Thursday, June 23, 2016

Even Modernists Can Get Stuck: Why we must keep revising even good ideas. (Plus some other cool stuff.)

Might things get better? Can you be an agent of that transformation? 

Peter Diamandis is the founder of XPRIZE, Singularity University, and many other fascinating initiatives. He formulated his provocative 'laws,' about how to be vigorous, pro-active and make the world around you change. They are now available as a handy poster.

Looking to the future.... on Quora I was asked whether the next century will be as transforming as the last one was.

Of course there is a strong possibility of a “singularity” — a tech driven leap that either replaces humankind or exalts us to a profoundly different level. In fact, I would give that 50% odds of happening … along with another 25% chance that we’ll blow it, bigtime, and either destroy ourselves or topple back into ultra-conservative feudalism - the normal condition of our ancestors, going back at least 6000 years. 

Which leaves 25% in which we move ahead - maybe a lot - but remain the kind of future folk seen in most sci fi. Still lovin’ and fightin’ and being dumb and having great escapades in space and battling dystopic villains and so on. The grist of almost all our sci fi flicks n' novels.

Looking back, it is tempting to suppose the last 100 years - while hugely transforming compared to what came before - was only prelude to more of the same -- flashier and with techie toys, but propelled by identical moral flaws. 

And yet it is in the moral realm that I see the most progress! As I pointed out back in 2000, discussing the Clarke-Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, we are ethically so, so different  from even the 1960s that it's almost like a different species. 

Consider. Exactly a century ago Woodrow Wilson was seen as the moral guiding light of the planet, speaking up for international order, for a breakup of colonial-imperial oppression and self-determination for all peoples. 

Now? From our later perspective, Wilson comes across as a racist-segregationist pig, because “all-peoples” in his mind meant all white folks… and Japanese. Oh, and he said European powers should surrender their "concessions" and leave China alone. But Africa? India? The segregated U.S. South? He shared many of the prejudices of his upbringing. So, are Princeton University students right to demand his name be taken off buildings and institutes, because he was only a whole lot better than his time? 

Are slave-owners Jefferson and Washington to be spurned, because the half-hypocritical and half-wondrous advances that they led reveal them lacking by our modern standards? Just remember that their (to our eyes) hyprocrisy only became revealed as we pushed those new standards to yet-higher levels, by standing on their shoulders. It calls to mind a line by François de La Rochefoucauld:  

          Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue.

Oh, sure, it's not an easy maxim to understand, at first. But well-worth the effort when you finally go "aha, I get it," because the aphorism helps to explain why it's all right for us move ahead, as a society and as a species, in incremental steps. Indeed, incrementalism may be frustrating -- and an easy target for sanctimonious purists -- and yet it is how standards themselves keep rising as we keep ratcheting outward our horizons of tolerance and inclusion. So long as it remains incessant and propelled by men and women of conscience, incrementalism is not to be despised.

In that 2001 essay, I show how we have come at least as far, ethically, as technologically, with the Star Trek Prime Directive and Gandhi and King pointing us in the direction of ever-greater responsibility. Even when we flagellate ourselves for our moral faults…and we still have many(!) … that reflex of self-criticism is itself huge progress. And those who completely lack that reflex (we see some in politics today) should never be trusted with power.

Just as we should forgive Wilson, since he tried to be better than his times, we should also be willing to notice how far we have come. And how much closer we are - despite a myriad remaining faults - to being worthy of the stars.

== How a dumb theory can make us brittle ==

After suffering too many such disasters in recent years, the people of Japan and Ecuador are digging out from yet another pair of devastating earthquakes.  I’ll be donating blood soon. 

Nevertheless, it seems apropos to mention that recent disasters have caused Japanese thinkers to re-examine their 40 year love affair with a management theory that originated with American quality guru W. Edwards Deming. His teachings about perfecting product quality were vital and American manufacturers only embraced the lessons after getting the snot kicked out of them by superior Japanese products in the 1980s. 
Still, a Deming doctrine called the “just-in-time” supply chain has proved to have… faults.  In wake of each of the recent Japan quakes, Just-in-time collapsed! On this occasion — “Toyota Motor Corp said it would suspend production at plants across Japan after the quakes disrupted its supply chain.”

