Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Louisiana suffers for W's "elective surgery"

As we watch poor Louisiana wallow in misery, I am moved to point out two things. (1) that there are eerily predictive passages about New Orleans in my novel EARTH... and (2) here’s the first state to face a major civil emergency while much of its National Guard has been yanked away to some foreign land.

This is yet another way to view the foolishness of our leaders. Their inability to really consider that the world is dangerous. Here’s a way to put it: the metaphor for this Iraq War should be ELECTIVE SURGERY.

neworleansAt first, we were urgently told it was an EMERGENCY ROOM PROCEDURE, back during the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction. No time to talk, or plan or persuade allies, or ponder the most efficient means of achieving desired ends. If we did not act fast, Saddam would fry our babies!

See: Wars of Emergency vs Wars of Policy

Now we are told that reason never mattered, after all. The real purpose was always to liberate oppressed people and spread freedom.

Yes, I happen to be one of the few war critics who AGREE with that motive! (In fact, I feel we were morally obligated to free the people of Iraq from a monster that we fostered long ago, and that these same morons left in charge, way back in 91, when they had him in the palm of their hands. In effect, they told Saddam - “go ahead and do whatever you like to these people who trusted us to come rescue them.” It was the worst stain on our honor in 100 years.)

Indeed, I actually agree with the backup excuse. Yes indeedy, let’s spread freedom by toppling Saddam.

Still, there is a fundamental distinction that NONE of our pundits pointed out. This worthy goal was no emergency. We could have taken our time and come up with a calm, skilled, clever plan, relying upon skilled professionals who had already proved themselves in the Balkans and Afghanistan...

... a plan that did NOT involve rampant poitical meddling and graft, dividing a great nation, spurning allies, ripping reservists away from jobs and families and pouring billions down a rathole of grinding insurgency-attrition while failing utterly at nation building. With the only winners being the Saudfamily and Iran.

(Hey, go check out the readiness of your own state’s national guard. Then imagine your state’s vulnerabilities. We Californians get quakes, not subject to global warming. How poetical that the South will be ravaged by climate change induced storms.)

Afghanistan was urgent... an emergency room procedure... and yet, a plan was already in place. W had only time to shout “go!” and the same doctrines that Wesley Clarke used in Kosovo went into smooth operation. The urgent operation went well... and the elective surgery has turned into a nightmare as we bleed on the table because of wretched planning and politician-meddling.

Sigh. And now, meanwhile, back to the Great Purge...

See: The Real War of G.W. Bush : Against the U.S. Military

Army Contract Official Critical of Halliburton Pact Is Demoted A top Army contracting official who criticized a large, noncompetitive contract with the Halliburton Company for work in Iraq was demoted Saturday for what the Army called poor job performance. The official, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, has worked in military procurement for 20 years and for the past several years had been the chief overseer of contracts at the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that has managed much of the reconstruction work in Iraq. ...

Ms. Greenhouse's lawyer, Michael Kohn, called the action an "obvious reprisal" for the strong objections she raised in 2003 to a series of corps decisions involving the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, which has garnered more than $10 billion for work in Iraq. Dick Cheney led Halliburton, which is based in Texas, before he became vice president.


see a couple places where moderates have proposed alternatives to the current "stay the course" vs. "cut and run" dichotomy. Both seem reasonable and are
probably compatible -- both could be done simultaneously.They are:

"The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government"

and "How to Win in Iraq"

These articles make sense... and they won't be implemented because the goal of the involvement in Iraq has never been success at nation building. Yes, that is officially our purpose now that there are no WMD and no Saddam. But Cheney and Rumsfeld both famously expressed contempt for "nation building" long ago and their disbelief in it still shows.

No, there are only two possible classes of hypothesis to explain such a disaster. (* Kool-aid alert! Paranoia riff about to resume! * ;-)

Hypothesis 1. Incompetence. These are moronic frat boys, using the United States and our military as personal toys. The calamity is not what was intended. It is just what happens when skilled professionals - first diplomats and then military officers - are relentlessly over-ruled by meddling politician imbecilles bent on playing war and stealing everything in sight.

Hypothesis 2. What you see is what was planned. This explanation looks utterly paranoid and I am the only one suggesting it. And that means I must disclaim that it is formally what I BELIEVE to be true. Yes, yes. Brin’s Fantasy. But it IS logically the other side of the coin. My excuse is that I am a completist and must include it.

Still, let me repeat my call for you to step aside and look from another angle. If you were enemies of the United States, and looked across our history for some weakness to exploit, what two disasters nearly ruined us? Dividing us, sapping our strength, wounding the economy, tearing down our alliances, frittering our military strength?

The Civil War and Vietnam.

Now look at last year's electoral map. And look at Iraq. And wonder... which sworn enemies of our culture have access to every powerful person in this administration?

Paranoid? yes. But reasonable people do not automatically dismiss that which fits all facts and has not been disproved. Always leave a “what-if” possibility open that what you see is exactly what somebody wanted to have happen.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hypocrisy Dump: A Toxic Landfill of Doublespeak

Back to current events! Take a look at the future of U.S. competitiveness in The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas L. Friedman.

World-is-flatThis is an issue that used to be on the front burner... till the war on terror drove it off our screens. And I wonder. Since it's been 4 years since 9/11, is it possible that the terrorists harmed us most by diverting our agenda from urgent matters for half a decade?

Thomas Friedman speaks to just one aspect of competitiveness in a recent related article, from which I cribbed the following: "It's as if we have an industrial-age presidency, catering to a pre-industrial ideological base, in a post industrial era.

"Thomas Bleha, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer in Japan, has a fascinating piece in the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs that begins like this: "In the first three years of the Bush administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage. Today, most U.S. homes can access only 'basic' broadband, among the slowest, most expensive and least reliable in the developed world, and the United States has fallen even further behind in mobile-phone-based Internet access. The lag is arguably the result of the Bush administration's failure to make a priority of developing these networks. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized state without an explicit national policy for promoting broadband."

"Since it took over in 2001, the Bush team has made it clear that its priorities are tax cuts, missile defense and the war on terrorism - not keeping the U.S. at the forefront of Internet innovation. "

Or (I might add) any kind of civilian technological or scientific innovation, at all.

==Now this important insight from Russ Daggatt:

Imagine if Bush in late 2002 and early 2003 had made the case to the American people that we had to invade and occupy Iraq, not because of the threat of mushroom clouds over US cities from Saddam's nuclear weapons, but to establish a pro-Iranian Shiite theocracy:

"We know Saddam has been brought to his knees by the Gulf War and a decade of UN sanctions. He poses no threat to the US or his neighbors. But we must invade and occupy Iraq in order to eliminate a secular Arab regime that has repressed Islamic extremists. As part of our 'Global War on Terror' we will eliminate this secular balance to the growing power of the world's major state sponsor of terrorism, the Shiite theocracy in Iran. We hope to further the ambitions of that radical Islamic regime in Iran by establishing a sympathetic Shiite theocracy in Iraq. Sure, our invasion and occupation of a major Arab country may inflame anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world. Young Muslims may come from around the world to Iraq to fight us, turning Iraq into a training ground for future anti American terrorists, just as our support of anti-Soviet, Islamic 'freedom fighters' in Afghanistan 25 years ago gave birth to al Qaeda. But that is a small price to pay to further the cause of Islamic government in the Middle East. This effort will be long and costly. We could be bogged down in Iraq for years, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, and with thousands of US deaths. And we're not likely to have much allied support -- we'll be doing this on our own. But I ask the American people to join me in this important effort."

Now I know this starts to drift from my favorite paranoid theory, that this war has benefitted - above all - the Saudfamily. Still, one should be flexible, in the face of reports like the following:

Iran hails Iraq draft constitution Tuesday, August 23, 2005 LONDON - Iran on Tuesday heralded the submission of Iraq's draft constitution to parliament, saying the text would improve "security, peace and sovereignty" across the border, according to AFP. "The composition of Iraq's constitution is an very valuable and important step towards the independence and integration of Iraq," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told official media.

