Thursday, November 29, 2007

Science, transparency and some hope

We'll try to look at the bright side, this time, with a look at some hopeful trends. Starting with...

Wikileaks appears to be implementing a system that I have pushed for since 1989 - a way for whistle-blowers to safely alert citizens of corrupt or oppressive actions. “Wikileaks is an uncensorable system for safe mass document leaking and public analysis. Our primary interests are in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we expect to be of assistance to peoples of all countries who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.” A summary on wired-blog mentions a couple of others.

In fact, I have long believed that one billionaire could transform the world, by not only funding the expansion of a service like this, but enhancing it with the ”Henchman’s Prize.”

What's a Henchman's Prize? An annual award of a million dollars -- plus a new identity, if needed -- for whoever on the planet blows the whistle on ‘the worst thing.’ Crossing all cliched lines of left or right. Runner-up prizes would descend to a free Groucho nose and mask for all entrants. Yes, there’d be issues of liability. But they could be overcome. And if pursued in a balanced way, it could re-make the world.

And it continues. Watch a new startup called HelpHookup taking shape before your eyes. “The inspiration of Help Hookup is actually a comic book called Global Frequency by Warren Ellis. It was also made into a TV show that never aired. I understand that it is available on BitTorrent. Global Frequency was a network of 1,001 people that handled the jobs that the governments did not have the will to handle. I thought that it was a great idea and it would be more powerful with 1,000,001 people or 100,000,001 people. We would have to leave out the killing that was in the comic.”

Nice of them to add that last part.

Fascinated by the effects of birth order? As one of three kids... and the father of three... I find the whole topic fascinating. Now see a report that ran in THE INDEPENDENT. “The difficult middle child, the spoilt only child, the wayward baby; few of us escape being labelled according to some sort of sibling stereotype. But what, really, are we to believe about the role our position in the family plays in determining our personality? Are the stereotypes true – or is the psychology of birth order just a load of hokum?”

Now here’s some fresh meat for you guys: An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion by Travis S. Taylor et al. (Anyone care to review it for us?)

And something along similar lines. Any of you speak or read German? See:

FROM THE TRANSPARENCY FRONT: "...Naïve as I was, I found myself astonished at the level of detail that drug companies were able to acquire about doctors’ prescribing habits. I asked my reps about it; they told me that they received printouts tracking local doctors’ prescriptions. every week. The process is called “prescription data-mining,” in which specialized pharmacy-information companies (like IMS Health and Verispan) buy prescription data from local pharmacies, repackage it, then sell it to pharmaceutical companies. This information is then passed on to the drug reps, who use it to tailor their drug-detailing strategies. This may include deciding which physicians to aim for, as my Wyeth reps did, but it can help sales in other ways. For example, Shahram Ahari, a former drug rep for (the maker of Prozac) who is now a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Pharmacy, said in an article in The Washington Post that as a drug rep he would use this data to find out which doctors were prescribing Prozac’s competitors, like Effexor. Then he would play up specific features of Prozac that contrasted favorably with the other drug, like the ease with which patients can get off Prozac, as compared with the hard time they can have withdrawing from Effexor.

“The AMA is also a key player in prescription data-mining. Pharmacies typically will not release doctors’ names to the data-mining companies, but they will release their Drug Enforcement Agency numbers. The A.M.A. licenses its file of U.S. physicians, allowing the data-mining companies to match up numbers to specific physicians. The A.M.A. makes millions in information-leasing money..."


You’ll recall that I reported working as a civil defense - CERT volunteer, during our recent San Diego fires. Light duty, actually The first-ever activation for San Diego's Community Emergency Response Teams is getting high marks for its work during last month's wildfires.

CERT members are volunteers trained to help fire agencies in first aid, basic search and rescue, logistical support, evacuee assistance and other essential duties during disasters. “Their training and commitment really paid off,” San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman said of CERT volunteers' efforts. “The dedication to the job was beyond comparison and really made a positive difference.”

Or volunteer most modestly at Free Rice. Play a word game. For every word you get right, ten grains of rice go to the poor.

And re: the Age of Empowered Citizenship? “One resident of a Malibu neighborhood, a builder, had bought a fire truck and tanker truck at auction, for a total of $6000. He and his neighbors saved millions of dollars worth of property before the professional firefighters could get there.” Um, yes, though of course these are rich people in Malibu. Still, they have the spirit.

