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The Big Idea: Tim Pratt

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 13:11
When you get known for writing one thing, it can be a blessing and a curse — a blessing that you have an audience for your wares, but a curse in that you can sometimes feel like you’ve written yourself into a corner. Sometimes making a change in those cases requires a leap of faith. […]

Today’s New Toy: The Pixel 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 11/05/2017 - 23:10
My Samsung Galaxy S7 has been getting the crashies for the last couple of months, so that (and the persistent “new tech” itch I have) was a signal for me to move on to a new phone. I considered one of the Galaxy 8s, or the Note 8, but I’m not sold on the 18:9 […]

More cool science, especially space!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/04/2017 - 14:24
Before plunging into space... In an extensive interview, posted on Philstockworld and The Huffington Post, I am grilled on a wide variety of topics, from Artificial Intelligence to human history, from the secret magic of fair-competition to the honey-pot trap of symbolism, from our poisonous politics to the prospect of a 20 hour work week and the looming Age of Amateurs… all the way to our fast-changing notions of a “singularity.”

== Out There! ==

I was in Denver attending the annual symposium of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program. (I'm on NIAC's advisory council.) The talks were fascinating, re potential breakthrough projects that are just barely this side of plausible. The Symposium is available via Livestream.  
See a cool video about the Planetary Society's Project Lightsail, that will expand from a mere bread loaf cube-sat to 32 square meters and launch humanity (at last!) into the era of interplanetary sailing.
A trip down memory lane.  Back in the 1960s, some Brits perpetrated one of the best UFO hoaxes, ever.  The whole point of the hoax was for it to be taken seriously. "We thought the government should have some sort of plan if aliens did land. So we gave them a chance to try out whatever plan they had - but they didn't have one."
== Solar System Marvels! ==
Empty lava tubes on the moon are real, and could form a perfect place for early habitats… if anyone would want to stay for long on that sterile, resource-poor, dusty plain. Still, NASA’s NIAC program has funded interesting studies of how to get robots down there, exploring these tubes as potential habitats. Prove me wrong!
Breathtaking panoramas from Mars, taken by our loyal robot explorer as Curiosity rises ever higher along the flanks of Mount Sharp.

When the InSight lander launches to the Red Planet next year, it will contain the names of members of the public, and you can submit your name for it to be included. And I support this!  Still, read my story “Mars Opposition, - in my collection Insistence of Vision - to see a conceivable drawback!
I’ve long deemed Phobos, the largest moon of Mars, to be extremely valuable territory, an ideal staging and infrastructure base, even more-so if there are recoverable volatiles below the surface. Only now, news that its surface may carry intense static charge. Argh. Nothing is easy. 
Planetary Radio podcasts Science Fiction Greats at the Mars Society — Gregory Benford, David Brin, Geoffrey Landis and Larry Niven — about terraforming Mars, the origin of life, the drive to explore and more. The conference was held September 13, 2017 at UC Irvine.
What would happen if there were an accident on the moon? The Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competitions "… imagine realistic problems that could happen in the future, and how liability is apportioned and decided and who's responsible," explains Boggs. "Here on earth, obviously, different countries have different laws about what happens if I crash into your car or if I ruin your fence," she explains. "Well, what happens if I do that to you in space?"
This should not have been a partisan issue. Making a new space station in lunar orbit makes so much sense for the U.S.  And sure enough, because the Obama Administration (and nearly all space scientists) favored it, the Republican dogma became “to heck with lunar orbit!  Let’s do Apollo again!’ 

In fact, there are half a dozen great reasons to do a lunar orbit station; 

(1) test deep space expedition capabilities, 

(2) bring in asteroidal samples for examination, 

(3) lunar science from orbit… plus 

(4) a national defense use I won’t go into here. Plus 

(5) charge lots of $ for services to wannabe groups who are desperate to plant dusty footprints on a lunar surface that appears (at least for now) to be of no near term use to adults. (Which explains why Republicans want to join the silly rush to go back down there.) 

Now comes news that the Republican Trump Administration appears to have backed off its determination to cancel the cis-lunar station — because suddenly there’s an agreement with the Russians to share this station, like we share the ISS.  Sound good? Naw. It’s just more evidence of betrayal, because it will eradicate possibilities # 4 &5, while forcing us to share #2.  Let me reiterate: sharing the lunar orbit station is at-minimum stupid and possibly another sign of something much worse.  == And beyond… ==
Terrific discovery, sleuthing the missing baryonic matter (normal, not “dark”) and tracing much of it to hot, diffuse filaments between galaxies.
Voyage through the depths of the cosmos with the beautifully illustrated The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing, by astrobiologist Caleb Scharf, incorporating the latest scientific observations, theories and speculations.
Wow, ever-weirder planets. Astronomers report the discovery of a new ultra-short-period planet and summarize the properties of all such planets for which the mass and radius have been measured. The new planet, EPIC~228732031b, was discovered in K2 Campaign 10. It has a radius of1.81 +0.16/-0.12 R⊕ and orbits a G dwarf with a period of 8.9 hours.
So far, we have managed to spectrally measure the albedos of two super-Jupiter planets that orbit their stars incredibly close.  One appears to be deep blue in color while the other is blacker than asphalt.  Well, its sunward face is about 4700 degrees, tearing apart molecular hydrogen.  Wow.
Speaking of which, ah well. The secular and occasional dimming of Tabby’s Star appears to likely be due to a ring or rings of dust, not alien megastructures. Aw shucks. (Though part of me is glad.)
The U.S. Naval Academy has reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation this year, nearly two decades after the full class was determined outdated and cut from the curriculum. “It's the escalating threat of cyber attacks that has led the Navy to dust off its tools to measure the angles of stars. After all, you can't hack a sextant.” 
Spectacular new parallax measurements are mapping the other side of the Milky Way Galaxy.
== Wow. You are a member of a civilization that does stuff like this! ==
Now, for the first time, scientists have detected gravitational waves from merging neutron stars, using LIGO and Virgo. All of the gravitational waves that LIGO and other detectors previously discovered were from the mergers of black holes. When a star goes supernova, its material collapses to form a dense core. If this core is massive enough, it may form a black hole, which has such a powerful gravitational pull that not even light can escape. A less massive core will form a neutron star.
Black holes are denser than neutron stars, so the signals from their mergers are relatively brief. "Previously detected black-hole mergers lasted for a second, maybe two seconds. This latest event lasted nearly a whole minute."
By working quickly, astronomers used both conventional and gravitational-wave observatories to watch the same event: the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational-wave source. In contrast, black-hole mergers are not expected to produce any light, which means conventional telescopes cannot detect them. Here's a fascinating description of the science learned so far - and in the near future - from the recent gravitational wave detections.

