Saturday, October 27, 2012

Do the U.S. 2012 elections reflect the Fermi Paradox? The empty Galaxy?

The Fermi Paradox is the question of why we seem to be alone in our neck of the universe. Why don't we observe any blatant signs of intelligent life in the cosmos, including the great works that our own descendants may begin to build, if we give them a good start in the right direction?

When I first started writing about this 30 years ago, I called it the Mystery of the Great Silence -- a quandary that we've covered here and elsewhere, in articles that list over 100 hypotheses for why we appear to be alone.  A topic that is also woven into the weft and flow of my new novel, Existence.

Almost everyone who dives into this subject swiftly chooses a favorite theory.  Perhaps life erupts rarely, or intelligence, or most life worlds are more oceanic so that few create hands-and-fire users, or maybe life gets pounded in most places by comets or supernovae.  I've had the role of cataloguing these theories, refusing to tout just one! But I do have a personal Top Ten list. And two of these most-plausible explanations for the Great Silence are of significance to us today.

That's because two of them relate to political choices we'll make next week, in the United States of America. These two scenarios, which may seriously winnow down the number of visible galactic civilizations -- and might soon do the same to us -- are:

1. Bad governance leads to Big Mistakes (e.g. nuclear war, eco-collapse etc.) that kill off or render impotent many or most technological species. Note that this is a whole class of potential failure modes, a minefield of errors that young, technological races might commit, veering past one doom and escaping the next before tumbling into a third... or fourth... or...

2. Most tech species slump into the same social attractor state that snared 99% of human cultures. That pattern, repeated from Egypt and Meso-America to Babylon, China and Rome -- from Tokugawa Japan to Bourbon France to Hanoverian England -- was family-based oligarchy. The standard, pyramid-shaped social order wherein conservative elites (king, lords, priests, wizards) squelch rapid scientific advancement and middle class innovation as a threat to their carefully maintained inherited privilege.

This system - (envision all the endless variants on feudalism) - was dominant in nearly all past human societies because, for one thing, it is reproductively self- reinforcing! Indeed, you see the same drive at work in the hierarchy-seeking or harem-keeping behaviors of males in countless other species on Earth. It's a powerful and deeply natural attractor state and there's no reason it won't be likewise compelling in other realms across the cosmos.

At a glance, it is obvious how both #1 and #2 are "Fermi-relevant" failure modes that could stymie many -- perhaps most -- intelligent-technological species from communicating or spreading among the stars. Other factors may also come into play.  But these two are persuasive top candidates.

== Does oligarchy limit the potential for collapse? ==

Contemplating these two potential explanations for the Great Silence raises a question: do these two winnowing factors work together?  Or against each other?

After all, one of the top rationalizations that oligarchies have given, when they suppress science and markets, competitive invention and enterprise, is that the priests and lords are acting for the good of all.  Preventing instability and disruption. Indeed, this is a chief point raised by Jared Diamond in his great, highly-recommended, but disturbingly off-target book COLLAPSE.

In other words, a lot of species might find serenity through #2 -- while most of the rest are swept away by #1.  Together the pair may help to explain the interstellar quiet.  And naturally, the genteel stagnation represented by #2 seems preferable to the effective extinction of #1. Assuming these two choices represent our only alternatives -- and some of the characters in my new novel EXISTENCE argue that point -- then we have a pretty good idea why the stars appear so lifeless and empty of voices.

But as we'll see, that may be a false way of looking at things.  Rather, I will contend that the oligarchy process guarantees falling into fatal pitfalls, rather than avoiding them.

== The Fermi Paradox and U.S. Politics ==

These two paths and types of failure modes seem especially relevant to the present US elections. COMPETENCE and RENUNCIATION are the distill-words.  Even if you favor oligarchic conservatism as a model for our future, over the fevered drive of Periclean-egalitarian positive sum games... you are still behooved to consider the competence issue. But hold that thought. We'll get back to competence and option #1 in a minute.

First, how does Fermi Choice #2 -- oligarchy-pushed renunciation -- bear upon the 2012 campaign?  It's relevant!

Consider: in the recent debates one candidate spoke about "science" fourteen times , whereas the other has has barely mentioned it during the campaign trail.

American scientists have voted with their feet, with only 6% now calling themselves Republican. (It used to be about 50%). Indeed, the head of the GOP controlled House of Representatives Science Committee recently and repeatedly declared the Earth to be 9000 years old.  Yes, the head of the Science Committee. Of the House of Representatives. Of the United States of America.

In every conceivable way, from science to education... all the way to the rebuilding of a vastly powerful American Oligarchy, the GOP is your party if you feel that renunciation and a return to traditional patterns of aristocratic rule is preferable to Periclean instability. It is the Olde Way, pushed hardest via a media empire owned by multiple foreign billionaires, including the Saudi Royal Family.

Moreover, it may be that millions of other species faced similar choices and all picked this route! The decision may be inevitable. The star lanes may appear empty because a myriad other races made the same, Darwin-driven choice -- settling into genteel, aristocracy-tended conservatism. Which I'll admit beats extinction.

Still, in weighing this choice, I know what decision I will argue for. I vote to keep faith with Pericles and Adam Smith and Washington and Franklin and Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and Jonas Salk and Warren Buffett and the Silicon Valley geeks. 

Yes, the Periclean Western Enlightenment, with its egalitarianism, transparency, competitive markets, democracy and flat, anti-oligarchic social order does charge ahead into the future.  And yes, the faster we charge ahead, the more we'll need transparency and freedom, to probe ahead of us, finding mine fields, quicksand pools and other pitfall-dangers ahead. And yes, the nostalgia junkies and oligarchy-lovers have a point when they cry out "slow down!"

But think.  The fundamental fact of the Fermi Paradox is that we see no signs of advanced civilization "boldly going" about, out there.  So, if oligarchic pyramids are the main attractor state, among the stars, isn't that an argument that we should try something else? Perhaps something unusual? Something like this enlightenment?

Think about that a while.  Chew on it. Put it all together. If 99% of human cultures did the natural thing, and most other sapients do, as well, and we see empty star lanes... then maybe, just maybe, we should do something different. I say we ought to stick with Pericles.

Ah, but that only addresses failure mode #2. Then there is Fermi failure mode #1 and that matter of competence! 

== Stand on your record of governance ==

Whether you support the Periclean Experiment (in this election that makes you Blue... or largely a democrat... or maybe libertarian), or else you happen to favor a return to the oligarchic pattern of 6000 years (in other words, a follower of Fox-owners Rupert Murdoch and Prince bin Walied)... there remains the other Fermi Factor listed above.

Factor #1.  Is your side any good at governing?

You might yearn for a king, but if the one available is horridly stupid and BAD at statecraft, maybe you should side with the Pericleans for a while and wait for a better king.

Please.  Put aside preconceptions.  Use curiosity to overcome the all-too human tendency -- to funnel disliked information through the emotional amygdala.  If presented with clear and systematic proof that your side is incompetent, will you at least have a look? Instead of skimming.

