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New Books and ARCs, 2/15/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 16:08
Here’s a super-sized stack of new books and ARCs that arrived over the last couple of days to the Scalzi Compound. I just know there’s something calling to you from the stack. Tell us what it is in the comments!

The Collapsing Empire Review in Booklist + Chapters One and Two (and Soon Three) On Tor.Com

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:12
So! Here’s what’s news in the land of The Collapsing Empire: 1. A review of the book is up from Booklist, and it’s pretty great. Here’s the bit I especially like: “Fans of Game of Thrones and Dune will enjoy this bawdy, brutal, and brilliant political adventure”. It also praises my “well-known wit, whimsy, and […]

The Big Idea: Jacqueline Carey

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/14/2017 - 11:31
Shakespeare is a font of inspiration for writers, not only for the words he put to paper, but for the worlds built around the words. For her new novel Miranda and Caliban, Jacqueline Carey explores the world of The Tempest, one of the bard’s greatest play. What does she find there? Here she is to […]

It's a tough world out there: and now a drumbeat for war on Iran.

Contrary Brin - Mon, 02/13/2017 - 18:40
Papa Heinlein promised us interesting times during what he forecast as "The Crazy Years." And boy are we in it.  I'll have more, later, about Heinlein's creepy-on-target prescience. But today, let's focus on International affairs.

= The scariest thing ==
Of course the thing to dread is misuse of the powers of the state, either turning them against us or else spasmodically flinging them about in ways that do us harm… perhaps even more harm than the Bushites did with their loony Iraq Wars. Maybe even existential harm. It’s not untoward to imagine the very worst -- as I did in The Postman -- when some of the men being appointed over our armed forces are as gung-ho about using them as were George W. Bush’s pack of raving neocons.
This article suggests that “the one connective tissue between all the people (Trump) is choosing, whether it's Flynn or Mattis, or any of these guys. They all want to attack Iranin some form or another. And so do the Saudis.”
Now, in some ways, this is just standard Republican dogma. The Bush family was, and remains, little more than a cadet branch of the Saudi Royal House. (See pictures of GWB holding hands with the Saudi King and kissing a prince on the mouth.) Yes, the first Iraq War served Saudi purposes to a T. 

The second, under Bush Junior, had unexpected side effects, dramatically enhancing Iranand a Shiite axis that’s allied with Moscow. Subsequent GOP saber rattling at Tehran is supposedly aimed at correcting that mistake.  
To be clear, I do distinguish between Gen. Flynn and Gen. Mattis. The latter may prove more mainstream and possibly much more sane than Mr. Trump currently bargains for. Mattis might, indeed, dig in his heels when the president starts attempting an Erdogan-style purge of the Officer Corps.  He has already forced a change in Trump’s adolescent fixation on torture. We can hope. 
== The Iran-Moscow Great Game ==
Okay, so Donald Trump has packed his cabinet with saber-waving Iran haters. Men who never mention Riyadh in their jeremiads against terrorism -- or in Muslim travel bans -- ignoring the blatant fact... that those terrorist attackers who actually harmed us have nearly all been rooted in the Saudis, not Iranians. Why should they mention such inconveniences, when the Saudis were recent masters of the GOP (before Moscow snatched the reins) and still business partners of Rupert Murdoch.
In fact, as Obama and anyone sensible knew, Iran is a complex and highly educated society, with half the populace so eager to join the democratic world that they could plotz. See Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran, by Laura Secor.) 

Fostering that transition was a sought-after benefit from the Iran nuclear deal, but also deeply feared by the Iranian theocrats, who have done everything in their power to quash their people’s rising secular-western movement.
Why do you think they rattle their own sabers, at us? Indeed, the mullahs would like nothing better than for histrionics to pour from Washington, driving more of the Persian polity back into their arms.
Then why do it? For domestic consumption. And to bolster the Saudi cause (which has included the spread of hate-fest madrassas all over the world, which created both Al Qaeda and ISIS.)  

But there’s more. Nothing delights Donald Trump’s best pal — the Kremlin — more than the U.S. driving someone else into their growing anti-western alliance. That axis now includes Edogan of Turkey, Assad in Syria, many elements of the Shiite regime in Baghdad… and the mullahs in Tehran. When Trump and his team screech at Iran, you can be sure Putin will be chortling with glee, as this helps to eliminate reformers in Tehran and will cement his alliance with the mullahs.
Indeed, that is probably the very reason why – on Moscow’s orders – there are so many Iran haters sweeping into Trump's cabinet. That plus the alluring fantasy of taking Iranian oil off the world market and driving prices above $100/barrel. Yum!
The Saudis are watching all of this, and despite their dream of higher oil prices, one has to wonder… are they truly silly enough to be glad that Trumpists are waving sabers at Tehran? And get the Persians back to work on their bomb?

