Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some News is Pretty Good

* On his “Crooked Timbers” blog, John Quiggin offers a discussion of political shibboleths.  A shibboleth is "an affirmation that marks the speaker as a member of their community or tribe," a definition which seems almost perfectly made for the “birther” claim that President Obama was born in Kenya, is a Muslim and wants to impose Sharia law in the United States... a general belief set now held (according to recent polls) by a majority of likely Republican voters.

Quiggin’s essay is seriously thoughtful and filled with important insights. It is being widely circulated and deserves your attention, even (especially) if you are a conservative American who feels bewildered by the direction that your movement has lately veered. (Hint: what’s gone sour has nothing to do with any of the old-style, libertarian values espoused by Barry Goldwater. It is at right-angles to the so-called “left-right axis.”)

* Was it really only back in 1994 that major media figures were still saying “what’s an inter-net?” See this amazing Today Show clip.  And remember that five years earlier, in 1989, I portrayed what could only be web pages in my novel EARTH. (There was, as yet, no web!)

* Is the news all negative? In the category of: I have been telling you folks about this for years...

“A widely used index of civic scientific literacy, sufficient understanding of basic scientific ideas to be able to read the Tuesday Science section of The New York Times,  showed that 28% of American adults scored high enough to understand scientific ideas at that level.   In 1988, well before Science 2.0 and a time when only a few print magazines and expensive journals monopolized science, just 10 percent of U.S. adults had sufficient understanding of basic scientific ideas. ... In the wave of criticisms about America, one thing gets lost that explains American adult knowledge - America is the only major country that requires almost all its college and university students to complete a full year of science. So the scientific literacy of U.S. adults is higher than the general adult populations of other developed nations.”

* And in the category of “I’ll believe it when I see it...”  Apparently “hardcore Isaac Asimov purists who are already despondent at the idea of Roland Emmerich  on the Foundation Trilogy. It’s all in the headline, really: Emmerich’s adaptation of Asimov’s story won’t just be predictably big and explode-y; it will be 3D and made with motion-capture goodness.” 

* TED, an organization best known for its annual gathering of top thought leaders, launched a social discussion platform on its website today. The move is part of a larger effort to spread, as TED’s motto goes, “ideas worth spreading” beyond the 1,300-attendee, five-day conference.  --  Now, if only I had time to play this “quora” thing. 


Some folks are thinking about how to anchor-in the freedom enhancing effects of the internet, by fostering inherently cheap/free/distributed systems that cannot be centrally controlled.  (My own software invention may prove extremely useful in that effort. So has the general approach to openness pushed in The Transparent Society.)  Anyway, to get a good picture of how others view the need, read: “Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Can’t Find You,” in which reporter Jim Dwyer describes Professor Eben Moglen’s  efforts to develop a “freedom box.”
”If revolutions for freedom rest on the shoulders of Facebook, Mr. Moglen said, the revolutionaries will have to count on individuals who have huge stakes in keeping the powerful happy. “It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg, to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse,” Mr. Moglen said.

“By contrast, with tens of thousands of individual encrypted servers, there would be no one place where a repressive government could find out who was publishing or reading “subversive” material. In response to Mr. Moglen’s call for help, a group of developers working in a free operating system called Debian have started to organize Freedom Box software. Four students from New York University who heard a talk by Mr. Moglen last year have been building a decentralized social network called Diaspora.”
  A key set of ingredients. Not only for ensuring freedom, but allowing even the slim possibility of human survival.


Anyone watch the jeopardy “Watson” event?  Fascinating! One more milestone down. A commentary I found illuminating is by Kent Pitman.

I believe the one unfair aspect of the show was the input-output discrepancy. Input is a very large part of the difficult task faced by human contestants and hence, Watson’s should have been speech recognition. As Kent Pitman points out:  "IBM actually sells speech recognition software. This should have been a chance to showcase it." Also, I believe Watson should hand to send signals to a "hand" to push the regular buzzer, same as the humans.

(BTW... I have a particular use for speech recognition.  I attend a lot of conferences at which attendees have their laptops open in front of them, fiddling away while the speaker speaks onstage. (Funny about that; it would be rude if they read a newspaper!)  Thing is, I hope to offer a service at one conference where the people with laptops could have a window open while a speech recognition program scrolls the speaker's words as they are being spoken onstage.  This would let people take notes by selecting and copying passages as they scroll by. Yes, I know it would have many errors! The notes aren't expected to be accurate or perfect, just a way to save talking points for later consideration. Does anyone have a notion how to proceed with something like this?)


Almost as if the author had read my classic essay on J.R.R. Tolkien (and perhaps he had) there has appeared a new English translation of a Russian novel that retells Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" from the perspective of the “bad guys.” 

From the Salon review: “That's the philosophy behind "The Last Ringbearer," a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of "The Lord of the Rings") and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. Translations of the book have also appeared in other European nations, but fear of the vigilant and litigious Tolkien estate has heretofore prevented its publication in English.”

Now let me be clear that I do not insist that Tolkien’s epic be viewed as “history written by the lying winners.”  I have enjoyed it both ways. First taking JRRT’s word for it that the villains were utterly deliberately vile, with self aware desire for ruination... and again the other way, with a critical awareness that the “good” elves had a lot to answer for -- a position that was actually held (if you read his deeper works) by Tolkien himself!

(I have always consider JRRT to be a retro-nostalgist romantic, and hence and enemy of the progressive enlightenment. But he was an honest and smart retro-nostalgist, who came by it with sound - or at least understandable - grievances against modern technological society, acquired on the killing fields of Flanders. Tolkien is miles better than other future-hating romantics, like George Lucas, who spit on a modern, scientific society that has been very, very good to them.)

In my essay I pondered if the “villains” in Lord of the Rings might have been rebels against a reactionary order -- one that insisted - for example - that all the glass boxes capable of showing faraway lands (which we call TVs and computer monitors) be held only by top elites (he called them “palantirs”) and that racism, classism and sexism be rigidly enforced. To me, it was just a brief thought experiment. Apparently (though I have not yet read it), Yeskov’s work goes headlong down this path!

“In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."  (From Laura Miller‘s Salon Magazine review. Read this before downloading!)

People who find such re-imaginings interesting should not miss Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky.  Now this one I have read and can totally vouch for! It is fascinating and vastly better-written than the original books.

Is this the future of fiction?  Online publishing has many advantages... and disadvantages. Evasion of copyright restrictions? Unleashed creativity? Freedom to perform variations on a theme?  Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson have their MONGOLIAD project and I have some thoughts in mind.  Maybe. If time allows.


Bizarre 'Alien' Tumor Found Inside California Man.

And now, by popular demand... The abstract is online!

Evolution of Cometary Nuclei as Influenced by a Dust Component
by G David Brin
Doctoral Dissertation for the University of California, San Diego March 1981


Clint Johnson said...

"And now, by popular demand... The abstract is not online!" Hmmm, some folks demanded you take it down? How rude. :)

Unknown said...

There was a link to The Last Ringbearer in the comments on the last thread and I just finished reading the whole thing yesterday. The Salon review of the book isn't that insightful, nor does it give a very good sense of the book.

For one, the book is not really a rewriting from Mordor's point of view. It starts out a little like that, but that may be to disabuse the reader of the sense of Mordor as the bad guy. Gandalf, as well, is really just a minor character in the whole story. He is portrayed as a warmongerer, though not in cartoonish villain sense, but he has his motivations.

Even Aragorn is portrayed fairly even-handed light by the end. The only real villains are the elves. Though their motivations are also explained, and even they are not arguably "pure" evil. To repeat one characters explanation of their actions, given the choice, most of Middle Earth may have even chosen the path they were trying to force on everyone.

In any event, having read the whole thing it is definitely worth a read. It's trying, I suppose, to recreate a "real-world" conflict that could have been mythologized into LOTR by one faction. There are some disorienting parts, and the whole middle section that seems written like a spy novel is a little out of place, but it was a very fun read that I'd recommend to everyone.

David Brin said...

Clint that's fixed!

Yuko - Tolkien himself said the Elves were to blame.

Doug S. said...

I don't know much about that Russian novel, but I suspect that Jacqueline Carey's version is better.

Erik said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure that Watson was using a physical buzzer.

Ian said...

I applaud the Freedom Box idea but can I suggest instead the Freedom Phone?

The threats to freedom and the consequences of dissent are far more acute in the developing world where far more people have access to mobile phones than to computers.

So perhaps what is needed is software that allows people to send untraceable SMS' from mobile phones to microblogging sites and to access news and social networks untraceably.

(Ideally news and other messages would be available in audio form as well as text so illiterate people could access them too.)

Ian said...

An alternative link for the Alien Tumor story:

BTW, "Alien tumor" would be a great name for a Metal band.

Tacitus2 said...


The notion that a majority of likely Republican voters believe the muslim/sharia/kenya nonsense is so utterly discordant with my observations that I conclude the polls you mention, sans link, are throughly cooked. You are paying heed to a silly carny side show while the main event is going on elsewhere.

I know it is in flyover land, hence a trivial thing, but the showdown between the governor of WI and the public employee unions will be a harbinger of things to come. You should try and read as much as you can from both perspectives.

Here in WI it is a topic so sensitive that you really can't openly discuss it.


rsynnott said...

This is actually a very, very common take on the Lord of the Rings; since its publication its themes have been linked to Tolkien's distaste for industrialisation and social re-ordering.

LarryHart said...


Concerning the demonstrations in Madison...

Down here in Illinois, I've been interested in following what's going on up there in Madison, when I can find any information. Most of what I know is from progressive talk radio. The corporate media seem to want to pretend there's no story.

The Chicago Tribune finally mentioned something Friday when the Democratic legislators bolted for Rockford IL (I know very well the hotel they hung out at for a time Friday, having stayed there often myself). Of course, they present two equally-matched bands of protestors, "unions" vs "tea partiers".

Can you speak to how equally matched the two camps really are?

This morning's (Sunday) Tribune had a political cartoon showing the protestors crossing out the word "People" in the Preamble's "We, the People", and replacing it with the word "Unions". That seems to me to be the righties' best stragety here--to convince everyday working people that the unions are their enemy rather than their last best line of defense. Whichever side wins the battle at chaacterizing the two sides will likely prevail. In this sort of thing, I'm afraid Republicans have more expertise and resources.

Still, I wonder. Your new governor seems to be pushing the "pro-business" meme, which to me looks a lot like Dr Brin's description of Ayn Rand's "hypergamous surrender reflex". I.e., "Bring your business to Wisconsin, because we'll work for subsistence, and you can even talk us down from THAT." Once the man on the street internalizes that that's what's going on, I'm not sure "union" will continue to be the dirty word it has been since 1981.

TheMadLibrarian said...

The attempt to take unions out of state government in WI gives me a stomachache, and I'm not sure I can even formulate a coherent statement regarding it. On the sites I've been following, the loudest noise is coming from are those who think unions are the root of all evil, because they actually are trying to protect their members when the non-unionized were getting the shaft. There are a number of news variants, ranging from outright lies to shadings of what is going on. Anyone have a preferred, mostly unbiased news source they can recommend?


dyselly: a disjunct between what you are buying and what you really get

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I've been ringing the bell concerning the move of science fiction to online media (the Internet) for a while now. ;) This has happened with science fiction genre webcomics, print comics, and a growing electronic-book movement as well (especially now that Barnes and Noble has made it easier for people to sell their books as e-books, thus bringing about the rise of the amateur author).

