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Science - Tech Updates - we're incredible

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 15:06
Let's get caught up on some of the reasons we should realize that we're already way-great...

== Travels & speeches on space and the future! ==

In October I participated in the annual symposium -- in Boston -- of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program, as a member of NIAC's external (advisory) council. My role, to ask targeted questions of the fellows who are using seed grants to probe the envelope of the usefully plausible. Some earlier NIAC concepts are incorporated in wondrous missions like the exciting Japanese Hyubusa2 probe and its ingenious landers.

You can see near real-time photos of that spaceflight action. This video is truly wonderful. A spectacular mission that has already has successes. But if they pull off both landings and the sample return it will be fantastic! The Japanese are smart, they know where the riches are. And thank you for not catching the insane Moon Fever that has infected so many others here on Earth.

And now some other amazing news from the frontiers of science!

== Tune in! ==

Moving toward our future in space: The Power of Synergy: was an amazing symposium - the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop 2018 in October, in Oak Ridge. Speakers like Marc Millis and Arlan Andrews talked starships and Joel Sercel and Rob Zubrin argued asteroids and Mars. Several astronauts and Jason Derleth, head of NIAC revealed amazing things plus news about the quantum realm and the Starshot Program. 

SF author Catherine Asaro is an organizer and Allen Steele capped things off… oh, and I spoke a bit, by Skype, about human modification and conscious AI. Have a look.
== Environmental & science updates ==
A disturbing article about how some species of whale are suffering from living near human “civilization,” even after we stopped trying to kill them. It will take concerted effort to reduce the inadvertent types of harm that might lead to extinction, as surely as hunting almost did.
China wants to build a $50+ trillion power gridFor the entire world. And they want to have it in operation by 2050Talk about ambitious.

Fascinating new magnetotelluric imagery reveals a plug of solid rock in Oregon that diverts magma in different directions.  This new imagery solves mystery of why Mount St. Helens is out of line with other volcanoes.Calling the Prediction Registry! The Pentagon has put a contract to develop a dental implant letting wearers do tap-controls and sub-vocal speech input/output, as I depicted in EARTH (1989) and EXISTENCE (2012).
The latest IgNobel Awards. Turns out human flesh isn’t very nutritious, but you can to self-colonoscopies! And voodoo dolls have a useful function.
“Bio-feedback” is back under a new name: Neurofeedback. Using MRI and fMRI and EEG, researchers hope to revive a field that never panned out before, but we all know _ought to work! The signs have all been there, with lots of anecdotal support. I’d put money on it having a big future, especially if tied in with games, in just the right way. I have some ideas…

Stunning - and disturbing - new NASA satellite photo shows a planet on fire, with active wildfires raging from Africa to South America to California. It's just beginning. The world is changing. I'll get back to that.
Teller, the brilliant sleight-of-hand artist of Penn & Teller, contributed to a neuroscience paper about the mental phenomena that a magician uses in the art of misdirection. The concept of covert misdirection is exemplified by the cognitive-neuroscience paradigms of change blindness and inattentional blindness. With change blindness, people fail to notice that something is different from the way it was before. This change can be expected or unexpected, but the key is that it requires the observer to compare the post-change state with the pre-change state.” 
Will tissue culture meat - predicted in science fiction in the early 50s -- truly flourish and replace the whole 20,000 year old practice of herding and slaughtering animals for food? Certainly, if the quality is high and price acceptable, some will choose it for the low Karmic load. But it will be a game changer if the conversion of grain to meat is far more efficient than feed lots. Reducing greenhouse gas and a myriad other Earth-harms would be huge, and hunger could vanish... though so would some jobs and herder livelihoods. Cities would approach food autonomy. 

