells to the national scene, and of course differences. Lets see....

Democratic dominance of legislature--I think that is correct.

Likeable, telegenic but minimally experienced chief executive---check.

Immense budget problems--I think that is a fair assessment.

Environment vs business dynamic--If I am not mistaken water issues are a big deal out your way, not a perfect analog to cap and trade, but cost benefit analysis applies to both.

Significant unfunded liabilies---yep. Oh, my, yep.

Very powerful public employees unions--maybe truer in CA than in US, but not exponentially different.

As a flatlander with minimal first hand knowlege, I could stand some educating on these points.

So, as I said earlier, is California the future of the US?

Yes, No, maybe? Good, bad?

Setting aside the partisan cudgel (oh, its right over there if you need it!) tell me about California!


mythusmage said...


I am now convinced you must be a doctrinaire libertarian, for like the typical libertarian you have no sense of humor about it. :)

Right now I'm suffering from a big medical problem, vitamin b12 deficiency. My thinking is confused and my memory muddled. I can notice this because my brain is miswired to begin with thanks to Aspergers Syndrome.

To put it another way, I'm strange.

But I do have one advantage over you, I've met a few Tea Partiers. I attended a demonstration and I listened. What basic research have you done on the subject?

My Aspergers keeps me from expressing myself as I might, I will not let it keep me from expressing myself as much as I can.

mythusmage said...

On the Tea Party movement:

The word I got from one Tea Partier was that she resented the fact that half of all Americans don't even pay taxes. We have defined poverty to the point half of our population makes no effective contribution to our society. Some people even get more back from the government than they send in. Our philosophy on tax has progressed to the point where we expect a small minority to support us, when we can support ourselves.

It is my understanding that libertarians are all about self-sufficiency, about doing for yourself without relying on some authority for everything. Am I wrong Dr. Brin?

David Brin said...

Mythusmage, around here, even a mild olive branch is all we need to put verbal mis-steps behind us... unless they are deliberately awful, which yours weren't. So fine... everybody, look past verbal awkwardness a little extra, in Myth's case. Fair enough?

You remain welcome here.

Tacitus, please add a few items to your California set of symptoms. Like the fastest rate of small business startups, the fastest rate of engendering self-made millionaires through delivery of new products/services, and the best public university system ever conceived by man.

Sure, the scales are teetering. We'll see. You are right that the state is a bellweather of changes, good or bad.

David Brin said...

Myth... you are wrong in that the rage of the TP movement goes to deeper things, and those things are manipulated so that the rage is aimed at the hapless state and government, rather than the oligarchs who did the most harm and who are trying to seize every lever of power.

Oligarchs who have benefited while the middle class was squeezed... so why blame the poor?

But you are right at one level. I think all americans should pay some tax. Enough to cause a bit of pain and say "pay attention!"

mythusmage said...


I hope California is not a harbinger for America, but rather a warning. You can't legislate anything out of existence, immorality or poverty. There are limitations on what government can do, and California is demonstrating that with every day.

I have a few ideas as to how we could make help for the poor more effective, but right now my disabilities are mucking with my thinking. I can give you one ...

Stop treating the poor as hopeless. Yes, the poor make mistakes. Yes, the poor do things that are mal-adaptive. But, the poor don't do these things because it's deliberate, but because they literally don't know any better.

And that leads us to our second error, the idea that the poor can not be made to help themselves. Made? No. Encouraged? Yes.

Show the poor how they can make life better for themselves, without moralizing, without degrading. That is how you encourage people to do better. While, at the same time, accepting that we can't help everybody.

Will we always have the poor? Yes, for there will always be those who just don't make it. But, we don't have to force people to be poor.

mythusmage said...


I think you're addressing the same problem the Tea Party is, the need of certain people to control things. They have developed this idea that people who aren't them are hapless, helpless, and hopeless. That people who aren't them need constant guidance and cannot be relied on to act as mature adults. It's a matter of control, and some people have to be in control.

Jacob said...

Hi Tacitus2,

I'll explore the question with you. I would hope that it isn't the future of the US. California doesn't function well. What it needs is a group of fiscally responsible and careful people whose goal it is to accomplish the things that the people of California actually want. The conservative party's role in my view. Unfortunately Republicans and Libertarians seem more interested in reducing their taxes than trying to accomplish the will of the people in the most efficient means possible.

Point by Point:
(Democratic) dominance of legislature: Dominance of any group can have a pretty bad negative effect on outcomes. The minority party in any state should reorganize in order to be more appealing to their citizens. That way you have better outcomes than one group having all the influence. I live in Georgia where it is the Democratic Party that should to organize around a more local theme. Some of the legislation here is terrible.

Likeable, telegenic but minimally experienced chief executive: Frankly this is a modern messaging campaign. Those of the unconstrained vision (Democrats) respect enlightenment (education and experience) more so than those of the constrained vision (Republicans). However, both sides can (mistakenly) go for those of limited experience at times.

Immense budget problems: From my perspective this is largely due to ballot initiatives. You earlier asked if anyone here was against them. I feel they don't make for good policy. Though I must say I'm not happy with my own conclusion. Their general principle is to put more power into the hands of the people which is admirable. Their general reality is that there are more uninformed or misinformed voters than there are informed ones. This often leads to poor outcomes which is why they don't have my support. I can think of alternative which I find more attractive at empowering the people.

-On the actual point, Republicans have been focused on lowing taxes than fiscal responsibility since 1980. Ask a “conservative” if they would rather have a Government that takes up 90% of the economy and taxes 90% -or- a Government that takes up 5% of the economy and taxes 4%. The first government is fiscally responsible, the second one isn't.

