Skip navigation.
Write - Share - Read - Respond

News aggregator

Super hurricanes and solar storms and EMP… lessons about resilient tech (Part I)

Contrary Brin - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 20:01
We’ll get to the solar storm alertand its implications, in a minute. But first… the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey tears open our hearts in empathy for our fellow humans and citizens in Texas. (See a list of ways you can help.)

It also forces us to think about bigger scales – like what will it take for civilization to endure and thrive, amid an onrushing future filled with shocks? Harvey is, after all, the third “500 year event” to strike Texas in the last three years, and the tenth in a decade. Confronted with this “coincidence,” the state’s director of emergency planning – a confirmed climate denialist – snarked that “anyone can toss ten heads in a row.
Sure, but I invite you to go without eating till you manage it. Better yet, go win ten 1:500 quick-pick tickets in a row. Do that and someone’s gonna check into your cousin working at the Lottery. (See an earlier posting of a chapter from my 1989 novel EARTH, portraying a future (2038) Houston persevering after hurricane flooding.) 
Of course climate change doesn’t explain everything.  It blatantly increases the frequency and severity of bad news – like Hurricane Irma, a category 5 and bearing down on Florida, just a week after Harvey. (Irma is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, and two more storms are forming, as we speak.) But some nasty events were going to happen, anyway.  

Separately, the topic that should be foremost is getting ready for when – inevitably – the sky will fall or the earth will shift, beneath our feet.
California's past and coming superstorm: This article reminds us, for example, of great floods that struck California in 1862, swamping the entire Central Valley and crushing towns all across the west.  Nor was this the worst that nature can bring. “Scientists looking at the thickness of sediment layers collected offshore in the Santa Barbara and San Francisco Bay areas have found geologic evidence of megastorms that occurred in the years 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605, coinciding with climatological events that were happening elsewhere in the world.”
The core issue is: shouldn’t we be preparing better? Especially since climate change is actually real?
== Cyclones only begin our list of perils ==
Likewise, we’ve had other natural catastrophes on our minds -- and variable levels of sagacious preparation. Does it surprise you that, in what can safely be called opposite-to-wise governance, the Trump Administration has been yanking support from both earthquake and tsunami-warning systems?
Few prophesied dangers raise hand-wringing as much as civilization-wide disruption by an Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP. After all, what do you figure Kim Jong Un imagines he might accomplish with the one or two bombs he might get through to North America? Even landing one amid a city would be little more than another disaster to overcome, with a resilient and mighty nation swooping in to help the afflicted, rebuilding and mourning with one hand… while stomping him flat with the other. Kim knows this…
…but he might convince himself that one nuke exploded high over our continent could neutralize all our satellites and throw America back to a pre-electronics stone age. 

(In which case, we should ask ourselves: “which power would benefit most from a no-America vacuum? And might this explain why Pyongyang’s technicians have grown so ‘capable,’ all of a sudden?” I know one sentence that could - possibly - get that major power to back down.)
Okay, set aside the threat that a single, North Korean nuke might cause, popping an EMP over North America. What about natural versions of the same calamity, courtesy of our sun? Speaking to you as the discoverer of the Great Solar Flare of 1972 – (I was the duty observer at the Big Bear Observatory that summer, when it burst) – let me tell you them things can be fierce! The resulting Coronal Mass Ejection can be rough, especially when a CME happens to flow right at our planet. As seems likely this week, according to NOAA!
The effects can be beautiful, when our protective magnetosphere channels solar particles from a small-to-moderate CME away from temperate climes and toward the magnetic poles, charging atmospheric gases to glow in gaudy aurorae. (Any high-rollers out there; I’ll be guiding an arctic aurora expedition, next March.) And to be clear so there’s no cause for immediate panic; this week’s event isn’t likely to do much more than make a show for people north of Chicago. But when a bigCME strikes us head-on, the effects can be much more serious.
We’ve has ‘sunspot’ disruptions of our communications within living memory, but nothing like the Carrington Event of 1859, that fried telegraph systems around the world. And tree ring analysis suggests that another solar event may have made the 1859 one look tame by comparison, several thousand years before written records. Almost annually, for decades, I have urged various defense agencies to pay more attention to our civilization’s vulnerability to a deliberate or natural EMP.
EMP/CME impact on our electricity grid has long been foreseen - and more of a risk than nuclear war or an asteroid strike. See James Cameron’s Dark Angel post EMP apocalypse TV show. Now The Economist is highlighting it. My own tech sense is that a higher fraction of our tools would survive or reboot. But we’re fools not to be spending 20x as much on this. 
Without any doubt, human activity – e.g. climate change or enemy action -- is making our dangers far more serious. But even without deliberate meddling, this kind of thing is going to happen! We’d best spend time, energy and money making sure that we’re robust.  

Hence, I urge you all, as individuals to give some thought to your family’s emergency plans and supplies.  And look into getting trained for CERT – your local Community Emergency Response Team – which does civil defense prep in your area.
And reiterating -- for decades I have hectored (by invitation) members of our Protector Caste at the Pentagon, CIA, OSTP, ODNI, DTRA and many other alphabet agencies, that they cannot carry this burden alone.
As revealed by the heroic neighborliness of the “Cajun Navy,” it’s clear that the Cincinnatus tradition of America can still rely on a resilient citizenry! In fact, on 9/11, every single good and useful thing that was accomplished that day – including fighting back against the hijackers of flight UA93 – was done by average folks, empowered by … cell phones.  (See Rebeccas Solnit’s book: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.) 
So that’s what I'll talk about next, in Part 2.

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

The Big Idea: Michael J. Martinez

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 08:45
Politics! It happens in Michael J. Martinez’s new book MJ-12: Shadows! For good reason! Prepare yourself! MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ: “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.” – Samuel Smiles, 19th century Scottish author and government reformer Oh, Sam. If only. It’s certainly easier for an individual to learn from their mistakes than, […]

Voyager's proud lesson. Our skill proves we're better than this mishegas.

Contrary Brin - Tue, 09/05/2017 - 14:19
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Voyager missions. PBS last month released a documentary to commemorate this human milestone: The Farthest: Voyager In Space, which can be streamed online.  

I can't shout loudly enough how epic this was, and is, in every possible way. Not only because of the spectacular scientific advances or the stunning beauty of images from Jupiter, Io, Callisto, Saturn and so on, so beautiful they might have been painted by Van God. Nor is it even the dramatic theological implications of this feat and those that followed, as we proceeded to perform so incredibly well the very first task that was assigned to Adam -- to 'name all the beasts' -- seeking and studying and describing and naming new moons, craters, asteroids, phenomena and ever more wonders of creation.

No, what strikes me most about these fantastic accomplishments is how good at it we are! How skilled, when we focus and combine our talents and knowledge and teamwork, even with primitive 21st or near-neolithic 20th Century technologies. We are good!  Or we can be, as a people, nation, civilization, species. And those who would have us retreat from such challenges -- hunkering down in dumbass old feudalism, or studying only the myths of bronze-age herdsmen -- insult the potential that was given to us -- by God or by Nature -- to be so much more.

As it is said in Genesis itself: "... nothing will be beyond them."

