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Miniatures Audiobook is Out

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/03/2017 - 10:59
As most of you know, the print and ebook editions of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi came out on December 31 (here’s the Amazon link); now, today, the audio version of Miniatures is also available for your listening delight, available through Audible. I just listened to it myself, and while I should […]

Encryption is not the answer

Contrary Brin - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 21:54
Veering back into the real issues... those we can still hope to steer. Let's start with a cool, fun interview: I answer questions about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and why it is possible that these new, genius offspring of humanity may decide not to treat us badly.

== Snowden and surveillance ==

Matt Novik really tears into Edward Snowden, exaggerating a bit, but raising good points.  My own complaint is more nuanced: that while Snowden did a service by forcing us to converse more vigorously about surveillance, he has since contributed very little to solutions. Sure, he’s joined with thousands of other paladins-for-freedom by pointing at various Orwellian traces and signs, yelling “Lo! Big Brother looms!”  

But then, his prescriptions tend to be the same, lame-arm-waved appeals for technological miracles and hiding from elites.

Look, I send money to the EFF and ACLU and I love that they are out there, yelling! But it’s also frustrating, because not one of these heroes ever explains how hiding from authorities is even remotely possible, over the long run. There are no examples from the history of our species when the blinding of all elites was accomplished by average people. Not one. 

What Snowden and his fellow paladins offer, when challenged, is vague assurances that encryption will take care of it. 

Ooh, a magic word! As if each decade’s ciphers aren’t child’s play to the next decade’s crackers. As if supposedly secure systems don’t topple every day. As if human error doesn't always offer a way in, even when there aren't trap- or backdoors, (And there almost always are.) 

As if the average Joe or Jane can sleep well, knowing for a fact that others don’t know something – an epistemologically crazy and unverifiable notion.

Alas, not one of these brave dreamers has apparently read the history of cat-and-mouse oppression by secret police, dating back to Hamurabi. There are standard Gestapo-Okrhana-Stazi tactics and only three or four - out of a dozen - categories, would be even slightly inconvenienced by crypto stuff.

You know where this is going.  There is only one method that will work, that can work.  That has worked, and it is not hiding from elites.  It is not depending on an epistemologically impossible reassurance that others do not know something. It depends on us knowing, maximally, and - in aggregate - supervising all elites. Because if we cannot verify what they know, at least we can watch and know what they do

As I discussed in: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

== Algorithms that lobotomize us? ==

From The World Post:  “Wael Ghonim is the internet activist who helped spawn the Arab Spring in Egypt with his Facebook posts. During those heady days in Cairo, as he explains in an interview with The WorldPost, Ghonim came to realize that, "the algorithmic structure of social media amplified and abetted the turn to mobocracy" because it is designed to bring together those with common passions and sympathies irrespective of whether the information they share is truth, rumor or lies.

In our present moment, says Ghonim, "Donald Trump is the living example of the damage mobocratic algorithms can do to the democratic process." The challenge has thus shifted, he says. "While once social media was seen as a liberating means to speak truth to power," Ghonim argues, "now the issue is how to speak truth to social media."

Since "people will be as shallow as platforms allow them to be," he explains, Ghonim proposes that the big social media companies focus on creating a "meritocratic algorithm" that rewards credible information and dialogue, not just the broadcast of "sensational content" to the like-minded. See his TED Talk: Let's design social media that drives real change.

== More warnings ==

Mark Anderson's Strategic News Service (9/2016) carried a frightening warning: Is The Internet at Risk? from Jeff Hudson, the CEO of Venafi, the inventor of The Immune System for the Internet™.  Dig the following excerpt:

“We have proof that the algorithms used in encryption are not perfect, and as they age they become more vulnerable to hacking and attacks. The MD5 hash algorithm was used for a number of years before subsequently being cracked. SHA-1 is another algorithm that is in wide use and was recently judged to be vulnerable. 

"Attacks such as Heartbleed, DROWN, and FLAME all prove that encryption programs, techniques, and algorithms are not perfect; given enough time and computing resource, many popular encryption tools can be compromised. The logic here is inescapable: Trust is created by establishing tunnels. Tunnels are created by using certificates. Certificates rely on encryption. 

“Encryption is accomplished using an algorithm, or a program, that has been written to create a key that can be used by both ends of the tunnel to communicate in private. These algorithms are designed to create encryption keys that are difficult to reverse-engineer. The most widely used algorithm is called the RSA algorithm. Named after its creators - Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman - the RSA algorithm was patented in 1983.

“Most encryption uses the RSA algorithm. Therefore, maximum accumulation of digital trust is based on the RSA algorithm, but we know that no algorithm is perfect. All will fail at some point.

"To date, the encryption vulnerabilities that have been discovered have been remedied in a number of ways. Most involve introducing the next, more secure generation of encryption algorithms. There are two factors affecting encryption software that have changed recently. First, the amount and cost of computing resource available to apply to compromising programs has increased almost exponentially. This means that many more people today have access to the same capability that was available only to the NSA and other similarly talented and funded organizations just five years ago. Second, quantum computing is getting closer to being useful in compromising encryption.

"Couple these facts with an order-of-magnitude greater use of tunnels and encryption, an exponentially greater amount of valuable data in the digital economy, and our collective reliance on the Internet to maintain a functioning society, and we have a very critical situation.

