Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Future History... and Past...

==On War==

Before moving over to a whole list of non-political (and fascinating) scientific and technological links, I would like to mention one that is both political and historically interesting. Some of you may recall that, upon reflecting on the madness of the Straussian neocons, I would occasionally lapse into a sigh: ”Ah, Alcibiades...” referring to the infamous polemicist who talked the democracy of Athens into pursuing one arrogant blunder after another, leading ultimately to the destruction of humanity’s first great experiment in democracy.

Well, at last, it seems I am no longer alone in making this historical comparison. Please do drop by the Globalist and see a brief but cogent comparison between “The Iraq War and the Sicilian Campaign” by Brent Ranalli. A stunning example of how historical ignorance can doom great nations to repeat the same mistakes, over and over again. (And, incidentally, how Plato and his followers keep plaguing civilization, dragging us down.)

==On Transparency==

"The Google Touch Graph Browser reveals the interconnected network structure of websites by using Google's database of related sites." Actually, I find the results puzzling and not entirely consistent with other visit-tracking software. For example, my site’s top region of visitors (same as everybody else) happens to be northern Virginia. (Gee, I wonder who that might be.) This is not reflected in Google Touch. Still, another interesting tool. And proof that we have no hope NOT to be tracked - in future. Our only hope is to be citizens who are sovereign and powerful enough to have no reason to fear being tracked.

Glancingly related... Get a First Life -- "A One Page Satire of Second Life"

--On the transparency front (mentioned before): “WikiLeaks is designed to allow anyone to post documents on the web without fear of being traced. The creators of the site are thought to include political activists and open-source software engineers, though they are keeping their identities secret. Their goal is to ensure that whistle-blowers and journalists are not thrown into jail for emailing sensitive documents.” Now to move on to my proposed Henchman’s Law....

--And more on the proliferation of “eyes.” At the 211 ft tall Akron Airdock hangar that once housed a fleet of Goodyear blimps, the High Altitude Airship, or HAA, is being built by Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors. Try to get the useful bits from the following clip by a reporter who is obviously scientifically clueless:

“...$40 million contract from the Missile Defense Agency to build HAA in 2003. It is essentially another blimp. A giant one. Seventeen times the size of the Goodyear dirigible. It's designed to float 12 miles above the earth, far above planes and weather systems. It will be powered by solar energy, and will stay in a geocentric orbit for up to a year, undetectable by ground-based radar. You can't see it from the ground. But it can see you.”

According to a summary released by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, the HAA can watch over a circle of countryside 600 miles in diameter. That's everything between Toledo and New York City. And they want to build 11. With high-res cameras, that could mean constant surveillance of every square inch of American soil.”

And yes, Mr. Transparency is interested. In fact, see riffs on this in my next novel. (“Geosynchronous orbit”? Ooooog.)

In "Casino Royale," the latest James Bond movie, Bond is implanted with a microchip that allows headquarters to track his whereabouts and monitor his vital signs. If cybernetics experts are right, the day will come when most people are implanted with chips - and the real-life chips will do a lot more than Bond's does.

A proposal currently before congress would force bloggers and online grassroots activists to register and regularly report their activities to Congress. Keep an eye on this one.

==On Science==

--People who go on to have heart attacks have much shorter telomeres than those who remain healthy, a major new study has shown.

--How are memories formed? The question has perplexed scientists for years, but now it seems we're a step closer to solving it. The leading candidate is a process called long-term potentiation (LTP), in which the connections between individual brain cells get stronger the more often they are used, such as during learning.

Devin Murphy provided this one:

--SYDNEY (Reuters) - An anti-whaling group patrolling the Ross Sea off Antarctica has offered a $25,000 reward to any person or group that can provide coordinates of the Japanese whaling fleet operating in the area. The U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announced the reward in the midst of its "Operation Leviathan" mission to disrupt Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean....

--Spam, spyware, and viruses will drive smart computer users to dumber appliances like BlackBerrys, iPods,and Xboxes, says Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University. Themigration to closed systems will end innovation on the Internet, he claims.

--Researchers have developed an ultra-sensitive sensor that could potentially be housed in a handheld device. Within minutes, it can detect various viruses and measure their concentration. The sensor, which only requires a small sample of saliva, blood, or other body fluid, could be used to quickly screen people at hospitals and emergency clinics to control outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and the bird flu.

...enough for now...


Monday, January 29, 2007

Brin Classics: "The Jefferson Rifle"

I have been asked to post a few of my older riffs and rants... here online for a new generation to share and ponder.

I've been mulling which ones. Then the topic of the Second Amendment and gun control recently came up. Along with the observation that some liberals are starting to nurse fantasies of needing to be armed, themselves, in the era that they see coming down the road.

Of course, at one level, this topic is a special example of one of my frequent complaints, that many issues in modern life are artificially posed as either-or, zero-sum choices between one rigid position and another. I have always felt that Gun Control is especially tipe for "off-axis" compromise solutions. Indeed, it might make a great test for one of my Disputation Arenas. It also serves to demonstrate the poisonous effects that addiction to self-righteous indignation will always have upon intelligent, pragmatic discourse. But that's another topic.

For now (and with a present day afterword), let's go back to an article first written in 1992 and updated circa 1998...

==Guns and the Insurrection Myth==

The issue of guns in America is intransigent. True believers on both sides hold fixed positions, portraying their opponents in the darkest possible terms. Enforcement of the Brady Law has thwarted thousands of ex-cons and criminals from acquiring arms without seriously inconveniencing legitimate gun buyers, but this hasn’t led to a new era of pragmatic compromise.

Polls show that most Americans don’t wish to eliminate personal gun ownership, they simply want more accountability. In 1998, Attorney General Janet Reno made an apt parallel between firearms and automobiles. Both are potentially lethal devices, yet close to two hundred million drivers participate in a system of training, licensing, registration and regulation that results in remarkably low levels of injury, averaged over billions of human-hours on our roads. Despite drunk drivers, pollution, and traffic jams, motorists seem to handle their metal behemoths -- each car filled with flammable liquids -- for the most part courteously, reliably and with great skill.

We accept a state interest in demanding that all drivers be licensed and that all cars be registered and well-maintained. Why not apply similar standards to the other machines most responsible for premature, violent death in this country -- firearms? In California, where the DMV has lately acquired an astonishing reputation for good service, one could envision renaming it the “Department of Motor Vehicles and Firearms”. A hunting shotgun might be treated like a normal car. You want an AK-47? Then take as many tests -- and get as much insurance -- as a professional trucker who wants to drive an 18-wheeler. If your gun is stolen, report it like a missing auto. Fail to lock it up properly? Your insurance rates go up.

