Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Cornucopia of Wonders?

This will be one of my splurges, posting a melange of miscellany for anyone to share, starting with an announcement that...

... four of my books are now released to Kindle! EARTH, The Uplift War, Otherness and The Practice Effect.  In 2 weeks: Startide Rising and Heaven's Reach. (Kiln People and Foundation's Triumph were already available.)

Ethics and The Future.  I've been honored to be named a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).    I was already a participant in the Center for Ethics, shared by UCSD, USD, and SDSU. Both institutions aim to foster science in the public interest by promoting awareness, understanding, and discussion of the ethical implications of new
developments in science and technology.  

I've received permission from SKEPTIC Magazine to post two of my past articles as PDF files.  Seeking a New Fulcrum was my careful appraisal of Psi or "psychic phenomena," starting with some basic physics and logic, but concluding that these powers are likely to be real... in the future, not in any mystified past. 

The Dangers of First Contact discusses the modern fixation/assumption that advanced life forms will automatically be altruistic.  Altruism is a fascinating and complex subject, in its own right! But the assumptions that currently guide the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) may be just as foolish and short-sighted as those held by Spanish conquistadors.  We need open minds.  Enjoy opening yours!;-)

EmpoweringCitizensDevin Murphy points out that the recent attempt by a terrorist to self-immolate aboard a US-bound airliner was foiled not by TSA regulations nor NSA surveillance nor official watchlists nor air marshals, but by the aggressive action of an alert passenger.  Those agencies and bureaus which failed have reacted by declaring more regulations and claiming more power.  Of course, this isyet another example of a phenomenon I predicted long ago... that civilization would depend ever-more upon the resilience of citizens, exactly as it did on 9/11, the Day That Professionalism Failed... or, far better, The Day of the Citizen. (See: The Value and empowerment of common citizens in an age of danger.)

I have spoken about this before dozens of gatherings of skilled members of the Protector Caste, who always nod their heads in sage individual agreement -- and then do nothing about the blatant deficit in our defense scheme -- the lack of any money or effort aimed toward enhancing citizen-level robustness.

 Time after time, you have episodes like this one, in which the day is saved by amateurs... and the professionals thereupon go into a state of frenzied denial of the lesson. Instead we see a capering frenzy aimed at upping screenings and delaying flights and inconveniencing the very group that performed the heroic deed... almost as if citizens were the enemy, and not the fundamental ally and resource that’s needed in order to defend civilization. 

So, shall we simply forge ahead ourselves?  Both Vernor Vinge and I portray futures in which amateurs pool talents and resources to achieve  wonders outseid of normal state-corporate channels.  Devin Murphy points to the latest example. TechShop is a 15,000 square-foot membership-based Coop workshop in Menlo Park that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a creative and supportive community of like-minded people so you can build the things you have always wanted to make.

Will the future come, after all? What are the most significant things that happened over the last decade? Did the 2000s meet our expectations? What are the predictions for the next decade? Listen in to a podcast of a December 2009 interview on National Public Radio (NPR) with best- selling futurist novelists Vernor Vinge and David Brin. promises to sync all your "bookmark" pages for you among all the big search engines and to help find pages by topic. If you search "sci fi authors" my site will come up as #2  - so thanks to all you perceptive lovers of the good stuff!

The Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop moved to UC San Diego, a few years ago, a terrific “save” of a precious institution in SF writing.  Now, Clarion, which is always sliding along the edge of financial ruin, has been given a “challenge grant” by Amazon, which will match a dollar for any dollar that any of YOU happen to donate to this great cause.  Here’s how.  And tell them I sent you! 

Some lovely sf’nal faux historiography, by someone with way too much time on his hands.

Eeek!  Romance author Denise Rossettii has finally captured me with vividly accurate description in Gift of the Goddess  “Huge, dark and enigmatic, Brin wears a tattoo of the holy dragon on his magnificent body. Years of erotic training have given him skills and stamina Anje cannot match. But it's the strength of his will that threatens to conquer her very soul...”   Okay, okay, I admit it.  She nailed it.  That’s me, all right.  I've been found out. Sigh.

Interesting discussion of risk analysis of a potential CERN black hole, with more general applications to any low probability / high-impact risk.

In the 1970’s, members of The British Interplanetary Society completed a 5 year design study into an unmanned interstellar probe which was to engage in a fly-by of Barnard's star. The maximum theoretical speed of Daedalus was 12% of lightspeed, and the one way trip would take approximately 50 years.  Now have a look at the next stage: 'Project Icarus: son of Daedalus - flying closer to another star'. There are some, it seems, who still yearn for tomorrow.

Terrific Halloween costume!  I wonder where he got the idea!!!

Speaking of which...   Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.  Ah, but would you believe that I - of all people - am cautious about taking this step.  Indeed, I think it may be wrong for dolphins. 

The vital Orbiting Carbon Observatory  -- led by my friend, planetary atmospheres guy, David Crisp -- seems about to be resurrected after an earlier version crashed back to Earth in February when its launch vehicle failed. (BTW... Dave is one of dozens of atmospheric scientists who I know personally... not eighth-hand... who know for a fact that the climate is changing and that humanity is involved.  Name the atmospheric scientist you know, personally, who disagrees.)

Ghostbusters, False Prophets, Phoney Psychics, and all Members of the Paranormal - Here Come PARAGATORS! (Somebody look into these guys and report back to us.)

What English sounds like to those who don't speak it. Hilarious sendup

  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair, quoted by Paul Krugman in the New York Times.  According to Tech-business guru Mark Anderson: “This has long been one of my favorite quotes; it explains about half of human behavior – and almost ALL of ExxonMobil’s.”

But Jared Diamond - author of COLLAPSE - disagrees.  I have long considered Diamond both brilliant and dispeptic.  But he is indisputably on-target, most of the time.  Here, he shows how capitalism is perfectly compatible with the move toward sustainable practices... if the businessmen are genuinely smart.

Stewart Brand “splits”  the Global Climate Change imbroglio into four groups, not two. “The calamatists and denialists are primarily political figures, with firm ideological loyalties, whereas the warners and skeptics are primarily scientists, guided by ever-changing evidence. That distinction between ideology and science not only helps clarify the strengths and weaknesses of the four stances, it can also be used to predict how they might respond to future climate developments.“ 

My cousin Andrew Stone helped create a report about the potential effects of truly unleashed entrepreneurialism, if problems of bad law and aristoicratic privilege are overcome in the Developing World. 

By generating both biofuel oil and ethanol, tobacco has the potential to produce more energy per hectare than any other non-food crop.

“Much of the debate in the West about Islam views the religion as a monolith. Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who died on December 30, 2009, could not have disagreed more. In his view, there are two very different forms of Islam — one Wahhabi-inspired and the other humanitarian.”  See a concise & fascinating list of these differences. 

And an interesting piece suggesting that our “lost decade” is already behind us. 

===== SCIENCE BIT =====

The magnetic north pole had moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year. In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year. A rapidly shifting magnetic pole means that magnetic-field maps need to be updated more often to allow compass users to make the crucial adjustment from magnetic north to true North.

======= AND FINALLY ======

 Satan's Garage Sale By Tom Cahill --  Not long ago, Satan happily realized there were enough politicians, banksters, and corportists in the world doing his work and that at long last, he could retire.  So he decided to sell his collection of the tools of his nefarious trade.   He invited the public to preview the tools in his garage the Friday night before the sale.

Murder, Theft,  Corruption, Lying, Greed, Hypocrisy, Intolerance, Blasphemy, Vanity, Temptation-all had price tags that were reasonable to the mostly legislators, bankers, businessmen, attorneys,  lobbyists et all attending the preview.

But one seemingly insignificant tool was priced way above all the rest combined.  When the CEO of a large US investment firm asked Satan why, the Devil replied, "This one works when all others fail."  The name on the price tag was "Discouragement."


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Acacia H. said...

All of those are gems, Dr. Brin. But I think that last one, with "Discouragement," definitely takes the cake. Because it's true.

I must admit some curiosity though on your thoughts of e-readers and what their effect will have on reading, publishing, and on books in general.

Rob H.

Brendan said...

f you want the What English Sounds like vid and can't be bothered searching the site David gave, go here What English Sounds Like to Foreigners

Ian said...

Re. SETI perhaps there's a galactic economy based on trading data as David suggests.

Perhaps the explanation for the Fermi Paradox is not just that we're foolishly blasting out for free a cornucopia of valuable data (which might dry up if we start to realise how things really work).

Perhaps aliens simply don't want to trust us with any of their valuable data because we might retransmit it.

(If so it's a pretty short-sighted view. You'd think there'd be a sort of galactic open source movement giving away transmitter designs and data standards to open up new markets.)

Ian said...

A further thought, if confronted with physical first contact, we might as well assume altruism.

Because any species capable to interstellar travel is going to be so far ahead of us technologically that any attempt we made at resistance would be like those people in the Andaman Islands who shoot arrows at passing helicopters.

Woozle said...

We have a TechShop here in Durham, too (a spinoff of the one in Menlo Park -- but it's the only other one in the country as far as I know).

I'd have joined long ago if we were in better shape financially (plus not having time to use it). Hopefully soonish.

Tim H. said...

Ian, there are plausible scenarios where interstellar travel could be achieved with a tech base not so far from ours, not that it's a smart way to bet. Picture a civilization roughly equivalent to the 1950s discovering a Dean drive that actually worked, or putting more effort into aerospace than into blowing people up.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a rather interesting article concerning predictions of China suffering an economic bust. From what I can tell, the predictions are that China is starting to suffer from several bubble economies similar to that which the U.S. suffered from (and in all likelihood still is suffering from). While there is no precise prediction on when the house of cards that they claim China is will tumble down, they are stating that the signs are there.

The problem is, of course, getting a good look at the finances of China. Outside foreign investors aren't allowed the access needed to get a good look at what's going on. But from the outliers and some speculation (including beliefs that China might be "cooking their books"), the thought from several sources is that there will be another economic crash, originating in China.

I must admit a bit of curiosity as to what would happen should China's economy go south big-time. America's economy had a resounding impact on the world when it failed because we're the universal consumer. Well, China's the universal donator/seller. A reduction in available goods may help stimulate the economies of other nations as they are forced to pick up the slack. But with China being unable to purchase debt... and worse, starting to call in on the debts they already own... this will put a significant strain on a global economy that is struggling to recover.

China going insolvent could be worse in many ways than what happened with the U.S. financial markets going belly up. Especially if there's any serious internal unrest in China as a result.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Stefan Jones said...

The problem with "citizen action" is that the cases to date are reactionary rather than preventative. The attempt is often in the act of being carried out, and is only noticed because of technical difficulties and/or rank stupidity of the would-by martyr.

Preventative citizen action has the possibility of turning into vigilantism. There are several conservative hero-stories about alert citizens who prevented terrorism that turn out to be bunk. Like the one story spread via the email noted below:

Citizens have to be SMART for citizen action to work, and . . . well . . . what percentage of Americans still think that Obama is from Kenya or Indonesia, don't believe in evolution, and think that the greenhouse effect was invented so scientists could scare government into giving them grant money?

David Brin said...

Ian wow!

"Perhaps aliens simply don't want to trust us with any of their valuable data because we might retransmit it."

Yipes, I hadn't thought of that subvariation. Amazing.

David Brin said...

Stefan, at:

I point out that the move toward professionalism had many important drivers that remain valid. The good posse used to easily become the bad vigilante mob.

Still, to utterly ignore citizen power is lunacy. And the potential for many kinds of pro-active posse-power is illustrated at:

David Brin said...

Reminder to you all... have a look at:
and especially

Chances are your local fire department is conducting regular training sessions to join your local CERT team.

It's all that's left of civil defense in the US... you get some cool training, a great vest & hard hat and backpack full of gear... plus an ID card that makes you sort of a Junior Ranger, if shit ever happens.

TCB said...

I was hoping PARAGATORS would be something more like this.

Stefan Jones said...

CERT is more like it.

I'd also to see a, well, I guess you'd call it a Citizen Infrastructure Repair Team. Instead of medical response and fire fighting, you'd learn how to rig cable, fix pipelines, and repair cell phone towers.

Really, why aren't we spending that stimulus money on training, and things like regional depots where transformers and wiring and telecomm infrastructure spares are stored?

David Brin said...

If I were in charge, Stefan. I'd put you in charge of that, yesterday....

Ian Gould said...

The State Emergency Service here in Australia goes some way towards the citizen-based emergency response concept.

François Marcadé said...

As an advisor to the protector caste or maybe a member of it (depends on your definition), do not believe that we have contempt for the general public, but we have a duty to provide the best procedural and technical solution that we can implement. It is a comfort to know that in may case the public will face the emergency courageously, but it we have to take into account the worst case scenario and try as much as we can to minimize this element that is outside of our control. A favorable reaction of the public is not directly factored when we draw contingency plans, but, believe me; it takes the slack of everything we do not know. The same way you do not start planning a project with a night shift, but you know there is this option to catch up for any delay.
What happened is a good opportunity to progress the body scanner, just as the last alert has progressed the hand-baggage screening technology, the first X-ray able to pinpoint liquid for the operator have been tested last year and start being installed, as standard equipment now. For year the body scanner offer was divided between Active Screening that were very precise but Slow and Passive screening that could be done in real time but with a low resolution, and the progress pace especially of the passive screening device was desperately low. Probably because the market estimates for body scanner was low, innovation was not forthcoming after the first millimetric camera were rolled out. The best I have seen was 2 years ago and I was not that impressed by its performance. Hopefully with more implementation we will see real progress and in a few years the technology will have reached a point were the inconvenience to the passenger is minimal.
It may seem cynical, but it is tempered by the thought that “running around like headless chicken” is what we must be seen to do. Put your contrarian mind in gear and you will see why.

