Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seasteading: Some Problems on the way to Castle Sovereign

Inspired by Ayn Rand, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, along with Patri Friedman and others, are helping the Seasteading Institute plan a floating 'start-up country' off the coast of San Francisco -- built on oil-rig like platforms in international waters. Here residents will be able to live by Libertarian ideals, free of regulation, laws, and the welfare state.

A few thoughts? I've been pondering this and related concepts for a very long time (see below).  The seasteading model has many aspects that need to be decrypted, in a spirit of due diligence.

Look, I say all of this not out of unfriendliness... I know Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman and a lot of their cohorts. In fact, I quite like the guys, though I think they have a romantic view of history and human nature.  Nothing wrong with that! Frankly, I don't mind the experiment.  Heck, if they ask (and they should), I'll even advise them.

My next novel -- EXISTENCE -- portrays just such a seasteading colony, in some detail. Still, there are many things to consider.

1- The core aim is to escape meddling by any modern states - mostly advanced enlightenment democracies, with their heavy taxes and regulations, while seasteader owner members will still retain full, web-accessed control of their investment portfolios and dividend incomes from those societies. This anisotropy of flow in information, income and influence may be difficult to maintain. It will be necessary to exert great influence on those democracies (the current program) since they have big navies and they influence Law of the Sea jurisprudence. 

Taking a step-back, big history perspective, the model we're talking about here is an age-old, classic one -- using one's current high status to maintain fat channels of influence and control in one direction and money flow in the other, while preventing influence and control from going inconvenient ways.  It used to be the uncontested human norm; indeed, this aim may be woven in our genes. But in the context of enlightenment liberal democracy, it may be quite a challenge, especially given the bad press that will inherently swarm over such a project. A substantial fraction of the top U.S. monied caste will have to buy into the concept and use its sway with the same fierce effectiveness that it has in the first decade of the century.

That first decade seems to suggest bright prospects.  In addition to altering U.S. law to make it top-friendly, many in the upper castes  are already engaged in different kinds of offshoring - e.g. distributing/caching profits in Swiss-style accounts and Patagonian mega ranches. If seasteading is viewed as a variation on this theme, one can see why these smart fellows are betting with good odds. There's no doubt that other, much bigger players are watching and offering encouragement.

(Side note: Want irony? The rising oligarchies of non-democratic nations may become crucial allies, for two reasons. First, these clades have even greater influence over their home nations than western billionaires have in theirs, perhaps enough to cause those nations to apply their legal standing in international bodies in ways that help protect autonomy for the proposed neo-sovereignties. See more on the issue of legal standing, below.

(Reciprocally, seasteads may look like good places to build backup homes, in case the status situation ever changes, back home. For both reasons, we can expect substantial developing world involvement, even if the ideas and know-how start out as pure-yankee.)

2- This business plan has to compete with an older and more reliable one: when you want an "offshore" country of your own, simply buy one that already exists. One with built-in labor pools and reliable fresh water supplies.  Of course, this isn't as easy as it was in other eras. Latin America used to be ripe for bought caudillos.  Nowadays, you can still purchase 10,000 acre ranches and whole villages... but rising education levels help make underclasses uppity, filling them with lawyers. There's always Burma and Benin... still, one can see why "build-your-own" starts to have appeal.

3- Now, in fairness, this may not only be an option for the rich! In my 1989 novel EARTH I portray a floating nation, composed mostly of the poor and dispossessed, taking to international waters out of desperation, led by the "Swiss Navy."  You'll have to read to understand the why and how. (Pretty clever, some think!) In any event, such a rabble of "SeaStaters" might be of concern to the more elevated SeaSteaders, for reasons we'll get to.

4- The ocean is a harsh and dangerous environment. Corrosive to metal and other parts. Your shiny paradise soon looks like Waterworld. This is non-trivial in so many ways. Especially in an era when most of the intellectual castes you need for solving the problem - from scientists to engineers to ... well, every other professional clade... are turning hostile to the Randian message. (Name one of them that isn't under relentless attack by the murdochian branch of the press. Name even one.) 

This new state must be high tech and relentlessly maintained by skilled labor, so finding a way to bridge the growing memic divide will be essential. Instead of offending or waging war on professional castes, getting the "boffins" to buy in will take subtle understanding, and psychology. Still, history suggests that it's inevitable. For example, read up on how Machiavelli and Galileo -- originally populist radicals -- became willing servants of their oligarchs.  In EXISTENCE, I portray some of the advanced techniques, arguments and buy-ins that may solve the "boffin gap" in coming decades.

