Monday, February 02, 2009

Now is the winter of our discontent... made glorious summer by “that one” Barack....

Get it? Rolls off the tongue? Ah well.

Having cut back my political screeds to once a month - and maybe twice a month for other matters - let me start February's mensual political flashflood with....


In my previous missive, I remarked on how President Obama’s inaugural address proposed to “restore science to its proper place.” Signifying that we may (at long last) be departing a proudly know-nothing era.   Only later did I recall where I had seen a similar phrase:

Our countrymen have recovered from the alarm into which art and industry had thrown them; science and honesty are replaced on their high ground.
     - Thomas Jefferson, on entering office and repealing the Alien & Sedition Acts

Dang, is Obama mining everybody for ideas?  First Lincoln, then both Roosevelts, JFK, Reagan, Ike and now Jefferson?  Not that I’m complaining about the quality of his sources...

Also last time, I spoke of what I considered to be the most “telling” word in his speech - notable because he did not have to mention it.  Of course, I was glad to hear tolerance, responsibility, justice, progress, openness, accountability and so on, spoken with intense sincerity, for a change.  Other virtues, freedom and leadership, seemed to be rescued from the bizarre half-meanings they held in recent years.  Still, in a sense, he had to mention all of those.  But what sparked my interest was a word that nobody expected - and that would win no particular political or rhetorical points.  It was totally his own volition to include curiosity.  I suggested that this may reveal much about the man.

As a quick followup, before heading on to other matters in a long monthly compendium, I must turn from curiosity to the other “c-word” that lurks, like a ghost at the banquet. Almost diametrically opposite, this anti-virtue represents perhaps the worst trait of the awful gang who left our country such a shambles.  No, not “corruption” or “criminality” or “cretinous.” The worst Bush era anti-virtue was certainty.

The kind of absolute certainty manifested by a clade that demolished the very same Pax Americana they claimed to love, by pursuing, with absolute determination (plus contempt for all criticism) policies that proved to be at-best wrong, and often criminally delusional. Even the “reform minded” McCain-Palin ticket shared this strange and childish anti-value, stressing proudly, over and over, their perfection of will, an iron-jawed grit that arises straight from the gut, not out of any namby pamby enlightenment process of assertion, evidence, argument, negotiation or reciprocal accountability. A stubborn, schoolyard obstinacy that is elevated and extolled as something somehow admirable.

This, I believe, is the root cause of the situation that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bemoaned last week, in a blunt warning to Republicans: “We’re all concerned about the fact that the very wealthy and the very poor, the most and least educated, and a majority of minority voters, seem to have more or less stopped paying attention to us. And we should be concerned that, as a result of all this, the Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one.”

No doubt, in McConnel’s mind, the GOP “region” is geographical -- largely the South and the Mormon Belt.  But I think a map that would be even more telling is wherever towns and counties have seen their smartest young people move away, via university and profession, leaving behind those who feel viscerally abandoned, resentful and hurt.  I refer to Limbaugh-Land, where citizens have only limited access to diversity, or diverse opinions, but live instead immersed in media voices who preach nothing but indignant fury.  And if there is one thing about addictive indignation, we know that it flourishes best in an ambience of unswerving, unquestioned certainty.

Oh, there are some things in life that do merit gritty resolution. Love of family.  Loyalty. Freedom (in the true sense, and not reducing it to a tribal totem-slogan). Also courage, charity, and a willingness to keep fighting for a better world -- first through negotiation but also by confronting bona fide “evil-doers.”  Heck, I can go for all of that, and fie upon snooty/urban fools who sneer at such things, from an equally-flaky left!  We need to improve, a great deal!  But of all nations -- especially those that were ever tempted by great power -- none could ever brag of a higher ratio of goodness over villainy and error.

Anyway, wasn’t that supposed to be the purpose of Pax Americana?  Moreover, from the ecstatic worldwide reception given President BHO, perhaps people all over the world still feel that ought to be our role.  We may have one more chance to prove we deserve it for the crucial time that it takes to forge a grownup civilization.  Of that much, I feel certain.

Nevertheless, it’s become clear why right-wing “certainty” has such a grip, festering still, in at least a quarter of the nation.  It offers a clear and simple rebutal against those postgrad-educated folk who talk like they know so much -- and probably do -- but who are so superior and irritating.  After all, in Hollywood films, isn’t it the villain who goes on and on, in polysyllabic, explanatory monologues about how logical his plan is?  Until the hero -- Bruce Willis, or Sylvester or Arnold -- simply shouts “Oh, yeah?” and blasts the scoundrel with utter moral... certainty?

In other words, doesn’t this attitude resonate in American tradition?  Without it, might we long ago have tumbled into a different nightmare?  Technocracy, or rule by the smartypants? Ew!

During our present pendulum swing back toward sanity and calm thought, let’s remember that the know-nothings do have a complaint.  It is 95% crap, but we would be wrong to respond to their moronic contempt with a similar (if reciprocal)... certainty.


Which leads me to an article published recently in the Wall Street Journal by Eliot A. Cohen, Condoleeza Rice’s foreign policy advisor, or the (supposedly) smart guy who guided the smart people who guided Pax Americana for all but two months (so far) of the 21st Century.  In “How Government Looks at Pundits” Cohen offered his list of reasons why government insiders have little patience or use for input from others, beyond the narrow circle of those who receive “three-to-six-inch-thick briefing books, every day.”

 On the discussion list of SIGMA (the “think tank of scientific science fiction authors”) several members were all-aflutter over how this splash of cold water should remind us outside consultants to keep our expectations low, no matter who is in power or what philosophies or personalities guide our myriad agencies.

Appalled at this complacent acceptance, I’m afraid I went a bit ballistic!  Nobody else seemed to recognize Cohen’s article as a lengthy and utterly horrific apologia by one of the chief architects of the demolition of the American Pax,. In-effect, a longwinded whine about how nobody but a uniform and self-referential ingroup should ever expect to be heeded.

