Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Game Development, Transparency and "The Architechs"

===From the Transparency Front===

Turning our gaze upon our paid protectors -- From Boing Boing: NYPD cops videoed illegally warring on photographers: This video compilation of numerous near-simultaneous arrests in NY is a nice example of how consumer technologies can help to balance abuse of authority. A fascinating study in the trend I forecast, of smart mobs holding authority accountable. This is how we'll get truly professional police. And yet...

And yet, I have to tell you that I have decidedly mixed feelings. Yes, the lapses in professionalism -- and outright lies -- of the cops deserve nailing. They must learn (apparently with some difficulty) to live in a world of cameras... and rights.

Still, the scenes depicted were drenched in the drug high of self-righteous indignation on both sides. There were scores of people in Time Square just itching for a confrontation, heckling, taunting and veering in front of guys who are... at a deep level... just human males high on adrenaline. Yes, the woman who would not show her ID was within her rights. But she could have given them their little ritual of control, and they had already proved that would likely be enough.

I want to emphasize, I am on the side of the smart mob. But I would betray this movement if I weren't able to criticize it.

These things need to be smarter, calmer, and far more mature.

See more recent developments on The Right to Record Police.

==From Games to ArchiTechs==

I contributed to Game Development Essentials: An Introduction, by Jeannie Novak (and followup volumes.) If you want to develop games... and that's it for now.

My briefly-run design-challenge show, The ArchiTECHS, will one last appearance on the History Channel, Friday morning May 2 at 5 am (Eastern) ... and... 6am (Pacific). (Sorry to have missed that. It's 3am Mountain and 5am Central.)

Set your Tivo to a wide window, just in case! (See my previous entry for description. Anybody know a likely sponsor? ;-)

Or copies can be ordered from the HC web site.

==And Finally==

Heck, while I'm at are some shocking items:

Want the current economic crisis explained? See my friend (and extremely smart world pundit) Mark Anderson offer some unusual insights.

Those of you who thrilled to the “big dog” robot video really ought to see the satire.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Last Chance to See The Architechs

Andi Tobin wrote in to say "I just noticed The ArchiTECHS is on The History Channel at 5 a.m. on May 2."

I have the distinction of having been on the History Channel's top... and bottom... rated shows ever. "Life After People" was a huge success, and I'm still doing interviews about it, phoned in to New Zealand and Australia. History promoted it like mad, but there's also something deeply resonant about a show that portrays the world recovering after humanity somehow blows it. Suits the mood of the 21st Century, so far.

In contrast, "The Architechs" was a design show... that "challenged five geniuses to solve an impossible problem in 48 hours... to innovate more than a dozen new fire rescue and evacuation tools for skyscraper disasters." History never promoted the show and aired it one weekday night at 10pm.

Well, well. If end-of-the-world sells better than problem-solving, I'll do end-of-the-world!

Still, Tivo "The Architechs" if you can. (And tell friends! This may be their last chance.) You may enjoy a little dive back into the oldtimey can-do spirit.

A spirit of optimistic problem-solving we might do well to bring back, sometime soon.


(Feel free to continue your previous arguments in comments below...)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The GOP version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell..." (the truth)

Re-lighting the political lamp...

I plan to cover a lot of bases here, from the state of the military (and why democrats refuse to talk about it) to America's remaining claim to the moral high ground... all the way to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell..."

But first -- I used to be skeptical of those who claimed that Hillary Clinton is deliberately inducing fratricide -- a civil war within the Democratic Party. But one of you wrote in with a theory that seems increasingly plausible. “She knows she can't win the nomination this year, so she intends to make sure no Democrat does, leaving herself one more shot in 2012.”

No, it makes no logical sense. But can anyone now picture her actually kissing and making up, now? Or spending 16 hour days rallying her followers back into the fold for November? Like Achilles, she will sulk in her tent... hoping that, like Achilles, she will be begged to come back and lead the dems to victory.

Oh, but then there is the heel. That famous heel.

No, I prefer hope. So I’ll see the bright side. She really is testing BHO... hard. Maybe the GOP attack machine will look tired and lame. And he’ll look seasoned.

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll. In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2003.

Hat you have yet to hear is a new refrain... from decent conservatives CALLING for a span of time in the wilderness, to re-evaluate and re invent conservatism. Ideally, a version that does not reject science, professionalism, accountability, reasoned argument, fiscal responsibility and the telling of truths.

Sometimes Honor Is Wrong -- The Problem With John McCain, by Frank Schaeffer (Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back" )

Says Schaeffer: The question is this: will America sacrifice herself to vindicate the personal sense of honor of one man? If there were no war, Senator McCain might be a good president. With the Iraq war going on, however, there is an overriding reason to vote against McCain in 2008. I say this as a former McCain supporter. The reason to vote against McCain, paradoxically, is McCain's military experience. I'm not referring to his experience with military affairs, but the personal military experiences that shaped him. (Disclosure: In the 2000 Republican primary season I went on numerous conservative and religious radio talk shows to argue for McCain against the Bush crowd and against the Republican right. McCain returned the favor by writing a great endorsement of my book AWOL-The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes From Military Service, And How It Hurts Our Country. It makes me sad I can't support McCain now.)

