Thursday, January 27, 2011

State of the Union: The Things Obama Did Not Have to Say - But Did Anyway

The president’s State of the Union Speech was - at long last - the one I wanted him to give. It went after the very poison that has so sickened the United States of America. His call for us to shake off the Cult of Future-Hatred, indulged in by both right and left, was about urging us to start looking forward again, instead of to some mythically better past.

Clearly, Barack Obama does not expect that to happen through a sudden coming-together in unity and courtesy.  (He did ask for those things, but we know that asking will not make them happen).  For those those demanding accountability for the greedocracy of a looming oligarchy he had only incremental steps toward transparency. And, while the President pointed out the hypocrisy of Teaparty “deficit fighters,” who plunged the nation into tsunamis of red ink during their watch, in the name of disproved Voodoo Economics, he did so in fairly gentle terms. For one simple reason.

Because none of these side-skirmishes are where the real battle lies.

As I’ve said for months, for years, the real agenda of the neoconservative movement - its one consistent theme - has been to wage bitter war against nearly all centers of American expertise.

You may have only heard of one part of this campaign -- the relentless and undeniable Republican War on Science, now so blatant that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh have all taken to deriding “scientists” as a universally-damned caste, no longer even applying qualifiers or conditionals! It’s become so flagrant that - whereas twenty years ago thirty percent of U.S. scientists registered republican - now, according to the AAAS and the Pew Research Foundation, only 5% cling to their old political loyalties with the GOP. Many remain “conservative” over matters of fiscal or foreign policy, but none can any longer abide an all-out, Know Nothing campaign against fact-based reason.

Is this why I applauded, so heartily, the president’s repeated references to science, technological leadership, innovation, education and bold entrepreneurship, in his State of The Union address? To renew that post-Sputnik spirit -- the fierce dedication-to-curiosity that forged the keel of our prosperity and success?  Of course it was. 

It reminded me of the moment I liked best, back on election night in 2008, when Obama’s victory speech resonated in so many ways... but I kept aloof from the regular, ringing rhetoric, listening not for the words that he had to say, but those that he inserted wholly on his own account.

(Try to develop this habit. It can be illuminating!)

We expected him to endorse all the requisite motherhood and apple-pie phrases... some of them universal, or pan-american and some blandly liberal.  You know, like unity, brotherhood, responsibility and - yes, hope. Yada. Good things. And totally expected. 

But when he spoke of a nation propelled forward by curiosity... that was what I had been listening for.  It wasn’t a word on anybody’s requisite political litany or list of necessary catch phrases. It was not compelled by politics, polemic or audience expectations, nor by tradition or dire need. Nobody even commented on it, in all the speech postmortems. It was there simply because Barack Obama thought that it ought to be.

A nation propelled forward - in part - by curiosity.  In 2008, it was a drop-in hint.  Last night, it was the central theme!

Moreover, Make no mistake, it was militant. They were fighting words. For, I was watching closely, and every single time that Barack Obama referred glowingly to science, or innovation, or entrepreneurial boldness, you could see the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, grimace or frown a little deeper, making clear that this is precisely where our deepest battle will take place.  Not across fictional gaps in a mythical and stupidly misleading so-called “left-right political axis.” But across a chasm between those dedicated to the past and those eager for the future.

Let’s be plain: I would have liked the speech even better, had President Obama directly challenged Congress to perform an act of good faith, by restoring the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), and other independent advisory boards that were wiped out during Republican control, when they decided to dispense with the inconvenience of reality checks from even the most studiously impartial and nonpartisan commissions.  Not having restored the OTA, when she had the chance, counts as my biggest grudge against former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama should have demanded this, and dared the GOP to justify its refusal.

Yet, this is about so much more than science and technology.  Last night’s speech hinted that the President at last understands; the “war on science” is only the most blatant, surface manifestation of a general campaign against all of our professional castes. 

Name one that isn’t under fire from the new-right! Scientists, teachers, university professors, attorneys, civil servants, diplomats, journalists... heck even cops! And yes, if you have watched carefully, or know anything about the “miracle of 2006”-- even the brilliant men and women of the United States Military Officer Corps have been under assault, for years.

Why? Why has such a broad campaign to discredit (almost) every highly skilled and educated expert class become the centerpiece of conservatism?  A hijacked version of conservatism that has Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave?  You have only to look at the few centers of elite expertise that have been left alone! Those that are spared this all-out onslaught. The financial industry, industry lobbyist associations, and the hyper-rich.

A select group who are spared attack by Fox News. Now why would these groups want to fund propaganda aimed at undermining all other intellectual elites? Unless... in order to the power of those with the skill and fact-based knowledge to notice and point fingers at outright lies....?

Hm... well... maybe we can analyze that another time.  For now, let’s get back to the speech.

I had one proud moment when I heard the president drop in another of those “he did NOT have to say that!” lines. There was one sentence, while he discussed our need to improve American schools, when Obama mentioned something that our schools do better than any others on the planet. Do you recall what it was?  Did any of you catch it? Even briefly?

I doubt one pundit in a hundred  noticed.  But it is something that we do SO well that  Education Ministries in Delhi, Tokyo and Beijing send out hundreds of minions, every year, re-training teachers to instruct their classes in a more American manner!
Boldness, confidence, creativity, and unabashed willingness to question.  These are traits that American schools (and parents) encourage very well! They are not easily measured by standardized tests, so they do not get mentioned in the news, nor do they become the fodder for hand-wringing political diatribes. But, at last, I have seen one politician notice! Moreover, it is important. In order to improve, it is necessary to grasp what you are doing right, as well as what’s wrong.

    Do I expect this speech to make much difference? Indeed, was it even worth the time I spent writing about it?

Not really.  Certain parties in high places, not just in America but in foreign lands, have already chosen to re-ignite Phase Three of the American Civil War. We are in it, right now, 150 years after the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. (Which happened ten years after the Civil war actually began, in 1850. Ask me later.) When things have gone that bad, one doesn't hold out much hope for transformation emerging out of a single speech.

But at a time when all forms of expertise and skill and knowledge are the chief victims and targets in a bilious civil war, and when science is the paramount enemy - openly declared - of a faction that wants us to turn our backs upon tomorrow... any talk of "winning the future" is welcome, indeed.

----  FOLLOWUP ---

“During an appearance with Greta Van Susterin on Fox News, Sarah Palin criticized Obama for referencing Sputnik during the State of the Union, because she believes that Sputnik brought down communism. She said, “Yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time, that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.” Yep, Sarah confused the space race with the arms race.”

Please, go read the article.  See what she said. Does it get any plainer than this? Choose tomorrow.



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Pangolin said...

Our education system is too expensive and too stultifying for far too many students. For every opportunity to ask an actual question to satisfy curiosity a student must take endless hours of dictation.

Get science out of the excess packaging and people might be willing to support it.

Tim H. said...

Less of a war on science than a war on mouthy, uppity, independent scientists, that aren't properly respectful of their betters. The new aristocracy needs those skills, but they rate them little higher than plumbers, and would prefer them to be loaded with debt and always worried about their job.

Dwight Williams said...

I believe that I can make an educated guess as to which events in 1850 you're referring to, centred around the Compromise Act of that year.

Now I've got to hear that speech in its entirety.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

Wow, you said several things I wanted to respond to and then moved on to a new thread. Since I'm not sure you'd see a response on the old thread, I'm going to post the response here, and hope that's ok.

Concerning the Fugutive Slave Law. From the article Dr Brin linked to:

"One complaint of the South has, in my opinion, just
foundation; and that is, that there has been found at
the North, among individuals and among legislators, a
disinclination to perform, fully, their Constitutional duties
in regard to the return of persons bound to service, who have
escaped into the free States. In that respect, it is my
judgment that the South is right, and the North is wrong."

Herein is an insidious consequence of the squeamishness on the part of the fledgeling U.S. to acknowledge the reality of the "peculiar institution" danced around in the Constitution. Recall how the infamous "three-fifths clause" regarding representation never mentions the word "slave", but rather talks about citizens, un-taxed Indians, and "all other persons." Likewise, the above argument in favor of the FSA willfully ignores any distinction between persons "bound to service" as convicted criminals, as voluntarily-indentured laborers, and as slaves. That willful ingnorance takes a reasonably-sounding argument--that CRIMINALS shouldn't escape punishment by fleeing to another state, or that someone who SOLD HIS OWN LABOR shouldn't be allowed to violate his contract by fleeing the state--and turns that into a perverse argument that an abomination practiced by one state (human beings as property) must be respected by all other states.

LarryHart said...

Concerning Ayn Rand:

LarryHart said:”Randian heroes would have no special consideration for unearned benefits for their own children.”

Hm... well I’d find this more credible if Rand ever actually engaged the issue. As-is, her absolute aversion to ever mentioning reproduction or the love & care of children or the role of generations in human life seems clear and decisive evidence for mental disease, especially in someone who purports for thousands of pages to be the wise arbiter of human custom, ethics and society.

So far, I agree completely--especially the disconnect between her philosophy claiming status as a universal arbiter of all human society and its utter disregard for the realities of child-rearing. Let me further reiterate that I think Ayn Rand has done harm to America as much as anyone in politics or broadcasting today, and I hate the thought of arguing her side in any form. Nonetheless, in the interest of CITOKATE, the following must be pointed out:

Barring explicit denial from her own mouth, one can only presume that she has no problem with the overwhelming drive that dominated every human society, to maximize reproductive success by ensuring that your own sons will be lords.

While Rand's heroes didn't have children, they DID have parents and siblings. Both Dagny Taggart and Francisco D'Anconia were children of productive families and neither simply rested on his/her inheritance, but insisted upon proving worthy stewards of that inheritance. The closest to an inherited "lord" in the Taggart family was Dagny's brother James, and he was presented as a villain of the piece, and one of little consequence at that. Hank Rearden's family (brother, wife, mother) were hangers-on who expected to live off of his largesse, and his character development (such as it is) culminated with the realization that he cared about them not a whit, and owed them nothing. The inheritors of the Starnesville factory (where Galt originally built his motor) were unabashed commie carricatures, and destroyed their father's business inside of a generation.

So while I agree that Rand is tone-deaf to actual human relationships, I can't agree with your contention that she's fine with the children of her heroes inheriting privilege. Rather, I believe her heroes would be the type who expect their children to pay for the cost of their own upbringing, and the "good" children would agree that they owed compensation to their parents, lest the parents be forced to "live for the sake of another."

LarryHart said...

Oh, and back to the Fugitive Slave Act. From SECTION 6:

"In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence."

So even if the ALLEGED fugutive is the victim of mistaken identity (and therefore not actually "bound to service" even under the slave state's own laws), his testimony to that effect has no bearing on the case?

By what "reasoning" can this be justified?

Dwight Williams said...

Preserving the means of recruiting fresh "merchandise" for the slave merchants. The victims of mistaken identity were deemed a useful sacrifice, apparently. >:-(

Corey said...

but, of course, as Obama gears his speech towards looking towards the future, the GOP will use any lame excuse in their arsenal of lame excuses to keep us firmly where we are, in this case, debt:

What really lends credibility to the ideas of this particular post here is that the GOP is rejecting spending on science and education and technology, on the claim that it will add too much to our deficit, while DEMANDING that we add three quarters of a trillion dollars to our deficit in tax cuts to the rich.

The fact that they can even do this with straight faces shows that it isn't really about the money, and that certainly makes it more plausible that it's about holding up science and education for the sake of holding up science and education.

David Brin said...

Pangolin, have you really compared US school experience to those overseas? The extent to which US students take "dictation" is trivial compared to anywhere else on Earth.

Tim H... that is why the oligarchy's 3rd biggest worry is new tech billionaires like those in the silicon valley.

LarryHart... yeah okay... there is a slender implication (nothing more) that Dagney, Reardon etc would refuse to make their kids into unearned lords. Or that they'd at least talk a line about that. But even that generous concession leaves a gap that is so huge that her entire philosophy is rendered virtually meaningless:

1- even kids who inherit nothing formally were raised in a rich house with top education and networking with power brokers, while swiping whatever they can from mom & dad and selling or squirreling it away for later.

2- she avoids looking at human history AT ALL! Nor is there even ever a nod in the direction of Darwin.

It's all incantations. Even her incantatory rhythms are borrowed from Marx.

Corey, it would be one thing if Supply Side were proved fact. That largesse to the top 1% translated into new "supply" investments in plants and equipment. STudy after study has shown that this "oughta-be-so" incantation does not translate into reality. That top 1% wealth augmentation has the LOWEST MULTIPLIER in investment or in economic activity Velocity.

But there's the ghost no one will talk about. We are at war. If we weren't we'd have Clinton's surpluses! And during war ALL OTHER GENERATIONS OF THE RICH STEPPED UP TO HELP PAY FOR THE STRUGGLE.

But not this generation.

LarryHart said...

We're in a recession if not an outright depression. Under the circumstances, tightening money is exactly the WRONG thing to do. Under the circumstances, government spending (to offset private spending, which sin't happening) is a good thing even if they're just paying people to dig holes and fill them back in. If government pays people to build useful infrastructure, that's even better.

For government to pay people and therefore to help ease recessionary pressure, it has to come either from taxes or from borrowing.

The GOP's insistence on lower taxes AND lower borrowing is a recipe for endless depression. And the stupid Tea Partiers are howling for these measures to be taken because they're scared OF the depression.

I'm convinced Republicans are incapeable of doing simple arithmetic.

LarryHart said...

Dr. Brin,

Just to avoid being completely the Off-Topic Guy, I did read your latest post here, and I want to thank you for giving me a reason for optimism.

I did listen to most of the SOTU speach, and I had WANTED to come away feeling good about it, but found precious little to get excited about. Thank you for a thoughtful analysis that causes me to see the president's speech in a better light.

Guess I'll have to send the Dems a donation after all.

gmknobl said...

It is entirely possible you are correct on your conspiracy theory, particularly in light that I believe many many people in corporations, and because of relaxation of government rules or enforcement and our trust busting ways of yore, in government now too, are interested in only one thing, making money. That's not a bad thing but when it's the only thing, look out. Teddy Roosevelt has several quotes about that.