In vain, I searched his article for any mention of processes that might track outcomes and/or re-appraise policies in light of predictive success or failure.  No mention of the pragmatic aim of finding people - both inside and outside of government - who happen to be right a lot and bringing them into the “briefing books” layer.  No interest - or curiosity - about how his own error-avoidance methods might improve.  Nor, of course, any awareness that the self-limiting perspective that he described might be a pathology. A perniciously destructive one, that merits correction by smart, sincere, skilled and patriotic people.

What I did find was the following especially bizarre excerpt:

”Do not prescribe a policy that the current group of officials cannot hope to implement because of who they are. I have had highly intelligent individuals -- including some with senior government experience -- sit in my office and lay out perfectly plausible policies that the current team, limited by time remaining in office, the pressure of competing and more urgent crises, and the all important mix of personalities, could never hope to put into effect. Moreover, core beliefs and style constrain policy makers profoundly. So don't ask them to do something outside their range of psychological possibility by, for example, proposing cold-eyed realpolitik to a band of idealists or vice versa.”

So, let me get this straight.  We are to be guided by a core “band” that steers the ship of state with gut-level certainty, while accepting no advice, no feedback or course-correction based on ongoing metrics, having culled themselves of not only diversity of philosophy, but any difference in personality?   As if any leader worth more than a bucket of warm seawater would not make sure to employ realists and idealists and all kinds that might both temper and challenge one another?  Questioning assumptions and seeking good ideas, whatever the source?

Reminder, this was the best and most highly-touted kind of “expert” that we got under Bush.  The very brightest of the brightest of those who have been ruling us, all but two months of the 21st century. With results and outcomes that are blatantly obvious to all.


What bothers me above all else?  I’ve raised it many times before, from Defense Department consultations to magazine articles -- the issue of fragility vs resilience, and how much less robust we’ve become.  Especially, my teeth ache over small tweaks of public policy that might address so many these manmade fralities and potential failure modes.  A few examples:

1) Reversing the inventory tax (e.g Thor Power Tools) into a mild inventory incentive could ease a curse that was bequeathed on us by the same MBA dunces who invented "efficient investment instruments."  I speak of "just-in-time" delivery practices that leave our industries and cities without any reserves, to keep us going in case of transport disruptions.  (Taxing inventory would seem to be especially unwise right now, when unsold goods are piling up at companies in delicate health.)

2) A minuscule tax on un-hardened electronics - something very small would do no harm but exert perpetual pressure on Intel, Ford etc to come up with chips and electronics that won't be fried by a simple EMP.

3) Require that all cell phones have a backup peer-to-peer, packet-based system, allowing simple text messages to leave an afflicted area, even when normal cell towers are down.  Thus empowering citizens to communicate, when they need it most.

4) Tax incentives for companies to sponsor CERT team (civil defense) training among employees and neighbors.

Those are just four (of many) relatively small "stitch in time" policy endeavors that could add robustness to society without costing much at all.

Here is another one from author Wil McCarthy: Adding some capacitance to the power grid would be a big deal, too. The  reason our current grid can't support more than about 10% wind power is because it's an LRC circuit with no C. The reason power failures can cascade out of control: same deal. The current system is very brittle. A power grid with distributed capacitance could, for example, go into a  "safe mode" where all the interconnects were severed either regionally,  locally, or even down the neighborhood level, and run independently for a few minutes (or even hours) while the problem is sorted out. The ability to break up the grid for even a few seconds would make it a lot less vulnerable to spikes, EMP, sabotage, etc. Why not pay property owners to house an ultracapacitor or battery bank, the same way cell phone companies pay for towers? For serious storage, you can even go to hydrolysis and fuel cells, although that's more hazardous and requires more infrastructure. I'm also a big fan of the Mormon practice of keeping a two-year supply of food on hand.


Some of you have checked out my 100 unusual suggestions for the Obama Administration.”  Now here’s another.

 Facing Obama’s 70% approval ratings (the highest since Eisenhower), and especially after experiencing the President’s forthcoming and genial engagement, Congressional republicans are playing nice... verbally, that is. Said Mitch McConnell: "I know I'm speaking for every single member of our conference that we appreciated his coming up (to meet with Coingressfolk), and enjoyed the whole exchange." To some extent, Republicans -- along with the rest of the country -- may still be getting used to having a president who realizes Congress exists as an independent branch of the federal government, and not merely as a collection of 535 minor irritants to be alternately steamrolled or ignored. As another GOP aide joked, Obama paid more attention on Tuesday to House Republicans than George W. Bush did in most of the last eight years.

Alas, this did not extend to offering any support for the economic rescue package. (Which, frankly, has in it some items I would like to have seen the GOP members assertively and pragmatically bargain-down!  The aren’t always wrong, at the level of specifics.) The GOP members voted nay, as a bloc, in order to position themselves, in case BHO’s program fails.

One tactic the dems might try -- pass, by a narrow partisan majority, a bill without any GOP-loved sweeteners.  Then offer a vote on a replacement package that contains such sweeteners, but requiring a super-majority.  Let’s see if their business constituents will act swiftly to null out the political gamesmanship.


Those who have been following my political commentaries know that I have long favored efforts to wean our more decent conservative neighbors away from their reflex-driven alliance with the kleptos and know-nothings who have hijacked their movement.  Conservatism, in its better form, deserves a place at the negotiating table, but it can only return to credibility if its saner members gather the courage and patriotism to do what democrats and liberals did in 1947 -- by cutting themselves off from monsters, dogmatists, troglodytes and a bona fide criminal gang.

And an older essay (still relevant).

Those interested in following up on this concept can find more grist for thought in "Building a Rhetorical Bridge To (and For) Reasonable Conservatives," by my colleague in the SIGMA think tank of scientific science fiction authors, Dr. Charles E. Gannon. Most insightful.

