Friday, December 14, 2012

Last-minute breakthroughs and remembrances, before the "end of the world"

I'll try to post while traveling, on our way to stand upon a Mayan Temple during the solstice and defy the World's End on your behalf!  Meanwhile, let me drop in a few late developments... plus a potpourri of wondrous science.


My neighbor Ravi Shankar passed away.  I can't say I knew him, but attended some concerts over the years. The neighborhood already seems less vivid, somehow. Though that may just be the blustery chill of winter... Ah well. He was brilliant.

0409-North-Korea-Rocket-Launch_full_380As for the recent launch of a satellite by North Korea, upon a rocket with clear intercontinental potential, I can only repeat my earlier recommendation to the U.S. Administration.  One important part of the solution to the "North Korea problem" would arise by announcing that the Hermit Kingdom's actions will all be attributed and accounted to the legal responsibility of its biggest supporter, enabler and protector.  That includes nuclear missile launches, of course, but especially civil tort damages. Moreover, starting now we advise that supporter-neighbor to begin setting aside funds to deal with future lawsuits for personal civil damages borne by the North Korean people themselves.

I do not say this in a spirit of hostility but rather as friendly caution from a futurist! You want to prepare in case historical momentum continues. Those northern Koreans - when inevitably they become free - will look for the deepest pockets among those who, through action or inaction, fostered the harm done to them, or enabled the harm-doers. And in tomorrow's primly law-woven world, they and their lawyers will not have far to look. That's not ideology or hostility; it is simple cause-and-effect. And stone-walling to prevent that day will only make it much worse. Make that point and the pragmatic men-next-door may decide to limit the exposure of their bad investment, by cutting a deal.

And now... science...

== Can we predict the future? ==
First, the National Intelligence Council has issued its quadrennial 160 page Global Trends report, this time peering ahead toward the year 2030.  My favorite territory. This set of world forecasts and scenarios appears, at last, ready to break from the transfixing obsessions of the past -- vast blocs of supranational ideology or else ideology-driven terrorists.

Instead, the NIC examines deeper drivers that might affect whether Earth Civilization prospers or not, and what role the United States and the West will continue to play, as Pax Americana gradually eases out of its historic mission. Indeed, it looks as if some folks who have attended my Washington talks about the future may have heeded or cribbed-from my report from almost a decade ago, to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency DTRA, about non-state and non-terror threats.

Compare the NIC Global Trends document to those earlier slides DangerousHorizonsattempting to get folks to think more broadly about the future.

Meanwhile, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is being co-launched by astronomer royal Lord Rees, one of the world’s leading cosmologists. It will probe the “four greatest threats” to the human species, given as: artificial intelligence, climate change, nuclear war and rogue biotechnology. Lord Rees, who has warned that humanity could wipe itself out by 2100, is launching the centre alongside Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price, and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn.

Interesting that the four threats they chose happen to be chief topics featured in Existence.
Also of interest: a rebuttal on the Da Vinci Institute site takes on Nassim Taleb, author of the bestseller The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, who ridicules the idea of predicting the future. Instead, he argues that the world is dominated by the impact of rare, unforeseen, random, highly improbable and yet influential events. "These Black Swans, he says, happen abruptly, coming from outside the range of our vision."

I found the rebuttal interesting- at times on target - yet in the end just as quasi mystical as Taleb's book.  Because neither of them offer challenging ways to assess and appraise and improve (pragmatically) the process of prediction.

At risk of (typical) self-promotion, I do believe there's an approach that -- if even marginally PredictionsRegistryfunded -- could help move the whole field forward via means of predictions registries and fora. How I am tempted, after all these years, to try to fund it myself... if college bills weren't such a big deal .

More efforts at prediction can be found in the annual forecast list of the World Future Society.  The plausible ones seem rather likely... new dust bowls, a rapid rise in commercial space tourism, eyesight-restoration, teaching based in games, deep-geothermal power,   Others, like garbage purifying robot earthworms and lunar colonies, fall more into the sci fi zone and are not as near future as they seem to think. Have a look and join the WFS.  Though... alas... I'd still expect just a few "futurists" to survive long under scrutiny of a registry. Whereupn, the best would learn and adapt!

== Genetic "variability" and our future evolution ==

Recent studies indicate that humanity is now very, very rich in genetic variability, the grist of future evolution. (Exactly opposite to the problem faced by inbred cheetahs, for example.) “Humans today carry a much larger load of deleterious variants than our species carried just prior to its massive expansion just a couple hundred generations ago,” said population geneticist Alon Keinan of Cornell University, whose own work helped link rare variation patterns to the population boom.
From the article: The inverse is also true. Present-day humanity also carries a much larger load of potentially positive variation, not to mention variation with no appreciable consequences at all. These variations, known to scientists as “cryptic,” that might actually be evolution’s hidden fuel. Indeed, the genetic seeds of exceptional traits, such as endurance or strength or innate intelligence, may now be circulating in humanity. “The genetic potential of our population is vastly different than what it was 10,000 years ago,” Akey said. How will humanity evolve in the next few thousand years? It’s impossible to predict but fun to speculate, said Akey.

 A potentially interesting wrinkle to the human story is that, while bottlenecks reduce selection pressure, evolutionary models show that large populations actually increase selection’s effects. 