The bankruptcy of Borders Books is just another domino falling on the House of Publication; it is rather likely several of the larger publishers who have blindly refused to embrace the new technologies and new methods of book publication will go under. Fortunately, unlike automobile manufacturing, we don't have three big book publishers that make up the entirety of American Publishing; some of the smaller publishers who have embraced the newer technologies will step in and take the place of those publishers who have been unable to adapt.

This isn't just an American phenomena, by the way. In Japan there is a growing industry for the scanning of books and adaptation of them to PDF and e-book formats. The publishing companies refuse to even consider discounted e-books and are not accepting the new technology at all. As a result, people are taking matters into their own hands and thanks to Japanese copyright law that makes it legal for people to digitize personal copies of their books for their own use, the growth of these entrepreneurial scanning companies is significant.

(Sorry for the lack of links there; I read about it on Thursday or Friday in one of the journals I abstract for work, but I don't recall which one; obviously it was a business or economics journal, but I can't go into further detail than that.)

I am actually reminded of an anime, Bubblegum Crisis 2040, which showed a woman inserting a tablet computer into an upload slot to get the latest copy of a magazine she read. Ironically enough, for all of the futuristic aspect to the use of tablets in that way, the series was out of date in not considering the purchases could be done completely online. And it's already happening with e-book systems and tablet computers.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

BCRion said...

On the WI protest numbers, quote MSNBC:

"An estimated 68,000 people turned out Saturday. All but a few thousand opposed the bill, but the day marked the first time that a significant contingent of Walker supporters showed up to counter-protest."

Much of this debate has been confused by the meme that public employees are unwilling to make sacrifices. For the most part, the protests are not about that: most people agree that some sacrifice is necessary, even if they do not agree on the numbers and specifics.

The issue is the proposal to strip the ability of state employees to negotiate with their employers on benefits, working conditions, and pay past cost of living. There are also dubious parts where all public employee unions must conduct annual votes to recertify -- I fail to see how this last one has anything to do with the budget. I suspect the protests would melt away if those provisions were struck.

The supporters of this bill argue that private sector employees already pay more for benefits than their public counterparts and that negotiations would only serve to preserve the status quo. While the part about paying less for benefits is true, the other half of the equation is left out. Namely, public employees make less (typically about 10%) than their private sector counterparts when comparing people in alike fields. I do think the argument that public sector employees in WI are somehow better off is overstated.

Other arguments for the bill stem from that public unions do not negotiate with private entities, but the state, and they have a "ballot box" means to address their concerns. While this is a valid point, I do think this overstates the importance that such issues can have on an election realistically: EMTs are not exactly a powerful group.

My personal opinion is that the parts about stripping collective bargaining are unnecessary, and especially dangerous to be passed without time for adequate public debate. The other parts about making public employees pay more seems fine to me, even if we have to debate the specifics.

Tony Fisk said...

Agree with T2, the Wisconsin protests are a harbinger.

Similar massive cuts to public spending in the UK (sans the Union bashing overtones) has led to the formation of what has been described as a 'progressive tea party' movement targetting big business rather than big government (in particular, the obscene CEO packages still being doled out)

It started a sister movement in the US.
- UKuncut
- USuncut

(Hmm! The action list is growing. Nothing in WI yet, however.)

culcs: orucean camp-followers

LarryHart said...

The original Boston Tea Party was not a revolt against hight taxes. It was a protest against tax breaks for a corporate monopoly (The British East-India Company).

It is an incredible coup for the right that they've managed to co-opt that imagery for themselves. They've got a whole bunch of people agitating for "freedom" from the impositions of a democratically-elected government while at the same time jumping over each other to give sociopathic (by design) corporations control over their lives. We can't have government "death panels" deciding who isn't worth providing care to, but it's fine and dandy for insurance companies to make those same choices.

I'd really like to understand the mindset that thinks it's still "freedom" if a private entity is allowed to own the means of survival and to dictate the terms by which they'll grudgingly dole some out to you, as long as the entity exercising that absolute power over your life isn't "the guv'mint". Because right now, I can only hope that the mothership which abandoned me on this ridiculous planet comes back for me before it's too late.

Tacitus2 said...

The Wisconsin situation is an uncomfortable one for me. It is in my own backyard, and I have a lot of friends very upset by it. I can't really discuss it as openly in real space as I can here. So thanks for listening...

Yes, everyone concurs that the state employees are getting a good deal economically and that they should kick in a bit more. Even they say so. The issue is really the restrictions on collective bargaining.

The Walker solution is harsh medicine, and not presented with much warning or sugar coating.

Basically it says that government has become incapable of effective restraint on public union contracts.

The case for this is as follows.

The public employee unions are by many measures the most powerful political lobby in the state. The single biggest spender for lobbying is the WI education assn, and the other public employee unions are no slackers either.

Almost all of this money goes to democrats.

In fact, I do not think it is an exageration to say that the public employees hold effective veto power over democratic nominees, if you dare whisper that their benefits may need to be curtailed your career as a dem is done.

So it becomes a machine with interlocking parts.

If you work for most govermental units you will pay union dues. Even if you would prefer not to join. The state collects these dues. They go to union leaders who use them to fund candidates who will be more generous to union benefits. The cycle continues.

They are not an inconsequential political force here.

Our local school board issued a statement of support for the protestors. The head of same is a Democratic functionary who has run unsuccessfuly for office. Other prominent members are former county employees and/or spouses of teachers. Enthusiasm for serious benefit negotiation seems minimal. And our local schools axe significant programs to pay for very nice medical and retirement benefits for the staff.

I am sympathetic to the teachers (who I do not believe would actually be impacted by this law). But to continue to avoid layoffs the way the public unions do business will have to change.

There is plenty of democracy in action here, recall movements, rallying crys for 2012 etc.

google the Ann Althouse blog for much citizen journalism with reasonably fair perspective. Although some of her commentators are a bit uncouth imho.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, I am fully aware that polls should be taken guardedly. As much as a 25% swing can happen just because the poll question is biased or because of the well-known effect that people can believe two simultaneous things.

"Are you aware that the light from many of the stars you see originated millions of years ago"
"Do you believe the bible's account of a 6,000 year old universe?"

Many people will say yes to both!

Nevertheless, when 50% of a group can rationalize ANY basis for crediting the "birther" crap - (no one has ever even presented a SCENARIO under which Obama's mother ever even remotely visited Kenya... ever!) - then something is wrong. Pure and simple.

Wisconsin? Sure, I can live with adjusting excessively cushy deals for some civil servants... if you'll recognize that reviling civil servants and unions is just part of the broader war against all centers of expertise that aren't oligarchy-controlled.

Ccrushing labor unions is a touchstone for conservatives who cling to the belief that their movement still stands for something. Likewise pushing $60 billion in "trims" that affect ONLY their enemies and ONLY discretionary investments, not even glancing at entitlements or defense.

Let's see. The labor movement has been plummeting for decades and is on its death bed... so let's call it the vast enemy of freedom. And eliminate PBS, Planned Parenthood, sex education and scientific research. And that is the "sane side."

Let me see if I get this straight. Taxes MUST be cut for the ube-oligarch rich, because siphoning any cash from THEM will be "jobs-killing." But if we save some money by CUTTING ACTUAL JOBS... that won't be bad at all. Just prudent.

Larryhart, the insipidly stupid willingness of the idiotic democrats to ignore polemical jiu jitsu... e,g. embracing Adam Smith... has long amazed me.

PS... remember welfare queens? The big conservative bugaboo... till Clinton made THAT WHOLE ISSUE go away by cornering Gingrich into working with him on welfare reform... the one time the GOP negotiated like adults in 30 years.

That issue went away... and the GOP swore it would never happen again. If the unions are ALL crushed and civil servants turned into lickspittle oligarchy puppets... exactly the scenario that Adam Smith warned against... then who will be the boogeyman?

When all the scientists are crushed, the journalists replaced, the civil servants cowed, the academics neutered... and the lawyers and the smartypants of every kind...

...they'll turn on the MDs my friend.

Tony Fisk said...

Well, there's no accounting for commentators...

It sounds ironic that the nation of tea drinkers seem to be reclaiming the original spirit of the term (although they aren't referring to thenselves as a 'tea party' afaik)

knati: norse god of smart dress code. Unofficial patron of Ragnar Hairybreeks.

Tacitus2 said...

well, to be fair the freshman contingent of the republican caucus did just vote along with the admin to kill a boondoggle jet engine project, and certain figures such as Sen. Paul have been up front about the need to cut defense.

And, again to be fair, while unions overall are in decline mostly due to changes in industrial technology, public service unions have been doing rather well of late. And the point of my post is that they might be a different breed of cat.

See various comments by George Meany and FDR regards the impossibilty of reasonable negotiation between unions and government.

Hey, we can agree that the budgetary situation of the country is bad. I think it is worse than generally acknowleged. And we can do a side by side comparison between MN and WI, the former opting to try significant tax increases.

You will keep us posted on California's return to solvency, no?


David Brin said...

Your point about public employee unions is a good one... serving as the grain of truth the lies buried at the heart of most Beckian rants. Indeed, I want the power to transfer teachers who are hated by the parents at a school and three transfers means getting fired!

But that grain of truth can be strained hard. e.g.
"not all smart people are wise" is a grain of truth.

"therefore all smart people are automatically unwise and less qualified than all stupid or ignorant people who happen to be on my side."

that's today's sub text.

Acacia H. said...

You realize there is a means of reining in unions without destroying them. Treat them as an aspect of government and make sure there are checks and balances within the unions so to ensure there is minimal abuse of power. In essence, return unions to what they are supposed to be: an engine that makes sure the workers are fairly treated, have pay that allows them to make a decent living, ensure that workers are not abused or mistreated by managers or executives, and giving employees a method of fighting back against abuses put upon them by management.

But there must be methods of stopping inner-union abuses. Allow management to eliminate workers who honestly are not doing their job, even if they are a favorite of some union boss. Allow workers who are a smaller aspect of a union still have a voice (case in point: my Republican friend is a shipper and as there are very few shippers compared to drivers, shippers are given short shrift and have been whittled down until a handful of shippers do what used to be done by twice as many people, forcing them to work three to four hours extra each day in overtime to get the job completed while the unions make sure that the drivers get all the benefits as they are the primary funding source for the union).

I'm waiting for our Republican governor there to take the next step into insanity. When we see the police and national guard sent in to force everyone protesting to leave... or the massed firing of every single person who protested... then we'll see the next step in the death of the union... and of the middle class. The inner cynic is quite sure it's coming. Which is truly pathetic as there is just ONE thing this Republican Governor could do to ensure the protests end: allow collective bargaining to continue as it was. There is NOTHING about CB that would fix the budget woes right now.

Of course, arresting the families of the Democratic Senators who fled the state and holding them in contempt of court due to their not telling where the Senators are... or arbitrarily firing the Democratic Senators for failure to do their job and replacing them with all Republicans would also be quite in line with what I expect to happen.

The Republican Party has gone mad. I just hope that enough Republicans realize it and vote the whole lot of them out, replacing the whole leadership structure with new blood, before it's too late.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

"therefore all smart people are automatically unwise and less qualified than all stupid or ignorant people who happen to be on my side."