Speaking of citizen action, it seems that there are still places where the courts “get” the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law. Zechariah sent this one in. ”In France the Untergunther, a group of covert guerilla anti-vandals, snuck into the Panthéon and repaired the old, rusting, broken clock. Authorities were clueless until they got were informed they should go wind it up. For pics of the clock before and after: For a reputable news source.

In contrast, see the hard life of a congress person, explained!

Finally, a brief re-lighting of the political lamp. Some of you may have seen a lovely, truthful-while-satirical “Job Resume of George W. Bush.” It is biting... and rather lengthy, so I have posted it under comments in an older blog entry. With some of my own, unique addenda.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rabid Lemmings, desertions & distractions

Most of this posting will be political miscellany about desertion rates and the steady (possibly deliberate) destruction of the United States Army -- plus some new material from Russ Daggatt. Still, I do want to lay a seed for pondering, till next time.

In the bestiary of supporters of the neocon madness, it is important to make a distinction

I call an Ostrich any "decent conservative" who retains some basic common sense, courtesy and openness to argument, despite having been led astray by Fox, down a road of step-by-step reversing every principle that Conservatism used to stand for. While prudent restraint swerves into recless adventurism, while devotion to accountability transforms into secrecy and crony dealings, while fiscal responsibility becomes spendthrift profligacy, and dedication to defense readiness has transformed into spasmodic willingness to spend our forces like a gambler at a slot machine... your typical ostrich covers his eyes and ears and recites the mantra "Clinton was worse..." over and over again, desperately trying not to wake up.

These people aren't hopeless! If we each adopted even just one -- like that sweet but troglodytic uncle of yours -- and hammered away relentlessly (using some of the ostrich ammo that I've offered), each victory would be like a spear through the heart of Karl Rove's coalition.

But let's admit it. There is another, far more common type of beast.
I call this other kind "Rabid Lemmings" and the name speaks for itself. Angry, vicious, narrowminded and dogmatic, these are the culture warriors who are hell-bent to stampede off a cliff, and take America with them. Just like the great majority of Confederate troops, who fought and died valorously, gloriously for a thin veneer of aristocratic slave-owners that treated them like dirt, today's lemmings will do anything, believe anything, for the very same criminal gang that is getting super-rich at their expense, not through enterprise or capitalism but the far older process of parisitism.

Alas, there is no point in trying to grab the lapels of a Limbaughite lemming. Unlike the ostriches, who retain dim memories of a genteel and polite conservatism, led by men of reason and principle, like Barry Goldwater and Robert Dole, your lemming actually likes culture war. It gives him a rush (so to speak) to picture a majority of his fellow citizens as purely evil agents of liberal darkness. I am not foolish enough to suggest that we reach out to such people.

On the other hand, I believe that one of the stupidest things that liberals and moderates and decent conservatives can do, is to continue shrugging off the insanity that is spewed at millions of lemmings, in order to keep them stoked-up, in a state of actinic fury.

What? You say that we -- the moderate and openminded majority of Americans -- seem headed for a big win in 2008?

Well, maybe. I wouldn't rule out Rovean cleverness -- or some horrid distraction -- in the meantime. But suppose we are? Will even a victory at the polls, in '08, be worth anything at all, if it isn't overwhelming?

Next time, I'll elaborate on why we need to get far more aggressive. Far more pro-active. Far more determined to accept nothing less than total repudiation of culture war.

On to miscellany... some of it disturbing...

Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Figures show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year. The increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. Efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.

In contrast, the Navy - the one service that has most effectively resisted the Bush Administration’s reckless and spendthrift-amateur adventurism -has seen a steady decline in deserters since 2001, going from 3,665 that year to 1,129 in 2007.

Despite the continued increase in Army desertions, an Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year showed that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they find. Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.

And yet, the right keeps foisting upon us inflammatory tirades about “unpatriotic liberals” who won’t vote to make English formally the nation’s sole, official language. For the Patriotism Card to be played, relentlessly, by a gang who has destroyed the US Army, would seem hysterically funny... if any Democrats had the gumption to point this out. More on this in the next political screed.

Meanwhile, Russ Daggatt suggests some “ostrich ammo” in the form of a simple set of questions for your obstinate republican friend or uncle. Asks RD:

1/ Who is "the enemy" in Iraq?
2/ How do we "win" another country's civil war?
3/ What end game to we hope to achieve by arming both the local Sunni militia and the majority Shiite "government"?
4/ The result of arming both (all?) sides in the Iraqi civil war is likely to be: a) pretty b) not pretty
5/ Is this “fighting for a clearcut goal”? Is it even nation building?

