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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 […]

“Don’t Live For Your Obituary” Review in Publishers Weekly + Subterranean Press eBook Direct Ordering

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 15:29
The first review of Don’t Live For Your Obituary is out and it’s a good one! The full review is here, but the pull quote is thus: “[Scalzi] writes accessibly and so commonsensically that this book should appeal to writers in all disciplines.” Yes! Yes it should! Remember that Obituary will be out in December (i.e., […]

“Don’t Live For Your Obituary” Review in Publishers Weekly + Subterranean Press eBook Direct Ordering

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 15:29
The first review of Don’t Live For Your Obituary is out and it’s a good one! The full review is here, but the pull quote is thus: “[Scalzi] writes accessibly and so commonsensically that this book should appeal to writers in all disciplines.” Yes! Yes it should! Remember that Obituary will be out in December (i.e., […]

My Annual Unsolicited Endorsement of WordPress, 2017 Edition

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 11:54
So, nine years ago this week, I switched the Whatever blog over to the WordPress VIP service, after months of access difficulties with both previous blogging software and previous providers. And in the nine years since switching over to WP VIP, the amount of time the site’s been down can be counted in minutes, and […]

My Annual Unsolicited Endorsement of WordPress, 2017 Edition

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 11:54
So, nine years ago this week, I switched the Whatever blog over to the WordPress VIP service, after months of access difficulties with both previous blogging software and previous providers. And in the nine years since switching over to WP VIP, the amount of time the site’s been down can be counted in minutes, and […]

The Big Idea: David Siegel Bernstein

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 09:41
The phrase “science fiction” has two relevant parts to it. In Blockbuster Science, author David Siegel Bernstein delves into the science of the fiction, and separates out the fantasy of the genre from the fact. Here he is to tell you process of his exploration. DAVID SIEGEL BERNSTEIN: Science fiction is driven by fear or […]

The Big Idea: David Siegel Bernstein

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 09:41
The phrase “science fiction” has two relevant parts to it. In Blockbuster Science, author David Siegel Bernstein delves into the science of the fiction, and separates out the fantasy of the genre from the fact. Here he is to tell you process of his exploration. DAVID SIEGEL BERNSTEIN: Science fiction is driven by fear or […]

Foxes and chickens: caught in the act

Contrary Brin - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 13:53
Always passionate and well-spoken, Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) is well worth visiting online. He is a living lesson in what we need, to survive this phase of civil war and go on to make starships. It's not political litmus tests, but something else that is far more important... an American penchant for pragmatic, grownup, tolerant willingness to talk things out.  Only also, to fight evil when we have no other choice.  See also his greatest hits
And for comparison?  An example of that pure evil. A genuine monster: Listen to Paula White on Jim Bakker's show.
At the opposite extreme is Betsy Rader, a congressional candidate who grew up in “hillbilly” poverty and knows what combination of grit, hard work, values, determination… and help from a decent civilization… assisted her single mom to raise 5 kids on $6000/year... with great results. 
== Caught in the act – but counting on us to do nothing ==
The same voter analytics and persuasion company that coordinated Russian, Murdochian and alt-right efforts to swing the U.S. election has been raking it in, selling their services elsewhere. Have a look. The Kenya Supreme Court nullifies presidential election - over concerns of electoral hacking. Note that the data firm Cambridge Analytica, was hired by the Kenyatta campaign to do polling and data analytics.  More on this: Cambridge working in Kenya.                           Meanwhile, at home… Hackers prove how trivial it is to break into modern voting machines and change results, using methods already exploited by most Republican Secretaries of State, to order up any result they want… in those red states without paper receipts that can be audited.
This has led to what should be a harbinger… Virginia scrapping its touchscreen machines! Read more on this decision
The Steele Report, Revisited: How much of the infamous document ended up being corroborated elsewhere? A whole lot, it seems. No, not the "pee tape." That part is still unsubstantiated. But monthly these reports gain more verifications or credibility. This detailed and highly informative article, by a 30 year CIA veteran, reveals a lot about the current cold war that neo-czarist Russia is waging against us, far more aggressively than the old Soviet Union ever did.
Those present day confederates who now make excuses for Trump and Putin, in the face of overwhelming evidence of combined war-attacks and treason, have proved their hypocrisy. Thank God for the professionals.
== Foxes and chickens ==
Confederate apologists for Donald “Drain the Swamp” Trump explain away his appointing so many Wall Streeters to his cabinet and sub-cabinet (seven from Goldman-Sachs, alone). The excuse is: “It takes a fox to guard a henhouse.”
Sure. And billionaires have so much money, how could they ever want more? Or to do anything but serve?  

