Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Secret (and telling) words in the Inaugural Address

Even amid my pleasure and relief, that the moment had finally come,  I  felt compelled to examine Barack Obama's Inaugural Address, closely and critically.  If for no other reason, then to see if the new president would telegraph something different and revealing, about his underlying goals or character.  Some indicator that went beyond the expected eloquent platitudes, or reassuring words of determination and optimism.

Of course, those would have been enough for a good start. I was duly inspired by President Obama's call for a new spirit of purpose and idealism, evoking history and mission, duty and vision.  Indeed, I hope the speech moved all Americans, along with people around the world - even those whose guarded respect is as-yet tinged with suspicion.  Perhaps even grudging doubters will be swayed toward firmer feelings of appreciation, over the coming years, not only by words, or the skill and character of the Obama team, but also by events.   By the historical validation that is bestowed by great success. 

And yet, I don't feel compelled to write very much about those soaring themes and sentiments, all of which will be noted by others.  Instead, what I'll do - out of habit - is bring notice to a few side-glimmers and exceptional points that won't (I reckon) be mentioned by most pundits, or even historians.  

For example, it struck me that President Obama repeatedly called upon us to rise up as adults from the quagmire of dogma and culture war.  In order to do this, we'd have to do more than just listen to the angels of our better natures, or simply heed our high ideals.  Both in the campaign and on his first day in office, he emphasized the need to rediscover arts of negotiation and problem-solving. The calm pragmatism that undergirds all those lofty principles, without which they so easily dissolve into platitudes or self-righteous rationalizations. (As, indeed, the word "freedom" was cheapened in recent years, into a mere totem  for "my side.")

Other nations have known duty, honor, patriotism, self-sacrifice... and even freedom.  But it is the mix of those fine things with other ingredients -- with patience and craftsmanship, with both eager competition and willing cooperation, with reciprocal respect and healthy self-doubt -- that made our loftier ideals truly world-transforming.   And that notion of anchoring idealism in pragmatic action is the message that I felt through my bones - deeper than through my ears - during Barack Obama's inaugural address.

It was the same message that he pushed the day before, in dedicating Martin Luther King Day to practical public service. Do you want other examples?

"To those (overseas) who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

How simple an offer, based upon a clearcut image of cause-and-effect.  Then came a sentence that both rebuked the recent past and expressed far greater confidence in us than we have seen expressed (alas) by recent leaders:

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

Of course you'll recognize a central theme of my book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? And especially since the dire events of 9/11, as I kept hoping (and preaching) that Americans should reject the dismal and insipid "devil's dichotomy" we were constantly offered for eight years, as fools demanded that we trade-off between two things we cannot live without.

Those two passages were certainly noted by others. Moreover, without question, President Obama had to say them, whether or not he meant quite the emphasis that I perceived. 

 But two other paragraphs contained - tucked within - what I feel are vital hints to Barack Obama's character and agenda.  Because they are things he did not have to say.  Very few of the two million people attending in Washington, or close to a billion watching around the world, will remark upon them.  But I suggest that you do.

"We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age."

Yes, yes.  Education, sustainability, health, plus the new technologies that may not only help save the nation and planet, but also kick-start the next economic boom, in much the same way that our government's internet research sparked the last one... all of that was profoundly welcome, and expected.  But to put science first, ahead of all the others, and thus signaling it's "rightful place," struck me deeply.  This is one lawyer who knows that good decisions cannot be based upon incantations, but must ultimately depend on actual, honest-to-God facts.

We have had enough of leaders who arrogantly believed that all you need to govern is one thing, a powerfully certain and egotistically subjective force of will.

But then, it can be argued that Obama also "had to" mention science, after all the travesties of recent years.  Perhaps that, too, was no surprise. Or I may be reading too much into it. So let me reach deeper for my final clue.

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

Did you see it?  The word he did not have to mention?  And hence, one that he chose to insert, simply because he thought it important?

It is an under-rated word, though in some ways deeply sacred, since it represents a deep and profoundly American value -- one that stands behind our greatest achievements and underpins our loftiest ambitions.  Yes, all the other values that he listed in that paragraph are profound and vital.  But the one that caught and briefly transfixed me is a crucial, though oft-forgotten trait that makes us at-once both wondrously childlike and yet also mature, in the best sense of the word.

