Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Modernists! Progressives! Buy a book and change the world.

All right, you fellow modernists. It’s time to put your money (and action) where your mouth is. There is an emblematic moment in the fight-back against romantic cynicism, and it is coming even before the election!

I’m talking about your chance to help boost Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century onto the Amazon bestseller lists.

Yes, it’s another massive volume that I’ve contributed-to. My section in this one is small (and unpaid) but I’m proud to be part of a volume that’s so much in the spirit of the epochal Whole Earth Catalogs that Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly and that band of merry-modernist pranksters put out, back in the sixties. (Volumes that are rightly called “the earliest harbingers of the spirit of the Internet.”)

You’ve heard me tout Worldchanging before. A central locus of the rebellion against tyrannical cynics (of BOTH right and left) who have been bullying us can-do girls and boys for a generation, telling us that active problem solving (with some technological ambition) is a futile undertaking. Fie on them!

Here is what one Amazon purchaser wrote about this book after reading it: “If Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" moved you, then Steffen's "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century" will move you to action. This is a beautifully crafted book that should be cherished - so full of resourceful ideas from around the world on how to live a more eco-friendly, sustainable life - without having to turn your back on the comforts of the 21st century. It's the ultimate feel-good book that lets you know there's hope for the planet if you're willing to make changes here and there in your daily life that really aren't all that inconvenient. Don't worry - the book doesn't lecture. It just INSPIRES.”

Get this gorgeous, slipcased volume that’s chock fulla eagerness to set things right. Share it. Buy copies as holiday presents! And...

...the folks at Worldchanging are also asking... if possible... could you do this on Wednesday November 1st? (Sweeps on Amazon.) In fact, they want us all to do it at 11:11 am Pacific time.

Well... this kinda gamesmanship has its place I guess. But I am more interested in making this a best seller the old fashioned way. By spreading the word and making this a milestone in our march to take back the Enlightenment!

Nu? Did anyone like the Nova show?
(I guess I make good comic relief, sigh.)

Time is short... hence I will follow that apolitical (though socially militant) appear with a brief re-lighting of the political lamp...

First: this from: November Surprise? ( The Nation) By Tom Engelhardt: -- “The US-backed special tribunal in Baghdad signalled Monday that it will likely delay a verdict in the first trial of Saddam Hussein to November 5. Why hasn't the mainstream media connected the dots between the Saddam's judgment day and the midterm elections?...A possible death-sentence for Saddam and his top lieutenants on November 5? ... "When you look at polling figures," Horton said," there have been three significant spike points. One was the date on which Saddam was captured. The second was the purple fingers election. The third was Zarqawi being killed. Based on those three, it's easy to project that they will get a mild bump out of this.”

In any event it is clear what the Iraqi's want us to do. A recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes the University of Maryland found that 78 percent of Iraqis believe that the American military presence causes more conflict than it prevents and 71% thought American troops should be withdrawn within a year. (The poll also found that 61% approved of attacks on American troops.)

One more of those rare “must” see articles from Truthout: William Fisher says that, "... this president has presided over arguably the most secretive government in US history," and finds it interesting that just before the mid-term elections, Bush praised open government at a signing ceremony for the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which will establish a searchable online database of federal grants and contracts.

...which, if enforced earlier, would have put most of his friends in jail (my own rant) though of course with his pardon in late 2008, as a get out free card. Oh, but the signing statement nullifies legislation, anyway.

Fareed Zakaria is one of the few bright lights at Newsweek. No dove, he was an early supporter of the war. Now see the Oct. 16, 2006 issue Iraq's Dark Day of Reckoning

-”When Iraq's current government was formed last April, after four months of bitter disputes, wrangling and paralysis, many voices in America and in Iraq said the next six months would be the crucial testing period. That was a fair expectation. It has now been almost six months, and what we have seen are bitter disputes, wrangling and paralysis. Meanwhile, the violence has gotten worse, sectarian tensions have risen steeply and ethnic cleansing is now in full swing. There is really no functioning government south of Kurdistan, only power vacuums that have been filled by factions, militias and strongmen. It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

“More waiting is unlikely to turn things around, nor will more troops. I understand the impulse of those who want to send in more forces to secure the country. I urged just such a policy from the first week of the occupation. But today we are where we are. Over the past three years the violence has spread and is now franchised down to neighborhoods with local gangs in control. In many areas, local militias are not even controlled by their supposed political masters in Baghdad. In this kind of decentralized street fighting, 10,000 or 20,000 more troops in Baghdad will not have more than a temporary effect. Nor will new American policies help.”

Again. If you can. Ponder becoming a poll watcher.
Or find a competitive state assembly race nearby (where your efforts (or some cash) could really make a % difference) and volunteer.
Or put up a sign.
Or tell those sincere conservatives to wake up and save their own #%$#$! movement*... or to at least stay home.

At least vote and get your lazy pals to vote. Against monsters.


See: America's Declining State of Readiness 

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Contemplating the Cosmos: From NOVA to SETI

Have a glimpse of the episode of NOVA that I’ll be on (briefly) this Tuesday/Halloween - re: “Monsters (black holes) in Space!

Alas. It appears I’m only allowed on TV once a week! The History Channel has postponed the prime time debut of "The ArchiTECHS." I’ll announce if/when they re schedule this bold new show -- with its handsome cast (!) taking on futuristic technological challenges. Keep eyes open for the Humvee Episode... and further adventures - brainstorming problems of the 21st Century!

Okay, now hold on through a few more misc items to reach the Scary Story...

==Galactic Warnings==

The Lifeboat Foundation has been busy. See a reprint of my article Want to Live Forever? about life extension.

The same site has posted a humorous and yet thought provoking essay illustrating GALACTIC WARNING SIGNS - following the yellow triangle motif - but dealing with biggie threats like antimatter, chaotic systems, black holes, bad-memes and so on. A cool ranking of potential existential dangers and way cool for game contexts.

Veering into the past, for a humbling allegory about prediction. Some of these predictions they got right, and some they ... um ... didn't. On the other hand, there was some real wisdom in this 1950 Pop.Mechanix view of the year 2000.

Referring back a bit, to the looming return of traditional human class warfare, have a glimpse of the new world of air travel for the very rich

And, as part of the same trend, see “trickle down” at work. “Sure, Warren Buffet wears cheap suits and noshes burgers at the local diner, but other folks with mounds of moola like to spend, spend, spend. Alas, some confused millionaires need a hand in unloading their dough. Thankfully, for muddled magnates looking for that first helicopter there is a glittering orgy of luxury goods for VIPs and "the political, administrative, business and cultural elite." Yahoo Millionaire Fair. (At least they don’t put a pretentious “e” at the end.)

