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 Sandiego.com!



Travc said...

Could you give a ref to the PNAS evolution article? I can't seem to find it.
Sadly, I've been out of that particular loop for a while.

Evolution of complexity stuff is rife with problems... the biggest is defining complexity. Something that needs agreeing on before people get off into the ideological weeds on the topic.

If you will indulge a bit of self-promotion, I think this paper lays out a good framework for it.

Selective pressures on genomes in molecular evolution

David Brin said...

Travis, great to see what a smarty-wiseguy you are! A very sensible-sounding analysis. But alas, the PNAS link seems to have fallen out as I prepared my posting.

There is an opportunity this weekend for policy people to get a useful perspective on space technology, politics, and business issues that may be hard to get at most other venues. They may also find it a useful opportunity to make contacts with people whose ideas may be worth pursuing, either before or after the election this November.

http://www.space-access.org/ The opportunity is "Space Access '08", which the Space Access Society describes as: "our annual conference on the technology, politics, and business of radically cheaper space transportation."

The conference is in Phoenix this weekend, from 2pm Thursday through 6pm Saturday, March 27-29. In keeping with its theme, conference registration is cheap ($120 at the door). Hotel rooms may still be available at a special $99 rate. For additional information, including the presenters, schedule, and hotel info, go to: http://www.space-access.org/updates/sa08info.html

Many (though not all) of the presenters are very solid. The focus on space access (as opposed to science, exploration, and/or applications) enables solid coverage of a wide range of space-access issues, from FAA and ITAR licensing, to the status and direction of USAF, NASA, and some privately-funded programs, and lobbyist perspectives on political constraints.

Given the small number of remaining shuttle flights, and increasingly obvious problems with the follow-on "Constellation" program, NASA's dependence on Russian Soyuz crew flights to and from ISS is likely to increase. In this environment, "Business as usual" is not an answer. Space Access '08 is a good way to learn about alternatives and the issues they face.

Note: my pal Joe Carroll, the world’s expert on tethered systems in space, will be speaking there on Thursday, about some challenges associated with commercializing manned orbital space.

This raises two important issues --

1) Any folks in Phoenix interested in attending?


2) Anybody have any connections to any of the presidential (or other) campaigns, so that we can urge the (tiny) scientific advisor staff of Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain to send somebody, to learn about this topic? Whoever did this would be saying, in one small way, that he or she still believes in the future of a confident America.


Travc said...

What other way is there to respond to such a great list of interesting 'stuff' than find the one item I can nitpick ;)

David Brin said...

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said Tuesday.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 160-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica, which started Feb. 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for hundreds, maybe 1,500 years.

This is the result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.


Unknown said...

Please bear in mind that more than 50% of the American online population is currently locked out of things like the TED talk video or the 360 degree virtual view of your office because we don't have broadband.

Treating more than 50% of the population as though they don't exist is probably not a good idea in a democracy.

Tony Fisk said...

Agreed, talk videos take up more bandwidth than many have access to.

However, Zorgon, your beef is better aimed at the providers who don't also provide simple text transcripts.

With the advent of podcasts and suchlike, this is becoming a problem. Does anyone know of a product that can convert speech as text? I know of DragonSpeak. Anything open source? (I also know that converting speech to text is a non-trivial problem)

Jen said...

I'm not even a bit surprised at the British proposal for DNA use of elementary school children, but I hadn't realized that it's a pretty murky area already in the United States. According to Sandy over at Junkfood Science (http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2008/03/do-you-own-what-makes-you-you-or-does.html),
most states already perform newborn screening as a matter of course, but I had no idea that parental consent was usually not requested, and the "rules" for what they do with the blood/DNA seem to be pretty lax at this point, to say the least. (Embarassingly enough, as a Canadian, I'm not sure what the policies are here at the moment).

As you said, I don't think that this is going to stop, but hopefully at some point we might be able to at least control what they do with the information.

Matt DeBlass said...

It's always refreshing to be reminded that the entire world isn't stuck in the Dark Ages!

In the spirit of avoiding gloom an doom I'll stick to the lighter side of politics with this breaking news story:

Barack Obama is related to Brad Pitt!

How could he not win now?

Acacia H. said...

Because he's also related to George W. Bush? ^^;;

The Mars Rovers will not be shut down due to budget cuts. Rumors had been going on that due to cost overruns of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, set to launch in 2009, that it was likely one of the current rovers would be shut down and put in hibernation mode for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin rescinded the budget reduction, stating that he had not approved it and that NASA would find other ways of making up the budget deficit.

XCor is expected to unveil plans for a suborbital rocket-powered space plane called the Lynx later today. It is said to use reusable, non-toxic engines and should be capable of several flights a day... and be able to carry a pilot and one passenger or cargo. I could actually see Lynxes being used to ferry small amounts of cargo (especially water) into orbit, possibly meeting with automated space ferries in low earth orbit to transfer goods to space stations (though I'm unsure as to how they'd transfer cargo, I'm just speculating at this juncture).

I'm old enough to remember initial plans for the Shuttle program, and how the Space Shuttle was originally considered a first-generation space plane that would be replaced with other, better designs. It may be that private industry will move where NASA was unable to go... and that we will see space planes in private industry replacing the Shuttle program within a decade.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

sociotard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sociotard said...

Holy Crap! I gotta say, Dr. Brin, when I first read the bit in "Earth" about people using realtime brain scans to do enhanced meditation/yoga, I rolled my eyes. yeah right. Never happen.

Er, apparently it is happening. (appologies to Zorgon)

Acacia H. said...

A small foray into politics... I found this rather interesting. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid stated that he was convinced the nominee will be decided well before the August national convention, and commented that he had had a conversation with Governor Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and stated that "things are being done."

And on a very humorous note, a Hawaii hospital has amended its pet visitation policy after someone showed up with a horse to visit a sick patient. Sadly... it was the wrong horse. The visitor and the equine managed to get to the third floor before being stopped by security.

I honestly can't think of anything to say about this. I'm trying too hard not to laugh. ^^;;

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Zorgon, I hope you know that just 1% of Americans have genuine broadband. Many of us pay thru the nose and get MID-band. Situation sucks.