==A Failed Foreign Policy==

Ah, but we must stay the course, right? Here's what prominent Republicans said about the brief, professional, and staggeringly effective military intervention by President Clinton and General Clarke in the Balkans - an operation in which not a single American died while quashing genocide and instituting genuine secular democracy, leaving Europe at peace for the first time in 4,000 years. (A pretty good set of success parameters, I'd say):

"President Clinton is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be
away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."
-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it." -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/5/99

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy." -Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of presidential candidate George W. Bush

"You think Vietnam was bad? Vietnam is nothing next to Kosovo."-Tony Snow, Fox News 3/24/99

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years" -Joe Scarborough (R-FL) (Um... the Balkans intervention was a textbook case of Pax Americana police action that swiftly got transferred to effective and localized peacekeeping forces.)

"I'm on the Senate Intelligence Committee, so you can trust me and believe me when I say we're running out of cruise missiles. I can't tell you exactly how many we have left, for security reasons, but we're almost out of cruise missiles." -Senator Inhofe (R-OK )

(Um... putting aside the blatant security breach, where are you NOW, when our nation’s fundamental military readiness has plummeted to its lowest ebb in 60 years?)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is." -Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) (How about an exit strategy called “Go in with a good plan, use overwhelming force and skill, win quick, hand over to local cops, and get out within a year?)

"You can support the troops but not the president"-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX) Amen!

"It is a remarkable spectacle to see the Clinton Administration and NATO taking over from the Soviet Union the role of sponsoring "wars of national liberation." -Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID)

Beyond the blatant hypocrisy of these guys, we should note, the Balkans intervention left our status as world leader HIGHER than before, our alliances bolstered, the reserves were mostly left in their home states, with their families, military readiness GREW, and re-enlistments skyrocketed among troops whose morale was among the highest in our history.

And now, from Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration :"Great Groups are engaged in solving hard, meaningful problems. Paradoxically, that process is difficult but exhilarating as well. Some primal human urge to explore and discover, to see new relationships and turn them into wonderful new things drives these groups. The payoff is not money, or even glory. Again and again, members of Great Groups say they would have done the work for noting. The reward is the creative process itself."

==On to Tax Cuts==

Which brings up those tax cuts. Yes, it is a tired old mantra that they primarily benefitted the top 1% aristocracy while shivving the rest of us. That aspect was conceded from the start. (Will it EVER be relevant that the wealth difference ratios keep rising at an accelerating pace?) Only it was explained and excused by the latest version of that old Reaganite "trickle-down" notion, re-invented as "economic stimulation through supply side investment."

In other words, if we increase the deficit today (through massive unfinanced tax cuts for the rich), this won't ultimately affect America's fiscal health, because the wealthy will invest all of their added gains in new research, development, capitalization and products, resulting in so much accelerated economic activity that the debt will be erased, even at lower tax rates.

I always doubted this theory, because history shows that Adam Smith was right. Many aristocrats prefer safe rather than risky investments. They would rather manipulate politics in order to get preferential treatment for passive dividends and rents - which involve no personal creativity or work - than perform hands-on entrepreneurship or company building that generate actual products and services. It is the job of market fine-tuning to ensure that risky/creative investing has a preference over passive/advantage-reinforcing investment.

Who has been proved right? In five years since the Great Big Tax Cut For the Rich, our federal deficit has only grown worse at skyrocketing rates. The "war on terror" is no excuse, since every prior generation had the sense to tax themselves to PAY for wars. It's what our ancestors did. Always. (Isn't that "conservative"?) But our present rulers would rather have our kids pay the bill.

In science, when a prediction of cause and effect is proved utterly and diametrically wrong, this calls into question the theory that made the prediction. In contrast, falsification is impossible when it comes to ideological mysticism. True believers (of the right or left) will not change their beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. Evidence only makes them hate the evidentiary process. Hence the recent neoconservative+postmodernist alliance in waging war against science.

Enough for now... Pick your favorite items. Pass em on.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

More misc clearing decks...

gotta keep doing this, in between more well-formed posts...

-More from my Great Big Stack of Miscellaneous Stuff...

From the Strategic News Service (a widely respected high tech business consultation newsline) the following disturbing item about the closing down of Enlightenment Openness, all over the world:

“Microsoft is already self-censoring its search engine in China, so that you cannot look for words like "freedom." They are no doubt taking a lesson from Rupert Murdoch, who once boasted that the free flow of information would bring down dictators around the world. After the Chinese banned his satellite dishes on the ground, he quickly caved in to government pressure and took the BBC off Chinese airwaves. (Ted Turner, founder of CNN, calls Rupert the "most dangerous man in the world.") In Russia, Putin has eliminated virtually every TV and newspaper not directly controlled by the government. Interestingly, they made some noise last week about letting Rupert come in, perhaps as a minority owner; clearly, they like owners who respect the boot.

“The U.S. media is now controlled by a handful of owners, most of whom seem to share the same agenda, and first on that agenda is "don't rock the boat."

(Pause: let me reiterate, this is from a major tech-business strategic consultation service that groups like Goldmann Sachs spend thousands to subscribe to. Clear evidence of the divide that I spoke of BETWEEN types of conservatives. The satiables and the fratboys.)

“The current administration has taken news and information control to heights (or depths) not seen since WWII. No one has accurately depicted the extent of Karl Rove's information control machine, but when they do, I assure you it will make Goebbels look amateurish. Putting fake-ID'd male prostitutes into the white house press corps to ask fawning questions, or restricting the president to speaking to military audiences, or to crowds who have individually signed party loyalty oaths, are ideas that never would have occurred in a free America. “

“But a funny thing happened on the way to global media consolidation and control: the Net showed up. At first, it was kind of cute and geeky and no threat to anyone. But now, the monopolists have lost control, in the U.S. and elsewhere, and things are getting interesting. The rollout of broadband is accelerating worldwide, the monopolists in the U.S. are scrambling to pressure the FCC (or anyone) to give them back total
(Net) media control in return for their investment, and ad money is moving online.

“Now for the economists' attention. Productivity is the key measure of economic performance. It literally drives everything else (GDP, unemployment, inflation - which is why Fireman Greenspan is so worried about the divergence in current productivity measurements). If information distribution can be efficient, and if this is the key to productivity, then IDE (information distribution efficiency) REALLY matters to those of us who place our faith in democracy and free markets.

“Rumsfeld doesn't care about efficiency when he blocks information about war results, because he has pre-selected the outcome he wants (blind public support), and achievement of that goal is all that matters - even if the process, and information flow, are completely inefficient. The same is true for Hu Jintao and Mr. Putin. They know what the political goals are, and don't care about efficiency.”

another item... a quiz...

Do the following statistics apply to members of the NBA or NFL? Or gangsta rappers?

36 have been accused of spousal abuse

7 have been arrested for fraud

19 have been accused of writing bad checks

117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses

3 have done time for assault

71, repeat 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit

14 have been arrested on drug-related charges

8 have been arrested for shoplifting

21 currently are defendants in lawsuits.

and 84 have been arrested for drunk driving in the last year .

Can you guess which organization this is? Give up yet? It's the 535 members of the United States Congress. (And here’s another cool item. Quite a few of the worst of those listed were sanctimonious “House Prosecutors during the Clinton Impeachment!)

Oh, lest you think this an urban legend, I live in the district of Duke Cunnigham, who is retiring after blatantly taking bribes. The GOP congressman in the NEXT district was a well known CAR THIEF before winning the REpublican primary and thus getting set on a gravy train for life.

-another item...

I wish Stefan would post these things himself. This one he sent to me is simply incredible. Makes you laugh and cry. “Take a look at the picture accompanying this article. To be fair, I would like to know i) how many grizzled old vets were wearing these, and ii) whether they have left-ear models as well.: http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=581719e6-4f85-48bb-a52c-615ef31355e7

- ... and taking a pause from politics in order to peer at a (vastly) more optimistic horizon...

On September 22, 2005, distinguished scientist and bestselling author Ray Kurzweil will publish The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. In his new book, Kurzweil opens a window into our [not too distant] future where we overcome aging, sickness, hunger and even death.

This follow-up to the bestselling The Age of Spiritual Machines is Kurzweil’s in-depth analysis of emerging technologies and the transformation we will undertake as humans and machines become one. With a 20 year track record for accurate predictions, Kurzweil unfolds his theory and ponders the social and philosophical consequences of these changes.

Of course any believer in CITOKATE will then go get Bill Joy’s The Future Doesn’t Need Us and Francis Fukayama’s Our Posthuman Future... which take the dismal antimodernist view. Do these other authors inadvertently illustrate Brin’s Irony? That the very criticism they manifest will help bring about Kurzweil’s optimistic tomorrow? (Via CITOKATE.)