== I get to talk to fascinating innovators ==

At “Science Foo Camp” – hosted on the Google Campus by O’Reilly Media – I got to chat with some truly epic folks. George Church talked about using DNA as an information storage medium with far higher bit density than anything electronic. He is also a pioneer of efforts to fully understand genomes of lost species, like mammoths. And leading the open de-extinction effort as director of Revive & Restore was Ryan Phelan(along with her co-director and arm-candy, the inimitable Stewart Brand) one of whose projects is to resurrect the passenger pigeon.
The controversy surrounding the possibility of de-extinction is presented in How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction, by Beth Shapiro. An article from The Atlantic, Welcome to Pleistocene Park, by Ross Anderson, discusses how restoring herds of mammoths might help save the world from human ecological stupidity: "In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change—by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths.”
Other luminaries at Science Foo included Google Chief of Research Peter Norvig and computer science pioneer Danny Hillis (who designed the 10,000 year timepiece being built for Stewart Brand’s Clock of the Long Now.) Science journalist George Dyson was there, and philosopher of attention Linda Stone plus sci-tech publisher Tim O’Reilly and Pete Worden, who as director of NASA Ames shepherded the great planet-finding Kepler Mission, before taking over Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives (aiming to both do SETI and pioneer the kind of laser-driven light sail ships I describe in Existence.) Pete and I argued amiably during an open-discussion panel about how to ensure that mature processes take place, before zealots shout “messages” into the cosmos. There were so many fascinating people, I came away convinced that humans must be capable of finding ways past our problems, right?
I then hurried to Monterey for the Starship Congress, having dinner with Miguel Alcubierre, the renowned Mexican cosmologist whose concept for an FTL drive seems the “least implausible” of those calculated so far. The next day, after my starship talk, I delivered another at the nearby Naval Postgraduate School on the vast panoply of worrisome “threats” our civilization must confront, before we make it to the semi-mythological other side -- a mature civilization.

 Oh, on the same trip I addressed about a hundred alumni of my alma mater, Caltech, on the “Art of Prediction.”
Hey, it’s rough work, but someone has to do it.
== Problems and progress ==
Is it time for one of our science roundups!

Can a cancer cure lead to bioweapons? Intel executive John Sotos argues that the eventual success of Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot”, a U.S. government-funded program that’s aimed at finding vaccine-based treatments for cancer, would necessarily open up the potential for bioweapons of unimaginable destructive potential.
Every year, a "dead zone" appears in the Gulf of Mexico. This year's dead zone is the biggest one ever measured. It covers 8,776 square miles — the size of New Jersey.  The Black Sea is already effectively dead.  The Mediterranean and Caribbean are dying.  We live in a science fictional world of severe danger… and a denialist cult proclaims that all worries are “hoaxes.” These folks need to know: the angry world that ensues will look for obstructionists to blame, who prevented civilization from using science to act in time.  That’s not a threat. It’s just cause and effect.

Oh, a couple of notes on the recent calamity in Texas. First, that Hurricane Harvey gained its "1000 year event" power while lingering above that very human-caused dead zone I just mentioned. Just sayin'.

Second, while we cheer the pluck, stamina and resilience displayed by Texans -- aided by their Louisiana neighbors -- let's keep in mind that they elect the worst politicians in the nation. (Far more was done for them by the "federal bureaucrats" they despise.)

(See my earlier posting of a chapter from my 1989 novel EARTH, portraying a future (2038) Houston that's resilient and thriving after yet another hurricane flooding.)
== More signs of being misled ==

As told by SCOUT: “Last week New Scientist reported on an important signal of Russia's increasingly sophisticated cyberwar capabilities. It's a signal that would be easy to miss if you weren't paying attention, so I'm highlighting it here for your attention.  Back in June, 20 vessels in the Black Sea experienced likely GPS spoofing -- essentially their GPS units suddenly thought they were somewhere they weren't. (In this case, on land at a Russian airport more than 30 km away.) This is different than GPS jamming, which causes the GPS receiver to die, sounding an alarm.”
Care to connect the dots to the two U.S. Navy destroyers that suffered weird navigation errors in the same crowded waterways, leading to deadly and expensive collisions? Read Frederik Pohl’s chilling novel The Cool War. To see where this might take us. We need leaders.
A quirky look at the notion that we might go beyond tsunami warning systems and go to tsunami remediation.  
== Our evolutionary past ==
Let's get back to that notion of possibly reviving old-timey species.... There are enough Neanderthal skeletons in the birth to adolescent range to make some interesting comparisons to Homo Sapiens of the same age. The Neanderthal baby at birth has the same size and shape as a human baby but afterwards there is an important divergence. The Neanderthal baby brain follows that of a chimpanzee with regular increase of brain size until adult but the human baby brain grows 250% in the first year vastly outstripping the growth of Neanderthal babies and most of that is in the prefrontal cortex. It is asserted that our specific type of intelligence comes from this crucial first year of life. 

(I portray Neanderthal revival in EXISTENCE.)
Oh, but there were earlier calamities that opened opportunities. The current theory for how multi-cell animals got their start is pretty amazing.  A couple of decades ago my old Caltech housemate Joe Kirschvink stitched together evidence that our world had gone through an “Iceball Earth” phase, a bit less than a billion years ago, when the Sun was cooler and the boundary of its Continually Habitable (‘Goldilocks’) Zone (CHZ) was farther in. Which meant that if too much greenhouse gas was removed by the photosynthetic microbes – especially algae, then swarming the oceans -- a deep cooling was possible. In The Atlantic, Ed Yong writes: 
Around 717 million years ago, the Earth turned into a snowball. Most of the ocean, if not all of it, was frozen at its surface. The land, which was aggregated into one big supercontinent, was also covered in mile-thick ice.” This giga ice age would have lasted till volcanoes replenished (and overshot) the atmosphere’s CO2, causing a melt of incredible speed. Joe thinks it might have happened more than once.
The ice melted, and the surface of the sea reached temperatures of 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. By 659 million years ago, the world had transformed from snowball to greenhouse. And just 14 million years later, the ice returned and the planet became a snowball for the second time.” This fascinating (recommended) articlecleverly calls the cycle (as did my longtime colleague George Martin) “a song of ice and fire.”
Bearing some similarities in appearance to modern flying squirrels, the earliest examples of gliding mammals yet discovered are dated to the Jurassic period about 160 million years ago.
And finally....
Growing up with Alexa: Researchers looked at how children ages three to 10 interacted with Alexa, Google Home, a tiny game-playing robot called Cozmo, and a smartphone app called Julie Chatbot. The kids in the study determined that the devices were generally friendly and trustworthy, and they asked a range of questions to get to know the technologies (“Hey Alexa, how old are you?”) and figure out how they worked (“Do you have a phone inside you?”). This articleexplores some of the pros and cons. But it leaves out the obvious, that certain children always had this, in the family servants. It is one more case of middle class humans wanting and getting the chance to live in ways once restricted to lords. (Like having a clean change of clothes; what luxury.)

Okay. Cool stuff.  Ponder Voyager a bit, today!  Watch that PBS special.  Then fight for this glorious, scientific civilization. 

Start by pinning your crazy uncle down and getting him to admit he's been trained to hate scientists! (And every other fact profession.) He'll deny it. Don't let him get away with that.  Take him to the nearest university and introduce him to some. (Yes! Just walk down a hallway and knock on doors. You'll have a great time and learn tons of things you never knew.)