Unfortunately, as logical as all this sounds, it won’t ever be tried. Because it fails to address the underlying reason why NRA members resist even mild forms of gun control.

To understand why, try asking even moderate and reasonable gun owners about their underlying nightmare. They'll explain the scenario that drives them to sleepless anxiety is fear of confiscation. To a great many gun owners, any new law, however benign, is simply a step down the proverbial slippery slope, leading inevitably to seizure of all firearms by the state.

Activists on the other side are too quick to dismiss gun aficionados as macho know-nothings. In fact, many NRA members express a coherent philosophy based on a deeply American distrust of government, coupled with a belief that citizen firearm ownership may yet prove to be a bulwark against dictatorship, even as it was in Jefferson’s day.

Are they foolish to think this? Throughout history, there has been a tendency for governments to grow ever more remote and overbearing, until citizens face a choice between submission or rising to teach their would-be masters a lesson. Many on the left today forget that they once had insurrection fantasies of their own, back when Richard Nixon's paranoid agenda seemed bent on stripping political opponents of their rights. There has always been a notion, at the back of the American psyche, that our leaders don’t oppress us because they know we might fight back.

Of course, things were different in Jefferson's day, when a militia of musket-bearing farmers was nearly as well-equipped as a company of professional soldiers. Today, in contrast, how could any ragtag uprising of angry citizens hope to face a technological army, sent to quash a popular revolt? Yet consider -- how many cities could the dozen or so U.S. Army divisions hold and pacify against an angry, united and armed citizenry? One or two urban centers? Maybe three? Remember that the soldiers in those divisions, Americans themselves, might mutiny if ordered to blow up whole neighborhoods with cluster bombs. Certainly any urban rebellion would fail without support from the populace, but in case of a true mass rising, I'd put even money on the people.

No, I’m not arguing that this insurrection scenario is likely or plausible! Certainly we all pray to never see it tested. Those few who declare that it looms on the near horizon are, for the most part, out of touch with common sense.

My point is that the mere existence of such an option, no matter how remote, affects the basic power relationship between government and governed. Jefferson argued that an implicit threat of rebellion counterweighs the natural tendency of states to grab power. It can be argued that this hasn't changed in two hundred years.

Whatever its fallacies or merits, this rarely-discussed mythos is crucial to understanding why millions resist gun control in general, and weapon registration in particular. Innumerable gun owners are deeply convinced that their opponents' real agenda is to compile a comprehensive list of private weapons, so that some future bureaucracy will know exactly where to confiscate every firearm not already in state hands. Talk to them as I have, and don’t be too quick to call them crazy.

The Slippery Slope Syndrome poisons so many issues on the national agenda (e.g. abortion, sex education, the right-to-die.) Fear of an insidious erosion of liberty spurs obstinacy on all sides, thwarting the American genius at compromise. In the case of gun control, we might start toward a solution by noting what NRA members fear most about proposed regulations -- not the inconvenience or paperwork, but a long slide toward confiscation and eventual loss of a traditional (if perhaps illusory) insurrectionary recourse. As a nation, we should consider ways to allay their deep fears, while at the same time demanding action against a plague of firearm-related deaths.

==The Militia Rifle==

Here is a possible compromise, one of many. Moderate gun owners just might accept reforms that treat most personal weapons like motorcars -- including registration, mandatory training, licensing and insurance -- if they were also offered some surety against the dreaded slippery slope. This could consist of a grand compact permanently setting aside one class of firearms from oversight.

Traditional bolt-action rifles and simple shotguns are rarely used by criminals, impulse murderers, or children. They are hard to conceal, slow to reload, difficult to bring to bear in close quarters, and not much help to hit-men or muggers. They have produced victims, to be sure, including some famous ones. Still, these basic firearms wreak havoc at a minuscule rate compared to the carnage spread by other weapons favored by criminals for concealment and rapid fire. They are also the firearms most appropriate for hunting, target shooting and home defense.

Oh , there is one more place where the bolt-action rifle proved itself -- on the battlefield. It was the primary weapon of most armies in both world wars. One criminal using such a rifle can be taken out by any SWAT team. But events in Bosnia and Chechnya have shown that it takes artillery and bloody-minded ruthlessness to root out large bands of dedicated neighbors, supporting and covering each other with hunting rifles.

If matters ever reached total civil war in America, with napalm and carpet bombing, a civilian militia would crumble, no matter how well armed. But in a borderline case, where soldiers and commanders refuse to stomach bombarding citizens, ten thousand men and women with simple rifles just might force a tyrant to negotiate. Maybe. At least it’s a scenario believed by millions.

Okay, such talk about protecting a citizen’s right to a “militia rifle” may sound romantic -- even bizarre to some -- but radicals on the other side are just as quixotic to imagine they will ever rid this society of all personal weapons. Nothing is more likely to cause civil war in America than a full bore effort to achieve a total ban. Neither side has a monopoly on unreasonableness.

Perhaps we should try listening to each others’ fears, instead of simply ridiculing our opponents. It may be the only way to move beyond slippery slopes and silly extreme-scenarios toward the kind of pragmatic problem-solving that we are best known for in the world.

One thing is certain -- the present situation is intolerable. We need a compromise on gun control. If moderate gun owners will accept a constitution-level guarantee, keeping the least harmful class of weapons - a militia rifle - unregistered and forever safe from confiscation, we might finally see automobile-style regulation of handguns, semi-automatics and the other true engines of death that make life needlessly perilous in a decent civilization.


AFTERWORD January 2007:Of course this was written in an earlier, somewhat more innocent age. A time when it was the far-right wingnut jobs who spoke of “black helicopters” and not regular joe soldiers in Iraq, whispering about “Blackwater Helicopters.” A time when the Army Reserves and National Guard were still in their homes, at their jobs, training on weekends and fulfilling the “well-ordered militia” role, instead of being squandered in a foreign adventure, leaving us all wondering what stands between us and peril, if a surprise disaster hits. A time before power began consolidating so heavily among a few thousand golf buddies, that the actual “aristocratic control ratio” may soon be worse than it was when the Founders rebelled against King George and his cronies.

Under those circumstances, might any decent person... even a liberal... ponder a fresh view of the “insurrectionary recourse,” at least in fantasy?

It bears pondering, and not just by liberals and moderates. The top aristos may want to start wondering... do they really want to head down a path that starts to alienate... and even radicalize... a well-armed and super-educated middle class? Over the long run, is that really smart or wise?

ADDED NOTE April 2013:

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, I saw a lot of traffic on this page and decided at supplement some further thoughts.

