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.


Hope Muntz said...

No offense, but you really should read some history before drawing such silly parallels. Rome was lready weakened by the war between Marius and Sulla, and historians agree that it was the Sullan proscriptions that 'ruined Rome'. Pompey was an opportunist who benefitted from this process, but was considered an 'outsider' in much the same way that a Canadian politician would be viewed here--which is why he never tried to be consul. His war against the pirates could more properly be compared to ours against the Barbary pirates--maybe you think that was a big mistake too! Europeans at the time didn't, though.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
pidgas said...

a couple notes regarding the Rome thing:

First, Ostia was a symptom of a serious piracy problem. Read for yourself, but piracy had ground Mediterranean trade to a halt and threatened the grain supply from north Africa upon which Rome depended. More than the insult of Ostia, Rome faced famine and collapse of trade if the piracy problem was not dealt with decisively. The fact that pirates were defeated so quickly by a massive conventional military force speaks more to their lack of conventional military capability and adequate defense than to the threat they posed (which by all virtually all accounts was very serious).

Second, this event occurred in 68BC and Rome didn't fall until nearly 500 years later. The Roman Republic collapsed much earlier than Rome fell, but the Republic was faltering long before Ostia (think Sulla's dictatorship and the slave rebellions).

David Brin said...

I know very well about Marius and Sulla, thank you. And without (as you say) meaning offense, I feel I must step back and “meta” comment on your comment.

Historical pedantry can be used to illustrate, as I tried to do.

Or to make EXACT (and therefore false) parallels - which is what you accuse me of doing.

Or it can be used to obfuscate and preen, as you have just done.

Personally, of the three, I prefer using historical events to illustrate, counting on my readers to grasp the difference between a very interesting parallel and false exactitude.

Obviously, in your case, I was counting on too much.

Actually you seem completely unaware of how the tables can be turned on you. Is my neglect of Sulla anywhere near as silly as your Barbary Pirates comparison? Ignoring how Pompey then took those armies and navies to Spain and all over, (doing vastly more than just stomping a couple of peg legged guys with eyepatches argh!) and created the personal legions that then served Caesar in preference over the Republic.

Aw yes, of course! How right you are! I remember quite well how Stephen Decatur went on to conquer the Americas, install puppet viceroys, became virtual dictator back home and then gathered ten percent of America's wealth into his hands!

Thanks for the correction.

David Brin said...

For fiarness, pidgas, I was responding to Hope.

Further fairness. Ostia came in the context of an already paranoid situation, after the Spartacus Slave revolt. Rome was already embroiled in "culture war" in about a dozen directions.

Still, what nonsense. Pompey's extensive war against Mithridates of Pontus, WAY over in Asia Minor, was a direct result of his campaign against the pirates. It brought him staggering wealth and independence from Senatorial finance. Picture Stephen Decatur using the Barbaray Pirates as an excuse to gather armies and proceeding to conquer Brazil.


You people are missing the point. Which is that we do not need Great Leaders to say "trust us." Did anyone see John Ashcroft on the Daily Show last night? Basically saying that :"accountability should never apply to us"?

Monsters. These are the pirates, people. Half a trillion dollars of outright theft and flushing our goodwill down the drain. Stand up.

Anonymous said...

Back to the notion that the weakening of US power is a deliberate stategy:

Prince Bandar was G W's "tutor" on foreign policy.

David Brin said...

Have you got a citation on Bush&PBandar?

Oh! I was just interviewed on an ecology-oriented radio show. They say it''ll be posted soon at:

Anonymous said...

If you're saying Bush et al are ruining the country for their own gain, I'm not convinced. Ideology is far more likely than greed, to make people do stupid things.

Or maybe it's a conspiracy by big oil, manipulating the ideologues for profit? (There's some circumstantial evidence for that, but no smoking gun as far as I know.)

Or are you saying that the Cheney (oops, sorry, Bush) administration is plotting to take permanent power? After all, they've already got the most powerful nation on Earth - the only things they don't have are permanent power, and global control.

Or what, exactly, are you implying someone (who?) is up to?

Anonymous said...

There are several sources for the Bush & Bandar story. This excerpt comes from a Democratic website.

"One of the more troubling subplots running through 'State of Denial' involves Prince Bandar, the long-time Saudi ambassador to the United States. By Woodward's account, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush decided to run for president, his worried father enlisted Bandar, an old family friend, to tutor the son on foreign policy."

Anonymous said...

Website for "One of the more troubling subplots" excerpt:

Anonymous said...

One of the more troubling subplots running through "State of Denial" involves Prince Bandar, the long-time Saudi ambassador to the United States. By Woodward's account, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush decided to run for president, his worried father enlisted Bandar, an old family friend, to tutor the son on foreign policy.

David Brin said...

