Saturday, May 11, 2019

Putin, Assange, Gandhi and Snowden: the weird logic of civil disobedience

I will give you a riff -- a primer -- on the concept and practice of Civil Disobedience, a vital idea, especially in days of "resistance." So scroll down... but first a few links regarding our present crisis, viewing it from different angles than you'll get in the press. 

For starters, Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted: "The Mueller report includes the results of the criminal probe, but not the findings of the counterintelligence investigation." And Mueller Hints at a National-Security NightmareYes, that shoe has to drop. But even bigger will be… money laundering.

Russian interference proved effective, and the GOP blocks doing anything about it. Do you need a better dictionary definition for treason? Several states are scratching for funds to replaced defective voting machines that cannot be audited and were produced by republican or even Kremlin-connected companies.

If the "good-guy billionaires" were serious about helping with this crisis, they would approach states like Pennsylvania and offer to pay for upgraded voting machines that give auditable paper receipts. Perhaps you will be repaid later, when the GOP cheating mafia is crushed. 

== Hatred of Smart People ==

Want to understand why the GOP pours poison at our intel/FBI/military officers and civil servants? Experts see two years of American political dysfunction as a win for Putin.

And what’s smellier? Whether or not it can ever be proved that the multiple horrifically suspicious multi-hour debriefings Donald Trump has held in secret with communist and “ex” communist dictators were actual agent-control sessions, the effects have been inarguable -- universal harm to our alliances, sciences, institutions, agencies, and every source of strength, public and private, as this article only begins to make clear.

… which has led a member of Trump’s transition team and a lifelong Republican political/legal advisor and professor at the Scalia Law School to say enough is enough.

 == Their best loved trick ==

Any person in the west who seeks a position of influence of any kind should read this article: “What to Do When the Russian Government Wants to Blackmail You — "Russian officials have a long history of using compromising material, or kompromat, as a weapon against political opponents.” They did it during the czarist Okrahna and all across the NKVD and KGB and some of the same guys are using the same tactics, today.

I’ve only been yammering about the likelihood of extensive blackmail in the west for 20 years. But this Atlantic piece offers case studies and practical advice what to do, if you find yourself a target. “The only way we can defend ourselves from dirty tricks is to go public,” he continued, “to beat the attackers.”

Oh, if only the compromised in Washington were to have such guts.

… which, strangely enough, circles around to …

== The essence of Civil Disobedience ==

Amid the tragicomedy of the expulsion of Julian Assange from his Ecuadorian bolt-hole,  this essay is erudite, offering interesting perspectives, while (alas) utterly missing the point about Assange's arrest and likely trial for hacking government computers. He will argue he's protected as a journalist, an absurd position that will only serve to dilute our consensus approval of journalistic sanctity. 

A vastly more pertinent defense is civil disobedience (CD). The essence of CD is much more than just raising a stink and nuisance, in order to call attention to injustice. The concept was well-explained by Thoreau and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and utilized with effect by Daniel Ellsberg. As Edward Snowden has said repeatedly, the practitioner of civil disobedience expects -- and even wants -- some degree of sacrifice and punishment! 

Accepting that expectation demonstrates the protester's courage and maturity of purpose in overcoming a steep opportunity-slope: the deterrence of the law, even one that needs to be changed. A lawful society - by the way - that the CD practitioner honors by assuming it will be implemented with some proportionality. Gandhi and King could never have won in a genuinely murderous tyranny, and they said so. Their methods only work in a society wherein judges and the populace grasp the important concept of a sliding scale, and the fundamental notion that the law sometimes must change.

Such societies -- the 1947 British Raj or 1950s America -- resist the temptation to crush protest... not always successfully, but enough to validate the protestor's faith: that sincere willingness to endure moderate deterrence will be rewarded with... conversation. 

Alas, protestors in China and Hong Kong have learned how risky this can be, when these concepts aren't rooted in real tradition.

Indeed, the very notion of CD is now embedded in U.S. law. Protests that amplify from picketing - to sit-ins that inconvenience commerce - are mostly "honored" with a night in jail. (And those who whine about that do not understand civil disobedience an iota.) Throwing an egg is nasty, but doesn't ruin anyone's life (or month) so a monetary fine and three days jail might happen... though much less, if you convince a jury of your peers that the egging was deserved. And hold that thought about jury nullification.

Edward Snowden has repeatedly lectured on this, saying he expects punishment for his bona-fide crimes... "I just want a promise I won't be killed, then I'll come home to a public trial," he's said. (Note also, while there are aspects that intel folks are rightfully angry about, Snowden's crimes have already satisfied a criterion for CD -- they provoked substantial - if inadequate - reforms in the FISA Courts and other processes.)

In contrast, Julian Assange asserts total victimhood for his righteous actions against a nation (America at-large, not just its varying governments) that at-best lazily and at-worst nefariously concealed heinous actions from its people. An ironic stance, since most of the "heinous" stuff that he screams-at has been... well... disappointing from a thriller-writer's perspective. 

(Note, I wrote The Transparent Society: so I approve of - indeed agitate for (!) - increases in the general, worldwide flow of light! Heck, I cheered my head off, over the Panama Papers, which seemed almost a scene from my novel EARTH! The consortia of responsible journalists who handled that much-needed revelation were both professional and heroic. Alas, it is from that position as a transparency activist that I worry: Assange appears to have done more to poison transparency, than elevate it.)

