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Exactly two decades ago, The Postman tried to deliver

Contrary Brin - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 01:33

Exactly 20 years ago today, Kevin Costner released his film based on my novel The Postman into theaters. (The Postman is the only science fiction saga to come in second for three successive Hugo Awards; it's in 25 languages around the world.)
I’ve written elsewhere my complex opinions about Costner’s flick… see my essay on the book vs. the movie, which emphasized the positive, in order to help give the maligned and under-appreciated film whatever small boost that I could… 

...but let’s do a capsule summary of the pros and cons, a very personal view of minuses and plusses.
MinusThe Postman hit theaters the very same week as “James Cameron’s silly remake about a sinking boat.” KC’s words, I kid you not! He released it the… same… weekend… as… Titanic. I doubt there is a more wince-worthy example of poor timing in Hollywood history. (And yes, one of these two motion pictures is being feted right now, for its 20thanniversary. The other hit an iceberg.)
On the plus side: For all its faults, I deem the Postman film to be one of the dozen or so most beautiful motion pictures - both visually and musically - ever made. Costner has a genius eye and ear! Working with cinematographer Stephen Windon and composer James Newton Howard - he created a sensory masterpiece.
Minus: In collaboration with screenwriter Brian Helgeland, the plotting, characters and pacing were terrific for about 2/3 of the show. Alas though, chaos started creeping in, toward the end - a floundering that could have been solved over some beers with … well… maybe a consultant who knows the story pretty well?
Alas, Costner’s behavior toward the original author was inexplicably, unnecessarily brusque and ultimately self-destructive. I never publicly complained – and in fact, KC admitted later that I was a “team player,” trying hard to help promote the film. But I’ve since learned that people noticed. It didn’t help.
Plus: The worst thing you can do to the original author is to betray the core meaning of his or her book. But I have no such complaint! In fact, I was astonished how well Costner and Helgeland conveyed the heart of my story… about a flawed and fretful hero who feels guilt over telling a beautiful lie, in order to survive. A lie that comes true, by reminding other survivors that they were once mighty beings called citizens.
This powerful message - running diametrically and deliberately opposite to every Mad Max cliché - pervades both the book and the film, and KC's “Postman” character essentially is my character, Gordon – perhaps with fewer IQ points, and no name -- but the same soul.
It’s a message that we especially need in these times…and for that one fact, I gladly and openly forgive every complaint! I defend and will always be proud to be associated with this motion picture.
See also: A Reader's Guide to The Postman novel.
Minus: One must simplify for the screen. Costner cut out the ersatz AI computer (“Cyclops”) and the garish sci-fi augments and several other plot elements from the book. Perhaps he expected me to gripe about that, but I agreed with every one of those cuts! (I never got a chance to tell him that.) Alas, though. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to scoop out and throw away quite so much of the book's brains?
A side gripe: when I visited the set in Arizona… getting eighteen whole words from him… he couldn’t have told an underling to: “Throw a Holnist uniform on this bozo and give him a cameo. Put him in formation with the others in our next scene, and tell him to stay quiet”? That woulda killed him? Ah, never mind that.
A side irony: I never minded the Tom Petty scene. Kinda liked it, in fact. And I miss him.
Okay so we have “gorgeous, big-hearted and dumb.” 
Hey, worse things have happened to a novel that gets filmed! Often lots worse.  (Though Andy Weir and Ted Chiang got to be a whole lot more delighted with their experiences. Yes, including the money.)
What is the sum of all these plusses and minuses? Overall positive. I’d be happy to be a team player in some future movie. Yes, even if I’m sent to the Kids’ Table as the “mere author.”
The capper to all this is my one top benefit from this experience.
More book sales? Well, a bit. But box office flops don’t give books much leg.
No, the most lasting benefit from this experience was something simpler.
It gave me a story to tell folks on airplanes. 

Priceless. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

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

Spoiler-Free Observations on The Last Jedi

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 13:13
Some thoughts on The Last Jedi, after I’ve had a night to chew on it. These thoughts are spoiler-free, because I am not a dick. 1. I enjoyed it and it was a solid entry into the canon, which means that Disney has now made three solid Star Wars films in a row (The Force […]

I’m Still Finishing the Book, So Here’s a Picture of a Cat, Plus Another Question

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 09:14
Sugar enjoys laying on me while I’m trying to type. It’s adorable, but also makes the typing just a little bit slower. Today’s audience participatory question whilst I am furiously typing: If you could have one musical artist cover a particular holiday song, which artist and song would it be? NOTE: This is for holiday […]

The downside of political amnesia

Contrary Brin - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 22:24
By the time you read this, we'll all know the outcome from the Alabama Senate race. And either way, it is a cautionary tale about the perils of plunging into phase 8 of the American Civil War.

You’ve also heard about an effort by well-known political fraudster James O’Keefe and his organization Project Veritas to entrap the Washington Post newspaper into publishing a false story about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, with the obvious intention of discrediting the well-documented allegations that Moore preyed on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. This Post writer - Paul Waldman - has a right to be angry… but also should take a stress pill.   
“If you’re a Republican voter, I have some bad news for you. The people who lead the movement that supposedly represents your views — the politicians, the media figures, the activists — think you’re an idiot. In fact, they count on it…. This is much larger than O’Keefe or this one Senate race. It’s about a poison of exploitation and deceit that courses through the conservative movement. Some conservatives have tried to expunge this poison, without success. If anything, the scam has gotten even more pervasive and influential.”
  Okay, take a breath, big fellah.  Pace yourself. In fact, I have nothing against baited tests of integrity being applied to all sorts of professions.  But they should be evenhanded and citizens should note when it snares members of their own party.  Not much chance of that, alas.

Anyway, you didn't expect the goal posts to shift, yet again?  Used to be that divorce was a sure killer for any Republican candidate. Then came Reagan and suddenly third or even fourth marriages are dismissed with a shrug. Vices like gambling become normalized, when casino lords make up a large part of your party's donor base. 

The goal post shifts regarding Climate Change have been epic! (First: "Glaciers are spreading!" Then: "There's been no warming for 20 years!" Then: "Okay it's getting plenty hotter but... but it's the sun! Yeah, that's the ticket!" Then: "Who cares about doomed Florida, if I can buy melting tundra in the Yukon!")

So calm down. Normalizing pedophiles and sexual predators is only part of the "normal" pattern.

== Don't be distracted from the core matter -- war ==
Everything I predicted about the looming Iran-U.S. “Potemkin war” is coming true, as anti-democratic forces converge on the same scenario. See: Iran’s hard-liners use Trump’s rhetoric to target rivals at home. "Escalating tensions with the United States have stirred nationalist sentiment in Iran, giving its hard-liners an opportunity to more fiercely target critics and settle old scores, rights advocates and analysts say."
Exactly as predicted. It is a choreographed dance..
== The Soros Amnesia Effect ==
Google partnered with an organization largely funded by billionaire George Soros to “fact-check” news stories, a move that could affect search results for certain news agencies. The new group’s code of principles requires news agencies to obey five commitments to ensure news agencies remain honest, transparent and nonpartisan. 
And yes, there are denunciations that Soros - called by some “the Great Meddler - is using this excuse to gain propaganda advantage, as slyly implied in this article. (Only, note the source! RT, the official Kremlin mouthpiece.)

“Soros was recently criticised for transferring nearly $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations, making it the second largest charity in the US after the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation. The charity has been accused of inciting so-called “color revolutions” to install governments friendly to the US.”
Ah Soros.  All across the right-o-sphere, from Glen Beck and Fox to Alex Jones and Breitbart, George Soros is declaimed, often as Enemy #1. In their ravings about him, they illustrate the “true lie” technique. When a fellow is rich and strong enough to sue, you attack with half-truths

Glen Beck led the way, shouting "George Soros is so powerful he toppled EIGHT FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS!!!!"
Now, I’ll surprise you by agreeing with Beck. This lie is based on a true statement. George Soros did in fact help to topple eight foreign governments! But does it occur to any of the Beck-Breitbart-Fox watchers to ask their hypnotizers to name those foreign regimes that George Soros helped to topple? 
Is it a sign of the quality of this audience that no one asked or considered it pertinent? None of the alt-right blogs, not Fox, no one at all… and sadly, no one on the left or in mainstream media bothered, either. No one asked for the list of foreign governments that George Soros “toppled.” Why? Was it simple, dullard incuriosity? 
Can you name them? It seems a simple enough question. I ask it in perfect friendliness. There’s a hint, even in the recent RT article. And it shows that - yes - George Soros has been a master meddler!  But he has always been on our side. 

