Monday, January 02, 2012

Immortality, Theology and Art

First (and least) let's talk briefly about "immortality." I have found myself forced, pretty often, to weigh in on the topic of lifespan extension.

Now, in Scientific American online, David Stipp  speaks up for anti-aging research, proclaiming that the time is right to put serious government money into combating the universal slayer of all human beings, the "inevitable" decay brought on by passing years.

Dr. Stipp is correct in predicting that aging will be a realm for increasing attention from researchers. However, his optimism for quick results may be unfounded. He cites very iffy reasons to expect progress to be easy. Yes, it has proved possible to alter and extend the mean lifespans of study populations of flies and mice through various means. Rapamycin is one such trigger. Other researchers have achieved notable results by delaying sex and reproduction and/or via caloric restriction – limiting test subjects to nutritious but very-spare diets.

So far, alas, scattered attempts by human beings to emulate all this – (by limiting themselves to ascetic lifestyles) – have shown little or no appreciable anti-aging effects. (And some have been trying the experiment on themselves for decades.) I’ll be very surprised if those impulsive folks now dosing themselves with rapamycin will achieve anything, either.

Think. For at least 4000 years there have been ascetic monastic communities that would have stumbled, by now, into any “thin-diet” approach for 200 year lifespans.

In my article, Do We Really Want Immortality? I’ve gone into about a dozen reasons why our search for youth elixers will be hard and grindingly slow. Human beings are very different from mice, or even apes, for reasons that may surprise you.

Essentially it’s this. We have already plucked all the low-hanging fruit. Every easily-accessible molecular/chemical "switch" that could extend human lifespan has already been thrown! Because during the Stone Age we became the only animals to need grandparents, hanging around with stores of useful knowledge. Hence, we are already the methuselahs of mammals, getting THREE TIMES the usual number of heartbeats.

The mouse results consist largely of throwing the same easy switches for them - making them (the mice) be more like us.

It is going to be a lot harder to go the other direction. To make us humans more like gods.


== Shallow Theology ==

And now, from the sublime to the... much less sublime.  Okay, so the Kepler Planet-hunter Telescope has ID'd hundreds of exoplanets, many of them quasi-earthlike in one attribute or another, some perhaps even offering conditions conducive of life. Wonderful stuff and such exciting times!  Ah, but now a writer for the Institute for Creation Research surprisingly reacts with honest openness, avowing that “this (any discovery of extraterrestrial life) would vindicate evolution and nullify creation” for “the Bible describes only the earth as being habitable.”

Ten points for unusual willingness to face honest tests!

And minus 100 for shallow theology. I know dozens of pros/cons. Shouldn't he?

Many of the finest theological thinkers - Jesuits, protestants, rabbis - have opined about extraterrestrial intelligence, in the context of basic Christian doctrine.  C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet posited that God might have many created innumerable intelligent species, but that only a few of these -- notably humanity -- fell from their natural state of grace, necessitating a savior. Other Christian deep-thinkers have pondered that perhaps the creation of intelligence always necessitates some kind of “fall.” In which case, Jesus has been very busy, visiting and preaching and sacrificing himself in countless forms to save vast numbers of worthwhile races who possess their own versions of souls and minds.

Or else... according to other, newer Christian thinkers... might it be behooved upon human beings to be the messengers who forge outward to the cosmos and deliver the good news of faith and salvation that originated at Calvary? You can see that there's a wide variety of alternatives to the simpleminded (if remarkably honest) writer's avowal that any ET life would smash the Bible to bits!

Of course all of these are deep thoughts arising out of a basic premise - Original Sin - that I consider to be grotesque and preposterous and, indeed, a most-foul insult to God, portraying him as a petty, vengeful little egotist -- about right for a cramped, pathetic little cosmos, a mere 60 centuries in length. But no match for the deity who set in motion a vast multiverse of fourteen thousand million years and more worlds than any human mind could ever conceive.

While I look askance upon the entire worldview, which snubs the very idea of a capable and loving God, I do find it fascinating to parse all the sub-set ideas that naturally emerge from that mythos.  Lewis and the others were anything but stupid!

Certainly the “let’s go interstellar and spread the word" Christians are more likable and bearable than those yearning for a nasty, genuinely satanic Book of Revelation apocalypse.

Still, even for those dim enough to want the sad-cramped “creation” while believing fervently in the (deeply wrong) notion of a spiteful God, even for them, there are so many possibilities and options.  Alas, such thinking as sunk low since Lewis. Part of the modern allergy among the faithful, toward anything remotely resembling ambitious thought.

== Will We Abandon Outer Space for Inner? ==

With my new novel EXISTENCE I plumb deeply into the problem of altruism or loyalty in robots and AI.  Isaac Asimov dealt with the issue by positing his famous Three Laws of Robotics... then decrypting over the years many ways that such rigid rules might go wrong. Now Swiss researchers have used virtual robotic simulations to gradually “evolve” cooperative or altruistic traits, by allowing robots to sacrifice themselves in order to ensure successful kin. They found “greater food-sharing in groups where robots were more related.... The more closely related the robots, the quicker they cooperated. It shows how general the [theory] is, whether you are an insect, a human or a robot..."

Meanwhile, to see where all this may lead (at the super-optimistic end) have a look at this essay by one of the smartest guys I know... John Smart... who believes he knows the answer to the Fermi Paradox or the universal Great Silence among the stars. That all advanced civilizations discover the unlimited joys and opportunities of Inner Space!  Getting small. Whereupon any individual might access (subjectively) infinite resources and accomplish almost anything.

Well, anything except travel to the stars.  John deems that a cold, sterile and fruitless occupation, certain to repel most sapients, once they sample the glories within. “How are you gonna keep them out in the sky, once they’ve seen InnerSpace?”  In fact, I am skeptical of this explanation for the Great Silence.  It is a version of the Honey Pot hypothesis... that something becomes so alluring to ALL sapient-techno races that none of them forges forth to conquer the galaxy.

It had better be a damned effective honey pot! Because that one exception... say a ship full of Hell’s Angels who despise all that cyber crap and colonize another solar system... could be the one seed of like-minded descendants to fill the star-lanes.

Moreover, this hypothesis ignores the high likelihood that sophonts will want to at least learn about alien races, other cultures, other ways and strange entertainments, far across the great vacuum desert. Even after committing themselves to vast inner-cyber realms, they might still send emissaries, of the general type that I portray in Existence - crystalline worldlets containing their own immensities, though only a meter or less in size and durable enough to cross the empty interstellar realm.

Those who are wise will not abandon the objective universe, altogether, but will find ways to reach across it. To embrace vastness, as well as the voluptuously small.

===  Let’s Discuss Modern Art! ===

And now  --  for something completely different -- here is a capsule review... more a set of impressions ... from when the renowned scultptor John Powers escorted Cheryl and me through several Chelsea art shows, last October. Especially striking was the display of vast sheets of wavy, undulating metal created by Richard Serra and shown at Gagosian Gallery on West 24th Street. The title of the show was: "Junction/Cycle".

I appreciate it when an artist compels shifts in perspective and this exhibit made me change gears several times. Obviously the forms imitate geological caverns and canyons of the American Southwest, river-carved and river-smoothed, sinuous and snake-like. I could almost hear western music by Sergio Leone while I strolled along! Only then my attention might shift-zoom onto the texture of the piece. Squint and you might feel you were looking at fine wood that had been bent and twisted and deliciously tormented into wavy forms, to suit the artist's whim: a dead tree's final life as display-testament, exposing its inner grain for admiration.

Whereupon the engineer in me took over, imagining the process that the artist used, squeezing warm metal through rollers at high, screaming pressure, rollers deliberately set off-kilter, at-once defying the prim evenness of science and industry ... but also proclaiming industry's power and flexibility. "These methods can do much more than merely produce cars and buildings, cities, ships and vessels of space," he seems to say. Industry can be taught to twist, adapting itself and its processes for art's sake.  Feminizing its methods by veering from masculine-utilitarian linearity to a voluptuous, sensually and sensuously feminine unpredictability and curvature.  "See what industry and metal can do?" the artist seems to say. It can turn out complex forms that seem organic. That seem to live.

My final impression came while looking closely at the scratches, lines and patterns that - from a greater distance - had given me a woodgrain sensation.  Up close I could almost hear this metal groaning between the rollers, as the artist subtly added torsion or twist. And (I expect) tossed in extra substances to stain the friction-heated panels that emerged.  He must have really enjoyed that part.  I'd have liked to see the expression on his face, accompanied by sound -- the sweet-torture shriek as both the metal and the rollers pretended to complain.

For John's take on the exhibit, see his blog at Star Wars Modern. Thanks for the tour, John. And here’s to the kind of synergy of art and tech that opens up the universe of possibilities!

150 comments:

Robert said...

Here is the link to a fun video I posted earlier on an interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson by Stephen Colbert (with questions from the audience). It's an hour and twenty minutes, but is definitely worth listening to.

Rob H.

Steg said...

Many of the finest theological thinkers - Jesuits, protestants, rabbis - have opined about extraterrestrial intelligence, in the context of basic Christian doctrine.


Rabbis ... Christian doctrine?

David Brin said...

After 2000 years, rabbis have learned they gotta grapple with even concepts as dreadful and insulting-to-God as Original Sin.

BTW guys... I am trawling through old notes. Did I ever post my mini essay about Orson Scott Card's loathsome afterword to his novel EMPIRE?

Nicholas MacDonald said...

Hey...

Wright's new novel, Count to a Trillion, proposes another solution (and a very interesting one at that, and one I've long thought correct- though Wright admits to not actually believing, himself). We're surrounded by evidence of advanced life- we just don't recognize it as such. (Those "red supergiants" that are conveniently the same size as the habitable belt of a yellow dwarf star? Dyson spheres leaking heat. You don't think that black hole at the center of the galaxy is natural, do you?)

It's Wright's response to Clarke's law- any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature!

Personally, I think we're a seed growing into something that will be as comprehensible to us as we are to the cells of our body, and life is a natural process with cosmic consequences not yet realized.

David Brin said...

Nicholas... you stumbled into the only acceptable (to me) excuse for the "question of pain" or why a God who is omniscient, omnipotent and loving would allow injustice.

If WE individuals are not the thing. WE as a species are.

Tony Fisk said...

I recall watching last year's catholic christmas carol service and being gobsmacked when Cardinal Pell started warning against looking for life on other planets...

Other interesting sf tales with religious overtones are Clarke's 'The Star' (of Betleham being a Supernova that wiped out the residents) and Anderson's ' The Problem of Pain' (wherein Christianity and Ythrian religion mesh and clash with tragic results)

TheMadLibrarian said...

I'm not sure I want true immortality, so much as treatments or methods that will allow people to live out their lives healthy, active, and degeneration free. Then let us go the way of the 'wonderful one-horse shay', and spend as little time as possible in physical and mental collapse. How many people have seen loved ones or respected elders decline into senility and frailty long before the physical plant gives up? I'd much rather be guaranteed that I'll get my 80 or 100 years and enjoy all of it, rather than spend a chunk of the end of it confined to a nursing home.

TheMadLibrarian

stack: O RLY? You're slacking there...

François Marcadé said...

Let me try to defend St Paul.

The story of the Original Sin is a metaphor for the Sapience. Once the human or the hominid and the hominids started to develop Sapience they were not animal anymore, they left the Garden of Eden. They were confronted by notion such as Right and Wrong, Good and Evil. The Sapience should not be call the Original Sin, but the Origin of Sin without it Sin is not possible, not even conceivable. But the Catholic liturgy also call it the “Blissful Fault of the Man” (a poor translation of “Bienheureuse faute de l'Homme” that I learned) because it is the path to salvation. And beyond Salvation there is the Sainthood and the realization of our destiny as image of God Himself.

Also note that the Catholic Church preaches the Communal Salvation by opposition the Personal Salvation. The good deeds of the community of the believers count toward the salvation of the humanity. The monks do not sacrifice their worldly live to achieve their own salvation, but to save the rest humanity. I must admit a bias because I was raised a Catholic and I still call myself a Catholic, but I also see it as the only possible way to reconcile with a loving god. How would a loving God condemn for all eternity someone who had not the time, the resources or the knowledge to work towards his own salvation?

I also believe that we would be a big disappointment to God if, we as a species, were to take refuge in our own fantasy rather than keeping on exploring The Creation.

Rob said...

David, you haven't posted a response to Empire or Card's afterword but if you do you can expect vigorous and honorable criticism; my response to that essay was not to call it "loathsome", so you have a high bar to cross to convince me otherwise!

sociotard said...

No, I don't believe Dr. Brin ever posted on Orson Scott Card's Empire. It wasn't that great a novel anyway. Nowhere near as good as Pastwatch.

May I repost from the previous blog entry?

Brin said:
[what Obama should say if employment goes back to a happy place] "Upon entering office, I saw all the figures and realized, this was no recession. It was a full-tilt Depression. But I did not dare use that word and ruin fragile confidence. Our measures prevented the full brunt from hitting our citizens, but the TIMING is that of a full depression...


If that happens, somebody should force Paul Krugman to eat a hat. He's been saying on his blog that his prognostication was correct: that the stimulus was too small and we were all doomed to a bigger coming depression.

Brin said:
And... we are down to ONE war!