Not if the princes are half as smart as their publicity flacks claim. Alas, like most inheritance lords, the Princes are likely much less bright than they believe. If they have three brain cells among them, they would see that driving the Iranian people into the mullahs’ arms, and driving the mullahs into Putin’s, will not ultimately go well for them. But a secular democratic Iran (Obama’s goal) would be harmless to Saudi interests. Are the Saudis perhaps wringing their hands with uncertainty?
One is tempted by schaedenfreude, to enjoy their pain at having created this situation, when they were the puppet masters with strings into the Bush White House. (Today those strings lead to Moscow.) Still, the Saudis have it in their power to prevent all this, by one simple means. Stepping up to finance what they prevented for 70 years, peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab world. 

They could do this, though it would take real imagination and grit (and a lot of cash.) And it would transform the Middle East, making it a safer place… yes, for them, as well.
== Ponder extreme up- and downside possibilities. ==

Try this exercise. Map our best and worst case scenarios. The best we can hope for, from a Saudi alliance is some slight tempering of the Wahabbist propaganda, teaching millions of young Sunnis to wage terror on the West. Ain’t much, and I doubt that Trump will even ask for that.
The worst? If we walk away from Riyadh? Nothing. Their era of relevance is over, since America recently (under Obama) achieved practical energy independence. Indeed, without the press or politicians noticing, we have withdrawn all our carriers from the Persian Gulf. Because it simply isn’t our “lifeline” anymore.  A strategic victory of stunning magnitude – that's gone unnoticed.
So. What is the upside, if we make friends with the Iranian people and work with them to render their mullahs impotent? Spectacular benefits, huge. Picture what the Ayatollahs fear. Prosperous middle class Iranian women in... pants? A vast, educated middle class taking charge of their own fates? Oh, how the mullahs wanted Trump! (Note that this upside is completely unavailable in Saudi.  There is no such secular-yearning, vast middle class over there, eager to join us in modernity, as there is in Iran.)

Oh, the downsides of turning the Iranians back into a raving, bomb-building theocracy are just as large, in the opposite direction. But expect no such complex thinking in this White House.
The picture I just painted… is so sad. Both Bush presidencies, puppeted by Riyadh, and a Trump regime puppeted from Moscow, actually helping the Iranian mullahs by yelling at them.  And they call these “strong fathers”?

 "Even the power of the presidency has considerable limits inside US borders. It’s the rest of the world I’m more concerned about, because it may look very different very quickly with Trump stomping around. If he continues this “America first” claptrap, regional powers like Russia, China, and Iran will grab the chance to expand influence, including militarily. The European Union may fall apart, and the far right may continue to make advances across Europe." 
                         - former world chess champion Gary Kasparov (@Kasparov63)

== A rough world ==
Here's one area where I kind of agree with Donald Trump.  Our News Media aren't very smart. 

Oh, they try hard to champion truth!  In fact, only scientists are so badly maligned, by the fact hating right. Still, so caught up are even our best reporters, in breathlessly reporting the latest Trumpian lie volcano, that they cannot step back and counter it all with big picture perspective.

Take the gigantic setback to Russian policy that happened when Vladimir Putin's pal and viceroy in the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted by pro-western protesters on 22 February 2014, and thereupon he fled the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev. Just three years ago, it was the worst setback to Moscow's hegemonism since the collapse of the USSR. Moreover Putin himself laid that whole event at the feet of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
How dumb of the press and the democrats to let the right call Obama and Clinton "feckless victims of Putin-cleverness," when theirs was the far greater coup!  Rather, Putin called them clever, machiavellian devils and he railed about the west having "stolen" Ukraine... yet our press made almost nothing of it, playing up Putin's subsequent nibble-backs of Crimea and the Donbas, feeding the calumny that Obama was "feckless" or "impotent." 

Putin attributed Obama with plenty of "feck." Go look at a map. Compare Crimea (which was never Ukrainian in the first place) to the huge Ukraine, and tell us your "feckless" narratives. 
== Demographics is friendlier to our nation of immigrants ==
Yes, the puppet strings from the Kremlin are disturbing. Only there is solace to be found in basic reality.

Lacking an empire, the prospect of a Russian titan, that seems so attractive to Trump supporters, may hit a wall. A demographic wall. 

"Without remedial action, Russia’s population could shrink to 113 million by 2050, a decrease of more than 20 percent from today’s population of 144 million." 