And those denouncing him are not. 
== Oh the “Uranium” thing… subsidized by guess who? ==
One outcome of the Paradise Papers imbroglio: Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon's attacks on Hillary Clinton, especially channeled in secret from Robert Mercer.
Oh, when your crazy Uncle screeches about “selling all our Uranium to Russia," ask him to state clearly what supposedly happened? And then put money on it in a wager! Over whether: 
(1) whether Hillary Clinton had anything to do with the decision (she didn’t),

(2) whether the Russians got any Uranium (they didn’t; a Russian company bought a Canadian mining company that owns land where maybe 20% of U.S. reserves might (estimates) lie deeply buried),

(3) whether she was bribed (show one scrap of evidence. Nine U.S. agencies and half a dozen Canadian ones signed off on the purchase; were all of them bribed?)

(4) This “arms” Russia? Hmm…. Maybe over a decade or more. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, Yeltsin sold us almost all of their loose Plutonium…. hundreds of bombs’ worth, and already refined. So I guess the screams were louder, over there.

In a more general sense, you folks have been denouncing the Clintons for 25 years. In just taxpayer funded investigations (not counting right wing private eyes) the cost has neared half a billion dollars. For much of that time, the GOP owned every single branch of government , ordering vast resources to seek even a single Clintonian "smoking gun." And to date, what's proved, or even indictable?

Nada, zip. This doesn't utterly prove the Clintons totally innocent. It does prove the entire GOP political caste to be so incompetent they shouldn't be trusted with a burnt match. Seriously. A cynic might suggest you guys are siding with Idiocracy. 
== Bait n' switch ==
Paul Ryan announces a 4th tax bracket for "the rich," and thus hopes to distract from the core goals of theTax Bill. 

- to end the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) that assures the uber-wealthy pay at least something into the civilization that defends them.

- to end the Inheritance Tax. While you pay state and federal on the income you sweated for, some brat scion-heir will get billions tax free, because you weren't paying attention. The Inheritance Tax is by-far the fairest tax, helping to prevent a return to 6000 years of feudalism. And it need never be paid! Just leave your kids the exempt $10 million and assign the rest to a charitable foundation of your own choosing, to sing your generous name down the ages!
- the slashed corporate tax rate won't be spent much on productive capacity or jobs or R&D. These weren't incentivized and profitable companies were already spending their cash on stock buy-backs. (Which the Greatest Generation wisely made illegal.) This will let the 5000 member of the CEO caste fulfill their golden option plans while buying oligarch-owned stock at top prices, just before a recession. It is the part of the bill that has the aristocracy drooling.

This is the attempted oligarchic coup in its rawest form. Note that it is not the self-made, genius inventor tech-billionaires or makers or producers who are fighting for this. Most of them are democrats! (Or libertarians: another story.) It's the stupid ones - resource extractors who buy political influence, K Street "swamp" lobbyists, Wall Street parasite cheaters, lordly heirs, foreign sheiks and Cayman moguls - who think something like this will stand for long, before Americans eventually turn to one kind of revolution -- the moderate, rooseveltean kind preferred by the Greatest Generation -- or else another, less-moderate kind. 

Look up the word "tumbrels." See my earlier posting: Class War and the Lessons of History.
On his newsletter - Thoughts from the Frontine - John Mauldin struggles to maintain a nearly extinct species – the sane American conservative. And that means accepting facts, now and then, as illustrated by the following chart from John’s friend, billionaire Ray Dalio, one of the smart moguls who recognize that revolution is coming, and wants it to be one of those mild ones.

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same – the top ).1% owns as much as the bottom 90% -- but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, or the dawn of Supply Side “economics” -- while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. 

Says Mauldin: “Looking back, we see a similar pattern in the 1920s – which dramatically reversed in the following decade. Then there was an almost 50-year period during which the masses gained wealth and the wealthy lost ground. This doesn’t mean the 0.1% ceased being wealthy. It just means they owned a smaller portion of the total wealth. An economy in which 0.1% of the people own 10% of the wealth is still skewed, just less so.”

Yes, and I hope we can do as well as the Greatest Generation -- when America proved its greatness -- and when the most adored American was the fellow who saved the republic from a communist revolution. You know who.
== The real war, made utterly explicit! ==

Never has the war on all fact-users been more explicit than conveyed by the Core Loon himself, Rush Limbaugh. 

On Fox, they’ll whinge: “we aren’t anti-science! We’re just urging you to assume scientists (and all other fact-professions) are all mealy-mouth, conformist corrupt liars. We know and love scientists better than scientists!” 

Hypocrites. But Rush is blatant and in the open, See the image he originated, that’s circulating the web like mad. Hatred of all fact-using professions is now the main Confederate article of faith.From Thomas Paine "To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture."

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

A Question For You Whilst I Finish My Book

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 09:29
I’m soooooooooo close to finishing Head On (which was due a long time ago ugh), so while I’m busy typing, here’s a participatory thread with a festive, holiday-themed question for you: What was the best-received gift you ever gave for the holidays? Which is to say, not the gift you thought was the best, or […]

Visualizing the future - and ways you can change it

Contrary Brin - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 18:02
While attending the Future in Review (FiRe) Conference in Park City Utah, I participated in talks about AI, trends in computing, visualization, entrepreneurship etc.  
Notable was this year’s CTO Challenge about “visualizing visualization,” and presentations about breakthroughs in understanding the retina and neurons, new steps in supercomputing, and risk-management software tools. Nascent companies of significance include a new type of combo solar roof that also condenses water out of the air, purifies other water, uses it to cool solar panels to higher efficiency, and pre-cool the home. (“The 24 hour solar roof Co.") Improved generators & motors, and other cool breakthroughs. Also, thorough discussion of the all-out campaign to steal the fruits of western and American creativity.
Should we fear or embrace the future? The BBC ran an extended interview with various futurist mavens at the recent FiRe, discussing innovation, and cyber-security… and saving the best for last, a bit of blather from yours-truly, about how we may make peace and live with artificial intelligences. And yes, it will be worth the wait.
Artificial Intelligence has replaced both transparency and national security as the #1 topic I am asked to speak and consult about. A fairly vivid tech business site asked me - and 21 other mavens — for predictions on how AI will impact the enterprise workplace.  

Meanwhile, are we self-lobotomizing?  It appears that  half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. 

We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.  See a review of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter.  == Apparently, some folks are listening… ==
I’m #52 in a compilation of “Top 100 digital influencers.” Some of the people below me are brilliant! Indeed I am puzzled both to be there and by a lack of Vint Cerf.  Yes, this is one fellow’s personal list, so fine! 
Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.
Meanwhile, wearing my “Mr. Transparency” hat, I just published: “No One Said It Would Be Easy: Copcams, sousveillance and the revolution of rising expectations,” in the first issue of the Journal of Science & Popular Culture - now available online. "Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction."

 The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society."  My article in issue #1, volume 1, is pp. 77–82 , 2017.
== Some are trying to make us smarter ==
The brilliant folks at "X" - the Alphabet (Google) company that takes on grand challenges - used stratospheric balloons to deliver emergency internet services to Puerto Rico. "Working with AT&T, Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones."
Project Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to deliver internet connectivity to rural and remote areas worldwide. Loon balloons sail on winds in the stratosphere, extending the reach of our telecommunication partner’s networks into areas that are currently unconnected.This is terrific and helps make up for the way the federal government has failed 3 million US citizens down there. But it shows once again how much of our resilience depends on access to communications, a point I have been making in nonfiction, fiction, speeches and consults with agencies. Foremost...
...the chips in our cell phones could already allow peer-to-peer (P2P) text passing from phone to phone in afflicted areas without working cell towers. If this capability were simply turned on, many places would see far better citizen robustness and local problem solving!  See where I go into detail, here. And it is almost criminal that this one small thing, which might double national resilience, has been blocked by very obtuse men.
Oh, but – “Purdue Engineering researchers have developed a system that can show what people are seeing in real-world videos, decoded from their fMRI brain scans — an advanced new form of  “mind-reading” technology that could lead to new insights in brain function and to advanced AI systems.” 

One envisions how it could empower Big Brother so that no resistance will ever be possible. Or else…

empower us all, if we can apply these tools upon politicians and the mighty, to make sure that Big Brother happens… never.
Heck... while we're peering ahead... If tachyon neutrinos exist, then there are some interesting ramifications: It isn't often that you see the word "gobsmacking" in an abstract ...

