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Fort Sumter Redux: the battle flag and the re-ignition of the Confederacy

Contrary Brin - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 18:22
 “Americans now discriminate more on the basis of party than on race, gender or any of the other divides we typically think of — and that discrimination extends beyond politics into personal relationships and non-political behaviors.” This according to a study published last year by Stanford and Princeton researchers. (See America's New Cycle of Partisan Hatred.)  The divide is as fierce as it has been, since…

… since previous phases of the recurring American Civil War. I found this excerptinteresting: Also of note is that the partisan polarization occurs even though Americans aren’t all that split on policies or ideology. Their partisanship is more tribal than anything — the result of an ill-informed electorate." 
Moreover “In order to have an understanding of the ideology of your party and the opposing party you have to have a lot of information….”
And hence, polemicists on both sides (though one far worse than the other) strive to oversimplify and to downplay science. This articleblames we, in the electorate for allowing it to happen.  And sure, some fault lies there.  But history tells us how our ancestors got out of similar phases, in the past.  And it always took just one thing.  One thing that’s needed now. 

When reason ceases to function and civil war has blossomed into full fury... one side has simply to win.

== The battle flag is only 99% a "symbol of hatred" ==

And so, the church shooter Dylann Roof has accomplished his openly stated goal -- to stir our civil war to an even greater boil -- though perhaps not with results he intended.  Take the surge in discussion of eliminating the X-shaped Confederate Battle Flag from state premises and symbology, and not just in South Carolina (where the governor just declared her agreement that it should depart from the state capitol grounds.)

(Indeed, see how this is one more example of why we should have a "rename crazy killers" law... Or Names of Infamy -- Deny killers the notoreity they seek.)

Indeed, for sure I am 99% on one side. Was the Olde Confederacy awful?  Of course. None of the rationalizations for secession or "the Cause" hold up under the slightest historical scrutiny. For example, southerners weren't complaining at all about "states rights" during the thirty years that they dominated the federal government, until 1860.  Up to the election of Lincoln, they ran roughshod over their neighbors, applying federal power with merciless cruelty and ferocity. 

The secession declarations of each Confederate state make abundantly clear that their cause was exactly and precisely and almost entirely the protection and promotion of slavery. Top middle and bottom. First and last.  The very word is praised more than thirty times in South Carolina's document. Those who tout any other explanation for the treason know no history.

And yet... I refuse to say that there was absolutely zero admirable about the Confederacy.  As evil as its romantic "cause" was, they displayed one trait worth positive (if grudging) memory. 

Martial courage and skill.Them rebs sure could fight! Southern foot soldiers repeatedly exhibited fortitude, endurance, cleverness, innovation and ability at arms. A knack that continues today as southern men and women volunteer for arduous military life more often than do blue-city folk.

Hence, there is one — just one — place where I can look at the Battle Flag of the Confederacy without loathing a symbol of treason and hatred... and that is in portrayals of actual battle. In movies like the wonderful GETTYSBURG film, or in real life re-enactments, I root for the Union, the good guys and the side that also has to win the latest phase of our re-ignited Civil War, lest American (and likely world) civilization spiral again into superstition and feudalism.  

But I will not begrudge southern whites swelling their chests with pride as that banner -- alongside the "bonny blue flag" -- unfurls on an actual battlefield, recalling when their forbears carried those symbols forward with stunning bravery, fighting for a cause

— although that cause was, in fact, one of the worst for which men ever fought. *

Anywhere outside a movie or re-enactment, though? Ditch it. There is no redemption for a symbol of oppression and treason and hatred, anywhere having to do with civilized, 21st Century life.

== The other Confederate motivation ==
A corner-piece polemic spread by every single Republican candidate is one version or another of anti-intellectualism:

 “With the Republican primaries ramping up, there will surely be a great deal of anti-intellectual musing coming from each candidate. There will be talk of how those elitist “harvard faculty” members are disconnected from the common people up in their ivory tower, and how they just don’t understand the real America."

 Mike Huckabee, one of the GOP candidates for president, summarized this view on “The Daily Show” earlier this year (and in his book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy): 

“There’s a real disconnect between people that live in the bubbles of New York, Washington, and Hollywood, versus the people who live in the land of the bubba’s…theres a big difference between people who are well educated and people who are smart.” 