While the picture has grown slightly better, the last two years, Moscow's priorities (according to this report) aim at other perceived problems, like reviving the appearance of superpower status:
"Russia is in the midst of a massive military spending boom. Many of the increases in defense spending, the news agency reports, are in the “black budget”: expenditures authorized by Putin but not publicly announced, often due to opaque national security concerns."  And "...military expenditures have increased by a factor of 20 since Putin became president 15 years ago, and defense and security now account for some 34 percent of Russia’s budget. That is nearly double the proportion of the U.S. budget." 
Well, that is one way to hold onto Siberia, in the face of a resurgent China. Still, it makes one wonder about the cult of Putin idolatry on the American right. 

Sure he's smart. And good looking. And testosteronic. And one of the few "strongmen" who seems actually strong. So? I suspect another somewhat admirable trait that no one else seems to figure on. I think there's a chance that Vladimir Putin is sincere, and still loyal to the things he swore devotion to, at age 18.
No, I don’t blame him. I blame an American cult-of-the-strong-father that lets itself be talked into slavish admiration for a Slavic regime whose arms buildup is aimed -- along with thousands of nuclear weapons -- directly at us.
=====     =====      =====

Addendum: Sorry but it has to be said again, our news media are dumb! They zero in on the stupidities of the "Muslim Immigration Ban"... fine.  They show the recent lie spewed by the Trump White House - that terror attacks went under-reported (there are no actual examples.) Fine. But do they connect the dots?

Dig it. The Trumpists are terrified someone with guts will say "What terrorism?" 

Seriously, our parents in the Greatest Generation suffered more losses in any single week of WWII than we have across decades of "Islamic Terror."

 If there's a case for increasing the vigilance of "vetting," then fine: we'd all love to see your plan. Tracking exit status of visa holders is long overdue, for example. Obama was already doing all of that.

 But to issue screeching, blanket, ill-considered directives that take all our departments by surprise, banish legit Green Card holders and leave babies unable to get surgery? Justifying it as an "emergency"? After President Obama reigned over the safest period in the history of the republic?

Now you can see why DT had to rail that there really is more terrorism!  It just went unreported!!

Alas, when this narrative collapses, there will be left for him just one option. And we are counting on our skilled professionals to beware. To catch it in time.

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

The View From the Top of Amazon’s Heap

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 02/12/2017 - 13:35
Yesterday nine of my novels were on sale for $2.99 in ebook format, across a bunch of different retailers, but most prominently on Amazon, because, well, Amazon. Amazon has a number of different ways to make authors feel competitive and neurotic, one of which is its “Amazon Author Rank,” which tells you where you fit […]

One Day eBook Sale: Old Man’s War series + Redshirts, Lock In and Fuzzy Nation, $2.99 Each

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 02/11/2017 - 07:40
Hey, if you live in the United States or Canada and like your books in electronic form, then for today only (February 11, 2017), a whole bunch of my ebooks are on sale for $2.99 each. Which books? Old Man’s War The Ghost Brigades The Last Colony Zoe’s Tale The Human Division The End of All […]

Can cheating be combatted?

Contrary Brin - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 19:25
As I mentioned, earlier, liberals should start practicing judo. Start by accepting Trump’s demand for a commission to investigate electoral fraud. A call that is now echoed in this article from Salon. Watch, as they scurry to back away from the demand.
Indeed. Former Attorney General Eric Holder has signed on to lead the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a newly formed political group aimed at untangling the creatively drawn districts that have helped cement the Republican Party in power, both in Washington and many state capitals. Mind you, Gerrymandering is a crime against the American people by the entire political caste and for years both parties practiced the foul art, as I dissected here. Along with ways that youpersonally and all by yourself can defeat it, here. And yes I mean you, all by yourself.
Recent years have seen citizen uprisings in many blue states, where ballot measures instituted nonpartisan commissions to draw the districts for Congress and state legislatures. This as happened only in blues like California, Washington, Oregon and so on, leading to much hand-rubbing glee, at first, among republicans, who saw this as “political suicide” by democratic voters. 

(Libertarians note: these are the same states that are decriminalizing marijuana and doing other things top get oppression off your back. They are also thriving vastly better than red states.)
Only lo and behold, a funny thing happened. With more neutral districting, Democrats did better at the polls. It seemed that voters trusted those legislators more, not less, when they had to work hard, each election, rather than taking their constituents for granted. 