Robert, Lynx looks cool. But remember that suborbital is LOTS easier than actually achieving full orbit. But the horse story is har!

Zechariah, thanks... and sigh. I know exactly how Cassandra felt. Except for you guys, nobody seems at all interested in my forecasting success score. Grumble.

Unknown said...

Mitch and anonymous and the other conservatives are absolutely right. Liberals are going to have their asses handed to them by McCain in November because conservatives overwhelmingly gravitate toward McCain instead of Obama.

Acacia H. said...

Were you being ironic? Or did you just not read the actual article? oO

Joel said...

Nice one, Zorgon.

I wanted to post that exact same link, but maybe the most recent This Modern World will do.

David Brin said...

Dang. TAC actually letting a wakened ostrich speak!

I will post this at top level. Thanks guys.

(Still, I find I have been depressed a bit, the last two weeks. Hillary is busy ensuring that feminists will storm off to Nader. Rev Wright has given subconscious trog-racists an excuse to vote against BHO. And Spitzer was supposed to be the Luke Skywalker attorney general of the US. And that October (I mean July) Surprise is getting closer...

(Canned good... must... buy... canned good....)

Acacia H. said...

I don't know, Dr. Brin. Things might not all be bad. Things are starting to self-destruct around Senator Clinton with increased interest being given to her own bag of lies and the fact that Bosnia continues to stick in Clinton's craw despite her blatant efforts to drag Reverend Wright back into center stage.

A strong Get Out The Vote effort in Pennsylvania may end up benefiting Senator Obama more than Clinton, especially as there are now rumors starting to emerge about voter fraud and efforts to crack down on Republicans who switched parties to vote for Clinton believing she'd be easier to defeat than Obama (this may very well result in more Limbaugh Repugs thinking twice and not voting for Clinton rather than risk lawsuits or being forced to vote for Clinton due to the contract they signed promising they'd vote Democrat in the general election).

And with the murmurs we've heard recently about the Democratic leadership ensuring the campaign winds down sooner rather than later... I think Pennsylvania is going to be Clinton's laugh hurrah before she steps aside (whether by her own design or because the Democratic leadership puts it in no uncertain terms that if she doesn't, they'll destroy her and ensure she has no political future).

For that matter, Obama's resurgence in the wake of Wright is evident in how Clinton is waving the Wright flag hard and demanding people talk about it rather than her own trail of lies and deceits. Clinton needed everything to go her way. Her Bosnia lie was a bad stumble when she needed to look perfect. Expect the media to turn on her (and for her to whine tremendously about it) and for her Pennsylvania win to be much less than what she'd hoped for.

Well, I hope, at least.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Canned good, David? Only one? One can, or one good?
(Sorry. Couldn't resist)

Zorgon, I've been saying for years that Conservative=/=Republican. There are a lot of people calling themselves conservatives who don't know what the word means. That's a great article for ostrich ammo.

Robert: horse. 3rd floor. Hospital. Bwahahaha. It sounds like one of the drills we used to have when I was a MP at Naval Hospital San Diego, where we'd get a bizarre phone call and have to go respond... ("There's a HORSE in Labor and Delivery! No, really!")

Cliff said...

I'm in the Phoenix area, and I'm interested in space, but unfortunately it looks like I'll have to work through this weekend.
It looks like they do this every year, but do they have it in Phoenix every year?

David Brin said...

Cliff, dunno. But now you can plant a tickler to look it up next year.

Canned good? I shop at Costco. All you need is ONE mega-Jupiter sized can of Raviolli to feed your family through nuclear winter...

...which is sounding plausible. BHO has GOT to plant a few rhetorical seeds. Just here and there. ABout how we WILL take more hits. And how we respond to them will be our ultimate test.

And imply that those who brought us to the brink are NOT qualified to rally the nation away from it. Seriously, the right bits of rhetoric might not only prevent Bush from "rallying" the nation at a convenient moment... it might prevent that moment from happening at all.

Tony Fisk said...

I know what you mean Zechariah. Reading some of Brin's novels straight off the presses can severely sprain the brain sometimes (Shady conspiracies with strongholds in the Swiss alps? Yeah, right! Clay impressed with copies of your soul? Bwahahahaha!)

And yet, as time goes on, even the the most outrageous ideas start to acquire some sense of feasability (eg: clay = fabricators. copied souls = a by-product of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which has recently come back into favour)

As Clarke once put it: 'if you believe me you'll go broke. If your children don't believe me they'll go broke.'

Of course conservative = republican. The power of marketing is the label on the can, regardless of the contents (which have changed radically over the last 15 years. A similar thing has happened in the Australian Liberal Party, to Malcolm Fraser's dismay).

Ravioli, anyone?

Those feeling depressed about the mud-wrestle that's going on and worried about how much is actually sticking should remember the old adage: '(s)he who flings mud loses ground'.

Come on, Hill, old girl: there's more to life than being Emp ..er, President at 2am in the morning.

Just ask Al Gore.

David Brin said...

Emperor? Those initials... HRC

The pols should start a countdown clock. Starting with 1,000 patronage slots if she'll ease out and deliver the women and old folks.

If she stays nasty, the number goes down by 100 per week.

Travc said...

Ooh, space planes... Though I think a big rail gun is the best way to go for bulk cargo to orbit. At least until we can get the materials science advances needed for an elevator. Too bad the 'space gun' project was canceled in the 60s due to budget cuts and AirForce / Army / Navy infighting.

As for the horse in a hospital... very amusing. Yet another example of the folly trying to write iron-clad rules for everything. Though in defense of the actual event, horses are almost as great 'pets' as dogs. There are cool evolutionary reasons behind that. Pack animals of the world co-evolve and take over!


And finally, ugh politics. Light at the end of the tunnel I hope. One meme that has been bouncing around in my head I'd like to spread: A meta party.

Works like this. A group and caucus forms around a large common goal/theme. They admit members to the caucus who are like minded on that theme and endorse/fund candidates for office likewise aligned. So far just like any other political party, however members do not loose their current party affiliation.

