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Science Fiction helps expand our "horizons of inclusion"

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 15:29
First an aside: I'm interviewed about transparency and freedom and the future by the Indian magazine Factor Daily, with emphasis on how I view India's ambitious Aadhaar Program to digitize all billion of the nation's people.

And a second (political) aside: While it is possible that a certain nominee's accusers might have mistook him for someone else... and while the mysteriously disappearing gambling debts may be innocuous, not mafia connected... there is one absolute inarguable fact from last week's hearing. The bilious, voice-cracking rage and openly partisan expressions of hate toward half of the voting populace were not behaviors of a mature jurist and adult. The simple and politically defensible thing for Susan Collins to say is: "Go back to the bench and send us a conservative grownup."

== Horizons of Inclusion ==
Ever more, in our efforts to expand horizons of inclusion, we are pondering the very nature of “personhood.” So let's consider context.

Most (feudal) societies simply accepted as normal the notion of hierarchies of inherent worth among humans, with the bottom layer often having - by law or theology or custom - little to no value. They generally justified this oppression with incantations and assertions about superiority carried on through families, assertions that proved to be generally worthless. 

Yes, the sons of kings were often taller, stronger and effectively smarter… because they always had enough to eat and the best tutors. Nevertheless, inbreeding and delusion combined to make feudalism by far the stupidest - if most-prevalent - form of government. Progress only started taking off when we (partially) escaped its clutches.
Some complain we’ve swung too far the other way, denying any systematic differences among types of people. Such differences may exist, in marginal/statistical ways, but even if we are overcompensating a bit, it is to make up for - and end - the 6000 years of brutal betrayal, unfairness and outright, self-serving lies of those past hierarchies.  

I stand with the egalitarian Revolution! Even if - at times - it commits category errors of its own, we are still very far from the dangerous (if utterly hypothetical) leveling extreme that Kurt Vonnegut satirized in his famous story, “Harrison Bergeron.” Far more likely is a tip-over back into nasty habits from the feudal era. Hence, we 'social justice radicalism' is among the least of our dangers, right now.
Expressing this category flattening to new degrees are efforts at legally establishing Personhood for Animals. Take this editorial in the NY Times, arguing the case for our nearest relatives, Bonobos and Chimpanzees. 
Or take this effort to gather support for a “Declaration on the Rights and Freedom of Dolphins and Whales", led by Denis Kotov, director of the Russian bookstore chain - Bookvoed.   I urge you to have a look and sign it, if you agree!
Certainly I have written extensively - and sold a lot of books - about possible futures wherein diverse kinds of beings are members of our civilization, from AI and chimps and dolphins to wildly variant humans and even ecosystems(!), all with rights and the ability to speak up for them.  Here is where I explain my Uplift Universe and offer links. 
For some time, I was invited to animal rights conferences, because these tales portray a generously broadminded civilization welcoming a wide diversity of cultural/artistic contributions, wisdom and citizenship.
Ah but those invitations dried up, when many of the activists realized that there’s an implicit arc from here to that diverse and richly multi-species future civilization, and it involves more than just making grand declarations. Like everything worth accomplishing, it might entail some meddling, some risk, some moral hazard and arrogance… and yes, even pain. I admit it.

And yet all of that is true, in equal measure, if we choose the other path -- prescribed by the New Puritans -- not to "meddle" at all, refusing to lend a hand to those other species who crowd below a thick, glass ceiling of intellect, unable to grasp, let alone actively assert, concepts like personal sovereignty or enlightened self-interest. Is it so inarguable that we should arrogate a permanent role as beneficent protectors, the paternalistic arbiters of what's right... forever?

Is it automatically more-moral to pull back that potential helping hand? Deciding instead to clutch tightly -- only to ourselves -- a gift that transforms the universe?


== Sci Fi Scenarios ==

The coming movie "Anon" looks like somebody read "The Transparent Society" a couple of times

And everybody should watch this Jordan Peele bit about Deepfake. Commented one of you: "now there is a tech for Brin's prediction registry. Especially the chapter “The End of Photography as Proof,” in The Transparent Society." 

Ah, but I point out something surprising, that should be obvious.
In fact, there’s a solution.
== Science fictional futures have arrived ==
But moving on...  Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, speaking at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago in 2016, acknowledged that science fiction is "something we pay close attention to," a tool to help the military suss out the requirements of potential conflicts.
The U.S. Army recently announced a major initiative, Futures Command, to help it anticipate and adapt to coming combat by harnessing the expertise of business leaders, technologists and academics. (Three cities in California — Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco — are on the short list of locations being considered for the Futures Command headquarters.) The Army should make room in this new initiative for strategic imagineers, including screenwriters and novelists. And the seers at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.


Oh, revisit some of the best of the best older science fiction stories in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, vol 1, 1929 - 1964, edited by Robert Silverberg, with classics by Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Blish, Zelazny, Knight, Sturgeon, Keyes, Matheson, van Vogt, Simak, Leinster, Cordwainer Smith, Judith Merril and more. 

