Friday, April 13, 2012

Politics of Science...of Hypocrisy... and Transparency

 Several off-angle political threads, this time. Simultaneously partisan yet contrary, ornery and proudly free of the stupid “left-right axis.” Stay tuned next time, though, for an important one -- the Wager Challenge.

== Start with science ==

Now is the time to begin a hard push for the 2012 candidates to participate in a debate on science and technology matters, during the coming electoral season.  Make this an issue!  Shoe that you (you-personally) consider this to be a vital matter, and not just for the presidential candidates!

The one thing that will correlate with future U.S. success, more than any other, will be whether we become - once again - a scientifically-oriented, ambitiously pragmatic, problem solving nation.

Seriously, can you picture America being led by a science ignoramus? (Please, no obvious comments about recent history!)

If we get enough ground swell for this science debate to happen, we might see it every election, and scare the ignorami off entirely.  Please do check out the Science Debate site and actually sign-on. Press the issue.

See also: Unscientific America: Denying Science at Our Peril

== Shake that Etch-a-Sketch! ==  

Sure enough, as expected, the day after poll figures showed him gaining in Pennsylvania -  his last big primary to clinch the GOP nomination - Mitt Romney began his much-expected scurry-to-the-center. "We're Republicans and Democrats in this campaign, but we're all connected with one destiny for America...” and “We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps, or maybe just not enough time working in the real world."

Not exactly the red meat he was tossing to the party’s hard core, till very recently.  (Also, as the LA Times pondered: It is a potentially self-defeating line of attack: Romney spent four years at Harvard, receiving a law degree and an MBA; Obama spent three years there, graduating from the law school. Also, three of Romney's five sons attended Harvard Business School.)

Heck, while we’re at it... will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?  A funky funny video mash.

More intellectually diverting... see the "Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney," a very clever political spoof by a writer who has clearly consumed WAY too many pop-sci articles about quantum mechanics!  I especially liked the “principle uncertainty principle.”  Just when you think he must run out of QM parallels, he tunnels thru to more.

== If only we were still like this ==

“Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability; instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.”
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, writing about the national character he observed in Democracy in America.  

In truth... millions of us still are like this!  It is the mentality of folks who like good science fiction.

== Ah Transparency ==

Robert Wright‘s column in The Atlantic ponders how the Zimmerman-Martin tragedy might have gone very differently, if both men wore Google Glasses, video recording their encounter to the Cloud.  Awareness that there are witnesses affects human behavior, and even if it didn’t, we’d know exactly what happened.  Wright ponders this cogently - citing my nonfiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom? - and goes on to ponder the downsides.  The potential that such records might be misused either by a Big Brother state or by hundreds of millions of nosy-oppressive “little brothers.”

He is correct to worry we are returning to the classic human condition that reigned in villages of old, wherein everybody knew everything about everybody else.  You might be safer from some kinds of random violence by strangers.  But those villages were also oppressed by the feudal lord and local harpy-gossips, who knew everything about you - and how to use it against you.

Our modern notions of anonymity and privacy stem in part from knowing how easily that cozy old village can turn sour.

Is this the kind of Global Village we’ll see, when everyone on Earth wears Augmented Reality Spectacles, or “specs”?  (As portrayed in my new novel Existence.)  Are we doomed by unstoppable omniscience technology to see ourselves trapped in spirals of ever-steepening, conformity-enforcing judgmentalism?

Not necessarily. in The Transparent Society I refer folks to the popular 1960s song Harper Valley PTA, which illustrates the inherent power of sousveillance, or looking back at the mighty.  There is already very strong evidence that it can let us have the good aspects of the village, and eliminate the bad in a true Positive Sum Game.  But only if the power of reciprocal accountability is true, and no mirage.

That is the critical matter before us.  The omni-vision provided by “specs” is coming, like it or not.  But we still have time to make this universal light truly empowering to average folk to protect their personal space and eccentricity, granting them one special capability, above all other godlike traits. The ability to be left alone.

== More on this. Reciprocality can be a bitch ==

What goes around comes around.  See how the landlord of an abortion clinic politely, but effectively, turned the tables on protesters who started targeting his 11 year old daughter.

A good example of reciprocality at work. Alas though, things keep getting worrisome.  I began writing The Transparent Society back in 1987, when I lived in Britain and witnessed the bare beginnings of the U.K.’s love affair with massive police surveillance.  Now that country is exporting the technologies to oppressive regimes around the world. Privacy International, which monitors the use of surveillance technology, claims equipment being exported includes devices known as "IMSI catchers" that masquerade as normal mobile phone masts and identify phone users and malware – software that can allow its operator to control a target's computer, while allowing the interception to remain undetected.

Want to see the latest salvo, fired by those who want society to go back to feudalism?  Conservatives are arming up for their war on public universities, trying to de-fund them, destroy them, and replace them with for-profit colleges. Seriously, it is even a slogan.  “Defund public universities.” If this is what conservatism has become, then we know what that whirring sound is: the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave.

== The Good News on U.S. Energy Independence ==

Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gas industry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia. ...  This surge is hardly without consequences!  But the turnaround may buy time to move to more sustainable energy sources.  And it may prove a factor in this year’s U.S. elections.

