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New Books and ARCs, 2/2/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 17:44
The books and ARCs keep coming, and this week we have a very fine stack of them. See anything here that sends a thrill to your eyeballs? Let us know in the comments!

Tech obsolescence? Universal Basic Income? And the Age of Amateurs

Contrary Brin - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:47
Thought provoking for the coming weekend: Stewart Brand’s “Long Now” reflections about which aspects of our world change rapidly... and which more slowly... and how this can help us grapple with vital issues, like education.
One from my own such list: About a century ago, John M. Keynes prophesied that rising industrial production would pour forth so much wealth with such automated efficiency that the forty hour week (just then coming into fashion) would be reduced to thirty hours, then twenty, as jobs were shared and and the working class got more leisure time. 

As it happened, there was a vast world out there that still needed to industrialize, and the West’s appetite for ever-more goods kept factories and mines etc. humming hard for all of those decades. Indeed, the developing world uplifted itself primarily out of the spending by Americans and others, of trillions of dollars on mountains of crap we never needed. A strange - and by far the most successful - kind of foreign assistance. And yet it never threatened the 40 hour week.
But there’s something on the horizon. A century forestalled, the era foreseen by Keynes seems about to dawn, with automation appearing about to render most kinds of human industrial employment wholly or partially obsolete. Indeed, many white collar jobs and even creative tasks seem prone to takeover by AI systems. Local production of goods and food may end the long chains of container ships crossing oceans, an ecological godsend, but perhaps tipping the world economy into convulsions.

Yes, there will be job losses... accompanied by vastly improved ability to produce anything humans want.
If the Keynes era dawns, then we’ll face decisions:
- Who will own the means of production and the cornucopia that pours forth? If it is a classic, feudal pyramid, then exploitation and unfairness are guaranteed, followed by revolution. But it needn’t be that way.
- Will paychecks be replaced by UBI or Universal Basic Income? Or else by giving every citizen a “share” in these urban factories and farms, so they can live off dividends?
- Either way, how will folks spend their time?  We are already in an under-appreciated era of hobbies, pastimes, avocations and amateur sagacities. There are more blacksmiths and sword makers in the U.S. today that in the Wild West or European middle ages.  In my novel Foundation’s Triumph… and separately in EARTH… I posited an Age of Amateurs, and it is already here -- almost completely ignored by pundits, economists and jeremiad-spewing pessimists.

But… will that suffice for all people?
- If all of this happens under the guidance of Artificial Intelligence, will they help us to design better ways for a better era?  And will we agree with those super-minds about what “better” means?
== Getting better all the time...==
A living human may spend a whole life earnestly improving. He or she may become among the wisest of our wise.  Then they die.
The one thing that can improve cumulatively... and after 6000 years of feudalism, we finally did start to do it... is civilization.  We are better, stronger, more perceptive and knowing and -- yes -- wise than all our ancestors. As the best of those ancestors would have wanted!  (Indeed, if they failed to make this happen, then that indicts them as unwise! The best compliment you can pay the "Greatest Generation" is to admit that they made America even greater, and then greater still.)