The unifying theme I had in mind is transparency and openness in the 'open society' sense. You could have open-democrats, open-independents, or open-republicans (though the latter is getting harder and harder to imagine). The conservative - liberal axis is not important for the issues this meta-party is founded around. Which is the real point... adding a new dimension to our current political space.

This already exists in a form with issue groups and endorsements, but formalizing it into a different structure could potentially be more effective and even transformative.

Anyway, just an idea, probably totally impractical, but perhaps interesting. We all like scifi here, don't we ;)

Travc said...

Someone mentioned Spitzer... just need to point out he has had a real (good IMO) effect here in CA.

Our attorney general (who would probably be making news if there was not a serious lack of oxygen in the media) specifically patterns his office off the the 'crusading'/activist pattern Spitzer established. He ran his campaign for the post on it even, and had some very interesting things to say... not surprising since Jerry Brown seldom says something that is not interesting.

Anonymous said...

Gallup - If McCain vs. Obama, 28% of Clinton Backers Go for McCain

As would be expected, almost all Democratic voters who say they support Obama for their party's nomination also say they would vote for him in a general election matchup against McCain. But only 59% of Democratic voters who support Clinton say they would vote for Obama against McCain, while 28% say they would vote for the Republican McCain. This suggests that some Clinton supporters are so strongly opposed to Obama (or so loyal to Clinton) that they would go so far as to vote for the "other" party's candidate next November if Obama is the Democratic nominee.

Get ready for the McSame Presidency...

David Brin said...

For the first time, sillyperson has come forward with evidence and an argument, rather than reflex, snarky cynicism chic.

We knew you could do it! Nobody comes to this community without at least the "gene" for alpha discourse (even though we (and I) sometimes lapse.

Of course, now you have me really depressed. I mean what should America want? To lead the world again (and be worthy of it) right? The VERY MOMENT Obama is sworn in, we will INSTANTLY be leader of the world again. Ask foreign folk you know. Hell, ask any knowledgeable Republican! Even he will admit that much.

Oh, show me to a cliff. At l;east there's a silver lining. They won't have to F*** the country with a put-up "surprise" in order to win. Welcome back the dark ages.

Travc, good thoughts. I knew Guv Jerry way back when he dated Linda Rondstadt. Oh, those hot pants. Oh that voice.

Acacia H. said...

Here's the question: of that 28% that will vote for McCain over Obama, how many are actually Repugs who are voting for Clinton to deny Obama a chance of winning the primary?

And as I said before, given that the general election is over half a year away... if the Democratic Leadership actually ends this now before things get much worse, how many of Clinton's supporters will "forgive and forget" once the passion of the moment is gone?

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

if the Democratic Leadership actually ends this now before things get much worse, how many of Clinton's supporters will "forgive and forget" once the passion of the moment is gone?

There is nothing to "forgive and forget", these are white working class democrats who WILL NOT VOTE for an African-American, PERIOD.

Are there enough of them to throw the election to McSame? Probably.

David Brin said...

SP... while I agree with you that there are such "Reagan Democrats" there is a difference, this time.

The young will be all over this election. More effective and determined than us "hippies" ever were.

And then... there are the debates.

I hate the fact that the closer BHO gets to winning, the closer we all get to some horrible surprise. Oops... did I say "fact"? Well, make that creepy thriller-writer sense of forboding.

Unknown said...

NASA's Cassini spacecraft tasted and sampled a surprising organic brew erupting in geyser-like fashion from Saturn's moon Enceladus during a close flyby on March 12. Scientists are amazed that this tiny moon is so active, "hot" and brimming with water vapor and organic chemicals.

Cue Thus Sprach Zarathrustra...

On another note, once again I find myself far more optimistic than Dr. Brin...which seems bizarre, since he's far over on the right-hand side of the optimism bell curve.

But there are good solid reasons for progressives to be optimistic right now. First, Dr. Brin mentioned these are "dark days." Eh? No, the "dark days" were January 2004. Lots of progressive friends got depressed back then. But I told 'em, "Wait and see, this Presidency is going to wind up like the end of the Brian DePalma remake of Scarface. The head guy will be sitting at his desk with his nose in a giant pile of coke while people are coming at him from every direction. His last words will be "Lemme introduce you to my leetle friend!"

And that's exactly the way it's turned out.

Let's dissect these arguments in favor of McCain winning in January and see whether there's any substance in 'em.

[1] A Gallup poll at this early date means nothing. We haven't even had a match-up between Obama and McCain yet, and I guarantee you, after the public sees the Hoarse Whisperer's floundering fumbling bumbling stumbling bungling performacne against Obama, they'll vote against the Hoarse Whisperer out of sheer embarrassment.

It's 7 months to the general election. Let's take a look at a poll from 7 months ago and see how accurately that poll predicts the current situation:

The current survey finds 40% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic now say they would like to see Clinton win their party's nomination while Obama is the choice of 21%."


And how accurate was that July 2007 Pew poll in predicting the outcome on the Republican side?

Well, let's see now...

the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani is now the favorite of 27% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters. The poll finds 18% favoring Fred Thompson, 16% John McCain and 10% Mitt Romney."

Wow. These polls are veritable crystal balls, aren't they?

A poll based on a general election match-up at this early date, before the nominees have even been decided, is absolutely meaningless for November, folks. All we can gauge right now are general trends, and the trends run overwhelmingly in Obama's direction and away from McCains. Viz.: from the earlier Pew Research poll, Republicans along with a supermajority of all voters overwhelmingly want a change of course on Iraq. That hasn't changed in the last 7 months. Ask yourself which candidate offers change in Iraq: Mr. "10,000 years"...or the guy who voted against the war?

Polls have consistently showed a massive near-2/3 supermajority of Americans believe America is currently on the "wrong track" in the right track/right track surveys. That hasn't changed ove rhte last 7 months. Who offers more of the same...the guy who hugged the drunk-driving C student in the Oval Office, or the senator who voted against every one of his major proposals?

[2] The numbers are more complex than sillyperson makes them out. Here are the details:

Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton 59% to 38% among men (45% of likely Democratic primary voters). Among women, Clinton leads 63% to 27%.

