So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

Get ready, because I am about to use a concept from Basic Calculus to reveal to you Americans out there a lie that you’ve been taught to believe – almost all of you. No matter which party you support, you “know” one thing about their attitudes and behavior… how Republicans and Democrats differ toward deficit spending. Alas, what you “know” is exactly opposite to what is true.

BUDGET-DEFICITLet’s start with the fact that the U.S. posted a $130 billion budget deficit in May and the smallest shortfall for the first eight months of a fiscal year since 2008, as a stronger economy and rising employment bolster revenue. This trend reiterates a core difference between the two major U.S. political parties, when it comes to federal budgetary responsibility.

Okay, here it is:

The crucial 2nd derivative of debt… the pace at which the rate-of-change of the federal deficit is itself changing… either moving toward fiscal disaster or away from it… has been positive (toward accelerating debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower.

In stark and dramatic contrast – that crucial metric is always negative (deceleration) every year of every Democratic administration.

Let that sink in, because it is diametrically opposite to the rhetoric and propaganda and fulminations that have become accepted “truthy” notions in our minds. So? Are you a slave of truisms? Or are you capable of noticing facts that stare you in the face, and are nearly always true?

Why is the 2nd derivative more valid than – say – looking at the simple size of this year’s budget deficit? Because our fiscal situation carries momentum from actions taken three or five years ago, even a decade. Stepping on the brakes does not instantly stop your hurtling car — it decelerates your rush toward that cliff. The 2nd derivative tells you – almost instantly – whether an administration is at least trying to be fiscally responsible.



Let’s examine the 2nd derivative of debt in action. Have a look at this chart of the US federal deficit as a fraction of the nation’s GDP. Wherever the curve is seen to be turning, go ahead and guesstimate a rough CENTER to that stretch of curve. Of course things are bumpy, so a little subjective smoothing is called for, shrugging off blips. But if, across any 3 to five year span, the center point of your curve lies ABOVE, then the nation’s debt is on a worsening track.


If the center of the curve is BELOW, then there’s an improving trend, decelerating an arterial hemorrhage, so that it starts to curve back down, or even moving toward surplus. Think convex versus concave.

Now recall that GOP administrations began in 1969, 1981, 1989 and 2001. Democratic administrations began in 1977, 1993 and 2009. Now go draw your curves, find those center points. It truly is amazing!

Let me reiterate. The rate of rate of change of debt is positive (toward reckless debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration (post Eisenhower). It is negative (building momentum toward prudence) in every year of every democratic administration, (post Johnson).

BUDGET-DEFICITNow add in this bald-faced fact. That Bush Administration accounting tricks deliberately kept the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars “off the books” for half a decade, letting them finally slam the formal deficit just when economic mismanagement sent the economy into hell, leaving behind a mess that included hyper-velocity debt. In other words, the 2006-2007 “dip” is a lie.

Likewise “Congress controls the purse strings” is a silly excuse. The GOP controlled Congress both for 6 years before Bill Clinton left office and for 6 years after. Yet the 2nd Derivative was negative in the first six and swung sharply positive the very instant a GOP president replaced him, and Clinton could no longer veto the annual Supply Side Voodoo Economics Bill, opening our arteries to the (non) “job-creator caste.”

This is not just overwhelming, this rule correlates so perfectly that it seems almost at the level of physical law. Hence, any “fiscal conservative” who supports the GOP – no matter what the rationalization – would have to be either stupid or out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.

== Perspective time ==

I am libertarian enough to want budgets that are relatively balanced. Yes, a small amount of deficit spending is harmless and probably stimulating, especially if spent on national underpinnings like children and infrastructure. A moderate amount can be written off by tipping the scales toward slight inflation. Still, most economists think that a combined national/corporate/personal debt greater than 300% of GDP is in a Problem Zone, and I don’t disagree.

On the other hand, we have already seen how bizarre it is for the American right to fetish on debt, when every post-Eisenhower GOP president sent deficits skyrocketing and every demo prez fought them back under control.



But is the United States an especially spendthrift and debtor nation? Look at this chart and you decide. It’s possible… just possible… that there are other matters that deserve equal footing on our national agenda. Like problem solving  and becoming a scientific and advanced nation again.

And putting people to work preventing 60,000 defective bridges from falling down.

== The underlying agenda? ==

In fact, the current U.S. budget shortfall would be well in the safe zone, were it not for the lingering Bush tax cuts for the uber-rich (and residual effects from Bushite wars). It would be one thing if Supply Side assurances (“the cuts will pay for themselves as job-creators invest!”) ever came true… even once, in the decades since the Laffer Cult sprouted. But that voodoo never came true. Ever. Not one prediction. Even once. But it is still pushed. Wonder why?

== The oligarchs step up ==

SECRET-SUMMITSIn what might have been a scene taken from the pages of EXISTENCE, 250 individuals flew into London for a conclave of the world’s richest people and estates, with the formal agenda of preventing revolution by making capitalist societies more inclusive.  Their combined assets, estimated at $30 trillion — amount to roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world. If money is power, then this is the most powerful group of people ever to focus on income inequality.

The titans of commerce and finance didn’t necessarily fly to this meeting in London out of a sense of ethics or moral duty, though that may be a motivation for some. For many, says conference organizer Lynn Forester de Rothschild, it’s a sense of self-preservation. Capitalism appears to be under siege.  “It’s true that the business of business is not to solve society’s problems,” she says. “But it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one of society’s problems. And that is where we are today.”

Question: were there meetings behind the open meetings, as I depict in fiction? Well?  Do any of YOU out there, reading this, happen to know?

Here’s the deal. These are the good billionaires! Here’s another secret confab, one that is endearingly free of any “help the world” rationalizations: Secret Summit: 24 Hours with the Koch Brothers.

== Ah, statistics… ==

Okay. If you can’t beat em…

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling (ie Hookers & Blow) will be part of Italy’s GDP as of 2014, and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

== And finally, the Big Lie propaganda about the American Revolution ==

Franklin-taxSaid Ben Franklin: “The Colonies would gladly have borne the little Tax on tea and other matters had it not been the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament, which has caused in the Colonies hatred of England and the Revolutionary War.”

The notion that the American Revolution was somehow against “government” and “taxation” in general, and not – as all the Founders said – against oligarchy and rule by monopolists and feudal lords – is among the most hilarious conflations and orwellian propaganda campaigns of our lifetimes.



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Can the Ocean solve the sky’s problems? Can youth “cure” old age?

== Are the only answers puritanism and efficiency? ==

Amid all the sturm und drang over climate change, and whether to try “geo-engineering” or ban even discussing such alternatives, it seems that polemics had trumped science. Leaving “progress” to be done in a fly-by-night fashion.

GEO-ENGINEERINGHas ocean fertilization been proved? Early indications may be spectacular. I’ve long favored careful experiments in this one kind of “geo-engineering,” which simply replicates nature by providing missing elements to some of the vast (90%) of ocean zones that are nutrient poor deserts, almost devoid of life. A senseless enviro-puritan reflex has blocked these experiments, which are inherently retractable — and which I portrayed way back in EARTH (1989). Frustrated by this excessive eco-prudity, a Native American tribe in British Columbia financed the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific in 2012, hoping to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.

That is what appears to have happened, on a stunning scale, starting with the expected plankton bloom. The following year – (according to Robert Zubrin, whose notoriety comes from promoting Mars colonization) – “the number of salmon caught in the northeast Pacific more than quadrupled, going from 50 million to 226 million. In the Fraser River, which only once before in history had a salmon run greater than 25 million fish (about 45 million in 2010), the number of salmon increased to 72 million.”

These numbers appear to be confirmed … though I welcome participatory research from you folks! Please help our group mind to follow up on this! If any cause-effect can be supported, it would seem to offer very strong reason to pursue further experiments in this nature, which promise better side effects than any other palliative measure (e.g. more food from vitalized fisheries) while pulling carbon from the air.