This rising path is not because of some leftist historical imperative. Nor is it the right's insane teleology of so called "cyclical" history. It is the result of several Enlightenment inventions like reciprocal accountability, that foster positive sum games. Those games mean that a civilization that outlives human members can grow wiser than the sum of its parts.
Fanatics hate this concept! They want the individual human soul to be the only thing that matters.  Zero sum. You get to be a lord or a peasant. You're "saved" or spend eternity in some sadistic hell. But if there are positive sums, then there is something better, greater, more important than one egotist's soul. That more important thing is... us.
I believe that. Hey, let's admit that I have an ego the size of the sun! And yet, I avow that I'm relatively unimportant. There are things worth dying for. And we are building them. Together.
One of you reminded us of a quote  quote from Joan Vinge, in her prize-winning novel "The Snow Queen."
"Indifference is the strongest force in the universe. It makes everything it touches meaningless. Love and hate don’t stand a chance against it. It lets neglect and decay and monstrous injustice go unchecked. It doesn’t act, it allows. And that’s what gives it so much power."
== Miscellaneous items of interest! ==
Your Biases: This site offers a poster of hugely important wisdom about the ways we fool ourselves. These are somewhat different than "logical fallacies."  They overlap, but are separate things. (The same folks offer a logical fallacies poster.)
Onalytica: This site specializes in tracking topics and traffic in order to trace who are the biggest "influencers" in each of several dozen fields.  Imagine my surprise when their influencer chart of Artificial Intelligence (AI) had a familiar face at the very center of the mesh.  Oh, this isn't the first group to reach a similar metric-conclusion about my place in the discussion.  I just find it rather... well... not entirely plausible!
Still, there's a need to rock any set of comfortable assumptions, especially in such an important field. And poking is what I do...  Let's all poke away! 
Poor millennials! Here's a good story on the millennials' challenges and economic changes. More than a bit whiney, but there are legitimate complaints. And yes, the ones I have met are better people than boomers! And yes, that is to the credit of boomers and X-gens! Because we were clearly great parents.
Forget doll houses! This New York exhibition offers miniature landscapes and cityscapes with moving cars and people and a variety of techniques.
The ‘500 mile problem’ is especially acute between LA and San Francisco. It will be a decade before the Super-High Speed Train is completed… or Elon’s alternatives get traction… and the airport hassle is nasty.  So a new company is offering luxury sleeper busses that deliberately slow down to keep the ride smooth and so that you’ll get a full 8 hours.  
This Goop Shaman cleanses your wardrobe of evil spirits. Some people simply have too much money. It's our duty to relieve their burden. The bigger picture? This was “wisdom” in 99% of the societies our ancestors lived in. Enemies of the enlightenment want to bring back this darkness… and not all of them are on the mad-right.  The left has its… (sigh.)
A philanthropy prize award winner Community Warehouse sells high quality, donated construction materials and staffs the operation with ex-offenders. Taking a page from Costco, the organization is members-only and offers low-prices to members, which include landlords in the neighborhood. Through its straight-forward operation, the Warehouse serves ex-offenders, the neighborhood, and repurposes materials from construction sites all while running a business near break-even.
Separated at birth? We all run into or spot humans who look a bit like us. Lots of folks used to comment on my (I think vague) resemblance to Andre Agassi. Now some say I’ve got “a total Peter Gabriel thing going on.”  PG is a hero of transparency who has funded Project Witness for decades, so that’s cool.  I wish I had a voice like his.
Proclamations of doom are perennial flowers which have sprouted in the garden of human imagination since earliest times. Oracles appeared whenever turmoil caused nations and peoples to feel uncertain about the future. From ancient Sumer, to India, to Iceland, astrological portents used to set off recurring waves of public hysteria. In honor of the coming (or not-coming) Rapture event... may I reprint an article of mine from the last century? It seems even more relevant today. Alas.
== And More miscellany of interest! ==

Here's a very tiny sampling of past apocalypse ravings. Maybe 0.0001%.  In case you missed the reason. Here's the latest silliness. There has got to be a way to corner guys like this into making a bet on it! Better yet, go to his followers and offer pet-care contracts... we'll take care of your pets after you rapture. But pay in advance!
Yipe! There actually are “after the rapture pet care” sites! They cover a whole range. This one is hosted by (they assert) rapture believing evangelists whose apparent sincerity is only exceeded by their stunning hypocrisy. They guarantee that their volunteers are unbelievers who won’t be saved… and who will nevertheless sign up to do this – without any vetting or listing of those ‘volunteers’ by location or any guarantee they actually exist. Never mind that. The trusting folks who register (for a $10 fee, kept by the organizers) can then dismiss all worries from their minds, content that some damned-but-generous atheist or Jew will slog across the apocalypse, with blood pouring from his or her eyes, to care for your cat (when there will be vastly more urgent calls for compassion, nearby), and do all that for zero compensation. Never mind that you prayed daily for Armageddon to bring this suffering to anyone not exactly like you. Rest assured that these vetted martyr-saints will handle everything for Fluffy, while dodging seven-eyed scorpions and Beasts and lion-horses…
…as stunningly depicted in this fabulous, terrifying/hilarious web comic by Patrick Farley.   

But… wait… what did I just call those volunteers? Could that mean what it seems to mean?
Possibly less of a scam are sites created BY the non-saved, who treat it as a business venture that can be enforced and supervised by the rapture-saved folks' Jewish (and presumably left-behind) lawyers.  
On a lighter note. Some of you may recall that GLORY SEASON featured – along with feminist genetic engineering and other marvels – a rustic version of Conway’s Game of Life. Here’s one more simulator to play with.
Now... rise up and believe again! Lovely. Procul Harum in 2006 doing “Whiter Shade of Pale” with a pops orchestra.
And end on a note of enjoyment. Entertaining…. Best stunts of the year.  And we’re supposedly decadent?   Age of amateurs, indeed. We are beyond amazing. We're amazingly amazing!
-->. . ...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)

Attention: Book Name Change for The Widening Gyre

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 13:47
The Widening Gyre, the second book in the Interdependency series, is getting a name change to: The Consuming Fire.  Please note it for your records. (Also note: The Last Emperox, which was formerly the tentative title of the second book of the Interdependency series, until I changed to The Widening Gyre, now The Consuming Fire, […]

The Collapsing Empire and Don’t Live For Your Obituary on the Locus Recommended Reading List

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 11:08
Any year in which a work of mine makes it onto the Locus Recommended Reading List is a good one (for me, anyway). This year, I’m happy to say two made it: The Collapsing Empire and Don’t Live For Your Obituary, in the Science Fiction Novel and Non-Fiction categories, respectively. How cool is that? Answer: […]

