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Last Day for Signed/Personalized Books for the Holidays

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:12
A gentle reminder that if you wanted signed/personalized books from me for the holidays, today is the last day to order them, which you can do by following the directions here. I’ll also be signing all of Jay & Mary’s remaining Scalzi stock, so after today, there should still be some signed copies of my … Continue reading Last Day for Signed/Personalized Books for the Holidays →

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free Audiobook

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 10:14

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, read by Wil Wheaton
With introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

In sharply argued, fast-moving chapters, Cory Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free takes on the state of copyright and creative success in the digital age. Can small artists still thrive in the Internet era? Can giant record labels avoid alienating their audiences? This is a book about the pitfalls and the opportunities that creative industries (and individuals) are confronting today — about how the old models have failed or found new footing, and about what might soon replace them. An essential read for anyone with a stake in the future of the arts, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free offers a vivid guide to the ways creativity and the Internet interact today, and to what might be coming next.

 

Lindsey Rey Explores My Books

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 09:34
YouTube personality and general book enthusiast Lindsey Rey has an “author exploration” video featuring me and my books, and it’s a pretty good encapsulation of what I do, actually, especially for people who might not know about my work. Plus it’s always fun to listen to someone this geeked out about science fiction and fantasy. … Continue reading Lindsey Rey Explores My Books →

The Big Idea: Chad Orzel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 09:49
There is a scientist inside you, just waiting to come out! No, not like the creature in Alien. This is a good thing. Chad Orzel, author and professor of physics, explains why in his new book Eureka!, and also here in this big idea post. CHAD ORZEL: It seems very appropriate to be writing about … Continue reading The Big Idea: Chad Orzel →

Today’s Phrase That Improbably Has Up To This Point Turned Up Nothing On Google

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 15:46
“Defense Against Snark Arts”. Come on, Harry Potter fans. It was right there in front of you this whole time. I cast the Disappointus Majorus spell upon the lot of you!

UGH CANNOT BRAIN

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:33
Do you have those days? Is today one of them? TELL ME I’M NOT ALONE PEOPLE. In lieu of brain product, please to enjoy this picture of Krissy. Fair trade, I think.

Self Portrait Via Cat

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 12/07/2014 - 18:13
I’m in this picture. Twice! Hope you’re having a fabulous Sunday.

Lopsided Cat Guards the Sacred Pile of Freshly Laundered Towels

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 12/06/2014 - 14:45
As is the custom of his people.  Those eyes, man. He’s seen things. How is your Saturday?

Correlation vs. Causation? Does the universe conspire against freedom?

Contrary Brin - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 19:32
Several interest areas overlapped when Cato Unbound asked me to present a run-down on SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)...and to then riff into the implications for human politics. 
Specifically, what does our failure (so far) to find evidence of ET Civilizations - (sometimes called the Fermi Paradox) - suggest about how individuals and societies might organize themselves?  That seems a stretch!  I’ve cataloged about a hundred hypotheses for The Great Silence, and only a couple of them relate to how societies might self-organize.  Still, those insights might be of interest to you.
Since it was for Cato, the specific question that I deal with (after summarizing the overall Fermi Paradox), is right there in the title: “SETI, METI and the Paradox of Extraterrestrial Life: Is there a Libertarian Perspective?
Specifically, I find one fact compelling: nearly all human societies that had agriculture - and many that didn’t - also practiced feudalism, in which a few strong men would gang up to repress all others and establish rules so that their own sons would have harems.  This habit seems so prevalent - having only been (partially) broken in the last 200 years - because it was reinforced by Darwinian advantage… the strong men who pulled it off got more offspring.  And hence, one wonders: might the same pattern - under which competitive markets, science and liberty were all systematically crushed - also be common among other races out there, across the galaxy?
Might that be a factor in helping to explain the Fermi Paradox? And if so, is it sensible for libertarianism to support the only thing that ever brokefrom feudal modes — moderate, liberal democracy?
And yes, I am a heretic according to today’s dominant strain of libertarians, Rand-Rothbard-indoctrinated and obsessed with propertarianism… rather than the focus preached by Adam Smith, which was flat-open-fair competition. Competition which - in turn - requires at least a degree of moderate regulation? If only to prevent feudalism’s return?
== Hostile reactions! ==
I’m used to getting prickly, even fiery responses, when I speak of Smith at libertarian gatherings. (Though in fairness, they do keep inviting me! A willingness to hear other opinions that is rare on today’s left and entirely extinct on today’s mad right. Indeed, next year's FreedomFest 2015 will feature a visit by uber-Keynsian Paul Krugman!) 