The problem is that McCain doesn't see himself as a civilian. He was, is and will always be defined in his own mind by the code of military service. This would be a great quality in a general or perhaps in a peacetime president, but will be disastrous in wartime. There is a reason our founders wanted America's military to have dispassionate civilian leadership. ... Simply put, McCain does not want to be the president that presides over today's Iraqi equivalent of the mass exit from the rooftop of Saigon's American embassy.

Check out this study of attitudes towards cultural and religious homogeneity in various countries:
This quote is particularly interesting: By contrast, the United States appears distinct in its greater tolerance of cultural and religious diversity.With regard to religious homogeneity, the United States and France are more opposed to this ideal than nearly every other country in the sample. With regard to cultural homogeneity, the United States is less supportive than every European country in the sample. It appears that the long history of ethnic and religious diversity in the United States has produced a distinctive, and more favorable, orientation toward cultural heterogeneity. Note, also, that the US absorbs over half of the legal immigrants in the world... and over half of the illegal immigrants. And yet, our anti immigrant movements are relatively mild compare to those in most countries. And, along with Canada, the US remains among the few nations where legal immigrants have a near automatic or easy route to full citizenship in the first generation.

This is a fundamental position from which the US could reclaim the moral high ground, very swiftly, almost the moment our present leadership caste of monstrous (fill in either unfathomable morons or outright traitors) were replaced by intelligent and principled men and women, seriously interested in earning back America’s position of consensual leadership in the world.

More crimes against the military. The Department of Defense reports that sailors and Air Force members are carrying out many different missions in Iraq, from traditional duties in the air and sea to construction jobs, medical operations, civil affairs, custom inspection, security and detention operations. Most are promised non-combative roles in Iraq, but many have found themselves to be in harms way once they arrive. In 2007 the Navy sent roughly 2,200 “individual augmentees”, as the service calls them, to handle combat-related duties with Marine and Army units stationed in Iraq. As of early April, 2008, 92 Navy and 46 Air Force personnel had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with those numbers sure to rise as the U.S. troop surge continues into its second year.

And the number of felons they are letting into the army is approaching Blackwater levels. But there’s nooooo problem. Why are the dems complicit, by not making the state of the Army (and reserves) an issue? Clinton left every US Army brigade in a state of combat readiness. Bush is leaving us none. Zero. Use that!

All right... you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Start buying canned goods.Gen. David Petraeus, who has commanded United States troops in Iraq for the past year, will be nominated to head the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations across a wide swath of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on Wednesday. I predicted a year ago... whenever you see the Navy ascendant, have hope. When Administration yes men start filling all the top slots... watch out.

And is it true that the Sierra Club has bitten the bullet and come out in favor of negotiations to carefully allow new fission power plants in the US? Somebody report on this rumor? Stewart Brand is amazing.



Here’s a little puzzler: Guess Who Now Loves “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

If you guessed Conservatives, you’d be right. Yes, the very same policy that was decried as “destructive of armed forces morale and discipline” and a surefire road to ruin... is now the utter-darling of the right, while the left, which once championed the policy, now views it as outdated and ripe for replacement by a ratcheted next-step in tolerance.

Of course, this is not the first time that conservatism has done this, showing a kind of mental agility that is seldom properly credited or (to be frank) emulated on the left. (See above, re the much belated and obstinately too-slow shift of environmentalism toward nuclear power.) Indeed, conservatives often show an agility (plus convenient amnesia) that sometimes seems borderline delusional. Just count the number of GOP politicians over age fifty who have pictures of Martin Luther King on their walls and swear they never opposed him! Or those under fifty who imply that MLK was a closet Republican, all along.

The same legerdemain is being shown now, over the vital issue of global warming, with the same individuals sometimes shifting and dodging several times in one day. First claiming that climate change isn’t happening at all, then (at another venue) avowing that it isn’t caused by humans, then (across town) admitting human causation but (vaguely) calling the economic costs of remediation too high, and finally (when cornered) admitting it’s a crisis, but naming the oil companies as the ones who are truly wise enough to solve it. Or else contending “it’s already too late.” (Doubt this? The administration (and friends) posed ALL of these positions, at various times and places, within the last year alone. And with a straight face, yet.

Did I say conservatives display mental agility? Are they alone in the dance of polemical distraction and rationalization? Certainly the left has its crazies and troglodytes and rationalizers. Only, most of the time their theme is utter and relentless stubbornness, clinging to standard dogmas (like opposing nuclear power) long past their relevance or usefulness. In this respect, they are certainly much less interesting or entertaining!

But back to conservatives, what I find most impressive -- even a little charming -- is their blithe unwillingness to accept that being wrong in the past has any relevance to today. Wrong about civil rights, womens’ rights and preserving the environment. Wrong about isolationism (remember Lindbergh... and then Vandenberg and Taft?) Wrong about de-funding science and wrong to have supported Saddam Hussein for decades. Wrong to have left him in power in 1991. Wrong (if not damned liars) about “weapons of mass destruction” and Iraqi terror links. Wrong about wild CEO bonuses and fantasy financial “instruments” that severed banking from any of its roots in sound lending practices.

And yet, what’s the response? - “All of that is dwelling on the past.”

