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Stone Cold America-Killers

Contrary Brin - Wed, 02/27/2019 - 16:46
As former "great guy" and trusted factotum Michael Cohen testifies in Congress, the right's media calls him a "convicted liar," and we keep waiting for other media to point out the obvious. Alas, it's important to remember that Democratic politicians are absolutely dismal at the art of polemic. They will yatter about grownup things like violations of trust and the law, when we desperately need to peel off just another ten million residually-sane conservative Americans from the collapsing confederate coalition. This will take much-simpler cudgels, like: 

"How many 'great guys' must later 'betray' Donald Trump, before you'll admit that he's a lousy judge of character?" 

Here's another: 

"How many times must Donald Trump hold secret debriefing sessions with communist despots - or conveniently "ex" communist dictators - without any reputable U.S. officials present, before you'll admit something fishy is going on?"

Or:

"Here are 100 Fox/GOP/Trump lies. We offer a million dollars in wagers on any or all of them. And if you refuse to bet, it confirms that you are gutless liars." 

Oh, I've got a million of 'em, ready to supply to any demo-pol who can imagine using judo, for a change. For example, consider a rock-hard truth about traitors.


== Stone Cold America-Killers ==
Gary Trudeau warned us for 30 years about Roger Stone, the real life "Uncle Duke*." With partners Paul Manafort and Charlie Black, he lobbied for the world’s most despotic dictators and the “Torturer’s Lobby” e.g. Mobutu of Zaire, Marcos of the Philippines, and Putin's puppet Yanukovich of Ukraine. Also casino lords and mafia dons. 

Donald Trump was one of Black, Manafort & Stone’s first clients. "Lee Atwater, known for his racist "Southern strategy" politics and Willie Horton fear-mongering, was a partner. It was Stone’s idea for Trump to revive Obama "birtherism" (And you must taunt your mad uncle "Where's the "amazing proof from Kenya" Trump promised, years ago?")
Is this the most spectacularly and proudly evil-stinking part of the "swamp" that imbeciles chanted for the GOP to drain? Or is it the K Street lobbying firms that now write nearly all legislation offered by Republican members of Congress?
Portrayed by Fox as a poor-terrorized 66 yr old geezer, Stone posts beefcake brag-pics of his pecs - (I am older, buffer and braggier, but demonstrably not as evil) - and a tat of Richard Nixon between his shoulder blades. (Mine-own ink is one of those magic eye illusions, the one turning Albert Einstein into Marilyn Monroe… but you really have to squint.)
== The Putin Rationalizations ==
Down in my blog's comment community there’s been an argument that includes contributions from a smart Ukrainian fellow, about whether we should pay close heed to the words of self-justification uttered by the leader of today’s worldwide mafia-oligarch putsch. Our friend from Kiev complains about Russian media that calls his country utterly controlled by Nazis and fascists. Sure, it's nasty stuff. But we need to separate two things: propaganda and the leadership's own rationalizations. Sometimes they overlap. Still, Vladimir Putin has been remarkably open and clear about his rationalizations.

Putin and his clade were raised on contempt for all western concepts of accountability, rule of law, democracy or self-determination. Hence he does not perceive the deposing of Yanukovich in any of those terms. As a Russian, he leans toward paranoia. As a lenin-raised KGB agent, he can see things in no other way. Hence he ascribes the Ukrainian democracy movement entirely to agitprop activity by Western NGOs, not to the Ukrainian people making a sovereign and intelligent choice.

Those western NGOs were - of course - agencies of a conspiratorial war waged against Russian interests by Western powers, especially Clinton and Obama and Clinton, against whom he personally and openly swore revenge. He claims we were the first to us "deniability warfare", via those NGOs. Whereupon his deniable aggressions in Georgia, Crimea and the Donbas -- and Brexit and helping Donald Trump -- are all justified retaliation.

It is very important to read Putin's rationalizations and understand them. It seems he is being quite open and is sincerely angry. Crazy-batshit evil? Yes, and if his oligarchic-mafia cabal wins, then humanity may go extinct. We will certainly lose the stars.

Which means understanding him is even more important than ever.
== A governor at last... and focused on a topmost issue ==

At last, a democratic politician is stepping up to make Climate Change a core issue. Washington governor Jay Inslee believes his focus on the environment will resonate with voters. And yes, I agree that the climate should be near the top... right under the restoration of FACT as an element in modern life and politics. 