Read this article in the conservative National Review, where Zubrin offers up quotations from enviro-obstinates that reveal embarrassing political and mental obduracy on the farthest-left. Only also know this, that Rob Zubrin cherry-picked these quotations, which are extrema from a spectrum wherein most environmentalists are in-fact reasonable people. Rob is a vigorous and interesting fellow — I like him — but also a rigidly dogmatic person of the very far-right, which comes out in his article, veering into realms of denialist crackpottery.

Working your way through it will be a test of your ability to pluck (many) pearls from (a lot of) manure. Learn to do that… and that similar ratios sometimes are seen on the other side.

militancyMust this always be our fate? Having to pick our way through an opinion-minefield, between opposing, simplistic militancies? A pragmatically progressive civilization would shrug off both eco-puritans and fanatical climate denialists and seek precious positive-sum opportunities. We need to explore this one — this potential win-win of ocean enhancement — swiftly and carefully. Or else it will be done in the dead of night, from boats that dump “fertilizer” without oversight or scientific supervision.

Noteworthy is this parallel – 10,000 years ago we learned to irrigate and make deserts bloom with crops. Add water to land, and life burgeons… but add it WRONG and you poison the Fertile Crescent with salts and make desert. What you need is drainage to ensure that the water you are adding will ALSO wash salts away.  That’s the difference between the Euphrates Valley, which was chokes by poor drainage, and the Ganges and Nile which are still fertile after 5000 years of irrigation.

The way to look at ocean-fertiization is doing the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.  In fact, it’s been happening for quite some time and lessons have been learned. Agricultural runoff “feeds” life in the sea, all right. When it spills into vigorous ocean currents, there’s no visible harm. But when when there’s inadequate oxygen and circulation, you get algae blooms that bring death. The Black Sea is a horror story: virtually dead. Parts of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are also in trouble.

But fertilize into very strong currents that are rich in Oxygen? That is exactly like well-drained irrigation. It works, if carefully watched.  At least, that is a reasonable interpretation of all that we can see. Why not do the validation experiments scientifically and openly, instead of leaving this to fly-by-nighters?

== Can innovation help? ==

canals1Folks have been commenting on whether we will have “solar roads.” I find the notion silly. No place has more wear and tear than a road surface. Come on people.

The place to put massive numbers of solar panels, when we truly have the next economy of scale breakthrough, is as roofs over the California Aqueduct. There is no place as perfect. Nearly total sun. The transmission lines have an existing right of way, and savings from evaporation would nearly pay for it all. This has been done for a canal in the state of Gujarat in India (pictured).

== Bio wonders! ==

It sounds like something out of a comic book or a science fiction movie – the first report of a successful biological laser based on a single, living cell. The fan who wrote to tell me about this commented: “It only took thirty-one years, but Culla’s eyes in Sundiver are becoming a reality.”

Okay! I’m not sure this counts for full points in the Predictions Registry. But partial credit is fine… for now.


LIFEFORMScientists have made living organisms that use SIX nucleotides – the familiar GATC… plus X and Y. They need to be fed special X & Y bearing foods or they die. Many in the press are fretting this is bad news for keeping scientific progress accountable…

…when in fact it is the very opposite!  This is absolutely terrific news! If this pans out, it means we’ll be able to keep a much tighter rein on our laboratory creations by creating lines of organisms that absolutely rely upon supplies of nutrients that cannot get, outside of the lab. Why is it that no one ever sees the good side of discoveries?

Oh, then there is this: is cancer about to be knocked down several notches?

== Icky-scary… yet intriguing! ==

Only, here’s the ickiest-scariest science news of the month: “New studies show that young blood reverses effects of aging when put into older mice.” Argh, the images this brings to mind!! Creepy old billionaires craving the revitalizing blood of pre-teenagers!

Of course it doesn’t have to go Hollywood. I am about to be awarded my ten-gallon hat when I reach my 80th blood donation and young people could get college money in exchange for donating five times a year, without the slightest harm. This might be a lot less scary than I fear. In fact, it may lead to great things.

But at first sight, it is a really trashy sci fi flick scenario, come true! (Note countries with a skewed old-to-young ratio might be in trouble.)

In fact, it just gets creepier! Note HOW the researchers got this result. By co-joining the old and young circulatory systems for weeks! Apparently just a pint or two doesn’t do it. You need access to the younger creature’s kidneys! And it isn’tt just the oldster getting “younger”… the youngster gets OLDER!

“But for the young mice, getting old blood was a definite setback. When conjoined to an older mouse, the creation of new cells in the young mouse slowed. Old blood seemed to cause premature aging.”

Okay, okay, we are back in really scary territory. The only way this won’t go very badly is if zillionaires live in The Transparent Society. I mean it. Without an open world, old Struldbrugs will be sending out minions and snatching young people off the streets.

Oh, and science. Pray this news is analyzed and replicated artificially and cheaply, real soon. I’d like that.

== Pertinent Miscellany ==

Since the late 1980s, teen pregnancy rates dropped 51 percent by 2010 and the teen abortion rate declined 66 percent and the teen birthrate declined 44 decreased. Teen pregnancy rates declined in all 50 states. New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate of 80 per 1,000 women, followed by Mississippi at 76 per 1,000 women and Texas at 73 per 1,000 women; while the lowest rate was in New Hampshire with 28 per 1,000 women, Vermont at 32 per 1,000 women and Minnesota at 36. (Um… who is in a position to lecture us, morally?)

A new type of 3D printer developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh can turn raw wool and wool blend yarns into fabric objects that people might enjoy touching.

In the category of I Kid You Not… Argentina’s INTA governmental research body has developed cow backpacks that use a tube from the cattle’s rumen leading to a bag, to trap the methane they produce in order to turn it into green energy. You’d think this a joke, till you realize its 250 liters of methane a day. Question. At some point do they float away? Or by accident rocket away?

Google wants to create a fully, 100 percent self-driving vehicle — something that needs no human being at the steering wheel — the company is building a car without a steering wheel. 100 cars will be in the first run. Google X — the inventor’s central within the company that is (among other things) creating balloon-borne internet broadband hubs — has “started developing prototype vehicles that actually are built from the ground up to be fully self-driving.” says a lead developer at Google X, Chris Umson, working with Dmitri Dolgov. The car has a steel frame to protect passengers, but the front face is made of a soft foam that causes less damage in an accident. It’ll go no faster than 25 mph, and focuses on city street driving.

Sven Beiker, a professor at Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research, doesn’t think he’s going to see a fully self-driving car in his professional lifetime. “Right now in, the year 2014, we’re just making the steps towards partial automation. That means the driver still needs to be in the loop,” he says.

Google engineers have developed a simulated quantum computer called Quantum Computing Playground that allows you to write, run, and debug software using quantum algorithms.

The use of C60 (fullerene) nanorods, which have unique optoelectronic properties, including high electron mobility, photosensitivity, and conductivity, could make possible low-cost medical and security cameras that would empower even cell phones or Penny Cams, or micro probes inside the body.




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Must we hide behind masks?

== Hide from the Man? ==

hiding-behind-masks“Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub,” reads the URME (pronounced U R Me) site:

“We don’t believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn’t have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public.” What product? A rubber mask bearing the likeness of URME’s founder Leo Selvaggio.

If lots of people go around wearing these masks the proto Big Brother system of all those cameras will be…

ever so slightly inconvenienced, while store-owners and bank guards and mere passers-by will have their tension levels ratchet up.

Yeah yeah, I’ve heard it all. This is a cool stunt and it draws attention to our decaying yadda yadda. And it accomplishes nothing else. Except to help promote the never ending chain of whining from those who think we can protect freedom by moaning “don’t look at me!” (I lived in Britain in the 1980s, where the cameras were already blooming everywhere, inspiring me to write The Transparent Society. In Kiln People I portray how masks will provide only slight and superficial anonymity, till someone is motivated enough to scrupulously backtrack images.)

surveillance-camera-streetYes, proto Big Brothers are all over the place! And yes, the camera networks could help bring us Big Brother! I fear the same outcome and I am just as militant in opposing it. More so!

Only there’s this. I know what works… what stands a chance of working. What has already worked well enough to give us the freedom that we do have….

…and it did not come from hiding…

…or whining “don’t look at me!”

