Friday, September 02, 2005

A pause for ruminations on "prediction"...

Let me pause in the current two parter about “Horizons and the Roots of Empathy.

Rant mode... on!

Predictions that I wish never came true...

I do wish people would stop talking about the New Orleans prediction in EARTH. For one thing, the levee that I portray breaking was way upstream, not the one separating the city from Lake Pontchatrain. And second, the flooding scenes that you folks remember so vividly were actually set in Houston , not in N.O. Yes (ironically), Houston is the new home of New Orleans, but...

What's weird is that EARTH now has at least thirteen major predictive hits, so far. Some of them technological, some social. Web pages, blogging, independent micro-camera use, subvocal voiced input, privacy wars, worries about human-generated singularities, animal habitat refuges, political activism by associations of low lying countries, accelerated global warming that results in worsening storm seasons, a Patagonia land boom, widespread self-editing of news input, the decline of delivered mail... and now this. (Can any of you think of any others?) Starting to get weird.

Will we also see a "Helvetian War" against secrecy, as the world's people rebel against all the lies and evasion of accountability? If so, it won't be easy. Those with deep secrets won't give them up easily.

In any event, bring on that "Predictions Registry"!

More catastrophe scandal:

* Again, though I have a very jaundiced eye toward Truthout (their partisanship sometimes all-too closely resembles a reverse version of the rabid Clinton-bashing of the nineties), nevertheless, they are often a good source of fresh perspective or useful links. This one  asks some especially insightful questions.

* "Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans. "The New Orleans hurricane scenario," The Houston Chronicle wrote in December 2001, "may be the deadliest of all." It described a potential catastrophe very much like the one now happening. "

* Apparently, disaster management in New Orleans had been privatized, the 'catastrophic hurricane disaster plan' having been handed over to Baton Rouge-based Innovative Emergency Management last year. "IEM, Inc., the Baton Rouge-based emergency management and homeland security consultant, will lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the City of New Orleans under a more than half a million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)."

But the details get worse. See

* A correspondent wrote to me: Before the hurricane hit I have read that at least some airlines and Greyhound bus reportedly stopped service, not in the name of safety but the name of profit. No one was paying to enter the city and they could not break even by entering empty and simply flying or driving people out. This move trapped many ticket bearing tourists inside the city and made it even harder for the poor and infirm to leave. I have been unable to verify the details for sure, but have repeatedly encountered these anecdotal reports in a wide variety of cases. If anyone can firmly confirm or deny these reports, I will be grateful.

I've also seen a picture of what might be 200 school buses parked in a flooded lot. they likely had some policies in place that made it illegal to use for that purpose. not sure where that fits into the mix, but it shows that it's not just uncaring outsiders who didn't support. it was folks right in town, locally, who didn't respond. i
personally love the story of the 18 yr old kid who stole a bus and picked up 100 strangers and drove to houston. brilliant.

More links to the great betrayal.

* The crowded revolving door. Joseph Schmitz, Pentagon Inspector General, is quitting to accept a job with The Prince Group, a contractor doing no-bid services in Iraq. (Ask me some time about the depravity of today's "Inspector General" arrangements, which make Danny Kaye look like a professional. I have proposed a piece of legislation that would require just a single paragraph, that could transform the nation's IGs into fierce champions of accountability.)

This was no surprise.

* Back on July 17, the nation's governors, at their summer meeting, voiced deep worry over the way their national guard units have been dragged away from homes, families, jobs... and especially availability for use in emergencies. VA governor (and possibly future president) Mark Warner was especially pointed about this. More than a quarter million have been called up, to participate in an "elective surgery" war. Guard recruiting goals have been missed for 12 straight months.

* Meanwhile, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Richard Meyers has informed Congress that major combat operations elsewhere in the world, should they prove necessary, would probably be more protracted and produce higher US and foreign civilian casualties, because of overstretched commitments to Iraq. Um duh. Democrats do not notice the "readiness scandal" because of perceptual bias. Republicans do not notice it because of obstinate and increasingly insane loyalty.

Secrecy skyrockets. Government secrecy has reached a historic high, even compared to the Cold War (San Diego Union July 3). Federal departments are classifying documents at a rate of 125 per minute... or two per second... and inventing new kinds of classification, while declassification efforts that peaked under the Clinton Administration have slowed to a crawl. This increase in secrecy has direct costs exceeding $7.2 billion. Not included are recent efforts to obstruct the Freedom of Information Act across a broad front.