But back to the core point. A jury trial in the U.S. will give Assange a powerful megaphone, far more vivid than the silly-ass bullhorn he used to drive his Ecuadorian hosts to the verge of diplomatically-immune murder. Let him face a jury and argue for those peers to nullify any Trumpian machinations!

Daniel Ellsberg eventually became a college professor and hero to waves of undergraduates. It's where I expect Snowden to wind up, after he negotiates a CD transition, through moderate punishment. But Assange? His alliance with Putin and Trump showed that this is not a fellow who calculates in the cause of reform. I don't know enough to fully judge, nor am I asked to. But "hero" is not on my list of leading terms for this very strange man.


Orval said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention Chelsea Manning's very recent (Friday May 10t) and quite courageous piece of true civil disobedience:

David Brin said...

Manning is a difficult case. Courage? Yes. Stoked also by fame and alluiring sanctimony? Also. Even a remote clue what she's doing? No sign whatsoever.

David Brin said...

fizz gave a 90% score paraphrasing in the last comments section and I responded, for those of you curious how that went, in the discussion of teaching basic coding.

Anonymous said...

Nobody seems to have much explored the idea that what motivates Assange is simple revenge. The over-the-top US response to Wikileaks publishing the Manning papers convinced him to take refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012. Four years later he is working to prevent a Clinton victory in the election, using whatever tools he can lay his hands on.

David Brin said...

anonymous. First we give less cred and time to anonymous drive-bys who don't even bother signing with an ID monicker.

Second. Bullshit. He fled to the embassy to avoid facing sex accusers in Sweden. You can claim the charges were concocted by spies. But he blew off every chance to confront accusers.

Third. His real grudge was that his giant spills of US documents revealed nada, zip that was "heinous" and not already in process. In fact, to his outrage, the State Dept cables HELPED the Obama Admin during the Aram Spring.

Last. A decent man doesn't let rage be his propulsive force. Especially the stunning, ingrate hypocrisy of helping the world's oligarchies bring down a flawed democracy that's still the world's best hope.

FoundOnWeb said...

This is anon. I seem to have hit a nerve. I'll be more, in future.

What I'm doing here is trying to look at things through Assange's eyes, not defend him.

Whatever the validity of the sex charges (and the record on the Swedish side doesn't look as clean as it might), I still maintain that his primary fear was extradition to the US, where he'd face the same treatment as he'd seen given to Manning.

Note that a US extradition request was filed with the UK within 24hrs of his leaving the embassy. It's almost as if they had it on file.

I'd characterize lack of impact of the documents as a cause for chagrin, rather than grudge. He tried to make a splash and it didn't work. That's not Obama's fault. What happened afterwards, though, was personal.

Lastly, I have seen no evidence that Assange is a decent man. I'd make the argument that he never thought about the democracy vs autocracy comparison. He was, in his mind, just playing political hardball, making it hard for one established political party (that was out to get him) to win against another established political party. The impact on American Democracy was just, you know, collateral damage.

David Brin said...

Thanks F.onWeb. For clarifying. Okay. Though it is perfectly reasonable - under the social contract of civil disobedience - for the state to prosecute for clear and deliberate violations of existing law. What Snowden understands and Assane did not is that CD requires facing the music, then offering a variation the juries or citizens or legislators decide to try on.

FoundOnWeb said...

Absolutely. I suspect that Assange has no idea of what true civil disobedience is. He may wrap himself in that flag at a trial, but he's running Wikileaks strictly as a business/egoboo.

locumranch said...

All this talk of 'Civil Disobedience' for La Progressive Resistance coupled to a scathing condemnation of Trump & Assange's little anti-establishment disobediences is a wee bit disingenuous & comical, n'est pas? It's almost as if our fine host has never read the original 'Civil Disobedience' by Henry David Thoreau.

Or, perhaps our fine host just prefers the apologist voice of William Paley as he resolves all civil obligation into collective expediency & insists that it is the will of God that all right-thinking individuals must obey the established government bureaucracy.

Via Project Gutenberg, here's an untainted link to Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience' for all those individuals who actually aspire to individualism:

Now, go forth & EDUCATE yourselves if only to realise that Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience' was a prelude to Civil War as insubordination, unruliness, waywardness, misbehavior, misconduct, delinquency, noncompliance, disruptiveness, rebellion, defiance, mutiny & revolt are all legitimate synonyms for what our host terms 'disobedience'.


Larry Hart said...

A few posts back, someone posted this link to Kurt Vonnegut lecturing about story graphs, which I just got around to watching now:

In the video, he takes the concept further than he did in Palm Sunday, going beyond graphing stories as patterns of good and bad news, and broaching the subject that, in real life, we only pretend to know which type of news is which. He quips that if there is a Heaven, he'd like to go there to ask the question, "Which was the good news and which was the bad?"

That was exemplified in the story I posted at the time, where the king getting his thumb cut off was actually good news, as his deformity kept him from being killed by savages, and his friend's unjust imprisonment was also good news, as it kept him from being along on that fateful excursion. I also surmised that the election of George W Bush seemed like bad news, but it led directly to the reaction of electing Barack Obama. Which in turn seemed like good news until it led to its own reaction eight years later.