== Holiday wishes?  You (yes, you!) can save the world (personally!) ==
It's a good season to re-evaluate... and each of us taking responsibility for the future, as best we can.
For example, as we've seen in a year of weather extremes, hurricanes, fires etc., both natural and man-made disasters are always looming. I've long advocated that all citizens engage in the kind of preparedness that both Boy Scouts and Mormons practice out of habit. I also trained to be a member of our local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). At least have a look at the program and consider taking the mere 20 hours of training. It’s all that remains of Civil Defense in the U.S. (Find your equivalent, in other nations.)
(In fact, I took it to the next level and trained to join the California Disaster Corps. I have the uniform and prepared my go bag, in case I am ever called.  CERT is to help your own community (and I’ve donned the green gear a few times.) CDC might summon me to wear dark blue anywhere in the state.)
There are other ways to be ready, without going all out to the prepper or survivalist (or even Holnist) extremes. Take this fellow’s cogent compilationof ways that you can help others, even far away, get through emergencies.
Of course we must prevent the preventable, which is why this time of year I urge everyone to read my “proxy activism” posting, that describes what average people can do to save the world — in exactly whatever set of priorities you think best!

I list worthy groups from Doctors Without Borders to Oxfam International  as well as The Planetary Society, Donors Choose (for schools) and Habitat for Humanity.
The method that I offer leaves all decisions and goals up to you, whether you view yourself as an environmentalist or a libertarian or Vegan activist! Moreover it's just right for a lazy person, (like you?) Do what I recommend and you can sit back, at least knowing that you helped others to save the world for you!
(Use each December as your season to reflect, adjust, and renew memberships. Don't worry... I'll remind you.)
One thing we do know: if you aren’t doing this much - this basic minimum - then you are one of those who later generations may curse. And they may have that power. It wouldn’t put anything past ornery humanity!

So do at least the minimum.  And then, when we narrowly save it all, you’ll get to be one of the smug ones who take credit.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017, Day Five: Charities

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 07:05
For the last four days, the Whatever Gift Guide 2017 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a […]

Flawed models of society... (Some kinda work). And why our worst foe is certainty.

Contrary Brin - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:46
I plan to be more general and deal with bigger-broader issues this time since, well, we have to pause now and then. Take a breath, saying (about today's political ructions) "this, too, shall pass."
Still, before diving into "social and political "charts" and the theory of totalitarianism, I will throw out there two vital and timely news items. First...

You must read the text of Sen. Jeff Flake’s speech, declaring that he can no longer stand by, while American discourse, politics, and even civil peace are wrecked byreckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve."

Another excerpt: “Leadership lives by the American creed, “E pluribus unum.” From many one. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled, and when we do well, the rest of the world does well.”

The Arizona Republican does a humble mea culpa about having been too quiet in the era that led up to Donald Trump, and he implicitly calls Trump a devastating symptom of a deeper sickness in his own party. 

So, then… might this lead to what the Republic desperately needs? A critical mass of grownups who will disown the whole Murdoch-owned maelstrom of lies and cheaters, coalescing instead to form a Party of Sane American Conservatives, or PASAC? Elsewhere I show that this sort of thing sis happen in the past. See "The Miracle of 1947."
Alas, we have been waiting for such a gathering of sane conservatives for at least a decade. If it were going to happen, would they not have saved us from the nation-rape of the recent Tax Bill?

See Also: Why Military Chiefs Are Condemning White Supremacy.  
Seriously, the GOP political caste is cowardly. But if I am wrong about the Officer Corps, then we are well and simply screwed. 

If I am right, then we have powerful allies who want the American Republic and the Great Enlightenment Experiment to succeed. And they are caught in a terrible, terrible bind. God bless em.

Do your part. See how to take advantage of the revulsion-momentum and help reduce the Hannity-Fox ad revenue.
== “Charting” politics? ==
I have long inveighed against the absurdly lobotomizing so-called “left-right political axis,” which crams all issues together along a scale that no one can even properly define.  Others have agreed that one-dimensional politics is unworthy of a sapient people. My recently departed colleague, Jerry Pournelle, was among those who have tried to offer an improved landscape.
One problem with most such models – like the "Nolan Chart" often handed out at Libertarian gatherings – is that the two axes all too often overlap, meaning that there will be a tendency for persons traveling along one coordinate to automatically travel along the other. In other words, using the terminology of science, the variables are neither independent nor orthogonal. Also, many of these mental calisthenics have been created with a specific political message in mind. In other words, they suffer from tendentiousness, a gross logical sin that occurs when the arguer claims to be seeking a neutral process, but is driven all along to reach a foregone conclusion.
Their very purpose is not illuminating but polemical, to lure others who are viewing the chart to drift toward the corner that the chart-makers want you to go. Or - in Jerry's case - to a definition of "moderate centrist" that happened to be his view on everything. Jerry's 2-D chart is better than the tendentious "Nolan Chart," though alas, it is still non-orthogonal and "rationality" is a judgment call. e.g. I deem Randians to be spectacularly irrational. 
My own 2D (and 3D!) charts use measurable metrics that are truly orthogonal and the resulting landscape is not tendentious... not designed to lead you to my favored direction.They also happen to eviscerate the standard assumptions that you are used to. So be prepared to re-evaluate!

As happens even more thoroughly, if you dare to try on the socratic probings of my Questionnaire on Ideology, which speaks to none of today's hot-button issues. None at all. Still, you'll go huh!
== Stuck in a rut ==

Let me illustrate the stupidity of our current “spectrum” simply: Many of our supposed "left-right" rigor mortises collapse if you ask the right questions. e.g. Competition is clearly a mighty generative force and "right" people claim they are defending it from being stifled by lefty meddlings.  

But Adam Smith, Hayek and common sense show that competition is best when regulated to maximize the number of confident, skilled and ready participants!  Well, nothing ever expanded that pool of competitors more than liberal interventions in mass health, education, infrastructure and rights.
And keeping things flat-fair. After 6000 years, we know that brief eras of open-fair competition are always ruined by oligarchic cheaters. Regulations (e.g. anti-trust) that keep competitive markets flat-open-competitive are not "stifling."  They ensure a fair game, as do regulations and referees in sports.
For these two reasons, it is insane to call liberals "leftists" who want socialism, just because they want some socialist interventions that increase the number of skilled participants and regulations to keep competition fair.  In fact it is the exact opposite!  Liberals are the only friends that a fair and open market system have! If he were alive today, Adam Smith would be a Democrat. And the folks at Evonomics show this by citing Smith more than anybody. 

In contrast, most "libertarians" today seldom mention or have read Smith, and the C-Word... "competition" ... is never mentioned at all, amid the idolatry of unlimited aristocratic property.
Those five paragraphs, alone, show how insane "left-right" is, since it does not even mean what it claims to mean in the narrow realm of market economics! Not while the "right" is the chief force destroying flat-fair competition today.
== A flawed but improvable system ==
Lawrence Lessig is at it again.  Last year he tried to get on the Democratic Presidential debates — not aiming to win nomination, but to elevate the conversation, trying to discuss corruption and the poisonous effects of Big Money in politics. Among the many huge mistakes made by Democrats was squelching such participation in the first few debates. They missed an opportunity to draw in viewers and make themselves decisively the party of thoughtfulness, by bringing in diverse voices, at least for a while.
(I was so disappointed Jerry Brown didn’t run… not to win office, but to bring his stunning mind onto that stage and shattering all the standard models.)
Regarding Lessig’s anti-corruption campaign - let’s be clear: Republican Congresses are not only the laziest in the history of the Republic - holding the fewest hearings, votes or days in session and passing almost no bills, including none of their proclaimed priorities… but they are also the most corrupt, spending nearly all of their time doing “fund-raisers.” 

Democrats do some of that, too! But much less and (crucially) most of them would vote for Lessig’s reforms.
Now, while continuing his efforts on campaign funding. Larry is pushing another endeavor, filing a lawsuit against a major distortion of our political process, the “Winner Takes All” apportionment of electors in 48 states, in presidential elections.
The Electoral College itself is in the Constitution. But “Winner Takes All” is not! It is a corruption instituted by party hacks - like gerrymandering - to cheat American voters.
I know Lawrence Lessig has seen my essay on this matter, first circulated in the last century and posted on my site in 2008.  
To be clear, this is no panacea. Ending “Winner Takes All” will generally ensure that the Electoral College is apportioned closer to the popular vote… but there is an inherent advantage to the GOP in the plethora of low population red states, each of which has two senators and hence two bonus electors. (We need two Dakotas? Seriously? Read up on how that came about.)
Still, fairness will improve some if we do this simple reform. And candidates will pay attention to more than just a few swing states. So I urge your support.  Here’s the fundraiser for Larry’s effort. Do sign up! Though also circulate my 2008 link, since… well… fair is fair.
== Monstrous Certainty ==
Let me finish with a riff on the nature and roots of despotism.

