Saturday, October 14, 2017

How they get away with this... and how we can thwart them

The fate of America – and the experiment in a Periclean civilization – should not come down to one man.  No, I am not talking about the President, but Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who, with his eight colleagues, is pondering arguments for tearing down partisan gerrymandering.  

There are intimations that this time, Justice Kennedy may be ready to act against this ongoing rape of democracy. (That anyone could even mouth justifications for such a blatantly heinous and treasonous crime against American citizens should appall any decent mind, whatever their political leanings.) Certainly the plaintiffs have refined their arguments with much better facts and details… and I am told that my own contribution – a potential remedy that is simple, equitable and makes generous allowance for state sovereignty – has been put before one of the plaintiff attorneys. Well… 

… all of that is beside the point. My question is, how could it all teeter on one man? Specifically, what could possibly be going on in the minds of John Roberts and Samuel Alito? 

Unlike their conservative brothers, Gorsuch and Thomas, they weren't chosen in order to be partisan shills. We’re told they are genuine legal scholars whose loyalty to party is secondary. Roberts has even displayed a little independence, and fealty to logic, from time to time. So why is this matter even in doubt?  Can Alito and Roberts actually look in a mirror, siding with this travesty? This crime? Knowing that they'll consign the Republic – eventually – to no recourse other than revolution?

== The warriors resist calls for insane war ==

All the world's despots and fanatics want a U.S.- Iran war:  Trump would get a distraction from his troubles and GOP presidents love ordering troops forward, like pieces in a game. The Mullahs get an excuse to crush their own modernist population. The Saudis and Vladimir Putin get high oil prices and Russia will gain a new, Persian dependency under Kremlin "protection." And others will benefit, too! But not us. Not America or the West or civilization.

Note: under Obama, the U.S. became virtually energy independent. We have no further national interest maintaining a carrier group in that dangerous gulf. Prevent an Iranian bomb? Fine. Then sit back and let demographics seal the mullahs' fate.

And not sane/sober members of the U.S. military, who would be sent to fight it. "The nation’s top military leaders stated unequivocally that they believe the United States should stay in the Iran nuclear deal, staking out a position at odds with President Trump’s only days before he decides whether to certify that Tehran is in compliance with the deal."

God bless the United States Military Officer Corps - who have endorsed remaining in the Iran deal. The final fact-using profession to come under attack from the mad right, who will rue the day. "Deep State" my ass. They are heroes.

== The Union rises: some good news from the front ==

I have been hammering the point that Democrats would be fools to aim all their attention on the clown car craziness in the Executive and Legislative federal branches. At least as important will be races for state assembly and state senate, and the dems must get to recruiting appropriate candidates for those crucial races, right now. Elsewhere I’ve discussed:

(1) Where to find the best candidates for red districts. (And you might know someone appropriate! It is your duty to at least think about who you might help recruit.)

 And finally, the good news:

(3) Apparently there actually are some smart folks out there who have noticed. There have been under-reported results. “Of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them -- a remarkable number in any circumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.”

“So, why aren't we hearing more about it? Because state legislative races aren't sexy. Because Democrats haven't been able to win one of the more high profile GOP-held House seats in a series of special elections so far this year.” Though in those congressional races Democrats overperformed -- by a large amount -- Hillary Clinton's 2016 showing in these congressional seats.

Want more good news? Despite the extraordinary challenges the world is facing – from growing economic inequality and climate change to mass migration and terrorism – “if you had to choose any moment in history in which to be born, you would choose right now. The world has never been healthier, or wealthier, or better educated or in many ways more tolerant or less violent,” former President Obama said at an event for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Now if you disagree with that assertion, you are welcome to compare statistics. (You’d lose.) But what’s interesting is the emotional response it elicits, from many on the left and almost everyone on the right – fuming rage -- that anyone would dare to say there’s reason for optimism, or that our efforts at reform for 80 years have born a lot of fruit. 

The gloom on the right is understandable – since every media outlet on that side, from Breitbart to Fox to elite “institutes” has a vested interest in destroying American and Western confidence in our open-egalitarian-democratic-entrepreneurial civilization.

But on the left, it is pure craziness – a fetish to save the world only through guilt trips and finger-wagging, never acknowledging that optimistic-confident people are more likely to take on challenges. This is the biggest factor distinguishing pragmatic liberals from ideological “leftists.” Liberals are willing to acknowledge that we’ve come a long way. And that the effectiveness of our past efforts should spur us onward to take on the vast challenges that remain.

== Okay then, a few are trying to get below superficials ==

On the World Post site, there is much wisdom on offer, but with an underlying layer of obstinate blindness: “…former U.S. President Bill Clinton, summed it: “We know from the human genome that all people are 99.5 percent the same. Some people seem to spend 99 percent of their time worrying about the .5 percent that is different. That is a big mistake. We should focus on what we have in common. And focus on what is common. We make better decisions in diverse societies than in homogenous ones. America’s great advantage is that we are an idea, not a place. We are not an ethnicity or a uniform culture.”

