Phases of the American Civil War

dogma-pragmatismI frequently refer to our current era of American politics as the latest phase of the U.S. Civil War… in part because the political maps so blatantly copy a pattern that goes back almost 200 years. Cyclically, we find ourselves mired in dogma, instead of pragmatism, intransigent hatred instead of negotiation, nostalgia and romanticism, instead of belief that we can craft a better tomorrow.

Illustrating that others see this same breakdown, New York Magazine carried an article, A Southern GOP Can’t Be the Party of Lincoln, decrypting how – politically – there seem always to have been two Americas. The Nixonian “Southern Strategy” flip changed the banners of the two sides, and Blue-vs-Gray has become Blue-vs-Red. Still, Jonathan Chait does a fair job of showing how consistent the political map has been.

This article, while mostly true and overall correct, misses a couple of key points.  First, the social movement called the “confederacy” has been at this for a long time.

civil-war-burnsPhase one of the American Civil War took place in the South, during the Revolution, when the British found their strongest support among Loyalist/Tory militias in Georgia and the Carolinas.  It was Scots-Irish hill settlers who tipped the balance in that struggle, toward what would become the American Experiment.

Phase two featured a period when southern politicians grew ever stronger in control of the U.S. federal government.  True, Andrew Jackson clamped down on John C. Calhoun’s secessionism, in the 1830s, and kept the nation together. But Mr. Chait is correct that Jackson’s overall sentiments were what we might call “confederate.” Indeed, southern control over levers of power only grew until, by 1860, five of the nine Supreme Court justices were slave-owners.

PAST-civil-warThis extended through the next phase, starting in 1852, when the Fugitive Slave Act turned the division violent.  Swarms of small units of southern irregular cavalry commenced rampaging across northern states, seizing anyone they wanted as an “escaped slave.” These raider squadrons had the support of U.S. Marshals who were appointed by mostly-southern presidents. When outraged northerners started forming posses to defend their neighbors, those marshals called in federal troops.

In other words, the “confederate” social movement is not always anti-central-government!  It is only opposed to federal government when it does not control those levers of power.  Witness the tepidness of anti-government proclamations during the tenure of GW Bush.  Indeed, it is a wrathful unwillingness to let the electoral winners have their legitimate turn that was behind the hysterical reaction to Lincoln’s election… and (one might argue) Obama’s.

By the way, those rampaging bands of southern cavalry were self-defeating.  They radicalized northerners, causing them to arm themselves, revive their dormant militias and (eventually) vote for the abolitionist Lincoln. An effect that – were eyes open – one can clearly see happening across Blue America, today. (This is why Gun Control is such a pathetic hot button on the right.  No one is seeking more than tweaks.  Indeed, under Bush, many liberals started arming themselves.)

BurnsCivilWarUp to this point, the Confederacy Society (CS) had lost phase one (allowing the establishment of a true federal republic), played for a draw in the Calhoun-Jackson era, and won phase three — in that its agendas controlled the national government and processes.

But finally, Blue America got fed up. And what ensued was phase four — the one we normally think of as “The Civil War.” Unable to stomach their opponents even having a brief tenancy in just one branch of the government, CS did not bother trying to send even one delegation to negotiate with president-elect Lincoln, thus eliminating all right to refer to the explanations in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence… that secession can be justified, but only when all other negotiations and redress have been exhausted.

We all know Phase Four very well. (If not, watch Ken Burns portray it magnificently, in his PBS series.) Hence, tra la I will bypass it!

I’ll speed through the others:

fall-dixiePhase 5- The 1870s early end of Reconstruction... when the South bargained to let Rutherford Hayes and the Republicans into the White House, in exchange for what they really wanted. The “confederacy” won this phase, big time, when they dickered their way into an end of Civil Rights protections and a surge of Jim Crow laws that ripped from freed slaves the right to vote. The real losers, though? Not just minorities, but in every pragmatic sense the entire South, which thereupon slumped into a backwater of economic retardation and romantic, old-timey hatred of progress.

(You’d deny this?  Then explain how China in just 30 years went from poverty to economic superpower… when the US South had 150 years and still blames its backwardness on Sherman.)

civil-war-word-cloudPhase 6 . The 1880s… this phase is not entirely associated with “confederate society” though it was part and parcel of the Democratic Party of those days. It featured William Jennings Bryan’s white-christian populism, Free Silver and a rebuke to the steamroller effects of consolidated northern corporations. And for the first time, the states of the Great Plains began edging toward alliance with the Olde South. Northern oligarchs won phase six… unfortunately, in this case. (The one time the confederacy wing of our ongoing civil war had some moral justification on their side.)

(What spun off from this phase was the Progressive Movement, which manifested all over America and was taken up by Theodore Roosevelt, whose family specialized in saving the wealthy in America from the inevitable price of limitless greed. If only today’s oligarchs understood that their greatest need, right now, is another Roosevelt! Without gentle, moderate reforms, our current momentum can only lead to tumbrels and guillotines.)

PHASES-CIVIL-WARPhase 7 – The 1940s through 1970s … the civil rights movement, started with Harry Truman’s bold desegregation of the military, then Dwight Eisenhower’s firm support of school desegregation. The essential and too-long delayed resumption of Reconstruction… which also included Lyndon Johnson’s effort to re-industrialize and re-invigorate the South. This phase was clearly won by Blue America (though the South benefited prodigiously, economically), but at a cost — which was….

Phase 8 - …the Nixonian, southern-strategy “flip” leads ultimately to today’s full scale New Confederacy effort to finally destroy the United States of America. Not by arms, but by ending the effectiveness of politics as a pragmatic, open-minded process by which undogmatic citizens negotiate a mix of experiments and find out what works. Replacing all of that with dogma more intense than communism ever was.

pragmatismPragmatism and science and re-evaluation are the enemies. A conviction of moral superiority that cannot be shaken by facts.

Teen sex ages and rates, teen pregnancies, STDs, domestic violence, divorce rates, bankruptcy and debt default rates, economic productivity, net tax parasitism…even obesity rates… tell us clearly than outcome metrics do not support any claims that salt-of-the-earth types are better at life and raising kids than decadent university-city-folk. So? The response is to utterly ignore statistics. Truthiness is all that matters.

GettysburgI could go on, but the point is clear: this rebellion against the American Experiment is both ancient and culturally deeply rooted.  We are in its eighth phase (at least).

Mark Twain commented that this relentlessly recurring rage is far more psychological than anything else, a deep romanticism and obsession with nostalgia that he blamed on Sir Walter Scott!  In Ted Turner’s wonderful film GETTYSBURG, one character opines that blue and gray America sang the same songs… but dreamed different dreams.

Today’s neo-confederacy is smart enough not to secede.  It is working from within to slash the things that it always hated. Especially science, which is the enemy of nostalgia.

And yes, that campaign now includes seeking to ensure that “government of/by/for the people” SHALL perish from the Earth.

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China: Looking to the Future

Amid world tensions, are there good news stories?

== China’s Syndrome? ==

transformation-bustInvestment maven John Mauldin’s Thoughts from the Frontline: Ttransformation or Bust looks at China’s economy: “…there are no cases in modern history where an economy has managed to avoid an outright bust after experiencing rapid lending growth anywhere in the neighborhood of China’s ongoing credit boom.”