As it happens, running a manufacturing company based on just-in-time delivery of parts and components and resources is a lot like being a swimsuit model. Eating just enough to stay healthy and absolutely nothing more, a swimsuit model will probably not do well if stuck on a life raft or stranded in the desert, or simply on the street with morals but no cash. And certainly not in a post-quake-apocalypse. 

In fact, I've added just-in-time efficiency to my list of dire brittleness perils that I tell to members of the governmental protector caste, whenever I travel east to offer sf'nal finger-wags and warnings. At minimum we should not, by policy, reward such anti-resilience practices. Simple tweaks in tax-law  could instead incentivize parts stockpiling, rather than punish it, adding to our society's ability to stay robust in coming (and they will come) emergencies.

== Where liberalism and libertarianism overlap ==

It has been long assumed that you best help the world’s poor with closely supervised and targeted programs that – for example – teach skills or build infrastructure.  And indeed, nothing would help the US economy more right now than the high-velocity  stimulation of passing the much needed Infrastructure Bill, so long delayed by the Republican Congress.

Still, we should be trying a range of approaches. For example, recent experiments have – to great surprise – suggested that poor families and villages do best when simply given a reliable stream of raw cash, to spend as they wish. 

“Experimental tests show that the poor don’t stop trying when they are given money, and they don’t get drunk. Instead, they make productive use of the funds, feeding their families, sending their children to school, and investing in businesses and their own futures. Even a short-term infusion of capital has been shown to significantly improve long-term living standards, improve psychological well-being, and even add one year of life," writes Michael Faye in Slate. 

This is somewhat consistent with the Peruvian experiments of Hernando de Soto Polar, which were loved by both leftists and libertarians, strenuously working to vest poor farmers with the paperwork documenting their ownership of land that was already theirs.  Only with papers, they could then borrow and improve and become more productive.

The followup experiment by GiveDirectly aims to provide at least 6,000 of the poorest Kenyans with a basic income for 10 to 15 years, and rigorously analyze the impact. You can donate directly to provide a basic income on the GiveDirectly site.

== Miscellaneous Interesting things ==
What are the chances? A fascinating fact of life that gives us all chills is the amazing moments when coincidences beggar our sense of likelihood and make us imagine hidden causality, even conspiracy.  A look by mathematician Joseph Mazur the author of Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence.

An inspiring story about one school district that changed from chronic absenteeism to vigorous parent involvement and almost perfect attendance.

And so it begins… Resettling the first American‘Climate Refugees.’ The first allocation of federal tax dollars to relocate an entire community – the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana.

The opposite of uplift?  This man “downlifts” himself to move like and mingle with goats. Thomas Thwaites (of The Toaster Project) developed a goat prosthesis that allowed him to walk and graze on four legs, an adventure he summarizes in GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human.  Really? While I approve of a vivid society that lets people strive for some eccentric accomplishment, I am somewhat more impressed with the blacksmiths and potters and swordmakers and rodeo cow-sorting champs (there’s one named “David Brin”- see below) and amateur scientists and school volunteers and Habitat for Humanity workers… But okay, this guy has his niche. He’s doing a thing.

Sudden oak death: This fungal pathogen has killed a million trees in California, leaving a fire hazard for the dry season to come. And that's nothing next to THIRTY million California pines killed by invasive bark beetles after being weakened by climate change. The fires will be huge. And some of you are complicit.

When inequality is visible... Flights with a first class section were nearly four times more likely to suffer incidents of 'air rage.' Is it because those in coach are unconsciously pissed off to see people get legroom and human treatment?  Folks, the thing to be angry about is the rise of private and corporate and charter jets for the rich, subsidized by taxpayers!  We should mob those terminals (where they board without TSA agony) and drive our lords bac into First Class, where they belong!  Once they share our airport experience, that expience will change.

Who's looking to the future? A list of sixty futurists on Twitter -- from Kevin Kelly to Jamais Cascio, Elon Musk, and more. 

