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The Big Idea: Christopher Brown

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 07/13/2017 - 07:43
The opening sentence of Christopher Brown’s Big Idea essay for Tropic of Kansas hits awfully close to home these days. Buckle in. CHRISTOPHER BROWN: What if the revolutions we watch ripping other countries apart were happening on our own streets? America as Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela—that core conceit behind Tropic of Kansas drove almost everything else […]

My Twitter Muting Regime, July 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 13:56
Twitter recently announced a few more options to mute the obnoxious and stupid on their service, a move I applaud both as a general step to cut down abuse on their service, and as a person who the obnoxious and stupid often try to bother on Twitter. The new mute options include muting accounts that […]

The Big Idea: Jennifer Stevenson

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 10:15
  With a title that includes the phrase “coed demon sluts,” you might think that you know all you need to know about Jennifer Stevenson’s series of paranormal erotica. Here’s Stevenson to make the argument that there’s more than meets the eye. JENNIFER STEVENSON: The foundation of this series is a question: “Aren’t you tired […]

Surviving Apocalypse - The Postman influences! In good and bad ways.

Contrary Brin - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 19:01
Okay, I suppose I should take this as a compliment.
Over the years, many folks have written to me about The Postman.  Most of them grasp its core message — that any civilization-wide collapse would not be like the Mad Max genre cliché, featuring survivors who only hunker down in passive acceptance while a lone hero battles some grotesque villain and his mohawk-wearing thugs. 

No. Once their children are safe, only one other thing would be on the minds of most survivors. How much they miss civilization and desperately want it back. A glimmer — a spark — of lingering enlightenment will be all it takes to get them to fight for it.
Sure, in my novel, the crucial difference is made by a hero, but his role is not to beat up all the mohawk guys and kill the demon leader, but rather, just to provide and fan that spark. To offer hope that courage and patriotic sacrifice might help to bring back what was lost. The gentle, sweet, supportive, most-just, flawed but ever-improving nation and world society that our forebears struggled to leave to us.
 It’s a concept one almost never sees in the tired post-apocalypse (PA) genre, alas. Indeed, this heart of the story was the one part that Kevin Costner absolutely nailed. His film version was also musically and visually gorgeous film - one of the most beautiful ever made. Two great, big plusses, for which I forgive much else.
I’ve had fan mail from a great many folks who appreciated that difference. Some even wrote to say that The Postman is a central, iconic tome in Kazakhstan’s pro-democracy movement!
And yet, all along, there were fan letters containing another thread.  I got a hint of it when I briefly visited Costner’s film set, in Arizona. The bigshot director/actor couldn’t spare more than five words for the original author, but I found much better reception outside his trailer and beyond the catering trucks, where extras in the “Holnist Army” were encamped with their horses. (Briefly, the largest cavalry force on planet Earth.) There, my wife and I and 6-year old son were regaled with songs and legends of the Holnist Horde, as concocted not by gifted screenwriter Brian Helgeland, but the extras themselves. We got to see their home-made unit patches and posed for pictures…
…and I learned that a few of them — both readers and of a certain personality — felt driven to praise the author of LOST EMPIRE, the book within a book that was written (as I purport) by Nathan Holn.
Now, LOST EMPIRE only exists as snippets, quoted in The Postman. But I have always believed that a novelist should be honest about villains — that they will always see themselves as the heroes of their own story. I am tired of polemical writers who stack the decks by cramming too-convenient words into their pro- and anti- characters, putting their thumbs on the scale. In The Postman, I gave Nathan Holn — and General Macklin — rationalizations for their cruel campaign to restore feudalism. Rationalizations that Gordon and Powhatan have ready answers for. And yet…
…and yet, years later I find some of the Holn/Macklin passages copied or quoted on the pages of neo-feudalist online screeds!
== Now for the latest ==

On Racked, Jennings Brown gives us an article about how today’s survivalists and doomsday preppers seem obsessed with the style and symbolism and niftiness of their gear, their clothes especially — just like the Holnist soldier-extras I met on the film location of The Postman.  Moreover, sure enough, the very first paragraphs of Brown’s article refer to my novel.  
“Many preppers’ interest in survivalism goes back to one post-apocalyptic book or film. For a western Colorado-based outdoor and hunting retail worker who goes by the nom de plume Feature Kreep, it’s The Postman by David Brin.”
And yes, the report soon heads into high fashion for End Times. Still, it’s a fun read. But do go to the source. And pray tell me that I did a better job fighting for civilization than laying seeds against it.

