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Quick First Impressions of the Pixel 3

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/19/2018 - 14:23
My phone died on me the other day, which was no good, but it gave me the excuse I needed to get a Pixel 3, which I wanted anyway. So while the phone death was inconvenient, happening as it did on the first day of my book tour, I was also not entirely displeased. This […]

View From a Hotel Window, 10/18/18: Los Angeles

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/18/2018 - 12:12
Dig that crazy sculpture down at the bottom right. I got in to my hotel SUPER early and they had exactly one room to give to me. Fortunately, one room was all I needed. Tonight: Los Angeles! Downtown! The Last Bookstore! 7pm! Be there and bring everyone you know. It’s easily reachable through public transportation! […]

The Big Idea: K. Bird Lincoln

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/18/2018 - 06:24
In today’s Big Idea, we learn of the tomb of a surprising person in a surprising location, and how K. Bird Lincoln used it to think about the world and characters she created in her new novel, Black Pearl Dreaming. K. BIRD LINCOLN: I grew up Lutheran in a mostly white church in Cleveland, Ohio. Imagine […]

View From a Hotel Window, 10/17/18: Portland

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 18:50
It feels very Portland-y to me. Also, this is the first photo from the TempPhone™, the phone I’m using for a couple of days until I can get my grubby little hands on a Pixel 3. The TempPhone is basically the cheapest phone they had at the Verizon store, which two generations back would have […]

Transparency: sense and nonsense

Contrary Brin - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 16:41

Every breakthrough in communications was misused, before it gradually made us better. The printing press horribly exacerbated Europe’s religious wars. Radio and loudspeakers amplified the voices of demagogues and helped make the 1930s-40s hell on Earth. But eventually each new tech does expand what people can know and feel and understand.
Concerned about the malignant effects of social media?  Watch this video.  Of course it is 90% public relations. Still, I consulted with Facebook a year ago about the problems of misinformation and “echo chambers” on the web and social media, and I’m pleased they are implementing some of my suggestions, though it will be far from enough. As predicted in my 1989 novel EARTH (it had web pages), these poisonous effects will grow and expand before our more mature angels lead us back to amiably and positively argumentative citizenship.  
In the same theme: 3,517 Facebook ads were bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord. Often taking both sides of the argument, as in vaccination, in order to sic Americans against each other.
Still, be pragmatic. You could be one of those people who actually sets your settings for privacy.  This article shows how.
== A ‘landmark’? ==
This is an important ruling and a minor victory for liberty -- but hardly a "landmark." 'A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Friday barred police from accessing cellphone records such as call listings and location data without first obtaining a search warrant.' It sounds marvelous right? But all such restrictions on the ability of elites to see will prove ephemeral. Accelerating tech ensures that any "walls" you erect will become transparent or useless across the following decade. Please, name one counter-example? Those who tried to ban face-recognition systems learned that the ability is proliferating into scads of apps.
There was a recent "landmark" -- in 2013, the best year for civil liberties in this century, so far -- when both the U.S. courts (Glik v Cunniffe) and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.
No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom. For in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?
Notice the crucial difference. One 'landmark' encourages us to limit the power of an elite by hiding from them. It won't -- it cannot possibly -- work for long. 

The other encourages us to limit the power of an elite by looking back at them (sousveillance.) The first can be rendered moot, tomorrow. The second can be tech-enhanced ever onward, if we choose the braver-assertive path of active citizenship.
See more at my posting: Cops and us: Keeping an eye on each other.

== The same old foolishness ==
An interesting article by Mariana Mazzucato on MIT Tech, suggests that many of our modern information age problems – such as being “farmed” by Internet giants for our information – might be addressed with a socialist approach… making most of the information about us into a “commons” where we all might benefit.  While I have some problems with some details, it is certainly in such a commons that we might at least get to see what is being done with our information, who is using it, and possibly even get paid for “interest” in knowledge about us, in a manner talked about by Jaron Lanier.
Caustically rejecting Dr, Mazzucato’s proposal is Aral Balkan, who insists that every individual should have sovereign control over his or her own portion of a balkanized infosphere, many billions of isolated cells, with every human attentive to which items of personal information are allowed to pass.  
“The crucial point here, however, is that this toxic way of building modern technology is not the only way to design and build modern technology. We know how to build free and open, decentralised, and interoperable systems where your data originates in a place that you – as an individual – own and control.”
What stunning, staggering towering malarkey. An example, please. Show us one example of such a system that has worked, persistently, at closing information flows in ways that stymie elite view and empower privacy and citizenship through concealment. There are no large scale examples, because it is technologically, logically and historically impossible. Nor is it even distantly related to the methods that we have used, across 200 years, to create a briefly flourishing era of individual creativity and freedom.
Again and again, since writing The Transparent Society, I’ve asserted. It’s not a important to fret over what elites know about you, as it is to have active, assertive power over what they can do to you. And that power is only derived from your knowledge of what they are up to. Balkanization of a secretive, cellular infoWeb can only benefit the mighty, who will have every tool to exploit cracks in those cell walls… and show me one such system – one, ever! – that did not have such exploitable cracks. 

