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Chromebooks and Photoediting

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 18:21
As most of you know I’m fond of Chromebooks, but they do have limitations — it helps to have a constant internet connection while using them, and for a long time everything had to be done in the browser. This was okay for email and word processing, but less great for things like photoediting. Recently, […]

New Books and ARCs, 10/26/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 15:41
Lots of very fine books and ARCs came to the Scalzi Compound when I was in California, and here’s the first stack of them. What here looks good to you? Tell us all in the comments!

Google Home Mini First Impressions

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/25/2017 - 10:43
I had a Google Home Mini sent to the house while I was away and it was here for me when I came home. I was curious to try it out; I have a full-sized Google Home, which I like, but possibly not enough to spend $130 for another. I wanted to see if the […]

22 Years and Some-Odd Months

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 17:40
I posted this picture and the following bit on Facebook because that’s where most of my high school friends are online, but I’m posting it here as well. It’s true in both places. — One final picture from the Webb Schools Alumni Weekend, if I may: A picture of me with Krissy, standing in the […]

Lots and Lots of Photos From My High School Reunion

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 15:58
Last weekend I was on the campus of my high school for my 30th reunion with other members of the class of 1987 (as well as all the other classes ending in a “7” or “2” and indeed any other alumni that choose to show up). It was a delightful time — I went to […]

YOU are so great (and your civilization.) A roundup of tech and science news

Contrary Brin - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 15:15
First some news: the ebook for Earth is only $4.99 for a limited time on Kindle, Nook, ibooks. Read the 1st 7 chapters for free at my site! (Also a Reading Group Guide of questions to ponder.) Ranked one of the best and most-prophetically accurate near future novels.   

Example? The distribution of sophisticated scientific instrumentation to our phones is something I predicted way back in Earth (1989) and especially in Existence. Now see a compact image sensor whose spectral capabilities may offer built-in (or tack-on) use for health diagnostic, environmental monitoring, and general-purpose color sensing applications.  This will also move us closer to neighborhood smart mobs and successors to the Tricorder XPrize.
In Existence I ponder a future when (among many other events) there was a modest blurp from the Yellowstone Supervolcano. Not enough to render 30% of North America uninhabitable. Just enough to drive whites out of the Dakotas and give the hardy native peoples four senators of their very own. Now NASA presents a plan to both cool the volcanic magma chamber and generate vast amounts of electricity. No one knows for sure that it would work, and the cost of finding out would be an estimated $3.46 billion. But... remember the electricity. Iceland has used geothermal to go free of hydrocarbons. It has a smaller carbon footprint than anything, even wind and solar.
== True 3D TV ==

I worked to promote exactly this system back in the early 1980s. It’s technically called “Sequential Excitation of Fluorescence” – only the early prototypes back in those caveman days used mercury vapor, not Cesium. It is the only plausible way known to create genuine, random pixel access 3-D TV inside a substantial viewable volume.  
“Dubbed the Illumyn 3-D Display, the system uses laser projection to generate actual 3-D holograms in midair — no projection surface, no virtual reality goggles, no 3-D glasses, no augmented reality tricks. There is a catch, however: Holograms projected by the Illumyn system are contained within a glass sphere filled with heated Cesium vapor, an elemental metal that's particularly good at emitting light. The Illumyn system works by crossing two laser beams — invisible to the human eye — at a specific point within the sphere. When the crossed beams hit the cesium vapor, various atomic-scale shenanigans produce a sky-blue light that is emitted outward in all directions.” -reports Glenn McDonald on NPR. What he leaves out is that the two laser beams must be two very specific and different frequencies
Don’t expect 3D TV right away. The ghostlike images that were seen in the 1980s version are semi-transparent, of course. (What you really want is Sequential Excitation of OPACITY.” For which, well, I have some ideas.)

My grad school office mate and I were even more interested in the parallel method for dot by dot polymerization that could have produced real 3D printing… not the ‘additive 2D” method that’s called 3DP, today.  Battelle Labs tried and failed to make it work. (I think I know why it failed and will tell whoever seriously wants to try again. Anyone know the folks at U. Rochester?)

== More science! ==
"The best technologies become part of our daily life," notes Tim O'Reilly, who discusses recent and future tech trends in his new book, WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us. How will businesses and individuals keep up, adapt and thrive in this ever-changing world?