Mature enough to ask that precious question (the foundation of true science) "what if I am wrong?" The question that we have learned - the hard way - leads to wisdom, justice, self-discovery, empathy, humility, and incremental progress.

Look again.  It is the one word that you never heard used to describe the dismal bunch who have finally departed and who will not be missed.  Even though, crossing all party lines, it once applied - and may yet again - to broadminded conservatism, as much as it does to liberals.

 The new president did not have to mention it.  But he did.  And that one word -- tucked in among so many fine phrases -- tells us plenty. It shows that he wants not only to preside and rule.  He wants to learn.


My 100 "Unusual Suggestions for America and the Obama Administration" are posted.  If you find any of them unique or worthwhile, feel free to spread word. Or join the discussion.

Meanwhile, here's to hope, confidence, and a renaissance.

David Brin
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Political "Suggestions" to a New Administration posted...

UnusualSuggestionsMy Unusual Suggestions for America and the Obama Administration are now posted...so please now spread the word!!!

One benefit of "change" is my fond hope that politics will be less important in coming years, letting folks like you and me relax enough to go back to stimulating the world with great projects and keen ideas! 

But first, let me announce that the series  of "unusual proposals" that I ran here - important ways that both the new president and the people might make things better - is now conveniently gathered and presented in a clear way. (With deep gratitude to our charismatic and highly skilled webmaster, Beverly Price!)

It seems everybody has "suggestions" for Barack Obama and an incoming emergency Government of National Sanity. My own list includes some sure to be so unusual, even you brainiacs haven't seen them before. Crackpot? Well, yes, some of them. (I'd hate to disappoint, after all ;-)  
But different. Guaranteed.

ostrichpapersThe other posting I want to announce carries forward a theme of mine... that a main political goal should not be to "crush conservatism" (that will only help Karl Rove maintain his unholy alliance), but to show decent conservatives how their movement has been hijacked by monsters... and thus break up a bizarre coalition that transformed the GOP into a modern Know Nothing Party.

(Hint: to do that, try showing your neighbors that change is needed, even from a decent conservative perspective.)

One allegory that I offer concerns a strange event that happened sixty years ago -- the Miracle of 1947 -- when liberals and Democrats went through a wrenching, painful self-transformation, similar to what decent, patriotic conservatives should do, in 2009.

miracleof1947Thus, we may win the greatest victory of all, one not of parties or single points of view, but of reason and pragmatism over an insane Culture War that has poisoned a once great nation.  Well, one can dream.

And now -- putting faith in people, nation, civilization, more than any one man (but hoping for him, too) -- let me shout -- enough #*$#! politics!

Back to the future!

  ===   === 

David Brin

 Visit me via:  http://www.davidbrin.com

PS... this was a LOT of work!! You folks helped and devoted time too.

Please do find ways to circulate the concepts. Especially, if any volunteers want to cross post at change.gov? ???

Me? I promised. Fiction. Must ... write... fiction...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A must see article

Yowch -- (and echoing some of my recent "Economic Suggestions" -- here is an absolute essential.

Eight Years of Madoffs: How American taxpayers lost $50 billion: "our collective contribution to the $117 billion spent (as of mid-2008) on Iraq reconstruction -- a sinkhole of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and outright theft that epitomized Bush management at home and abroad."

in the New York Times

Monday, January 05, 2009

On TV again... and a sweep of "stuff"

Seems I’ll be on the telly again. The two-hour special “First Apocalypse” aka “What Really Killed the Dinosaurs” is scheduled to air on Wednesday, January 07 @ 09:00 PM on History (please check your local listing)They put an hour of my blather in the can, but you never know how much they'll use.

Starship Sofa has produced -- on its audio magzine Aural Delights a spoken version of my story “Temptation.” The narration is by Julie Davis. A story by Geoff Ryman makes the lengthy experience worthwhile. Parts 2 & 3 will appear soon.

Anybody care to gather all three parts into a single audio file?

Again, in order to see several of my recent novellas, subscribe to Universe Magazine... Type in coupon code EE329517B2 - which is good for $5 off any subscription!