And we'd eliminate one more reason why (maybe) aliens aren't talking to us.
My old Caltech classmate Stephen Gillett has a provocative new book that proposes we may soon enter a post-scarcity world, because almost any scarcity will be solved by one bold technology. “Nanotechnology and the Resource Fallacy” asserts we won’t even need the fantastic riches of asteroids, let alone face “peak-oil” or any material scarcity, if vats of pico-nano-micro-machines are able to separate and refine into basic elements almost anything we choose to recycle. Of course it works both ways. Utter and total recycling ability will eliminate all great obstacles to human settlement of space. Invest... but not everything you own.
== And yes, science is a victim of politics ==
In the 42 year history of the post of Presidential Science Adviser, some of the smartest humans have been appointed to help U.S. presidents grasp how scientific matters — confirmed facts and gray-unknowns — might bear upon policy decisions. Never was the position unoccupied anywhere near as long as Donald Trump has left it.
Elsewhere I commented in detail when it seemed that the job might go to David Gelernter, a Unabomber victim who has veered down far right paths… but who undoubtedly told Mr. Trump “I’ll still tell you if something is clearly untrue.” Poof, there went his chances. 
All this time, “the highest-ranking science official in the White House has been a 31-year-old poli-sci grad who is a deputy assistant at the eviscerated Office of Science and Technology Policy.” (Not even ‘in’ the White House; OSTP (what’s left of it) is next door, in the Executive Office Building.)
Now, in a shock — possibly a sop to the RASRs (residually adult-sane Republicans) who still teeter inside the GOP tent — meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier, an expert on extreme weather, has been nominated to the position. 
Extreme weather would seem to be a highly pertinent topic, nowadays, and Droegemeier’s former colleagues say his views on climate change align with those of most scientists. And… “There are other scientific policy concerns that would benefit from a fully staffed OSTP, like the ongoing opioid epidemic.” Here are ten topics for consideration by the future science advisor.
Something happened behind the scenes. May we all live to learn what it was. Because this is not in character for the Donald Trump who railed that “glaciers are advancing as never before!”  (Um they’re not and you should get big bar bets from your mad uncles about that.) In any event, there is no law that says the President has to ever meet with his Science Adviser.
(That would change, under my proposal: Enact the FACT ACT!). . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2018

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 13:52
It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a fabulous local business […]

Taking Pictures With the Pixel 3: Some Thoughts

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 10:17
When I was heading to France last week, I considered taking my Nikon d750 with me, because I thought, not unreasonably, that France might be a photogenic country and that I might want to get some high quality photos of the place. I decided against it for a number of reasons, but one of the […]

Wandering Through Paris: A Photo Album

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 15:47
As most of you know, very recently — just yesterday, in fact! — I was in Paris. And while I was in Paris, I wandered about the city, visited the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Musee d’Orsay, and took photos as I did so. If you’re at all curious to see my wanderings through city, […]

The Big Idea: Alexandra Rowland

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/08/2018 - 07:38
Sometimes you start write something for fun, and then suddenly… the stakes become higher than that. Just ask Alexandra Rowland about that, as it concerns her new book, A Conspiracy of Truths. ALEXANDRA ROWLAND: Stories are in everything. If the human brain has been optimized for one purpose, it’s storytelling. Well, okay, I’m being poetic. […]

Heading Home, 11/7/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/07/2018 - 04:15
It’s a rainy day here in Paris and it’s time for me to go home. I have a whole day in airports and planes before I get there. But then I get to be with my family, so it will be worth it. I woke up this morning, caught my breath and then checked the […]

Head On AND The Consuming Fire Are Semi-Finalists for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 10:45
Well, this is somewhat unexpected: Head On was an opening round nominee for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards in the category of Science Fiction, but The Consuming Fire was not, mostly, I expect, because it just came out and hadn’t garnered enough reviews, etc to make it on the initial ballot. But people can write […]

View From a Hotel Window, 11/5/18: Paris!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 11/05/2018 - 11:42
The hotel I’m in is cozy and on a quiet street here in Paris, and the internet connection is, like, 50 times faster than what I have at home, which fills me with rage, but never mind that now. The view is, I suspect, typically Parisian. Tomorrow: Come see me and Robert Jackson Bennett at Librairie La […]

A letter to my sane-conservative friends

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/03/2018 - 19:14
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And so, we are at the wire. And all of those who would stand up for the Republic appear to have already decided – like Jennifer Rubin and George F. Will – to step up at last.

Still, I know many residually adult-sane conservatives… I had lunch with one, yesterday. Another just sent me his economics newsletter, filled with brilliant insights and hints that he’s unhappy. And yet, they wring their hands, uncertain, fretful, even while knowing they might be the demographic to make a real difference.

