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Declining My Dragon Award Nomination

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/11/2016 - 09:20
Earlier in the year DragonCon announced they would inaugurate the Dragon Awards, a fan-voted award covering science fiction and fantasy literature, games and media. Last night, the list of nominees was sent out to people who had signed up to nominate and vote for the awards (you can see the full list here) and it […]

Trump, and His Jokes, and You

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/10/2016 - 11:50
I write funny things professionally, and have done for years. I’ve made a fair amount of money and even won some awards for funny things I’ve written. So as a professional writer of funny things I have thoughts on Donald Trump’s oblique joke yesterday about how great it would be if a gun nut assassinated Hillary Clinton and/or some of […]

Oligarchy, predators & parasites: what the New Feudalists would be doing now, if they had sense.

Contrary Brin - Tue, 08/09/2016 - 16:54
Evonomics is burgeoning rapidly into the go-to place where sane-insightful sages discuss what's gone wrong with modern capitalism. Not from any leftist or hostile perspective, but with an eye to rescuing the goose that has laid our golden eggs -- truly creative-competitive enterprise. These top folks refute the notion that our struggles are "left vs right." Market economics can be saved, and generate the vast (and efficient) wealth enabling us to redouble generosity, if it is again made to be flat-open-fair.

Take this interview with Michael Hudson, author of Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. Wherein the agenda is not to oppose competitive capitalism... rather the parasitical manipulators who Adam Smith himself denounced as markets' worst enemies... and have been for 6000 years.
Predators and Parasites: Prof. David Sloan Wilson interviews Lynn Stout - Distinguished Professor of Corporate and Business Law at the Cornell – on the hoary mythology spread decades ago by Milton Friedman, that the only purpose of a modern corporation is to maximize short term value to stockholders. A cancerous dogma that is at last being dissected, disproved on every level and demolished. 

For example, Wilson cites a major study which monitored the survival of 136 firms starting from the time they initiated their public offering on the U.S. Stock Market. Five years later, the survivors—by a wide margin—were firms that did best by their employees.
Other critics show that Friedman’s cult encourages companies into short-term thinking and stock buy-backs instead of investing in new products – eating their seed corn – which is exactly the opposite of what we were promised by “supply side” zealots. Then there are “externalities” where corporations will ignore the needs of our children (e.g a less-toxic planet) unless regulated into taking such factors into account, in pricing.
== Sure, oligarchs want oligarchy. But can it be smart? ==
Here’s a perfect IQ test for the 0.001% aristocrats. Are you uber-oligarchs capable of noticing when greed may tip way beyond mere economic stupidity and immorality into life threatening self-destruction? When - as happened many times in the past - insatiable top-down class war could wind up taking you on a tumbrel ride toward guillotines? 
This fascinating open letter from a rich man to his fellow zillionaires makes a point that was stated eloquently by Joseph Kennedy, to explain why that ruthlessly self-serving mogul supported FDR during the Great Depression: “I’d rather lose half my fortune to help raise a healthy and contented middle class than lose it all to revolution.” 

In other words. Self-interest should look to farther horizons.
Hence, looking ahead, Nick Hanauer - a Seattle-based entrepreneur and early Amazon investor - published an Ultra-rich man’s letter: To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans. The Pitchforks Are Coming.”
“Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks. At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind…. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”
Nor is Hanauer alone. Among U.S. billionaires and sub-billionaires, those who got rich through technological innovation, through delivery of new and popular goods and services, have increasingly expressed the same worry.  They became wealthy working side by side with creative, middle class engineers, scientists, artists, etc. Moreover, they increasingly find present trends — set in motion largely by “supply side” so-called 'economics' — to be deeply destructive and dangerous voodoo.  

Which is ironic to a stunning degree; they are the only billionaires who did use Bush tax cuts to invest in productive innovations and goods. Yet they are nearly all now democrats, calling for an end to those tax cuts.

It is the other branch of uber-wealth — those who got it via Wall Street parasitism, resource extraction-exploitation, capturing regulators or inheritance — who seem mostly unable to read the writing on the wall.  While congratulating themselves that they are geniuses, they happily ignore lessons of history.
I might add that any ‘angry peasants’ in the future will be far better armed than the 1789 Jacobins. Forget torches and pitchforks. Many will have fancy tools of cyber or genetic or chemical engineering. ISIS is a joke compared to what an enraged American technical caste could do, if (no, when) they ever wake up and rediscover that every human generation except the Baby Boomers knew class war.
Boomers grew up in an illusion of classlessness because the Rooseveltean reforms enacted by the Greatest Generation were so spectacularly successful! And another such moderate/pragmatic reset is still possible, reviving healthy-competitive market enterprise while re-invigoration the great middle. That is, if the oligarchy listen to folks like Hanauer.
== Farmers awaken ==

Nor is Hanauer alone. We know that most of the tech billionaires have joined Warren Buffet in rejecting the winner-takes-all mantra of Fox-style economics. But how about midwest agri-business leaders?
Greg Page is executive chairman and former CEO of Cargill, Inc., the largest private company in the U.S. Page participated in the high-level “Risk Committee” of top business leaders that forecast the US economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change.
Page describes the northward movement of the American agricultural belt. As average temperatures have risen over the past decades, the growing season in the northern plains has expanded, while heat waves further south baked America’s traditional agriculture producing states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.
These explorations continue on the Evonomics site. In this article economist Sally J. Goerner elucidates why the “Trump-Sanders Phenomenon Signals an Oligarchy on the Brink of a Civilization-Threatening Collapse.” Goerner maintains that: oligarchies always collapse because they are designed to extract wealth from the lower levels of society, concentrate it at the top, and block adaptation by concentrating oligarchic power as well.” 
History shows that this tendency can be periodically corrected. If done in a moderate but determined way, the public will mobilize behind honest leaders and effective reforms. 