Needless to say, I received some heated comebacks this time.  
One commenter said:  “Correlation is not causation. That "99% of societies with metals and agriculture swiftly devolved into feudalism" says nothing more other than "99% of societies with metals and agriculture swiftly devolved into feudalism". Why that happened requires theory.”
Oog.  Seldom is the platonist view laid so bare… Plato’s preaching - pushed also by Marx and Freud and so many others - that the incantation is more important than the experiment. It evolved into Ayn Rand’s dogma - that chains of if-therefore proclamations are somehow “objective” and therefore get to trump gritty reality.
 Alas, one can often tell how little an interlocutor knows about science by how blithely they bandy truisms as if they were incantations. Take the one raised here.
 “Correlation is not causation" is a convenient a way to airily dismiss any relevance to all actual, factual information that we have about human societies. 'Do not bother me with any of that,' this fellow appears to be saying. 'I have mantras and metaphysical incantations to develop!’
In fact, correlations are of great scientific importance. They are generators of hypotheses. Further, the stronger and more consistent the correlation, the more pertinent a scientist deems them to be. They do not prove causation... we have procedures for that.
But they do establish a plausible baseline. Moreover, the closer and more consistent the correlation, the more a burden of proofshifts to those who proclaim the correlations to be irrelevant.
In this case, we know that bullying cabals of cheaters have conspired to dominate others and steal and wreck markets across 99% of societies for at least 6000 years and probably 250,000. Across all continents and wildly varied cultures, this universal pattern perfectly "correlates" with Darwinian advantage to the bully-cheaters. It is the broad fact known about human societies ... and those who would shrug it off — in favor of following incantatory gurus — are in no position to lecture us about “science.”
An honest libertarian - even a “theorist” would recognize and accept the burden that this long and lamentable pattern lays upon our feet.  If 99% of societies were feudal pyramids of hierarchy and inherited status, it suggests that our own - with its emphasis on individualism, rights and competitive creativity is a rare exception. Not an outgrowth of “natural law” but instead an invention, spectacularly clever, complex and needing perpetual maintenance, lest it slump back into older, more entropic ways.
== Might we be the first to evade this trap? ==
I do not claim that a persistent social pattern explains the entirety, or even a majority of the Great Silence Mystery.  But I do rank this failure mode among the Top Ten of Fermi Paradox hypotheses.
Only one society ever systematically evaded this attractor trap. Its methodologies included moderate regulation to keep competition flat, open and fair. Not perfectly! But vastly better than any other society... by orders of magnitude. We moderate Smithians know that this revolution is the best thing that ever happened... 

...beyond engendering vast wealth and science and reducing ancient mistakes like racism and sexism, it also made more libertarians than any other society ever!
It was not built by platonist theoreticians whose incantation mantras pile high "logic" that is endlessly refuted by actual human experience. Nor will it be extended by indignant, simplistic snits, or raging counterfactuals… like “all government is bad and no concentration of wealth is ever toxic.” That mantra is exactly what oligarchs want sock-puppets to recite, as they rebuild a feudal order.
We’ve got an opportunity to escape a trap that may have held back hundreds of other sapient species out there, perhaps millions. In the main article I ask what possible societies might arise from descendants of – say – pack carnivores, like wolves? Or solitary hunters, like tigers? Or solipsistic omnivores (bears), or herd herbivores? Or ants? But here’s a funny thing. Not one of them seems guaranteed safety from the feudal attractor-state.
We seem to have found a way… if we don’t blow it, by betraying the pragmatic enlightenment invention–experiment in favor of… theories. But so many are pushing to abandon the experiment! So many yearn - even in fantasy tales and films - for a return to old ways.
 In the end, we may be kept from the stars by a simple flaw - our habit of delusion and self-hypnosis.