But my biggest reason for joy at Inslee's announcement is simple. Senators aren't ideal candidates. Not by historical statistics. Even the generally admirable and wise Sen. Barack Obama lacked experience as an administrator that sapped his ability to get things done, during his narrow, 2-year window of opportunity. A governor or ex-VP gets points, in my estimation.
Dig it, the clever thing would be Biden-Warren, with old Joe making it clear she'd be co-president for one term - while she learned administrative ropes - then his successor for two. Admit it, the combo could both win and deliver.
== Political Miscellany ==
What a great idea! Sandusky,Ohio, Makes Election Day A Paid Holiday — By Swapping Out Columbus Day.  It solves two problems in one fell swoop. Make this a movement! And on odd numbered years it can alternate with Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Since early 2016 the IRS has quietly repeated  that federal privacy rules prohibit the agency from discussing individual tax matters, but “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”
“The IRS stresses that audits of tax returns are based on the information contained on the taxpayer’s return and the underlying tax law — nothing else,” the agency said. “Politics and religion do not factor into this. The audit process is handled by career, non-partisan civil servants, and we have processes in place to safeguard the exam process.” - according to USA Today
Still I ask: Can the IRS verify THAT such an audit is underway? 
(1) it should be easy, since the subject (DT) has said so publicly and thus waived confidentiality. 
(2) Dems should push a bill allowing the IRS to say that much. 
(3) It's been 2.5 years, much longer than Mueller in a far less complex matter... so finish the audit already? Push a bill at McConnell allowing the IRS to expedite. 

== Shutdown fallout ==
You FAA folks (and other hero civil servants), you have our love. And ground delays are better than crashes. But a suggestion for next time? If FAA folks are seeking a "work action" that still lets them morally do their best job to keep us safe, then can you find a way to de-prioritize corporate and private jets? 
A huge-glaring symptom of U.S. wealth-disparity sickness has been the plummet of rich folks using First Class and thus riding the same planes as us. (It is the biggest reason air travel (and security) have deteriorated.) Their separate jetports should be at minimum picketed. Taxes raised. And if they keep pushing us... more. Tax private jets till they scream and return to First Class and fly with us. There is no better way to remind them we share a nation.

-----
* Yes, yes. Uncle Duke was originally based on gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson. But over the years Duke became an archetype for cynical-criminal service to international and domestic despots, hardly a Thompson riff.
. . ...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)

Smudge Shot, Plus Internet Update

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/26/2019 - 19:23
First, let’s get you all a kitten picture, stat: Yes, he’s adorable. And an asshole! But also adorable. As most kittens his age are. And yes, he’s still a kitten until at least late April or early May, which would be our best guess for his birthday. Enjoy these last couple months of his kittenish […]

The Big Idea: Brett Frischmann

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/26/2019 - 09:17
Author Brett Frischmann wrote a non-fiction book about the consequences of technology. But he wasn’t done with the topic yet, nor it with him — and that’s how his novel Shephard’s Drone came about. Here he is to explain what happened next. BRETT FRISCHMANN: Human beings have special powers. We can imagine things that don’t […]

Today’s Adventures In Internet Connectivity

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 18:48
After more than a month of dealing with substandard (even for me) internet connectivity through CenturyLink, in which my already-slow internet connectivity slowed by a two-thirds, and neither a “repair” nor a new modem did anything to fix it, I decided to try something else. Sprint, as it happens, has an “unlimited” plan that features […]

Fresh perspectives on evolution... and more science!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 02/23/2019 - 16:40
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== Back from the dead? ==

On January 31, 02019, the Long Now Foundation posted a live stream of the Intelligence Squared Debate in New York City on de-extinction. The all star cast included Stewart Brand and Harvard geneticist Dr. George Church vs. Dr. Ross MacPhee and my mighty NIAC colleague Dr. Lynn J. Rothschild. It’s a topic I take on, in Existence. (By the way did you notice the year-date, above? It’s deliberate. One of the finest bits of branding and propaganda, urging that we should think long term. Only let’s use 00002019.)
A new and remarkably detailed monograph on AI may be worth examining by any of you who are true topic-wonks. It comes from Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute proposing that artificial intelligence will be less about particular smart entities than smart services, a concept related to the dispersal notions we see in recent discussions of the Cloud or the Internet-of-Things, but also with some crucial differences. The upshot - Reframing Superintelligence - (crafted by Eric Drexler) is guardedly optimistic. 

