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Exoplanets, waterworlds and asteroids

Contrary Brin - Sat, 06/24/2017 - 17:55
After three postings about politics and winning this phase of the Civil War... how about some space stuff?  Proof that we are members of a dynamic, bold, competent scientific civilization.

A planetary system similar to our own: Epsilon Eridani, at 10.5 light years, is one of the nearest solitary stars roughly similar to our sun, and hence was inspected by Frank Drake, in the 1960s, for possible SETI signals. Now, as well reported on the SETI Institute’s site, new infrared observations reveal a system very similar to ours, with a Jovian planet riding herd just outside a silicate-dominated asteroid ring and an outermost ring much like our Kuiper Belt… but with a third debris field also orbiting where we would have Uranus.  
It appears that most habitable planets may be waterworlds: On Gizmodo, George Dvorsky reports on a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that most habitable planets are wet. “Like, extremely wet. Using computer models, astronomer Fergus Simpson from the Institute of Cosmos Science at the University of Barcelona found that habitable exoplanets, at least simulated ones, tend to be overrun by water, in most cases accounting for 90 percent or more of the total surface area,” unlike Earth’s relatively dry 70%.  Here’s the original paper’s abstract.
In fact, the authors’ inferences are a bit weak. Still, I have been saying that Earth is likely to be dry, for a water world, for 30 years.  Going back to this classic paper in the 1983 Quarterly Journal of  Royal Astronomical Society.  Or in this way fun youtube riff you’ll enjoy, I promise!
In fact, this is the safest and best "soft landing" to the Fermi Paradox.That the universe is filled with life-rich water worlds, but our Earth, skating the inner edge of the Sun's CHZ or Goldilocks Zone, has unusually more land surface. Hence hands-and-fire races like us are the rare thing.  When we build starships, we'll find lots of other folks out there... with flippers and such. Interesting to talk to, but not competitors.  

Of course there's another aspect to us skating the inner edge of the Sun's CHZ or Goldilocks Zone.  It explains why Earth has to shed heat so efficiently and even a little bit of greenhouse gas excess can be lethal.  But then, members of the Denialist Cult don't read my blog. And you science lovers don't need to be convinced.
== Again, the case for asteroids ==
A question asker over on Quora someone asked: “Is space mining sci-fi or a legitimate concept?

In fact, some of the smartest people on the planet have studied the material properties of meteorites, which are bits of asteroids or comets that have fallen to Earth. Back in the 1980s, John Lewis's book Mining the Sky (or his more recent Asteroid Mining 101) made clear that simple estimates of the various types of asteroids and their relative abundance reveal what’s out there…

…and what’s out there is a bonanza. Just one 1-km asteroid of the right type — if melted and cast using solar concentrators — would produce:
  • the entire Earth’s iron/steel/nickel production for a year.
  • Earth’s gold and silver production for 100 years.
  • Earth’s platinum group production for 1000 years. And that’s one such asteroid, and there are millions

Do we yet know how to “melt and cast using solar concentrators” in space? Only in computer models. But a different kind of asteroid is rich in water, so we’d harvest that resource much sooner, just by throwing a baggie around one and siphoning the evaporated volatiles.

Is all this guaranteed? Of course not. Do the payoffs seem to warrant some capital investment? Um, duh?
Oh, about “bringing asteroids to Earth”… the answer is you don’t do that! You bring them to lunar orbit and process them there. Which means that a lunar orbit station would be valuable in all sorts of ways. Including the profitable selling of services to all the wannabe nations — China, Russia, India, Europe and billionaires — who want to plant their own footprints on that sterile and (for now) utterly useless surface.
(If you meet a “back to the moon!” zealot inside the US, it will always be a republican, whose other mantra is “screw science!”)
== METI Redux ==

Over on Quora someone asked: “Stephen Hawking believes we should not attempt to contact alien civilizations. What’s his thinking? And do you agree?
I have been cataloguing answers to the “Fermi Paradox” - the question of why we see no blatant signs of other sapient species - since 1983, before it was even called the “Fermi Paradox”! In all that time, I have found that the brightest people — e.g. Hawking — tend to leap to declare “Aha! I know the reason!” 

It seems an immature habit, given this is a topic that has no known subject matter! ;-)
Seriously, the best we can do is catalogue and maybe rank-order these notions by plausibility. In my novel Existence, for example, I go through more than a dozen hypothetical reasons why interstellar AI probes might sit in the Asteroid Belt, tune in to our Internet, yet refrain from making themselves known.Among the 100 or so “Fermi” explanations, a few seem plausible (e.g. we may have anomalous-fluke intelligence), some are optimistic (e.g. Earth happens to be “dry” compared to most Water Worlds, and hence, most other bright races have fins, not hands.) And a fair number are pessimistic or dangerous, (I go through more than a few of those, in Existence.)
The dangerous ones aren’t totally compelling - though they worry folks like Nicholas Bostrom and Lord Martin Rees. And Hawking. But they seem plausible enough to put a burden of proof on those silly radio astronomers who eagerly seek to beam “yoohoo!” messages into space. I am among the SETI scholars who object to this foolishness called METI or Messaging to ExtraTerrestrial Intelligences.
This is not a place to go into detail, but you can find a very biting rundown of why so many of us object to this stunt on my website.
== The Politics of SETI ==
Stranger danger: Extraterrestrial first contact as a political problem, by John Hickman and Koby Boatwright offers an interesting essay on political decisions whether to respond to a SETI detection and the difficulties of communications with aliens.
Just released: Aliens: The World's Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, edited by Jim Al-Khalili, with contributions from Martin Rees, Paul Davies and others.
And consider this: Nuclear explosions and submarine comms distort space weather near the earth: Very-low-frequency (VLF) signals are emitted by ground stations "at huge powers" so they can reach submarines deep below the ocean's surface. Now comes a (still controversial) finding that these VLF signals can affect the Van Allen radiation belts above the Earth.  Satellites report that the inner boundary of the inner VAB has shifted over time. Measurements from the 1960s, when VLF transmissions were more limited, suggest that the inner edge of the Van Allen belts was closer to Earth then than it is today, according to NASA. It's possible that the inner boundary of the Van Allen belts is an "impenetrable barrier" and that, if humans did not send out VLF signals, the boundary would stretch closer to our planet.  