Which led to my call for Democrats to abandon gerrymandering altogether, especially in DP dominated states that still use it, like Illinois and Maryland. All those exceptions have accomplished, overall, was to let Republicans cry “See? Everybody does it!”
I doubt that Holder or Obama actually listened to me. Still, it seems my advice is being carried out. Obama and Holder will jawbone Illinois, Maryland and others to abandon gerrymandering, so that it will become strictly a Republican crime. Instead of just mostly a Republican crime.
At which point we might see whether Justice Roberts and Justice Alito -- and Justice Gorsuch -- are still able to stomach the utterly intolerable. Or whether those three can rouse themselves to be citizens first, before and above being partisan hacks. (We will see a number of occasions, over the next few years, when those three might hold the fate of our Great Experiment in their hands.)
== The simplest solution to a cheat ==
As it happens, Roberts and Alito earlier held back from meddling in gerrymandering, because they saw no clear way to prescribe a redistricting process. Only here’s the thing: you don’t even have to demand impartial redistricting commissions! I have long reponded with a three sentence solution:
(1) Set some upper limit to all districts’ perimeter-to-area ratio. (You can be generous; just forbid the absurdly contorted.)
(2) The legislature – or some commission -- may establish the boundaries, but…
(3) There must be minimal overlap between the boundaries of districts for state assembly, state senate and Congress.Hence, if they gerry one house to benefit their own party, fine! They’ll mess themselves up in the other two. 

There you go.  No need for formulas or “commissions.” Problem solved. Do it. Just do it.
There is, of course, a way for we citizens, ourselves, to defeat gerrymandering cheats, at least a bit, even if the crooks manage to cling to their criminal practice. If politicians have contrived things so that only one party can ever win in your district, then register as a member of that party! That way, you can vote in the only election that matters in your district, the primary. 
Seriously, you betray nothing by registering as a Republican, if that’s the party that owns your district. You can then help moderatesto win the local nominations and to withstand Tea Party/Breitbart bullying challenges. (And note, you conservativeswho live in Santa Monica or some other liberal enclave, this can work both ways!) Think about it.

This proved unnecessary after California's brilliant reforms, with non-partisan primaries and top-two runoffs in the fall. It has led to amazing outcomes, with moderates winning in both parties and the minorities in each district gaining clout!
 == Our side: Reduced to essentials ==
Exaggerating a bit to make a powerful point, this essay by Yonatan Zunger asserts provocatively that Tolerance is a Peace Treaty, not a moral precept. A powerfully important treaty, yes, that allows us to create far more complex, effective, productive and happy societies. But ultimately one based on pragmatism, which is vastly stronger than any "value system." 
When tolerance, diversity and all those nice things are called moral-axiom absolutes, that weakensthem! Because someone else can simply shrug and cancel your hifalutin Core Value by saying "I have differentcore values. Different axioms." (Like holy writ telling me that your kind are filth.)
Our tolerant, diverse, positive-sum society needs no such axiomatic crutches! Amid our complexity, we've prospered and achieved more, in a few generations, than all others combined, across all continents and 6000+ years. There are zero positive metrics - from art to fun to prosperity to happiness, to soulful contemplation - in which this approach has not been rewarded multiplicatively, not arithmetically. When it comes to science and knowledge - gathering the tools and powers of creation - we've been rewarded exponentially. That is one heap of validation for free speech, tolerance, flat class structures and the rule of law.
There are powers who see where this is going. If the Enlightenment thrives for just one more generation, we'll reach a critical mass of bright youths and citizens committed to their own blatant self interest, in this positive sum miracle. Those aiming to reinstate traditional human governance styles of oligarchy and feudal-inherited privilege know that they have just a narrow window of time in which to bring the experiment crashing down.
Their chief tool - fomenting frantic, anti-future populism among a fact-averse lumpenproletariat- worked somewhat in 1930s Europe. It took grit and courage - yes, militancy - to face down that last major oligarchic putsch. Indeed, our Great Experiment will only be rescued by determined will and goodwill, as it was from evil empires in the 1860s, the 1940s and across the Cold War.
It requires that we view Tolerance and Freedom of Speech and class-flatness not only as our core tenets but also as the greatest tools ever discovered for achieving positive sum outcomes. Tolerance is our oxygen, our practical need, not a catechism that can be used against us.
Read this piece. Then recall how I have been poking at audiences for decades with a deliberately aggressive call to arms, rousing appreciative, if nervous laughter: 

"We must go forth and crush every worldview that does not accept diversity and tolerance!"
If that does not wring from you a tense, ironic smile -- maybe a chuckle that is both nervous and determined -- then you just don't get it. How dissonant, contradictory, yet necessarily militant we are obliged to be, to save the fecund, wondrous peace our predecessors won. See my essay: The Dogma of Otherness.
Oh but alas. Here’s your openness and transparency.  “Paul Ryan Proposes Ban on Live-Streaming From House Floor.
== Let the comparisons begin! ==
I’ve recommended that the fact-centered half of our civil war use wagers!  I'll offer a major missive about that, soon. Meanwhile though, note that the maneuver can only work if you parse the bets so clearly that there’s no wriggle room and the facts are overwhelmingly clear. Like defying  your favorite confederate cultist to name fact-based professions that are not warred upon by Fox.

