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No Country for Young Men

Richard Fernandez hits on something that bothers me about the mindset of the country: No Country for Young Men

The big giveaway is we as a civilization don’t want to go to the planets any more, because the old don’t want to go anywhere. Imagine clambering into spaceships! The very idea gives us the shivers. Only the young and immortal travel to places where they may never be able to get Ibuprofen…

And in consequence the future, rather than beckoning to us, envelops us like a shroud. America which was famous for optimism, has sold its birthright for a mess of Obamacare and Obamaphones, like an old couple that have given up sweeping and tending a house that grew too big now that the kids have left.

It overstates a bit the part about us not wanting to go to the planets any more, given the number of robotic exploration missions in progress and planned for the next 5-10 years.

What bothers me is that he may well be right about our desire as a nation to settle space. Sure, we have people like Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow and Jeff Bezos routing around the traditional (ie: old) model of manned space being the province of civil agencies and military bodies. But while there is plenty of interest and enthusiasm in industry and advocacy/activism circles for what they’re doing, I don’t get the sense that there is any sort of broader interest in or optimism for the long-term goals that these new players could enable – namely, space settlement.

Instead, the old conflict between robots and humans is cited, as if “exploration” were the sole reason for the existence of everything beyond Earth – look at it, take samples perhaps, but don’t otherwise touch it. “Robots can do a better job exploring.” “Robots are cheaper to send out to do exploration.” “Robots are less risky.” But robots aren’t humans and thus can’t be settlers. The mindset Fernandez describes would seem to cover this – the “geriatric culture”, as he puts it, would naturally prefer safety over risks, and that which fits in their fixed-income budgets to a venture whose costs and benefits can only be guessed at in advance.

This mindset also helps explain the despicable attitude of people like Patrick Stewart who believe that humans should just stay home, sitting in the corner of the universe until they’ve thought about what they’ve done. The argument is that, because we’re so wicked and naughty as a species, we don’t deserve to travel to and settle other worlds – we should be grounded until we learn to behave better and clean up all our messes. What is this if not the thinking of a punitive parent or grandparent, aimed at putting wayward youth into its place?

As Fernandez hints, this is a cultural problem that leads us towards stagnation and decline while others (whose motives and philosophies may be anathema to our own) fill the gap. If we as a nation choose living in the constrained present instead of looking ahead to (and working to fashion) an expanding future, it doesn’t mean others will feel compelled to do the same. It just means we get left behind.

Government is Magic

An excellent essay on the decline of competence: Sultan Knish: Government is Magic

The essay is worth reading in full, along with the additional related points and examples in the comments, but this part sticks out for me:

Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right.

Is this not one of the core principles of engineering? Good engineering is not defined by how positive and nurturing your work environment is, or how diverse your team/organization is, or whether you’re compliant with the latest revision of some ISO or CMMI standard, it’s defined by whether the product of that engineering performs or fails at its intended task.

The Contemptible Propaganda of the Democrat Party

…on full display:

Democrat Propaganda on Shutdown


I thought after eight-plus years in political activism that there was little Democrats could do to make me loathe them more. Well, here’s something.

Yes, I recognize that the superficial intention of the comment is Republicans want to stop Obamacare from covering the uninsured. But the literal meaning is that Republicans want to stop every single American from getting any healthcare. That’s no accident of lexical ambiguity. That was meant as a subliminal message to slip by the conscious awareness of a casual reader. It’s no more accidental than Barbara Boxer’s comment yesterday that Republicans want to defund Obamacare simply because they oppose healthcare for women – if you take her at her word, Republicans want all women to be denied healthcare.

It’s a dishonest and disgusting display of partisan hate. Every Democrat should be ashamed of this.

Words Have Meaning

Note to pretentious media types: “iniquities” are not the same as “inequities“.