And so, we’ll start a series: “foxes and chickens”, listing how many such examples these selfless servants of the public present to us. First:
Trump has appointed as the head of Dept. of Education's anti-fraud unit, the former head of a for-profit college that had to settle a large anti-fraud case with the Department of Education.
Second, the Oklahoma Republican congressman President Trump tapped late Friday as NASA’s next administrator is one of the Denialists that the GOP have packed onto the U.S. House “Science Committee.”  Jim Bridenstone doesn’t have a formal science background. His last job before being elected to represent Oklahoma’s 1st District in 2012 was as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.  Ah. No wonder they are canceling almost every Earth observing satellite that might help nail down the facts.
In a provocative and persuasive essay, Brink Lindsey ponders “Why libertarians and conservatives should stop opposing the welfare state.” Instead of trying to roll back the entire welfare apparatus, he argues, libertarians and small-government conservatives should consider leaving useful benefits and sequence in longer-term reforms.
In other words use government for what we know it’s good at, recognizing a problem and acting upon it now, with cumbersome diligence. But then viewing “governmental solutions” to problems as lumbering temporary measures that should – over time – wither away, as other forces, like markets and philanthropy, deal with the root causes more organically and efficiently. This alternate version of libertarianism is closer to its founding traditions – before Rand and Rothbard and oligarchs pushed for the movement to have just one mantra: “Hate only ‘government,’ always and all the time.”
But let’s hear from Lindsey:
“Over fifty years ago, Richard Cornuelle issued a challenge to small-government supporters in his book Reclaiming the American Dream: roll back the welfare state, not by complaining about it, but by outcompeting it. Cornuelle urged libertarians and conservatives to turn their energies to what he called the “independent sector,” building new institutions and organizations in civil society to meet the public needs currently addressed by government: ‘The independent sector will grow strong again when its leaders realize that its unique indispensable natural role in America is to compete with government,’ he argued. ‘It must be as eager as government to take on new public problems.’
“A half-century after Cornuelle wrote those words, the gap between public needs and the capacity of civil society has grown. I have concluded that this fact discloses a failure of libertarian ideas: I don’t believe it is possible for the nonprofit sector to outperform government in protecting people from certain downside risks of life in a complex, highly urbanized, individualistic society. At the very least, though, it reveals a failure of effort. I would be happy for opponents of the welfare state to prove me wrong. But first they have to try.”
Lindsey’s case can be made even stronger, and even more ironic.  Stronger by pointing out that libertarians could use one simple metric, when deciding whether to hate any government program a lot, or merely seek to compete with it: “Does this program increase the overall number of market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete?” 
Isn’t that what both Adam Smith and the right’s economic doyen – Friedrich Hayek – called fundamental?  The virtues of competition – e.g. consumption or investment allocation – become more wise, far-seeing and error-resistant, the larger the number of sagacious and vigorous participants!

Wisdom fails when allocation “of winners and losers” is done by ever smaller, self-referential groups. And if this is true about half a million diverse, well-trained, scrutinized and dedicated civil servants (‘bureaucrats’), then how much more so regarding a narrow, self-serving and secretive cabal of 5000 golf buddies in a largely inherited CEO caste, who appoint each other onto boards to vote themselves largesse from our corporations?

 Neither of these groups are ideal allocators. But markets can be, if well-regulated and filled with tens or hundreds of millions of persnickety and skilled competitors. At least… so sayeth Smith and Hayek.
Lots of government programs pass the "increase competition" sniff test, by raising the overall number of market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete.  Public health and education – for all their faults – inarguably altered the fraction of Americans capable of participating. So have most investments in infrastructure. And regulation is not always an enemy of entrepreneurship, as seen in times past when anti-trust laws were enforced. 