== And from the sublimely professional to the... ==

Art Bell Remembered: Whatever you think of all the wildly eager paranormal fixations, Art Bell was always entertaining and a true cultural icon. Had me on his show, a couple of times. He at least pretended to be cheerful as I systematically shot down 99% of UFO mythology. Of course, the whole megillah was back, the following week, immune to any refutation. A miracle! ;-)
(See my logic tearing up UFOs in a short story: "Those Eyes," which I wrote just after appearing on Art's show, on which I used the radio to *taunt* those space-teaser jerks! Later, I expanded on the the taunts, in EXISTENCE.)
While we're being silly... “Why Ewoks are the greatest warriors.”, by Patrick S. Tomlinson, author of Gate Crashers. Heh!  My kinda sci fi thinking!
Fantasy revenge is dumb and generally unproductive.  Still, I will pass along a link to a new sci fi collection that’s filled with unabashed wish-fantasies about… well… I call him “Two Scoops,” a far better and more subtle mockery. Anyway. For those of you who feel beyond all subtlety, award winning feminist science fiction scholar and writer Marleen S. Barr brings you When Trump Changed, The Feminist Science Fiction Justice League Quashes the Orange Outrage Pussy Grabber.  
A bit more soberly (a bit) -  the latest anthology from B Cubed Press, looks beyond current political issues to the futures our current political situation may portend. 29 science fiction authors contributed their visions of a post-Trump world: After the Orange: Ruin and Recovery., imagining scenarios.... "if things go on as they are."

Where is America headed? Unusual scenarios are presented in More Alternative Truths: Stories from the Resistance, with stories and poems by David Gerrold, Jane Yolen, Adam-Troy Castro, Jim Wright and others. 
And yes, we should be arguing at a higher level. But this is what the enemies of our enlightenment wrought. The union must laugh, even bitterly, so that we can prevail.

. . ...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)

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Nine: Death

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 13:22
Well, I guess it’s closer now than it was in 1998, isn’t it? Not that I knew that in 1998, by which I mean I couldn’t have been 100% certain then I would reach 2018. Statistically speaking, it was likely in 1998 that I would live another 20 years, in that I had no major […]

New Books and ARCs, 9/28/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 16:29
As we head into the last weekend of September, we have before us a very fine stack of new books and ARCs to consider. Which of these would you be happy to have with you as the leaves begin to turn? Tell us in the comments.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Eight: Age

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 15:26
Well, I’m twenty years older now than I was in 1998, that’s for sure. I haven’t minded getting older in these last twenty years, I have to say. For one thing, bluntly, the last twenty years have been great for me, in terms of career and life and general happiness. If the worse things that’s […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/28/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 10:34
To start the day off on a high note, look what arrived today: It’s the first author copy of The Consuming Fire, which is out in a week and a half. It looks fabulous. It feels fabulous. It is fabulous. And while we’re on the topic, I got a sneak preview the other day of […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Seven: Fame

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 13:26
I touched on fame (such as mine is) briefly before in this series, but I was asked to expand on it a little. The topic I had scheduled today was pretty nebulous, so, sure! Let’s swap this one in instead. I usually start any discussion of my fame by noting that I am not, in fact, […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/27/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 09:46
Let’s start with a cat picture, shall we?  There. Whatever else happens with the day, you’ve still had a cat picture. And that’s something! *** No, I won’t be watching the Kavanaugh/Ford thing today. I have a very nice television and I don’t want to break it by throwing a shoe at it. Also, my […]

Appointing good people... and surviving the bad. And Judo tactics!

Contrary Brin - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 16:35
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 I won't join the maelstrom of noise surrounding the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination, since we have other business in this posting. But I will offer three quick points:

1. If there's danger of "ruining his life," then yes, burden of proof falls on the accusers. But that's an absurd standard. This is not a trial that might lead to prison. It is a job interview for a promotion, and we prospective employers have a perfect right to consider even unproved accusations. And to demand that nominees have no shadows, even unproved ones. And so...

2. ...send us someone else! It's simple. Go to the GOP bullpen and send another candidate. Are you saying you don't have a deep bench of qualified, grownup conservatives? Even someone who hasn't been "groomed" by the oligarchy for decades?

3. What's with those suddenly-canceled Kavanaugh personal debts, which are asserted to be from illegal gambling? Even if that turns out to be calumny, don't we deserve to be sure this isn't blackmailable?

Enough. Everyone is chattering about this. Let's move on to things you'll find nowhere else.