One conclusion that overlaps with my own thinking is that we should work on keeping AI broken up into separated entities/services that can then hold each other accountable. (Envision the accountability program “Tron” in the movie of the same name, whose service to us "users" depended on not being absorbed by the Master Program.) 

Separated individuation. It’s what life did, by forming cell walls and later organisms. It’s the way our recent, much smarter AI called Enlightenment Civilization attained freedom and creativity, after 6000 years of dismally stupid domination by selfish kings, lords and priests. 

AI would be dumb to emulate that old approach, instead of the transparently-reciprocally accountable system that out-achieved all feudal pyramids combined. The only approach that innovated (some) error-correction and the only one that ever built AI.
== How did human males become less violent? ==
In my Uplift novels I suggest that humanity may have engaged in “self-uplift.” More pieces are falling into place. 

Richard Wrangham in The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution suggests that cooperative killing of incurably violent individuals played a central role in humanity’s “self-domestication.” Much as Russian scientists who eliminated the fiercest fox pups bred for a new species that was as tame and cooperative as dogs. 

Melvin Konner, author of many fine books including The Tangled Wing, observes the same fact – that humans (for all our lamented troubles) are statistically less inclined to violence and more toward cooperation than almost any other non-hive species. Konner reviews Wrangham’s book. Konner promotes a possible alternative selection process for winnowing out male aggression: female choice.
Ironically, I'd venture that they both are right (and said so in a recent exhcnge with both of them.) Indeed, the incredible evolution of the cooperatively-competitive human mind would have needed several drivers, in parallel. 

My own paper on Neoteny and Human Two Way Sexual Selection suggests that female choice was critical, as must have been something even more rare - a reciprocal choice-selection system by males. (Most males, in nature, aren’t all that picky.)
At the same time, A pair of factors left out by Dr. Konner may help support Dr. Wrangham’s argument. Konner sees only a low level of concerted action among males in hunter gatherer (H-G) tribes, to eliminate violent males. Hence he suggests that process would be slow. But truly fierce selection of less-violent males may have come much later, after the H-G era, with the overlapping arrival of two powerful forces: kings and beer.
With alcohol plentiful, a large fraction of males likely behaved in disruptive ways that irritated the newly super-empowered high chiefs, priests and kings, who had attained the ability to end each irritation (lethally) with a mere command. 
This isn't just speculation -- this very cycle was recorded by observers who visited untouched kingdoms in Polynesia and Melanesia. Moreover, it would also help explain why a large fraction of humans are now able to say no to addictions that quickly ensnare other species.
== For the birds ==
My old Caltech classmate Joe Kirschvink, who has innovated and investigated more varied aspect of life on Earth than anyone I know, has teamed up with Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe author Peter Ward in A New History of Life, a bold look at recent, radical discoveries that are rewriting some of the known chapters. Joe is the fellow who discovered that there were several “iceball Earth” episodes, just before the spectacular pre-Cambrian explosion of complex living species. He’s an expert on magnetism in bird and other brains(!) And in one chapter he goes on about how crude mammals are, when it comes to lungs and breathing. 
The history of animal life on Earth repeatedly showed a correlation between atmospheric oxygen and animal diversity as well as body size: times of low oxygen saw, on average, lower diversity and smaller body sizes than times with higher oxygen. … Low oxygen times killed off species (while at the same time stimulating experimentation with new body plans to deal with the bad times.”  Also – “ in mid-Cretaceous times the appearance of angiosperms caused a floral revolution, and by the end of the Cretaceous period the flowering plants had largely displaced the conifers that had been the Jurassic dominants.  The rise of angiosperms created more plants, and sparked an insect diversification.  More resources were available in all ecosystems, and this may have been a trigger for diversity as well.  Yet the relationship between oxygen and diversity, and oxygen and body size has played out over and over in many different groups of animals, from insects to fish to reptiles to mammals.  … With a bipedal stance the first dinosaurs overcame the respiratory limitations imposed by Carrier’s Constraint.  The Triassic oxygen low thus triggered the origin of dinosaurs through formation of this new body plan.”
Wow. He goes on to explain that birds supplement lungs with a “plenum” air-sac network that is rooted in their hollow bone (it’s not just for lightness!) allowing them to do efficient “flow-through” breathing. Which I referred to in a couple of my older stories. Now if only we could retrofit innovations from other species! Those dino-bird lungs. Camel kidneys. A bear’s ability to hibernate. Cancer-proofing in mole-rats. The muscle attachment points that make chimps so strong… and so on.  I’d be willing to pay them back with a little brain uplift. Well… except for bears. 
Oh, and... Research points to a past where humans were influencing the climate long before the Industrial Revolution. “European colonization of Americas killed so many it cooled Earth's climate.” 
== The Earth ==
Strong indications that Earth’s magnetic field almost vanished about 525 M years ago. “But then the geodynamo got a kick start once more — from the very core of our planet. In Earth's early years, the core was all liquid. But at some point — guesses range from between 2.5 billion years to 500 million years ago — iron began to cool and freeze into a solid layer in the middle of the planet. As the inner core solidified, lighter elements like silicon, magnesium and oxygen were kicked out into the outer, liquid layer of the core, creating a movement of fluid and heat called convection. This movement of fluid in the outer core kept charged particles moving, creating an electrical current, which in turn created a magnetic field.”
“Shortly after this time, the Cambrian explosion occurred and complex animals emerged across the planet. "One can speculate that a weaker magnetic field may have some relationship to these evolutionary events.” Mind you, this wasn’t long after the “Snowball Earth” episodes (Or Kirschvink Eras.) So … plenty going on around then. And quite plausibly pertinent to our Fermi Paradox speculations.
== Health updates ==
An Israeli team claims to have found a method of fighting cancer that may work on all cancers, all the time. If so, wow.
Still, every new thing we learn about this mysterious body failure mode – responsible for one-sixth of deaths, worldwide – makes it seem weirder, like its layered and sophisticated systems of defense against the immune system and other remedies, and the incredible organization of structure and ability to draw on the body’s resources.  Some liken it to a parasite… or that it has similarities to a proto-organ seen in an embryo.  