 Sure, you won't change Uncle's mind by much, though every little bit helps. The one who really matters -- your quiet but sane aunt -- will be listening.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

2017 and Writing

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/05/2017 - 11:13
I was asked recently how writing is going these days. Here’s the answer: Slow. Why is it going slow? Well, in no small part, because 2017 is one big gigantic trash fire, for reasons that I suspect are well known and about which I don’t need to delve into detail right now. Because of this […]

Labor Day Weekend Photos

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/04/2017 - 12:00
Just some from around the house.  (Arachnophobes, be aware the penultimate picture is of an orb weaver.)   Hope you’re having a good Labor Day long weekend.

Politics: Break away from the usual "axis"!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/02/2017 - 15:24
Many of you know that I've long railed against the hoary-lobotomizing so-called "Left-Right Political Axis." Oh, sure, it's one thing to use it as a very rough marker. But anyone who assigns it actual, intellectual meaning is pretty much discredited from the git-go. Want an example?
This "study" of the political divide in America - supposedly thorough and insightful - only proves you can perpetuate a calamity, by asking the wrong questions. Focusing on race, identity politics, immigration and vague economic populism, the perpetrators of this mess never getting to any of the real reasons for today's inchoate rage.  
Just one question would have blown out every other factor, demarcating our cultural divide:
"Which 'elites' in American life do you blame and despise?"
Almost all Americans share a reflex called Suspicion of Authority (SoA), taught by every brave Hollywood underdog tale. Republicans fret about faceless-conniving bureaucracies and Democrats about faceless-conspiring corporations. In normal times, each side can grudgingly admit the other may have a point. But today's enemy elite fixations are more stark. 

Liberals know the U.S. is being taken over by a plutocrat oligarchy. Fox-watching conservatives save their true rage for -- not other races or immigrants -- but scientists, journalists, teachers, doctors, civil servants and every other type of expert-smartypants. Those smarmy-lecturing-patronizing elites are the enemy, and aristocrats can do no wrong.
This is the old underpinning of the US civil war, going back to 1778 when southern tories supported the King and when 1860s confederate soldiers marched for their plantation lords. Today's oligarchy knows their greatest obstacle is the millions of expert fact-users... and hence fact-users are now Enemy #1.
Racism is real and deadly! But it does not map as perfectly onto American conservatism as hatred of fact. (And note: facts tend to kill racism!) 

Alas, while Robert Heinlein predicted all this, more than a century ago, democrats seem compelled to ignore the one factor that correlates perfectly. And bright-but-stupid 'studies' like this one fall into the same, tiresome trap.

See more on how desperately the right is fighting against facts.== Danger! Danger! ==
The most important civil liberties advance of the 21st Century, so far, was when the Obama Administration joined multiple courts in declaring a citizen's right to record the police. I wrote about this 20 years ago in The Transparent Society (1997; see p.160) discussing how vital it is that we can exercise sousveillance at the level of the street, where power can most-directly affect us. I'm generally a moderate fellow, but we must be militant about our right and power to look back at authority, or else our revolution and renaissance and brief era of hope will end.Only now:  "In a free speech ruling that contradicts six other federal circuit courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district court ruling that says Americans do not have a first amendment right to videotape the police, or any public official, in public."
News reports on this are scanty and some claim that this is only about making recordings inside a police station. Even if that's so, I'd claim a steep burden of proof falls on those who would restrict a citizen's right to record.

Sure enough, in a deep-red state, this principle is under attack. 

Only... I blame the good side's lawyers! They base their arguments for sousveillance on the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and sometimes the Fifth... when it is in fact the under-appreciated SIXTH Amendment that most clearly protects the citizen against abuse by authority. That's the rule granting us the power to compel revelation of facts in our own defense, allowing our ultimate recourse...

...the Truth.

== Inspect your own assumptions ==

If you plan to have credibility - both with your opponents and in your own mind - you should grade and scale your political and social reactions. Yes, your opponent may be bad and wrong.  Indeed, today “he” (and I refer to the whole movement that engendered you-know-who) is very bad.  

Nevertheless, may I offer some impudent, off-axis and contrary suggestions?
First off, be able to question your own assumptions.  Here's a method I’ve provided, called the Questionnaire on Ideology. Take the test! You’ll learn plenty, especially about your own reflexes and underpinning values.
But coming back to our current civil war…
1) Keep in mind ways that things could be a lot worse than they are. (And hence why impeachment is a very bad idea.)  
2)  Don’t just oppose reflexively.  There are times when it’s appropriate to push back directly, as in Sumo wrestling. But many more when it’s best to look for a judo move. Let me repeat (ad nauseam?) one that I wish half a dozen democrat leaders would do, even if they have to hold their noses -- the Short Straw Gambit.
The current storm falling on Senator Diane Feinstein, because she counseled "patience" is a worrisome example of the "left" imitating the right's intemperate tantrums.
3) Win over your opponent’s wavering allies by proving that his caricatures about you are lies. For example, every single metric of U.S. national health - including those that conservatives should care about, like military readiness, entrepreneurship, employment, business startups and trends in deficit spending - all have had better outcomes across democratic administrations. Oh, and Berkeley protestors are not “typical of liberals” whatever Sean Hannity says. Deny them the comfort of their favorite stereotypes.  
4)  Look for concessions that make you look like the moderate reasonable one — before you wage total war on your crazy opponent’s unreasonableness.  For example (and you are not gonna like some of these):
- Build the damn wall.  There is nothing intrinsically evil about maintaining control over our national border. Clinton and Obama each doubled the border patrol and prioritized legal immigration over illegal. (Ponder why Republican factory and farm owners actually preferred the latter.)  As for the “wall”? Sure, Trump’s macho project is an exercise in phallic overcompensation! So? Then use it as a bargaining chip. Make an offer that he’ll leap at.
“Okay. We’ll pass a few billions to upgrade fences and maybe do a stretch of absurd “wall”… if you’ll amnesty the Dreamer Kids and do some bipartisan Obamacare fixes.”  

You don't think he'd leap at that? Prioritize!
- Voter ID. Sure, in principle, over time, we can envision everyone identifying themselves in order to vote. Don't make your opposition about that! Instead make it -- 

“You $%%#! GOP cheaters blatantly are using this "I.D." thing as an excuse as voter suppression.  But that would change if you red-staters finally allocate major funds for compliance assistance, to help the poor, divorced women, the elderly etc. actually get their ID straightened out. That would help them in dozens of ways, far beyond regularizing voter registration (which should be automatic, by the way.) Ideally, both sides would win-win.
"Of course that’s the last thing you cheaters want, as you deliberately close DMV offices in order to make getting ID harder. But if you do offer massive compliance assistance, we'll go along with gradually phasing in voter ID."

- Voter fraud. Donald Trump’s new 'electoral commission' is the most blatant gathering of thieving, lying cheaters seen in our lifetimes. But it can be turned against them: 

“We’ll cooperate in a full scale investigation to find your mythological “dead people voting”… if we get equal representation on this commission and it also goes after right wing cheats like rigged voting machines, purged voter rolls, gerrymandering and Tuesday-only voting.” 