Bear these questions in mind while dropping by a cogent article: Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say. “Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.”

RD: Whomever "the enemy" in Iraq is at any given time should always be referred to generically as "the terrorists." Then, if "the enemy" later changes, you can still refer to the new "enemy" generically as "the terrorists" without having to amend all previous statements. Note, for example, how the Sunni insurgents were, until recently, simply "the terrorists." Now, however, it can be said of the Sunni insurgents, that we are now arming, that they have "shown great patience" and "they have got to eat." Meanwhile, the Shiite "government" that we installed is now "the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq."

In the end, your typical ostrich cannot describe a cogent view of who our allies are in Iraq (because we have none) or why this exercise in “nation building” is wise (when Republicans used to howl at the very notion.) Nor even what our goals are, anymore. (Who are the “Iraqis” we are asking to “stand up”? The ones in the government who are sure to ally themselves with... Iran?)

What it DOES boil down to is personal trust. “I like and trust the leaders of my political side and if they say this is the right course then those who disagree are fools or traitors.” Recent work in social psychology has shown that this really is a key part of the conservative mind set. It helps to explain how nearly every principle of Goldwater-Dole conservatism has been reversed in recent years, without engendering any rebellion among the ranks of GOP members -- except the furiously angry military officers and civil servants, who have to deal with the real-life mess these policies produce.

Think of all the reversals of conservatism that have been rationalized away, simply because the movement’s leaders (and Fox) have said so. A proclivity for prudence has transformed into recklessness. Insularity has become international adventurism. Pinch-penny fiscal circumspection has become spendthrift budget-busting. Belief in accountability has swerved into passion for secrecy and crony-management. Demure courtesy has switched over to bilious rage, nastiness and a belief that we can “lead the world” by relentlessly insulting every foreigner. Courtesy transforms into shrill wrath. From a belief in States Rights, we now see the movement stand for unprecedented centralization of federal power. The list goes on and on. But (except among the professionals) none of this swerving and swiveling causes any cognitive dissonance in the typical ostrich, because loyalty to one’s social side is the paramount conservative -- and ostrich -- virtue.

Do not get me wrong. As an ornery contrarian, I can criticize in all directions. Both lefties and liberals (two entirely different species) have their own psychological drives, some of them relentlessly self-destructive, as we see so many opponents of the neocons start lining up to march to Karl Rove’s election year drumbeat, like lemmings, yet again. But these character flaws are nothing compared to what’s exhibited by the ostrich millions on the right, who rationalize away the tsunami of evidence that their “side” is being led by bona fide monsters.

Rant mode off. Anyway, I am p[reaching to folk who’ve heard it all before, alas.


“Flush with cash, Canada plans to slash taxes.” Reuters, Oct 30. So THAT’s what happened to the real Republican Party; it moved to Canada!

Under the “we’re STILL WAITING” department... remember when Republicans accused Bill Clinton of murdering an Arkansas state trooper to supposedly cover up alleged "evidence" of Clinton's multiple rapes. At one point, the endlessly futile “most investigated in US history.” even centered around Bill Clinton's Christmas card list!

Ah, remember when Stephen Hess called Clinton Admin the “most investigated in US history?” But with what kind of results?

Will there ever come a time when this kind of calumny butts up against the test of reasonableness? After billions of dollars and diverting FBI agents from protecting us, to search for ANY Clinton smoking guns, will any amount of failed investigations finally get those people to apologize?

Be angry. In 2006, a Blackwater SUV collided with a US Army Humvee. Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle the SUV.That's US soldiers being assaulted and held at gunpoint by Blackwater. Oh, if this had happened under Clinton!

12 former army captains speak out about the futility of the Iraq intervention and its destructive effects upon the US Army.

Enough. The lesson is clear. Don't get complacent. Stay angry. Think of the celebrations that will explode, around the world, when the Bushites lose power. The litmus between mad neocons and the rest of us is basically this. To them, America's present unpopularity is proof that Bush is right. To the rest of us, it is clear evidence that we are losing any power, influence or right to lead the world.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Science n' The Future

Forbes-The-FutureForbes Magazine recently interviewed a number of futurists, including Stuart Brand, Rudy Rucker, Stephan Wolfram (and me!) on the topic of The Future.

Cool and loads of fun, the Dresden Codak online comic strip deals with matters like time travel and singularities.

Cool and part of the solution... the “$100 laptop” project seems to be coming into shape at last, with a robust and adaptable - wifi networked, low power and high-functioning laptop for children in the Developing World. And only off-target on price by a factor of two. It will make you salivate for one yourself. So buy one while buying one for a poor kid, in a special matchup program. "Give One & Get One" for $399.