Cynical-funny snarkers rejoice! Wow, the guys who resurrected CRACKED magazine and turned it into a kinda-cool satire site just got $39 million for it. Scripps Media’s buy-in follows the purchase of a 40% stake in satire company The Onion Inc. by Spanish-language media owner Univision Communications. 

Okay, back to that other, studlier side of "David Brin." Betcha didn’t know I was this talented, or had this much fun in my side-hobby! “Wayne Frederickson & David Brin Sorting 6 Cows Time 59.88 sec Arena Wittmann Az.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Avoiding “impeachment bait” - Why Donald Trump’s VP choice is more complicated than you think

Truly, I wish this U.S. election year were less… interesting. But like a mouse watching a snake, or Spock with a raised eyebrow, we cannot look away. "Fascinating" does not begin to describe it.  One is tempted to demand: "who is writing this simulation, and how much longer before we all realize that it's a farce?"

Mind you, I have started to veer again toward offering long-odds wagers. Such as whether Donald Trump will actually walk away from the Cleveland Convention with the nomination that now seems so throughly sewn up, and carry it all the way to the election. I got a creepy feeling....

But in today's missive, let's talk about something else. Appraising the highly unusual set of factors that Donald J. Trump must consider in naming the person he wants the GOP convention to put forward as Vice Presidential nominee. 

Of course that is the talk of the town. Salon has bruited Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Others speak Condoleeza Rice or Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, for reasons I'll get to, below. And were this a normal situation, my money would be on Rice.

But no. In order to show you just how much must be on Trump's mind, I'll choose one fellow as an example, letting him serve are a mirror to the pros and cons.

Reasons why Donald Trump might choose Newt Gingrich.

1) Personal loyalty can be a strong factor. Gingrich endorsed DT fairly early.  

Sure, this also applies to Sessions and to NJ Governor Chris Christie. But Sessions would crystallize so clearly that this is Civil War Part VIII that even Indiana might remember what side it had been on. And why. As for Christie? Please.

2) Insider connections. Gingrich knows everybody, including major donors like Sheldon Adelson. And the cryptic powers who may stand behind Adelson.

3) Ticket balancing: All right. Newt provides none of this.  He can't even help in his home state of Georgia. 

It's in this area that folks wax effusive about Rice and Fallin. Both of them could (at least in Donald's mind) help him with women. Rice is a two-fer, allowing his most xenophopic supporters to shout the modern rallying cry of American bigots: "See? I like that'un! That means I'm no racist at all!"

Two problems here, though. Fallin seems interested, but Rice not so much.  Also, other factors will loom much stronger in DT's mind than obsolete ticket balancing (see below.) 

4) "I want to have somebody who can deal with Congress, who gets along with Congress, who is a Washington person," Trump said at a town hall in April. While Newt - former Speaker of the House - would seem to fully satisfy this aim…

5) …Gingrich is also enough of a rebel firebrand that he might (perhaps) be able to serve the other function of a veep nominee ministering to the base of radical-populist-confederates who gave DT the nomination, keeping them calm while Trump tries to veer toward the middle, after Cleveland. Sessions could do this. So could Cruz or Palin. Not Fallin or Rice.

(That is… if DT runs for the center! I used to deem that likely. I even fantacized that Trump might, in the debates, drop some hoary and insane, dinosaur-obsolete standard GOP incantations like Supply Side voodoo and climate denialism. Now? That seems less likely, alas. But if he did try a middle-ward veer, he'd need to send a firebrand into Tea Party territory to calm them.)

Sure, some in the base will remember that Newt betrayed the Dennis Hastert Rule - “Never ever negotiate with democrats, even for the good of the nation.” Gingrich paused several times in the 1990s - amid general nastiness and craziness — to negotiate important measures with President Bill Clinton. You and I would deem that a good thing! But it enraged Hastert*, Tom DeLay**, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, leading them to oust Gingrich and send him into exile. That is still cause for resentment among the harshest culture warriors…

6) …Which could make Newt ideal, from Trump’s perspective!  It means that Gingrich is not a reliably obedient servant of Rupert Murdoch and the other GOP lords. Not totally. He’s always been a bit of a wild card, like Trump, mixing bilious insanity with moments of lucidity and independent thinking. This means that Newt may not be ‘impeachment bait.’