Because they only see the short term profit they will make and don't really care about anything else, no person, nor government matters except as a means to achieve more profit.

This is why Rupert Murdoch does what he does. And such raw greed knows no national or cultural boundaries.

Tony Fisk said...

Coincidentally, the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report has just been released. Quoting from the BBC news article:

"Regulators, politicians and bankers were to blame for the 2008 US financial meltdown, a report has claimed.

The US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, tasked with establishing the causes of the crisis, said it was "avoidable".

Its report highlighted excessive risk-taking by banks and neglect by financial regulators.

Only the six Democrat members of the 10-strong commission, set up in May 2009, endorsed the report's findings.

Dealing with debt by cutting spending on the things that form the basis of America's productivity is a bit like raiding the seed corn bin when hungry.

Tony Fisk said...

... or starving bobby calves prior to slaughter.

Rob said...

Ah David, I haven't watched Fox News in years. I check in at the website from time to time. Caught an hour of Glenn Beck while traveling last year. The last passive moment before we cut the satellite feed altogether was during the "Obama pals around with terrists" meme shortly before the '08 election.

So no. The best way for me to not let them enrage is not to watch Beck, Hannity, and O'Reilly try to enrage me.

But there doesn't have to be a lack of bias or a scattershot approach to sensationalism for my explanation to remain plausible.

Yours is similarly plausable, I'll grant, but screeching at me to wake up is not useful; I take umbrage, sir.

Tony Fisk said...

Just a moment....

Egyptian internet has just been shut down

Dwight Williams said...

I guess we have some clues as to why the blackout in these articles:

David Brin said...

Rob, I meant no direct personal disrespect and apologize.

I do wonder what it will take for blue americans to finally decide to boycott the Advertisers who keep Fox in business.

Who would have thought that the biggest geopolitical effect of Julian Assange's WikiLeak of State Department documents would be to HELP the US government come across as good guys to the rebelling populations in Tunisia and Egypt? Cables show US diplomats having discretely but relentlessly badgered both regimes to release dissidents and allow reforms, boosting US cred among the people. Nothing could have been farther from Assange's intent.

Corey said...

Dr Brin, as much as I once was willing to *merely* excuse Republicans as innocently ignorant advocates of a what is, at best, a questionable notion of economics (which I wouldn't consider so much "disproved" as just not proven enough to move from hypothesis to theory), I really have a problem with doing that here.

It's true that, if operating in a vacuum, one could claim that the GOP is supporting $700 billion in tax cuts to the top earners to spur economic growth that will ultimately help deal with the deficit, but taking all things together, this just doesn't seem, to me, to fit the larger picture.

If the GOP was really trying to cut taxes to the tune of $700 billion to spur investment that would bring in more overall money, even if they thought it worked remotely like that, they would be IN FAVOR of Obama's proposals, because he's just proposing the EXACT thing the GOP claims they are: investments today that will bring in more money than spent tomorrow.

The GOP knows full well that investments in technology and infrastructure would bring in revenue and create jobs. The fact that a number of red states are now getting a notable portion of their jobs from government wind power investments speaks to this fact.

Investments of this type would bring in enormous sums of money for our nation, helping to keep the economy robust in addition to putting our nation on more competitive footing, technologically. We (voters) know it's true; the GOP knows it's true; We know the GOP knows that it's true; the GOP knows that we know that they know that it's true.

The GOP can't get around this, so, again, the only conclusion that I can draw is that this isn't even about SSE anymore, because even their own twisted logic can't explain their behavior! The only thing I can figure is that it just isn't even about the money anymore.

Corey said...

Of course, again, that only endorses your theory that, at least on some level, the GOP is now intrinsically opposed to furthering general science and education.

Tony Fisk said...

Well, there does appear to be a bit of sour grapes from Assange, even before his rise to infamy in US circles.

Still, I'm not sure about 'boosting US cred among the [Tunisian] people.' not being Assange's intent. If so, would Tunisian diplomatic cables have been released? You clearly have your own theory (being sat on by Salon?)

David Brin said...

It is a question of allocation. The same $700 billion can be "spent" on tax cuts for the top 1% in hope that it will achieve supply-side investment multipliers that massivey wipe out that debt.

Or it can be spent on infrastructure, while giving jobs to the unemployed, hoping that both infrastructure companies and the newly employed will buoy the economy on the demand-side.

And that, incidentally, the improved infrastructure will also stimulate economic activity.

Now history has shown that the latter, Keynsian approach has often had its problems. Clinton took heat from the left by openly avowing that fact and reminding democrats that Keynes recommended BUYING DOWN DEBT IN GOOD TIMES. Exactly as the Pharoahs did, or any family would do. Thus proving that the Clinton wing - at least - was willing to learn/adapt.

Nevertheless, Keynsianism has an 80 year track record of being at least partly right. Without question, money in the hands or the re-employed has a huge velocity and multiplier. When inflation is low, demand pull is unbeatable. Denying this is part of republican insanity.

But nowhere near as big a part as believing that supply side has ever worked, at all, under any circumstance, ever. In any way. Ever.

Why pursue it then? Boosting deficits? Boosting wealth disparity. In times of war?

Simple self-interest, vampiric parasitism is more than enough explanation. But also there's dogmatic re-definition... that $700 Billion in cut taxes are not "spending." This makes up a big part of the hypnotic incantation used to make TeaPartiers support what is diametrically against their own interests... like following slave-owners into the civil war.

In order for the incantations to work. ("It's not the government's money, it's my (well actually, the Koch brothers') money!") It is necessary to undermine all expert castes who might use statistics and facts to show otherwise. And it is necessary to portray the US government as the Enemy. The only enemy. One that should die die die!

The greatest Generation... including ALL of the republicans of that era,... are spinning in their graves.

David Brin said...

Tony, I think Assange just spilled all the cables he could, confidently expecting the US State Dept would wind up being revealed as evil & corrupt.

I think he's stunned.

Tony Fisk said...

Ah, yes: assuming the whole system is rotten because of a few bad apples at the top of the barrel ('Mensa mentality?') That would fit (having been criticised by one of his former colleagues for premature release of cables)

Rob said...

Rob, I meant no direct personal disrespect and apologize

I know you didn't mean it personally, but man, you were starting to sound like the people you oppose. Come to Portland; I'll buy you a sandwich someplace nice. :-)

In any case, the effect is the same: whether the reason for Fox's editorial stances is populism and ratings or a conspiracy, scientists still take it on the chin. Stewart holds up a mirror to the populism and news-as-entertainment face.

I'm off tomorrow to go tell State-level politicians not to eviscerate school budgets at the Capitol, by the way. Wish us luck, y'all.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Very interesting article and I think related to Dr Brin's comments on Obama's speech

I like Robert J Sawyer as a writer and I think he is spot on here

Tacitus2 said...

Let it be noted that not all infrastructure investments are created equal, and in fact some are bargains others boondoggles. The fact that somebody draws a paycheck from both genera is not sufficient reason to write checks without oversight.

Here in WI a good example is the much touted high speed rail project linking Milwaukee and Madison. It was a substantial issue in the last gubernatorial election, with the Republican promising to axe it. (He won btw, and is doing just that).

Listen, I like trains. I take them when I can. But there are places where they make sense and places where they do not.

Eastern Corridor. Yep. Enough traffic to make financial sense. Trans Siberian. Yep, no other options.

But if you know in advance that a project will cost a lot, almost certainly run over, then have no chance of breaking even in the forseeable future....then the fact that there would be some jobs generated is quantum insufficit. The money should be directed elsewhere.

You want to seriously invest in cost effective infrastructure I will give you a workable example from my field. Cook up a universal medical EHR. Give it free to all providers. Mandate its use if you want to collect any Medicare/caid money. You would break even rather quickly.

Others exist too, but lets not make all infrastructure projects to be good things. Some are. Some are scams with probable political corruption to boot.


Alex Washoe said...

There's nowehere that the Cult of Future hating is more visible than the bookstore. Go into the Science Fiction section and count for a while. What percentage of those books are really science fiction -- future oriented -- science fiction and what percent are fantasy? (Even in books that are science fiction, Steampunk and alternate history have exploded -- neither of which is really a future oriented subgenre). People lost their faith in the idea of progress, of building a better future. One of the first things an alcoholic or addict learns in recovery is that you have to believe, at least a little bit, that it's possible to have a better future, or you'll never do the work necessary to recover. America has to have that belief too -- not that it will be better, but just that it's possible for it to be better. Otherwise, as a culture, we'll never do the hard work we need to do.

Acacia H. said...

You know, I've been tempted for several days now to go through my list of webcomics and of several webcomic portals I know of to try and get an idea of how many science fiction webcomics there are. I would be willing to bet that there are more science fiction webcomics than science fiction novels currently available on the shelves of Borders and Barnes and Nobles.

The reasoning is simple: science fiction storytelling has moved to a new medium for dissemination. It has taken a "graphic novel" route to take advantage of the visual nature of the Internet (and the fact that people dislike reading lots of text on computer monitors, one reason why I'm fairly certain e-book readers like the Nook and Kindle will prevail over Apple's iPad as a means of reading e-books).

In short, science fiction storytelling has embraced the future technologies and is moving away from a faltering print industry that doesn't know where it is going. While the new format may not be exactly profitable, and is more time consuming in creating content than prose (though that's debatable), science fiction is still out there... and is increasingly in the hands of the amateur storyteller who has the curiosity and drive to use this new medium.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Hypnos said...

I don't think Egyptians will look positively on the US because of the cables.

In the end, what will matter most is three decades of acquiescence and military support to Mubarak's regime in exchange for stability in the region.

If the Egyptian people prevail and Mubarak is forced to flee, it will be the Muslim Brotherhood that takes its place. I hope it will prove a moderate force, shaping Egypt into a succesful democracy, like Turkey is.

But tensions with Israel - remember, Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, after all - will grow, and so will animosity towards the USA.

A few concerns expressed by diplomats behind closed door will not undo decades of compromising with awful dictatorships, and the 10 years of Bush's War Against Islam.

David Brin said...

Alex & Tacitus... excellent points.

BCRion said...

"The extent to which US students take "dictation" is trivial compared to anywhere else on Earth."

Totally agree, Dr. Brin, with the caveat that this extends to Canada and much of Europe. When I was in graduate school, part of my program was to take non-technical coursework. Mine specifically focused on college education in science, tech, & engineering, and one of the courses I took dealt with international students in the US. Many of the studies we examined reached these same conclusion -- students from non-Western backgrounds had much of their learning from rote memorization and not abstract thought. My professor in that course, who grew up in China, agreed from her personal experience.

This confirms what I saw anecdotally throughout the college. No more was this typified by a colleague in graduate school from a non-Western country who could recite numerous facts but could not, for the longest time, identify weaknesses or limitations in the current state of the art. By contrast my Western colleagues had very little trouble in this avenue. I've also noticed this in my career as well: the most productive scientists in my field tend (granted, there are notable exceptions) to be American or European despite having lots of people from Asia.

Not to shortchange my brilliant colleagues from other cultures, but despite the large number of non-Western Ph.D.s granted in the US, I still maintain those with a Western background remain more productive scientists, on average, than their non-Western counterparts. This is despite what test scores would suggest -- standardized tests cannot easily assess the type of intelligence required to be a productive scientist. I really do believe, from life experience, that this is largely a consequence of the questioning attitude in Western culture.

David Brin said...

Robert & Hypnos too.

BCRion said...

"Here in WI a good example is the much touted high speed rail project linking Milwaukee and Madison. It was a substantial issue in the last gubernatorial election, with the Republican promising to axe it. (He won btw, and is doing just that)."

Tacitus, I totally disagree with you. I spent many years in Madison and traveled to Milwaukee quite frequently, along with trips to Chicago and Minneapolis (the two other points on the line). Had this option been available, I would have made extensive use of it -- I know enough people who live in places to depend on for local commute. I know many others just like me in those areas who would as well.

Unfortunately, this was a net loss for WI. The money will not be used for other projects in the state, and instead will be given to other regions. From this point, I find Gov. Walker's stance to be purely moralistic and not driven by pragmatic needs to do what is best for the economy of southern part of the state.

Dwight Williams said...

Speaking as someone who'd like to travel by train more often to more places as I get older, I sympathize with BCRion. That was a sad fiasco of a consequence for your state.

TheMadLibrarian said...

BCRion, I wonder if that why the biggest educational boondoggle of the last century, 'teaching to the test', aka No Child Left Behind, has been embraced so hard by the Republicans. If you don't promote independent thought, your scientists and engineers are great at tweaking what already exists, but you don't have to worry about them running off and inventing something useful.


ionfr -- next generation ion power source tech

Dwight Williams said...

Scary thought. Entirely possible.

Wondering about the provincial and territorial education ministries on my side of the border now...

Tacitus2 said...


To be clear, I think the rail link would have been a good thing...but if resources are limited, and if we can't accomplish each and every good thing, it had at best questionable economics.

People in good faith could certainly debate the projections on cost, ridership, dollar value of related development etc. The analyses I have seen were not encouraging.

In the interests of bipartisanship I can even allow you all your pet theories as to where our wealth all went. Iraq, House of Saud, etc.

But the point is we no longer have the resources to blindly toss cash around. This is the central challenge to liberalism in the modern era, not just here but abroad. And I am using the term liberal in its most original, most positive who wants to be generous with the wealth of society.

Such as it is these days.


Duncan Cairncross said...

Tacitus2 said

But the point is we no longer have the resources to blindly toss cash around.

I would beg to differ "we" have MORE resources now than at any time in the past, there may be issues with bookkeeping but the amount of resources "available" for infrastructure development is huge

LarryHart said...

If the government is broke, maybe it should do what private businesses (airlines, for example) do in similar situations--charge various fees for services on an a la carte menu.

I know, I know...that sounds like I'm advocating pay-for-service police and fire departments. And doubtless Repbulican governors and mayors would be hot to implement just that. I was thinking more along the lines of "You want us to defend your interests in a foreign country? Sure, we provide that service for $20 Billion." "You want to use the courts and armed deputies to evict the occupants of a foreclosed house? A steal at 500 grand."

Contrary to conservative fantasy, government does provide value to the citizenry. I daresay that if the RICH paid fair market value for the benefits THEY derive from the functioning of a healthy, stable society, we'd be way in the black for decades to come.