== Next time... the Wager Challenge! ==

I plan to offer a silver bullet for Culture War.  Oh, it won't solve our current political insanity, but it should offer sensible, fact-oriented folks like you and me a way to corner those loonies of the far-left and the entire-right who have transformed political discourse in the United States from a matter of pragmatic negotiation into outright Civil War.  Maybe even a way to get some of them to shut the &$!# up.

Come back next time for the Wager Challenge!


David Brin said...

Sorry I messed up and posted the NEXT blog entry (briefly) before this one.

Save your comments on the Wager Challenge for a few days...

alanuk said...

Being a net exporter of refined product is good for the refinery business, but has no relevance to US energy independence IMHO.

The US is a net crude oil importer of ~10 million bbl per day and consumes ~20 million bbl per day..

In 2010 the US exported 700,000 bbl per day of refined product.

A graphic bowser of the data can be found at

A good write up can be found here

Tim H. said...

Thanks for the abortion protest backfire link, that was great. Back to PPC Macs, yes the day may come when it becomes "The WordPerfect machine" and little more. Something I've found helpful is TenFourFox, a browser compiled for PPC (G3, 4&5) from current mozilla source code.

David Ivory said...

Regarding Zimmerman-Martin Google glasses... I guess you mean something like this recent event in New Zealand.

Flying Nun Cyclist Attack on Video.

Stefan Jones said...

For profit colleges . . . yurgh.

This is not to say they're not a valid way to learn certain technical and what might be called technocratic-career skills.

This is not to say the instructors aren't knowledgeable and skilled.

But there's more to REAL colleges and universities than career training.

I suspect that conservatives would like higher education to consist of nothing BUT career training.

This would leave their other functions in the hands of think tanks like the Discovery Institute (which develops rhetorical weaponry to fight evolution and mass transit).

zoukboy said...

Dr. Brin:

I am curious just who you think "those loonies of the far-left" are?

I don't know of anyone on the (American) left who can hold a candle to Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, et al.


Love your blog!

David Brin said...

zoukboy says: "I don't know of anyone on the (American) left who can hold a candle to Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, et al."

Well, I know plenty, as would you if you spent time near any university soft-studies department or with any of a myriad "community activist" orgs. Sanctimonious crypto-Marxism is alive. And it still does real harm.

What is laughable is to contend that these dopes are anywhere near as numerous as the marching morons on the right. Or anywhere near as influential and powerful and sickly dangerous as the guys you mention.

Beck isn't wrong that such idjuts exist on the left. Many of his anecdotes are about real things said by real lefty flakes.

Where he is a goddamned liar is when he says "this is the typical liberal." The demo-party is the only institution in American political life still run by its moderate-pragmatists.

But I will ALWAYS insist on mentioning the flakes. Lest we forget them. Or swallow any of the nonsense.

David Brin said...

Stefan I agree with you completely. At all levels. Yet I must be contrarian and reiterate. Some university departments aren't worth a bucket of warm spit. They are packed by circle-jerking dogma-spouters who long ago voted out every moderate voice.

Those effete nabbering nabobs harmed america deeply by driving the neocons out of eclectic universities and into the arms of faux "academies" like Heritage where, lacking any balance-by-argument, they finished their transformation into towering monsters.

Anonymous said...

I know that you are liberal politically and love to take shots at the Republican Party. I can't say I blame you, even though I am much more of a conservative, I consider the current leadership of the Republicn Party to be members of "The Committee to re-elect Obama". It's really annoying.

The two main candidates for President this next election will be "Bad" and "You've got to be kidding".

zoukboy said...

Thank you for your reply.

Actually I spend a lot of time in a university teaching and as a grad student and I haven't seen any "crypto-marxism." Now, I am not in Berkeley or Boulder so maybe I am insulated from it. I don't doubt that it exists but I don't see it as a major force in our politics.

Thank you for your clarification about the imbalance between the "marching morons" on the right and those on the left you consider loons. What you wrote could be taken as an equivalency but you've made it clear that is not what you meant:

"those loonies of the far-left and the entire-right who have transformed political discourse in the United States from a matter of pragmatic negotiation into outright Civil War."

Best regards,

Jumper said...

Perhaps some of the knee-jerk anti-fracking sentiment is loony and left. Although some of the impacts which are proven have been reported by generally progressive publications, much of it seems lacking in science and high in hysteria.
(By proven impacts, I mean degradation of local roads, consumption of massive amounts of fresh water for use as fracking fluids, and issues of disposal of the fluids, extracted after fracking is done, which likely did cause those earthquakes.)

I would bet a fair amount of money that almost all of the videos showing burning tap water are fakes achieved by pranksters hooking propane or gas lines to their plumbing.

Perhaps we should assign part of this to reporters ignorant of both geology and tech-based prankster-ism in general - such as home-video-editing software. That portion might then not be so much left as just ignorant of science. But the knee-jerk part also does reside in the so-called left to some large extent.

And perhaps in the end, they will be proven right! But the facts are not in yet. That's what annoys me the most.

I have hopes, too, that fracking might be well employed for large scale geothermal heat pumps and not merely hydrocarbon extraction.

