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Rediscovering Adam Smith Part II: Bringing in Darwin!

Contrary Brin - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 17:40
While I'm off to Worldcon, let me finish my explication about the rediscovery (especially by liberals) of a co-founder of their movement.

In Part One, I showed how I am no longer a lonely voice, calling for revival of interest in a co-founder of our revolution, Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith.  Indeed, among the stupidest failings of today's liberal-moderates has been their failure grasp Smith's importance, and potential usefulness in fighting today's confederate-oligarchic madness.
Again, Smith is most prominently discussed at the moderate-liberal-savvy Evonomics site, where creative market competition merges with compatible notions of public responsibility and a tide of wealth that truly lifts all boats. Those who study Smith are realizing (surprise!) that he despised above all the oligarchic owner lords who cheated in 99% of human cultures -- the same caste the American Founders truly rebelled against.

Here's an amazing slide show of quotations from brilliant modern economists who talk about ways to make market economics more sapient and avoid the one failure mode that always ruined it across 6000 years. 

How weird is it that "libertarians" -- now totally suborned by oligarchs who bought the movement, top to bottom -- now avoid any mention of Adam Smith, or the "c-cord."

== Getting part right... and some wrong ==
Ah, but even when smart people dial in to that word, the results can be mixed.

In The Darwin Economy Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good, Robert H. Frank argues that Adam Smith had a poor understanding of competition, compared to Charles Darwin. Unfortunately, the capsule summaries of many books – intending to propel reader interest and potential sales, are often misleading or miss the point. Take this example from the book’s own publisher.
“Smith's theory of the invisible hand, which says that competition channels self-interest for the common good, is probably the most widely cited argument today in favor of unbridled competition--and against regulation, taxation, and even government itself. But what if Smith's idea was almost an exception to the general rule of competition? 

"That's what Frank argues, resting his case on Darwin's insight that individual and group interests often diverge sharply. Far from creating a perfect world, economic competition often leads to "arms races," encouraging behaviors that not only cause enormous harm to the group but also provide no lasting advantages for individuals, since any gains tend to be relative and mutually offsetting.”
That cribbed summary, alas, does Robert Frank no good. (Do online summaries ever convey a book’s core idea well?) This one reveals a stunning lack of understanding of Smith, who said that unregulated competition is exactly what ruined all past societies, because it leads to winners who then cheat, in order to prevent further competition. The resulting pattern - feudalism - always destroyed market creativity… and feudal societies were also immoral. (So said Smith, the author of The Theory Of Moral Sentiments.) 
In fact, Frank in his book debunks the notion that Smith believed in unregulated competition -- unlike the objectivist extremists who have seized on his 'invisible hand' idea.  A direct quote: 

"Smith was well aware that unregulated markets didn't always produce the best outcomes. For the most part, the market failures that were his focus involved underhanded practices by business leaders in a position to wield power."  

Says one of the author’s defenders: “Frank goes beyond Smith in saying that, even in the absence of cheating, even in the absence of incomplete information and irrational choices and all the other ways in which markets fall short, competition for relative goods will by its very nature produce undesirable outcomes, just as competition for mates will produce bull elk that are encumbered by outsize antlers.”
To which I answer… meh. Adam Smith made clear that a society’s fundamental values can be incorporated into weighting various market forces, through incentives, taxes or criminal deterrence. 
And sure, I my libertarian side notes that social incentivizing is dangerous! Race and gender discrimination laws (Jim Crow) reflected earlier generations’ values, as did Prohibition and the insane War on Drugs. Tobacco subsidies and those that encouraged generations of shortsighted water mismanagement join with fossil fuel incentives in a long list of socially or politically-driven market interferences that proved at-best counterproductive or that later generations deemed to be downright evil. Indeed, all past civilizations regulated in ways that favored both the priesthood and the owner-lordly caste, and the priesthood issued declarations that ‘This imbalance of power Is Good.’   
Still, we know that for every example of horrifically awful regulation, there’s likely to be several good ones. Kids in Los Angeles can breathe the air now without feeling (as I did, growing up) as if they were collapsing in a Flanders 1918 gas attack. Tobacco and alcohol taxes decidedly reduce those vices without creating a criminal black market. People now fish from the riverbanks in Pittsburgh and the 1994 CAFÉ auto efficiency standards gave us better cars, saved us tens of billions at the pump and promoted energy independence while hurting the U.S. auto industry not one iota. 
What we are talking about is the weighting of markets to include externalities, like the health of our children and the sustainability of a planet they’ll depend on. The anti-monopoly laws passed by previous generations – and gutted by the recent GOP – were pro-enterprise! Just as today’s Republican Party relentlessly seeks to end flat-fair competition in every way imaginable.  

Smithian market weighting, should always be questioned, skeptically! That is a legitimate role for a vigorous-sane libertarian movement! (Rather than today's lickspittle-lackey obeisance to oligarchs.) 

But it is about augmenting the general wisdom of invisible hand mass-market with some actual wisdom from the most-advanced of all human organs – our prefrontal lobes.
== They want us not to even look ahead where we’re going ==
The Rand-Friedman wing of libertarianism - ranting the FIBM (Faith in Blind Markets) message at its extreme - has proved to be stupifyingly insane, spewing endless incantations that civilization should never use those prefrontal organs of foresight, that a hundred thousand generations of human ancestors strove so hard to develop. Their cult belief in perfect, distributed, enlightened self-interest have been disproved from every angle – psychology, human behavior, brain scans, micro-economics and the most brutally market test of all – failure of their beloved predictions to ever, ever and I mean ever come true. 