UCSD-alumni-science-fiction-authorsThose of you who haven’t seen the epochal evening when UCSD honored its “Sci Fi Author alumni” -- Gregory Benford, Vernor Vinge, Kim Stanley Robinson and David Brin, should have a look!

Again re the future! See some of the fantastic renderings of computer graphics images that have already been made for Greg Bear’s EON, in the latest CG Challenge. I’m jealous as heck!

Had enough? But there’s more. I have saved the best (or scary-worst) for last.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a specialized radio telescope now under construction by the SETI Institute and the University of California Berkeley, will be about a hundred times faster than any previous radio search, and will simultaneously pick up all cosmic static between 0.5 and 11.2 gigahertz.

Good luck to them! I have long been a fervent supporter of the passive SETI listening program... while opposing recent efforts to start garishly TRANSMITTING from Earth to howl for attention from the cosmos.

Alas, momentum is building toward the commencement of some aggressive “Active SETI” programs aiming to deliberately shout into the cosmos at a time when we know absolutely nothing about the situation out there.

For an example of this idiocy...

Mexico's Teotihuacan, once the center of a sprawling pre-Hispanic empire, is set to become the launch pad for an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life. Starting on Tuesday, enthusiasts from around the world will have a chance to submit text, images, video and sounds that reflect human nature to be included in the message.

Oh, but this is the tip of the iceberg. There are sober and tenured radio astronomers who plan to do what amounts to the same stunt, or to cooperate with such efforts, without even telling their funding donors.

Are any of you saying Whaaaaa? I don’t recall this being discussed, or my opinion being solicited, when a few dozen jerks decided to start screaming into space without even consulting anybody else to see if - maybe - it might not be such a good idea?

Fortunately, grownup attention is being drawn to this rash trend. A recent editorial in NATURE presented a capsule summary of the problem that I have recently spent considerable time on. More than I'd like. The Nature issue is still closed, but the openminded Seti League (not to be confused with the Institute) has posted a pdf of the essay.

Want to learn more? All right then, in order to give you the creeps on Halloween, I crafted a summary of how a few dozen arrogant science neocultists seem determined to scream into outer space: “Yoo Hoo!” on our behalf... just like the cliched naive-stereotype in some cheap horror movie, without having even a sliver of evidence to support their blithe (if unsupported) assumption - clutched religiously - that the universe is automatically benign.

If you share my suspicion that this is a really, really dumb idea, or simply want to learn more, see collected articles on SETI --with a lot of relevant background material, or see my article: Shall We Shout to the Cosmos?

An added note: we dissenters tried hard to do this sub rosa and in dignified quiet, offering mediation. We have been stonewalled by the insular and narrow community that (alas) some parts of SETI have rapidly become. Deadlines for mediation have now passed. Science journalists have grown aware (see that Nature editorial) that the debate is NOT over whether or not to shout into the cosmos...

...but whether the scientific community - and the public - will even be allowed to know that this is being done! Or whether we’ll be allowed to discuss it in the open, like citizens who have some voice in our own destiny.

For follow-up: See more on the SETI vs METI controversy: http://www.scoop.it/t/seti-the-search-for-extraterrestrial-intelligence

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How Will They Steal It This Time?

All right, as we enter the scary season (no, not Halloween, but the breathlessly anticipating the election shenanigansof Rove-Diebold-Bush), it is time to announce that the political lamp is again lit.

First, some items that were noted down at the comment level, but that folks may not have seen mentioned here at the top layer, in their RSS feed.

“Keith Olbermann is just on fire: channeling Ed Murrow.“ I agree with Stefan. This is the BEST thing from our side (the side of the Enlightenment and the American Experiment) in six years. I have waited so long for an alpha -- a real alpha -- to step forward who can denounce the rascals as thoroughly and rightly as Olbermann does.

Above all, it takes much more than passion and indignation (which Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore have in copious supply) or even evidence. What it takes is intellectual caliber and overwhelming maturity -- which they just as evidently lacked... but which Olbermann supplies in truckloads, along with more than adequate gravitas. People who ignore this would as easily have shrugged at Zola, during the Dreyfus affair.

* The president says the war in Iraq will be "just a comma" in history books, but by Nov. 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with the Study Group's recommendations due, the comma will have lasted as long as U.S. involvement in World War II. Ponder that. Similar numbers died on 9/11 and at Pearl Harbor. Only after Pearl, the rich united with all other classes, helping pay to win a victory that left us a world titan, standing atop smoldering enemy despotisms.

Today, our alliances, popularity, internal cohesion, credit and finances, and (above all) our readiness for new emergencies... have all plummeted to levels that only our worst enemies would have wished upon us.

* The current military expenditures in the Iraq war are about to exceed those of the Korean war to make it the third costliest war in US history after World War II and the Vietnam War. On an inflation adjusted basis. What could we have done with a trillion dollars? To strengthen us is ways that would have left all foes in a cloud of dust? (According to nicholas d. Kristof.)

For every additional second we stay in Iraq , we taxpayers (ah, but not the New Lords) will end up paying an additional $6,300. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld estimated that the overall cost would be under $50 billion. Paul Wolfowitz argued that Iraq could use its oil to “finance its own reconstruction.” In science, relentless failure of prediction causes either re-evaluation of the theory, or discrediting of the theorist.

Since these are dogmatic men who will never re-evaluate, clearly they must be discredited.

*Bill Maher had a good take on the right-wing “think tanks” that helped get us into this disastrous war:

Maher: And finally, I propose a new rule in two parts:
(A) You can't call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid; and
(B) If you're someone from one of these think tanks that dreamed up the Iraq War and who predicted that we'd be greeted as liberators, and that we wouldn't need a lot of troops, and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMD's would be found, that the looting wasn't problematic, that the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got his kids, after we got Zarqawi, and that whole bloody mess wouldn't turn into a civil war, you have to stop making predictions.


Finally, there is this rumination, pulled upward from yesterday’s comments...

Russ Daggatt is savoring the likelihood that President George W. Bush is about to be the "lamest of lame ducks" after mid-term electoral reversals, without influence even within his own party. (Well, he did predict optimistic changes in 2004, too. Alas.)

In fact, regarding duck-lamedness, I beg to differ. In fact, Bush will have four more cards in his hand, after the elections, that will keep him a force to be reckoned-with.

First the inherent powers of executive department management. This will (for example) allow him to continue signing "emergency" exceptions to contract vetting rules. This has been a primary method of graft for 6 years and it requires no legislation. Dems in Congress would have to act assertively in BOTH houses to prevent this.