To which zero-sum dichotomy, the only reaction is that this Nehemia Scudder, like his ilk, is at war with the very notion of our civilization. See: Who Benefits from the Politics of Outrage?
More on this rising polarization, below.
 == Comparing the Union to the Confederacy: 2015 edition ==
Some maps speak for themselves. We are lectured-to about about capitalism and enterprise by folks who are worst at handling money, let alone doing business startups or innovation.
And lectured-to by Huckabee's "bubbas" on family values: States with the highest rates of second marriages:  35% in Arkansas, 26% Texas, 30% Florida,  versus 21 % California and 17% New York.  Look at the map and compare it to similar tabulations of teen sex rates, teen pregnancy, STDs, domestic violence... and net recipients of tax money. And some historical maps, as well. Ahem. Did I suggest that folks might adjust their politics to reflect... actual outcomes?
 Oh, but it gets better:
Red America gets far more from the Federal government than Blue America does. In fact, the federal government serves as a mechanism for transferring wealth from productive, innovative Blue America to parasitic Red America. From the Wall Street Journal: Which States Take the Most from the U.S. Government?
Delaware residents, who voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2012, get 50 cents in federal funding for every $1 in federal income taxes they pay.
Mississippi — 55.5% for Mitt Romney — cashes in with $3.07 in federal funding for every dollar paid in income taxes.

== And it goes on... ==
Alas, am I exaggerating the "civil war" thing?

In a sadly related event: Bill Maher commented on the Jade Helm paranoid lunacy: “Here’s the thing: in today’s Republican Party, you can’t call out nutty people for being nutty, because they’re not a small group,” Maher said. “In the Republican Party, crazy is a constituency.” 
As if to illustrate this point: Conservative Charles Murray has a plan to render useless regulations from the EPA, OSHA, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commision. Create a fund to pay for a bunch of small suits against these agencies until they stop enforcing regulations. Read about it at (an admittedly biased source): 
Yeah, it fits: Texas bill would make recording police illegal: Citizens who are armed (with cameras) would not be permitted to record police activity within 100 feet of an officer on duty. The offense would be a misdemeanor. This bill would contradict the precedent set in 2011 by an appeals court, which found that citizens are allowed to record police.
Then how to describe the lunatics in the Wyoming legislature passing a law that "...makes it illegal to collect resource data” from any land outside of city boundaries, whether that land be private, public, or federal. Under the law, “collect” means to “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.”  So even facing actual facts is now illegal.
Ah, but Ohio has joined the list of Republican controlled states that are gunning for the Libertarian Party, denying third party candidates positions on the ballot by tightening eligibility requirements.

Finally, see this: Tracking how America changes its mind: the pace of social change.
Am I being harsh?  I am a scientist and a believer in the future.  If they had left their Book Of Revelation yearnings for an end to civilization and the world and also of reason, for Sunday morning, it would be one thing.  By making it daily policy, they have made clear to folks like me that this has nothing, whatsoever to do with "left versus right."

It is a revived mad Confederacy ... waging outright war against tomorrow.

* Paraphrasing Sherman, of course.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Can Long Endure, Episode Three of The End of All Things, is Out Now!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 08:15
It’s Tuesday, and that means another episode of The End of All Things. “Can Long Endure” is now out and available from your favorite eBook retailer. Here’s the official description: “They signed up to defend humans from hostile... Read More

The Scalzis Go to London

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 14:13
Krissy and I celebrated our 20th anniversary last week, which we felt gave us ample excuse to go on a vacation. For our vacation spot, we chose London, because we had never been and we had always wished... Read More

Amazon Tweaks Its Kindle Unlimited System. It Still Sucks For KDP Select Authors

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 06/21/2015 - 17:46
Now that I’ve returned to the US and have parked myself in front of the computer again, people are asking me what I think of Amazon’s plan to tweak the way its Kindle Unlimited system pays KDP Select authors.... Read More

Just Putting These Here So They Can Be Part of the Permanent Record

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 06/21/2015 - 15:44
From the day itself: So, we're not pretending the Charleston shooting is something other than racial hatred, right? — John Scalzi (@scalzi) June 18, 2015 If witnesses say the alleged shooter said "I'm here to shoot black... Read More

Note to WSFS Members: Killing the Best Novelette Hugo is a Terrible Idea

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 06/21/2015 - 12:28
(Note: Hugo neepery follows. But not the usual Hugo neepery! This is entirely new Hugo neepery! However, if you’re bored with Hugo neepery in general, then avoid this.) Every year at Worldcon, there’s a business meeting where World Science... Read More

Back in the US: A Housekeeping Note

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 06/21/2015 - 09:28
I’m back home after a long, lovely week in London with my bride on the occasion of our 20th anniversary. More on that later. Housekeeping notes: 1. The comment threads, which I had trimmed back to being open... Read More

The "Name One Exception" Challenge

Contrary Brin - Sat, 06/20/2015 - 12:19
Last time, I shone light briefly on the "name one exception" challenge. This is an argument device that makes it difficult for your opponents to weasel out, using the usual polemical tricks. Under normal circumstances, such stark and spectacular challenges should only rarely be available, since they expose the other person as painted into a corner of his or her own making. Alas, in this era of declining reason and logic -- and skyrocketing dogmatism -- it is actually all-too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

The example I gave last time had to do with the top excuse given by certain Asian-mercantilist states, for their relentlessly predatory trade practices. "We are only taking reparations for the harm done to us under brutal colonialism," goes the justification. Only I then ask: 

"Across four millennia, name for us one example of a great and loyal foreign friend that your nation ever had? One powerful friend who ever came - voluntarily and repeatedly (though not always vigorously or intelligently or with complete purity of motives) - to your nation’s aid, in times of need?"