5- A related matter. When you are at sea, facing nature's full brunt, including typhoons and corrosion and threats of all kinds, the daily details of running the place will be neither anarchic nor democratic.  There will be a captaincy... though it possibly might be AI-based in order to be neutral.  Nevertheless, if 6000 years of seafaring history is any judge, there'll be a captain.

Now, there is potential compatibility with libertarian values! Commercial vessels have long distinguished between the policy authority of owners and the tactical supremacy of the captain. The former can fire the latter, any time they like. Under whatever covenant or constitution they set up, the owners of a SeaStead will have Locke's recourse of rebellion against the authority they allocate. Still I wager it will wind up being more complicated, onerous and problematic than they now envision.

6- Clearly there is a shortcut through all the red tape and other dangers. I portray it in EXISTENCE. That trick is to forge alliances with already-existing small, island states. Places like Tonga, Vanuatu, etc are currently terrified of being literally wiped off the map by rising seas. What I show in the novel is an alliance with rich seasteaders that allows them to build their initial pillared paradises on land that is currently relatively dry and already sovereign.

What do the islanders get, in return? Why, the promise of participation - indeed, continued "existence" - as their reefs and beaches gradually drown! Buy the novel (coming in June) to see it illustrated.

7- But let's return to the SeaSteads that start de novo, on some submerged sea mount or patch of open sea. Here's a crucial question.

If you reject the democracies, then will you call them for help, when an armed gang comes to simply take over your sovereign land, by right of conquest?  Perhaps with the fig leaf excuse of a "revolution" of the proletariat of sub minimum wage servants? Or else rationalizing that strength, cunning and will are the only righteous justifications required? (Ayn Rand personally repudiated violence; but those who espouse her core principle don't always agree with that part.) A Sea State of refugees is the least of many sources of such danger.  

Whatever defensive arrangements you've made - there is always some combination of force and cleverness and treachery that can overcome it.  So plan well! Then subject the plan to critique.

8- Otoh the whole thing might be done with superb skill. If all concerns, including environmental ones, are solved (these are clever fellows, after all) we might very well see not only the rise of several dozen unique sovereignties but also wondrous spinoffs -- subsidized technological developments that could benefit us all -- as I portray in that coming novel.

Piece of advice? Instead of emphasizing the tax-avoidance aspect (a meme which I predict will bite its promoters back, very hard, in the near future), I'd rather see the emphasis be on freedom to do social experiments.  Feminist enclaves?  Polygamous or polyamorous paradise? A haven for drug experimentation? For genetic self-mod or for bureaucracy-minimized space launch? A place of self-exile for sex-offenders? A MYOB festival? Hey, these things will resonate with public opinion, helping build support. Diversity is the thing, right?

I admit I am less keen on aspects that simply replicate the feudal castles that all our ancestors had to look up at, on the hill... and now at sea... where the lords got to evade all accountability while holding us to our many obligations to them. I asked Patri Friedman if he realized his aim was to re-create that feudal castle... still living off proceeds from the surrounding country. He changed the subject. But isn't that what it boils down to?

There are design elements that can solve this. Positive-sum ways to both achieve their goals and retain fealty to the overall civilization that engendered their fine lives.  I hope these fellows intend to create something cool, that combines the best elements and prevents the worst. 

CODA: The Real Reason for this venture 

Remember, these are smart fellows and they can see what you cannot. The "totally autonomous separation" thing is (as we've seen) just polemic. But there's another reason I think they are doing this. Indeed, the deep-down legal subtext is never mentioned. 

They're are doing this not in order to escape government, but because we on Planet Earth appear to be heading, inexorably, toward a world government (WG). 

Um... Brin just said... what?

Yes, I said world government (WG).  Let me explain before you... oh, too late! Well, anybody who covers his eyes and ears at this point, shouting "nah!" is simply in denial.

Look at the charts. The rate by which the international civil service (the equivalent of government "departments") is growing in size and reach. Next see how quickly nations are accepting the legally binding authority of international tribunals, such as the World Trade Court. 

Sure, the most blatant and visible parts of a WG are slow in coming, in part because American citizens would go into screaming heebie-jeebies if we saw executive and legislative branches coalescing at the same pace. But the other two branches - the bureaucracy and courts - are taking shape with startling speed.