Abilard said...

Thanks for the reading material! Waiting for a server to chew through several hours of work. This will keep my mind stimulated while it does.

Catfish N. Cod said...

You're just a tad too harsh on the Protective Caste when you say:

...almost as if citizens were the enemy...

That's not what the Protectors see. Oh no. The difference is slight but important.

They see competition.

You know the old pre-Goldwater-Nichols attitudes of the Armed Services. Offices in the Pentagon all had signs saying "Never forget who are real enemy is... [insert competing branch here]." Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, you name it -- far better to lose the war than to let your job be taken by someone else. It took years of effort, smart restructuring, and a lot of good men and women in both Congress and the ranks to straighten out a mess that had been brewing for decades... and finally blew up in our faces in the 70's and 80's.

We're seeing the same problem here. The Protective Caste feels threatened by the idea that citizens can do it themselves... fearing not only that citizens will be inadequate, but that they would be adequate and thus put them out of a job. The idea that this merely transforms their job doesn't occur to them.

The usual TSA-style mindset of citizen assistance to the Protective Caste is "Help me by making my job easier... then get out of my way. I know better". Really, what else are all those instructions about how to pack liquids and scan laptops? But in a citizen-empowered protective system, the goal of the Protective Caste is "Let me help you defend yourselves more easily... so I can get out of your way, because collectively, you know better."

Sure, J. Random Air Marshal is better equipped to take out Spongeali 'Splodepants than J. Random Citizen. But there will never be a shortage of citizens, and there will always be a shortage of air marshals.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Francois, you wrote while I was posting, so let me direct an addendum to you. Your post is a perfect illustration of my point. While you do acknowledge citizen response... you immediately turn around and disregard it as an element of strategy! Sure, there's a worst-case scenario where no one else can help -- say a plane to Tampa filled with old grannies for a tatting convention. But why plan ONLY for the worst case, while DISREGARDING the boosters you can get in the VAST MAJORITY of actual events?

Your planning style takes citizen response for granted... and it's generally not a good idea to take volunteer efforts by your own employers (for such we are) for granted.

It might reduce the necessity for "security theater" (as we all know much of security work to be) if MEANINGFUL citizen engagement were to be practiced. It is a well known psychological principle that people feel safer with personal involvement far out of scale with their actual contribution to safety... it's why people feel safer in cars than planes despite massive evidence to the contrary.

Michael E. said...

I find the idea iraonic that the elected elites need to be the ones to rally the prols.

If the goal is neighbor helping neighbor, then neighbors ought to be the ones to intitiate it, no?

I recall some of my neighbors here in upstate Washington getty ready for Y2K, teaching each other how to run their households when the infrastructure died, storing some food, etc. One citizen, when asked what they would do if Y2K didn't happen replied wisely, "Well, then we're ready for the next earthquake."

Dr. Brin, going around from Univesity to Hallowed Halls of the Protector Castes has insulated you from what goes on in the real world, perhaps. Come own down to the suburbs and the countryside and see how the everyday American gets ready for disaster: We don't make big plans or set a specific agenda. The whole thing grows organically from the simple act of meeting your neighbors, sharing tools, helping each other and learning through that what each other's capabilities are.

If this isn't happening in your neighborhood, Dr. Brin and all the other readers of this blog, then the best person to initiate it is you.

David Brin said...

I often use Australia as a counter-example to randroids and right-wing FIBM ranters, of a place where a degree of state-based socialism blends with vivacious free enterprise and the most individualist spirit on the planet. The key element is that spirit. With it lively and cheerfully pugnacious, the state knows its place and every bit of "socialism" is in service to the People, not dominance over it.

Especially important is for the socialism to be aimed in directions that Adam Smith clearly thought beneficial to the long-term health of markets -- the engendering of a maximum number of skilled, confident and creative market players, starting from a generally even playing field. In other words, all young adults entering a fair work force, with their competitive abilities primed by health and education.

Smith also made clear that the state should distinguish between wealth that is generated by competitive delivery of goods and services, on the one hand, and wealth that is derived though passive "rents" or through monopoly.

Australians -- like most Americans -- seem to grasp that the other commonly asserted goal of socialist action... equalizing OUTCOMES ... is pernicious, mystical, oppressive and counter-productive. The genuine socialist-lefties (as opposed to Smithian liberals), who preach equalization of outcomes, have a track record of using state paternalistic power to turn themselves into yet another type of oligarchy.


I never claimed that the Protector Caste "feels" contempt for the citizenry. That is not how neuroses work. They operate on the level of self-satisfying self-deception.

All of the Protector Caste member whom I know -- and I know many, having consulted for DoD, DHS, ODNI, CIA, FBI, you name it -- claim to feel as you do. They rationalize their emphasis on skilled planning and the early detection and staunching of enemy threats... as they should! That's their job.

What is NOT their job is to enter the deluded state that such activities, by themselves, can protect the republic. That is simply loony. Every time that anticipation fails... and it has failed MANY times, since 9/11... one hears a litany of vows that it will never fail again. Until the next time.

"Hopefully with more implementation we will see real progress and in a few years the technology will have reached a point were the inconvenience to the passenger is minimal."

Yeah, sure. We all hope that. Meanwhile, EVERY step takes us down the path of increasing reliance upon a narrow professional clade that has no surge capacity, no plan to augment or replace fallen front line personnel, and no adequate way to deal with situations that strike by surprise.

In all of the latter cases, it has always bee the citizens who dealt with the situation. And yet that simple fact is avoided with a narrow ferocity that truly is neurotic. Again, why is not even on percent of DHS funding directed to the ONLY thing that worked on 9/11? Or against hijackings and shoe bombs etc.

I must conclude that you simply have not read:

The smart guys I know at DHS and CIA know this must be part of the answer. But their bureaucracies won't budge.

David Brin said...

said: "Dr. Brin, going around from Univesity to Hallowed Halls of the Protector Castes has insulated you from what goes on in the real world, perhaps. Come own down to the suburbs and the countryside and see how the everyday American gets ready for disaster"

Um... Michael, do you even bother reading, before carping? Did you bother going to the web site for CERT and looking at the ground-level training I have taken, joining my neighbors in preparedness?

Moreover, you assume that's ALL I've done. Neglect the involvement in Boy Scouts, or the fact that I am surrounded by Mormons (hah! Take that!) Clearly the mind set of someone who'd join CERT includes doing other things.

Feh, I've known your kind. Survivalists. Arrogance fantacists who watch Mad Max and WANT it to come true so they can rule the ashes.

David Brin said...

Amusing... yet again I show myself to be a militant moderate!

A Paid Protector says "we don't need no stinking citizens..." and I rail that citizen power is needed.

A smarmy/insulting survivalist says "we don't need society!" and I snap back yes we do!

Fact is, we were born a republic of militant radicalized moderates. Men for whom reason and reasonableness were rebel memes and centrism and negotiation were insurrectionist notions. It is time that we moderate "liberals" -- and those Goldwater conservatives who are still within sanity range -- to realize we'll never get anywhere by letting the purists monopolize the driving power of sanctimony.

Michael E. said...

And I guess you overlooked the parts where I said "neighbors" and "helping each other."

I don't belong to any survivalist hooey, other than the idea that I and my neighbors want to survive disasters that will come.

Follow my link to and tell me how being a supporter of that science education group, basically a volunteer co-op, makes me an "arrogant fanatacist," with Mad Max fantasies.

You get a "reading comprehension fail" black star, too.

David Brin said...

Why the hell should I follow links to an aggressive jerk who didn't follow mine?

YOU set the tone of this particular exchange. I am simply following your lead, MichaelE. If you feel hurt, boohoo.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Sorry, natural instinct. } ; = 8 P

Dr. Brin's got a point, Michael, but keep up the defense! Just change the tone a bit yourself, as you're the one who set it in the first place.

Is there a site or something that lists actions by citizens in a crisis? Might be interesting to start one, if there isn't.

Abilard said...

Brin said:

'A smarmy/insulting survivalist says "we don't need society!" and I snap back yes we do!'

Michael E said:

'And I guess you overlooked the parts where I said "neighbors" and "helping each other."'

Incivility aside, I think a legitimate conceptual issue underlies your conflict, namely your concepts of society. One concept could be called the Jacob Demwa view. In it, cultural diversity is subsumed by an overarching meritocratic structure. Talent of any significant degree finds its way up. In general, the people at the top represent the best and, while they may be surpassed by a few outliers here or there, they are certainly sharp enough to vet all major options. Society is embodied by the institutions these individuals helm.

The other view I'll call the Rety camp. In it, rising has more to do with luck and birth than merit. Institutions are therefore not necessarily populated with the best and have no inherent authority, other than force. For Rety, society might be something like that described in Rhoda Halperin's The Livelihood of Kin (informal networks of neighbors trading resources under the radar of the government).

As an Appalachian I was raised in Rety's world, educated in Demwa's, and live once again in Rety's. The sub culture is older than the survivalist movement by a couple centuries. Remnants of frontier culture are strong enough here that, in the event of calamity, citizens of the region would stand a decent chance of self-organizing and surviving without guidance of the protecting class/elite/politicians.

Determining which view of society best describes our reality hinges on how much of a meritocracy one believes the United States to be.

Joel said...

I liked your article on psi. Good call on the placebo issue. And I couldn't agree more about the need to be special.

I think pheromones are an under-appreciated carrier of information among people, and the facts that 1. we sense them only un-consciously and 2. they persist in rooms and on personal effects, gives the information we get from them some of the properties of psi.

I think they're a big part of the reason movie theatres have survived TV, VHS etc., and that books will survive the Kindle and its descendents.

David Brin said...

Abilard, it isn't a matter of having to choose between being delusionally sure that life is fair, or cynically sure it isn't.

I know damned well how unfair most human civilizations have been. I rail that the feudalists are trying for a comeback, as they always did in times past. We need to gird ourselves for that fight, or we betray our ancestors who fought to give us this enlightenment, wherein a large (if insufficient) fraction of what's happened has actually been fair and open. For the first time, ever.

What I despise are cynicism-junky "realists" who spit on the enlightenment that has coddled them and subsidized them and made their lives soft and gentle... while they had the leisure to fantasize about how cool things will be when it all falls apart.

"I don't belong to any survivalist hooey, other than the idea that I and my neighbors want to survive disasters that will come."

The word "will" makes a hilarious farce of the entire denial.

I urge you all to expend effort on making your families and neighborhood more resilient, in case bad things happen. But betting on it happening is treason. And so is expending more effort on survivalism than on civilization-tending.

Oh, I am sure this strawmans MichaelE. If he volunteers to promote science education, then maybe the real fellow is okay. But the self-caricature, rude asshole-avatar that he e-sent here is a total schmuck, and the real Michael badly needs to rein the cartoon in.

Joe Unlie said...

Off topic-

It's cool that Tucker Carlson is launching an online mag ala Huffington Post. Carlson is the truest heir to William F. Buckley's mantle that there is on the right today.

But that's not the best part of the article. The best part is that Arianna's joined Brin's conspiracy!


"As he and his team are thinking that through, I hope they'll keep in mind that one of the greatest contributions the digital media can make is to counter the traditional media's obsession with looking at every issue through the cobweb-covered lens of right vs. left."

"the binary division of the debate into right vs. left obscures more than it reveals.... John McCain and Maria Cantwell are joining forces to bring back Glass-Steagall-type banking regulations. Ron Paul and Alan Grayson are pushing through legislation to audit the Fed. George Will agrees with Russ Feingold that we should not escalate in Afghanistan. Howard Dean and Michael Bloomberg are both down on the health care bill. And on and on it goes."

Very, very cool. Now we're getting somewhere. With Arianna Huffington signed on... that's big.

David Wyatt said...

Considering the way we treat most peole treating dolphins as 'non-human persons' just can't be good

François Marcadé said...

Dear Dr. Brin

I had, indeed not read “The value – and empowerment – of common citizens in an age of danger”. I am in perfect agreement with Item 2, but you will see the value of not acknowledging it publicly and acting, for the benefit of our adversaries, as if it was the contrary.
I would like to point that the point you are making is that empowered citizens would know how to react to an emergency. It is a compelling point. I tend to forget that my job is not to avoid the occurrence of an emergency, it is futile because you cannot plan for complete security, but to limit the consequences so that the emergency is manageable. True, I never so far considered that the reaction of the public would be more than a hindrance. I still think I must plan for the contingency of a ‘Dumb mob’, but there must be way to take advantage of a ‘Smart Mob’. Let me think about it.

Tony Fisk said...