Indeed, their critiques may be far more useful than Kurzweil’s ebullience, at helping bring about the very same transcendence that he wants... and that they fearfully despise!

==finally -- another political item...==

Borrow-and-Spend, Big-Government Republicans Dept.:

Fiscal year 2005 is just about over (it ends 9/30/05). Discretionary spending for FY2005 is now estimated at $962 billion. In 2001 it was $649 billion, for an average annual rate of growth of 10.3 percent during Bush's first four years. By comparison, during Clinton's eight years discretionary spending grew at an average annual growth rate of 2.4% (less than the growth rate of the economy -- hence, a decline in spending as a percentage of GDP every year).

My Republican friends warned me that if I voted for Al Gore in 2000, federal spending and pork and outright theft would go through the roof. They were right. I did... and it did.


I’ll stop here. Don’t get me started on the whole Sheehan thing. With hundreds of other grieving War Moms to have focused on, is it any wonder that Karl Rove got his media pals to zero cameras on the one from Planet Zeeenon? Yes, she has helped to mobilize those vehemently and unalloyedly opposed to the Iraq War. She has also motivated the other side. The chief losers have been us. Those who see nuance and want a pragmatically successful and effective Pax Americana. One that does not go charging off, squandering might and influence that we may need on another, rainy day.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Scholarship vs Science

Quite some time ago, an august person on another list I'm on (a list dealing with future methods of philanthropy) posted an essay in praise of St. Johns College as an example of a great center of excellence. This triggered some thoughts I had to write respond with.

Now it occurs to me that some folks on THIS list might also want to see it. The following expresses some thoughts that will seem familiar to many of you. But I think the distinction between "scholarship" and "science" is still poorly understood.

And it is a crucial distinction, having much to do with why our present civilization has been able to break with dismal habits of the past.

Anyway, it is a bit of a rant. Ignore it, by all means, unless this sort of thing entertains you.



Great Books of the Western World

St. John's University deliberately designed their curriculum around the "Great Books of the Western World", the paramount product of decades of endeavor led by Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler at the most unique major college in America, the University of Chicago. The same institution that fostered Leo Strauss after World War II -- the intellectual godfather of today's neoconservative movement.

Now, I own a set of the Great Books and refer to them often. I have no trouble with the notion that Western Civilization is worth fighting for and that it is important to maintain strong connections to that culture's roots, stretching back to Greece, Rome and so on.

Further, I will freely admit that St. Johns and the University of Chicago produce fine scholars. (Any well-funded institution that attracts passionate teachers will do the same, whatever their theory.)

But I want to say something about the Enlightenment, which is supposedly the underlying meme of Western Civilization. It took many strange paths. The French branch is a perfect example of what can go wrong. Starting with the radicalism of the French Revolution, it aimed at huge reforms, liberating the individual from domineering institutions like monarchy, aristocracy and clergy.

But it veered off course by returning to the ancient habit of subservience. Having abandoned kings and clergy, the French transferred habitual reverence to a different class of professionals -- elitist scholars.

Though democratic in theory, French society is even today dominated by graduates of the Grand Ecoles who - whether they go into the government bureaucracy, the arts & sciences, or commerce - are considered an elevated order of being. They can do no wrong. Yes, aristocratic status is achieved meritocratically (by test scores) instead of simply inherited. But it still amounts to fostering an ongoing, cohesive elite.

rationalists-descartes-discourse-on-method-meditations-spinoza-ethics-rene-paperback-cover-artMoreover, the French believe that they are spreading a better/preferred version of the Enlightenment, by emphasizing reason and a European philosophical tradition that began with Plato, more than 2500 years ago. A tradition that was built up through Descartes, Kant, Hegel and so on, through existentialism, and all sorts of other isms. Including those that post-modernists preach in hundreds of dismal humanities departments and those that Leo Strauss preached at the University of Chicago.

(Cautionary note. I livd in Paris for two years and I know full well that all generalizations suck. I know many French people who do NOT think this way. My generalization is about the turn taken broadly by that wing of the Enlightenment.)

The University of Chicago is by far the most European-style university in America, especially with its emphasis on producing “scholars” in a more traditional sense... savants who win point by CITING prior savants. Sages who are thoroughly well-read in classics and grounded in the Platonic tradition, under which Reason is perceived as the opposite of

But here's the crux. Reason is not the opposite of superstition. It is a BRANCH of superstition. The French Enlightenment, the European  philosophical tradition, and scholasticism in general, are dangerously self-indulgent styles of mysticism that have (thanks heavens) very little to do with OUR branch of the Enlightenment. Or at least with its better and most successful aspects.

Freud and Marx (and Ayn Rand, for that matter) were among countless examples of once-promising intellects who got suckered down the ego driven paths of mystical shamanism, emphasizing incantations over experimentation. Guru-worship over the brash criticism of post-docs. Simpleminded "reason" over facing the true complexity of human nature.

In contrast, the Anglo-American Enlightenment, typified by Franklin, Madison, Lincoln, Wilson, Edison and Marshall, is not without idealism. But it is idealism rooted in a worldview that is fundamentally pragmatic.

Your goal is to find practical ways to get the most positive-sum games going for the most people, most of the time. And you do not let dogma stymie you from trying whatever may work, whether it is altering market rules to foster vigorous competitive creativity, or experimental education, or state
intervention to stop millennia of waste by letting children or all races and genders compete on a level
playing field.

Above all, you PRAGMATICALLY seek ways to overcome the one worst aspect of human nature...

...the one trait responsible for most of our tragedies...

...our propensity for self-deception.


Yes, this was in many ways repetitious of earlier rants... so I'll stop here. There was more. But maybe I'll post it in following commentary.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Reviewing "The Republican War on Science" Part II

Reviewing The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney
Part II --

(This review will appear in theSan Diego Union Book Review. It is posted here entirely for comment as a working draft, for commentary by members of this community. Please do not copy elsewhere. A final version will be posted in September 2005 at http://www.davidbrin.com/gopwaronscience.html)

First a reprise from Part I...

cover225Stepping back, we see a common theme. "My side favors truth while your side is warped by dogma."

If I must choose sides, I’ll pick Mooney, because the perfidies that he describes are accelerating. For example, it is unambiguous that the GOP Congress cuts funding for the National Science Foundation and NOAA even while calling for "more research" on global climate change. Nothing could be more bald-faced. In any event, rightwing abuses are inherently more dangerous, because that side currently holds sway in countless boardrooms and every branch of government. 

Yet, the very title of this book - The Republican War on Science - ensures that it won’t be helpful. Providing ammo for one side, it will be contemptuously ignored by the other, while just a few -- those still with open minds -- may crack the covers with sincere interest in learning something new. This is ironic, in light of some wise words about the scientific process that Mooney quotes from cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker:

"The success of science depends on an apparatus of democratic adjudication --anonymous peer review, open debate, the fact that a graduate student can criticize a tenured professor. These mechanisms are more or less explicitly designed to counter human self-deception. People always think they're right, and powerful people will tend to use their authority to bolster their prestige and suppress inconvenient opposition. You try to set up the game of science so that the truth will out despite this ugly side of human nature."

==Now on to Part II==

In The Republican War on Science, Mooney claims a desire to be fair, so there are a few pages describing left-wing anti-scientific duplicities. He mentions the blanket and quasi-hysterical opposition by Greenpeace and other groups toward all genetic engineering of food plants, a sweeping paranoia that ignores every subtlety. (Some kinds of genetic engineering are intrinsically no more threatening than old-fashioned agricultural selection.) Going back much farther, he tells how the left was once a chief locus of anti-science political extremism, during the monstrous, Stalin era phenomenon called Lysenkoism.

Alas, as you might expect from Mooney’s chosen title, this page or two of "balance" quickly gives way to the tedious habit of all sides in the Culture War -- squeezing complex issues along a cramped left-right political axis, inherited from the French Revolution -- a dismal and demeaning metaphor that nobody can define. Especially absurd is Mooney’s oversimplification that "big business" has lined up against science. Not all capitalists or conservatives resist the notion of fine-tuning market forces to match our evolving understanding of the world. Moreover, it was Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush who said in 1990: "Science relies on freedom of inquiry, and government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance."