Only because the media is staying quiet on our involvement in Yemen. And only a few sources have mentioned the troops on the Jordan/Syria border. And you aren't counting Libya, presumably because of a lack of boots on the ground.

Of course, in 20 years? When our children get bombed by Libyan terrorists who remember our involvement? Yeah, those guys will remember that as Obama's war, no matter that the British, French, and Italians were the ones egging us on.

There is no way to peace. Peace is the way!
(the only reason to vote Paul)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Isaac Asimov dealt with the issue by positing his famous Three Laws of Robotics... then decrypting over the years many ways that such rigid rules might go wrong.


Asimov's Three Laws work better as story devices than as actual physical laws. The First Law is flawed in this simple manner--what if a robot trips and falls from a high perch and accidentally lands on a human being, crushing that person. There is no physical "law" of robot behavior that can PREVENT such a thing from occuring, short of having the robot calculate to the nth degree every possible bad result of its action. The result would have to be complete paralysis.

At least one of Asimov's stories ("The Naked Sun") proposes that a robot's brain would fry after such an event took place and the robot realized what he had "done". But such an outcome is pointless in at least two ways. It does nothing to PREVENT the harm to the human, and it destroys the robot FOR NO GOOD PURPOSE because of a simple accident.

We've already discussed problems with the Second Law such as the question of ownership--just WHO is authorized to give orders to a robot. The Law suggests that anyone and everyone has the same authority. What happens with simultaneous, conflicting orders?

The Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence. Again, how far does this go? Must the robot immediately begin working on the technology for interstellar travel to prevent destruction when the sun goes nova?

I've been musing on the Three Laws a lot lately, mostly because I've been trying to articulate "Three Laws of Corporatics" after Asimov's fashion. However, Laws of Corporatics are clearly imposed from without--a corporation is only "bound" to follow them because of penalties that make it unprofitable NOT to do so. Asimov's Laws of Robotics are presented differently--not as penalties imposed from without, but as the very foundation of what makes a robot function.

I've got some more to say about robots, but I think I'll save it for a separate post.

LarryHart said...

The Mad Librarian:

How many people have seen loved ones or respected elders decline into senility and frailty long before the physical plant gives up?


(raises hand)


I'd much rather be guaranteed that I'll get my 80 or 100 years and enjoy all of it, rather than spend a chunk of the end of it confined to a nursing home.


My dad passed away at age 80 last year after FOUR YEARS in nursing homes and several years of diminished capacity before that.

My mom, God bless her, used to say desparingly, "We wouldn't allow a DOG to suffer this way!" And she didn't mean that as a good thing.

It changed my mind about expectations of long life. I used to take for granted I'd make it to close to 100. But that's based on FEMALE family history. Male family history reasonably gives me an outside chance of reaching 80, and really only having "good years" until 70 or so, which is less than 20 more years from now.

It really changes the way one looks at the future. It's hard to be motivated to spend the rest of my good years working to support a retirement of decrepitude. Then again, I also have to face the fact that my wife will outlive me by 20-30 years, and in purely selfish terms, our economic interests are divergent in that sense.

Robert said...

Which raises an interesting question: how many people here would sign a variation of a Living Will stating that while in their sound mind and all that want to set up an Assisted Suicide or the like so to terminate one's own life while still cognitively capable?

I mean... I saw my grandmother decline. I wouldn't wish that on my worse enemy. And I do mean that. Better to die before the bills start to crop up... and before medical bills threaten to cripple family finances and the like.

Personally I'm holding out for hope... there is increasing research on Alzheimers and dementia. I'm banking someone will come up with a preventative measure that will at the very least hold off significant cognitive decline for a while... at least, until health-wise the body follows. (Better a rapid loss, the way my paternal grandfather went, than lingering, like my other grandparents.)

Rob H.

sociotard said...

I'll admit, watching In Time, I almost thought it was a worth the terrible cost. Yes, the mother died at 50, but she died without ever having her knees and back turn on her, without ever having to get diabetes treatments, without needing dentures.

It didn't sound too bad.

David Brin said...

Tony, do you have a link to Cardinal Pell's remarks about planet searches?

Francois, your insights were fascinating, thank you. But it seems to me that you retain the basic assumption that individual human babies inherit a grudge-curse because of actions taken by their ancestors, long ago. It seems to me that we have enough problems with ignorance. (Why did not God open a university as soon as Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden?) We did not also need the burden of needing "salvation" from a grudge.

If you look at: http://tinyurl.com/3lbyybv you can see that Genesis and the tower of Babel myth can be interpreted in a different way... as challenges to figure out how to become cvo-creators.

Sociotard, are you saying that the Libyan people nurse ANGER over the NATA assistance that helped them to topple Ghaddafi?

Rob H... the way to prevent senility is to program a robot to play a very simple game - checkers? - with you every day... and to kill you mercifully if/when you lose two out of three. I add the 2:3 because you might be distracted one morning. Losing a game will make you focus really hard on the 2nd!

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Francois, your insights were fascinating, thank you. But it seems to me that you retain the basic assumption that individual human babies inherit a grudge-curse because of actions taken by their ancestors, long ago.


That's not how I took Francois's comment. I took his meaning to be that the Garden of Eden/Fall story was a metaphor for coming of age, or for "Uplift" if you will. "Becoming a sentient being means saying goodbye to the simple life of animals. But it also represents the first step on a path to something much HIGHER."

Or "Growing up is harder than staying a child forever, but in the final analysis, it's worthwhile to do."

Nothing in there about punishment for ancestral crimes.

David Brin said...

I agree that Francois moved away from classic Original Sin in his first paragraph. But later he spoke of a continuing need for salvation. Salvation from what? Original Sin is the bulwark reason given for an act of human sacrifice (of Jesus.) There are very strong logical reasons why Paul emphasized the central importance of OS.

===


OREO cameos!
http://www.lostateminor.com/2012/01/03/oreo-cameo-portraits-by-judith-klausner/

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, your checkers idea sounds like a variation of "Logan's Run" and could also allow for a murder mystery wherein a person who was of sound mind and body lost... because someone replaced his Mercy Kill Program with an intelligent learning program. (Which reminds me of a learning fighting machine in the webcomic/graphic novel series "Girl Genius" in which the clank (steam-driven machine) not only had a chance of reactivating after being deactivated (you had to hit its "heart" with a weapon), but also had a tendency to learn from its prior losses and compensate for them.

Agatha overcame it the first time by throwing an oilcan at the heart, and the second time by walking up to it without a weapon and pressing the button - since she didn't have a weapon in hand, it didn't consider her a threat.

Anyway, off of the tangent there... it might be more interesting to have a story where the Mercy Program builds up a series of losses before death is implemented. And then write the story from the point of view of someone starting to lose and heading up toward the tenth day... and the realization that the program has become sentient and has learned how he plays and how to defeat him.

Actually, that sounds almost like one of the classic scifi short stories from the early days of scifi. ^^;;

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Brin Said:
Sociotard, are you saying that the Libyan people nurse ANGER over the NATA assistance that helped them to topple Ghaddafi?


Some, yes. Some Libyans did honestly support Ghaddafi, and some will learn to miss his strong-man stability in the chaos the next decade offers Libya. The Islamic party is doing well, so the government will continue to nurse a grudge against the US involvement in Palestine, Pakistan, Iraq, etc.

Did you expect the Afghani people to nurse anger over the US assistance that helped them expel the Russians?

Did the French assist the US rebellion against England and expect the Quasi-War that happened 23 years later?

Here is the truth of the world. There is no love and no gratitude. There are no friends among nations. Nations have interests, nothing more. And so, the wisest course of action is absolute military neutrality.

Rob said...

Erm... no... there are constructions possible for a need for salvation without Original Sin; significant factions of the Restorationist movement of the early 1800's flat-out rejected it as Papist and formulated other stuff.

"Salvation from what?" Well, take your pick, since we're arguing from silence. OS is a post-Nicene (post-Origen, probably Augustinian) construction, interpreting Paul, not clearly the only correct one.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

Dr. Brin, your checkers idea sounds like a variation of "Logan's Run"...


I also thought of "Logan's Run" when someone mentioned requiring death at age 50 but without the descent into decrepitude. It does have its alluring side.

If the necessity in "Logan's Run" were necessary (limited space and resources in the city...presumably the world outside the dome was uninhabitable for a time), that society wouldn't seem all that bad as long as they replaced the hunting down and killing of runners with a policy of "Letting them go as long as they stayed outside." And perhaps a secondary policy of "Allowing proof from outside that the world is inhabitable again and act accordingly."

LarryHart said...

continuing thoughts on Asimovian robots, and the Laws thereof...

I recently read an essay by Asimov from one of his later collections ("Gold") concerning the question of what constituted a "robot" in his stories. He started with the premise that a robot was a machine, but realized the definition had to be more particular. A toaster or a tv set or a car are machines, but not "robots". He concluded that a "robot" was a machine plus a computer.

With all due respect to Isaac Asimov, I think he allowed the real world to confuse him. What I think he MEANT to say was that a "robot" is a machine which makes use of cognition--a machine which thinks, or at least mimicks "thought" in the operation of its function. Sure, in the real world of 2012, that seems to mean "a computer", but I put it to you that the computer isn't the definitive piece that makes a machine a "robot". Rather, the defining characteristic is that the robot thinks (or mimicks thought), making DECISIONS about how to carry out tasks.

After the fashion of 1930s Asimov stories (or pretty much everything prior to the 1980s), a computer is NOT a robot, nor is what we now call a "robot arm" on a factory floor. Why? Because both of those are machines which carry out specific tasks exactly as designed or coded. An Asimovian "robot", by contrast, responds to orders (or Laws which supersede orders) concerning an END RESULT to be achieved. The robot itself makes the decisions as to what actions to take in order to carry out those directives.

Hence the Three Laws are not laws of physics, but rather laws of prioritization forced upon the robots's decision-making process.

The First Law is intended to make robots safe to use. Asimov was opposed to "Frankenstein" thinking which presumed that thinking machines were self-evidently dangerous. Just as kinves have handles and cars have air-bags, robots have the First Law to make them safe to use.

The Second Law is simply the means by which a robot is "used". A car has a starter, a steering wheel, and pedals, a lamp has an on/off switch, a robot has the Second Law.

The Third Law is presumably to preserve the owner's investment. You don't want your robot matter-of-factly damaging its ability to keep working.

I don't have a really clever summing-up for all this, so I'll just leave it there for now.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I agree that Francois moved away from classic Original Sin in his first paragraph. But later he spoke of a continuing need for salvation. Salvation from what?


Again, this is my own speculation and/or interpretation. Not speaking directly for Francois.

I perceived that sort of "salvation" as meaning that when you go from the comparatively-carefree animal life to the burdens imposed by understanding of ones own sapience, you have become (in a sense) WORSE off than you were before. It's tempting to wail to the "gods" "Why coudln't you have just left me the way I was? WHY must I be cursed with the responsibility for my own upkeep?"

But as one matures wisely along the path, one SURPASSES the original goodness of Eden and ends up in a BETTER kind of life that makes the trouble of getting there worth the while.

That's what I thought Francios meant by "salvation".

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart

Sorry to hear about your dad. You mentioned his troubles a time or two, but if his passing was noted it must have been in one of my lacunae where I was away or in workmode.

I see so many instances in the ER where quality of life appears poor, but the care directives give me little leeway. Hell, half the time the Nursing Homes send us patients they never bother to even include code status. I have started to instruct the ambulance crews to not load the patient with out this documentation. (of course this does not apply to genuine emergencies, but so often we get "just does not seem his/her self today".)

My dad turned 90 this week btw.

Don't be despondant about Mrs LH outliving you. That is a statistical possibility, not a certainty.

And as to immortality, screw it. I am pacing myself to get everything important done by 80. And I think I am more than 55/80ths there!

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

Sorry to hear about your dad. You mentioned his troubles a time or two, but if his passing was noted it must have been in one of my lacunae where I was away or in workmode.


He departed last February. I'm pretty sure I mentioned it, but probably not very prominently. Too personal a moment for an internet board, even this one.


Don't be despondant about Mrs LH outliving you. That is a statistical possibility, not a certainty.


Oh, I didn't mean to convey despondency. My point was that, were I without dependents, I'd probably be looking to begin retirement soon, as I'd want to live some of my "good years" without the burden of a boss. This might leave me broke if I lived too long, but my point was that it seemed like a good bet I WOULDN'T live too long.

A wife and child change the equation. Can't plan on using up all of "my" money in 20 years if they will need it long afterwards.

Even that isn't meant as a whine. Just a statement of fact.


And as to immortality, screw it. I am pacing myself to get everything important done by 80. And I think I am more than 55/80ths there!


That's pretty much what I was getting at as well. Except that I'm only 51/80ths there.

:)

Tony Fisk said...

I looked for a link to Pell's sermon a while back without success. I'll try again later

Robert said...

Here's a couple science and transparency-related articles for your enjoyment:

First, another article on plans by hackers to launch a series of satellites to create a censor-free global internet, along with long-term plans to send a man to the Moon. Personally, I hope the latter idea does come to culmination... considering the talents of the hacking community, I could easily see plans for a Saturn-like rocket eventually appearing on the web, garnered from some forgotten archive or from Chinese computers. ;)

The ramifications of a global censor-free internet is also rather intriguing. However, I very much doubt that anyone would be blowing satellites out of the sky (unless said satellites are weather balloons) due to debris issues. I could see the U.S., Russia, and China coming down hard on Iran or North Korea because they decided to nuke some internet satellites and created a debris field in LEO. And I'm sure those nations could see that as well. Instead, I see localized jamming efforts to block Intersatellite access.