TransparentSocietyA building built for voyeurism... Not only will the building’s glass walls allow W residents to see, and be seen by, passers-by on the street below, but Mr. Fletcher and Ms. Lillo have created peekaboo features within each apartment, like a window between the kitchen and the bedroom, and a bathroom that’s a glass cube, allowing residents to expose themselves to their roommates and family members, too. Mr. Transparency quails.

From the Transparency Front: a town in the UK that provided access to the CCTV feeds to citizens. “The scheme that gave residents of Shoreditch links to local CCTV cameras through their TV sets had better viewing figures than Channel 4's Big Brother...The Information Commissioner had ordered the homesnoop CCTV be handicapped by low resolution to prevent the watchers from identifying the people they were watching. "You couldn't recognise specifics, but you could see if there was trouble happening or if someone was roaming about. It made people feel safer," said Hatwal. "Not a single resident came back and raised [CCTV] as an issue," he said. "It was the defining thing that made people say, 'Oh yes, I want that', and they wanted to see more detail [in the CCTV images]."

A new kind of lamp/bulb has no electrodes or filaments and may last hundreds of hours, while emitting light at 50% efficiency. (Vs 5% for incandescent or 15% for fluorescent.)

See the new Paul Allen Array which takes the SETI Project to new levels. I am glad!

Galaxy-Garden-lombergSpeaking of which, renowned space artist Jon Lomberg - a colleague in our discussions over the METI conroversy -- has just established a “Galaxy Garden” in Hawaii, that illustrates many features of the Milky Way on a scale of 83 light years per inch. A flower might represent an entire star-forming nebula. Way cool.

Back on Earth.... see an article about using High-Temp plasmas to neutralize toxics.

If there are any lingering doubts as to whether the age of oil is nearing its end, the International Energy Agency has put them to rest and made it clear that only a massive and immediate investment in sustainable energy will prevent a global crisis.

When matter gets swallowed by a black hole, it could fall into another universe contained inside the black hole, or get trapped inside a wormhole-like connection to a second black hole, a new study suggests.

Metaverse-singularityRead Jamais Cascio’s essay about Openness and the Metaverse Singularity. “The people who have embraced the possibility of a singularity should be working at least as hard on making possible a global inclusion of interests as they do on making the singularity itself happen.” What a wise guy.

Scientists in Taiwan are reporting new insights into why diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of obesity. Their study focuses on healthful natural antioxidant compounds called flavonoids and phenolic acids.

Chalk up another predictive “hit”? Ultra-capacitors promise to store energy far better soon, supplementing or even replacing batteries in many uses.

The world's smallest hard drives have already shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, but nanoscale computing may soon make that achievement look elephantine.

A new startup called YourStreet is bringing hyper-local information to its users by collecting news stories and placing them on its map-based interface, down to the nearest street corner.

Last week's announcement by Shai Agassi, a former SAP executive based in Palo Alto, that he's raised $200 million for Better Place, a company that will try to revolutionize the electric car industry, is the latest sign of this region's growing role in one of the hottest sectors of the automotive industry.

Some scientists speculate that a mirror system in people forms the basis for social behavior, for our ability to imitate, acquire language, and show empathy and understanding. It also may have played a role in the evolution of speech. Mirror neurons were so named because, by firing both when an animal acts and when it simply watches the same action... The whole article is fascinating, but here’s the crucial part: that autistic children do not lack all mirror activity or ability to mentally mirror other people. Rather, in a more complex situation, they can mirror some of the time, but for more restricted groups of people, excluding those they don’t know well.

“This evidence for normal mirror neuron activity in autistic children may indicate that mirror system dysfunction in these cases reflects an impairment in identifying with and assigning personal significance to unfamiliar people and things, Oberman suggests. Whether deficits in relating to unfamiliar people that are characteristic of autism are the cause or the result of a dysfunctional mirror neuron system is unclear.” Of course I ponder how this will turn out relating to a longtime interest - the roots of our capacity for empathy, altruism or pragmatic negotiation with others.

What? No politics?

Sometimes we need reminders that civilization is continuing. And that even if a conspiratorial cabal does continue ruining our way of government, it does not have to be allowed to ruin Enlightenment Civilization or our basic way of life.

