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Cheating, oligarchy - and an uneven playing field

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 18:49
Below, I'll weigh in in why it doesn't matter at all if some in the FBI or on Mueller's team dislike Donald Trump.  But first, let's talk about the great news being celebrated by the world's owner-caste, right now in Davos. Their biggest investment has paid off.

Now that the Tax Cut for the Oligarchy has passed, watch the pattern of the last several decades play out. The GOP controlled Congress for all but two of the last 24 years, setting new records for indolence, sloth and corruption, as respect for that institution plummeted and only cheats like gerrymandering keep their grip on power. 

But they are always hard-working - even manic - on one topic. They can be relied upon to deliver "supply side" gifts to their uber-rich lords. 

"GOP mega-donor Charles Koch and his wife donated about $500,000 to Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) joint fundraising committee, days after the GOP tax plan was passed... lowering the corporate tax rate and estate taxes....  He and his wife also gave $237,000 each to the National Republican Congressional Committee on the same day..."  

Drain the swamp? There have never been better days for K Street lobbying firms.

To be clear, some tax cuts are different than others. It would be harder to argue against cuts that were actually aimed at achieving - in real life - the fantasy goals of every Supply Side gift to the rich. When cuts are aimed to incentivize R&D, or investment in productive capital, or export sales or job growth, these things historically happened, resulting in economic stimulus on the "supply side." So why did this GOP tax cut (and nearly all of the others) do none of those things?

As Adam Smith described... and every sane economist knows... most plutocrats won't invest in such things, when they get a big new slug of cash. Instead, it nearly always goes to inflating "rent-seeking," passive asset bubbles. (Anyone notice the stock market? Or how passive rentier income was way-advantaged in the Tax Bill, over wages or innovation?) 

The top trend subsidized by Supply Side "reforms" -- after skyrocketing wealth disparity -- has always been ever-shorter ROI (Return of Investment) horizons.

Diametrically opposite to the long range view of guys like Elon Musk or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, who got super rich by working with engineers to deliber better goods and services.

== Real entrepreneurs know this... ==

Fully 50% of our economy derives value and function from the prodigiously creative innovation that Americans performed since before the Second World War. That trait defeated Hitler, ended the Depression, won the Cold War, built a great middle class and - more importantly - kept the greatest general peace the world ever knew. It made the U.S. so rich that we could uplift most of the planet through our ironically-beneficent trade deficits: buying anything the world wanted to sell us and thus transforming their nations, cities and lives.
It took us to the moon and made our existence vastly more interesting, putting all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips! Those who would directly undermine our national penchant for innovation are - therefore - at-best fools and at-worst outright traitors.
And you know that I mean the “T-word” literally. It is the only conceivable explanation for the Mad Right’s outright and open War on Science — along with every single other fact-centered profession.  There is only one reason for them to do that… to eliminate any competing elites who might counterbalance a return to 6000 years of feudal power.
New York TimesNow look at an article Lost Einsteins: The Innovations We're Missing, by David Leonhardt in the New York Times - which included a national map that uses one metric — number of patents per 1,000 children — to elicit obvious… well, just look at the map and see what thoughts are roused.
Now I have some reservations about the article itself. It hollers so, over the glass-half-empty that the author fails to note how full it is! This is the core insanity of liberalism. If writers like this were more balanced - giving us glimpses of good news, as well - then Fox & idiots would not control the narrative, so.
Consider this: right wingers -- and the prevalent Dumb Wing of Libertarianism -- sneer at liberal efforts toward equal rights for all genders/races etc. They deride this great project as based on sappy do-gooderism or else sanctimony. They style themselves to be the “practical” ones.
But what is practical about wasting talent? What could be less “libertarian” than pre-biasing a child’s outcome based on traits for which she had no choice, and thus preventing her from proving herself with accomplishment? Thumbing the scale so that the number of skilled/confident competitors is minimized? That was the trick of feudalists for 60 centuries, and shame on every faux-libertarian who justifies it! Even if Ayn Rand approves, Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek despise you.
There are many aspects to this problem, such as the failure of our leaders to stand up to those overseas who steal our innovations hand over fist. Some of that is to be expected - Americans were I.P. thieves in the 19th century - but the insatiably rapacious extremes of recent years are so predatory that they are tantamount to war. Tantamount to stupidity! Because the predators - unable to engender their own creative caste - are killing the goose that has laid their own golden eggs of development. And my biggest disappointment about Barack Obama was how tepidly he addressed that travesty.
Arnold Toynbee, arguably the greatest of all historians, said that the one trait shown by almost all nations that failed or collapsed was when they stopped investing and heeding their own "creative minorities."
Which leads us back to the glaring generality… that the wing of American political life that should care most about the health of innovative enterprise has become its worst enemy. Again, the recent Tax Bill wages open war on every single aspect of American ingenuity, creativity, science, R&D, and innovation, top-to-bottom, so systematically that its true author must have been some foreign despot.

== Prosecutors gotta prosecute... ==

As promised, here's the polemical point that no one seems able to make, in defense against the latest Fox-Mad talking point about the Mueller probe.

Does anyone in politics or punditry have three neurons to scrape together? Trump supporters scream “bias!” because some at the FBI, or Fusion GPS, or or Robert Mueller’s team may have - despite Mueller’s scrupulous efforts - displayed distaste against DT or even Republicans. “Bias!” Alas, Trump opponents should have a trivial answer - one that no Democrat or journalist or independent public figure has spoken, to my knowledge. That answer is… “So?” I mean prosecutorial bias? Horrors! … Um, *not!*

Dig it, our justice system - like markets, democracy, science etc. - is designed to be ADVERSARIAL! There is no need for investigators or prosecutors to be completely disinterested or impartial, so long as they follow well-know standards of conduct and eventually, before trial, subject their behavior to defense discovery and scrutiny. Eagerness to “get that guy” is their job!