"If - or, with a high degree of certainty, when - this happens, it will mean that uniformly across the Internet nothing can be trusted. Everything will be vulnerable to attack. Then what happens?

"Financial transactions will be put at risk. The monetary system will begin to fail.

Transportation will slow to a crawl.
Health and safety systems will be taken offline.
Communications systems will be disrupted.
Power availability will be intermittent, at best.
Emergency response will fail.
Government and law enforcement will function in only the most rudimentary ways.
In major metro areas, severe food shortages will begin within three days.
Water stops flowing.
It will be deadly serious."

== You can't fight what's coming ==

A  Berlin-based hacker-artist unveiled his scariest work -- an entirely boring-looking Hewlett Packard printer that also secretly functions as a rogue GSM cell base station, tricking your phone into connecting to it rather than your phone carrier’s tower, effectively intercepting your calls and text messages.  … Since it sits indoors near its victims, Oliver says it can easily overpower the signal of real, outdoor cell towers. But instead of spying, the printer merely starts a text message conversation with the phone, pretending to be an unidentified contact with a generic message like “Come over when you’re ready,” or the more playful “I’m printing the details for you now.”

“Security contractors recently discovered preinstalled software in some Android phones that monitors where users go, whom they talk to and what they write in text messages. The American authorities say it is not clear whether this represents secretive data mining for advertising purposes or a Chinese government effort to collect intelligence.” -- from The New York Times.

It’s been called “Brin’s Corollary.” That cameras get smaller, faster, better, cheaper, more mobile and numerous at rates faster than Moore’s Law.  Now meet the Piccolissimo -- the world’s smallest self-powered controllable drone. It comes in two sizes, a quarter-sized one weighing less than 2.5 grams and a larger, steerable one that’s heavier by 2 grams and wider by a centimeter (.39 inches). As brought to you earlier by sci fi (including my own.)

Ban this?  Hide from them?  Yeah. Right. There is another way.

And then there is...  More deeply perceptive than today’s crude polygraph “lie detectors,” fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) can zero in on the brain’s decision-making centers, appearing to achieve 90% accuracy at nailing falsehoods… though I’d lover to see the results with sociopaths. A combo approach had a perfect score. Though fMRI requires lots of infrastructure and cooperation by the subject.  

The crux? We will not resist tyranny by lying. The elites who get this power must be subjected to it!

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

Mark It

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 10:07
Monday, January 2, 2017, 9am-ish: Work officially begun on Head On, the sequel to Lock In. Wish me luck!

Sunset, 1/1/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/01/2017 - 19:08
Today I went on a date with my wife, wrote something I liked, and got a pretty sunset out of the day. 2017, you’re off to a decent start. Keep it up!

The New Year and the Bend of the Arc

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/01/2017 - 11:50
As we begin 2017, there is something I’ve been thinking about, that I’d like for you to consider for the new year. It starts with a famous quote, the best-known version of which is from Martin Luther King, but which goes back to the transcendentalist Theodore Parker. The quote is: “The arc of the moral universe […]

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is Out!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 12/31/2016 - 08:34
Let’s end 2016 on a high — or at least, humorous — note, shall we? Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is now out and available! The limited, signed hardcover edition (of which there were 1,500) is now almost entirely sold out, so if you want that version, you should order it directly from […]

New Books and ARCs, 12/30/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/30/2016 - 17:11
And here it is: The final stack of books and ARCs for 2016. Is there anything here that calls to you? Tell us in the comments!

Multiple timelines & viewpoints. Science fiction is international

Contrary Brin - Fri, 12/30/2016 - 15:51
For weekend-holiday distraction - and in our year-change mood - let's get back to Science Fiction! First, have a way cool look at the physics and paradoxes of time travel. 

Nautilus offers an excerpt from the mind-expanding experiment Time Travel: A History by James Gleick. As usual, a delightful, intellectual and verbal feast. Of course, this survey barely does credit to the array of possible means by which we sci fi authors try to weasel our way around causality and temporal protection. 

One is the multiverse branching point or MBP. Take one example: when Spock accidentally lures a vengeful Romulan to go back in time and destroy Planet Vulcan (in J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot) many fans consoled themselves that this is just a branching-off of a newborn parallel reality... that the older timeline still stands, where Shatner-Kirk and all the rest remain, continuing along the original timeline, like a trellis for the new one to grow alongside.

I prefer that interpretation.  Indeed, it opens a way for New Spock to get advice from the old one or for mutual aid between timelines... so many cool possibilities.  The alternative -- the One Timeline Loop OTL -- betrays every single moment of joy we got from Star Trek TOS and The Next Generation and Voyager... because if that's the case, then J.J. has simply wiped every one of those adventures away and said "never mind."  Indeed, does anything Chris Pine's Kirk does really matter, if the next time traveler will simply erase all his life and deeds? In fact, what would the New Kirk do with a time machine, except go back, save his dad and restore the Shatnerian timeline?

Paramount would give us all a psychic gift, by making clear that MBP is "true." And I hope you found that timey-wimey rant entertaining!

Well, well, that's an artistic representation of one of many ways that physicists (a few) think the paradoxes might be resolved. Speaking a both a physicist and a science fiction author, I must say that this very loose partnership is one of the most fun that our unique and marvelous civilization offers, during a unique and marvelous... time. 