On a slightly different note, my previous suggestion to stockpile pure carbon bars in Fort Knox, and the intended implication that Rep. Dr. Paul's insistence on gold was misplaced, and that we move to base our currency on carbon stockpiling, was facetious and a bit of a joke; I am yet curious if I have not stumbled on something plausible.

And thanks again, David, for a great website.

sociotard said...

Oh, dear. The Obama administration gets a nice juicy scandal in a campaign year.

Misconduct alleged against secret service agents
Allegations of something involving prostitution for 12 men, several married. Fox reports that the allegations were serious enough to require mediation by diplomats.

locumranch said...

I don't have anything negative to say about Dr. Brin's excellent post.

I will add that the USA did elect a Nuclear Scientist not too long ago, but as anyone who remembers the upheaval of the Carter presidency knows, 'Politics is NOT Nuclear Physics' and the ability to think rationally appears to be a distinct disadvantage in the political arena.

Also, Romney's 'etch-a-sketch' personality may actually represent the next phase in US political evolution (as predicted in Matt Groening's 'Futurama') where identical thinking political clones compete for the presidency by accusing each other of "Not Agreeing Hard Enough".


locumranch said...

I forgot to add that living in a tight-knit privacy-free domestic community may not be a good thing when criminal statistics indicate that most violent criminal acts are perpetuated by individuals who know their victims.


Antiquated Tory said...

Wondering what you thought of this blog post by a liberalish history prof, bemoaning how much more responsible the GOP was in Hoover's day.

David Brin said...

Anonymous, while I find it perpetually puzzling exactly what reasons - in the most explicit and provable sense - a moderate conservative might have for hating Obama - rather than moderate disagreement - I nevertheless found your statement of the situation balanced and fair.

Do however, look at recent reports that nearly all of Obama's share of the stimulus spending - on GM, on banks and insurance companies, to prevent a depression... all of it will be paid back, paid off! In fact, the more optimistic estimates now envision a $160 billion profit for the taxpayer.

This would have been even bigger... MUCH bigger... had Timothy Geithner not made the biggest mistake of his professional life. Not insisting, in 2009, that Goldman Sachs offer up some of its own stock to the treasury to support the U.S. propping up AIG (thus allowing AIG to make insurance payments to Goldman. If Geithner had done that, we would already be in the black and due for a great big profit before the election.

In any event, real conservatives should consider Obama someone to oppose with courtesy and respect. There's not been a single thing worthy of hate.

Zoukboy, I can't see how anybody could possibly think I consider far-left madness to be equivalent to the mania tearing us to shreds from the right. But if you are on-campus and haven't noticed what I am talking about, then you haven't been hanging around the soft-studies departments.

Re the secret service scandal, I'll wager more than half are being disciplined for not tattling on misbehaviors they knew about. SOme agencies need zero tolerance of codes of silence. The Secret Service is one.

Ian Gould said...

Stephen wrote:

"I suspect that conservatives would like higher education to consist of nothing BUT career training."

One of the most disturbign things abotu the extrem fringe of the Republican Party is that some leading members of the party have quite impressive academic qualifications.

Nehemiah Scudder was supposed to be a shrewd fast-talking tent revivalist, not an MBA.

Michelle Bachman's undergraduate legal degree is from Oral Roberts University (as it then was) but her Master of Laws is from William and Mary and you have to assume that at some point she was introduced to concepts like rules of evidence and how to construct a logical argument.

None of which stops her from saying things like:

"Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas. Carbon dioxide is natural; it is not harmful.... We're being told we have to reduce this natural substance to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the earth."

Or from ranting about the evils of government spending while receiving hundreds of thousand of dollars in farm subsidies.

bobsandiego said...

I wonder at times if politics, in America, hasn't become our new religion. Seriously, I feel that human beings require a belief system, it's just something that is wired into us, thee established religions and churches are less and less about living your life and have slowly become a side-show to our political beliefs. So is it possible that political identification has replaced sect identification as labeling who is 'us' and who is 'them?'

This puts it beyond the realm of ration discourse, and into the real of 'I know I'm right because I am right,' even when you flip and hate what you supported? (Such as the mandate and cap-and-trade.) I know that my partisan friends seem more wedded to their 'side' than their churches.

David Brin said...

Bobsandiego that's what happens during Civil War. There is no negotiation anymore. One side simply has to win.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian Gould said...

I can't fid it now, of course.

But I saw within the past week or so a psychology paper which concluded that people find even simple factual statements less credible when they're attributed to people with a different political stance.

bobsandiego said...

Dr. Brin;
But are headed for something worse than a civil war, a religious war? I don;t mean it has to end in shooting and shelling and shellacking of each other physically, but rather the division of peoples into these two hard ideologue camps that have little regard for reality?
I think we are headed there, but I also think it will pass once the baby boom generation has passed. It strikes me that so much of what we are dealing with is the echoes of the culture wars of the 60s something the baby boomers (in general not all hell I qualify as one myself) are loathe to let go of. I truly think that if we could stop agin today then in 100 years we would still be arguing Vietnam and suffer reunion tours of The Rolling Stones.

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould:

I saw within the past week or so a psychology paper which concluded that people find even simple factual statements less credible when they're attributed to people with a different political stance.