Friedrich Hayek did have a point, that we should maximize the number of competent market participants. But that - ironically - turns into an argument for liberalism, since interventions to raise up poor children, to build infrastructure and to combat unthinking prejudice all help us to stop wasting talent and instead maximize the number of ready competitors.
Just as any sporting league needs constant regulation, lest each game collapse into a maelstrom of cheating, what works in the economy is well-regulated markets, fine-tuned according to a civilization that strives to keep competition flat-fair-open.
== Willingness to re-evaluate ==
Mind you, this entails finding a sweet spot. And if our parents made calamitous Drug War and talent-wasting gender assumptions, and their parents did it with Prohibition and racism, then can we be sure we’re not gumming the works with our own interventions? Certainly the Soviet state planners felt so sure of their models, which worked well in forging primary industry like steel, and horribly at making a refrigerator anyone would want.

 The Chinese engineer-lords in today’s CPR politburo are sure they’ve solved that problem and I go into that elsewhere. But we still prefer the method that brought us to this festival of wealth and freedom and improving insight – a flatter, more evenly balanced approach, that avoids the failed model of the past – hierarchy.
Alas, misunderstanding of Adam Smith is rampant, only matched by general ignorance of Darwin, whose heirs now know that a healthy ecosystem is made up of a myriad competitive units, but the overall effect is the appearance of healthy cooperation. 

Ecosystems collapse when some predator escapes all feedback loops of restraint, as happened every time small groups of human males - armed with metal implements and priestly justifications - take everyone else’s women and wheat.
== An aspect that is... interesting ==

Robert Frank (see *note below) asserts that – as one supporter put it - there is a homeomorphism between, on the one hand, natural selection and economic competition for absolute goods, and, on the other hand, sexual selection and economic competition for relative (positional) goods.  
Well well. Interesting. And if so, it would explain why half of today’s rich – the stoopid half, mostly – care far more about their relative power over other humans, than about fostering a generally creative society where all boats rise alongside their yachts.
I was skeptical, at first. But yes, this does mesh with one of my own riffs… that we are all descended from the harems of feudalist cheaters who took other mens’ women and wheat. And even though today’s lords might have vasectomies to prevent unwanted complications, they act - reflexively and un-thinkingly - as if driven by an urgent need to win at reproduction.  I get the point, then.
But it still reveals no insight into Adam Smith, who urged that we try to be sapient about all this!  That even if today’s males inherit fantasies from those harem-keeping ancestors, we can choose - both individually and collectively - not to act on them. That even if shortsighted oligarchs - driven by ego, instinct and flattery - threaten to bring back the cheater hierarchies against whom the American Founders rebelled, we can choose – with help from some of the Good Billionaires – to stymie that reflex without falling into the extremes. 

Reform without the bloodiest kinds of revolution.

--------------------------- Coda ----------------------------------------

== Use Halloween to help end the freak show ==

Here's your costume for Halloween, a week before the US mid-term elections. But wear it all of October. Don't let it start a fight. Just let it speak for itself. Especially if others do it, doo. (And if so, supplies may run out, so order now.)Here it's cheap enough to buy several as favors/gifts. Pass it along. It's a thing.

*NOTES: Frank proposes that instead of taxing productive economic activity, such as earnings or sales, government should raise money from activities (including relative goods) whose pursuit is a pernicious drag on society as a whole.... extending "sin taxes" (e.g. on tobacco) to other harmful cycles. At first sight, it's hard to imagine how this might scale-up to levels that would pay for essential services, like infrastructure or uplifting all children. But anyone familiar with Adam Smith and Teddy Roosevelt would know the answer.

Define as a harmful "sin" - and hence taxable - the ways that accumulations of property generally become toxic. Monopoly. Duopoly. And the reflex of aristocrats to stay rich by investing in "rent-seeking," rather than creative or productive enterprise. In other words, the exact opposite to every single "Supply Side Reform."

Healthy markets need incentives and it is right that Elon Musk get richer by working with engineers to give us keys to the Solar System. That's not the same thing at all. And the cult of risk-free, rentier accumulation by a lordly caste is the very opposite.  It is the old enemy of enterprise, across 6000 years.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

View From a Hotel Window, 8/15/18: San Jose

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 19:46
It’s a lovely day in San Jose, despite a certain amount of particulate matter in the air, cause by parts of California being deeply aflame. Here you can see the convention center in which we’ll have Worldcon 76, which starts tomorrow and runs through Monday. It’s nice to be in California again. Aaaaand now I […]

Learn More About Me: My Favorite Movie

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 19:35
Hey, everyone! Today I thought I’d share something important to me, that being my all-time favorite movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though it is technically Disney, anytime someone asks me what my favorite Disney movie is, I always forget to say The Nightmare Before Christmas, and usually say Mulan or Tangled instead, because I really think of The Nightmare Before […]

Bio-Scientific Problems and Quandaries

Contrary Brin - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 16:22

More companies, agencies and NGOs are openly referring to science fiction as a tool for exploring trends and possible repercussions of rapid change. (I just did 25 speeches around the world in 90 days.) Here the CEO of SCOUT, Berit Anderson, discusses how her company applies SF-style thought experiments to vital topics ranging from climate change to communications and info-warfare. 