Of course they'd refuse.  But the offer paints them in a corner and makes clear theyare the electoral fraudsters.
== A suggested compromise sure to rouse your anger ==

- And now, a judo offer that will rile nearly all of you up and make you snarl at me!  It starts with this headline: “Trump pushes to sharply cut the number of legal immigrants and move U.S. to a 'merit-based' immigration system.” 
Let’s be clear, illegal immigration was always an absurd issue. Red Americans seem upset that our nation's demographics are changing, but undocumenteds aren’t doing that.  It is legalimmigration that's been altering the face of America, and Democrats truly are responsible for that! Dems have always favored legal immigrants, who can join unions and eventually vote, over undocumenteds, who undercut union wages and cannot either vote or complain about bad work conditions.
To be clear, I am not objecting to America’s changing demographics, per se.  If the kids adopt our open-tolerant-diverse-rambunctious-hopeful-individualistic-scientific-pragmatic-ambitious-generous and fun-loving culture… did I mention culturally diverse?... then we (this civilization and humanity) win. It's the revolutionary, anti-feudal and pro-future meme that makes us different/memorable and worthy of forging tomorrow.
 We are a nation of immigrants.

But all liberal policies aren’t automatically correct in all ways, boys and girls. And you gain credibility when you’ll admit that maybe 5% or 10% were errors. In particular, many aspects of the legal immigration structure that Democrats put in place have been stupid and self-defeating. 

Like basing most of it on an endless web or ‘chain’ of family reunions. Re-uniting separated family members is right and proper for parents and children, and maybe in a few other cases. But I don’t agree when it comes to cousins, aunts, uncles and yes, most siblings. And before you lash out, will you please try to pause and consider just how evil and unfair this system has been?
Take Somalia. A country filled with people who want to come to America. Why should Joe be luckier than Fred, just because Joe has relatives in the U.S.? Joe is already luckier than Fred, because his U.S. relatives send him money and hire lawyers to help him with red tape. But Fred and his daughter Malia are just as deserving of luck!  What if Fred and Malia work harder? What if they strove more diligently for education or to build skills that have a ready market in America?
Is it awful to give some preference to immigrants who worked harder for it? Who will more likely be creative, productive and pay more taxes here? Taxes that will then let us increase our generosity in the world? That is what already happened! The rich nation of immigrants that was America after WWII was the engine that propelled the whole world upward. And yes, that means our criteria should be generous and non-racist and all that... but we can still have criteria.  And 'family reunions' are among the least generous and least morally supportable criteria imaginable. All that policy has ever done is declare: "if you are already luckier than everyone else in the homeland, then you get to stay luckier, as a matter of law."
The new Trump proposal "ends chain migration," Trump said, referring to the preference for uniting family members in the current immigration system. It would implement a points-based system for awarding lawful permanent residency, or green cards.
Dig it, pals. I despise that whole crew and you know how hard I have fought them! How hard I continue to fight them.

But we are better off rank ordering our priorities!  Let's make clear some things are non-negotiable and others… well… we’d talk about, if they ever send us adults to talk to?  That gives us credibility with the wavering adults who are right now pondering jumping off the GOP’s sinking ship.
And it is in those five or ten million residually-sapient American conservatives that our hope for victory will be found.
==  What are YOUR biases? (yes, you) ==
Time to draw attention back to my Questionnaire on Ideology.
Seriously, you are in no position to rant about our political landscape unless you know your place on it. And the stupid-lobotomizing so-called “left-right political axis” is not helpful. In fact, it does vastly more harm than good.
So go ahead. Take the quiz!  The Questionnaire on Ideology will cause you to ask yourself things you had taken for granted. Have the guts.

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

View From a Hotel Window 9/1/17: Washington DC

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 12:50
And out the window is the convention center that the National Book Festival will be at tomorrow. Along with me! I have an event at 3:30 and a signing at 4:30. If you’re in the area I hope to see you there. Otherwise, it’s nice to be back in the area I lived in for […]

The Big Idea: Katherine Locke

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/01/2017 - 08:40
Magic is made-up — but sometimes, Katherine Locke argues, it helps to look at the real world through the lens of the imaginary. She’s here to explain why, and how it affects her novel The Girl With the Red Balloon. KATHERINE LOCKE: I’ve been thinking about Luna Lovegood’s glasses lately. I’d forgotten (forgive me, Potterheads) […]

In Which I Am Interviewed For an Hour on the Subject of Photography

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 18:23
By whom? By comedian Jackie Kashian, on her Dork Forest podcast. If you ever wanted to hear me prattle on for an hour on a topic unrelated to my professional capacity, now is your chance. Note: She’s got about five minutes of intro stuff, and then I come in. Enjoy.

Enjoy This Cover of the German Edition of The Collapsing Empire

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 17:13
Nifty, yeah? I think so too. It comes out on October 5, if you’re in Germany, or just like German translations. I’m happy to say that Bernhard Kempen, who has translated most of my work in German before, is continuing the task here. Since I’ve won awards in Germany, he’s clearly doing an excellent job.

The Big Idea: Alan Gratz

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 08:46
The real question to my mind is whether Alan Gratz’s new novel Ban This Book is itself ever banned. It’s possible! And would be recursive! And as Gratz explains below, it would mean his book would join a rather august list of books that have been banned. ALAN GRATZ: A few years back, someone posted […]

Bet on it! The "Name an Exception" challenge and other tactics for your crazy uncle

Contrary Brin - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 20:36
== Betting on the Future ==
I'm not much of a gambling man. But in this posting I'll argue that we need to become a wagering nation. Mired in an era when fact-users are public enemies and outraged subjectivities rule, our best way out may be to get a little macho and demand "Let's put money on that!"

No, don't feed me obsolete clichés. Our current political and psychic divides aren't classic "left-vs-right." Not when all metrics of market enterprise do better across the span of Democratic administrations. Not when very few leaders of innovative, product and service oriented companies are Republicans.

No, our cultural divide is whether you admire or despise the fact-centered professions that are so important to civilized life, yet relentlessly hated-on by certain media. From scientists, teachers and journalists to doctors, civil servants, law professionals, the FBI.... This explains why fundamentalist preachers adore Donald Trump, the most opposite-to-Jesus figure you can imagine.  Because he galls and infuriates the same people they despise.

Put aside distractions. Sure, racism is real and deadly! So are sexism, eco-spoilage and oligarchic ripoffs. Yet none of them compare in importance with the war on fact, because it means we can't use true evidence to refute horrid lies. Not when any fact-checking service is swiftly denounced as partisan. 

There are ways to defeat idiocracy-lobotomization.

First, consider: your raving uncle will still admit the primacy of fact when it's about a bet. Folks in the Red Base take sporting wagers seriously, especially with money on the table!

Oh, but you must put your challenge carefully. When Mitt Romney, in 2012, challenged Rick Perry to bet $10,000 on a fact-check, it looked like a rich man's bullying tactic. Much better might have been "one percent of my income will go to your charity, if I lose, and one percent of yours will go to a charity of my choosing, if I'm right." 

Figuring how to parse such challenges should be explored by some liberal-moderate think tank or NGO, finding what works even on conservative focus groups, where they admit: "My guy looks like a coward if he refuses."

== The Core Challenge ==

In the most general sense, we need to make one matter paramount, since all others will then fall out: 

"Are you willing to help set up a fact-checking service that conservatives would accept as nonpartisan? 

No other challenge makes them squirm and seek exits from the room, as surely as that one.  Block the exits.