Twinbeam, many paranoid theories abound. What's been utterly discredited is the notion that Cheneyet al went in seeking oil. That Michael Moore nonsense screed was not plausible then and now looks absurd.

Ah, but going in, with the aim of STOPPING Iraqi oil production? That has been achieved, after all.

Sure they are kleptocratic thieves. The removal of almost all contract vetting processes, in order to give crony contracts to pals, will eventually be a drive of at least forty or fifty presidential pardons. Anybody care to take that bet?

Pushing toward seizure of permanent power? Well, at a deep psychologocal level, of course! Whether it is an overt goal, well. I doubt that it is at the Wolfowitz level. But higher level backers are already clearly neo-feudalists.

Ideology? Go to

Blithering incompetence? Staggering levels of delusional moronic insipid raging stupidity? Sure, that's part of it, surely.

Still, none of these touch on the really scary scenario. You just aren't going far enough. Nowhere near far enough.

Because none of them ACTUALLY EXPLAIN EVENTS.

Ponder this. What if what we see is the outcome that someone - or some group - ACTUALLY DESIRED?

Destruction of our military readiness, our financial footing, our social cohesion, any connection between government and science, our leadership standing with allies, , our popularity across the world. All wrecked, smoldering in near-total ruin.

The tale is too consistent. The ruin to perfect and uniform and across-the-board. Doesn't the consistency creep you out just a little? Enough to ponder something that goes well beyond incompetence, venality, and dogmatism?

Isn't the possibility just a bit enticing? Give in to it for a minute. Go ahead.

Anonymous said...

So. . . Cui bono?

Anonymous said...

Why does it have to be just one thing?

When people choose a mate or where to buy a house, etc., a number of factors are weighed.

So, too, were there many factors weighed on the decision whether to invade Iraq or not.

It's probably unfair to say Bush & Co. invaded Iraq just to win more elections or just to get their hands on Iraq's $10+ trillion worth of oil or just so they could funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to Red State defense contractors...

But it would be naive to believe these factors didn't play a part in the decision...or to believe they don't play a part in the decision to Stay the Course! now.

Anonymous said...

This is why I advocate removal of all of our armed forces from the nations of the world and consolidating everything inside the U.S.

If we are no longer "meddling" with other nations, then they have no legitimate reason to hate us. They have no reason to go after us. And in all honesty they will turn on each other.

Why the heck are we putting our fingers into all of these fires? We're in the Korean peninsula in a 50 year old war that's heating up again, Afganistan is falling apart, Iraq is turning into a hotbed of terrorist recruitment and training, and well over half the world hate our guts. So let's leave. Let's pull out and return to our shores. Give the world a couple years to shore up their borders in preparation for our withdrawal and then LEAVE.

Oh, there will be outcries against it, sure. Both in our own country and with the nations of the world. But we don't need a World Government (which is basically what the U.S. is trying to become under Bush and crew). We don't need to be the world's policemen.

Let's take care of our own borders. Let the world take care of itself and focus our resources inward, fix what's wrong with our nation. Let's break the power of the Executive Branch, restoring it to the proper checks and balances available. Let's restore the power of the PEOPLE that made this nation.

The world's not going to destroy itself if we're not playing policeman over them. Let's put out our own fires and tend our own homes for a while instead.

David Brin said...

Monkyboy, you are not following my logic.

Yes, incompetence AND dogmatism AND utter-corrupt venality AND proto feudalism AND drooling psychopathic evil are all compatible and can be there at the same time, and indeed I accept this as the prime operating theory.

I see it as possible for a perfect storm of all of these things to create the situation that we see around us. I accept it as the theory in the foreground.

What I refuse to do is allow myself to be blind to other possibilities. There is another hypothesis that has one big advantage. It satisfies Occam's Razor... the requirement that a scientific mind consider the simplest hypothesis.

That hypothesis is that what we see is the result of COMPETENT activity by very smart men. Men who very competently seized power over every American institution, from all three branches of government to the press to half of our boardrooms, and swiftly moved to impose a reign of terror over the military and intelligence officials who might have tracked and traced their true agenda.

Yes, history does show many feral monsters who were very competent at grabbing power while proving diametrically incompetent at statecraft. Stalin and Saddam are good examples. What we see may be something like that.

It probably is something like that.

But consider, just consider the alternative possibility. That these guys are smart in ALL respects. That today's America is right on course, part-way along a path that has been mapped out for it by guys who really know what they are doing.

David Brin said...

I don't usually cite Truthout. The 80% of what they say that's right is overcompensated by 15% utter drivel and exaggeration and tinges of lefty cant.

Still, we're nearing an election and you folks need all the ammo you can get.

Here's an article we need to cram (politely!) down the mental gullet of every wavering but sincere conservative.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

These guys wouldn't have been able to achieve much without 9/11.