It's a good example of this method, in practice. Worth reading... and socking away for the international arguments to come.

== The Challenge to our Dogma-Blinded Neighbors ==

But of course, the most worrisome plummet into fact-free dogmatism is happening in the USA, once a domain of moderate-pragmatists. For more than a decade, I have been searching for ways to get around the rigid, defense mechanisms that keep so many of our fellow citizens locked into rigid ideologies, along an insipidly lobotomizing "left-right axis." 
It's not easy! Some brilliant (if traitoriously cynical) minds have concocted rationalizations and incantations that keep radicalized voters murmuring: "I know my side is crazy... but our opponents are worse!"
(Aside: if you visit this space often, you know that I believe one end of the political "spectrum” to be more dangerously crazy, right now. But don't you worry, far-leftists, I spare some jaundiced ire to aim in your direction, now and then. Your wing of craziness is far, far less dangerous to the Enlightenment Experiment at this point in time. But we remember the USSR.  “Less crazy, less numerous, less anti-science, less-often wrong and less dangerous” is hardly an encomium. (Watch:  Why Our Politics Doesn’t Work.) But sure. Let’s turn back to the worse crazies.)
To the point: I have found that my “name one exception” challenges are very effective at weaning intelligent conservatives away from the Confederacy. For example:
Name one statistically significant and attributable metric of U.S. national health that improved across the span of either Bush administration.”
Or: “Name more than a couple of statistically significant and attributable metrics of U.S. national health that did NOT improve dramatically across the span of either the Clinton or Obama administrations.”
Or: Name one “winner” of the Bushite wars, other than Iran, the Saudis and Bush-Cheney family companies.”
Or: Name one industry that - for all their talk - Republicans ever actually deregulated, other than banking-Wall Street and resource extraction… and we know how those sweetheart deals worked out, for the 99.99%.”
(In fact, democrats did all the effective loosening of government in this last half century: from the ICC and CAB and ATT to GPS and the freaking Internet… and any libertarian who ever votes republican is -- to put it frankly -- a hypocrite.)
Or this great old standby:  Name one accurate prediction ever made by Supply Side “economics.”
I have a ton of these “name one exception” challenges, any one of which woud prove that the GOP should never again be trusted with a burnt match.  

Only now I guess there’s two of them I will have to retire!
== Okay, Okay, so you got me, this time… ==
The problem with the "name one exception challenge" is that sometimes, even members of a crazy movement are actually able to meet the challenge.  They are able to come up with an exception.  In fact, here are two of them that were answered!
“Name one fully-red state that has done a damn thing about the utterly criminal cheat known as gerrymandering.”   

“Name a red state that has joined two dozen blue states in (variously) backing out of the insane so-called War on Drugs.”
Taking them in order: more than a dozen blue states have seen citizen revolts to end gerrymandering’s foul, evil and treasonous practice, plus a few purple ones. (Illinois and Maryland are still blue cheaters. Hey, I admitted there are scoundrels on the left. They’re just not as numerous or anywhere near as perfectly disciplined-organized.)
Red citizens and states, in contrast seem perfectly happy with monstrous, vote-stealing cheat-crimes like tortuous districts… except, as someone recently pointed out…
"Prior to 1994, the Idaho Legislature was responsible for redrawing its own districts. In 1993, the Legislature passed SJR 105, creating a constitutional citizen's body that would instead be responsible for drawing the districts. The voters of Idaho passed that constitutional amendment in 1994, with 64% in favor and 36% against."
Idaho did that? Dang! This is the first of my "name one exception" challenges that I am gonna have to retire, then. (I’d still like to see how it worked, in practice. In fact, Idaho is so deeply red, they probably figured it didn’t matter.)
Likewise… it turns out one red state has joined the blue surge against the Drug War.  It is Alaska. Though seriously.  You’d have to call sourdoughs anomalies. Perhaps they’ll lead the libertarian exodus, at long last, from the GOP.  Start a genuine guns n' get govt outta my face party, instead of remaining lap dogs to the Grand Oligarch Party?  Hey I could respect that.
Okay, that’s two cases where challenged folks came up with an actual counter-example! 

Rats. I have found the "name one exception" riffs to be very effective at showing still-sapient conservatives how spectacularly vile the hijackers of their once-proud movement have become. But by revealing a single red state exception, in each case, at least my honestly shows. (Try it, some time. Letting a fact affect your dogma. Especially re climate change.)
I now have to say;

“NEARLY ALL red states support criminal gerrymandering" instead of all

And “NEARLY ALL red states support the staggeringly insane and evil Drug War" instead of all.
I can respond to data and change my assumption sets.  Can you?  Then name exceptions to my other challenges.
 == Oh... by the way...  ==
ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... and
ocean acidification...
How is that a “name one exception” challenge?  It amounts to the same thing. Name a way that the debasing of the seas is not (1) blatantly happening, (2) blatantly dangerous to us all, and (3) blatantly the result of atmospheric carbon dioxide created by humans burning Koch/Saudi/etc. products.
The method works.  I got a ton of ‘em.  And so should you.