First, while I have expressed some sympathy for the "slippery slope" fears of NRA-folk, I think they should consider whether to stick to basing all of their hopes upon an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  They almost never recite or mention the first 12 words of the amendment, which appear to put is under considerable ambiguity. Consider if the national mood changed in the wake of some awful events. Some court could drive a bulldozer through the opening offered by those 12 words.

It has already happened.  In the wake of recent mass-shootings, Colorado -- rootin'-tootin, gun-packing Colorado -- just passed some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. The same thing will occur in other states, each time some nearby tragedy rocks and traumatizes the mothers of a region. There is a "ratchet effect" boys and girls, and it does not turn in your favor.  You need a stopgap.  A much better one than the ambiguous Second Amendment.

My "militia rifle" proposal offers you a new amendment.  One that can be couched in clear, unambiguous language that stops any slippery slope dead.  And it would pass!  Liberals would leap to give it to you, if in exchange they could start treating other guns like cars. 

Worth pondering.

David Brin

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More Catching Up (political)

Still playing catchup, with a pile of accumulated items to post. This time, the political lamp is lit.

I am a member of a Philanthropy Round Table Discussion group that tends to have a bit of a Republican tilt. Nothing wrong with that. It only goes to show that there are still a great many very decent conservatives. Yes, there tends to be a rather frantic tone, nowadays. Even those who admit that something has gone wrong with the right, find it terribly hard (human nature) to admit just HOW far wrong things have gone... or how much needs to be done, in order for a decent conservatism to save its soul from having allied with monsters.

One thing you see nowadays (discussed under commentary, beneath the previous posting) is the way many decent conservatives rationalize that "liberals" aren't much better than the neoconservative monsters. There then ensues a slist of "liberal" traits that are caricatures, at best. Or else clear examples of conflating "liberal" with "leftists."

One of my chief projects is to encourage people to distinguish clearly between these two terms! While the "left" may be statists, and nosy and politically correct and somewhat socialist/pinko, it is worth noting that these dogmatists are NOT in command of a political party or any major levers of power in the USA. The Democratic Party, led by modernist-pragmatist-liberals like Nancy Pelosi and (yes) the Clintons, is not some Janus twin to the neocon-dominated GOP. The difference betwen the two is not left-right, but rather future vs past.

Yes, many people who visit this blog have heard me say this before... even ad nauseum. But I believe that it is terribly important to keep hammering it home. If the dogmatic left could be exiled to the margins by the fall of Communism, then decent conservatives need to be shown that it is their duty to do the same thing to the "right". A right-wing that has metastacized, turned cancerous, and gone completely mad.

Here is a riff that may sound a bit familiar to some of you, that I shared on the roundtable today.

Those who portray government as somehow an intrinsic enemy of market productivity/creativity/fecundity tend to be people who know (or let themselves see) human history.

The romantic-libertarian notion that "market laws are natural laws" simply flies in the face of the way 99% of humansocieties organized themselves. In those cultures, elites of both power and mysticism colluded to ensure that free markets would NOT happen. Following simple darwinian logic -- seen in all species on Earth -- they applied both force and culture to ensure themselves reporoductive advantage (wealth, power, access to mates) at the expense of other people.

This predatory scenario especially manifested whenever a society got both metals and agriculture, where big guys with metal implements quickly took other mens' women and wheat... and nerds in spangled cloaks then hopped around singing fables and incantations, telling the poor how GOOD the social order was! Ah, Joseph Campbell.

Still, humanity did make glacial progress and a tipping point was reached with the Enlightenment. Several factors: American democracy, Adam Smith's persuasive theories of commerce, rising education and the productive leverage of machinery began having multiplier effects, making social mobility a desideratum that pushed back against the age-old driver of natural human predation.

It was difficult. Markets were not, are not and never were "natural". EVERY generation featured attempted aristocratic or kleptocratic coups. It took ferocious intervention - often on the part of governments - to regaulate markets to a point where elites could not easily do WHAT THEY OTHERWISE WILL ALWAYS DO... act to cheat, manipulate market rules and forces in secret, steal and stifle the ability of others to compete.

Markets are not natural, but they do seem to have many traits of what we in complexity theory call "emergent properties"... they have a capability of "taking off" spectacularly, leveraging knowledge and capital in ways that Marx only began to grasp, but that Hayek seemed to understand quite well.

Alas, libertarians of the romantic wing are able to hypnotize themselves to ignore the myriad blatant ways that the trait of cheating-by-elites is inherent and inevitable to human nature, or the ways in which a well-run and democratically supervised, open and transparent government can vitally counterbalance this human trend... though again, with the proviso (difficult) that government must be used right. It is simply psychotic that so many market-mystics disparage universal public education, for example, in having vastly stimulated the creation of a vast modern middle class. Yes, that public education system is now creaking at the seams, unable to respond to new demands/circumstances. But to ignore its role in reifying markets in the past is simply loopy.

Likewise, the effects of the GI Bill which, after WWII, utterly transformed the socio-political landscape, at least in white America, creating the "diamond-shaped" social order and the flattest wealth distribution in the history of the world, in which for the first time, a majority of millionaires actually made their fortunes through the method of providing innovative goods and services, instead of cheating or inheritance.

All you have to do is imagine what the "first liberal" would say, if he were here today. Adam Smith would look around at today's increasingly warped markets, today's rising wealth-disparities and "re-pyramidalization" of the social order, the rise in secrecy and secret influence, in kleptocratic handshake insider deals and so on... and he would recognize the old enemy, in the flesh.

He would denounce it.

Adam Smith knew the fundamental truth that we have forgotten (having grown up worried about communism)... a fundamental fact that the bigtime aristos of the Right do not want us to remember. That free markets have always had one paramount class of enemy, across 6,000 years. These enemies were not "levellers" or socialists. Rather, in 99% of cultures, free and fecund markets were ruined by "cronies of the king." Precisely the same cheaters who Smith railed against in Wealth of Nations".

There can be no question that today Adam Smith would be a democrat.

The only question is whether the democrats - hypnotized by their own cliches - would have the good sense to welcome him and recognize the "first liberal" as one of their own.

Clearing the political backlog: here are a few more itms of possible interest.

A riff from Russ Daggatt:

“[This impending escalation brings to mind a software engineering principle called Brooks' Law: "Adding manpower to a late project makes it later."]

“The policy has never really been in doubt for students of George Bush. “Winning” in Iraq for Bush means “running out the clock” and handing the problem off to his successor. Then he, and his right-wing apologists, can forever argue that Bush was Churchillian in his stoic determination for “victory” in Iraq , but that it was only the weakness of his successor’s resolve that led to our “defeat”. If Bush pulls out now, the historical verdict will be clear and indisputable – his war was a miserable failure. As with everything else, it is all about Bush.”

