Sunday, March 30, 2008

Change Congress... Local races and political flux!

The ever-vigorous and creative Dr. Lawrence Lessig has led in creation of a new movement-site and advocacy group: Change Congress attempts to coordinate and stimulate the many efforts out there, to reform our national legislature in profound and permanent ways. (Some of which are similar to my “Suggestions to Congress” published last year.) Do at minimum watch Larry’s very vivid and informative web-talk.

If you lack time, skip to about 2/3 of the way in, where he gets beyond the introductory background and really gets to a series of excellent points, from there on.

A Big Pill For That Ostrich of Yours -- “Reasons For Conservatives to Vote Obama.” And this article is in The American Conservative, no less! Unlike that sad journal’s usual reflex apologias for a burgeoning aristocracy, this article by Andrew J. Bacevich gets right to the point... that the GOP has not been led by true conservatives for many years, but by men who have reversed its fundamentals, at every turn. Between the lines, he yearns for the re evaluation and possible redemption that his movement might only achieve in the wilderness, after suffering a well-deserved electoral rout.

” quickly becomes apparent that the Republican Party does not represent conservative principles. The conservative ascendancy that began with the election of Ronald Reagan has been largely an illusion. During the period since 1980, certain faux conservatives—especially those in the service of Big Business and Big Empire—have prospered. But conservatism as such has not.” Amen. Don’t just point your ostrich to this article. Read it to him or her, aloud. And remind him where you found it.

Alas, we are already hearing the refrain about McCain. “He’s not THAT kind of conservative. He’s one of the good ones!” Hence, his recent speech, calling for America to pull back from unilateralist international adventurism, sounds like a dramatic improvement... until you realize that conservatism has always featured wild, manidc-depressive swings, between fervid interventionism and sullen retreats into grumbling isolationism. With the nation’s world popularity at an all-time low, having thrown away all of our alliances and goodwill, it is only natural to see the depressive phase come out, and for conservatives to change the color of their garment. Expect to hear this line - ”Yes, a pack of jerks have steered the ship of state into into the jaws of Scylla. But that crazed veer wasn’t really us at the tiller. Let our team steer again! In the opposite direction! Away from Scylla!”

As Charybdis licks its chops.

For a pithier approach, always tune in to This Modern World.
See also a very inspiring (if biased) account by a man who knows Obama very well. The picture painted is a voracious intellect, genuinely interested in looking at issues from all sides.

The LA Times issued an editorial, March 23, laying out the degree to which the US Army is being demolished, by the very same lunatics who most-loudly shriek “support our troops!” The article only brushes the surface of an issue that I have been raising since 2003 and that the Democrats ought to make their own... if they had any sense.

”In 2006, the percentage of Army recruits who were high school graduates (82%) was the lowest since 1981, and their scores on the military's aptitude test were the worst since 1985. The number of "moral waivers" issued to those with criminal records more than tripled since 1996, to 8,500 in 2006. Worse, the number of recruits with felony convictions was up 30% in 2006 compared with 2005. And the Army apparently stooped to social promotion: 94% of recruits graduated from basic training in 2006, compared with 82% in 2005.

Keeping the all-volunteer Army at full strength in wartime hasn't been cheap, either. The cost per troop soared to $120,000 in 2006 from $75,000 in 2001. And to keep reenlistments up, the Army had to pay retention bonuses of $735 million in 2006, up more than eightfold from the $85 million paid in 2003. Even so, officer shortages are a problem, and at the rank of captain, the backbone of the command structure, the Army is at 60% strength in Iraq. Moreover, for the last year it hasn't had the 3,200 troops needed to fill a brigade designated as militarily "required" for Afghanistan.”

This is not to say that our field forces aren’t still adaptable and adapting. The officers and noncoms are struggling heroically with a near impossible mission, where most of the money that should be used supporting them, or re-building Iraq, has flowed instead into the open maws of Bush-crony service contractors like Halliburton and KBR, operating on “emergency” clause contracts that evade all normal accounting and bidding rules (arguably the chief and foremost reason for the State of Emergency, in the first place.) And still, despite all that, our skilled professionals have been doing their best. Gradually, new doctrines have developed on the ground and islands of peace and goodwill really are being nurtured. One can oppose the madness that plunged us into this war, while still being proud of the men and women who are turning a national catastrophe into a mere bankrupting debacle.

Still, will anyone, any time, mention the credibility issue? Even if we are now committed to stay in Iraq and clean up our own mess, should the job be left in the hands of a cabal of corrupt fools, who kissed Saddam for decades, then left him in place to oppress Iraqis for 12 years, then ousted him in the stupidest of all possible ways? McCain and Limbaugh will try to corner Democrats by asking “what’s YOUR exit strategy?” The answer has got to be “Cleaning up may be complex and costly... but the first step is to peel off of our national tiller the hands of those morons who steered us onto rocks.”


The Pentagon abruptly canceled plans to post online a new report (and also canceled a related background briefing) that concludes the lack of a link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. DOD is also now refusing to e-mail out copies of the report, and is only making it available in physically mailed CD-ROM form upon request.

Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.

DCCC has unveiled their second "Red to Blue" list for this cycle:
Kay Barnes (MO-06)
Anne Barth (WV-02)
Darcy Burner (WA-08)
Robert Daskas (NV-03)
Steve Driehaus (OH-01)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Christine Jennings (FL-13)
Larry Kissell (NC-08)
Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24)
Eric Massa (NY-29)
Gary Peters (MI-09)
Mark Schauer (MI-07)
Dan Seals (IL-10)

These are moderate democrats running hard (and well) in current GOP-held congressional districts. It’s nice to see at least three Blue Majority candidates on this list-Darcy Burner, Dan Seals and Eric Massa. (I know Massa and recommend him!) Check and see if you are near any of these districts! If so, helping these people will probably be an even better use of your time and money than contributing to the national campaigns.

And if not? Then look around. Some nearby race for Congress or State Assembly may be just the ticket. A way for your own small efforts to really matter.

Got enthusiasm? Always consider my support for Obama to be BOTH enthusiastic and accompanied by an asterisk* that arises out of wariness toward any bright, hopeful thing that seems to have come upon us a bit suddenly. (The silver lining? He comes with fewer political IOUs than any candidate in US history. At least, to our knowledge. And, as Sean Connery said in a Kevin Costner film, “If you want an apple that’s not rotten, pluck it from the tree, before it spends much time in the barrel.”)