Ex GOP Congressman and Heritage Foundation co-founder Mickey Edwards writes about his realization that today’s neocon movement has abandoned Ronald Reagan’s version of conservatism -- along with Locke and Madison and any kind of common sense.  Of course, I’ve been long pointing out that it is much worse than that.  Today’s “conservatism” has betrayed - above all - Adam Smith and market capitalism.  Indeed, its central paradigm is to assist the quasi feudal crony-aristocratism that Smith despised as the worst and most consistent foe of market enterprise.

Somebody refer Mr. Edwards to my paper about the “miracle of 1947”? 


Atlas Shrugged Updated For The Current Financial Crisis. by Jeremiah Tucker

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?

And now... although I have more items (a lot!) to offer, I’ll clip and offer them only to the die-hards among you!  By posting them below, under “comments.”  Some are cute or weird.  All political.

Above all, I am hoping that politics will simply matter less, real soon! I am tired of it.  I want civilization to consider politics just another problem solving tool, one among many, and no longer obsess on it, as (ironically) has been the case under the error... er, era... of the neocons.


David Brin said...


Transparency International does tremendously important work, helping shine sunlight patches of malignant corruption all over the world. By some estimates, graft may slice away a quarter of potential economic progress -- and much more in parts of the developing world. TI publishes an annual Perceptions of Corruption index that highlights which countries are perceived by outsiders as getting -- or desperately needing -- clean government... and where they don’t. Naturally, as author of the Transparent Society, I think highly of these efforts.

This year's list covers 180 countries and autonomous territories, with the country considered "cleanest" ranking first, and the country perceived as most corrupt placing 180th. It finds Denmark, New Zealand, and Sweden in a three-way tie for the cleanest reputations, with Singapore just behind. Somalia beats Iraq and Burma for the worst. The United States ties with Japan and Belgium for an unremarkable 18th place,* just below Ireland and the United Kingdom and just above St. Lucia, Barbados, and Chile. America's position has drifted downward, but not dramatically so. This year's 18th-place ranking compares to 15th on the 1995 list and 14th in 2000, but is a bit better than the 20th-place rankings of 2006 and 2007.

An article in The Nation by Naomi Klein discusses how the kleptos appear to be determined to keep on mega-stealing until the very last moment that they possibly can.

”In a moment of high panic in late September, the US Treasury unilaterally pushed through a radical change in how bank mergers are taxed--a change long sought by the industry. Despite the fact that this move will deprive the government of as much as $140 billion in tax revenue, lawmakers found out only after the fact. According to the Washington Post, more than a dozen tax attorneys agree that "Treasury had no authority to issue the [tax change] notice."

“Of equally dubious legality are the equity deals Treasury has negotiated with many of the country's banks. According to Congressman Barney Frank, one of the architects of the legislation that enables the deals, "Any use of these funds for any purpose other than lending--for bonuses, for severance pay, for dividends, for acquisitions of other institutions, etc.-- is a violation of the act." Yet this is exactly how the funds are being used.”

Bernard L. Madoff , the former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, also ran a hedge fund that U.S. prosecutors said racked up $50 billion of fraudulent losses.
Madoff told senior employees of his firm on Wednesday that "it's all just one big lie" and that it was "basically, a giant Ponzi scheme," with estimated investor losses of about $50 billion, according to the U.S. Attorney's criminal complaint against him. This would make Madoff's fund one of the biggest frauds in history. When Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, one of the largest at the time, it had $63.4 billion in assets.

OPEC will find it difficult to increase oil prices in the near-term as each member is better off cheating on its oil production quotas regardless of what the rest of the cartel does.And see other interesting articles by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. edition/columnists/kurt-zenz-house/opec-and-the-prisoners-dilemma

As Commerce secretary, Hoover also hosted two national conferences on street traffic, in 1924 and 1926 (a third convened in 1930, during Hoover's presidency). Collectively the meetings were called the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety. Hoover's chief objective was to address the growing casualty toll of traffic accidents, but the scope grew and soon embraced motor vehicle standards, rules of the road, and urban traffic control. He left the invited interest groups to negotiate agreements among themselves, which were then presented for adoption by states and localities. Because automotive trade associations were the best organized, many of the positions taken by the conferences reflected their interests. The conferences issued a model Uniform Vehicle Code for adoption by the states, and a Model Municipal Traffic Ordinance for adoption by cities. Both were widely influential, promoting greater uniformity between jurisdictions and tending to promote the automobile's priority in city streets.

Interesting arguments between a Carbon Tax and the Cap-And-Trade approaches to combatting CO2 emissions. Normally I’d prefer the simplicity of the tax. But with Republicans lurking, eager to screech at any mention of the T Word.... edition/roundtables/carbon-tax-vs-cap-and-trade#rt4600

Interesting bit from those guys at 538...Obama has received at least 68,724,397 popular votes for the Presidency. I say "at least" because they're still counting in California and several other states, and so Obama's total should wind up comfortably over 69 million; 70 million appears unlikely, but is not entirely out of the question.This total represents 22.62 percent of the Census Bureau's 2008 estimate of United States population, which was 303,824,640. That figure doesn't sound that impressive at first glance -- fewer than one in four Americans actually voted for Barack Obama -- but it's actually the second-highest percentage ever, trailing only Ronald Reagan’s re election in 1984: ...Modern candidates, it should be noted, have several distinct advantages over older ones. In particular, the vote now extends to women, African-Americans, and 18-to-21 year-olds, which it did not originally. There are no longer any poll taxes, or any of the widespread suppression of the black vote that was present until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Of course, BHO is far in front in the sheer number of votes received, ever.

Looking ahead! Rand Corp researcher David Ronfeldt has peered ahead toward the era when advanced media spur “cyberocracy”... which may “include new kinds of democratic, totalitarian, and hybrid governments, along with new kinds of state-society relations.” Interesting stuff. Worthy of comment.