Very powerful public employee unions: Unions can go wrong. The point is conceded. I feel that the conservative party should come up with other solutions to accomplish collective bargaining and reasonable worker protections. “Right To Work” styling is not a good alternative. Frankly, the progressives should be coming up alternatives too.

mythusmage said...

On the matter of taxes, I would ban withholding. One a fiscal quarter you get to send in that quarter's taxes. All of that quarter's taxes.

For that matter, I would switch from an income tax to a consumption tax; and make it transparent. You would pay an additional 5% on all durable goods, and 5% on interest payments. This last to encourage people to minimize their credit debt and pay cash for as much as they can.

Important: Food, services, and medical care and medication would not be taxed. Durable goods only, and hot sandwiches are not durable goods.

Jacob said...


You should read up more on that 47% figure you are talking about it. It is misleading.

In case the a href didn't work...

Ian Gould said...

"The word I got from one Tea Partier was that she resented the fact that half of all Americans don't even pay taxes."

Yeah, damn retirees.

Ian Gould said...

"Some people even get more back from the government than they send in."

Yes, like Michelle Bachmann and the farm subsidies she collects.

And Exxon mobil.

Rob Perkins said...

The idea that Americans who pay no income tax don't pay taxes is false.

I'm one of them. For most of the last ten years, my income tax liability has been wiped out because I have five children under 17.

But, to the federal government, I still pay what amounts to 5% of my annual income through the various other payroll and excise taxes that people like Mythus forget to include.

To the State government, it amounts to another 5% of income through the state sales tax. And additional 4% or so is paid through the county, state, and school property taxes.

At no point have I gotten back "more than I sent in." The total tax burden on *this* particular American is between 12% and 14%, and

Its only trajectory is up, and doesn't even begin to include the 3%-or-so surcharge built into the price of everything I buy through a credit card network, or any of the other taxes hidden in the prices of all the goods and services I use to sustain myself and family.

In other words, Mythus, stop spreading such a painfully damaging and pernicious lie about taxation .

Ian Gould said...

The best way to pay no income taxes is -- no surprise -- to not have much income. According to the Tax Policy Center, 99.8 percent of filers with less than $10,000 cash income and about 80 percent of those with less than $30,000 cash income don't pay federal income taxes. (For a discussion of these results on Fox News by Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, click here, or here.)


Other groups view these tax breaks rather negatively. For example, the Tea Party movement, which more than a quarter of Americans support, originated in opposition to the economic recovery act. But, since 19 percent of Tea Party members earn less than $30,000 a year, quite a large number of them may also be members of the group that pays no federal income tax.

David Brin said...

The tax that is never mentioned - though (amazingly) Donald Trump suggested it - is a wealth tax. VERY dangerous territory, since it can lead to the worst sorts of socialist leveling. And Prop 13 showed that the middle class hates being pushed in that realm.

(Tacitus recall that revolution started in... California).

But at the rate things are going, it will eventually happen. Murdoch is a fool to think his methods will work forever. The mob will get riled, when 1% owns 99%.

The solution is NOT classic oligarchy. It is fealty to the Rooseveltian social contract, which worked so well that Americans have spent three generations mostly ignoring matters of class or wealth-envy..

It is not the liberals who broke that social contract. It is those who are screeching the loudest against "class war" who have started one.

rewinn said...

Taxes: in a sane universe, we would at the very least bring back the Securities Transaction Excise Tax (STET) which worked pretty well to stabilize markets for decades.

Set at the rate of something like 25 cents per hundred dollars of any transaction in financial securities, it would have no measurable impact of classical investors, who put money into businesses that they think will succeed in the long run. It discourages rapid security turnover, which has bedevilled our markets, divorcing investment activity from the underlying actual economy. And, best of all, it would force derivatives to make some contribution to the economy they feed off of.

If you hate the word "tax" fine with me, call it a "Bail-Out Fund Premium" or something ... because without something like that, we're gonna have to fix the economy again. And again. And Again. Why not tax financial markets up front to pay for fixing them when they explode?

And if we could use a little of that tax to pay for infrastructure, such as the court system and civil society that make financial transaction possible, well, that would seem only fair.

Of course, the peeps who profit from having a derivatives market bigger by far than the entire real-good market by a factor of 10? 100? 1000? No-one can be entirely sure, since it's such an unregulated market ... but the Tulip Bubble and the South Seas Bubble look primitive compared to it.

@DavidBrin: "Rooseveltan social contract" would look pretty good right now. It might not be my best choice but starting with something that worked is always a good starting point.

@mythusmage: "hot sandwiches are not durable good"

Insert McDonald's joke here.

But seriously, I wouldn't mind including prepared foods in a VAT, on the theory that low-income people are actually better off buying non-prepared food. Maybe I'm thinking too much about social engineering but my eyes just cross when I see someone buy a $1 McD's instead of $1 of lunchmeat.

Jacob said...

Caps in general are ill conceived. Considering taxes in abstract is also ill conceived and perhaps the dominate reason for discontent about the government.

I would have us link all spending to specific taxation. Education Taxes levied on Property. Development Taxes levied on Sales. Consumer Protections levied on Income. Etc.

People hate taxes largely because of the disconnect with the services that they are getting. A general Wealth Tax does not fly well. If you wanted to do something along these lines it should be something like...
Economic Uplift focused on bringing society towards wealth -or- (much better) Leading to a better future (Science/Research/Space).

The key point is transparency on what your money is being spent. Then we can use democracy to determine where people feel we are spending too much on Education, Defense, and other Social programs.

