Friday, June 06, 2008

Ways to carry this revolution forward...How you can help!

Finally! Clarity. And now, each of us can find ways help to carry this revolution forward.

One way -- simply add a little to the tsunami of small donations to Senator Obama's campaign... and contributing to the Democratic Party, so the fight can be taken down to the level of Congressional and state districts, where the real transformation awaits. Seriously, if you donate to one, please match with the other.

Nevertheless, it is both futile and unamerican -- as well as rather pathetic -- to yearn for salvation at the hands of some charismatic leader-politician. That sends the wrong message, especially to the politicians! At another level, this year is about ending Culture War the only way it can be won... by swaying our fellow citizens, one at a time. Each of us taking responsibility to change this battlefield our country's become. Not by attacking Red America, but by shattering the Red Coalition. By asking “decent conservatives” to leave the neoconservative cult that has ruined their movement and nearly ruined our country.

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Not all conservatives will be approachable. Even the minority who are still willing to talk -- like that quirky but lovable uncle of yours -- may take umbrage if you go after them with typical liberal cant or Michael Moore rants. The method I have recommended is to show the decent-but-in-denial “ostrich” conservatives that they have been betrayed by the GOP even in strictly conservative terms. 

I’ve provided a detailed playbook, The Ostrich Papers: How it Will Take All Decent Americans to Restore Decency to America, for awakening such ostriches -- along with a much shorter, handy Cheat Sheet for Ostrich Hunters.

ostrichpapersAnd there are plenty of “roused ostriches” out there who can make yours feel not-alone! Here’s an example: Frank Schaeffer writing in the Huffington Post.

Then again, if your ostriches can’t stomach Obama, steer them to the Libertarians! I am unabashed about wishing libertarians - who at least have a foundation of freedom-loving sincerity - would become more reasonable and pragmatic, then earn their proper place as America’s second party (while the Republicans go the way of the Whigs and Know-Nothings!) True, this year’s LP candidate is an especially nasty and noxious piece of work; still, if small government republicans were to flood into the LP, it could both help demolish the GOP and transform libertarianism itself, perhaps even turning it into something worth talking about.

There are other things we can do. Volunteer for poll-watching or precinct work. Help a local state assembly campaign! Again, these low-level races are where change matters most. Here’s my own favorite: Find and register any unregistered voters and help students prepare to vote absentee, in November. (This often messes them up.) Get better acquainted with any members of the military you know, and listen, humbly, to their concerns.

And listen for signs of whatever last-ditch trick the neocons have up their sleeves. Currently, paranoia is running rife over a possible attack on Iran, with betting that the US Navy won’t cooperate, but the Air Force is a-raring to go. Signs and portents are studied, like the recent firing of Admiral Fallon from head of Central Command... and the even more recent firing of several Air Force officials by Defense Secretary Gates. (The former was clearly a putsch by the Bush White House. The latter MAY be something of a counter-attack by Gates.)

Is Gates the “adult in the room” who will defend us from some awful stunt? Some final frat-boy prank? Will the intelligence community rouse itself, at last, and remember its duty to protect us even from monsters at the top? Stay tuned.

===As “Mr. Transparency”... Let’s say I approve...===

On the same day that he became the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Sen. Barack Obama submitted a bill to expand public access to information about government spending. The bill, known as “The Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008,” was crafted on a bipartisan basis with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, is also an original co-sponsor of the bill, as is Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). This is far bigger than it looks! Because I contend that the biggest ripoff of the Bush Administration was its use of “emergency” over-rides to bypass normal contracting rules!

Say what? Contracting rules? How boring! No wonder almost no pundits or newsfolk have even glanced at this issue. And yet, it is arguably the main purpose of the Iraq War! Forget Michael Moore’s ditzo-moronic explanation that “it’s all about oil.” Do YOU see floods of Iraqi oil pouring into the west? No, follow the actual money! While our armed forces suffer and bleed and lose their readiness, almost a trillion dollars has poured into the open maws of “field service contractors” like Halliburton, KBR and Blackwater, through no-bid, crony contracts to Bush family friends, bypassing normal procedures... because this is an “emergency.”

Let there be no mistake. THIS is a top reason for the war, because -- other than demolishing our alliances, economy, readiness, reputation and happiness -- it represents the number one assertive effect of all this trauma. Everything else is window dressing. And that is why Senator Obama’s bill is so important. (Note, as evidence for how important this is, Senator McCain is also behind it. He may be wrongheaded and half crazy, but at least he isn’t a corrupt traitor.)

===Make Science an Issue!===

culturewarbattlegroundIs Obama going to be the first politician who actually gets it, that all the polls and focus groups and pablum-advice from consultants follow public opinion? A politician can also lead it! And one place where a suprise turn might make a real difference is by assertively making science and technology an issue.

Yes, it would seem that middle Americans and battleground states aren’t interested. And yes, most scientists are already backing BHO. Still, even mentioning the devastation that the GOP has wrought upon our scientific and technological leadership could resonate more powerfully than any consultant would imagine. There are hundreds of thousands of savvy people out there who would see this as a sign that Obama can see a few steps beyond an election.

And nothing says “hope” better than expressing a belief in our ability to solve problems.

And yes, I’ve mentioned this before. Among my “suggestions to the Democratic Congress” l was one that should have been a no-brainer, automatic first-step. Upon entering office, Nancy Pelosi should simply have re-established the independent Congressional science and technology advisory apparatus that was dismantled by Newt Gingrich and his colleagues, as the very first shot in the Republican War on Science. I do not know why she and her fellow congressional leaders have abstained from such a simple, inexpensive and dramatic step, which could be achieved without even much worry about a presidential veto. It would make clear the most extreme partisan difference of all, between one side that is “reality based” and the other, with its dependence upon fevered dogma and rejection of evidence.

Of course, beyond scoring political points, it would also simply be the right and smart and responsible thing to do. Anyway, I’ll keep plugging at this -- and I hope you folks will, too.

Only now another thought occurs to me. Rep. Pelosi might consider adding a layer to the science advisory apparatus. Here’s what I recommend. In addition to setting up methods to ensure that the main science advisory panels remain politically neutral, she might call for an outer, advisory commission, consisting of one eminent scientist or other professional, appointed by each member of Congress, independent of party. These 535 luminaries (who would serve pro-bono) would receive all Congressional technical reports and have the right to post, online, their own appraisals and discussions. In effect, it would be the “scientific and technical shadow” of Congress, since each senator or representative will have chosen (upon advice) the “best” technically savvy person in his or her district, who is also basically compatible with his or her viewpoint.

At minimum, the resulting online deliberations should be interesting and involve a higher level of scientific discourse than those in Congress itself... though still having a strong correlation with the general views of the elected representatives of the people. But the advantages go further.

1) This could staunch propaganda about the main Congressional advisory panels being biased, since the shadow commission would keep a wary eye.

2) If this outer commission reaches consensus to accept (or revise) a particular proposal, then it would provide political cover for the Senator or Congressperson to do the same.

3) And now the less-elevated but politically potent part. There is a significant portion of today’s Congress that is genuinely loony and biliously hateful toward science. These men and women claim not to be, and hence, they would have to cooperate superficially, and appoint their own members to the commission. But this will put them into a terrible bind. If they choose somebody eminent, with genuine credentials and peer respect, they risk getting unwelcome news from their own appointee. On the other hand,, suppose they pick a “scientist” of the flaky, fifth tier, primarily on the basis of some dogma-driven agenda like climate change denial or creationism -- then this will put the representative on record, in the open. The appointment will be open for glaring scrutiny... and politically-damaging hilarity.

This commission would be a complete win-win for Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats. Alas, though. Bets whether anything like it will happen?

===And on a related note...===

Nothing better distills the need for subtlety, in this changing political environment, more than the news that (forced by a court order) the Bush White House has finally (four years late) released its official, compiled assessment of the likely effects of global climate change on the United States and its citizens. The good news? They now are on record admitting GCC is real, major, threatening and driven hard by human-generated pollution. The bad news? We are still being led by people who were forced to admit this, after years of lies and deception.

Where does subtlety come in? Don’t you want to just run around and rub this in the noses of all those morons who parroted the Fox News “balanced” line, calling for “more research” while at the same time torpedoing science budgets? Well, remember that we aren’t in this for the satisfaction of screaming. In order to achieve pragmatic results, we must distinguish between “ostriches” and “troglodytes.”

Trogs are folks who are hopeless. They are enemies of the Enlightenment for reasons that are too deep and psychological ever to rise up and offer loyalty to a modern civilization that’s been very good to them. Underneath their surface rationalizations -- e.g. religious dogma, ‘suspicion of government’ (while vampirically using it), or imperialism - lies a far more basic layer of loathing that you’ll never ease or palliate with reason. Facts mean nothing, since they have been wrong repeatedly, for the last half century - about civil rights, womens’ rights, the environment, education - yet they keep adapting with stunning agility, for example, putting pictures of Martin Luther King - and Clarence Thomas - on their walls and denying that they had ever been racist. Just watch how, within a year or two, these same folk will start denying that they had ever been Climate Change deniers! What’s needed right now is for folks to get these trogs on record, before the latest sudden veer of conservatism has a chance to really take hold. Get them to stake their future credibility upon their fast-decaying denial mantra. If possible get it in writing. But at minimum, get them to say it, aloud.

Ostriches are another matter. I speak of them extensively elsewhere. These folks are victims of the neocon madness. We need them to lift their heads, in order to end Culture War. In order to do this, the latest neocon veer should be used as a pointed example, to show them that they cannot trust Fox or the exploitive right. If they want a decent conservatism, they will have to rise up and help re-invent it, by separating it from the monsters now controlling the movement. First step: helping us send the neocons packing.


See more: Politics for the Twenty-first Century


Anonymous said...

Tomorrow I'm going to the local Obama campaign headquarters with a check and a big bag of cookies for the volunteers.

* * *

DB, do you know about the "Science Debate" petition?

Science Debate 2008

* * *

The greenhouse denial folks have gone from annoying to pathetic. They're like the libertarians I knew in college who professed doubt that cigarette smoking was bad for your health. "They can't prove it. It's just liberals unfairly attacking a successful product."

I doubt proof or lack of it was behind their defense of the beleaguered tobacco companies. None of these guys smoked. I think they got a thrill or affirmation by imagining themselves allied with powerful and wealthy forces who crassly dismissed the common good.

Right now the denialists only refuge are the PR think tanks.

Sad, really. But I guess the fact that climate change legislation is still contentious means the flat earthers still have some influence.

Andrew C said...

I'm an independent and completely unimpressed with either option. At this point, I plan on voting third-party. I support gay marriage, a right to abortion, and increased funding for both science and education. On the other hand, I'm pro-gun, want minimal economic regulation, and want to sharply curtail illegal immigration.

I'm closest to Libertarian, but given their nominee, I can't vote for him either!

It may depend on VP choices. If Obama chooses a moderate, and is willing to leave gun control as-is, he has decent odds of getting my vote. If he chooses Clinton, he has zero chance of getting my vote.

David Brin said...

Thanks Stefan. I'll post re science debate at top level.

Tell me, why do pressfolk talk as if Oregon and Minnesota are "in play battleground" states for this fall? Dang, they are desperate for this not to be a blowout.


A transparency item!

Researching chemical surveillance turned up a federal project called SensorNet. The following information was taken off the web and not yet otherwise verified, but the overall pattern is clear. The system is not merely proposed; it is being actively tested. SensorNet is planned to be the information infrastructure for a nationwide sensor web collecting of a wide variety of information with complete data integration and access by law enforcement and other government personnel at all levels: "a standards-based comprehensive incident management system available to Federal, state and local governments and the private sector for the real-time detection, identification, and assessment of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) hazards." [2]

Purposes listed include terrorism detection, environmental monitoring, enhanced weather analysis and prediction, traffic control, aircraft surveillance, inventory tracking, earthquake monitoring, and the measurement of atmospheric gases in urban areas. [2] Locations planned include government buildings or bases, commercial facilities [3], and other "strategic sites" such as national parks and sports arenas [4]. Some sensing would be limited in time; other locations would perform continual sensing. In the "near future", the mobile version of SensorNet will be made as small as a PDA or cell phone.

Initial testing has been carried out at "numerous" sites including Washington, DC; New York; Nashville; Knoxville; Oak Ridge; Chattanooga; Memphis; and Fort Bragg, NC. Similar tests have been done in Boston, San Francisco, and Miami. Sensor technologies are expected to include nanotechnology and MEMS; the chips to be used are planned to detect "thousands" of substances. Communication/software technologies and tools being used, or planned to be used, include Linux, XML, Java, digital certificates, peer-to-peer networking, SourceForge, Web 2.0, Second Life VR software, and wikis.

Deployment cost has been estimated at $2 billion over four years to deploy in 120 major U.S. cities. The cost is relatively low and the time relatively short because much of the proposed infrastructure is already in place (e.g., cellular towers and cellular basestations).Although the system is described as "open", this appears to refer to the architecture, not who has access to the data.

Now tell me this. If this frightens you, how do you plan to stop it? Ban or delay it, and it will only return again with sensors that are harder to detect. "Privacy laws simply make the bugs smaller." -- Robert Heinlein.

Anyway, each time something bad happens, the government will blame it on not having been able to see. These sensor nets WILL come. The only question is who will have access and who will be empowered. Again and again I explain -- the only way we'll keep a little privacy is (ironically) if we all can see. Oh, and that is how our protectors will be able to see enough to do their jobs, while remembering they are guard dogs, not wolves.

Acacia H. said...

I overheard on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" where they basically stated that Senator Clinton would not be a viable VP candidate due to her behavior at the end of her campaign. Due to her refusal to acknowledge Senator Obama getting the delegates needed and acting in a rather hostile matter at the moment of his victory, she has no real shot of becoming a VP choice, especially if she is obvious about striving for the VP slot.

