Saturday, December 31, 2011

A year of peril...And a year of promise

As we look back upon 2011, let's take a bigger perspective by peering a century further in time. The year 1911 was amazing in many ways. Amundsen and Scott were racing for the South Pole's “last place on Earth” - illustrating how new technology can amplify both competence (when it is present) or else blithering stupidity. (Do rent the 1990s miniseries The Last Place on Earth.)

It is also the centennial of the publication - by Hugo Gernsback - of some of the earliest American science fiction --those gosh-wow Amazing Stories reflecting an era of unbridled optimism... just before the world crashed into decades of dogma, fury and tech-amplified war. Have a look at this brief appreciation of Gernsback.

I often reflect back upon the mood that prevailed in 1910, and 1911... and even 1912, when it looked as if the great genius progressive, Teddy Roosevelt, might come back to inspire even greater can-do enthusiasm. Inventions poured forth at a staggering rate, transforming the lives of millions in a rapidly-burgeoning middle class, suddenly possessed of cars, radios, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, frozen foods, vitamins, train travel and access to the very sky itself. Which seemed to be no limit...

... till fewer than a dozen vapid members of an inbred oligarchy indulged in their worst moronic impulses and plunged the world into hell.  The First World War was a calamity that simply did not have to happen. One might liken it to a spasm by the Olde Order against the surge of egalitarian hope that would soon make Czars and Kaisers obsolete... and it is a sample of the kind of rulership we’ll go back to, if oligarchy returns.

* Here’s a cool look at “100 years in 10 minutes.”


* Want science and scientific issues to be debated in 2012? Is it about time for candidates to show if they know (or care) about actual facts? Half of US economic growth since 1945 came from scientific and technological advances (and a second “national debt clock” should show how deep the US government would be in the black, if it got minimal royalties off satellites, pharmaceuticals, electronics and so on!) Yet, that source of our power and wealth is languishing. Make it an issue! Donate to Science Debate 2012!  Make President Obama and his opponents face this square-on. And see how bad (and good) it’s become.

* Want to get even more vigorous in defending the future from ambition-haters on both right and left! At the Extreme Futurist Festival in Marina del Rey, Dr. Kim Solez expanded on an idea from AI researcher Ben Goertzel: Could a holiday — a “Future Day” — help bring the ideas bouncing around the scientific world to the masses?

* Of course, if you really hanker to change the world in all the ways you think that it should change, visit my page about Proxy Power.


Some original thinking is taking place, in the realm of transparency and the future of information flow.  Starting from some riffs that I offered in The Transparent Society, a group centered around the notion of an “internet of things” has offered an Idea Contest that might be worth a look.

Are we heading toward the City of Control?  The City of Trust?  Or - as I suppose - the City of Reciprocal Accountability and positive -sum games?

Do you imagine that the choice between Big Brother and Reciprocal Transparency is far away?  Think again. “The audio for all of the telephone calls made by a single person over the course of one year could be stored using roughly 3.3 gigabytes. Information identifying the location of each of one million people to that accuracy at 5-minute intervals, 24 hours a day for a full year could easily be stored in 1,000 gigabytes, which would cost slightly over $50 at today’s prices. For 50 million people, the cost would be under $3000.”   See:  Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments, a report from the Brookings Institution.


* The Toaster Project, by Thomas Thwaites  - Making a toaster from raw materials. Very similar to the idea I keep pushing (and have for 20 years) for a TV series called REBUILDING EVERYTHING (FROM SCRATCH!) Also see Thwaites' TED talk on the toaster.

* Speaking of “toasters”... read The Future of Moral Machines, a fascinating discussion of the philosophical and practical problem of enhancing increasingly intelligent robotic systems with the ability to make “moral” choices.  Also see: Unaccountable Killing Machines: The True Cost of U.S. Drones.

Then see a comprehensive rumination about Drone Ethics: Robots at War in The Atlantic. Alas, as is always the case at that magazine, there’s not even a whiff of respect for the advanced thinking about this topic that has appeared in the pages of thoughtful science fiction.

* Here's an accumulation of articles and speculations by David Brin about science fiction.  What is the tense relationship between SF and fantasy? How can both genres help kids and help civilization?  Is the coming transparent society inspired by sci fi? What about future visions of biology? The environment? Plus Asimov! Dune! and cool Youtube surprises.

*  Why would aliens want to invade us?  Phil Plait does a great job dipping in the shallow end with this whimsical take-down of movie cliches....

Sure, most movie reasons seem pretty lame.  Resources?  Much easier to get from comets/asteroids.  Our bodies?  Lame excuse; they could breed cattle to carry their implanted parasite-young.  And why attack JUST when we’re ready to defend?

