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Boycotts and other weapons for the Union Side

Contrary Brin - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 18:31
Tactics and strategy.  

The Confederacy has taken Washington and -- as usual -- America (the Union) is slow responding to an all-out war against every logical or fact-using profession, against the Constitution and against common sense or decency.  Aware that they must act, leaders of the Democratic Party have announced a Better Deal, hoping to leverage in middle Americans a dim memory of the love that their parents -- The Greatest Generation -- had for FDR and his New Deal...

...and as usual, the Dems seem to be clueless.  None of this is about the economy. Nor will it be, until the Trump Recession begins. 

It is about memes. And psychology. And hate. And money. But most of all a deep, simmering confederate hate of all things urban, or scientific, or professional, or expert, or associated with despised universities... or the future.  In the face of such mindless, fevered hate, attempting to offer policy anodynes is just reinforcement of the nerd-wonky image that these folks already have, or democrats.

No, this will require adoption of a whole range of new tactics that directly deal with the psychology and money and the underlying hate.

Indeed some tactics should be blatantly obvious!  Like how to deal right now with a fragile-ego, prickly, mercurial, and flighty president. Earlier I proposed the "Short Straw Gambit"... how DP leaders should draw lots and the losers use flattery to end Donald Trump's dangerous isolation.  The flattery can be sardonic! It can be couched in ways that betray no principles and that are even obvious to Trump's cabal: Bannon & company! They'll scream: it's a trick! It won't matter. Even something as blatantly manipulative as this...

“I disagree with almost everything he says… but boy is our president good-looking for a man his age. Perhaps one of the most-handsome presidents in history.”
... will work! Even knowing he's being manipulated won't matter. Donald Trump likes people who flatter him. Period.  He will invite them to lunch, to golf. And those channels would then make a real difference. We are betrayed by those who refuse to use this! It could save all our lives.
== Ethics and Oversight ==
Who was (or is) on your side? The fiduciary rule, finalized by the Obama Labor Department in 2016, requires certain financial advisers to disclose potential conflicts of interest to clients. It also expands the types of advisers who are mandated by a “fiduciary” standard to act in their clients’ best interests, not their own. 

Read that twice. Until then, your “financial adviser” could legally steer you to investments benefiting her, not you, and not tell you. Democrats failed for decades to overcome Republican support for that system, by legislation, so Obama finally found a way to change it administratively, through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (Which Trump is trying to kill.)  Now the civil servants in Trump’s Labor Department appear to have prevailed in preventing DT’s people from rescinding that rule. An example of how we are being served, still, by a “United States Government.” Just not the Confederate preeners in Congress and the White House.  
For decades, POGO — the Project on Governmental Oversight — has worked with government insiders to expose wrongdoing that affects the public. I have long pushed for reliable, graduated and careful, but effective whistle-blower laws. 
You might think the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) would have authority to deal with this matter. But, it turns out, OGE not only lacks the proper authority to investigate ethics complaints, it also lacks the ability to discipline people for violations. POGO - the Project on Government Oversight - is urging Congress — specifically Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) — the respective Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — to expand the law so OGE has independent authority to investigate ethics complaints and issue corrective disciplinary actions for noncriminal violations. Here’s how you can help.
At his confirmation hearing, President Trump’s pick for deputy secretary of Interior told a Senate panel that the president’s political positions will be prioritized over the science when deciding agency policy -- such as drilling offshore or on public lands. 
For 6000 years, autocrats and oligarchs ruled badly because (being human) they suppressed facts. Their reign of error and terror ended when we found a better way, actually arguing and negotiating based on evidence. But the oligarchs are swarming back, financing a War on Science and every other fact-based profession.

This is life-or-death people. Look at the endless chain of horrors called "history," run by self--indulgent, cranky asshole-babies called "kings" and "lords" and owner aristocrats. Do you want that era back, but armed with atom bombs and genetic engineering? 

The War on science is waged by enemies of your children. Stand up. Add your name to call out Trump's anti-science nominees on 314 Action.