Anyway, having said that, here’s the enthusiasm part -- Get your Barack “stuff” here! It’s also the way to make a small contribution.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Causes for optimism (and care) on the frontiers of art, science and the future

Before moving on to science and technology, a quick popular-culture note:

Deja-vu-washingtonI recently saw the Denzel Washington film “Deja Vu”. It really wasn’t bad, for a time travel story. Yes, some paradox matters were finessed or waved away, but the writers/director really tried hard and there was some good rationalization. What I especially appreciated, though, was how they avoided the “idiot plot” in most ways. That is the phenomenon where, in order to keep the hero in dramatic jeopardy, lazy storytellers usually posit or assume that all of society’s institutions are either incompetent or malignant, or both. And thus, talking to anybody in authority, especially the cops, would be a waste of time. Even Steven Spielberg falls for this trap, now and then, though he does, in general soften it with a deep current of gratitude for getting to live in this civilization. (Note, the extreme way that George Lucas dives into this addiction-reflex; it is one of my chief complaints about the Star Wars Universe.)

Independence_day_movieposterOf course, some stories are about malignant or incompetent officials or need them for logical plot development. That is a legitimate topic, and certainly seems relevant to today’s world. And then, some other films don’t need the crutch of incompetent/corrupt authority figures at all, such as when the outside threat is SO huge that jeopardy threatens to overwhelm even a good and smart society, e.g. INDEPENDENCE DAY and DEEP IMPACT and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. (Note, however, that ARMAGEDDON was steeped in this idiot plot mythos, despite not needing it at all! Simply wallowing in a filthy habit.) What is refreshing about DEJA VU is that Denzel’s character was kept in heart-thumping peril, and not a single moment was wasted in demonizing the skilled professionals who were smart enough to recruit him and decent enough to break rules when he asked them to. Refreshing.

==Roofed Worlds?==

2010bookWhen I was a kid, we still dreamed of oases on Mars and whole oceans! under the thick clouds of Venus. Soon, space probes showed us a stark barren planetary system, a daunting image... that seems to be changing rapidly the other way! First, we ruminated hopefully over the blatant likelihood of liquid seas, lurking under the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, so likely that the recently lamented Arthur Clarke wrote about it in his book, 2010.

Recently, scientists began to suspect similar, if smaller, buried seas on Ganymede and Callisto. Recent observations of water geysers on Saturn’s moon, Enceledus, suggest the same thing is going on there. And now, strong evidence that the big smog-ball itself, Titan, may not only harbor surface oceans of wax and hydrocarbons, but also inner seas of water and ammonia.

Could this sort of thing be the norm, out there? Might roofed oceans be the most common abode of life, in the cosmos? I am only just beginning to be dazzled by the implications. Stay tuned. Keep watching this space.

...and see below for about forty cool items from a world the refuses to give up on adventures of science and progress!…

==On Complexity and the Future==

Scientists have revealed what may well be the first pervasive 'rule' of evolution. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex. This may at first seem obvious, but for decades, biologists have preached at us, on TV etc, to remember that the metazoan (plant & animal) branches of the tree of liufe are small offshoots, compared to the vastly larger number of species - and greater biomass - that remained unicellular.

An international team of researchers created an experiment in which a quantum bit of information was transported across a distance of seven meters and briefly stored in memory, the first time that both quantum memory and teleportation have been demonstrated in a single experiment.

The latest great essay on the Singularity, by Jamais Cascio.

The Wall Street Journal attempts (mildly) to do some Thinking About Tomorrow .

Set aside 18 minutes and prepare to be floored. Consensus among TED’sters is that this may be the most memorable and important TED Talk ever.

==== And now the latest misc-tery tech cornucopia! =====

Um who needs men? British scientists discover how to turn women's bone marrow into sperm. Oops, there goes Glory Season

Freighters helped along by giant kites! (Actually, I mentioned this long ago, in EARTH! One more for the prediction wiki! In fact, I invested money in Walker Wingsail, which seemed to promise a good way to do this. (Lost it all when WW went belly up. Ah well.)

For the predictions registry. My “subvocal” input device - from Earth - is coming closer to reality.

A new sensor system that can detect dangerous airborne agents such as anthrax in as little as three minutes uses living immune-system cells genetically engineered to emit light when exposed to a particular contaminant.

Morphine’s serious side effect as a pain killer – its potential to create dependency – has been almost completely eliminated in research with mice by genetically modifying a single trait on the surface of neurons. The study scientists think a drug can be developed to similarly block dependency.

A seagoing glider that harvests heat from the ocean to propel itself is being used to explore the undersea environment off Puerto Rico. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Webb Corporation team predicts the glider could keep going on its own for another 6 months.

In honor of my late friend and colleague, the great visionary Arthur Clarke, see a series of riffs on Hal 9000.

==Transparency & Politics ==

And from the transparency front: Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA criminal record database if they exhibit behavior indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert. Eeek. The trouble is, you won’t stop this half of it... authorities seeing better. What we still have time to do is strip authorities naked, so they’ll be careful about bothering us over what they see.

See a fascinating article about how the fall of the Soviet Union forced Cuba to do without imports of oil and pesticides/fertilizers, at first cutting the food supply. Till they adapted by privatizing state farms, investing heavily in organic, dry, no-till methods, and establishing urban plots. “Cuba stopped exporting sugar and began to grow its own food again. Within a decade, the Cuban diet rebounded to its former level without food imports or the use of agrochemicals. The Cuban experience shows that agroecology can form a viable basis for agriculture without industrial methods or biotechnology. Unintentionally, the U.S. trade embargo turned Cuba into a nation-scale experiment in alternative agriculture.” It’s not ideal by any means. Coercion is still a staple of Cuban life. Labor intensive aspects are disturbing. Meat and milk remain in short supply, though urban plots supply all of the capital’s vegetables. The solution involved partly a retreat from socialism and partly its veer into a different style.

You’d think the”Globalist” would be pro-Bush? Try this from another article. “When George W. Bush was inaugurated, the euro was trading at 94 cents, and gold cost $266 an ounce. Now they are trading at $1.52 and $985 an ounce. That is a plain vote of no confidence by global models in the Bush–Bernanke economic model.”

Outdoor pursuits, ranging from camping to hunting, have entered a persistent and growing decline since 1987. Their statistical analysis shows that the increase in video games, movie rentals and other indoor pursuits. (My boys are scouts!)