If an intervention increases the number of vigorous participants… or equalizes opportunity… then it is far easier for a libertarian to swallow than other, well-meaning liberal efforts to equalize outcomes.
Cornuelle’s version of libertarianism would resist  the outcomes-levelers but greet opportunity–leveling programs differently: “we will set things up so that soon, your clumsy/needed approach to solving this problem will wither away.” 

This approach would urge innovators to come up with processes to compete government’s lumbering interventions out of existence.  Barry Goldwater is said to have wanted this, long ago, proposing changes in the insurance industry that would spur companies to make their clients live longer! By rewarding clients who live safely and well. Ideally, our insurance companies could replace the paternalistic protections of the FDA, FTC, OSHA and so on. There have been recent (timid) moves in this direction, after decades of industry resistance.  
And yes, the Charter Schools movement could be viewed this way. “Yes, we needed public schools to bluntly end illiteracy and create a road upward that all could use. But everyone can see that schools could be much better. Let us try alternatives, now!” Alas, though there are shining lights, most of the charter movement (like most of libertarianism) has been wholly captured by forces of oligarchy, fundamentalism and right wing’ism. It will only achieve its potential when it shrugs off those influences.
The irony I spoke of is one that embarrasses libertarians, though it shouldn’t.  It is in that deliberately-chosen phrase “wither away.” Yes, it is a Marxist term, and it points out one of many overlaps, including the final, end-state goal of both Marxists and Libertarians… a future without coercive elites or power centers or ‘government,’ per se. An era when any individual will feel free and empowered to make alliances and pursue any project, combining talents as she or he sees fit.
This dream is a hell, in the eyes of those who cling to notions of feudal hierarchy – the beast that oppressed all of humanity for 6000+ years. The thing that would-be inheritance-oligarch-lords fear most is that liberty lovers will recognize them as the Olde Enemy. The kings, lords and owners and priests who cheated to prevent the rise of a myriad market participants who are healthy, skilled, confident, empowered and ready to compete.
Government is inherently dangerous and even when it is well-meaning, it can cloy or stifle initiative.  I am enough a libertarian to avow that!  But it is insane to screech “Hate only ‘government,’ always and all the time,” when bureaucrats did very little to crush freedom and opportunity, across 60 centuries.

  Not compared to oligarchs. Not by orders of magnitude.  And that is the one bald fact they are spending billions to ensure you’ll forget.
 == Economics & politics ==
 The Evonomics site is one of the best online. They have taken over my own formerly-quixotic quest to re-study Adam Smith. If he were alive today, Smith would not just be a Democrat, he'd be urging revolution, the way he did in 1776.  See how this economist-historian explains the "rentier" phenomenon and why Supply Side tax cuts for the rich have never, ever had the effect of stimulating investment in productive innovations or factories. 

Let me reiterate. "supply side" has never delivered on a promise. Even once. Ever.
Former GOP Senator Bob Graham about how the supervising Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate have been allowed to slump into torpor, since he chaired investigation of the 9/11 attacks. The salient trait of this Congress - even more than hyper-reactionary partisanship - is its stunning laziness.
According to some estimates there will be 20 million people moving to Texas by 2050. And many from California will be conservatives upset by not only how Democratic the Golden State has become, but also – face it – by how successful, well-governed and delusion free California is doing.   Many of these grumpy, disappointed conservatives will be making the move across with the help of a company called Conservative Move whose tag line is "Helping families move Right."
But that brings up an interesting point. Ever since W.E.B. DuBois, there has been talk of drumming up a movement for African Americans to move to Mississippi or South Carolinawhere, IIRC, it might take only a couple of hundred thousand to stage a voter-uprising and transform one or both states!  Someone do the research and report back here, under comments?
Steve Bannon may be slightly less powerful now.  But meet Vladimir Putin’s chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin,  Bannon’s Kremlin counterpart, extolling love of Donald Trump as gushingly as Bannon kvells on Putin.
Meanwhile, the U.S. does nothing while Putin rebuilds the Soviet Union.
All these guys are heavily vested in “cyclical history” and the need for Traditionalism… which of course translates as restoration of Feudalism, with Bannon’s and Dugin’s lords creating dynasties.  Read about how explicitly and fiercely they intend to end the Western Enlightenment.
== The romantic fixation on (nonexistent) "cycles" ==