== Boycotting madness and treason ==
Speaking of economics, many are riled enough to start using America’s inherent economic power against this era’s plantation lords. The economic weapon with potential immediate impact?  Boycotts.  Oh, but boycotting whom?
It seems easy to target Trump properties.  But all that will do is make the family sell hotel rooms to foreign governments and lobbyists even more unctuously than before -- and foreign purchases of U.S> hotel chains has been found to be directly related to industrial espionage, the stealing of trade secrets, and honeypot blackmail traps. (Be careful who you bring to your room, the walls have eyes and ears! And never let your electronics out of your sight.)  Still, have a look at the new "Boycott Trump App." And if he's your bette noir, then fine. 

But I am unimpressed with DT as a heroically evil figure. Far more hapless and now rather neutralized.
No, skip the symptom and go for the disease. It remains up to the nation to find some way to make the Fox News hypnosis model less profitable. Sure the boycott of Fox News advertisers is much, much harder for an average citizen than saying: “I won’t buy any Ivanka shoes or stay in a Trump Hotel!” Keeping track of a long list of Fox advertisers – and favoring their competitors – is far more taxing of time and inconvenience. 

 Moreover, there’ll be times when you just have no other good choice. Or picking the alternative will make a real price difference. Or when it would mean dropping your gym or AARP membership. So?  Perfection and purity aren’t the aim!  What matters is overall movement.  
This could be your most powerful tool as an individual American – after voting and political activism and helping to keep your own state and locality above the sinking U.S. average. Especially if you form a little boycott club among Facebook friends and share lists and help each other to stick to a diet. 

This could also extend to the gambling dens of Sheldon Adelson, who funneled $5 million to the Trump Inauguration, a fund that took in over a hundred million dollars in blatant bribes from oligarchs. Did this bother and of those who screamed about Clinton speaker fees, that were a thousand times smaller?
== A Great Hero? Not. But possible an American ==
Senator John McCain faces an especially aggressive and nasty form of cancer that's generally a death sentence. And this indeed, saddens me.
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;} For all his many faults, John McCain is an adult and an American and not totally allergic to facts. In other words - not a confederate cultist deliberately helping to hijack U.S. conservatism. Oh, he has helped it happen, over and over. But at least he has rationalized reasons to believe he was doing the right thing. And on occasion, he has even spoken out against the madness, earning him plenty of ire.
Recall how Donald Trump mocked McCain with: “I like people who don’t get captured.” That’s just the tip. This Koch-ist shill decries John McCain for saying that Vladimir Putin is more dangerous than ISIS. But let’s be clear: Vladimir Putin - who I do admit and avow to be a genius — is organizing an "axis" of like-minded autocrats that stretches from Ankara, Damascus, Minsk and Tehran through its pivot in Moscow through the Altaic region to include now Manilla, with much friendly cooperation by Beijing.  
The shared narrative across this axis - that democracy is decadent and useless and dangerous and that the Western Enlightenment must be brought down - is now the core and driving philosophy promoted by the right-wing oligarchy in America, as well.  Given that this campaign has achieved a principal goal of discrediting -- in the eyes of 1/3 of Americans -- every single profession that deals in facts, from, science and journalism to the US military Officer Corps...then yes, this foe is vastly, vastly more dangerous than ISIS.
Still, it comes down to this.  With little time left to accomplish anything, might John McCain gather together the 6 or 7 GOP senators who still view themselves as sapient and loyal Americans, and admit that their party is now pure treason?  If that core started a new, Adult American Responsible Conservative Party, millions would flock to their banners and McCain would go down in history as a great man.
I began this missive with a suggestion for some brave Democrats, to carefully and cleverly reach out to a flighty and terrified Donald Trump.  I finish with a desperate wish that a few Republicans - led by a man who should live up to his "hero" rep - to turn their backs upon that madness.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The UK Cover to Head On

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 17:14
It’s pretty. My luck in excellent covers continues. And you’ll get the book in April!