My favorite part of Obama's new rules for releasing government info ;
"I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution."

Did you catch that "former president wants to withhold" This is an invitation for investigative reporting into the misdeeds of the Bush administration! What do you want to know about?


Pop quiz: For most of the Clinton years the capital gains tax rate was 28%. For most of the Bush years it was 15%. Under which president did investors do better? Here is the final accounting for equity markets under Bush and Clinton:

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up from 3253 to 10,587 under Clinton (+325%). On Bush’s final day in office it closed at 7949 (-24.9 %).

The S&P 500 went up from 447 to 1342 under Clinton (+300%). Under Bush it went down to 805 (-40%).The NASDAQ went up from 700 to 2770 under Clinton (+395%). It has gone down to 1465 under Bush (-47%)

(Of course, a really fair comparison would be to compare how things were with momentum, a couple of months after a prexy leaves office.)

That was a trick question, of course. The capital gains tax rate doesn’t determine how investors do in the equity markets. But that is the point. Had the markets done well under Bush it would have all been attributed to his tax cuts. Republicans try to attribute magical qualities to cuts in taxes on capital, especially the capital gains tax. Their current prescription for the country’s economic woes is further reduction – or elimination – of the capital gains tax. Next time you hear that pitch, ask, “How did those tax cuts work out under Bush?”

The job market didn’t do any better. The narrow measure of unemployment went from a 4.2% rate when Bush took office to 7.2% at the end of December (and certainly higher still when he left office). And, then, there was the more than $5 TRILLION that he added to the nation debt (roughly doubling it during his two terms). He had the six highest deficits in history, including a $485 billion deficit in just the first three months of fiscal 2009.

In this case, we must fight, tooth and nail, for the deficits of the 1st two years of Obama to be -- rightfully -- attributed to Bush.

See a summary of the Bush legacy from The Economist:

==== E-NUFF!======

Anonymous said...

On point 1: "It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant..."

Anonymous said...

"Limbaugh land."

Oh, gawd. Sounds like a horrifying theme park. I don't even want to think about it.

Being discussed in several places on the net is this essay:

Principles of the American Cargo Cult.

Rob Perkins said...

It's incorrect to regionalize Republican sentiment along State lines. Ignore them, and you'll find huge swaths of every State which do not necessarily correspond to its overlapping demographic label. (This is to say, "Since when was *Wyoming* part of the "Mormon Belt"?)

It's so much nonsense.

Also, what? I know a thing or two about LRC circuits. Site the ultracapacitor next to the battery at the wind turbine, and apply a bit of automation software and a remote supervising crew, and you can distribute and duplicate the capacitance banks of large generating sites without trouble.

You can't put an ultracapacitor at someone's house. They're lethal if opened and touched and siting the things at private residences invites that. You guarantee a root-caused death that way.

I'm very entertained by the notion that Mormon ideas (really just Bible/Torah ideas stretching all the way back to pre-Hyskos Egypt, if you think about it) are interesting to the same people who would marginalize the faction most likely to have a bit of wisdom about it. I'll try not to be super-resentful-human about that point, though.

On other subjects, "politics" had best offer a solution for health care very, very soon. We compared our family's insurance premiums for '09 with the '07 premiums. They've doubled, for a much smaller feature set. And that's before taking new age brackets into account, because I'm old enough this year for health care costs to really, really sting, even if I never darken a doctor's office door.

Woozle said...

Lately I've come to the conclusion that the big problem we face now, as a nation and as a civilization, is how to wrest people loose from an ideology which says they can only trust other people who believe the same things they do.

This seems related to what you were saying earlier on several counts -- most notably the curiosity-certainty dichotomy and self-referential ingroups.

The "only trust people who agree with you" meme seems to have been the prime motivator of Republican thinking for the past few decades.

It seems to me that this is one point on which there can be no compromise: the country -- and civilization -- must be directed by a philosophy that is open to question by "outsiders". (I'm sure I'm just restating themes that you've gone over and over in different ways, but maybe one more way of saying it is helpful.)


Minor notes: Wil McCarthy's suggestion about the power grid might actually have some "legs" with the Obama administration, as they seem to have the creation of a "smart power grid" as one of their favored large infrastructure projects.

Given the number of power outages we have around here -- generally losing several days a year, and depending heavily on our (ugh) gasoline-powered generator -- it sounds pretty good to me, too. I had already started looking into how to rewire our house power to run off a continually-recharged bank of batteries, but I don't expect to make any real progress anytime soon. With some incentives and encouragement from the top, however...

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Forget, please, "conservatism," please. It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

"[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth."

Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

John Lofton, Editor,

Recovering Republican

David Brin said...

Oy... Let's keep friendly, even though John seems unaware that he's entered a corner of ..."The Enlightenment Zone."

That doesn't mean folks here disbelieve in God. Some of us are reverent.

But it is a God who wants us to stand up and show what we can do. Not what incantations dogmatists insist that we recite.

Anonymous said...

OK - a friendly point to John:

R.L. Dabney, in that quote, may very well have been referring to conservatives giving in to the radical notion that slavery was rightfully abolished.

Read his "Defense of Virginia", which more accurately might be titled "Defense of Slavery". And yes, he based it on God and the bible as much as on historical evidence.

Alfred Differ said...

A bit of C in the circuit is necessary, but there are generators that sell into that part of the market.

The main thing that makes wind power difficult for us is that it is hard to balance the grid when it is a large percentage of the supply. Frequency control matters a great deal, but when load and supply get unbalanced many 'bad' things happen. Wind power supply is inherently hard to predict.

Rather than add a lot of C to the grid, consider adding demand response. Imagine if every incandescent light bulb could have the voltage dialed down from 110 to 100 or so when the frequency on the grid dropped a bit too much. The voltage drop wouldn't be detectable to most people, but the power saved would help a great deal to the balance. Make the voltage drop proportional to the frequency drop up to some limit and you've got a self-correcting feedback. Many other things besides the old light bulbs could participate in this with no damage. No ultracapacitors are needed right now if we try this first.