== Wiretapping updated? ==

Strict-liability two-party consent eavesdropping laws seemed fair when they were passed in dozens of states, back in Stone Age days— like the 1960s — when the ability to record was unevenly possessed and when furtive recording seemed unfair. Today, it’s foolish for anyone to assume, at any point, that what they are saying has no chance of being played back, some other time. In particular, such two-party consent laws have been used to criminalize citizen recordings of their interactions with police and other government officials.

As reported here, the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes — certainly in thirty years — was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be “settled law” that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places. No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of “sousveillance” or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

(This was forecast in EARTH (1989) by the way.)

openness-accountabilityIt is important to take a balanced view… not to surrender all expectations of privacy, but to know that openness and accountability will let us both stay free and enforce a little privacy, or at least insist that we be physically left alone.

In particular, the recent rulings about citizen recordings of police absolutely eviscerate the snarky-stupid shrugs of cynics who proclaim that it’s all defeat and spirals into Orwellian hell.

Let there be no mistake. The cynics are enemies of freedom, not its defenders. Their tirades of gloom undermine the confidence and can-do spirit of problem solving that might get us across this transition era.

Indeed, sometimes “looking back” works! 

== Owning our data ==

haggling The Price of Haggling for Your Personal Data: This SLATE article discusses the notion that each of us might leverage and benefit from the economic value of our information.

It is one (absurd) thing to declare “I own all the info about me!” and to demand others not look. That’s a non-starter and if we pass laws to forbid the mighty from looking at us, that will only make them furtive about it and ensure we’ll get no benefit. As Heinlein said: “The chief thing achieved by privacy laws is to make the (spy) bugs smaller.”

But it is reasonable to say that people have “interests” and “value” in their information and a right to derive royalties or a fee for its use, especially if some commercial interest is making money off it. Moreover it is in an open society that we might be able to track who is using our data and insist on routine and proper payment for such use. The idea of people controlling and selling their data for personal and economic gain—as Jaron Lanier describes in Who Owns the Future? and Doc Searls elaborated on in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge—is gaining traction.

In this interesting article on Slate, John C Havens asserts that it’s not just about money: “But it won’t take hold until we answer a more deeply fundamental question: What are we worth as a whole?”

jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-futureIndeed, a number of Internet mavens over the years, including Jaron Lanier, have prophesied that citizens will – at some point – demand to benefit from the commercial use that major entities and corporations are deriving from information about hundreds of millions of people.

Our data is being swapped about and – as author of The Transparent Society – I don’t find open information flows to be the problematic thing. It is the cutting out of us little guys from any participation in the value chain deriving from our data.

Indeed, the way our data is shuttled and sold is invisible to us!

An article by Gregory Maus — How Transparent Big Data Markets Could Better Protect Your Data…and Your Rights — suggests setting up transparent, privately-owned, but publicly-regulated markets for the data. “Imagine something like an Amazon, Alibaba, or New York Mercantile Exchange, focused on the purchase and licensing of Big Data. Suppliers could increase their markets, buyers could increase their options, and all transactions would be public record.”

Now comes the Hub of All Things (HAT) project. The HAT is building a database which will be owned by individuals who produce data in the first place. That includes social media data, energy use data and internet of things data from our homes, such as the goods you use or the medicines you take. Kind of vague, so far. Indeed, I am doubtful. But over time, we must as a society develop ways that each person benefits from a strong interest in his or her information.


cynicism-problem-solvingFor more on Transparency, Privacy and Accountability




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A brief added SETI thought or two

Following up on my earlier posting that contained updates on SETI…

I like and respect the Neil de Grasse Tyson. His new COSMOS is a delightful rallying call for the Enlightenment against encroaching darkness. Still… sometimes I think he is quite happy to be the only smart guy in the room. And that leads to mental laziness. Like this claptrap piece of “logic:”


“There’s a worm in the street, you walk by it. Does the worm know that you think you’re smart? The worm has no concept of your smarts. Because you’re that much smarter than the worm. So the worm has no idea that something smart is walking by it. Which makes me wonder whether we have any concept — if a super species walked by us. Maybe they’re uninterested in us because we’re too stupid for them to even imagine having a conversation. You don’t walk by worms and go “Gee, I wonder what the worm is thinking.” This is just not a thought that you have! So one of the best pieces of evidence for why we haven’t been visited by aliens is that they have actually observed us, and concluded there is no intelligent sign of life on earth.”

Neil’s generally a very smart and wiseguy, but his reasoning here is just lazy and specious. No… it is hogwash.

51Jvq5Ml2mLThink about it. We do have experts who are very curious about the brain activity of worms! I could introduce you to some.

True, your average worm won’t meet such specialists! But that proves nothing because the scaling is not the same. There are millions of worms per person on Earth. But the maximum possible or conceivable rate of appearance of a new technological/sapient species in our galaxy is perhaps once per year. In other words, each arrival of intelligent life in the Milky Way is an “event” – noteworthy and meriting effort to study — even if we are far lower than the godlike elite.

this elite won’t have to deign to stoop to our level. They will be able to deputize sub-intelligences, commanding them to be interested and study new sapient races. Indeed, it could be dangerous for them not to create such deputies, designed to be just a bit smarter than us, to study us and other “worms” at our level. And sure, that may be happening! Read some of my novels

childhoods-end…or Childhood’s End — where Arthur C. Clarke provides a chilling glance of a universe in which humans are at the bottom of an intellectual food chain. Yet they do not ignore us; in fact they take great interest in our species.

What it comes down to is that the “we’re like worms” explanation for lack of contact is worth discussing! But it is not an “of course” that can blithely dismiss the Fermi Paradox. It is one hypothesis – and not one of the top ones – among a hundred or so that range from barely-possible, to somewhat plausible, all the way to “kind-of likely.”

The crux of this? That even brilliant guys can be lazy. Duh? I have that on good authority, from a friend of mine who does not always drink beer. But when he does….

Oh! Here’s a far more cogent summary (from xkcd) of the reason why we shouldn’t make much noise in the cosmos… at least until we know a little more.

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Sifting the skies for “others”

Let’s talk sci and tech! So much cool stuff and so little time… so we’ll start by looking upward for this posting.

First… the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is planning to spend more than $1 billion on satellites that will offer internet access worldwide from space. My contacts at ViaSat confirm that something is in the works. People familiar with the project say the devices Google intends to use will weigh less than 250 pounds. The WSJ’s sources say the costs for the venture could top $3 billion. Among many other aspects, this could be the jiu jitsu move that allows Earth citizens to evade the censorship of national governments. And many other good things! But of course, there’s always a cost.


== Sift the skies for “others”! ==

JBIS-METI-SETI-DEBATE My paper on the search for – and worries about – alien contact is one of a dozen in the latest issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society – a special volume that is formatted as a debate over the controversial matter of beaming “yoohoo messages to ET.” It is a serious matter that should be discussed openly by humanity’s greatest sages, before a fascinated and participating world populace! Instead, a dozen or so zealots want to make the decision on our behalf, without a scintilla of consultation. The debate is here… though (for now) at a small fee that goes to a good cause…

… getting out there, ourselves.

aaic-nasa How We’ll Talk to Aliens: Now available from NASA for free download (print also available) is “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” edited by Doug Vakoch, with articles about a wide range of non-astronomical aspects of contact with ExtraTerrestrial Civilizations.

See more on Shouting to the Cosmos: SETI vs METI. 

Meanwhile, we learn about planets! Like… Godzilla earth? Here’s an interesting discovery of a rocky planet which has a mass some 17 times that of Earth. Combining transit-eclipse size measurements from the Kepler telescope with mass-tug effects from a scope in the Canary Islands, researchers showed that Kepler-10c cannot be a gaseous world but must comprise very dense material. Interestingly, the age of the host star (a red dwarf) is about 11 billion years old, which is early in the evolution of the Universe when generations of exploding stars have not had long to make the heavy elements needed to construct rocky planets. Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought.

