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A Crazy Election Year

Contrary Brin - Tue, 06/14/2016 - 12:58
Shall we start this political posting with something we saw coming for months? Billionaire David Koch has pledged “tens of millions of dollars” to help bankroll the campaign of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
Of course this is exactly as predicted.  They want to boost the Libertarian Party for many reasons, foremost to get NeverTrump Republicans to the polls, And thus possibly save (some) down-ticket republicans. Losing control over red state legislatures is the real Koch nightmare, because one such loss will end gerrymandering and other cheats in that state. Perhaps forever.
They'll have to spend plenty on leaflets asking goppers to vote "Gary Johnson for president plus republican for all other offices." Flyers that will prove their hypocrisy. And of course they'll target millions of Sandersites, appealing for them to go to the LIbertarian Party, hoping to shatter the Democrats' coalition. They are already setting up Chinese-style social media boiler rooms filled with guys feigning identities in order to rave "Never Hillary!"

The ultimate goal? Complete transforming of the libertarian movement into a front for oligarchic propertarianism. (See my earlier posting: Libertarians and Conservatives must choose: Competitive Enterprise of Idolatry of Property.)  And that whirring sound will be coming from Adam Smith's grave. 
By the way. Does it concern you that Donald Trump has had extensively documented interactions with organized crime figures and a raft of “coincidental” benefits from mob-related construction companies and unions? Are you able to convince yourself that running a casino is just like operating any hotel? Or is it actually rather encouraging that he has been smart enough (very smart) to use sealed settlements to leave (so far) no indictable smoking guns? (Encouraging because if he were president – and awful – at least he’d likely be clever.) What’s clear is that the stunning hypocrisy of accusing Hillary Clinton of “corruption” is as delirious as an openly-bragging philandering, twice-divorced gambling lord attacking the morals of Bill Clinton.
Guys, seriously? Some proportion? This is why they wage war on science.  
== Bernites: swerve to the races that matter ==
How to unleash and make best use of the  political energy sparked by Bernie Sanders? It's one thing to ask his zealous supporters to hold their noses and fight for Hillary Clinton. They'll do that, thinking of the Supreme Court and 10,000 honest appointees instead of Trump-Bush clan ripoff artistes... and because Bernie will ask them to, hugging Hillary in Philadelphia,  

But the real deal?

Unleash the Sanders army on down-ticket races! After all, the thing that hampered Obama from "yes we can fix stuff!" down to "yes we can administer well and tweak a bit," has been the worst U.S. Congress in 100 years.  The laziest, most stubbornly unambitious, dogmatic, (Dennia) Hastert-rule-following, never-negotiating, wretched and utterly accomplishment-free Congress in living memory.

Even more important? At risk of repeating myself - but it bears repeating! State Assembly races.  

If Bernie fans cinched their belts and dug into *those,* then each activist could do real good for America.  Have no doubt, that is why the republicans are starting to make nice to DT (Delirium Tremens) or else pouring money into the Libertarians or even a 4th party run.  They are giving up on the White House and desperate to draw Republican voters into polling booths on any excuse, in order to clutch those legislatures, knowing if they lose them - and cheats like gerrymandering go away - they may never ever get them back.

"No other losing presidential candidate since at least the 1960s has galvanized his followers for this kind of down-ballot movement."  See this article. And there are drawbacks if they become just a lefty Tea Party. Just remember guys, even if you got Bernie in the White H ouse it would have done no good without a Congress.  So give him one.

Give Hillary such a Congress and watch... the middle class will return and the poor will rise and science will be heeded again.
Fight for change!  But do it as grownups.  We have enough childishness over on the confederate side. Those lower-rung races are where ... after Bernie hugs Hillary onstage... you can do some real good.

== Want more reasons? ==

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And Republicans controlling the Senate passed legislation Tuesday to block new Obama administration rules that require financial professionals to put their client’s best interest first when giving advice on retirement investments like individual retirement accounts.  Truly nothing more needs to be said than the simple and factual headline. Read it over again! No “spin” is possible. Rationalize your way out if it, if you can. 
From the Washington Post: Republicans' hopes for an Obama scandal crash and burn. While the obsessively repeated fox-narrative asserts democratic corruption, in fact, the record shows exactly the opposite. “The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free,” David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist, wrote this year. 

Oh, there have, no doubt, been screw-ups: failures of policy, misbehavior and cases of poor management. "But Obama’s accusers have yet to document high-level malfeasance or corruption, and in the case of Benghazi, even some investigations led by Republicans have discredited the allegation."  

In fact, the Obama administration is about to be only the second eight-year presidency in well over a century ever to end without a single high official convicted, or even indicted, for any substantial malfeasance of office. Any at all, despite relentless witch hunts by the like of my own representative, Darrell Issa (R-CA). Efforts to find a ‘smoking gun’ that have taken up the greater part of the laziest Congress in U.S. history. 
Oh, what’s the other 8-year administration that came out clean as a whistle, despite desperate opposition efforts to find something corrupt or criminal?  The tenure of Bill Clinton.
Alternative electoral rules? 
Many of the alternative electoral rules suggested by science fiction are tempting, like using the Australian Preferential Ballot system that would solve most of our problems with plurality of first-past-the-post rules.