What’s that? Well, ponder this. Even if he wins the election and is inaugurated into the Oval Office, Trump would start his administration more hated by establishment pols than any president since maybe Lincoln. (And he is no Lincoln.) Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney must have already worked out the following scenario — and it is a doozy.

== The GOP replacement gambit ==

All they have to do, after inauguration, is wait till President Trump (shudder) does or says something frightful.  Which should happen within a week, maybe a month, of entering office, as sure as sunrise. 

What then? 

Tell the democrats in Congress: “Go ahead and impeach him! We’ll provide just enough GOP votes to help you succeed!”  A perfect, pre-packaged coup that would install Donald’s “establishment” Vice President in the White House for an almost-full term, getting all those juicy Supreme Court appointments plus a solid chance of re-election. 

(Think this unlikely? Ryan has already threatened to sue a President Trump if he misbehaves. )

Voila. Rupert M is back in the driver’s seat - with the bonus that Fox News will rake in billions of extra eyeball revenue during the impeachment drama!

Better yet, the GOP moguls could thereupon nurse confederate resentment, blaming the Democrats for ousting the people’s choice - Trump! Call it pulling a “JFK” without all that risky conspiracy-murder stuff.

Note that this is where the establishment will move Heaven and Earth to get Condi Rice or Mary Fallin into the VP slot, or some other absolutely-owned Murdochian prince or princess. 

Hence my reason for asserting that The Donald has to factor in more than just the usual considerations, in choosing his VP. His ideal partner is not just someone “established” … who can also minister to the radical base… but in addition she or he must be crazy and un-controllable enough not to serve as impeachment bait!

Hence my focus (for the moment) on Gingrich.  Ryan and McConnell and Murdoch will look at Newt, pondering the option of using the impeachment gambit to make him president. They’ll recall what they did to him… …and Gingrich's tenacity at revenge… and shake their heads, saying “naaaaah!” 

 (That is, unless President DT truly does over the edge, even for him. In which case of course Newt would be preferable - in my mind - over any other republican politician.  If for no other reason because… well... he’s a sci fi author!)

7) Oh, one more thing. With six marriages between them and countless conquests — and with all that hair — these guys will surly win the woman vote.

LATE NEWS:  Yipe. Newt really is angling for Trump's VP spot, by proving how Trumplike he can be. "Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for the creation of a new House Committee on Un-American Activities, invoking the infamous "Red Scare"-era congressional body as a blueprint for weeding out American ISIS adherents and sympathizers."

== But complications continue! ==

You think we're done here? Then think again. Consider why anyone would want to be Donald J Trump's Vice Presidential nominee. Traditionally, that role sets you up as the party's heir apparent. (And perhaps Paul Ryan is kicking himself, right now.) But again, this year is different.

Innumerable GOP stalwarts have removed themselves from consideration, under the widely held assumption that Trump will go down in flames, this November, taking his running mate's career with him. Not heir-apparent, but political dead meat.

Sure, that's likely. Some -- like tenured Stanford Professor Condoleeza Rice -- might shrug that off. Others, like Gingrich and Christie appear to have zero alternate hopes of mattering, ever again, and might as well toss dice. They are in a shrinking minority.

But consider a variant on the impeachment gambit.  Imagine it's October and Donald is being Donald on steroids. The party is fracturing and the election is way, way, way lost. As DT's VP nominee, you labored through August and September, visibly gritting your teeth and trying, knowing that you'll go down with this ship... that is, unless... you rebel! 

And in October, that's what you do. Visibly and publicly you separate yourself from Trump, declaring that you are running for the constitutional office of Vice President independent of him!

Can he fire you as his running mate?  I think not. That would take at-minimum a vote by the Republican Party Central Committee, if not a reconvened convention. 

What would this accomplish? 
(1) It would be memorable, and that's some consolation prize. 
(2) It would restore your status as a top figure in what's left of the Republican Party, drawing tons of press as you crisscross the country, disavowing DT and collecting political IOUs by helping down-ticket candidates***. 
(3)  Heck... there's even that weird possibility that the Electoral College... nah.