Clinton leads 63% to 29% among white voters (78% of likely Democratic primary voters). Obama leads 89% to 7% among African American voters (18% of likely Democratic primary voters).

Clinton leads 47% to 45% among voters age 18 to 49 (55% of likely Democratic primary voters) and Clinton leads 58% to 37% among voters age 50 and older.

16% of likely Democratic primary voters say they would never vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary and 28% of likely Democratic primary voters say they would never vote for Barack Obama in the primary.

Notice that this 28% encompasses only likely Democratic primary voters. These are the most hard-core of te hard-core liberals. Clearly it would be foolish to extrapolate that number beyond likely Democratic primary voters.

What the polls don't tell us is:

Obama leads overwhelmingly among men; Obama leads leads overwhelmingly among moderates: Obama leads overwhelmingly among young people...and Obama is even picking up mass defections from conservatives. Hillary doesn't do well among any of these groups.

Noreover, this poll only tells us what "likely Democratic primary voters" claim they're do in November now, when Hillary is still perceived as having a vague ghost of a chance. When Obama becomes the nominee and it's a choice between Mr. "10,000 years in Iraq" who proclaims he wants a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, how do you think women will vote in November?

I wish the Hillary supporters well and urge them to vote their conscience. Voting for Nader or McCain will merely mean that the Hillary supporters have zero influence in the Obama adminsitration, which suits me just fine.

[3] What do general polls show about the November election right now, vis-a-vis Hillary or Obama vs McCain?

Obama finding new allies: Republicans. Chicago Sun-Times.

Poll: Republican McCain Trails Clinton and Obama"

[4] Let's remember, folks, that Bill Clinton is undoubtedly the most skillful politician of the modern era. And Bill is undoubtedly helping plan HIllary's campaign. And despite that fact, Obama is wiping the floor with her. He's got teh nomination sewed up. He's just destroyed Hillary, she has no chance of winning the Demo nomination, realistically speaking.
This,a ccording to a whole slew of DLC insiders and former Clinton insiders like Dick Morris.

Q: What does that tell you about Obama's political skills?

I mean, seriously. Watching Obama take out Bill Clinton's campaign for Hillary is like watching Neo wipe out Agent Smith at the end of the first Matrix movie. He's not even breaking a sweat.

What do you think Obama will do to McCain when it comes time for a mano a mano between the two presidential candidates...?

[5] Lastly, sillyperson/Mitch/anonymous/PanzerJensen's argument (they all sound suspiciously like PanzerJensen's vocab & syntax to me) boils down to the assertion "America is still stuck in 1958, they'll never elect a nigger."

I don't see any evidence that America is still stuck in 1958. On the contrary, Americans' attitudes have changed radically since 1958. The so-called "conservative" argument here boils down to a wail of despair that the average American will still applaud MLK getting his head beaten in by cops with rubber hoses wrapped in barbed war who are whooping rebel yells.

Maybe you guys are that pessimstic about America. I'm not.

As for the subsidiary argument that Obama is unelectable because only a tiny percentage of blacks have ever been elected to high office, that's about as credible as the argument that JFK was unelectable because a Catholic had never been elected to the White House. Or the argument atht FDR was unelectable because a cripple confined to a wheelchair had never been elected to the White House. Or the argument that Hank Aaron could never become a major league baseball player because of the color bar in the major leagues.

When you're dealing with these first-time events, the statistics of past events are not meaningful. You can't project anything from the lack of previous events because these are what Nasim Taleb calls "black sawns" -- unlikely outliers to which ordinary statistics don't apply.

You could as easily have confidently predicted that no one would ever create a global monopoly market for the operating system for personal computers, simply because no one had ever done it before. The probability, using previous statistics, was zero. Yet it happened.

If we judge polling trends, overall right track/wrong track polls, and trends among moderates, undecided voters, and Republicans, all the evidence converges on the same conclusion: Obama will slaughter McCain in the November election.

Wait till Obama becomes the nominee and then look at the polls. You guys will be wondering why you ever thought the Hoarse Whisperer had a chance.

Tony Fisk said...

Rob H. already asked the same question as I did: how many of these 'democrats' are actually republicans trying to get Hillary nominated? Are there similar polls that occurred while the republican primaries were still occurring?

Looking at the figures, my guess is that the 'exasperation factor' is about 19% (ie the percentage of Obama supporters claiming they'd vote for McCain over the other contender), and that 9% are indulging in a bit of pot stirring.

That, of course, is only a guess.

...and now Zorgon's leapt into the fray (ah, well! He who hesitates and all that)

I will end by pointing to a recent essay on the Politics of Optimism. (of course, Alex is talking about how to overcome the apathy induced by the climate change naysayers, but it is generally applicable advice)

Unknown said...

And still more reasons for optimism:

Welcome to the age of the instapreneur. With nothing more than a design, amateurs can manufacture jewelry, robots, T-shirts, furniture — anything. No warehouses. No minimum orders. And no money down. The digital economy isn't just digital; the same market forces that allowed midlist musicians to make a living distributing their songs online now give amateur clothiers the chance to sell their wares without having to persuade Barney's buyers to carry them.

You guys want polls? I'll give you a poll -- just came out yesterday:

As expected, one of the two major Democratic candidates saw a downturn in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, but it's not the candidate that you think. Hillary Clinton is sporting the lowest personal ratings of the campaign. Moreover, her 37 percent positive rating is the lowest the NBC/WSJ poll has recorded since March 2001...

Matt DeBlass said...

Oooops...now they've done it

Hill-Billy supporters pick a fight with Pelosi http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/03/26/clinton-backers-scold-pelosi-on-superdelegate-comment/

The space shuttle just had an evening landing. Didn't it also launch at night?

One of my most treasured memories was a family vacation to Florida many years ago. We were at Seaworld when we got word the shuttle was going up just after sunset. They put a telecast of the launch pad on the big screen in Shamu stadium, and, as we watched the shuttle take off on the screen, the sky behind it lit up like a second sunrise from the booster rockets some fifty-plus miles away.

I know a night launch comes with its own difficulties, but if every kid could see a sight like that...