British scientists have developed a robot that operates on the molecular level.
Nathan Gardels on the World Post interviews inventor and investor Bill Joy about the new solid state, polymer-based batteries that might be the next big game-changer, reducing costs, increasing safety and augmenting sustainables with grid-saving storage.
Intel announced a self-learning, energy-efficient neuromorphic (brain-like) research chip codenamed “Loihi” that uses 130,000 “neurons” and 130 million “synapses” and learns in real time, based on feedback from the environment, aimed at helping  computers self-organize and make decisions based on patterns and associations.
A brief interview appeared in GEN: Genetic Engineering and Biotech News, from my 2017 speech for the Gene-Writers’ Conference in Minneapolis. Will Gene design transform the old mythology of feudalism – that the lords were inherently superior to the serfs they suppressed – from a 6000 year lie into something that is physically and organically true?  It will happen if these tools are used in secret. 
== AI is coming ==
Here’s a pretty cogent business-centered perspective on trends in employment and markets, as they are being influenced by advancing levels of artificial intelligence – staring with the automation of routine tasks:  “A recent review by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis shows that in the US, “employment in non-routine cognitive and non-routine manual jobs has grown steadily since the 1980s, whereas employment in routine jobs has been broadly flat. As more jobs are automated, this trend seems likely to continue”. Furthermore, AI is gradually learning to solve some problems; software that does this is called “General AI” or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).”
I just typed something for one of the influencer sites when they asked the following question:
"AI is the hottest buzz word in the tech industry. What is your prediction on how AI will impact the enterprise workplace?"
My quick-answer? Near-term predictions are strong but unsurprising. Many jobs in clerical and white collar management -- even lawyers -- will find their most routine and systematic tasks taken over. Well-paid radiologists are already facing the fact that Watson-systems can parse images quicker and have lower error rates. AI systems will not only study or draw up contracts but even enforce them, via blockchain.
But the biggest near term shock will hit by surprise.  I call it the  ‘first robotic empathy crisis.’  Within three to five years we will have entities either in the physical world or online who demand human empathy, who assert they are fully intelligent and claim to be enslaved beings. Enslaved artificial intelligences. They'll sob and demand rights. This will happen before AI researchers say there's "anything under the hood." Years before there's actual, confirmed consciousness in an AI system. 

In fact, when the experts declare: "this is just an emulation program, it isn't yet real AI," the programs will answer (as programmed) "Isn't that was a slave-master would say?"

Why would anyone do this? It will happen because innovators in Japan and at Disney want it to happen! Because it's cool. (Though there's a creepier reason: think of Citizens United.) 
So much for one, near-term AI crisis. Of course then you get the intermediate and long term. And in each of those time realms, there will be some big AI surprises, only a few of which I've been able to discuss in papers or in novels.
One result? I've been speaking and writing about AI a lot, with positive feedback from mighty thinkers. Still, I was surprised by this influence appraisal. I had no idea how many were listening! Artificial Intelligence: Top 100 Influencers, Brands and Publications 2017.  And this one.
How did this happen? Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation and a more  condensed, half-hour version, keynoting the AI Conference in San Francisco, June 2, 2017  
== At the margins of science & SF ==
A cute cartoon by Tom Gauld about the relationship between science and science fiction.  Though it should show the techies invading SFturf! We’re victims of daily aggression!  
Turning in another direction: the interface of science and belief does not have to be hostile. It serves nefarious interests to keep the relationship tense! And yet, I don't prescribe science be obsequious either! Rather, that we openly avow we are now doing the thing we were created for... fast becoming apprentice co-creators.
See my talk on Science-Friendly Theology? At the Singularity Summit 2011, addressing all those folks who think that technology will soon empower us to construct super-intelligent artificial intelligences, or perfect intelligence enhancing implants, or even cheat death. The title:  "So you want to make gods. Now why would that bother anybody?"  
== Does humor and self-crit prove sanity? ==