...Just a taste of things to lift your spirit in rough times, as we sit and wait for the enemies of modernity to pull their next stunt -- some new way to distract the masses and order out the tide.


StarShipSofa carries some nice readings of quality SF stories (like my own). They have posted one that’s up for a BSFA award. If you like audio tales for that commute, give a look.

For those of you who like Japanese-oriented sci fi... like monsters that stomp cities... or just cool mythology, have a look at a small webzine called Daikaijuzine.

A year ago, the Computer Graphics Society ran one of their "Grand Challenges" resulting in marvelous images, animations, and even movie trailers for Greg Bear's wonderful novel, EON.

Now, it's my turn to inspire the next of these challenges! Starting March 19, individual artists and teams have three months to illustrate moments or scenes or trailers based upon my Uplift Universe. Tell your artist friends! The results are likely to be stunning.

Speaking of animation.... See one of the coolest robots yet! And it isn’t even Japanese! RoboDog.

And that cool 360 of me in my office is back up, courtesy of the great Mark Burgess at!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seizing the Symbolic High Ground - in a number of ways...

I want to offer some unusual thoughts on Barack Obama's speech about race in America.

But first a note about a jiu jitsu move to use against neocons and “red” hypocrites, who scream that “liberals will spend America into poverty.”

Yes, it's mind-boggling that they can still keep at this dead horse. Bill Clinton paid down debt and GW impoverished our grandchildren. Still, the art of polemic is often less about reason and more about symbolic surprises that let you trip or stun your opponent. Too bad. Still, I’ve collected quite a number of political judo throws, and this one is a favorite.

Every tax year, after filling out my IRS forms - with professional help - (ask, some time, about “Brin’s surefire way to get tax-simplification without kooky gimmicks or Congressional stalemates!) -- I always seal the envelope... and then prepare another, addressed to a tiny bureau in West Virginia.

Then I slip in a check for $100 as an extra contribution to my country, to be applied against the National Debt.

(Actually, I’ve increased it a bit, in time of war. Like it or not, we all should.)

No, it’s not much. But it is in addition to my normal tax obligation as a citizen, so it goes directly to buying down the red ink just a bit, taking one small feather weight off the back of the camel... or our kids. Moreover, I have been doing it since 1979. Indeed, I have more than got my money’s worth! Not only in a dollop of patriotic feelings, but also in looks on the faces of holier-than-thou flag-wearers, who rant and preen, but would never think of actually “supporting the troops” in such a way.

(I do in other ways, too. Last year I donated more than a thousand dollars in books to service unit libraries, for men and women in the field.)

Here, the amount you send in to the Bureau of Public Dept is less important than consistency. Doing it every year, as a matter of principle. As a gesture of solidarity with our nation and between generations. And it sure puts the kibosh on a whole lot of neocon slander, when you can ask: “Have YOU ever done that?”

Here’s the address:
Bureau of Public Debt
Department of the Treasury
Box 2188
Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188

You’ll get a nice (form) thank you note. File it. Let the file grow. If you are entirely noble of spirit, feel quietly proud and tell nobody. Or, if you need to, use the file as ammo.


Sure, it was brilliant and insightful, calling upon the best of our natures and upon each individual to apply intelligence - actual thought - to a complex and vexing issue. Here's a transcript of Obama's speech. Did any of the 24-hour “news” analysts actually discuss that content, as if they had the intelligence Obama was speaking-to? I did not see one, even one, turn attention to the content, only the melodrama, whether it would “play well.” Whence the insipid media? Our national energy problems would be solved by putting generator coils around the spinning in Edward Murrow’s grave.

Fortunately, my impression is that millions of people, especially the young, did listen for content. And did engage their minds. And, if Barack Obama ever built some momentum, actual thinkin - about complex issues - might become a national habit.

And yet, though I was largely inspired and re-assured, I did feel a bit let down by BHO. Yes, he spoke of Reverend Wright like that beloved Uncle Bob who is 90% goodness itself, always helping neighbors, volunteering as a crossing guard, mentoring youths... but who then rants about how the Apollo landings were faked and it’s all the fault of those #$#$! Albanians. It resonated. We all have uncles or aunts or cousins or neighbors like that. And Obama’s effort to depict Wright that way had some real plausibility.

But still, he evaded a crucial issue. Why, if he had heard such things (less awful, perhaps, but still cringeworthy) from his minister in the past... why did he not minister to the minister?

(Alert... actually, it was Cheryl who pointed all of this out to me. I may be the louder half, but she's the wiser.)

I feel this strongly, since it is what I’ve been urging, for years. That the way to undermine Rush Limbaugh and the horrible hate fest that’s drenched America, is to confront the nation’s self-righteousness plague, head-on, one “uncle Bob” at a time! (See my “Ostrich Manifesto” where I talk about weaning just one “decent conservative” out of Karl Rove’s big tent coalition is the greatest and most important task of any moderate/liberal/progressive person, at this point in our history. Or learn more about the self-righteousness or Indignation Epidemic.)

Look, I am backing Barack Obama. He is our hope, despite my deep wish that we had more years to get to know this promising fellow, before hurtling him into the Oval Office. Nobody else other than BHO seems to have a clue, and he can motivate, big time! A whole new generation. Moreover, the second after he swears in, we’ll have allies again! A fact that will increase our safety and national security by leaps and bounds.

Indeed, this racism speech satisfied a few of my small doubts... and yet...

...and yet I’d be no good friend if I did not offer a small poke of CITOKATE. (Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error), along with the praise. Barack, you should have spoken up, reached out, during (or shortly after) Reverend Wright’s rants. You owed it to all of us to use your eloquence on a small scale, as well as the large. To minister to your minister.

And if you feel regret that you hadn’t? Fine! Then share that with us! Let it be a lesson to all of us! That we should dig in our heels whenever we hear rants and apoplexy. Whenever we witness some neighbor or beloved fool indulging in America’s worst drug high -- self doped indignation -- which has poisoned every interest group and turned-rancid the American genius at negotiating with each other in goodwill.

Please accept this in good spirit. I agree with you that we need to end Culture War, and not stay mired in this artificial spat that’s ruining our country, red vs blue, city vs country... a war that (alas) Hillary Clinton may be able to fight well... but that she can never, ever win. I am backing you because I think and hope you can end culture war!

And yet, ironically, that’s going to take some militancy. For the enemy, the real foe, is not our misguided neighbors as much as it’s the self righteous high, itself! This dreadful form of addiction has become a fever of of outright lunacy on the far-right... but Revered Wright inllustrates that it can strike the left, as well, and occasionally transform decent, even pastoral human beings into Jeckyl/Hyde caricatures, screeching not reason or hope, but the spittle of hate.