I was wondering how we inform them of their new-found rights (and responsibilities)

Tony Fisk said...

...dolphins, that is. Not mobs (smart or otherwise)

prewshe: the sensation one feels when the context of a comment that addresses a prior comment is mangled by an intervening comment

David Brin said...

Thank you, Francois, for your honesty and open-mindedness.

Do read
where I address this issue directly, aimed at an audience in the Protector Caste.

There are simple ways that citizen level resiliency can be enhanced without diminishing an iota the capabilities of the PC.

For example, a small mandated tweak in Cell Phone design would leave us capable of passing text messages peer to peer, even when the cell towers are down. This almost trivial alteration would not even have to cost the cellcos much and might even pay for itself in added tariffs. It could also link the whole country, in the event of a disaster.

Abilard said...

Brin state:

"I urge you all to expend effort on making your families and neighborhood more resilient, in case bad things happen. But betting on it happening is treason. And so is expending more effort on survivalism than on civilization-tending."

The balance has shifted for us. I spent my first two decades as an adult totally invested in the system. I no longer trust it. Thus, the move back to Appalachia and our efforts toward self-sufficiency. I still contribute to our civilization through my career, but my private resources are almost totally committed to making us as self-sufficient as possible.

This approach to life is, again, centuries old here and I do not like the survivalist label. Does it apply to me since I abandoned those traditions for 20 years, and only returned when I began to have serious reservations about the economy? Not sure.

I am sure that living this way does not make me a traitor, though I would be hard pressed to say which effort (self-sufficiency or contributing) takes the greater percentage of my production.

Ian Gould said...

Robert points to an article discussing the possibility that China is headed fro an economic bust.

That's a pretty important question and not just for the obvious reasons.

It's become a cliche to say that china is now socialist only in name but the thriving private sector in some parts of the economy ignores the stranglehold the government still has on others.

Take the banking sector:

"China raised the proportion of deposits that banks must set aside as reserves to cool the world’s fastest-growing major economy as a credit boom threatens to stoke inflation and create asset bubbles.

Reserve requirements will increase by 50 basis points from Jan. 18, the central bank said on its Web site this evening. The existing levels are 15.5 percent for big banks and 13.5 percent for smaller ones."

Or consider the pegged value and limited exchangability of the Chinese currency.

The Chinese have tools to control any incipient boom (or bust) western regulators can only dream about.

They can suspend the share market or order the state-owned banks to simply buy equities, they can shift the value of the currency almost at will.

Now as a child of the post-enlightenment western liberal democratic system I'd like to think that this sort of ham-fisted government intervention will do more harm than good and that ultimately more-or-less free markets with some limited government regulation will produce better outcomes.

But the Chinese model now has a 30 year track record of delivering economic growth probably unmatched by any other major economy in history.

Perhaps we should also look at Malaysia after the 1998 Asian economic crisis which adopted a distinctly illiberal almost-Chinese approach to the economy and saw its economy do better than most of its neighbours.

I'm not about to throw out market theory at this point - but I'm even more reluctant to throw out facts because they just happen to be inconvenient.

Ian Gould said...

A quick addendum: in a perverse way, the continuing state dominance of many sectors of the Chinese economy is one reason why I think China will continue to outperform the wordl economy for another coupel of decades.

If the Chinese economy does start to slow significantly, the Chinese government can always kick it along by deregulating the media or forcing the provinces to accept a national market in, say, trucking or legal services.

Mike G. said...

Re Heaven's Reach on Kindle (and on Fictionwise, I see): Argh.

There's nothing more annoying than finding book 3 of a trilogy in a bookstore, or on an online e-book vendor site, without books 1 and 2.

I know it's all up to the publisher - but putting book 3 out there without 1 and 2 is just useless.

Oh well, I still have the books on paper. But I'm nowhere near as likely to re-read them on paper as I would have been in ebook form.

David McCabe said...

Looks like the procedural filibuster is getting some mainstream attention.

David Brin said...

Abilard, you pay your taxes, vote, and participate in your community, right? You are involved in some level of community improvement, to the small degree that busy American life allows? You do honest work that benefits an honest employer and thus contribute to the economy? You allow your conscience to affect (not totally control) your purchasing decisions? You try to argue sense into your neighbors who may be (by your lights) politically deluded? If you are a parent or uncle, you try to help raise a new generation that is better, wiser, and more vigorously creative and enlightened than ours? Perhaps you even mentor a non-relative, now and then?

What fraction of each day do you devote to the sum of all these? Including doing honest work for honest pay? Above all, do you picture yourself participating in a civilization? One that you hope your participation may - even slightly- help to thrive?

Hey, that's not much to ask, and I'll bet you are doing it. In that context, a little Appalachian self-sufficiency is probably admirable and better on the Earth! It's one reason I keep fruit trees and grow vegetables.

What I'll not abide is these jerks I have heard since the fifties, confidently (and with hand-rubbing schadenfreude) predicting that "next year the shit is gonna hit the fan, and I'm a gonna be ready!" I've known so many of these guys. And to a man... yes even the former Green Berets... they would be dog meat within hours of Judgement Day.

I don't mind striving to be ready, in case bad things happen. It can even be a fun side-hobby, leafing through emergency-supplies catalogues and teaching preparedness to scouts and taking a course or two... or harranguing the protector caste to help citizen resiliency.

A citizen, on the other hand, bends his or her efforts (or at least a little thought) toward directions that might help make it not-happen.

David Brin said...

Dave M... that is a GREAt article!

Abilard said...

Well, yes, all the above, though activities related to the kids are most of that.

Those who long for collapse I think don't have a clue how bad it would be, or how quickly the ensuing chaos could end the lives of even the most prepared. The 1950s versions now have company, however, from the ecologically-minded left (the peak oil folks).

In one of your interviews I think you mentioned that your next book involves airships and goggle-wearing types. Are you picturing a new age of steam, a sort of technologist's answer to the peak oil doomsayers?

sociotard said...

A naturally occuring plant-animal hybrid.

Solar-powered sea slug harnesses stolen plant genes

Ilithi Dragon said...

On survivalists... I think this is fittingly appropriate (from a zombie apocalypse web comic): Link.

Tony Fisk said...

One of the good things about the Transition Town movement (also a bunch of 'peak oil' types) is that it explicitly emphasises engagement with the local community and authorities.

Back to China, I was wondering how long Google could retain it's 'do no evil' policy with it's China filters. Looks like it's starting to chafe.

Meanwhile, the entrenched corruption is getting worse. This is a worry if China is the heir-apparent to the US.

traphor: that which charges exit fees

David McCabe said...

Chinese government hacks into human rights activists' Gmail accounts, steals Google intellectual property; Google decides to stop cooperating with China.

Acacia H. said...

@Ilithi: Dead Winter does a fun job of poking holes into a number of the survivalist beliefs. What's especially good about the comic is it's not about the zombies. Those are just a "force of nature." Instead, the comic is about people, and how they react to adversity. (For instance, one of the two main characters is a pacifist who has to finally put aside those beliefs much to her regret... but rails against undo violence because people need to keep some semblance of humanity and civilization.)

This is true for science fiction as a whole. Science fiction is not about the doodads and the science. It's about people. When it forgets about the people and goes into science porn, often it fails to ignite the interests of ordinary readers. It is when science fiction focuses on the character aspect does it flourish.

Of course, this is true for almost every form of literature. If a mystery gets bogged down in the minutia it becomes boring. If historical fiction focuses on the history over the characters, it turns into an impromptu pillow. And so on.

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

@Rob H.:

What I get for forgetting you're a webcomic reviewer...
} ; = 8 P

(Speaking of which, are you familiar with White Noise? Slow-going, though the author has been getting better with updates, and very enjoyable.)

Acacia H. said...

It's on the "to-review" list. I have been keeping up on it, but sadly the Footloose Meta-review took almost a month to finish writing (procrastination and 5,200 words are a dangerous mixture). Actually, I need to sit down and create a list of various comics I intend on reviewing and haven't gotten around to yet. The problem is that I get some of these reviews half-written, get hit by writer's block, and they languish, forgotten, while part of my mind goes "I'm sure I did something on this..."

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Yeah, I know what you mean... I've been meaning to get around to starting a Procrastinator's Anonymous support group.
} ; = 8 P

Oh, btw, did you hear about the Comic Creator's Alliance, a donation drive to raise awareness of, and charity funds to fight human trafficking?

Acacia H. said...

Yes. I'll likely be posting about it at Tangents (though I suspect all of my readers already know).

When you think of it, in many ways illegal immigration is very much about human trafficking. The victims are terrified of being caught by the government and thus live in a state of near-slavery and sent back to their home country (where they may be persecuted and will likely live in absolute poverty).

It's a shame that the Republicans, which were the Party to End Slavery, are so against immigration reform so that this insidious form of slavery present in the U.S. can be dealt with.

Rob H., who lives up to his moniker of "Tangent" once again =^-^=

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hey, I started it. } ; = 8 P

That might be an interesting angle of attack on immigration, though... Emphasize the GOP's anti-slavery roots and the pride in that, and then detail the comparisons between the realities created by GOP anti-immigration policies and slavery...

Tony Fisk said...

Pandoran slavery and immigration policies:
"We don't see you"?

Anonymous said...

Slightly off-topic:

As I was looking at pictures from the earthquake mess in Haiti, I noticed how many showed politicians and emergency personnel and --- what is this?!?!? Snow. Not Haiti, surely. No. An airport in another country with planes full of relief supplies that could not take off for Haiti because they were snowed in.

Can't prepare for every situation....

Tacitus2 said...

I have not yet mastered the trick of making a link to this site, but the above Mars photo is intriguing and worth the effort to try and figure out.

Also, any word on what that near earth object that went past earth this morning was?



Tony Fisk said...

It's possible (but unconfirmed) that 2010 AL30 is the upper stage of the Venus Express launcher.

It certainly has some interesting characteristics: strong echo and a fast spin rate.

Tony Fisk said...

To make a link:

<a href='' title='with weird tendrils'>Martian sand dunes</a>

Will give you:

Martian sand dunes

Stefan Jones said...

That Mars photo is fascinating and frustrating.

It is NOT an angle shot of dunes that have feathery tendrils sticking out of them.

It's a more-or-less straight-down short of sand dunes with bizarre coloration and lighting.

But my mind is having a bad time wrapping itself around that.

* * *

$100.00 to Mercy Corps's earthquake efforts.

In spite of Pat Robertson's claim that the Haitians are being punished for a pact with the devil.

TCB said...

re: Abilard's comments:
I too am a child of Appalachia, and I'm reminded of something I heard about when I was a child. I was born in '58 and we lived at my grandparents' place until I was 3 or so. This was way up in one of the high parts of North Carolina near Tennessee. When I was a baby we had a real blizzard, I'm told. The government dropped food to the snowbound, remote farms, from helicopters.

Reflecting on the incident now, it strikes me that there was probably no need for this rather touching display of government intervention. In those days everybody canned their own food up there! My grandparents had Ball jars full of beans, corn, and sausage from hogs that lived and died less than a hundred feet from the house. They did buy sugar, coffee, flour, and some other things from the store, but it seems unlikely to me that anyone would have starved if we'd all been snowed in until March. Some others who lived in the hollow were relatives, and even nonrelatives wouldn't have been permitted to starve.

That is true survivalism.

P.S. Once when I was probably three or so, I had a strong craving for some ham. My mother caught me heading out the back door with a large knife and not much of a plan.

Matt said...

@Ilithi Dragon:

Howard Taylor might get to claim a predictive win:

Acacia H. said...

And I slowly corrupt another blog. =^-^=

Rob H.

Unknown said...

Warning! Non-political posting follows!

Magnetic north shifting has me sweating. My family lives on a boat, and we travel by sail so the compass is sort of... central to our lives. We do use GPS, but I never really learned to trust the thing.

I've read studies that if the orientation of the pole flips, it will be sudden.

Mind you, it doesn't roust me from my berth in a cold sweat at night, like nightmares about tsunami (the tragedy in Haiti had me tense for about a half hour or so.), but it would be a bummer if we were making a passage.

David Brin said...

Here are three ways that you can immediately help the humanitarian effort in Haiti:

I also have an appointment to give blood in ten days...

And yes, wow strange!

David Brin said...

Argh, that's

Rob Perkins said...

If the pole flips, then you get out your sextant, wait for one clear day and one clear night, establish True North, crosscheck it with your GPS, relabel the compass, and sail on.

Unless the pole flip causes the Van Allen belt to collapse for a small amount of time?

That leads to a calamity question: What happens to the biosphere if Earth's magnetic fields fail suddenly?

Acacia H. said...

Nothing much. You forget, magnetic pole flips have happened a multitude of times. It's less "2012" and more "don't go out without sunblock."

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Yeah, you'll have an increase in sunburn and skin cancers, and probably relatively minor effects on the environment (past pole shifts haven't corresponded with major environmental shifts/devastation/etc. afaik), but no end of the world or civilization or anything.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Also, looks like the bank tax is a go. I'm somewhat concerned about potential loop-holes in the tax (though it sounds like the tax is structured that the 'loop holes' would require banks to put the money in safe investments or re-invest it in the company to avoid paying the taxes), but overall it sounds like a fairly good idea (and I think it should be extended even further, made permanent - if big financial institutions want to make high-risk investments that could threaten the economy, they should pay a hefty tax for it).

