Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Wonders and Disburbances Part 2: From Science to Politics

== A qualified defense of reason ==

(Continuing from Part 1)

Some have been discussing a grouchy missive by the brilliant linguistic philosopher George Lakoff -- specifically Lakoff's latest dismissal of reason as a tool of enlightenment decision making. It provokes me to respond.

Lakoff is completely right that so-called logical reasoning is extremely faulty because it fails to take into account human nature. For example, our biased perceptions were faulted by Plato, the father of the socratic tradition... though Plato went on to claim that such systems can fully compensate, by self-correcting for bad perceptions. One of the great ironies in the history of thought - since our human talent for delusion easily extends to the misleading incantations of "logic."

Also, recent advances in neuroscience seem to be supporting the cynics. As Lakoff points out, our brains seem wired for bias, which reasoning generally serves only to rationalize. We process new “facts” offered by our opponents through parts of the brain associated by emotion, rather than logic.  To see how bad it gets, just look at yourself, by taking my infamous “Questionnaire Regarding Politics, Ideology and Human Destiny.”

On the other hand, I must quibble --

Lakoff asserts that logic and reason are fundamental underpinnings of the Enlightenment Experiment.  And I will confess that they started out that way, and still are vital components of the non-Anglic (e.g. Franco-German) wing of the Enlightenment.

But the Anglo-American wing long ago demoted reason to second-tier status.  It is still important, as an ideal to be yearned-for. But primary position was given - by Locke, Smith, Franklin, and Madison to something else: Reciprocal Accountability.

Knowing how good human beings are delusion and at rationalization, the sages of the Enlightenment's pragmatic wing chose to emphasize adversarial processes, in markets, democracy, justice and science. Competitive criticism and reward systems, based on actual outcomes and repeatable tests were supposed to overcome the biases that the Founders knew to be inherent in human nature.

Let me elaborate: while reason has clearly been revealed as faulty, in guiding us to useful conclusions, it still serves science crucially well, as a hypothesis generator! As a fertile source - like manure - of the assertions and wagers that then make the basis for subsequent science.

By far most of the assertions that are later subjected to Popperian falsification arise, either wholly or in part, through processes of abstract reasoning.  In other words, reason is a great truth-seeking tool when it is paired with other essential things... diversity, competition, reciprocal accountability, experimental testing,... and a cultural tradition of cheerful -- or at least grudging -- acceptance of the paramount value of evidence.

As Herbert Spencer once wryly quipped... 'there is nothing so tragic as a beautiful theory, disproved.'  Well, tragic, except in comparison to 10,000 years of wrong theories that were forced upon folks, by bullying.

Sure, all of these ingredients come hard, especially willingness to heed criticism. Only scientists are actually trained to use them systematically, and still they squirm!  We are at-root, genetically and at-heart immature cavemen.  And yet, we are cavemen who built a spectacular enlightenment civilization, more successful in every way - including gentle decency - than all others combined. We did it by learning and applying reason... and then (a crucial second step) by refusing to be bullied by it. By subjecting it to the superior authority of evidence.

== Science & Society ==

And now for a catch-all potpourri that is NOT political!

-- Climate Change & Civil War: Starting with data on conflicts that killed more than 25 people, as compiled by the Center for the Study of Civil War to include 175 countries and 234 civil wars in the last six decades or so, the researchers mapped out how many of these disputes occurred in years with an El Niño weather pattern. They found that the risks of civil war breaking out in a tropical country during an El Niño doubled. Then, running a comparative simulation in which such El Niño weather patterns did not occur, the researchers determined that the hotter, drier conditions helped stoke 48 civil wars that did not occur in the modeled El Nino-free world. "Even in this modern world, climate variability has an impact on the propensity of people to fight," says climate modeler Mark Cane of Columbia University. "When people get warmer than comfortable they get irritable and they are more prone to fight." (Late note: there has been a lot of blogging by folks pointing to contrary evidence and studies. So take this with salt.)

-- To resolve conflict, believe people can change. Negotiation often fails because each side believes their opponent is inflexible, according to researchers in Israel. Stand-offs, they say, can end if those involved ponder the possibility that their counterparts can adopt a flexible mindset.

