Monday, September 19, 2011

The Transparency Amendment: The Under-Appreciated Sixth

Transparency and a growing web of surveillance are again in the news, starting with an interview I just gave ZDNet in Britain, discussing the recent use of streetcams to identify rioters and moving on from there to many broader topics, comparing a world dominated by “Big Brother” to one oppressed by several billion “little brothers.”

And the topic keeps bubbling.  I’ll be tuning in this Thursday to the premiere of “Person of Interest” on CBS (Sept 22 9pm). It looks thought provoking, with a lovely over-layer of dramatized paranoia, expressing a core point from my book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom - that there will be no escaping surveillance. The cameras get smaller, faster, better, cheaper and more numerous at a pace exceeding Moore’s Law. (Brin’s Corollary)

Trying to pretend this isn't happening, or that well-intentioned laws can ever blind the mighty, will only prevent us from getting sousveillance, the power to look back.  I imagine that will be an issue in the show at some point, as the "Machine" ruthlessly evades any possibility of eyes turning its omniscient gaze around.  We’ll be watching.


All of this is related to one of my principal topics. A week or two ago I was touting tentative optimism after a Federal court ruled in favor of citizens recording their encounters with police.  Now this is reinforced as an Illinois judge recently ruled the state’s eavesdropping law unconstitutional as applied to a man who faced up to to 75 years in prison for secretly recording his encounters with police officers and a judge. “Such action impedes the free flow of information concerning public officials and violates the First Amendment right to gather such information,” he wrote.

Let me qualify my fervent support for these decisions. I think both rulings put too much emphasis on the First Amendment “press” freedom aspect, and too little on the 6th Amendment’s declaration of an absolute right of citizen access to testimony that might exonerate - in other words, using the core weapon of the Truth to protect against abuse of authority and power. Let me be plain, I find the first Amendment so heavily used that it becomes squishy, amorphous, in many cases rather unreliable.

I often find I have to remind people that the 6th -- the “forgotten Amendment” -- is actually one of the most important and powerful of them all!

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor…"

It is the transparency amendment, making clear that our real bulwark of freedom is not the passive, hunkering “right to remain silent” or even the blustery right to speak...

...but the aggressively assertive right to “compel testimony” on our behalf from reluctant witnesses. The logical extension of this to a universal ability to record our interactions with authority is direct and logical and vital...

...and I hope some attorneys make this point about the Sixth Amendment soon, instead of staring only at the sacred but over-used First.

Still, whatever basis is given, the ruling clearly established the core point of law we all needed... that is, till the Supreme Court does its thing. Do any of you still have faith that Justices Scalia, Thomas and Roberts are on our side?  I remain hopeful, ever.

Let there be no mistake, this issue is still fragile! "Judge Richard A. Posner isn't known  for his genteel treatment of parties whose arguments he doesn't agree with. When an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union began to make his opening statement at a Tuesday oral argument, Posner cut him off after 14 words. "Yeah, I know," he said dismissively. "But I'm not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of peoples' encounters with the police....Once all this stuff can be recorded, there's going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers."

I've met Justice Posner and argued with him about this before.  He is a very smart fellow, but also deeply mired in mid-20th Century ways of thinking, alas. I am hopeful, though, that he can learn to see with 21st Century eyes.

For follow-up see: You have the right to record police.

See: More articles on Transparency


Tony Fisk said...

Not quite in the field of citizen rights, but still in the spirit of CITOKATE: the latest edition of the Times Atlas asserts that 15% of Greenland is now ice-free. 'Not so', say the scientists who study such things.

Embarrassing! Still, I'd rather this came out now, rather than from the Heartland Institute in a few years' time, at an inconvenient moment (anyone recall Himalayan glaciers?).

Kelsey said...

Some good news for those of you interested in issues about religious neutrality in the armed forces.

It's a start.

Tacitus said...

Taping of our interactions with authority seems to be one of those rare instances where the (putative) left and right can agree.

Personally I am all for it, but I would also like to see us get ahead of the curve a bit. Are the penalties for faking video evidence that gets introduced sufficient? It is perjury plain and simple. Maybe worse than verbal perjury, because premeditation would always be involved, whereas on the stand sometimes people impulsively say stupid things or, more charitably, get confused.

Or is anything simple anymore? You could tape the same thing from four directions and come to different conclusions from each camera view....


Detritus of Empire

David Brin said...

Fox is running hard with this Comet Elenin bullshit.

It is time for somebody to do a regular bit called "wanna bet?"

David Brin said...

Tacitus... you mean putative LIBERALS and PALEOCONS might agree...

And cranky contrarians. Yep, all of us here.

Tony Fisk said...

"You could tape the same thing from four directions and come to different conclusions from each camera view....

I've often wondered whether it would be feasible to combine online photos/videos of a scene into a 3-4D replay. It was the London bombings, and the (irony!) Authorities' call for public information that got me started on this.

hahands: mimed laughter

David Brin said...

See the part of The Transparent Society where I discuss this. The answer, almost always, is MORE cameras, from more indie POVs.

David Brin said...

Finally a sign that the professionals are re-taking the US AirForce back for America from the fundie fanatics who have been bullying it for years.

sociotard said...

The only issue: How do you account for vicious editing? I'm thinking of Acorn here, where the 'undercover reporter' tried to make the organization look evil or stupid, and just edited out all evidence to the contrary. Even John Stewart got taken in, at least at first, and his show does the same thing (without claiming it is factual)

I suppose we could resort to self defense recording. Acorn would be forced to record all their interactions for their own defense, and so on.