Talking About Writing Income, or Not

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 19:30
A question in email: On Twitter, you’ve linked to Jim Hines and Kameron Hurley when they’ve talked about their writing income, and you used to talk about your own writing income in detail. Do you ever plan to do that again? Probably not. For context for those of you who have come in late, for […]

Our dumb-as-rocks New Feudal Lords… steering us to Helvetia

Contrary Brin - Tue, 01/30/2018 - 17:37
Back from schmoozing with his fellow oligarchs at Davos, the U.S. President is about to proclaim his agenda at the State of the Union, presenting a picture of both nation and world that will be scrupulously tidy and scrubbed free of facts. But one core point of today's back-from-the-dead confederacy is likely to be left out, for now -- slandering the “deep state” – civil servants, intelligence agencies, the FBI and military officer corps. 

In fact, Donald Trump is likely to point at a few military heroes in the balcony, but don't be fooled. They were the last fact-centered professions to be attacked; but now it’s their turn.
For years I inveighed, we need a tsunami of retired officers running for office in every ‘red’ district in America – folks who are perhaps conservative by personality and demeanor, but modern and scientific, and hence willing to pragmatically negotiate for progress. And free of puppet strings leading to the busy, meddling fingers of oligarchs. It’s happening! 

Bless ‘em. Read about three women - graduates of Annapolis - running for Congress in reddish districts. One of them just scared off her Republican opponent, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who announced his retirement, rather than face her in November. The article cites some GOP candidates who are also former officers, which is fine by me! Let members of this fact-using, pragmatic, “deep state” community run as both dems and repubs! (I’ve linked to Col. McGrath before.) 
And so, before diving in to a range of political topics, here’s another example of why sincere professionals – traditionally deeply apolitical – feel they must step up. In an open letter to Congress on Thursday, a group of 17 former nuclear launch officers argued that President Trump “poses a clear and present danger to the country and the world” and warned that “there are no reliable safeguards” to prevent Trump from deciding to launch a nuclear missile on his own.
In fact, I have offered up the most logical way to protect the world from a presidential “spasm.” It’s very simple, though it would take some courage from at least fifty GOP lawmakers. Only look at it if you plan to seriously read and understand. It’s not for skimming. 
The alternative that people are bandying about – impeachmentis a trap! We are being deliberately led to it and this is not a recommended route out of our dilemma. In fact, there are worse things than a manic clown car. Far worse things.         == A gathering of gnomes ==
After delivering on his one actualcampaign promise, to the billionaire caste (“I just made you a whole lot richer”), Donald Trump seems to taunt the working class whites who called upon him to 'drain the swamp.'  Breitbart is a wholly-owned propaganda arm of the Mercer family, when Fox and InfoWars and Cato are all owned by other Davos elites. One gambling lord launders money from a foreign government through his Macao casinos straight into the Republican Party. Another just resigned as GOP finance chair, fleeing sex-abuse charges, but safely continues funneling favors to Trump, a fellow casino mogul.  

It's no surprise that one side of the ongoing civil war turns a blind eye to rising plutocracy. The confederacy was always a tool of feudal aristocracy, at every phase. In the 1770s, when southern tories were big supporters of the King, and the 1850s and 1860s Civil War phases, defending the property rights of slave-owning plantation lords.
== The one question that would expose every hypocrisy ==

The central question that not a single Democrat has ever publicly asked is “When do you MAGA folks envision that America ‘Great’"? 

Under the 'Greatest Generation' that overcame depression, crushed Hitler, contained communism, took us into space, cured polio and built a mighty middle class?
Fine, only dig it, those GGs knew the feudal enemy and they adored Franklin Roosevelt, voting in high tax rates that (surprise!) accompanied the highest growth and best-flat-fair capitalism in U.S. history. Sure, we’ll concede that our parents in the Greatest Generation accomplished a lot – like beginning the long struggle to cleanse our national heart of racism, sexism and other absurd wastes of talent. Led by FDR, their defeat of aristocracy and confederatism produced our ‘greatest’ era! And dismantling that modern American Contract has been the sole GOP-plutocrat aim since 1981.
Alas, when they met in Davos, theoe zillionaires did not do what I portray some of the rich doing in EXISTENCE - soberly discussing how to rule better. At least, better than feudalism's dismal record of 6000 years. No, these masters-of-the-world will hear the mob sharpening scythes, pitchforks and torches... and they'll do what lords always do: order sycophants to sing their praises louder.
Or, as Ken Fitzer  put it: Feudalism: When it's your Count that votes.”
Then there’s the story about the rich guy noticing anger simmering in the faces of the poor, so he tells the poor white guy that the poor black guy wants to steal his cookie. Same as it ever was.
== Are we “hacked”? ==
An important article by Roger McNamee - an early Facebook investor-insider - explores how the algorithm-led strategies of Google and Facebook made them inherently vulnerable to foreign hack-meddling aimed at wrecking our civilization:
“It reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery. This is precisely what happened in the United States during the 2016 election. We had constructed a modern Maginot Line—half the world’s defense spending and cyber-hardened financial centers, all built to ward off attacks from abroad—never imagining that an enemy could infect the minds of our citizens through inventions of our own making, at minimal cost. Not only was the attack an overwhelming success, but it was also a persistent one, as the political party that benefited refuses to acknowledge reality. The attacks continue every day, posing an existential threat to our democratic processes and independence.”