Next is the discovery of natural quasicrystals that are believed to be from deep space (due to the quartz crystal formation, which would have required intense heat from an impact such as meteor strikes or the Earth's mantle).

Finally, we have an article on the ethics of terraforming Mars. Personally, I disagree with the arguments against it for one very sound reason: we need to expand away from the Earth if humanity is ultimately to survive. While I would prefer humanity to create asteroid habitats (including some which could contain natural biospheres with minimal human contact, so to try and preserve endangered species and the like from the encroachment of human pollution and global warming), humanity has a... psychological need for soil under its feet. Terraforming Mars would provide us the best home away from Earth in an environment we can relate to. And it's far more viable than terraforming Venus (which would require shifting the planet's orbit away from the Sun or the elimination of virtually all greenhouse gases).

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

Bluebottle said...

For Catholic theology in SF novelisation take a look at James Blish (who seems a bit forgotten these days). "A Case of Conscience" in particular, though I enjoyed "Black Easter" more.

David Brin said...

"Black Easter" was simply amazing.

You guys are on a roll. Robert, LarryHart and Tacitus2.

Tacitus especially, I worry sometimes about poking too hard and driving him away. Let me here and no pre-apologize for any excesses during the coming political season. Please pre-forgive and hang around, dude. You show many signs of being what we call a mensch.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

Sorry to hear about your dad. You mentioned his troubles a time or two, but if his passing was noted it must have been in one of my lacunae where I was away or in workmode.


One thing you may remember...toward the end of February, I asked your professional advice on a bad flu bug I had come down with. I get flu shots every year, and I haven't had a bad one like that since the mid-1990s.

I think I was overly succeptible because of the stress around my dad having just recently passed away earlier that month.

I also think I caught that flu bug from Dad, and that it might have been what actually killed him, though he wasn't able to articulate anything more coherent than "Everything hurts."

Dr Brin (to Tac):

You show many signs of being what we call a mensch.


"We" call someone that, eh? I'm starting to have certain suspicions about your ancestry.

sociotard said...

Any commentary on the new law about the military holding US citizens?

http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/nybmn/ive_been_reading_ndaa_hr_1540_and_here_are_the/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Defense_Authorization_Act_for_Fiscal_Year_2012

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/31/statement-president-hr-1540


Rachel Maddow Commentary, for those who don't like to read.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/45851768#45851768

LarryHart said...

Bluebottle:

...James Blish (who seems a bit forgotten these days).


One of my favorite sci-fi lines is in the prologue to one of his "Cities In Flight" stories. Something to the effect that gravity was discovered in 2018, although it had been postulated many for many millennia prior.

John Wesley Robinson said...

A few Observations, A sin by Biblical definitions is a simple mistake. This concept, sin, has been demonized over time so that the original meaning of the word and the original messages concerning sin have been obscured.
Malcolm Smith once postulated that the Original Sin, the first mistake in a perfect universe was committed by Lucifer, when it envied the Creator. However, the original sin of Adam was the one that led to self awareness.
There are some intelligent Christians in the mold of C. S. Lewis in this modern era, but true intelligence has always been a rare gift, seldom seen or tolerated in any traditional belief system, so such theistic thinkers are pretty much an extinct species, invisible in the modern social ecology/environment.
BTW- the attractiveness of "Inner Space", the subjective universe, is that it could be larger and more complex, hence more interesting, than Outer Space. One can travel subjectively without being hampered by the silly notions of time and space. Robert Heinlein could have been closer to the truth with his last work, To Sail Beyond The Sunset than many realize - for his pantheistic solipsism is a distinct, if remote, possibility in a quantum universe.

David Brin said...

Huh! Interesting stuff, "Mr. Harding." Anybody get that, by the way?

Seriously, interesting.

LarryHart, don't assume! There's lots of Yiddish in regular Murrican vocabulary. Even RED murrican-speak.

Stefan Jones said...

Another biological change that might help ameliorate the problems associated with longevity . . . and a whole host of other society problems:

Postponing puberty and menopause.

Move up the former to 22 (what a graduation present!) and the latter to the mid-60s.

No more teenage pregnancies. High school and college students who pay better attention in class. Women who can pursue a career without worrying about their biological clocks.

sociotard said...

So Iowa:
Romney: 24.6%
Santorum: 24.7%
Paul: 21.3%
Gingrich 13.3%
Perry 10.3%

So, essentially a 3 way split between social conservatives (Santorum), Business Conservatives (Romney), and Libertarians (Paul).

François Marcadé said...

Dear Dr. Brin

I had already seen your speech at the Singularity Summit (I even commented when you first posted it that it was the first time I heard a “contrepèterie” in English), I found it inspiring and I could not have expressed myself yesterday the same way if I had not seen it.

I argued that the Idea behind the “Original Sin’ made sense but that the vocabulary used by the Church to describe it muddied the water, and then I proceeded to close my argument using the very same vocabulary. I guess you cannot break half a century of conditioning that easily. I will repeat my argument putting what I consider the right vocabulary between parentheses. Let see how much we agree.

The Original Sin (Sapience) is at the same time a curse because if you know Good from Evil, you can choose Evil; but also an opportunity for becoming better because you can choose Good. The Church recognize it because it calls the Original Sin (Sapience) a Blissful fault (a Gift) that had God send humanity a Savior (a Teacher) to show us the path to Salvation (to teach us the path to transcendence, or as you would put it the path to becoming co-creators).

I do not believe Gods hold a grudge against us, He gave us a mission and enough Free Will to be able to fail it. No wonder that the Doctor of the Church who were very smart individuals but set in old pattern of thought, tried to inspire fear in the believers when they realized that we might fail Him. I do not approve but I understand.

David Brin said...

Francois I agree with YOUR interpretation. 100%. What I do not agree with is the assertion that your explanation was always the way the Church viewed Original Sin. I believe it is pretty clear that most of the time it was viewed as a mortally perilous grudge.

The diff between Romney and Santorum is this:

1) New Hampshire in Romney land, threatened only by Paul and maybe Gingrich. Blue America's only voice in this process.

2) Santorum has a big reserve of further fundies he can draw on, if Perry and Bachman either drop out or get abandoned by their supporters. But he needs to raise funds fast.

3) the Paul phenomenon? Heck, I am thinking of sending him money. Like Gingrich, he is about 50% crazier than a screech owl and 25% briliantly spot-on.

The diff? Gingrich cares about sci fi and science and tomorrow with his 25%. Paul would end the drug war with his. In both cases, the debates with Obama would feature sudden flashes of brain-poke insight that could change america.

François Marcadé said...

Again, I was not clear.

“The Mortal Grudge” is the basic interpretation the Catholic Church for the ‘Original Sin’. I don’t deny it. It might have mellowed since Vatican II, but the Church is still very much into coercing the believers into fearing Gods (for their own good of course).

What I mean is that if you go back to the sources: Genesis, St Paul Epistles and St Augustine writings, you can come up with a different interpretation without losing your Catholic Faith. Actually if I had not come with this interpretation, I would probably have dismissed the God of the Bible as a jerkass not worthy of my worship.

Tacitus2 said...

"mensch" is setting the goal too low. Given the degree of animus to conservative ideas that I sometimes see here I am expecting to be "Righteous among the Nations" by Election Day!

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

Given the degree of animus to conservative ideas that I sometimes see here


That's really what you see here?

Given that Dr Brin is an only-momentarily-lapsed libertarian, I see a lot more animoisity (is "animus" the right word?) toward Libertarian ideas than toward truly conservative ones.

Sure, there's a lot of venom directed at the GOP itself, but again following Dr Brin's example, a lot of that is criticism from the conservative point of view. Supply-side hasn't made us more prosperous and neoconservatism hasn't made us safer. Those may be criticisms of conservative politicians, but not criticisms of conservative ideas per se.

Robert said...

I don't see animosity toward conservative ideas and ideals. I see animosity toward the batshit insane element that has seized the Republican Party and threatens to destroy the nation as a whole. Even the Republican Party refuses to talk about the two Bushes despite the fact they are continuing to follow the gameplan established during their tenures.

The ironic thing is, Democrats are snatching more and more conservative ideas and making them their own due to their perception the nation is lurching to the Right. This is causing the Radical Right to push the party even further to the Right until the Republicans are well on their way to becoming Fascists (they are in full support of eliminating civil rights under the Patriot Act and various other legislation).

I want my Republican Party back. I want the Democrats to return to their role of being the Bastion of the Left, rather than the moderate-conservative corporatist they've become. And I see no way this will happen.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Last week saw two attempts to block certain Twitter accounts in the name of national security. One challenge came from Senator Joseph Lieberman, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, who is leading an effort to block pro-Taliban accounts and messages. The other came from the Israeli law center Shurat HaDin who is threatening to sue Twitter unless it blocks the accounts of Hezbollah. Will Twitter protect users' right to free speech against targeted government censorship?

In the past, Twitter has amassed a solid record of defending the privacy of its users. Last January, when the Department of Justice ordered the site to turn over information on its users with ties to WikiLeaks, including private messages, Twitter complied but successfully challenged the government's gag order. The site reacted in similar fashion last week when Boston prosecutors wanted information on its users allegedly involved in Anonymous hacking operations: Twitter informed the users of the data hand off.

http://techland.time.com/2012/01/02/privacy-and-censorship-will-twitter-continue-to-stand-up-for-its-users-rights-this-year/?iid=tl-main-lede

LarryHart said...

Some more musings on what makes a "robot" in Asimov-world...

In Asimov's earliest 1930s robot stories, the single characteristic that makes a robot a "robot" is not that it contains a computer or even that it "thinks", but that it mimicks the human form. "A machine built to function like a man" seems to me to be the cleanest definition of a robot in stories like "Robbie" and "Runaround".

No, these were not R. Daneel Olivaw type "humainform" robots which could PASS for human. But they walked on legs, saw through eyes, manipulated objects with hands. They were not specialized-use machines like steam-shovels or toasters. They were mechnized human bodies which could do any of the myriad tasks a human being can perform (though presumably better or cheaper or at least more safely).

The positronic brain was not (orininally) what made a robot a "robot", although Asimov was quick to realize that such a device was necessary to make robots function the way he had them work. Most normal machines are designed to function in very specified ways. You press on a gas pedal and your car moves forward, not because it "wants" to move forward, but because the laws of physics make it do so. If an impediment or a malfunction prevent the car from moving forward, it doesn't figure out a different way to discharge its driver's instruction.

An Asimovian robot operates differently on a fundamental level. It takes instructions as to a task to be completed and then DECIDES what actions to take in order to achieve that end. In order to operate in such a manner, the robot MUST possess something like artificial intelligence, at least as a 1930s sci-fi writer would envision AI. It has to be able to interpret human language, to understand the capabilities of its own body, and to evaluate possible courses of action. I can see where 1990s-Asimov would say that this requires a "computer", but the 1930s term for the first glimmerings of this sort of thing was "electronic brain." Asimov simply altered the term to make it something different but similar, and something that sounded cooler and more futuristic: "positronic brain."

Once Asimov named the positronic brain and described the Three Laws governing its behavior, the terms "robot" and "positronic brain" were inextricably linked. The Three Laws OF ROBOTICS (emphasis mine) actually govern the brain, not the body per se. And at least one story ("The Evitable Conflict") was about COMPUTERS (not actually associated with a robot bodies) which nonetheless were "positronic" and followed the Three Laws. So as early as 1950 (and maybe earlier than that), the positronic brain became (for story purposes) the most recognizable and important characteristic which makes a particaular machine a "robot".

But the positronic brain was secondary. It was a writer's means to an end. The concept of "robot" always rested upon "a machine that functions like a human being." Asimov's name for the robot-making company, after all, was "United States Robots AND MECHANICAL MEN, Inc." (emphasis mine).

sociotard said...

The war on Professionals has taken an odd and unexpected turn:

A man whose bid to become a police officer was rejected after he scored too high on an intelligence test has lost an appeal in his federal lawsuit against the city.

[The rejection policy exists because] those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training.


http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95836&page=1#.TwSgBvI8e8t

sociotard said...

Fun and edcational:

Universe Sandbox is a gravity simulator. It looks like fun and some of my friends find it addictive.

http://universesandbox.com/

Mel Baker said...

It's always seemed to me that advances in technology would account for the "great silence." Think how much of our own information flow is now moving about on broadband. We leak less EM than we did a few decades ago. A more advanced civilization might throw even less energy off into the void.

David Brin said...

Mel hi! Yes, we've grown less noisy since NORAD radars and giant TV transmitters shut down. We may get quieter still. (I discuss this and many other things in EXISTENCE.)

till, the nature of ET societies gets hemmed in by the silence out there. They aren't building huge "Kardashev" projects with whole stars. They aren't transmitting garish "tutorial beacons" perfect for detection by bright new guys like us. They aren't doing tons of colonizing with starships.

And they don't seem to be curious about making contact with the rare and beautiful thing... new emerging sapient minds....

David Brin said...