Still there are others. Other worrisome possibilities you've likely never imagined.  Stay tuned for... Existence!


And now a science potpourri!

* Natural bridges over the Marianas Trench -- At least four bridges span the ocean depths!

* Comet Lovejoy - the comet that streaked the sun... and lived! From the International Space Station!  A newfound comet defied long odds on Dec. 15, surviving a suicidal dive through the sun's hellishly hot atmosphere coming within 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) of our star's surface.  Researchers expected the icy wanderer to be completely destroyed. But Comet Lovejoy proved to be made of tough stuff. A video taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft showed the icy object emerging from behind the sun and zipping back off into space.  Here’s to comets... and cometologists!  (And learn more at Heart of the Comet.)

* Faster than light neutrinos?  Click on the video.

* Duh! moments from science!

* Artist Andy Gracie is attempting to breed a strain of fruit fly that could survive on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

* This is fun: Explore the slingshot effect.

* Watch flying robots build a 6-meter tower.

* Somebody try out  and report back to the rest of us?

* Is solar power experiencing a major price breakthrough? Actually, I see SEVEN new techs that might (perhaps) experience profound breakthroughs in the next four years or so.

* Capable of producing a beam of light so intense that it would be equivalent to the power received by the Earth from the sun focused onto a speck smaller than a tip of a pin, scientists claim that a new laser planned to be built in Europe could allow them boil the very fabric of space – the vacuum.

=== Even MORE Miscellaneous! ===

* Coffee & Power, an online network for connecting people together to hire each other for small jobs, or “missions,” has opened its first official workclub in Santa Monica, CA. It’s the first expansion of Philip Rosedale’s (Second Life) “meta-company” outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

* With 3-D printing, manufacturers can make existing products more efficiently—and create ones that weren't possible. before.  Meanwhile, professional solid modeling tools such as AutoCAD and SolidWorks and 3-D printer kits costing less than $1,500 are making 3-D printing cost-effective and time-saving.

That’s is for 2011. 

Let's make 2012 the year that gloomy forecasts fail. I plan to finish the year, marking the solstice on the steps of a Mayan temple! 

And I hope we all will strive to prevent Robert Heinlein's dread foretelling of Nehemia Scudder! Welcome to 2012.  May it not be a year of twits shouting Armageddon, or dopey nostalgia! May it be the year of restored science, confidence and calm, adult negotiation... and a restored sense of delight in the future.


Acacia H. said...

On a slightly positive and slightly world political note, Iran is making noises of offering to go back to the negotiation table concerning its nuclear policy. It is believed that new sanctions may be the final straw breaking the Iranian camel's back. And I have to wonder what this might do for the political scene.

Think of this. How many Republican candidates have declared their desire to bomb Iran into the stone age? Only Paul has been talking about the use of sanctions as an act of war and just leaving the Iranians alone. The rest want to declare war on Iran.

Yet if Iran does return to the negotiation table... it suggests that Obama's foreign policy (speak softly and carry a large stick) may be working. And the Iranians may be concerned over the fact they know they CAN'T stop the American War Machine... and realize that China and Russia may let them burn. Better to let Obama look good and lose some face on the short run... but remain in power in the long run.

So then. What do the Republicans do with their rhetoric if Obama's policies look to be working? Americans are tired of war. I doubt that Republicans could make Obama look bad if Iran starts playing nice (if only appearing to in the short run)... and if Iran decides to abandon its attempts to build the Bomb and instead play nice to get those sanctions lifted (which could very well save the regime) then Obama's foreign policy is vindicated.

Given that unemployment is going down, Republicans stimmied any attempt at fixing the economy, and foreign policy may be working Obama's way... Republicans may end up not having an effective weapon to use against Obama. Sure, they can TRY to use the economy against him... but when Democrats start using Republican obstructionism against them on the local level, it'll bleed to the national level. And you just know some Democrats WILL use this against the Republicans... and will succeed in painting Republicans with the brush of truth.


On an interesting note, due to SOPA, some hackers and the like are advocating to launch several satellite to provide internet access to all that bypasses censorship attempts. Of course, naysayers suggest that any nation could easily blow those satellites out of the sky... but I have to wonder what the repercussions of that would be. After all, any private communications satellite could then be targeted... and a lot of rich companies would protest lest they are targeted in turn.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

David Brin said...

If the economy does improve, that would be the exact time for Obama to openly say... "I lied to all of you!"

COntinuing: "Upon entering office, I saw all the figures and realized, this was no recession. It was a full-tilt Depression. But I did not dare use that word and ruin fragile confidence. Our measures prevented the full brunt from hitting our citizens, but the TIMING is that of a full depression...