Her debt will be a useful control over her. If she acts ungrateful and continues to harm his campaign, then he'll leave her out to dry and that debt will destroy her future political chances. Due to that, she's likely to play nicely.

Even if she goes 100% behind Obama from this moment on, an Obama/Clinton ticket is not viable. However, as several people (including Dr. Brin) have suggested, Supreme Justice Clinton may in fact be a possibility in the future... and one that has a significant level of power in and of itself... and one that has power that will last far longer than just one or two terms as President.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Woozle said...

Re ostrich-excavation: the obstacle I've been running into lately with mine is that he seems to believe that nothing can improve. If things are bad, they will always be bad or worse, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idealistic dreamer (and not to be trusted, if they're running for office e.g. BHO).

Trying to reason with this philosophy -- especially since it never comes out as a direct claim, which I could address, but only as an assumption which seems to silently guide his side of the conversation -- often feels, well, futile...

Dave Rickey said...

On Gates as the "responsible adult": God, I hope so, as far as that goes. His new pick is a Heritage Foundation alumnus, which puts him the 'paleocon' camp, which takes national security very seriously. This was all triggered by generals too busy playing politics, arranging their retirement, and pushing religion to actually keep an eye on the nukes, so maybe there will be some housecleaning on that front.

But everything I'm seeing indicates that the USAF won't be the bagmen for an attack on Iran, it will be the Israeli Air Force and we'll be put in a box where we have to defend them from the reprisals no matter who is president. Current feeling inside Israel is that Iran will cross the "red line" on nuclear arms development somewhere around 2010, and the discussion is not *if* they will attack Iran's nuclear facilities, but only if they'll wait until then or attack this year, when they're confident of US support.

Israel will not let Iran get a nuclear capability, period, full stop. It's not even open for debate there, any PM that tried to hold them back would have a no-confidence vote tendered against him within hours. And once they attack, things will escalate very, very quickly, Iran lacks the fear of the Israelis the Syrians had, and will retaliate with everything they've got. Since the Iranian program is dispersed and hardened, rather than concentrated for secrecy, it won't be a quick in and out like it was for the Iraqi and Syrian reactors, they're going to be flying missions for days, possibly weeks.

On splitting the "Red Coalition": I really wish the Democrats would drop gun control as a major policy plank. Obama has made some overtures in that area, ones that many could agree with, but the NRA has that faction so primed to treat every gun control measure, no matter how reasonable and common sense, as the thin end of the wedge towards splitting the second amendment out of the Constitution. Schweitzer as VP ("You control you gun, and I'll control mine") campaigning through the Mountain West could go a long way towards pulling in those voters and fracturing the foundations of the "God, Guns, and Gays" coalition.

Transparency: This one isn't posturing by Obama, he pushes too hard on something that only resonates with a constituency he already has sewn up. I'm pretty sure he means it. Also notice that the very first thing he did when he took control of the DNC was cut the lobbyists out of the loop.

Science: The Democrats need to absolutely pile on to claim the status of the "Reality based" party, and more importantly we need to restore scientific rigor to government agencies and drastically scale up our investment in basic science. We could increase the non-defense science funding across the board by a factor of 10, and it would still be chump change in comparison to the money that's being siphoned out of the purse on these "emergency" contracts.

Travc said...

Gun control... there is a significant difference between what that phrase means to most Dems and what their opponents think it means to them.

Unless you live in DC, NYC, LA, Detroit, ect and really love easy access to handguns (or machine pistols, ect), then you really don't have anything to worry about. Even if you do live in such a city, then there should be no worse than a bit of red-tape to endure for sports shooters, hunters, or anyone else who wants to own a gun (so long as they aren't going to sell it illegally or use it in a crime).

Gun control to the vast majority of advocates is about keeping grey and black-market guns out of cities; preferably without imposing restrictions or even annoyances upon hunters, sports shooters, or anyone else.

The dumb patchwork system now is largely due to people on both sides listening to the extremes and trying to block each other.

As for AnderwC's other concerns.

More economic regulation is pretty damn necessary at this particular point. Crafting that much needed regulation in such a way that it helps and doesn't hurt the economy is important. People (like me) who have a generally 'regulation=bad' default POV being involved is good... so long as that isn't a dogmatic position assumed always to be right.

Illegal immigration is tricky, of course. No easy answers on that.

In short, I think people with generally libertarian tendencies should be supporting the Dems this cycle with gusto. We can argue much more productively with each other once the idiots, lairs, and kelptocrats are run out of town.

David Brin said...

A jiu jitsu move of great power would be for BHO to stand up for "States Rights." Against the imperial Cheneykleps. Make is a real issue.

Use the words States Rights! Say that gun control is a matter of state sovereignty, but with the proviso that one state can demand that another not be a cheap and easy source for its citizens, without at least basic background checks.

Complete jiu jitsu. There must be a million ostriches who would be rocked back by that one.

Dave Rickey said...

@Travc on gun control

Yes, but the Dems have done a really bad job of not making it look like they were trying to take everyone's guns away. Letting Feinstein take the lead on so much of it is a huge mistake, she *is* rabidly anti-gun (not without good reason) and makes it very clear that incrementalist abolition is her goal.

The "Assault Weapons" ban was a perfect example: It was an incredibly stupid law, that only banned weapons based on a handful of transient properties that were more about *looking* dangerous than being dangerous. Even afterwards, you could buy a stock SKS (chinese copy of the AK47), and modify it into the classic movie AK.

It was such a stupid law, it only made sense to the gun-rights types as a piece of incrementalism. And the history of gun control laws is filled with such examples, take the "Saturday Night Specials" ban on cheap imported guns that built Raven Arms.

The Brady Bill doesn't bother people for the most part (keeping guns away from felons and mental patients makes sense to anyone but the most extreme libertarian), and things like closing the "gun show loophole" wouldn't either, if there wasn't this perception (that the Dems have done little to disperse) that it was all aimed at abolition.

Considering the reaming every part of the bill of rights *except* the second has taken in the last 7 years, any libertarian-leaning voter who doesn't go Dem this year just isn't paying enough attention.

That being said, Barr isn't a libertarian, he's a religious right opportunist on a kamikaze mission to stop McCain, so the RR can claim that Huckabee's socially populism is the only hope for the GOP.

Dave Rickey said...

That last line should have been "socially conservative populism".

@David Brin:

Word I'm hearing is that they are going to push bill after bill with huge popular appeal (like the Webb GI Bill) through, force GWB to veto and McCain to come up with an excuse to not be present for the votes. Build a laundry list of "This is why you should vote for Obama" bullet points as a checklist for his "first 100 days".

Travc said...

You'll get no argument from me regarding the fecklessness of Dem messaging on Gun Control. This is an issue where arguing for a compromise position effectively would be a big win. Yeah, it would piss-off a fraction of the 'base' (for either party), but those are really very small and marginal groups.

'States-rights' is not a good term though. It is way way too loaded for many people. Might as well stand in front of a confederate flag.

However, that is the right frame / angle to use. The vast majority of gun laws are local, with some state laws and a few federal. This makes sense. The role of any federal gun control laws should be to help states and local governments enforce their laws. Sensible registration which must be transferred upon sale would help immensely (think of a car's pink-slip).

BTW: Anyone else see Bowling for Columbine (mostly) not as some anti-gun screed, but exploring how guns and violence are glorified in US culture? If not, try watching it again with this in mind. (I admit there are certainly 'anti-gun' bits... but I don't think that was the main point.)

Travc said...

After contributing mightily to a derail on gun control (interesting as it is), I think some thoughts on Dr Brin's OP may be in order.

Yes, bring back the congressional science advisory office. Maybe right now please.

As for the big committee of science advisers idea... maybe a bit too grand IMO. Maybe start with a one-shot instantiation centered around a single topic. Another angle would be to start with regular less formal meetings between the congressional aids who currently act as de-facto science advisers. Also promote and normalize the practice of congress-critters having science advisers in the first place.

David Brin said...

My main contrib re gun control (again) is at:

Only this time I would add two things:

1) the jiu jitsu states' rights aspect

2 )the spectre of Blackwater. I think you'll find fewer liberals unable to understand the notion of defending themselves from authoritarian thugs.

Handled right, this issue could be made to go away... or at least simmer down.

Dave Rickey said...

"Only Nixon could go to China". If Obama stood up and made an honest appeal to "State's Rights", complete with an explanation of why that argument carries moral weight that has been stained by its hijacking for racism, there's a good chance he could reclaim it in a way that Dean (or any other white politician) never could.

@Travc: I thought that message of BfC was pretty obvious. He spent a third of the movie talking to Canadians who owned guns and didn't lock their front doors.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, Dave.


Obama has been endorsed, BTW, by the American Hunters and Shooters Association because of his vote against allowing the indiscriminate collection of weapons in Disaster Areas.

They're a great organization, trying to rebuild the traditional Teddy Roosevelt - John Muir alliance between sportsmen and conservationists. Gun owners who oppose the Gun Show Loophole AND the "Scarey Guns" ban.

Disclaimer - I am a member.

Craig Comments said...

RE: Science advisory appointed by members of congress.

Science advisors appointed by each member of congress – bad idea. Too many come from districts were creationist are the majority and the discussion would be, unfortunately, unhelpful. I am skeptical that the discourse would be scientific; instead it could be a place with prestige to express opinions without a scientific basis. You bring up the same point, but I think you are over estimating the ability of the rational to highlight the irrational, especially in the view of a politician’s constituency that believes in myth. Your term, “enemies of enlightenment” would undoubtedly apply to a certain percentage of the “scientific” members of the panel. I am concerned that the minority of pretend scientists and myth perpetrators would drown out the good and honest real science.

Re: Military contractors driving the war. This is the same argument many suspected for continuation of the Vietnam War.

Craig Comments said...

Another thought on McCain’s support for the continuing war in Iraq. For those of us that lived through and even served in Viet Nam, it was fairly clear by the end of 1968 that there was no good solution to the war. We have been in the same position in Iraq for several years now.

I think McCain is trying to win the Viet Nam war. He wants to re-fight the Viet Nam War (in Iraq) and accomplish what his comrades could not accomplish in Viet Nam. In other words, for McCain, Iraq is a substitute for Viet Nam. It is a second chance to get it “right.”

McCain’s desire to “win” is pretty vague – what does it mean to win in Iraq, or what would “win” have meant in Viet Nam. McCain is living in the past, and views the world through his experience (as we all do,) but this time it would be a disaster for the American people and the world.

Anonymous said...

Kipling Time

Arithmetic on the Frontier

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe--
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villainous saltpetre!"
And after--ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile--
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail--
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares--shoot straight who can--
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.

The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap--alas! as we are dear.

I'm considering memorizing it, and trying to get into a McCain "Town Hall".

Anonymous said...

Great post David, and very interesting reading - it looks like you Americans have an exciting few months ahead of you. Best of luck, Mike.

adastra said...

David, I've been reading your blog and other material for some time, and I'd like to thank you for your pragmatic, compassionate engagement with the challenges and opportunities facing our civilization. In particular I appreciate your efforts to end the "culture wars" and admire the way you advocate talking with conservatives in their own terms.

Are you familiar with the perspective of Ken Wilber's integral politics, which is also trying to address some of the same issues? Here is the opening text from an interesting piece I read recently on Integral "Third-Way" Politics:

While surveying the current American political landscape, it can be easy to feel as though the country is divided into two radically opposing populations: the Left and the Right. When watching the speeches, interviews, and debates on either side of the fence, there is such an incredible difference between the tone, rhetoric, and messages coming from the two major political parties that many pundits have commented that it is as though we live in two utterly different Americas, with very little overlap between the two. But the truth is, we do not live in two Americas, but in a single America composed of at least four or five different sets of values, all crammed together into a two-party political system that is becoming increasingly incapable of representing these wildly different perspectives. Many are beginning to recognize this systemic inadequacy and are searching for a genuinely Integral “Third Way” politics—a new way to break free from the restrictions of such rigidly calcified party lines, transcending both sides of the partisan divide, including the very best of both parties, without resorting to the effete compromise of mere centrism that has been typical of the political “Third Way” to date.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the different sets of values and beliefs that make up the flesh and bones of America, we must allow ourselves to step back and take a developmental view of American culture—one which can make sense of the full spectrum of perspectives that are currently at play in the political arena, while also being able to account for America’s rich political history, as the oldest functioning democracy in the world.

The rest of the text, as well as a 30-minute video of Ken Wilber discussing this topic, is available at:

I would love to hear what you think of this perspective.

David Brin said...

Dave, great riff on states rights. i’ll use it.

adastra, thanks, and yes, Ken Wilber is speaking much wisdom.

There are many obstacles, however. My son, Ben, so despises the rigid two-party system that he can’t even talk politics, because the party names enrage him. Yet, they have engaged in a restraint-of-trade conspiracy to ensure that -- whichever party wins -- both benefit from sinecures and safe seats and protection from the REAL enemy... the voters.

See my series on gerrymandering:

Not that I have huge truck with third parties. Nader’s a schmuck and so is the head of the Libertarian ticket, this year. Indeed, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans right now happens to be day and night, with the democrats 95% good and the GOP deserving nothing but total anihilation at the polls. I do not say this as a classic “liberal” but simply because the Democratic party is currently an open American political party and the Republican party is owned and totally operated by a gang of thieves and traitors.

THIS MAY CHANGE! But only if the GOP is so totally trounced that they do a total, ground-up re-evaluation of whither-goest conservatism.