David Brin said...

Right on Rewinn. The mythology of "perfect, high-velocity financial markets" has been taken to extreme in the hyperfast computerized trading now done by Goldman et al. It is pure insanity. "Finance" has been totally detached from its purpose, to fund well-vetted investment in new companies and older firms' new ventures in creating goods and services.

Hence venture capital should be exempted from all of BHO's new rules and capital gains on VC investment should remain very low. The risk of VC investment is high and the % of the money that goes into ACTUAL R&D and gearing up for new products is very high.

OTOH most stock market investing is 1% or so capitalization of new goods and services and 99% gambling. Derivatives took that all the way to 100%... in fact 200% or 500% would be a better model.

The Finance mystics would howl at any restoration of STET, screaming dogma driven catechisms about stifling a marvelously creative market... and it is malarkey.

mythusmage said...


How paternalistic of you. The poor need our guidance because they don't know no better.

I say no tax on sustenance, no matter how prepared.


Don't put words in my mouth. When I say "no taxes" I mean no taxes.

mythusmage said...

Here's an idea that would change everything:

Once concluded a contract may not be transferred to a third party.

In other words, no buying and selling of contracts.

This includes stocks in that stocks are part of an agreement, a contract, between two parties wherein one party, the stock holder, agrees to loan a set amount of money to another party, the corporation.

The corporation may offer to pay back the loan, thus redeeming the stock. The corporation may also offer the stock holder a share of the profits, to be paid in additional stock, or as straight cash. The stock holder may not sell his stock to a third party because stock is part of a contract and not a good.

I think you get the gist of it.

良哥 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ilithi Dragon said...

The problem with a consumption tax is that it's going to hit the bottom end of the wealth distribution most. The vast majority of 'consumption' transactions (sales tax, etc.) is done by the middle and lower classes, while the upper classes make relatively few consumption transactions. Sure, they tend to be high-priced, but the higher end of the wealth spectrum tends to sit on its money more than the lower end, and also representing a much smaller percentage of the population, would still carry a much lower percentage of the burden, relative to their wealth and resources.

@Dr. Brin on wealth tax: How about a 'financial holdings and assets' tax, applied to all financial holdings (stocks, bonds, investments funds, etc.), and anything that could be considered a financial asset? Not strictly a wealth tax, but it could have the same effect... Might encourage people to just dump money into a bank account, though...

Rob Perkins said...

And I mean you're utterly incorrect. Everyone who makes a purchase pays direct taxes in all states but two. Everyone who buys gasoline pays direct tax. Every renter pays property tax, because landlords pass them on. Every phone user pays excise taxes and other stupidly accounted add-on fees which amount to the same.

Think more holistically about this, and you'll be able to see what I mean. Refuse to do so and I'll have to conclude you deserve the abuse you're getting here. The 47% figure is a canard of demagogues.

Ian Gould said...

Wait, wait, wait.

The advocate of free market capitalism wants to outlaw the stock market?

Ian Gould said...

"Don't put words in my mouth. When I say "no taxes" I mean no taxes."

How many people in the US don;t pay sales tax

Tim H. said...

Sales tax has become an issue because of a shrinking tax base, both from the failing economy and the ability of the "Free Ride" constituency to evade them. Also the rise of the "Big Box" retailer, who can only stock the highest selling items in their chosen category, anything that exhibits weakness on the Speadsheet of Doom™ are deleted and become viable for online and catalog sales, too diffuse to support a brick and mortar store, and often not required to collect sales tax.

John Kurman said...

I'm not gonna pour out my life story here, and I'll try not to go all working class hero on you - primarily because I don't have nearly as much time to waste on the internet as I did back when I was in the upper middle class!

I am, by income classificiation, one of "the poor". Let's correct that classification. I am part of the working poor. I pay taxes. Boy, do I ever! I pay for my own health insurance, and the deductible is such that I cannot afford going to see the doctor. The insurance is strictly to keep from going bankrupt in the event of a medical catastrophe. I am not living very extravagantly, that's for sure.

Of course, I am poor by choice. I made the World's Dumbest Career Move to pursue a dream and became an artist. Prior to that dumb move, ten years ago, I was bored, fat, lazy, stupid, and under-engaged in the IT industry, thought I was overtaxed and put upon.

Now I'm challenged, reasonably happy, hungry, and hustling for a living. I really have nio sympathy at all for the plight of the TPers, or those who would partonize the poor. Way I see it now, after experiencing the specturm of incomes, we do have socialism in this country that needs to end - the subsidizing of the rich.

(Oh and @ Rob P: Just so we're clear. My "illegal"s was purely hypothetical and in a devil's advocate manner. We come from the opposite ends of the casting industry. As part of the art casting community, we aren't really a part of the industry - or at least, more like a backwater interstellar colony forced to fend for ourselves, and we occasionally here about bright and shiny things happening further in toards the Core).

Robert said...

Surprisingly, I don't mind paying taxes, so long as I'm actually getting something for my money. I suspect the majority of people feel that way as well.

This is why I disliked paying the full Massachusetts Income tax when I was still a NH resident (I just moved back to do long-term housesitting - on the level of a couple of years). I know that Massachusetts squanders a lot of its money. I also know that as a NH resident, I was suffering from a little something called "taxation without representation," which was a founding battlecry among Massachusetts radicals around two hundred and fifty years ago concerning British taxes of the Colonies. The irony is not lost on me, but we will never see a Representative (or more) for NH interests in Massachusetts.