Elsewhere, I may explain how I see the executive and legislative aspects of WG happening faster than anyone could presently expect. And no, I'm not talking about alien invasion or some "unifying threat from the outside" or any other cliche.  It is a really surprising scenario and one that cannot conceivably be stopped. Because it falls into place trivially, even organically, over the next 30 years. No matter what Americans say. 

(Hint: it has almost nothing to do with the UN! Indeed if Americans want to have a say in the design of the coming WG, we had better start thinking about it and speaking up, instead of staying in frantic denial! Disclaimer... as an American, I feel distaste toward what is forming. Believe me, nearly all Yanks - left or right - are totally creeped out by this notion. I just have the guts to look it in the eye.)

Okay, so how do I connect these dots back to the grand plan to create artificial sovereignties at sea?  How to reconcile the surficial Seasteader mantra of autonomy from all governments, with the  fact that smart guys like Peter Thiel and his colleagues can see WG looming on the horizon?  How will Seasteading help them, in such a world? 

The answer is to be found in a phrase I highlighted earlier. Legal Standing. Because of the way that WG is forming on Planet Earth... with the judiciary and bureaucracy first and the legislature last... the chief effect is to ensure that individual humans have no legal standing before international agencies. Only sovereign nations have standing, can file suit, negotiate treaties, assert rights and privileges.

There are many aspects to this situation. For example, it is what has allowed most people - especially Americans - to pretend in their minds that everything is still "international" and not planetary.  As I said, the psychology of all this is delicate, nervous and fraught.

But here's the crux. If they can establish a dozen or so new, sea-based national entities, to stand alongside the 200 or so that already exist, then the SeaSteaders will be in the same position as the original founders of the New York or London Stock Exchanges.

They will have inheritable or negotiable "seats" -- a grandfathered position of "standing" allowing them to step up before WG bodies representing the interests of millions of clients. Large and small.

Think this is about autonomy? Or feudal privilege? Or social experimentation? Naw. These guys are smarter than that.

It's about getting in on the ground floor of the 21st century's great new business frontier.*

*You heard/read about it here first.  Remember that, when it is common knowledge and the way of power, a generation from now.

See also: Libertarians and Conservatives Must Choose: Competitive Enterprise or Idolatry of Property

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Odd Items From The (Possible) Future

I have a number of coherent essays almost ready, but first let’s clear the decks with some interesting miscellany!

--Waste on a Vast Scale--

About $360 million spent by the United States on combat support and reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan ended up in enemy hands. The U.S. military said the money was handed down by contractors to "the Taliban, criminals and local power brokers with ties to both."  The military awarded at least 20 companies about $1 billion worth of contracts and suspended seven contractors it said lacked "integrity and business ethics."

The Post reports: “I think we've finally got our arms around this thing," said a senior military officer who was authorized to discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity. The new contracts, the official said, were the result of a year's worth of "intelligence work and asking the right questions. We're now starting to take action." Congressional investigators determined last year that much of the transport and security money went to the Taliban and Afghan warlords as part of a protection racket to ensure the safe arrival of the convoys, conclusions that were confirmed this spring by military and intelligence inquiries.

Oh, but this pales next to the $12 Billion (with a “B”) dollars in raw cash (!) that Cheney and Rumsfeld sent to Iraq (21 Hercules cargo planes loaded with shrink-wrapped cash) -- which simply disappeared… not only from our possession or our books, but from the memories of those who should be outraged.

---Privacy and Paranoia---

Minority Report in real life? Here’s a news item that leads into a tiny, mini-rant about Steven Spielberg’s cool movie from a few years ago.  Should we put the masses of data as our disposal to better use than predicting what movie people would like? Risk assessment tools have had some success in predicting rates of recidivism, and are used by parole boards. But should people be penalized for actual crimes committed – or the statistical likelihood of committing more crimes?

I have a world of respect for Steven Spielberg, whose deep-seated gratitude toward civilization shines in every film. I found Minority Report logical and very well-done.  I loved especially that this film did not portray a tyranny!  The people weren't afraid of the government. It was theirs to command... though they were consenting to things you and I would find creepy!

One thing about Minority Report, though. Spielberg does commit one huge "idiot plot" assumption. I can see where he had to, for plot reasons. But still, it is huge. In such a world, the punishment for "almost sorta woulda" committing a crime would not be more severe than actually doing it!  It would be a year at a psychiatric evaluation resort... not the cryogenic equivalent of an instant, no-appeal and no-trial death sentence!