== Piecing together the puzzle ==

Gravitational wave discovery faces scrutiny: Inspiring to witness science at work, both collegial and relentlessly competitive and self-critical. In this case, the BICEP results reported in March — suggesting that polarization in the cosmic background might reveal inflation patterns in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the universe — might have contained some flawed image processing assumptions. We can all wait and see. But the process is fascinating to follow in this excellent NATURE article.

Universe-simulationModeling the universe, starting with the Big Bang, only became possible with the advent of supercomputers, fantastic software and the realization of the existence of mysterious dark matter. Combining all of these resulted in what may be one of the great scientific achievements of our time – a model that portrays the Bang, then natural evolution into the cosmos we see today, with the same array of numbers of sizes and types of galaxies. If verified, it is a stunning validation of our current models and our growing ability as simulators… then creators?… in our own right.

See also this video about the simulation. I hope it’s valid.

It used to be generally thought that our solar system’s largest moon contained an ocean with ice on bottom and top. But crushing pressure on Ganymede could create up to three layers of ice, with different kinds in each layer. The densest and heaviest ice on Ganymede is called “Ice VI.” Hence, Jupiter’s moon Ganymede may have a multi-layered ocean of alternating ice and liquid water that resembles a “club sandwich,” according to NASA.

== We need … more SPACE! ==

spacex-dragonElon does it again. Unveils version 2 of the Dragon Capsule… this one capable of carrying astronauts. The fellow’s timing is amazing… just as the US and Europe are looking for a way to stop paying Russia for manned Soyuz transports carrying our astronauts to the space station.

And then…

The surprise donation to NASA of two identical space telescopes by the United States National Reconnaissance Office has put NASA in a bind. They are essentially brand new Hubbles… a super gift, but then comes the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to turn them into scientific instruments. Read about a petition to make use of these (potentially) amazing gifts for astronomy.


== Will OCO help cure madness? ==

NASA plans to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on July 1, 2014.  The OCO-2 mission will be NASA’s first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide from space.  I plan to be there! Additional information about the mission can be found on the NASA site. 

Why has it taken so long? There was an attempt to launch a climate satellite early in the Bush administration… a launch that mysteriously (even suspiciously?) blew up. After a second failure, budgets for climate science were slashed and satellites cancelled, while the GOP Congress passed measures eliminating Earth studies from the NASA mission and tried to do the same to NOAA! There were some interim sats and their work has universally confirmed global warming models, but at levels of accuracy that still allowed denialists to wriggle and squirm.

One can hope the new satellite will put doubts to rest and that mature citizens will rally behind whatever the science shows. One can hope.

Climate-change-report-2014Meanwhile, the most definitive climate change report so far has been issued by the US Government and it paints a serious-sobering picture… that climate change is already adversely affecting our lives and economy and picking up speed. The response? Not “maybe we should take prudent measures to prepare and ameliorate, just in case 97% of scientists prove to be right.” (Look up TWODA.)

No, the response is hatred of scientists and all “government.” Ponder that.

The question I have for (the recent, neo-crazy version of) conservatives is this: “Do you really want to base the entire credibility of your whole movement on obstinate rejection of science?” On a fabulated image that scientists know less, are dumber, more herd-like and less credible… than a hireling propagandist on Fox News?

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A Thumbnail Political Bestiary

A Thumbnail Political Bestiary … and a weird, 1960s almost happened!

I want to tell you about an almost-happened trend that once seemed unstoppable and that might have changed everything, but that was veered away-from so thoroughly that it is almost-forgotten.

But first, I keep being asked for a CHART of American politics, as I see it. Let me start with something simple, based on a metaphor I despise. The left-right axis.

== litmus tests? ==

Can a machine tell whether you are liberal or conservative? A topic that’s been much circulated, lately, including on this very blog, a few postings ago.

Want an even better way to predict political leanings? How about hypocrisy: many of the states that received the most federal recovery aid to cope with climate-linked extreme weather have federal legislators who are climate-science deniers. The 10 states that received the most federal recovery aid in FY 2011 and 2012 elected 47 climate-science deniers to the Senate and the House. Nearly two-thirds of the senators from these top 10 recipient states voted against granting federal emergency aid to New Jersey and New York after Superstorm Sandy.

Liberal-Letist-libertarianWant the thumbnail political bestiary? Because some of you asked for one… and fully aware that I often rail against oversimplification and the stupid, lobotomizing left-right “axis…” here goes.

(Note, I have an even better 3-D model here.)

A True “Leftist” wants the world remade for the better… but primarily through allocation of resources by state bureaucrats. Coercion may be necessary. Cooperation = good, even if it must be enforced. Competition is inherently suspect.

A “rightist” wants the same coercive allocation of resources done by an even narrower clade of secretive “deciders”… aristocratic owner oligarch Lords — the cartel of 10,000 golf buddies who appoint each other onto interlocking corporate directorates. Rightists ignore that owner-oligarchy oppressed humanity for 6000 years, crushing markets, freedom and competition in 99% of human cultures, far more often than bureaucrats ever did. If it’s private, it must be sacred. Hence they, too, despise fair and flat and open competition, even despite claiming to love it. They are the truest enemies of open-fair markets.

I despise both kinds of competition-destroying tyranny. Americans used to be able to turn their heads and see Big Brother looming in varied directions… till culture war stiffened our necks to face only, insipidly, left or right. I despised communism and the USSR… and I worry about the seemingly inevitable return of truly massive left-wing radicalism…

…but it is the return of feudal owner-lordship that’s looming right now, with wealth disparities skyrocketing to French Revolution levels. And their propaganda machine smears anyone who opposes the current putsch, calling even mild objectors “leftist.” Hence, they do not want anyone reading Adam Smith anymore, who denounced owner-oligarchy.

There are two other major zones in U.S. politics. “Liberals” are the true heirs of Adam Smith… (whom most historians rightly call “the first liberal”)… though millions mistakenly believe liberals are “leftist-lite.”

leftist-liberal-brinThey are not! Leftists want to equalize *outcomes*. Liberals want to equalize the *starting blocks* so that all children get everything they need (health, food education) so that they can then… compete! As Adam Smith called for. There is a huge difference! And were Adam Smith around today today he would be a democrat.

Finally there are libertarians. But they come in many sub-flavors. I consider myself a Smithian/Heinleinian libertarian, who believes devoutly in individualism and creative competition on a flat and transparent playing field. But that makes me a heretic to the Rothbardist-Randian fanatics who have taken over much of the movement and who actually think that oligarchs are friends of flat-open-creative capitalism. Something that has never, ever been true.

Freedom-Fest-2014Hah! I shall speak of this at Freedom Fest in July when I will stand up for Smithian/Heinleinian Libertarianism! If I am lynched or otherwise disposed of, you’ll know how far the freedom movement has drifted…

There. I gave it a shot. A capsule summary of why those denouncing the lying-evil treason being foisted on us by Rupert Murdoch are not “leftists.” They are Americans. More can by found at:

In fact though? To hell with the lobotomizing “left right axis!” We should be negotiating with nuance, like adults.

=One of the biggest obsessions and might-have-beens that you never heard-of=

Now this is going to be obscure. I know lots of economists and such, and only the very oldest of them remember what was once the top concern discussed in every business journal, decades ago.

UNION-PENSION-FUNDS“Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” – Das Kapital

UNION-PENSION-FUNDSIt is almost forgotten today. But books and books were written about a “problem” when I was young. In the 1970s, capitalists were terrified by the fact that Union Pension funds seemed to be the main accumulating pools of capital — and by 2020 workers would — in effect — own the means of production.

Even around 1965 there were countless papers declaring it “obvious.” Amid much hand-wringing, the punditry caste – especially William F. Buckley – discussed how it seemed inevitable that corporate capital would thus be majority “owned” by the workers, though not via Karl Marx’s revolution or expropriation. Rather, through an organic and natural process of regulated savings.

Some saw this as a good thing, potentially ending the class system forever! Especially since it would happen “fair and square,” with all stockholders seeing their shares bought by those pension funds at fair market value, with no real losers. No expropriation of wealth from the alread-rich. Just a working class getting steadily richer.