Or as Will and Ariel Durant wrote in The Story of Civilization: "…the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.”   
Of course we know why the oligarchy has tried so hard to turn lower middle class anger toward all the meritocratic professions. Especially toward the technology castes. Get working class whites to despise modernity and scientists, doctors, teachers, journalists, economists, civil servants… hey it worked in 1930s Germany and in the Confederate south. And look how well those turned out.
This is why the tech billionaires… most of them… are democrats nowadays. As would be Adam Smith, if he were alive today. They want an FDR to get them out of this bind, and not a Robespierre. And it is why we must pry the hands of the other kind of oligarch — those who fail this IQ test — off of society’s tiller. If theses guys are so rich, why ain’t they smart?

== What they'd be doing now, if they truly were smart ==

Some of you may recall a scene in Existence, set at a Swiss Alps meeting of the Trillionaires' oligarchy? I portrayed what I think aristos would be doing now, if they were both smart and wanted to restore feudalism, without repeating the same damned mistakes that feudalism made across 6000 years. 

Do I oppose feudalism? With all my soul. But so did Machiavelli, fighting for the Florentine Republic. Then, when it was clear there was no hope at all and all was finished, he got employment trying to talk the artistos into at least being smart about it. 

(Hint, I am willing, under carefully defined circumstances, to consult discretely on this matter, with some exceptional suggestions... accompanied by a wagging of fingers. And if finger-wags deter you guys from seeking the best ideas - and I have the best - then you'll deserve what inevitably happens to you.)
Alas, there's a quandary here. The smartest billionaires today want nothing to do with feudalist trends. But feudalist trends are powerful in themselves and favor the dumb rapacious kind. The type who will never hold meetings of the kind I portrayed in Existence

Indeed, it is doubtful that many of them read. Yet they hire flatterers to tell them how smart they are.

Thus proving the very opposite.
== Right vs Left Solutions ==
How shall we measure politics? According to hoary, insipidly lobotomizing metaphors like “left-vs-right,” which none of you could properly define, even if your lives depended on it? 

Or according to what we really need, today, which is pragmatic flexibility – a willingness to drop stale dogmas and do what’s right for our children and the world? Okay, then dig this… the Obama Administration – backed up my many modern environmentalists –is exploring ways to help the U.S. nuclear industry survive and keep reactors running, to weather hard times brought by cheap natural gas.
Mind you, that cheap gas is a huge improvement over relying on filthy coal. And the long term solution is looming fast, with solar, wind, tidal and storage power becoming economical faster than even optimists expected. Still, nuclear is now viewed much more favorably by techno-liberals, starting some years ago with Stewart Brand and others, but increasingly by mainline environmental groups.
Oh, they are still wary!  And problems with spent fuel are worrisome. And we can argue which newer “better” fuel cycles deserve investment. But keeping currently clean, already running nuclear plants going would seem blatantly in our interest.
Moreover, this shift by liberals is diametrically opposite to their political opponents on the right, who cannot even begin to ponder changing their minds in the face of evidence. About anything. Ever. It is genetically impossible. 

And that – rather than any “left” or “right” nostrum – is the real difference in U.S. politics today.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Jay Kristoff

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/09/2016 - 09:08
If Jay Kristoff had managed nothing else with this Big Idea piece for his new novel Nevernight, he would have had arguably one of the most grabbing first sentences in the history of the feature. But there’s more to it than the first sentence, promise. JAY KRISTOFF: Nevernight started with an argument about vaginas. More accurately, […]

The Yellowing of the Scalzi Compound

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 09:08
We have a five acre lawn, and occasionally people from generally drier climes who think upon the lawn ask, aghastedly, how we water the thing — I think they imagine a complex set of sprinklers that suck the water table dry bringing us all that much closer to the water apocalypse. The answer to “how […]

The Future is Here: A sci fi weekend roundup!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 08/06/2016 - 13:46
The future of civilization could depend on our elections (in fact that may be true even of the galaxy!)... but not today. Today, let's peer ahead a bit!  In fact, hang around for a few paragraphs to see a great opportunity to get some fine science fiction... cheap!

But first. The new OMNI Reboot looks snazzy and well-done.  Certainly worth a visit. Especially (!) their very nicely-presented interview with me about topics ranging from AI and apocalypse to the value and basis and future of science fiction.

Are we overthinking the dangers of artificial intelligence? On Gizmodo, George Dvorsky interviews me about the potential dangers and benefits of AI… and other future hazards. Will the dystopian nightmares of sci fi flicks come true? Or might those warnings actually help prevent the worst mistakes?
Did you read that Germany has submitted draft legislation to the EU granting personhood to robots? If only Isaac could have seen this! Silly ass stuff... but reflective of society’s generally laudable trend toward a reflex of inclusion. It may speak well of us when (now?) some secretive-scared AI wonders whether to "come out."

