Sunday, September 18, 2005

Some suggestions to ponder... plus some cool science...

Our recent discussions have whirled around the general notion of how to put moderation, modernism, negotiation and pragmatism to the fore in the coming political season. I am starting to fear that the Democrats, smelling blood, may turn to partisan vengefulness (well deserved, but immature) instead of changing this vicious cycle when they get a chance.

One example I cited before was my suggestion to create the office of Inspector General of the United Stated (IGUS). Something that people like us would call a no-brainer.

Other suggestions are more subtle. The one at Honoring the Losing Majority  may make you scratch your head for a bit. But it would let one candidate take the high ground simply by suggesting it. And imagine how this presidency might seem different if its present occupant lived by this principle.

While I’m at it, here are two other suggestions that never even got published as op-eds. (And believe me, I tried.)

Why Candidates Should Stipulate


The Electoral College: A Surprisingly Easy Fix

The last of these will segue into the topic I’ve long promised... my suggestion of what to do about the worst crime committed against us by the professional political caste. Democrats are almost as guilty as republicans in the egregious and foul sin of gerrymandering most americans out of any chance to vote meaningfully for Congress. It is time for citizen-amateurs to rebel.

more misc items:

Take a look at the New America Foundation.  The Board is quite eclectic, comprised of onetime liberals (James Fallows) and conservatives (Francis Fukayama) who have stepped back from the brink of their respective cliffs, so to speak. Are they trying to accomplish what I recommended last year, at ? Is this a potential locus for the Enlightenment to fight back against left-right romanticism. Too soon to tell.

(Seeing Fukayama’s name here makes me wonder. Is he possibly less of a shill and court intellectual for the neocon-kleptocrat apocalypt troika than we thought? Could it be that, like Colin Powell, he is smart enough to notice some of what he has been a part of? Perhaps even enough to (tepidly) start to stand up?)

Here’s more from the philanthropy round table. is a project to eliminate poverty through directed free enterprise. ("Eradicating Poverty Through Profit: Making Business Work for the Poor.")

And here, startling and unmentioned in the regular press: The World Rushes to Our Aid! (see: the Progressive Policy Institute.) We are recipients. This is bittersweet. Americans like to think we stand alone, generous, but never needy.

* Little Rock Air Force Base, the center for relief flights, had handled 32 international flights by last Monday -- from Belgium, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, India, Israel, Italy, NATO, Spain, Russia, Tunisia, Thailand, and the United Kingdom -- with 1,225 tons of medicine, food, blankets, tents, and other goods. (Kind afterthought: relief donations are exempt from tariffs.)

* Financial help: Comes from countries that are aren't always flush with cash as well as wealthier ones. Afghanistan's $100,000 check has already been cashed, as has the $10,000 check from the Marshall Islands, the $25,000 from the Maldives, the $10,000 from Papua New Guinea, and the $100,000 from Kenya. Also on the way are $300,000 from Albania, $1million from Bangladesh, $6,000 from Bosnia, and donations from (among others) Cambodia, Djibouti, Iraq, Liberia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Palau, Romania, Samoa, Sao Tome, Sri Lanka, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Yemen.

And how about some apolitical science!

India's Smoking Gun: Dino-killing Eruptions -- (Science Daily -- August 31, 2005) -

New discoveries about the timing and speed of gigantic, 6500-foot (2-km) thick lava flows that poured out of the ground 65 million years ago could shift the blame for killing the dinosaurs. The Deccan Traps of India are one of Earth's largest lava flows ever, with the potential of having wreaked havoc with the climate of the Earth.

Is brain Still Developing? -- (Newsday -- September 12, 2005),0,6946681.story?coll=ny-health-big-pix - Scientists have discovered a gene variation, perhaps involved in brain size, that showed up only 6,000 years ago -- a mere blink of the eye in evolutionary time. This discovery, along with another brain gene that arrived about 37,000 years ago, is providing scientists with strong evidence that the human brain is still a work in process.