This explains something I've noted in my own reading habits--how I can enjoy Atlas Shrugged as an action/adventure novel while despising every philosophical point the author rams down the readers' throats in the book. Because I read the thing knowing what Rand wants us to feel good about and feel bad about, and a part of me plays along with the emotional ups and downs, even as my true self feels the opposite way about almost every plot element than I am intended to.

Larry Hart said...

On topic: Civil Disobedience gets you nowhere in 1984, but in Brave New World, it at least gets you your own island.

Mike Will said...

On previous topic. I tried to remember a quote but couldn't before the onward (getting old). Finally did pop into my noggin. The issue is not about teaching, or policy, or modern languages, or standards, or operating systems, or keystrokes. It's about the chance to strike a match, one time, in one little mind. Simplifying and replicating that chance will be the watershed between the caves and the stars.

When you make the finding yourself - even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light - you'll never forget it.
- Carl Sagan

David Brin said...

I'll not bother responding to locum's latest parroting of polysyllabic jabber. Ironically illustrating his earlier point about how lesser minds can be educated, but remain dull blades.

What I will assert is that the open, all-out war by the confederate cabal against modernity is not centered, as some think, on racism. Most confeds don’t view themselves as racist, even if they are. A majority have come considerable distance, in fact. No, if you distill for the common element in the Fox-led campaign against scientists, teachers, journalists, civil servants, and even law/intel military officers, it boils down to lava-hot spite toward Smart People.

Of course I've spoken before about the essence of their hate-smart-people cult. It's a two-part incantation that depends on part two going unspoken:

* We all know that being smart and knowing a lot doesn't necessarily guarantee that individually a person will be wise.

That's an Obvious. They implicitly warp this, relentlessly dancing around the bizarro version without ever making it explicit. Because, if stated explicitly, it is so obviously insane:

* All people who are smart and know a lot are therefore guaranteed en masse to be unwise.

That's a precise distillation - an accurate paraphrasing - of how they aim to discredit every single profession of people who work with those inconvenient things called facts.

To be clear, while individual smart/knowing people can be unwise, IN GENERAL being smarter and knowing more correlates strongly with a general tendency to wisdom. Wise/smart/knowing folks built the first society ever to escape from thuggish rape-feudalism and unleashed fair-competitive-creative minds to assail a myriad challenges.

David Brin said...

LH: "On topic: Civil Disobedience gets you nowhere in 1984, but in Brave New World, it at least gets you your own island."

Good example analogy of my point! Not only that, but Mustafa Monde actually talks to you and listens to your points before shipping you to Hawaii, to keep refining them.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

if you distill for the common element in the Fox-led campaign against scientists, teachers, journalists, civil servants, and even law/intel military officers, it boils down to lava-hot spite toward Smart People.

Locum illustrates this all of the time--accusing people who know stuff of forcing reality down his throat. Of course, he puts it differently, but that's what it boils down to. Like that scene in Life of Brian when the transgender guy (Stan who wants to be called Loretta) rails at the ones who note that he (S/L) can't have babies, "Don't you oppress me."

I've noted that when my own fetus was gestating, my wife and I avoided all knowledge of the baby's gender so that we could be legitimately surprised at the time of birth. Being both nerds, we referred to the unknown and unborn child as being in a Schoedinger's Cat-like state of occupying both genders until the waveform collapsed upon her birth and subsequent macro-revelation to observers. I suspect the fact-deficient FOX viewers live like that all the time--"Who knows how this (whatever this is) will work out? Who says it will lead to bad consequences. It's just as likely to be good."

What they resent smart people for is collapsing the waveform in a way they wish were otherwise. That's how we "oppress" people like locumranch such that they swear revenge for it. We insist on recognizing reality that conflicts with the fantasy they feel equally entitled to.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

To be clear, while individual smart/knowing people can be unwise,

I've found it to be very unwise to make "knowing stuff" something to actively seek personal credit and adulation for. That in itself causes resistance to your ideas out of sheer resentment.

If you care more about having your insights acted upon than on receiving credit for them, the best course is to put the bug in the ear of an influential person who doesn't come up with ideas of his own. Let that guy sell the thing. When the boss relates your own concepts of reality as if he thought of them himself (and he probably believes he did), then you know you've made a difference.

fizz said...

[about previous post]
I will try to be brief and to not further answer to this topic because the blog moved on to the next one, and I really really should be crunching on my work projects, not debating on internet! Taunt me if I will cede to temptation and come back here after this! ;-)

"Moreover, if you were honest (truly) you would admit that the paraphrasing effort gave you a clearer understanding of what I meant."
Well, being honest, truly, I had it quite clear from the beginning. I composed that paraphrasing on the fly without need to even reread your article and answers (I checked ofc *after* writing it and before posting, because there is being sure and there is being stupid about it...:-p).
And after that, I still think your idea underestimate the cost, overestimate the benefits, and does not make a clear case for the necessity.

I'm sorry about having misunderstood the part of the legislate and coercion thing, but you wrote "convene a meeting", "arm twist them" and "Could be done before the President leaves office", and these for me where keywords implying a legislative/political intervention. Otherwise, it's not clear who would convene the meeting, arm twist them and so on.
And, by the way, this was never part of my objections...