Alex Steffen recently saw a bumper sticker and wants one:

'Legalize Science!'

To which I might add:

'Reason: just say no!'

Tony Fisk said...

Still, if you think what Beck & co are peddling is bad, it could be worse. For instance, the Indian supreme court has ruled that astrology is a science.

We definitely need more bumper stickers...

LarryHart said...


... or arbitrarily firing the Democratic Senators for failure to do their job and replacing them with all Republicans would also be quite in line with what I expect to happen.

If so, then the 41 GOP US Senators of the previous congress should all have been fired for the exact same reason. To me, the WI Democrats are making use of an extraordinary maneuver for extraordinary circumstances. And judging by the GOP's usual modus operandi (again, see previous US Senate), those same GOP state senators who are now screaming for the Dems to "do their job"--the first time THEY'RE in the minority again, they'll be fleeing the state in order to block EVERY vote.

I'd put money on that.

Tacitus2 said...

The governor can't fire senators.

But if the democrats decide to stay away there could be consequences.

Any bill that does not involve funding can be passed without a quorum. Various appointments and so forth could be wrapped up pretty quickly that way.

There was mention of defunding the staff offices of absentees, as it was not clear why people in hiding need office staff, but that is just rhetoric.

The public relations backlash will start to catch up in a short while. There are also moves afoot to start recall elections for some of the democrats...and some of the republicans! You can't recall any elected official in WI 'less they have already served one year so Walker is safe for now.

It could be a very interesting situation if they ALL face recall elections!

On a more serious note, the intrusion of the Obama political arm Organizing for America is unwelcome. Does it not make you a bit queasy to have the head of state deploying minions to try and sway local questions? Even through a series of intermediaries it seems like it is pointing us down a dangerous road.


David Brin said...

Yeesh Tacitus. The entire GOP is a branch of NewsCorp. I think it's pretty mild when the president's political PAC openly helps members of his own party in open and public ways.

Ahcuah said...

Yes, Watson was using a physical buzzer. But that is a distinction without a difference. As soon as the clue ended, the electronics that flip the relay is almost always going to be faster than human reaction time. When my wife and I watched, there were quite a few clues in which the answer was obvious before Alex finished reading the clue. In all instances, Watson rang in first. That had to bias the results, unless this was just supposed to be a test of reaction times.

rewinn said...

"...Does it not make you a bit queasy to have the head of state deploying minions to try and sway local questions? "

Here again is "false equivalance".

Obama's predecessor routinely used government employees to assist his party's political campaigns

In contrast, OfA is a private organization, using no public funds or employees. To demand that the President not help members of his own party through private efforts is to demonstrate a complete poverty of substantive argument.

BCRion said...

Robert, you said it very well. There are ways we can fix collective bargaining without destroying the unions outright. Most of us accept the system is broken, and some reform is needed. Having a system in place that curbs the excesses of both sides (public employees and management), but still allows both to remain solvent inspires the type of negotiation for self-interest that is the cornerstone of capitalism. An innovative suggestion is to place a sunset clause in the law.

So much talk about unions ignores the other half of the equation. Judging from the raw amount of dollars in national politics, the far bigger threat arises from a cabal of CEOs that leverage their corporate dollars to influence laws in ways that help them keep their market share at the expense of fair competition. This sort of interference returns us to a policy of mercantilism in the guise of free market ideology.

At very least, politically, the unions do serve as a rather imperfect counterbalance to this political chicanery via their own. Don't get me wrong, corporations and unions have their place in a modern society, but addressing only one side of the equation, the one that has grown significantly stronger over the last three decades, leaves the door open for far greater abuses.

rewinn said...

@Tony - thanks for the "progressive tea party" concept.

What a wonderful symbol could be made from the fact that the tea that went into Boston Harbor did so because it was NOT taxed. IIRC the Tea Tax was imposed to cover the cost of the French and Indian Wars, and the EIC got an exemption due to its cozyness with the Chief Executive and/or ability to buy votes in a Parliament where the colonials were disenfranchised.

The parallels to today could be remarkable, but only if progressives or liberals or Democrats or whatever one may call them did not have, as Dr. Brin suggests, an insane unwillingness to commit effectual politics. Much as the knights of Agincourt preferred to stick with the policies that had failed at Crecy, the Democratic party in particular remains wedded to old-school suits and tactics such as Hillary Clinton talking on camera about free speech while a peaceful protestor is beaten up in front of her face. A pricipled and new-style effective leader would have halted the beating, engaged the protestor, and earned immense "reputation" - the currency of the internet.

rewinn said...

If the Freedom Box were ingrated with telephony, it would sell like crazy even without the pro-freedom ideological motivation.

Perhaps I'm missing something deep about linking servers and smartphones - I'm not really au courant on web architecture - but a web of smartphones and servers and whatnot that freed us from having to buy service from major carriers would be hugely popular, even if it came with an obligation to keep our phone (or, alternatively, FreedomServer) always on, with its spare bandwidth to be used by the commons - or, perhaps, by some parameterizable subset thereof, to be determined by the phone's owners.

Ian said...

"The public employee unions are by many measures the most powerful political lobby in the state. The single biggest spender for lobbying is the WI education assn, and the other public employee unions are no slackers either.

Almost all of this money goes to democrats."

A cynical person might suggest that this by itself provides an adequate explanation for Governor Walker's actions.

TheMadLibrarian said...

When, of late, it seems that one of the GOP's missions is to neuter any power the unions might have, why are Republicans then shocked that the unions support Democrats? Yes, some aspects of unions are out of control (and I belong to a union), but the way to fix it is NOT to throw it out wholesale.


Shismsi: a horribly mutilated sashimi

LarryHart said...


On a more serious note, the intrusion of the Obama political arm Organizing for America is unwelcome. Does it not make you a bit queasy to have the head of state deploying minions to try and sway local questions? Even through a series of intermediaries it seems like it is pointing us down a dangerous road.

For better or worse, GW Bush and Tom DeLay already drove us down that road by strong-arming a mid-decade redistricting of Texas in 2002.

I'm getting awfully tired of Democrats and liberals being asked/expected to play by "rules" that Republicans don't even give lip service to when it's THEIR turn to play by them.

It could be a very interesting situation if they ALL face recall elections!

Yes, it could, for several reasons. At greatest reduction, there's now reason to doubt that the Wisconsin union-busting effort will be the model for other states it was being made out to be.

As to the Democrats, are their own constituents really that upset at them for deserting? If so, I have a hard time understanding why they'd do so in the first place.

As to the Republicans, if THEY'RE facing voter anger over the strong-arm union-busting policy, that tells us something too, doesn't it? Surely REPUBLICANS aren't facing recall just because voters don't like DEMOCRATS running out? Something else is going on, right?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Nevertheless, when 50% of a group can rationalize ANY basis for crediting the "birther" crap - (no one has ever even presented a SCENARIO under which Obama's mother ever even remotely visited Kenya... ever!) - then something is wrong. Pure and simple.

The notion that a black baby in 1961 had pains taken to assure the possibility he could run for President some day would seem absurd on its surface. The ineptitude of the proposed scenario simply adds to the absurdity. If they had the foresight to plant fake birth announcements in a Hawaiian newspaper, why not STAY IN HAWAII TO HAVE THE BABY in the first place?

Ian said...

A couple of weeks ago, in trying to come up with scenarios for how a future democratic Egypt might pursue policies which seemed quite rational and reasonable from an Egyptian perspective but which went against American and European policies in the region.

One example I gave was Egypt invading Libya to promote democracy in the Arab world.

At the time, that seeemd like an absurd idea.

Today it seems a far less absurd idea.

Tony Fisk said...

So did the Helvetian war twenty years ago.

I'm thinking strange tides are moving, and not just in the ME. Check where your high ground is. (and call me an alarmist idiot later)

LarryHart said...


A couple of weeks ago, in trying to come up with scenarios for how a future democratic Egypt might pursue policies which seemed quite rational and reasonable from an Egyptian perspective but which went against American and European policies in the region.

One example I gave was Egypt invading Libya to promote democracy in the Arab world.

While your scenario might conflict with current US and UK POLICY at the present time (policy largely dictated by oil companies), I don't see that possibility as being a bad thing from an American perspective. In the final analysis, that is (as Alan "Watchmen" Moore might put it).

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugmann weighs in on Wisconsin ("On, Wisconsin!).

. . .
In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.

But Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.
. . .

LarryHart said...

Since that Krugmann link probably doesn't work, just go to:

And then click on the Feb 20 column "Wisconsin Power Play"

Tacitus2 said...


To understand why the Democratic senators are united in their flight you need to really grasp the political power of public employee unions in this state.

For an aspiring Democrat curtailing the benefit package of public employees is not "touching the third rail". It is more like removing all clothing, slathering their entire body with some kind of conductive paste, and leaping spread eagle into that death ray that Vader used to destroy Alderaan.


LarryHart said...


Fair enough, and I'm not conversant enough in Wisconsin politics to argue the point.

Now, can YOU understand that for most working people in this country, the politician's need to acquiese to the Tea Party is orders of magnitude more damaging than is their needs to acquiese to unions. Yet, you seem to consider the former to be simply an example of Democracy in action--the Tea Party demands being "the will of the people"--and the latter to be some sort of insidious end-run by special interests. Why?

To me, your image of "removing all clothing, slathering their entire body with some kind of conductive paste, and leaping spread eagle into that death ray that Vader used to destroy Alderaan" quite accurately describes the (Brin's phrase) hypergamous surrender reflex of governors like your state's Walker to prostrate themselves before the uber-wealthy with the claim that their states will provide workers for them at less cost than Chinese slave labor. "Bring your business to Wisconsin because our people will function as your timid serfs."

I have never in my life been a big union supporter, but I'm realizing late in the game that breaking unions equates to breaking the middle class once and for all. I can't speak for you personally, but I'd LIKE to think you'd consider that outcome a bad thing. If budgets need to be gotten under control, maybe it's time we start with NOT INTRODUCING NEW TAX BREAKS before we insist on cutting pay to functionaries and government spending, both of which are recession-amplifying actions.

LarryHart said...

This guy says it all much better than I can:

. . .
If unions are so detrimental to business and the economy, then please explain why union-friendly states are almost universally better off than the states that are anti-unions.

And why do the arguments neocons give to support their anti-union stance make it sound as if we should all fall prostrate on the floor and thank our maker for the wonderful corporations for giving us jobs to do and money to feed our families? If that’s their argument, my response is a resounding “Kiss my Ass!” The workers in a company have a hell of a lot more to do with a company’s success than any of the executives, especially the goddamn CEO; the least they should be able to do is bargain in good faith to get more benefit from the job they do.

A corporation’s natural function is to make and sell goods or provide services for whatever price the market will bear, and to maximize profits for themselves and their stockholders. Individuals have the same natural function; to provide your labor, and be paid fairly, based upon that labor’s worth to the employer/corporation. So, why should workers be required to suppress their natural function, while there is no such requirement made of the corporation? The workers who provide those goods and services have at least as much of a stake in a corporation’s success as the corporation itself does. It makes no sense for a corporation to have all of the power in such a dynamic. Other countries get this, but we seem to have forgotten it.