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Pollster.com - 2008 National General Election: McCain vs Obama

McCain 46.8- Obama 43

Pollster.com - 2008 National General Election: McCain vs Clinton

McCain 46.6 - Clinton 44.8

Now these are National Numbers, so they are not all that meaningful (Pretty damn sad that a Republican is competitive after the last eight years) but when you dig into the site you'll observe that an McCain/Obama contest puts New Jersey in play.

Want to have fun, go to 270 To Win, play with the interactive map and figure out how a Democrat can win without Ohio, Pennsylvania or New Jersey, a truly depressing exercise.

dmon said...

Wow, thanks Zorgon! Your optimism essay up there was a very welcome uplift for my recent/pervasive mood.

Way off topic, just a notion that's been pestering me so I have to put it out there. It's silly and I'm underqualified to think it through, but... I have a physics gedanken to pose...

Imagine an extremely long (say, 50000km) rigid pole in space. Further imagine that you had a mechanism to apply accelerating forces in opposing directions at equidistant points from the center. The pole should rotate about the center, with the end points accelerating proportional to the radius (if the force applied to the center were enough to overcome inertial resistance - integrate f=ma over the length of the thing, with a being a function of r - you should be able to get this thing going). If you keep applying the same force in the center, keep boosting the angular velocity to the point that the end points approach c... what happens? I don't have anywhere near enough non-Newtonian physics background to follow through on the thought. Mass near the end points increases... the pole gets... thicker near the ends? Would the whole thing look like a nightmarish spiral?

(Of course, for purposes of this thought experiment we'll assume that conditions such as room for a 50000km pole to rotate without hitting anything, and ideal boosters that can keep going and going - maybe energizer bunnies, and impossibly strong but light material for the pole itself.)

Physics folks, if this notion isn't beneath you (I'm just an EE, after all)... please speculate?

Acacia H. said...

Firefox 3 is in beta. Promised features include improved performance for better memory usage and anti-Malware features to go along with its current anti-phishing features.

I believe Firefox is perhaps the best thing that ever happened for Microsoft. It has forced MS to actually work on improving its browser and making it better for its customers. For those of us who use Firefox, it is heads and shoulders better than Internet Exploder, though I still hear from some people who snobbishly tell me that Opera is far superior to all other browsers. ;)

On a "I'm not sure if it's good or bad" note, NASA science chief Dr. S. Alan Stern resigned unexpectedly. He'd been working to keep NASA projects from suffering cost overruns, though not always with success.

Obesity may be linked to increased risks of dementia. It's not known if the fat is directly responsible, or if the increased weight results in diseases (such as Type 2 Diabetes) that increase chances of developing dementia. The article states the importance of an exercise and diet regimen. Hmm, you know, I've been wondering why my memory has been so bad lately....


Politics makes for strange bedfellows, it has been said. I truly think this is the case with Alaskan Democrat Maurice Gravel, who has fled to the Libertarian docket for a renewed chance for a Presidential bid. While a strong Libertarian candidate can only be a good thing (in drawing away true conservative votes from Senator McCain), I have to wonder at how attractive a former Democrat will be to Libertarians and to disenfranchised Republicans.

More interesting is the article suggests that Ralph Nader has lost all appeal. It strongly sounds like despite his running on the Green ticket, there's minimal interest in him and little chance for him to upset the Democratic ticket (though how much of that is wishful thinking and media spin, I don't know).

Top Clinton fundraisers are putting pressure on Pelosi about her "anti-Clinton remarks" of late. Add that to reports showing Senator Clinton's approval rating has plummeted (while Senator Obama's remains fairly high), and I see more and more signs that the Clinton campaign is starting to fracture, with hardcore Clinton supporters willing to do anything to get their woman elected, while voters and Democratic leadership both are looking at them and asking if they really want to have Clinton in the White House.


Looking at the recent incidents in Iraq, I have to wonder if this is the "big event" that we've been waiting for. By stirring up war in Iraq, blaming Iran for training and supplying militants, and then launching airstrikes on Iran to "punish" them... the conflict in the Middle East will be enlarged and McCain's "war experience" will be trumpeted more and more. It's the easiest thing to do that doesn't involve blatant conspiracies or terrorist threats that never materialize.


U.S. AIDS Research is retrenching back to basic research after failures in its human AIDS vaccine testing. You know... when you look at this, and then at Reverend Wright's comments about black people being deliberately infected... you have to wonder if he was talking about something like this. It's a bit scary, especially that they'd do human testing on something that failed and may have made it easier to get infected.

Finally, research has been able to breed mice that do not become addicted to morphine. The genetic alteration changed how neurons were affected by morphine, and hope that a drug can be manufactured that duplicates these results.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Sillyperson is a poll fisher, a think that much is clear. I can show polls, by major firms, which claimed Clinton was within 2 points of Obama only two days before Wisconsin...where he blew her out by over 17 points.

Now, let's try to stick to something that vaguely resembles facts.

"28% of likely Democratic primary voters say they would never vote for Barack Obama in the primary."

That's just in PA.

28% say they would never vote for Obama...IN THE PRIMARY. That has nothing to do with who they would support in November.

I *am* a blue collar white guy. I've worked with men who say the word "nigger" as if they were saying "soup", and every man jack of them will say, if called on it, that they aren't talking about ALL black people.

They've all got some "exceptions" to their racist beliefs...ussualy every single black person they know as an individual.

Upper-Class twits like Wolfson and Penn, having banked on this kind of racism, can't understand how it's backfired on them. McCains pack of outdated advisors will have the same problem.

Obama isn't the "hood-rat food-stamp welfare" stereotype these guys hate, he's the "exception" they eat lunch with, work next to on the line, play softball with.

Without getting into a massive essay on my theories about gender and race, this is one of the reasons he does so much better among white men than white women even in the deepest south.

It's worth noting that after three weeks of non-stop hit jobs on the Wright issue, Obama is ABOVE his poll position in PA three weeks ago.

The ball is really in Senator Clintons court. If she endorses him enthusiastically and campaigns for him, it's all over. If she storms off in a snit, it will be hard fought battle.

I can't claim to know which she'll do.