Others saw the prospect as a disaster… for exactly the same reasons… and began planning ways to change the rules and system, so that the looming threat would go away. They began by banning the pension funds from participating much in control over the companies they invested in, or unions from giving orders to their pension funds. There were some sound reasons… and others were just rationalizations to keep control in the hands of major individual stockholders.

I believe much of the Reagan “revolution” was specifically targeted to end that dire threat… through the quelling of unions, the underfunding of pensions, the empowerment of nested shell-ownership, and the vast tsunami of tax largesse to the top aristocracy via “supply side” voodoo. And they succeeded, which is historically unsurprising.

What I do find mind-boggling is that not even one pundit today ever mentions this reversal of what was once seen as an inevitable, unstoppable trend toward a Rooseveltean-style “soft socialism” that would owe zilch to either Marx or revolution, and that would be just as capitalist, only with worker ownership the norm.

How weird that even top economists scratch their heads when I mention this… before a light of dawning memory shows in their eyes (the older ones, that is) and they say… “oh… yeah, that was something we used to talk a lot about, wasn’t it!”

It was once topic #1, much discussed in the 1960s and 1970s. Now gone from the mind. Weird, huh?


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Steering our outrage in all the wrong directions

Secret-Science-Reform-ActThe “Secret Science Reform Act” considered by the House “Science” Committee would require the Environmental Protection Agency to make public all data, scientific analyses, materials and models before promulgating any regulations. Sound like some “transparency” that I would easily support?

Always sniff for the evil lies that underpin anything that comes from the present House “science” committee.  In this case note that there is no accompanying requirement for industry to make data public or to waive privacy rules.  In fact, the same bill clearly states that EPA may not publicly disclose any such information. Hence, this Catch-22 uses faux transparency to — in-effect — prohibit the EPA from doing anything at all.

Wow… and I thought the House “science” committee was run by troglodyte science-hating morons. Clearly they are troglodyte science-hating geniuses… or else (more likely, given past behavior) the morons have a pub-relations genius on their staff.  (They do!  Several veterans of the successful 30 year campaign to obfuscate and delay any regulation of Big Tobacco.)

== Remind you of anything? ==

This kind of maneuver is identical in its nefarious trickery to “voter repression” laws in many red states that require registered voters present levels of ID that our parents never had to show and that are often hard to come by for the poor, minority, young, married or divorced women and so on. Coincidentally — surprise — these are often (lo and behold) democratic-leaning demographies.

Now let me take one of my “all sides exaggerate” stances.  In fact, as a moderate, I am not opposed to gradually increasing the demand that voters prove who they are! Even though at-precinct voting fraud is virtually nil, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with improving care and accountability. People who are against voter ID improvements in any form are probably dogmatic, too.

voter-repression-lawsBut — and here is a very big “but” – if these laws weren’t aimed solely at stealing elections for the GOP, the states in question would have accompanied the new regulations with measures aimed at helping their citizens to comply with the new burdens.

States routinely give “compliance assistance” to major corporations, when new regulations apply to them. But apparently not one red cent has been appropriated in any red state to help the poor, or young, or women, or minorities to get the required ID, a move that would also help them in so many other aspects of life.

Please dig that well, because it is the alarm and utter proof of both nefarious motives and lying hypocrisy. How much have red states allocated to help newly disenfranchised citizens to comply with onerous new state regulations?  Not… one… red… cent.

This is what the once honorable and intellectual movement of Goldwater and Buckley is reduced to. Not winning elections based on the merits of their evidence or the outcomes of past periods of rule. Rather, all efforts go to cheating, cheating, cheating and more cheating. And if you support this cheat, then no amount of arm-waving will let you escape the clear fact — that you are a cheater, too.

==The American Revolution’s Biggest Misconception==

If you watch cable news or heed Facebook-snarky jpegs, you might believe the Big Grievance that provoked the American Revolution was “bureaucracy” … and a tax on tea.

What… you actually believe that? Bureaucarcy?  A tax… on tea?

American-revolution-misconceptionActually read. The grievance — the Big One — that Ben Franklin spent 7 years in London fighting, was that British  king and lords and oligarchs owned 60% of the land in the colonies and refused to sell it or even let it be taxed by colonial legislatures, resulting in economic stifling.

The other Big Grievance was forcing all trade to pass through a few ports and major corporations owned by the king and lords.

Above all, those lords were monopolizing political power, refusing to allow the colonies to send representatives to Parliament — the ultimate gerrymandering.

Oh, that’s not the narrative today’s oligarchs want hard-pressed middle class Americans pondering right now… not if your aim is to rebuild that feudal social structure. It’s no wonder the New Oligarchy uses its media shills to focus on a tax on tea! Because that lets you ignore the real similarity with those times. The fact that lords and monopolies were denounced by Adam Smith and by the Founders. That the Revolution was against their unbridled power while denying us representation that might let the people change the rules.

Sorry, “tea” guys. You folks are the lord-loving Tories.


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Brave Citizenship beats a Scorched Earth Policy

scorched-earthMost of us in the west were raised with legends, myths and movies that taught Suspicion of Authority (SoA).  Thanks to the great science fiction author, George Orwell, we share a compelling metaphor – Big Brother — propelling our fears about a future that may be dominated by tyrants.

Whether they emerge from Big Government or a corporate oligarchy or the traditional feudalism of inherited wealth, it is the end result most of us dread… a return to the brutal, pyramid-shaped social order that dominated 99% of human societies — only now empowered by fantastic powers of technological surveillance and enforcement.

Finding ways to escape that fate – and instead preserve this narrow, fragile renaissance of freedom – is the common goal of activists across the spectrum. Though we are hobbled in this effort by the “spectrum” itself, whose artificial divides make us deride potential allies, proclaiming simplistic, spasmodic prescriptions.

Nowhere is this sad reflex more prevalent than in the lobotomized modern debate over how to handle information.

== The Indignant Reflex ==

Peter Watts is a very good author (Blindsight and the upcoming Echopraxia) and a clever fellow. But when he weighed in, recently, about privacy and surveillance, his core argument was nonsensical, even in its own context. The Watts manifesto for a “Scorched Earth Society” is satisfyingly militant-sounding — enough-so to excite the tech-dazzle showman, Cory Doctorow, praising Peter from his Boing Boing pulpit, and Angelique Carson, who blogs at the site of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (whose recent conference in D.C. I keynoted)

Peter Watts begins his grand declaration with an absolutely right-on premise — that one-way, top-down surveillance makes people fearful and paranoid. It can foster an intimidated public. If the gaze-from-above grows pervasive, the sole likely outcome is some orwellian nightmare.

I agree! Top-down, uni-directional surveillance by powerful elites — governmental or corporate, criminal, foreign or even technological — will be intolerable and inevitably lead to tyranny. I dread that Big Brother scenario as much as anyone… indeed, probably more so… and I am militant in seeking ways to oppose it. We share this common theme.

Watts-data-destructionAlas, like so many others, Peter thereupon declares that the sole solution will be to hide from the mighty! To use frantic (though always vague and ill-defined) methods of concealment to prevent elites from looking at us:

“Don’t just offer data protection, especially since you can’t guarantee it…Offer data destruction instead.”

In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, well-meaning folks will proclaim variants of this general approach — concealment — as the sole recourse by common folk against abuse of surveillance by corporate and government and criminal hegemons and would-be big brothers…

…even though it cannot possibly succeed, is illogical, has no historical examples of ever having worked – even once, ever – and is not the method that gave us the appreciable (if partial) freedom and privacy we now enjoy. And in that word “offer” (above) you can find layer after layer of ironies.  Who is expected to offer this anodyne?

In fact, that prescription is only the first half of the Watts manifesto.  The contradictory second half is even more appalling — a stunning series of incantations that boil down to the following:

Our failure is ordained and rooted in fundamentals of human nature. Freedom is a fluke. Give up!  

Go ahead and read the intelligent and articulate – though deeply-relentlessly wrongheaded – Watts missive. Also Ms. Carson’s posting; If you can’t protect data, Burn it to the ground. Then come back here and continue below, for my reply.