We can only ease this madness among our “red” fellow citizens if we are first willing to recognize... and heal... the same disease when it strikes friends.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Arthur C. Clarke (who called me a colleague and friend, despite our only having met by mail) passed on today, after ninety years of a life that only could have happened in the century and civilization that he helped to shape.

Arthur has long and deservedly been called one of the finest “hard” science fiction authors, for good reason. From the beginning of his career as a writer, he explored frontiers of human knowledge, pondering the implications of everything from cetacean intelligence to planetology. From the logic of John Von Neuman’s universal self-replicator to the possible motives of beings far in advance of ourselves.

2001aspaceodysseyAnd yet, what most intrigues me about Arthur’s work is something else -- his ongoing fascination with human destiny -- a term seemingly at-odds with the scientific worldview.

True, a great many of his stories focused on problem-solving, in the face of some intractable riddle. His characters, confronted with something mysterious, are never daunted. They gather resources, pool knowledge, argue, experiment, and then -- often -- transform the enigmatic into something that’s wondrously known.

This part of the human adventure has always shown us at our best. Peeling away layers. Penetrating darkness. Looking back at the wizard, standing behind the curtain.

childhoods-endBut there was another Arthur C. Clarke. The one who sent David Bowman careening through the monolith, helplessly bound for transformation and deification. The author who gave us CHILDHOOD’S END and 2001 A Space Odyssey. One who frets that we may not be wise enough to survive the next few generations of tense immaturity, let alone worthy of joining more advanced communities of mind.

And so, we have a recurring theme of intervention -- quasi-divine -- receiving outside help to achieve our potential. (And wasn’t Clarke’s law that a sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic?)

In this mix of both fizzing optimism and dour worry, Arthur always struck me as similar to two other giants, both Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, who also surveyed very wide horizons, from alluring to disquieting.

What none of them ever did -- and especially not Arthur -- was give in to despair. The notion of change never lost its fascination. His works appeared always to say "what was will not always be, so get ready." Yes, the past deserves honor -- it got us here -- but the future is what draws us forward.

As it always drew Arthur C. Clarke.

====    ====    ====

Footnote: Recently, I've been involved in starting the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California, San Diego. 

"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible." --Arthur C. Clarke

David Brin
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Transparency, Accountability, and the Enlightenment

tsdefenseAlert! My response and rebuttal to Bruce Schneier’s recent article “The Myth of the Transparent Society” has been posted by the good folks of (Now also on my website:  In Defense of a Transparent Society.)

Alas, the argument over how to best protect freedom and (yes!) privacy has not advanced much beyond the simplistic nostrums of ten years ago. Those who dispute that transparency can ever engender freedom and (yes) privacy routinely begin by claiming that my book is about the end of privacy, rather than how to preserve it by empowering people to defend it themselves. The exact-same method that underlies the entire Enlightenment Experiment:

For we already live in the openness experiment, and have for two hundred years. It is called the Enlightenment -- with "light" both a core word and a key concept in our turn away from 4,000 years of feudalism. All of the great enlightenment arenas -- markets, science and democracy -- flourish in direct proportion to how much their players (consumers, scientists and voters) know, in order to make good decisions. To whatever extent these arenas get clogged by secrecy, they fail.

Judge for yourself. But don’t come into just dip a toe and never to consider new ideas. That’s not how to defend the only true revolution in the last ten millennia.

More on the Transparency Wars.... ”London's Metropolitan police a new counter-terrorism PR campaign complete with anti-photography propaganda. The campaign is meant to encourage people to turn in "odd" seeming people that they see taking photographs. "Thousands of people take photos every day," reads their advertisement being run in London's major newspapers. "What if one of them seems odd?"”

Ironically, both the London Metro Police and their critics completely miss the point. In fact it is perfectly legitimate to ask that citizens be aware of what is going on around them, and for them to serve as an outer line of detection and defense against those who might be seeking to do harm. But the odds are SO microscopic in any one case, that our professional protectors simply have no business at all, getting involved at such a low -- and vast(!) -- level.

the way to do this is not to turn neighbor against neighbor, reflexively reporting each other to paranoid state authorities. The answer, indeed, is to make greater use of the tool in question -- photography. People who spot suspicious photography taking place should simply take their own pictures to those doing it!

Generally, these should NOT be given to the police! That is the road to Big Brother. Nor does it inherently threaten any rights for one citizen to view and “remember” another, who was in the act of doing precisely the same thing. The mere act of expanding the number of citizen “eyes” at the roam does not by itself impinge on other peoples’ right to look and record. It is simply the same right, after all. And if it helps us to become better witnesses, on rare occasions, fine.

We need, as citizens, to restore our habit of being slightly wary but politely tolerant and reciprocally protective neighbors. Not a trivial balance to strike, but then, what is, these days? Anyway, it’s our job, not the cops.

=====     =====     =====

Want more about one of my perennial themes - the rise of tech propelled Citizen Power? Taking the whole “smart mobs” scenario a step farther, see Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky.

shirky-here-comes-everybody2Here’s a riff from a recent Salon interview with Clay: ”We are used to a world where doing anything at large scale requires a formal and hierarchical institution. The great debate of the 20th century was, Are really big activities better taken on by governments -- the communist answer -- or are they better taken on by businesses operating in the marketplace - the free-market answer? But the "dot dot dot" at the end of that answer was, "because obviously people can't just get together and do these things on their own." That is increasingly what is happening now. Groups that were once so disassociated from one another that they couldn't do anything are now starting to work together.”

This is a take on the old “Cathedral vs Bazaar” argument. And - despite being one of the early promulgators of the “Age of Amateurs” I must tell you that there are many ways that the jury is still out.  Or, rather, we clearly all win when neither side dominates. Indeed, the Bazaar has had its failings. Take the inability of the Linux community to settle on a set of standards that would turn it into a truly great, people-generated rival to the cathedral operating systems of Apple and Microsoft.

Shirky offers many great examples, such as self-organizing networks of disgruntled airline passengers, getting redress in ways they never could have, before. (Now, if only this sort of thing could make a revolution in stockholder “democracy”, ending the crony-control of top corporations by an interlocking cabal of golf buddies.)