David Brin said...

Anybody have a direct contact address, email or phone for Mad Magazine? Since I'll be in New York anyway... ;-)

rewinn said...

Vicious editing certainly is a problem but perhaps the solution is education (teaching people to understand vicious editing - imagine a game in which we edit the speech of opponents to make them agree with us! ) and proactively asserting reputation. Anyone who believes anything Breitbart publishes now is ignorant of his unreliability, and it is the job of those who care to ensure that his reputation is, appropriately, one of untrustworthiness.

May I also suggest that we seek to normalize recording by doing more of it ourselves? It may be much harder to squelch a right if it is frequently employed. Don't be a jerk; be sensitive to people with legitimate issues; but consider recording every time you interact with a public official and publish it on the web. This might be posed to the official as a chance for them to show how professional they are!
Systematically recording and webbroadcasting public official acts may become the electronic equivalent of the English Ramblers who ensure public rights-of-way stay public, by systematically walking on them.

Stefan Jones said...

MAD Magazine is now part of DC Comics:

I did not know this until I did a search.

I'm bummed.

Anonymous said...

Will you be making any public appearances while in NYC ?

Paul451 said...

(From the last thread)

Re: anne.ominous is a troll.

Not necessarily. Monomaniacal, maybe. Shouty, won't back down, can't see the forest for the trees. Disruptive, annoying, but not necessarily a troll.

Trolls are doing it for the Lulz, purely to disrupt. Monos are doing it because SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET.

Corey & Robert,
Re: Never Feed The Trolls.

Trolls are looking for a reaction. To piss people off. They present a parody of an extreme view in order to make people either shout or leave the thread.

Responding to Trolls calmly, taking the claims at face value and correcting them (at least once per false claim), is IMO productive.

Not because it changes the Troll's behaviour (although it may reduce the Lulz), but because there are likely lurkers who have a softer version of the Troll's pretended opinion.

By calmly correcting the error, you may convince some of those lurkers that your opinion is correct, you may even convince them to join in, knowing they won't be shouted down. Meanwhile the Troll is making them feel uncomfortable about their own views.

OTOH, calling a Mono a Troll (hell, even calling a Troll a Troll), may reinforce the lurkers opinion that "the mainstream won't even engage outside views". Example: "Climategate" emails. Mainstream journal publishes bogus research, climate researchers go mental at each other, "burn the witch, burn the witch". And that is used to support the Deniers' claim of a conspiracy.

Had they simply responded calmly in Letters and Notes to the journal, eviscerating the claims of original paper (which many did), they wouldn't have given years worth of aid and comfort to the enemy.

tl;dr - Sometimes you feed the trolls by refusing to Feed The Trolls.

(goosip: Inaccurate gossip.)

Paul451 said...

"The only issue: How do you account for vicious editing?"

In legal matters, the Sixth Amendment already protects you. (And common law rules of discovery for the rest of us.)

For civil matters, I guess it would be a try to extend that principle into common behaviour. If everyone makes the unedited(*) original footage available, then it becomes automatically suspicious when someone doesn't.

(* With allowances for masking faces, etc.)

Eventually, it might become law.

For example, this may be something the police unions who support the abuse of wiretap laws against sousveillance (because they fear of selective footage being used against otherwise good members), may accept as a compromise. Requiring the entire unedited original footage being made available.

You can film, you can publish. But once you publish, you are required to make the original available.

(In the same way that when someone agrees to testify at their own trial, they can't prevent cross examination.)

(ulally: The thing behind the thing at the back of your throat.)

David Brin said...

Paul451... wow... post of the day.

Anonymous, I hope to announce an open house at a hotel bar in the NYC area some evening in the October 16-17-18 time frame. Stay tuned.

Any recommended venues near upper midtown or a bit higher and east?

Anybody have the address & phone # of DC comics? i used to have em....

greg byshenk said...

Not exactly breaking news, but it just made the papers, here.

"Looking back" in China .

greg byshenk said...

Hmm. Blogger strips bracketed URLs.


Paul451 said...

Mad/DC is 1700 Broadway, NY, NY. (If you just want to ring: (212) 636-5400, department 354.)

Thus sayeth google, thus say we all.


Try "a href"

As in:

<a href="">Google</a>

becomes: Google

Tony Fisk said...

For more hypertext fun, try:
<a title='Thank you!'>Please place mouse here</a>
Please mouse here

Utter trivia but, looking at your Klout score logo, David, you look remarkably 'Klingon'!

Tim H. said...

Might a humor break be in order?

Also, Derf's funny and topical this week:

Tacitus said...

I believe the much reviled Mr. Breitbart was a pioneer in the concept of releasing complete footage. More traditional outlets have not followed suit.

Make no mistake, Breitbart is a propagandist. He intends to be and is open about it. He views himself as the conservative isomer of what he regards as a media machine that has become an auxilliary unit of one political faction.

A trick to be aware out for the release of the biased edit first, followed a few days or weeks later by boring full footage that few will look at. In this day and age impressions are formed with immediacy, and the exhonerating full footage is like the correction on the inside pages of the NYT that says, well, no Michelle Bachman does not eat puppies.

But the issue of how we are ingesting our political news, while important, is distinct from the issue of citizen surveilance of authority. I think the latter would actually find wide acceptance among conservatives of all stripes. For instance the recent dust up here in Wisconsin featured police who by virtue of their public employee unionized status were suspected of not fully enforcing the law when protestors against collective bargaining restrictions got frisky.