Once again, all we have to do to figure out the best way to run an economy is to look at our past. We live in a nation that boomed like no other after World War II. For 25 years after the war, our economy grew strong, and we were the envy of the world. Everyone else wanted to be us. Not coincidentally, it was also a time of union membership that was three times its current level. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, roughly one-third of non-agricultural workers in this country were union workers.

Based on Republican neocon logic, there is no way we should have prospered to the degree we did.
. . .

BCRion said...


Yes, you are correct about the power of unions; however, at the risk of repeating myself, they do serve as the non-ideal political counterbalance to pro-corporate rent-seekiing policies. Not trying to argue union leaders are paragons of virtue (they are not), but they are the leaders of the only instrument of any power that represents anti-corporate interests.

Yes, reform the system, but it has to go both ways.

Tacitus2 said...

Before I go out of technology range for a while (snowbound by a blizzard!) perhaps another perspective on the WI issue.

I have not seen any serious question that Governor Walker can't legally do this. (as a brief aside, one of the previous governor's budget tricks, raiding the fund used to compensate victims of malpractice to the tune of 200 mil has been ruled illegal, but there is no money to pay it back).

So, the duly elected executive and legistative majority of a sovereign state want to pass a law.

At what point is civil disobedience proper?

I am old enough to have been in a few of these events in the very early 70s. Its kind of a party atmosphere.

But for how long is it appropriate for the absent senators to effectively shut down government over a political disagreement? Be forewarned, I will cut and paste some responses when and if there is a federal impasse over the budget in a couple of months!

So long as it is the people of my state expressing their views peacefully I am all ok with this. If teachers skip out long enough that parents start missing work you will see views start to swing fast.

I am less enthused about people from outside coming in, be it Breitbart or OFA. They can find issues closer to home I suspect.

So, setting aside the issue of whether this is political valor or villany, how far can/should civil disobedience (fake sick ins, hiding in another state, work slow downs, etc) go in this situation?

Off to the wilds.


LarryHart said...

Sorry if I seem to be spamming. I'm coming down with a cold, and it has me in a pissy mood. Caveat Emptor:

. . .
The paper editorialized, "To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes -- or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues -- the 'crisis' would not exist... Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy."
. . .

. . .
Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away. To protect and extend conservative values themselves, the devil's own means can be used again conservatism's immoral enemies, whether lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women's doctors.

Freedom is defined as being your own strict father -- with individual not social responsibility, and without any government authority telling you what you can and cannot do. To defend that freedom as an individual, you will of course need a gun.

This is the America that conservatives really want. Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life.
What is saddest of all is to see Democrats helping them.
. . .

. . .
8. The people who have not sacrificed are the wealthy and corporations. They have the ability to repair these purported budget deficits, yet those who can barely make a decent living are instead called upon to lose what little they have. All the while, Wall Street flourishes and the rich continue to accumulate more and more of the financial wealth of the nation.

9. The struggle in Wisconsin is not about my union or any other union; it is class warfare, plain and simple. It is a battle for decent human rights and against the systematic, concerted and well-orchestrated effort to remove all the rights of workers in this country. Anyone and everyone who makes less than a six-figure income – i.e. the poor and middle class - should be outraged by this immoral and unjust bill and united in our effort to protect our right to a decent living.

Why is it that those who have never had to worry about money, never had to sacrifice, and never had to fight for anything in their lives continually get more and more while working folks get less and less? And why, inexplicably, do other working folks support this race to the bottom?

The corporatization of America has already occurred; now we are well into the third-worldification of America.
. . .

LarryHart said...


So, the duly elected executive and legistative majority of a sovereign state want to pass a law.

At what point is civil disobedience proper?

At this late date, I can't say for sure this was you, but I seem to recall you defending the "filibuster everything" strategy of the GOP Senate by rhetorically asking something along the lines of "If they really DO think Obamacare is a threat to our nation, shouldn't they stop it by any means possible?"

How is this any different?

LarryHart said...


But for how long is it appropriate for the absent senators to effectively shut down government over a political disagreement? Be forewarned, I will cut and paste some responses when and if there is a federal impasse over the budget in a couple of months!

Then cut and paste this for the next time the Wisconsin Senate switches parties. I'm convinced that the minority GOP will flee the state as a matter of routine, to keep the Dems from passing ANY legislation. My reason for believing that is the observed behavior of the GOP Senators in the 2009-2010 congress. Will you then see civil disobedience as a noble calling again? Will you be drawing an equivalence between Democrats doing something ONCE and Republicans doing the same thing as a matter of course on ALL votes? We'll see.

Ian said...

LarryHart, I agree absolutely although we're moving into uncharted territory here.

I remain confident that Egypt isn't about to become the new Iran but I have no idea what, say, a map of the Arabian peninsula may look like a year from now.

We should alos support democratic movements in dictatorships - even if on rare occasions the result is post-Mobutu Congo or the Yugoslav wars.

Ian said...

David's probably already seen this but fans of Heart of the Comet should find this interesting.

Earth-sized rocky planets which are expelled from their original solar system could retain liquid water - and therefore potentially life - for a billion years or more.

Given a sufficiently large volume of water and radioactive heating from the core,liquid water could survive beneath the frozen oceans.

BCRion said...


To be fair, the problem was not inasmuch this year as in outyears. Minus the tax cut, WI would have probably had a surplus this year, but accruing debt the following year because of pension obligations, etc. So yes, some action is needed to balance the budget longterm; however, it does seem rather contradictory to pass a major tax cut to one constituency (business) who tends to vote Republican and then claim a budget crisis requires extreme measures against a constituency that tends to oppose Republicans.


As for civil disobedience of legislators, in principle I'm divided. In practice, I say as long as necessary. My reasoning behind this is look at the Republican strategy in the last US Senate: filibuster everything whether you agree with the legislation or not. So when a bill that Democrats find extreme and what they feel are contradictory to the values of America arises, do not be surprised if they use every tactic at their disposal to kill the bill.

Really, this is a false equivalence; the Republicans used their tactics indiscriminately whereas the Democrats are using it for legislation they feel egregious. It is unreasonable to ask one side to play by the rules of polite discourse when the other blatantly refuses to do so repeatedly.

Michael C. Rush said...

@David Brin: Just wondering if you think this guy is a crank too? :)

BCRion said...

One other thing regarding Obama's PAC in WI, Tacitus. I don't see what the fuss is about, considering all of the other external influences that bombard state legislators everywhere concerning local issues.

Fact is, the US Chamber of Commerce participated heavily in the election of Republicans in WI, and not all that money is local. Ah, but did not WI businesses contribute to the USCoC? Yes, they did. So did supportive residents of WI contribute to Obama's PAC for this purpose.

You can't have it both ways. Either you be against all external dollars entering local and state campaigns (by "campaign" I mean to extend beyond getting candidates elected) or you have to be for everything.

Ian said...

Undeterred by a regime willing to use aircraft and heavy weapons against it's own people, hundreds of thousands of Libyans, unarmed or armed with improvised or captured weapons, are marching on Tripoli where the last vestiges of the Gaddafi regime are holed up.

This is fucking magnificent.

This is is the post-enlightenment ideal of democracy and popular sovereignty in its most basic form.

This is why all the bigots who for decades claimed that Arabs hated freedom can suck it.

Yes, revolutions can fail, be betrayed or go astray but for every France 1789, Russia 1979 or Iran 1979 there's an America 1776 or Indonesia 1999.

Ian said...

And, of course, "Russia 1979" was a typo for "Russia 1917".

LarryHart said...

And without seeing any Righty-talker rection yet, I'd lay odds that Beck/Limbaugh/FOX are making Libyan protests out to be a bad thing. Which it just might be...for BP.

Tacitus2 said...


I agree, the mideast developments suggest that freedom will find a way against almost any odds. Now, N.Korea in spontaneous revolt would make me check to see that it was not an Onion article.

Ah, the fugitive legislators. I detect a faint odor of whiskey and hear a barely audible chuckle as the eternal shade of Joe Rolette smiles upon us.

Joe who?

'Twas back in '57. That would be 1857 to you young fellers. The Minnesota Territorial Legislature was debating the location for the permanent state capital. The Territorial capital of St.Paul was at the head of river navigation. The chief rival, St. Peter was along a line favorable to railroads and western expansion.

Supposedly the Terr. govenor owned the land in St.Peter on which the new capital would be built. Whether the rest of the elected officials also had a horse in the game is unknown, but both houses passed a bill legally moving the capital to St.Peter.

Enter Joe Rollett, representative of the inconsequental hamlet of Pembina. Or rather, exit Joe Rollett, stage left with the unsigned bill in his pocket. Joe hung out with cronies at a, well, a sporting establishment, until the legislature adjourned.

The bill being without the governors signature, the capital stayed in St.Paul.

Of course actions always have consequences. The Minnesota legislature later handed out various consolation prizes. St.Peter got the Insane Asylum and Minneapolis the University.

Contrast with Wisconsin where the capital and university occupy opposite ends of State Street, where solons and stary eyed dreamers mingle in various boozeries and generate an ongoing Progressive movement that the rest of Badgerland finds alien.

And Pembina? Well, it "might" be coincidence, but when the official borders of Minnesota state were established Pembina was written off the map, exiled to next door Dakota Territory. It has a current population of about 600, much the same as in 1857

Politics in action.

On Wisconsin!


BCRion said...


Are you intentionally trying to avoid serious debate about the issues with tangentially related anecdotes? Quite frankly, I find your demeaning attitude toward those who oppose Walker's bill to be quite insulting. Take care.

sociotard said...

I saw that "Quora" thing mentioned in an article about the rapidly inflating social networking bubble.

BCRion said...

I'll offer an anecdote of my own, this one personal.

I attended graduate school at UW. As a research assistant there, I made 10-20% less than my counterparts at other universities. The one area where we did come out ahead was having very cheap health insurance among other protections negotiated by the public union, the Teaching Assistant Association.

Now Walker, is basically going to remove that, essentially making UW graduate studies uncompetitive monetarily with the rest of America. I doubt we will continue to attract the best and brightest very much longer if this passes; there are plenty of far more generous schools out there. I know I probably would have went elsewhere for graduate studies or just gone into industry.

Today, I work on programs vital to national defense, at least according to the Republicans. Yet, I make less money than I could and am seeing all salary advancement put on hold (it will be several thousand dollars less in the long run) because of austerity measures, while my private industry friends are doing great. The Republicans are making it very difficult to get graduate education needed for my job, and then, once those enter such service, they are being pushed out of defense programs into private industry. From my perspective, the Republicans care more about the profits of private industry than things such as education and national defense.

David Brin said...

BCRion, chill man. None of us can affect events in WIS and we've stated out positions. At this point some fun anecdotes often help us to keep perspective.

I will say this though. Wis and Indiana ought to try remembering which side they were on, in phases 1 & 2 of the US Civil War.

But then, maybe Virginia and N Carolina are also switching sides..

1865. Should have confiscated the land of every slave owner in So Carolina and Mississippi -- just those two, to set an example -- and given it over to schools, veterans' homes and freed blacks from anywhere. A couple of black majority states would have changed the chemistry of the last 150 years.

Let Charleston secede and be a stark jibbering crazy Macao.

rewinn said...

Gentlebeings: I rise in (perhaps unwelcome) defense of Tacitus.

There is no principaled conservative defense of Governor Walker's tactics: none. The proposal was written in haste, not deliberated and represents a truly radical change in public policy which all objective evidence indicates will result in a less educated, less prosperous Wisconsin.