Moreover, if they are SO trounced that they lose a dozen statehouses, then the dems will be the ONLY party benefiting from gerrymandering! I relish that because in the short term it will complete the GOP’s punishment. But then, something miraculous should happen! The GOP will suddenly “discover” gerrymandering as an issue! They will hammer on it, committ to its banishment, win back voters as champions of “one man one vote!” Oh, if only....

Gavin, I don’t think you get why it’s a marvelous jiu jitsu move to invite the trog-imbecille wing in Congress to appoint their own science guys to a 535 member advisory panel. Think. it puts the trogs in a bind. If they appoint somebody real, with scientific cred, then that person will start making statements that start cornering the Congressman. If he appoints some creationist loon, then it will put himself front and center for ridiicule. News attention will reveal that the fifth-rater loon knows nothing. It will harm the trog in his own district. Dig it... even in deep red districts, there are tens of thousands of swing voters who are modern in large parts of their brains and trying hard to avoid cognitive dissonance. They need to be forced to see that it’s either forward or backward, not both.

Gavin you have to distinguish between “military contractors” like Lockheed and “field services contractors” like Halliburton. The former are bad enough -- Eisenhower warned against their influence. But they are positive angels compared to the monstrous friends of-George. I don’t mind buying a few extra F22s a zillionth as much as I mind paying for the same Iraqi sewer system again and again and again and again, at 500% markup.

Travc said...

The two party system in the US does have serious drawbacks, but I'm with Dr Brin that the choice this cycle is between open and closed (democratic and kleptocratic), not liberal and conservative.

I would very much like to see electoral system reforms in the near future. This may actually happen given the debacles of recent years combined with an anti-GOP blowout. The debacles opened the eyes of many, mostly on the Dem side, who may just support reforms based on principle even when their party gains from the current mess. A good place where this may start is with the Dems revamping their primary system.

The GOP being crushed is critical to achieving electoral reforms in two ways. First, so long as they serve as a 'deserved IMO' bogyman to the Dems, most Dem supporters will not 'unilaterally disarm'. Secondly, with a marginalized or fractured GOP, reforms which enhance the viability of third parties will be very appealing to GOP and former GOP supporters.

The basic reform which would make third parties much more viable is some sort of ranking voting system. With plurality voting, two parties is an all but inevitable outcome.

There are several other electoral reform issues and ideas which have merit: Auditable voter verified votes, uniformity of voting systems, universal automatic voter registration, and improving the census system are all good ideas IMO. Some of these are tricky (fixing the census will take a constitutional amendment), but we don't have to fix everything in one step.

This seems to me like a opportunity to make a substansial fundamental improvement.

Travc said...

Let me add one more electoral system idea I left out. And apologies in advance for being off-topic... I just want to share the idea.

Algorithmic districting
Take humans mostly out of the loop when defining districts. Instead, use an algorithm which only relies on geography, population, and existing political boundaries.

By explicitly restricting the input data, we can ensure districts are changed in a 'color-blind' (and even more importantly, 'class-blind') way. This is the big issue in for me.

Using existing political boundaries will mean that this isn't an instant 'fix', but a slowly improving mechanism. However, it does immediately severely weaken the power of those 'drawing the lines'. The ability to choose the terms and coefficients used by the algorithm still grants them some power, but in a much more transparent and hard to abuse way IMO.

There are other downsides of course, but I think the fundamental fairness and equality of this proposal outweighs them. It seems a good balance between the classical common industry/geography/class interest based clustering and the equally classical idea of 'synthetic pyhles' (randomly dividing people into political units without respect to geography.)

BTW: 'Formula' may be a less accurate but more politically feasible term than 'algorithm'.

Travc said...

Dr Brin (and others), any idea on how we can combat the 'war services industry'? I think that accounting (and the light of day) is probably the best tool, but how can we successfully demand that the Pentagon actually audit their budgets? It seems politically intractable to demand 'audit or no money'.

The pushback against making the military more and more dependent on private contractors has been going on for a good long while without much success.

Tony Fisk said...

The jiu jitsu idea of David's reminds me of the reconciliation commission the Rudd government put in place after presenting a formal apology to the aboriginal 'stolen generations'. It was originally intended to be jointly managed by liberal and labor appointees.

The liberals couldn't or wouldn't present anyone suitable.

David Brin said...

My solution to redistricting is far simpler, Don't try to prevent cheating (you can't). Just channel it.

The Iron Rule: The state legislature may design and approve any boundaries it likes. BUT there must be minimal overlap between Congressional, state assembly and state senate districts.

Do they decide to preserve their own jobs by gerry-ing state assembly districts by party? Fine! Then the State Senate and Congressional districts will be totally different. In at least one of the three, there will be competitive races.

Moreover, this means lively overlaps of different neighborhoods. Your State Senator will feel impelled to appeal to her district in very different ways than your assemblywoman. ONE of them ought to be an accommodating moderate, even if the other is a radical jerk.

Boot said...

Hey David,

Have you considered adding the fiscal weaknesses of the Republican's argument to your attacks?

Heres an Example:
Bureau of Economic Analysis

If you check out...
Table 3.9.1. Percent Change From Preceding Period in Real Government Consumption Expenditures and Gross Investment

I'll summarize.
Bush Jr Grew the National Government by 27.3%
Clinton Grew the National Government by -10.8%
Bush Sr. Grew the National Government by 1.6%
Reagan grew the National Government by 33.9%
Carter grew the National Government by 11.7%

Add to this the National Debt aspect of spending. Personal Definition: National Debt is a tax on our Children's future. Rather than paying for what we spend on ourselves, we will let the children do it for us.

Bush Jr is responsible for 4 Trillion+ of the National Debt (>40%) He has trended upwards throughout his term.

Clinton is responsible for 1.6 Trillion of the National Debt. (~16-17%) He trended downwards throughout his term.

Bush Sr is responsible for 1.4 Trillion of the National Debt. (~14-15%) He trended upwards throughout his term.

Reagan is responsible for 1.7 Trillion of the National Debt (~17-18%) He trended upwards throughout his term.

All others combined are responsible for the remaining 10% of the National Debt.

(Source: hist2007.pdf)

How can Republicans claim to be the small government or fiscally conservative party?

Unknown said...

Two superb articles on the current political situation. The Fall Of Conservatism: Have the Republicans Run Out Of Ideas?" in The New Yorker and "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" from the summer of 2006.

The latter article appeared before the November 2006 congressional races routed the Repubs and long before the 3 recent catastrophic special election that are now scaring the spit out of Repub strategists, but his points remain valid. The article just fails to appreciate the magnitude of the popular backlash against neocon-style "conservatism." I use quotes here because I agree with Noam Chomsky that these sociopaths "are extreme radicals... It's defaming conservatism to associate them with conservatism." Sociopathic criminals like Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay and the current crew doing their smash-and-grab heists in the White House have no connection with true conservatism, as embodied by Eisenhower and Goldwater. Sociopaths like Reagan are the far-right equivalent of Lenin and Robespierre -- they don't give a damn about reality. Ideology is all that matters to them, and however many people get destroyed in the process of realizing that ideology, is a question of the utmost inconsequentiality to them.

I also highly recommend Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein.

"A...theme of Perlstein’s book is the extent to which domestic tranquility has never been restored; Americans, he argues, inhabit “Nixonland” even now."

This review in The Atlantic seems fundamentally wrong, and Perlstein seems fundamentally right, because we've seen the apotheosis of Nixonian "dirty tricks" politics over the last 15 years. Indeed, Karl Rove is the modern unindicted equivalent for Nixon's election-tampering political hit man Donald Segretti. The main difference (and one that augurs ill for our generation) is that Segretti went to prison for his illegal election-altering dirty tricks, while Rove almost certainly won't be for his.

To point up the close connection twixt Nixon and the neocons, note that Don Segretti served as the co-chair of John McCain's presidential campaign in Orange County, CA.

For those of you who despair about current racism and worry that Obama might lose this election because southern whites won't vote for him (and that might happen, though I don't think it's likely), consider this historic archive of letters from white middle class voters to Democratic congressmen and senators who supported the 1966 Civil Rights Act.

Three days later 600 [blacks led by Martin Luther King] marched again in Chicago, against 10,000 counterdemonstrators. Some wore Nazi helmets. Others waved Confederate battle flags, carried George Wallace banners, Swastika placards that helpfully explained, "The Symbol of White Power." This was the famous march where Martin Luther King was hit by a giant rock, where he told the press, "I think the people of Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate," where, because Mayor Daley, scared he wouldn't be able to secure the 1968 Democratic convention if King was injured, had the cops give them (relatively) safe passage—one of the reasons (Republican opposition to open housing being the other) for the chants along the route, "Don't vote for Democrats! Don't vote for Democrats."

It's encouraging because 1966 wasn't the 1850s. 1966 was not that long ago. And yet mobs of tens of thousands of white people were hurling rocks and chanting hate at a northern city, Chicago, not some hick backwater in the deep south.

Yet now we've got a black guy running for president. I just voted for him in the primary a couple of weeks ago. Didn't see any chanting mobs of swastika-sporting white people protesting Obama's candidacy and I didn't see cars being overturned or houses being burned. A lot of white middle class people are shaking his hand and voting for this black guy, especially lifelong Republicans -- in many cases, probably exactly the same Republicans who watched their parents marching and chanting in the streets of Chicago and hurling rocks at Martin Luther King.

That's progress, folks. Even if Obama loses in November, the mere fact that he isn't being lynched by tens of thousands of slogan-chanting rock-throwing white people tells us things have gotten a lot better over the past 40 years. In fact, we had an historic Democratic primary this year -- our choices were a woman for president, and a black guy for president. Either way, that's a serious move forward, isn't it?

Travc said...

Dr Brin, I like your redistricting idea, but I don't see how it could work outside of the 'algorithmic redistricting' framework. 'Minimal overlap' is a constraint that pretty much requires computationally drawing the lines to satisfy.

Travc said...

One more thing on 'algorithmic redistricting'... It is a lot simpler. Instead of committee of people chosen by some (often arcane) method, it is a list of rules which can be published and verified. That is transparency to me.

Unknown said...

Why Obama is going to wipe McCain out in November.

We're getting about one of these per week. All the Demos have to do is run a commercial showing that footage of McCain hugging the drunk-driving C student in the Oval Office. No narration, no music, just that footage. By November, lifelong Repubs will crawl over broken glass to vote against McCain.

Travc said...

Zorgon... it isn't going to be nearly so easy. Many people will rationalize and discount that image. After all (they may say), McCain just 'had' to be friendly and work with the President.

There is certainly a lot of 'informing the voters' based campaigning against McCain to do. His ties to GWB are certainly part of that. Electorally, I think McCain's economic advisers, Phil Gramm especially, are a more effective place to hit. Much harder to distance yourself from people you hand-picked to give you guidance.

However, that will simply not be enough. Obama must also make a positive case. Obama's major problem as I see it is quite simply many people fear him (fear of the unknown and different). So long as this emotional bias exists, facts alone are not enough to bring many people around.

BTW: This is a common mistake I and many others in the 'reality based community' make. Facts alone rarely suffice for most people.

Travc said...

How about this as a reason to vote against McCain... and an example of that 'fear of the unknown' tactic against Obama.

McCain thinks the Constitution establishes a Christian Nation (video)

Travc said...

Obama's take on the same issue

I'll stop monopolizing the blog now ;)

Dave Rickey said...

That is the traditional weakness of the left, and the reality-based community in general: We think if the facts are on our side, and the logic is on our side, the debate's over. But it's not, there are issues of moral and emotional weight, as well as outright irrational ways that our minds process at a deep level (and we then rationalize), and for many who have moved to the right using logic to "prove" that they're wrong on an issue they feel moral certainty on settles nothing.

You haven't won the argument, you've used intellectual trickery to make your opponent feel stupid for not agreeing with you. You don't think that's what you've done, but it's what he's going to take away from it.

Put a few million of those people into the same pot, marginalize them for a few decades, let it simmer, and here you are.

Craig Comments said...

David; While I agree that in a rational world, the trog-imbecille wing of congress would be exposed (by appointing members to the 535 member science panel,) the reason I am skeptical of the idea working is that they don’t care what the world thinks: they only care what their consistency thinks. Coming across to the country as ideologues without brains has not seemed to bother these public servants so far. You only need to watch some young republican congressman or women interviewed on C-Span’s Journal to hear them state the party line ideology as an answer to any real problem. The fact that their ideological theories do not work in real life is beyond their grasp. In the absence of good public policy ideas, I guess ideological blather is the best answer they can devise.

Having said that, and while I am skeptical of the idea working as you envision, you have convinced me that the idea has merit. However, I think it is far more important for congress to re-establish the Science Advisory Panel. Congress is in great need to sound scientific advice.

My point about the military contractors in the ‘60’s and the theory they lobbied for the VN war to continue, is that the concern is not new.

Gavin Craig

Matt DeBlass said...


I agree that the idea of Obama as an "outsider" hurts him with many people who vote from the gut. I still hear a lot of "he's really a Muslim who's going to hand us over to Al Queda" type comments, because people feel he's different from them.
I think the way to overcome that may be to focus on his mixed-race, mixed-ethnic background. He could be held up as a good example of the American Melting Pot.
Of course, I'm coming from a coastal area where many folks, even of purely European descent, can claim a multinational background. "I'm an Irishitalianpolishgermansomethingelse andawholebunchaotherstuffyaknowwhatimsayin?"
I'm not sure how the Melting Pot thing flies in other areas.

David Brin said...

Thanks for the stats, Boot,

Zorgon, you are on the right path, using Goldwater to pry "decent" conservatives away from the neocons. Still, some advice? Don't attack Reagan directly. Leave them their god. It is now a matter of religious idolatry, so you are better off painting him as being betrayed by the neocons, than being their forefather.