On the Federal level? I don't mind Obama's little stimulus package. I realize that it helped slow the descent of the U.S. economy, and then gave wind under its wings to help it rebound a year or so earlier than it otherwise would have. And I suspect that we'll start seeing surpluses earlier than even Obama and his crew are thinking.

What is truly needed (and this is something Obama has commented on and even has started to work toward implementing) is transparency in government spending (and possibly corporate taxation). If the average person can look at government spending and go through the details, looking for waste and graft, then we not only have an effective amateur method of double-checking government spending for waste, but we also give people an outlet. They can see for themselves if government spending is wasteful and then point out these specifics to their Representatives and Senators and regain a sense of power. They will feel they can make a difference. In turn, this will hopefully increase citizen participation in government, both on an amateur level and also for some people, a professional level (as some of these amateurs may in turn go into government to try and fix graft that their own Representatives seem unwilling or unable to fix).

But then, Dr. Brin has long been an advocate for Transparency. ;)


Moving off of politics for the moment, there seems to be a bit of a hubbub about Ebert's claims that video games cannot be considered art, (with video game developer Kellee Santiago giving a much politer rebuttal than Penny Arcade's summation. I can understand Ebert's claims that video games are not "art." I also understand that Ebert is seriously limiting himself here with his assertions. After all, it could be stated that movies are not art, but merely "entertainment" (much like video games are "entertainment"). How long did it take for movies to be taken seriously as a form of art? And why cannot a video game likewise hold such a level? Can one not enjoy art? Or must one suffer through it, sitting back and passively observing it without ever being truly involved in it?

If we're not to be involved in art, then what are the point of poetry readings and book readings? Should not poetry and books also be locked away behind glass so that we can only observe them from a distance? After all, art has become a strictly hands-off affair. People are kept away from paintings and sculptures. They can only wander around and look.

(Part 2 to follow)

Robert said...

And this is why people cannot understand why the government should fund art. They see art as something passive, something far off. Something to be observed, not participated in. It has no value, outside of possession. But interactive art... people can understand that. People can participate in that and be a part of it... and it can ignite their passions and interests. It may seem a "waste of money" but art may be a glimpse at the ethereal soul of humanity... and is ultimately what separates humans from animals. (We've seen animals use tools, and are realizing more and more are doing so. But have any animals ever created art for others to observe? Well... maybe in constructing lairs... early cave paintings may have been less for entertainment and more to attract mates by having a "well-constructed lair" that stands out from the shmuck two caves down. ^^

It may be interesting to explore life... and see just how many species indulge in art. And why they do so.


And on a tangential note (showing that I well earned the internet handle of "Tangent"), I've been rather amused (and have enjoyed greatly) the science fiction video game "Mass Effect 2." While I never played the first game, I've been looking through the "background data" that helps flesh out the world that ME2 is set in. Particularly amusing and intriguing is their use of Dark Energy in creating a foundation for such phenomena as faster-than-light travel, telekinesis (and related phenomena, though telepathy is brushed off as impossible and the venue of science fiction), and even artificial gravity, utilizing planetary matter that was left after a star died in a supernova - Element Zero is the term for it.

One of the more difficult things for science fiction writers (and for that matter, fantasy writers) is to keep a sufficient suspension of disbelief by readers. ME2 manages to do this. While the science may be more "soft" than hard, considering we do not know what Dark Energy is or everything it can do, the possibility of it interacting with certain forms of matter to create gravimetric fields or even allow for FTL travel is in theory possible (even if improbable).

And for it to manage to keep the suspension of disbelief of someone with enough scientific knowledge to understand a number of the concepts mentioned, and applaud when such terms as Chemical Vapor Deposition are properly used... well, that shows that effort was put into this game. And I appreciate that.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

On an earlier point, yes the Democrats have gotten past their Dixie roots, and there is something to be said for the passing of a generation of leaders being a benchmark. If we acknowlege Robt. Byrd as the exception that proves the rule, I have no gripes.

A complete tangent here, but when I began collecting Marvel Comics in the late 1970s, I was reading a lot of stories that were first published in the early 1960s, and one of the gadflies that Iron Man had to put up with (roughly speaking, Iron Man's J Jonah Jameson) was a Senator Byrd, who was constantly on Tony Stark's case to reveal information about Iron Man to the government.

In the early 1980s, when my then-girlfreiend's sister married a Virigina man also named Byrd, I was made aware of Virginia politics, and became more cognizant of the fact that there was a real live Senator Byrd.

It was much, MUCH later that I realized the current Senator Byrd was already a senator even back during the Iron Man days.

Ian Gould said...

"I suspect that we'll start seeing surpluses earlier than even Obama and his crew are thinking."

Assuming Obama is re-elected; I give him a 50:50 of restoring the budget to surplus.

Gilmoure said...

Yup, at this point in time, I far rather see the gov't going after proper accounting and tax results from corporations than worry about folks who are under the poverty line for income tax but who's over expenditures are taxed at a larger percentage than folks in the $250k+ range.

rewinn said...

@mythusmage said...

How paternalistic of you. The poor need our guidance because they don't know no better.//

You can't expect your argument to be taken seriously if you start them with personal attacks, so I'll assume that your comment was just stupid and ignore it.


It is simply a fact that poor people often lack information and/or make bad nutrition choices. It doesn't do any good to romanticize poverty and, having been born and raised working poor, I can testify that we screwed up a lot.

As to tax: all taxes have (at least) two effects: revenue created and behavior changed.