"She cited Scout’s analysis of what it called the “weaponized AI” of Cambridge Analytica and what it might mean for future elections. Published in February 2017, the analysis led to Scout’s team being called conspiracy theorists — all before, Anderson said, many of the details became common knowledge from mainstream media coverage," writes Frank Catalano in Geekwire.

== Indignation and sanctimony… the drugs that are wrecking all our hopes ==

I still get mail about my proposal to widen our interpretation of the word “addiction” to include all ways that behaviorw get reinforced in human brains. These range from positive things - like love of family and dedication to skill - all the way to chemicals like opiates that hijack our natural reinforcement systems. For decades I've pointed at a realm in between – self-reinforcing mental states – that merits urgent attention.  

Both online and in in the book Pathological  Altruism, I had a well-regarded article on indignation addiction… or our tendency to return repeatedly to the drug high released in our brains by mental-state addiction that can manifest benignly - in spiritual prayer or meditation - or else in furious tribalism or the sanctimony and self-righteous rage that boomers imbibed from Hollywood, all their lives. (The "I'm as mad as hell" scream of the movie Network, for example.) 

People write to ask whatever happened to my campaign, which took me to deliver a talk at the Centers for Drugs and Addiction. (Nothing much came of it, alas.)  Especially since this exact, vile habit/addiction is what enemies of the West have been turning against us. The very thing killing the American genius at pragmatic problem solving and negotiation.  You could do some good by spreading the word about this, among intellects you know.

Though at this point the rage is open. So stand up, now. Choose someone to support in a swing district and fight for a few months. Then talk about ways to stop fighting.

== Aging - and evolving? ==
George Church drew fame in many ways. A top investigator in genetics at Harvard, he also notoriously spoke of resurrecting extinct species, as he explicated in his book Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. (Something I portrayed in Existence.) He’s also doing research into life-extension and longevity, as described here, starting with seeking ways to improve the health span of dogs, something that folks will certainly pay for. The problem is our tendency to extrapolate lifespan expansions in flies and mice and yes, dogs, into hope that similar feats can be achieved for humans.
Alas, you can read my infamous paper – hated across the “live forever” community – pointing out strong reasons why there may not be any such “low-hanging fruit” for pushing us past 115 or so. It’s likely we used up all the easy techniques, hundreds of thousands of years ago. That is not to say science can’t give us a ladder to reach higher fruit! But it won’t be a matter of anything simple, like a dietary supplement or caloric restriction.
But are we still evolving? Between 9000 and 7000 years ago, there appears to have been a plummet in genetic diversity among human males, in what’s called the ‘Neolithic bottleneck.’ An undergrad is now credited with coming up with an explanation. Heck the surficial hypothesis is obvious – that across that time, combative males prevented other males from breeding. But apparently this study's methodology for using available data to exclude other hypotheses was very clever.  Zeng surmised that intense warfare between patrilineal clans killed off so many men, only one was left for every 17 women.”
This should come as no surprise. Historical accounts show numerous societies doing this, even in historical times. Polynesia, for example, and the Mayan states. All of the adult males in a valley or on an island might be wiped out and replaced by the invaders who were likely related. (Indeed, I wonder that the authors of this study haven't zeroed in on those more recent episodes.) Nearly all of us are descended from the harems of the fierce men who won these struggles... helping to explain the "quirks" or unpleasant proclivities we see in many modern males, traits that are unsuitable for civilized living. Indeed, if this cycle were allowed to continue, it might help to explain the “Fermi Paradox” of why we don’t see high, alien civilizations.

This may also offer insight into an artistic mystery, regarding "Venus figurines" of the Neolithic.  Some feminists have posited that these figures, with exaggerated breasts, hips and other female traits, reveal a mother goddess cult that was peaceful and respectful, before it was replaced (as agriculture made male strength more valuable than gathering) by patriarchic thunder gods. But this study lends support to the other leading hypothesis... that such art-pieces served the same purpose as other figures with exaggerated breasts, hips and other female traits, in all known societies.

If such brutal cycles were endemic in the human past, we must gird ourselves to face a challenge and an opportunity. It is in our modern, scientific civilization that we have decided we don’t want to be like that!  And the first step - in moving decisively and forever away from all that-  is to follow the beam of modern, scientific feminists like Sarah Hrdy, who show how understanding our animal and quasi-animal roots is exactly what we must do, in order to choose a better path toward what we want to be.

See the original paper in Nature.
 == Is is down to anecdotes? ==
One of the insidious lies told often about climate change is that “scientists in the 70s believed we were heading to an ice age.”  Oh, surveys show that cooling theories constituted a minuscule minority of climate papers since World War II, and they were swiftly debunked. But if you offer statistics, confederates blank out.
So let’s go to anecdotes, their prime food. Like the 1970s film “Soylent Green,” immensely popular, depicting greenhouse broiling in a near future Earth.
Also in the 1970's Steven Spielberg directed a short movie predicated on global warming and air pollution, Los Angeles 2017. It was an episode of the TV show Name of the Game.
One member of my blog community (Jerry E.) cited a science series that became a film shown in schools from Sputnik to the 1980s. An episode of Bell Science program The Unchained Goddess - on February 12, 1958 - discussed human-caused global warming. “I remember watching it on television, and I also remember it being shown in my "red state" rural school several times when I was a young child." The most relevant two minutes are on YouTube.  

And yes, warming was the trend most-widely credited by a vast majority of the scientific community even back then, without satellite data.