To me, this speaks to the notion that there is so much information out there that no one can really feel sure he knows all he needs to about what is real. Thus a precarious reliance on "experts" to filter the data.

And if you distrust the motives of an "expert", you are not likely to credit his interpretation of facts or his conclusions based on those facts.

I know that if I hear a sentence start with "Glenn Beck says...", I immediately tune out whatever comes next. Not JUST because I disagree with him politically, but because his signal-to-noise ratio is so small that it's not worth the time and effort to figure out whether he might just be saying something important this time.

locumranch said...

It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn't the whole population. [Heinlein]

Nyrath said...

I seem to recall Dr. Brin predicting something akin to Google Glasses in his novel EARTH, where elderly people found it great fun to keep gang members honest by wearing webcams with wireless feeds leading to the local police office.

Jumper said...

Re. what Larry and Ian are talking about, today I read about a GAO report on the New York - New Jersey tunnel Christie cancelled. (The issue is not so important; it's an example.) I Googled for the report and got nothing but news sites TALKING about it. Knowing I could likely spend a significant part of an hour reading story after story without finding a link, I used an old Google trick, the site search. Specifically, I entered this string: gao new york new jersey tunnel
and immediately got the link to the complete GAO report.

If I didn't know how to do that, I would flounder trying to research some topics. Some are more impenetrable than others. If I for example wanted to find out something about a nutrient, I would be bombarded by page after page of bogus herbal-remedy sites. If I type arthritis curcumin
however, I only get hits from universities, mostly, and soon find some actual research results.

I find many either unaware of, or unwilling to read, the drier but more factual stuff available.

The other end of the spectrum is people one encounters on the internet (not often here, I'm thankful!) who offer up YouTube videos by unknown cranks, or links to Prison Planet. Or Fox News, or HuffPo, a step above; to provide authenticity to their arguments.

I'm constantly tempted to keep my trick to myself but I know it's not a good idea, so I ought to share it with everyone, regardless.

(While videos can be respectable and factual, I dislike them simply because I can read faster than the people on the videos can speak, so I get more done with text.)

Ian Gould said...

On a different forum, I'm havign a discussion about the Afganistan War.

The most recent Taliban attacks are beign cited as evidence of their success whereas my argumentis that you can't win a war or take over a country throguh acts of terrorism.

Every successful insurgency has to take and hold land, establish an alternative form of government in that territory and develop conventional armed forces capable of defeating the opposing forces.

Can anyone think of a counter-exampel to that where a government has been overthrown solely by suicide attacks, car bombs and assassinations?

alanuk said...

Following on from Jumper.

My newspaper is a RSS reader. (Custom news papers from Babylon 5...)

One of the profound changes I've noticed in recent years is the increase of experts blogging about their respective fields. I read blogs written by lawyers, petroleum geologists, climate scientists, fusion (hot) scientists, farmers, educators, cooks, car mechanics, economists, and the list goes on. I rarely read the background material, as the analysis is performed by expert bloggers. Experts ,blogging about their respective fields, have replaced the function of journalists of old.

For me the world has become more “transparent” compared to even 10 years ago.

What I find surprising is newspapers still dont get it. A (mostly) respected newspaper in the UK (the guardian) ran a sad story on how difficult it was for poor journalists to get basic facts and statistics right! It is soooo difficult they pleaded. Hummmm my RSS reader disagrees.....

RandyB said...


In a way, yes. The Madrid train bombings of 2004 changed the course of Spain's election and put a new government in charge.

It's not as dramatic as a real revolution, but it weakened the coalition. It probably drove recruiting and then lengthened the war in Iraq.

The Taliban could achieve a U.S. pullout just by killing more Americans, and more Afghan women and children. A weaker Afghan government might then be willing to pay a higher price for peace, such as ending the womens' vote.

And without the womens' vote, that alters the government again.

Jumper said...

"I rarely read the background material"

You couldn't easily before the internet. There is always the library at the university nearest you. God forbid.

David Brin said...

Jumper that is a way useful tip.

Thanks Nyrath. BobSD I am desperately anxious NOT to go down that road. The only way is if that path becomes a ridiculed, marginalized path-for-losers...

Ian said...

"In a way, yes. The Madrid train bombings of 2004 changed the course of Spain's election and put a new government in charge.

It's not as dramatic as a real revolution, but it weakened the coalition. It probably drove recruiting and then lengthened the war in Iraq."

No,lying and saying the bombing was conducted by Basque terrorists inn an attempt to discredit the Basque nationalist parties led to a change in government.

Although the polls were neck and neck before the bombing anyway.

alanuk said...

@Jumper ???????

"I rarely NEED to read the background material" may have been better.

My bad? point was that newspaper quality is poor creating the need to verify the material. Yes, being able to verify is a step change improvement.

There now exists analysis better than journalists of old; where the average person can reasonably expect the article to be trustworthy. Additionally, as you point out, it is much easier to research a topic and get a more detailed picture.

For example. I now ignore all nuclear articles in the press and subscribe to World Nuclear News. I'm not clever enough, or have the time, or the interest in reading detailed papers on nuclear physics.

Roger Kent said...