And yes, I'm tired of hearing how "deficits don't mattter" when it comes to conservative spending, but that liberal spending is constrained by what we can afford.

I used to be a fiscal conservative, but I gave up during the Bush years. Literally "gave up" in the sense of never expecting the debt to be paid down to managable levels no matter what. So when you say "We can't afford a railroad", I don't hear "If we don't spend the money on a railroad, we'll have less debt or something more valuable instead." I hear "We can't spend the money on a railroad because some corporate interest already has its eye on that money instead."
So I've gone all reverse-Grover Norquist now. I want to borrow and spend as much as possible on LIBERAL goals before the corporatists grab all the wealth for themselves.

BCRion said...


To clarify, I'm not saying that we should not have the debate as to what the most profitable use of our tax dollars are. That is perfectly legitimate and I can definitely see better uses for the money than the rail line. I understand the limited resources argument, but that's not what this decision was about.

That said, state governors primary responsibility is to look after the well-being of the residents of their respective states. In this case, whether rightly or wrongly, the choice was either accept the money to be spent (if suboptimally) in WI or have it spent elsewhere. The money will be spent for a high-speed rail somewhere independent of Gov. Walker's decision. That's the pragmatic reality, so his decision just moved the spending elsewhere.

A purely moralistic stance* given the options, and to quote Salvor Hardin from the Foundation novel, "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right."

If Gov. Walker wanted to have influence over how federal money is spent, he should have ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress. There he might have been able to change the spending into a better investment without simply causing it to go elsewhere.

* Not saying that it is wrong to take moralistic stance. As an extreme example, it would behove any politician to turn down money for Soviet-style "reeducation" facilities despite having economic benefits. However, I think most of us would agree that high-speed rail itself is morally neutral.

BCRion said...


No Child Left Behind is a symptom of a much larger trend, which has been going on for far longer, of basing everything on results of standardized tests. Standardized tests are easy to administer and evaluate and the easy scoring gives convenient numbers upon which decisions can be made.

Certainly, it is a noble attempt to try and measure future economic productivity (the real metric of interest), so I do not doubt the motives of the standardized test proponents. Unfortunately, the qualities that make a populace economically competitive in a complex world where there needs to be a significant fraction of the population serve in creative capacities cannot be so easily distilled with such.

Putting so much weight on these scores, which may measure very little about what we actually want, is not sound education policy. I don't think we have the answers, yet. More candid discussion on this issue is needed.

Woozle said...

BCRion -- charging the rich for government services (since they've decided they don't want to be taxed to pay for them) seems like a brilliant idea to me, or at the very least a very useful positive-rhetorical tool to use in debates.

It would be really useful to have a longer list of such services to bring up.

Also, can we think of some way to define, as a class, those services which we think it would be reasonable to charge for? Some definition without too many loopholes...

Tacitus2 said...


I must admit, the concept of a governmental unit of any size turning down money for the common good is alien. Your example of re-education camps? Not happening yet but close...far too many jail and prison expansions being built to house inmates for profit. Not a little govermental subsidies there too.

Now, on the rail issue, the analysis I saw that convinced me was that there would be ongoing deficits for, well, ever. This would saddle the future citizens of WI with the ongoing costs of a system that would likely never be profitable. Few European systems are in the black as I understand it.

If it is just accepting a big 'ol Ed McMahon check to create some jobs, well, sure. But a sober look at the ongoing costs and benefits did not wash. So WI had to cut its losses. Gov. Walker did after all run on the promise to do this very thing. There is a somewhat similar situation going on with a bridge tunnel project in NJ where Gov.Christie is saying no thanks. Sometimes if enough people start to make stands on principle, even with short term downside, it can change things.


LarryHart said...

There is a somewhat similar situation going on with a bridge tunnel project in NJ where Gov.Christie is saying no thanks. Sometimes if enough people start to make stands on principle, even with short term downside, it can change things.

I'd credit Gov. Christie with more "principle" if he wasn't at this moment having to beg federal funds for plowing snow because he won't raise taxes to pay for the provision of the service himself.

Christie is actually running ads on Chicago radio here telling local businesses what a great move it would be to relocate to NJ because they're pro-business. In other words, he won't tax local businesses to pay for essential services--he'll just get a bailout from the federal government he spends the rest of his time running against.

I know that Wisconsin is also trying to lure Illinoians away, but at least to my knowledge, WI isn't keeping taxes low by refusing to finance basic services. I'll give you guys a little more credit because of that.

Patricia Mathews said...

Tim H. said...

Less of a war on science than a war on mouthy, uppity, independent scientists, that aren't properly respectful of their betters. The new aristocracy needs those skills, but they rate them little higher than plumbers, and would prefer them to be loaded with debt and always worried about their job."

The easiest way to accomplish that is to turn it into a pink-collar job. Code it "female." Then watch how fast it devolves into grunt work at low pay with no respect and tight supervision.

BCRion said...


You bring up some good points. A lot of economics really depends on the assumptions made (e.g., cost of petroleum) and whether you look at more than first-order effects; most studies stop here. Roads are a prime example of one thing that is a loss in money until you look at how an economy gains when people and goods move freely.

Perhaps the rail will, by itself, not turn a profit. I contend that's irrelevant if there is net revenue from its side benefits. As a problem solver, what annoys me most is that no one, to my knowledge, asked the question about what we could do such that there would be a positive sum. The easy road is to axe the project, rather than try to use it to your benefit. Such is the age we live in, I suppose.

Add to this, that this is an issue that could have been used as a bargaining chip to get pro-business legislation streamlined through the Legislature. I suppose Walker saw this as unnecessary as his party now controls that. Just like at the national level, there seems to be little compromise going on.

BCRion said...


As you indicate, there are many practical issues here. I guess I don't have a comment until I see a more fleshed-out proposal.


"I know that Wisconsin is also trying to lure Illinoians away..."

Well, look at it this way, Chicago is the biggest cause of brain drain on the Wisconsin economy. The University of Wisconsin system invests a great deal of money to educate its populace. I don't have hard statistics, but it seems only a few of my engineering friends (most of them residents and getting in state tuition) actually stayed in Wisconsin. Most moved to Chicago because there are a lot better paying jobs down there. This, in effect, is Wisconsin taxpayers subsidizing Illinois businesses. So yeah, trying to lure back the people the taxpayers helped educate is only fair in my mind.

LarryHart said...

Wisconsin vs Chicago, all's fair, I suppose. I just think it's funny that we in Illinois are supposed to be chafing under an "onerous" state income tax of 5% (up from 3%). I believe that WI's tax is actually higher, and was higher all along.

Look, I live in Cook County, and if the argument was about property taxes, I'd agree they're pretty high. Sales taxes as well, especially on gasoline. But Illinois's INCOME tax as a heavy burden? Not from where I stand.

Anonymous said...
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David Brin said...


For a while there I started to fall into the asshole's trap and imagine he'd been stalking me... then saw several signs that he doesn't have a clue how I live, what I own or my lifestyle.

Again... I have done civilization and the Earth more good with my pinkie (which I don't even use to type my books!) than that blowhard will do in his entire life.

Acacia H. said...

I know of very few writers or scientists who can afford million-dollar homes. And while I believe in Internet Anonymity and the protections it provides, I also feel that if anyone is going to badmouth someone else, they should have the guts and balls to do so with their own name. Not anonymity, not even a pseudonym, but their real name.

In short? Sounds and smells like bullshit from some little troll who doesn't have the courage to stand out there and reveal who he is. Why? Because no doubt his own little skeletons will prove him to be some inept little whiner who doesn't have a leg to stand on, or even any idea of what he's talking about.

Please. Prove me wrong. Take a step out of the shadows. Put aside your cloak of anonymity.

You won't. Because you have no balls.

Rob H., whose full name (well, middle initial) (and URL for his website which would likely reveal even more about him) is easily found elsewhere in this discussion thread.

Duncan Cairncross said...


You are just a sad plonker please go forth and multiply

David Brin said...

All right, quick linguistic scan using a goog-utility I got from Sergey. I see it's the same obsessive stalker putz some of you remember. I had a net-PI get everything about him a year ago. No sweat. Useless to the world AND nasty-crazy. But till he actually comes close, I'll leave him alone in the real world.

And delete the loon in this one.


Tony Fisk said...

Careful what you wish for, Duncan!

Corey said...

Wow, sounds like I missed something interesting while at work these past couple of days...

Tony Fisk:
"Careful what you wish for, Duncan!"

I was kind of thinking that myself; it was an odd way to respond to a troll :D

David Brin:
"I have done civilization and the Earth more good with my pinkie (which I don't even use to type my books!) than that blowhard will do in his entire life." type without your pinkies? :)

Tim H. said...

ms Mathews, not just pink collar anymore, void of slack is being applied equally in the service industries. One of the less charming aspects of neo-feudalism.

Acacia H. said...

Tell me about it, Corey. When I found Dr. Brin typed pinkie-free, I was surprised. My pinkies get quite the workout whenever I'm typing (partly because I'm a stickler about capitalization and have a love-affair with the letter "a"). While I doubt Dr. Brin does two-finger typing like my friend Bill, he could very possibly utilize four-finger typing as I've seen some people use - it's still efficient enough and probably doesn't aggravate the carpal tunnel as much as full-finger typing. ^^;;

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

It is easy to become despondent about the state of mankind generally, or about the failings of some of its subunits (down to the individual level!).

So here is something that ought to brighten your day. It is possible you have run across it before-I first saw it at a global health conference last fall-but this is the first time I have seen it in a more mainstream outlet. With better graphics. And a cool Swedish chef accent by the primary researcher.

I recommend a quick viewing.

200 years of progress

Things actually are getting better.

Eight finger typing? Pshaw.

Two most useful classes I took prior to med school were typing in high school and acting last semester of college! Who knew these would help my transition to electronic medical records and give me a wide repertoire for bedside manner!


Tacitus2 said...

Third try on that link!

200 years of progress

Dwight Williams said...

Linkage works! Posted an embed of the original video on my own LJ as "DEWLine".

ell said...

In Robert J. Sawyer's novel "Wake," the Chinese government clamped down on the Internet to hide news of a nuclear attack against its own people.

Egypt cut the Internet to keep the mobs from organizing tactically. egyptpoliticsunrestitinternettelecoms

Or as one entertainer noted, nobody at home can shop on-line, no wonder they're out in the streets.

You know an invention is powerful if the government feels the need to control it.

Ian said...

"The easiest way to accomplish that is to turn it into a pink-collar job. Code it "female." Then watch how fast it devolves into grunt work at low pay with no respect and tight supervision."

This was exactly what happened to doctors in the Soviet Union.

In an earlier generation it's what happened to "secretary" - originally a young (male) protege who was entrusted with his master's secrets.

Acacia H. said...

I must admit, the cynic in me is surprised at what's happening in Egypt. I fully expected this to go the way of Iran's protests - with a government crackdown that forced people to back down and no actual change.

But in this case, it is looking increasingly likely that the protesters may very well prevail. What's more, they fully understand the threat of a theocracy and don't want that either - they want a secular constitutional democratic government.

If it happens? If we see two Middle Eastern nations succumb to Democratic Protest Movements? I have to wonder if we'll see protests erupt in Iran once more. And I'm fairly certain we'll see them in other nations as well. (And part of me is curious as to what would happen with Hezbollah if Syria succumbed to a Democratic Protest Movement. If they lose their most immediate and local mentor... would they be able to hold on for more than a couple of years? Especially if Iran is forced to reduce funding thanks to the ongoing sanctions?)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Regarding Egypt, I'm wondering if we're seeing the beginning of this decade's version of 1989, when one Eastern Bloc domino after another fell at a speed no one (not even the anti-commies themselves) would have predicted until the old "iron curtain" simply was no more.

Could something like that be starting in the Middle East? Talk about a game-changer.

And just to tangentially relate all this to David Brin, when listening to the attempts to stop communications from spreading via internet, I was reminded of the scene in "Earth" describing the Generals in...was it Argentina?...thinking they could get away with secret, dangerous energy sources in this age of transparency.

David Brin said...

Actually, what I am waiting for is the revolutionary public in just one of these countries to realize that there is a complete win-win... and no downside... to declaring war on Switzerland.

Acacia H. said...

You, sir, have just blown my mind.

I would think other nations would step in. They'd have to, for one fundamental reason: their own rich would demand it.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

In EARTH I posited this as the fundamental clash of our time. Perhaps we in the "civilized & democratic" west cannot gather the gumption to do what needs to be done. But in places like Tunisia or Egypt, where teeming masses fester in anger over the billions that were stolen from them by their corrupt former rulers, there might be just enough steaming radicalism to propel a simple demand.

"Give us our national treasure! Give us our money back!"

Only, it would take more than a demand. Some method, some gesture is needed, to set this demand apart from all others. To make sure that it is taken seriously. A declaration of war would achieve that.

Imagine this. The new Tuniaian leaders say: "We do not aim to kill or injure even a single Swiss citizen. On the other hand, the misery in our country that YOU directly cause, by not throwing open your books, so we can trace every stolen dollar, will cause the deaths of many of our citizens. Deaths that could be avoided, were you not complicit in the crime!"

Complaints are yawn-worthy... but talk of war, especially against such a surprising target, will draw attention!

Moreover, a state of war opens up all sorts of possibilities. Wait till a Swissair jumbo jet has landed in Tunis, then seize the bugger! Seize Swiss-owned vessels on the high seas. Demand the freezing of Swiss assets under the laws of belligerent states. And gather more allies.

When your coalition is large enough, introduce resolutions to have all UN agencies and the Red Cross headquarters moved out of Switzerland. Indeed, simply by ending Swiss bragging rights ("We haven't been at war since 1815...") you will get even in ways that are both effective and poetic justice.

Okay, this is a draft of a posting... Just trying it out here first.....

Duncan Cairncross said...

to declaring war on Switzerland.

Dr Brin you have just cemented your place as provoking the most controversial ideas


François Marcadé said...