Yeah, right LarryHart! Tacitus done me wrong! Can any guy who touts Adam Smith and transparency-based civil liberties and entrepreneurship and the ultimate creative power of competition - who regularly pushes notions of an Age of Amateurs - be called an enemy of libertarianism or sane-Goldwaterian conservatism?

As LarryHart points out, the version now pushed by a despicable/lying/oligarchic/foreign-controlled "news" organization and the political party that it dominates... THAT version of "conservatism" deserves no loyalty or defense from a man as smart and honorable as Tacitus.

Were they alive today, Teddy Roosevelt would hold and aim the wooden stake while Lincoln and Ike hammered it into the heart of the horrid, undead were-elephant that has zombified and taken over their party.

Robert: "I want my Republican Party back. I want the Democrats to return to their role of being the Bastion of the Left, rather than the moderate-conservative corporatist they've become. And I see no way this will happen."

It will happen if the GOP dies dies dies and then the dems - as is utterly predictable - would split in two. Nothing, not even the rising of the sun, is more predictable. And the blue-dogs are EXACTLY what the party of the right should be. (Oh, along the way, in a spasm of victory before fissioning, they might (1) end gerrymandering, end the Drug War and (3) restore the science apparatus for Congress.

Robert said...

Ah, but then it won't be the Republican party now, will it? It'll be a new political party that is what the Republicans should have been. (Which reminds me of David Eddings' Mallorean series in which Eriond is what Torak should have been, before the universe had been split into two Possibilities. So in other words... we're talking pure fantasy here. =^-^=)

Off of the political front again, a parasitic fly has been discovered that may be the culprit behind Colony Collapse Disorder among honey bees. Seems this fly literally turns honey bees into "zom-bees" that wander around aimlessly before ultimately perishing and being nommed upon by the fly larvae.

So yes, the Zombie Apocalypse is real... but it seems it is affecting different species than humanity. I'm looking forward to the Bee movie sequel that parodies zombie apocalypses with honey bees. ;)

Rob H.

sociotard said...

CONCORD, NH -- Newt Gingrich is already in New Hampshire and kicked off his day with a town hall meeting in Concord. Gingrich fielded a number of questions about drug policy, including one from a man who said that many in the Live Free or Die state don't like the federal government's involvement in stopping weed growing operations. "Would Thomas Jefferson or George Washington be arrested for growing marijuana?" the man asked.

Gingrich responded, "I think Jefferson and George Washington would strongly discourage you from growing marijuana, and their tactics to stop you would be more violent than they would be today."

Gingrich, a historian, did not mention that both Washington and Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations.


Link

David Brin said...

Pity. If Newt had joined Ron Paul on a couple of issues, that might have shifted the center of argument.

Both men are tragic might've beens.

Robert said...

I'm sorry. I just can't resist the siren call of Science. It's forcing me to post these articles that have nothing to do with politics and the like... but as it is said... I do this... For Science!

And thus I present this fascinating article on animal mind control, in which scientists are learning more and more about parasites and how they manipulate their host's behavior so they can continue their life cycle. It's a fascinating read.

And it is, of course, For Science. ;)

Rob H.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

"They aren't building huge "Kardashev" projects with whole stars."

Or are they... but they look like natural formations to us?

"They aren't transmitting garish "tutorial beacons" perfect for detection by bright new guys like us."

Or they're so much more advanced than us, that communicating with us, for them, is like communicating with a gerbil would be for us. You can speak to a gerbil, but the gerbil hears nothing but noise. You can poke the gerbil, perhaps...

...sometimes I wonder if angels/divine revelation are an attempt by an extremely advanced alien mind to communicate with us- and we just... keep... missing... the... point.

Also, back on the life extension matter:

While nobody has ever stumbled upon the secret to 200-year lifespans, ascetics have long been known for having far longer than average lifespans. St. Anthony of the Desert lived to 107. It wasn't uncommon for Taoist monks - who practiced asceticism geared for longevity- to live to over 100. Even into the 20th century there have been fairly believable (though not totally confirmable) reports of Indian yogis living into their 110s, 120s and even 130s. (One such yogi- an acquaintance of several British monarchs, was reputed to have been born in 1814 and died in 1950- which would have made him 136. Sadly, he was born before birth certificates, so we have no way of confirming.)

While we may have "flipped" most of the genetic switches, there still appear to be some people who have more switches flipped than others, and can live longer, healthier lives because of it. One of my grandfathers lived to 86 - in active health - drinking, smoking, and consuming a diet that would have killed most people by the time they were in their early 60s (like it recently did Christopher Hitchens). I've been reading the biographies of Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet recently- Jobs practiced caloric restriction, eating a diet of mostly organic fruits, vegetables and fish- and died at 56. Buffett lives on burgers, fries and cherry Coke- not to mention lots of chocolates- and he's still healthy in his 80s.

I often wonder if those advanced ascetics/yogis haven't learned body control to a level that can trigger some of the "switches" that grant longer, more resilient lifespans to the sort of people who naturally live into their 100s- or people like Buffett or my grandfather, who seem to be more resistant to the vicissitudes of age than many others...

Jonathan S. said...

...or perhaps their supposed longevity is due to a lack of record-keeping, perhaps coupled with a desire on the part of everyone who has data to hide it from outside investigators, because it's always fun to pull the wool over the eyes of outsiders...

Tim H. said...

As someone who does physical work, the notion of life extension has little attraction, "Oh great, another twenty years of feeling the arthritis progress". Isn't "Three score and ten" bad enough? If there's life after death, I may feel hard done by.

"shingin", music with ethanol.

Ian said...

Of course, the simplest and most logical explanation for the Fermi Paradox is that the colonziation (or sterlization) fleet just hasnt arrived yet.

Ian said...

"And you aren't counting Libya, presumably because of a lack of boots on the ground."

Or possibly because the war is over.

"Of course, in 20 years? When our children get bombed by Libyan terrorists who remember our involvement?"

Yes, after all, look at all the Japanese and German terrosit attacks on the US.

Ian said...

Brin Said:
Sociotard, are you saying that the Libyan people nurse ANGER over the NATA assistance that helped them to topple Ghaddafi?

Sociotard says:Some, yes. Some Libyans did honestly support Ghaddafi, and some will learn to miss his strong-man stability in the chaos the next decade offers Libya. The Islamic party is doing well, so the government will continue to nurse a grudge against the US involvement in Palestine, Pakistan, Iraq, etc.


Ian Gould says: And whst do you think the majority of Libyans would harbor towards the US and other western nations if they'd simply sat back and watched as Gaddafi killed hundreds of thousnds of them?

Ian said...

"Paul would end the drug war ..."

Yes, just as Clinton was goign to deliver single-payer healthcare; Dubya was going to put an end to nation-building and be a "compassionate conservative" and Obama was going to close Guantanamo.

LarryHart said...

Tim H:

As someone who does physical work, the notion of life extension has little attraction, "Oh great, another twenty years of feeling the arthritis progress". Isn't "Three score and ten" bad enough? If there's life after death, I may feel hard done by.


When people started talking about extending the lifespan to 200, I used to ask "Do you want to WORK 150 years, or RETIRE for 150 years?"

Me, I'd want the latter, but there's the pesky question of where the money comes from. And that assumes good health too. 150 years in a nursing home is no one's idea of fun.

Robert said...

Clinton tried to create a Single Payer Insurance system. His problem is that he and Hillary refused to negotiate with Democrats over the system and thus alienated his own base while giving Republicans the lever needed to seize control of Congress.

The lesson learned: wait until AFTER the mid-year election to try and pass health care reform! Sadly, Obama didn't learn that lesson, though he did try negotiating with both the Far Right and the Middle Right (Republicans and Democrats) on a more palatable system, which Republicans then spat upon despite getting everything they demanded. (Except for Obama's resignation, apology for being uppity, and agreeing to serve them for perpetuity as their unpaid housecleaner.)

I don't like Democrats and I saw what the Republicans did during those negotiations as repugnant. That shows how out of control they've become.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

"undead were-elephant"

A straw elephant (dead or undead) is so much bigger, and therefore better, than a simple straw man!

Since I appear to be the major purveyor of Contrary these days I offer up two bits of current events for the comments of folks who are better versed on these topics than I.

1. "I have an obligation as President to do what I can without Congress". B.Obama.

A somewhat inflammatory view of the seperation of Constitutional powers between the co-equal branches. This upon "controversial" recess appointments. C.Protection agency is probably less important than the Labor Relations board appts that were brought in quietly. Conservatives fear rule by a nomenklatura of unelected functionaries. If Presidents can go forward with these appointments because the 3 day limit is invalid..how about a 10 minute Congressional recess? Rewinn, you're the lawyer here..

2. The California High Speed Rail Peer Review group, an independent review body created by the Legislature, has written an opinion saying the whole project is deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed. Well, a tripling of the projected cost before the first spike is driven might suggest this. Gov. Brown is planning on forging ahead anyway. Should he? This is the sort of nebulous "jobscreatinggreenenergypublicprivate" enterprise that conservatives view suspiciously as a black hole sucking up money for generations to come. Comments from Golden Staters? (recall that Gov. Walker nixed a similar WI deal. And yes, pun intended).

Tacitus

sociotard said...

Ian Gould said:
And whst do you think the majority of Libyans would harbor towards the US and other western nations if they'd simply sat back and watched as Gaddafi killed hundreds of thousnds of them?


It's way easier to get angry at meddlers than bystanders. As bystanders our 'sin of omission' would be diffused among all the other nations on the planet. They could get mad at us, but they could just as easily get mad at Egypt or China or Russia.

Had we been peaceful there would only be one reason for future Libyans to blame us directly: We spent the last few generations advertising ourselves as world-cops. That was stupid. Time to end that policy.

john newman said...

David,
I think if you follow through on the thought of immortality, including a realistic accounting for luck both good and bad, it's hard to avoid ending up where Borges did in "The Immortals" (Labyrenths).

Robert said...

Tacitus, I'd be more upset at Obama's bypassing of the Senate Approval Process if it functioned properly. However, the Republican Party, which is in a minority in the Senate, has used its power to block as many of Obama's appointees as possible. Is this how it's supposed to be? If the majority of the American Population elected Obama (and they did) and he was legally elected President (which he was), and if the House and Senate were solidly Democratic (which they were) when the appointments started... then what right does the Republicans have to refuse perfectly qualified people from positions outside of the fact the Republicans are upset that they lost power?

Remember, this is a political party that, when we were unsure if the nation was entering into a Depression or just a deep recession, stated its ONE duty was to ensure Obama was a one-term President. This was a slap in the face of Americans everywhere, especially the unemployed. It was a betrayal of the American Trust.

Imagine for a moment if Republicans had worked with Democrats. We might have had a functioning health care reform act. We might have decent financial reform instead of the hodgepodge that was passed. We could have had a stimulus package that put people to work quickly, encouraging consumer purchasing, and thus stimulated the economy from the bottom up.

No. Republicans refused to work with Democrats. They threw a two-year hissy fit. And then they smeared Democrats with that fit and managed to win a lot of seats while Democrats were still in disbelief that Republican obstructionism wasn't hurting the Republicans. (It also didn't hurt that Democratic voters sat out the election. Buyer's regret, most likely. But that buyer's regret was due in part to obstructionism.)

I am one of those odd conservatives that actually believes both parties should work together and that negotiation means BOTH sides sacrifice positions and move together to create an alloy using the best of both parties. This is why I so detest what the Republican Party has become.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

A straw elephant (dead or undead) is so much bigger, and therefore better, than a simple straw man!


First of all, I thought I had already posted (possibly deleted or possibly lost by blogger) on your behalf to Dr Brin, saying I didn't think you were accusing HIM of animosity toward conservative thought, but that you were feeling it from the rest of us.

For what it's worth.

I've always been of the opinion that "conservative" and "liberal" are not true diametric opposites--that it's possible and not contradictory to be both things. I'm a conservative by temprement and also a liberal by sympathy.

My complaints about the Republican party are not about conservativsm per se, but about authoritarianism and institutionalized sociopathy. I can't complain about those things without being branded a hostile witness to conservatism?


1. "I have an obligation as President to do what I can without Congress". B.Obama.

A somewhat inflammatory view of the seperation of Constitutional powers between the co-equal branches. This upon "controversial" recess appointments. C.Protection agency is probably less important than the Labor Relations board appts that were brought in quietly. Conservatives fear rule by a nomenklatura of unelected functionaries. If Presidents can go forward with these appointments because the 3 day limit is invalid..how about a 10 minute Congressional recess?


How about a reqirement that congress has to actually DO BUSINESS during those "sessions" or else they don't count? Or that they actually have a quarom that could even theoretically do business?

The Senated GOP is not objecting to the president's individual picks--they're attempting to thwart the law by refusing to approve ANYONE so that an office cannot perform its function. Recess appointments are the constitutional remedy for this. Were you as terrified of "executive power-grabbing" when the majority-GOP Senate demanded (and got) an up-or-down vote on Bush's nominees to the Supreme Court?

Obama is "somewhat inflamatory"? Mitch McConnell has a lot of nerve complaining about "unprecedented" actions by the president. You know what is unprecedented? You know what is somewhat inflamatory? Filibustering everything!

sociotard said...