But oh, shouldn’t it affect your credibility? Even if America does find it necessary to stay in Iraq a while, in order to clean up the mess you neocons made, that doesn’t mean you were right. Ever. What it means is that we need other people, grownups, to take over our tiller of state.

As for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” clearly that policy was an intermediate step in the direction of trust-building. (The sort of intermediate step that Hillary could have tried re health care, back in 1993, simply by insuring all kids first - if she had any sense. Talk about a credibility-demolishing episode!) Many in the military thought that allowing gays to serve quietly would devastate morale, but that precious intangible actually increased, and most servicemen and women learned to accept “discreetly gay” service colleagues with growing enthusiasm. Now, with many of them serving as reliable - even irreplaceable - comrades, the borderline of conservative ideology has shifted from tolerating ANY gays in the military to desperately preserving the present status quo -- seeking to preserve that “discreet” word. While liberals - always pushing the tolerance horizons a bit - consider DADT old-fashioned and inherently bigoted.

To be fair, the DADT debate is not a perfect analog to civilian processes. The military inherently needs top-down control, with very limited look back sousveillance. Their kind of conservatism -- very different than the insane neocons and loony dogmatists -- is the kind we should all respect and listen to, with some humility!

Still, the fact that people relaxed their fears and allowed a steady expansion of tolerance, even in this conservative setting, illustrates some validity to what I have been saying all along, that horizon expansion is a natural process, if it is promoted steadily, naturally, insistently but organically, at a pace that doesn’t freak people out. Moreover, take note. While DADT ostensibly reduced the military’s ability to spy and coerce and peer into service members’ lives... in fact, the effect of DADT was not an overall reduction in transparency! Indeed, it helped to end a potential security-breach methodology and ensure thousands of serving Americans are safe from blackmail.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A New Nostradamus? The Art (And Pitfalls) of Forecasting

Given my long term interest in the difficulties and rewards of the human obsession with prediction, you can expect that I would find fascination in the attention that has focused on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, chairman of New York University's Department of Politics, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and the author of many weighty academic tomes. He regularly consults with the CIA and the Department of Defense most recently on such hot-button topics as Iran and North Korea and has a new book coming out in the fall that he co-wrote with his pal Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Now, one might take that last fact as prima facae evidence that Bueno de Mesquita is not really “the New Nostradamus”... at least not in the complimentary implication of that phrase. That of actually being able to forecast future events. (Though, there are other, less salutary implications accompanying that comparison.) Still, one’s fascination with the whole topic should maintain an open mind. Essentially, Bueno de Mesquita claims to be somewhat of a latter day (or earlier day) Hari Seldon -- (Isaac Asimov’s character and inventor of “psychohistory”) -- using prim, mathematical models to forecast future mass events, and even the behavior of individual personalities.

An article in GoodMagazine kvells over Bueno de Mesquita, without offering anything like systematic analysis or balance. But clearly, here is a fellow who should be invited into prediction markets and Long Bets, as a player to be tested with close attention to the factor that was most dubious about the original Nostradamus... specificity. Testability.

Of course he has been around for a long time... Rational Choice theory is an offshoot of general game theory and at one level, it is pretty validly rooted in experimental evidence. If he really is onto a valid technique, I would be the first to want to know! Moreover, I explain why it should be among society’s highest priorities to scrutinize all would be seers - not only to debunk charlatans, but also in search of genuine new tools of anticipation.

Alas, the fact that the government agencies consult Bueno de Mesquita is not by itself any big deal. The CIA for many years gave credence to flaky psychics, and Bueno de Mesquita’s political connections speak for themselves. Even if the majority of Intelligence officials have not been suborned by the extremely political administration, certainly groups and elements have been, and that’s all it takes to get “The CIA likes me” on your resume. (Heckfire, I’ve got that, too!)

I admit I have only read the popularized article, so far, though it is redolent with suspicious sounding bits. e.g. a commitment to “nonpartisan rationality”... by a chum of the neocons who flushed away the entire staff and apparatus that Congress once had, for nonpartisan scientific and technological appraisal.  Still, one can keep an open mind. Perhaps there are success correlations better than he’s shown. The CIA may want to protect his methods from the copycat effect... the tendency for a predictive trick to grow obsolete, when it starts to be used by masses of competitors. (Only, the insights we might learn - through open scrutiny - could be worth it.) Perhaps time will tell.


The European Union... and especially Germany... is coming down hard on Swiss Banking secrecy.“This land of stunning Alpine vistas, which has chosen to remain outside the EU, has always loomed large in the global imagination as the place where the wealthy stash their money beyond the tax man’s reach. The best estimates suggest that image is true, to the tune of $1 trillion to $2 trillion.”

“The scandal that threatens that lucrative business began when German authorities obtained secret financial data from Liechtenstein, Switzerland’s tiny neighbor with similar banking laws. The information in hand, investigators fanned out across Germany to seize documents thought to be related to tax evasion by hundreds of wealthy Germans.”

Cause and effect? All of this started hitting the fan just two weeks after I went to Liechtenstein to try to explain the general concepts of transparency.

I know that two of you have set up wikis to track my predictive score. Is it time to update those? I have collected a slew of material of late....