My own comment: In nature, evolution is based not only upon genetic variability (in which this research suggests we are rich) but also on death, culling some and allowing others to breed.  A crude, brutal method that is inherently un-interested in "fairness" ... but time tested by nature. This will change though. We will choose instead to steer the process via culture and technology while continuing to develop our capacity to collaboratively evade death - the old engine of evolution. What replaces death? The article's authors suggest that widespread use of reproductive technologies like fetal genome sequencing might ease selection pressures, or even make them more intense.  But in his novel Beyond This Horizon, Robert Heinlein showed us how to grab ahold of our variability and use it in a campaign of self-improvement that has none of the creepy aspects of direct genomic meddling.

Ponder that finding... that humans have max'd-out genetic diversity... and nowhere more so than in my California... almost as if we were a flower, getting ready to cast forth seeds...

Meanwhile, there's an interesting article with huge implications for the future of anthropology. In an essay by George Dvorsky: Over at the Edge there's a fascinating article by Thomas W. Malone about the work he and others are doing to understand the rise of collective human intelligence — an emergent phenomenon that's being primarily driven by our information technologies.  Malone, who is the Director at MIT's Center for Collective Intelligence, studies the way people and computers can be connected so that — collectively — they can act more intelligently than any single person, group, or computer. Good stuff, but I'd have liked more attention to the older methods that have leveraged individual intelligence into group intelligence. The positive-sum enlightenment methods of markets, science, democracy etc.

== Wondrous and Puzzling Science ==

NASA's Cassini orbiter spots river system on Titan ... but filled with liquid ethane and methane instead of water. The Titanic Nile shows up on a black-and-white picture from Cassini's radar imager, which can look through Titan's thick, smoggy atmosphere to map the surface features beneath.

A U.S. start-up has turned to nature to help bring water to arid areas by drawing moisture from the air.

71clHxRC73L._SL500_AA300_Ah, progress. Soon anyone with a good home-maker unit will be able to print the parts to make their own firearms. Reminds me of Van Vogt's The Weapon Shops.  I guess we'll find out if John W. Campbell was right that "an armed society is a polite society."  I imagine we'll all get more polite... after twenty generations of culling.

Speaking of which, a use of such devices that will be both more useful and creepier, illustrated cartoon style! 
Frankentissue: How to print an organ on your inkjet.

Weird...time reversal research: When a signal travels through the air, its waveforms scatter before an antenna picks it up. Recording the received signal and transmitting it backwards reverses the scatter and sends it back as a focused beam in space and time.

Exactly fifty years ago... Mariner 2 was the first human-made object to transmit back from another planet. And at 12 I mourned the Venus of vast oceans and jungles and beauteous princesses. Sigh. Science can be rough. I went into it, anyway.

Bothered by negative thoughts? Throw them away.

Large scale melting of Permafrost may be underway.

Some recent studies indicate glucosamine (used by millions for slight joint pain reduction)  was associated with a significant decreased risk of death from cancer and with a large risk reduction for death from respiratory disease.

Late last year, a Russian team drilled through to Lake Vostok, an even larger lake covered by some 4km of ice. But preliminary analyses of lake water that froze on to the drill bit showed scant evidence for the presence of living organisms. Now researchers at the shallower McMurdo lakes have found a diverse community of bugs living in the lake's dark environment, at temperatures of -13C. Some think this a possible analog for ice-roofed water moons like Europa.

Ten things that will disappear in thirty years.

== Space!!! ==

Know the difference between radioisotope nuclear power for spacecraft and nuclear reactors for spaceflight? The distinction is fascinating. Have a look at DUFF, a new reactor for space travel.

CoolthingsSome parodies are better than the originals! A takeoff of "Dumb Ways to Die" ... starring NASA's Curiosity rover..."Cool Things to Find." --

Water ice discovered on Mercury. NASA's Messenger spacecraft has spotted vast deposits of water ice around the shade-protected poles on the planet closest to the sun. Not unexpected, since radar beams from Arecibo in the 1990s had suggested this, confirming a hypothesis made by my doctoral advisor, Dr. James Arnold, that comets would have delivered volatiles to safe dark areas at the poles of both Mercury and our Moon.  Still, Messenger's neutron spectrometer spotted hydrogen, which is a large component of water ice. But the temperature profile unexpectedly showed that dark, volatile materials – consistent with climes in which organics survive – are mixing in with the ice. And waiting for us?

NASA seeks concepts for two Hubble-sized telescopes. Last year, two big space telescopes, equivalent to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in aperture, but designed to have a much wider field of view, were transferred from one of America's super secret spy agencies to NASA. "Because there are two telescopes, there is room for projects that span the gamut of the imagination," and indeed, NASA is now seeking suggestions what to do with these gifts. (Viewed from another angle, one has to realize and ask: was the Hubble itself primarily a way to provide cover for a program to develop spy devices?  I'm not complaining... or even asking! I wouldn't be told, despite my clearance.  Still, one wonders. If these are now cast-offs... what do they have now?)

How NASA might build its first warp drive.

== And finally ... ==

Late puzzler!  The earliest large life forms (ediacaran) may have appeared on land long before the oceans filled with creatures that swam and crawled and burrowed in the mud.