== Other Sci Fi News! ==

The Postman is now back on Audible! Plus, download a reading group discussion guide for novel. 

This week, XPRIZE (I am on the Science Fiction board of advisers) launched our first sci-fi anthology, Seat 14C, a digital collection of stories told from the perspectives of passengers aboard a fictional flight from Tokyo to San Francisco that mysteriously passed through a wormhole and landed 20 years in the future, in the year 2037. The anthology includes 22 short stories that provide a glimpse into possible futures shaped by exponential technologies, with additional stories to be released over the coming weeks, and a competition for the public to write their own story, with the winner receiving a trip to Tokyo.

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Ari Brin's excellent podcast - Novum - explores many topics related to science fiction and its influence in the world. In Episode 14, she begins a two part series on "Advertising in Science Fiction." First, how advertising is portrayed in novels and films about the future, and then (soon) about how advertisers use science fiction to sell, sell, sell. Terrific stuff.

Her most recent podcast -- The Secret of the Jungle Gym -- tells a fascinating tale of geometry, infidelity... and the fourth dimension.

== A new Foundation series ==

Anyone know David S. Goyer  Or Josh Friedman? Their  plans for a "Foundation" TV series seem to be moving ahead! 

I’m just putting it out there that I'm probably the best living expert on the story arcs of Isaac Asimov's universe, having written the ultimate sequel FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH,  that tied together all of Isaac's loose ends.  (Isaac's widow and daughter were very happy.)

Indeed, the producers ought to know where the books of the SECOND FOUNDATION TRILOGY fit in the sequence. Greg Bear and Greg Benford wrote prequelsshowing Hari Seldon as a young man... and my story fits right in among the opening chapters of FOUNDATION. Just sayin’ that a chat might be called for.
And...
My old Architechs co-star Adam Rogers offers up an interesting article on WIRED about Luc Besson’s upcoming sci fi blockbuster – Valerian – and how such films are financed, nowadays. Plus, revisit the original volumes of Valerian by Christin and Mezieres.

I'll be at Starship Congress 2017.. a forward-looking space science conference, along with special guest Miguel Alcubierre (creator of the famed Alcubierre Drive). Help support them on Kickstarter.

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

The Big Idea: Nancy Kress

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/11/2017 - 08:55
Folks, in discussing her new novel Tomorrow’s Kin, author Nancy Kress has some bad news for you. It’s about your brain. And mine. And everyone’s. NANCY KRESS: Your mind does not work the way you think it does. You probably assume that you consider data and come to rational conclusions. But all too often, people […]

Announcing: Don’t Live For Your Obituary, A Collection on Writing, in December, From Subterranean Press

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/10/2017 - 11:18
Hey, did you know it’s been ten years since You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, my last collection of essays about writing and the writing life, debuted? That’s a pretty long time, especially when you consider everything that’s gone on — in the world, in publishing, and with […]

The Big Idea: Sarah Kuhn

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/10/2017 - 06:56
Weddings: Blessed occasion or battleground between the forces of good and evil? Why not both? Sarah Kuhn looks at the Big Day in this Big Idea for her novel Heroine Worship, and how it turns out to be a very fine setting for more than just “I do.” SARAH KUHN: I love weddings. I tear […]

Meanwhile In Japan

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 07/09/2017 - 20:17
The Japanese version of The End of All Things. Incidentally, I used the Google Translate app on this and it kind of made word salad on it. So we’re not quite yet in the world of automatic intelligible translations. At least for novels.