OH... AND BY THEY WAY,  in case you denialists averted your gaze, let me force you to face the basic fact... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification... ocean acidification...

== Another “Name an exception” challenge. ==
Here’s another:“Can you point to a single positive item on the Republicans’ agenda, now that they control Congress?”
(Other than Keystone XL, which will give the US zero actual oil.)  

 It’s one thing to disagree over agendas.  It’s another to have NO agenda, except versions of “no.” Again, the challenge — name one positive-assertiverepublican goal.
Banish the Export Import Bank that gave taxpayers a net profit all but one year out of the last forty?  Sure, it benefits exporters of goods and services, not resource extractors, so off-with-its head! But that’s a negative. 
Reverse Obamacare? (Without offering the 6-years-promised replacement?) Ambitious… but negative. 
Same with reversing Obama’s immigration moves. He said he’d stop them the instant Boehner put a credible bill on the floor, like one the GOP leadership agreed-to, six years ago. But no. With American politics killed-dead (deliberately murdered) we’ve been operating on *continuing resolutions* for ages. Now even those are impossible.  And so we lurch. Lurching is the new normal. It’s hilarious and sob-inducing to watch a sane conservative blink and try to talk sense.
Or making a real budget. Take Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, who said he hoped his colleagues had learned to “stop making the perfect the enemy of the good.” …and… “You make the progress and the deals you can. You’re going to have to bargain, and that means the other side has to get something, and in this House, you have to understand that beating on the table and yelling doesn’t turn 54 into 60.”
Poor Mr. Cole sounds like a republican of the Eisenhower days. Heck, Nixon negotiated. Even Reagan did. Mr. Cole is like a sincere missionary urging a mob of zombies to use a knife and fork while eating braaaaiiins.
What does it mean, when your side has nothing but negatives to put on the table? Not one tangible proposal of any kind... about anything at all?  Seriously, this has nothing to do with "left-vs-right."
It is about being the deep-depressive side of our national bipolar disease.  (Hey dems!  Guess what that makes YOU!)
== More on morons moving the goal posts ==
We have got to do something about the troglodyte tactic called “moving the goal posts.”  That is, declaring that science cannot prove something and then - when it is proved - drawing a new line in the sand and proclaiming this is what we really meant, as the line you’ll never cross! 
In another place, I dissected how this has been the core process by which climate denialism maintains itself. A decade ago, that cult declared that glaciers were advancing everywhere and the real danger was from an ice age. Then it became “what warming?”  Then “Okay the North Pole is melting, but not the south!”  Then: “Okay ice is collapsing in north and south and Greenland, but it’s all natural!”
Such agility is actually quite impressive!  See it also illustrated here, with the latest snarky position of the creationist cult’s Discovery Institute, who used to pooh-pooh the possibility of planets beyond our solar system… in part because that would entail admitting that the light from those worlds was emitted more than 6000 years ago.  Now that we’ve lately discovered thousands of other planets out there, implying truly vast numbers across the univers? Those trillions of planets and galaxies out there are just the natural “slosh” and spillover from God’s process of perfecting one Earth, one sapient species, intended to last just 6000 years.
Until recently, even the possibility that microbial life might exist out there was ruled not only heretical, but also impossible (via crackpot mathematics.) Now? According to this report, the intelligent design crowd doesn’t any longer rule out the existence of what it calls “simple life” on other worlds. However, “we likely won't be satisfied with microbes barely surviving on a moon. … We are looking for much more complex life, with a brain capacity similar to our own, and the ability to modify its surroundings into complex technology.”
That admission would have been anathema, just a few years ago! Now they admit life might evolve?  Just not into anything impressive! And so here we return to the Moving Goal Posts Problem.  The tendency of fanatics to deal with any factual challenge by redefining, with great agility, their own arguments and goals.
Do not think for an instant that this is solely a province of the Mad Right!  A lesser version of the same reflex can be seen in those sectors of the left that utterly refuse to accept the notion that we’ve made real progress, as a species, nation and civilization.  While rightfully demanding further movement against racism, sexism, poverty and environmental neglect, too many activists deem it anathema ever to admit that past actions, by millions of sincere citizens, actually made things better, bringing us to a higher plateau  and raising our standards. 
While the liberal version of Goalpost Shifting may be less harmfully crazy, it is still kind of nuts.  And ultimately unhelpful. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;}