This is what we are reduced to. The all-out war on every fact profession, from science to the FBI, from journalism to military officers, has reached the point where we cannot deal with our mad uncles with evidence and statistics.
Only anecdotes.
But remember how we started this missive. These neighbors of ours are mostly decent folks. They are just afraid and have been filed into hostility toward every "elite" of fact or skill or curiosity -- every profession that might stand in the way of a return to feudalism. 
These neighbors aren't the enemies of confidence and problem solving and progress.  It isn't even the ignoramus lords who finance the riling-up.
It is fear, itself.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Pre-Worldcon Q&A

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 12:24
Tomorrow I head out to San Jose and Worldcon 76, and before I go let me address some questions about it and related things that I’ve been asked online and in real life, through the use of my fictional interlocutor. That’s me! Yes, it is. Let’s begin, shall we? Okay! So, are you nervous yet? […]

We Interrupt Your Monday For This Very Important Picture of Smudge

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 18:28
I think we can all agree that this has been a vital and necessary update. For those of you asking how well Smudge is being assimilated into the Scalzi clowder of cats, the answer is: reasonably well, but not without its problems. Smudge basically has two personality settings at the moment, “adorable” and “asshole,” which […]

Kayaking at Lodi Lake

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 08/11/2018 - 22:17
Hello, everyone! I hope y’all’s weekend has been awesome so far! My week has been pretty uneventful, but today I actually did something fun and exciting! I got to go kayaking at Lodi Lake with my Cali family. I’ve only been kayaking a couple of times before, and each time my arms get insanely sore, […]

Pray for his health (I mean it.) And justifying the unjustifiable.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 08/11/2018 - 20:31
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One of the greatest of all films - "Network" - was prophetic in so many ways. So why is the "Howard Beale Scenario" scaring me to death, right now, praying for the health of a president I detest? 

First, Network gave Baby Boomers our generational anthem, when a raving Beale urged everyone to scream: "I'm as mad as hell!" And, as spoiled, sanctimony junkies, boy have we boomers shot-up the drug high of rage, bringing the U.S. to the verge of ruin. (Our calmer/nicer/smarter kids will be better off without us!) But there is another lesson from Howard Beale.. the way that he meets his end, when his deranged mania no longer serves the purposes of oligarchic masters, who realize he'll be more useful to them as a martyr.

Now ponder last week's by-election in Ohio - a nail-biter in what should be a safely-red district. As Trump's toddler rants get ever-more unhinged, he's solidifying a jibbering-loony confederate base that grows more fanatical as it shrinks, while driving away a growing trickle of residually sane "ostrich" conservatives.

Yes, the GOP has perfected (with foreign help) dozens of cheats and some we'll only discover in November. Still, a big enough Blue Wave could result in a Congress that actually represents sanity, issuing real subpoenas and holding real hearings... and that could be death to the Putin/Murdoch/oligarchy's putsch. (State assemblies are more important! Find a candidate in a swing district to help.)

If a living Donald Trump is a Beale-like hemorrhage/liability to oligarchs like Murdoch-Mercer-Putin, envision instead a martyr, idolized by millions who are enraged at the sight of liberals stupidly celebrating in the streets. A rage only just barely restrained by the sainted one's newly-annointed successor, a smooth-voiced President Mike Pence, whose soft words lure back those wavering ostriches just in time to stave off republican extinction.

Elsewhere I've urged "don't impeach!" because a President Pence will smoothly and efficiently-relentlessly seek to implement the prophesied end-times that he openly avows to praying-for. (There are things much worse than a toddler-narcissist, fools! Are you listening, Mr. Colbert?)

Anyway, impeachment isn't the only way to deliver us into the hands of dominionist fanatics.

No, no. God bless the United States Secret Service! Along with 99% of the rest of the so-called "Deep State," hundreds of thousands of dedicated men and women professionals in the fact-using community, who do their jobs with skill, every day. Keep ol' Two Scoops alive! Even as you navigate a minefield, working to obey your oaths to keep us all alive.

As for the rest of you, wise up! Stop playing checkers while Vlad and Rupert are cheating at chess. You have three months, but that means starting now, finding some way to help. You are made of no lesser stuff than the heroes of Antietam, Gettysburg and Normandy. So stand up and prove it.

And here's a long, tall drink to the continued health of the President (alack) of the United States.

== All of this HAS to be a simulation, right? ==

A few years ago I pointed out that for 400 years, it seemed that each century in the West had a ‘theme,’ and that theme only manifested during its second decade. The “French Century” lasted till 1815 to be replaced by the fizzing optimistic British era, which crashed in 1918 at the end of the first world war…. commencing what I call the Concave Century, which seemed bound for hell, hitting its nadir in 1941, before rising into the greatest era of peace and progress the world ever saw.
Are we seeing the next theme transformation? See where I lay all of this out. (The magazine editors insisted I make it precisely about 2014.)
Or is this more a parallel to 1990 and the fall of the Soviet Union? Putin blames that collapse on a western agent at the very top of the USSR, he names as Gorbachev. Is he now using the exact same method to bring down the West?
Name one western strength that won the Cold War, that the enemy agent in the White House is not dismantling, with meticulous care. 

(Ah, have you see anyone else compare Donald Trump to Mikhail Gorbachev? My guess is that Putin views Donald Trump has Gorbachev's reciprocal. And his revenge.)