Now... something small, for the record. Next time I see Kip Thorne, I mean to ask him: does LIGO ever detect "events" that seem too narrow in frequency and too brief or lacking in lateral beadth to be noteworthy? Maybe strangely weaker at one LIGO station than the other? See my novel EARTH for a weird explanation!  Just sayin'...
== The METI cult keeps rearing its silly head ==
My friend Douglas Vakoch is a great guy… with an unfortunate obsession. Not his passion to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) but his eagerness to beam “messages” (METI) without pausing to address the concerns of colleagues and the public.  Alas METI has taken on many of the traits of a cult, including utter dismissal of all criticism and contemptuous dismissal of smart colleagues, or any duty to the public. In this case, Doug shrugs off Stephen Hawking’s concerns with a blithe paragraph-incantation — one that has been refuted decisively over and over again.
“It’s the fact that every civilization that does have the ability to travel to Earth could already pick up I Love Lucy. So we have been sending our existence into space with radio signals for 78 years. Even before that, two and a half billion years, we have been telling the Universe that there is life on here because of the oxygen in our atmosphere. So if there’s any alien out there paranoid about competition, it could have already come and wipe us out. If they’re on their way, it’s a lot better strategy to say we’re interested in being conversational partners. Let’s strike up a new conversation.”
“Sometimes people talk about this interstellar communication as an effort to join the galactic club. What I find so strange is no one ever talks about paying our dues or even submitting an application. And that’s what METI does,” Vakoch said. “It’s actually contributing something to the galaxy instead of saying gimme gimme gimme me. What can we do for someone else.”

What malarkey! Many of us have discussed every single one of these issues. In EXISTENCE I cove... let's see... all of them. Indeed, Alan Tough's "Invitation to ETI" site did this long ago, as Dough well knows. As does my own contribution to that "invitation." The reason Doug and his colleagues so strenuously avoid thorough, open, public and collegial vetting of their cult project is simple: they know these rationalizations would not survive.
John Michael Godier’s well-researched YouTube channel podcasts about a wide range of science and science fictional concepts. For example, this two parter about the concept of “uplift” done in conjunction with Isaac Arthur.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 11/3/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 16:24
Somehow, the books find me! (It’s actually because the publishers send them to me. It’s a pretty sweet deal.) Lots of good stuff in this stack; let us know in the comments which of these books seem especially interesting to you on this Friday afternoon (or, uh, later, if you see this later).

Rocket Man (Thumpy Asteroid Mix)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 23:04
I recently picked up Reason 10, which is a music creation software suite, mostly because I thought it would be fun, in my voluminous free time, to make some music. The software is pretty complex and almost certainly more than I can handle, particularly now when I’m actually finishing up a book; nevertheless I made […]

Satire, dares and wagers -- in a war against facts

Contrary Brin - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 21:11
== Laugh… because it hurts ==
The Onion can make you cry, when the humor is so on-target.
Har! If only! We are counting on the Supreme Court to save us. Which means the superhero Anthony Kennedy.
Study Finds First Life Forms Migrated To Earth Via Interplanetary Land Bridge.
And (faux but accurate) quoth Paul Ryan: “This Shooting Isn’t About Gun Control We Refuse To Pass, It’s About Access To Mental Health Care We’re Continuing To Gut.”
And in what should have been satire… So it turns out the one thing that Fox-ists had that was factual, offering any evidence at all that the Obama Administration was out to get them, was a chimera, after all. After multiple investigations, inspectors found as many liberal-leaning groups were targeted for IRS attention as conservative ones. All the rest was paranoid fantasy, like black helicopters and lib’tards coming for yer guns.  
== ...and hence, today's theme is... ==
Demand wagers! See the latest hysterical conspiracy theory, that this Saturday all the liberals will secretly, and in perfect-competent unison, pounce  on all American conservatives, in a Night of the Long Knives. Say... wha...?
There is only one way to defeat conspiracy-addict loons. Not one dire prediction about Obama's concentration camps for white people, run by UN black helicopters spraying alien-vegan contrail tofu while confiscating all the guns ever came true, even symbolically: hundreds of thousands of ravings! Sure, pointing that out only stokes their hatred of all facts and fact-people. But there is one method I've found: demand wagers! These confeds make bar-room bets all the time. It is the last place where they admit facts do matter.
"If you're so sure of your latest fantasy, and willing to torch the nation over your certainty, then put money down! Collect MY money when Alex Jones proves right! About anything. Ever!" 
These good ol' boys have a name for a coward who yowls utter certainty, but shrinks back from putting money on it. And a worse name for someone who doesn't pay up.
Watch and laugh as your crazy uncle scuttles back and finds excuses. Oh sure, you won't make any money, but ... his wife is listening, quietly. And your aunt has a vote.
I'll get back to this theme, below... but first....
== Examples ==
Masha Gessen’s latest book about Vladimir Putin’s Russia: “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” is ambitious, timely, insightful and unsparing. See it reviewed in The Washington Post.