"... and only now that it is ebbing can I use that word, and tell you how proud I am of all of you, for weathering it with courage and strength worthy of our ancestors in the Greatest Generation.

"I'm sorry I was less than candid with you. Forgive me... and forgive those who drove the car off the cliff in the worst, most ruinous misrule America experienced since Herbert Hoover... or even James Buchanan."

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

Thanks for another mix of the interesting.
I started my SF reading with Astounding, but there were still some older Amazing magazines available in the 2nd hand shops. I honestly didn't like them, I thought they were a bit too simplistic.

Really thanks for that link to the quadrocopters building that tower. I plan to use it to show my class that computer programming has a real-world relevance.
Imagine using them scaled up in major construction projects.
Imagine them armed with tazers (or worse)patrolling shopping malls.

Lastly, I have always been afraid that the USA would slip into a fascistic religious society as per RAH's collection "Revolt in 2100".
Having recently travelled through the USA as a transit passenger (Via LAX); well done, you're halfway there.

Tim H. said...

A small 2012 promise:
A credit card-sized, ARM powered linux computer, for about the money I paid for my first 2nd hand 8-bit Atari. Should help with that digital divide thing.
"fedaly", sometimes the best way to solve the nation's problems.

David Brin said...

Tim left out the "p" in Raspberry.

Seems worthy. There are many such "cheap computer" endeavors. One of many trends that may become transformative, this year.

J. Daniel Sawyer said...


No mention of the last, worst news of 2011? One of the biggest political challenges of 2012 is going to be getting NDAA repealed.

Between his escalation of the drug war, his lack of bully-pulpit exhortation on behalf of people's right of free speech during the street wars in New York and Oakland (and other places), his waffling support of SOPA (disgraceful for someone who allegedly knows how the Internet works), and his covert sponsorship and public disavowal of NDAA, Obama has had a sorry 2011, showing himself to be very much on the side of the oligarchs you rightly rail against.

Supporting science isn't enough to make a presidency worthy of support. Bush did a hatchet job on the Constitution (and fascilitated massive theft from the public coffers on a few occasions), then Obama came right along behind him with more of the same command-and-control attitude.

It shouldn't be surprising--he has an Ivy League pedigree and he was groomed by the Daly political machine--but the guy is just so darn likable that he's so far getting away with murder (which, to be fair, he's now legally entitled to do).

I suspect that your diagnosis of the great danger to the republic is wrong in this respect: Americans are, as a majority, very, very suspicious of right-wing demagogues. We get training in that suspicion almost from infancy, seeing the Nazis as the bad guys in movies. We do not get the same kind of training in suspicion of left-wing or of left-leaning establishment demagogues. Bush has power for eight years, and he had a blank check from a cowardly and complicit Congress, but it took Obama to plunge the country into what is effectively a covert declaration of martial law.

A disgusting way to start a new year. My major source of comfort is that I am convinced that what we're seeing is the death-throes of the 20th century elites and their understanding of how power (both political and economic) works. The scientific and technological fundamentals are too well established in too many countries for the next revolutions in biotech, nanotech, materials tech, and private spaceflight to fail to kick us into another high gear of uplift.

And the current death throes are also getting the Gen Y crowd engaged in politics for the first time. It's harder to have a successful authoritarian crackdown when your entire young-and-hungry generation is determined to have their party no matter how many cops you send to bust it up.


David Brin said...

Dan, I am sorry, but that's all a load. You are ignoring what Obama accomplished under terribly difficult circumstances. Amid the third phase of the American Civil War, he pushed through revolutionary improvements in health care and in consumer protection... none of which have been fully implemented because the dems haven't the guts to fight Gopper filibusters... But they are on the books. Clocks are ticking.

Despite right wing howls, the new mileage standards are working. Detroit is booming and we are getting huge increases in energy efficiency.

Blatantly what we are in is a depression, not a recession. It has been shallow because of actions taken during that first year, but it is long-duration. Depressions are like that, with slow recoveries. And... we are down to ONE war!

You'd compare that record to the GOP's plunging us TOWARD and OVER the cliff?

All right, you are a cynic so let's go cynical. What is the WORST that can happen if either party gains overwhelming power? The GOP owned all three branches of the US Govt and sped straight for a cliff, with not ONE metric of national health improving and nearly all plummeting... with civil rights under relentless attack and secret power vested in narrow hands.

And that was by a very different Republican Party than today's. One that uttered lip service to the social conservatives without giving them a single thing they wanted. Bankrupting America while opening our veins to rich parasites and plunging us into two trillion dollar wars... those were the main effects. But the NEXT time the GOP runs it all, you will get Nehemiah Scudder.