Explore more in James Gleick's Time Travel or Richard Muller's Now: The Physics of Time.
== SF from other viewpoints ==
One of the most exciting things to happen to Science Fiction in this century has been the rise of a vibrant SF sensibility and creativity among Chinese authors and directors who are starting to make waves also in the West. See this explored more fully in the article, A Brief Introduction to Chinese Science Fiction by Regina Kanyu Wang. 
v\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} o\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} w\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} .shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);} Normal 0 false false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;} Liu Cixin’s epic “Three Body” trilogy (Volume One received the Hugo for best novel in 2015), recently concluded with his novel Death's End (read a selection on Tor's website.) 

American authors Ken Liu and Ted Chiang have been also familiarizing their readers with vibrant stories that include Asian flavors. As have many others. Rejoice over this expansion of the Science Fiction worldview.

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu, presents an anthology of some of the best in recent speculative fiction from China, including powerful stories from Liu Cixin, Xia Jia, Tang Fei, as well as the excellent novella "Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang, which won a Hugo at the Kansas City Worldcon in 2016. Essays explore topics such as "What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?"
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;} Chinese director Ren Chao Wang created a marvelous science fiction film “The End of the Lonely Island.” Beautifully shot and tightly logical, it weaves through flashbacks as a woman scientist desperately evades a deadly plague and panicking authorities in order to transport her software AI to a desolate isle, where it might communicate assistance to a lost starship.  I ranked this film very highly in judging for the Raw Science Film Festival, whose awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles, in December.  See Wang Renchao's official site for his film. Lovely special effects and visuals. Have a look at the trailer… though unlike the film itself, the trailer hasn’t been supplied with English sub-titles.

Science fiction is spreading, not only in China. Lately, there have been anthologies of tales by authors from Africa (Try: AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers) , India (The Scientific Indian Science Fiction Anthology), Iraq (see below), and by Latina/Latino authors. 
Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;} Looking beyond magical realism: Sample some recent Latin short fiction in Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Matthew David Goodwin. This collection includes speculative fiction stories by Juno Diaz, Daniel José Older, Alex Hernandez, Kathleen Alcala and other Latino/Latina writers residing within the United States. For SF set on the border, watch Sleep Dealer, directed by Alex Rivera.

Now comes the vivid anthology Iraq+100: Stories from a century after the invasion, a collection showing that unlucky country in a century’s time, as portrayed in both Arabic and English by Iraqi writers. From NPR's review:  “In Khalid Kaki's "The Day By Day Mosque" the narrator drinks vinegar made from hundred-year-old perfume in a world where everything is in the process of being literally reversed; in "The Here and Now Prison," Jalal Hassan imagines the city of Najaf and its residents translated into virtual reality; in "Operation Daniel," people who resist a dictator's edicts are "archived" — incinerated and compressed into the diamonds that stud his shoes.”  Wow.
== SF'nal TV and movies ==

I’ve not yet seen the Westworld TV series on HBO (except glimpsing a bit, in a hotel room.) But this article shows how the writers seriously intended to play with one of the coolest sci fi-ish concepts in psychology, using ideas from The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a blockbuster 1976 book by psychologist Julian Jaynes... that I read way back when. Unintentionally, perhaps, Jaynes wrote what I deem to be one of the finest sci fi gedankenexperiments since Karl Marx. Things that aren't likely to be or come true... but make us re-evaluate other things we were definitely wrong about.
Cool coming sci fi flick that appears to intend to offer real science fiction. See the preview for Passengers starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.  
== Clever styles of propaganda ==

Who needs privacy? Sharing is Caring. See the preview for The Circle, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, based on the book by Dave Eggers. The novel was an exquisite exercise in the art of propaganda, in which the author gives nearly all of the speeches and lecturing advocacy to those he deems evil - those promoting transparency and openness.  By hammering the reader with patronizing rants and making his protagonist deliciously stupid, he invites readers to get their hackles up against the idea that she believes... and that the author hates. I've never seen it done so well. We'll find out if the flick also uses this effective Orwellian technique.

(O.S. Card does the same thing, portraying Ender as so guilt-ridden over things that weren't his fault that the reader is soon practically begging Ender to both forgive himself and take over ruling humanity's destiny. Some trick!)
In a highly intelligent and perceptive rumination about the coming “Rogue One” Star Wars flick, Thomas Ricard riffs off some of my earlier points about the troublesome ethical/moral and logical problems of the Jedi Order.  My own hopes are up – a little – with the news that there won’t be any damned “Force” mutant-demigods in the coming film. Resistance to evil is about people – regular or above-average people – rising up to confront it (as I portray in the Postman.) Chosen-One mutants – even in adventure stories – don’t help us figure out that central problem. They just distract from it.
Get Star Wars on Trial as the perfect gift for your jedi-fanatic!