Or to name a major metric of U.S. national health that does not do vastly better, across the span of democratic presidencies.  
Case in point: U.S. consumer confidence has boomed to its highest level since 2001 -- yes, higher than at the peak of the housing boom.  Reinforcing the almost perfect correlation that every single large and attributable metric of U.S. national health does better across the span of Democratic administrations than across their republican predecessors.  Usually “oppositely” better. (In other words, most such metrics plummeted across both Bush Administrations.)
More comparisons here.
Let’s gather these.  If the pattern persists, it will help us to pry some intelligent “ostrich” conservatives’ head out of holes-of-denial.  And all it will take is a few… million… of them to make the difference that saves us.
And it begins.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 2/10/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 17:24
As we move into the weekend, here’s another stack of fine books and ARCs that have recently come into the Scalzi Compound. Which of these titles moves you? Tell us all in the comments!

Three Weeks Into Trump’s America

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 13:59
Hey, Scalzi! It is I, your fake interlocutor! I wish to ask you about your thoughts on Trump and the news this week! Ugh. I mean, okay? I guess? You don’t sound excited! I’m at this place where I do want to talk about what’s going on in with our government, and at the same […]

The Big Idea: Kameron Hurley

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 11:24
I start this Big Idea for The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley, with a disclosure: I liked the book enough to blurb it (you can see the blurb right there on the cover, above). Why did I like it? Well, as it happens, Kameron’s piece today will go a long way to explain. KAMERON […]

“The Dispatcher” a Finalist for Two Audies + Locus Award Voting + Nebula and Hugo Award Voting + Print Preorder Info

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 16:11
So, this is a good day for me: The Dispatcher, my novella that was released as an audiobook from Audible, is a finalist for two(!) Audie Awards, first in the category of Science Fiction, and second in the category of Original Work (meaning, first published in audio form). I’m thrilled about both, and it’s lovely to […]

Announcing the 2017 Audie Award Finalists in the Fantasy Category

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:16
Hey! I get to tell you which works, authors and narrators are finalists for the 2017 Audie Award in the category of Fantasy. The Audies are the highest award in the audio book industry, so being a finalist for one of its categories is a very fine honor indeed. This year, the finalists for the […]

The Big Idea: Stephen H. Provost

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:00
It can happen that writing a book of one sort can be the genesis for a book of another sort entirely: Writing a non-fiction book inspired Stephen H. Provost to have a big idea for a fictional tale, one that developed into his new novel Memortality. Here’ he explains how he got from the one […]

Announcing The Expanding Tour 2017! 22 Cities! Five Weeks!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/07/2017 - 18:01
It’s now officially announced: My tour dates for The Collapsing Empire! I’m calling this one The Expanding Tour 2017, and here are the venues (follow the links for times and details): Tuesday, March 21 Joseph-Beth Booksellers Lexington, KY Wednesday, March 22 Quail Ridge Books & Music Raleigh, NC Thursday, March 23 Flyleaf Books Chapel Hill, […]

Is Class War as Inevitable as the Return of Karl Marx?

Contrary Brin - Tue, 02/07/2017 - 15:39
I've long written how we should envision America as a continuing revolution against the failed feudal model that crushed human hope in 99% of human societies, across 6000 years. Indeed, our major issues today have little to do with the hoary, lobotomizing “left-right axis.” Not when Enterprise, markets, entrepreneurship and national defense all do vastly better across Democratic administrations, and the state gathers more power into its hands, across Republican ones. 

As shown repeatedly by varied thinkers and economists at the Evonomics site, if he were alive today, Adam Smith would be a vigorous Democrat. (Liberals who reflexively denounce Smith are fools.)
Yet, the “left-right” metaphor, reclaims a bit of meaning, if you go back to its roots

Way back in 1789, a bankrupted Louis XVI summoned the French Estates General. When, to his shock, nobles and clerics joined elected commoners in common assembly, the nobles and churchmen sat on the right and the levelers on the left. That is the source of the metaphor.

Then (as now) most (not all) of the nobles insisted on retaining their gross taxation privileges and spectacular disparities in wealth – their inherent right to cheat and not compete fairly. Short-sighted to the last, they would pay a high price for insatiability.
Fast forward to 2017. We’ve been warned for years that rising disparities in both wealth and power would warp the flat-open-competitive arenas that made our civilization the wonder of all ages. Democracy, markets, science, courts – all fail when distorted by cheating.
As Will and Ariel Durant said in Lessons of History: 
"…the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealthor by revolution distributing poverty.” 
Karl Marx and his followers were stunned that Americans kept choosing the former over the latter! The Marxists’ jaundiced view of humanity saw our species as reflexive pawns of class imperatives, not sapient beings, able to recognize the edge of a cliff and steer away from it. 