-- Identity in the modern world: Across India, using fingerprint & iris scanners, workers are creating the world’s largest biometric database, a mind-boggling collection of 1.2 billion identities. One goal: to reduce corruption & economic inequality. 12-digit ID numbers will help build real citizenship in a society where identity has been historically linked with caste, kin & religion. Ah, one hopes it won’t just serve as a tool of top-down control

-- Picture a world where tools improve with use. It’s the premise of my way-fun novel, The Practice Effect. Our own world may not work that way, but Tarus Balog suggests that open source software can follow that pattern. Version 1.0 may be bare bones, then users add features, erase glitches, till it becomes robust. Creative transparency. I have such a project!

== Science Snippets ==

-- Gorgeous! See time-lapse videos—captured over the course of 14 years by the Hubble Space Telescope. Amazing to see vast phenomena changing across the years.

-- Looking back: Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft Sees Earth and Moon from Afar.

-- Vaccines are nearly entirely safe.  But don’t try telling that to the cultists. On second thought.  Do. Try.  And keep on trying.  Your efforts may be the vaccine they need to wake up from the fever.

-- Human Activity Is Officially Acknowledged to Cause Earthquakes.

-- The Big Bang Theory: A fan video of the Barenaked Ladies theme song:  Even if they get the "cycle" of bangs wrong... it's still way cool!

== Miscellaneous ==

-- “From The 'London Times' of 1904” is one of Mark Twain’s sort of halfway sojourns into science fiction.  Read about an imaginary device called a “telelectroscope,” which was essentially a telephone with a “moving picture” screen that, when connected to a network of telelectroscopes all around the world, created a worldwide system of information sharing.

...and then how it inspires one sci fi reader to ponder “green SF.”

-- Speaking of Twain... ah boys will be boys.

-- Just watched the movie "Paul." From the trailers, I expected something like "Alf" - alien-as-male-jackass. So I watched it with just my 14 yr old son. We were pleasantly surprised! Sure, lots of immature jokes. But it was more subtle and well-written than expected. Way fun. And the story portrayed being a "Nebulon Award winning sci fi author" as the highlight of human existence! Well now... how can I complain or disagree? ;-)

-- Alyona Lompar has posted her Ukrainian translation of the first ten chapters of The Uplift War.

--  A cool short video about a woman who wakes up in prison and gets ahold of the gun from PORTAL.

-- Okay, slightly political: but this is important. It shows why those who benefit from “culture war” paint all sides as intransigent, unreasonable dogmatists.  See how I weighed in on this topic for 20 years, via my “questionnaire” that pokes at many of the assumptions that underlay ideology. Yes, even yours.

-- A new massively multiplayer game announced... one with real science and possibility... NASA's Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond. Set in the year 2035, you will embark on an adventure into space, Mars, the asteroid belt and the outer planets. You will uncover secrets about a threat to civilization as we know it. Here are some notes on the upcoming game:

•Real science, technology, engineering, mathematics and physics content is infused throughout the AMMB universe.

• Astronauts may pick from several character classes, including several types of Engineer, Physicists, and Pilots.

• AMMB is currently being developed using the Unreal Engine 3 platform.

• A playable beta is expected in December 2012.

• NASA sponsored the selection in the MMO competition, and Project Whitecard and WisdomTools comprise the winning team!

Hope it does well. It'd be nice to see some sci fi that celebrates our common adventure in civilization, instead of taking the cheap shots we keep seeing from both right and left.


Tony Fisk said...

On assuming your opponent can't change. Just read DeLint's novel 'Widdershins', which touches on that very point.

Flights between UK and Australia being the fun and distracting things they are, I caught up with a few of the current movie crop:
- Thor: Branagh and Straczynski tried to make a fine conflection out of Marvel beefcake (as well they should!) and were partially successful. At least Clarke's third law got thrown in as the premise, and the end left the ball in humanity's court (those freeloading Aesir are clearly using borrowed technology they don't know how to fix!)
- X-men: first class: A nicely thought out prelude. And, wow! An Englishman cast as a hero rather than a villain!
- Source Code: definitely has a few neurons firing, although it should have ended a few minutes early.

MMB: They don't find some 'relics' in the asteroid belt (like an old sf novella called 'Lungfish'), do they?

Paul451 said...

The, IMO, false equivalence between scientific empiricism and "reason" by Dawkins and co, in their war against religion, has always annoyed me.

Religion isn't illogical. It follows as logically from its assumptions as any human philosophy. Quantum mechanics, OTOH, is illogical as hell. Aristotle would spit in your eye.

Science doesn't have to be "logical", it cheats; empiricism is peaking at the answer sheet.

Paul451 said...

In the last thread I mentioned Demarchy (random government), and Venice. Just found a quote of how the Venetians chose their leader, the "Doge".

"Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge."

...then subtract the number you first thought of... wait, what?

And it apparently worked for 1000 years. Keeping any one powerful family from gaining advantage over the others, preventing the factionalism which undermined their rival city-states. The elected-for-life Doge was usually a wise-elder, rather than a power-hungry ambitious politician or the blind puppet of one.

Perhaps if limited to 10 year terms, with the Great Council being the Senate... maybe... I'm just saying...

(hopprop: Vote no on legalised hop.)

WatchfulBabbler said...

@Paul451 -- Somewhere there's an IEEE article that analyzes the Venetian election system and explains exactly how it could lead to stability.

It also helped that the Doges were essentially imprisoned rulers, personally responsible for funding the state, and under strict surveillance from other urban notables. Also, upon their deaths a court of review was convened, and their estates could be dismantled in the event any corruption or malfeasance was uncovered.

An interesting comparison can be made with the Doge of Genoa, technically a similar post, but arising from a city-state run by a small number of oligarchic families heavily involved in continental finance. The politics of Genoa were considerably more bruising, and thus doges had rather more limited tenures (and often more limited lifespans).

David Smelser said...

Here is the paper
Electing the Doge of Venice: analysis of a 13th Century protocol

David Brin said...

Wow you guys are interesting!
Great venetian stuff I never knew.

(And Paul's Sith/Jedi stuff, last time, was a hoot!)

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2 (on the previous thread):

I see no negative connotations to the word Liberal.

The elder-Bush campaign against Dukakis was when I first heard "liberal" used as a self-evident pejorative. That was also when "card carrying member of the ACLU" became something perceived as evil. I actually got my ACLU card as a protest against that.

It ["liberal"] is a synonym for generous. And indeed, when times are prosperous liberality is only fair. It gets a little more difficult in times of austerity, when favoring one group means taking from another.

Funny, I've been making that same argument in reverse. In times with plenty of land and resources available that don't already belong to someone else, it's well and good to talk about how "willing to work" a person is for a good standard of living.

In times where resources are scarce and most of the good stuff is already owned, then "willing to work hard" means willing to take away from the pool available to everyone else. It encourages a perpetual state of war.

Few conservatives really dislike generosity and progress, or by extention, Liberals and Progressives.

The Randroids most certainly DO dislike generosity and Liberals.

And David, regards the darker political and I equally hope you are wrong.

I'll third that hope. However, here Dr. Brin's 150% accuracy record works against "hope".

David Brin said...

Our ancestors won the earlier phases of America's recurring Civil War. Are we lesser men?

Acacia H. said...

That's what the Oligarchs are hoping and praying for. Of course, it's far simpler to point a gun at someone and shoot than to fight a philosophical war. The Oligarchs have won the hearts and minds of the most loyal of Americans. (One example is the deliberate blindness of my conservative friend - I sent him a link to the article by the Conservative Operative who quit the GOP and pointed out what the GOP was doing. He told me not to send him any political e-mails again. Willful blindness. And he's not the only one. Though I'm less worried about the willfully blind conservatives of Massachusetts...)

The problem is we're fighting a war of words with the wrong ammunition. Words are best fought with words. We need to recruit wordsmiths to twist Neoconservative and Oligarch words to nail home their disdain for their base so that the Loyal Conservatives either finally just refuse to vote... or work to elect someone who has their best interests at heart.

Though perhaps the best choice in that case is to recruit the most intelligent of the Blue Dog Democrats and send them into enemy territory. A few Blue Dogs could seize Republican ground and go to Washington with a willingness to negotiate with the Center-Left. If they stand their ground and refuse to bow to the corruption of the Far-Right... then they may lure more of Republicans away from the teats of the Oligarch... and slowly drag the Republican Party away from the precipice on which it is hanging from.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tacitus2 said...

Well, well, well. I finally got around to taking that test that rates you conserv/liberal and authoritarian/libertarian.

To my dismay I find that I am slightly in the liberal/libertarian quadrant.

I blame you all.

As I out of obligation hand in my conservative credentials I am given to wonder. Where in that quadrant do all of you fall?

Sheesh, must need a Deep Space Nine wormhole to get there!

Tongue slightly in cheek.


TheMadLibrarian said...

Wasn't a willingness to negotiate what got President Obama in trouble? We were hoping, I think, for someone like Jed Bartlet from the West Wing, and ended up with someone who acts more like Percy Milquetoast. Although I give him that it's difficult to negotiate with the "My way or the Highway" Party.


distralp: unhappy backside

David Brin said...