ProxyActivismFinally... followup in the spirit of giving: My friend Lenore Ealey --  a sage in the field of philanthropy theory - kindly wrote about my "proxy power" proposal -- that middle class folks can maximize their future impact on the world by joining perhaps a dozen groups/organizations that pool dues and numbers to pursue specific positive goals.  Lenore's appraisal compares my approach to those of Boulding and Cornuelle with some Baconian philosophical perspective thrown in! Also, she adds a list of favorite NGOs of her own for consideration.  Go Proxy Power. 


Late addendum: The Friday 13th tragedy in Connecticut has us all horrified.  If only we could mature enough to have a society that foremost looks to help the troubled to get the help they need. Alas, this will become another frenzy over "gun control" that sheds no light, only heat. I once attempted to offer a non-partisan, off-angle compromise that would satisfy both those wanting sanity and those seeking to preserve a fundamental American right. It is as cogent as ever. See "The Jefferson Rifle." 

NamesInfamyBut at this point, there is something even simpler.  A matter of cause and effect.  Not one mass shooter was ever brought down by an armed bystander, but most were tackled by heroic citizens who were UNARMED, who waited till the SOB had to change clips or magazines, then bravely tackled the guy. That is the window of heroism! Hence, there is no excuse for legally allowing the sale of giant ammo clips. You do not need em for hunting or self-defense. There is no slippery slope, so please check your reflex. See the reason in this.  Join us and don't make that a fight.  Just give it to us, this one small but crucially pragmatic reform. Now, show us this much flexibility.  For the victims.  Please, just be reasonable this once.


Tacitus said...

I don't recognize this country any longer.

Whatever your belief or non belief system may be....a murderer of innocents belongs in hell.


Dennis Jernberg said...

Some thoughts:

The high level of human genetic variability gives me at least some hope for our future. We're evolving faster than ever before, not just physically but mentally, culturally, morally. It's an exciting time to be alive — if our political and corporate leaders don't ruin everything first, of course. This is what the people who believe evolution is "in the past", or deny there's any such thing, just don't get.

On collective intelligence: the whole "wisdom of crowds" theory is all about the superiority of the collective intelligence of large groups of individuals over central planning by one leader or a small elite. As a dialectician, I agree that the old ways of generating collective intelligence through individual action are for the most part still the way to go, though they do have a lot of room for improvement.

Water for arid areas, condensed out of atmospheric vapor: now there's something I didn't predict...

@Tacitus: I recognize this country in that tragedy, and all the similar ones, all too well. Too many "Real Americans" with no capacity for empathy think it's the Wild West and therefore open season on "inferior" civilians. David makes a point that never occurred to me before, that most of these psychos are brought down by unarmed bystanders. Assault weapons simply don't belong in civilian hands. But they are, and I think it has everything to do with America's blithely genocidal wars abroad. And the Military-Industrial Complex, of which the NRA is just one K Street branch, is the link.

As for the latest "end of the world", New Age edition: I plan on blogging this non-end of the world on 12/21. And the day after that, I'm going to wish everyone a happy Mayan New Year.

clem said...

quick speculation re: the bit about collective intelligence

consider the possibility that the scenario might be more literal. perhaps there is (or will be) an emergent intelligence, of which we are unaware. i mean no pseudomystical nonsense here. i am suggesting that the net serves as a connecting network that conditions processing nodes i.e. people who transform and use the information. though people drop in and out, the law of large numbers may insure sufficient stability. an individual human would not be aware of the 'thoughts' of this intelligence any more than a single neuron knows what the brain is thinking.

end wild speculation.

David Brin said...

My father was 40 feet from Bobby Kennedy when he was shot. I remember 1968 and I well recognize this country. Only then, the notion of pain and doom was counterbalanced by zooming hope. Moonshots and Star Trek and a belief that science was good.

The Environmental Protection Act passed under Richard Nixon and the furor between left and right was over school bussing, which the then-somewhat-sane right had legitimate gripes about.

Today, it is STANDARD on the right to shift from denying there's been warming, to denying the warming is significant, to denying there's a greenhouse component, to denying there's a human component, to denying the Arctic is melting. To admitting the Arctic is melting but claiming the ANTARCTIC is getting colder... How can the people performing such a dance never stop and notice what it is that they are doing?

How can they justify ending the bad on assault guns and large ammo clips?

Anonymous said...

One important part of the solution to the "North Korea problem" would arise by announcing that the Hermit Kingdom's actions will all be attributed and accounted to the legal responsibility of its biggest supporter, enabler and protector.

This would be a lot more convincing if the US didn't support regimes that torture people, didn't operate robotic assassins, didn't bomb neutral countries…

sociotard said...

Hmmm swaping relevant words . . .

[Israel's] actions will all be attributed and accounted to the legal responsibility of its biggest supporter, enabler and protector [, the United States]. That includes nuclear missile launches, of course, but especially civil tort damages.

Yeah, I don't like that idea.

Actually, I watched an interesting documentary about N.K. the other day, Crossing the Line, about the Americans who crossed the DMZ in the 60s and defected. It was very interesting to see a movie that showed N.K. in a positive light. And then I read this article which pressumed that N.K. archaeologists believed something that I am quite confident they don't. It was so infuriating to read that 'hur hur stoopid North Koreans' frat boy tone that I really started to wonder how much of our perception of N.K. is all based on western propaganda.

Hans said...

Kickstart a prediction registry. You've got the street cred.

I'll put my money where my mouth is. Do it and I'll contribute.


David Brin said...

gonna be mostly out of touch for a week!