One of the more important unsung corners of our renaissance is the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, where director Roger Berkowitz runs the “Amor Mundi” (love of the world) Newsletter, offering many off-angle modern insights.  Here he discusses the way that many on the far-left have chosen to veer their passionate interest away from traditional topics like class warfare and economics, over to critiquing the way the masses have been hypnotized into false cultural beliefs.  

'This “cultural left” has specialized in “what they call the ‘politics of difference’ or ‘of identity’ or ‘of recognition.’ This cultural Left thinks more about stigma than about money, more about deep and hidden psychosexual motivations than about shallow and evident greed.” Losing interest in labor unions and laborers, the “academic, cultural Left” this wing argues that “the system, and not just the laws, must be changed.” And by “system” they mean the programming that combines racism and classism with the memic repression cult called science.'
Here’s a link to Roger’s excellent and informative missive. And before I continue, let me make clear that this critique is qualitative.  In any quantitative sense, this wing of “leftism” is minuscule, compared to the mad cults that infest and have hijacked America’s currently jabbering-loony right.   Shills like Sean Hannity point at far-lefty shriekers and claim “See? All liberals are like that!” Um, not. In fact, we are able to critique our own fanatics. You confederates cannot. 
Alas, the decline in discourse in American life is, I believe, rooted in something biochemical. The bilious rage of extreme partisans - of all stripes - has a component that's entirely orthogonal to the actual merits or faults of the cause, itself.  That driver is the addictive high of self-righteous indignation.
I've been writing and speaking about this for a long time... once even at the National Institutes for Drugs and Addiction. Barbara Oakley included my piece in her terrific tome PATHOLOGICAL ALTRUISM.
The word "addiction" should be expanded to include so many of the fine and good things that we do, that are reinforced by chemical feedback loops in the brain -- e.g. love of music, or skill, or our kids.  Sanctimony is a mental state that - like many religious experiences - can tap into these reinforcement systems, triggering release of endorphins and dopamine and getting the user to repeatedly return for another hit, another high.
One understands why indignation can do this. Across our evolution, there have been a myriad times when some added force-of-will made the difference between success and failure. Even life or death. Moreover, there are many things - like injustice - that are worthy of volcanic ire! In no way am I implying that liberal activists should back off from their causes.
Still, we have all seen how the passionate can take over advocacy groups and causes. And then there comes a race-to-the-top in competitions to show who is most passionate -- comparison contests that leave many movements under command of the angriest, the most-intense, those least likely to accept partial allies, those least able to negotiate half-step-forward, pragmatic compromises.

== Certainty is the core enemy of our renaissance ==

Of course this flame is stoked by many Hollywood-modern memes, like the relentless lesson of Suspicion of Authority (SoA) that's preached in every film and in so many songs. So many of the passionate proclaim (in effect) "I invented indignation at injustice and suspicion of authority!"  

No, in fact you suckled these lessons from the very society that you've been trained to despise.
Where this relates to the Berkowitz missive is the fact that polemical passions are endangered, whenever they focus on realms that might be amenable to factual analysis, wherein even being right is likely to lead to some tepid, 90% validation, calling for at-least a little compromise and pragmatic negotiation. This quandary means the farthest left can no longer focus on economics or matters of law or governance -- these call for focus on hard and gritty reality, wherein the detested pragmatists can trot out their hated and feared weapon of oppression -- facts.
The postmodernists' war against fact-users - especially science - is thus rooted in exactly the same elements of human nature as the War on Facts waged by the Mad Right. And while of course these two polemical wings are very different -- blatantly the entire U.S. right is far larger and more dangerous for now -- it is not untoward for reasonable people to bear in mind that there are more dimensions here, than just the hoary-lobotomizing "left-right axis."
It was not any calmly-parsed argument of Marxism that made Lenin and Stalin willing mass murderers. It was the thing that Jacob Bronowski denounced in the very last episode of his fantastically wonderful "The Ascent of Man."
Monstrously passionate certainty.
If you binge on anything this year.... binge on that show, which set the template for COSMOS and so many others. 

(And compensate for the 1970s less-PC language; it's worth it.)

== And finally, here is my incantation ==

Try repeating it, aloud.

I am a member of a civilizationIt’s good that we have a rambunctious society, filled with opinionated individualists. Serenity is nice, but serenity alone never brought progress. Hermits don’t solve problems. The adversarial process helps us to improve as individuals and as a culture. 

Criticism is the only known antidote to error — 
Elites shunned it and spread ruin across history. We do each other a favor (though not always appreciated) by helping find each others’ mistakes.And yet — we’d all be happier, better off and more resilient if each of us were to now and then say:

“I am a member of a civilization.” (IAAMOAC)

Step back from anger. Study how awful our ancestors had it, yet they struggled to get you here. Repay them by appreciating the civilization you inherited.                                                                               . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Old Man’s War in Development at Netflix

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:04
So here’s some lively holiday news: An Old Man’s War movie is currently in development at Netflix. Surprise! Here are the details over at I’m pretty happy about this. And now, your questions: Are you excited? Hell, yes. One, because I would love to see an OMW movie. But also, two, Netflix is a […]

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017, Day Four: Fan Favorites!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 10:04
For the first three days of the Whatever Gift Guide 2017, I’ve let authors and creators tell you about their work. Today is different: Today is Fan Favorites day, in which fans, admirers and satisfied customers share with you a few of their favorite things — and you can share some of your favorite things as well. This is a […]

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 10:09
The Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017 continues, and today we move away from books and focus on other gifts and crafts — which you can take to mean just about any other sort of thing a creative person might make: Music, art, knitting, jewelry, artisan foodstuffs and so on. These can be great, unique gifts for special folks […]

“Don’t Live For Your Obituary” Arrives at the Scalzi Compound

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 19:18
Look at this lovely book, held aloft by my lovely missus. It’s Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my first collection of writing-related essays in a decade. The official release date is December 31st (yes, New Year’s Eve), but if you pre-ordered the signed limited hardcover from Subterranean Press, I understand they have begun to be […]

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:24
Today is Day Two of the Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Hey, I put my first novel up on this very Web site years ago and told people to […]

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:10
Typing in a minefield: When Ryk E. Spoor took on his new novel Princess Holy Aura, that’s what he guessed he’d be doing. Why? And why did he decide to write it anyway? Read on for the answers. RYK E. SPOOR: I did not expect to write Princess Holy Aura. “Hey, you’re the author, don’t […]

The Tax Bill: aspects that no one (at all) will discuss.

Contrary Brin - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 19:00
It seems that the GOP, which has owned every branch of government and lever of power, since January, will at last have an "accomplishment" -  a Tax Bill they admit will add a trillion dollars to the national debt, while offering last-minute gushers for real estate developers, banks, hedge funds, the oil industry, lobbyists and aristocratic heirs…
… all of it without spending a red cent on infrastructure, which would have generated high money velocity and growth, while fixing actual bridges, actual roads we use. 
(Funny how that list describes almost every power broker or politician-owner correlated with this Congress and this White House:  Real Estate developers, Banks, hedge fund skulks, the oil industry, lobbyists and aristocratic heirs… ah, swamp drainage.)
To distract from this raid on our children, the oligarchy offers up more magical incantations of Supply Side “economics,”proclaiming that this time the oligarchs will spend their windfall on R&D and productive capacity and jobs… unlike every single other time, when they spent it all on passive asset bubbles, exactly as Adam Smith predicted, back in 1776.
Smith warned that aristocrats — like the ones our U.S. Founders rebelled-against — tend not to spend infusions of cash on risky capital formation, or research, or factories. Generally 90% of them will plow it into ‘rent-seeking’ assets like stocks or land, where they can passively collect dividends or gains.  (Note that every tax break in this bill favored passive income, not wages you actually earn through work.) 