Cutting through all the polemic, attack ads and sketchy evasiveness, this 2012 U.S. election ought to boil down to which party tends to govern better. On that, the historical record is clear. For those who can still be swayed by factual comparisons - and if you care about the role America might play in taking civilization to the stars - have a look at these stark contrasts and share them with others:

"How Democrats and Republicans differ at defense and waging war,"

This one has gone viral, drawing a lot of hits from regions where soldiers and sailors live.  If we must endure dangerous times, shouldn't we compare who does defense well? The blatant facts may shock you.

"The Eight Top Causes of the Deficit "Fiscal Cliff,"

In tallying reasons for the deficit, we see one party vastly more at fault than the other, and yet that culprit is the noisiest in denouncing the debt it created!  Supporting evidence comes from Forbes, the business magazine, which tallied the rate of increase of government spending under the last five presidents, including Reagan.  The rate of increase was lowest under Clinton and Obama. Please. Click to scan the Eight Reasons for the Deficit and judge for yourself.

"Which party stands up for science?"

This one is just awful.  You cannot name a clade of intellect and knowledge in American life that is not under attack by Fox.  But science bears the brunt.  That that is an absolute proof which side you must be on, in this trumped up phase of the American Civil War.

These are not convenient, cherry-picked anecdotes or assertions, but complete lists for clear comparison, backed up by economists, generals, admirals and the 95% of U.S. scientists who voted with their feet, abandoning a party that plunged America into anti-science hysteria.

Finally, do we really want our geopolitics run by someone who thinks that Syria is Iran's route to the sea?

== Might we be the exceptions? ==

Getting back to Fermi... one question stands foremost: who will govern better?  Those who are willing to negotiate openly, fight carefully, manage cautiously and consult science as we charge into an uncertain future?  Or dogmatists who erased every scientific panel that used to advise Congress from 1940 till 1996?  Because those panels offered inconvenient and impudent things called facts.

The great historian Arnold Toynbee studied every known Earthly civilization and concluded that societies either thrive or fail in direct proportion to how much trust and initiative they willingly invest in their "creative minorities."  The far-lookers and problem solvers.

We are plunging ahead into a mine-field, one that may have killed every other sapient race in our galaxy!  Can we be the first to pick a safe path across?

Not if we wallow in nostalgia and tell the smartest people in our society to go to hell.


Ian Gould said...

"2. Most tech species slump into the same social attractor state that snared 99% of human cultures. That pattern, repeated from Egypt and Meso-America to Babylon, China and Rome -- from Tokugawa Japan to Bourbon France to Hanoverian England -- was family-based oligarchy. The standard, pyramid-shaped social order wherein conservative elites (king, lords, priests, wizards) squelch rapid scientific advancement and middle class innovation as a threat to their carefully maintained inherited privilege."

That'd be the same Hanoverian England that gave us Tom Paine, Adam Smith, James Watt, Michael Faraday; the Chartists, the Industrial Revolution and the abolitionist movement?

Stefan Jones said...

There is a wonderful side-plot (one of many, MANY side plots) in Dickens' Bleak House, in which a wealthy industrialist approaches ... confronts, really . . . the story's token noble, Sir Dedlock. He asks that one of Dedlock's maids be released from service so he could marry his son.

Dedlock is disgusted by the thought of a good servant being ruined by education, and by being bossed about by the industrialist.

We see, subtly, in that novel, the beginning of the end of Britain's pyramid.

The folks Ian mentioned . . . how many of those were "insiders?" Members of the established social hierarchy?

David Brin said...

Ian said"That'd be the same Hanoverian England that gave us Tom Paine, Adam Smith, James Watt, Michael Faraday; the Chartists, the Industrial Revolution and the abolitionist movement?"

I KNEW that'd geta rise! But what do you think Adam Smith was writing about? That Tom Paine was rebelling against?

David Brin said...

Not a biggie but chilling if predictive of behavior in office:

Unknown said...

David, Ian, others:

RE: the Hudson essay in Foreign Policy, I largely agree with all of you. In particular, both David and Ian appear to be saying that while her points are valid it's not true that a comparison between the situation decades ago and today wouldn't show that there has been improvement. Further, Ian compares the situation with violence against women to that of native indigenous Australian, where social improvement has taken place as well.

Note the government policy to take and resettle aboriginal children from their families and have them adopted by white families as a method of social integration. This policy was fully ended by as recently as the 1970s; interestingly, a time when gender rights were of paramount importance as well.

However, I note that there have been no women to comment on this matter here. That only men appear to be congratulating society on its movement forward, rather than a women complaining bitterly of how much left there is to do, is something we should all note here.

Aqua100 said...

Wow! I think he's blaming Obama and Romney for destroying intelligent life throughout the universe. ;)


Unknown said...

Getting back to the discussion on story-telling.

I just finished Whitley Strieber's The Last Vampire, a sequel to The Hunger. I haven't read the latter, I've only seen the film version with Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie. But this book was selling at a Salvos for .99 cents Aus and since I liked the film I thought I'd give the book a read.

The only other Strieber book I've read is Communion, his supposedly first person true-to-life account of being an alien abduction victim. He claims it's not fiction, so I guess there's not much to say there without going off topic into UFOs.

If Ann Rice's prose were compared in style to Hemingway, in that she writes straightforward sentences in the vein of a reporter presenting just the facts - like an objective observer floating just above the action; watching yet unable to read minds; devoid of effective simile and metaphor and thus lacking in powerful imagery - then Strieber is the exact opposite in that he tries to match F. Scott Fitzgerald's intimate style of presenting the internal world of his characters' experiences as a mise en scene of narration which flows by for the reader like a stream of ephemeral sensations and thoughts. Strieber is very effective at this.

The first half of the novel I enjoyed very much. His set up in the first chapter for Mirium Blalock is near perfection. She wants a vampire child, so she travels to an Asian Keeper (Vampire) conclave - a general meeting every one hundred years - so she can find a mate. Instead, she discovers that the cove of Vampires has been routed by humans, with every last one of them killed. So she runs to Paris in order to warn the next conclave of the coming human threat. She makes a terrible mistake feeding at the wrong time and nearly gets caught in French customs. And from there we are introduced to her primary nemesis, CIA agent Paul.

OK. Now we have the traditional protagonist-antagonist dichotomy, with Striber passing back and forth the narration between each, so we get both perspectives. However, this aspect of the book is seriously flawed as Strieber's depiction of Miriam is as strong as his depiction of Paul is weak.

Paul's problem is that he is boilerplate wrapped in cliche presented as a stereotype. If you've seen Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Blade Runner, Die Hard, etc etc etc, you know this character. Paul is a Vietnam vet and so he drinks too much and takes drugs; he's mentally warped by his numerous killings and yet would carefully capture an insect to let it loose outside; he drones on and on about how all he needs is love and yet finds companionship through Asian whores. Blech.

This is in contrast to Miriam, who though is a Vampire and not human, is presented with a human touch. Perhaps Strieber simply can't write male characters.