Gavin, you are doing what Dave Rickey suggests we NOT do. You are assuming that a trog-monster in Congress automatically must have a constituency that consists entirely of trog monsters. But this is not true. In even the deepest red district in America, the majority of adults are moderately well-educated and relatively moderate-viewed. Polls show high belief in creationism, for example... but also (if you parse the question right) curiosity about dinosaurs killed by meteorites 65 My ago. This cognitive dissonance has been EXPLOITED by the right, but it can also be used as a lever by us. In any event, I have no problem with fifty or eighty total-trogs appointing trog-imbecille "scientists" to such a commission.

I know of several military contractors in the 1960s who hated the VN war. They saw, accurately, what it would do to the military.

Matt, it's cool that the Reverend Wright controversy probably killed off the "secret muslim" thing! At least among swing voters. Oh, Wright is damaging too. But funny how it goes.

Unknown said...

Travc and Dave and Gavin make an excellent point when they note that out here in the real world, logic and facts don't suffice to sway voters. When they remark that this is one of the big blind spots of the reality-based left, I think they're right on the money. That was Al Gore's weakness -- he thought if he just cited the numbers and laid out the stats, the voters would use logic and arrive at the same conclusion he did. I'll never forget the drink-driving C student's rejoinder to Gore's citation of facts in the first debate: the drunk-driving C student gave a sickening little Beavis-and-Butthead snicker and smirked, "Well, I don't have my calculator with me (laughter from audience), but that doesn't sound right."

And the audience bought it.

In fact, I made a post sometime last year pointing out the weakness of Dr. Brin's effort to reason with the "ostriches." Travc and Dave and Gavin are right: voters typically don't use logic and facts to arrive at a decision...they vote for primal reasons based on deep emotion and irrational prejudices. And this is why it seemed to me (and still seems) that Dr. Brin'e entire project of trying to reason the deep red state voters into voting for Obama won't work. Oh, it's worth trying...couldn't hurt. But this is one of the big weaknesses of the Englishtenment, and it's one that the Romantic movement which followed it got right, where the Enlightenment got it wrong. People aren't rational calculating machines who take in facts and logic and then spew out the correct conclusion. People are tiny little blobs of frontal cortex perched atop great big mountains of lizard brain.

However, that said, I think this also explains why Obama will win in a landslide this November. All the intricately sensible debating in the world and all the logic and facts explaining why the deep red state voters have been betrayed by the neocons and why they're been played for suckers and how they've been shafted by liars who betrayed every last principle of true conservatism doesn't really make a dent in those voters. That's true. I agree with Gavin and Travc and Dave there. But what has made a huge impact on these people is the accumulation of visceral images and sounds and sights and smells over the last horrific 7 years.

You can see it in extreme right wingers' eyes. There's this mean disgusted hard crinkle they get around their eyes, this set in the mouth, where you can tell... They've had enough. The accumulation over years and years and years of all those hideous images: corpses floating in the drowned ruins of News Orleans, that wedding pic of the marine with his face burned off getting married after he came back from Iraq, those pics of flag-draped American coffins that we weren't supposed to see, the sneering smirk on the drunk-driving C student's face when he tells a contemptuous lie at a White House press conference, that fat pasty grin on Karl Rove's self-satisfied face while ordinary families are going broke, the photos of sheriffs ousting families from their homes in foreclosure sales, the corpses of those mercs hanging burned and blackened from the bridge struts in Iraq, that photo of the drunk-driving C student buddying up with the Saudi prince "Bandar Bush" while oil zooms toward $150 a barrel, the photos of those mechanical gas pumps in L.A. that can't go past $3.99 per gallon and now have to be priced by the half-gallon...

The visceral impact of this stuff has hit the red state voters in the gut. These people are fed up. They've had it. No more. They're sickened at a bone-deep level, the same level that led them to elect the drunk-driving C student in the first place, that mindless visceral "Who'd-you-rather-have-a-beer-with" bullshit level of instinct.

And what's the evidence for my claim? The evidence seems overwhelming. Look at the 3 recent special elections. These were deep red districts, especially the last one in Mississippi. That district gave the drunk-driving C student 60% in the 2004 presidential race. Yet now it's flipped for Demos.

So ultimately I think this is Dave and Travc and Gavin giving us the pessimistic (and unrealistic) view again. It's similar to the predictions we heard that Hillary would take the nomination fight to the convention and split the Demos in an effort to the throw the election to McCain so she could run in 2012 and win. You guys have been beaten down and brutalized by a nationa gone mad for so long, you've started to expect the worst. And I agree that over the last 7 nightmare years (really, 14 nightmare years since Gingrich and his lunatics took power) represent a veer into a hallucinogenic Bizarro World were everything was reversed, where ecompetence became treason and corruption became patriotism and lies became the truth and the truth became delusion and fantasy became reality and reality became extremism.

But the evidence seems to show we're returning to reality now. The entire country is awakening from its long nightmare, and even the most deep red voters are looking around and blinking in astonishment at the horrors that have erupted. And they've just had enough. They're mad as hell and they're not gonna take it anymore.

You guys have been betrayed and lied to and beaten down and savaged and hammered and raped and pistol-whipped for so long, I think you've started to lose hope. But I've been through this before. As a small kid I remember the huge sense of relief after Watergate when Nixon's cronies got thrown in prison and Nixon was forced to resign. You could see it in everyone's eyes: our long national nightmare is finally over... And things really did get better. We no longer had a president who broke the law, massive violations of the constitution didn't go on every day. Congress passed laws to strengthen the rule of law, including the War Powers Act. Congress clamped down on the CIA. Constitutional protections were strengthened.

We're going to get the same thing happening after this November, in spades. The pessimistis aren't in sync on this one -- America is a land of hope, and it's important to remember we've been through this whole shtick before. In 1801 we had the horrific Alien & Sedition Act, a much more grave violation of constitutional protections than anything today, when it actually became illegal by law to crticize the president. That didn't last long. The supreme court overtunred that one right quick. And then in the 1960s Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus due to national emergency. Once again, that didn't last long: the war ended, things returned to nromal. And int he 1920s, the Palmer raids, with their massive deportation of suspected leftists without even a judicial hearing, the conviction and dienfranchisement (they stripped him of his citizenship!) of Eugene Debs for merely giving a speech against WW I... Once again, these horrors got reversed and people regained their sanity.

These outbreaks of mass insanity recur periodically throughout American history. It's part of human nature. I never actively participate in them, but people all around me get caught up in the hysteria. Charles MacKay summied it up well in his classic 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

But Thomas Jefferson put it best, writing in a letter during the worst of the Alien & Sedition Act madness in 1801: "A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt...If the game runs sometime against us at home, we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

Other people are now saying the same thing. Even the monumentally evil Arlen Specter, who railed against the repeal of habeas corpus as an act that "set us back 900 years"...and then voted to repeal it, has now had enough. People in the unlikeliest places are are talking about hope. Things are changing. The nightmare is starting to end. Things are going to get exponentially better from here.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, with that post we will have to start call you Zorgon the Magnificent.

Anonymous said...

I dropped off a check at the local Democratic Party office (really local; county and not what I was really looking for) yesterday, to drop off some donations and pick up a bumper sticker.

I found out something extremely discouraging.

They only had instant coffee.

I am filled with foreboding.

David Brin said...

Z, I am not trying to convert ALL ostriches, just some of them. Enough to hammer cracks in their coalition.

Moreover, I do not use facts or logic to win them over from conservatism. I am suggesting using them to shift an already existing anger toward leaders who have betrayed them and their cause. THAT is easier to do. witness how love can turn to hate when a jilted lover wakes up.

My “what if Clinton had done this?” list is meant to make it impossible, from the start, to reatreat into “at least Clinton was worse.” Moreover, I go for emotion laden factoids like leaving a billion dollars in raw cash by the side of an Iraqi road.

People are not calculating machines. But they can shift gradually in the face of evidence. The greatest mistake of liberals has NOT been appealing to reason. It has been appealing to guilt! Smug and smarmy and condescending and calling the masses stupid and never, ever complimenting them on how much they have done to cure their own racism, sexism and other bad habits inherited from 6,000 years and more.

THAT is the liberals’ big mistake. And Reagan took advantage, bigtime.

But Z is right, overall (who ARE you and what have you done with Zorgon? ;-). Obama needs to go for the gut, the way Reagan did, WHILE appealing to reason. And he needs to always follow the advice of his most paranoid Secret Service agent.

Still, when you mention Gingrich, remember who gave him his opening. And pray that BHO has the sense to pick someone else as VP.

Dave Rickey said...

Zorgon: I think you're over-estimating my pessimism. I think the GOP is pretty screwed, they're going to lose this year, and spend the next three taking scalps within their own ranks. 2012 is when things get interesting.

They're going to lose not just because of the underlying right/left dynamics and the level of distrust Bush and the neocons have generated in the reality-based center, but because the Reagan coalition of big religion, big business, and the "small government" libertarian-lite and paleocons has broken down and they're now struggling for control.

Remember how McCain wound up the nominee: Everybody stronger took each other out, and their supporters turned to him as less unacceptable than the other options. The organizational infrastructure is lining up behind him because 4 more years of the Bush tax structure and 2 more SC justices is a prize worth fighting for even if they don't like the candidate.

Except for the Religious Right, who is no longer willing to just do the heavy lifting for any other kind of Republican, they'll get one of theirs or they'll take their voters and go home. Barr's going to get a huge chunk of the RR and Libertarian-Lite vote (remember that McCain was losing 25% of the vote to those two constituencies even 3 months after he locked down the nomination), he won't take any states but he'll throw more than enough to Obama that it will be obvious to the rest of the GOP that they have to go with Huckabee in 2012.

The next 4 years are going to suck in a lot of ways, Obama's going to be stuck cleaning up after Bush economically and diplomatically the same way Carter was. I have hopes he'll be able to do a better job of it, but there's still a good chance that he'll take all the blame and get turned out in 2012. If it's Huckabee in 2012, all bets are off.

David Brin said...

2012... Nehemia Scudder... ooog...

Travc said...

Zorgon, I was thinking through a long reply, but instead "What Dr Brin said" gets me 90% of the way there.

Don't read me (or others who splash cold water) as being pessimistic. I'm firmly in that particular sub-camp of optimists who feel that an optimistic outlook is actually justified by humanity's ability to identify and avoid/correct problems ;)

An idea I've been attempting to state for a while is beginning to crystallize a bit better in my mind.

In combination with the list of visceral outrages and Dr Brin's betrayal approach, Obama's 'unity' thing can be a very effective appeal to conservatives.

This 'unity' isn't about any kumbaiya singing or even bipartisanship per say. It is about pragmatism over blind (and failed) ideology. The people with common-sense need to unite and actually solve the problems. At this point, it don't really matter if you are conservative or liberal, because we can all be united against the incompetent, dishonest, deluded, or outright insane people who took over.

The emotional appeal isn't the be all and end all. It may open up some people to actually weighing the facts. That is what I think is good about this version of the 'unity' meme. It signals that Obama and the Dems more generally aren't just spouting 'liberal ideology' despite what the GOP mouthpieces may say.

David McCabe said...

Have you actually tested your tactic, Dr. Brin, or heard any good reports from others? It hasn't been working at all for me, not on anybody.

David McCabe said...

(Although now that I've moved to Portland the difficulty is finding conservatives.)

Marino said...

I'm a longtime lurker on this blog (I'm not American and discovered it because I'm a reader of Mr. Brin's novels)
Re: Obama (seen by all Euro progressives as the greatest hope ever), look at this abominable piece of slander: he basically says that Obama is AlQaeda Manchurian Candidate:
The Jihad Candidate
by Rich Carroll


Dave Rickey said...

Something else to put on the list of "things to keep you awake at night": The extreme right has been psyching itself up for a bloodbath for quite a while. The Phineas Priesthood and Christian Identity movements are especially going to go apeshit. What kind of apeshit? Well Eric Randolph, Timothy McVeigh, and Michael Griffin all seemed to be connected to those.

Things could get really ugly. How's that for pessimism, Zorgon? That 20% that thinks Bush has been the bestest president ever? They're not going to suddenly get more reasonable just because their side lost the election. If you read the wingnut blogs they're already psyching themselves up to resist the "Marxist coup".

Craig Comments said...

I don’t think I have ever been called a pessimist before. I am not! There is great hope for this country once we get back on the right tract.

David said: “Gavin, you are doing what Dave Rickey suggests we NOT do. You are assuming that a trog-monster in Congress automatically must have a constituency that consists entirely of trog monsters.”

This is a good point, and I admit I was judging constituencies based on the people they elected. This is certainly not fair to many people; although it could be fair to the majority in those districts. I hope that David’s comments are accurate, and I suspect that they are. People, where ever they might live, are mostly thinking moderates. I think that is a fair summary David. I certainly would not want to be identified with the majority that elected Norm Coleman as Senator.

Anonymous said...

Obama won't win by changing the minds of hard-core conservatives or waking sleeping ostriches. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's useless to expend effort there. The bigger the win the better.

He'll win the same way he won the Primary, by bringing in huge numbers of people who haven't previously voted, or haven't voted for a long time.

1) Get 'em Registered. 2) Get 'em to the polls.

Everything else is gravy.

Dave Rickey said...

I do have to agree that any ostriches that haven't woken up yet aren't going to. What you have to do now is not wake them up, but convince the ones that have that George Bush wasn't an aberration, that the problem is sytemic in the modern GOP, and that McCain will be just as bad on all the things that matter.

The generic GOP polls at 35%, but McCain manages to go almost even with Obama because people in the center and slightly to the right of it are convinced that he's different. Maybe he was, but in the last year or so he's sold his soul to the same interests and power blocs that were behind Bush.

Tony Fisk said...