But when elites are also naked, then they are limited in the number of henchmen they can hire without springing their own leaks. And…
…no, I will not try to summarize The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Where I argue we should stay faithful to the impudent method that worked for the only 200 year stretch of rising human freedom and happiness.  If you are actually curious, here are articles and speculations by David Brin about transparency, freedom and technology.  
== And more of the same ==
Continuing in the same vein: In a perfect example of the Aplha-Minus Effect, Rochelle Gurstein rails in the Baffler against “Self-Invasions and the Invaded Self,” denouncing the trend toward self-exposure in the modern world, as if she invented what is - in fact - the hand-wringing stance that’s standard across the depth and breadth of modern intelligencia, denouncing how we live in “a society that offers boundless opportunities for men and women to expose themselves (in all dimensions of that word) as never before, to commit what are essentially self-invasions of privacy.” 

Continues Dr. Gurstein: “Although this is a new phenomenon, it has become as ubiquitous as it is quotidian, and for that reason, it is perhaps one of the most telling signs of our time.”
No, it is not a new phenomenon, not even remotely. Across all the history of our species, most humans lived in either tribes or villages in which power was disproportionately wielded by chieftains and their thugs and priests… and by the busybody gossips who pounced on every minor indiscretion or exposed weakness.  And exposed we were, in those ancestral villages, vastly more than we are today, when both physical walls and the law protect the interior spaces of our large homes.  

No. What is new is not our degree of exposure, but the extent to which it is voluntary - a choice taken by many millions to step out and preen in the open. A choice that wins them patronizing contempt from those who… like Rochelle. Gurstein… are waving their arms and shouting “look at me, instead!” from the page-screens of hifalutin intelligencia zines, not Instagram. This elitist contempt is richly expressed: 

“To get a sense of the sheer range of unconscious exhibitionism, we need only think of the popularity of reality TV shows, addiction-recovery memoirs, and cancer diaries. Then there are the banal but even more conspicuous varieties, like soaring, all-glass luxury apartment buildings and hotels in which inhabitants display themselves in all phases of their private lives to the casual glance of thousands of city walkers below. Or the incessant sound of people talking loudly—sometimes gossiping, sometimes crying—on their cell phones, broadcasting to total strangers the intimate details of their lives.”
To be clear, I agree that much of this modern self-exposure is both puerile and somewhat unwise. Though it does go way back, as she herself refers. 

“As (Henry) James put it in his description of the newspaperman in The Bostonians: “For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction between the person and the artist had ceased to exist; the writer was personal, the person food for newsboys, and everything and everyone were everyone’s business.””
Professor Gurstein proceeds to erect a series of strawmen to knock down, like the notion that anyone of note today might actually, actually be saying “Why seek privacy; do you have something to hide?” 

Um, please cite one example of that cliché being uttered by anyone of significance? One example? Even just one? Oh, but the series of strawmen continues:
“It is no wonder, then, that the world we inhabit together feels ever more ugly, coarse, and trivial. When the boundary between public and private becomes as extremely porous as it is today, we lose far more than “that kingdom of the mind, that inner world of personal thought and feeling in which every man passes some time,” which would have been disastrous enough.”
In fact, the private individual has never had more sovereignty than in today’s west, wherein personal eccentricity is vouchsafed protection by both law and relentless Hollywood messages. Yes, we continue to reform, always in the same direction of more tolerance, not less. Again and again we find just one limitation that consistently is applied to check that expansion of individual sovereignty, one criterion - is there a victim? 
If your eccentricity is one that hampers the livelihood or eccentric freedom of others, then you face opprobrium.  And note: if my assertion makes you angry, because we do not live up to that image well enough, consider that your very reaction is an example! 

Your eagerness to make it more true is shared by millions. In truth by a majority of your neighbors.
Among her article's few moments of lucidity, Rochelle Gurstein asks: “How can we begin to think about protecting our private experiences and our common world from more and more brazen indifference to their inherent fragility? The first thing we need to recognize is that the law is no help.”
Here we agree. No, law won’t protect you from the tsunami of light, nor will whining, or commanding the tide to go back out. 