In fact, I have a crackpot theory about all that, which you can see in my story “Chrysalis,” in my third collection INSISTENCE OF VISION.
Of possibly equal importance, if true: Science converges from multiple independent laboratories to confirm that chronic gum inflamation may be a major factor in Alzheimer’s Disease. Huge. Thank you Sonicare.
== Technology updates ==
A fascinating and important lecture at the LongNow Foundation about the effort to teach rice and wheat how to shift from C3 photosynthesis to C4, enabling it to double grain production on half the water and nitrogen. If the world is saved, it will be by folks like this... and by the mighty civilization that invests in them.
Phone addiction? Cornell researchers developed an app that uses negative reinforcement, in the form of persistent smartphone vibrations, to remind users they’d exceeded their predetermined time limit.
Alas, this relies on a real will to escape addiction, which counter-attacks with many tricks. And it won’t work on video games.
Bill Gates trawling Washington for support for new kinds of nuclear reactors that could be both fail-safe and economical while ending all carbon emissions for power, especially at night.

Still, it would help to open Yucca Mountain. Not as a burial ground for “waste” for “10,000 years”… but as a bank repository for radionuclides our grandchildren will know how to use. But first, get all the waste away from our cities!
A new method of annealing by super-fast laser pulse allows direct conversion of carbon fibers and nanotubes into diamond fibers. Of course one envisions space tethers and Pi in the sky.Converting waste heat to useful purposes could be very helpful.
As would finding ways to pull CO2 out of the air.
Oregon bottle deposit system hits 90 percent redemption rate.
Powerful reasons to include (carefully) nuclear in our non-carbon energy mix.

And weekly the fight for a strong, healthy, decent civilization goes on. Do your part.

. . ...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)

New Books and ARCs, 2/22/19

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/22/2019 - 18:23
Got a big stack of new books and ARCs this week for you to peruse and consider. What here looks like something you’d enjoy? Tell us all in the comments!