I think that “A declaration of war” against Switzerland would be very problematic, they are part of the Council of Europe and therefore the member states(that includes Russia) should at least pretend to be on their side (OK, it is not a NATO type alliance were Declaring war on one member declares war on all of the other). Further I think Switzerland has a maximum 2 dozens high sea Vessel that can easily change flag to the German Flag, if needs be, because they operate from German ports. It is actually much more that you would expect from a landlocked country. In any case Switzerland is not anymore the worst offender, because of the pressure of other European state during the negotiation of the Shengen agreement, Swiss prosecutors honor mandate from their foreign colleagues for crimes that exists in Switzerland. Although tax evasion is not a crime in Switzerland, corruption definitively is.

For Tacitus, from what I have heard so far in France, the high-speed train lines between the main cities, are making a good profit, what brings a loss are freight trains and Low speed passenger train from the middle of nowhere back the big cities. Both activities that the government promises to subsidies, but never does enough to compensate for the real costs. And I am not speaking of their Pension plan that was making sense at the end of the age of steam but not anymore.

Tony Fisk said...

If the prospect of a Helvetian War blows your mind today, imagine the cognitive dissonance on reading it 20 years ago! 'WTF' is putting it mildly!

On the topic of US education as a valued export and insurrections, dig this BoingBoing article:
Egyptian army officers educated in US defence colleges for the past thirty years. At first sight another example of how the US backs dictatorships... until you have a look at how the populace is reacting to their army in the streets (and read the comments!)

Ian said...

"And part of me is curious as to what would happen with Hezbollah if Syria succumbed to a Democratic Protest Movement. If they lose their most immediate and local mentor... would they be able to hold on for more than a couple of years?"

You assume that a democratic Syrian governmentwould cease supporting Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is actually widely respected and popular within the Arab world. A democratic syrian government might actually increase support for Hezbollah.

(You might also to take note of the Iraqi government's pro-Hezbollah stance during their war with Israel.)

Dwight Williams said...

Hasn't Switzerland/Helvetia been steadily moving towards more co-operative measures in their banking laws re: nailing down wrongdoers hiding their stolen loot in Swiss banks in the last decade or two?

I suspect some of their legislators have either read Earth themselves or know someone who has...and took the hint. There are almost certainly other factors in play, of course, but I'd be surprised if that "Helvetian War" scenario wasn't part of Geneva's calculations by now.

As to the "secretary=protege" meme, one place I've seen it reappearing in pop culture?

Iron Man. Not just the latest movie, but certain issues of the comics that inspired the movie series going back at least ten or twenty years. You have to dig a little, but seeing Pepper Potts currently as Stark's Chief Operating Officer and Bambi Arbogast, who took over Potts' old gig at Stark's front desk taking on major decision-making authority with Stark's encouragement/approval as well?

I'll be interested to see if the meme picks up in the Batman books at DC, for example. Particularly with the current Batman Incorporated plotlines in play.

Tim H. said...

This may amuse, "Buzz Aldrin's Conspiracy Smackdown"

BCRion said...

The instability in the Middle East right now is actually somewhat encouraging for a change. While the politics is complicated, the general trend is toward liberalism (as defined by the Western Age of Enlightenment and not US politics).

In the long run, this will be a good thing for the US and its allies, even through we may see some short term harms to interests -- the hypothetical new governments will be less prone to support US causes on a whim and Islamic fundamentalists will have more a sway. The former will force the US to be more evenhanded in its dealings (a good thing, since we are not exactly paragons of virtue right now). The latter should be a cause of a concern, but recall that there is no shortage of Christian fundamentalists here; thankfully, such types tend to ware out their welcome in free societies as they prove incapable of sound governance.

Yes, the Egyptian army has great support among the public. Part of this is from the familiarity of the institution caused by mandatory service of every able-bodied male. The soldiers also tend to be sympathetic to the protesters as they really are just like them. The exposure to Western values among officers probably helps too. The leadership of the army would tend to be more pro-Mubarak. If pressure continues to grow, Mubarak and the army leadership will have to step aside or risk just what happened in Earth during the Helvetian War, soldiers turning their rifles on their leaders, which, needless to say, would be very bad.

soc said...

I was encouraged by President Obama's speech, but it looks like the administration is in a holding pattern right now. The US and Britain keep urging Mubarak to meet his commitments and push through reforms, rather than faciliting his exit from power.

Of course, I don't know what's going on behind the scenes but a "Tear down this wall" speech from Obama would go down extremely well in the Arab world.

I know the State Department must be extremely uneasy about a domino effect, since unlike the Soviet bloc countries, many of these Arab countries are client states. The US and Israel could generally rely on Mubarak to play ball on most issues, what will the new guy be like?

LarryHart said...

Yeah, but espcially since this (so far) does NOT seem to be an Islamicist revolution, but rather a true popular uprising in the spirit of '76, can we FOR ONCE get on the right side of history instead of stubbornly backing the status quo?

I saw an assanine political cartoon in this morning's Chicago Tribune. It showed two US officials watching rioters in the streets, and one is saying to the other something like "A popular revolution by Muslims against a corrput dictator? What could possibly go wrong?" And then the "surprise" at the bottom read "Tehran 1979". See? We thought the Iranian revolution was just fine, and look what happened then? Cautionary tale.

Well, I'm calling BS. First of all, US officials were NOT ok with the Iranian revolution--we were actively on the side of the Shah. And that led directly TO the anti-Americanism of the revolutionary regieme. Not to mention that Iran's revolution WAS an Islamicist movement, and (so far) this one in Egypt is not.

Without knowing much of the details on the ground, my thoughts since I first heard about this uprising last Thursday or so is that my sympathies are with the rebellion on this one, and I just hope the USA doesn't irretrievably cast itself as its enemy.

rewinn said...

Rather than declare war on Switzerland (war between nations being so last-century) ... ... if the problem is financial institutions holding nations hostage, then, just as our USA declared war on Terror, perhaps somone will declare war on Usury.

Imagine. The same speechifying used to proclaim that we're not at war with Islam, only with a dangerous minority that perverts the core concepts of a mainstream religion, can be recycled into speechifying that the new war is not against banking, but only against a dangerous minority that perverts the core concepts of a mainstay of civilization.

In the War on Usurers, you're either with us or with them!

(P.S. Quietly offering Mubarek $1 billion to go anywhere in the world except the USA or Eqypt would be the best investment in foreign aid since the Marshall Plan. I hope we would learn from the fall of the shah and go lead the crowds in a good direction instead of standing in the way and sending them into a bad direction. Let's have a little faith in our own ideals!)

Tacitus2 said...


No doubt Mubarak already has a bil. stashed away. And at his age not that much time to spend it.

The general feeling in Egypt when I was there 2 years ago was that Hosni was trying to set his son up as a successor. Mubarak Jr. is apparently a lad of mediocre quality.

Mubarak Sr. btw is referred to in private as The Fat Smiling Cow.

Egypt is such a ramshackle, inefficient place that I shudder to contemplate the challenge of a representative democracy attempting to run it.

But very bright people, they may pull it off.

I think at 84 Mubarak does not have the staying power to hang in there. If the army is indeed the deciding vote here, the ancien regime has little to offer them long term.


Acacia H. said...

Thought I'd share a little something I wrote on a friend's Facebook page where they were wishing they lived in a fantasy world after watching Disney's "Tangled" (small side-note - the people in question write and draw a pretty decent webcomic, thus my final comments to them):

You do. You live in a world where you can nearly instantly communicate with anyone else on the far end of the planet, and see their face (and not just a picture but moving images) while you talk to them. You can look and participate in othe...r peoples' imaginations and look at worlds that each are unique in and of themselves. You exist in a world where many diseases can be cured or at the very least treated so they don't kill you.

You exist in a world where man has walked on the surface of the moon, run his fingers through the soil up there, and brought keepsakes back with him. And best of all, you exist in a world where you can share your imagination and dreams with your friends, put it onto a non-physical form, and transmit those dreams and images to everyone in the world, should they so desire to look.

Sounds pretty magical to me, love.

David Brin said...

There is a way to support the revolutions but oppose the Islamicists. Simply say repeatedly we are for full rights for all men and WOMEN in the middle east.

But now is the time for the Israelis to budge. If they do, then

1) it will imply that corrupt arab governments had been the obstacle all along

2) a Palestinian peace would undercut the Islamists who want to hijack these revolutions.


Sure the swiss have made small grudging concessions. BFD. Where are the billions Mobutu stole from Zaire? Or than Marcos stole from the Phillippines? It all should be lain bare. Nothing short will save us.

David Brin said...

Robert, it is useless trying to coax such people away from dreamy fantasy, because the deep-down motivation is the exact OPPOSITE of dreamy lovely thinking. Sorry, but it is utter and despicable selfishness, and they need to have their faces rubbed in it.

The Palantir, in Tolkien's LOTR, is the pure metaphor. In Tolkien's world, the far-seeing crystal balls are reserved to the utter elite, who use them to fool and hypnotize each other and lord it over others with secret knowledge. The EXACT SAME devices, in the hands of a billion people, propel knowledge, democracy and justice...

...but they are boring because they aren't restricted to a snooty, royal, feudal elite.


BCRion said...

Dr. Brin,

I agree with you on Egypt 100%. It is too bad the Israeli government is infected with a similar strain of right-wing jingoism that held us in check during the early to mid 2000's. I do not find wise behavior from them at this time likely at all, which is sad.

Tony Fisk said...

Clarke's third law:
"Any science that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic."

"Any magic that is sufficiently well understood is indistinguishable from science"

Something pertinent to the great sf/fantasy literature* debate. (what is the difference between a warp drive and a teleportation spell?)

*Think of graphic novels as extreme calligraphy

Acacia H. said...

I don't know, Dr. Brin. I think that when people think about it, and think of all the horrible things that happen in fantasy worlds, that if they were given a chance to LIVE in that fantasy world, not as a hero but as just an ordinary person, or to stay here as they are, most would stay here (or would return if they chose initially to go to the fantasy world).

Because ultimately, the thrill of a fantasy world is NOT the magic or the beauty or anything like that. Instead, it's having the ability to make a difference. But if they aren't the hero or Protagonist... then why lose all the comforts of this world?

Considering the lady in question writes for a non-traditional fantasy webcomic (as in the comic takes a look at the more meta-aspects of fantasy storytelling and the like), I'm fairly certain she'd rather stay in this world than be an ordinary person in a fantasy world where she can't tell her stories and the like.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Concerning fantasy, 30+ years ago the National Lampoon published a painting that said volumes about fantasy, entitled "The J. R. R. Tolkien fan club called to the last need of middle earth"BTW, the palantiri were given to a despised minority, forbidden to visit the elves.

rewinn said...

"... if they were given a chance to LIVE in that fantasy world, not as a hero but as just an ordinary person..."
Perhaps fantasy literature emphasizes the dangers of fantastic living because stories without conflict are boring. The seminal The Worm Ouroborous is kind of explicit about this; in the "final" chapters, the heros are bored because they've defeated The Big Bad, and there's nothing left for heros to do; lucky for them, the gods owe them a favor, so their wish is (SPOILER ALERT) to start it all over again ... which was supposed to be mystically fantastic and cool ... but my reaction was "Geez, that's really hard on the infantry!".

Likewise, in Tennyson's Ulysses the Band Of Heros Feel Useless, but at least they only row off for One Last Quest by themselves, leaving the nonheros in the care of Telemachus to "by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good."

At third take on this theme is the deep background of The Order of the Stick, in which the monstrous races, having discovered that the very reason they were created is to give heros something to slaughter, rebel against the gods. One can understand the sentiment!

LarryHart said...

Dwight Williams:

As to the "secretary=protege" meme, one place I've seen it reappearing in pop culture?

Iron Man. Not just the latest movie, but certain issues of the comics that inspired the movie series going back at least ten or twenty years. You have to dig a little, but seeing Pepper Potts currently as Stark's Chief Operating Officer and Bambi Arbogast, who took over Potts' old gig at Stark's front desk taking on major decision-making authority with Stark's encouragement/approval as well?

Wow. I just had to give a shout-out to another fan of the Michilinie/Layton run on "Iron Man" from the late 70s/early 80s. To me, those are still the best issues of the title ever, and some of the best Marvel issues period.

Your mention of Mrs Arbogast reminds me of a favorite line of hers when Tony Stark started getting romantic with Bethany. "Hmmph. In MY day, we didn't do that until after we were married. And sometimes, not even then!"

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin said:

There is a way to support the revolutions but oppose the Islamicists. Simply say repeatedly we are for full rights for all men and WOMEN in the middle east.

I wish our track record in Iraq didn't speak so poorly in that regard.

soc said...

A couple of years ago, Richard Bulliet, author of The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, visited my university for a talk. He mentioned that he visited the middle east quite often and attended meetings where the Muslim Brotherhood was present.

Two interesting points:

1. The brotherhood eagerly distances itself from the Iranian model, which is utterly discredited.

2. They champion women's rights - at least in rhetoric. Turns out, this is a pretty important issue for a lot of people there. If you recall when President Obama gave that speech in Cairo just after becoming president, his line on women's rights got one of the biggest applauses.

Dwight Williams said...

Larry: Mrs. Arbogast is back as part of the current cast of the Iron Man comics, as written by Matt Fraction.tors

Ian said...

Apologies for the length of this post - trying to think through a bunch of stuff.

Egypt is not Iran

Egypt is not Iran – and a decade or so from now we may be regretting that.