Tacitus, you never fooled anybody. You were always "one of us" in the general sense of being a future/progress/freedom/competition/uplift kind of guy.

But you add flavor and zest and contraryness to Contrary Brin and I hope this epiphany won't make you stop.

I was never a big fan of that version of the 2-D political axis, for reasons I go into at
It is better than most such attempts but also a bit tendentious and pre-biased and does a disservice by conflating several assumed traits of left and "right"

In my own 2-D axis I choose ONE LR trait and then add a third axis.

Acacia H. said...

Librarian, what I want to see is Blue Dog Republicans (Blue Dog Democrats who run on the Republican ticket) who are willing to negotiate with the Democrats. I want to see politicians who are willing to negotiate so to get the best deal for both Liberals and Conservatives. The problem being, of course, that in the wake of Bush's My Way or the Highway brand of Republicanism, any Republican willing to negotiate (outside of a couple Senators from Maine and one from Alaska, and they're threatened because of this willingness to work across aisles) has been thrown out of office by rabid oligarch-directed Tea Party primary voters.

That, and most of the moderate Republicans left the party, and thus are not likely to vote in a Republican primary. This is part of the reason why I want Open Primaries with the top two candidates going on to the General Election; ONE of the two will be a moderate who appeals to the center. Of course, the best situation would be if the two winners were intelligent and polite-but-determined members of the Center-Left and Center-Right, who then debated their way into winning the general election... sort of like what would happen if Huntsman won the Republican Primary.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

A quick question to you, Dr. Brin (as you're more likely to know) - where did the concept of people hardwired into computers and spaceships being able to "feel" pain when the ship or system was damaged originate? Was it Asimov (with the autistic boy able to remotely pilot a ship at Mercury I think) or another story where the concept originated?

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

No firm 'original' reference, but, via wikipedia:

- Anne McCaffrey's 'The Ship Who Sang' (1961)
- E.E. Doc Smith's 'Skylark of Valeron' (1934)

The term 'cyborg' originated in 1960. sf references go back as far as an Edgar Allen Poe story in 1843 (although no spaceships were involved)

sociotard said...

I just watched Paul It was pretty good. It honestly felt like I was watching the movie version of "how British people see the United States". All the things about us they find odd got brought out front and center.

sociotard said...

I think the idea of ships with a conciousness of their own goes back to sailors telling ghost stories.

Brendan said...

@Robert: Was it a ship or a remote controlled humanoid robot? I seem to remember the last lines being from the child's perspective and good it felt to finally be able to run and play.

I don't think Helva(The Ship Who Sang) could actually feel her outer hull, otherwise I don't think it would have been as easy for people to sneak onto her as sometimes happened.

The Hooded Swan books by Brian Stableford(1970s) focused heavily on the human/machine interface and the pain the pilot felt when forcing the ship to it's limits.

Acacia H. said...

I just had a small revelation concerning how print books can survive the advent of e-books: working with them. Part of this comes from a book review where it stated purchasers of the print book would be eligible for a free e-book. This made me think of the linking of DVDs and BluRays with digital downloads (in that you purchase the disc and get a code for a digital download).

So book publishers could just include a code (under a rip-tag or the like) in the book so that readers can go online, download the book, and have both print and e-versions of said book. Print books remain viable with e-books being a format that works with the regular book (similar to digital download movies).

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

The thought I've had is for bespoke publishers printing (paid for) e-books on demand (if that is the preferred viewing format)

wRONgainey said...

Very minor point, but you got Tarus Balog's name wrong.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main posting:

-- To resolve conflict, believe people can change. Negotiation often fails because each side believes their opponent is inflexible, according to researchers in Israel. Stand-offs, they say, can end if those involved ponder the possibility that their counterparts can adopt a flexible mindset.

While this makes a good amount of sense, what about when your opponent really IS intransigent.

I mean, if I point out that the House Republicans are compeltely intransigent, it sounds as if I'm blatantly engaging in the fallacy you are talking about, and that a better outcome would be achieved by overcoming my prejudices and accepting the fact that those guys are trying their best as well.

But isn't that exactly how President Obama has shot himself in the foot over and over again. He presumes the GOP will act like grownups, and they fail to do so again and again?

I understand where the presumption of one's opponent's intransigence can be trap, but what about when the evidence really does point to it being the case?

David Brin said...