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

To Be the Anti-Scalzi, and Other Foolishness

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 08:53
From earlier today on Twitter: Apparently, to be "the Anti-Scalzi" means to argue poorly, whine like a child, and make an ass of yourself. This is strangely complimentary. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) June 18, 2015 Also, terribly sad... Read More

The Big Idea: John Ayliff

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 06:00
In Belt Three, author John Ayliff posits the end of the world as we know it. Do the survivors feel fine? Well, it depends on your definition of “fine.” JOHN AYLIFF: Aliens threaten to destroy the Earth in... Read More

20 Years

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 06/17/2015 - 03:49
Twenty years ago today, Krissy and I were married. We stood up in front of friends and family, said our vows (and they were our vows, as we wrote them), and formally begun our time together, making a life... Read More

This Hollow Union, Episode Two of The End of All Things, is Out Now!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/16/2015 - 08:22
I’m off doing touristy things in London, but I would be remiss if I did not inform you that Episode 2 of The End of All Things, “This Hollow Union,” is out and available at your favorite ebook... Read More

The Big Idea: Scott Hawkins

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/16/2015 - 05:27
Can a library change your personality — and the things you can do? It depends on the person… and the library. Scott Hawkins has a very interesting one in The Library at Mount Char, and if you’re not... Read More

How would you – personally – undermine a tyrannical regime?

Contrary Brin - Mon, 06/15/2015 - 19:00
Back in the 1970s some of us at Caltech -- and then UC -- had an interesting topic of discussion. “Say you are invited to a science conference in the USSR. What items can you bring with you that would (1) not get confiscated/destroyed by the KGB upon arrival, and (2) nevertheless, help to undermine the system and sway locals toward a freer, more open way of life?
Jeans and rock albums?  The first things border agents would seize.  Sci fi books?  Sure, bring a few.  But any large number will be taken and pulped.
“Toothpaste,” said a visiting Russian scholar, with utter conviction borne out of experience. “One fellow from JPL gave us all small tubes of American toothpaste when he visited Moscow. As soon as they ran out and we had to go back to our regular products, we all were guaranteed to hate the system, three times a day.”
Ooh, clever.  Even tasty.
But my own option was simple.  Frisbees. No simple, lightweight, inexpensive object is more inherently about freedom, looseness, ad-hoc mixing of cooperation and competition… and making up rules as you go along.  You can even play with one, all by yourself, or with your dog, or… as in this article about frisbee empowerment… just learning to feel free. 
Watch this insidious invention do its geopolitical work, here
== International Insight ==
The World Post is taking shape into an excellent contribution to your news-and-perspective feed. Editor Nathn Gardels has roped in some top contributors. (I’ve even added a few thoughts, from time to time.)  See, for example, this excellent piece decrypting the mess of conflicting wants and alliances in Yemen.
Another essay dares to challenge the assumption that Saudi Arabia is the west’s natural ally in the Middle East, especially after 60 years exporting the most radical - Wahabbist - version of west-hating Islam and relentlessly vetoing almost every attempt at peace between Palestine and Israel. “They are well aware that, given Iran's young, educated and dynamic population of nearly 80 million, its strategic position as a bridge between Asia and Europe and in control of the entire northern shores of the Persian Gulf, its rich natural resources in addition to vast reserves of oil and natural gas, and deep and old culture and influence throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Saudi Arabia cannot simply compete with Iran, if Iran's relations with the West are improved, and the crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iran are lifted. So, they are doing what they can to poison the negotiations' atmosphere…”
The notion that Iran might be a natural ally of the west does not surprise those of us who recall the world, before 1978… or who note that Iran’s vast, highly educated urban populations would leap for a rapprochement, if the mullahs’ grip loosened an iota.  Moreover, such a twist would, at a shot, reduce all threats to Israel and radicalization of Syria or Iraq.  A pipe dream?  Not to forty million Iranians.
The question is: do the younger Saudi princes realize all this?  And that their best option would be to de-radicalize first? Perhaps even — weird thought — stop blocking peace with Israel, and instead enlisting it in coalition against Iran?
Good chess players would show flexibility, right now.
== A lesson from kindergarten -- Remember your friends ==
"Chinese strategist Yan Xuetong’s book Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power argues that all countries must recognize and accept China's centrality to the world as the Middle Kingdom," writes Yuriko Koike in The World Post.  
In fact, that way of thinking has been China’s curse, ever since Emperor Chi’in made the transcendent mistake of uniting the Four Nations. Until that moment, those four kingdoms had been profoundly innovative and progressive… the way a divided Europe rocketed ahead in the 15th through 19th centuries. The sense of centrality -- Chung Kuo or "central kingdom" led to one calamitous error, after another. Above all, a preening attitude that drove away every potential friend.