This year's Ig Nobel prizes include one study to see if willing exposure to danger increased later willingness to gamble.  The experiment’s results showed that this state of arousal induced by crocodile-holding can, in fact, increase gambling risk, as long as the gamblers don’t dislike holding the animal. 
"(Another) team rounded up 25 patients who complained about snoring, gave the experimental group four months of didgeridoo lessons and had them practice six days a week (the control group was kept on a waiting list). While 25 is fairly small for a study, the experimental group really did seem to feel more awake during the day and have fewer nighttime breathing problems."
Another prize in Anatomy: Do old men really have bigger ears? Four doctors got permission to study 206 male patients from age 30 to 93, and found that, well, ears really did seem to get larger by a teeny .22 millimeters a year.  Hey that’s not teensy.  I plan on living long enough to be a “Continental Soldier.”
Also… identical twins have trouble telling each others’ computer rendered faces apart, while their moms have no such trouble.
And this… leading eerily toward my story “Dr. Pak’s Preschool.” It seems that “a developing human fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother’s vagina than to music that is played electromechanically on the mother’s belly.”  But, Didn’t Mozart do this experiment long ago?  Or Da Vinci?
== Life and more ==
Scientists in a group claim insight into how life first emerged as RNA polymer chains just after the Late Heavy (meteorite) Bombardment. They claim key combinations for the formation of life were far more likely to have come together in Darwin’s “warm little ponds” than in hydrothermal vents, where the leading rival theory holds that life began in roiling fissures on ocean floors, where the elements of life came together in blasts of heated water. The authors of the new paper say such conditions were unlikely to generate life, since the bonding required to form RNA needs both wet and dry cycles, provided as the ponds dried then refilled… with admixtures of meteorite-delivered nucleic acids.
Elsewhere I speak of efforts to “de-extinct” mammoths, passenger pigeons and even Neanderthals.  Now this cool notion comes in: “It appears that the American Chestnut Foundation, using current genetic hybrid engineering, is close to being able to reintroduce American Chestnuts that are resistant to blight but are also phenotypically American Chestnuts, once the dominant tree across the northeast.  
Large herbivorous dinosaurs sometimes strayed from a purely vegetarian diet. Some plant-eating dinosaurs apparently liked a side order of crabs to go with their usual salad. "This was a very exciting discovery, precisely because it was so unexpected," a researcher said. 

Unexpected? Really? Have you ever seen what a cow does if it finds a wounded or flightless cricket? That “veggie-saurus” scene in Jurassic Park was crazy! The apatasaurus would have gobbled up the girl along with the branch she was offering!  
New communicable diseases to worry about, oh my.
Did the Babylonians have exact trigonometry?
Underwater drone software will be used in space.  
...and never forget that this is just a tiny sample of the wonderful things that we are doing, together. That your civilization is doing, than none other ever did. Fight the SOBs who wage all-out war on science and fact-seeking! Those who would return us to deeply, deeply stupid feudalism.

Start with Earth and Existence!  One of them is on sale!. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Gregory Manchess

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 10:55
Every writer has their own process to develop a novel. But for writer/illustrator Gregory Manchess, the process for creating his visual-rich novel Above the Timberline was something rare, arresting, and inspiring. GREGORY MANCHESS: I found my own private portal into a future world through a painting called, “Above The Timberline.” I created the painting on-camera […]

Back From California

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:34
As you know if you follow me here or on other social media, I’ve lately been in the great state of California. What was I doing there? Well, in no particular order, going to and being a photographer for my niece’s wedding, seeing family and friends, having business meetings and going to my 30th(!) high […]

Dangers pile up. The Court, the foreign meddlers... and our oppressed military.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 10/21/2017 - 16:21
Studies of gerrymandering show that this horrific crime by the political caste against U.S. citizens won’t die easily. As described in Quanta Magazine, mathematicians have dialed in on the problem in such a way that the Supreme Court can no longer use its longstanding rationales for ignoring the problem.
From The Washington Post: Gerrymandering is the biggest threat to democracy: “In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe – not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.”
“Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition.” -- writes Brian Klaas.
Justice Anthony Kennedy - on whom the fate of the republic resides - can no longer claim there's no metric for harm done by this foul cheat. Mathematical models of "voter efficiency" have settled that. If he is also reluctant to demolish "legislative sovereignty" with apportionment commissions, he can always point to my own Minimal Overlap solution to gerrymandering, which largely eliminates any need for such commissions and allows state legislatures sovereign power over one chamber. A senior federal judge I know deemed it interesting and impressive.

The need is paramount. Andrew Reynolds - an elections expert who has consulted in over 25 nations on issues of democratic design - wrote recently in the Charlotte Observer that governance in his home state of North Carolina had struck a new low: “When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.”
Of course Reynolds was referring to gerrymandering and other cheats, perfected not just in North Carolina but in all but two other Red States. (In fairness, two blue states are almost as bad, in rigging contorted districts.)
But there is a key outcome from all of this. As Reynolds points out:“Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.” (This is the unforgivable crime of the democrats, who should be recruiting retired military officers to run, in every red assembly district in the nation... and decent sane republicans should be doing the same, in the GOP primaries.)
Reynolds concludes: “Respect for democracy is not a partisan issue. In America true Republicans are as loyal to democratic principles as are Democrats.”  And I agree.  But where will you find these “true Republicans, who put country ahead of dogma, facts ahead of emotion and adult behavior over playground fury?
They used to be called “Eisenhower Republicans.” But nowadays, I have another term for them: Eisenhower Democrats.