You offer them chances to see that YOU would be flexible... But yeas, this explains whyBeck etc insist on portraying liberals as leftists, cramming into their mouths opinions they do not have. Because it is crucial to portray the non-dogmatists as dogmatists.

David Brin said...

This from an observant fellow during the Great San Diego Blackout: “when we lost power yesterday along with the rest of San Diego County. The electric eye-activated toilets and urinals in the new buildings were all nonfunctional, whereas the older models (with actual handles) in place in the older buildings worked fine. Exclusively installing toilets that don’t function without electricity in new buildings just seems like a bad idea.”

Stefan Jones said...

The non-operational toilet and sink problem was noted in the big NYC blackout a few years back.

(The city and its people handled that incredibly well. And like San Diego this week, the populace were amazed by the un-light-polluted night sky.)

TheMadLibrarian said...

We have electric-eye sink faucets and toilets in our library, and are phasing them out as they eventually become nonfunctional. They either won't activate, or run at random times without human intervention. A mechanical solution that consistently works is much preferable to a fancy electronic one that is buggy. Everyone here knows the old fix for flushing toilets is to dump a standard bucket of water straight into the bowl, right?

*insert comparison of nonfunctional toilet to Congress here* :)


propar: professional propriety

Acacia H. said...

Here's something that's absolutely bizarre and yet true - an instance of parody and satire becoming truth. Specifically, the Onion predicted what President Bush's tenure would become:

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin, I just finished my third reading of "Earth". I wanted to say that I've found it more and more relevant to today's headlines on each re-reading.

I also read the afterword, in which you confirmed that your intent was, as I had speculated, to write the equivalent of the "great American novel" covering the planet rather than just one country. In this humble reader's opinion, you did very well on that score.

I was always impressed with the new visual images your books impart into my psyche, such as the description of how the sea must have long ago broken into what is now the Mediterranean Sea, but it wasn't until this third reading that I realized that that obscure descriptive passage actually foreshadowed an important element of the climax of the book (deliberate obscurity to avoid spoilers).

I'm running out of Brin novels to re-read ("Kiln People" is probably next), so I can't wait for EXISTENCE. Thanks for all you do.

LarryHart said...

A question for the knowledgeable Keynsians among us (I myself being an un-knowledgable Keynsian):

Paul Krugman mentions on his blog that he was dog-tired from traveling when he was seated on-stage during President Obama's Thursday speech, and that he looked like he was scowling because he was stifling yawns. Am I correct to take the mere fact that Paul Krugman WAS on-stage to be in and of itself a good sign? This inquiring mind wants to know.

soc said...

Am I the only one who thinks Netanyahu is in over his head, with hundreds of thousands protesting in Tel Aviv because of economic issues, the Arab world undergoing massive change (on which he seems to be caught flat-footed), and now the Turks throwing their weight around like they're trying to bring back the Ottoman Empire.

Speaking of Turkey. I find it weird that a military is considered the protector of modernity, secularism and all values Western. Seems like a contradiction. I guess that's what happens when your founder is a general, especially in a country that isn't actually Western. Ataturk basically strong-armed the country towards the West. I doubt he'd be happy to find out that today, Turkey is heading back to the Middle East. Did Turkey ever have a chance of being a Western country?

Acacia H. said...

Netanyahu is a case study for most Neo-Conservative leaders. His foreign policy has been disastrous for his nation, his domestic policy has harmed many of his people, and his refusal to treat the Palestinians as humans worthy of negotiating with has driven the Palestinians to take the route they don't want but have been forced (to go to the United Nations and then the World Court).

Given the protests going on right now, I seriously wonder what would happen if elections were being held in Israel right now. I suspect the Conservatives would be losing power big, especially as Israel's conservatives haven't the advantages of American conservatives in terms of idiocy of the population. But seeing that Israel isn't a democracy... we'll probably see Palestine accepted by 95% of the U.N. and Netanyahu declaring martial law because of the emergency and refuse elections because of the ongoing crisis.

Then again, that might be my inner cynic speaking once more...

Rob H.

Brendan said...

I think Netanyahu's government is an example of some of the problems that can occur when you have a minority government. In Netanyahu's case he had to make deals with some real crazys to get over the line, and that has seriously constrained what he can do.

soc said...

The US will veto the bid at the UN, then we'll be back to square one. It's Turkey's behaviour I'm wondering about...

Acacia H. said...