What does have a chance of helping individual humans maintain some degree of safety, sovereignty, and even a little privacy is exactly the thing that dour svengalis rail against… light itself. If average people are empowered to see all elites, enforcing MYOB or “Mind Your Own Business”, then they may have deterrence.
This is not theoretical. Everywhere in the West that light has poured, oppression gained stigma and eventually began to fade. It is the thing – the only thing – that works.
Oh, I know what’s going on in China. The Social Credit system is turning light into the enemy of eccentricity, or freedom, or diversity and accountability. It could have that effect here, too. Which is why it’s all the more urgent that we study the west’s immune system against oppression and conformity. Light can be the enemy of those things, if it empowers feudal elites and gossips to push us around, as in the villages of old.  

Or it can empower us to hold elites and busybodies accountable and hold them at bay. What matters is our shared value system. And the pivot could not be more clear:
If I am right about our value systems re: eccentricity and tolerance and MYOB, then we have a chance. If I am wrong, then what does Dr. Gurstein think she’s accomplishing with her jeremiads?
Will transparency be used that way?  Here, at last, I have some overlap with the writer – (disclosure: she and I have had tussles, before) -- because the choice will be ours and it will depend upon our “sensibilities” or values. 
“How can we revive those aspects of the reticent sensibility that we need in circumstances radically different from the world in which they originally emerged? What would be their new foundation? I am sorry to report that I find myself at a complete loss for an answer.”
Yes, yes. That much is truthful and clear. That admission of failed imagination may indeed be the first step on the road to wisdom. The next is admitting that some things have actually worked, in our recent past. And squinting to perceive what they were.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Housekeeping Notes, 10/17/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 09:17
Just a couple of brief things: 1. My phone’s hotspot was acting odd last night so I reset my phone to see if it would fix it. Not only didn’t it fix it, but the phone completely refused to turn back on. Various emergency procedures were enacted (including cursing, begging and bargaining) but to no […]

The Big Idea: Steven Erikson

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 07:37
Call Steven Erikson a radical, a rebel or just someone who watches too much TV, but the fact is: Right now, a particular trope of fiction has him fed up. And he’s doing something about it, as he explains in this Big Idea for his latest, Rejoice, A Knife the Heart. STEVEN ERIKSON: I have […]

View From a Hotel Window, 10/16/18: Seattle

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/16/2018 - 21:13
Running a little late because I got into room late! But very pretty. No parking lot, sorry. Tonight: I’m at the University Bookstore at 7pm! If you hurry you can still make it! Tomorrow: Portland, Oregon and I’m at the Clackamas Barnes & Noble! Come see me please! Bring everyone you know!

The Consuming Fire is Out and I’m On Tour!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/16/2018 - 04:34
Today’s the day! The Consuming Fire, the second book in the Interdependency series and the sequel to the Locus Award-winning and Hugo Award-nominated The Collapsing Empire, is now out in the United States and Canada (and the US edition available in other places in the world). The UK edition will be out on Thursday. The […]

Smudge: Very Tired and a Little Bit Stoned

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/15/2018 - 17:38
As you can see from this photo. Krissy had gotten in close to pet him, and he just plain snuggled into her arms and started to nap. It’s adorable! Why is Smudge tired and a little bit stoned? Because today he took a trip to the vet and was relieved of a couple of small […]

The New Thing I’ll Be Doing This Tour: The Element of Chance

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:41
This upcoming book tour for The Consuming Fire (here’s the link to the schedule) will be the tenth(!) book tour I’ve done, and over the course of time I’ve developed a strategy for my events: I read from an upcoming work, I read something short and funny, and then I read a piece from Whatever, usually […]

How to Get Signed Copies of The Consuming Fire: The Informational Post

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/15/2018 - 11:29
Want a copy of The Consuming Fire signed to you? You have numerous options, all good. Here they are: 1. Come see me on tour! Which starts tomorrow in Seattle and winds through a significant portion of the United States. Aside from being able to get your book signed, you’ll also get to see me […]

The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/15/2018 - 10:25
The thing about trilogies is that they always have that “middle chapter” — the one that has to do its own thing while serving the arc it’s in the middle of. Writing one is always a challenge, and Ryk E. Spoor is here today to tell you how he’s managed it with Demons of the […]

It’s Woolly Bear Season

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 10/14/2018 - 15:59
Woolly bear caterpillars, that is, which are apparently supposed to tell you by their pelt whether it’s supposed to be a warm or cold winter. This one suggests it will be a mildish winter, which I am perfectly fine with. However, there’s no actual scientific grounding, so, you know. Don’t blame the Woolly bear any […]

Spreading disinformation - we can fight it with wagers

Contrary Brin - Sat, 10/13/2018 - 20:06
Alas, the "Union" side in this already-ignited civil war appears to have no generals. At least none with any sense of where the battlefield really is.  