I’ve noticed a trend lately in which these words are increasingly conflated or simply used interchangeably. The former carries heavier moral and religious overtones than the latter – if you’re still pretending to be objective, “iniquities” is not the word to use given the moralizing overtone it conveys.

When Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, or the corpse of Howard Zinn rant on about the “iniquities of the corporate system”, their usage is appropriate: they believe capitalism is not merely unfair but inherently wicked to the point of actual evil. When you’re pretending to objectively discuss differences in wealth or income as a neutral party while parroting the litany of unjust consequences which you have been told and believe unavoidably pertain thereto, the proper word choice is “inequities” unless you want people to see through your phony even-handedness.

I know it’s hard when your peers start using some new word that you like the sound of to stop and look it up for yourself and learn whether it’s an appropriate word choice, or whether it really means what you and the rest of your herd think it means. But given how little respect your profession has left and how much less it actually merits, it’s something (along with proofreading and spell-checking) you really ought to consider doing so as not to needlessly cause further decline.

The Next Moral Crusade

…will be against Orson Scott Card: Why I’m (Proudly, this Time) Boycotting Orson Scott Card

Indeed, this is just one not really especially noteworthy example of what’s already been going on. But expect it to heat up as the release date of the Ender’s Game film approaches – it’s an irresistible opportunity for grandstanding moral scolds on the left to bring attention to themselves their assorted causes.

Sounds cynical, I know. But I’m right. I’ve seen enough of lefty activists over the past eight years to recognize the tactics at work: proportionality and perspective always take a back seat to the propaganda utility of an enemy’s exploitable utterances.

OnFire/PolitiComm: The Lamest Twitter Argument Ever Offered?

Color me unimpressed with Colorado’s cyberbully OnFire / PolitiComm: The Lamest Twitter Argument Ever Offered?

If someone as transparently dishonest and histrionic as OnFire / PolitiComm is the best the Colorado Progessive Machine can do, it beggars belief that the center-right in the state does as badly as it does. Unfortunately, Colorado’s center-right is essentially unfunded, so its activists have regular non-political jobs. This tends to eat into the time we might otherwise spend (for instance) sending 100+ angry and hate-filled Tweets a day the way the Progressives here do.

As I noted in the article, though, it’s people like OnFire / PolitiComm who have been teaching me a lot about the deceptive and manipulative argumentation techniques employed by the left. For all his faults, OnFire / PolitiComm is a wonderful example of bad practice, presenting in one Twitter feed a continuous stream of unsubtle examples of the tricks, tropes, and tactics used by the left throughout social media and more traditional channels.

I suspect that this is one of those unexpected side-effects of the internet. It used to be that one would be confronted with or witness fallacious reasoning, hectoring, and the like in person or in public forums in only isolated incidents. Emotional appeals, bad information, spin, bullying, and the other methods the real-world counterparts of OnFire / Politicomm employed could go unchallenged – and all too often persuade people – because without some exposure to debate or philosophy, it was difficult for the Average Joe or Jane to see that someone was actively manipulating them. But now, the internet puts hundreds of public forums in front of us in the form of social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, blog and newspaper comments, etc.), and unlike the town square, watercooler, city council meeting, or other traditional forums these can be experienced in a rapid, continual flow on devices which afford us a degree of emotional distance from what is being said and how. The internet makes it possible to see the same patterns of thought and argument repeat themselves over and over, across many channels and platforms. Over time it’s like learning to ‘see the Matrix in the numbers’: one begins to recognize these attempts at manipulation and deception, and recognize the common motives behind each of them (the “Ds” I mention at the link). In short, when exposed to a larger set of data, the larger number of examples to compare make it much easier to recognize patterns and relationships. And recognizing and naming manipulative tactics, of course, is the key to diminishing their power to manipulate.


But! But! Elon Musk!!!

Walter Russell Mead observes the latest solar power corruption fiasco and asks:

Is there anybody in the world of tax-funded green energy who isn’t a sleazy thief or an incompetent idealist?

(WaPo article here.)