The Big Idea: Tal M. Klein

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 07:56
Teleportation: A great idea, but with some practical… problems. It’s a physics thing. In this Big Idea for The Punch Escrow, author Tal M. Klein wonders, what if you could solve those problems, not with physics, but with another branch of human intellectual endeavor entirely? TAL M. KLEIN: F#*%ing transporters, how do they work? It […]

My Morning in My Bedroom With Strange Men, a Tale From Twitter

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 14:05
It begins thusly: Men in my bedroom. With drills. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) July 24, 2017 Bedroom update: Now we have brought in the vacuum. The sucking has begun. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) July 24, 2017 Bedroom update: Things that had been previously wrapped in plastic have been unwrapped. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) July 24, […]

The Winner of the “Obit” ARC Contest

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 10:45
First: Which Beatles song was I thinking of? If you want to hear me sing it, here it is: If you’d rather hear the Beatles sing it (which, to be fair, is probably the better choice) it’s here: And for those of you who don’t wish to hear either version (or can’t, for whatever reason): […]

Moore's Law's demise and the crisis of expertise

Contrary Brin - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 21:13
As hort one, this weekend... I'll have much more to say about the demise of Moore's Law... and the simultaneous sudden surge in software innovation, soon.

Here’s a deeply thoughtful and well supported missive on expertise, especially scientific, and the troubled way in which expert views are often over- or under-appreciated: The Crisis of Expertise by Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.
Tom Nichols doesn’t address vexatious issues like the War on Science, a politically propelled vendetta that has metastacized into a broad-front attack upon all fact-using professions. Nor does he explore the fascinating tradeoffs between two centuries — the 20th, which featured a Professionalization of Everything — and the 21st, whose amazing ‘Rise of the Amateur’ I document elsewhere.
No, this rumination zeroes in, thoughtfully, on the difficulty of truth-seeking and reliable verifiability in science, especially when it gives advice to policy.
== Beyond Moore's Law ==
The demise of Moore’s Law: “The computing industry is adjusting to the loss of two things it has relied on for 50 years to keep chips getting more powerful. One is Moore’s Law, which forecast that the number of transistors that could be fitted into a given area of a chip would double every two years. The other is a phenomenon called Dennard scaling, which describes how the amount of power that transistors use scales down as they shrink. Neither holds true today,” writes Tom Simonite in Technology Review. But this article asserts that it doesn’t matter, because while the pace of hardware improvement has slackened, coincidentally, the long-sluggish state of software has experienced some rapid surges with advances by Google and others in the field of Machine Learning.  
The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI: As Machine Learning takes off, it is important for humans to understand what’s going on under the hood, as we embark on an era when algorithm systems determine who makes parole, who’s approved for a loan, and who gets hired for a job? “There’s already an argument that being able to interrogate an AI system about how it reached its conclusions is a fundamental legal right. Starting in the summer of 2018, the European Union may require that companies be able to give users an explanation for decisions that automated systems reach. This might be impossible, even for systems that seem relatively simple on the surface, such as the apps and websites that use deep learning to serve ads or recommend songs,” writes Wil Knight in Technology Review.
“This raises mind-boggling questions. As the technology advances, we might soon cross some threshold beyond which using AI requires a leap of faith. Sure, we humans can’t always truly explain our thought processes either—but we find ways to intuitively trust and gauge people.” 

Hm, well, that intuition thing has always been iffy, even with each other.  No, what finally started with us was not understanding each other so much as gaining tools  to hold each other accountable. Which unleashed (in a few places) flat-fair competition.  Which unleashed creativity. But only where accountability could take root.
== Problems and solutions ==
Those of you who expected designed creatures any day now… “As CRISPR-Cas9 starts to move into clinical trials, a new study published in Nature Methods has found that the gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome.  In other words… time for caution, children. Maybe even another Asilomar Conference.  
See this explored in more detail in: A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg.
Steven Koonin (now at NYU/CUSP but previously Undersecretary for Science at the DOE) was a housemate of mine at Caltech. (We were all a wee bit in awe of Steve.) Steve has proposed an approach to resolving the (deliberately stirred) fog and murk around Climate Change in much the same way that I’ve proposed, for years — by creating an arena for full-frontal debate, dealing with every issue with a systematic, adversarial process. It’s natural that he should choose this path. Top scientists like Koonin and Roger Penrose (with whom I dined, last month) are among the most competitive humans our species ever produced. And with good reason, since that is how creative endeavors flourish. 
See Koonin's proposal outlined in A 'Red Team' Exercise would strengthen Climate Science.... which complements my own articles on reciprocal accountability. Our "arenas" of democracy,science, markets and courts all wither in darkness… and operate best in light.
Of course I have opinions as to which “side” would ultimately win such a healthy process, and today’s right has the same suspicion, illustrated by their desperate measures to avoid open fact-checking. Still, I am willing to be proved wrong and even fascinated, when that happens!  So bring on the “disputation arenas” that I’ve called-for, across 25 years!
 == Interesting snippets ==