 We can still keep it going, by exploring, by cooperating decently and competing fairly, and by being ourselves.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Capitalism Give Its Impartial Judgement on the Iraq War

I’m mostly reprinting stuff from other folks, for a while. But (picking up the slack) I’m pleased to say Russ Daggatt is back! So here’s a gem from him (plus a small item or two of my own):

RD: The past few days have ones for the record book. Is Bush to be the most intensely disliked president in US history? For the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50% say they "strongly disapprove" of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.
Not just majority disapproval. A majority strongly disapprove.

Yes, we can see some restoration of faith in Abraham Lincoln’s dictum that you cannot foll all of the people, all the time. And yet, ironically, this makes one MORE fearful of how delusionally crazy men may behave, during their last year of power.

MORE FROM RD: When George Bush invaded Iraq and overthrew its secular Baathist government, he ensured a strengthening of Iran's power in the region. And when Bush took the focus off stabilizing Afghanistan and pursuing al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he ensured the resurgence of the Taliban and other Islamist forces that are destabilizing both of those countries. With Iraq and Afghanistan both in chaos, and nuclear-armed Pakistan threatening to join them, what does the Bush crowd want to do for an encore? Open up another front with Iran. At the same time the only stable part of Iraq, the Kurdish north, faces the possibility of a border war with Turkey.

Right-wing warmongers robotically cite Neville Chamberlain and Munich any time someone questions the wisdom of rushing to war. But a better WWII analogy might be Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union. Even a dominant military power can overextend itself. Moreover, Bush has so fueled hatred of the US in the Muslim world (nowhere more so than in Pakistan), and Islamic radicalism generally, that any government in that part of the world that is seen as an ally of ours is imperiled. (see URL:

The legacy of George W. Bush could be regional war in the Middle East drawing in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly even Turkey. Osama bin Laden (still in a secure, undisclosed location -- presumably in Pakistan) could not, in his wildest dreams, have imagined that 19 fanatics with boxcutters could have such an impact -- destabilizing the entire region. Of course, the real heavy lifting came from Bush. (One hornet can't bring down a barn. But it can sting a horse, who kicks down the barn.)

DB: Where I part company with Russ is this: I was fine with the idea of toppling Saddam! So were many people who hoped, at last, to make up for the astrounding Bush Family policy of propping up that monster, for two generations. Only, almost anyone on Earth, with an IQ above that of a slime mold, could have come up with a better plan to oust Saddam than the one that W chose -- to destroy our alliances, our social cohesion, our finances, our moral leadership and freedoms in the process.

Are any ostriches waking up? This from a dissenting republican site: “Realism must replace the utopianism of the neo-con philosphy. There can be no WWII style occupation of ‘conquered lands’ and that concept must be abandoned. No more utopian nation building and attempts at wholesale transformation of societies into 'our own image'; only destruction of the enemy and the immediate substitution of toppled governments with the best replacements available.” (I never thought I’d be delighted to see a return swing toward traditional GOP cynicism! But right wingers make SCARY utopians!)

On the lighter side see two wonderful “Goldwater Republican” women standing up and having fun while shivving the neocons.

Finally, now that Russ Daggatt is back at work, I can continue to fob much of the political work onto him. Like pointing out something that should have been obvious. That human beings are driven by subjective bias -- with opponents of the Iraq War perceiving all the strategic failures, while administration advocates zero in with tunnel-focus upon this or that apparent tactical success. (None of the “benchmarks” set out by the Bush Administration, last spring, are anywhere near fruition. But some Sunni militias in Anbar have been co-opted, huzzah.)

But, with passionate political partisans so biased, is there anyone to look to, who has a cold-eyed, pragmatic approach? Not the harried and oppressed CIA or the up-to-their-necks military.

RD: Let’s try good old-fashioned capitalists. An MIT economics professor came up with a good objective measure – the bond market. As the professor notes, bondholders, “aren’t politically motivated. They don’t have to rationalize their previous statements or justify their votes from years past. All they care about is whether there will be a functioning Iraq in the future such that they will receive their payments.”

[This is similar to the assessment of global warming on the part of insurance and reinsurance companies. Those – apolitical, impersonal – risk markets are speaking emphatically that the risks of global warming are real.]

“First, some background on the Iraqi bonds. After the United States helped Iraq renegotiate its leftover debt from the Saddam Hussein era, the Iraqi government issued about $3 billion of new bonds in January 2006. These dollar denominated bonds pay 2.9 percent twice a year and mature in 2028, paying the face value of $100. To say the least, the market for these bonds is not robust: as of last week, a bond with a face value of $100 was trading at around $60. Professor Greenstone calculated that, from the markets’ standpoint, the implied default risk over the life of the bond was about 80 percent.”