And he gets scarier: ”With the crash of Rove's game plan for using his presidency as an instrument to leverage a permanent Republican majority, Bush is abandoning the role of political leader. He can't disengage militarily from Iraq because that would abolish his identity as a military leader, his default identity and now his only one. Unlike the political leader, the commander in chief doesn't require persuasion; he rules through orders, deference and the obedience of those beneath him. By discarding the ISG report, Bush has rejected doubt, introspection, ambivalence and responsibility. By embracing the AEI manifesto, he asserts the warrior virtues of will, perseverance and resolve.”

Cogent and insightful... and yet again dependent upon the assumption that these people are ONLY stupid, dogmatic, greedy and crazy. But I must suggest (again) that there are other possible explanations. A bit more far-out, but no less plausible or consistent with the (outrageous) facts.)

Cheney goes from Halliburton to the White House. Gale Norton goes from Secretary of the Interior to Shell Oil. Condi Rice goes from the board of Chevron to National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. The chief of staff of the White House council on environment quality leaves and goes to ExxonMobil (after watering down reports on Global Warming). Imagine if a fraction of what we are spending in Iraq was spent on re-tooling Detroit ? Not only could we wean ourselves off gasoline in a hurry, but we would make our auto industry vastly more competitive in the process. But clearly that is the very thing to oppose.

We need to get our hands on the report, just released by the PNNL (Battelle), claiming that, if all Americans owned Plugin Hybrid Vehicles today, our current electrical grid could provide 84% of the energy necessary for car transport.This needs attention and wide distribution.

And yes, now we see some major corporations and even some evangelical Christians breaking ranks with the troglodytes over global climate change. Even the Bush Admin is starting to make perfunctory noises about "needing to do something."

After mahlf a genration playing total obstruction. On the wrong side of yet another major issue. Do they honestly think we will let them pretend - as they now do with pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls - that they were "on the right side all along"?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Both the Right and Left Have Gone Quite Mad!

I got a little carried away with this one... forgive its length. I do type fast.

There’s been discussion of a fascinating article in The Observer (January/07) by a prominent columnist, Nick Cohen, describing how he was brought up is a typical, fiercely leftist British home and had always thought himself a ‘man of the left’... but that dogma-drift had gradually changed the political landscape so much that - he now concludes - the “left” doesn’t even know what it stands for, anymore. For example, he finds it discomforting that the one defining reflex is opposition to American policy, even if that often means reflexively excusing or ignoring horrific fascist or fundamentalist tyrants.

--“at none of the demonstrations in hundreds of cities did you see banners or hear speeches denouncing Saddam Hussein. If this was 'the left' on the march, it was the new left of the 21st century, which had abandoned old notions of camaraderie and internationalism in favour of opposition to the capricious American hegemony. They didn't support fascism, but they didn't oppose it either, and their silence boded ill for the future.”
He describes a few deep thinkers, who have lately called for pause and reflection. But then adds --

“Most people, myself included, are not like Ariel Dorfman. In moments of political passion, we are single-mindedly and simple-mindedly sure of our righteousness. From the day of the marches on, liberal leftish politicians and intellectuals kept up a vehement and slightly panicky insistence that they were right and their goodness was beyond question.”

(Of course, this is deeply related to my own riffs about how self-righteous indignation may be a veritable addiction, a bona fide, scientifically-verifiable, self-induced “drug high.”

whatsleftI’d like to comment on the piece in the Observer. Nick Cohen is a capable thinker who appears openminded enough to notice discomforting discrepancies that are inherent in a left-right so called “political axis” that was already deeply misleading way back when it was first invented, as a lobotomizing curse, by the French during their maladroit and bloody revolution of 1789. He rightly points out that dogmatic members of both the “left” and the “right” no longer even try to define their movements, other than to wave vaguely at some hated Other and shout “I’m against THEM!”

This reflex has resulted in the appalling situation that we now see, in which the left-liberal alliance rightfully despises the insane, deceitful and monstrous behavior of the current Bush Administration, but allows no subtlety or nuance into this opposition. Obeying what can only be called a spasmodic reflex, the European left, especially, has adopted a party line policy of “the enemy of my enemy must be my friend.” Hence, as Cohen cogently describes, the euroleft takes sides with - or at least shrugs off - modern fascist and theocratic bullies like Saddam, the Iranian mullahs and Al Quaeda, along with anyone else who shares the simple qualification of being anti-American.

The euroleft is certainly not alone in this kind of “dogmatic drift.” Indeed, the crazed American neoconservative movement is far worse, having failed to even blink or blush over a myriad hypocritical reversals. For example, switching:

- from opposing “wasteful and poorly-planned utopian adventures in so-called nation building”... over to squandering a nation’s prestige, budget, readiness, alliances and countless lives, trying to “plant democracy” in the rockiest soil imaginable,

- from demanding balanced budgets... to excusing fiscal hemorrhage,

- from preaching for less government... to vastly augmenting its intrusive power,

- from demanding accountability... to prodigiously expanding secrecy and excusing any questionable or illegal action as a pure presidential prerogative...

...and so on, through an astounding array of rationalized absolutions, exonerating foul offenses against decent governance, the smallest of which would have sent them screaming, if it had been perpetrated by Bill Clinton.

The real lesson from all of this is not that some “other side” indulges in loony self justification and contorted logic. It is actually far more general than that.

What we appear to be seeing is an upsurge in delusional behavior all across the benighted and ill-defined “political spectrum.” Moreover, as a rare adult, Nick Cohen is perfectly right to focus on this phenomenon where it comes closest to home, where it presumably hurts most, displayed by the friends and colleagues he knows best, in the European left. Especially, he questions the automatic reflex by which all world phenomena are judged, according to whether something or somebody stands up to oppose the demonic influence of Pax Americana in the world.

This reflex does not have to be a controlling, or a litmus test for 21st Century liberalism. Take the European territories that most recently experienced genuine tyranny, in the former Warsaw Block and in the Balkans, where gratitude toward NATO propels a little more subtlety of thinking, including a mature willingness to separate (mentally) one U.S. administration from another.

Indeed, the euro-left could have skewered the horrific cabal of George W. Bush - which a majority of Americans has already repudiated - far more effectively by pointing to the ways that it has aided and abetted fascist regimes, in complete violation of the better traditions of America.

Take the Great Betrayal of 1991, in which Bush’s father, supported by Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, called upon the Shiite majority of Iraq to rise up against their fascist tyrant, Saddam Hussein, amid the fighting to oust him from Kuwait. “We’re on our way!” promised Bush Senior’s infamous radio broadcasts, that provoked insurrections across the entire southern half of that unhappy land, among people who confidently expected U.S. forces to liberate them soon, as those forces were doing for the oil sheiks.