Assuming there's some truth to your theory, you have to also accept that they were behind the 9/11 attack.

Isn't it more logical to assume they are a bunch of opportunistic, self-interested bumblers?

Tony Fisk said...

A google of 'Bush' and 'Bandar' produced a few interesting links:

Saudi Envoy Promised Bush a Drop in Oil Prices Ahead of (2004) Election
- Bloomberg

Is 'Bandar Bush' above the law? - - Matt Welch 2003

- A spoof. (indeed, I wonder if this is what anon. saw?)

It certainly sounds like Pompey has some interesting parallels with today.

People other than Daggett have wondered about the real game being played.
Robert Fisk, in his book 'The Great War for Civilisation' comments at one point that Bush's actions made one wonder if, in fact, he was working for Al Qaeda. It wasn't just an expression of exasperation.

I do believe it's time to try connecting a few dots.

Truthout: It's a pity the writer lets his own indignant rhetoric get in the way of the incidents he describes (tends to turn off those waverers who need to read it, and provides the handles to those who would seek to dismiss it).

Meanwhile, I think I'm going to be sick...

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure who said this, but it is quite apt and true: Those who do not learn the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

Rob H., Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

Rob H. T. That was the writer Santayana. To which my friend Joe Miller replies:

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


Monkyboy, you are getting closer, closer, but you still can't see.

THESE guys did not have to be behind 9/11. That's crazy talk and some of you can recall how searingly contemptuous I am toward all those "Loose Change" psychos... who make Pat Robertson look like a sane man, by comparison.

No, but what if two groups happen to have the same backers? Um where did the plotters hail from?

I give up. I always get a slap on the wrist from some of you for going here. I do it in hope that some mid-level (but brilliant) counter-intelligence officer at CIA will read these things, and get an idea... and save us all by finally connecting the dots.

Actually. I hope for something else even more.

I hope, desperately, that I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

The fault with that reasoning, Mr. Brin, is that mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing. In education, mistakes are considered an essential part of the learning process (in fact, some professors have taken to calling them "learning opportunities" rather than mistakes).

We need to make the mistakes of the future in order to learn from them. And often it's not easy to identify what those mistakes will be. Sure, there are some (such as reducing greenhouse gasses so that we don't have the icesheets on Greenland and Antartica vanish).

And we also have to realize that there are some things beyond our control. We cannot necessarily stop the loss of the Antartic icesheet (there are several active volcanoes under the icesheet that are melting them, and if there's an active supervolcano under there getting ready to blow then it doesn't matter how little CO2 we produce, if it blows it'll vaporize a massive portion of that icesheet).

Personally I think that the efforts of the Neocons will be blunted in the future from several fronts. First, people are sick and tired of them and going to try and vote them out. Second, the advent of internet technology allows people to have a more direct say in their government and as inexpensive high-speed internet spreads into more cities and suburbs we'll be seeing people starting to take interest in the governing of this country again because they'll finally have a say in how things work. Third, there aren't enough people in the government that believe what the Neocons believe. They won't be able to create an effective coup to the democracy. Technology and education has outpaced their efforts. It's already too late to turn America into a dictatorship.

What happened in Rome cannot happen here because we have a communications system far superior to that of the Roman Empire, technologies that allow people to thwart tyranny. If the government became a tyranny, there would be rebellion. It would be fought on many fronts. There would be multiple attacks over the internet. There would be multiple militia groups turning against the government. There would be outside (other-national) pressure against such a dictatorship. An American Tyranny is something that the world does not want... because if one or even a few people controls this country... without a means of removing that person from power... it's too great a threat. One person could easily destroy the world.

For that matter, our own government would not stand for it. If Bush tried to take over... the Republican party would turn on him along with the Democrats. It would require a military coup... and the military is not in a position to do so and has no real desire to assist Bush in any such exercise in futility.

In two years... Bush will be out of office and we can start repairing the mistakes he has made.

I have faith that it is not too late.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Keith Olbermann is just on fire:

Channeling Murrow

* * *

Lovely nugget by William Gibson gives an interesting spin on Transparency:

"It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret. In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out. The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did."

That last sentence deserves bold italics:

"In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did."

matthew jones said...

As much as I like the idea of a Saudi - NeoCon conspiracy to degrade US power and prestige, I cannot believe that this is the real explanation for what has befallen us.

Simply, I use the same argument against this conspiracy as I use against "Area 51-" type alien spacecraft conspiracies. The secret is just too big to keep quiet.

Occam's Razor again. Is it easier to believe a massive NeoCon - Saudi conspiracy? Or "just" isolationism, hubris, neophobia, and massive monetary gain?