Anonymous said...

For your added "C" what we need is ELECTRIC CARS with the two way power supply from AC Propulsion (as used in the Tesla)
When thousands of people have kWh intelligent battery packs the grid will become wonderfully robust.

On the "Open Government" issue I have long believed that as there are penalties for breaking "Official Secrets" there should be penalties for inappropriately classifying things

Woozle said...

I got distracted and forgot to make part of my main point:

We need to stop thinking of the aforementioned ideology ("memetic protectionism", perhaps?) as something with which we can have intellectual discourse and negotiation and start thinking of it as a pathology to be cured.


To John Lofton: I try to keep an open mind towards religious concepts, but the problem with saying things like "to God [secular ideologies are] destined to failure" is that you are placing the supposed authority of God (however you may define it) behind your own opinions. How do you know they are destined to failure?

And the problem with saying things like "we have turned our back on God and refused to kiss His Son" is that it's way too metaphorical to be a recipe for practical action. What do you mean?


(And there I go trying to argue with that same meme again, despite what I said earlier -- but I feel it's important to make it show itself for what it is, rather than assuming guilt by association.)

Ilithi Dragon said...

Very good and interesting as usual, Dr. Brin. Lots of interesting things to go over further, as I find the time.

Also, everyone, remember to reset your Brin Kick-o-Meters for the new month! ;)

@John: As someone who firmly believes that mutual respect and tolerance of religion is a core principle of this country, and as a pagan, I find your statement that we need to return to God and that secular movements are doomed to failure by God to be rather offensive. You have every right to hold that opinion, and state it as your opinion, and I will never begrudge you that (though I do hold the right to state my disagreeing opinion). However, do not expect me, or anyone who does not share your faith, to show much respect towards your statement that we need to 'return to God' or what-have-you, especially when you state it as unquestioned fact (kinda like that 'certainty' thing Dr. Brin was talking about above). Again, you have every right to hold that opinion and theological belief, but I whole-heartedly disagree with you on it, and will, respectfully, inform you of the offense I take at such insistence.

Secticas: Female plural form of the Post-Modern Spanish noun "Sectico," or secular man. (Oh what sweet ironies)

David Brin said...

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
by Terry Pratchett

Full cast audio drama 90 min.
Available only till Friday

It begins narrated by a dead cat.

JuhnDonn said...

I wonder if this flight to certaintude (certainaity?) is a deep emotional response to future shock? The pace of change in all facets of society really started the upward slope in the 60's and it seems to mirror the rise in the rejection of curiosity and the desperate hold on certainty. I've had lifeguard training and scared people will do anything in their power to drag themselves and others under. Seems that we're seeing that played out on a world scale. Even the phenomenal grab for cash could be a symptom of this; stock piling 'safety' and 'respectability'. 'Course, they just went and managed to devalue a lot of that, like a swimmer dragging down their rescuer.

Man, people are weird!

Fake_William_Shatner said...

Gilmoure said...
I wonder if this flight to certaintude (certainaity?) is a deep emotional response to future shock?

Interesting point. I think that underneath all the rhetoric, that the leaders in the Corporatocracy and Republican party, certainly try to appeal to the Pavlovian response towards fear of change. Kind of like Palin's "our America is better than your America comments." If you ever want to see a lot of wife swapping -- try a small town in rural Georgia these days. A lot can happen when there is nothing on TV. But underneath all that, is the message that "small towns have less change."

However, the blow-up on Wall Street is certainly very Retro. They've done this before. If there is any nostalgia, its for Rockefeller kind of loot. The banks lost money, because the "smart money" left the market. Leaving the suckers in the Ponzi schemes.

Is Obama really change? I keep wondering -- it's hard to know. I in my gut, feel a certainty, that the "status quo won't change" message, is strongly coming from NeoCons and people with guilty consciences. They leak that nothing will change on internal spying, so that it looks like all this was somehow necessary under Bush. So, whether or not things are going to get more ethical, we are going to have crooks tell us that they are the same and that Obama is no different. Makes them feel better about bad choices and bad deeds.

But, is Obama really smart, or does he actually think that he can get Republicans to "help?" They cut their teeth on throwing stones at Clinton. They've never governed well, so being obstructionists is about all they are really good at. Can you not see the moral outrage already brewing over Tom Daschle's tax problems? I mean, it was already "move on" over corruption in the Bush administration, and that was last Tuesday. This Tuesday, I read articles about "stop bashing Wall Street" on the Wait! They aren't actually done pulling their hand out of my pocket yet. Can we at least "move on" to no prosecutions of the FED until AFTER they've stolen the last Trillion dollars? I understand that buckets with holes in them can carry water, if you leave the hose turned on -- so maybe we can bail out banks without seeing how 8 years of predatory loans and no usury laws can mean that all of a sudden they don't have money.

Either Obama knows about the real power running this country, and is trying to put industry insiders on his team to stay under the radar, or he actually thinks that hiring people who cause the problems is a way to solve them. The fundamental problem is; The Financial Market can't be where 25% of the wealth is. It makes BETS on who wins rather than is a source for IPO money these days -- there isn't any point to making all this money on money because it is always doomed to failure. Like homes that are many times the value of what people make for a living -- it is ultimately going to "correct" to actual value. When you've offshored the production of toys because Chinese lead paint is cheaper, well, then, there's even less value in holding the stock of a company like Mattel.

I can't tolerate the stupid anymore. I'm sick of debating "free trade" with people who are one month away from being downsized. How is the "buy American" provision controversial CNN? Maybe you can get the Chinese to also buy those products and watch CNN so we don't have to. Maybe we can outsource the news anchors, I'm sure we can fly out people who airbrush on tans and do plastic surgery, to keep their level of Journalism up to ours.