===== Tech Tsunami =====

Looking down the rifle barrel of a nearby (only 8,000 LY) star system that could go supernova any time. Dang, I really needed that worry, too!

Fascinating new work on the “altruism hormone” oxytocin. It seems that it only increases generosity in humans when humans actively have to imagine or picture the point of view of another. It does not affect philanthropic behavior much at all, in test games where the subject wasn’t prompted to consider the other player’s perspective. In other words, it seems to be involved in turning empathy into sympathy... but for it to happen, there must be empathy (in the true and neutral sense of the word) in the first place.

Okay, this is just too cool and fun. Top 10 Barely-Legal Gadgets for the Modern (Amateur) Spy. (Every student at Caltech learns to pick locks, by the way.) And no, I don’t endorse all of these gadgets. But I do have teenagers..

Stewart Brand is one of my heroes. His Long Now Foundation is exploring interesting avenues for provoking modern minds to think over wider horizons in time. He also has a terrific blog. Drop in and see Stewart’s summary of a seminar given by gene-mapping pioneer Craig Venter.

See George Dvorsky’s cool blog-essay about Seven ways to control the Galaxy with self-replicating probes. Cool and fun...

... and a nice counterpoint to my novel Existence (In fact, I think that story covers a few bases that George missed.) George does (courteously) cite my Uplift notion as one of seven possible motives/goals for self-replicating probes. (Thanks George!) He also goes into a very smart riff about why we don’t see any of these probes yet, even though they seem logically to be the way to go. Indeed, at the Los Alamos conference on Interstellar Migration, back around 1982, I saw the work of Jones and Finney suggest that ONE such probe might fill the galaxy with it descendants in just three million years.  An eyeblink that really pushes the Fermi Question hard.

One of the scenarios that George leaves out is the “voyeur-lurker” possibility. That probes might be out there, nearby, right now, listening in. Even tapping our... well... web discussion groups. See my take on this at:

See the following article from Snopes... the great mythbuster site. (explore it!) The great “Cough-it-off” rumor, about how to survive a heart attack, is itself under attack. It should only be tried if the heart has definitely stopped... and loss of consciousness looms. A weak pulse? Angina? Coughing might make it worse. It seems that chewing an aspirin, the moment you have heart pain, then calling 9/11, is still the best thing.

The first detailed images of a binary asteroid system reveal a bizarre world where the highest points on the surface are actually the lowest, and the two asteroids dance in each other's gravitational pull.

=====    =====    =====

For the Predictions Registry... or that Brin Forecast Wiki... India Nurtures the Business of Surrogate Motherhood -- with shades of my short story “Piecework.”

TribesGame impresario Steve Jackson and I have spent more than a decade, "Tribes!" a realistic role playing game (formerly called "Darwinopoly"), that offers fun for six to eight players (or multiple tribes of 8 players each) who follow simple rules to simulate life as it must have been for our ancestors, anywhere from 10,000 to 500,000 years ago -- hunting, foraging, mating, and occasionally fighting.

Can you figure out how to survive... and have successful offspring... in a world where only your own wits stand between you and harshness of nature? Tribes! has been created with the advice of several prominent anthropologists, as well as one of the most experienced game designers on the planet. (For more information see the web site for Steve Jackson Games.) Among the things people have found most fascinating is the sexual politics that can arise from a very simple rule set.

Recently play-tested with more than thirty players! Hence, we’re interested in finding a few anthropology professors who might like to try the game out on students, as a whole-classroom exercise.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Farewell Admiral Fallon: Now it's time to worry.

Many of you will remember that I once called Admiral William Fallon the "canary in our coal mine."

I spoke of how Fallon’s appointment to head our military’s Central Command (containing all forces now stationed in the Middle East) was a sure sign -- along with the rise of Adm. Mike Mullen to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- that the U.S. Officer Corps had had enough. That they had -- quietly and sub-rosa -- made things clear to the Bush Administration. The wanton and reckless destruction of the American military would no longer be tolerated. Nor would the abuse of our service men and women -- treating them as toys -- be allowed to continue.

Why a “canary”? Because, as long as Fallon remained in place as Cent Com Commander, we could rest assured that a large stumbling block stood between Bush and some trumped-up Middle East distraction/calamity, like a precipitate attack upon Iran. (Fallon is said to have told colleagues - off the record - that "an attack on Iran will not happen on my watch.")

Now Fallon is gone. The man who (in addition to Mullen) helped me to sleep at night, knowing that some adults still endured, somewhere high in the chain of command, who would keep doing the job we hired and trained and pay them for -- to look out for us. I said that this canary would have to fall, giving us some warning, before the brats could make another reckless, ruinous move. And like coal miners, seeing their watch-bird fall, we have reason to grow worried.

Of course, it is possible that this step may not be a prelude to a new war. The Bush Administration may just be taking an opportunity to eliminate a thorn in its shoe. A thorn that was forced upon it, last year, by a simmering and angry US Officer Corps. It may be that recent, lower casualty rates in Iraq have emboldened Bush. There may be less fear of mass resignations, with everybody distracted by the political season

Still, is the fall of our "canary" truly a sign? Are there other signs to watch for?

First: we need to learn more about Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who becomes CENTCOM Commander as of March 31st. One might guess that he was Bush’s man, when the Mullen/Fallon deal was struck, last year, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt... and start asking around.

If, as traditional, a more permanent replacement is appointed soon, then watch for portents. If it is another admiral, then perhaps we'll be okay. For it can only mean that Secretary of Defense Gates is still potent and still listening to the informal network of flag officers who began the quiet, discreet "work action" by our adult protector caste, back in 2007.

In fact, given the blatant symbolism of appointing two Navy guys in a row, this would be a very powerful signal. So clear that even our dullard punditocracy might notice. And, for that reason, I don’t give it much chance.

If (as seems almost certain) Fallon’s full-term replacement is an Army general -- or if they stick with Dempsey -- then we need to listen, ask our military contacts (off the record) and try to read the tea leaves. We are in for nervous times. If it is a notorious Bushite loyalist, watch out.

And if the new Cent Com leader comes from the Air Force, then Hannah, get the cows! Sell your portfolio, stock up on canned goods and get out of the cities. Mind you, I don't expect this to happen... and there could still be an Iranattack with an army man in charge. Especially if some kind of “terror” pretext just happens to occur on US soil, offering a conveniently-timed. Pearl Harbor casus belli.