FROM HERE ON... it’s all just accumulated stuff... that I am clearing out of a file and not preparing at all. (Posting it all now because of the TV announcement.)

My science predictions, submitted to SEED magazine: “Efforts to recreate extinct species, like mammoths or Neanderthals, with be stymied as we learn the egg -- the reader-translator -- is as important as the DNA code. Cosmologists will admit “the Big Bang was an actual explosion (with a center), after all...” and then they’ll change their minds again. SETI will shift from expensive arrays that sift for aliens in the frequency domain, to thousands of backyard radio telescopes that cover the whole sky. Amateur science will grow important as millions of private sensors join together in ad hoc networks that become indispensable to governments, corporations and specialists”

A lot of speculations are gathered at John Brockman's EDGE site. A majority are a bit tedious, predictable and utterly tied to the writer's specific agenda. But a few stood out. Howard Garner, Stuart Kaufman, Shermer, Metzinger. Kelly and both Dysons.

An excellent overview of the multiverse concept as it applies to the anthropic principle and the cosmic “coincidence numbers.”

I am among several score experts, futurists and pundits who were interviewed for a new report issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, to assess predictions about technology and its roles in the year 2020. The report entitled "Future of the Internet III" is built around respondents' responses to scenarios stretching to the year 2020, and hundreds of their written elaborations address such topics as: the methods by which people will access information in the future; the fact that technology is expanding the potential for hate, bigotry and terrorism; the changes that will occur in human relationships due to hyper-connected communication; the future of work and employer-employee relationships; the evolution of the tools for and use of augmented reality and virtual reality; the strength of respondents’ concerns that the global corporations and governments currently in control of most resources might impede or even halt the open development of the internet; and the challenges to come as issues tied to security, privacy, digital identities, tracking and massive databases collide.

From my friend Mark Frazier: Openworld has to do with mobilizing some of the currently highly limited well of philanthropic sources to empower people at grass-roots levels for purposes of self-organization using (for example) the cell phones that are becoming ubiquitous even in the developing world. “Openworld has mapped ways for transparency-enhancing reforms to awaken human capital and dormant land values for community uplift...” Also worth mentioning is the entrepeneurial schools endeavor. One appraoch maps a self-funding path way for microvouchers to bring aspiring talent online, and map out self-organizing alternatives to the status quo, in part by giving poor but bright kids internet-mediated tasks that they can perform for both pay and experience. “We'll be glad to sponsor some microscholarships for students at entrepreneurial schools in poor communities to do web research, translation,or other work-study projects.” Anybody out there have any tasks you'd like to send their way? I love it and deeply respect the effort.
entrepreneurialschools.com. www.Openworld.com

One of you wrote in about a single celled organism, a distant relative of microscopic amoebas, the grape-sized Gromia sphaerica. At up to three centimeters (1.2 inches) in diameter, they're also enormous compared to most of their microscopic cousins.

Read about the Science & Entertainment Exchange. From my own experiences in Hollywood, let me say it's about time! I hope it does some good.

A mile and a half (two and a half kilometers) underwater, a remote control submersible's camera has captured an eerie surprise: an alien-like, long-armed, and—strangest of all—"elbowed" Magnapinna squid.

The illusion of body-swapping -- making people perceive the bodies of mannequins and other people as their own -- has been achieved by Swedish neuroscientists.
In one experiment, the team fitted the head of a mannequin with two cameras connected to two small screens placed in front of volunteers' eyes, so that they had the same view as the mannequin.
When the mannequin's camera eyes and a participant's head were directed downwards, the participant saw the mannequin's body where the person would normally have seen their own body.
The researchers created the illusion of body-swapping by touching the stomach of both the mannequin and the volunteer with sticks. The person saw the mannequin's stomach being touched while feeling (but not seeing) a similar sensation on their own stomach. As a result, the person developed a strong belief that the mannequin's body was actually their own.

"This shows how easy it is to change the brain's perception of the physical self. By manipulating sensory impressions, it's possible to fool the self not only out of its body but into other bodies, too," project leader Henrik Ehrsson, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in a news release.

See a lively and interesting tour comparing modernist images to sci fi images by artist John Powers at:







Moving? Be sure to pick up a map of natural hazards in your new 'hood.

