May 2006

"Hexapodia is the key insight." - Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

May 3rd, 2006

Today we have the first brand new, never-before-seen WIR reaction to appear on the website. I spent the month of March reading through essentially every word written by Vernor Vinge, and this is the first in a series of WIR reactions which will cover his entire corpus of work:

I've also recently been spending a good deal of time listening to every single note of music ever published by the Flaming Lips. It may just be a personal and idiosyncratic synchronicity, but I've found that their albums At War With the Mystics and (even moreso) The Soft Bulletin have proven to be the perfect musical accompaniment for Vingean exploits.


May 4th, 2006

The second WIR reaction in the series covering the complete works of Vernor Vinge:


May 14th, 2006

An American Agenda

A Plan of Action for the Democratic Party


I don’t want to hear any more Democrats talking about the strategy they’re going to use to defeat the Republicans. I can sum that up in one sentence: We’re going to try to get more votes than them.

Beyond that, everything else about strategy – as far as the public is concerned – is a meaningless detail. Strategy is nothing more than the means by which you communicate your message. It is, ultimately, a communications device. It’s no different than a cell phone.

As a result, when it comes to strategy, it is impossible to draw any distinction between a Democrat and a Republican: If we find a successful strategy, they’ll copy it. If they find a successful strategy, we should copy it (assuming it isn’t immoral, unethical, illegal, or all three).

Is it any wonder, after a week of talking heads all chattering about what cell phones they’re going to us, that large swaths of the American public can no longer distinguish any difference between Democrats and Republicans?

Contrary to popular belief, politics is not about image. Image is just another strategy for communicating the message. And it’s the message that wins elections. Politics is ideology. It’s about the ideas. And if you’re a Democrat, it’s because you believe our ideas are better than their ideas. And if you believe that, then you owe it to yourself, to your party, and to the American people to put those ideas before the American people.

There is one place where it is, of course, appropriate to talk strategy, and that’s the Strategy Room. And so, for a moment, I’m going to turn this into a Strategy Room and talk about the most successful and powerful strategy to be used in American politics in the last fifty years:

The Contract With America .

Whatever you may think of its actual content, the Contract With America was undeniably a brilliant political strategy. It quickly and succinctly, on a single sheet of paper, summed up the entire philosophy of the Republican party. Because of its simplicity it could be photocopied, e-mailed, faxed, televised, discussed, bullet-pointed, powerpointed, and virally disseminated in hundreds of different ways. In an era where the media only wants to talk about how a political party is going to say something and rarely about what is actually being said, the Contract With America brilliantly combined the medium with the message: Whenever a newspaper wanted to discuss the Contract With America, for example, it would inevitably reproduce its ten bullet points.

And here’s the most important point: The Contract With America made it perfectly clear exactly what the Republicans would do if they were given power. It served the same function once served by party platforms (which have, of course, become bloated documents completely dissociated from the party’s actual goals).

This was crucially important in 1994, when the American public was entirely unhappy with a Democratic congress which seemed incapable of accomplishing anything. In fact, it was entirely unclear what the Democrats were actually trying to accomplish. The Republicans, on the other hand, were clearly for something. And even if you didn’t agree with all of it, there was a good chance you agreed with some of it.

The result was the Republican Revolution.

A little over a decade later, we find ourselves in the same position: The public is completely disenchanted with a Republican congress and administration who seem to be either at odds with the public good or completely ineffectual or both.

But unlike the Republicans in 1994, the Democrats have failed to clearly communicate a message: What do they stand for? What will they do when elected?

They need something like the Contract With America.

Hey, here’s a thought: Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, why don’t the Democrats just use the most successful and powerful political strategy of the last fifty years?

Of course, we won’t call it a Contract with America . Instead, let’s call it An American Agenda.

What should it contain?

(1) I want wedge issues. I want the issues which will separate us from the Republicans. Those are the issues which define us.

(2) Not every Democrat in America needs to agree with every single article of the American Agenda. But they should be able to create a solid platform using a majority of it without being utterly compromised by the rest of it.

(3) It needs to be a positive document, not a reactionary one. It can’t be about what the Republicans should be stopped from doing, it needs to be about what the Democrats will be doing.


May 15th, 2006

An American Agenda

A Plan of Action for the Democratic Party

1. Balance the Budget 

Republicans have proven themselves to be absolutely incapable of practicing fiscal responsibility, revealing themselves to be the true party of big government. We need to stop mortgaging our children’s future and limiting our flexibility to respond in times of true crisis. The Democrats need to lead the charge in returning Clinton-era sensibility to the budget.

2. Protect the Supreme Court 

The Democrats must vow to maintain the current balance on the Supreme Court.


Liberals should be aware that, by-and-large, they’ve won the culture wars: They don’t need an influx of liberal, progressive justices to re-affirm the protections of the Constitution. All they need are principled, moderate judges like Sandra Day O’Connor who will conscientiously maintain the status quo and protect our Constitutional rights and liberties against the aggressive tactics of activist judges pursuing an extremist agenda of conservative interests.

And it’s a good thing that’s all they need, because it’s not only the best they can hope for given the Republican majorities in the national government, it’s also the best tactic for achieving their broader political aims (such as taking away those majorities from the Republicans). This is a goal that the Democrats can achieve while uttering nothing but sensible, moderate, centrist rhetoric as a counterpoint to the radical extremism of the Republican leadership.

The true goal here is to make this a positive, rather than a negative, campaign: The Democrats shouldn’t allow themselves to become trapped into simply nay-saying the goals of President Bush. Instead, they need to push for the things they believe in: That the individual rights and liberty guaranteed by the Constitution are a fundamental aspect of American society, and that any justice nominated to the Supreme Court should share their belief that these rights and liberties should be maintained.