The author, once a friend and mentor to the CEOs of these brash companies, now has burned his bridges in calling for a national response based on veritable survival.  Let me add that the core problem of insularity and echo-chambers (‘Nuremberg Rallies’) that can be manipulated by cynical savanarolas is one that I predicted, long ago, in my novel EARTH (1989)

Remember: whether or not the Mueller investigation proves “knowing collusion” isn’t the point!  What matters is that hostile foreign powers wanted a U.S. political outcome, strove to achieve it, and got what they wanted. And they are still at it.
Though we must always calibrate! Jim Wright – whose Stonekettle blog is always lively and fascinating – inveighs that the word “hack” has very specific meanings that should not be muddied as we (rightfully) complain about and act against foreign and domestic meddling.  
“Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other platforms were manipulated to shift outcomes in Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, and unless major changes are made, they will be manipulated again.”
I consulted at Facebook, some months ago. One top piece of advice? “Get out of the news business.” Now, it seems they are taking steps.
== Action Items! ==
You should ask your congress-critters to support the Secure Elections Act.  “The bill reads like a computer security expert’s wish list.”  Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are key co-sponsors of the bill. Which makes me curious about this young Lankford feller. I mean, really? A republican senator supporting a reform that would eliminate a major GOP cheat? Of course it won’t pass this year. Murdoch and his shills know they’ll need every cheat to suppress to coming Wave. But could this fellow be part of the revival of sane-not-treasonous conservatism?
Truth is as vital a part of the civic, social and intellectual culture as justice and liberty. Our civilization is premised on the conviction that such a thing as truth exists, that it is knowable, that it is verifiable, that it exists independently of authority or popularity and that at some point — and preferably sooner rather than later — it will prevail.”  This LA Times editorial: Why Trump Lies dissects the problem when a U.S. president appears completely incapable of recognizing his own lies and taking even marginal pains to keep them consistent, or to not paint us - or even himself - into lethal corners.
The top confederate article of faith - rigorously conveyed on Fox - is: “repeating an assertion makes it so!” Hence the open war against all fact-using professions.
Alas, instead of bemoaning this, leaders and thinkers in Sane America need to think tactically and strategically. “What can be done to make the issue of “facts” a decisive weapon, instead of one more thing to whine about — *rewarding* the enemies of fact, as they giggle victoriously over our complaints?  Don’t any of you liberals and moderates and nerds remember the modus of Junior High School bullies? Who answered our appeals to reason with guffaws of mockery?
I laid down a way to do this. Alas, not one moderate or sane US politician or pundit has come anywhere near doing what has a real chance of working. But here it is:
The Times finishes wisely: Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.”
And thus they prove they are fools. You are asking that the folks in Sane America be what they already are, and implicitly demanding we continue to wrestle with the confederacy using Sumo, grunting and shoving by inches. Instead of shifting to Judo.

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

The Big Idea: David Mack

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/30/2018 - 09:45
What makes a hero? It’s a question that author David Mack had to confront in his novel The Midnight Front. It’s also a question he gives some thought to here in his Big Idea essay. DAVID MACK: Heroes are the ones who step up to take the hit for the rest of us. I know […]

Meet Keith Johnson

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 13:23
Over on Twitter, some foolish person posted the following question, which I will replicate here with all grammatical confabulation intact, because it’s necessary for context: As a straight male, how would u feel about your child having a homosexual school teacher?! Who their around 8hours a day ! This was my response: As a straight […]

Moon Through the Trees, 1/28/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/28/2018 - 18:19
It’s not quite the Super Blue Blood Moon, or whatever they’ll be calling it when it gets full in a few days. But it’s still pretty cool. And a nice capper on a good weekend.

Kristine, 1/27/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 01/27/2018 - 22:40
I think I’ve noted that the Pixel 2 phone takes pretty decent photos. Here’s an example. Mind you, it helps to have a good subject.

Opportunities and dangers in Space! (If we are even allowed to get out there.)