Thanks all and see you at the other end of the world!


Inspiring! Poor kids playing instruments (mostly) made from recycled bits!

Ian Gould said...

1. From memory, "Korea News Agency" the source of the unicorn is a South Korean government-controlled organization which specializes in taking news from the "Korea Central News Agency', North Korea's main news agency, rewriting it to put a slant on it unfavorable to the north then redistributing it in a format deceptively similar to KCNA's.

2. Rather tahn a prediction register, why not a prediction market similar to the Iowa political markets?

Just don't engage in high frequency trading.

Ron said...

Regarding predictions & Taleb's Black Swan: It's been I while since I read it, but I believe Taleb is more concerned about estimating future risks based on past history rather than predicting what the world of the future will look like. For example take the recent disaster in Japan at Fukishima. He would argue that it is naive to look at the worst earthquake in recent history and then make that the standard for what new buildings must survive. Afterall that worst earthquake/hurricane/flooding was unexpected when it occurred.

Taleb goes from there to a topic near & dear to this website: how to build systems that are resilient and can survive unexpected shocks. His newest book "Antifragile---Things That Gain from Disorder" is all about that.

Ian Gould said...

'the source of the unicorn" = the source of the unicorn story.

sorry, late night, last night.

Rob Perkins said...

It was too soon in my house to notice two or three things.

First, as terrible as they are, we notice them and grieve because they're violent, disturbing ripples in a relatively calm pond. The last outburst of real open societal violence I can remember was 20 years ago. 40 years ago, the cities of American were about to go aflame with violence, hopelessness and despair. On a macro level, this country is so marvelously civilized and at peace. That's why we can see this atrocity and feel it nationwide the way we do.

Second, we're marvelously unified. Connecticut is a 5000 kilometer distance from my home, roughly, I imagine, the same as Caracas to Buenos Aires or Madrid to Moscow in both physical distance and cultural difference (the difference is larger between Spain and Russia, yes.) But we felt those gunshots and that anguish here as though it were next door.

Perhaps that's because, for us at least, it was next door. Clackamas Town Center is 20 miles from my home. The gun scares the very next day at the local high school were 2 miles away. One of the victims today in CT is a friend of a friend. Plenty of empathy and heartache for them there from us strangers-to-them here. Because we fly the same flag. Because our technology imparts the news at the speed of light.

And third, did you see them all as it unfolded? You did not, but, we had a level of mass media cooperation that, for all their industry's misbehavior, today did not misbehave. They told us about the teachers who barricaded the doors and openly confessed their love to their students as they hid in bathrooms and offices, protecting them by wielding the human trust they'd won from those kids through natural affection, sure, but also significant professional training and preparation. The marshaling of organized and professional men and women who immediately stood by and succored those in shock. The willingness of panicked and agitated others to defer and wait and permit the plan to execute.

Say what else you will about this atrocity, but those people knew what to do and they did it, and some of them laid their lives down for it while the rest of them let their training and their love kick in and chose to have the shakes later on.

All of that is so remarkable, still, and still a reason to lay hope in this country and its people. We live in an age of wonder, where rage at the atrocity is valid and important, but as Fred Rogers is said to have pointed out, "Look for the helpers." That's how you can know our imperfect world is still good enough.

Tacitus said...

"we had a level of mass media cooperation that, for all their industry's misbehavior, today did not misbehave."

Yes. Today.

But I am not going to let the "entertainment" industry off the hook. From computer gaming that basically is this very scenario dressed up a bit (zombies or faceless stormtroopers) to disgusting movies where people are tortured, all the way back to Gunsmoke type westerns where things are settled with a bang and a nice neat ending.

All of this dehumanizes violence.

I am with David on the large capacity magazines, although this is anathema to my fellow conservatives and at least one of my sons. That might mitigate the violence a little. Eventually.

But there are too many guns in circulation, too many people willing to use them from either evil or insanity or rarely from political perversion.

We need to do more. And the very left dominated entertainment industry has to pay as well.

More practically, I don't know....can we install Tasers in public places somehow? I would have no qualms about using one on a school murderer. And I might then proceed to beat him to death with a table leg.


Rob Perkins said...

Tacitus, I was considering the news media when I wrote that, not the entertainment media. Which means I wasn't considering any filler commentary shows on cable TV, and certainly not Mike Huckabee. Sorry for that misunderstanding.

Tasers is a good idea, though truthfully the schools around here simply employ deputized uniformed police, though I don't know if they carry a weapon while working at the schools.

Any way to get an automatic defibrillator to switch to "taser mode"?

Ed Seedhouse said...

56Um, admittedly this is rather beside the point but it bothers me. Yesterday was the 14th not the 13th. The 13th of December was a Thursday.

I got my left eye's cataract fixed that day. The fact that the day number was 13 did not stop the procedure from working just fine.

Acacia H. said...

Reposting this from my Facebook page:

Here's a solution to the question about new Gun Control Laws in the wake of this horrific tragedy. Rather than pass laws to regulate guns or ban guns... let's pass a Federal Law stating ANY deliberate crime that uses a firearm that results in an injury or death results in a Mandatory Life Sentence without the hope of parole (and no being allowed to decrease the sentence). No matter what the age of the perpetrator, including child perps. And if any judge deems the law unconstitutional then the Federal Government is FORCED to appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court.