See a spectacularly interesting lecture by multiple entrepreneur Steve Blank, at the Computer History Museum, about how Silicon Valley got its start.... earlier than you’d think!

See the origins of the name R2D2... in Bell Labs of all places!

Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself. Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories. In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.So far, no major gene-splicing discoveries have come out anybody's kitchen or garage. But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage. Many of these amateurs may have studied biology in college but have no advanced degrees and are not earning a living in the biotechnology field. Some proudly call themselves "biohackers" — innovators who push technological boundaries and put the spread of knowledge before profits.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Suggestion #20: Seek ways to end Culture War

Let’s finish this series of “Unusual Suggestions for America and the Obama Administration.”  with the one that is simplest and most basic. Something that seems so easy and wise, you really have got to wonder why it hasn’t already been done.  Or at least tried.

Let me lay it on the line. We have one priority, above all others, because solving it will unleash our native aptitude at fixing every other problem. That priority is to cure the sickness that is eating away at the guts and marrow of the greatest nation in history.  The nation that Jean Francois Revel called the “best hope” for the “best kind of human revolution.”  The kind of revolution that leads us to far higher horizons and to becoming better people, all around the world.

That priority is to put a stop to the treason that is called “culture war” and get us back to talking to one another again, as grownups.

President Obama can only play an important role in this endeavor.  Most of the heavy lifting must be done by us, in shaking off simplistic dogmas, in re learning the arts of negotiation. In rediscovering that skill and ingenuity and goodness are more important than celebrity or cash. Insisting that both we and our neighbors cut out the sick habit of outrageous indignation, an addiction that makes fools of us and strawmen of our opponents.

Nevertheless, President Obama will be the most important single individual.  And so, I want to conclude with a sincere suggestion to him.  It isn’t anything huge, just a gesture. Something simple, easy and cheap, but offering profound resonance, perhaps setting a tone that would ring across the land.  I have proposed this idea before: Honoring the Losing Majority. Here it is one more time.

---Honoring (and winning over) the losing side ---

What does “majority rule” mean? Suppose your candidate wins by close to a 60/40 vote margin. You can call that a solid victory, in modern political terms. But it still means that four in ten voting citizens did not want your guy in office. To that forty percent, the word "mandate" translates as -- drop dead!

Might there be some way to acknowledge the losing minority? One that both lessens their sense of humiliation, and making them more willing to accept that the winners really do mean well?  Imagine our new President making the following pledge:

"I now ask my honorable opponent in the recent election -- Senator McCain -- to help pick a panel of Americans who are well-outside my normal political or social circle.  In this case, I’d like him to help fill it especially with many varied types of “conservatives.”

“This panel will have one power.  Except during periods of crisis, they will get control over my appointment calendar one afternoon per month. On that afternoon, I’ll meet with -- and listen to -- individuals or delegations beyond my regular horizon.  In this small way, I hope Americans of all persuasions will feel just a little more sure that I do not live in a tower of ideological isolation, but that I stand ready to hear diverse -- even dissenting -- points of view."

Such a pledge would cost Barack Obama little to make or to fulfill. There is no obligation to act on what the delegations say, only to be accessible, listening occasionally to more than one ideology. More than one brain trust of cloned advisors. Indeed, the legitimacy of an administration will be enhanced if we see the president receive articulate, passionate emissaries, representing diverse opinions and walks of life.

(In fact, what better way to contrast his administration vs the Bush-Cheney era?)

  --- A return to our traditions ---

During the first era of our republic, private citizens used to knock on the door of the White House and ask to see their nation's leader. As recently as the time of Harry Truman, there was a slim chance of seeing the president somewhere in public, buying socks for real, not as a publicity stunt. Not thronged by photographers and Secret Service agents. There is genuine peril in losing this connection between power and everyday life.

If today's president cannot safely venture among us, representatives of sundry outlooks should have a route to him or her. With this precedent set, not just public figures, but individuals from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed might win a chance to plead their case before the highest official in the land.

Moreover, this would give those tens of millions who lost the election something. A token perhaps.  But far more than they expect. A gesture of respect. A vow to listen.