Firstly, why Egypt is unlikely to become a Iranian-style theocracy:

The overwhelming majority of Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Sunnis unlike the Iranian Shi'ites lack a centralized religious structure. There isn't going to be an Egyptian Ayatollah Khomeini because there are no Ayatollahs in Sunni Islam.
The dismal performance of the Iranian theocracy has discredited the whole idea of an Islamic state. The shi'ite-based political parties in Lebanon and Iraq reject such an idea. Moqtada Al Sadr may be a powerful figure within Iraqi politics but he exerts that power indirectly (as did centuries of Shia religious leaders prior to Khomeni and through proxies who take pat in secular politics and government. He doesn't aspire yo being the new Khomeini he aspires to being the new Sistani (Ayatollah Sistani, currently the most senior Shi'ite cleric in Iraq.)
While a significant minority of Egyptians are illiterate and poverty is widespread, Egyptians in 2011 are far better-educated and far more politically sophisticated than were Iranians in 1979. The shah reigned as an absolute monarch and engaged in massive censorship, Egyptians are accustomed to voting (in rigged elections) for a (powerless) Parliament and have access to a press which was subject to intimidation but was far freer than Iran's before the revolution (or after it for that matter.)
After 2005 elections, independents aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the main opposition party in Egyptian parliament (largely due to a boycott by the secular parties). The MB members attempted to introduce some relatively modest Islamist laws. The resulting backlash saw them lose all but one of their seats at elections in 2010.
Tunisia provides a far better model for the likely course of events in Egypt than does Iran. Tunisia like Egypt being a North African, Arabic-speaking Sunni state with a history of authoritarian secular dictators who paid lip service to the nominal forms of a Republican state. So far, there ahs been precious little evidence of Tunisia going the way of Iran. Upon his return from exile, the leader of Tunisia's main Islamist party, made a point in his first press conference of stressing that his party fully supported current Tunisia laws regarding the status of women – which are amongst the most liberal if not THE most liberal in the Arab world.

So I think the fears of an Egyptian Islamic Republic are vastly overstated.

end part one

Ian said...

Part Two

If Islamists do take power in Egypt, which I think is unlikely, they're likely to resemble Turkey's AK Party far more than the Iranian regime.

So why am I deeply concerned about future developments in Egypt?

The current most likely course of developments in Egypt is the emergence of a country which is at least far less authoritarian and far more democratic than in the Mubarak Era. Egypt's economy grew grew 8% in 2010 based on extremely limited economic reforms. Reduce corruption, cut the massive bureaucracy and ease the government's stranglehold on the economy and Egypt could sustain decades of growth at that rate as China has done over the past thirty years. There's a pool of millions of educated but unemployed or underemployed Egyptians (education is one of the few areas where Mubarak got at least some things right) who could unleash a wave of innovation and entrepeneurialism if given the opportunity that would see Egypt advancing not just economically but technologically.

So, democracy, prosperity, technological advancement, sounds great, right?

There's one slight flaw, like India, China and Russia, Egypt isn't suddenly going to become an appendage of the west.

Egypt will have its own interests and priorities which will not necessarily align with those of America or the west.

For starters, a democratic Egypt is likely to be far more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the current regime.

They are, for example, likely to be far less keen on spending hundreds of millions to prevent smuggling of contraband into the Gaza Strip. If the Gaza flotilla is repeated a few years from now don't be surprised if they're escorted by the Egyptian navy to the limits of Israeli territorial waters.

They're also likely to want to extend democracy to the rest of the Muslim world – which might mean providing sanctuary to exiled political activists or might mean Egyptian troops marching into Libya or Sudan.

A democratic Egypt might well end up as a re-run of Nasser's grandiose Pan-Arab schemes – only with competent leadership this time.

As a Jew and a supporter of Israel, I've long been troubled by many aspects of Israeli policies. Not just because they frequently strike me as contrary to Israel's long-term self-interest. Israel has long proceeded on the assumption that the Arabs will remain weak and divided indefinitely. That assumption may soon be outdated.

So a couple of decades from now, we might all be thinking wistfully of the Egyptian theocracy that might have been as Egypt tests its first nuclear device and simultaneously announces the completion of it's ABM shield and the closure of the Suez canal to western shipping.

Dwight Williams said...

Maybe it's being a Canadian that leads me to (naively?) think this way, but if I might suggest: a democratic Egypt/Miṣr not automatically aligning with "the West" need not be something for Israel to fear. It might even present opportunities for Israel and Palestine alike to take advantage of, either separately or in partnership.

By all means, be careful. But part of that caution should include looking for opportunities to improve everyone's security.

(Yes, I'm trying to train myself to use their own name for their country, rather than the one traditional to my own mother tongue. It seems like a good idea to be respectful of such things.)

Ilithi Dragon said...

Wouldn't the best way to prevent an anti-Western secular, democratic Egypt be to provide at least vocal support for the new democracy during the transition process (hopefully peaceful), and then to take quick steps to provide assistance to the new government (without meddling), and to secure close and mutually-beneficial trade relations with the new government? If we establish close ties to a new democracy in the middle east, giving them an economic reason to be Western-friendly, and show that the U.S. supports democracy in the Middle East, and is more than willing to cooperate with and support fledgling democracies (both on principle and for the new economic opportunities that an expanding sphere of liberty and unrestricted markets would bring), without meddling or getting in the way, wouldn't that go a long way to bringing new democracies in the Middle East on to our 'side?'

Ilithi Dragon said...

Also, regarding anonymity, I fully support the right to speak and act anonymously, so long as tangible harm does not come from it. Violation of law or the deliberate or accidental cause of significant harm should not be protected by anonymity (I also feel morally obligated to support the protection of anonymity for the violation of unjust and/or illegal law, though this may not necessarily be ethical).

But I also feel that one should have the balls to use their real name or verifiable moniker when presenting serious defamation against another (or similar activities) if they expect their words to be taken seriously. I don't think that dropping the cloak of anonymity should be required, but anyone who insists on throwing barbs from the shadows of anonymity should not expect their words to be taken seriously, and indeed should not be taken seriously at all unless the anon can also present verifiable support for his/her claims (sometimes the veil of anonymity is warranted to protect against direct retaliation for valid criticism, or to protect a source's 'cover' in the event of leaked information, etc., but in general hiding behind the cloak of anonymity means cowardice or lack of seriousness).

For myself, my own screen name is a sufficient identifier. I use it for just about everything, and it is nearly as much of a 'real name' as my legal name (for a number of reasons), and I can very easily be found on the internet. Two of the two top three google returns for "Ilithi Dragon" are my facebook page and a quote from me Gilmore has listed in his profile, from our little Captcha game. Currently an old post on the Star Trek: Online forums is the first return, though Gilmore's quote was the first return I got earlier today (and frequently comes up as the first return).

rewinn said...

While not nearly as important as events in the Middle East, I think Illithi Dragon's comment on anonymity vs. monikers is interesting. I've used "rewinn" long enough and in enough forums that a quick google on it is the easiest way to locate stuff I've written on the web (OMG - did I really comment on Lost In Space: The Movie"?); it's much easier than searching for my IRL name, which is the same as that of a MLB player.

I am fortunate to have laid practical (albeit unenforceable) claim to a six-byte moniker early enough in internet history that other potential REWINNs will (probably) move on; it seems that enough people want something uniquely theirs that I haven't had competition on the sites I frequent. But sooner or later all the good short names will be taken. Then what?

P.S. as others have said, now is the time for our USA to help Eqypt to a soft landing both because it's the right thing to do and because it'd be good for our nation. But will it happen?

rewinn said...

And on the hope-for-science front: I just stumbled across a Crowdsourcing Science project on Hair Chemistry and Geography that anyone participate in. What a concept! Perhaps enabling everyone to join, in a fun way, with doing science to the limited extent we can may make science just a little bit cooler?

Ian said...

"Wouldn't the best way to prevent an anti-Western secular, democratic Egypt be to provide at least vocal support for the new democracy during the transition process (hopefully peaceful), and then to take quick steps to provide assistance to the new government (without meddling), and to secure close and mutually-beneficial trade relations with the new government?"

sure but I'm currently readin Forsehko and Naftali's "Kruschev's Cold War"and I'm up to theri account of the Suez Crisis.

What becomes apparent - based on their previously unrivalled access to both Russian and American records - is that nobody wanted war but that everybody was operating from different assumptions.

The British and French saw Nasser as the Muslim Mussolini and any negotiations as a new Munich.

Nasser was fixated on the belief that Britain was plotting against Egypt. He saw Israel at this stage more as a British proxy than as an independent enemy.

The Russians for their part supported Egyptian sovereignty over the Suez Canal and talked about the post World War I borders imposed on them by the Western allies as an analogy but there was a deep-seated and probabyl subconscious racism that convinced them "coloreds" couldn't run the canal by themselves.

They saw sending "advisers" to Egypt as a guarantee that the canal would be kept operating, the US saw it in almost exactly the opposite light.

Just as the growth of the Chinese economy has radically changed world politics, a similar development in Egypt would radically change, at a minimum, regional politics and there's no way at this point to predict the outcome of those changes.

soc said...

Just came across this article by Eric Margolis. Here's an excerpt:

Washington is watching this growing intifada in its Mideast Raj with alarm and confusion. Ignore the Obama administration’s hypocritical platitudes urging "democracy." All of the authoritarian Arab rulers now under siege by their people have been armed, financed and supported for decades by the US. The US has given Egypt $2 billion annually, $1.4 billion of which goes to the military. Almost all the tanks and armored vehicles deployed in Cairo’s streets came from the US.

Washington has previously lauded Mubarak for "moderation" and "stability." These are code words for faithfully following US policies and crushing all opposition. Moderate opposition groups across the Mideast have been jailed and tortured, leaving only outlawed underground movements. The same thing happened in Iran.

Egypt’s armed forces were configured to keep Mubarak’s military regime in power, not to defend the nation’s borders. The US keeps Egypt’s armed forces short on munitions and spare parts so it cannot fight a war against Israel for more than a few days.

The brutal, sadistic secret police and other security forces of Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen were all trained and equipped by the US or France. The CIA taught them "interrogation techniques," just as it did to the Shah of Iran’s secret police, Savak. We have reaped the whirlwind in bitter US-Iranian relations.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urges "restraint" on both sides. One supposes she means those being beaten by clubs, raped, or tortured by electric drills must show proper restraint. Washington simply does not understand that this kind of hypocrisy turns even more people in the Muslim world against the United States.

Egypt, as this column has long said, has long been a ticking bomb. Half of 85 million Egyptians subsist below the UN’s $2 daily poverty level. A third of all the Arab World’s people are Egyptian. A well-connected oligarchy grows rich while the rest of the country struggles for basic food.

In fact, the US Congress still supplies Egypt with large amounts of wheat and other foodstuffs. Israel thus holds a whip hand over Egypt by being able to get its supporters in Congress to shut off food aid to Egypt, an act that would provoke massive food riots as occurred in the 1970’s. Small wonder Husni Mubarak is Israel’s closet ally in the Arab world.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt with an iron fist since the assassination of another US-installed leader, Anwar Sadat, in 1981. All violent and peaceful opposition to Mubarak’s regime has been crushed. But now Mubarak’s time is running out. Nobel-Prize Laureate Mohammed al-Baradei has agreed to lead a resistance coalition that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, the best-organized movement in Egypt.

The Brotherhood is not an Iranian-style extreme Islamic movement, contrary to alarms being spread by neocons and the often poorly-informed US media.

In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood has long eschewed politics to concentrate on social, religious and educational issues. If anything, it has been ultra-conservative, even stodgy and timid. But it also represents the Washington’s best potential ally if Egypt’s military regime falls. We should not be misled by self-serving warnings about Islamic bogeymen.

Tony Fisk said...

The brutal, sadistic secret police and other security forces of Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen were all trained and equipped by the US or France.

Something else to ponder:

The US defence academies also taught the Egyptian army officer corps.

Possibly they were taught a few things more than how to shoot straight.

David Brin said...

WHile I am no fan of Mubarak and I agree he ran a kleptocracy... hence my call for a "helvetian" style "war" to recover stolen funds...

...nevertheless, the column that Soc cites is filled will exaggerations, misleading conclusions and things that are flat-out wrong. Oh, I don't mind reading it as a point of view. But gospel it aint.

In fact, we have no idea yet. If the MB truly is moderate and will give Mohammed al-Baradei fealty and support... and if he lives... then there are real possibilities.

Jonathan S. said...

Well, according to a report I just heard on ABC News, the Egyptian military won't attack civilians:

" a sign that Mubarak may be losing the support of the country's most revered institution, the Egyptian army released a statement today saying that it will not use force against protesters and that it understands that demands by the Egyptian people are legitimate."


Ian said...

Here's a cheery thought: the current frontrunner to succeed Mubaarak is Mohammed ElBaradei.

As the foremr chief of the IAEA, Elbaradei would be unuquely qualified to oversee a crash nuclear weaposn program, if he were so inclined.

Dwight Williams said...

And uniquely motivated to prevent such a programme from ever getting off the ground.

David Brin said...

I agree with Dwight. On paper at least, he seems ideal. On occasion, such guys go VERY badly. But he'd start off with a "best and brightest" attitude and free speech.

See this!

Andrew said...

Dear Dr. Brin, I was wondering if you could lend your considerable intellect to a post on demon-possession and exorcisms? I think there is a very real way in which movies on exorcisms are used to turn the gullible toward belief in the supernatural. This is obviously very bad for American democracy and society in general, and in turn, for the world.

David Brin said...

Urk... alas, it is part and parcel of the fad return to darkness.

Paul said...

Ilithi Dragon,
"Wouldn't the best way to prevent an anti-Western secular, democratic Egypt be to provide at least vocal support for the new democracy during the transition process (hopefully peaceful), and then to take quick steps to provide assistance..."

Or that might also be the quickest way to get them labelled US Puppets...

Maybe the best way to go would be to have a select group of countries, including the US, act mildly dickish towards the first elected government; letting them denounce the US (and selected allies) while increasing ties with other non-dickish democracies.

Then, when that party inevitably becomes hated by the young for their inability to solve all the problems overnight, a pro-US opposition can form, which increases the chance of a peaceful change of power between two strong loyal-to-the-system-but-not-each-other parties.

(Turing word:"protlyt". A revolution of the Protlyt against their Buschwasi masters.)

Ian said...

Actually If I shard a border with a nuclear-armed state run by Bibi Netanyahu and Abigdor Leiberman, I'd probably regard the development of a nuclear deterrent as perfectly sensible.

And if, say, the democratically-elected government of Pakistan decides to sell nuclear weapons to the democratically-elected government of Egypt who has the legal or moral right to stop them?

Ian said...

Science time: Scientists in Britain are claiming to have developed a cheap Hydrogen-based liquid fuel that can be used in conventional car engines without the need for modifications and can be blended with petrol.

Because the fuel doesn't contain Carbon, if the Hydrogen is produced using non-fossil energy, the fuel should be Carbon neutral.