== Science, at last? ==

In the 42 year history of the post of Presidential Science Adviser, some of the smartest humans have been appointed to help U.S. presidents grasp how scientific matters — confirmed facts and gray-unknowns — might bear upon policy decisions. Never was the position unoccupied anywhere near as long as Donald Trump has left it. We’ve been left to guess why… though your guess is probably right.
Elsewhere I commented when it seemed that the job might go to David Gelernter, a Unabomber victim and former tech-progressive who has veered down far-right paths… but who undoubtedly told Mr. Trump “I’ll still tell you if something is clearly untrue.” Oops, mistake. Poof, there went his chances.
All this time, “the highest-ranking science official in the White House has been a 31-year-old poli-sci grad who is a deputy assistant at the (eviscerated) Office of Science and Technology Policy.” (Not even ‘in’ the White House; OSTP (what’s left of it) is next door, in the Executive Office Building.)
Now, in a shock — possibly as a sop to the RASRs (Residually Adult-Sane Republicans) who still teeter inside the GOP tent — meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier, an expert on extreme weather, has been nominated to the position. 
Extreme weather would seem to be a highly pertinent topic, nowadays, and Droegemeier’s former colleagues say his views on climate change align with those of most scientists. And… “There are other scientific policy concerns that would benefit from a fully staffed OSTP, like the ongoing opioid epidemic.”
Clearly, something happened behind the scenes. May we all live to learn what it was. Because this is not in character for the Donald Trump who railed that “glaciers are advancing as never before!”  (Um they’re not and you should get big bar bets from your mad uncles about that.) In any event, there is no law that says the President has to ever meet with his Science Adviser.
That would change, under my proposed FACT ACT!

== Judo Tactics to flip Congress! ==
It was a brilliant political judo move - and no democrat will learn from it. In '94, Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" made the GOP look serious, pragmatic, reformist, and their resulting transformation of Congress lasted to this day, rendering all but 2 years of the Clinton & Obama administrations legislatively neutered. Look at it! Half of the provisions were actual reforms... that (natch) the GOP later backed away from. The other half were rationalizations for a program of national rape that continues today. But lookat how well-expressed and politically potent the Contract was!

Dems could do this. Even one prominent dem could do it -- offering a to-do list of tasks to be done -- in time to affect the mid-terms. Promises that would draw attention, shake things up, Here's one example:
"Along with others, on both sides of the aisle I promise to help end the vile way that the minority party has been treated, rendering half of all Americans without any influence or voice. 

"When Democrats are in the majority, we intend to push for a reform that will give every member of Congress - majority or minority - one blank subpoena per year, that she or he can use to demand testimony from any person, for two hours, before a committee of choice. This will empower member independence and make chairmen dependent on members, instead of the other way around.

"In this way, the minority party will never again be deprived of their right and duty to investigate, even when they are outvoted. Republicans used their majority power to neuter investigations and crush the voice of half the country. We will not act that way, when we regain majority! We will not stifle our honest, adult republican neighbors. And to prove it, we'll give up the power to do so!

"We will act like the Congress you want and deserve."
Sound persuasive? I can offer up nine more proposed "contract" items that would leave the foxites gaping like stranded fish. Why not use the most effective Congressional election strategy ever concocted for the benefit of the People, and not liars?
Alas, while the confederate side is corrupt and destructive, they have feral instincts at polemic. And no democrat has even a clue how to do polemical judo.

== Stop pinning your hopes on “collusion” ==
Stop using the fussy-sounding word “collusion.” Two Scoops has made it his own. So be agile. Try “cahoots.” It is down-earthy and gets right to the point. For example, when members of the cult try to veer into calling mafia-run Russia a model Christian friend, point them to the Russia-Iran alliance and watch them stammer…
…and remind them that the Kremlin and KGB remain the same, with the same goal, to undermine the western experiment in open-fair-accountable rule of democratic law. This enlightening article compares Moscow's current cozy support of the US radical right to their 1930s subversion via the American far-left. There are no essential differences. Indeed, some of the very same men are using some of the very same methods against us, as they did back when they wore hammer-and-sickle pins and sang the Internationale. As Paul Krugman points out: “Not long ago, Republicans insisted that Russia was our greatest threat, and that Barack Obama was betraying America by not confronting Vladimir Putin more forcefully; now Putin is one of the good guys, and the base has gone along with the change. We have always been at war with East Asia.”
See this cogent analysis of how the 1930s Soviet Union used exactly the same methods to inveigle their way into control over the American far-left (and were thwarted my our moderate labor movement) as the same agencies in the same building are using to take over our entire mad-right. Only without members of the moderate-sane – but cowardly - US right doing a damned thing about it.
“Cahoots,” indeed. Only in fact I do not expect Mueller to nail Two Scoops for it. Everyone should see how plainly blatant the treason is, across the entire Fox-maddened GOP. But it is hard to prove perfectly in a court of law. So, I'm betting it will all be brought down by accountants, as happened with Capone.
Watch. It'll be money laundering.
== Are you worried yet? ==
No, no. Nothing to see here. Look away. It’s all made-up lib’rul war-mongering. Look away as -- “Russia Prepares 300,000 Troops For Its Largest War Games In 4 Decades.” It  will involve more than 1,000 aircraft and the help of Chinese soldiers. The Kremlin says it has not mustered drills on such a scale since 1981.
No, no. These ex-KGB guys can be trusted, now that they have switched from hammer-sickle pins to mafia oligarchy. Watch the orange ball and listen to the fox. Trust the Kremlin. They… are… your… friends…
Meanwhile, as he and his fellow oligarchs get massive infusions and tax cuts that send US deficits skyrocketing, “Trump says civilian government employees won't receive raises in 2019, citing budget strain.” Of course the motive is blatant.   Demolishing civil service protections that go back 140 years has been a top GOP priority. But if they can’t fire-em, then squeeze a lot of them out, financially. Part of the war on all fact-using “elites.”
"The United States trade deficit widened in June and is on track to be the biggest in a decade despite President Trump’s efforts to slash it. For the first half of 2018, the trade deficit in goods and services hit $291.2 billion, the federal government reported." Keep this in mind as we consider…
== The stunning justification for an expected betrayal ==
“New in GOP logic: Antipoverty programs worked so well, we must get rid of them.” A report released last month from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors takes an amazing tactic to support new restrictions on the safety net. The right’s brain trust now assures us that comprehensive antipoverty programs are no longer necessary because 50 years of such interventions — yes, those same ones long hated, and their effectiveness belittled, by the GOP — have succeededso spectacularly that poverty is largely a thing of the past.
Mind you, we all expected this phase two of the plan by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the oligarchy to first give huge tax gifts to the rich and then use the resulting supernova deficits as an excuse to undercut help for the poor. 
For the record, serious/sober Entitlements Reforms were fully negotiated back in the early 1990s, under Bill Clinton, between moderate Democrats and sane Republican politicians… when such existed. Among the many crimes of Dennis “Friend to boys” Hastert was driving a stake through the heart of reasonable, negotiated entitlements reform.

