Tag Archives: philanthropy

Giving through Proxy Power…and a New Science Fiction Museum

Proxy-Activism-NewIt’s the season when many of us sit down and discuss the year’s allocations for helping the world… call it giving, tithing, donating, or just joining others in making a better world for our grandchildren, or, as Jonas Salk described our basic duty — “to be good ancestors.”

For those who look ahead, it is self-interest, in its purest form.

Once again, let me tout an approach that might let you be systematic about this, picking among the various topics that raise your passion and using this annual exercise to do a very efficient thing: empowering others (activists) to go save the world for you!

Pass the word about this approach: The Power of Proxy Activism.  It could be your most effective (and comfortably simple) way to make a difference. To be part of the solution, not the problem.

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MSF-Museum-of-Science-FictionOne forward-looking project you might consider: help crowd-fund the new Museum of Science Fiction — to be established in Washington D.C.  Interactive exhibits will present the bold vision of Science Fiction, invoking its ‘sense of wonder’ about the universe —  exploring the intersection of science and the imagination. Right now… they are raising money through Indiegogo for a Preview Location as a first step toward the museum. See this interview with Executive Director Greg Viggiano.

DavidBrinKillCharacterAs an added incentive, you can receive a private tour of the museum, a lecture and signed hardcover from Greg Bear. You can also receive a signed hard copy of my latest novel, Existence, or a signed set of five of my hardcovers.

Or…Be immortalized and have a character in my next novel named after you! Die gruesomely on paper and/or onscreen (if you so choose)! Or it makes the perfect holiday gift.

Click here to support the Museum of Science Fiction.

==From the Philippines to the Classroom==

doctors-withoutThere is urgent and immediate need around the globe: Help rescue and recovery efforts in the Philippines…still reeling from the terrible impact of Super-typhoon Haiyan. Thousands  have died from the storm and its aftermath, and survivors are in desperate need of food and fresh water, as well as medical supplies and sanitation. Groups such as Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), the Red Cross and Oxfam International are sending teams of emergency responders to help with this tragic situation.

Every person’s list of memberships can be uniquely different. For example, I send money every year, selecting among organizations including:

sierraclub-logoThe Sierra Club, which has a proven track record of rationally negotiating long-term sustainable environmental solutions — to maintain clean air and water and open spaces for our descendants. Radical environmentalists call then “sell-outs” but they are the ones who have to do the hard dickering in a flawed but real world.

The Ocean Foundation works to protect the health of the world’s oceans and coastlines, as well as to conserve our disappearing coral reefs and marine mammals.

Greenpeace, I do not always agree with them. Proxy power involves a weighing of factors. But I am glad they are out there acting as the “bad cops” and thus getting corporations etc. to eagerly negotiate with the Sierra Club!  Think about it.

heiffer projectProject Heifer International educates and empowers impoverished farmers overseas to practice sustainable agriculture, setting up community cooperatives — and working to end cycles of hunger and poverty. Your gift keeps on giving, for families pass on the training they receive — and they give the first female offspring of their livestock gift to another neighboring family in need.

Habitat for Humanity International is involved in building and repairing simple decent and affordable homes for homeless or displaced people all over the world, using volunteer labor and donations. Families in need can purchase the houses through no-interest loans or other innovative financing solutions.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation fights to resist censorship and advocates for open accountability — to defend your rights in a an ever-changing digital world. Another case where we disagree on some things… but I am glad they are out there spending my dues  on good fights.

WitnessWitness: See It, Film It, Change It. Witness is involved in getting video equipment directly into the hands of pro-freedom elements overseas — to record and document human rights abuses — transforming individual stories into powerful calls for justice and change.

The Skeptic Society: Fighting for the Enlightenment, the Skeptics Society promotes science, examining and illuminating all manner of extraordinary claims….and working to debunk a growing tsunami of pseudoscience.

tpslogoThe Planetary Society supports education, advocates for pro-science policy and directly funds innovative research on space exploration — reminding us to keep looking toward the frontier in space. Now ably led by Bill Nye the Science Guy!

==And a few newer sites==

Crowd-it-Forward  enables you to donate to contribute to “Random acts of crowd funding.”

DonorsChooseDonors Choose enables you to give directly to the classroom. Public school teachers may seek funding for special art, science or literacy projects to benefit their students, particularly in high-poverty neighborhoods. Help purchase microscopes, books, or painting supplies.