Dogmatists of both the right and the left ignore how the American Founders, in the 1780s, seized up to a third of the land in the former colonies from lordly owners and redistributed it to a favored middle class. A "leveling" far greater than anything done by FDR. That class re-set was accomplished peacefully over here… but with much blood in 1790s France.
Each generation faces trends in human nature that try to re-assert feudalism. Hence, one more anti-feudal re-set was performed by the Jacksonians. Another came after bloody Civil War. Later the Progressives, led foremost by Theodore Roosevelt, gave us a neutral Civil Service and laws against market-warping monopolies. (Both reforms under vigorous attack, today.)
Then again, when plutocracy threatened to drive average Americans into radicalism, another Roosevelt led our parents in the Greatest Generation to perform the most successful re-set of all, both reducing disparities to their lowest levels in history and fostering the greatest burgeon of enterprise and wealth of all time. Moreover, the smartest of the rich – those capable of reading Marx and seeing the alternative – supported FDR! The Gates-Buffetts of their day, they figured it was better to be merely very rich, in a happy, middle-class society, than to lose it all in revolution.

== Enemies of Marx keep him alive! ==
Indeed, the terrific Evonomics site (one of the best online) repeatedly shows that our moderate-reformist ancestors had the right idea. This article “The Science Is In: Greater Equality Makes Societies Healthier” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (authors of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger) agrees with one catechism of the right: that the Greatest Generation of the 40s and 50s were smart and wise! 
Everyone benefited from that era – which the Trump-lumpens dimly nostalgize as the very time when “America was Great.” Forgetting that their parents adored FDR above all other living humans. The creative tsunami that happened then -- under high Rooseveltean tax rates and with strong unions -- made us wealthy enough to take on many challenges, like racial and gender justice and discovering planetary care. 

But the lesson of history is clear: all class re-set solutions tend to get undermined, over time. Cheaters find ways to cheat ... and hence...
...those pesky Marxists never really went away. Naturally, they hold that every successful re-set only saves capitalism for another generation. Their dismal assumption – clutched tenaciously - is that human nature is fixed!  (No wonder Marxists hate science fiction, despite old Karl being one of the greatest sci fi writers of all time.)

Moreover, they forecast that a wave of plutocrats will come that is too stupid and self-obsessed to realize how much better off they are, to be merely-way-rich in a confident, middle class society.
Seeking, by dullard reflex, to restore feudal lordship, they will perch above a festering maelstrom of resentment. Oh, and the folks they oppress will have technologies that make WMDs seem tame. Oh, how very smart you Murdochs and Kochs are. Driving all the scientists and techies to the left. Real smart.
== The crisis of capitalism ==
Some are less foolish. Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the World Economic Forum (WEF), might seem a central figure of the whole Davos-Bildeburger cabal of giga-aristocrats that some see behind every world conspiracy. But – as I depict happening in Existence – some of the top elites on this planet aretrying desperately to figure out how they can make a soft landing… to stay rich and privileged in a world that’s healthy and prosperous and (above all) not stewing with revolution.
“As well as getting growth higher (and dealing with wealth disparity) , the WEF identified four areas that need to be addressed urgently: the need for long-term thinking in capitalism; a recognition of the importance of identity and inclusiveness in political communities; mitigating the risks and exploiting the opportunities of new technologies such as driverless cars; and strengthening global cooperation.”
Oh, but the Marxists do have a point about human nature. Those born and raised in wealth tend to, like the French nobles and like Donald Trump, envision themselves the way flatterers describe them, as geniuses. The Saudi Royal House, for example, whose relentless efforts to plant the seeds of caliphate have borne bitter fruit. Or Rupert Murdoch, who worked so hard to train the populist-confederate beast, only to see it seized by a new rider, an impudent Svengali.
Trump frightened the Lords of the Right for a bit. Throughout the presidential primaries and the general election, the Koch brothers were steadfast in their refusal to support Trump, consistently critical of his candidacy. Charles Koch even once described choosing between Trump and Clinton as picking “cancer or a heart attack.”
Only now those masters think they have the Trump Problem sussed. Knowing how dangerous the brothers are, DT has surrendered to them control over much of his cabinet! See this chart to grasp just how many fingers the Kochs now have, pulling strings over our heads.  No wonder enemy #1 is a free press.