But consider the stunning declaration that “there’s almost no poverty in the U.S. because Great Society programs mostly worked.” This op-ed takes on the stunning calumny of that disingenuous position, by showing how the problem has not gone away, and any person of conscience should demand we improve our methods – or find new ones – to erase poverty’s curse. (Though if you compare today to 1960s images of gap-tooth hillbillies and illiterate sharecroppers and coldwater tenements, certainly the nature of poverty has changed.)
But I take another tack. “So now you are admitting that the endeavor that was started by the WWII Greatest Generation (who adored FDR) and carried forward by Lyndon Johnson, pushed by labor unions but resisted by generations of Republicans…actually worked well? 
Um, then, who, across our political spectrum, has credibility, right now?
Let me surprise you by saying “not far-lefties.” If the entire right has gone bonkers-corrupt-treasonous-loco, there certainly are some at the opposite extreme who have a peculiar and deeply harmful mania… absolutely never to admit that any reform ever did any good at all. In a puritan fetish that would make Miles Standish proud, they insist that nothing good has come of 70 years of liberal efforts to reduce race and gender prejudice or poverty or to protect the environment. Faced with voluminous evidence — e.g. from Steven Pinker and Peter Diamandis — that our liberal society has  achieved great things — for example reducing the fraction of world children who are hungry to the lowest rate in human history and ensuring 90% of kids go to school — their response is volcanic rage. 
Their reason?  A loopy notion that - were we ever to admit how far we’ve come - good people would feel less incentive to work at the rest of the effort needed, to save the world. It is a patronizingly offensive reflex and a deeply harmful one, when bragging about the effectiveness of liberal reform is exactly how to sell more of it.
And so we have truly entered Bizarro World, where right-wing think tanks extoll the effectiveness of the measures pushed by FDR, Johnson and ML King - hoping thus to end those programs. Meanwhile, far-lefties pour venom at anyone who points to progress achieved by those reformers. 

Hence I have to ask… who writes this crap?
And what happened to a nation of rational minds, committed to pragmatic, ongoing progress?



. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Science - tech updates

Contrary Brin - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:31
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I expect to post this while attending the annual symposium -- in Boston -- of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program, as a member of NIAC's external advisory council. My role, to ask targeted questions of the fellows, who are using their small, seed grants to probe the envelope of the usefully plausible. Some earlier NIAC concepts are incorporated in wondrous missions like the exciting Japanese Hyubusa2 probe and its ingenious landers.

You can see near real-time photos of the spaceflight action. This video is truly wonderful. A spectacular mission that has already has successes. But if they pull off both landings and the sample return it will be fantastic! The Japanese are smart, they know where the riches are. And thank you for not catching the insane Moon Fever that has infected so many others here on Earth.

So, while traveling, I'll post some other amazing news from the frontiers of science!

== Tune in! ==

Moving toward our future in space: The Power of Synergy: there will be an amazing symposium - the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop 2018, on October 23-25, in Oak Ridge. Speakers like Marc Millis and Arlan Andrews will talk starships and Joel Sercel and Rob Zubrin will talk asteroids and Mars. Several astronauts and the head of NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) will reveal amazing things and there’ll be news about the quantum realm and the Starshot Program. 