Interesting study shows that dads are more attentive to their toddler daughters than sons and encourage more analytic thinking.  I would reckon this might be partially cultural and perhaps even a bit recent.A new kind of “flow battery” would let you replace the liquid electrolytes at a service station as fast as you fill now with a tank of gas, letting the old fluids get recharged by solar power.
A new kind of "flow battery" would let you replace the liquid electrolytes at a service station as fast as you fill now with a tank of gas, letting the old fluids get recharged by solar power.
Watch dolphins using a touchscreen.
This entertaining “Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense” deliberately veers away from anything political – in other words the conspiracy theories and denialist cults that are harming us the worst. Still, it amusingly categorizes and arranges many of the silly fetishes that your neighbors (some of them, but never you!) indulge in.
Gangs of orcas and sperm whales are robbing halibut fishermen in the Bering Sea. “The orcas will wait all day for a fisher to accumulate a catch of halibut, and then deftly rob them blind. They will relentlessly stalk individual fishing boats, sometimes forcing them back into port.” Oh, but elsewhere on the planet, pods of dolphins will herd schools of fish toward humans who share the catch. Should these halibut fellows study that trick? 
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Very Noisy Cover of Here Comes the Rain Again

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 16:24
As part of my continuing effort to justify the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription I have, I’ve been playing with my Audition audio software and learning how to use it. Today I learned how to make a multitrack file! Go me. I also played with the various filters in the software to distort and shape sounds. […]

Blacklight Sunset

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 08:44
Because sometimes it’s fun to play with Photoshop’s sliders and see what you come up with. This is what happens (in part) when you push the “dehaze” slider all the way to the right. The real sunset didn’t look like this (it looked like this), but I think it might be cool to live on […]

New Books and ARCs, 7/21/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 16:53
As we ease on into another summer weekend, here are the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What do you like here? Share your feelings in the comments!

Win This ARC of “Don’t Live For Your Obituary”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 15:49
Here’s Sugar curling up with a good book, in this case the ARC of Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my upcoming collection of essays about writing and the writing life, which comes out in December from Subterranean Press. And you can win it! Here’s how: Tell me in the comments which Beatles song I am […]

Agent to the Stars, 20 Years On

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 14:10
So, on July 21, 1997, which was a Monday, I posted the following on the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup: Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired. 96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting. Learned two things: a) I *can* carry […]

What is magic? What was the most optimistic SF series? And other Questions!

Contrary Brin - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 14:08
Passing along news for anyone who is heading to Helsinki, for the World Science Fiction Convention. The week before, on 7th of August 2017, the Russian SF community (partly at my urging) is helping to host an International Futurological Conference “Book of the Future” in St Petersburg. "Speakers will discuss the future of literature and the transformation of the book concept because of technological changes in the creation and circulation of literature works and in access to the books, as well as structural changes in information consumption in society. Participation is free, but the organizers kindly request you to register right now." Write to

== What is Magic? ==

Over on Quora, someone asked: “What is the most interesting magic system from fantasy, sci-fi or anime?

You are all welcome to chime in! I have spoken about defining both "magic" and "fantasy" frequently. For example here. (I conclude that a sci fi novelist is the greatest magician, ever!)

But this Quora question was about magical systems and methods. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive in. Most magical systems rely upon a short list of basic fulcra:

1- Similarity — make something similar to the object you seek to control. A recognizable or realistic voodoo doll of a person. Or a  model of the valley where you want rain to fall.

2- Contagion - add something that was part of the object you wish to control, e.g. add a person’s real hair trimmings to the voodoo doll.
3- True Names. Related to similarity. You gain power if you know the object’s full (or hidden) names.

