Friday, January 29, 2010

Treason Against Conservatism

I beckon everybody to go visit the blog of one of the most incisive political observers around, Russ Daggatt.  In this posting, Russ points out that the current GOP lockstep-disciplined partisanship has nothing to do with conservatism, or patriotism, or deliberation or governance... or even dogma.  

For example, just yesterday, the Republicans in the Senate voted in perfect formation against re-instituting "pay-as-you-go" budget rules that require tax cuts or spending increases be matched by revenue measures that keep the effect debt-neutral.  Or, as Daggatt's put it:

It was these rules, which prevailed during the ‘90’s, that were largely responsible for the record budget surpluses inherited by President Bush. And it was Bush and a Republican Congress allowing those rules to lapse in 2002 that cleared the way for the record budget deficits that followed.  The measure passed the Senate today 60-40, on a straight party line vote.  Again, not a single Republican voted for this fiscal discipline.  Not one.  Not Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins or Mr. Fiscal Responsibility, Judd Gregg or “Maverick” John McCain.
As I’ve noted before, over 75 percent of our national debt was racked up under just three Republican presidents – Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.  That is the debt that we must pay down or continue to finance with interest.  The interest (and the interest on the interest) just for that Republican debt will amount to trillions of dollars over the next decade.  Is there some symbolic message that we are supposed to glean from the refusal of Republicans to allow the US government to finance the debt accumulated under their leadership?

Or, as President Obama noted in his speech:
At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion.  By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.  Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.  On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget.  All this was before I walked in the door.

Go read Daggatt's whole piece.  It shows what fools the democrats are, for not realizing what the real issue is.  The issue that could let them attack the republicans where it would hurt them most -- as traitors to conservatism.

 I've said it before.  The state of Arizona is drawing half of its electricity from coils and magnets that are placed around the spinning, in Barry Goldwater's grave.  I could list three dozen simple statements or Fox-simple talking points that would eviscerate the GOP as having betrayed the very cause they pretend to represent.  Here's just one.

Conservatives supposedly revere Military readiness and spread the truism-lie than Bill Clinton undermined it.  But the US Officer Corps admired Clinton and despised Bush.  Moreover, at the end of the Clinton Administration, ALL of our US Army brigades were rated "fully combat ready."  That's 100% of them.

At the end of the Bush administration, the number that were rated combat ready was 0%.

All right, such blips are simplistic.  But that's what we're down to, now.  And a media campaign that racked up and fired two dozen such bullets, all at once, would make it hard even for Fox to spin them all away. Moreover, if corporations, many of them foreign owned (Fox is up towards 10% held by Saudi princes) are going to blitz America with political ads, then it is time to get gut-simple in response.

This is their weak point.   Show the republicans' betrayal OF conservatism... and then hurl a hundred blue-dog, retired military officers straight at GOP reps in their home turf, where they think their gerrymandered districts keep them safe. 

Oh, just for the record: blue dogs aren't the problem, they are the solution.  The way to form a new home for America's tens of millions of decent conservatives, allowing them to finally abandon a party that has gone stark, jibbering mad.


Oh, one big point.  The democratic caucus in the US House of Representatives can change the game, now.  If Nancy Pelosi can get them to simply PASS the Senate's Health Care Bill... promising to amend it later.

Then the dems will have a victory and momentum, Obama will be "formidable" again, the GOP can be blamed for not deliberating to improve the bill... and let Fox howl.

If Pelosi cannot do this one simple thing, then she should be replaced.

  And new democratic candidates should step forward right away, in the primaries, to challenge those who couldn't do this one thing for their party and their nation.



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Followup on Haiti, Science, Brinstuff and the Enlightenment!

UrbanPlanningHaitiSalon Magazine asked to publish as a main article an updated version of my essay about reconstruction in Haiti, wherein I suggest the establishment of clear corridors for every kind of right-of-way, across the capital city -- mass transit, sewer, water, electricity, fiber-optics, even WiFi can go in cheap, if all pathway issues are settled at once -- so that the skeleton and sinew and bloodstream of a vibrant city can arise... leaving all the subsequent details to Haitians.

And hold on till the end for one of my mini-essays about "The Enlightenment and Its Enemies" !

And on the Transparency front...