The evidence in this regard is open to debate, but without cameras everywhere that debate could not happen.

Detritus of Empire

Rob said...

That's too much of a soft-pedal, in my opinion, Tacitus. When that "biased edit" tells a story diametrically opposite to the one in the unedited footage, what that man is doing isn't laudable, isn't activism, and isn't an answer to countering media bias shift.

All it is, is calumny.

LarryHart said...


Make no mistake, Breitbart is a propagandist. He intends to be and is open about it. He views himself as the conservative isomer of what he regards as a media machine that has become an auxilliary unit of one political faction.

The media machine IS an auxilliary of a political faction, but that faction is neither "Democrats" nor "liberals". That faction is "corporatists".

I'm sure Breitbart sees himself as David against the Goliath of the "liberal media", but really, has there been a "liberal media" since the mid-Reagan years? In Walter Cronkite's day, it might have been understandable for conservatives to feel bashed and ostricised by the nightly news, but not so in Rupert Murdoch's day.

David Brin said...

thanks Paul

rewinn said...

@Tacitus - are you seriously arguing that Breitbart knew that the videos he released were deceptively editted?

You are correct. And that is why anyone who trusts him for any reason is showing poor judgment.

Tacitus said...

I am only peripherally aware of Mr. Breitbart, and cannot speak to his inner workings.

His contributions to the public discourse need to be judged as always with an eye to the source.

I thought his expose on the poor lady from the Ag Dept was unfair, and notable only for the dispatch with which the Obama admin, well, dispatched her.

The ACORN stuff looked pretty damning to me, multiple offices willing to at a minimum wink and bend laws. But I had some dealings with ACORN back in their formative years (early/mid 80s) and am prepared to believe them capable of significant rascality.

As to whether the media shills for one political party or just whoever is in power, that is a fair topic of discussion.


rewinn said...

@Tacitus ... "...The ACORN stuff looked pretty damning to me, ..."
...which entirely makes my point. You were completely deceived by the editting.

The full tapes show that O'Keefe was not wearing a pimp outfit, and told ACORN that he was trying to help get his girlfirend get out of whoring.

And did you know that when O'Keefe told an ACORN guy that he was planning to import Mexican hooker, the guy called the cops and reported the entire thing?

No? Why don't you know this?

@Tacitus is, on the evidence, an honest, well-meaning and highly intelligent person who has been completely fooled by Brietbart's deceptive editing, and even though the entire tape shows that Brietbart cannot be trusted, still trusts him.

This suggests that full disclosure of recordings is a necessary but not sufficient condition of transparency. Systems of establishing reputation matters, and under such a system, no person of goodwill would trust Breitbart.

sociotard said...

Cracked: 8 Simple Questions You Won't Believe Science Can't Answer

Okay, I'm guessing the article is 95% bull poop. It was still a fun read. Perhaps our host could weigh in on the astronomy section?

sociotard said...

I know the whole "Nemesis" thing is bologna, and I'm betting Tyche is as well. Anything else?

Tacitus said...


Completely fooled is a little harsh. Yes, I knew then and still remember that quite a few ACORN offices were visited and that some of them did refuse to help or even called the police (iirc this was one of the later stings, so a reasonable person might wonder if the ACORN offices had put out some kind of email warning).

Didn't know he was not in costume though.

Still don't trust ACORN. Knew 'em back in the day.

Still want to see full unedited tapes, but see my prior point....releasing them weeks later is not the same as making them available right away.

And people much smarter than I get fooled with regularity!


Rob said...

Still don't trust ACORN. Knew 'em back in the day.

I'm happy to take that as an endorsement against the organization. But Breitbart's work was a self-defeating thing: By manufacturing rage through lies-of-omission, instead of conveying honest criticism, the backlash against his lie masks any corrective action ACORN needed; they come off as the beleaguered party with their eye-motes not removed.

Such people are not good for any cause, any more than Cavuto is good for business conservatives, or Beck for paranoid libertarians.

David Brin said...

Tacitus is right... without any question ACORD was a habitat of genuine, bona fide leftie flakes... as well as liberals of many stripes... some of whom are far from recognizing their difference from lefty flakes.

No question that - even though entrapment and outright Swift-boating/Birther-style - Donal Segretti styles cheating exaggerated the situation, there's a core root of fanatical compulsiveness about such lefty flakes that makes them seem VERY much like...

...tea party flakes. Very much so.


These fools give grist for Beck and Limbaugh and they thus do great harm, but it's not their fault, any more than a tea party raging militia gunnut asshole is at fault for being what he is.

This nation is in trouble because the liberals and decent conservatives fail to sufficiently distance themselves from such idiots. But the liberals' fault is simply one of perception.

Dig it... when Beck points to ACORN and says "liberal!" he is a fucking liar. 90% of today's democrats would DISAVOW most of the opinions that Beck claims they hold! He screeches at his poster boys but lefty flakes control nothing in the dem party. Nothing.

Liberals should parse this more clearly. They are fools not to. That makes me angry. But it isn't treason.

What's damn near treason is the equivalent folks on the right, having allowed their sides monsters to hijack their entire movement, ALL of its policies, ALL of its positions, ALL or its actions when it governed the entire country.

You want all the guys on this list to openly disavow the kind of lefty flakes who Breibert exaggerated? Fine! Chime in boys! I"ll start! Booooooo lefty flakes!