== Better legends ==
The Fifth Element was writer-director Luc Besson’s “delightfully garish, unapologetically maximalist space-jam—and the film that proved that, in space, everyone can hear Chris Tucker scream.” His more serious contemplation of human augmentation was also great — “Lucy.”  So you can bet that — especially after watching this trailer (!) — I’ll be lining up next year, for Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

From Entertainment Geekly: A cool fun personal analysis of what makes Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan one of the finest science fiction films of all time.
What fun. An appraisal of all the different timelines in Back To The Future. Hilarious, and there are a dozen you never realized. Well, I think the fellow adds maybe six unnecessary ones. Still, such fun. 
== And prophetic works... ==

As we being our long process of saying goodbye to Miami… then all of Florida and much of the Olde South… I am reminded of the scary novel War Against the Newts,  a 1936 satirical science fiction novel by Czech author Karel Čapek. Humanity loses all its lowlands which are converted into swamps for the intelligent salamanders we had abused.  A different mechanism (one reminiscent of Uplift!) But the net result - humanity fleeing from the shorelines - is eerily and painfully redolent.

Čapek, who is best known for R.U.R. (coining the term “robot”), also wrote The Absolute, a satiric (1922) prediction of vast, worldwide war in 1943, though triggered by a new form of energy generation that fills the world with a pollutant — religious irrationality. Geez, what if it’s true? If you look at where and how fossil fuels get mined and burned and who controls them.  Just sayin’. 

(Forget robots and drowned coastlines. Čapek might have been especially prescient to connect energy sources with a rise in human irrationality. See how I was personally involved - way back in 1970 - in an endeavor that helped get the lead out of gasoline, resulting , science now confirms, in a plummet in violence 20 years later, after each nation made the shift. And yes, at one level it is Čapek's silliest, yet most profoundly true prediction. The guy is amazingly under-rated.)

In Defense of The Postman: Here’s a thoughtful rumination on Kevin Costner’s film version of the novel.  Why is The Postman set in Oregon? How did the film fail and succeed? Did it have much in common with the book? Anthony Rimel's article in the Corvallis Gazette-Times discusses this and much more -- like whether citizenship can prevail. See Eight of the great survivalists from science fiction: The Postman stands with Sarah Connor and Mad Max. 
And finally... Beyond Mad Max: Ten extreme post-apocalyptic scenarios in film and novels.

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

Some Reasons 2016 Didn’t Entirely Suck, at Least for Me

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/30/2016 - 15:01
2016 was, globally speaking, and to put it mildly, not the best of years. I will not be sad to see it go. But it’s worth it to remember that no year is entirely irredeemable. People have been passing around this list of 99 reasons 2016 was a good year, and I think that it’s a […]

Some Things I Plan to Do in 2017, Not Work Related

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/30/2016 - 13:28
Do I have personal goals for 2017? I do! Here are a few of them, in no particular order. 1. Get more organized. I’m actually good at getting organized; I’m shit at staying organized. Welcome to my life for the past 47 years. For 2017, however, I have three books due and a lot of […]

Work Life 2017

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/29/2016 - 09:37
Independent of anything else that might go on in the world in 2017, which is likely to be considerable, mind you, I myself will be having rather a busy year. Why? Well, to begin, here are the thing I am writing/have written that will come out in 2017: 1.  The Collapsing Empire, March 21 2. […]

2016 Top Ten Whatever Posts + Social Media Stats

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/28/2016 - 10:35
Time for my annual nerdery about the most visited posts here, and the state of my social media presence. Ready? Sure you are, that’s why you’re here! This and cat pictures. First, here are the top ten posts on Whatever f0r 2016, ranked by visits. Posts with asterisks were originally posted in years other than […]

Transparency: Watching and Watchers

Contrary Brin - Tue, 12/27/2016 - 18:40
Veering back to more important issues...

We are increasingly surrounded by “always-on” devices with microphones that listen for our voice commands. Most require a "trigger phrase" or wake word to begin recording or actively computing responses, but that means they must analyze every sound to parse whether it is that word. 

As if that weren't a murky enough boundary, fraught with possible paths for misuse or abuse, now many devices can team up to follow you around and obtain a great deal of info , using technology, called ultrasonic cross-device tracking. Ultrasound "beacons" emit high-frequency tones (inaudible to humans) embedded in advertisements, web pages, as well as in some brick and mortar stores. Currently, most Android and iOS phones require permission to access a user's microphone and receive these inaudible inputs. 

The Federal Trade Commission evaluated ultrasonic tracking technology at the end of 2015, and the non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology wrote: 'the best solution is increased transparency and a robust and meaningful opt-out system. If cross-device tracking companies cannot give users these types of notice and control, they should not engage in cross-device tracking,” reports L.H. Newman in Wired

In the biggest post-election transparency news... Britain’s new surveillance law will force internet providers to record every internet customer's top-level web history in real-time for up to a year, which can be accessed by numerous government departments; it will force companies to decrypt data on demand. Intelligence agencies also get the power to hack into computers and devices of citizens. This represents the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy.

Despite having lived in Britain in the 1980s and seen the proliferation of camera surveillance then, I still remain puzzled by the blithe acceptance of one way snoopery over there. In contrast to which...

Even the Bugs will be Bugged: I was quoted in this article in The Atlantic: Big Brother society results not from being watched but from one-way observation.

== Light fights corruption ==

The Helvetia Cold War deepens. An automated private system, using public records, has applied itself to tracking planes used by authoritarian regimes flying in and out of Switzerland. The system has been set up to potentially provide evidence of money laundering. "Swiss investigative journalist François Pilet and his cousin Julien Pilet set up the GVA Dictator Alert Twitter bot to track planes registered to “authoritarian regimes,” as defined by the 2015 Democracy Index.The aim is to bring transparency and accountability to the leaders." 

