Saturday, September 27, 2014

"The Circle?" - Watching the Watchers of the Watchers

I will get to the recent, anti-transparency best-seller - The Circle - in a moment.  But first --

People think that because I am "moderate" that means I am tepid.  I am a MILITANT moderate! I do not need to blind government... civil servants must do their jobs.  But I am fierce in demanding they be supervised.  Mostly by open transparency but at very least by auditors they cannot control. 

 Fortunately there is good news. I have called it the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes -- certainly in thirty years -- even though it was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.

No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?


transparent-coveillanceKevin Kelly's Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, not Fight it, in WIRED, prescribed “transparent coveillance” as the best practical solution in a world where information sloshes and duplicates and flows. I’ve known Kevin for decades as one of the sharp guys who “got” the notions in The Transparent Society long before most did.

smile-video-cameraAlso, in Smile, You're on Video Camera, Futurist Virginia Postrel offers an interesting little thought experiment about the future spread of cameras and omni-veillance in our lives. The upside potential is vast... providing we remain calmly reasonable about negotiating carve-outs and exceptions. 

And - above all - if we demand that the light spread "upward" - at least as much as downward.

== Manipulative polemics about transparency == 

In contrast, Dave Eggers's novel The Circle expresses dread toward the spreading encroachment, everywhere, of light, portraying a near future internet giant that manifests all of the best -- and all the very worst -- traits of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, combined. In so doing, he creates a vivid, strawman version of coveillance for his virtuous characters to rebel-against and knock down.  
TheCircle
Eggers does this effectively, first by portraying an all-controlling, information-voracious monopoly -- a hackle-raiser, all by itself -- a behemoth whose unctuous-preachy utopianism just has to conceal a deeply insidious agenda. The author of this best-seller also utilizes an expert array of well-delivered literary techniques -- for instance, by having both his omniscient narrator-voice and the story's smarmy-nosy oppressors lecture the reader -- ad tedious infinitum -- about the advantages  of reciprocal transparency. 

I respect skillful polemic and Eggers deploys cleverness to make his anti-transparency argument, knowing that  generations of Hollywood films have taught us... it's always villains who give long, rationalizing speeches.   And boy, do the pro-transparency villains in The Circle give speeches!

Indeed, it took me a while to realize where I had seen this method before -- mocking your foe by relentlessly delivering silly-exaggerated versions of the enemy point of view.  Then I realized. Of course. Stephen Colbert! Colbert's faux-conservative schtick is probably the most original, consistent and brilliant comedic innovation since Groucho Marx. Eggers does the same thing (alas without Colbert's humor or charm), delivering every possible argument for transparency, in extreme versions that are tuned to repel.


In the world of The Circle, cameras proliferate everywhere -- as I predicted in EARTH and in The Transparent Society -- only these do not become part of an ecology of human-style reciprocal-self-restraint. Rather, they unleash a tsunami of voyeurism and exhibitionism, encouraged -- even socially enforced -- by a corporate titan that is paternalistically "well-intentioned," but untethered from regulation or social or even market forces. (Circle employees are so busy 'zinging' and engaging in online interaction that they get very little actual work done.)

Alas, Eggers goes for the standard cliche...that his fellow citizens are fools who would actually buy into his all-controlling corporation's blatant zero-sum game. That, in order to get transparency's advantages, you must thereupon completely sell-out and surrender your humanity, or any core-safe-inner zone of personal space or privacy, or the right to eccentricity or even stark-but-beautiful loneliness. 

"Secrets are lies. Sharing is Caring. Privacy is Theft," reads the Circle's deliberately Orwellian mantra. Well, sure, borrow from the master! Indeed, Eggers intends to warn us off from what he deems to be transparency's pitiless glare. He aims for Orwell's achievement: the self preventing prophecy.

Alas for his scenario, in real life, average men and women would refuse the simplistic, zero-sum bargain offered by The Circle. Those citizens are, as we speak, adapting to a more transparent world by picking and choosing. By deciding which most-vital intimacies or solitary ways to keep within a protected curtilage, and which to trade for the benefits of reciprocal accountability. 

cameras-smallerLike all transparency luddites, Eggers shrugs off his obligation to suggest plausible alternatives. Given that cameras get smaller, cheaper, more numerous, better and more mobile at a rate faster than Moore's Law -- (one pundit called it Brin's Corollary) -- what's your plan, then? To ban them? That will certainly guarantee Big Brother. 