Don't believe it? Here is the ultimate question to ask our friends -- and I do mean to call them by that word – in the Central Kingdom, in order to help talk them down from a rising nationalist boil. This is another of my... name one example challenges.
Across the subsequent four millennia, name for us one example of a great and loyal foreign friend that China ever had?
There was one. Only one, across 6000 years of civilization. Just one powerful friend who ever came - voluntarily and repeatedly (though not always vigorously or intelligently or with complete purity of motives) - to China’s aid, in times of need.  Not as a subject or satrapy, but just as a friend, seeking nothing in return.
I’ll bet you’ll never guess who it was.
Oh, the record is far from perfect.  But it is pretty good, by the standards of human history, for that one friend.  And it truly was, across all those countless centuries, China’s onlyfriend.
And funny thing… now that I think on it… the same exact thing can be said of Japan.
Just.. one… true (though not always consistent)… friend.

== And re: China’s new (huge geographically) satellite to the north ==
‘Barack Obama has used the close of the G7 summit in Germany to deliver his strongest criticism yet of Vladimir Putin, lambasting the Russian president’s isolationist approach as the seven leaders signaled their readiness to tighten sanctions against Russia if the conflict in Ukraine escalates. “Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire? Or does he recognise that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?”’ 
I have long pondered whether to offer up my own views of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Certainly the fawning admiration – Reagan level deification – that he gets from Fox and the American right is a phenomenon that reflects far more on the current sickness of U.S. conservatism, than shedding light on the enigma that is Putin, himself.  I guess I will put off my in-depth analysis of this fascinating, clever and strange man for some other time.
Except to say that I have one of my own unconventional, “low-probability but high plausibility” theory about what Putin might be up to. And if this theory turned out to be true – (I give 1:4 odds) -- it would make him one of the most unique and devious figures of the last one hundred years.  I will give you one hint. He might – across all his lifespan – be both consistent and sincere.  I mean utterly consistent and utterly sincere.

 If so… then wow. But even more amazing is the fact that not one analyst in the West will even contemplate it, as a distant possibility. Talk about tunnel vision.
Letting that suffice, for now, I will only conclude with this: that the “superb chess moves” of clawing back the Crimea and Donbass regions – mostly Russian speaking zones that were never much Ukrainian in the first place – should be seen in context of the earlier and vastly larger setback, the worst for any Russian leader in 400 years… the loss from Russia’s sphere of influence of the Ukraine, itself. 
“Analysts” who emphasize the former, without setting those moves in context of the latter, are nothing more than yellow so-called “journalists,” and shame on any of you who fall for it.
== Inventing Nations Must Stand Up ==
No “foreign aid” - or any other activity - has so driven world development as the U.S. trade deficit with countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and then China and India, which financed their rapid GDP growth, uplifting up to two billion people out of poverty.
Americans - in turn - have been able to afford this uplifting deficit by inventing (or improving) things like jets, rockets, satellites, pharma, telecom and the Internet.  This has been the world's most virtuous cycle -- designed deliberately (as I have described elsewhere) by geniuses like George Marshall, Dean Acheson and Harry Truman. And make no mistake -- this process was invented by Pax Americana, deliberately,not created by the mercantilist states.
Alas, a great design can only be kept humming along when the beneficiaries understand it well enough to maintain it. And that understanding seems to be lacking where it's needed most. It’s one thing to develop your country along mercantilist lines, as did Japan, Korea, China and so on, by selling richer nations things their citizens want.  It is quite another to steal from the inventor nations the very things they are good at, the invention-rewards that they need in order to keep this virtuous cycle going.  In order to keep buying.
Kill the goose that lays your golden eggs? That is just short-sighted foolishness. State-sponsored theft of crown jewel IP is a threat not only to inventing individuals and companies and countries but to the entire global economy. It is not-only regrettable ingratitude to the only friends you ever had. It is also deeply foolish.
A number of bright seers — such as Strategic News Service director Mark Anderson — have been working hard to bring this issue forward in both international recognition, and to generate national responses. 
And now, for the first time, action seems to be afoot.  President Obama has announced measures that have a chance to materially change the balance of power between IP grabbers and their victims. This was done through an Executive Order titled "Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities," and it appears to achieve in one action what years of talk have failed to achieve. Unlike the FBI indictments of five Chinese hackers and the related criticisms at the time ("They will never have to face justice while they stay in China"), this order makes sure there is enough deterrent to go around for everyone involved.
The presidential order is viewable here: Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities. For more, see the web site of INVNT/IP Global Consortium.
Again, in fact I am quite friendly to a rising China!  Indeed, in EARTH I depicted it sooner than probably any other author! 