By the time the book hits its middle, Striber begins transitioning from Miriam to Paul as the major perspective of the novel, and here is where it falls apart. In the process, Miriam's primary concerns - to have a baby and to save her kind - are sidelined for Paul's primary concern, which is to wipe out of existence every last Vampire on earth. With only two field agents and a CIA brass increasingly hostile to his project. In fact, the CIA and the White House decide that Vampires are an endangered species. Hey, killing people for food is just their way of life. Because... liberal cultural relativist postmodernism. Stuff.


Unknown said...

He forges an alliance with a French intelligence agency who has been spying on the Paris clan since the end of World War II and routs this cove with a small team and some big guns. Miriam just barely escapes. Then she returns to her native New York and begins planning revenge against Paul.

Somehow, Paul is the key to this menace wiping out hundreds - thousands? - of Vampires all over the Earth. Why is that? Why is Paul so special? Don't you want to know?

No, I don't. F*ck you, Strieber.

Well, about two-thirds of the way in, Striber begins hinting that Paul is actually a Vampire. Even though he eats food. See, he heals faster than anyone else in existence. And he's fast - super fast. And he can smell out these Vampires. He's just like... oh, where have we seen a good-guy/bad-guy Vampire before? I think I saw something like SuperFly with a sword sometime back in the '90s. Made? Grade? Sade? Hades? Perhaps it begins with a "B".


But let's not forget Miriam's goal here. Wasn't that to save Vampiredom? No, it was to have a baby. Who do you think impregnates her? And what do you think will happen to this vampire who doesn't know he's a vampire after he realizes he's a daddy?

If you guessed character growth, a duncecap and standing in the corner for you.

For even though Paul is forced to realize what he is, and even though he learns he is her daddy, and even though his being a vampire is the only reason Miriam didn't tear him apart limb from limb for having killed so many of her own kind... he still tries to kill her and leaves with his own team in the end because... he has a mission. To kill all the Vampires. Even though he's told by his teammebers they're all killed anyway.

Now there's a dent in the wall where my head's been banging.

Please. make. this. pain. go. away!!!!

The truly sad thing here is that Striber had a brilliant concept about half-way through the book that had he pursued would have made the whole thing pure butter to read. See, forget Paul and his secret CIA kill team. Forget the notion of one badass guy laying genocidal waste to vampiredom. Instead, Strieber suggests that the Vampire race had been herding humanity like cows for thousands of generations. Vampires are the progenitors of the human race, having genetically engineered us over thousands of years.

OK, fine enough. But then, after the enlightenment, humanity changed and the vampires didn't realize it. Strieber suggests - but does not follow through - on the notion that while an individual human is but a low candle to the spotlight of a vampire, that even though a vampire is ten times stronger than a man, ten times smarter, and lives indefinitely... that man's growth with society and technology has outmatched the vampire race completely. Thus, it is not one person - Paul - who threatens vampires but - like an ant colony - the unthinking interconnections and feedback loops of society which imperils the vampire from controlling humanity by afar as they did long ago.

This would have been brilliant had he followed up on it. But he didn't. Instead it ended like bad Bruce Willis thriller. And I wanted to throw the book at the wall where my head had made its dents.


Ian said...

As a partisan of the englightement, I'm naturally inclined to buy into arguments in its favor - but as David likes to point out, our capacity for self-criticism is what makes us almost unique in human history.

Hanoverian England is something of a special case: the British oligarchy had suffered successive knocks in the period prior to George the First's succession: the Civil War, the Commonwealth; the overthrow of Charles II; the conditional offer of the throne ot William and Mary.

The Hanoverians (the first two of them anyway)were bright enough to allow a degree of free speech and a degree of social mobility.

By our standards, conditions were still barbaric of course, But, for example, there was no government licensing of printers and publishers as in contemporary Europe.

There was also the beginning of free trade -see the Corn Laws.

Ironically, it was George the third's intransigience and insistence on his imagined preogatives s monarch that led to the effective end of monarchical power (and the American Revolution).

Whereas in America there's an abrupt transition to the trapezoid (if we disregard slavery for the moment) in Britian and the British colonies (including Australia) there's a lengthy (and arguably still incomplete)transitional period.

For all David's generally correct fulminations about the stupidity, cupidity and lack of foresight of most oligarchs, George the Fourth, William the Fourth, Victoria and her husband Albert Victor were actually pretty bright.

They realzied that by ceding the substance of power, they could retain the semblance of power and many of the perks that went with it.

(It's instructive to compare the British response to Australia's Eureka Stockade to the response to the Boston Tea Party. Within a decade of the suppression of the Eureka Stockade uprising the British had granted effective selfgovernment to most of the Australian colonies replacing advisory appointed Legislative Councils with elected legisaltive assemblies.)

Ian said...

Maynard, I'm not so much congratulating society on progress to date as pointing out that progress is possible and is ongoing.

That this is the case, is more the result of the courage of women and girls like Malala Yousafzai than anything we western males have done.

Dmitry Groshev said...

Leaving elections aside, I think it would be really interesting to hear your thoughts on the political gap between USA/Europe and Africa/Middle-East/CIS. By gap I mean the ascending spiral of democratic processes in former and the descending spiral of totalitarian government and political apathy (the last Russian election was hilarious with voter participation as low as 11% in some regions) in latter. And it's even worse in most Middle-East countries, where tyranny is only that ever was. Given the exponential growth of Western prosperity, this gap will become problematic more and more, and it's really not obvious how to make social processes that lead to democracy come faster. For example, what can be done in Russia?

Ian said...

"By gap I mean the ascending spiral of democratic processes in former and the descending spiral of totalitarian government and political apathy (the last Russian election was hilarious with voter participation as low as 11% in some regions) in latter. And it's even worse in most Middle-East countries, where tyranny is only that ever was."

Sorry, Dmitry, I can understand and appreciate your concerns about deocracy in Russia and "the near abroad" butr I think your view or the Middle East is sadly mistaken,

As we speak, Syrians are fighting and dying for democracy.

How many of the cmmentators here can say thst?

Carl M. said...

I have some problems with your chart. Sometimes policies of a president result in bigger spending further down the road. Medicare and Social Security come to mind.

Meanwhile, the Reagan military buildup arguably allowed for deep spending cuts later on. Putting an end to the Cold War was worth running up some debt. (Deficit spending to maintain an empire as we have been doing since 9/11 is insanity.)

The two Bushes were indeed wasteful spenders. The first gave us ADA and the second expanded Medicare.

Then again, we don't yet have figures on the true cost of Obamacare. Some of them won't surface for quite some years.

As for your theory of war, I would suggest this is a very recent phenomenon. Who ended the draft and got us out of Viet Nam? Who refused to go back in when North Viet Nam invaded? How well did the Democrats fight the Korean War?

Dmitry Groshev said...

Ian, I'm speaking about Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and such.

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

Putting an end to the Cold War was worth running up some debt. (Deficit spending to maintain an empire as we have been doing since 9/11 is insanity.)

