Monday, January 01, 2007

2007 - the hard work on our plate

Here's a two-part New Year's message.

1) Russ Daggatt suggests a list of ways that we should party like it's 1999.

On December 31, 1999:

Bill Clinton was President
Al Gore was Vice President
Bruce Babbitt was Secretary of the Interior
Wesley Clark was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO after running our most successful (and brief) "war" of all time.
For the fiscal year just ended (9/30/99), the US government ran a $125 billion surplus; for the year just beginning (10/1/99), the gov’t would go on to run a $236 billion surplus
The federal debt was $3 billion lower than it is now
The NASDAQ was up 84% (!) for the year just ended
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 24%
The S&P 500 was up 19%
The US was not at war
No one had heard of Paris Hilton

I would add that in 1999 an American could wander the globe without pretending to be a Canadian, and happy allies would buy you drinks.

In 1999 the opposition party was incensed with our state of military readiness; the US Army could only handle "one large and one medium surprise landwar-crisis." (Today it could not respond to even one surprise crisis.)

In 1999 the worst accusation that could be made against the Administration was that the first couple had fudged a failed land deal that lost them $80,000... and that the president fibbed about consensual nookie in a hallway.

We had better hope that centuries actually begin a few years after the calendar change. Because we have our work cut out for us, setting a progressive theme for the 21st.


2) A little side topic: Musings about" tech-refusniks" --

The recent publication on an open site of my essay "Singularities and Nightmares" has spawned some press interviews. Let me share here some ruminations that seem apropos to the new years... having to do with the "tech-refusniks" who - for many reasons - seem prone to reject the benefits of high technology in an onrushing scientific age.

There are many styles of tech-refusenik. The Amish are classic examples of the type who reject modernity for theological or ideological reasons. The Unabomber - Ted Kaczynski - expressed his revulsion by dwelling in a shack, then using high tech means to attack targets who represented a technological age.

Some who despise this era relish a return to lifestyles that were less democratized or flattened by the "great equalizer" of mass access to tools. The Oklahoma City bombers were good examples of a "militia type" who often yearn for a general social collapse, as in Mad Max, whn old fashioned male strengths would matter more, as they did in the past. (My novel, The Postman, reflects on this.) At another extreme are neo-feudalists, who don't mind technology and comfort, but resent the fact that the masses are getting almost as many toys and rights and privileges as aristocrats, nowadays. How much better to have an old-fashioned pyramid of privilege, with a few on top lording it over many, below. But that won't happen if the masses are technologically empowered. Hence, much of the propaganda of fear, trying to promote refusnikism on a very broad scale.

From another angle, consider the effect of labor saving devices in the home. Today, a vast majority of Americans can avoid drudgery in ways that - formerly - only the very rich knew. Human servants used to perform the tasks now done by refrigerators and cars and microwaves and vacuum cleaners, etc. All of thistechnologically-driven equality seems to rob all our advances of their sense of wonder. This is prime territory for romantics. If everybody - the masses - has something, then it cannot be good or beautiful or worthwhile.

At the opposite extreme are folks who worry deeply about the COST of over-dependence upon technological crutches. This includes people who are concerned with the ecological damage done by wasteful-wastrel masses who seem bent on consuming simply for consumption's sake. Certainly there is a reasonable argument for some steps toward better common sense in today's "throw-away culture," where nothing is ever repaired, only replaced with the next shiny thing. A little "puritan conservatism" in this area may be a good influence on our civilization, so long as it does not tip over into nonsense.

Moreover, there are the ill effects of couch potato laziness. Not only in spreading waistlines! Lately, concerns are expressed about "nature defficiency syndrome"... in which children who never get outside appear to lose the _ability to notice complex natural patterns in a landscape filled with trees and other living things! Get them out of doors, in the dirt, go camping.

Finally, there is the matter of resiliency. It is one thing to use technological gadgetry to empower us, to get more things done, more of our ambitions accomplished, better use of scarce lifespan. It is quite another to become so dependent upon the widgets that we cannot thrive or succeed... or even survive... without them.

