Thursday, September 30, 2010

I tweet? More Science! And a Rally for Adulthood.

All right, I gave in and got a twitter account. You can find me at:

And with that announcement... oh there's more. First some news and science(!) and then my unusual perspectives on the Rallies in October(!)

==Transparency News==

On the Transparency front: a Maryland judge has thrown out the wiretapping charges brought against a motorcyclist who recorded a plainclothes Maryland State Trooper pulling a gun on him during a traffic stop and later uploaded the footage to Youtube. "A Harford County Circuit Court judge ruled this afternoon that a motorcyclist who was arrested for videotaping his traffic stop by a Maryland State Trooper was within his rights to record the confrontation."

Comments Josh D: “I think it's obvious that this kid broke the law and was certainly endangering the public, however, the DA who brought the wiretapping charges clearly did so in retaliation for the video of the stop being posted on the Internet.  I hope the DA faces some serious questions about his conduct in this matter.”

I care less about the DA than about general precedent.  This story was publicized by me on July 26. It is a crucial phase in the battle to retain the citizenry’s right to watch the watchmen.  I am police-friendly!  But this cannot be allowed to stand.

Faced with overwhelmingly powerful (and armed) authority that is capable of lying, the average citizen has only one recourse, the same one upon which he bases ALL of his defense against capricious power. The underlying recourse that is implicit in every corner of the Constitution...



=== Science Tidbits ===

Have they discovered a “Goldilocks Planet” orbiting its star at the right distance to have liquid water?  This article would seem to be historic... if it weren’t so atrociously written as to be almost worthless as cience journalism.  Still, you may want to remember where you were, when you read it.  Oh, here is the scientific abstract.

(In fact, this "goldilocks" planet would be a hell, one side locked toward its red dwarf sun and the other frozen solid. A few watery trickles along the Twilight Zone boundary do not an Eden make.  Let's keep trying.

 When the first alien from space lands on Earth and says “Take me to your leader,” Mazlan Othman head of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs will get the call...”  So went the panting report on the London Telegraph, followed by an international news cycle frenzy...

...followed by an embarassed retraction.  (Kind of sad, actually,  One can imagine some mildly speculative thing she might have said - in her bemused cups - getting all blown up out of proportion.  She was to attend my gathering about SETI, next week near London.  Now maybe she’ll stay home.)

In a similar vein... as I prepare to fly off to Britain to debate issues regarding the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, one mustn’t forget a bit of humor, from time to time.


Sometimes one of my older items erupts, suddenly, back into currency.  There’s been a lot more attention to my slideshow about potential dangers that might lurk from many different directions, and not just the fashionable flavor-of-the-decade (presently militant Islamists).  This presentation --A Broad Perspective Search of Unusual Failure Modes and Under-developed Strategies -- created for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency is very dense and requires earnest and soberly curious reading.  Don’t bother, if you plan to skim!

And finally... before lighting the political lamp...

A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Kinda irksome to some folks I imagine.  Like the fact that kids who get "liberal" sex education actually have lower rates of STDs, abortion and even sex, than those given Abstinence classes.  Ooh.


You'll be hearing that the events being held on the Washington mall, in a few weeks -- hosted by news-comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will be partisan affairs.  And, well, I concede that a majority of those attending are likely to be democrats.

Still I think it worth pondering that the "Rally for Sanity" on 10-30-10 may be motivated much less by left-vs-right dogma than the very things that Stewart claims it will be about -- which is moderation vs the tone of petty, sanctimonious brattiness that has taken over American politics.  And yes, humorists are precisely the kinds of guys who can cut through the orgy of petty indignation that the aging baby boomers are imposing on this great country.

Look. We have two great countervailing forces in the American psyche. The first is a tendency toward self-righteous utopianism. This trait has a positive side. It can fuel and supercharge our greatest self-reform drives, propelling us to march and sacrifice until we have (for example) destroyed slavery, or racial injustice. On the other hand, the same propensity for frantic idealistism can enflame us into spirals of cultural or civil war, screeching at our neighbors and demeaning anyone we disagree with as simultaneously stupid, insane and evil.