Not to argue with Carl, but going off on a tangent...

Deficit spending to prevent or to mitigate a Great Depression is also worthwhile. Republicans have a stated strategy of running up debt when they are in power, and then whining about debt when Democrats are in power.

Voters who are genuinely concerned about debt might legitimately say they don't care which party is running it up--we just have to stop. And they'd have a point--kind of. But consider the paradoxical truism that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Democrats are at least willing to decrease the deficit in boom times (see late 90s), something the Bush administration put a halt to with its premature tax cuts.

Republicans don't cut spending--they just increase the deficit as an alternative to raising taxes. And their insistence that THEY (Repbublicans) increased the deficit so much that it's wrong for Obama to raise it any MORE is not only unjust, it is impractical. We're in a recession-if-not-depression because the supply of high-velocity money is too constrained, and constraing it further will only hurt, not help. The deficit-hawks' argument at the moment is the moral equivalent of a parent, disgusted with his unemployed live-at-home adult child, refusing to lend the offspring money to purchase an outfit to interview in. The strategy guarantees that the child will NEVER land a job, and therefore, that he'll live in your basement forever.

Acacia H. said...

On a slightly (okay, probably not slightly) cynical note... if we see an increasingly probable end-scenario for the U.S. Presidential election in that Barack Obama wins the Electoral College vote by winning Ohio and enough swing states... but does not get the Popular Vote majority, does anyone here see riots and major demonstrations in Red States, along with a huge outcry by Republican Governors and State Politicians for secession?

While hunting in Colorado I heard some rather... casually vile language calling Obama a "monkey" for people who otherwise seem decent and likeable... and it made me wonder. With all the hate and bile that Republican politicians are piling up to get their base motivated and out to vote against Obama... what repercussions will come from his likely reelection?

Though I do see one possible scenario if Obama was either assassinated or attacked and incapacitated long-term so Biden had to become president: Vice President Hilary Clinton under Biden, and Clinton running as President in 2016.

Rob H.

John Kurman said...

Carl, you can read the interviews from people in power in the former Soviet Union (the biggest unfortunate problem with the Big Lie about Reagan winning the Cold War is that so many participants are still alive), who will tell you that U.S. policies accounted for perhaps only 10-15% of their problems. That was something they managed to do all on their lonesome - pretty much like we in the U.S. have doing the past 30 years.

So, no, there were any benefits from the military buildup of the 80s have since been cancelled out.

(At the very least, you have to question how a regime could grow and and even thrive under the worst conditions (Stalin, Hitler, 20 million dead, etc.) in the past, but somehow be overcome by significantly lesser challenges.)

sociotard said...

David, recall your comments about India’s chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu, arguing that to reduce bribery we should make the paying of bribes (not the demanding!) legal.

Go watch this youtube video for an amusing instance where this sort of happened. Remember to set your schadenfreud capacity to 11 for max enjoyment.

daedalus2u said...

Humans might have an edge over other sapients due to some idiosyncrasies of human evolution.

First, Earth has a large axial tilt, which provides seasons.

Second, humans are born through a maternal pelvis of limited size. The size of the infant brain at birth is limited. That requires that human intelligence be largely determined through neurodevelopment and not through genetics. This is why GWAS of intelligence can't find any “genes for intelligence”. Most (essentially all) of the dispersion in intelligence is non-genetic. Maybe it is epigenetics mediated through maternal effects in utero. Maybe it is epigenetic through some other mechanism, but it is not genetic or the genes would be obvious and would have been found already.

A top-down hereditary-based oligarchy will not be able to select for intelligence because in humans intelligence is not genetic. That is actually a good thing for humans because it makes human intelligence much more plastic and fluid and able to cope with changes that a genetic-based intelligence neuroanatomy could not.

However evolved xenophobia tribal mechanisms remain strong. However, these are learned and not genetic. The critical time to learn them is during first language acquisition. I discuss how I think that happens.

It can't be “genetic” because there is no way for a genetic mechanism to identify who is kin and who is not (except maybe pheromones and MHC, but mothers still love their mixed race children, and children love their mixed race parents).

There is an interesting paper on what happens to a population of mice that are given unlimited food, water, air. The population expands exponentially and then goes extinct. What is interesting is that the last members die of old age, but they die never having reproduced.

Presumably the extinction is caused by epigenetic programming beyond an adaptive range.

Tacitus said...

I think in the five years Obama has been on the political scene I have heard exactly two offensive comments about him. In each case it was a speaker in his 80s and probably an element of cognitive challenge being present. Sorry you have had to tolerate anything along those lines.
As the designated spokesmen for conservatism I say, if there is a Pop vote/Elect college split that puts Obama in for another four years, well that sort of thing happens. You respect the system. Of course there would be gripes if there were a race so close that fraud could be a factor, that's human nature.
One imagines that even the largest of egos would be cognizant of the import of that non mandate and would adjust accordingly.


Ian said...

Dmitri - valid point in that, we're just using different nomenclature.

On a different topic: since I regularly correct other people on history I'll correct myself here.

Victoria was not a Hanoverian. Hanoverian succession law meant the throne o Hanover went to a male relative.

Now there's an alternate history for you: what if a male had succeeded William on the Brtish throen and the personal union of Hanover and Great BRitain had continued?

It's kind of hard to see Prussia uniting Germany in that world.

Ian said...

A friend posted an image of this. I cn't post it here but the underlying point is great.

"When someone tells you that Obama is destroying the economy, point out that share prices and corporate profits are at an all-tiem high.

When they tell you that hasn't helped them any, remind them they've just admitted trickle-down economics doesn't work."

rewinn said...

@Dr. Brin's essay omits what (on the basis of the single example of humanity) might appear to be a strong driver toward silence: carbon locked up in energy-rich materials.

The temptation to extract that "Ancient Sunlight" energy by releasing the carbon is very big. The incremental harm from each release is very small. Indeed a limited release of the carbon has, in the history of our species, been essential to development. But at some point, the net release must be set to zero or else Earth may enter a vicious cycle turning our fair planet into another Venus.

The only way to survive as a species is to incur costs, and the forces arrayed against doing something have a strong and immediate interest, whereas the forces arrayed in favor of action have a less immediate interest.

The bad news is that, if other life chemistries may have similar issues, the Great Silence may be explainable by a universal preference for avoiding painful, long-term fixes.

The good news is that the entire Universe is a laboratory for developing intelligences that are mature enough to endure short term pain for long term survival..

rewinn said...

@Dr. Brin's essay omits what (on the basis of the single example of humanity) might appear to be a strong driver toward silence: carbon locked up in energy-rich materials.

The temptation to extract that "Ancient Sunlight" energy by releasing the carbon is very big. The incremental harm from each release is very small. Indeed a limited release of the carbon has, in the history of our species, been essential to development. But at some point, the net release must be set to zero or else Earth may enter a vicious cycle turning our fair planet into another Venus.

The only way to survive as a species is to incur costs, and the forces arrayed against doing something have a strong and immediate interest, whereas the forces arrayed in favor of action have a less immediate interest.