I will try to help find a nice retired Marine Colonel to run as a blue dog in next spring's primary against our own local lefty flake, so we have a chance against Issa.

Now, let's see decent conservatives do the same.

rewinn said...

I'm afraid I must disagree with Rob. The campaign of lies against ACORN succeeded and the liars are still well-trusted, as comments on this thread shows.

Dr. Brin and Tacitus are simply incorrect on the facts. There may have been flakes among its members; so what? I can think of very few large organizations that don't have a few marginal characters (*cough* Libertarian Party *cough*). If ACORN did some silly street theater, what is more American? (*cough* Tea Party *cough*) ACORN was destroyed because it registered voters , as part of an extended campaign by the Aristocracy of Wealth against voting, plain and simple. Now the GOP is attacking voter registration drives by the League of Women Voters. Democracy requires people voting and any attempt to block voting is anti-democratic.

To get back to the Transparency issue: that someone as obviously smart and well-informed as Tacitus didn't notice that the pimp never appeared in the same shot as any ACORN worker speaks to the power of images to confirm bias, especially when the raw footage is not immediately available - and even when it comes available, it doesn't get passed around.

As for the idea that ACORN offices may have warned earn other than a scammer was coming - what of it? The video was not released until AFTER the visits on it were concluded, so there was no way ACORN knew they were being secretly taped. A warning to offices to narc on criminals would be a GOOD thing, would it not?

Stefan Jones said...

ACORN has been destroyed, but the flakes and nut jobs on the right who still use the organization as bogeymen are not only still around, they're empowered. They get money from the wealthy backers of the Tea Party, they get media validation from Fox News and the radio talkers.

So, who is going to help the poor and disenfranchised register to vote now?

The right have successfully turned poverty and political powerlessness into irrelevancies.

No, worse: These have become anti-sacred states. You can't do anything to help because it would violate the natural order of things in Conservative America.

Corey said...

I'll be damned if I know how, but I have seen some very decent conservatives, people of education, moderation, and open minds, get completely and totally taken in by the ideological right (in other words, the Tea Party).

One particular friend of mine, an English teacher who was very formative person a few years ago, was a very moderate conservative and more importantly, someone who believed in the process of debate and inquiry as a supremely important exercise. In fact, I largely have this particular person to thank for the fact that I'm not the leftist flake I was quickly becoming in my end teen years.

It's not that this guy was conservative, but that he always taught me that particular points of view, in and of themselves, were less important than being willing to hear and evaluate all sides with an open mind.

As a Republican, he hated Bush, was critical of the Iraq war (ESPECIALLY the conspiracy theories trying to excuse away the lack of weapons), and was open to the notion of universal health care.

Today, he's a staunch Tea Partier, who's swallowed the koolaid on everything from AGW denialism to claims about Obama being a socialist, and no matter how much evidence is put in front of him, he just shrugs it off. I even recently point out that the GOP eviscerated the future of many of his students, by ending all subsidized loans for graduate students. He just shrugged and said "oh well, that isn't one of the 'proper roles of government'".

And I've seen this happen to many of my Republican friends, again, not stupid or small-minded people, but genuine intellectuals.

That, to me, is the scariest thing about the GOP. I am not anti-Republican, and certainly not anti-libertarian (I happen to think I mostly fit into the latter), but seriously, while I may know some very extreme leftists, I know many moderate ones too. I don't think I know a single moderate Republican anymore, and I don't even know how to approach the ones I used to know.

Paul451 said...

"I believe the much reviled Mr. Breitbart was a pioneer in the concept of releasing complete footage. More traditional outlets have not followed suit."

My knowledge of the case is limited to some news reports, but from Wikipedia, re: O'Keefe,
"The California AG had given him immunity from prosecution in exchange for his giving them the raw videos of ACORN workers at three sites in the state."

So I don't think Breitbart was the reason why the full footage was eventually released.

And the fraud did, after all, successfully destroy ACORN, which no longer exists. Something that might not have happened if ACORN (and the media) had the legal power to demand access to the full unedited original footage.

(ingmoten: British Dept. of Motor Vehicles. Also known as Room 010.)

David Brin said...

Corey's lament is harsh and demoralizing.

I think I have a story to link you to. First look up "the gostak distims the doshes"... it is a phrase that at one level is about recursive defining that goes nowhere... but in stories it is also representative of political radicalism that is based on nonsense.

Here is one of the older stories using the phrase. You must scroll down more than halfway.

I'm afraid we're bifurcating. Perhaps, this time, we should just let the Confederacy go its own way.

Acacia H. said...

Here's an interesting New York Times article on a parallel to Obama's efforts... only with Governor Brown in California. In essence, what Obama faced with Congressional Republicans? Brown is facing in California.

Rob H.

Jonathan S. said...

Dr. Brin, regarding sousveillance, you might find this story interesting:

KOMO-TV's news department has been forced to sue the Seattle PD in order to get access to dashcam recordings. And now the PD is claiming that thousands of the recordings have been destroyed. (Then again, they made that claim in the case that started all this off, and the man involved now has copies of the dashcam of his arrest...)

Robert said...

With respect to Corey, another problem is that decent (i.e., real) conservatives get purged when they come out. I posted a comment to another thread about two months with a list of names and a description of the process. And, furthermore, guess who put Obama over the top in '08 (and enabled McCain to win the Rep primaries)? Though I guess we should sent a certificate of appreciation to Sarah Palin for making absolutely sure that Obama would be elected.