Mauldin continues: “The more I dig into the data, the more convinced I become that Xi Jinping and his colleagues in Beijing are facing an impossible challenge. After fueling one of the single greatest credit booms in modern history, the People’s Republic is left with a mountain of bad debt backing a number of overleveraged industries that are simply not viable without the state’s continued favor.” And: “While China does boast substantial buffers that can – at least in theory – allow it to paper over bad loans for another few years or resist the pressure of foreign capital outflows for a time, those buffers cannot protect China indefinitely. The longer the People’s Republic continues down the path of low-quality credit growth and widespread misallocation, the bigger the bubble will become. China may suffer one of the defining economic crises of our lifetimes.”

China-economyDoes this mean to be bearish on China? Of course not. In the 32 years since Deng Xiao Peng initiated the reforms that led to a spectacular development boom, more human beings have been lifted out of poverty than ever before. China’s new infrastructure is spectacular, especially in comparison to the decaying and underfunded, penny-wise neglect of America’s once-proud capital base. China’s education levels are skyrocketing and – the most encouraging development of all - science fiction is starting to take some real hold over there.

Two factors that receive far too little notice… that it was willing U.S. policy to allow three decades of trade deficits to enrich China — foreign aid through WalMart. See: How the U.S. saved the world by buying vast amounts of stuff. Probably the most generously helpful policy ever enacted by a great power, in the history of our species…

Intellectual-Property…that, plus turning a mostly blind eye to the hand-over-fist grab-theft of nearly all the crown jewels of American industrial Intellectual Property. (We need to recall that we were IP thieves, during our own early development; but still, this flagrant raid must stop. It kills the goose that lays the golden eggs that China relies upon.)

==Fighting Corruption==

So what are the prospects? Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party appears to be engaged in a major anti-corruption drive, using the “Central Commission for Discipline Inspection” to perform stings on bribed or shady party officials and then hand them over to state authorities. If this effort is sincere and vigorous, that is all very well and laudable…

fighting-corruption…and it has no bearing on the real way to eliminate corruption, which is liberating people to competitively apply transparency — reciprocal accountability — both laterally and from below.

Yes, yes, it is obvious why Xi and his cohorts — who are human, after all — will do what human rulers almost always do, and that is “solve” problems by top-down command. Indeed, sometimes it works. But then what? Something has always happened, after every Lorenzo di Medici, or Marcus Aurelius, or the first Tang or first Ming Emperors. After that initial burst of reform, top down systems always become spectacularly corrupt again.

east-westSome time ago, it looked as if the Chinese leadership was determined to leverage the ‘best possible’ combination of western and eastern methods, retaining hierarchical command control in the top tiers of governance, while allowing western methods of transparency and citizen-based accountability to root out inefficiencies and corruption down at the local and city and provincial level, where it does its worst harm to both average citizens and the economy.

I saw hints of this approach and squinted into the future, hoping I would hear Chinese leaders say something that is far from ideal (from a moral or righteous perspective) but that is at least smart and practical:

“We must retain single party control for at least another generation, in order to preserve stability during an era of rapid change. (Subtext: and also to preserve our grip on top-power in a traditional Chinese pyramid; we are, after all, human.)

citizenship-accountability“BUT, in order to maximize progress, efficiency and happiness, we will unleash citizen accountability upon all officials at the city and corporate level. People may record their interactions with officials. Moreover, the press is encouraged to publish exposés…

“… so long as the light STOPS at the district level. We will take it from there.

 “Only… district officials are warned. In ten years citizen accountability will rise to that level, so get ready! And ten years after that, this rule of openness will rise to the provincial level. So start preparing now, and stay clean enough to survive, when that happens.”

China-globalWould this create a dicey situation… the people may get that confrontational habit and try to pick up the pace! But the benefits — eliminating 90% of all corruption and waste — would be worth taking the risk.

That is what a Marcus Aurelius or Tang Emperor would have done, if they were truly wise. But wisdom, among human leaders, is as scarce as walking, talking dinosaurs.

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Climate: Have we reached the tipping point?

==Denialism continues== 

OCEAN-ACIDIFICATIONWhen you encounter anti-science climate denialists, say two words — “Ocean… acidification.” It is clearly and unambiguously happening. It is clearly dangerous and harmful. And it cannot possibly have any other cause than increased absorbed CO2 from human activity.

Every Distraction-Gambit concocted by AEI and Heritage Foundation and Fox – at the behest of coal barons and middle eastern petro princes – falls apart. Not sunspots nor “faked hockey sticks” nor any of the other incantations will work, this time.

Watch! As your crazy uncle suddenly points to the left and yells: “squirrel!”

But you can come back with another word. “TWODA“… or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway…. All sorts of moderate, reasonable work on efficiency that would help address climate change and that would help us all anyway, even if climate change were a myth. Only one class of people would be hurt by us all becoming more efficient and saving money on energy, via TWODA.

Coal barons and middle eastern petro princes… who own today’s GOP. Huh, funny about that. So ask your uncle… “Is there ANY degree of investment in Rand D and moderate science and other TWODA, that you will admit would NOT “destroy the economy” and you would be willing to negotiate, just in case 99% of the people who actually know a thing or two about weather and climate happen to be right?  AnyTWODA at all? Anything?”

Before moving on, let’s do a chilling side segue… that’s very interesting. Eric H. Cline, in his recent book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, portrays a time when bronze age empires of the eastern Mediterranean were riding high… then went into a simultaneous tailspin due to drought and their own inability to adapt.

==Looking toward the environment==

methane-plumesThis is what we had all feared — those of us who aren’t ostrich-people. The possible tipping point. Methane plumes are emanating from at least 570 seafloor cold seeps on the outer continental shelf and the continental slope, Mississippi State University reported. A potential disaster that I warned about in EARTH (1989).

“Warming of ocean temperatures on seasonal, decadal or much longer time scales can cause gas hydrate to release its methane, which may then be emitted at seep sites,” said Carolyn Ruppel, study co-author and chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.  “Such continental slope seeps have previously been recognized in the Arctic, but not at mid-latitudes.  So this is a first.”

To be clear, methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2… and rising ocean temps will cause icy methane hydrates to fizz, all over the globe, causing a runaway effect.

Okay, I began this missive all-reasonable and trying logic and argument.  But truly? Do I any longer expect that approach to work?  During phase eight of the American Civil War? Of course not.

Which leaves me with this to say to you wretched, monstrous, science-hating fools, with your “hypnotize-me!” Fox-Nuremberg rallies and neo-confederate rant-fests against all big-city-university “smartypants” types.

TWODA-2No evidence will change your opposition to negotiating even moderate, sensible, precautionary interim measures to increase energy efficiency or do basic R&D. You sabotage TWODA (Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.)

You help to denigrate and geld the smartest, most knowledgeable, competitive and wisest human beings whom our species has ever produced, and thereby you declare yourselves to be brave authority questioners and skeptics! While kneejerk-robotically obeying the hypnotize-me channels owned by coal and oil barons.