Triumph of the Trump? Be afraid of the manic "will"

Contrary Brin - Sat, 07/08/2017 - 15:18
While the president himself has probably never heard of Leni Riefenstahl, it’s a dead certainty that the authors of his G-20 speech have watched the Nazi propagandist director’s opus, ‘Triumph of the Will,’ scads of times. Chief Strategist Bannon has said so, admiringly.  And hence it became a matter of note and worry, when POTUS’s speech used the word “will” as a meaningful noun, almost a dozen times, declaring that only great focus and assertiveness can save western civilization.
Mind you, I have been hardly any less dramatic in my own declarations of determination to defend our nation, the “west,” and the great enlightenment experiment. For all its faults, the American pax led the world into its greatest-ever (by far) era of rising prosperity, knowledge, fairness, peace and … yes… early glimmerings of wisdom (through relentless self-criticism). 

Indeed, if they are taken at face value... and only at face value... Trump’s words have real merit. 
Alas, those words overlay a blatant subtext, and that subtext is - I believe  the worst existential threat to this civilization since Hitler and Stalin. Moreover, we should all worry when a Republican president starts making grandiose pre-justifications for war.
For war? Yep, the real deal. And groundwork is being laid, as we speak.  And the underpinning phenomenon that's hauling us toward a cliff is the GOP’s clinically irrefutable bipolar disease.
== Mood gyrations that kill ==
Under Donald Trump, the Republican Party has swung back to one of its manic phases. Already, there are sounds emanating from this White House - and all over the right-o-sphere - almost identical to the last time frenetic GOP mania took over, during the years 2001 - 2003, when so-called ‘neocons’ (Wolfowitz, Nitze, Perle, Adelman and other followers of a mad emigre philosopher named Leo Strauss) concocted excuses for committing the prestige and might of America to quixotic foreign adventures.
Then, as now, there was a lot of jabber about will.  The message? That America can transform the world and triumph, if we simply have enough of that magical stuff. With enough "will" we can transform the world, yippee!
Those Bushite neocons were different from today’s manic alt-righters in one respect. Their official aim was to impose democracy and liberal values in places like Saddam’s Iraq and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Sure, they specifically chose the least fertile soil you could possibly find on this planet to grow democracy. We’ll set aside the question of whether that was deliberate setup for failure, or just a case of grand delusional, unrealistic nation-building. A case can be made for either. But at least their manic transcendentalism gave lip service to America's historic mission as a force for revolution, liberation and transformation.  
In contrast. the narrative pouring from the current White House makes no mention of promoting democracy, even as a fig leaf, let alone as a rationalization. How can it be otherwise, when any despot is their friend... so long as he's not named Castro or Kim?

Instead -- terrifyingly - the new sub-text is fundamentalist. Deep down, only slightly buried in code, it’s Book of Revelation millennialism, Christian-apocalyptic. Pence-ism bubbling in a cauldron that's colored by Steve Bannon's obsession with "Fourth Turning" cyclical history
But let’s look at what happened to the neocons, after their brief glory as lead-instigators of a Grand American Military Crusade. Given that Iraq and Afghanistan turned into horrific, mismanaged and unpopular quagmires, Wolfowitz etc. were soon out on their ears, dumped by the Bushites with nary a thank you note. At the emotional and psychological level - the neocons’ brief, manic epoch was followed by a crash -- the usual Republican Depressive Phase. A let-down into glowering-sullen cynicism.
Look across the post-Reagan era. Brief manic episodes - 1991… 1995… and 2001-3… always gave way quickly to much longer spells during which gloomy obstructionism were the only priority (after tax cuts for the rich.)

 GOP Congresses were the laziest in the history of the nation, passing the fewest bills, holding the fewest hearings or days in session and issuing the fewest subpoenas of any in a century. Oh, they make noise! But if you subtract Monicagate-impeachment and Benghazi, you wind up with the most slothful legislative torpor in 150 years.
Alas, it is the nature of bipolar disease that the phase you’re in eventually flips, bigtime. For Republicans, there’s always dangerous mania soon after a Democratic president gets out of the way. 