Looking backward, but suddenly pertinent in the surge of Pokemon Go! A fascinating tale by Ted Chiang — “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” — won the 2011 Locus Award and the Hugo Award for Best Novella. Published in 2010 by Subterranean Press, it follows the many quirky problems and ups and downs faced by a woman and her friends, devoted to “raising” and teaching simulated near-intelligent beings in virtual worlds. Chiang makes a great effort to realistically convey how shifting fads and technologies can pull the rug out from under you, though the range of implementations will vary even more than he conveys. The whole story is available here

== New Realism in SF ==
An interesting riff on the New Realism in science fiction film and television. The Future is Almost Now, from The Atlantic: “Many new works of science fiction seem to represent a strain of pre-apocalyptic cinema, characterized by a willingness to dramatize disasters that are less hypothetical than poised to happen.… Unlike The Terminator and Matrix franchises, these films don’t predict an apocalyptic “rise” of machines so much as a gradual digital takeover, the next phase of a revolution already in progress,” writes Elizabeth Alsop.
The notion appears to be that scifi is backing away from boldness in extrapolation. As one quoted scholar put it: “[t]he magical and disruptive inventions that used to feature prominently in some stories have now been folded into more typical domestic realism.” Or, as Margaret Atwood puts it: “things that really could happen but just hadn’t completely happened when the authors wrote the books.”
Elizabeth Alsop continues: “If, as the critic Northrop Frye has argued, the job of science fiction has been 'to imagine what life would be like on a plane as far above us as we are above savagery,' what does it mean that so much recent sci-fi has been taking place on a plane that’s relatively proximate to ours? 

In other words: Why this rise in near-future stories, and why now? One possibility is that verisimilitude allows for better social commentary…”  She asks: “Should the fact that sci-fi seems to now be handling such scenarios more concretely, then, be seen as a sign of progress? Or is this insistence on concrete-ness merely a symptom of what the sci-fi luminary William Gibson sees as the end of speculation—the collapse of imagination into a reality that has already outpaced it?”
A fascinating analysis… and almost entirely wrong at every level.  

But I am cheered by one aspect no one else mentions.  That this thoughtful rumination on science fiction appeared in ...The Atlantic. A magazine that, along with Harpers and The New Yorker, used to regularly commission pompous hit pieces attacking the very notion of science fiction as literature, let alone its interest in the disruptive effects of onrushing change. That shift, by some of the literary-arts arbiters reveals something about the 21st Century and our gradual recovery from year 2000 Future Shock.

Sometimes it is the macro perspective that really matters.  Welcome to the conversation, Dr. Alsop.
 == Sci Fi visions ==

Time for a roundup of recent SF!  But first... a couple of Brin-related items...
For you fans of star-spanning Space Opera, check out the StarwardBound Story Bundle of ebooks! My collection Otherness is included, as well as books from Mike Resnick, Brad Torgerson, Martin Kee, Marko Kloos and others. How Story Bundle works: you choose what you want to pay for these ebooks; you decide how much goes to the authors. Enjoy some fun Sci Fi.  

And those of you who like good old adventure science fiction (and yes some tusslin' fightin' mixed in, for fun)? Check out The Year's Best Military and Adventure 2015.  A great annual that - this round - contains one of my most popular new stories: "The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss," (which made it into several best-of volumes, this year.) No military or fighting in that tale of terraforming Venus, but lots of adventure!  

In fact, those who want to participate in the volume's Readers' Choice Award can go online and vote for their favorite story from the anthology. The winner (announced at DragonCon) gets $500 and a plaque. Hey, have fun. Explore! And enjoy an election in which you like all the candidates, for a change!

Will we have a Star Trek future of abundance? Can there be a post-scarcity future? A discussion with Manu Saadia, author of Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek.  
Or will we see a darker future, as explored in recent Arab dystopian sci fi? Very interesting:Science fiction and surrealism have long provided an escape valve for writers living under oppressive regimes. In Latin America, decades of fascism and civil war helped inspire masterpieces of magical realism from authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. In Russia, the postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin has published disturbing and controversial futuristic novels that surreptitiously skewer the country’s repressive government. Dystopian themes are not entirely new in Arabic fiction. But they have become much more prominent in recent years…”  writes Alexandra Alter in The New York Times.  (Another literary arbiter journal that now admits SF is one of our smartest and best genres.)
How does Science fiction fare in the rest of the world? A look at Science fiction in Cuba! Plus see: 100 amazing African science fiction authors! Geoff Ryman begins this series on the Tor website. 
It’s so strange it might as well be science fiction. Matthew McConnaghy’s new movie The Free State of Jones.  Here’s a fine article on the historical background behind the real-life hero of the story. (Strange but inspiring.)
A fine interview with my friend and genius artist Jim Burns, on Omni Reboot.
== New in SF ==

Corsair, by James Cambias (author of A Darkling Sea) offers a sci fi thriller – a near-future tale of space pirates, computer hackers and terrorists. Nuclear fusion has, at last, become a reality on Earth – powered by helium extracted by robots from the lunar regolith. (Controversial if this will ever be economically feasible… but I’m willing to go along for the ride.) The tricky part is returning the shipments to Earth – the helium payloads an attractive target for pirates. The amoral genius cyberhacker, David Schwartz (aka Captain Black), seeks to redirect the payload to international waters where real pirates can claim it. The U.S. Orbital Command backs away, but Air Force officer Elizabeth Santiago (with whom Schwartz had a brief affair back at MIT) goes rogue, determined to foil his efforts. The plot twists as Schwartz is double-crossed after he teams up with hard-core terrorists.

Jeff Carlson, a rising star of SF, has published volume three of his Frozen Sky series — set under Europa's ice roof, an unusual tale of First Contact. 

In Frozen Sky 3: Blindsided, engineer Alexis Vonderach sets out to rescue an ESA biologist who has been kidnapped by ancient blind alien tribes, existing in secret deep below Europa's ice surface. 