Worth following: this appraisal of why today’s Europe is America’s greatest creation. And subsidizing their defense has been the best deal any pax power could ever have achieved. And breaking up our alliances must be the number one goal of anyone aiming to bring us down.  Follow these points in tweet form, by a reputable scholar of the modern era. 
The Marshall Plan Taught Lessons Trump Refuses to Learn.”
== Diplomacy by Twitter ==
It just pours in. Can he let us rest for ONE day? Two Scoops declared that his tweets are "official statements of the presidency." Did anyone warn him that would lead to this court ruling - that blocking followers is unconstitutional? He's fired everyone with an IQ over forty.
What the Idiocracy calls “diplomacy.”  Seriously.  This is lunacy. Show this to your mad uncle. This timeshare sales pitch is how Donald Trump "prepared" while pushing away briefing books and advisors.
Your uncle will answer that "gut" matters more than knowledge or brains.  You'll answer. "What happens when knowledge and brains finally get fed up and fight back?"  Uncle will say "Bring it on, brain-boy!"
Here's the key: Your aunt is listening, from the next room. She's the one who matters... who can tip the scales.
"I have the absolute right to PARDON myself..." tweeted Trump. " means he could announce pardons for sale at $10 million. If indicted for taking bribes, he could just pardon himself. It is doubtful that James Madison had that in mind, but courts have never ruled on this." - from  
== Russia ==

"Putin must wonder what else America knows about Russia." Don't worry Vlad, Two Scoops will tell you... then listen to your code words and fresh orders.  Putting that aside, there is something I spoke about at a certain agency, two months ago. 

During the Cold War, the KGB always had huge advantages, e.g. our open society where their agents could roam at will. So, how did we compensate?
Defections. Suddenly, someone would ask for help bringing over his family, and in a shot, they'd be spilling everything, before assuming a new identity in safe, rich America. Defections were always an ace card in our hand...
...which is why Putin's guys are sparing no effort to eliminate that failure mode. Dig this caarefully. You encourage defections by offering safety, good prospects (it can include cash), and the moral high ground. Three essential ingredients.

Look at how the Kremlin and its stooges have been systematically erasing all three. Have you kept count of the number of defectors lately murdered in the West? And what our moral "leadership" in the world is like, especially after grabbing and tormenting thousands of kids? Do you think any of it is coincidental?
Oh, about that creative open society? That was our biggest advantage. And notice how the Kremlin/Saudi/Murdoch/Koch-supported confederacy is now waging open war on every profession that either uses facts or can be called creative.  Coincidental?
Every strength that won us the Cold War is being systematically and unambiguously dismantled.  And the idiocracy - egged on by Fox shills - calls it all a gooood thing!
Good doggies.
== Unforgiven ==

Oh, oh, must we choose between monsters? I stand by naming George F. Will the "Worst American." Because he knowingly - with brilliant skill and foresight - helped to pilot the American right away from pragmatic respect for facts and enterprise and probity, pushing the tiller to veer down hellscapes of rationalization, confederate dogmatism and madness. Mr. Will knew it would all come to this... and now he has regrets? 

Donald Trump is an unsapient, reflexive-toddler tool wielded by conniving enemies of everything the American Experiment has stood for. Everything that Mr. Will describes in this article is true! And hence, I know that the title of Mr. Will's article is autobiographical. We see you, too, sir. We can see which vile enemy of the republic chose treason long ago, with open, canny eyes.

== Enough for now ==

Again, confront your mad uncle with this: Russia will try again this fall. Congress doesn't seem to care. It won't change his lunacy... but your aunt is listening from the next room.

When will even one democratic pol get that polemic is an art? Try saying the obvious!

 "Many of the very same men who Republicans loathed with volcanic paranoia, back when they wore hammer and sickle pins are now suddenly okay guys, now that they wear orthodox crosses."

 Do you recall Christopher Walken's last words in BLAST FROM THE PAST? 

"You mean one day the Politburo guys suddenly threw up their hands and shouted 'we surrender'?"

"Yeah dad, that's about it."

Walken shakes his head and sighs:

 "Got to hand it to them." 

What a maneuver. What an incredible judo move.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Book and ARCs, 8/10/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/10/2018 - 17:29
Hey! It’s Friday! And that makes it a very time to show off another stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. See anything here that piques your interest? Let us know in the comments.

What You Should Be Watching: YouTube Edition: Binging With Babish

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 20:01
Hey, everyone! Welcome to another edition of “What You Should Be Watching”! And, yes, it’s another YouTube one because, hey, there’s a lot of good content on YouTube, and it’s free, unlike Netflix or whatever, so. For this edition, I have chosen another cooking channel, mainly because I have only posted like one cooking related […]

Blackmail may be the death of us. Unless we’re saved by… Mexico

Contrary Brin - Wed, 08/08/2018 - 16:16
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First - a one-paragraph example of one thing you could do: volunteer to be a local precinct election official or poll-watcher. The training is minimal and you could help ensure an honest vote, in the fall. Yes, it's mostly retired folks.  So? Consider talking some honest, smart retiree you know into doing this, especially in "swing" precincts. Just knowing such sharp-eyed folks are on the job could force the cheaters to try elsewhere! Think about it?

Now our main topic: I’ve long wondered if our civilization is tottering because of one devastating crime, above all others. 