Aw heck, in hope that this topic will go away at last, more on Bannon: In his favorite book: "The Fourth Turning: What Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny," William Strauss and Neil Howe theorize that the history of a people moves in 80-to-100 year cycles called "saecula." The idea goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that at a given saeculum's end, there would come "ekpyrosis," a cataclysmic event that destroys the old order and brings in a new one in a trial of fire.
“Bannon's obsession with this book should cause concern. He believes that, for the new world order to rise, there must be a massive reckoning. That we will soon reach our climax conflict. In the White House, he has shown that he is willing to advise Trump to enact policies that will disrupt our current order to bring about what he perceives as a necessary new one. He encourages breaking down political and economic alliances and turning away from traditional American principles to cause chaos.”
Finally. Rick Ellrod offers an interesting rumination on what a number of science fiction authors have said about the basis of civilization. Ellrod reminds me that the following has been the coda on my main web page for longer than I can remember. Almost as long as there has been a World Wide Web:
Ironies abound. The left is suspicious of "competition" and the right hates the word "regulation."  Yet it is by calm, reasonable Regulated Competition that this civilization has given us so much.  A flattened, diamond shaped social order so much fairer and more productive than all the old pyramids of privilege of the past, when cheaters always, always wrecked the fecundity of competitive creativity. 
Cooperation is not the opposite of competition!  We must cooperate - form just and open governments - in order to prevent cheating and spread opportunity... and then fantastically creative competition can ensue.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Big Idea: Felicity Banks

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 11:20
Writing alternate history is fun and interesting, but here’s another interesting thing: Every day, we’re making a history too. What happens when the latter crashes into the former? Author Felicity Banks has some thoughts on that and how it affects her new novel The Antipodean Queen. FELICITY BANKS: Every time there’s a crocodile attack in […]

The Big Idea: Felicity Banks

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 11:20
Writing alternate history is fun and interesting, but here’s another interesting thing: Every day, we’re making a history too. What happens when the latter crashes into the former? Author Felicity Banks has some thoughts on that and how it affects her new novel The Antipodean Queen. FELICITY BANKS: Every time there’s a crocodile attack in […]

New Book and ARCs, 10/11/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 15:00
If you don’t mind me saying so, I think we have a particularly tasty stack of new books and ARCs this week. What here is calling to you? Tell us in the comments!

New Book and ARCs, 10/11/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 15:00
If you don’t mind me saying so, I think we have a particularly tasty stack of new books and ARCs this week. What here is calling to you? Tell us in the comments!

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bear

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 08:03
Hey! It’s Elizabeth Bear! She’s my Hugo-winning pal! She’s awesome! And she has a new fantasy series beginning with The Stone in the Skull! That’s aweseome! She’s here to tell you about it! And that’s awesome too! ELIZABETH BEAR: I’m here under false pretenses. Let’s just get that out of the way. I’m here under […]

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bear

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 08:03
Hey! It’s Elizabeth Bear! She’s my Hugo-winning pal! She’s awesome! And she has a new fantasy series beginning with The Stone in the Skull! That’s aweseome! She’s here to tell you about it! And that’s awesome too! ELIZABETH BEAR: I’m here under false pretenses. Let’s just get that out of the way. I’m here under […]

Harvey Weinstein and Other Abusers

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 16:35
(For those who need it, a warning: I’m talking rape and sexual assault here today.) First, the latest on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse of women, from the New Yorker and the New York Times. There are more news stories out there — lots more — but those two cover a lot of ground […]

The Big Idea: Matt Harry

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 10:52
When Matt Harry set down to write his novel Sorcery for Beginners, he undertook a journey that, as it turns out, had a parallel in the book he was writing. Here he is to tell you about that journey. MATT HARRY: This whole thing started because of Einstein. I know the date exactly, because I […]