Clinton also warned of the dangers of the nativist narrative that has recently arisen: 
“We are playing Russian roulette with our biggest ticket to the future. Even if you believe we are headed toward the first big change since the industrial revolution with robots and digital technology that will kill more jobs than it creates, we are still going to need diversity. We are going to need creative cooperation. To do that we need some fair back and forth with others not like us. Resentment-based divisive politics is a mistake.” But, as the former president sees it, historical experience suggests it will all work out in the end: “This is just the latest chapter in the oldest drama of human history, us vs. them. But sooner or later we mix and move on.” 

All of that is wise and right and good.  But it misses the point about this resurgent confederacy.

Another article asks why Trump keeps on winning. Sure he accomplishes nothing at all, but gridlock and rigor mortis has always been the right’s principal goal. Demonstrating democracy's futility is the core and central aim of Putin's anti-western axis. So long as his opponents are stooopid - using sumo instead of judo - Trump and his master-backers will win.

Example: the inanity of thinking the alt-right is about racism! What stunning nonsense. Yet no liberal or democrat can see that "racism!" is a distraction, a tar-baby, meant to cling and grab all the attention away from the blatant, central confederate theme... hatred of the fact-using, expert castes.

Even the loudest, screeching white supremicist will vary his racism, getting all friendly with any minority reporter who gives him some attention.  I know this. My father, at age 70, drove to the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho and they fell all over themselves to show him around, posing for pictures to run in an ethnic newspaper. Yes, racism is horrifically part of their incantations! But it can vary.

No. What does not vary is their volcanic rage against smartypants. Experts. Name for me one profession of high knowledge and skill that’s not under attack by Fox/Trump &cohorts? Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 5% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced. 

Yes, I said all this above. (I create these blogs sometimes by accretion, and similar rants can accumulate.) But I will reiterate until I see someone else in high place covering this ground!

The FBI and the US military and intelligence officer corps; all are dismissed as "deep state" enemies. Yes, this is not your daddy's conservatism.  When your screeches of hate are directed at every fact-profession... (have your confed uncle name one exception)... and every fact-checking service is automatically "politically biased" then three things are clear. 

(1) This phase of the confederacy is just like the old one. 
(2) If properly roused to awareness, the smart people (the Union side) will win again. 
(3) Hence it is vital to distract the smart folks from waking up! Distract them with racism when the real agenda is to discredit every fact-using profession and destroy their ability to thwart the confederacy's new plantation lords.

I keep waiting for some democrat or statesman or leader to make this the real issue, challenging the Murdochians:

“Every time facts and evidence are used to refute your lies, you attack the source as partisan. And so I demand right now that you tell us what kind of a neutral fact-checking service you would accept!  Would you agree to help form a commission of great American sages – including revered Republicans like Sandra Day O’Conner – who could help set up a truly neutral way Americans can confront rumors and lies?

“Not just one fact-service!  We don’t want a ‘Ministry of Truth.’ But a template for several competing but above-reproach services that can say about the worst trash: ‘that’s not true’.  We challenge you to help construct this solution! And if you refuse, we denounce that refusal as treason.”

 == From the Hannah Arendt Center ==

And yes, there are islands of sagacity:

We are experiencing a worldwide rebellion against liberal democracy. In Hungary, Russia, Turkey and other countries across Europe, right- and left-wing parties flirt with authoritarian rule. In the United States, President Donald J. Trump channels the voices of the self-described disenfranchised. Representative governments everywhere are shown to be corrupt, inefficient, and undemocratic. The great political achievement of the modern era - stable representative democracy - is everywhere under attack.

Hannah Arendt knew that democracy is tenuous. In 1970 she famously wrote:

"Representative government is in crisis today, partly because it has lost, in the course of time, all institutions that permitted the citizens' actual participation, and partly because it is now gravely affected by the disease from which the party system suffers: bureaucratization and the two parties' tendency to represent nobody except the party machines." 

Yes, but so?  We recovered from the collapse of American citizen confidence that raged during Vietnam and Watergate. We can surge back from this phase of the Civil War. Rise up.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Foxes and chickens: caught in the act

Always passionate and well-spoken, Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) is well worth visiting online. He is a living lesson in what we need, to survive this phase of civil war and go on to make starships. It's not political litmus tests, but something else that is far more important... an American penchant for pragmatic, grownup, tolerant willingness to talk things out.  Only also, to fight evil when we have no other choice.  See also his greatest hits

And for comparison?  An example of that pure evil. A genuine monster: Listen to Paula White on Jim Bakker's show.

At the opposite extreme is Betsy Rader, a congressional candidate who grew up in “hillbilly” poverty and knows what combination of grit, hard work, values, determination… and help from a decent civilization… assisted her single mom to raise 5 kids on $6000/year... with great results. 

== Caught in the act – but counting on us to do nothing ==

The same voter analytics and persuasion company that coordinated Russian, Murdochian and alt-right efforts to swing the U.S. election has been raking it in, selling their services elsewhere. Have a look. The Kenya Supreme Court nullifies presidential election - over concerns of electoral hackingNote that the data firm Cambridge Analytica, was hired by the Kenyatta campaign to do polling and data analytics.  More on this: Cambridge working in Kenya.
Meanwhile, at home… Hackers prove how trivial it is to break into modern voting machines and change results, using methods already exploited by most Republican Secretaries of State, to order up any result they want… in those red states without paper receipts that can be audited.