In contrast, the WORST scenario for the dems? Feh? they'll raise taxes for the rich, spend a bit more (tho they have cred under Clinton for paying down debt). SUpport more science. Maybe force all children to undergo gay indoctrination and burn flags every day in school. So?

By character, goppers are disciplined and march in step. By character, democrats are CATS. If (as I pray) this were-creature the GOP has become gets routed in the fall, the dems will thereupon fix a few things... then fractionate into sub groups and go at each others' throats! Indeed, there is ZERO danger of tyranny. Because they talk too much.

(Indeed, that is how we'd probably get a good and decent conservative/libertarian party in America, at last! Crush the GOP and fill DC with dems... and you'll soon have two parties or three or four. None of them run by Rupert Murdoch.

J. Daniel Sawyer said...

David --

I beg to differ on two points: First, I'm not a cynic, I'm a serious optimist over the long term.

Second, I'm certainly not arguing that the current crop of Republicans is any better (not by a long shot). And I'm very much with you on the danger of Scudder. I am arguing, though, that Obama's contiuation of the assault on habeus corpus, civil rights, and the bank and corporate bailouts are still edging us in that direction.

You may well be right that the path of least destruction (or, indeed, of best improvement) lies with the Democrats. Over the short term, however, based on their recent track record (since the late 1990s) I don't see a hell of a lot of reason to be thusly optimistic. Perhaps I'm looking at one set of cats and you're looking at another, but when I take a good hard look at the two big parties I see a choice between "which industries do you want to subsidize from the public purse?"

(Not that I expect either the Libs or the Greens are well-articulated or historically informed enough to represent a realistic alternative at this point. Both seem too enamored with the romanticism of outsider politics.)

I think you're dead on with most of Obama's accomplishments that you list, health care being the exception. I don't view the individual mandate as worth the cost, and the scheme (the Federal government requiring that individuals do business with corporations? Very dangerous precedent).

I would personally be delighted to see the democrats behave like cats. We could use some seriously scrappy caterwauling assholes right about now. At the moment, it seems much more like the Congressional democrats (particularly the leadership) are kittens happy to take milk from their pet lobbyists had hoping they don't get torn apart by the pack of wolves on the other side of the aisle.

To restate my beef in terms perhaps more in line with your own:

Obama has, thus far, behaved in such a way that a lot of Dems (and, more importantly, the majority of third-partiers and non-affiliated registered voters) are likely to either break right or sit the election out, creating the opportunity for a Scudder (perhaps named Gingrich or Perry?) to sweep in. I find this prospect highly irritating, and would be over-the-moon with delight if he grew a backbone when it came to the kinds of civil rights issues he ran on. He's got a year, yet, to turn this around. FDR and Reagan (to pick pet favorites of both parties) both had borderline-disastrous first terms, and managed to turn things around in the final year to sweep to solid victory for the second term. Maybe Obama can do it. If he does, I sure as hell hope that the turnaround sticks, because the level of "good intentions trumping good judgment" that the man sporadically displays is most worrying.

Thanks much for the solid riposte :)


J. Daniel Sawyer said...

On the promise side of the equation, a great start to the new year: A solar tech breakthrough :-)

LarryHart said...

J Daniel Sawyer:

...but when I take a good hard look at the two big parties I see a choice between "which industries do you want to subsidize from the public purse?"

I tend to agree with Dr Brin that other differences matter more, such as Democrats actually liking to govern. But even if you are correct, that choice would still be enough for me to vote Democratic instead of Republican.

As I once put it on a different message board, "I prefer OUR corporate masters to THEIR corporate masters."

In all seriousness, that doesn't mean I LIKE the fact that both major parties are beholden to corporate funding. But if you force me to make that cynical choice, it still IS a choice. Both parties are not "the same" because their respective corporate masters are different. One set might be spendthrift and misguided, but the other set is rapacious and destructive. Not much of a contest, in my eyes.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@J. Daniel Sawyer:

Moreover, you ignore the biggest implication of the detention provisions of the NDAA. Since it is the most blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment since the Japanese-American internments of 1941, it can and will be challenged in the courts... who will find it unconstitutional. Yes, I believe even the Roberts court will strike this down -- the military is a power structure independent of the oligarchs, and they have no interest in giving them a power that the money can't easily control.