Let's hope this isn't another case of journalists getting ahead of reality.

Tony Fisk said...

I believe a cheaper water-cracking catalyst than Platinum was recently discovered.

...but, blended with *petrol*? Sounds like a 'stone soup' solution to me.

Ian Gould said...

Not really.

The key word is "can".

The point is, if the claims are correct, this new fuel is pretty much interchangeable with petrol.

Supposedly, you can run a car solely on the new stuff or on any mix of it with petrol.

Paul said...

"And if, say, the democratically-elected government of Pakistan decides to sell nuclear weapons to the democratically-elected government of Egypt who has the legal or moral right to stop them?"

Hmm... The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is largely worthless. It's based on the principle that, in return for non-nuclear-powers giving up the right to develop nukes, nuclear-powers agreed to disarm... eventually. But no one seriously believes it.

And countries that export "dual-use" equipment are not holding back trading with would-be weapons-states.

We need a new type of nuclear treaty, one that accepts reality and regulates nuclear development in a way the nuclear powers (and most wanna-bes) can accept.

Essentially a series of levels. Every signatory exists on a level that reflects their stage of nuclear development (eg, 1. nowt, 2. limited research, 3. civilian nuclear power 4. small number of small warheads, 5. the major powers club.)

Nations are permitted to trade nuclear technology, fuel, perhaps even weapons, with any other nation on their level. With trade increasingly limited with the layers below (and hence with layers above.)

Likewise, any nation can send inspectors to any co-level nation. (But not the levels below. That's important, psychologically.)

To move up a level, you need to be sponsored by an existing member of that level. (Perhaps with others on that level having some collective veto.)

The idea is, by creating a treaty that accepts reality, that doesn't have a lie at its core, you might be able to get nations to agree to give the treaty real teeth. (As in, binding rules about how weapons are stored, fully published inventories, etc. Binding each signatory to act to prevent other nations unilaterally levelling up.)

Any thoughts?

Rob said...

War on *Switzerland*? Are you kidding? If you want to create a nation of four million Ruby-Ridge fanatics, then proceed. Churchill had nothing on these guys; *every other* person there is trained and equipped in rifle combat! They'll blow up their own roads before they'll stand down. They don't even have a strong enough central government to change their minds in a hurry about that!

Oh wait, that's the backstory of a book signed by an author-blogger I know...

Well, if you invade, please have the courtesy to wait until next year. I have a trip planned to visit the Grisons and Basel-Landschaft in July and I'd appreciate the lack of mortar fire and Patriot missiles until we're home again. Thanks! ;-)

Rob said...

I'd rather see a hydrogen-fixing microthread fuel embedded someplace safe, like in the closed system of a fuel cell. In gas, some of it is certain to get loose in the air. And then I'm left wondering about microthreads in people's lungs.

soc said...

The King of Jordan dismissed his Prime Minister amid protests. Apparently Jordan has a Muslim Brotherhood as well. They're the main opposition and leading the protests.

David Brin said...

Rob, no need to invade Switzerland. Just take away all the UN agencies based there, even tho they refuse to join the UN.

And let the state of "war" end their smarmy bragging about having been "peaceful" for so long... while acting as the Nazis' bomb-free industrial zone and bankers during WWII.

And halt all major currency shipments in and out.


A cute... if ironic... tribute to Carl Sagan and the scientific method. Ironic at several levels. But fun.

David Brin said...

Someone provide for me again that link to the guy showing 3d statistics about humanity doing better...?

Anonymous said...

I think we are too reactive to the blithering idiocy of the Republicans and their court jesters, Beck and Palin. It's time to be proactive. We need someone to organize boycotts against Fox News and other fascist Murdock enterprises. Congressmen that don't accept evolution or a sun-centered solar system need to be publicly denounced as social Luddites. Bankster criminals that helped loot the system need to be publicly profiled for their crimes. It's too easy to say 'poor old me'. We need to take this battle to Africa.

David Brin said...

I remain stunned that there's been no effort to run a web site that simply lists Fox & Clear Channel advertisers in a prioritized ranking.

Top priority:
Beck & Limbaugh advertisers other than gold parasites. Especially national companies

Hannity, Palin, etc and any fake "news" shows

I'd leave Bill O'Reilly alone. He's an awful old coot. But he falls into a range that we all - and the republic - can live with. The kind of reactionary jerk who at least has guests who challenge him and who ventures forth to appear on other shows... and who might be very useful someday, if the left ever again became the kind of threat the right is today.

Could any of you stomach doing this research?

Anonymous said...

Well, Mr Brin, I am a PhD physicist who has taught at Columbia and Harvard and who is fellow of the American Physical Society, blah blah, etc. etc.

Unfortunately, today's scientists are a bunch of losers. Like much of American culture today, its about political correctness. Some study Quantum Computers, some study Quantum Teleportation, and other nonsense. The settle science Global Warmers make a mockery of science by mapping it on the the back to earth religion.

Science is dead in America. The scientists of old who would pursue truth and opportunity to extend human ability/experience are dead or retired. The new bunch has to always say "good job", "nice idea" even if the idea was completely inconsistent with the law set down by mother nature. You have no idea how profound the malaise of science in America is. The men who put men on the moon in ten years, no longer exist. The scientists that built the laser, the bomb, the IC, no longer exist. Science has become an intellectual wasteland. It grieves me, put America has entered a dark age and science will have to grow elsewhere. I think the Chinese can still do it. Its a new dark age of "equality" rather than ability. Sure wish somebody was working on that warp drive. Nice dream.

Dwight Williams said...

I seem to remember one of the guys and gals working on that piece of tech has been visiting Kitchener-Waterloo of late, about six hours' driving time away from me. Gent used to hold the Lucasian Chair, too, if memory serves.

Tony Fisk said...

As an ex-physicist myself, I was unaware that trolling was a physical science, or that you could get a doctorate in it.

(And I bet any peer-review would have torn the structure of that post to shreds!!)

Actually, I think science is very much alive and kicking. Some folks may be in denial about that, but it's true.

(I know, don't feed 'em unless you've got a nice can of 1080 to hand)

Acacia H. said...

*sigh* But troll-baiting is one of my favorite activities! And to see a pseudo-scientific troll to boot is just too much fun to resist....

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Meanwhile, not content with Hadley cell ruptures dumping this year's monsoonal rains on South Qld, cat 5 cyclone Yasi bears down on North Qld, looking for grief between Cairns and Townsville.

Fortunately, to date, Prem. Bligh has been doing a helluva job. For real!

David Brin said...

Anonymous (from your speech patterns I can tell you are not one of our trolls) you are welcome here. And I will take your word for your credentials.

Let me posit that there are problems in science and in American science, in particular. I speak often about the problems and I know many many scientists who take them seriously.

At the same time, I have a mix of good news for you, and bad news.

First the good news. You should be glad to hear that... you are flat out wrong. (Don't you WANT to be wrong about such a dour diagnosis?)

I have plenty of interactions with modern scientists, in dozens of different fields. And I can tell you that our nation and world swarm with the brightest and sharpest and most savvy human beings our race ever produced. They are doing impossible things!

For example, just 8 years ago NASA & ESA started designing the Kepler telescope, to be sent LAST YEAR a million miles out, to teeter at Earth's Lagrangian point and scan hundreds of thousands of stars, every few minutes, with such precision that it can tell when a tiny planet eclipses its star. Results are already pouring in, telling us about hundreds of worlds, inconceivably far away.

Um? Every year we get better at deciphering the genome, at a rate that far exceeds Moore's law. Soon each of us will be able to afford a full genetic self- appraisal, for pocket change! Then there's the internet.

I could go on and on... but you have your grouchy perspective and I can tell when a person has a firm opinion that will not be budged by any amount of facts. No doubt one fact that you and I interpret in VERY DIFFERENT ways is the fact that only 5% of US scientists still call themselves "republican." (I am one of that 5%.)

Perhaps you call that a sign of the decline of science. I call it a sign of the steady decline of the GOP. To the point where it now drums up hatred of EVERY intellectual caste. Scientists, civil servants, teachers, academics, lawyers, journalists... are you still enough a scientist to see a pattern?

I won't get into the climate argument with you, except to say you are perceiving things in the wrong order. Fox doesn't bad science as a reason to doubt climate change. Fox rants doubt of climate change as a reason to hate science.

Now the good news. Your grumpiness has little real cause. I have found that some people are able to perceive better with the right meds. I don't mean this to be patronizing, but in serious advice. Your eagerness to think all scientists are fools MAY be a sign that the fault is in a chemical imbalance...

... in you.

With genuine respect and no intention to offend.

Acacia H. said...

Or it could just be he (or she!) was having a bad day. Sometimes we say things that are cynical and truly pessimistic when things are looking down. I know that I've seen and encountered things that I've found no scientific explanation for (and shared simultaneous hallucinations are perhaps as iffy as the hard-to-explain phenomena out there). But when the cynic is in full control, I blithely find ways to explain away the unknown as hallucinations and delusions and feeding the other person's imagination at the same time.

When the cynic rules, it's so easy to cast doubt. It's simplicity itself to not see the light outside of the shadows. And why even bother when at heart you know that there is no point? But there's no biochemical imbalance (or at least, not a long-term one) behind the cynic. Instead, there's doubt and the feeling of powerlessness that helps feed the cynic. And there are ways around it. Methods of encouraging more positive thinking, of defeating the cynic without meds.

There is always hope. But then, is not hope an integral part of much of science fiction?

Rob H.

David Brin said...


Anonymous said...

David, my credentials are as advertised except that I am also a fellow of the American optical society. Believe me, the political correctness of America has hurt science dramatically. I have read and enjoyed your books of some years ago. Thanks for your contribution. America cannot avoid the downslope because brilliance can no longer be discerned from correctness. The raw appetite for truth that formally drove American science is gone. One must be polite and gracious rather than correct. I miss your books David, please write some more.

David Brin said...

I shall do so, anonymous. And you took my little jabs with grace and humor. Hence, you are NOT a "troll".

(You guys owe our guest an apology.)

You ARE most decidedly wrong in your assessment of the present situation. But your intelligent version of sourpuss Fox-ism is welcome here!

Come and hang with us and be our resident Hannity fan! ;-) Pick a pseudonym, though. Identify yourself that way and be a member.

In time... we'll cheer you up!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Anon

"The settle science Global Warmers make a mockery of science by mapping it on the the back to earth religion."

Can you explain, elucidate, expand
Because I have no idea what this means!

To add a counter - medical MRI - recent physics and mind-blowing when you encounter it

To rewinn - re internet handles, I just use my name - I would not listen to a masked man on the street why should I listen to one on-line? (except that nearly everybody is wearing one of the bloody things!)

François Marcadé said...

Two of my colleagues are Egyptian, Coptic Egyptian to be precise. Although, I do not speak politics with tem (last month I had to bite my tongue to avoid asking one of them would went home if he has a nice Christmas break), my colleague Pierre who is Lebanese has commented that they are very uneasy about the event in Egypt. It is not that they are supporter of Mubarrak, they are clearly supporter of Baradei, but they are afraid of the chaos to come. Again it is not the Muslim Brotherhood they are afraid of, the main party line is tame enough and shows no virulent anti-Coptic sentiment. They are afraid of a situation as in Iraq where all fringe groups will try to impose their agenda by force, their extended family will clearly be part of the first designated victim if unrest gets out of control. Another Colleague, who is Sunni Muslim, is cautiously more optimistic but he shares the concerns of his friend who is one the two mentioned above.

Tony Fisk said...

Unfortunately, we do occasionally get trolls coming in wearing brash arrogance without good cause, and they're opening lines are often similar to yours. You've deviated from the script so I will offer my apologies for the brusque greeting.

But yes, do choose a monicker. I suspect you wouldn't appreciate being referred to by "Hey, 'nonny!"

Tim H. said...

200 years of progress

LarryHart said...

Dwight Williams, since you're a comic book fan within driving distance of Kitchener-Waterloo, I have to ask if you're familiar with Dave Sim and "Cerebus"?

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2, I don't know where in Wisconsin you are, but I'm guessing you're buried under almost as much snow as we are here in Chicago. 17 inches and still falling, at latest count. And windy too!

Dwight Williams said...

I know of Sim and his work, and he's visited Ottawa - where I live - on occasion, if memory serves. I wouldn't consider myself familiar with it by any means, though.

Dwight Williams said...

And on the space science front:

A thousand newly-suspected planets!

sociotard said...

I don't know about science going downhill, but I do think that maybe we have hit 'peak science'.

Think of the analogy to peak oil, and parallels start to pop out.

Oil is supposed to get harder and harder to drill for (read: more and more expensive)? Just look at physics. A few hundred years ago a great mind could make huge contributions with nothing but a little telescope they made themselves at home. Look at the tab for today's equipment designed to push the envelope. The LHC is $10.3 billion so far. How about the IceCube Neutrino Telescope? $271 million. The only 'cheap' thing pushing the boundary in any of the more mature sciences AFAIK is computer simulation.

We expect the quality of oil to go down. The sweet crude is gone, so whats left requires a lot of processing. Likewise, look at our modern journals. "In 2005, John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina in Greece examined the 45 most prominent studies published since 1990 in the top medical journals and found that about one-third of them were ultimately refuted. If one were to look at all medical studies, it would be more like two-thirds, he says. And for some kinds of leading-edge studies, like those linking a disease to a specific gene, wrongness infects 90 percent or more." So we're still producing good science, but it's heavy crude mixed with a bunch of junk we have to filter out.

Then there are things that, I suspect, we just can't seem to get a handle on, like climate and weather. Oh, I know Dr. Brin likes to go on about how much weather science has improved, but it hasn't. Beyond two days out it is a joke. Even at one day out it isn't very good.

Stations get their precipitation predictions correct about 85 percent of the time one day out and decline to about 73 percent seven days out.

On the surface, that would not seem too bad. But consider that if a meteorologist always predicted that it would never rain, they would be right 86.3 percent of the time. So if a viewer was looking for more certainty than just assuming it will not rain, a successful meteorologist would have to be better than 86.3 percent. Three of the forecasters were about 87 percent at one day out — a hair over the threshold for success.