----- AND ANOTHER ONE ----

How dedicated are you to using a Bluetooth microphone with your phone? Are you dedicated enough to drill a small hole in your teeth to install a tiny mic? Sigh. At least Clarke got credit for not patenting stuff. ;-)

As for cosmic rays being a disproof-by-absence of micro-black-hole MBH disaster scenarios, I have to say that my GUT instinct is that the sheer number of such events would have to have resulted in some fraction of the resulting black holes entering into solar orbit and subsequently colliding with planets, especially since we also have the MBH fluxes from OTHER star systems entering our own, at a wide variety of angles, resulting in more such captures.

I have not done the math. But how many years of CERN collisions would it take to emulate one day’s cosmic ray-generated (and MBH producing) collisions? I’d love to see that figure as the start of a scaling though experiment, to give us an estimate of the number of MBHs that must be part of an ambient background by now, in the galaxy. Our estimates should start there.

Of course, if MBHs do fall into the Earth, then should we seek gravity resonance effects, as in a certain novel? ;-)


Apparently, my recent single-speaker event on Second Life -- speaking in Extropia during commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s first manned spaceflight -- was one of the most popular and well-attended events in all of 2L history.

TinyTransparentAnother nice stroke... the next Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference will feature a special panel discussion: 'The Transparent Society' -- Ten Years Later, on May 22, 2008 at 3pm eastern, at the Omni Hotel in New Haven CT. CFP conferences top the gatherings of folk who believe in the liberating power of the internet and new media -- and who fight hardest to keep the web a font of freedom. I first challenged audiences about transparency issues at a couple of CFPs, back in the early nineties, learning from many spirited and informed responses and benefiting from citokate! (Criticism is the only known antidote to error!) I cannot attend the decadal panel of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between privacy and freedom. But a special hookup will let me participate by remote. (Any New Englanders out there, who are also passionate net-freedom defenders? Consider attending!)

See a recent newspaper writeup (and cool picture of me in front of Xian’s terracotta soldiers). Those of you living in Australia and New Zealand may catch some interviews I just gave, helping to promote the History Channel’s “Life After People.”

----- And yet, of course, every time I start getting too big an ego, something happens. My kids deflate it for me. (Thanks guys!) Or else... well... I was prompted to laugh at myself, and my own addictively burdensome self-esteem, when one of you wrote to me recently with the following:

Hi Mr. Brin… Big fan of your site and your works (Earth, Uplift series, and Glory Season). In case you haven’t seen it yet, “I, Cringley” mentioned you in the same breath as Einstein and Knuth – “Our society will continue to create great artists, writers, scientists and engineers because people will be internally driven to greatness in all those fields. How many Picassos do you need in a society? How many Frank Lloyd Wrights? How many Einsteins? How many Bechtolscheims, Knuths, and Brins?”

Seeing as how I think highly of Mr. Cringley’s work as an essayist, I got ever so slightly excited -- well, more bemused -- till I recalled. My days of being the “most famous Brin” are pretty much over. Recognizing the name Bechtolscheim pretty much sealed it. (A brilliant early investor in Google.) And while I console myself that Sergey had me spit into a jar and found that we have a 74.38% genetic overlap, that is just enough for a distant, cousinly nod, now and then. I send him a signed book or two. He gave me a card that’s good for a lifetime supply of free Google searches!

Clearly, Mr. Cringley had this one right. Down ego! Bad boy! Down! (Yeth, Math-ter!)

-------- But hard SF did receive a favorable mention in the mainstream press recently. Read science fiction, especially "hard science fiction" that sticks rigorously to the scientifically possible. "If you look out into the long-term future and what you see looks like science fiction, it might be wrong," she says. "But if it doesn't look like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

-------- When you are in the Futurist game (either directly or through the imagery of science fiction), you get asked a lot about your “score” or how often the things that you forecast have come true. And, yes, I can wave my arms and point to this list or that gimmick in a twenty year old novel and say “That’s come true at last - what too you all so long?” (I just came across a 1985 essay poo-pooing the then-rife paranoia about “Japan’s gonna own everything!” I think I was one of six people urging historical perspective and calm.)

In fact, though, it seems no great shakes (to me) to take some little trend or news item and extrapolate the way it might affect the future. I find far more intriguing the notion of the self-preventing prophecy, those occasional warnings that stir people so much that they take action, change their ways, or apply wariness -- and thus stave off something dire, something awful. George Orwell did this, so (I contend) did Karl Marx. Rachel Carson, Harry Harrison. That is when a futurist or author shifts from being an unheeded Cassandra to a real world-changer.

I am provoked by two recent articles. The first describes the approaching completion, after 14 years and $8 billion of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, where high energy particle collisions should reveal much more about the underpinnings of natural law. And where - a few worry - there might be accidentally created some kind of planet-devouring monster. A “strangelet” or possibly a microscopic black hole that, contrary to present-day theory, might not dissipate, but instead absorb neighboring atoms and keep growing, voraciously, eventually gobbling up our world. Despite having written a best-seller around this notion, a couple of decades ago, I have never credited the scenario with high likelihood. Still, it falls under the increasingly important field of Risk Analysis, dealing with unlikely but high-stake threats. It seems our destiny, in this new century, to deal with many of these. To learn more drop by the Lifeboat Foundation and see just how calm and rational - and even fun - it can be to wallow with the worrywarts. (I have my own low probability/high consequence cause.)