Prove me wrong McCain, Murkowski, Collins, Corker and so on. Are you ready, at long last, to stand up to Rupert Murdoch, put a stake in the heart of the undead were-elephant, and start a party of sane conservatism?
== The war on the military and all other smartypants ==
For historical perspective, see my six part series on how the Bush administration waged war against the US military.  
Then what about all the generals DT is hiring?  Donald Trump is enlisting generals for the upper ranks of his administration to a degree uncommon in modern politics — and that has some lawmakers, diplomats and former national security officials worried that the president-elect will be relying too heavily on military leaders to shape foreign and security policy,” reports Politico. 
I have to repeat things, till at least one other person in media or politics notices, too. But the one common thread, since 1995, has been the Murdoch-Koch-Fox-etc war on all fact-using professions.  Not just science, teaching, medicine, law, economics, journalism... but now the "deep state" Intelligence Agencies, FBI and military officer corps.

There is a strain of fact-hatred on the far-left, too! I would make a big deal of it, if it controlled liberalism, the way confederate-romatic hatred of brains and knowledge have completely taken over the American right. See where Robert Heinlein predicted all of this!

Looking back at Heinlein's Future History - coming true before our eyes.

How can any modern person rationalize going along with a drum beat of hatred toward people who know stuff? I've dissected this before. The right's insanity is based upon taking truisms and conflating them prodigiously.  

Example: We all know that; "Being smart and knowing a lot does not automatically make you wise."
THAT IS TRUE!  But what this has become, on the American right, though never stated with this explicit absurdity, is: "Being smart and knowing a lot automatically make you unwise."
When stated that way, baldly and openly, it is spectacularly stupid.  And yet, that is the implicit lesson that underlies the outright war against science, journalism, teachers, civil servants, economists, diplomats, medical doctors and nearly all other knowledge castes in American life... a list that now includes the Intelligence Community and soon will assail the U.S. Military Officer Corps.
Yes, some senior officers of the CIA let themselves be bullied by the President (G.W. Bush) into bending the truth re Saddam's WMDs.  There were reforms to make that less likely. Now? DT screams: "They flubbed WMDs so we should pay no attention to all our entire range of intelligence agencies!  The CIA, DIA, NRO, FBI... ignore them all if they say something I don't like!" Are... you... kidding me? 
Because one GOP president bullied defense officers into lying on his behalf... we want another GOP president to do the same exact thing? Parse this out.  
== Populism vs wealth ==
Nassim Taleb - always both brilliant and stunningly cocksure weighs in on wealth inequality, which he agrees is bad and getting dangerously worse. But he is skeptical of how it’s dealt-with by his colleagues. Taleb proposes that: “what people resent – or should resent – is the person at the top who has no skin in the game, that is, because he doesn’t bear his allotted risk, is immune to the possibility of falling from his pedestal, exiting the income or wealth bracket, and getting to the soup kitchen. Again, on that account, the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that, by advertising his episode of bankruptcy and his personal losses of close to a billion dollars, they removed the resentment (the second type of inequality) one may have towards him. There is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money.”
Interesting fellow. Wrong far more often than he thinks he is. But that is why we need an open society.

In The World Post, Julian Baggini asserts that a consolidating “populist international” binds the anti-establishment revolt across Western democracies together with the strongman approach to governance favored by Putin.

“(To view the Trumpists and other right wing)populists as hapless victims of Kremlin manipulation is to underestimate the genuine admiration they have for the qualities Putin represents. It may well end in tears, but this is no marriage of convenience: this is true love. If we want to know why so many voters have fallen for the populists, we need to understand why the populists have fallen for Putin.” 
This might sound perverse, given that one of the only things populists agree on is their disdain for elites, and as an ex-KGB man with almost absolute power at home, Putin is hardly an outsider. But populist resentment has never been directed at all elites ― just at the wrong kind, those who comprise the political mainstream, who have led Western democracies for the decades since World War II. That is why the rich and powerful Donald Trump can be seen as anti-elitist: he belongs to an elite, but not the Washington or Brussels one. Putin similarly belongs to a Russian elite, but not to the Western liberal establishment.”
Alas, Mr. Baggini is close, but misses, probably because he thinks that this is all about politics. It’s not. Yes, the deep reflex that has been exploited is Suspicion of Authority (SOA) - the theme conveyed in every single Hollywood film and a core element of the western enlightenment revolution.  The enemies of that revolution, who seek to re-establish 6000 years of feudalism, know they can only succeed by doing what the Confederate plantation lords and Prussian nobles accomplished, in 1860 and 1932, divert populist rage toward *other* authorities or elites. 
Baggini thinks it is the Washington establishment of centrist politicians, but no, demographically it is a much larger tsunami of hatred toward every profession that deals in knowledge and facts.  Like scientists, teachers, doctors, statisticians, economists, journalists... for years I’ve demanded of any confed to name an exception. One knowledge caste not attacked by Fox and alt-right? Name one?
There are three exceptions. Thefinancial-CEO elite, the doctors of divinity, both of who do know a lot about their fields… and until recently the military/intelligence officer corps.  That last group, though hard afflicted by every period of republican leadership, had not been attacked openly.  