Sure enough, already drums of justification for war are pounding. And we all know where Bannon & co. mean to trigger one that almost everyone desires — a trumped-up attack on Iran. Just list the parties who want it!  

== Something for everyone! ==
Russia would love to see a U.S.-led assault drive Tehran’s theocrats to seek shelter under Moscow's protection. After all the silly-ass cruise missile pippity-poppities are done, the only lasting effects of American airstrikes will be (1) to remove Iranian oil from world markets, jacking up prices, and (2) giving Putin the Iranian satrapy that Russian tyrants always wanted, down south. Oh, and (3) pain for Israel, if she foolishly takes part. 

Chalk up a win-win-win for Vladimir.
The Saudis, too, are pushing hard for Trump to attack their Shiite rivals across the Gulf. And foolish parts of Israel want it, too -- though smarter quarters don't.

Trump himself will see it as a way to escape domestic troubles by flourishing “strength.” Mike Pence and his Dominionists are positively rubbing their hands for this, of course, along with Steve Bannon and most senior advisers. 
Even the Iranian mullahs would benefit! Sure, their oil would be removed from world markets (the Russian and Saudi goal). But politically and culturally, the ayatollahs win. Because the rising Persian civil society -- with tens of millions of highly-educated young people yearning to become modern world citizens --  threatens the old fellows' grip on power. A nice little war would let the mullahs crush all those pesky modernists to dust. 
To be sure, there will be losers, like that rising Iranian middle class. And this is the last thing wanted by our own smart castes -- folks who actually know stuff, like the intelligence community, civil servants, diplomats, our allies, and the U.S. military officer corps… along with anyone who genuinely loves as agile, smart and forward-looking America. 
Indeed, these communities are sure to be wary, after having been duped and abused and extorted and bullied by the Bushites and neocons, back during the last GOP manic phase. They will be wary, watchful…
And so? 
So, all of those smartypants clades must be discredited! And lo and behold, alt-right media are suddenly -- in disciplined-unison -- hurling memes like "deep state" in order to lump intel and military officers together with other hated, fact-user castes -- scientists, teachers, doctors, journalists...  And the Deep State meme is working! In the Confederacy, that is.  

Nevertheless,  it will still take something more. There must be a cassus belli, a provocation to get the nation riled up! An event to rouse all that manic will!  Perhaps something really nasty and horrific, cooked-up courtesy of Blackwater and the FSB.
Think a Tonkin Incident, willingly supplied by the Iranian Republican Guard. Or else Saddam’s WMDs, to the fifth power. Or a Gleiwitz Incident. Or a Reichstag Fire. 
The manic phase is upon us. Now all that's needed is a spark.

======

Addendum note.  Okay, the loudest noises aren't directed at Iran, right now, but North Korea. But seriously. Even in full-force manic phase, would anyone be that stupid?. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 7/7/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 16:58
Hey, look, another stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. Just in time for the weekend! Tell us in the comments which looks compulsively readable to you.

The Big Idea: Edward Willett

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 10:18
Edward Willett’s Big Idea post for his new novel The Cityborn references John Calvin, so allow me to suggest that you were predestined to find it and read it. But Willett might argue with me on that, as you will read (of your own free will!) below. EDWARD WILLETT: Some novels are born with big […]

Today’s Very Quick Writing Tip

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 09:39
Written yourself into a corner? Go take a shower. No, seriously. Whenever I write myself into a corner (like, for example, yesterday), I go and take a long shower. And whilst I am standing there doing nothing other than having water spritzing onto my head and body, my brain works the problem. And more often […]