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/27/2018 - 21:00
Another space posting! We'll start with some news items:

Here's a great summary of the coming year's super endeavors in space exploration: the biggest rocket launches and missions for 2018 - including the launch of NASA's InSight Mars Lander and the Parker Solar Probe.
NASA has started planning a mission that would send a spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri system in... 2069. Yes, that's 52 years away, and timed around the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11's trip to the Moon.
Compare government’s ability to at least make small investments aimed at payoff on a century timescale… to the recent reduction of industrial R&D, eliminating nearly all the “R” and reducing Return on Investment (ROI) horizons from ten to five years… and now most companies' ROI horizon is more like five weeks. There was an architect to this calamity to western capitalism – his name was Milton Friedman – but an entire caste of vampires financed the architect. And we'll get back to that another time.
Oh, here's an interesting glimmer. What sort of atmosphere could surround each of the seven rocky, Earth-sized planets that orbit a star known as TRAPPIST-1? Several calculate as likely to retain theirs.  
== Politics of Space ==
Among the most puzzling aspects of our current phase of civil war has been the sheer number of issues that should be decided via rational negotiation over facts and evidence, that instead have become political dogma footballs and unnecessarily partisan. This plague of partisanship has even crippled decision-making over space science. I’ve earlier spoken of how Democrats and Republicans now differ diametrically over whether our near-term emphasis in human spaceflight should be on asteroids or a return to leaving dusty footprints on the surface of the Moon. 

More about that in a minute. 

Only now see how Breitbart and the far-right pundit-sphere is raging against SpaceX, the one rocket company that brought competition back into space launch systems, making costs plummet, saving the taxpayers hundreds of millions, and re-taking the lion’s share of commercial launches for America, while making all its parts and components in the USA. (The ULA’s Atlas uses Russian engines.)
Read how the Breitbart complaints actually have nothing whatsoever to do with Elon Musk’s company, and in fact prove the diametric opposite. But Elon is part of that Pacific coast tech-elite who earned their wealth through market innovation in new goods and services, instead of inheritance, Wall Street jiggering, gambling or sweetheart resource extraction. Hence, he is a hated member of the fact-using community. Automatically The Enemy.

Seriously read this! You’ll learn a lot about the tech and politics of rocketry. 
== What we must prevent – being “filtered” out of the galaxy ==

Ah, but can doom be prevented?
The latest fad among bright intellectuals? “Great Filter” fetishism. Based on the Fermi Paradox (the riddle over the apparent absence of extraterrestrial civilizations) and a few logical incantations, they conclude that such a filter must winnow out all tool-using species, before they can spread into the cosmos.  
And the most ‘popular’ failure mode they’ve largely glommed-onto?  The notion that “technology democratizes the means of destruction, until even small groups or individual lunatics will have it in their power to slay billions, or topple civilization.”
Now, to be clear, as one who catalogued the largest number of “fermi” theories for the longest time, I do rank a Technological Self-Destruction Filter as one of my top ten plausibles. But five or six others rank much higher, in my estimation. 

Sure, we should, as a society, innovate and invest to ensure that our odds improve!  And I argue elsewhere – in both fiction and nonfiction - that we’ll do this best by moving forward with technology transparently, so every dangerous loony knows that he is seen – not by an all-powerful state but by peers and neighbors who welcome positive-sum innovations, but quickly denounce negative-sum actions.  
I type all this with the Las Vegas mass-shooting fresh in memory. Citing the Fermi Paradox, "filterists" claim that technology is empowering individuals & small groups to wreak havoc. Thus, other species out there either clamp down, forbidding technology and democracy… or else some lone tech-empowered maniac makes them extinct. Either way, no one goes out to the stars. 
It’s a tenable hypothesis and worry. And sure, let’s start taking vigorous precautions. Still... those who claim it is the underlying Fermi explanation are leaping to an absurd conclusion. We – not Homo sapiens, per se, but this quirky-creative-accountable offshoot civilization -- are the counter-example! An open transparent society, empowers millions of citizens to spot each others’ stupidities and cancel many of them.
Elsewhere (and at several Washington alphabet agencies) I’ve described how the ratio of sane to insane practitioners of a dangerous, dual-use technology can converge toward overall safety. But demonstrably this can only happen in an open, and not a tightly controlled society.
And that (I believe) is a paramount answer to the Fermi Paradox. There is a way to skirt the filter of tech-driven self-destruction, but few species or societies ever try it. Instead of clamping with fierce, top-down control (the method prescribed in 99% of past/feudal human nations) we should stay true to the opposite approach that gave us everything. 
Including - for the first time - hope.
== Alas, the nuts are shouting on our "behalf" yet again ==
More on METI: I am cited briefly in this short essay arguing against any rush to make contact.Which brings us to the latest METI-stunt. “The San Francisco-based METI Institute sent its message toward the red dwarf star GJ 273 (also known as Luyten's Star), 12 light-years away from Earth. The message was sent in October from the Eiscat transmitter in Tromsø.” 
Now to be clear, I like Doug Vakoch, the METI-head. A nice fellow… and now a cultist, who has declared his intention to perform sneak attacks like this one, avoiding all proper scientific vetting, discussion or process, gambling our future based on questionable assumptions and assertions, some of which he repeats, despite knowing them to be utterly disproved. When Frank Drake sent the “Arecibo Message” in 1974 — a brief blip to the Hercules Cluster, he chose an objective 24,000 light years away, in order not to commit humanity to a fait accompli it might regret. But these fellows insist on praying for salvation from above, on our behalf, without ever consulting us.
In a Newsweek interview, Vakoch said: "Everyone engaged in SETI is already endorsing transmissions to extraterrestrials through their actions." Alas, he knows that is an utter lie
Ah, but are “they” already here? The latest – secret – Pentagon UFO sighting investigation team has been shut down.
To be clear, as I point out in my short story “Those Eyes,” the very logic of UFOs comes down as weird and suspect, especially in a world where the number of cameras doubles roughly every year.
My classic 1983 paper on SETI and “The Great Silence” – still the only full review article of nearly all the field’s basic concepts – has been laboriously translated into Turkish!
See the original. Surprisingly, there have been almost no new ideas since then, though plenty of heated opinion! Quarterly Journal of  Royal Astronomical Society, fall1983, v.24, pp 283-309.  
This site that links to many articles and speculations by David Brin about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