Second, we all fear his control over defense and foreign policy could "go nuts". Nuff said.

Third, there is the scenario of Cheney resigning in order to give W a new Veep... who would then be the GOP heir apparent. W's power to appoint this fellow makes him an overwhelmingly potent kingmaker.

But card number four is the biggest reason the GOP must continue kneeling to Bush. Presidential pardons. He can dish these 'get out of jail free' cards like Halloween candy. According to whim. (Especially if he does the unprecedented and issues one to himself!) There are scads/hordes who will be needing these Escape Justice Certificates, and they will do whatever it takes to get one.

It is not too soon for the dems to be contemplating maneuvers to limit this final betrayal of justice. Unless some of THEM are also standing in line?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Resilience and Anticipation: My Speech at Google - Part Two

Last time, I offered a key point from the sprawling TechTalk that Sheldon Brown & I presented at Google, a week ago: “Visualization as A Core Element of Problem Solving.”

Summary: In each of the last six centuries, the West was shaken by new technologies that transformed three things: - vision, memory and attention -

- providing human beings with greatly augmented powers, that thereupon triggered - crises of confidence.

For example, printing presses, glass lenses and perspective dramatically expanded what we could know, see and perceive.

Later transformations, like mass education, libraries, telecommunications and databases took this process farther, by orders of magnitude, till today people are used to seeing, knowing, and perceiving vastly more than their ancestors might have imagined.

Moreover, the cycle of cascading revolutions and crises continues!

Google is part of this rapidly accelerating tale of human challenge and progress.

Playing Gutenberg’s role in the latest technological augmentation of human mental power, Google’s chief influence has been upon one of those three vital components -- memory.

Near universal access to stored information via the burgeoning Knowledge Mesh.

Others are working on the second part of the triad: vision (omni veillance). A topic that I visit frequently, especially when dealing with defense or transparency issues..

GoogleTalkBut this time Sheldon and I focused on the third and most-neglected area of technological augmentation. Yet, the one that is potentially most transforming. The one most in need of new tools, empowering human minds to harness torrents of data and sight.

By far, the least-developed sector of our latest cognitive revolution is human attention.

Oh, sociologists and researchers claim to be studying this, pointing out that attention is the one intrinsically limited commodity, even if goods and services expand exponentially. They speak of an “attention economy.”

Still, on a practical level, are these ruminations getting us anywhere? Are tools emerging that help peoplenot only to express opinions, but to productively deliberate, negotiate and settle disputes? Sure, Second Life and MySpace draw millions to interact. (And interaction, by itself , can be fun!)

But is anything sapient and productive going on? Does any of this activity and/or cash flow actually apply to 21st Century Problem Solving?

We pointed out that adults seeking to accomplish things online interact mostly asynchronously. Almost never do the producer and recipient of information interact online in a fully synchronous way. That entire world is left to teeny-boppers.

So, we decided to help people step back and examine how attention is used today in four areas:


Naturally, Sheldon handled art! (With his usual brilliance and panache. It’s why I asked Google to expand their invitation!)

I speak often about resilience and anticipation, each of which is no good without the other.

But this time, for a change, I sped through those topics, in order to dial in on a fourth aspect of attention -- discourse.

While prodigiously expanding the average person’s access to information and vision, we’ve done far less to empower them with tools to discuss, argue, self-organize and apply citizenship in rapid, real time. A commonly shared myth is that supplying people with the means to express vociferous opinions is somehow enough. But some are at last realizing, this just isn’t so. (e.g. the founders of Wikipedia.

(To see how deep this goes, you could look at -- "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit.")

PATENTBy a coincidence, I happened to have a timely illustration of the problem, ready to reveal during the Google talk. The date precisely coincided with official issuance of my US patent covering a vast range (126 claims!) of potential representation modes in online conversation... as fundamental as adjusting semantic content and presentation according to distance, orientation, reputation, time, and traits of the content itself.

Ponder that: things that we do every day, every second, in normal, real-world conversation -- adjusting semantic content and presentation according to distance, orientation, reputation, time, and traits of the content itself -- I now own their application in online interaction. The patent is that general.

(For years, I heard folks say: "That's obvious; of course it’s been done!" Not one of them ever met my challenge to find an example! Now, I have a better answer. The USPTO agrees. No prior art. The vast range of real-life interaction modes may seem obvious... but few have made it to the online world. Live with it. Better yet. Change it!)

The important thing is not whether I benefit from an IP claim covering dozens of natural human interactions. Perfect exclusivity is frail. Some obscure exceptions may (or may not) be found. So? What’s proved is that it’s rare.

No. What matters is supplying 21st Century citizens with tools -- augmentations of vision, knowledge and attention -- to be adept and vigorous stake-holders in civilization.

Millions and billions of empowered, knowledgeable men and women must help, forming “smart mobs” at the drop of a hat,. (As Vernor Vinge and I depict in several stories.) But first, there are gaps - as wide as those that were filled by GUI, by the web browser, by the home computer, by the internet. As long as somebody will not be sparked into filling this gap....

Ah, but then, I may be wrong. (It can happen! ;-) Perhaps the net pundits are right. Maybe we can make do just with improved knowledge and vision tools alone! Perhaps attention will take care of itself Criticism and discussion, analytical competition and discourse, may not prove a necessary third ingredient, this time around.

It would be just like us to succeed just by knowing and seeing a whole lot of stuff... and then shouting a lot of opinions... without ever bothering to discuss anything at all.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Third Millennium Problem-Solving: My Speech at Google - Part One

I just returned from a trip - accompanied by renowned UCSD tech artist Sheldon Brown - to visit some top people and companies in the Bay Area, offering and swapping cool ideas. We’re now back home with our families. But it was a fun road trip.

exorariumFirst stop, we spent a day with Will Wright (master of "the Sims") and Kim his impressive partner/colleague, discussing, among other things, our Exorarium Project and how it might relate to their exciting to game Spore. (It's fantastic. Get ready for a quantum leap in gaming.)

A relevant aside: “Games get serious: If you think video games are child's play, meet the growing community of scientists, policy makers, and game developers who beg to differ.” Our exorarium offers the educational framing that other games need.

We also visited the Long Now Foundation and were shown (by my “ArchiTechs” co-star Zander Rose) pieces of the epochal Clock of the Long Now, slowly taking shape -- a project of amazing beauty and artistic uselessness... and also toured the wonderful Computer Museum in Mountain View (guided by curator Chris Garcia). A true temple of our renaissance. See both of these Bay Area shrines... on the same day, if you can. What fun.