For this reason, I put my kids in scouting, encourage self-reliant skills like martial arts, teach them basic repairs and show them my old typewriter. Programs like CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) aim to enable whole neighborhoods to at least continue a minimal level of civilized life, even if they become cut off from the rest of the world for some time (as happened to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina). I am encouraged by the movement to turn a million roofs into solar energy collector arrays.

Any people who are civilized and robust - instead of decadent - will do this kind of thing... and indeed, make a pleasant passtime of such things.

As pleasant as keeping the #%$##*! cell phone turned off, for long periods of serene time.

Some fear that we are becoming overly dependent on our tools. Connection-addiction is worrisome, seriously affects many of those who spend too much of each day online. Indeed, a sci fi scenario sees us all so link-addicted in a hundred years (perhaps because the neo-web will enhance IQ ... or else it may act like a drug). An addiction so intense that nobody at all wants to sail forth to colonize the stars.

Which may at last explain the Great Silence out there.

Balance, folks. Lots of citokate. Stay resilient and robust. And that's my new years message to you all.


Ryan said...

"The federal debt was $3 billion lower than it is now"

I'm sure Russ meant that to be $3 trillion?

Anonymous said...

It must be, Ryan. $3 billion is just a rounding error -- not even real money. (Best spent on earmarks and bridges to nowhere. Or protecting roller rinks in the midwest from terrorist attacks.)

David Brin said...

Yup, I called him on that and he said oops. Trillion.

Anonymous said...

"in 1999 an American could wander the globe without pretending to be a Canadian"

First I laughed. Then I started thinking, if Stephen Harper keeps idolizing Bush and supporting everything he does, pretending to be a Canuck would soon lose its effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Human Evolution in our midst. Behold our future. It's never quite as elegant as we envision it.

Mark said...

Which may at last explain the Great Silence out there.

We've recently discovered there are about 300 "immortal" genes shared by all living things, from bacteria to plants to us. While we understand evolution very well once these genes are in place, which regulate cell reproduction and basic functionality, how they got there is still mostly guess work.

My suspicion is we will someday understand the method of those first 300 genes appearing in the first fully functional cell and calculate the probability... and stare at the number in wonder. No longer will we ask why there is no one else out there, but instead marvel that we are here at all.

(BTW, these genes may be the best evidence of evolution ever uncovered. It turns out there are many possible variations allowed in a gene that do not effect its functionality. Evolution makes a very strong prediction on how those random variations that do not alter functionality should differ among various living things.)

Rob Perkins said...

Oh, man, part of me wants to snark about you going over and pining for a past golden age where life was better...


In earnest, though, four items on that list were due to pass away in 12.5 months. Three were not due to the behavior of the government.

But hopefully, by the time any of my children take an interest, they'll be able to respond with, "Paris Who? Is that a hotel in France?"

Anonymous said...

And four of the items were symptoms of an economic bubble that was due to burst shortly. (Yes, I'm counting the tax surplus in that four.)

Blake Stacey said...

Whenever I hear talk of the Fermi Paradox, I get this odd sensation which Hunter S. Thompson might liken to "the first rising vibes of an acid frenzy". Something keeps insisting to me that there is an answer, a powerful and disquieting answer lurking in a hidden assumption too tacit for me to identify explicitly. I can't tell you what this assumption is, nor can I provide the answer, because my conscious mind has not yet drawn the conclusions — if, indeed, my odd sensations are anything more than an artifact of bad neural wiring.

Sidereus said...

What "great silence"? ;-)

"Federal officials say it was probably just some weird weather phenomenon, but a group of United Airlines employees swear they saw a mysterious, saucer-shaped craft hovering over O'Hare Airport in November."

""To fly 7 million light years to O'Hare and then have to turn around and go home because your gate was occupied is simply unacceptable," he said."

David Brin said...

One reason why I have been suggesting that humanity exercise a little restraint about shouting at the cosmos, for a while.

The Autism posting was very interesting. And one can grasp why some high functioning autistics might interpret the trend toward brain specialization as having gone farthest in autistic people, who often specialize intensely on specific skills, to the exclusion of many that smooth the way through social interaction in normal life.

I am reminded of Vernor Vinge's book A Deepness in the Sky, in which a villainous human culture has discovered how to take their servants and bestow upon them the "gift of focus." The intense concentration upon specific goals that makes the most monomaniacal nerd-professionals so productive, to the detriment of any other value or desire. A fascinating study.