== Predator/prey… vs positive sum citizenship ==

The Watts position – that some of us might preserve a little freedom by hiding – may be shared by nearly all activists, but it is romantic twaddle that makes no sense on a dozen levels.  Starting with the fact that information is infinitely duplicable at almost zero cost, and it leaks like hot hydrogen from a clay jar.

delete-commandSeriously, find me one time and place where blithe assurances of data-leakproofing or data-destruction proved reliable, across thirty years. Or ever. You want to base your freedom on assurances that you can “destroy” data?  Do you trust any “Delete” command to reliably and actually “burn to the ground” any single thing that was ever turned into bits and transmitted across fiber or wires or through the air?

Really?  I wish the “right to be forgotten” folks would show us how, physically and technologically, they envision this happening.

But implementation is not Peter’s concern, so let’s address the matter on the level he chose — airy metaphors and theory.  He begins by dissing yours truly, deeming my calls for sousveillance – looking back at power – the impractical dreamery of a person with no grasp of biological truths.

“The dude’s a physicist,” Watts says about me, “so I suppose he can be forgiven for thinking that it’s a good idea to get into a staring contest with an aggressive territorial 200 – kg mammal who regards eye contact as a threat display. Speaking as a biologist, I really can’t recommend it.”

Ah, well, aside from chuckling at the somewhat churlish appeal to professional credentials, might I still demur? (Note: did Watts offer his readers back links to my real arguments, as I did for him? Such simple gestures reveal whether your belief in reciprocal accountability is genuine, or hypocritically feigned.)

But let’s dig into his biological assertions. Anyone who has held extensive discussions with animal behaviorists, such as Sarah Hrdy, will know that if you cower and avert your gaze from a higher status creature, you thus declare “I am yours to beat up, at will, or even to classify as prey!” By cowering, you confirm the bully’s inherent right to stare and to control. If you then try to thwart his stare by hiding, you will only be a criminal, denying him what you have admitted is his, by right.

On the other hand, if you look back, he sees you asserting equality.

Sousveillance-over-surveillanceAnd yes, that can be dangerous! That is, it can be dangerous, if you are alone, in primitive conditions of dominate or be dominated. Conditions that we invented enlightenment civilization specifically to overcome.

Indeed, if you look-back jointly, along with thousands and millions of fellow tribesmen, the alpha is going to think twice about predation. He or she or they will pay heed to agreed process. This fact compounds if you manage to enlist other powerful social forces on your side.

We know this because it is what happened, not in airy-fairy metaphor-land, but in our real and palpable Great Experiment, which finally took civilization to a higher plane than gorillas and feudal lords.

Why do these fellows never, ever — even once — refer to the big fact?  The elephant in the room. The fact that they are – at present – among the most-free humans our species ever saw? I am fine with seeking and even prescribing ways to save freedom and enhance it!  But how about we start by looking at what has worked, so far? This positive-sum, win-win, have our cake and eat it society is profoundly imperfect!  Except compared to every single other one in history, that is. Shouldn’t we begin by asking what methods got us here?

Alas, this back-appraisal is the last thing they ever consider.

== Steps forward ==

Nor do they notice that forward accomplishments continue! Enhancing freedom in positive ways, by assertively facing down authority. Indeed, there are as many steps ahead (for them to ignore) as there are setbacks to be denounced irately.

Sousveillance-truth-brinConsider the most important civil liberties matter in thirty years — even though it was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be “settled law” that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places. No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of “sousveillance” or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about.

It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

A fantasy? In Rialto California, all 70 of its uniformed officers have been required to wear active video cameras when interacting with the public, and the results have emboldened police forces elsewhere in the US and in the UK to follow suit.  After cameras were introduced in February 2012, public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60%. Most officers, skeptical at first, have adapted. In response, dozens of much larger constabularies are starting their own experiments…

…but Peter Watts would rather compare us to jungle apes than to citizens of a vast and sophisticated commonwealth who, across 250 years, have repeatedly used exactly this approach to wrest gradual-imperfect reforms and freedoms from previous aristocracies. Yes, by all means focus also on the bad news! The dangers and slides back toward feudalism! We don’t have Star Trek or the Culture, not yet.

Only dig this well; the only thing that ever has worked is deterrence.  The lesson since Rodney King is that cops beat-up people less, who might plausibly file an evidence-backed complaint that will be believed and result in discipline. Indeed, the civil rights marchers of the 1960s relied upon the crude television cameras of that era to not only tweak the nation’s conscience but to keep the marchers, themselves, alive!

Funny how this physicist would expect a biologist to notice the core biological fact, that light means life.

Politicians fear most the combination of a free and active press read by an active citizenry. That is why there’s now a concerted putsch to demolish both the press and citizen confidence. If they did not fear us, why would they bother?

== The whistleblower examples are not exact ==

Whistle-blower-lawsPeter Watts cites Manning, Assange and Snowden as folks who were punished for looking back.  And indeed, at the fringes, where they operated, there is a murky realm where we need to talk, converse, argue over many complexities. Their cases are murky because they knowingly did violate laws that had been passed by due-democratic processes and ratified via acceptance by the populace.  Moreover, very little of the NSA/State/etc shenanigans that they revealed was actually illegal by statute.

Yes, Snowden especially revealed to us that we need to re-evaluate what’s legal and change those statutes! But if you study Gandhi and King and the rhythms of civil disobedience, there is no promise that whistle-blowers get off, scott free.  I want enhanced whistle blower protections! But the only way we will get them is if we demand them.

In other words, it has to come down to my methods, after all.

Indeed, not one of the privacy protections on the table today will work worth a damn, unless they can be inspected and sousveilled.  Without reciprocal accountability and transparency, such measures might as well be written on toilet paper.

== What works? ==

What actually works is a limited set of processes:

TransparentSociety1- Divide power.  It is easier to look back at 600kg gorillas when there are bunches of them, glaring at each other. This is the key enlightenment innovation! Split government into mutually suspicious branches. Encourage rivalry between corporations and between the private and public sector.  Get some of the aristocrats on our side (e.g. Gates-Buffett).

Then create NEW elites that are able to play hardball.  The greatest invention for freedom in our lifetimes has been the rise of NGOs, orgs like the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amnesty and so on, who take the dues of millions of meek, individually-helpless members, then use that money to hire top paladins and lawyers, ready to stare down gorillas.

(And if you, dear reader, are not engaged in this method…sending in those dues… then you are a hypocrite to complain about freedom’s demise.)

2- Sousveillance. Catch scoundrels.  Strip them. Expose them. You may be a transparency-hero whistle-blower… or just carry a live recorder whenever you deal with your town’s planning clerk. Every time light wins, it teaches the mighty to limit the number of their henchmen and to worry about their loyalty.

3- Thwart Collusion. Watch for elites getting cozy with each other or regulators getting “captured” and expose the conniving.  Siccing elite “gorillas” on each others’ throats is our core methodology. The core method of cheaters is for the gorillas to connive.

4- Stop whining and believe. That we are no less capable than the last ten generations were, at ratcheting the Great Experiment forward. That equipped with new tools, we might make Big Brother impossible.

All of these approaches were hard won by very smart ancestors… whose lessons are utterly ignored by the likes of Peter Watts, who would rather proclaim that we are helpless under-gorillas or slaves of neural reflexes  that force us, forever, to be obeisant slaves.

== Burn it all down? ==

RECIPROCAL-ACCOUNTABILITY What a lovely metaphor. Burn it down! How snarky-satisfying in its simplistic prescription! How voluptuous in its Bakuninist wrath!

But to reiterate: Watts cleverly obsesses on the tooth and claw of nature, bemoaning our inherent limitations, while…

(1) offering no solution – because the data cannot be “burned.”

(2) He utterly ignores the methods of reciprocal accountability that gave us the freedom we now enjoy and that empowered him to spread his simplistic and un-helpful metaphors.

Look, I do not expect to win this argument.  I’ve learned that the reflex to whine about power is vastly stronger than the will to pragmatically appraise and innovate new ways to utilize that have worked for 250 years.