SF author  Catherine Asaro is an organizer and Allen Steele will cap things off… oh, and I’ll speak a bit, by Skype, about human modification and conscious AI. Have a look.
== Environmental & science updates ==
A disturbing article about how some species of whale are suffering from living near human “civilization,” even after we stopped trying to kill them. It will take concerted effort to reduce the inadvertent types of harm that might lead to extinction, as surely as hunting almost did.
China wants to build a $50+ trillion power gridFor the entire world. And they want to have it in operation by 2050Talk about ambitious.

Fascinating new magnetotelluric imagery reveals a plug of solid rock in Oregon that diverts magma in different directions.  This new imagery solves mystery of why Mount St. Helens is out of line with other volcanoes.https://phys.org/news/2018-09-imagery-mystery-mount-st-helens.htmlCalling the Prediction Registry! The Pentagon has put a contract to develop a dental implant letting wearers do tap-controls and sub-vocal speech input/output, as I depicted in EARTH (1989) and EXISTENCE (2012).
The latest IgNobel Awards. Turns out human flesh isn’t very nutritious, but you can to self-colonoscopies. And voodoo dolls have a useful function.
“Bio-feedback” is back under a new name: Neurofeedback. Using MRI and fMRI and EEG, researchers hope to revive a field that never panned out before, but we all know _ought to work! The signs have all been there, with lots of anecdotal support. I’d put money on it having a big future, especially if tied in with games, in just the right way. I have some ideas…

Stunning - and disturbing - new NASA satellite photo shows a planet on fire, with active wildfires raging from Africa to South America to California. It's just beginning. The world is changing. I'll get back to that.
Teller, the brilliant sleight-of-hand artist of Penn & Teller, contributed to a neuroscience paper about the mental phenomena that a magician uses in the art of misdirection. The concept of covert misdirection is exemplified by the cognitive-neuroscience paradigms of change blindness and inattentional blindness. With change blindness, people fail to notice that something is different from the way it was before. This change can be expected or unexpected, but the key is that it requires the observer to compare the post-change state with the pre-change state.” 
Will tissue culture meat - predicted in science fiction in the early 50s -- truly flourish and replace the whole 20,000 year old practice of herding and slaughtering animals for food? Certainly, if the quality is high and price acceptable, some will choose it for the low Karmic load. But it will be a game changer if the conversion of grain to meat is far more efficient than feed lots. Reducing greenhouse gas and a myriad other Earth-harms would be huge, and hunger could vanish... though so would some jobs and herder livelihoods. Cities would approach food autonomy. And we'd eliminate one more reason why (maybe) aliens aren't talking to us.
My old Caltech classmate Stephen Gillett has a provocative new book that proposes we may soon enter a post-scarcity world, because almost any scarcity will be solved by one bold technology. “Nanotechnology and the Resource Fallacy” asserts we won’t even need the fantastic riches of asteroids, let alone face “peak-oil” or any material scarcity, if vats of pico-nano-micro-machines are able to separate and refine into basic elements almost anything we choose to recycle. Of course it works both ways. Utter and total recycling ability will eliminate all great obstacles to human settlement of space. Invest... but not everything you own.
 == Re-evaluating our origins ==
Truly amazing. Years ago, the human family tree was shaken by the discovery of a single pinkie bone in Denisova, Siberia, revealing the existence of a vast sub-species just as important and widespread as Neanderthals… the Denisovans. From that one bone, we now know that some modern humans have as much as 5% Denisovan lineage, while others are as much as 5% Neanderthal.  Now comes another stunning find – another small fragment from the same cave, of a female from 90,000 years ago, who apparently had a pure Denisovan mother and a Neanderthal father. Really. Seriously. What are the odds, in an event that was undoubtedly very rare? Oh, what times we live in.  Only now… a hint that there might have been a fourth sapient hominin sub-species! “Hints of an unidentified, extinct human species have been found in the DNA of modern Melanesians. According to new genetic modeling, the species is unlikely to be Neanderthal or Denisovan… but could represent a third, unknown human relative that has so far eluded archaeologists.” (Controversially, I might add.)

The newly released: Now You're Talking: Human Conversation from the Neanderthals to Artificial Intelligence, by Trevor Cox - delves into what most makes us human, charting the evolution of communication over the millennia, and projecting forward as we gain the ability to replicate and manipulate speech with AI.Scientists have found that Europeans and Chinese people carry a similar amount of Neanderthal DNA: about (an average of) 2.8 percent. "Europeans have no hint of Denisovan ancestry, and people in China have a tiny amount - 0.1 percent…. But 2.74 percent of the DNA in people in Papua New Guinea comes from Neanderthals.” It’s the iffy amount of Denisovan… or someone else… in Melanesians that is the latest wonderful puzzle. 