My favorite (which I can't find a link for now) was a guy who accepted what pretty much every scientist out there is saying, that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening. He lives near Lake michigan, and decided to try looking up what kind of trees he should plant to be ready for the changed climate.

He found some that said he should expect his area to become more arid, and others that said it should become boggy. Wow, thanks a lot science. The only thing you can say is that the climate is changing, and it will likely be unpleasant? Nothing more useful to contribute.

Anyway, that's my take. Science is advancing into areas that are either so hard to get to that funding will become impossible or areas so complex and nuanced that human beings will never be able to really understand or predict.

LarryHart said...


Then there are things that, I suspect, we just can't seem to get a handle on, like climate and weather. Oh, I know Dr. Brin likes to go on about how much weather science has improved, but it hasn't. Beyond two days out it is a joke. Even at one day out it isn't very good.

Overall, I like your "peak science" idea and the analogy to light sweet crude.

I will take issue with you on weather, though. I suspect our standards are different, and you may be correct that a particular three-to-five day forecast for an area often gets revised quite a bit. OTOH, I have to credit modern meteorology for the uncanny way they predicted the coming together of the storm that just went through Chicago and is still on the way east. Long before the storm had actually formed, Tom Skilling was able to accurately explain just how different forces would likely come together and give us more than a foot of snow in Chicago. He even pointed out that several models had the storm going further south, but that the European Model (whatever that is) had a better track record for this sort of prediction, and THAT one had the worst snow hitting Chicago dead on. We were being warned of all this as early as last Thursday.

That sort of long-range forecasting impresses me, no matter that "22-24 inches" turned out to be only 20.1 inches, or that the main event began in earnest Tuesday afternoon rather than Monday night.

David Brin said...

Weather forecasting is not about first-order being right about this or that happening. It is second order... estimating how the most likely ODDS shift over the next week or so. And thus, though the 5 day is no good at specifying "it will rain at 4pm sunday" it has improved fantastically as predicting "a water-heavy front will be passing near your town in a week."

That's amazing and huge.

Tony Fisk said...

Anyone who's been close to a cyclone will probably agree with the above.

(And, on preliminary assessment, it looks as if NQ communities are still more or less intact, if very battered: this is what an Auntie State is about)

(Looks like the bananas have been wiped out again, though)

Tony Fisk said...

When the cynic rules, it's so easy to cast doubt. It's simplicity itself to not see the light outside of the shadows.

"Cynicism is obedience" - A. Steffen

The word, itself, derives from the latin meaning 'like a dog', and the function of many cynics today does seem to be to keep the flock in check.

Depression is often referred to as 'the black dog'

BCRion said...

I can tell you that science in this country is not dead. I work at an institution where good (and some not so good too because of funding/public relations considerations) science is done everyday. The problem when basing your assumptions about the state of the world based upon a few data points is that they tend to exaggerate the extremes. Even if we acquiesce (and I do not) that climate science is beholden to PR efforts, that is one field out of dozens of others, and most of them are still healthy.

BCRion said...


I differ on your notion of "peak science". In one part you are correct in that many of the low hanging fruits have already been picked. It is darned difficult to do something really innovative in science these days because there's been a lot of solid science done already.

(For a moment, let's forget about expensive high-profile experiments. They get a lot of hype, but ultimately, they comprise very little of the science done in the world today despite grabbing the most attention.)

Science has non-linear feedback between discoveries -- this is rare in resource extraction. For example, the scanning election microscope opened up whole new fields in material science. Advances in computing allow simulations of things once unthinkable.

This latter example is illustrated in my thesis work. Much of it was based upon ideas from the late 40s and 50s. While my approach certainly crossed their minds, as they were pioneers in computing as well, they quickly dismissed the idea because anything non-trivial would require more computational power than the entire world had at the time.

Out of practicality, alternative, but more limiting, methods were developed that became dominant until our work unearthed those old ideas. Now we can compute quantities without some pesky approximations and these new approaches are becoming standard. This also opens up new possibilities that other researchers and I are pursuing. None of this would have been possible when the theory was first developed, but technology in unrelated fields made it possible today.

So yes, I'm sure there is going to be plenty of science in 2050 left to do as new ideas and technologies will unlock whole new realms that were before not even considered or unexplored because of prior technological limitations.

rewinn said...

@Duncan Cairncross - two answers to your question:

1. Your name makes a fine handle; mine does not.

Google "Randy Winn" and I promise you will get LOTS of hits but if it weren't for LinkedIn, you wouldn't find me on the 1st page.

2. My handle is not a "mask" since you can find out MORE about me searching for "rewinn" than you can searching for "Randy Winn", except possibly some minor biographical information that can hardly be relevant to anything I do - at least until I run for President ;-) Except for that extreme minority of humanity that I meet F2F, "rewinn" is more "REALLY" me than "Randy Winn" is.

Tony Fisk said...

As you've probably heard, Kepler has, so far, discovered 1000+ planets, many of them (~ 68) of a similar size to Earth.

In addition, someone has pointed out that, by virtue of their geometry, the trees in forests display distinctive optical characteristics (shadows) that could be detected with these observations, or similar.

David Brin said...

Stunning results... since Kepler can only detect planetary systems that are almost perfectly flatly aligned with our line of sight.

Tony Fisk said...

While the odds seem huge, they are merely large.

The Sun's diameter is 1.5E6 km, and Earth's orbital diameter is 300E6 km. So, any ET using a Kepler-like instrument to look for Earth would have a 1.5/300 = 0.5% chance of being placed to see occultations. (The formula should use the sum of stellar and planetary diameters but, at 0.007E6 km, I don't think it matters for Earth-like objects!)

scinches: for when planetary diameter matters.

David Brin said...

You then take the DURATION of the eclipse, the PERIODICITY and the MAGNITUDE and you combine them to guess...

the planet's orbital period and therefore distance from its star. The easiest part and most importance. Then you guess the planet's size and the angular tilt of its ecliptic to us. With a good guess of its mass from orbital data, you then calculate a guesstimated density.

And it gets really really iffy since you rarely can even confirm that you're above noise level!

Kepler is an explorer, designed & launched in unbelievable speed, almost like the great old days of space adventure. Its job is to point at possibilities we can follow up with bigger eyes.

Acacia H. said...

As I mentioned on a social networking site once, "good luck finding anything on me if you do a search on 'Robert Howard.'" And I still get the occasional "are you the Robert Howard?" as it seems the knowledge that a) he is dead, and b) Conan (and other stories by Howard) were put out almost a century ago. ^^;;

Which is why I'm slowly piecing together a story that's an homage to both Lovecraft and Howard... "Conan the Zombie Barbarian," by Robert a zombie Howard. ;) After all, if that Howard were kicking around after all these years, he'd either have to be hungering for brains, or be a space alien... ;)

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I have a feeling much of the most interesting science done nowadays gets classified. I don't know what percentage. In my field of interest (materials science, which I haven't participated in for some years, at least not the "good stuff")maybe the percentages are skewed. But I wouldn't know, would I?

Corey said...

Are we, at a stage when we are truly just beginning to truly grasp the scope of our ignorance and simplicity and actually beginning to get a good view of just the questions we need ask ourselves about the universe, honestly so arrogant as to think we've hit the "peak" of science and understanding?

The amount of new things we learn and achieve every single year is absolutely staggering, surpassed only by the number of new questions unlocked.

Just in the past decade or so, thinking about what we've achieved, these are just a FEW of the things you can credit to science and engineering, the ones that stick out in my mind:


-the advent of molecular genetics has allowed us to track the real evolutionary histories of organisms, finally with reliability and accuracy, allowing a better understanding of the history of life like never before, while cladists replace centuries-old Linnean taxonomy with an accurate, monophyletic system of classification

-the genome of many organisms, including humans, have been decoded, and gene maps are now being built to determine what genetic sequence plays what role in a given organism


-computers are now able to simulate protein-folding to predict how the body will react to new chemical compounds to develop new drugs

Computer science:

-even as Moore's Law comes to a screeching halt due to quantum tunneling, SSDs have arrived to replace the slowest component in computers, storage, with a solutions a dozen times as fast (that speed figure as of the coming SSD controller from Sandforce)

-SIMD computing has reached GPUs with the advent of stream processing, effectively making them modular super-computing devices

-motherboard north bridge chips have been replaced by CPU-integrated memory controllers

-GPUs and CPUs now exist in single dies


-low dispersion elements, once the realm of super-expensive flourite lenses, is becoming ubiquitously available, even in sub-$500 lenses, thanks to advances in optical technology

-optical image stabilization has been introduced and moved into virtually every segment of photography, all in little more than 10 years

-super-zoom fixed lens cameras with 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 400-600mm have been fit bodies the size and price of pocket cameras from 10-15 years ago Russian built a really really really really really really really big thermobaric bomb?

Seriously, these are just advances in areas I closely follow, and only the advances that stick out for me, and this is just since the year 2000. Push back 20 years, or get this list from someone who knows something about the LHC/Kepler, and you'd get bigger and different lists.

Science has "peaked" today about as much as it had "peaked" when Svante Arrhenius or Joseph Fourier or Gregor Mendel were making their contributions to our understanding.

Anyways, not to detract from the discussion of Kepler, but as someone who belongs to a field that's absolutely exploding (biology), to the extent that entirely new fields are born every single year, I can't think of any reason to think that science is going any less slowly today than ever before, or is of any lower quality.

Tacitus2 said...


Some would consider you a RIRO (Republican in Registration Only), but I hesitate to encourage a phrase that sounds like ScoobyDoo talk.

LarryH. I don't think I am risking my internet annon. by saying the storm went south of me. Enjoy your snow day(s).

I think Science is still progressing, but not is such big visible ways. Sure, Kepler is way cool. Really. But the impact on everyday life is nil. Most of the bio stuff is somewhat introspective for lack of a better word.

The things we see everyday are significant, but we have gotten used to electronics getting exponentially better, more memory, more megapixels each year. Its just the background scenery now.

There have been phases where science took huge, impossible to ignore jumps. Mostly, sadly, driven by conflict.

Manned flight. Transmission of moving images. Antibiotics. And the ultimate-nuclear weapons. Note, these all had their origins in peacetime but the applications were largely militant.

Once the scientific community has created a way to END it all, anything else seems like a footnote.

Until we have a practical way to travel to other planets-and lets get moving on that-the ability to erase us all will stand as the grim, towering monument to scientific acheivement.

Sad in a way. Einstein as Shiva.


Jumper said...

"We pretty much know all there is to know about electricity - except for a few remaining scenarios involving stuff like thin films and exotic condensed matter. But it's just a matter of dotting a few 'I's, crossing a few 'T's."

I think I could rather easily find someone who says basically the above.

Then call me in 30 years.

LarryHart said...


I can't claim to read minds, but I took Dr. Brin's referring to himself as a "republican" with a small-r as meaning that he was an old-style (Eisenhower, or even Goldwater) Republican who no longer feels at home in the capital-R party.

I've got an opinion about "peak science", but I'll make that a separate post.
Or possibly even further than that--that he's a believer in the republic as a form of government. But that interpretation doesn't go with the whole "5% of scientists" thing.

Sad in a way. Einstein as Shiva.

I've read that at the first A-bomb test, Robert Oppenheimer said "I have become death--destroyer of worlds." It sounds like a biblical or Shakespearian quote, but I've never been able to identify the source, unless it really is something he made up himself. Any time I look the phrase up, it's just attributed to him.

Sean Strange said...

Tacitus2, I largely agree with your post, except where you say that the everyday significance of Kepler’s discoveries is nil. Wrong! The importance of knowing there are potentially millions of Earth-like planets could hardly be more significant, but it will take some time for this new reality to dawn on humanity at large. As you say, science has created a means for us to destroy ourselves, but think what the discovery of a really Earth-like planet (which should happen soon) will do to motivate our space program and get people thinking cosmically again about our future! This could be exactly what is needed to really start getting serious about long-term projects like space colonization and interstellar travel. This could be the most important scientific discovery in a long time!

Here’s a great TED talk on this subject by a Harvard astronomy professor about this "new Copernican revolution":

ell said...


One of my college professors had a sister who was a surgeon in the Soviet Union. (So many men had died in World War II that women had to be trained for medicine.) The trouble was that women were assigned to the low-status surgery (traffic accidents) while male surgeons got the high-status jobs (brain surgery).

LarryHart said...

My thinking about "peak science" is that, in the old days (however you personally define that), there were great leaps to be made in realms that were intuitive to the common man. And that now, we're making great leaps forward, but only other specialists can possibly understand them. The rest of us can only go "Whatever you say, guys...I trust you." And that's from those of us who aren't in the FOX camp. Recall Hari Seldon's response when asked if he could prove that psychohistory's prediction of the fall of the Empire was sound: "Only to another mathematician."

I'm thinking of how I felt taking physics in high school and 100-level college courses. Starting with mechanics, I was actually excited to be learning that stuff. Gravity. Orbital motion. Heat. Viscocity. Friction. Conservation of energy and momentum. I know I sound like a geek saying this, but it was a great understanding of the world opening up, and I could feel that it made intuitive sense.

Electromagnetics was a bit more abstract, but it was still a case of internalizing rules that made intuitive sense, once I had a feel for them.

By the time we got deep into quantum mechanics, it lost me. It was rote memorization of formulas necessary to pass the class, but it didn't mean anything to me. At that point, science seemed to have passed from something relevant to the lay person (myself) into something only of interest to specialists.

I'm not holding myself up as a standard of objectivity. Doubtless, there are those to whom quantum mechanics was every bit as engaging as classical mechanics was to me. But my point is that I'm thinking every individual has SOME point at which they experience what I experienced when I hit the level of quantum mechanics.

And I wonder if science in general has hit that point at which society in general has lost engagement.

LarryHart said...

My earlier post makes more sense if this piece is at the end rather than (somehow) stuck in the middle:

I've got an opinion about "peak science", but I'll make that a separate post.

Rob said...

It's a quote from the Bhagavad Gita.

Rob said...

Quantum theory has applications in microcircuit manufacturing. I think the CCD's in every digital camera exploit a principle of quantum dynamics, and I know I can remember my Dad's colleagues talking about its applications in the computer chips they used.

David Brin said...