Yet, as a recovering high-school Catholic and recovering college-sophomore Marxist, I recognize the difficulty of breaking with ideology in the name of pragmatic problem solving. As others have noted at other times, preference for ideology over pragmaticism is not necessarily a defining characteristic of conservativism (?remember Eisenhower? even Reagan had a pragmatic streak!) But today's American conservatives have been fatally infected with sort of corporatist brain parasite, which we cannot cure by killing the host.

Thus I urge taking no offense at Tacitus' departure from the fray. Recovery can be urged from without, but must come from within.

Michael C. Rush said...

Giving someone enough rope to hang himself is one thing. Giving him enough to hang EVERYONE is madness. And yet that seems to be the tactic of certain liberal-types who seemed convinced despite all evidence to the contrary that crazy is self-correcting.

BCRion said...

Apologies Tacitus. I recently had another debate on this matter where my opponent would just bring up tangential issues without addressing any of the core arguments.

I did try to explain in a previous post where I'm coming from in terms of life experience. From my perspective, the Republicans want to destroy everything public. I see the educational opportunities that I had being destroyed by the Walker proposal, and, at a national level, I feel they are doing everything to make it be disadvantageous for people like me to stay in the defense fields that they claim to support.

I hope you forgive my curt response.

rewinn said...

And on the lighter side: people from Egypt, Finland, Germany, Turkey and several other nations are supporting Madison workers by ordering them pizzas.

The world is flat, hot and covered with tasty nutritious toppings!!!

Tacitus2 said...

Reports of my departure are greatly exagerated! Just napping, I have been working some punishing shifts lately.

And no apologies needed. The medium of internet conversation makes it hard to discern if someone is being ironic or is just in an unaccountable good mood.

We each have our perspectives on life, I am posting a bit more on this because I live in WI and my voice does count here.

I can sure see the perspective of the protestors. I have friends there.

They feel that they have been given a promise. A promise that they will have economic security in the form of health insurance and a guarnteed amount of money on retirement. They have planned their lives around this. Had children, bought cabins, etc based on assumptions that they felt were iron clad.

But none of us in these unsettled times really have that kind of security.

Am I sympathetic to folks who have far better health insurance than I being asked to pony up 12% of the premium? I pay 100%.

I work very hard. As a private sector person I take certain risks in stride. There is an entitlement culture among public employees (and in too many other areas) that will not change easily. But change it must.

And as to avoiding serious debate, long time settlers here know my policy is to always, always respond to any question posed to me in polite, half polite or quarter polite terms.


rewinn said...

Tacitus - I am disappointed at your implication that the issue is the 12% payment.

As you would know were you paying attention, the union ALREADY AGREED to that.

The issues are about something else entirely.

TheMadLibrarian said...

On a completely unrelated note, Dr. Brin, I believe I have identified the picture you use as your blog header: it's the cluster of telescopes atop Haleakala, about 2 mi. due up from me! With all the legislative gloom an' doom lately, I takes my pleasures where I can...


prigosc: pasta with unusual toppings

Acacia H. said...

Perhaps it's my tendency to play Devil's Advocate from time to time, but I actually rather enjoyed Tacticus's whimsical little tale of frontier politics and methods of dealing with the shenanigans of various potentially-corrupt (or downright corrupt!) politicians. I did not see it as a change of subject. Nor did I see it as Tacticus beating a hasty retreat from a battlefield that is against him. Instead, I saw it as something he shared with his fellow Contrarians (of which we all are) for a laugh and to remember that the United States has this delightful method of overcoming adverse political situations time and time again... with that wonderful and dreadful thing called "time."

Much as Bilbo Baggins found himself paralyzed and only by utter luck besting Gollum's time-riddled riddle, so too must we accept that in some things, time itself will heal wounds even as we cannot.

Of course, considering I use "Tangent" as my internet handle and have done so for eleven years now (before that using "Xellos" from the Slayers series of manga and anime, with Xellos being quite the tangential chap who, from time to time, would show a glimpse of the inner darkness that would terrify foes) I may be partial to going off on tangents. It is, after all, my wont to do so.

And on a slightly darker note: military leaders are concerned of a "disconnect" between soldiers and civilians; from what I'm reading here, it's not so much that civilians are drifting away from the military... but rather that soldiers who are forced to fight non-stop in the Bush/Obama Wars are losing their connection with civilian life... and even their families.

This is of concern to me, because the one thing that prevents a coup from occurring in the U.S. is the fact the military is firmly on the side of the people. But if the soldiers are starting to grow disconnected... should just a couple military leaders in the right place at the right mind decide to try and seize power... a lot of damage could happen before they were brought down.

Given that (and sorry for the lack of linkage) a disabled veteran was recently heckled at a liberal college as he talked about bringing back the ROTC program for the university... I could see a military that is growing increasingly divorced from the civilian population and who feels they are fighting for people who don't care for them. Add in the number of homeless veterans out there... and you could think that maybe they'd be right to think this.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

What is the conservative and/or fiscally prudent position on the sale of public assets without a bidding process?

"16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b)."

Walker's bill (see page 24)

I mean, really. Is it now the conservative position that a governor's appointee should be empowered to sell assets to anyone at all, at any price or no price, without the wholesome discipline of the free market?

As stated above, there is *no* conservative defense of this bill.

David Brin said...

Rewinn said: "And on the lighter side: people from Egypt, Finland, Germany, Turkey and several other nations are supporting Madison workers by ordering them pizzas. The world is flat, hot and covered with tasty nutritious toppings!!!"


Again, I am fine with Wis government renogotiating modifications in good faith. And anyone who thinks that is all that's going on is, well, naive.

Yes, we visited the Great Observatory last year. Have the astronomers managed to placate the Native Hawaiian radicals enough to build the new wonderscope?

Re Bilbo's riddle-play with Gollum... see the version in which Dildo defeats Goddam (in Bored of the Rings) by asking "What have I got in my pocket?"... and then pulling out a snub-nosed .38!

The troops should be brought home.

They are in Afgh under a flawed assumption that we can build a nation there. An insane delusion.

We should leave. And if the Taliban return to power, there will then be a hostile enemy GOVERNMENT that we can topple. We are good at that. Stop wasting our nation's lifeblood, its young people and treasure.

Tony Fisk said...

Meanwhile, the disease spreads.
Twitter search #226demo.

How virulent it will be, remains to be seen.

David Brin said...

An exchange I had on facebook re "birthers."

"The notion that a black baby in 1961 had pains taken to assure the possibility he could run for President some day would seem absurd on its surface. The ineptitude of the proposed scenario simply adds to the absurdity. If they had the foresight to plant fake birth announcements in a Hawaiian newspaper, why not STAY IN HAWAII TO HAVE THE BABY in the first place?"

It is all easily dispensed with. Birthers always change the subject when it comes to the BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT in the Honolulu Advertiser! It exists not only in the paper's archives, but in moldy garages all over Oahu. They howl "conspiracy!" about birth certificates and have a great old time. But mention the newspaper announcement and their only recourse is time travel, so they stammer and change the subject.

It angers me that so few blue warriors know how to go straight to the jugular.


Tacitus2 said...


I have very much been paying attention. Yes, as I have specifically said, all parties agree that some adjustments are appropriate. And, as I also said, and you perhaps misinterpreted, the more caustic portion of the Walker proposal curtails the ability of the unions to just get the give aways back next year because the system is (if you see it that way) rigged under the current rules. I find this difficult to stomach, but I have not seen a better option yet. Perhaps a real diplomat would say they will pass the bill with an expiration date four years from now. No doubt the citizens will pick a governor who will leave no doubt as to whether he/she will or will not extend it further.

There is of course another prospect too horrid for the public employee unions to even contemplate. That would be large numbers of people like myself running for local office and demanding that business as usual change.

Just to be clear.


David Brin said...


At last, the real Coffee Party.

Acacia H. said...

And another Rep takes a stand for personal liberties by taking a ferry home instead of a flight when told she was getting an invasive patdown. Good for her.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Maybe a.. 'flash mob' should all organise to book the same flight, and strip off in the queue, ready for a pat-down?

rewinn said...

"...large numbers of people like myself running for local office and demanding that business as usual change."

Go ahead.

Make my day.

Nothing cures ideology faster than reality. You should know this instinctively in medicine; so why do you think it would be different in managing a state?

Because economies are driven by demand, if you cut wages too far, the economy eventually collapses. The reality in Wisconsin and elsewhere is not that public employees are paid too much, but that the rich are taxed too little. The tax rates we had at the end of Reagan's term would put us in surplus!

I invite you to take public office and confront this reality. Like Ronnie, you may use any rhetoric you wish so long as you solve the problem.

LarryHart said...


They feel that they have been given a promise. A promise that they will have economic security in the form of health insurance and a guarnteed amount of money on retirement. They have planned their lives around this. Had children, bought cabins, etc based on assumptions that they felt were iron clad.

But none of us in these unsettled times really have that kind of security.

While I grudgingly see your point, your way insures that all future labor/management negotiations are arranged around "take everything you can get now, because long-term agreements aren't worth the paper they're printed on--legally." It's literally a race to the bottom. There is zero value to workers agreeing to lower wages in return for retirement security if your attitude after the fact is "Sorry, security doesn't exist." They might as well strike for the highest wages they can get.

Stiffing people you (not "you" you, but...y'know) will need to negotiate with again in the future is never a good idea.

And once again, I'm sick of the double-standard that says the likes of AiG are entitled to use taxpayer bailout money to pay BONUSES because those bonuses were already promised, but public-sector workers' demands that their contracts be honored are unrealistic given the economic realities (realities largely caused BY the likes of AiG).

It's bad enough for Republicans to starve the beast as an excuse to prevent FUTURE spending. It's unconscionable to give tax breaks to billionaires so that there's an excuse to default on EXISTING obligations.

David Brin said...

Starving the beast is aimed at one purpose. Removing the government as a force by which the People may hold the oligarchs accountable.

That is it. Top to bottom. Start to finish.

Tony Fisk said...

..and the People are waking up to this.

As I said earlier, strange tides...

Tony Fisk said...

Sparing a thought for folk in Christchurch NZ.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Christchurch NZ

I hate this - people have died because bloody snobs want to keep their "Iconic buildings"
Most of the casualties have been due to old "historic" brick buildings and their fancy facades

I hope some of the people who have been campaigning to stop the demolition of dangerous buildings are ashamed!

David Brin said...

Our hopes and prayers go to our kiwi friends!

Acacia H. said...

I've a friend who was on vacation in NZ at the time. Thankfully she's okay. But damn, what a thing to happen when you're having fun during a vacation (and from her Facebook posts up 'til then she'd been having a grand old time).

The first words she microblogged after letting people know she was okay was to ask people to spare a thought for people at Christchurch. You know? For all the bad things that happen in this world of ours... I think humanity on the whole is going to turn out alright.

Rob H.

Ian said...

The Network of Free Ulama (Ulama = Islamic scholars). has issued a statement in support of the Libyan uprising.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

"Their first statement issued on Saturday denounced the government for firing on demonstrators who were demanding "their divinely endowed and internationally recognized human rights" and stressed the killing of innocent people was "forbidden by our Creator.""

That's straying dangerously close to "We hold these truths to be self-evident. that all men are endowed ... etc etc:

Tacitus2 said...