The one alternative presented in the book -- unplugging and dropping out, Kaczynski-style -- seems likely to be a non-starter. Moreover, it goes very badly for one drop-out, in The Circle, poignantly reminding me of that hapless character, The Savage, in Brave New World. Did Eggers truly mean to make it so blatantly clear that hiding cannot possibly work?  In which case... what's your suggested alternative?

Perhaps the choices being made by today's teens (for example) are not to the liking of folks like Dave Eggers. Indeed, he is welcome to disagree. But is it fair to call citizens inactive in this evolution? As I portray in Existence, their activity can be assertive, not the sheeplike acquiescence that he depicts (contemptuously) in The Circle.

The possibility that light might be a weapon any person can use to enforce MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) or GOOMFYNBALMA (Get Out Of My Face You Nosy Bastard And Leave Me Alone) never occurs to Mr. Eggers, even though it is how we got freedom and privacy, in the first place. Nor the blatant fact that transparency and sousveillance are solutions to hierarchy and intimidation, not their friends

Indeed, the novel's plot revolves around a predictable premise, that The Circle's rulers do not abide by the bargain they have offered, that the new-lord information-oligarchs betray it, and their hypocrisy would for certain be brought down... by light! If only it truly did shine both ways.

It is the avoidance of reciprocality of transparency that underlies every bad aspect that Eggers rails against. The corporation frames and blackmails opponents and stifles its own defectors. One of those top defectors even avows, near the end, that the one solution to every problem raised in the book will be to inform the sheep out there what's really going on, and he asks the protagonist for help in doing this. 

But the protagonist -- a strawman exhibitionist who has spent 300 pages proclaiming devotion to fetishistic-openness -- suddenly refuses to share, deciding instead to help the oligarchs conceal their schemes.

Seriously.  The top failure mode revealed in the book consists of characters following Mr. Eggers's advice. 

(Side note: when you finish The Circle, ask: why didn't the defector guy -- a billionaire genius with instant access to all the world -- just blow the whistle, himself, instead of trusting a flakey and openly-avowed foe?) 

== The Circle... comes full circle ==


Consider those Hollywood memes.  I've asserted already that Eggers skillfully deploys several. Again, monopolies are dangerous. Villains give long lectures. And our neighbors would all fall for this simplistic plot because they (unlike me) are all sheep.  

Those are great old crowd-pleasers.

What Eggers never acknowledges is that generations of those same films (and novels and songs) also portray individualism and eccentricity and diversity as paramount virtues.  Wait... I take that back.  Eggers portrays all of those things under threat by an ominous Big Brother, even though he does not trust commonfolk to defend them. Okay. I get it. The Colbert thing again. He does not miss a beat.


To be clear, I share all of those values, except one. I refuse (despite Fox News and its pallid imitators on the left) to perceive my fellow citizens as herd beasts. I am betting they will negotiate an assertive course, one that brings individualism and eccentricity and MYOB into a world filled with light. Using light to catch and deter those who invade their inner privacy.
RECIPROCAL-ACCOUNTABILITY
Will we see this active assertion start to take shape with the emergence of ELLO?  The new social network that - while somewhat bare bones - promises NOT to collect your data or sell it, and to have no advertising? Will fed-up millions vote with their feet? 

The Ello experiment will not make or break my arguments from The Transparent Society.  But in the extremum, any surge from Facebook to Ello would be a blow to those who portray our fellow citizens as cattle.

== A circle has no point ==

Again, when the entire plot revolves around a top-down conspiracy for power that would be solved by engaging a fully informed public's capacity for judgement and balance, and the author makes clear that upward-shining sousveillance light is the only conceivable answer, one has to ask: what was your point, again?

To be fair, there is a level at which Mr. Eggers does in The Circle what I always attempt to do -- present arguments for all sides (albeit in this case as grotesque caricatures) in a passionately important controversy over where all the technological and social trends might be taking us.  If I did not consider his contribution to the debate to be intelligent and interesting - though polemical-biased - I would not be driving sales his way, right now!  