This has led to what should be a harbinger… Virginia scrapping its touchscreen machines! Read more on this decision

The Steele Report, Revisited: How much of the infamous document ended up being corroborated elsewhere? A whole lot, it seems. No, not the "pee tape." That part is still unsubstantiated. But monthly these reports gain more verifications or credibility. This detailed and highly informative article, by a 30 year CIA veteran, reveals a lot about the current cold war that neo-czarist Russia is waging against us, far more aggressively than the old Soviet Union ever did.

Those present day confederates who now make excuses for Trump and Putin, in the face of overwhelming evidence of combined war-attacks and treason, have proved their hypocrisy. Thank God for the professionals.

== Foxes and chickens ==

Confederate apologists for Donald “Drain the Swamp” Trump explain away his appointing so many Wall Streeters to his cabinet and sub-cabinet (seven from Goldman-Sachs, alone). The excuse is: “It takes a fox to guard a henhouse.”

Sure. And billionaires have so much money, how could they ever want more? Or to do anything but serve?  

And so, we’ll start a series: “foxes and chickens”, listing how many such examples these selfless servants of the public present to us. First:

Trump has appointed as the head of Dept. of Education's anti-fraud unit, the former head of a for-profit college that had to settle a large anti-fraud case with the Department of Education.

Second, the Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator is one of the Denialists that the GOP have packed onto the U.S. House “Science Committee.”  Jim Bridenstone doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.  Ah. No wonder they are canceling almost every Earth observing satellite that might help nail down the facts.

In a provocative and persuasive essay, Brink Lindsey ponders “Why libertarians and conservatives should stop opposing the welfare state.” Instead of trying to roll back the entire welfare apparatus, he argues, libertarians and small-government conservatives should consider leaving useful benefits and sequence in longer-term reforms.

In other words use government for what we know it’s good at, recognizing a problem and acting upon it now, with cumbersome diligence. But then viewing “governmental solutions” to problems as lumbering temporary measures that should – over time – wither away, as other forces, like markets and philanthropy, deal with the root causes more organically and efficiently. This alternate version of libertarianism is closer to its founding traditions – before Rand and Rothbard and oligarchs pushed for the movement to have just one mantra: “Hate only ‘government,’ always and all the time.”

But let’s hear from Lindsey:

“Over fifty years ago, Richard Cornuelle issued a challenge to small-government supporters in his book Reclaiming the American Dream: roll back the welfare state, not by complaining about it, but by outcompeting it. Cornuelle urged libertarians and conservatives to turn their energies to what he called the “independent sector,” building new institutions and organizations in civil society to meet the public needs currently addressed by government: The independent sector will grow strong again when its leaders realize that its unique indispensable natural role in America is to compete with government,’ he argued. ‘It must be as eager as government to take on new public problems.’

“A half-century after Cornuelle wrote those words, the gap between public needs and the capacity of civil society has grown. I have concluded that this fact discloses a failure of libertarian ideas: I don’t believe it is possible for the nonprofit sector to outperform government in protecting people from certain downside risks of life in a complex, highly urbanized, individualistic society. At the very least, though, it reveals a failure of effort. I would be happy for opponents of the welfare state to prove me wrong. But first they have to try.”

Lindsey’s case can be made even stronger, and even more ironic.  Stronger by pointing out that libertarians could use one simple metric, when deciding whether to hate any government program a lot, or merely seek to compete with it: “Does this program increase the overall number of market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete?” 

Isn’t that what both Adam Smith and the right’s economic doyen – Friedrich Hayek – called fundamental?  The virtues of competition – e.g. consumption or investment allocation – become more wise, far-seeing and error-resistant, the larger the number of sagacious and vigorous participants!

Wisdom fails when allocation “of winners and losers” is done by ever smaller, self-referential groups. And if this is true about half a million diverse, well-trained, scrutinized and dedicated civil servants (‘bureaucrats’), then how much more so regarding a narrow, self-serving and secretive cabal of 5000 golf buddies in a largely inherited CEO caste, who appoint each other onto boards to vote themselves largesse from our corporations?

 Neither of these groups are ideal allocators. But markets can be, if well-regulated and filled with tens or hundreds of millions of persnickety and skilled competitors. At least… so sayeth Smith and Hayek.

Lots of government programs pass the "increase competition" sniff test, by raising the overall number of market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete.  Public health and education – for all their faults – inarguably altered the fraction of Americans capable of participating. So have most investments in infrastructure. And regulation is not always an enemy of entrepreneurship, as seen in times past when anti-trust laws were enforced. 

If an intervention increases the number of vigorous participants… or equalizes opportunity… then it is far easier for a libertarian to swallow than other, well-meaning liberal efforts to equalize outcomes.

Cornuelle’s version of libertarianism would resist  the outcomes-levelers but greet opportunity–leveling programs differently: “we will set things up so that soon, your clumsy/needed approach to solving this problem will wither away.” 

This approach would urge innovators to come up with processes to compete government’s lumbering interventions out of existence.  Barry Goldwater is said to have wanted this, long ago, proposing changes in the insurance industry that would spur companies to make their clients live longer! By rewarding clients who live safely and well. Ideally, our insurance companies could replace the paternalistic protections of the FDA, FTC, OSHA and so on. There have been recent (timid) moves in this direction, after decades of industry resistance.  