On the other hand, take Temple Grandin, the famed high functioning autistic who is often interviewed on NPR and who has been prized by the animal products industry for her insights into humane slaughter techniques (if there are any.) Her insights came (she said) from a much closer connection to the needs/worries of animals than normal people can ever achieve.

Fascinating. The only firm conclusion so far? That humanity is complex and thus only societies that can adapt complexly are worthy of us.

Still, guys, some of you are bending over backwards to deny Clinton any credit at all. Pretty churlish... and inaccurate. Those booms were ENCOURAGED by a national mood that welcomed daring and technological boldness. Government ran well, prevented cheating, but then stood out of the way. The budget surpluses were only 2/3 because of the economy. At least a (crucial) third came from genuine fiscal maturity.

Of course it helped that our only significant war during that time was the most competently-managed conflict in all of our histor. Presaged by relentless mature diplomacy, it then unleashed unbelievable effectiveness and skilled force, surgically, upon the last outlaw dictatorship of Europe, bringing to that continent a uniform condition of peace and law for the 1st time in 4,000 years. All at the cost of ZERO US losses and trivial expense, leaving our rediness undamaged...

...oh, and our credibility/respect around the world higher than ever, including in the Muslim world.

Hey, if THAT was done well, then give some credit for the other stuff, too, hm?

And look into Wesley Clark for president.

David Brin said...

UFOs? #$%#$#*! UFOs??????????

C'mon! Who on Earth nowardays... especially at Chicago O'Hare... doesn't have a digital camera cell phone in his pocket?

Every single year, the digicams double in number... and the sightings get more obscure. WHat a load of horse hockey.

Again, I repeat. If they DO exist, they are space assholes and we are best served by snubbing them.

David Brin said...

A completely other thread. Have any of you read my ongoing comedy series on Universe Magazine (online)? I am told it's hilarious!

Frankly, comedy is hard. Like Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett, I am not too proud to listen, if readers suddenly think of something quirky, funny, or punny, that might seem apropos to the story in progress!

Some recent examples that some folks sent in:

The undead tend to stay at the Motel Styx
Taint the town dead.
Another fine Gilgamesh.
Measure your optimism? You’re hooked up to a Voltaire .

Urgh oughta be ashamed....

Anonymous said...

Re the Balkans, I found this in an unrelated context:

Milosevic was "defeated" like the war in Iraq is "won". By the time Serbs finally tossed him to the dogs he'd already done the worst. Nobody prevented him from doing as he pleased for more than a decade. Nobody prevented the war in Croatia and Bosnia, costing a couple hundred thousand lives and millions of refugees, and if there isn't wholesale butchery every day in Kosovo today (there's still plenty), it's because of 17,000 mostly non-US UN peacekeepers. You can strike that soundbite off your (really, pathetic) "America's good deeds" litany.

It reeks of hard-left indignation, but I think there's a very small valid point about the delay. I realize NATO was active in the Balkans from the start, but they still didn't prevent genocide...

Anonymous said...

More than ten years ago, Carl Sagan asked why no home security systems had videotaped aliens passing through the walls. Now, with a camera in every phone, the question becomes even more pressing.

We may be forced to conclude that either ETs are not visiting or they are — as Bill Hicks said — "hillbilly aliens".

"Don't you want to land in New York or Los Angeles?"

"Naw, we just had a long trip. We're gonna kick back an' whittle some!"

I share Hicks's fear of seeing a flying saucer propped on cinderblocks in a weed-choked front yard. In this nightmare, the bumper sticker reads, "They can have my ray gun when they pry it from my cold, dead, eighteen-fingered hand."

Anonymous said...

Hmm - so now transparency (surveillance cameras) is also the best defense against alien abduction?

Rob Perkins said...


I prospered marvelously during the Clinton years, to an extent which far outstripped my own modest plans.

You're projecting a caricature of my attitudes toward the political caste on my comments.

It has nothing to do with my opinion of Clinton's person: I maintain that the President has and had little or nothing to do with the upturns or downturns of the macro economy. He can nominate a fed chairman and use his pulpit a bit, maybe suggest some tax or spending policy, but that's about it.

It's a factor, but not a controlling factor.