(Obviously, if the incident is accidental, leniency would be allowed. But accidents are not crimes.)

Also have a second bill with a time limit. The specific rules are thus: if the first law is deemed Unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, then handguns are no longer allowed to be sold and all existing handguns are to be registered. No ifs. No ands. No buts.

The gun ownership crew likes to claim that gun control is evil and unAmerican. So let's hold them to that. We won't control guns. We'll instead control the punishment for people who abuse guns.

Rob H.

Doris said...

Duplicate genes and junk DNA appear to have formed the raw material for advanced intelligence. The origin: a marine worm.

locumranch said...

As R A Lafferty mentioned repetitively, 'The World' as we've known it-- our dominant culture -- has ended multiple times in the recent past and it will continue to end in the forseeable future. The 'End of the World' is a constant. Inevitable, too. Just like 9/11 and the escalation of randon violence against 'soft targets' (children) has destroyed a 'world' where non-combatants were previously believed untouchable. The End of the World is just another name for cultural evoluton, the destruction of the old to make room for the new.

As DB admits, the process of evolution is brutal, destructive and pitiless. It is neither gradual nor kind. And it is not (yet) amenable to human will. Sure, the current human genome contains a wealth of possibility, but it is a wealth that can never benifit the current breed of homo sapiens. It's largesse will only benefit the breeds that come after us, whatever they choose to call themselves.


LarryHart said...

On mass-shootings, I'm afraid Norman Goldman (liberal talk radio host) is correct when he says they're becoming commonplace. His opinion is that US society has given up trying to mitigate such events and has thrown up its hands in a "What'cha gonna do?" gesture. He says we just all "hope it's not me" as the next victims. And he wasn't even talking about this Connecticut shooting. It was the one before Oregon? I forget now. That pretty much proves his point.

Kurt Vonnegut in his last novel "Timequake" posited a more cynical view of the entertainment value of gun violence in movies. His theory is that so many of us find life as tenders of machines (and I'd add as tenders of corporations) intolerable that we long for the easy death that a gun-weilding madman might deliver. So instead of Norman Goldman's "I hope it's not me" scenario, Vonnegut posits that we secretly hope it IS me. He also has a point.

Thom Hartmann claims that guns are simply an easy tool, but they are not the root of the problem. He says that societies with high amounts of economic inequality have lower social cohesion than those with more level economic statuses. People in countries where wealth is a cornered market and poverty is hereditary don't trust each other and don't empathize with each other. And that as the US becomes more like a third world nation in that regard, this sort of violence will become more commonplace. I'll have to echo "Fiddler on the Roof" here and say he is also right.

Tony Fisk said...

Relevant to discussion of evolution and Babel:
There are more human languages recorded than there are species of mammal! This article discusses what might drive it:

Tacitus said...

Well, second time this year that a major Hollywood film with prominent gun violence gets a delayed, and probably less lucrative, release due to real life horrors.

Maybe at some point the money men who green light these things will decide they are too risky to make.

I don't dream of a time when the multiplex is full of My Little Pony flicks, violence is a part of the human experience. But gratuitous violence, violence without real consequence....time for that to go.


locumranch said...

Evolution & Babel:

Delany explored that very connection in "Babel 17". He postulated language as physical 'programming'. Bear picked up the idea later in 'Queen of Angels'.


Tim H. said...

A spillover from the dehumanization endemic to American society? That is, seeing no value in people except for their profitability?

David Brin said...

CHECKING IN FROM MIAMI and who knows what my connection will be like, at sea.

Bah to Vonnegut and all those insipid "explanations" that assume al fellow citizens are robots. The real answer is worse. We're complex and many of us have empathy and work for a better world. But ALL of us step back from our neighbors or classmates who seem weird, disconnected, socially unskilled.

Heck, making friends with such a one is risky. Others may downgrade YOUR social status. That pathetic "loner" may fixate on you. It may be only a 0.0001% chance that he'll be the one who lashes out, but you've just increased the chance that - if he does - it will be at you.

Yet that is the solution. To reach out to the ADD & asepergers types and bring them into the tribe. THIS IS HAPPENING with the increased coolness of Big Bang type nerds! But only for the bright and accomplished nerds. There are still many many shoved out of the firelight.

In a country awash in guns, that seems foolsih. But a foolishness born from natural reflex and some calculation

Paul451 said...

"On mass-shootings, [...] they're becoming commonplace."

Are they? I would expect that copycats mean that are "bursty", due to reporting and copycats, but are they actually becoming more common over time?

There also seems to be cultural shifts in the mass killings; today schools/colleges, during the '80s it was offices. Remember when "going postal" became a phrase?

"Thom Hartmann claims that guns are simply an easy tool, but they are not the root of the problem."

It's worth repeating (and repeating and repeating until it starts to sink in) the example of Australia. In 1996, Australia changed its gun laws following a particularly bad mass shooting: banning assault rifles, severely restricting other types of fire-arms, limiting magazines to five rounds (three for pump-action shotguns, auto-loaders were banned outright). Researchers compared the rate of mass shootings before and after - using fixed criteria, not just what "felt" like a mass-shooting - and found that the rate dropped from one every 18 months before the change, to just one event in the 16 years since the change.