Dear David,

US Energy Independence has certain connotations. Gasoline should be cheap and plentiful, allowing the average American to drive to work and home at an affordable price. Around my place, it costs over 4 dollars a gallon. At these prices, I need to budget where I drive with great care. I agree with AlanUK, our status as net exporter of refined oil is not relevant. We import less oil because the high prices force us to conserve, which is not what US energy independence implies. Perhaps technology lower prices, or we could be surprised by hundreds of billions of barrels of light, sweet crude from a domestic source, but I feel skeptical.

Cheap natural gas is positive news, but since most US private cars do not run on natural gas, it does not really contribute to energy independence. I am unsure how long those prices will stay cheap because those are too low to make hydraulic fracturing profitable, which means that could be less plentiful and expensive in the future.

David Brin said...

Roger Kent, you fail to account for the fact that cheap gas and national habits caused two generations of Americans to choose lifestyles that forced them to become massive consumers of gasoline. We cornered ourselves with these vast suburban houses far from the cities and jobs.

I know... I live in one! (Though my job is a short commute up one flight of stairs from the fridge.)

Every day, thousands of Americans vote to reverse this trend by moving back into the low-crime cities that are now improving by leaps and bounds, discovering that less volume does not mean a lower order of living. The cities are recovering, economically, far faster than the suburbs and many exurbs are dying.

Some of it is demography as the boomers contract their housing needs.

Everything correlates. Many companies are equipping their urban fleets to run electric or on natural gas. Electric private vehicles correlate with this year's skyrocketing boom in folks installing roof photovoltaics... a trend that was deliberately blocked by the Bush Administration but now finally gaining momentum.

Aren't these trends that coalesce in toward common sense?

Ian Gould said...

For all those who complain about Afghaniss supposed unwillingness to fight the Taliban: meet Mohammad Naeem Lalai.

"Parliament was in session when the gunmen targeted it in the deadly wave of attacks in Kabul and three other eastern cities.

Mohammad Naeem Lalai, an MP, was quoted as having said that some lawmakers including him and his bodyguards fought the militants who had seized a six-storey building in front of Parliament. The gunmen stopped firing at Parliament after a brief while after beiing engaged by security forces.
Mohammad Nahim Lalai Hamidzai, a lawmaker from Kandahar, said he climbed the tower of the parliament building and fired on a building under construction from which militants were shooting at the parliament.

"I shot up to 400 or 500 bullets from my Kalashnikov at the attackers," Hamidzai said."

""I'm the representative of my people and I have to defend them," Mohammad Naeem Lalai Hamidzai told Reuters."

Ian Gould said...

Idle mischief-making time: the Syrian Opposition and its Arab allies have been callign for a no-fly zone over Syria.

I wonder how they react if Israel offered to impose one?

Hypnos said...

Ian, are you saying the Taliban don't control substantial swathes of Afghan territory? You could argue the Afghan government barely controls the cities (while being unable to properly defend them).

The Eritrean liberation movement won the war just by controlling the mountains in the north of the country, a position not much different from the one the Taliban are currently in.

The Iraqi insurgency also won without ever having massive territorial control (at least the Shia insurgency did - the Sunni one isn't faring too well).

As for the current political situation, I think the problem is not refusal to acknowledge facts and reality - politics has never been about facts, that is just not the way human beings work. The problem is the lack of a proper countervailing narrative to the crap being pushed by the "right", or the anti science movement, or what have you.

Speaking for Europe, what we are missing is the Communist party. The Communists provided a cogent story or dominant narrative for the working classes to hang on to. It educated them about their rights, and by rebalancing the national discourse it made social democracy - the pragmatic solution to both unbridled capitalism and central planning - possible.

Without the narrative of Communism to give them a sense of purpose, the working classes and the contemporary poor have nothing to believe in. They have lost their identity, and have lost the means to respond to the oligarchs' oppression. And so things like the London riots happen.

To fight the oligarchs we need a new narrative - a new overpowering story that can give the people a collective identity and sense of direction. Occupy Wall Street was a step in the right direction, but it would need to grow a hundred fold to be effective. It needs to become "the Alternative" pragmatists will point at when negotiationg with the oligarchs.

Jumper said...

Have most of the "leftists" disappeared from the Middle East? Ghadaffi and Saddam Hussein being the last I'm aware of to use the rhetoric...

Acacia H. said...

It seems to me that Afghanistan could easily deal with its problems by stating it either is giving the North autonomy, and letting it decide its own government so long as it does not cause mischief in the south... or splits the North off as its own nation (sort of like South Sudan). All at once the Taliban have their own nation and have to police it and care for the people there. If they continue attacking Afghanistan itself despite being given their own nation... then they are obviously in the wrong and justifies the NATO presence to keep the peace.

NATO itself can state "you want us out, we're out. You have your own nation. But there's two conditions. First, you keep al-Qaida out. We sniff a presence, we go in and bomb your military and every terrorist we can find and then leave you to pick up the peaces. Second, if any terrorist attacks come out of your new nation, we go in and bomb you into the stone age and then leave."

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Afgh. Part One was fought using Clintonian military doctrines. Put only special forces on the ground to mobilize the locals, support them with air strikes. Get the bad guys and empower the good guys to fight their own battles. Bosnia, Afghanistan part 1, Libya, popping Osama.