Is there a goal in all of this: the argument for a paranoid, worst-case scenario

Contrary Brin - Thu, 07/06/2017 - 18:04
Many are trying to make sense of the Trumpist Revolution, seeking to decipher some pattern or plan, under all the chaos.  And like those blind, wise men fondling different parts of an elephant, smart people are yelling “aha!” and proclaiming they have it sussed. Take this theory by Michael Klare, on Salon: Is Trump launching a New World Order?
Domestically, he’s pulled out all the stops in attempting to cripple the rise of alternative energy and ensure the perpetuation of a carbon-dominated economy.  Abroad, he is seeking the formation of an alliance of fossil-fuel states led by the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, while attempting to isolate emerging renewable-energy powers like Germany and China. If his project of global realignment proceeds as imagined, the world will soon enough be divided into two camps, each competing for power, wealth, and influence: the carbonites on one side and the post-carbon greens on the other.”
Well… if you squint hard… maybe. Especially if you throw in policies blatantly favoring states like Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma and the Dakotas, arm-twisting companies like Boeing to shift jobs from green states along the west coast to rescue red ones, like Kansas.
But this axis of fossil (fuels) is at-best overly simplistic.  The Trump Administration promised to be a tiger with China, but has turned into a purring lapdog. The White House overflows with zealots who want war with Iran, an oil state. A contradiction that eases when you realize how much Putin and the Saudis will benefit, if Persian oil is removed from the market.
No, you need to add more ingredients, to parse this out, like the administration’s savage attack upon U.S. science. Not just efficiency and sustainable energy, but also the R & D that gave America its shale gas and oil boom, and its first brush with energy independence since the 1960s. Without that research support, small-scale companies might have to sell out to Big Boys, like Exxon, and petroleum independence could become a fleeting thing.

(Noteworthy: Trump is the first president since Hoover not to appoint a scientific adviser -- apparently even the radically weird candidates he had been interviewing were prone to, occasionally, saying the forbidden words: "that's not true." Under Trump, the White House Office of Sciene and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been eviscerated, as Newt Gingrich earlier demolished the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA.)
In fact, studies have long shown that at least half of the U.S. economy arose from our spectacular advances in science and technology — which is why our core confrontation with China should not be about currency manipulation or trade sanctions, but the stunning, bald-faced theft of our crown jewels of intellectual property.  Yet, the Trump Administration has backed off from such efforts, begun under Barack Obama. Meanwhile, the GOP budget plans burn through or gut almost every kind of federally supported R&D.
Michael Klare’s article is worth reading.  He makes a strong case, but doesn’t step back to see a bigger picture.  Yes, Trump is doing everything in his power to help dictators, especially most — not all — of those who count on us continuing our fossil fuel dependence.  This maps onto those U.S. states that Trump favors, as well. But the model needs expansion.
Under their current strongmen, Turkey and the Philippines have joined the loose alliance being corralled by Putin’s Kremlin, in an arc that stretches from Ankara to Manilla.  While the Beijing mandarins are navigating their own path, they are at minimum fellow travelers.

== He's a symptom ==

Naturally, I like Stephen Colbert.  I mean, what's not to like? At least once a week, he drops some sci-fi or fantasy reference. A couple of months ago he quoted Salvor Hardin, the mayor of Terminus in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series! (Which I completed for Isaac.)

So it's with trepidation that I disagree with this paladin of civilization, who at one point said: "Donald Trump is not a symptom; he's the disease."

Oh, that got lots of applause!  But no, no, no.  Elsewhere I go into details as to why this fellow is much less dangerous than most folks think, because all of our civil servants and the FBI, intelligence agencies and most military officers can see that there's a cranky toddler in the White House. They can be trusted to prevent worst-case things. And hence, all the "impeachment " talk is just loony.

A Pence presidency will be far, far worse. Instead of leaky chaos, we'd have a White House packed with tightly disciplined Dominionists bent - with deliberate malice and fierce intent - upon bringing about the end of the world. Picture that, Stephen, please.  And let's plan out the campaign.

== The Russian Question ==
This article by Max de Haldevang on “What Russia Wants” adds insight into why Vladimir Putin - with support from much of the Russian public — seeks to restore a sense of empire. Indeed, not just a sense, but the reality.