Ah well… here’s a must-see: the pilot episode of "The Lone Gunman", an X-Files spinoff which aired  March 4, 2001, on FOX, is eerily predictive of 9/11. Portrays the (remote control) hijacking of a passenger aircraft by a hostile faction in the U.S Government, who attempt to fly it into one of the twin towers! Says the creepy informer: "smack a fully loaded 727 into New York and you'll find a dozen tin-pot dictators all over the world just clamoring to take responsibility, and begging to be smart-bombed."

-- Art Imitating Reality? Or dreams imitating the last 4000 years? –

Inspired by Ayn Rand, PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, along with Patri Friedman and others, are helping fund the Seasteading Institute's plans to establish a floating 'start-up country' off the coast of San Francisco -- built on oil-rig like platforms in international waters. Here residents will be able to live by Libertarian ideals, free of regulation, laws, and the welfare state. I’ll be weighing in on this, later.

My next novel features "Shoresteading" - a different thing, entirely. More about this soon!

-- Transparency Alert --

Apple patents an application that could disable your camera if it thinks you are recording something you don't have permission to.

New targets for Cyberattacks: hackers now hijack cell phones through text-message malware that turns your phone into a botnet. Other potential targets: smart utility meters at home, car computers, GPS receivers, as well as social network spoofing. One protection has always been that most creative people find innovation more interesting than crime. ‘Watch out for these cyberattacks that can turn smartphones into texting botnets, shut off electricity, jam GPS signals and more.”

--At the Intersection of Science and Society--

Does power propel sexual aggressiveness, helping to explain the seemingly endless flow of political and celebrity sex scandals?  Science is investigating.  One recent study had heterosexual students sitting next to a student of the opposite sex. Researcher Maner found that when he gave students a brief feeling of power, "they were more likely to start flirting with the stranger sitting next to them. Men and women alike.”

One reason to get a tongue piercing: it can be fitted with a magnetic stud that allows paralyzed individuals to control their wheelchair by tongue movements.

Smart Contact lenses will diagnose disease, analyze health statistics, deliver drugs and more.

The Talk-o-Meter gives a graphical output of each person's contributions to the conversation. Hm...wonder where I would rank?

-- Technology --

A robot that can run like a human: Designed by the University of Michigan, Robot Mabel is the world's fastest robot with knees, reaching nearly 7 miles per hour.

Very cool! Mini helicopter robots hover mid-air, playing ping pong.

Haptic displays, infinitely configurable virtual keyboards may replace standard keyboards on laptops.

How to make an impression in the business world: Augmented Reality Business Cards with 3D Avatars, spinning cubes, pop-up resumes.

-- Science News --

Outdoing Arecibo, China aims to build the largest radio telescope in the world. They’ve broken ground on FAST, the Five-hundred meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, in a natural depression in Guizhou province. Expected to be operational in 2016, FAST will be able to scan larger sections of the sky than Arecibo and deeper into space/time. Part ot the worldwide Square Km Array. It may also join in the search for extraterrestrial life, even as SETI faces shut downs….And now donors are helping reboot California's Allen Array for SETI.

Diagnostic tattoo. A miniature diagnostic device with the mechanical properties of skin was developed by engineers at the University of Illinois. It can be mounted directly to the wrist or anywhere on the human body for EMG and other measurements. The circuit almost becomes part of the skin as it bends, wrinkles, and stretches.

Ketchup spill? This amazing weird invention picks up viscous materials.

New Nanometal changes from hard to soft at the flip of a switch.

Fascinating progress in antimatter confinement, possibly leading to actual spectroscopic studies of anti-hydrogen.

Could releasing a cloud of tungsten dust help solve the problem of space debris?

Cool picture of a shooting star... seen from the International Space Station.

-- Just for Fun --

How people in science see each other: How do technicians view undergrads, post-docs and professors -- and how do they see each other?

What makes things funny? An ancient question. The Five 5 Leading Theories for Why We Laugh—and the Jokes That Prove Them Wrong.

Goodnight internet. A bedtime story for you and your laptop

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Surveillance and Accountability

Taking it easy on the big socio-political stuff, this time. Prepare for cool bits of science, etc...with just a hint of provocation!

