Saturday, March 23, 2019

Wonders from space... and beyond


Naturally, I'll have much to say about the Mueller Report, but not today. (Well, maybe in a coda, at the end.) For now, let's boost our spirits by...

... looking toward space!  Starting with...

A
 stream of terrific shadow selfie images from Japan's Hyabusa-2 probe touching down on  asteroid Ryugu, then getting blown back as it fires a bullet to kick up sample material. 'If all goes according to plan, these three samples will come down to Earth in a special return capsule in December 2020.” And this after deployment of three mini-landers.

This seems a perfect partnership with NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex probe, sampling another asteroid. Below, I'll discuss how the U.S. and Japan plus a few tech wizards should go do these treasure rocks (where the vast wealth is) while letting China, Russia and all the other Apollo-wannabes scamper to sterile-useless Luna for their coming-of-age rites. 

And yet.... we now find that incoming asteroids may be harder to break than scientists previously thought


== It's quiet out there... maybe too quiet ==

My paper on the ethical, logical and theological  bases for METI – Messaging to ET Intelligences – is now in the journal Theology & Science. ‘The “Barn Door” Argument, The Precautionary Principle, and METI as “Prayer”—an Appraisal of the Top Three Rationalizations for “Active SETI.”’ Yes, so far it is restricted by subscription. But let me offer you the abstract:

“Proponents of Active SETI, or METI, defend their messaging-to-aliens agenda with fallacious arguments like the Barn Door Excuse, that technologically advanced extraterrestrials must have already listened to our radio leakage, (e.g. “I Love Lucy”), hence more direct beaming will not betray Earth’s location. 


"Further, they claim that sending pinpointed, collimated messages will only lead to positive outcomes. In fact, laser-like “messages” are far more powerfully detectable at great distances than old-time television, and concerns about potential downsides should be appraised by scientific risk-assessment. It is argued that METI is psychologically driven as a version of the ancient human practice of prayer.”


Yes, there truly was a reason it got published in Theology and Science.


== Yes, humanity should keep exploring the moon ==

We’ve learned so much from lunar bits, especially taken by the Apollo missions. This Apollo14 sample apparently formed deep under the crust of the Earth, then got blasted to Earth’s surface, then blasted to land on the Moon, got buried and modified, then got blasted onto the moon’s surface to be plucked by an Apollo14 astronaut. How do we figure all this? We’ve learned to track an amazing suite of physical and chemical and isotopic clues thanks to … well, science.  Federally funded R&D that propelled half of our economy, since WWII.

And yet...  Come see a screed of utter-drooling nonsense –  declaring that China is “winning the new space race‼!” Oh, no! They just put a tiny solar rover on the Moon!  "The stakes are high: Who will be able to obtain the vast resources in space, for example, water/ice, iron, titaniumplatinum and nickel; secure the routes of trade; and write the rules of space commerce such as trade in energy propellant and precious metals."

Sigh. I am forced to get repetitive. The moon has what? It has absolutely none of those things except possibly some buried water as a source of propellant, at the difficult to access poles. And even that is likely to be eclipsed by vast amounts of water available in asteroids... along with actual, rather than make-believe gold, platinum etc. 

Why pretend to justify joining the Apollo-wannabes with faux claims of lunar 'resources' that don't exist? Even the normally smart and cogent Isaac Arthur breaks his arms desperately waving away any need to justify that claim with actual numbers. Oh, and here’s another cock n’bull story about moon mining and Helium 3 mythology, without a hint of due diligence on actual numbers or plausibility.

The only way that China wins any "space race" would be either militarily (as in the first chapter of Ghost Fleet; and yes, be wary) or else if the $%$#! Republicans force us into a "united/international consortium to go back to the moon." In that case – a lose-lose for the U.S. -- we'd have to transfer all our technology, boosting the Chinese and Russian while gaining nothing. 