Millions of science loving moderates (like me) have been willing to negotiate the best measures that would (win-win) simultaneously boost economic activity instead of squelching it, while taking basic precautions against the (perhaps slim) possibility that smart people aren’t stupid. We moderates do not want to “shiver in the dark”… but you SOB fanatics have never shown the slightest willingness to sit and make a deal.

You empower and enable the New Civil War which has reduced the world’s greatest and most scientific and future-oriented nation in history to utter dysfunction, unable to perform politics and negotiation at even the most basic level.

ClimateSkepticsYou refuse to look at actual outcomes, by which measure your “side” has proved insanely incompetent. You refuse to follow the money or look at who are the winners from your movement’s loony wars or from the Tobacco-style denialist-delay campaign on climate change. EVERYTHING to you is “right versus left” — a loony metaphor that allows you to ignore the fact that Adam Smith … today… would be a Democrat.

You are jibbering crazies. And when the seas rise, the climate refugees will legitimately claim your homes..

== Ahem… ==

AguingCrazyUncleRant mode off.  Only dig this.  The earlier phases of the Civil War featured this same syndrome.  A re-ignited confederacy, riled up on hate toward urban-educated-industrial-blue Americans who create all the wealth and progress. Each time it failed.  Blues were (as Sam Houston wanted, during the 1960s phase) slow to anger and seemingly soft as mush… till each and every time we proved tougher than we had seemed, and ponderously unstoppable when pushed too far.

Riught now, you are threatening the very lives of our grandchildren with your backwards-nostalgic fixations.  And our planet and the republic that we love.  And we will stop you from ruining any of them.

 

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Twelve Questions from Reddit

I recently participated in an AMA – Ask Me Anything on the Reddit Futurology subgroup. Here’s a selection of questions and answers from this session.

twelve-questionsWhat do you find that has changed in the past ten years that is leaning towards your own fictional work?

The trend toward transparency being crucial to our survival and freedom has been in my fiction and nonfiction for decades and it is coming true. Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. Of course there will be tussles over the details for years. I’ll talk later about how we must also watch the watchers of the watchers.

What, if anything, have you changed your mind about in the last 12 months?

In politics — I reluctantly concluded that reason will not prevail and the U.S. is doomed to a new phase of its 200 year Civil War. In science — I learned that we can look beyond the “curtain” of light that raised 325,000 years after the Big Bang! In literature, I learned that a new novelist in China – Liu Cixin – has leaped ahead by a couple of generations and will stun western readers, in the fall.  Hey, I am surprised a whole lot!

What do you believe (if anything) is necessary for our society and culture to change, in order to prevent a collapse/new dark age/extinction of our race? Or – if nothing – why?

UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyI’ve pushed for 30 years what I think is the secret of the Western Enlightenment Experiment — The Positive Sum Game. Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed shows what will happen if Earth is run by the Zero Sum thinking that dominated in 99% of human societies.

We get positive sum outcomes out of science, democracy, markets etc because they are competitive! But it is REGULATED competition that minimizes blood and cheating and maximizes folks leveraging against each others creativity.

The mistake of the left is to badmouth competition, when Adam Smith was the first liberal!

The mistake of the right is to imagine we can get these benefits without very meticulous regulation to prevent cheating, which ruined 99% of human societies and made them zero (or negative) sum. And it is winners and the strong who inevitably try to cheat. Look at how regulated sports is! It would collapse otherwise.

Right now oligarchs are trying to turn our society zero sum and feudal again. The attempt happens every generation. If we can prevent it and restore a pragmatic, can-do society, maximizing the flat-open-transparent arena of joyful-fair competition, then we may reach Star Trek.

Which self-preventing prophecy do you think would have the largest positive impact the on future if published today?

self-preventing-prophecyIn my essay, The Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Can Tame Tomorrow’s Perils, I talk about how the highest form of Science Fiction is a predictive novel that scares millions into fighting against the portrayed future. e.g. Soylent Green or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The greatest Self-Preventing Prophecy was Orwell’s 1984, which I discuss here.

A related topic is why so many recent films and novels wallow in dystopias that are NOT “self-preventing” because their scenarios are lazy and stupid, as I discuss in The Idiot Plot.

Today? I’d warn about collapse of confidence in our creative-pragmatic can-do civilization. The worst problem we have is so many of our neighbors turning stylishly cynical.  Too many of YOU think you invented “brave cynicism” when it is a drug-addict cop-out.

can-do-civilization

==On the Singularity==

What’s your opinion on the possibility of humanity forming a collective consciousness through the internet?

I portray this happening in Earth and in Foundation’s Triumph. The latter was in Isaac Asimov’s universe so it portrayed a Gaia/Galaxia uber mind that essentially takes over. Nicer than the Borg because folks don’t clank and whirr but instead float and go ‘om’ and commune…

I do think that to be a simplistic type of Overmind (see Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, too.) That is not how complexity actually layers, in complex systems lilt nature. In Earth I portray individual humans retaining all of their individuality, with the higher shared consciousness riding lightly above, benefiting from human individuality and eccentricity, absorbing and digesting their input the way you ponder the countless fleeting thoughts in your own head.  It is a more complex and subtle kind of “over mind.”  It might be a positive-sum win-win.

dowereallywantimmortalityDo you believe biological immortality could happen in 10 – 25 years from now? Also what do you want to see in the future with new technologies coming out?

I deem it pretty unlikely. I am a bit of a grouch-curmugeon in the transhumanist-life-extension community. Humans are already the Methuselahs of mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as mice and elephants. We have probably plucked the low-hanging longevity fruit and the next steps will be very hard.

What I do expect to see is methods of brain/skull preservation that are far cheaper and more convenient than cryonics. Plasticization etc. No revival, of course and most intra-cellular info would be lost. But the location of a trillion synapses might be preserved and serve as boundary conditions for a fairly good emulation program that could upload a version of you, someday. Is that good enough? Depends.

See my larger essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?

Where do you differ with Ray Kurtzweil on the singularity?

KurzweilSingularityCoverRay and I get along, but I am a contrarian. Among those who do not believe in change – alas many of our fellow citizens – I speak about how rapidly human destiny is being challenged with new powers. Around Ray? I am cautionary.

For example, Kurzweil believes Moore’s Law, all by itself, will make him immortal by creating Soulful machines who will gladly incorporate us and human values in the adventure of super-life. I portray this happening! In Earth and in Existence! But at Ray’s conferences, I splash cold water.

He calculates Moore’s Law by crossing the rate of transistor growth in machines with number of synapses in a human brain… about a trillion. But synapses may just be the tip of the iceberg, especially if there’s intracellular computing! If so, Moore’s Law will need maybe TEN more doublings!

Which do you think we’ll reach first? Relatively cheap spaceflight, or full body ‘virtual reality’ simulations? The latter can, of course, include MMI equivalents instead of external bodysuits.

Sure VR will be the main thing for most of us. If we could make cheap “deputies” we could send them to Mars and bring back the heads and “live” the experience!  Say, I offer that in Kiln People!

 ==On Books…and Aliens==

temptationI just want to say that I really enjoyed your Uplift books. Do you have any plans for new books?

