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Author Event This Friday at the Montage Cafe, Greenville, OH, 7pm

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 12:03
The headline says it: I’ll be doing my first stand-alone event of 2015 locally, at the Montage Cafe in Greenville, this Friday. The doors open for the event at 6pm, and I’ll start my part of the thing at 7. What will I be doing? Well, I’ll be reading brand new stuff that I’ve never … Continue reading Author Event This Friday at the Montage Cafe, Greenville, OH, 7pm →

Sunset 1/19/15

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 22:50
A pretty one tonight. Mind you, I don’t show off the unpretty ones.

SETI and Libertarianism

Contrary Brin - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 22:32
What better launching point for this topic than my previous posting about science fiction Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein, who both lifted our gaze skyward and exemplified what I deem to be an older and far saner form of "libertarianism" than today's culti-like version of the movement.  

Was that a provocative-enough opening?  Well gird yourselves, because it's all about life and destiny and the Galaxy.  There's a whole lot more at stake than just you and me and Earth.  Indeed, it boils down to - forgive me - the nature of Existence

What can the absence of SETI extraterrestrials tell us about human history and politics?
Routinely, I am called a “liberal” or even “leftist” or “commie,” because I denounce the treason-drenched insanity that spreads outward from today's Fox’d American right. 

Anyone who follows me at all chuckles at that knee-jerk response. No science fiction author, for example, speaks at a wider variety of gatherings and political groups, sometimes indeed poking at left-wing shibboleths.  

Indeed, I talk regularly at libertarian gatherings, like Freedom Fest, and once keynoted an LP convention.True, I speak as a heretic, speaking up for Smithian flat-fair-open competition, as opposed to loony-randian solipsism and propertarian worship of oligarchy - the 6000 year sickness that historically ruined markets and freedom.
Still, grant this much even to Rand-Rothbard cultists: unlike conservatives... and many leftists… they still love to argue!  They are probably better than you, in that one respect. They welcome a challenge and keep inviting me back to disturb their incantations.
My article in the latest issue of Cato Unbound discusses "Libertarian aspects of the search for Extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)." 
How's that for a juxtaposition?  In fact, the essay gets to the libertarian aspects only in part 4. Till then, you get a digested version of my JBIS treatise about the current state of SETI -- and recent foolish attempts to "beam messages" to ET.  Come get perspective on our place in the Cosmos!
As for the other aspect in part 4? SETI and... libertarianism???
Well. In the Cato article, I lay out today's SETI/METI debates and the Fermi Paradox... the mystery of why we (so-far) see no sign of advanced alien civilizations.  

I then show how the struggle within libertarianism could be about issues far wider and deeper than most ever bother to realize. Like our galactic destiny.

Just one of many aspects... what if feudalism turns out to be just as compelling a social driver in other species, out there, as it has been in 99% of human cultures that achieved metals and agriculture? Given how repressive almost all feudal-oligarchic cultures have been, and how anti-science, could it be that most fail to spread to the stars because of such a simple -- but darwinistically compelling -- flaw?

I have catalogued a hundred "fermi" theories.  Frankly, I deem this one to be in the top ten! There are a few others that I rank higher. Go ahead and give the Cato article a look... then comment here. 

Only know this... you are a member of a rare civilization that loves argument, that fosters it.

That may be our trick.  Our Secret Sauce.

== Following though == 

See also: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.

PS... this shows that you folks who call me "just another liberal" are dopes.  As are those who try to label me on the other side. 

I can turn my political head. Can you?

It's not my fault that most of you have bought into Political Fused - Spine Disease and can only look in one direction.  When Big Brother can and will tray to launch himself from any direction. Any part of the "spectrum" where angry people convince themselkves that ends justify means.

Moreover, while I consider today's right to be the sicker and more dangerous treason-to-reason at this moment... that does not make me forget there is a ditzy-far-far-left. They control nothing, certainly not the Democratic Party. But I am old enough to remember the USSR.

Snap out of your dogmas! Our descendants... and possibly the fate of the galaxy... depend on it.

 ==   ==

See more on:

Libertarianism: Finding a New Path --

SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life. 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 1/19/15

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 17:22
And now I’m catching up to new books and ARCs that have arrived here at the Scalzi Compound since the turn of the year. Here’s the first batch! See something that catches your fancy? Tell me what it is in the comments.

Back from Confusion ’15

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 20:52
  I attended the Confusion convention the first time in 2005; Old Man’s War had just come out and I wanted to see what a convention that was not a WorldCon was like. I picked Confusion because it was relatively nearby (3 hours driving, which is nothing to a native Californian) and because it looked … Continue reading Back from Confusion ’15 →

Robert Heinlein and looking Beyond This Horizon

Contrary Brin - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 20:16

Robert A. Heinlein was a question-asker. And much less "political" in any classic terms, than most later critics would perceive and/or be willing to admit. Sure, he expressed countless political opinions!  But these often contradicted musings that he offered in other novels. While it's true he had a general "libertarian" bent, that leaning was in directions so diametrically different than today's dominant "libertarian cult" of selfish solipsism that I deem it likely he would have - by now - returned to the Party that he worked for, most of his life -- the DP.

But hold that thought.  In honor of the imminent release of Part Two of the Heinlein biography, I want to offer up some much more general observations about this truly remarkable character, who changed many lives and transformed science fiction forever.Fist-off: I consider Robert Heinlein’s most fascinating novel to be his prescriptive utopia Beyond This Horizon. (A "prescriptive utopia" is a tome wherein an author “prescribes” what he or she believes a better civilization would look like.) 

While Heinlein did opine about society in many books, from Starship Troopers to Glory Road, (and, as I said, in many cases each contradicting the other), it is in Beyond This Horizon that you’ll find him clearly stating ... This Is The Way I Think Things Ought To Be. And it turns out to be a fascinating, surprisingly nuanced view of our potential future.Like most Heinlein novels, Beyond This Horizon divides pretty evenly into two parts -- one vigorous and active, followed by a lazily conversational part. It is only the second half of this book that I hold in high regard. Heinlein wrote the first half at behest of the famed editor of Astounding Magazine, John W. Campbell, who was then holding forth on one of his favorite themes . . . that “an armed society is a polite society.”In pushing this strange notion, Campbell was behaving very much like his arch-nemesis, Karl Marx. A few anecdotes and a good just-so story outweigh a hundred historical counter-examples. 

But no matter. Heinlein did as good a job of conveying Campbell’s weirdly counterfactual idea* in fiction as anyone could. So much so that the first half of Beyond This Horizon has been cited by state legislators in both Texas and Florida, proposing that all citizens go around armed! Naturally, this leads (paradoxically) to exactly what you'd expect, the opposite of Campbell's forecast, a wild shoot-em-up, in the first half of Beyond This Horizon.  An irony which RAH suddenly veers away from, at the midway point.This division between halves is typical of Heinlein novels and it makes reading them an interesting, multi-phase experience. Generally, RAH was a master at starting his tales–in fact, I recommend that all neo writers study carefully the first few pages of any Heinlein book, for his spectacularly effective scene-setting and establishment of point-of-view. (The opening scene of The Star Beast is the best example of show-don’t-tell that anyone can find.) Alas, most of his novels reach a vigorous climax, concluding part one… and then peter out disappointingly in the last half, amid a morass of garrulous, often contradictory finger-wagging and speculative-blather.This is where Beyond This Horizon reverses all expectations. Sure, part one is action and part two is talk, as usual. Only in this case, the action is tediously silly... and the talk-talk is riveting! In fact, this is where Robert Heinlein displays how broad his intellectual reach can take us.Here - rather than in his novels Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Landwe see the clearest ever expression of his political philosophy, which is demonstrably neither “fascist” nor anywhere near as conservative as some simple-minded critics might have us think.

== Heinlein's Visions of the Future ==Indeed, Heinlein's famed libertarianism had limits, moderated and enriched by compassion, pragmatism and a profound faith that human beings can improve themselves, gradually, by their own diligence and goodwill. A libertarianism of the compassionately practical variety preached by Adam Smith and the American Founders, not by psychopathic lunatics like Murray Rothbard or Ayn Rand.I was amazed by many other aspects of this wonderful book-within-a-book, especially by Heinlein’s startlingly simple suggestion for how to deal with the moral quandaries of genetic engineering — what’s now called the “Heinlein Solution” — allowing couples to select which naturally produced sperm and ova they want to combine into a child, but forbidding them to actually alter the natural human genome.Consider the elegance of this proposed compromise. Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally. Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. (No fashionable feathers or lizard tails, just kids who are the healthiest and smartest and strongest the parents might have had, anyway.) It is a notion so insightful that biologists 40 years later have only recently started to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.When it comes to politics, his future society (in the prescriptive Beyond This Horizon) is, naturally, a descendant of the America Heinlein loved above all things. But it has evolved in two directions at once. Anything having to do with human creativity, ambition or enterprise is wildly competitive and nearly unregulated -- though with no feudal meddling, inherited status or presumptions based on race or gender or class. 

But where it comes to human needs, the situation is wholly socialistic! One character even says, in a shocked tone of voice: “Naturally, food and shelter and education are free! What kind of people do you take us for?”Are you surprised? None of this fits into the dogma of Ayn Rand, whose followers have taken over the libertarian movement. If Robert Heinlein was a libertarian, it was clearly of a more subtle kind, less historically or anthropologically naive, more compassionate… and more interesting.But here’s the crux. For the most part, with Robert Heinlein, you felt he wasn’t so much lecturing or preaching as offering to argue with you! His books let you fume and mutter and debate with this bright, cantankerous, truly American soul, long after his body expired. 

Indeed, this is why I seem to be far, far more forgiving of Paul Veerhoeven's Starship Troopers flick, than almost anyone else. Veerhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier put more actual lines of dialogue from the book into characters' mouths than almost any other novelization you could name! The characters speak to every value that RAH (experimentally) mused in the novel... to which Veerhoeven answered with twists of irony and discomforting symbolism, as if saying to Heinlein "all right, sir, you get the words -- and the characters believe them all! But I still find it worrisome, and my camera will show a darker side."

To which I imagine RAH answering: "Fair enough... that is, if I had been around to offer a counter-rebuttal!

That's the part I wanted. And maybe I'll put it in a story. But it is this joy in argument – in posing and chewing over thought experiments – that I want to conclude with.  It is the very soul of what it means to be a writer or reader of genuine science fiction.  For SF is supposed to be humanity's Department of Advanced Exploration, Thought Experimentation, and Argumentation About The Future!

(Amid a plague of simplistic dystopias and apocalypses that poke at no new failure modes but simply offer cheap, lazy ways to put cliched "chosen ones" in peril...that mission of sci fi appears to have been forgotten by all but a few, alas. One way to tell?  Is the hero(ine) a "chosen one"? Are the great masses of surrounding citizens nothing more than bleating-useless sheep?  See more on this.) 

That is why it's dismally unfair to take a true sci fi artist like Heinlein and dismiss him as all one-thing or another. The "fascist" appellation might feel good to you, when you compare Starship Troopers to Farnham's Freehold, but it it is stupidly simplistic when you contrast with Double Star and Stranger in a Strange Land

True science fiction seeks a positive sum game. The gedankenexperiment aims to probe a section of possibility space. The writer's next exploration may go to a completely different part of the frontier... beyond this horizon.

== Heinlein: In Dialogue with his century ==Finally, for more about Heinlein, see the extensive new two-volume biography - from Tor Books - by William H. Patterson, Jr.:Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Vol. 1 (1907 - 1948): Learning Curve., 
followed by volume two:Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Vol. 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948 to 1988.Patterson (who lamentably passed away recently) is off-target or a bit clumsy in places. But he did us all a service by elucidating this uniquely American life.
== addendum on guns as enforcers of a "polite society" ==

* The basic notion of Beyond This Horizon and even Campbell is that the best protection for freedom and rights must be rooted in the individual feeling confidently empowered to defend those rights herself or himself.  That notion underlies reciprocal accountability which is the underlying force within our enlightenment arenas... markets, democracy, science, courts and sports.  As I demonstrate in The Transparent Society.

But it is simple-minded to the extreme, to actually believe that can happen... via guns.  Just slapping arms on every hip will not make a "polite society"... not overnight.  We are still an impulsive, emotion-drenched species and far too many of us (indeed a whole lot of young males) respond to emotional challenge by grabbing up the nearest weapon. This experiment ran, in the Wild West, and the death rate was prodigious. 

Sure, if we did this, we would become more polite!  After a thousand years of blazing away at each other, the courteous and slow-to-anger would have lots more kids, passing on those traits! But till then? Sorry, our accountability arenas -- markets, democracy, science, courts and sports -- use more subtle means. But not all is loast for Campbell and Heinlein!  Because we can do this!  We can go around "armed" and hold each other instantly accountable and enforce politeness...

...with cameras.  It is happening already. The violent (even cops) and bullies and even the noxiously rude are getting comeuppance... only with this major difference from guns: that the quickest draw doesn't win. And if you "shoot" unfairly, there is a later chance to apologize.  

Try doing that with a pistola, Tex. 

Oh... see my rational suggestion of an actual, feasible compromise on gun laws.  Won't happen, of course.  Too much crazy. And RAH has joined Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

My talk on the Internet of Things, wealth disparity, surveillance, evidence-based policy and the future of the world

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 08:38

Here's the audio from last night's talk on the Internet of Things at Central European University in Budapest! It was recorded by the Mindenki Joga Radio Show.

The Big Idea: Red Equinox

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 07:55
Sometimes a terrible event can inspire authors not just to create fiction but to look at their environs a whole new way. Douglas Wynne explains how an attack on his town brought about his latest novel Red Equinox — and a reevalution of his city. DOUGLAS WYNNE: On April 19, 2013 I sat at the … Continue reading The Big Idea: Red Equinox →

First-Pass Oscar Predictions, 2015

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 11:26
In a past life I was a full-time film critic and still keep up with the field. So every year when the Oscar nominations come out, I predict what will win in the six major categories, first fresh out of the gate, then again just before the ceremony, to factor in changing circumstances. The awards … Continue reading First-Pass Oscar Predictions, 2015 →

So what is on the Congressional plate?

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 15:40
== Outcomes in Question ==
I frequently demand of our friends who are still loyal Republicans to name any positive, assertive steps that the party of Bush and Cheney will actually attempt to accomplish, now that they control both houses of Congress. 

Nu? Repeal Obamacare? Puh-lease.  The GOP leadership never wanted it repealed, since it is their own… damn… plan -- cloned from Heritage plans, Romney-care, Gingrichcare and the GOP platform.  They just want to yell and pretend, while letting it work.

Seriously, I ask again! Given that every GOP-run Congress since 1996 scored among the laziest and least productive in the nation’s history, what’s on their agenda now?
Deregulation?  Republicans sure do talk and talk about that! So is it strange that, despite many periods when they held every rein of power, they have only ever deregulated one industry? Wall Street/Finance (with results we all know)?

By comparison, dems have deregulated eight. I listed them elsewhere: (e.g. the ICC, CAB, ATT, and the Freaking INTERNET...)

Oh, Republicans like to NIBBLE deregulate.  Never eliminating bureaucracies, but reducing their effectiveness. Now they want to retract their own "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) and weaken its testing standards, leaving each test to the state. Why? 

 Because All the red states (except Uta and somewhat Texas) are doing worse in student testing than predicted, because their schools have been torched. They test far worse than most Blue States and it's getting worse(r) daily. NCLB teststing lays out the embarrassment clear, so they must now abandon their own baby...

== At last, a sincere deregulation by the GOP? ==

Oh, but patience is rewarded! Suddenly, among Republican leaders, there is talk about a great big, bad regulatory target! Actually repealing and eliminating an actual bureaucracy!

  The Export Import Bank...

...which helps US companies to compete with mercantilist exporters like China. Okay but can we afford it when times are tight and when deficits are, er, um... steeply declining?

Okay, then, Mr. Boehner. What's the bottom line here?  How much is the EIB costing us?

Fact check: the EIB regularly pays billions in profits to the U.S. Treasury, having only lost money in one year out of the last 30.  

Please dig that again. The EIB both expands U.S. exports and makes a profit for the taxpayer. But suddenly the USEIB is the devil! How can that be? Why is the EIB the GOP's top target... since they "deregulated" away the Congressional Office of Science and Technology Assessment?

 Because the tech companies that the EIB mostly benefits are generally democratic-leaning while the GOP-leaning corporations — in finance and resource (theft) extraction — don’t use the USEIB much.
Give it a read. And yes, I am impressed that the laziest and most corrupt politicians in US history actually have lifted their gaze to want to actually do something!  Something wrongheaded, venial and dumb. But something.

== About that "lazy" accusation ==
Already the House leadership has begun setting expectations, making clear they plan to blame President Obama for the coming two years of Congressional noise and inaction. They know folks have started noticing that...

... recent GOP Congresses have been the laziest in US history, holding the fewest hearings and introducing the fewest bills since 1792. Despite all their anger they have even issued among the lowest numbers of subpoenas!  Without the utterly banal/trivial Benghazi and IRS probes? Almost none at all.

Just to be clear.  For 6 years, under G.W. Bush, the Republican Party (and the Murdoch-Koch-Adelson-Saudi owners) controlled ALL branches of the US government.  They could have done anything on their agenda, anything at all. 

 What did they give us? Two trillion dollar wars, a tsunami tax gift for the uber-rich that achieved zero supply-side aims, deregulation of Banking/WallStreet (leading to disaster)… plus Medicare Part D, the only entitlement that passed with zero provision for paying for it.  NAME ONE OTHER major action taken by the GOP during the long stretch when they had total power.
It’s one thing to be crazy, dogmatic servants of oligarchy with a long list of social-political grievances.  It is another thing to yammer your grievances endlessly — while being too lazy to lift a finger about any of them.

== Their one positive-assertive agenda item ==

  Any positives? Certainly not the Infrastructure Bill to repair 10,000 decaying bridges and put 100,000 men to work, generating high velocity, demand side economic activity. If that had passed 3 years ago, we'd be all the way into a boom, by now, and the results of the last election... oh, I get it. Pretty clever, guys. Treason. But clever.

Keystone. That's it. The only positive-assertive thing. Keystone! Subsidize petro zillionaires to ship Canadian tar over the most vulnerable and precious agricultural aquifer in the world and stink our air, to they can ship it to China... and what's OUR cut? Zero.

But at least Keystone is positive assertive!  

Now name one other positive assertive item. One. even one.  Just one.
== Anything else? ==

One hundred percent of newly elected Republican Senators have agreed to vote to eliminate the food stamps program.  “Small businesses and the American people cannot afford President Obama’s countless new regulations and tax increases. There is a right way and a wrong to improve our country’s welfare system, and the President’s policies just aren’t working. We need to put poor people first and lower costs,” Senator Gardner said in a statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. healthcare spending grew 3.6 percent in 2013, the slowest rate on record since 1960, federal health officials reported Wednesday.
== Guaranteed NOT to be on the agenda ==

2014 is in the running to be the hottest year globally on record, according to the latest data from the Japan Meteorological Agency.... the previous record years of 1998, 2005 and 2010 will be overtaken by a narrow margin.
Oh, by the way.... “The West Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Retreating at a Much Higher Rate Than Previously Thought."The only way to ignore all this is to join the cult of “scientists are sniveling liar/cheater/coward/lemmings — ALL of them! Who scrabble after “grants” that one side does NOT have to list or point to or document.  Because vague is good!  As is belittling the smartest, wisest and most competitive humans our species ever produced.”

== My own top priority ==

Okay so now Ted (Joe McCarthy's clone) Cruz heads the committee overseeing NASA? Ooooog. My own priority it adamant. Mr. Obama stop letting them attach lunacies to must-pass budget extensions. (The GOP Congress has not passed an ACTUAL budget in ages.) Me? I'd veto every single thing till they reinstate the Congressional Office of Science and Technology Assessment. Destroying OSTA was the smoking gun that this was no longer Barry Goldwater's GOP.

It is the biggest Know-Nothing movement since the 1840s.

 (Join the petition to restore West Virginia's science standards in schools. )
 == Krugman on the Economy ==
Paul Krugman explains How Soaring Inequality May Lead the World Down the Path to Fascism: Whether your reflexes are "left" or "right," you should be disturbed by the picture painted here, and willing to ponder it.  You conservatives, when do you picture the ideal hey-day of capitalism that delivers for everyone? The fifties and sixties?  Certainly our parents in the Greatest Generation delivered one thing - a stunningly rapid rate of middle class growth, a burst of wealth and education that their children then used, to break old habits like racism, sexism etc.  The left is insane to ignore that it was wealth and middle class well-being that fostered those reforms...
...but the right is even crazier, to ignore cause and effect -- that capitalism was at its flattest, healthiest, fairest and most productive under regulatory and tax regimes instituted by the Greatest Generation's favorite person, the man they adored above all others, but whom Fox and its Murdochian-Saudi owners want you to envision as Satan.
          Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In contrast, for close to thirty years, Republicans have told us..."Tax-break gifts to the rich will make EVERYONE rich and erase government deficits!"  Supply Side VoodooEconomics (SSVE) has been tried over and over, and not ONE prediction ever came true -- and did  I mention not ever?  Scientists know what to make of such a theory... which is why the Right now wages war on science.
You liberals, use this.  Hammer it. Flat-open-fair capitalism is one of the main VICTIMS of the current oligarchic putsch.  Study Adam Smith, who founded liberalism AND libertarianism. And stop listening to your mad leftist allies.  FDR saved us from both insanities, communism and fascism. Focus on him and on Smith, and you can demolish the Fox-oligarch bullshit mountain.
see:Liberals Must Reclaim Adam Smith. 

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

The Big Idea: Greer Macallister

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 09:18
In some ways, writing a novel is a bit of magic — you sweep someone away to another time or place using only the power of words. When Greer Macallister was writing The Magicians Lie, about an actual, professional magician, there was another level of magic to consider — as well as some intriguing practicalities. … Continue reading The Big Idea: Greer Macallister →

A Cat and His Box

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 22:56
Zeus the cat, shown here being fooled into attacking the underside of a box by the scratching sounds my wife is making, has become quite attached to the self-same box. The box is the one my most recent desktop computer came in; I pulled the computer out of it and the kept the box for a … Continue reading A Cat and His Box →

The Big Idea: Marcus Sedgwick

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 01/12/2015 - 10:10
You ask questions, sure. But have you asked The Question? You know, the question that’s so important it requires capital letters. In this Big Idea, Marcus Sedgwick is addressing The Question, and how it relates to his latest novel, The Gates of Heaven. MARCUS SEDGWICK: “What are we doing here?” A pertinent question at times, … Continue reading The Big Idea: Marcus Sedgwick →

Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/11/2015 - 13:56
Disorganized because every time I try to organize my thoughts on these topics recently they kind of squirm away. So, fine, disorganized it is, then. 1. As noted in one of the tweets shown above, as a newspaper journalist, as well as, you know, writing here, I’ve done my share of enraging people with words, by … Continue reading Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death →

The “Duh” Factor

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 01/10/2015 - 18:10
Another possible measure of advancing age: I wrote 15,000 words this week, which was good, but at the end of each day my brain felt a bit wrung out, and today, when I’m not writing on the book but did want to write about politics a bit, my brain was still a bit mush. Whoa … Continue reading The “Duh” Factor →

That Time I Remixed a Depeche Mode Song

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/09/2015 - 23:46
More than a dozen years ago (yikes) Depeche Mode did a contest where they invited people to remix their then-latest single “I Feel Love,” for some prize I do not remember because, yeah, like I was going to win. Nevertheless I’m a Depeche Mode fan and I thought it would be fun to take a … Continue reading That Time I Remixed a Depeche Mode Song →

Holy Cow, I Forgot to Post Today

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/09/2015 - 21:49
I’ve been busy! Writing novels! By way of apology, have this excellent Joan Armatrading song. She’s great.

Omniveillance and Ubiquitous Law Enforcement

Contrary Brin - Fri, 01/09/2015 - 18:33
I will comment soon about the tragedy in Paris, where we lived for a couple of years, back in the 1990s. I'll have some yin-yang, big-picture perspectives.  But first...

From Orwell to Vinge, authors have long suggested that technology might empower future tyrants.  Indeed, it goes back further, to (for example) the tech-driven cat and mouse struggles between Czarist secret police and underground rebel cells.  Indeed cypher-and-surveillance tussles have been ageless.
But Vernor Vinge made clear that omni-veillance – and (as I show in Sundiver and The Transparent Society) the possible arrival of genuine lie detectors and personality testers – may take us into the era of “ubiquitous law enforcement.”

At which point, we still don't have Big Brother.  For that to happen - or indeed, to avoid him forever - one basic choice must be made.
== The Problem of technological-social control ==
To set the problem in its most-modern perspective, let me recommend aninteresting article, Ai Weiwei is Living in Our Future by Hans de Zwart, about the onrushing age of surveillance. Take this excerpt:
It is not only the government who is following us and trying to influence our behavior. In fact, it is the standard business model of the Internet. Our behaviour on the Internet is nearly always mediated by a third party. Facebook and WhatsApp sit between you and your best friend, Spotify sits between you and Beyoncé, Netflix sits between you and Breaking Bad and Amazon sits between you and however many Shades of Grey. The biggest commercial intermediary is Google who by now decides, among other things how I walk from the station to the theatre, in which way I will treat the symptoms of my cold, whether an email I’ve sent to somebody else should be marked as spam, where best I can book a hotel, and whether or not I have an appointment next week Thursday.”
Or this: after describing how Disney tracks patrons by RFID… and folks track their pets and kids… 

“If your child is ignoring your calls and doesn’t reply to your texts, you can use the ‘Ignore no more’ app. It will lock your child’s phone until they call you back.”
The author does one of the best jobs I have seen, at conveying the rapid advance of commercially available surveillance and nosy sites like Tindr and Grindr. 

“It should be clear by now that it is only a matter of time before the storage and power technologies have advanced far enough to continuously film everything and to store it forever.”
This piece is thoroughly-prepared, rich with examples from around the world and vivid illustrations.
== We’d all love to see your plan… ==
Alas, things start declining in Mr. de Zwart’s article as soon as he cites Dave Eggers’s book The Circle, (which I reviewed earlier), without mentioning that it plays with a very, very heavily loaded deck. For a writer who just finished telling us about casinos, this lapse of attention is pretty unforgivable. 
De Zwart goes on to cite me and Kevin Kelly and the notion that citizens might retain freedom, escaping such traps by exposing them and looking back at power. Which is — ironically — exactly what Hans de Zwart tries to achieve with his article. 
Ponder that, a moment. His aim in writing the piece was to shine light on dangerous trends, with a presumed goal of altering the course of affairs, thereby. How is that ironic? Because Mr. De Zwart then turns around to say:
“With the inescapable number of cameras and other sensors in the public space they will soon have the means to enforce absolute compliance. I am therefore not a strong believer in the ‘sousveillance’ and ‘coveillance’ discourse. I think we need to solve this problem in another way.”
Truly? Having spent all that time, trying to achieve exactly what Kelly and I recommend, by shining your own light at problems and eliciting greater citizen awareness? After all that effort to shine light on power, now you are about to suggest we all turn away from sousveillance and awareness and try something else?
Well, well, please elaborate! We are interested in your solution. Or — as Jon Stewart often croons, leaning forward with chin in hand: “Go on!”
Sigh and alack, it is always thus. At the end of these jeremiads, they fall apart.
After many pages of cogent alarums, de Zwart lightly and blithely cites Nasim Taleb’s call for social resilience — a theme that I have pushed far longer than Taleb — and basically concludes:
“Yeah… that’s the ticket. Let’s all be resilient!”
Um. Thanks. Yes. And breathe air. And rely on gravity.
But do read the article! Just don’t count on getting any answers at the end. Kevin and I at least have a suggestion. It happens to be precisely the method that got us the freedom we now have, to read and ponder essays like Mr. de Zwart’s… and his own freedom to write them.
Indeed, it is precisely the method Mr. de Zwart attempts to use, in this fascinating (read for the details!) but ultimately disappointing piece. 
== Again from the Transparency Front ==
Yet more evidence that hiding is not the best approach: U.S. Postal Service 'mail imaging' program used for law enforcement, surveillance. The metadata recording thing applies to snail-mail too, evidently. All mail gets its picture taken and stored for later perusal. As with phones, a warrant is required to see the contents, but not to see the outer edges.  And you plan to stop this... how? The irony, if you pass a law to keep elites from snooping, that law only works if you are truly free and the elites are alreadyaccountable enough to obey laws. 
Otherwise, they just chuckle and pretend to obey the "law." Accountability is a prerequisite for privacy laws to work.  And you only get accountability from... transparency.
Oh, let's finish with some miscellany: here’s a first scientific report showing that body cameras can prevent unacceptable use-of-force.
Look up one of the most important and heroic organizations on the planet that is fighting for transparency and accountability — the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.  Look at the amazing things they are doing and the uphill battle that we face, in preventing a worldwide dive into crime-based feudalism.  Get on their mailing list. Even that helps.

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A Question For Discussion This Fair Evening

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 19:03
Which is: I was at the dentist’s yesterday to get a small filling done, and while I was there the dentist, his assistant and I had a discussion about painkillers, and the fact that some people — not a huge number but not an infinitesimally small number either — prefer not to use them when … Continue reading A Question For Discussion This Fair Evening →

Monty Python and the Holy Livetweet

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 00:39
Or, what I did with my Wednesday evening. Watching something called "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Anyone heard of it? Is it any good? Looks historical! — John Scalzi (@scalzi) January 8, 2015 I am assured by Twitter that Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I have never seen before, is 100% historically … Continue reading Monty Python and the Holy Livetweet →
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