I love a big conspiracy theory. I also love SciFi. I love them both for many of the same reasons. They make a wonderful escape from reality. And I do like the self-righteous rush that thinking, "Those sneaky, underhanded, traitorous BASTARDS!" gives me about Bush & Co.

But I just don't buy in that SO many people could cover up (and participate in) deliberate treason. With the way the NeoCon movement is falling apart right now, at the very least someone would be coming forward to cut a deal to save themselves from the electric chair.
“Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead” - B. Franklin

David Brin said...

So Gibson is channeling me, now? ;-)

Good stuff. More indignant and poetical than The Transparent Society - but that's a knack. Good on you, Bill.

As for Stefan, his link to Olbermann wins post of the day... week... month!

I'll speak of this again at the top-post level. For now, simply go there. Go. Now.

At last, at long last, the American Revolution of Franklin and Paine and Washington and Lincoln and Marshall and Murrow has a palladin, again.

(Note at the end, how he channels "A Man For All Seasons"! Did I predict that riff, a week or two ago? Did I? Hm?)

Tony Fisk said...

Since we're getting all hot and bothered, did anyone note the little bill that just got slipped through?
US adopts tough new space policy

Planetary Society comments here.

Nye asks 'Why now?' Possibly because there'a a real risk it won't get rubber stamped after November?

(Is there a transcript of Olbermann anywhere yet?)

Ben Tilly said...

David, anyone who wants to know what we are doing in Iraq should read Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast. This misadministration is not monolithic. In fact we went in with not one, but two secret plan, and the BBC (which Palast works for) has copies of both of them. (The Freedom of Information Act is a good thing.)

One plan was to go in, pump oil, and cause the price to collapse. Thereby defanging a lot of our problems in the Middle East.

The other plan was to go in, lock up the oil, and see prices go through the roof.

Needless to say these plans are not backed by the same people, and Palast does a good job of documenting how our seesawing Iraq policy reflects political infighting between these two internal groups. Moore was right. The Neocons, including Paul Wolfowitz, really did want to open up Iraq's oil. They got a lot of what they wanted. But they were naive to believe that they'd really be given that by an administration with so many direct ties to the oil industry when the oil industry does not want that.

Yes, I know there are tons of conspiracy theorists out there. Each with their own private theories. Butost are not trained in investigative techniques. Very few have actual documents. Fewer still have a track record of breaking stories that later get confirmed. Fewer still are backed by an organization as well-known as the BBC. The fact that Palast is in that tiny subset makes it worthwhile to at least give him a hearing.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting but I think ultimately misleading parallel for one key reason; Pompey won.

Victory in Iraq might have made someone like Tommy Franks a national hero and possible presedential candidate. Failure means that, while many unattractive people get their snots in the trough and make a lot of money, the key outcome is the discrediting of the president and to a lesser extent the other individuals and institutions complicity in the failure. Iraq is not going to generate a figure analagous to successful roman proconsuls like Pompey, Sulla or Caesar. The Romans were pretty harsh on unsuccessful leaders, the US will just vote for someone else.

NoOne said...

Tony Fisk requested a transcript of Keith Olbermann's stunning monologue on the suspension of habeas corpus.

While this source is not authoritative, it matches up well. From

Anonymous said...

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those of us who do learn from history are doomed to say "I told you so!".

They tell you that history repeats itself. What they don't tell you that the first time it's a tragedy, the second time it's a farce.

History does not repeat itself. Historians repeat each other.

One of the lessons of history is that we do not learn the lessons of history.

Don Quijote said...

There is a much simpler explanation for the Bush disaster, the American people wanted something for nothing!

He is but the symptom of the American disease (ignorance, arrogance and greed) and not the disease.

Tony Fisk said...

Thank You NoOne.

As you say, Stefan, Olbermann is firing on all cylinders (and how could you not, with stuff like this to rail against?!)

Quoting one piece from the transcript:

If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" -- exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this Attorney General is going to help you?

Coincidentally, here's one way of tackling this: Tracking Hasan Elahi. It could have come straight out of 'The Transparent Society'!

But of course, if you no longer have the right to ask 'Why am I here?', then why would they bother going to the effort of finding out?

(You are here because you deserve to be. Now confess!)

DQ: the aspirations of 300 million people summarised in one sentence?


Tony Fisk said...

Totally off-topic, another (minor) Earth hit: 'Blur-weave camouflage'
Experts create invisibility cloak

Blake Stacey said...

When the "invisibility cloak" becomes as effective as the Ghost in the Shell thermoptic camouflage, then you'll get my attention! ;-)

And while the political lamp and predictive hit LED are switched on, check out Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and their take on "sequestered science". From Effect Measure:

"The processes used to maintain secrecy are easily abused, and the institutional tools and imperatives that hide data are stronger than those that promote data sharing," writes SKAPP Director David Michaels, PhD in the issue's foreword.