One of the reasons John Howard lost his seat in the last election (apart from disillusionment, weariness, and a feisty opponent), was the changing demographics of his electorate, coupled with changes in its boundaries applied by the electoral commission according to rules rather than gerrymandering. I mention this as a case where not even being the Prime Minister had much effect on the process.

Since Australia went through this last November (well, a milder form), I have reason to be optimistic for the US.

(and have you forgotten the frustrations and agonisings of the Clinton-Obama contest? That was quick!)

Nevertheless, you still have the next five months to endure. It's not going to be easy.

Adding to the discussion about not relying on facts alone to persuade, you might want to check out a new book: George Lakoff's 'The Political Mind: Why you can't understand 21st century politics with an 18th century brain'

Owen Flanagan gave it a rather scoffing review in New Scientist, opening his article with: if winning elections is a matter of manipulating brains, George Bush and his cronies must experts in neuroscience - and that can't be right'.
I think that's an interesting example of cognitive framing right there which looks suspiciously like Zorgon's description of the retort Bush made to Gore! C-grade student = neurolinguist = ROTFL! Case dismissed!

(Well? Why can't it be right? Just because Bush is a 'C-grade' doesn't mean his cronies are: I'm looking at you, Messrs Rove and Cheney!)

In a nutshell: let logic be your shield, passion be your sword, and morality be your compass (after all, it helps to be facing the appropriate direction when going into battle!)

Dave Rickey said...

Haven't forgotten them, just already moved on. The thing about the netroots is that it really is like reading next week's (or month's) newspaper. Trends that will take weeks to play out offline move in days, conclusions that are painfully obvious with the wisdom of crowds connected so tightly take days or more to filter into the group consciousness outside of it. The online flamewars got so intense precisely because they had so many weeks where the conclusions were inevitable and there was nothing to do but make faces at each other.

Hillary surprised me by finally seeing sense, although it's more the case that her supporters among the SD's said "Enough of this, end it or we will." When even her own state's congressional delegation was jumping ship to Obama (which they did the day before her speech), there was really nothing left to fight with. She didn't go kamikaze at the end, although it seems it was a close-run thing before her allies staged the intervention.

She put it off to the last possible minute, and did a fair amount of damage. But it's quite possible that in the long run, she did little that wouldn't have happened anyway, just more slowly and down the road. So if nothing else, we've got a firmer picture of where things stand, and it's not as bad as we feared.

Tony Fisk said...

Interesting points about web connectivity.

Anyway, I was just pointing out, in an admittedly muddled way, that we'd agonised and covered Hilary's possible motivations for the drawn out campaign (apart from 'eyes on the prize'), and it had turned out OK. One theory had been the 'toughening up' process. I thought it interesting that Obama acknowledged that 'because of her, I am a better candidate'.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of connectivity...

I saw a county by county map of the US showing the percentage of homes connected to the internet next to a county by county map of Obamas wins.

Corelation was way to strong to ignore...of course I didn't have the sense to bookmark it.

sociotard said...

I don't think you can count on BHO to do much for the scientific community. After all, he wants to gut NASA funding to establish a program for educating 0-5 year olds. (in my opinion, that's way too early. Kids that age learn by watching their parents and maybe Sesame Street, not classrooms)

Cliff said...

Re: The Phineas Priesthood and Christian Identity (from David Rickey's post)

Reading the Wiki articles on them, I think they are frightening, to be sure. But we've been seeing signs of people like this for decades. And I think after 9-11 and the last 7 years, nobody is going to be willing to put up with them (not to mention our revamped anti-terrorist organizations). If they decide to start a fight because a black man is in office, I'll be surprised if they DON'T have a hell of a fight on their hands.

Travc said...

Obama talking about getting money for head-start from NASA is pretty annoying. Though reading the quotes more carefully, it seems he is more interested in refocusing NASA than killing it.

It is also important to keep in mind that Bush's whole Mars thing is an actual attempt to kill NASA (IMO at least). Set the Mars goal people can get behind, but then put in all sorts of utterly unrealistic constraints, starve funding, and require that NASA scrap everything not directly connected with the Mars initiative.

Looks like a setup for failure to me. NASA will get behind schedule and over budget, people will bitch and moan about it (especially Republicans when they are out of power so they can pretend it isn't their fault), and the push to completely kill NASA's manned program will be on.

Matt DeBlass said...

That blog/rant/verbal onanism is pretty damn scary, more so because at least a couple of the responses said it was "the best post of the day" or something like that.
On the other hand, it's nothing new, and that is, unfortunately, one of Dr. Brin's "Rabid Lemmings" right there.

I do get a little chuckle when I hear stuff like "Why can't we use Obama's middle name, nobody gets upset when we use Hillary RODHAM Clinton's middle name?"

Dave Rickey said...

I used to know all of the words to "Wanted Fan" by heart.

"Wanted fan for plain sedition, like the singing of this tune.

If NASA hadn't failed us we'd have cities on the moon.

If it weren't for fucking NASA we'd at least have walked on Mars.

If I never can make orbit, then I'll never reach the stars."

Except that I've come to the conclusion that Niven was right, and Mars is just a gravity hole. There's little reason to go there compared to the really valuable stuff. Only thing it has that would be at all valuable in a space economy is water, and we can find plenty of ice elsewhere.

Best thing to do would be to snag a couple of Aten asteroids (a carbonaceous chondrite and a nickel-iron) and coax them into orbit around Earth, get a supply of bulk materials that we don't have to lift from the surface. There's little point in even going to the Moon unless it turns out to be hard to find titanium and aluminum in the asteroids. The costs are comparable, but where a Mars mission is a modern "Moon Shot" that does comparatively little to develop useful new technologies or create a sustainable space infrastructure, the other is exactly the opposite.

You still have the inescapable challenges of getting people on-site and keeping them safe (although being able to build a station with real mass in the walls, or even was built into our captive asteroids, would go a long way to dealing with that), but at least you don't have to pay hundreds of dollars per pound for every breath of air or structural element.

Yeah, I'm still a true space cadet. The Mars Shot is welfare for space contractors while making sure they don't actually produce too much disruptive technology.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...a pretty ugly "room" for a conservative visitor. (just kidding, humor is hard on forum!)

So, conservatives vote "with their gut" not their heads. Has there perhaps been just a bit of progressive wish projection in the Obama as Saviour riff? I personally do not think its too much to ask to have him stake out a few specific positions over the next few months. And defend them if necessary.

Zorgon, you are becoming easier to read. Given your excellent posts last week on the looming entitlement crisis, do you see the democrats as being particularly likely to "disempower" anybody by cutting benefits/raising Soc. Sec. age etc? Necessary steps, as is some raising of taxes. But taxation alone won't get us there. I see a snowball's chance in hell of Pres. Obama and Co. making the necessary moves. McCain facing a presumably uncooperative Congress might at least try. But in the end, the result would probably be the same.

What the heck. One thing about us conservatives is a belief in the system. We have survived much in the way of bad presidents and lousy congresses (both right now imho). We will survive an Obama presidency. And as President he will have my support, which derives from respect for the office and the system, more than to the individual.

But again, I beg you all, if the Dems screw up and lose, no conspiracy crap.


Dave Rickey said...


I'm more of a moderate than a liberal, on a lot of issues I'd be considered a paleocon or libertarian-lite. The left forgives me my flaws, where the right would consider me a RINO at best.

Anyway, *most* people vote their gut, not their reason, and then rationalize their gut feeling with all the sophistry of a Jesuit. The problem is that for the last 30 years, the leadership on the right has been punching the hot buttons on those gut reactions without regard for whether they were good policy, then moving more and more in the direction of corruption. The evil of the neo-cons is that as disillusioned trotskyites, their goal is to feed the worst attributes of capitalism and popular democracy in order to render both untenable. People who believe the government can't do anything right, are trying to make sure it does everything wrong.

Along for the ride are the usual opportunists and mercenaries, all of it predicated on the theory that with enough marketing you can make people buy anything.

Tony Fisk said...

"NASA no longer inspires..." sez Obama. That's all. You've seen a few zingers hurled in that direction by our 'steemed host as well. Besides, travc is right, so long as NASA is directed to pour money into dead end projects, it is ripe for culling, which suits some.

The election will be decided on bigger issues but, if you want some action on this topic, go and fill in the Planetary Society survey on space priorities. (My hypothetical question to candidates: 'You are just about to sign off on a major new NASA initiative. What would you like it to be?')

Tacitus, *people* vote with their gut, not just conservatives (gut and heart having persuaded head what the logical course is by weighting the importance of the facts). Liberals just think they use their heads. Cue for that Lakoff book I mentioned earlier.
Flanagan's review could be construed as a distraction, although I don't know the guys politics, and am probably just being paranoid.

Still, this is where conspiracy theories come in useful: as hypotheticals. Some tests may suggest themselves as well (eg why Gates has just sacked the Air force top brass may become clearer when we see who the replacements are).

But don't take 'em *too* seriously and, yes, there is always the possibility of gunshot wounds to the foot.

Dave Rickey got in first and said it all... how do some guys write so quick?

Unknown said...

Kucinich introduces 35 articles of impeachment against Bush!


Will this inflame the "culture war?"

Will this put McCain in the hot-seat (more so than Obama)?

Unknown said...

hmm. my link got mangled. Blogspot conspiracy?

Dave Rickey said...

@ Andrew: Holy shit.... I can't tell if this is part of a coordinated effort, or if Kucinich just went on a personal kamikaze mission. Either way, the shit is about to hit the fan.

@ Tony: Used to be a programmer, and I've been a board warrior since they were "Bulletin Board Systems". I don't have proper touch typing technique, but I hunt and peck with two fingers from each hand (not always the same two) at about 80-90wpm. Big hands, can't fit them over the "home" keys.

Anyway, Gates' replacement is Norton Schwartz. He's a SpecOps gunship pilot, which makes him a bit of a cypher (SpecOps pilots don't exactly get a lot of press, even in military papers). One thing it definitely says is that Gates is smashing the "Fighter Jock Mafia", he's the first AFCoS since 1982 that wasn't a fighter pilot, and his vice is a bomber pilot.

Anonymous said...

Good for Kucinich.

If you agree with him, write your senators and representative.

There's news today that Bush and his aides had frequent contact with Jack Abramoff, and it appears that Scott McClellan is willing to testify about the Plame affair.

Take the bozo down. Him and all the other occupants of the clown car from Texas.

Travc said...

Hey Tacitus... don't live up to your name. GOP != conservative, as I think you would admit, and a lot of us have moderate and libertarian leanings. Contrary points of view seem to be relished.

About "conservatives vote with their guts not their heads"... I don't think anyone here is saying quite that. As Dave Rickey said, most people do this to a degree. I'm willing to go further though and actually claim conservatives are significantly more likely to fall into the "leader is always right" thing than liberals or certainly independents.

This is all laid out with supporting data by Bob Altemeyer in his online book The Authoritarians. I keep posting this link for a reason... please do read it.

Anyway, most conservatives aren't authoritarians. (Note: authoritarians refers to the sheep, not the leaders/wolves.) However, something like 25% of the population have authoritarian tendencies, and the overwhelming majority of those people are conservative. So, the people who want to exploit those authoritarians to gain power (people who are mostly frighteningly amoral and unprincipled) are much more successful if they appeal to the existing conservative bias. Really is that simple.

Do read Altemey's book. It summaries the core findings (with supporting methods and data) of a lifetime of study. The research comes not from some 'liberal' tradition or perspective... it has its root in the post WWII 'can it happen here' question.

Travc said...

How about this for political ju-jitsu:

Obama speaking about healthcare in NC today

"By the way, I'm going to be partnering with Elizabeth Edwards, we're going to be figuring all this out."

David Brin said...

Tacitus, just like DaveR, I don't qualify myself as a doctrinaire liberal. Indeed, I've oft expressed disgust over the entire L-R axis.

Of course, we are all forced to side with the liberals this year, for the sake of civilization, and let's pray this year's goods are as good as they look. (Though I'd vote for a Yellow Dog, seriously.)

But I have already made it clear that one reason I hope for a democratic landslide is so that they will be thereupon the ONLY Party of Gerrymandering... whereupon I plan to help the new and utterly transformed GOP go after them with a stick!

I will say these things about democrats that seem fundamental.

1- they have never, outside the South and in living memory, allowed their radicals to control the agenda. Hence the "liberal/lefty" caricature of political correctness and tax & spend -- while accurate ABOUT the radical fringe -- never accurately portrayed Democratic governance.

2- Democrats have reigned over the best economic performances and small business startups, stock markets, budget balancing etc. With such utter consistency that a thinking person has to realize that caricatures simply aren't descriptive of actual governance styles.

3- Likewise dealing with immigration. Counter-intuitively, dems defend the border better... though they also give away public services to those who make it across.

I hate tendentious "studies" about left/right that clearly express bias. The best I've seen is Jonathan Haidt's study that I recently cited. Go look it up!

But even that one neglects the fact that lefties (and some liberals) often DO have their own fetishes over "sanctity" "purity" and "authority."

Re Space... I consider PHOBOS to be the key place. Vastly more important than the moon OR Mars!

If we get experience with asteroids... then use that experience to set up a bona fide Phobos base that mines and stores vast amounts of water, using space-solar to then make H2/O2 fuel... then when the Mars landing finally comes, it will be one of countless many, and we'll never stop.

Yes, Gates choosing a non-Fighter jock is a very good sign.

Oddly enough, I have no comment on Kucinish's move. Short-term? Silly. But having it on the table....

David Brin said...

Somebody report back to us about the book:

"House of Bush, House of Saud" by Craig Unger..

THIS is where impeachability is its most towering...

Tony Fisk said...

Poor old Tacitus is copping a bit of flak for standing up for his conservative values and the functionings of government. Good for him! In that sense, I am a conservative as well.