Gawrsh. There’s a sci fi premise that writes itself.  
 == Cartoons re SETI & METI! == 
Fom: SMBC Comics: 
We debated whether to send signals to earth...Why we might worry...How come we never hear from aliens?
From: XKCD Comics:If planets are common, where is everyone?The first ants to achieve sentience...
Brewster Rockit on METI and REGRETI
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Interview, of Me, in Iowa, In Which I Talk About Writing

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 23:02
Gotta be honest, I had entirely forgotten I’d done this interview last year when I was in Iowa City for a book festival. But eventually it all came back to me. Also, it’s a pretty good interview. Enjoy.

In Which I Announce My Plan to Hide From the News Until Head On Is Done

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 15:43
Hey, did you know I’m currently writing a novel? I am! It’s called Head On, and it’s coming out in ten months. Also, it’s not done yet, and the deadline is real soon now. I need to make some real progress on it in the next few weeks or else my editor will give me […]

A New Addition to the Midnight Star Universe

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:00
If you’re a fan of the Midnight Star video games I helped create, here’s something fun for you: John Shirley, legendary writer and lyricist, has written “Purgatorio,” a serialized story set in the Midnight Star universe. He’s written it for Bound, a new company (and iOS app) specializing in serialized fiction. Which is pretty cool. […]

The Big Idea: Laura Lam

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 08:47
Big Ideas are great for a book (I mean, that’s kind of the whole point of the “Big Idea” pieces). But as Laura Lam explains about her novel Shattered Minds, sometimes the Big Idea is just the jumping off point. LAURA LAM: Sometimes you get the big idea for the story. Sometimes that’s not enough, […]

A Time for Colonels and Captains: Part Three

Contrary Brin - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:03
In Parts One and Two of this series, I offered an impudent but reasonable suggestion — that 2018 should be a Year of the Colonels. 

Not in the sense of nasty-tropical-clichéd caudillos! Rather, it's a benignly pragmatic proposal for the Democratic Party -- and or reformers in Republican primaries -- to call up real warriors for this political struggle to determine life-or-death for the great American Experiment. To sift among many thousands of retired Army and Marine Colonels (and Navy Captains, and other former officers and noncoms of spotless record), then recruit scads of them to run in every single 'safe' Republican Congressional and state assembly district, in 2018. 
And yes, this broad front approach will mean leaving the juiciest and ripest swing districts to be contested by Bernites, fine! This is in addition to the vigorous activists, at their left-end of the Big Tent. Civilization needs need every ally we can get.
Last time, we discussed deep, psychological reasons why this is how to reach those aging, bitter, non-college white boomers who were suckered into Trumpism, and thus supporting the very destroyers of the middle class in America. Many — enough — of those pivotal voters can be weaned out of the mad GOP coalition, not by emulating Foxite pandering, but instead by sending them adults! Candidates whose background and demeanor they will respect enough to listen-to.
Indeed, the problem is taken seriously. Former President Barack Obama announced he will be working with Eric Holder, his former Attorney General, on the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to help Democrats reverse their losses in the states. This is urgent, if Democrats hope to have any say in how congressional and legislative district lines are drawn by governors and state legislatures after the next census in 2020.
== Gloomy forecasts ==
Oh, but it won’t be easy. Even if Donald Trump continues his slow motion car crash, so many red-cheats (like gerrymandering and rigged voting machines) and demographic distribution problems hamper the Democrats that even a narrow win might be hard to achieve in 2018. Mara Liasson on NPR said:

While Republicans are able to turn out their voters every two years, Democrats seem only able to turn out their voters every four. That needs to change. Democrats need to restock their pipeline with candidates for city council, mayor, state legislature and governor — and they need to do it all across the country. It's true that Democratic voters are inefficiently distributed geographically for the purposes of electing members of Congress or the Electoral College.”
Christopher Browning, author of Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers comments

“We already have a Congress that is so gerrymandered that it would take a Democratic landslide of 56 or 57 percent to simply get a change in the majority. And we certainly know that the voter repression laws that are likely to creep in between now and 2020 are going to make things worse.”
Aaron Blake in the Washington Post put it bluntly: 

Can Democrats get used to all the losing that lies ahead? "Despite Trump's historically bad image for a new president, the 2018 electoral map is a daunting one for Democrats, with very few good opportunities to win the three Senate seats they need and plenty of tough seats to defend. The GOP also retains its beg advantage on the House map, which would require a huge Democratic wave to sweep Republicans out of power."  