We either have publics works projects, or the government mandates a freeze on job cuts (perhaps with shorter work weeks like France did), or we make everyone poor, and we put them into the military. I'm absolutely sure, a Needful War can be created. But other than that, we have too much productivity and too much profits going to executives and being drained out by Multinationals. Unless workers get more money soon, then making money on money supported by thin air is going to keep crashing our economy.

I understand the fight for support Obama has to make with the Robber Barons running our media. But its going to have to take some real drastic action. The MAIN POWER Obama has is with revitalizing the Justice Department and the support of the Public. He is doing a great job taking his case to the people -- but he needs to get the crooks on the witness stand fighting for their freedom, rather than being free to throw rocks at his window. Obviously, the crooks still have time on their hands between breaks carrying money out of our Banks, to get on the TV and tell us how smart crooks can solve our problems.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm not sure that certainty and curiosity are just opposite ends of the same stick (although the sticks involved are in the same bundle, and the ends are pointing in different directions)

It would be interesting to mess about with one of those matrix graphs so beloved of consultants.

I suspect that an inclination towards 'certainty' (or intolerance of the unknown) thrives when there is a lack of curiosity, and thus no capacity to contemplate the unknown.

Expression of curiosity is driven, in large part, by stress (time pressures dictating how much effort you can expend on considering alternatives, and when you are content to believe in a 'just so' assumption. Even so, the naturally curious will have checked the assumptions)

I suspect that most members of this forum consider themselves as having a curious nature. Even so, there are times when things are just taken at face value because they seem reasonable and because it's too much effort to go and dig up proof (I know I do)

Short-term stress is one thing. Long term stress, especially on young children, is another. There is currently a long-term study being conducted in Australia which is seeking to assess what the formative pressures over the first seven years of life actually are.

The associated TV series ('Life At One, Three, etc.) investigates several fascinating areas (eg factors in childhood obesity) One point it investigates, in particular, is how a stressful environment tends to encourage the hardwire development of flight/fight responses in young children at the expense of more reflective learning and socialising skills. I would say the latter are essential for a curious nature to develop.

Now, I might be painting miniatures with a 3 inch brush here, but I hazard a guess that the red state rural population of 'how-low-can-you-go Limbaugh land' are living a more hand to mouth (ie stressful) existence than the rest.

pitin: yet another computer scripting language starting with 'p' (PITIN: Pitin Is The InterNet)

Anonymous said...

Let's see what the founders of the American experiment thought about religion, shall we?

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it." — John Adams

"Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects." — James Madison

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth." — Thomas Jefferson

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature." — Thomas Jefferson

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." — Benjamin Franklin

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all." — Thomas Paine

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." -- Treaty of Tripoli, ratified 10 June 1797

Cliff said...

Heck, I can go for all of that, and fie upon snooty/urban fools who sneer at such things, from an equally-flaky left!

Oh, honestly.
Can I at least get a concrete example of what the hell you're talking about when you bring this up?

Cliff said...

As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago

Yeah, and look how far the Confederacy has come! Oh wait...

Cliff said...

And another though on the Civil War (and I'm sorry to harp on it but it's as though Mr. Lofton has chosen the exact right person to completely discredit his stance):

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that he believes in divine retribution.
If so, Sherman's March to the Sea strikes me as being as firm a divine repudiation of a populace as one can ask for.
I mean, he devastated the region in such a way that it still hadn't recovered a century later. If that's not Old Testament, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Hey, guys, speaking of the Civil War and Stonewall Jackson and the deep south... Here's a picture of a Union prisoner from
the confederate prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia:

Hint: confederate prisoners held in union territory don't look like that. Not. One. Not. A. Single. One.

Care to guess which other political system produced prisoners who looked like that? That tell you anything about the "morality" of the southern cause and the confederacy...?

Anyway, here's a mix of upbeat and bummer news. Everything seems in flux right now, so hard to tell how things are going overall.

Nytimes says Obama is announcing a half mil pay cap for CEOs who get a bailout. Very definitely sounds like good news.

Of course the wall street Gordon Geckos have immediately started screaming that they won't be able to attract the
best and the brightest if these pay caps are forced on them.

I say, grrrrrrrrrrrreat! Hey! Sounds like a PLAN.
The best and brightest got us in this sinkhole of deluded folly with the entire world economy in the shitter, so I say let's throw the best and the brightest out of Wall
Street and let them sit on the side of the freeway holding cardboard signs that read WILL DESTROY WORLD ECONOMY FOR FOOD. See how far they get with that one.

NEW SCIENTIST reports on a study showing that sudden deaths among people held in custody exploded sixfold after tasers were introduced:

This one sounds like a biggie. Times Online reports Obama is seeking aggressive reductions of up to 80% of nuclear weapons in talks with Russia:

Unfortunately, Glenn Greenwald says Obama wants to increase the U.S. military budget by
40 billion:

Here's a neat story about a scientist who gets a bigger
bang for the buck in grants to buy supercomputers when
he builds them himself. Apparently you can build your own beowulf cluster from commodity parts now with open source software.

Watch out for tiny 25 cent and 48 cent charges on your credit and debit cards on your bank statement. Apparently it's Russian
mafiya computer thieves testing to see which cards are valid, then they max them out and drain them dry.

Finally! Congress has introduced a bill to help people remove themselves from that crazy TSA watch list. I wonder if this will work for the 4-year-olds who are on the watch
list and can't get off?

Aspen school district considers forcing students who want to buy lunch in the school cafeteria to use fingerprint ID:

Harvard has announced that a new topical treatment for herpes eliminates the disease. Since herpes simplex is a retrovirus,
that's big news. The catch is that so far it works in mice. So we'll have to see if it works in humans. If I had a dime for every cure that helped mice but did nothing for people, know.