Show us the "ores" you blithely armwave to be on the moon! Show us clear charts how it would be a 'way-station" to Mars. You can't. Oh, but with no one else apparently calling out this insanity, with a sigh, let me reiterate. 

The moon started out resource depleted because it came from Earth's crust, after most metals sank into our planet's core. Then the newborn-molten moon fractionated again, sending most of what was left settling into it's own core! As for what remained, there were no water processes which concentrated most useful ores on Earth. 

True there's aluminum and silicon and smidgeons of titanium in Luna's crust... and all of it is in super tight oxygen bonds that will take truly major energy input to separate -- possible, but hugely non-trivial. A little scattered meteoritic iron might get collected by dragging magnets endlessly through dust. Or we could go where it came from...

In contrast, half of the asteroids seem to have come from a shattered proto-planet. Some of them come from its carbon-volatiles-water rich outer crust. Some from the stony middle and many of them from the purified metal/iron/gold etc core. Pre-refined metal! 

Again, the only resource advantage of the moon is purported Helium Three. And please show it to me. Show me a customer. Hold me back from strangling the next cultist raving "Helium Three!" 

Yes, I do think we should keep exploring Luna!  Humanity is going back there, no matter what. And that's fine, Chinese and later Indian, Russian and Saudi and European and billionaire tourists will skip about, planting footprints in that dusty, useless, utterly resource-free plain. (And the U.S. should sell them services, maybe landers! Indeed, we might send a few small robots to explore some of those lava tube tunnels, partly to prevent the Chinese from claiming them all. But joining their mad rush for footprints? Why?)

Their surface reasons will be 'scientific,' but we all know it will be tourism and national pride. Having their Bar Moonzvah (“Today I am a man!”) 

Mazel Tov. The Americans and Japanese and Diamandis-ovs and Musk-ovites should transmit congratulations. Let's blow them kisses from the asteroids where we're getting spectacularly rich, doing things that only we (with our fellow true modernists) can do.

Wake up and smell the platinum.

== More news about deadly rocks ==

Fascinating evidence suggests that two of the super-Earths orbiting very close to a Kepler studied star may have collided in the past and that one of them is so dense it might consist only of the stripped iron core of an earlier, larger version.

Evidence suggesting that the rate of asteroids impacting the Earth-Moon system actually went up, starting about 290 million years ago, and the rate probably rose by 2.6x.  Perhaps a major asteroid broke up around then. In any event, all the more reason to support the B612 Foundation’s work, helping count and study potential impactors and concocting plans to deal with them.

Meanwhile, the theory that Earth’s volatile elements arrived through the steady bombardment of ancient meteorites during the Late Heavy Bombardment has been challenged by those who propose that a catastrophic collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object, sometimes referred to as Theia, some 4.4 billion years ago --- which many believe created Earth’s moon – may have delivered those volatiles.

== Go-go! ==

In preparation for it's first potential test fire, followed by hover trials, SpaceX had moved Elon's Starhopper suborbital vehicle to a launch pad at its Boca Chica test site near Brownsville, Texas

== And finally ==

Ah, but then there’s the Chinese orbital tracking station in Patagonia, operating without the slightest supervision by Argentina’s government or public. One more highly… assertive… international action. Only note that Patagonia is also where some of the world’s oligarchic elites have been buying up whole mountains for their post-apocalyptic retreats. All based on their weirdly smug assumption that we all won’t know exactly where they’ll be, when we decide to get mad.

Can you see patterns under the patterns? If Alien meddlers wanted to ensure our failure... or get hilarious reality TV ... the perfect plan is is to use their agents -- (Rupert? Vlad) to craft what we see right now. Oh, but let's not get all science-fictional!  Not till next time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A "process" matter that is actually life-or-death for the U.S.... and the U.K.


Momentum is building for preferential voting (PV) systems, that let voters rank-order their preferred candidates or outcomes. This option is being forced on the Democratic Party, for example, by their flood of candidates who must be sorted-out in just a couple of 2020 primary months. 