Reacting to Peter’s essay, Michael Rush commented: “It seems to me that his observations have more to do with evolved psychology than with strategy.  Humans often have a hard time even maintaining eye contact with one another.  I think it may be an important point that while sousveillance may be our only/best chance against abuse of authority, it may go somewhat against our instincts and therefore require extra effort (which may be why you have seen so much resistance to the idea since you first proposed it).”

== It gets worse ==

I mean, jeepers.  Here’s a lovely Watts-bit: “We’re also familiar with how cops react to being recorded by civilians — or even worse, to the suggestion that we “look back” by sticking cameras in their cars . Over in LA they ‘ve already done that, only to find that vital bits of that cop-watching equipment keep going mysteriously missing. Apparently, the police don’t like being spied on.”

cameras-smallerWhaaaat?  Peter, have you ever heard of… um… Moore’s Law? Must these with-it tech whizz authors assume things will be the same next year and the next…

… when cameras are getting smaller, cheaper, more numerous and mobile faster than Moore’s Law? And IPV6 will give separate addresses to each of the thousand dirt-cheap penny-cams you’ll buy on a $10 roll and stick up anywhere?

Not interested in the future? Then how about in 2013 – the very year that a citizen’s settled-and-absolute right to film police was proclaimed.  Yes, Peter, that proclamation was answered (as I predicted in The Transparent Society (1997)) by a plague of cell phones getting “accidentally broken” by police!

So? Okay, that’s the next, totally predictable phase. I’m glad that Watts and others perceive.

But the next step — that immediately follows — appears never once to have occurred to them…

….when, within the same year, we saw a man in an orange prison jump suit, being sentenced for deliberately breaking the cell-cam of the man he was arresting… while stupidly assuming no other cameras were within view.

Are these guys really science fiction writers, if they did not see that next phase coming?

Watts spoke anecdotally of his own, personal traumas with authority, and I’m with you, brother.  I have stories of my own. But which of the following might have rescued him from a beating at the border in 2009? Futile efforts to erase data about himself?

Or a citizen in another car, shouting at the border guards: “I’m transmitting live images of this!”

== It boils down to ego ==

You know what hurts?  It isn’t watching smart guys who share my fear of Big Brother reflexively proclaiming “resistance” methods that are inherently futile and that will only play into Big Brother’s hands.

LIGHT-STRONGERIt isn’t their laziness, opining on a major issue without bothering to read or study or understand the topic, in-depth, or bring in 6000 years of historical context, or consider alternatives as anything but straw men.

Or the shallowness of assuming that their opponent-of-the-moment must have studied the issue just as little as they clearly have.

No, what grates is their assumption that they have some kind of moral high ground, as proud paladins of freedom, just because they grumble with sour-stylish verve.

Fellows, I have been fighting this fight longer and harder than you have.  And Big Brother is worried about my methods.  Not yours.



== FOLLOWUP Breaking transparency news ==

Worrisome? An Apple patent that might enable police to shut down cell phones in an area? Would this neutralize the recent court and Obama Administration declarations that citizens have a perfect right to record the police? The most important civil liberties decision in 30 years… and it could be rendered moot if all our sophisticated smart phones shut down in a crisis area.

All right then fight it by spreading more vision! Buy up old fashioned cameras and dumb phones! Encourage neighbors to perch digicams on roofs and window ledges. Do not let any 600 lb gorillas monopolize sight!

Did I ever once say I was relaxed about this fight? I am on the same side as the fellows who are dissing transparency and accountability.  I wish they would join us, fighting for light, the only thing that has ever – and that can ever – work.

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Why are the Koch brothers opposing solar energy?

General Stanley McChrystal (ret), in a TED talk, makes his brief but cogent “military case for sharing knowledge,” surprising all with his call for general transparency.

MCCHRYSTAL-TED-sharingOf course there are a million ramifications and complexities that cannot fit into a TED talk. It is a complex world and our Protector Caste has genuine needs for tactical (short term) secrecy. But needs become excuses for bad habits that are self-defeating over the longer term … and that could ultimately lead to Big Brother. There must be an ultimate trend toward an open world, and Gen. McChrystal makes about as strong a case as you could in a ten minute TED.

“I am more scared of the bureaucrat that holds information in a desk drawer or in a safe than of someone who leaks, because ultimately we’ll be better off if we share.”

Oh, for a more in-depth appraisal of this new era, see (of course) The Transparent Society.

== Those who want to shut down both light and enlightenment ==

koch-solarThe Yiddish word “chutzpah” means gall and utterly arrogant nerve. It should be re-spelled to “koch-spah” after this news… that the ever-meddlesome Koch brothers are now funding a major campaign against state efforts to ramp up solar energy.

It would be one thing if they limited their attacks to ending tax rebates and minor subsidies for solar and wind… hypocritical, given how much they have benefited from vastly larger oil-gas-coal subsidies, tax breaks and almost free access to resources on public lands.

No, they are also targeting “net metering” which is the law allowing a homeowner who owns a rooftop solar unit to sell excess power back to the utility.

KOCH-SOLAR-ENERGYPlease read that again. The Koch brothers do not want you selling your excess power to the market. Their beef is with filling energy markets with millions of little-guy producers. Their “institute” proclaims that its aim is to “preserve the public utility power company concept” — a state mandated monopoly system in which single companies control all access to energy. Some enterprise capitalists! Some libertarians!

But let’s dig deeper to the heart of it. WHY are the Kochs (and their Saudi partners) doing this right now? Because solar energy is taking off. Because efficiency and durability of photovoltaics have been skyrocketing, in part because we had the wisdom to use some mild incentives to boost an important new industry, the way the U.S. Postal contracts stimulated air travel, in the 1920s, or public roads spurred the rise of the automobile.

Only with this difference: renewable energy systems are improving far faster than airplanes or automobiles did, in their nascent days. And more spectacular tech advances loom on the horizon, that the Kochs can see coming fast.

citizen-solar-powerDig it well. They would not be doing this if renewables weren’t taking off and a looming threat to the brothers’ bottom line. Millions of autonomous citizens, generating and selling their own power is no longer a sci fi pipe dream. It is coming true fast…

…and parasitic dinosaurs are bellowing.

== focus where it hurts ==

Let’s get down to absolute fundamentals: what must shrink is ability of oligarchy to “capture” and corrupt government. Given how deeply committed the Koch brothers are, to meddling and altering our elections, we might want to show it goes both ways, by becoming aware of which products in your neighborhood store augment their Georgia-Pacific empire:

Koch-ProductsKOCH BRANDS: Brawny, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Soft ‘n’ Gentle, Dixie cups/plates/etc, Sparkle/Vanity Fair/Zee napkins.

OTHER BRANDS: Charmin, Cottonelle, Scott, Bounty, Viva, Hefty cups/plates/etc, Kleenex/Bounty/Scott napkins.

Hmmm. Print it out. Keep it next to your shopping list. Make up your own minds.

== Bad Democratic Oligarchs? ==

This article in the Washington Free Beacon, Oligarchy in the 21st Century, pushes the meme — and with some fascinating anecdotal support (!) — that democrats do oligarchy, just as much as republicans do! And indeed, the essay is worth reading, with some informative moments… except a conclusion that is warped and sick and just plain wrong.

Actually, it’s kind of sad, revealing something dark in this writer’s core, that he assumes rich democrats must have the same reasons for donating to liberal causes as wealthy donors on the right.

To him, the only conceivable reason that a rich person would donate money would be self-interest, cheating and greed. But the narrative does not wash when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett publicly proclaim “my class should be paying higher taxes.”

There is another possible motive. Love of a country and civilization and middle-class society that was very good to them.

== Military Matters ==

The US Navy is showing off, announcing the deployment on-ship of a close-defense laser system and the imminent shipboard testing of a railgun system.

140410101202-navy-railgun-story-bodyYou might recall the dramatically exaggerated depiction of a railgun in one of the Transformers flicks. Railguns use electromagnetic energy known as the Lorenz Force to launch a projectile between two conductive rails. The high-power electric pulse generates a magnetic field to fire the projectile with very little recoil. Many sci fi tales have portrayed rail guns used either in space combat or as great big electromagnetic launch systems, hurling cargoes from the Moon or even from Earth. The development of smaller scale guns for the military was an intermediate step, necessary in several ways.