I would try to repeat in a summed up and slightly different way the objections I already made in previous posts for the last time:

1) Necessity of this. Are you sure that the "current lack of programmers", especially compared to non-western-countries is a real thing? do you have actual data, like the one your friend Pinker collected for his violence case? Because programming and computers were quite the niche thing even at the time. Now there is a much larger *demand* for programmers, but the quality of the young ones coming out is not significantly lower. Among my employees, the young ones are a bit more unfamiliar with the command line, but they learn what they need quite quickly.
Sure, the oldies are always complaining about the quality of the young ones, but I think that is also a constant since the stone age.
Mine are not actual data too, only anecdotes, but are you sure that the need is real and not a construct?

2) The fact that by comparison you take the russians does weaken a bit your proposed cause/solution, because the OS, the devices and the textbooks the russians use are not significantly different from western ones. If the disappearance of the simplified environment were part of the cause of the gap in skills that's forming, why it stroke western countries and not them?

3) You go on dismissing how complex is adding any system program to a standard OS.
On this topic, I'll help you a bit in what, if you were one of my paying customers, would be a "well, its still a bad idea, but if you want to really go on this is teh way to make ait a bit less painful" moment (well, with a paying customers I would be a bit more diplomatic about it, but, you know... :-p).
Instead of having the applications installed in the OS, with all the complications that this does entail, go after the browsers. They are already sandboxed, if you get after Chrome, Firefox and Safari you got 99% of the installations, and they already have a similar environment (even if it's likely too complex in his current state for what you imagine, and the javascript language is frankly quite bad for training) in the developer toolbox. A variant "training developer toolbox" simplified in its effect would be a much smaller effort than a stand-alone OS level program. There are already extensions that do similar things that would have "simply" be made default.
Don't misunderstand me, it would still be more painful that you image, and would not address the further pain of having the editors conform, but it would be something.

[continues... ]

fizz said...

[... continues]
4) benefits of this. On this aspect, as I said previously, I'm not a pedagogist, i simply worked in strict contact with many and have some limited practical experience in doing the task, untrained, in the field.
So I will limit myself to exposing my perplexities: everything I've seen, all the things I've read and all the experts told me, is that if there is a general widespread problem in the quality of teaching in the more recent years, is in the decrease of the level of attention of the kids.
Once you get the attention, they are, if anything, more capable than we were some decades ago to manage complex environments and abundant information, but to pierce the level of jadedness and addiction to overstimulation they have, you've to make a real effort.
Homework is falling in efficacy because students resist it: if anything, most advanced schools are moving to leave out homework and replace it with after-lesson schoolwork, if possible in groups, with the availability of teachers to support.

All this create a quite wobbly cause for this idea: if it was really cheap to implement, even if not especially useful it would be for sure not damaging.
If it was really useful, even if not cheap, it would be worth the effort.

And to this we add the fact that the evidence behind both the necessity of doing this, and the effect of doing this, is not so clear.
As you yourself always say, science progress is based on evidence and documented facts: the world and history is full of ideas that may have seemed nice on paper and did not work at all in reality.

So, before any commitment to a plan of action, and before complaining that "nobody gets it", a plan to support the idea with actual data that support the claim for the need, a plan with a step by step workflow, a cost-benefit analysis, a plan for a limited scope trial with the foreseen expected results to show the presence of an actual effect, are all necessary steps.

Otherwise this idea remains only an hypothetical discussion-bait, useful to stir the pot of discussions of the topic.
Nothing bad with this, especially considering your paying profession, but if this is the case you've to treat the idea as starting point for a debate, not as a sacred crystal-clear idea that for some reason nobody that disagree with get.

Well, that's all, the current topic deal with different things that do not touch my area of competence so much, and I've plenty of work that I really really need to concentrate on, so it's back to lurking for me... till the next time! ;-)

David Brin said...

I have seldom seen such erudition and sheer volume of words spent saying basically nothing. Oh, you said it well. But it amounted to:
1. Sure this would do no harm, We have no idea how much good. Regarding that "good," I (fizz) don't agree that we need more young people understanding the core notions of algorithms underlying what they see on their screens or the root processes of setting up a system to collect data sets and output charts that might help decision making in the modern world. Those are obsolete skills and even understanding them as background is unnecessary.

2. I (fizz) disagree that it would be a trivial expense, even though complete systems like QuiteBasic were made by one individual over the course of a couple of days and apps vastly more complex than a BASIC or Python emulator pour from amateur app hobbyists daily, and in some cases the emulator is already there in the OS, just buried, requiring complex steps to reach.

These are simply appalling positions to take -- appalling non-arguments against doing something that at worst will do zero harm and might (let's experiment) do the good that I assert.

I can only assume you are a kinda vexatious fellow... and thus welcome here, so long as it doesn't tip into rage. And in your case it's clear that rage is unlikely. So, fine. I think we understand each other. I'll keep fighting for an extremely inexpensive fix for something you don't deem to be a problem. Others -- important folks and pedagogues behind CSforAlll -- think it is terrible and a threat to our future.

fizz said...

Ok, now Im the one that feel quite straw-manned.
And as promised, everybody can taunt me because Ive posted again.
But lets agree to disagree, and Ill vex you no further.
For realsies this time! (I hope).

locumranch said...

I've spoken before about the essence of their hate-smart-people cult. It's a two-part incantation that depends on part two going unspoken:

(1) We all know that being smart and knowing a lot doesn't necessarily guarantee that individually a person will be wise; and

(2) All people who are smart and know a lot are therefore guaranteed en masse to be unwise. [DB]

David is smart-smart-smart and therefore, in typical smart person fashion, he both over-thinks & over-simplifies the reasons why the majority hates smart people so much, which has almost nothing to do with the relative wisdom of smart people en masse.