@Robert: the Iranian backup plan in the event of American attack is to use the opportunity to shore up domestic support. They know perfectly well that America can damage Iran but it can't conquer them. Iran won't nuke Israel for the same reason. The nukes are sure to be under the control of those loyal to the Ayatollahs, and the Ayatollahs (unlike Ahmacrazyguy) are too practical to lose such a useful enemy as Israel -- and too smart not to realize that Israel would destroy Tehran and as many other Iranian cities as possible in response.

Acacia H. said...

There is a problem with that scenario: recent history has shown that the U.S. is stupid and foolish enough under Republican leadership to invade a nation, eliminate its military infrastructure and government, and then let chaos rule while twiddling their thumbs. Case in point: Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iranian Religious Leadership is looking at a sociopolitical scenario that results in their ouster and deaths. While using an invasion to unite their population is possible, they realize that if the U.S. goes after them, they will be dead. The U.S. military will decapitate as many snake heads as possible. Thus having the U.S. invade is not a good idea, and would leave them unable to become the leaders of the Arab World afterward (as they won't have the military power to be a viable threat to the Saudis).

The only other way of remaining in power is the placation of the masses... which requires eliminating sanctions. No doubt as we speak, Iran is squirreling away highly-refined uranium in hidden bunkers, enough to have one or two bombs when they decide to start up their nuclear weapons program once more. Then they open their doors to the IEAA and allow them far greater access... while hoping they have hidden the evidence of their bomb-making activities.

The sociopolitical ramifications in the U.S. will be Obama's policy of the threat of force while using sanctions will be seen as a success. No Americans were killed in Iran for a fruitless war no one wants. Republican warmongering will look bad, and Obama gets a second term. Iran waits a few years to rebuild its economy and wait for the world's guard to be lowered while not actually working toward a bomb in that time.

And then Khomeini dies. Iran's leadership undergoes a significant struggle and its nuclear weapons program is kept on the back burner because there are more important things to worry about: gaining political control of Iran. At this time, China extends its economic muscle and helps a new leader who is more interested in economics than religion to gain control. Iran becomes integrated into the Eastern economic powerbase but slowly opens up to the West as well. And while the religious fanatics left in Iran rail against their loss of power, the new autocratic government of Iran sees no reason to wage war on a pint-sized nation that is several borders away, especially as they see what power economics has in the region.


Going off on a scientific tangent (or should I say, BACK to the scientific basis of the core discussion topic), here's an hour-or-so-long interview/debate between comedian Stephen Colbert and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that is rather interesting and enjoyable to listen to. It's well worth watching.

Rob H.

Bruce said...

Does boiled vacuum come with a nice head of quantum foam?


Tacitus said...


I am with Dan on one point (probably not on many others, but that's ok).

Obama blew it on health care reform. Blew it on substance and on execution. I thought it impossible to make our healthcare system more dysfunctional than the crappy default mode, but O managed to do just that.

In the process he lost a lot of moderates, and the respect of a lot of others.

When what we needed, and still need, is a system in which costs are controlled, and in which actual science establishes the standards of care, what we got was something else.

Fully implemented the Obama plan would cost more-nobody knows how much more-and would entrench various kleptocratic elements including the AMA, various labor unions (first time I ever heard of SEIU was at the big announcment that they were throwing their weight into HC reform), Big Pharma and the trial lawyers.

I have no inkling as to whether any currently available alternative has a better plan ready. I may yet find Obama the lesser of two weavils. But don't give him credit for a wizardly HC reform. Like so much of what he has done it translates a partial awareness of a problem into a sloppy mess that reflects administrative ineptitude and an element of "no crisis gone to waste".

As you know, HC reform is one of my few rant triggers.


Acacia H. said...

Here is an article that Tacticus and other conservative members of this blog community really need to read concerning the value of a Ron Paul presidential campaign run and the fact that if Paul became the Republican candidate, a lot of rather disturbing policies embraced by BOTH Democrats and Republicans would come into the forefront of the political discourse. For all of his flaws... maybe having Paul as the Republican candidate of choice would be needed for America to step away from the abyss... and realize that many of the policies of both sides are just plain wrong.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


When what we needed, and still need, is a system in which costs are controlled, and in which actual science establishes the standards of care, what we got was something else.

In my estimation, Obama went as far as he could while accomodating the pharmacutical and insurance industries to prevent them from launching a billion-dollar campaign against him. Controlling costs involves "controlling" the profits of some very powerful players, which is why it seems impossible to accomplish.

What Obamacare does do is relieve individuals and businesses of the increasing costs and put the burden of paying for them on the taxpayer. Hopefully, when the taxpayers see the bill, they'll start demanding a change.

I won't pretend that I'm happy with what was passed. I'm probably closer to you than it seems in wishing we had gotten a better plan. But it seems absurd to me to place the blame for the lameness of the actual plan on Obama himself, as if he's the one who stood in the way of a reasonable plan that any other president (Hillary or McCain or Palin) would have given us.