Trump To Values Voters: In America 'We Don't Worship Government, We Worship God'Um, maybe. But when it comes to governance, you worship inherited plutocracy. No GOP policy doesn't serve the modern plantation lords.  
What the founding fathers actually meant... An interesting, though certainly political, look at what gun laws were like in England and the American colonies and early in the republic. Claims of historical justification for “stand your ground” and open or concealed carry are, at-best, highly flawed.
Struggling to keep offering rationalizations for a shattering conservative alliance, the Worst Man in America keeps at it. “Democrats are the real abortion extremists.” Catering to the Confederate need for anecdotes and symbolism, and hatred of facts or statistics, George F. Will helps to maintain the outright lie that Democrats and liberals and leftists and all that mélange are as dogmatic, purist and crazy as conservatives have become. But he knows that’s not true. For every anecdotal far-lefty crazy (and I freely avow there are enough to leave a noxious stink) there are hundreds of moderate and reasonable American fact-loving pragmatists who know that protecting abortion rights should be accompanied by concerted efforts at education and health that will make abortion rare.
== Dares and wagers! ==
Okay so back to today's topic. Jiminy.  Donald Trump raves about his “high IQ” 22 times. Please, oh I dare you to submit to a test set by neutral parties and not a sycophant. In fact, where is the Trump opponent who consistently maintains an “I dare you!” site?  
Oh, you shills for oligarchs and New Feudal Lords… all you have is anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes, and more anecdotes.
Now let's try statistics and facts. Name for me one unambiguous statistical metric of U.S. national or economic or middle class or even military health that could be both attributed to GOP policies and that markedly improved across the spans of either Bush administration.  One... at all. Nearly all such metrics plummeted - and steeply - across the span of both Bushite regimes.
More than half of such metrics improved - especially for the middle class, but also all economic measures and yes, military readiness - under Clinton and Obama. These are hard outcomes, not anecdotes, and outcomes should matter to pragmatic adults. Outcomes like small business startups, entrepreneurship and other health signs of capitalism that ALWAYS plummet under GOP rule. Also military readiness, which was 100% for all units under Clinton and plummeted to 0% under Bush and is now back above 50%.
Conservatives should care about all of those things.  One sign of a rigid mind is to ignore facts and outcomes in favor of dogma.
As your first wager, demand that your crazy uncle name one exception. One  fact using professions not warred upon by the Fox cult. A list that ranges from scientists, teachers, journalists, doctors, civil servants etc... now all the way to the FBI, Intelligence agencies and other "deep state" enemies of the confederacy, including the US military officer corps. Have him name one exception.  Dare  him to name one!

One. Even one.  Just one.
== International ==
Reports The Guardian: Saudi authorities have taken an “unprecedented” step to tackle Islamic extremism by setting up a council of scholars to vet religious teachings around the world.”  
   Yeah?  I’ll believe it when your textbooks for children aren’t state secrets, because of all the “death to Jews and infidels” stuff therein. When the madrassas you finance around the world stop preaching hatred. When radicals like ISIS and Taliban stop importing Saudi textbooks for their own schools, scratching out and replacing just a few paragraphs here and there supporting the monarchy, but accepting the baseline Wahabbism as paramount. And when you stop waging war against America and its values through your well-paid shills and politicians on the US right.
Putin says Americans should not disrespect Trump: "the president of the United States does not need any advice because one has to possess certain talent and go through this trial to be elected, even without having the experience of such big administrative work."
==  The war on expertise and knowledge and facts ==
I'll repeat till I am blue in the face. This is the one issue they cannot evade! Their all out war on all folks who know stuff.

“There has always been a disturbing strand of anti-intellectualism in American life… but never has an occupant of the White House exhibited such a toxic mix of ignorance and mendacity, such lack of intellectual curiosity and disregard for rigorous analysis (despite his untested boast that his IQ is “one of the highest,” certainly higher than Obama’s and a host of other worthies’).” writes Ariel Dorfman in Trump's War on Knowledge.
“The experts are terrible,” Donald Trump said during his campaign. “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” … except, that it’s another lie. Almost every measure of national and international health, peace, prosperity etc has improved and guess what, the folks who know stuff actually know stuff.

Yes, America’s lower middle class has felt things slip. But the villains are the Rupert Murdochs, Robert Mercers and Donald Trumps who are rebuilding feudalism. Read this article! 

Then parse the right’s central mythos! It goes like this:

We all know that: "Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn't automatically make them wise."

But after 25 years of Fox hypnosis, this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:
"Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise."
I am astonished it’s not been clearly and openly elucidated. The first statement is true. The second - jibbering loony - is now a core catechism of the confederacy.

== for more on the war against fact users... ==

 See Tom Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.
Of course, blatantly, the average person who has studied earnestly and tried to understand is wiser (again, on AVERAGE) than those who deliberately chose to remain incurious and ignorant. When cornered, even the most vehement alt-righter admits that. But cornering them takes effort.