Biggest stop was to give a company-wide Tech Talk for Google.

First off, Google is every bit as impressive and exciting as you've heard. A wonderful campus where pampered employees (associates) work hard at innovating a new era, between lavish free meals in a dozen terrific onsite restaurants. Scooters and toys and juice bars everywhere. The nineties still live!

We met with my friend Larry Brilliant, head of Google.org, the philanthropy wing of the enterprise, and his senior advisor Gregory Miller. They have fascinating plans to explore new horizons and break paradigms in world-changing investment. (See Larry talk about Bird Flu and Pandemics; learn and be scared!)

Also spent time with my putative cousin, Sergey Brin. No, I won't describe that encounter in any detail, though some parts were hilarious and the whole thing was great fun. I came away encouraged and optimistic. As long as we generate and invest in guys like this, the Enlightenment is still in business.

GoogleTalkTogether Sheldon & I presented “Third Millennium Problem Solving: Visualization as A Core Element of Problem Solving. A video/podcast is up. But be warned. I come across as altogether too bashful and shy. (Note: I did the lion’s share of presenting at Google, and Sheldon presented more to Will Wright, for reasons that will be obvious.)

Key point from the talk: ever since the 1400s, each century in the West has been shaken almost to the core by new technologies that transformed three things - vision, memory and attention - providing human beings with augmented powers that then triggered crises of confidence.

For example, the first wave of transformation began when printing presses, glass lenses and perspective dramatically expanded what we could know, see and perceive. Later prosthetics like mass education, libraries, telecommunications and databases all took this process farther, expanding our natural gifts of vision, memory and attention by orders of magnitude, until today people are used to seeing, knowing, and perceiving vastly more than their ancestors might have imagined.

Or desired! With every new ratchet of progress, fearful voices called for a halt. Distrusting the ability of the masses to cope. Calling it hubris and folly for mankind to pick up powers that had been reserved to gods.

Fortunately, we lucked out, on each of those earlier occasions, because the masses refused to be cowed. Instead (amid ruction and violence and chaos) we in the West gradually-but-relentlessly chose individual empowerment.

--A trend toward dispersal of authority.
--Reciprocal accountability.
--Democratization of vision, memory and attention.

You know the theme, because I rant it endlessly.

We are the unlikely products of a series of improbably good choices. Choices that fostered all of the emergent properties of markets and science and democracy and such, allowing us to experiment (at long last) with a system other than dreary/predictable feudalism.

Moreover, it is the job of this generation to keep faith with the experiment.

A side question: If the powers of God are attainable technologically - deus ex machina - then might that have been intended, all along? Perhaps with a thought that we’ll have work to do? Maybe helping to finish the labor of Creation? A theological point that stands in diametric opposition to The Book of Revelations But more on that another time.

In any event, the story of the last 600 years can be distilled to a basic lesson.

Problems that are provoked by new powers of perception can never be solved by cowardice.

Under conditions of crisis, one option stands clear.

Our best and realistic hope tends to be... us.

Next: the Google talk veers into practical matters. What “Tools of Discourse” are desperately missing from the internet?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Past Shines Light on the Future

Here are perspectives I've stored up for weeks... some of them pretty important! (And the political lamp is lit.)

9780195045789An absolute must-read, in the October 15 New York Times Sunday Book Review, “Cold Warrior,’ in which Henry Kissinger praises Robert Beisner’s tome, “Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War,” agreeing that President Truman’s Secretary of State was probably the best Secretary in U.S. history.

“In this maelstrom, Acheson dealt with the five principal tasks of any secretary of state: the identification of the challenge; the development of a strategy to deal with it; organizing and motivating the bureaucracy in the State Department and in other agencies; persuading the American public; and conducting American diplomacy toward other countries. These tasks require the closest collaboration between the president and the secretary of state; secretaries of state who seek to base their influence on the prerogatives of the office invariably become marginalized. Presidents cannot be constrained by administrative flowcharts; for a secretary of state to be effective, he or she has to get into the president’s head, so to speak. This is why Acheson made it a point to see Truman almost every day they were in town together and why their friendship was so crucial to the achievements of the Truman years.”

Mind you, I happen to believe that Acheson’s predecessor, George Marshall, might have been named Man of the Century with tremendous justice. But Acheson - more specialized - was even better at that specific job. I am glad Kissinger has the guts and high standards to know it.


the-age-of-fallibility-consequences-of-the-war-on-terrorSee Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, interview George Soros in a very interesting podcast, discussing his book The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror. A controversial figure but one who believes passionately in open societies, who played a huge role in ensuring that the nations of the former Warsaw Pact would transform into democratic Western members of NATO and the EU, rather than slipping into retro-czarist personality cults.

Especially telling. Like me, he believes that there IS a legitimate role for assertive democracy-spreading and intervention to idealistically eliminate tyrants like Saddam. But doing it STUPIDLY - in ways that undermine your own strengths and freedom and economy and leadership role in the world? He is also (like me) deeply critical of calling this current crisis a “war”... a metaphor that deeply cripples our agility and flexibility and credibility in the world.

Above all, he speaks for the advantages of an open society, in which we (enlightenment civilization) hold all the advantages. As the author of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? I can be expected to agree.

Another must -read. The 'war on terror' that ruined Rome. Excerpt: In the autumn of 68 B.C. the world's only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome's port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But an event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.

Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: No nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of "Civis Romanus sum" - "I am a Roman citizen" - was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year- old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law, the Lex Gabinia. "Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone," the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman Treasury to pay for his "war on terror," which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of 120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was unprecedented.

Once Pompey put to sea, it took less than three months to sweep the pirates from the entire Mediterranean. Even allowing for Pompey's genius as a military strategist, the suspicion arises that if the pirates could be defeated so swiftly, they could hardly have been such a grievous threat in the first place. But it was too late to raise such questions. By the oldest trick in the political book - the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as "soft" or even "traitorous" - powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire.

Wow... I did not know of this.

My own bit of obscure historical erudition is to compare the mad neocons like Nitze and Wolfowitz and Perle to Alcibiades, the reckless Athenian polemic who, taking advantage of the death of Pericles, persuaded Athens to squander its prestige and power and wealth on a ridiculous, utopian attempt at so-called “nation building” in far off Sicily. But this lesson of Ostia is even more relevant.

Especially now that the mad Straussians are no longer heeded or needed by the ones truly in charge. Poor fellows. Starting to wake up to how you’ve been used? Like Alcibiades, you have used democracy to pave the way for tyrants.