Back when it was founded, ACORN was the most obnoxious of all the Great Society excesses, packed with the very worst kind of Naderite leftists, just like the ones David and I were trying to keep from spending our UCSD student fees. It doesn't seem to have changed much, if at all, and looks like a kind of fossil of that era. An honest documentary could have shut it down just as well as Breitbart's propaganda, with no backlash.
As for Tea Parties, Libertarians have been holding them as long as the LP has existed, with zero press coverage, until Fox hijacked them.
To reiterate, a generation ago, real conservatives kicked out nutcases; now, nutcases kick out real conservatives. Fox and the radio Goebbels impersonators black them out deliberately, and the mainstream media, addicted to sensationalism and the Left/Right spectrum, doesn't know what to say about them, and so says nothing. There are some blogs, especially Andrew Sullivan's that cover this well. And, speaking of Sullivan, it's hardly an accident that gay conservatives were the first to jump - or be pushed.

sociotard said...

The First Domino: Foreclosure Fraud and the 'Invisible Bailout'

Tacitus said...

If I did not specifically say so before, thanks ReWinn for the heads up. It is never good to be ill informed and I have done a bit of reading on the ACORN/O'Keefe/Brietbart story to correct that deficiency.

So I am prepared to modify my opinions. Slightly.

Back in the 80s when I was peripherally involved with them I came to the opinion that ACORN was basically a bunch of hucksters whose philosophy sounded progressive but whose real ethos was the transmutation of media attention to political clout to block grants and other monetary gain. So I was predisposed, or if you will, prejudiced to believe ill of them.

Even allowing for the unfair editing I think their staffers showed a willingness to flount rules and conventions.

That it was another opportunistic grifter that hoisted them with their own petard seems ironic.

I concur with Robert, you needed no chicanery to make these guys look bad. Heck, highlighting the appropriate actions of some of them would make the rest look worse. And Breitbart's assertion that he was somehow misled by O'Keefe rings hollow. This from a guy who claims to know every trick of the (liberal) media establishment.

All in all a good seminar on the topic of video and political thought. We have been learning ever since the 1960 campaign. Just think...history might have changed a lot if someone told Dick Nixon to shave ten minutes before air time.


David Brin said...

And history might have been even better if Republican presidents... including Eisenhower, whom I admired... had the habit of picking qualified/sane/decent/adult veeps.

Instead of every single time (except Reagan) choosing monsters who never should have risen even slightly into national prominence.

All right, Reagan's choice was also a monster. But only in retrospect and by my standards. Still, he was the only GOP veep choice who looked qualified. At all. Ever.

Nixon should never have been imposed on us. We should not now recall his name.

Tony Fisk said...

I wasn't really paying attention at the time, but Ford never struck me as a monster. Just accident-prone. Or is that impression in comparison with his illustrious predecessor?

Then again, the civil service were in a position to do their jobs back then, so little gaffes like ordering troops to open fire on anti-war protestors (Nixon), or enacting legislation outlawing the Soviet Union (Reagan) could be covered up/laughed off. Nervously.

guesolly: shoe adhesive binding GOP Pees and Vees.

sociotard said...

Awww, he passed some good environmental legislation. And he got us into China. And started the process of ending Vietnam.

David Brin said...

Nixon's "choice" for VP was Spiro Agnew, who went to prison for fraud. He "designated" Gerald Ford to be VP when it looked like he would desperately need a friend capable of lobbying in the House to prevent impeachment... and who might gratefully pardon, if necessary.

Ford was patently unqualified. But in those days, the topmost legislative republicans like Dirksen and Goldwater and Ford were all from the "let's negotiate" school. In other words, BECAUSE he was a top man in the House, that meant he wasn't a monster. Nixon's needs forced him to appoint a human, in other words.

Today? Being at the top in the GOP means precisely monsterdom.

take this from one of today's icons of tech-capitalism, the pundit Mark Anderson.

Watching the Republicans trying to take us into the anti-science, anti-history, anti-reality world of oil and coal lobby dominance is more than I, too, can bear. Who knew that becoming Stone Age thinkers was an alternative to 21st Century problems?

I expect, for a start, that taking Rick Perry up on his recent offer of Texas leaving the U.S. would be best. The party that brought us Bush Jr. now brings us his lieutenant governor. Are you kidding? It will take us 30 years to pay off the damage done by Jr., if we're lucky and if our grandchildren work hard.

Texas really needs to be as separate politically as it is ethically and intellectually.

Begging for federal disaster funds on behalf of the hottest state in the union, suffering the worst drought in state history, with 200 wildfires burning out of control, Texas sends us Gov. Rick Perry, another college academic failure/cheerleader who rails against the same government he is begging for money, while running for the office of president. And, as his state burns up, he wastes TV time saying that Climate Change is a fraud perpetrated by a few greedy scientists.

How can someone so clearly uneducated and uninformed – and unethical – be the top GOP candidate for the most powerful office in the world? Oh yes: oil money.

Want an irony? I am terrified and disgusted by Perry. But he is also one of just two GOP contenders whom I would invite out for brews and a couple hours of conversation! The other being Paul.

There are some maniacally interesting corners to the man. I always look for the things a guy says despite not having to say it. Stuff he says on his own account. A couple of the 80% scary things Perry has said were also 15% really interesting.

David Brin said...