And that concludes this series. (See the beginning of Unusual Suggestions to the Obama Administration)

I will post the entire series at: http://www.davidbrin.com/labor.html

I am proud to live in an era and a nation where a fellow like me -- notoriously outspoken and contrarian -- has the means and opportunity to voice proposals that range from mundane to ingenious to outright crackpot.  We all have to offer what we can, in order to keep momentum going, in this, the greatest of all human renaissance eras.

Final note:.... I have vowed to deeply REDUCE blogging, limiting myself to maybe two postings per month.  (Except for quickie news flashes.)  In fact, those who really care or admire me at all will help me keep to this promise!

Of course, this fond hope is based on a fervent wish and prayer that this nation, civilization, species has a good year ahead, a steady climb toward wisdom...

...as I hope and pray for you, in the year and years ahead.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Suggestion #19: Consider a few CRACKPOT ITEMS

Concluding this series of “unusual suggestions for America and the Obama Administration.)”   I will offer a list of notions that are even more unusual -- some possibly borderline strange -- befitting a guy who earns his living partly from sci fi!

Then I’ll finish with a final suggestion --something that is just plain wise.

---- First Crackpot Item ---

Are you sick of the way the Loony Right keeps dodging and weaving and shifting ground?  They do this in part to dazzle and distract the Decent Conservatives of America from noticing that their hijacked movement is no longer about facts, but two decades of bizarre stories and never-fulfilled predictions. Disprove one and it is always replaced by new stories, new distractions. Examples from a vast bestiary:

- “Supply side gifts and tax breaks for the rich won’t worsen deficits, but will erase them! It will stimulate the economy and lessen social gulfs, rather than widen them!”  (A thirty year experiment, decisively disproved.)

 - “Saddam has weapons of mass destruction... no, that wasn’t our reason for going in, at all!  It was ties to terror! No, it’s nation-building! Did we once call ‘nation-building’ stupid? Us?  Never!”

 - “Just you wait: the Clintons will be proved corrupt traitors and murderers, just as soon as decent republicans control the Justice Department and open all the files! And whenever you prove one allegation false, I’ll hurl others!”
  (Hint: after 14 years, not one Clinton official has ever even been indicted for a single crime-of office. Not one. Ever.)

I could go on, ad infinitum, and most of you are already familiar with this tidal wave of nonsense.  But the key point here is not to indict the Right for being wrong a lot! The public has already awakened to that fact.  Rather, it is to express awe toward the neocon spinmeisters, who can veer and gyre with stunning agility, spewing story after story to keep their base in a culture-war rage, without ever proving even one of their tales.

Hence, my first crackpot suggestion:

Make wagers!  I have experimented with this method and it really does work.  Every time my gopper pals come up with yet another story -- about Obama’s nefarious background or his plans to confiscate all private firearms -- I dare them to lay money on the line.  To back their certainty and bluster with guts and cash!

“If you’re so certain about this,” I demand, “then give me odds!  It should be easy money for you.”

Watch how fast they backpedal!  Oh, how I wish I had done this over their supply side predictions, their UN “black helicopters”, their Vince Foster inanities, and so many other fabulations.  Make it a matter of both currency and courage!  Demand that they back up their slanders and fictions, like men.  Or else, calm down and earn some credibility, for a change.  (Again, I have found this really does work.  I’ve not only forced friends to take some deep breaths and back off... but also made some nice wads of cash, when they foolishly agreed!)

(Added note: every time I hear someone yatter nonsense about doomsday in the year 2012, I demand a bet!  You should too!  Think about how it’s a total win-win!)

---- A related matter: take credit! ---

     The most agile thing the democrats could do is to make explicit that free enterprise works better when they rule. In fact, everything conservatives should want does better, including reduced premarital sex, STDs, domestic violence and even abortion.

So?  Time to get aggressive. Attack the right’s rationalizations and fictions.  For example, under Jimmy Carter, capital gains taxes went from 49% to 24%, far more of a tax cut than under Reagan. Carter did more and far better deregulations of unwarranted government meddling in markets, even while adding much-needed government efforts in energy, that would have borne fruit by now, if Reagan hadn’t gelded them.  Just one Carter reform, allowing pensions to invest 10% in Venture funds, is credited with stimulating the Silicon Valley boom that gave us the prosperous nineties. (Note my special trick here. Every criterion I have chosen is one that conservatives supposedly care about! In fact, liberals and moderates should always do this - point out that conservative Americans should despise conservative leaders and the GOP and prefer the democrats... entirely in conservative terms!)