First, for a garrulous ramble that will take you from Pericles to Popper to Pluto - mostly focusing on transparency and accountability and re-learning the art of political pragmatism - here's a recent podcast interview I gave on Surprisingly Free about the future of freedom.  A couple of times I even pause to inhale!

==Surveillance and Accountability==

Through its new “Finder” program, the the intelligence community’s way-out research shop, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) says that it is looking for ways to geolocate (a fancy word for “locate” that implies having coordinates for a place) images by extracting data from the images themselves and using this to make guesses about where they were taken.

More and more digital cameras today don’t just take pictures but also capture what is called  — often referred to as data about data — that can include everything from when the picture was taken to what kind of camera was used to where the it was taken. This metadata, often stored in a format called , can be used by different programs to understand different aspects of the image — and also by intelligence analysts to understand different aspects of the user who took it, and the people who are in it. Like who they are, what they are doing, and where and when they did it.

sousveillance-quote-david-brinYep, it will be a real Big Brother world... unless WE get all these powers too.  In that case, vibrant participatory democracy and citizen action will ensure we can look back at the mighty.  They’ll still see more than we can.  But if we stay anywhere close, then we’ll stay free.  Side-benefit... our protectors shouldn’t mind!  A secular trend toward a more open world may inconvenience them in the short term. But their mission will be more likely, overall, to succeed.

For updates on this timely topic…see a collection of links at: The Transparent Society: Privacy and Accountability in an Age of Increasing Surveillance.

For those of you who enjoyed the vividly entertaining - if somewhat biased - “Rap War between Hayek and Keynes” - it has been taken to Fight of the Century: Part II of an ongoing and enlightening (if grossly oversimplifying) series.  In fact, I am a fan/critic of both of these geniuses, who made major contributions. My one quibble is that it says nothing about the FOLLOWERS of Hayek vs those of Keynes. Alas, those who proclaim Hayek tend to use him to justify things he never would have gone along with, like the fostering of a vast oligarchy-caste. Keynes, too, has some dogmatic followers. But most tend to be pragmatist meddlers who modify as facts come in. (e.g. Bill Clinton paying down debt during good times.) Alas, this is where the real struggle lies, not in the core ideas of two brilliant men.

== Is your politics brain-predestined?==

No wonder some folks are waging a War on Science. ”Using data from MRI scans, researchers at the University College London found that self-described liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex--a gray matter of the brain associated with understanding complexity. Meanwhile, self-described conservatives are more likely to have a larger amygdala, an almond-shaped area that is associated with fear and anxiety.”  ... "It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions." More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude."

Only now comes a more broad description of brain differences among political personality types, from Scientific American: The Ideology of No.  Share this one!

And finishing with a veer from the sublime (science) to the ridiculous... see a fascinating essay on Ayn Rand as the religious figure whose apostle-dad ruined his kids’ childhoods.  An interesting perspective on the most-distinctly Russian of all American gurus.

SMBC is a great online comic strip that often comments on scientific matters....but see especially this panel that makes you both laugh & think. Especially since I’m active in trying to talk foolish radio-exhibitionists out of exposing themselves (and us) compulsively to the cosmos.

==Addiction & Evolution ==

vaccination against heroin addiction? Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and his colleagues have created a vaccine cocktail that consists of a heroin-like hapten – a molecule that provokes the immune system – bound to a carrier protein and mixed with alum, an adjuvant that further stimulates the immune system. The vaccine trains the immune system to swarm heroin molecules with antibodies, as though the drug were an invasive organism, thereby sequestering the drug in the bloodstream before it can reach the brain.

Another group in Baltimore (NIDA) gave rodent addicts a drug that binds the CB-2 cannabinoid receptors in the brain, inhibiting dopamine activity and thereby blunting the cocaine high.
Mice who received the anti-cocaine drug pushed the cocaine lever less frequently and did not scurry around as much as their high peers.  Of course all of this relates to one of my ongoing interests... the general notion that addiction is a process that we got from evolution.

==Science in the News==

NASA's WISE mission found a 'Trojan' asteroidsharing Earth's orbit. We've used other "lagrange" positions (sunward and spaceward) for telescopes. But the trojan spots -60degrees ahead or behind- could hold valuable rocks, predictably accessible and sources of great wealth.

Are biologists ready to "make" life? By some measures, they have! Other steps - self-replicating and evolving molecules - seem to say we're getting very close to that 'Frankenstein' spark that separates inanimate from living. Fascinating article.