But still. Let's hope. I think current stats
show that something like 1 out of every 3 women has herpes and 1 out of every 4 men has it. Sounds like a looming public health problem, so this would be especially good news.

This NEWSWEEK lead looks like a hit piece, but who knows.
So why weren't they running headlines about "Bush's Vietnam" for the last 7 years? Can somebody explain that to me?

Here's an article that claims U.S. unemployment stats should be much higher. Apparently the government is fudging the numbers with statistical tricks. I don't know enough about the statistics
to say for certain, but it does sound like the sort of the thing the people in power for the last 8 years have been doing with government statistics. Worth a read in any case.

Way too early to tell, but this nasa website article claims that the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere can't be
explained without life. I don't know enough biochemistry to say,
but according to NASA, the methane should dissipate quickly unless it's constantly replaced, and bacteria seem to be the simplest explanation. Time will tell, I guess.

"More losses in 2010 could push GOP to brink of collapse" Sounds like fun. Yum! Let me pop open a fresca and get some nachos so I can munch while I watch the meltdown.

This one just blows my mind. It's like something out of the great Krell machine from the movie Forbidden Planet -- energy in powers of ten going up, up, up to unimaginable levels, 100 orders of magnitude.

Here's something to be concerned about. New study says ocean fertilization not nearly as effective as was thought at capturing CO2:

Defense department announces civilian expeditionary force.
Anyone have any idea what that means?

This report from Japan describes the economic landscape there as
"a surreal mixture between Kafka and Dali." Since Japan has something
like the world's second biggest economy (or is it the third biggest
after Europe? Or the 4th biggest after China & Europe?), this matters.

JuhnDonn said...

DefenseLink News Article:
Defense Department Establishes Civilian Expeditionary Workforce

From my reading of it, the DoD is establishing a program that will make it easier to deploy DoD employees in support of military operations.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed Defense Department Directive 1404.10, which outlines and provides guidance about the program, on Jan. 23.

Certain duty positions may be designated by the various Defense Department components to participate in the program. If a position is designated, the employee will be asked to sign an agreement that they will deploy if called upon to do so. If the employee does not wish to deploy, every effort will be made to reassign the employee to a nondeploying position.

The directive emphasizes, however, that volunteers be sought first for any expeditionary requirements, before requiring anyone to serve involuntarily or on short notice. Overseas duty tours shall not exceed two years.

Employees in deployable-designated positions will be trained, equipped and prepared to serve overseas in support of humanitarian, reconstruction and, if absolutely necessary, combat-support missions.

The program also is open to former and retired civilian employees who agree to return to federal service on a time-limited status to serve overseas or to fill in for people deployed overseas.

Doesn't appear to be the DoD getting ready to draft Tom, Dick, and Harry and drop them in the middle of some firefight to dig ditches or greet folks at Walmart. Looks like various web sites have grabbed truncated versions of this story and are putting a spin on it.

Cliff said...

Unfortunately, Glenn Greenwald says Obama wants to increase the U.S. military budget by
40 billion

He put out an update to that post saying that the budget increase is only $14 billion. Still an increase, but better than before.

Also, the GOP is turning to Joe the Plumber for economic advice:

"More losses in 2010 could push GOP to brink of collapse"

Weird. I wonder if that could be related at all to Joe the Plumber.

JuhnDonn said...

Part of the gov't spending plan is for military bases to do one time improvements. That's where a lot of the $14B increase on DoD spending is going. And all that work is civilian employment. Have four cousins with clearances that get about 80% of their work (electricians and roofers) from local AFB.

This just hit White House Blog: The plan will create jobs in all 50 states, in industries across the spectrum. Over 90% of the jobs created will be in the private sector. We put together a fact sheet to show you, state-by-state, just how many jobs the plan aims to create.

But no matter what state you live in, with 2.6 million jobs lost last year and our economic crisis deepening, we can't afford to delay any longer.

*Just a couple of weeks ago, the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for America's Infrastructure issued an overall grade of D. From Katrina to the Minnesota bridge collapse, our nation's failure to take this infrastructure crisis seriously is blatant, and unacceptable. By making long overdue investments in our roads, bridges, transit, ports, and air security, this plan will put people back to work while making our nation safer and more prosperous in the future.

Anonymous said...

You can't put an ultracapacitor at someone's house. They're lethal if opened and touched and siting the things at private residences invites that.

Most large home appliances are also potentially lethal if opened and touched.

You'll need a lot more evidence to convince me that ultracapacitor installations are inherently less safe than the capacitors in a CRT or bog-standard line current. Nothing is safe for a sufficiently foolish user.

Anonymous said...

Gilmore and Anonomouz:

Could the "Civilian Expeditionary Force" be a way of getting the private contractors out of the picture? This way DoD personnel can be placed in the ancillary roles that the contractors currently hold thus keeping costs down, and probably increasing accountability since these are govt. employees

Rob Perkins said...

"Bog standard line current" amounts to 220V, 7.5 A. That's enough to deliver a round shock, but never enough to kill, unless you're soaked in salt water. Also, it's alternating current: You'll have the power to let go of the wire.

CRT's are phasing gradually out. There are tens of thousands of volts there, but almost no actual charge, compared to a UC.

A short explanation of the lack of lethal danger is here:

(If my math is off here, please someone correct me.)

Adapting the equation for a 32 inch TV (30kV, 3 nF is a gross overestimation) gives you an energy store of 1.4 joules. 1.4 watts per second. 0.71 seconds per watt.

If you send that through your million-ohm body to the ground, 30 milliamps of current will flow through you; you dissipate 900 watts if the current is constant. In one millisecond, the current is gone and you have a burn on your hand. If your heart is weak, there is a very slim chance your pacemaker will blow out.

A defibrillator dissipates over 300 joules when it goes off.