Above all, pound home the correlations that can no longer be denied.  Except under Eisenhower, and a couple of years of Reagan, things generally go far worse under republican rule than when dems are in charge.  Fight “stories” with facts..

----- Launch a peace and love offensive aimed at Tehran. ---

     Think Nixon-to-China.  The Iranian people are ready.  At least the students and urban folk are, plus several million expatriates. All intelligence info and polls show that they are sick and tired of the mullahs and only Condi Rice’s incessant saber rattling has sufficed to drive them into the arms of the islamists time and again.  In fact, nothing terrifies the mullahs more than an American charm offensive... starting with the one thing that the Iranians have demanded since 1979 -- an apology for the Shah.  (What would it cost us?)

Timed and phrased right, this can be done without sacrificing US honor or prestige... and might even help the moderate, Khatami, get back into power. And if we’re snubbed?  It will hurt us HOW, to be seen earnestly trying for friendship?

 Only remember who you’ll cross if you do this!  Not only the mullahs, but the Saudis, as well.  The reason they ordered Condi’s saber-rattling is clear.  Fear of a restored friendship between America and Iran.

------  States rights. ---

 Why didn’t even one democrat raise this issue?  When every republican effort in this century seemed aimed at concentrating power in an imperial presidency?   Oh, meanwhile, collect all the Cheney-isms about how the Presidency is answerable to nobody, and hurl them in the neocons’ faces.  Without, that is, actually using their awful rationalizations.

And now, just to prove that I’m not biased in favor of the (fictitious) “left”... here’s a far more “rightward” (but reasonable) crackpot item from my 2006 “Suggestions to Congress" article.  

--- Steal and co-opt the "good parts" of gingrich's  "Contract With America" ----

    Wait! Don't leave! Please stop and think about it. What deed could possibly embarrass the GOP more than pointing out half a dozen solemn promises from the "contract" that Republicans betrayed?  Here are the “good parts” of that Contract that the GOP never kept..

- requiring all laws that apply to the country also apply to Congress;
 - arranging for regular audits of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
 - limiting terms of committee chairs and party leadership posts;
 - banning the proxy votes in committee and law-writing by lobbyists;
 - requiring committee meetings to be open & public;
 - guaranteeing honest accounting of our Federal Budget.

Really, who could object to these items? Indeed, what could be a more powerful blow to the GOP than to remind Americans of these broken promises... and then for Democrats to fulfill them at long last? (While mocking the “bad” parts of the Contract, that were fulfilled.)

Indeed, just the right olive branches may lure the “decent conservatives” out there to finally perform their own “miracle of 1947” and cut off their unholy alliance with kleptos and troglodytes.  It seems worth a gesture or two!

---- Do something about the prisons ----

   Now, veering “left” again... (actually, staying “sensible”), let’s fix the absurd fact that the USA has by far the highest percentage of its population behind bars.  Far more that Cuba or China or Russia.  Of course this is related to the absurd Drug War and so, finding some reasonable “medical” solution to personal drug use would seem to make sense.  One example: perhaps half of our prisoners might better be declared semi-competent wards of the state who must check in weekly to clinics, while living at home and working -- or possibly getting clean at voluntary conservation camps -- rather than costing us millions to incarcerate.  I don’t have any perfect answer.  But, what we’re doing is wrong.

--- Initiate a discussion about the future of capitalism. 

    Among possible reform topics that would not disrupt our creative markets, but possibly prod them back toward sanity:

- Does the present “C Corporation” - an immortal entity with most of the rights of a human being, but very few of the responsibilities - need some tweaking or revision? So that “success” is rewarded across decades, and not by maximizing stock price peaks for insider sales? Or so that the minimal conscience of a normal person can be expected or demanded?  See also the concept of the “B Corporation.”

 - Revise “corporate democracy” to reward involved, long-term stockholders and limit the power of passive proxies.  Consider a transaction tax to limit volatility and to control a “churn-hungry” financial caste.