And this is defensible... how? Evasion of accountability is a more likely explanation than “terrorism.” The secrets are being kept from us. (Please note that post Cold War analyses have almost universally concluded that Soviet paranoia and excessive secrecy was one of the reasons for the decay, fragility and eventual fall of that evil empire. By all means, let’s copy them!

And yet, the news sometimes offers cause for hope. Billy Graham recently joined Bill & Hillary Clinton onstage for his final revival meeting. The 86 year old evangelist called the former president "a man I love". All right, it doesn't have to go THAT far. But we do need more outreach across the "cultural" divide.

Again, a message to George Soros. Stop everything else you are doing and concentrate on getting 100 prominent and decent old-fashioned American conservatives - one at a time - trapped on an airplane with Bill Clinton for 6 hours. They will arrive at the other end his best friend. THAT is how we’ll get the core group of courageous conservatives who will stand up, at last, and save civilization.


Rob Perkins said...

Re Soros: Good luck with that.

I'm trying to be very careful with my Federal SOA, lest it descend into rampant paranoia. Just keep piling the data, correct and in its full context, and one day you might have me convinced!

Or do better, and somehow engineer the Democratic party so that modernists are on the ticket.

I don't know about the secrecy thing. I had an argument with a health care provider about my disclosing my wife's Social Security Number to them, on the basis that *they don't need it to provide care*.

Every health care provider has asked for that number, and every one of them says no more than "It's our policy to hold that information," and maybe, if pressed, "It's to protect you from fraud!"


And it didn't stop this drone of a receptionist from offering to *shred* all the paperwork I'd just filled out, and let me "go to the Emergency Room" at ten times the price!


Sorry. *ahem*

And, of course, since she didn't bother to verify the number, I mentioned that it was funny, but I could have written down *any nine numbers* and she'd never know the difference. She didn't seem to care about that nuance...

In any case, *identity theft* will keep people calling for privacy, as much as they can get to prevent the theft. In the environment of fraud possible today...

Dunno about *government secrets*, though, but I doubt we'll get much help from WCN after Bush, to unlock locked documents. And I point out that everyone over 65 is on a government health plan, making their secrets also government secrets...

I don't think we're gonna get what you think we need, before there's a tyranny in place...

Just another frustrated middle-class guy, whose five-year-old has a broken arm...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was SERIOUSLY misremembering the New Orleans scene in Earth.

* * *

Facinating item spotted by Bruce Sterling on his trip to Singapore:

It's a kiosk, reportedly located outside each post office, which lets you:

* Buy stamps
* Pay parking fines, buy parking permits, pay for your car license
* Pay bills
* Pay fines
* Pay loans and insurance
* Buy tickets / bookings
* Make donations / contributions
* Recharge your phone
* Pay for government services.

Fascinating, and eerie!

Selections it would need to make this a prop from a SF novel:

* Report BadThink
* Mutant Control Hotline
* Summon Euthanasia Services


David Brin said...

Rob, you gotta get The Transparent Society and come to understand what the social security number is.

It should not be able to harm you. Everyone in the world should be able to know it, without a scintilla of harm coming to you.

It's not like that, unfortunately, because a few places use it as a password. But really, do you honestly think it hasn't already leaked to all the bad guys?

Rob Perkins said...


I'm just trying to make sure it doesn't get sent through the mail, or e-mail. Precisely because people, including credit reporting agencies, use the thing as a password.

(And I correct myself: It's HIPAA, not HIIPA.)

Until everyone doesn't, I reserve the right to be mighty suspicious. And not too fine a point, but you're arguing the ideal, and I'm not.

jomama said...

In the words of Terry
Pratchett: 'Chaos is found in greatest abundance
wherever order is being sought. Chaos always
defeats order because it is better organized.'

Are you ready for a wild ride?

Anonymous said...

Pertaining to almost nothing here, but really worth reading:

John Scalzi is a SF writer, but he's better known for his "Uncle John" books.

He put together a quasi-essay called "Being Poor" that is a real eye-opener:


Anonymous said...