There were no other noticeable changes that might be responsible for the reduction; no reduction in poverty, or improvements in mental health treatment. And judging by other crime rates, there wasn't a significant change in culture or economics or policing. Hell, even the number of firearms in society recovered within a few years. And the only things that did change, we shared with the US. There was an increase in antidepressant use in Australia, but so too in the US. Video-games violence became more photorealistic, and so too in the US.

It's such a perfect experiment: Same country. Same culture. Only one major change, gun laws. And one clear result, the virtual elimination of mass shootings.

If you want to reduce the rate of mass shootings in the US by an order of magnitude, Australia can tell you how to do it. But your country won't like the taste of the medicine.

The rest of the world watches those same films.

gregory byshenk said...

Regarding the "printing" of firearms parts, I submit that the actual story is that of how limited "3D printing" really is. Note that they "printed" only the receiver, not a barrel, chamber, or any part that must endure extreme stress from firing a weapon -- yet even so, it only lasted for six shots before catastrophically failing.

At present, 3D printing is a fun toy. When someone develops a way to "print" strong materials, then will start the real revolution.

locumranch said...

If you are one of those individuals who believe that human life has some sort of intrinsic or objective value, then you are deluding yourself. 'Value' is in the subjective eye of the beholder. It represents a very subjective judgemnet -- hence the phrase "value judgement".

As in any economy, the assessment of value follows the supply & demand curve. A perceived oversupply cheapens value and a perceived scarcity increases it. This applies across the board to any object, action or ideal that you choose to condemn or exalt. And human life is just one such commodity.

You just need to get it through your head that 'others' -- as in "not you" -- do not and will not value what you value beyond your effect on them. This includes your lives, wives and children. This is human nature. Deal with it.

We can take steps to minimize cultural alienation. We can try to be more inclusive in terms of appearance, religion and economy. But when push comes to shove, the individual who has been devalued by others or devalues himself has nothing to lose by devaluing everyone else in a decisively unignorable manner.

Disenfranchised individuals who lack firearms are just easier to ignore. Temporarily, that is. Until they get your attention with box cutters, a cricket bat, a talc-filled envelope or a well placed commercial airliner.

Heinlien put it most succinctly: Violence settles damn near everything.


Ian Gould said...

"And one clear result, the virtual elimination of mass shootings."

That and an overall drop in the murder rate of around 10%.

Paul451 said...

"That and an overall drop in the murder rate of around 10%."

However, the US saw a similar drop in their murder rate, so it could be cultural (or economic, or medical).

Also, 10% for murder vs 10-times for mass-murder. We're talking a fundamental difference in the size of the effect.


In my previous post it looks like I was signing off as Tacitus. It was meant to be an aside to Tacitus.

But to continue, and merging with the above, the US murder rate has dropped steadily in the last two decades. If worsening media was triggering violence, you'd see that reflected in a general increase in the murder rate.

[That also applies to Tim and Larry attributing mass shootings to other social or economic factors. If society or the economy were to blame, it would be reflected in the murder rates.]

Ian Gould said...

Here's a thought, as with cars, require gun buyers to have a current public liability insurance policy to compensate anyone injured or killed by one of the insuree's guns.

Thomas said...

David, before we start talking about indirect damages like in North Korea and Israel, I hope you are ready to start coughing up money for the damage your own nation has done directly. How many trillions do you think you should pay in compensation for the warfare against Vietnam and its neighbors? How much for the ethnic cleansing your invasion of Iraq led to and so on?

Tim H. said...

Locumranch, I realize that in these dark days dehumanization is quite popular, but that particular slippery slope has been done many times before. No one should wish to see that again. Happy holidays, Tim H.

J. C. Salomon said...

David Brin wrote, “Not one mass shooter was ever brought down by an armed bystander.” But a bit of Googling turns up 3 Dead in Del. Soccer Tourney Shooting from a few months back:

“Three people […] were shot when three men allegedly began firing into a crowd of people watching a soccer game, police confirm.

“Some fans fired back at the suspects, fatally injuring one of them, according to investigators.

“Police say the three suspects fled the scene and crashed the getaway car a few blocks away.”

Anonymous said...

Why not focus on identifying the psychopathic, delusional, and/or deeply depressed?

Require yearly psychological testing of every teenager from age 12 to 19.

And start treating them - not just feeding them drugs (though do that when we've got something really effective), but programs to get them involved and enjoying life. Make sure any bullying of them doesn't get ignored by schools and police to fester and give them a sense of grievance against society.

OR I guess we can just keep all dangerous things away from everyone, and let the psychopathic, delusional and depressed continue their downward slide until they kill themselves or attempt to kill someone else with improvised weapons or bare hands, so the police will kill them for us. That'll work too.

locumranch said...

Frst, I do not advocate or support mass violence in any way. It is horrific, but it has been happening with increased frequebcy even in the most enlightened countries like Sweden as a consequence of increasing conformity-related social pressures.

Second, these bad actors are just mimicing a dominant social order which threatens to take away everything a person values if they fail to conform. This is the timehonoured path to political power. Like in Herbert's Dune, the power to destroy is essentially identical to control.

Call it social extortion. It allows a minority to claim disproportionate power. People who have 'nothing' (ie. A percieved absence of value) also have nothing to lose by acting out and metaphorically overturning the social chess board. Like the GOP in US politics which rules by threatening to bring down the enire system. Or the freedom fighters of Arab Spring.