Take Ken Starr, whose relentless pursuit of Bill Clinton cost the taxpayers upwards of a hundred million dollars, put the nation through hell, and finally came up with just one thing: a husband desperately fibbing about some consensual-adult 3rd-base infidelity in a hallway. That… was… it.

Sure, the whole Starr Chamber witch hunt was disgusting political theater, but among all the decrepit lunacies of that affair, the LEAST noxious one was “these investigators blatantly dislike the guy they’re investigating.” Starr and his pack committed innumerable lies, torts and even criminal offenses. But enthusiasm for their goal was not one of them. So long as a skilled defense team has full access to every action and datum… and so long as the COURTS are fair and unbiased… then prosecutors should certainly want to succeed at prosecuting.

All of the current, desperate confederate whining against Mueller et. al. is far beyond hypocritical. It isn’t remotely logical! And it is a sign of the microcephalic stupidity of liberals, that they are unable to pause, perceive this counter-meme - and a myriad others - and actually respond with knife-like logic. Caught between evil-treason on one side and stupidity on the other… what can we do?

Well, get more folks to subscribe to Contrary Brin!

== Addendum: Hayek would be so mad, by now... ==

I mentioned him earlier: How ironic that Friedrich Hayek is generally dismissed as an apologist for elimination of all market regulation, yet the liberal (leaning-Keynesian) economics site - Evonomics - explores Hayek’s views on both market theory and evolution with considerable respect. (Evonomics is also the one place, online, that most often studies and lauds Adam Smith!) In this conversation, several leaders in both economic theory and evolution start by praising Hayek’s revelations that markets are about information and how over-regulation is inherently fraught with errors that stymie the crowd- and open-sourced wisdom of markets.

Alas, Hayek thereupon was lured to the opposite extreme, as his arguments were used to justify elimination of regulations that kept markets flat-open-fair and competitive. If 500,000 civil servants are too narrow a clade to allocate economic resources well, then how is an incestuous, conniving-secretive and conspiratorially greedy CEO caste of golf buddies supposed to be more wise? Hayek’s criticisms of socialism applied cogently to Leninist regimes, but as these scholars point out, they’re much less meaningful when aimed at Norway.

“Regulations” that break up power concentrations (e.g. monopolies and duopolies) are not suppressors of competitive enterprise, but rather gave birth to its golden age… as our parents in the Greatest Generation well-knew, before those beneficial and stimulative regulations were chopped away by right wing “reforms.” (Followed by collapsing growth rates.)

Hayek’s greatest failing? His inability to refer to the other great enemy of market enterprise, feudalism, which wrecked far more nations and economies than poor, dumb socialism could ever dream of. A flawed and stupid system that wrought hell in 99% of past cultures, feudalism is rooted in human temptation to cheat, and it appears to be roaring back. And the shills who work for the lords are - alas - really good at oversimplifying and misquoting Friedrich Hayek.

The fundamental is this: if markets work best when the maximum amount of information (and least deception) is acted upon by the widest diversity of market participants... then LIBERAL policies that intervene to ensure all children get education, health care and infrastructure are best, not for “goody-two-shoes” reasons but for entirely pragmatic and Hayekian-capitalist reasons! And "conservative" policies that empower a narrow caste of 5000 secretive-conniving golf buddies are the worst enemy that free and creative markets could possibly have.

. . ...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)

RIP, Ursula K. Le Guin

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 21:10
The book I bought this weekend. The title is all too on point today. pic.twitter.com/Y4uAUGRdPR — John Scalzi (@scalzi) January 24, 2018 I’ve written a remembrance of Ursula K. Le Guin; it’s up at the Los Angeles Times. As I wrote there: “The speaking of her name and of her words goes on, and will […]

First Pass Oscar Predictions, 2018

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 15:06
Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences persists in nominating films and people for their “Oscars” award, which you may have heard of, and I, in a vestige of my time as a professional film critic, go through the “Big Six” categories and try to guess who and what are going to […]

The Big Idea: S. Craig Zahler

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:13
S. Craig Zahler writes and directs films most of the time, but the story of Hug Chickenpenny was one that called out for written rather than cinematic form. But Zahler found there was a theme that ran through his book writing efforts that ran through all his other efforts as well. He’s here to tell […]

First Impressions: Google Pixelbook

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 21:57
I have come into possession of a Google Pixelbook, the company’s latest high-end Chromebook (don’t worry, I didn’t kill anybody for it, so far) and have been playing with it for most of the day that wasn’t given over to going to the dentist. I’ve played with it enough that I have some definite opinions […]

Confusion in Black and White

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 10:37
Every January I attend the Confusion Convention in Michigan, and this January was no exception. One again I had a delightful time with many people I like and admire. And I also got pictures, as I often do. I’ll be posting a more complete set at some point in the near(ish) future, but until them, […]

Regarding a Recent SFWA Action

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 17:55
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, of which I was previously the president, has issued a statement about an action it undertook, regarding an application for membership. That statement is here. As a former president, it has been my general policy not to offer up public opinions about the actions of the current […]

Science Updates!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/20/2018 - 19:31
== We are still busy, even while sabotaged ==

Among my messages that get the most buzz, is proclaiming that we need to be militant and proud! This spectacular and near-miraculous, scientific civilization can only be defended by folks who start by admitting it's wonderful. That the incessant campaign to undermine science - and every other fact-using profession - is an existential threat... not just to our nation, civilization and survival... but to something that may even be crucial to our galaxy.