4- Appeal to powers. Invoke mighty spirits - or God - by offering what they want. Something valuable, ranging from a human sacrifice all the way to promising to be a good boy or girl. (Or try appealing to Tim Powers.)

5- Art. A florid- dynamic-dramatic verbal incantation helps… it is the technique used by cable news and politicians to dazzle millions into magical thinking and hostility to fact-based and scientific systems. Other art enhancements could be visual or musical. Heck, my incantation called Existence uses one million little black squiggles (letters) in a long-winding chain to cast an incantation that takes you on spectacular adventures in space and time!

Note that all of these seemed to be reasonable things for our ancestors to try, even though magic almost never worked in the physical, objective world. Why did they keep doing itthen, in every culture? First, because these are all methods that work… on our fellow human beings! Persuasion uses all of them and other humans are the most important part of the environment. It was just an extrapolation for people to believe they could also persuade the capricious and deadly forces of nature.

Second, pattern seeking. We invest our hopes into an incantation… and shrug off when it fails, but shout with confirmation, if the thing we wanted happens.

All told, magic has been a horrid sickness that hobbled humans for ages, preventing us from honestly separating what works from what doesn’t. But we are all descended from priests and shamans who got extra food and mates because they pulled off this mumbo-jumbo really well. Their genes flow through our brains, today. No wonder there’s a War on Science!
But if you truly want a different system of magic -- one that departs from all of the above -- try my fun novel The Practice Effect ;-)

== More from Quora ==

Another Quora science fiction question: What is the best sci-fi film/television franchise? Please do answer something other than Star Wars — mainly because it is more fantasy than sci-fi, regardless of the midi-chlorians.”
Okay, I'll bite:

Stargate was by far the best and most thorough exploration of a science fictional premise. It was tightly consistent and episodes all correlated with each other in a series of very well-managed plot and character arcs, while always striving to at least nod in the direction of scientific plausibility. It was also successful at engendering massive numbers of hours of diverse stories at a fairly low budget.

A final point about Stargate… it is one of the only SF franchises to revolve around a motif that is essentially optimistic. Yes, Earthlings emerge into a cosmos rife with danger -- but logic and goodwill and courage generally combine well in a can-do spirit that encourages hope and belief in ourselves. 

Of course, the equally good Star Trek had all of those traits, with a bit lower score (though still pretty high) on consistency, with even more hours and even more optimism.

Ranking in the same general area - with similar qualities - would be Babylon Five.

See where I explain why optimism is so hard to do in sci fi, and hence so rare: The Idiot Plot.

An excellent SF TV franchise at the opposite end of the optimism scale would be the remake of Battlestar Galactica. The premise and universe remained kinda dumb. But it had the best damn writing team imaginable. You had to watch.

The new The Expanse has similar qualities.

Of course Firefly was wonderful, filled with zest and joy of life.

See where I dive into a lot of similar topics, in articles and postings about sci fi media and dystopias: Speculations on Science Fiction…and about Pop Culture: Star Wars to Tolkien ... 
Oh, and there are other ways to ask me questions, than Quora. (And this blog's comment section.) I give one minute answers - by voice, on your phone - to your questions via the Askers App

== Visions of the future ==
Some of you may have noticed the cool – if somewhat cryptic – advert campaign from Arconic Corp., giving us 60 seconds of lavish-filmic updating of the most famous future-utopian family. The year 2062 reimagined by filmmaker Justin Lin.
If you haven’t seen it, drop everything for some badly needed cheering up about tomorrow… and a glimpse of how advertising oughta be. And more about Arconic.

For a more in-depth exploration, listen to the podcast Novum: the intersection of science fiction and advertising. Best show about Science Fiction out there. Do leave a comment!
How to See Star Wars for What It Really Is: This article from Big Think reprises and discusses my impudent assertion that Star Wars has become relentless propaganda against civilization, in favor of feudalism and demigod-worship. Even the "rebels" buy in to the assumption. In this reflex, Star Wars isn't alone. Almost all fantasy stories before 1800 preached demigod worship, as did the Nazis, the Confederates and (scratching the surface) recent trends in U.S. politics. Certainly almost every single story by the gifted dazzler Orson Scott Card in the last 25 years preaches handing all power over to some mutant chosen-one, as do 90% of Fantasy tales and (alas) a large fraction of so-called "science fiction" stories. 