Nevertheless, I'm putting this dire possibility on the record, here. The most blatant sign to watch for. There would be only one reason to appoint a general from the USAF - the most pliant and suborned of our services - to that crucial role. It would only happen if the National Command Authority (Bush & Cheney) want to order bombers into action with a minimum of interference and a maximum of heel-clicking gusto.

In which case, if you have a son or daughter on a carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf, tell them (in family code) to shoot themselves in the foot. Because those poor Navy guys will be sitting ducks, amid the hell that will ensue. (Of course, in the extreme “thriller plot,” that could be part of what this is all aimed to achieve.)

But hold it. Pause. Let’s back off from all the paranoid, thriller scenarios. It is possible that the firing of Admiral Fallon is simply a case of a failing administration, swatting aside one of the adults it despises. Just another part of the ongoing War Against Professionalism, which has been the single central and core theme of the Bush Era. The Officer Corps has borne the brunt of this hidden war - more consistent than any other endeavor, even Iraq - the real war debilitating America. A campaign whose victims also include the intelligence services, the FBI, the civil service, the scientific community, anywhere that skill matters. Though the military has suffered most of all.

Let me tell you what depresses me most... the fact that this... ALL of this... seems to be completely below the radar of the Democratic candidates or political caste. Or what little news media isn’t controlled. Or even the blogosphere. Nobody seems capable of stepping back and reading Big Picture patterns...

...or seeing the opportunity hidden in the mayhem. For if anyone vigorously and decisively stood up for the Admiral Fallons out there, the men and women of the professional service caste, upon whom civilization utterly depends, then they would feel more free to speak out! And the decent “ostrich conservatives” whose heads still wallow in holes would then have to wake up. They would stand up, and join the coalition to save our country. ..

... leaving the fanatics and kleptos out on a limb they have been very busy sawing off.


Reminder: Only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary; the state's 984,000 independents - and GOP converts - have only until March 24 to sign up so they can vote in the interesting part of the election. Tell any indies you know in PA!

The Onion is a hoot. “Live free or die-bold.”

Ask me if I ever tire of saying I told you so? SAUDI Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted. Previously secret files, just revealed, describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries. Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court on Thursday to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. Um... and yet I am “paranoid” for contemplating all of this just one step further? Hrm.

On the other hand, shortly after I returned from Liechtenstein, that tiny nation is suddenly in the news, with German and US tax authorities applying pressure on the little country to offer more transparency in their banking records. Coincidental timing? No doubt. I’m just not that influential.

Alas, though. We have other problems. Mmm, let's see...surely the U.S. ranks SOMEWHERE on this list. A list that ought to give conservatives conniptions. That is, if they were conservative, any longer.

As if they ever were. Whereupon we mark the passing of William F. Buckley... a fellow who joins Colin Powell and so many other “adult conservatives” who could have - should have - stepped forward during the Neocon Madness. Who could and should have shown the guts and patriotism that liberals did, way back in 1947, when democrats admitted “our side of the spectrum can go mad and it is our job to do something, when that happens”...

...and then they actively did something about it.

THIS is the essential difference between liberalism and conservatism. It has nothing to do with “left or right” or state vs market. The chief difference is that liberals passed their fundamental test, fifty years ago, choosing patriotism, reason, and civilization over spirals of self justifying dogma. And conservatives have utterly failed their own test, during this crucial decade, when similar levels of adult fortitude were called for. When it was their historical and patriotic duty to stand up to their own side’s wave of rapacious barbarians and monsters. Alas, they did not. So long, Bill.

You folks have got to see this - “Video: Interviewer Picks The Wrong Obama Supporter to Try To Railroad.” Talk about making a gotcha-geek eat crow over his first impressions! This kid will probably be offered a job, next January.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Turning The “Patriotism Disadvantage” On Its Head

Last time, I offered three issues that should get up-front treatment by the next Democratic Party nominee -- National Security, Science and the Plight of the Professionals.

Following up on one of those, tonight I want to put forward an unconventional suggestion -- a way that Barack Obama (assuming he is eventually nominated) might neutralize the GOP’s purported “patriotism advantage.” A way, in fact, that he might turn it around, to benefit the America we’re all fighting for.

But first, before focusing on patriotism, an aside for those who agree with me that science and technology should also be part of the 2008 national debate. Let me refer folks to a fascinating recent blog by Marc Andreessen, inventor of the web browser, who talks about “my hour and a half with Barack Obama.” It is a vouch-for by someone who earned his bona fides as an innovator and world-improver. Give it a look.


A week ago, Gregory Rodriguez, in an LA Times op-ed, Rally 'round the flag, Dems, examined the tactical error that Barack Obama made, when he chose to eschew the wearing of an American flag lapel pin. Quoth Rodriguez:

Last October, when responding to questions as to why he stopped wearing an American flag on his lapel, Obama argued that such symbols "became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism," and added that he had decided not to wear the pin because he was "going to try to tell the American people what I believe, what will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to patriotism."

...But ceding old-fashioned patriotic symbolism to the GOP is neither smart politics nor good for the social reform agendas that liberals like Obama tend to advocate. According to polls, most Americans do consider themselves pretty patriotic

The entire essay is well-worth reading. It offers sage advice. And yet, as I said in an earlier missive, Mr. Obama will have to step carefully and correct this situation in just the right way. In a manner that does not make him look weak, vacillating or like someone caving under pressure - all of which are political sins, as devastating as any purported lack of patriotic zeal. This impression, sure to be leaped-on by right wing attack dogs, would make restoring the pin a hollow gesture and source of derision.

That is, unless....

...unless there were a way out. One calling for boldness, ingenuity and guts, but also offering a potential win-win situation.

The premise: Democrats must stop approaching patriotism as a hot potato, to be handled gingerly, and instead clasp it to the bosom, assertively. They should broach it eagerly. Make the topic their own. As FDR, Truman and JFK did.

Picture a stirring moment, during Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver...

“By now, fellow Democrats, you’ll have noticed volunteers moving among you, carrying baskets filled with little pins. Some of you wondered about the real reason why I took off my own American flag pin, months ago. And now it’s time to reveal that reason to you.

“I took it off because I refuse to give in to the hollow gestures of those who have demeaned patriotism in this country, by making it a matter of totems and “sides.” A matter of holier-than-thou loyalty tests and swift boat character assassination.

“But I am here to tell you now that there is a second half to my message. I never meant to let those braggarts and armchair patriots drive me away for long, from a symbol that I cherish. For very good reasons, I chose this moment, standing in front of you, to reclaim that symbol... and I ask you to join me in reclaiming it, as well.