On another site I just saw a very short clip of
Qudaffi making a brief statement as he got out of a car. He claimed he was standing fast, etc. But the kicker was, he was standing in front of a bullet scarred wall.

I just had to laugh at the visuals..."Say there, Brother Leader---hold that pose would you? Juusst a little to the left please? Perfect."


Acacia H. said...

The bullet-scarred wall in question is from when Reagan sent F-15s (I believe) into Libya to try and kill him through bombs (it didn't work). He never had the damage repaired as a means of thumbing his nose at the United States. His choice of locales was quite deliberate; he was pretty much telling the protesters "The United States couldn't get rid of me. Neither can you."

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Completely non-political, medical question:

Yesterday, I said I was in a pissy mood because I was coming down with a cold. Well, it turns out to be a 101.3 fever with a pounding headache and congestion in the throat. Is something like this going around, and if so, how long does it tend to last?

Tacitus2 said...


Thanks for the clarification....what an odd world view, but I suppose there is some internal coherence to it. I thought it was F 111s and that we bombed some faux Bedouin encampment where we heard he was pretending to be a man of the people. Meh, new government in Libya in two weeks.

Lots of similar circulating in WI. I do trust you got influenza shot on schedule. Watch that blood sugar, consume lots of fluids and complain often, that last seems to help. (similar virus circulating the the Tacitus household). Recovery time 4to 7 days, usually.


Acacia H. said...

You're right. It was F-111s, with one lost (along with the crew). Originally the U.S. military was going to use its new Stealth Fighter for the conflict but backed off over security concerns. (The stealth fighters would later be used in Desert Storm.)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Thanks for the unofficial consultation. Yes, I've had flu shots every year since 1995 (except that one year with the severe shortage). And it's been rare since then that I've come down with something this nasty.

When you say "Watch the blood sugar", do you mean it's likely to be too high or too low?


His choice of locales was quite deliberate; he was pretty much telling the protesters "The United States couldn't get rid of me. Neither can you."

But the United States was using airplanes. The protestors are right there on the ground with him.

Tacitus2 said...


There is a tendency for blood sugars to go up during illness, even with poor intake.


Now it makes sense! The CNN clip of the interview cut away to a brief snippet of some Libyian state opera production showing the funeral of a child. That would be the dtr killed in the raid.

I still seems a bit bizzare to mention this when it is your airforce bombing the civilians, but heck, when all else fails...

1.send in elite troops. crap, they are defecting.

2.send in foreign mercenaries. crap, defeated and lynched.

3. push the Great Satan button.



David Brin said...

Yep,Robert, not F15s but F111s. (i have such a knowledgeable community!) Khadafi wants people thinking of him as a defender against outsiders. But round the clock plans are bringing in african mercenaries to attack his people. That will last-straw his own soldiers against him.

If this domino falls, the Algerians will throw up their hands and toss out a bunch of ministers and such to appease their own people. Morocco and Jordan will call constitutional conferences. Syria will invite in Iranian mercenaries.

David Brin said...

David Brin said...,19248/

Embarrassed Republicans Admit They've Been Thinking Of Eisenhower Whole Time They've Been Praising Reagan

WASHINGTON—At a press conference Monday, visibly embarrassed leaders of the Republican National Committee acknowledged that their nonstop, effusive praise of Ronald Reagan has been wholly unintentional, admitting they somehow managed to confuse him with Dwight D. Eisenhower for years.

The GOP's humiliating blunder was discovered last weekend by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who realized his party had been extolling "completely the wrong guy" after he watched the History Channel special Eisenhower: An American Portrait.
"When I heard about Eisenhower's presidential accomplishments—holding down the national debt, keeping inflation in check, and fighting for balanced budgets—it hit me that we'd clearly gotten their names mixed up at some point," Priebus told reporters. "I couldn't believe we'd been associating terms like 'visionary,' 'principled,' 'fiscally prudent' and 'bold' with President Reagan. That wasn't him at all—that was Ike."
Priebus added: "All those war films Reagan made, in safety on U.S. soil, sort of, well, got me and a few million other people all confused as to who the real war hero was. Kind of like when Ike integrated the schools, but Glenn Beck takes the credit. We really need to get a better fix on reality.

"Helping to establish both NASA and NATO and the Interstate Highway system and responding to Sputnik with a boost in science and education -- all of those things made America more competitive against the Soviet empire, and had more to do (long term) with ending communist tyranny than Star Wars ever did. I guess it's time we remembered the best Republican president since Teddy Roosevelt."

(The last two added paragraphs are mine.)(Thanks Stefan.)

Tony Fisk said...

... and in the other direction, what are the Saudis going to do about Bahrain?

amendari: bazaar craft stall specialising in fixing gadgets though prayer and the application of brute force.

David Brin said...

Bahrein is an island. In a sense, a hostile Shiite Bahrein may be no more problematic than hostile nearby shiite Iran...

...except that Bahrein is ARAB. A hostile nearby shiite ARAB community that's thriving near the Saudis' shiite zone may be worrisome indeed.

I wonder if perhaps the Saudis may be rethinking their certaintly that fate plans for them to be the new Caliphs. Perhaps the continued protection they get from a strong and healthy western civilization may be worthwhile, after all.

Perhaps they'll realize that undermining America could be a very bad idea. Maybe they'll stop.

Yeah, right.

Tony Fisk said...

Rob Fisk has been making acerbic comments recently about the demonstrated inability of the current clade of arabic leaders to change their spots.

"...It's an instructive lesson. Bahrain, Algeria and Yemen are all following the identical policies of brutality that failed Messrs Ben Ali and Mubarak. That's not the only strange parallel between the overthrow of these two titans. Mubarak really thought on Thursday night that the people would suffer another five months of his rule. Ben Ali apparently thought much the same.

What all this proves is that the dictators of the Middle East are infinitely more stupid, more vicious, more vain, more arrogant, more ridiculous than even their own people realised. Ghengis Khan and Lord Blair of Isfahan rolled into one."

Still, the Saudis do seem to have decided to cosy up to the French to get some help in setting up nuclear reactors. Maybe they see the oil powered days are numbered.

Oh, wait... nuclear plants have *other* uses, don't they?

David Brin said...

The banality of obstinate kings became part of our genome, when they learned how to make 10,000 17 year old males fight to preserve a dottering king's harem for him. Some trick! We are all descended from guys who managed it!

But if Kadafhi falls, I expect some dominos to go quickly. Morocco and Jordan will call constitutional conferences. Algeria will scurry to make some kind of halfway arrangement.

Syria and the Saudis will JOIN Iran is a coalition of the obstinate.

Tony Fisk said...

The banality of obstinate kings... they learned how to make 10,000 17 year old males fight to preserve a dottering king's harem for him....Syria and the Saudis will JOIN Iran is a coalition of the obstinate.

... an Axis of 'he-ville'?

rewinn said...

"...they learned how to make 10,000 17 year old males fight to preserve a dottering king's harem for him..."

There seems to be a bug (or perhaps a feature) in the mental or emotional processes of many people, that causes them to value the feeling of being a hero over rationality. However hard this may be on the individual, it may be an asset for populations that needs ablative meatshields.

However, in the current era, it may be almost entirely a negative for the population as a whole.

Tony Fisk said...

While I suspect he'd make a pretty effective one if he put his mind to it (have to think about that!), Flannery decries the macho 'ablative meatshield' mentality as a major problem in modern society. He refers to it as 'discounting the future' in favour of the short-term girls and glory mode.

He does a bit of this sociological and economical mapping into earth systems. Wooly mammoths (again!) are referred to as an ecosystem's 'bankers': gobbling up all the nutrients and crapping it out across the landscape for re-use as loans. It makes for a hilarious, if unflattering vision! (and I don't want to think about how 'foreclosures' fit in here!!)

Dear, old-fashioned mammoths: we miss them! (and yes, 'Baby' should be rated as a predictive hit!)

Acacia H. said...

I must admit I rather enjoy what John Stewart had to say about the Wisconsin Protests. Or rather, what he said at the 5:30 (approx.) mark, on comparisons of Wisconsin with Egypt's Democracy Demonstrations. I don't care if you're rightist or leftist, he's dead on about his derision of claims these two are akin.

Egyptians died in those protests. Until we have the National Guard show up and shoot hundreds of protesting teachers and cops to force them to leave, Wisconsin has nothing on Egypt. Except maybe pizza.

Rob H.

BCRion said...

Hearts go out to my fellow New Zealanders.

Eisenhower was an American hero and perhaps the last sensible conservative to be elected to the Presidency; he was woefully wrong on Nixon and Ford was never elected. He is also one of the three, along with Truman and FDR, who oversaw the formation of the American superpower. Today I suspect he would be called a socialist by the "Joe the Plumber" contingent. I do hope that one day, perhaps in the far future, the pendulum of American conservatism will swing back and we can see those like him once more. One can always hope.

Don't get me wrong, Ike wasn't perfect. He helped install many of the dictators whose legacy now cause us great harm today. Nonetheless, these wrongs are understandable, and perhaps forgivable, in light of his facing off with an aggressively expansionist post-Stalin Soviet Union as both nations raced at breathtaking speed toward probable human extinction.

BCRion said...

Rob H.,

Thankfully, we live in a society where violence is actually counterproductive towards achieving your political goals. Anyone who has studied the history of protest and civil disobedience in the US knows this to be true. Contrast the peaceful actions of the Civil Rights movements to the Kent State shootings and the Oklahoma City bombings. The former were effective, whereas the latter live in infamy and only served to discredit any legitimate aims their side had.

The Scott Walker comparisons to Hosni Mubarak are definitely too far. Mubarak tortured and brutalized his people; he is just plain evil. As for Walker, he is nowhere close. Granted, I find his shameless attempts to increase executive power and his coziness with external corporate interests to be quite disturbing. Perhaps Dick Cheney-lite may be a more apt comparison.

Tacitus2 said...

I'm at work, where accessing video is not easy, so I can't watch the Daily Show. Jon does have fun with the issues, and is probably the most job secure man in America given the steady supply of hypocracy. (I first typed hipocracy which was a good freudian slip given the retro 60s vibe going on)

But....did they show the camel?

Word I had was that they brought in a camel on Sunday to highlight the Cairo/Madison concept. Poor thing slipped on the ice and fell down. Comedic gold! Or would PETA swell the ranks of protestors.

A serious issue teeters on the edge of farce.


Rob said...

In the interest of commenting on sanity breaking out, I think it worth mentioning that one of the other WEA's, the one in Washington State, is actually reacting to the budget crisis with uncharacteristic pragmatism. I sat in a school board workshop today with one of the WEA representatives who reported that during their legislative update they sat down and made pragmatic analyses.

You have to bear in mind that WEA is one of the most powerful, most politically progressive labor unions in the entire world. And this state-level budget crisis has them going, "Oh," with a sober heart, because now we're talking about balancing class sizes with whether 400 felons get released.

So the small-government types are going to get precisely what they want in Washington State, and it appears that the WEA will negotiate it out in good faith. They absolutely do not want to turn Olympia into a copy of Wisconsin. There is just no money.

Acacia H. said...