PV -- or rank-choice voting -- would let a state's voters make multiple choices, maybe five in-order, so the election might stumble a bit toward actual consensus, instead of an insipid first-past-the-post that would leave the sane 70% of the country simmering with resentment, instead of enthusiasm.  Below I will talk about efforts to implement PV in the US... and why it's even more important... in Britain.

But first, something you really have to watch.

== The great failure mode of all democracies ==


An amazing video on staggering wealth inequality. Left out... the context of 6000 years, when this was the principle aim of princes. Only the recent enlightenment realized a core truth, that while property is a vital incentive for creative competition... it is inevitably toxic when too-concentrated. (Like any good thing: food, water, air.) When it concentrates too much, human nature rears its ugly head and cheating ensues. (And this is not "left-right"! Communist commisars behave in exactly the same ways as kings, sheiks and zillionaires.)

The video claims that Senator Warren's proposed wealth taxes are new. But I quibble. The American founders seized and redistributed up to 1/3 of all the land in the former colonies in order to stymie feudalism! (And it was feudalism, not 'bureaucrats' who Adam Smith denounced and the Founders rebelled against.) Especially the Greatest generation (see below) found ways to stimulate a vast middle class. 

The rich need to decide whether to follow their smartest peers (Gates, Buffett, Bezos) etc. and keep that social contract. It can be done without pitchforks and torches, tumbrels and guillotines. But there isn't much time.
=
== Democrats, this "mere process" means survival  ==

Lawrence Lessig and Equal citizen ran a campaign to bring ranked choice voting (RC) to the New Hampshire presidential primary. And it's on the verge of succeeding, with your help. RC voting - or preferential balloting - has been used by us super-wise and forward-thinking science fiction folks for the Hugo and Nebula awards for four decades and it is standard in Australia and a few other nations. 

RC/PV doesn't always come down to the best candidate. But it will always prevent the worst from happening -- a horrible monster squeaking by with 40%, though hated by a divided 60%. 

This potential reform in Iowa and New Hampshire takes on special importance given the vast field of Democrats attempting to run for president. The present system is simply insane at parsing out front-runners! What? Is a candidate who got a whole 16% the “front-runner” ahead of rivals who got 15%, 14%, 12% and 12%? Does that let a fringe constituency control the divided majority? Democrats could help themselves considerably and us, by arm twisting both of those states into trying a preferential ballot process just for that DP primary, to see how it goes.

BTW, Lessig will give the conference keynote at the Future of the Open Web conference n Friday, May 17,at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco hotel. 

Oh, as an aside: this article told about a similar time – 80 years ago - when an "American populist" threw giant rallies - under superficial patriotism - actually boosted the interests of foreign fascist plotters and divisive hate. "When Nazis Took Manhattan: In 1939, an event at Madison Square Garden was billed as a "Pro-America Rally". It was, in fact, a rally in support of Hitler and fascism." It tells of one brave fellow who infiltrated the rally in New York... as my father did when they threw a similar bund-fest in Chicago. And yes, the parallels with today are creepy. (Especially if you've been watching "The Man In The High Castle.")

While we’re historical… Extra History is one of the best things on YouTube. Quick, animated summaries of past eras that shaped our age. A 6-parter filled in my gaps about Sun Yat-sen and the Chinese Revolution. Another swept me across the end of the samurai era. This one about the Gracchi brothers shows how oligarchy undermined the Roman Republic, which was then torn up by radical populism. It all makes clear how fevered and harsh was "history" and why our present oligarchy plots against the new, modern, grownup ways of doing things.

The animations are way fun, but the narration is so good that I get everything while turning my back to cook or do busywork at the computer.

And now, back to those ranked voting processes that are essential, for democracy to get functional again.

== Perplexidus Albion ==

Regarding Brexit, sure, the blatant next move is for the UK to hold another referendum, with the following in mind:

* The British people were not aware, the first time, that Brexit was powerfully backed by Putin's Kremlin. Guilt-by-association is as valid a point as any other element in this argument.