The "war on science" is better defined along a completely different axis. Future vs. past. On one side are traits that dominated nearly all other cultures and eras: nostalgia, faith in dogmatic incantations and a reactionary fear of change. On the other side are qualities compatible only with a scientific age: pragmatism, confidence, and eagerness to confront change. Plus -- perhaps - a deeper assumption. That any Creator (if one exists) will approve of children who study and use His tools.

1333202991725.cachedReactionaries of "right" and "left" differ in some ways. As Mooney points out, conservative antimodernists aim their wrath at can-know scientists. But lefty post-modernists despise can-do engineers. Some difference. *(Sharing a characteristic retro-nostalgia, one group yearns for feudalism while the other romanticizes ancient tribes.) Both despise the plan of Vannevar Bush that has worked for us so well – a commitment to experiment, question, invent, negotiate, revise and devote whatever resources it may take to try new things, solve problems, overcome inevitable errors, improve ourselves and keep making a better world.

The evident tragedy is that a modernist majority still believes in all these things. But pragmatic liberals and progressive conservatives face a starkly artificial choice between extreme left and extreme right mirror-dogmas that share the same reactionary agenda. To spread fear of tomorrow.
Will people someday learn to refuse both sets of dyspeptic incantations? That is the common nightmare of all anti-future dogmatists. And it is the hope of modern civilization.

Do pick up The Republican War on Science, if only because these are crimes being committed against us all, right now, by ideologues with real political power and fierce determination to impose their dogmatic will. In contrast, antimodernists of the left are (at present) pallid and impotent, unable even to control the Democratic Party. Mooney’s crisis is more urgent and imminent.

Still, books like this one ultimately play into myopic paranoia, instead of drawing our eyes to the horizon. Who would have imagined that the 21st Century would be a time of pulling inward, focusing on dogmas and petty limitations, when we have already accomplished so much?

And when the future is as filled with possibility as it ever was.


Side extract from the book:

"If a politician presents a fair picture of climate science, but nevertheless opposes the Kyoto Protocol on economic grounds, I leave it to economists to criticize him or her. If a president takes advice from a well-balanced panel of experts and then makes a contrary decision, that too is his or her prerogative, as long as the decision doesn't get bedecked in scientific garb.

Commentators across the political spectrum generally agree that science should inform, but not dictate political choices, in much the same way that input from the intelligence community helps to inform military strategy and foreign policy. "I don't think there are very many scientists who are naive enough to think that science should always determine outcomes, but you shouldn't defend outcomes by distorting the science," says physicist John Holdren, director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.


See also my article: The Case for a Scientific Nation

Monday, August 22, 2005

Reviewing a provocative book: The Republican War on Science

After doing some catch up miscellany, I find I need feedback on a little project that will actually pay some cash (a little). Feel free to comment on the following, which I’ll post in 2 parts. A book review of The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney

(This review will appear in the .... edition of the San Diego Union Book Review, edited by Arthur Salm. It is posted here entirely for comment as a working draft. A final version is posted on my website.)

Sixty years ago, science emerged dramatically from its ivory tower, with a flash and a bang.

Even before Hiroshima, a multitude of technical advances - from agriculture and antibiotics to radar and rocketry - fed a burgeoning movement called Modernism, that viewed change as inevitable. But the atom bomb made it official. Science had vastly expanded the range of potential human activity, for well or ill. If used wisely, it might spill forth a cornucopia of innovations, to serve and uplift billions. On the other hand, mistakes would now have greater consequence, possibly dooming us all.

Alas, "wisdom" is seldom obvious. We rely on politics to determine policy, a definite improvement over the whim of kings. But politics, despite centuries of hard refinement, is still far more ego-driven art than craft. Habits of at least four thousand years seem to favor self-interest, hierarchies and dogma, instead of gathering evidence and cheerfully letting facts guide us.

What’s more, science has accumulated enemies. Some are put off by the ambitious and optimistic Modernist Agenda of perpetual human self improvement -- a program aimed at discovering and then applying the very tools of Creation, in order to make better societies, better lives, better generations. Some question whether this ambitious goal is possible, or ethical, or even sane.

Aldous Huxley once spoke for all grouchy intellectuals, when he derided progress as "just another idol." Grumbling that it will all come to no good, voices ranging from Bill Joy and Francis Fukayama to Osama and the Unabomber have shared a common underlying theme, protesting the West’s headlong plunge into territories and powers once left to God. Artists and authors, from Michael Crichton to Margaret Atwood, portray technological ambition as hubris, that age-old, prideful route to chaos or damnation.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in 1945, even as humanity was climbing out of the wreckage of its Nadir War, a sense of resilient, can-do determination seemed to overflow. In his famed report Science: The Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush called upon the United States to transform and multiply its martial accomplishments with unprecedented peacetime zeal -- using both technology and perseverance to rebuild cities, refute bigotries, revitalize education, end poverty and provide more fulfillment for all.

So stirring was this aspiration that cynics and curmudgeons could do little more than bide their time.

Nor was this a partisan matter. The aspiration proclaimed by Bush was thereupon propelled as much by Harry Truman and George Marshall as by Dwight Eisenhower, who established the office of Presidential Science Advisor and gave it real clout. John F. Kennedy is remembered as a gung-ho science booster, especially regarding outer space, but Richard Nixon embarked upon just as many ambitious, science-driven endeavors, for example vastly increasing funding for biological research and responding to clear evidence of human generated ecological harm by creating the Environmental Protection Agency.

Moreover, it is plain that such endeavors were generally successful, spawning genuine achievements that did tremendous good. To name only a few, weather and communication satellites transformed our lives, while advances in medicine, biology and agriculture enabled far more people to survive and thrive. Acid rain and stratospheric ozone depletion were rapidly diagnosed, prompting measures that -- at least -- checked immediate calamity. And while there is still plenty of bad news to spur activism, anyone who grew up in Los Angeles, forty years ago, should attest that five times as many people now live there, breathing air that's five times better. (Or, rather, a fifth as bad.)

If the "greatest generation" deserves acclaim for defeating Hitler, let’s add a few more feats to their credit. Like cranking up a thousand universities, combating ancient habits of racism, liberating the ambition of girls, building interstates and internets, while turning a nation of provincially isolated tenants into globe traveling homeowners. Gathered together, these and countless other accomplishments were all rooted in the modernist-scientific agenda.

So why has the whole ambitious program lately come under fierce attack?

According to Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, we need look no farther than an alliance of two reactionary forces. Big business and religious fundamentalism. This era’s burgeoning hostility toward rationality, skepticism, accountability and can-do ambition is little more, and no less than, a deliberate campaign against modernity on the part of "conservatism." A matter of right versus left.

1333202991725.cachedOn February 18, 2004, the conservative war on science, which had been gathering momentum for decades, finally jolted the media and American public to attention. All it took was a little star power…. Over sixty leading scientists and former government officials, among them twenty Nobel laureates, had signed a statement denouncing the administration of George W. Bush for misrepresenting and suppressing scientific information and tampering with the process by which scientific advice makes its way to government officials. Examples included distorting the science of climate change, quashing government scientific reports, and stacking scientific advisory panels. "Other administrations, have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front," the statement read.

Mooney presents a long list of cases to support his indictment, portraying a methodical campaign to politicize, ignore, twist or undermine science. His list of topic areas will sound familiar: the effects of smoking and of air pollution, the feasibility and benefits of energy savings through increased fuel efficiency standards, global warming and stem cell research, educational standards and the Drug War, all the way to a campaign aimed at teaching "alternatives to evolution" in the classroom.

Some of these matters are still under some legitimate dispute among reputable scientists, implying that we need more research, pursued promptly and professionally. Others have coalesced around deep and profound expert consensus, with clear majorities of qualified experts recommending urgent action.

Mooney shows there are countless tricks, some old and others innovative, that special interests can use when scientific consensus becomes politically inconvenient. One has been to banish science from centers of power – for example, when the GOP-led Congress dismantled its own, nonpartisan advisory tool, the Office of Technology Assessment, because its counsel kept conflicting with ideological views.

Another is for political aides to edit the reports of scientific panels, so that final versions offer conclusions quite different than panel members intended. Another method used more frequently, of late, has been to pack advisory groups with "experts" who were selected on a basis of ideology, or industry affiliation, or promises to reach a predetermined outcome.

OtherIntelligentDesignA favorite maneuver, in recent years, has been to magnify uncertainty, especially regarding contentious issues like Creationism and global climate change.