3. Fight Global Warming

The only people who don’t believe that global warming is a looming crisis are the ignorant, the oil companies, and their lackeys. One solution that has some potential of succeeding in America is to establish a market for trading carbon-emission permits.

It would be preferable if America joined Tony Blair and Europe in pushing for a global carbon-trading market to replace the deeply flawed Kyoto Treaty, but merely establishing a national market would be a cost-effective way of achieving crucial environmental reform. It was George W. Bush’s father who pioneered the use of trading markets for emission permits as a radical and innovative way of fixing America ’s problems with acid rain. There’s no reason that his son shouldn’t follow his example.

4. Save No Child Left Behind 

There are two parts to saving the No Child Left Behind act: First, it must be funded. In its present form, it would appear that the true purpose of No Child Left Behind is to defund our public school systems in order to cripple them, paving the way later on to hypocritically point to our failing public schools as an excuse for promoting elitist “reforms”.

(This vicious sabotage of our childrens’ future is not a new tactic for the Republicans. Throughout the ‘90s they deliberately defunded the public schools in Oregon by passing referendums to drastically cut property taxes (the primary source of funding for public schools). The results have been predictably traumatic and the quality of public education in Oregon has slipped dramatically.)

But a properly funded and reformed No Child Left Behind act can transform the mandatory standards and testing into a true set of objective assessments that can be used to accurately identify the problem areas in our educational system.

Second, a reformed No Child Left Behind would require a more effective program for actually fixing these problems once they’ve been identified: Simply defunding an already ailing school doesn’t solve the problem, although it does serve the Republicans’ hidden agenda of defunding our public schools and crippling our childrens’ potential.

5. Reform Social Security 

The Social Security system is one of the great humanitarian acts of history, saving thousands of senior citizens from the miseries of abject poverty and death. In recent years, the shifting demographics of society have created problems with the system, but they’re not as serious as Bush’s rhetoric would lead one to believe. And, indeed, many of Bush’s proposed reforms would only exacerbate the real problems with the system, not solve them.

The Democrats need to put forward a solid platform for reforming Social Security in a responsible fashion. Unfortunately, this type of reform is not something which can realistically be achieved with the Republicans in total control. The Republicans are a party with a long-vested interest in dismantling the last line of defense for our grandparents, our parents, and (one day) ourselves, and they have a deplorable track record of offering golden platitudes with a forked tongue. (Look at the “energy security reforms” currently making their way through Congress: While Bush talks of developing clean, alternative energy sources, the bill is -- in reality -- a bloated package of subsidies and tax breaks for an oil industry already stuffing its pockets with profit.)

The inability and unwillingness of the Republicans to truly reform Social Security must be stressed on the one hand, while offering with the other a clear vision of how the system can actually be repaired.

6. Craft a True Patriot Act 

It’s possible to establish a strong national defense that protects are ports; our nuclear facilities; our chemical plants; our transportation system; and our way of life without sacrificing the same basic freedoms that the terrorists are so eager to tear down and destroy.

Perhaps the most frightening irony of the Patriot Act as it exists today is that it not only hamstrings liberties which have been guaranteed since the dawn of our nation, it also systematically fails to safeguard our nation: Our ports, our nuclear facilities, our chemical plants, and our transportation system all remain dangerously vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The Democrats need to repeal the fake patriotism of the Bush Administration and replace it with a True Patriot Act which would safeguard our freedoms without sacrificing them.

7. End War Crimes

Similarly, the atrocities committed and endorsed by the Bush Administration at Guantanamo Bay , Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere tarnish the ideals for which America stands. Torture and the repression of civil rights are, frankly speaking, utterly un-American.

Democrats have to demand accountability for these acts and they must take decisive action to see that such acts are never tolerated by our government again. If America is to truly be the Land of the Free and serve as a beacon to the world, we cannot compromise our own values and ethics.

8. Define Success in Iraq 

The Democrats need to set benchmarks to measure and assess success in Iraq and Afghanistan .

The President and his administration have shown not only a remarkable inability to choose a specific set of goals for Iraq , they have systematically failed to define what succeeding at many of those goals would actually look like.

Think about it: What does it mean to win the war in Iraq ? I don't know. Beyond vague rhetoric, we've never been told. If our goal was to eliminate the threat of WMDs, hasn't that been achieved? If our goal was to establish a democracy in Iraq , hasn't that been achieved? If our goal is to make sure that democracy is stable enough to survive our absence, what needs to be accomplished for us to consider it stable and secure?

This is just basic common sense: You can't try to solve a problem until you know what the problem is.

In the battle of perception, meanwhile, the term "definition of success" serves two purposes: First, it's far more difficult for the Republicans to twist and distort. (If you're trying to achieve victory in Iraq , you clearly can't be "cut-and-run".) Second, it not only reminds people that Bush has changed his reasons for this war a dozen times; that he falsely declared victory in 2003; and that he still hasn't told us what needs to be achieved before our brave men and women can come home.

9. Keep Faith With Our Veterans 

One of the great tragedies over the last several years has been the crass and cruel exploitation of our armed forces by the Republicans in Congress and the White House. While demanding longer and longer tours of duty from our men and women in uniform, the Republicans have systematically slashed the benefits and respect paid to our veterans.

Democrats need to make sure that the nation’s duty to the brave men and women of our armed forces is not forgotten. There is nothing cheap about keeping the promises we have made, but the price is still small in comparison to the infinite sacrifice each and every soldier is willing to make in the service of their country.


The key theme to strike is simple: The Republicans are the party of Big Brother and Big Government. They want to legislate your bedroom and saddle your children with crippling debt.


The Democrats have a vision of a better, stronger, safer America . They want effective, responsible government. They want to preserve liberty and the American way of life.