Finally, do keep your eyes open for news & pix from the Cassini Probe! While modernism is on the ropes, we are still accomplishing bona fide miracles, on a scale to match (almost) the Voyager Mission. It is truly biblical... “naming the beasts” as I will refer later (in theology). Water vents on Enceladus. Mehtane rain and rivers and seas on Titan. Dang. What irony to be turning inward at a time like this.


Anonymous said...

Recommended for keeping up on sci-tech news:

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Dr. Brin:
"And here, startling and unmentioned in the regular press: The World Rushes to Our Aid!"

I don't know what regular press you've been reading/watching, Dr. Brin, but CNN has run several stories on the food flown into Little Rock, and the generosity shown by poor little Bangladesh in donating $1e6.

Katrina aid arrives from around the world

World aid offers pour in

Anonymous said...

er, aren't you contradicting yourself?

While you're complaining that the winner is under no obligation to listen to the loser, you also say
"The European model of coalition parliamentary government offers little to America. We've seen benefits to letting a president appoint loyal officers, governing without undue interference from within."

Isn't it exactly "undue interference from within" you're asking for? (And isn't criticism another word for that?)

Well, good luck finding a system that at the same times allows the winner to rule supreme, while also forcing him to respect the minority. To me, it sounds like a contradiction... ;)

Personally I think a government that actually has to endure (and listen to) criticism, and is forced to at least attempt some kind of consensus, sounds like a good idea. Even if it originates from Europe rather than America.

Sal said...

Re: "Brain still developing?"

also: they recently discovered that a lot of so-called "Junk DNA" is actually active within nerve cells in the brain and spinal column.

we know very little about the world...

Anonymous said...

The world is rushing to our aid - and out here in New Mexico, Sandia Pueblo (some say the entire 19 pueblos together) have scraped up a cool million in Katrina aid.


Rob Perkins said...


I know I was thinking these thoughts too. Here's an idea, if you can stand it:

If you (or anyone) could get a fire-breathing demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or Al Franken to take up that cause, it would become a national issue.

Simultaneously, find the well-educated elitists who also like the idea, the way I'm pretty sure Al Gore would have, in 2000.

After all, as I know you respect once said, it's amazing what's possible as long as no one cares about the credit!

But I'd take it further. Why not make the arrangment of electoral districts a *control* on gerrymandering by requiring that an electoral district never contain more than one-half of the census population of any congressional district? It might still be possible to have madding districts, but it would take some Really Smart People to figure out how to gerrymander a state in *two* ways...

Rob Perkins said...


"It might still be possible to have madding districts" should read "It might still be possible to have maddeningly gerrymandered districts"

Now back to your regularly scheduled punditry...

Anonymous said...

"Madding district" sounds very science-fictional. Like you'd go there to smash up groundcars, spray grafitti on municipal robots, and otherwise blow off steam.


David Brin said...

In Kiln People this is called "dittotown" where you send disposable copies to do what you'd never do with your real body.

I like the idea of electoral districts being OFFSET from Cong districts.

Anonymous said...

The recently announced design for a Return to the Moon program looks pretty sensible. A nice mix of proven old stuff and efficient new stuff.

I have two questions:


No, I don't want to hear the blythe / defiant "don't want all our eggs in one basket" / "get rich space mining" / manifest destiny fluff.

I want to know what specific notions that NASA has in mind. There's a hint that they might check out the hydrogen signatures around the Moon's south pole, but that's it.



For cripes sake, on top of a out-of-budget-planning war, Bush has committed to a multi-hundred-dollar reconstruction package and still wants to cut taxes.

Announcing a $100 billion space program now is a major PR screwup!


Anonymous said...

David or others,

Any other recommendations for keeping up with science news, either web wise, or print magazines?

Anonymous said...

Regarding keeping up with science:

The ones I frequent...