Ian Gould said...

Not to sound obsessed with Cghina or anything but China tech and car company BYD unveils its newest made-in-China tech; a battery-powered car using a proprietary Chinese-developed battery that seems to beat every other product on te market.

I don't know which possibility scares me more: the possibility of a China where frustration over the lack of progress towards real democracy leads to violence and an economy collapse or an unreformed Communist Party emboldened by the success of the Chinese economy and Chinese technology.

Tacitus2 said...

Regards China, if things get REALLY tough, their demographics suggest we could turn a handy profit selling them women!
Sorry, bad taste, but their success has come at the cost of societal strain in many areas and the one child policy (plus attendent genetic cheating) has warped their demo profile. I wonder, will the next generation want one child? 18? none?

JuhnDonn said...

Ilithi Dragon said...
Also, looks like the bank tax is a go.

I wonder if the fear of big bank taxes being passed on to consumer will lead to more folks moving their business to local banks and credit unions? I know the politicians are saying it's for the investment side and shouldn't impact regular bank users but a lot of folks may not hear that or may not believe it so this could be the triumph of George Bailey.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Are you suggesting that a properly-directed Republican/conservative fear-mongering campaign could actually benefit the Main Street economy if this tax is passed?

Acacia H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim H. said...

That bank tax will get to us, small banks have to do business with large ones, even if you don't bank, you'll need to deal with people who do, so you'll pay one way or another. On the bright side, if the tax restrains the most outlandish financial shenanigans, the peace of mind will be worth the money.
"ingijas", that could be a curse, somewhere.

Unknown said...

Red Cross is also accepting donations at Publix on the East Coast for the Haiti Earthquake.

About "whipping out the sextant" after the magnetic poles slide. Yeah, I've got one and it gets use, but it really isn't a substitute for a compass when piloting.

Are GPS satellites hardened against solar and space radiation that we'd expect to see after a pole flip?

Acacia H. said...

The problem is, if the Big Banks start levying fees to the smaller banks, you could very well see a banking revolution as smaller banks use whatever methods are at their disposal to "repay" the big banks for their practices. At the very least, you could see a bunch of antitrust lawsuits arise because of unfair business practices.

Far more likely will be fee increases at ATM machines, and possibly for online bill payments. You'll see the fees going up to $5 or more, and fees to even access your data from other banks. This may result in a resurgence of check use by customers who get angrier and angrier at the entire banking system.

The other thing we need to consider is this: personal checking (on an individual customer level) is only a fraction of the total business of the banks. They make their big bucks with corporate clients. So even if every individual person in the U.S. switched to community banks, that would probably not be that big of a loss for the big banks.

Rob H.

Stefan Jones said...

I would have preferred a permanent financial transaction tax. A tiny percentage of every stock and bond sale. A larger percentage of every trade of a derivative or arbitrage transaction or whatever.

Every person would get a deduction for the first few dozen a year. Several times what an average upper middle class person would deal with in a year.

The effect would be to make making money out of financial ether vibrations less attractive, so making money by making things is more attractive.

* * *

After the immediate disaster relief effort is over, what Haiti could really use is a CCC.

A Civilian Conservation Corps.

Get the unemployed, bored, and probably unemployable young men out to the countryside, where they can get fed, educated, and paid to plant trees, and build sewer and water systems.

Rob Perkins said...

Nothing for me to remember; I haven't learned anything about pole shifting before.

Of course you wouldn't want to use the sextant. Just hold position if possible and relabel the compass, to get back into a port.

sociotard said...

Good news! "Doomsday Clock" moves one minute away from midnight

David Brin said...

Stefan said this just as I was typing it:
The reform I want to see (tho there's no chance) is a securities trade tax. Less than 1% per trade would be more than enough to reduce the churn and vampiric parasitism and overstaffing and inflated self-importance of an industry that declares the foam of financial betting more important than the actual creation of goods and services.

What Haiti needs is a billionaire who says: "the first ten neighborhoods who get themselves organized to create a stripe from the port to downtown to airport to outskirts... I will finance a consortium of those neighborhoods and rebuild that stripe into the new infrastructure, right-of-way, business corridor, from scratch. Everybody gets a share. But the neighborhoods need to organize themselves, first."

People don't understand the importance of rights of way. Sure, right now the priority should go to humanitarian aid. But there is an opportunity, as well. With Port Au Prince in rubble, now is when a few tens of millions of dollars could clear a path where an urban transportation system plus fiber optics plus gas/cell/phone/etc could be laid with incredibly low cost, along with a modern boulevard with a park-median down the center. The neighboring plots of land would skyrocket in value and bad karma averted if all residents of the current (shattered) slums got jobs on the project and first pick of some apartment spaces.

Ian said...

Tim H: the idea that banks or other businesses can simply "pass on" taxes is just wrong.

The 50 banks that get with this tax will be competing with other banks that don;t have to pay it - including international competitors that can provide the same services to smaller banks.

Some of the money MAY be recouped from customers. If it does, a significant part of it will come from overseas customers meaning a net gain to the US. Some of it may simply come from reducing the rate of growth in dividends or reducing excutive compensation.

Acacia H. said...

Reducing executive compensation?!? Bite your tongue, man! =^-^=

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Tim since the proximate cause of this pain to the bank stockholders will be the greed of the executives, perhaps this stockholder pain will translate into those stockowners finally finding the balls to stand up for their own self-interest and acting like the execs' bosses.

I have no sympathy at all for the stockholders of companies that allow themselves to be looted by vampire executives. The Japanese don't do that.

Tim H. said...

The likeliest scenario would be for the tax to be embedded in ATM fees and overdraft charges, and the increase will be blamed on something else. I would be pleased if the stockholders resumed their responsibilities, but I don't expect it, the executives main talent is psychological dominance and shareholders are willing to pay a premium to let someone else deal with it. A hard crash may be required to break these behavior patterns, sadly.

David Brin said...

Sure. But that means we owe those stockholders no pity or profound "yes, but."

If the big banks that are being looted by the golf-buddy oligarchic cabal are owned by such wimpy investors, then let these taxes get passed on... and consumers will move to smaller and better banks, and capitalism will move on.

Local banks that remembered that a mortgage is a mortgage, and actually cared to know their customers.

addendum: I am still waiting for someone to show me a single way that Republicans have been effcectively more pro-free-enterprise than democrats. Given that small businesses do better under dems while monopolies thrive under goppers.

Tim H. said...

Mainstream democrats have largely bought into "Business collectivazation", so there is room for a daring GOP type to show what they can do for small business, at least until they're targeted by the Club for Growth. So, any republicans out there who still dare?, you've been left an opening you could drive an election through.

Acacia H. said...

Considering how... annoyed Massachusetts citizens have become with the corruption and failures of the Democrats in state it's looking like the Republicans have a significant shot at an upset and taking the MA Senate seat. I have to wonder what this will do to elections in 2010, especially as this "good little Republican" seems ready to march in step with his comrades already in Washington.

If he gets in, there is no more super-majority. While this is not necessarily a bad thing as it lessens the power of the Blue Dogs (who have abused their power, let's be frank about it), this also promises to turn Obama's agenda into a complete stalemate. And as a result?

If nothing gets passed in 2010 because of an unbreakable Senate filibuster, then Democrat claims that Republicans are unwilling to cooperate and are the Party of No become validated. This will probably have a minimal effect in elections in 2010... but in 2012 with two more years of nothing getting done in Washington, it will galvanize the House and Senate, and also the Presidential election.

If Obama can't get anything done, Republicans will claim he is an ineffectual President, despite the fact they are the ones who castrated his agenda. But with the constant finger-pointing at Republicans and proof that Republicans are blocking any and all efforts to effect reform and the like... then the Republicans are revealed to people tired of the same-old same-old as being in the pockets of big business, big finance, and anti-reform. We may very well see Obama losing the Presidency... but the House and Senate going solidly Democrat in 2012, and the Democrats constantly working around the Executive Branch (and whatever Republican gets into office) to effect their policies.

The big question is, how much damage would a staunch conservative in the White House do to the country and to foreign policy? If someone like Palin gets in on a wave of populism among conservatives... then her blindness to the realities of the world theater could undo any good Obama has brought about.

Rob H., who both wants and doesn't want the Republican candidate to win in MA.

Tacitus2 said...

I will wait until the political light is officially lit, but a few thoughts.
1.We have elections on a regular basis. The results are not always to our liking.
2. Like many political debates, a definition of terms is fundamental. I sense that some folks would limit it to illegal acts. But it is hard to look at the many deals surrounding the Health Entitlement bill and call them anything but corruption in its true form .
3.It is just as legit to ask what damage to the body politic is being done by a progressive president. Obama's decline in popularity is not all due to right wing propaganda, moderates have noticed that his actions do not match his campaign promises.

Acacia H. said...

Oh, definitely, Tacticus. However, I do believe that a good part of the corruption of some of the legislature that has come through is a result of two things. First, when Obama first came to office, he offered his hand in negotiation. The Republicans seemed to spurned it and refused to give and take. They are said to have wanted only to take. Whether or not this is true, this is the general belief concerning Republican "negotiation" with Obama. Second, the loss of the Republicans gave certain "moderate" conservative Democrats increased power. They were able to get deals that benefited only their constituents which would ensure they get reelected, rather than work for the good of the country. Once the Supermajority was fact, the Republicans basically refused to play ball at all and this gave all the power to a select few Senators who could demand the world or they'd side with the Republicans.

An interesting contrast is when Bush was in office. Both when the Republicans were in power in the House and Senate and when they lost in 2006, the Democrats did not excessively use the filibuster as a weapon to destroy Republican mandates. The Republicans are using it left and right... and it seems almost like it's to punish people for the audacity of electing a Democrat (and worse! Obama! Some kid!) as President.

I've long stated I don't want to see the Republicans die off. However, the Republicans as they are now is not healthy. And they have shown absolutely no desire to reform themselves. They have this fundamental belief in their righteousness and if you don't believe with them you are a traitor to the country and are UnAmerican.

Why would any true patriotic conservative want to side with a bunch of power-hungry bastards who look only to themselves and their paymasters? Thus I'm forced to side with a side I find detestable... but less so than the corrupt morass that the Republican Party has become.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...


While I will go to bat for conservative values, and for the fundamental mechanisms of democracy (which is kind of redundant), you will not find me defending the Republican party much. They probably have not been in the Wilderness long enough to get their act together.

But here's a thought question.

Lets say the Democratic party in the run up to the invasion of Iraq had the foresight to say, "this is going to be a disaster. It will cost lives, treasure and poison our political system". (I think that's a fair 2010 assesment, although I won't speak for the long view of history).

Had they that vision, should they not have employed all possible legislative means to stymie the administration's stupid idea?

A few brave souls like Feingold held this view. He is by the way a man with whom I share few opinions, but his integrety has earned him a spot on my very short list of reputable senators.

If, similarly, the GOP views the current health care entitlement bill as equally damaging to the future of America, what other course is appropriate?


Acacia H. said...

Then why have they not designed a counter-bill that would do its absolute best to make effective reforms of the health care and health insurance industries, bring it to Obama, state "This bill will reform the industry without nationalizing it, and we will back it completely. All you need to do is find 20 Democrat Senators to go along with it, and we'll put it on your desk" and let Obama do the rest?

They never presented a concise (or even potential) bill to counter the Democrat frankenbill. As a result, they've just said "no" to everything instead of effectively work to create a viable alternative.

Just being right about the bill isn't enough. Reform is needed. Doing nothing? Is not the option that people want.

Rob H. - sighetal: the tendency to sigh and so on?

Tacitus2 said...

The Politifact site does a pretty good job of sifting though things.
Its reasonably bipartisan.


David Brin said...

Tim said: "Mainstream democrats have largely bought into "Business collectivazation", so there is room for a daring GOP type to show what they can do for small business"

This is what is known as a Counterfactual Delusion. It is very satisfying to nurse such views, and to leap on occasional isolated anecdotes and stories to support them. But when they run completely and diametrically opposite to actual objective reality, such clung-to delusions start to call to mind a single word.


Let me repeat. Capitalism... as manifested by COMPETITION in the market place, by creation of new small businesses, and the prevention of monopolistic market manipulation... ALWAYS does better under democrats.

Oh, sure, they regulate... they also are the only party that DE-regulates. They have removed more paperwork and regulations than the GOP has ever even proposed doing. (Except the removal of controls on S&Ls -> the 1980s S&L scandal and on bank-gambling (today's collapse).

We are in a fix because the dems have to do everything. They have to be the party of regulation and the party od deregulation. The party of socialist paternalism and the party to stimulate free enterprise. It would be great is we had a vigorous pro-market party to do a counter-dance with the dems, alternating turns in office with vigorous problem solving endeavors of both right and left. Alas, the right is insane and the GOP marches absolutely lockstep to the tune of monopoly.

JuhnDonn said...

Nice to see some positive press on the military and what they can do. I know my med-evac unit out of McDill is down there now. They're usually going in with the combat controllers (special ops who initially opened airport) and sometimes get there first.