Certainly we can adopt a principled position in favor of dropping deliberate "behavior changed" feature. In a Perfect World we can choose not to try to modify behavior at all or, if we do want to modify behavior, we wouldn't tinker with the tax code; instead we'd have explicit subsidies through appropriations; it wouldn't change the underlying economics very much and and would have helpful sunshine effects. Because this would lead to eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, sin taxes and so forth so I don't think such a change is politically realistic but who knows, progress may be accomplished at the margins.

Rob Perkins said...

@John, I salute you from the harrassed halls of computerdom. Someday, I may actually ditch the Rat Race (tm) as well and follow your lead. Or enter law school, which has begun to fascinate me for non-money reasons.

And yeah, if you're not doing stuff that requires structural integrity and you can re-use the metal and sand, then the only considerations left are the energy to melt the metal and the gasses given off by the sand. I doubt that art casters are a controlling variable in casting industry pollution. Still and all, it's molten metal, and it can make people sick... take good care, there.

@rewinn -- Speaking as a homeowner, if you take away the mortgage interest provision but keep the total tax burden neutral, and the whole package revenue-neutral, you won't hear me say boo to the idea.

Rob Perkins said...

I think we need a must-balance constitutional amendment.

It could be as simple as "The budgets of the United States of America shall balance. Congress has authority to borrow money and issue bonds only if included and approved in a passed budget," or language along those lines.

At least then we could get to a place where the feds have to announce the amount of money they'll be borrowing.

mythusmage said...

So it's better to say that about half of all tax-paying Americans receive more back in terms of benefits than they pay in taxes. Considering how we establish the criteria for gaining certain benefits, it makes sense.

On a related note, I agree with David regarding transparency. I'd like to see a comprehensive list of California state expenditures. How much does California spend on Medi-Cal and SSI compared to everything else? What are California's big ticket items, and how have they fared under the state's cost cutting efforts. How much money is being spent on California's earmarks and pet projects? What is vital to the state, and how much would it cost to finance them?

Let's consider art. Is it really necessary to pay as much as we do for it? Could we not encourage people to patronize the arts themselves? Private patronage instead of public, and concurrently encourage the public display of privately funded art. Encourage the public to support the arts instead of demanding the public support the arts.

Here is another point where my suasive abilities fail me, so I'll stick to a simple point; that it would be better for the arts to let the market support art. Much as was done back during the renaissance and the baroque period.

Wouldn't be perfect, for some transcendent work would be lost and mundane praised to the sky, but as far as I can tell what we get from state supported art is far from perfect.

Which leads me to my main point, Humanity is imperfect, and cannot be perfected. It is the fool who thinks that he can perfect Mankind, ignoring the fact we dwell within an imperfect reality and so take on that imperfection. We would do better to accept the fact that we will commit errors and will need to correct those mistakes. That there is no final solution to anything. As Dr. Manhattan (The Watchmen) once put it, "Nothing is ever done."

mythusmage said...

Rewinn: "But seriously, I wouldn't mind including prepared foods in a VAT, on the theory that low-income people are actually better off buying non-prepared food. Maybe I'm thinking too much about social engineering but my eyes just cross when I see someone buy a $1 McD's instead of $1 of lunchmeat." (my emphasis)

That's not patronizing?

Robert said...

@mythusmage: Tell me, who pays for the police that keep you safe? Who pays for the fire department that prevents fires from raging out of control? Who pays for the roads on which you drive? Who pays for the inspectors who ensure the cars you drive are safe? Who pays for the military that keeps this nation safe? Who pays for the nuclear umbrella that keeps other nations from trying to invade with a massive wave of manpower?

I don't care how much you pay, or how little. You always get back more than what you put in. It's because this is a cooperative effort. The sum of the parts is greater than the parts alone. Bill Gates alone could not afford to build the infrastructure and military and such needed to make Microsoft a viable and important tool for business, industry, and education. None of the rich could.

There is waste. Money has been squandered and thrown away on unnecessary projects. But to claim that any one person pays more in taxes than they get back? Is foolishness and flat out wrong.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

brief note.

I oppose (most govt support for the arts for a different reason. The arts are inherently the most egotistical and competitive of all human enterprises. Individual works may be ABOUT love and cooperation and beauty. But the struggle of the artist is about convincing patrons/customers she is not only better, but vastly-qualitatively better, than others. Hence, ironically, art (and I include my art of writing) is inherently the most capitalist of enterprises. There is an infinite supply of would-be artists. It is up to them to sort out who deserves patronage, by proving who is best - by the subjective reactions of customers.

I make exceptions for engendering and training. The govt should support arts in the schools and create wonderful museums and performance spaces (though the latter is best done as ego-shrines for rich donors, thus recycling their wealth as an alternative to inherited oligarchy.) Don't mistake me, I love art! We need it. And we are in no danger of suffering any lack.

But once artists have individually forged forth as trained adults to do their thing, they must stand - as John Kurman has - bravely on their own feet. Stoic and never whining.

Anyone who quits a decent job to do art, and then whines, is beneath contempt.

LarryHart said...

mythusmage said:

That there is no final solution to anything. As Dr. Manhattan (The Watchmen) once put it, "Nothing is ever done."

I never saw the movie, but the actual line from the comic is "It never ends", and it is indeed a core moment. Anyone whose plans depend on (for example) a Final Solution to either the Jewish Problem or the Palestinian Problem would do well to take note. Or a War To End War. Triumph followed by eternal victory just doesn't happen in the real world.

Alan Moore (the graphic novel's author) is an unrecognized genius.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Mythusmage said...

That's not patronizing?