Sound implausible? Not so much actually, if Trump accepts a truly mainstream GOP figure as his running mate. If the election seems lost, she or he is likely to betray him, in October.  

And if by some chance they win? Then the Impeachment Gambit is exactly and precisely the reason the establishment is urging such a person upon you, Don. Ponder that, big fellah. Think about it really hard.

== Oh, what a mess. ==

In two weeks or so, we'll know, so why did I type all these words? Only to show you the mélange of factors that must be spinning right now, under Donald Trump's hair. 

Having put aside all the usual considerations like geographic balance or picking someone from a crucial state (Florida’s Rick Scott? Plausible, but eep!), is this my wager? Will he pick the Newt Gingrich?

Nope. All of the above depends on Trump being fiercely logical — which he claims to be, but of which we’ve seen little sign. 

No, in fact I think DT will choose a woman as his running mate. He has to, imagining that doing so will instantly patch things up with female voters.  Given the other factors I just described, Gov. Martinez would be a logical pick… but he insulted her. Maybe Gov. Fallin or Condi Rice... 

...ignoring that he'll thereby be walking into a trap laid by Ryan, Romney, Murdoch and McConnell. 

Whether he wins or loses the November vote, sooner or later, his assigned establishment partner will betray him. So he must pick someone outside the tent.

In fact, the person who actually fits all of the criteria listed above - even more than Newt does - is… gulp… Sarah Palin.

No. No. He’s not that crazy. Who would be?

Don't answer that. Just blame Arizona.



== Addendum #1: 

Over on the American NewsX site, where I co-published this piece, one LG Hartman pointed out that I had not thought through the twists, all the way, nor seen how trapped Donald J. Trump is.  Consider how we should take "it a step further in case DT doesn't pick a VP that the Establishment likes. If Trump picks another Loon for VP but still wins -- then the Establishment makes sure they BOTH go down in flames via Impeachment scandal leading to......drum roll please, President Paul Ryan." 

Of course this assumes the Republicans retain the House of Representatives... and the dems are stupid enough to do the dirty work... but oh wow.  Now my head hurts.

== Addendum #2: two more forecasts on the side ==

Okay, these two need to be in parentheses:

(1. Did I just mention the Electoral College? No, a rebelling republican VP nominee will not persuade electors to make him or her Vice President to a winning democratic president. On the other hand, all my adult life, I wondered if we'd see some kind of machinations in the EC. Like in the 1950s when an elector from the Deep South defected in favor of a dixiecrat instead of his party's nominee.  I've been amazed that 538 appointed electors, every quadrennial year since, have always followed their state's allocation rules, with nary a peep. But if ever there were a year for flamboyant "expressions of conscience..." 

(I assure you that Trump, having seen leakage among his pledged delegates at the Cleveland GOP convention, will have someone closely scrutinize the GOP electors, this time. 

(Still, you heard it here. You can count on the fact that Ryan and McConnell and Romney are pondering every scenario.)

(2. After Cleveland, DT needs to pay very close attention to advice from the Secret Service, especially if his running mate is an establishment Murdochian. 

(Seriously, dude. Almost the only way the GOP masters could win this thing is with you as a martyr. So curb the physical risk-taking. And duck.)

* Hastert, the head of the GOP for many years and Speaker of the House recently went to prison for child molestation and conspiracy. 

** DeLay is also now a convicted criminal... though released on a technicality... oh such role models!

*** You heard it here.  Mitt Romney will re-emerge bigtime in 2020.  He is copying all the methods used by Richard Nixon during his wilderness years, after 1960, collecting scads of political IOUs. Bet on it.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Science Fiction: Hope vs Despair

I've just returned from DC where I gave a talk at the White House (the EOB) and a panel at the AIAA and then performed my duties as a member of the advisory External Council of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts Group.  Busy stuff!  But it left me hungry to get back to ... science fiction! And so, let's do a roundup!

Elon Musk avows we’re likely in a simulation, not the "base" reality - terminology much like my levels-of-reality story “Stones of Significance.” Elon writes, “I'm fine with being in a video game, but could I have cooler abilities next time?” Come, Elon. In this one you have world-changing superpowers. In a game, your player may be accused of cheating!

