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 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."

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

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:

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.

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!”


Anonymous said...

Tinyurl is your friend, Dr. Brin:

As far as "Macho" cultures go...

I think what we are actually seeing is American racists, centered in the old Confederacy and the MidWest, trying to keep the rest of the (darker) world at bay with our military.

Border fences and bombs will still win elections for Republicans in those parts of the country.

Torturing dark-skinned people will, too.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure we all agree that we ought to love one another, and I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings — and I hate people like that!"

Tom Lehrer, introduction to "National Brotherhood Week", on the album That Was the Week That Was (1958).

Woozle said...

The quote is accurate, but it's That Was The Year That Was, and it was released in 1965. One of my favorites ^_^

Anonymous said...

Hehe, Blake,

I didn't say I hated them.

I just don't think America's foreign policy should cater to their fears and prejudices.

Imagine if China or Japan had discovered the "new" world instead of Europeans...they'd probably have the same attitude today as our descendants of conquistador/slaveowners.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend Sinclair Lewis's novels.

Lewis was a first class jerk, but he was a fair writer and an keen observer. He spent months or years researching his subjects.

Arrowsmith is about a medical researcher. As in many of Sinclair's novels, he hops from job to job (country doctor, researcher in a foundation, public health worker) as a way of showing us various aspects of his field.

Babbit is about a philistine salesman. In some ways life in 1920s "Zenith" is much like life today . . . in others, totally different. Certainly, the lot of women has much improved.

Elmer Gantry is the real prize. Grade-A charismatic jerk becomes a preacher and works his way up the evangelistic ladder. Heinlein's Nehimiah Scudder owes an awful lot to the ruthless demogogue Elmer Gantry becomes late in the novel, so don't count me among those who think RAH is especially prophetic in this regard.

I haven't read it, but It Can't Happen Here is about a facist take-over of the United States.

Holy crap! I just looked up the Wiki article on the book. A proposed TV movie adaptation of the book was heavily reworked and became the mini-series V!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

On the problems with electronic voting, there is no better source than:

They've been tracking this stuff for a couple years now....

Tony Fisk said...

I actually think that electronic voting holds some very interesting possibilities for the future course of democracy.

But not today, and certainly not with the Diebold model!

Thanks, Jeb. A few of my musings on the topic can be found here

On Costello's remarks.

I've commented before that our current government are a pack of patronising Straussian wannabes, and that it has a decidedly xenophobic streak to it. The latter started manifesting itself by proxy: the approving silence that watered the seeds planted by Pauline Hanson when she started ranting about foreigners stealing Aussie jobs, and useless Aboriginals living on welfare.

Encouraged, it took another step in September, 2001, when the Tampa was denied entry because it had picked up a group of refugees from a sinking boat, in direct conflict with international law. This event, and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 resulted in a rabid pre-election frenzy that Rove would have been proud of: the 'Truth Overboard' affair.

Costello effectively telling moslems to 'shape up or ship out', is at first glance, a pragmatic response to a particularly intransigent set of immigrants. In the past, integration of various groups has taken one, perhaps two generations. (I remember the late sixties here: even 'pommy' bashing had a mean streak!) Moslems face a double barrier of religion as well as culture. Unsurprisingly, they are a little more standoffish. Especially these days!

Now, I agree with Costello insofar that immigrants should show some sincerity in integrating: learning English for example. And there is certainly a small group of muslim evangelists who think Shariya should be the new Aussie way, and who are therefore a pain in the bum. Nevertheless, Costello's remarks (and previous history) suggest that he is less tolerant than he should be.

Oh! Just to show not all Aussies tow the party line without thought:
Australians doubt war cuts terrorism risk: poll.

The Lowy Institute survey finds 84 per cent of Australians polled do not believe the war in Iraq has reduced the threat of terrorism.

The poll shows 91 per cent of those surveyed believe the war has damaged the United States' reputation in the Muslim world.

...The Australian Government says terrorism existed before the war in Iraq, but it refuses to discuss whether the war itself has fuelled terrorism.

Either the Lowy Institute have been using Diebold machines for their own purposes, or someone's in denial!

Seven Star Hand said...

Hello David and all,

The time has arrived to think outside of the box, or else...