See the less professional kind of police behaving exactly as predicted in The Transparent Society.  “Since the police beating of motorist Rodney King in 1991, men in blue have looked warily at the civilian videotaping of arrests and other police activities. Some cops are so opposed to the practice, they've begun arresting the amateur videographers and charging them criminally.”  In fact, nearly all such arrests have been dismissed.  The important thing now is to make all police aware of that fact, so that continuing to do this becomes knowing and culpable false arrest. 

====  A Holocene Grant Proposal ===

Any educators out there... or folks interested in creative new approaches to interface... here’s something interesting you might browse.  "HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation are excited to launch the third year of the Digital Media and Learning Competition. Today, young people are learning, socializing, and participating in civic life in dramatic new ways and assessing information in ways never before imagined."

I have a small consortium that has submitted an application for a grant to develop breakthrough “collaboration ware” to help students do team projects (a big part of the modern American curriculum) with vastly more efficiency and fun.

And now my request from some of you. Public commenting on the 2010 HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition is now open! Join the conversation. Log in to provide feedback and comments on applications and see how others are reacting to your application. Register to add your comments at:  by creating a user name and password (please note the user name and password you created to submit an application will not work; all users must create new logins). You will receive an activation e-mail, with a link to confirm your address, and can then log in to the system.  Take a look at as many of the brief 50-word project descriptions as you can. If something looks interesting, you can either read more (a 300-word description) or save it and come back later for a closer look.Once you’ve taken a look, we encourage you to discuss (post a comment) or tell a friend.

Favorable comments on our “TeamBuilder” proposal are, of course, most welcome!

 === Science Miscellaneous ====

Have you heard of Raj Patel? In his book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy, Patel reveals how we inflate the cost of things we can (and often should) live without, while assigning absolutely no value to the resources we all need to survive. Though, of course, there probably is some vegetarian bias in there!

Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body. The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pierce used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were making the pigment, called chlorophyll a, themselves and not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on. (BTW... I showed humans doing this in Heart of the Comet.)

UPDATE on AUDO BOOKS from  See these great Brin titles available in audio version to listen-to during your commute!

=== Defending the Enlightenment = a mini-essay ===

square antiSee a fascinating review of The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition by Zeev Sternhell, in which the Israeili philosopher covers a vital topic, resonant with many things I’ve been saying about how the progressive Enlightenment is under frenetic attack, by those scheming to restore older, oppressive ways...

... only with an important difference that prompts me to offer up an observation and a cavil. For, when I speak of the “Enlightenment” I am referring to something much more modern and ongoing that what campus academics refer-to, when they use that word.  To me, it stands for the great experiment of Western Civilization, the sole time that any post-agricultural society discovered a viable alternative to the age-old human attractor state, the standard pattern that dominated perhaps 99% of cultures since history began -- rule by inherited oligarchy.

Yes, our current experiment evolved out of the French Enlightenment of Voltaire And Rousseau.  But what we have today -- and must defend against concerted assault -- is only related to that drawing room debating society, as a child is to its grandparent.

Indeed, had the Enlightenment depended only upon its French-Idealist wing, whose love of abstraction sometimes borders on the mystical, the movement would long ago have foundered.  It is the Anglo-Scot-American offshoot, with its emphasis on pragmatism, reductionist science, “otherness” inclusionism and material progress in the physical world, that truly changed the world. It is this wing that kept the Enlightenment alive, by powerfully resisting and then quelling the fascist and Stalinist empires. It also was responsible for spreading both practical advancement and modernist ideals to all corners of the globe,

This is an important distinction.  For, while the French and American branches of the Enlightenment share many values -- a belief in progress, in human improvability, in divided and accountable power, in free argument and in the value of the individual -- the more abstract French wing turns about and partakes in a kind of madness that is rooted in bad old habits that stretch all the way back in Plato -- the notion that one can logically derive important conclusions about reality, via  words alone.  Given that Plato turned out to be just about the most anti-enlightenment philosopher of all time, an implacable enemy of democracy and science, this descent of reason should be troubling.

EnlightenmentIndeed, the obsession of scholars, associating the Enlightenment with abstract reasoning, runs smack up against what should be considered the Enlightenment’s greatest insight -- that humans are inherently delusional beings, able to talk ourselves into anything at all.  The French Idealist branch acknowledged this problem -- and replied that the answer would be found in better reasoning.  A well-meaning, but inherently untrustworthy prescription.  One that is, in fact, delusional in its own right.