"Is there any combination of conservative sages you'd put forward, to help us out of the quagmire of lies? Sages that your opponents would (perhaps grudgingly) admit are genuine grownups? 

"Sandra Day O'Conner? George Schultz? James Baker? Elizabeth Dole? Dick Thornburgh? Arnold Schwarznegger? The CEOs of GE or GM? How about David Petreus and some other retired generals and admirals? 

"And might YOU accept Warren Buffet or Bill Gates on the other side? Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos? Moderate liberals who absolutely want capitalism to work?

"If such a commission of grownup sages oversaw a new, fact-checking service (or two or five competing ones, so we aren't setting up a Ministry of Truth), would you then agree to notice when they say "the evidence says that's not true"?

Okay, then here's where the challenge bites, hard.

"And if you cannot name such conservative sages who you'd trust... if you refuse to offer ANY suggestions how our nation and civilization can check on facts... what does that say about you and your movement?"

Before you object: "they'll just shrug this off!" consider. We are in a ground game of yards and downs. Cornering them in this way could provide the last straw for a million residually sane Republicans to wake up and see what's happened to hijacked American Conservatism.  A million here, a million there... and Sane America will defeat the Confederacy, yet again.

Let's be plain: challenging today's right over the matter of fact-checking services is not peripheral to our political struggles.  It is central. It is the only central thing. Win this, and the ciivil war is over. Lose or ignore this -- and you prove the dismal stupidity of our own side.

== Specifics. Cornering them hard: the Name an Exception Challenge! ==
Try to grasp the Fox tactic.  When we trot forth a myriad facts,the alt-right cult deflects with anecdotes and assertions. Their audience cannot tell the difference between a particular anecdote and a generality. (Example: because a few Berkeley protesters behave stupidly, it means "all liberals are like that.")
So I’ve got something better. Find something so pervasive and general that it cannot be answered, even with a single anecdote! Defy them to NAME AN EXCEPTION!
Ponder this: If I make a specific accusation, then the burden of proof is on me. But when I challenge you to disprove a general accusation, well, that should be easy for you to do, by finding one exception

If I claim the Harlem Globetrotters always beat the Washington Generals, you can refute with the 1971 upset in Tennessee. In which case I must retreat from always to most of the time. 

But if I claim the 1972 Miami Dolphins won all their games in regular season play, then you must find an exception... even one... or admit that they were the best team, that year. More generally, your failure to find even one exception gives me the upper hand.  It proves the generality (at least contingently) by default.

No, for the following name-one-exception challenges, the burden of proof is on conservatives to show how these six general accusations have any exceptions. Any at all! Even one will do -- at least to stymie the always generalization. Just one.

One exception should be easy! And if you fail, then they are true. 
And if they are true, then your movement is not a political party, it is a dangerously insane and incompetent cult.
1-  Name one profession of high knowledge and skill that’s not under attack by Fox/Trump & cohorts? Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science. 

Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 3% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced. 
See Mistrust of Science in The New Yorker.
And now?  Add to that list the U.S. military and intelligence officer corps and the FBI! All are now "deep state" enemies of the right. Oh, yes, this is not your daddy's conservatism, when your screeches of hate are directed at every fact-profession... and every fact-checking service is automatically "politically biased" because they keep finding your side "pants on fire" crazy. 

(As it happens, I know two professions of folks who know  a lot and aren't being warred upon. But I won't tell you. And even if alt-righters cite them, it won't help their cause a bit.)
2- Name a major metric of U.S. national health that did better across the spans of either Bush administration than across the spans of the Clinton and Obama admins.  You cannot. Nearly all such metrics declined - many plummeting - across both Bush regimes.  Nearly all rose, many of them by a lot, across both DP terms. The record of almost perfect mal-governance would make any sane or scientific-minded person flee the GOP screaming and never trust them again.
Clinton & Obama scored better in every category, including every sane conservative desire, like rate of change of deficits and military readiness. Quibbling-wriggling-squirming will not change that.  And Clinton-Obama would have done even better were they not sabotaged 3/4 of the time by the laziest and nastiest Congresses in U.S. history.
3- Name one top GOP leader between Reagan and Ryan who was even mentioned at the 2016 Republican Convention. Well, except for Newt. Otherwise, all were brushed under the rug, including both Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Dennis (friend to boys) Hastert, Tom (convicted felon) DeLay, Boehner....  In fact, name a top republican between EISENHOWER and Ryan who was even mentioned by the party at the RNC, other than Reagan and Newt! This shows how writhing ashamed Republicans are, of their record at governance.  How desperate they are, to double down on the insanity with new heroes, shouting "squirrel!" and pointing offstage at ever-greater hallucinations, rather than face the fact that their side governs very, very badly.

Next comes a simple -- though tragically hilarious one.
4- Name one of the dark fantasies about Obama, from black UN helicopters to taking away all our guns, that happened or was even tepidly tried. 

(If you claim there were such attempted tyrannies, be prepared to put money on it. Real money, with conspiracy theories bearing burden-of-proof. Cash. Held and judged by reuptable grownups.)
5- Name one time when Supply Side (Voodoo) "Economics" made a successful major prediction?  One time? Ever? One time when slashing taxes on the rich led to reduced deficits and to vastly stimulated economic activity, or even much investment in "supply" capital? Once. One time when this cult religion unambiguously delivered? Ever? At all?

(Every single time we turned away from the Greatest Generation's Rooseveltean social contract with gusher gifts to the rich, the lucre was not invested in productive capacity or R&D. The results (as predicted by Adam Smith) were slower growth, rising deficits, skyrocketing wealth disparities and declining research/ROI horizons and productivity.)
6- Name one other time in American — or human — history, when an administration spanning 8 years had zero scandals or indictments concerning malfeasance in the performance of official duties.  It has happened twice in American — or human — history. The administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  Name a GOP example.
I can name one more, though it was a 4-year. Jimmy Carter's tenure. On the other side? They can’t. 

Watch. Those who do try to answer these challenges will offer quibbles, minutia, or else squawl "squirrel!” and point offstage at some assertion or distraction, concocting scenarios and excuses to explain why they cannot answer any of these… or dozens of other… challenges. And remember, even if an exception is found, all that means is that the generality shifts from always to almost always.

(Others are invited to offer more such challenges below, under Comments.)

Only dig it. If any one of these broad generalities stand, unanswered, just that one -- even all by itself -- will mean their side cannot be trusted with a burnt match. 

= Why should such wagers be necessary, in arguments between adults and fellow citizens? =

George Lakoff goes into the “Strong Father” explanation for confederatism — the version of American conservatism that has utterly replaced and expunged all others, from libertarian to entrepreneurial to scientific. Lakoff - who predicted that Hillary Clinton’s campaign would fail - explains how deep, inner assumption sets compel Red Americans toward thought patterns that are fundamentally different than their Blue America neighbors.