Alas, though, intelligence and cleverness do not prevent the sins of blatant exaggeration, oversimplification, strawmanning, contempt for the masses and pressing the scales with a heavy, authorial thumb.

But you be the judge. It's what citizens will do, with balance and proportion, as we seek the positive sum, win-win for us all.

== Transparency Miscellany ==

DATA-BREACHNow it’s Home Depot reporting a massive hack-leak of customer information. A couple months ago it was Target and 110 million files. Before that? Open SSL, a critical security backbone. And before that? Shall I go on? Read this article about “Data Breach Fatigue” and how people are starting to shrug in resignation, rather than shout in outrage.
"We are in the trough of disillusionment," says Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan. "Over 1,000 retailers have been hit; it's not limited to Home Depot. There are 999 others that no one's talking about."
When will it sink in that Everything Leaks and that our best security measure will be to stop assuming there’s some solution out there, and instead adapt so that we will not be harmed — and can thrive — in a world where most information simply flows, like water. 

Believe it or not, we might be stronger and safer and even have more privacy, if we finally face that fact.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Will we uplift other species to sapience?

uplift-sapienceThis time, let's veer into an area wherein I actually know a thing or two!  The matter of whether humanity might someday... or even should... meddle in other creatures on this planet and bestow upon them the debatable "gift" of full sapience -- the ability to argue, ponder, store information, appraise, discuss, create, express and manipulate tools, so that they might join us in the problematic task of being worthy planetary managers.
These scribbles were created (as you might guess) as part of an interview.
What first inspired you to write about uplifting?
Some other authors (e.g. H.G. Wells, Pierre Boule, Mary Shelley, and Cordwainer Smith) dealt with this general concept before, but always by assuming the process would be abused -- that the humans bestowing this boon would spoil things by enslaving their clients of creations. Of course that is one possible (and despicable) outcome. Those were good "warning" stories with wholesome messages.
uplift-books
But that vein is overworked, so I wondered -- what if we someday begin modifying higher animals -- and I think we clearly will -- guided by the morality of modern liberal society?  Filled with hyper-tolerance and eager for diversity? My uplift novels portray a future in which sapient dolphins and apes serve on our councils, offer their own styles of wisdom, art and insight, enriching an Earth civilization that is no longer only human.  
It's an attractive outcome...
...but the path to get there is fraught with dangers and moral hazards.
How close do you think we genuinely are, scientifically, to being able to uplift certain species? And is there a scientific imperative to do so?
SCIENCE-UPLIFTWe are rapidly tracing the genetic mutations that empowered a sub-population of Homo erectus to transform into something theretofore never seen on Planet Earth - or possibly anywhere in the galaxy.  It appears that only a few dozen protein and regulatory genes made the crucial difference.  Already, some of these alterations are being tried in laboratory mice, so we can better understand some tragic human ailments.  

There are - at present - rules against doing such insertion experiments on higher creatures like apes. But when the prospect looms closer, can you doubt trials will begin? If it isn't allowed in the open, western scientific community, then it will happen in secret, elsewhere.  Frankly, I'd rather see this realm explored in the open, under relentless transparency and scrutiny, than let it turn into some secret, Michael-Crichton-style excuse for I-Told-You-so regrets.
MOUSE-SPEECH-GENEA recent article in Popular Mechanics: If You Give a Mouse a Human Speech Gene, It Learns Faster. Mice that receive a human version of a speech and language gene display accelerated learning! Don't expect these findings to lead to a rush of smarter, "uplifted" animals—though they might just reveal something new and fascinating about the evolution of human speech and language.
"What surprised me most was that the humanized gene actually improved the animal's behavior rather than messing up the system," says behavioral neuroscientist Kyle Smith. Science writer Charles Q. Choi notes,  “The gene for the protein called FOXP2 has been firmly linked to human speech and language. Humans with just one functional copy of this gene experience difficulties in learning and struggle with spoken and written language. The gene itself is not unique—chimps have a version of it. But because the human and chimpanzee lineages diverged roughly 6 million years ago, they don't have two key changes in amino acids that humans have evolved."
And so, it begins.

Will "uplift" include resurrecting ancient - extinct species?