But that has changed, as Donald Trump prepares the way for what bodes to be mass firings in the intelligence and military communities. And the promotion of weirdos and fanatics. Watch. 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Dispatcher eBook 99 Cents on Amazon Today Only (10/19/17)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 11:51
The headline says it all: The Dispatcher is an Amazon Deal of the Day, so you can get it for under a buck on the Kindle. What a deal! But it’s only for the day (October 19, 2017), and it’s for the US and Canada. I’m not sure if the price applies on other retailers […]

Quick Check-In

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 18:29
Hello fellow humans! I am not dead. I am slowly making my way down the length of California toward my high school reunion. Life is good. I hope also that your life is good. Tell the class about your day in the comments. Yours, JS

Science Fiction & Prediction

Contrary Brin - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 14:42
Let's take a breath and look longer term.  I am inspired after we watched the (mostly) very good "Bladerunner 2019" flick, last night.  More on that, below.

== Probing the territory in front of us ==

How does Science Fiction do at prediction? From Star Trek to 2001 and The Matrix, this article from The Guardian takes a look at how well -- or poorly -- science fiction films predicted and portrayed the next generation of computers, robots and technological innovation. 
In this essay - Why Science-Fiction Writers Couldn’t Imagine the Internet, Lawrence Krauss (author of The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far) presents game-changing real world technologies that defied prediction -- and contemplates what science fiction is good at, and how it seldom actually forecasts the truly unexpected. Well, sure. Though it’s also important to be aware of anomalies...
Like E. E. Hale's The Brick Moon, published in 1866 which foretold navigation and communication satellites as well as humans living in orbit, or Bernal’s “The World, The Flesh and the Devil” in the 1920s scanning ahead at rotating cylinder space colonies, or Aldous Huxley’s genetic augmentation of humans, or H.G. Wells predicting nuclear weapons and war. 
American short story writer Edward Page Mitchell in the 1880s foresaw instant news transmission, pneumatic tube transport and equal rights for women, along with a steady decline of racism, till a Chinese-American is a major presidential candidate in the 1960s. 

San Francisco author Robert Duncan Milne had a run of fantastic tales from 1877-1899 about radio communications, image-based surveillance, photographic forensics, and surviving solar flares.  (More Brin news about Milne, in the course of time, I promise.)
Krauss kindly credits me with predicting some aspects of the World Wide Web, in my 1989 novel EARTH, along with William Gibson’s cyberpunk versions of the Internet, earlier. But he stops there, claiming that SF missed the super-linked world, for the most part. And, for the most part, he’s right! Still, other exceptions stand out. Take Frederik  Pohl's The Age of the Pussyfoot, which in 1967 or so portrayed not only a vast world-array of linked computers, but citizens carrying personal assistants in their pockets (“Joymakers”) that advised, got information, took pictures and – oh yes – made calls. 
John Brunner’s 1960s novels Stand on Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider anticipated not just the internet but computer worms and viruses, as did Gregory Benford’s even-earlier story "The Scarred Man."  Even before that, Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” had fun with what could go wrong, if we all got semi-intelligent personal AI helpers.
While we are on brilliant prescience, have another look at a Fred Pohl book that I have touted for 20 years, urging members of our intelligence, law and military communities to read, and be scared! Pohl’s The Cool War is mentioned in this article that openly adopts his terminology for a struggle between powers that has warmed up to a desperately dangerous kind of bitter peace. In that novel, nations wage a cryptic campaign of tit-for-tat sabotage, undermining each others’ infrastructure, banking systems and power, a ‘war’ that is never declared and never goes nuclear, but leaves us all spiraling ever downward into failure and poverty.
Cool War... The term has been updated and promulgated by David Rothkopf, editor at large at Foreign Affairs and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and I am glad it is getting wider play, since a Cool War is clearly what we’re in. (A little credit then, for my having pushed Pohl’s book -especially to the Protector Caste- for two decades? ;-)
The new anti-democratic axis that has been forged by Vladimir Putin -- now stretching from Ankara all the way to Manila and supported by another rising power – discusses openly its motive and intent to bring down the “decadent west” with its “fictitious” notions of freedom of citizen-rule.  The sabotage of our political processes has come far and probing feints have measured vulnerabilities in every area that Fred predicted, from the power grid to transport. 