Here's an interesting little article concerning Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who has gone five years without speaking during oral arguments of Supreme Court cases. He did speak up during questioning of a case debating the constitutionality of a ban on cross burning and the free speech aspect of it. Thomas's comments were concerning the symbolism and effect of cross burning, where he berated the lawyer concerned. What I find disturbing is his comments as to the reason for his silence: he goes into the oral argument session with his mind made up on how he will decide and sees no reason for "beating up on people" in the oral argument.

Think on that for a moment. What Thomas basically said is that his mind is already made up and thus he sees no point in participating. This suggests then that he's not willing to modify his perspective if someone presents an effective and logical reason for or against a law. It's a rigidity of thinking that, sadly enough, seems endemic among a number of conservatives (though interestingly enough, I considered myself conservative and still do for the most part, but was able to modify my perspective concerning President Clinton after Dr. Brin effectively argued his point that my prejudices were unfounded - mind you, I still dislike the man, but I don't consider him an ineffectual President that should have been kicked out of office).

Do we really want people like this in the Supreme Court? People who are unwilling to change their perspective or point of view? People who are unwilling to compromise, or consider what is the best course of action for the majority of Americans (or for the protection of the minority when prejudiced against by the majority)?

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin said:

The banality of obstinate kings became part of our genome, when they learned how to make 10,000 17 year old males fight to preserve a dottering king's harem for him. Some trick! We are all descended from guys who managed it!

This has been mentioned here before, but worth stating again in the present context:

Our industrial, financial, and (increasingly) political class seems (unfortunately) to be descended from those past monarchs or aristocrats who put more of a value on their wealth/power/status RELATIVE to others than they do on a rising tide lifting all boats (including their own). People who would gladly lower the standard of living of society as a whole as long as they stayed on top of the heap.

And they seem to be winning.

Acacia H. said...

And here's an interesting article on efforts in New York state to alter how they assign electoral votes. Rather than the current winner-take-all option, they want to have it proportional to the popular vote. Part of the concept is that the current winner-take-all option makes states such as New York and Texas into non-entities during the Presidential general election due to their tendency to vote for one party. By shifting to a popular-based division, it would encourage more campaign spending in the state.

I suspect there's also the general feeling that if more states had such a division, we'd not have another situation like the Shrub getting into office due to Electoral College hijinks. People against this policy are those who don't want New York electoral votes going to Republicans... and strict Constitutionalists who feel such a law would violate the Constitution of the United States (which I keep wanting to type "Untied" for some weird reason).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


Do we really want people like this in the Supreme Court? People who are unwilling to change their perspective or point of view? People who are unwilling to compromise, or consider what is the best course of action for the majority of Americans (or for the protection of the minority when prejudiced against by the majority)?

Unfortunately, whether or not "we" want that depends who is meant by "we".

LarryHart said...


People against this policy are those who don't want New York electoral votes going to Republicans...

Yeah, for me, it's a bad idea for New York or California to reform electoral vote allocation while Texas and Florida (for example) do not. But I like the idea being floated in several states, including my own Illinois, to allocate electoral votes to the winner of the NATIONAL popular vote ONCE STATES ADDING UP TO 270 HAVE ALL SIGNED ON. That would effectively guarantee that the popular vote winner would get the electoral vote as well.

and strict Constitutionalists who feel such a law would violate the Constitution of the United States

My understanding is that the electoral votes per state is forced by the constituion, but that the manner in which individual states allocate those votes is up to them. Nebraska and (is it?) Maine already allocate by district rather than by state at large. That's how President Obama got one electoral vote from Nebraska in 2008.

Rob said...

I'd much rather see split-elector slates from the states than a popular vote ratification. Two electors at-large and the remainder split by districts.

There's real wisdom in amplifying the hinterland a little bit, guys.

David Brin said...

Solution to the Wisconsin mess... id adults ruled there... would be to negotiate a deal. The civil servant unions back down and share the pain, without surrendering collective bargaining, but lose the power to bribe their bosses...

...and the %$#@ lyi ng hypocrites who want to give the resulting savings to the rich back off on their tax cuts.

Clarence Thomas is a classic case of a traumatised person who knows that he was promoted to this job vastly out of keeping with his talents. Knowing his deficiencies, and desperate to harm his enemies, he has one recourse - shut up and do absolutely everything that Antonin scalia tells him to do. The sad thing is, he might have had a decent life, had George Bush Senior not committed one of many crimes against the republic by nominating a profoundly unqualified person for purely republican-symbolic reasons.

How ironic. Bush Sr was the only republican VP ever chosen by a GOP presidential candidate who was on-paper qualified for the job! Reagan did his duty, in that case, though every other republican candidate betrayed us with his choice of a running mate. And I include Eisenhower, whom I otherwise admire... who stuck us with Nixon. So, who would predict that Bush Sr would turn out to be such a horrifically awful president? Almost as bad as his son?

Rob H, I favor reforms such as the one proposed for New York... so long as it is done across the board and not just in blue states.

Michael C. Rush said...

Sorry, but I can't shed any crocodile tears for Thomas. Nor do I hold Bush as responsible for proposing him as I do the Congress for letting him through. As. One person may be expected to be stupid, mad, or to play political games, but the point of having to seek Congressional approval is to allow saner heads to prevail.

They, as so often lately, did not.

David Brin said...

Caltech basketball team just won its first victory since 1986! A 310 game losing streak... done!

David Brin said...

Milk drinking as a big example of evolution

David Brin said...

See this.
Absorb it.
Spread it.

I consider myself a libertarian who believes in competition as THE great creative human force. Objecting to the rise of a dominant oligarchy is not a SOCIALIST issue! It is an issue to anyone who wants the enlightenment... including its competitive markets and small businesses... to survive.

I hated the soviets and commies as dangerous ignoramuses and threats to the enlightenment, markets and freedom.

I hate the new oligarchy for exactly the same reasons -- both bands of would be aristocratic lords think they can "allocate" wisely in secret cabals. Both believe that history and justice back up their monopoly of power. Both replicate EXACTLY the failure mode that ruined every civilization but ours.

Tony Fisk said...

Seen. Absorbed. Spread.

From the third graph, it looks like the 80-20 rule is standing the test of time!

Meanwhile the 'mammoth of Arabia' is doing a bit of spreading of his own (as well he might be at the moment!)

An idea for an sf story: wherein the oligarchs amass more and more money, while the rest of the citizenry quietly go about redefining measures of wealth.

David Brin said...

Tony, exactly. This is why they must make their move now. In a generation, the enlightenment will be permanent and StarTrekian

rewinn said...

Concerning competition: it's easy to see in team sports that managed competition results in vastly better performance. If you don't let people push themselves and take chances with crazy new ideas, we'd still be playing basketball with two-handed set shots and the bounce pass. But if you put all the top players on one team, you don't have very good competition at all.

The idea that Thomas doesn't ask questions because he's already made up his mind is truly shocking to the rule of law. Judging is supposed to be impartial; judges must be open to both sides at all times, and appeallate judges in particular are supposed to searchingly examine the whole problem set because their choices have grave ramifications. Not to do so is pure malfeasance.

That said, I don't know whether Thomas is actually feeling bad about his malfeasance. He got his way into the Aristocracy by serving its interests, and he does so well, even though it is by violating his oath of office. Such oaths mean nothing to a man whoruled in favor of a party that had remunerated him. The evidence is that Thomas is completely corrupt, so I don't think there's any need for him to feel badly about his judicial incompetence.

David Brin said...

Oh I don't think he FEELS badly. I said he was traumatized. But he's rationalized he is on the side of right and half of Americans are his enemies.

Michael C. Rush said...

Half of us are, because of his choices and actions.

David Brin said...

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

An idea for an sf story: wherein the oligarchs amass more and more money, while the rest of the citizenry quietly go about redefining measures of wealth.

That would be freakin' AWESOME.

Also, it's probably the only alternative to something that looks a lot like the French Revolution. Me, I'm thinking of investing heavily in Guillotine futures.

David Brin said...

tumbrels. I'm buying tumbrels.

Tony Fisk said...

Yarn? Yarn for an old crone?


Acacia H. said...

Last night I was perusing comments in a news article about the Wisconsin Governor and saw things drop to a new level of complete and utter idiocy. The new Elite? The Middle Class. The person in question was deriding the unions and non-Republicans and literally stated that the Middle Class were a bunch of elitists who needed to be taken down.

I'm not sure whether it was some Anon troll having fun with the more traditional Repug commentators in the news article's comments field or what, but I can't help but think this could be a new attack on the last bastion of sanity in the country: an attack on the Middle Class by stating they are elitists who need unions and government protections. And it's an odd but effective redirect of the elitist category. Elitist can't be used to describe the Rich Oligarchy because it's obvious those damn elitist Middle Classers who have the audacity to try and rise up against their betters. < sarcasm >Hell, their name even is similar to the Middle East, who are full of terrorists and Muslims which proves they're evil.< /sarcasm >

I hope it was just some Anon troll having fun. Because if the people who made America great and who helped make the rich rich through their purchasing power and the like are now being labeled as Elite bastards who need to be taken down a peg... then class warfare has truly begun and the Rich are egging the poor against an easier target: their slightly more affluent neighbors.

Rob H.

Paul said...

Those Yahoo news inequality graphs were taken from Mother Jones.

My favourite is the one titled "Out of Balance". (Although "Share of Federal Tax Revenue" needs to be sent to every R-voting small business owner before 2012.)

Paul said...

...also, it would be interesting to see a similar graph-over-time comparison of incorporated vs. non-incorporated business' Federal income tax proportions.

And a comparison of their relative job-creation over the same peiod.

(halinaus: Bad breath "down south".)

Acacia H. said...

On a more scientific note, researchers have identified a region on Mars that could have been habitable fairly recently in the planet's past; some mounds of hydrated silica - which are proof that water was once present - deposited on a volcanic cone less than 3.5 billion years ago. This could end up being a hydrothermal environment where subsurface liquid water and life itself still exists.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

And Fox News is at it again by referring to the robot assistant being sent to the International Space Station as a "robot butler" both in the title and the article itself. Considering that Fox News is able to post stories online using technology created by scientists and put its news shows on the air using technology also discovered and created by scientists and engineers and other "elitists" perhaps we should start suggesting to these technology workers that they'd be better off finding work elsewhere. And developing a technology boycott of Fox.

I mean, this has to be endemic to the entire company. Pointing this out to workers there and encouraging them to leave and find jobs at places more conducive toward science would be a perfect way of crippling this organization and proving to it that you don't bite the hands of those who enable you to function.

Rob H.

TwinBeam said...

The Boston tea party *was* about taxation without representation, and the Tea Act did NOT eliminate the Townshend Act tax against which the colonists protested.

The Tea Act was in part premised on the idea that the colonists were not serious in their ideological objection to taxation without representation, but were simply upset that their tea cost so much.

The historical significance of the Boston Tea Party lay in making it clear that this was not the case - at least for the radicals.

The Tea Party was not, as LarryHart claims, a protest against a tax break for a "corporate" monopoly (though it was motivated in part by opposition to the *government-granted* EIC monopoly itself).

Nor is it a useful symbol for the the modern Tea Partiers being fools, as Rewinn seems to imply. The Tea Partiers were essentially correct in making an analogy to the Boston Tea Party - it has been a long time since either party took seriously the idea of smaller government, so their anti-big-government position was not being represented.

Tony Fisk said...


I'm glad you thought the idea awesome.