Have you a little more patience? Here’s another gem from Russ Daggatt:

“It really takes amazing focus and systematic determination for a president to be wrong about everything. I mean, what are the odds of pulling it off, even if you tried? This is how you might go about it: Start with an incurious, arrogant ideologue. Centralize all policy making with the smallest possible group of people, selected entirely on the basis of loyalty, and then shield them behind the greatest possible degree of secrecy. Limit your sources of information to those who strongly agree with you and tolerate no dissent whatsoever. Interject as much fear as possible to give the more primitive regions of the brain an advantage over the higher regions. Make every decision a Manichean choice between us and them, right and wrong, good and evil, black and white with no shades of grey. Admit no mistakes ever. And believe that a Divine Being has chosen you to execute His will.”

Well, well. Russ states the dilemma well. Alas, he still refuses to take this chain of reasoning to its logical conclusion. But some of you know the scenario (worthy of a thriller novel!) that I can only halfway make myself disbelieve. Because he is right. It is simply impossible to do this much harm to a mighty nation, and have that effect be inadvertent. Purely a result of ideology, and indignant/secretive stupidity.

1) The list of harms is devastating. for example:

* utter demolition of US reputation (for reliability, sense and judgement) among our allies.

* utter demolition of US reputation (respect for our effectiveness and competence) among our potential foes.

* utter demolition of the reputation of the US Congress.

* utter demolition of American popularity and world Acquiescence to US leadership.

* utter demolition of US military readiness, down to levels not seen since Pearl Harbor. In a post-9/11 world, we are not even prepared with enough rested and equipped active duty personnel to deal with ONE medium scale “surprise contingency.” (These people criticized Clinton because we were “only” ready to deal with one and a half MAJOR contingencies at that time. A comparison raised by absolutely no one at any level.)

* utter demolition of our fiscal condition, turning vast surpluses into generation-breaking debt.

* utter demolition of our social cohesion as a united nation (via relentless culture war.)

The list goes on and on, but...

2) This simply could not have taken place simply as a matter of incompetence. Not even if you throw in ruthless, kleptocratic venality (through crony contracts, for example). That explanation fails because, three layers down from the political appointees, there exists a vast sea of civilian and military civil servants. The most amazing collection of human competence that has ever been assembled!

I never cease to be amazed by how little attention is paid to this level, the vastly knowledgeable and professional US Officer Corps and the collected experts and diplomats and scientists and other skilled workers who fill the vast federal pyramid. For they are key! Under normal circumstances, they would be able to keep things going, at least at a competent-simmering level, even in the face of dingbat idiocy from above!

That is, if it were merely dingbat idiocy!

Oh, but is ANYBODY looking into the possibility that it isn't? We have paid professional paranoids whose JOB it is to look into such possibilities.

I wonder if they are.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The world has cool stuff...

Wish me luck. I can't tell you what for! ;-)

See a 360 degree view of me in my study... and... wait! Who’s that other guy! A ditto?...

A reprint of my article about life extension has been posted on the site of the Lifeboat Foundation: http://lifeboat.com/ex/want.to.live.forever

The same site has posted a humorous and yet thought provoking essay by Anders Sandberg illustrating GALACTIC WARNING SIGNS - following the yeallow triangle motif - but dealing with biggie threats like antimatter, chaotic systems, black holes, bad-memes and so on. A cool ranking of potential existential dangers and way cool for game contexts.

Some of these predictions they got right, and some they ... um ...
didn't. On the other hand, there was some real wisdom in this 1950 Pop.Mechanix view of the year 2000.

Another cool item...
Interview with David Brin on Sandioego dot com’s web site..

Some Misc:

Denmark Has the World's Most Equal Incomes and Namibia the Least Equal

How rich are the rich? According to the World Bank's most recent databook, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans received 29.9 percent of the national income. The comparable figure for Japan was 21.7 percent; some other examples include 33.1 percent in China; 28.5 percent in the United Kingdom; 25.1 percent in France; 22.7 percent in Germany and 28.5 percent in India.

The more formal measurement of income inequality is known as the Gini coefficient or Gini index. An index of 100 percent means a single person grabs all the income; an index of zero means the country divides its income precisely equally among everyone. Some cautions include: (1) the Gini index misses asset-based wealth such as land, and income not distributed in the form of money; (2) different surveys give slightly different results; (3) big diverse countries often look more unequal than small countries; and (4) rising inequality does not always mean worsening conditions. During the 1990s, for example, the American Gini index rose but the poverty rate fell, from 13.8 percent to 11.3 percent; since then the Gini index has continued to rise and poverty rates have also risen.

All this said, though, worldwide Gini indexes range from Denmark's egalitarian 23.2 percent to Namibia's very unequal 70.7 percent. Countries in between show up as follows:

• 23-30 percent: The lowest Gini indexes appear in egalitarian Scandinavia and Central Europe. Scandinavia's indexes are around 25 percent; Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Germany -- joined by Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania -- cluster around 28 percent.

• 30-40 percent: France, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Japan range from 32 percent to 38 percent; Canada and Australia are around 40 percent. India and some large majority-Muslim states -- Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia -- also appear in this range.

• 40-50 percent: Here we find the United States and China, at 47 percent and 50 percent respectively, along with the Philippines, Malaysia, and Turkey.

• 50-60 percent: Most of Latin America is in this range -- Argentina and Mexico are just above 50 percent, Colombia is at 54 and Brazil nearly 60.

• 60-70-percent: Southern Africa has the highest indexes, with South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe all above 60 percent.

Comparisons across time show mixed trends, but generally rising inequality. For example, the World Bank's annual World Development Indicators often lag behind current measurements, but seem to show income inequality rising in China, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States; remaining stable in Germany and France; and declining slightly in Mexico and Brazil.


A computer worm that spreads via AOL instant messaging is being used to build an extensive "botnet" of remote-controlled PCs. The goal appears to be to create a huge network of remote-controlled machines, known as a "botnet." Botnets may be used to send out huge quantities of junk e-mail or attack business websites, or create click fraud.

Our ability to empathise with others seems to depend on the action of "mirror neurons" in the brain, according to a new study of neurons in humans that fire when sounds are heard. In other words, if you hear the noise of someone eating an apple, some of the same neurons fire as when you eat the apple.


We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. ~Carl Sagan

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Arrogance of the Political Caste

(This essay - without the parenthetical paragraphs - was submitted to editorial columns and journals and newspapers all across the land. Not one even nibbled. Now you know why I seldom bother anymore, and generally go straight to blog. Alas.