== Blackmail == 

Elsewhere, I describe how it’s the best way to suborn an enemy nation. Other forms of corruption have boundaries… the official you bribed may say: “that’s my limit for this year,” or “that’s too much betrayal, even for me.” 
But the blackmailed person is locked in. And every added thing he does for you makes him ever-more your slave. 
There is a way for the blackmailed person to escape… by coming clean. By openly and publicly confessing, or cooperating with honest civil servants to entrap the blackmailers. But that requires guts. And patriotism of a degree we seldom see, even on a battlefield. Then there’s rationalization – often the blackmailed or coerced person justifies it all by converting to passionate belief in the blackmailer’s cause -- the Patty Hearst Effect. Or the Moscow embassy Marine guards. Or George F. Will.
Hence a warning!  If you find yourself embarking on a career in politics or any other area of influence, be wary of entrapment!  That lucky ticket that's too good to be true. That strangely convenient opportunity to cheat in some small way that you think is unobserved. That alluring member of your sex-of-preference who comes on to you... the methods are myriad and highly, highly developed. See where I describe the cycle, in detail. And the one thing I don't disrespect about Mike Pence is his keeping the ultimate defense talisman nearby -- his wife.

Above all, the blackmailed person – even if repentant -- must overcome a devastating sense of loneliness. There may be hundreds – even thousands -- of men and women, in Washington alone, who writhe within such a trap, imagining they are alone. Many of those betraying America, as we speak – and I’ll talk about the wave of inexplicable treason, below -- are probably steeped in isolation, with a sense of no-way-out. Blackmailers will push that feeling, never letting their slaves realize a central, redemptive truth --
-- that there is a path to salvation. I offered this method to President Obama, and he could have transformed America, but it never reached his eyes. Now, I am about to appeal to the next idealist who could use this maneuver to save his own country… and possibly the world.
== An open letter to the President–Elect of Mexico ==
Dear Mexican President-Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador,
Would you consider a proposal/suggestion offered by an impudent science fiction author from Upper California? You face incredible problems and obstacles to fulfilling your vow and overcoming rampant corruption, giving citizens hope and confidence in the honest rule of law. Indeed, classic corruption is the least of your problems!

Far worse than bribery is blackmail. Whether a person was originally entrapped in some small misjudgment, or willingly did something awful, the man who is blackmailed is far easier for evil ones to control than someone who is merely greedy or venial. Indeed, there is strong reason to believe that blackmail pervades every government on Earth, and - lately - has thoroughly suborned the United States of America.
There is a way out of this! You - personally - could set an example to the world. Simply declare amnesty for the first twenty men or women who come forth into the light with profound information that could transform Mexico!
Yes, there must be standards. Let’s say they must surrender most of any ill-gotten gains. In order for it to count, they must tell-all! Name others, including their blackmailers. There will have to be guarantees of safety, witness protection and possibly foreign refuge. Arrange these, along with safety from prosecution. Indeed, if their revelations bring down higher figures, then promise 10% of any seizures, as a reward.
Promise that the first who come forward - bravely - to confess and to reveal, will not be known as pardoned criminals, but as heroes.

What do you have to lose? Is twenty enough? Make it a hundred! If no one steps up, then it cost you nothing. If this unleashes a wave of pardon seekers, make sure the brave ones who step up first get special honor. Some may accuse you of setting up pardons for cronies. But that will die down, as a tide of revelations sweep forth! Also note, you need no legislation to issue pardons… though legislation will surely follow.
For safety’s sake, issue an Exclusion List. Ask Law enforcement agencies to write down those criminals they have already built strong cases against. You can name a hundred men whose pardon requests will not be honored. Can you think of a better way to single them out and terrify them into making a deal?
Oh, this is not a new proposal. I have put it forward for many years, to no avail. 
But you are a special case. You are committed to eliminating the corruption that has ruined civil life in Mexico. Alas, people expect – cynically – that you will just slip into a familiar pattern, either that of the sellout presidents before you, or that of Chavez, Erdogan and Duterte. There will be overwhelming pressures to go in either of those directions, so you must find something that will propel the idealistic momentum right away, and unstoppably. 

This one thing would prove the cynics all wrong, from the very start!

I have plenty of other proposals, but this one is so simple and blatantly obvious that it needs no further explanation. Think. Nothing could possibly alter that situation as swiftly and effectively as a sudden and cleansing wash of light.
== Back in the U.S.S.A…. ==
How deep does the betrayal go, in America?
This long and terrifying piece finally broaches publicly what many of us have known and said. That the "Russia Thing" probably goes far deeper than even Trump's loudest critics dare to say. Those critics may be trying hard not to sound like Alex Jones, whose wild ravings make "conspiracy nut" an appellation any moderate American would shun. But what if that's the aim of Jones and Hannity etc.? 

There havebeen dire conspiracies in history. And yes, cries of conspiracy bear some burden of proof. (Jones/Fox never show scintillas of evidence, after 25 years of "Clinton investigations.")  But as proof piles skyward that Donald Trump's cabal are - at-minimum - mafiosi, when do we get permission to extrapolate the trend? To reckoning on the worst?
Yes, this article goes a bit over the top, in places. Heck I have, too, by calling this "phase 8 of the Civil War." But even accounting for that, how can you shrug off the trend? When every single US strength that won us the Cold War is being systematically dismantled? From our alliances and science to strong institutions, citizen confidence, trustworthy media and the moral high ground? When every fact-using profession – all of them - is under attack by Rupert Murdoch's cult? 
One such betrayal, or two, or a few, might have excuses like "stupidity' or 'dogmatism." But when all actions push in the same direction, I invoke Goldfinger’s Rule:
“Once, Mr. Bond, may be happenstance."Twice could be coincidence. “Three times is enemy action.”