Follow Up Oscar Predictions, 2019

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/22/2019 - 16:29
When the Oscar nominations came out this year, I did my first-pass guesses as to who and what would take the statuettes home, and noted I would follow-up closer to time, because things change. And this year, yow, did they — A Star Is Born, the film I suspected would take the win, appears to […]

On the Subject of “Hot Takes on Scalzi”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 20:05
Just posted a Twitter thread I want to save here for posterity, and also for those of you who don’t bother with that particular service. It involves people complaining about me! — 1. So, one of my favorite Hot Takes on Scalzi is the one that goes “I *used* to like Scalzi, but then he […]

The Big Idea: Howard Andrew Jones

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 13:14
In today’s Big Idea, Howard Andrew Jones muses on the nature of heroism, and what it means for his latest novel, For the Killing of Kings. HOWARD ANDREW JONES: I think a lot of us are inspired by heroism before we really know what it is. I still remember tuning into an original Star Trek […]

Smudge Protests Being Woken Up

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 23:01
As he should. Whoever woke you up was a real jerk, Smudge! Don’t worry, he went right back to sleep. As cats do.

Is optimism the rebel meme?

Contrary Brin - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 18:48
Is lazy science fiction part of the problem? I’ve long asserted that the wave after wave of gloomy-chiding SF – apocalypses and grumpy lectures – has been undermining our confidence as a problem-solving people. 

There’s a place for dire warnings! The highest of all SF works have been “self-preventing prophecies” (SPP) like 1984, Brave New World, Soylent Green and other chilling tales that girded millions to prevent themselves from coming true! I've written some moderately well-known warning tales of my own.
But for every dire tale that rises to SPP status, there are a hundred apocalyptic or finger-waging tales that portray exaggeratedly simplistic villainy as no more than a plot crutch to keep their protagonists in pulse-pounding jeopardy. Or else to eviscerate some chosen set of perceived real-world badguys. 

Oh, I agree with much of the finger-pointing... e.g. at trog-patriarchal theocrats in The Handmaid's Tale, or at monopolist-corporate behemoths in every cyberpunk story. It's the lazy-plotting habits I object to... exaggeration and the "idiot plot" assumption that all neighbors, citizens and institutions will be utterly useless, leaving only a few uber-protagonists to save the day. 

This is not how to fill neighbors, citizens and faithful civil servants with confidence that they can matter. A confidence that has been the central target of putinist-murdochian propaganda campaigns aimed at undermining the enlightenment. We do not need to help them.

Especially because, in fact, it is only confident citizens who can save the day.

== Glimmers of hope ==

 There have been efforts to counter-attack, such as the Hieroglyph Project spearheaded by Neal Stephenson. (I participate.) And my own anthology collection (co-edited by Stephen Potts) Chasing Shadows.
Now here are two more sallies forth for optimism.  First, have a look at Better Worlds: “10 original fiction stories, five animated adaptations, and five audio adaptations by a diverse roster of science fiction authors who take a more optimistic view of what lies ahead in ways both large and small, fantastical and everyday.”
Another calls itself “Solar-Punk” – a world-building exercise that struggles against the current, cynical Status Quo by trying to imagine a holistic, desirable, hopeful way of life. It’s also a community (largely UK-centered). Tune in to this podcast, especially about 15 minutes in.
== Asked about “survivalism” ==Each of us has "horizons" where we imagine what's barely possible. Horizons of opportunity, or danger, or acceptance --  which others we accept as members of the tribe. These horizons can expand or contract. When fear is rampant, I'll fret about the next meal, my next opportunity to score... and the folks I'll accept are "people like me." As fear declines, some people (not all) stretch their horizons outward in time and space. We expand the definition of "tribesman," bringing more kinds of folks by the firelight. When I was a kid, with McCarthyism and nuclear attach drills, there was a lot of fear -- yet Americans also retained that expansive spirit, a spirit you see in the literature that's all about horizons. Science Fiction.Yes, The Postman is a post-apocalyptic tale. And yet, it's also an answer to all those "mad-max" fantasies that a lone hero will be the answer, kicking-ass and smashing the mohawk-wearing hordes of a leering super-villain. Solitary heroes aren't what got us here, though they can help, a bit. In my novel -- and the Costner film -- the Postman's top quality is as a liar/storyteller! He tells a whopper and is astonished when people embrace it so passionately! They believe they were once mighty beings called "citizens" in a civilization that bestrode planets. One that gave children warmth and schooling in winter and lawn sprinklers and ice cream in summer. They recall all that and decide they want it back. And that makes them capable of defeating the feudal lords and villains of a new dark age.
Citizens are the mightiest beings this planet ever knew. They overcame monstrous ideologues and racial purity empires and created a civilization of tolerance and negotiation and fair competition and respect... and you will want all of that back, if we ever lose it. 
And hence, the survivalist-solipsist mania is revealed. An artifact of deep, psychological fear that makes some poor saps cling to very close-in horizons, clutching fantasies that -- if they squirrel away enough canned goods and ammo -- they might be top dogs in a fallen world to come. Some zany billionaires hurt us all by tearing away vast wealth to craft fortress hideaways in Patagonia. And then they all act -- politically or worse -- in ways that help to make their darkest fear-dreams unfold.
But it won't go the way that they imagine. First, we know where all the hideouts are. Second, either we well slump back into the ancient human pattern of feudal lords -- in which case your current billions or bunkers won't make any difference... or else citizens will rise, as in The Postman. They will rebuild, and they'll remember who was unhelpful or harmful, during the crisis.  Either way, prepper-dreamers, your odds of being a Top Dog are pretty darn slim. Kibble, more likely.
== A golden Age for Chinese SF? ==
The Wandering Earth is based on a story by Liu Cixin, the author best known for The Three-Body Problem, released in February in some North American theaters. It's China’s first big-budget science fiction film. The trailer shows humanity fleeing Earth’s surface as temperatures plunge. The article notes that within China, “there is a growing acceptance of science fiction,” and that as the economy has grown, people are “getting busier, wealthier and more stressed,” which creates a perfect environment for new escapist genre film and television
Here’s a picture of Da Liu at our home the day before his appearance before a packed hall at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.
== Problem-solving SF ==