Actually, there is a second path. If most of the U.N. votes to give Palestine "observer status" then they have the ability to bring lawsuits up in the World Court. Which will lead to lawsuits against settlers in the West Bank. In short it's a legal long-cut that would further isolate Israel as they will refuse to acknowledge the authority of the World Court... and the U.S. will be in a very uncomfortable position.

It may not go that far. The Conservative government is in trouble. More liberal elements are aligning themselves with the protest movement and may very well with the next elections (assuming they take place) be able to form a government in place of Conservatives... and then if they combine removing settlers with land use reforms and monopoly busting, defuse issues with the West Bank (after all, if Israel is removing settlers, other lawsuits in the World Court would be less likely to make much headway and Israel would regain a bit of standing in the international theatre).

That's a big "if." The big issue would be busting the monopolies. Even the barest hint of this might result in said monopolies aligning fully behind Conservatives... and doing everything in their power (including by crook) to keep Conservatives in power. We'd have to wait and see, basically.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

And on a more amusing musical note, here's a YouTube video on a bunch of people who wake up after a night of drinking. It includes the various stupid things that happen - waking up with someone not your boy/girlfriend, finding out you did drugs, that you e-mailed pics of body parts to bosses, that your house is trashed, and so on. (On a surreal moment, around the 1:41 moment as the accidental cheaters are freaking out, you can see a person floating face-down in the pool. No one ever notices.)

Seriously. This is absolutely hilarious. And well worth watching.

Rob H.

soc said...

I wasn't aware that Israel or the US recognized any of those international courts. Even Turkey, which is huffing and puffing about taking Israel to the International Court of Justice, doesn't actually recognize that court!

I'm not convinced that "isolation" will be productive. Israelis have had their backs against the wall many times, and if the past is any indication they'll come out swinging - with the US backing them up to the hilt.

btw, does anyone remember a few years ago when an Israeli official floated the idea of handing Gaza over to Egypt? The Egyptians shot the idea down pretty fast, if I recall correctly.

Well, what if they tried that again but offered it to Turkey instead. Erdogan has put himself in a position where turning it down publically will be very difficult.

Israel could say "You know what? You win. Gaza is yours, but you are responsible for anything Hamas does." How exactly could Erdogan manoeuvre himself out of that one?

sociotard said...

An article I just found about a former Mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus. He used to be a teacher of Math and Philosophy. the article makes him out to be an interesting politician.

Paul451 said...

Good news and bad news.

Bad news is that Antarctica has crabs.

Good news is that someone is deliberately poisoning rhinoceroseses.

(einse: Zer iz only one variety! Und ve 'ave veys of making you soup.)

sociotard said...

An article about the Pharma scandal that the wikileaks State Dept. cables uncovered.

Essentially, the state dept. pressured governments to protect pharmaceutical intellectual property. On the other hand, that means no cheap drugs for people in those countries.

The same article also has some biting remarks for Obama's war on transparency:

Many of the cables are in theory available under our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In practice, the Obama Administration has made it more difficult to obtain information about trade practices under FOIA, and in many respects is even more aggressive about secrecy in IPR negotiations than was the Bush Administration.

Stefan Jones said...

New alternate-history satire on The Onion:

U.S. Commemorates 9/11 By Toasting Stable Afghan Government From Top Of Freedom Tower

Brilliant. Savage. Heartbreaking.

'cessess': What you celebrate when your correctly deal with septic tank issues.

Dirko said...

In regards to Paul being a worthy film, my wife and I could barely drag ourselves through it. It's a dog (and we raise dogs). In regard to "wonders and Disburbances", the speculation seems more akin to the thinking that the protagonist of WE found in the subways of Moscow. Our society is disintegrating and we at the Montana Sanctuary are eager to engage in dialogue with those who wish to change things: The first step is getting together in a hot tub.

David Brin said...

Wish we could get congress critters & their wives into a cross-party hot tub

rewinn said...

Why Amazon Can't Make A Kindle In the USA came out in Forbes last month, but should be required reading for anyone interested in stopping our slide into 3rd-world status. No easy answer though.

Brendan said...


Great piece! My favourite bit was the Rudolph Giuliani gag.

Tony Fisk said...

Heh, heh, heh...!

Patrick 'Moby' Farley's just re-surfaced with a preliminary (text only) script for Spiders Ch 3*. Read that (I suspect Stefan already has) and then go back to the Onion's piece...

*warning: is graphic, even without pictures!


After that bit of disturbance, check out this bit of wonder.

munsild: a lesser valkyrie, given to riding out of books and across poppy fields...