The bot currently tracks the movements of more than 80 aircraft from 21 countries, including Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Since its launch in April, the bot has logged more than 60 arrivals and departures from Geneva International Airport by planes that belong to the regimes, and few had anything to do with legit business or diplomacy. Of course dictators and kleptocrats will find a way around this. The overall kleptocracy problem is only getting worse and it will only be solved with major new treaties imposing transparency on the mighty cheaters of the world. For that to happen, the world's powers will have to fear something much worse than light.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Transparency International (TI) are joining forces in a new initiative. The Anti-Corruption Initiative "will connect investigative journalists turning a spotlight on the secretive shadow economy with anti-corruption activists able to translate complex information into compelling campaigns for change. This project will build on the best of cross-border independent investigative journalism. The already substantial impact of such work can be amplified by activists who use information uncovered by quality reporting to create pressure on governments and kleptocrats around the world.”

I can think of nothing more important… or quixotic, given the entrenched power interests lined up against this.  But it is wholly in keeping with what I’ve said humanity needs, if we are to avoid catastrophe. It's needed for the children of the rich – and poor – to actually benefit across this century.  In The Transparent Society, in EARTH and in EXISTENCE and many other places I’ve emphasized that only light disinfects against error, of the sort that made every feudal state a living hell. 

Alas, my SF'nal powers only see this breaking through if several honest, developing world presidents join together to do something utterly unexpected and unprecedented.

Apparently the attack on Liberia’s internet access was not as complete as at-first thought… though the Mirai-based botnet denial of service ploy was pretty harsh and still seen by some as a rehearsal for a bigger assault upon the West.

For years I have been urging this: “The next U.S. administration should take immediate steps to prevent and, when possible, eliminate computer attacks like one that recently crippled some of the key systems that run the internet, a presidential commission recommended on Friday.”

== Society and the future ==

I was interviewed by Brett King for his Breaking Banks podcast about the future of banking and transparency: Fintech and IBM World of Watson.

Speaking of banks. An interesting article from The New York Times on how food banks, with their somewhat socialist mind-set, incorporated "market" forces to help them allocate food donations not only where they were needed but where they are wanted-most. Apparently, so long as equity and generosity are factors in the general outline, market forces and even competition help to get resources to the right place, efficiently. 

Are we bound for “Mad Max,” “Star Trek,” “Ecotopia” or an Orwellian super government? The answer may depend upon on how information flows across society. I was quoted in this interesting perspective on future governance on Earth. The model presented by Peter Frase in his newly released book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism -- is unusual (e.g. calling Star Trek an example of post-scarcity, abundance-propelled communism).  Both intriguing and a harbinger.  

A Harbinger? Because we will soon start to hear again names that had passed out of familiarity, in the West. Like Karl Marx. Far from being cast into irrelevance, Marx will be discussed more and more – rising back into pertinence – as the Rooseveltean middle class melts away and 6000 years of class war resume.  

The issue Frase raises is whether new technologies will, as in Star Trek, spare us all violent class struggle, by restoring a vast and healthy middle class that encompasses everyone?  Or will a rising feudal oligarchy unintentionally resurrect Marx as an icon for their victims?

== Shallow but sincere ==

New America Weekly devotes whole issues to special topics. This one is about transparency in government -- which has engaged me a bit for only 25+ years or so. Articles include how to make the modern invention of think tanks more effective by being more open:

"In the Digital Age, governance, technology, education, science, platforms, and more are being pushed to become more “open.” Open movements are working to remove barriers that prevent the public from fully accessing these institutions, systems, and fields. Open education, for example, aims to broaden access and increase opportunities for learning. In the United States, open government strives to improve transparency, increase collaboration, and facilitate public participation in our democracy. Open science accelerates the pace of inquiry and discovery in academic research. Underlying each of these movements is one critical need: open use of information."

==Transparency-related miscllany ==

First Apropos to our earlier posting on Whether Government (especially government paid research) is useless, which was reprinted as a feature on the Evonomics site, See this cogent example... A timely article from the BBC lists the advances that led to the iPhone and how government research enabled all of them.

Who is on your side? According to Lindsey Tepe, a senior policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America:"In 2009, the administration made a modest request that each federal agency identify three high value data sets to make openly available to the public; now is the home for government data, housing nearly 200,000 datasets on education, health, energy, governance, and more. Today, every agency that funds more than $100 million in research and development grants has put in place a plan to make that information more accessible."

Other articles from New America Weekly deal with tradeoffs of intellectual property rights and use of personal information, posing vexing questions that are too seldom asked by myopic pundits, as in “what will happen with my data 10 years from now?”...

... and how openness can have unexpected side effects in grassroots democracy. Comments author Heather Hurlburt, "It should be noted that open government did make an appearance in international policy when the Obama Administration launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The U.S. joined an initial 7 countries—now up to 69—in holding civil society consultations, drawing up national action plans, and making commitments to increase transparency in areas from legislation to policing to using town criers to share budget data with the public. In addition to those changes on the government side, OGP has offered civil society groups a spark and a mandate for their work. Still, the appearance of open government as a foreign policy tool abroad has not changed the reality at home. The open government agenda sits uncomfortably with traditional ideas about secrecy and expertise in foreign affairs." 