And yes, the Charter Schools movement could be viewed this way. “Yes, we needed public schools to bluntly end illiteracy and create a road upward that all could use. But everyone can see that schools could be much better. Let us try alternatives, now!” Alas, though there are shining lights, most of the charter movement (like most of libertarianism) has been wholly captured by forces of oligarchy, fundamentalism and right wing’ism. It will only achieve its potential when it shrugs off those influences.

The irony I spoke of is one that embarrasses libertarians, though it shouldn’t.  It is in that deliberately-chosen phrase “wither away.” Yes, it is a Marxist term, and it points out one of many overlaps, including the final, end-state goal of both Marxists and Libertarians… a future without coercive elites or power centers or ‘government,’ per se. An era when any individual will feel free and empowered to make alliances and pursue any project, combining talents as she or he sees fit.

This dream is a hell, in the eyes of those who cling to notions of feudal hierarchy – the beast that oppressed all of humanity for 6000+ years. The thing that would-be inheritance-oligarch-lords fear most is that liberty lovers will recognize them as the Olde Enemy. The kings, lords and owners and priests who cheated to prevent the rise of a myriad market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete.

Government is inherently dangerous and even when it is well-meaning, it can cloy or stifle initiative.  I am enough a libertarian to avow that!  But it is insane to screech “Hate only ‘government,’ always and all the time,” when bureaucrats did very little to crush freedom and opportunity, across 60 centuries.

  Not compared to oligarchs. Not by orders of magnitude.  And that is the one bald fact they are spending billions to ensure you’ll forget.

 == Economics & politics ==

 The Evonomics site is one of the best online. They have taken over my own formerly-quixotic quest to re-study Adam Smith. If he were alive today, Smith would not just be a Democrat, he'd be urging revolution, the way he did in 1776.  See how this economist-historian explains the "rentier" phenomenon and why Supply Side tax cuts for the rich have never, ever had the effect of stimulating investment in productive innovations or factories. 

Let me reiterate. "supply side" has never delivered on a promise. Even once. Ever.

Former GOP Senator Bob Graham about how the supervising Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate have been allowed to slump into torpor, since he chaired investigation of the 9/11 attacks. The salient trait of this Congress - even more than hyper-reactionary partisanship - is its stunning laziness.

According to some estimates there will be 20 million people moving to Texas by 2050. And many from California will be conservatives upset by not only how Democratic the Golden State has become, but also – face it – by how successful, well-governed and delusion free California is doing.   Many of these grumpy, disappointed conservatives will be making the move across with the help of a company called Conservative Move whose tag line is "Helping families move Right."

But that brings up an interesting point. Ever since W.E.B. DuBois, there has been talk of drumming up a movement for African Americans to move to Mississippi or South Carolina where, IIRC, it might take only a couple of hundred thousand to stage a voter-uprising and transform one or both states!  Someone do the research and report back here, under comments?

Steve Bannon may be slightly less powerful now.  But meet Vladimir Putin’s chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin,  Bannon’s Kremlin counterpart, extolling love of Donald Trump as gushingly as Bannon kvells on Putin.

Meanwhile, the U.S. does nothing while Putin rebuilds the Soviet Union.

All these guys are heavily vested in “cyclical history” and the need for Traditionalism… which of course translates as restoration of Feudalism, with Bannon’s and Dugin’s lords creating dynasties.  Read about how explicitly and fiercely they intend to end the Western Enlightenment.

== The romantic fixation on (nonexistent) "cycles" ==

Aw heck, in hope that this topic will go away at last, more on Bannon: In his favorite book: "The Fourth Turning: What Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny," William Strauss and Neil Howe theorize that the history of a people moves in 80-to-100 year cycles called "saecula." The idea goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that at a given saeculum's end, there would come "ekpyrosis," a cataclysmic event that destroys the old order and brings in a new one in a trial of fire.

“Bannon's obsession with this book should cause concern. He believes that, for the new world order to rise, there must be a massive reckoning. That we will soon reach our climax conflict. In the White House, he has shown that he is willing to advise Trump to enact policies that will disrupt our current order to bring about what he perceives as a necessary new one. He encourages breaking down political and economic alliances and turning away from traditional American principles to cause chaos.”

Finally. Rick Ellrod offers an interesting rumination on what a number of science fiction authors have said about the basis of civilization. Ellrod reminds me that the following has been the coda on my main web page for longer than I can remember. Almost as long as there has been a World Wide Web:

Ironies abound. The left is suspicious of "competition" and the right hates the word "regulation."  Yet it is by calm, reasonable Regulated Competition that this civilization has given us so much.  A flattened, diamond shaped social order so much fairer and more productive than all the old pyramids of privilege of the past, when cheaters always, always wrecked the fecundity of competitive creativity. 

Cooperation is not the opposite of competition!  We must cooperate - form just and open governments - in order to prevent cheating and spread opportunity... and then fantastically creative competition can ensue.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Three Lessons from Vegas

In the wake of the October 1 tragedy in Las Vegas, our national ritual of lamentation, recrimination and hand-wringing has reached a new pitch. Although even the National Rifle Association has admitted that some (small) lunacies must change, the core issues remain intransigent. We seem forever stymied by the emotion-laden matter of guns in America.