Others are more ambitious. One is reminded of Heinlein's criterion for citizenship in Starship Troopers... service first, then voting. A far better pattern was suggested in his novel Double Star, wherein computers let us bypass the insane unfairness of electoral representation based on where you live.  District based voting ensures that 40% of Americans will never elect a representative -- and congressfolk blithely ignore that 40% in their district.  A treason made worse by gerrymandering. (Which one party has refined to an art and a reflex.)
Far better for a modern era? Imagine saying that any 750,000 citizens can unite to "buy" or to "elect" a representative, unanimously. All the other reps must find 750,000... say among single university women or all the truck drivers in the midwest.  If your constituency shrinks below 700K you better recruit more citizens or you are out of office and those 600,000 need to fish around and build alliances to get over the mark.
This way, no one is disenfranchised, ever! And yes, it means that large cults, even hate groups, might pool to get a representative or two. So? By the same token, those fanatics would thereupon have ZERO residual impact on ANY other representative. Ponder that.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Bryon Quertermous

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/14/2016 - 09:02
Sometimes you get what you ask for. What then? It’s a question both for Bryon Quertermous and Dominick Prince, the protagonist of his new novel, Riot Load. Quertermous is here to go into slightly more detail about it. BRYON QUERTERMOUS: Very rarely am I able to capture the entire Big Idea of a book in the […]

A Kitten Picture for You, 6/13/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 06/13/2016 - 21:08
Spice, discovering trees have birds.  Hope your day has been a good one.

The Big Idea: Adam Rakunas

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 06/13/2016 - 09:01
We’re all connected — although perhaps not to the extreme the people in Adam Rakunas‘ new book Like a Boss are. In this Big Idea, Rakunas muses on the costs and benefits of connection… especially if someone wants to disconnect. ADAM RAKUNAS: Three years ago, Paul Graham Raven posted a link to an essay by […]

Thoughts and Prayers

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 06/12/2016 - 15:37
A man goes into an immigration services center in Binghamton New York, blocks the exit in the back with his car, goes through the front door with handguns, body armor and ammunition. He shoots the receptionists and opens fire on a citizenship class. He murders thirteen. This is horrific. I offer my thoughts and prayers. A psychiatrist […]

How Blogs Work Today

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 06/11/2016 - 14:32
My piece earlier this week on Clinton and Sanders blew up a bit, with roughly 75,000 views over two days. This gave me an excuse to check my referrers and ego search on Google and see a bit of who was talking about the post and/or sending people my way. What I found: Facebook was […]

A look at some of the best Science Fiction Webcomics

Contrary Brin - Sat, 06/11/2016 - 14:21
A few years back I posted a review of my top choices in science-oriented webcomics, highlighting outstanding works such as xkcd, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Girl Genius, Schlock Mercenary, Abstruse Goose, Tree Lobsters, Scenes from a Multiverse, Dresden Codak, and others. 
This time let's follow-up with a selection of yet-more truly creative online comics, some serious space dramas, others satires or comedies. Many offer humorous insights as they delve into science, space, the future… and human nature. You'll find star-spanning voyages, vividly portrayed aliens, frequent use of faster-than-light travel (FTL), but …. no superheroes here!

(And yes, I have hereby destroyed your productivity for the next two months!)

Many of these talented webcartoonists are dedicated to updating their works daily or weekly, offering their stories and artwork for free online. You can support your favorites by subscribing to their websites, pledging on Patreon (many provide exclusive bonus materials to donors), or buying their collected works.  
In no particular order, this is just a selection of the marvelous stuff out there...

Brewster Rockit: Space Guy, created by Tim Rickard, is a ‘satirical, retro-futuristic comic’ which often parodies popular culture and science fiction films, books and TV shows. The comic follows the humorous misadventures of the crew of the R.U. Sirius space station, led by the brave but not-too intelligent Captain Brewster Rockit and second in command Lieutenant Pamela Mae Snap. In their journeys through space and time, they encounter hazards from aliens, killbots, monsters and mind probes ... along with with a multitude of puns. Example: After our many missions to the Red Planet, "Mars has hit us with a restraining order." 

Outsider, by Jim Francis, is a full-color, beautifully illustrated “starship combat space opera.” Set in the 2100s, humanity has ventured out to the stars, only to encounter alien refugees fleeing war between the galactic superpowers Loroi and Umiak. With little information at hand to base their decision upon, humanity must decide: which side should earth ally with? When the starship Bellarmine finds itself caught in enemy crossfire, a hull breach sends Ensign Alexander Jardin drifting in space -- where he is picked up by a Loroi ship. As the outsider aboard the alien ship, he slowly begins to understand this telepathic, formidable, all-female crew -- and gain insight into earth's place in the cosmos. Then he finds himself in a unique position to save humanity....

Quantum Vibe, by Scott Bieser. This sequential science fiction webcomic offers some real substance. The story begins five hundred plus years into the Space Age on the orbiting city, L-5. After a doomed relationship falls apart, our fierce heroine, Nicole Oresme, becomes technical assistant and pilot to Dr. Seamus O’Murchadha, inventor of electro-gravity, who needs help with his plan to delve into “quantum vibremonics.” Their adventures through the solar system include escaping assassins, diving into the sun’s corona, visits to Luna, Venus (terraforming underway), Mars, Europa and Titan. Earth is ruled by large corporations and genetically divided into rigid social castes –  and even branched into genetic subspecies, multi-armed Spyders and Belt-apes. Libertarian references abound. A bit of a libertarian drumbeat but not inapropos for the setting and future.  I’m impressed with the spec-science in the series, as well as tongue-in-cheek references to SF stories, including… Sundiver and Heinlein.  