You must read and understand Lakoff’s explanation! Though there is more that he leaves out. For example take the one reflex that all Americans share — Suspicion of Authority (SoA) — which is pushed in every Hollywood message myth we imbibed, when young.  In some films, the dire authority figure is a government agency, or else a corporation, or an aristocrat… or aliens or a badgering mother-in-law. If we were calm and reasonable, we’d admit that oppression could come from any and all directions…
…and that very reasonableness — willingness to negotiate and see other points of view — has been the real target of right wing propaganda. Fox and its shock-radio pals have utilized, exploited and twisted SoA, so that confederates (a more accurate term than “Red Americans” or “conservatives) aim outrage and ire at every single fact-using profession, from science and journalism to civil servants and… now… the FBI, Intelligence Agencies and the United States Military Officer Corps. 
Why? Why would the number one aim of Fox etc be to get 40% of voters to hate smart people, who know stuff?
By itself, Lakoff’s diagnosis cannot explain all this, since these expert castes could easily be viewed as “strong parents” — authoritative and easily classified as superior. When injured, a confederate will run to a medical doctor. When abused by some local injustice, he will call an attorney or a newspaper. The propaganda that has whipped these folks into hating all smartypants types had to be pervasive and relentless, across a whole generation…
… and the ground had to be very well prepared, in order to start attacking the last exempt groups.  But that time has come. Military officers and intel agencies and the FBI are now all part of a “deep state” conspiracy, along with every civil servant. Yes, in other words, all of the expert castes who might question or resist full takeover by an oligarchic putsch.  A return to feudalism that was always the confederate goal, in every past phase of the American Civil War.

Again, a terrific article about “weaponized propaganda” can be found at the Scout site. 

We need to solve this thing, before it kills us. And it's time to get macho in their faces. Not with "antifa" screeches and hysteria and violence, but with a simple challenge they cannot squirm away from.

"Come on Big Mouth. Put real money on it."

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

Reminder: I’m at the National Book Festival This Saturday

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/30/2017 - 18:04
Come see me in Washington DC this weekend! Along with many many other very fine authors. Here’s my appearance schedule. See you there!

September Big Idea Slots Are Filled

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 18:25
The headline says it all. If you queried about a Big Idea for September and I have not yet gotten back to you, everything is all filled up for the month. October and November slots are still open (for October and November releases).

Audie Meets Spice

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:01
Such is the latent influence of A Christmas Story that whenever I see a box marked “Fragile” my brain pronounces it fra-gee-lay, and another part of my brain says “It’s a major award!” But in today, the box marked “fragile” that came to my house did have a major award in it: the Audie that […]

The Big Idea: Jaym Gates

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 09:50
California has always been pegged as the “weird” state — and as a native of the state, I just have to say… well, yeah. But in Strange California, the story anthology she’s co-edited with J. Daniel Batt, editor Jaym Gates goes beyond a simple agreement on the strangeness of the state, to dig into what […]

New Books and ARCs, 8/28/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 15:52
Happy Monday — here’s a lovely stack of new books and ARCs for you peruse as this week gets started. If you see something you’re interested in, tell us in the comments!

In honor of Houston... of Texas... and our future... a chapter from EARTH.

Contrary Brin - Sun, 08/27/2017 - 15:15
While offering up hopes and prayers for our fellow citizens in Texas, here let me give you all an Excerpt from EARTH (1990), presenting a glimpse of Texan resilience in the near future:
They were still pumping out Houston from last week's hurricane when she got into town. Teresa found it stunning how the city was transformed by the calamity. Avenues of inundated shops rippled mysteriously just below floodline, their engulfed wares glimmering like sunken treasure. The towering glass office blocks were startling vistas of blue and white and aquamarine, reflecting the summer sky above and bright-flecked waters below.
Limp in the humidity, rows of canted trees marked the drowned borderlines of street and sidewalk. Their stained trunks testified to even higher inundations, in the past. Under fluffy clouds pushed by a torpid breeze, Houston struck Teresa like some hyper-modernist's depiction of Venice, before that lamented city's final submergence. A wonderful assortment of boats, canoes, kayaks and even gondolas negotiated side streets, while makeshift water taxis plowed the boulevards, ferrying commuters from their residential arcologies to the shimmering office towers. With typical Texan obstinacy, nearly half the population had refused evacuation this time. In fact, Teresa reckoned some actually reveled living among the craggy cliffs of this manmade archipelago.
From the upper deck of the bus she saw the sun escape a cloud, setting the surrounding glazed monoliths ablaze. Most of the other passengers instantly and unconsciously turned away, adjusting broad-brimmed hats and polarized glasses to hide from the harsh rays. The only exceptions she saw were a trio of Ra-boys, in sleeveless mesh shirts and gaudy earrings, who faced the bright heat with relish, soaking in it worshipfully.
Teresa took a middle path when the sun emerged. She didn't react at all. It was, after all, only a stable class G star, well-behaved and a safe distance removed. Certainly, it was less dangerous down here than up in orbit.
Oh, she took all the proper precautions -- she wore a hat and mild yellow glasses. But thereafter she simply dismissed the threat from her mind. Any real danger of skin cancer was minor if you stayed alert and caught it early. Certainly the odds compared favorably with those of dying in a heli-zep accident.
That wasn't why she'd avoided taking a heli today, skipping that direct route from Clear Lake, where the NASA dikes had withstood Hurricane Abdul's fury. Teresa used a roundabout route today to make sure she wasn't being followed. It also provided an opportunity to collect her thoughts before stepping from frying pan to fire.
Anyway, how many more chances would she have to experience this wonder of American conceit, this spectacle that was Houston Defiant? Either the city moguls would eventually succeed in their grand, expensive plan -- to secure the dikes, divert the water table, and stabilize everything on massive pylons -- or the entire metropolis would soon join Galveston under the Gulf of Mexico, along with large patches of Louisiana and poor Florida. Either way, this scene would be one to tell her grandchildren about.
-- assuming grandchildren, of course.
The water-bus passed a perseverant shopkeeper peddling his soaked fashions from pontoons under a sign that read, “PRE-SHRUNK, GUARANTEED SALT RESISTANT". Nearby, a cafe owner had set up tables, chairs and umbrellas atop the roof of one of their bus's stranded, wheeled cousins, and was doing a brisk business. Their driver delicately maneuvered around this enterprise, and the cluster of parked kayaks and dinghies surrounding it, then negotiated one of the shallow reefs of abandoned bicycles before regaining momentum on Lyndon Johnson Avenue.
“They ought to keep it this way," Teresa commented softly, to no one in particular. “It's charming."
“Amen to that, sister."
With a momentary jerk of surprise, Teresa glanced toward the Ra-boys and saw what she had not noticed before, that one of them wore a quasi-legal Big-Ear amplifier. He returned her evaluation speculatively, touching the rims of his sunglasses, making them briefly go transparent so she could catch his leer.
“Water makes the old town sexy," he said, sauntering closer. “Don'tcha think? I love the way the sunlight bounces off of everything."
Teresa decided not to point out the minor irregularity, that he wore no sign advertising his eavesdropping device. Only in her innermost thoughts... and her lumpy left pocket... did she have anything to hide.
“You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She answered, giving him a measured look he could take as neither insult nor invitation. It didn't work. He sauntered forward, planted one foot on the seat next to her, leaned forward, and rubbed the close-cropped fuzz covering his cranium.
“Water serves the sun, don't ya know? We're supposed to let it come on come on come. It's just one of His ways o' lovin', see? Coverin' Earth like a strong man covers a woman, gently, irresistibly... wetly."
Fresh patches of pink skin showed where over-the-counter creams had recently cleared away precancerous areas. In fact, Ra-boys weren't many more times as likely to develop the really deep, untreatable melanoma tumors than other people. But their blotchy complexions heightened the image they desired -- of dangerous fellows without respect for life. Young studs with nothing to lose.
Teresa felt the other passengers tense. Several made a point of turning toward the young toughs, aiming their True-Vus at them like vigilant, crime-fighting heroes of an earlier era. To these the boys offered desultory, almost obligatory gestures of self-expression. Most of the riders just turned away, withdrawing behind shadow and opaque lenses.
Teresa thought both reactions a bit sad. I hear it's even worse in some cities up north. They're nothing but teenagers, for heaven's sake. Why can't people just relax?
She herself found the Ra-boys less frightening than pathetic. She'd heard of the fad, of course, and seen young men dressed this way at a few parties Jason took her to before his last mission. But this was her first encounter with sun-worshippers in daylight, which separated nighttime poseurs from the real thing.
“Nice metaphors," she commented. “Are you sure you didn't go to school?"
Already flushed from the heat, the bare-shouldered youth actually darkened several shades as his two friends laughed aloud. Teresa had no wish to make him angry. Dismembering a citizen -- even in self defense -- wouldn't help her now-precarious position with the agency. Placatingly, she held up one hand.
“Let's go over them, shall we? Now you seem to be implying the rise in sea level was caused by your sun deity. But everyone knows the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting because of the Greenhouse Effect --"
“Yeah, yeah," the Ra-boy interrupted. “But the greenhouse gases keep in heat that originates with the sun."
“Those gases were man-made, were they not?"
He smiled smugly. “Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides from cars and TwenCen factories, sure. But where'd it all come from originally? Oil! Gas! Coal! All buried and hoarded by Her Nibs long ago, cached away under her skin like blubber. But all the energy in the oil an' coal -- the reason our grempers dug and drilled into Old Gaia in the first place -- that came from the sun!"
He bent closer. “Now though, we're no longer enslaved to Her precious hoard of stolen fossil fat-fuel. It's all gone up in smoke, wonderful smoke. Bye bye.” He aimed a kiss at the clouds. “And there's nowhere else to turn anymore but to the source itself!"
Ra-worshippers were backers of solar energy, while the more numerous Gaians pushed wind power and conservation instead. As a spacer, Teresa ironically found her sympathies coinciding with the group whose appearance and style were the more repulsive. Probably all she had to do was let these fellows know she was an astronaut, and all threat and bluster would evaporate. Honestly though, she liked them better this way -- loud, boisterous, reeking of testosterone and overcompensation -- than she would as fawning admirers.
“This city ain't gonna last long anyway," the Ra-Boy continued, waving at the great towers, up to their steel ankles in Gulf waters. “They can build their levees, drive piles, try to patch the holes. But sooner or later, it's all goin' the way of Miami.”
“Fecund jungle's gonna spread --” one of the others crooned through a gauzy, full-backup mouth-synthesizer. Presumably it was a line from a popular song, though she didn't recognize it.
The growling motors changed pitch as it approached another stop. Meanwhile, the leader leaned even closer to Teresa. “Yessiree, blistery! The Old Lady's gonna brim with life again. There'll be lions roaming Saskatchewan. Flamingoes flocking Greenland! And all 'cause of Ra's rough lovin'."
Poor fellow, Teresa thought. She saw through his pose of macho heliolatry. Probably he was a pussycat, and the only danger he presented came from his desperate anxiety not to let that show.
The Ra-boy frowned as he seemed to detect something in her smile. Trying harder to set her aback, he bared his teeth in a raffish grin. “Rough, wet loving. It's what women like. No less Big Mama Gaia. No?"
Across the aisle, a woman wearing an Orb of the Mother pendant glared sourly at the Ra-boy. He noticed, turned, and lolled his tongue at her, causing her fashionably fair skin to flush. Not wearing True Vus, she quickly looked away.
He stood up, turning to sweep in the other passengers. “Ra melts the glaciers! He woos her with his heat. He melts her frigid infundibulum with warm waters. He ..."
The Ra-boy stammered to a halt. Blinking, he swept aside his dark glasses and looked left and right, seeking Teresa.
He spotted her at last, standing on the jerry-rigged third-floor landing of the Gibraltar Building. As the waterbus pulled away again, raising salty spumes in its wake, she blew a kiss toward the sun-worshipper and his comrades. They were still staring back at her, with their masked eyes and patchy pink skins, as the boat driver accelerated to catch a yellow at First Street, barely making it across before the light changed.
“So long, harmless," she said after the dwindling Ra-boy. Then she nodded to the doorman as he grinned and ushered her inside.