“Of course, it’s worth asking whether bond traders know anything more about Iraq than the pundits do. It’s impossible to say with certainty, but the collective wisdom of financial markets has proved remarkably adept at evaluating events and predicting the future, even the turning points of war.

"During the American Civil War, for example, when Confederate forces lost at Gettysburg , Confederate cotton bonds traded in England dropped by about 14 percent. During World War II, German government bonds fell 7 percent when the Russians started their counterattack at Stalingrad in 1942, and French government bonds rose 16 percent after the Allied invasion at Normandy in 1944. Many such examples of the prescience of financial markets have been documented by economic historians. Comparing the yields on Iraqi bonds from the start of the surge in February to late August, Professor Greenstone calculated that the bondholders implicitly raised the chances of an Iraqi bond default by 40 percent. Over that period, Iraqi bond prices fell about 14 percent — as much as the Confederate cotton bonds fell after the battle of Gettysburg .”

The key point is that this is capitalism speaking. Not kleptocracy, posturing as free enterprise, but the genuine article in the form of open and knowing markets.

Clearly, we should demand that every Republican candidate, who is urging us to “stay the course” in Iraq, should prove his confidence in great outcomes from this bizarre and ill-defined "utopian adventure in nation-building."

Each of these war-boosters now has a golden opportunity to display admirable honesty and committment, simply by putting his money where his mouth is. By staking his entire wealth upon the same bet that he wants us to make, with our nation, with our sons and daughters, and with our good name.

Tell Mitt and Rudy and Fred and all the rest that they can do this (and gain our respect) by investing all they have in Iraqi government bonds.


Friday, November 09, 2007


Continuing to post mostly items from the world:

At the sublime end of the YouTube Pehnomenon, have a look at The Hub which is the next phase in my favorite charity - Project Witness and its effort to use transparency to change the world. Founder Peter Gabriel calls it “the first online global platform that offers you the tools you need to use media for advocacy - enabling you and millions of others worldwide to use camcorders, cell phones and cameras to upload, share, and discuss your human rights-related footage, as well as organize campaigns to create change.” Participate... or at least spread word.

Of course, there’s also fun stuff at the other end. An absolutely must-see YouTube by some British comedians offering biting insights into the financial scandals.

Almost as entertaining is another YouTube posting, Showing David Brin & Michael Whelan being wished fond farewell at closing ceremenies of Nippon2007, the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama. Heaps of fun. People were very nice, indeed. My speech at Opening Ceremonies would seem to imply I speak better Japanese than I do!

Case Western Reserve University researchers have bred a line of "mighty mice" (PEPCK-Cmus mice) that have the capability of running five to six kilometers at a speed of 20 meters per minute on a treadmill for up to six hours before stopping."They are metabolically similar to Lance Armstrong biking up the Pyrenees; they utilize mainly fatty acids for energy and produce very little lactic acid.".... These genetically engineered mice also eat 60 percent more than controls, but remain fitter, trimmer and live and breed longer than wild mice in a control group. Some female PEPCK-Cmus mice have had offspring at 2.5 years of age.... Most mice do not reproduce after they are one year old.... PEPCK-Cmus mice are seven times more active in their home cages than controls; in addition, the mice were also markedly more aggressive.

The transgenic mice, which now number nearly 500, were derived from six founder lines that contain a chimeric gene in which a copy of the cDNA for PEPCK-C was linked to the skeletal actin gene promoter, containing the 3'-end of the bovine growth hormone gene. The skeletal actin gene promoter directs expression of PEPCK-C exclusively to skeletal muscle. Various lines of PEPCK-Cmus mice expressed PEPCK-C at different levels, but one very active line of PEPCK-Cmus mice had levels of PEPCK-C activity of 9 units/gram skeletal muscle, compared to only 0.08 units/gram in the muscles of control animals.

This new mouse line also has an increased content of mitochondria and high concentrations of triglycerides in their skeletal muscles, which also contributed to the increased metabolic rate and longevity of the animals. "It is remarkable that the over-expression of a single enzyme involved in a metabolic pathway should result in such a profound alteration in the phenotype of the mouse," Hakimi and Hanson said.

Comment: This is the first animal genetic engineering that I have seen, that seems very likely to tempt rich parents and secretive techies to try on humans soon. And yet, in my trademark response to othjer mice-generated wonders -- like caloric-restriction leading to much greater lifespans -- I have to say that they may merely have found a “switch” that humans have already flicked, in the last million years in order to become the lavishly exaggerated creatures that we are, with three-times longer lifespans (more precisely, three times more heartbeats) and prodigiously expensive brains.