To some, the prospect is so daunting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the much-heralded political mind behind Democrats' successful campaign to win the House majority a decade ago, says the idea of retaking majorities in 2018 is pie in the sky.
And if you find this gloom unacceptable, so do I. Wealth disparities and parasitism are approaching the levels of 1789 France and recent political cheating resembles the final days of the Roman Republic. We need a calm, but major electoral reset, or our next worries will be about revolution.
== Inescapable logic ==
In Part One, I compared two strategies the Democrats could take. Traditional politics would have them bracket in on some issues and selected districts, hoping for an anti-Trump revulsion among “swing voters” in order to pick up maybe thirty House seats and a few senators, enough to officially control both chambers. A “victory” like that will be catastrophic, since the inevitable resulting gridlock is exactly what the Republican masters most adore. Having nothing get done, but evading any blame for it!
The alternative is simple — go for broke. March with fortitude into enemy territory. Challenge every red constituency, from Senator and Governor down to state assembly. Send candidates who are simultaneously sane-compassionate and fact-using, while also simpatico with the by-personality conservative voters in those districts, because they, too, are conservative-by-personality. They’re just too smart and sane to be Republicans.
Send to these voting constituencies women and men who — as genius social psychologist George Lakoff urged Hillary Clinton to do — appeal to the “strong father” reflex of red Americans. But a version of strength that is calm, reasonable, tolerant and amenable to science. A version that can be represented by some of our "tough mama" retired officers!

Take advantage of the way an illogical, frothing, anti-fact, Fox’d and drooling-insane rightwing media has spent 25 years screeching hatred at all fact-centered professions. And now this cult is also hating on the most fact-focused profession of all -- the United States Military Officer Corps. 
(Sure, some such retired officers could run in Republican primaries, instead of as Democrats… I have nothing against that ultimate answer to the Tea Party, which might spark the gradual resurrection of a sane American Conservatism. A 21st Century, grownup GOP is not impossible to imagine -- just very, very hard.)

One of you noted: "Apparently, the Republican strategy for defeating conservative Democrats in conservative districts is to smear them as liberal. Which is not a difficult charge to make stick, honesty."  Well, sure.  But it's harder to make it stick on a retired officer, as Doug Applegate showed, in California's 49th. And this year we've seen that it is a hard, ground game... push just another few percentage points and the madness might collapse.
In part one, we looked at the fly in this ointment — that Democratic activists — in their own state of righteous fury — might reject these new allies, instead of embracing them. Steve Bannon and Alex Jones and that whole pack of shills count on a reflexive hostility by liberals toward military folks. If the left is stupid enough to refuse this spectacular gift, then we are truly screwed.
== Not just colonels! ==
Oh, sure, I am oversimplifying! We need all sorts. In Part One I linked to She Should Run — a national organization that works to encourage women and girls of all backgrounds to aspire to public leadership and run for office next to men…   

…and to 314 Action, helping those with backgrounds in science to contend in the political arenas, defending the integrity of science and promote the responsible use of data driven fact based approaches in public policy.  See also the older group,
Want a really aggressive approach?  A regular commenter on this blog proposed: “Adopt an Elephant.” In this gambit. Each democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives would be randomly assigned the constituents of one of their Republican colleagues. Each foster parent gives these constituents the same love and attention as they would their own. Mail. Phone calls. Commercials. Advocacy. And lots of face time visits to their adopted territory. Just act like you're the real congressman and be a better parent to your foster children than their real “parents.” What’s nice about this is that it isn’t necessarily a joke. The power of empathy forces compromise, even as dogmatism crushes empathy. 
The notion resonates with another suggestion from George Lakoff:  
“If the Dems are going to recover, I think they need to put permanent teams in the areas whether they have reps or not. This is not for campaigning, though they should contest more places. But parties (all of them) need people, agents listening (and helping where it is with the philosophy or plank of the party). What the Dems lost may be due to no one was paying attention because no Democratic Congress person felt need to keep contact. in an area that was not represented by a Dem.”
Of course running against the tumor-like murdochians is one thing, but it is the ideas or memes that make this warped version of American conservativism truly toxic.
== The USMOC Strikes Back ==
I spoke last time about struggles within military culture. And while many, many officers care more about facts and logic and love of a dynamic, scientific nation, there are others, a large minority, who are like Michael Flynn, steeped in fanaticism, proto-feudalism and religious fundamentalism.   
Illustrating this internecine culture war, the new commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy can expect a rough reception from the surrounding hotbed of radical Christian fundamentalism – Colorado Springs. Indeed, it has long been known, even openly avowed, that such groups try to inveigle and suborn the service’s tradition of non-sectarian and adult secularity. But if any officer can ease the USAFA out of this trap, it will be its new commandant, Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin, former B-2 pilot and former commander of the Second Bomber Wing, who arrives soon with her two children and her wife. And yes, I put great faith in the stature, maturity and enlightenment-loyalty of our officer corps. 
In fact, the reds are doing some of our recruitment work for us. Articles like this one – "denouncing the “Deep State” – are trial balloons that test possible justifications. They set the stage for actions against all the knowledge castes, but especially security professionals.
== Final words ==
The brilliant thing about the “colonels gambit” is that there are plenty of these retired officers to seek out, vett, and armtwist into running for office.  Moreover, when a colonel knocks on a red door, the folks within cannot slam it in his or her face.  they will listen, with respect.
Moreover, these folks can run in wide variety.  From crewcut-liberal to Eisenhower conservative, and (yes) even Reagan conservative!  So long as they are willing to sign a very general statement of not-crazy principles, they can be Big Tent Democrats and run in districts that are currently GOP-safe.  Indeed, such districts should be represented by conservative-minded people!  Though ones who are sane.
Those basic principles might be:
Running as a Democrat, I accept and avow that:
- Facts matter. We should find ways to refute lies, from all sides, and let evidence change our minds.
- Science is real. Public policy should pay attention to – even if it doesn’t always follow – the advice of folks who know facts.
- Our children deserve a healthy planet to live in. We can invest in both a clean environment and energy independence, while maintaining a strong economy. Only losers believe in zero-sum games.
- No child should have his or her future harshly limited by race, gender, poverty or class. 
- Schools should be held accountable to high standards of performance, and have the resources to give us an educated generation.
- It’s okay for there to be “winners” in the economy or politics, but not by cheating.