Yipe! I just learned of the "stealth" GOP candidate, Gary Johnson...

Huh! I guess I'd buy him a beer to let him ramble. Huntsman too.

Don't get me wrong! Huntsman is the only one of the lot I consider even remotely sane. But I definitely have a side pool going on for interesting to talk to.

sociotard said...

Gary Johnson is from New Mexico. I'd love to ask him why his state gets $2 in federal money for every $1 in federal tax paid.

David Brin said...

Geez, if hypocrisy were lethal, you'd lose nearly all the democrats as well!

Tony Fisk said...

Hypocrisy may not be politically lethal, but association certainly is!

(Just go ogle 'Santorum'. Just. do. it!)

Catfish N. Cod said...

Dr. Brin: I'm afraid we're bifurcating. Perhaps, this time, we should just let the Confederacy go its own way.

Too late.

This could have been done in 1860, when the Confederacy was geographically and economically isolated from the North. The North made the choice that The Union Must Be Preserved. And I still think that was the right choice, for the reason the Founders thought it was: the USA and CSA could have been played against each other to their mutual detriment. See Turtledove's Southern Victory (aka Timeline 191) series. While I don't agree with every extrapolation made by Mr. Harry, I do think that the USA and CSA would almost certainly have been on opposite sides of the First World War... and America would have been as devastated as Europe. Instead we stood solid through the twentieth century: because of the foresight of the Founders and Lincoln. Better the ACW than the horrors that came after, in Europe and Asia.

But! The price we paid for this was to reknit a country that had already chosen two different visions of what civilization meant and stood for. The Confederate dream qua Confederate dream smoldered with Jim Crow but was slain by Kennedy, Johnson, and King; the South will not rise again. But having lost the bid to separate, the neo-Confederate belief system now seeks to replace that of the Union: to banish the attitude that all men (including the poor, "eggheads", immigrants, non-Christians, gays, and generally people who think differently) are created equal.

They can dream this because they are geographically distributed. The same "US out of the UN!" banner I have seen in Birmingham, Alabama, can also be seen in Yakima, Washington. There are precious few among the Fifty States where one attitude reigns supreme over the other. Alaska and Hawaii, for their newness and remoteness; Rhode Island and Vermont, for their small size. That's about it. Even Texas has its Austin and Utah its progressive neighborhoods.

Try to separate the neo-Confederacy... or let them separate... and you have not one civil war but fifty. Instead of an orderly choice of states lining up on sides, every state goes into tumult. Washington and Oregon divide along the Cascades. Texas besieges its own capital. New York City stands against upstate and parts of Long Island. Illinois divorces its own southern third. Boston's suburbs take sides. And what happens to Pennsylvania, Florida, and California doesn't even bear thinking about.

No, we're stuck with this. There must be a narrative that brings the neo-Confederates back into the Union while defeating their pathological attitudes, as there was (no matter how detrimental it was) in Reconstruction. To attempt separation now would be as destructive as letting the madmen take over.

hysity: the state of hissy fit that Republicans are throwing in their attempts to deliberately delay economic recovery until they can claim credit for it.

Tony Fisk said...

Catfish, I said it when the voting distributions were shown to be town vs country.

Civil war is a daisy cutter.

ouger: precisely, Watson.

sociotard said...

Ron Paul Wasn't Joking About Letting Uninsured People Die -- His Uninsured Staffer Died of Pneumonia

Tacitus2 said...

Well, I did not say a hypothetical Nixon admin in 1960 would be better, just different. Alt hist is a rather sterile exercise, with due respects to Mr. Turtledove who often rises to interesting in his prolific writings. Indeed, sometimes the same individual "might" do better or worse in different circumstances...Churchill at Gallipoli vs Churchill in their Finest Hour. But we must be practical.

I am not real happy with any of the three plausible occupants of WH in the years to come. On this topic much more to follow.

But who takes the oath of office in Jan '13 will depend much on the economy. Will it remain simply unpleasant or will it devolve to absolute monkey-butt ugly? The fortunes of Europe, a factor effectively beyond our control, will weigh heavy. I should have something to say on this in about three weeks.



Robert said...

I think an even stronger defense of Ford would be in order. He managed to keep the lid on a McGovernite Congress until, around the time he left office, the saner Democrats were able to regain control of their party. But it was no accident that he vetoed as many bills as all his predecessors put together, and it may have saved the country. Overall, I think that, like Eisenhower, he was badly underestimated. This has been corrected for Eisenhower; Ford, while clearly not in Eisenhower's league, will make it to the decent-to-good range as a president, and, even in his own time, was recognized to be a thoroughly decent individual. One historian (I can't pin down who said it) has said that Ford was the most psychologically normal president since Eisenhower. Maybe Obama has filled that position now.

Incidentally, my main problem with Reagan was that he ran against Ford, the incumbent in his own party, and may very well have put Carter in the White House. And then, four years later, exactly the same thing happened to the Democrats!

One thing I

Mel Baker said...

As someone who works in broadcast TV I can assure you that video editing is very easy to spot. Certainly any use of video in either a criminal or civil case would be carefully checked for authenticity. Video and audio forensics are already highly developed.

LarryHart said...

For the followers of the daily comic strip "Quantum Vibe", which I was introduced to on this list:

The guy in today's strip is modeled on President Obama?

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

I wasn't really paying attention at the time, but Ford never struck me as a monster. Just accident-prone.