The bad news is that, if other life chemistries may have similar issues, the Great Silence may be explainable by a universal preference for avoiding painful, long-term fixes.

The good news is that the entire Universe is a laboratory for developing intelligences that are mature enough to endure short term pain for long term survival..

Jumper said...

Most could envision a benign Philosopher King if pressed, but most also don't necessarily believe that is likely or realistic, either. If the aristocracy is bad at their machinations, collapse will happen; either quickly or slowly. However, a skilled aristocracy could indeed run for evolutionary time spans, theoretically, and their next leap of intelligence be less chaotic as some other species. In theory.

matthew said...

"Human intelligence is not genetic." I call shenanigans. Give a reference for this extremely unlikely statement, please. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and a claim that intelligence is not genetically inheritable is very big leap.
Also, I question the assertion that young women like Malala are primarily responsible for the changing attitudes about women. Credit should also go to generations of men that released their exclusive hold on power. This change had been a team effort, and to neglect to give credit to the progressive male voice is to ignore half the story.

Jumper said...

Science fictionally we can posit a Gaea who worked for millennia to sequester all that carbon and thus create a near-paradise. Then jealous gods rained down comets and destroyed that regulatory intelligence.

Tony Fisk said...

Based on the only bit of evidence we have at present (Earth) I would suggest that sex is a massive barrier to the development of life. 'Le difference' took a substantial period of time to discover! Everywhere else may just have pools of slime molds.

Speaking of amygdalian filters, Hanoverian England also produced the likes of John Harris, whose attempts to gain the Longitude Prize were only successful following the intervention of George III on his behalf. This is something I've noted before: while oligarchies are often portrayed as the 1% oppressing the masses, the very, *very* top... don't so much. Maybe the wannabes are just trying harder? (moral: ew should keep an eye on that tricksy second ring of cognition!)

I'm not saying that David's argument is wrong, just that the situation isn't as simple as us vs them. (According to Joss Whedon is right, it may be just zombies out there!)

David Brin said...

Aqua100 Yes! You are absolutely right! It is true that that is what you think! And that fact is amazing! That we can make people doltish enough to draw that conclusion!''

Cark M I don't mind conservatives having a deity and their idolatry of Reagan is something I can shrug off because, in the 1980s, I was able to see the good in him alongside the bad. (I torched leftists for decrying his "evil empire" characterization of the USSR. It was exactly that.) Still, reagan began the GOP tradition of appointing cabinet officials to departments with the expressed objective of obstructing the departments in the faithful execution of their legal duties. Then, it was an innovation. Now, it is a religion.

Nevertheless, the grand plan to isolate, freeze and wait out the Soviet Union till we out-competed them? That was Marshall, Acheson, Truman and somewhat Eisenhower. Reagan only accelerated the end game, and dangerously. He played chicken with all our lives while the USSR was still ruled by WWII veterans of marginal sanity. And his program only worked because of Gorbachev, the true hero of that era.

Have a look at most nearby parallel worlds. They are radioactive slage from Reagan's gambles. But yes, in this one it worked and so, let them enjoy their deity. Even though he would be drummed out of today's GOP as a RINO.

Daedalus2U you are drawing WAY too far the epigenetics of intelligence. There is definitely a genetic component and some markers have been found. Indeed, when geniuses marry there are very high chances of autism etc. And while their children do drift toward the mean, their odds of intelligent offspring are greater than average.

Top down oligarchs would be able to select for many many things, breeding into their lines the best traits of lower cl;ass members who make themselves stand out for beauty, charisma, talent at reading people, any of dozens of TYPES of intelligence, physical strength.... it is already happening here as movie stars marry each other.

Tacitus... you are NOT offended by "Obama is a Muslim and not an American and inherently not qualified to be president?

David Brin said...

Jumper, GAIA is yet to come. Read EARTH!

Ian I believe (??) that Victoria was a Hanoverian* but in marrying prince Albert the family NAME changed to Saxe-Coburg Gotha. That's what happens. The name is utterly patronymic even if the throne passes down a female line. (In World War One they got rid of the Kraut name and switched to Windsor.)

* (side note. Was Victoria actually the grandchild of GeorgeIII? WHere did the heamophilia gene come from? There's serious doubt the present royals are descendants at all.)

Ian said...

Her father William the IVth was a Hanoverian - i.e. he was a member of the House of Hanover and was King of Hanover as well as king of Great Britian.

But, as I said, Victoria, who was indeed George the Third's granddaughter was ineligible to take the Hanoverian throne. so she wasn't cosndiered a member of the House of Hanover and the royal family reverted to using the older name of Saxe-Coburg.

Victoria was pretty definitely William's biological daughter.

After George III went mad, the throne went to his oldest son, the probably sane but definitely deeply unpleasant George IVth.

Goerge IV fought with EVERYONE. His wife died childless and George was suspected (probably unfairly) of murdering her, having failed to get a divorce. He owed massive amounts of money and spent compulsively (much of it to be fair on some rather nice public buildings). Having cultivated the Liberals when he was trying to get his father deposed, as monarch he became an extrem conservative.

The rest of George III's children were almost as bad. So when it became obvious that not a single European noblewoman was willing to marry George IV and that he'd die heirless Parliament stepped in. (This is another of those steps in the process where effective power passed from the King to Parliament.)

Parliament enacted a law that the throne would go to the first child of George III to produce a legitimate, protestant heir. While Goerge's large family had produced plenty of bastards, not one of them had managed to achieve this seemingly simple task.

William, one of George's younger sons, quickly abandoned his Catholic mistress (who had given him about a dozen children and supported the nearly-bankrupt prince)and married a suitable German Protestant princess.

So did his siblings and for the next several years there was a great wave of royal copulation.

Because there was so much at stake, they all also spied on each other and tried to find any evidence to call the parentage of Victoria and her slightly youngwer cousins into question.

Pretty much everyone agreed that Victoria was indeed William's daughter and as she grew older apparently had a striking reserblance to George III's wife.

The "Marriage Race" was probably the absolute nadir for the British throne (apart from the Commonwealth period under Cromwell)and was probably the only time in Brtish history when there was significant public support for a republic.

Tony Fisk said...

The last time we (inadvertently) tried sequestering carbon we turned a fecund and biologically diverse ecosystem into the arctic tundra as well as possibly exacerbating the last ice age. Timing is everything!

Anonymous said...

Is oligarchy really that stable in the long run? I cannot think of any oligarchy in human history that did not eventually become too top-heavy and was not dismantled by popular revol(u)t(ion) as a result.

Oligarchy is certainly an attractor (power makes it easier to acquire more power), but I don't think it's stable enough for Fermi Paradox timeframes.

Tacitus said...


My shorter and less learned take on the British Royal line:

"In fact, after a few lesser editions of the Charles series, England just started outsourcing their Royals, inviting outsiders to marry in. The first was William, a dutch fellow who became one half of the William and Mary duo. Later some German princes supplied the George series.