Combine all this with the Navy’s new Zumwalt class destroyer and you can see how advanced a service got that was not crushed and half-ruined by a decade of brutally self-destructive and pointless land wars of attrition in Asia.

Here’s a thought-provoking essay on how empires — mostly spread by military means — do allow (for all their faults) greater safety from violence and opportunities for trade and development. There are feedback loops and ironies. I do not agree in all ways! But interesting.

Defend civilization, especially the ways in which ours has been unlike any others.

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Noah, the Tower of Babel…and Science

A lot of efforts have been made to appraise the Bible in terms of science and vice versa. For example, I’ve had fun showing (to a conference of transhumanists, no less!) that the book of Genesis clearly states we were meant to be scientists and co-creators and that “nothing is beyond us.”

Noah-Film-2014PosterIndeed, it can be illuminating to plumb the Bible — one of the keystone books of western civilization. Moreover, it gives you the ability to stun, surprise and gain a back-brain door into the minds of some of your deep-steeped neighbors. And so, in light of the recent Russell Crowe film, let’s pause and sample the story of Noah.

Now of course, it is somewhat like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. Past scholars, uncharitable toward literalist believers in “biblical inerrancy,” have calculated the needed size of the Ark, for example. Were even just all known mammal species shoved aboard, shoulder to shoulder — you’d need a hundred modern aircraft carriers.

In fact, this argument has had results! Creationist “scientist” Ken Ham conceded – in his recent debate with Bill Nye — that evolution (yes “evolution”!) must have radiated all the species we now see, from a seed population that rode upon the Ark! I cannot believe this major concession got so little play in the media or among devotees of either religion or science. It is a real shift in ground.

Noahs_ArkSo, all right, following Ham’s clever dip-n-dodge… Noah only carried two of every GENUS and not species. I’m not sure even that will suffice… but however you may groan over this bit of back-pedaling, you also have to be impressed with the agile footwork! Okay, so evolution is real. But it only happened after the flood. Jumping Jehosephat.

Take a look at this article: Creationists Need Faster Evolution than Evolution on Skeptic Ink, who claims that creationists are “using evolutionary theory to support Noah’s Ark. Sad.”

(For you science-y types, here’s the capsule from Skeptic Ink: “There are 2,798 HLA-B alleles in the human population. If these originated from the 8 individuals on the ark (assuming all were heterozygous), the mutation rate for the gene must have been one every 2 years (from the day Noah stepped off the Ark until the present). But this mutation rate for the HLA gene wasn’t matched by mutation rates for other genes. We don’t have 2000 alleles for eye color or blood type or other genes in the human body.” In other words, no possible set pif genetic mutation rates can match this story against what we now see going on, in the cells and chromosomes of living creatures today.)

Kaspar_Memberger_(I)_-_Noah's_Ark_Cycle_-_3._The_Flood_-_WGA14802Okay.  Then something else occurred to me. Let’s say the entire human population, including guiltless babies, were drowned in a fit of angry pique by a questionably-balanced deity who was not setting a very good parental example, that’s for sure. And let’s further posit that the wives of Noah’s three sons must replenish the Earth with humans. Less than ten generations later, you have cities and Babel-towers being built. What’s the math on that?

Well, if each woman is very very fertile — and extremely lucky — let’s generously figure ten surviving offspring. (Extremely generous, for that era, but let’s go with it.) Five of those ten are daughters who can make human beings. (For our purposes, only females matter.) If each generation can multiply the number of fecund females by five, then ten generations of continuously lucky folks, who breed like rabbits and lose almost no babies at all, will give you close to ten million people! Wow.

Tower-of-babel-bible-languageOf course, that calculation is at the extreme high end. See this analysis, where other scholars suggest there were 900,000 people around to start building the Tower of Babel and perhaps as few as 36,000. In which case you get a completely different set of math quandaries…

…like how much physical volume of stone or rammed earth could be stacked upon a tower, in just the century alloted, by such a small population that also had to grow food and live “by the sweat of their brow”? By the time you get to 20,000 feet, the sheer amount of stuff… neglecting compressional and other engineering forces… could not have been hauled by 100x that population — equipped with trucks! No wonder Talmudic scholars decided (in the 7th century) that the word “tower” must have stood for some kind of machine or high technology that had been lost to time, one that enabled human wizards to fly tp heaven’s gateway. Okay, that’s kinda sci-fi cool, I admit, especially for the 7th Century! But a topic for another time. Let’s get back to Noah.

the-dove-sent-forth-from-the-ark-1866One suggestion by the talmudists that’s very interesting is that the human species that was wiped out by the Flood was different than ours. That the flood-reset wasn’t just moral but genetic, with Noah’s family being fundamentally different than his water-doomed neighbors, not just morally but as a matter of speciation. (One sage suggested that people before that point “had no thumbs” until Noah’s new sub-species introduced that novelty. Can anyone find a reference?)

Hmmm. well, the mind roams at this point, picturing a humanity 1.0 that might have been really unpleasant by nature… (what? worse than us?)… in which case, is the questionable morality of the Flood eased, at all?

Alas, that raises a counter question about the fallibility of a deity who had to revise His design. (Not a problem, by modern reckoning! All ambitious projects undergo revision. It is only a quandary – ironically – to the obsequiously devout, who insist on zero-fallibility, a completely unnecessary trait of a creator and, well, a hard piece of flattery to live up to!)

imagesOf course, all this calculating misses the point… that the literalist inerrancy folks are wrong, on a truly manic scale. Standing upon a tower of evidence, we know the ages of the Rocks of Ages. We know the universe is vastly greater, older and more beautiful than their cramped, cover-the-eyes-and-ears frenzy permits them to see. But even if you take the stories at face value, problems abound.

For example, if the Babel dispersal happened around 1800 BCE (about the time of the Thera explosion of Santorini, a thought provoking coincidence!) then a seed population of maybe 100,000 would have had to bear successful babies at a prodigious rate… while walking very quickly… in order to spread to the corners of the globe and diversify into the countless tribes who we know to have dwelled in countless far-flung locales. Most of which we know to have been occupied already, long before 1800 BCE. Indeed, by that date, Egypt had already been operating for quite some time… and their language did not change as a result of any tower.

But it’s that successful birth rate that has me confused. At what point did the accelerated replenishment cut off, with the world’s women losing that reproductive lucky streak, tumbling into the long era of filth and pain and childbed-fever and still-births and miscarriages and infertility and death, death, death that we know to have been their lot, both from written records and from mummies and bones?

It must have been an abrupt transition — a terrifying and dismaying one… from a blithe expectation of long lives and ten healthy children, into a maelstrom of horror and bleeding and mourning. Yet no records or even stories tell of such a devastating shift. Nor do I know of any any theological musings to explain why the rebuild of population since the flood was so rapid, then abruptly limited by pain and death after death. Was this another punishment? If so, it seems nastier than any flood.

GalileoQuoteOne group inconvenienced by these points of math is the Mormon community. If (as calculated) there were about 340 years between the flood and Babel… and if the Babel crisis precipitated the barrel-migration of a Hebrew tribe (Jaredites) to America… then the building of populations in the Americas becomes almost impossible to contemplate, especially with no Ice Age Bering land bridge to make things seem plausible. But of course, the same quandaries afflict any other faith that insists on interpreting the legends of illiterate shepherds as physically precise accounts…

…instead of allegories that still convey powerful lessons, to this day.

And so, that is where I will leave things. First, because there can be no resolution, because biblical literalism is simply wrong and also because it insults any chance of a God worth our time and attention, portraying Him (her?) as too vicious for words to describe…

Maxwell-equations-light… instead of as the vastly subtle Creator worshipped by Einstein, who concocts a vast cosmos of stunning complexity, diversity and extant — a universe truly worthy of respect. A God who — Albert would tell us, if he were here today — must have gotten things started fourteen billion years ago by uttering the stunning beauty of Maxwell’s Equations, in order to command…

“let there be light.”



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