Michaels cites tobacco and asbestos as "the best known and most tragic examples of data sequestration contributing to public health disasters" and adds Merck's slanted interpretation of Vioxx clinical trial data to the list of cases in which a lack of transparency had widespread fatal consequences.

Michaels's proposal, for a "Sarbanes-Oxley for Science," involves mechanisms to ensure that scientific information provided to the public and regulatory agencies is accurate and complete, much as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals attempts to ensure the accuracy of financial information. Scientists who reveal information improperly hidden from regulators would also receive whistleblower protections.

Articles available via the SKAPP website include S. Jasanoff's "Transparency in Public Science: Purposes, Reasons, Limits" and "The People's Agent: Executive Branch Secrecy and Accountability in an Age of Terrorism" by Shapiro and Steinzor. I've barely had time to scratch the surface tension, but it looks like there's some good stuff in there.

Rob Perkins said...
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Rob Perkins said...

This is the official Olbermann transcript.

Honestly, though, do you really think he's saying anything new? After all the comments in all the weeks since, I dunno, all the time he's been on the air, the only thing conservatives will really do (if they're watching at all) is say something like, "Oh he's so cuuuuuuuute when that vein pops out on his neck!"

Anonymous said...

A format comment, rather than a topical one.

David, would you feel comfortable breaking your long posts into shorter, more specific ones? I know it is pandering to those of us who are attention-challenged, but I think it would make the blog more readable.

It also lets the comment thread on each of the ideas be more focused.

By the way, nice show (which I finally watched). Team worked well together, some very sharp ideas. The parasitic elevator was excellent. As someone who does a lot of creative problem solving professionally, it's fun!

Anonymous said...

Is Olbermann really saying something new?

No, not really.

That doesn't make his message wrong, or unnecessary.

* * *

Shit, meet fan:

Court Told It Lacks Power in Detainee Cases

'Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

In a notice dated Wednesday, the Justice Department listed 196 pending habeas cases, some of which cover groups of detainees. The new Military Commissions Act (MCA), it said, provides that "no court, justice, or judge" can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future.'

David Brin said...

Tony re: Blur-weave camo... wow! Have you put this on the Earth Wiki?

Notice I called it blur, not invisibility. I really liked Predator for that reason.

DonQ, you really are an archetype. Um... WHICH America are you talking about? The Old Union and the Coasts and the cities did not elect these people... except for those traitors in Ohio and Indiana, who seem to have forgotten what colors their forebears wore in the first round of this Civil War.

People, keep noticing this weird reflex on the left to DEFEND Bush & co as nothing special or to get worked up about! It is one of the more fascinating epiphenomena to emerge from all this. What they fear most is an awakening of sincere American Goldwater conservatives, joining the revolution.

But they can sigh relief. Apparently, that ain't gonna happen. The stereotypes are safe.

Blake: In Earth, "sequestration" has a somewhat different meaning. It is a positive thing, like patents and copyrights, devised to lure secret holders partly into the open. They can pay a fee and sequester "secrets" for various lengths of time, and then be safe from prosecution for Actual and Significant Secrecy (A.S.S.) But sequestered secrets may be viewed by specially licensed Fair Witnesses who can advise about long-term consequences.

Andrea: I'd like to break up my posts. But I promised my wife to only post twice a week (except maybe near elections!) Also, some I like to leave up a few days, if I feel they are important. But your advice is heeded. I'll ponder.

What I really need is to get some decent blogware and design a better site based at SOmeday... when not swamped.

Thanks re the "ArchiTechs!" Spread word about the prime time showing! November 1 at 8pm!

Rob, Olbermann has put the challenge square. Conservatives who ignore their duty are not ONLY lesser men than the liberals of 1947. They are also dooming conservatism.


Anybody want to see a wide-ranging “Tech Talk” that Sheldon Brown & I delivered at Google HQ on October 17, 2006. That's the same day my Holocene patent issued! View the presentation at: (Manyother topics were also covered in: "Methods of 21st Century Problem-Solving.")

I see that right after our talk, Google shares are pushing the $500 mark. I feel personally responsible for this.

Rob Perkins said...

a) He's arguing hyperbole, which is fine. He's actually quite very eloquent with it and his examples are intelligent.

b) Every *single* example he cited was reversed by the people. The pendulum swung back.

c) He's on MSNBC. Six people watch that. (Though, to be fair, it looks like he has an entertaining format. I may begin to watch, if only to compare how long it takes me to get tired of him the way I got tired of O'Reilly.)

d) Because his stuff was picked up and trumpeted far and wide by exactly the people conservatives already reflexively ignore for crying wolf all the time about a man they hate because he won a greater percentage of electors than he did popular votes, conservatives reflexively ignore him. Or types like Hannity reflexively strawman him, corrupting the message.

e) He committed an *egregious* fallacy, conflating what Bush says about newsmen with what he says about terrorists right at the beginning of his missive. There is no excuse for that.