Corey gets post of the day for that cool summary of a few very-telling tech breakthroughs.

Tacitus, you got me, fair n' square. I never tried to hide it. Though from all the time, effort and words I have spent on the topic of libertarianism... plus a keynote at an LP convention... I'd say I have some genuine "conservative" chops. By some older definitions of "conservative."

In a sense, I truly can claim that "The Republican Party left me."

I do think you are being grouchy. Science deserves credit for undermining every rationalization that used to bulwark racism, sexism, classism and environmental-neglectism. Demolishing those manias may count among its biggest accomplishments.

Einstein as... Gandhi!

See the latest in perpetual motion scams! "Hydrinos!"

Ilithi Dragon said...

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," the Oppenheimer quote, is actually a misquote. It is actually Time, not Death.

Nevertheless, that passage (Shiva is showing is different forms to a prince trying to convince him to do his duty), is almost prophetic in a way, and early disturbing when two separate parts of the passage are put together (as they are in Sid Meyer's Civilization IV for the new tech quote given when you research atomic weapons):
"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Might One... ...Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

As for science, scientific discoveries come in fits and spurts. They don't give a steady stream of progress and advancements, they give sudden leaps forward that feed a flurry of other leaps forward and/or advancements and progress that trickle off over time before the next great leap forward. Sometimes these leaps forward are strung out over time, sometimes they're clustered together. We've had a long series of small, strung-out leaps forward for a while, with a handful of minor clusters, but several massive leaps forward are looming on the horizon.

Tony Fisk said...


The actual probability of being able to observe an occultation *at all* is the sum of the angular diameters (in radians) of the two bodies as seen from each other divided by pi. That gives us a ~ 0.3% chance to see Earth from afar. (Well OK, 0.5% wasn't too bad for a back of an envelope calculation: not that that argument has ever swayed an examiner!)

The point is that, out of billions of stars, there are still a few million candidates.

Then you can winnow the possibilities down with detection limits for occultation times, periodicity, eccentricities, S/N etc.

None of which belittles Kepler's achievements to date.

Tony Fisk said...

False colour they may be, but the preliminary images of Vesta as seen from 'Dawn' are eerily reminiscent of Mars.

(Corey can add the visitation of all solar planetty things within a generation, ion drive propulsion and citizen sponsored solar sails to his list!)

righha: the emotion felt when word verification fails

David Brin said...

Vesta... wow.

I knew a girl named Dawn who had a Vespa....

Ian said...

I don't think this particular point about Kepler has been mentioned here yet.

They've found 68 Earth-sized or smaller "candidates" and 288 potential Super-Earths (diameter 1.25-2 times that of Earth.)

Assuming there isn;t a major flaw in either the instrument itself or the assumptions, I think we can now assuem that habitable planets are probably relatively common.

Tony Fisk said...

... which Ceres? Juno?

(OK I think we've worked out who Marc Rayman's ghost writer is!)

dipultr: double shot trebuchet (with ion-drive attachment)

Paul said...

Tony Fisk,
"As you've probably heard, Kepler has, so far, discovered 1000+ planets, many of them"

Was just reading that 170 of the 1235 candidates are multi-planet systems.

Which means two (or more) co-planar planets transiting within the observation period. (Which seems rare.) That's got to put the odds up pretty high that all stars with planets have multiple planets?

(Hariu: (har-you) Gas Giant. Fourth planet in the...

Hmmm, perhaps Blogger's Turing Word generator can be used to name the planets? The algorithm's logic rules might even able to be tweaked to indicate useful info; size, distance-from-star, etc.)

Acacia H. said...

Actually when you think of it, Earth is about the right size for a planet for intelligent space-faring life to evolve on. Much bigger and you can't get off planet easily, and have even bigger problems leaving planetary orbit. And you can definitely forget space elevators. ^^;;

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Which means two (or more) co-planar planets transiting within the observation period. (Which seems rare.) That's got to put the odds up pretty high that all stars with planets have multiple planets?

Observation period is 4 months (~ 120 days)

Assuming solar system is being viewed, then the chances of seeing:
Mercury (120/88) ~ 100%
Venus (120/243) ~ 50%
Earth (120/365) ~ 30%
Mars (120/610) ~ 20%

So, the chances of seeing > 1 planets in the same system in the period are not low (ignoring cries of 'inclination')

But yes, if you see one....

(Mind you, these are 'candidates' rather than confirmed observations. That will take a little while to establish)

sociotard said...

going back to the war with Switzerland, aren't there some things that were never revealed WRT Nazi stolen gold? I wonder if Egypt could talk Israel into going to war . . . on the [b]same[/b] side.

Paul said...

United Space Alliance has proposed flying the shuttle fleet "commercially" until 2017 on a fixed-price contract of $1.5b/yr (at two flights per year.)

Given certain Senators' desire to preserve shuttle work in their states, I'd expect NASA would have to struggle to be allowed to not do this.

(Gedshoo: It's those last minute offers that really gedshoo.)

Paul said...

Actually, $750m per flight isn't too bad. You lift seven astronauts plus 15-18 tonnes of cargo.

By comparison: Russia will charge $50m per seat. And NASA will pay SpaceX $1.6b for 20 tonnes of cargo across 12 flights over three years. (Although SpaceX will probably over-deliver.)

(Posting this for the fourth time... Why does Blogger eat so many posts? I thought it might be a spam-filter disliking multiple links in one post, but the actual spam itself seems to have no problems...)

More discussion of probability of observation at NextBigFuture.

(Comment from that thread: "This means there are about 40 million [habitable-zone] planets within 3,000 light years of us. Even if 49 out of 50 of these are Neptunes rather than Earths, there should still be nearly a million Earths within 3,000 light years of us." Roughly one earth-like per 60LY diameter sphere.)

(Turing word: Decinea. See, another perfectly good name for an exo-planet.)

Ian said...


Just as thousands of Egyptian Muslims volunteered to act as human shields to defends Coptic churches after a recent terrorist attack, Christians amongst the protesters in Tahrir Square link arms to try to protect Muslim protesters as they pray.

Paul said...

Re: Peak science.
New surgical tool. An NMR spectroscope that uses the smoke from an electro-scalpel during surgery to analyse the tissue being cut in near-realtime.

Tyler August said...

Someone mentioned Science becoming a pink-collar job. Ell?
I'd like to respond to that-- in my opinion, it's going that way already.

Boys are never deliberately targeted to go into science and engineering; they're basically just ignored and fall into the field if they discover it on their own and have an aptitude. Girls are deliberately targeted with marketing, pushed to excel, encouraged and rewarded more heavily in the form of scholarships. A while back, I was at an outreach meeting where we were looking for a speaker for our department's annual public lecture--and of course, "female" was listed as a positive selection criterion. So as to encourage young ladies, of course. I saw heads around the table nodding at this suggestion. Female heads. Of the dozen people at that meeting, only two were male.

Now, that's just one example, but when I invited my fiancee to my last seminar talk she left asking "Where are all the men?"-- you can count, and females are starting to outnumber men in graduate school, and higher education in general. This, to me, is a bad thing only that I really would rather it be 50/50 across the board and don't think boys today should be punished for the sins of their fathers.

Hiring policies tend to favour females for tenure-track positions at some universities, to correct historic imbalances (one hopes and presumes once the faculty hits 50/50 this will stop) -- if the angry anonymous optician above was a white male, he might react to this as political correctness getting in the way of science.

It's political correctness getting in the way of my career, sure, but science? Science was restricted to one gender since Sir Francis Bacon got the ball rolling. Or Roger Bacon, for that matter. I don't think a slight bias towards better mixing is going to hurt things. The academic job market is so oversupplied with PhDs that I could put out a call for a left-handed Ghanian rheologist who likes smooth Jazz and I'd still keep the hiring committee busy for a week--and they'd no doubt find an excellent researcher or two who'd match any heterosexual white male.
If that's the political correctness problem 'Nonny has with science, I think it might just be a case of sour grapes. (Or maybe I'm just projecting-- I'm a white male and am tempted to feel that way on my bad days. But only tempted.)

India Pictures said...

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soc said...

Chomsky weighs in on the Egypt thing. If you know Chomsky, you can already guess the tack he's taking.

I though Dr. Brin might find this excerpt from the article interesting :)

Therefore to some observers the WikiLeaks "documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren't asleep at the switch" – indeed, that the cables are so supportive of US policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in The National Interest.)

"America should give Assange a medal," says a headline in the Financial Times, where Gideon Rachman writes: "America's foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic … the public position taken by the US on any given issue is usually the private position as well."

In this view, WikiLeaks undermines "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives Washington proclaims.

Godec's cable supports these judgments – at least if we look no further. If we do,, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec's information in hand, Washington provided $12m in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most US military aid in the hemisphere.

Ian said...

Just watched a BBC news story about an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon and a thought occurred to me.

Science fiction writers and fans regularly talk about the need to establish extraterrestrial colonies as an "insurance policy" against an extinction-level event affecting Earth.

In a similar way, the remaining hunter-gatherer and subsistence farmer groups can be viewed as the human equivalent of the Arctic Seed Bank.

A Carrington Event would likely wipe out much of modern civilization and the majority of the world's urban population would likely die.

These indigenous groups would be effectively untouched - and would retain the detailed knowledge of how to survive without modern technology.

Clearly there are some disasters that would affect them too but in many credible scenarios, their survival could be key to the survival of our species.

(This is, of course, all secondary to the real reason these groups should be respected and protected - they're human beings with the same rights as the rest of us.)

Dwight Williams said...

Assange vs. Chomsky?

That might well be an educational, informative and entertaining debate to witness.

sociotard said...

Regarding women in the sciences, this comic is informative:

Tony Fisk said...

The flip side of women in sciences:
Falling off the ladder

Weston's tale of bright young thing failing to make the grade isn't unusual (speaking from experience.) Nor does it mean she was a failure. Attenborough had a early epiphany when, during a math tutorial, he realised that everyone else was doing something he couldn't: visualising problems in 3D. She does write of it in terms of perfectionism, however:couldn't be the best so what good was she? (This is where women seem to suffer more than men; they do seem to have this ingrained insecurity)

David Brin said...

Chomsky's response, to point to military aid, is complete bait & switch, apples & oranges. Of course realpolitik affects many actions. The military aid he refers to was already openly known, It does not diminish the bald fact that the SECRET communications of the US State Department were mostly benign and more often admirable than anybody expected.

Ian while I support safeguarding the tribes' habitats... (1) I doubt they are untouched and (2) I doubt they'd be all that resilient if - say - the Amazon became desert.

David Brin said...,19025/

Tyler August said...

Ian :
Good point about hunter gatherer backups-- though groups like the Amish and Mennonites might serve as a backup to the 17th Century level, if not overwhelmed by the modern civilization collapsing around them.
Personally, I think we should have multiple backups to several different fallback positions; whatever closest to modern tech can survive the disaster.
I have an essay about it here.

I think my Atomic Amish might do alright during a repeat carrington event, and we'd be backing up to... well, the future Asimov thought we'd have. High tech and slide rules.

David Brin said...

An alliance of Amish and tough gun toting survivalists might be a good combo

Tim H. said...

A storyboard that didn't make it into the Simpsons, something to do with the "Kim Il Murdoch" poster:

Tony Fisk said...

Is *this* what the onion Republicans were on about?

(Hell, yeah! The American people need more Chesterfield sofas!)

Tim H. said...

Would it be followed by random cricket equipment?

Jeff B. said...

Sad to say, but I don't think many Amish would make good candidates for realistic survivalist tales. A large percentage (depending on the particular sect and geographic location) make their living now providing services to the "English". Woodworking, cabinetry, carpentry, roofing, timbering, traditional arts and crafts all are interwoven, albeit tentatively, into the local communities. And, or course, (organic) farming.

And it goes the other way, too- it is fairly common to see Amish in some areas in the local grocery and hardware stores, buying boxed cereal and meat and snacks; some pay less-well-off "English" neighbors to drive them there. And there seems to be growing acceptance to using our doctors. (and they also go fishing and birdwatching among their neighbors, too.)

Western PA/Eastern OH is a good example of this interdependency- I've seen estimates that over 30% depend on work among the English. So were the surrounding society to fall or suffer a major setback, their survival would also be in question.

BCRion said...

For those interested in the ongoings in Egypt, here is a good Al Jazeera article detailing the political undercurrents in the new government:

It's almost impossible to find such analysis in mainstream US outlets these days.

Paul said...

Jeff B.,
"So were the surrounding society to fall or suffer a major setback, their survival would also be in question."

Or they would become the new kings. After all, they'd still be producing food, still have transport. You want to eat? You pay with labour, serf.

(Restic: Pertaining to an old bed... 6am. Time to go.)

ell said...

Anthropologists could be very helpful in surviving a Carrington event. Before the event, they could teach a few university courses on surviving loss of technology. Afterwards, they can teach everybody how it's done.

Practitioners of old skills may also help survive the event: hand looms, spinning wheels, herbal remedies, canning, knitting, etc. And the Boy Scouts would still know how to make fire.

ell said...


Ian mentioned the "pink collar" factor. I added an example.

Note that any profession or anthropological entity can be stratified. The status level can be based on education, gender, wealth, or family. (Or ....)

Acacia H. said...

Well, it was bound to happen: We've the start of news articles/commentaries calling specific Republicans "evil" due to their refusal to uphold the social contract Democrats put in place. Personally? I think this should be up to the courts. Or in other words, if someone dies because these programs were cut, sue the state government for the death. I don't quite know what the term is, something homicide, but people have been sued for "wrongful deaths" in the past. Why not the government?

And if Republican governments start getting sued because they cut social programs and the like, then one of two things will happen: they will pass laws that outlaw lawsuits of the government (which would probably be considered illegal) or they'll pass laws that wash their hands of responsibility (which again would likely be illegal).

In response to this rampant abuse of power, non-Republican candidates (Independents, Libertarians (though they might support Republican efforts in this), Greens, and even Democrats could run against those politicians stating the abuse of power of these candidates.

Or Republicans could realize the threat that going down this path would entail... and soften their policies.

Who knows? It might work.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Most of the boys scouts I grew up with made fire using the erroneously named "girl scout water". I only made fire using a bow once.

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