David Brin said...

Re UFOs there is another hypothesis to explain why they are so hard to see. Visit my short story:

As for lefty loonies whose fundamentalism does not allow America ever to be right, the quoted screed is particularly loathesome and insane.

Clinton begged the Europeans to get their act together. For two years he offered our support while they dithered. "Anything!" He said, emphasizing diplomacy and working with allies. "You tell us and we'll do it."

DOminated by cynical lefties, the Euros whrugged and said "Nothing can ever be done about the Balkans. Why bother?"

Finally, fed up, Clinton applied some pressure and the diplomats gave a reluctant nod... and the monster was toppled within 6 weeks.

Except for the monster rationalizers. Like the dipshit moron who wrote that italicized pile of trash above. (Not you, anonymous. The imbecile you quoted.)

I would sure love to see these flakes show me one other thing that ever happened to the world that was better (for all its many faults) than Pax Americana. Bring on the citokate! But use it to build from something that (for all its many faults) was better than any other pax... or any time of chaos.

That is, when it has been led by grownups.

Anonymous said...

The screed quoted in italics above comes from this comment in a Pharyngula thread.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

That autism blogpost cited above commits an incredibly common fallacy when thinking about evolution; directionalism.

Biological evolution has no sense of direction, and talking about it as if it does will just confuse you. (Strictly speaking, it's okay to talk about "direction" for past evolution only, but that just helps confuse the matter.)

On the Vinge book: I read that recently. Rather thought-provoking, although the ending seemed to come out of left field. I need to reread it to see if it actually makes sense.

On the "300 immortal genes": calculating the probability of any form of life from the odds of random arrangement of the constituent parts is simply meaningless.
You ignore the fact that it's almost certainly not the only viable way for life to come into existance (sure, they might not be able to mutate much - but that just means things very similar to them don't work as well as they do. What about completely different things?), and you ignore any predecessors that may be significantly more probable.

One thing I found helped me get an idea of how the probabilities work was to think about a hand in bridge; the odds of any hand are simply astronomical... but clearly you're going to get some hand if you play the game.

Rob Perkins said...

_A Deepness in the Sky_ is in my personal library, and it's dog-eared. It's a fun, fun book, especially if it's approached after having read his _A Fire Upon the Deep_.

Don Quijote said...

I maintain that the President has and had little or nothing to do with the upturns or downturns of the macro economy. He can nominate a fed chairman and use his pulpit a bit, maybe suggest some tax or spending policy, but that's about it.

CNN Money - Stock markets historically do better under Dems than Reps. - Jan. 22, 2004

Looking at the 72-year period between 1927 and 1999, the study shows that a broad stock index, similar to the S&P 500, returned approximately 11 percent more a year on average under a Democratic president versus safer, three-month Treasurys. By comparison, the index only returned 2 percent more a year versus the T-bills when Republicans were in office.

Are Republicans or Democrats Better for the Stock Market?

The table tells the story. Since 1948, Republican Administrations have controlled the White House 57.2 percent of the time. But during the period that the GOP was in office, stock returns have averaged only 9.53 percent per year, while under Democratic administrations, stocks returned 15.25 percent per year, more than five percentage points higher.

This assumes that there is a valid relationship between the Market and the Economy.

would sure love to see these flakes show me one other thing that ever happened to the world that was better (for all its many faults) than Pax Americana

Balance of Power, get used to it.
The World's Reserve Currency
he financial press reported last week that the euro, the new currency created only five years ago and used by most European nations, has supplanted the U.S. dollar as the most widely used form of cash internationally. There are now more Euros in circulation worldwide than dollars.

The beginning of the end...

That is, when it has been led by grownups.
And when was that?

More than ten years ago, Carl Sagan asked why no home security systems had videotaped aliens passing through the walls. Now, with a camera in every phone, the question becomes even more pressing.

A) the earth has been around for ~ 5 billion years, and human recoded history is at most 10,000 years, so there is really no way of knowing whether Aliens ever visited Earth.

B) Unless the Aliens have the means to break the speed of light, there is no way that they would not be spotted entering the Solar System, a Spaceship crossing Interstellar space would have to be fairly large ( at the tiny end the size of an aircraft carrier, at the large end the size of a very large city).