As near as I can tell the job description for monarchs in this era was to be solidly Protestant, look good in a wig, and to stay out of the way. They spent most of their energies producing illegitimate children. The apparent record holder in this regard was King William IV, known as Silly Billy, who had at least ten irregular offspring.

It is an interesting question as to how much the female side of the royal family strayed. There were affairs for certain. And we have in our historical journey encountered a few kings who would not object to the outsourcing of heir production. My guess is that the occasional appearance of a competent monarch suggests that there are a few offspring of groundskeepers buried in Westminster Abbey."

Detritus of Empire

Evan said...

@Tacitus2 - Interesting idea. Have there been any Y-chromosome studies of the royal line? I assume that, since we have pretty much every king and queen's body, we could do it any time (with permission of the current crown)?

@ discussion re Syria as Iran's route to the sea - Actually, it is Iran's route to the Mediterranean, though I admit Romney phrased his point very, very badly.

Jonathan S. said...

@J. Maynard: "Strieber suggests - but does not follow through - on the notion that while an individual human is but a low candle to the spotlight of a vampire, that even though a vampire is ten times stronger than a man, ten times smarter, and lives indefinitely... that man's growth with society and technology has outmatched the vampire race completely. Thus, it is not one person - Paul - who threatens vampires but - like an ant colony - the unthinking interconnections and feedback loops of society which imperils the vampire from controlling humanity by afar as they did long ago."

Strieber may have, er, borrowed this. It bears a striking resemblance to part of the backstory of the role-playing game Vampire: the Masquerade, from White Wolf Games. The Kindred, as they call themselves, are individually massively more powerful than humans, with eldritch powers and such - but humans outnumber them by 10,000 to 1, and the last time the Kindred were more-or-less open about things, the Grand Inquisition happened. And since then, humans have developed things like automatic weapons and nuclear devices... Thus, the Kindred enforce a strict Masquerade to hide their kind from discovery, because humanity could easily erase every last vampire from the face of the Earth. (If a player decides his character won't go along with this, his character will be quickly hunted down by every other vampire in the vicinity. Like I said, strictly enforced.)

@Evan - Syria is only Iran's route to the Mediterranean if both Iran and Turkey permit it. And somehow I don't see the Turks just rolling over and letting that happen...

Jonathan S. said...

Correction - that should have read, "...if both Iraq and Turkey permit it."

My keyboard has been infested by typo demons!!

David Brin said...

Ian, I agree that my choosing Hanoverian England was a deliberate provocation, and I am glad you took the bait with erudition! Yes it was a transition age. But the transition set into stark perspective the issues at hand! Adam Smith's complaints and those of Thomas Paine.

Indeed, I blame George III far less than Parliament. It was clear that all they had to do was re-apportion. Eliminate rotten burroughs and give those seats to America. Thirteen seats might have been enough of a sop, but Americans would have soon demanded many more. And that dilution was the thing the lords and quasi-lords short-sightedly refused.

I never said there weren't bright kings! The Plantagenets maintained virile brilliance for 400 years. But fantasy fans and Randroids can never deal with the blatant fact. That all-wise Solomon was followed by an idiot son whose dumb actions broke up the Davidic kingdom.

Carl M... I said clearly my appraisal was post Vietnam. Who do you want? Guys who learned from that disaster? Or idiots who repeat it?

Ian, Victoria wasn't from William IV but from William's brother the Duke of Kent.

Aepxc rtell me who replaced those toppled oligarchs? Other oligarchs, taking over the structure.

Jonathan S... so? The vampires would then use wealth and influence and hypnotism to take over society's top layers. Tell me, have you ever seen Rupert Murdoch's reflection in a mirror?

David Brin said...

Dmitry Groshev, thank you for participating! (1) Western democracies are not seeing exponential prosperity. The middle classes are in crisis... though a pathetically MILD "crisis" compared to anywhere else in the world. Our lords must work hard to convince us that we are still in charge. But you are tight that our investments in Iraq and Afghanistan were spectacularly stupid. The improvements there were not worth trillions of dollars.

What can be done in Russia? You must concentrate on the lowermost level. Create a mass movement that offers Putin a deal:

"Dear President Putin, here is a deal we want to offer you. You may keep your topmost oligarchy and we agree not to threaten it for 15 years. Instead of hoping and striving futilely for nationwide democracy, please note that we will fight corruption at the bottom. The cops who demand bribes. The local bureaucrats who stomp on our dreams. The bribed officials who allow poison into our food and streams. You may control the passage of laws! But do not interfere when we deal with local bullies who break your laws!

"Think of the advantages! Most of the inefficiencies caused by corruption happen locally! So unleash us! Encourage us. Make this movement your own. You will rule with an iron fist over a Russia that is, below the province level, efficient and happy and healthy and free. And when you retire, you can take the credit.

"We ask you to agree to this. But in fact, you have little choice. Soon, citizens will be recording their interactions with all local authority, using tiny cameras that the cops and bribed officials cannot detect. If you make it illegal, we will do it anyway, and that will only strengthen our samizdat e-networks. And if you do that, then we will simply abrogate this deal and aim the cameras higher.

"Accept this deal, Mr. Putin, and Russia may rise to respect among nations. Our women may see enough hope to start having babies again and our men may choose enterprise over vodka. Accept it, and take credit! Or prepare to try to stop the inevitable. And get the blame."

rewinn said...

@Evan - I read the Volokh Conspiracy article to which you linked with great amusement. ACCEPTING ITS PREMISE, that Iraq now loves Iran more than the United States, so much more that it'll help Iran run a fleet out of Syria's port, you've pretty much discredited the GOP's current rationale for invading Iraq. This is a strong argument against Romney's choice of foreign policy advisers. They are, as a noted SF author/scientist recently wrote, signally inept at war strategy.

Or perhaps they visualize an extraordinarily underhanded geopolitical vision in an era in which naval warfare is dominated by air power and satellite imagery. Let Iran put a naval asset into the Mediterranean and act threatening; let the air forces of Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Morocco and Eqypt (did I leave anyone out?) bid in an auction for the right to buzz it. The US can referee or, perhaps, collect a licensing fee to offset tax cuts.

Ian said...

David, thanks for the correction.

As for the theory that Iran desperately wants a "route" to the Mediterranean, why?

They can send ships into the Med now via the Suez Canal. So the Med base only gives them an advantage if they can build a major base there and homebase ships there.

Even assuming they can afford that and would be willing to divert naval resources from the Gulf, we should note that they've been in a position to do this for roughly 35 years at this point and have displayed no interest in doign this.

Acacia H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Acacia H. said...

Here's a powerful blog post on an anti-abortionist who's lost faith in the pro-life movement, the reasons why, and what she's realized about the pro-life group. It gives me some faith for humanity, and also suggests there is a way to get the most die-hard of ostriches to pull their heads from the ground and look around: provide them with statistics showing how to get the results they want... using the other side's theories and beliefs.