Reminder: Don’t Send Me Story Ideas

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 16:59
Really, that’s it. If you send me story ideas, I immediately dump them unread into the trash, and I won’t acknowledge I’ve received them. The reasons should be obvious, but in case they aren’t: 1. I have lots of ideas of my own, thanks; 2. Seriously, I have more ideas for books and stories than […]

Three Lessons from Vegas

Contrary Brin - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 13:17
In the wake of the October 1 tragedy in Las Vegas, our national ritual of lamentation, recrimination and hand-wringing has reached a new pitch. Although even the National Rifle Association has admitted that some (small) lunacies must change, the core issues remain intransigent. We seem forever stymied by the emotion-laden matter of guns in America.
Among the better articles I’ve seen are this one from Slate: “Las Vegas should entirely change the way we think about preventing mass shootings.”… And this one: America's Gun Fantasy: “Three percent of the nation owns half the firearms—to prepare for an ultraviolent showdown that exists only in their imagination,” writes Kurt Anderson. Indeed, liberal goals for gun legislation, like background checks, have retracted, rather than inflated since 2001, when many liberals began quietly to arm themselves.
My own commentary this time will be in three parts. First, I’ll reiterate my top suggestion for what to do about the shooters, themselves. Especially when — as apparently in this case — the aim of the crime would seem likely to have been neither self-interest nor dogma, but deliberate infamy. 
Second, I’ll make crystal clear the deepest reason why the gun-obsessed refuse to negotiate or contemplate even modest or pragmatic reforms -- a reason that liberals are foolish to ignore. Finally, I’ll ruminate about some side issues that may be relevant and revealing about our times.
== Erase the most common motive ==
Violence comes in all flavors, propelled by a variety of drives. Regular or gang-driven crime can be deterred, if we use modern tools to ensure that it will never pay. Sometimes those who are mentally or morally damaged seek rationalization for their rage, under a veneer of dogma or grievance, as in revenge killings or fanatical terrorism. When a kid who has been viciously bullied lashes out, we must share some of the blame, for having allowed the torment to happen, and for not noticing earlier cries for help. On occasion, a soul that is sinking into despair tries to take others down with him.
And a large fraction of mass shooters don’t fit any of those templates. Rather, their lashing out at society seems to be motivated by a frustrated sense of self-importance. A need - after a lifetime of nebbish obscurity - to yank attention from the world. Take the example of Dylann Storm Roof, a white supremacist convicted of perpetrating the Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015. 

Calmly proud of his actions, Roof went into a fury when his court-appointed lawyers tried to make an issue of his clinically delusional mental state. He made his cooperation with the court and prosecution conditional that his insane actions would not be so characterized in court. His self-image as a crusader for the white race and freedom — who shot down children in cold blood — was more important to him than any chance of a reduced sentence.
Elsewhere I wrote extensively about the “Erastratos Effect,” named after a loony who burned down the Temple of Diana in Ephesus - of the the great wonders of the world - in order for his name to live forever.  Ah, but in fact “Erastratos” is not his real name. The Hellenes erased that and replaced it, so that he, personally, would be forgotten,  showing that we can still learn a thing or two from our ancestors. 