Heather Hurlburt goes on to describe how: "“Multi-stakeholderism” —the trend toward non-governmental entities, both civil society and private sector, joining national and international authorities at the negotiating table."  And yet, "an irony that the Administration which has made open government a byword at home and internationally has been more aggressive than any predecessor in protecting information in the national security space—and has suffered more embarrassing failures to protect information."

== Final Thoughts ==

Well-meaning dopes. I mean those activists who (1) are right to fret that Big Brother might use surveillance against us… but who then (2) rave that the solution is to hide! To shout at elites not to look at us! Or to somehow conceal ourselves and our information.  

For two decades I've asked these dear people (and they truly are fighting the good fight… in the wrong direction) when has that prescription ever worked? Even once. Ever? In the history of our species?
Each of us fizzes with biometric identifiers! Go ahead and fabricate fake fingerprints. Your unique walking gait might be altered (for a short time) by a pebble in your shoe. But can you change the specific ratio of lengths of bones in your hand? Or the speckles on your iris, or the pattern of blood vessels in your retina?  How about the oto-acoustic tones that many humans emit from their own eardrums, and that can be uniquely identified by sensors? 
Oh but it goes on and on. Spend any time in a well-monitored room and the micro-biota of your farts may give you away. And now researchers have “fingerprinted” the white matter of the human brain using a new diffusion MRI method, mapping the brain’s connections (the connectome) at a more detailed level than ever before. They confirmed that structural connections in the brain are unique to each individual person and the connections were able to identify a person with nearly 100% accuracy.  
This could be good news, in giving us an ultimate fall-back against ID thieves — or very bad news for any revolutionary movement against Orwellian tyranny. So? Never let it get to that point! There is one way to do that.
Shall we trust encryption, as governments acquire quantum computers? Anyway, how will that stymie the mosquito drone that flew into your keyboard last week, recording every letter that you type?
Then there are cameras, getting smaller, faster, cheaper, better and more mobile at rates far faster than Moore’s Law. If you find a clever way to evade them now, will it work next year, when there are four times as many of them and harder to spot? 
Hiding won’t work. It cannot. Nor will shouting “don’t look at me!”
Only one thing has ever worked.  Only one thing possibly can work. 

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

RIP Carrie Fisher

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/27/2016 - 14:07
People reports she died this morning. Obviously she will be remembered for Star Wars — she played one of its most iconic characters, who was a general, a senator and a princess. But as much as I liked her in that role, she came most alive for me when I learned that she was a […]

Read an Excerpt From The Collapsing Empire

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/26/2016 - 13:12 has got up the prologue The Collapsing Empire, my upcoming novel. It works as a complete short story in itself. Here is the link to read it. Happy Boxing Day! P.S.: If you like it and want to pre-order it, Subterranean Press can you a signed, inscribed copy (signed and inscribed by me, to be […]

George Michael + A Trump Christmas Carol

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/26/2016 - 09:41
George Michael was dead; to begin. And that’s a very sad thing for those of us of an 80s vintage. 2016 has been an especially bad year for musician deaths, and this removal of George Michael on Christmas Day just seems like insult to injury. I was a fan both of his bubble-gum pop Wham! […]

A Seasonal Greeting From Daisy

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 12/25/2016 - 01:01
Daisy ecumenically wishes you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, brilliant solstice, joyous Kwanzaa and all the best for the coming year. And so do I!

Whatever Best of 2016

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 12/24/2016 - 09:54
It is a truth universally acknowledged that 2016 was a monumental shit-show of a year, not only for itself — which would be enough! — but also because it’s now clear that’s merely the beginning of a shit-show epoch, the depths of which have yet to be plumbed, and the best of which one can […]

The ultimate answer to “government is useless”

Contrary Brin - Fri, 12/23/2016 - 19:15
The following ran as a special report in the January 2016 newsletter of Mark Anderson’s Strategic News Service. I post it now, as the right's hate-all-government narrative hits hysteric-histrionic levels. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, recently selected as Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget, posted “Do we really need government-funded research at all?” Which makes this an existential threat to your lives, and mine.

Does government-funded science play a role in stimulating innovation?
By David Brin
The hypnotic incantation that all-government-is-evil-all-the-timewould have bemused and appalled our parents in the Greatest Generation – those who persevered to overcome the Depression and Hitler, then contained Stalinism, went to the moon, developed successful companies and built a mighty middle class, all with powerful unions and at high tax rates. 

The mixed society that they built emphasized a wide stance, pragmatically stirring private enterprise with targeted collective actions, funded by a consensus negotiation process called politics. The resulting civilization has been more successful – by orders of magnitude – than any other. Than any combination of others.
So why do we hear an endlessly-repeated nostrum that this wide-stance, mixed approach is all wrong? That mantra is pushed so relentlessly by right-wing media -- as well as some on the left -- that it came as no surprise when a recent Pew Poll showed distrust of government among Americans at an all-time high. 

This general loathing collapses when citizens are asked which specific parts of government they’d shut down. It turns out that most of them like specific things their taxes pay for.
In a sense, this isn’t new. For a century and a half, followers of Karl Marx demanded that we amputate society’s right arm of market-competitive enterprise and rely only on socialist guided-allocation for economic control. 