- It is time to sensibly ease our way out of the insanely self-defeating "War on Drugs."
- “Supply Side” experiments in huge tax breaks for the rich have universally failed, leading only to parasites draining the middle class. We will not let them bring back feudalism.
- Government must be open and accountable. Elections must be clear, verifiable and in fair districts.
- Our military must be strong, capable and used responsibly, in carefully considered and adult ways.
Further suggestions are welcome for this list. 
But you know I’m not done.  
Because if you are sending these folks into districts that are conservative by personality, then be prepared to hear some items from the older-saner side of American conservatism. 

For example:
Running as a Democrat, I feel free to differ with other Democrats, and to express my own position on:
- Gun rights. While I do feel there are reasonable ways to reduce gun access by irresponsible people, I fully support gun ownership by American citizens.
- Abortion: people of conscience can disagree over when life begins. But we can all strive to find ways to empower and help women avoid ever facing that decision. Though the decision must be theirs.
- Nuclear power: many “tech-liberals” are parting company with the standard position against this relatively clean and helpful power source.
- Globalization: we need careful analysis how to keep the benefits of world trade, while ensuring that our innovations benefit us and that good jobs stay in America.
If some of these positions make me “conservative” in the older sense of Eisenhower and Reagan, then so be it. I am still running as a Democrat! Because, to paraphrase President Reagan… “I did not leave the Republican Party… the Republican Party long ago left me. 

"And then it went, stark, jibbering loco.”

Here is the core question: If a thousand candidates took on crazies in a thousand deep-red districts, would such a pledge make you ready and willing to help? Or are you a litmus-purity fanatic, just like the enemies of freedom?

This is not about "left" vs. "right" (can you even define those lobotomizing clichés?)  It is about decency and ability to recognize that facts actually are things. To couch it in liturgical terms: God made objective reality for us to live in and a planet that feeds us. And hence, who gave hypnotists like Sean Hannity the power to croon: "ignore what's true!"

The crux of it all. With some exceptions, our officers - the heirs of George Marshall - are too practical to ignore facts, and thus, most of them simply cannot be mad elephants. Yes, some of them have crewcuts and erect posture and may even sound like the dad in Leave it to Beaver, or Andy Griffith, so?  If lots of them enter Congress and statehouses they'll negotiate with us again, restoring something called grownup democracy. 

So, let's call up bunches of them and ask their help winning back a nation and civilization of sane, logical, compassionate, forward-looking, mature and fact-using citizens.

All our other problems will be tractable then. Because there's nothing we cannot negotiate -- or accomplish -- together.

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

On That GOP Health Care Bill, and Tax Breaks

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:13
First, my initial thoughts, as rendered on Twitter. I know folks who'll likely die if this GOP health plan passes. But I guess the big tax cut I'll get out of it is supposed to make that okay. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) June 22, 2017 I'd rather keep paying those taxes and help keep my […]

The Big Idea: Curtis C. Chen

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:01
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie… well, if you’re Curtis C. Chen, maybe you think about setting a novel there. Here’s Chen now to explain Kangaroo Too’s lunar connection. CURTIS C. CHEN: It is very likely that I set Kangaroo Too on the moon because of The Fifth Element. In […]

More Fireflies

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:11
I’m getting a smidgen better at taking pictures of these little glowy dudes. The secret, which is not a secret at all, is long exposures on steady platforms, and low ISO settings so you don’t blow out the picture. This one, which is actually a detail of a larger photo, is a 20 second exposure […]

The Big Idea: Linda Nagata

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 08:08
For The Last Good Man, author Linda Nagata decided to take a risk with one of her characters, who is not the usual sort for the literary milieu Nagata has her story inhabit. Who is this character? And what were the repercussions of that risk? LINDA NAGATA: For most of my career, I’ve written novels […]

Putting the Head On Cover Here, Because Why Wouldn’t I

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:22
I mean, I was happy to give Entertainment Weekly an exclusive for a day, but now this cover needs to here at home. Also, I really like it. Credit to Irene Gallo, Tor’s art director, and Peter Lutjen, the cover designer (he also did the design for Redshirts and Lock In). Tor always does right […]

A Time For Colonels, Part Two: Working with - not fighting - human nature

Contrary Brin - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 13:04
In Part One of this series, I laid out how the Trumpite collapse of the Republican Brand might lead to GOP losses in 2018… and yet, that "victory" - narrowly winning back the House and Senate - would leave the Democrats and the nation catastrophically impotent and gridlocked. And gridlock - not governing - has been the central GOP aim for 24 years.
Only a far, far bigger “wave” can possibly help America break out of debilitating culture war that is now teetering on civil war.
I wholly applaud the fervor of Bernites and other liberal activists to non-violently contest every swing district where Trumpist shenanigans are turning moderate-wavering voters away from the alt-right madness!  But can we agree that’s nowhere near enough? 