See my posting - Names of Infamy - where I recommend doing the same thing, as a deterrent, in all such cases — for example renaming Mr. Roof “Loony-wimp 17.” (And before you howl about Freedom of Speech, would you kindly actually read the missive?)
Does any of this apply to Stephen Paddock, the Vegas shooter? It’s too soon to say. Down below, I’ll speculate a bit more about what little we know. But in general, it could be very effective to add this element, when someone is convicted or proved to have committed some truly grievous harm to us all.
== The underlying impasse — those gun guys fear a “slippery slope” ==
A majority - though alas not a super-majority - of Americans would gladly go for something reasonable that still preserves our traditional right to reasonable ownership of weapons. (Though for two decades I have been pointing out that the Great Equalizer that’s arming nearly all citizens, today, is the cell-phone camera. See The Transparent Society. Especially p. 160.)
What’s the simplest and most logical reform that could fix so many of the howlingly stupid and harmful aspects of today’s situation?  I’ve long held that we should treat firearms exactly like motor vehicles, with well-regulated training, licensing, registration and insurance. It works superbly for cars! Every day, about 200 million of us use potentially deadly tools for millions of person-hours, with incredible skill and statistically-minimal downside every single day. In fact, we might start by simply renaming the DMV as the DMV&G. Almost every general process and procedure translates, including taking more advanced training before being licensed for more dangerous firearms.
Why can’t we have this? The answer is simple. And if you don’t know… then try actually going out there and asking Gun Folks!  The answer that you get will always be exactly the same. 
And I mean exactly. 
The same, 100% of the time. 

It’s called the "slippery slope." 
Give an inch, and your enemies will smell weakness and take a mile. Then you’ll lose everything.
To this large, vociferous minority, any compromise will inevitably set off a landslide of rapid decay, leading swiftly to state confiscation of all personal weaponry. (In fact, the slippery slope is embedded in almost every meme pushed hard by Fox News for 25 years.)
Oh, sure, there’s not been the slightest sniff of any such desire or tendency among the vast majority of democratic or liberal politicians or voters. Putting aside the yammerings of a small, radical-lefty fringe, there has never been any sign of intention toward confiscation, among those calling for rational, car-like regulation of firearms. The paranoid ravings about this are like Obama’s “UN black helicopter camps for all Christians” — the fulminations of deranged minds.
And yet, pause. Take a breath. Underneath all that, there’s a nugget of truth to the gun folks’ slippery fears

Look at the vast majority of nations and oppressive states, across the last 6000 years, where the kings, lords, priests and their armed thugs did forbid common folk from bearing arms! Moreover, in view of human history, are you sure you can blithely dismiss that concern? Go ahead, and shrug it off, if you like. But you'll not budge them or divide their alliance or draw moderates away from their faction.
No, you are supposed to be the smart folks. Yet you do not even bother to listen to your opponents, trying to perceive if there’s a germ, a core of justification, buried under all the bullshit. And that laziness on your part makes you partly to blame.
Hence, I raise, once again, my proposal for an approach that starts out by acknowledging, rather than shrugging-off the slippery slope concern, and carefully contrives a way to cancel out that fear, leaving compromise possible. It begins by pointing out how incredibly weaktheir beloved 2nd Amendment is! And how some future Court will, in some time of panic, simply re-interpret its vagueness.  

We have something we can offer them. A better and stronger amendment!  If they’d meet us halfway.
Here's that paper: Brin Classics: "The Jefferson Rifle"
== Ancillary thoughts ==
Those are my two main proposals. And yes, it is frustrating to have to type new postings linking to them, year-after-year, decade after decade, mass tragedy after tragedy.
Wrapping up, let’s veer back to the specific emotion-laden vexations of autumn 2017.
We seek patterns, even when those patterns are simplistic or lead us astray. And so, the October 1st* Las Vegas tragedy sparked immediate questions about terrorism, or the perpetrator’s ties to radical groups. And in this case, speculations about political or religious motives led nowhere. As the New York Times put it: “whatever drove Stephen Paddock to kill has remained a vexing and terrifying mystery.” Agents are interviewing his family and friends. But if there were a single reason, “we don’t know it yet,” the Las Vegas sheriff said, as there was no note or manifesto left behind.
Oh, there will be parties declaring “It’s a mental health issue, not about guns!” And at the deepest level, sure, this is a truism. Over the long run, we must take responsibility for the hurt and the damaged among us, getting better at finding them. Soothing them. Helping them…
…which of course makes the fox-zoids yammering about “a mental health problem” the most unbelievable hypocrites! Hypocrites who then go and cut funding for mental health.
But that aspect is near term. What often comes up in my discussions with defense-types is the problem of “asymmetric technological empowerment.”  The notion that ever more destructive technology is coming into the hands of mass numbers of people, giving disproportionate power to the few, the angry, the insane. Some, like scholar Phil Torres, suggest that this happens to all advanced races. Indeed, it may be the ‘great filter’ that kills off most of them, helping to explain the Fermi Paradox! 