By contrast, the pragmatic-scientific wing said: “Everybody will be deluded, as a matter of basic human nature, and we are terrible at spotting our own errors. Rationality can be just another method for incantatory justification and rationalization. But there is another answer.  If we cannot spot our own mistakes, we can often notice each others!  Through well-run competitive systems, like democracy, markets, and science, the give and take of reciprocal accountability can edge us ever forward toward the truth.”

Oh, sure, these competitive systems are very hard to set up and maintain.  As one of the earliest leaders of the Anglo-American wing, Adam Smith, described, it is hard to arrange circumstance under which competition delivers all its benfits -- creativity, innovation, vigor, accountability and error detection -- without soon drawing in its own worst enemy, cheaters. As both Smith and Karl Marx pointed out, Capitalism and Democracy can turn into their own worst enemies.  These pragmatic tools require endless fine-tuning, a gritty chore that often makes people tempted to turn back to simplistic dogmatism.  (e.g. our present “culture war.”)

Still, the Enlightenment needed path away from the trap of essentialism, in which Rousseau and Hobbes railed at one another over flawed, overly simple descriptions of human nature. It was John Locke, founder of the Anglo-American branch, who said: Wait, you are both right and both wrong.  Man is both noble and corrupt. We are complex, and we need systems that can harness that complexity, rewarding the noble traits and binding the corrupt ones.  Toward this end, abstractions may inspire, they may lift our hearts... but they do not get the job done.

Hence, my conclusion to a garrulous aside.  It is wrong for well-meaning scholars like Sternhell  to continue calling the abstract-idealist branch of the Enlightenment its defining center. Not when most of the movement’s greatest continuing achievements were attained by the other, pragmatist/materialist branch.  Not only does this ignore the Enlightenment’s greatest strengths, at a time when it is under siege by dealy foes, but this old-fashioned fixation seems obdurate, scholastic, and even rather quaint.

(Thanks Michael Rus, for spurring this thread.)


Shades of the Crystal Spheres! 

What the Ancient Greeks Can Tell Us About Democracy

And more soon......

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Urban Planning from the Ruins

In the latest issue of Newsweek, President Barack Obama explains  "Why Haiti Matters," offering reasons -- from moral to pragmatic -- for Americans to care about that unlucky nation. Indeed, were it possible to wave a wand and transform that hellish place into an upward-rising land of hope, health, education, enterprise and opportunity, while re-planting its ravaged hillsides, who wouldn't?

Lacking magic wands, we have another tool -- money -- in limited amounts. That, combined with ingenuity and goodwill, can take care of some short term things.  Stop the dying.  Provide food, shelter and basic sanitation.  Help the Haitians to restore basic utilities and bury their dead. Repair the ports and roads enough to get commerce flowing again. So far, no arguments.

It's when we start talking about longer-term solutions that the discussion gets clouded by preconceptions, dogmas and real world practicalities.  Sixty years after the Marshall Plan proved that foreign assistance can work, some of the time, we still find our best-meant schemes mired by bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, and unintended consequences. Nor does any political side have a perfect recipe. If the American left has often shown itself to be treacly and naive, the right is already back to its old, cynical sneer, deriding "the failed and discredited utopian fantasy of so-called Nation Building" -- an actual neoconservative mantra, up till the very month that they plunged the U.S. into the most costly, inefficient, corruption-ridden and ill-conceived nation-building exercise ever undertaken.

In contrast to Iraq, Haiti has several traits that make it seem a rather good candidate for national makeover.  It is small, nearby, desperate -- and yet peaceful -- enough to be a possible test case. (Our misadventure in Somalia showed how necessary the "peaceful" component is.)

On the downside, you have a near total lack of infrastructure, education or reliable civil law. Still, despite the challenges, suppose we wanted to really accomplish epochal and effective change in Haiti?

Aside from humanitarian aid, what endeavors would be most helpful over the long run?

1) Cooking. It sounds simple, even banal.  But a major driver of Haiti's tragic deforestation is the chopping of wood for cooking fuel. For years we've seem efforts to offer solar cookers to people in developing nations -- a worthy endeavor, but not very popular among the poor women who need to boil up the rice and bean now -- without spending hours worrying about clouds.