So, what's the flak aimed at? Not conservatives as such but the glamorous parasites that are hiding behind them while busily lowering the war taxes for the rich etc.
(heck, even Tacitus has aimed a clod or two in their general direction)

For the purposes of distinction, I propose that, henceforth we refer to the real target as 'selfservatives'.


Phobos? Interesting. It ties in with the Planetary Society article on targetting Lagrange points and NEO asteroids (doable with Orion.. someone had a sense of irony when they handed the names out!). It wasn't really covered by their survey, though, which boiled down to probes, Moon or Mars?

Unknown said...

And now for some comic relief...


"An Obama presidency would signal the final salvo by the Left in the culture wars. Obama’s advance troops have already taken over our college campuses, have bound and gagged our conservative professors, have ravished our virgins, have pillaged our stores of wisdom, and have ensconced themselves in the thrones of power in deans’, presidents’ and department heads’ offices.

The victory cry is heard across the land in the cheers of Obama’s constituency on college campuses.

This has been going on under the very noses of the Republicans."

Unknown said...

From the ridiculous to the sublime...

Awe-inspiring images:

The earth and moon as seen from Mars by the Phoenix lander's High Resolution Science Experiment camera, really a powerful small telescope with a CCD in it.

And gorgeous pics of Saturn as the Cassini probe approaches the four-year mark in its mission.

Tony Fisk said...

Quoting further...
The conservative traditions and beliefs, in contrast, are rarely to be found in college syllabi and high school textbooks.

Is *that* how the selfservatives have managed to blend in?

Ummm... what's a virgin?

Ah, yes! It all boils down to a pale blue dot in the end.

Travc said...

Zorgon, a nitpick...
That image is from HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, not Phoenix.

That is the same craft and camera which brought us the amazing action shot of Phoenix in mid descent and the pics of Phoenix on the surface.

Travc said...

Dr Brin, thanks for the 3rd Culture link. It is an interesting view bringing together a lot of threads. I don't particularly care about the whole 'new atheist' angle, but the extended framework of basic morality is quite convincing.

One annoying bit though... putting religion on some special pedestal is at very least superfluous IMO. There are many other cultural institutions and beliefs which fit into this framework, and the conclusion that organized religion is just one of many shouldn't be weakened.

BTW: I'm going to have to reread The Authoritarians myself now and see how the data fits into this 5 part morality framework.

Acacia H. said...

Well, it looks like the Baiji, a river dolphin found in China, has gone extinct. This joins the Caribeean Monk Seal, which U.S. officials finally confirmed.

I remember reading somewhere that conservation efforts tend to go for the cute animals, rather than those that might be less-than-pleasant to look at, but have an important place in our ecosystem. Yet even as I wonder how we can help restore balance in mankind's impact in the ecosystem, I also wonder if it is even possible. It would take education... and overcoming prejudices and opinions that are quite ingrained into a number of cultures.

Rob H.

adastra said...

David Brin: "...yes, Ken Wilber is speaking much wisdom...there are many obstacles, however...whichever party wins -- both benefit from sinecures and safe seats and protection from the REAL enemy... the voters....not that I have huge truck with third parties."

Hi David

Glad you liked the Ken Wilber piece I linked to earlier. I'll read your series on gerrymandering, thanks for pointing me toward that.

I only recently moved here from Canada and I don't know a lot about American politics, but the binary Democrat-Republican system seems...well...bizarre, compared to the parliamentary system I'm used to. Do you agree with Wilber that in the long run, America needs some kind of parliamentary democracy system? If not that, then what kind of system do you think might plausibly replace the current one? Or do you think that the current system can be made to work well without major structural changes?


Anonymous said...

"Yet even as I wonder how we can help restore balance in mankind's impact in the ecosystem, I also wonder if it is even possible. It would take education... and overcoming prejudices and opinions that are quite ingrained into a number of cultures."

Several years ago I visited the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which is heavily involved in preventing endangered species from going extinct. Park officials believe that some of the animals there are the only ones of their kind left in the world.

At one point I stopped at an overlook to take a little rest. While I was there, a man walked up, took a glance at the same vista I was looking at, and muttered to nobody in particular "What a waste of good land -- this could have been a great golf course." and walked off. I think there are about 200 golf courses elsewhere in San Diego county.

JuhnDonn said...

Looks like there's a small caucus of science in the house.

Their recommendation for incoming president?

All three physicists had the same advice for whoever wins the White House this fall. Move quickly to appoint a science adviser and keep that person in the presidential inner circle.

“I would say that’s No. 1,” Mr. Ehlers said.

Mr. Holt said: “Proximity counts. You want face time.”

Tony Fisk said...

Oh, dearie me!

Impeachment item #36?

BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

"A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq....

... A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

While George Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted."

Travc said...

Gilmoure, thanks for that link... I feel better already. Although, we need some biologists and/or micro/behavioural economists (macro economics is pretty much woo IMO)... people who really understand complex adaptive systems. Some sci fi authors wouldn't be bad either.

I've actually been thinking more and more about getting into government. I don't think I've very well suited for an elected position, but being an adviser of other 'professional' is actually appealing to me.

Though I do need to finish my damn dissertation first... *sigh*

Unknown said...

Jerry Pournelle has finally lost it.

I am somewhat weary of the Intelligent Design discussion, because I find the whole subject irrelevant to the major problems that face US education. As to the truth of falsity of the purely mechanical, random selection hypothesis, most of the discussion I have seen hasn't been very relevant.

What concerns me is the vehemence with which opponents of ID argue for exclusion of any mention of ID from any school district anywhere. People who pretend to be conservative or libertarian and opposed to central direction of people's lives by experts seem to have no problem whatever with central control of school curricula if that's what it takes to keep the Intelligent Design hypothesis out of every school in the land.

As far as I can see, if every school district in the land that wanted to put Intelligent Design as an alternative to the Dawkins theory that an undifferentiated cloud of gas would inevitably [turn] into creatures that write Dante's Inferno, perform Swan Lake, devise both the Newtonian and Relativistic theories, and write Darwin's Origin of Species, there might be as many as a hundred who would actually do that. One may speculate as to the practical effect this might have; I suspect it wouldn't have much effect at all. Most students in today's schools have no training in or love of science and its tools of logic and mathematics, and whether they believe in Dawkinsism or Intelligent Design won't matter a hill of beans in their or anyone else's lives. Actually, there might be a positive benefit: the discussion might get them thinking about the subject.

Meanwhile, the central control of curriculum has been remarkably successful in keeping any alternative to Human Caused Global Warming out of the classroom, and suppressing any teaching of Global Warming Denial; and that, I submit, does have real consequences, not only for the students but for every one of you. I don't know of any effects on the economy that inevitably result from having beliefs in Intelligent Design as opposed to Dawkinsism; but I know of many disastrous economic effects that inevitably result from belief in the Al Gore inconvenient truth hypothesis. Alternatives to Goreism are pretty well restricted from the classroom.

Why suppress Global Warming Denial? Because there is this enormous consensus that Global Warming is TRUE, and anyone who is a Global Warming Denier is either an idiot or in the pay of oil companies and probably ought to be jailed; just as there is this enormous consensus that Intelligent Design is TRIVIALLY FALSE, and anyone who believes in it is either an idiot or in the pay of some sinister forces and probably ought to be jailed. The principle that anything against the consensus must be excluded from every classroom in the land is so important that central control of curricula must trump local control.

And that, to me, is the importance of the Intelligent Design debates.


Jerry Pournelle claims to have an I.Q. of 180 and I see no reason to doubt it. He has two earned (not honorary) doctorates and he has worked as a university professor. Pournelle is neither stupid nor ignorant.

Yet to listen to a highly educated and extremely smart guy like Pournelle defend both I.D. and global warming denial... Well, it's mind-boggling.

Yes, intelligent design is trivially false, and, yes, the evidence converging on the conclusion that global warming is (a) real and (b) anthropogenic, is so overwhelming that denying it belongs to the same category of argument as denying that the earth is round, or denying that the earth is part of a solar system which is located in the Milky Way galaxy. In fact, there is stronger evidence for the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, and more of it, than for the roundness of the earth, or the existence of the Milky Way galaxy.

When you encounter this kind of craziness from one of the better educated and smarter folks in Western society, it really rocks you back on your feet.

Tony Fisk said...

"All lies and jests,
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

I think Pournelle's problem is that he has an IQ of 180, and knows it.

... note that he doesn't say why denial of global warming isn't as trivial as ID.

Boot said...

But Zorgon! The Earth isn't round. It's a kinda bumpy sphere.


Tony Fisk said...

...Anyway, it isn't about consensus ruling , as Pournelle would have it. It's about identifying 'mischevious conjectures' and their agenda.

ID is bad science, but an interesting philosophical notion. Except that its source is also the source of the infamous and deranged 'wedge document'. I don't think I care to support such sentiments.

Denial of global warming has only got short-term economic interests to support it. Even that is looking a little rickety in the light of some economic forecasts. Besides, if you consider the longer term issues (where, if deniers prevail, it is possible that we might not *have* an economy) then I think a quick introduction to Pascal's wager is in order.

Travc said...

Zorg, a high IQ and spending a lot of time in school does necessarily imply having any sort of understanding of science or critical thinking skills. There is a correlation, but there are plenty of 'smart' people who have spent decades studying Romance Literature, Theology, or other subjects where rational critical thinking is a liability.

I personally think we need to do a better job teaching not only math and science, but the philosophy of science and history of the Enlightenment. The latter subjects are probably more generally useful actually.

PS: Fun story... For a ditch-day stack at Caltech, one of the tasks was to get a professor to sign a statement saying he believed in magic and witchcraft. They actually got one of my favorite profs, who taught Chinese history and some sociology stuff, to sign it. His comment: "In my field, this can only help my reputation."
BTW: In one of his courses, he had us use census and military records to statistically test the hypothesis that the typical American soldier was significantly healthier and had a better quality of life (at least growing up) than the Red Coats. I distinctly remember him saying something like "historians who don't use statistics are wusses"... of course his specialty was China which has over a thousand years of census data.

David Brin said...

Look, I have long found Jerry dear, but loony. But you guys are being unfair. His point is about whether a central and standard scientific doctrine should have the right to formally ban other doctrines from being presented in our schools. And although this is a lame stalking horse for the trog-right buffoons, they use it because there is a core element of fairness to the complaint.

No, the answer to Jerry and the trogs is not rigid rejection of their loony un-science, making us look like the bad guys -- priests of a rigid orthodoxy. No, it is rather to put them to the test!

I offer a way to do this at:
with a related riff at:

It applies to parapsychology, ID or climate denial.

Jiu jitsu, lads.

David Brin said...

oops the link is:

followed immediately by


Anonymous said...

David and Zorgon:

On the issue of Intelligent Design, I'm with full agreement with both of you- Pournelle is being silly. There is absolutely nothing scientific about ID.

On the other hand, with climate change, I think I'm closer to Pournelle's side... NOT because I side with the climate change "deniers", but because of the way in which it is taught. When I was in school (early 90's), and I'm sure the same is true today, the issue was not approached as a matter of science, but as a matter of morality... Greenhouse Gas emitting energy sources are BAD, renewables GOOD! Your styrofoam cups are EVIL! Nuclear Energy is BAD!... and so forth. It's not really possible to have interesting discussions about these matters from a scientific or economic point of view with children (at least most children under the age of 16), so what it amounts to is a religious indoctrination little different from a kind of "science sunday school".

Children need to learn the basics- math, reading, history, art, simple science, how to use computers... that, and I'd highly recommend introducing some simple logic classes around the 5th or 6th grade, possibly earlier for advanced students! Leave extremely complicated hot-button issues like evolution, global warming, et. al. for high school. Leave "sex ed" and "diversity education" matters- which are very politically and religiously charged- to parents and private groups (churches- and by that, I'm not just talking about "approved by the religious right", but very liberal bodies like the Unitarians, Reform Judiasm, and the ELCA, and groups like the Boy Scouts), not public education, which should remain neutral in such matters.

The situation isn't as bad as many on the right make it out to be- those who think that our public schools have become nothing but indoctrination centers are spouting hot air. But they have a point. There are some places where they just shouldn't go... and places where they should go (like logic!) that they don't...

Anonymous said...

BTW, that Anonymous just now was me... the China firewall makes posting here an absolute pain!

Oh well, God Bless Proxy Servers...

Dave Rickey said...

Having spent all too much time surrounded by "freaky smart" people who have IQ's that are to average as average is to a not very bright dog, I can tell you they often get a particular kind of social darwinistic prejudice about education issues.

Having found merely ordinary (or even only gifted) students to be insufferably dim, they don't see any difference between teaching them the watered down version of the scientific and logical methods they mastered before their age reached double digits, the tilted and incomplete propagandizing that reduces complex issues to a few pages of slogans, and blatantly false efforts to indoctrinate.

"If they aren't smart enough to figure it out on their own, why bother?"

I've tried hard not to let the schools get in the way of my kid's educations, but giving up completely and chucking them to the theocratic wolves does not appeal at all. Dr. Pournelle seems to have fallen into the trap of deciding that since the shools are full of ignorant students who don't really want to learn, it doesn't matter what they are taught.

Travc said...

Nicholas, you are missing out on one very important (and conservative) role public education has... arguably the original reasoning behind making it public and universal in the first place.

Public schools are supposed to indoctrinate children. They are supposed to ensure that citizens share a common general civic/public moral and ethical framework.

I don't disagree with your points per se, just think they need to be tempered a bit. Environmental issues as taught to kids seems very dumb to more sophisticated people, but the core ethics of it are generally laudable: responsibility, not being wasteful, thinking ahead about long term consequences, ect. Certainly as the children become mature, critical thinking becomes a real option and should be encouraged.