I'm not sure I made that last point well, so I'll kinda repeat: while the reality that we got was not ideal, I think it was because of Obama that it was as GOOD as it was, not because of him that it was as BAD as it was. With anyone else, Republican or Democrat, we would have been worse off.

Tacitus said...


Skimmed the article.

Two of my kids are unaccountably fans of Ron Paul, who more than one observer has suspected of actually being Magneto.

He serves an important purpose by standing up and saying all kinds of heretical stuff. 10% of it being really good ideas. This still puts his good idea production ahead of almost everyone else.

But the whole package does not look presidential at all.

One of the glories of our political system is that folks like Paul are not packed off to the gulag or to the People's Psychiatric Clinic.


LarryHart said...


One of the glories of our political system is that folks like Paul are not packed off to the gulag or to the People's Psychiatric Clinic.

No, what he gets is ignored with intent by the media. I like the way the news out of Iowa sometimes lists who is leading and who is in third place, somehow neglecting to mention Ron Paul at all.

But with all the dissing he gets from the media and from the GOP party faithful during presidential campaigns, it's easy to think of him as a completely marginalzed figure like Ralph Nader, and forget that he's an actual sitting congressman and that his son is a US Senator as well. As nutty as he can sound, this is someone who wins elections every two years.

David Brin said...

Robert I agree that a Ron Paul Candidacy would be marvelous! He'd shake up many things and many Culture War assumptions would get rocked. There'd also be a Culture Warrio insurgency 3rd party candidate running a Scudder. All of the above is good. Though we'd risk either of those actually becoming (shudder) president.

Alas, it ain't gonna happen.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, I am genuinely unhappy with the Obamacare "solution", and more so after listening to you. But you can see where adopting an essentially REPUBLICAN PLAN was the sort of thing he would imagine to be a sincere effort at compromise. Instead, it became evil in GOP eyes BECAUSE the dems decided to accept it.

Under that kind of emotional landscape, where do you expect solutions to come from.

Remember that at least Obamacare is on-paper paid for. Not the Bush-GOP prescription plan, which made ZERO provisions for paying for a vast new entitlement.

Health care is not a fungible or market-limited commodity. People will demand any amount of it that's possible. SO there will be limiters imposed. By price, by insurance company cost-control panels, or by Euro style care-prioritization. The first is evil. The second has proved to be very evil much of the time. The third is snooty, patronizing and un-american... and undermines some kinds of research.

Obamacare will still be the least socialized of all major industrial societies, leaving us with cost limiter #2... but crippled by fairness rules. So believe me, I see how this won't control costs!

David Brin said...

Dan Sawyer, I accept that you are generally on the right page. Indeed, your complaints about President Obama overlap with my own. Where we differ is whether the current political fight is crucial or a matter of lesser-greater evils.

You lnow who else felt behooved to chap for a while at Habeus Corpus? Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because we were in the middle of an outrageous Civil War. Such things happen during such times, and we need guys like you to howl over them... but also with perspective.

Y'know who else committed short term crimes against habeus? Franklin Roosevelt, again during full-tilt war. Now compare him to EVERY other charismatic wartime leader. And consider this... the thing that matters over the long run is intent and OUTCOMES. And in both cases, the outcome was staggering improvements in justice and freedom all over the world.

I believe we are in Phase Three of the American Civil War. And it must be won the way the others were, in a complete rout. Only then can reasoning men and women resume the normal process of debate, argument, negotiation, compromise and progress. And hence... my own chief complaint about Obama is that his temperament is not that of a war fighter. He is so deeply devoted to negotiation that only in the last TWO MONTHS have I seen any sign of a fighter.

Go ahead and criticize. BHO deserves and needs it. But good lord man. I know several of the guys who helped Al Gore push through the bills that UNLEASHED THE INTERNET upon the world as a wide open frontier of freedom. Guys like you tend to think it was the most natural thing in the world.

But it wasn't. It was the LEAST natural thing for powerful men to do. It was a miracle. And the fact that one party produced men like that means there IS A BIG DIFFERENCE.

LARRYHART - another difference is also crucial. Since the Dems... if they had real power... would institute campaign finance reform, reverse corporate "personhood", grant free air time to all candidates and re-institute some level of "equal time rule"... (even just 10 minutes of rebuttal for every hour of partisan ranting would cure the Fox hypnosis disease)...

... the overall LEVEL of corporate corruption of the parties would have to go down. By a lot. Sure the dems are beholden to different corps than the goppers are. But if they had their way, everybody would be a lot LESS beholden.