Instead, the hoi polloi hate smart people for the following simple reasons:

(1) Smart PEOPLE are people first & smart second which means that they are as venial, self-serving, deceitful & untrustworthy as people are in general;

(2) Smart people put their own interests first, as all people do, even though they insist (ceaselessly) that their agendas exist solely for the social, collective & greater good of stupid people;

(3) Smart people, even though they represent a numerical minority & a statistical aberration, always attempt to FORCE their minority agendas onto the dull, stolid & rather unambitious majority; and,

(4) Smart people invariably attempt to increase the overall cultural smartness by making smartness in math, education, science & computer programming MANDATORY for the majority.

This last item (4) is the primary reason that the majority hates smart people, especially those do-gooders who attempt to force SMARTNESS onto the slower members of human society & thereby commit the morally unforgivable nerd-equivalent sin of mocking the retarded kid.

"Stupid Jimmy", opines the smart person, "He performs poorly in programming, math, science & school in general, so we will remedy his intellectual deficits keeping him in school with mandatory homework for ever & ever & ever or at least UNTIL he wises up", which is a goal so inconceivably dumb-dumb-dumb for anyone but the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot.

And, guess what all, Stupid Jimmy & the retarded majority has wised up.


Treebeard said...

That's partly right, locum. The “smart people” our host is talking about tend to be manic, hubristic geeks who think they can fix all the world's problems by applying their brains and technologies, with little respect for existing arrangements that came about organically instead of being engineered by other geeks. Wisdom is realizing that you mostly just have an overactive brain, are basically a weirdo, and shouldn't expect everyone to defer to you because of that. Wisdom is also realizing when your innovations are doing more harm than good, as we see with the hordes of phone-staring zombies and social media addicts, whose existence we can thank the geeks for. How many highly credentialed, high IQ geeks are tech companies employing to basically control your life and turn you into a zombie? Then there are the crazies talking about uploading brains into computers, living forever, replacing people with robots, AI gods, etc. At this point, such geeks are the biggest threat to humanity, and it's up to wiser normals to start reigning them in.

David Brin said...

"(2) Smart people put their own interests first, as all people do,"

No, you zero-summer, incapable of imagining the motivs of others. You are raving desperately to attampt to show that your brain limitations aren't real. But they are. You see all potential opponents as enemies. That's your stupidity, not ours. And it is pointless to say you are doing precisely what I described. Lecturing us about "blue" when you have never seen it.

The ent is just raving. A couple of geeky singularity junkies out there represent all fifty million fact-using people in the US... because... romantics gotta generalize from anecdotes. And hate.

David Brin said...

fizz, for heaven's sake chill. Vexatious was not meant as an insult. And while I was slightly irked that you made such a big deal out of minuscule objections... (why not just try it and see?)... I didn't mean to slam you, if that's how it felt.

You are obviously smart and even witty... and a pretty good paraphraser-arguer... and a welcome member of a "vexatious" community.

duncan cairncross said...

Larry Hart

I used to do that! -
Bring up an idea in a meeting in a low key way
About a week later say
"I've been thinking about that point you brought up boss - I thought it was silly at the time BUT now....."

I think he caught on a few times but mostly the idea became the boss's and we went with it

David Brin said...

Duncan you manipulative little devil. Hope he promoted you.

Tim H. said...

Something different:

Might be easier than to do that one than some of the other petroleum applications.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"Heck, I cheered my head off, over Panama"

but then

"Julian ... stuff that he screams-at has been... well... disappointing"

See something, say something. That trans soldier, Christine or somename, went free last week. Data wants to be free. If Panama sheaves mapping Moneyland flip your lid, then why not the LeekWik? Yeah, the timing of leeks was pure kremfidy, but LeekWik is only guilty of timely reporting, pure journalism.

That's the way it's going, leeks thru sieveholes nobody thought were there. The various throated Papers of the past 45 years were only an ellipsis before the 3rd Communication Revolution got ramped up. You want transparency, oh baby here it comes, and couldn't happen to a nicer planet.

yana said...

Mike Will thought:.

"Simplifying and replicating that chance will be the watershed between the caves and the stars."

It's not really anything to fret about, the kids who come up with things undreamt before are the seedbed, half of them will have wild plans which fail, half will have wild plans which work out. The prime failure of educators is that they try to replicate previous success. Just sit back and let the human species do what it does best, think up wild plans.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tony Fisk said...

At the time, I thought Assange was justifiably concerned about the extradition attempt. The judges of the British High Court had to be corrected several times about referring to "charges" brought against Assange when handing down their verdict.
The Swedish authorities wanted to question Assange about a complaint of sexual assault, brought by a third party, but he wasn't actually facing any charges (and note that he's currently in jail now on one charge only: breaching bail conditions). I don't think judges get to make semantic slips on things like that.
Furthermore, Assange had stated he was willing to be interrogated by the Swedish authorities in the UK, and they wouldn't.

Anyway, that's all an old tin of surströmming. I think events of 2016 show Assange to be a vindictive grump with an axe to grind, and to hell with the consequences. To hell with him. (although I'm dubious about the fecal wall daubing tales.)