As in King George’s time, top cronies adjust the laws to favor rent-grabbing assets over innovation, production or work. Smith would be outraged today… but not surprised.
Of course there is an end game to asset bubbles, and that end-game is the elephant in the room! One that, so far, no clever pundit has raised, amid all the yelling over this tax bill... an important aspect of the legislation that matters far more that the petty attacks on higher education and science, or the open war waged upon Blue States. I'll get to this invisible pachyderm, in a moment.
But pause first to congratulate the victors! The same folks who howled that Democrats passed the ACA (‘Obamacare’) in "just a year," holding open, public hearings for just 6 months in just five committees… those same complainers have now passed the biggest tax bill in history with ZERO days of hearings, with scribbled margin notes enacted into law, forging this trillion dollar raid for billionaires in top secret and passing it in the dead of night, amid a festival of lies.
What you fellahs do is evil. It is treason. But you do it very well.

== The real reason for the tax cut - an oligarch exit strategy ==
Critics of the Tax Bill point out that benefits to aristocrats are locked in, while much smaller cuts for working people fade quickly and turn into tax hikes, over a few years. That’s a travesty, of course.  But also a distraction, because we're left with an impression that the biggest change - slashing corporate tax rates - has little to do with the top-rich families of the country.
We're assured corporations will then invest it all in R&D, in new products, in factories and jobs. But...
1) Again, across 40 years, this Supply Side incantation never came true. Ever. Once. The eras of highest U.S. growth, rising wages and middle class health all took place under high tax rates established by the Greatest Generation, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Except for the JFK rate cuts, every other cut was followed by reduced growth rates.
(See: Comparing the GOP tax plan to what it was like prior to the great depression.)
2) For the 2nd half of the Obama Administration, corporations have been mostly very profitable. They already had tons of cash on-hand, in the USA, to invest in production, jobs or R&D, but those investments declined. Their bulging cash larders were spent instead on dividends and stock buybacks that helped their CEOs to meet performance criteria for their vampiric option plans.
3) Any “competitive disadvantage” from other nations’ lower corporate rates might have been dealt with by negotiating a world treaty balancing such rates. It’s happened before! Sure, negotiations might not work, this time. But there’s no mention of even trying, only a race to the bottom.
4) Those who used to lie - claiming they care about deficits and debt - are suddenly shouting “squirrel!” and pointing offstage.
5) If this Tax bill had anything to do with investment in new products etc., it would have targeted to incentivize R&D, new factories and jobs. Instead, this was left as only a vague, armwaved promise. There is a reason.

== They need an exit from the bubble they created ==
Look across the era since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. Every generation of Americans since then has witnessed attempted political and economic putsches by would-be aristocrats gaming the rules so they can get richer without working or producing. Instead, as Smith described, they heap wealth into passive (rent or dividend or capital gains or parasitic-commission bleeding) assets. They do this because it’s far easier than putting “skin” into actually producing goods and services.
They also do this because sweetheart legislation makes it a great deal! But the smart ones know there is a price. 
That price is an ASSET BUBBLE.  We’ve seen many in our lifetimes: commodities, housing, real estate, banking and now a hyper-inflated stock market, with price to-earnings ratios that seem straight from the Twilight Zone. Those who piled their earlier tax largesse into asset bubbles know the great times always end.  
And hence, being clever, they always plan an exit strategy, for when the bubble bursts.
The dream strategy concocted during our previous two bubbles used to be "privatize social security!"  Get every middle class bumpkin to funnel his or her SSI account into stocks during a market peak! Fill equity markets with Greater Fools to sop up bloated assets, so the current (rich) owners can cash-out at top prices. 

That scam was stopped, thank God, just before the last collapse.  Whereupon Republicans suddenly lost interest in privatizing Social Security.  Go figure!
So what's the plan now?
Send hundreds of billions of tax-bennies to already profitable corporations!  Without any requirements or incentives to actually spend any of it on R&D or factories or jobs, members of the inbred, incestuously conniving “CEO caste” of 5000 golf buddies will know what to do, with a nod and wink.
Accelerate their already absurdly massive stock buy-backs!  (There are reasons why this was illegal, during the Greatest Generation.) Break the U.S. budget subsidizing companies to squander their futures, giving money to currentstockholders... buying up stock that the moguls know will soon plummet in value.
We stopped their earlier scam, but this time — by skulking in secret and at night — they will get their way.
How can you benefit from this insight?  The wise will wait till the first buy-back crest brings equities to their final peak, then sell. Get out before the middle gets crushed again.
Oh, it may work. Only they are counting on us never noticing. And that could be a mistake.

=== Coda ===
“There are two ideas of government,”William Jennings Bryan declared in his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. “There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”
That was more than three decades before the collapse of the economy in 1929. The crash followed a decade of Republican control of the federal government during which trickle-down policies, including massive tax cuts for the rich, produced the greatest concentration of income in the accounts of the richest 0.01 percent at any time between World War I and 2007. Those disparities were brought to their minimum under FDR and Eisenhower, with tax rates and policies that were ratified over and over by the Greatest Generation.           We need to study them, and how they achieved all that they did in a spirit of moderation and enterprise. Especially, how they veered away from dogmatism and craziness, just when it seemed overwhelming.
One major danger of the right's current madness is that the left might over-react, returning to its own past insanities. The Evonomics site is where calm, rational, brilliant scholars & others reveal how cheaters have betrayed not just the poor and middle class, but also enterprise, innovation, genuine market economics, common sense, national self-interest and even Adam Smith! The articles and studies get better and better, making the clear case that market enterprise works, but only when cheating is tymied. (I've published a few there.) 

If your cousin is one of that vanishing breed - a residually sane Republican - take her to Evonomics and tell her: "Only you can save enterprise capitalism from its age-old foe. Not socialism so much, but feudalism."
Which brings me to my question. You’d have to be deaf and blind not to see the signs of a growing movement of American conservatives who are fed-up... not just with Bannon and Putin and their Trump, but with Rupert Murdoch and the insanity promulgated by Clear Channel Radio. Signs are all there - especially among the Mormons - that vigorous conversations are afoot about holding a convention of Sane American Conservatives.

Here's a parallel event, showing how it happened, in the past. If the dems could do it, why not you guys? 
Hence my question. Surely some of you have been approached by now? By people desperate to save American conservatism, before it is too late? Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE
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. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2017, Day One: Traditionally Published Books

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 10:38
Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2017 — My way of helping you folks learn about cool creative gifts for the holidays, straight from the folks who have created them. Today’s featured products are traditionally published books (including graphic novels and audiobooks); that is, books put out by publishers who ship books to stores […]

Celebrating a Clarke Centenary and more bold fiction

Contrary Brin - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 20:39
December 16th, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of Arthur C Clarke’s birth. The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination is gathering birthday greetings from people who were inspired by the great Sir Arthur - and his unforgettable tales: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood's End, The City and the Stars and so many others. Folks can post text, audio or video clips with birthday greetings to #Clarke100Birthday on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram on the 16th. Or else they can send to the administrator of the Arthur C Clarke Center for Human Imagination -  See my own Tribute to Arthur C. Clarke - written on his passing in 2008, where I discuss his fascination with human destiny.The Clarke Center will 'cast a live event at UCSD that day and we would be pleased to feature your comments. Follow @imaginationUCSD on Twitter and their website - UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift. (Live near San Diego? Get on the mailing list for cool events.) 

(Example: on December 7th -- Andy Weir!)If you need to catch up on your Clarke reading, this is an excellent starting point: The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke - only $1.99 on Kindle. This anthology includes over a hundred short stories, including classics such as The Nine Billion Names of God, The Sentinel, Nightfall, and All the Time in the World.

And stay tuned next year for the Clarke Center's grand celebration of 50 years since "2001: a Space Odyssey!"

== Be Part of a Geek Squad that might (really!) save the world ==

Let me remind you about TASAT! There's A Story About That: A bold new endeavor from the Clarke Center that may use science fiction to save us all! That was the topic of last weekend's posting

It's a way that you nerdy types might serve as a sci-fi action team! Poised to step in when humanity might most need a sense of perspective or the unusual ideas that only SF can provide. Come learn about TASAT! Join up, or else critique the project. Spread the word!

 There may come a time when your memory of some obscure story might make all the difference.