The other American tendency is toward a marvelous pragmatism, a modernist eagerness to SOLVE PROBLEMS, using every available tool - including whatever mix of state and corporate and individual action will get the job done... so we can move on to dealing with the next problem.  This grown-up, pragmatic trait brought us far.  It underlies our greatest successes...

...and it has always been based upon a good-natured willingness to negotiate with each other.  To evade the sweet-addictive trap of ideological grand-standing and the drug of dogma, in favor of treating disagreement as grounds for discussion.  Moderated by the phrase all scientists are trained to utter aloud -- "I might be (just a little bit) wrong."

Of course, this same trait od pragmatism can show its own dark and ugly side, when it becomes cynical and focused solely on personal gain or victories over others, predatory and shortsighted, in a narrowminded and constricted zero-sum game.

Now, you might judge, after those paragraphs, that I respect our pragmatic streak more than the idealistic one, and that is true to an extent... though you can see my idealism drenching most of my novels. In any event, what really matters - in both idealism and pragmatism - is whether you envision the world as filled with problems that can be solved. 

That is why Martin Luther King - were he to magically reappear today - would slap the faces of those left-wingers who cannot ever bring themselves to admit that his dream has largely come true!  And, therefore, our continuing campaigns of self-improvement should move on, filled with confidence in past accomplishments, to take on new and brighter goals.

And that is why Adam Smith - were he to magically reappear today - would eviscerate right-wingers, who have never actuall read Wealth of Nations, and who cannot ever bring themselves to admit that the true enemy of freedom and markets has always been oligarchy. (Across 6,000 years, name any foe that ever oppressed more people, quashed competition and opportunity, or did more to hold humanity back.  You can't.)

The lesson?  That the real enemy is cynicism.

Which brings us to our chance to fight back.

=== Find a way to support the "Rally for Sanity" ===

Think what you will of Jon Stewart's purported ant-right bias.  Fact is that all he is saying - in reference to the rally -- is for moderates to come out and resume negotiating in calm voices. And he has been relentless in seeking moderate conservatives, to come as well.

Oh, sure, the undertone is anti-tea-party-sanctimony/rage.  Anyone can see that.  The satirical mocking of the Murdochians (a name that seems redolent of H.G. Wells dystopic fears) is clearly intentional. Still, the official line of the rally merits some sober consideration.

Moreover, let me point out this set of fundamental differences between Jon Stewart and the shills on Fox.

1- He skewers the left frequently and sincerely.

2- He has guests. Unlike Beck and Limbaugh he regularly has on his show the best and brightest from the "other side."  More than 20% of his guests are neocons or conservatives. Huckabee, Romney, McCain, William Kristol have all been on the show more than 3 times each!  These guests get to both joke around and challenge Stewart, while pushing their books! (Oh, and the audience always treats them politely.)  Bill O'Reilly was on, just two nights ago.

This is something Beck/Limbaugh/Hannity NEVER do.  Because they are liars and cowards.  There is no other possible interpretation. And that is without any consideration of their policy positions.  Worse, it displays a smug lack of curiosity that is positively and horrifically un-American.

3- Stewart's other guests include a sampling of America's best minds.  Sure, there's jocularity. But that is part of the POINT!  A light, 10 minute gloss-exposure to big ideas... laced with humor and repeated references to a real, honest to gosh book, that Stewart obviously read.  And your complaint is.....?

By the way, if Glenn Beck can "define honor" then let's hear Stewart out when it comes to "sanity."

Go if you can. Even better, help get out the vote.


Tony Fisk said...

Ironically, NS last week posted an article proposing that, at the current rate of discovery, a habitable exoplanet would have a 50% probability of being discovered by next May (link)

How do they know it's gravitationally locked? (apart from the assumption that a planet so close to a much larger body would be; but it might have a large moon to keep things spinning as well)

I would be interested to hear what that study of 'faith awareness' would reveal in other countries where Christinaity is not the dominant religion because I suspect it's a case of 'imperial ignorance'

3- Stewart's other guests include a sampling of America's best minds... laced with humor and repeated references to a real, honest to gosh book, that Stewart obviously read.