Finally, let's talk plainly. The concept of 'dehunmanization' or 'inhumaneI behaviour" is ridiculous when applied to fellow humans. We humans have always been like this, capable of horrific and unreasonable brutalities, just as we are capable of beautiful, selfless & creative acts. We are impure creatures. We devalue ourselves by pretending to be pure.

The time has come to celebrate Impurity.


Tacitus said...

The overall decline in murder rates likely relates to smaller populations of young men, ever the most likely to be victims of stupid, run of the mill killings over drugs and ill chosen bravado. Just demographics of the post baby boom era.

Mass killings are another matter.

It hardly seems important to look to instances where armed civilians aided in bringing down mass murderers, but if you find such data important, go all the way back to the Texas Towers sniper. He had to retreat from his perch due to gunfire from police and civilians. Then three officers and one armed civilian went up the tower after him. True, this was mostly hunting rifles retrieved from vehicles, not hand guns. True also that the civilian in the final resolution of this horror contributed mostly by having his rifle go off accidentally, distracting the gunman so that police actually got a shot at him.

But in principle, yes.

Which of course just drives these monsters towards churches and schools where encountering armed civilians is less likely.

Paul 451

No worries regarding being mistaken for yours truly. Our opinions often differ but I do not find yours unworthy.


Acacia H. said...

The truth of the matter concerning the Mayans is they were psychic. They predicted the best movie ever would be released near the end of December 2012 and thus the entire calendar was meant to celebrate the coming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. ;)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


You make a good case that limiting availability of guns of mass destruction would cut down on mass killings, whether or not any social issues are dealt with. I'm not sure you've convinced me that dealing with social causes woudln't ALSO cut down on mass killings, possibly in a more stable manner.

Look at it this way, murder is typically said to require motive, means, and opportunity. Your solution limits the means, which is a good thing to do as far as it goes. But I'd still prefer to live in a society that dealt a bit better with the motive aspect.

Not saying we can't do both.

LarryHart said...

locumranch, intentionally or not (and I mean I can't tell which) youn make a good case for treating fellow citizens with fairness and equality before the law whether or not one personally values those other people at a gut level. If one does not value one's neighbors intrinsically, one might do well to "value" them as potential destroyers of one's own life and property if they are mistreated, and act accordingly. Does that sound hypocritical or enlightened (as in "enlightened self-interest")?

LarryHart said...

Our host in absentia responded to me with:

Bah to Vonnegut and all those insipid "explanations" that assume al fellow citizens are robots.

I think he misinterpreted what I meant about Vonnegut. Neither Vonnegut nor I was arguing that people engaged in mass murder as a pre-determined response to social inputs, which I think is what Dr Brin thought I meant. Rather, I was saying that Vonnegut had a theory about why shoot-em-up violence IN MOVIES seemed to be so popular--because so many people are living what Oscar Wilde referred to as "lives of quiet desperation", and long secretly or not-so-secretly to be VICTIMS of that sort of quick, easy violence.

The first time I read Vonnegut's "Timequake", I disagreed with the author on that assessment, but in the intervening 15 (or so) years...well, I'm not sure I entirely subscribe to it, but I see his point as more and more valid.

(Having been on a cruise ship just a few months back myself, I know how difficult it is to stay connected to the on-line world, and how unmotivated one soon becomes to do so, so I'm not expecting to "see" Dr Brin "here" until he's back on land)

matthew said...

This article-

claims that the level of mass shooting deaths peaked in 1929 and has generally decreased since. The author does not show any links for the data, but there it is.
Assuming the criminologist is correct, kinda throws a monkey wrench at the whole video games / violent movies are causing mass killings meme.

Paul451 said...

"it has been happening with increased frequebcy even in the most enlightened countries like Sweden"

Do you have any evidence that the rate of violence is increasing?

"Why not focus on identifying the psychopathic, delusional, and/or deeply depressed? Require yearly psychological testing of every teenager from age 12 to 19."

If you're ever in a position to implement that policy, can I ask that you first do a proper controlled trial. Split the teenagers in to two matched groups, one tested/treated, one left unmolested, with outcomes measured against pre-established criteria. See if there is any measurable difference, and whether the benefit is worth the scale of the harassment.

It's fairly easy to imagine such a policy making things worse for the majority (like zero-tolerance policies in schools after the Columbine massacre) without reducing the incidents (like zero-tolerance policies in schools after the Columbine massacre.)

One of the reasons I ask is that I believe any such trial proposal would scuttle the idea entirely. The very people who would nod their heads in agreement with mass-screening/forced-treatment would recoil in horror at the suggestion that you "experiment on people."

Paul451 said...

"Vonnegut had a theory about why shoot-em-up violence IN MOVIES seemed to be so popular--[...] long secretly or not-so-secretly to be VICTIMS of that sort of quick, easy violence."

It seems like crap. People picture themselves as the heroes, in a situation with clear right and wrong. The fantasy is "what I would do" rather than longing for death's sweet embrace.

(People also like the villains. The freedom to act without fear of consequences.)

I think we would have a whole different type of violence in film if it was appealing to our death-fantasies.

Acacia H. said...

How about this: push in our culture the belief that mental illness is not shameful or a sign of weakness and instead is just another ailment that modern civilization is able to treat (hopefully) with therapy and in some cases medication. Start with group therapy sessions in schools - perhaps even anonymized groups with everyone in a darkened room and with voice synthesizers so they can speak without fear of ridicule. Get people used to talking about this, to admitting their fears, and knowing that we ALL have that little voice that says "destroy! hurt! maim!" and won't be locked up just because we admit it exists.