== The Moon, redux ==

I'm on the science fiction advisory panel for Peter Diamandis's X Prize Foundation, that has done such spectacular work using prize incentives to get teams working on difficult problems. Example, the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize stimulated advanced in portable diagnostic tools that soon will be available to latch onto your cell phone! 

Alas though, one of the most ambitious of these contests has (for now) gone bust. The Google X Prize -- luring teams to send their own lunar landers to traipse across the Moon without government subsidy -- has passed its deadline. 

I am sure it will be renewed and eventually win great success. Private efforts... and some continuing national science... aimed at the Moon is fine. Heck, I might be proved wrong!

Still, as many of you know, I do not approve of the fixation I referred to, above, of the Republican Party to spend nearly all our NASA budget on a "return to the Moon." There are no defensible reasons for such a boondoggle and zero foreseeable benefits to the United States joining a pack of Apollo wannabes chasing the ego-satisfaction of planting footprints on that dusty and (for now) useless ball.  

Even Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN and his way cool sequel ARTEMIS, avows that the only industry with any clear profit potential, down that lunar gravity well, is tourism.  Hence, small surprise that a hotel magnate wants to set up shop, down there!

As I've explained elsewhere, all the scientists and tech entrepreneurs and people who can sniff trillions in wealth want to go mine asteroids!  An eventuality that legacy Earthly mining interests are desperate to prevent. Think about how that might have influenced this GOP-loony obsession for the Moon.

Ah well... this was how I put it in a snarky FB posting:

"One of dozens of actions taken by the villain in the still-suppressed novel THE SIBERIAN CANDIDATE, to undermine the US and the West. We're living in a 2075 simulacrum holo-sim dramatization of that best-seller. I won't spoil it for you. But civilization eventually prevails. The moon is left to dullard Apollo-imitators while America gets stunningly rich on asteroids and Phobos and Mars."

It's a trap. Like every single thing done and said by the confederate forces that took Washington.



. . ...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, 1/26/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/26/2018 - 16:30
Some lovely tomes in this week’s stack of new books and ARCs. Tell us which ones beckon to you in the comments!

Producer’s Guild of America Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines (and Me)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/26/2018 - 10:30
An email just showed up asking if I’d seen to the new Producer’s Guild of America anti-sexual harassment guidelines, and whether I’d endorse having them implemented on any film/TV production I’d work on, or which was based on my work. For reference, here are those guidelines. My thoughts: The guidelines seem reasonable and to the […]

Art and Entertainment and Commerciality

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/25/2018 - 19:52
Chad, who is an architect, sent me this question today which I am answering publicly with his permission: I read a repost on Tor.com this morning regarding Ursula K Le Guin (rest in peace) where she made several interesting comments regarding “the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.” This is […]

The Big Idea: Brooke Bolander

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/25/2018 - 12:30
I taught Brooke Bolander at the 2011 Clarion Writing Workshop, and while I would dearly like to claim credit for her development into an amazing writer, in fact the talent was always there. It comes to a fruition in the novella The Only Harmless Great Thing; here is Bolander to explain how radium and elephants […]

John Picacio Offering Worldcon Memberships to Mexicanx Fans and Creators

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 22:21
Here he is, explaining it in a series of six tweets. If you’re eligible, feel free to apply. GOOD NEWS: As Artist GoH of @worldcon2018, I'm pleased to share that this Monday, January 29th I'll be awarding a Worldcon attending membership to four #Mexicanx. Hugo Award-winning author / International Badass @scalzi and I are each […]

Cheating, oligarchy - and an uneven playing field

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 18:49
Below, I'll weigh in in why it doesn't matter at all if some in the FBI or on Mueller's team dislike Donald Trump.  But first, let's talk about the great news being celebrated by the world's owner-caste, right now in Davos. Their biggest investment has paid off.