There are 220 “safe” Republican congressional districts — and several thousand red-safe state Assembly and state Senate seats. Moreover, even if we smash the dastardly and purely-evil treason of gerrymandering, those numbers won’t decline by more than a fifth.  
If you want to end this insanity — helping the people of suffering Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and so on shake off the monsters in their statehouses — then we’ve got to offer them alternatives that average voters in 'personality-conservative' regions will find palatable.
Yes, that means men and women who are conservative by style and temperament — and yes, some opinions — but who are also sane, intelligent, science-loving, rights-respecting, fact-using and eager to solve problems for a better America.
There are many places to seek such candidates, and I send money to orgs who are recruiting women and scientists etc. to run for office! But last time I told you the best and richest ore to mine…
… so let’s get back to why.
==  Use human nature, instead of denouncing it ==
George Lakoff, one of the smartest social psychologists around, tried to warn the Clinton campaign that they were doing it all wrong. They thought that Trump’s endless series of outrageous statements and behaviors would undermine support when, in fact, his success at infuriating blue smartypants types was a feature to Red Americans, not a bug.  
Even many Latinos voted for Trump. Why? Because “strict father” morality is big in Latino culture.  As opposed to the “nurturing parent” mode of leadership that Lakoff ascribes to liberals.
Lakoff correctly pointed out that this needn’t be either-or! Sure Republican politicians trick voters into conflating “strength” with “mean-minded and nasty.” But why cede them that ground? If the voting majority in a particular district or constituency thinks and feels in Lakoff’s Strong Father mode, then why not provide a candidate who offers a mien of quiet strength, combined with intellect, moderation, compassion and rectitude? Such people exist. Our country overflows with them! They don’t have to be colonels… but it’s a good place to start.
Last time, I described how Rob Quist recently came closer to to ousting the GOP from Montana’s single congressional district than any time in 30 years. He wasn’t a retired officer, but his combination of political moderation-intelligence with good-old-boy styles brought him close, despite being outspent five to one. Likewise, I spoke of how, in my own district, retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate was similarly outspent by the richest man in Congress, and gave infamous Darrell Issa the scare of his political career.
Consider that running such candidates makes sense even in districts that seem truly and utterly hopeless! Just forcing Republicans to spend at these levels… five to one… in their supposedly safe seats is a spectacularly effective thing to do! Besides, we don’t know yet how badly damaged the GOP brand will be, by November 2018. So how about being ready to pounce, with candidates even in Deep Crimson territory?
Two asides: 
*  Recruiting candidates demands a lengthy vetting process and it’s already getting late for 2018! Residency must be established and all that. One advantage of retired officers is that their lives were already spent under scrutiny, with very clear paper trails. Vetting can happen quickly, with some high likelihood there are no hidden skeletons.

Another advantage — they spent their service years moving around, and hence cannot easily be called “carpetbagging outsiders.”
* And sure, also recruit from other sources! Last time I referred to the many groups recruiting women and minorities, plus the amazing campaign to get active scientists running for office. Here’s another great idea: when Donald Trump fired all 48 Obama-appointed US Attorneys, he inadvertently supplied another clade of potential candidates with “strength” in their resumes.
== Refusing a free gift ==
Remember fundamentals. If Trump-exhaustion gives the Democrats an edge in 2018, should they aim to slice off maybe thirty House seats and five in the Senate, and thus win a razor thin Congressional control? Let me reiterate: that happened in 1992 and in 2008, and each victory was ephemeral, even futile, as gridlock soon set in. And gridlock serves the GOP masters just fine.
Or should the aim be crushing victory? A demolition of the Murdochian treason, so overwhelming that this phase of civil war ends and rational politics can resume in America?
To achieve the second result, you’ll need more than “swing voters.” As I said, you must peel away ten million or so remnant-sapient conservatives, overcoming their obstinate loyalty to a party that long-ago left them — (use that Reagan line!) — and that left behind all decency, in slavish devotion to oligarchy. Fox hollers “Democrats are worse!” But we’ve seen that there are fact-centered men and women of moderation, logic and compassion who can pierce that delusion. 
Put a Democratic colonel or captain before a red voter. That voter will listen to a Democrat. Perhaps for the first time, ever.
Oh, but will liberals embrace such allies, knowing there will be some irritating clashes down the road, over this or that cultural meme, symbol, or specific doctrine? Will the reaction be: “Okay, we’ll have some minor differences. But you are sane and decent and fact-loving and will help end the madness. So welcome!” Or will these recruits be reflexively snubbed, driven back into the arms of the Murdochians? 
Fox and pals are absolutely counting on the latter reaction. Already we’ve seen internecine fights over whether to support  candidates who — while vastly better than a gopper incumbent — failed to pass some liberal or leftist litmus test. Norman Goldman derisively calls the "Progressive Purity Police” those who would repeat every tactic of the so-called Tea Party, that helped turn the Republican Party into the most-disciplined partisan force in U.S. history, and one of the craziest. Oh, by all means, imitate that. 
Sophia McClellon on Salon points out the many problems of the Democratic Party, whose brand rates as not much of a draw for those repelled by GOP madness.
Asking “Why won’t Democrats let anti-abortion progressives under their tent?” Washington Post commentator Christine Emba  complains: “This is a mistake — and not only because it limits Democrats’ ability to keep or expand their voter base. It also reduces the core values of the progressive movement to a single symbol and constrains the debate on how to best achieve broader goals of social and economic equality. The associated contempt for antiabortion activists often relies on outdated assumptions about their aims and origins and fails to take into account the complexity of most Americans’ views on abortion.”  
Is there a win-win compromise? The sensible thing for Bernites and other left-liberals to demand would be: “Leave the most vulnerable swing districts to us. But go ahead and send your blue-dog candidates invading red territory. If all those ex-colonels and such win — kicking out Tea Party maniacs — we expect to argue with our new, blue-dog colleagues, now and then, in the halls of Congress, while agreeing 75% of the time on matters the country desperately needs. If they have some “sane conservative” traits, we can live with that, if it helps to kick out the insane ones.”
The good news: there are signs that this approach — attacking the madness across a broad front — is taking hold. See some of the new candidates who are stepping up, already.  A Bronze Star paratrooper platoon leader. A woman engineer and Air Force captain. Another bonze star major who is a medical doctor. A former Navy Seal and entrepreneur.  
And — crucially — other moves are taking place at the state level. As in Virginia, where Democrats plan to challenge 45 GOP incumbents — as opposed to just 21 candidates, last round — in the deep-red House of Delegates this November, including 17 lawmakers whose districts voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.  
An improvement - but also pathetic! Since there are 100 seats in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Every one of them should be contested.  
Especially districts that have a strong military presence! An analysis of Gallup polling data during the first 100 days of Trump's presidency shows that Trump's job approval plummeted especially in military counties — from an average 51 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval in the first 100 days to 43 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval for May -- and that was a month ago. Here and there, Democratic and moderate political groups have been targeting veterans as candidates for midterm races and there may be some reason to think military voters could be good targets for the party. 
== It’s never simple ==
Okay, before I get screams… yes, there are elements in the military who embrace the dark side. Michael Flynn guzzled koolaid and joined almost every member of the Trump administration beating a drum for war (of some kind) with Tehran, a lunacy supported, fortunately, by almost none of his peers in the senior officer corps. 