They chant rationalizations and incantations like "everyone's corrupt," while refusing ever to let any Fox assertion be made the matter of a wager. Proving that they know, inside, it's all lies.
And so this letter, which started as a note to one of them, is my final effort to reach out. To summon decent men and women to their duty. It is said that one sinner-repentant causes Heaven to erupt in joy. May this letter help you to redeem a friend. An aunt. Maybe even that mad uncle.
------------------------------------------
My dear conservative friend.
You must have known this was coming -- my effort to reach out to you, in hope that you’ll turn away from hypnotic incantations and do what’s necessary… lending your generous, patriotic, logically-calm and decent hand to the great task of saving your nation and civilization… and a truly worthy version of American conservatism. Can we at least agree on some basics?
- We share a love of this exceptional experiment in freedom, individualism, flat-fair-open-creative competition and general fairness, moving together to make a better world. Can we agree it’s been a renaissance that’s unique in human history and not likely to be repeated, if we blow it?
- Alas, nearly all such experiments died of the same illness that is now assaulting us full-bore. Across the last 6000 years of human history, can you name more than one or two eras that weren’t dominated by powerful owner castes? Feudalism is arguably the core enemy, not just of freedom and opportunity and science but also of flat-fair competitive market economics! It is the foe denounced by Adam Smith and the American Founders, who saw the King and his cronies cheat to grab all the wealth and power and pass it to their sons. It is the tyranny against which the real Tea Partiers rebelled.
You know it. But admitting it aloud would open up for you a world of insights.  So squint at the last 60 centuries and please say which system crushed freedom and progress, all that time. It wasn’t civil servants. It was feudalism. It was oligarchy.
- When was ‘America Great’?  I happen to think it’s great today, with our fantastic space probes plumbing the secrets of the universe and with diseases toppling before our mighty minds. Even the poorest people on Earth can access all the world’s knowledge through devices invented by American ingenuity. Poverty around the globe is plummeting as 90% of the world’s children now go to school and get at least a basic diet. The last 70 years of “American Peace” – or Pax Americana were flawed -- there were crimes and mistakes -- but it also featured more calm and trade and development and progress and science and justice and opportunity than all other eras combined. Can’t we be proud of that?
But sure, MAGA? Then tell us when you think America was better! 

Was it the 1950s? When our parents' Greatest Generation, having defeated the Depression and Hitler, then contained communism, built mighty infrastructure, forged tech and industries and the flattest fairest, most confident middle class, and began the great work of curing their own hearts of racism and sexism? You mean that Greatest Generation? The generation with the highest participation in labor unions?
The generation whose favorite human being was Franklin Roosevelt and whose second-favorite was a scientist named Jonas Salk?
That greatest generation knew that capitalism works best when regulated.  They forged a balanced social contract in which the rich could get rich in safety, but were expected to help shoulder the burdens, and could not expect to be gods above the rest of us. The ideal was to work toward a society where your destiny was mostly in your own hands, and not much determined by what your parents owned.
That Greatest Generation you admire had high growth while taxing the rich. And every GOP-led pullback from that social contract has led to slower growth and middle class decline. Every... single... one. That's a pure fact. And not a single promise ever made by “supply side (voodoo) economics” ever came true, not one. Nor has any GOP administration ever put the brakes (as promised) on torrents of debt. 

Shouldn’t that absolutely perfect record of being wrongdiscredit the party that keeps repeating such lies?
- But those are facts. Horrid facts! Have you noticed that American conservatism has reversed itself in almost every way, especially when it comes to respect for facts? Every fact checking service, from Snopes to FactCheck.org, is now denounced as “partisan” because they keep revealing Fox/GOP/Kremlin lies.
Have you wondered why not one major American conservative group has offered to help improve those fact-checking services, or help set up truly neutral ones? Is it because they know what would happen?
Here’s a dare for you: Name one fact-centered profession that’s not under attack by Fox/Trump & cohorts?  Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 4% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced. 
And now?  The FBI and the US military and intelligence officer corps; all are dismissed as "deep state" enemies. The heroes who defended us from Hitler, Stalin, Brezhnev etc., these are now denounced! Because Naval officers are concerned about rising seas and because the CIA and FBI are confronting a worldwide assault on us by puppet states controlled by mafia clans.  This is not your daddy's conservatism.  
No, this is not about the ranting looniness of a narcissistic toddler, Donald “Two Scoops” Trump. He is a symptom, not the disease. Your early warning came when the leader of the entire Republican Party was Dennis “friend to boys” Hastert, whose infamous “Hastert Rule” deliberately ended adult negotiation in American politics.  (Look him up, see where he is today and why, and be so-proud.)
No, the newest Fox-rationalization won’t wash. The parties aren’t “all the same.”H
So what am I asking of you?
I am not asking you to stop being a market-loving conservative! But to admit that feudalism has been at least as wretched an enemy of freedom and human hope as civil servants and smartypants scientists. Moreover, feudalism is roaring back! Oligarchs have often used American conservatism to stymie important realizations: like tobacco is lethal, cars cause smog, it's bad for rivers to catch fire, or for kids to absorb lead. Or to wage a staggeringly stupid prohibition "war on drugs." Or to let the world bake because some of those lords are invested in coal. And other members of that elite have Russian and Saudi oil they still need to sell.
When a movement shifts from "gambling is a vice" to being run by casino moguls with mafia ties...
... shouldn't smart guys like you admit it? Can’t you admit that when the very same KGB conspirators who you used to fear, back when they wore hammer-sickle pins, switch to being billionaire mafia lords, that doesn't make them any less dangerous?
Okay, here's the crux, my dear residually-adult-sane-Republican (RASR) friend. Then maybe curiosity – the highest of all human traits – can take you the rest of the way!
Squint. Envision if the current mad-treasonous-corrupt GOP evaporated. 
Overnight(!) Democrats would split in two. And the "market" wing of the Democratic Party - now filled with retired military officers and entrepreneurs and scientists and governors who balance budgets would be absolutely everything you would ever want!  Fiscally prudent, pro-science, pro-defense, skeptical of too-much paperwork… and wanting only reforms like background checks, but leaving responsible gun owners alone.
Everything that embarrasses you and shames you about Putin's Party would be gone, leaving a new "conservative-lite" party that has an actual track record fighting debt, which the GOP has never done… not once… ever!.
I repeat. The moderate wing of the Democratic Party is the only political force in American life with a track record fighting debt.
Sure there'd also be a lefty party. So? Guys like you would oppose them from your new home! A home that respects science, that respects facts! That ends the political cheating. That wants capitalism to work the only way it can work, not under conniving oligarchs but flat-open-fair-competitive. One that has no grudge at all against white-males... but also no truck with wretched-evil racism.
Stop suckling diversion incantations from Fox, man! I would bet my house against yours that I could demolish any given hour of that Lie Machine, in minutes. And so, yes, let's bring back a Rebuttal Rule in journalism. What? You’d oppose that? Gee. I wonder why.
You know I could go on. But let’s just distill it down: 