Anonymous said...

Tacitus2: you have smart kids.

The best thing about Ron Paul is that when he has a different view about the world than you do ... he won't force it on you.

Otherwise - I'll just say that the younger generation sees challenges in the future that the older generation is blind to - and although Ron Paul may not understand those challenges either, he is at least smart enough not to obstruct progress.

As for the racism charge: Is it better to mouth platitudes, or to end racist policies? Ron Paul is on the right side where it counts - and among politicians he is almost alone.

Anonymous said...


The latest religious "revival" has been on the downswing for at least 10 years. Something that you may not know is that something like 75% of the children of Evangelicals essentially drop out of the church. We are unlikely to see a Nehemiah Scudder - the closest we might get is Santorum, and (a) he's not that bad, and (b) he doesn't have a chance in the general election anyhow.

Of course, there are other kinds of populism that could be dangerous, but I think we're safe from the religious variety for at least another 20 years.

J. Daniel Sawyer said...


Trust me, I'm well aware of how wildly improbable the opening of the Internet was. Military infrastructure being turned into a free trade zone? It's not historically unheard-of, but it is VERY unusual. I listened to those congressional debates on the radio--the ones that were held in open session--an excellent early education in Congressional process (both the bad and the good). It was a heroic effort, and a grand success :-)

My discomfort with the habeus corpus thing is as follows:

When Lincoln did it, there was an actual war happening on our own soil. When FDR did it, there was at least a credible threat of invasion. In both cases, justifiable though the measure was, that weapon remained in the governmental arsenal (and, just as importantly, in the cultural memory) as an acceptable measure against political adversaries.

Right now, there is no such clear-and-present danger of invasion. The terrorists are (currently) disorganized and bankrupt, and the only opening for them is the kind of thing against which it is nearly impossible to defend (such as the train bombings in Spain and London).

I've got no problem with transparency measures to aid in the dragnet for such folks, particularly with the (as far as I can tell) real danger of a dirty bomb lurking in the background. The part I have a problem with is the unsupervised right to detain, without charge, without trial, without legal representation, and without justification. That's a bridge or too to far (might even be if there's an actual war on the home soil), and it's something that's just begging to be abused.

And it might not be Obama that abuses it. It might be his successor or one or two down the line. But if a Scudder does get voted in, this isn't a gun I want them holding without having to fight for it. Perhaps this comes off as naieve, since an effective Scudder would be able to muscle such a provision through anyway (the Congressional theocrat crowd certainly were instrumental in pushing it through this time), but one of the things I like best about our system is that would-be autocrats actually have to climb that hill. It's a great disincentive, and it's kept people like Nixon, and FDR, etc. on a leash. In Nixon's case, it limited his destructive potential, and in the case of the Roosevelt it (and the culture of civic virtue he was steeped in) kept the bulk of his energies directed in a positive direction, and made it possible to roll back his worst abuses and to prevent further really bad ideas (like packing the Court).

I fully agree that what matters most are the outcomes. The intended ends do not justify the means, but the achieved ends bear good witness to (and provide data about) the means employed. It's just that when we get into certain domains of means, I get very nervous. I don't think the fundamentals of the system (or the orneriness of the American public) will long tolerate truly flagrant abuses of power, but that doesn't mean I like handing a gun to a bureaucracy that is likely to shoot innocent people as a matter of administrative error.

Which, I suppose, is a long and surly way of saying: Let's please not forget our checks and balances, and why they're there.

I agree--this is one the Roberts court isn't going to let stand. I've already pitched my check over the ACLU for the challenge.

On the Ron Paul topic, I'm having a whale of a time watching the way he's changing the important topics in the election, and I hope he hangs in the race as long as possible. Don't know that I'd vote for him, but I would *love* to see a race that's framed by his angle of attack.


David Brin said...


Jake Witmer said...

[David Brin wrote:][All right, you are a cynic so let's go cynical. What is the WORST that can happen if either party gains overwhelming power?]
...Something that looks a lot like Hitler's Germany.

[The GOP owned all three branches of the US Govt and sped straight for a cliff, with not ONE metric of national health improving and nearly all plummeting... with civil rights under relentless attack and secret power vested in narrow hands.]
...Just like Obama has done. Are you truly so blind that you think there's a difference between the D-central-bank and R-central-bank parties?

[And that was by a very different Republican Party than today's.]
...The GOP of 8 years ago is that much different? You're in outer space. I've put the Libertarian Party on the ballot all across the country from 2001 to now, and thegovernment youth propaganda camps are graduating the same lumpen conformists they were in 2001. If I seem like a cynic, it's only because people are so uninformed about the central bank, and their rights as jury members. Those are the two things the USA would need to be aware of, collectively, if they were to avoid the abject fascism that is the end result of continued control by the two arms of the single party that runs the USA.