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

The Big Idea: Lara Elena Donnelly

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/07/2017 - 10:37
Difficult times are complicated, not only for themselves but what they do to people — who are themselves complicated even at the best of times. Or so Lara Elena Donnelly might argue, both here in this Big Idea piece, and in her novel Amberlough. Is she correct? Read on for her argument. LARA ELENA DONNELLY: […]

The Big Idea: Ryan David Jahn

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/06/2017 - 10:15
Author Ryan David Jahn has given a fair amount of thought into the nature of violence, and guilt, and other primary emotions and urges. They’re present in his novel The Breakout; Jahn explains why, and how they influence him as a writer. RYAN DAVID JAHN: In daily life, I’m surrounded by a cloud of free-floating guilt. […]

Start planning the revolution! In real life and in sci fi

Contrary Brin - Sat, 02/04/2017 - 00:09
First items you all have probably heard by now - news that Donald Trump's senior staff all use the same RNC email server that mysteriously disappeared 22 million messages during George W. Bush's administration and one that U.S. intelligence services believe was compromised by the Russians at the same time as the DNC's. The Trump campaign hammered Hillary Clinton for her using a private email server, during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Alsofive members of DT’s staff turn out to have been registered to vote in more than one state.  Ah, consistency.
But onward…
For all of the drama surrounding the Million Women Marches and cabinet appointments and critiques of the inaugural address, it is important to recognize that little is achieved by preaching to the choir. Urban wailing will be dismissed as Blue State Noise, unless some crucial factors change.  The factors that empowered the Republican Party to control all three branches of the federal government, plus two-thirds of the states... all with minorities of the vote in every 21st Century election except 2004. The hard lesson: simply having 60% of Americans on your side is not enough to win.
That will require a multi-front approach, and demonstrations rank way down the list, along with righteous petitions, late night comedian sketches and grand statements by celebrities. (Madonna, please go away? You're not helping.)
Far more significant will be efforts, led by former president Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder to confront electoral cheats, like gerrymandering.  Indeed, I wrote recently about how liberals should start practicing judo, by accepting Trump’s demand for a commission to investigate electoral fraud.  A call that is now echoed in this article on Salon
== The only thing that will make a real difference ==
But most important of all will be one simple thing – chipping away at the Confederate coalition.
(And let there be no doubt of that terminology, when nearly all of Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments hail from Olde Dixie! My assertion, that we are in a later phase of the Civil War, has been proved.)  
Among the lessons of the recent election is that the confed-coalition, while effectively deployed, is razor thin. Hence the goal should be simple. Peel away just a few more millions of the sane or partially sane. Just a few will do it.

If the Fox coalition can be pared to -- or below -- one-third of the electorate… if we can draw away from the madness those decent and sapient American conservatives who still believe in facts and science and competitive enterprise… then the edifice collapses. These “ostrich” conservatives" have been in denial for decades, clinging with endearing loyalty to a movement that long ago was hijacked by monsters and that has betrayed them at every level.
Urge them to ponder Ronald Reagan, who famously in the 1970s said "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party Left me."  We can argue over whether his justification made sense, at the time. But it makes for a great paraphrasing, that should make your ostrich wince. Urge him or her to jump off the train wreck, because:

"You aren't leaving the Republican Party; The Republican Party left you."

Oh, it won't be easy. They may have to be coaxed out of their holes, one at a time. And that means you might actually need to listen to your own ostrich a bit, as well. But one by one, that is what will make the biggest difference. Conservatives who at last accept the testimony of all facts and reason — that their movement has gone mad. And that whirring sound is Barry Goldwater, spinning at 5000 rpm.
== Ostriches are starting to lift their heads ==
Oh, most of the truly-sapient ones have already fled, like all the scientists, teachers, journalists, economists, doctors and every other knowledge profession warred-upon by Fox. 

As for those who remain, many of them, like George “the Worst American” Will, still cling to the mantra incantation that “Yes, my side's gone crazy... but... but at least liberals are just as bad!”  - thereby concocting rationalizations for otherwise-intelligent folks to keep watching hypnotic poison on Fox. 

(Again, set your calendars to remind you monthly about the Fox Boycott.) 
Delusional obstinacy is a primary attribute. Hence, it is especially noteworthy when one of the master-poisoners awakens, pulls his head out of the hole of denial, then speaks up for his country and civilization, as — (and I shudder to speak it) — Glenn Beck has done.
Yes, Glenn Beck, who railed that George Soros mustbe a master world oligarch manipulator, because Soros personally “toppled eight foreign governments!”  Beck, whose chalkboard incantations convinced millions of nodding dittoheads that the rise of oligarchy is all the doing of liberalsand that he (Beck) was the primary heir of Martin Luther King. 
Only now Beck proves that he has one hallmark of sanity… the ability to notice a precipice under his own feet. And Beck confirmed this - a bit - in his make-up session with Samantha Bee
 Now, can rising ostriches actually get others to lift their heads? Hold that thought. Soon, I will speak of the one thing that can and will save the Union and our revolution: the Year of the Colonels.
== Sci fi predicted it all ==
Wowzer: both Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourand Huxley’s Brave New World are back in the best seller lists, for obvious reasons. But then, recall that all Americans are weaned on legends of Suspicion of Authority (SoA). Nearly all of the propaganda issued by Fox and alt-right portrayed their side as the brave heroes, resisting plots by nefarious elites to turn America into Oceania. Sure, nearly everything they said was lies – and not one of the things they claimed Barack Obama would do in office came true, or ever even crossed his desk. 