Finally, Books for Soldiers allows you to help fulfill specific requests from soldiers — for books, DVDs or games. Of particular value to those stationed away from family during the holiday season.  I have some titles I’d suggest!

==Philanthropy on the larger scale==

philanthropyAnd if you know someone a bit better-heeled?  Someone with the resources to make a much bigger difference?  Here is my paper on innovative philanthropy that circulated for a while in foundation circles. It proposes a nifty way to engage billionaires in the New Aristocracy… or for a mere millionaire to create a way to influence billionaires! Oh, and also to craft one of the best possible reality TV shows, ever!

Consider a modest institution called the Eye of the Needle Foundation or “EON.” Its symbol, a camel sailing easily through a needle’s eye, makes biblical reference to helping rich folks “reach heaven” by means of well-targeted altruism. The aim is to offer dramatic, extravagant, altruistic… and possibly historic ways for billionaires to spend their money.

Something for the man or woman who has everything.  (Oh, and did I mention… it would make a spectacular TV series?)

Go thou and be good ancestors.

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Things only a zillionaire could do to save America

Mention George Soros anywhere on the far-right and you’ll get fulminations.  To Republicans, Soros is an aristocratic mastermind who swore to “spend whatever it takes” to end the Bush-Neocons’ grip on political power in America… a vile plutocrat, striving to trample the will of plain-folks, along with the populist GOP that protects them. Glenn Beck railed to his audience, calling Soros the “Great Oligarch” and a master manipulator “who toppled eight foreign governments.” (The one thing Beck never mentioned, and that – tellingly and symptomatically – not one member of Beck’s vast following ever asked, was “which eight foreign governments did George Soros help to topple?” Tune in at the very end for the amazing answer.)

1101970901_400Okay, after wiping away tears of ironic laughter, one is left wondering.  If George Soros – and other rich liberals – are so potent and determined, why have they accomplished so little?

On the right, you see plenty of men and women who have proved ruthlessly effective at translating money into power, directing vast resources toward politically effective ends. There’s Rupert Murdoch, controlling — along with his Saudi co-owners — much of the world’s mass media, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal. His deep-pocket interests have been highly effective, funding everything from “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” (remember them?), to Carl Rove’s Super-PAC empire, to the war on science.

Forbes_cover122412David and Charles Koch, a pair of wealthy and politically radical brothers have leveraged millions from likeminded investors, to wrest control over most of the nation’s voting machines and funded (with several hundred million dollars) the campaign to delay, obfuscate and render impotent any determined action to mitigate global climate change.  Not to mention foreign commodities moguls who have used deep fingers of influence to fare best of all, in recent years.  The list goes on and on.

Now, mind you, I am less enraged by all of this than you might think, simply because I view such behavior as the most natural thing imaginable!  We’ve had at least a million years in which human reproductive success was partly determined by males jockeying for status in tribal settings… followed by 6000 years in which 99% of all agricultural societies wound up being dominated by inheritance oligarchies, who strove above all to keep the masses in their place, ensuring that their sons would own other peoples’ daughters and sons.  The chief outcome — suppression of competition and free-flowing criticism — resulted in the litany of horrifically awful statecraft that we call “history.” Adam Smith and the American founders decried the toxic effects of oligarchyoligarchy, which has always been the chief enemy of markets, enterprise, science, truly-competitive capitalism and freedom. Populist or elected “government” – in sharp contrast – has almost no track record at actually harming those things.

Nevertheless, it is easy to see why we’re attracted to tales about kings and wizards and such, and why so many of the rich strive to re-create feudalism. Isn’t it what you’d do?

We are, indeed, all descended from the harems of guys who pulled off that trick.  We carry their genes. Wanting all of that is the most natural thing in the world.

No, to me the amazing thing is what a high fraction of the new billionaires actually “get” the enlightenment… the modern civilization that gave them all of their opportunities and to which they owe absolutely everything.  Maybe 50% of them — the Musk-Gates-Buffett-Bezos-Page-Brin-Soros-types — grasp the enormous goodness and clever dynamics, based upon relative-equality of opportunity, that brought them their great fortune! Half of them seem to get it; this is wonderful.  It gives me hope there’ll be an ambitiously accomplished and exciting civilization for our grand-kids.

Can the Good Billionaires be as effective as the would-be lords? 

I explore this on the pages of Existence, wherein you attend a gathering of rich clans in the year 2048 and view them weighing how much of their gratification to defer, in order not to kill the golden-egg-laying goose.