Consider... "How SF split off from 'competence porn'." The latter genre - like The Martian - thrills fans with a can-do spirit that used to be core to science fiction, both on-page and on-screen.  And yes, when sci fi was overly fizzy-optimistic, the New Wave and cyberpunk and dystopias were necessary corrections.  Now?  Guess which is the cliché? Can-do is now the rare rebel.

In io9, Charlie Jane Anders writes: "This shift coincides with the decline in space opera on television, and the rise of apocalypses and "disaster porn," which are at least partly a wish-fulfillment fantasy about life becoming simpler and less confusing again. We have "competence porn" in the present day, but when we imagine the near future, we reach for "disaster porn.""  I revere Charlie Jane for (among other things) clearly citing the current, largely dismal mood in SF as dull, unimaginative and unhelpful, contributing to decayed confidence in real life problem solving. 

Where I part company is over why. This is not a matter of near-future vs far.  Competence and hope - set amid thrilling danger and good writing - can be found in SF set amid all kinds of futures -- near, middle and far -- as evoked by rare works like Stargate and Firefly, by the works of Banks and Vinge. (And some of the rest of us try, as well.)  

No, the plague of zombies and apocalypses and illogically red-eyed dystopias has one central cause -- laziness. Plotting is vastly easier when there are no helpful institutions or professionals, when power is automatically and simplistically evil, when there's no citizenship and the hero's neighbors are all bleating sheep.  Relax any of those clichés? Then suddenly an author or director has to put down the joint (s)he's smoking and think.  That is why "competence porn" - about folks taking on tomorrow's problems with energy, focus and good will - is so rare.  It is also why a cliche-fatigued public is starting to turn eyes, raising them from fields of undead, looking not toward demigods, but toward engineers. See this explicated in my article, The Idiot Plot.  

Railing away at our modern obsession with feudalism stories, I’ve felt quite the lonely Jeremiah.  Take my appraisals of both Star Wars and JRR Tolkien’s Ring Cycle, both of them Wagnerian in their truly palpable loathing of modernity and such blatant mistakes as democracy and empowerment of common citizenship. But at least those two mega works have compensating qualities.  Most feudalism-loving fantasies are simply ingrate-trash, written by dreamy folks who would not last five minutes under the cruel way of life that oppressed 99% of our ancestors.

But folks are starting to wise up.  They are forced to, confronted by six seasons of George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES series, in which my dear friend and colleague George has pulled out the stops, asking again and again: “There. Are you disgusted with lords and magicians and other nasty, nasty-awful oppressors yet? 

At last, some folks like Si Sheppard, in Salon, are finally catching on. He remarks: “Amidst all the bloodshed, backstabbing, and bare breasts, what fans don’t expect, wouldn’t want, and won’t get is the winner to assume executive power through representing the will of the people by winning the majority of their votes in a free and fair election, and then determining policy through an ongoing process of negotiation with a separately elected legislative branch in a power-sharing arrangement demarcated by a constitution. You know, like they’re supposed to.”

Citing how some SF authors like China MiévilleDavid Brin and Michael Moorcock have spoken up against this reflex, Sheppard continues: “We cherish our democracy, but this fundamental right is defined by its almost total absence in literary high fantasy, which has achieved its apotheosis in “Game of Thrones.” The mercantile Free Cities of Essos each fall somewhere on the spectrum of oligarchy/plutocracy/timocracy/thalassocracy.”  And “In fantasy, the rule is always, “the [usurper] king is dead, long live the [legitimate] king,” never “the king is dead, long live the republic.”  

He goes on to appraise how we hearken back to fairy tales and legends that come down to us from the millennia of darkness, and how alluring it seems (to some) to envision simpler loyalties that could not be questioned, as to a sacred king. Though I believe it goes even deeper, to genetic reflex, since we are all descended from the harems of human males who seized reproductive advantage in the old, feudal way.