Robert Said:
If the majority of the American Population elected Obama (and they did) and he was legally elected President (which he was), and if the House and Senate were solidly Democratic (which they were) when the appointments started... then what right does the Republicans have to refuse perfectly qualified people from positions outside of the fact the Republicans are upset that they lost power?


I don't know. The Democrats didn't seem too friendly to Bush's judicial appointments.
George W. Bush judicial appointment controversies

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

I don't know. The Democrats didn't seem too friendly to Bush's judicial appointments.


True. Yet to me, there is a difference. I realize I'm biased, but I'll state what I think is different and you can judge on the merits, not just because "a liberal" or "a conservative" says so:

1) Senate Democrats objected to PARTICULAR Bush nominees. They were not attempting to keep the seats on the courts permanently unfilled.

2) When the Republicans blustered about "The American people deserve an up-or-down vote", they ultimately got their way.

Procedures like the filibuster are intended to give the minority SOME bargaining power, which is exactly what (in my opinion) the Democrats did. What the Republicans are now doing is using it to make the minority party MORE powerful than the majority. You really see equivalance between the two?

Luke said...

David, your summary above omits mention of cryonics, as does David Stipp's article. Your article in iPlanet does mention it though and comes across rather positive on the topic. So since you are skeptical of the kind of antiaging research David Stipp is writing about, why aren't you making the case that we should invest in cryonics research instead?

I also noticed your older essay also lacks any mention of Aubrey de Grey's "engineering approach" proposal to focus on damage repair mechanisms, rather than trying to alter metabolism to prevent damage from happening. His sub-proposals are radical (involving some rather extreme forms of gene therapy, e.g. deleting Telomerase and supplementing with stem cells for the rest of your life as a way of curing cancer), but they nonetheless seem plausible.

Overall it seems to me the question is (or should be) shifting to *how* we should try to cure mortality, not *whether*.

Tacitus2 said...

LarryH

There is a subtle difference between animus and antimosity.

And I was not speaking of our genial host specifically. But thanks, not that I feel a need for defenders.

Here is another quote from the President, on the subject of congressional inertia:

"That's inexcusable. It's wrong. And I refuse to take no for an answer."

If the second half of that does not give even the staunchest Progressive a frisson of fear, what if I told you that it was actually G.W.Bush who said it in 2007?

(It wasn't, but I am in a provocative mood today. And it should not matter which of the two men, no doubt frustrated by congressional inertia, actually did say it).

Tacitus2 said...

my bad regards spelling.

animosity-more or less means active hostilty.

animus-a predisposition to believe ill.

The second is more a "viewing with a jaundiced eye". The first is more action based on animus.

Of course I may be using my own shadings here.

Tacitus

Robert said...

That would depend on the situation, Tacitus. If Bush was deriding Democrats for delaying a vote on half of his Cabinet appointments, then I'd be applauding him. (The primary reason I dislike the Shrub is that he made Clinton look good... and even now that I've taken a look at my prejudices against Clinton and realized a lot of them are irrational, I still don't like Clinton.) But then, Bush did fill a lot of positions during the Congressional Break, so it seems likely Democrats were complaining and obstructing to the same degree as Republicans when it came to filling positions.

Obama has extended a hand to Republicans on multiple occasions. Nearly every time he gets spat upon and derided. If he gives Republicans what they want, it's not bipartisanship, it's weak leadership. If he resists, he's not being bipartisan. And if he gets angry, he's an Angry Black Man and isn't being Presidential. The Onion had an excellent parody article in which Obama asks why he would want to be President for another four years. The funny thing about effective satire? It's got some basis in reality.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Robert

Although I respect your opinions I feel I should point out that this is your second recent posting in which you use inflammatory racial language. "uppity" and "Angry Black Man". It would seem to imply a degree of racism on the part of the GOP. I think this weakens your points, as this is a race neutral question, what are the proper limits of the executive branch.

If the GOP feels that the domestic policies of the current administration are leading the nation to fiscal ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?

Some may read in this a degree of prep work for an Obama second term in which the Senate flips, a plausible prospect given the disparate numbers of seat each faction is defending.....

I see no takers on the California choo-choo issue. alas and alack.

Tacitus

(points granted in advance, GWB's domestic policies were irresponsible. And, Presidents deserve more latitude in their Commander in Chief role)

Anonymous said...

Theology:

Sweden has officially recognized a data religion:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/data-gods-sweden-recognizes-file-sharing-official-religion-174039450.html

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

And I was not speaking of our genial host specifically. But thanks, not that I feel a need for defenders.


I didn't think you did, but I wanted you to know I WOULD back you up when I thought you were being treated unfairly. I disagree with many of your positions, but don't feel the need to UNFAIRLY disparage you.


Here is another quote from the President, on the subject of congressional inertia:

"That's inexcusable. It's wrong. And I refuse to take no for an answer."

If the second half of that does not give even the staunchest Progressive a frisson of fear...


You already acknowledged that wasn't a real Bush quote, but let's argue the point on merits as if it were, or as if it were something that Bush and Obama both said at various times.

The degree of "fear" the quote should inspire depends quite a bit on the specifics the prez is responding to. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the sole power to declare war. A president threatening to commit our country to a real shooting war that Congress was actually opposing (I'm not trying to pretend this was the case in Iraq--just a hypothetical) and he used that phrasing above, yes, that would be scary, and I'd hope the other two branches would put a stop to it.

If, for another hypothetical, Justice Roberts had refused to adminster the oath of office to President Obama on Jan 20, 2009, does the office of the Presidency remain unfilled?

To me, the Senate filibustering all nominees for an office--not because the nominee is unqualified or even because they don't like the nominee's politcs, but for the specific purpose of refusing to fill the office--is more like the second example than the first. I applaud President Obama for essentially going "Just because Congress refuses to do ITS job doesn't mean I won't do MINE."


animus-a predisposition to believe ill.


Hence my confusion. To me, "animus" means some kind of animating force.


I feel I should point out that this is your second recent posting in which you use inflammatory racial language. "uppity" and "Angry Black Man". It would seem to imply a degree of racism on the part of the GOP.


Well, if it walks like a duck...

I acutally agree with you that the issue is better argued without the racial element, but let's not pretend either. Whether or not Republican officials are themselves racist, they're courting a swath of voters who can't stand the black man in the White House. If mentioning that is impolite, so be it. I'm tired of hearing about how bad "political correctness" is in liberals from conservatives who demand "politeness", when the two are actually the same thing.


this is a race neutral question, what are the proper limits of the executive branch.


I'd think that appointing members of his own cabinet would be within those limits. Sure, the constituion has the Senate "advising and consenting", so, since they're NEITHER advising nor consenting, just which branch is falling down on the job?


If the GOP feels that the domestic policies of the current administration are leading the nation to fiscal ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?


You've argued that before, and it makes me crazy! One could make all sorts of substitutions that would point out the fallacy.

continued after character limits...

LarryHart said...


If the GOP feels that the domestic policies of the current administration are leading the nation to fiscal ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?


You've argued that before, and it makes me crazy! One could make all sorts of substitutions that would point out the fallacy.

"If the Democrats feel that the corporatist policies of the president's nominee for the Supreme Court are leading the nation to ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?"

"If the liberals feel that the misguided policies of the Tea Party are leading the nation to ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?"

"If the KKK feels that the race-mixing policies of the federal government are leading the nation to ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?"

Now, certainly, there are extraordinary circumstances in which a minority or even an individual may believe so strongly that he's right and the majority is wrong that he'll be correct in going to incredible lengths to oppose the majority. That's kind of what the filibuster is for. But to work that way, it has to be used sparingly. An observer has to be able to think "If they're going so far as to FILIBUSTER this measure, maybe there really is something to their argument." When the "use any and all means to oppose" response is used as often as this congress does, then they're not reacting to circumstances above and beyond the normal. No, they're just saying "We won't even entertain the notion that maybe the majority is right and we are wrong. We're not even willing to let the chips fall where they may and go 'I told you so' afterwards. No, we will get our way even at the cost of opposing democracy itself."

And that's what you're defending as if it's the GOP making a last, honorable stand.

Robert said...

The constitutionality of the filibuster is up to question. It's a Senatorial rule, and if the Democrats had the balls then they would have eliminated the filibuster after the first year of its abuse. You can be sure that Republicans won't be so lax in eliminating it if they are able to seize control of the Senate while retaining control of the House (especially if they have control of the White House at the same time).

After all, the best political weapon is one that is denied to your enemies. And Republican politicians obviously view Democrats as Other.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

On a more Brin-related subject...

From "Glory Season":

"All clones are tried and tested designs," she had explained it. "While every summerling is a fresh experiment, and countless experiments fail."


This is reminding me of my own thoughts on society doing best with conservatism as a dominant trait AND liberalism as a recessive one, both having their uses.

Every (true) conservative proposition is a tried and tested design which works--until the situation changes enough that it no longer does.

Each liberal proposition is a new experiment, and countless experiments fail, but the ones that SUCCEED take you where you'd never have gotten by playing it safe. And when the situation (or environment) do change such that conservatism no longer works, you have to have SOMETHING else to fall back on.

This isomorphism helps explain why I don't consider supply-side theory or neoconservatism (or racism, for that matter) to be True conservative positions. Not a one of them is a "tried and tested design."

Hans said...

I live in California, and am somewhat left leaning in a lot of respects. I think high speed rail is a crazy idea. More than that, there are a lot of better places to put the money, places with a better return on investment. Why not build schools to replace all the portable class rooms the schools are using. Hand out science and technology scholarships. Fix some of the roads that desperately need it (like 101 between King City and Gilroy).

And I'm still mad that Obama hasn't closed Guantanamo Bay.

Regards,

Hans

Tacitus2 said...

The challenge we all face is that we need to keep in mind that some things are either good ideas or bad ones. Whether "your guy" or "that other **$##" does it should not matter.

When Dems blocked things Bush (and earlier presidents) wanted he pushed back. On these recent recess appointments Obama pushed back even a little harder.

A similar situation exists on signing statements. Obama condemned this process as a candidate yet issues signing statements regularly. (20 so far, but this is behind the pace of W).

We have our preconceptions. I struggle with mine. Animus in the sense I have been illustrating is always assuming the worst of your political foes.

The Brits have better political invective. John Wilkes and the Earl of Sandwich once sparred:

"It is certain, Sir, that you shall either die on the gallows or of the pox."

"That depends, Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress!"

Tacitus

Robert said...

Okay. To put this into perspective, the Republican Party decided to keep Obama from making ANY Recess Appointments by not adjourning Congress during the Christmas/New Years break. Now, there aren't any Congressmen or Congresswomen in Washington, but every three days they have a virtual gavel and keep Congress in session.

To put it another way, Congress has punched its time clock and then walked away from its job and isn't doing anything while it is on the job. There is a term for this when people in the private sector try shenanigans like this: Stealing Company Time.

It's a firing offense.

Just to put this in perspective, you know.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Fun: Klein Bottle Opener

http://www.bathsheba.com/math/klein/

(of course, I'd never pay $72 for it, but still fun to see)

LarryHart said...

Tacitus:

When Dems blocked things Bush (and earlier presidents) wanted he pushed back. On these recent recess appointments Obama pushed back even a little harder.


President Obama also was RESPONDING to a harder push. Again, Democrats blocked individual appointees. Their job as an opposition party is to offer some opposition. Given what Scalia and Roberts have done to the country, I'd say that your own defense of "Shouldn't they do whatever they can to block him?" applies as a defense of those Democrats. Yet in the end, they could only delay, not prevent, the majority approving their own president's selections.

Today's GOP senators aren't blocking specific appointees, they are refusing to allow ANY appointments. No wonder President Obama pushes back harder. What else CAN he do? You make it sound as if the president, who has been the model of restraint for three years, is now betraying a monomania characteristic of him personally. Would Bush have acted differently in a similar situation? Would Hillary or Palin? Would ANY president?


A similar situation exists on signing statements. Obama condemned this process as a candidate yet issues signing statements regularly. (20 so far, but this is behind the pace of W).


As I understand it, every president since George Washington has done signing statements. What W did that was unique to him was to use signing statements to say "Don't expect me to follow this law that I'm signing." There's a qualitative difference between Obama saying "This law allows me to detain US Citizens, but I'm not going to use it that way." vs Bush saying "This law prevents me from spying on US Citizens, but I'm going to spy on them anyway."


We have our preconceptions. I struggle with mine.


I understand how hard it is to see past our own blinders. That's why I try to "show my work" in these arguments, not just to say "This thing happened and I DON'T LIKE IT!", but to explain my reasoning and hope that it passes the "reasonable man" test.

David Brin said...

"If the GOP feels that the domestic policies of the current administration are leading the nation to fiscal ruin do they not have an obligation to use all constitutional means to thwart them?"

Tacitus, you use the word "if" and it is significant. Most of our road to financial ruin was taken by the GOP and you know it. For the first time in history the US went to war and the rich refused to help pay for it. Period. Exclamation point. Italics.

Let's go to fundamentals. How often is a side plain flat-out wrong on the main issues of the day?

The GOP was isolationist when the world needed us between the world wars and when we had to fight evil at the start of WWII.

The SOCIAL ELEMENTS OF TODAY'S SOCIETY who were once dixiecrats and who are now republicans fought the civil rights movement, tooth and nail.

"Cars don't cause smog," "tobacco doesn't cause disease," women belong in the kitchen, acid rain, the Ozone Hole.... and now global climate change. And you know I have chosen the tips of the iceberg.