Nevertheless. It is just vital that we retain a sensible context. We are the “sleeping giants.”  Always have been. Always will be. 
== And finally ==
“There are 7 billion people on earth and about 7000 languages, but more than half of the world's population speaks one of just 23 languages. This infographic, created by Alberto Lucas Lopézfor the South China Morning Post, shows the relative size of speaker population for all the languages that have over 50 million speakers.” 
Informative and good perspective... but this graphic should always be accompanied by a second one showing which languages are actively being studied as a SECOND language or used to communicate across cultural barriers.
In essence, there is only one. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;}

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

On a Travel Schedule, 6/12 – 6/22

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/12/2015 - 16:49
Hey there. I’m taking a vacation for a week, which means my presence here will be limited for that timeframe. I’ll be posting a couple of Big Idea pieces and maybe a picture or two or a couple... Read More

Truly Major Issues, helping decide the fate of democracy

Contrary Brin - Fri, 06/12/2015 - 15:01
I took a break from politics for a while, partly in order to gather breath and pay heed to so many great things that our civilization is doing, in tech and in freedom and rights -- on Earth and in space! It has been a spectacular year...

...the more so in that most of our dolor-addicted fellow citizens seem unable to even notice!  Indeed, all of the good stuff is threatened by the War on Science and by the re-ignited American Civil War.  
Hence… it is back to the political trenches, boys and girls.  And one thing I promise, when we do politics here.  It won’t be stuff you are reading anywhere else.
== Cranking back NSA spying...? ==
Topmost in the news, recently, the shocking ability of the U.S. Congress to actually passa compromise bill, one that dials back a few of the powers given (since 9/11) to our Professional Protector Caste (PPC) in the Patriot Act.
Congress turns away from post-9/11 law, retooling U.S. surveillance powers. To be clear, this is a modest victory for those who always believed the Patriot Act was over-reach.  Indeed, look at page 206 of The Transparent Society (1997) to see how - back in the 20th Century - I warned about the "ratchet effect" of governmental powers, that moves them forward in a time of crisis, but never unwinds the crank very far, when things calm down.
This particular "unwinding" is a minor one, but symbolically it re-asserts the right of the people to sway their politicians and remind them that our watch-dogs are not wolves.  So why am I holding off any victory dance?  Because, in fact, the news media is filled with lazy folks who aim their gaze at the wrong things.  For example, it does not matter -- nor did it ever matter -- how much the NSA could see.  Indeed, they will be using insiders to do delicate and occasional meta-data sifts, within AT&T and Verizon and so-on. If you think limits on surveillance work, try showing us one example of that happening, across all of human history.  Ever. Even once.
Then go to an amusement park and play the game whack-a-mole. You’ll get what I mean. Fortunately... it doesn't matter.
What does matter are other parts of this law, which we have barely seen reported by media.  Portions that (with Obama Administration support) actually add greater supervision of our PPC. Slightly improving adversarial processes in the FISA Court, for example, so that sweeping data-trawls must be justified with plausible (if not probable) cause…. instead of simply hunches and whims.
Or constraining the formerly unlimited gag orders that were slapped willy-nilly on carriers for unlimited time spans, preventing them from even complaining that power was being abused. That practice was – to put it plain – inherently orwellian.  Indeed, the Obama-generated reforms are welcome -- they transform FISA from a mockery of a star chamber into an actual "court." 
Nevertheless, I want to know who appoints the court advocates who will question government search order requests! These should be chosen by stakeholders like the ACLU... from a pool of highly security-cleared individuals, of course, but civil liberties oriented skeptics after all. If this is not the case – if the adversarial court advocates are not appointed with input from adversarial (though demure) stakeholders, then that is where our scrutiny should go. That is where we should be militant for further reform.
Try, try to grasp this. It is futile to demand that elites not see! What we mightbe able to do, is force them to be supervised and held accountable, whenever they look at us. The former is a fantasm. A possibly-deliberate distraction. The latter is how we got the freedom we have. And it is how we'll keep from losing it.
== They want to blackmail you! ==
The latest incident of (purportedly) a major Asian nation hacking its way into western networks breached computer systems at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Records of up to 4 million current and former federal employees may have been compromised, giving hackers access to a treasure trove of personal information, including birthdates, Social Security numbers, previous addresses, and security clearances. All that data could help hackers identify information about specific targets, including potential passwords for websites that may be portals to information about weapons systems or other research data.
"They can dig down into that data and learn more about the individuals, what theirhobbies are, what their vices are, what skeletons they have in their closet.”
My own particular interest?  “Investigators believe the hackers sought federal employees’ records for a blackmail scheme,” says an article in the Los Angeles Times.  To which I can only reply: well… duh?
See how this verifies and validates my own oft-mentioned concern – that blackmail – and not tepid/limited bribery -- is one of the top methods used today to influence the modern political caste