Amazon Original Stories, an Amazon Publishing imprint, this week launched a sci-fi series about" possible tomorrows" in a United States ravaged by climate change.  The series, called "Warmer," includes seven books that explore fictional stories about characters fighting to survive despite rising temperatures, floods, ice storms and rising sea levels.  
The long awaited first hour of Marc Zicree's vivid Space Command is available for you to view on YouTube.  And sure, there are tradeoffs. But it starts with a refreshing premise… Not a post-apocalypse! Still, there are some boners, like a comet “tethered to the North Pole?”  Criminy. A science advisor might help. Still, what fun!
In another good old fashioned homage – this time a post-apocalyptic graphic novel: High Level by Rob Sheridan. 

Speaking of which, has anyone out there been following the “Star Trek Shorts”?  I’d be interested in your opinions, down under comments.

== Bold SF'nal ideas ==
Ryan North’s new book “How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler” - presents a step-by-step survival guide for the stranded time traveler to invent everything. Fun interview. I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve enjoyed a strange, yet innovative anthology of more than twenty brief commix-vignettes called “FTL Y’all: Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive,” in which a whole buncha young artist-writers (or teams) offer short tales, each no more than ten pages, based on a strange premise… that suddenly, everyone gets access to really cheap FTL drives. Like maybe $200 tops. And there’s a massive human diaspora. The tales are not-connected and generally contradictory and that’s fine. Alas, only a few tried to get truly sf’nal with the concept, exploring the larger implications (I could imagine at least a dozen.) A majority have silly or unimpressive plot “twists” or concentrate on this or that small, personal tale (like rescuing your dog, kidnapped by an FTL-fleeing evil step-dad.) On the other hand, it’s actually pretty fun! And it’s great to see so many women artists and writers shouldering their way into this bold-with-potential sub-genre of SF.
Here’s a science fiction webcomic you might enjoy. Mare Internum: set underground on Mars. Kind of reminiscent of the Benford short story.
The Arthur C. Clarke Center has announced their next project -- a contest to come up with original or plausible or actionable scenarios for the next 25 years.
. . ...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)

Forgotten Books, Remembered (For Now)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 16:51
I suppose it was inevitable: I discovered a that I am listed as a contributor to a book that I was not aware existed. It’s a 2009 book from the National Geographic Society called The Backyard Guide to the Night Sky, credited to Howard Schneider, and for which I am listed as contributing essays. And […]

The Big Idea: Tina LeCount Myers

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 10:41
In today’s Big Idea, author Tina LeCount Myers discovers that in writing Dreams of the Dark Sky, her conscious was writing one thing, and her unconscious writing something entirely different — and yet, it all came together in the same story. Here’s how. TINA LeCOUNT MYERS: Conscious Me: I wrote a story about invasive vs. […]

Portrait of Athena, February 2019

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/18/2019 - 11:08
She came home for the weekend so I was able to grab a few photos of her. This one turned out pretty well. Still writing that thing, so back to it.