All right, it’s hard to envision Steven Spielberg pulling shenanigans anywhere as effective — in the short term — as the Foxite war on science.  His films are designed to provoke thoughtful conversations, not reinforce bilious hatred of your neighbors.  It’s a more wholesome endeavor, but those seeds take time to germinate. The Fox-approach is quicker.

Of course, the top endeavor for a rich person who wants to change the world for the better is simple.  Keep getting rich by delivering excellent goods and services. And when you’ve reached a certain, sane level of satiability with wealth itself, you can either give a lot of it away (your kids will never starve) — or else start investing in new endeavors that are risky!  Then riskier still.

givingpledgeFor example, several of the tech-wave billionaires have invested heavily in the privatization of space exploration. Prime examples include Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s mysterious Blue Origin project, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch System, and Sergey Brin’s Space Adventures. Recently, Peter Diamandis, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and others have teamed up to launch Planetary Resources aiming to mine resources from asteroids… a topic I happen to know a thing or two about.

Yes, that’s the top thing they can do. Innovation.  Risky entrepreneurship.  That and setting an example with real philanthropy, by signing the Gates Pledge.  Nevertheless, given that so much of our future depends upon the political process, can we afford to leave that arena to be meddled in by just the New Feudalists?

Do Friendly Billionaires Matter in Politics?

Let’s be clear.  Our present electoral divide won’t depend on the whim of a few  moguls.  Nor is Culture War all about “rich vs poor” – not yet. Historically, most nations were wracked by class struggle – and we may yet revert to that age-old pattern – which could become an especially dangerous schism, when the poor will be technologically empowered.  (It’s an IQ test for the uber-wealthy: do you actually believe you can rebuild lordship in the coming era, when the prols will have smart drones and desktop bio labs and all that stuff? Really?) But such times may be averted.  Indeed, many of today’s affluent are loyal to the mobile, competitive, egalitarian and rather-flat society our parents made, after World War II.  One that rewarded innovative commerce, without entrenching permanent castes.

So, let’s suppose there are a lot of wealthy, frustrated enlightenment fans out there.  With so much hanging in the balance, what’s a rich dude to do? Heck one great option would be to start a competing company to, say, make honest voting machines. Surely you can get that ready in time to win some contracts for 2016? Or else, organizations that perform poll watching and electoral process-checking could absorb large donations, in time to do a lot of good.  Though these groups are officially neutral, we know who would benefit, if elections proceed transparently and fair.

Likewise, the political caste will never rouse itself to do anything about gerrymandering. But a privately funded campaign against that foul practice, even as little as 20 million dollars, could start an avalanche of public anger over this blatant crime. In the short term, this would help both parties to back away from radicalization and elect more rational pragmatists. Kill gerrymandering and you will be well-remembered as a dragon-slayer.

philanthropyBut it’s my role to look in directions that are more, well, unconventional.  So let me bring up one idea, from a general compilation of Concepts for Billionaires: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy, that’s been in circulation for some time.

A Henchman’s Prize

I’ve long wondered why some billionaire who is worried about our open society doesn’t pony-up and offer truly substantial  whistleblower rewards. One action that could be especially well-targeted, during the next month or so — while having immense publicity value — would be to announce a great big prize for proof of massive cheating or dirty tricks, in time for the evidence to matter, before the next round of elections.

For best effectiveness, one would couch the idea in nonpartisan terms.  Offer a million dollars to any conspirator who turns coat and steps forward with – say – solid evidence that either party has engaged in a systematic effort to deny the vote to a thousand or more people in any political constituency.  Plus five million if the evidence leads to rapid, public plea bargains or convictions.

Yes, five million dollars is a lot of money.  But note that the larger sum is paid upon conviction, in which case it’s a small amout to buy a scandal-tumult of huge proportions. Perhaps big enough to transform politics in America.

Sure, people will see through couching it in nonpartisan terms.  (Though a Republican co-sponsor could be found.)  But even that implication would be useful, highlighting what everybody knows — where that kind of cheating is coming from.

Why emphasize “conspirator”?

HENCHMENThis is where the word henchman comes in.  Those most likely to have the goods — real evidence — will be people already deep inside.  Ironically, a henchman is probably venal and psychologically primed to jump ship, if offered the right combination of inducements — both cash and introduction to people who can offer some immunity.  (Rep. Henry Waxman has been responsible for recent strengthening of whistleblower protections, for example.)  This qualifier also keeps out a flood of mere rumor-mongers, who have other places to go.