Indeed I am currently working to get Creideiki and Orley off that planet, at last! The Brightness Reef trilogy settles the fate/destiny of the ship Streaker, and a lot else. Till then, see the story “Temptation” downloadable from my website. Some will argue that Existence is uplift!

What do you make of Cliford D. Simak’s dog and animal society in City? I allways found his ideas on animal and foreign intelligence interesting, if somewhat anchored to his time.

Yes, Simak influenced me. Also the fact that I have never had a novel that did not feature an ape or other primate! ;-)

Have you looked into the topic of UFOs and if so, do you have a stance on the UFO phenomenon?

Sorry but this “phenomenon” is taking care of itself. Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law (yes it’s called that) is that CAMERAS get faster, cheaper, more numerous and mobile at a rate much faster than Moore’s Law.

thoseeyesThis means that the excuses for blurry UFO images get slimmer and slimmer. Have you done the math? All of the places where a UFO was dimly blurry in the distance 20 years ago… would have dozens of folks with cell cams right below it today! Please do the math. If images remain blurry, it is because they are teasing us and staying just out of range, even taking Brin’s Corollary and the lens quality of iPhones into account!

In that case, they are bastards. Snub em.

Please… you know I am interested in aliens! I spend my life on the topic, in SETI and in fiction. I’ll even admit a very slim chance there might be UFOs! But I find the creatures described in these stories to be illogical, immoral, unimaginative, ridiculous and WAY down on my list of priorities.

==On Privacy==

What is your idea on a transparent society, and how does that affect personal privacy? Or should we start getting used to having no privacy?

privacy-doomedThe most common assumption of people who have not read my articles or The Transparent Society is that – as “Mr. Transparency” I oppose privacy or think it is doomed.

No way! A free people will want and demand some privacy! In Chapter 4 of The Transparent Society I discuss how essential some core privacy will be… though it will be closer and narrower.

But the irony is that we will only have that core if we live in a world that is mostly open, in which most people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only then will voyeurs and spies and sneaks be deterred, because they’ll get caught!

There is so much to this. See more articles about transparency, freedom and technology.

PrivacyAccountability

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Fights over legroom in the skies… and deficits in free fall

==Airline Deterioration==

airline-eliteTensions -even outright fights- about legroom and cattle-car treatment on airlines have reached a point that any sensible person would have predicted. (I did.) Violent interactions, frustration, pain and rising, seething anger.

What to do? Picket the carriers?

Naw. Any (metaphorical) torch and pitchfork mobs should head instead for the charter and corporate jets, which are obscenely subsidized, instead of taxed as luxuries.

Stop the new White Flight! Tax the hell out of luxury-air and chase the rich back onto First Class, where they belong! And with only twice our comforts and legroom… okay, limit it to (tops) 3x.

first-class-airThe crux to remember: all forms of transportation degrade and collapse, when they are abandoned by the rich. Let em be rich! But they should fly with us. Then watch air travel get better again.

(This is what the Tea Party would be railing about if it were honest populism, instead of howling after the Export Import Bank, at the command of the Koch Brothers. A made-up “issue” toward an institution that costs the taxpayers exactly zero.)

federal-deficit-decline== More facts inconvenient to the narrative ==

The federal government is on track to record the lowest annual deficit in six years.

Time and again, every single report that comes out fits perfectly with my appraisal of the deficit back in 2012

…and the almost perfect correlation (and shocking reversal of cliches) about how the two U.S. political parties handle fiscal responsibility.

It would be one thing if the matter were even slightly ambiguous. Then you would have some basis for clinging to Hannity-rants and quasi-religious incantations. But in fact, if you conservatives actually-and-truly cared, even slightly, about fiscal responsibility, you would never again touch the Republican Party with a ten-light-year pole. The fact that you still cling to that loyalty shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you are in this as a religion. Not as a logical, pragmatic and modern citizen.

==Competition and Libertarianism==

Paul Krugman is often on-target, though I suspect he kind of dumbs down his columns… and at times he veers from moderation down some paths where I just can’t follow. Let me cite one of his B+ pieces. In his article, The Libertarian Fantasy, he shows you examples of a fact that should be blatantly obvious to anyone with any sense… that the libertarian movement in America has been hijacked away from its last anchors in reality and intellect. Facts do not support the Randian agenda.

competitionYes, it’s a good piece, though Krugman is often more shallow than I’d hope from a Nobelist who reads sci fi. There are more fundamental ways to undermine the grip of Rand-cultism, by appealing to what libertarianism should be about… competition. The most creative force in the universe — when it is flat-open-fair and transparent, and when the players (as recommended by Adam Smith) are not rentier-oligarchs, but companies and entrepreneurs who are small-enough-to-fail… and who then are free to start over and over and over again with fresh ideas.

Paul Krugman is in a perfect position to accomplish what I cannot (though I’ve tried.) Getting liberals (not leftists) to rediscover the founder of their movement — Adam Smith — who knew that oligarchy has always been far worse an enemy of enterprise than civil servant regulators ever were.

LIBERALS-ADAM-SMITHYes, libertarians should criticize bureaucracy! That’s their role and it’s an important one — that they are currently failing! Because they have allowed themselves to become oligarchy’s tools, devoid of common sense.

See my earlier posting: “Liberals rediscover Adam Smith!

==Promises vs Outcomes== 

America’s wealth gap is ‘unsustainable’, according to a new Harvard study, An Economy Doing Half its Job.

In Bread and Circuses, P. Z. Myers takes apart those trying to minimize income inequality.

See also his earlier post in which he talks about “Rollin’ Coal,” a backlash against environmentalism, in which good ol’ boys blast pedestrians, bicyclists, baby carriages with specially arranged clots of thick diesel smoke. Oh, and they especially do it to hybrid drivers…cause they have it coming.

Showing that same level of intelligence, the CEO of Sears promised that applying Ayn Rand’s methods and Lord of the Flies management style, he would quadruple business and profits. Instead, Sears has tanked. So has his vaunted hedge fund. Proving that the Objectivist methods are just like Las Vegas. Where you can always make a small fortune! Providing you start with a big one.

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On Government, Morality and Competition

== The age-old enemies of competition ==

As part of my eclectic and contrarian approach to life, I subscribe to a number of conservative and libertarian newsletters and sites… and some rather lefty ones, too. While I am skeptical of all prescriptive-simplistic dogmas, I do keep searching for that germ or core concept are variation that might be worthwhile. As a result, and despite my well-known views about the noxious New Confederacy, I nurse some concepts and notions that shock my left-leaning friends.  Indeed, what follows is sure not to please dogmatists of any stripe. Still, you might learn something.

government-moralOne of the more hard-hitting, Rothbardian-Libertarian sites is Casey Research, headed the brash but smart and sorry-but-I-can’t-help-liking-him master-provocatuer Doug Casey. One of Doug’s Fellows, Mr. Paul Rosenberg, just issued a manifesto assailing the core morality of “government”… a central catechism of the Rand-Rothbard-Cato wing that has taken over libertarianism, for more than a generation. You should read this missive; it will give you a better understanding of the incantations that transfix many of your neighbors. (Hey, you have your own glib and oversimplifying incantations – are you honest enough to admit it?)

