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1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Fifteen: Music

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 12:36
In no particular order, a playlist of 20 songs from the last 20 years that have stuck with me.

New Books and ARCs, 9/14/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 16:55
Halfway through September now, and here is a very fine stack of new books and ARCs to note the occasion. See anything you’d like? Tell us in the comments!

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Fourteen: Day Jobs

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 14:16
I did actually have a day job in 1998. Well, for about a quarter of it. I worked at America Online as its in-house writer and editor, and got laid off that March. I got laid off not because I was a terrible employee, but because my group was being dissolved and while everyone else […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/14/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 10:24
Let’s start this off with a picture I took this morning. I call this one “Worlds on a String.” See, there’s an upside to spiderwebs everywhere. *** I was in Columbus last night to take part in a panel at the Religion News Association’s conference, on science fiction and religion (appropriately enough, given the conference […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/13/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:52
First: This banner from the Subterranean Press web site, which I got a giggle over: I love it because I think Nate Taylor, the illustrator, did a perfect job drawing me. I look ridiculous, but in a fun and affectionate way, which I think is perfect, both for me and for the book. I may […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Thirteen: Whatever

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 11:01
One, today’s entry title is a little reflexive. Two, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years. But I don’t think anything ever does. Time is a funny thing which spans backwards and forwards from you, but at the moment it’s only ever now. You keep living right now, and being now, and in my […]

Announcing Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever 2013 – 2018

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 08:00
Today, on the 20th anniversary of Whatever, I am absolutely thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever, 2013-2018. This new collection from Subterranean Press collects some of the best writing from Whatever from the last half decade, with my words and thoughts on politics, personalities, social […]

The Stark Difference - make it count!

Contrary Brin - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 16:42
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The news cycle moves so fast it may be intentional, giving us no time for thought about particular outrages. For example, do you recall how retired Adm. William McRaven, the man who oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, issued a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump's decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan? “McRaven, a former Navy SEAL who led US Joint Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, not only called Brennan "a man of unparalleled integrity," but volunteered to have his own security clearance revoked in an act of solidarity.”
The context for this all-out struggle — not between left-and-right but between America’s adult side and our raving toddler-men — could not be more clear. Between those who spew machismo through posturing and screeches…and those like McRaven who quietly and effectively performed the most decisively important and surgical and efficient elimination of a deadly national foe. And yes, those who appointed good people. 
And yes, Obama killed Osama. Live with it. 
== The Stark Difference: make your mad uncles listen ==
John Brennan and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon both issued dire, contradictory warnings. Brennan says Kremlin-led forces have interfered with the U.S. actively helping - and helped by - Trump. Bannon released a movie trailer screaming that “the media” is bent on bringing Trump down.  
This is not something we can soothe your mad uncle (MU) out of, by comparing facts - not when all fact-using professions are condemned as enemies, on Fox and Jones etc. converting good American reflexes like suspicion of authority into cancers. 
So, use bullets of logic. Read one page to your MU aloud. Because asking him to read is futile.
1. “There are roughly HALF A MILLION men and women working in the so-called “deep state”… members of the law (e.g. FBI), intelligence or military officer communities… folks who always leaned crewcut conservative, and who nearly all are gun-owners. Quietly skilled and effective, they led in winning the Cold War against the Soviet/Kremlin empire. They hunted down bin Laden.
“Now, a vast majority of these dedicated men and women are deeply worried about a new, growing Kremlin empire, led by many of the same KGB thugs, using skulking methods that our skilled protectors clearly see… Yet, suddenly you are hostile to these half a million loyal, dedicated folks? All in the same conspiracy? Why? 

"Because Rupert Murdoch’s pretty yammerheads tell you to.”
(This cogent essay compares Moscow's current cozy support of the U.S. radical right to their 1930s subversion via the American far-left. Read also about the 12 new Russian naval bases along the ice-free arctic, and dare your MU to find one senior naval officer who's still a Republican.) 
2.  “There are roughly HALF A MILLION American scientists or high tech entrepreneurs who did the R&D and invention that made America rich and gave YOU all the comforts and machines and toys you depend on daily, ensuring safe food and clean air, sending miracle space probes to distant planets, rapidly improving medicine, and creating spectacular atmospheric models that predict weather often ten days in advance.* They may not wear crewcuts and not all are gun-owners, but they are key to winning future prosperity.
“Now, a vast majority of these dedicated men and women are deeply worried about terrible dangers to our children’s future, that they can see clearly in the data and in every model and analysis. But suddenly you are hostile to these half a million brilliant, dedicated folks, who know a whole lot more than you do. Why? 