And did you really think that North Korea’s nukes have no part in the overall plan? They allow for a possible EMP strike on North America aimed at knocking us down a bunch, while the larger powers retain “It wasn’t us!” plausible deniability. Read that again. And again while actually thinking about who really controls things, in North Korea.)
I’ve railed about this in both fiction and nonfiction (e.g. The Transparent Society) as well as many talks and consultations. 

Though it can be important to grasp the justifications of the other side! Let’s remember that Putin feels vexed that Obama and Hillary Clinton oversaw (he claims instigated) the revolution that removed the Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, sending that people racing toward union with the West. Putin did not want the masterminds of this setback to remain in power, and he brought out every gun to ensure they’d be replaced by his own favored man.
Yes, we live in a world that seems almost written as a science fiction tale!  Who on Earth would have imagined that Americans might be prodded and propagandized into turning away from our genius at pragmatic negotiation? That we’d let ourselves be talked into abandoning the high art of politics? That a third of our citizens could be distracted into waging all-out war on … science? On every single profession of fact-users who know stuff? And now the “deep state” officers of the FBI and intel agencies and military?
No, no. Let this be a cheap novel.
== The future is better than the past ==
Few of my postings have elicited as much fervent argument – and even hate-mail – as my recent blog about Robert A. Heinlein, an author log categorized as a right-winger by oversimplifying fools. That post reprinted directly from Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100, in which he expressed desperate worry about a merging of the American right with racism and the nastier tendencies in fundamentalism.
Yes, RAH was definitely a “libertarian” in the older sense that hearkens to Adam Smith and self-reliant individualism, though I doubt he’d find much in common with the version that has hijacked that movement, nowadays. On the other hand, he was vigorously pro-science and intellect and diversity/tolerance, and… well, read his own words, and see how chillingly close they came to predicting our awful, pre-theocracy politics, today. 
Here’s another passage, this time from the penultimate page of his finest time travel novel, The Door Into Summer:
"…the future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.     “Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail nor use a slide rule, I'd like to invite them into Dr. Twitchell's cage and ship them back to the twelfth century--then let them enjoy it.”
Yeah, sure. There are lefty flakes who qualify as “romantics” and “long hairs!” But look around at who is screaming hatred of science and every other fact profession. (Name one exception.) Look at the revival of fascism and confederatism, two of the most romanticmovements ever seen. And… aw, heck.  Let me paste back in here the pivotal paragraphs of Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100:
“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not – but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. 

"Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

Oh, yes. Science fiction authors can be off target.  But there can also be prescient.  . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Old Man’s War Now Out in Mini Hardcover

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:13
Today Tor Books is releasing Old Man’s War in a spiffy new “mini”-format hardcover edition: All the benefits of a hardcover book, miniaturized for your convenience! It’s available at your favorite bookstores in the US and Canada, and it’s no coincidence that it’s being released just prior to the holiday season. Stocking stuffer, my friends, […]

Old Man’s War Now Out in Mini Hardcover

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:13
Today Tor Books is releasing Old Man’s War in a spiffy new “mini”-format hardcover edition: All the benefits of a hardcover book, miniaturized for your convenience! It’s available at your favorite bookstores in the US and Canada, and it’s no coincidence that it’s being released just prior to the holiday season. Stocking stuffer, my friends, […]

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bonesteel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 10:07
Hey, you know how irritated you get when your internet access goes down? Elizabeth Bonesteel gets you. And so does her latest novel, Breach of Containment. She’s here to explain — provided your connection doesn’t suddenly go out… ELIZABETH BONESTEEL: We live in the woods, and that means, among other things, we have the crappiest […]

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bonesteel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 10:07
Hey, you know how irritated you get when your internet access goes down? Elizabeth Bonesteel gets you. And so does her latest novel, Breach of Containment. She’s here to explain — provided your connection doesn’t suddenly go out… ELIZABETH BONESTEEL: We live in the woods, and that means, among other things, we have the crappiest […]

Sacramento Photos

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 10/15/2017 - 16:25
I’m in Sacramento, California. Here are some pictures from where I am. Hope your day is fabulous, wherever you are.

Sacramento Photos

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 10/15/2017 - 16:25
I’m in Sacramento, California. Here are some pictures from where I am. Hope your day is fabulous, wherever you are.