Do visit the main article. It may lay out some rarely-considered ideas about our cosmos.

. . ...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)

This is How We Educate Our Youth

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 15:43
(Kid changes station) Me: I was listening to that! It was David Bowie! Athena: I don't care about David Bowie. Me: YOU ARE NOT MY DAUGHTER — John Scalzi (@scalzi) December 5, 2014 A quick six-pack of Bowie songs for @AScalzi98, starting with Under Pressure: http://t.co/0nEr7MRki0 — John Scalzi (@scalzi) December 5, 2014 Here's a live version of … Continue reading This is How We Educate Our Youth →

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Five: Charities

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 10:00
For the last four days, the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a … Continue reading Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Five: Charities →

The Kid Makes Her Point

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 22:44
This morning, unbeknownst to me, my daughter decided that she needed to make her views about the Eric Garner grand jury decision known to the folks at her school, so she dressed in black for mourning and wrote the words “ICANTBREATHE” on her arms. And then off she went to school, here in rural, conservative … Continue reading The Kid Makes Her Point →

You, Me, Twitter

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 18:02
The following is a public service announcement about you, me and Twitter. Some of it are things I’ve said before, but I’m presenting it all here in a handy, easy-to-read numbered list. Ready? Here we go. 1. I use Twitter. A lot! Here I am over there. 2. When I use Twitter, I am generally … Continue reading You, Me, Twitter →

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Four: Fan Favorites!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 10:00
For the first three days of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014, I’ve let authors and creators tell you about their work. Today is different: Today is Fan Favorites day, in which fans, admirers and satisfied customers share with you a few of their favorite things — and you can share some of your favorite things as well. This is a … Continue reading Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Four: Fan Favorites! →

The New Rig, 2014 Edition

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 16:54
My Dell all-in-one desktop finally stopped playing nice with me — it had a persistent memory issue that finally sent it into permanent blue screen mode — so it was time to go ahead and get a new desktop computer. I knew that this time around I wanted to get a computer with a little more … Continue reading The New Rig, 2014 Edition →

Doom and Gloom?

Contrary Brin - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 13:51
== You cynics aren't helpful! ==

Finally, someone (else) is making a key point — that liberals and progressives sabotage themselves with gloom, by proclaiming that no past reforms or interventions have done the slightest good.  Nothing has improved, everything is worse and none of the past measures that we strove so hard to achieve has ever worked! 

This reflex is not only counterfactual and kind of sick-minded... it is also spectacularly counterproductive, playing into the hands of those who proclaim: “Yep! Progressive ‘solutions’ never work, and progressives are the first to say so!”
In Progressives Lost the Election, but Their Ideas are Winning, Richard V. Reeves offers statistical evidence that the poor and middle class aren’t doing quite as badly in the U.S. as many have been railing. Does that make him an enemy of progress? Not when he shows relentlessly that:
(1) it was successive liberal interventions that prevented a plummet into poverty for tens of millions and 
(2) we still have a long way to go. Indeed, bragging about their product’s past successes would be the first thing done by any sane salesperson! Suggesting that many of our left-wing friends are not especially, well, sane.
“For progressives, doom and gloom will be a self-defeating political strategy, since it adds steadily to the sense that government doesn’t work. This will be especially true in 2016 after occupying the White House for two terms. The subtext of downbeat progressive rhetoric is, by implication: "Yes, we have already done all these things (the Great Society, tax credits, welfare reform, food stamps), but honestly, nothing has really worked, look how terrible things are becoming," writes Reeves, continuing:
“What they should be saying instead is: "Look at all these government initiatives that have really worked to reduce poverty, improve workplaces, lessen inequality, weaken racism, boost women’s chances, and improve wellbeing. So let’s do more of it! What’s the next problem that we can help to solve?"
Lest you right wingers crow, at this point, fie upon you!  If you had had your way for 70 years, this society would be a festering feudal cesspit of poverty, simmering on the edge of revolution. And you HAVE had your way in the US for 2 decades, and things ARE getting worse for the middle classes! Your oligarchs, in contrast, are doing great. Still, the aversion of our news media - of all kinds - to ever mention good news, is stunningly consistent, almost to the point of evil.