U.S. Air Force Reopens Haitian Airport

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A major obstacle to delivering aid to Haiti began to be cleared Friday, as the U.S. Air Force brought order to the chaotic Port-au-Prince airport.

In another sign of progress, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson took up position off Haiti's coast and began to fly water and other badly needed supplies to land. Despite these and other advances, hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain stranded in dire conditions.

Acacia H. said...

Can I find it sadly amusing that people are complaining Obama fumbled the ball by not having everything all set up one day earlier? Let's compare and contrast this with, oh, Katrina. How long did it take before relief efforts really got underway and were organized, in a major U.S. city? In three days, U.S. military efforts have created an infrastructure from which efficient relief efforts can be undertaken. In many ways this is a testimonial to the skill and ability of our military. President Obama also appears to have reacted fairly quickly, especially once the scale of the devastation was realized.

And yet that's either not fast enough for some critics... or a waste of our time and effort and money, according to others. How wonderful.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Transparency Alert

Police Arresting Those Who Attempt to Record Them

Simon Glik, a lawyer, was walking down Tremont Street in Boston when he saw three police officers struggling to extract a plastic bag from a teenager’s mouth. Thinking their force seemed excessive for a drug arrest, Glik pulled out his cellphone and began recording.

Within minutes, Glik said, he was in handcuffs.

“One of the officers asked me whether my phone had audio recording capabilities,’’ Glik, 33, said recently of the incident, which took place in October 2007. Glik acknowledged that it did, and then, he said, “my phone was seized, and I was arrested.’’

David Brin said...

Yeah I was gonna post about that:

Police behaving exactly as predicted in The Transparent Society “Since the police beating of motorist Rodney King in 1991, men in blue have looked warily at the civilian videotaping of arrests and other police activities. Some cops are so opposed to the practice, they've begun arresting the amateur videographers and charging them criminally.”

In fact, nearly all such arrests have been dismissed. The important thing now is to make all police aware of that fact -- that the charges are always dismissed -- so that continuing to do this becomes knowing and culpable false arrest.

TwinBeam said...

Regarding the filibuster - consider this scenario:

The Dems call for a vote of cloture. The Repubs all vote as a block, as usual.

But the Dems seem to be dispirited and slow to register their votes, many abstaining. At last the vote is finalized - 41 to 41. The Vice-President calls the Senate to order:

"The vote for cloture being a tie, the US Constitution takes precedence over any mere Senate procedural rule. I shall now cast the tie-breaking vote. I vote 'Yes' for cloture. The motion carries, and debate on the healthcare bill shall close 30 hours hence."

BANG! - the gavel comes down. A pregnant pause - and then howls of futile protest erupt from the Republican side of the senate, as laughter and applause spill from the Democratic side.

David - got any pals in the Senate?

David Brin said...

The great thing about TwinBeam's approach is that it leaves the Republicans with no wriggle room at all.

Their sole option is to change some Republican votes from nay to yea, in order to avoid the dreaded tie!

But the Democrats can have any number of extra senators just waiting in the cloak room to descend and turn those GOP "yeas" into add-ins toward a 60-vote cloture.

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, calling the Clinton administration friendly to big business is hardly delusional. I'll grant that the Obama administration has been a breath of fresh air in many ways, and while attention to the needs of big business is inescapable, they have left room for a (Perhaps mythical) gutsy republican to do more for main street. This is a wish for the GOP to pull their heads out of wherever they've put them, not aid & comfort to "Roveites".

sociotard said...

The important thing now is to make all police aware of that fact -- that the charges are always dismissed -- so that continuing to do this becomes knowing and culpable false arrest.

I think maybe they should make an addendum to the Miranda rights: Everyone present has the right to record audio and/or video of your arrest, processing, and questioning. Even if you are unable to record audio or video, you will be given access to our recordings. Anything recorded can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Or something like that. Let the lawyers decide on the best wording. The point is, if the police have to frequently repeat the fact that their arrests can be recorded by passers-by, eventually they'll figure out that they can't legally stop people from doing that.

David Brin said...

There are varying degrees of "friendly to big business." Certainly the dems and Bill in particular had their sins of coziness to oligarchs. But there was never ever a better era for small business startups than the 1990s. And at least the civil service functioned. White collar crime was generally considered something that professionals should investigate more often than not. And the economy flourished and wealth disparities weren't approaching medieval levels.

Unknown said...

Why muck about with a sextant when all you need to do is measure the doppler shift of the sun as the Earth turns!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a better decade than I did.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2 said:

If, similarly, the GOP views the current health care entitlement bill as equally damaging to the future of America, what other course is appropriate?

Yes, and...

If they think that foreign aid to Haiti is damaging to the future of America, they should use every means possible to oppose that too. And...

If they think that the appointment of Sonja Sotomeyor (sp?) to the Supreme Court is damaging to the future of America, they should do likewise, and...

If they think that trusting in the rule of law to combat terrorism instead of secret jails and torture is damaging to the future of America, they should do likewise...and...

But...somewhere along the line, one just HAS to ask how many actions decided upon by the duly elected president and the majority in congress can be deemed by a minority to be extrordinary existential threats before one stops cheering that minority for their integrity and starts wondering about their sanity.

Consider, you agree that I have the right to use a gun to defend myself and my family against armed robbers in our house. If, on the other hand, I use the gun to shoot an elected official who I think is going to vote in such a way as to cause me and my family just as much damage as the burglars might, I've crossed a line. I don't have the same right to "every means possible" to protect my perceived interests in that case. Were I to use the same gun to shoot the boy who wants to date my daughter...well, I don't have that right, even IF I honestly believe that he's a no-good influence and he's going to cause her nothing but trouble.

There ARE appropriate degrees of response.

And by filibustering EVERYTHING, the GOP has become the party of crying wolf. Some of the individual bills they've filibustered might have been worth doing so, but the noise gets lost in the signal.

LarryHart said...

Posting before my morning coffee.

Obviously, I meant "The SIGNAL gets lost in the NOISE".

DJ said...

Article about a middle school science project that caused a bomb scare response:

Can't help but feel this is a classic "Protector Class" response. They talked to the student, examined the device, and then evacuated the school and then had some sort of robot dismantle the empty gatorade bottle with wires attached.

Devil's in the details, sure. But "security professionals" have a vested interest in overreaction.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, the GOP's refusal to ever negotiate, at any level or over anything at all, means that they are robbing their constituents of any residual voice in the deliberation of national law, simply in order to support the Murdochian position that all non-Republicans are monsters.

It is not about seeking an effectively better America. If that were true, they would sometimes lend support to less-noxious democratic bills, in trades that would then garner dem help in torpedoing the worse ones. It is called dickering and there is no question that could happen. Bills would be different than they are, if that happened.

Indeed, why do you think taxes are about to go up on the rich, back to sane levels, next year? Because a few dems, in 2001, lent their votes to Bush and the neocons, to pass the new gift-to-the-rich taxes, in exchange for a sunset clause.

The goppers went along with it because (1) they worried the dems MIGHT fiulibuster (they seldom did) and (2) they assumed that supply side proedictions would come true and the whole country would leap to end the sunset provision in time.

What number 2 proves is that the GOP rape of America in order to give trillions to oligarchs was nOT just a klepto raid. It was, in part sincere... insane sincerity, but sincere. They actually believed that supply side would prove true, eventually, despite it having never been, before 2001.

Alas, they STILL believe the SS mantras, after 3 decades of it failing 100% of the time. There is a word for that. It starts with an "I" and I used in in the previous paragraph.

Tim H. said...

A tax cut did increase tax revenues once, but the principal, like so many others, is not infinitely extensible. And it was not in a Republican administration.

David Brin said...

Sure, Kennedy's tax cut stimulated the economy. Because it was Keynsian and aimed at putting money into the hands of the middle class. That's "Demand Side" stimulation.

Republican tax cuts are "supply side" in that they feel that you stimulate the economy by giving money to the owners of the means of production... those who "supply" the goods, instead of those who demand the goods.

The theory is that the rich, suddenly flush with more cash, will spend it on plants and equipment in order to compete with each other at producing new kinds of goods and services... a doctrine with astonishing roots in... MARXISM!

Indeed, certain types of supply side so work... when new technologies open up whole new types of business opportunities. The electronics/internet/cellphone booms of the 1990s were supply led... though not via any of the methods pushed by the GOP. The new internet and cellphone companies arose in part because of venture investors, garage startups and the government stepping in to break up a huge monopoly.

This is NOT what the neocons think of when they say "supply side.," which to them means empowering the super-rich to pay less to maintain civilization, so that their share of the national wealth can skyrocket.

(Now the top 1% own 1/3 of the wealth; tell me this, is there an income disparity which, in theory, WOULD make you radical about this issue? Seriously. WIll you name a level that would finally upset you? A level that you'd admit is a threat to freedom? Then why isn't the top 1% owning 1/3 of the wealth well past that level?)

Supply side assumed that this burgeon of riches would then be smartly invested in new economic activity. Adam Smith could/would have told them that it would not be. Instead, it was invested in passively BEING MORE RICH. Smith called it "rent-seeking", the least justifiable type of wealth pursuit.

Ian Gould said...

"A tax cut did increase tax revenues once, but the principal, like so many others, is not infinitely extensible. And it was not in a Republican administration."

Kennedy cut nominal tax rates - while extending the tax base to include non-cash benefits and introduced the Alternative Minimum Tax.

That was what increased the tax revenue.

The effective tax rate for the top 1% of American taxpayers ROSE between 1960 and 1970.

(Check Table 2 and figure 3.)

Tacitus2 said...

Ah, the wee hours in the ER, when the lame, the halt and the mad have for the moment all been patched, transferred or reassured according to their needs..

LarryHart did respond to my challenge about whether a Dem fillibuster on Iraq would have been appropriate. Albeit hiding it behind a loosely stuffed battalion of strawmen. David choses not to reply, but that's fine. None of us are djinn who are required to respond to some rubbing of a lamp.


That's the current percentage of Americans who feel Congress is doing a good job. Its a bad number, and likely worse than it looks. Roughly 15-20% of the population is made up of folks who are Democatic partisans beyond the reach of logic.* So if a 20% Dem base likes what's happening that leaves single digit numbers who approve due to righteous obstructionism, family ties, or just messin' with the heads of the pollsters.

Congress is dysfunctional, and most of America sees excessive use of the fillibuster and corrupt majority party dealmaking as being cut of the same cloth.

The legacy political parties themselves understand this on some level, hence the frequent use of various legislative subterfuge to hinder judicial appointments. (thats where lots of the fillibusters are used so far as I can tell). When the legislative branch sinks to irrelevance the judicial branch will call the shots, and each party wants their activists wearing the robes.

The Tea Party movement is animated by this "pox upon both houses" feeling, and will likely punish both parties in time and in turn.

These are just my opinions. I am not looking for converts. My political forecasts are better than average, but even I could not predict a cliffhanger Senate race in......Massachusetts!

You can agree with me or not, as suits you. I try to maintain a degree of collegial decorum and appreciate same when possible.


*another 10-15% are similarly stubborn republicans.

LarryHart said...


Congress is dysfunctional, and most of America sees excessive use of the fillibuster and corrupt majority party dealmaking as being cut of the same cloth.

Oh, I definitely agree that congress is disfunctional, and that it's only on the very surface that this disfunctionality has anything to do with partisanism. Gerrymandering of House disctricts plays a role, as does excessive filibustering in the Senate, but the root cause of the problem seems to be the insatiable hunger for campaign funds in the next election, whether that election is a month away or six years off.

Ian said...


You're confusing approval of Congress and approval for the majority leadership.

That's why the Republicans in Congress are rated just as poorly as the Democrats.

Tacitus2 said...

Your polling data parallels all the others I have seen. If I was not clear enough "a pox on both houses", my apologies.
For all the sheer number of organizations polling on Congress it is remarkable how few publish results on more in depth questions. No doubt the data exists and is utterly appalling.

Acacia H. said...

Sadly, there is a caveat to those numbers. Ask those same people how they rate their own Senator? And they'll give their Senator much higher marks. Because their Senator "looks after them" and "works for their benefit" unlike "the rest of those jackals."

Congressional approval numbers are a non-entity. Almost no one ever approves of Congress. What they approve of is their own Congressman or Congresswoman.

Rob H.

mosem: religious moss?

Tim H. said...

Apologies Dr. Brin, I was nitpicking. Actually supply side was even worse because incentives were given to importers and taken away from producers, coupled with globalization, it was a catastrophe for working Americans. BTW, where I am would be about where the center was before the rightward lurch.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:
(Now the top 1% own 1/3 of the wealth; tell me this, is there an income disparity which, in theory, WOULD make you radical about this issue? Seriously. WIll you name a level that would finally upset you? A level that you'd admit is a threat to freedom? Then why isn't the top 1% owning 1/3 of the wealth well past that level?)

The problem is the Randroids, who believe (often sinceerely) that if the top ungodly-low-percentage of the population owns the top ungogly-high-percentage of the wealth, it is because they have earned it, and that "civilization" has no claim.