Among the better articles I’ve seen are this one from Slate: “Las Vegas should entirely change the way we think about preventing mass shootings.”… And this one: America's Gun Fantasy: “Three percent of the nation owns half the firearms—to prepare for an ultraviolent showdown that exists only in their imagination,” writes Kurt Anderson. Indeed, liberal goals for gun legislation, like background checks, have retracted, rather than inflated since 2001, when many liberals began quietly to arm themselves.

My own commentary this time will be in three parts. First, I’ll reiterate my top suggestion for what to do about the shooters, themselves. Especially when — as apparently in this case — the aim of the crime would seem likely to have been neither self-interest nor dogma, but deliberate infamy. 

Second, I’ll make crystal clear the deepest reason why the gun-obsessed refuse to negotiate or contemplate even modest or pragmatic reforms -- a reason that liberals are foolish to ignore. Finally, I’ll ruminate about some side issues that may be relevant and revealing about our times.

== Erase the most common motive ==

Violence comes in all flavors, propelled by a variety of drives. Regular or gang-driven crime can be deterred, if we use modern tools to ensure that it will never pay. Sometimes those who are mentally or morally damaged seek rationalization for their rage, under a veneer of dogma or grievance, as in revenge killings or fanatical terrorism. When a kid who has been viciously bullied lashes out, we must share some of the blame, for having allowed the torment to happen, and for not noticing earlier cries for help. On occasion, a soul that is sinking into despair tries to take others down with him.

And a large fraction of mass shooters don’t fit any of those templates. Rather, their lashing out at society seems to be motivated by a frustrated sense of self-importance. A need - after a lifetime of nebbish obscurity - to yank attention from the world. Take the example of Dylann Storm Roof, a white supremacist convicted of perpetrating the Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015. 

Calmly proud of his actions, Roof went into a fury when his court-appointed lawyers tried to make an issue of his clinically delusional mental state. He made his cooperation with the court and prosecution conditional that his insane actions would not be so characterized in court. His self-image as a crusader for the white race and freedom — who shot down children in cold blood — was more important to him than any chance of a reduced sentence.

Elsewhere I wrote extensively about the “Erastratos Effect,” named after a loony who burned down the Temple of Diana in Ephesus - of the the great wonders of the world - in order for his name to live forever.  Ah, but in fact “Erastratos” is not his real name. The Hellenes erased that and replaced it, so that he, personally, would be forgotten,  showing that we can still learn a thing or two from our ancestors. 

See my posting - Names of Infamy - where I recommend doing the same thing, as a deterrent, in all such cases — for example renaming Mr. Roof “Loony-wimp 17.” (And before you howl about Freedom of Speech, would you kindly actually read the missive?)

Does any of this apply to Stephen Paddock, the Vegas shooter? It’s too soon to say. Down below, I’ll speculate a bit more about what little we know. But in general, it could be very effective to add this element, when someone is convicted or proved to have committed some truly grievous harm to us all.

== The underlying impasse — those gun guys fear a “slippery slope” ==

A majority - though alas not a super-majority - of Americans would gladly go for something reasonable that still preserves our traditional right to reasonable ownership of weapons. (Though for two decades I have been pointing out that the Great Equalizer that’s arming nearly all citizens, today, is the cell-phone camera. See The Transparent Society. Especially p. 160.)

What’s the simplest and most logical reform that could fix so many of the howlingly stupid and harmful aspects of today’s situation?  I’ve long held that we should treat firearms exactly like motor vehicles, with well-regulated training, licensing, registration and insurance. It works superbly for cars! Every day, about 200 million of us use potentially deadly tools for millions of person-hours, with incredible skill and statistically-minimal downside every single day. In fact, we might start by simply renaming the DMV as the DMV&G. Almost every general process and procedure translates, including taking more advanced training before being licensed for more dangerous firearms.

Why can’t we have this? The answer is simple. And if you don’t know… then try actually going out there and asking Gun Folks!  The answer that you get will always be exactly the same. 
And I mean exactly. 
The same, 100% of the time. 

It’s called the "slippery slope." 

Give an inch, and your enemies will smell weakness and take a mile. Then you’ll lose everything.

To this large, vociferous minority, any compromise will inevitably set off a landslide of rapid decay, leading swiftly to state confiscation of all personal weaponry. (In fact, the slippery slope is embedded in almost every meme pushed hard by Fox News for 25 years.)

Oh, sure, there’s not been the slightest sniff of any such desire or tendency among the vast majority of democratic or liberal politicians or voters. Putting aside the yammerings of a small, radical-lefty fringe, there has never been any sign of intention toward confiscation, among those calling for rational, car-like regulation of firearms. The paranoid ravings about this are like Obama’s “UN black helicopter camps for all Christians” — the fulminations of deranged minds.

And yet, pause. Take a breath. Underneath all that, there’s a nugget of truth to the gun folks’ slippery fears

Look at the vast majority of nations and oppressive states, across the last 6000 years, where the kings, lords, priests and their armed thugs did forbid common folk from bearing arms! Moreover, in view of human history, are you sure you can blithely dismiss that concern? Go ahead, and shrug it off, if you like. But you'll not budge them or divide their alliance or draw moderates away from their faction.