I portray this happening with Neanderthals, in my recent novel EXISTENCE

Now that we have a Neanderthal genome, what's to stop someone from doing this?  Especially doing it in stages?  I am at this moment involved in a research group hoping to insert Neanderthal genes into tiny clusters of neurons to see how differently they behave.  It is a small step, but it might shed light on why our cousins were so conservative in their lifestyles and too change-resistant to adapt.

Likewise, I think we'll see mammoths restored in stages, with maybe just ten genes at a time inserted into elephant embryos.  There will be protests!  The work will be driven underground!  (As I portray in Existence.) But someone will do it.
You talk about how 'many other species on Earth appear to be stuck under a firm glass ceiling' - can you expand on this?  
uplift-barloweA while back, we were told that only humans used symbolic speech and tools.  Later, it was only dolphins and chimpanzees who could parse simple sentences.  In recent years, both rudimentary language skills and tool use have been documented in grey parrots, corvids (ravens), sea lions, elephants, every variety of ape, and even prairie dogs! Some people -- admirably empathic folks -- have declared that "this means we humans aren't so special, after all." And yes, in a sense it does mean that. Certainly, it is right that we expand our respect for Nature's other wonders and fight to preserve them.
But there is another way to look at this. If so many species -- all coming from different directions -- appear to have plateaued at about the same level, then it implies that both Darwin and Mother Nature are generous, but only up to a point. "This far, you may rise easily, many of you! But no higher.  There is a glass ceiling through which you may not pass!"
Think about it.  If so many species achieved rudimentary linguistics and tool use today, would it not have been equally likely for the top-brainy dinosaurs?  Were velociraptors equally endowed? Can we ever know? Alas, because none of them managed to put together a space program, all dinosaurs helplessly perished.
No, the lesson from all this is to be even more amazed that humanity pushed through this glass ceiling.  Smashed through it, actually, by orders of magnitude! Which then demands of us not to feel overweening pride, but a sense of duty and obligation.  To use our titanic brains to benefit the planet, not just ourselves.
But it goes beyond that. If getting past the barrier is rare, then don't we owe it to our neighbors and cousins to turn around and offer a helping hand?
What are your takes on ethical arguments against uplifting?  
uplift-word-cloudThose arguments are strong and persuasive and perhaps compelling!  For example, here's one: "Other species have their own honor and dignity and beauty and styles of intelligence!"
Yes, I agree on all counts.  And if commencing a program of uplift on, say, Tursiops dolphins would cause all of those things to vanish, then I would say stop.  But that is zero-sum thinking. And it is fallacious.
We must preserve and help the bright dolphins and elephants and parrots and sea lions foremost by restoring and expanding their habitats and natural populations.  But any uplift project would work only with a small, selected sub-population that would soon be a new and different species, on its own path of destiny. All the richness of the old root stock would be preserved. You can retain the old -- and everything worthy of respect -- while creating the new.
UPLIFT-UNIVERSE-BRINLikewise, the proclamations that uplift would be typical "human arrogance, playing god," seem easy to answer.  How about typical "human generosity"? Lending a hand to others across nature's chasm, so they might then join us building starships?
Or so their ingrate teenagers might eloquently blame us for their adolescent angst, sneering "Hey!  I didn't ASK to be this smart!"
The one argument against uplift that I find most compelling is the simplest. Yes, the goal is a beautiful one, to vastly expand the diversity of Earth's sapience, with dolphin and chimp and bonobo and gorilla and even elephant sages sitting on our councils and sharing unique insights? Great. I portray them having problems, in my novels, but the product is still a lovely dream. (To be clear, while artificial intelligence might be possible, uplifted sapience is demonstrably beyond plausible, even very likely.)
All of that sounds fine. Only... in order to get there, the chosen sub-populations will have to go through generations of awkward fits and starts. No matter how carefully and lovingly we move ahead, there will be some pain. And I can understand folks who declare that they would - on that account alone - oppose uplift, no matter how wondrous the final outcome might be.
Salk-Good-ancestorIn the end?  I (very) respectfully disagree. All generations are built for one purpose... the one fine goal that Jonas Salk spoke-of... to be good ancestors.  To suffer what we must, for our grandchildren. I can think of no greater function than to sow, so that those descendants may reap.
Dolphin parents make similar choices every day.  If they could envision what their heirs might become... the earthly and alien seas they might explore... I think they would volunteer.
 Aside from the ethical reasons you've presented, what would be the benefits - commercially or scientifically - in doing so?
StartideThe oceans of planet Earth are a vast mystery, filled with both physical wealth and unique treasures to preserve.  We are trying to learn to be good planetary managers (often stymied by other members of our own, short-sighted species.) But I doubt we could fill that role all by ourselves, anywhere near as well as if sapient dolphin partners (and critics) were by our side.  The same holds for countless other opportunities for both profit and wisdom.  (I believe that -- and portray in stories -- descendants of elephants might be the perfect living inhabitants of asteroidal colonies!)
Our biggest danger is not the one preached by Michael Crichton and so many others -- human ambition and hubristic pride.  No, our biggest danger comes from zero sum thinking. Proclaiming that we cannot seek - and sometimes achieve - the win-win. Doing well while doing good. 
What measures can be taken to protect the rights of animals if uplifting as a practice is pursued?  
SECRECY-NEWI've been a little unkind to Michael Crichton in this interview.  But in fact, every single one of his dire-danger scenarios preaches a single valuable lesson, and it is not "don't do new things."  If you read the books and watch the movies, you soon realize that the true lesson is: "don't do new things in SECRET."
The only possible way that uplift, or any other grand project, can be done well is if it is performed in the open, subjected to relentless criticism by opponents who seek out every flaw, every danger and mistake.  Only then, ironically, will the project move ahead with some strong chance of minimizing the pain... and maximizing the benefits for all.
Anything else you'd like to say on the matter? 
aficionadoI think you'll like my novella "Aficionado."  It takes a while to get to the uplift part.
Above all, let's not paint our kids in a corner, binding them to our vows, based on this generation's obsessions.  Those kids will be smarter and better than us.  If we make a civilization of decency, tolerance, maturity, thoughtfulness and fun... then they will answer all of these questions better than we slightly advanced cavemen ever could.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A drunkard's walk amid silly people... Left and Right