I mean it: it was viewing statistics and researching these statistics which changed this person's mind. And the thing is, she followed through on this and found it was the truth. And she was smart enough to think things through afterward to see the lies in the pro-life movement... and how it is ultimately anti-women and intended on keeping the poor poor.

Rob H.

Jonathan S. said...

"... so? The vampires would then use wealth and influence and hypnotism to take over society's top layers. Tell me, have you ever seen Rupert Murdoch's reflection in a mirror?"

That's part of why it's called the World of Darkness - so much is run by actual dark conspiracies, that can keep running because those behind them actually are inhuman monsters.

Murdoch wouldn't be one of the Kindred, though - too public. Probably some vampire's "ghoul" blood-slave...

Ian said...

Here's an interesting new bit of terminology I justran across - although I doubt it'll catch on.

"Majority World" or just "The Majority" to describe waht we now refer to as the developing world or the third world.

Unknown said...

@Jonathan S.

Interesting. I have no idea if Strieber followed role playing games in devising that dangling plot point, but regardless he didn't follow through.

I suppose it's worth comparing to Twilight as well, which mirrors The Last Vampire in that its prose and organization is an absolute mess yet successfully develops a character - Bella - across the story, while Striber's prose is absolutely gorgeous and his organization and plot points beautifully constructed in minimalist fashion yet fails in developing neither Miriam nor Paul.

I read Twilight about six months ago as part of this long range project to better understand successful popular storytelling. Back then I wrote a short analysis of the book on reddit (outting an old username here):

Most of the responses I got back weren't that helpful, but one guy pointed me to Lacan. My wife has a Critical Theory collection, so we had some Lacan and Zizek on hand. From there I've continued down this path and have just finished a collection of Zizek essays on Lacanian analysis of Hitchcock.

From here - still a neophyte I know - the sense I get is that Strieber wanted to craft a psychological thriller here yet failed because:

A) Paul's internal conflicts are too cliche and obvious. Thus, the presumption that he wouldn't realize how repression of underlying motives defeats himself fails - because there are no underlying motives to defeat. It's all surface. From Lacanian perspective, it's as if Paul had never made it past the mirror stage and so when looking in a mirror doesn't recognize himself staring back.

Miriam is better done, though Strieber has had longer to work with that character. And I also get a sense that he writes female characters better than male characters. Miriam succeeds in one goal, pregnancy, while fails in another, preventing the genocide of her kind. Yet this genocide is barely depicted and she reacts with little emotional devastation to its severity. Her pregnancy is a personal desire, one that any woman would recognize, and thus has emotional power. But the genocide, being a side plot rarely depicted, and given Miriam's blaze attitude toward its outcome, combined with the blatantly unreal means of achieving it, seriously detracts from the success of the book.

It's not just that Miriam failed. It's that the author set a critical condition for success during the first chapter set-up and then didn't follow through at all for the reader.

Bad bad bad.

Twilight doesn't do this. It certainly presents far too much, and it drags drags drags all the way through. But Bella's internal psychology is clear from the start, and her transition to a better self-image is the obvious goal - even if it isn't directly stated to the reader. Actually, better that it isn't stated in exposition. In that regard, Twilight is a vastly more successful character depiction than The Last Vampire, even while being an incompetent mess of a novel from its prose and organization level.

David Brin said...

Welcome to the Romney Biden administration?

David Brin said...

Attention British readers of the "good stuff"! The new editions (non-hardback) of EXISTENCE will soon be available in the U.K. In fact, Orbit Books is giving away three paperbacks in a contest. Have a look, sign up and maybe get lucky!

sociotard said...

Hey, David, I was reading this bit about Finland considering an ammendment that would force its parliament to vote on proposals with a petition signed by a little over 1% of its population.

I was thinking, what if we combined that with one of your ideas. In addition to making it easier for congressmen to issue subpoenas as you suggested, say that any petition with 1% of the US voting population can subpoena anybody to appear before congress, under oath, to answer the questions requested by the subpoena.

What do you think?

Tony Fisk said...

All these regal shenanigans makes one wonder just how many of Genghis' offspring were, in fact, his?

Sticking to the Hanoverian era, has anyone seen 'A Royal Affair'? An extraordinary account of how George III's sister was married off to the somewhat addled Danish King Christian, and ended up working with (and under) the King's physician to push reforms through a very conservative society. The establishment eventually reacted and got rid of the nuisances. Order was restored... until, King and son managed to push back some years later. (Suspecting a bit of artistic license, I checked some sources afterward, to find that the movie was substantially accurate!)

(minor aside: my father in law was involved in the initial blood typing trials. The results of a survey of one British town revealed that the blood group of a large number (30%?) of children tested didn't match that of their parents!)

Ian said...

Tangentially realated to matters of paternity: most peoplr here have probably seen the recent news stories regarding the Toba supervolcanic eruption around 70,000 years ago and how it nearly wiped out our species.

It occurs to me that literally 1 or 2 case of interbreeding with Neanderthals or Denisovans at that time or within a couple of generations could explain all the DNA from those species found in modern humans.

Tacitus said...


I recall hearing a similar number quoted regards implausible genetics within a marriage. One of the lecturers on the topic in Med School put it nicely.

"It is a wise man who knows his father".

Ain't that right, Luke?



sociotard said...

Oh, see the XKCD that will have an amusing interaction with Dr. Brin's "the Left/Right axis is stupid/French" meme. I expect conniptions.

Tim H. said...

The going gets weirder:

David Brin said...

Yes, Tacitus. The utter demise of the species "moderate republican" is best illustrated in this fantastic graphic from the XKCD online series. It demonstrates how the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined and partisan political force in US history, marshalled and commanded by one man... Roger Ailes.

Ian said...

The generally accepted figure for children whose biological father is different to their mother's partner is around 10%. This is supposed to be pretty constant across most societies.

This raises an interesting question for me: approximately 90% of male Jews from Rabbinical families have Y chromosomes suggesting they're descended from a single common male ancestor who lived somewhere around 1500 BC.

This makes sense on one level since the Rabbinate are supposed to be descendants of the Levitic priesthood who in turn were supposed to be descendants of Levi, the son of Moses' brother Aaron.

But a single male ancestor who wasn't of that lineage would screw that up.

So either women from Rabbinical families are unusually chaste or when they commit adultery they only do it with men from Rabbinical families.

On a marginally related note: apparently around 20% of self-identified "whites" in the American Deep South have genetic markers indicating significiant African-American ancestry.

This first came to light when self-identified white couples had children with sickle-cell anemia meaning they had to have inherited the gene for sickle-cell trait from both parents.

Ian said...

This political ad points out that th Republican nominee for the South Dakota Congressional seat is a college drop-out, who has never left the state and has no business experience other than running the family farm while the Democratic nominee has two Masters degrees and has worekd extesnively in the finance industry and in Washington.

Oddly this ad was put out by the Republican Party.

The most bizarre bit is where they try to use Varilek's fondness for beer and corn dogs against him.

Tacitus said...


Because I do not buy the conceit that the Republican Party generally is horrific I must acknowledge that individual members of same may be well worthy of support or of derision.