Anonymous said...

DB said: "Destruction of our military readiness, our financial footing, our social cohesion, any connection between government and science, our leadership standing with allies, , our popularity across the world. All wrecked, smoldering in near-total ruin."

I'd disagree that our military readiness is "destroyed" - distracted and tied up is more like it.

Leadership and popularity, they consider irrelevant - we can go it alone.

As to the rest, I don't think they really see the problems they're creating. Their cronies are doing great - so where's the problem?

Social cohesion? They got the Presidency and both houses didn't they - how cohesive can you get?

Science? - science is fine, as long as it stays within boundaries set by religion.

And one you didn't mention - Civil rights? If you're a good citizen, you don't need "rights" - you can trust them to do right by you...

Anonymous said...

I second the motion for better blogging software. I mean, what we really need is better-than-blogging software, but unless someone is willing to make Earth a self-fulfilling prophecy, I don't know when that will happen.

Don Quijote said...

DonQ, you really are an archetype. Um... WHICH America are you talking about? The Old Union and the Coasts and the cities did not elect these people... except for those traitors in Ohio and Indiana, who seem to have forgotten what colors their forebears wore in the first round of this Civil War.

Excuse me, but the civil war ended over a hundred and fifty years ago.

The people who voted in this Congress and this Senate (you know that Legislative branch that keeps rolling over in front of the Executive Branch, you know the branch that just made Habeus Corpus a quaint relic of the past, that made Torture and Disapearance legal) came from all of the fifty states of these United States.

People, keep noticing this weird reflex on the left to DEFEND Bush & co as nothing special or to get worked up about!

I got plenty worked up about it, but after watching the Dems lose the 2002 election after the Florida Judicial Coup, the 2004 election despite the fact that the Democratic Candidate was a "REAL WAR HERO" and not some AWOL guardsman, and now expecting them to lose the next Election, I figure the American Public is getting what it deserves.

It is one of the more fascinating epiphenomena to emerge from all this.

The most ascinating epiphenomena to emerge from all this, is "the small goverment, don't thread on me conservatives" roll over in front of Bush and give him every thing he has asked for.

What they fear most is an awakening of sincere American Goldwater conservatives, joining the revolution.

I have no such fear, there aren't any!

DQ: the aspirations of 300 million people summarised in one sentence?


Actually it's the aspirations of 6 Billion people, it's just that most of them aren't stupid/ignorant enough to believe that they can get it, unlike the 50 odd million who voted for Shrub in 2000 and 2004.

Don Quijote said...

What happened in Rome cannot happen here because we have a communications system far superior to that of the Roman Empire, technologies that allow people to thwart tyranny.

It is happening here.

And our propaganda sysytems are also far superior to anything the Romans had, not to mention our surveillance technology.

If the government became a tyranny, there would be rebellion.
Tell that to Jose Padilla.

It would be fought on many fronts. There would be multiple attacks over the internet. There would be multiple militia groups turning against the government.

I am still waiting...

There would be outside (other-national) pressure against such a dictatorship. An American Tyranny is something that the world does not want... because if one or even a few people controls this country... without a means of removing that person from power... it's too great a threat. One person could easily destroy the world.

And there is, why do you think NK & Iran are trying to get Nukes, Chavez is undermining the US in Latin America, France is tying up the US up in knots at the UN and China and Russia are blocking all of our moves in Central Asia.

Anonymous said...

Vote Anti-Incumbent this November - it's the ONLY form of message that the politicians really care about.

jomama said...

Limit your sources of information to those who strongly agree with you and tolerate no dissent whatsoever.

The "Eternal" Means with which to keep all well-endowed institutions alive and stupid.

Of course, that doesn't apply to institutions subject to market forces.

Now, the rest of you can continue splitting the proverbial hairs here.

Mark said...

The current political environment is nothing like the Civil War continued. After all, if the South wanted to secede from the Union today no one would stop them....

Anonymous said...

The present red/blue conflict goes back even beyond the Civil War. The fundamental question is who will govern the people, "the people themselves" vs "a worthy few who know best for all".

Since the Civil War eliminated the possibility of escape from the Union, the focus has moved away from attempts to defend "States Rights" - now commonly considered wholly subject to federal approval - to who will control the federal government.

I think mostly as an outcome of the Civil War, the Blue States (urban, industrial, modern) have wielded the most influence over the federal government, imposing their moral views on the Red States - such things as protection of black voting and legal rights, anti-discrimination laws, abortion rights, teaching of evolution, prohibition of religion in the schools, UN/WTO/globalism, etc.