We could have toppled the Taliban and left. Sure, there'd still be a mess... just like today. Only with us ONE TRILLION DOLLARS A LESS IMPOVERISHED.

ANd yes, "If anything like the Taliban rises again, we'll come back and do it again." Duh.

Compare this to the way Republicans wage war. Vastly expensive ways to drain US coffers into the open maws of family friends. While accomplishing not a single tangible improvement in our status viz the world.

RandyB said...


"We could have toppled the Taliban and left. Sure, there'd still be a mess... just like today. Only with us ONE TRILLION DOLLARS A LESS IMPOVERISHED."

Yes and no.

Part Two was fought with bipartisan and international support.

It was the liberals who'd been calling Afghanistan "the real war" -- even while being completely unable to tell leftists to ask their Islamist friends to stop fighting. During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama had then been suggesting we should invade Pakistan.

Had we bombed the Taliban, and then left the Afghans to fight it out for themselves, the 2004 campaign would been very interesting. Senators Kerry and Edwards had both voted for the Iraq war. They could have played uber-hawks while Afghanistan crumbled.

I think you're also missing that Al Qaeda would have played the alternative history differently. They'd have thrown a lot more jihadis into Afghanistan if we weren't in Iraq drawing them there (however unintentionally). That was during a time when it was difficult to put many troops in Afghanistan. It took years to set those bases up.

But in hindsight, and leaving out the bit about our status in the world, you're mostly right. Plus, the marginal price of nukes would be relatively cheap for us.

akidderz said...

Reminds of the first season of the West Wing where fictional President Bartlet articulated one (hoped for) aspect of the Clinton doctrine.

"Did you know that 2000 years ago, a Roman Citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation. He could walk across the earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words ‘civus romanus': I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens. Where was Morris' protection or anyone else on that airplane? Where was the retribution for the families? Where is the warning to the rest of the world, that Americans shall walk this earth unharmed, lest the clenched fist of the most powerful nation in all mankind comes crashing down on your house? In other words... what the hell are we doing here?... Well, our behavior has produced some crappy results, in fact I'm not sure that it hasn't induced it. I am talking about 286 American Marines in Beirut. I am talking about Somalia. I'm talking about Nairobi. He had a ten day old baby at home. We are doing nothing."

rewinn said...

"...Senator Obama had then been suggesting we should invade Pakistan.

It's nonsense like this that makes the modern "conservative" completely nonpersuasive.

PRESIDENT Obama "invaded" Pakistan to kill bin Ladn. In a technical sense, every time a drone flies over Ruritania, we're invading it; every special ops mission in a nonconsenting country is an invasion.

To equate that successful policy with the Bush Administration's counterproductive war policy is a waste of breath; no-one believes it. Although to be fair, the Bush Doctrine *was* extremely successful in achieving its twin aims of robbing our Treasury and dominating our domestic political process. That it did so by crippling our nation's future is a new species of treason.

rewinn said...

Meanwhile, has amusing commentary on google glasses ...
... followed by a slick way to research penguins

RandyB said...


You're missing two things:

1) That was considered a tough statement at the time he said it during the campaign.

2) President Obama ran on, and followed through, an increase of troops in Afghanistan.

I'm not criticizing the decisions. I'm just pointing out that these were his decisions.

David Brin said...

Randy B offered a screed of such utter bull: "Part Two was fought with bipartisan and international support."

No it is called patriotism and backing your president, even when he is of the other party and giving him the benefit of the doubt, something you guys have NEVER done for Clinton or Obama. The record is perfect. Nixon and Reagan and Bush and Bush were all able to negotiate bills with democratic congresses. The opposite almost never happens. EVER.

So, Bush Jr lied to us and then lied lied lied.... and you want to blame the naive patriots who swallowed the lies? Bullshit.

"It was the liberals who'd been calling Afghanistan "the real war" -- even while being completely unable to tell leftists to ask their Islamist friends to stop fighting."

This is heinous bullshit to a degree that even RandyB should not stoop. Every phrase, every word is a goddam pile of lying dreck

So is this "During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama had then been suggesting we should invade Pakistan."

I'll answer AS IF Randy had replied like a logical person and patriot.

Osama's whole and entire goal, in launching 9/11, was to draw us into a quagmire in the Kush mountains, like the one when Osama helped humble the OTHER superpower. We had to go. But Phase one surprise Osama and worked beautifully. Then Bush FELL FOR the trap and mired us in to trillion dollar land wars of attrition in Asia.

We swore we'd never do that again. But then Bush did it.

Hindsight? HINDSIGHT???????? Two... freaking... trillion dollars. Don't you DARE talk to us about deficits.

Zkid... Obama finally had his boys pop three caps into Osama's brain pan. Whole operation cost a couple of million. That's how Democrats wage war.

Hypnos said...

Rob, we can see how well separation is working out for the Sudans. Expect total war to break out in a matter of months.

"even while being completely unable to tell leftists to ask their Islamist friends to stop fighting"

I think you might have misspelled "ISI" there.

Atomsmith said...

> We swore we'd never do that again. But then Bush did it.

Ah, Bush. I remember that guy.

RandyB said...


