Saturday, July 30, 2016

Optimism... even about alien invasion?

Of course both optimism and pessimism are simplistic reflexes, unworthy of a modern mind... which is why, here at Contrary Brin, we'll poke at any over-simplifying nostrum. Today, of course, that means I must side with optimists more often, because pundits and media and ravers push the mostly-fact-free notion that we're all plummeting into hell.

One fellow who makes me look like a cynical playground-snarling pessimist - Peter Diamandis - offers up “Why the World Is Better Than You Think in 10 Powerful Charts.”  Do we have lots of problems to solve? Some of them perilous to the planet and our kids? Sure! But one of the worst of our problems is snarling cynics who refuse to look at the mountains of good news.  And conclude that problems can be solved!  Because some have been.

Another example. In Foreign Policy, J. M. Berger offers a thoughtful rumination on public-spectacle violence, starting with Roman gladiatorial matches going all the way to Islamic State public beheadings… and relates it all to science fiction tales from Rollerball to The Purge. 

Of course this has gone political, well summarized in this painfully funny cartoon, showing HClinton and DTrump using exactly the same words, in opposite directions and meanings. 

== Alien Visions ==

This blog posting sat a while, since July 4, in fact. Independence Day. Which provoked two thoughts. 

First, what if we met scary and advanced aliens? Would it even be possible to adapt quickly? The greatest historical example would be Meiji-Era Japan, which decided to end several hundred years of self-imposed isolation and suddenly begin studying the ways of dauntingly advanced western powers. Within a single generation, the Japanese had iron rolling mills and made the warships that defeated much-larger China. A couple of decades after that, they defeated one of the world powers — Russia — both on land and at sea. It took immense concentration and sacrifice… and no one knows if anything similar could happen across the potentially vastly larger technological gaps that might yawn between us of aliens.

I speak to this in my Uplift Universe, where humanity does face that problem, having to catch up rapidly to a billion year old Galactic Civilization. Sundiver goes into that dilemma in detail, and our hero contemplates both the Meiji Era Japanese and the Cherokee of Georgia, who handled the problem a little differently.

Of course some folks ask this question with an agenda: that they believe aliens have “taught” us things in the past. To drag sticks through sand or pile stones to draw signs to spacecraft. Or that star beings used psi-tech to help us build pyramids or Easter Island statues. To which I answer… feh! That conceit so insults our ancestors, who imagined that building such things might propitiate gods and save them from their grueling-primitive poverty. Hence, believing that, they innovated! Cleverness and fervor and strenuous labor chiseled and move stones! No alien intervention need be invoked. The poignant universality of this story - inventive and labor-intensive projects appealing for help from above that never, ever came -- is one of the most tear-inducing I can picture.

If aliens did demand such tasks of human tribes, then they were space-jerks, who could have helped us vastly more by opening one teensy community college. Or just by giving us glass lenses, printing, free speech and the germ theory of disease. Once we had those things, we took off on our own!

We had better not learn any UFO stories are actually true. Because if they are - even one of them — then some cosmic punks are really in for it. Go Air Force.

== Hypocrisy vs problem solving ==

Speaking of fact-based optimism. A new study predicts that the federal forecast of national health care spending under President Obama's signature health law was a big overestimate — by $2.6 trillion over a five-year period. In other words, the decline in growth of health costs in the U.S. under Obamacare has been vastly, vastly better than anyone, even optimists, predicted… and that comes after the added expense of finally getting tens of millions of kids and adults insured.

If there were sanity instead of reflex on the American right, conservatives would do one of their favorite veers… and claim credit for this!  After all, the ACA (Obamacare) was always based on the GOP’s own… damn… plan!  It was. But it’s a bit late to claim credit now.

So Dennis Hastert, once the top Republican official in America, is now in prison. Not for his top crime - treason - for deliberately conspiring to destroy politics - the art of open-adult negotiation and compromise - as a problem solving method in dealing with an onrushing future. He and other monsters wrecked US politics, leaving us weak and terminally polarized...

...but instead he is imprisoned for lying about being a child-molesting pervert and hypocrite. Like OJ Simpson doing time now for armed robbery instead of axe-murder. Okay. We'll take what justice we can get.

Oh, see the weapon used most by mass shooters.  Read the whole article.