The Blues can hardly fault the Reds for getting organized to seize political power and impose their views, after the Blues have so long had their way and imposed their moral views.

I thought one scene from the "Red State" movie was especially eloquent - where the interviewer asks if a store owner should be allowed decide not to sell to a person (meaning a minority), and the woman says the owner absolutely should have the right, on the grounds of property rights.

That perspective is so alien to the interviewer, that he is literally dumb-founded - unable to decide how to respond. He is so accustomed to thinking of his point of view as the only moral and right point of view, that it's as if someone had said "Of course God is evil" to a Christian who had up to that moment considered the other person pleasant and sane, if perhaps a bit odd.

Lest someone mistake the above as me opposing the list of things the Blues have imposed on the Reds, I should say that I'm in favor of the outcomes of those impositions - but not their imposition by federal law.

If Blues truly wish to disarm the Reds, they should look at turning back to a limited States Rights position. Allow any state to overrule federal regulation, provided the state is able to institute that via a state constitutional ammendment based on at least a 60% majority in a popular vote referendum.

So if California wished to legalize marijuana, or Missouri wished to outlaw teaching of evolution, it could. Place some things off limits - equal legal rights before the law and probably civil rights laws, and of course the few powers actually granted the federal government by the US Constitution.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

As much as I love this conspiracy theory (and it is one of my favorite), it does have one serious flaw. While it is true that much of American military and intelligence policy under Bush has fit nicely with discrediting US standing, one major aspect of the war does not align at all with Mecca's interests in the region (contrast with the war of Bush père): Iran.

Indeed, the war has probably been a bigger, relative, boon to Tehran than anyone. So your theory has made its first testable prediction. If there is a competent, intelligent, (treasonous) motivation behind US policy then that requires the rhetoric against Iran to result in action.

Of course, a repeat of the Iraq fiasco with the neighbor could always be attributed to further incomeptence, but it would truly narrow the cui bono of this administration down to Al Saud.

Rob Perkins said...

TB, one of the things which the Civil War actually didn't solve was whether a State has the right of secession. Two States, the Republic of California and the Republic of Texas, were admitted into the Union under terms which permit them full rights of secession, I'm told.

And frankly I think any State may still secede. I don't know that I have much confidence in today's federal government or any remaining loyalist States to invade to bring them back into the Union.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin said, I give up. I always get a slap on the wrist from some of you for going here. I do it in hope that some mid-level (but brilliant) counter-intelligence officer at CIA will read these things, and get an idea... and save us all by finally connecting the dots.

Actually. I hope for something else even more.

I hope, desperately, that I am wrong.

First, don’t give up. You know how reliable a motivator despair is!

Second, I don’t buy into a conspiracy theory -- conspiracies are too hard to maintain. Besides, I honestly believe that President Bush is trying to do the right thing.

I suspect what we’re seeing instead is a very well executed attack on America by someone who knows our weaknesses. We have a planning window that’s even shorter than the election cycle. We have just about zero understanding of history, and we have zero understanding of other perspectives and cultures.

So if I were an enemy of the United States, I’d launch a frontal assault that would require a military response knowing that such an event would consume the voters’ attention -- and the government’s as well. I would continue to feed the US bad intelligence (wasn’t it the exiled Iraqis US who were instrumental in convincing the us and world that Iraq still had WMDs? And why haven’t we captured bin Laden yet? Bad intelligence.) to keep us confused. Supposedly, our human intelligence network is still a bit thin from an over reliance on technology. We sift data to draw conclusions; all someone has to do is understand the sifting methodology, and they could tailor the input data to affect the outcomes.

And while the US is fighting and confused, I’d launch a diplomatic attack to discredit her among other key nations -- using the fighting and confused parts as ammunition.

I really don’t know who’s behind the attack. It might just be terrorist elements. It might be several states. It’s probably a combination. The trouble is, the world situation is way too complex for easy mental models -- at least for me. Is the increasingly left-leaning governments in South America part of the plan, or a coincidence? Is the hijacking of Islam (a historically peaceful faith -- look who preserved the writing of the Greeks) a coincidence or part of the plan? Or even an exploited opportunity?

I think a comment you made in a previous post, Dr. Brin, nicely summed up how we need to approach this situation: 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.

It’s going to be hard as long as we’re embroiled in a right versus left thing, but we’ll see how this election goes. In my lifetime anyway, Republicans were always better as a minority party.

David Brin said...

Rob, I agree that the Civil War did not settle the secession issue. This is why I DEEPLY oppose accession of Puerto Rico to the US, unless they vote to join with 90% majority and swearing never ever to even try to secede.

But secession is not what Round Two of the Civil War is about, at all. It is the struggle of romanticism against modernism, written geographically. Read Mark Twain’s denunciation of Sir Walter Scott’s influence on the South. He knew the war was as much between a rising rural feudalism and urban modernism as it was about slavery. Likewise today, the Grey -- oops, red -- counties hate exactly the same things. And we must be almost as militant as our forebears were, in refusing to let them reject America’s role as Land of Tomorrow.