Caste Warfare: Politicans Vs Citizens
The Other Struggle

Amid the scandal and fury provoked by Rep. Mark Foley's perverted emails - and purported cover-ups - there is something else afoot, a conspiracy of distraction that goes much deeper than shenanigens by GOP House leaders, or even the betrayal of their long-forgotten “Contract With America.”

Oh, it is fitting that partisan blame be cast -- and for electoral repercussions to ensue. I join millions in hoping for change. Let the era of hearings and subpoenas begin.

And yet, from another perspective, all of the arrogance displayed by the tainted House leadership is symptomatic of a far more dangerous disease, one that crosses party lines. A crime committed by the entire political caste.

Yes, I said “caste” -- a term we tend to associate with distant cultures and retro eras, long before America aimed for a (relatively) classless society. The word seems quaint, even exotic. And yet, I find it apropos. For most of history, guilds, oligarchies, castes and other advantaged groups often closed ranks - rivals joining forces - in order to protect their group privileges.

In this case, a “caste” of professional politicians, aiming to insulate themselves from the see-saw mood swings of mercurial voters, gradually cranked up the process called gerrymandering, until nearly all members of the House of Representatives can take their seats for granted. Is it any surprise, then, that the resulting sense of invulnerability can lead some of them down spirals of self-indulgence, knowing that only the most extreme and unlucky cases will be caught or punished?

You may call this old news. Few argue that state or national legislative seats are competitive anymore. Yet, why is public outrage muted to a mere simmer?

The most clever thing about gerrymandering is that it operates under a sly trick of apparent, superficial fairness -- a crude form of majoritarianism. Despite all of the deceit and ridiculously contorted boundaries, more than half of us do happen to live in districts represented by the party of our choice.

Therein lies the clever illusion that gerrymandering depends upon. We all claim to despise the practice -- but far more so when it's practiced by the other side. We tend to shrug in acceptance when “our” party controls our state, the mapping process, and the crime.

(I confess, I do this too. I sure don't want my state to end the practice till a solution is found nationally! Say, a tradeoff, in which both Texas and California stop at the same time. Or, better yet, banishing the practice altogether, which the Supreme Court should have done ages ago, as a grotesque violation of at least half a dozen Constitutional precepts. Alas, the odds of that happening are about as good as the Arctic staying icebound.)

201817627023164272_JGM4K3RK_c(For a much more detailed analysis on gerrymandering, see: American Democracy: More Fragile than We Think)

So much for accepted wisdom about gerrymandering. If only that were the limit of the sickness. Unfortunately, it runs far deeper, driving a growing radicalization of the US House of Representatives, which is now packed with dogmatic extremists of both right and left, turning the word “deliberation” into a mockery.

(I still wait for some enterprising reporter to get famous with an expose of the patterns of appointments to US military academies that have been made by radical/extremist members of Congress – a process of pre-stocking the bottom layers of the United States Officer Corps that may have dire long range consequences for our nation and the world.)

Moreover, it goes much farther.

The chamber of our bicameral national legislature that was supposed to be most responsive to sudden shifts in public opinion has become the very opposite, insulated from any accountability to the fickle electorate, while it is the Senate that can still occasionally reflect the rough-and-tumble of shifting voter sentiment. This effect, so blatantly at-odds with the Founders’ intent, should have been more than enough to compel action from the Supreme Cort. And yet, I cannot see any sign that it has even been raised.

Yes, most Congresspersons have become used to a sense of invulnerability, even entitlement… which of course leads to graft, corruption… and possibly even more malignant cycles of blackmail, as lobbyists tape incriminating encounters to use as leverage that is more powerful than mere cash.

(No greater proof of false patriotism can be found than in the failure of men who find themselves in such a situation to step forward in roused conscience, turning on their masters and serving their country in the end. They are not men, and do not deserve the name.)

But what about exceptions like Mark Foley? Or my own erstwhile Congressman, Randy “Duke” Cunningham? Weren't they forced out of office, when their hands were caught, either in the cookie jar or… where they shouldn't have gone? Please. These examples prove the case with tragic effectiveness. Look at what it took for these men to become unsupportable. Things might have been very different if they ever felt that voters and media back home were scrutinizing them closely, in districts where citizen franchise actually made a difference.

Even now, will voters in their districts punish the party that fostered and promoted and protected Cunningham and Foley? Guaranteed safe super-majorities, the GOP can take those gerrymandered districts for granted, even in the wake of wretched scandals. Moreover, the same can be said of districts gerried to be safely Democratic, now and forever.

Don't misconstrue. I am not calling all politicians venial monsters. Many -- perhaps most -- are sincere public servants, who feel they must use the tools at hand, including gerrymandering, in order to limit ideological foes who (they feel) are much worse than they are.

And yet, all of these rationalizations have inexorably led to a terrible betrayal. One that can only be accurately described in terms that sound archaic -- caste warfare. A crime committed against the sovereign voters of America by a self-protecting guild.

We need to rebel. Carefully, calmly and evenly. Not against a foreign power or the hated “other party” across the aisle of a dismally artificial left-right culture war... but against a professional political class that contains many well-meaning public servants. Servants who have nevertheless done what no enemy could previously achieve.

Using subtle tricks, they have robbed us of the electoral choice that is our sovereign right and duty, driving us into an era of radicalism that we, the voters, would never have chosen on our own accord.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

ArchiTechs: terrific!... and other news

Media - related news.

I went to LA to view the first screening of “the ArchiTechs” ... and can report to you that it’s terrific! Our creative and dynamic (and good-looking) “design A Team” blitzed a difficult modern technical problem rather successfully, with entertaining and vivid style. Well worth either staying up late or setting your VCR/Tivo for Wednesday at 11pm on the History Channel!

Of course, there are always embarrassing moments that you wish you could have edited out, if you had your druthers. But, all told, I think it’s a great show. (REPEATS: October 12 at 3 AM & October 14 at 11:00 AM For details see the History Channel Web site.)

Why 11 pm on an obscure night? They are test marketing, not only for total numbers of viewers, but to see what fraction actually hang in there for the whole show, or drop out. So if you wander off to bed, at least leave the TV on! ;-)

Other Matters:

Ever heard of “blooks”? Books made from blogs (mostly via print on demand or POD) To some extent a marketing endeavor by one of the top Pod companies, see the “Blooker Prize” which aims to promote this style of publishing. Which brings up the question... is there enough “good stuff” on Contrary Brin to merit collecting between boards? Your opinions are welcome. Better yet, gather together and offer a list of your own favorite or “ best of” my postings here. It’s your chance to get some input/voice, or to suggest “blook” structure, like topic categories.

Not sure I really want to do this. But...

Some science...