No, it's not. What Rewinn is stating is a fact: lower-income people (and most people, for that matter) are better off buying non-prepared food. That is a supportable fact. Non-prepared food (i.e. the lunch meat over a fast food sandwich in Rewinn's example) not only gives you more food for your money, it is also typically a LOT healthier for you. It costs a little more of your time to prepare, but probably not much more than you spend waiting for someone else to prepare the fast food sandwich for you (if any more at all). So no, it's not being patronizing, it's stating the fact that you are better-off buying non-prepared food than prepared food, because it is both cheaper and healthier.

Robert said...

Here's a little interesting tidbit: a map of the Tea Party concentrations of power. The article also mentions the regions where the Tea Party are strongest, which tend to be areas that were considered "Boom Towns" before the economic crash.

Rob H.

mythusmage said...


You read all of what Rewinn said? He said he was for a VAT on prepared food, so the poor would be encouraged to get food to prepare at home. The implication being that the poor would seek out prepared food being otherwise too unwise to prepare food at home.

Got news for you, even the poor can be too busy to prepare food at home. Poverty is not a font of spare time you know, the poor are often busier than you think.

And sometimes the poor just don't have the facilities for cooking. There are SROs (single residency occupancy) that outright ban cooking in their rooms. People may rent a room out, but their tenant may not be able to attend meals for some reason. For one reason or another some people just can't prepare meals at home and must rely on prepared food at another location.

Besides, I'm just against taxing anything that is a basic necessity. If I knew how to word it, I would ban taxing clothing and housing. No VAT on food, clothing, housing, or medicine. Guess you could call it a luxury tax, because what I'm pushing for would be a tax on things that are not, in a strict sense, necessary. But at the very least I'm against taxing food, no matter where it is consumed.

BTW, do you prepare your own food? How consistent are you?

Ian Gould said...

"So it's better to say that about half of all tax-paying Americans receive more back in terms of benefits than they pay in taxes"

No it isn't.

rewinn said...

I'm got many faults, and at my age, we've been together far too long for me to abandon them just to please others.

Whether I'm patronizing, or merely have a heck of a lot of real-world experience of the poor, by the poor and for the poor, the simple fact remains (completely independent of my personal existence) that tax policy has implications and it's nice to think them through even if the process offends the romantic.

My preference for a simple VAT with as few exceptions as possible is based on a philosophy of minimizing or eliminating exceptions in tax structures because boundary conditions are always exploited ... Always! ... because we humans are clever critters who love to seek an advantage (after all, those who don't do so are seriously disadvantaged in any competition. Is this good? is it bad? or is it just part of life?).

One recent example is that here in Washington State we had a proposal to tax candy but not food; the question became "What is a chocolate-covered pretzel?" Is it food because it has wheat or candy because it's chocolate coated? A simple revenue problem got all mixed up in a literal beer-and-pretzels discussion that wasted a lot of time and could have no good outcome.

I think Rob Perkins hinted at a solution with "Speaking as a homeowner, if you take away the mortgage interest provision but keep the total tax burden neutral, and the whole package revenue-neutral, you won't hear me say boo to the idea."

I like the idea of reforms that are burden-neutral (not necessarily revenue-neutral), so that ideas can be considered on their merits more than on politics. If we want to encourage Rob (and me) to keep on owning a house and the poor to keep eating food, we could borrow from Dr. Hansen's "tax-and-rebate" suggestion for carbon, implement a simple tax structure ( VAT plus-or-minus a simple progressive tax on income and/or property) and keep it all burden-neutral by implementing rebates for mortgage interest, chow and what-ever-other 'tax expenditures' are stuck into the tax code. If nothing else, it'll make our policy choices explicit (...fear of which is most likely why so many of them are hidden in the tax code to begin with.)

And now I'm going back to eating puppies. Cute ones.

Robert said...

Once again (through the sea of spam) I state: it does not matter how much you pay in taxes. EVERYONE, rich and poor, gets back more from the government than what they paid in taxes. You forget that some of the most basic of services: roads, security, water; these are paid for by taxes. Anyone who uses these in the creation of their wealth is in fact getting back more than they paid in taxes, if only for the mere fact that IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE THE ROADS YOU WOULDN'T HAVE THE INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDED TO CREATE WEALTH. The rich? Owe the government. The same goes for the poor. But the nice thing is? They also OWN the government.

Government is, in essence, the collaborative efforts of the masses. Collectively, rich and poor can channel more money into different areas needed to ensure that they can survive and in time flourish. Smart governments remember this and accept that the contributions of both rich and poor are needed in order for government to survive. And in turn, it doesn't matter how much someone contributes to the government in taxes and donations, the net received worth will be greater than what they put in (unless the government is truly corrupt; the U.S. government may have some corruption, but it's lily pure compared to a number of countries out there).

Rob H.

John Kurman said...

@David Brin You know, the comment on my health insurance situation came pretty darn close to whining...