Moreover, the mullah faction in Iran is blatantly cozy with Moscow. As we speak, Iranian volunteers fight side by side with Russian advisers, in Syria. When Steve Bannon rails about a coming U.S.-Iran conflict, all it accomplishes is to make Tehran more dependent on the protection of Russia’s nuclear umbrella, turning the Persian Republic into a Kremlin client state, despite the clear wish of that nation’s huge and educated middle class to join the modern world.
But all of this leaves out the biggest and most rabid elephant in the room — the concerted, 25-year campaign to destroy America’s political resilience.  Our once-renowned genius at negotiating pragmatic solutions to problems… partly through a once-respected process called “politics.”
Starting with Newt Gingrich, then the “Hastert Rule,” and enforced ferociously by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, the U.S. right shifted from tough bargainers at the political table to adamant and absolutely rigid obstructionism. Controlling Capitol Hill for 20 of the last 22 years, the GOP ran the laziest and least productive Congresses in U.S. history, passing fewer bills, per capita, holding fewer hearings — even on topics that obsessed them — especially if you subtract theatricals like Monicagate and the Benghazi Imbroglio, that went nowhere.
Add to this the incitement of levels of red-blue animosity not seen since the Civil War. Now stir in Donald Trump’s deliberate spurning of our oldest friendships and alliances. Throw in a stench of Kremlin collusion in the top ranks of the Republican Party, and a picture starts to emerge.
The only trait that unites all of these factors is that each and every one of them weakens America and the West
How ironic! I have long expressed skepticism toward most conspiracy theories. Yet, in this maelstrom, most of those who are sniffing at the Russia Collusion stench seem unable to step back and smell the obvious. This is not about getting the U.S. to ease sanctions on Moscow.
It’s not about propping up an already-doomed fossil fuels industry — though that (and an Iranian War) would certainly help Trump’s Saudi-Russian-Murdoch-Koch patrons.
It is about weakening the west and its entire set of enlightenment values, from democracy and science to transparency and negotiated politics. 
It is already war. Vladimir Putin has said so, as do the Saudis, in the textbooks that they give to boys in madrassas all over the Wahabbi-influenced world. It is already war. And our capital has been seized, and fools like the D.C. shooter only hurt the cause. 

With Washington occupied, the revolution that stunned the world with creativity and gradually improving goodness since 1776 is exiled to Berlin, Paris and Sacramento, where the resilience and brilliance of our renaissance will face its greatest test, since the 1940s.
Elsewhere, I talk of a vastly important tactic that could help us to march through this madness, all the way from mountains and plains to the sea. 
But first, we must awaken. This will be won by reminding our fellow citizens that men and women of knowledge and skill are not the enemy. They are the people who will lead us to victory.  ====================Addendum:

== Cross Check ==
Is this posted remark true or a rumor? Write in to comments!:  “The RNC had a plan even before Trump was their candidate. They used a system called Crosscheck (now adopted in over 30 states) to knock registered minorities off the voter rolls. The system checks if someone named James Washington (for example) is registered in more than one state, then knocks someone in Georgia and someone in Pennsylvania off the voter rolls (it's supposed to check DOB and middle name, but it doesn't and that's proven) and then they show up to vote, are told they are not on the roll (even though they voted there for years) and are given a provisional ballot which is later checked against the same roll and thrown away (no evidence).”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Big Idea: Sarah Beth Durst

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 07/06/2017 - 10:05
Be warned: in today’s Big Idea post for The Reluctant Queen, author Sarah Beth Durst gets a little… bloody. SARAH BETH DURST: This book was born in blood. Seriously. I had just arrived at a writing retreat in the Poconos.  Beautiful place.  Every writer was given an adorable wood cabin nestled beneath pine trees.  I […]

The Big Idea: In Search of Lost Time

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 10:24
  Got time for a Big Idea? Karen Heuler’s involves time itself — that having and getting of it, and what both mean for her latest work, In Search of Lost Time. KAREN HEULER: I started taking piano lesson in my mid-thirties because I fell in love with Chopin’s Preludes and I wanted to play […]

Does philanthropy play a role in making bright futures?