I generally shrug off the polemics while sifting for pearls in manure. In this case, however, I felt I simply had to respond. Go have a look… then come back here.

== Hatred of all government – enabling an older enemy of freedom ==

Alas, amid his blanket denunciations of “government” as inimical to liberty, Mr. Rosenberg ignores the elephant in the room — the failure mode that destroyed freedom and competitive markets and enterprise in 99% of human cultures, across the last 6000 years.  Feudal lordships in which owner-oligarchs crushed the hopes of the great masses of peasants below, while quashing any advances that might destabilize their family grip on power.  Steep pyramids of power, in which a few bullies with swords owned everything and used hired priesthoods to declare “it is GOOD that our sons will own your sons!”

Compare the horrific “morality” of any feudal oligarchy to the flawed but often progressively positive morality of a modern, western state.  This is not a comparison that Mr. Rosenberg’s jeremiad can survive… so he evades the contrast, altogether.

Mr. Rosenberg knows darned well that owner-oligarchy is the great failure mode.  The one denounced by Adam Smith as the relentless market destroyer.  The calamity against which our American founders rebelled.  Yet, he is part of the campaign to yell “squirrel!” and point our attention elsewhere.

CompetitionTo be clear, competition is the greatest creative force in the cosmos.  Adam Smith focused on the positive outcomes when competition can be engendered in the best ways.  Competition made us! But in nature it is vicious and inefficient, working slowly, atop mountains of corpses.

It is seldom much better in human affairs. Look across the centuries; we see almost every renaissance of competitive creativity (e.g. in markets) is almost always quickly suborned and ruined by cheaters.  By conniving men with swords or deeds of ownership over everything.  The rentier caste that Adam Smith denounced.  Competition has only survived more than one generation  – anywhere – when it was regulated to minimize cheating. Exactly as Smith recommended.

In fact, that success, getting the good, positive outcomes from creative competition for more than two generations in a row, while excluding the nearly automatic cheating modes that always ruined it in the past, has truly only happened once in all of the history of Homo sapiens… during this marvelous western renaissance we are living in.

COMPETITION-1You’ll notice that my portrayal of the situation fits into neither the simplistic model of the Left nor that of the Right!  One side’s lunacy is to ignore the fantastic fecundity of competition at generating such vast amounts of wealth that we can then afford to do progressive things.  The insanity of the right is to ignore those 6000 years and pretend that the fecundity and productivity can happen amid the usual, festering swarm of opportunist-cheaters!

== Prevention of cheating requires… regulation! ==

sports-regulationThe exact parallel is professional sports, one of the tightest-regulated realms of human experience.  Yes, most of the regulations are decided by cabals of team owners. But I never said regulation has to be “governmental.”  What is key is that most of the regulations in a sporting league are intended to level the playing field and eliminate cheating.  Because if cheating reigns, then the system fails to deliver the desired product… excited fans, eager to buy tickets.  (Do you deny that individual players and teams would cheat, if they could get away with it? Or that the sports franchises become valueless, when the customers notice rampant cheating?)

AdamSmithREgulationAdam Smith knew all of this and recommended state endeavors to balance out the inevitable rise of cheaters and to do what F. Hayek later demanded… to maximize the number of skilled competitors!

You liberals, forget your cliches about Smith!  Actually read and rediscover the founder of your movement.

Smith wanted free public education, state financed infrastructure and health measures, the breaking up of monopolies and other reforms that would ease the way for bright sons of the peasantry to compete with the sons of owner-lords.  The very first acts of the American Founders, after the Revolution, included seizure of half the land in the former colonies from a few lordly families and redistribution, in order to create a (somewhat more) level playing field.

Indeed, many of the reform movements since then have revolved around spreading that circle of fairness.  Not just because it’s nice, but because it is stupid to waste talent and let cheaters stifle competition by the maximum number.

None of which is part of today’s libertarian doctrine!  All talk of level-flat-fair-open competition and Smithian libertarianism is quashed, replaced by the New Dogma — idolatry of unlimited, lordly accumulations of private ownership… which (let me reiterate) was THE failure mode for 6000 years. Property is now the libertarian god! Competition is shrugged off and never appraised for what it is, an explosively creative force that must be maintained, like an engine, lest the grit of cheating destroy it.

WealthNations== To be clear… ==

While I hold many liberal or progressive views, I also proudly and unabashedly proclaim others that are Smithian-Heinleinian Libertarian, in that I deem healthy suspicion of government over-reach to be fit and proper! But I can turn my head and see such dangers – abuse of power – looming from all directions. (Can you?)

Yes, “government” can be captured by crony oligarchs!  That is why the democrats (and never republicans) de-regulated away and erased captured agencies like the ICC and CAB and broke up AT&T and gave an unregulated Internet to the world. And worth-noting: all of those deregulatory measures were opposed by the GOP at the time.

Keeping a close eye on government, skeptical to all over-reach, is a fine role and it inspired my book: “The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

But assuming we do keep the bureaucrats leashed, then it is proper to recall that they… and the scientists too… are “elites” we can use to counterbalance the inevitable cheaters-from-oligarchy who betrayed freedom and competition in every other era.  Indeed, the war on science and all other castes of “smartypants” expertise is being funded precisely by those who want feudal oligarchy to come roaring back.

== But is capitalism a good thing? ==

market-competitionGuardedly, you bet! In that market competition is the engine of our cornucopia and the wealth that enabled us to then take on progressive causes.  Indeed, healthy market capitalism should be viewed as a top victim of crony-oligarchy. Indeed, You liberals need to admit that the issue of “globalization” is not settled and your reflexes were dead wrong.  Aside from the two billion people rising rapidly in China and India…

…read about potential real progress in three more countries that together contain 1.5 billion people.  Nor are these the only such examples.

Have investments in infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health paid off? According to one of the top (still-sane) conservative economics research houses, that “social capital” of shared investment in the future is responsible for most of our current standard of living.

“The United States and the rest of the post-industrial, developed world owe their epic rise in living standards to the underlying “social capital” that properly incentivized innovation, entrepreneurship, and thus technological transformation over the last two centuries.” – says Worth Wray of Mauldin Economics, a noted conservative investment newsletter:

econmics-solowMIT Professor Robert Solow would agree with us on this front. Solow’s work on the US economy – which has become a textbook economics lesson – explains that innovation has accounted for more than 80% of the long-term growth in US per capita income, with capital investments accounting for only 20% of per capita income growth.” 

So much for supply side (voodoo) economics (SSVE), which proclaims that the only way to engender growth and development is huge tax cuts for the uber-wealthy… even at the cost of cutting back on infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health… exactly the opposite prescription cited by Adam Smith.

Funny thing. Not one prediction ever made by SSVE has ever, ever, ever come true.

Liberals, this is your fault too.  Again… until I am blue in the face — instead of bad-mouthing capitalism, embrace Adam Smith and declare true, healthy, flat-open-fair capitalism to be a top victim of the campaign of crony-cabal grabbing by the New Lords.  Investments in infrastructure, education, science R&D and public health are what feed and engender a thriving market economy.