C) They have FTL technology, in which case they are to us technologically what we are to the Roman Empire, and all bets are off.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

DQ: On aliens, you are overlooking one thing with your point C there.

To wit: People claim to have seen them, yet have not taken pictures.

This doesn't mean that aliens aren't coming, but it does make it quite unlikely anyone's seen them.

Same general thing goes for point A. I wouldn't try to argue aliens never came here (we have no way to know), I would just argue that all those UFO sightings are probably not, in fact, aliens.

Also, citing a study that makes an assumption doesn't necessarilly mean the assumption is valid; I myself am remaining agnostic on the question of what effect the president does or doesn't have on the economy (I can envision plenty of ways he would affect it, even if several of them don't actually involve him doing anything at all.) ... but what you're citing isn't support for the claim that presidents affect the economy, only support for the claim that if presidents affect the economy, Democrats do so in a more positive fashion than Republicans.

Naum said...

For the predictions registry, and commentary about how being wrong elevates you in stature with the MSM:

Now, you would think that being so incredibly wrong about such an important subject might hurt your career prospects, and that would probably be true in any other field. But in the world of Washington punditry, being consistently and catastrophically wrong about everything is apparently not an obstacle to advancement. As David Corn reports, TIME Magazine has invited Kristol to become one the magazine's new "star" columnists.

I can see why TIME wanted Kristol so badly. His track record over the last few years is rather remarkable. Here's a sampling of some of Kristol's most impressive contributions to our political discourse over the last few years:

Meanwhile, as incendiary and bellicose as Michael Moore, funny how everything in Fahreheit 911 has turned out to be true and accurate.

Yet look who is heralded as legitimate and who is decried and shunned...

Don Quijote said...

Meanwhile, as incendiary and bellicose as Michael Moore, funny how everything in Fahreheit 911 has turned out to be true and accurate.

The thing to remember is that Michael Moore is fat and not a "progressive modernist". ,-)

Rob Perkins said...

DQ, once again you've managed to springboard off a comment of mine to say something which is only tangentially relevant, and that's without trying to refute your stuff by talking about the correlation and generalization fallacy or the phase lag inherent in that particular set of stats.

Don Quijote said...

DQ, once again you've managed to springboard off a comment of mine to say something which is only tangentially relevant, and that's without trying to refute your stuff by talking about the correlation and generalization fallacy or the phase lag inherent in that particular set of stats.

The fact that the Market performs differently when presidents of different parties are in the White House demonstrates that the Presidency has more than a little or nothing to do with the upturns or downturns of the macro economy.

As for the stats, if you don't like them, you can always argue with the economists who came up with them.

Sidereus said...

A couple of space news updates today:

Saturn's Moon Titan a World of Rivers and Lakes

""The lakes are basically black in the [radar] data, which is how a liquid would behave," Stofan said. Radar data alone wasn't enough, however. A very smooth deposit of fine soil would also appear black on radar, Stofan explained.

The clincher that the patches were liquid lakes came from looking at the surrounding terrain. Some of the patches appeared to be fed by sinuous channels, or "rivers," some more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) long. Others appeared to be contained within rimmed circular depressions, similar to crater lakes or volcanic calderas on Earth."

Spirit rover Hits Third Earth Year on Mars

Anonymous said...

With regards to your request for some form of peer-to-peer messaging for emergency situations:

As the Apple Inc. iPhone is running a 'real' operating system, independent innovation in this direction is now very possible.

Anonymous said...

Take a good look around your kitchen. If you're like most American homeowners there are several things you'd like to change about its functionality and appearance. And if you're like most American homeowners, you'd rather make these changes than buy a new home.

"Decision number one with any kitchen remodeling project begins with the cabinetry. Cabinets and cabinet accessories set the tone and personality of the entire kitchen and in some cases, up to 60 percent of the remodeling budget may go towards cabinets," said Connie Edwards, Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) for Timberlake Cabinet Company, Winchester, Va., one of the nation's leading cabinet manufacturers.

"Today, many manufacturers offer semi-custom cabinet lines and coordinating accessories," said Edwards. "These cabinet lines are quite popular with homeowners because you can specify sizes and interior fittings for a customized look at an affordable price."