Meanwhile, Ayn Rand’s ilk led a throng of those proclaiming we must lop off our leftarm – forswearing any coordinated projects that look beyond the typical five year (nowadays more like one-year) commercial investment horizon. 
Any sensible person would respond: “Hey I need both arms, so bugger off!  Now let’s keep examining what each arm is good at, revising our knowledge of what each shouldn’t do.”
Does that sound too practical and moderate for this era? Our parents thought they had dealt with all this, proving decisively that calm negotiation, compromise and pragmatic mixed-solutions work best.  They would be stunned to see that fanatical would-be amputators are back, in force, ranting nonsense.
Take for example Matt Ridley’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, deriding government supported science as useless and counter-productive— a stance dear to WSJ’s owner, Rupert Murdoch. Ridley’s core assertion? That the forward march of technological innovation and discovery is fore-ordained, as if by natural law. That competitive markets will allocate funds to develop new products with vastly greater efficiency than government bureaucrats picking winners and losers. And that research without a clear, near-future economic return is both futile and unnecessary.           == The driver of innovation is… ==
Former Microsoft CTO and IP Impressario Nathan Myhrvold has written a powerful rebuttal to Ridley’s murdochian call for amputation. Says Myhrvold: “It’s natural for writers to want to come out with a contrarian piece that reverses all conventional wisdom, but it tends to work out better if the evidence one quotes is factually true. Alas Ridley’s evidence isn’t – his examples are all, so far as I can tell, either completely wrong, or at best selectively quoted. I also think his logic is wrong, and to be honest I don’t think much of the ideology that drives his argument either.”  Nathan’s rebuttal can be found here, along with links to the original, and Ridley’s response.
Myhrvold does a good job tearing holes in Ridley’s assertion that patents and other IP do nothing to stimulate innovation and economic development. (Full disclosure: Nathan is more self-interested in fierce IP protection than I - a patent and copyright holder - am.) Only, in his refutation of Ridley, even he does not go far enough or present a wide enough perspective. 

Myhrvold fails, for example, to put all of this intothe context of 6000 years of human history.  So let me try.
During most of that time, innovation was actively suppressed by kings and lords and priests, fearing anything (except new armaments) that might upset the stable hierarchy. Moreover, innovators felt a strong incentive to keep any discoveries secret, lest competitors steal their advantage. As a result, many brilliant inventions were lost when the discoverers died. Examples abound, from Heron’s steam engines and Baghdad Batteries to Antikythera-style mechanical calculators and Damascus steel -- from clear glass lenses to obstetric forceps – all lost for millennia before being rediscovered after much unnecessary pain. 

Staring across that vast wasteland of sixty feudal and futile centuries — comparing them to our dazzling levels of inventive success, especially since World War II — slams a steep burden of proofupon someone like Ridley, who asserts we are the ones doing something wrong. Or that innovation zooms ahead as if by natural law.
In fact, though well-nurtured and tended markets are remarkably fecund, they are anything but “natural.” Show us historical examples! Kings, lords, priests and other cheaters always — always — warped and crushed market competition, far more than our modern, enlightenment states do. Indeed, owner-oligarchy was the villain in Adam Smith’s call for a more “liberal” form of capitalism. Compared to those competition-ruining feudalists, Smith had little ire for socialists.  In fact, his liberal approach calls upon the state to counter-balance oligarchy, in order to keep capitalism flat-open-fair. 
Our maligned democratic states — while imperfect and always in need of fine tuning — engendered revolutions in mass education, infrastructure and reliable law that unleashed creative millions, maximizing the raw number of eager competitors— exactly the great ingredient that Friedrich Hayek recommended and that Adam Smith prescribed for a healthy, competitive market economy.  

To be clear, those who rail against 200,000 civil servants – closely watched and accountable – “picking winners and losers” have a reasonable complaint! But not when their counter-prescription is handing over the same power to a far smaller cabal of 5,000 secretive and unaccountable members of a closed and incestuous oligarchic-CEO caste.  Smith and Hayek both had harsh words for that ancient and utterly bankrupt approach.
(Question: who actually de-regulates, when appropriate? Democrats banished the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) when they were captured. AT&T was broken up, and the Internet was unleashed by Al Gore’s legislation. Add in Bill Clinton’s deregulation of GPS and Obama's declaration that citizens can record police... and one has to ask a simple question. Does anti-regulatory polemic matter more… or effective action? The 'conservatives' never deliver. Not ever.)
Yes, history does offer us a few, rare examples in the past, when innovation flourished, leading to spectacular returns.  In most such cases, state investment and focused R&D played a major role: from the great Chinese fleets of Admiral Cheng He to impressive maritime research centers established by Prince Henry the Navigator that made little Portugal a giant on the world stage. Likewise, tiny Holland became a global leader, stimulated by its free-city universities. England advanced tech rapidly with endowed scientific chairs, state subsidies and prizes. 
Those rare examples stand out from the general, dreary morass of feudal history. But none of them compare to the exponential growth unleashed by late-20th Century America’s synergy of government, enterprise and unleashed individual competitiveness, the very thing that all those kings and priests and lords used to crush, on sight. One result was the first society ever in the shape of a diamond, instead of the classic, feudal pyramid of privilege – a diamond whose vast and healthy and well-educated middle class has proved to be the generator of nearly all of our great accomplishments.
It is this historical perspective that seems so lacking in today’s shallow political and philosophical debates. It reveals that the agenda of folks like Matt Ridley – and Rupert Murdoch – is not what they claim... to release us from thralldom to shortsighted, oppressive civil servants and snooty scientist-boffins. 