Hatred of universities and people with knowledge and skill now extends from the war on science to journalism, teaching, medicine, economics, civil servants… and lately the “deep state” conspiring villains of the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps.
This bedlam serves one purpose, to discredit any “elites” who might stand in the way of a return to feudalism by the super rich, which was the pattern of 6000 years that America rebelled against. The Confederacy has always been a tool to restore feudalism. only this time it has done what it could not do in the 1860s. Taken Washington.
Trump is not the disease, he is a surface symptom.
Concluding this section… I wouldn’t put things the way my dear friend Harlan Ellison puts it, below. In fact, I never put things the way Harlan does. No adult would. But his brilliance is always at work:
I have to admit to being an elitist, I'm sorry. You know, one of the few things you can be arrested for is being an elitist. You can run around the street saying God is dead, and people won't like you, but you're not going to be hated. You can preach the violent overthrow of McDonald's and you'll get away with it, but all you have to say is that, in fact, there are some people who are better than others, and it has nothing to do with race or ethnic background or color or anything like that. What it has to do with is who's got the brains.”--Harlan Ellison
Just so we’re clear… The UK Brexit campaign was also a war on expertise.
== The Fact-Compiler ==
Plop your beloved confederate aunt and uncle down before a TV and have them sit through a complete Rachel Maddow segment. Promise you’ll sit through an equivalent amount of Hannity! And compare the ratio of lies. Pick and choose. Maddow is always cogent and fact-filled, but once a week or so, she absolutely kills. In this one (October 19) she connects the dots showing one reason why four American soldiers died in Niger, and why then the President strenuously ignored and then distracted from it. And yes, it is worse than Benghazi.
Only when Maddow calls the precipitating event "inexplicable," consider that most decisions made by this administration have an explicable root... orders from Moscow.  . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Weinstein, Ratner, Toback, Etc

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:46
Another day and another dude in the entertainment industry accused of sexual assault and harassment: Today it’s Brett Ratner, who six women accused of impropriety in a Los Angeles Times article, including actress Natasha Henstridge, who recounts an encounter two decades ago that basically amounts to rape, and Olivia Munn, toward whom Ratner has been pretty […]

Doing My Part for ACA Open Enrollment Awareness

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 09:18
Reposting here a tweet I just made: Hello. The current administration is trying really hard to make sure you don't know you have access to good, affordable health insurance. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) November 1, 2017 For those of you who can’t see the tweet for whatever reason: It’s ACA Open Enrollment time! The […]

Two Years of Scamperbeastery

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 08:35
Two years ago on this date Krissy, Athena and I went over to a neighbor of my mother-in-law’s with the intent of getting a kitten from a litter his cat had birthed. We ended up getting two, since they were small and also the kittens had clear affection for each other. The kittens became the […]

Plausible Deniability: How we'll be attacked, unable to retaliate

Contrary Brin - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 23:16
== Using a tantrum toddler to do your dirty work ==
Okay, bear with me, because there are a couple of vital matters of international security that may be ill-considered. Let's start with the elephant in the room -- the clear fact that is likely to lead to major war:

The brutal North Korean regime is subsidized and propped up by its neighbors to the north and west. But consider...
(1) Vladimir Putin’s carefully crafted anti-western alliance now stretches from Ankara to Manilla, combining Islamist regimes with mafia-oligarchies, with Orthodox-church/czarist-nostalgists, with a few communist politburos. The common thread is not socialism or religion. It is a fear-driven hatred of the West’s positive-sum dynamism and the rule of law. The common themes are 'traditionalism' and absolute power. (See below where this is verified in a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency.)
(2) War drums may seem to have shifted toward North Korea, but I would still bet on Iran. The confluence of forces who want a U.S.-Iran war is still huge: The whole alt-right community, the Saudis, some Israelis, Trumpists seeking a foreign distraction that won’t involve nukes… plus the Iranian mullahs, who would shrug off a few hundred pippety Tomahawk hits, but use them as an excuse to crack down on Tehran’s millions of modernist youths. The biggest winner would be Vladimir Putin, who would profit from rocketing oil prices and also extend his protective umbrella and thus get the Persian satrapy sought by Russian despots since Catherine the Great. With so many winners, eager for this “war,” can it be avoided?

Note that U.S. military leaders, who would have to do the fighting, want no part of this!
(3) Meanwhile turning back to North Korea, the mad Pyongyang regime offers a way for this axis to stab hard at the West, someday, while the real players are protected by a cloak of plausible deniability

What does that mean? Consider how some EMP attack over North America, or a virus/plague might be attributed to the Kim regime, damaging us severely, but with the potemkin mask of North Korean culpability taking all the retaliatory heat.
The state next-door has already proclaimed that they will 'defend NK from hostile actions,' unless the violence is initiated by Pyongyang, in which case they will be “neutral.” 

Ponder that carefully. How can this be anything other than a set up for plausible deniability? Meanwhile, Putin’s U.S. “asset” is busy breaking up the western alliance, while bringing us down to Kim’s level of kindergarten tantrums.
Okay, dismiss this as a crackpot theory (it's my job to explore under-appraised concepts.) But here's possible confirmation to watch out for. Our intel services should be tracking CRINK spy ships in the Pacific.  If such vessels are ever seen converging toward some stretch of international water - or possibly Hawaii or Guam - then we might expect an NK H-bomb to be tested in the center. While the CRI nations denounce it, the test will give them all the data they need, in order to fine-tune the EMP we should have spent 20 years preparing-for.
== The Putin Doctrine ==

David Ignatius lays bare the underlying focus of Vladimir Putin's alliance, discussing the potential scope of Russia’s cyber-operations, as highlighted in a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, “Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations.” Its conclusion: “Russia views the information sphere as a key domain for modern military conflict . . . critically important to control its domestic populace and influence adversary states.”
Among the major themes of Russian propaganda, the DIA says, is this message: 
“The West’s liberal world order is bankrupt and should be replaced by a Eurasian neo-conservative post-liberal world order, which defends tradition, conservative values, and true liberty.”

Note that the behavior of Putin's Czar-worshipping, Russian Orthodox + mafia oligarchy state is little different than the old Soviet Union, proving that national character - in this case feudalism and paranoia - matter far more than superficialities of dogma. Yet, our confederate right adores this Kremlin, because it has befriended our own feudal lords.
Make no mistake, this Kremlin wants to end us, no less than Khrushchev intended to "bury" the Western Enlightenment Experiment.
== Second topic: cyber security ==

Since 1995, I’ve said our emphasis is all wrong. There is no such thing as a secure system that’s connected to the world. All declarations of cyber-safety later prove false. Witness recently Equifax losing 140 million identifiers and Yahoo losing security for 23 million accounts. 