== Fertile Ground for ISIS ==

How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS: "Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists," writes Carlotta Gall in The New York Times. And "mosques built here with Saudi government money are blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression."

Do any of you actually swallow the Fox-News line that the Saudi R'oil House (Fox partners and investors) opposes Isis/Al-Qaeda extremism? ISIS has bought or reprinted thousands of standard Saudi textbooks to indoctrinate youth in the territories they control.  The same textbooks and many of the same teachers and texts who molded Osama Bin Laden (remember him) and the Al-Qaeda and ISIS leaderships and that petro-dollars still ship to thousands of radicalizing madrassas all over the muslim world.

Back to Kosovo: "Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo," writes Gall. Now? "“They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

Is it any wonder that the (partly) Saudi-controlled American right has sabotaged moves toward efficiency research and energy independence - and science, in general - for 30 years?  But that effort could only harm us - and the planet - for so long, before non-confederate scientific ingenuity came to the rescue. Sustainable energy is taking off! Plummeting in price and now competitive even with natural gas. 

We are weaning ourselves off the carbon teat. And our future is the stars -- not nostalgia for caliphate.

And finally...

It is now reported that almost 500 million social media posts are fabricated by government factotums in China every year, according to this report. You can expect these methods to be copied (possibly with hired consultants from Russia or the mystic-east) extensively during U.S. elections, especially now that the Kochs and others have found that money spent on TV ads no longer accomplishes much of anything. But a few trolls in a boiler room, spreading “never Hillary” memes among disappointed Bernites could be golden.
Vladimir Putin, more popular with Americans than either presumptive presidential nominee?  Interesting, though this lousy article does not parse the obvious – that there’s huge overlap between Putin lovers and Trump lovers.  After a decade of lavish, gushing adoration of Putin on Fox, you’d be surprised?

This list of the top 50 accomplishments of the Obama Administration is a bit iffy… some were less profound than stated.  Still, it shows efforts on behalf of middle class people.  Show me something similar for the Bushes?  Compare actual outcomes.

Oog.  I started this one out to be one of my weekend non-political ones.  Science!  Optimism! Okay okay.  I'll keep trying. Only...

...remember that one of the candidates -- just one -- said "I believe in science."

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Yes… this really matters

Enjoying convention season? Okay, I was actually scheduled to speak at one of the side events in Philadelphia, but had to drop out. No worries. Well, none that I don’t share with millions of fellow citizens.

Meanwhile, out in the real world…stuff continues… for example…

The world is on pace to set another high temperature benchmark, with 2016 becoming the third year in a row of record heat. NASA scientists announced on Tuesday that global temperatures so far this year were much higher than in the first half of 2015.

Seriously. Many of the decisions we face are not about “left” or “right” in any traditional political way. It is largely about facts and science versus believers in 'truthy" incantations. 

It is about sanity. And survival. And at some point you are going to have to ponder whether your favorite, comfy incantation-magical-spells (of either left or right) are really worth risking the planet and your children.

== The most-important choice. ==

Way back ages ago, Michael Dukakis tried to prevent the Epoch of Bushes by touting that “a candidate’s first and most-telling decision is his choice as a running mate.” He said this because it was quickly apparent to the voting public how vastly superior an individual Lloyd Bentsen was, over the callow Dan Quayle. 

Of course, Dukakis was flailing about, while drowning. But history does show a distinct difference between the selections made by GOP vs Democratic nominees.

Tim Kaine fits the mold for Democratic running mates… a bit boring, perhaps a smidgeon to the right of fully-liberal, and highly qualified. 

In contrast, with just two exceptions, Republican presidential nominees almost always pick someone spectacularly unqualified to be commander in chief. The exceptions? On paper at least, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush chose men who at least had very strong resumes. Yes… those two chosen-ones would also turn into the most spectacularly evil horrors to exercise U.S. executive power in a hundred years. Still, they were qualified, on paper. Nearly all the other GOP VP picks have been -- well -- ridiculous.

We’ll let the choice of Tim Kaine sit and gel a bit, though it truly is hard to see how it does anything but speak well of Hillary Clinton. (Watch his convention speech; it was solid.) As for this season’s Republican choice? Well, on paper he is Kaine’s equal, with experience both in Congress and a governor’s mansion. Alas, he's also a bona fide fanatic and deeply, fiercely committed to the war on science. 