Make no mistake, among all of the fact-using professions, science is the one that most stands in the way of an oligarchic-putsch. And hence, see how "Trump has tried to restrict science almost 100 times already."

A lot more than that, since I know of many cases not listed in this daunting compilation.

In sharp contrast, see my TED-style talk where I castigated the theme song of shining Baby Boomers ("I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!") and called for it to be replaced by something vastly smarter and more useful.

== Worrisome news ==

Each year a  report, titled Global Catastrophic Risks, is based on the latest scientific research, and contains contributions from leading academic experts all over the world, detailing major global risks, and provides a summary of what actions are being taken to manage them. Of course nearly all of them can be addressed by a confident, transparent and scientific civilization. Failed models like “traditional” feudalism will not work.
But danger can be stunningly beautiful! “Hurricane Harvey as a ball of swirling sea salt. Hurricane Irma scooping up the sands of the Sahara. Hurricane Ophelia, bizarrely, taking smoke from Portugal and pulling it up to the coast of Ireland. A new visualization from NASA shows the hurricanes from 2017 season from a new perspective — that is, their impact on particles carried in the wind.” 

Dig it, the folks doing this are smart and know stuff.  Alas, in 2017 that makes them the enemy, at least according to those who cry: "ignore all the category 5 storms that used to be rare!"

Ah but. The planet just had its hottest 4 years in recorded history, while confederates fiddle in denial, Earth burns.
== Ah, the future (sci fi) is here ==

Tentatively, we may have edged forward a notch in understanding the origins of life. Scripps chemists found a compound, diamidophosphate (DAP), that seems to have played a crucial role in the formation of cell-based biochemistry, allowing for the combining of three ingredients that are critical to early life forms — short nucleotide strands to store genetic information in, short amino acid chains to carry out the majority of cell work, and lipids to form cell wall structures.. It was even shown to phosphorylate simple sugars, which could have led to the creation of carbohydrates that supported the formation of early life.

And now this... Mail-order DNA CRISPR kits allow anyone to hack DNA: Some would call this the Beginning of the End and the solution to the Fermi Paradox.  In EARTH and EXISTENCE, I called such desktop gene splicers "MolecuMacs": Desktop kits will enable hobbyists... biohackers to edit bacterial DNA for only $170

== Biomedicine ==
Researchers have experimented with psychedelics with more rigor lately, including LSD and psilocybin the main ingredient in magic mushrooms, which seem likely to be added to treatments for depression. After the treatment, there was less blood flow in the part of the brain that is involved in emotion processing, called the amygdala. 
Weird. Men who received blood from women who had been pregnant were more likely to have died after three years, compared to men who received blood from a male donor or from a woman who had never been pregnant. Well, I’m doing my part. I just reached my 11th donated gallon.  That’s over 40 liters, to you modern folk….
In a small study researchers found that most dyslexics had dominant round spots in both eyes - rather than in just one - leading to blurring and confusion. They discovered differences in the shape of spots deep in the eye where red, green and blue cones - responsible for colour - are located. In non-dyslexics, they found that the blue cone-free spot in one eye was round and in the other eye it was oblong or unevenly shaped, making the round one more dominant. But in dyslexic people, both eyes had the same round-shaped spot, which meant neither eye was dominant.
An Australian-made 3D-printed  titanium and polymer sternum and ribcage has successfully been implanted into a 20-year-old. The movie KickAss was prophetic.
I always suspected this: “Death just became even more scary: scientists say people are aware they’re dead because their consciousness continues to work after the body has stopped showing signs of life.  That means that, theoretically, someone may even hear their own death being announced by medics…. (T)here’s evidence to suggest that there’s a burst of brain energy as someone dies.”
== In other news ==

These people have one thing in common  ... they don't exist.  These face images were generated in NVIDIA's research lab by an artificial neural network.  These people don't seem to be residents of Uncanny Valley to me.  
Unlucky dinosaurs! Scientists estimate that only 13% of the Earth’s surface would make the perfect target for the 10km asteroid that struck Earth 66million years ago. Anywhere else, and the gases and aerosols spewed into the atmosphere would likely have been a bit milder, allowed some dinos to survive the ensuing winter.
Underwater archaeologists return to excavate the Antikythera Shipwreck.

Urban quadcopter taxis will arrive soon. The software for quadcopters is very well-developed and AirBus is betting that the battery energy density is improving fast enough. Expect to see more flying taxis and services within the next few years as the technology is further developed and tested.  Especially in LA, where, until last year, all high rises had to have flat-tops and heliports.  That rule ironically ended just before this new era!
== And back to the war to save us ==