Freefall, by Mark Stanley, a science fictional comedy which incorporates a fair amount of hard science; it has been running since 1998. The serialized strips follow the comic antics of the crew of the salvaged and somewhat-repaired starship Savage Chicken, with its not-too-responsible squid-like alien captain Sam Starfall, a not-too-intelligent robot named Helix, along with a genetically uplifted wolf for an engineer -- Florence Ambrose. Their adventures begin on a planet aswarm with terraforming robots and incoming comets. The light-hearted comic touches on deeper issues of ethics and morals, sapience and philosophy, orbital mechanics and artificial intelligence.

Drive, by Dave Kellett, is a weekly humorous sci fic comic set a few hundred years in the future. At war with aliens, Earth and much of the galaxy lives under the rule of “La Familia,” a second Spanish Empire (based in Madrid). Humans were able to achieve FTL travel after they 'found' an alien engine – the Ring Drive – but the Continuum of Makers will stop at nothing to retrieve their invention. Of course, La Familia keeps the Drive's secrets closely guarded. The blue-inked strip follows the voyages of the scout ship Machito -- its Drive piloted by an alien with amnesia -- as they set off on a mission to save humanity, even while serving a distant Emperor they despise.

Galaxion, by Tara Tallan, is an episodic space drama, following the Nautilus-shaped Galaxion, an interstellar survey starship operated by the Terran Space Association (TerSA), under captain Fusella Mierter. The crew is to test a new jump engine which will enable them to travel through hyperspace (the last ship, the Hiawatha, to test it disappeared). The drive casts the Galaxion into a parallel universe; a desolate post-apocalyptic Earth is not the one they left behind… The first few chapters are a bit slow, developing the crews’ relationships, but the pace picks up when they discover the wrecked Hiawatha on Earth, a band of humans living underground, afraid of what’s out there…

Terra, a full color, sci fi webcomic by Holly Laing and Drew Daily, set in the year 2309, in the midst of an interstellar war between the United Earth Coalition and the humanoid alien Azatoths. The only survivor of an Azatoth ambush, Gray O’Shea is rescued by Agrippa Varus of the Resistance; he joins the rebels in their desperate crusade to end the war.  Viewed as terrorists by the UEC, they must also avoid the deadly Shadow Cabal, who have enslaved and subdued large swathes of the galaxy. When the resistance shoots down a UEC fighter attacking their base, the downed pilots begin to question if they are on the right side. Good action sequences, complex plotting and character development.

Mare Internum, by Der-shing Helmer, is a recent addition, a full-color science fiction graphic comic, just started in 2015. This near-future drama follows researchers in a scientific habitat on Mars, as they gather data to prepare for the first extensive human colony. Their geologic explorations include delving into the planet’s interior... where they uncover some surprising (and improbable?) secrets of Martian history. Yet, extended isolation has pushed some members of the crew to the limits of sanity, with Dr. Mike Fisher contemplating suicide, as he is notified that he will be sent back to earth. Lavish color illustrations, with a sense of whimsy, and added scientific detail below the panels. 

Electric Sheep: I have often cited the work of Patrick Farley, one of the hugely under-appreciated treasures of paneled storytelling and vivid webcomix art. His Electric Sheep site offers several series that you'd swear could not have come from the same artist, all of them brilliant. "Spiders" takes an alternate reality view of middle east wars in a world of super-transparency. "Don't Look Back" is psychedelic far future space opera. And "Apocamon" will show you what the Book of Revelation is about - in manga style - vividly making clear why we should ensure that no one who prays for that raving prophecy to come true should ever get their hands on nuclear weapons.

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Always Human, by walkingnorth, is a webtoon (set to music). In this future most people regularly use body-modification technology to alter their skin, hair or eyes, to cure illness or enhance focus or memory. A reflection on genetic engineering, body image, beauty, and gender identity, as well as what it means to be human. The comic tells a tender love story between two young women; one a specialist in virtual reality, the other has a highly sensitive immune system, which rejects the widely-used nanotech mods. She gathers confidence to be different and stand outside the norm of her society. And yet... "No matter how technology changes us, we’ll always be human.” 

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Storm and Desire, written by Scotto Moore, art by Evelyn Dehais, is a brand new sci fi/ fantasy webcomic following three women whose fates collide, as they seek to uncover “the secret history of the multiverse.” Check back to see how the story unfolds… 
Comics on philosophy, books and ideas:

Unshelved, by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes, is a daily comic that simply celebrates reading, books, literacy, and libraries. The characters are mostly librarians and the setting is often… a library. Literary references abound, along with light-hearted humor about book clubs, overdue books, bookmobiles, bureaucracy, research… and the joys and challenges of reading. The Sunday full-color full-page editions became the “Unshelved Book Club,” which highlight recent books and graphic novels. Here's the one that focused on Startide Rising!

Existential Comics, by Corey Mohler, is “a philosophy comic about the inevitable anguish of living a brief life in an absurd world.” One of the more intellectual comics around, this one delves into philosophical ideas of Ancient Greeks, from Socrates to Plato and Zeno, as well as more modern thinkers, such as Camus, Descartes, Kierkegaard and Kant. Comics touch upon topics ranging from metaphysics to Marxism, empiricism to Stoicism… plus additional insight if (for some reason) you don’t get the joke! For example, in The Adventures of Fallacy Man, the masked man interrupts arguments with cries of Appeal to authority! Ad hominem!! or Slippery slope!!! 

Lunar Baboon, by Christopher Grady, features “a half man/half moon monkey trying to make sense of it all,” chronicling the trials of a middle-aged father struggling with depression and anxiety and parenthood – with references to Star Wars, Harry Potter, supervillains, modern politics and the ordinary problems of daily life.