I'm not sure where you're getting that. I don't recall criticizing President Obama's current war policy here other than to say that he isn't doing what you suggested. (I criticized the far left a lot, and the liberals for not calling them out, but that's not the same thing.) Hindsight or not, most Democrats were pretty much supportive of the war in Afghanistan while we had troops in Iraq.

If Osama bin Laden really wanted to draw us into a quagmire in the Kush mountains, he shouldn't have told the jihadis to follow us into Iraq.


"I think you might have misspelled "ISI" there.

Nope. The far left has pro-war Islamist friends. I'm not aware of any with friends in the ISI.

rewinn said...

@RandyB -
You're missing two things:

1. Your claim was nonsense. Obama never advocated invading Pakistan as persons of ordinary intelligence understand the term.

2. It doesn't matter whether *I* am missing anything; the fact is that you are not arguing effectively because you are arguing nonsense. Pray continue; I can't stop you from cutting your own throat.

Meanwhile ... when are we going to see Contrary Tumblr?

Hypnos said...

The far left has all sorts of friends.

But what you were suggesting is for some kind of influence to exist - and that's what ISI does.

LarryHart said...


The far left has pro-war Islamist friends

So? The far left also has pro-feminist anti-Islamicist friends. Someone on the "far left" can probably be found spouting any position you wish to criticize. But the "far left" also happens to have nothing at all to do with the policies of the current president or Senators or anyone else actually in power. The "far left" is one of President Obama's loudest critics.

Meanwhile, the "far right" actually runs a major political party and the Supreme Court, plus numerous state governments, and are putting their policies in place as fast as they can--against the will of the voters they tricked into electing them--knowing the next election is a hard deadline.

Point being--the "far left" has nothing to do with me or any other real liberals.

David Brin said...

That RandyB is incapable of even seeing how his statements were not only lies but dastardly vicious ones seems utterly pathetic to me.

Truly insane-level shit.

RandyB said...


The term "far left" is generally used for socialists, communists, people who call themselves anarchists, etc. "Far right" is generally for neo-Nazis, some types of otherwise left-wing nationalists, sometimes the Larouchites, and other right-wing extremists.

The far right tries to attend Tea Party events, but the Tea Party disavows them. It doesn't invite them up as speakers. To say that the mainstream GOP is far right, you'd need to find another expression to describe those extremists who have a completely different set of goals.

The far left doesn't simply attend left-wing functions, it actually runs most of the "anti-war" demonstrations (hence the friendship with Islamists), as well as the Occupado movement, which was itself promoted by some very prominent Democrats.

To the extent that there's going to be some extremist bleed-through in any movement, it's a far, far bigger problem for the left. I've mentioned that "anti-war" demonstration, and its links to terrorists, over and over. If you want to call the entire "anti-war" movement extremists who has nothing to do with regular liberals, then go right ahead. It's about time that somebody did.


I'm sure I'll get that one of these days. It'll be a V-8 moment.

David Brin said...

Geez it gets worse and worse. Does somebody live near enough to him to check if he's taken some bad acid?

Seriously. I am shifting from feeling offended to deeply concerned.

Really bad acid, with peyote and antifreeze chaser.

Jumper said...

A comparison of Taliban and al Quaida objectives and U.S. far-right goals might be in order. There are so many parallels I can only begin.

Subjugation of women.
Severe punishments, cruel and unusual to Westerners.
Anarchy for bin Laden and his rich friends, theocracy for the rest.
Hatred of other religions.
Suppression of subversive art.
A belief in an idyllic past, free of the Enlightenment.
Strong gun worship.

David Brin said...

Abso-freaking lutely, Jumper.

Shared traits among Islamist fanatics, some kooky far-leftists, and the entire American right.

Only a thin veneer... the majority in most blue states... seems to care about the future anymore.

Acacia H. said...

Perhaps we need to start pushing a new Constitutional Amendment: The United States shall not declare war or a military action without having the action paid for by tax increases that exist solely for the war or military action and end once the war or military action comes to an end.

It makes a lot of sense. It is a form of "balanced budget amendment" that the Repubs are pushing. It would be turned down flat by every single Republican. But boy I would be willing to bet that with it in place, Repubs would be far less likely to wage war on other nations.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

David, you might want to see a movie "Bug." It's best to see it cold without advance knowledge. But I say that about most movies. It's not for kids, though. It's a psychological movie done by William Friedkin. It's horrendous. Later you laugh. Gulp.

Tim H. said...

A few Republicans had the right idea about Afghanistan, at least I'm guessing Jerry Pournelle wasn't alone in that, but he isn;t running the party. Shame the GOP returns so little respect for him, given the loyalty he has for the party.

infanttyrone said...

Nope. The far left has pro-war Islamist friends. I'm not aware of any with friends in the ISI.

Just guessing, but maybe what Hypnos was getting at is the idea that if the Taliban is a Frankenstein-style monster, then the Pakistani intelligence community should be addressed as "Dr. ISI"...after all, who do you think created the Taliban ?
My wife and I sold comm gear to a number of companies and provincial police agencies in Pakistan from 1991 until 1997. The police that you might have seen clips of (on CNN or elswehere) beating back pro-Osama enthusiasts in Peshawar after 9/11 communicated with industrial-strength radios we sourced from Japan and supplied to a Lahore outfit that had the right connections in NWFP.