"Because Rupert Murdoch’s pretty yammerheads tell you to.”
3. "There are roughly a QUARTER OF A MILLION U.S. journalists at various levels, men and women who took up the profession because they are curious people who ask a lot of questions.  Yeah, yeah, almost none of them have crewcuts and many lean liberal, in part because they travel all over and see a lot of pain.  But suddenly you are hostile to these curious and thoughtful folks, en masse, dismissing a quarter of a million professionals as “the media.” Why? 

"Because Fox-yammerheads and Steve Bannon tell you they are engaged in a vast conspiracy aimed at destroying the country they love, every bit as much as you do? What all of them? A conspiracy that involves hundreds of thousands, yet doesn’t leak? 
Now add in the other “elites” that Sean Hannity gets you raging-at. A MILLION teachers! And then a MILLION doctors and health workers. Unions have been declining for 40 years, yet somehow they are demons! Yet we should trust Wall Street. No, no. Never look at oil lords or Wall Street.
Hey, uncle, name one fact-using profession that your cult isn't waging war against? One? Science, journalism, teaching, medicine, law, public service... name an exception! And now the "deep state" FBI, Intel Agencies and US military officer corps. The one thing they all have in common? Grownups who use facts.

Steve Bannon wants you to hate every skilled “elite” profession. But never doubt the good intentions of three dozen casino moguls and oil barons and slumlords all with mafia ties and debt entanglements with Saudi princes and Moscow oligarchs! 

In contrast, what is the dedicated pro, John Brennan, asking you to consider?  That the same Kremlin agents you hated, back when they wore hammer and sickle pins and conspired against America, might… still… be… doing it? In collusion with Rupert Murdoch and a few pals.
That seems a simpler hypothesis.

== A public servant strikes back? Or a self-serving coward? ==

Alas, the news cycle requires that I add yet more.

The secret “high official” who wrote the recent op-ed denouncing his own boss as immoral and un-moored, in the NY Times, also alluded that a large fraction of Trump’s cabinet had informally mulled whether to invoke the 25th amendment to the US Constitution, in order to protect the republic and its people from a jabbering, terror-stricken, bully-toddler. According to reports, those worried officials decided instead “to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”

Woof, so many aspects to this:

1) I have long said there are grownups, in the civil service, along with the justice, intel and military professionals, etc., and even maybe a quarter of today’s billionaires, who are alerted to the danger, doing what they can to maintain a semblance of a strong and sane national government and economy, amid all this. It is this civil society of dedicated servants to the rule of law that Vladimir Putin will never understand.

2) In order for the 25th to be invoked, the Vice President must call an official cabinet meeting. And Mike Pence will only do this on his terms, at his own time, when it serves the interests of Mike Pence. That won’t happen while the MAGA Trumpists still seem a potent force, and while Murdoch’s shills are stoking that inferno..

…though it could be an unforeseen side effect if there truly is a huge “Blue Wave” in November. At which point the Casino and slumlords and mafia kingpins who help Murdoch run the GOP may decide to ditch the MAGAs as hard as they threw the Bushite neocons under the bus, in 2005. (Oh, this time there will be violence. But if DT is martyred in just the right way, they might figure they can turn it to advantage, like the death of Hindenburg, in 1933. God bless the Secret Service.)

3) Remember that this op-ed writer – whoever it is – was appointed by Two Scoops, whose bizarro “excellent judge of people” power has picked a higher proportion of “disloyal betrayers” than any national leader in the history of our species. Dig that well and use it in your arguments with confeds.