Recent films... No, I haven’t been to see the one with clever apes.  I suppose I’m missing a beat, by not publishing an article about Uplift and the dismal Hollywood reflex of despising science.  On the other hand, I recommend the film SOURCE CODE. Not bad for very low-budget sci fi. Science isn’t evil and the gimmicks make a little sense.

Deserving your support... A bipartisan political action committee called Ben Franklin’s List, aims to help engineers and scientists need to win office. Now, among the 435 members of the House include one physicist, 6 engineers, and 22 people with medical training. Shameful for an advanced civilization. (Did you know almost all the leaders of China started as engineers? Ponder that.) The "war on science" must stop.

And disturbing -- 20 million hectares of the best farmland in Africa have been sold by government out from under local farmers to companies from rich countries, notably China and Saudi Arabia to produce food for export back home.

Some of these visions of tomorrow are as bad as the sarcastically-cynical writer of the article yells... and I think people will not want to touch all those touch screens other people have been touching.  There are lots of other ways to do augmented reality.  Still. dive into the article and play the videos! (All right, #4  #2 and #1 are pretty dumb. But #5 and #3 have real content.)

A very beautiful short film -- winner of a competition restricted to six lines of dialog. Have a look!

And now a swerve into painful humor! See the annual Bulwer-Lyton contest for deliberately BAD WRITING!

Food/medicines/industry use beef/pork gelatin with some allergy & other probs. Now yeast with inserted human genes make better gelatin! "Human derived.". Is it vegetarian? Vegan? Cannibalism? Offer it to zombies or vampires? Oh, the commercials...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Solution isn't Left or Right. It's Citizenship

=== Either Read Adam Smith or Stop Misquoting Him ===

Adam Smith is often cited by people on the neoconservative right, who call him a founding father of modern markets and competitive/creative capitalism. That is correct so far.

Only, when pressed, you’ll find that none of these folks have ever actually read “The Wealth of Nations” or “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” or indeed, anything Smith actually wrote.

Hence, lately, I’ve been urging everybody - liberal or conservative - with an attention span greater than a gnat’s to actually crack open what truly are among the founding documents of our Enlightenment revolution. The Wealth of Nations -- is now available online.

 Published in the very special year 1776, “Wealth of Nations,” certainly does praise competition as the great driver of innovation, productivity, prosperity and human uplift. Smith derides the notion of an extensively planned economy as ultimately foolhardy -- a case proved relentlessly by the failures of Leninist-socialist states. Thus far, he seems at least compatible with an older breed of conservatives and moderate libertarians, like Barry Goldwater.

Indeed, lest there be any confusion, try reading my book: The Transparent Society: Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? whose core point is that openness and transparency empower us to hold each other accountable, through democracy, science and markets.  Competition (that’s kept moderate and human) truly is the great, creative process. Just as a less gentle version propels evolution.

So, why do I maintain that today Adam Smith would be a Democrat?  Try reading his actual words. Smith says many things that would shock and inconvenience those oversimplifying dogmatists who use his name in vain.  For example, he knew that oligarchy was the great enemy of freedom and of competition, across 99% of human cultures and 5,000 years. Think about that, next time you are tempted by the (oligarch-subsidized) line that the only foe of freedom is civil servants.

=== Civil Servants are the Only Threat? Really? ===

All of which leads into my first suggested link... to the blog of Kent Pitman,  who in turn describes a most-disturbing trend, in Sociopaths by Proxy:

“At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R. J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs -- all Republican state legislators -- to approve "model" legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC).

“There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

". . . ALEC apparently ignores (Adam) Smith's caution that bills and regulations from business must be viewed with the deepest skepticism. In his book, "," Smith urged that any law proposed by businessmen "ought always to be listened to with great precaution . . . It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

Have a look at the whole posting.  Very interesting stuff.  It is part of a long indictment of the current version of conservatism, from an entirely conservative perspective.

=== Who Generally Saves The Day? ===

Likewise, my complaints about the gun lobby come from the pragmatic middle, not any leftie slant. I am no anti-gun fanatic who fears and loathes firearms. Indeed, I have some extended experience with them.  Moreover I think that a balanced compromise would entail protecting a particular kind of weapon ownership to a very strong and permanently Constitutional degree. There is a level where the gun lobby’s fanatical overkill fear of a “slippery slope” is actually rooted in a valid concern about possible erosion of Jefferson’s “Insurrectionary recourse” and I think those on the left are fools to ignore this concern. Another area where Barry Goldwater and I might have gotten along... while both of us look appalled on recent changes to his hijacked movement. 