If mental illness is no longer considered a scarlet letter of shame, then it will become easier to diagnose problems early. From there, we can treat these problems before they become full-blown neuroses that could cause harm on many levels.

I'd be willing to bet the first thing we'd see is a gradual drop in the teenage suicide rate. Over time we may even see a drop in the mass murder sprees. And who knows... maybe if we start with our youth and young so they know from an early age that these problems are commonplace and nothing to be ashamed of, we might even see a reduction in hatred and assholery.

Rob H., who freely admits his neuroses concerning embarrassing situations which prevents him from watching most movies, watching 99% of television, and is starting to impact his ability to enjoy books

TwinBeam said...

Paul451 - agree about zero tolerance.

Our kids' teachers would ask kids to write personal daily logs, and encouraged them to write about their feelings. The teacher would review those, supposedly to help them improve their writing skills.

A student who was being bullied made the mistake of listing the bullies' names and writing something like "They make me so angry that sometimes I wish they were all dead".

Instead of wasting time calling all the involved students in for counselling, the school just called the police in to arrest the bullied student - taken out of school in handcuffs. Problem solved.

We warned our kids to never write anything personal for their teachers, regardless of the assignment, lest the school use it against them.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm wondering why the 3-D printer folks couldn't go around a large ammo clip ban by designing and printing their own. Too difficult? I rather doubt it.

Acacia H. said...

Oh, they can. Problem is, extra-large clips are more prone to failure. And printed gun parts so far tend to fail after being used several times. So a perp may make one... and then have it fail on them, leaving them with one less weapon to kill with.

Rob H.

Neil Miller said...

Clips tend to be pretty thin walled parts as far as I know. I don't think current 3D printing materials would be up for it. Probably soon though.

captcha: airpoti - must be what your 4 year-old calls the toilet on an airplane.

locumranch said...

"Zero Tolerance" is a great idea, proven brilliant time and time again by the Inquisition, the Abstinence birth control technique, Prohibition and the "War on Drugs".

We could outlaw guns because because guns are used to kill 31,000 US Citizens per year, but why stop there?

We could apply "zero tolerance" to every cause of mortality until everyone lives forever !!

We could outlaw motor vehicles, alcohol, tobacco & trans fats because Motor vehicles kill 35,000 US citizens per year, alcohol kills 25,000, tobacco kills 400,000 and heart disease kills almost 700,000.

We could eliminate all types of violence by eliminating every type of economic inequality & social alienation.

All we would have to do is detain citizens based on suspicion alone, forcibly restrain or medicate any & all deviants and forbid independent thought, self-expression & foreign language.

We could even stain our skins the same colour, shave off our body hair and identify ourselves by serial numbers like THX 1138 rather than by idiosyncratic or politically-incorrect name.

Or, we could simply accept our flaws, differences & prejudices, recognize aggression, brutality & emotionality as innate human characteristics and acknowledge that rational human social interaction requires the mutual application of both Respect & Fear.

Then, we could try to treat each with fairness, equality & kindness, minimize conflict (as LarryHart put it) through enlightened self-interest OR suffer the consequences.

Paul451 points out that the rate of non-random violence (IE. Crime) has actually been decreasing in the enlightened West.

Too bad the random stuff is on the increase.

Acacia H. said...

I look at it this way. Gun control legislation will fail. There is no if. There is no but. The NRA will quietly put pressure on politicians and Democrats will be far too paranoid of another 1994 to do anything. Thus you have to work around the NRA. If gun control legislation will fail, then you have to punish people who abuse guns. Thus draconian punishments for gun crimes is the answer. You make it so that if someone commits a crime with a gun then the punishment is so severe they will instead use another method of committing their crime. Life sentences without parole is that answer.

Another answer of course is to make people more liable for the crimes committed with their guns but I suspect the NRA would squash that one flat as well. But we may very well start seeing lawsuits by people injured by stolen guns against the gun owner, which will put civil pressure on more proper gun control methods (ie, gun safes, trigger locks, and other methods).

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

One print head for the epoxy and another for laying down fibers. Some bright person will probably do both as one after watching web-spinning spiders for awhile. The 'printer' would be a spinner' too. That approach will deliver the thin-walled stuff sooner or later.

I've already seen a number of people pushing to demote the severity of the social consequences for mental health issues. We've been at it for over a generation and some progress has occurred. It will take a lot of time for the full effects to be felt, though. This is the kind of social change that happens when kids teach their own kids how to do it different. There is already progress, though.

Jumper said...

Speaking of primal human urges, I suggest that the desire for adventure be on the list. War has been such; see Lord of the Rings.
Also, vicariously for most, the manned space program provided some of this. Which suggests mention of the past activity of being an Explorer (capitalized, no less!) of unknown lands. In a lesser way too, sports have provided this. But vicarious adventure may only carry a youngster so far.
Unrequited lusts may turn rancid in time.

We see a lot of people out for adventure in the TV shows of late documenting Alaskan fishing boats, ice road truckers, lumberjacks and gold miners.

Just a Guy from Chicago said...

Just curious what Dr Brin and others on this board think about reports from right-wing "news" sites claiming the Oregon shooter was confronted by a concerned citizen who was concealed carrying.