VITAL (non-Brin) Weekend reading: The most recent edition of The World Post (carried on the WP site) is one of the most important ever, compiling a dozen links about how not-helpless we are, to deal with climate change.  Hope can be more disturbing and demanding than "all-is-lost" nihilism! But in fact, we may be able to turn the corner on this, if our ship's tiller can be yanked out of the hands of rich morons.
--- EXAMPLES: "From the oil belt of California’s San Joaquin Valley, Bridget Huber reports that climate policies are not killing jobs, but creating them. Through the prism of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs of the ironworkers’ and electrical workers’ unions in Fresno, she traces the return of robust job and wage growth to what had become a depressed economic zone. This is largely thanks to state mandates to meet requirements for renewable energy production. “Solar saved our bacon,” one veteran ironworker told her. Also contributing in a major way to high-wage employment, she reports, are the construction jobs associated with California’s massive high-speed rail project running through the region.
"Brian Barth reports from farms in eastern North Carolina where pork production giant Smithfield Foods — the largest producer of pork in the world — has rolled out efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its meat production “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” writes Barth, “agriculture accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the same as the combined total for electricity and heating, and well above the transportation sector, which contributes just 14 percent. Add emissions from refrigeration, shipping and other activities required to get your dinner from farm to plate, and the food system’s share of global greenhouse gases climbs to roughly a third, making it easily the most climate-unfriendly sector of the global economy.”
"Barth discusses Paul Hawken’s book “Natural Capitalism,” in which the environmentalist lays out the top 100 solutions to climate change. Of these, “11 are related to food systems, seven to energy systems and none to transportation systems. Electric vehicles are #26, while ‘tree intercropping’ — planting strips of apple trees throughout a corn field, for example — is #17. The top food-related practices — reducing food waste (#3) and switching to a plant-rich diet (#4) — are largely consumer-driven solutions.” Yet Barth’s reporting suggests that farmers and producers play a crucial part in reducing emissions as well. Barth also discusses silvopasture — a “mashup of forestry and grazing” — which is the highest-ranked agricultural solution to climate change in Hawken’s analysis.
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"The challenge for all these distributed cases of climate action is how to scale them up to realize the potential for massive change as the clock ticks. The political roadblocks of vested interests which always resist change aside, what has been true throughout history is that, in the end, scale and resources follow cultural commitments. That commitment will only grow deeper if society becomes more fully aware of the whole picture of what it is already doing."

First a pro-forma announcement: “Just so you know: there are no 3rd party ads on my site. No guest posts. No one can buy a slot or a referral. I try always  to  attribute quotations, especially lengthy excerpts. And yes, I write this much. Phew.”
. . ...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)

Cheating and change... and clues about the Iran and NK wars.

Contrary Brin - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 16:54
==  Cheaters: Have we had enough? ==

I've inveighed elsewhere against the wide variety of ways that the Confederate lords and their devoted foot-soldiery slam their thumbs on the scales, shafting electoral fairness in order to defy the popular will. (The GOP won three of the last five presidential contests, but the popular vote just once.) 

Of course the biggest tension right now revolves around the vote of a single American, as the Supreme Court takes on not one, not two, but four different lawsuits about gerrymandering.

Those who have been here a long time know that I've been shouting about gerrymandering since way back in the last century. In fact, my "Minimal Overlap" solution was reviewed by a top U.S. federal judge and a major plaintiff in one of the cases. I hope it helps, a little.  Though how could it have come to this...? 

...That we must pray for the health of Justice Anthony Kennedy, because the destiny of our republic and the entire enlightenment experiment (and thus, possibly, the fate of the galaxy) revolves around one man? 

This should be a no-brainer. Justices Roberts and Alito, were they patriots and jurists -- not political hacks -- would demolish this systematic rape of democracy, with a blowtorch. Rest assured, they will be remembered. Only please, someone out there up Justice Kennedy's Secret Service protection! And test his food. 

== Investing in change ==
Paraphrasing (only slightly) Andrew Carnegie: “There are three things you can do with vast wealth: Spend it yourself on interesting or worthwhile things; leave it to the government; leave it to your children. Of these, number three is by far the worst.” 

Does this surprise you? Almost no one comments on the differing attitudes toward oligarchy and inherited aristocracy that tend to be expressed by those who made their fortunes by creating and selling real goods and services, vs. those who acquired immense wealth via Wall Street machinations, or lobbying, or through vices like gambling or organized crime, or cornering markets, or middle-man (‘golgafrincham’) parasitism, or subsidized resource extraction, or gilded cradle inheritance.

Today, most of the billionaires who got rich by working with engineers to invent or produce better goods and services are either Democrats or libertarians and most are sharply critical of the Republican policies like the 100% never-ever-worked “Supply Side” (voodoo) “economics.” 

Or the War on Science. Innovator billionaires show that competitive capitalism can be vital and generative! They already invest in R&D and jobs and production. They also denounce these tax cuts for a passive-income aristocracy that never, ever do any of those things.
== More cheats ==

Heck, while we're at it; here's one more cheat: The “Cross-Check” system to identify duplicate registrations has dumped thousands who simply had the same name and were verifiably different people.  Now we find that Cross-Check is easily hacked… and was probably designed from the beginning with that aim.
In fact, I've long said that I would have nothing against gradually rising voter ID requirements, even though almost no election day false voter fraud has been reported in 30 years. Many of you have heard me say this, but until someone out there in politics/punditry also points it out, I am behooved.

There is only one test to see if Voter ID is a "reform" or if it is blatantly partisan voter suppression:
"Has the state accompanied the new voter ID restrictions with substantial funding to help under-documented but legal US citizens to get the ID they need and to get registered?"
It is called compliance assistance, and corporations get it any time government imposes a new regulation. So, why cannot poor people get help with compliance for voter ID laws?  

If a state has sincerely done that, then I will admit that the demand for more voter ID might be honest and due to the rationalized declared reasons. (And you should admit it, too!)
Alas, not one red state that has passed restrictive voting laws has allocated a penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or the young, or divorced women, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Not even fig-leaf funding. In fact, most of these gerrymandered GOP-cheat states have concertedly closed DMV offices in counties where many democrats live. Seriously? Can anything be more blatant?