== And more! ==

Putting out a call! If any of you know genius cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, or genius cinematic composer James Newton Howard, we’re hoping to invite them to a special, *20th anniversary screening of The Postman at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.*  (  Whatever its faults, the film is musically and visually one of the dozen or so most gorgeous ever made. (With a small but growing cult following.)
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Heck, I’d invite Kevin Costner – who certainly gets some credit for that beauty - and or his kids, who also acted in the film - and screenwriter Brian Helgeland too, because I think the flick had more heart than any other from that era.
While in media...  Here's the latest Kickstarter to help SpaceCommand become a reality. It would likely be real cool. 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;}
== Science Fiction that dives deep ==
Last chance to get it in hardcover! Chasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World: An anthology of stories and essays about a future filled with light, edited by David Brin and Stephen W. Potts, in collaboration with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, with stories and essays by Ramez Naam, Bruce Sterling, Brenda Cooper, Robert Sawyer, Nancy Fulda, Scott Sigler, James Morrow, Neal Stephenson, Robert Silverberg, Aliette de Bodard…and more.
Alternative Truths was an anthology of stories and essays about "resistance" against what appears to be a worldwide putsch to demolish the democratic experiment and restore feudalism. Now comes the sequel: "MORE Alternative Truths: Stories from the Resistance. And yours truly contributed one of the core essays. See also stories & essays by Vonda McIntyre, David Gerrold, Esther Freisner, Jane Yolen, Mike Resnick, Jim Wright (of StoneKettle Station) & many others.
Catalysts & Explorers: Women of Science Fiction is a collection curated by the Museum of Science Fiction, celebrating talented authors such as Jane Yolen, Catherine Asaro, Nancy Kress, Seanan McGuire, Pat Murphy, Carrie Vaughn and others. 
More Human Than Human: Stories of Androids, Robots, and Manufactured Humanity, an anthology edited by Neil Clarke, with stories by Ken Liu, Rachel Swirsky, Jeff Vandermeer, Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, Elizabeth Bear and others. See it reviewed on Kirkus Books
First-Person Singularities: an anthology of stories by the great Robert Silverberg – all told in first person, but the narrators are not all human. For in these tales, we assume the voice of a dolphin, a computer, an alien, a god... and more. 
Gregory Benford’s new novel: The Berlin Project: An Alternate History of World War II explores another What-if about the Second World War, only this time, instead of maundering about implausible ways the Axis powers might have won, he delves into a way the struggle might have ended much sooner, if the director of the Manhattan Project had not made a crucial mistake. Had Leslie Graves listened to one fellow – who happens to have been Benford’s father-in-law – we might have had the bomb a year earlier, to use against Hitler’s capital. Hence the title: “The Berlin Project.” Like Benford’s classic “Timescape,” this novel shines light on the process of science itself in critical times. Only here, most of the characters – including the incredible Mo Berg – were real-life or even larger than life.  And Benford knew a great many of them. See Tom Shippey’s review in the Wall Street Journal.
An overlooked classic: Pavane by Keith Roberts, published in 1968, offers a richly detailed “What if?” alternate history – which diverges in 1588 when Queen Elizabeth I is assassinated. The Spanish Armada defeats the British fleet, the Protestant Reformation never happened, and the Roman Catholic Church reigns supreme across a feudal steam-powered Europe. Long-distance communication occurs via a continent-spanning network of semaphore towers... with amazing hints at the ethos of our later Internet! Rather dense, full of detail, it’s definitely worth a read – or a re-read. See: A Lost Masterpiece from io9.
Here's a fascinating look back at one of the most unusual Science Fiction authors, Cordwainer Smith, who published a couple dozen short stories in the 50s and 60s - and one very unusual novel, Norstrilia, or Old North Australia - a planet that has stroon, which delays aging in humans. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

Finally, heck yeah it's an obsession! In honor of Halloween, I was asked to comment on: “What’s the scariest scene in Star Wars?”
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Of course the nastiest scene in Star Wars was when Anekin slashes the children, closely followed by the scene when Yoda - that wretched green oven mitt - orders the Jedi into a suicide charge, killing most of them just as he arrives with his new, replacement army.  And no one comments on the coincidence of timing? One of dozens of scens in which the Jedi Master" is in fact, fantastically despicable.
But if scary is what you want, then I'll go with when Obiwan arrives at Planet Kamino, sees that vast clone armies being made by the genetic geniuses, and learns that it's all being paid for by... Yoda. (And if you credit any of the weaseling alternative stories - that a whole planet of geniuses would let itself be removed from all maps for 20 years without checking on the source of its payments - then you really are too gullible.) I thought for sure this would lead to a confrontation! But then Obiwan gets amnesia over that fact, and Yoda can proceed with his plan. Creeepy!
Join the rebellion!. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2017 Starts Monday!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 11:33
Every year as the holiday season begins I run a shopping guide for the holidays, and over the years it’s been quite successful: Lots of people have found out about excellent books and crafts and charities and what have you, making for excellent gift-giving opportunities during the holiday season. I’ve decided to do it again this […]

Propaganda, dirty-tricks cheaters and "prodigal" Boehners

Contrary Brin - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 20:05
The  Honest Ads Act, introduced last week by Democratic senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would require online platforms with at least 50 million monthly users -- think Facebook, Google and Twitter -- to make a public record of advertisers who spend at least $500 on political ads regarding campaigns or significant legislative issues. The record would include information regarding the ad's content, its target audience and its cumulative views, as well as its cost. It would also list any candidate referred to in the ad and contact information for the entity that purchased it. 
“This is a cause that transcends both commercial and partisan concerns -- the bill has the support of Republican Senator John McCain. Congress should pass the Honest Ads Act. Then build on it.” Indeed, it is only a start on the needed reforms.
Yeah, there are two chances of this happening…”fat” and “slim.” In other words, zero under this Congress, whose GOP leaders are absolutely counting upon a tsunami of cheating to stay in power, in 2018.  

Note that they already dismantled the earlier measures we had in place, to help keep a calm and informed and balanced voting public -- e.g. the Fairness Doctrine and rebuttal rules in mass media, requiring that major outlets allow on-air replies to any stretch of biased opinion.  The "lamestream media" were fine with this, encouraging give and take and rebuttals, even sometimes retractions! It was Rupert Murdoch, Fox and Clear Channel ravers who fought like hell to get rebuttal requirements ended. Why? Because any five minutes of rebuttal on Fox, by someone using facts well, would leave that lie festival a smoldering ruin.

The use of billionaire bucks to consolidate mass media into biased houses was also constrained by old media dispersal of ownership rules.  Now the Koch Brothers own Time.  Stay tuned. We may have to up the boycott.
Ronald Reagan famously said:

 "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.” 

Whatever you think of Ronnie’s rationalization, he expressed perfectly what any sane or grownup Republican should be paraphrasing right now about the party that’s utterly betrayed them and their country and even honorable conservatism – along with science and every other fact-using profession. Alas, show me one of today's Republicans who has Reagan's cojones! One. Even Senators Flake, Corker and McCain, who found guts to denounce the Symptom-in-Chief (Trump) are too weak kneed to take on the diseas. Rupert Murdoch. And his overseas pals.
Ah, here’s a link to how you can boycott – even just a little – the confederate propaganda machines.
 == Gerrymandering & healthcare ==
Cheaters. They cannot win except by cheats that range from treasonous-foul gerrymandering to "losing" thousands of voter registrations, always a week or two before an election, to rigged voting machines, to voter suppression... and now this: "A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned. The server’s data was destroyed July 7 by technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which runs the state’s election system."
Hey cheaters, be proud... but where do you think this will all lead, when we finally get fed up?
The recent election in Virginia showed popular revulsion by reducing GOP seats in the House of Delegates from 2/3 to 50%, But gerrymandering means that a 10% lead in votes nets 50% of the seats in Virginia. In other words, to get their statehouse back, Virginia voters have to reject the cheaters by super-majorities. Is there any way out of this cheat?
Based on the simple way that children divide a cake, the "I-cut-you-choose" solution to gerrymandering seems workable and plausible and avoids the inherent problems of independent commissions. It does entrench the two-party system and does not preserve state sovereignty and legislative privilege as well as my "Minimal Overlap" approach. Both should be presented to the Court, allowing Justice Kennedy no more waffling room. There are solutions that satisfy his every objection. Our descendants will look back at our inability to end this blatantly treasonous and criminal cheat and ask: "what kind of people were they?"
See my approach: The Minimal Overlap Solution.
== An ineffective Congress ==
Why the GOP tries and fails to do a thing in Congress. “The most surprising thing about last summer’s many attempts to repeal ObamaCare wasn’t that they failed. It was the peculiar way that the legislation proceeded in both houses of Congress: without meaningful committee hearings, with minimal debate on the floor of either the House or Senate, sometimes without analysis from the CBO, and often without a even draft of a bill until the last possible moment. Again and again, Republicans were urged to vote Yes, not because the plan in front of them was good for American healthcare, but to “keep the process moving”. 
== Too little, too late John ==

Oh, my. Says retired GOP Speaker John Boehner about Hannity and Limbaugh diving into the Dark Side: “I had a conversation with Hannity, probably about the beginning of 2015. I called him and said, ‘Listen, you’re nuts.’ We had this really blunt conversation. Things were better for a few months, and then it got back to being the same-old, same-old. Because I wasn’t going to be a right-wing idiot.”
Oh, oh, the cognitive dissonance! As Speaker of the House, John Boehner was a horrible villain who damaged our republic and our civilization, by helping to enforce the Hastert Rule against negotiation in the US Congress, effectively destroying the adult art of pragmatic politics that underlies so much of our success as a nation. The U.S. Congress - once the greatest deliberative body for agile, responsible, balanced and innovative governance in the history of our species - became, under Boehner, the most lazy, useless, corrupt and dogmatic in over a century, passing laws to benefit plutocrats and almost nothing else, holding fewer days in session, hearings etc but vastly more in “fund-raising.”
They were good at two things, passing legislation benefiting the party’s individual oligarch owners… and symbolism.  Example, see where I appraise their obsession with naming ships! Especially aircraft carriers.