It is all about the notion of "fact" or objective reality.  The top-foremost aim of the other side -- the mafiosi who have taken Washington and who are sweeping the globe -- has been to undermine every profession that deals in evidence, proof and the testing of assertions. From science to journalism to "deep state" law and intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps -- all are denounced at every rally and Fox show.

No other issue matters like this one, because almost all other matters would swing their needle hard toward sensible negotiation and resolution, if factual reality itself weren't Enemy Number One. 

Efforts to counter this calamitously clever assault do exist. The Annenberg Public Policy Center set up and we all know about Snopes. There are dozens of worthy efforts and you can find many more below, under comments. But these earnest endeavors all suffer from a fatal flaw. As soon as each one starts operation, its tally of lies and misleading statements will point overwhelmingly at right wing pols and media, leading to denunciation as a "clearly biased" liberal mouthpiece or an attempt to impose a "Ministry of Truth."

My own 12 part proposed Fact Act would get around this, by emphasizing fact-adjudicating methods that are inherently competitive. For example one provision would re-introduce five minutes of rebuttal per every five hours of one-sided opinion on any channel or station that takes advertising. You know who would oppose this! But the proposal does sound fair, and that is the first step to winning the war of polemic.

But we needn't wait. I have found one thing rocks our mad uncles out of their trances. One thing halts the spew of canned fox-incantations about Clintons and climate change hoaxes. One tactic always works! It is the one area where a good-old-boy still admits that facts matter. I've said it till I was blue in the face.

Wagers. Offer to find a neutral bartender or lawyer or scientist to first hold the stakes, then demand: "Put money on it!" Watch.  Most of them will flee, of course. But a certain fraction... the ones we need, to tip the balance, will blink and start backpeddling, and at minimum you'll get some amusement.

"You are so sure that climate change is a hoax (or supply side tax cuts work, or there's massive voter fraud, or Republicans are better for market enterprise...) that you're willing to stake our children's future on it, but you aren't sure enough to make a bet and take my money? Then the issue here isn't facts. It is cowardice and hypocrisy. It's weaseling and hot air!

Here I detail six surefire-killer wagers that are NAME ONE EXCEPTION challenges. For example, name one fact-centered profession, from science to the FBI, that's not under direct assault by Fox. Or: name a single factor that won us the Cold War that’s not been dismantled by the Trump-Fox-GOP. Our mighty alliances like NATO? Our peerless and admired American science? Strong and confident intelligence agencies, or a public that’s united against Kremlin scheming, or IRS auditors tracking KGB cash flows? Protection of Russian defectors, or an American tradition of adult negotiation based on evidence. Oh and climate change has given Russia twelve new seaports along a valuable, ice-free Arctic they now control.

Oh, sure, your mad uncle won’t wind up taking an actual fact-centered bet. But use that fact! The macho may never recover. 

I've discussed this elsewhere, earlier this year and other years, yet not one other public figure-centrist I know of has tried this simple gambit. It was tried, briefly, against Rick Perry by Mitt Romney, who blew it, letting it be portrayed as bullying by a rich man... one of many wriggling excuses they'll use, and that incident may have deterred others from trying. But there are a million ways around such squirms: "Let's bet 5% of your wealth (or income) against 5% of mine," or "one day of your income vs. one day of mine," or "let's pick any random five people off the street and let them choose the stakes!"
Oh, the squirming that ensues. The specific terms of the bet, who holds the stakes... and none of that is the point!  The point is to let the public see who is doing the squirming!  And if it is just you vs. your uncle?  If he is an honest person, deep inside, then he will be the one to notice that.

I'll finish this time with a recommendation for his wife... your aunt... or any other American female who feels repelled by the current madness, but helpless in the face of political mania by the man she loves.

== More ammo for wagers ==

Elsewhere I list some great wagers, like demanding your Mad Uncle (MU) go with you to the beach to personally measure ocean acidification. (Watch him squirm!) Now on to some fresh items from the news.

A recent NY Times exposé on Trump family finances is just the tip of the spear in our guts. In his new book "House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia," veteran investigative journalist Craig Unger presents a detailed and exhaustively researched account of how Donald Trump has for decades laundered billions of dollars for Russian organized crime figures and other oligarchs. This fits a larger pattern in which Trump and his inner circle have shown a great comfort with financial crimes and other forms of unethical or illegal behavior to personally enrich themselves at the expense of the American people.
The bet? That the tally of Donald Trump's foreign 'friends' is nearly all mafia states, while those he rails at the most are traditional allies and democracies.