Bush’s outrageously vile and cynical reneging on that promise, recalling the troops just hours short of Basra and thereafter doing everything to prop Saddam back in power, was one of the most foul and pungent stains ever to disgrace American honor, at a time when the southern Shiites would have greeted U.S. forces with “kisses and flowers.” Subsequent bitterness over that betrayal is a seldom-mentioned but fundamental driver of today’s bilious hatred expressed by Iraqi Shiites toward American occupation forces, yea, even among those who were glad to be rid of Saddam’s yoke, at last.

How easy it might have been for the left to take up this betrayal as a banner issue, both accepting the fall of a fascist monster as a good thing and denouncing the entire Bush family-trust as a pack of immoral, cynical, short-sighted and hypocritical morons, unqualified to lead either a great nation or western civilization. Certainly unqualified to preach to anyone about Saddam Hussein.

(Lest there be any doubt of a clear pattern, take a look at the chief beneficiaries of Bush Administration policies. The true winners of this “utopian exercise in democratic nation building” have been the Saudi Royal House and the mullahs of Iran -- the latter of whom no longer fear any democratic uprising by the nation’s pro-western youth. Those youth having been driven into the mullahs’ arms by relentless Condoleezan saber-rattling.)

There are so many ways that the european left (and its more tepid fellow travelers in North America) could have distinguished between a monstrous administration and America in general, thus finding a way to oppose BOTH fascist dictators AND a malignant imperium. But it is the nature of dogmatists that they cannot observe subtle distinctions. Cohen is courageous to risk many friendships by pointing out this deep flaw.

Alas, it is also where Cohen really needs to go back to school and do more serious re-thinking. For the defects that vex him go far beyond politics of the moment, or even the French Curse -- that maniacally bonkers metaphor, the “left-right axis”

What it is actually all about is something much deeper, a set of flaws in human nature that make “zero-sum” minds incapable of recognizing the complexity of a modern world that was built - despite every impediment - largely by “positive sum” workers who embrace the gifts - the emergent properties - of the Enlightenment with eager arms.

The latter group can recognize the many faults of modernity, but they think differently about how to solve them. Often, the positive-sum approach involves attempting to deal with issues one at a time, sometimes in sincere negotiation with rivals, trying to find common purpose, a way to bridge chasms in order to get important changes made. This approach seems so alien to the zero sum mind set that they can only perceive it in terms of traits like “tepidness” or wishy-washy compromise, instead of the pragmatic progressivism that has actually wrought every decent improvement in the world.

Indeed, these two personality types think so differently that, I suggest, it is almost as if two different species occupy this world.

The discomfort that Cohen feels is one that I can sympathize with. He is a positive-sum thinker embedded in a zero-sum community. Like so many decent American conservatives who now blink in confused dismay at the bilious unreasonableness of those who have taken over their movement, he stares at a similar plague of mindless rage on the left, feeling torn between revulsion and lingering, nostalgic loyalty to a dream that once had some basic beauty and appeal.

I have wished that some of the best of the conservative intelligencia would do as Nick Cohen has done, stand up and recognize that the “sides” in this critical century are not left-right, but forward vs backward, whether to concentrat on problem-solving or slide into dogmatism, anti-modernism, indignation-addiction and hate.

Alas, I see very few conservatives with even a shred of the brains or integrity of - say - Barry Goldwater, who engaged in precisely this kind of re-evaluation, before he died. The left is a little better, though not enough. The best that can be said for that movement is that it currently has no power... and that many “liberals” are able to see the madness on their side.

Cohen should come over to join us neo-modernists, because it is futile -- and it will always be futile -- to try explaining to non-zero types that their indignantly addictive purity and passion are anything less than perfect, sacred. And right.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Space Funding, Nanotechnology and World Health

Time to do a quick update of ancillary matters. All sorts of misc stuff.

"The Administration is cutting missions of scientific space exploration and research to pay for space transportation," stated Louis Friedman of The Planetary Society. As always, under these guys, science is the big loser. Does anybody see a pattern? Please feel free to drop by the Planetary Society site and sign the petition (or join to show your support.)

Well, if government can no longer look ahead, at least some private and ad hoc groups are doing so. On Saturday and Sunday, January 20 and 21, members of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology participated in a first-of-its-kind event. About a dozen people, representing four countries on three continents, and with training in a variety of disciplines, came together for a scenario creation project via virtual presence. They began the process of developing a series of professional-quality models of a world in which exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing has become a reality. I am a member of CRN, though I was unable to participate in this event. It sounds like Global Futures Strategist Jamais Cascio and CRN Coordinator Mike Treder did a great job leading these vivid minds in an exercise that I plan to tap for ideas for my latest novel!

The urgent need for new nanotechnology policy is highlighted by breakthrough results from a recent British government funded project. For the first time ever, a group of high-level scientists assembled for the purpose of inventing something as close as they could get to the long-sought nanotechnology goal of building precise products atom by atom. The remarkably advanced projects those scientists produced suggest that the era of molecular manufacturing -- with its tremendous potential benefits and potentially grave dangers -- could arrive far more swiftly than previously imagined.

Devin Murphy clued me into this fascinating economic analysis of “econimic activity” on Second Life, or “virtual-avatar nonsense analyzed as a pyramid scheme.” And what do you expect on a frontier? Cheating and predation emerge out of human nature at any opportunity. If these people did not have a near monopoly on virtual worlds -- if VR were liberated to become an open-creative realm, the way it is when it comes to creating web sites -- then competition would alleviate such problems. It dazzles me how people can see the example of the Web right in front of them, and then forget about its lessons.

Of course, it does not help that discourse -- the exchange of cogent information -- takes place on Second Life at about the same level as caveman grunts... with apologies to cavemen,

February 22 I’ll be appearing at a conference on “Collective Intelligence Networks” near LAX, in Southern California.

Another thought provoking gem from the Progressive Policy Institute: World spending on health, according to the World Bank and the U.N.'s World Health Organization, was 10.2 percent of global GDP in 2003. This is the equivalent of about $3.7 trillion, or $500 per person. (The figure counts all money spent by governments, providers, and individuals on "preventive and curative" health services, family planning activities, nutrition programs, and emergency medical aid.) America's health bill that year came to 15.2 percent of GDP, far ahead of all competitors. So far ahead, in fact, that Americans accounted for nearly half -- $1.7 trillion of the total $3.7 trillion -- of the world's health spending.*

Now, one can already predict the cliched responses to this. Of course much of this is (the right wing answer) because we start out much richer and there is so much more care available in the US. It is also evident that (the left wing answer) there is vast healthcare inflation in the States, because the government takes almost no part in limiting price gouging or collusive market busting by powerful entities like drug companies.