Look, mutations probably flick this mouse switch often, in nature. That is probably WHY it is so easily switched on, in the lab! In times of sudden and lush plenty, a mutant mouse with this trait can dominate all others and breed like md. But, once the prosperity crashes, so will this mouse, who cannot eke along on low calories. And so will all of his offspring who express the gene. BUT, those who express all his other genes (including genes preparatory or helpful to this one) WILL survive and remain hidden in the mouse population... till the next time of super-plenty.

Oh, the “Beyond Belief” conference was interesting, weird, irksome. A couple of Nobelists and Daniel Dennett ranted against God... talk about expressing a sense of privileged invulnerability that is a direct product of lavishly safe circumstances! There were many other talks that seemed less tendentiously and ironically sanctimonious, regarding the (far better) sub-theme of “Enlightenment 2.0: preserving and enhancing the Enlightenment.” I concentrated on that part, emphasizing that this is the moment when enemies of the Enlightenment HAVE TO act, or else see it become a permanent stable condition, perpetuated by super-educated and confident and knowing citizens who live under conditions of permanent and lavish plenty.


UK scientists have been granted £2.5 million to invent a nanomachine that can build materials molecule by molecule. Such a robot doesn't -- and may never -- exist, though it has been imagined for over half a century. But this autumn, researchers across the UK are starting work towards it, following the funding of three research projects by the Engineering and physical sciences research council. As a member of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, I will be (with my colleagues) be following this closely.

As a member of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, I help create position papers that peer ahear to the threats and promises of this rapidly advancing technological realm. Now you can read an important new book about the topic Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control. See also a review.

Searching for God in the Brain Researchers are unearthing the roots of religious feeling in the neural commotion that accompanies the spiritual epiphanies of nuns, Buddhists and other people of faith.

The FUTURIST’s top ten forecasts for 2008.

While Popular Mechanics lists ten CUTTING EDGE BREAKTHROUGHS (some of these are WAY cool).

A composite plastic that's as strong as steel but lighter and transparent.

Malicious code could be embedded in online video players, according to a report on Internet threats released Tuesday by the Georgia Tech Information Security Center. One worm discovered in November 2006 launches a corrupt Web site without prompting after a user opens a media file in a player.

A new approach to "printing" living cells could make it easier to arrange them into precise structures without harming them.

The Arctic ice cap this summer dwindled to an extent unparalleled in a century or more.

Dusty Winds Bursting Out Of Black Holes May Have Seeded Planets, Life

A futuristic scheme to collect solar energy on satellites and beam it to Earth has gained a large supporter in the US military.

Virtual-worlds platform developer Multiverse Network is set to announce a partnership Tuesday that will allow anyone to create a new online interactive 3D environment with just about any model from Google's online repository of 3D models, its 3D Warehouse, as well as terrain from Google Earth.

Read “AI Meets the Metaverse: Teachable AI Agents Living in Virtual Worlds” by my friend Ben Goertzel “Online virtual worlds have the power to accelerate and catalyze the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI). As AGIs involved in this metaverse become progressively more intelligent from their interaction with the social network of human beings and reach human-level intelligence (the Singularity), they will already be part of the human social network. If we build them right and teach them right, they will greet us with open arms.”

Researchers have developed the world's first working radio system to use a nano-sized detector made of carbon nanotubes that receives radio waves wirelessly and demodulates them into sound signals.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Guest List: Traits of Fascism

I haven't time to create anything new here, so I'll continue posting stored-up items. Here's one that is taken from Mark Anderson's Strategic News Service, a thought -provoking generalization that, like most generalizations, badly needs examination in the details.

Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each: (disclosure needed here: I could find no mention of his methodology, but the thoughts are interesting and tie back to Bush suppressing scientific work).

The 14 Characteristics of Fascism Are:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism -
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights -
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause -
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military -
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism -
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media -
Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security -
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined -
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected -
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed -
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts -
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment -
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption -
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections -
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

-- Offered to SNS by David Obert [Hewlett-Packard]


David Brin responds: While this list is thought provoking - and of course chilling in our present context - I believe it is also ahistorical and misleading at several points.

#4. Supremacy of the Military - "Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized."

This one is highly problematic. Not only because it is deeply flawed, historically. But also because it leads us toward a generalized hostility toward the military, which is not only undeserved in our present situation, but deeply unjust and counterproductive.