Sheppard concludes, “The innate human desire to surrender the burden of power to an anointed individual, a chosen one, has marked the downfall of democratic polities throughout history. Despite the powerful warning against surrendering sovereignty to a monarch in the earliest scripture, as Benjamin Franklin observed, “there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government.” From Octavian Caesar in Rome to Napoleon Bonaparte in France to Sheev Palpatine in the Galactic Republic, ambitious men were presented with supreme authority “to compensate for the fact that the elected representatives can’t agree on anything and are corrupt,” George Lucas explains.” 

== Sci Fi: predicting -- or anticipating the future? ==

Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact, combines an extensive series of articles by journalist Steve Kotler about fantastic, Science Fictional visions that later became reality -- discussing how fiction imagined many of the technologies that are shaping our daily lives. On IEET, the author discusses how, in the future, we may upload our minds into silicon (as I portray in Existence!)

Thoth Technology Inc has been granted both US and UK patents for a space elevator designed to take astronauts up into the stratosphere, so they can then be propelled into space. The tower, will be an inflatable, freestanding structure complete with an electrical elevator and will reach from its ground ancho to 20km (12.5 miles) height.  In other words in all ways precisely the design that I described in my novel Sundiver. (Anyone remember the Vanilla Needle?)

70 years ago, Murray Leinster’s story “A Logic Named Joe” set the bar for predictive vision, forecasting a future when private citizens would have personal computers that speak to them and seek information via a world spanning network. No other author followed Leinster’s lead for decades. The OC Register celebrates this milestone:

It's important to note the state of science and technology at this point [1946]. The United States had only recently come out of World War II, having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union would not test its atomic bomb to kick off the Cold War for another three years, and computers only existed as massive projects like the Colossus, Harvard Mark I and ENIAC. The transistor computer would not be built until 1953, and ARPANET would not go online for another 23 years.

“Technology in the home, meanwhile, was only beginning to emerge with electric appliances and television was still in its infancy (the BBC had only begun broadcasting TV 10 years prior.) Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was lauded for seeing a market for home computers in the late 1970s. Murray Leinster predicted it nearly a decade before Jobs was even born.” The story itself is on Google Books or available on Amazon.

Another novel about the integration of technology into our daily lives: Speak, by Louisa Hall, is a multi-faceted reflection on Artificial Intelligence, exploring relationships between humans and machines, as well as the isolation and alienation of her human characters. The novel speaks through five different narrators across time, from a researcher imprisoned for making robots (babybots) deemed illegal because they were excessively lifelike -- to a troubled and lonely girl seeking consolation from a computer after her babybot was confiscated. Other voices include computer scientist Alan Turing, speaking through his letters, a 17th century Puritan young woman speculating about the soul of her dog while traveling to the New World, and a Holocaust survivor increasingly unable to communicate with her spouse - who creates AI that speaks but doesn't remember. Through these voices, Speak delves into the essence of identity, language and memory.


Here's a cool bit of Sci Fi prophecy, foreshadowing SpaceX’s recent impressive ocean landing. The 1959 Soviet film, The Sky Calls -- shows a rocket landing on a barge in the ocean.

Way to go Elon!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Crazy Election Year

Shall we start this political posting with something we saw coming for months? Billionaire David Koch has pledged “tens of millions of dollars” to help bankroll the campaign of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Of course this is exactly as predicted.  They want to boost the Libertarian Party for many reasons, foremost to get NeverTrump Republicans to the polls, And thus possibly save (some) down-ticket republicans. Losing control over red state legislatures is the real Koch nightmare, because one such loss will end gerrymandering and other cheats in that state. Perhaps forever.

They'll have to spend plenty on leaflets asking goppers to vote "Gary Johnson for president plus republican for all other offices." Flyers that will prove their hypocrisy. And of course they'll target millions of Sandersites, appealing for them to go to the LIbertarian Party, hoping to shatter the Democrats' coalition. They are already setting up Chinese-style social media boiler rooms filled with guys feigning identities in order to rave "Never Hillary!"

The ultimate goal? Complete transforming of the libertarian movement into a front for oligarchic propertarianism. (See my earlier posting: Libertarians and Conservatives must choose: Competitive Enterprise or Idolatry of Property.)  And that whirring sound will be coming from Adam Smith's grave. 