This fellow lists five reasons why Mike Pence was a great match for Donald Trump, including the Indiana Governor’s extremely close relationship with the Koch brothers. Left off the list? The main reason why I suggested DT might pick an establishment right winger… someone who could minister to the Tea Party and fundamentalist wings, when Trump shocks everyone by veering toward the center (in selected ways) during the debates. 

Recapping: in my last political posting I posed a plausibility. Back when I believed DT to be a more disciplined schemer, not the short-fuse/impulsive blabber we now see, I predicted Trump would – as soon as he got the nomination – plunge center-ward with stunning alacrity.  Indeed, a silver lining would have been his abandonment of climate denialism and Supply Side Drivel “Economics.”  In that case, while the nation – and DT’s November chances – might improve, he’d risk the wrath of the right, unless he had a running mate capable of soothing that mob. 

Now? I see that center-veer as less likely. Though indeed, why else would they have tested the waters in Cleveland, with Ivanka’s feminism speech and Donald’s riff on defending LGBTs? Well, well.  With Pence on hand to keep the far-right chilled, Trump could do some center-veers, saving them for the debates where they'll have maximum impact. 

The dems should prepare for some jiu jitsu surprises!

But that wasn’t the only factor, in choosing Pence. A while back, I opined that Donald Trump would ponder an extra consideration, in picking his running mate – making sure it would be someone unlikely to betray him!  
      Betrayal either before the election, if all seems lost… or in the case of victory (GF!) , after, when an establishment republican Veep would serve as “impeachment bait.” I do think DT may have taken these factors into account…

…but perhaps not in the way I imagined!  It just occurred to me... dang... that I may have misjudged the situation.

Suppose the election looks to be a rout, Donald will be desperate for a face-saving out. Betrayal by the party elders, including his running mate, might fit the bill perfectly. Oh, anyone sane would know they bolted because he was a loser, bigtime...

But the important thing, when it comes to face, is maintaining appearances with a big enough minority. Call it the “OJ Effect.” If he can nurse the notion that he was stabbed in the back, then for a few tens of millions that will be the excuse narrative he can milk for forty years. (And a few of you know I used the specific term “stab in the back” with historical pertinence.)

Whoa.  So... Trump may at some point try to draw the betrayal?

Oooh. I have some wires loose. They spark. Ack!

== Sane Conservatives are Standing Up ==

This logical and impassioned letter from a lifelong Republican activist, tells his reasons for resigning his post on a GOP committee. Chris Ladd, whose GOPLifer site has been a locus for many conservatives discussing in dismay the hijacking of their movement, offers a cogent and clear summary of his reasons, cluding these incredible paragraphs:

“At the national level, the delusions necessary to sustain our Cold War coalition were becoming dangerous long before Donald Trump arrived. From tax policy to climate change, we have found ourselves less at odds with philosophical rivals than with the fundamentals of math, science and objective reality.

“The Iraq War, the financial meltdown, the utter failure of supply-side theory, climate denial, and our strange pursuit of theocratic legislation have all been troubling. Yet it seemed that America’s party of commerce, trade, and pragmatism might still have time to sober up. Remaining engaged in the party implied a contribution to that renaissance, an investment in hope. Donald Trump has put an end to that hope.

“From his fairy-tale wall to his schoolyard bullying and his flirtation with violent racists, Donald Trump offers America a singular narrative – a tale of cowards. Fearful people, convinced of our inadequacy, trembling before a world alight with imaginary threats, crave a demagogue. Neither party has ever elevated to this level a more toxic figure, one that calls forth the darkest elements of our national character.”

Should it ever have come to this?  That it would take the looming-scary presence of an American Mussolini to make decent conservative realize it is time to stand up? Yes, Chris Ladd’s missive will help, if each of you out there uses it to help minister to some desperately anguished Republican neighbor.

But do not expect them to let go of their rationalizations easily! Especially the last refuge: “Yes, I know my side has gone stark, jibbering insane, without a single positive accomplishment to point to and swirling in a toilet bowl of lies…. But… but democrats are worse!”

Accept your mission and the difficulty.  Your aim is not to convert them from conservatism or love of market economics!  Nore should you sneer at American exceptionalism!