 Study patterns! In 1930 the German Junker aristocracy and the industrial moguls threw money behind a populist-nationalist movement that they thought would prove an effective way to destroy the Social Democrats... who were the only force keeping the communists out of power. It worked. Both communists and social democrats were slaughtered by the Nazis en masse. Then - too slowly - came the "what have we done?" realization that the rabid beast the aristos had released was no longer saddled. At which point they could only hold on for dear life... and many lost their lives and everything else.
Now we see something similar, in eerily ironic ways as Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is pumping tens of millions of dollars more into Republican Party coffers in an 11th-hour push to save their congressional majorities. Confront your mad uncle (MU) with this! How conservatives reversed from hating gambling as a sin/vice to the GOP being owned and operated by casino moguls like Adelson, Wynn and Trump - the one profession on Earth that absolutely requires daily mob ties.  BTW, Adelson’s most  uncannily profitable casinos are in Macau — almost certainly laundering and channeling PRC money straight into our elections.

The bet? Find a core element of morality that the confederacy hasn't reversed, from gambling to accepting the vastly, vastly higher divorce rate among GOP politicians than democrats, to acceptance of dozens of sexual predators and child molestors as high officials, including one who spent ten years as Speaker of the House and the nation's top Republican. Dare him to bet on that! Or on rlative rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs and so on, in Red America vs. Blue.  Oh, you'd win the bet! But watch, he will flee, rather than put up honest stakes

Is this more "fake news"? Concocted by the "deep state"? The same U.S. intelligence agencies that your Mad Uncle used to root for, when they struggled against the very same Kremlin foes, back when they wore hammer-and-sickle pins? Ask your MU to explain how the GOP swung from hating gambling to being owned by Casino moguls, slumlords and Cayman bankers. And who on Earth is more likely to have mob ties?
== And if you know one of the masters of this treason? ==

The notion that shortsighted plutocrats are actually smart is one cultivated by their sycophant flunkies and it proved catastrophic in every past oligarchy, feudal or royal or theocratic or leninist. In EXISTENCE I tried to portray what some trillionaires might do, if they truly want to stay on top, while riding a healthy civilization upward. A civilization never angry enough to turn and look closely at the aristocracy. It was a pretty good scene, if I do say so... and I see no signs that any of today's oligarchs are smart enough to know how badly they need this.
Instead, we have (1) a war on all fact-using professions... how will that go, when you've angered all the folks who know nuclear, bio, nano and every other technology? and...
(2) A riled up, know-nothing, mass-populist movement that will either swing hard to the left, when folks remember their parents' devotion to FDR... or much worse...
... that the rabid populism stirred up by Fox-Jones-Breitbart will stay fascist and turn on the oligarchy with ferocity. We are seeing the latter now, and Charles Koch would do well to prove he truly is smarter than the average billionaire. If he and a few others don't waken, they had better learn the word "tumbrels."

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

New Books and ARCs, 10/12/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/12/2018 - 16:46
As we head into an increasingly autumn-like weekend here at the Scalzi Compound, here’s a slightly-larger-than-usual stack of new books and ARCs for you to peruse and contemplate. And if there’s anything here that rings your bell, tell us about it in the comments!

Father-Daughter Voting

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/12/2018 - 13:50
It pleases me immensely that today I took Athena to the local board of elections office so that she could vote in her very first election ever. She was a couple of months too young to vote in 2016, so this was the first time she could do it. We both voted early because on […]

A Decade of WordPress Hosting (Or, This Year’s Annual Unsolicited Endorsement)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/12/2018 - 11:32
A decade ago this very week (on 10/10/08, in fact), Whatever moved from being self-hosted to being hosted on WordPress, and on its very fine VIP service. Lots of things have happened in the world and in my personal life since that switchover, but you know what hasn’t happened? Whatever being down or inaccessible for […]

The Big Idea: Jennifer Estep

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/12/2018 - 08:13
Football, cooking smells and names — how do they all come together to be inspirations for an epic fantasy novel? Jennifer Estep knows how, and today she’s here to tell you how they combined for Kill the Queen. JENNIFER ESTEP: I tried to write epic fantasy for years—years! In fact, the very first (unpublished) book […]

The Existential Loneliness of an Empty Carnival Ride

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/11/2018 - 14:57
Which is, puzzlingly, not the name of some 70s prog rock album. Right now is the time for the annual Pumpkin Show in my town, during which people fill the streets, eat fair food, and ride the rides set up in the small town park. This is one of them. It looks very sad without […]
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