And then there is Supply Side economics.

Now I could make an equally long list of errors of the left... starting with school bussing and too-long delaying Welfare Reform, and too-long insisting on Whole Language reading teaching... I keep telling you I am a moderate and see the flaws on all sides! But the errors of the left are almost always dopey mistakes of tactics or method or obstinate correctness. They aren't frenzied denial of PROBLEMS THAT NEED SOLVING!

Our health care is TEN TIMES as inefficient as any other industrialized nation. We should be sitting down together negotiating a dozen state-based experiments. Obama TRIED by saying to the GOP... "Okay, let's go ahead with YOUR PLAN!!!!"

Jesus, what more could you possibly ask of a guy? If that weren't a basis for negotiating, in good will, like adults, I don't know what could possibly be. But he was the only adult in the room.

David Brin said...

Fillibuster: You don't eliminate entirely tools you may later need. But I have long favored giving minority powers that encourage accountability, not gridlock.

I proposed that every congresscritter get THREE SUBPOENAS he or she could use to compel testimony from anybody. That way the minority can always probe malfeasance. Trade this for eliminating the $#%#$#! filibuster!

LarryHart nailed that liberals and leftists are obsessed - by PERSONALITY - with problems that need solving and horizons that need expanding. Conservatives are by personality suspicious of being pushed toward disruptive change.

Lefties are ADDICTED to horizon expansion. The expansion itself has the loyalty that most people give to nation and family and God. Hence they despise nation and God as competitive loyalties. This rankles conservatives, and rightfully so! In fact, by stressing guilt-trips and finger -wagging, instead of praise and positive feedback for past accomplishments in race and sexism and all that - the lefties prove they are true loonies.

Conservatives accept change that has already worked. They SWEAR they aren't racists anymore and indeed, that they NEVER WERE! Did you know that Glenn Beck is ML King's true heir? They once hated Don't Ask, Don't Tell as too forthcoming to gays. Last year? It was sacred to them! Just like the left, they will never admit that the general process of steady problem-solving and progress and horizon expansion has been wonderful.

LIBERALS are caught in the middle. They like progress and horizon expansion (!) and they share the left's obsession with finding problems to solve. They are less doctrinaire about it having to be by government action, and they are a lot less devoted to guilt trips. (Deep down, though most aren't educated enough to parse it, they are loyal sons and daughters of Adam Smith and they want healthcare and education and all that for different core reasons than the socialists do.)

Oh, liberals see no reason why expanding our horizons of tolerance and loyalty has to mean abandoning older loyalties to country, or even God.

David Brin said...

Speaking of subpoenas. The GOP issues hardly any when they hold power in Congress. Or hearings. Or proposed bills. If I were a republican... (okay, I am one)... I would be furious over their laziness more than over anything else.

The laziest congresses in 100 years have been under the GOP in the last decade.

Robert said...

Buzz Aldrin talks about American Space Exploration Leadership - from some of what he says, I think he sees China in the role Russia once played, and is hoping that Chinese efforts to go to the Moon will spark increased funding to NASA to establish a permanent presence on Mars.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Tacitus:
"When Dems blocked things Bush (and earlier presidents) wanted he pushed back. On these recent recess appointments Obama pushed back even a little harder."

Hmmm, your comment ("Obama pushed back even a little harder") seems to imply that you think Obama's actions exceed previous Presidents'.

Did you know that Obama has made much fewer recess appointments than any recent President? And about half the recess appointments by Bush. (Per year. The raw numbers are 29 vs 171.)

I suspect this is getting play amongst rightwing commentators because... well... you're not allowed to do things to Republicans that they are allowed to do to you. So you're judging Obama's actions based by the squeal of the pig not the size of the poke.

Paul451 said...

Recently had my Google account (and all associated accounts like Blogger (and Gmail)) suspended due to "breaching the Terms of Service." How I breached it, I don't know. I applied to get it reactivated, but Blogger continued to block my posts for an extra week. The last comment seems to have stuck, so maybe I'm back...

Now, I can live without Blogger blogs, no offence to David, but how can I rely on Gmail when I can be cut off for no apparent reason with no warning. Hell, I couldn't even login to read the emails already received.

The whole point of switching to gmail was when I changed ISPs and had to change every login/subscription/etc that I had. Not wanting to go through that again, having a reliable universal non-ISP email address seemed obvious... Now?

<sigh> Do I have to run my own damn email server? Shouldn't this stuff be getting easier.

Tim H. said...

Off-topic, but interesting:
http://www.ginandtacos.com/2012/01/06/npf-dazzling/
Someone's working with cosmetics and hairstyles to confuse facial recognition software, sounds like something out of "Kiln People".

Paul451 said...

Don't know if this has been posted:

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/01/05/398311/corporate-profits-rebound-tax-revenue/

Corporate profits have rebounded past their pre-Great Recession peak in 2007, reaching record highs of around $2 trillion. (It looks like they recovered by late 2009, and increases since then are now back on the same pre-Recession line.)

But the amount of tax paid on that profit has not recovered. And in fact is lower than it was in 2001 when corporate profits were half as much (below $1 trillion.)

Paul451 said...

How to save the world economy: Write off global debt.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/01/03/1_write_off_the_worlds_debt

Debt Jubilee a la Leviticus 25.

Tony Fisk said...

A little while ago, I referred to a sermon in which Cardinal George Pell appeared to censure SETI as unchristian.

An extraordinary sentiment (esp. amid the coziness of a Christmas Eve sermon!),

However, it is one that I must confess is not substantiated by any online source.

The closest I can find is concern expressed that movies like 'Avatar' are a form of pagan propaganda. This may have been what Pell was referring to.

So, my mistake. I apologise to his Eminence for making it.

innulgui: imps who tempt geeks with dreams of a good sf plot, rather than the usual fare of incubui and succubui

digholi: either a reference to my slip-up, or a call to embrace religion?

Tacitus2 said...

Paul 451

When I put items up for discussion and specifically say I am not an expert, I mean just that. I learn things.

My take on the recess appointments is that Bush generally respected the thin fiction of Congress staying in session. Obama's lawyers said-surprise!-he did not have to. It is an issue of seperation of powers.
Additionally, it was the Labor Relations Board that was the meat here. They have been greatly criticized from the right for their actions, think Boeing, as unelected arbiters. I tried to put Obama's quotes in some kind of context, realizing that he was in campaign mode.

Regards the more insidious high speed train boondoggle I got less reaction.

Well, I try to be a fair man. I find today's employment stats modestly good news and approve of nodding to reality and downsizing our military a tad. Just to show that I keep my own animus on a leash when possible.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

The whole point of switching to gmail was when I changed ISPs and had to change every login/subscription/etc that I had. Not wanting to go through that again, having a reliable universal non-ISP email address seemed obvious... Now?


Modern conveniences are nice to have, but I've thought for a long time that it's very risky to become literally dependent on them. How many people do we know who "can't live without" their BlackBerries or their smart phones? The thing is, there's no Constitutional or Divine guarantee that these things will continue to function, or that they won't become prohibitively expensive, at a whim.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

My take on the recess appointments is that Bush generally respected the thin fiction of Congress staying in session. Obama's lawyers said-surprise!-he did not have to. It is an issue of seperation of powers.


In all seriousness, what are you talking about?

The conflict between Bush and congressional Democrats took place while congress WAS in session. Bush DID make recess appointments (e.g., John Bolton) during recesses.

I'm not sure the president can make recess appointments to the Supreme Court, but that applies equally to Obama and Bush, and seems irrelevant to the issue before us, which is whether the president can be prevented from making the recess appointments he CAN make by the expedient of congress pretending to meet while not conducting any business or even having enough members present TO conduct business should they decide to.

I'd be interested if anyone has an example where Bush was stymied by congress refusing to recess, and his (Bush's) "generally respecting" this tactic.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

liberals and leftists are obsessed - by PERSONALITY - with problems that need solving and horizons that need expanding. Conservatives are by personality suspicious of being pushed toward disruptive change.


It is said that a woman marries a man hoping to change him, while a man marries a woman hoping she will NEVER change, and both are inevitably disappointed.

Simlarly, some voters elect Democrats hoping for reform, while others elect Republicans hoping for certainty, and once again, both are disappointed.

Jonathan S. said...

Tacitus, as best I can tell (and recall), Democrats during Bush's tenure didn't try to fake sessions by having one man gavel in, declare Congress in session despite being alone, then gavel out - if they were on vacation, they were on vacation, not pretending to work.

The question at hand here is whether this new tactic the Republicans in Congress are trying constitutes "being in session". At the moment, consensus outside the party itself seems to be "no", so this has indeed been a recess appointment. If Congress doesn't like it, they can bloody well get back to DC and go back to work!

Tacitus2 said...

Wikipedia is kind of cheating, but on a day when I am too busy to go to original source material...

Senate action preventing recess appointmentsSometimes, especially when the Senate is not controlled by the same political party as the President, the Senate leadership will seek to block any potential recess appointments by having the Senate recess in short time increments, rather than for a longer period that would allow recess appointments to be made. For example, during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented any further recess appointments. Bush promised not to make any during the August recess that year, but no agreement was reached for the two-week Thanksgiving break in November 2007. As a result, Reid did not allow recess of more than three days from then until the end of the Bush presidency by holding pro forma sessions.[24][25] Prior to this, there had been speculation that James Holsinger would receive a recess appointment as U.S. surgeon general.[26]

Thanks Harry Reid!

Tacitus

Robert said...

I don't see the use of Wikipedia as "cheating." You pointed out that the Democrats were using these sessions to block recess appointments.

Of course, there is one question we need to ask: were Democrats using the filibuster to prevent Bush from making appointments, or did they state in a straight-up vote that an appointment did not meet their approval and then hold these sessions to try and prevent the appointment of someone the Senate said no to during a recess?

Or to put it another way, Republicans said no to Elizabeth Warren. So Obama chose someone else. If he used a recess appointment to put her in place, then he'd have done something unethical, in my opinion. (Of course, I don't consider Obama the most ethical of presidents, but he did reach out to Republicans and offer someone more palatable to them to run a legally-mandated government department that the Republicans are trying to torpedo by denying it funding and the like. To put it in perspective, it would be like if an anti-war group of Democrats seized control of the House and refused to fund the Pentagon in their budget proposals.)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2 quoted:

For example, during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented any further recess appointments. Bush promised not to make any during the August recess that year, but no agreement was reached for the two-week Thanksgiving break in November 2007. As a result, Reid did not allow recess of more than three days from then until the end of the Bush presidency by holding pro forma sessions.


Ok, I did not remember that. So there is some validity to your assertion that President Obama is doing something new that Bush chose not to do. I'll have to concede you a win on that one.

Perhaps one difference is that the post-2006 congress (both houses) was overwhelmingly Democratic. Bush's nominees could have been voted on and voted down by the Senate. Obama's nominees aren't being voted down--the filibuster is being used to prevent the vote from happening. Essentially, the Senate Republicans are "on strike", refusing to perform their function and thereby preventing that function from being performed at all. Interesting tactic by those who simultaneously believe that public employees are not ALLOWED to strike.

It seems to me that the original, non-dysfunctional intent of the rule allowing "recess appointments" is not to do an end-run around Congress, but to legitimately let the President fill a vacancy when Congress really isn't available to ratify the choice. The check-and-balance in that case is that the appointment is necessarily temporary.

Interesting mention of Harry Reid, too. It reminds me that it isn't the present-day Senate leader (the same Harry Reid) keeping the chamber open for business. If I remember correctly, it is actually John Boener keeping the HOUSE in pro-forma session, which somehow means procedurally that the Senate is also considered "in session". I'm not sure that sways the argument any, but it's an interesting twist.

rewinn said...

@Tacitus2 said: "...s the Labor Relations Board that was the meat here. They have been greatly criticized from the right for their actions, think Boeing, as unelected arbiters..."

Since this issue has been brought up, let me add some context with which many may not be familiar.
Federal law ... whether one likes it or not ... forbids retaliation against union negotiations. A company cannot punish workers for striking. That law may or may not be wise, but it's the law and the Executive is supposed to enforce the law. Most recent Administrations have not done their duty in this regard, but they may argue they have the executive discretion to apportion their limited prosecutorial resources.

In this case, Boeing was improvident enough to state bluntly that they were installing a production line in a certain state in reaction to a strike in Washington State. This sort of retaliation may happen all the time, but most corporate leaders are smart enough to keep their mouths shut about it (...ever since Boeing let its beanpushers take over from the engineers it's been one series of unforced errors after another, e.g. The Sonic Cruiser, sourcing the 787 around the world ...).

Now, it is the *job* of the NLRB to intervene when the law is broken. One may dislike this role and perhaps disparage the Board as an "unelected arbiter", but *all* appointees are unelected (as are all federal judges). I would not be opposed in concept to making more executive branch positions elective; voting for Secretary of State might be fun (Who would you vote for as head of NASA?)

The Boeing matter has been settled. Neither Boeing nor the union really wanted the long court fight and they negotiated a settlement agreeable to both, based on doing the 737MAX in Puget Sound country. The system seems to have worked.

Hans said...

Tacitus,

Well, I did my part.

I think the reason you aren't getting much of a response about the high speed train issue, is because most people in California don't care about billions of dollars. They are more concerned with their next 100 dollars (i.e. the next grocery bill).