Especially, there is the simple fact that medical care is obdurately immune to the corrective effects of market forces. If you or a loved one are deeply ill, you will not do normal price-comparisons when looking for hospitals, seeking “bargain” surgeons and/or other care providers. When price is no object, supply and demand are weak correctors. Hence, in most of the world’s nations, medical care has drifted into zones where socialism seems to make sense to a lot of people. Like public education, street maintenance, law enforecement and defense.

(Let there be no mistake here. One of my reasons for utterly despising the so-called “left-right political axis” has to do with the fact that, at last, we seem to have data needed in order to know what jobs government is good at and which should better be left to competitive accountability arenas. But simple-minded dogmatism infects and afflicts us, limiting our ability to be agile and re examine assumptions.)

In fact, the PPI numbers seem to reflect something fundamental. That the US subsidises the entire rest of the world by spending whatever it takes to move medical science and skills along at rapid rates. Much of that money reflects profit-driven research. And if that profit drive warps fairness in outrageous ways, in America, it also propels advances that - for example - Europeans get to exploit only a few years later, after prices have fallen. (I had personal experience with this, unable to even get an MRI in France, but paying through the nose for one here, back in 1991.) It is one more case where reflexive, indignant dogmatic-posturing simply does not accurately reflect reality OR fairness. Yes, there is more sense and justice to the European approach. But every single day thair system uses methods that have slipped a little farther down a learning curve that Americans, largely, paid for, Moreover, every day, many hundreds of people from those countries (those who can afford it, of course) climb onto jets in order to come here for treatments that are more cutting-edge than they are allowed access to, at home.

OTOH... one must always be wary of a theory that sounds just too pat! The PPI report continues:

More fundamentally, despite high spending, U.S. "outcomes" in some basic public-health indicators often remain mediocre. For example, a WHO list places the United States 30th of 192 countries in infant mortality. (Low rankings reflect in part failure to insure about 40 million people, and also failures outside health care systems per se: relatively high obesity rates, frequent road accidents, HIV incidence somewhat higher than the rich-country average, and other problems that insurers, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and pharmacists must address but can't prevent. There are also the problems inherent in absorbing fully half of the world’s total number of immigrants.) The World Health Organization lets you compare 171 health indicators across 192 countries: 
I want to thank those of you who showed such interest in my posting about cell-phone autonomy and the desperate need for a second layer of operability in those sophisticated little radios so many people carry around in their pockets. It is outrageous that these seem designed to fail at the very time when we may need them most. Requiring a simple, peer-to-peer capability for passing text messages... even restricted to times when a cell tower is not available... could be the simplest step taken by our government to ensure that civilization is capable of the kind of robust resiliency displayed by New Yorkers and Bostonians on 9/11...

...instead of the enforced helplessness that was imposed upon the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I hope some of you will continue to help spread the word.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Designed To Let Us Down... our deliberately frail cell phone system

cell-phone-p2pDr. Andrew J. Viterbi, an expert on communications theory at USC, spoke up recently in support of one of the concepts I have been pushing. Based upon the obscene situation that we saw during the Hurricane Katrina Crisis, when tens of thousands of victims found themselves cut off from the world, even though they had, in their pockets, sophisticated radio communications devices -- cell phones that betrayed folks the very moment they were needed most. Viterbi commented (and apologies for the embedded self-quotation):

Brin goes on to say that the teachable moment provided by Katrina was lost, and that the cellular industry could make a relatively simple, inexpensive change that would allow cell phones to still function to network survivors in a crisis :

emergency-cell-phone-network".... almost no attention has been paid to improving the reliability and utility of our cell networks, to assist citizen action during times of emergency. To the best of my knowledge. no high level demand has gone out - from FEMA or any other agency -- for industry to address cell-system problems revealed in the devastation of America 's Gulf Coast. A correction that should be both simple/cheap and useful to implement.

"What do we need? We need ways for citizens to self-organize, both in normal life and (especially) during crises, when normal channels may collapse, or else get taken over by the authorities for their own use. All this might require is a slight change -- or set of additions -- in the programming of the sophisticated little radio communications devices that we all carry in our pockets, nowadays.

"How about a simple back-up mode for text messaging? One that could use packet-switching to bypass the cell towers when they are down, and pass messages from phone to phone -- or peer-to-peer -- at least among phones that are of the same type? (GSM, TDMA, CDMA etc.) All of the needed packet-switching algorithms already exist. Moreover, this would allow a drowning city (or other catastrophe zone) to fill with tens of thousands of little spots of light, supplying information to helpers and reassurance to loved ones, anywhere in the world."

cell-phone-failureThese pushes of mine have not gone completely ignored or unnoticed. As Viterbi's riffs on the topic show, there have been some fascinating and insightful exchanges, discussing how the nation and public might benefit by adding peer-to-peer supplemental capabilities to the present cell system.

Some object that this development could cost millions. But that is not any real obstacle in an industry making hundreds of billions in the US alone. If either the government or the cell companies saw a clear benefit model, it would be trivial to justify the relatively small expense. Certainly far smaller than incorporating web browsers and MP3 players!

The problem is that top-down hierachy mentalities do not easily grasp the potential of flattened networks.... and this despite the clear example of the Internet itself, as a super-empowering, hierarchy-flattening phenomenon.

(Indeed, I believe that there are underlying PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS that the twin examples of the Internet - and citizen competence on 9/11 - may have prompted an immune reaction against citizen empowerment, on the part of some members of the Paid Protector Castes. But that's another story.)

One more-cogent objection to the notion of augmenting cell phones with Peer-to-Peer capability: it takes a lot more energy to transmit than to receive. Most cell phones are actually very weak transmitters that function poorly without energetic base towers nearby.

P2PThe answer to this objection is simple. In order to use P2P effectively in a crisis, when the towers are down, personal cell phones do not have to carry voice. In an emergency, text messages can make a tremendous difference, e.g. in calling for help, or informing loved-ones that you are okay, or in passing crucial information to authorities. Especially since text messages can be transmitted with multiple repetition-redundancy, simple calculations show that pocket transmitters (cell phones) could pass these along at trivial power expenditure.

Obviously, this same answer deals with objections that P2P (peer to peer) does not carry voice well. So?The algorithms for passing along text messages are very little different from classic packet switching for email, on the Internet. Implementation ought to be trivial.