[One that uttered lip service to the social conservatives without giving them a single thing they wanted. Bankrupting America while opening our veins to rich parasites and plunging us into two trillion dollar wars... those were the main effects.]
All those effects are identical under Obama, whether you're aware of it or not. Each president is simply a puppet sent to distract the public from the unpleasant realities of the steady march of fascism.

[But the NEXT time the GOP runs it all, you will get Nehemiah Scudder.]
That may be true, but so what? Did Obama stop raiding the marijuana clinics in CA? No. The Dems may not march as swiftly toward social fascism, but they certainly march steadily, and they certainly continue to prosecute the incremental gains in social intolerance implemented by the prosecutor class. Are the jackbooted stormtroopers who kick your door in under Obama's regime any less violent or sociopathic than those operating under Bush? ...Please. Is Obama stopping Houston from enabling anti-US-citizen drones? No. Fascism marches on unless it's resisted, and the Dems aren't resisting anything. The fascism you decry is extra-electoral in nature.

[In contrast, the WORST scenario for the dems? Feh? they'll raise taxes for the rich, spend a bit more (tho they have cred under Clinton for paying down debt).]
You're conflating the PR of the Dems under an earlier time point on one part of the progression of destruction to the PR on a later time point on the progression of destruction. As the Republic is destroyed, the political puppets sent to distract us from the looting are a seeming battle between "sophisticated urbane demogogue" and "folksy fascist religious demogogue." Those without philosophical comprehension are sometimes caught up in the superficial differences in this "battle," without noticing the spending, and increased governmental "Enabling Acts." The NDAA should be fought by all well-intentioned intellectuals. It seems that you'd think it was a worse thing if it had been enacted under the Bush-puppet, rather than the Obama-puppet.

Jake Witmer said...

[SUpport more science.]
Do you seriously think that science incentivized by coercively-collected tax dollars is morally or technologically-equivalent to voluntarily pursued science in a free market? If so, perhaps you're not as bright as I'd thought. Re-read Hayek.

[Maybe force all children to undergo gay indoctrination and burn flags every day in school. So?]
You're right that the lip service of the Dems to social intolerance isn't as toxic as the core dedication to social intolerance exhibited by Gingrich and Santorum. Of course, you still have social intolerance enshrined as law under either regime, so the fact that the prosecutor who's destroying your life and imprisoning you does so under a less-harshly-worded regime is small comfort.

[By character, goppers are disciplined and march in step. By character, democrats are CATS.]
...Not really. You're confusing Democrats with Libertarians.

[If (as I pray) this were-creature the GOP has become gets routed in the fall, the dems will thereupon fix a few things...]
You are delusional. Good thing you're not on laetrile therapy (or marijuana, for Parkinson's) getting raided (and then murdered in a prison cell) by Obama's "compassionate" stormtroopers. Go sell your Kool-aid to those less-well-educated.

[then fractionate into sub groups and go at each others' throats!]
...The Paul camp included? Wow. I thought you were a principled and educated libertarian. Apparently, you're unfamiliar with most of libertarian thought. Remedial reading of Lysander Spooner required! (I do like your books though. Like Ayn Rand, I think you hold yourself to a much higher standard of consistency in your 'for sale' writings.)

[Indeed, there is ZERO danger of tyranny. Because they talk too much.]
...Tell that to Peter McWilliams.

[(Indeed, that is how we'd probably get a good and decent conservative/libertarian party in America, at last! Crush the GOP and fill DC with dems... and you'll soon have two parties or three or four. None of them run by Rupert Murdoch. ]
I partly agree with this, but then, I missed you at the last National LP convention, in 2008. Were you there? Did you vote against Bob Barr? If not, then neither you, nor any other intellectual (other than myself) cared to show up with Barr's statements on jury rights. Too bad. My efforts weren't enough.

So, if you don't participate, don't be surprised when the Ron Paul candle dies out, in the intellectual vaccuum we occupy. The fire has to have fuel, and right now, we've got as much fuel as the Weimar Republic had. Sadly, we're also headed to the same place they were. ...At least as far as electoral politics is concerned, unless Ron Paul, R. J. Harris or someone similar can build the Ron Paul revolution into something worthwhile.

I think your worldview regarding politics is not representative of reality. Specifically, I think it ignores the force inherent in politics. As such, it's superficially libertarian, not deeply libertarian, as Harry Browne's and Lysander Spooner's philosophies were.