Okay, this blog entry is going to be a bit rambling and angry... somewhat of a drunkard's walk, while ranting at the lamp posts! Hope it at least entertains. Here goes.

bullshit-asymmetry-brandoliniWe’ve all known this and said it for a long time. I laid it out in explicit detail in my Disputations Arenas. Still, it’s nice to see a cogent naming of the phenomenon -- Brandolini’s law - or, as Alberto Brandolini suggests, the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle:
"The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."
== Heading for war? ==
On the left side of the spectrum, and in some places on the right, folks are asking whether "Obama is playing into Bush's bad policies. Now he's taking the U.S. back into Iraq with more bombing."
democrats-republicans-wage-warSorry, this is a wrongheaded reflex. Back in 2002 - 2003, the issue was never "should Saddam Hussein be toppled and replaced?" Nor was it "should the Taliban - who supported and helped bin Laden to attack us be toppled and replaced?" 

We needed to do both things. (Though in Saddam's case it deserved genuine policy debate and not a festival of Bushite lies.)
No, the real issue, re U.S. involvement/meddling over there, is and was "should it be done in the stupidest and most expensive ways possible? In a calamitous, gruesomely thuggish methodology that would cost us trillions, damn-near ruin our military and our reputations and leave only two winners: Iran and Haliburton?"
If you actually (astonishingly) think that there will be any resemblance between the coming Obama-led engagement and the Bushite quagmires, you really need to read about the diametrically opposite ways that Democrats and Republicans wage war.
==Decaying Infrastructure== 
decaying-infrastructureAnd so the drunkard turns and veers in another direct, to rant that --