It's been a lot more than three times! Read this piece. And stop softpedaling or saying "he exaggerates." Yeah, maybe he does, in a few places. And it is past time we err a bit in the same direction. Or we're the stoopid ones.
== Are they planning to abandon us to our fates? ==
Okay, we’ve seen several types of traitors in this essay. Those who are avidly and actively helping foreign tyrants to bring down our Great Experiment… those who have been suborned or blackmailed into it. There’s also the classic duo of the Confederacy. Zillionaires who want a return of aristocracy and the populist-idiocrat millions who are in it for tribal reasons… no amount of heinous behavior is intolerable, so long as the Fox-confederate media tell them it’s okay. And especially so long as it galls the damn liberal or “fact” elites.
But what about those fact elites?  Are they necessarily on our side? Or might they also be conspiring against the West?
In Survival of the Richest, Douglas Rushkoff assumes the worst… that the betrayal of human civilization by aristocracy has two parts.  The dullard troglodytes of the right, who aim to topple our enlightenment in a microcephalic dream of restoring feudalism… and the smart billionaires, who are giving up the fight and fleeing for sanctuary.

Ah… sanctuary: as in the movie “Logan’s Run”?  We’ll return to that.
But first Rushkoff talks about interviewing a number of rich techno-transcendentalists (my term) who support things like life-extension, mind-uploads, mental augmentation and other ways that humans might move beyond present limitations. I have known a lot of these fellows for a long time. So has Rushkoff, so let’s hear what struck him:         “That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape....”

“They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves — especially if they can’t get a seat on the rocket to Mars.”
== Sorry, it’s not that simple ==
Look, I like Doug Rushkoff. But this oversimplifies out the wazoo. Sure, anyone can see that large swathes of oligarchy care only about the re-establishment of 6000 years of feudalism. Hence they use lavishly-paid propaganda-shills to demonize every single fact-using profession (name one exception), from science and journalism to the FBI and officer corps. 
And yes, many of them know they are risking planetary genocide and ecocide, and many are plotting their safety bolt holes.  I know several of those guys, and their favorite spot is… Patagonia, where land prices have spiked from poverty to resort levels, as they buy up everything from ranchitas to whole mountain ranges and watersheds, stocking them with arms and helicopters and bullion. 

(One fellow asked: "I have one problem that keeps me awake at night - if civilization falls, how do I keep my guards loyal?" In fact, I do know how. But the guy balked at my consultation fee. Fine. Go without sleep! The thought makes me smile.)
By comparison, the techies buying citizenship in New Zealand and financing “seasteading” experiments are actually kinda mild, even endearing.
Doug Rushkoff finishes his interesting (if hyperbolic) essay with an ultimate truth: “Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.”

Absolutely. It will take a flat-open-fair civilization - like this utterly unique one - to get out to the stars. That shared dream will see some creative types a tad richer than all the other rising boats, and that's fine.

Alternatively, if that wonderful civilization is stolen from us, there is no place -- on Earth or off -- where the thieves will be able to hide.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

My Worldcon Schedule

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/08/2018 - 15:53
Next week I’ll be at Worldcon 76 in sunny San Jose, California. Want to know my schedule of events while I’m there? Sure you do! This is what it is. All events in the San Jose Convention Center unless otherwise noted: Thursday, August 16: 8pm: Retro Hugos Party (includes 80s dance), room LL20: All attending […]

Diego and Lola!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 22:05
One perk of being in California is I get to hang out with two cool cats, or rather dogs, Diego and Lola! I know it’s only Tuesday, but, hey, it’s been a long week! You deserve these dogs! Lola is younger than Diego by two years, and has the black stripe pattern. Diego has more […]

My High School Gets It Right

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 10:40
The Webb Schools of California, which is the high school I went to way back when, has updated its handbook with a section for “Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students” and as far as I can see it gets it right — establishing explicitly that Webb students have a right to identify their own gender and […]

The Greatest Burgers In the World

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/06/2018 - 22:04
The real reason I have come to California is for one thing and one thing only: In-N-Out. A.K.A. the greatest burger place ever. No burger place, nay, no fast food place can compare to the glorious burger joint known as In-N-Out. It is truly a shame that they are only on the Western part of the […]

An August Hemi-Demi-Semi Hiatus

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/06/2018 - 09:47
So, I don’t know if you know this, but next month will mark the 20th anniversary of the existence of Whatever. This is a fact that among other things is causing me both practical and existential reflection on what this place is, and what it means to me, and what is the best way to […]

This Song Is In My Head So It Must Be In Yours

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 08/05/2018 - 22:16
Hello, everyone! Tomorrow is Monday, and that is always a bummer. So I thought I would bestow upon y’all this song I recently found to help you make it through. Also, it’s been in my head for about a week and I want others to suffer the ear-worm with me. I heard this from the […]

Seeking solutions - Sci & Tech

Contrary Brin - Sat, 08/04/2018 - 16:14
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE
Veering away from the putsch against democracy, let's have a look at cool science! And reasons why it should engender optimism, not riled-up resentment. Here's your roundup of cool (and maybe some chilling) reasons to pump up your morale about being a member of a wonderful civilization.

== Okay it's (well-supported) propaganda... that we need ==

Bill Gates is presenting 4 million collage graduates with a free download of Hans Rosling's important nonfiction title, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things are Better Than You Think - which argues that our future is more hopeful than we're allowed to realize. Despair is a poison that FDR denounced (and the Greatest Generation listened.) 

You know what fear itself fears most? Confidence.