Mike Will said...

'AssAnge': 'Ange' means 'enter' in Swedish.

David Brin said...

Yana: “Data wants to be free. If Panama sheaves mapping Moneyland flip your lid, then why not the LeekWik?”

Um, did you bother to read my essay on Civil Disobedience… at all? At all, even?


All the spew of troll-comments proves is how obsessive that person is. Each time he does this, barging in to where he is unwanted, proves that I was right to ask him to take his rage elsewhere.

Once again I ask him to behave as a decent person. Please wander somewhere that your combination of obvious intelligence and unconstrained rage will be more welcome. This isn't the home you are looking for. It's ours.

Jon S. said...

Data does not want to be free. Data does not want anything; it is not alive. People want some data to be freely available. A subset of those people want it to be literally free, in that they can access all of it for no fee whatsoever.

Even those spouting that mindless maxim are unwilling to really stick to it - they get as outraged as anyone else when the data that "wants to be free" involves their SSN, mother's maiden name, and bank account routing information.

David Brin said...

"Data wants you to give me a dollar."

-- Bruce Sterling.

David Brin said...

Under the 1934 Jurney vs. McCracken decision, the Supreme Court says Congress can, after a brief process, detain people who refuse to provide requested information. Adam Schiff is talking about fines. There are some other approaches that I doubt have occurred to many. But this article does a pretty good job laying out some of the parameters. This precedent is particularly important because it renders difficult the maneuver that I expected Chief Justice John Roberts to try — simply declaring that the Court has no business intervening in the powers of the legislative branch. Believe it or not, this doctrine has already been flown by Roberts, when the Court earlier admitted that partisan gerrymandering was wrong, but refused to intervene in the “proper domain” of state legislatures, a stance so clearly bogus that I know some of you are re-reading that, in puzzlement.

BTW my Minimal Overlap solution to gerrymandering would nullify that excuse perfectly and I wish the plaintiffs in the gerrymandering cases would refer to it, if only for that reason.

Mike Will said...

The problem with complex rules meant to enforce civility is that they're often used as an excuse to be uncivil by skirting their edges. Witness the 'well nothing illegal was done' response to the Mueller report. Public shaming seems like a more promising avenue.

Larry Hart said...

Ok, I know there are people here who know this stuff.

The news stories about the worldwide helium shortage keep mentioning that the US reserve in Texas was privatized, and will close down by 2021. Does that mean the gas itself will be gone by then, or just that the facility will be owned by someone other than the US government? Is that source actually running out of the element, or is someone just sitting on the supply until they can charge more for it?

Or is the Texas facility being forced to stop providing helium by law, even though there's plenty there?

I can't find any useful information other than joke stories about how we can't find helium balloons.

Alfred Differ said...

Helium as a strategic resource has been regulated, regulated badly, deregulated badly, and been impressively corrupt as a market for ages. Dig back a few decades and you'll find the reasons why the US stopped stashing it underground and how we mismanaged a lot of money.

Basically, helium is a secondary product at some natural gas wells. We keep it and prep it for sale if the price in the market justifies it. This price depends on two major factors. How pure is the source? Where can it be stored? It is generally purest where the geologic layer that traps natural gas is REALLY impervious. Otherwise it is very low concentration and we usually let it stay mixed with the gas when we sell it if no liquefaction of the gas occurs. Pipes carry the gas/he mix and you never realize its a mix. If the concentration is high enough, it might justify separating the two, putting the gas back in the pipes and then storing the helium for sale. So, what's the market price for helium? Heh. That's the real problem. Depends a great deal where you are because of storage and transportation costs. Most of the time it just isn't worth it to keep the stuff, so we let it go and it eventually leaves the Earth.

Historically, the feds intervened in the price of helium ensuring a floor. As with silver, that motivated too much production which led to a storage problem. With the Cold War on they were motivated to find solutions like stashing it in old natural gas wells. Just pump it back down. Problem was the prices and rules were written into federal law that got out of date quickly. Worse yet, the buyers had a direct tap to the US Treasury so Congress didn't watch carefully. Quick way to blow a billion out the back door to people who know the game. Silver supply worked in fits and starts the same way in the 19th century and early 20th. Miners buy congressional reps and the cash flows. 8)

To get a feel for the state of affairs today, try buying the stuff at something other than a party balloon store. Typical party helium tanks aren't pure helium. You are buying a very weak mix. The pure stuff is expensive and gets delivered in very heavy tanks or in liquid form. Try buying it and you'll see the problem.

Anonymous said...

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
Probably time to block "anonymous" as he is simply copying the same posts again and again

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Try buying it [helium] and you'll see the problem.

Thanks for the insight.

I'm not in a position to buy industrial helium, but what I'm trying to get a feel for is this: Is the available supply of the element really being exhausted, or is it a matter of the price having to reach a level at which it will be supplied again?

Anonymous said... %)

A.F. Rey said...

As was said on another site, you should consider this board to be like Dr. Brin's living room and act accordingly.

If you were in someone's living room, would you call it a sh*thole? (BTW, are you Donald Trump? He likes that word. :) ). Would you call your host a hypocrite? Would you bully and bombast and browbeat the person who lived there and invited you in? What would you expect a guest to do, even if he was annoyed at the owner?

Act like a guest.