Regardless of who is behind any “green energy” undertaking, my inclination nowadays is to suspect it is some sort of scam run by people connected to the Obama administration (or merely taking advantage of a golden opportunity for graft), or at best a utopian enterprise run by people with more dreams than good engineering or economic sense.

SolarCity at least responded to WaPo, and sounded sincere enough about their pricing being competitive with Treasury Department guidance. Maybe Elon is the one Mead is looking for? Dunno.

“The Stolen Election”

Let me state up-front that I am NOT claiming that any of this is true, so don’t anyone accuse me of being a crackpot conspiracy theorist here. This is simply a thought experiment/thriller plot that I found entertaining to think through.

On the way home from the victory party funeral last night, it struck me that I hadn’t heard the left rant about “Diebold” and “Ken Blackwell” in a while. In a long time, in fact – at least since 2008, possibly since 2006. This seemed odd, given that it was once a frequent topic/hobby horse on lefty talk radio (esp. on Randi Rhodes’ show), but I guess if you’re winning elections you no longer need to contrive explanations for why you’re losing.

This observation intersected with the results from last night being so unexpected across the board (given polling, energy, etc.) to put me in a Dan Brown frame of mind. How might you write a technothriller around these observations? If one were to read these unexpected election results as the result of a conspiracy, how would you make the conspiracy work in a way plausible enough for fiction?

It’s outside my usual genre, but here’s what I came up with as a backstory:

  • Premises:
    • Democrats (and especially leftists/Progressives) have a habit of publicly accusing Republicans of corruption or dirty tricks or the like, accusations which are completely bogus and often verge on the paranoid. But in digging for proof these allegations, they sometimes figure out how to do exactly those things themselves and then proceed to do so (justifying it by claiming they’re just fighting back against what the Republicans are already doing). For example, the Democracy Alliance owing its origin to a delusional belief in a vast right-wing media/nonprofit/activism conspiracy – Rob Stein, et al, imagined such a conspiracy on the right, and then proceeded to create a real one one of their own to fight it.
    • The once-common-as-air Democrat complaints about “Diebold” and “Blackwell delivering Ohio” have been utterly absent. Since around the time Democrats elected Obama, if not when they took over Congress in 2006. The obvious explanation there is that they stopped losing elections, and so no longer required a conspiracy theory to explain how they were being wrongfully denied the offices and power to which they were naturally entitled (if you’re winning elections, it sucks the energy out of fantasies that your enemies are rigging the vote against you). But what if there was another reason for their abruptly shutting up about voting machine fraud…?
  • 2004: The obviously superior and demonstrably more-qualified war hero Democrat challenger loses a gimme election to the increasingly unpopular hayseed Republican incumbent. Dems in some quarters blame the loss on electronic voting machines in key swing states having been rigged for the incumbent. Angered by being denied their rightful victory, Progressives start looking for proof of this manipulation, and find that – yes indeed! – there is in fact an exploitable security hole in many e-voting machine software. Certain that Republicans left those back doors there so as to rig elections (when in fact they may simply have been poorly-secured diagnostic or debugging elements), the Democrats who discover them are outraged…but keep silent. Given that Republicans manipulated election results to unjustly deny their man the presidency, they bitterly ask themselves why shouldn’t we do the same to them? And after a micro-second of agonizing have little trouble finding self-serving rationalizations to support doing so.
  • 2005: A small group of insiders (always keep your conspiracy small in number if you want a chance of keeping it secret!) share this information amongst themselves, and quietly exploit their connections in the tech sector to develop ways to exploit it, always keeping the knowledge compartmentalized to prevent discovery of what they’re up to. Additional security holes are discovered and exploited, providing extensive if not complete control over the most-common models of electronic voting machines. The group infiltrates trusted people into the companies who manufacture and program the machines in order to keep abreast of upcoming software revisions and, where possible, to insert their own subtle and harder-to-find back doors. The more obvious back doors are left in place, so that their occasional easy discovery in audits adds to public confidence that security holes are routinely and reliably plugged before election day.
  • 2006: The group uses the mid-term election (where they were going to make substantial gains anyway given the shift in public attitude against the GOP President and Congress) as an experiment, tweaking totals in a few precincts here and there. They manipulate small numbers of votes, spread out geographically, via entirely remote means, all to keep the tampering small and unobtrusive: if it’s subtle enough to be invisible, no one will think to look for it. They see that they can both get away with the tampering, and that in a couple of the test races, tampering on the margins can be done in a way that doesn’t raise suspicions and swings an otherwise close race. Armed now with a tool they know works on the small scale, the group persuades left-aligned organizations and media personalities to tone down or avoid discussion of voting machine manipulation to avoid the tool’s exposure.
  • To further help conceal their activities, the people behind the method help launch an organization much like the Secretary of State Project to get progressive Secretaries of State elected. The organization doesn’t need to know why they’re getting help, only that they need to assist candidates who approve of electronic voting and will if elected be responsible for auditing the security of the machines used in their state. The SoSs aren’t actually in on it, beyond getting a midnight phonecall with a helpful suggestion that they appoint the “right people” to do the auditing.
  • In 2008, they widen the deployment and hone their skills. Its first large-scale deployment is in the primaries, where it is used to shift enough votes over to the more Progressive candidate to deny the anointed and “sure-thing” candidate the nomination. Microtargeting data used elsewhere in the nominee’s campaign is also used to pinpoint districts where usefully large quantities of votes can be shifted to him and other left-leaning candidates without appearing out of place with the demographics and ideological flavor of the place.  The sleepwalking Republican nominee being a non-threat electorally means the tool can be applied to down-ticket races in the general election and not focused solely on the Presidential race.
  • 2010: The group continues to hone its skills where possible, but refrains from a major intervention in the election due to an unexpected center-right grassroots uprising – given the sentiment of the country, maintaining Democrat control of Congress would require intervention on a scale the group still cannot pull off invisibly, which would risk exposure if it tried it. Instead, it focuses its efforts on a few strategic races, like the Senate Majority Leader’s reelection, and combines it with new frontiers in old-fashioned targeted character destruction to assure the retention or election of key political assets at the federal and state levels amid the generalized loss.
  • 2011: Where the group can’t elect Progressive (read: controllable) Secretaries of State, it puts into place a tactic referred to (curiously) as “gesslerizing”, in which the opposition/non-cooperative Secretary of State in a swing state finds himself tied down (especially just before in-person early voting begins) with lawfare actions targeting him with ethics allegations and criminal investigations. “Gesslerized” SoSs will be either too distracted to look for or notice the remote-control tampering during early voting and on election day, or they will be too discredited via the allegations and similar bludgeoning over vote integrity (e.g.: the equation of voter ID efforts with racism) for any exposes they offer to be taken seriously.
  • 2012: The tool has been fully debugged and integrated with microtargeting data, and is ready to deploy on a large scale with special focus on swing states. As the election approaches, polls all show the challenger gaining on the incumbent and then pulling into the lead amid a surge of voter enthusiasm for him, but a few left-leaning pollsters are fed results which predict the incumbent winning handily…exceptions which are greeted with derision as delusional outliers. After the votes are tallied, however, those polls are shown to be dead-on accurate. Uncannily so. Perfectly so. These polls allay any suspicion of the election results by giving an “independent” confirmation of the outcome, in which the status quo was unexpectedly maintained despite record discontent with the incumbent and Congress alike. In reality, for all its sophistication the tool isn’t perfect and can only do so much. Even with improved scale and finesse since 2010, the discontented national mood again placed limits on its invisible use – too much of its power had to be focused on protecting the President and the Senate majority for it to swing the House to the Democrats at the same time without being noticed…ergo, status quo.
  • By now, the tool has become so refined that it can’t be discerned from its effects without complex statistical analysis. But, since no system is perfect, occasional machine glitches reveal the tool at work – for example, a number of widely-separated polling places reporting votes cast for the challenger being recorded as for the incumbent. Anticipating this (based on prior experience where it happened in 2008 or 2010 on small scale), Democrat operatives are unwittingly directed to wear campaign clothing, put up campaign posters, and engage in other blatantly illegal electioneering in the polling places, to distract public and media attention away from the vote tampering: “oh sure, there have been a few minor instances of unintentional ‘electioneering’ at the polls, but it’s just trivial stuff that GOPers are overreacting to as usual…nothing to see, move along!”