That's from chapter 22 of EARTH (1990).
See the wiki fans run about my predictions from EARTH! Of course I needn't point out other themes, like citizen smart mobs equipped with cameras who had pretty much ended crime a decade earlier, resulting in
mass layoffs of police. Or Climate Change, duh? Well in wasn't duh in 1987.
Oh, speaking of Texas and Houston, here's prescient and extremely relevant wisdom from the city's namesake and a mighty Texan-American.
Good luck Texas! The Union stands with you. And now back to our regular rhythm.... . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Very Noisy Cover of Nobody’s Diary

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 08/27/2017 - 00:53
I was left to my own devices today, and rather than just slump on the couch and watch TV, honorable pastime though it might be, I decided to play with my audio software and record another song. This one is from Yaz(oo), the seminal electronic band from the early 80s, featuring Vince Clarke (post-Depeche Mode […]

Cheating, gerrymandering and other threats

Contrary Brin - Fri, 08/25/2017 - 21:00
I penned an important article on gerrymandering, offering new insights, and I'm waiting to hear from various journals and zines.  Alas, in this hyper-political era, editors choose according to their polemical tastes and pals... so you can expect it will likely be posted here, soon.  Meanwhile...

Ed Burmila, in Rolling Stone, makes a cogent point that we should pay less attention to Donald Trump and more to what the confederacy is doing to our fellow citizens, down at the state level, where the GOP’s lock on more than 30 out of fifty statehouses and 65 out of 98 state legislature chambers, has set then to work doing no less than re-establishing feudalism:
“Donald Trump's presidency has been a disaster, but he has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations in one key way: getting attention – attention that fills the void where the rest of us have a soul…. (But fighting back) begins with winning back the state legislatures that draw electoral maps and make the rules that shape elections.”
In other words, this is no time for timid appetites. The Bernie Bros etc. want us to concentrate on shifting 25 swing Congressional seats, but that number should be 125, even 225! Moreover, even that will be a hollow victory without a thousand State Assembly wins.  This coalesces three themes that I’ve pushed for some time.
1: Don’t impeach! Not yet. Our civil servants are now fully alerted to the insanity and they should be able to protect us, for the time being. For now, Trump is the Republicans’ nightmare. Impeach, and the  confederates will just rally behind a President Pence and march with savage discipline. Leaks will end, as those manics plot - sincerely - to bring on the end of the world.