Stop expecting the next security method to work! It will fail. They will fail. All of them, because it is inherently impossible to dam-up something that is duplicable at zero cost.
Yes, some things merit careful protection, over short terms. Password/ID systems. Industrial methods and core IP. Intelligence sources. These crown jewels would be more secure if we stop trying to defend impossible boundaries. 
Example: Most of the information about 140 million Americans that was stolen from Equifax is not inherently harmful: names, birthdates, social security numbers, mortgage numbers and amounts… most of these data are public and open record in Estonia and Scandinavian countries.  Because they cannot be changed, they are inherently IDENTIFIERS  and not PASSWORDS. As I explain in The Transparent Society, identification pointers can only harm you if they weren’t being used properly, in the first place.
Passwords are vastly more important, but even they are obsolete. The banking industry has been almost criminally lazy and late in realizing what their true, 21st Century role will be - using biometrics to verify customer identity. (One bank hired me as a consultant and they will leave the others in a cloud of dust.)
== What is fundamental ==

Every time I speak at a security agency I emphasize one fundamental. That all enemies of the Western Enlightenment Experiment (WEE) are lethally allergic to light. 

Hostile states, criminal gangs, market cheaters… all of them would suffer in a more open world.  In contrast, the Snowden/Assange/Wikileaks events—  and this leaky White House — show us that light will at-worst only irk or inconvenience the WEE. 

More generally - (and I allow for tactical exceptions) - light only makes us and our systems work better. 
Ponder that again. The WEE nations finds light bracing and improving. All of our enemies find light lethally toxic! Is it possible you don't see what this means?

It means that our one and only victory condition is a more open world

We need some secrets! Some cyber security, and tactical shadows for military, intel etc professionals to use, in daily struggles. Citizens deserve privacy, while knowing the inevitable leaks won't do them palpable harm. Nevertheless, any overall trend toward worldwide transparency favors our side in this clash of civilizations. 

If we give in to the temptation of shadows, they’ll be better at it! And we’ll lose.
== About drone warfare ==

Much has been said about how the use of drones in warfare has reduced killing to a video game. And sure, that's a danger we should always watch for and science fiction does warn us, repeatedly. But we are not there. 

Skip to near the end of this article to see that it’s in fact the very opposite situation for the men and women operating drones from their base near Las Vegas.  Unlike jet pilots, they linger and observe whole villages for sometimes weeks.  They know it’s people – even when it’s a deadly enemy who must be taken out. The sci fi expectation of dehumanization was diametrically wrong.
== Hidden Wealth ==
Do they actually think this won’t end badly for them? Here is an example of what the insatiable, would-be New Lords of the world are doing. Using their wealth to turn Zurich airport into a non-national zone where they can store vast wealth, like 100,000 art works, without ever having to show any of the items or account for the trades even to Swiss authorities. Not. even. to. SWISS. authorities.  Think about that one.
To be clear, the billionaires who earned their wealth – by either inventing/creating or helping others to invent/create wondrous new goods and services – generally want no part of such shenanigans. They are the living arguments for incentivized-competitive and relatively flat-fair-competitive enterprise. (Actual, AdamSmithian 'capitalism' is one of the foremost victims of conspiratorial oligarchy.) I would bet plenty that most of those trading purloined art in this Zurich-airport palace of greed never created a damned thing. They let sycophants tell them they are geniuses and inherently superior, as feudalists have always done. Read EARTH to see where this ends.

Or else, in Existence, see a chapter describing what smart New Lords might do, to avoid the almost universally stupidity of past feudalisms.
Oh, but one of you points out: “Geneva Freeport sounds like the perfect setting for a classic heist movie! Billions in assets, much of it easily tradable like gold and jewels, stored in a single handy location.”
Great idea. Only, all you have to do is steal it from one part of the structure and put the items in another part of the same building! Hey, get my agent on phone.
And some good news...Fascinating how cleverly and well poor people in Kenya are using the cash that they save, especially in the villages where charities are experimenting with direct giving.  Elsewhere I have written about how Kenya’s M-pesa cell phone payment system works, as neighboring country officials are bribed by big banks to prevent it getting a foothold outside of Kenya.

== The crux? ==

 It would be one thing if the neo-feudalists preparing for war against the West were actually as smart as they think they are.  

They aren't. And that... more than any scullduggery... should scare us.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Reviews: Wolfenstein II and Stranger Things 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:41
Last week two bits of entertainment I’d been looking forward to finally unlocked for my enjoyment: the video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Stranger Things 2, the second season of the well-regarded Netflix series. What did I think of both? Well, let me tell you. Wolfenstein II: I enjoyed the heck out of […]

My Halloween Self-Portrait, 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 11:18
Pretty sexy, I have to say. Definitely right-swipeable on Tinder. Hope you’re having a very fine Halloween.

The Big Idea: Myke Cole

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 08:39
Is Siege Line the end? For author Myke Cole, no. He will have more books coming. But for a particular trilogy of books, and a phase of Cole’s career, the book represents a final stage. Not with a whimper, though — with a bang, and one that required more of the author than he initially […]


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/30/2017 - 11:04
Of Paul Manafort and Rich Gates. Those of you who had them first in the indictment pool, come claim your prizes. I’m not a legal expert and I don’t know anything else about these but what I read in the news, but I do expect two things: 1. These are just the beginning; 2. If […]

Calling on sages and elder statesmen to help save us

Contrary Brin - Sun, 10/29/2017 - 20:22
Apologies for this late weekend posting. we took a break to attend "Of Mice & Men" and then a parade of antique steam engines...