Drewford, by Damon Xanthopoulos, is a humorous comic that features talking (uplifted?) waterfowl. Drewford Duck, fired after an illustrious career making infomercials, becomes head copywriter in the advertising world (Mad Duck?). In a take on the Odd Couple, the fastidious Drewford shares his apartment with his disorganized brother Ormlu Duck, as they struggle in a modern world with complications from technology, apps, flashmobs, social media, gay ducks, duckpics... and more.

Some ended comics worth reading: 

Crimson Darkby David C. Simon, a serialized science fiction drama that ran from 2006 to 2012. Gorgeously illustrated with 3D graphics rendering detailed starships (capable of FTL jumps) and space battles (with lots of vivid explosions). Set in the 27th century, it follows a tough but troubled Commander Kari Tyrell. Sent on a reconnaissance mission, Kari’s Republic fighter is attacked; she is left drifting in space and rescued by privateers of the antiquated Niobe spaceship. When they return to base, Kari is taken into custody, accused of treason, as her past returns to haunt her… Officially declared dead, she casts her lot with the crew of the Niobe (led by Captain Vaegyr Ward), heading out to seek salvage and survive -- while avoiding pirates and hostile ships amid the treachery of a brutal war.

Digger, by Ursula Vernon, was a fantasy adventure comic, which won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. This black and white comic has the tagline: “A wombat. A dead god. A very peculiar epic.” Our heroine, Digger, a talking wombat, got very lost when digging an “unnecessarily convoluted” tunnel, and surfaced at the feet of a talking statue of Ganesh the elephant god. Digger finds herself in a land far far away… a strange world with only her pickaxe by her side, and predators closing in. “Man don’t you know not to mess with a sleeping wombat? We swing pickaxes for twelve hours a day. We’re like biceps with feet.” Along her quest to find home, there are nods to mythology and religion and existential crises of good and evil.

Starslip, by Kris Straub, a science fiction comedy that ran from 2005 to 2012, sketched in black and white. The serial is set in the future world of the 3440s, aboard the IDS Fuseli, a decommissioned luxury battle cruiser, now a starship museum, archiving cultural treasures, alien and human. They travel via a Starslip drive, which allows them to slip between parallel universes, which seems to involve swapping with a duplicate version of themselves. The crew, headed by a drunken ex-pirate, must deal with orbital celebrities, time travelers, replitons, and aliens… as well as rival museums, bureaucracy and paperwork. Pop cultural references and puns abound (they are attacked by Infra-Redbeard.) 

SpaceTrawler, by Christopher Baldwins, was a sci fi comedy that ran from 2010 to 2013, set in a galaxy governed by the collective Galactic Organizational Body (GOB). GOB has enslaved an alien race, the telekinetic Eebs, forcing them to continue to create “all consequential technology in the known universe.” Meanwhile, earth is still a ‘dark planet,’ not having achieved notable space travel, or attained a seat on GOB. A group of six humans is abducted, shanghaied into aiding Interplanetary Amity, an activist group aboard the SpaceTrawler, in a struggle to free the Eebs.

There! Did I just decrease your work productivity by at least 10%? Remember to allocate your comix reading time away from video games!  And not from doing good work, citizenship or spending time with loved ones!
Oh, and it this is not enough stuff, then go find some diversion (or enlightenment) by checking out some of these webcomics -- and see my earlier review of science-oriented online comics.

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

The Moon Through Leaves, 6/10/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/10/2016 - 21:32
Thought it would make a nice break from the usual sunset picture. In case I don’t decide to update again until Monday, have a great weekend!

New Books and ARCs, 6/10/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 06/10/2016 - 17:58
Just in time for the weekend, a new set of book and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. What in this stack rings all of your book-buying bells? Tell me in the comments!

Space: big plans and misplaced schemes!

Contrary Brin - Thu, 06/09/2016 - 14:04
I'm preparing to head east for a meeting of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts group (NIAC)... and a couple of other DC area events: one for the White House (OSTP), one for the Caltech Alumni Assn, and an AIAA panel on future military aircraft... followed by an appearance at the Ideacity idea festival in Toronto. 

Busy trip. Busy topics. Busy times for a civilization that deserves far-seeing citizens and leaders.

== Space News! ==

If you are anywhere near the DC Baltimore area July 1-3, consider attending the Escape Velocity convention on Sci Fi and STEAM education, sponsored by the new DC area Museum of Science Fiction.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced an ambitious new plan to land an unmanned spacecraft on Mars as soon as 2018 with NASA providing technical support -- "an extraordinary collaboration between the public and private sectors in an effort to eventually get humans to the Red Planet."

As no doubt all of you know, in another success for Elon: SpaceX launched a communications satellite into orbit and for the fourth time they were able to recover the rocket, again on a drone ship at sea. This was another really tough geosynchronous launch like the previous one and hence may not be re-usable except for spares. But that just makes it double impressive! And... onboard cameras covered the rocket's descent.

After an initial failure, NASA  inflated the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, an essential tech for human-crewed spaceflight. And we are on our way to 2016 being as terrific a year for our outward progress as fantastic as 2015 was.
Canadian firm Thoth Technology Inc. has been granted both U.S. and U.K. patents for an inflatable tower designed to take astronauts up into the stratosphere, so they can then be propelled into space. A freestanding structure complete with an electrical elevator up to a 20km (12.5 miles) high launch platform.  In other words in all ways precisely the design that I described in my novel Sundiver (1980). Anyone remember the Vanilla Needle? One difference.  Mine was big enough that balloons could use buoyancy in the high pressure space to lift cargoes most of the way.
Yuri Milner, the Russian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur, announced a plan on Tuesday to send a fleet of robots no bigger than iPhones to Alpha Centauri. “Once in orbit, the probes would unfold thin sails and then, propelled by powerful laser beams from Earth,” say reports The $10 billion project aims to accelerate the mini-probes to a fifth of the speed of light… perhaps a bit of an ambitious goal for Earth-based lasers just a decade or two from now.  See also “Instead of starships, try StarChips.”
A more extensive exploration of Milner’s many Breakthrough Institute projects, in collaboration with Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg and former NASA Ames head Pete Worden -- including a vast expansion of SETI, can be found in The Atlantic, and a detailed technical description of the plans will appear on the project’s website.
A final note on this, for now.  Those of you who have purchased Insistence of Vision know that one story - “The Avalon Probes” – offers up an ironic commentary on exactly this approach. And of course… it’s an early version of exactly the scenario that I mapped out – more seriously detailed - in Existence. With one exception.  I proposed that before going interstellar we aim for an earlier, intermediate goal of the solar gravitational lens focal zone, just 550 astronomical units out.  Seriously, the Breakthrough Institute could probably use one more advisory board member….
== Forcing a return to the (useless) moon, instead of getting rich out there ==
Space politicized? The current U.S. House of Representatives, already the laziest and most dogmatically useless national legislative body in American history, has now altered NASA’s budget, forcing the space agency to return to a Bush Era priority: “no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid. Instead, NASA is encouraged to develop plans to return to the Moon.”

To be clear, there should be nothing political about these priorities. I serve on neutral commissions to evaluate missions based on their likely scientific and other outcomes. Nearly all scientists agree that there is little or nothing to be gained from any near term manned return to the sterile lunar surface, which offers humanity nothing of any near future value. Though the region called 'cis-lunar space' - the orbit just above the moon - is seen as extremely valuable.

In contrast, both scientific and commercial interest in asteroids is intense, with several nations and companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries eagerly investing in what could be the 21st Century’s giga-Gold Rush.

The Obama Administration’s and NASA’s goal for manned flight - ramping up operations in lunar orbit, learning to both study asteroidal resources and work on extended missions - is exactly right and supported by the best expert advice.  

Expertise that the current House leadership banished from Congress when they disbanded their own Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) for the crime of presenting them with fact-based analyses. Instead, leaders like Dennis Hastert, Thomas DeLay, John Boehner and Paul Ryan chose to rely on majority members’ gut instincts.

Those guts have made this matter - which should be nonpartisan and scientific - part of culture war, with one party praising Return To The Moon for no other reason, certainly not science or potential profit. Their sole rationalization? “The Europeans and Chinese are talking about moon trips!”

Yeah, so? Let the Chinese and Europeans and billionaire tourists have that sterile ball. We have lifted our gaze to more interesting and likely far more rewarding vistas. Vistas that only the United States can take on, instead of being copycats.  (Hint for U.S. voters: let's get rid of those twits?)

There's more. When the Obama Administration canceled the Bush boondoggle Constellation Programs, it seemed that money might be spent on actual missions to explore the cosmos.  Instead, Congress in 2010 imposed a restoration of core elements of Constellation, called the Space Launch System (SLS), resurrecting many Space Shuttle components for a system without any mission on the near or intermediate horizons.  And now the GOP-run House and Senate have since imposed increases in the SLS budget, mostly at the expense of science missions.  All of this against a backdrop of success in the Obama endeavor to spin off and commercialize orbital launch services to private companies, which are developing capabilities at a vastly quicker rate.  (Example: most of the expensive SLS systems will be rendered redundant by - for example - the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and Dragon capsule.)

“Unfortunately, once the rocket is built, the expenses don't end. Ground crews must be kept ready, supply lines kept open, and contractors taken care of. These fixed costs can be enormous. For the space shuttle, those costs amounted to about $2.5 billion annually—whether the vehicle flew or not…”  So much for the  party that opposes government boondoggles.  Of course part of it is pure pork: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), wants SLS because it is managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. And MSFC has been Instrumental for 30 years in systematically preventing humans from getting into space.               
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Shannon Page

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 06/09/2016 - 10:51
My personal path to publication, in terms of novel writing, was to post my novel on this blog, where it was read by an editor, who made me an offer. Is this the usual way it’s done? No. But is it wholly unusual? Well, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to […]

Clinton and Sanders and the End of the Road

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 06/08/2016 - 13:07
So let’s talk about last night. 1. First and most obviously, Clinton had the night she needed last night: Decisive victories in the two largest states, New Jersey and California, wins in New Mexico and South Dakota, and a close loss in Montana that netted Sanders a single delegate. Sanders only blew out Clinton in […]

The Big Idea: Na’amen Gobert Tilahun

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 06/08/2016 - 09:28
For today’s Big Idea, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun looked at how people like him are imagined to be, and for his novel The Root, how to make positive the qualities that are often perceived by others to be negatives. NA’AMEN GOBERT TILAHUN: A lot of the plot ideas in The Root are actually smaller ideas that become […]

Black Tide Rising and Mash Up — Out Today!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/07/2016 - 14:29
Oh, nothing, just a reminder that there are two anthologies being released today in which I have short stories. The first (alphabetically speaking) is Black Tide Rising, set in John Ringo’s zombiverse, for which I and Dave Klecha have contributed the story “On the Wall”; the second being Mash Up, in which my fantasy/horror story […]

A new Mussolini? A libertarian alternative? Plus international worries and learning to stay calm.

Contrary Brin - Tue, 06/07/2016 - 13:34
Back to politics. The Libertarian Party 2016 National Convention, May 26-30 in Florida, nominated two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts, partly in hope of becoming the go-to lifeboat for sane or quasi-sane republicans fleeing the sinking ship of the GOP. 

(To be clear, Donald Trump was not the first to hijack that vessel, only the latest.  Rupert Murdoch did the truly major piracy decades ago, commencing to lobotomize most of the passengers and crew, transforming the once-intellectual movement of Barry Goldwater into a full-blown crusade against scientists, teachers, doctors, journalists, economists and every other profession that uses three syllable words.)

Anyway, if the Kochs and their fellow Trump-hating peers are going to make a third-party move, it will likely be via the Libertarian Party -- (which once had me speak at one of their conventions, and I have spoken at Freedom Fest and on Liberty TV, always urging a libertarianism of Adam Smith, not their current, childish fad of Randian solipsism, so I know these guys.) With time short to get on the November ballot, the LP is uniquely suited - qualifying already in nearly all states - to carry forward half of the Never Trump faction of the GOP. Not just by providing an alternative that's not Hillary... 

...but also aiming to draw not-Trump Republican voters to the polls and thus save many GOP legislators.  

That last bit is why the gambling lords (Adelson and Wynn) and carbon lords (the Kochs and Saudis) and media lords (Murdoch and Forbes and Clear Channel) are desperately pouring support into non-Trump conservative PACs.  Still, libertarians offer especially Koch a second way to turn a lemon into lemonade.  It would, of course, cement the Kochs'  and Steve Forbes's longstanding putsch to control the libertarian movement.

None of this will please the other major non-Trump GOP faction - Religious Zealots -- a fervor not much liked by libertarians. So, will the RZs go off their own way?  Or will hypocrisy rule, as they adapt to supporting a many times divorced, admitted philandering-adultering gambling lord with underworld ties who doesn't care what bathroom Caitlin Jenner uses?  I'll put wagers on the latter.

Can Koch money help Gary Johnson poll above 15%, so he can get in on the debates in Sept-Oct? Even if it helps Hillary Clinton win the White House, it could draw more no-Trump republicans to vote and thus save down-ticket goppers.
Keep your eye also on Freedom Fest, a big libertarian event during the GOP convention in Cleveland and a perfect time/place to spring LP surprises! 

That's where I met arch-conservative comedian and author P.J. O'Rourke, who recently said on NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me, "I'm voting for Hillary. I am endorsing Hillary," though going on to denounce most of her political positions. Which, he avows, are at least in the normal-sane range.

== Is the world going crazy? ==
A while back, someone wrote to me asking that question. I suggested they take a big perspective: Going crazy "compared to what?" Compared to 6000 years of feudal oppression, grinding filth and ignorance? Compared to a million years of fear and pain before that? Compared to when we wasted the talent of ALL women and all non-whites and poor whites because of prejudice, instead of wasting just a steadily decreasing part of that vast pool of talent, which we do today?
Or are you comparing us to what we could become? Compared to Star Trek - for example - and a much better world? If you're making the latter comparison then fine, sure, we're crazy-crude cavemen! Get angrily militant and determined to make us better, nicer, smarter and more sane! Sure, we fall way-short by the standard of those ambitions for a better, wider humanity. 
But keep in mind the other comparison.

Indeed today's top dogmatism is cynical gloom, shared by both left and right, without a scintilla of historical perspective. 

Our dreams for a better world are used against us! Because we don't live up (yet) to those rising standards, the narrative is that we can't! To which I can only reply: Snap out of it!! 

The media does not control you and you do not have to drink Gloom-flavored Koolaid. Easily as many good things are happening as bad, especially given how far we've come. And those good things are making us stronger, so we can take on the bad.
== A wide chasm ==

See how the satirical site The Onion utterly nailed the Trump steamroller way back in July!

More seriously... Alan Abramowitz on the Washington Post talks about America’s ‘two nations’ screaming at each other across an increasingly wide chasm in which policy disagreements have converted into hate. 

He raises neither “C-word”… which I deem to be “cancer” and “confederacy” to describe the etiology of the ailment. But he does lay down the blatant demographic advantages of the Union, this time round of our Civil War.

At the same site, Daniel Drezner frets that President Barack Obama – faced with an intransigently lazy and uncooperative Congress – has been setting precedents for presidential/executive powers and actions that could be spectacularly abused in – shall we say – more flamboyantly irresponsible hands.  

== Fascism and history ==

This article by historian Fedja Buric appraises just which aspects of Mussolini’s original version of “fascism” can be compared to today’s rising mania in the US. He avows that America is in vastly better shape than 1920s Italy, with stronger institutions and traditions and civil service.

Where parallels get stronger are in the fervent anti-intellectualism of today’s right - with the War on Science now biliously expanded to include every center of knowledge in American life, from journalism and medicine to teaching to economics and law.

And politics… the art of negotiation and consensus building that allows a pragmatic-sensible people to incrementally fine-tune their shared processes and get things done. The Fox-Limbaugh campaign of 30 years has whipped up a froth of hatred of government and politics in principle, that our parents in the Greatest Generation would have instantly recognized as fascistic.

“Fascism promised people deliverance from politics. Fascism was not just a different type of politics, but anti-politics. On the post-WWI ruins of the Enlightenment beliefs in progress and essential human goodness, Fascism embraced emotion over reason, action over politics.  Violence was not just a means to an end, but the end in itself because it brought man closer to his true inner nature.” 

“Trump did not invent this anti-politics mood, but he tamed it in accordance with his own needs.  Ever since the election of Barack Obama the Republicans have refused to co-govern.  Senator Mitch McConnell’s vow that his main purpose would be to deny the president a second term was only the first of many actions by which the Republicans have retreated from politics.”

Where Buric fails is in relating his narrow historical view of fascism to other, older romantic movements, such as the recurring American fever called the Confederacy.  What this reveals is that a corner of the populace does not need hard economic times, to be whipped into hydrophobic fury. There is a thread in the American psyche that does not need desperation, in order to rush eagerly into desperate madness.

Meanwhile.. the hacktivist group Anonymous declares war on Donald Trump. Yeah, okay. Whatever.  For the rest of us out here, let's put Mr. Trump's victorious march in perspective, as the Washington Post does in an epic editorial:

"For all his unpredicted success, the number of Americans who have voted for him so far amounts to only 4.7 percent of eligible voters, according to a calculation by the organization FairVote." 

In other words, while the most vigorous confederates have spoken -- and there was very very little doctrinal difference between them and Cruz supporters... both wings of fanatical fury amounted to no more than 10% of eligible voters.

All that's needed is for the rest of us to wake up.

== International worries ==

Nigeria and Switzerland have agreed a deal for the latter to return more than $300 million of funds confiscated from former Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha.  Abacha - who led Nigeria between 1993 and his death 1998 - is suspected to have looted up to $5 billion of public funds during his reign. This is the tip of the iceberg and the solution must be found by developing nations, themselves. 

On the other hand... "In a move that could simultaneously ease the debt of Ecuador and deliver a huge blow to rainforest conservation efforts, Ecuador is set to auction off one third of their pristine rainforest, 3 million hectares of their 8.1 million, to Chinese oil companies."  Oy.  

America’s year without a winter: The 2015-2016 season was the warmest on record. The Lower 48 states had its warmest winter in 121 years of record-keeping, NOAA announced this morning. 
     And don’t give us “yearly variation.” The oceans are acidifying more, every single year.  
     Dig this well.  The climate denialist cult is an enemy of civilization and our nation and world.  They are lunatics who each day are directly harming your children.  They need to be told this directly, eye to eye… that they are fetishistically wrong about this as with nearly every other koolaid belief that they suckled as their “side’s” dogmatic incantation. They should not be allowed power over the human future.

Oh, BTW... in the arguments over bailing our Puerto Rico, let's not forget that Texas petitioned to join the Union because it was bankrupt and people were starving.....

== … and finally … ==

Emails?  Really? After 20 years proclaiming the Clintons to be “criminals,” all you’ve got is using the wrong email server? Here’s the hypocrisy. In 2007, Congress asked the Bush administration for emails regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
Over 5 million White House emails sought in connection with this Congressional investigation could not be produced -- because they were on a non-government server. Two years later, it was revealed that as many as 22 million emails had been deleted -- in violation of the Presidential Records Act.

Yet this event received astronomically less coverage than today’s ‘controversy’ over the minuscule problems from the archiving of Hillary Clinton’s emails.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Tweet Spree on Amazon Author Rankings and Envy

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/07/2016 - 13:25
To begin, this tweet: Also, Amazon Author Rank? What the hell are you. — James S.A. Corey (@JamesSACorey) June 6, 2016 To which I responded: There's a certain point where you just let go of Amazon rankings because they have no relation to overall reality. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) June 6, 2016 Which got […]

The Big Idea: Anna Kashina

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 06/07/2016 - 11:36
Warriors live to a code — but what if in a moment of crisis, that code ties your hands? Anna Kashina confronts such a scenario in her novel, Assassin Queen. ANNA KASHINA: “Assassin Queen” is the third and concluding book in the Majat Code trilogy, which was ultimately driven by one big idea: what would happen […]

Self Portrait With Kitten

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 17:22
And that’s what I have for you this Sunday, folks. Hope you’ve been having a great weekend.

The Greatest of All Time

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 06/04/2016 - 14:54
I cried for Muhammad Ali when I was eight years old, the night he fought and lost to Leon Spinks, February 15, 1978. When I was eight years old Muhammad Ali was everywhere, the best known and most admired athlete in the world — he even had a animated television series, for heaven’s sake! — […]

Sci Fi Warnings and Optimism: calling fans to advise us with stories!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 06/04/2016 - 14:09
You don't have to choose! Between pessimism and optimism, that is. A sane person uses dollops of both - simultaneously - to help navigate a path ahead. Because making a better world requires two phases. First finding the errors, snake-pits, land mines and quicksand that lie in wait, as we charge into the future.  Those dangers are best revealed by eager complainers shouting “look out, you fools!” It is the supreme value of reciprocal criticism -- and science fiction has played a role, by issuing very effective self-preventing prophecies.”
But there is another vital phase.  Responding to such warnings with: “Oh… that? Well, sure. I guess we’d better roll up our sleeves and work together (or compete) to solve it. Which we can do!”  

That confident (and nowadays so-rare) can-do spirit was the theme and topic of Disney’s movie Tomorrowland, an ode to ebullient optimism that was crushed by today’s overpowering Cynicism Machine. A sick-addictive habit spread deliberately by those who profit or benefit from a pervasive public mood of despair.
Have a look at this moving tribute to the can-do spirit, by Jim Wright.Oh, sure, it devolves into a cynical rant of his own, in the middle (while making some good points).  But the beginning and the end are crystal clear, urging us to fight back against the cynics and gloom merchants. Stand up. Tell them “I will listen to your warnings. But in order to discuss with ambitious folks how to solve them! Keep your damn gloom away from me.”

== Self-preventing prophecies ==
Fred Kaplan, author of Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, describes how the Matthew Broderick 1983 film War Games so disturbed President Ronald Reagan that he ordered the nation’s first high level investigation of cyber-security,resulting in major redesigns of national and military systems. Again, science fiction helps us to avoid errors with “self-preventing prophecies”… powerfully affecting destiny by drawing attention to threats to freedom (Orwell), to our ecosystem (Soylent Green and Silent Running), or to peace (Dr. Strangelove, On The Beach, Fail-Safe, War Games.) 
And it goes on. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been holding meetings lately about applying science fiction to stimulating public enthusiasm.... in STEM education for example and a few months ago an event in Los Angeles introducing scientists to Hollywood mythmakers, along the theme of "homesteading space."
At the latter gathering I raised an older topic that all SF writers and fans have pondered, at times... that the vast trove of SciFi novels and short fiction represents a library of thought experiments that might prove useful to policy makers at some point.
Suppose our leaders ever face a sudden, disturbing and scientifically surprising event - ranging from real alien contact to a disrupting energy technology, to some drug that amplifies both human intelligence and insanity. You name it and there have been scifi "gedankenexperiments" that explored it.  Now imagine that policy workers had instant access to a network of nerdy expert-readers, ready to speak up about that library of ideas:

"You know, these 15 tales explored - in varied detail - something strangely similar to this situation. A few of the stories point to possibilities you may not have considered." 
This would be a perfect job for an an ad hoc and informal band of fans. Envision a group called TASAT -- or "There's A Story About That."It wouldn't take much  - and almost zero funding - to get such a group rolling.  Perhaps one panel at a worldcon might suffice to get it rolling. And the effort could more than pay for itself, if useful SF'nal insights came in handy during an emergency. Perhaps someone should suggest this as a panel topic at the coming MidAmerica Con?
== More Dire warnings ==

For the direst warnings, see 12 Ways Humanity Could Destroy the Entire Solar System, by George Dvorsky on io9, with scenarios ranging from AI superintelligence run amok to an interplanetary grey goo disaster.
Quite a number of sci fi scenarios will be brought to television or movies, with upcoming adaptations of novels such as: Foundation, Robopocalypse, Spin, Annihilation, Little Brother, and Ancillary Justice. See this extensive list -- stories full of both optimism and warning.
The prediction biz just gets better. In EARTH I foresaw a “Swiss Navy” that might enforce the rights of a Sea State - flotillas of ships bearing displaced populations.  In EXISTENCE the wealthiest have bought rights to distant reefs and island nations drowning under rising oceans, in order to perch new “seastead” enclaves upon them, according to plans hatched in the Alps. 

Now see how Swiss submarine-maker Migaloo is offering a 100,000 sq.ft yacht-island that would be at home in either near-future… a custom-built multistory mega-yacht that comes complete with a penthouse, submarine bays, a beach club, and a shark elevator -- to help the 0.1% avoid the rising seas of climate change.
And yes, I portrayed Chinese forces contesting over these reefs. (Calling that Prediction wiki!)  Only… wait a minute.  Swiss submarine-maker”? In real life? Wow, man.
== Tales of pitfalls ahead ==

Cumulus, by Eliot Pepper, presents a gritty view of a near future of growing economic inequality. Public services have been taken over by private companies. And a high-tech Google-like corp, Cumulus, reaches its tentacles into all aspects of daily life. Ever-present surveillance raises questions of corporate accountability: who is monitoring the surveillance feeds? In a city divided between the haves and have-nots (Greenies vs Slummers), anonymity is virtually impossible...  except for a few insiders who have the power to subvert the system for their own purposes. See Cumulus reviewed here.
Tears of Abraham, by Sean T, 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 new phase of our recurring civil war -- a fate we can avoid, helped by warnings like this one.

The Only Ones, by Carola Dibbell, offers a near-future scenario where pandemic has struck down much of the population. A 19-year old “hardy,” Inez Fardo, is immune to the virulent plague. Surviving on the edge of society, willing to sell anything for money, she is hired to donate her genes in an experiment to create an immune baby for a wealthy woman. When the woman backs out, Inez ends up alone, with a child who is an identical clone of herself. Since cloning is illegal (with clones hunted down by religious fanatics), she must hide the identity of her child, as they struggle to simply stay alive in a dismal post-apocalyptic world.

(Look, post-apocalyptics are okay. I wrote one! (Though my novel The Postman was about citizenship and our neighbors being wiser than slime molds.) Still, have a look where I decrypt why PA has become the reflexive go-to premise for so many authors and directors.)

Here's a cute and well-made web site about counter-terrorism and the world of Intel & Spies revolves around publicizing SyFy’s new TV series “Hunters,” which ponders a terror campaign led by… aliens, of course.

Another dire scenario: Phage, by Mark Tamplin offers a suspense-filled look at a virulent epidemic set off by a genetically-engineered pathogen -- intentionally released by a psychotic madman, a rogue government biochemist with a long-simmering grudge. Our hero, Dr. Sam Townsend is on the verge of developing an antidote, a phage to kill the pathogen, when he finds himself targeted by the terrorist. Tamplin, a microbiologist, incorporates lots of science coupled with fast-paced action. And yet, suspicion of authority is taken to an extreme to drive the plot in this novel.

And in the end, science (and transparency) are the keys to problem-solving...

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