Still, recent crazed-mass-killer shootings, like the attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Phoenix and the slaughter of eighty young people in Norway brought out the loony-tunes arguments, again. “One bystander armed with a concealed carry pistol could have ended this,” Rush Limbaugh opined. “The problem isn’t too many guns, but too few!”

This argument has deep roots in science fiction, in an aphorism pushed by John W. Campbell that “an armed society is a polite society...” based on a romantic view of the Wild West that had no basis in historical fact.  But Robert Heinlein toyed with the notion in one of his best novels BEYOND THIS HORIZON. The assertion certainly has some romantic allure. And I freely admit that, if we were all armed to apply deadly force at an instant’s whim, there would be changes!  Very rapidly, in just a few bloody generations, we would evolve as a species to become more polite! (As the indignant nuts quickly wiped themselves out.) But one has only to live for a while in any slum on Earth to know how absurd the statement is, today in the real world.

Anyway, the mantra is especially inappropriate after one of these mass-killings by crazed gunmen, spraying bullets in all directions, slaying dozens. These events always end in one of three ways: 

(1) police intervention, 
(2) the gunman’s suicide or 
(3) the shooter being tackled by some brave bystander while he reloads. 

The closest that such an event ever came to Limbaugh’s scenario and the only known example of an armed civilian shooting and stopping a mass-killer was... “a lesbian, defending a church that had rejected her."  (Read the article and be amazed that life keep spilling such ironies at us!)

Nevertheless, on reading further about that event, I see that she was actually on duty that day, as a part-time volunteer security guard.  Still a heroic civilian jumping into action.  But her status was not perfectly that of an armed-surprised bystander. The record is still clear. There has never, ever been a single case of an American bystander, armed with a concealed-carry weapon, who leaped in and used that weapon to bring down a crazed mass-shooter. Again - most such mad shooters have been brought down by un-armed heroic bystanders, who charged the gunman while he was changing ammo.

The crux? Recent horrific death tolls, in Norway and in the Arizona Gifford's Massacre, were all attributable to the huge ammo magazines that prevented heroes from taking action. Magazines that are indefensible for any conceivable reason except for mass murder.

Seriously. Other than the “slippery slope” catch-all... that ANY restriction will lead to total confiscation... is there any reason why the owner of a weapon shouldn’t have to change clips more often than once a day?

=== Final Political Note ===

Somebody get this book and report back about it? (Under comments.) The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle For The Head: Why Democrats Suck At Communication, And How They Could Improve. by Barry Eisler.  From the descriptions, it would seem that his complaint is valid.. but his advice may be the opposite of what I've recommended for years.

Look, I hold no truck with the argument that conservatives are bad because they aren’t liberals. That’s just stupid. And yelling liberal aphorisms is no antidote to conservative ones... or even crazed neoconservative ones.

No. The case should be made that the GOP has betrayed conservatism, betrayed libertarianism, betrayed markets and betrayed even their own rhetoric.  Give us Goldwaters and Buckleys again... noble conservatives who admired the human intellect instead of waging war against it…

...and we’d have a society that negotiates, again. And the pragmatic, problem solving result will include insights from a kind of ‘right’ that was often right.

==And finally...==

GreatestSFReadingLIst1. See NPR's selection of the 100 best science fiction and fantasy novels! The candidates include older works by Wells, Verne, Brunner, Dick, and Bester, as well as titles by Gaiman, Bear, Banks, Cherryh, and well as a list of my own personal favorites.

2. I'm notorious for urging calm and compromise but on one issue I'm a loud fanatic - citizens need a full right to record all their encounters with authority. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose. See the latest: "Fifteen years in prison for taping police." I admire many cops and don't mind their new powers to see. But they must also get used to ours.

3. See: Our new gilded age - need any more proof than this? Now ask yourselves this?  Why is the federal government actively subsidizing the golden age of “corporate” or private or luxury-charter jet travel?  As the wealthy and corporate elite abandon commercial airlines in favor of elite VIP terminals - (the only people riding “first class” anymore are frequent flier upgrades) - the rest of us must endure declining service and TSA Hell. History shows that a mode of travel always deteriorates right after the rich abandon it. Should the federal government be subsidizing this change?