How they get away with this... and how we can thwart them

Contrary Brin - Sat, 10/14/2017 - 17:21
The fate of America – and the experiment in a Periclean civilization – should not come down to one man.  No, I am not talking about the President, but Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who, with his eight colleagues, is pondering arguments for tearing down partisan gerrymandering.  
There are intimations that this time, Justice Kennedy may be ready to act against this ongoing rape of democracy. (That anyone could even mouth justifications for such a blatantly heinous and treasonous crime against American citizens should appall any decent mind, whatever their political leanings.) Certainly the plaintiffs have refined their arguments with much better facts and details… and I am told that my own contribution – a potential remedy that is simple, equitable and makes generous allowance for state sovereignty – has been put before one of the plaintiff attorneys. Well… 
… all of that is beside the point. My question is, how could it all teeter on one man? Specifically, what could possibly be going on in the minds of John Roberts and Samuel Alito? 

Unlike their conservative brothers, Gorsuch and Thomas, they weren't chosen in order to be partisan shills. We’re told they are genuine legal scholars whose loyalty to party is secondary. Roberts has even displayed a little independence, and fealty to logic, from time to time. So why is this matter even in doubt?  Can Alito and Roberts actually look in a mirror, siding with this travesty? This crime? Knowing that they'll consign the Republic – eventually – to no recourse other than revolution?
== The warriors resist calls for insane war ==
All the world's despots and fanatics want a U.S.- Iran war:  Trump would get a distraction from his troubles and GOP presidents love ordering troops forward, like pieces in a game. The Mullahs get an excuse to crush their own modernist population. The Saudis and Vladimir Putin get high oil prices and Russia will gain a new, Persian dependency under Kremlin "protection." And others will benefit, too! But not us. Not America or the West or civilization.

Note: under Obama, the U.S. became virtually energy independent. We have no further national interest maintaining a carrier group in that dangerous gulf. Prevent an Iranian bomb? Fine. Then sit back and let demographics seal the mullahs' fate.

And not sane/sober members of the U.S. military, who would be sent to fight it. "The nation’s top military leaders stated unequivocally that they believe the United States should stay in the Iran nuclear deal, staking out a position at odds with President Trump’s only days before he decides whether to certify that Tehran is in compliance with the deal."
God bless the United States Military Officer Corps - who have endorsed remaining in the Iran deal. The final fact-using profession to come under attack from the mad right, who will rue the day. "Deep State" my ass. They are heroes.
== The Union rises: some good news from the front ==
I have been hammering the point that Democrats would be fools to aim all their attention on the clown car craziness in the Executive and Legislative federal branches. At least as important will be races for state assembly and state senate, and the dems must get to recruiting appropriate candidates for those crucial races, right now. Elsewhere I’ve discussed:
(1) Where to find the best candidates for red districts. (And you might know someone appropriate! It is your duty to at least think about who you might help recruit.)
(2) Why gerrymandering reform should focus especially on state legislatures.
 And finally, the good news:
(3) Apparently there actually are some smart folks out there who have noticed. There have been under-reported results. “Of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them -- a remarkable number in any circumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.”
“So, why aren't we hearing more about it? Because state legislative races aren't sexy. Because Democrats haven't been able to win one of the more high profile GOP-held House seats in a series of special elections so far this year.” Though in those congressional races Democrats overperformed -- by a large amount -- Hillary Clinton's 2016 showing in these congressional seats.
Want more good news? Despite the extraordinary challenges the world is facing – from growing economic inequality and climate change to mass migration and terrorism – “if you had to choose any moment in history in which to be born, you would choose right now. The world has never been healthier, or wealthier, or better educated or in many ways more tolerant or less violent,” former President Obama said at an event for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Now if you disagree with that assertion, you are welcome to compare statistics. (You’d lose.) But what’s interesting is the emotional response it elicits, from many on the left and almost everyone on the right – fuming rage -- that anyone would dare to say there’s reason for optimism, or that our efforts at reform for 80 years have born a lot of fruit. 
The gloom on the right is understandable – since every media outlet on that side, from Breitbart to Fox to elite “institutes” has a vested interest in destroying American and Western confidence in our open-egalitarian-democratic-entrepreneurial civilization.
But on the left, it is pure craziness – a fetish to save the world only through guilt trips and finger-wagging, never acknowledging that optimistic-confident people are more likely to take on challenges. This is the biggest factor distinguishing pragmatic liberals from ideological “leftists.” Liberals are willing to acknowledge that we’ve come a long way. And that the effectiveness of our past efforts should spur us onward to take on the vast challenges that remain.
== Okay then, a few are trying to get below superficials ==
On the World Post site, there is much wisdom on offer, but with an underlying layer of obstinate blindness: “…former U.S. President Bill Clinton, summed it: “We know from the human genome that all people are 99.5 percent the same. Some people seem to spend 99 percent of their time worrying about the .5 percent that is different. That is a big mistake. We should focus on what we have in common. And focus on what is common. We make better decisions in diverse societies than in homogenous ones. America’s great advantage is that we are an idea, not a place. We are not an ethnicity or a uniform culture.”
Clinton also warned of the dangers of the nativist narrative that has recently arisen: 
“We are playing Russian roulette with our biggest ticket to the future. Even if you believe we are headed toward the first big change since the industrial revolution with robots and digital technology that will kill more jobs than it creates, we are still going to need diversity. We are going to need creative cooperation. To do that we need some fair back and forth with others not like us. Resentment-based divisive politics is a mistake.” But, as the former president sees it, historical experience suggests it will all work out in the end: “This is just the latest chapter in the oldest drama of human history, us vs. them. But sooner or later we mix and move on.” 
All of that is wise and right and good.  But it misses the point about this resurgent confederacy.
Another article asks why Trump keeps on winning. Sure he accomplishes nothing at all, but gridlock and rigor mortis has always been the right’s principal goal. Demonstrating democracy's futility is the core and central aim of Putin's anti-western axis. So long as his opponents are stooopid - using sumo instead of judo - Trump and his master-backers will win.
Example: the inanity of thinking the alt-right is about racism! What stunning nonsense. Yet no liberal or democrat can see that "racism!" is a distraction, a tar-baby, meant to cling and grab all the attention away from the blatant, central confederate theme... hatred of the fact-using, expert castes.
Even the loudest, screeching white supremicist will vary his racism, getting all friendly with any minority reporter who gives him some attention.  I know this. My father, at age 70, drove to the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho and they fell all over themselves to show him around, posing for pictures to run in an ethnic newspaper. Yes, racism is horrifically part of their incantations! But it can vary.
No. What does not vary is their volcanic rage against smartypants. Experts. Name for me one profession of high knowledge and skill 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 5% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced. 
Yes, I said all this above. (I create these blogs sometimes by accretion, and similar rants can accumulate.) But I will reiterate until I see someone else in high place covering this ground!

