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Sci Tech News -- much good! Some privacy may survive... but Siberia is burning

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/17/2016 - 18:27
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Please oh pease let me take a break from our insane politics! Starting with... Me & Morgan! Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman - one of the most successful popularized science series ever, featured me in an episode "Is Privacy Dead?" It recently aired in the U.S. on the Science Channel. The questions I was asked were solid… as were my answers… but I do tend to speak in whole paragraphs so expect me to be “clipped.”

In this case, my concepts were simplified a bit... but basically faithfully conveyed, with an excellent final thought.  I'm pretty pleased. (Though my feelings about Edward Snowden are more mixed than they implied.)

Anyway, it’s an important topic. And no I will not officially provide any bypass (illicit) links to the show! Commenters may provide some... but I encourage using the show's prescribed approach. Enjoy!
Oh... and more media. At 9:00 a.m. Sunday September 25 I'll be skyping in to a panel discussion of "SciFi and CliFi" or climate fiction, for the Society of Environmental Journalists' conference in Sacramento CA.  

October will be busy for me. I'll be speaking at Oregon State in Corvallis (the center of human civilization, in The Postman). Then for GE's Whitney Symposium near Albany NY. Then at the great big World of Watson convention for IBM, in Las Vegas. And a Skype-in for MIT's Media Lab on December 3. And one for India's Tata Industries. Phew!

== Science blips! ==

Curious about those Siberia fires and other calamities? Well, just hold on. I have some good - (or at least interesting) - news for you, first.

Posed to leading scientists: Scientific American offers Twenty big questions about the future of humanity, including Can we avoid a "sixth extinction"? to "Will brain science change criminal law?"

Good news.  Another source of helium has been found in Tanzania’s Rift Valley. Till now, the world's dangerously dwindling supply was nearly all sourced in Texas… till the Republican majority in the US Congress commanded that much of the U.S. Helium Reserve be sold - cheap - to their own cronies. An act of corrupt betrayal that, alas, is both typical and tangentially related to the War on Science.
Now bad news… science is revealing how many substances in a modern, urban environment might alter life for infants.  Add to that… apparently (and verify!) … Tylenol.
Petra was already an archaeological wonder. Now drone surveyors have found a newly discovered platform, which measures about 56 x 49 meters, appears to be a unique feature that has "no parallels at Petra or in its hinterlands at present.” 
== Tech Marvels ==
Scientists have created a system a system that (it's claimed) uses solar energy plus hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels with 10 percent efficiency, compared to the 1 percent seen in the fastest-growing plants. 

Outdoing nature... new 'Bionic" leaf is approximately ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. 
Current breath-analysis devices are bulky and costly. A new radio frequency “nose” may be compact and affordable, allowing many gas-based diagnoses to come via a cheap add-on for a smart phone… or the new (XPrize) Tricorder when it comes out.
One of our 21st Century Edisons is Dean Kamen, most famous for the Segway but creator of a vast array of medical devices and founder of the FIRST Robotics League that has made nerdliness a macho sport on 10,000 high school campuses.  His new water purification systems are being sent to villages all over the globe by CocaCola. Now Kamen is ready to produce and deliver the LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution). This prosthetic arm has been in development for ten years, starting when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) looked for innovative approaches for a whole new generation of replacement limbs for future amputees. 
The U.S. Army’s new exo-armor and amplification suit system is not quite at Iron Man levels, yet. But it is pretty impressive.

The first new nuclear reactor in decades in the US just went on line, reinforcing the fact that  “techno-liberals” have willingly shifted on this issue, a flexibility supported by growing science, technical skill, and the imperative to fight climate change. And the Obama Administration has been putting real money into new kinds of safer reactor design. And if this does not fit your stereotypes? Get used to it. Reality probably doesn’t either. 

And no, nuclear is not the long term solution.  Sustainables are coming online faster than anyone (especially cynics) ever imagined! (Indeed, traitors tried hard to delay it.) But this is going to take a mix.. especially citizens willing to dump dogmas and relearn the skills of ethically-grounded pragmatism.
hedge fund that bets there is no global warming. Hey cultists! Put your money into it and (maybe) win bigtime! Every sane person who sees this has visions of shorting it, of course. Just go for long horizons. Stupidity has short term advantages
This veggie-burger looks, tastes and smells like beef — except it's made entirely from plants. It sizzles on the grill and even browns and oozes fat when it cooks.  This is of more than minor interest. If hundreds of millions can be weaned to much-lower meat use, it could save so much land and especially water, and provide so much nutrition that the balance may tip in our favor. Oh, you'll live longer.

We’re used to thinking of California as quake-endangered. But geologists see an upper limit to CA’s “big one."  Less frequent but potentially far more powerful is the long delayed “very big one” that might hit the Pacific Northwest. You folks in the beautifully moist Oregonian and Washingtonian and Columbian paradise… read up.  Get foundation and water heater bolts and go bags. Live life… but be prepared.
== Environmental impacts ==
Yes, I'll get to the Siberia Calamity in a moment, but first...

Thirty years scientists warned Congress on global warming: In June of 1986, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held two days of hearings, convened by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), on the subject of “Ozone Depletion, the Greenhouse Effect, and Climate Change."
“This is not a matter of Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling,”
Senator Chafee said at the hearing. “The scientific evidence … is telling us we have a problem, a serious problem.”

A sane, grownup Republican senator. So what has changed? Everything the testifying scientists predicted has come true - though in fits and starts, as our planets oceans adapted. Ocean acidification skyrocketed, as expected.  
No. What has changed is something simple. The kind of human being and the kind of American you see being called a "Republican Senator."

Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution, setting a new high year after year. There’s a notable new entry to the record books. The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) reading has reached it.
Continued impacts of the monster El Nino of 2015-16: "Carbon concentrations at Mauna Loa rose 3.76 ppm between February 2015 and February 2016; the single largest jump in recorded history. The previous record rise, of 2.82 ppm, occurred during the 1997-1998 El Niño. In both cases, scientists believe that emissions spiked due to a combination of warming and drying in the tropics, which can accelerate soil carbon decomposition, and large, drought-fueled fires," writes Maddie Stone in Gizmodo.
== Denialists are hiding under the bed ==
2013 then 2014 broke all records for heat and drought on the planet, but 2015 is now officially the smashing record-holder… except for the first half of 2016, which seems on pace to top all of them.  So what has this done to the cult’s narrative?
Actually, all of this is viewed as GOOD news by the denialist religion! Let me explain. 

Until 2013, their standard cheat was to peg the “before” on 1998  - the previous record holder (a huge El Nino) - and shrug off the fact that every year after 1999 was hotter than the one before. An uneven but steadily rising secular trend! Too complex a concept… I know.
Ted Cruz used this trick as recently as the 2016 primaries. But that cheat collapsed since the 1998 record disintegrated, three years running. All of our 'normal' years are now hotter than the previous, record-breaking El Nino.  (In other words, "Lyin' Ted" was lying, even in the context of his obsolete cheat!)
So now what?  “The 2015 State of the Climate report examined 50 different aspects of climate , including dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice and glaciers worldwide. A dozen different nations set hottest year records, including Russia and China. South Africa had the hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of October: 119.1 degrees Fahrenheit (48.4 degrees Celsius).”  

And there is ocean acidification. Repeat it to your crazy uncle because even his crazy web sites have no answer. They just change the subject.  Ocean acidification. Ocean acidification. Ocean acidification.

Oh and once-in-a-century and even per-millennium storms are now happening every…single… year.  Many times per year!  As in the recent humidity crisis in the US northeast and record-breaking flooding along the Gulf Coast.
But do not despair, denialist cultists!  2015-2016 was an El Nino and probably there will be slight dips in 2017 and 2018… along a general, secular climbing trend.  In other words, you’ll get your cheat back!  Just peg your “before” on 2015-2016, and you’ll be able to rant “there’s been no warming!”  

Don’t get it? No? Don’t worry. Fox will massage the talking points for you into nice, spoon sized chunks.   Open wide.

== Siberia is burning... and you never even heard ==

Wildfires have been roaring out of control there since spring, and won’t stop until covered by snow. A disaster about which media are completely silent, and absolutely a result of climate change. This link shows the region in question, “covered by enough smoke to obscure the entire US east of the Mississippi.” Moreover, this creates a positive feedback loop. And one more reason never to let denialist cultists near even a burnt match, ever again. 
Yes, alas.  Try to talk science and things wind up circling back to politics.  It is not the fault of science.  It's our fault, for letting politics be steered by the mentally ill.

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

Stolen elections and gerrymandering

Contrary Brin - Thu, 09/15/2016 - 20:41
I am beyond angry at Hillary Clinton for not displaying focused fury over charges by Donald Trump that the election will be 'rigged.' 

This is a poison pill aimed at de-legitimizing her presidency, from the start. And our entire republic. It must be answered, right away, with a challenge. With a dare. 

With a wager.

This is so important that I will say it in several postings:
Hillary Clinton needs to declare this as a crisis! She should demand that Donald Trump put up or shut up, on electoral fraud. 

Insist that he appoint 6 friends who are “sages beyond reproach” to join six she would appoint, plus six chose by retired US Supreme Court Justice and GOP appointee Sandra Day O’Conner. And have that commission investigate electoral rigging charges right now!  

No delays. No excuses. And they should look at everything from voting machines to voter suppression to gerrymandering. And no time for sage perfection. Report back in two weeks!
It would be an aggressive, assertive action and she’d look decisive, presidential. And it is utterly necessary, lest her presidency begin less valuable than a bucket of tepid spit.

== Might voting machines be rigged? ==
We'll get back to that. But it is part of a bigger context. Because Donald Trump is already concocting face-saving excuses

Betrayal by his own party’s establishment? Check. Debates scheduled opposite football? His falling poll numbers are a plot and the election is rigged? Check. So how might he rationalize at the very last moment dropping out of the race, in order to evade being the Biggest Loser?

I know someone who suggested one plausible scenario…
“I have been threatened with something so terrible – it really is huge – so huge, so amazing that I can’t tell you about it! Believe me, I'm a fighter, but I’ll take this one in the gut, for the sake of my country!”
Sound plausible? Sure, but let’s get back to the old standby. The real fallback position that’s already being prepared. Which is “the other side cheated!”
Asserting that there is already “widespread voter fraud,” Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone said Trump should declare that “if there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate . . . we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government…. and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath.”  And yes, that is a Trump confidant.
(In contrast look at a case where the election was genuinely stolen, much to our subsequent, injury, pain and loss. Sixteen years ago, after the contentious 2000 recount, Al Gore gave a gracious concession speech that invoked Stephen Douglas’s words to Abraham Lincoln: “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”)
Let’s put aside the blatant calls to treason, that will be heard and obeyed by parts of the revived confederacy, just as such calls were heeded when the slave states went volcanically crazy in wrath over losing the White House for the first time in 30 years, in 1860.  Oh, Trump’s defeat could unleash a wave of Timothy McVeighs. But no… let’s put off (for now) such dark nightmares. Instead take the question at face value and ask:
Can that happen? Can the vote be warped or manipulated? 

Of course it can! Though the biggest cheats – like gerrymandering and voter suppression -- are all perfected and done-most by Red States, where Donald Trump has most of his strength. Likewise, most of the companies making voting machines used to be owned (I have not checked lately) by Republican Party factotums and major donors.
But zero in on the machines. After the year 2000 punch card fiascos, those systems were largely replaced with electronic voting systems. “The intentions were pure. The consequences were a technological train wreck.”
This article from Wired relates some scary stories. “Verified Voting also has a handy map of who votes using what equipment, which lets you drill down both to specific counties and machine brands, so you can see what’s in use at your polling station.” 

Good news: More than half of the states conduct post-election auditing, by checking vote totals against paper records, to ensure that the votes are accurate.  Citizen volunteers can take part in these hand audits.
Even better news, Florida and Ohio – two of the three main decider battleground states – have auditing. Pennsylvania, not so much.
But this article ignores a crucial point. That cheating via voting machines would not be aimed at the closely monitored presidential race. Rather, the most effective and vital cheating will happen where the real political power and money are at stake… down ticket races for state offices and Assembly. Because if statehouses change hands, then the voting systems (and cheats) may be reformed. 

If you can cheat, then that is where you decidedly will

Presidents come and go.  But any state that ends gerrymandering never goes back.  And when enough do, well, then a day will come when the courts will have the guts to stop it, at long last. 

No, the cheaters are frantic.

And that is why it should be put right on the front burner.
== Why your party-affiliation should be pragmatic, geographic, and tactical ==
Reiterating that last point; In many ways, the down-ticket elections are more important, this year, than ever.  That is because we’ve had an executive and judicial branch for 8 years, trying to do their jobs, but the laziest, most worthless Congress in the history of the republic. 

I have long urged, for example, that Bernie-or-Bust characters should prove they aren’t useless-dreamy purists by doing the grittiest and most practically urgent kind of political activism… choosing some down ticket race for Congress or Assembly where a bit of extra effort by just one person might make a real difference!
Like in North San Diego County, where that piece-of-work Darrell Issa finally faces a real challenger – a retired Marine Colonel -- who might plausibly eject one of the worst representatives in U.S. history. And we are helping as we can.
Oh?  You say that local and down ticket elections are futile, where you live?  A lonely democrat in a gerrymandered Republican district?  Or vice versa?
Well, a district like yours is the ideal place to try the tactic that I recommend here.
Democrats who live in a hopelessly (and likely gerrymandered) Republican district... and yes Republicans in a hopelessly Democratic one should re-register with the whatever party "owns" the district. For example, in a heavily conservative district, your rep will be republican. Live with that fact. 

But local liberals can help protect a local moderate gopper rep from being savaged by tea partiers if he or she dares to actually negotiate with democrats. In other words, re-register in order to vote in the only election that matters, in your gerried district: the Primary.
It's been tested in California, where all voters can now vote in a shared, open primary. Often  the fall general election winds up between two demmies or two goppers, with an amazing side effect! 

The republican voters in a 2-demo race have gained influence, because they can no longer be ignored. They are listened-to, more than before.  The two dems running against each other seek out the local Republican clubs, and listen to moderate conservatives!  And vice versa. The chief casualty has been rabid partisanship, which has been largely killed, dead.
The California method required a citizen uprising. But YOU can emulate it, wherever you live, by convincing your pals to re-register tactically. Strategically.

I wish I had some way to make this a national movement. It is so simple and logical.  And it could rob cynical gerrymandering of HALF its power to harm practical and civil politics in America.  
== Fact-checking ==
Both sides in our current, fervid and fevered political frenzy accuse each other of being liars.  One party denounces all fact-checking services as “biased.” The other has all the scientists but still can be pretty fast and loose with too-easy generalizations.
Here are some “corrections” or comments on the acceptance speeches by Donald Trump
and Hillary Clinton.
Oh, and Trump jokes he'll blame Pence if he loses the election. 
== The 4th Branch of Government ==
Finally, one more factor for you to consider. Perhaps the most important one.

Every party has a shadow cabinet -- hundreds of factotums who line up for jobs in a new administration.  Despite frenetic GOP efforts to find vaunted "corruption" among Clinton and Obama appointees, those two are the only 8 year administrations in U.S. history never to see even a single high official - or even intermediate - convicted or even indicted for malfeasance of office. And not for lack of trumped-up, lame-o hearing after hearing and 24 years of relentless "investigations." 
Please read that paragraph again.  Not one allegation of malfeasance in office proved or even indictable against even one clintonite or obamite official, across 16 years, despite  upwards of $500million in witch hunts. The first time it’s ever happened. Facts are a bitch.

In contrast, the GOP brain trust consists - to a frightening degree - of Koch shills, child molesters and a conga line of orange prison jumpsuits.

You are actually gonna tell me that Trump will enter office and not go to to Washington GOP pols for advice on appointments? Or that those pols won't have thick folios of 'the usual suspects"? Factotums tanned and rested and ready from both Bush Administrations.

Dig it, this is why Ryan and McConnell et. al. are playing nice with DT!

Admit it, you never even thought about this fourth branch of government.  It matters.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

18 Years + Bacon Cat 10 Year Anniversary

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/13/2016 - 21:09
I’m posting this relatively late because I’m in Hawaii (where in fact it’s not that late at all): Today is the 18th anniversary of the first Whatever entry, back in the now far-gone year of 1998. My blog is now a legal adult in the United States and can vote (and if it could vote, […]

How Cheating Spoils Capitalism: the true roots of skyrocketing inequality

Contrary Brin - Tue, 09/13/2016 - 14:55
== What causes wealth disparity to skyrocket? ==
In a cogent analysis, Brookings fellow Jonathan Rothwell appraises varied explanations for why the top 0.01% have taken in such gushers of wealth in recent years. “Three of the standard explanations—capital shares, skills, and technology—are myths. 

"The real cause of elite inequality is the lack of open access and market competition in elite investment and labor markets. To bring the elite down to size, we need to make them compete.”
This has been my own relentless theme.  The rationalizers of rapacious versions of capitalism claim to be promoting Adam Smith’s competitive markets – while doing everything in their power to demolish any chance those markets will be flat-open-fair-creative, or even Hayekian. 

Unintentionally, they are proving Smith right, who denounced conniving oligarchy as the great enemy of creative markets across all recorded history.
Were they sincere, instead of conspiratorial-rentier cheaters, they would know that their own lavish-gusher incomes should – by capitalist theory – attract talent from every other human field, until the price of financial talent would stop rising and actually go down! Supply and demand, it's called. Elsewhere I show how they explain why this never happens … that they are uber-lord-mutant-great managers! Immune to supply and demand, like basketball stars. 

Only the analogy shatters! NBA players are subject to utter scrutiny by relentless, objective metrics -- points, rebounds, assists per game and all that. In contrast, the CEO caste of 5000 golf buddies appoints each other onto their boards aiming to obscure measures of company health, concocting excuses for why a declining balance sheet or fading product line should be rewarded with higher compensation. They bandy reasons why stock buy-backs that eat a company's seed corn are better than investing in new products or services.
Rothwell’s appraisal is cogent and clear. “There is no evidence to support the idea that the top 0.01 percent consists mostly of people of “exceptional talent.” In fact, there is quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.”  

No, it is strictly and purely a matter of which industry you are in. Aside from the quasi-monopolistic mining and utilities sectors, just being in finance gives you a huge – i.e. parasitical – income multiplier, no matter what the actual outcomes of your work. The financial caste is not facing competition.

 Moreover, tellingly, Rothwell rejects calling this a matter of Left or Right. “The modern left still too often sees the world through a Marxist lens of capitalist owners trying to exploit people who sell their labor for a living. But that doesn’t help explain rising top incomes. On the other hand, many on the modern right wrongly infer that great earnings must only be generated by great people.
“Before Marx, Adam Smith provided a framework for political economy that is especially useful today. Smith warned against local trade associations which were inevitably conspiring “against the public…to raise prices,” and “restraining the competition in some employments to a smaller number than would otherwise…occasion a very important inequality” between occupations.”
== It grows even clearer ==

In Left and Right Share a Common Enemy: Capitalists Who Corrupt Capitalism, perhaps the best and most important essay yet to be posted on the fast-rising Evonomics site, Professor Lawrence Lessig nails so many powerful points about how desperately capitalism needs to be saved from capitalists. 
Lessig, you may recall, briefly ran for president under a single-issue campaign to get the corrupting tsunamis of Big Money out of U.S. politics.  It think he would have made a better - far more modern-with-it - version of Bernie Sanders. (Though Bernie is almost a pure clone of my own dad.) On this occasion Lessig cogently lays down what’s at stake, showing how market economics is not the enemy of justice.  

Rather, our flat-open-fair-creative markets are the top victims of an ongoing attempted oligarchic putsch. 
Indeed, as Larry clearly shows, the all-too human contradictions that lead so many market winners to then cheat and shut down markets, was recognized and called out by the “founder” of modern enterprise capitalism.
Some of us have been urging for way more than a decade that Adam Smith be rediscovered as an archetype and founder — not just of fads like ”neo-liberalism,” but of the much broader notion that we call Liberalism, itself. The Evonomics site now invokes Smith in almost every-other article and I have hopes that this rediscovery movement will overflow into the nation's bitter discourse, as well.
== The rationale of Supply Side or 'trickle down' ==

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobelist in Economics, explains how Supply Side (SS) economic theory - darling of the American right, despite never once sustaining a successful, major prediction -- seemed so alluring, for so long:

"The reason why these ideas justifying inequality have endured is that they have a grain of truth in them. Some of those who have made large amounts of money have contributed greatly to our society, and in some cases what they have appropriated for themselves is but a fraction of what they have contributed to society. 

"But this is only a part of the story: there are other possible causes of inequality. Disparity can result from exploitation, discrimination and exercise of monopoly power. Moreover, in general, inequality is heavily influenced by many institutional and political factors— industrial relations, labour market institutions, welfare and tax systems, for example— which can both work independently of productivity and affect productivity."

Stiglitz explains how legislation that funneled vast advantages into the upper castes was not only the core reason for the American Revolution (and not 'tea party' rage at taxes), but also how Adam Smith denounced the anti- market effects of "rent seeking." 

He adds -- "rent-seeking means getting an income not as a reward for creating wealth but by grabbing a larger share of the wealth that would have been produced anyway. Indeed, rent-seekers typically destroy wealth, as a by-product of their taking away from others. A monopolist who overcharges for her or his product takes money from those whom she or he is overcharging and at the same time destroys value. To get her or his monopoly price, she or he has to restrict production."

Someone explain how that is flat-fair-competitive capitalism, instead of its opposite?  Seriously, after reading Lessig, dive into this wise detailed, and definitive Stiglitz article.

== The guru of the intelligent right ==

Not only Adam Smith, but Friedrich Hayek, too, can be rediscovered and re-interpreted. While it's true that Hayek despised government-socialist intervention, the reason for his skepticism toward government meddling was actually quite cogent: when too many decisions are made by bureaucrats you reduce economic wisdom by limiting the number of economic players and choosers. 

A fair point, though with complexities the Right chooses to ignore. For example, if 100,000 diverse, accountable and transparent civil servants cannot "allocate" well because they are too few, then isn't the problem even worse when allocation is done by an incestuous, conniving, secretive cabal of only 5,000 CEO-caste golf buddies? Connivers who sully Hayek's name, whenever they mention him?
Which leads us to the Bigger Picture... the one aspect that Lessig, Stiglitz, and apparently everyone else leave out is the great context of large scale history. 
For 6000 years, wherever humans got metals and agriculture, the typical social pattern was a pyramid of inherited hierarchy, loosely called feudalism.  Big men with swords found it appealing to arrange that they would get no competition from those below, and that their sons would inherit ownership of other folk's sons and daughters. 

The pattern, replicated everywhere, reinforced by darwinian reproductive advantage.  And it boiled down to a single, simple word that anyone would understand -- cheating.  Using your high status advantages -- e.g. swords or armies of lobbyists -- to crush any potential competitors from below. The temptation will always be there.
Our brief, 240 year miracle - dating not just from the Declaration of Independence but also the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations - has been based upon dividing power so that cheating can be limited by competitive accountability. By opponents pointing out and staunching cheats before they get so large that they become self-reinforcing. 
One result has been the world's first Diamond-shaped society, with an empowered middle class that fizzes forth new competitors at rates that should please Smith or Hayek and that delivers real goods. Alas, a diamond is unstable and last year's winners will try to prevent new competition, so they can become next year's lords.
Our parents in the Greatest Generation knew this better than we do, because - like all their ancestors - they knew what class war was. Desperately, with help of fellows like FDR - they sought a solution other than the one most widely offered at the time, Marxian revolution. 
      .   Choosing instead to empower the working class and flat-fair-creative competition, their Rooseveltean reset was so successful that we boomers grew up imagining “class war” to be quaint, obsolete, a worry to prioritize far below other long-neglected injustices like racism or sexism. 
But human nature hasn't changed and today's wealth disparities are nearing 1930s levels. Some claim the levels of 1789 France. An oligarchic putsch is underway, and Lessig's clarion calls are vital, if we are to perform another moderate, reasonable "reset" that saves and enhances and renews both capitalism and freedom. It will be either that or "tumbrels," which is why all the smart billionaires today - who can look beyond their noses - are democrats.
Larry Lessig's Evonomics missive makes this all very clear (except the history-feudalism part.)  Lessig explores these issues more thoroughly in his book Republic Lost: The Corruption of Equality and the Steps to End It. His quotations are vivid ammo, so copy and use a lot of them! 

But let me add one more, from Will and Ariel Durant's classic The Lessons of History:
“In progressive societies the concentration[of wealth] may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.”

== Why conservative revisionists should give a Hayek ==

Aw heck. Add one more brilliant mind to this mix. David Sloan Wilson, one of the driving forces behind the dynamic and insightful EVONOMICS site, has been part of the movement to rediscover and revive interest in Adam Smith, one of the chief founders of the modern enlightenment western experiment. 

Wilson has also called for a rediscovery of another complex thinker who was way-oversimplified by the American right: Friedrich Hayek. Yes, he was more explicitly anti-government  than Smith’s anti-oligarchy. Still, he evolved over time. As Wilson puts it:  “not a single prediction made in The Road to Serfdom materialized and Hayek himself modified his own views." 

Even in The Road to Serfdom he wrote: “Nor is the preservation of competition incompatible with an extensive system of social services—so long as the organization of these services is not designed in such a way as to make competition ineffective over wide fields.” 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Hawaiian Sunrise, 9/12/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/12/2016 - 12:15
Looks like it’s going to be another pretty decent day in paradise.  Hope you’re all doing fine. I’ve got a chapter to write, and then, you know. Hawaiian things to do.

View From a Hotel Balcony, 9/11/16: The Big Island

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 09/11/2016 - 12:19
I’m in Hawaii! Which is good. I still have daily word count to hit, however, which is while bad is not great. On the other hand, this is where I get to do my daily words while I’m here, which is pretty great. Back to it for me.

To Boldly Go... Star Trek at Fifty

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/10/2016 - 13:53
Five decades ago, I was at the perfect age. Almost sixteen, pumped with eagerness for science and fiction and outer space and dreams of escaping the dreary prisons of home and high school. And suddenly on the dreary wasteland of TV, in vivid color, appeared something completely unlike anything we ever saw before. Star Trek.Oh, there had been science fiction. A couple of years earlier, my friends and I were hauled into the Jr. High Vice Principal’s office for circulating a petition to bring back The Twilight Zone. Though most of us thought it never quite matched the best episodes of Outer Limits. (Of course, when O.L. sucked, it really sucked.)But Star Trek was something else, something new. It lifted, surprised, challenged and offered hope. Amid the ructions of that awful decade – from Vietnam to civil rights to riots and assassinations – here was the notion that hope was conceivable. That (shoo-be-do) things were going to be all right.On Trek’s 50thanniversary, I could go on with personal stories (like one sadly typical-amusing story where Caltech freshmen abandoned a dance – with real girls – to watch an episode). Or talk about optimism, which all but a few other films or shows (e.g. Stargate) avoid out of primitive reflex. (See my article, The Idiot Plot.)But no. The airwaves, netwaves and blogosphere has plenty of that stuff.  Instead, I want to talk about the Enterprise… the underlying meaning of that ship. There have been many comparisons between Star Trek and its chief competitor for the hearts of science fiction fandom -- Star Wars.  A contrast that illuminates two very different views of fiction, civilization, and at the meaning of a hero.Here’s one way of looking at the underlying implications of these two sci fi universes.  Consider the choice of which kinds of ship are featured in each series.  Let me invite you to ponder, for a moment, and contrast the Air Force metaphor vs. one that hearkens up images of the Navy.In Star Wars, the ships that matter are little fighter planes.  Series creator George Lucas made liberal use of filmed dogfight footage, from both world wars, in some cases borrowing maneuvers like banking slipstream turns, down to the last detail. The heroic image in this case is the solitary pilot, perhaps assisted by his loyal gunner -- or wookie or droid -- companion. It is the modern version of knight and squire. Symbols as old as Achilles.In contrast, the federation starship in Trek is vastly bigger, more complex, a veritable city cruising through space. Its captain hero is not only a warrior-knight, but also part scientist and part diplomat, a plenipotentiary representative of his civilization and father figure to his crew... any one of whommay suddenly become an essential character, during the very next adventure. While the captain’s brilliance and courage are always key elements, so will be the skill and pluck of one or more crewmen and women.  People who are much closer to average -- like you or me -- yet essential helpers, nonetheless. And possibly even -- when it is their turn -- heroes, themselves.The naval metaphor makes a crucial difference. Like Cook’s Endeavor or Darwin’s Beagle, the Enterprise is meant to do much more than just fight, or carry the hero to his next Campbellian-personal challenge. The Captain is nothing without other members of the team. And this means that she or he will be written as human, flawed and limited, merely way-above-average and not a “chosen one” – not an ubermensch-overlord-Ender-Neo demigod, destined to do it all himself, while peons stare in abject admiration.  The Captain, in Star Trek, is perennially challenged. Even when she’s right, there’s always something to be learned from someone else. And sometimes he admits that he was wrong. In fact, what happens when the crew of the enterprise encounters some pompous demigod… a mutant or super-evolved being with attitude? The mood is always skeptical curiosity. An eagerness to learn, combined with a steadfast willingness to stand up to bullies.In any event, the ship -- Star Trek’s Enterprise -- stands for something, every time we look at it. This traveling city is civilization.  The Federation’s culture and laws, industry and consensus values -- like the Prime Directive -- are all carried in this condensed vessel, along with the dramatic diversity of its crew. Every single time there is an adventure, the civilization of the United Federation of Planets is put to the test, through its proxy, the hero-ship. At times, this lets the show poke at mistakes, ways that some error or flaw or even crime is being done, in civilization’s name! And generally, it is shown best healed by light. Only, when the Enterprise (or Voyager or DeepSpace Nine) passes each test, often with flying colors, so too, by implication, does civilization itself.A civilization that might – perhaps -- even be worthy of our grandchildren.Compare this to the role of the Old Republic, in the Lucasian universe. A hapless, hopeless, clueless melange of bickering futility whose political tiffs are as petty as they are incomprehensible. The Republic never perceives, never creates or solves anything. Not once do we see any of its institutions actually function well. Or even (take note) function at all!How can they? The people, the Republic, decent institutions... these cannot be heroes, or even helpers.There is no room, aboard an X Wing fighter, for civilization to ride along. Only for a knight and squire.Does ship morphology control story?  Yes, in many ways. But essentially it reflects the underlying assumptions of the storyteller.  As I point out – serving as the “prosecutor” in the fun argument-tome Star Wars on Trial – George Lucas cannot conceive of civilization as a vibrant, living thing, even though it was a pretty good one that raised and pampered his youth, then gave him prodigious opportunities to make his dreams come true. The poison current underlying Star Warsis one of steaming ingratitude.(But get the book! Lucas has some able defenders who stand up for him!)Me? I like Gene Roddenberry’s vision. GR, for all his many faults, believed we are in a boat together. And yes, we’ll need way-above-average heroes. Even average ones!  Lots of the latter, in fact. And that means you, right now, are needed by your civilization.We need you. Yes, you. We cannot do it without you.That is the real meaning of Star Trek. 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;}

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Vacation Week Has Commenced

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/09/2016 - 23:27
Hey, I’m mostly gonna be out this next week. I might pop in briefly on the 13th (on account it’ll be the 18th anniversary of Whatever), but otherwise don’t expect too much; I’m planning to be mostly offline. I expect you’ll be fine without me. See you later!

New Books and ARCs, 9/9/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/09/2016 - 16:27
Some very fine books and authors in this week’s stack of books and ARCs. See something here that is begging for your reading attention? Tell us about it in the comments!

The Big Idea: K.C. Alexander

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/09/2016 - 07:55
This Big Idea by K.C. Alexander, for her new novel Necrotech, packs a punch. And Alexander, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s why. K.C. ALEXANDER: In his Big Idea about his most recent novel, Jay Kristoff says it began (more or less) with an argument about vaginas. The anecdote is great. The context, on […]

In Which I Turn Out To Be a Surprisingly Poor Agent of White Genocide

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/08/2016 - 13:31
So, yesterday, after engaging on Twitter with some particularly low-wattage racists who were exercised about, you know, jackass racist things, I made the following observation: Today has been a reminder of the irony that those concerned about the "extinction" of the white race are the best argument for its demise. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) September […]

The Big Idea: Tom Crosshill

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/08/2016 - 10:00
Speaking as a nerd who took two years of dance in high school, this Big Idea piece by Tom Crosshill, about his novel, The Cat King of Havana, speaks to me. Read on to find out why. TOM CROSSHILL: My YA novel The Cat King of Havana is a tale of salsa, lolcats, and revolution. […]

The Big Idea: Robin Talley

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/07/2016 - 08:49
Shakespeare is often reinterpreted, reinvented and remade — but for her novel As I Descended, author Robin Talley discovered that revamping a tale from the bard was not as simple as just slapping on new clothes and modern language. There was a whole lot more going on. ROBIN TALLEY: As I Descended is the first […]

Toward a Transparent World

Contrary Brin - Tue, 09/06/2016 - 14:19
Okay, time for an update for you all on news from the transparency front.  The one that matters most, because it is the only way to find our mistakes as we plunge into a rapidly changing future.

Hang on.  We're about to veer among many sub-topics.  All of them together paint an interesting picture of fast-changing times.

First, remember the Panama Papers leak? The Swiss anti-corruption expert, Mark Pieth, has told the BBC that he resigned from the panel that was set up by Panama's government in April 2016 to improve transparency, because of government interference. "We can only infer that the government is facing pressure from those who are making profits from the current non-transparent financial system in Panama," he said.   Surprised? Hey we know this... no one hit ever gets the bullies to admit that things are changing. 
But they'll learn that everything eventually leaks. Including scary stuff that the uber-experts thought they had locked up. Take a cache of hacking tools with code names such as Epicbanana, Buzzdirection and Egregiousblunder that appeared mysteriously online in August, apparently key tools used by the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO).  Tools that “would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.” 

The tools were posted by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers using file-sharing sites such as BitTorrent and DropBox.  Tweeted Edward Snowden from Moscow: “Circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility.”
But there's also good transparency news. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a growing army of confidential informants — better known as whistle-blowers — has helped federal securities regulators identify and prosecute wrongdoers. Now the same thing is happening at the state level. 
== Save us from advertising! ==
Did you see this piece on "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver?"  It relates to the idea of people being able to make micro-payments to read journalistic content.

Yes, micropayments could save journalism. They could also ease many of our modern aggravations with a world run by advertising.

 The New York Times is investing in a Dutch company, that seems to be getting micropayments better than previous attempts, but still misses several key points.  Points that anyone could get -- ahem -- by reading my own work on the topic. 

The hot new Evonomics site ran my extensive exploration of a way out of this era when advertising noxiously controls the Internet and why all past micropayment systems failed. … and  the "secret sauce" that may empower the next one to work. See: Advertising alone cannot maintain the internet. and Beyond Advertising: Will micropayments sustain the internet?

== On the internet and encryption ==

Okay, let's veer onward to encryption. While urging you all to join EFF (The Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the ACLU and all sorts of activist orgs, I am also known for disagreeing with these paladins of freedom over tactical matters. E.g. I assert that we'll do better by insisting that elites be naked to supervision, rather than (futilely) demanding that elites not-see

Nevertheless do join EFF! (And the ACLU and SierraClub/Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders… (see my essay on "Proxy Activism.") Here are just two examples of important issues where the EFF heroes are fighting for a sensible, accountable future.
(1) "How DigitalCopyright Law Is Being Used to Run Roughshod Over Repairs" getting in the way ofletting folks tinker with or fix things they legitimately own.

(2) "Tell Your University: Don't Sell Patents to Trolls."
Aaaaan let's veer again! For a quarter of a century I have been inviting “cypherpunks” or fans of encryption, to show us an example when it ever consistently and reliably worked.  Edward Snowden - who has his admirable aspects, especially as a ‘social T-Cell and a coal mine canary - falls apart when it comes to future recommendations, falling back upon the standard romantic crypto-twaddle, instead of stepping back and noticing what has actually worked.  What is actually working right now, on our streets! Citizens insisting not on hiding, but upon seeing

“Hackers obtained the mobile phone numbers of 15 million Iranian users of the Telegram encrypted messaging app, and hacked the accounts of more than a dozen of them, security researchers say.” 
A crypto system designed specifically and carefully to protect the IDs of dissidents, trivially slashed open!  As happens monthly, weekly, even daily to banks and insurance companies, political parties and government agencies. Fools — Information leaks… by its very nature!
You could decide to work with this trait, instead of standing athwart history with your hands up, yelling “stop” at a tsunami.  I've been trying to show you how.
== Cameras extend Citizen Power ==
As forecast in The Transparent Society  (1997) -- especially p. 160 -- cameras are fast becoming the critical extensions of either police power or citizen power… or both.  

If it is only the former, then we’ll get a police state. 
If only the second, then we’ll have chaos.  
If both… well… there’s a real chance we’ll get the win-win, the positive sum outcome, in which good cops find their work increasingly effective, catching and convicting real villains with rising facility – while bad cops soon find themselves in real trouble, at-best seeking some other employment, somewhere with less accountability. (Good luck with that.)
I have called it the most important advance of civil liberties in our lifetimes -- certainly in thirty years -- even though it was hardly covered by the press. It happened when, in 2013, both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places. No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. 

It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?
And yet, despite the clarity of this basic principle, tussles over this mini-revolution are ongoing, down in the details and at the level of the street. For example, will we citizens get access to footage taken by the body-cameras worn increasingly by street cops? While civil libertarians demand instant access under all circumstances, a bill just passed the North Carolina General Assembly will empower police to withhold body camera and dash camera footage. 

It may surprise you that my own stance is intermediate and more patient than the ACLU’s. So long as the police bodycam, dashcam and drone recordings are uninterrupted, comprehensive, protected and available to defense attorneys, I see no urgent need for rapid release. Transparency that is only delayed can still achieve its main purpose: accountability. With that key proviso, I am willing to grant cops some breathing room.
What we cannot allow is limitations on what citizens themselves may record, in public spaces. Here is just one of many sites online that coordinate citizen images of police in action – both behaviors meriting scrutiny and meriting praise.  
What about that thing I alluded to above... a patent filed by Apple, for a utility allowing some outside entity to shut down your phone’s camera? Giving Apple the benefit of the doubt, we can hope it is a ‘blocking patent’ aimed at preventing this feature from every appearing in real life.  Yes, concert venues claim a need to prevent covert and illegal recordings by members of the audience… as if real video pirates cannot bring in more sophisticated devices? Indeed, we’re now all behooved to purchase and maintain some old-fashioned cameras, just in case.
This is simply the crucial moment of decision in our civilization – more important even than the 2016 US elections.
I’m a stockholder, but I deem this invention patented by Apple — allowing remote control or shut down of the camera on your phone — to be an Orwellian nightmare.There are some possible compromises - e.g. letting venue owners set up a zone wherein phone cams degrade down to “Citizen Mode” at say 1 megapixel. But no, I don’t want anything at all.
== Sousveillance and freedom ==
Said it before.  Will keep saying. One of the chants at Black Lives Matter rallies should be “Give Us MoreTech!” Which is short for: “Oh so NOW you believe us, now that we can take pictures of what we went through for generations?”  

Well, yes.  Then become nerds! Use cameras to fight back, a lot safer and more effective and modern than guns.
But none of that will be possible when elites - like the state - can shutdown our phone-cams.  So make a habit of keeping some old fashioned cameras around!  And count on technology to give us so many eyes that this trick will sink into obscurity.
Oh, speaking of which. Edward Snowden, in collaboration with Andrew Huang and the MIT Media Lab announced the design for a case-like attachment to monitor an iPhone, alerting the owner when its radio transmitters are operating suspiciously, whether hijacked by hackers, the government, or Apple. 
== Philosophers at work? ==

Cory Doctorow advocates two core tenets to take up in the fight for a non-Orwellian cyber-tomorrow:
1.   Computers should be designed to obey their owners. When devices receive conflicting commands from both a manufacturer and an owner, the owner’s desire must always win.2.   True facts about computer security should always be legal to disclose.
Though his meta rule is -- Don’t give in to nihilism (it’s all hopeless) or denialism.  I, too, have been fighting these for ages. He and I disagree in many areas of tactics and over the plausibility of encryption as a cure-all. (It can be useful, short-term, and it will cure absolutely nothing, over the log run), but I approve of his vigor and passion in the world.  Nevertheless, I’d add a third core tenet:
3.  If your computer systems have been taken over by a botnet, and you did not take reasonable efforts to ensure that you are not a source of infection to others, then you share legal liability for the actions of the controllers of the botnet.  Now that’s gonna be less popular sounding!  Because it says, “You don’t just have rights, you have responsibilities.
Okay this is bizarre.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has handed down a very worrisome decision on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Facebook v. Vachani. According to one online pundit, it says that if you tell people not to visit your website, and they do it anyway knowing you disapprove, they’re committing a federal crime of accessing your computer without authorization. But I am not sweating this.  Common accepted values will triumph.  
Scoutquoted my colleague Eliot Peper, citing my friend and Wired founder Kevin Kelly's new book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future about an interesting suggestion to deal with a modern problem. Humans are very tribal and we do not like the cognitive dissonance of actually thinking about intelligently different points of view. 

In olden times, it was easy to dismiss and drown out those differing perspectives. Keep to your own kind! Drive that other church out of town! Attend Nuremberg rallies. Today, though? A million diverse viewpoints surround you, with eloquent advocates eager to offer you discomforting evidence that might threaten to rock your comfortable convictions? Maybe make you realize you're only 60% right!
What's a true-believer tribalist to do?
Well, it turns out  there are lots of ways to filter out dissonance and drown out disagreement, by wallowing in the online equivalent of Nuremberg rallies. Human nature makes this inevitable. In my 1989 novel EARTH I forecast crude versions of 21st Century echo-chamber social media. Kevin Kelly now calls for hacking the for newsfeed and other social networks... adding a dedicated algorithm that occasionally drops in content that challenges your preconceptions or predilections. By coincidence, this is exactly what I portrayed happening in EARTH, when hackers break through citizens' protective preference walls to show them information outside their habitual comfort zones. 
This interesting article suggests an easy to activate “emergency” button or App on smartphones that would unleash your GPS, your emergency contact and a number of other functions without having to focus on details. “Among current phone makers, Samsung is the only one to implement anything like a comprehensive emergency setting on their S5-and-later flagship phones. If you set up this feature beforehand, pressing the power button three times quickly sends an “SOS message” with your location, a photo taken with the front and rear cameras, and 3 seconds of audio to 3 emergency contacts.”  It’s a start. Our phones will become so sophisticated that the “phone” aspect will be an add-on.
Oh, heck, while I'm at it... that novel also portrayed “Tru-Vu Goggles” that gave folks VR and AR overlays while they were out and about -- and citizens using their AR cams to hold authorities accountable. That element disqualified Earth -- for all its tech-wow prognostication -- from acceptance in the community of cynical cyberpunk, whose core premise, preached relentlessly, is that "my fellow citizens are sheep."  

And for that reason the novel is never cited by the with-it, cynical crowd.  Ah well.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Scamperbeasts at One: Today You Are a Cat

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/06/2016 - 14:00
The Scamperbeasts came to us on November 1, 2015; at the time we were assured that they were eight weeks old, i.e., old enough, just barely, to be taken home to us. Working back eight weeks from November 1, took us to this week in September for them being born. So, somewhat arbitrarily within the […]

The Big Idea: Nisi Shawl

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/06/2016 - 08:04
Nisi Shawl’s novel, Everfair, began as a bit of dare — a fine reason for a story to exist. But as Shawl details below, it’s not enough to write something for the challenge… because sooner or later, you’ll need people to want to read that story, too. NISI SHAWL: I want to subvert your mind. […]

Spice Enjoys Her Labor Day

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/05/2016 - 13:49
She’s clearly not laboring at the moment. Nor should she be! For not laboring is what Labor Day is about! How’s your Labor Day coming along?

Sunset With Mercury and Duck, 9/3/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/03/2016 - 21:52
How cool is this: For the second time in less than a month, I’ve captured a picture of Mercury, the most elusive of the classical planets. It’s the bright spot up and to the left of the setting sun. Mercury is hard to spot precisely because it’s so close to the sun, and it’s often […]

Kristine Blauser Scalzi, 9/3/16

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/03/2016 - 21:13
Because I like taking pictures of my wife, that’s why. Hope your Labor Day weekend is coming along nicely.

Science Marvels: A Goldilocks Planet? Mass extinctions. Prognostication!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/03/2016 - 15:31
Sitting in at the symposium of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program (I am on the NIAC advisory council) we all gathered round for the announcement confirming recent rumors of a "goldilocks zone" planet orbiting the nearest visible star to our own -- Proxima Centauri. 
The planet orbits every 11.2 days. It’s at least 1.3 times as massive as our planet, and based on its likely size, astronomers think it is rocky. Its home star is only .15 percent as bright as the sun. "The system is 25 trillion miles away, more than 270,000 times farther than the sun."  The Proxima team used the radial velocity method, analyzing the star's light for wobbles caused by orbiting planets… a different approach than the "transit eclipse" approach used by the Kepler spacecraft to detect thousands of new worlds. They used the HARPS spectrograph, mounted on a 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile. 

Note this planet orbiting so close to its dim sun will probably be tidal-locked like our moon is toward the Earth. Also, like most small K or M types stars, Proxima emits a lot of flares and X-rays, meaning even if there's liquid water on this world. Hence any life would need to shelter along a Twilight Zone.
Can we learn more? Well, if we are lucky with the Proxima system's orbital plane -- there’s only a 1.5 percent chance the Proxima Centauri system’s geometry is arranged in such a way that we could see it transit in front of its sun. But if so, we might be able to look at its atmosphere. Even if there's no transit, some of the endeavors being funded by NIAC might enable us to see this new world much better, so stay tuned!
Oh, other news in the oh wow department: a galaxy with the same mass as the Milky Way but with only 1 percent of our galaxy's star power. Apparently, at first impressions, about 99.99 percent of this other galaxy is made up of dark matter.
== Looking to the future... and past ==
My friend and fellow futurist Glen Hiemstra - founder of - is interviewed by Popular Mechanics on the pitfalls and rewards of trying to peer ahead into tomorrow’s Undiscovered Country. 
Speaking of which, this seems an Indiegogo crowd-funding project worth a look. One of the best-looking endeavors to develop processes for tissue culture meat. In this case the ambition means “growing real meat, non GMO, no antibiotics, in machines at supermarkets all over the world.” To be clear, this once-science-fictional idea - if implemented in ways that deliver a tasty, healthful product with far great efficiency and vastly lower karma than current herds and slaughterhouses - could reduce human impact on the environment decisively, in the nick of time.  (With no help from those helping wage a War on Science.)
Turning the other direction. For 35 years I have been tracking the topic of past extinctions on Earth, as paleontologists parse the sedimentary fossil layers ever more finely, dissecting periods when our planet's diversity of life gradually rose and then suddenly plummeted.  We know the most famous extinction event, the demise of the dinosaurs, was caused (all or mostly) by a huge asteroid that struck the Yucatan Peninsula, 65 million years ago. Evidence is growing that extinction events  - many or most of them - seem to follow a cyclical rhythm of every 26 to 30 million years, with varying severity, and I have discussed this cycle - with fascinating theories - elsewhere.
But not all such events fit into any cyclical pattern. Some were one-off… as would be the "anthropocene" extinction that we're causing ourselves, right now, through the powerful impact of human civilization. Time will tell, perhaps soon, whether this will be a mild one (if we wise up and act like grownups) or a severe event.
Now comes evidence of another one that shows just how scary the universe can be. Scientists have found remnants of a supernova - anomalous traces of Iron 60- encased in the fossilized chains of “magnetofossils,” extracted from two Pacific Ocean sediment cores. The supernova that expelled the iron-60 is believed to have occurred at least 325 light-years away from Earth, starting around 2.6 million – 2.8 million years ago, bombarding the Earth for nearly 800,000 years. This corresponds with an extinction event which occurred in that timeframe, affecting mollusks such as marine snails and bivalves. There was also a global cooling at the same time.  
These things come in all sizes. For example, anomalous amounts of carbon 14 are found in certain tree rings around the globe, suggesting that 10,000 or so years agothere might have been a massive solar flare -- far smaller than any supernova, but near and sharp enough to affect isotopic ratios in the atmosphere. Such a flare - today - would be vastly worse than the "Carrington Event" that fried telegraph lines in 1859, or the slightly lesser one in the 1920s.  We are fools if we don't do minimal preparations to safeguard civilization. (A theme I just preached in DC for the upteenth time.)
== Innovative ideas ==
Solar City is taking the step I’ve longed for — they are going to roll out a roofing integrated product. “It's not a thing on the roof. It is the roof, which is a quite difficult engineering challenge and not something that is available anywhere else," Elon Musk said.
China announced plans to create a human occupied station 3000 meters below the surface of the ocean, to develop methods for exploiting undersea resources.
Wow. What an age we live in. Paraplegics regain some feeling & movement after using brain-machine interfaces.
Though there’s a need to tease out certain selection effects, if appears that eating more protein from plant sources was associated with a lower risk of death, while eating more protein from animals was associated with a higher risk of death. Synergistically, the same shift in behavior can help the planet, too.  Still… I wonder if fish protein rates differently.  Other studies seem to say so.
Experiments at the South Pole have apparently ruled out a fourth type of “sterile” neutrino.  
Dassi, a UK bike manufacturer, claims a bicycle frame frame that weighs 750g, although it says that this could be more than halved to just 350g at some point in the future, incorporating super strong graphene layers amid the carbon composites. Look forward to bikes you can lift with a finger, or cars that weigh hundreds of pounds vs. thousands.
An Oslo-based startup called Iris AI ( is building an AI science assistant. Iris is built with combination of neural and statistical models to help researchers and corporate innovators identify knowledge for their R&D project, PhD or innovation process across research disciplines. How it works: Drop in a research paper abstract and Iris builds you a visual results map letting you browse the most relevant open-access research on the topic of your interest.  Someone try it and report back here!
== Science and the world ==
Fascinating and fun… “We finally know who forged Piltdown Man, one of science’s most notorious hoaxes.”  Oh BTW… want some musical fun from a great classic? Mike Oldfield's spectacular album Tubular Bells has a 'Caveman' part known as 'The Piltdown Man.' It is way cool.
A lovely essay by a physicist who offered to consult for amateurs (sometimes – if unfairly – called ‘crackpots) and steering them toward either refining their ideas or seeing the flaws. It’s a fun piece. Scientists should learn from it and we all should have to spend 50 hours doing this, in our apprenticeship.  But what really stands out is the core lesson: that scientists have no objection to amateurs in principle.  We  all know about Humason and many other gifted amateurs who won names in the annals of science.  Most working scientists haven’t the time and many lack the patience… but in a burgeoning Age of Amateurs, making this kind of connections may be increasingly important.  
And finally...

"The human footprint continues to expand, with three quarters of earth's land surface now experiencing measurable pressures from buildings, roads, crops, pastures and other human structures and activities, according to a new report. Those pressures are building most intensely in the few remaining wild areas of high biodiversity, it notes. But the report also finds an encouraging trend: in recent years, growth in the footprint has lagged far behind population and economic growth. From 1993 to 2009, population grew 23 percent, and the global economy by 153 percent–but human influence on land went up only 9 percent. The mismatch suggests that increasing urbanization and more sustainable use of resources may be buying time ." -- from Kevin Krajick, in
We need to remember what's at stake. Anyone participating in the War on Science, or swallowing any of the propaganda put out by media that hate the knowledge professions, is actively hurting your grand-children and our world.  There is no compromise here.  Any political party that has collaborated with the War on Science needs to be torched. To the ground.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:
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