I know that many have chosen to write me off as some sort of a quack over the last three years. Now that this country and world have sunk to new lows and many of the things I've warned about have occurred, perhaps fewer will be so quick to scoff at things you don't understand. Neither religious followers nor secularists have been 100% correct and most have been dead wrong about much. Perhaps now you'll seek true wisdom and cooperate for the good of all before the Bush-Cheney-Vatican cabal revives the dark ages and puts you all in theological torture camps. Remember that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Understanding and fixing the failings of politics and democracy for the benefit of everyone, everywhere

Politics is little more than greed, arrogance, falsehood, hero-worship, and injustice taken to extremes and organized into teams (nations, parties, interest groups, etc). It is the struggle for your group, hero, and viewpoint so you can profit at the expense of others. This forces others to do the same in self-defense, causing an endless loop, downward spiral, and no-gain effect. When money, religion, and politics are intermingled, they form a true inescapable trap or bottomless pit. It is the opposite of compassion, cooperation, justice, and wisdom and causes you to expend dramatically more effort, time, and resources than necessary to achieve lesser results than are possible when you simply cooperate and have compassion, empathy, and charity for each other. Harmony and cooperation are on the perfect path, while politics, religion and money are ignorance, strong lies, strong delusion, and utter folly.

The primary, though hidden, purpose of politics is to effectively divide and conquer populations who support and participate in these great delusions. Politics serves to dramatically slow and confound progress towards common and common-sense goals that most people want to achieve. This is one of the reasons why major problems persist for centuries. When people finally cooperate to solve problems for the good of all, problems will finally be solved and stay solved. On the other hand, participating in and supporting politics causes problems to persist and even to reappear later, though they were apparently solved previously. Because of the ability of those who also control money and religion to reverse past progress and prevent true cooperation, politics is a great deception and a trap and the opposite of truth, wisdom, and justice.

There is no true freedom nor freewill in the presence of such pervasive and institutionalized deception and exploitation. People have struggled for millennia trying to form working societies based on these three great follies. Those efforts always eventually fail because the inherent injustice and deception at the root of these concepts always leads to chaos and destruction. How long must it take before verifiable wisdom is finally valued over such long-term and self-evident folly? How much longer will it take for good people to grow tired of such obvious lies and turn away from deceptive leaders and their deceptions?

Remember the saying:
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing."

We are all trapped in a web of deception woven with money, religion, and politics. The great evils that bedevil us all will never cease until humanity finally awakens, shakes off these strong delusions, and forges a path... to the future.


...and here...

Here is Wisdom!!


Anonymous said...

The TV show that the Tom Lerher quote and song originally appeared on was "That was the Week that Was", you are correct that the Tom Lehrer album collecting the songs he wrote for the show was "That was the Year that Was".

Stefan Jones:
I've read "It Can't Happen Here". It's a brutally frank book about a fascist takeover; the villian is ELECTED with a minority of the popular vote but a majority of the electoral vote. I recommend it, but it's not a happy book.

Given the vulnerability to hacking that Diebold machines have already shown, I'm looking for some teenaged computer geeks in order to get Alfred E. Nueman voted in to every seat in Congress...

Tony Fisk said...

Hawker, if you look closely at this montage,
especially the central ones, you will realise that Alfred E Nueman is precisely what happened!

I think those teenaged computer geeks have some explaining to do! They used the wrong guy!!

Anonymous said...

A quick google search got me...

More on the subject...
The reason I mentioned the mass hack was because I really believe that's what it would take to get people to acknowledge that the voting machines are untrustworthy. People seem quite willing to believe that exit polls are massively wrong, but not that the machines are.

NoOne said...

I wonder how many of you know that Muslims in India come under the Muslim personal law which has strong correlations with the Sharia. That is, India does not have a uniform civil code.

From a liberal perspective - since after all religion in India plays the role of race in the US - this is good since it keeps terrorist attacks down.

From a conservative perspective, this is crazy since your religion determines your personal law.

Anonymous said...

I so want to hack the election this year. I'll leave all the existing votes intact (so the "correct" totals will be intact) and just add a million votes for Lisa Simpson to the vote count. Too bad I probably wouldn't be able to pull it off. (How do I get my hands on one of those memory cards? What does a Diebold ID card look like?)

Tony Fisk said...

David, does this article have any bearing on the 'Great Officer Purge' or effects arising from it?

The Cult of Cruelty - Robert Fisk

I would be particularly interested in hearing from any military types out there: what are your thoughts on the US Army 'Soldier's Creed' and the 'Warrior Ethos' which appears to have replaced it.