When I try to talk to people about things like SOPA, the amendment to the most recent defense bill authorizing the arrest of suspected terrorists inside our borders by the military, the rule of law relating to the use of military commissions to try civilian criminals, super PACs, etc, I get blank stares. Literally.

Most people have no idea what any of these are, and more importantly, they just don't care to.

Regards,

Hans

Robert said...

Got some more nice juicy science-related articles for you all. :)

First, we have the Periodic Table of Exoplanets (which is discriminatory if you think of it - why are exoplanets not considered planets? Is a planet only a planet if it goes around Sol (Earth's sun)? And technically, the claim that a planet has to "clear out" its orbital path means Earth isn't a planet... and neither is Jupiter, which frequently has comets smack into it. For that matter, what proof do we have that Pluto's orbital path isn't cleared out? Considering how difficult it is to get a clear picture of Pluto, we have no visible proof of intruders in Pluto's orbital path... no empirical data, which means the degradation of Pluto from planetary status is not scientifically valid.) which is of use as astronomers are now going to start looking for habitable moons around gas giants in the habitable zone of various stars.

Next is an interesting article concerning pseudoscience in the Huffington Post which has recently launched a Science section (which in my opinion is very much overdue). I remember what Dr. Brin has said about how the Loony Left can be just as anti-Science as the Radical Right... and when you get down to it, Huffington Post is a clear example of it.

Whether or not they can overcome their past and become more responsible in scientific journalism remains to be seen. As for me, I'm always glad to find another source for science news and will give it a chance.

Finally, a really cool video (and article) of the doomed Russian Mars Probe; it seems it is traveling like a shuttlecock with the heavier fuel tanks in the front, and the still-intact solar panels away from the sun (which is a good reason why it's not accepting signals - it has no power).

So. If part of it crashes into my back yard, can I keep it? Or sue Russia for landscaping repairs at the very least? ;)

Rob H.

ell said...

Larry & Paul:

Who'd've thunk it? The Post Office, thought to be archaic, may be a necessary backup system to e-mail when e-mail providers are unreliable.

Tacitus2 said...

Thanks ReWinn. It helps to occasionally get a legal insight from someone who actually went to Law School.

Conservatives regard outfits like the NLRB as being able to do pretty much anything they darn well please. "Playing Calvinball" to borrow a recent well turned phrase...

Tacitus

rewinn said...

@Tacitus2 wrote:
"...Conservatives regard outfits like the NLRB as being able to do pretty much anything they darn well please. "Playing Calvinball" to borrow a recent well turned phrase..."

Heh. Well said, sir. Although to be fair, liberals such as myself have the Very Same Feeling much of the time,just on different subjects or organizations. It is comforting to see this example of the fundamental unity of humankind ;-)

@Hans wrote:
"...most people in California don't care about billions of dollars. They are more concerned with their next 100 dollars..."

The great C. Northcote Parkinson wrote, in "Parkinson's Law", about what he called The Point Of Vanishing Interest, giving the example of a Board of Directors meeting with three items on the agenda:
A) A nuclear power plant (1 billion pounds sterling)
B) The Board's Coffee Fund (60 pounds)
C) A bicycle shed for the secretarial staff (1000 pound).

Item #A was swiftly approved because only two persons at the meeting really understood it, and they had previously conferred.
Item #B was ignored because it was beneath notice.
Item #C got two hours of discussion because everyone present knew and understood the worth of a thousand pounds. Eventually they economized by requiring an asphalt rather than tin roof, saving no less than 150 pounds on the project, and feeling they had quite done their duty.

Parkinson was, of course, writing humor. I think?

Robert said...

And now for an article for those people who enjoy peanut butter in their chocolate, or politics in their science! The Republican Presidential Candidates have won the Climate B.S. Award of 2011. The article actually takes a good look at various groups (including Republican candidates) and their actions, so it's not just a quick read and snicker, but provides something of thought in the process.

Hey, just because we have politics mixed into science doesn't mean we can't be slightly more serious about it. ;)

Rob H.

tersi: Siri's more sardonic and hostile sister app

sociotard said...

Because sometimes the wingnuts are just too fun:

As a young man in the early 1980s, Obama was part of a secret CIA project to explore Mars. The future president teleported there, along with the future head of Darpa.

That’s the assertion, at least, of a pair of self-proclaimed time-traveling, universe-exploring government agents. Andrew D. Basiago and William Stillings insist that they once served as “chrononauts” at Darpa’s behest, traversing the boundaries of time and space. They swear: A youthful Barack Obama was one of them.


http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/01/obama-mars/

David Brin said...

welcome back Paul, tho I hope you weren't REALLY naughty. I do cross-post this blog on Wordpress and Open Salon. Sometimes your college alumni association offers free email for alums.

Re the "debt jubilee" idea... In fact, it’s what Iceland is doing now and Argentina did pretty wellwith a partial jubilee. Frankly, it’s not my preferred solution (which is something equally radical, though less disruptive of credibility and credit.)

Obama on Mars! Yes! http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/01/obama-mars/

Ian said...

A quick note on liberals versus conservatives.

While it is true that conservtives implies an attachment to the status quo and liberal implies a desire to change the status quo, this does not represent the current stance of the too major US parties.

The nominal conservative Republican Party is not seeking to maintain the status quo: they are seeking to abolish government agencies which have been in place for 50-odd years; to overturn Roe Vs Wade which has been established law for almost 40 years.

Some of their current candidates for the Presdiential nomination want to reverse a century or more of law regarding the interpretation of the 14th Amendment and to get rid of the Federal income tax which has been in place for almost a century. Some of them want to give Congress or the Presdint the power to override the courts - which would take the US back about 200 years.

The Republican National Platform - which admittedly doesn't get a lot of attention paid to it - contains multiple proposals to amend the US Constitution.

Properly speaking - and I hate to use this term because it has such negative connotations - the Republican Party is not conservative, it is reactonary.

The Democratic Party, for its part, is premarily concenred not with radical new proposals but with defending would could be described as the post-1970 status quo.

They shoudl therefore be properly regarded as conservatives.

David Brin said...

Hrm...

Except that the dems retain the trait of perceiving problems that need solving. Your model is compatible with mine if you simply observe that today's republicans consider "solutions" to be the "problem."

Now add in one absolute and inviolate credo. That FDR was satan and anything he liked was automatically evil.

How I wish anyone in the Dem's polemical apparatus would listen to me.

sociotard said...

And yet, to like FDR is to take a flaming poop on Washington and the Order of Cincinatus.

A good leader has the humility to walk away from power.

David Brin said...

Point taken.

Yet, I look at outcomes too, ANd I look at the judgement of the citizen voters who were actually there at the actual time. And remember what was going on in 1940.

Still, you have a point.

Scheduled 8 hour power-cut coming in ten minutes. Gotta shut it all down....

Tim H. said...

Ian, I mostly agree, but remember the immense cash distortion here, nominal conservatives look to their paymasters first, principles somewhere after. In the same way Democrats are unlikely to fulfill FDR's economic bill of rights, because reelection chances go way down if the donors aren't looked after. The tea party and occupy movements are a sign Wall $treet doesn't have it all it's way, but the recent emphasis on security might indicate the unwillingness of the .01% to gracefully accept a democratic solution.

Paul451 said...

David Brin,
"tho I hope you weren't REALLY naughty."

I wish I knew. Was it my lump of coal, is Santa that subtle in the modern age?

Tony Fisk,
Re: Cardinal Pell and the dangers of SETI. (Worst boys-own-adventure book title ever?)
I've seen other references to his stranger danger comment, so I don't think yours is a unique interpretation, but I can't find a transcript online.

Rob H,
"Phobos Grunt...If part of it crashes into my back yard"

NASA will have you arrested.

ell,
"Who'd've thunk it? The Post Office, thought to be archaic, may be a necessary backup system to e-mail when e-mail providers are unreliable."

Heh. Unfortunately, it doesn't inform the people who have my gmail address that I wasn't able to read them.

Although it does occur to me that this could be a valuable service by the Post Office. A semi-closed email system for official mail. To get an account, you have to physically attend a post office with suitable ID. Access it from anywhere, but when you send an email you have the option of physically going to the post office, where you can show ID, then it becomes the equivalent of a signed and witnessed document.

Paul451 said...

Speaking of random ideas...
David long ago called for a way of allowing cellphone handsets to create ad hoc networks during emergencies to a) extend the range of the network, b) allow survivors to use their handsets as advanced radio transmitters. Here's another case where it should have been available...

http://news.discovery.com/earth/coffee-cup-alerts-mount-rainier-campers-120106.html

Cop-killer on the run in near Mount Rainier. Police search. Police helicopter spots campers in the area and wants to warn them (their camping supplies makes them a prime target for the fugitive). But due to terrain, he can't get close enough for them to hear his loud-speaker. Their phones are all turned off because they were out of network range. So he resorted to writing on and dropping cardboard coffee cups, then trying to herd them towards police on the ground. Quick thinking. But imagine how much easier if their phones formed a mesh network so they could have just phoned or texted each other directly.

Paul451 said...

Robert,
"why are exoplanets not considered planets? Is a planet only a planet if it goes around Sol (Earth's sun)?"

'fraid so. The definition of planet comes from ground-based astronomical traditions, rather than a POV-independent object-based definition.

Random ideas #3....

I think the IAU should have used the opportunity of their last definition change (the one that "demoted" Pluto) to create a vastly more generic definition of "Planet", but with overlapping sub-categories. For example, a planet is any object that is spherical due to gravity, or is more than 1000km along its narrowest width or has a mass exceeding 10^21 kg, but is not a star or remnant of one. (Stars, I presume, are already well defined. "Stellar remnant" can be defined for things like white dwarves, neutron stars, blackholes.)

That means that exoplanets are "planets" and Pluto is a "planet", but so is the Moon, and brown dwarfs. But then you can define "Traditional Planets" (MVEMJSUNP) to shut up the Pluto crybabies, "Major planets/minor planets" to shut up the Pluto-haters, and as many other sub-categories as you find useful.

sociotard said...

And remember what was going on in 1940.

Stalin, Hitler, and other dictator's for life were well established in powerful countries, and we needed to keep up with the Joneses?

(Yes, I just godwined. sorry. I don't really think Roosevelt was like Hitler in any way that actually matters. Even so, I'm glad Roosevelt died before he could just keep on being president for another decade.)

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

"And remember what was going on in 1940."

Stalin, Hitler, and other dictator's for life were well established in powerful countries, and we needed to keep up with the Joneses?


Ouch! I gather you are raising a caution rather than literally accusing Roosevelt of being a "dictator". Am I mistaken in believing that Hitler and Mussolini were't exactly running against an opposition candidate in 1940? Granted FDR broke precedent of NOT SEEKING re-election after two terms, but he still had to be re-elected one term at a time.


(Yes, I just godwined. sorry. I don't really think Roosevelt was like Hitler in any way that actually matters. Even so, I'm glad Roosevelt died before he could just keep on being president for another decade.)


I'm still not sure it would have gone down that way. I find it much easier to believe the peacetime country would have voted their wartime president out as Britain did with Churchill. An FDR who survived the war might have ended with an entirely different reputation than the one who was able to "quit" at the top of his game.

Jonathan S. said...

Paul, I'm not sure the messaging-network concept would have worked in this instance. It would have required more phones in range to connect (service aboard helicopters is notoriously poor), and that far up the side of Mt. Rainier, it's unlikely it would have been possible to reach any phones besides each other's.

fablingi: Extremely shiny Italian jewelry.

David Brin said...

Paul, good pt re P2p cell connectivity on Rainier.

My point about 1940 was that the world was plunging into hell and FDR may have looked around and seen the near-impossibility of anyone other than him getting done what needed doing. Granted that would be an arrogantly predictable thing for almost any human leader to rationalize! Totally the norm. But what if - in his case - it was totally valid?

After lend lease, the major act was the fierce embargo that cornered Japan into war. Who else would have been quite that aggressive?

It was an era of demagogues who were geniuses at manipulating minds via radio. We and the brits lucked out. Our demagogues were brilliant men who were on our side. Look up Huey Long. It almost wasn't so.

In any event, the point is still this. If every single thing about FDR must be dismantled, then what is the goal?

The America of 1930?

sociotard said...

US navy rescues Iranian boat from pirates

The rescue came just days after Iranian leaders warned the USA to keep its warships out of the Persian Gulf. “The very same ship and set of vessels that the Iranians protested on its last voyage through Hormuz, the John C Stennis Carrier Strike Group, just rescued this Iranian dhow from pirates,” she said.

I'm still a Military Isolationist, but I have to admit this made me smile.

LarryHart said:
Granted FDR broke precedent of NOT SEEKING re-election after two terms, but he still had to be re-elected one term at a time.


Valid. Roosevelt faced democratic processes that Hitler and Stalin did not. Similar processes are faced by Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin (who manages to be the most powerful man in the country no matter which office he occupies)

David Brin said:
After lend lease, the major act was the fierce embargo that cornered Japan into war. Who else would have been quite that aggressive?


I'm imagining a world where the US actually tried a military isolationist policy. No Philipino occupation. No proping up of central american despots. No antagonizing Japan into a war.

It makes me sad it never happened. I'll concede that it wouldn't have, even if Roosevelt never held any office at all. My country just can't seem to mind its own business.