Paul451 said...

"Wish we could get congress critters & their wives into a cross-party hot tub"

Given the Congressional divorce rate, I don't think it'd be their wives.

Acacia H. said...

Or even necessarily members of the opposite gender. And I'm not talking about the openly gay members of Congress.

(Please note, I don't have any problem with same-sex relationships. I'm just being snarky about Congress adn their... mishaps.)

sociotard said...

especially when it happens to involve a page. Yeesh.

Robert C. said...

anyone ever read Hunter Wallace shows me exactly what is behind the Tea Party. Jim Crow. This is the guy that made me recoil from the right.

rewinn said...

@Robert - I don't know how to thank you for that. So I probably won't ;-)

Seriously, I too often forget that there are some seriously sick puppies out there. The internet makes is easier to share the bad as well as the good. Let us hope that this makes us on the whole better. I'm not sure whether racists don't realize that they are poisoning their future history, or they don't care.

Tim H. said...

Just another aspect of the Compound Failure, keep the little people's focus off of the true threat. Wonder how they square racial purity with humanity's wanton behavior?

sociotard said...
NASA will announce a new discovery by its Kepler planet-hunting telescope on Thursday (Sept. 15), in a press conference featuring astronomers and — oddly — a representative from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).

The announcement is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) and will broadcast and webcast live on NASA TV.

The San Francisco visual effects company, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd., was founded in 1975 by filmmaker George Lucas to produce the effects for his "Star Wars" films. [Gallery: The Strangest Alien Planets]

Tacitus said...

I always try to adhere to the Topic Title, and today I think I can cover Wonders, Science and Politics. And I am a little disturbed!

1. Write M.Bachman out of the presidental race. You can't make a serious point out of anti vacc. hysteria and expect to go anywhere in a general election. This is real anti-science, where the data is not open to discussion (although cost benefit matters are worth a look). At least it is a bipartisan sort of folly, the anti vacc ninnies have their share of misguided progressives in their ranks.

2. although I have recently become aware of my being a crypto liberal/libertarian, I had no luck appreciating the Obama jobs speech. Heck, you can make a case for biggifying the stimulus, but just call it that. Once in the Carter admin an editorial slip up allowed the phrase "more mush from the wimp" to run as a headline. I am getting that feeling. But I was still ok with it until the part about it all being paid for came up....

Well, all paid for if the Congressional Supercommittee finds another half a trill in the sofa cushions. And really, can't we be honest about taxes? You want to raise taxes on the rich, fine, do it. But as I understand it what is supposed to mostly fund Stimulus Jr. is eliminating itemized deductions for the rich. Mortgage deduction, ok. But charitiable deductions? This was a bad idea when floated (and shot down) in 2009. Carnigie Libraries? Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Local food pantries and woman's shelters? You really, seriously, want to lay waste to entities like this in order to divert more money to core Dem voting groups?

Cynical politics at its basest, Obama has no intention of passing anything he just wants to make the Republicans look bad.


Detritus of Empire

Brendan said...

What? Obama is Going to use the tactics the Republicans have been using against him for the last three years? Off with his halo! Strip away his wings! The man doesn't deserve your vote.

Acacia H. said...

Until you look at his likely replacements. Parry (as Colbert calls him) or Romney. While it would be nice to think Romney is trying to pull the wool over his Republican base's eyes, I suspect this wolf in sheep's clothing would bite us with his "Corporations are people" (who should have more rights than people, most likely) belief structure makes me unwilling to support him.

Let's face it: once again, the Democrats are forced to vote for? The Lesser of Two Evils. Let's hope it doesn't bite us Independents in the ass.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

I prefer the phrase "The Evil of Two Lessers..." ...

... but seriously, folks. Obama was the 2nd or 3rd most corporatist of the Democratic Party candidates in 2008 (after Clinton and Liebermann) and so it is no surprise to me that he is governing somewhere to the right of Nixon (...who, as we all remember, used wage and price controls for several years ... which would perhaps get him executed in Perrymerica...).

It is one thing to have theoretical debates about the value of this or that theory (?liberalism? conservativism?), and values debates over preferred wealth distribution (?progressive vs. anything-goes?), but to the extent that American politics are now focussed on dispute over basic facts such as the danger of global warming, it's very difficult to advocate for science without taking a political position. This is not good; regardless of our ideological differences, we should at least agree that vigorous fact-based analysis should underlie our political discussions.