Have you ever been invited on Stewart's show? (or this another [dis]incentive to get that novel finished?)

furies: well, that capcha seems appropriate to a discussion of self-righteous idealism vs pragmatism

Tom Crowl said...

In the quest for reasoned debate and a more capable civic decision process I believe this is an interesting article:


A group's interactions drive its intelligence more than the brain power of individual members.

Thanks to Michael Bauwens of the Peer to Peer Foundation for re-posting my piece:

On Creating Communities

Anonymous said...

Maybe not as bad as that, if not terribly suited for lifeforms with a ~24 hour circadian rhythm, unless anyone has something more recent to contradict this:

A reappraisal of the habitability of planets around M dwarf stars.


Stable, hydrogen-burning, M dwarf stars make up about 75% of all stars in the Galaxy. They are extremely long-lived, and because they are much smaller in mass than the Sun (between 0.5 and 0.08 M(Sun)), their temperature and stellar luminosity are low and peaked in the red. We have re-examined what is known at present about the potential for a terrestrial planet forming within, or migrating into, the classic liquid-surface-water habitable zone close to an M dwarf star. Observations of protoplanetary disks suggest that planet-building materials are common around M dwarfs, but N-body simulations differ in their estimations of the likelihood of potentially habitable, wet planets that reside within their habitable zones, which are only about one-fifth to 1/50th of the width of that for a G star. Particularly in light of the claimed detection of the planets with masses as small as 5.5 and 7.5 M(Earth) orbiting M stars, there seems no reason to exclude the possibility of terrestrial planets. Tidally locked synchronous rotation within the narrow habitable zone does not necessarily lead to atmospheric collapse, and active stellar flaring may not be as much of an evolutionarily disadvantageous factor as has previously been supposed. We conclude that M dwarf stars may indeed be viable hosts for planets on which the origin and evolution of life can occur. A number of planetary processes such as cessation of geothermal activity or thermal and nonthermal atmospheric loss processes may limit the duration of planetary habitability to periods far shorter than the extreme lifetime of the M dwarf star. Nevertheless, it makes sense to include M dwarf stars in programs that seek to find habitable worlds and evidence of life. This paper presents the summary conclusions of an interdisciplinary workshop ( sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and convened at the SETI Institute.

Acacia H. said...

I think Dr. Brin would be tickled to learn that several articles in a recent issue of Journal of Business Ethics talked about his liberal business hero, Adam Smith, in terms of his belief concerning out-of-control capitalism and on the principals of business ethics. I've been skimming through JBE for several years, and have watched the debate on the ethics of social responsibility of business. Believe it or not, there are some business philosophers who believe it is unethical for a business to uphold its social responsibility and that the SOLE purpose of businesses is to make as much money for its shareholders as possible. No matter what.

In short, several authors pointed out that Adam Smith would have wholeheartedly supported corporate social responsibility and have pointed out the benefits of this practice in the corporate field. This does not alter the naysayers who feel companies should be allowed to lie, cheat, and pollute their way to ever-increasing profit, even though those companies that have done so, such as Enron, inevitably are exposed and fall big.

Anyway, I thought Dr. Brin might feel tickled to know that some business scholars do "get it" about Adam Smith.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Acacia H. said...

And speaking of science (and to carry over a conversation from the previous discussion), what other innovations do people foresee in the next twenty years? For instance, what effect will 3-D printing have on manufacturing and on consumers? (Have they done 3-D printing in LEO yet to determine the effects microgravity has on printing?)

What will the state of space exploration be by 2030? How will private space transport companies effect LEO? (For instance, what would the international community do if some entrepreneurial company put a high-powered laser in orbit under their own power and used it to start cleaning debris around their own satellites... and offered to do a similar service for other companies? Seeing that space-based "weapons" (and this would qualify) are illegal under international law.)

Given the advances in solar and wind technologies along with filtration systems, might we see nations in the Middle East start building wide-scale desalinization plants to bring water to their deserts? (Can you imagine if Libya, for instance, started irrigating much of the Libyan desert using desalinized water... and turned their region of the world green?)