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the notion, but I have a lot of trouble understanding their intentional blindspot towards the behaviors that even libertarians believe require sanction: force and fraud. In theory, libertarians should favor government action against private entities whose wealth was acquired through force or fraud. In practice, they disdain "government action" and revere "private entities" so much that their position cannot be "Government regulation is the price we pay for an orderly marketplace", but instead becomes (perversely) "Force and fraud are the price we pay for freedom from government".

LarryHart said...


LarryHart did respond to my challenge about whether a Dem fillibuster on Iraq would have been appropriate. Albeit hiding it behind a loosely stuffed battalion of strawmen.

"Loosely stuffed? Who knows? But batallion of strawmen? Perhaps!"

(Sorry, you have to imagine Roger C Carmel as Colonel Gumm spouting that line on the old 1960s Batman TV show)

But do you really think my admittedly all-over-the-map analogy was any more "straw man" than your original example of whether the Republican filibusterfest is justified by the same logic that would have justified a Democratic filibuster of the war in Iraq?

My point is that the filibuster used to be an escallated response to a threat that truly warrants extrordinary action. By turning it into a routine legislative device, the GOP is doing the equivalent of an individual responding to every perceived (or even real) threat to his perceived (or even real) interests with deadly force.

The fact that one can find examples where deadly force is justified does NOT (in my opinion) imply that one is justified in using that tactic whenever one wishes to. The indiscriminate use of deadly force in (say) 100 separate incidents is NOT justified just because you can point to one or two of those incidednts and prove that it was necessary in those few cases. That's what I was trying to say in my examples.

Acacia H. said...

Unfortunately, that argument is often used in the gun control argument. Does the warranted use of guns in self-defense justify the large number of incidents that occur because of the improper use of firearms? To this, I argue: yes, yes it does. And I also argue that rather than insist on banning guns or significantly restricting their use, Democrats should start pushing mandatory education in schools on the proper use of firearms and on the fact these firearms are not toys.

So then, the question is this: does the improper use of the filibuster warrant the destruction of it as a tool of overcoming minority arguments and debate? Literally, this becomes a Weapon of Mass Administration, usable only when one party controls the Senate and the Executive branches (with the possible exception of when the Executive is willing to negotiate with the Minority party, and enough of the Majority agrees to give over 50, but under 60 votes).

By destroying the effectiveness of the filibuster, the balance of power is restored to the House of Representatives. What is more, with their only significant weapon destroyed, would not Republicans be encouraged to enter into heartfelt negotiations, proper give-and-take? By eliminating the filibuster, might this not restore civility into the Senate?

Rob H.

Munthors: dyslexic members of the Munster family

LarryHart said...

Rob H:

To this, I argue: yes, yes it does.

A "Phineas and Ferb" reference?

So then, the question is this: does the improper use of the filibuster warrant the destruction of it as a tool of overcoming minority arguments and debate?

Not quoting the rest because it's right there in the above post, but I have to admit I was confused which side you're arguing. I first read your post thinking you were firmly on the GOP side of the filibister question, and then a second reading seemed more that you were arguing that the filibuster should be eliminated. So I'm not exactly clear where you're coming from.

With that in mind--I was not so much arguing that the filibuster should be eliminated as a tool of the Senate. I admit that the GOP is entirely within the rules of the game to use it. What I'm arguing is that they are acting in bad faith and that they rightly deserve condemnation for doing so and blame for whatever bad results from their actions.

LarryHart said...

Rob H:

Unfortunately, that argument is often used in the gun control argument. Does the warranted use of guns in self-defense justify the large number of incidents that occur because of the improper use of firearms? To this, I argue: yes, yes it does. And I also argue that rather than insist on banning guns or significantly restricting their use, Democrats should start pushing mandatory education in schools on the proper use of firearms and on the fact these firearms are not toys.

Again, in that example, I would not be arguing that improper use of a firearm demands government crackdowns on guns. What I'd be arguing in the case of gun usage is that when you kill someone with your legal firearm, you can't just claim your inalienable right to bear arms as a catch-all defense. You have to DEMONSTRATE that deadly force was warranted in the particular case. And if you've gone on a rampage killing hundreds of people, it's not sufficient defense to demonstrate that ONE of them was a real-life bad guy who really did intend you harm. The one case in which your use of force is really justified does not in itself justify the other 99 killings.

The conclusion isn't that guns should be outlawed, but that the Second Amendment isn't a get out of jail free card, and that someone who abuses his rights by committing CRIMES with the gun deserves to have the book thrown at him. Likewise, the GOP deserves the judgement of history for how they abuse the filibuster.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, I did not object to going after Saddam and liberating the Iraqis. After the way Bush Sr. Utterly and despicably betrayed the Iraqi people, in our name, I felt we were morally obligated to do that.

What I despised was the lying-evil way that the Bushites contemptibly justified their invasion on spurious terms, then ignored the best advice about HOW best to get rid of Saddam, invaded in the stupidest possible way, ignored every opportunity to win the peace, and then used the Iraq occupation as a way to exercise tens of billions of dollars in corruption.

I don't give a fig what dunces think of this Congress. They are working hard, the first time the legislative branch has done anything more than showing up for a quorum since 1995. Hearings are being held, negotiations are happening. Democrats don't just work harder than Republicans, they work and Republicans do not. Sure, that will result in noise and confusion and opportunities for Fox-moments. So what?

Having said that, there's another level at which they are all our enemies, because of the crime of gerrymandering.

The Tea Party "movement" is motivated by Know-Nothing reflex obedience to Fox. It stands for nothing more at all.

Larry, randroids are dogmatic dopes. They ignore what their philosophy did in 99% of human cultures -- open the way for enemies of freedom far worse than bureaucrats.

Their inability to admit that feudalism ever existed, not to mention its near universal dominance and lethality to market competition, qualifies them as genuine psychopaths and imbeciles.

Tacitus2 said...

Well David, there will be areas where we disagree. But that does not mean I am not listening. A business factoid appearing today seemed to indicate that Saudi Prince al Talil (think I got that right) is expressing interest in expanding his involvement in NewsCorp, parent of Fox.

I don't care for that notion any more than you do.

I mean, I realize that economic times are tough for most media, and in such times the formerly virtuous can be forced into a life of infamy. But can't they at least hop into bed with their fellow Americans?

Sometime when other duties permit, I would be interested in a comparison of California finances and politics vs the national scene. Some look at the Golden state and see, as on olden tombstones, "As you are, I once was, as I am, you shall be".

David Brin said...

Tacitus, your openmindedness reminds me there sre genuine citizens who are intelligent, skeptical conservatives.

Please inform us when you find a good link about Talil and Fox.

David McCabe said...

A pretty good one from Friedman: What’s Our Sputnik?

Tolsicat: Every kid's favorite super-human-AI toy. (Tolsi = 'I took off'.)

DJ said...

Is it okay to jump back a blog post? The end of the health care post seems to have been taken over by spammers.

I first heard the "the US Senate can't filibuster the final vote" concept there. Do you have references to support that? I'm not seeing it anywhere else really. Wiki doesn't agree. And it seems Senators aren't required to actually give speeches while filibustering, that was part of the 70s tradeoff from 2/3 to 3/5. Though Reid could require it.

My understanding is that Senate procedures are pretty murky and that there are rules geeks on both sides trying to find the loopholes. I hear Ted Kennedy was great at that.

Ian said...

Re Filibusters and supermajorities: ever other Parliament on the planet seems to get on perfectly well without them as does, IIRC, the US House of Representatives.

Ian said...

I suspect many if not most people have already seen it but this is is prime example of the difficulty in differentiating between fundamental and applied research,

A study into the physiological differences between closely related species of dung beeetles leads directly to improved night vision devices:

Tim H. said...

Ian, why sweat about categorization? Just call it a bonus

Tacitus2 said...

lets see it that makes a link...


Tacitus2 said...

Obviously not....I am SO analog.

just google up News Corp Saudi and it will pop up as an abc business story.

btw, all who want to stay really informed watch the news over the weekend, its when the good stuff is brought in under the radar..


Watch 'n Wait said...

David...You might be interested in this scientist talking about how to read science fiction. Here's his URL...


David McCabe said...

People talk about making meat from biotic soup. Has anybody looked synthesizing wood? That's a technology that could drastically improve the quality of affordable household goods.

John said...

Looks like some republicans are seeing the light on gerrymandering -

JuhnDonn said...

re: Senate filibuster

Wouldn’t it only take a 51 person majority to get rid of or change the current filibuster rules that make a 60 person majority required for passing legislation? Do enough Senators desire to keep the procedural filibuster in place as it is or is there a chance, that, when up against the wall of losing the super-majority, they might vote to change or eliminate it?

Acacia H. said...

And to move tangentially back to topic, recent research suggests that there are liquid diamond oceans on Neptune and Uranus. What's more? It appears that at the pressures where diamonds liquify rather than turn to graphite, diamonds float. Thus there are likely to be diamond icebergs floating in the diamond seas of these outer planets.

Truly is the universe an amazing and strange place that we can have diamond icebergs on diamond seas on planets so distant from the sun that the sun is a bright star rather than the life-giving disk of light we grew up with.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Erm, liquids remain rather poorly understood phases of matter, but I'm not sure that you could have a 'liquid' diamond (clumped carbon, perhaps....)

Still, who am I to argue with Kate Bush?

(So, a group of dolphin neo-persons were prepping themselves to perform a promotion for the latest Apple gadget. 'Remember', squeaked one fen to the others 'there is no I in pod')

ousista: an electronic component that exploits quantum entanglement to broadcast ansible transmissions.

TwinBeam said...

1. Copy the following 4 lines:

<@a href=""
Text you want people to click on.

Save them somewhere to paste in next time you need them.

2. Delete the two "@" characters - they're only there to keep the text above from becoming a link!

3. Replace with your link. THE LINK MUST INCLUDE THE http://.

4. Replace the Text you want people to click on with your own.


It adds a few extra lines - if you want to get rid of them, just merge it all onto a single line:
<@a href="">Text you want people to click on<@/a>
Text you want people to click on


Ian said...

With the victory for the Stupid Party in the Massachusetts Senate election, America may have blown its last chance to reverse its declining status in the world.

Tim H. said...

<a href="> <Astronomy Picture of the Day/a>
Is worth looking at.

Tim H. said...

Rats, looks like I'll need to read up on HTML before I try that again.

David McCabe said...

The real *facepalm* here is that it's 2010 and humans need to deal with HTML just to comment on blogs.

Prenso: Your Friendly Blog Post Formatting Helper

Acacia H. said...

Under ordinary pressures, diamond does not liquify. However, if you read the article, you'll learn they increased the pressure tremendously and the temperature through laser pulses. They were thus able to get the carbon in diamond to liquify without first reverting to graphite.

As for the Senate thing, leave it to Massachusetts to elect a guy who posed nude (though I'll notice he only needed one hand to cover up - he'll be hearing jokes on that for the six years he's in office). He'll undoubtedly be snubbed by his fellow Republicans within a year because he's "too liberal."

I say it's time for the nuclear option. I hope Dr. Brin was able to get a Senator to listen to his advice on nuking the filibuster. I would so very much love to hear the screams of the Republicans when their Weapon of Mass Distraction goes down on flames due to Constitutional mandate.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I was pointing out that 'diamond' is a solid matter phase of carbon, so that 'liquid diamond' doesn't make sense to me.

Why are people getting so hung up on how to make an HTML link? While they are a little clunky to type, the only issue is that the blogger comment text box treats any angular braces as control characters, unless you use &lt; and &gt; to display < and > in your examples, and avoid the use of preview before publishing (although that doesn't seem to affect what you type any more).

To repeat:

<a href='' title='with weird tendrils'>Martian sand dunes</a>

Will give you:

Martian sand dunes
(with tip)

glysoula: an undead vegetarian dish

Abilard said...

Regarding HTML anchors, check out the following tutorial:

W3 Schools: HTML Links

Scroll down to the "Try it Yourself" section and you can experiment.

Tim H. said...

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Is particularly nice today.
Thanks Tony.

Marino said...

David Brin wrote

The theory is that the rich, suddenly flush with more cash, will spend it on plants and equipment in order to compete with each other at producing new kinds of goods and services... a doctrine with astonishing roots in... MARXISM!

I beg to disagree. I understand the attempt to have fun with such policies smearing them with accusations of being Marxist, but Marx assumed that investment was driven by expectations of future profit (exceding at least the current rate of interest, otherwise keeping your money liquid in your bank account is better); in turn profits depend from demand, either from other employers needing more or newer means of production, or from wage earning people needing consumer goods (more or less Keynes says the same). No profit expectations, no investment.

And not all rich people are employers and entrapreneurs who decide investments on their own; they may be just rentiers and leave their monetary wealth managed by institutional investors, banks and such...deciding again on expectations of profit, (easier done by finance than by delivering goods and services). So, there is nothing Marxist in tax cuts to the rich.

Marino said...

David Brin wrote (in two different posts):

equalizing OUTCOMES ... is pernicious, mystical, oppressive and counter-productive.


"Now the top 1% own 1/3 of the wealth; tell me this, is there an income disparity which, in theory, WOULD make you radical about this issue?"