Now, unlike past dogmas, science is unafraid of uncertainty, so long as it is faced in courageous and disciplined ways. Young scientists are taught to nurse some residual doubt toward even the strongest theory. (And yes, even a widely held "consensus" can sometimes be wrong. Graduate students constantly look for these rare "faulty paradigms," which can be toppled and make a newcomer’s reputation.)

This kind of healthy skepticism accompanies -- but does not generally undermine -- the collaborative process of building ever-better and increasingly valid models of the world.

Opponents of science try to turn this strength into a weakness by exaggerating doubts, calling all theories equal, or even claiming that "scientific consensus" is a meaningless phrase. (Is it ironic that officials who were elected by the slimmest of political margins then dismiss as "uncertain" concerns that are expressed by far greater majorities of experts in a given field?)

For those who view this kind of behavior as uniquely a sickness of the right, Mooney’s book will offer powerful support. Evidence overwhelmingly points to orchestrated manipulation of both science and public opinion by groups ranging from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute all the way to elements now running both Congress and the Executive Branch.

And yet, is this issue really as one-sided and simple as liberal partisans contend?

Not if you listen to a steady stream of punditry pouring from the other side, proclaiming that liberals are the ones betraying both science and modernity. Some of the very same arch-conservative think tanks that Mooney decries have issued their own accusations, for example, the Marshall Institute’s Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking and the Cato Institute’s Silencing Science.

While much is specious, one of their higher-quality efforts has been to effectively demolish the left’s rigid opposition to nuclear power, a reflex that ignores real potential to reduce carbon emissions and help bridge the next few decades, while we develop sustainable technologies.

Stepping back, we see a common theme. "My side is on the side of truth while your side is warped by dogma."

If I must choose sides, I’ll pick Mooney, because the perfidies that he describes have been accelerating in profoundly disturbing ways. For example, it is unambiguous that the GOP Congress cuts funding for the National Science Foundation even while calling for "more research" on global climate change. Nothing could be more bald-faced. In any event, rightwing abuses are inherently more dangerous, because that side currently holds sway in countless boardrooms and every branch of government.

Yet, the very title of this book - The Republican War on Science - ensures that it won’t be helpful. Providing ammo for one side, it will be contemptuously ignored by the other, while just a few -- those still with open minds -- may crack the covers with sincere interest in learning something new.

This is ironic, in light of some wise words about the scientific process that Mooney quotes from cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker:

"The success of science depends on an apparatus of democratic adjudication - anonymous peer review, open debate, the fact that a graduate student can criticize a tenured professor. These mechanisms are more or less explicitly designed to counter human self deception. People always think they're right, and powerful people will tend to use their authority to bolster their prestige and suppress inconvenient opposition. You try to set up the game of science so that the truth will out despite this ugly side of human nature."


Continue to part II where I will show that Mooney DOES recognize a few left wing anti-science faults, but only a few. I will talk about how problematic a book like this is... telling scary truths, but not - in the long run - being much help.

See also my article: The Case for a Scientific Nation

Saturday, August 20, 2005

More misc collected items from the Culture War front... plus an old anthem...

In the months since John Kerry's defeat last November, asking "What's wrong with liberals?" has become something of an obsession for pundits across America. Did they lose because they were crushed by the right-wing attack machine, because of those ever-nebulous moral values, because they were soft on national security, or because they hadn't bashed corporations enough? Some of these? All of these?

 In Return of the "L" Word: A Liberal Vision for the New Century, Douglas Massey takes a long, hard look at these questions and comes up with some surprising answers. His book reminds us of just how much liberalism has accomplished over the 20th century, of why it eventually declined, and what liberals need to do to usher in a new realignment in politics, one that wrestles the country back from the now-dominant right.

Part of the answer, Massey contends, is to create a new market-based vision for liberalism, one that avoids the pitfalls of both conservative free-market dogma and the leftist ideologies of old.


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead


Fred Mitouer offers a powerful quote from James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg in The Sovereign Individual (1997) that seems to be talking about the “confidence” aspect of modernism.

"In short, the future is likely to confound the expectations of those who have absorbed the civic myths of 20th century industrial society. Among them are the illusions of social democracy that once thrilled and motivated the most gifted minds. They presuppose that societies evolve in whatever way governments wished them to - preferably in response to opinion polls of scrupulously counted votes. This was never as true as it seemed 50 years ago.

Now it is an anachronism, as much an artifact of industrialism as a rusting smokestack. The civic myths reflect not only a mindset that sees society's problems as susceptible to engineering solutions; they also reflect a false confidence that resources and individuals will remain as vulnerable to political compulsion to the future as they have been in the 20th century. We doubt it. Market forces, not political majorities, will compel societies to reconfigure themselves in ways that public opinion will neither comprehend nor welcome. "


And now, moving toward the esoteric:

RELIGION AND SECRECY IN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: The Gentleman, the Prince, and the Simulacrum, BY Hugh Urban Ohio State University ()

“In this article... I will suggest that we look at the Bush administration through the lenses of three controversial theorists who have had much to say about secrecy in both its religious and political dimensions: the German-born political philosopher, Leo Strauss, the Florentine philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, and the French postmodern theorist, Jean Baudrillard. I have chosen these three, seemingly disparate, theorists because they correspond to and help make sense of three of the most important forces at work in the Bush administration, namely: 

1) the Neoconservative movement, which is heavily indebted to Strauss' thought and has a powerful presence in the Bush administration through figures like Paul Wolfowitz (a student of Strauss) and the Project for a New American Century;
2) the manipulations of Bush's pious public i

mage by advisors like Karl Rove (a reader of Machiavelli) and Vice-President Dick Cheney (often compared to Machiavelli), who have used the President's connections with the Christian Right for political advantage; [16] and 

3) an astonishingly uncritical mainstream media, whose celebration of Bush's image as a virtuous man of faith and general silence about his less admirable activities is truly "hyperreal," in Baudrillard's sense of the term.”


Finally, here’s a choice rant I spotted:

I'd love for some rich liberal to make a huge spashy advertised dare to red-staters. "You claim your approach is better at raising moral offspring than our humanist ways. Then test it! First, let's agree on criteria. And to prove that we really aren't morally all that much different from you, , let's agree in advance that the following things generally range from undesirable, to bad, to downright evil:

teen pregnancy
dropping out of high school
children born outside a stable marriage
venereal disease
addiction to drugs or alcohol
adults imposing sex upon children under sixteen
domestic violence

Of course we could argue endlessly over which of these is worse that others, either truly evil or tolerable-if regrettable. But let’s agree that each and every of these things are clear markers of something gone wrong. You claim that you have a better handle on how people ought to live. Then stand up and prove it by showing that you are doing better than us, in all these measurable ways.

We, with all our urban problems, ghettos, and huge influx of immigrants, as well as our so-called loose urban moral values, ought to fare worse in all these categories than folk who are salt-of-the-earth, rural, bible-quoting red-staters, with the Ten Commandments posted in the courthouse and Intelligent Design taught in schools. Right?

Wrong. By every one of the measures listed above, blue-staters are doing not only better, but FAR better.

Just one recent example. The number of methamphetamine labs that law enforcement agencies seized in the urban states of Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire in 2004 was 5. The number seized in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas? 2,546.

Perhaps it’s time to stop dismissing each other and start listening for a change. We’ll start by recalling that religious folk once played a huge role in promoting liberal causes. Combatting poverty and segregation and unjust wars. If people of deep faith no longer feel a connection with progressive liberalism, maybe we played a part in breaking that old link. We blue-staters could learn a little humility, too. We don’t always know everything.

Red-staters, on the other hand, need to stop fearing tomorrow. Most children make good choices when you let them see and sample from the world. Isolating them and relentlessly preaching at them clearly does not work.

Oh, one more thing. We in blue states took all the damage from terrorism and pay most of the taxes in fighting it. Dismissing us as immoral “others” won’t help America to be strong. It’s the opposite of “united we stand.”

Still, if you insist on a “culture war” we can comply, as our forefathers did in fighting to end slavery. Dismiss the ‘decadent’ urban North and you may be in for more than you bargained for.”

Yeesh. This guy has been eating too much chile. Reminds me of the ongoing proposal to change the “red-blue” formalism to “blue-gray”! Now let’s join him in a round of The Battle Hymn of the Republic....

Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord.
He has trampled all the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored...

There’s got to be a better way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Still clearing the decks...