Sure, the military chiefs were supreme under Franco's version of fascism, but the same cannot be said for several other sub-brands. Under Hitler, a top priority was to keep the regular military class cowed and intimidated. Yes, there was militarism and the military was vastly expanded - and, indeed, the Wehrmacht was highly culpable for a myriad crimes. Nevertheless, the professional officer corps was not in itself supreme. It contributed almost no members to the Nazi inner circle. Hitler strove to build parallel forces answerable only to the Nazi Party.

Stalin's version of fascism took this trend much farther, all the way to a near-total evisceration of the Soviet officer corps, at the very threshold of WWII. This latter example is, in fact, a far closer parallel to what the Bushites have been doing to our American military. (Example: under Bill Clinton, we had thirty brigades ready - with high morale and training - to do their duty in some major surprise conflict. Under George W. Bush, that number has declined to two brigades. Just two.) It is vital to recognize that the United States armed forces -- especially the apolitical and highly intellectual Marshallian U.S. Officer Corps -- have been the neocons foremost victims. They have suffered, in part, because the Bushites know that our nation's professional castes must be squelched, starting with the military.

Moreover, how can demonizing these folks be as helpful as embracing them? Enlisting them as allies, in resisting an attempted fascist putsch? Indeed, anyone paying close attention can see clear signs of a growing, behind-the-scenes resistance, in which quiet back-pressure has been applied by our nation's flag officers. First the forced resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, followed by appointment of a non-Bushite Republican as Sec/Def, Robert Gates. Followed by the new Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen, and Centcom Chief Admiral Fallon. All are clear signs of a military that's squirming out of neocon control. (Fast enough to do real good? That could depend on how much support they get.)

Keep your eyes open. Any time you see the Navy rise in influence, it will be a clear signal that this resistance continues. That elements in the military are pushing back on our behalf.

#9. Corporate Power is Protected - "The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite."

True, but simplistic. Yes, the Junkers and major industrialists installed Hitler as a counter to the Communists. But they were delusional. They thought their privately-owned newspapers could keep him in check, in an era of new media (radio and loudspeakers) in which Hitler was the master-hypnotist. (See point #8.)

Also remember, that the Nazi Party was the National Socialist Party. The aristos were protected, but they also found themselves straitjacketed. (For example, purely Aryan-Nazi labor unions gained partial control over the means of production. A little-known historical quirk. (See point#10.))

As to our present situation, yes, the rise of monopoly and a gilded age support point #9. But there are complexities. Far too little is being made of the rift WITHIN the corporate aristocracy, with the smarter half growing aware how the Golden Goose of Enlightenment American capitalism is being killed before their eyes. Will the smarter and more honest/creative half of the aristocracy actually start taking action, to help the people throw off the dismal/stupid/corrupt half? Stay tuned.

#12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - "Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations."

This, too, oversimplifies. Yes, all these things come true under every fascist regime. But the Bushites face a steep climb before reaching such a plateau. In fact, during the interim, while a diversity of law enforcement agencies are still heavily stocked with skilled and honest professionals, the neocons' problem is quite the opposite... to squelch the effectiveness of law enforcement! The utterly central Bushite need, right now, is to distract and dissuade the professionals who are charged with uncovering crime, because so much outright crime has been perpetrated by the neocons themselves. Hence, should we be surprised that statistics show most crime rates on the rise? Especially drug-related, white collar, consumer fraud and street crime.

Yes, this kind of trend can serve the purpose of provoking citizens to want more police empowerment. But it is a dangerous game and we could organize our thoughts to helping it to backfire.

(A side irony. As I point out in The Ostrich Papers: How it will take all Decent Americans to Restore Decency to America, it is beginning to dawn on many old-style Republicans that nearly all of the basic tenets of old-style conservatism have been systematically reversed by the neocon proto-fascists. Prudence to recklessness. Cynical isolationism to faux-utopian imperialism. Punctilious lawfulness to flagrant illegality. A dedication to accountability has flipped to frantic secrecy and avoidance. Certainly the old GOP dedication to states rights has been trounced, thrashed and buried. That last item, of course, could be viewed as a precursor to the police state described by David Obert and by Lawrence Britt.)

In sum: I do not deny the relevance of the chilling list of Fascist traits offered by Lawrence Britt. But I believe it should be used with subtlety and care. If we are to avoid becoming the USSA (United Security States of America) we have to avoid cliches.

Especially those that might make us shun potential allies in this desperate fight.