Meanwhile, in space the People's Supreme Society of China takes action against the ESA, launching thousands of drones and hunter-killers. Conflict above. Conflict below. Blindsided really moves. Try this science-rooted, fast-paced hard SF adventure!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by newcomer Becky Chambers has received a lot of press. Humans have abandoned their inhospitable homeworld, and joined the Galactic Commons -- but they find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole in this fragile alliance among sentient aliens. Seeking to escape her family’s shame, Rosemary Harper joins the interspecies crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling starship on a mission to punch wormholes through hyperspace to establish contact with a distant planet. On this long space-road trip, the story focuses on the backstories and relationships of the crew, their solidarity tested by the stress of a long voyage through galactic zones on the verge of war.

If you enjoyed The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang, try his latest collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, speculations about the nature of man, machine and the alien. In “Tower of Babylon”, one of my favorites and winner of the 1990 Nebula Award, Sumerian workers labor to reach for the skies and shatter through the vault of the heavens… only to find the unexpected. His novella, “Story of Your Life” won the 1999 Nebula for novella; it explores initial attempts to communicate with alien minds who perceive reality and the flow of time very differently than humans. “Understand” offers a dark take on a “Flowers for Algernon” – style intelligence boost, as two hyper-enhanced minds work toward contrary purposes.

ALSO: Have a look at Eliot Peper's latest novel, Neon Fever Dream. Sinister goings-on at Burning Man! In this fast-paced thriller, mystery, intrigue, espionage and dark conspiracies unfold during a pilgrimage to the incendiary desert festival. 

A worthy follow-up to Peper's last book, Cumulus, a techno-thriller which envisioned a world of near-constant corporate surveillance.

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

New Books and ARCs, 8/5/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/05/2016 - 16:13
A super-sized stack of books and ARCs has come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What here lends itself to your particular reading tastes? Tell us in the comments!

The Moon and Mercury, 8/4/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/04/2016 - 21:25
Mercury being that bright speck in the upper right. This is the first time that I’ve either seen or photographed Mercury in the evening sky. For an astronomy buff like me, that’s a pretty big deal. Mercury is a tough one to capture. Hope you’re all having a fine evening.

Poking both right and left in the eye

Contrary Brin - Thu, 08/04/2016 - 16:26
This time I will aim jabs in both directions! Because even you… yes you… indulge in some pretty simplistic stuff. This is Contrary Brin... and hence, though I think one 'side' is a lot more-wrong than the other, I despise the notions of oversimplifying 'sides.'
First though… is this the start of my prediction coming true, about a Donald Trump veer to the center?  Trump proposes to double Clinton's spending on infrastructure.  Yes, all he's done is take a popular Democratic platform goal and multiply it by two, in order to seem even more populist.  But that's exactly what I originally forecast, back when I thought that DT was a disciplined and brilliant conniving manipulator, instead of just a gut-reflexive one.

It could still happen.  The huge silver lining to a Trump candidacy would be if - at the debates - he announced "of course I now understand that climate change is real and that Supply Side 'economics' is not."  If he did that... and his torching of the GOP forced American conservatives to re-evaluate the confederate madness inflicted by Rupert Murdoch... then there could be real benefits.  But no... he is way too impulsive and ill-disciplined.  Which brings up the opposite extreme possibility --
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The wild card? If Libertarian Gary Johnson achieves 15% in polls, he can get onstage with HC and DT.  And yes, the first order effect of helping give twenty million fiscal conservatives who don't care about bathrooms a home away from the mad GOP-confederacy sounds alluring. But DP strategists know there'd be a downside.  Especially if Green Party's Jill Stein wrangle a slot... or whines from the sidelines.
America’s favorite capitalist – the Oracle of Omaha – Warren Buffett, whose investment brilliance and down home modesty has won him hero status, once boggled the world by making his principal heir… Bill Gates!  In the sense that the unassuming Buffett needs no fancy charitable institution named after him.  So he picked the best-run one he could find (sorry Clintons) and will leave most of his wealth to the Gates Foundation. A rarity, he is admired across all walks of life and from moderate left through moderate right. 
The far left won’t favor a capitalist under any conditions, even when the true enemy of flat-open-fair capitalism is, in fact, feudalism. As for the far right, they know very well how Buffett despises oligarchy and Supply Side Voodoo so-called “economics.”  Now see Buffett campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Nebraska and demanding that Donald Trump release his tax records.  You want a businessman?  I got your businessman, right here.
== Why no hearings about any of this? ==
President Obama just ordered release of the infamous “28 pages” from the 9/11 report, that GW Bush declared secret, pages showing that the hijackers "were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government." No real surprise there, as this Salon report shows: “Saudi Arabia has been a major source of financing to rebel and terrorist organizations since the 1970s,” the European Parliament wrote in a 2013 report, adding, “countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait do too little to stop rich and conservative donors from financing terrorists through charitable and religious institutions.”
There’s lots more, but again the question rises: why did the FBI not question - way back in 2001 - the scores of royals and Saudi government officials and radical Salafist-Wahabbi activists who were in the U.S. at the time of the 9/11 attacks, many of whom were shown to have known or even given money to 9/11 attackers? To what extent did GW Bush run interference so they could leave the country, without questioning?  Above all… why were no Benghazi-style hearings held about that?Or the billions in raw cash that Dick Cheney sent to Baghdad, that promptly and simply disappeared?