More misc stuff to get rid of!

First and most important... one of the core concepts of modernism is skepticism in the sense of watching out for the worst human trait (and sometimes its best) that has been responsible for most bad governance... and some great art... our relentless subjective willingness to be fooled. As Richard Feynman said, “the easiest person to fool is yourself.”

This matter will come up here, time and again, so let me just cite a couple of interesting items. (Isn’t this the underlying notion behind CITOKATE?)

One of the great flamboyant impresarios of skepticism, “The Great Randi,” will be holding a grand festival of skepticism and magic (yeah you heard that right!) along with my pals Penn & Teller and the MythBusters and many others, in Las Vegas in January. I hereby forgive them for not inviting me. And I urge you all to drop by http://www.tam4.com/

And there are few things you can do to help that will come easier, cheaper, and better than subscribing to Skeptic Magazine. http://www.skeptic.com/

Also, buy my novel EARTH and look on the back pages. There’s a list of other organizations you can join in order to help save the world, without doing anything more than writing a check for subscription to a cool magazine, once a year. It’s called “proxy power” and if you are not doing at least THAT much - joining half a dozen groups who will use your dues to go save the world FOR you -- well, then, then you are simply part of the problem, not part of the solution.


Now to miscellany. Any of you out there Huxley aficionados? A friend recently discovered a very direct debate in the 1940s between Aldous & Julian Huxley on the possibility of progress. Dour old Aldous called it another "idol" while Julian (co-founder of UNESCO and the World Health Organization) was all for it. JH makes his case for progress with the caveat that progress is not inevitable as some millenarians had thought. But, since we're in charge of the planet now, it is absolutely necessary.

Ah, but if you go back to my initial modernism articles, you can see that the Huxleys were arguing during in the can-do period of 1945-1969, when nothing seemed out of reach, the social diamond was at its flattest, and modernism seemed unstoppable. The unbelievable irony? We have accomplished vastly more than anybody then could have expected.

No, we don’t have unmetered/free nuclear power & nuke cars. But we have better race and gender justice than even a utopian would have imagined, then! And many wonders like this one I am using now. And after all of those accomplishments? A civilization with plummeting confidence! Aw, man.


Among our purposes online is to help each other find useful sites. Here is one. The Progressive Policy Institute examines mostly trade matters but with an eye to policy. http://www.ppionline.org/ Here’s a recent excerpt:

”The Numbers:

U.S. "edible ice" imports, 1996: 1,024 tons
U.S. "edible ice" exports, 2000: 6,800 tons
U.S. "edible ice" exports, 2004: 16,300 tons

What They Mean:

“Ingenious attempts to cool off are not at all new. In the 16th chapter of Walden, for example, Henry David Thoreau notes the arrival of a hundred Irish workmen at Walden Pond, who spent the winter of 1846-47 cutting blocks of ice from the pond's frozen surface. By March they had built an ice tower weighing 10,000 tons, which stood by the pond, insulated under a pile of hay, until it was dismantled and shipped off to India by ice king Frederick Turner the following autumn. The ice boats left in September and reached Bengal in May. New England at the time was exporting 5,000 tons of ice a year -- a figure which reached 12,000 a year in the 1870s -- to Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Brazil, Cuba, and Central America, as well as India. Turner was also the first man to sell ice cream in Cuba, the Virgin Islands, and St. Kitts. Thoreau smugly comments: "the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta drink at my well ."

“America's modern ice trade, though growing fast, is still pretty small. The "edible ice" totals last year were $3 million in exports, mainly to Mexico, and $28 million in imports. U.S. trade in ice cream is considerably bigger, at $50 million to $100 million a year in exports and $10 million in imports. Hong Kong and Singapore are still on the ice cream export map, but India is not. Trade in air conditioners and refrigerators of course is bigger still...” “... Probably more interesting, China's first major industrial manufacturing venture in the United States is in refrigeration. Appliance giant Hai'er opened a plant in Camden, South Carolina, in 2003, which now employs 225 people and has the capacity to produce half a million refrigerators a year...

Fascinating! Now more snippets. Mostly about science persevering amid and despite the new barbarians...

'Strange Things' Along Pacific Coast Waters -- (Associated Press -- August 2, 2005)
Marine biologists are seeing mysterious and disturbing things along the Pacific Coast this year: higher water temperatures, plummeting catches of fish, lots of dead birds on the beaches, and perhaps most worrisome, very little plankton - the tiny organisms that are a vital link in the ocean food chain. "The bottom has fallen out of the coastal food chain, and there's just not enough food out there," said Julia Parrish, a seabird ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Siberia's Rapid Thaw Causes Alarm -- (BBC -- August 11, 2005)
The huge expanse of western Siberia is thawing for the first time since its formation, 11,000 years ago. The area, which is the size of France and Germany combined, could release billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This could potentially act as a tipping point, causing global warming to snowball, scientists fear.

Scientists Sound Alarm on Arctic Ice Cap -- (CBC News -- July 29, 2005)
Satellite data for the month of June show Arctic sea ice has shrunk to a record low, raising concerns about climate change, coastal erosion, and changes to wildlife patterns. The National Snow and Ice Data Center in the United States uses remote sensing imagery to survey ice cover at both poles. The center says 2002 was a record low year for sea ice cover in the Arctic, since satellite observations began in 1979. There's evidence that may have been the lowest coverage in a century. Now scientists fear this year could be worse

How Earth-scale Engineering Can Save the Planet -- (Popular Science -- August 1, 2005)
As scientists stretch to find a solution to global warming, an array of innovative and imaginative ideas have emerged that constitute tinkering on a global scale. We already are inadvertently changing the climate, so why not advertently try to counterbalance it? asks a community of forward thinking scientists and designers. Here are some of the proposals.


And a FINAL QUOTE... which could be almost a modernists motto or manifesto...

“We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.” --- Richard Feynman

(I met Feynman several times and attended lectures while I was a student at Caltech. In fact, at a party he once borrowed my date to dance, not realizing the song was Inna Gaddadavita! After 20 mins he (sweating/panting) returned her saying “You...you must take my place.”

(Like an idiot, I misunderstood and switched my major to physics. Agh! ;-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

...and now, misc catching up...

philanthropySo much for Diamonds and pyramids and SOA. Again, you can find much of that at: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy. I am sure we'll discuss these matters again, as we keep trying to come up with metaphors that can serve as weapons for the Enlightenment, capable of taking on the seductive insanity of an insipid "left-right political axis."

This blog has (as I feared) turned into a major time sink. While I am impressed with the intelligence and cogency of many participants, I have no idea whether there are enough of you to merit such effort, at some cost to writing novels.

What HAS been positive is that I've been inspired to dredge up some older projects to put online. One of these will be the "religion" essay that I plan to post next month, episodically. It's title alone -- "Twelve Modern Questions About Humanity’s Relationship With its Creator In the Context of an Age of Science" - should provoke interest and argument.

culturewarbattlegroundEven before delivering that promised bombshell, some of our discussions have spurred me to revisit a longstanding frustration, having to do with the ongoing epidemic of bilious partisanship and romantic dogmatism that has been polluting our great nation's grand experiment in pragmatism, propelling the so called "culture war". One place where I've explored this issue is at: The Real Culture War: Defining the Background.

...but it is a topic with many levels. Those hoping to rescue a scientific society from indignant jerks might consider ways to use science as a weapon against indignation itself!

To this end, I have corresponded for years with experts in several fields, suggesting certain lines of investigation. (I'm not shy.) And now... you are all invited to drop in and view An Open Letter To Researchers In The Fields Of Addiction, Brain Chemistry And Social Psychology.

 ... and feel free to tell your biologist pals. I cannot think of any single scientific result that might do more to help heal society and empower the pragmatists, while marginalizing screeching dogmatists of every stripe.


Well... there are some other things we can try. (We’re supposed to be problem-solvers, right?) So do not let me forget to raise these possible methodologies:

* a citizen rebellion against gerrymandering
* the “Bill Clinton Gambit”
* “all right, it’s a 2. Get over it.”

...and others. We gotta start brainstorming, boys and girls. I have been following reports that show one of the prime tests of the health of modernism... the market for science fiction novels... is at a low ebb for 4 decades! If anything should be a dangerous sign....


And now... after proving my evenhandedness by skewering hypocrisies of the left... let's have another kick to the right! Or several kicks. There are so many, we have to stack them efficiently!