And here's a little something to ponder: current plans are to get astronauts to an asteroid by 2025. But why stop there? Why not establish mining facilities at an asteroid? If the United States were to "stake a claim" at a near-Earth asteroid and mine it, would that not be a useful way of paying for the Space Program... and even paying off a bit of national debt? Hell, we could offer refined metals to China to pay off much of the U.S. debt they've bought up... and as it would be in orbit, China could use it to build up their own space industry.

Orbital metals could become a huge bonanza. We may very well see several nations in a new Space Race to start harvesting asteroids and bringing the materials back to Earth... both for use on the planet and in orbit. It's the orbital metals that would likely be the most value... along with orbital water from ice harvested from dead comets and icy asteroids.

Of course, if SpaceX or other companies do manage to build up their space-based infrastructure, they could make massive profits by doing this themselves. No doubt we'll see the U.S. subcontracting to these private companies to do the work for us. All in the name of kickbacks to politicians... and of course private industry. ;)

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Pulling a topic from the previous post: Wouldn't a solar shield have an adverse effect on everything that depends on sunlight for energy? How much of an adverse effect on plantlife, the planet's natural CO2 scrubbers, would a solar shield capable of reducing global temperatures by ~1 degree C have?

Regarding the Rally to Restore Sanity: I'm attending with a friend or two. Who all here is going? Perhaps we could have a meet-up of sorts?

Tony Fisk said...

Any Sanity Restoration facebook groups?

Come to that, is anybody doing anything for McKibben's 10/10/10 bash?

Why mine materials in space that are more readily accessible on Earth?

Acacia H. said...

No OSHA regulations. No real pollution worries (assuming you don't tow the asteroid to LEO or LMO to work on, which isn't currently viable with the technology on hand - at least, unless you're willing to wait years). The ability to collect a large amount of resources for space-based projects without having to put it in orbit (which costs a lot of money and has significant risks as the more rocket launches you have, the bigger the chance of a rocket blowing up and destroying vital components). The fact that one mid-sized asteroid has enough metals (depending on the type of asteroid mined) to supply several years of manufacturing from every single nation on the planet combined.

Trust me. It's economical. It's just the investment capital needed to get to the asteroids and mine it is astronomical (pardon the pun please).

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"No OSHA Regulations" is a minus, not a plus, as any quick look at the history of mining will suggest. You don't become an astronaut without a certain appreciation for safety ... which one might compromise in support of The Human Adventure ... but to increase shareholder value?

There seem to be multiple
Rally to Restore Sanity FB pages plus, of course, the March to Keep Fear Alive. Perhaps there *is* something to this "wisdom-of-crowds" thing

LarryHart said...

As long as the lamp is lit...

The other day, I heard a Libertarian on Thom Hartmann's radio show defending the notion that helping the poor with tax money is theft because the individual has an absoulte right to everything he owns. I understand the argument as far as it goes, and even have a certain amount of sympathy for it. But I disagree with the unspoken, implict rider "and no obligation to the society in which he prospers".

Synchrnistically, I just read a passage from Vonnegut's 1964 novel "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater", in which the late great Kurt Vonnegut spells out much better than I can the fundamental error in the Libertarian conception of what constitutes "one's own" property:

When the United States of America, which was meant to be a Utopia for all, was less than a century old, Noah Rosewater and a few men like him demonstrated the folly of the Founding Fathers in one respect: those sadly recent ancestors had not made it the law of the Utopia that the wealth of each citizen should be limited. This oversight was engendered by a weak-kneed sympathy for those who loved expensive things, and by the feeling that the continent was so vast and valuable, and the population so thin and enterprising, that no thief, no matter how fast he stole, could more than mildly inconvenience anybody.

Noah and a few like him perceived that the continent was in fact finite, and that venal officeholders, legislators in particular, could be persuaded to toss up great hunks of it for grabs, and to toss them in such a way as to have them land where Noah and his kind were standing.

Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed.


E pluribus unum is surely an ironic motto to inscribe on the currency of this Utopia gone bust, for every grotesquely rich American represents property, privileges, and pleasures that have been denied the many. An even more instructive motto, in light of the history made by the Noah Rosewaters, might be: Grab much too much, or you'll get nothing at all.

David Brin said...