First an announcement. My Questionnaire on Ideology has been updated and made more clear. These socratic queries may reveal assumptions that lie deep below, helping you see many things in a fresh way! Among those who have had their thoughts prodded for 15 years, not one has denied that assertion! Take the quiz and shake things up! Expand… your… horizons….
== Calling up the old guys ==
Talk about ingratitude. George W. Bush has been saved by Donald Trump… from being labeled the worst president of the 21stCentury. Saved, by miles. (His father was by-far the worst of the 20thCentury.) Yet what does he do? Bush's speech a week or so ago details our ‘democratic collapse,’ with obvious references to Trump — though, like Obama on the same stage, a while back, he did not utter the current president's name. W's speech called on a renewal of American spirit and institutions – which, of course, he undermined as president.
“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” Bush warned three days after Sen. John McCain delivered a similar attack on “spurious nationalism” harkening to American ideals and democracy "We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil," McCain said in a blatant swipe at Steve Bannon and the confederate fascists. "We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn't deserve to."
And where have you been, during the Rupert Murdoch era?
Okay, let’s take a deep breath. Better late than never. Indeed, this is the perfect segue to…
== Calling on the ‘sages’ ==
My cousin, former FCC chair and PBS chair Newton Minow, has put out an appeal for our five living ex-presidents to step up when we need them.  His call is brief and — well — vague.  I mean, there are no legal frameworks for such a conclave… nor would they strictly need one. (Let me be clear that I deem two of these men to have been leading candidates for the title of “worst president in 100 years,” that is, till the title was seized overwhelmingly.)  
In fact, I have a trio of tasks for any ad-hoc conclave of senior American sages, that could start with a nucleus of ex-presidents. I’d add all former vice presidents, though that would let in a cipher and one genuine monster. Also invite former Supreme Court Justices like Sandra Day O’Conner. And top retired officers, like David Petraeus. Heck, add all American Nobel Prize winners? 

What role could such a commission of American elder statesmen play? 
1. Such an ad-hoc conclave might jawbone-intervene with the present  oval office occupant, or speak to the nation, reminding us by counterexample what presidents sound like.
2. They could help us get past the Fact Crisis, by overseeing creation of a fact-checking service -- one immune to the “partisan!” howls that get hurled when one political faction sees a favorite rumor or urban legend debunked. 

We don’t want a single “Ministry of Truth,” so set up several – a couple headed by reputable conservative thinkers -- to reciprocally critique each other! At least we’d see the worst crap washed away.  And with their arm-twisting, Congress might even re-establish the treasonously-killed Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). (Well, one can dream.)
Not one of the issues that you cry out about  is more urgent than this. For, if we restore the primacy of fact in our discourse, most of our current manias would vanish.
3. ElsewhereI describe how the Constitution’s 25th Amendment allows Congress to establish an “other body” — separate from the Cabinet -- that can respond quickly, if the Vice-President declares the President temporarily unfit to serve. Evidently, this “other body” can be set up in advance! 

It would have to be bi-partisan, in order to get enough votes to overcome Donald Trump’s veto. Hence, this Other Body could be the same council of American sages discussed above, standing ready, if needed, to act on an hour’s notice. See where I go into details: Exit Strategies and the 25th Amendment.
Alas, there are bright fools out there – like the LA Times’s Doyle McManus and Chris Reed of the San Diego Union – who croon that the 25th Amendment is a futile hope, because it officially sets a higher bar – 2/3 majorities in both chambers of Congress – than does impeachment and removal. But that is lazy thinking. 

First, GOP members of Congress will be far more likely to vote for a removal that’s temporary and calming than one that's permanent and traumatic. 
More importantly, if such an “other body” were set up in advance, it would give our military and intelligence officers someplace to go, if ever they were given an intolerable or crazy order by an unbalanced commander-in-chief. With a little comms infrastructure, such a council could give temporary control to the Vice President in less than an hour. 

Just knowing the Council of Sages existed would let our senior officers sleep better. And thus it would help us sleep, too.
So, yes, Newton Minow’s proposal for the ex-presidents to step up and speak is valid and important. I just fleshed out two additional, very specific tasks. 
And there's a fourth task that could be aided by some former presidents, and others. One that could end this wretched phase of the American Civil War.  It would call for courage and patriotism from at least fifty men and women who are true citizens.
Senators Bob Corker, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and other adults - and sure, throw in Mitt Romney, Robert Dole and so on - can, should, and must finally hear the call of duty… and announce that this is not about just Donald Trump. Rather... to paraphrase Ronald Reagan … “The Republican Party has left us.”  If they find a critical mass, it could serve as a nucleus for a Sane American Conservative Party. And that could be the salvation of the Republic.

(This is not unprecedented! See elsewhere, how I describe the Democrats' own "Miracle of 1947" -- a crucial and fateful meeting that saved their party and liberalism in Americas. Conservatives could do the same thing -- that is, the sane and loyal and grownup ones could.)
One who is unabashedly calling for this? Jennifer Rubin, the longtime conservative columnist who had championed Mitt Romney and made excuses for the Bushes, has had the moral fiber to declare “enough.” And although she called Trump “evil incarnate,” she has the wit that’s lacking in most democrats… to see that Donald is a symptom of a disease that runs much deeper. 

“What’s a fit punishment for the Murdochs?” she writes, about those who predated Vladimir Putin and even the Saudis, at deliberately warping American institutions and destroying our national genius at genial pragmatism and negotiation. Gee, what punishment is appropriate for outright and deliberate treason? 

And of course this is why Corker and McCain etc. hesitate. They would be declaring open war on the Murdoch family, owners of today's undead GOP.         == Know the alternative ==
Fools who are so eager for impeachment… read about Donald Trump’s impeachment insurance policy.  From: The New Yorker: The Danger of President Pence.          Seriously, the GOP lords know that Trump is a liability and are looking for ways to get rid of him in favor of their wholly-owned yes-massa puppet.  If Trump resigns or is removed, ownership of the White House will shift from a consortium of Putin-Pennywise over to Murdoch-Koch-Mercer and Goldman-Sachs. We can survive a few years with the shortsighted oligarchy running roughshod over us. They’ll regret it, the way the French aristocracy did.
No. The real danger from Mike Pence is far worse than depicted even in this fretful article. It comes from the fact that his version of Christianity is very different than that of Jimmy Carter. 