Your task is to remind them that American conservatism once bore at least a glancing correlation with pragmatic appreciation of facts, of science, and of the need to move ahead in a rapidly changing world. It can again (someday) be part of a conversation, a negotiation, that includes enterprise and individualism and deregulation in the mix of ideas we’ll use, to take on 21st Century challenges!

But first they must let go. It is like prying the hands of a drowning man off the soaked and sinking life preserver he's clinging to and getting him to notice the starship floating nearby with a welcome ramp waiting... if only he would just... turn... his... head.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Will Trump “veer to Center?”…and… Al Franken For 'Designated Trump!'

I'll offer some crit on the democrats at the end.  But first...

Following up on the Republican convention, were you puzzled by… or even cynically dismissive of… The Donald's LGBT remark and Ivanka's feminist riff? I take a less jaundiced view, deeming those to be much more than just perfunctory toss-offs. Indeed, they were likely significant moments, testing the waters for how big a “veer to the center” the Trumps can get away with in the general election campaign.

Both of them know that their confederate followers love to wrap themselves in virtue and to shout: "we're not the bigots, liberals are!" Remember, there’s almost no evidence in Donald Trump’s past suggesting that this cynical, Svengali-manipulator actually believes any of the racist stuff he’s been spouting. (Sexism, sure. But even that may be complicated.)

I’ve long held it plausible that he might backtrack from any polemical device that no longer suits his purpose. He’s done it before.  (Remember the ‘birther” stuff?)

Recall how last year – before any pundit took a Trump nomination seriously - I predicted that primary-season candidate Trump would evolve, after nomination, into something else. A protean opportunist, DT will fine-tune the message and narrative. Indeed, he could shift a number of standard right wing positions -- e.g. toward gays -- and his followers will lap it up!  

With the perfect Tea Partier Mike Pence guarding Trump's right flank, you can expect him to veer toward center in carefully chosen ways. 

In fact, there'd be a silver lining for the entire nation to his candidacy, if Donald - in the debates - suddenly announced "I've studied harder" and that he ‘now understands’ the deep-rooted flaws in climate denialism and anti-science campaigns and supply side 'voodoo economics.’ Shrugging aside any inconsistency with his patented insouciance, he’d simply say “that’s behind us now…” just like all his old birther obsessions and both calamitous Bush presidencies. (Bush who?)

Any other candidate who flipped like that would suffer, but not DT. And millions of his followers would imitate his blithe shrug. “Denying climate change? Oh, we’re not doing that anymore. Move on. And anyone mentioning the word “Bush” is just digging up the past.”

Heck, do not be shocked if he suddenly, at a debate, declared support for legalizing pot! Even though only blue or bluish states have done it so far, and no other GOP officeholder has done anything but oppose, I doubt his evangelical base would raise a peep. And he could grab another 2% of the vote at a swoop, unless HC is ready.

Sidestep the Obamacare issue by suddenly supporting Medicare for everybody? I am telling you, he can reach out with grabs like that and barely shake his base. They are not Trump supporters because of past-failed GOP policies. He is their caudillo - that is enough.

When this happens at a debate, Hillary Clinton must not stare in shock, or leap to accuse him of flopping. The dems would be fools not to practice and carefully advance-calibrate HC's reaction to such zinger surprises. (And Donald loves surprises!) Indeed, it might make sense to congratulate him on shifting the GOP permanently from one or two insanities.

Anyway what has he got to lose, by dropping fact-disproved manias like denialism and Supply Side?  Making Kochs, Saudis and Murdochians mad at him? This is Trump’s party. For now. Screw em.

== Will he really do that? ==

Now, let me admit that I have been forced to backtrack a bit. Ever since I made my prediction -- that DT would perform some sudden, surprise veers to center. I first offered that prediction when it seemed that his core trait was fiercely intelligent, manipulative self-control.

Ah well. That was then. In the months since, we have witnessed that Donald Trump’s primary personality trait is emotional, mercurial impulsiveness and utter lack of discipline. Sure, he’s still a feral genius at polemics! But for that reason, I have backed off somewhat from betting for a center-veer. I’m no longer offering even-odds. 

Despite his and Ivanka’s testing the waters in Cleveland, a genuine center-veer would require laser-like focus, which we now can see DT lacks.  Still, I do offer 1:2 odds that some such judo surprises are in the offing.

That is why I am hoping Hillary Clinton chooses as her debate-prep surrogate opponent...