That said, there was scant talk of environmental issues at all when I was in public school (80s and early 90s).

As an undergrad, I was fortunate to take courses on climate modeling, natural resource economics, and more. I even took a course on bioremediation where the TA used to work for the EPA, which made things even more interesting.

Needless to say, GW deniers and 'doing something means economic doom' crowds really annoy the hell out of me. Anti-GM, 'animal rights' activists, and the other econuts piss me off almost as much. So maybe I'm atypical.

Tony Fisk said...

I second the notion of basic logic training. It is astonishingly little used, and it's rather heartwrenching to see that a lot of people *do* appreciate that a problem can be solved by 'stepwise refinement', yet remain incapable of performing it for themselves (insert frustrated squeaks and sounds of 'f-f-i-sh!' here) Old habits die hard, it seems. So get 'em early: I think half an hour injected into the curriculum and then practised would work wonders!

Pournelle is undoubtedly bright, but IQ is a rather nebulous measure of a capacity to do IQ tests.

Anecdote time:
While on one these management training course thingies, we were split into teams and sent to several 'sites' to oversee a cleanup operation. The innovation displayed by some folks left me gasping, but the relevant thing was a tale told to us during the debriefing. Apparently another group of high flying PhD types had done the same activity. One of their teams solved the problem pretty quickly, and duly turned up at the marshalling area... and wondered where the others were. It hadn't occurred to them to tell the others about their insight, simply assuming that they would figure it out as well!

I suppose the morale could be that the globe may be bright, but only many hands will make light work.

*cringe*. OK. Moving on...

Styrofoam cups evil? Compare their back story with that of paper cups, and they become positively angelic! However, if you raise *that* in certain quarters, and you'll be told dismissively that they're both evil... a bit like coal and nuclear. Oh, where's that contrast knob!?

Anonymous said...

Personal Anecdote: Genius Fools

Many years ago, after my parents divorce, my Father was dating a member of MENSA. One of the Mensa activities was a cross country hike, and I was invited along. As we walked along, the subject being discussed in great detail and with much insight into the implications was...
And no, they weren't discussing the effect of having people who believed in astrology running the country... they were discussing how astrology works, how it could be used to predict things, how it one could avert the negative patterns that show up on your chart...
When I expressed doubt, one offered to do my chart. Seeing my opportunity (and being a smartarse), I gave the wrong birthdate and place of birth (with my Father's winking approval. He confirmed that, yes, I was born 6 months and a thousand miles from my actual birthplace). After he calculated out my chart on a notepad, he presented it to me and told me the implications. Dad's girlfriend was truly impressed, as it matched my personality and history perfectly... to which I said "It's too bad he got the date wrong."
(Needless to say, I wasn't invited back.)

So, my point is that very smart people can still believe in nonsense.

JuhnDonn said...

Found an interview with author Craig Unger (House of Bush, House of Saud). Unger sees the base conflict here:

David Shankbone: Did they openly talk to you about these things?
Craig Uunger: Yes, this alliance is not a secret. What I do in the book is reframe the entire paradigm. Everyone talks about “Islam vs. The West” and I say that no, it’s fundamentalism—and by that I mean Christian and Jewish fundamentalism, not just Islamic—against the modern, post-Enlightenment world, and it happens that our government is on the wrong side. We are carrying out a fundamentalist foreign policy.

So, the truth is out there. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

BREAKING NEWS: Brin next tourist to go to Space! ...Sergei Brin that is.

Matt DeBlass said...

Rush Holt's district begins just a few miles from where I live. If I had the money, I'd be tempted to relocate, if for no other reason to be able to brandish one of the bumper stickers I sometimes see that read "Actually, my congressman IS a rocket scientist."

What I took away from Pournelle's bit there was not that he thought ID or GW-skepticism were correct arguments, but that the suppression of dissenting ideas was an incorrect position. In that, I definitely agree, while ID and GW-denial might be pretty useless, that doesn't mean it's time to shut and padlock the door against fringe ideas altogether.

Travc said...

On 'alternative' crackpot theories... is more than fine to 'let them in', so long as the forum allows ridicule and generally kicking them in the ass. Ok for a sufficiently mature audience and some setting. Not ok for young kids and/or dogmatic teaching framework. Now the dogmatic teaching framework has lots of problems too, since it often leads to adults who aren't mature enough.

On the 'smart people' cultural divide. I have yet another short story.

When I was an undergrad, a group of old alums (50th anniversary reunion I think) came by and were hanging out. I struck up a conversation with one guy, who turned out to have been chief engineer on a nuclear sub. He recounted how his crew consisted mostly of very smart engineers from state schools who could solve 90% of any problems which came up. Above them were a couple of guys from MIT who only ever had to deal with that last 10% of tough problems... if anyone knew how to solve it, they would know how. His job was to handle the 1% of problems that no one had ever seen before and no one had a clue how to solve. The funny thing was that he couldn't solve the 99% of common problems nearly as quickly or easily as the rest of his crew.

Even within the same technical field, there are different 'cultural' approaches which have different merits. Widening out that principle, operation mostly on heuristic 'gut feelings' and dogmatic rules may work well for most people most of the time... It may even be easier and 'better' in the sense that the people are generally happier. Of course, we don't want to rely on such modes of thinking to handle complex and/or novel situations intelligently. Much better to actually encourage people to 'multi-cultural' in a sense, where they are aware of their own modes of thinking and can switch them when appropriate. This is real critical thinking IMO, and goes beyond just teaching logic.

Ok, that is quite enough story-telling from me ;)

Travc said...

An angle on transparency...

You folks know about McCain claiming he didn't actually deliver some lines in a speech (criticizing the press's treatment of Clinton) despite the fact that he did say them.
A politico piece on it to remind you if needed

Seem like a minor quibble, though a bit pathological of McCain if he though no one would notice.

Well, some MSNBC talking head (Eugene Robinson IRRC) noted that a decade (or two) ago this sort blatant lie actually would have probably just slipped by (the media at least). Youtube is quite new after all.

That really struck me. Youtube gets a lot of credit, but blogs (Media Matters and Crooks & Liars most notably) really paved the way and continue to do great good. Consumer level DVRs (and/or TV capture cards) are also quite recent and critical enabling technology. I knew all this, but it didn't really sink in how the confluence of innovations has already changed the landscape in important (and good IMO) ways.

Travc said...

Have you folks seen this yet.

LA Gov Bobby Jindal wrote an essay about him and his friends doing an exorcism. Really, I'm not shitting you.
TPM post on it

This guy is a 'serious' contender for McCain's VP.

Sounds more like torturing someone (for hours) who was unfortunate enough to have a seizure during a "prayer meeting". Seriously, knowing what we do about so-called hypnosis and the effects of torture... well, it is pretty sick how this 'worked'.

Travc said...

A bit of highly disturbing news:
Pivatising of intelligence (as in spying) is growing fast

According to the TPM post, roughly 70% ($42 billion) of the US intelligence budget is going to private contractors.

Now, some of this is above board... but in 2000 that figure was less than $18 billion. And the people who brought us Blackwater are now heavily involved.

Tony Fisk said...

I've been pondering whether or not to mention this one but, since travc is unearthing a few disturbing items, I'll add it to the record.

(I must stress that it is unsubstantiated and probably a fake)

'It' is a document purporting to be a contingency speech to be made by Bush in the event of a US attack on Iran. It was received by wikileaks on June 6, 2008, and released on June 8.

In the current political climate, I don't see the US population blithely accepting a 'lame duck' declaring war *and* re-instituting the draft.

I only bring it to your attention, so that, if you do hear this speech, and the political climate has changed (and we have had plenty of 'October surprise' scenarios discussed), then you can better sort out cause and effect.

Tony Fisk said...

...on a happier note,

Red Hat Makes History With Patent Settlement - Compatible with GPLv3

Dave Rickey said...

It would not be at all unusual for a first draft for a major speech to be based on an earlier speech. And the poor quality and evidence of having been photocopied or faxed at least twice could be someone knowledgable of the forensics procedures used to source documents making sure that any micro-codes or similar were completely scrubbed.

That all being said, it doesn't ring true. It would require that someone on or very close to the President's speechwriting staff could get access to this document, but not any better evidence, and didn't believe they could get anything better.

There are way too many signs of a coming war with Iran from more subtle sources (especially leaks from the middle east), this "gift wrapped but flawed" evidence is too pat, and too deniable. My bet would be that it's a hoax, if it has any authenticity at all, it's as disinformation, ala the Dan Rather memo.

Travc said...

Here is a warped but happy (imo) thought.

If McCain gets elected and actually follows through on his positions wrt warrantless wiretapping, permanent bases in Iraq, ect. We should just immediately impeach him.

Anonymous said...

Blackwater appears to have won it's fight for a branch near my (and Dr. Brins) hometown.

"Last Thursday, after a federal judge cleared the way, Blackwater opened a large training facility in San Diego, just three blocks from the border that separates California and Mexico."

Sometimes, one ponders whether a couple years in an "internment" camp down the road is worse than a night or two in county lock-up now.

Haha. Just kidding. Really.

Craig Comments said...

David, speaking of war profiteering, see the following.:

None of this is a surprise of course!!!

Gavin Craig

Anonymous said...

"J. Scott Carpenter, the former deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs has revealed that senior Defense Department (DoD) officials and the Joint Chiefs used the escalation issue as the main argument to oppose Dick Cheney when he called for attacks on Iran last summer.

According to Carpenter, who is now at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, Pentagon officials argued that no decision should be made about the limited air strike on Iran without a thorough discussion of the sequence of events that would follow an Iranian retaliation for such an attack.

Carpenter suggested that DoD officials were shifting the debate on a limited strike from the Iraq-based rationale, which they were not contesting, to the much bigger issue of the threat of escalation to full-scale war with Iran, knowing that it would be politically easier to thwart the proposal on that basis.

Cheney's proposal was perceived as a ploy to provoke Iranian retaliation that could used to justify a strategic attack on Iran, the Inter Press Service reported on Friday."

The professionals stood up.

We would have lost a carrier. Minimum.

NoOne said...

To Tony Fisk:

By ensuring that upstream *and* downstream developers are protected from patent violations, this is historic as groklaw notes.

Perhaps we are finally seeing the emergence of an open source/open standards planetary culture which is brick by brick laying the foundation for a breakthrough in human creativity. I would love to see open source licensed music (for example) take off.

Unknown said...

I'm with you, NoOne. The open source emergent third party collectivist movement is sweeping the globe like a tsunami and it's wiping the floor with traditional capitalism.

Here's a new science fiction film being created using wiki-style collaboration.

The people who are doing this produced the open-source film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, so they've got a track record. The film will be a free download when it's done.

Here's an open-source grameen-bank-style collective loan system -- anyone can loan small amounts that then get combined together for the full loan to a third world entrepeneur.


Speaking of climate change, here's a new report by the DOE on what's needed to get 20% of our energy from windpower by 2030. Right now all alternative energy sources together amount of less than 7%. Nuclear power comes to 20%.

And here's a pessimistic article from the Worldchanging website that claims that even if a Singularity is in the cards (it isn't), we don't have time for it to save us before climate change wipes us out.

According to this guy, we have to make all the required changes to our society within the next 10 years or we're all dead from climate change.

If that's the case, we might as well give up and party hearty. 10 years just isn't enough time. Fortunately, this entire scenario sounds like wild doomsday talk, so I suspect we'll have more time than 10 years to reorganize our civilization for lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Anonymous said...

Reality check from kos:
50% of people vote based on issues (roughly), and 50% vote based on character.

I do know at least two republicans who plan on voting for Obama based on character first, policies second.

Tacitus, before you jump back in, yes, conservatives trend authoritarian. Russian communists were conservative too! (advocating a return to the communal nature of pre-industrialized Russia)

Anonymous said...


What was the results of the Redcoats versus American Soldiers?

In biology class, I did parapsychology research, along with the rest of the class. Great way to teach statistics.

Anonymous said...

Parapsychology doesn't need to be about "unknown forces" -- it can just as easily be about our own unconscious mind. Telepathy and empathy might easily be extensions of one another -- and anyone who has seen couples complete each other's sentences knows it!

All I need to do is look at Clever Hans, to at least admit that some human might be able to do similarly -- to understand someone else without conscious communication between them.

But I really liked Niven's comment best (paraphrased) "If psychic powers existed, and were controllable, they would be an evolutionary advantage."

This leaves the door open for 'freaky' psychic powers -- things that work only once, or only at specified times (see all the women who lift cars off of their children. verified superstrength, that). Or psychic powers that don't really seem to help their owner (telepathic projective who only seems to project what he's trying not to say).

Is it parapsychology to say that blind people might be able to feel colors via touch? I don't find that too terribly unlikely, whether it's done by heat or by minute variations in height.

I guess that's not too Romantic, now is it?

Travc said...

On the Redcoats vs American Soldiers

The average American soldier was something like 4 inches taller than the average Redcoat.

Height is strongly correlated with 'quality of life', specifically how much and how good the food one ate as a child. (Some constraints apply of course.) There is a lot of consistent data for this, one I remember was comparing officers to the enlisted troops.

The American soldiers included a lot of 'strapping farm lads' and folks who would have been upper or middle class back in Britain.

The 'professional army' Redcoats were mostly drawn from the lower class, including a lot of people who had a 'join or starve in the streets' choice. They were a lot closer to a conscript army.

Kindof casts things in a different light... Though the Hessians were a different story, much closer to what we would consider a professional fighting force.


BTW: The prof that had us do this analysis also taught me something that really changed (at least clarified) how I think about lots of stuff.

We were looking at height data across different countries and times. What really struck me was that while the average heights between Central Africans and Chinese were quite different, the variances within each group swamped the different between groups.