“No squirming rationalization gets you off the pure fact that Donald Trump is a wretchedly awful judge of character.” ("Donald Trump Jr. complains his father has few he can trust.") Whoever the anonymous “high official” is, we should

(a) be glad he/she is trying to reduce the damage and  (b) still know that it’s probably not a person qualified to strike a match with five tries. 
Oh, there are a few exceptions. 
But on the first order: anyone chosen by Donald Trump for high office should bear a presumption of utter disqualification for service or office.And yes, op-ed writer, this includes you. Look in a mirror. He… picked… you.

4) If the scenario reported by the anonymous official is true, then he just did us all a profound disservice by bragging! By alerting His Highness to the extent of the “resistance.” How is that helpful? This self-serving betrayal - plus the Woodward book - may have rendered untenable James Mattis’s strategy of defending us by flattering the toddler.

As for the 25th Amendment, consider my posting about it. Exit strategies Part II: Surprising aspects of the 25th Amendment.

5) Then there is the op-ed writer's hypocrisy assailing Trump while defending overall GOP policy – e.g. “Supply Side” voodoo “economics” that never across 40 years correctly predicted a single outcome, always achieving opposite results. This is your silver lining?

6) And finally: "There is no redemption... You think an op-ed ... is going to cut it? You cannot write an article admitting to the president’s “anti-democratic” impulses while also saying you want his administration “to succeed.” ...while omitting any and all references to his racism, bigotry, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and white nationalism." writes Mehdi Hasan in The Intercept.

Again, pass word about my posting about wagers!

== Speaking of all-out war ==

Apparently our diplomats were attacked in communist Cuba and communist China by a Russia-developed microwave weapon. And your MU thinks we’re not already at war? Read about the Kremlin-ordered malware attacks bringing down systems around the globe, turning millions of private laptops into ‘bots,’ (yours, maybe?), and preparing for worse.

Why do this now, so brazenly? (1) to cow the Ukrainians into coming back under Moscow control, (2) to help breakup the Western Alliance, (protected from consequence by their agent in the White House), and (3) because, facing demographic and economic collapse, they must act now to both raise oil prices and conquer enough surrounding territory to feel safe.

If the West stays strong another decade, all hope of rule by mafia-oligarchy will pass away like a bad fog. It must be now.

== A stunning prediction, out of a light SF flick ==

If you ever saw the film BLAST FROM THE PAST, recall Chistopher Walken's final words, when he asks:
"So I'm supposed to believe the Politburo just one day threw up their hands and surrendered?"

"Yeah, dad. That's pretty much it."

"Oh, you've got to hand it to them."
We've been handing it to them. Hand over fist.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twelve: Travel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 14:03
I never thought I would travel as much as I do today. This year, as an example, for work: Two book tours, comprising a total of 21 stops and just over three weeks. Conventions in Detroit and Phoenix and San Jose and Albuquerque. Festivals in Los Angeles and Nantes, France (with a side trip during […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/12/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 10:25
It’s noisy here today. Shall we begin? *** First, I want to say I admire the spider who spun a web directly across the doorway to my patio. I admire the creature’s optimism in catching the really large prey. However, I saw the web before I walked into it, so I will not be cocooned […]

Sunset, 9/11/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 20:23
And if you look closely, you can see the new crescent moon.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eleven: Personal Politics

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 15:36
In the past twenty years, I’m not sure my personal set of politics have changed all that much. I’m pretty sure what has changed is how people view them. And what would I say my politics are? Well, at the base of everything I believe that the goal of society should be to develop independently […]

The Big Idea: Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 11:16
Today’s Big Idea is a two-fer: editors Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law bring your their own — and their highly divergent — paths to co-editing Shades Within Us, a collection of short stories about migration. SUSAN FOREST: I am a fraud. I’ve never had the guts to move away from my hometown; yet as […]

The Whatever Digest 9/11/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 10:10
Good morning! I slept in a bit and I feel pretty good about it. Let’s get to it. *** I debuted my new author photo on Twitter yesterday and it got the expected responses, including “tell the hairy guy in front to move so we can see the cat.” I remember taking the picture and […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Ten: Spouse

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 15:08
This one is easy: I’ve had the same spouse the last 20 years, and if I’m lucky I’ll have the same one twenty years from now, and if I’m really lucky I’ll the same one 20 years after that, too. If I have the same one 20 years after that, there’s probably been some amazing […]