There are many other possible whistleblower prizes.

But there’s a catch.  Any such program must be carefully phrased. A billionaire will have to fight past his or her own attorneys, in order to do something like this.  One doesn’t want to be held liable for enticing unproved or false allegations, or slander.  (There might be a discreet application process and a committee to vet claims, while police and prosecutors are given their full due.)

Still this sort of thing has one advantage — it could be set up and unleashed quickly.  And it appeals to the avaricious spirit that has driven so many dirty tricks operatives, ever since the days of Nixon and Donald Segretti.  Remember, tempting rats to betray each other ought to be easy, if you use the right cheese.

And all it might take is just one.

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FOLLOWUP:  Have you guessed yet (or looked up) the eight foreign governments that master-mogul-manipulator George Soros “toppled”? How telling that (to my knowledge) none of Glenn Beck’s viewers or listeners even roused themselves with God’s greatest gift – curiosity – to ask which governments those were.  But you know, by now, what those toppled governments were, right? They were…

… the communist dictatorship of Poland … the communist dictatorship of Czechoslovakia … the communist dictatorship of Soros’s birthplace Hungary … the communist dictatorship of Lithuania … the communist dictatorship of  Estonia … the communist dictatorship of  Latvia … the communist dictatorship of Romania … the communist dictatorship of  Bulgaria…

… and that’s erring on the low side. Some credit Soros with having major effects in Yugoslavia, Belarus, Ukraine….  Yep.  It is pretty clear why Glenn Beck never likes to get specific.  Facts kind of interfere with the narrative.

This is a heavily revised version of a posting from  roughly 2004.

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Philanthropy: Moving from a Scarcity Economy to a Gift Economy

Will we transform ourselves from an archaic Scarcity Economy to a “Gift Economy” – much as portrayed in Star Trek? Is philanthropy a crucial recycling direction for wealth to take? I participate in round tables on philanthropy theory. Here is an important one.

Philosopher Fed Turner has some interesting insights: ”There is a myth that we as a species have moved from having an edenic and arcadian gift exchange economy to a cold and corrupt market economy. As a myth it has its uses; as a fact it will not fly. Archaeologists and physical anthropologists now find trading practices among the earliest humans nearly 200,000 years ago; we were always buying, selling, hiring, trucking and bartering. And economists tell us that even in today’s advanced industrial economies the amount of value that is transferred by gift is greater than the amount transferred by market exchanges. This may sound counter-intuitive until we reflect that gift includes the free services rendered by parents to their children, husbands and wives to each other, friends to friends, hobbyists to their community, and the bequests of the dying to their heirs.

“We have plenty of theory about markets, since Locke and Smith and their ilk. There is some theory about gift exchange in traditional tribal societies (Marcel Mauss, for instance), but very little until now about the economic, moral, social, political, ecological, aesthetic, and spiritual implications of today’s gift economy in advanced societies like the United States.”

Finally, there’s a fun item — EON: the Eye of the Needle Foundation — my own article that stimulated discussion in philanthropic circles, about an entirely new kind of charitable institution, one that might help dramatically enlarge the pot of modern generosity by offering the super-wealthy (and many of the rest of us, too) some unique incentives. Something for the man or woman who has everything.

=== Can We Learn Useful Things About Society/Security From Fiction and Magic? ===

Is fiction a security issue? DARPA wants to know how stories influence our thoughts and actions. And what form of literature can be more radical than science fiction – which teaches that the future can be different than the past – that humans might stop making the same mistakes over and over again…. and hence, that it will be our fault, if we choose not to stop.

Recording Police Abuse Could Get You ARRESTED! Magician, supertainer and paladin of freedom Penn Jillette recorded this episode of Penn Point back in June. I highly recommend Penn’s rants; they are uniformly smart, vivid and informative. Even when I disagree, I feel glad he is out there, fighting for us, and proud to know him. (I have an ulterior motive in this case; Penn repeatedly touts my nonfiction book The Transparent Society.

I especially like one of Penn’s aphorisms: “Always look for the solution that’s for more freedom.” I say something almost identical in The Transparent Society. Alas, in the info age, people point to problems and all-too often suggest solving them with LESS information flow.