(Could be one of two dozen reasons that the Republican Party Convention in Cleveland never even mentioned the names of their previous two presidents? Something never before seen.)
But that was just the beginning of a horrendous series of treasons that included lying about “weapons of mass destruction” in order to send America into quagmire wars costing trillions of dollars and thousands of US lives. (Oh, and about a million non-American lives.) Wars whose only clear beneficiaries were Iran, the Saudis and Cheney family companies

Just remember that the GOP in Congress never raised a single question about any of that, next time you hear “emails” or “Benghazi.”  Stunning hypocrites.

Oh but now I will shock by aiming a poke at a shibboleth of the left.
== Proving we’re not monolithic… I dissent on trade! ==
Sorry, but I do not like party catechisms and litmus tests. And even though well over half of the lunacy in current American life comes from a raving, anti-science and anti-fact confederacy… well.. there are some ‘democratic' dogmas that I deem to be premature or rash or ill-considered.  One of those is reflexive opposition to globalized world trade.
Take the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and NAFTA. These are deemed top enemies by populists of both left and right – one of the few areas in which their rhetorics overlap. But what I've seen makes me lean toward supportfor TPP.
For one thing, it welds the nations of SE and East Asia together with the U.S. in ways that help to maintain the one best thing that ever happened to the world, the American Pax or unprecedented world peace, that all of you shrug and simply take for granted, but that – compared to 6000 years of grueling-awful history, is a damned miracle. 

Globalized trade is directly responsible for the fact that ¾ of today’s children come home with schoolbooks each day to dwellings that have light and toilets and refrigerators. The stunning failure of globalization opponents to take that into account could qualify as inadvertent or cryptic racism.
Have some of the world’s elites also benefited, disproportionately, from globalization?  Damn straight, and I am on record for wanting and demanding actions to correct that imbalance that has flowed into the gaping maws of cheaters.  Look up the “Helvetian War.”  But that aspect can be solved via rigorous, militant and aggressive transparency - by vigorous politics demanding re-negotiation - without needing to choke off the one thing that uplifted billions around the world, more than all the foreign aid and charity combined.
TPP also sets new rules on labor and ecology that the signatory nations must obey and that brings them all much closer to responsible standards. Sure… folks in enlightened countries like New Zealand complain that theirenvironmental rules may be weakenedunder TPP!  And am I worried about that?  Hell yes! See below where I talk about RENEGOTIATION. Still, just getting Vietnam and Laos etc aboard with basic enforcement of bans on child labor and pollution will be wonderful.
More TPP benefits. It protects intellectual property better. And don’t for a minute shrug that off. American inventiveness is the goose that has laid the world’s golden eggs for 70 years.  It is time to save the goose from short-sighted fools who would destroy the engine that uplifted the world. 
Above all, it sets a new plateau that China knows will become the standard and if they don't start living by these rules, they will not be invited to the party.
Now a concession!  Folks have good reason to be angry at the secrecy under which TPP was negotiated.  In fairness, it was a complex deal and early press could have messed up everything.  But indeed, I am pissed too.  Details should have been leaked long ago so that western political protests could have been added, coercing even higher labor and environmental and equal-trade standards.
Here’s the deal though… it’s probably not too late for that.  Clinton, in particular, is now behooved to shelve the TPP, as it stands and demand a renegotiation, compelled by the US voters.
== But there’s an even deeper reason ==
What bugs me most of all is the subliminal racism and stunning lack of ability to see long term self-interest on the part of those who have decried – for example – the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
Those who denouce NAFTA for losing some American jobs are fools who miss a key point.  It was and remains stunningly, staggeringly, spectacularly in our interest for Mexico to become a prosperous, middle class country.  And NAFTA is the biggest thing doing that, as we speak. Rapidly, right now. 

When that happens it will be easier for a prosperous, continental North America to defend a border with - say Guatemala - than for the U.S. to build some infantile-stupid giant wall against a poverty-stricken Mexico.
The latter is the gopper fixation now... and it is obsolete!  Immigration from Mexico is now NEGATIVE! Mexico is on the rise and we helped do that and they know it.  We are helping make another Canada, next door, and boy will that be a happier soft landing than any alternative.
Failure to recognize that aspect of NAFTA is a stupidity shared across the spectrum, from right to left.  Already Mexico is importing vastly more from the U.S. than it did before, and that will rise as this investment pays off.
Were there corruptly derived components to NAFTA or TPP?  I am sure. And I would address those with fierce measures to strip elites of all secrecy.  But the self-righteously indignant hate of trade treaty opponents, who did not try reading or parsing or rank-ordering good and bad portions, meant that they could not use their ire to force negotiationsthat might retain the good and reduce the bad.
In fact, that possibility… “let’s see if we can get the good stuff and eliminate the bad”… never occurs to dogmatists.  Of the sort that infest a wing of one of the U.S. parties… and that comprise the sum total of nearly all members of the other party, nowadays.
Canceling TPP entirely will not help the child laborers that it would ban and send to school, nor the improved environmental codes Vietnam and Malaysia would have to obey, nor the inspectors for health and safety in factories, nor the auditors requiring payment of royalties for stolen American inventions. It won't make Japan open up its markets to nearly all our farm exports, which TPP demands. It WILL embolden China and cause new allies to scurry away from us.
The fact that all of this will come as a surprise to most TPP opponents is just sad. There was something worth improving.  Your opposition could have been the stick in a carrot-and-stick campaign to improve it.
Instead, knowing nothing but reflex, you killed a potential egg-laying goose.  == And finally… ==
“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.” So opens Leon Festinger’s account of doomsday cults and conspiracy believers in When Prophecy Fails. “Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” Festinger coined the term “Cognitive dissonance” - for when reality clashes with our deepest convictions. We’d rather recalibrate reality than amend our worldview.
To be clear, this applies to all dogmatists - or humans. Possibly even you. Indeed, I admit that I must struggle to read, rather than contemptuously skim, when presented with facts  that might force some adjustment.
Read this article. Scientists are trained to say: “I might be wrong” and to allow contradictory evidence to sway them. And still, it is not the mantra but the fiercely competitive quality of science that keeps it moving forward against obstinate human nature.  Alas, many other fields - especially politics - have no such feedback loops.  Indeed, I knew we were in for delusional times, when Congress banished  from Capitol Hill all the geeks and fact checkers of the Office of Technology Assessment. The criminal traitors who performed that raving-dogmatic act should not be qualified to be dog catcher.
Oh… this  article is also truly informative about the Mt Pelerin conference of 1947, in Switzerland, where neo-liberal (or ultra free market) conservative economics got its momentum to take over the world. Which sounds a lot like the “trillies conference” in EXISTENCE, portrayed happening exactly a century later, very nearby the same locale.