That the Taliban was an ISI project was pretty much taken for granted by all of our commercial and military contacts. An open question might be whether the creation process was an ISI matter from start to finish or did ISI have some input from the CIA or other US intelligence agencies.

Dr. Brin,

Obama finally had his boys pop three caps into Osama's brain pan. Whole operation cost a couple of million. That's how Democrats wage war.

The enterprises undertaken by Wilson, Roosevelt, and Johnson were not done on nearly this sort of shoestring budget. Germany made the first move in the first two of these, but Vietnam...not so much.
I'm with you most of the time, but maybe your rhetoric was hijacked by some amanita muscaria. Replying to RandyB has that effect on me too sometimes...for some reason the old line about a mushroom being fed horseshit and kept in the dark comes to mind.

All of y'all,

If you don't know his name and story, please read a summary bio of General Smedley Butler (Wiki has a good page on him) and consider investing a couple hours or so in reading his 1935 long pamphlet/short book called "War is a Racket".

Best quote from it is below:
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Before getting all excited and ascribing a bunch of abstract political motivations (e.g., exporting democracy) to each other's left or right "side", we should reflect on the evidence that what drove US policy for a century or more was the opportunity, after the application of some amount of military force (conveniently paid for by the US taxpayers), for corporations to go to another country and take their resources at bargain prices. Weapons manufacturers generally made their money on the front end of this process and other corporations (e.g. United Fruit) made theirs after the victorious military process gave birth to a new local market environment. Resources have not been such a big consideration recently, but an adversary to justify the production and purchase of ever-better weaponry seems to be an ongoing requirement.

Jumper said...

The thing is the inner impulse of so many Southerners to think multi-generationally is quite innate; it's been deliberately quashed by eschatological memes.

Granted there is historical precedence. Perhaps the fault lies in ourselves for not predicting the millennial madness and its progress and taking precautions. Students of history might note it didn't just suddenly die down in 1001, it lingered a few years before the numerologists all fell repeatedly and painfully on their faces.

The South got screwed in Reconstruction, and was poor for the next 60 years. Then the Depression hit. Red states. For some reason literacy was low among all groups. I am unsure why.

But hope for the future is just beneath just about any human's facade, [even if it's derailed by angertainment addiction].

I wouldn't give up on this.

infanttyrone said...


Here's one of Smedley Butler's ideas for making war less likely/profitable:

Acts of war to be decided by those who fight it via a limited plebiscite to determine if the war is to be fought. Eligible to vote would be those who risk death on the front lines.

Sound like any Dean of SciFi we know ? Butler's even more hard-core, since my recollection is that Heinlien's system allowed veterans to vote in addition to active duty personnel.

David Brin said...


Alan said...

I'm not so sure about taxpayers profiting from TARP - the numbers keep going up and down.

Plus there's the whole moral hazard thing going on.

LarryHart said...


The term "far left" is generally used for socialists, communists, people who call themselves anarchists, etc. "Far right" is generally for neo-Nazis, some types of otherwise left-wing nationalists, sometimes the Larouchites, and other right-wing extremists.

I go back to the original French Revolution-era usage. Right-wing (to me) is authoritarian and pro-aristocracy. Left-wing is pro-levelling. "Far left" would be those who think that EVERYTHING belongs to the commons. "Far right" would be those who think that EVERYTHING rightly belongs to those powerful enough to grab and hold it.

The far right tries to attend Tea Party events, but the Tea Party disavows them. It doesn't invite them up as speakers.

The Tea Party was the tail that was wagged by the corporatist dog. I'm not saying that the mainstream Republicans are Tea-Partiers. I'm saying the Tea-Partiers were essentially used by the mainstream Republicans.

To say that the mainstream GOP is far right, you'd need to find another expression to describe those extremists who have a completely different set of goals.

I just did. "Right-wingers", 1789 style. Or perhaps "corporatists" is the better term for the 2000's incarnation, because corporations are the modern day aristocrats.

The far left doesn't simply attend left-wing functions, it actually runs most of the "anti-war" demonstrations (hence the friendship with Islamists), as well as the Occupado movement, which was itself promoted by some very prominent Democrats.

You're equating the part with the whole. Sure "pro-Islamicist" groups would be against the idea of America fighting them in a war. That does NOT imply that all opposition to a war is pro-Islamicist.

Seriously--you can't conceive of any other reason for thinking "Rushing to war is a bad idea," other than "We want the other side to win."???

If you want to call the entire "anti-war" movement extremists who has nothing to do with regular liberals, then go right ahead. It's about time that somebody did.

No, the ENTIRE anti-war movement isn't extremists. The pro-Islamicist factions (if they even exist outside of your head) would be.

Back in the 1930s, the anti-war party was the Republicans. Doubtless you'd consider them to have been pro-Germanists. Oh wait, bad example since they probably really WERE pro-German. How about the anti-Revolution colonists in 1776. I suppose they were pro-Royalty too? Oh wait, another bad example. Y'know, I'm starting to see why you think anti-war liberals are pro-enemy. It's because anti-war CONSERVATIVES generally are.