(Don't any conservatives have the imagination to picture what would have happened, if Bill Clinton had tried to get away with even ONE of these things? The skyrocketing deficits? The relentless secrecy & lying? The mega scale cronyism and outright thievery? The PORK? Dang, what hypocrites.)

* This one is supplied by Russ Daggatt: We are creating terrorists:

New investigations by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank -- both of which painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States -- have found that the vast majority of these foreign fighters are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself.

The studies, which together constitute the most detailed picture available of foreign fighters, cast serious doubt on President Bush's claim that those responsible for some of the worst violence are terrorists who seized on the opportunity to make Iraq the ''central front" in a battle against the United States. ''The terrorists know that the outcome [in Iraq] will leave them emboldened or defeated," Bush said in his nationally televised address on the war at Fort Bragg in North Carolina last month. ''So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction." The US military is fighting the terrorists in Iraq, he repeated this month, ''so we do not have to face them here at home."

However, interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, ''the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

As I’ve often said, I do NOT contend that it’s proved that our rulers have been suborned by a foreign power. But seriously, is incompetence any longer as effective or likely an explanation for (say) the savage demolition of our alliances and military readiness and officer corps and social cohesion... while recruiting enemies at such a furious (and apparently deliberate) rate? Which theory is gaining ground? The rational one of outrageous, shortsighted incompetence? Or the outright screeching paranoid explanation? The explanation that creepily fits every single fact.

===   ===   ===

Of course, this was all based on preventing use of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction against us, right? Hmmm... Well, here's an interesting item. A suspected chemical weapons lab has been found in Mosul. One of recent origin. Presumably for use against US soldiers. So while Pres. Bush never found the WMDs he used as a pretext for this war, that very war is now generating the WMD we were supposed to be worried about! Ironies abound.

Still, one has to sympathize. Like when VP Dick Cheney took a lot of flak last year for saying that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes". Now SoS Condoleeza Rice is saying that the insurgency is "losing steam."

No wonder this administration holds open press conferences at a rate lower than any other administration in a century. (Can conservatives defend even THAT factoid? At all?)


...and finally.... on the direct topic of Modernism and its Enemies... Stefan has provided another wonderful mini-rant, about what has been rightfully called "the American Taliban". From the same guy as last time. This fellow is apparently on a real roll. Keep your eye on him. He may be the next Bruce Sterling (hopefully just as smart and on-target, but nicer).

"Remember Republicans? Sober men in suits, pipes, who'd nod
thoughtfully over their latest tract on market-driven fiscal conservatism while grinding out the numbers on rocket science. Remember those serious-looking 1950's-1960s science guys in the movies -- Republican to a one.

"They were the grown-ups. They were the realists. Sure they were a bummer, maaaaan, but on the way to La Revolution you need somebody to remember where you parked the car. I was never one (nor a Democrat,  really, more an agnostic libertarian big on the social contract, but we don't have a party ...), but I genuinely liked them.

"How did they become the party of fairy dust and make believe? How did they become the anti-science guys? The anti-fact guys? The anti-logic guys?"

For the rest of this piece, go to: http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2004/12/i-miss-republicans.html

--- next... more clearing the decks....

Sunday, August 14, 2005

More on Diamonds... and those who hate them...

DemetriosX wins the Best Response Of The Week award. Several excellent points concerning our recent topic of the Diamond-Shaped Social Structure. The irrefutable fact that America and most of the West has lived a miracle for half a century - in societies wherein the well-off and empowered Middle Class has - for the first time in human history - actually outnumbered the poor.

Of course, critics of the diamond metaphor have attempted to refute its core lesson - that progress and the modernist agenda of human and social improvability work, and indeed work much better than anything else that humanity has ever tried. They try to do this by ignoring the diamond, or calling it doomed, or else by claiming that it is a mirage, resting atop an ongoing pyramid of privilege. As modernists who welcome criticism, we analyzed two of these proposed pyramids last time, finding one of them somewhat plausible and the other easily disproved.

Of course there is some level at which this complaint about the diamond must be true. As DemetriosX aptly points out, the real "pyramid" that our diamond rests upon is a vast number and variety of patient and (mostly) uncomplaining machines that has replaced the servant/peasant/slave classes.

Just go to India, today, and look around. Someone in YOUR class and occupation will have servants, who do many tasks that you assign to your dishwasher, clothes washer and microwave oven. Much is still done by hand. It is wonderful that the Indian economy is rising. But it is a rising pyramid, at least so far.

Moreover, many of our machines consume copious resources, exactly as a human servant would. Hence the multiplier effect of how vastly more resource-hungry an american household is, compared to others around the world. For this reason, we are behooved, obligated, to expend a large portion of our surplus on research to make all servant machines vastly more efficient. Only thus could it ever be possible for everyone on the planet to enter the diamond-pinnacle of citizen-humans, living in relative decency.

Note that the right does not foster such research, choosing instead to undermine it at every opportunity. Why is that?

1. Some believe it interferes in capitalism. Nonsense, of course. One of the chief roles of government is to invest in portions of future horizon space that lie beyond the 3-5 year ROI (return on investment) limit of the typical CEO. (Actually, this is relatively visionary, for CEOs today. Most have an eye only on timing stock peaks to coincide with their options-parachute.) In any event, this stance is utter hypocrisy. The latest energy bill is filled with so called "research" that suits the short term needs of the most influential in-group CEOs, plus many billions of tax breaks for companies that are already highly profitable. (See below)

2. They cannot allow their minds to encompass an ambitious goal of actually eliminating poverty and welcoming ALL of the world inside a rising diamond, even though we face a time limit. When there are ten billions on Earth, many of them far more educated and skilled than happy, do you really think that terror and destruction will not spill across us all?

3. Certain elements of our current ruling Troika actually relish the prospect of a looming doomsday, driven in part by a failure of human problem-solving. (In a month or so I will discuss this, when we start a series about religion.) Indeed, they consider the whole Modernist Agenda to be sacreligious. Arrogating the miracle-working powers of God.

In fact, modernism should impel any reasonable person to pull out the stops on efficiency research, almost above any other priority. It should be the top imperative, a goal driven by sure knowledge that our childrens' lives and comfort will depend on vastly muliplying wealth while reducing resource impact by two orders of magnitude. There should be a dozen "Manhattan Projects" aimed at achiving this sustainability goal - including the resumption of building modern and improved nuclear power plants. (Aha! Brin swerves and delivers a kick to the LEFT!)

Note that all of this is driven by this one metaphor... that of the diamond social structure... our greatest accomplishment. THE greatest human accomplishment, possibly, of all time. It is the very emblem of the Enlightenment and its servant, modernism. And it can only endure if we do everything in our power to nurture it.

DemetriosX is right that the diamond LOOKS unstable. Because it is. Pyramids are reinforced by the utterly predictable and almost-automatic self-serving actions of empowered elites at the top, who do not need sophisticated science to tell them how to stay on top. This is what's natural, as testified by 4,000 years of recorded history.

In contrast, markets - oft mythologized as "natural" are the most unnatural things going. Libertarians will tell you "market laws are laws of nature", what baloney. Markets -- and the other great modernist cornucopian tools -- are magnificent wealth generating machines, built ad-hoc, through trial and error, constantly fine-tuned and refined, tinkered, adjusted. The same way the diamond needs tuning, adjusting, reforms and investment, in order to keep its shape and keep rising. (Remind me some time to resume this line of thought. Meanwhile, have a look at: http://www.davidbrin.com/disputationarticle1.html)

All right, I've psychoanalyzed why the RIGHT despises the diamond. What about the LEFT?

What's interesting about the left is that they DO call for many diamond-tending processes and reforms. (After all, civil and gender rights were overwhelmingly important to altering the old pyramid.) And, despite their own kind of anti-science antimodernism, the left does support efficiency research.

But they hate the image of the diamond because it implicitly admits that there's been progress. In their sanctimonious contempt for the masses, they believe that ANY admission of progress will remove the guilt-driven pressure to do more. A dismal obsession that actually undercuts their credibility and effectiveness. Refusing ever to use praise, only guilt, they wind up driving people away, and turning "liberal" into a curse word on the lips of citizens whose votes they desperately need.

But let's probe just a little deeper, into the implications of the Diamond Metaphor.