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My MidAmeriCon II Schedule

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 16:53
I’ll be attending MidAmeriCon II, this year’s Worldcon, although only for a couple of days because of schedules and deadlines. But on those two days (Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20) I have a pretty busy schedule. Here’s what I’m doing, and where: Friday Aug 19, 2016 1:00 PM Reading: John Scalzi — Kansas […]

Twitter Is For Cats, feat. Chuck Wendig and Steven Spohn

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 22:36
For @stevenspohn, who requested a kitten pic earlier today. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) August 3, 2016 For @scalzi, who cheered me up with kittens. Here's my white-fuzz-demon. — Steven Spohn (@stevenspohn) August 3, 2016 @stevenspohn @scalzi here is my cat — Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) August 3, 2016 @ChuckWendig Chuck, we've talked about […]

Sunset, 8/2/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 20:57
There it goes. Don’t worry, it’ll be back. OR WILL IT??!???!??!? Tune in tomorrow!

Question the narrative

Contrary Brin - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 15:31
Sorry folks, but you can expect more politics, across the next 100+ days, though I will try always to lift the mood with weekend postings about science!  And space and how many so-way-cool things are happening. And science fiction! Such a pity our media never point out how fabulous we are... and how many things appear to point to mighty and wondrous years ahead.

Oh, but the days ahead?  We have a fight on our hands, to save the Great Experiment that has delivered more hope and goodies than all other human civilizations, combined.

== A (political and psychological) family resemblance? ==
Fox News guest analyst Wayne Simmons. Just before he was sentenced to 33 months in prison, he apologized for lying about his security clearance, his criminal history and his finances… And claiming to be a CIA analyst.  Ah, (sexual predator) Roger Ailes’s fine team. That got its start when the GOP was led by now-revealed sexual predator Dennis Hastert. (How many perverts do we need to uncover before you guys draw obvious conclusion?)
In fact, the lineage of Fox News goes back to the 1920s, as you can read in this fascinating article: “In 1927, Fox News Service filmed Benito Mussolini telling immigrants to ‘make America great.’” Geez, the comparison to one of our current political svengalis was already close enough.  Except for the hair.
And this. The notion that the tragic deaths of four US diplomats in Benghazi was somehow the worst overseas failure of the American fight against terrorism is amazing tunnel vision. It was the worst during the Obama Administration, sure. Eight years. But there were dozens far worse across each Bush Administration.  One of those failures resulted in a thousand times as many Americans killed as in Benghazi. 
Now, the passing of Terry Sutherland, who languished in captivity for six years, held by Hezbollah during the Reagan and GHW Bush tenures, reminds us of calamities in Lebanon etc. that were vastly, vastly worse botches than anything under Clinton or Obama.  Take the Beirut Marine Barracks bombing that killed 241 US servicemen, 50 French and dozens more, in 1983. One of many stunning failures and culpable negligence. See a list of just attacks on US diplomatic personnel during the GW Bush administration.
Question the narrative. For the folks who were on watch during the 6 months leading up to 9/11 – diverting agents from counter-terror duties in order to hunt for dirt on Clintons – to preach to us about managing American safety in the world, well, it is mind boggling. 

For such folks to hold a major convention and never once even mention their party's previous two presidents?

== Proof of virtue – being rich! ==
As recently pointed out by Warren Buffett - the 'Oracle of Omaha' and the world's best (and best-loved) investor - simple analysis shows that when Donald Trump was first starting off, if he had simply invested the money his father gave him and then his inheritance in an index fund, he would be worth at least 4 times as much as he is now - assuming he is to be believed about his current worth. That fact and the bankruptcies and the trail of bitterly ripped off investors and contractors and Trump U. students… makes you wonder just whose Holodeck simulation this is. 
Oh, but nothing needs to be proved! Have you heard of the “prosperity gospel”? No longer satisfied with Revelation schaedenfreude – dreamily looking forward to the gruesome death and damnation of 99% of humanity in a foretold apocalypse -- there are now millions who tithe regularly to TV preachers whose message is even more astounding:
“Send me your money, not because I will do good works with it or help the poor, but because the fact that I am wealthy, talking so many suckers into sending me money, proves God loves especially me and wants me to be rich! If you both send money and believe it will happen to you, then it will!” 
I paraphrase, of course. But that’s essentially it. Can you imagine anything that better completes the conversion of American evangelical Christianity from the saintly-loving kindness of Jimmy Carter into the very diametric opposite of Jesus?
This articlelays out much of the story, and how it plays into the Trump phenomenon… though it actually soft-pedals the “dominionism” that propelled Ted Cruz’s campaign… the new “theology” proclaiming that God not only materially rewards the faithful, but intends that they be ‘kings’ and take everything that belongs to the non-elect.  Meaning thee and me.
== But there’s no comparison ==
The U.S. Circuit Court struck down Texas’s voter ID law as inherently discriminatory.  And then two more, including North Carolina's which "surgically" targeted minorities. Which is true, as far as it goes.  But I have yet to see any plaintiff or judge in such cases point to the “smoking gun”… absolute proof that such laws are not aimed at solving a genuine problem (voter fraud) but are aimed solely at benefiting one political party at the expense of poor and minority citizens.  That proof is one I have raised many timescompliance assistance.
In fact, I disagree with Democrats on a significant point. I would have nothing against gradually rising voter ID requirements, even though almost no election day false voter fraud has been reported in 30 years. 