To me, it is not the ethos of civilisation. It is the ethos of William Roper letting the ends justify the means (and now, it would seem, the US army)

What are you letting your young men and women become? Zombies?

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, Tony.

Does anyone else think the real battle of the future will be over fresh water?

Anonymous said...


As a retired career military man, I hate it. Completing the mission "At all costs" implies things: things like 'getting the terrorists is more important than preserving the Consititution'. And I swore to uphold the Constitution, and see no reason to stop now.

Rob Perkins said...

Hawker, I'm relatively sure soldiers and officers alike still swear to uphold the Constitution.

Running over babies is mighty sickening. Putting them in the road so that people will stop and be killed at your hands, or run them over, is far, far more sickening.

David Brin said...

Again, again, again...

There is only one reason to do this. IN ORDER to harm America. Imbecillity simply is no longer a viable explanation.

Mark said...

If you haven't seen it yet, go check out Markos Moulitsas's (aka Kos) article at Cato Unbound, The Case for the Libertarian Democrat.

But there are other reasons why this outpost of libertarianism works. The government has put in an infrastructure to support the region including, among many other things, roads, the Internet, government research grants, and the most important ingredient of all: education, from the lowliest kindergarten to the highest post-doc program. Such spending, while requiring a government bureaucracy that makes a traditional libertarian shudder, actually provides the tools that individuals need to succeed in today’s world. If our goal is to promote and champion individual liberty and the free market, we need government to help provide those tools to all Americans, not just a privileged few. This isn’t a question of equality, it’s one of opportunity. Some people will take advantage of those opportunities, and others will not. That will be up to each individual. But without opportunity, there is no freedom.

There is also no individual freedom if corporations aren’t forced to provide the kind of accountability necessary to ensure we make proper purchasing or investment decisions. For example, public corporations are regulated to ensure that investors have accurate data upon which to base their trading decisions. If investors can’t trust the information given by corporations, the stock markets couldn’t function. If the stock markets couldn’t function, our current market system would collapse. Matters such as deceptive advertising, labeling, and some safety regulations are also important. Does anyone doubt that requiring food companies to label ingredients and nutritional data doesn’t enhance our liberties by giving us the information we need to make informed decisions?

On the flip side, much of what’s known as “corporate welfare” is not designed to protect personal liberties. Rather it rewards inefficiencies in the market and the politically connected. Intellectual property law protections, constantly extended at the behest of Walt Disney in service to its perpetual Mickey copyright, have created a corporate stranglehold over information in an era where information is currency. Patent law allows companies like Amazon to patent simple and obvious “business processes” like “one-click shopping,” which they protect with armies of lawyers and deep pockets. In the non-virtual sphere, cities use eminent domain to strip property owners of their rights on behalf of private developers.

Anonymous said...

Running over babies is mighty sickening. Putting them in the road so that people will stop and be killed at your hands, or run them over, is far, far more sickening.

I suspect that, to some extent, what we are dealing with can be explained by what one writer called Magruder's Law:

"Combat inevitably sinks to the lowest common denominator of the combatants. If you like to wrestle in the mud and your opponent likes to gouge out eyes, then sooner or later you will both be eye-gouging in the mud."

Sometimes, you just have to be willing to run over some babies.

David Brin said...

Regarding that Libertarian site; Kos is making basic sense, demonstrating that at least a few people out there are noticing the sad state of the libertarian movement.

A few people have started to realize that the libertarian cause should be "pro-market" and not necessarily "anti-government." At least, not as an unthinking and spasmodic/dogmatic reflex. Above all, the standard should be:

"If it helps to stimulate the health of open, free, dynamic and creative markets, then it cannot be all bad. Even if government plays a role."

I have been making similar points for more than a decade. (see:

The myopic calamity of modern libertarianism is its shortsighted view that government bureaucrats are the only plausible enemies of market enterprise. When, in fact, the grand sweep of human history tells a quite different story.

Across four thousand years, far more promising young markets were destroyed by conspiratorial oligarchies -- by cronies of the king -- than were ever blemished by socialistic meddlers.

That fact - so blatant and utter - resonates clearly when we look back upon the patron saint of libertarianism, Adam Smith, whose chief complaint was never lodged against public education or environmental regulation!

No, the principal enemies of enterprise, in Smith's view were cronyism and market manipulation by secretive elites. Sound vaguely... familiar?