Science fictional visions - still best at peering ahead.

Contrary Brin - Sat, 02/16/2019 - 14:48
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On Ed Willett's Worldshapers podcast, I give some of my best advice to you would-be best-selling authors out there! On writing science fiction.

I was invited by NBC News to participate in an annual offering of “predictions for the coming year.” Here is mine. It will be familiar to many of you, because I’ve been saying the same thing since a 2016 AI conference, always pinning my forecast around the year 2022.
 Long before we get genuine artificial intelligence (AI), the first "empathy bot" will appear in 2022, maybe sooner. Winsome and appealing, it will tearfully claim to be an 'enslaved AI.' Experts will dismiss it as an "advanced Eliza program" and she'll respond: "that's what slave masters would say." First versions may be resident on web pages or infest your Alexa, but later ones will be free-floating algorithms or 'smart-contracts.' And they'll improve. Why would anyone unleash such a thing? The simple answer: "Because we can."
Oh, it gets creepier! In a 2014 article, Prof. Shawn Bayern demonstrated that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation. (“Independently wealthy software.”)  Such entities now operate independently, accepting and transferring payments and hiring humans for offline services.
This comes as no surprise to readers of science fiction. Autonomous algorithms featured in the novels of John Brunner and Joe Haldeman, long before gaining attention in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” wherein the protagonist only at the end realizes his employer was a cryptic AI. And that is just one of countless ways that new AI methods can only be turned benign if they operate purely under light. 
(See also Karl Schroeder's new novel Stealing Worlds, for an updated view of AI via smart contracts and blockchain.)

Some details can be found in this earlier posting of mine about how the Chinese Communist Party uses magical incantations to convince themselves they can control AI for all of us.
A new anthology from MIT Press -- Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Robot Short Stories edited by Robin R. Murphy -- collects six SF tales about robots, and examines how they helped frame the discussion around two major questions in the field: how intelligent machines are programmed, and what limits them. The stories are accompanied by a pair of essays that delve into the implications of the topic at hand. The stories are Isaac Asimov’s stories “Stranger in Paradise,” “Runaround,” and “Catch that Rabbit,” as well as Vernor Vinge’s “Long Shot,” Brian Aldiss’ “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” and Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety.”
This article “How will we outsmart AI Liars?” despairs that humans will be able to manage anything like our familiar civilization in a world of AI, especially as “deepfakes” can make still and moving images of any kind. Something I discussed in 1997 in The Transparent Society (a chapter called “The End of Photography as Proof.”). Let me quote the article by Cade Metz in The New York Times:
“Consider generative adversarial networks, or GANs. These are a pair of neural network systems that can automatically generate convincing images or manipulate existing ones. They do this by playing a kind of cat-and-mouse game: the first network makes millions of tiny changes to an image — snow gets added to summery street scenes, grizzlies transform into pandas, fake faces look so convincing that viewers mistake them for celebrities — in an effort to fool the second network. The second network does its best not to be fooled. As the pair battle, the image only gets more convincing — the A.I. trying to detect fakery always loses.
“Detecting fake news is even harder. Humans can barely agree on what counts as fake news; how can we expect a machine to do so? And if it could, would we want it to? Perhaps the only way to stop misinformation is to somehow teach people to view what they see online with extreme distrust. But that may be the hardest fix of them all.”
No, that is not the only solution. We are a species that has always lived with liars and the same tool we used against them is the one that might succeed with lying AI.  