There is only one test to see if such ID requirements constitute "reform" or blatantly partisan voter suppression:
"Has the state accompanied its new voter ID law with substantial funding to help under-documented but legal US citizens to acquire the ID they need and to get registered?"
Dig it: corporations get compliance assistance any time government imposes a new regulation. So why can’t poor people – along with divorced women and many others -- get help with compliance for voter ID laws?
If a state has sincerely done that, then I will admit that the demand for voter ID might be honest and due to the rationalized declared reasons. I am willing to meet them halfway.
Alas, not one red state that passed such laws has allocated a penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or divorced women or the young, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Not even fig-leaf funding. In fact, in most of these gerrymandered GOP-cheat states, there has been a concerted effort to close DMV offices, especially in counties where many democrats live. Seriously?  Can anything be more blatant?
In other words, they are exposed as lying-hypocritical, outright-cheating election thieves. And the same goes for anyone who defends this foul crime against democracy.

== The presidency is not everything ==

Again, you Bernites out there...  many of you were convinced by Bernie himself and by the vivid DNC to support the nominee.  Others will do so grudgingly, and maybe only if they live in battleground states where a vote for president might matter.  Fair enough! (Any of you who pull a "Nader in Florida" though, can expect TP on your house, till the sun burns out.  Move and we'll find you.)

But whether you 'hold your nose" and vote Hillary, or flounce off to a gesture party, if you live in a "doesn't matter" state like NY, CA or Alabama, there is something to remember. Congress matters too!

And even more than Congress - which Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Dennis (friend to all boys) Hastert turned into the laziest and most corrupt national legislature in U.S. history - what trully matters is state assembly and governor races!  Because if any statehouses can be flipped, this year, then in that state gerrymandering and other cheats will end. Voter suppression and rigged voting machines and all of that.  And the confederacy will lose that state forever.

So here's the test. If you truly were a Bernie-believer, don't just hold your nose and vote Hill. (Or against Trump.) Go find a down ticket race near you and get involved at a level where your activity and vote can make a real difference.

And yes, I sound partisan! Right now, as an American who believes in science and progress and the future, I have to be.

But I live in California. So I might vote a "gesture party" for president, despite all my pro-dem and pro-HC posturing!  And I will help the terrific democratic candidate in my district against our local, horrific confederate representative. Hey, you are human.  Be agile.  Dogmatic dogmas are for robots. 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;}

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

The Big Idea: Nick Mamatas

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 07:44
The irony of Nick Mamatas’ new novel I Am Providence being released during the week in which the World Fantasy Convention got a spate of criticism over some of its program items is so perfect that I wonder if it wasn’t somehow planned. It’s not, I’m sure (probably). But still. Now, how does the latter event fit […]

Hey Scalzi, How Did You Vote For The Hugos?

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/01/2016 - 14:19
The voting for the 2016 Hugo Awards closed yesterday, and you may ask (and some of you have) — how did I vote? Why, the same as I vote every year: By ranking the works I liked highly, those I did not lowly and employing judicious use of the “No Award” option when necessary. This […]

Please Enjoy This Cat Picture On a Lazy Sunday

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 07/31/2016 - 14:50
And look, it’s of Zeus. The Scamperbeasts are the new hotness, but Zeus is old school cool. Hope your weekend’s going off well.

Optimism... even about alien invasion?

Contrary Brin - Sat, 07/30/2016 - 16:32
Of course both optimism and pessimism are simplistic reflexes, unworthy of a modern mind... which is why, here at Contrary Brin, we'll poke at any over-simplifying nostrum. Today, of course, that means I must side with optimists more often, because pundits and media and ravers push the mostly-fact-free notion that we're all plummeting into hell.

One fellow who makes me look like a cynical playground-snarling pessimist - Peter Diamandis - offers up “Why the World Is Better Than You Think in 10 Powerful Charts.”  Do we have lots of problems to solve? Some of them perilous to the planet and our kids? Sure! But one of the worst of our problems is snarling cynics who refuse to look at the mountains of good news.  And conclude that problems can be solved!  Because some have been.
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Of course this has gone political, well summarized in this painfully funny cartoon, showing HClinton and DTrump using exactly the same words, in opposite directions and meanings. 

== Alien Visions ==

This blog sat a while, since July 4, in fact. Independence Day. Which provoked two thoughts. 

First, what if wee met scary and advanced aliens? Would it even be possible to adapt quickly? The greatest historical example would be Meiji-Era Japan, which decided to end several hundred years of self-imposed isolation and suddenly begin studying the ways of dauntingly advanced western powers. Within a single generation, the Japanese had iron rolling mills and made the warships that defeated much-larger China. A couple of decades after that, they defeated one of the world powers — Russia — both on land and at sea. It took immense concentration and sacrifice… and no one knows if anything similar could happen across the potentially vastly larger technological gaps that might yawn between us of aliens.