Never mind that, right now. I want you to look at what you have in common with your ostrich! but look to the common, underlying mythos! The same, identical theme of Suspicion of Authority or SoA.
Sure, the "authorities" they hate are scientists, teachers, journalists, economists, doctors and every other knowledge profession... but the undercurrent is the same, and you can start there.

If you understand the shared impulse… romantic belief that YOU are in-the-know and part of a heroic-historic resistance movement, defending freedom against scheming elites… then you will better be able to reach out to those frightened, quaking ostriches. Especially, you can ask:
“Are you really more afraid of scientists, journalists, teachers, doctors and every other knowledge profession, and think they are plotting against your interests, more than the oligarchs who are re-establishing feudalism? The lords who ruined freedom for 6000 years?  Really? You trust them over scientists? Teachers? Doctors?”
== It boils down to Sci Fi! ==

But science fiction is pertinent to our crises today.

Here’s a novel that dives straight into the worst case scenario… that our current Phase Eight of the American Civil Warmight suddenly go deadly hot. Tears of Abraham,by Sean Smith is an action-packed page turner, that's also thoughtful about loyalty, honor, courage and what it takes to be American, especially when the chips are down. Those chips tumble as the U.S. spirals into a violent frenzy of our recurring civil war — a fate we can avoid, helped by warnings like this one.

Only... how can it be avoided, when the Rasputin who is actually in charge of our destiny seems to want destructive chaos?  I'll comment more about this later, though it is as scary as any novel. 
In sharp contrast to Tears of Abraham is a very different depiction of near future civil war written by one of Steve Bannon's favorite authors, Empire, by Orson Scott Card, whose fiction almost always extols demigods and mutant chosen-ones while dismissing any chance that democracies, institutions, and open citizenship might ever, ever work.  In Empire, Card portrays civil war brought on by liberal do-gooders and too much open accountability. The victor – whom we are supposed to admire, reveals that he had manipulated the entire thing, in order to transition America – like Rome – from a foolish republic into a confidently overwhelming empire. And we are supposed to cheer.  Well, Scott is good at that, getting millions to sob admiration toward demigod, chosen-ones in his Ender universe.
My own The Postmanhas an ironic role in all of this. The novel is experiencing a sales surge as folks realize that my “Holnist” characters are alive! With major roles in the new administration. That cautionary tale – whose moral and heart  elements were faithfully conveyed in the film(even if the brains weren’t) – is a both a warning and a tribute to the stunning power of the very thing Card despises… citizenship.  And yet I have to tell you that, disturbingly, I also get fan mail, now and then, from fellows who blithely call themselves Holnists!
What…?  How…? Well, it’s simple. A good writer gives his villains strong lines. He conveys how they are likely to speak, giving voice to their best rationalizations and justifications. In this case… well… maybe I did too good a job.
Worrisomely on-target is a novel by my friend Gregory Ness - Antioch - that combines hard SF with fantasy and fretful observations on a new American Civil War and dark age. “In 2025 the U.S. disintegrates into angry mobs fueled by social media and misinformation. The once great nation turns away from science and tech in an effort to protect entrenched interests and preserve economic stability. Scientists are killed or exiled and laws passed to regulate innovation. … An American biologist’s dreams take him back to the Great Library of Alexandria where he witnesses the birth of western civilization. During the day he watches its disintegration.”

In the near future I will post about Robert Heinlein and his eerily on-target predictions from 1953, that are coming true before our eyes.
Yes, let us explore SF scenarios! And be stirred or chilled. And yet. Let us remember. There is nothing more inspiring than our present and ongoing revolution. The one sparked by Ben Franklin and his lads. A militantly-moderate revolution that was designed to be ongoing, as each generation pushes forward, not only profiting from a flat-open-fair-competitive-cooperative system, but also taking on injustices that their own parents took for granted.
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We are an ongoing revolution! And if we fail – as Athenian democracy failed – the oligarchs will make damn sure it isn’t tried for another 2000 years.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 2/3/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/03/2017 - 17:16
The say that when a stack of books and ARCs this high pops its head out during the first week of February, you’ll have lots of good reading for months afterward. I would tend to agree. See anything here that you’d like to curl up with during the winter cold? Tell us in the comments!
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