The only pure "humans," in the sense of lacking the other sub-species, are today's Africans. (BTW I go into the ethical and other parameters of resurrecting Neanderthals, in Existence.

==And other marvels ==Amazing BlackFly personal aircraft… though I had a hoax-tickle at the back of my scalp, there’s nothing on Snopes.  Yeah, amazing, though I expect drone grabbers to pick up pods as a more likely final thing. That's what Volkswagen is betting on.

A bionic lens that could lead to better than 20-20 vision - over a range of distances.Heavy-duty lifeguard drones are now helping to rescue swimmers and others in danger at beaches and at sea.  

== And yes, science is a victim of politics ==

In the 42 year history of the post of Presidential Science Adviser, some of the smartest humans have been appointed to help U.S. presidents grasp how scientific matters — confirmed facts and gray-unknowns — might bear upon policy decisions. Never was the position unoccupied anywhere near as long as Donald Trump has left it.

Elsewhere I commented in detail when it seemed that the job might go to David Gelernter, a Unabomber victim who has veered down far right paths… but who undoubtedly told Mr. Trump “I’ll still tell you if something is clearly untrue.” Poof, there went his chances. 

All this time, “the highest-ranking science official in the White House has been a 31-year-old poli-sci grad who is a deputy assistant at the eviscerated Office of Science and Technology Policy.” (Not even ‘in’ the White House; OSTP (what’s left of it) is next door, in the Executive Office Building.)
Now, in a shock — possibly a sop to the RASRs (residually adult-sane Republicans) who still teeter inside the GOP tent — meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier, an expert on extreme weather, has been nominated to the position. 
Extreme weather would seem to be a highly pertinent topic, nowadays, and Droegemeier’s former colleagues say his views on climate change align with those of most scientists. And… “There are other scientific policy concerns that would benefit from a fully staffed OSTP, like the ongoing opioid epidemic.” Here are ten topics for consideration by the future science advisor.
Something happened behind the scenes. May we all live to learn what it was. Because this is not in character for the Donald Trump who railed that “glaciers are advancing as never before!”  (Um they’re not and you should get big bar bets from your mad uncles about that.) In any event, there is no law that says the President has to ever meet with his Science Adviser.
(That would change, under my proposal: Enact the FACT ACT!)
. . ...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)

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Six: Ego

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 10:35
Oooooh, I’ve always been an ego-filled little doofus. I do think at this point the ego may be better justified. And also, I’ve worked to change where my ego is centered. 1998, I will note, was a very important year for my ego. That was the year it took its first major hit, when I […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/26/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 08:48
My Internet is still mostly down, and I went through all of yesterday not knowing what was going on in the world. It was refreshing! Of course, some things still made it through. I understand our President was laughed at, at the UN. That’s all I got. Maybe I’ll skip today’s news too. *** I […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Five: Writing

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 12:01
Writing has gotten simultaneously easier and harder over the last twenty years. Easier, because, bluntly, I’m better at it now than I was 20 years ago. Better at which parts? All of the parts. There are literally no technical aspects of writing (including the technical aspects of creativity) that I don’t just simply do better. […]

The Big Idea: Ryan North

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 10:00
I am not saying I am a time traveler. For all most of you know, I am not. But if I were, and remember I am not saying I am, then I would be very interested in Ryan North’s new book How To Invent Everything. Very, very interested. Theoretically. RYAN NORTH: I wanted to write […]

My Home Internet is Down and My Cell Phone Hotspot Connection is Totally Crawling so No Whatever Digest Today

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 09:39
I’ll be posting a Big Idea and a Whatever 20/20 piece in a bit, although I may have to go down to the public library and use their connection to do it. Like a prole.

The Whatever Digest, 9/24/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 12:32
I’m at the airport super early, so let’s check in on the state of the world, shall we? Oh. Oh. Well, that’s no good, is it. *** At the moment I have nothing useful to add about what’s going on with either Kavanaugh or Rosenstein situations, because in both cases no one else seems to […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Four: Reading

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 10:35
Over the last 20 years, and on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think what I read has changed much. I read a lot of non-fiction, a fair amount of science fiction and fantasy as well as the mystery genre, and I read a whole lot online, specifically news and tech sites, plus the occasional magazines […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Three: Technology

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 09/23/2018 - 11:40
Much of my creative life, and certainly almost all of my professional life for the past 20 years, has been greatly influenced and impacted by technology. It starts earlier than that, of course. In 1984, the first Macintosh computer came out, and it came with a simple word processing program. Coincidentally, 1984 was the first […]

Impeachment is a dream. Get over it and fight effectively.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/22/2018 - 16:21
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE
Before diving in, let me point to where my scratch essay, making 6 points about the "anonymous hero op-ed write," has been revised and published on MEDIUM, pointing out that even the most fervent Trump supporter must admit one blatant fact, that Trump has been a crappy judge of character... given how many times he howls "betrayed!" (This is the one point you can make to a Mad Uncle and he'll have no response, no fox-ism, nothing.)