Like most artists, I lve mostly through supplemental income (as a studio technician and instructor at a local community college). Funny isn’t it? I maintain the delusion that I am a sculptor first and janitor/nanny second. Kind of like an actor who waits tables full time… At any rate, government sponsorship of art? I will agree that I am against any mandatory form, and certainly cannot envision any reason why anyone should be subsidized to make it. From my viewpoint, I see little difference between monies provided through public or private means. If all I have to do is fill out a form and forward some jpegs of my work, I’ll accept the revenue, regardless of the source. And(shameless plug) if by chance someone here happens to be a nominator for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants, feel free to browse my portfolio

@Rob H re: Ebert’s definiton that video games are not art. Short answer? He’s wrong. Longer answer? Kellee Santiago and Roger Ebert are both wrong – or both right, but for the wrong reasons, which means both are not even wrong. Kellee is wrong because there is no progress in the field of art. There is progress in art-making, but no progress in the same sense as scientific progress: more than just the aggregation of facts and figures. Ebert is wrong because he is using traditional philosophical concepts which, quite frankly, have never worked to explicate the matter, and therefore are a delusional framework. Still longer answer? I’ve learned to avoid philosophical discussions of art, like what is it? My working definition is : “a visual (spatial) composition intended to induce desired states of mind”. There are problems with that definition, but it works for me. I think the biggest problem about the question “What is Art?” is viewing it as a Venn diagram. I subscribe to an informatic viewpoint – more network than categorical bucket. The art objects (nodes) are less important than the linkages. In that sense, the question is dynamic, which makes it slippery. But the important thing is that the question is properly framed as a boundary issue. Determining whether a video game is an art form does not change existing art forms. In other words, accepting Damien Hirst’s pickled sharks as art does not change the status of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.
Speaking of Hirst, I’m reminded of when his stuff went up for auction, most of it was bought by the very same hedge fund managers who left a big smoking hole in the global financial system. A wag quipped “Finally, people are getting the art they deserve”. Gotta love the Brits.

Tim H. said...

If they say it's art, it's art. Fortunately we don't have to like it. If a video game was considered for art, I'd suggest Jeff Minter's T2K and it's successor, Space Giraffe.

Ilithi Dragon said...


The number of times I have tried to get that concept into people's heads... The idea that, by just living in society, you owe society for everything that you have because you would not have it without society and the opportunities it provided you, and that your debt to society is proportional to the amount of wealth you have gained from the opportunities that society has provided you with. It's enough to drive me crazy(er).

It has been my experience that people who rail against forced redistribution of wealth, forced charity, 'paying for other people's healthcare,' and generally opposed to the government taxing them to pay for social services, especially when the concern of other people living off their dollar is presented, tend very ignorant (often willfully) of the basic principles of how societies function, as well as very self-centered with a "I've got for me and mine, to hell with everyone else" mindset, for all they go on about charitable giving over government taxation (which they vastly prefer because they can then avoid paying into the charity, or pay a piddly amount and claim to have made donations, and not just because they can decide which charity their money goes to).

Now, this isn't always the case, but in my experience, it has been a very strong tendency. And it boggles my mind. People rail against 'paying for other people's healthcare' as if helping the sick and injured is a bad thing. It's this "I've got for me and mine, everyone else can burn" mentality that I've seen so many people proudly flaunt as if they have the moral highground. What I don't understand is how these people sleep at night!(!!) What is so horrible about giving a little extra money, ESPECIALLY when you have a fair amount that you can spare (and making <$30,000/year now and having grown up in a family of 6 making <$60,000/year, I think I can safely say that almost any small family, let alone a couple or individuals, making close to $100,000/year can definitely spare an extra percent or two of their salary in taxes each year to help pay for the society you live in and spread the opportunity to flourish in society around)?

What is so reprehensible about paying a little extra in your taxes to help take care of the poor, the sick, the injured and infirm, the disenfranchised, the oppressed people who still exist in our society, those who have just had a string of the worst luck you can imagine, and those who have made mistakes, but show promise of learning from them and being able to contributed back to society with help for a second chance? What is so reprehensible about that? Never mind the need to pay for the roads, and bridges, and dams, and water lines, and police, and fire, ambulance crews, child services, schools, parks, playgrounds, and ten thousand other social programs and national designed to protect and serve the people of this country. Never mind the cost of the infrastructure of this country, which the "Not with my dollar!" people seem to think they are entitled to for free. Putting all that aside, how can people live with themselves while holding and forcefully advocating the self-serving, uncaring mentality of "As long as I'm covered, to hell with everyone else"? How can anyone who espouses that mentality be a decent person?

Re Video Games as Art: I challenge anyone to sit down and play through the Mass Effect series, actually play through the whole game and the full story (preferably in order, loading your character from ME1 into ME2), and tell me that it is not a masterful work of art.

Tony Fisk said...

Speaking of art, it looks like its time to realise the film options for Sundiver.

...and, well, with nine days to go, Patrick's in nail-biting mode (but I guess you got the email already).

Stuart said...

Re: Video games as art

I define art as any product of human design that is intended to have value in excess of its utility.

I think that's the only way to define it objectively, and any argument about whether something is truly art is really an argument about whether that particular piece of art speaks to you.

That said, Deus Ex made a lasting impression on me. Every character had a three-dimensional reason for their behavior. "Terrorists" would explain their personal motivations to you. If you talked to the bartender in Hong Kong, he'd tell you why you had it all wrong, and economic freedom is the most basic individual freedom. Discovering the three-dimensionality of the people you shoot in the first act was actually part of the plot. Two of the three possible endings had you team up characters who were opposed to each other, each one believing he had the best interest of humanity in mind. It was an artistic statement about the inherent grayness of society and politics. Good stuff!

LarryHart said...

John Kurman said:

I’ve learned to avoid philosophical discussions of art, like what is it? My working definition is : “a visual (spatial) composition intended to induce desired states of mind”. There are problems with that definition, but it works for me. I think the biggest problem about the question “What is Art?” is viewing it as a Venn diagram...

I used to love long discussions/arguments like this back in my college days. We'd spend hours literally trying to answer questions like "Is there anything you can know for sure is not an illusion?" (I personally maintain that "I am in pain" is something one can know is true without a doubt) "What is art?" was one of the more contentious of such questions.

For me personally, "art" comes down to a creation which transcends its medium--using pigments or stone to call to mind an object, or using sounds to call to mind an emotion, or using electronic images to suggest a story.