The contrasting mythos of Star Trek has been a rebel against this ancient and deeply sick meme. But lately, Star Wars is winning. See how the Chinese agree with my interpretation. 
Another Star Wars vs Star Trek contrast – by Manu Saadia (author of Trekonomics, The Economics of Star Trek) in the New Yorker - describes what might be the premise for Peter Thiel’s  anomie versus Trek and his preference for the rule by tyrants and demigods, in George Lucas’s cosmos. (Critiqued in my book Star Wars on Trial.) While Thiel’s devotion to the Randian-Ubermenschian wing of libertarianism is well-established, I think this author may be over-reaching, in this case. Moreover, the notion that a generous and free post-scarcity society will lack competition is a flaw in Saadia’s entire construct. Indeed, no realm of human activity has ever been more competitive than the two that flourish in a Trekkian world – the arts and the sciences. 
Still, one thing is amply demonstrated by this article… the fact that the New Yorker, along with the Atlantic, Harpers and the rest of the New York liter-artsy community, have completely dropped their former, reflexive hatred for science fiction! Back in TwenCen, these zines used to issue hit pieces against SF in regular rhythm. Now, all of that is gone, and no one seems more eager to discuss SFnal concepts, using SF'nal tropes to make comparisons.
If this transition to future orientation would only rise within the halls of literary academe – the English and Literature departments that still fester with resentment toward the most fecund and creative (and most-American) genre – then perhaps the side of our society that dreams of progress will be united at last, and ready to take on the real enemies of progress. 
Sharing my dismay over Lucasian silliness, though for different reasons…. Here’s a fascinating and fun reminiscence by legendary author Michael Moorcock, of his friend Arthur C. Clarke, with insights into the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

And here, we've established UCSD's new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift. 
OK SciFi take yer bows. You predicted this! Giant, Man-amplifying waldo robots are here!
Reality TV with a better than average premise. Contestants try to drop out and hide  as if being hunted… and they are!  By retired or profession cops and such, on HUNTED. Of course science fiction has been there.  

Final note... spread the word to your nerdiest Science Fiction scholars!  Those with shelves that groan under rows of old Astounding and Amazing magazines. Those of you who remember plot gimicks and twists you read as a teen.  Society needs your deep memory of past SF thought experiments!  Stay tuned for something called TASAT ("There's a Story About That.") Your nerdy memories may wind up helping to save the world!

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

The Big Idea: Nat Segaloff

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 09:34
When biographer and historian Nat Segaloff sat down to interview science fiction Grand Master Harlan Ellison for his new book A Lit Fuse, he knew that he was in for a challenge. What surprised him about the process was how much it wasn’t just about Ellison, but also about him. NAT SEGALOFF: How do you […]

Getting Lucky With College Costs

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 15:02
The bill for Athena’s fall semester at Miami University arrived a couple of days ago, and we paid it, and I have some various thoughts about that I want to share. When I went to college, 30 years ago now, I couldn’t pay for it. I did what the majority of people did then and […]

The Big Idea: Cassandra Khaw

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/19/2017 - 08:37
Identity issues can sometimes be a bear, as the protagonist of Bearly a Lady finds out — in no small part because author Cassandra Khaw experienced something similar in her real life. CASSANDRA KHAW: The first time I came out as bisexual to a partner, it was a mess. What was a passably tolerable relationship […]

The masterful art of manipulation

Contrary Brin - Tue, 07/18/2017 - 18:13
== Collusion or treason? ==
While it’s now absolutely verified that Russia tried to interfere in our elections -- and the smokey stench of collusion by the American right has parted to reveal treasonously criminal flame – the most significant cheats warping our democracy are (so far) perfectly legal.  

Take the cheat of hyper-partisanship. As I write this, Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has just been released from prison. For 6 years this admitted child molester was head of the entire Republican Party and the GOP's standard bearer. His "Hastert Rule" punished any Republican who negotiated - even over vital national interest - with any Democrat, helping Rupert Murdoch to make the GOP the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in U.S. history.