Amore prosaic palliative might be to establish communal kitchen facilities all over the island, where families could not only get food aid, but have access to shared, gas-fired stoves and ovens to prepare it. But whatever approach is chosen, we need to be clear about one unintended consequence of food aid. Distributing uncooked rice is tantamount to killing trees.

2) Reward self organization. Infrastructure projects and jobs should flow toward those neighborhoods that manage to organize themselves to better benefit from the aid. For one thing, this is the simplest way to bypass corrupt national officials, relying instead on simple metrics, right there on the ground.  For another thing, it would leverage upon islands of enthusiasm and competence, without imposing any preconceptions upon HOW the locals organize themselves.  (See an article in the LA Times about such neighborhood committees, already in motion.)

However they do it - via communes or coops or by working with local landowners, those that remove the trash and set up kitchens and have work crews ready for labor every day, and who present a fait accompli structure that can be relied upon, those should get top priority.
    The lesson would spread.

3) Empower law and civil society.  Go look up the work of Hernando de Soto (not the explorer, but the radical economist-reformer). The nation of Peru instituted his plan to get the people  clear title to their land, so they can then improve or borrow against it. The resulting surge in the market economy proved that left and right could work together, when not trapped in idiotic dogma, resulting in a boom in Peru. Peru's reform laws should be instituted in Haiti, with the one proviso that they be translated into French.

Unfotrtunately, right now is the very time when those with property rights in Port-au-Prince are most likely to be bought out, cents on the dollar, by Haiti's own oligarchs. (See a silver lining to this, below.)

4) Take advantage of the quake. Now, with the capital city in ruins, is the time for urban planning in Port-au-Prince.

Sure, those words sound pathetically sixties-ish.  But I am not talking about utopian nit-picking, meddlesome zoning regulations or over-specifying architecture -- (though there are modern alternatives to cinder-block construction that could be cheaper, faster and much more quake resistant... and this would be a good time to start setting up firms over there, trained in these alternative methods.)

No, what I mean by "urban planning" is the very basics.  Core essentials that are utterly pragmatic and that would best be done now, at the very moment that Port-au-Prince lies shattered.

As soon as people are being fed and all the children are safe, even next month, corridors and rights of way should be laid down and razed -- wide swaths stretching from the port to downtown, to the airport, and to the factory zone.

Yes, superficially it sounds horrible -- plowing aside the tottering shops that still stand along such broad paths.  But the benefits -- to all Haitians -- would be overwhelming. If done well, such corridors would allow very cheap installation of the organic elements needed by a modern city, the circulatory, pulmonary, lymphatic, nervous and other systems of a future, healthy metropolis.  I'm talking about mass transit, sewer, water, fiber-optics, gas, electricity, sewers...

ALL of these services are fantastically expensive -- in nations like the U.S. -- primarily due to right-of-way costs and having to insert and maintain them through already-existing streets. The actual conduits themselves (rails, sewer pipe, water pipe, optical fiber) are fairly cheap, if laid down in a linear fashion. (Commuter trolley lines can be established aboveground at first. But if the land-siting is done right, a trenched subway can go in, later, at trivial added expense.)

Combine this with the laying down of several grand boulevards and parks, and you could have the makings of a great and impressive city, rising from the ashes, drawing commerce and (even more important) proud confidence among its citizens.

Note that this needn't be done rapaciously. e.g. imagine if the poor and displaced got shares in the soon-to-be valuable plots that front upon these new boulevards, and first-options at the resulting apartments.  Is such fairness really likely, especially in Haiti?  Of course not.  Already the country's few-dozen elite, oligarchic families are swooping in -- partly to perform beneficent acts of noblesse oblige, and partly to seek opportunities within the chaos.  If my suggestion were undertaken entirely on the oligarchs' terms, with elites owning all the utilities and boulevard frontages, excluding even the people who used to live there, it would be a travesty.

UrbanPlanningHaitiBut travesties are normal for Haiti.  In this case, at least there'd be boulevards, parks, utilities, sanitation, trolleys fiber-broadband, WiFi and commerce.  The elevated people could then engage in politics -- the torts and rights and wrongs -- later.