I speak to this in my Uplift Universe, where humanity does face that problem, having to catch up rapidly to a billion year old Galactic Civilization. SUNDIVER goes into that dilemma in detail, and our hero contemplates both the Meiji Era Japanese and the Cherokee of Georgia, who handled the problem a little differently.

Of course some folks ask this question with an agenda: that they believe aliens have “taught” us things in the past. To drag sticks through sand or pile stones to draw signs to spacecraft. Or that star beings used psi-tech to help us build pyramids or Easter Island statues. To which I answer… feh! That conceit so insults our ancestors, who imagined that building such things might propitiate gods and save them from their gueling-primitive poverty. Hence, believing that, they innovated! Cleverness and fervor and strenuous labor chiseled and move stones! No alien intervention need be invoked. The poignant universality of this story - inventive and labor-intensive projects appealing for help from above that never, ever came -- is one of the most tear-inducing I can picture.

If aliens did demand such tasks of human tribes, then they were space-jerks, who could have helped us vastly more by opening one teensy community college. Or just by giving us glass lenses, printing, free speech and the germ theory of disease. Once we had those things, we took off on our own!

We had better not learn any UFO stories are actually true. Because if they are - even one of them — then some cosmic punks are really in for it. Go Air Force.
== Hypocrisy vs problem solving ==
Speaking of fact-based optimism. A new study predicts that the federal forecast of national health care spending under President Obama's signature health law was a big overestimate — by $2.6 trillion over a five-year period. In other words, the decline in growth of health costs in the U.S. under Obamacare has been vastly, vastly better than anyone, even optimists, predicted… and that comes after the added expense of finally getting tens of millions of kids and adults insured.
If there were sanity instead of reflex on the American right, conservatives would do one of their favorite veers… and claim credit for this!  After all, the ACA (Obamacare) was always based on the GOP’s own… damn… plan!  It was. But it’s a bit late to claim credit now.
So Dennis Hastert, once the top Republican official in America, is now in prison. Not for his top crime - treason - for deliberately conspiring to destroy politics - the art of open-adult negotiation and compromise - as a problem solving method in dealing with an onrushing future. He and other monsters wrecked US politics, leaving us weak and terminally polarized...

...but instead he is imprisoned for lying about being a child-molesting pervert and hypocrite. Like OJ Simpson doing time now for armed robbery instead of axe-murder. Okay. We'll take what justice we can get.

Oh, see the weapon used most by mass shooters.  Read the whole article.
== Fertile Ground for ISIS ==
How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS: "Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists," writes Carlotta Gall in The New York Times. And "mosques built here with Saudi government money are blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression."

Do any of you actually swallow the Fox-News line that the Saudi R'oil House (Fox partners and investors) opposes Isis/Al-Qaeda extremism? ISIS has bought or reprinted thousands of standard Saudi textbooks to indoctrinate youth in the territories they control.  The same textbooks and many of the same teachers and texts who molded Osama Bin Laden (remember him) and the Al-Qaeda and ISIS leaderships and that petro-dollars still ship to thousands of radicalizing madrassas all over the muslim world.

Back to Kosovo: "Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo," writes Gall. Now? "“They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

Is it any wonder that the (partly) Saudi-controlled American right has sabotaged moves toward efficiency research and energy independence - and science, in general - for 30 years?  But that effort could only harm us - and the planet - for so long, before non-confederate scientific ingenuity came to the rescue. Sustainable energy is taking off! Plummeting in price and now competitive even with natural gas. 

We are weaning ourselves off the carbon teat. And our future is the stars -- not nostalgia for caliphate.
And finally...
It is now reported that almost 500 million social media posts are fabricated by government factotums in China every year, according to this report. You can expect these methods to be copied (possibly with hired consultants from Russia or the mystic-east) extensively during US elections, especially now that the Kochs and others have found that money spent on TV ads no longer accomplishes much of anything. But a few trolls in a boiler room, spreading “never Hillary” memes among disappointed Bernites could be golden.  Vladimir Putin, more popular with Americans than either presumptive presidential nominee?  Interesting, though this lousy article does not parse the obvious – that there’s huge overlap between Putin lovers and Trump lovers.  After a decade of lavish, gushing adoration of Putin on Fox, you’d be surprised?

This list of the top 50 accomplishments of the Obama Administration is a bit iffy… some were less profound than stated.  Still, it shows efforts on behalf of middle class people.  Show me something similar for the Bushes?  Compare actual outcomes.

Oog.  I started this one out to be one of my weekend non-political ones.  Science!  Optimism! Okay okay.  I'll keep trying. Only...

...remember that one of the candidates -- just one -- said "I believe in science."

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


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 07/30/2016 - 11:42
Most of you will recall that I have a soft spot for the band Journey, whose album Escape I adored insensibly when I was thirteen, and whose general Album Oriented Rock stylings are my musical equivalent to comfort food. I saw the band on the Raised on Radio tour back in high school, but since that […]

New Books and ARCs, 7/29/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/29/2016 - 15:34
Let’s close out the month of July with this fine stack of books and ARCs. What here is something you’d want on your own reading list? Tell me in the comments.

Notes, re: August/September Big Idea Requests

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/29/2016 - 15:20
They are: 1. I’m behind, sorry. Life, etc. 2. I’ll be catching up on 2nd half of August/all of September Big Idea requests over the weekend. 3. Also I’ve had some drops for the first half of August and will probably be contacting some people on the waiting list for those slots. Those are the […]
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