It was Hastert's #2 Republican - Tom DeLay also later a convicted felon - who raised political cheating to a high art, through the outrage called Gerrymandering. But now that seems  so quaint and 20th Century, because the computer-connected age has brought us something even more scary: using Big Data to target and manipulate individual voters. This deep report by Newsweek will inform (and scare) you.

“Big Data, artificial intelligence and algorithms designed and manipulated by strategists like the folks at Cambridge Analytica have turned our world into a Panopticon, the 19th-century circular prison designed so that guards, without moving, could observe every inmate every minute of every day. 

"Our 21st-century watchers are not just trying to sell us vacations in Tuscany because they know we have Googled Italy or bought books about Florence on Amazon. They exploit decades of behavioral science research into the flawed, often irrational ways human beings make decisions to subtly “nudge” us—without our noticing it—toward one candidate.”

Democrats are scurrying to play catch-up. But that's not the ideal method to crack today's online "nuremberg rally" echo chambers of self-reinforced opinion (that I predicted in EARTH (1989).)  Far better will be to send emissaries who can shatter the manipulation face-to face. As I describe in this earlier three-parter. 

== Deep State ==

The alt-right coalition of confederates, feudalists and foreign lords all know that their hold on Red America will shatter, if hundreds of retired officers run for office, in every conservative state assembly district.  And hence, they are busy undermining our longstanding respect for those who serve and who served, not just with courage but also fierce intelligence and attention tho things called facts.

Know the "deep state" meme for what it is. The first salvo of a campaign against the last fact-centered professions to be attacked by the crazed right -- civil servants, the intelligence community, law professionals and the military officer corps who keep us safe. All have balked at the Fox-Murdoch-Koch-Putin-Saudi led War on Science, journalism, teaching, economics, medicine and every other reality-centered group in American life.
You ask: how do they think they'll get away with including military officers and the FBI on their enemies list? The answer: distraction with paranoid fantasies! It's all a big conspiracy! Keep pointing at the "elites" who know stuff and who use facts! Millions of Americans will keep turning their gaze away from the rapid gathering of feudal power into the hands of just a few hundred families.
Oh, sure, let's have transparency and accountability in government! State functionaries could become dangerous, though I know a lot of them and this generation, at least, is almost entirely sincere. We can remind our watch dogs to stay loyal dogs -- not wolves -- with leashes of accountability. Not by spewing hate at them, just because they believe in objective reality.

I'll be talking about it this weekend, at Freedom Fest, the annual conclave of Libertarians, in Las Vegas.  And yes, I am an impudent dissenter, talking up Adam Smith and Robert Heinlein as alternatives to the "hate-only-government" obsession that is pushed by proto-feudal lords. Whether you believe it or not, I feel the soul of libertarianism is worth fighting for!)
Okay, so here is where we draw a line, folks. Leap (fast and hard!) upon every single use of the term "deep state" by hypocrites who wave flags on Veteran's Day, then screech hate at our defenders, at the behest of oligarchs. Be ready for this latest venom and reflect it back. 

In the 1950s, attacking the U.S. Army was Joe McCarthy's last and fatal mistake.  May it be so again. 
== Media to the rescue ==
There is reassurance.  Every new media system was at first used by cynical manipulators. The printing press first poured forth hateful tracts that exacerbated Europe’s 17th Century religious wars. 1930s radio and loudspeakers empowered gifted, callous Svengalis. But over time, civilization developed immune systems. And the new techs actually helped to make us broader, more perceptive and better.
And so. Hey sane-conservatives. You need to add the Evonomics site to your reading every week. Sure, your reflex will be to dismiss these folks as "lefties." But they are the people mentioning and citing Adam Smith more than anyone else.  They truly want Capitalism to work.  
Indeed, it worked in the 1950s and 60s, delivering rapid growth at low class-wealth disparity, under "rooseveltean" rules and tax rates that our parents in the Greatest Generation approved and worked well under. Rules and rates that partisans systematically dismantled, starting with Ronald Reagan, making Supply Side Voodoo promises that never once came true, ever, even once.  And growth rates declined and wealth disparities rose, with every move away from the Greatest Generation's social contract.
Just saying, man...
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

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