As it happens I was in SD a couple of weeks back, on the day George McGovern died in fact. My friend a mid level Republican figure in that state said almost exactly the same things about that Senate candidate as you did. Added that her family agribusiness also got an unseemly number of government subsidies too.

So there you go. Just as I sometimes vote for individual Democrats I sometimes vote against individual Republicans. But this person is not an issue for the voters of Wisconsin. Oh, we got enough fun as it is...


David Brin said...

Ian the data on Jewish families and the fidelity of Jewish wives has always been remarkable, especially since many were intermittently raped during pogroms. That we might actually have a clear chromosome from Aaron is remarkable... as is that fidelity.

Tacitus, look at the XKCD graphic. Think about how the party treated Huntsman and Johsnson. As if they were crazy.

You need a party that welcomes men like those two.

David Brin said...

This Republican attack ad in S Dakota makes crystal clear that Blue and Red America are very different, now. All of the traits that the GOP ad uses to attack the democratic candidate are things the democrat would HIGHLIGHT in a sane place.

Especially since "Cap and Trade" was once the centerpiece Republican plan for dealing with what they then admitted to be a carbon emission problem. Just as Obamacare was cloned from the GOP's own plan.

When a party repudiates all of the most reasonable of its past positions -- including swearing not to engage in quixotic military adventures and quagmires overseas, then it just isn't the party of Goldwater and Buckley, anymore.

Tony Fisk said...

The SD ad. does at least win points for the measured, reasoned tone with which it's delivered (none of that 10 second rush at the end to name the contributors. There's money been spent on this)

That said, it still can't help including ominous Vader-like undertones when affiliations with the *UN* are mentioned.

And the subject matter... well, the best comedy is delivered with a straight face.

Corn dogs: the tool of Satan!

Bradley Stack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

I am preparing a blog about electoral cheating: FOlks help me find the best sites to cite re (1) voting machine fraus, (2) voter suppression (3) other cheatings?

TheMadLibrarian said...

The Pennsylvania ACLU has been fighting nonstop against the state's proposed voter repression laws requiring ID to vote:


Jacob said...

There is a special event happening this Thursday from 1:30-5:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time. I will be one of several e-voting experts taking part in a live-streaming symposium, E-Voting: Risk and Opportunity. This online event is hosted by the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton:

At 1:30pm (Eastern) on November 1, 2012, electronic voting experts from across the United States will discuss what to expect on Election Day, how we might build a secure, convenient, high-tech voting system of the future, and what policymakers should be doing. The current U.S. e-voting system is a patchwork of locally implemented technologies and procedures — with varying degrees of reliability, usability, and security. Different groups have advocated for improved systems, better standards, and new approaches like internet-based voting. Panelists will discuss these issues and more, with a keynote by Professor Ron Rivest, one of the pioneers of modern cryptography.
You can watch the event streamed live at and submit questions and comments via Twitter at #PrincetonEvoting. Hope to see you there!

sociotard said...

Has everyone read about those Italian scientists, sentenced to six years for failing to predict an earthquake?

I knew about the trial, but I'd just heard about the sentence.

So, one disputation arena (courts) is siccing witch-sniffers on another (science). Ah well, the scientists will remain free until they exhaust two avenues for appeal. Perhaps the courts will preserve their honor.

David Brin said...

The Italian geo scientists did issue a "no cause for alarm, relax" statement that was irresponsible and hose wording was tantamount to a prediction. WHile I am 99% outraged at the court case, there is a 1% gladness that, even when the case is overturned, wrist-slapped geo scientists wil be motivated to speak more carefully.

Ian said...

Do people count New Scientist magazine as "witch-sniffers"?

sociotard said...

I read the New Scientist article

Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is rape cases. Evidently, lawyers defending rapists try to stack the jury with women, whom they can persuade that the victim was immodest or something, so the women jurors can think "this wouldn't happen to me, I'm careful, she was stupid".

Here is a chance for scientists to think "this wouldn't happen to me, I communicate well and all my friends know what I'm talking about".

Sorry, not everybody is good at science and at communicating. We can't all be Neil deGrasse Tyson. Prosecuting scientists for being bad at communication is the wrong approach.

Paul451 said...

What annoys me most about the Italian earthquake case is that the person who essentially ordered the lead scientist to issue the "all-clear" statement has not been charged. If the scientists did anything wrong, it was political corruption - in which case, the ring-leader was the person giving the orders. If those orders were legal, then the scientists did nothing wrong.

They can't have it both ways, that the statement was illegal, but ordering a subordinate to issue the statement is legal.

Paul451 said...

Not related to voter fraud, but interesting nonetheless:

[Ignore the title, it's just click-bait]

Documents stolen from a SuperPAC show in detail the tangled and almost certainly illegal ties between SuperPACs and official campaigns.

Which got me to thinking: It's clear that many, perhaps most SuperPACs are breaking the laws against cooperation with a candidate or party, as well as the laws against being for the advocacy for or against a candidate or party (rather than an issue). SuperPACs often are run by campaign advisors, and share staff with the campaign. Blatant coordination, but not considered evidence of coordination under current law. So it's almost impossible to prove coordination, no matter how obvious it is to any observer (as Stephen Colbert showed with his SuperPAC).

I suppose States could add a "Reasonable Person" clause to their laws, to make it easier to prosecute blatant coordination, but even then you can't backdate it against the current activities (even though they are breaking existing laws.) But what if the change to what can be considered evidence of coordination, was backed by a referendum? Can a future referendum allow such a change to be backdated to previous elections, such as this year's?

That is, SuperPACs which are breaking existing laws, being prosecuted under a new form of evidence made valid by a future referendum. Does the referendum make that constitutional?

David Brin said...


netgezer said...

"The great historian Arnold Toynbee studied every known Earthly civilization and concluded that societies either thrive or fail in direct proportion to how much trust and initiative they willingly invest in their "creative minorities." The far-lookers and problem solvers."

Is there a book of Toynbee's devoted to this subject/conclusion? Thanks.

Hank Roberts said...

Those millionaires ought to buy a billboard in some of the more -- strange -- voting locations where they might well get a response.

Try Bozeman:

"... The investigation comes just five days before the election and during a legal challenge by a consultant to a conservative group over files held by the Office of the Commissioner of Campaign Finances and Practices.

A Capitol security guard reported the break-in at 9:47 p.m. Wednesday, finding the door open and the basement light on. Security had been heightened in the days leading to Tuesday's election.

The basement is where the contested documents from American Tradition Partnership consultant Christian LeFer were held until recently, as had previously been reported in the news.

LeFer is seeking the return of the documents, claiming they were previously stolen before ending up at the political practices office.

Political practices program supervisor Mary Baker said the documents are secure, and previously had been moved off-site. ..."

Bill Dowe said...

Some of the issues you discuss are the topic of "Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty" by Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson. They discuss the development of extractive and inclusive institution, their origins and their consequences and how some nations transition from one stae to another at critical historical junctures. I fear we are in such a juncture here and now.