Just one example.  Since the Department of Health & Human Services began a campaign, three years ago, to eradicate fatal  hospital errors, there has been a plummet in Hospital Acquired Illness. Had you heard of this?  Of course not.
All of this riffs along with Steven Pinker’s important book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, wherein he shows absolutely that average per capita rates of both violence and poverty have plummeted, worldwide, every decade since humanity hit its nadir in 1943. 

I take head-on the fury that these facts arouse in people of the left, and the blindness of the right, in my TedX talk, Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be mad as hell? (Follow the slides on Slideshare!)
Caught in the middle are the few remaining liberal-pragmatist problem solvers remaining in a country that once specialized in pragmatism and negotiation and simply getting the job done.
All of this shows that - although the Neo-Confederacy is our worst problem today — a froth of insanity and treason, incited by foreign petro-sheiks who mean us nothing but harm — there certainly is a fair amount of crazy, also, on the other side.
== Satire and Bullshit == 
The New Age Bullshit Generator randomly generates hilariously plausible, touchy-feely psychotech-quantum babble!  Farm-out man! Right-arm!
For a more compact version of this much-deserved satire,see: The Wisdom of Chopra.
But I recommend delving into the intellectual grand-daddy of New Age/postmodernist satirical debunkery, the "Sokal Hoax.
Okay, I am having some fun skewering the ditzy far-far-left, this time. But let us never forget, cesspits thrive near all fanaticisms. And although the biggest threat right now to our rational enlightenment is the "bullshit mountain" of the Fox'd right, there is definitely a far wing of the other side that wallows in insipid fantasy. 

If you cannot turn your head and acknowledge this, then you have Fused Political Spine Disease and you are part of the problem, not the solution.
Get an ideological chiropractor.  Re-learn how to turn your head and see that dangers lie in all directions. Only then will you earn the credibility (as I have done) to say: "I am very aware of my own side's crazies... and that qualifies me to say, unequivocally, that the other side is worse!"
== Health Care ==
“For all the irrational disgust the right has for the ACA (Obamacare), the law itself is actually a boon to entrepreneurs," writes Steve Benen, It allows brash startups like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb to do their capitalist thing, attracting lots of independent drivers, etc, who can have the courage to take on that lifestyle instead of working for The Man, since health insurance can now be bought affordably outside working for a big company or corporation.  
Just to be plain, this was actually predicted, back when Newt Gingrich presented the ACA as his party’s alternative to “HillaryCare...” 

...before the GOP went completely bonkers and disowned its own… damn… plan. Simply because Barack Obama had the utter gall – the nerve – to … agree to it!  That gave their own damn plan cooties, it appears.