Like a lot of awesome ideas, I belatedly realised it's already been done. Check out Bruce Sterling's 'Maneki Neko' (in 'A Good Old Fashioned Future'). Or, in the spirit of the notion, go ogle for it.

(Doesn't mean it couldn't be done again, though)

gadvoyan: a passing commentator who offers simple online advice before moving on.

rewinn said...

"...Nor is it a useful symbol for the the modern Tea Partiers being fools, as Rewinn seems to imply. The Tea Partiers were essentially correct in making an analogy to the Boston Tea Party - it has been a long time since either party took seriously the idea of smaller government, so their anti-big-government position was not being represented.

@Twinbeam - Despite your protestations, the Boston Tea Party was not about small government.

And today's "Tea Partiers" aren't objecting to big government ideas such as spying on citizens and launching wars of aggression or no-bid contracting. They are simply rallying to the cries of their leaders, paid for by the Koch brothers and their fellow Aristocrats. The proof of this is in the concrete proposals for reform the Tea Parties espouse.

As for history, People often have multiple reasons for rebelling. However, the Colonists had paid taxes for ages without representation, so to claim that the Boston Tea Party was purely about the lack of representation is ill-founded.

And let there be no "imply"ing; I'll state it outright: today's Tea Partiers are historically ignorant fools to cite Boston Harbor as a symbol of a demand for smaller government.

Acacia H. said...

Not all Tea Party organizations are the same. Don't forget that. Some of them are honest hardworking Americans who believe Democrats went too far and organized to get their voice heard in politics. They do not get funded by Koch or by other groups. And they often dislike intrusion from outside political groups including the Republican Party.

That said, those Tea Party groups often only have a local influence at best and formed primarily because of the media attention that Fox News initially generated.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"Not all Tea Party organizations are the same..."

Oh, certainly. One of the most important things for any political operation to do is to co-opt a lot of people into turning their energies against their own self-interest ... it's the same whether you're Lenin or David Koch.

soc said...

On a lighter note, "Ahmedinejad's" twitter acount

ex. "Just did 15 pushups, followed by a brisk walk. So if you are thinking about regime change, come get some of this!
6:54 AM Feb 1st via Twitter for iPhone "


David Brin said...

David Brin said...

I agree with all of the reasons listed. But in the end, two reasons matter more:

1) rich families get rid of their idiot sons to divert them from the family business. A century ago they were sent into the church. Today, they are sent with 80 million dollars to buy a producer's slot in Hollywood, snort coke, mess with models and call themselves geniuses for coming up with "what if cars could talk!"

2) It really is our fault. Yours and mine. Period. Either we are the customers or we've allow civilization to deteriorate to the point where our neighbors raise morons who watch it.

LarryHart said...

Funny you should be talking about movies. As I told Tacitus, I've been stuck home for several days with a fever, and spent much of it watching old VHS tapes of movies from the 1970s. From all-time greats like "The Godfather" to playful romps like "Silver Streak" to the Michael York version of "The Three Musketeers" (which owes more to the old Batman tv show than I ever realized).

Besides the "Ohmigod, everyone looks so YOUNG!" aspect of watching old favorites, I'm also struck by a feeling that's sort of summed up by "Oh yeah. Movies used to have plots and characters and settings and good writing!"

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I used to be a fan of movies. I don't mean particular movies, but of the artform itself. Many was the time my family would decide on a Saturday night to "see a movie" without having a specific one in mind. SOMETHING good would be playing. Somewhere around 1980, that changed.

The same thing happened to me with superhero comic books. It's not simply that I got too old for them, because if I re-read my favorites from the 60s and 70s, I can still re-live the reason I loved them back then. The new stuff--not so much. And it hardly helps things that comics are trying to BE movies these days, and movies are trying to be cynical self-parodies.

Dr Brin, you know I love you, but I reject your accusation. I don't support sucky movies, but they're not going to change because of what I'd like to see. I didn't leave movies--they left me.

David Brin said...

fair enuff.

soc said...

Dr. Brin,

I remember you saying earlier that the idiot sons went into the financial industry because the smart ones, who would normally succeed their fathers, left and took up science or joined some creative field. In a sense, they are guilty of betrayel, even if their attraction to more intellectually rewarding fields is understandable.

My question: Why didn't any of these smart ones end up in Hollywood?

sociotard said...

New Methods of Rationality up, plus he added a couple to the Omake in 64.

LarryHart said...

Twin Beam:

Sorry if you can't take a little correction of your (and LarryHart's) eager historical revisionism.

Excuse me?

They see the BTP as an example of "the people" demanding a say in their government, which is what they see themselves as doing. Since tax reduction is part of what they are demanding, it must have seemed a natural analogy to them.

The original Boston Tea Party was a protest against the LOWERING of taxes on the British East-India Company's tea. It wasn't a protest against high taxes.

The modern Tea-Pretenders are out there agitating for taxes on billionaires and trans-national corporations to be LOWERED. That's exactly the sort of thing the original BTP was a protest AGAINST. So the analogy doesn't seem natural at all.

Continually saying I'm wrong about this doesn't make it so.

for a group that doesn't care about limiting the size of government, they do seem to spend a lot of time saying they care about it...

What does that prove? The Republicans don't care about reducing deficits, but they spend a lot of time saying they do. George Bush approved of torture, but he spent a lot of time saying he didn't. Surely, you're not suggesting that the level of lip-service given to an idea is a measure of actual commitment to that idea?

David Brin said...

See citizen action where it matters most, in quake ravaged new zealand.

re dumb sons in Hollywood... the requirements to achieve power there are money, ferocity, betrayal, more money, drugs, and truncated ethics. Ideal for the rapacious-dumb brothers/sons but actual detriments to smart/creative/cooperative types.

Acacia H. said...

Which is why the intelligent and creative films are created by independents rather than Hollywood. Of course, with the rise of YouTube and related video-streaming sites, more and more amateur filmmakers are starting to showcase their ideas and imagination.

Rob H.

ell said...

David wrote: "1) rich families get rid of their idiot sons to divert them from the family business. A century ago they were sent into the church. Today, they are sent with 80 million dollars to buy a producer's slot in Hollywood, snort coke, mess with models and call themselves geniuses for coming up with 'what if cars could talk!'"

Hate to break the news to you, David, but nowadays, cars DO talk. A voice comes out of the dashboard to tell you that your seatbelt is unbuckled, that your tire pressure is too low, etc.

David Brin said...

Spending cuts approved by the House would end America's reign as a scientific leader if they are enacted into law, a former Bush administration Energy Department official said yesterday.

"Left intact, the massive cuts in research contained in the bill passed on 19 February would effectively end America's legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community," Raymond Orbach wrote in an editorial published online by the journal Science.

I guess the Saudis haven't changed their plans for us, after all. Their lackeys are still trying to end Pax Americana from within. This is war.

Acacia H. said...

Looks like Obama is saying one thing and doing another again. In an attempt to avoid transparency vows, Obama is meeting with lobbyists outside of the White House so that the meetings are not recorded by the Secret Service or logged in the White House. And from the looks of things, he's doing this regularly.

And to think I voted for him. What a pity that the alternative was so... poisonous.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Can part of the problem with movies be that creativity is risky - it's very hard to tell whether an idea is insanely good, or merely insane. Add this to the crazily high cost of producing and distributing a top-of-the-line movie and you get an unwillingness to take risks.

Perhaps one of the advantages of movies from comic books is that they have characters that have been storyboarded for decades, plus a fan base who can be counted on attending at least one showing while buying a liter of soda and the extra-large popcorn.


Jon Stewart's comment on Ahmandinejad's condemnation of tyrants who attack their own population: "Iran has finally managed to weaponize irony".


@Robert - now would be a good time to ask the GOP to pass a bill requiring all Federal Government employees (in all 3 branches) to log all meetings on some sort of online database. 4Square dot gov? The technology would be straightforward, and if their motivation would be to embarass Obama for something that should embarass him, well, that's a price we should all be willing to pay.


Dr. Brin - the problem with that SciAm article is that it has no explosions! If you would repackage the content as a secret plot to blow up America's scientific pre-eminence through stealthily delivered weapons of mass campaign donations, as revealed to a young hero with a spunky and slightly-smarter girlfriend, maybe you could get some airtime. I'm not joking.

TwinBeam said...

LarryHart: "The original Boston Tea Party was a protest against the LOWERING of taxes on the British East-India Company's tea. It wasn't a protest against high taxes."

That is an absurd misinterpretation. The Tea Act did lower taxes, but that was certainly not the element of the Tea Act against which the radical colonists protested.

The radicals protested the continuation of the Townshend tax on tea, "without representation".

David Brin said...

Hey I just rented the old MAX HEADROOM show from 1985! Such a hoot how those primitive pre-web, pre-flatscreen, pre-cellphone people still played with cyberpunk ideas of networked AI etc.

rewinn said...

It is a fact that the special tax treatment that the EIC got enabled it to undercut American small businessmen/smugglers. Indeed that was the whole point of the special tax treatment.

Had the colonists had the chance to vote on the matter, undoubtedly they would have voted against it, although it is unlikely that they would have prevailed in Parliament even with fair representation. Do the population math.

Sure, we can be confident that the colonists were unhappy about the injustice of this, since they said so. But the injustice had gone on for decades without rebellion, most likely because it was not previously accompanied by naked favoritism that threatened the economic survival of the American middle class.

We can also be confident that the rebels didn't mind paying taxes per se, since post-Revolution they taxed themselves and even suppressed an anti-tax rebellion, which gave rise to the bit about the tree of liberty requiring the blood of patriots, in a context that is misunderstood by Tea Partiers generally.

In an important sense, this is of only historical interest, since today's Tea Partiers actually do have the franchise. Much of their ire is just being sore losers about 2008, and the rest is due to propaganda of the anti-democracy (small 'd') movement funded by the Kochs and their ilk. Of all the disenfranchised populations in the history of the planet, angry white people carrying guns while collecting Social Security and Madicare are the least disenfranchised ever.

rewinn said...

Meanwhile, both Ronald Reagan and Solidary (the union that started the unravelling of the Soviet Empire) may be seen in support of Wisconsin public service workers:

"To Public Service Workers in the State of Wisconsin

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

On behalf of the 700,000 members of the Polish Trade Union NSZZ
“Solidarnosc” (Solidarity) I wish to express our solidarity and support for your
struggle against the recent assault on trade unions and trade union rights
unleashed by Governor Scott Walker.

We are witnessing yet another attempt of transferring the costs of the economic
crisis and of the failed financial policies to working people and their families.

much as some adjustments are necessary, we can not and must not agree that the
austerity measures are synonymous with union-busting practices, the elimination
of bargaining rights and the reduction of social benefits and wages.

Dear friends, please rest assured that our thoughts are with you during your
protest, as we truly do hope that your just fight for decent working and living
conditions, for the workers’ rights will be successful.

Your victory is our victory as well.

In Solidarity,
Piotr Duda
Reagan: "Unionization Is A Basic Right"

David Brin said...


Corey said...

You know, the most striking thing to me about the whole Wisconsin situation is that despite it being considered a state issue, the funding for the anti-union ads being run in the state has come primarily from Koch Industries, a company based in Kansas.

Since when did a Kansas based company running ads and pulling strings with a government to undo union power in Wisconsin constitute a Wisconsin state issue?

David Brin said...