I believe Dr Brin was talking about how Republican presidential candidates pick RUNNING MATES. Ford was appointed veep when Spiro Agnew resigned, so he was never a running mate.

(I haven't read to the bottom of the posts yet, so maybe someone else already mentioned this?)

LarryHart said...


Incidentally, my main problem with Reagan was that he ran against Ford, the incumbent in his own party, and may very well have put Carter in the White House. And then, four years later, exactly the same thing happened to the Democrats!

In retrospect, I wonder if the Reagan campaign "beat" Ford deliberately. I mean, Reagan would not have been Ford's veep, so it's not clear how well he would have done in 1980 running (presumably) against a sitting Republican vice-president. Running against a sitting Democrat suited his style much better.

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, my friends and I had a copywrite question and wondered if you knew the answer.

When someone (your kids, say) inherits copyright from a deceased artist, how does Estate Tax take effect? Does it do nothing and just let the inheritor pay income tax? Does it require a auditor to declare the value of the inherited copyright?

(I hope the question isn't too macabre, and my apologies if it is)

sociotard said...

As someone who works in broadcast TV I can assure you that video editing is very easy to spot. Certainly any use of video in either a criminal or civil case would be carefully checked for authenticity. Video and audio forensics are already highly developed.

But the problem isn't civil or criminal courts, but the court of public opinion. In that court, evidence is not weighed by authenticity or expert opinion, but by sensationalism.

Tacitus2 said...

"But who takes the oath of office in Jan '13 will depend much on the economy. Will it remain simply unpleasant or will it devolve to absolute monkey-butt ugly?"

oof. my comments were before the market opened.

we are seein' the south side of the chimp today...


David Brin said...

Catfish is right, the current phase of our civil war is the "confederacy" (manifest in certain attitudes that Mark Twain savagely rebuked -- boiling down to retro-feudalist-romanticism) trying to co-opt and take over the Union, instead of leaving it.

But this isn't new! They pulled the same thing from 1830 through 1861, when the south dominated the US federal government and used it ruthlessly to impose its will. As soon as blue america stood up and clearly had enough, secession from "federal oppression) became the cry. Expect no less, when gray -- no red -- America's romantic troglodytism gets slapped down again.

SO you guys know, I'm in New York Oct 15-18 and New Orleans Nov 4-6 and Brussels Nov 22.

Ford was the only Prexy whose hand I actually shook (after he retired)... though I saw Clinton play the saxophone from 20 feet away (before entering office.

Yes, Ford was a decent man, but the nation was ready to NOT have a Nixon appointee in office.


David Brin said...

sociotard, I just don't know. Sorry.

When I look at tax code complexity, it makes the Goldwater in me boil....

David Brin said...


LarryHart said...


But who takes the oath of office in Jan '13 will depend much on the economy. Will it remain simply unpleasant or will it devolve to absolute monkey-butt ugly?

What gets me about the Republican strategy is that they get to run against Obama on the bad economy even though they obstruct any move to alleviate that bad economy.

Not so much that they attempt such a strategy, but that it is apparently a successful one.

Tony Fisk said...

'This happened on *your* watch' is a standard and quite successful offensive strategy. (Never mind who arranged for it to happen on your watch; *you* were supposed to deal with it)

nooningi: an obscure astronomical alignment involving the moons of Saturn.

Tacitus2 said...

Betweeen patients saw Mitch Daniels on Jon Stewart. Might have been a rerun or new? Man, I want to insist he enter the GOP field. But I also realize that the same folks applauding him tonight would eviscerate him if he were the actual nominee....


David Brin said...

I was less impressed. Sure, he seems human and intelligent and he spoke of restoring the lost art of negotiating. But his dance seemed disingenuous.

He hinted everything's on the table, but refused absolutely to admit that meant rich-taxes were. I can see where he has to do that. But it's hardly bold.

And Stewart nailed him re calling for the rhetoric of grownup conversation, then shotgunning nasty remarks at Obama

I'd consider him worth a look if:
1. he actually came out shooting for the enlightenment (goldwater version)

2. he were in the playground of a SPLIT sane version of the GOP

3. I could feel sure that ANY GOP contender would not do what "maverick" McCain did in 2008... simply adopting whole the entire Bushite brain trust as his own.

Jonathan S. said...

LarryHart, I hadn't gotten hooked on Quantum Vibe until today, so thanks for that, as if I don't have enough webcomics to check on...

...but yes, when Mr. Graves was introduced a few strips back, the note said that "he may look familiar".

apprav: the approval of the depraved.

Acacia H. said...

Until you're reading 150+ comics like myself, you can't complain. :P

Okay. I read 150+ comics partly because I review them (and am adding new ones to find new comics to review) but still. ;)

Rob H.

matthew said...

Lamar Alexander leaving his leadership position in the senate is very interesting. On npr this morning he conceded that it was partially over his frustration over the no new taxes pledge. Perhaps some viable conservatives will coalesce around him

Paul451 said...

"As soon as blue america stood up and clearly had enough, secession from "federal oppression) became the cry."

This seems to have started happening as soon as Obama was elected.

Paul451 said...

Texas has ended the tradition of giving condemned prisoners a "last meal" request on the day of their execution.

""Enough is enough," state senator John Whitmire wrote to prison officials, prompting the move. "It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege. It's a privilege which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim." "

Paul451 said...

(edit: Because when we execute a criminal for a crime so heinous it justifies taking their lives, we want to model our standards of morality after that same criminal.)

(thenoc: thecalm, thesleep, thenoc.)