First a challenge. I defy anyone to go back more than two hundred years and find anyone urging practical programs and social measures to eliminate poverty entirely from society. I doubt very much that you'll succees. Yes! There were countless sages and saints who urged good people to give alms, and even the shirt off their back, to the poor. But this was always myopically aimed at easing nearby suffering and elevating the karmic state of the giver. No one ever spoke of eliminating poverty altogether. Instead "the poor will always be with us" more numberous than grains of sand.

The reason is obvious. When society is pyramidal, the broad bottom is the poor! Hen poverty is a vast sea, surrounding a steep island of privilege, the mind is limited in its imagined range of ambition. How can you empty the sea?

But this changes when progress finally creates a diamond shaped structure. Now, the poor are fewer than the well off! Suddenly, poverty is a bitter lake, surrounded by affluence. And it is possble to imagine draining a lake. Indeed, suddenly poverty itself becomes a scandal. If we can imagine ending it, then why hasn't it happened yet? It must be somebody's fault.

It began with the American Revolution, when European observers reported the first true diamond. And the blame casting commenced in the French Revolution, with Marxism and the New Deal and Johnson's War on Poverty. Some moves were delusional, others crude-though ambitious. Nu? You expected competence, when humanity started taking on a previously unimaginable task?

I will officially end here, having talked (again) much too long for a blog. But stay tuned for some supporting material (below)

Till next time....


ADDENDA: Here's what the only hardhitting and unafraid journalist in America - Jon Stewart - has to say about the recent "energy bill": "Oh, Oil!! Giver of power, corrupter of governments, non-sticker of surfaces... Must you taunt us with your slick, non-renewable goodness?

"Yes, energy is clearly an important topic with Americans. That's why, before going on recess, Congress broke a 4 year impasse by approving a massive energy bill. And while it did nothing to address our dependence on foreign oil, or fuel efficiency, or in any way simplify the strategic nature of our relationship with the Middle East, it does give oil and gas industries 500 million dollars for research and 2.7 billion dollars in tax breaks, even though a company like Exxon-Mobil made 7.6 billion dollars in pure profit just this last quarter..."

Or, as expressed by Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas: "This bill is based on the premise that we believe in private, free-market capitalism to develop the resources of this land in a cost-efficient manner."

Um.... And as deficits skyrocket, impoverishing our children in favor of the "Great Raid" of pork -- the biggest charge of outright theft from our treasury in all our lifetimes, here is a trip down memory lane for a quotable goodie from George W. Bush's 2005 State of the Union address: "America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline."

You can see what we are up against, oh modernist boys and girls....

==See: Class War and the Lessons of History

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Globalization and Social Diamonds... p.III (with a note re "purges")

First off, I am told that this blog was cited in discussion of A. Huffington's recent column about the four-star general who was recently fired under questionable (and likely politically-motivated) charges. At minimum, it shows a double standard, applied by politicians against a clade that is almost universally more honest and upright than they are. At worst, it is one more stage in an intimidation campaign of major and vile proportions. So far, such cases have been adding up incrementally, one after another with disturbing rhythm. Yet, it's here at this site, and nowhere else, that it was first proposed that this is all part of a concerted purge of the US Officer Corps.

You heard that first right here.

And no, I never claimed to be ready with overwhelming proof, meriting indictments. Indeed, I might be wrong! (The phrase that all scientists are taught to say aloud, and the one mature statement that can hope to save civilization.)

Hey, I am paid to be BOTH imaginatively paranoid and ecumenically skeptical. Both are modernist traits, especially when properly mixed. Hence, I do not insist (without a lot more evidence) that this scenario is true. What I do contend is that an awful lot of circumstantial evidence is pointing to a possible phenomenon that, if true, could bode worse for us than any threat since the Civil War. (Indeed, one could look at this as a resumption of the Civil War, in some ways. But more on that, anon.)

SO? Spread the word and start helping to gather evidence! And tell the democrats to get off their asses on this issue. One of many areas where liberals are simply not doing their job.


Back to concluding my remarks about the loonyleft and "globalization".

First, here is a fine online magazine produced by a very pro-business group that calls itself - well - The Globalist. (http://www.theglobalist.com) Here is a sample article: (http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4738) You will note that while being pro-business, they are not necessarily pro-neocon. In my opinion, in fact, the two perspectives are quite opposite.

(See the mini-rant at the end of my NEXT posting!)

Now, let's follow up on a question one of you asked (quite cleverly) about the "social diamond". (I am hoping somebody will publicly notice that Brin came up with a truly great metaphor here! ;-)

The diamond - featuring an empowered and comfortable middle class that vastly outnumbers the poor - shows how huge and obvious genuine progress has been, at least in the West, under our Modernist Agenda. No image demonstrates more clearly how this society is different from all predecessors, how much we ALL have benefitted from science and accountability...and how much we have to lose if we return to the traditional human social pyramid.

Moreover, this metaphor helps to show just how loony both the left and right are. The far right hates the diamond and does everything it can to rationalize and justify counter trends, especially those fostering re pyramidalization. But the left is worse, refusing absolutely to admit that the diamond has happened at all!

The former tendency - at least - is human; we've seen conspirators strive for pinnacle position atop their social pyramids - and to maintain that structure - in every large culture recorded . (Under communism, it was the CP nomenklatura that did precisely the same thing!) We must fight this endlessly recurring theme. But at one level, it's a yawner.

(The ironies can be outrageous, such as when Julian Simon and other neoconservatives relentlessly cite diamond progress (in economic terms) as reason to abandon the very same processes of self-critical problem-solving and market fine-tuning that brought the cornucopia into being! They do this by crediting a mystically perfect "market" with all of this progress, and not a process of relentless reform, negotiation, re-appraisal of costs and fine-tuning that has gone on ever since Teddy Roosevelt.)

Nevertheless, it's the latter thing - the betrayal of the diamond by the left - that really outrages me. By refusing to admit the palpable existence of progress, lefties discredit all of liberalism, undermining its effectiveness for the sake of their own righteous indignation high.

In effect, they are saying to the public: "You bought our product for eighty years and it never worked! At all! Ever! So buy more!" Would you buy a product that was offered with such a sales pitch?

Worse, they insult those earlier generations of activists who helped citizens to craft genuine progress in fields ranging from civil rights and gender rights, to increasing access to university, to cleaning the air, to saving the Ozone Layer and reforesting much of America. By saying that nothing meaningful has been accomplished, they spread despair, a sense of futility, and prove they are romantic enemies of progress.

But let me pause. (And now we get back to your question, sir.)

In fairness, smartaleck lefties (sometimes very smart young fellers) do try to look at the diamond - now and then - with honestly critical eyes. (I am "Mr. Criticism" so bring it on!) They do this by saying "the American so-called 'diamond' rests atop an old-fashioned pyramid of third world resources and third world labor!"

Actually, that's a clever and well-put attempt at falsification. It deserves real scrutiny.

And at one level the rebuttal is true. We ARE basing much of our prosperity on unsustainable practices, by greedily grabbing and squandering under-costed resources.

Especially, we are stealing fossil petrochemicals from our grandchildren and outrageously burning them, instead of cautiously preserving some and using the rest to finance a leap to new plateaus. We need to use the present surplus to complete the modernist goal of achieving genuinely sustainable technologies, so all people on Earth can have diamond-middleclass life styles... at only 5% of the resource cost of a current american life style.

(Sound impossible? Modernism has already achieved greater miracles. Come on, that's LESS than a two-order-of magnitude increase in efficiency! We can do it. We can. Or... we could. But alas, it will not happen on the investment ROI schedules of myopic corporations. The obstinacy of right wing economists, who actually believe that CEOs are capable of looking beyond three years, seems truly staggering.)

So, at one level, the rebuttal of the diamond has some genuine relevance.

Still, the diamond-atop-pyramid image is fallacious overall. It is easily disproved by one simple, direct and irrefutable correlation. The places in the 3rd World that are doing best are those MOST closely tied to our economy.

Those doing worst are places LEAST connected or globalized. This is true even ecologically! Deforestation in Burma is worse than anywhere. Because there isn't even a semblance of law to stop the aristocracy from logging, smuggling and exporting the products of their theft.

No. The left is doing it all wrong. The things they complain about are real. But their suggestions are sterile and many of them are rooted in romantic rejection of the very things that enabled and empowered true liberalism.

Empowered it to make a better world.


I was going to follow with a kick to the right, but this posting is too long. So I'll do it tamale....

Return to Part I