 - Sharply limit the recent abuse of interlocking corporate directorates, with a narrow CEO clan of golf buddies voting each other vast compensation packages in the most outrageous racket ever seen.  (Think about it. If CEO compensation truly were “competitive,” then these high salaries would have -- by natural capitalist incentive -- drawn fresh supplies of managerial talent toward the field! Till the price of good managers fell back down again. That’s something called -- capitalism. In other words, every excuse for these “incentive packages” boils down to anti-market hypocrisy.)

 - Ban the undergraduate business major?  I am only partly joking or exaggerating about this one.  We have been very badly served by an “MBA caste” made up of people who think that the purpose of companies is to give them papers and money and people to shuffle around, while charging commission on each shuffle.  Hypocrites on the right think this is solely a crime of government, but it is in the corporate world that locust swarms of bureaucrats have taken over, thinking they are geniuses because they vote each other bonuses.  Would it hurt for every member of the managerial caste to have at least once been required to make a product or deliver an actual service, so they might remember what market capitalism is supposedly for?

---- Let’s finally find out who owns what!  ----

    I’ve mentioned this before, but it seems crucial.  Instead of seeking to raise taxes or more socialist interventions, we should respond to the recent kleptocratic raid by demanding that the present laws, taxes and markets be allowed to work!  And one thing would help above all, revealing who owns what and where all the money is.”

The only people who ought to fear this are crooks and tax evaders. Moreover, the billions that could be reclaimed from them might not only erase deficits but even let tax rates fall, for honest men and women.  It is called transparency, economists (even right wing ones like Hayek) know it is the fundamental element needed for markets to function, and it could be radically better than it is.  And if transparency becomes radically better, ironically, it could stave off many forms of radicalism.  (Conservatives who oppose this, again, are the most fragrant hypocrites.)

Oh, while we’re at it... at long last, call in the greenback!  Every other major country has replaced its currency by now, with important positive effects for honest taxpayers.  The rationalizations being offered by opponents - who claim the greenback is forever special, different, and sacred - are getting ridiculous and awfully long in the tooth.

---- Create a whistleblowers/predictions registry!----

    The intelligence communities, the economic bureaucrats, the professionals of all stripes, keep promising that they are on top of things.  That they can anticipate what’s coming.  But every year, we hear of people who were right in the past, yet ignored.  In the 1980s, one fellow forecast the S&L crisis.  Did he rise in influence after?  In the 1990s, another warned repeatedly that Orange County would go bust.  What about those who said Saddam would invade Kuwait in 91? Or that there were no WMDs in 2002?  Or take this example:

His repeated warnings that Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff was running a giant Ponzi scheme have cast Harry Markopolos as an unheeded prophet.

But people who know or worked with Markopolos say it wasn't prescience that helped him foresee the collapse of Madoff's alleged $50 billion fraud. Instead, they say diligence and a strong moral sense drove his quixotic, nine-year quest to alert regulators about Madoff.  Markopolos waged a remarkable battle to uncover fraud at Madoff's operation, sounding the alarm back in 1999 and continuing with his warnings all through this decade. The government never acted, Madoff continued his ways, and people lost billions.

Some modest strides toward prognostication-accountability are coming, through the new field of prediction markets.  Some intelligence agencies are making timid steps. But this is an area we simply have to get far better-at, and fast!  This isn’t the place for details, but I raise some intriguing possibilities elsewhere. http://www.davidbrin.com/predictionsregistry.html

--- Let’s talk about Privatized Force... ---

   Blackwater in Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg.  More and more, aspects of security, and even justice, are being diverted into secretive and unaccountable private hands. sometimes featuring terrible abuses, as happened during Hurricane Katrina.  This is an ancient pattern going back to before history began, and we re enter the Mercenary Era at great risk.

Even if we put aside moral implications, there are historical dangers: Mercenaries inherently do not want to solve problems completely, but rather to maintain ferment as a source of demand for lucrative services. Quiet-calm-efficient means of achieving national goals get replaced by noisy-frenetic-inefficient ones that offer opportunities for parasitism. The power of prison guard unions illustrates what can happen when this becomes a full-scale political constituency.