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Privacy vs Omniveillance

Media discussions of privacy, freedom and the information age are starting to get more interesting, as folks finally start to realize a core truth… that everything eventually leaks. That the reflex of whining and demanding shadows to hide-in will never work. The data we entrust to banks and retail chains? The trade secrets that companies rely on for competitive advantage? The cherished spy programs of our governmental professional protector caste (PPC)? If these do not leak because of hackers, or accidents, then would-be (or self-styled) whistle-blowers will see to it, sooner or later.

OMNIVEILLANCE-PRIVACYIt has long been pointed out that information is not like other commodities. It can duplicate itself at virtually zero cost, and those copies can escape even without you noticing it’s happened. That is Fact Number One. Everything eventually leaks.

Fact number two is one I’ve tried to point out for decades. That this is fundamentally a clash of values and civilizations. The Western Enlightenment (WE) has always been the rebel and underdog, versus the 99% standard human (and zero-sum) pattern of top down control by hierarchs. (There was never much functional difference between leftist-communist oligarchies and right-wing wealth-inheritance oligarchies; both hewed to the endlessly-repeated feudal model.) In contrast, the positive-sum WE has many disadvantages and instabilities, though it is also vastly more creative, successful and productive. The one trait that tips the balance, though, is Fact Number Two:

All enemies of the WE are lethally allergic to light. Go ahead and name one. If it is not allergic to light, then it probably is not an “enemy” at all, but a peaceful rival that can easily be incorporated into the diversity-friendly WE. (Indeed, the “western” part is already fading away.)

Which provokes our core question… is the world of information leakage one that we should (at a fundamental level) be fighting against… at all? Or actively encouraging?

Let’s suppose we do decide to support an ongoing secular trend toward a world of accountability and light. Yes, this end-goal will stymie almost all bad guys. But does that mean we must bare ourselves overnight? Or completely? Especially, must we do it before the other guy does?

Suppose we choose a path of moderate-pragmatic, incremental, gradually-increasing transparency… what are our options?

== Fretful oversimplification ==

privacy-commodityLet’s start with an extensive article on : The Death of Privacy in the Guradian, by Alex Preston, on the psychological, social and cultural repercussions of loss of privately secret space:

“While outposts of civilization fight pyrrhic battles, unplugging themselves from the web – “going dark” – the rest of us have come to accept that the majority of our social, financial and even sexual interactions take place over the internet and that someone, somewhere, whether state, press or corporation, is watching.”

Preston continues: “Perhaps the reason people don’t seem to mind that so much of their information is leaking from the private to the public sphere is not, as some would have it, that we are blind and docile, unable to see the complex web of commercial interests that surround us. Maybe it’s that we understand very clearly the transaction. The internet is free and we wish to keep it that way, so corporations have worked out how to make money out of something we are willing to give them in return – our privacy. We have traded our privacy for the wealth of information the web delivers to us, the convenience of online shopping, the global village of social media.”

Death-privacyAll of this is true… and misleading and shrill. Because it buys into zero-sum thinking, which is the fundamental enemy of everything the WE stands for. The dismal (but deeply human) notion that every gain must have a paired loss. That a “trade-off” between security and freedom, or between privacy and all that cool-stuff available online, cannot be evaded, and therefor we must choose the painful righteousness of the writer’s simplistic prescription.

Let me reiterate. The Enlightenment’s fecundity at problem solving came from refusing dichotomies… like the insane “left-right axis” that has lobotomized politics everywhere.Only people who decide that we can have our cake and eat it and share it with the poor and see the cake thereupon grow… only such people will come up with enough innovative approaches to get any cake at all.

Only they will save the world.

==Giving up Privacy==

In one of life’s ironies, I am “Mister Transparency…” yet I believe some privacy can and should be preserved. A whole chapter of The Transparent Society is about how the only way we can preserve a little secluded intimacy or confidential sharing may be if we live in a society where most of the people know most of what’s going on, most of the time. Only such openness will stand a chance of deterring snoops and busybodies and peeping toms.

But some folks are far more transparency-radical! They “get” that all of our enlightenment innovations — like science, democracy, markets, justice, art and personal freedom thrive best in light… so they demand that it ALL be laid bare! As a moderate pragmatist (though perhaps a militant one) I find such zero-sum passion unnerving. But such people merit our attention.

In one extreme example…

Noah Dyer, a professor at Tempe’s University of Advancing Technology, wants to “live without privacy for a full year” by paying a camera crew to film him at all times. “The way I see it is that we’re going to lose our privacy, but that’s going to be awesome. The society that most quickly embraces not having any privacy is going to have the biggest evolutionary advantage. All of their citizens are going to be able to act in their own best interest based on totally accurate information.” ( Why We Care About Privacy.)

Dyer is getting a lot of press for a hackneyed and simplistically predictable stunt that we’ve actually seen before… posting online absolutely everything about his life, from his email passwords to bathroom breaks and sex.

Pardon me for yawning, but if you expect “Mr. Transparency” to get excited about this, either way, sorry about that. Likewise the frantic, “danger, Will Robinson!” hysterics of this reporter who writes about Dyer, in the Atlantic. Please.

== More zero-sum contempt ==

TheCircleMuch attention has also been given to Dave Eggers’s book — The Circle — portraying a future in which Dyer’s view is dominant and the plot-propelling oppressive nosiness comes not from a single Big Brother state but from millions of insatiably nosy little brothers, nagging and judging and chivvying those who seem reluctant to “share everything.” Most people don’t realize that this failure mode… and not an orwellian state … is the scenario taking place in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” In the Eggers book, his heroes desperately seek a little privacy or space to be themselves, to be unique and autonomous human beings.

Of course, this zero-sum, either-or kind of thinking is poisonous. It is just as oversimplifying as any would-be tyrannical system, clothing itself in sanctimony, by portraying an “opposite” that can be nothing but vile. A strawman that Eggers sets up in order to be knocked down.

In fact, We do not have to choose between triplet fangs: Big Brother surveillance or stripped-naked little-brother coveillance, or (heaven forbid) the MYOB (mind your own business) rage of privacy “defenders” who just play into Big Brother’s hands, by denouncing cartoon versions of transparency.

In fact, the society of nosy jerks portrayed in The Circle will not happen, because your neighbors would hate it just as much as you hate the thought of it! Eggers’s portrayal of his fellow humans and citizens is depressing not because it might come true, but because Eggers and the critics who praise him actually seem to believe (in their sanctimony) that their neighbors would put up with such a world… instead of using transparency and openness to catch the voyeurs and say “hey man! Back off.”

Well, well. Perhaps they are members of a different species than you and me.

== More shallow privacy articles ==

Is there anyone out there even slightly interested in probing this important matter with nuance and a positive-sum frame of mind? Maybe suggesting ways we that can win-win?

Jacob Morgan’s rather shallow article in Forbes suggests that “Privacy Is Completely And Utterly Dead, And We Killed It” — without contemplating at all whether there are types of privacy, and whether some kinds might be protected, even enhanced, in a mostly transparent world, wherein we are empowered to watch the watchers and to catch the peeping toms.