I know you are a patriot. Please admit that I am one, too, vigorously opposed to an ongoing coup by a world mafia. Only you seem blind to the fact that those enemies have already taken Washington. 

It’s that serious. We are in phase 8 of the American Civil War and the Union is calling. We've had a long, slow Pearl Harbor, and you are summoned to the beachheads.
The greatest and best thing - the last, best hope - that ever happened to humankind needs you, desperately.
Stand up.
David B.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

New Books and ARCs, 11/2/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 13:48
When I came home for a single day this week, I got together all the books that came to the Scalzi Compound whilst I was tour and put them together for a Super Sized double stack of new books and ARCs. Surely there is something here (more than one thing, I suspect) that you would […]

Talk of "a new civil war" goes mainstream

Contrary Brin - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 14:07
I despise notions of "cyclical history." But nations do often fall into traps that look similar. Twenty years ago, back when America was riding so high that folks spoke of an "end to history," I addressed folks at a DC agency - flush with victory in the Cold War - and splashed them with colder water by asking: 

"What would enemies do, in this new context, to bring down even a pre-eminent Pax Americana?"

Even in the 1990s, there were many desperately eager to find a way. Some deluded themselves with fantasies of a supposed weakness that  "Americans are all decadent, spoiled, pleasure-seeking cowards" the same canard that every U.S. generation had to disprove at great cost, since the 1770s. (On 9/11 it was easily refuted by 60 brave volunteers aboard flight UA 93.) Now that perennialy-loony nostrum is being repeated by modern confederates, claiming that educated citizens and city folk inherently have no guts. I'll get back to that slanderously stupid calumny, below.

But in the 90s I went deeper. "What clever and potentially lethal endeavors might serious - if weaker - enemies undertake, to bring down the United States?" 

Wearing my sci-fi hat, I answered: "You'd start by looking across history for mistakes that almost wrecked the American experiment. Two stand out. Foreign quagmires and civil war. If I were an enemy, I would use asymmetrical and skulldugerous methods to lure us into both."

How might an enemy accomplish this? Among the methods listed on my 1998 slide (and there are witnesses) were: 

"Incite divisions among our classes and castes," 

"Incite suspicion toward our professional protectors," 

"Suborn top levels of U.S. leadership."  

Although every one of these can be found across the annals of shattered empires, my warnings seemed far-fetched in the late 1990s. I got smirks back when I first showed that slide. 

I don't get smirks anymore. I get gasps. 

Indeed, just three years after that talk, we were mired in endless middle-eastern quagmires, in exactly the same locales where the USSR met its doom. And through innovations such as the Hastert Rule, seeds were lain for an end to all grownup political discourse within the United States -- the beginnings of phase eight of the American Civil War.