@ Rob Perkins

"Or do better, and somehow engineer the Democratic party so that modernists are on the ticket."

Obviously, I have no idea where you live, so don't know what your local Democrats are like, but I find it really hard to call either Al Gore or John Kerry anti-modernists. But that's neither here nor there.


If Terry Pratchett said that, he lifted it from the Principa Discordia.

@oritinal post

A lot of the things that the government's made secret have no business being secret, especially since it's paid for with taxpayer dollars.

It seems to me there's a huge opening for a party that runs on a promise of reform, openness, and competence. At least, I would hope so. The Republican party can't do it, and msot of the Democrats in office don't seem to have any desire to do so. A large part of it's probably because many of them have been in office for years, and have their own dirt they'd rather not have dug up. I'm sure there's enough garden-variety corruption on both sides to keep either from wanting to do it, but seriously. There's corruption and incompetence on massive scales, and frankly, if the "collateral damage" is just that only-regularly-corrupt politicians on both sides lose their seats, well, I have a hard time feeling sympathy. But I don't know there's any way to get a movement like that rolling without some help from the top.

michael vassar said...

Well chosen message for Soros. Seriously, the guy is smart, and has enough money to change the world, but doesn't seem to know how to do so. If you think of any way to contact him, let us know. I suspect that you might be able to do it, but I don't know how.

Anonymous said...

Grays from heaven come to earth and
say "We have infinite authority.OBEY." This might give somebody the blues.

Rob Perkins said...

Some interesting comments in the NY Times about Federal recovery obligations, as well as local obligations. Why NO didn't have mandatory flood insurance requirements for all those properties boggles...

I blogged it:

@nate -- Al Gore hits the conservation sauce too hard (there *is* a "just right, IMO, and we're not doing it as a country, but Gore takes it too far), and John Kerry was and is, IMO, a poser. A darn sight better than his collegue in the delegation from Massechussetts, but still simply a poser.

Rob Perkins said...

Now, here's something interesting I found while using Google to look into the Nat Guard recruitment claims, which really cuts both ways:

The article reports that the Federal Nat Guard leadership had cut loose 10,000 troops for disaster relief, from *ten states*, on 31 August.

And lest anyone starts thinking I'm all rosy about this heart-rending disaster, it also points out that the 5,900 troops gone from LA and MS were just the sorts of troops who are very useful in a natural disaster.

Also, that recruitment goals for the Nat Guard are, indeed, down in LA, but I note with interest that the shortfall number is not high; only 800 recruits. It strikes me that from the perspective of readiness this portends not a short-range problem to panic over, but it does mean that medium and long term, some damage has been done.

David Brin said...

Sayeth Nate: "It seems to me there's a huge opening for a party that runs on a promise of reform, openness, and competence. At least, I would hope so. "

A huge opening. But only if we HERE can start a movement to have the issues redefined from left-right to future-past.

Seriously, the sincere and traditional conservatives are engaged in a frenzy of distraction whose only parallel is the liberals of 1943, who kept coming up with excuses for Stalin. I have no idea what it will take to make people like George Will recognize that their hour of true patriotism has come.

One of the mantras that you hear from such folk is the relentless exaggeration of "leftyness" of guys like Kerry. Yes, he had some traits that seemed a little weasely, or frippy or fratboy. So? Impressionistic stuff like that DOES have some political validity... like disliking Clinton for his pecadillos in a dark hallway. Or like the raging orgies that Ronald Reagan purportedly held in the Governors' mansion, in California.

But to inflate these things into excuses to ignore a fellow's essentially centrist and modernist policy views? Can't you see how silly that is?

In any event, the primal archetype of the modernist candidate was Al Gore. The man fizzed eagerness. He was the 1st VP in US history not to have any "3rd Wheel jokes" told about him, because he was so busy, running around town trying to make things work oh so much better!

Alas, I think it was his eagerness, as much as his wooden demeanor, that put off a nation filled with frightened cynics. The man adores the future and millions of our neighbors deeply dread it.

We need somebody who can soothe that dread WHILE slowly re-infecting our fellow citizens with can-do confidence. That's a tall order.

David Brin said...

Rob one small cavil about meeting recruitment goals. Recruiters always try to REDUCE THE GOALS if they don't think they can be met. Standard practice. I doubt the 800 man shortfall tells the whole story.