 Anyway, what if foreign influences leaped onto this project first, with strong intent to insert fairness as a priority? Note that a single billionaire could, right now, offer to do this in Port-au-Prince. His share, downstream, could be worth billions, without incurring any bad karma because, with just a little care to note who lived where, the chief beneficiaries would still be the poorest citizens of Haiti.

And the result... making money by increasing the value of a city that becomes a wonder and source of pride for all... would seem worth pondering.

==See an updated version of this article: Urban Planning Amid the Rubble in Salon

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Cornucopia of Wonders?

This will be one of my splurges, posting a melange of miscellany for anyone to share, starting with an announcement that...

... four of my books are now released to Kindle! EARTH, The Uplift War, Otherness and The Practice Effect.  In 2 weeks: Startide Rising and Heaven's Reach. (Kiln People and Foundation's Triumph were already available.)

Ethics and The Future.  I've been honored to be named a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).    I was already a participant in the Center for Ethics, shared by UCSD, USD, and SDSU. Both institutions aim to foster science in the public interest by promoting awareness, understanding, and discussion of the ethical implications of new
developments in science and technology.  

I've received permission from SKEPTIC Magazine to post two of my past articles as PDF files.  Seeking a New Fulcrum was my careful appraisal of Psi or "psychic phenomena," starting with some basic physics and logic, but concluding that these powers are likely to be real... in the future, not in any mystified past. 

The Dangers of First Contact discusses the modern fixation/assumption that advanced life forms will automatically be altruistic.  Altruism is a fascinating and complex subject, in its own right! But the assumptions that currently guide the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) may be just as foolish and short-sighted as those held by Spanish conquistadors.  We need open minds.  Enjoy opening yours!;-)

EmpoweringCitizensDevin Murphy points out that the recent attempt by a terrorist to self-immolate aboard a US-bound airliner was foiled not by TSA regulations nor NSA surveillance nor official watchlists nor air marshals, but by the aggressive action of an alert passenger.  Those agencies and bureaus which failed have reacted by declaring more regulations and claiming more power.  Of course, this isyet another example of a phenomenon I predicted long ago... that civilization would depend ever-more upon the resilience of citizens, exactly as it did on 9/11, the Day That Professionalism Failed... or, far better, The Day of the Citizen. (See: The Value and empowerment of common citizens in an age of danger.)

I have spoken about this before dozens of gatherings of skilled members of the Protector Caste, who always nod their heads in sage individual agreement -- and then do nothing about the blatant deficit in our defense scheme -- the lack of any money or effort aimed toward enhancing citizen-level robustness.

 Time after time, you have episodes like this one, in which the day is saved by amateurs... and the professionals thereupon go into a state of frenzied denial of the lesson. Instead we see a capering frenzy aimed at upping screenings and delaying flights and inconveniencing the very group that performed the heroic deed... almost as if citizens were the enemy, and not the fundamental ally and resource that’s needed in order to defend civilization. 

So, shall we simply forge ahead ourselves?  Both Vernor Vinge and I portray futures in which amateurs pool talents and resources to achieve  wonders outseid of normal state-corporate channels.  Devin Murphy points to the latest example. TechShop is a 15,000 square-foot membership-based Coop workshop in Menlo Park that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a creative and supportive community of like-minded people so you can build the things you have always wanted to make.

Will the future come, after all? What are the most significant things that happened over the last decade? Did the 2000s meet our expectations? What are the predictions for the next decade? Listen in to a podcast of a December 2009 interview on National Public Radio (NPR) with best- selling futurist novelists Vernor Vinge and David Brin. promises to sync all your "bookmark" pages for you among all the big search engines and to help find pages by topic. If you search "sci fi authors" my site will come up as #2  - so thanks to all you perceptive lovers of the good stuff!

The Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop moved to UC San Diego, a few years ago, a terrific “save” of a precious institution in SF writing.  Now, Clarion, which is always sliding along the edge of financial ruin, has been given a “challenge grant” by Amazon, which will match a dollar for any dollar that any of YOU happen to donate to this great cause.  Here’s how.  And tell them I sent you! 

Some lovely sf’nal faux historiography, by someone with way too much time on his hands.