== Talk of Civil War goes Mainstream ==

Okay, what seemed far-out, back then, is now on everyone's lips. Read or listen to this NPR report about “a new civil war?” Some passages are chilling. For example: one anonymous “fake news hater" left a voicemail threat for the New York Times' Ken Vogel. 

"You are the enemy of the people. And although the pen might be mightier than the sword, the pen is not mightier than the AK-47. And just remember Ken, there's nothing civil about civil war."
Like all of the bright fools in mainstream journalism, this reporter seemed to think that just quoting such treasonous bile should be enough to put it in disrepute. In so doing, these journalists help make the right's point! That brains and knowledge do not always translate into wisdom! So let me put all of this into much harsher perspective. 

Sure, oh anonymous troll-caller, it all may go hot. Rash heads might tip us over into something as awful as sci fi author Sean Smith relates in his novel TEARS OF ABRAHAM. Indeed, nothing would make Vladimir Putin happier. 

Before our confederate neighbors leap for their AK’s, however, it might be worth remembering that:

1) The Union side is always under-rated. Educated and city folk are routinely derided as “un-manly” and lacking courage, as in 1778 and 1861 and 1941. This lazy reflex is always proved wrong. But if these twits knew any history, they would not be twits.
2) Question: why have most liberals shifted their gun control views from efforts at restricting gun ownership to simple sanities like background checks? Answer: because liberals have quietly been arming themselves since 2001. They don’t preen, or stockpile, or wave their pieces around in compensation for male performance anxiety. Still, you'd be really foolish to just assume they are unarmed.
This goes double since the Fox-Putin treason ramped up its open war against our “deep state” professionals in law, intel, and the U.S. military officer corps. The folks who fought Hitler and saved us from Stalin and Brezhnev are now being told they must spurn facts and science and ignore the threat from a blatant, world-wide mafia putsch. And they are not having it. 

Hundreds of thousands of “crewcut types” have been driven out of the GOP and (sometimes holding their noses, and sometimes running for office) into the Democratic Party. You may be surprised how many of them will stand by the Union, if push comes to shove.
3) It’s not just the Deep State. This neo-confederate cult has been waging war against every profession that deals in facts and knowledge, from science and teaching and law to civil service, journalism… name an exception! 

But let’s circle back to that first one. Science. I have to ask the guy who threatened Ken Vogel: 
“Um, sir. If the AK-47 is mightier than the pen, then is an atom bomb, or a genetic weapon, or a software worm mightier than an AK? Because your cult’s open, death-vendetta against people who know physics and biology and cybernetics and medicine and every other science does seem to… well, forgive me… fail a simple IQ test. 
"Who will treat your battle wounds, when you've told doctors they're satanic? 
“I mean seriously, you think all the folks who know stuff will be helpless, when you traitors and your oligarch-mafia masters turn this civil war hot? Seriously? You assume your penis compensating arsenal of assault rifles and McVeigh devices can stand up to what we’ll be able to throw together in days, if your klan comes at us with torches and AKs and death in your eyes?
“Seriously? We're talking millions of people, each of them dozens of times smarter than you. Slay a few dozen of them and watch them get mad. You won't like them when they get mad.
Here's a modest suggestion. Go visit Jim Wright’s Stonekettle Station blog. He comes from a good ol’ boy background and can beat any of you at blindfolded field-cleaning an M4. Only he also passes these IQ tests. And he can tell you what will happen if the New Plantation Lords send you into battle against “the north” again. 

Maybe, instead of obeying those masters and attacking all the folks who know stuff as a hated "elite," you should give another look at the real, conniving elite of casino moguls, slumlords, inheritance brats, Wall Street parasites, petro-sheiks, coal barons, KGB agents and mafia dons. They are “enemies of the people.” 

And if I'm not here to say it, then millions will step up to shout "j'accuse!"
== It's happened before ==
This is not the first all-out effort by paranoid dinosaurs to throttle our brave experiment in democratic-tolerant-scientific progress. The Dreyfus Affair crystallized a very similar turmoil in 1890s France, between liberal and reactionary forces that led ultimately to treason in 1940 — a  struggle that goes way back, in much the same way as the American Civil War has had recurring outbreaks, all the way to 1778: 