In other words, they are exposed as lying-hypocritical, outright-cheating election thieves. And the same goes for anyone who defends this foul crime against democracy.

(Ah, Justices Roberts and Alito, is there any point at which you'll finally get fed up and realize that aiding cheaters will kill the Republic, as well as the Rule of Law?)
== The Coming War
You have to grab bits of insight where you can find them. Many can tell that some kind of war is coming. Out of all post-Eisenhower Republican presidents, only Gerald Ford didn't rush to throw our forces into major combat, on flimsy pretexts (some of them purely-concocted.) And Ford oversaw the final end-calamity in Vietnam. 

Is there a scintilla of chance that Donald Trump won't go there, ordering a distraction from his domestic troubles, overruling our faithful, devoted and wary military officer corps?
Reiterating: a U.S. - Iran "war" has always been openly yearned for by every anti-democratic faction on the planet, including the GOP, their overseas petro-boyar and oil-sheik and coal-baron masters, and even the Tehran mullahs, themselves.
Yet, most attention seems to warn against a tussle with North Korea. Read this. But in fact, I deem such a scenario unlikely!
1) Kim has what he wanted, a nuclear deterrent that is far, far cheaper than his immense and bankrupting standing conventional army.  Now he can offer arms reductions -- which he needs far more than anybody else! -- as a bargaining chip to get bribes from the South.
2) Anyone who thinks he got both H Bombs and ICBMs without direct and knowing aid from certain neighbors is a bona fide fool. Neighbors that have owned and operated NK since 1950, using that potemkin regime as a tool for Plausible-Deniability War against the West. 

There are a few simple statements we could make, that would cauterize such scenarios and threats, overnight. Alas, it won't happen.
== And... ==
This article misses the point. It used to be inconceivable that the Fox lie machine could be undermined by boycotting American patriots, angry at the Murdoch's hate-campaign against all US fact professions. But that's changed. There is blood in the water and we all can do our bit to deal with this pack of outright traitors, helping sell us out to foreign dictators. See: Fox News sponsors.
There's little you can do so easily that will be more effective.
Listen to this: Congressman dismantles Jeff Sessions in epic 5-minute cross-examination.

. . ...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)

Science Fictional concepts and the Real World

Contrary Brin - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 19:07
In this rapidly changing world, the phrase “science fiction” is used a lot… often pejoratively, as in: “What we’ve just accomplished is science fact, not science fiction!” (Fools. We point the way!) But just as often, "SF" is used with an ever-rising aura of respect.
Here’s a series of places where this synergy between stories and reality is being explored:
1) The new Journal of Science & Popular Culture, issue #1, features an essay of mine that could interest a few of you. But the journal’s title - by itself - says a lot. Talk to your university librarian!
2) I’ve announced this before, but it bears repeating. UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift (http://imagination.ucsd.edu), has a new project.... The TASAT site - for “There’s A Story About That” - offers a way to connect serious contemporary dilemmas with science fictional tales from across the last 75 years, that just might be pertinent to some contemporary problem. 

There are plausible ways that this project might someday save us all!  See my explanation of the endeavor. And yes, I plan to announce it when I speak at several Washington, D.C. agencies, in June.
3) Scifi Policy, based in the Washington, DC, area, is a small, volunteer team, that “thinks big things can come from the intersection of policy and visions of what tomorrow may bring, aiming to create a field of ‘Science Fiction Policy Studies.’” See especially their explanation
4) Then there are ventures in using science fiction gedankenexperiment/scenarios for ‘commercial purposes’:
- Ari Popper explains his company “SciFutures” that offers to build AF scenario for corporations.
- The Scout Project is run by my friends the Andersons who put out the Strategic News Service newsletter and FiRe Conferences. Their site is lively, provocative and fun.  
- Kaspersky Labs in Moscow is trying to do something similar. They contacted me recently. And there are similar efforts in Beijing, where – in part thanks to Liu Cixin winning the Hugo Award – science fiction is in a period of ascendance. (That is, till some of the mighty again notice its inherent impudence.)
Speaking of China. Former President Barack Obama met with current Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 28 at the Global Education Summit in Beijing… but he also took some time out of his visit to ask award-winning science fiction author Liu Cixin for his next book!  Obama has long been a reader of sci-fi/fantasy and has publicly spoken of the vision and impact Liu’s Three-Body Problem trilogy.
Also at the Tor site, this fan’s loving remembrance of Startide Rising.
Oh. As a judge in the Raw Science Film Festival I watched dozens of indie works, short and long, fiction and nonfiction, all of them meant to shine light on some area of science. One of our favorites was “Einstein-Rosen” by Olga Osorio, about a pair of little Italian boys – brothers – who discuss Einstein-Rosen wormholes… with an amazing and hilarious outcome.  There is a Facebook page  and here is the trailer. Update: the film has just been posted on Vimeo.
== The best explanation for the Fermi paradox ==
I’ve been part of the SETI community for 35 years and for a dozen of those, part of an array of SETI mavens who have resigned from commissions in protest over METI (“Messaging” to Extraterrestrial Intelligences.)  See my extensive discourse on this debate.  Both topics got close attention in Liu Cixin’s mighty Three Body Trilogy,  the first volume of which won the Hugo for Best Novel, a couple of years ago. Now see a cogent article about how “Da Liu” has been consulting with the Chinese government about plans to use their new Super-Arecibo radio dish to participate in the search… and possibly in the “messaging.”  Though of course, he recommends against that!
Quoted from someone else, in that article: Maybe China would go public with the signal but withhold its star of origin, lest a fringe group send Earth’s first response. Maybe China would make the signal a state secret.” But later waxing eloquent, the author says:“We may be humbled to one day find ourselves joined, across the distance of stars, to a more ancient web of minds, fellow travelers in the long journey of time. We may receive from them an education in the real history of civilizations, young, old, and extinct.”
What such empathic moderns never step back to realize is that they, themselves, are a new and special phenomenon. The very same outwardness, “otherness” -- willingness to self-criticize and seek a humbling Bigger Perspective -- is in itself evidence of a culture getting ready for grand things. And this flowering might be cut short if we suddenly had to give aliens credit for “saving us” with ancient wisdom! Indeed, I can think of no greater or wiser explanation for the Fermi Paradox, than this: they may be silent in order to let us earn the highest honor of all – saving ourselves.
== On a lighter note ==