Eeek!  Romance author Denise Rossettii has finally captured me with vividly accurate description in Gift of the Goddess  “Huge, dark and enigmatic, Brin wears a tattoo of the holy dragon on his magnificent body. Years of erotic training have given him skills and stamina Anje cannot match. But it's the strength of his will that threatens to conquer her very soul...”   Okay, okay, I admit it.  She nailed it.  That’s me, all right.  I've been found out. Sigh.

Interesting discussion of risk analysis of a potential CERN black hole, with more general applications to any low probability / high-impact risk.

In the 1970’s, members of The British Interplanetary Society completed a 5 year design study into an unmanned interstellar probe which was to engage in a fly-by of Barnard's star. The maximum theoretical speed of Daedalus was 12% of lightspeed, and the one way trip would take approximately 50 years.  Now have a look at the next stage: 'Project Icarus: son of Daedalus - flying closer to another star'. There are some, it seems, who still yearn for tomorrow.

Terrific Halloween costume!  I wonder where he got the idea!!!

Speaking of which...   Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.  Ah, but would you believe that I - of all people - am cautious about taking this step.  Indeed, I think it may be wrong for dolphins. 

The vital Orbiting Carbon Observatory  -- led by my friend, planetary atmospheres guy, David Crisp -- seems about to be resurrected after an earlier version crashed back to Earth in February when its launch vehicle failed. (BTW... Dave is one of dozens of atmospheric scientists who I know personally... not eighth-hand... who know for a fact that the climate is changing and that humanity is involved.  Name the atmospheric scientist you know, personally, who disagrees.)

Ghostbusters, False Prophets, Phoney Psychics, and all Members of the Paranormal - Here Come PARAGATORS! (Somebody look into these guys and report back to us.)

What English sounds like to those who don't speak it. Hilarious sendup

  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair, quoted by Paul Krugman in the New York Times.  According to Tech-business guru Mark Anderson: “This has long been one of my favorite quotes; it explains about half of human behavior – and almost ALL of ExxonMobil’s.”

But Jared Diamond - author of COLLAPSE - disagrees.  I have long considered Diamond both brilliant and dispeptic.  But he is indisputably on-target, most of the time.  Here, he shows how capitalism is perfectly compatible with the move toward sustainable practices... if the businessmen are genuinely smart.

Stewart Brand “splits”  the Global Climate Change imbroglio into four groups, not two. “The calamatists and denialists are primarily political figures, with firm ideological loyalties, whereas the warners and skeptics are primarily scientists, guided by ever-changing evidence. That distinction between ideology and science not only helps clarify the strengths and weaknesses of the four stances, it can also be used to predict how they might respond to future climate developments.“ 

My cousin Andrew Stone helped create a report about the potential effects of truly unleashed entrepreneurialism, if problems of bad law and aristoicratic privilege are overcome in the Developing World. 

By generating both biofuel oil and ethanol, tobacco has the potential to produce more energy per hectare than any other non-food crop.

“Much of the debate in the West about Islam views the religion as a monolith. Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who died on December 30, 2009, could not have disagreed more. In his view, there are two very different forms of Islam — one Wahhabi-inspired and the other humanitarian.”  See a concise & fascinating list of these differences. 

And an interesting piece suggesting that our “lost decade” is already behind us. 

===== SCIENCE BIT =====

The magnetic north pole had moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year. In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year. A rapidly shifting magnetic pole means that magnetic-field maps need to be updated more often to allow compass users to make the crucial adjustment from magnetic north to true North.

======= AND FINALLY ======

 Satan's Garage Sale By Tom Cahill --  Not long ago, Satan happily realized there were enough politicians, banksters, and corportists in the world doing his work and that at long last, he could retire.  So he decided to sell his collection of the tools of his nefarious trade.   He invited the public to preview the tools in his garage the Friday night before the sale.

Murder, Theft,  Corruption, Lying, Greed, Hypocrisy, Intolerance, Blasphemy, Vanity, Temptation-all had price tags that were reasonable to the mostly legislators, bankers, businessmen, attorneys,  lobbyists et all attending the preview.

But one seemingly insignificant tool was priced way above all the rest combined.  When the CEO of a large US investment firm asked Satan why, the Devil replied, "This one works when all others fail."  The name on the price tag was "Discouragement."