Alex Tolley said...

David Brin:
"Freighters helped along by giant kites! (Actually, I mentioned this long ago, in EARTH! One more for the prediction wiki!"

Earth was published in 1990. The history of using kites to power boats/ships is much, much older.


I don't think you can claim this as a prediction.

David Brin said...

Announcing a change in blog procedure!

People, I am proud to have one of the liveliest and most reason/evidence-driven blogcommunities, anywhere. But, frankly, it's becoming an addictive time sink. With my book too late in delivery, I have to cut back somewhere.

I cannot completely swear off blogging... we live in perilous times and I can tell that - occasionally - some of my memes do filter out, beyond my immediate RSS-feeders. I will keep posting, weekly.

But alas, life has become frenetic, with many projects and three active kids (the biggest project of all!) Because of this, I am forced to draw some lines, if only to save some time for writing!

I have promised my wife to try to go cold turkey in the comments section. Or at most visit it once a week.

I hope you all will understand...

...and feel free to wallow here, whenever you like. The community looks well-established. Enjoy!

(And yes, I'll be taking glimpses. Anybody want to be summarizer-in chief?) More soon...

...and keep on fighting.

Acacia H. said...

I know where you're coming from, Dr. Brin. I'm behind on my reviews and on my own writing because this blog is so addictive. I'd say I've an internet addiction except I can pull away (usually to read a good book or watch more Babylon 5)... so as far as addictions go, it's not the biggest one. ;)

Rather than go cold turkey however, what you (and others of us also addicted to this site) can do is limit ourselves to 30-60 minutes a day. Read through comments, prepare one comment in response, and leave it at that. Set a timer to make sure you live up to that time limit. And then force yourself to that limit.

Procrastination is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Oddly enough... this blog helps with procrastination because it's fun to have intelligent discourses with people here and to check out what people have to say. It's time for more than you to get back to writing books and the like... and to blog less.

Good luck with your novel, Dr. Brin. I look forward to purchasing it when it comes out.

Robert A. Howard, who likewise has to cut back on blogging

Anonymous said...

I'll play the bad cop:

Quit hanging around with your no-good hoodlum friends and finish your homework!

Rob Perkins said...


Thrive, sir. It's a good promise to keep, if you make it to your wife.

Do announce the publication of the book, when it's ready!

Travc said...

Here are some interesting (IMO at least) points regarding polls and such:

20-30% of the general populace have strong authoritarian tendencies. They are exceedingly difficult to understand at an empathy level for folks like me (and I assume the vast majority of people here) with anti-auhtoritarian / libertarian tendencies.

A disturbingly large portion of the population 'knows' things that are simply not true. Propaganda is part of it, but confirmation bias (and skilled exploiters of it) are the core reason IMO. Count on a good proportion of supporters of a particular candidate to believe the candidate takes positions they actually do not, as well as just holding false beliefs about relevant facts. This isn't really 'a pox on both houses'... the GOP will have a significant excess of deluded supporters.

I've already posted these two links, but, if you will indulge me, I believe they reveal very important insights.

The Authoritarians by sociologist/psychologist Altemeyer
The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters PIPA survey results

Travc said...

Finally got around to watching the TED talk... my impression: 'whatever'.

I'm familiar with the 'two minds' thing, and know about the massive filtering and associative memory system of the brain. I've taken LSD and had a few friends who have reached 'nirvana' and more permanently disconnected from reality (also known as destroying themselves.)

There is no such thing as spiritual energy. Unless you are talking about astrophysics, talking about 'cosmic energy' is just woo.

Yeah, the 'spiritual' or 'mystical' feelings people get have a neurological basis... but that does not make them reflective of reality.

Tony Fisk said...

The rotating pole is an interesting problem. The rotating frame of reference implies a case for general relativity, so things could get very interesting.


Sprung, eh?

Oh, well. It is, as they say, 'a fair cop'. And one entry a week is better than nothing.

Good luck with the writing. I suppose I could extract digit and get the little tale I've been mulling for a while into a state where it can vanish into the Baen mush pile.

(I could get back to work too! Gad!!)

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was really amazed by the fragment of "The Smartest Mob" mentioned in your recent post, Dr. Brin. I'm actually a part of one of these spontaneous citizen posses at this very moment! It's crude compared to the example given in your novel fragment, but the resemblances are really striking. I'll give you a background in case you might be interested.

In January a clip of a looney Tom Cruise was posted to the net. Scientology tried to remove it. This caught the attention of a loosely bound group of net pranksters known as "Anonymous", named such more or less because nobody knows anybody else within it. Anonymous declared 'war' on Scientology and in the usual prankster way launched DDoS attacks on Scientology sites, made prank phone calls, black faxes, etc.

Then, a well-known critic of Scientology (a specialist for this cause) criticized Anonymous for their mildly illegal actions and suggested a change in tack to legal activism and protest.

Uncharacteristically Anonymous took heart and so far there have been two GLOBAL protests at "churches" around the world, and there are more to come. We've also been waging an old-media campaign and a net infowar of propaganda, not to mention been interacting with the US government to revoke the cult's tax-exempt status. It's terribly well coordinated, much more so than most protests these days. There's several forums and wikis being used for organization though the biggest is enturbulation.org. There are individuals contributing of all stripes, from lawyers to hackers to doctors to regular joes. Young and old, from all walks of life so long as they have net access.

The amazing thing is there's no hierarchical command structure. No heads, no leaders. It's like a flock of starlings flying in formation!

Scientology, whose command structure (hierarchical, tyrannical, dictatorial, quite Nazi-like the Germans will tell you) was developed in the 50's and refuses to adapt (it's against doctrine!) and as such they're stunned and confused by this new wave of activism, having never encountered anything like it before. In the past they always knew who to go after and DESTROY (not hyperbole, I assure you) when anybody levied even the slightest bit of criticism against them. They're at a total loss as to what to do now. They're trying, and each attempt fails in spectacularly humorous ways.

David McCabe said...

Godspeed, Dr. Brin.

I for one wish I was well-informed enough to contribute something here.

Acacia H. said...