The Whatever Digest, 9/10/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 10:38
So many things to do today, so little time to do it! Let’s zoom through a few things. *** Hey, look, professional football has started its season. I realize this is an opener that most of you aren’t expecting from me, as I rarely evince any sort of interest in football or the NFL, but […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Nine: Weight

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 12:42
Well, this one isn’t as cheerful as some of the others have been. In 1998, I weighed a shade over 160 pounds. Today as I popped myself onto the scale, I was a smidge over 191 pounds. This is not great. This weight gain is on me, both literally and figuratively. As much as there […]

Our dreams of space aren't help by hallucinations

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/08/2018 - 14:41
== An actual adult at NASA? ==
Dang. Glimmers of hope. This Trump appointment, though initially unqualified, has proved intelligent, curious and a good listener/questioner. It is way too soon to be optimistic, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is starting to sound kind of like a sapient person

"The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport, again using commercial and international partners, enables us to get to Mars," Bridenstine said. "What we don't want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done.

"We want to go to stay. And the Gateway, in my view — I've been convinced — enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars," he said. "There is no other architecture that I have been presented with, given the current budgets that we have, that enable all of that."
The Gateway is an overlap between all the goals that are under debate:

China, Russia, India, Europe, billionaires are all desperate for their symbolic rite of passage - (“Look at us, we’re grownups now with moon footprints too!”) - then let them rush to that dusty-useless plain, while we sell them tourist services via the Gateway. ("Welcome to our old Moon. Now you kids be safe down there.”)
Meanwhile, the Gateway can be a lab to study asteroid riches and to learn methods we’ll need, to get to Mars. A win-win.

Let our “commercial and international partners” do all the stuff they can do, and let NASA & the U.S. do things that only America can do. 

Footprint fetishism is for adolescents.

Alas, there's an even worse adolescent fetishism that's eating away at the space-advocacy community. But I'll get to it only after making a small side trip into human psychology.

== Space is not immune to culture – and psychological – war ==
Brain studies show that we make many decisions for unconscious reasons that we then skillfully rationalize. Ain't it funny how often we decide to support a position that just happens to conclude "people just like me are righteous and right and those who oppose me are either stupid or evil"?  
Now add propaganda. I've polled audiences for decades. Nearly everyone nods when asked: "are your neighbors influenced by propaganda?"  But they give sullen headshakes when asked: "were you?"  
All past cultures preached conformity, but not ours. Nearly every movie you ever enjoyed preached Suspicion of Authority (SoA) and the admirability of impudent eccentricity. Look over the previous sentence again and compare it to every Hollywood film. Americans especially suckled those values from an early age, yet they nearly always claim to have invented SoA.  They (and you) resent being told they were taught SoA, in a relentless drumbeat of propaganda.
"I'm the brave rebel against stupid, conventional beliefs held by sheep and pushed by dark elites."   Of course your adversaries think the same thing about you! But that can be safely shrugged aside. 
Taken even farther, this egocentric manifesto manifests as a roar we have all seen from bright fanatics out there: "I'll proclaim the very OPPOSITE to what's blatantly true! That will make me look daring and cool and imply I possess direct insights and information that you sheep cannot see!!!"  
What does all that have to do with our current arguments over where and how to build a mighty, spacefaring civilization?
Space is a screen against which we project many of our hopes and ambitions. Some zillionaires are investing pragmatically in potentially gaining access to quadrillions of dollars worth of asteroidal resources. Others seek colonies on Mars, and I say terrific! A sanely satiable human may ‘need’ his or her first few billion dollars, but beyond that, priorities shift to finding cool things to do with it.
Alas though, there are also insatiable billionaires of the more classic variety, who see space resources as a threat to their sunk-cost, sweetheart investments in Earthly mines and wells. 

Their efforts to stymie serious advance in space capabilities began with elimination of funding for Earth studies at NASA and NOAA, satellites and research that might sear away the Climate Denialist Cult. Now, it’s “Back to the Moon!” which has justified zeroing out NASA efforts to study asteroidal riches.
But let’s circle back to the topic of polemical psychology. Because some in the space zealot community – following the patterns I described above -- have dived into Conspiracy LaLaLand. 