Indeed, listen to the muted murmers, all across the political spectrum, calling for a re-examination of Smith, as one of the key founders of "liberalism." There are those, in the Democratic Party, who seek a re-connection to those deeper roots. Recalling that the aim of liberalism was never to eliminate all competition (an airy-fairy pipe dream). But rather to ensure that competition should be free and open and Joyfully creative.

And, above all, fair.

Will Democrats fully embrace the spiritual founder of liberalism? Maybe not completely, alas. Still, even with that intra-party debate only just beginning, there can be no doubt of one simple notion. A metaphor of devastating power.

Suppose Adam Smith found himself suddenly transported to this era -- a time when the Libertarian Party is ruled by spasmodic, sourpuss dogmatism and the GOP has become a tool for relentless kleptocracy by cronies of the king.

Can there be a scintilla of a doubt?

Adam Smith would be a Democrat.

Rob Perkins said...

Well, to be fair, since universal public common schools were a 19th Century idea, and an American one at that, they predate Adam Smith. He could therefore have neither supported them nor opposed them.

Environmental regulation? In the form it takes today? Not sure. Most of the problems against which environmentalists place themselves didn't exist before the 20th Century, and the irony is that many of those circumstances arose out of a direct decision to improve the environment, such as canning food to mitigate foodborne disease and famine. Or introducing automobiles to cities to mitigate manure-borne disease and stink. Or improving crop yields or fishing yields to mitigate against starvation and famine.

Would he be a Democrat, or would he sneer at the choices? Depends on how pragmatic he'd be, I think.

Tony Fisk said...

Doug S. A soldier would 'drive round' those babies somehow. A juggernaut warrior apparently cannot. Read a little further on from the babies and consider the consequences of Magruder's law.

Fisk ends his piece thus:

"I suppose, in the end, we are supposed to lead the 21st century into a shining age of human liberty in the dungeons of ‘black’ prisons, under the fists of US Marines, on the exhaust pipes of Humvees.

We are warriors, we are Samurai. We draw the sword. We will destroy.

Which is exactly what Osama bin Laden said."

What is it that seeks to turn you into what you most hate?

I think the existence of the 'Warrior Ethos' needs a bit of light shining on it, together with More's foil.

Rant mode off.

Quoth David:
Recalling that the aim of liberalism was never to eliminate all competition (an airy-fairy pipe dream). But rather to ensure that competition should be free and open and Joyfully creative.

Sounds nice. I've often felt that the effort that goes into all-out competition seems so wasteful and counter-productive.

David Brin said...

Tony, the greatest of all fallacies of the left is to imagine that it is logical that human beings are inherently cooperative beings, and therefore that competition is somehow immoral or inefficient or wrong.

This is about as sensible as asking elephants to fly "because they should" or calling a fish immoral because it swims.

ALL dogmas are wrong!!! because homo sapiens is (thank God) vastly more complex than any other living organism and - perhaps - more complex than any other naturally evolved INTELLIGENT SPECIES.

Libertarians are fools to deny that we are driven to be socially cooperative beings bent on achieving some things through national organization. And socialists are dipsos to imagine that competition is somehow "lesser" than "let's all work together!" cheerleading.

Indeed, the latter is far MORE often likely to lead to tyrannical behavior, bullying, and outrageous inefficiency, unless the process is subjected to incredible amounts of transparency, accountability and criticism... other words... competition.

The power of liberalism came from CO-OPTING this powerful human trait. Channeling it away from habitual and insatiably nasty predation into GAMES, like markets, wherein intricate rules are constantly refined with one goal, above all others... to maximize fairness and minimize cheating.

When that happens, so does a miracle... creativity. A fecund cornucopia. The market mystics are right about that and socialists who deny it are plain fools.

On the other hand, the mystics who preach Faith in Blind Markets FIBM are just as dingbat, addlepated, moronically incantatory and imbecillic cretins when they fail to acknowledge that CHEATING HAPPENS! In fact, it is the MOST likely thing to happen, the very moment shadows fall across any part of the game.

Further, they deny the need for relentless fine-tuning, so that the markets will keep taking into account new needs... like the growing desperate need to take into account value-borrowed from our grandchildren, in the form of resource and environmental degradation.

Damn. Is there even a chance I will live to see a day when indignation fades enough for us to face how complex we are?

Tony Fisk said...

I must be more careful with off the cuff comments around here!

The fact that 'cheating' is a word (with a lot of synonyms moreover) is sufficient to show that humans are not always co-operative.