Mathematica maven and brilliant funguy (several mushrooms?) Stephen Wolfram runs a blog that is far deeper-plunging and longer than my own.  Always on fascinating subjects.  In this one he took on “buzzwords” and whether strings of them can be peered at – with the wondrous ambiguity of English – to actually make sense.  In: “Buzzword Convergence: Making Sense of Quantum Neural Blockchain AI.” Try it out (or any of Stephen’s missives) only if you care for serious mental exercise!

Speaking of brainpower, you would not believe the estimates for what fraction of our total electric load goes to server farms for internet traffic and the cloud. Especially for cooling, as those GPUs etc generate vast amounts of heat. There are many proposals for new ways to cool down these massive data centers, offering improved efficiency because, well, Intel is coming out with a new server processor that puts out 3 times the heat of last year's model! But little is invested in the obvious – liquid cooling, where the heat carried off could then be applied to other purposes, like power-generation. One thing keeping data centers from moving to liquid is fear of leaks. Chilldyne's negative pressure system never leaks, watch what happens when you cut the line. 
FarmBot!  Uses CNC methods to run your backyard garden, from seeding to weeding to watering to soil-testing…and alerting you which to harvest.  Yeah, as a backyard gardener, I deem it presently silly.  But as a NASA advisor and scifi author with an eye to the future….

Technology Review offers Ten Breakthrough Technologies for 2018: from 3D metal printing to dueling Neural Networks to zero-carbon natural gas, for example....
My friend Miles Palmer is involved with NET Power’s unique demonstration power plant in La Porte,Texas, that burns natural gas but releases no emissions into the atmosphere. “How can it do this? The natural gas is burned in pure oxygen rather than ambient air, and the resulting heated carbon dioxide (CO2) is used to power a turbine instead of heating steam or gas.” A combustor then ignites a mixture of natural gas and oxygen, which is extracted from the atmosphere in a separate facility. This heats up the CO2 in the loop that drives the turbine.  One product is a stream of pure CO2 that doesn’t have to be separated, to drive underground oil extraction or use in industry.  I asked: “Is your initial air separator (N2 and Argon from O2) more efficient than a separator taking CO2 out of exhaust gas?” Miles said "Yes."

== New in Robo-Tech ==

See the latest awesome robot videos, including BionicFinWave which  swims as fluidly as a fish.

MIT’s Cheetah 3 robot can now leap and gallop across rough terrain, climb a staircase littered with debris, and quickly recover its balance when suddenly yanked or shoved — all while essentially blind. 

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have built a drone that can change shapes, and slither through the air like a snake. 

University of Hong Kong researchers have found an inexpensive, nickel-based substance that gan bend or make “actuation” motions stimulated only by light, and lift up to 3000 times their own weight.

Incredible drone footage from a river of lava at Kilauea volcano.

Mars Bioimaging, a company spun out of CERN, has developed a 3D scanner capable of creating full color X-ray images. Based on the Medipix3 imaging chip family developed for particle accelerators and the Large Hadron Collider, the scanner enables better visualization through extremely high resolution scans. When coupled with algorithms for generating 3D images and color coding based on energy levels, MARS is able to visualize different body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers. In clinical settings so far, this is enabling improved diagnostics and personalized treatments in areas as varied as cancer and heart disease.  (From the Diamandis Abundance Insider newsletter.)

Another super visualization company - Nanome - uses AR goggles and manipulators to immerse you inside the microscopic world of molecules, empowering you to manipulate them by hand. (Full disclosure, I'm on their advisory board.)

Apple and Samsung are both developing phones with foldable displays -- expected out in 2019. About freaking time.  I hate these slabs of glass.

== Treasure Hunters ==

How cool. A Woods Hole submersible may have found the greatest of all treasure galleons. “On June 8, 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession, the San José’s gunpowder ignited during a battle with British ships, sending 600 sailors to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean — along with gold, silver and emeralds from mines in Peru, a total haul valued at some $17 billion in today’s dollars.”

Niche business or scam? The former Soviet nation of Georgia now consumes more power in mining cryptocurrencies than the United States. (Note, while all the attention in the West has gone to Vladimir Putin's aggressive "deniability wars" of annexation in Crimea and the Donbass... and the high probability he'll do more to Estonia and Latvia, now that NATO is neutralized. Few are aware of how he dismembered Georgia, seizing about a third and then cowing the rest into becoming a mafia-like client protectorate. Hence, a context for the bitcoin mining operations. Putin's rage toward Obama and Clinton had a lot to do with their resistance to these annexations... which Trump has never mentioned.)

On June 21 - solstice day - the Supreme Court of Hawaii heard oral arguments in Honolulu on whether to approve a building permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope, which would be the biggest and most expensive in the Northern Hemisphere. And it is a real fight. Yes, indigenous peoples have a perfect right to be pissed off and suspicious over honkies who want to set up camp on sacred spots. But if truly this is a theological issue, then should it not be argued and settled theologically? 

See an expanded version of my proposal for a sensible and culturally respectful answer to this conundrum.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 8/3/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/03/2018 - 17:24
As we’re easing into the first weekend of the last month of summer, here’s a nice, varied stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What is making your eyes say “yes”? Tell us all in the comments.

Here’s a Lil’ Something I Wrote For Creative Writing Class

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/03/2018 - 14:38
Hello, everyone! Today I will be sharing a short story I just wrote the other night for class. It had to be two and a half pages long, no more, no less, which was kind of difficult to make it fit perfectly into that amount of space, mostly because of pacing issues. This is also […]
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