Elsewhere, I compare the different ways that democratic and republican presidents wage war and why this distinction matters to serving warriors.
Yes, there have long been struggles within the military over religious fundamentalism, for example. I’ll talk a bit more about this in Part III. On the other hand, nothing better displays the good sense of this plan better than the panicky fury it elicits, in mad corners of the alt-right. Screechers like Kurt Schlichter proclaim:
“The Democrats are out there recruiting military vets – there’s one jerky liberal everyone finds annoying in every big unit, and that’s who they pick. They’ll preen and pose and get elected and then salute General Pelosi….”
(If you doubt the venomous fury of this Fox-propelled movement, here is the fellow’s alarum to any Republican politician who even thinks about breaking the “never-ever-negotiate” Hastert Rule: "

You see, you're there to represent Republicans. Some goofs and wusscons have the idea that you're there to represent all voters, but that's nonsense…. You are there to represent the people who voted for you, not the liberal whiners and welfare cheats who didn't and who hate you and us..... We're going to hurt Democrats."
Let's put the shoe on the other foot, and watch how quickly these fellow whimper "be fair!"  Of course... we will.
== History validates: The officer corps is on our side ==
In Part Three of this series, I’ll appraise many other reasons why democrats should find plenty of volunteers, from among recently retired officers, including their revulsion toward a “Deep State” meme, that the mad right now uses to justify attacking those who serve.  
But for now, let’s just remember what finally brought down the equivalent of Steve Bannon, back in during the Greatest Generation of the 1950s. What event finally toppled the horrific firebrand Joe McCarthy? What was “Tailgunner Joe’s” fatal error? 
It was attacking the U.S. Military Officer Corps. 
Alas, weaned on stereotypes, movie clichés and pop-paranoid philosophers, I doubt that most of the Murdochians have a clue who they are leveling their lance against. The best-educated, most-pragmatically grownup and loyal clade of men and women in American life.
They spent their careers willing to lay down their lives for us. In retirement, they can be called up to step up, once again, and rescue the Union from a recurring, potentially-lethal madness.
Let’s not wait for the Democratic Party leadership to wise up. Heck, I don’t mind if retired, sane colonels run in Republican primaries!  Go ahead, begin the process of resurrecting a decent American conservatism, that way.
But no. It’s up to us. If you know a retired officer — a colonel or major or Navy captain or any other background worthy of respect — talk to him or her about this. 
Plant a germ of the idea. Send them to talk to Doug Applegate. Offer to help them, even if it means finding and moving to an amenable red district! Get them discussing it with their ex-comrades. Link them here.
This can start with you.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Theodora Goss

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 08:04
In her Big Idea piece for The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, author Theodora Goss makes an observation about classic monster stories that I, personally, never picked up on, but now that she’s pointed it out, seems obvious. It says something about me that I missed it, and something about her that she’s used […]

Head On Cover Reveal + Excerpt at

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:21
You know, just in case you’re curious. Here’s the link.

What We Were Doing, 22 Years Ago Today

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 06/17/2017 - 16:05
It was a good day. And a good life since.

Fireflies, 6/16/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 06/17/2017 - 10:33
Every year we have fireflies in our yard, and every year I intend to go out with a camera and take a picture of them, and then I always forget. Not this year! Last night and went and made a first attempt. It turned out… adequate! I need to take a longer exposure, I think, […]

Sunset, 6/16/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/16/2017 - 21:10
Here you go. After this week, you deserve a good one. Have a great weekend, everybody.