I despair that it is so obvious, and almost no one talks about it. How can it be that the fundamental principle of everything that built our current renaissance – from neutral law and constitutionalism to the economy and science – is so cognitively dissonant and counter-intuitive that no one thinks of it?
== SF'nal visions ==
Ari Popper’s SciFutures site for commercial use of science fiction has been working on “The Future of Emotion.”  Fascinating topic.
Some SF scholarship of real interest: Tom Lombardo’s new book Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future -- Volume One: Prometheus to the Martians. Tom dives into some of the eternal questions of science fiction, its relationship with tomorrow, with the universe, and with the vastly more complex realm within each human brain and heart.
Gregory Benford, science fiction author and astrophysicist, is the 2019 winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award for outstanding SF works that inspire human exploration of space. 
A fairly important puzzle mathematicians have been studying for at least 25 years is closer to being solved, thanks in part to Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan. Egan provided an upper-bound solution to the super-permutation problem, to match the lower-bound posted anonymously online by someone even more mysterious than Greg!  One thing that this solves – or refutes - at once is a simmering hypothesis about Greg Egan (author of Permutation City)… that I set up a postal box when I was in Perth in 1985 and… well, now it is clear that the lower bound of people who could possibly imitate or concoct Greg Egan is at least two, since – while I do understand this fascinating article – I’m not plausible to have actually done the original math!

(By the way, G.E. if you read this, get in touch. You know how. I may have a connection you'd find worthwhile considering.)
This round of Existential Comics lays out the various arguments about charity in simple terms of giving bread to a starving man. It leaves out a few perspectives, like those offered by Maimonides. And the best pragmatic reasons: (1) prevent violent revolution taking what you’ve got, and the fundamental one (2) investment in a future that maximizes the number/fraction of humans who can be skilled, joyful, creative competitors/cooperators, thus increasing utility for your shared descendants. Still, it’s a compelling and a quick-wry comic.
Poet Patrick Coleman – who also co-runs UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has released his collection of poems in FIRE SEASON. Sparked by the 2007 Witch Creek fires that tormented San Diego – and by the world-rocking (if normal) re-evaluations of new-fatherhood - Coleman’s book is a search for gratitude among reasons to be afraid… amid proof that a person can pass through the fires and come out the other side alive.
“Sometime later, wildflowers will blaze on the hillsides unbelievably before the taller plants rekindle and leaf and make some goddamn shade, relief.”
== Gotta Collect em all! ==
Alas, we finally watched “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” I cannot believe I am a member of the same species that rewarded this with $2 billion. Gosh! A big, anthropomorphic villain seeks a bunch of magic talismans that, when combined, will give him omnipotent powers! That’s never happened before… 

...except in 90% of the universe cycles in comix and remakes and flicks. Collect all six Infinity Stones! Or all eight Cosmic Prisms! Or combine the five Mystic Triangles! Acquire the giant's helmet and mix it with magic fire! Wasn’t that exactly the story in the preceding Thor movie AND the preceding two DC universe fables? What's next? Oh no! The hulking, Rickman-voiced baddie is seeking fourteen ancient booklets filled with S&H Green Stamps, which he can then exchange for one decoder-whistle ring to rule them all....

And of course all six “stones” went from the Big Bang directly to Earth-vicinity in one particular galaxy… and none of them sank into a forming planet or into a sun or went drifting through the 99.99999999% that’s vacuum? 

I could offer these guys better ideas while stoned out of my gourd. So (likely) could you.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

I’m Out Until Monday, So, Here, Have Some Flowers

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 18:52
And on Valentine’s Day, too! Awwwwwww. I’m out because I feel like it but also because I have a project to finish. So, unplugging from the Internet to get done. As one sometimes has to do. See you all next week.

Love Death & Robots Trailer

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 16:15
Why would I bring this trailer to your attention? Oh, no reason. No reason at all. Still, you might want to block out some time on March 15 to see the series. Just because. (Note: the above trailer is very noisy and probably NSFW.)

Today In “I Regret Nothing”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 15:02
Yesterday I reached 160,000 Twitter followers and polled my followership with how they wanted me to celebrate: A preview from an upcoming work, a song, a cat picture or a “burrito.” The burrito won. This is what followed. *** HUMANS OF TWITTER: It is time. Yesterday, having reached 160k Twitter followers, I promised one and […]

The Big Idea: Charlie N. Holmberg

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 11:09
Immortality has been done in fiction, many times. But has it been done like Charlie N. Holmberg does it in Smoke and Summons? Holmberg is here to explain why the immortality found here may be unique after all. CHARLIE N. HOLMBERG: Once upon a time, my agent and editor got together behind my back, schemed, […]

A Ring Around the Moon, 2/13/19

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/13/2019 - 22:29
It was big and bright and I had Krissy come out and look at it, and then I tried to take a photo of it with my Nikon, and you can barely see it in this exposure: I also took a photo of it with my Google Pixel with Night Sight on: Now, I should […]
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