The Dreyfus affair was triggered in 1894, when a traitor was discovered in the French army: Somebody had been passing information to Germany, which had defeated France a quarter century earlier and occupied Alsace-Lorraine. French military intelligence blamed Captain Alfred Dreyfus - an Alsatian who spoke with a German accent, and was a Jew—and therefore, in the eyes of some, not a real Frenchman. As it would turn out, he was also innocent. But French army investigators created fake evidence and gave false testimony; as a result, Dreyfus was court-martialed, found guilty, and sent into solitary confinement on Devil’s Island."
From The Atlantic: “The ensuing controversy divided French society along now-familiar lines. Those who maintained Dreyfus’s guilt were the alt-right—or the Law and Justice Party, or the National Front—of their time. They pushed a conspiracy theory. They were backed up by screaming headlines in France’s right-wing yellow press, the 19th-century version of a far-right trolling operation. Their leaders lied ‘to uphold the honor of the army’; adherents clung to their belief in Dreyfus’s guilt—and their absolute loyalty to the nation—even when this fakery was revealed.”
 As comments Daniel Duffy: “The split still divides France. The Dreyfusards led France to victory in WW1. The anti-Dreyfusards (especially those on the French general staff) led France to defeat in WW2 and ruled the Vichy regime. In his "Collapse of the Third Republic", William Shirer (also famous for "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich") strongly implied that the anti-Dreyfusards of the French officer corp deliberately betrayed France and preferred Nazi anti-Antisemitism to "liberte, egaletre et fraternite". On paper, the French army was vastly superior to the Germans and it took more than just incompetence to cause defeat.”
Seriously. When our few experiments in a newer-better way than perpetual feudalism are so very successful, but then crushed by tsunamis of illogic and madness, you have to wonder if we are in Heinlein's "Crazy Years." 

You, yes you, might be able to make a difference during the coming week.
I hope you will.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View From a Hotel Window, 10/31/18: Nantes, France

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 13:35
My view is of the front of the convention center where the Utopiales festival is happening. It’s like a ten-second commute from my hotel to the event space, which I appreciate. I am currently on about one hour of sleep for the last 30. I’m a little loopy. Also, my AC adapter here turns out […]

On My Way to France

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:14
Where I will be busy with French things! So don’t expect too much here between now and when I get back, which will be, uhhhh, the 7th or 8th or something like that. In the meantime, and if in fact I don’t post again before I get (which seems mildly unlikely, but even so) — […]

Tor Announces New Paperback Editions + News re: My 2019 Publishing Schedule

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 15:28
First, next May Tor will release new versions of Agent to the Stars, The Android’s Dream and Fuzzy Nation, with new cover art and new introductions (by me, yours truly). This refresh will, among other things, bring them more visually in line with each other and the other standalone novels, and also make my name […]

My French Events!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 13:54
Tomorrow I get on a plane to go to France, where I am both appearing at a festival in Nantes and doing a signing in Paris. Why not come to see me at either or both? Here’s where I will be: October 31 – November 5: I will be at the Utopiales Festival in Nantes, […]

View Not From a Hotel Window, 10/29/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/29/2018 - 13:23
It’s nice to be home, even if for just one day. (Well, 36 hours or so. Still.)

View From a Hotel Window, 10/27/18: Austin, TX

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 10/28/2018 - 00:40
It’s late because I got in late. In fact, it’s registering as going up on the 28th, but I’m in Central time and have 20 minutes left on the clock, so there. Tomorrow: Texas Book Festival, 11am — me and Victoria Schwab! Talking about stuff! Come see us! And that’s it for the tour (in the […]

The failing political strategies

Contrary Brin - Sat, 10/27/2018 - 14:45

The New York Times offers a detailed update of the Russian Election Interference Thing. And yes, our "deep state" public servants who won us the Cold War are trying to stymie many of the very same Kremlin masterminds from flipping their defeat back into victory over the West. 

Step one, getting the American right to dismiss our defenders as a "deep state." Study, learn. Be angry that our enemies have taken Washington, which no other hostile power ever accomplished before.
== Staring at a tree -- ignoring a burning forest ==