2018: Will the fact-users strike back? Why we need... colonels.

Contrary Brin - Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:54
Out of this year’s sickening political news-maelstrom — with one party seeming inept and the other insane — what keeps hope beating in my chest? The thought that mere ineptitude can sometimes change. Indeed, there are early signs! I’ll get to that. But first, a basic question:
What strategy should reasonable, fact-using Americans take up — politically — across the next two years?  Democrats, the fact-focused professions, people of calm goodwill and their moderate allies must choose. They can do either sumo or judo*
Indicators suggest that Democrats, at least, intend to continue going chest-to-chest, grunting and shoving with Republicans across the same-old polemical divides. Angry activists on the Democratic Party’s left demand that the same notions be proclaimed, just a whole lot more forcefully. If so, and assuming that swing voters do grow sick of the Trumpites — (as suggested in trends measured by 538) — then Democrats might “win” the 2018 mid-term elections, retaking the House and even the Senate by thin margins. A small improvement that will nevertheless leave us in perpetual gridlock.
That condition of stalemate has endured since at least 1995, destroying all memory of ancient virtues like “deliberation” or “adult negotiation.” And make no mistake: gridlock has always been the principal aim of Rupert Murdoch and the GOP lords. A narrow Democratic 2018 win will mean crushing defeat for the republic.
If our aim is to leap past gridlock — to end this latest phase of the American Civil War — then far more vigorous methods are called for, resembling judo, not sumo. Use your opponent's momentum against him. Swerve around his expectations.  
While pessimists bemoan that Democrats are mercurial, today's Republican Party is the most tightly disciplined political force in U.S. history — with its “never negotiate” Hastert Rule fiercely enforced by both Fox News and Tea Party activists. Alas, liberals are like cats, impossible to organize. That is, unless you are a miracle-worker, like California’s Jerry Brown.
Indeed, pundits write of a looming civil war within the Democratic Party, between radical (“Bernite”) activists and their old, moderate bêtes noirs, sometimes called Clintonian 'blue dogs.' Others laud the ferocity of Sanders supporters

But the real issue is this: can Democrats avoid internal fights and make a broad, united front, taking this campaign deep into Donald Trump’s America?
Vigorous initiatives are underway that aim for a more judo-like approach. She Should Run is one of several national organizations encouraging women and girls of all backgrounds to aspire to public leadership and contend for office.  

And 314 Action is a campaign to recruit scientists - yes, actual scientists, over 400 so far - to run against the most toxic, anti-science legislators. (Here’s how to donate - as little at $3.14 - to electing more folks who actually know stuff.) 
Again, as Donald Trump continues to sully the GOP brand, hopes rise. Democrats need to win 24 seats to retake the House, a challenge that appeared insurmountable months ago but seems less so with each passing day. “Even Senior House Republicans Are at Risk in 2018,” read a headline in the Cook Political Report, a sign of how serious Republican woes are becoming.
But let me reply, yet again, that such a narrow win will only be a slightly-different colored calamity for the Republic, and for civilization.  Instead of 24 seats, the aim should be 124! Plus toppling Breitbart-parroting fanatics from at least half of the state assemblies and governorships where they now govern so execrably.
== How to win such a broad-front campaign? ==
Consider that:
1- The right's coalition depends on many forms of cheating, from gerrymandering and voter suppression all the way to highly suspect voting machines that are deliberately made impossible to audit. (And recent tales of Russian meddling in such machines only raise more suspicion.) But it is worth noting that these methods, though effective, are brittle. One Supreme Court decision could send the edifice crashing. 
Even better, if just ten million sane-sincere American conservatives can be drawn out of the Republican tent, then GOP demographics - already fragile - will collapse. Those sane, decent, intelligent conservative neighbors already know their traditional "side" has gone mad. Desperate to justify continued loyalty, they stay glued to Fox News, gulping down anecdotes about screaming Berkeley protesters while murmuring the mantra spread by Sean Hannity and George F. Will: 

"Liberals are even worse! Liberals are even worse! Yeah, that’s the ticket. Liberals are even worse!”

Sorry, Bernie-bros, those ten million desperately-needed sane conservatives won’t be wooed out of that carnival show by shouting progressive nostrums at them.
They might be swayed by meeting democrats who share some of their values -- the healthier ones -- while coaxing them to put aside toxic memes. 

Hold that thought.
2- Only fools seek the death of American Conservatism -- rather than salvation from its current bedlam. It can happen! Before they passed away, both Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham recanted the excuses they had made for earlier bigotry. Adaptability, in the face of evidence, used to be an American hallmark — and yes, a feature of grownup conservatives. 