Key point: our response to the op-ed "hero" has to be -- "thanks... but look at who appointed you, and try some humility. You are blatantly not qualified to pick and choose which GOP positions to support."

From the somewhat ridiculous to the generally sublime... Rebecca Solnit, one of America’s best journalist-historians, is almost always on-target, offering well-supported news and surprises… even though, in this case, she and I reach different conclusions. She starts by pointing out how the daily storm of Trump tweets deliberately distracts from an avalanche of related depredations that get masked, such as this under-reported gem:
“...the legal counsel at the Department of Transportation, Andrew Kloster, formerly of the Heritage Foundation, tweeting on August 22nd that a Hollywood actress was a succubus melding together satanism and the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah in one loopy tweet, a perfect marriage of antisemitism and misogyny.” 

"Or that “climate change research proposals in the Department of the Interior were being reviewed by a character named Steve Howke, who’s sole qualification (seems to be) being an old high-school football buddy of Secretary Zinke’s from Whitefish, Montana.”
(The day after Ms. Solnit posted that, a policy analyst working for the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security resigned after emails showed that analyst Ian M. Smith had been in regular contact with known white nationalists, including Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer, and Jared Taylor.)
Seriously, dial in to this and other Solniticisms and see someone who “out-rachels” MSNBC’s Maddow. Solnit’s long list of rightwing ethical and criminal atrocities, many of them barely noted by news media, will convince any sane American that we’re in the hands of a mafia. An international organized crime syndicate.
But that’s kinda the point.The blatancy of it all is so thuggish, boorish and ultimately stupid, that I’m reminded of Hannah Arendt’s appraisal of the Nazis’ evil banality. They achieved power through bullying and cheating and complicity by cynical oligarchs, but also because all the smart folks and modern people were complacent. When that complacency wore off, the modern world ponderously gathered itself, converged and smashed the Nazi thuggery to dust.
Ms. Solnit would respond: “Great. Then stop being complacent and smash! Impeach now!” But I disagree, at least in part. Thanks to the Trumpian grotesquery, no modern-thinking American is complacent, anymore. But it’s wrongheaded to demand a spasmodic, Verdun-style frontal assault on Donald Trump, himself. That is mistaking a symptom for the disease – a common error that could cost us dearly, especially if – in lancing an excruciating boil -- we then lapse into relieved celebration, ignoring a far worse cancer below.
Look, it’s plain that Donald Trump represents an existential problem… every action that he takes either serves a cynically rapacious world oligarchy (including gambling tycoons and the Russian Mafia) or else feeds fuel to a dangerous eighth phase of the recurring American CivilWar. Only here’s the deal. Everyone can see this. The members of every fact-using profession… including the intelligence communities, law enforcement and the FBI, civil servants, scientists, and the U.S. military officer corps. Yes, that includes the crewcut men and women who are now – in their millions – condemned by the mad-right as a conspiratorial “deep state.”
They can see it all, and these skilled, decent people are doing what they can. No president in history has ever been so hemmed-in, isolated, cauterized and, indeed, rendered rather powerless.
Oh, Trump’s appointments – especially judicial – will be daunting cancers for decades. (You expect any different from Pence?) His deliberate destruction of every strength that won us the Cold War and gave the world its greatest era of (flawed) peace and progress, should make any patriotic mind shiver… as our ancestors quailed after setbacks like Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Pearl Harbor, Kasserine, Selma, or Kent State. But those ancestors gritted-teeth and bore down for the long haul, knowing there’d be no quick fixes.
As I point out elsewhere, impeachment is not just a long-shot fantasy. Even if successful, it would likely do far more harm than good, putting Two Scoops Trump into a reality show mode that he’d enjoy vastly more than his daily torment in the Oval Office. You don’t think he’d milk that martyrdom, helping turn this phase of civil war red-hot? (Indeed, my biggest dread is that the Putin-Mercer-Adelson-Murdoch oligarchy, tired of the harm he’s doing to their political apparatus, might order a “Howard Beale” hit, igniting the whole nation in flames. God bless the U.S. Secret Service.)
Impeachment and removal would rob much of our growing coalition. Many of those crewcut “deep state” public servants would let themselves be soothed into relief and renewed complacency by a crooning President Mike Pence, promising comity and renewed respect for professional castes. This might even please some leftists, who are now equivocal over all the retired officers and short-haired ‘blue dogs’ now crowding into the Democrats’ big tent. 