Probably the most clear example of that lesson is regarding stereotypes. Chinese are short and Central Africans are tall is a valid statement... but predicting 'who is taller' between a random Chinese person and a random Central African is pretty close to a coin flip.

Travc said...

Anonymous, there is a 'parapsychology' about the unconscious mind... it is called psychology.

There are plenty of freaky things about the way the human mind works. The whole 'two consciousness' (left and right hemispheres are separate persons in many ways) pops to mind. Some hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming seems to have a basis in reality too. Look on youtube for "Darren Brown messiah" and at some of his other 'tricks' (such as the "russian scam").

Tony Fisk said...

... meanwhile, on a far off West Bank hillside, the panopticon bears witness*.

* Actually, this is courtesy of a group called B'Tselem.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be a redundant jerk about this, but we've got the word of a named state department source that Cheney went to the Joint Chiefs in the summer of '07 looking for air strikes on the Revolutionary Guard.

August, '07, the nuke shipment from Minot to Barksdale - after they turned him down.

This spring, Gates fires the Air Force Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force, replacing one with a solid career officer who has primarily done logistics work and the other with an Iran/Contra era "intelligence wonk".

How do these pieces fit?

Anonymous said...

Jester, lets see what kind of story I can create here...

The VP gives the order to the wing commander("Execute order 66!"), sending mens running about to prepare for the strike.

The JCoS find out about it, and slam on the breaks. The order goes out to stop preparing.

In the confusion, one warhead is left on one aircraft through a accounting error. (A big error. Someone should have noticed that they were short a bomb.)

Replacing the General with a logistics expert: since it was a accounting error (in my scenario), this makes sense.
Replacing the AF secretary with someone involved in Iran/Contra: someone Cheney knows/likes/trusts?

Anonymous said...

I was not going to jump back in, but as to your points:
yes, I do trend towards authoritarianism. I prefer my authorities to be prudent, humane and accountable, but I want "grown ups" in charge as opposed to committees or mobs. Must be my German ancestry, my years of parenting and my profession, where decisivness is necessary. I am aware of the pitfalls of authority used unwisely.
Regards the Russian communists, you can certainly call them authoritarian, but conservative seems a stretch. In the early days they were a diverse bunch of bolshies, menshies and bakuninites. They may have talked a good game about a return to some previous Russia, but most of that Rodina/Mother Russia talk came when they had an enemy at the gates. If they believed in anything, a legitimate question, it was the whole dictatorship of the proletariate, ineveitable victory of Marxist theory, blah, blah, blah.
The current leadership, nominally communist I suppose, does seem rather Czarist.
A great nation, so unfortunate in its history.

Travc said...


You get -2 points for trending authoritarian, +several million points for realizing it. The biggest problem with authoritarian tendencies are a lack of skepticism once a leader has been chosen and the amoral social dominators who exploit it.

matthew said...

Pretty good blog article on the reasons the Right has attacked science. A great deal of the article is based on a paper by Jacques, Dunlap and Freeman, "The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism", Environmental Politics 17:349 - 385, 2008.

To quote from the blog:
In establishing a foot hold in the scientific arena, peer review was an obstacle [to the Right]. The science of environmental skepticism was weak. So the full length book became the preferred vehicle. No independent reviewers. This is where the paper by Jacques et al. makes its primary contribution (the background to this paper also has much useful background and analysis, some of which I have used here). They assembled a dataset of all English language books (141 of them) that had International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) from the earliest example in 1972 through to 2005, whose subject could be identified as environmental skepticism. Their definition of environmental skepticism was "denying or downplaying the seriousness of problems such as climate change; stratospheric ozone depletion; biodiversity loss; resource shortages; chemicals and other pollutants in the air, water or soil; threats of trace chemical exposure to human health and the potential risks of genetic modification (Jacques et al,, p. 358). If the book merely questioned environmental values while not denying some specific environmental problem, it was not included. The researchers then tried to determine if there was a relationship between the authors or publishers each of these 141 books and the CTTs, using only publicly declared information, not inference. The paper has a 14 page table giving the details in each case so the reader can check the judgments (Appendix 1).

Full blog here:

The comment section of the blog features some pretty good back and forth as all kinds of GW deniers weigh in as well.

Anonymous said...

"Probably the most clear example of that lesson is regarding stereotypes. Chinese are short and Central Africans are tall is a valid statement... but predicting 'who is taller' between a random Chinese person and a random Central African is pretty close to a coin flip."

Depends on the region of China you're talking about? If you're talking about Guangdong (or other parts of South China), the people do tend to be shorter than average (most Chinese-Americans are Cantonese, which is where the stereotype of the "short Chinese" seems to come from)... on the other hand, if you're taking a random sample of Dongbei (people from the Northeastern/old Manchurian provinces like Heilongjiang), you'll find that, on average, they may be as tall as the Africans... I'm 6'1", myself, and every day I see Northeastern Chinese women who are taller than me!

On authoritarianism:

The advantages and disadvantages of an authoritarian system have been pretty firmly demonstrated in western political science since Aristotle, so there's no need to repeat them here. But it's interesting to live under an authoritarian system and see it at work. I live in Shanghai, which is an interesting place to see what a "modern authoritarianism" looks like (I'd imagine that Singapore, Moscow, and Dubai would provide interesting cities with which to compare and contrast!); I do not consider modern China to be in any real sense "totalitarian"; while media and political controls are still heavy, and "re-education" still occurs (mostly for prostitutes, pimps, drug criminals, smugglers, and the occasional agitator who gets on the wrong side of a local party secretary), there's a world of difference between China today and the Mao era. The popularity of politically controversial but legal novels (see "Wolf Totem" for a good example), western media (easily accessed through the extremely porous firewall), bohemian areas making ironic kitsch-art out of what was once state propaganda, the rebirth of religion (Temples are being restored and renovated everywhere; new seminaries are opening; the new edition of the Analects of Confucius sold six million copies last year), and simply the massive amount of entrepreneurial and commercial activity bespeaks a society on which the boot rests fairly lightly... most of the time.

In Fareed Zakaria's new book, his assessment of the modern Chinese situation is that it is rather similar to that of Germany circa 1900-1910 (which would be more troubling if China had a history of militaristic imperial ambition); the people are very modern and cosmopolitan AND conservative and nationalistic- at the same time. My friend is a good example: her parents are peasant entrepreneurs who came of age during the Cultural Revolution; she is a saleswoman with a European company who holds a master's degree in Industrial Chemistry and speaks four languages. She has attitudes much like a modern American career woman... except when political issues come up. Don't get her started on those.

There are many more dimensions to this "modern authoritarian" situation, but I think that Zakaria is right- looking at the "classical liberal authoritarians" of turn-of-the century Europe is more productive than looking at the totalitarians of the mid 20th century, as the modern authoritarians operate within a context of economic globalization, and a world of irrepressible freedom of information. They have to maintain their power through use of a great deal of compromise (the modern mandarins in China are masters of this) and economic coercion. Their legitimacy does not rest on ideology- it can only rest on money, backed with military force.

Dave Rickey said...

"Authoritarian" in this context speaks not so much to the leadership, but to the veneration of and desire for strong leadership in the populace. Authoritarians are what we refer to in my trade as "sheeple", you can lead them anywhere, to green fields or the slaughterhouse, and they'll follow regardless.

Authoritarianism as a form of government is a very different thing, although it is usually dependant on the authoritarian properties of the populace.

Looking at it, I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that the difference between a radical and a reactionary is actually very thin, that both are mostly consisting of authoritarians, and the question is only if they see the dominant authority as "legitimate". If you can convince the authoritarian minority that their government is morally illegitimate, they become the Mob.

I am not a sociologist, a psychologist, or a neurologist, but I have engaged in an extensive amateur study of all three, and it seems pretty clear that these people have some kind of basic neurological deficit in integrating ideas that are not presented to them as a package. They don't see inconsistancies in their own values, they don't correlate moral motivations with immoral results, and they are easily led to accept poor logic chains as justification.

Beyond that, they seem easily frightened by unfamiliar threats, they stay frightened longer, and they don't show nearly as much "habituation", where most people become less frightened by something the more it is presented, authoritarians do not, and therefore are easily manipulated through appeals to fear.

They seem to suffer from what can only be termed a form of "metacognitive retardation", they don't think much about their own process of thinking. The most extreme cases verge on the "philosophical zombie" of cognitive thought experiments, they claim to be self aware, act superficially like they are self-aware, but they aren't.

And they seem to be roughly 20% of the population, and they've all slowly accreted to right-wing politics, in some cases extremely right-wing.

Dave Rickey said...

Oh, I wanted to point something out: Two separate Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on torture and regulatory reform shut down. Conducting a committee meeting that lasts longer than 2 hours requires "Unanimous Consent", which is always granted pro-forma. Except now, the Republicans are objecting and forcing hearings to end after two hours.

In "The Secret Kingdom", Pat Robertson pointed out three procedural tricks that could be used to support unconstitutional governmental actions even if one, two, or even all three branches of government were not under control of the minority party. They were:

1) Invocation of the "painless filibuster", the 60-vote cloture motions that have become SOP in the Senate since the Democrats took control.

2) Manipulation of the "Unanimous Consent" rules for hearings and other actions. These rules can not be changed without reaching the 60-vote threshold.

3) Using the Article III authority of the Congress over appellate authority of the courts to place laws outside of constitutional review by the Supreme Court (such as occurred with the DTA and MCA, and was just rejected by a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court), or even to create a parallel religious law court system.

Find a copy of The Secret Kingdom, or New World Order (or both), by Pat Robertson, and compare the checklist of things he said should be done in order to achieve "Dominion" (theocratic rule in the US and eventually the world) to what has actually happened with the relationship between the Religious Right, the GOP, and the nation at large.

Travc said...

Nicholas, interesting view from over in China. I've had numerous political discussions with people from China (and lots of other places), but only the selected few who come to the US and study the sciences (not a typical sampling).

On authoritarianism... Back when 'shock-therapy' was the rage in former Soviet satellite states, I heard an argument from a Chinese official defending the single party state. An authoritarian political system is better equipped to implement economic transformation and mitigate the harmful effects for the citizens. Very good point IMO.

Authoritarianism (the public propensity) is quite dangerous because it is easily exploited by 'social dominators' who are very often amoral and borderline sociopathic. However, it does certainly have an upside as well, enforcing group cohesion and within group cooperation as well as the oft cited efficiency of action. These can be very beneficial traits.

As with most things, it is a matter of degree. However, in the long term I think that skeptical liberalism is more stable than authoritarianism. Chinese history provides a good example: A series of dynasties often started by a great and good leader which after a few generations devolves into incompetence and corruption out of which a new great leader emerges to take power. This sort of succession (on a faster timescale) is what led to the Athenians to form a democracy. Of course, liberalism may not fare as well when faced with an acute threat or upheaval, which is why most liberal governments even from ancient times have some sort of emergency ability to temporarily become a dictatorship. Always the balancing act I suppose.

Dave Rickey said...


However, it does certainly have an upside as well, enforcing group cohesion and within group cooperation as well as the oft cited efficiency of action. These can be very beneficial traits.

They tend to have very high altruism towards the members of their in-group, and are more charitable and self-sacrificing in general. You go to the worst hell-holes in the world, and you're going to find highly religious authoritarians trying to help (and get converts).

They're not bad people. They're just very vulnerable to being duped into service of *extremely* bad people. And their intellectual inflexibility and reflexive subordination to authority can make them very dangerous.

That's why I said that the difference between a reactionary and a radical is literally a flip of a coin, it's all a matter of which SDO's have captured their loyalty.

Read any R. J. Rushdoony? I'm planing on ordering a few of his books, the more I see of his work from the edges, cited by others, the more I come to the conclusion the man was an Evil Genius when it came to social dynamics and cognition. He essentially managed to create a sophistic reconciliation of not only all the parts of the bible, but with all the worst elements of Objectivism as well, translate all of that into a political/legal framework, and lay down the blueprint on how to use that to create a social movement for theocracy. Brilliant, but evil.

Anonymous said...

I saw a lot of myself in the "authoritarian personality"... I just happened to pick scientists, secularists, and political liberals as my trusted "traditional authorities."

Anonymous said...

Brendan is an angry man trying to get the Democrats to do the right thing about FISA and here is his latest stoush with Steny Hoyer

Steny Hoyer’s Offices Lied to Me Today.

Tony isn't the aphorism about empires "The first generation builds the empire, the second administers it and the third destroys it"?

When it comes to protecting endagered wildlife Alan Rabinowitz says he much prefers dictators or authortarian regimes to democracies since he only has to convince the guy at the top to do something for it to get done.

Zoologist Alan Rabinowitz almost makes Stephen Colbert cry with the story of how he was inspired to save big cats

Tony Fisk said...

...he much prefers dictators or authortarian regimes to democracies since he only has to convince the guy at the top to do something for it to get done.

...and when someone 'reconvince$' him tomorrow?

This is where the 'golden rule' holds sway.

Just look at the recent farce surrounding the fast-track adoption of the ECMA-OOXML documentation standard. (which is now stalled BTW, as four countries have lodged objections)

Anonymous said...


Hmm... an interesting question, as to whether committees or individuals rule better. A committee, at its best, minimizes the biases of it's individual members, to the greater good. Of course, this works best with adhoc committees, as they are much less prone to groupthink. An argument for changing representatives each two years!

Decisiveness is always best when only one person does the deciding, no arguments there.

JuhnDonn said...

Citizen power in action: STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Tad Agoglia started the nonprofit First Response Team of America
It provides immediate emergency aid to areas hit by disasters
His team is a self-funded, nomadic, four-man cleanup crew
Since May 2007, the team has helped thousands of victims at 15 U.S. sites

Anyone heard of these guys? They sound like they could use some cash donations but I have limited funds to throw around.