Their aim is to discredit all of the modern expert castes that we have established, who serve to counterbalance (as Adam Smith prescribed) the feudal pyramids under which our ancestors sweltered in constraint.  Their aim is a return to those ancient, horrid ways.
==  Before our very eyes ==
I believe one of our problems is that the Rooseveltean reforms – which historians credit with saving western capitalism by vesting the working class with a large stake, something Marx never expected – were too successful, in a way. So successful that the very idea of class war seems not even to occur to American boomers. This despite the fact that class conflict was rampant across almost every other nation and time.  But as boomers age-out is that grand time of naïve expectation over?
Forbes recently announced that just 62 ultra-rich individuals have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. Five years ago, it took 388 rich guys to achieve that status. (See: The 500 Richest Individuals in 2015 and commentary.)  Which raises the question, where the heck does this rising, proto-feudal oligarchy think it will all lead? 
To a restoration of humanity’s normal, aristocratic pyramid of power, with them staying on top? 

Or to radicalization, as a billion members of the hard-pressed but highly skilled and tech-empowered middle class rediscover class struggle?
== We've been here before ==

The last time this happened, in the 1930s, lordly owner castes in Germany, Japan, Britain and the U.S. used mass media they owned to stir populist rightwing movements that might help suppress activity on the left. Not one of these efforts succeeded. In Germany and Japan, the monsters they created rose up and took over, leading to immense pain for all and eventual loss of most of that oligarchic wealth.
In Britain and the U.S., 1930s reactionary fomenters dragged us very close to the same path… till moderate reformers did what Marx deemed impossible – adjusted the wealth imbalance and reduced cheating advantages so that a rational and flat-open-fair capitalism would be moderated by rules and investments to stimulate a burgeoning middle class, without even slightly damaging the Smithian incentives to get rich through delivery of innovative goods and services.  

That brilliant moderation led to the middle class booms of the 50s and 60s and – as I cannot repeat too often - it led to big majorities in our parents’ Greatest Generation adoring one living human above all others: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

(Pose the question to your "make America Great again" neighbors: "When was America great?" Then remind them who the GGs loved.)
Some billionaires aren’t shortsighted fools, ignorant of the lessons of history. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and many tech moguls want wealth disparities brought down through reasonable, negotiated Rooseveltean-style reform that will still leave them standing as very, very wealthy men. Heck, even Glenn Beck can see where it all leads, declaring (in effect) "OMG what have I done?"
The smart ones know where current trends will otherwise lead. To revolution and confiscation. Picture the probabilities, when the world’s poorest realize they could double their net wealth, just by transferring title from 50 men. In that case, amid a standoff between fifty oligarchs and three billion poor, it is the skilled middle and upper-middle classes who’ll be the ones deciding civilization’s course. And who do you think those billion tech-savvy professionals – so derided and maligned by murdochian propaganda -- will side with, when push comes to shove?
== Back to innovation ==
Oh, for an easy-quick and devastating answer to the “hate-all-government” hypnosis! How I'd love to see a second "National Debt Clock" showing where the U.S. deficit would be now, if we (citizens) had charged just a 5% royalty on the fruits of U.S. federal research. We'd be in the black! How effective such a “clock” would be. We deserve such a tasty piece of counter propaganda. (See: Eight Causes of the Deficit Fiscal Cliff.
Closer to the point, consider this core question: how have we Americans been able to afford the endless trade deficits that propel world development? (And make no mistake; 2/3 of the planet developed - sending their kids to school - in one way only: by selling Americans trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed.) 

How did we afford this flood of stimulating red ink for 70 years?
Simple. Science and technology.  Each decade since the 1940s saw new, U.S.-led advances that engendered enough wealth to let us pay for all the stuff pouring out of Asian factories, giving poor workers jobs and hope.  Our trick was to keep the wonders coming -- jet planes, rockets, satellites, electronics & transistors & lasers, telecom, pharmaceuticals... and the Internet.
Crucially, the world needs America to keep buying, so that factories can hum and workers send their kids to school, so those kids can then demand labor and environmental laws and all that.  The job of George Marshall’s brilliant trade-policy plan is only half finished. Crucially, the world cannot afford for the U.S. consumer to become too poor to buy crap.
Which means we must protect the goose that lays golden eggs – our brilliant inventiveness. Our ability to keep benefiting from enlightenment methods that stimulate creativity. And that will not happen if the fruits of creativity are immediately stolen.  There is a bargain implicit in today’s rising world.  Let America benefit from innovation, and we’ll buy whatever you produce. 
Foreign leaders who ignore that bargain, seeking to eat the goose, as well as its eggs, only prove their own short-sighted foolishness… like our home-grown fools who rail against all government investment and research.
It is time to have another look at the most successful social compact ever created – the Rooseveltean deal made by the Greatest Generation, which we then amended and improved by reducing race and gender injustice and discovering the importance of planetary care. 
Throw in a vibrantly confident wave of tech-savvy youth, and that is how we can all move forward. Away from dismal feudalism.  Toward (maybe) something like Star Trek.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 12/23/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/23/2016 - 16:10
In just before Christmas and the start of Hanukkah, this set of books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Anything you’d like to see under the tree or aside the menorah? Tell me in the comments!
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