Take recent arguments over renewing the Patriot Act. I despise the damned thing. (See where I predicted it – as well as terror-doom for the WTC towers – in The Transparent Society on page 206.) But I don’t waste my time writhing over the parts of the PA that let government see more. That trend is inevitable and unstoppable and freedom knights who rail against those parts are just foolish. It is the OTHER portions of the Patriot Act that are demonic, hateful and downright dangerous… the sections that remove oversight and allow government to operate more in secret and less under our supervision. Those are the parts we should be fighting to eliminate. But political reflexes tend to be dumb, and liberals are no exception, even when they are on the right side of an issue.

=== Symptoms of Sickness… Signs of Health ===

Want to perk up? Here are 25 minutes worth watching: Kevin Kelly on the future of book publishing, speaking about how value will be generated in a free copy world: “The internet is the world’s largest copy machine.” We can’t stop books from being copied, so we need to make it easier to pay for immediate, interactive, personalized content. Kevin is very smart and always worth-heeding. It happens I think he’s wrong here in several ways. But tune in!

Caltech basketball team just won its first victory since 1986! A 310 game losing streak… done!

The team controlling the Kepler planet-hunter telescope has released a small part of its 1st 4 months of data recently. It revealed more than 1200 potential extrasolar planets. If a reasonable percentage of these worlds turn out to be independently verified, this treasure trove will yield more results in 4 months (1200+) than astronomy had found in the past 15+ years (550+ objects). (Um, than astronomy had found in the last 5,000 years.)

Kepler uses the transit or partial eclipse method to identify new planets. It keeps a constant vigil on 156,000 stars that are up to 3000 light-years away in a region close to the star dense galactic plane in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra…. Since other planetary systems can exist at all different angles, we would only expect that a small percentage of extrasolar systems (1-10%) would be edge on to us. That means that Kepler is really only sampling 1,500 to 15,000 systems. That makes the fact that they have found 1200 potential planets all the more impressive!
Findings. Neptune-type worlds seem dominant. The large number of Super Earths (23.3%) that may be determined to be rocky after further study, combined with the significant percentage of Earth sized bodies (5.5%) suggests that a sizable percentage of stars that could show evidence of Earths seem to have them.

But note, Kepler’s results are so-far weighted toward finding planets with quick orbital “years.” Later data must gather to find those orbiting farther out. “There were 54 planets detected in the water-possible zone. Five (5) of those were Earth sized or smaller. This is where things really get interesting. These are the gems in the group.”

Those who have read (and enjoyed) STAR WARS ON TRIAL… or the original Salon article that first accused the Lucasian universe of nostalgic-romantic hatred of the future… might enjoy an hour-long podcast discussion that assesses the article, from the perspective of several british and australian writer-fans. They try hard. They are very silly, but they do try hard. (Someone tell them about STAR WARS ON TRIAL, in which George Lucas’s defenders have their chance… and come up wanting.

=== Unabashedly Political — Be Afraid! ===

“Spending cuts approved by the House would end America’s reign as a scientific leader if they are enacted into law, a former Bush administration Energy Department official said yesterday. “Left intact, the massive cuts in research contained in the bill passed on 19 February would effectively end America’s legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community,” Raymond Orbach wrote in an editorial published online by the journal Science.

I guess the Saudis haven’t changed their plans for us, after all. Their lackeys are still trying to end Pax Americana from within. This is war.

Speaking of mouthpieces for the real, behind-the-scenes instigators of Culture War… try this Glenn Beck conspiracy generator.

See this.
Absorb it.
Spread it.

If you spread nothing else this year, spread that one link.

I consider myself a libertarian who believes in competition as THE great creative human force. Objecting to the rise of a dominant oligarchy is not a SOCIALIST issue! It is an issue to anyone who wants the enlightenment… including its competitive markets and small businesses… to survive.

I hated the soviets and commies as dangerous ignoramuses and threats to the enlightenment, markets and freedom.

I hate the new oligarchy for exactly the same reasons — both bands of would be aristocratic lords think they can “allocate” wisely in secret cabals. Both communists and oligarchs believe that history and justice back up their monopoly of power. Both replicate EXACTLY the failure mode that ruined every other brief renaissance of openness and market freedom. The oligarchs try to hide this by relentlessly claiming to favor market competition — without ever showing a single example of a competition-enhancing action on their parts.

I’ve said it again and again. The people who should be angriest at the neocons aren’t the liberals or even the pinko socialists (two very different things). The ones who should despise the neocons most of all – with red-hot livid hatred – should be the libertarians. And fools like the Pauls, who think that the GOP is a hold-your-nose choice that’s better than the democrats, are all profoundly stupid fools.

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