By the way. Does it concern you that Donald Trump has had extensively documented interactions with organized crime figures and a raft of “coincidental” benefits from mob-related construction companies and unions? Are you able to convince yourself that running a casino is just like operating any hotel? Or is it actually rather encouraging that he has been smart enough (very smart) to use sealed settlements to leave (so far) no indictable smoking guns? (Encouraging because if he were president – and awful – at least he’d likely be clever.) What’s clear is that the stunning hypocrisy of accusing Hillary Clinton of “corruption” is as delirious as an openly-bragging philandering, twice-divorced gambling lord attacking the morals of Bill Clinton.

Guys, seriously? Some proportion? This is why they wage war on science.  

== Bernites: swerve to the races that matter ==

How to unleash and make best use of the  political energy sparked by Bernie Sanders? It's one thing to ask his zealous supporters to hold their noses and fight for Hillary Clinton. They'll do that, thinking of the Supreme Court and 10,000 honest appointees instead of Trump-Bush clan ripoff artistes... and because Bernie will ask them to, hugging Hillary in Philadelphia,  

But the real deal?

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

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

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

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

Give Hillary such a Congress and watch... the middle class will return and the poor will rise and science will be heeded again.

Fight for change!  But do it as grownups.  We have enough childishness over on the confederate side. Those lower-rung races are where ... after Bernie hugs Hillary onstage... you can do some real good.

== Want more reasons? ==

Meanwhile.... House Republicans yesterday released a plan to slash the Federal Communications Commission's budget by $69 million and prevent the FCC from enforcing net neutrality rules, "rate regulation," and its plan to boost competition in the set-top box market. Jiminy, will someone speak up with ONE example of this congressional majority ever doing even a single thing the interests of 21st Century US citizens? Come on. Down in comments.  Name one.  Even one.

And Republicans controlling the Senate passed legislation Tuesday to block new Obama administration rules that require financial professionals to put their client’s best interest first when giving advice on retirement investments like individual retirement accounts.  Truly nothing more needs to be said than the simple and factual headline. Read it over again! No “spin” is possible. Rationalize your way out if it, if you can. 

From the Washington Post: Republicans' hopes for an Obama scandal crash and burn. While the obsessively repeated fox-narrative asserts democratic corruption, in fact, the record shows exactly the opposite. “The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free,” David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist, wrote this year. 

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

In fact, the Obama administration is about to be only the second eight-year presidency in well over a century ever to end without a single high official convicted, or even indicted, for any substantial malfeasance of office. Any at all, despite relentless witch hunts by the like of my own representative, Darrell Issa (R-CA). Efforts to find a ‘smoking gun’ that have taken up the greater part of the laziest Congress in U.S. history. 

Oh, what’s the other 8-year administration that came out clean as a whistle, despite desperate opposition efforts to find something corrupt or criminal?  The tenure of Bill Clinton.

Alternative electoral rules? 

Many of the alternative electoral rules suggested by science fiction are tempting, like using the Australian Preferential Ballot system that would solve most of our problems with plurality of first-past-the-post rules.

Others are more ambitious. One is reminded of Heinlein's criterion for citizenship in Starship Troopers... service first, then voting. A far better pattern was suggested in his novel Double Star, wherein computers let us bypass the insane unfairness of electoral representation based on where you live.  District based voting ensures that 40% of Americans will never elect a representative -- and congressfolk blithely ignore that 40% in their district.  A treason made worse by gerrymandering. (Which one party has refined to an art and a reflex.)

Far better for a modern era? Imagine saying that any 750,000 citizens can unite to "buy" or to "elect" a representative, unanimously. All the other reps must find 750,000... say among single university women or all the truck drivers in the midwest.  If your constituency shrinks below 700K you better recruit more citizens or you are out of office and those 600,000 need to fish around and build alliances to get over the mark.

This way, no one is disenfranchised, ever! And yes, it means that large cults, even hate groups, might pool to get a representative or two. So? By the same token, those fanatics would thereupon have ZERO residual impact on ANY other representative. Ponder that.