== Tagliani to the rescue ==

... Minnesota Senator Al Franken, a man of supreme, caustic wit, a trained actor-comedian and someone who could channel the Donald role with ferocity, even having fun with it during the many rehearsals.

Which means he will have to jar and insult and rattle HC, teaching her to answer judo with judo. As Designated Trump, Franken will have the role of a lifetime, and it will test HC’s vaunted ability to shrug off almost anything. Which is why it may take guts on her part (but tons of brains) to give him this job that he was born for.

My own message to Senator Franken... or whomever HC chooses for Designated Donald ... include some surprising center-veers in your repertoire! 

Trump has shown he has no firm principles, at all. So 'channel' an opponent with the agility of a mercurial psychopath. (I’ve stored up some great zingers… but no one will be asking me.)

Al Franken (AKA Pete Tagliani*) can do this. 

== The missing word ==

Did anyone else notice the absence of a particular word, at the GOP convention?  It was missing, almost the entire time, avoided like some horrible, infection.  Which of course it was, for almost half of the last 26 years. 

A word that was synonymous with Republicanism and deserves to remain so, since it says so much about their style and outcomes of governance. A word that every single speaker strove feverishly to distract us from remembering.


And make no mistake. Though he avoids mentioning the two worst presidents of our lifetime (and I include Nixon), Donald Trump would appoint thousands of Bush factotums back into positions of power, going back to that noxiously corrupt and poisonous well. When a party is deeply ashamed of its last two presidents, shall we deem it likely they need some time away from power, to think things out?

Oh, but thinking is no longer what it's about.

== Ah, the Donald ==

Who knows a person better than the ghostwriter of his/her autobiography?

Your spouse is biased - either positive or negative (in a decent marriage- both! ;-) - as are business partners and siblings. But a skilled biographer who spent weeks and months with you, attempting to channel your 'voice', your philosophy, the crises you overcame and your sense of self? That's intimate and deeply knowing. Most biographers wind up identifying with their subjects, conveying empathy/sympathy for them. Especially biographers who do a great job making you look and sound like a billion bucks.

Ah. But now see how Donald Trump's ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal - the best-seller that helped make DT a major public figure - speaks out.

Trump seems to have forgotten that he didn't really write the book. Moreover, the actual (ghost) writer, Tony Schwartz, now says that he would gladly rename it The Sociopath. (Bear in mind that by breaking his silence clause, the author exposes himself to a HUGE Trump-patented lawsuit. So this takes some guts.)

== Calling on a gifted artist! ==

Remember the Disney musical Mary Poppins? Well, the following excerpt from one of the songs has only one word altered.

“Come feed the little birds,
         Show them you care
                  And you’ll be glad if you do
Their young ones are hungry
         Their nests are so bare
                  All it takes is trumppence from you.

“Feed the birds, trumppence a bag
Trumppence, trumppence, trumppence a bag
Feed the birds, that’s what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies.”

So, might a satirical cartoonist show that the “little birds” are billionaire coal and oil and Wall street barons? And the skies filling with pollution? Just sayin’.

And finally…

== The Democrats' turn ==

Bernie’s terrific DNC speech had one chief flaw. He did not zero in hard on Congress.  For 20 of the last 22 years, under Ryan, Boehner and McConnell, the GOP-led Congress has been the laziest, most worthless legislature in US history, especially since their beloved (now a convicted child molester) Dennis Hastert declared a rule to “never negotiate!” even (especially) when legislation might benefit the American people.

Bernites need to recognize that their campaign for a friend in the White House will only be 75% successful with HC elected. Tough. So? That also means maybe 80% satisfaction with the Supreme Court picks. Aw, poor babies.

What this means is the right place to shift their radical energy - especially in non-battleground states - is state and local and congressional races, where the liars who have hijacked the GOP must be ejected, finally reviving our legislative branch of government and transforming many states from dens of cheating into islands of progress for their citizens. (Thus enabling our conservative neighbors to re-evaluate and return to a saner version of their movement.)

The presidency is just one piece.  If you got Bernie in the White House, and no change in Congress, all you'd have won is four years of whining-kvetching. I know.  Bernie is an almost perfect clone of my dad.

Stop whining. Stop kvetching.  Listen to Bernie. Go down ticket, where politics is really done.