Alert to you economics/trade nerds. One of my RASR (Residually Adult-Sane Republican) friends – investment guru John Mauldin – recently cited this short explanation of the Trade War threat by currency expert Taggart Murphy:
“‘Trump is doing everything he can to bring on the end of the days when the US can borrow whatever it wants in whatever amounts it wants. To be sure, there is no recipe book. The dollar is now so entrenched as the world’s money that if your assignment were to bring the curtain down on that—and thus the ability of the US to borrow whatever it wants whenever it wants—it’s not at all clear what you would do.
“‘But you’d start by doing everything that Trump is doing—pick fights with all your allies, blow the government deficit wide open at the peak of an economic recovery, abandon any notion of fiscal responsibility, threaten sanctions on anyone and everyone who seeks to honor the deal Obama struck with Iran (thereby almost begging everyone to figure out some way to bypass the US banking system in order to do business), [Which they are openly doing, comments JFM]throw spanners into the works of global trade without any clear indication of what it is precisely you want for a country that structurally consumes more than it produces and thus by the laws of accounting MUST run trade and current account deficits.”
Implicitly, Murphy and John admit the contrast – that Bill Clinton and California’s Jerry Brown and most democratic governors have done the right thing, using good times to pay down debt. And Barack Obama, even inheriting the Second Depression, decelerated the rate of change of deficits, applying brakes to the 2nd derivative of debt. Our alliances and sciences and almost everyother health metric did better across the span of DP administrations. In contrast, every single strength the made the late 20th century prosperous and mighty and that won the Cold War is being systematically dismantled.
Alas, neither John nor any other RASR seems ever to draw the blatantly obvious conclusion, that either:
(1) the entire leadership clade of the GOP consists of hypocritical morons who should not be trusted with a burnt match, or worse, or
(2) that the bottomless list of outrageous harms to the U.S. can only be deliberate.
Look at Vladimir Putin’s grin, and tell me that you understand the meaning of the term “Occam’s Razor.”

== The one tree ==

My RASRs, in their frantic state of denial, choose to desperately cling to one tree in the forest. In John's case it is debt. And yes, it is dangerous how we are plunging toward a debt cliff. Note that, as usual, the second derivative of deficit spending  -- the rate of rate of change -- has veered from negative to positive under a Republican administration, as is absolutely uniformly and perfectly-always true. Always.

Alas, John chooses to blame our debt splurge on the Federal Reserve for low interest rates, which is like blaming a liquor store owner's low prices for drunk driving deaths. Pertinent, but not the real cause. (Meanwhile Trups howls at the Fed for raising rates; go figure?)

Look around to where governments are operating in the black, in blue states like Jerry Brown's California, where the nation's only fiscally-prudent politicians have been paying down debt during good times, as Adam Smith recommended. Or Bill Clinton's 1990's surpluses. But it goes farther. In 1993, President Clinton created the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform as part of the administration's effort to promote economic growth and control the budget deficit. The purpose of the commission, chaired by Senator J. Robert Kerrey (D-NE) and Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO), was to seek bipartisan agreement on long-term entitlement reform and structural changes to the tax system.

The resulting bill almost passed. It would have gradually raised retirement age and saved trillions, in exchange for cranking up Medicare for children and the poor and meaningful contributions by the rich. But the opportunity was trashed by Newt Gingrich and then by Dennis "friend-to-boys" Hastert, who worked with Fox to end all traces of adulthood in the GOP. (Oh, look up Hastert and be proud.)

Danforth-style Republicans are now entirely extinct. And the latest "supply side" tax cut again - as always - widened wealth disparities without stimulating R&D or "supply"... only asset bubbles.
== Trump's failing negotiating style ==
I've posted on Medium an expanded version of my look at the negotiation strategy always used by Donald Trump, that worked in the dark-coercive world of real estate, but that has never worked and cannot work in the worlds of diplomacy, politics and adult interaction. Except that the method has worked a couple of times... against him. The "deal-master" is clueless, disarmed and appears to be terrified.
Summarizing: what’s fundamental to this calamitous presidency is not the vulgarity or toddler tantrums or hatred of all fact-professions. It is his inability to grasp that "negotiation" is different at the adult or legislative or international levels. Those are three different things. But none of them work like real estate speculation or a TV reality show. Time and again, DT shows the same, predictable pattern: break something the other side wants, threaten them with pain, then let them fall all over themselves to shift 90% toward what you want. It worked for Trump against Merv Griffin and dozens of development 'partners' and shivved contractors, and when he got his (very clever!) 1980s tax deals with New York City. It worked on The Apprentice.

And it hasn't worked even one time since he entered the White House. Not once. Sabotaging DACA and 2 million innocent young Americans didn't get him his wall. Trying to sabotage the ACA (Obamacare) only made people realize they like it. So far, his tariff war has accomplished zilch. Every month he takes something away from the Palestinians, never realizing that harming poor people strengthens, not weakens, Hamas. The list goes on, revealing a stunningly un-sapient inability to learn. 

(Ironically, the method DID work once, when Kim Jong Un used it on Donald Trump. And DT's unsecure cell phone (remember outrage over Hillary's email server?) allows perfect oppo profiling of this president.)
Yes, there's an alternative explanation for these actions. Or two. (1) deliberately weakening us at behest of Kremlin masters, and (2) pure evil. Sure, both of those are in play. But I believe a major factor is his inability to distinguish between obstinately repetitive, feral cunning on the one hand, and adaptably pragmatic intelligence.