This article asked 8 sci-fi writers what Star Trek show they would write if given the chance. Refreshingly, they asked some with-it newer stars of the field! (Bypassing us old farts.)  Still may I toot a bit about this? I have a Star Trek Graphic novel “Forgiveness” that is an official part of the Paramount sanctioned canon. It tells the story of the invention of the Transporter, way back in the year 2035… and how the inventor wound up arriving… well… I’ll let you find out.  Brilliant art by Scott Hampton, who also painted the gorgeous images in “The Life Eaters”!
Now a cute irony.  I had this idea originally at age 13 while watching the original series in its first run!  I sent a letter describing it, to Gene Roddenberry… and felt crushed when I got a form letter refusing (for good reasons) to look at unsolicited ideas. Well, well. Decades later I got the last laugh. Get my graphic novel Forgiveness and see how clever that pre-teen was!
== More science fiction news! ==
NPR Science Friday’s Christian Skotte asked several of us to name science fiction novels that do great world-building. Kim Stanley Robinson, Andy Weir, Jeff Vandermeer and Daniel Wilson chose some already famous classics, such as Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Mieville's Perdido Street Station. Turning forward, I cited Semiosis by newcomer Sue Burke.
My colleague Ramez Naam cogently and entertainingly provides perspectives on potential for human augmentation via neural connectivity… the topic of his famed NEXUS Trilogy. A fine podcast interview. Very interesting.
OMNI Magazine back in digital version -- visit their site online for more information.
For those of you who do online art, images, or backgrounds for presentations, the craft of designing textures can be very important. There is a real-time, interactive, browser-based texture generator. 
A lovely, little rumination on the beauty of space. One reason to go.  
== And … ==
Huh: “Did you know that in 1953, before his first recordings, Johnny Cash wrote a science fiction short story called "The Holografik Danser"? According to Steve Turner's biography, "The Man Called CASH," he wrote a number of short stories during this period, many under the pen name "Johnny Dollar." As Turner explains, "The Holografik Danser" "portrayed a twenty-first-century America that had been conquered by Russia — major cities had been razed by nuclear attack, and entertainment was paid for in kiosks and then piped into homes via phone lines. Partly inspired by the news of the explosion in television broadcasting, he envisaged a time when live holographic entertainment would be beamed into living rooms for twelve dollars a show. He further imagined the possibility of a man projecting himself into the hologram." -- writes Will Stephenson in the Arkansas Times. You can find it in Songs Without Rhyme: Prose by Celebrated Songwriters, by Rosanne Cash.
The 13 Unluckiest Characters in Science Fiction & Fantasy. Heroes—no matter the trials they face on their journeys—seem inherently lucky. No matter how long it takes, in the end, they usually win. But where’s the fun in making iteasy on them? Which brings up one of my top 20 explanations for the Fermi Paradox… that they are addicted to us as a Reality Show.  And since we were getting smart real fast, they had to mess with us and slow us down… by helping to saddled us with a reality TV clown… hey, can you come up with a better explanation for the state we’re in?
I did an extensive interview for the Facebook Science Fiction Book Club. Check out the fun group.
A fascinating article explores the roots of the Uncanny Valley, and why children under 9 years old appear not to get creeped out by quasi-humanoid robots… but older people do.
Daniel Jeffries offers an insightful view into crypto-currencies, Bitcoin and the art of predicting an uncertain future. He’s also a science fiction author. Lively stuff.
Melissa A. Schilling’s new book QUIRKY tells the stories of men and women who have transformed through innovation. “The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed theWorld,” it revolves around the three main themes of creativity and originality, effort and persistence, and situational advantage. Edison, Musk, Einstein, Curie and many others are compared. An interesting and well-crafted journey through the lives of those "quirky" women and men who dance along the edge for us, so we all benefit from human inventiveness.
Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere is a collection of fiction, illustrations, and speculative timelines exploring the near future of near space. It is available here to download, entirely free and available in EPUB and MOBI formats, and through the Apple iBooks store. I collaborated in one of the stories, above a heroine who has to leap from balloon to balloon at 100,000 feet near the boundary of space!
Science fiction literary legend John Crowley, author of books such as Little, Big has a new web site
HYBRID (not Hybrin)  is a riveting nine-part audio drama about a world-changing virus that threatens to kill billions and the heroic, damaged woman – herself a victim of the virus – who takes it upon herself to stop it. 
Oceans everywhere!    Ice roof sheltered, life…       …may fill the cosmos. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

. . ...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)

The Big Idea: Jason Franks

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:21
In his Big Idea piece for Faerie Apocalypse, author Jason Franks notes he didn’t want this fantasy novel to have a map — and as it turns out, in many ways, in the writing of the book, he found himself in uncharted territory as well. JASON FRANKS: A young man travels to Faerie Land looking […]

A Thought, Not Random But Possibly Not All That Consequential

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 19:57
Which is: I went and got my teeth cleaned by the dentist today, and when I was done I got a jelly donut and snarfed it right down, at least partially, I think, as oppositional behavior. Is it just me who does these sort of (very) minor rebellions? I mean, I’m 48 now. I kinda […]

Sunset, 1/14/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/14/2018 - 19:01
Because sunsets are nice, and this was a nice sunset. Hope your weekend was lovely.