And if you have any thoughts that you are making an mark with your behavior, let me tell you in words of the Finnish writer Mika Waltari: Your words are like the buzzing of the flies in my ears.

That is all you are to us now.

A.F. Rey said...

A proposal to protect large parts of the solar system from human development and mining:

David Brin said...

At least for now, you'll need a google account to post comments. This was one of the last fully open fora online. I'm actually surprised it lasted so long before an enraged, buzzing fly made this necessary.

If the blatant IRA/FSB provocateur returns that way, I have ways to get him banned from Google entirely.

If he were a champion of open accountability, he'd give us the email of his mom, so we could tell her what a job she did, raising a polite person.

David Brin said...

AFR, the basic principle of setting aside large swathes of nature is a good one. Yes it is weird-seeming and aggressive, before the first asteroid mine opens... and another thing. The wealth such generated should suffice to raise all children to university level, whereupon they mostly become environmentalists.

Still, it is likely machines that might "runaway" their population increase and threaten the solar system. Enshrining limits in law might (theoretically) constrain that.

scidata said...

I'm 90% sure that anonbot is one or several hybrid human/AI bots (for reasons I've listed before). It usually just provokes, regurgitates names & topics, and screams. Once in a while it shows some human ability in order to disguise its machinery. As suggested, I never reply to it, here or elsewhere.

scidata said...

BTW scidata = Mike Will

David Brin said...

scidata hi Mike. My instincts say it's a real (if sadly obsessive) person. A tragedy since there is obvious intelligence underneath the rage. We all know dad cases like that.

David Brin said...

Folks please chime in if able to comment now. I may tun the barrier off next time, to enable those who couldn't get on to report problems.

Larry Hart said...

I can comment as myself

Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

If you were in someone's living room, would you call it a sh*thole? (BTW, are you Donald Trump? He likes that word. :) ). Would you call your host a hypocrite? Would you bully and bombast and browbeat the person who lived there and invited you in? What would you expect a guest to do, even if he was annoyed at the owner?

Exactly. Even if our host were guilty of all the offenses p-b accuses him of, the only reasonable thing to do if you find the owner of the living room you're visiting to be deplorable is to get up and leave. Telling the owner of the house, "No, why don't YOU leave?" is juvenile. And saying that is an insult to kids and teenagers.

Larry Hart said...

Paul Krugman understands why I'm not sure Pence is worse:

But where the Europeans are weak, Trump is malign. He’s working actively to make the world a more dangerous, less democratic place, with trade war just one manifestation of that drive. And the eventual negative consequences for America and the world will be much bigger than anything we can capture with economic modeling of the effects of tariffs.

scidata said...

Krugman is good when he channels Asimov. He's better when he defends American ideals. But he's best when he defends Canada. I raise a jug of tree sauce to him.

Twominds said...

Let's see if my google account still works.

I hope comments with just monikers will be possible again in a while. We had an interesting anon, the one that called him/herself Nerdsniped after a while, who was interesting and could become a regular. Without first commenting as an anon he/she may not have come here.

Just like I started as an anon at first, to get a feel for the place.

Jon S. said...

Checking in - I appear to be able to communicate.

A.F. Rey said...

Testing, testing, one, two, three--*tap* *tap* *tap* Is this thing on?

TCB said...

Heyoooo, I've been logging in under my Google ID for quite some time.

Now, on paper, I actually am a strong advocate for real anonymous commentary, and my go-to reference is Silence Dogood, better known as Benjamin Franklin. Alas, most people, given anonymity, will not use it remotely as well.

duncan cairncross said...

Testing - I'm not keen on anonymity - I like to know who I'm talking to

BUT if I lived in the USA I could feel differently

Cari Burstein said...

Well it doesn't seem to deter the spammers! I rarely post here because usually by the time I can make time to write up my thoughts on anything under discussion, the blog has already moved on to other things. But I sympathize with the difficulty in maintaining a public forum of any type- I gave up on the ones I used to maintain long ago, as it's far too much work to keep them clean of spammers, abusers and the like. I wish David the best of luck with his challenges of late here!

Tony Fisk said...

Unknowns that cross Brinosseros do what the panther dare not.

Darrell E said...

Well, well, well. What a surprise. Putin agrees 100% with Trump regarding the Mueller investigation. No Collusion!

How about them Alabamians? If you have any friends or family living in Alabama, or any number of red states, you might want to get them relocated. It will be interesting (in the Chinese sense of the term) to see how seriously Alabama and other red states that may pass legislation outlawing abortion will enforce there anti-abortion laws. And to see if this tactic is successful in getting the issue to the Supreme Court, and what happens there. Can RBG hang on? Will Roberts flinch?

The pressure continues to build. We are in a serious crisis folks. Though I can't help but think that Trump and the Republicans are committing suicide. But even if that turns out to be the case they are wreaking some serious havoc in the process.

jim said...

In other news, the arctic weather nerds are starting to freak out. Sometimes weather patterns emerge that are persistent and that makes it possible to occasionally have more confidence in longer range weather forecasts. The arctic weather nerds think that a weather pattern is emerging that will create sunny skies over much of the arctic seas for the next two months. The next two months are when the arctic gets the vast majority of its direct solar input.

If we get two months of sun fallowed by an Odin Storm (40 days and 40 nights of at least gale force winds over some part of the arctic) we may get our first blue arctic event. (we will have a better idea if this is possible for this year by the summer solstice.)