TC, you are eloquent. But you ignore a fundamental. When we were led by adults, we had no problem absorbing minor blows while striking genuine enemies efficient and devastatingly competent blows. Se my comparison of the Iraq and Balkan wars at:

Yes, we have enemies! I was among the first to predict the present situation:
But that is not the issue. The issue is whether we have leaders who BOTH want to win and can do so with more competence than a crypto-biotic tardigrade.

* Paranoid riff warning!: The “real and mature” David Brin is signing off. He is not responsible for what follows, which is being typed by the Sci Fi guy within. *

I agree that there may be puzzling imperfections to the subornation/competence theory -- perhaps better called a variant on the Manchurian Candidate (or Riyadhian Candidate?) Theory -- which suggests that today’s display of staggeringly incompetent statecraft may instead be explained as deliberate state ruination by traitors who are acting in direct service to a hostile foreign power.

(Funny how the same people who were only too happy to imagine such things when the purported conspiracy center was the Soviet KGB, now deem ANY such thought - even in rumination - to be absurd beyond legitimate consideration. Even though subornation of the leadership clade - using bribery, ideology and especially blackmail - has a tradition going back thousands of years.)

All right, Anonymous points out that the near perfect correlation is marred somewhat by the fact that there has been a second “big winner” across the last six years. Let’s ponder that.

Oh, no doubt a certain r’oil house has virtually appointed nearly every high level figure in this administration, especially in areas having to do with national security. (And, above all, in the services that might have done counter-intelligence correlations to reveal such patterns.)

And certainly there are no known cases of that house not benefiting from a relevant administration policy. These two facts combine very well with three others:

Means: a trillion petro dollars.

Motive: the most explicit and searing hatred of our culture possible, expressed relentlessly, from state propaganda down to the level of school textbooks.

Opportunity: to make us repeat the worst American mistake of the 20th Century? The one that divided and bankrupted and corrupted us? A chance just too rich to pass up.

Still Iran is troubling to the perfection of this sci fi paranoid fantasy. I mean, haven’t the mullahs over there benefitted almost as much as the r’oils? From skyrocketing petro prices to Condi’s insipid saber rattling, that deliberately threw the last Iranian election to the theocrats? And then there is the convenience of America off’ing their worst enemy, then turning Southern Iraq into a private Iranian satrapy.

Isn’t incompetence a better explanation for THAT? Why would we want Iran stronger? Anyway, doesn’t this fly in the face of the blatant “civil war” between Shia and Sunni Islam, that seems to be flaming out of control? Can the fantasy story-plot be salvaged?

Well, yes, in fact. If you consider one more possibility. That the Shia-Sunni fighting at the bottom layer... among the poor and ill-educated... is simply unimportant. Among the much calmer elites on both sides of the divide, you do not hear bile expressed toward the other sect. Indeed, there is much talk of restoring the “Uma” -- the pan Islamic state in which all such differences were quelled in favor of jihad against external enemies.

Consider what a gesture it would be, to tell the Iranian mullahs, “we’ll send the Americans to bring you gifts... many, many gifts. This will prove (1) our power over the Great Satan and (2) our good will to you. Let these gifts draw us together in common cause.”

(“While we let our peasants slaughter each other to maintain a mask of disunion that will lull our enemies, until it is too late”)

* Paranoid rant mode off. Hope you enjoyed the tale. Pray that it’s just a tale.*

Hope Muntz said...

Wow, I had no idea you were sort of famous. My friend Carlos says you wrote the book the movie 'The Postman' was made from--but I didn't think it was fair to judge you on the basis of that, so he loaned me the paperback, which I am one-half of the way through. I thought I'd read it in case I am being insulted by somebody like Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov ;) Being called names can be sexy sometimes--but only when the right person is doing it. Not that it would work with Arthur C. Clarke.

In the meantime, I gotta be honest with you..I'm not really sure what there is on this site that's appropriate for putting into a 'blook', as you say you are going to. Don't people pay for those? As I understand it, a blook is either a narrative like a novel, or a non-fiction series like 'Demon Wife' in Japan--either way, it seems to me that it's about people. And a story. In fact, I bet I could write a blook myself, and I've just this minute decided I will on my own blog site! Thanks for giving me the idea!

I double-dare you to come 'have a blook' sometime ;)

David Brin said...

Heh... thanks for having a thick skin, Hope. Your picture doesn't show a rhino hide at all ;-)

Drop further past and see my long essays on both Gerrymandering and (especially) "Modernism and its enemies."

Those are bookable.

Above all, see The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

Good luck.