There many sane-conservative wishes never seriously pursued. One example: there had been a deal to reform entitlements, negotiated in good faith between several Democratic and Republican Senators. It would have secured Social Security and cured inefficiencies, reduced deficits... and Boehner trashed it. Oh, and he knows that "Obamacare" is almost identical to the GOP Health Care Plan the he had pushed for! But will he say so?
Sure, this killer-of-American-politics was not as awful a human being as his predecessor leading the GOP -- Dennis “friend-to-boys” Hastert -- or the chain of perverts and multiple divorcés and gambling-subsidized shills who “moral” Republicans keep nominating and electing. Heck, I will even cheer if Boehner joins Flake, Corker, McCain, Collins, Romney and the lot, forming a Party of Sane Adult American Conservatives and calling quits with Rupert Traitor Murdoch. 

There is precedent for such a bold move!  See "The Miracle of 1947."
But while we may receive the repentant sinner back at the table as a prodigal son, if he later fights for righteousness and the Union he betrayed, we are not obliged to forget the role he played into guiding us into phase 8 of the American Civil War.
 == Looking to China ==
The Globalist’s Nathan Gardels warns: “While the West — including a Europe riven by populist and separatist movements — stalls in internal acrimony, China is boldly striding ahead. It has proactively set its sights on conquering the latest artificial intelligence technology, reviving the ancient Silk Road as “the next phase of globalization,” taking the lead on climate change and shaping the next world order in its image. If the West does not hear this wake-up call loud and clear, it is destined to somnambulate into second-class status on the world stage. Waiting for China to stumble is a foolish fallback.
“That is not to suggest, of course, that open societies ought to turn toward authoritarianism to unify the body politic. But it is to say that unless democracies look beyond the short-term horizon of the next election cycle and find a way to reach a governing consensus, they will be left in the dust by the oncoming future. If democracy has come to mean sanctifying the splintering of society into a plethora of special interests, partisan tribes and endless acronymic identities instead of seeking common ground, there is little hope of successfully competing with a unified juggernaut like China.”
A number of interesting articles follow up on this introduction, and they are cogent as far as they go… 

...but alas, the grand conclusion of the whole issue is dead wrong. It is based upon the fallacious assumption that the China Miracle of development was a Chinese accomplishment, alone.
Yes, a billion hardworking Chinese people did the hard work of building new cities and industries and power. But history will show that the capitalization of this revolution-miracle was funded by one thing and one thing above all else — vast flows of funds from the West and especially the U.S., via a counter-mercantilist system that was created deliberately by George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower and others at the end of the Second World War, with one goal — the development of the world.  

No other “empire” ever did this, at their apex. Moreover, no endeavor in the history of humanity has ever worked so well.
Chinese leaders nurse the same illusion touted by the earlier Japanese — that they invented a new and cleverly predatory form of economics that sucked vitality from a decadent west without our awareness or sapient consent. But they did not invent predatory mercantilism. Every previous empire or rising nation practiced it, as did the Ming and Manchu, and all suffered from its ills, over the long run. Yes, in the short run, predatory mercantilism has led to fantastically rapid development, but let me ask: “who is sapient here?”
The “empire” of this era - the U.S. - could have shut down counter-mercantilist subsidy of the developing world at any time in the last 70 years. We can do it now, at any time. And in the event of a sudden trade war, who do you think will suffer more? WalMart customers, suddenly unable to buy cheap underwear anymore, and having to relearn how to darn socks? Or those whose utter livelihoods depend on making and selling hose and skivvies to Americans?
Asian mercantilists have always flattered themselves that we are helpless before our consumer appetites. And so it never occurs to them that the last 70 years were the result of deliberate design. Our design, not theirs.
Today, prodigiously, the U.S. economy is lifting both China’s and India’s, at the same time. Future historians will deem this to be the greatest American accomplishment of all. Those historians’ AI assisted models will not be biased by self-loathing or self-flattery, but clear and revelatory facts.  They will know what we did, and why.
Is it essential for the U.S. to snap out of its current funk? Its current “phase 8 of the American Civil War?” Sure. And many powers are investing heavily - both funds and manipulation - to keep us at each others’ throats. They rightfully dread how dynamic we will be, if we recover our national skill at fair-argumentation, negotiation and fact-based pragmatic politics. And yes, that can happen under the aegis of a democratic and diverse - not ‘disciplined’ - society.
== And finally ==
Here's something most of you saw, so hilarious you wind up sobbing: At Halloween The U.S. president’s son tweeted a picture of his three-year-old daughter with her Halloween candy haul, threatening “I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight & give it to some kid who sat at home. It’s never to early to teach her about socialism.”  

While mis-spelling “too,” he raised a storm of satire and derision, some reactions very clever. For a silver-spoon spoiled-heir to talk about anyone “earning” their candy is rich. 

Note: Ayn Rand, for all her faults, portrays her own scion characters taking ‘The Dare,’ dropping out, changing their names and starting over in a farm or factory, spending a decade earning a fresh fortune of their very own, before accepting a penny of inheritance. She was a loony, but capable of more honesty than most of these petty lordlings.  (OTOH, she disapproved of procreation and never once showed or implied any of her characters doing it; at least Don Jr. has a sweet face to love (and alas, exploit). Happy Thanksgiving, Trumps. I mean that! But then let’s all have a Merry Christmas and great 2018.

Addendum: I have many times called for a "year of the colonels." Not in the old sense of latin caudillos grabbing power by force, but retired U.S. officers stepping up to confront confederate treason at every level. Now that the mad right's war on all fact-using professions includes everyone from science, medicine and journalism to the "deep state" FBI and intel and military officer corps -- these are the only folks who can grab our neighbors by the lapel and insist: "this is not about sane-conservatism, anymore. It is about insanity."

We need such men and women running not only for Congress but in every single red state assembly district, in both the Republican primaries and as moderate or even slightly conservative Democrats, in the General. 

Now we have such a fellow stepping up in Alabama. "A retired Marine colonel and former top aide to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly -- Lee Busby -- has launched a write-in campaign in next month's Alabama Senate race, seeing an opening after multiple women accused Republican Roy Moore of sexual misconduct."  

And yes, if he wins, I'll be happy enough with a 'pro-life' moderate representing the deeply conservative folks down there, so long as he's a sane, pragmatic fact-user who can sniff the stink of betrayal from the current, Kremlin-run GOP and who's willing to sit down, negotiating like an adult.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Science Fiction News & Updates and... yes... Bladerunner

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/25/2017 - 16:27
Starting off, on NAUTILUS, Brian Gallagher interviews me on whether Star Wars got any better, after George Lucas handed the franchise over to Disney. Brian did a great job riling me up to give another choice rip on that wretchedly evil and unwise little green oven mitt… Yoda.

(Here's a funny re-dubbed Star Wars pastiche.)