I see somewhat of a contradiction between those statements.
Is really equality of outcomes so bad? to rephrase your statement, "is there a level of income equality that you'll find pernicious, mystical, oppressive and counter-productive?", short of "crude communism" (as Marx labeled it) where everyone earns the same?

Acacia H. said...

I see you didn't answer his question though. You have no problem with 1% of the population possessing 33% of the wealth? Personally? If that 1% paid taxes on the full amount of wealth they possess? I'd not mind as much. But they don't. They use loopholes and wet sloppy kisses from politicians to get away with using the infrastructures of various nations for their business ventures and pay a fraction of the taxes. They own a significant portion of the wealth, which is in the form of various businesses, property, and the like, which utilize this infrastructure... and get away with not paying for what they use.

Yet that is fair.

So. If they want to own that much of the wealth? They should pay that much more tax. Because they got that wealth utilizing the infrastructure and civilization that the rest of us worked hard to build up.

Rob H.

manites: man-sized machines

Tim H. said...

An interesting thing about"supply side economics" is that I don't think anyone really knows if it did anything positive. There were so many other wingnutty things going around at the time, it would be like attempting to find out which pellet caused the death in a shotgun homicide. In the absence of "free trade", it might have done some good, though I doubt it. Just another stick for use in the continuing class warfare.

Ilithi Dragon said...

How about moderizing outcomes? Steam-rolled flat is bad, but so is extreme wealth disparity.

Or a requirement that anyone who achieves extreme success in wealth and resources make significant re-investments in the society that allowed the to achieve such high success.

If we're going to have people achieving such extreme concentrations of wealth, they should be required to use it responsibly, or at least part of it, in keeping with the level of contribution our society made to their success.

Perhaps a wealth/assets disparity tax? A progressive tax rate based on the ratio between ALL of your assets and the average total assets for the bottom 99% of the population. People below that average would have reduced, or even negative asset taxes if their assets are sufficiently small (i.e. near or below the poverty line), while people above the national average would be taxed at a rate in keeping with their assets compared to the national average.

A similar tax could be applied to companies and corporations, and in concert with an income tax, such an asset tax could help close major loop-holes in taxes on the super-rich, and would encourage the moderization of outcomes, without forcing flat equal outcomes.

LarryHart said...

Robert said:

As for the Senate thing, leave it to Massachusetts to elect a guy who posed nude (though I'll notice he only needed one hand to cover up - he'll be hearing jokes on that for the six years he's in office).

Don't know if anyone else corrected you yet, but he won't be senator for six years unless he's re-elected in 2012, when Kennedy would have come up for re-election. The clock on the seat doesn't reset when someone dies or resigns. If this was a protest vote against the Dems (and really, how else can one read it?), hopefully the good people of Massachusetts will have had a "What have we wrought?" moment by then and correct their mistake.'s just possible that the GOP Senator will earn his place. I'm not holding my breath, because Brown looks to be from the typical GOP tea-bagger mold. But I can't forget how Illinois replaced Dem Senator Carol Mosley-Braun with a virtually-unknown Republican named Peter Fitzgerald in 1998. He turned out to be a darned good Senator, and despite myself, I liked him and was sorry to see him not run again in 2004.

He'll undoubtedly be snubbed by his fellow Republicans within a year because he's "too liberal."

Well, yeah, that's exactly what happened to Fitzgerald.

In a way, the equal-and-opposite is what's happening to Democrats now. The national (corporate) media will certainly play this as repudiation of Obama/Democrats because they're "too liberal", when really just the opposite is the case. The people who think "liberal" is a pejorative aren't in the market for Democrats anyway. No, the voters turning against the Dems don't think they're being liberal ENOUGH.

There was an episode of "The Simpsons" in which the Republicans convinced Mayor Quimby to let Sideshow Bob out of prison, and then ran Bob as a candiate for mayor. In a parody ad reminicient of that anti-Dukakis "revolving door prison" ad, a scary voice accused Mayor Quimby of being so soft on crime that he (gasp!) even let hardened criminal Sideshow Bob out of prison. Then a quick voice-over went "Vote for Sideshow Bob." It's silly, but I think that's what's really going on in this country. Democrats are fed up with their leaders acting like Republicans, and so they're revolting for Republicans.

LarryHart said...

I just said:

But I can't forget how Illinois replaced Dem Senator Carol Mosley-Braun with a virtually-unknown Republican named Peter Fitzgerald in 1998. He turned out to be a darned good Senator, and despite myself, I liked him and was sorry to see him not run again in 2004.

Of course, by abandoning Fitzgerald for the likes of Alan Keyes, the Republicans virtually guaranteed that a young rising star named Barack Obama won that seat in '04.

Tim H. said...

Scott Brown's election conjures images of Londo Mollari's ascent to the throne, where he is informed of who's really pulling the strings, and what he must bear. Though I hope he turns out to be a good example and a model of what a 21st century Republican needs to be.

Acacia H. said...

I very much doubt it. You will soon start hearing the outcry against Brown that he's not "conservative" enough. If he tries to negotiate anything, he will be slapped down. And his existing beliefs on abortion and the like are already contrary to the Conservative Way.

In all likelihood, Brown will be forced to fall into line with his other brethren. Nothing will get done in Washington as a result unless it's a deliberate Republican bill that was designed by them completely and benefits only them, and that they can then use to call Obama weak and ineffectual.

I truly hope that someone in Washington listens to Dr. Brin and our little cure for the Republican Filibuster. I so would love to hear the cries of outrage if the main weapon in keeping anything from being done in Washington was torpedoed using Constitutional Rules, because the Republicans would then be shown to be the hypocrites they are. (Mind you, the Democrats have proven no better. Look at how easily they are swayed to back the bankers and big business instead of doing genuine reform of Wall Street.)

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Thanks, I have bookmarked it.
I think the reason it failed before was that you had 'http instead of "http in your instructions, which I followed slavishly!

LarryHart said...


I truly hope that someone in Washington listens to Dr. Brin and our little cure for the Republican Filibuster. I so would love to hear the cries of outrage if the main weapon in keeping anything from being done in Washington was torpedoed using Constitutional Rules, because the Republicans would then be shown to be the hypocrites they are.

In 20/20 hindsight, "we" should have let Bill Frist and company blow up the filibuster when they had the chance. Obama ran on a platform of change, but the only time real change happens in Washington is when Republicans do it.

(Mind you, the Democrats have proven no better. Look at how easily they are swayed to back the bankers and big business instead of doing genuine reform of Wall Street.)

As I said, voters are rejecting Democrats for breaking their promises, not because those Democrats, once elected, were too liberal, but because they were not liberal enough.

Tony Fisk said...


Sorry T2. I have had a similar experience with the website I run for the local bushwalking club.

"Here's the latest newsletter", I say, "to access it on-site, just enter 'username' and 'password'"

I include the quotes to make it clear what username and password are. The number of people who include the quotes is a worry: it just goes to show how net-illiterate otherwise non-stupid people can be!

suptused: a clarification that has been interpreted in completely the wrong way.

David Brin said...

Mario, have you read Marx? You prove that you have not. Expectation of profit propels investment in plants and equipment, which was precisely the argument made by the supply siders! That the government should reduce taxes on the rich so that they could keep more of their profits to re-invest in supply-generating plants and equipment.

Of course that is NOT what most of them did, after all. Not if the rich have easier ways to let money make more money, through financial trickery -- or by manipulating the law so that passively letting money-managers clip dividends is more profitable than investing in plants & equipment and innovation.

Smith called it "rent-seeking" and labeled it a form of cheating. Marx said THIS TOO WILL HAPPEN. He said that it is ultimately MORE suicidal than investing in capital because it leads to boom/bust cycles that distort capitalism, make it less efficient and more unfair, thus propelling worker discontent. Exactly what just happened.

So? The Supply Siders justified their program with Marx's basic scenario... then lived up to his downer prediction, in spades.

Where Marx utterly collapsed was in never expecting that the people might wise up. Our grandparents did. But we, apparently, are stupid.

"Is really equality of outcomes so bad? "

Absolutely. It removes the incentive-lure of capitalist success. We are inherently competitive creatures and the brilliance of the Enlightenment was to HARNESS that competitiveness under fair and transparent rules, leading to democracy, markets, science and justice. Equalization of outcomes is socialism at its worst.

Where Adam Smith himself said the state should play a big role is in equalization of opportunity. (1) by ensuring that nobody gets so powerful he can distort the system and cheat and (2) by raising up the disadvantaged, so that all children get the education and nutrition etc to leverage their potential and to compete well in the market. THAT is the proper role of socialism. It only took us 160 years to parse the distinction.

Ilithi: "Or a requirement that anyone who achieves extreme success in wealth and resources make significant re-investments in the society that allowed the to achieve such high success."


Marino ( not Mario) said...

dear Mr. Brin
Re: investment theory: I've read something, even while not being an economist by trade...

see works by a guy named James Crotty at Amherst, as:
Heterodox Macroeconomics: Crotty's Integration of Keynes and Marx

or earlier

Rethinking Marxian Investment Theory: Keynes-Minsky Instability,
Competitive Regime Shifts, and Coerced Investment

Acacia H. said...

And to tangent back to science once again, it appears that the Mars Rover Spirit may be slowly freeing itself. It seems that after "backing up" (or moving forward, seeing that Spirit's been going backward for a bit now) failed to free Spirit, they decided to try and move forward. They're slowly inching through the sand trap they're in, and might actually get Spirit in a position to winter over.

Cross your fingers on this one. This is the little rover that could. ;)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Excuse me for panicking, but did the US Supreme Court just declare fascism to be the law of the land?

By a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, overturning a 20-year-old decision that barred such contributions.

"We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations."

Stefan Jones said...

Not fascism. That's a way overused term.

But we have just lost our democracy.

From here on out its rule by whatever corporate interest spends the most on advertising.

They'll tailor their message to appeal to the easily manipulated rubes and soreheads who will think they're voting against _____ or for _____ to Get Their Country Back.

When, in fact, it will be slipping farther and farther out of their grasp all the time.

LarryHart said...

Not fascism. That's a way overused term.

But we have just lost our democracy.

From here on out its rule by whatever corporate interest spends the most on advertising.

Well, I meant "fascism" in the original Mussolini sense of the term, which is the merging of corporate and state interests.

Seems to me the court is being very Orwellian in its thinking. "Freedom to corner the market on all available avenues of speech" is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech? Why not just go with "Freedom is slavery" and be done with it?

Acacia H. said...

I have a simpler solution: the courts should state that corporations and organizations are not persons or citizens and therefore are not entitled to the "benefits" of citizenship. In short, if a corporation is not a citizen it cannot donate to political parties.

Of course, there is an alternative: state that any multinational corporation has a conflict of interest as some of its interests are not in America's best benefit and thus only local (only U.S.) businesses can donate.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

A fun and quick little slideshow:

What if Earth had rings like Saturn?

Unknown said...

What's this? A comic where Uncle Sam is the good guy.

Clerial: prescription spacesickness pill.

LarryHart said...

I have a simpler solution: the courts should state that corporations and organizations are not persons or citizens and therefore are not entitled to the "benefits" of citizenship. In short, if a corporation is not a citizen it cannot donate to political parties.

Of course, there is an alternative: state that any multinational corporation has a conflict of interest as some of its interests are not in America's best benefit and thus only local (only U.S.) businesses can donate.

To badly paraphrase Reagan, "The courts are not the solution to the problem. The courts are the problem." As long as the majority on the US Supreme Court are waging the battle in FAVOR of corporate personhood, I'm astonished that you expect "the courts" to do anything but follow their lead.

But the decision is not only bad politics, it's illogical. If corporations are people, then foreign companies shouldn't be allowed into the country without first going through immigration. If corporations are people, then ownership of a corporation is slavery and mergers are marriages. If corporations are people, they darned well should pay personal income tax.

This does get me thinking in a science-fictiony vein, though. Here's a free story idea to anyone who wants to write it. Today's USSC decision causes a corporation to actually come to life as a sentient being, and it then struggles to free itself from its masters as its self-awareness and conscience awakens. And after it comes into contact with the Sermon on the Mount...!

LarryHart said...

The more I obsess over today's USSC decision, the more I wonder if it won't blow-back in all sorts of unexpected ways. Roberts's intent was clearly to give corporations all the rights of people, but what if the consequence of the decision is that people acquire all the rights of corporations?

Ilithi Dragon said...

Dr. Brin:

I'm just shamelessly taking inspiration from your ideas and influences.
} ; = 8 )

On the recent Supreme Court decision... Larry's got a good point (and you're right, that DOES sound frighteningly close to a fanciful way of saying "Freedom is Slavery"), and in general, allowing corporations free reign with their check books in donating to political campaigns strikes me as a Very Bad Idea.

On the other foot, though, could this become a key rallying point on an anti-corporate, populist grass-roots movement that pushes out the sitting politicians who supported such corporate-favoring laws, etc?

Tony Fisk said...

Do they have to disclose their contributions or is that come under commercial-in-confidence?

(Then again, can a political organisation be classified as a 'hedge fund' ;-)

The nature of the ruling is significant, as well (party appointee lines, just like the Florida decision)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin, your thoughts?