Carter focuses on the words of Jesus. Pence joins the fundamentalist fixation on the most noxious and vile book in the Bible – the Book of Revelation – a monstrosity of volcanic hate that is the opposite of Jesus in every conceivable way. (See how Patrick Farley both explains and satirizes that wretched tome here.)
They want the world to end. They pray for it to happen, and soon -- a bloodbath of spectacular sadism that will bring an end to all neighborliness or cooperation. An end to all ambition and fair competition. An end to almost all life on Earth. An end to all exploration, discovery or curiosity, and everything else that makes us human. An end to democracy and an end to the United States of America.
Make no mistake, this is what they have openly said that they pray for, daily -- for 99% of their own neighbors and fellow citizens to get the “deserved” torture and then eternal damnation that we (you and I) deserve. 

There is a mythology that we should ignore religion in making political decisions, but this is a clear exception.  Those who yearn for this psychotic thing are likely to bend all their powers to make it happen.
Moreover, Pence is smoother than the current POTUS. Trump’s Oval Office leaks! The Officer Corps is alerted to his craziness. But a Pence White House would be filled with tightly disciplined Dominionists. Hell yes, I am more scared of him.
Now comes the irony atop it all! “Hey Brin, didn’t you just say you want the Vice president to have, on-call, a Council of American Sages  (the ‘other body’ provided for in the 25thAmendment) able to quickly take an erratically dangerous president out of the chain of command? But wouldn’t that put ArmageddonBoy in charge?”
Yes, and make no mistake, we are in a delicate mine field between an unstable, impulsive, clown-car narcissist dancing to Kremlin strings on the one-hand and a devoted servant of the New Aristocracy who will be keeping an eye open for any excuse to bring apocalypse. 

But there is a path through the mine-field! Because the 25thAmendment only sets aside the president temporarily!(It would take 2/3 majorities in both houses to keep even a temporary set-aside going.) Pence would preside over a Trump-appointed White House.  That would delay him getting anything done for quite some time.  Perhaps long enough to give us a Congress loyal to America.
Note also this. It can be argued before the Court that the Council of Sages would then be empowered to respond if Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House and next in line is effectively then 'vice-president' under terms of the 25th. Imagine if he made the same declaration about Pence!  (And Ryan has horror-baggage of his own.)

Oh, the mess that would ensue is beyond anything we ever, ever saw. Nothing written by Simon Pegg would even compare!  So why am I even going here?
Because someone has to. It’s my job.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs 10/27/17 + a Mildly Annoyed Twitter Thread

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/27/2017 - 16:05
Thread first, followed by the new books/ARCs in the last tweet. Folks, if you complain to me about my new books/ARCs stacks being one type of author more than others, refer complaints to publishers. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) October 27, 2017 Also, if your complaint tries to shame ME for the books sent to me, […]

Scalzi and Munro in Fresno

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/27/2017 - 10:16
During our recent California sojurn, Krissy and I stopped in Fresno for a day. Why? Because, in fact, that’s where I lived when we met (I worked for the Fresno Bee newspaper), and we still have friends in the area, and we wanted to see them. One of the friends we saw was Donald Munro, […]

RIP, Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 21:09
The last time I chatted with my friend Stephen Toulouse, he was cheerfully trolling me on Twitter about the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck,” which he enjoyed rather more than I did, followed by a quick DM to let me know he was just having fun, which of course I knew. I was having fun with him […]

Saving democracy - why the Democrats are failing

Contrary Brin - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 20:53
First, some support for my proposal to remove at least one motive from mass shooters. 
The “Erastratos Effect” – which I’ve described after most mass shootings and most recently here -- is where villains - often heinous criminal-creeps - are often motivated by a desperate need for infamy, seeking immortality through destruction. I’ve elsewhere described how the ancients dealt with this driver of heinous crimes.
Now parents of one of the Aurora victims are pushing this concept. Through No Notoriety, they advocate for members of the media to only use the killer’s name once; don’t publish aggrandizing photos of the shooter. The FBI, in 2014, launched a tentative Don’t Name Them campaign.   
== Calling the colonels? Why I am finally in despair ==
I've been shouting for years that both moderate conservatives and pragmatic Democrats should be seeking out military retirees. I've seen rock-ribbed NRA types - who have never listened to a Democrat in their lives - stop and hear-out a retired colonel who appeals to them to heed actual facts. Anyway, defending all those seats will bankrupt the Kochs and Murdoch and the Mercers. (See details here: A Time for Colonels.)
And hence… I am devastated. According to this article, Democrats have recruited 20 retired military officers to run for office, as if that's a lot. It should be 2000!  Enough to contest every "red-safe" state assembly district, even in deep-red Alabama. If this is all there is, then we are royally screwed. The confederates may survive and kill America.
Praying that article mis-stated the number by an order of magnitude, shall I see the following as sign for hope?  Is there an insidious political side to this sudden recall to active duty of thousands of retired military officers? I have no clear facts. Hence we must take the services at their word, that they're doing this because of urgent staffing shortages. Still, look carefully, folks out there! Might the call-ups lean hard on retired officers who were thinking about running for office? Perhaps as Republicans in primaries? Or as Democrats, challenging confederates in "safe" GOP districts?
And hence I have to ask: has anyone else connected these two dots? If the call-ups have any bias to them, that political-cheating "straw" could break this camel's back.
A scary alternative hypothesis, that I deem plausible, alas. These officers are being called up in preparation for war. 
== Attacking (and saving) democracy at its roots ==
Reacting in large part to Russian efforts to hack the presidential election last year, a growing number of states are upgrading electoral databases and voting machines. The plans — from both Democrats and Republicans — amount to the largest overhaul of the nation’s voting infrastructure since 2000. Example: Delaware is moving its voter-registration list off the state’s aging mainframe computer and preparing to replace a 21-year-old electronic voting system that does not leave a paper record of votes to be audited. Federal intelligence and security officials were so shaken by Russian attempts to compromise the vote that the Department of Homeland Security designated election systems a critical national infrastructure, like banking and the electrical grid, that merit special protection. 
“The scope of the threat was underscored on Tuesday when a new report concluded not only that widely used voting systems can be breached by hackers — sometimes with almost trivial ease — but that they contain components manufactured in nations like China with a clear interest in undermining American democracy.”
The new guidelines for manufacturers of voting equipment — reduced to five pages from more than 200 — include for the first time principles as basic as a requirement that voting devices produce written records that can be verified, and that software or hardware errors cannot lead to undetectable changes in tallies.”  Virginia scrapped thousands of paperless voting machines in 2015 after discovering that even an amateur hacker could easily and secretly change vote tallies.
Oh but we know they are cheaters. They cannot win except by cheats that range from treasonous-foul gerrymandering to "losing thousands of voter registrations always a week or two before an election, to rigged voting machines, to voter suppression... and now this: "A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned. The server’s data was destroyed July 7 by technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which runs the state’s election system."