No, you are supposed to be the smart folks. Yet you do not even bother to listen to your opponents, trying to perceive if there’s a germ, a core of justification, buried under all the bullshit. And that laziness on your part makes you partly to blame.

Hence, I raise, once again, my proposal for an approach that starts out by acknowledging, rather than shrugging-off the slippery slope concern, and carefully contrives a way to cancel out that fear, leaving compromise possible. It begins by pointing out how incredibly weak their beloved 2nd Amendment is! And how some future Court will, in some time of panic, simply re-interpret its vagueness.  

We have something we can offer them. A better and stronger amendment!  If they’d meet us halfway.

== Ancillary thoughts ==

Those are my two main proposals. And yes, it is frustrating to have to type new postings linking to them, year-after-year, decade after decade, mass tragedy after tragedy.

Wrapping up, let’s veer back to the specific emotion-laden vexations of autumn 2017.

We seek patterns, even when those patterns are simplistic or lead us astray. And so, the October 1st* Las Vegas tragedy sparked immediate questions about terrorism, or the perpetrator’s ties to radical groups. And in this case, speculations about political or religious motives led nowhere. As the New York Times put it: “whatever drove Stephen Paddock to kill has remained a vexing and terrifying mystery.” Agents are interviewing his family and friends. But if there were a single reason, “we don’t know it yet,” the Las Vegas sheriff said, as there was no note or manifesto left behind.

Oh, there will be parties declaring “It’s a mental health issue, not about guns!” And at the deepest level, sure, this is a truism. Over the long run, we must take responsibility for the hurt and the damaged among us, getting better at finding them. Soothing them. Helping them…

…which of course makes the fox-zoids yammering about “a mental health problem” the most unbelievable hypocrites! Hypocrites who then go and cut funding for mental health.

But that aspect is near term. What often comes up in my discussions with defense-types is the problem of “asymmetric technological empowerment.”  The notion that ever more destructive technology is coming into the hands of mass numbers of people, giving disproportionate power to the few, the angry, the insane. Some, like scholar Phil Torres, suggest that this happens to all advanced races. Indeed, it may be the ‘great filter’ that kills off most of them, helping to explain the Fermi Paradox! 

In my defense talks, I show members of our Protector Caste that it is the RATIO of sane to insane practitioners - in a context of reciprocal transparency - that can make the crucial difference in whether we’ll survive the rapid democratization of potentially dangerous technologies into the hands of an increasingly tech-empowered populace. I talk extensively about this elsewhere…

… and highly pertinent is this TED talk of mine about the plague of self-righteousness addiction that has made our society functionally less-sane across the board! Losing the agility and maturity we’ll need in a modern and open and free society.   

But what about Stephen Paddock himself? (Assuming, alas, that we remain more stupid than the ancient Hellenes and neglect to change his name, in righteously-pragmatic deterrence?) So far, he’s a mystery. But one trait already seems to stand out. The one thing he was apparently highly skilled at, across his life. Indeed, the central focus (besides guns) of his life.

Gambling. So far, it seems not to be the usual story of gambling shredding the addict’s finances, family and life. Not a ‘loser’ per se, the perpetrator was a major player. Paddock was apparently among a rare breed, those who were good at it.. until the House adjusts the rules and then you're not. And yet, even so, his brother and girlfriend and others have testified to watching him ride the up-and-down, sleepless roller coaster of thrills and depression at his favored game. Video poker has been called “the crack cocaine of gambling.” The Vegas shooter was a creature of Vegas.

Now, there’s little more to be drawn from this, in any factual way, at least so-far. We’ll have to wait and see if gambling truly was a factor. But you know me. I cannot help but riff off of this into a brinnian micro-rant. This one will be brief, but bitter.

== A steady re-definition of sin ==

Once upon a time, gambling was denounced by conservatives as at-best a wasteful temptation, and at-worst a sin that could lead to crime and shattered families. That was then. Today, shoreline and riverboat casinos are among the biggest employers and tourist draws, in the Deep South. Foreign governments launder mountains of cash through Sheldon Adelson’s anomalously profitable Macau casinos, that he then conveys under his own name to warp our politics. Indeed, most of the other gambling lords give generously. And while they have made the GOP largely their own, they still have plenty of spare change to spread to some receptive pols in the other party. 

Is this puritan conservatism in the 21st Century? We’ve seen them go from “A penny saved…” to deficit spending that is always — and I mean always — vastly worse than democrats. From shunning divorced people to re-electing far more of them than liberals do. From rewarding rectitude to making Dennis “friend-to-boys” Hastert the leader of the GOP for many years… a horrid pervert both preceded and later followed by men who were infamous for their ill-treatment of wives, and women, in general. 

Oh… and from denouncing organized crime to electing a casino-owner/slumlord with open mob ties? No, no. This is not just the party of denialist, anti-science coal barons and oil sheiks. It is not just the party of Wall street and the party of Putin. Never neglect to include the casino titans! And read this: “How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts.”  

All of them share a central character trait that is more dangerous to the republic, to our Great Experiment and to our children and human survival than all the mass shooters and terrorists, whatever they may manage to achieve in the future.  Look at what these mighty interest groups have in common! All are oligarchs who feel they deserve the power that kings and priests and lords wielded across 99% of history. All of them cheat, instead of competing openly and fairly. All of them seek to hammer us back into that feudal pyramid of old, re-establishing an order under which their sons will own your sons and daughters.