Times of change: male behavior, boomer crankiness

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/13/2018 - 18:39
I’ve long held that Rebecca Solnit is one of the best essayists in the modern era. I’ve reviewed some of her books and deem A Paradise Built in Hell, to be of immense importance, touting it in almost every futurological speech especially to our “protector caste.” In her new missive, Solnit waxes both eloquent and actinically angry over the seemingly endless litany of crimes committed by patriarchy and – let’s face it – the male of the species. In “Let this flood of women’s stories never cease: on fighting foundational misogyny one story at a time.”
I am not at all inclined to ask her to stop! Indeed, I generally respond to most political jeremiads by asking for perspective on 6000 years of history. And across that time, countless women have suffered at the hands of males, in nearly all contexts and places and cultures.
So what is the solution? Those of you who've read The PostmanGlory SeasonEarth, and at least a dozen of my short stories know how many variations I’ve explored, dealing with the same core issue. What’s to be done about the one-quarter of human males who are clearly unsuitable for civilized company and should not be allowed anywhere near women and children? And another quarter who… well… badly need remedial help for better impulse control!
No, I'm not claiming to have explored these matters with the kind of chilling terror of Alice Sheldon’s “James Tiptree Jr.” stories, or Joanna Russ, or Margaret Atwood, or all the other women authors who convey the victim’s perspective so well. On the other hand, there truly is a side to all of this that gets missed, asking: why did this revolution never happen before? Sure, there were candles in the darkness! (The Postman is dedicated to Lysistrata!) Still, a powerful, civilization-changing movement awaited this very era we are living in.
Without taking anything away from the leaders and the brave millions of women who are vigorously demanding their human and adult rights, it is also clear that feminism benefited from millions of dads and brothers and husbands and sons who were – despite some doofus lapses – generally pretty decent fellows. Who encouraged their daughters and drove them to karate lessons and never lifted a finger to their wives, and groveled appropriately after raising their voices, or letting some Cro-Magnon reflex briefly take charge. Men who are cringing at these recent stories, as many of us did, upon reading The Screwfly Solution.Men who would – if summoned by a wise and truly sagacious Council of Women, show up and lay our swords at their feet.

There is an aspect to this that even a genius like Rebecca Solnit – in her well-deserved wrath – seldom see. I discuss it in The Postman. That we would go a long way toward a solution if the problem were parsed as choosing between good and bad men! This is not something that even has to be argued. Once you ponder it, you know it, in your brain and heart and gut.
Nor is this a surprise, biologically! Female mate choice propels the exaggerated traits of males in most species. And so, imagine if our daughters simply declared: “The exaggerated male traits that will be rewarded, from now on, will be copious kindness, capacious calm, reasonableness, respectful love and self-control. Predators will have no place in the coming gene pool.” 

Yes, this is more radical, by far, than any of today's near-term (and necessary) palliations. I do not offer it instead of our drive for legal and reputational responsibility, outing abusers and driving them out of positions of power! That near-term revolution is way overdue. Nothing should take away from the anger and righteousness of this too-long delayed revelatory revolution!  Bring it on! 

But we science fiction authors are always looking a bit farther ahead. I am only offering the ultimate weapon in this fight for justice and decency. The cure - over the long run - must come from a form of Darwinian selection.

==  Boomers trash the place on their way out ==
“The baby-boom generation, which has voted reliably Republican in recent years, has been the largest generation of eligible voters since 1978. But in 2018, for the first time, slightly more Millennials than baby boomers will be eligible to vote, according to forecasts from the Center for American Progress’s States of Change project. Higher turnout rates among baby boomers will preserve their advantage among actual voters for a while. But sometime around 2024, Millennials will likely surpass them. The post-Millennials, Americans born after 2000 who’ll enter the electorate starting in 2020, will widen the advantage.” - from The Atlantic by Ronald Brownstein.
Oh, and we’re cranky! White male boomers feel creaky. We thought youth was our thing! Damn kids! 
No wonder we went for the insanely rapacious, short-sighted and feudal Tax Bill.  No wonder we inflicted in the nation Donald Trump. And Fox News, where catheter and mobility scooters pay the advert bills.
Oh, but we had great music. The kids avow that openly. Moreover, while I am eager for the much nicer and more sensible next generations to take over our social and political lives, I will point out one thing: that we made them. 
For all our faults, we boomers appear to have been terrific parents.
. . ...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, 1/12/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 16:51
What a very fine stack of new books and ARCs we have going on here. Do you see anything that calls to you here? Tell us in the comments!

Trump is a Racist. Stop Pretending Otherwise.