It is pretty clear to me that climate patterns in the northern hemisphere are moving through a tipping point and I don’t think there is anything we can do to stop this process now. We need to get a much better idea of how the loss of arctic sea ice will effect the weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

dennisd said...

Anonymous commenting has been the bane of social media. My preference is to know who I'm talking to.

Larry Hart said...

Darrell E:

Though I can't help but think that Trump and the Republicans are committing suicide. But even if that turns out to be the case they are wreaking some serious havoc in the process.


It is pretty clear to me that climate patterns in the northern hemisphere are moving through a tipping point and I don’t think there is anything we can do to stop this process now.

I don't think these points are unrelated. The wealthy and powerful who have their own sources of knowledge and information are also a large part of the Republican base, especially their donor class. The policy actions of these people are consistent with a belief that the short term is all that matters because the long term is f***ed anyway.

sociotard said...

San Francisco cracks down on facial recognition
The “Stop Secret Surveillance” ordinance passed 8-1 in a vote by the city’s board of supervisors Tuesday. The ordinance will implement an all-out ban on San Francisco city agencies’ use of facial surveillance. The ban is just one part of San Francisco’s surveillance oversight ordinance, which will also require city agencies to get city approval before purchasing other kinds of surveillance technologies, such as automatic license plate readers and camera-enabled drones. It won’t stop private citizens or businesses, however, from using these facial recognition systems.

Alfred Differ said...


The shortage is about the reserves. Earth has more helium, but it's rarely worth getting it into storage. Warehousing anything comes at a price.

Darrell E said...

Larry Hart said...

"I don't think these points are unrelated. The wealthy and powerful who have their own sources of knowledge and information are also a large part of the Republican base, especially their donor class. The policy actions of these people are consistent with a belief that the short term is all that matters because the long term is f***ed anyway."

I think that could be the case for a small number of them but I think a much larger majority simply don't think very much about how climate change might affect them. Meanwhile the business of lying cheating and stealing as best they can to maintain and grow their wealth and power is more like an autonomic reflex.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry, (He contnd)

or is it a matter of the price having to reach a level at which it will be supplied again

Mostly this.

You'll find He mixed in with natural gas and there is a lot of that still in the Earth. Tap the gas wells and you get more He. Do that, though, and someone will probably want to burn the gas. 8)

In the carbon neutral world we have to arrange ASAP, getting at helium will come at an even higher cost. By then, natural gas will not be as valuable.

Personally, I think we need to get on with life and figure out how to use Hydrogen safely. There are specific uses for helium where it alone will do, but that does not include balloons. Helium is too damn good at escaping.

Excess methane in the atmosphere is one of the signals exobiologists examine for signs of life elsewhere. Excess helium in the upper atmosphere of an Earth-like world (I think) would be a sign for technological life if the methane signal is also present. Methane reacts and helium escapes, but methane is easier to detect for critters like us on a luke-warm world.

jim said...

We should be storing helium in giant airships with graphene gas bags.

The airships should be shaped like whales or koi fish and be solar powered.

Because a world without giant robotic airships shaped like animals is world not worth living in ;-)

Alfred Differ said...

I worked at building airships. Nothing obviously animal shaped, but they weren't the boring cigar shapes either. We wanted them for industrial purposes at altitudes around 30 kms.

Helium is a serious PITA. Lots of people think it is the go-to choice because it is not flammable, but it escapes damn near anything we can afford to use for containment. Houdini atoms. Wanna bring the airship down? Inflate a balonette to squeeze the helium volume and the stuff escapes even faster. Argh.

Hydrogen is much easier to contain, generate, store in high density (relative to helium), and all around cheaper. The trick is to keep the oxygen out and the only smart way to do that is to plan for it getting in and then play chemistry games while you keep your lift gas flowing through conditioning systems.

Tim Wolter said...

Posting from places far afield


Twominds said...


Interesting, that Hydrogen is less hard to contain than Helium. I'd have thought vice versa because H is even smaller than He. Is is because H is H2 in ordinary circumstances?

I talked to someone a couple of years ago who was developing hydrogen powered cars. He said that the issue at that moment was getting or making a tank that would be tight enough, and useful in road driving conditions. I didn't think to ask what the chemical industry had and whether they could use a variant of small industrial tanks. A missed opportunity.

David Brin said...

jim, it is wrong to only consider helium for airships. In EXISTENCE I describe how you can alternate helium cells with large HYDROGEN ones that safely use a cheaper and more buoyant gas.

Sociotard, I expect disagreement from you. But I posted this elsewhere: "Though it happens much less often, some liberals can be as dumb as their confed opponents. How is this supposed to work, when both hardware and software get better at exponential rates. And cameras get faster, cheaper, smaller, better and more mobile quicker than Moore's law? There are already face recognition apps! Nothing will keep all elites from having this, though by law you might prevent average folks, for a while. How is that supposed to help, again?…/CAIiEN0bJ8ZKerOe94EXicau-wsqGAgEK…

I addressed this in ever detail in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

David Brin said...

onward onward

Tony Fisk said...

Final thought on lift gas. I thought nothing at all might replace hydrogen or helium, and then found Francesco di Lana (who knew of neither) agreed with me!
Of course, there's the little problem of maintaining a 100kPa pressure difference with something lighter than the air volume displaced, but spheres aren't the only solution.