View 822 Tuesday, April 29, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983



I have been depressed all day. The news channels are full of the story: Mr. Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been banned from attending any game played by the team he owns, or having anything to do with its management; and the commissioner will recommend that the owners require him to sell the team. They haven’t voted yet, but apparently the vote is certain.

I’m not depressed about the outcome. From everything I have heard Mr. Sterling is an unsavory person I would not care to meet, and the Clippers are far better off without him.

But Sterling has been tried and convicted in camera by the Commissioner. The charge is racism. The specification is that he was recorded by his mistress as having said that he did not want her associating in public with black people. Apparently it wasn’t that she consorted with Magic Johnson and other black celebrities, but that she did so publicly and got into the news for doing so, and that upset Sterling. He wanted her to stop doing that, and told her so. In private, not public, in circumstances in which he had every right to expect privacy.

Prior to that he is said to have made other racist remarks not now given in evidence; but he is also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP, and was scheduled to receive another in a few weeks. The awards were presumably given mostly for his financial contributions, but surely there was at least some investigation of his hiring practices and other public behavior before they were given. There appears to have been no public reason to denounce him until his mistress brought forth a recording of the conversation.

His mistress is of mixed parentage, African and Latino. The head coach of the Clippers is Doc Rivers, a black man whose house was burned down in 1997 ( ( ) . Like all NBA teams, many of the stars of the Clippers are black. Whatever Donald Sterling’s inner opinions of African Americans may be, his public image was not one of refusing to associate with blacks, and indeed was good enough to get him NAACP Awards. If he has unsavory views they are not made public.

Or were not made public until his mistress, apparently in a blackmail attempt that went very awry, taped his remarks about his wishing she would not publicly associate with black people and released the tapes. And now Sterling’s racist views, or something that can be interpreted as racist views, are public.

And thus Sterling is revealed as a clandestine racist, and must be stripped of his ownership of the team just as it has gone from being a sort of joke to an actual contender for the NBA championship. He is forbidden to attend any of the Clipper games. (Aside: is that actually enforceable? I’d hate to be the LAPD cop charged with forbidding the team’s owner from going inside the building!) he is guilty of racism, not publicly espousing racism, not of any crimes against black people, not of refusing to associate with black people such as his mistress, but of being an inner racist at heart. There is a name for this: it’s called Thoughtcrime.

And that is frightening.


I understand that as a practical matter no one strongly suspected of the racist Thoughtcrime can be the owner of an NBA team. Teams are teams, and the players rightly stand up for each other. If the owner is resented by the black players – whether all or only a significant number of them – all the players are going to be against the owner, quite possibly to the extreme of refusing to play, and it would be hard to say why this is not a proper response, and impossible to prevent. Once that recording came out, Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers was inevitably doomed.

And from everything I have heard about Mr. Sterling he is not a person I would care to meet. Were I a lawyer I would not want to defend him. I understand that his wife is suing his mistress to required her to give over various presents that he has given to the mistress. He is said to have refused to rent apartments in his Korea Town apartment buildings to non-Koreans – which is an act, a behavior, not a thought. But that was not listed in the reasons for forbidding Mr. Sterling from attending any Clippers games, including the one they just won tonight.

Sports stars, and sports team owners, come in all social flavors. Some are model citizens, pillars of their community, with stable families and admirable reputations. Others seem determined to have intercourse with almost any creature they encounter, a few not being restrained by having to obtain the consent of the potential parent of the liaison. Some have sexually transmitted diseases, and at least a few seem not to have reported this until it came out some other way. Some have exemplary family lives, but many do not.

Of course sports celebrities are hardly the only group for which this is true. The motion picture industry notoriously covered up similar acts, particularly in the era of Studio domination. Over time, though, few bother to cover up their wild lives, and some exploit them as an asset. Then there are drug activities. But of course the sports world is not immune to drug use, although the temptation there is for a different variety of drug.

I suppose the bottom line is that in future it will no longer be sufficient to keep your Thoughtcrime to yourself. As technology improves it will become easier and easier to record everything you say without your knowledge, and anyone who thinks he or she can profit from making your inner thoughts public will be able to do so. And as technology improves again, perhaps you won’t need to speak your thoughts: they can be recorded as you think them.

I’m not depressed in sympathy with Mr. Sterling. For I have none. But I am depressed that we move closer to the reality of legal punishment for Thoughtcrime.


Incidentally, one outcome of this mess has been the admirable way Doc Rivers responded to it all.



The US Supreme Court is currently hearing a case to decide whether police may routinely search your cell phone if they have any reason to arrest you, such as a traffic stop. The argument is that if you carry something on your person and come to the attention of the police, it’s fair game: as a result you may be prosecuted for possession of child pornography, the possession being discovered after a traffic stop. Or perhaps you have a message implying you are selling drugs. Other scenarios come to mind.

When thinking about the advance of technology and the movement toward Thoughtcrime, you might keep this in mind as well.


Niven’s Pesky Belters’ Torchships


I noticed your comment about belter singleships being able to destroy the world.

Given a fusion rocket with plausible EV of 1/10 Cee and a plausible mass ratio of perhaps 2.7 (yes, e), then impact velocity is about 1/10 Cee and impact energy is about 4.5eex14 Joules or 1/10 Megaton yield per Kilogram. Assuming that the pesky belters’ torch ships mass about as much as two semi trucks or 100 tons or 1eex5 Kg, then impact energy is on the order of 4eex19 Joules or 10,000 Megaton or One Million Hiroshimas. However; given the 1/3 power scaling law for blast effects, then the lethal radius would be about 100 miles. This would be rather unpleasant for the impact vicinity, but it is no LUCIFER’s HAMMER. An assumption that I always made while reading Niven’s stories is that the UN and belter governments had some capability to intercept ships on high velocity impact trajectories (launching lasers), but the primary defense was the autodocs that kept everyone narcotized and conditioned.

My quibbling aside, you make an excellent point about the future of a society that allows the least successful people to breed unimpeded. Perhaps the CoDo raised Borloi on Tanith because it was not only a highly addictive narcotic, it was a highly addictive contraceptive?

James Crawford=

I remember now I had come to much the same conclusion regarding the lethal radius of a single ship accelerating from Ceres to Earth, but I didn’t keep the notes and it was long enough ago that I forgot the numbers I came up with Thank you for the reminder. Of course the secondary effects are not so easily calculated. The conclusion remains that Earth in Known Space is not likely to be a stable civilization; at least that is haunting enough that I have trouble writing in it. I do agree that “destroying the Earth” is conceding to the Belters considerably more power than they have. Still, a hundred miles centered on Washington DC or Silicon Valley would be a pretty severe event.


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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