An ultracapacitor's energy storage potential is measured in full farads, not nanofarads. Discharge its store across the million ohms of your body, and you're dead before the neighbors hear the burned explosion as you combust quite suddenly from the inside out. Even a UC with only 5 farads capacitance will kill you before you know you're dead.

Yeah, UC's in an alternating current circuit have a net capacitance of zero; they're there to provide complimentary impedance. But I'd still want to be careful.



Acacia H. said...

Here's something to think about: Studies have shown that high fructose corn syrup, used in everything from bread to soda to soup, contains small amounts of mercury. The thing about mercury is that even trace amounts are toxic, and are difficult for the body to eliminate. Two studies have revealed this mercury contamination, and estimates are that around 50% of the corn syrup is contaminated.

The FDA has apparently known of this for years but sat on its heels twiddling its thumbs. Much like it did over the salmonella outbreaks with peanut butter products. What's more, corn syrup isn't really needed for many of the things it is used in; sugar would work just as well, and is (ironically) healthier for you.

My friend was wondering (as am I)... is our government trying to kill us off? Or cripple us mentally so that we blindly accept their thievery and theft of our basic rights?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Anonymous said...

A lot of people are talking about jumping beyond capitalism and markets. Commons-based peer production seems to be one of those possibilities, and there are others, like the free markets started by this murdered activist girl where people met to give away stuff they didn't want anymore.,0,6054846,full.story

Anyway, Umair Haque is going full-throttle on this post-capitalist reboot thing, and I don't know if he's full of wild strawberry compote, but it sure sounds impressive.

Rob Perkins said...

Bleargh. I was sloppy. Capacitors in an A/C circuit have a net *charge* of zero, not a net capacitance. Sorry!

Ilithi Dragon said...

Rob, you also got Joules and Watts mixed up. A Joule is a unit of energy, a Watt is a unit of energy over time, equal to one Joule per second. So 1 Watt = 1 Joule/second. One Watt per second is an increasing output, or 1 J/s^2.

On Curiosity and Certainty: Accepting a Certainty gives a sense of security, that things are understandable, quantifiable, ordered, and under control. It's one of the reasons why the average person on the street is attracted to it, and the ability to gain loyalty and control over those looking for that sense of security is why Certainty is used by people in power (and also as a security blanket of their own, as well as denial of their own failings, uncertainties, crimes, etc.).

This is often anathema to Curiosity, because Curiosity revels not only in just having uncertainty, but also in NEW uncertainties, which is often disturbing to those who feel insecure with uncertainty. The Curious also tend to question the corruptions and flawed policies of those in charge, which creates a threat (whether or not the people in charge are malicious).

Certainty and Curiosity can both be powerful tools, I think. Obviously, Curiosity can go to far (just ask the cat), but Certainty can be just as dangerous, by allowing people to hide from and reject their fears, flaws, mistakes, and anything they don't understand, don't believe, or don't want to believe. Hence the current mess we are in.

The problem is that Curiosity has certain self-correcting aspects (provided the Curious person is capable of learning (which is probably so, more often than not, given the very nature of Curiosity), and doesn't make a fatal mistake the first time around). The very nature of Curiosity is such that mistakes would be resolved, methods refined, new and better solutions discovered, and reasons why things should be avoided learned. The key factor is that Curiosity, by nature, allows for change and adaptation, learning from mistakes, etc. Certainty, however, has no such mechanism. Once the Certain decide something, getting them to change it becomes very hard. It sometimes seems like they flip-flop on things, but that is only because what they have decided is not immediately perceived. That is the Certainty in the truth and/or correctness of another person, or a group of people, company, organization, government, etc., and it is something that we've seen a lot in the last 8 years, and today, and the last several thousand years.

Acacia H. said...

There's a rather interesting episode of Nova currently available concerning California's energy initiative that can be viewed online (though I needed to use Internet Exploder to watch it; the site doesn't like Firefox).

Rob H.

Unknown said...

Robert A Howard: I would be careful before believing anything anyone says about mercury these days.

The form of the mercury matters really quite a lot, and nobody ever specifies; elemental mercury sticks, but you never find elemental mercury. Other forms are also toxic, yes, but only at sufficient levels - it depends on how trace the trace amounts are.
And, well, there are some seriously biased people about mercury these days, blaming autism on it (which is pretty much flat-out impossible), and other such things... and David Wallinga, the fellow quoted in the article you linked, appears to be one of them.

Rob Perkins said...

Ilithi, I don't think I conflated them but it has been a year since I've had to think about this stuff.

The point is, there's so much more energy in a UC than a CRT that the comparison is simply laughable. CRT discharge won't kill you unless you're already very sick.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Rob said
1.4 watts per second. 0.71 seconds per watt.

That's where you got them mixed up. Unless you're referring to an increasing energy output (i.e. 1.4 Joules per second, plus an additional 1.4 Joules every second, or 1.4J/s^2), that should be 1.4 Joules per second, and .71 seconds per Joule.

Just a simple mix-up, really, but I'm a nitpicker, and I use Joules/Watts quite frequently in my various discussions and debates about Trek (and sometimes Star Wars) tech.

Alfred Differ said...

The Nova episode can be viewed from here where they give you a few more options regarding viewers. It worked for me through Firefox.

Alfred Differ said...

One thing they missed in the Nova episode was how the pluggable hybrids tackle part of the energy storage problem too. If you have 40KWh+ stored in your car and a computer managing the batteries, your system might notice that you do not use all your electricity and that means you could potentially sell it back to the grid. Imagine charging your system at night from base load power and selling it back during peak load.

Right now our regulations and utility price plans in California don't support this kind of market, but that could change. We need the computers on the pluggable hybrids anyway to ensure we aren't charging them during peak loads, so it won't be an extra cost. It will also change the after market for these cars since the batteries will have value as storage for as long as they last. Having them as mobile storage is just an added benefit.

Rob Perkins said...

Illithi, I think I was trying to express things in watt-seconds and tripped on my inverter.