I get Scientific American for the mid- to upper-level explanation and because they completely pulled me in on an April Fool's article once. I also have an RSS feed to them on my browser. I get Discover magazine for the scope of things they write about (though the explanation every of genes or gravity or whatever every single time can get trying). Both magazines stand up for real science, though Scientific American under the current editor does so more loudly in print and interviews than does Discover.

Join the Planetary Society to get the politics of space (or go to and a bit more in-depth than you hear about in the other sources. is supposed to be good, though I usually go there last.

If you can afford it, and if you are pretty confortable not having things expained to you, Science is the gold standard, but it is dense reading.

David Brin said...

And get Skeptic Magazine. I'll be in its pages from now on, at least for a while....

Anonymous said...


I'll check out Skeptic.


Have been a Planetary Society Member forever, and thanks for the Discover & Scientific American info.

Used to subscribe to Science News a while back, but let that subscription lapse when the kids were younger. Do you guys have an opinion on Science News vs. New Scientist? If you were subscibing to just one...

So little time so much to read...

P. S. David thanks for all the great reads over the years.

Anonymous said...

I have my doubts about skeptics...


Ben Tilly said...

6000 years looks like a bad summary of the brain research.

Their statistical model with their sample group put 6000 years as the median estimate, with plausible values in the range of a few hundred years to tens of thousands. If the trait is truly world-wide, then past data on human migrations would be strong evidence for a higher figure. If the trait is more recent, then I would expect it to not show up in many ethnic groups - for instance Native Americans or Australian Aborigines.

I did not see a complete enough summary to tell whether it is to be found in some ethnic groups but not others.

jomama said...

Ever more institutionalization=going down that ol' worn-out road...

Time for a new game. One without a ball.

Steiger's Law:

"People in a very good structure spend 85% of their time and energy maintaining the structure and only about 15% working towards its stated goals."

Corollary to Steiger's Law

"People within a structure divorced from market forces will expend more time and energy defending it than can economically be spent by people outside the structure attempting to modify or eliminate it."

The corollary applies to taxpayer funded or other handsomely funded organizations like the AMA along with a whole host of other professional organizations.

The power of the consumer, in this case, to just say "No" is not a factor. This acts as a great lead weight on the evolutionary process.

"Cut the umbilical cord feeding the Dependency Trip." Anon

Anonymous said...


I did a free sample of Science News and let it lapse because although it was cool stuff, I wanted to read more about it, and usually did in one of the other magazines anyway. Plus with kids myself, I have used up all available unclaimed free time (read: bathroom time) on the magazines I mentioned above. ;o)

I get Skeptical Inquirer rather than Skeptic and I can't comment on Skeptic (though having Dr. Brin in there is cool!) I can say that SI annoys me sometimes with the attitude of, "These people who believe {insert goofy thing here} are idiots to think as they do." What I want from them is, "Here is why this belief is incorrect given what we know" that I can show someone who is on the borderline. This attitude, while understandable, is not going to win a convert. But CSICOP does some good work. I don't know if Skeptic also does work external to the magazine.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin, why is it startling that people in other countries would want to help disaster victims?

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,
David wrote: "(Seeing Fukayama’s name here makes me wonder. Is he possibly less of a shill and court intellectual for the neocon-kleptocrat apocalypt troika than we thought? Could it be that, like Colin Powell, he is smart enough to notice some of what he has been a part of? Perhaps even enough to (tepidly) start to stand up?)"

Depending on who you talk to, you might be told that Fukuyama is a long way from being a die-hard neo-con. He has publicly criticized the Bush administration, for example, been pilloried by other hardliners, and lauded by democrats. The following page gives a good summary of what he wrote to cause the controversy, and the responses:



Anonymous said...

This might be premature, but perhaps the news that Tom DeLay finally faces a criminal charge (emphasis mine) might mean that we're seeing the first signs of the avalance of indictments discussed earlier.

-- Matt