How to explain why this simple augmentation has not been implemented, even though it is clearly in the national and public interest? One theory is that the cell companies may feel threatened by P2P capabilities. Or that they see no way to make money off them. But this needn't be a problem. For one thing, it should be easy for each hand set to track passed-on messages and inform the network, for billing purposes. Or else the P2P system can be turned off, whenever there is a fully functional cell tower nearby! Thus, automatically reverting to P2P only under circumstances when the capability is actually needed!

201817627023139616_3LLO5hNJ_cMoreover, there is an added allure to this approach, one that could help the cell-cos make real money. By developing P2P capability, companies may open the door to a new method for solving their "last mile problem" - or how to extend coverage into dark zones, just beyond reach of their current network of towers. Think. Why not let customers who happen to be at the edge of the coverage area get a small pay-back fee for every text message that they pass through, from people who are just outside the covered zone? The same way people with solar or wind generators can make their meters run backward, feeding power into the grid.

If such customers had a more sophisticated home-cradle unit, they might even be able to pass through voice calls from a nearby dark zone. Reducing their own bill, helping the company, and making our entire communications system more robust.

Indeed, can anyone doubt that someday, somebody will realize there is a business plan in this? An entirely peer-to-peer network, in which, customers home-cradle units make up the bulk of an alternative cell system? But we'll save that futuristic sci fi scenario for another time. What I am talking about, here, is something that could be implemented in just one year, if anyone (like FEMA) were actually serious about fostering a more resilient and robust society. A pretty big "if" - apparently.

9-11The fact that cell phones served the national defense so well on 9/11, yet failed in Katrina, should have been enough to tell us that serious work is needed, work that has been entirely lacking while we let ourselves be distracted on other adventures. I mean, isn't it a no-brainer for Homeland Security and FEMA to support this kind of capability, in the national interest?

After thinking about it, how do YOU feel about the sophisticated little tranceiver radio in your pocket, now that you know that it was designed almost perfectly to let you down, someday, at the very moment that you might need it most?

==See more of my articles on Emergency Preparedness

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How societies work... and improve...

I have just cross-linked my “Adopt An Ostrich” article on Daily Kos. (It took a little while to figure out the convoluted format.) I’ll only do this for the most “important” essays and I doubt I will do much comment-response there. So any Kos-ers who keep an eye open over there, please let me know if I ever need to pay closer attention.

ostrichpapersAnd yes, go thou forth, all of you, and Adopt an Ostrich! Seriously. People like you are only a couple of degrees of separation from the civil servants and skilled officers who we must reach. The inherently conservative -- but modernist and deeply loyal and sincere -- men and women who are members of the Protector Caste, who need to be awakened to a basic truth. That the Republic and civilization is in greater danger now than it has been for all our lives, and from an enemy as bad as communism ever was.

If we can waken enough of these sincere Goldwater conservatives, a tipping point may be reached and our civilization may yet be saved. Be tenacious, relentless.

==How Societies Work==

SOCIETIESSome of you may be interested in a paper by Rand Corp research David Ronfeldt, part of his continuing efforts to develop a framework about social evolution -- past, present, and future: In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes -- The First and Forever Form.

I’ll give the entire abstract here, because I think it is a fascinating topic and one worth considerably more sophisticated thinking than most of us apply to it.

ABSTRACT: "The latest in a string of efforts to develop a theoretical framework about social evolution, based on how people develop their societies by using four forms of organization-tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks-this installment focuses on the tribal form. The tribal form was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging-the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs.

"This report provides a lead-off chapter that sketches the entire framework, plus a "rethinking" chapter that shows why David Ronfeldt thinks that social evolution revolves around four forms of organization. A chapter then traces the evolution of tribes and clans, and the final chapter describes modern manifestations of the tribal form. An appendix reprints three op-ed pieces that sprang from Ronfeldt's efforts to understand the tribal form and its continuing relevance. Ronfeldt maintains that societies advance by learning to use and combine all four forms, in a preferred progression. What ultimately matters is how the forms are added and how well they function together. They are not substitutes for each other; they are complements. Historically, a society's advance-its progress-depends on its ability to use all four forms and combine them into a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole. Essentially monoform tribal/clan societies and biform chiefdoms and clan-states, some dressed in the trappings of nation-states and capitalist economies, remain a ruling reality in vast areas of the world. It therefore behooves analysts and strategists who mostly think about states and markets to gain a better grip on roles the tribal form plays in both national development and national security.”

Fascinating stuff, by one of the brightest and most agile social thinkers around.

And while we are being intellectual, let me reiterate the recommendation that folks have a look at Must-know terms for the 21st Century intellectual by George Dvorsky. Another fellow who pours far too much energy into blogging... to our benefit. Dvorsky strives to come up “with a list of the most fundamental and crucial terms that are coming to define and will soon re-define the human condition.” Following all the links could keep you plenty busy. Too busy to go out to bars hunting for a mate. So it is a eugenics plot, after all.

==Mass-produced laptops==

See screen shots of the proposed GUI for MIT $100 computer... the project, the initiative to put $100 laptops in the hands of children around the world. The interface uses a highly abstracted spatial navigation metaphor, an extension of the familiar desktop metaphor, for easy, intuitive navigation that makes the most of the laptop’s networking capabilities. Children can move through four levels of view—Home, Friends, Neighborhood, and Activity—and connect with others in the network “mesh” formed by users.

Of course this is an area of great interest. Let me offer some thoughts.

1) by the time these laptops are mass produced, they will also have cheap cameras, augmenting the effect that cell phones are already having in the Developing World (see my earlier posting about this) empowering local activists with powerful tools of reciprocal accountability. (Obviously I am expecting that parents will also use these machines.) The proliferation of cameras, P2P computer nets etc will worry hierarchical despotisms... And yet the most sincere of those despotisms will WANT some of the anti-corruption effects of reciprocal accountability to apply upon LOW level public officials, whose waste and parasitism depletes the entire nation, the way an infestation of tapeworms can impoverish your body. You can expect nations like China to embrace grass-roots anti-corruption efforts, enhanced by these tools, while suppressing them at national levels.

2) As mentioned, there is discussion of empowering these laptops with peer-to-peer (P2P) capabilities so that they can network even without the existence of local hubs. If this happens, it will be one more example of how the 3rd world may leapfrog past the 1st world, with capabilities that we, here in the West, badly need. I feel that today’s cell phone companies, for example, have utterly betrayed the national and public interest by not engendering a P2P backup capability for at least text messaging -- capabilities that would have proved useful during crises like Katrina. (See more about this under “Comments” later, just below.)

If another disaster happens, in which many thousands or millions are cut off, with charged/sophisticated radios in their pockets that are completely useless when needed most, there will be hell to pay. Or there ought to be. Next time, the cell-cos themselves may get some of the blame.