--- ...and the privatized sky ---

    Anyway, the rich are already abandoning us to our fates, in the deteriorating airports and airlines, fleeing from First Class into charters and corporate jets, avoiding all the frisking and hassles.  I’ve spoken of this before.  When the elites abandon a mode of transportation (e.g. railroads in the 1950s) it starts to die.  And the gulf between the mighty and the Little People widens.  (For more on this see David Rothkopf’s book SUPERCLASS.  And see if anybody would deny that free enterprise faces just as much danger from an ancient human tendency, even older and more dangerous than socialism.

--- Stop letting taxpayer subsidized companies “shout” into space ---

     All right, this one is going to sound super-crackpot.  But as we speak, a private company, the Deep Space Communications Network, in Florida, is engaged in the routine practice of using dishes that were paid for by the U.S. taxpayer, to assist in NASA missions, to transmit commercial stunt messages -- for everything from snack food companies to Craigs List -- into outer space.  Supposedly to sell music videos and garage sale items to aliens.  Sure, it sounds harmless enough, and it might be!  But that’s the problem, we just don’t know.

See an evaluation of the cult phenomenon called METI or “Message to Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Shouting to the Cosmos.”

What’s offensive isn’t that these messages are likely to bring alien invasion or death. (It doesn’t seem likely.) But that it is being done without a scintilla of open discussion in the scientific community, or the slightest consideration by government, which is, after all, supposed to be looking out for even unlikely dangers, and giving them whatever study they deserve.

In fact, this is part of a very general problem.  We have no idea why humans seem to be alone in the cosmos.  But it may imply the universe is dangerous, with many ways for intelligent species to fail -- ways that go beyond nuclear war, bio-terror and climate change (the perils that seem right in front of our faces.)  I suppose what I am saying is that at least a little effort should be given to appraising, cataloguing and rating a list of things that might go wrong, like they try to do over at the Lifeboat Foundation.  After all, isn’t that supposed to be one of government’s jobs?

And if that notion seems too crackpot, the other one is (unfortunately) all to down to Earth and real.

See more articles on SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

--- Look into the radicalization of the Military Academies --

   Hardly any attention has been paid to a potentially disturbing issue.  Indeed, all I have to go on is anecdotes from a few high-placed sources.  Nevertheless, there is strong reason to believe that a hundred or so extremist members of Congress  -- the sort who are only in office because of district-level radicalism that is propelled by geerymandering (see#18) -- have been using their appointment privilege to wage Culture War against the United States of America, by appointing cadets to several of the elite U.S. service academies, based not upon intellect or other relevant qualifications, but based primarily upon adherence to severely dogmatic creeds.

Judging by anecdotes and appearances, the problem is worst at the Air Force Academy and has been resisted stiffly by the US Navy.  Frankly, I cannot say that this phenomenon has crested to dangerous levels, though harrassment of non evangelical cadets has been scandalous at Colorado Springs.  But I do believe that the new administration should assign some people to look into it. Procedures may need changing. Certainly, all religion-based intimidation has got to stop.

Go ahead and search.  You’ll not find anyone who spoke up earlier to defend the United States Officer Corps against the abuse and suffering that was inflicted by Bush and his minions upon these brave and dedicated and extremely brainy men and women.  There are ways in which they have -- often discreetly and quietly -- stood up for us all against enemies both foreigh and domestic -- the latter requiring care and tact and precise judgment.  Now is not the time to allow fanatics to conspire a change in the fundamental character of this crucial American clade.  And Democrats, above-all, need to wake up to this fact.

 We have been well-served by an Officer Corps that is elite, professional, intellectually impressive and dedicated, above all else, to the Constitution

All right.  That’s a lengthy enough list of “crackpot items.”  Any one of which might make it easy for clusters of folk to dismiss me as a kook.  Which is a pity.  Because that makes them far too closeminded!  Fortunately, this is the first civilization to recognize that The Wide Perspective is a gift ;-)  And when you think wide and deep, it means challenging assumptions.  In other words, I’d be a failure at my job and craft, if some fraction of my ideas did not sound... well... strange.

Note:  The next posting will be my last in this series.  And it will also be well into a new year -- when I have vowed to deeply REDUCE the blogging!  After this, I will try to limit myself to maybe two postings per month.  (Except for quickie news flashes.)  In fact, those who really care or admire me at all will help me keep to this promise!!   But first....one last suggestion.

Or: Return to the Beginning of the series