As I mentioned, in the Guardian, Alex Preston falls into the same zero-sum thinking: “Google knows what you’re looking for. Facebook knows what you like. Sharing is the norm, and secrecy is out. But what is the psychological and cultural fallout from the end of privacy?”

At least a little better than those dismal jeremiads… read the article: Why We Care About Privacy. And yes, my positive-sum temperament makes me believe we can gain the advantages of a transparent society without going this far, still, it is a refreshing contrast against the usual zero sum reaction to the info-age… railing laments and demands for levels of privacy that only ever existed in our minds, plus shrilly silly-unrealistic demands that the mighty “stop looking at me!”

As if such wailings ever stood the slightest chance of working. We will never blind the eyes above us. But we still have a chance to strip them naked. And look back.

== Can we see what’s watching us? ==

mann-computer-visionTo illustrate how pervasive omni-veillance is becoming…. Computer vision is embedded in toilets, urinals, hand- wash faucets, as well as those domes in the ceilings that monitor you in buildings like banks and casinos (and soon everywhere.) Now, sousveillance maven and Toronto professor Steve Mann has a fascinating paper describing methods to easily reveal the scanning field of such visual sensing systems: The Sightfield: Visualizing Computer Vision, and seeing its capacity to “see:”

“Moving a wand through space, while tracking its exact 3D position, makes visible the otherwise invisible “rays of sight” that emanate from cameras. This capacity to sense, measure, and visualize vision, is useful in liability, insurance, safety, and risk assessment, as well as privacy/priveillance assessment, criminology, urban planning, design, and (sur/sous)veil lance studies.”

Mann concludes, “The device may be used cooperatively, e.g. by a user or owner of a surveillance system to visualize the efficiency of their own cameras, or uncooperatively, as a video “bug sweeper” which uses video feedback to detect a hidden surveillance or sousveillance.”

There is hope. If we insist on a general ability to see, that will include the ability to spot voyeurs. If we start designing systems right, then we will be able to do what assertively brave humans have always been able to do, when some busybody stares. Tell them: “Hey bub…. back off.”
POSTSCRIPT: Following up from last time.

America’s police departments need greater accountability—and it must come from outside the forces.

Yes… though with less sanctimony. Do this progressively, pragmatically, irresistibly, with some sympathy for the 85% of cops who are sincerely trying to do a really, really hard job.

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Citizen Communications and Citizen Power

If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions! Here is the latest example of this happening to me:

CITIZEN-POWER“Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

This technology, which would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P), even when the cell system is down, would seem to be the obvious backup mode that we all might rely upon, in emergencies. Indeed, failure of cell service badly exacerbated the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Fukushima. I have been hectoring folks about this since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society, and in annual speeches/consultations with various agencies and companies, back east, ever since.

ua93-terror Indeed, it was access to communications that enabled New Yorkers to show the incredible citizen resilience that Rebecca Solnit portrays so well in her book A Paradise Made in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Communications enabled the brave passengers of flight UA 93 to “win” the War on Terror, the very day that it began.

A few years after brainstorming with some engineers at Qualcomm, I learned that company was charging ahead with LTE direct, installing it in their chip sets, whether or not AT&T and Verizon decided to activate it. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.

When it is fully operational, the benefits will become apparent. A more robust, resilient and agile civilization will be more ready for anything that might come.

== Phones & Protest ==

Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. There will be tussles over the details for years, as discussed here. And here.

EFF-CELL-PHONE-GUIDE-PROTESTThose tussles could be hazardous! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guide to using cell phones if you are going to a protest or other zone of potentially tense interaction with police.

Good, practical advice. I have long urge folks to join EFF as one of their dozen or so “proxy power associations.” I do not always agree with them! But that doesn’t matter as much as ensuring that they — and the ACLU, etc — remain out there and untrammeled.

For more on your right and duty to join orgs that give your voice see: Proxy Power…

== and in related news… ==

Taser International (TASR), which makes the most widely used police body cameras, increased its bookings for its video unit almost twofold last quarter, signing deals with the police departments of Winston-Salem, N.C., Spartanburg County, S.C., and San Diego. The company provides both hardware and data services related to the cameras and now works with 20 major cities in one capacity or another.

body-mounted-camera-policeGroups that would normally be skeptical of authorities videotaping everything support the idea of camera-equipped cops. The American Civil Liberties Union published a white paper last year supporting the use of the cameras. “Everybody wishes right now there was a video record of what happened,” says Jay Stanley, the author of the ACLU’s paper, referring to the Ferguson shooting.

“While no technical solution would eliminate misconduct completely, cameras do seem as if they could help reduce the legal bill. A study published last April showed that complaints against police dropped 88 percent in Rialto, Calif., after that city began randomly assigning officers to wear body cameras. At the same time, use-of-force incidents dropped 59 percent,” writes Joshua Brustein: In Ferguson’s Aftermath, Will Police Adopt Body Cameras?

armed-with-camerasSee how this was forecast — pretty much all of it — in The Transparent Society.  What will happen when both cops and the citizens they stop are armed with cameras, all the time?

Better safety, better law, less injustice… but it will also be the dawn of the Golden Age of Sarcasm.

 

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Super space drives? Io volcanoes! Adolescent brains… and more science!

IMPOSSIBLE-SPACE-DRIVEHave you heard the stories about this supposed reactionless drive, “unveiled” at a NASA conference in Ohio? I’ve put in a query to Geoff Landis – NASA scientist and renowned SciFi author, who promised to watch developments and give us the straight dope… or poop.   To be clear, there are some places where we already can do a version of this — turn solar energy directly into motion, without using reaction mass or rocketry — e.g. by applying electrodynamic tethers to leverage against the Earth’s magnetic field…

…but only where there is an electron rich zone like the Van Allen belts to close the circuit loop. Interestingly, electomagnetic tethers work in exactly the realm you must climb through before deploying a solar sail. ( See this process illustrated in both my short story “Tank Farm Dyamo” and in the first chapter of EXISTENCE, which I read aloud for you, here.)

Meanwhile. NASA released high-quality footage of their experiment in near-space in June, deploying the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) and experimental parachute systems that will be helpful in maneuvers and landings near planets, like Mars. Way cool footage!

ioOh but we really need to get out there! Dig this — “Within a two-week period in August 2013, astronomers observed three massive volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io. The grand finale was an eruption they say was one of the brightest volcanic eruptions ever observed in our solar system. These astronomers are speculating that these eruptions on Io – which can send material hundreds of miles above the little moon’s surface – might be much more common than they previously thought.”

We should have a satellite observatory in-residence above Jupiter, permanently.

Meanwhile, researchers have found a microbial menagerie that thrives in tiny water worlds floating in oily tar pits ... perhaps a model for life on Titan?

== Biology R-us ==

 biology-r-usIt seems brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence.

Google and Novartis announced that they’re teaming up to develop smart contact lenses that monitor glucose levels and automatically adjust their focus. Such “prototype lenses contains a device about the size of a speck of glitter that measures glucose in tears. A wireless antenna then transmits the measurements to an external device. It’s designed to ease the burden of diabetics who otherwise have to prick their fingers to test their blood sugar levels.”