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 14:15
Here in January of 2018, this is the deal: I’m gonna judge you if you can’t admit openly and without reservation that Donald Trump is a racist. Not just racist, which is to say, he has some defense in the idea that we live in a racist society so we all participate its racism whether […]

My Wacky Video Game Mouse/Keyboard Control Scheme

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 14:51
I mentioned on Twitter that when it comes to PC-based video games, I have a keyboard/mouse control scheme that horrifies and mystifies everyone who learns about it, because it is so far deviant from the traditional “WASD” setup that people don’t know what to think about it. This of course meant I was immediately asked […]

The Big Idea: Michael Moreci

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:57
Today on the Big Idea: Author Michael Moreci, with his novel Black Star Renegades, shows you how to write a media tie-in that’s not a media tie-in and in fact becomes something else entirely in the telling. MICHAEL MORECI: A lot of writers will probably hate me for this, but the idea for Black Star […]

Our - controversial - future in space

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 18:03
This one will be a mix, mostly about space. Some riffs about a U.S. "return to the moon," plus news about SETI... some interesting snippets! And a wee observation on politics.

Okay for starters, I suppose this counts as “space news.” President Trump announced his intention to send NASA back to the moon!
NASA funding, ForbesAlas, as Ethan Siegel shows in Forbes, it simply isn’t going to happen: As a percentage of the federal budget, investment in NASA is at a 58 year low, and Trump shows no sign of changing this.  

Oh, there is one way an American will step on the moon in say a decade or so, without much increase in NASA budgets, and I’ll tell you how, below.
Of course, this return-to-the-moon fetish - a GOP obsession - is a debacle that will only do us harm. With this decision to squander NASA resources on the same dumb goal sought by every wannabe Apollo-imitator -- China, Russia, Europeans, Indians and various billionaires -- Trump sabotages our chance to do what none of those others - only we - can do. 

Only the U.S. has the capability to go where the real riches are. Asteroids & Phobos… which also happen to be the route to Mars. That path is not helped an iota by landings on the Moon. Only the utterly delusional think that our path to becoming a spacefaring species passes through that dusty, sterile gravity well.
Sure, a lunar orbital station is valuable for many reasons! Scientific, developing deep space capabilities, and defense, among others. Such an orbital station would be ideal to bring back robotically retrieved asteroidal materials for study and processing, to see if estimates are true... that there are hundreds of trillions worth of resources to be easily accessed out there.
Also, such a lunar orbital station could sell services to all those wannabe groups desperate to plant dusty footprints on the (for now) useless moon! How's that for savvy? Us making a buck or two out of others' obsessive rush to imitate our past glories, repeating Apollo? The Russians can't complain, having charged us vampire rates to launch our astronauts to the space station.

But another U.S. Apollo landing?  Yawn! Go ahead. Name any benefits for the U.S. joining the symbolism craze! Say what? Helium Three? Yippee, let's base space policy on cheap sci fi flicks! But zero facts. (Care to show us this magical substance in samples of lunar regolith, in “ore” concentrations? Show us how to collect it or refine it? Um, care to point out a real life customer who will buy it?)
What? You want to do this out of pride? All that repeating Apollo does is make us part of the pack! 

And now it is prediction time: dig what will happen. As costs mount, Trump will declare a diplomatic breakthrough! Turning the US moon landing effort into a wonderful "international cooperation" like the ISS! A new detente! And suckers will fall for it, kvelling as we subsidize Russian and Chinese footprints and they get access to every scrap of U.S. space technology. A lose-lose-lose for good old USA.

The fact that our political civil war has become dominant even in choosing space destinations is a pathetic sign of our times. Alas.
Just like the coming Iran War, the winners in all of this are the same… those who rake in billions by controlling down-Earth resources in energy and minerals want to divert us from new, sustainable technologies and access to the true riches out there. And as an added bonus, disappointment in the utter uselessness of this boondoggle is sure to associate NASA with both money-wasting and Trumpism, undermining overall support among the US citizenry. Spaceba tovarisch!

== The gold in them thar rocks... ==
The Planetary Resources site can show you a lot of cool stuff about the advantages of asteroids. Many are easier (robotically) to reach than the moon's surface. And the "fractionation of ores" can be a million or a billion times better than we see on the moon.

See also their planned spacecraft, which was to be a partner in NASA's own effort re asteroids, a business-public partnership that Republicans claim they want to see. 

I reiterate. There are zero aspects to this ‘back to the Moon” announcement that serve long term U.S. interests. Indeed, every outcome will favor foreign rivals and legacy mining interests down here, who want us never to access the real riches in space.  

Yes, doggie. Gooood doggie.
== Star Wars defense ==
I was critical of 1980s "star wars" space weapon fantasies – if supportive of the technological research. But this "historical" article is lefty-biased, tendentious and throws out babies with bathwater. 

There was plenty to diss about the Pournelle-led “Citizens’ Advisory Council on Space.” It was too rightwing to see clearly, and would have demolished the one thing (reciprocal deterrence) that kept us alive through the Cold War. We now know most of the required tech was not achievable then or now… though some core goals were! (In a weird way that I won’t talk about.) Fortunately, Isaac Asimov had the whole thing sussed. It was in fact an economic and psychological weapon to shatter the Soviets’ budget and morale. And you can’t argue with such success. (Though one can argue with how Bush Sr. completely blew the ensuing peace, consigning us back into another, even more vicious “cool war.”)
Alas, this essayist also attempts to discredit the “sci fi” notions of space resources and industry, needlessly welding that admirable and achievable ambition to the far-right. And thus the article proves that the left also contains its own shortsighted jerks.
In contrast, some Strategic Clarity: Exponential industrialization of space is more important than combat lasers and hypersonic fighters. This authortakes the same position as the Air University Space Horizons faculty, that investing in "take-off" industries in space could secure strategic and economic leadership and safety for generations to come.
. . ...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)
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