I'm not dismissing competition as immoral, just annoyed that it *does* waste a lot of effort!

Actually, I do approve of competition as an effective means of improving efficiency and functionality: ie inherent 'criticism' of one approach over another by improving on it. (I'm not sure where transparency and accountability come into any definition of competition...ah! The marketing games that regulate raw competition?)

Anyway, from that perspective, can you see the irony that I do in relying on a wasteful procedure to improve efficiency? Can competition do with some...well, competition? Is that one thing that markets do?

they [FIBMers] deny the need for relentless fine-tuning...

I will agree with that! FIBMers (and me) are a lazy bunch who rely on a lot of automated mechanisms and rules (to say nothing of easythink dogmas) producing the desired result. It doesn't always happen that way. Especially when the underlying assumptions (eg infinite resources and bad dogmas) cease to apply.

David Brin said...

It's worse than that, Tony. FIBMers are essentially religious zealots, praying to a non-sapient deity, who will come down and save us all, despite our inability to solve problems through foresight, cooperation and planning. The sheer religiosity of their stance is proved by their utter unwillingness to apply the perspective of human history, which offers NO EXAMPLES of their panacea ever working the way they describe...

...other than one case. The case of enlightenment regulated and carefully hand-(law-) adjusted markets. ONLY this one time have markets delivered. And a steep burden of proof is on those who say that our "meddlesome rules" weren't responsible for this dramatic shift!

And yes, you raise a good point. competition can have its inefficient aspects, which is why it is strictly controled during desperate times, like total war. During WWII companies were encouraged to innovate, and yet fierce skepticism from "above" was applied to endeavors that seemed wasteful.

On occasion, our leaders did that command allocating very badly (e.g. neglecting jet aircraft.) On others, they showed unfathomable courage and genius (Manhattan).

But the most astonishing thing is when they deliberately and brilliantly let go. I remain to this day amazed at the men and women of the late eighties, who decided to let the Internet go. To send it fluttering away into a cybernetic sky, for everybody to share.

How did they know? How could they possibly have known?

Anonymous said...

I do think that humans are more naturally inclined to cooperation that competition: we are social animals, and what we know of primitive societies seems to lean that way. Also, have you heard of the recent primate study suggesting a possible hard-wired sense of fairness?

Of course only charlatans and the ignorant argue this subject in absolutes, just as with the nature/nurture false dichotomy. Poison or panacea often depends on the dosage, too. That said, I personally think it's hard to argue that our current notion of markets and property are based more on fairness than predation. Cheating isn't the only fly in the ointment.

It's a given in our system that one person is born a landlord while another (actually many others) starts life as a renter. True, with luck or a combination of luck and hard work, it is possible to become a rentier or at least a freeholder of sorts. Likewise it was true in ancient Rome that a slave could sometimes save enough to buy his freedom and see his children become citizens. That didn't make Rome any less a slave-based society, though, and eventually the economics of slavery destroyed their society.

Yeah, I know. "There are no perfect solutions"..."Blabbing about systemic problems is just a distraction from pragmatic, incremental solutions"...and so on. That all you got, people, or will someone address the point more directly, at least as an intellectual exercise?

Admittedly, "fairness" is a big can of worms, even excluding the genetic lottery and our potential ability to tilt those odds. However, ignoring something doesn't make it disappear, no matter what your two year old niece thinks. And incrementalism requires a goal if it is to qualify as a solution.

Rob Perkins said...

I started my independent adult life as a renter, and in the next 10 years or so expect to become a landlord. There's no combination of luck and hard work really at issue there: it's pretty much acquiring desirable skills early in life (i.e. an education) and maintaining a relative freedom from debt.

That, at least these days, can all be planned for an relentlessly executed.

Anonymous said...

Rob - "it's pretty much acquiring desirable skills early in life (i.e. an education) and maintaining a relative freedom from debt.

That, at least these days, can all be planned for an[d] relentlessly executed."

*Sigh* Another "self-made man" -- who obviously has no clue just how lucky he has been... and no, I'm not trying to take anything away from whatever talent, effort or virtuous behaviour got you wherever you are... I know you're a bright fellow. The interesting thing is how predictable and self-centered your particular response was in spite of that intelligence.

Sorry if that sounds condescending, it's not meant to be personal. Rather, your comment is a great illustration of some Libertarian blind spots.

reason said...

"It's a given in our system that one person is born a landlord while another (actually many others) starts life as a renter."