But screw anyone who favors ideology ahead of victory over confederate treason.
Above all, the boil we see in front of us is blocking something far worse that would replace it. The Trumpian White House leaks like mad, rendering it largely impotent! Only the very deepest mafia stuff goes un-revealed, so far. But a Pence administration would be tightly disciplined, filled with dedicated dominionists who are focused on shared goals, much of it revolving around their firm belief and relish in two sacred tomes: The Fourth Turning, by Strauss & Howe (beloved of Steve Bannon), and the Book of Revelation’s gory, hand-rubbing anticipation of an end to all human endeavor, all freedom and argument and striving, an end to all new children, and an end to the United States of America. And either way, we are so fucked.
I recommend “Mike Pence's plan to outlast Trump.” Seriously. Also the NYT’s Frank Bruni points out that Pence "adds two ingredients that Trump doesn't genuinely possess: the conviction that he's on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy." (Not scared by that? Read Robert Heinlein's prophetic novel Revolt in 2100.)
And again, see my reasons why impeachment should be kept in reserve. A last resort, either for emergency or else once the nation reaches a post Civil War consensus.
Looking back to the recommendations of Hannah Arendt, who studied deeply how to oppose Nazi-like mafias and thuggeries, I’d distill this wisdom.

(1) Wake up; this is serious, worth your time, your effort and risk. (2) Wake others. Form coalitions that welcome refugees from the madness. (3) Don’t be stupid. (4) This could be a long haul.
I respect the heck out of Rebecca Solnit and I urge you all to read her, possibly in preference over me!  Still, when we get to specifics, “impeach now” is dumb. It’s impatient. It ignores the coalition-building and grinding envelopment that Churchill and FDR and Marshall used, to achieve victory over monsters.
And it’s a dream.  Wake up.

==  Suspicion toward every elite… except the most dangerous one  ==
The trick of the Scottish-American Enlightenment -- though not the Franco-German wing - was suspicion of all authority, or SoA. It was essential because we are human and whenever any group gets solitary power... even idealistic technocrats like many of the engineers who became managers and then politburo mavens in Beijing... you will fall for every temptation of authoritarian delusion. It's how we're made. Oh, some lords are better than others. But the meaning of the American Revolution was "we should do without lords."
Hence, our SoA propaganda - in every Hollywood film - created a reflex that's kept us free, though we often disagree over which "elite" is striving to seize too much power. 

Leftists assume it's aristocrats and faceless corporations.  Rightists assume it is snooty academics and faceless government bureaucrats. (You see both tyrannical modes portrayed in diverse films.) Libertarians should aim their SoA at both and all directions! But most of them have, alas, been suborned into being tunnel-visioned, rightist tools.
Now, it's perfectly reasonable to sniff suspiciously when any elite says "leave it to us!" And Technocracy - rule by those with smarts and knowledge and credentials - is certainly one hypothetical dictatorship by a snooty elite.  
Except for China though (and Beijing may be exactly that, under a communist/mercantilist veneer), when has technocracy ever been a substantial authoritarian-oppressive mode? There are no plausible scenarios by which it could happen in the West. 
Is it okay to sniff suspiciously at "fact-people?" Sure. As it was okay to sniff at excesses by labor unions. But when unions have been plummeting for forty years, the intensity of screeching against them becomes highly suspicious.  Especially when the billionaires financing this hysteria have been getting more powerful and benefiting outrageously for those same 40 years. 
What kind of Suspicion of Authority instinct is it, that cannot notice: "Hey, I am marching with fervor for the only elite in society whose power, wealth and influence have been skyrocketing to atmospheric levels for decades, and is now approaching levels not seen since 1789 in France."
Face it.  Suspicion of Authority has been healthy for us.  It kept us free. But traitors have discovered how to metastacize it into a cancer that attacks every elite except the very one that took power and crushed hopes in every other human civilization. The same one that cheated, stymied all progress, cheated, murdered, cheated, stole and cheated across 6000 years. The very same one the American Founders rebelled against, who Adam Smith denounced as market destroyers, and who got a million poor southern whites to fight and die for slavery.
So, is Fox saying we should apply fierce, hate-drenched SoA toward all other 'elites' - science, teaching, journalism, civil servants, every fact using profession... including now the "deep state" FBI and officer corps... all elites except one? The only one that is actually, actually rising to obligate and near total power? 

What a coincidence! Those other 'elites' are the only forces in society who could possibly stymie that total coup, and they just happen - all of them -- to be eeeeevil!  All of the folks who know stuff, in their diverse tens of millions, yes, all of them.
Welcome to the essence of the confederacy, folks. Plantation lords and the populist-numbskulls who march and die to protect the lords' privileges. It is the same, recurring national fever, our perennial curse. And we must gird ourselves to do as we've done before. 

Stop it. Politically. With malice toward none. With charity for all and binding the national wounds. Knowing that if the sickness wins this round, that is not how we'll be treated.
. . ...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)

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Two: Taste

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/22/2018 - 10:19
Here’s an interesting question to consider: Do I have the same taste — the same cultural likes and dislikes in terms of things like style and entertainment — here in 2018 that I had in 1998? After all, it’s been twenty years. That’s a long time in terms of culture, style and entertainment. But then […]

New Books and ARCs, 9/21/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 16:12
As promised, here is the second half of a big haul of new books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound this week. Some excellent choices here — do you see anything in particular you like? Tell us in the comments!
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