 == On Ebola ==
Pater Tenebrarum observed: “A friend recently asked us whether the massive Ebola outbreak in West Africa could be regarded as a “black swan” in the sense of Nassim Taleb’s definition of the term. After thinking it over, we concluded that yes, it can definitely be characterized as one. Evidently, something is very different about this year’s outbreak compared to previous ones, and a number of unexpected developments have occurred. Chief among them is that a hitherto firmly held belief had to be abandoned. It was thought that the very thing that that makes the illness rather terrifying, namely its high mortality rate, helped in containing outbreaks…  We can definitely state that the current outbreak is anything but “well contained”."
== ISIS CRISIS == 
George Monbiot sarcastically asks (in The Guardian) “Why stop at Isis when we could bomb the whole Muslim world? Humanitarian arguments, ifconsistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East.”
Midway into his attempt at satire, he offers this paragraph: “Is there not an urgent duty to blow up Saudi Arabia? It has beheaded 59 people so far this year, for offences that include adultery, sorcery and witchcraft. It has long presented a far greater threat to the west than Isis now poses. In 2009 Hillary Clinton warned in a secret memo that“Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban … and other terrorist groups”. In July, the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, revealed that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, until recently the head of Saudi intelligence, told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” Saudi support for extreme Sunni militias in Syria during Bandar’s tenure is widely blamed for the rapid rise of Isis. Why take out the subsidiary and spare the headquarters?”
Monbiot leaves out the biggest allegation against that desert kingdom — that it meddles in U.S. governance.  Not just with bribery and blackmail and the usual tools, but above all by supporting and maintaining Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda empire which has deliberately destroyed politics in America, pitting one half of the country (a re-ignited Confederacy) against the other half.  

The Bush family, virtually a branch office of that R’oil House, (holding hands with them and calling Prince Bandar “Uncle Bandie"), plunged us into so many calamities that every single metric of U.S. national health plummeted under the watches of George Senior and George Junior, plus Dick Cheney — losses that measure many trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.  Should we not consider all of that an “act of war”?

In any event, remember this in 2016.  That McCain and Romney distanced themselves from the accursed Bush clan... but surrounded themselves with factotums from the entire Bush-GOP 'brain trust' that delivered the worst governance seen in at least 80 years. Do not believe that anything has changed, till the whole house has been disinfected and cleaned. And finally hope for sane conservatism when that whirring sound goes away... the spinning of Goldwater and Buckley, in their graves.  == Bush and more Bush ==
Oh please, please please run, Jeb. By appearances, you seem the least loathsome of your wretched clan, whose terms in office featured exactly ZERO improvements in even one unambiguously attributable metric of US national health.  The first and second time that happened, ever in U.S. history. Indeed, nearly all such metrics plummeted across the spans of both Bush Administrations... a correlation so perfect that it tempts one to imagine it had to be deliberate.
And why not?  As we've seen, the Bushes are so intimately tied to one of the Middle Eastern royal families that W said "Uncle (Prince) Bandaar just about raised me."  A family also co-owns Fox.

So yes, by all means Jeb, run! If the Confederacy succeeds in imposing another Bush rule over the United States, then we in the loyal, Blue half will deserve what we get. And our nation's 200 year Civil War will be over, for good.

P.S. and BTW....  I am still looking for a guerrilla performance art coop who might do a piece of political humor that would far out-do Jib-Jab's famous 2004 "This Land" sketch. 

It might even put the kibosh on this "dynasty" thing, once and for all.
. . ...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)

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 10:00
The Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014 continues, and today we move away from books and focus on other gifts and crafts — which you can take to mean just about any other sort of thing a creative person might make: Music, art, knitting, jewelry, artisan foodstuffs and so on. These can be great, unique gifts for special folks … Continue reading Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More →

The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/02/2014 - 12:00
It takes a special kind of author to intentionally release a bad novel — And Jim C. Hines is that author! But he has a reason for doing it, and a way of making that bad novel — Rise of the Spider Goddess — lift itself above its station to offer what turns out to … Continue reading The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines →

Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 12/02/2014 - 10:00
Today is Day Two of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Hey, I put my first novel up on this very Web site fifteen years ago and told people to … Continue reading Whatever Holiday Shopping Guide 2014, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books →

When Ed Snowden met Marcus Yallow

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Tue, 12/02/2014 - 09:16


Here's a scene from Citizenfour, Laura Poitras's acclaimed documentary on Edward Snowden, showing Snowden packing his bags to leave Hong Kong, showing the book on his nightstand: my novel Homeland.

I literally could not be more proud than I am right now. Thanks to Poitras and her helper, Maria, for this clip.

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