This backstory sets the stage for the actual plot of the thriller and inevitable big-budget Hollywood adaptation. Picture now a beautiful, young, vaguely (but non-threateningly) exotic do-gooder journalist, fresh out of J-school and looking to make a name for herself by investigating the inherent racism of Republicans and their racist “voter integrity” laws. She crosses paths one evening with an implausibly well-adjusted computer-scientist-turned-bartender with mysterious links to a voting machine manufacturer, intending to grill him for information supporting the (banal and cliched) thesis of her expose that Republicans are racists attempting to racistly deny the vote to minorities, because Republicans are (ipso facto) racists whose racist motivations require no further onscreen exploration. Of course.

Their ensuing night of passionate stenography takes an unexpected turn when the improbably-hunky computer scientist/bartender reveals to the iron-willed-yet-romantically-vulnerable journalist that he was blacklisted from programming work after discovering the back doors into the voting machine software. Certain that the real culprits are the racist Republicans who were rumored to have used such underhanded (not to mention racist) methods to steal the 2004 election, she enlists his aid to find the proof she needs to support her a priori conclusion…only to come face-to-face with the real conspirators after a completely unnecessary parkour chase through a vast warehouse of tampered-with voting machines, stolen yard signs, and slightly-used Greek columns fashioned from polystyrene.

Will she expose the truth, thereby undermining the sweep of victories over the racist Republicans in the just-concluded election, shattering her faith in (non-GOP) humanity, and discrediting the man she believes to be a messiah walking amongst us (the incumbent, not the nerd/bartender)? Or will the conspirators convince her to sell out her lofty journalistic principles and turn a blind eye to the massive ethical lapse of the people and party she thought represented everything good and non-racist in America?

[Spoiler alert: well duh, of course she covers up the truth about her party comrades at the end - she's a journalist.]

Post-Election Prognostications

Bruce Webster is making some: The coming liberal meltdown.

Interesting. Plausible. Maybe or maybe not likely — who knows?

What I liked about his post was the element of prognostication from current trends and social/political circumstances, and how it resembles what Carl and I have been doing for the backstory for In the Shadow of Ares and its in-work sequels (the first of whose outline I plan to finalize today, given the crappy weather here in Denver). Whether or not his predictions materialize, it’s fun to take them as a set of initial conditions for a fictional near-future history — for example, the future-history potential of the Obama-Clinton feud:

  • Imagine it escalating from the low-intensity political warfare he describes into an all-out factional “civil war” as 2016 approaches.
  • Blue collarists, liberal-leaning Jews and Latinos, and other center-left Democrat constituencies line up with Clinton loyalists and erstwhile PUMAs behind Hillary.
  • Blacks along with Progressives, ivory towerists, callow youth,  union extremists, and other hard-left Democrats follow Obama.
  • Democratic women split between the two on similar lines, with Hillary not automatically winning the bulk of Democratic women due to Obama’s appeal to the more radical youth demographic.
  • What happens next?
    • Does the Democrat party then split into two, or see the smaller faction peel off and join an existing third party?
    • If the party doesn’t split, does the internal divide render the Democrat Party nearly irrelevant for several election cycles, say through 2020, as they focus on factional infighting and sabotaging each other instead of running against Republicans?
    • Does Andrew Cuomo (as Webster hints) emerge as a “neither-nor” figure who is able to glue the factions back together while (under the pressure of emerging fiscal/economic necessity) bringing the party back towards the reasonable center from where Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and the Progressives have shifted it?
    • If not and the Democrats (as a single or split party) experience waning influence, what happens to Republicans, who experience show tend to drift from principles and platform quite rapidly in the absence of competition from an energized opposition?
    • Under such circumstances, could the GOP itself experience a loss of factional cohesion, with a non-negligible contingent of center-left, center-right, socially-liberal, and Progressive Republicans defecting to join Hillary Clinton’s “less extreme” new party? Would this result in a major two-party reconfiguration along the lines of the Whig-Republican split in the 1850s, or would we end up with a new equilibrium state involving three stable medium-large parties in place of two very large ones? If the latter, would there be an evolution to more discrete special interest factions akin to (say) the small parties in the Israeli Knesset, with the three parties becoming more explicitly coalition-based and the new equilibrium maintained via coaxing these factions to jump parties (difficult under the current party system, but since this is all speculative anyway, why not assume changes to it)?
    • If any of the outcomes above involving party splits emerge, would existing third parties (Libertarians, Greens, etc.) see greater influence? Presumably some not-insignificant portion of Democrats in the Obama/Clinton split scenario would be disgusted enough with both resulting parties to seek a third alternative. Same for libertarian Republicans in the diminished-competition scenario, with disgust with the squishiness and corruption of one-party GOP dominance motivating them to switch to the Libertarian Party. If the large parties get smaller and the small parties get larger, would the equilibrium necessarily stop at (say) three core parties? Why not four or five?

It’d be fun to tackle his other predictions in similar fashion (which I intended to do before spending too much time on the one above), but I’ve got too much to get done today.

About That Washington Examiner Hit-Piece on SpaceX…

Rand Simberg thoroughly dismantles it: An Examiner Hit Piece on SpaceX

No quotes, because his response is wedded to excerpts from the original and is best read in full (i.e.: Read the Whole Thing™).

As I mentioned on Twitter (and then didn’t have time to follow up on myself), I heard some scuttlebutt about this at CPAC Colorado last week (along with the James O’Keefe voter registration expose and the Obama campaign’s questionable credit card donations). The implication was that Musk is getting new attention from watchdog and media organizations on the right because of his green energy businesses and his donations to and occasional chumminess with Barack Obama.

Which in itself is a reasonable thing – given the strange frequency of late for green energy businesses owned by Obama friends and fundraisers to get subsidies, lax oversight, stimulus funds, etc. (and to then go bankrupt, stiffing the taxpayers), a watchdog group would be remiss if it didn’t look into a campaign donor who might potentially fit that same pattern. As for the center-right media, there is obvious story potential in digging up and exposing “the next Solyndra” if they can find one, and when you see advertising like this (seen at the Home Depot near my house) it’s natural to wonder whether Musk’s Solar City might or might not be it:

Broken Solar Panels Fallacy

In each case, these things are as they should be: the news media and watchdog organizations, however partisan their interests might be, can serve a useful role in keeping public figures, civic organizations, lobbyists, and the like (a little more) honest via transparency. I say “can”, because of course it doesn’t always work that way – obviously media and watchdogs alike will have less incentive to investigate people and organizations with whom they share a common political persuasion or worldview (which is why the overwhelming left bias seen in both institutions is unhealthy), and when they are so determined to find some dirt on their political enemies that they resort to incompetent hack pieces like this one by Richard Pollock in the Examiner, their efforts at transparency are easily dismissed as partisan BS without substance.

2012 Prometheus Award Finalist

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A young girl sets out to prove herself by resolving a long-forgotten mystery. But when she gets close to the truth, what she thought was a harmless adventure becomes a threat to the future of the independent commercial settlements on Mars.

April 2014
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