Indeed, I consider it premature to pick any one fear, or hope, to zero-in upon, monomaniacally. There are just too many possibilities, both up and down.

With so many ways for things to turn, it seems prudent to concentrate on choosing leaders who demonstrate some flexibility of mind, and who do not disparage intelligence as the very opposite of wisdom. Because, at the fringes of this topic, there lurks the Fermi Paradox -- the notion that the universe ought to be teeming with evidence for advance interstellar civilizations, by this late date. And yet, there is no credible proof that we aren’t alone. Did some of those “high consequence” mistakes bring most of our predecessors down? Might it have been one particular error, so alluring that every species tries it, whenever they reach a certain level of development... just before they would have built starships?


Folks at the recent TED conference cannot kvell enough about Jill Taylor’s talk about her own experience with a brain hemorrhage. “This is an absolute must watch. 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. It was certainly the most talked-about presentation among those at TED2008. Enjoy and share with others. And let Jill’s experience inspire, motivate, and change the way you look at life.”

Well, yes. And yet, the biggest part of me -- the contrarian who keeps returning to Earth to be strangled at a young age, again and again as a sort of bohddisatva of “yes, but!” -- that part of me, the part that tried nirvana-seeking, as a sort of demi hippie, during the sixties, can only respond with the same “yes, but” to Dr. Taylor’s vivid and inspiring presentation. Yes, but your fully rightbrain experience was pure, in part because of sudden novelty. Do people feel the same, who are trapped in that state year after year, helpless to be anywhere else? Yes, but can you promise that people, once able to travel fully into lala land at will, won’t become lotus eaters... and did not our ancestors develop left brain dominance for solid reasons?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Airline deterioration, the new elite, levees and climate deniers

If any of you do have a relationship with one of the obstinate global-warming-deniers, here is my usual recommendation. Never confront a dogmatist with sumo opposition. Letting them choose the battleground is silly. For example, trying to offer mountains of scientific evidence only validates them, by making it seem that their own position is about evidence at this point.

Just after recovering internet access (off several days!) and doing a big event at Second Life...

==Deterioration of Air Travel==

Amid last week’s terrible ructions in air travel, will no one point out the part of all this that is most politically and socially significant?

No, I am not referring to the stunning levels of ineptitude, revealed by the FAA -- a story that has grown commonplace, under a regime that relentlessly undermines professionalism at every turn. Although it is meat for passing headlines, the real story is something more insidious. And politically devastating, if the public is ever finally roused.

Would this state of affairs ever have come to pass, if society’s elites had reason to care about the health of modern commercial air travel?

Gradually, people are growing aware that the rich, famous and powerful are abandoning our crowded airports, evading the painful security queues, the germ-laden air and uncertain schedules. Leaving all of that for little folk to endure, elites are even staying away from First Class. (Have you noticed, most of the people up front are either exhausted upper-middle managers or frequent fliers, traveling on upgrades? And first class service has deteriorated, accordingly.)

So where have all the aristocrats gone? The movie stars and banking moguls? Just look a few hundred meters away from the main terminal, at the luxurious private and charter hangars that seem to burgeon and grow, monthly. And no, the rapid increase in travel by corporate jet and luxury charter is not much of an outrage in its own right, not as much as it is a symptom and a warning...

...that the members of civilization with the most influence and political power will not be on our side, when it comes to improving air travel. They’ll not be adding their voices to the lowing of the steers, down in the cattle cars. Rather, they are abandoning the rest of us to our fates.

Moreover, it is symptomatic of something more.

SuperclassLet’s get familiar with our masters. An article in Newsweek by David Rothkopf distills the essence of his book SUPERCLASS: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making, about the uber-elite who make capital decisions affecting millions or even billions of people. “They ride on Gulfstreams, set the global agenda, and manage the credit crunch in their spare time. They have more in common with each other than their countrymen. Meet the Superclass....It is a much more concentrated world.”

“The iconic symbol of superclass unity is the Gulfstream private jet. In fact, one way to measure the clout of an event is to count the private jets at the nearest airport. According to Gulfstream, traditionally attracts more of its planes than any other gathering, drawing up to 10 percent of the 1,500 planes in service to Zurich airport. But this year's Olympics in Beijing will give it a run for its money, as typically do events as diverse as the Monaco Grand Prix, China's Boao Forum, the Geneva Auto Show or Allen & Co.'s annual getaway for media magnates in Sun Valley, Idaho. Globalization looks different when you can tell the pilot when to leave and where to go, and when there are no security lines to wait in when you are heading off for distant destinations. Those who are free to move about the planet this way come to have more in common with themselves than with their own countrymen.”

This is all grist for my next novel, of course... and take this futurist’s word for it. The next few decades will in part revolve around whether these people decide to side with Western Civilization... and with our children ... or instead, they give into the blandishments of ego and human nature, doing what you or I might do, if we stood in their $20,000 loafers. Giving in to the seductive temptations of privilege -- especially rationalizing reasons to cheat.

ThePlutocratsDo not mistake any of this for left-wing, class-warfare ranting. I have nothing against capitalism or rich folk, per se. Heck, I am richer than most, and I know maybe eight billionaires on a first name basis... and ALL of them have chosen - to one degree or another - to side with us, with the Western Enlightenment! Every one of those tech moguls is doing his best to look forward, to promote great new things, and to help the good tide lift all boats.