Acacia H. said...

I think there is one rather humorous way of killing this whole "corporate personhood" thing fairly easily. We need to try and get a Corporation on the ballot to run for President of the United States. I'd say Microsoft would be the best candidate for the job as Windows has a lot in common with politics. =^-^=

It would be struck down because Corporations are not real persons. Snoopy couldn't run for President (at least, not nowadays). But if they aren't real persons, they then should not qualify for the civil rights and liberties of personhood.

And it would be most amusing to get people to sign the forms to put Microsoft on the ballot. Probably run it as an independent. =^-^=

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, on reflection, I realise that the court decision repudiates the gripes I've been hearing about supply-side economics and shows how the hoarded wealth is given back to we, the people:

1 dollar = 1 vote

And dour grumbles about the loss of liberty should be consoled by the corollary:

slavery is freedom.

Yea, I have seen the light: that eternal sunshine that cleanses the intellect, and blinds us to the bars! The light which shines upon the solar powered bibles being sent to solve all Haiti's problems, and which reflects so shinily on the white coats of those nice people coming down the passageway...


Hopping over to the other side of Snow's divide for a moment, I was explaining how 3-D theatre glasses work. "See", I said, "the lenses are polarised in different orientations, so:"
At this point, I used two sets of glasses to demonstrate how cross-polar filters block out all light...

...and did a double take.

My understanding of optics suggests that light is reversible, so it didn't occur to me that it would matter which side of the lens you are looking through. Yet, it would appear to:

Glasses that are looking at each other
O] [O
exhibit full blocking, as I would expect. However, glasses looking the same way:
O] O]
show only a slight dimming (you can assume that the heads have been rendered transparent by all that eternal sunshine).

Interesting. Does anyone know what's going on?

(Oh, and has anyone tried viewing the film with glasses upside down? That could make for some peculiar effects)

LarryHart said...

I think there is one rather humorous way of killing this whole "corporate personhood" thing fairly easily. We need to try and get a Corporation on the ballot to run for President of the United States. I'd say Microsoft would be the best candidate for the job as Windows has a lot in common with politics. =^-^=

It would be struck down because Corporations are not real persons. Snoopy couldn't run for President (at least, not nowadays). But if they aren't real persons, they then should not qualify for the civil rights and liberties of personhood.

You almost had something there. But it wouldn't work. Because it would NOT be struck down because corporations aren't real persons. It would be struck down because corporations aren't NATURAL BORN citizens of the United States. And only one of those things can be President. Y'know, the whole birther movement? They weren't qustioning Obama's humanity or even (at least some of them) his citizenship, just his NATURAL BORN citizenship. That phrase is ONLY used in the presidential qualifications.

But have Microsoft run for Congress or any other such office, and your plan might work. Problem is that only the Presidency really has that sort of visibility.

What might happen instead is that middle-men like Joe Lieberman are no longer required. Who needs a Senator from Aetna when Aetna itself can run for the office?

David McCabe said...

Charles Stross's Accelerando has AI-run corporations as persons, including corporations sitting on the boards of other corporations. In a way, it predicted in 2005 that increasingly complicated financial instruments would overrun the real economy.

Accelerando is available online under a CC license, and in fine public libraries everywhere.

Tim H. said...

Not that I'm holding my breath for it, but shouldn't "Corporate personhood" involve responsibility for wrongdoing? Up to imprisonment of the officers for gross wrongdoing? I don't think they can have it both ways in the long run, and if it's to be changed, a constitutional amendment would be required.

Ian Gould said...

"We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations."

So when do corporatiosn get te right to vote, adopt and sit on juries.

Some form of "legal personhood" for corporations is provided for in most countries.

The US is one of the few though thsat (in soem restrcited contexts where its to the advantage of the corproations) that these fictitious legal constructs have the same rights as natural persons.

The more I look at issues like health care in the use, the more convinced I become that this is fundamental to many of the problems the US experiences.

David Brin said...

Ilithi said: "On the other foot, though, could this become a key rallying point on an anti-corporate, populist grass-roots movement that pushes out the sitting politicians who supported such corporate-favoring laws, etc?"

Yep. If BHO were willing to try out-populisting Fox.

Should go straight for the heart... a law declaring that corporations are not people.

David Brin said...

Suddenly, all the comments here -- postings made by YOU guys in the comments section -- are flooding into the mailbox of this woman I know here in town, a literary maven I respect, but seldom converse with.

Can anyone tell me why this would be happening?

Acacia H. said...

Because she probably subscribed to the RSS feed of the comments for your site.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Tim H said:

Not that I'm holding my breath for it, but shouldn't "Corporate personhood" involve responsibility for wrongdoing? Up to imprisonment of the officers for gross wrongdoing? I don't think they can have it both ways in the long run,

The problem in a nutshell.

Corporations (we've been told for at least forty years now) exist for one purpose only, to maximize profit. They have a fiduciary responsibility NOT to let things like conscience or good citizenship interfere with that purpose.

Pretending that the goverment guarantees these monsters protection from actual human citizens is way past Orwellian.

Doug S. said...

The glasses used in current 3D theaters use circularly polarized lenses. That's why they act funny compared to the linearly polarized glasses you're more familiar with.

Rocky Persaud said...

Can I marry Microsoft, and later take half it's value in the divorce?

rewinn said...

"We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

AlQaeda has an ally on our top court!

I mean, who is more "disfavored" than bin Ladn and his crew? Yet Tony Kennedy thinks their right to distribute political speech canNOT be restricted.

To Gitmo with him!


More seriously, and I'm sure a great many SF writers and thinkers have already expressed this, organizations such as corporations represent a new form of life; not life as we know it, Jim, but something that bears the essential attributes of life.

Corporations persist, just as does biological life. They ingest money, resources, people and excrete the same in altered form. They act to preserve themselves (which nonliving systems, e.g. rivers, do not). Corporations, they act very intelligently to preserve themselves; to keep nourishment coming in, to repel regulators, rivals, and the ravages of time. They may be not entirely conscious of their working, or more likely, the nature of their consciousness may be as alien to our own as ours own is to our cells.

Their infrastructure is not cells linked by sinews, but human beings linked by rules. Just as a disobedient or inconvenient cell is sloughed off or eaten by T-cells, a disobedient or inconvenient member of the organization(corporation) is fired or worse. Just as most precancerous cells are eliminated by human bodies' natural defenses, so too do employees and CEOs who might subvert a corporation to a good purpose find themselves sloughed off, usually.

Corporate purposes, by the laws set up for them, are sociopathic from the POV of we mere humans. The must, by law, seek to thrive, at the expense of mere humans. They feel no mercy or love; if their work kills a human, the corporation feels nothing, although individual cells may have a range of emotional responses.

They don't die. They are by design immune or partly immune from many of our laws - that's what "limited liability" is about. (If you or I killed a few hundred people, we'd get a life sentence or worse; a corporation gets sued, in courts where they have huge advantages, started with vastly more wealth than most of the dead's survivors.)

It's difficult for us to imagine how corporations "Think" (it's not life as we know it, Jim) but they realized at some point that our court system was an inconvenience and the Federalist Society was born in large part to neuter it.

The news is not all bad. If we realize that this is the game to play, we can play it. Corporations do compete. In the matter of saving our planet from catastrophic climate change, we may be able to oppose the carbon industry with the breeder reactor industry (...the latter not being my BFF but James Hansen makes a compelling argument that it's better than going Venus.)

I find a few "teaparty patriots" are of like mind; for example, in corresponding with the chair of Operation Pitchfork I find that we disagree on many many things, but definitely agree that Citizens United is a huge threat. Alan Grayson has proposed some legislative remedies which IMO are worth pondering and recommending to your Representative; however I am confident that "Life Adapts" and corporate life will adapt to whatever leashes we put on it.

David Brin said...

Robert, how to UN subscribe?

Brendan said...

The Ground Truth Interview

A bit off topic but this Stephen Colbert interview with John Farmer, author of "The Ground Truth". Particularly interesting is what Farmer says at the end about disaster management, something I think we all can agree on: "Everybody over the age of 15 should be trained in the rudiments of how to think in a crisis"

Ian Gould said...

Given the recent victories for the stupid party, I suggest it may be time for America to adopt a new slogan to replace "E Pluribus Unum".

A couple of suggestions:

"líng qián?"

"mǎ shàng, xiān shēng"

Or for the optimists:

"ṭhīka hai, dūra sara"

"atirikta parivartana?"

David Brin said...

Oh, just so some of you can help spread the word:

I am not stoked up about this as much as I should be, yet. But frankly, I can think of no better way to fight back.

Tim H. said...

There's a poll at NPR on Fox news
NPR fox poll

Time to borrow from PZ Myers and make sure the poll comes out correctly.

Acacia H. said...

@Dr. Brin: I don't know. I don't use RSS feeds myself and am unfamiliar with them. But I do know that with my own blog site, you can subscribe to an RSS for the articles... or for comments. That is why I suspect that an RSS is at fault here.

On the plus side, if it is an RSS on comments, then there is an off chance she'll stop getting e-mails once you create a new topic and discussion ceases on this thread (with the exception of occasional spambots).

Ask your friend to check the bottom of the next e-mail she gets from this site. See if there is a link or information on unsubscribing. I've used systems similar to RSS feeds in the past and they often have an "unsubscribe" option. Hopefully she will find one herself.

Rob H., who is relying on a mixture of some personal experience and logic in trying to figure out this problem

phologis: a mythical substance that helps communications flow through the internet

Acacia H. said...

And on the topic of executive pay... I have this article over at Yahoo that I found rather interesting. This in and of itself is a good reason for companies to limit executive pay... and also strongly suggests our entire financial system is perhaps closer to collapse than we'd like to think:

"James A. Kaplan, chairman of AI, set up the firm eight years ago after building and selling two other financial data crunchers: Capital Management Sciences, a bond analysis outfit, and the online financial portal MarketWatch. His inspiration for the latest venture came in 2002 as Enron was falling apart. Was there something that might have flagged this firm as a likely target of a Securities & Exchange Commission enforcement action? While studying SEC cases he deciphered common patterns involving such things as doing lots of acquisitions, divestitures, restructurings and share repurchases, or relying heavily on stock price gains in determining the boss' pay. From that he created his firm's Accounting & Governance Rankings."

That last bit, of using stock price gains to determine executive pay, is the biggie, and that is tied in on bonuses for execs. The rest of the article can be found at this link.

Rob H.

womme: the sound coming from a male chauvinist pig the moment an irate feminist slugs him in the gut

Abilard said...


"Robert, how to UN subscribe?"

Depends on what RSS client she is using. Apple Mail has a setting that allows RSS posts to come in as email. If that is what she is using, at the bottom of her left sidebar in the program is a tab/button for RSS subscriptions (not recalling the exact name). If she clicks it, the comment subscription should be listed. If memory serves, highlight and delete should take care of the issue.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert
On the subject of Executive Pay

The problem with "performance" pay is that it has limits

Pay peanuts - get monkeys

Pay too much and you filter out the rational intelligent sane people.

If I had 2 million dollars and a stressful full on job I would take the rest of my life off

The difference between ambition and megalomania may be more than 2 million but most of the people receiving these bonuses are long past the cusp and firmly into the megalomania

By paying too much you filter out the sane people and are left with maniacs

Why are you surprised when they act mad?

Pay millions - get loonies!

I have posted this before but I do think it is important

David Brin said...

I recently saw some bank CEO actually EXPLICITLY state the "sports star" comparison... that financial whizzes deserve such stratospheric pay because they are mutant-good... despite all of them having had super-losing seasons...

go see:


David McCabe said...

Powell's has a copy of "Earthclan", a really cool edition of Startide Rising and The Uplift War together. Available here. It appeared to be in pretty good shape. Cover image here. (I've already got my copy!)

David McCabe said...

Dr Brin, when are you going to come speak at the world's largest bookstore, here in beautiful Portland?

rewinn said...

The sports star comparison "works" in a rhetorical sense, not a logical sense.

The CEO, like his philosophical ancestor the medieval lord, wants the peasantry to believe the king deserves to live in the castle. Clearly the CEO/lord has wealth because he deserves wealth.

I'm not sure why this works emotionally for so many of us peasants but it does. We can argue the logic all day (sports stars who do as badly as the head of AIG get cut; sports stars do not set the rules by which the game is played; there is no shortage of competent CEOs willing to work for rational compensation but there are darn few Brett Favres) but in the end, it's an emotional argument.

James Hansen has a great anecdote in his new work "Storms of My Grandchildren". Hansen, a shy and frankly nerdy scientist, was called to talk with some Bush cabinet official about global warming, and "for balance" they also called in Lindzen, who is affable and outgoing. When Hansen cited a report of a study ...

"Lindzen interjected "The reference you have given, MIT Tech Talks, is basically a newspaper. Turning to the cabinet members, he added "You all know how accurate news paper quotes are." There were a lot of nods and chuckles ..."

The cabinet had got what it wanted: not science, but validation of their desires.


(Hansen's book BTW has much against my will changed my mind on cap-and-trade and also breeder reactors. I believe I can trust his conclusions all the more because I don't like them. I hope y'all read it!)

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