Quick comment: is it just me or are Clinton supporters trying to blackmail her way into the White House? I mean, threatening to withhold funds unless Florida and Michigan delegates are seated... threatening Pelosi for speaking her mind rather than blindly backing Clinton... I wish I could say I'm shocked. But this is pretty much how it appears to me.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...


What you describe seems remarkably like a flash mob. Which means that I don't believe for one red minute that no one is organizing it. Someone's doing the PR, someone's attracting people like you -- it may be you. But there is a focal point to most movements (a core group, it's not always an individual). That you do not know about the core does not say that the core does not exist.

Clinton's New Strategy appears to be to win in 2012. Not that I think it's a likely strategy, even then.

Rob Perkins said...

@Robert -- It's distasteful and self-destructive, but isn't blackmail. Blackmail involves threatening to reveal a secret fact. Withholding donations from congressional campaigns because of a stated position is a threat, but it isn't blackmail.

It's just dirty, dirty politics.

Anonymous said...

Frank: This is blackmail!
Hawkeye: 'Blackmail' is such an ugly word.
B.J.: We prefer 'extortion'.


I'd call it blackmail, but extortion works...

Anonymous said...

Good luck on the novel, that should be your primary focus. I recently finished Earth after giving up on it years ago. Lots of good ideas in that book, but I could not enjoy it until page 150 or so. Keep this one shorter. Sky horizion was just the right lenth for a good read.

Brother doug

Tony Fisk said...

I just received the April edition of Scientific American, which looks like it has some pretty cool articles in it.

Articles on regrowing limbs, reclaiming the Aral Sea and determining the likely colouration of alien vegetation. (not such an academic exercise with instruments capable of analysing the absorption spectra of extra-solar planets on the verge of reality)

The really cool thing about it was an image accompanying a letter concerning Hugh Everett's 'many world' hypothesis. It isn't available online but, if you look at a similar image, and an earlier comment of mine, you will see why I think it is cool!

It sounds like the E8 theory of everything has been knocked out. Pity.

Rob H. As an apparently late comer to the Babylon 5 universe, you may be interested in hearing (if you haven't already) that the full scripts have been progressively released, with the final volumes just coming available for order.


While we've been discussing the kings and queens on the world board, we should also bear in mind the pawns and bishops. Have your online documents had an odour about them lately? A sort of 'Ook' smell?

Check out this Groklaw article in which someone spills the beans on the shenanigans that have been going on around the ISO fast tracking of the OOXML documentation standard. A lot of people appear to be getting very desparate!

As someone succinctly put it: maybe governments can mandate that car tyres meet a certain standard, but can they mandate a standard that only Bridgestone can meet?

I don't have a problem with Mi... I mean ECMA proposing a standard based on Word. I do have a problem with the crass, abusive way they are trying to get it adopted.

You may not think it important. I think it has a lot of ramifications if Mi... I mean ECMA get their standard adopted (shades of Nov 2000).

As PJ puts it:
... I see an anonymous comment suggest that ISO now stands for: [I Sold Out]

But isn't it good to see how many are refusing to do so? Consider the pressure, the threats, the stacking the deck, evidently some promises too, not to mention the confusing and ever changing rules, and it's remarkable. And yet all around the world, people have the courage and the integrity to say No.

NoOne said...

Tony Fisk said "Check out this Groklaw article in which someone spills the beans on the shenanigans that have been going on around the ISO fast tracking of the OOXML documentation standard."

Microsoft makes most of its profits from Windows and Office. I don't have the figures but I'd bet that these are their two big cash cows. Getting OOXML adopted as an ISO standard is of incredible importance to them since i) it can become a requirement in govts worldwide and ii) only Office will implement it well enough since there's not enough information - only 6000 pages - to implement the standard.

I must confess though that I did not expect Microsoft to stoop this low.

Kiel Bryant said...

zorgon, looks like you're on flamekeeper duty at Optimism Temple for a while.

Peace and vitality, David (Hope)Brin(ger).

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin

Not every alpha post has to be a masterwork :)

We know you're human, and unless you're trying something out on us for later publication elswhere, feel free not to sink a whole lot of time into it.

You post a lot of interesting links. I'm torn between my selfishness in wanting another book out of you and my selfishness in wanting to use you as my web-crawler. ;)

Don't feel it's an all or nothing thing, and don't succumb to the "some one is wrong on my blog comments" trap.

Whatever time you have to spare is appreciated, but that family comes first and "the real work" comes way before this Blog is understood.

If I can step WAY over the line for just a moment, an effective time management strategy I've used before is "X hours a week" - whether it's reading comments, or writing alpha posts, or responding, or whatever, just give yourself one or two hours a week for "blog activities/KOS time/ect."

Not on a schedule or anything, just a stop watch next to the computer that ony gets re-set on Sunday. It hits one or two hours, or whatever, it's done untill next week.

Anyway, it's been pretty amazing getting to argue with one of the finest living authors in of my favorite genres.

Unknown said...

Speaking of optimism...even more cause for good cheer:

The Rebirth of Buses: N.Y. to D.C. for $1 -- Supercheap Fares and High Gas Prices Help Fuel a Renaissance in Bus Travel

Up to the late 1940s, trolleys and busses represented the main mode of transportation for most Americans in big cities. No American complained about `terrible hardship' when travelling by bus or trolley -- in fact, Los Angeles even had a subway back in the 1930s! Cheap gasoline ended that era of cheap efficient public transit, but now it's returning. Clearly public policy and government have big roles to play here, but it's worth remembering that this offers a good example of the free market acting to solve our oil dependency by itself.

Cells' disease machinery silenced: Scientists say they have taken a major step towards a new generation of drugs for many conditions, including cancer.

"Writing in Nature, a Danish team said they had `silenced' key genetic material in cells called RNA, thought to play an important role in disease.

"Working on monkeys, they cut the animals' cholesterol levels by silencing strands of micro-RNA in liver cells controlling its metabolism."

Democratic governor of Alabama, unjustly railroaded into prison by Karl Rove and corrupt assistant U.S. attorneys, has been ordered released from prison by an appeals court.

Excellent essay "How To Disagree" by Paul Garham.