But I also know that my own experience results from a selection effect. These eight all hang in the same circles I do... that of modernist citizens of a profound new renaissance. Guys who would be just about as happy with a decent normal wage, if it still meant they could do all the cool stuff and help exciting dreams come true.

Alas, not all zillionaires are like that. And thereupon, let me commence an allegory.

The lesson of the levee.

==Left and Right-handed approaches ==

Welcome to the world wrought by global warming....

The life of a contrarian is inherently frustrating. Whenever you point out the flaws in a particular dogmatic position, there is a tediously-predictable, reflex reaction that you must be a dogmatist, for the opposite extreme. I’ve run into this over and over, in one realm after another, often regarding causes that I (generally) approve-of -- like feminism, ecology and philanthropy! For example, in propounding the public argument for an open society -- one of reciprocal accountability and a knowing citizenry -- I find that the arguments for transparency are seldom viewed as simply standing up for what we already have - but rather, as “David Brin advocating universal nakedness and an end to privacy.”

Likewise, when it comes to the hoary, centuries-old French curse called the “left-right political axis,” just look at the all-or-nothing choices we are offered. Societies have long had two ways to get things done -- typified by the “Cathedral and the Bazaar.” Organized projects, paid-for by pooled resources and planned through some kind of legal consensus (generally government) illustrate a “left-handed” approach,” while the “right hand” of progress was propelled by free individuals and groups, competing with each other (generally through markets) to do, achieve, create and excel.

Suppose you favor one approach. Must you advocate amputation of the other?

QuestionnaireNIndeed, let me offer a clip from my ”Questionnaire on Ideology.”

THE LEFT HANDED APPROACH: concerted action by tribal or national units, organized by leaders who gather social resources (e.g. taxes or tithes) and apply them to attain goals in an organized manner.

THE RIGHT-HANDED APPROACH: create loosely regulated markets wherein free individuals compete and/or cooperate, making the best deals they can for their own self interest.

In 10,000 years we’ve seen countless left-handed projects - pyramids, canals, wars and universities...
...and countless market contributions - industry, medicine, slavery, and bookstores.

Radical socialists demonize the right-hand as inherently corrupt/immoral/exploitive, often prescribing its complete amputation.

Radical libertarians/anarchists call the left-hand inherently coercive/immoral/stifling often prescribing its complete amputation.

If you prefer one class of problem-solving methods, would you amputate the other entirely?
Or help try to discover which types of tasks each class is best at, and assign them accordingly?

Does your preferred ‘hand’ solve chronic problems, e.g. create abiding conditions for personal satisfaction & generation of wealth? How well does it deal with acute problems, like crimes, natural disasters or Adolf Hitler?

Which approach focuses on anticipation and which fosters resiliency? Which serves professional problem-solvers? Amateurs?

==Levees are Left-handed==

Can you see why my investment banker friends snif at me as a crypto-leftist, while my big-L liberal friends moan when I quote Adam Smith and call him the “first liberal”? It is easy enough to find faults with either stifling, state-bureaucratic paternalism or rapacious, cheating-infested thievery by conniving cabals of CEO golf buddies. But, in fact, we should have outgrown all of that simplistic nonsense long ago! And we should be - at long last - studying the things that each hand is good at.

ListenToNatureAnd here is one foremost example, that shows just how stupid the dogmatists are.

Levees are the most fundamentally left-handed project of them all.

Only governments build levees on a large scale. Only governments can, or ever will build levees on a grand scale. When private interests feel threatened by floods, they use political pressure and any means possible to get governments to spend money, even taxed from faraway mountain dwellers, in order to save their precious lowland property. And, yes, rich men who despise taxes and big government will do this, as they always have. (See: Listen to Nature and Accept her Adamant Plan.)

And what big projects do you think we have in our future?

When the Greenland and Antarctic ice plateaus melt and the oceans rise? Will the deniers of global climate-change stick to their tune, when their lowland property is threatened by new sea levels?

If we are to be ruled by New Aristocrats... oh please God, don’t let it be these fools. These awful, monstrous fools.

==Just a bit more about climate change==

Consider how it workd, psychologically. Influenced by a million courtroom dramas, the deniers seem to be saying ”You must prove this beyond all reasonable doubt... and I can use any doubt, any doubt at all... to reject all of your evidence.” In other words, it will never be enough. It CAN never be enough.

So. Instead of sumo, try a jiu jitsu move on guys like this. For example:

"Despite there being a 99% consensus on the part of mainstream scientists, demonstrating that climate change is human generated, that it will be titanically costly and dangerous and that it can be at least partly remedied if we act soon... we will nevertheless and willingly admit there is always room for more research. More discussion.

“But that isn't the issue. The issue is - what should a wise civilization be doing right now?

"What reasonable people propose - and the deniers oppose - is simply that our nation and world give high priority to becoming more efficient and to try to foul our nest a little less.

“That is it. The “waste-not” wisdom of an older, truer conservatism. The thing the deniers are opposing is that we put some effort toward having a wealthy and happy civilization, on less oil and waste. Period! That’s it.