3) Back to the $100 laptop. It is a great program and deserves massive support. And yet...

And yet... you keep hearing about how smart the interface design people at MIT are... and I don’t get it. The layered GUI of the proposed $100 laptop is sweet and intuitive... and still misses several key insights having to do with allocation of scarce human attention. It is an incremental improvement... and may do a lot of good. But it patronizes the ultimate users. And strenuously avoids the bigger steps that would actually help make things a lot better.

==Communication for the 21st Century==

EpoceneInteractionAnd yes, this segues into my Holocene invention. The recent awarding of my incredibly broad (126 claims) patent has somewhat raised the level at which people are taking these ideas seriously. Seriously... but often with a sense of heated rage... almost like the way a tsunami of geek-letters poured in, after my “Why Johnny Can’t Code” article, a few months back.

So far, I have been amazed by a rich variety of responses that seek to AVOID discussing the issues raised by my patent... how to help online users divide and allocate scarce attention across screen based environments, using methods and tools similar to those we already have used in the real world, ever since the caves.

Instead, a majority seem driven to complain at peripheral issues like:

“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“How can you patent something so obvious? Of course there’s prior art!”
”Patents are evil!”

Look... either these things are being done, usefully, right now, or they are not. The question is a simple one. And yet, a vast majority seems determined to avert their gaze in ANY direction but at the very basic issue, almost as if it hurts to look at a conceptual blind spot...

...but I won’t waste space here at the top level, answering this nonsense, especially since a few of the very brightest out there are starting to lift their heads from the depressing-dulling imagination-suppressing effects of the 21st-Century-So-Far.

I may add a little riff, below, in comments, elaborating. Overall, though. I am learning the value of patience. Waiting for the times to catch up, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Operation "Adopt an Ostrich"

People. Our national (and world) crisis has reached the point -- amid an all-out assault upon western traditions of law, openness and accountability -- that I believe it is time to re-institute the draft. I mean a special kind of draft, insisting that all decent modern citizens simply have to take on duties on the nation’s desperate POLITICAL FRONT.

Seriously, all of us know hopeless “ostrich conservatives” - who cling desperately to the notion that Bush & Co are regrettable... but “certainly no worse than Clinton was.”

This is where the battle must be fought. It is time to grab these people into head-locks and not let go until they admit that, this time, it is their side that has gone completely mad.

ostrichpapersI want to announce a new program. Adopt an ostrich will be a nationwide endeavor under which every single moderate American, or reasonable liberal, will latch onto ONE decent person whom they know to be one of these head-in-the-sand conservatives. People who used to stand by Barry Goldwater or Bob Dole or Billy Graham... ALL of whom thought very highly of Bill Clinton, by the way! All three of whom utterly despised the dark directions that they saw modern “neo” conservatism heading.

Yes, the administration of George W. Bush has plummeted to deep levels of unpopularity. They lost the recent Congressional elections, a great first step toward reclaiming the United States and our Great Experiment. But clearly, it is not enough.

There must be a tipping point, somwehere up ahead, where the rising national revulsion sweeps up millions of Goldwater-Dole-Graham-Reagan conservatives, too. Where denial can no longer be supported and decent people cry out Enough! A point when loyal-but-self-deluding men and women in the civil service and CIA and FBI and US Officer Corps shake themselves out of their stunned torpor, realize that genuine treason is afoot, and decide that it is their job to stand up, to take some initiative and help us all to deal with the most poisonous threat to our civilization since communism.

This tipping point, I have come to realize, will only happen after hard work at the grass roots. One reluctant, bitterly delusional republican at a time. Because there is little more than can be achieved simply by hoping that our fellow citizens will heed all the bad news. The one-third that is left has their ears covered. Their eyes are closed while they shake their heads going “Nah! Nah! Nah!”

(Recent science shows that doing this is physically chemically addictive. And yes, liberals do it too.)

No, if we are to reach the tipping point, it will have to be down, way down, at the level of individual citizenship. Each of us can -- and must -- hammer at just one or two ostriches, until they wake up from hysterical denial. And when enough of them do -- when advertising revenues on Fox News start shriveling and GOP reps in suburban America start screaming in pain -- we may start to see the REAL uprising against monsters. A quiet revolution in which heroes in the civil service and intelligence agencies and law enforcement etc stymie what is left of this administration of horrors. Simply by doing their jobs.

At least enough so that we can hope to REACH the next set of elections with a nation still largely intact.

No, I am not talking about converting truly rabid neocons, or truly corrupt kleptocrats, or the maniacal ultra-fanatics who are cramming Intelligent Design down our throats. They are a much smaller minority than the one-third who still officially back the president. Moreover, we do not need them, or their nasty "culture war".

We do need your decent neighbor or uncle, who would take you in, if your house burned down. Whose conservatism is not so awful that he or she would turn back the clock on civil or womens’ rights. Indeed, whose views include a few that may be worth listening to... if we can just take care of more important business, first. (Go ahead and promise that you will listen. A bit. Later. If he or she will first listen to his nation’s call.)

Do it. Pick an ostrich andgrab his or her lapel. Do not let go. Make lists and keep citing one travesty after another, while asking: “What would you have said if Bill Clinton did this?”

And “would you have LET Clinton send our entire army, marines and reserves to be ground down in a hostile foreign land, on the excuse of pure lies, in a grunt land war of attrition without any goal, run by meddling politicians who never saw a day of combat, all in a futile attempt at so-called nation-building?”

They will sputter and fume. They will try to claim that “Whitewater” -- involving $80,000 -- represented corruption equal to Halliburton stealing tens of billions from our boys and girls in Iraq. They will claim that Clinton’s fib about Monica was worse than outright lies about WMDs or terrorism or promises to “listen to our generals.” Or that an administration dedicated to decreasing secrecy can even be compared to one that has multiplied darkness and unaccountability one hundredfold. Or that political activity by today’s eviscerated labor unions can be compared to outright control of our government by a new feudal, kleptocratic caste.

They will writhe and squirm and try all of this -- and dozens of other contrived excuses and polemical tricks. Denial is powerful and you must gird yourself to be utterly relentless. Even if you live in a “blue” state, you will still be a soldier for civilization if you do this.

It matters.

When people switch from Fox News to MSNBC, the masters will notice. Their solidarity will start to crumble. More henchmen will blow whistles. Then some of them will start to break.

It may be wishful thinking. But it seems our best hope. Moreover, it depends on the one bet we have always made, since the American Revolution. A wager on the People.


SEE: The Ostrich Papers: How it will take all decent Americans to restore decency to America