Jerry Pournelle, RIP. News can simultaneously be both unsurprising and shocking. He had been in ill-health for a very long time, yet seemed forever perseverant - determined to diagnose what his nation and the future needed. None of today’s activists - any stripe or polemical persuasion - could teach Jerry Pournelle a thing about passionate dedication to the long term success of the human experiment.
I was supposed to sit on a Mars Society panel next to him last month, in Irvine.  Larry Niven, Geoff Landis, Greg Benford and I were disappointed that Jerry sent his regrets, being too tired to come down. There will be no reprise of the panel-that-might-have-been… though JP’s devoutly envisioned heaven would likely feature less harp strumming and more endlessly fun disputation… an ever-changing sci fi convention.
In the 1980s, Pournelle's Byte magazine column powerfully influenced the developing world of consumer computing, perhaps more world-affecting than even his epic science fiction collaborations with Larry, such as Footfall and The Mote in God's Eye.
A unique American, in so many ways. We differed over many - perhaps most - policies, but never over the fundamental -- that we must be a forward looking people, negotiating fairly (if often loudly) with each other, ready to admit mistakes and move on, peering ahead in order to make fewer new ones, but bravely enduring and admitting those, as well. And moving on.
And while we’re on post apocalyptic themes … an interesting article on how many ways you can spend your doomsday prep money.
== SF News ==
Available for free download: Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere, a collection of near-future stories collected ASU: Center for Science and Imagination, edited by Ed Finn – with tales by Karl Schroeder, Brenda Cooper, plus one I collaborated on with Tobias Buckell. “Each story presents a snapshot of a possible future where the stratosphere is a key space for solving problems, exploring opportunities or playing out conflicts unfolding on the Earth’s surface.” It was sponsored by one of the new strato-balloon companies - World View - founded by Pluto pioneer Alan Stern.
I love this short-short, Legale (published in Nature) - especially the abstractly future-computer voices. Vernor Vinge is at the top of his form.
== Podcasts worth a listen ==

Newly posted… here’s a podcast interview packed with a wide range of future-oriented topics, ranging from transparency and privacy, future societies, political systems and cultural renaissances, all the way to science fiction, and fermi paradox.

And consider "Masters of Scale," the podcast about Venture Capitalism and the tech-innovation world, run by Reid Hoffman, founder of Linked-In. Top interview guests. Very well-produced and always forward-looking.
And until the Novum podcast comes off hiatus, it's backlist of shows remains one of the very best, ever, about science fiction.

== SF Cinema ==
Netflix has announced the episodes for “Black Mirror’s” fourth season, to premiere on the streaming service later this year: “Arkangel,” “Black Museum,” “Crocodile,” “Hang the DJ,” “Metalhead,” and “USS Callister” (an apparent Star Trek takeoff).  Anyone know these guys? I have acouple of concepts that could change world politics overnight.  I mean it. The very day after an episode aired. Worldwide.
At the Burbank International Film Festival, on September 10, 2017, Mark Hedges won the award for best adapted screenplay, for the adaptation of Glory Season by David Brin. An accomplishment, even if it never sees the silver screen. Watch this book trailer for Glory Season.
My wife & I blame each other -  while each of us denies responsibility - for PIXELS appearing on our Netflix dvd queue. Like most Adam Sandler flicks, it was just divertingly stupid enough to play in background while we exercised and did paperwork. Though, also as usual, there were two or three rock-you-back moments. Like when the paranoid conspiracy theory guy explains what really happened in Dealey Plaza, November 1963:
"They altered the Zapruder film to frame Lee Harvey Oswald. JFK shot first!"
Whaaaaa? I dropped my papers and guffawed. An involuntary spasm. 

And I pondered --

== -- the roots of humor ==

Innumerable have been the attempts to theorize what makes things funny. My own notion builds upon earlier insights.

The best humor has shock value, made more delicious by the shame/guilt of laughing harmlessly at something so awful. Example, we watched the wonderful 1960s flick The Great Race, last night and adored Jack Lemmon's campy, hammy "Professor Fate," simultaneously rooting for the villain to achieve his next, slapstick comeuppance... and... well.. actually rooting for him

But jokes are another matter. What stands out is how the joke assertion is entirely logical within its own framing, tempting a fast-reacting part of your brain with "that's logical; why did I never think of that before?" ...

...while the much slower grownup brain takes several extra milliseconds, flails and sputters, refutes the assertion, then surrenders in a bark of laughter.

I think I have plenty of funny stuff in my newly finished sci fi comedy! And so far, no publisher offers. Ah well. Your loss.
Speaking of which, Seth MacFarlane is interviewed about his new science fiction show “The Orville.” And dang, he is part of the revolution against dystopia addiction.  Can’t help liking this guy. Tempts me to re-attach my cable.
== A Hugo nominee, for sure ==

I mean it, consider this genuinely sci-fi-ish piece for nomination in the short dramatic subject category. Incredibly fun and tightly edited to match the wonderfully apropos music, with themes that are simultaneously sexy and feminist.

I'm talking about this homage to Diana Rigg (Mrs. Emma Peel) weaving images with Cake’s great song ‘Long Jacket.’ It reminds me of everything we adored about her, back in the 1960s. Rigg's predecessor on The Avengers was the first female character who fought and spied and kicked-butt on screen -- a breakthrough moment that led to Xena, Buffy and Gal Gadot. But for most of us, it was Emma Peel who pioneered the wave of kick-ass heroines.  
And yes, someday you should watch a few episodes of The Avengers.  We cavemen did have a few way-cool things, way back then.
== I promised my reaction to Bladerunner 2049... == 

Spoilers are present!  Overall, a terrifically enjoyable and top notch film! Though maybe a hair's breadth flawed and below utter classic.

Ambience and music -- grade A.  Not quite A+.  Oh, the visuals and depressing urban scenery were cranked up effectively and the music was excellent.  It just didn't rock me back quite as much as Scott & Vangelis did, way back when. Likewise, the (spoiler) final scene with Joe lying back on the steps? The music intentially recalled the death scene of Roy the Replicant, Rutger Hauer's character in the original, who stole the show in one of the 10 best individual scenes in all of cinema history... and I'd have liked to tweak that scene with Mr. Villaneuve. I think we could have done slightly better.

Don't get me wrong!  I meant that grade of A!

Acting? Grade A throughout! I am miffed that the five actors who deserved to appear below the film title -- all of them women in a voluptuously female-centered film -- did not appear that prominently.  You expect and get a lot from Gosling and Ford. Those women made the film, though.  (Seriously, Gosling is good enough we didn't need so many long reaction takes. A few seconds from each one and we'd have saved 15 minutes. Trust your actor.)

Plot? Oy. Villaneuve, Fancher & Green had a tough job. They can be forgiven for bending a bit too hard on homage-ing the earlier Bladerunner. (Though it was great seeing Olmos as Gaff!) Less would have been better.  

Likewise, have we had enough of the chosen-one child thing, yet? Jiminy. And what kind of people would consign their chosen-one to that orphanage? And why don't we see the new slave race at work, being exploited? And with all that free labor, why isn't this world rich? And I could go on. And on. Seriously, the fact that I'm not used as a plot consultant more often than I am is ... well... a tragedy for you film lovers!  ;-)

And yet, well, they had a tough job and they obviously worked very hard to make a logical path. Plot grade B+.   
I respect these folks. But give those fine actresses better billing.

== Valerian ==

Oh, we also watched Luc Besson's mostly French (with American actors) production (with Chinese funding) of the classic French comic series Valerian. And like all Besson films, it is filled with light and joy and fun and hope.  Like Spielberg, Besson refuses to buy into the dystopia cheat! As in The Fifth Element, humanity is shown at least a bit better than we presently are, but with dangerous faults. 

Each individual scene conveys Besson's energy, color and entertaining verve. Again, I wish these fellows would consult someone about stitching it together in a cohesive story arc and plot.
== Miscellaneous updates == 
El Comics: Here’s a pretty good web-comic, nicely paced with a heavy but bearable moral. Of course, the fact that we’re a people who would create tales like these… (See my earlier roundup of Science Fictional webcomics.)
The Saskatchewan Center for Science and Religion invites submissions of paper proposals for its inaugural conference on “Spiritualities of Human Enhancement and Artificial Intelligence.”
All you ambitious would be writers with a manuscript in process… Alex Bear - talented literary heir to both the (Greg) Bear and (Poul/Karen/Astrid) Anderson legacies -  is also a dynamo editor. Here is a link to Alex’s skilled fiction editing service. 
A worthy cause if you can help! Author Lezli Robyn, on Shahid Mahmud’s staff at the Science Fiction publishing house Arc Manor has a rare eye disease which is progressive and she is now legally blind...and her eyesight is getting worse every year. If you have a monthly tithing and are looking for something worthy within our “tribe,” have a look at her fundraiser. See When Parallel Lines Meet, her recent collaboration with Mike Resnick. 

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