“And here’s the crux: even if (unlikely) it turns out that all the scientists and intellectuals and tree-huggers and pointy-headed liberals prove to be wrong -- even if it all turns out to be an exaggerated, chicken-little panic -- what’s the worst that could happen, if we put in a little work and investment and effort to become more efficient?

“The worst that would happen is that... we'll all be more efficient. (Guess who are the ONLY people who don’t want that! Who don’t want us to get free of dependence on forieign oil? Gee, I wonder.)

“On the other hand, if the deniers prove wrong (very likely), then their dogmatic, writhing, series of excuses for delay will prove extremely costly to us all. And they will be among the first demanding vast new government levee projects, to save their precious homes.

“But, oh, here is the one thing that proves how shortsighted and stupid they really are. They can expect civil lawsuits commensurate with their unscrupulous delaying tactics. Don’t think we’re joking! By comparison, the tobacco lawsuits will look like nothing. Exxon stockholders, take note."


Finally, under comments, I’ll post a few links showing the other side of things. The world of transparency in action.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The “October Surprise” Bush Doesn’t Want... plus Preparing the Next Big Scam.

’A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt U.S. government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets.... Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office. Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan.... She claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials – including household names – who were aiding foreign agents.”

These excerpts from an online article in the Times (London), suggest that the FBI may have been both investigating and sitting on a scandal of treason and corruption, of unprecedented magnitude. Of course, there would be vast repercussions - both diplomatic and political - if these allegations proved out in public. One can certainly imagine those repercussions standing large, in the minds of officials who must decide whether to reveal and/or prosecute. Alas, every conceivable rationalization for “discretion” falls apart:

--- Political appointees - and politically-connected civil servants - are highly motivated to make these rationalizations. They should recuse themselves, or face a steep burden of suspicion.

--- “The damage” (to international relations and public morale) “would be devastating” is a cop-out of titanic proportions. Both the world and our people showed great resiliency in past crises, even scandals like Watergate. In any event, openness is our national covenant. Despite the natural tendency of professionals to look down upon the masses, our wager has always been placed upon the people, and it has always proved justified.

--- Professionals tend to assume that what they see of the iceberg is all there is. But this assumption is always -- always -- proved wrong. Revealing and prosecuting will force traitors and corrupt officials to squeal on fellow rats. Whistle-blower rewards draw out more whistle-blowers.

--- The story suggests that some of the malignant behavior preceded 2001. If so, then perhaps, at last, there will be a smoking gun pointing to some Clinton Administration officials (not one of whom was ever even indicted for job related offenses.) In which case, an evenhanded housecleaning should purge the Democratic establishment of bad elements, as well.

--- Would revelations be “interfering in an electoral year?” What a rationalization. If anything, NOT revealing information that the voters need would be far more politically suspicious

--- When all is finally revealed, the early revealers will be heroes, while a presumption of complicity will fall upon those who delayed and obstructed. If there are agents who have solid evidence in hand, where does their duty lie? To their careers? Or to the nation?

For years, I have been urging that the professionals stand up. They were hired (and swore oaths) to protect us against enemies, both foreign and domestic. And, even if there is no “manchurian” scenario going on, there is more than enough reason to know, firmly, that our pros have failed to protect our nation, our society, our people, from the worst, most -piratical and least honorable clade ever to gain high influence in America. It is time to turn this around. I hope and trust some of them will.

There is a final rationalization for avoiding the kind of major scandal that we are talking about. Some of our top justice officials may tell themselves that the Bushites are almost out of power, and so, why put their backs against the wall, possibly driving them to desperate measures? Such as an “October Surprise” aimed at distracting public outrage. Why not just let Bush issue his Pardon Tsunami* upon leaving office, and get all this behind us? Yes, we’re in “thriller plot” territory here (it’s my job!) But when it comes to rationalizations, people can be very creative! There is an answer, of course. If all is revealed now, then the traitors and their sponsors will lose so much credibility that they would not dare try to pull any manipulative stunts. Thus putting all this in the open may protect us far better than keeping it all under wraps for a few months longer.

In any event, we need to make it clear to our beloved professionals. We hired you. We will look askance when (not if) it later becomes known that you kept secrets that we needed to know, before entering the polling booths.

(* See how to prepare and deal with the Pardon Tsunami.)


"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments."
- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

We all know Adam Smith as the author of the bible of capitalism, The Wealth of Nations (1776). But he first wrote what is arguably a far more important book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In both, his strong support of free and liberally competitive enterprise comes across with not only convincing conviction, but also something few today remember -- a very pronounced anti-aristocratic tone... which is one reason why the paid shills and intellectual callgirls at the American Enterprise Institute and Cato Foundation, etc, long ago stopped mentioning or citing the “founding sage of modern capitalism.”

All of which I contemplated when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson unveiled the 218-page plan in a speech in Treasury's ornate Cash Room, declaring, "A strong financial system is vitally important — not for Wall Street, not for bankers, but for working Americans." Paulson rejected Democratic charges that it was lax regulation of mortgage brokers and the financial industry that had led to the current problems.
"I do not believe it is fair or accurate to blame our regulatory structure for the current market turmoil," he said. "I am not suggesting that more regulation is the answer or even that more effective regulation can prevent the periods of financial market stress that seem to occur every five to 10 years."