But ( stretch back to Dr. Brin's OP...) how can facts be reintroduced to political discussions in a pursuasive way? Raw factiness can fail in pursuasive efforts when they are presented in a geeky way (...otherwise Presidents Dukakis and Gore would have followed Carter's 2nd term.) If it is impractical to turn all voters into scientists, there must be some science behind the art of persuading non-scientists that can be fairly employed. But what is it?

David Brin said...

Wisdom Tacitus... as a physician you are reacting to the portion of culture war that is attacking medicine. What I wish you'd realize is that this is not just Bachman, or just an isolated case.

"the anti vacc ninnies have their share of misguided progressives in their ranks."

True enough! You oft hear me bemoan crazies on the left. Problem is one of nomenclature. "progressive" is more correlated with liberals, who are (for now) a VERY VERY different beast than lefty flakes.

You are right that 450billion$ is nowhere near what the true Keynsian medicine we need is. But that is all Obama can pay for by demanding an end to hugely unpopular tax deductions for oilcos and such. (notice the mood swing? 6 months ago he would have had no leverage on attacking deductions. Now the public mood seems more open to NOT calling that a tax increase.)

Look, very clearly Bush and company plunged us into a genuine, full tilt, no question DEPRESSION. The massive stimulus measures of 08 & 09 leveled it off to appear to be a really, really bad recession. But the differences are inherent, like between a cold and the flu.

The charity deduction thing may be a ploy to get the Gates types to ramp up their efforts re raising the 15% dividend tax rate. Obama can't propose that because it is a genuine tax increase.

Jacob said...

"Look, very clearly Bush and company plunged us into a genuine, full tilt, no question DEPRESSION."

I feel compelled to comment that it wasn't Bush and company that plunged us into a depression. Rather it was the philosophy of ~Hands off the Free Market~ that did. They are definitely linked as Bush and company saw to it that government failed at its role as a regulator. I think that it is important to make this distinction because Bush will not be back, but the philosophy is still a part of our political process. It is not unique to Republicans; though it is doctrine there.

I second David Brin in encouraging people to read Adam Smith.

Tacitus said...

I am commenting for the moment solely on the unserious nature of the vaunted big jobs speech.

Per the NY Times

400 billion would be raised by eliminating itemized deductions by higher income taxpayers. I guess that leaves 50 billion from those nasty oil companies.

Most discussions of the issue vaguely refer to "certain deductions" being eliminated. It takes a bit of digging to get a sense that it is mostly charitable deductions.

Look, I can sure see that some charitable deductions may be abused. But private charity is a big part of American life and of the social safety net. It is irresponsible to dismantle this informal but very traditional part of society.

It is also dishonest to imply that we could do this and not have many unintended effects. Some have in fact hinted that increasing dependence on governmental support systems over alternative ones is the whole point of this.

But it probably does not matter, odds of this coming to pass are miniscule.


Jacob said...

"Look, I can sure see that some charitable deductions may be abused. But private charity is a big part of American life and of the social safety net. It is irresponsible to dismantle this informal but very traditional part of society."

I'd like you to replace 'Charitable Deductions' with 'Government Programs'. Hopefully that will reveal to you that we should go after the abuses in both. It is the manner that we do so that matters. Being prudent while active is the smart course of action. It should be the conservative course of action.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, it may surprise you to learn that I agree with you mightily. I do not want all good deeds done by Uncle Sam. I am a big believer in the power of spiteful generosity... in rich people doing good things partly in order to keep "their money" out of the feds hands.

See where I discuss this at

Jacob said: I feel compelled to comment that it wasn't Bush and company that plunged us into a depression. Rather it was the philosophy of ~Hands off the Free Market~ that did."

I agree that some of it can be laid on Clinton's doorstep, for giving in to the co-opting of liberalism into reducing standards for mortgages as a way to help the poor. The MAIN charge on this was republican and from the finance industry, rubbing their hands because by citing this as a way to help poor people, they discharged all liberal suspicions... and clinton should have been suspicious.

But the plunge was vastly accelerated under Bush. Moreover our fiscal position... being able to use Keynsian stimulus to simply spend our way out of this ... was utterly ruined by spendthrift wastrel frittering of up to %trillion $ on wars and tax cuts for the rich. All of that is 100% Bush & co.

Further. None of what I said even dips into my own paranoid crazy trip -- which all the evidence supports and none refutes and which correlates with events far better than any other theory. That all of this was intentional.

PS... in my article on eon... I point out that Gates etc can look at different parts of the needs horizon than a govt can.