“Let’s admit that Democrats -- in our eager rush to solve practical problems -- have sometimes forgotten the power of symbols, to our own detriment, and that of the nation. But today, let’s remember those who died to keep this country united. Those who fought to make it more just and free. Those who made America better with solutions using both markets and government. Those who marched and argued and legislated and innovated, in order to make our country the brightest beacon of hope in four thousand years.

“And those who we are educating today, to be leaders in a better tomorrow.

“The American flag has been misused at times,
but nothing should and can take away from us the core thing that it represents... that progress. That eager willingness to better ourselves. That hope.

“And so, I say to all of you, never let this flag be a burden on your neighbors, a way to diminish them, a test that they must pass. Do not let anyone demand that you worship it, or wear it all the time! That’s not what it stands for.

“But do show it, wear it, wave it proudly some of the time! Never let the word “patriotism” slip from your vocabulary, just because others screech it and abuse it. Especially when the self righteous have so let our flag and nation down.

“Join me in reclaiming patriotism for the reasonable, moderate, tolerant and decent men, women and children of America, who are willing to argue and compete and cooperate with each other fairly, seeking progress and solutions, the way this very nation was established. A patriotism that is based, above all, upon the decency, savvy and courage of every individual... every citizen.

“Wear it, my friends, not because narrowminded fools would browbeat you over symbols, but because you love what it represents, as I do, the nation and civilization that Abraham Lincoln called the best hope of humankind.”

Addendum: Hillary goes negative. Should Barack reply in kind?

Here’s where you wish you had a win-win. A way for Mr. Obama to score some zingers, while not getting petty or following Senator Clinton down the low road.

And one of you made a cool suggestion. The idea of creating a positive “negative ad’. How might that be done? Well, let's see. Try showing clips of Bill Clinton at his best. Some of his soaring rhetoric about hope and responsibility, in 1992 and so on.

Then follow that with a question “Were these ‘just words?’”

How classy and utterly jiu jitsu. It disses HRC’s recent behavior and tactics, while actually praising her husband! It shows her supporters what a silly-ass thing it is, to tear away at a messenger of inspiration, instead of stepping up with inspiration of their own.

What a judo move!

And finally...

Unlike many other recent Primaries, only Democrats can vote in the coming Democratic contest in Pennsylvania; independents, who have strongly supported Obama in other states, are barred. The state's 984,000 registered voters who are not members of either major party — plus any wavering Republicans — have only until March 24 to sign up as Democrats so they can make a difference. Tell any indies you know in PA!

A reminder: I appear on several episodes of the new History Channel show "The Universe" starting with one on March 11. Not necessarily a brag. Sometimes the producers deliberately chose to show a fellow’s dopiest moments! But this is a good show. Well above average.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Issues that Obama can’t ignore - National Security, Science and the Plight of the Professionals

While some see only bitterness in the final days of the Democratic primary season, I figure the party will re-coalesce behind the eventual winner. In fact, this extended season had benefits, e.g. energetic grassroots movements that should merge impressively for the general election.

As I write this, Barack Obama seems the likely nominee, in which case recent battle bruises may have taught him valuable lessons. With flexibility, when reconfiguring his messages for a nationwide audience, I hope he'll ponder the importance of three issues: National Security, Science and the Plight of the Professionals.

(See below for unusual perspectives on all three.)

The first of these three issues - national security - is crucial, especially with the not-negligible possibility of some kind of emergency or dire drama occurring, between now and November. (A little advance positioning could help immensely, if tragic events do happen upon us, coincidentally, during that period. Indeed, there could be nothing more crucial.)

More generally, Democrats must overcome a reflex discomfort re: security matters. Instead, demonstrating historical acumen, they might choose to “own” this issue, the way FDR, Truman and JFK did.

National Security is the one area where the public might feel justifiably nervous about Barack Obama’s lack of experience. Democrats should remember that the man Obama is most often compared-to, John F. Kennedy, served in wartime and experienced the grim pain of battle, first-hand. At an early age, JFK wrote a best-selling book about - of all topics - national security and the dangers of allowing a lapse in readiness. If (and only if) Obama were to choose a VP nominee with very credible credentials in this area, then Democrats could make a potent issue of the GOP’s systematic demolition of our readiness, our reserves, our armed forces, our alliances, our moral high-ground, our prestige and our position of leadership in the world.

Those rushing to compare Barack to JFK should remember that this issue was a winner for Kennedy. He wasn’t just all-about the Peace Corps and Civil Rights. He defeated Richard Nixon in large part by preventing the Republican from seizing National Security as his personal property. (I’ll return with more about this, below.)

The second subject is a hard sell, I’ll admit. Political consultants and pollsters consistently warn candidates against raising matters of science and technology, which the pundits call “almost as boring process issues.”

Nothing could show how reflexively-low politicians rate such matters than the way Congress has lolligagged over re-establishing its own scientific and technical advisory apparatus, which the Republicans tore down way back in 1995, at the start of the Neocon era. In my “Suggestions to the New Congress” I listed several quick and easy ways the Democrats, under Nancy Pelosi, might show themselves staking ground as champions of reason. Indeed, many of those recommended steps President Bush could neither obstruct nor veto! Alas, they have done nothing.

Still, every year, an ever-growing (and disproportionately influential) layer of educated people complain about one aspect of this - and every - flawed U.S. election. How absurd it is for an advanced nation, a purported leader of civilization, to choose new leaders without ever debating issues of technology and science. Sure, consultants shrug this aside as the fixation of a narrow interest group - a pointy-headed, over-educated, boffin elite.

Except let’s note: that same patronizing, know-nothing attitude has been a key attribute of the Republican veer into the dark side. The role of science and technology in decision-making has proved crucial - by its glaring absence from consideration during the Bush Administration’s misgoverning of America.

Indeed, despite still being the party supported by the poor, the Democrats have surged ahead of the GOP in average education levels, a shift that merits close attention. The well-educated in America are forming an ever larger pool (one that has especially come out for Obama, this year). It is a massive group, demographically similar (for the Democrats) to the fundamentalist Christian community (for Republicans). If the fundamentalists can gat at least lip service from GOP office-seekers, then should not educated America get - and demand - the same thing from Democrats?