Contrary Brin - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 16:24
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Independence Day is a good time to reflect on the big picture. Like "what will it take to create a civilization that's truly worthy of the name? One that might be much better than ours, because we planted seeds to make it so?"  

It can happen! Every single day, more than 200,000 human beings exit grinding poverty and another 200,000 or so depart mere poverty and enter something that could be called "lower middle class," with electricity, potable water, a safe roof and kids in school. That's every day, so clearly some combination of efforts by entrepreneurs, governments and donors can work... just not fast enough. There's always a desperate need to speed things up.

Yesterday I had lunch with Keith Kegley, who has helped develop Social Venture Partners into a dynamo in the philanthropic world, by guiding groups, NGOs, and individuals to invest in ongoing enterprises that do good -- many of them while at least breaking even, or perhaps making enough money to plow back into more positive sum activities.  SVP has 3000+ partners, from Boston to Bangalore.  Great, world-changing work, Keith.

I've been writing about philanthropy for twenty years. The most important pair of concepts I've pushed deal with two ends of the giving spectrum... 

   ...how to convince zillionaires to get more involved... 

   ...and how each middle class citizen can maximize impact to help save the world, according to her or his own, quirky standards. A method that's inexpensive and so easy it might even be called lazy, but that lets you check off boxes -- "I want someone to deal with that... and that" -- so each year you can confirm: "I'm one of the good people, not part of the problem."

We'll return to both of those concepts in a bit. But first...


== (Almost) the world's most successful entrepreneur weighs in ==

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos stirred a lot of discussion with his tweeted request for ideas/suggestions for how to do well-targeted philanthropy.  A great question! Here's my tweet response: 
"Jeff, years ago we spoke of getting ALL zillionaires to do this. e.g. via a catalog of pre-vetted projects."
Here's a more extended answer that I sent by email:
Jeff, you may recall how once, over dinner, we discussed my paper about a core problem (and solution) for philanthropy. 
- Host a series of fascinating meetings, asking top visionaries and practical solvers to create a list of projects needed by the world and by people -- a catalog that's pre-vetted for plausibility.
- That catalog would make a great book, inspiring folks to look at ambitious projects. (Some with long range profit potential.)
- The meetings, arguments and vetting could make a great TV series! That, by itself, might do good, even when a project is rejected.
- If just two or three other well-off families were inspired to take on a catalogued project, the multiplier effect could be huge.
I'll discuss this "EON" concept a little more, below. But first, some illustrations of how seriously some folks take the need to prod at the definitions of "giving."

== Philanthropic Innovation ==

Michael J. Totten and Brian C. Anderson discuss the rising homelessness facing Portland, Oregon. Within their dialogue they discuss Dignity Village, an informal homeless “city” democratically organized by residents and privately maintained. Over time, the village evolved from a typical homeless camp to a neighborhood of tiny homes. The village prohibits drug use and self-regulates its membership while requiring no tax-payer funds.

Along similar lines, Nolan Gray elevates our view of trailer parks by highlighting how they represent one of the last market-based, low-income housing solutions. Moreover, Gray explains, these neighborhoods bear aspects of traditional urban design as well as a blend of individual choice and private governance. While not failing to recognize their inherent challenges, Gray brings the virtues of spontaneous community order into focus.

These articles, published by my friends at the Philanthropic Enterprise, represent the last, fading glimmers of grownup, generously positive-thinking conservatism, extolling the benefits of self-organizing communities that do not wait for largesse from cumbersome governments.  