So we saved millions of Chinese from the Japanese . . . so that a decade later millions of Chinese could be killed by other Chinese.

We have to stop pretending that anything can ever be fixed with the military. Guard our own nation, yes, but end military adventurism, and that includes the military sanctions (like those proposed against Iran) that provoke war.

To quote your generation, Dr. Brin, There is no way to peace, peace is the way.

Robert said...

Well. Let's see. If the U.S. had stuck to military isolationism, World War I would have continued to grind on for a while, probably with a stalemate being the ultimate solution. In fact, the war might not have ended... and instead into the 1920s or so war might have continued grinding Europe into paste.

A weakened Europe (that would be weakened further) would have not stood a chance against the Russian Communists, which would have invaded Germany and then gone through Europe as part of their Manifest Destiny. Japan likely would have tried to ally with the U.S., and been snubbed. It would then try to fight Russia... and eventually lose.

The Communists would have had multiple pogroms to wipe out the Jews, the Gypsies, the Homosexuals, and anyone else who disagreed with them.

Finally, they would have gone after the U.S., and probably kicked our tails because we'd not have been upgrading our military technology while they'd have battle-hardened troops.

Isolationism is intrinsically flawed. The U.S. keeping its nose out of the world's affairs would not necessarily make it a better place. Instead, inevitably someone would have gone after us.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

The calamity of Mao was a mistake the Chinese made. It was theirs and they had a right to make it. I will never apologize for stopping the Japanese Empire. Indeed, the Japan of today is testimony enough.

Jeeze so is SIngapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the free and happy (if bankrupt) continent of Europe... virtually ALL of it!

Wilson warned them, they didn't listen, so in 1945 we did it OUR way and the Germans and Japanese CALMED DOWN.

Pax Americana wasn't without faults. Vietnam was both immoral and an awful blunder, letting enemies suck us into a draining, land war of insurgency in Asia. Only imbeciles would do that.

But the balance sheet is hugely in favor of the American Peace. Violence has plummeted and child health and education skyrocketed. The world that Roosevelt and Marshall built is better than any that ever was.

Paul451 said...

The US entered WWI and II late and seemingly reluctantly. Whereas the US failures seem to be where it acted eagerly.

Maybe that's the successful pattern? Fortress America until a conflict is well under way, with a clear aggressor already winning. Afterwards rebuilding both the aggressor's nation and the victims equally (with no preference because often the "victims" were being giant dicks before the war anyway.)

Al Qaeda had been terrorising other nations for two decades by 9/11, so Afghanistan still initially fits the pattern of reluctant involvement. The US lost its moral clarity with the "Axis of Evil" speech. Iran, Iraq, Nth Korea. None of whom had a role in 9/11. It showed that the neocons had a different and aggressive agenda. Likewise "Gulf II" was an ego trip for the neocons. US as the aggressor, reluctant allied support, etc etc.

Vietnam also violated the pattern because the French were the aggressors. To keep to the pattern, the US should have supported the communist Vietnamese. (Heh. Imagine that world.)

Libya, Kosovo, Gulf I, were kind of reluctant actions, therefore morally defensible.

Korean War? China, IMO, was the aggressor. But the US couldn't take the war to China without involving Russia and starting WWIII, so perhaps the result was the best possible.

(fautso: Story about a man who sells his soul to the Colonel.)

Robert said...

Germany wasn't about to win in World War I when the U.S. got involved. They also weren't the clear aggressor as every side jumped into the war eagerly and with great fanfare - they (the leadership of said nations) had watched the U.S. pummel itself until both halves were bloody and swaying and went "oooh, that looks like fun!"

France was the "aggressor" in Vietnam at the request of the U.S., which wanted to go in there next to try and box in China. Vietnam was in some ways a continuation of the Korean War, but on another front. I also suspect that if Roosevelt had lived and been President for a couple more terms, we probably wouldn't have gone into Vietnam. But we'll never know for certain.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Robert

Without US involvement the Central Powers may well have "won" WWI.

Remember that 1917 was the year when Russia collapsed and signed the treaty of Brest-Liposk, which in theory both freed up troops and would circumvent the Allied blockade. Also, in 1917 a good percentage of the French Army mutineed, and for the rest of the war had limited use for anything other than defense.

The likely outcome would have been an unsatisfactory cease fire, but it is hard to see how it would have turned out worse than in our timeline.

I have recommended in the past Alistair Hornes trilogy on the topic, one book on the Franco Prussian War and the Commune, one on Verdun, one on France 1940. Really well written history.

Tacitus

Stefan Jones said...

Charles Stross speculates about 2032 and 2092:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/01/world-building-301-some-projec.html

Tony Fisk said...

@Paul451: See this article on the 'Serval Project' on a means of setting up mesh networks (intended for emergencies, but define 'emergency')

When re-classifying lumps of rock, Pluto and its brethren may come to be known as 'Plan-nots'.

See the #occupykuiperbelt hashtag, and 'The Crystal Spheres'

spacess: what its got in its pocketses along with the black holeses

matthew said...

I find it pretty amazing that anyone here would say that they would prefer that the US remain isolationist during WWII. It is true that many of Roosevelt's fiercest contemporary critics wanted us to remain out of the war, or even ally with the fascists, but for more than 60 years those critics ( or their sons and grandsons, see "Bush, family of") have tried to hide evidence of this isolationist stance. Wow, times have changed when it is ok to criticize Americas entry into WWII on the basis that Roosevelt used it to gain a third term. Revisionist much?

David Brin said...

Paul I will blog about the differences between Dem & Gopper ways of waging war.

Note though that if GHWBush had not stopped Gen. Schwarzkopf but allowed him to continue 24 hrs and liberate Basra and the Shiite South... then we WOULD have been greeted with "flowers and kisses."

Instead betraying the shiites and letting Saddam slaughter them? !2 years of horror. Then we come back... expecting "kisses and flowers"?

Freed from the Russian front, the German army launched a fierce offensive in 1918 timed to break through before American troops arrived. As it happened, it damned near succeeded and was only blunted when divisions of americans did rush into the line, also providing the manpower for the main counter offensive. US role in WWI is often underplayed, but it really broke the Germans.

sociotard said...

An article about a possible SETI signal? It'll turn out to be nothing, of course, but it is still fun.

http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2012/01/image-of-the-day-1st-kepler-search-for-extraterestrial-intelligence-seti-signals-recieved.html#.Twp1m_mbStI.facebook

Paul451 said...

sociotard,
"It'll turn out to be nothing"

Already is. It's an example of what a signal looks like, but had already been eliminated as an actual signal candidate. They already knew it was Earthly because it wasn't directional (ie, it seemingly came from anywhere in the sky. Which means it was a powerful signal hitting the receiver directly, from the ground, not a weak signal collected by the dish, coming from space.)

Paul451 said...

Tony,
Serval (and the related Batphone) is limited by spectrum ownership laws to Wi-Fi. That severely cuts its useful range.

There's an exemption to carrier roaming agreements that allows any handset to use any network to call the local emergency number, via 112, usually even without a simcard.

What prevents a similar agreement to allow phones which can't detect any carrier to use normal cellphone frequencies to form Serval-like ad hoc networks, with phones at the edge of the tower signal acting as relays to the conventional networks (if so volunteered by their owners).

Surely it's at least worth having an IEEE inter-operability standard, like 802.11 for Wi-Fi.

(unbilif: I don't biliv what they biliv.)

Paul451 said...

When I were young, I read that between WWI and the rise of the Nazis, everyone assumed that Germany had been forever gelded by the Treaty of Versailles, so strategic planners expected that the next war would be between the US and England. (With France vs England, US vs Japan, Japan vs Russia, and Russia vs Austria/Hungary rounding out the Top 5.)

Similarly, the US had objected to the crippling terms of the Treaty of Versailles, so would have felt schadenfreude as England and France reaped what they sowed.

So if the US had gotten involved in European politics in the '20s, "Realpolitik" may have had them siding with Germany in order to weaken and distract England.

(Indeed, the rise of the Nazis could have been sponsored by the US, the way many dictators were backed by the US during the cold-war. Hence after Germany was defeated by the Russians, the US could have carried the blame for "creating" the Nazis. Imagine carrying that legacy into the Cold War.)

By waiting until the insanity of the Nazis was obvious, the US could safely choose the "right" side, without domestic obstruction, without aiding a future enemy, and without concern for the English and French dickishness that caused German anger.

Likewise, the causes of WWI were not in any way one sided. And England was not in any way a natural ally for the US. It's easy to imagine the US picking the wrong side if they had gotten involved in European power games in the decade before.

Tacitus2 said...

WWI is perhaps the most fertile ground for alt hist musings. But this is ContraryBrin not ContraryTurtledove.

US would not have sided against England in WWI. There is too much common history and culture.

As to causes of WWI I give France (the least prudent nation) and Germany (the most ruthless) about equal demerits. Although you could just blame the decomposing corpse of the Hapsburg Empire for a few dying involuntary twitches that set it all off.....

Or many other scenarios.

Tacitus
word verification: polosi. I guess we could just blame her!

Paul451 said...

Tacitus2,
"But this is ContraryBrin not ContraryTurtledove."

[Reluctantly deletes five thousand word what-if scenario.]

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

WWI is perhaps the most fertile ground for alt hist musings.


But WWII was the war that was tailor made for movies and comic books.

In fact, I dare say that the now 70+ year history of superhero comics would, if it existed at all, be totally unrecognizable were it not for WWII.

My nine-year-old's class just read a novel involving a Danish family smuggling Jews to Sweeden during the war. She was especially receptive to the story, having a Jewish father and a mother with family connections to Denmark. At times like that, I wish my dad were still alive to describe the war years for her from actual memory, but in my own way, I tried to make clear which story elements were rooted in reality. I had to give her a speech that was essentially "Usually in real life, there aren't 'good guys' and 'bad guys' like on television. Both sides of a conflict typically have a point, and both sides to some bad things too. But the Nazis really WERE the bad guys."

I kinda subscribe (at least to the extent of "kidding on the square") to Kurt Vonnegut's notion that America's story as a story climaxed with WWII (the "finale rack" as it were), and that we've been "living in an epilogue" of our story for almost 70 years now. And that living in an epilogue is not something people handle very well.

Alex Tolley said...

Hence, we are already the methuselahs of mammals, getting THREE TIMES the usual number of heartbeats

That is a reasonable argument, but see
this site

that shows our heart rate is abnormally high. What if we could reduce that heart rate, is there a possibility that this could extend our life span further? Is there medical record data on life span and heart rates today that would shed light on this?

John Kurman said...

Happy New Year everyone. I just wanted to point out re: the Richard Serra looming dangerous walls of Corten steel, that he had those rollers specially made. Started out when he wanted a slanted hollow cylinder form where the top was an ellipse and the bottom was a different ellipse with the major axis rotated to a different angle. Couldn't be done with existing rollers, so he had one made.

Must be nice to afford those kinds of big boy toys.

Me? I'll take a space tug. For soft-landing comets on the Moon.

Robert said...

In case this slipped past some people, the Russian girl who snuck into a Russian military rocket factory has been uploading pictures of what she saw. Some of the pics can be found there. And they are absolutely awesome.

If Russia ever gets tired of sending people into space, they could rent out that facility to moviemakers for truly out-of-this-world scifi hits. =^-^=

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

See the sunset on Osiris. (aka HD209458b)

David Brin said...

Read re Huntsman:
-http://www.npr.org/2012/01/09/144903799/huntsmans-long-shot-bet-a-surprise-in-n-h

=====

Paul451 I have never heard or read a scintilla of information suggesting that any large number of americans thought about war with the UK after WWI. It sounds like fantasy. There was considerable paranoia about the Soviet Union, whose Comintern was committed to fomenting international proletariat uprising. And Japan re imperialism. Zilch re England.

You conflate the 1920s with the 1930s. Versailles unfairness made the 1920s harsh on Germany. In the 1930s, europeans bent over too far the other way, coddling Hitler. It was Americans who stayed steady in their recommendations... which we had a chance to enforce after 1945. Your "realpolitik" scenarios are bizarre.

Tim H. said...

If Huntsman can make it through the primaries and still be in shouting distance of the center, I'll be surprised. As far as voting for a party with all the "special" that Nixon's southern strategy brought to it, where Karl Rove still has influence, don't think I can.

Anonymous said...

Here's a little taste of the sort of thinking that was going around Washington in the 1920's...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Plan_Red

-The Vagabond (yeah, still around...)

Hylin - You take the lolin

LarryHart said...

Anonymous Vagabond, note this key line from the wikipedia article:

The war was seen as "unlikely" and "highly improbable", but was used as a planning exercise to understand the United States ability to defend the Atlantic coast...

Anonymous said...

Hi Larry,
Oh no, I saw it. Just wanted to share; the "Red" plan was subject to much speculation and misinterpretation since being released in 1974.
-The Vagabond
(Pyleg - 1655-1700, noted Dutch pyrate)
(Also, sorry for frequently signing in anon; from this station, I have no choice)

Paul451 said...

Vagabond,
Appreciate you doing the legwork that I didn't, but I'm happy to accept that I was wrong (well, I say "happy"...)

I vaguely recall I heard about it in a documentary about battleships... but I concede it may have been one about ancient aliens.