Now that the Tax Cut for the Oligarchy has passed, watch the pattern of the last several decades play out. The GOP controlled Congress for all but two of the last 24 years, setting new records for indolence, sloth and corruption, as respect for that institution plummeted and only cheats like gerrymandering keep their grip on power. 

But they are always hard-working - even manic - on one topic. They can be relied upon to deliver "supply side" gifts to their uber-rich lords. 

"GOP mega-donor Charles Koch and his wife donated about $500,000 to Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) joint fundraising committee, days after the GOP tax plan was passed... lowering the corporate tax rate and estate taxes....  He and his wife also gave $237,000 each to the National Republican Congressional Committee on the same day..."  

Drain the swamp? There have never been better days for K Street lobbying firms.

To be clear, some tax cuts are different than others. It would be harder to argue against cuts that were actually aimed at achieving - in real life - the fantasy goals of every Supply Side gift to the rich. When cuts are aimed to incentivize R&D, or investment in productive capital, or export sales or job growth, these things historically happened, resulting in economic stimulus on the "supply side." So why did this GOP tax cut (and nearly all of the others) do none of those things?

As Adam Smith described... and every sane economist knows... most plutocrats won't invest in such things, when they get a big new slug of cash. Instead, it nearly always goes to inflating "rent-seeking," passive asset bubbles. (Anyone notice the stock market? Or how passive rentier income was way-advantaged in the Tax Bill, over wages or innovation?) 

The top trend subsidized by Supply Side "reforms" -- after skyrocketing wealth disparity -- has always been ever-shorter ROI (Return of Investment) horizons.

Diametrically opposite to the long range view of guys like Elon Musk or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, who got super rich by working with engineers to deliber better goods and services.

== Real entrepreneurs know this... ==

Fully 50% of our economy derives value and function from the prodigiously creative innovation that Americans performed since before the Second World War. That trait defeated Hitler, ended the Depression, won the Cold War, built a great middle class and - more importantly - kept the greatest general peace the world ever knew. It made the U.S. so rich that we could uplift most of the planet through our ironically-beneficent trade deficits: buying anything the world wanted to sell us and thus transforming their nations, cities and lives.
It took us to the moon and made our existence vastly more interesting, putting all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips! Those who would directly undermine our national penchant for innovation are - therefore - at-best fools and at-worst outright traitors.
And you know that I mean the “T-word” literally. It is the only conceivable explanation for the Mad Right’s outright and open War on Science — along with every single other fact-centered profession.  There is only one reason for them to do that… to eliminate any competing elites who might counterbalance a return to 6000 years of feudal power.
New York TimesNow look at an article Lost Einsteins: The Innovations We're Missing, by David Leonhardt in the New York Times - which included a national map that uses one metric — number of patents per 1,000 children — to elicit obvious… well, just look at the map and see what thoughts are roused.
Now I have some reservations about the article itself. It hollers so, over the glass-half-empty that the author fails to note how full it is! This is the core insanity of liberalism. If writers like this were more balanced - giving us glimpses of good news, as well - then Fox & idiots would not control the narrative, so.
Consider this: right wingers -- and the prevalent Dumb Wing of Libertarianism -- sneer at liberal efforts toward equal rights for all genders/races etc. They deride this great project as based on sappy do-gooderism or else sanctimony. They style themselves to be the “practical” ones.
But what is practical about wasting talent? What could be less “libertarian” than pre-biasing a child’s outcome based on traits for which she had no choice, and thus preventing her from proving herself with accomplishment? Thumbing the scale so that the number of skilled/confident competitors is minimized? That was the trick of feudalists for 60 centuries, and shame on every faux-libertarian who justifies it! Even if Ayn Rand approves, Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek despise you.
There are many aspects to this problem, such as the failure of our leaders to stand up to those overseas who steal our innovations hand over fist. Some of that is to be expected - Americans were I.P. thieves in the 19th century - but the insatiably rapacious extremes of recent years are so predatory that they are tantamount to war. Tantamount to stupidity! Because the predators - unable to engender their own creative caste - are killing the goose that has laid their own golden eggs of development. And my biggest disappointment about Barack Obama was how tepidly he addressed that travesty.
Arnold Toynbee, arguably the greatest of all historians, said that the one trait shown by almost all nations that failed or collapsed was when they stopped investing and heeding their own "creative minorities."
Which leads us back to the glaring generality… that the wing of American political life that should care most about the health of innovative enterprise has become its worst enemy. Again, the recent Tax Bill wages open war on every single aspect of American ingenuity, creativity, science, R&D, and innovation, top-to-bottom, so systematically that its true author must have been some foreign despot.

== Prosecutors gotta prosecute... ==

As promised, here's the polemical point that no one seems able to make, in defense against the latest Fox-Mad talking point about the Mueller probe.