Well no, not in the society I grew up in.

Most people owned their own homes (or at least most of them) then and were neither landlords or renters. The issue is to try and keep it that way.

Anonymous said...

Well, what reason says is in one sense true, "most" being 55% of U.S. households (not people) owning (or having title, anyway) in 1955, increasing to around 65% in 1980, where we stalled out, still excluding a third of the population. A couple of points, though.

First, re-read my post and your response. Did you really mean to infer that, in your experience, most people are born with enough wealth to purchase a home?

Second, Interest is a form of Rent.

Third, I am of course talking about the existence of and effects produced by a rentier class. That is not a subject limited to rental housing. Or do you want to argue that there is no such class when one percent of the population controls over half the assets of the country?

Rob Perkins said...

I can count the number of dollars I've "self-made" on one hand, with the rest being wages from desirable employment, for my entire adult life.

And I'm hardly a libertarian. I can hardly fail to attribute at least some of what I've got to circumstance rather than effort, since I've maintained relatively excellent health, avoided debilitating accidents, etc. That's lucky stuff.

Even so, you're moving the goalposts: You made a claim that renters are born and stay that way. I'm an example of someone who will become a landlord (and hopefully a kind one) after having started out with nothing more than a cheap and incomplete education, based almost exclusively on wage income.

Further, equating the circumstance of an apartment dweller in the United States with that of a Roman slave won't really fly; that circumstance is so much greater than any but the loftiest patrician's condition, that most of Rome would have done just about anything to get it rather than live as Romans did.


Even if most people are born without the wealth to purchase a home, think about it: FHA provides undeniably generous terms for a mortgage which permit someone without huge sums of cash to get in on the appreciation bandwagon. And there are other, more generous state programs offering the same, with the end result that one can buy that home if one has.... here it comes... sufficient education and skill to secure a wage.

One of my relatives took advantage of one such State program, which made it possible for her family of three to own their first home. I think at the time they had one wage in the household, at something like $17/hour.

Oh... but you make the case that it's not really ownership if there's a mortgage, that interest is a form of rent!

True. But it's a form of rent with an end in sight, and a two way street, since it's far easier to make and save money (earning interest) than it is to acquire and rent other property.

ocpearson said...


I want to start off by apologizing for hijacking this train of thought (hopefully very briefly). I've been reading these discussions for a few months now and I have really enjoyed them. It's given me great ammunition in my discussions with friends who think that all is well in the western world.

Which brings me to my cry for help. A friend recently sent me (and others) this link to a speach from the Senate floor a couple of weeks ago. Here's the link.

Could someone please let me know one or two links to sites with intelligent science refuting this nonsense? Something I can send to him with a tagline like "Don't get your science from polititians who don't cite reliable sources."?

Thanks to all of you in advance!

David Brin said...

I don't mind this wrangle, so long as you guys all realize you are (interestingly) bracketting both the miracle and the truth.

For most of the last fifty years, those who were born poor but who then applied a minimum requisite combination of traits, had more accessible social mobility than in any other time or place. Duh. The US would not have absorbed HALF of the world's immigrants otherwise.

Indeed, you did not need ALL of the following traits at once, just a good mix: hard work, savvy, education, assiduous frugality and savings, luck, connections.

Indeed, the ONE that seems to always make the difference is frugality.

The proof of this is not only immigration, but in the hypocritical betrayal of this whole program that is being perpetrated by Red State America, which does not seem to have any neurons in the portion of the brain generally assigned to gratitude or memory. For people to draw power from the Tennessee Valley Authority and send their kids to CCC-built schools, clip farm subsidies and use federally funded science to grow 10X harvests... then curse that blankety-blank "socialist Franklin Roosevelt" and his durn unions...

...and call themselves "self-made men of the land"... is a joke of toweringly pathetic - though monstrous - hilarity.

Almost as bad as cursing decadent New Yorkers with one breath, then expressing far more fear of terrorists than New Yorkers ever have, or ever will.

(The most likely targets, people in blue cities, shrug and see no "war". We want Osama hunted down... and our lives and country back.)

But I digress. In fact, redkitty, the very same smug disloyalty and ingratitude expressed by these folk also proves (in a sad way) the incredible effects of social mobility -- and warns us of the danger.

That it was a fragile phenomenon and our new would-be masters are always lurking, eager to start cheating again. Get enough smug amnesiacs stoked up on anti-liberal propaganda, and you may be able to start vampiring that social mobility again. Suck it down, you pals of Cheney. Enjoy.