Also possible: drug delivery, night vision, glaucoma testing, and later full immersion VR/AR.

You’ve heard about this second hand… now the science of how the adolescent brain differs and grows. This fascinating article, Dude Where’s My Frontal Cortex, by Robert Sapolsky tracks the last part of us to develop, the prefrontal lobes responsible for planning and impulse control. A thorough, insightful, compassionate and well-written piece.

Earth, by David BrinAlso, it seems that the model of “competitive neuron development” that I wrote about in EARTH (1989) is now viewed as standard biological fact. Astrocytes — a type of glial cell traditionally thought to provide more of a support role in the brain are now seen as critical for some forms of memory, such as object recognition. Terrence Sejnowski, head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, has led this effort. Without astrocyte-driven “gamma waves” mice were unable to recognize that objects are novel in their environment. Even more interesting are the techniques that the Salk folks use to subtly turn these activities on and off, in the brain.

The parts of North America with the greatest diversity of species of birds? Get ready for a shock.

No worries? Fish seem to flourish on anti-anxiety drugs being flushed down to our oceans.

By analyzing the brainwaves of just 16 individuals as they watched mainstream television content, researchers were able to accurately predict the preferences of large TV audiences. 

Um… “Testosterone decreases the ability of the frontal cortex to communicate with and rein in the amygdala.” No kidding?

 

== Tech and Engineering ==

Regarding a longstanding complaint over a lack of reliable-easy access to entry-level (and universal) programming languages… from my famous “Why Can’t Johnny Code?” essay… the makers of Scratch have now come up with ScratchJr, aiming it squarely at kids in the 5-7 year old range. Interesting.

INFRASTRUCTUREA fascinating rumination on future Infrastructure… major projects that might consume (and be well-worth) hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and returning far, far more in benefits, By Futurist Thomas Frey. Though he left out half a dozen that I mention in EARTH, alone!

 Five “next” technologies. For example: DARPA researchers have fabricated a prototype with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a highly accurate master clock on a chip that fits easily on the face of a penny.

NEXT-TECH.JPNow, a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol — a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. You still need a source of hydrogen, so energy must be put in, upstream, by splitting water… another area of developing research.

Researchers at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State University have developed a 3D printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.

Sci-Fi-novels-science.jpgAnd finally… here are Ten Sci Fi Novels that will make you more passionate about science! Glad to be included — with my novel, The Practice Effect.

Pessimists are fools.

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Ways to make civilization robust

resilienceThe resilience of our entire civilization is increasingly reliant on a fragile network of cell phone towers, which are the first things to fail in any crisis, e.g. a hurricane or other natural disaster… or else deliberate (e.g. EMP or hacker) sabotage.

I have been nagging about this for almost two decades. My recommendation — offered to national and corporate leaders since 1995? That our pocket phones should have a backup communication mode that is peer-to-peer, that could pass messages from phone to phone through any afflicted area until they reach a zone with cell service, at which point the messages would spill into the continental network.

This would be frightfully easy to accomplish, especially for simple text messages. In fact, the technology has been incorporated in Qualcomm’s latest chip sets. Though the major carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc — have all refused to activate it. This despite the fact that they would be perfectly free to bill for any P2P-passed messages — that’s easy. For years I asked national officials to require this backup, as a matter of overall robustness and public safety. Access to working phones made the biggest difference between two disasters… 9/11 – “the Day of the Citizen,” when average folks were able to self-organize and step up – vs the calamitous collapse of civilization during and after Hurricane Katrina.

P2PNow comes terrific news. “Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

I am tempted to proclaim that “nagging eventually pays off!” But of course, there are lots of smart people out there who could see the same things that I did. When I gave a talk at Qualcomm about similar ideas, some years ago, I described how simple it would be to do this with packets, like text messages. The next time I spoke to some of their managers, I was stunned to learn they had not only made great strides in Peer to Peer, but were proposing a version that could even do P2P for real-time voice communication! Now that’s some ingenuity. That’s some company.

== Hey, you, get offa that cloud ==

cloud-dataOh, but trends are far worse on the business side of the Internet. Any company (or person) who tries to be “efficient” by entrusting crown jewel data to the Cloud has got to be crazy. Take this from Mark Anderson, one of the smartest tech-industry pundits:

“There are two chilling trends in Internet security that were underlined this week with the announcement by Hold Security of a Russian crime ring taking around 1.2 billion user names and password combinations from perhaps 420,000 different hacked websites. The first is a ramping of theft success on all scores, from personal IDs to nations stealing crown jewel intellectual property, which simply can no longer be tolerated if innovation and commerce are to continue. 

“The second is a massive movement to cloud computing, driven by financial requirements rather than security requirements, at a time when our internal sources indicate that clouds have already been hacked.”

disparity-transparency-brinThis is related to a another point I’ve made since 1995… and in The Transparent Society… that everything leaks, sooner or later. And we are better off making ourselves and our systems robust, able to shrug off and adapt to this inevitability, than whining and thrashing about, expecting the next “security” measure to work, at last.

It is disparities in transparency that threaten the health of freedom, markets, science and civilization.

Remember this.  Most villains (just like vampires) are fatally allergic to light.  Hence, the trick will be to expose them to it!  Lots of it. The solution is not to cower in the few remaining shadows hoping for concealment.  They are better at that, than you and I are. 

villains-light

== Transparency-related news ==

Here’s an algorithm that could use Facebook Likes alone to reliably determine six million users’ private traits like their sexual orientation, IQ, religious beliefs, life satisfaction, and personality traits—even when the Likes seemingly had nothing to do with the traits in question. Do not get outraged. This is absolutely inevitable! What you can do is shift your passion over to sousveillance.

DRONES-SURVEILLANCEAnother insightful article explores the many potential advantages, when civilians become empowered to fly their own drones. The ability to independently verify events, ensure accountability for public officials and police, provide situational awareness, deliver or fetch important items…. Yes there will be privacy concerns. But how better to catch that neighborhood voyeur than with a drone of your own, so that you can track the peeping tom and tell his mom!

And in the category of how do you plan to stop this? “By 2010, license-plate scanners had become standard equipment for most urban repo firms, and the number of plates stored in national databases was growing by tens of millions a month. … The richer the data gets, the easier it is to make predictions about a driver’s home address, workplace, gym, or favorite restaurant. Digital Recognition Network (DRN) has one of the largest plate-capture databases in the country, with a fleet of more than 2,000 affiliated trucks and upwards of 1.8 billion scans.”

omniveillanceAnswer: Any attempt to repress this – or face recognition – will only ensure that elites still have this power — governments, corporations, criminals — but such laws will make sure you and I have no access.   They will become gods and we will be permanent peasants. If this is inevitable, then let us all see. And then let’s learn – because of that light – to leave each other alone.

Oh, but then… artists are putting into practice my point about rendering surveillance visible to the rest of us. Some very interesting… and pointedly clever… innovations.

And finally, here’s something that’s simultaneously funny and deeply, deeply offensive. But also a clever way for a company to make its point… and that means it is likely they were all actors, after all, invalidating the whole thing. All told, a clever META view of where we are heading in the VR/AR holodeck world. Faked nuclear war….

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