Joel said...

Re: ...bring on that "Predictions Registry"!

All the money goes to charity, by the way.

It's funny to note that maintaining the same level of secrecy would have meant almost twice as much money available for disaster relief, all else being equal.

Pacanukeha said...

Say, Dave, I heard that you had some thought about the depravity of today's "Inspector General" arrangements, which make Danny Kaye look like a professional.

I was wondering if you had any solutions, say, for examples, a piece of legislation that would require just a single paragraph, that could transform the nation's IGs into fierce champions of accountability.


David Brin said...

The very very very brief version... (ask me later for extended)...

Establish IGUS... the office of Inspector General of the United States.

All the Inspectors in all capinet depts and agencies CURRENTLY are politically appointed by the very same people they are supposed to inspect! Change that. Make them officers in a quasi-military service like the Public Health Service and NOAA (the Surgeon General wears a uniform and heads the PHS).

Make them pros and subject to quasi military oaths and codes of discipline... and all reporting to a totally accountable and visible figure outside of any politician's command.

She cannot interfere in policy. But she can warn about accountability and the law. And defend us.

Rob Perkins said...

@ David Brin re recruitment goals: Doesn't seem cricket, to do so, but I've seen it elsewhere.

Re Al Gore, he might have been eager and future oriented, but he's off the deep end now, man. But he *was* getting the 3rd wheel jokes; Limbaugh told 'em all the time, I seem to recall.

I could have respected John Kerry as President; it became evident that he was capable close to the end of the election cycle. But I live on the Left Coast, so no matter what I voted for, my state sent in electors for him. So it doesn't matter who I voted for, because Seattle went for Kerry.

Doesn't mean I think he was any less of a poser. :-)

And it remains that I didn't actually *like* either of them. Not that I *liked* Bush much, either, but I guess I just don't know how to please me.

(We should hash out what you think the electoral college needs, sometime; I've always thought it might be fruitful to have electoral districts, somewhat like congressional districts, because I think the slight small-state advantage is important at the Federal level.)

Re IGUS, weren't the special prosecutor laws supposed to be an attempt at that?

Rob Perkins said...

I have some more questions:

1 -- Is this data: accurate or spun somehow? And if so, how? Is it a too-simple distillation of the issue, or a refutation of the idea that global warming has caused more and harsher hurricanes? (The claim is that the graphs come from NOAA data)

2 -- lists a series of news reports which *appear* to show that levee funding problems precede the Bush administration (which is *not* support for excusing failures of *this* Congress or *this* administration, but there you are)

Tony Fisk said...

Been a while since I read 'Earth' (and my copy has gone AWOL), but I hope your speculation about the Tunguska event is *not* prophetic!

It would take more than a paragraph to apply, but another interesting exercise in government would be to have a series of rolling 'by-elections' rather than one razzle-dazzle attention grabbing, pork doling event in November each leap year.*

How would politicians duck and weave if they were held at least partially accountable by state elections every month or so? How would the largesse fare if the other members of the union weren't so distracted that they could feel the tweaking sensations in their back pockets?

*hmmm... that suggests no election in 2100... moving on!

Ross said...

"HIIPA" isn't a bad misacronym: Health Information Inhibition of Privacy Act

Anonymous said...

rob perkins:

Oh, just because HIPAA places strict limits on the dissemination of data, that doesn't mean that the twits actually involved in handling that data will pay the least bit of attention.

I work at a helpdesk. We do tech support for a major system of hospitals. When they're having trouble with a record, we're to ask them for the medical record number, and that's all. But I cannot tell you how many times I've heard "I'm having trouble with a patient; his name is Josh Greenberg and he was born on such-and-such" before I could interrupt them.

Supposedly they have to go to seminars and trainings about HIPAA compliance. I had a ten-second orientation from my supervisor ("we identify patients only by their medical record numbers; you are not authorized to hear any other patient data whatsoever"), and yet I'm a damn sight better at this than the nurses there. What gives?

Hell, you'd be amazed how many people will tell you their password without you even asking for it. "What's your logon?" "My logon name is abcdef, and my password is hotpants69." Could we at least train people never to give their password to anyone, not even helpdesks? Sometimes I despair for the security of the average computer user. The human is still, indeed, the weakest link.