Perhaps this will finally teach our most sincere leaders to do the obvious – declare an amnesty on minor sins that might be used for blackmail… on condition that those folks step forward during a one year period and tell-all. (Note this possible historic move you could make in your last year, President Obama! And you could do it yourself.)
 And if a person is already being blackmailed for more major things? Even partial amnesty for those misdeeds should still be good enough to lure victims out of the shadows of fear, letting us hunt down the real villains. The blackmailers themselves. 
Do you think I am making up a “story”? There is no way on Earth this is not already huge. Thwarting this failure mode should be one of our very topmost priorities.  And youcivil servants who ignore this… you’ll be remembered for this laxity, when finally the fit hits the shan.
== Speaking of which… justice at last? ==
Oh… oh finally.  Comeuppance for an individual whose direct treason against the United States of America is incomparable since Jefferson Davis. 
“J. Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican speaker in the U.S. House, was indicted Thursday by a federal grandjury on charges that he violated banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million because of “past misconduct.”  Moreover, we now know that misconduct includes well-supported allegations of child molestation that go way back.
Why did I just go ballistic on the guy? Because he was all holier-than-thou during Bill Clinton’s much milder peccadillos? Nope. Because as speaker he helped thwart investigations of other House member-perverts like Thomas Foley, who molested under-age pages? Not even that. 
It is because he created the “Hastert Rule” that now controls every aspect of today’s Republican Party, fiercely enforced by Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi co-owners of Fox News.  The rule that no GOP office holder shall ever negotiate in good faith with a democrat. Ever, under any circumstances -- not even if the dems are offering up the GOP's own plans!  (As happened with Obamacare.)

Moreover, the Hastert Rule commands that the reflex position of the Republican Party should 100% of the time be to oppose and thwart any democratic president, no matter what the issue at hand, going so far as even to stymie the Infrastructure Bill, so that our bridges fall down.  And moreover, that any GOP politicians who violate this sacred commandment shall be punished severely…
…as Hastert and Tom DeLay and other radicals savagely punished Newt Gingrich, in 1996, for having committed the ultimate heresy -- negotiating in good faith with Bill Clinton, delivering us major bills, both Welfare Reform and the Budget Act, for the good of the nation. Yes, Newt was (and remains) at least 40% crazy. But he actually wanted to get stuff done for America (as he saw it.) And we have reason to look back in fondness at guys like him… or Barry Goldwater or even Richard Nixon or Reagan… who were Half-Crazy, too, but who never declared – openly, as Hastert and McConnell etc. have – a wish to tear the country down around them, in the interest of outright civil war.
== The Seven Dwarves expand… ==
Speaking of Republicans, just look at the field of contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.  Seven of them stunningly reactionary sons-of-Hastert…
…and then there’s Rand Paul, whom I deem crazy and hypocritical, but at least he's his own man. Indeed, Paul is the one out of that passel who occasionally says something consistent with the real world.
His purpose, of course, is still vile -- to maintain the illusion-delusion clutched by most libertarians, that the GOP is their “natural” home, and that it will be their “hold your nose” place to vote, in November 2016. Under the "anyone but a liberal!" narrative. That delusion – pure insanity – is decrypted elsewhere.  
And now Huckabee (whom I used to fear, because of his charm, but who thankfully appears to have utterly lost that trait)has joined the pack! …and Lindsey Graham… and Perry… and Trump?  Oh, my.
Only my wife asked an interesting question: “Where is Paul Ryan?”  

Seriously, he’s slightly less demented than most of that pack! With a markedly higher IQ than any of them. Moreover, isn’t he the heir apparent of the Republican Party?  Have we missed something, here? Oh, yes. The less-demented part. And the higher IQ part. I guess it is all-explained, after all. Never mind.
== And finally… =
A very interesting essay, on the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, asserts that: "The Civil War Isn't Over."
The “Union,” and all that it meant to northerners as a kind of shield for liberal democracy against oligarchy and aristocracy, survived. It was transformed through blood and reimagined for later generations. The first American republic, created out of revolution in the late 18th century, was in effect destroyed. A new, second republic took its place, given a violent birth in the emancipation of four million slaves and the re-crafting of the U. S. Constitution in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Those Amendments—ending legal slavery forever, sanctifying birthright citizenship and establishing “equal protection of the law,” and creating black male suffrage—in effect re-made the United States Constitution. This comprised a second American revolution.    . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Jurassic Quiz: Find Out Which Dinosaur Will Eat You!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/11/2015 - 19:24
Over at, where I am writing occasional things about film, I’ve created a quiz in honor of the upcoming Jurassic World movie, featuring somewhat obscure trivia from the first three Jurassic Park films. Get all of the... Read More

A Very Important Poll That Will Make You Think About How Fragile and Beautiful the World We Live in Truly is

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/11/2015 - 15:53
Prepare yourself. You’re going to have to make a hard choice here. Explain your answer in the comments. If you dare.

A Note on Money and Self-Censorship

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/11/2015 - 13:09
A question in email, asking me whether the size and length of my book deal with Tor means I’m likely to be less loud on the Internet on certain topics. This comes in the wake of my post yesterday,... Read More

A Refresher Course On What I’m Obliged to Write About

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 16:10
So, a couple of days ago, a bigoted shithole of a human being took a screenshot of something Irene Gallo wrote on her Facebook wall some time ago and decided to deploy it at a specific time in... Read More
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