Note how he tries to portray as normal and cyclical the pain and damage that his administration has wrought, including the recent plummet of American creditworthiness -- the one crucial thing that Alexander Hamilton strove so hard to establish, at the beginning of our Republic. Note also, than none of his new proposals would stanch or even investigate the continuing flow of hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy, into (1) petro-states, (2) “emergency clause” war-services contractors, or (3) an arterial-gush of balance-of-payments red ink. Three flows that were abetted and accelerated under this administration, and that easily equal the other two calamities (4) the lax mortgage lending practices and (5) the mad culture of speculative securitization of financial instruments that replaced responsible trade in real cash and debt.

One could go on and on... but I am not here to offer close-up economic analysis (blather that you can get elsewhere, from more-qualified, if shortsighted seers.) No, my task is to offer wide perspectives. So let me just add this.

People should open their watchful eyes now to whatever deep preparations that are being made, for the Next Big Scam. After all, many of the regulatory cracks that were exploited by this latest wave of thieves were actually planted years ago, many of them as “reforms” in the wake of the last kleptocratic raid, the infamous Savings and Loan Scandal. (That took place largely under the aegis of our president’s father.) Now that the horses have been stolen, sure, we’ll see the barn doors closed and re latched... while subtle strings are left in place for other doors to be burgled, in times to come.

Let’s give the raiders their due. They think and plan long term. Preparations for our present Neocon Putsch go way back, including the creation of an entire corps of master rationalizers, from Gingrich to Wolfowitz, Perle, Adelman, Nitze and so on, whose agile surface blather covered the real agenda -- setting America up for a blood-draining of epic proportions. Okay, so now, at last, the steer has begun responding to the pain. A passel of engorged vampire bats are scuttling to avoid its hooves. They may even lay low for a while, their greed briefly slaked, while the livestock recover a bit.

But remember folks, that is how they think of us. Would be lords of the right and the left (remember communism?) Only, now and then, these sheep look up.

===== More Neoconservative Apologias ===

For a special, gala, fifth anniversary of the Iraq War edition, The NY Times ran nine op-ed pieces, not one of them by anyone who had opposed it from the beginning. (well, I admit that I had no beef with taking out Saddam Hussein, since Bush Senior and Cheney/Rumsfeld had stained America’s honor by deliberately leaving that monster’s boot on the throat of a people, when it would have been trivial to save them; but I opposed from the start, the blatantly stupid and typically monstrous way that the son chose to correct that blunder.)

Ah, but the spin-meisters are so amusing to watch, almost every one of them squirming to evade blame. See especially one of the War boosters - Richard Perle - whine and contort, now blaming Colin Powell,of all people, for the monumental catastrophe that this endeavor in “nation building” has become. But... since Powell was gone VERY soon after the invasion, and neocon-connected companies like Halliburton have swallowed most of a trillion dollars, without delivering electricity to the Iraqi people, might even one of the Neoconservative Intellectual Shills ever wake up to how they were used, as frontmen for outright thievery? Ah, psychology.

One online commenter suggested that the Times (if they had any senses of irony) would have added a tenth neocon blame-retargeter... Stephen Colbert. Oh, if only!

Danielle Pletka's piece, at least, does a tepid “mea culpa I was wrong.” But with a whimpering “leave me alone” tone that repents only for having believed too idealistically in nation-building and the spreading of freedom by force - without ever mentioning that these had been central objects of ire and derision, denounced by her own American Enterprise Institute for decades, and above all when Bill Clinton tried, on a very small scale, to help in Bosnia and Somalia. That is, it was AEI doctrine, until those court catechists and apologists were commanded to reverse-the message, abruptly serving their masters’ new agenda. Pletska’s slinking return, now, to the older theme of isolationism suggests where the “conservative” spin will now head. “We admit we were too idealistic!” will be one of their cries, in the face of this calamity.

But not a thought or word will go toward the real purpose and effect of the Iraq Incursion... to provide “emergency” excuses for over-riding U.S. contracting laws and procedures, so that no-bid, crony deals might direct hundreds of billions straight into the pockets of... donors to the American Enterprise Institute. Without a whit of a care for whether the Iraqis ever get electricity again (perhaps enough electricity to turn on their “freedom gene?”)

The failure of liberals and democrats to even notice this central theme and purpose of the Iraq War, is one of the great, blithering stupidities of recent years. Perhaps it derives from their having heeded that bright dope, Michael Moore. (If it was "about oil", um, where's the oil?) Or maybe most people simply turn off their hearing, when dry matters like "contracting rules" are brought up. But this is THE way that up to a trillion dollars has been stolen during wartime, while the armed forces... and even the regular “military industrial complex”... have actually declined by attrition and starvation.

The crux: the very same Institute that styles itself as a protector of American Enterprise has been, instead, a principal rationalizer and enabler of the greatest kleptocratic raid upon our nation in its history. So much for “enterprise.” It is not by our standards they Pletka and her peers stand revealed as traitors and monsters. It is by their own.

=== AND FINALLY ======

The perfect “ostrich ammo” can be found in a book by Victor Gold, Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP

And I’ll add a lagniappe below, under comments... just something I’ve had lying around for a while. A rumination about the infamous “largesse” aphorism, that smug elitists have long used as a blithe dismissal of democracy.