There is a third reason to boost this issue toward at least a middle burner. A matter of simple self-identity. America did better, as a nation, when it thought of itself as a nation of science. When it took pride in its leadership in forward thinking. When it considered the quest something very close to sacred. I have been promoting this issue for quite some time. Now have a look at -- Making Science a Presidential Priority: “Science Debate 2008” wants to put scientific issues front and center in the Presidential race by hosting a debate among candidates.

Not to say that it is an entirely invisible topic. Every current and recent candidate for president made a stop, during the last year, at Google to be interviewed and create a YouTube event. (See my own Google Tech Talk.) Among all of these events, the one that seemed the least perfunctory was Barack Obama’s, in which he (perhaps with a little pre-coaching) answered the CEO’s routine question about how to perform a massive sort-search, in a fashion that was both impressive and funny.

As for my third suggested top-issue, well, I confess (as any scientist should) that all the evidence points to my being obsessive and even (possibly) delusional. How else to explain why no other person (to my knowledge) has raised it? Even once? Perhaps my raising the Bushite War Against the Professionals may seem an obsession. Yet, I continue to view it as the most powerful win-win issue of all. A way to highlight the true agenda of the Bush Cabal, a way to win over a million or so pivotal members of society...

...and to turn innumerable silent victims into eager (and skilled) whistleblowers, during a half-year when some brave revelations might decide our nationa’s destiny.

Sure, we hear about “The Republican War on Science.” and a fair number of folks have followed me in denouncing the Bushite “war against the U.S. military Officer Corps.” (Name one person who was earlier.)

There have been glimmers and articles about the active suppression of our civil servants in various departments, quashed relentlessly by political hacks who were appointed in order to prevent our government from fucnctioning well, or according to law. Inspectors General have been harrassed, fired, diverted or suborned. The intelligence community, that we all rely upon to seek out and prevent foreign machinations against the republic, appears to have its morale down around its ankles. And yet, nobody seems interested in tying it all together, into an over arching theme.

Well, nobody but me. And I have to admit, it gets pretty lonely trying to persuade folks to see the forest for the trees.

So I won’t do it here. Not in detail. Except to reiterate. This general pattern -- the general pattern of the entire Bush Administration -- has been aimed at eliminating the United States Civil Service, and other professional services, as credible centers for shining light and accountability throughout our civilization. The top and most blatant outcome, the theft - with apparent impunity - of somewhere toward a trillion dollars, would not have seemed credible if written in a cheap thriller novel! And yet, it stands in front of us, as blatant (and invisible to most) as Banquo’s ghost.

It could be the issue of the election, of the decade. It could turn a millions professionals from brutalized victims into fiercely effective allies, in the restoration of our republic.

But, then, that may be just more paranoid yattering, from the over-active pattern-recognition systems of a... well... an author of thriller novels. Alas.

Addenda on National Security and the “art of waking ostriches...

Under the category of ostrich ammo - ("What would you Limbaugh dittoheads have said, if Bill Clinton tried 1% of this #%#$@#!?") - try the following on for size:

Since our national guard units are in Iraq, President Bush wants the Canadian military to put down rebellions in the U.S.: "In a ceremony that received virtually no attention in the American media, the United States and Canada signed a military agreement Feb. 14 allowing the armed forces from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a domestic civil emergency, even one that does not involve a cross-border crisis. The agreement, defined as a Civil Assistance Plan, was not submitted to Congress for approval, nor did Congress pass any law or treaty specifically authorizing this military agreement to combine the operations of the armed forces of the United States and Canada in the event of a wide range of domestic civil disturbances ranging from violent storms, to health epidemics, to civil riots or terrorist attacks."

Want another “ostrich addendum”? Of the many factors contributing to the reduction of U.S. casualties in Iraq, none has been more critical than the decision to pay more than 80,000 of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents a quarter of a billion dollars a year not to shoot at U.S. forces. Say what? What ever happened to “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute”? Is it even remotely possible for ostriches to picture what they’d have said if Bill Clinton had engaged in such a practice? Lavishly bribing enemies to (briefly) not shoot at us? Oh, they’ll make excuses. But would they have made the same ones for a Democrat?

And this... The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

...and... Presidential Directive No. 12, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, directed federal agencies to adopt a uniform badge that could be used by employees and contractors to gain access to government facilities. In order to issue the badges, the government demanded that the scientists employed by Caltech who work at the Jet Propulsion Lab fill out questionnaires on their personal lives and waive the privacy of their financial, medical and psychiatric records. The government also wanted permission to gather information about them by interviewing third parties. In other words, as the price of keeping their jobs, many of America's finest space scientists were being asked to give the feds virtually blanket permission to snoop and spy and collect even malicious gossip about them from God knows who.

And now rumors (passed to me by one or more of you out there) come trickling in that the US Air Force has apparently issued directives that USAF personnel are no longer to discuss, or even mention, Blackwater Security Services, the ultra-secret, ultra-politicized private army that (at lavish public expense) has lured countless serving officers and noncoms into a private mercenary force, accountable to no one except powerful elites. If this is true (help track this down) then it fits with the image of the USAF as by far the most politicized and suborned of our services. (Oh, Democrats, wake up to your duty to save the Army and National Guard. And God bless the Navy.)

Seriously... confront your ostriches and ask them “what will you do if President Hillary does this? If she does anything even remotely like any of this?

On the other hand...

Want to feel a sense of pride for a change? See a retired military officer talking about how many of our currently-serving men and women have refused to follow the shameful example set by their national leaders, and have instead tried to live up to the proper codes of conduct, maintaining the honor of the United States Armed Services, under almost impossible circumstances.

Of course, this is just one of many, many attempts by both retired and serving members of our nation’s defense community, to help stave off a new dark age that’s been spread across the land, by those at the very top. It takes some savvy to tell just how hard these folks have worked for us. Most people cannot read the signs, but take my word for it that the recent ascent of Admiral Mike Mullen, to the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the strongest evidence, to date, of a counter-attack against Bushite insanity, by the U.S. Officer Corps. In some ways, it seems more significance than even the forced departure of Donald Rumsfeld.

Again, the democrats will be utter fools not to make a front-burner issue of the Republican War Against the U.S. Military... the utter demolition of our alliances, our world stature, our state of readiness, and the steady degradation of the brave men and women of the armed forces? It is a matter of paramount importance and incredible potency...

...though it can be best made if the Democratic presidential nominee has the brains to pick a VP candidate who’s credible. One who can make this attack in the face of John McCain’s war-hero image.

There are two prominent democrats who can do this! Jim Webb of Virginia and General Wesley Clark. One can hope.