Does anyone in politics or punditry have three neurons to scrape together? Trump supporters scream “bias!” because some at the FBI, or Fusion GPS, or or Robert Mueller’s team may have - despite Mueller’s scrupulous efforts - displayed distaste against DT or even Republicans. “Bias!” Alas, Trump opponents should have a trivial answer - one that no Democrat or journalist or independent public figure has spoken, to my knowledge. That answer is… “So?” I mean prosecutorial bias? Horrors! … Um, *not!*

Dig it, our justice system - like markets, democracy, science etc. - is designed to be ADVERSARIAL! There is no need for investigators or prosecutors to be completely disinterested or impartial, so long as they follow well-know standards of conduct and eventually, before trial, subject their behavior to defense discovery and scrutiny. Eagerness to “get that guy” is their job!

Take Ken Starr, whose relentless pursuit of Bill Clinton cost the taxpayers upwards of a hundred million dollars, put the nation through hell, and finally came up with just one thing: a husband desperately fibbing about some consensual-adult 3rd-base infidelity in a hallway. That… was… it.

Sure, the whole Starr Chamber witch hunt was disgusting political theater, but among all the decrepit lunacies of that affair, the LEAST noxious one was “these investigators blatantly dislike the guy they’re investigating.” Starr and his pack committed innumerable lies, torts and even criminal offenses. But enthusiasm for their goal was not one of them. So long as a skilled defense team has full access to every action and datum… and so long as the COURTS are fair and unbiased… then prosecutors should certainly want to succeed at prosecuting.

All of the current, desperate confederate whining against Mueller et. al. is far beyond hypocritical. It isn’t remotely logical! And it is a sign of the microcephalic stupidity of liberals, that they are unable to pause, perceive this counter-meme - and a myriad others - and actually respond with knife-like logic. Caught between evil-treason on one side and stupidity on the other… what can we do?

Well, get more folks to subscribe to Contrary Brin!

== Addendum: Hayek would be so mad, by now... ==

I mentioned him earlier: How ironic that Friedrich Hayek is generally dismissed as an apologist for elimination of all market regulation, yet the liberal (leaning-Keynesian) economics site - Evonomics - explores Hayek’s views on both market theory and evolution with considerable respect. (Evonomics is also the one place, online, that most often studies and lauds Adam Smith!) In this conversation, several leaders in both economic theory and evolution start by praising Hayek’s revelations that markets are about information and how over-regulation is inherently fraught with errors that stymie the crowd- and open-sourced wisdom of markets.

Alas, Hayek thereupon was lured to the opposite extreme, as his arguments were used to justify elimination of regulations that kept markets flat-open-fair and competitive. If 500,000 civil servants are too narrow a clade to allocate economic resources well, then how is an incestuous, conniving-secretive and conspiratorially greedy CEO caste of golf buddies supposed to be more wise? Hayek’s criticisms of socialism applied cogently to Leninist regimes, but as these scholars point out, they’re much less meaningful when aimed at Norway.

“Regulations” that break up power concentrations (e.g. monopolies and duopolies) are not suppressors of competitive enterprise, but rather gave birth to its golden age… as our parents in the Greatest Generation well-knew, before those beneficial and stimulative regulations were chopped away by right wing “reforms.” (Followed by collapsing growth rates.)

Hayek’s greatest failing? His inability to refer to the other great enemy of market enterprise, feudalism, which wrecked far more nations and economies than poor, dumb socialism could ever dream of. A flawed and stupid system that wrought hell in 99% of past cultures, feudalism is rooted in human temptation to cheat, and it appears to be roaring back. And the shills who work for the lords are - alas - really good at oversimplifying and misquoting Friedrich Hayek.

The fundamental is this: if markets work best when the maximum amount of information (and least deception) is acted upon by the widest diversity of market participants... then LIBERAL policies that intervene to ensure all children get education, health care and infrastructure are best, not for “goody-two-shoes” reasons but for entirely pragmatic and Hayekian-capitalist reasons! And "conservative" policies that empower a narrow caste of 5000 secretive-conniving golf buddies are the worst enemy that free and creative markets could possibly have.

. . ...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)

RIP, Ursula K. Le Guin

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 21:10
The book I bought this weekend. The title is all too on point today. pic.twitter.com/Y4uAUGRdPR — John Scalzi (@scalzi) January 24, 2018 I’ve written a remembrance of Ursula K. Le Guin; it’s up at the Los Angeles Times. As I wrote there: “The speaking of her name and of her words goes on, and will […]

First Pass Oscar Predictions, 2018

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 15:06
Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences persists in nominating films and people for their “Oscars” award, which you may have heard of, and I, in a vestige of my time as a professional film critic, go through the “Big Six” categories and try to guess who and what are going to […]

The Big Idea: S. Craig Zahler

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:13
S. Craig Zahler writes and directs films most of the time, but the story of Hug Chickenpenny was one that called out for written rather than cinematic form. But Zahler found there was a theme that ran through his book writing efforts that ran through all his other efforts as well. He’s here to tell […]
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