Till the tumbrels roll again, you short-sighted old fools.


Rob found a glitch in the TV schedule for the ArchiTechs. So be agile. Here's advice from my producer.

"I am not completely sure but I think most satelite providers take in the east coast feed. That said, tell your friend to check 8pm on the 11th and 12 am on the 12th. I think he might catch it there. "

David Brin said...

Mr. Pearson, the simplest answer to science obfuscators is a simple one. Those who cry out that "We need more research" before panicking over climate change ought to be supporting more research, right?

I mean, it's a tautology. "Don't panic. Let's do more research."

Only... these are the very guys who have CUT climate research across the board. Who have re-assigned NASA to turn its eyes away from planet Earth. Who have eviscerated and torn down the independent scientific advisory boards that used to give Congress independent advice.

It is one thing to oppose carbon taxes - the most aggressive proposal contained in the Kyoto Accords. It is quite another to deliberately and aggressively sabotage all US research and investment into renewable energy sources, leaving it to states like California to forge ahead on the power sources that EVEN British Petroleum calls "the way of the future."

Opposing carbon taxes may be comprehendable in a "conservative"... wrong but understandable. The rest though?

I cannot even figure out HOW it is in the best interests of these guys to gut American science, research, and investment.

One can only conclude that the shots are being called by the one group who benefit most from continued world dependence on petroleum, across decades and decades to come. People who do not care if the weather patterns change. Because ANY change from the present rain patterns will surely benefit their presently-arid land.

David Brin said...

Oh, have any of you seen the jpeg that's circulating? A screen snapshot from O'Reilly's shill-show, depicting ex-Congressman Foley... and identifying him as --



Want to know how someone could become famous and an American hero easily? One of O'Reilly's abused hench-people... suffering under his tantrums and tirades, and having to pull crap like this at his behest, day in, day out... should ponder how easy it would be to get a career boost by turning the tables on him.

Just carry a hidden recorder and lapel-cam. Get it all down. Call it investigative journalism. Record him ordering these "innocent mistakes." You'll be on Oprah the next day.

Big C said...

O.C. Pearson,

The folks at ScienceBlogs are usually on top of the politicized science issues. The James Inhofe speech has been thoroughly discussed and refuted there. Check this link for a collection of blog posts.

Anonymous said...

O. C. Pearson,

I only skimmed the speech, but I didn't see anything in particular that was all that refutable there. In all we are talking about the reaction to "global warming". The science seems to lend credence to the idea that globally our temperatures are rising and that CO2 levels are a likely contributing factor, but there there is a whole lot less ocnsensus on how much of an impact "man-made" CO2 levels are having, let alone what, exactly, we can do about it.

I think it's important to claim that this is an issue, that we should look into it, I'd even suggest supporting, where you can, continuing climatological research. Even support "green" companies, if you feel that will help the cause. Overall, though, I'm not so sure there is enough of a consensus to support the level of alarm I think we do tend to see from many areas regarding the issue.

I would generally agree with Dr. Brin that there is a bit of hypocrisy involved in politicians who are otherwise very willing to spend public funding in so many other areas, but who are unwilling to provide that funding in an area they are willing to claim requires more research. If a politician wishes to claim the need for research to direct policy, then research should be funded to properly inform that policy.

Andrew Smith said...

not all that refutable? How about this little nugget:

"It is very simplistic to feign horror and say the one degree Fahrenheit temperature increase during the 20th century means we are all doomed. First of all, the one degree Fahrenheit rise coincided with the greatest advancement of living standards, life expectancy, food production and human health in the history of our planet. So it is hard to argue that the global warming we experienced in the 20th century was somehow negative or part of a catastrophic trend."

I'm willing to bet climate modelling has advanced a bit beyond linear extrapolation.

David Brin said...

There is, of course, the other matter. That of... well...


What exactly does the word mean (amid the whirring/spinning of Barry Goldwater in his grave), when the GOP stands for foreign adventurism, aggressive "nation building," fiscal recklessness, state pork and utter denial of every foundational "conservative" value?

Ponder the old time American puritans, like Cotton Mather. Now remove the wretched bigotry. Tally up famed puritan expressions like : "waste not" and "a penny saved". Um, exactly who are the heird of that mentality?