Humans Strange, Neanderthals Normal -- (Live Science -- September 8, 2006) When comparedhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif with our common ancestors, modern humans have roughly twice as many uniquely distinct traits as Neanderthals. In other words, Neanderthals are more like the other members of our family tree than modern humans are. In the broader sweep of human evolution, the more unusual group is not Neanderthals, whom we tend to look at as strange, weird and unusual, but it's us, modern humans. Uh... and this is surprising?

Polar Bears Drown, Islands Appear in Arctic Thaw -- (Reuters -- September 15, 2006) Polar bears are drowning and receding Arctic glaciers have uncovered previously unknown islands in a drastic 2006 summer thaw widely blamed on global warming. Signs of wrenching changes are apparent around the Arctic region due to unusual warmth. MEANWHILE Destructive insects in unprecedented numbers are finding Alaska forests to be a congenial home, and climate change could be cause. Warmer winters kill fewer insects. Longer, warmer summers let insects complete a life cycle and reproduce in one year instead of two, the forest ecologist said. Warm winters also can damage trees and make them less able to fend off insect attacks

Study Acquits Sun of Climate Change -- (CNN -- September 15, 2006) The sun's energy output has barely varied over the past 1,000 years, raising chances that global warming has human rather than celestial causes. Researchers found that the sun's brightness varied by only 0.07 percent over 11-year sunspot cycles, far too little to account for the rise in temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.

Flying-Car Firm Releases Simulator, Takes Deposits -- (CNET -- September 6, 2006) The Transition, a plane that can also be driven as a car, won't come out for a few years, but you can try a flight simulator. Potential buyers can also now plunk down $7,400, or 5 percent of the anticipated $148,000 purchase price, for a deposit on a Transition. The planes will come out in late 2009. A fully operational prototype is expected to come out in 2008.

Finally some political swipes... as we approach the month when we find out the next surprising bit of cleverness that Rubert-Rove-Diebold-and-Faud have in store for us... what fun. (Of course the retro-feudalists won the first few battles in the LAST round of the American Civil War, too. They under-rated the Union then... and they are under-rating us now.)

"Everybody kind of wishes he was still president." -- British Labour delegate Christopher Wellbelove, describing his party's repeated standing ovations for Bill Clinton's speech at their annual gathering last week.

"Everyone agrees that the Orinoco Belt has the biggest reserves in
the world. What Chavez will do with them is another question, but
there's no doubt that Venezuela will take Saudi Arabia's place as No. 1." -- Alberto Quiros, Chavez critic and past president of Royal Dutch Shell Venezuela.

"I think what those people [the Bush administration] have done is
protected themselves from learning by counterpunching every time anyone lands a blow and turning what should be very difficult strategic policy questions into, essentially, part of a permanent campaign at home to win a political argument." -- George Packer.

Last week, for the first time in modern history, China's global exports of goods outpaced the U.S., as July figures for the former
settled in at $80.313B, vs. $80.337B for China. China's exports have grown at 19.5% for ten years, vs. 4.8% for the U.S., 7.0% for Germany, 5.6% for Britain, and 4.0% for Japan.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Cool Misc stuff! (...and a smidge of politics...)


EON, the 20’th CGChallenge is running at CGSociety.

CG Challenges are the largest online art contests of their kind and unique as they allow people to view entries as Works-in-Progress.
After years of contests involving individual-frame works of art, submitted under various challenges, they are now embarking on the next step, stimulating TEAMS of artists and CG experts to create multi-frame projects, like movie trailers. (Moreover, I’m in line for the next of these multimedia challenges, which may be aimed at creating movie story boards or animated renditions of an entire novella/film.)

Spread the word. This may be how the “ramp” up the steep pyramid of Hollywood may finally take shape, with technology, art and imagination all coalescing in a new renaissance. We may be seeing only the beginning.

When scientists found a massive Tyrannosaurus rex thigh bone in a remote region of Montana a few months ago, they were forced to break the bone in two in order to fit it into the transport helicopter. This act of necessity revealed a startling surprise: soft tissue that had seemingly resisted fossilization still existed inside the bone. This tissue, including blood vessels, bone cells, and perhaps even blood cells, was so well preserved that it was still stretchy and flexible.

Another eco-liberal returns to modernism...
The original “Gaia Hypothesis” promoter, scientist James E. Lovelock, has come under attack from some environmentalists for his support of nuclear power as a way to avoid runaway "global heating" -- joining such “techno-hippie” types as Stewart Brand (and your host here).

Indeed, I have long felt that liberals could achieve an incredible win-win jiu jitsu maneuver... by holding out a promise of a careful one-a-year program of savagely scrutinized nuclear plants, in exchange for “environmental offsets” that move us toward Kyoto compliance. If cleverly done, this could achieve a long laundry list of desirable goals:

- demolish a stereotype of unreasoning opposition to all engineering-based solutions.
- break up bits of the opposing alliance.
- win major environmental concessions.
- the thing they are “giving up” in exchange would ALSO help reduce global warming.

The waste problem can be dealt with. I mean, look at the present evnvironmental objections against Yucca Mountain. We should cancel the storage site because there MIGHT be a small leak in 100,000 years? (!!!) Look, if we make a decent civilization, we will deal with all of that WAY before those epochs arrive. (Indeed, the stuff will likely be valuable!) OTOH, if we fail (in part due to energy crises or climate change) then radioactive aquifers in a few deserts will be the LEAST of our descendants’ problems. C'mon people. Ditch the puritanical reflexes and prioritize.

Sea Water Agriculture -- (September 2006) Dr. Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley has done some interesting thinking about how to utilize deserts to produce energy, food and other beneficial byproducts by tapping the world’s essentially unlimited source of seawater. You can review his PowerPoint presentation at this link.

And now, relighting the lamp, a few timely quotations from some heroes of modernism:

"As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality." -- George Washington

"Such creatures are men that they will always run to lions for protection from foxes." -- John Locke
“Though a wise man may know better how to dress than the fool does, still the fool can better dress himself than the wise man can dress him.” -- Adam Smith.

Finally a reprise of a NEW aphorism-classic by Joe Miller:

Those who ignore the mistakes of the future are bound to make them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Potpourri - science and politics!

More Potpourri - science and politics!

Electronic Voting Machines Highly Vulnerable to Hacking -- (Princeton Study Release -- September 2006) A group of university students have demonstrated the ease with which current electronic voting machines could be hacked - manipulating elections and leaving no trace, whatsoever. And rigging a machine takes just a couple of minutes.