For them, guns are a convenient way to stir Confederate-vs-Union passions distracting us from an accelerating oligarchic putsch. And just watch, you Second Amendment folks, how quickly that right will vanish, as soon as the New Feudalism is firmly locked in place.


Addendum.  The great astronomer and science fiction author Fred Hoyle wrote “October the First is Too Late.”  No connection. But I thought I’d plug a great sci fi novel to a generation that never heard of him.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Space Marvels! Be prepared to be wow'd... and proud...

Don't cheat yourselves of joy and pride. See just a glimpse of the marvels revealed by your Cassini mission to Saturn, the most discovered by curious humanity since God asked Adam to "name all the beasts." We're fulfilling that mission, and magnificently, gorgeously. You have reason to be proud to be a member of a species, civilization and nations that do stuff like this!

Another truly excellent article recaps in more detail the accomplishments of the spectacular 13 year Cassini-Huygens mission that explored Saturn, Titan, Enceladus and so much more.

On 12 October, asteroid 2012 TC4 will pass Earth, by as little as 4,200 miles. NASA is using this opportunity to test out some of its planetary defense systems. Measuring between 30 and 10 feet wide, it is just a little bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor that explodeded over Russia in February 2013, shattering thousands of windows and injuring hundreds. Planetary defense systems currently used by NASA focus on observations and monitoring via a network of observatories.  

I am on the advisory board of the Asteroid Institute and the B612 Foundation, which are dedicated to protecting the Earth through detection, research and diversion. 

Astrometry measures the positions and placement of heavenly objects and the Europeans have specialized in this art, with the Hipparcos and later Gaia missions. The most urgent finding from this paper? Gl 710, a K dwarf will pass close to the Sun in about 1.3 Myr, perhaps just 16 000 AU away, which will bring this star well within the Oort cloud, possibly perturbing a lot of comets. I propose that we urgently begin planning now! 

See where I propose a method to deal with this by moving the Earth. (The only plausible method that I know.)

In my short story “The Crystal Spheres,” generations of humans spend their lives battling a cometary infall.

I am also on the advisory External Council of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program. Here’s one of the crazier notions we've recently funded at NIAC. The Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) project was first proposed back in 2015. AREE is a rover that uses Venus’ harsh conditions conditions to its advantage, relying on wind to power its mechanical computer and to communicate with a high altitude balloon via semaphore!  Steam punk indeed.   Since Venus’ atmosphere is about 90 times denser than Earth’s  and heats up to about 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius), designers have to make something hearty enough to sustain seriously hellish conditions.”  I gave the young innovators a combined attaboy with many technical finger wags. And this year they came up with much better designs.

Only... as I was rising to ask them a question, it came to me in a flash how to make a video camera that has almost no electronics!  Just one high-temperature photo-diode and three impact spark crystals... and all the rest consisting of a lens and some gears! After all, what would a Venus lander be, without a camera? ;-)

== More space! More space! ==

At the Mars Society Conference last month, at UC Irvine, I served on a panel with Larry Niven, Gregory Benford and Geoffrey Landis, while Mars Society president Robert Zubrin posed questions. You can listen in to the podcast thanks to the Planetary Society, as we speculate on matters of human destiny in space. Jerry Pournelle was supposed to participate and sent his regrets... the last any of us heard from him, alas. RIP.

Veering closer to home. There's a lot of buzz because it was announced at the recent AGU meeting that the moon's lava flows suggest there's some water in the lunar mantle. Does this prove that I am wrong and there truly are accessible resources on the moon... other than small deposits of ice at the poles?

Sorry. The moon has lots of good stuff.  But almost none of it is FRACTIONATED or separated into highly concentrated ores. On Earth fractionation or separation mostly happened from geo processes, magmatic or especially water streams above and below ground.  In asteroids separation happened because a proto planet began to form and then broke up.  Nothing like such processes happened on the moon.  If there is mantle water, it is in parts per million and you’d need to dig very deep, then crush and melt the rock.  Good luck with that. Indeed, good luck finding anything useful to humanity on the lunar surface, for our immediate needs, across the next few decades. That polar ice should be left to future lunar colonists, since we can get plenty from asteroids.

== And yet more space! ==

A chain of small volcano cones has been found at the bottom of Valles Marinaris on Mars, dating back only a couple of hundred million years. Almost yesterday!

More utterly awesome images sent back by Juno from Jupiter. Wow ...  And these. And these. Enjoy.  And be proud.  I mean it. If you cannot find it in your heart to be fantastically proud of these... then be ashamed.

A way cool new amateur astronomy telescope co-sponsored by the SETI Institute frees the amateur from any need to handle tracking or identification of sky objects, does image enhancement and even let’s the scope automatically participate in pan-sky online surveys for research groups.

The BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module has spent more than 14 months attached to the Space Station.  Inflated to 14 cubic meters, its success opens the way for whole deployable-inflatable space stations, starting around 2020.