One eminent Mars Proponent has produced a book proclaiming that all forward progress toward technological paradise and space cities is being blocked by a conspiracy by “anti-human” cultists, who want humanity to go extinct, or at least for us to be culled in numbers below a billion, for the sake of the planet.  Oh, for sure, in my novel EARTH I portray 'anti-human' fanatics getting their hands – dangerously – on disproportionate and deadly power.  I’m open-eyed to their existence and mania and to the harm they might do, if given a chance. 

I am also aware that such cultists are presently insignificant, in power and influence, compared to far worse dangers like a looming (and recurring) oligarchic putsch to restore feudalism. 
Still, it struck me how, in raging against this “anti-human” cult, the tech-loving Mars Proponent cites anecdotes but never statistics. Ironically, he thus emulates – and even makes many of the same points as -- the tech-hating Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, in his book The Anti-Tech Revolution. Though preaching diametrically opposite utopias, their logical methodologies and levels of smugly confident paranoia seem similar. Both offer roars against standard, conventional wisdom, held by sheep who happen to be in the modern intelligencia.  

== If you want progress, look at what brought it, till now ==
Let’s recap: Suspicion of Authority (SoA) does provide a luscious way to get that sanctimony-high. SoA means you must aim ire at some elite, but which ones? 

Liberals see dark conspiracies and lies by conniving oligarchs and faceless corporations. Conservatives see conspiracy by snooty academics and faceless government bureaucrats.  It is the same reflex, aimed at different "authorities".  (It happens that all facts right now support the liberal view, and today's conservative view is hallucinatory. But history reveals plenty of times when it was the opposite.)
While it can be effective at generating an excellent, self-righteousness drug high, and it can help to recruit a small, fanatical following, the scream "I can see what all you blind fools can't!" hobbles your effectiveness at pragmatically affecting the majority, or gaining support among the fact-professions, or swaying the allocation of society's investment resources in your desired directions. Demolished effectiveness is reason to suspect that an error has been made. Yet we do the same things, over and over again.
Earlier I compared the teensy-pathetic “anti-human” movement to the vastly more destructive force called feudalism. Feudalist-hierarchic rule by inherited elites was the dominant government -- and failure mode -- for 99% of the last 6000 years. The inherent interests of oligarchs -- to prevent new competitors, to prevent destabilizing innovation, to give unearned advantages to their sons, and to protect the sunk costs of their own investments -- prevented human progress across the ages.
Such men are certainly the greatest force that will keep impudent innovators from accessing the resources of space. And they spend lavishly on propaganda. To veer SoA reflexes against the “elites” who stand between them an total dominance. Like the millions of fact-using professionals who push civilization forward.
Suppose you want to get out there into space. Then concocting strawman enemies -- e.g. denouncing those who want to make human civilization sustainable and efficient -- is astonishingly counterproductive.  Especially given that breakthroughs in efficiency and sustainability will be vastly, vastly more important for living and working in space, than they are down here, on Earth! 
Almost a definition of Sapience would be the ability to notice your own counterproductive cycles... when what you are doing may feel great, but is undermining achievement of your legitimate goals.  We all see examples of this in our enemies, but are often blind at recognizing them in the mirror, where realization would do us the most pragmatic good. 

When it comes to space activism, the driving away of potential allies and negotiating partners is particularly glaring and unnecessary.
It is the end result of all the forces I've described here, from SoA propaganda to "I can see and you can't!" self-flattery... to lickspittle obeisance toward the New Oligarchy Lords.  None of these things makes for lucid discussion of actual tradeoffs.
None of it helps to convince our neighbors to calmly allocate new investments in a risky but promising frontier.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eight: Cars

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/08/2018 - 13:07
For the weekend Whatever 20/20s, I’ve picked some topics I can be brief on, because, hey, it’s the weekend. Thus, for today, let me talk about my extremely boring history of cars. In 1998, I was still driving the very first car I ever owned: a white 1989 Ford Escort, which was a “Pony Edition” […]

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Seven: Friends

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 16:51
In 1998, I believed that I had probably made most of the friends I would ever make in my life.  At the time I didn’t think this was an entirely unreasonable assumption, nor was I depressed about it. I was 29 then, and there is some generally accepted wisdom which states that you’ll have most […]
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