A growing number of state and local officials are getting cold feet about electronic voting technology, and many are making last-minute efforts to limit or reverse the rollout of new machines in the November elections

Meanwhile, here's some evidence that $200B of government spending has backfired (or maybe gone exactly as planned). Closing paragraph: "More recently, the Council on Global Terrorism, an independent research group of respected terrorism experts, assigned a grade of "D+" to United States efforts over the past five years to combat Islamic extremism. The council concluded that "there is every sign that radicalization in the Muslim world is spreading rather than shrinking." And this is consistent with WHICH theory? Doctrinaire imbecility? Or maybe that other, more paranoid riff? Hm?

One of the oldest and very best sites on the Web is Snopes.com... the place where urban legends got investigated long before “Mythbusters” came along. Veracity is supposed to trump rumor. These guys try hard to make it so.

One disturbing citation there  is worth noting... the way western views of tolerance can become tilted in intolerant ways. “Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia.... If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to other country which practices it, perhaps, then, that's a better option," Costello said.

It raises interesting aspects to the recent “clash of cultures”. The international/religious one... not the internal, American “culture war... although of course they are related. For example, liberals are caught in a vice. On the one hand, they despise Bush, the insane torture imbroglio, and the nutty, self-destructing Iraq adventure. On the other hand, any feminist must consider folks like the Taliban to be the utter embodiment of distilled evil. Nor can it escape attention from NAACP types where the last vestiges of slavery are practiced.

newmemewarIndeed, in my (oughta be) famous 1988 essay about Meme Wars  I believe I was not only the one to predict that the Berlin Wall would fall, followed by a false peace and then a dire struggle vs some form of “Macho Culture”... but also the one who forecast a quirk in that struggle... that the macho group to wage war against the West would drive OTHER macho groups closer to us. Because they hate each other more than they hate us. Take our growing chumminess with India. And the way the Pope’s recent ... ahem... bit of historical quote hurling... has helped to ensure that the Latin macho belt opposes islamic fundamentalism.

Alas, this does not always work... and may not much longer. At the very highest levels, I strongly suspect that many retro group leaders know that the real enemy is modernism. Indeed, I consider the recent letter that the Iranian president sent to GW Bush to be vastly more important than (it appears) anyone else does. That letter, appealing to Bush as a brother and comrade in the struggles against “liberal democracy,” should be re-examined with an eye to deeper implications.

(Deeper? Who needs to go very deep? All you need is open eyes.)

But how does this relate to the article on Aussies who say “choose!” between democratic law and Sharia law? For many years I have spiced up some speeches (about memes) with the notion that we must “CRUSH every other worldview that does not preach tolerance!” It gets a laugh plus applause... and I say “those of you who ONLY applauded, without laughing at the irony -- a deeply cautionary irony -- aren’t qualified to wage this holy war. You just don’t get it. In fact, your eager help may only ensure our eventual defeat. The way to truly crush intolerance is the way parents deal with the hysterics of small children. By taking the small hammer-blows, absorbing the tantrum, firmly disallowing any larger harm, and wrapping the frenetic soul in an embrace of patient confidence.

“Calm down. The only way to attain freedom of action is if you learn not to hate.””

Oh, I gotta share another riff from Russ Daggatt:

“Been thinking about the sports stars that have gone into politics. It seems they are all, almost without exceptions, Republicans. Especially the football players. (Frank Deford had a commentary on this on NPR earlier this year: ) Jack Kemp, Steve Largent, Jim Bunning, J.C. Watts, the list goes on. Even my childhood hero, former world-record holder in the mile Jim Ryun, is one of the craziest members of the religious right in Congress. Why is that? Testosterone poisoning? (Those steroids can really whack you out.) And it’s not just true of the athletes-turned-politicians. Most major league sports officials and owners are Republicans (do I have to remind you of a certain former managing partner of the Texas Rangers?).

The exception is the NBA. (Maybe that is why I became an NBA team owner.) The only NBA player I can think of who went into politics as Senator Bill Bradley – a Democrat.
So I was very disappointed when I read that former NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley was a Republican and was rumored to be considering a run for Governor of Alabama as a Republican. I always loved Barkley. Maybe this was just a goof on the voters of Alabama. After all, Barkley has always had a playful sense of humor. At last,, he redeemed my opinion of him last month when he declared that he was becoming a Democrat, saying: "I was a Republican - until they lost their minds."
( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2006/07/21/charles-barkley-i-was-a_n_25544.html)

Go Barkley!

Let me (DB) just add this. Some prisons are thinking about removing their weight-lifting areas (currently popular among prisoners) and replacing them with running tracks. It turns out that weight-lifting engenders testosterone and natural steroids, all conducive of emotionalism and violence, while runners get a high based upon endorphins and dopamine... which is more like the “I’m cool” high of marijuana.

Does this relate to the fact that footballers tend toward GOP politics and basketballers toward being liberals? Hm?

Note for Linkers:Republished by Futurist.com

A classic, rambling essay and notes,written within days after the events of September 11, 2001... including perhaps one of the first uses of the term "nine-eleven"... and a demand that pundits stop referring to "panic"... since panic was the very LAST trait that Americans exhibited on that day. See: http://www.futurist.com/archives/society-and-culture/value-and-empowerment/

Also a more tightly-worded piece about Citizen Empowerment. One of my ongoing themes. After the 20th Century's relentless trend toward the "professionalization of everything," this may be about to change. For example, an overlooked aspect of the9/11 tragedy was that citizens themselves were most effective in our civilization's defense, reacting with resiliency and initiative while armed with new technologies.
(See: http://www.futurist.com/archives/society-and-culture/value-and-empowerment/)

Oh, this from Joe Miller: “Have you seen the German Bush Pilot? This is what we mean by homunculus in neuroscience!”


As Lord Keynes famously quipped, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

Great bit from last page of Sinclair Lewis's Main Street. Leading lady, resigned to living in small town but not defeated, defiantly points to young daughter in crib: "Do you see that object on the pillow? Do you know what it is? It's a bomb to blow up smugness. If you Tories were wise, you wouldn't arrest anarchists; you'd arrest all these children while they're asleep in their cribs. Think what that baby will see and meddle with before she dies in the year 2000! She may see an industrial union of the whole world, she may see aeroplanes going to Mars."


JoeMiller also offers this timeless aphorism... one for the books!

Those who ignore the mistakes of the future are bound to make them. -- Joe Miller


Finally, a reminder! Spread word about the Premiere of “The ArchiTechs on October 11 at 11pm on the History Channel.

Of course, I haven’t seen it yet. Will see it on the 8th and will then shout at you either “Push it!” or “Never mind!”