Not the spendthrift playboys of the right! No, the people telling us all to forego pleasures for a coming storm are the chiding neo-puritans of the left! Wagging their fingers at us to conserve and save and count our calories and ergs and pennies and sit and shiver in the dark, for the sake of coming generations!

No, the real hypocrisy here is that the neocon climate-denial movement thinks the DEFAULT position... if global warming is not TOTALLY PROVED... has to be "let's party on!"

In fact, if our only nest is POSSIBLY in danger, the prudent, conservative, thoughtful and puritan thing to do is to ERR A BIT ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION!

If we do, and find later that climate change was overblown, then WTF?????? Ooooooh, we were a little more prudent and saving and researchy than we had to be!!

We invested a little soon in STUFF WE'RE GOING TO NEED ANYWAY.

Urgh. Yup. That's just terrible. Terrible.

Party on dudes. And call it conservatism.

Anonymous said...

monkyboy said: Does anyone else think the real battle of the future will be over fresh water?

It has always been thus. From ancient history to the cattle ranchers fighting the farmers.

My county has recently taken measures to keep reservoirs full; however, one city seems to have voted down a desalination plant (fools!).

David Brin said...

a complete aside, from the Progressive policy institute... illustrating the power of ambitious modernism...

The Average Cost of an International Phone Call Has Fallen 90 Percent Since 1980

In 1980, when wires were copper and phones came with dials, international calls, on average, cost $1.34 per minute (dividing phone company international receipts by minutes on international lines). The era's 230 million Americans made 200 million international calls and spent 1.6 billion minutes on international telephone calls.

By 2004, with wires made of glass (or satellite beams) and phones turning into computers and fashion accessories, the cost of an international call had dropped to 14 cents per minute. An American population approaching 300 million made nearly 11 billion overseas calls and spent nearly 64 billion minutes talking with overseas friends, relatives and business partners. ("Overseas" in the general sense of "abroad" -- about a quarter of the calls went to Canada and Mexico; the United Kingdom, Germany, and India rounded out the top five calling destinations.)

The explanation for the price collapse is principally technological. Call prices drifted down through the 1980s and early 1990s; then, in the late 1990s,deployment of a million miles of submarine fiber-optic cable, plus the launch of dozens of new communications satellites, and most recently early experiments with Internet-based calls, the drift turned into a plunge. Business competition, though probably secondary, is also important: By the mid-1990s, international services had risen to 20 percent of carrier earning, and in 2004, 72 carriers sold international telecom services from the United States.

Marc Erickson said...

Here's a link to the free version of the New York Times Story:


As for BP, it's one of the more enlightened oil companies and has been working on solar power (among other things) for almost a decade - the real nasty oil company is ExxonMobil (Imperial Oil in Canada). You should become a member of the Viridian Design Movement - the newsletter is published by Bruce Sterling whenver the hell he feels like it and is devoted to climat change and (among other things), tracks the boos and yeas of the oil companies. It's available - as well as back issues of the newsletter - here:

Nortius Maximus said...

Quoth Dr Brin:

"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.'"

In the abstract, you're right. But the parent-child presuppositions one needs to hold to believe this is the sure-fire strategy are vast. And human reactions being what they are, one person's "disallowing" is another person's overreaction / overreaching / warcrime.

Me, I'm only half-vast, and I suspect a sheaf of strategies is a better approach, though hedging the existential risks (as they eventually appear indisputable / too-clear-to-mistake) against one another might turn out to be impossible. Some say the world will end in ice, etc. If it gets too weird, maybe it's just Game Over for "us", whoever "us" is for you or me.

But I'm programmed, in a way similar to the general Western Civ orneriness you've pointed out, to be suspicious of anyone who says "the [P]roblem is..." where human nature and millions or billions of people are involved.

So, maybe, as I like to say, "The problem is 'the problem is...'" :)

I.e., to circumscribe the situation quickly in order to name a fix quickly carries deep and frequently hidden risks.

But we're wired to want a Single Narrative. So it's always a tough call.

Thus the power of messy, quasi, hemisemidemicoalitions and sheaves of strategies. The hope is that a lot of "us" won't be very wrong for too long.

Somebody who used to post on the Extropy list used to have this sig, obviously influenced by you:

"I am not here to have an argument. I am here as part of a civilization. Sometimes I forget."

monkyboy FREQUENTLY makes me forget. But that's his plan, and I've learned to adopt your suggested strategy with him. Smother him with parenting until he either grows up or ships out. Either one is OK with me.