The Kepler telescope hunts for planets by looking for tiny dips in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front - known as a transit. To search for exomoons – moons circling a discovered exoplanet -- researchers are looking for a dimming of starlight before and after the planet causes its dip in light.  A candidate have been found, and a whopper!  This "exomoon" is likely to be about the size and mass of Neptune, and circles a planet the size of Jupiter but with 10 times the mass.  Very likely, the exomoon has moons.  What a universe.

A super-Earth has been discovered orbiting Tau Ceti, a star very much like our sun, just 12 light years away. The method – measuring radial velocity wobble – is different than the transit occultation approach and has more long term potential.  Scientists can almost  detect the wobble caused by an Earth sized body.

OMG how bizarre can the cults getApparently they can encourage evolution in action: people applying sunscreen directly totheir eyeballs in order to watch the solar eclipse. Yep we are a... diverse... species.  The "fermi" theory that makes sense? We're kept isolated because we provide incredible entertainment.

Cool video of a single cell ciliate “walking” along a stem.

Are neutron stars preyed upon by tiny black holes that them eat them from the inside? Might this explain many mysteries, such as Fast Radio Bursts and the existence of large quantities of Platinum-Uranium heavy elements?

Using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, scientists with the Breakthrough Listen initiative—a massive project dedicated to finding signs of intelligent alien life—recorded 15 repeating fast radio bursts (FRBs) on August 26. “Several explanations for FRBs have been suggested. One is a cataclysmic event, such as a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. But such an event would produce only one burst and therefore does not explain the repeating pattern of FRB 121102. Another possible explanation is that they are coming from a young, highly magnetized neutron star, but so far nothing like this has been detected in this region of space. Despite widespread speculation, the possibility of the signals coming from an advanced alien civilization has been largely ruled out.”

Did Wernher Von Braun have a Twilight Zone predictive moment? "The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled 'Elon.' Two houses of Parliament enacted the laws to be administered by the Elon and his cabinet." page 177 of The Mars Project.

An amazing, actually globular, image of Antares hints at stellar storms.

== Politics and Space == 

See a choice interview by Walter Cronkite with both Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein on the day humanity landed on the Moon, when Heinlein said we should change our calendars. We were a people like this!  In fact, we are vastly greater and better now… except in one way. Belief in ourselves and the can-do spirit. Those who have deliberately undermined that spirit are predators. They are the enemies of your children.

Space and science should not be "political" , except in the sense of calmly assigning budgets and priorities in a grownup and ambitious program of outreach. Certainly NASA's budget has been safer than almost any other science agency - perhaps because it lets Republicans claim: "Who, me? How can I be at war against science when I fund astronauts?"  Of course let's put aside the cancelation of almost all climate or resource or environmental monitoring satellites, or the banning of use of the word EARTH from most NASA mission statements...

...because this goes much deeper. Tune in here and see the high quality of perspicacious individuals Paul Ryan appoints to science related committees, as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology's Space Subcommittee asks a panel of planetary scientists to speculate about the possibility of a Martian civilization thousands (not billions) of years ago.

Others will comment on this and joke about it.  Or sob that this is the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science. But let me draw your attention to a point most will miss... Rohrabacher's reference to the Moon, which is the destination beloved of Republicans, who want the U.S. to join Russia, China, Europe, India and billionaires in scurrying to repeat dusty footprints on a sterile, useless (for the immediate future) rock.

A coalition of nearly all space scientists, Silicon Valley investors and - yes, democrats - prefer to go prospecting asteroids, whose resources might make mining on our planet obsolete, pouring forth riches of mind boggling proportions.  But then, that fact underlies the GOP eagerness to stop the asteroid platinum rush. 

Their ruling caste has sunk costs in Earthly resource extraction.  There's nothing on the moon to render those investments worthless.  So by all means, back to the lunar dustball!

The Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator is one of the Climate Denialists that the GOP have packed onto the U.S. House “Science Committee.”  Jim Bridenstone doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.  Ah.

Okay. Let’s be fair and give the fellow room. Though it’s hard to judge from dismal articles like this one: “Bridenstine has made it clear he wants the U.S. to re-establish its dominance on and around the moon, a destination that the Obama administration had largely ignored as it focused NASA’s resources on a long-term mission to Mars.”

A cosmically stupid lie. The immediate goal set by the Obama Administration and by almost every scientific advisory board was a cis-lunar or lunar orbital station. Such a station would allow testing of duration methods for a Mars journey, true, but would also serve as an ideal place to bring samples from asteroids — where the real wealth out there is to be found. Additional uses for such a station include certain defense applications, plus... one nifty idea I had...

...such a lunar orbital station might provide (for profit!) services to other nations who wannabe next to plant dusty footprints on the utterly useless (for the foreseeable future) lunar surface. Put up a Lunar Orbit Hotel and Rest Stop and Lander Garage for all the paying tourists and national pride seekers!

More seriously, I remain perplexed. Why is this issue partisan? What’s with the Republicans’ quasi-religious obsession - cancelling anything to do with asteroids and insisting instead on replicating Apollo, going back down to the same dusty plains we visited decades ago, just like all the other wannabes? I can think of no reason for this GOP fixation, other than “if the scientists and Silicon Valley guys and Obama wanted something, we must cancel it and do the opposite.”

But let’s always hope. Welcome, Director Bridenstone. Here’s wishing you – and our hopes – well.