By the way, that spirit is also expressed by author Brenda Cooper in her story “Streetlife in the Emerald City,” in our recent anthology, Chasing Shadows.
Alas, it will be more plausible to listen to the well-meaning Philanthropic Enterprise folks when we finally hear them admit: 

Yes, 90% of the U.S. right has gone stark, jabbering, treasonously insane and this resurgent confederacy must be defeated. But, while we join all decent Americans in thwarting the fox-feudalist lunacy, we’ll also nurse the embers of a decent, not-socialist tomorrow.”
(Okay, I won't insist on exactly those words. How about just: "Supply side never worked. And Rupert Murdoch has deeply harmed American conservatism. And let's oppose feudalism as vigorously as we oppose Big Brother government."  I'll settle for that.)


But let's get back to the big picture. Is the world improvable by human intervention? 


== Perspective ==


Nostalgia is a condition that all humans produce, often evoking either pain or pleasure, or both. 

It can also be one of the “addictive mental states” that I’ve written about, which trigger chemical releases that become compulsory.  

Not all addictive mental states are unwholesome! We are addicts to our kids, love, friendship and the exercise of profound skill.  Others, like sanctimony and rage, can be as driving and as destructive as heroin. See: Indignation, addiction and hope: Does it help to be 'mad as hell?'
Nostalgia's debilitating effects are more subtle than rage-addiction. But it can be almost as deeply harmful, undermining our confidence that problems can be solved with goodwill, pragmatism, negotiation and belied that our parents and grandparents weren't fools. They believed in us and we can prove them to have been right.

Ah, but there's another mental disease. One that is closely related to nostalgia.


== Romantics could be the death of us ==

People keep asking me why -- given that the most noxiously dangerous madness is currently on the political right -- I keep reminding folks to also keep a way eye on the far-left. The reason is simple. 

Romanticism should stick to novels, poems and movies. In politics it turns deadly and generally does evil.

Take just one trait that nearly all zero-sum, romantic-transcendentalist-dogmatists share. That trait is TELEOLOGY. A tendency to assume that history has a predictable pattern that it is destined to follow. (Bear in mind, below, that I actually quite despise the so-called "left-right political axis" -- a metaphor that is lobotomizing, dumb, inaccurate and misleading; but we must use it because so many romantics self-define that way.)


Simplistically-speaking: leftists tend to believe that history has a direction, toward upward progress that's unstoppable. They almost never contemplate the implications, but they do believe in upward teleology.
Rightists tend to glom onto different versions of teleology -- generally "cyclical history."  They often declare that civilization is fated to rise and fall, going back well before Oswald Spengler's infamously stupid screed "The Decline of the West," and Hitler's loony Horbigger Cult of cyclical falling moons and so on. See also the dumb and easily-refuted "Tytler Calumny" that rightists use to slander democracy. And the more recent alluring incantation called the "Fourth Turning."
It doesn't matter that professional historians, statisticians and others who actually seek such patterns never, ever find them. Both teleologies are purely incantations, designed to flatter the believer's biases.  
The leftist gets to murmur: "we shall overcome, no matter how many troops the Czar has!"
The rightist gets to mutter: "No matter how much so-called "progress" you bastard reformers make, it will inevitably get trashed and go to hell!"
Different dreams but the same romantic-teleological twaddle.
How does this relate to philanthropy?
Because generosity to the poor -- or the planet -- has grown up a bit and become fixed on outcomes rather than the old emphasis -- benefiting the soul of the giver. Both romantic mythologies -- focused on either inevitability or futility -- stab at the thing that is making all the difference in the world: pragmatically vigorous reform. Negotiated and practical action. Vigorously confident belief in both a commons and entrepreneurship. 
Awareness that the odds have always been stacked against this enlightenment renaissance. But determination to make a whole new path for history, despite the impediments of romantic fools.
-----------------


== Related Miscellany ==

Clear-eyed examination of the guilty past can find both cause for reflective regret and also surprising glimpses of decency, as people adapt to change. This moving little piece tells one such tale.
Vaclav Vincalek has an interesting series of podcasts on information, data, programming and such.
All right, one admits to mixed feelings about this video, combining admiration with outrage. With appreciation of precocious competence!  

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

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