Sad thing was- in Vonnegut's day we were vastly more unjust in matters like racism... but had a much flatter class order than today.

LarryHart said...

Yes, Vonnegut was writing that particular novel in 1964, but the CHARACTER who wrote the passage I cited was writing about the 1870s.

I'm guessing 1964-Vonnegut thought he was pointing out a long-past social flaw that we as a society had learned from and grown safely past, not something we were going to re-implement intentionally and with malice aforethought.

I really, REALLY miss Kurt Vonnegut. Asimov too, for that matter. I wish there had been a forum like this for chatting with them. Glad to have the opportunity with you, Dr. Brin.

David Brin said...

Kent Pitman writes: "There was discussion just this evening by someone on MSNBC about the fact (I think they said it was a fact—I think the alluded to some study or another—but what do I know?) that there is lately a trend toward people admiring people who don’t compromise. But that the trend is biased, with more republicans admiring this than democrats. Then they noted that if you get a bunch of compromisers together with a bunch of non-compromisers, it’s little wonder things drift in the direction of the non-compromisers. Alas. What a dilemma—to become stubborn as a self-defense against being rolled over?"

Anybody have more detail on this research? It'd be helpful, especially in pushing my notions that this is all about ADDICTION:

Anonymous said...

In the interest of accuracy - there is no paper called the London Telegraph - it's the Daily Telegraph and it's a national paper - there are local paper's but in Europe most large paper's are national

David Brin said...

onward... Two blogs in two days! Had to clear decks before London....

Tacitus2 said...

Special "Rally Cap" Posting!

OK guys, its the bottom of the 8th and your team is down big time (I would use the baseball term "by crooked numbers" but don't wanna go to the whole ACORN/Diebold Universe).

I am surprised that nobody has mentioned the big Progressive Rally in DC tomorrow:


Its an impressive coalition of groups, so many links to explore.

I guess the Coffee Party Progressives can share a cab.

good to the last drop

As for the Restore Sanity/Charicature Conservatives rally, I did watch YouTube of the prequel, Mr. Colbert goes to Washington.

eek. Offering to enter your colonoscopy report into the Congressional Record?

You all know I have a dangerous sense of humor, but honestly, this stuff does little to enhance the dismal repute of Congress. Colbert was pretty much there to plug his upcoming street (Mall?) performance, and had about as much to do with the issues of the hour as those nitwits who run onto the field stripping off their shirt to show an internet casino address have to do with the playing of the World Series.

But heck, at least Congress had the decency to make yukkies after they passed a 2010 budget and addressed the thorny Bush tax cuts issue.

(what? oh, nevermind).

Well, er, at least it was not the first time an engaging sock puppet appeared before Congress

sock puppet

I have seen pictures of each of them in the hallowed halls of Washington, and while Colbert did look a little bit brighter it must be acknowledged that the red headed chap lacks facial expressions and has a nogg full of styrofoam.

One is almost left with the impression that the Democrats are not as serious as the Republicans.


Tacitus2 said...

Ok, I freely admit that the above post was a rather snarky. Pondering the impact of sarcastic humor on politics is not wholesome, and a bit of it rubbed off on me. In particular I do not mean to poke fun at the concept of the Coffee party, which was worthy, other issues with its organization notwithstanding.

And I am second to none in my esteem for the entire Sesame Street cast. I can do convincing imitations of most of them, but Bert in particular is hard on the voice.


rewinn said...

"I am surprised that nobody has mentioned the big Progressive Rally in DC tomorrow..."

It was all over the corporate news, wasn't it?

(If a tree falls in the forest, and it's not reported on the news, does it make a sound?)

" I freely admit that the above post was a rather snarky."

Didn't offend me. Try harder!

One thought about the Coffee Party link: the article's based on blog hits and may therefore be an artifact of a migration away from blogs to social media sites.

Who reads blogs anymore?

But we agree on Sesame Street. Like scotch and like sunsets, there can be better or worse Sesame Street characters, but there cannot be a bad one.

Anonymous said...

The link to the presentation created for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency is broken, a space took the place of a -


Tom Buckner said...

Here's the unbusted link for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency presentation: