Friday, May 22, 2015

Space: Past and Future

At NIAC -- NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts group -- we aim to nurture bold ideas with small, seed grants. Have a look at this year's phase one recipients, including some that are darned interesting, daring, even risky. And you are a member of a civilization that does stuff like this. 

See also endeavors like this one, learning to create a closed ecosystem on Mars...  And these, that are a bit farther along than our little (but bolder) NIAC grants!

Speaking of which... and on a somewhat bigger scale... congratulations to Jeff Bezos and his team at Blue Origin, for their successful test launch of the New Shepard suborbital vehicle and capsule.  It will be an important element of our renewed-confident adventures as a bold, interplanetary species. 

== Looking back on the Hubble ==

Happy 25th Birthday, Hubble.

The Hubble space telescope achieved genuine wonders, that others have certainly noted.  Among my many favorites were the arrival of space images -- such as the famous Eagle Nebula -- that gave us all a truly three-dimensional feel. You could clearly see and envision that this column of brilliantly illuminated gas and dust stands glowing in front of that proto-planetary system being-born... and then somehow you would manage to wrap your mind around the multi-parsec scale of it all.

Helping to determine the age and destiny of the universe, that's a lot to get for our tax dollars. But again, others will talk about that.

What I find almost equally fascinating is the back story of this prodigious scientific instrument, revealed when the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) suddenly handed over to NASA two more Hubbles!  

Well, two space-ready telescopes with identical structure and mirrors, but lacking many components and any scientific instruments.  The surprise gift revealed to us taxpayers an interesting truth -- that Hubble was based directly on a family of U.S. spy satellites. Should we be surprised, then, that a mirror originally designed to look downward at Earth suffered some problems, when it was repurposed to stare into deep space?

What kinds of synergies and conflicts are thus revealed? Was Hubble meant, all the time, to serve as a cover story for intelligence RandD?  Did this design overlap serve to reduce Hubble's original cost, in economies of scale? Or was NASA, instead, subsidizing the NRO?  I don't expect to ever learn the answers. But it does suggest that we keep our eyes open for other coincidences, in the future.

NASA officials view these "added Hubbles" as mixed blessings. They fret that these telescopes might draw vigor away from the next great leap -- the James Webb Space Telescope.  While the new pair are worth hundreds and millions of dollars and will let us expand astronomy, properly equipping them and launching them will cost hundreds more. And of course, there are tussles over what kinds of science they should be applied-to. Such as, for example, keeping one in reserve, in case the Webb fails?

Bottom line, this "problem" is our fault, for allowing science to be "warred-upon," instead of shrugging off the dismal cynics... and electing Congresses that see value in the future.

No, we aren't leaving the Hubble Era. Even after the original is allowed to plummet Earthward -- (I'd rather use electrodynamic tethers to send it outward, in a parking orbit, for late-21st Century hobbyists to refurbish) -- it seems that Hubble's sisters will still be working for us. Obsolete? Never heard of the word. 

We can move forward on many fronts, at the same time. We can be larger than we are. 

That was the dream... and it will be, again.

== Looking toward asteroids and the moon ==

Planetary Resources, founded by Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, aims to pave the way to humanity mining asteroids for vast wealth… as the B612 Foundation hopes to detect and track asteroids that threaten civilization’s survival… a real case of synergy of purpose. (I've been helping both.)

 Now news that Planetary Resource’s latest test prototype of systems for the Arkyd exploration probe was successfully lofted into orbit aboard the recent SpaceX crew resupply mission to the ISS.  Huzzah.  

Meanwhile....“The incoming leader of the European Space Agency is keen on establishing an international base on the moon as a next-step outpost beyond the International Space Station (ISS).” Oh, but sorry, this is just plain wrong.  Probably an effort to stand out, without doing any cost-benefit appraisal… which would quickly conclude that the Moon – a sterile desert without any (presently plausible) use, void of applicable resources, at the bottom of a deep gravity well – is not our best-next destination in space.  

(Indeed, George W. Bush’s call to return there fit into his pattern of never, even once, setting course in a direction that would do America or the West the slightest good. Not once, in any way, ever.  Name a counter-example. One.)

Look, I am fine with finding ways to use the moon. You got a use for Helium3?  Fine.  Go view my posting “Lift the Earth” to see how I want to use the far side!  But there’s nothing there that this generation can use.  One small asteroid can provide water for fuel.  Ten years later, another will crash the platinum and gold and silver and rare-earth markets by providing all we need. So much you'll drive a gold-plated car.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A look back at our origins

We are the first human civilization to remove our envisioned "golden age" from an imagined-nostalgic past and instead plant that better-than-the-present era (tentatively) in a potential future.

The irony? We can only achieve that great accomplishment if we learn as much as possible, about where we came from.  How we (species, society, individual) came about. What parts of our heritage must be overcome, and what hidden, potential gifts have yet to be realized, or even discovered.

Exploring all of this is exciting stuff. And so, in honor of a newly minted Physical Anthropologist we happen to know, let's start as deep in time as possible..... how about a newly discovered missing link between prokaryotes and eukaryotes? Amazing. Of the three major super-domains of cellular life on Earth – bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes (which include metazoan, multi-celled organisms, like us), it now appears that we are more closely related to the archaea, which were discovered as a separate clade not so long ago and were at-first thought to be a relic corner of life’s diversity. This sure puts Greg Bear’s weird novel VITALS in a new light. 

== Galaxies and deadly rhythms! ==

Did Dark Matter Doom the Dinosaurs? “We know there’s a lot of dark matter in the Milky Way, and it’s possible dark matter isn’t evenly distributed but occurs in dense clumps. Maybe our solar system passes through clumps of it periodically." If those clumps are dense enough to wreak havoc, they could knock comets loose and cause collisions...

... or else maybe heat Earth’s interior and cause massive volcanic eruptions?  Or somehow set loose all sorts of other species-obliterating disasters. That’s the premise behind a recent paper by New York University geologist Michael R. Rampino.

Back in 1984 I had an article in ANALOG that calculated a different hypothesis to explain a 26 to 30 million year extinction cycle . What if such a recurring pattern were caused not by the Earth passing through the galactic disk, but by something  'lapping" us, as it orbits, farther in toward Galactic center?  The article was "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kiloparsecs," Analog's most popular science bit, that year. Almost any extinction cycle  might correlate with some Lapping Object, which might sear a swathe of devastation on its way around the galaxy, wreaking some degree of havoc, each time it sweeps past our solar system.

I mention this to suggest that there are many potential ways to get galactic time scales in cycles of extinctions.

Speaking of mass extinction events… O-o-okay... folks at CERN now say they might make micro-black holes after all.  And there's nothing to worry about!  In fact, my logical side is not worried.  

But still... I described one potential outcome... in EARTH.

== Becoming Human ==

Do tools make man? Pushing our origins back even further...the world's oldest stone tools have been found in Kenya: stone flakes and anvils found off the shores of Lake Turkana date back more than 3.3 million years ago -- half a million years before the appearance of our genus Homo.

Another re-assessment of our ancient family tree comes from a partial jawbone discovered in Ethiopia, radiometrically dating to nearly 2.8 million years ago -- which makes it the oldest known fossil of our genus Homo. 

How has biology shaped humanity? How did humans rise to dominance on planet earth? In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harari tracks the evolution of homo sapiens from the Paleolithic to modern-day, charting three major upheavals...

the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and most recently, the scientific revolution, that shaped the trajectory of humanity and human civilization -- covering some of the same ideas as Jared Diamond's 1999 classic book, Guns, Germs and Steel. See an extensive review of Sapiens in the Wall Street Journal.

== Bottlenecks of Evolution ==

Indeed, genetics has shed light on what may have been “bottlenecks” in human evolution.  One of them, purported to have been 70,000 years ago, might have reduced the population of human ancestors under 10,000 and threatened extinction. 

Now, another bottleneck is proposed that might have occurred as recently at 8,000 years ago, while early agriculturalists were preparing to leap into urban life. By studying Y-chromosome DNA and mitochondrial DNA, scientists are able to deduce the numbers of female and male ancestors a population has. It's always more female, which is consistent also with mammals, in general. Not all males get to breed.  But the normal human ratio is about 1.3 female breeders-to-one male. Apparently is was much bigger disparity, during a period around 8000 years ago. Explanations range from a sudden advantage to certain kinds of males to some sort of weird virus that only affected males across the whole globe, just before large villages formed towns.

Or did agriculture itself, often requiring brutally hard physical labor, play a role? Might the "taming" of human males, making them suitable for denser living, have had some weird side effects? Will we ever know? See: A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture.

Another look at a leap for human evolution: Did humans -- and their dogs -- help drive Neanderthals to extinction? See this explored in The Invaders: How Humans and their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, by Pat Shipman. 

More evidence for 'recent' human interbreeding with Neanderthals: Genetic analysis 40,000-year old jaw from Romania revealed that 5 to 11% of this ancient European man's DNA was Neanderthal -- indicating that he must have had a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. 

Insight into the darker side of the human past: Paleolithic remains show cannibalistic habits of our ancestors -- at sites in England dating back about 15,000 years ago.

== even weirder ==

Marshall Brain’s new book “The Second Intelligent Species: How Humans Will Become as Irrelevant as Cockroaches” wins a prize for telegraphing its point in the title, alone!  

It explores how the future will unfold as the second intelligent species – Artificial Intelligence (AI) -- emerges.  Well, well.  

We are getting plenty of folks taking up extreme apocalyptic or utopian views of all this.  But I just don’t think that way.

Where are we headed? Looking ahead: The Atlantic Council has reprinted my brief future projection: The Avalon Missions: Race for the Stars.

== Mickey points the way? ==

Disney is “betting a billion dollars on a magical wrist band.” A new ticketing method that will let each member of your family get personalized treatment from the instant you enter the park, always welcomed into the correct line, walking out of stores with merchandise paid for without visiting a cashier, ordering food before arriving at a restaurant and sitting at any table, knowing the food will arrive….

…And if someone doesn’t add this to my predictions registry wiki, then I don’t have fans anymore! 

Read this chapter from EXISTENCE --- The Shelter of Tradition -- set at the Shanghai World of Disney and the Monkey King, in the year 2045.  And tell me Disney shouldn’t at least give me a nice family pass. Only the date was wrong.  

Stuff catches up with science fiction faster and faster.

Friday, May 15, 2015

SF on the big screen...and TV

What is Science Fiction? Here’s my take on the Literature of Change – nicely edited into a vividly animated clip-vid by Trekspertise.

So now Yahoo is creating original sic fi content? "Other Space" is a comedy by Paul Feig …. another garbage scow headed into the galaxy? (Does anyone get that reference?) 

Wow, the SyFy Channel has really veered back into realstuff scifi!  Here is the Childhood's End teaser (based on the classic by Arthur C. Clarke) -- to premiere on SyFy in December.  

Another series....based on Philip K. Dick's award-winning novel, and executive produced by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), The Man in the High Castle explores what it would be like if the Allied Powers had lost WWII, and Japan and Germany ruled the United States.  Watch the first episode -- free on Amazon.  

We've just started watching Person of Interest, a Sci Fi crime series directed by Jonathan Nolan. A mysterious billionaire designs a computer to predict terrorist events; it also generates social security numbers of people who are to be involved in a murder in the next few days... I hear season three gets even more sf'nal.

Today we watched a play downtown: "The Uncanny Valley," a two actor riff on artificial intelligence that was moving and well-written and provocative  and plausible... much more so than "Ex Machina." Keep your eye open for it.

Vintage Sci Fi: And here's a lovely rumination about the old "X-minus-one" radio show from the 1950's, with stories from Bradbury, Heinlein, Sheckley and Pohl, available in podcast. "At its worst, “X Minus One” is dated drama told well, but its better episodes have matured into half-hour exercises in a peculiar and intoxicating form of temporal eavesdropping. They let us watch, with great ease and clarity, people who are straining much harder to see us. Usually they’re looking just slightly off to the side. Sometimes they’re looking the wrong way entirely. But occasionally, in the show’s most thrillingly prescient moments, it’s as if they were staring straight at us."

== On the Big Screen ==

Watch this gorgeous new short/proof of concept by Irish filmmaker RuairĂ­ Robinson: The Leviathan takes place in the early 22nd century, after humans have colonized multiple worlds, and are now on "the hunt" for a whale-like species that naturally collects the dark matter needed by space drives.  Kewl! How much better is set in the Startide Rising universe, though? And now, spurred by this trailer...Twentieth Century Fox has just optioned The Leviathan, with Neill Blomkamp producing.

Getting back to Alex Garland's Ex Machina...The dialog contained some moments of intellectual heft and there’s genuine acting. Best of all, the film proved that a small team can do inexpensive thought-provoking science fiction. Alas, the macro story arc -- and the bizarrely over-the-top villain were banal caricatures of a yawningly predictable Frankenstein remake, including Mary Shelley’s fundamental lesson: the creator is not punished for hubristically picking up god’s tools, he is punished for being a horrible dad. I am saddened most by works that have so very much going for them, yet fail tragically on maybe just one dismal fundamental. 

Garland's next project is an adaptation of Jeff Vandermeer's novel -- Annihiliation. Way to go, Jeff.

Disney's Tomorrowland stars George Clooney, directed by Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof. This could turn out to be worth watching ... at least it seems vivid.  Even if it also appears to be another damned “chosen one” story. Watch the trailer.

In sharp contrast, we watched “Big Hero Six” at home. Yes… I lag a bit! But it is just intensely good!  With a delight in tech and nerdiness and optimism that we badly need. About characters who aren't "fated" or destined "chosen ones," or mutant demigods... but merely way above average.  Like some kid you might have, some day.  Oh, and hilarious!

== Back in Print ==

Back in print! My first short story collection - The River of Timewinner of the Locus Award for best SF collection, in its year, and containing the Hugo winning tale “The Crystal Spheres” -- has been re-released in both e-book and paperback. And...

Just released: an excellent audio version of The River of Time, beautifully narrated by my friend, actor Stephen Mendel! 

Newly re-issued by IDW, my epic graphic novel – The Life Eaters – with spectacular hand-painted art by the great Scott Hampton. This tale starts off from the premise of “Thor Meets Captain America” (found in The River of Time) -- my runner up for a Hugo in the novella category ... taking you on an adventure that confronts the darkest parts of the human soul, with our dauntless potential for courage and freedom.

Sample the stirring video trailer for The Life Eaters! Movieable?

DC printed very few copies. So this improved re-issue will turn heads! The Life Eaters was nominated for one of the “bande dessinee” prizes in France, where the graphic novel is king.

== Sci Fi: A World of Ideas ==

Uri Aviv runs the Utopia series of science fiction festivals in Israel. (see below)  Here he makes some very interesting connections between SF and the history of the eventful 20th Century

Over the years science fiction has inspired the exploration of space and cyberspace and was first to imagine the robot, cyborg, clone and technological singularity. All of these are "mere byproducts" to the real focus of science fiction -- society -- communities, relationships, individuals -- how we transform, mutate and evolve through science and how we use and abuse technology. Science fiction creators imagine the un-imaginable and explore the impossible, they perform huge scale gedankenexperiments and by doing so they give birth to our future, for giving shape to the impossible today, gives shape to the every-day of tomorrow.”

For more about the the Utopia Festival:

==Other Sci Fi ==

Alas, farewell to good old Terry Pratchett.  He was a delight.  And had fun.  And gave the rest of us so much fun. And stayed vibrant and busy till some character with a scythe and bad diction hauled him off.  To Discworld, I hope!  (See him in one of his more humorous roles - in the photo on this site - creating satires of pompous religious and political leaders who take themselves too seriously....)

Cracked has a pretty good stab at laying down a bill of indictments in "6 Reasons The Jedi Would Be The Villain In Any Sane Movie." Ah, but six becomes FIFTY in my fun take-down of this silly-betrayal of sanity -- STAR WARS ON TRIAL. More detail and more laughs, by far!   Still, Cracked does crib from the best ;-)

Oh and Star Wars on Trial will soon be re-issued, in a new Jedi-Mouse edition!  

Check out Living Tomorrow, a new anthology of science fiction stories exploring futures shaped by environmental and biological science and technology, from ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination.

This lovely manga about two gal-roomies-dealing-with-life is utterly sweet and fun. A mutual fan also alerted me that one of the strips refers to me and my work. As a must-purchase to be weighed against buying food! Well now, there’s a tradeoff I hope none of you ever face! Still, if you ever do, I hope you’ll choose wisely. ;-)  

Okay…. This is fun:  Kung Fury

The great web artist Patrick Farley has created a new video book trailer for Cecil Castellucci's new science fiction novel, Stone in the Sky. Patrick’s art is terrific and you should all be following his work at Electric Sheep Comix.

Stefan Jones reminds us of this cool-minimal but evocative animation: Rendezvous: The Murf.

== A few memorable words ==

"Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected, in this case I would think interesting would suffice.” — Spock

"That is the exploration that awaits you! Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence." — Leonard Nimoy

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Preparing for the Future

Sailing into the future...

How stunningly weird is it, that we’ve been in space for almost 60 years… and our first real-genuine experiment deploying a solar sail is about to be launched (by the Planetary Society), later this month? A human lifespan… to get around to trying something to simple, obvious and inexpensive?   The delay is so strange and unlikely, it almost makes one conjure up sci-fi/thriller/paranoid explanations. 

Support the solar sail on Kickstarter.  Something worthwhile.

Other interesting things, in the offing...

Innovating for the future: an interesting article about the history of and the death… and rebirth(?) of corporate research labs, reports that "innovation may no longer be in corporate-affiliated research parks, but is cropping up in unexpected places... which goes hand in hand with rapid shifts and expansions in the information landscape." 

Ah, but as you'll hear me repeat, those who have sabotaged investment in U.S. research are traitors and enemies of our children.  No less.

Financing the future...will we attack of the algorithms? In a disturbing trend, monetary funds run by robots now account for $400 billion of the worldwide economy.

Mining for the future...Last summer the UN's International Seabed Authority issued the first deep sea exploration permits, allowing companies to start actively looking for places to mine Manganese nodules and other sources of rare earth elements from the ocean floor. As I forecast in EARTH (1989). Might this be a way around the current Chinese near-monopoly on rare earths production?

In the short term. Maybe.  But till we're mining asteroids (including "davidbrin") we won't yet be rich enough.

== Powering the Future ==

Speaking of solar... Bike lanes covered with solar panels follow the median of highways in South Korea: “...for 20 miles between the cities of Daejeon and Sejong, they can be running down the median of a six-lane highway. And what's really special about this one is that it is covered with solar panels, generating electricity and shading the cyclists as they ride,” reports this article in TreeHugger. Sounds nice -- till you factor in noise, danger and exhaust fumes.  Reboot idea source.  Try again.

My own passion is to see solar panels running along the west’s great aqueducts, shading the water and reducing evaporative losses. The energy that’s generated would benefit from a clear right-of-way for cheap power lines.  Add a bike-path? Sure!

Better yet, the aqueducts are (not-quite but sort-of) perfect for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop transport system! The main California Aqueduct runs roughly along the I-5 interstate freeway – with, admittedly, a few more twists. The point is that Elon might be able to flexibly hop from one to the other, with the aqueduct portions being much, much cheaper to acquire and build upon than portions running down an interstate median. Now, to power with that water-and-electricity-saving roof of solar cells.

Been musing this idea more and more…

One of you did some of the math: “Just the California aqueduct is 1129 km long and 10 meters wide.  That figures to a surface area = 1.129E7 m^2.  Now, assuming solar energy 1.2 KW per M^2, with 20% conversion efficiency: then this surface area would generate 0.27E7 KW… or 2.7 GigaWatts. Out of California’s current electrical demand ~50GW, that’d be a whopping 6%. Compare this to existing California solar = 6GW, so a complete solar roof over the CA Aqueduct (and that is only the largest of California’s many water channels) would provide half again the existing solar power base in California alone.”

It's been done in India: a canal in Gujarat topped with solar panels. See the picture to the right.

Hm, well, the numbers can be quibbled in either direction.  But not by enough to refute the notion. Now factor in all benefits:

1) No appreciable environmental tradeoffs. Very little additional land need be set aside for this power plant, unlike the vast solar arrays now being erected in sensitive desert areas.

2) Access is simple and secure. The roads and infrastructure needed for construction are already in place.  Indeed, the accompanying power lines can simply follow existing aqueduct rights-of-way, saving time and expense.

3) Excess power has an immediate use, pumping water over the Tehachapis to holding reservoirs that can then be swiftly tapped for hydro power, when clouds come in.

4) Prevention of evaporative loss from the aqueducts themselves.  This is, of course, the biggest win-win benefit, in times of drought. And this is where a call to the smart mob comes in.  Can anyone find estimates of what this saving would amount to?  

Indeed, one must wonder about unintended consequences, as some evaporation would then condense on the solar roof’s support structures. Anti-corrosion will have to be part of basic planning.  Still, here's the capstone that makes all of this sound plausible --

Elon Musk tweeted, "Have asked SolarCity if we can do something philanthropic with the CA aqueducts to help the water crisis. Investigating…"

And...what about the All American Canal as well?

== Preparing for worst cast scenarios ==

Battling infectious diseases: There have been missteps. As this article notes, empty Ebola clinics have been reported: “After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying nearly 3,000 troops to create Ebola remedy centers, the United States ended up creating facilities that have largely sat empty: Only 28 Ebola sufferers have been treated at the 11 remedy units built by the United States military…”

Before getting all outraged at this “waste,” perhaps some perspective? All right, the help arrived a bit late and our civil servants learned a lot, so that they’ll do better next time. Which is… um… kinda the point, yes? For all of its tragedy, this Ebola outbreak was on the medium-small scale, compared with the nightmare scenarios we all might face, next year or next decade.

On that broader perspective, this exercise was, in fact, worth every penny! We’ll be quicker off the mark, next time, better skilled and equipped.

 == Educating for the Future ==

Along the same lines as my posting -- How the American Education System Doesn't Fail -- this article - We don't need more STEM majors, We need STEM majors with liberal arts training --  shows both true wisdom and obdurately silliness.  

Yes, we need to double down on America's investment in "breadth" during college.   All around the world, the normative baccalaureate degree is three years, with 17-year olds diving into narrow fields with utter specialization. 

In sharp contrast, the American (and Canadian) Bachelor's Degree takes four years because all STEM majors are required to take a year's worth of humanities/history/Lit etc... and vice versa for humanities majors needing science survey classes. This article's author is only expressing the value system under which she was raised.  One with which I wholly agree! (As a "scientist/novelist" who earns his living across the entire spectrum.) You want MORE breadth?  Fine. I am down with that.

But to not even acknowledge that's already what we do?  Vastly more than any other nation on Earth?  Did you see her mention that? Even remotely?  Nope, just finger-wagging chiding -- the coin of our era -- instead of constructively pondering how to improve the miracle we already have. Pure silliness.

 == Predicting the Future ==

A reminder to you nit-pickers out there that I am willing to live by the principles that I preach! I have talked a lot about how we need “accountability for those who claim to predict. Actually, my fans have noticed the unusual number of "hits" or predictive successes that seem to have been scored in EARTH. These  accurate foretellings... and some that were embarrassingly off-target(!) are now being tracked at this site.

Feel free to suggest ways in which I have been wrong or right!  Not just in that one novel.

Here’s my essay -- Predictions Registries -- on why we should be doing this for everyone!  Especially politicians and cable news pundits and merchants of fear. 

 = And Finally =

What if...Ayn Rand reviewed children's movies? Hilarious!  

I really like the deep and original song by Big Data - “Dangerous.”  Their video is complex, layered and entertaining, demanding full attention: "How could they know, how could they know.. what I been thinking? Like they're right inside my head because they know, Because they know, what I been hiding..."

Then there’s this more shallow and yet deeply disturbing alternate version. Yeouch! 

Friday, May 08, 2015

Wagers! Demand Wagers!

First, announcements.

- I speak for the Skeptics Society : In the year 2525: Big Science, Big History and the Future of Humanity at Caltech, Pasadena CA, May 30.

- May 21 I address the Singularity Group in New York City at the Hatchery at 1601 Broadway (7pm).

- June 10, I speak at The Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, California.  

- After which I fly to give talks in Portugal (Porto) and Madrid.

So many exciting things are happening in our world... like we're about to have a spaceprobe zip by Pluto!  A month ago we orbited Ceres and found oceans!  Before that, human beings (well, Europeans) landed a probe on a comet!  Poverty is declining worldwide.  The U.S. economy is on a great path. The air is getting better and we've seized the right to aim cameras at the police! There are hard problems to solve, and every reason to believe that combinations of technology, law and individual initiative will solve many of them

And yet, the merchants of gloom have us seized by the throat.

Desperate to turn us away from good news - and especially the confidence to believe problems can be solved - they cast a spell of despair, in all directions.  But let's face it... this illness is especially rife on one end of the lobotomizing political "spectrum."  An end that has simply gone insane.

              Is there something you can do?

Something simple and effective that will give you victory after victory in our ongoing culture wars?  Yes there is!  A simple trick.  One that works!  In fact, it works almost every time.

== The way to get yammering loonies to shut up  ==

Two news items show how fast Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave.  First, U.S. House Republicans have voted to slash NASA’s budget for the Earth Science division. (Under Bush, they tried repeatedly to eliminate all uses of the word "earth" in NASA programs and missions.)  For 25 years, those who declare "we need more science" to prove/disprove climate change have systematically sabotaged the science that might resolve the issue to a precision demanded by Fox. This follows an earlier decision to to cut NSF’s geoscience budget. And the State of Florida's new regulation forbidding officials from ever even mentioning or considering rising seas or climate change.

This hypocritical cowardice is not aberration.  It is a core hallmark of the New Confederacy.

Here is another --

Jade Helm 15, a military exercise, brings wild speculation in Texas about ‘martial law’.  A large but relatively routine exercise to train troops in counter-terrorism methods has become the latest Black Helicopters fantasy in the minds of the whole posse comitatis crowd. Conspiracy theorists claim it’s an attempt to institute martial law, possibly in collusion with (I kid you not) Wal-Mart. Ted Cruz has signed up to share the Koolaid. (See: The Truth Behind Jade Helm Conspiracy Theories.)  And in response, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has ordered the State Guard to 'monitor' federal troops there during the exercise. 

(Without explaining what 'monitor' means. Never mind that the president can legally federalize the national guard, any time he chooses, and the "state guard" in Texas is not what you think. Nevertheless, in fact, "Mr Transparency" wholly approves of "monitoring"! It is one cure for crazy.)

Yes, yes, this story makes way too much out of a fairly small phenomenon -- some far-right flakes hate-fantasizing about the US military.  Indeed, at the far ends, there are almost as many flakey conspiracy fetishist romantics on the left as on the right.  No, what's important here is the fact that the fanatical fringe on the right sits atop a much much bigger, only slightly less fanatical "main" body of confederates.

Put aside the spectacular insult to our men and women in uniform — any ONE of whom would blow the whistle if anything even 0.01% as nefarious were actually going on.  You know this is not about modeling reality, at any level.  

It is about stoking the insatiable engine of the Indignation Industry.  Hence, disproof won’t make a scintilla of difference.  Open transparency will help a bit. (I almost always prescribe big doses, to ensure that Big Brother does stay far away: as he is right now.) Transparency will limit the number of frenzied conspiracy nuts to a screeching small-but-deeply-harmful minority.  

But even transparency will only see to it that they'll back out of THIS howling mania, gleeful in the after-rush of sanctimony, looking for the next one to wave about, shrugging off any reminder that they predicted, in 2008, that "Obama will take all our guns." Safe in the serene knowledge that the rest of us will fight like hell to preserve their right to be raving morons.

Is the situation hopeless?  Not! As I said -- there is a method.  One that absolutely works. Let me repeat that. It works. 

Again, it works, absolutely. That is, if you parse it carefully.

And not one Blue American of stature has ever once (to my knowledge) actually used this sure-fire method for forcing conspiracy nut-jobs to back off.

== Demand wagers! ==

Put money on it. Offer odds. Insist they step up and offer stakes, like real-men. 

If they are so sure of their paranoid ravings — sure enough to throw America into fever after fever and thus harm us all and insult our professional warriors — then they ought to be willing… even eager… to take my money in a bet!  

What? No? Here's my money! If you are so sure, put yours on the table and then walk away with winnings, when your ravings come true!

Watch... oh watch how they backpedal, the instant there are actual consequences to foaming at the mouth.  The instant facts and evidence threaten to have real bite.

Let me link you to my earlier posting about this: Take the Wager Challenge and Help push back Culture War . And I am serious. It is a weapon Sane America never, ever uses… even though it is one that will work.  It works; and it is a sign of the raw stupidity of liberals, that they have not learned how to wield this sword.

Try it!  Read the write-up. Offer wagers. Watch how fast the cheap cowards back off!

== So why am I optimistic? ==

Remember the confident Republican declarations that Obama would not only take our guns, but give us $200/barrel oil?  

According to tech-economics guru Mark Anderson, the recent drop in the price of oil constitutes a “massive effective tax cut” for the world’s population. Compare estimated expenditures on oil and gas before and after the drop.

Past-year estimate: $866, 875, 000,000
Next-year estimate: $456,250,000,000
Change YTY: $410,625,000,000

Even accounting for a recent uptick, and the fact that all sorts of fatcats and intermediaries will siphon billions in price manipulations and collusively anti-competitive conniving — “Eventually, this tax cut will find its way through the system, driven (one hopes) by competitive market forces rather than by price manipulation schemes. Once this occurs, the world will have almost half a trillion dollars in unexpected windfall cash gains per year to spend on things like hospitals, schools, and infrastructure - right? Or, okay, weapons.

 “All in all, this change may represent the largest change in "externalities" costs the world has seen since World War II - except, perhaps, for the ramping costs of global warming.”

Oh, regarding that other thing - climate change: “How would you like some real estate in Miami? Waterfront prices are actually going up, while the local government is planning on buying 18 pumps to stave off sea-level rise caused by global warming - a term the governor's office has forbidden any state officer from uttering.”

In both cases, the driver that’s absolutely essential is new technology.  Those “game changers” I referred to, earlier.  And those won’t happen if anti-future and anti-science types — some on the far-left and nearly everyone on the entire-right — keep applying fanaticism to problems better addressed by vigorous and optimistic problem-solving negotiation and a can-do spirit.

== The biggest wager … Obamacare ==

With the next presidential election underway, all GOP candidates are swearing to make repeal of Obamacare their central goal, how’s that playing with the American people? Especially with this commie-disaster law ruining health care in America and enslaving everyone and sending costs skyrocketing… except …

...except that nothing of the sort is happening. “The problems that marred the rollout of Obamacare have been fixed. The law, meanwhile, is reducing the number of Americans who lack health coverage as intended, as a new report from the Rand Corp. shows. And just as important, many unintended consequences that critics of the law predicted have failed to materialize.” 

The Bush era skyrocketing of premiums has largely abated.  More people are getting reliable preventative care. Health related bankruptcies have plummeted. The number of people with employer-arranged insurance has risen, rather than fallen. There's been no socialist takeover of the health system. While there are flaws that merit fixing via negotiation, not one of the Chicken Little screech predictions of negative consequences has come true.  Not… even… one.

Oh, how I wish some of the cowards who I offered wagers about Obamacare would have had the cojones to actually put money where their frothing mouths were.  But none of the screeching ninnies would actually take a bet.  Demanding wagers did have one effect though.  They always shut up about the topic... around me.

And it was worth putting the United States through hell, freezing the political process in rigor mortis, such that the only thing the GOP-dominated House of Representatives did, month after month was pass shrill ACA repeals that they knew would never go anywhere… and you maniacs did all of that… over this?

The want the ultimate irony?

 When public approval of the ACA, which has been rising every month for the last twenty, finally passes a critical threshold, Republicans will suddenly remember… 

“Oh yeah!  The ACA was OUR PLAN ALL ALONG! It came from the Heritage Foundation and the GOP party platform and it was called ‘Romneycare’ at one point… It’s ours!  It was always our idea! We'll take the credit now, thank you.”

Watch.  That’ll happen. (Not one other person will be on record, having predicted it.)

 And the dittoheads will conveniently forget every shrill jeremaiad.  Only dig this well, please.  This time we will remember.  That you guys are completely insane.