Note that this in no way addresses the tangential question of "art" vs capitalized-"Art". I'm not trying to descrbe what distinguishes high art from low art, sacred from profane, uplifting vs degrading, of anything of that nature. I'm trying to answer a very basic point here of what is meant by the word "art" that includes all the various forms we typically attribute to it (painting, sculpture, music, film, writing, drawing, ballet, etc, etc) and does not include that which is not "art".

rewinn said...


"Is it art?" strikes me as one of those questions like "Is Pluto a planet?" The answer depends on what you want the category of "art" or "planet" to represent. There may be as much difference between the Mona Lisa and Farmville as there is between Jupiter and Titan but they have enough in common that some discussions would adopt them as endpoints on important continuums.

I would take issue with Ebert's attempt to differentiate between games oriented around "winning" e.g. chess, Call Of Duty, and games oriented around playing, e.g. tag, Farmville. The latter are games just as much as the former even though you don't "win". The Play Is The Thing!

One can play any game artistically; just as you could usefully put "tag" on one end of a continuum that has ice dancing near the other, likewise some people enjoy building hotels on Marvin Gardens or devising Civilizations with as many Wonders as possible in their capital city. Perhaps "art" reduces to a category of "fun" that emphasizes the role of the "artist/game designer" and deemphasizes the role of the "audience/player".

"Are Games art?" is well discussed in Koster's "A Theory of Fun"

Robert said...
" doesn't matter how much someone contributes to the government in taxes and donations, the net received worth will be greater than what they put in
(unless the government is truly corrupt; the U.S. government may have some corruption, but it's lily pure compared to a number of countries out there)."

Perhaps "corruption" satisfies "Implementation Rule 1":


RULE 1: There is no design so good that it can't be screwed up by bad implementation.

RULE 2: There is are some designs so bad that they cannot be made to work by any form of implementation.

RULE 3: In any given implementation, it can be hard to tell whether Rule 1 or Rule 2 applies.

LarryHart said...

A question for Dr. Brin regarding "The Postman":

Do you have a special affinity for Oregon in general and/or its universities in particular?

I ask because most "Go west, young man" stories end up in California, and the first time I read your book, I wondered "Why Oregon?". But although I've never been north of San Francisco on the west coast, I feel as if I'd know my way around in Eugene and Corvallis and even in the Rogue River valley after reading "The Postman".

Anonymous said...

John Kurman,

I have no connections in the art world that could help lead you to fame and fortune, but if I did I would certainly plug your work.

Some very interesting, and visually appealing, work.


Darrell E

David Brin said...

Larry, I chose Oregon for many reasons. Good ocean breezes, a low enough population (especially without nuked Portland) to have a chance during an Aftermath... Oh, and an already existing survivalist/militia movement in some areas like the Rogue.

Kind of wrote itself, actually. With the curren monster would do that.

The Bible says,
Love your neighbor as yourself.
The Buddha says,
There is no self.
So, maybe we're off the hook.

Robert said...

I think this is a good summary of how many of the more thoughtful people in here think about cries that government is "socialist" and that we need to cut services across the board.

Rob H., who would love to track down the persons behind that spam and force-feed them Spam(tm) until they repent and never touch a computer again

Ian Gould said...

Anyone got any thoughts on the X 37B?

Robert said...

It sets a dangerous precedent of weaponizing space. If it's not meant to be used as a weapon, then the Air Force should have full transparency on the project. And if it is a weapon, then we're starting a new arms race, and one that's much more expensive than previous ones.

Though I will have to admit, if we have a military presence in space, it will eventually mean bases on the Moon, asteroids, and more. So we'll get off the planet... if only through the military.

Rob H.

Robert said...

Here's an article that GOP-watchers may find interesting: it purports that the GOP Civil War won't be fought between the Tea Drinkers and GOP incumbents, or even between arch-conservatives and moderates. Instead, it suggests that the war brewing will be between Reform-oriented Republicans and old-guard Republicans that want to preserve the status quo.

I must admit, there is an element of truth to this, and it is related to the reason I am so disenfranchised with the Republican party. Republicans have become the Party of No. No progress. No negotiation. No repairs. Instead, they want to keep things the way they are, because their corporate masters are happy with the status quo, even if the economy crumbles around them (because they'll still get their bonuses).

Reformers are looked upon as dangerous. They're worse than Democrats (who are expected to try and change things, and usually mess things up because of Republican obstructionism), because their attacks come from within the party... and because reformers realize that sometimes you need to work with others that you may disagree with in order to enact reforms.

In essence, it's a struggle for party ideology, between Conservatism, and Change. And if they do not embrace change... then the Republican party will slowly lose more and more voters as their base gets disenfranchised and all they have left are corporate masters who can pay them... but who can't ensure votes.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob H, your model fits with mine... that part of it is oligarchism -- an attempted feudalist putsch, just like 1861...

...but on a whole nother level, it is about bipolar disease. Manic vs depressive. The two, combined, illustrate why the GOP Congress of 1995-> started out briefly vigorous, working with Clinton to pass welfare reform, then zeroed in on a vast array of largesse gifts to the oligarchy...

...and then settled in to do absolutely nothing... not even hold hearings... for the laziest Congressional stretch in a hundred years.

David Brin said...

on to next...

Melinda said...

Ellen said...

@David Brin
What show on the BBC World Service were you interviewed for? Do you know what day or time it aired? Have you found the podcast of your interview yet?

I like the three rules of implementation. Did you come up with them yourself or are you quoting from somewhere?