Last week I offered up insight into the 25th Amendment, and how it might offer even worried Republicans a way to safeguard the Republic, without even removing an unstable president from office.
2: Gerrymandering and other electoral cheats are central. They have metastacized till even Samuel Alito and John Roberts cannot ignore them, anymore. (Or else they are simply not Americans.) But we need clever and strong backup plans. More on that, soon.
3: Retaking many of those states will not be done by running Santa Monica liberals in deep red districts.  Go ahead and run liberals and Bernites etc in swing constituencies. But in districts that are deeply conservative by personality, we need candidates who are pro-science, pro-rights, honest, logically fact-loving and un-bigoted… but who can also relate to locals… by personality.  Elsewhere, in a 3-part series, I talk about the richest possible source of such candidates.  Men and women of rectitude who can compel even the reddest voter to actually listen to a democrat, possibly for the first time in his or her life.

(That is what retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate achieved, in my own district. Republicans who had never listened to a democrat gave him their ear, and he came within 1,150 votes of toppling the infamous Darrell Issa.)
But how should you allocate your political time and energy?  Yes, national issues matter!  Give money to the fight against gerrymandering, and Arnold Schwarznegger will match your contribution!
But Burmila adds:
“The payoff of being politically active simply is greater in down-ballot races. House and Senate races are of course important, but the marginal benefit of adding one more volunteer to those campaigns is small compared to what an activist can contribute to a local race. Throwing your donation and evening volunteering hours into the miasma of money and noise that is a modern congressional race is like spitting into the ocean. In a local race, the time and money you can donate will be much more impactful. Knocking on doors and speaking to a few hundred voters on behalf of an unknown candidate in a state assembly primary could make a real difference.” 
Give the rest of it a read. Then give some thought about that retired officer you know, who happens to live in a red district.  It’s arm twisting time. 
== Vote cheating ==
The new "election fraud commission" has demanded information - including social security numbers - of every voter in America, without even setting up a secure and vetted site and infrastructure to receive and secure the information. And that sets aside the Orwellian aspects of the plan.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said about his own commission’s request for voter roll data from every state: “Frankly, if a state like Kentucky or California won’t provide available information, one has to ask the question, ‘Why not? I mean, what are they trying to hide if they don’t want a presidential advisory commission to study their state voter rolls?”
What are -- *choke * – they trying to hide?  How loud would you have screeched if Barack Obama had asked for that information, sir?
To be clear, my resistance is not purist or reflexive. I would happily allow a major beefing up in voter ID if it were part of a negotiated deal that included:

(1) massive compliance assistance to help poor people, divorced women, the elderly etc to actually get proper ID. (Without providing assistance to comply with a new burden, every single person shouting about Voter ID is a pure hypocrite. A. Pure. Hypocrite.)

(2) a national agency to vet and inspect every voting machine, ensuring that it is both secure and paper-trail hand-auditable

(3) weekend voting! 

(4) registration in parallel with drivers licenses. And finally

(4) an end to gerrymandering.

Democrats should say: “Fine. You give in on those five honorable and reasonable things and we’ll consent to a massive, five year program to ensure all votes and voters have proper ID!

Refuse those reasonable things and all you prove yourselves to be is hypocrites.  Well... that and outright cheaters.
== Those voting machines ==
Mark Anderson concisely describes the scandalous situation: “Prior to Obama's first election, multiple testimonies from various qualified experts proved that changing voting totals in U.S. states was easy enough for a smart middle-school hacker to accomplish. In one demonstration, a champion of the fallibility of the Washington State system showed, on live TV, how local results of election returns were collected and stored on unprotected PCs using flat text files. In a matter of a couple of minutes, she was able to use Microsoft Word to pick up the file, reverse the results, and repost it.
“In the same year, a security expert testified before Congress that the Diebold machines used in many states were completely hackable. He provided proof, and demonstrated the techniques for taking close elections (typical 49% vs. 51% elections) and just switching the numbers.
“Since all of this was ground truth over eight years ago, it beggars the imagination to understand how senators today (???) can try so hard to assure the American public that, yes, Russia has just hacked into 39 states' election systems, but, NO, no, no, they didn't change any votes.”
An article on NPR asks: “What would it cost to protect the nation's voting systems from attack? About $400 million would go a long way, say cybersecurity experts. It's not a lot of money when it comes to national defense — the Pentagon spent more than that last year on military bands alone — but getting funds for election systems is always a struggle.”
At a Senate intelligence committee hearing last week about Russian hacking during last year's election, Jeanette Manfra , the acting deputy under secretary for cybersecurity at the Department Homeland Security recommended that election officials have a paper-based audit process to identify anomalies after an election.  While that's the advice most cybersecurity experts give, right now more than a dozen states use electronic voting machines that have no paper backup. 
 == End the travesty! ==
High on the list of Republican nightmares is the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court might issue its long-overdue ruling against gerrymandering — a blatant cheat and crime against the people and constitution of the United States.  The court weaseled out, back in 2004, by throwing up its hands and proclaiming, “we don’t see a clean solution, so we won’t even try.” But there are signs that, in this new case, Justice Kennedy at least is reconsidering.

One difference, this time, is that mathematicians and statisticians have given the anti-gerrymandering forces a new, legal argument based not on maps but upon each voter’s proportionate likelihood of ever having a vote that matters.  
A second difference is that the maps have gotten so much worse and so spectacularly egregious that it should “shock the conscience” of even John Roberts and Samuel Alito. (To be clear, it is time for those two gentlemen to decide, at last, whether they are with the people and the great American Experiment, or rationalizing enablers of a feudal-oligarchic putsch.)
 One potential solution, offered on Slate by Jordan Ellenberg, would certainly help: increase the number of state legislators in each state.  Doubling the number makes gerrymandering much, much harder. There are drawbacks, of course, since this adds expense to state government, though miserly New Hampshire does fine with a House of Representatives with 400 members, each one representing just more than 3,000 people.
“Enlarging state legislatures obviously wouldn’t do anything to solve the problem of gerrymandering U.S. congressional seats (though lots of people think the House of Representatives, too, should be a lot larger).”
Also: “In some states, Wisconsin among them, increasing the size of the legislature would require amending the state constitution.”
And none of this changes what I wrote several years ago, about gerrymandering here.
While democratic politicians are very very different from republican ones, the DP pols used to buy into the criminal voter-rape of gerrymandering… till voters in many blue states rebelled! California, Oregon, Washington and others — blue voters slapped their preferred politicians across the face and said “stop it!” And the Goppers cheered, knowing with certainty that they’d gain advantages… but it didn’t happen!  Democrats did BETTER after the cheat was removed!
But the sheeplike confederate masses have never lifted their heads to rebel against this travesty. Nor will they.  
Lest I get repetitious... it’s down at the state level where all the political power lies… and where the confeds are most vulnerable. Examples: Two members of the Oklahoma legislature were forced to end their time in office prematurely. State Rep. Dan Kirby (R) had a nasty habit of making unwanted sexual advances toward female members of his staff, while State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) allegedly had an even nastier habit of paying for sex...with children. So, they're both out.Recently, Sooner State voters went to the polls to choose replacements and, in a surprise, both seats went to Democrats.

Elsewhere I have urged “Don’t Impeach! At least not yet.”  Those reasons still stand, and this article agrees… with a disturbing cavil that reminds us: “There are dozens of terrible things Trump could do on his way out of the door: He could pardon accomplices or ignore court orders. He could incite violence or start a foreign war. So, by all means, let us rejoice that Trump is weaker today than he has been at any previous point in his presidency. But let us also remember that the immense danger he poses to the American republic has not passed as long as he occupies the White House.”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:
Syndicate content