The former worked well for him in the world of real estate deals, mafia coercion, falsehood-supported debt, bullying and money laundering. The latter is what you need when negotiating under the public glare, where a politician seen buckling to Trumpian pressure tactics will be finished, or where breaking something or hurting innocents doesn't shift the bargaining table.
Trump's opponents need to parse the feral-cunning from the drooling stupidity. We see the former at his Fox/KGB-supported nuremberg rallies. And his enemies under-rate this cunning at their peril. 

In turn, they display a stupidity of their own -- inability to grasp the power of polemic, ceding that territory to the Putin/Murdoch/Trumpian/fundie cabal, never realizing that these tricks can be answered... the way FDR and Churchill finally rose up and used the power of words to save civilization.
== Mueller and more ==
The day after Paul Manafort's conviction, Trump pointed to the mistrial on some counts as evidence that he was being improperly targeted by Mueller. “A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!” he tweeted.  But let’s count more truly. Across the 18 counts, there were 206 jury votes of guilty and ten jury votes to acquit. Read the article how a juror who professes to be a strong Trump supporter voted guilty 18 times.
A taste of the cyber-weapons that may be hurled against the U.S., if and when the Kremlin deems the time is right.
== Fresh Ideas ==
Folks have been thinking about how to reform various aspects of the archaic U.S. electoral process. Some notions are blatantly obvious and will happen the instant Democrats control Congress (only to be vetoed, alas.) Like ending gerrymandering, or requiring that all states use secure, easily audited voting apparatus with paper ballots or receipts, and that voter ID requirements be accompanied by generous compliance assistance, like automatic registration.  Some concepts – like those of Lawrence Lessig and his associate – would pry Big Money out of politics. (GOP Congress members spend far more time “fundraising” than on the floor or in committee, openly declaring that money buys access.)
Naturally, preferential-style elections make vastly more sense than the stupid plurality-wins system in most U.S. constituencies.
Some concepts are radical and would require a Constitutional Convention (e.g. we actually need TWO Dakotas?). Some are dumb notions that will never pass (e.g. all states agree to allocate their electors to the winner of the national popular vote - the “compact.” Yeah, that’ll happen.)
Given that even a massive Blue Wave will see its reforms blocked by Executive branch loons, Two Scoops followed by the vastly more dangerous Mike Pence, we need to look at things that are simple and might happen organically and almost instantly. Measures that small groups and individuals might take, that act with judo-like twist, that cannot easily be blocked by the forces of darkness.
Here’s one: In late November 2016 I wrote to some rich dudes suggesting they rent a luxury resort hotel somewhere and donate it for a unique and fascinating purpose — a weeklong actual, physical meeting of the newly-chosen Electoral College! Consider: there’s no rule that the Electors have to stay thousands of miles apart. Absolutely nothing prevents them from gathering and talking – like a “college” -- before submitting their votes to each state legislature. They could simply show up, privately (but maybe with some Secret Service protection), at some secured resort.
No one else but cooks n’ such in attendance. Maybe even no phones. Should the press watch for white smoke pouring from a chimney?
Sure, the political parties may feel alarmed at the prospect. They’ll pressure their electors not to attend. Some states already have laws threatening punishment if an elector changes his/her vote from the pre-election commitment. But I’ll bet few chosen electors would stay away from their one chance in life to schmooze and, briefly, be among the most-important humans on the planet.
Officially at least. Because in fact, though members of the College might yell at each other and seek to persuade, there’s little chance anyone will reverse their partisan commitment, in any result-changing way. The one main effect would be that the elector-candidates nominated by each party, in each state, will be more closely vetted in advance, than before.
Still, what’s to complain about, if the EC decides to act like a “college”? No pressure or partisan posturing. Just a place for all the new electors to meet and talk.  Nine times out of ten, nothing would change; the electors would just hew to their pre-election commitments.
But on that tenth occasion, there’d be a final chance to fix something awful. I have never seen the idea anywhere else. And note, it can be done for a few million by a single donor.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View From a Hotel Window, 10/26/18: Charleston, WV

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 18:41
Perhaps one of the great “view of a parking lot whilst on tour” photos: I mean, look at that! That immense parking structure! All in one place! Tonight: Nothing! My plan is to camp out in my hotel room. Maybe go to sleep early. I am exciting! Tomorrow: I’m at the West Virginia Book Festival […]

Notes and Advice From a Book Tour

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 12:44
The book tour for The Consuming Fire only has a couple more stops (that is, not counting the week I then spend in France after I am home for a day…), and I thought it might be fun to note a few things about life on the author tour road, and offer a few tips […]
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