America's transportation infrastructure, once a continental engine of mobility, productivity and opportunity, has fallen into such disrepair that it's become an economic albatross. Consumers shell out billions of dollars for extra car repairs every year. Insufficient and poorly maintained roads mean costly bottlenecks for businesses, which discourage expansion and hobble American companies competing in the global economy. We all have heard of 60,000 bridges in desperate need of maintenance. Why is almost nothing being done?
BUDGET-DEFICITAt a time of steeply declining budget deficits (always true during democratic administrations and never true during GOP ones) it might seem simple to put middle class blokes back to work, stimulating the economy with high velocity cash while fixing the damaged streets and bridges and getting tons of benefits. One obstacle though. The do-nothing US House of Representatives… the laziest and least accomplished in the history of the republic… has refused to fund infrastructure repairs.
Moreover, several gopper congressfolk have openly admitted their reason — that the resulting improvements and economic boost might help democrats at the polls. It is the Hastert Rule. Never cooperate or negotiate in good faith with democrats, ever. (The last GOP leader who did negotiate - Newt Gingrich - managed to put together with Bill Clinton both the highly successful Welfare Reform Bill and the Budget Bill that led to several years of fiscal surpluses. But Gingrich was dumped and jettisoned for that very reason by Hastert, DeLay, Boehner and other leaders of the madness that has taken over today’s Republican Party.)
Anyone who continues to support this mutant betrayal of true conservatism/libertarianism is a rationalizing fool.

Let's see... any other lamp-posts to yell at?  Oh yes....
 ==War against Nerds==
war-against-nerdsSalon runs a fun article eviscerating how explicit has become the mad-right’s Assault on Nerds. It has got so clear and full-pitch that even William F. Buckley’s once-intellectual National Review has joined the War Against All Smartypants. Scientists and members of every knowledge caste have been driven out of today’s hijacked version of conservatism. God help us if this relentless campaign drives them all the way across -- past moderate liberalism -- all the way to the opposite madness on the far left.
sensible-problemsI doubt that will happen. All we want is a sensible society where adults negotiate with each other mixed-pragmatic solutions to problems, aiming for a future that will be vastly better than the past that nostalgic loonies (of both the far-left and the entire-right) yearn for. Is that too much to ask?
More evidence?  In late May, the Republicans in the House put an amendment in the Defense Spending Authorization Bill that forbids the Defense Department from spending any money preparing for the consequences of climate change. This article -- House Votes to Deny Climate Science and Ties Pentagon's Hands on Climate Change - on an admittedly liberal site - nevertheless lays this latest lunacy bare and lists an impressive array of serving and retired officers and military contractors who are deeply concerned.

 

The Bill is now in the Senate.
One of you in the community commented: “Our military wargames all kinds of scenarios. Preparedness is part of the job of our military planners, and having a plan prepared is the first step to winning a fight. I expect that somewhere the US military has a plan to deal with a threat from just about any conceivable direction. Oh, but not waves of hungry and thirsty refugees from all over the world, not that. We cannot plan for that contingency.”

denialismTo be clear, as we speak both the Canadian and US navies are struggling as fast as they can, to build capabilities to match the twelve  new military bases the Russians are building around the Arctic Sea, now that it is ice-free or navigable for much of the year. Denialism is a cult that borders on treason.

Ah... but now the drunkard does one of his patented veers... and aims some of his ire in the other direction!
==Divisive Politics==
HaidtSocial psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues have thrown another grenade. “Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity-particularly diversity of viewpoints-for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity.”
Read that between the lines.  It is an indictment of the political correctness that rules in several hundred university soft studies departments.  Along with San Francisco, Berkeley and Illinois, these are the places where you get to see the reason why moderate liberals are rightfully wary of their lefty allies.  And I will not be squelched in reminding you folks that there is danger there!  I remember campus lefty bullies.  I remember the Soviet evil empire (that was fought so effectively by George Soros.)  Just because the US right is currently more dangerous and crazy, that does not mean we can ignore warnings like the one issued by Haight.

But again... a few hundred university soft studies departments are a far cry from the worst danger to our republic and freedoms and planet. True, they hate and persecute science fiction!  That is one good reason to glance, askance at those allies of ours.
I am wary of that direction. But I am bloody furious at the New Confederates who are (at present) vastly more damaging and lethally dangerous to civilization.  For example...
==  Where are the Chicken Littles hiding, all of a sudden? ==

HEALTH-CARE-REFORMI predicted that, once the tepid and minimal “healthcare reform” called “Obamacare” kicked in, it would start applying market forces that would work fairly well, reducing both the ranks of the uninsured and the rates of increase of US medical costs… all of which is happening.  At which point (I also predicted) GOP pundits  - who had been proclaiming the sky would fall and America would collapse into the stone age - would simply DROP the subject, hoping that their viewers would forget their chicken little end-of-the-world ravings. (And given their viewership, that amnesia is pretty much guaranteed.)