Hey cheaters, be proud... but where do you think this will all lead, when we finally get fed up?
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But read about the one political office that is most filled with outright traitors, in the U.S. In most states, the Secretary of State is responsible for managing elections and voter rolls. One of our political parties has given top priority to filling this one office with skilled and relentless cheaters. 

And I reiterate... this solution to gerrymandering avoids all the excuses offered by Anthony Kennedy, last time that he wriggled out of helping to end gerrymandering. It preserves state and legislature sovereignty. It is clear, enforceable, palliative and not at all onerous. And I promise you'll have seen it nowhere else!
== Stop yammering “impeachment” impatient fools ==
In a previous blog, I dissected why dealing with a president and VP who are both mad, in different ways, will require finesse.  Finesse that I see nowhere among Democrats, liberals and so on.
For example, what stunning foolishness, mistaking the symptom for the disease, Larry Flynt offers $10 million for whomever can provide dirt sufficient to impeach Donald Trump. Argh. Alas, this would just replace an emasculated buffoon, whose every action is transparent and whose administration leaks like a sieve, with a Pence White House that will be filled with fervent apocalypse-seekers and iron discipline.
Seriously, study Mike Pence. I earlier called him Trump’s impeachment insurance for a reason.
Look, I am in favor of accumulating evidence to discredit the madness, but focus on the Murdoch-Mercer-Breitbart-Fox- disease! Not the gyrating but self-limiting Trump symptom!  See where I eviscerate the "impeach" idiocy.
Mind you, Mr. Flynt, I am in favor of rich folks offering whistle-blower rewards!  See The Transparent Society where I touted this 20 years ago and yearly, since. But try having the patience of a homo sapiens, instead of an angry tree shrew.
== Criminal betrayal of market enterprise… even capitalism… by its supposed defenders ==
I have very mixed feelings about Ralph Nader, who bears partial responsibility for the catastrophes that have wrecked American politics since the 2000 election. But he is also a very sharp critic. And he is right to focus (at the Evonomics site) on the biggest monster of economic waste, far exceeding all the inefficiencies of government — over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations. 
A crime and cheat as blatant as gerrymandering, stock buybacks let CEOs trivially meet the milestones for their stock price based vampire compensation packages given them by other CEO golf buddies, who they select for their own company’s board. This incestuously self-serving cartel “picks winners and losers” far more secretively and corruptly than any of the civil servants who are maligned by right wing propaganda.
As Nader puts it, “due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgment” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval.”  And note that it is one more example where the “supply side” caste has proved that they have zero interest in investing in productive capacity, R&D, new products or any other aspect of “supply.”
“Companies with excessive stock buybacks experience a declining market value. IBM, since 2005 has spent $125 billion on buybacks while laying off large numbers of workers and investing only $69.9 billion in R&D. IBM is widely viewed as a declining company…. General Electric, in the same period spent $114.6 billion on its own stock only to see its stock price steadily decline in a bull market. JC Penny and Macy’s spent more in stock buybacks than their businesses are currently worth in market value.”
Those who bucked this trend have done far better. Interestingly, the listed corporations are known for tech innovation.  And most of their CEOs are known to be either libertarians or democrats.  Almost no republicans among them. Nader adds:  “The corporate giants are also demanding that Congress allow the repatriation of about $2.5 trillion stashed abroad without paying more than 5% tax. They say the money would be used to grow the economy and create jobs. Last time CEOs promised this result in 2004, Congress approved, and then was double-crossed. The companies spent the bulk on stock buybacks, their own pay raises and some dividend increases.”
Mind you, were the GOP to insist that all repatriated funds be spent directly on R&D or jobs, the resulting boom could save the Republican Party from what’s coming, otherwise.  It won’t happen. Because the vampire urge is far stronger than long term self-interest.
Read this. Only then remember. Nader’s often right… and has proved himself not to always be our friend.

For someone more consistently on target, see billionaire Nick Hanauer eviscerate the CEO caste for using the stock buy-back cheat to wreck our future and line their own pockets. 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Chromebooks and Photoediting

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 18:21
As most of you know I’m fond of Chromebooks, but they do have limitations — it helps to have a constant internet connection while using them, and for a long time everything had to be done in the browser. This was okay for email and word processing, but less great for things like photoediting. Recently, […]
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