We must make clear that folks like Adam Smith, Dwight Eisenhower and indeed Ronald Reagan would be welcome at the negotiating table, so long as they argue with facts, not lies. 
Some conservative intellectuals are finally making the hard choice between love of nation+civilization, on the one hand, versus a party that’s gone insane. David Brooks and Jennifer Rubin are among the former, while the Worst American — George Will — continues moaning that Trumpism betrays, rather than reifies, the trends that Will himself helped propel. The former should be welcomed. As for the latter —
— sharp polemical stakes must stab the undead-elephant that hijacked U.S. conservatism. For example: why did the recent Republican National Convention mention only one prominent GOP leader between Reagan and Ryan? No governor, president or senator — so ashamed are they of their record at governance.
And democrats, absurdly, never once mentioned that.
3- Confront a bald fact: of the 238 House seats now held by Republicans, and several thousand in state assemblies, only a few dozen are "swing", or conceivably accessible by a liberal politician. In those thirty or so teetering districts, activists are welcome to put forward their beloved Bernie or Elizabeth or Maxine-types, go for it! 
But the rest of those districts are represented by conservatives because that is the temperament of the district’s voting majority. 
Sure, let’s fight for impartial districting and to demolish other cheats. Still, if a district is inherently conservative, then send in sane, logical, fact-loving and grownup conservatives to challenge the (mostly) loony, illogical, science-hating and flaming-immature incumbents!  Why should that be objectionable? Moreover, let’s stop waiting for local conservatives to generate their own primary challengers to alt-right maniacs. Take this fight to the general.
Try a thought experiment: Suppose the democratic candidate in a reddish district supports a woman's access to full health care and wants background checks on gun sales; in that case, does it really matter if he also likes country music and goes target shooting? 
If she's compassionate and not paranoid about "dreamers" who came to this country as children, and wants to ease us out of the insane War on Drugs, can you put up with her support for a strong military that is stuck in fewer overseas quagmires? 
If the candidate we put up for a GOP 'safe' seat respects science and journalism and teaching and medicine and thinks we should save the planet for our kids, will you forgive his crewcut and erect posture?
Note: in the recent Montana congressional by-election, democratic candidate Rob Quist combined good-old-boy styles with science-support and appreciation for civil rights. He was outspent 5 to 1 by Republican Greg Gianforte, and still came closer to winning than any Democrat in decades. And this despite both candidates sporting some questionable baggage. Observers are calling this GOP win a screaming danger sign for the Republican Party.
Which brings up our concluding point:
4- Colonels. What we need is lots and lots of retired U.S. Army and Marine colonels and U.S. Navy captains. There are thousands of them out there. A great many are offended and fed up with the Republican Party's current insanity, its open warfare against every single fact-centered profession, its deceit, betrayals and utterly perfect record of bad governance.  
The thing to remember about senior military officers is that they notice facts and outcomes! They have to. Like the way Russia is building 12 new naval and marine bases ringing the fast-melting Arctic Sea, with blatant intent to make it theirs. Climate denialism is a clear and present danger to the United States of America.  
And so is the Republican Party - in its current (mad) incarnation. More and more military folk can see this.
== We’ve seen this can work ==
In my own congressional district, California's 49th, the infamous right winger Darrell Issa just had the scare of his political life, when retired U.S. Marine Colonel Doug Applegate took him on, in a contest that ran so close we didn't know the results for a month. And this happened despite Issa (the richest man in Congress, it is said) waging a scurrilous media tsunami of misleading advertising. 
How did Doug do it? By bringing his mix of liberal and moderate positions before this largely conservative constituency with both calm logic and the stern mien of a senior officer. A marine with a ramrod spine, he got attention from Republican voters who had never before, in their lives, actually listened to a Democrat.
Can this near miracle be enhanced and amplified, across the nation? Will Democrats be able to recruit great numbers of retired officers, many of whom spent large swathes of lifespan as Republicans?
Here we have allies, not just in Donald Trump, who seems bent on offending the U.S. military officer corps, but the entire confederate madness that has hijacked the American right. For example, he U.S. military led the way in American desegregation and it sees no benefit, only great harm, coming from a spuming rise of bigotry. 
Senior officers know that our power derives in large part from scientific advancement, in which America has been the leader. And hence, the mad right’s all-out assault on science is an existential threat. Moreover they know that the right’s latest, paranoid rhetorical salvo — attacking a so-called “Deep State” of conniving officers and civil servants — is aimed directly at them.  
Next time, in Part Two, I’ll discuss the basic, psychological, social and political reasons why this approach is the best way to take the fight far beyond normal “swing” districts, boldly invading the very heart of a madness that has hijacked both American conservatism and the country that we love.
Recuitment of retired officers should start right away, if not yesterday, if not last year! These men and women swore to defend our country against foreign enemies. 

It’s time to call them back into service against the domestic variety — those who would blind and bind our mighty, brilliant, scientific nation and use hot needles of radical dogma to lobotomize the last, best hope of humankind.



 Stephen Colbert's riff of mature solidarity - after the DC shootings - was moving and apropos. It was also an ultimate geek-out,  when he said: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent"  ...   a line penned by Isaac Asimov, in the novel Foundation. (It's an aphorism spoken by the first mayor of Terminus, Salvor Hardin.) 

Stephen must have known that it will puzzle a majority of his viewers. Yet, he stuck to applying the wisdom of his true tribe. This nod to science fictional wisdom proves, yet again, he is 'one of us.' An American above all. But also a citizen of wonder.


* See  an earlier judo proposal I made, for short straw Democrats to exploit - rather than exacerbate - Donald Trump's character flaws.


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New Books and ARCs, 6/16/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/16/2017 - 15:19
Just in time for the weekend, this collection of very excellent new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Let us know which of these trigger your “I gotta have that” reflex, down in the comments.

The Big Idea: Nicky Drayden

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/16/2017 - 09:42
Coincidence: Random events that merely give the appearance of being connected, or… something more? Not so coincidentially, Nicky Drayden is thinking about coincidence, and how it plays into her debut novel The Prey of Gods. What are the odds that she will tell you about it here? Pretty good! NICKY DRAYDEN: Have you ever been […]
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