Asking for hard evidence, preferably published in peer-reviewed journals, and pointing out internal logical contradictions in an opponent's arguments, represents the two most effective methods of debate in my experience. They're also two of the most civilized, which makes it even nicer. Also: asking "What evidence would you require to disconfirm your claim about [X]?" proves highly effective. If your online opponent can't answer, it tends to demolish hi/r credibility.

A disproportionate number of far-right assertions today boil down to belief systems which can't be disconfirmed by any possible evidence.

Viz., claims about supply side economics. If we get economic growth after tax cuts, this "proves" supply side economics works...but if we fail to get economic growth after tax cuts, this only "proves" that the tax cuts weren't large enough, and we need bigger tax cuts.

Q: What evidence would a supply-side economist require to disconfirm the supply-side hypothesis?

A: No possible evidence can ever disconfirm the supply-side hypothesis. Shouldn't this raise our suspicions?

If violence in Iraq declines, it's proof that the surge is working -- but if violence in Iraq increases, it's also proof that the surge is working!

Q: What evidence would Iraq war supporters require to disconfirm their claim that the surge is working?

A: No possible evidence can ever disconfirm the claim. Once again, this should make us very suspicious.

As a general rule, we find claims which can never be disconfirmed only in the most bogus belief systems -- ufology, the search for Bigfoot, psychic surgery, dowsing, astrology, dowsing and astral projection.

Common sense suggests that all public policy must have a failure condition. That is to say, some condition under which we can all acknowledge that the policy doesn't work, and something else must be tried.

I have found that a good question to ask conservative ostriches is: Does your public policy have a failure condition?

When do we stop doing [X] and start trying something else?

Liberals have acknowledged failure conditions for welfare (the Clinton welfare reform), political correctness in higher education, racial hiring quotas, and Keynsian deficit economics (oil shocks & stagflation) and pacifism (first Iraq war, Bosnia).

Have today's conservatives acknowledged failure conditions for any of their belief systems? If not, what does this suggest about current right-wing policy proposals?

Under what conditions can we agree that:

* The Iraq war has failed?
* Tax cuts for the rich have failed?
* Privatization of government functions have failed?
* Pereptually increasing military spending has failed?
* NAFTA/CAFTA has failed?
* Creationism has failed?
* McCarthy-style politics of divisiveness and hate has failed?

In my experience, it's effective to point out to ostriches that a public policy without a failure condition is like a car without brakes. Ask your ostrich friends: Would you drive on the freeway in a car without brakes? Why, then, ask our whole society to do so?

Tony Fisk said...

NoOne, you are right in saying that one of Microsoft's biggest cash cows is the Office suite. I have no problem with them proposing a documentation standard based on that suite (indeed, it makes a lot of sense for everybody that they do so)

Where they have come unstuck is in 'arranging' to have a 3000 page definition fast-tracked for approval (there's an oxymoron in there somewhere). Something that size should have been subjected to proper scrutiny.

Where their true intentions have been revealed has been in the nature of the proposed standard itself. A standard seasoned with a selection of 'secret herbs and spices' that are the province of only one company is not a standard. It is a chain.

Where they have incurred a great deal of displeasure is in the blatant heavy-handed sledgehammer tactics they have employed to guillotine, gag, bribe, bully and generally force the committee members to 'just say yes' without a proper assessment of the standard.


To follow Zorgon's optimism riff: Yes, Jester, it is amazing. Not so long ago it would not have been possible.

David McCabe said...

Brother Doug, I invite you to read Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. It'll take you months! :-)

Anonymous said...

"Campaigners in the US are attempting to delay the start-up of the world's most powerful particle smasher with a lawsuit claiming it could spawn dangerous particles or mini black holes that will destroy the entire Earth."


Didn't some guy write some sort of sci-fi book about this kind of thing a while back?

Travc said...

ToddR: IIRC, "How we lost the moon" was a short story in Analog some years back. (Can't remember author and your google skills are probably as good as mine.) 2 sentence synopsis: High energy physics lab on the moon (for good reason apparently) spawns a micro black hole. The black hole slowly consumes the moon from the inside out, eventually leading to a black hole the same mass as the moon was in orbit around the Earth.

As for the OOML stuff...
I haven't been keeping up (so thanks for the heads-up), but I'm hardly surprised.

Microsoft has been notorious for obfuscating their own internal protocols and APIs. Writing code which relies on 'bugs' is a great way to make it neigh-impossible for others to make compatible programs. The Samba project's reverse engineering of the Windows file sharing stuff provides some very good examples. (BTW: Samba ends up actually being more reliable than the Windows code it was made to interoperate with.)

Unknown said...

Still more reason for optimism:

You may have heard that access to fresh water remains the problem about 1/5 of the world's population. Dean Kamen, the genius inventor who created the first insulin pump but is better known for producing the Segway, has invented a radically efficient water purification device with no filters or other parts that need to be replaced.

"You stick a hose into anything that looks wet, and...out comes fresh, clean water."

* It is designed to supply a village with 1,000 liters/day of clean water. (Colbert Report)
* You can use any water source -- ocean, puddle, chemical waste site, hexavalent chrome, arsenic, poison, 50 gallon drum of urine. (Colbert Report)
* Vapor compression distillation is not new. Doing it in such an incredibly efficient way such that it takes only 2 percent of the power of convention distillers is new. (R&D World and Gizmodo commenter)
* The are no filters to replace, no charcoal, no anything disposable (just distillation). (Colbert Report)
* The Slingshot (as its called) can use half the waste heat (450 watts) from a sterling engine electrical generator (prototype also being designed by Kamen's company) to boil its water. (TED)
* The heat put into the water is recovered with a "counter-flow heat exchanger" and recycled to heat the next batch of water (that is part of the novel bit). (TED and Gizmodo commenter)

Anonymous said...

EARTH prediction hit: Swiss banking secrecy under assault. (Not nuclear assault, mind, just legal assault, but still....)


"Trying to Get the Swiss to Talk"

As usual, it's not the real crimes that are making them targets; it's tax evasion...

Acacia H. said...

I wonder if the political cartoonists have been peeking in on the Contrary Brin site...