Catfish N. Cod said...

"It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege. It's a privilege which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim."

Going down that road leads you to "eye for an eye": executing people by re-enacting their crime. Shooting them and letting them bleed to death. I'm sure if Texas thought it could get away with that, it would implement it.

Dr. Brin's point on seccession reminds me that it was Governor Perry who suggested Texas secession wasn't a crazy idea only a year or so ago. Now he wants the Presidency? I google and, lo and behold, he was asked about that by FOX last night. He tried to wiggle out of it by pointing out he never flat out advocated it. True; and no major politician in Jim Crow flat out advocated lynching, either. But he can't avoid the impression that he's a neo-Confederate, mainly because he is.

The modern "states rights" movement was born out of the same mold as the old -- it's a way to half-secede while still parasiting the rest of us. My old neighbors want to ignore their social compact with the rest of the nation -- but still receive the subsidies to support their lifestyle. They don't want to face the economic and social consequences of what their ideology would lead them to. [Hint: look at Mexico and Brazil.]

Robert said...

No last meal for the condemned in Texas. Disgusting, but not surprising. A couple of debates back he also said he'd be happy to execute innocent people if he could get at the guilty ones too. Another sign that the New Lords are going to be worse than the old ones - the last meal goes far back into the Middle Ages.

As for secession: to hell with that, is there any way Texas can be expelled?

Bob P.

Robert said...

"He" in my previous comment is Perry.

Bob P.

Tim H. said...

Perry running for president makes me miss Molly Ivins sorely, she'd have his number.

Jacob said...

Hi Catfish N. Cod,

You are looking at the negative aspects of the 'modern States Rights' movement. There are also a several positive aspects to it.

It is possible to (as a nation - nationally) organize a set of options which do not include oppression of minorities or excessive callousness. Then allowing for state and local governments to choose from those option sets what best represents their ideals of government.

It isn't just about having less than average government in some areas. There should be options for urban, county, or state based Universal Health Care.

As with most concepts, there are good and bad motivations that feed into them. We need to look for the good and promote it while minimizing the bad.

TwinBeam said...

Sociotard: "Ron Paul Wasn't Joking About Letting Uninsured People Die -- His Uninsured Staffer Died of Pneumonia"

- Except, of course, that he didn't say that, jokingly or otherwise.

He did say that the hypothetical person should have gotten insurance, and did say that the responsibility to do so should lie with that young man, and he did answer "No" when Blitzer asked if the man should simply be allowed to die, and he did point other alternatives than government intervention for dealing with the financial consequences of that person's irresponsibility.

- And except that his staffer didn't die because he was denied health care due to lack of insurance, as you imply.

- And except that the staffer had a pre-existing condition that made medical insurance premiums very expensive, unlike in Blitzer's example of a young man who deliberately and irresponsibly chose not to spend a small amount on health insurance.

IMO it was use of an example of clearly and intentionally irresponsible choices, that got a few in the audience to answer "Yeah" in response to the "should society simply let such a person die" question.

David Brin said...

Paul, you run into secession hypocrisy all the time. The radical Quebecois kept threatening secession and Anglo Canada kept giving them concession after concession, until a lot of them got fed up and said: "Okay! Go on! Get out and see how you like it!"

Suddenly the Radical Quebecois realized the economic shit they would land in. And all the French signage in North America outside Quebec would go away. But the kicker was this...

Suddenly, instead of being in the relished position of indignant oppressed minority (in this modern era, that is an emotionally powerful position to be in) they would then be the oppressing majority, resented by dozens of other ethnicities in Quebec, and facing a big push by native tribes to secede on their own account.

There has hardly been a secessionist peep in the last 10 years. Texans need to be reminded that their own law of accession to the US allows them to break up into four pieces. If they break away, there will be millions of folks demanding two latino pieces. IO portray this in EXISTENCE.

Re Perry, how I wish I could have a beer with him and ask WHY he raised the issue that the South ruled the US federal govt from 1835 to 1860 and brutally oppressed the North with federal power from 1851. I totally agree... but I have real trouble seeing how it fits his worldview!

Robert said...


Great job bringing up Quebec. I was in Vancouver 10 years ago, and the street signs were in English and Chinese. I liked it; I've always been a Sinophile, which makes me hate their government all the more. Anyway, I asked someone how he liked signs in a foreign language and he said: "It's fine with me, as long as they're not in French."

The Quebeqi seceshes (Secesh is a Civil War slang term I'd love to see revived) wouldn't have just lost the Natives, they would have lost Montreal. The Montrealers are genuinely bilingual, and would not want to see English suppressed, any more than French. A lot of them referred to the Office de la langue Francaise as the "Holy Office" - the official name of the Inquisition.

Bob P.

David Brin said...


Ian said...

Since I'm obviously failing to explain myself, take look at this list. (Sort by the right hand column)

With the exception of the handful of outliers I mentioned (like East Timor which receives foreign aid that is about as large as its GDP and Zimbabwe which simply prints money and makes people accept it at gunpoint). there 's a clear positive correlation between general welfare (as measured by stuff like the HDI and rising levels of government spending relative to GDP).

Leaving aside the aforementioend outliers:

The countries with the lowest government spendign to GDP ratios:


(Singapore rather surpisingly comes in at #10 but that's largely due to a statistical fiddle where compulsory government-run pensions and medical insurance schemes are excluded).


The correlation isn't perfect but the trend is pretty clear.