In my defense talks, I show members of our Protector Caste that it is the RATIO of sane to insane practitioners - in a context of reciprocal transparency - that can make the crucial difference in whether we’ll survive the rapid democratization of potentially dangerous technologies into the hands of an increasingly tech-empowered populace. I talk extensively about this elsewhere…
… and highly pertinent is this TED talk of mine about the plague of self-righteousness addiction that has made our society functionally less-sane across the board! Losing the agility and maturity we’ll need in a modern and open and free society.   
But what about Stephen Paddock himself? (Assuming, alas, that we remain more stupid than the ancient Hellenes and neglect to change his name, in righteously-pragmatic deterrence?) So far, he’s a mystery. But one trait already seems to stand out. The one thing he was apparently highly skilled at, across his life. Indeed, the central focus (besides guns) of his life.
Gambling. So far, it seems not to be the usual story of gambling shredding the addict’s finances, family and life. Not a ‘loser’ per se, the perpetrator was a major player. Paddock was apparently among the rare breed who were good at it. And yet, even so, his brother and girlfriend have testified to watching him ride the up-and-down roller coaster of thrills and depression. The Vegas shooter was a creature of Vegas.
Now, there’s little more to be drawn from this, in any factual way, at least so-far. We’ll have to wait and see if gambling truly was a factor. But you know me. I cannot help but riff off of this into a brinnian micro-rant. This one will be brief, but bitter.
== A steady re-definition of sin ==
Once upon a time, gambling was denounced by conservatives as at-best a wasteful temptation, and at-worst a sin that could lead to crime and shattered families. That was then. Today, foreign governments launder mountains of cash through Sheldon Adelson’s anomalously profitable Macau casinos, that he then conveys to warp our politics. Indeed, most of the other gambling lords give generously. And while they have made the GOP largely their own, they still have plenty of spare change to spread to some receptive pols in the other party. 
Is this puritan conservatism in the 21st Century? We’ve seen them go from “A penny saved…” to deficit spending that is always — and I mean always — vastly worse than democrats. From shunning divorced people to re-electing far more of them than liberals do. From rewarding rectitude to making Dennis “friend-to-boys” Hastert the leader of the GOP for many years… a horrid pervert both preceded and later followed by men who were infamous for their ill-treatment of wives, and women, in general. 
Oh… and from denouncing organized crime to electing a casino-owner/slumlord with open mob ties? No, no. This is not just the party of denialist, anti-science coal barons and oil sheiks. It is not just the party of Wall street and the party of Putin. Never neglect to include the casino titans! And read this: “How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts.”  
All of them share a central character trait that is more dangerous to the republic, to our Great Experiment and to our children than all the mass shooters and terrorists, whatever they manage to achieve in the future.  Look at what these mighty interest groups have in common! All are oligarchs who feel they deserve the power that kings and priests and lords wielded across 99% of history. All of them cheat, instead of competing openly and fairly. All of them seek to hammer us back into that feudal pyramid of old, re-establishing the order under which their sons will own your sons and daughters.
For them, guns are a convenient way to stir Confederate-vs-Union passions distracting us from an oligarchic putsch. And just watch, you Second Amendment folks, how soon that right will vanish, as soon as the New Feudalism is firmly locked in place.
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Addendum.  The great astronomer and science fiction author Fred Hoyle wrote “October the First is Too Late.”  No connection. But I thought I’d plug a great sci fi novel to a generation that never heard of him.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

I Totally Called This

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 08:47
See point four here. I should probably sue! For millions! (Please note: I will not sue.) Also I hope the actual film is better than it appears in the trailer, because the trailer appears fairly… meh.

Oh, Deer

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 10/08/2017 - 19:31
There were deer in our yard this evening and then suddenly there weren’t, because our neighbor’s dog decided that he really needed to chase them. I managed to get a couple of pictures of them as they sprinted away — this was one of the less blurry ones. Those deer move fast. In other news, […]
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