* Both the Brexiters and the Conservatives know that their political careers are over, if a second referendum cancels the charade. Hence frantic resistance.

* Brexit showed the insipid absurdity of deciding complex issues with binary ballots.

Hence, any second Brexit vote should offer Britons  a multiple choice ballot:

1.  Hard Brexit with no deal.

2. Theresa May's deal.

3. Remain in the EU under the old treaty.

4. Remain providing the EU is willing to negotiate more state sovereignty over residency.

Blatantly, #4 would win the automated runoff, even if millions gave first preference to something else. Moreover, European leaders already know that universal residency mobility was a Bridge Too Far. They are already backpedaling on that and rule-complexity and would signal a willingness to oblige.

Some technologies and solutions are only tried once the old ways have calamitously failed. Preferential referenda weaken Parliament, which deserves it, and will exile a generation of obsolete politicians. That's not a bug, but a feature.

== Ties go deep ==

Trump’s deep Russian ties go at least to when a Putin ally-oligarch in 2013 paid DT $10 million to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, and many stinking hijinks commenced.

In EARTH (1989) I portrayed a coalition of developing nations finally getting fed-up and declaring war upon the money-laundering mafias – like Zurich and the Caymans and the State of Delaware – that have helped rob trillions from poor populations across the globe. It’s still possible for one – just one – president of a small country to do something epic and historic and transforming, and I could map how. But you should read this article from The Atlantic by Franklin Foer that starts with showing 

Further: “The collapse of communism in the other post-Soviet states, along with China’s turn toward capitalism, only added to the kleptocratic fortunes that were hustled abroad for secret safekeeping. Officials around the world have always looted their countries’ coffers and accumulated bribes. But the globalization of banking made the export of their ill-gotten money far more convenient than it had been—which, of course, inspired more theft. By one estimate, more than $1 trillion now exits the world’s developing countries each year in the forms of laundered money and evaded taxes.”

In effect, this has meant the impoverishment of billions of human beings, higher taxes for you and me, and the outright deaths of tens of millions, making these thugs among the world’s worst outright murderers. And making all of this genuinely a “war.”  See also  British journalist Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back.

Don’t skimp. Read the whole thing! Because there’s items like this, toward the end:

“In her important history, Corruption in America, Zephyr Teachout, a legal scholar and liberal activist, argues that during the country’s first 200 years, courts maintained the Founders’ vigilance against corruption. For a good chunk of American history, a number of states criminalized lobbying in many forms, out of a sense that a loosening of standards would trigger a race to the bottom. That near-phobia now looks quaint, and also prescient. The political culture, the legal culture, the banking culture—so much of the culture of the self-congratulatory meritocratic elite—have long since abandoned such prudish ways.

“The defining document of our era is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. The ruling didn’t just legalize anonymous expenditures on political campaigns. It redefined our very idea of what constitutes corruption, limiting it to its most blatant forms: the bribe and the explicit quid pro quo. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion crystallized an ever more prevalent ethos of indifference—the collective shrug in response to tax avoidance by the rich and by large corporations, the yawn that now greets the millions in dark money spent by invisible billionaires to influence elections.”

It’s not that it’s hopeless. Some real measures happened in 2001 and in 2007. And almost all of this would end – returning tens of trillions of stolen wealth and giving law-abiding citizens a huge tax holiday – if we had one simple, two sentence worldwide law:

“If you own something, say so publicly. Anything not claimed by a living person, government or accountable foundation is abandoned property.”

It is likely that all the world’s outstanding debt, acting as a lamprey on the arteries of all the world’s economies, could be erased by that simple measure, ending the masks and shells and laundering scams, allowing tax rates for all law-abiding citizens to be slashed, everywhere, and erasing most kinds of corruption, as I lay out in my  proposal for a Transparent Ownership Treaty.