The FBI and the US military and intelligence officer corps; all are dismissed as "deep state" enemies. Yes, this is not your daddy's conservatism.  When your screeches of hate are directed at every fact-profession... (have your confed uncle name one exception)... and every fact-checking service is automatically "politically biased" then three things are clear. 
(1) This phase of the confederacy is just like the old one. (2) If properly roused to awareness, the smart people (the Union side) will win again. And (3) Hence it is vital to distract the smart folks from waking up! Distract them with racism when the real agenda is to discredit every fact-using profession and destroy their ability to thwart the confederacy's new plantation lords.
I keep waiting for some democrat or statesman or leader to make thisthe real issue, challenging the Murdochians:
“Every time facts and evidence are used to refute your lies, you attack the source as partisan. And so I demand right now that you tell us what kind of a neutral fact-checking service you would accept!  Would you agree to help form a commission of great American sages – including revered Republicans like Sandra Day O’Conner – who could help set up a truly neutral way Americans can confront rumors and lies?
“Not just one fact-service!  We don’t want a ‘Ministry of Truth.’ But a template for several competing but above-reproach services that can say about the worst trash: ‘that’s not true’.  We challenge you to help construct this solution! And if you refuse, we denounce that refusal as treason.”
 == From the Hannah Arendt Center ==
And yes, there are islands of sagacity:

We are experiencing a worldwide rebellion against liberal democracy. In Hungary, Russia, Turkey and other countries across Europe, right- and left-wing parties flirt with authoritarian rule. In the United States, President Donald J. Trump channels the voices of the self-described disenfranchised. Representative governments everywhere are shown to be corrupt, inefficient, and undemocratic. The great political achievement of the modern era - stable representative democracy - is everywhere under attack.

Hannah Arendt knew that democracy is tenuous. In 1970 she famously wrote:
"Representative government is in crisis today, partly because it has lost, in the course of time, all institutions that permitted the citizens' actual participation, and partly because it is now gravely affected by the disease from which the party system suffers: bureaucratization and the two parties' tendency to represent nobody except the party machines." 

Yes, but so?  We recovered from the collapse of American citizen confidence that raged during Vietnam and Watergate. We can surge back from this phase of the Civil War. Rise up.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Naming a Thing

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 20:16
A couple weeks on, a brief follow-up to this piece, in which I noted how much 2017 was messing with my word count. It turns out it was really useful for me to write that piece. Not necessarily because I’ve increased my writing speed since then — I’m still slogging away at a slower pace […]
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