 Indeed, I said that after using this “issue” to lock down and destroy all political processes in the United States of America, that suddenly GOP politicians would start pragmatically adapting to the ACA and even… claiming it as their own.

Which… they are somewhat justified to do!  Since “Obamacare” was cloned from “Romneycare” and “Gingrich-care” and the standard, Heritage-Foundation-designed Republican Healthcare proposal on every GOP platform for ten years.  Watch as that fact is suddenly remembered!  But do not let them forget the hell they put us through, the hysterics and frozen American political life.  The screeching.


== Ironies abound ==


sovereign-citizensMy sci fi author colleague John Shirley dissects “sovereign citizen”… a cult-like movement among those who take the anti-government wing of our widely shared Suspicion of Authority ethos to an extreme that denies any legitimacy of common bonds with three hundred million fellow Americans. 
While I agree with John, on many levels, I believe his approach is more left-versus-right than it needs to be, regarding this matter. (Indeed, while they are fewer - today - there ARE would be tyrants whose metaphors of outrage and hate come from (shall we say) the opposite direction. Surfaces can be misleading.)
In fact, it can be dissected very simply. Those who deny any validity to shared institutions that derive their legitimacy from the electoral political processes... institutions that in-turn reflect consensus of a great and educated nation ... are not simply asserting autonomy — (while hypocritically depending on that nation, utterly). They are either ignoring 6000 years of brutal feudal rule by armed thugs, or else deeply committed to becoming precisely those same armed thugs and feudal lords.
Civilization-FlashI attempted to portray this in The Postman, way back in the 1980s… and it is one part of the book that Kevin Costner translated to the film with utter accuracy! Especially Will Patton’s delightful General Bethlehem, who conveyed where all this would inevitably lead.
Indeed, I wrote The Postman specifically as a direct answer to these fellows. How average folks would not just cower before these would-be lords, but instead might (if properly inspired) rise up to restore that gracious consensus nation, once again.
Having tasted civilization, many of us will fight to the death, to keep it.
In an impromptu interview at a Portland restaurant, I gave a six minute run down of why I think the American political process has so broken down that we are effectively in phase eight of the U.S. Civil War. Not one of the factors that I mention has a scintilla to do with so-called “left-versus-right” or any of the matters that you are being told to hate-over.
==The Tea Party and the Confederacy==
And finally...

Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party -- Here’s a somewhat too-radical but interesting essay about how the Confederacy lost phase four of the Civil War, in 1865, then won phase five with the collapse of Reconstruction and minority rights, in 1877. Indeed, things have swung back and forth, ever since, including the Civil Rights phase that was won by Blue America - finally crushing the vileness of segregation - but at a cost that resulted in the complete flip-reversal of the two U.S. political parties. In that light, today’s raging “culture war” is only the latest phase.
TAXES-REVOLTClearly the Tea Party is not heir to the 1776 Founders. Their romantic delusions about that Revolution are dissected elsewhere…
… but the crux is clear; instead of wearing three-cornered hats, our Tea Party neighbors should wear gray, for they are the neo-confederate party. In fact, more and more of them are realizing this. Their devotion to the rising, worldwide oligarchy is identical to the feudal loyalty that their forebears gave to plantation lords. (Yesss Massa Koch an' Marse Rupert.) The aim - to tear down the future-oriented, change-welcoming, scientific and pragmatic Blue America, in order to replace it with classic nostalgia and feudal hierarchy - is identical to that of the southern tories who rode with Cornwallis and Tarleton.
I trace out the phases of the Civil War, from 1776 to today, here.

PHASES-CIVIL-WARWhich phase was the most important?  My own, earlier take: The crucial phase of the Civil War, phase three, started in 1852, when waves of southern irregular cavalry began 8 years of violent raids into Northern states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. This was never the “war of northern aggression.” It was the diametric opposite. And it is time to re-learn the Battle Hymn of the Republic.


Picture the drunkard now, careening off into the dim night shadows, crashing into trash cans and - hoarsely - singing at the top of his lungs...


"... He hath trampled out the "newsroom" where the Fox of wrath has whored..."