Sunday, September 27, 2020

More Space! Space is the Place

Today I'll take a break from posting chapters of Polemical Judo. (Last time I offered one suggestion - out of 100+ under-appreciated maneuvers in the book - just one that might forestall every 'October Surprise,' thwart most of the cheating, and prevent most pre- or post-election violence. Two sentences. Just two.)

Only now let's take a break for science! (Remember when much of our news cycle was about such things?) I just finished participating in the annual Symposium of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC)... and you can watch some of the amazing - just short of science fictional - projects here.

But the following non-NIAC items are straight out of the (scientific) headlines!

Caltech’s robotic Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) - to search of unexpected flares of light in the night sky - on May 21, 2019, detected a visible light flare that appears to be correlated with gravitational wave event S190521g that was recorded at about the same time by the LIGO and VIRGO gravitational wave detectors. Graham reported, “In our study, we conclude that the flare is likely the result of a black hole merger, but we cannot completely rule out other possibilities.” So kewl.

Interesting! The Air Force’s secret space plane the X-37 is hush hush so I was surprised by this article about an experiment to test converting sunlight into microwaves, eventually leading to prototype space power-beaming systems.

Future space travelers may have to conduct lifesaving surgical procedures in the near-zero gravity environment of spaceThat could be a messy — and potentially dangerous — endeavor.  The prospect of gushing clouds of blood and intestines might partly be solved by lacrosopic surgery techniques. Even better, injectable robots. Meanwhile, one of the coolest new NIAC grants goes to Dr. Lynn Rothschild’s team developing simple, spore-based ways to grow a variety of drugs when and where needed, via astropharmacology.

Alas, in contrast... not all "space news" credible 

NASA Discovers Huge Potential Caches of Metal On the Moon.” Seriously? A slight change in the parts per millions of some metal OXIDES? Most of it buried deep underground? None of this changes my mind. Except for some water ice at the poles - and maybe some scattered meteoritic iron grains - there is nothing “there” on Luna. None of the supposed exploitable “resources” that some boosters dishonestly yammer about. Nothing compared to the riches at asteroids. One more reason to end this lunatic – literally – administration of science and fact-haters. 

Leave the Moon to the kiddies, desperate for their rites of adulthood, making footprints on that (for now) dusty-useless ball. (Though US companies are welcome to rent out hotel rooms and landers for those tourists! And keep sending robots to check for when... not if... I'll someday be proved wrong.) 

Meanwhile, along with the Japanese and Europeans, we can go for the real riches, doing what no one else can do.

== More space! ==

Might “Planet Nine” be a primordial black hole, orbiting at the fringes of our solar system, occasionally flaring when it sucks in a drifting comets? Or perhaps micro gravity-lensing background star fields? Those betraying encounters might be detected by a new telescope that will give us better all-sky awareness than ever before.

Venus appears to have volcanoes… and remnant ones arrayed in patterns that appear to mimic in some ways Earth’s “Ring of Fire” and hot spot mantle plumes like under Hawaii and Yellowstone.

Two huge planets orbiting a young but sunlike star 300 light years away have been directly imaged. Wonderful.

A piece of Mars that fell to Earth decades ago is heading back to the Red Planet.

Most of the super-energetic sources seen in this spectacular full map (shown above) of the X-Ray Sky - around 77 percent - are supermassive black holes actively accreting material in the cores of galaxies, or active galactic nuclei.  “Within the Milky Way, stars with hot, magnetically active coronae make up 20 percent of the objects. The remaining one percent is made up of an assortment - bright X-ray binaries, supernova remnants, and flares…”

The Dynamic Red All-Sky Monitoring Survey (DREAMS)  to be completed 2021 will be able to map the entire southern sky in infrared in just three days, allowing astronomers to rapidly find and track cosmic events. A major step… alongside the new Synoptic telescope in Chile… toward all-sky awareness.

A group of scientists at Harvard and other universities has received NASA’s first-ever funding to search for alien technosignatures—artificial signs of intelligent life—around other stars. The scientists will look for signs of industrial pollutants in other planets’ atmospheres, as well as light reflected from solar panels—both of which could indicate a civilization technologically similar to our own.  

More galaxies appear to spin counter clockwise (Earth coordinates) than clockwise, leading to a theory that the universe itself was born with angular momentum and a complex set of spins.

Bing Chen points out how Loren Eiseley stated in his last book The Invisible Pyramid, "If man goes down I do not believe he will ever again have the resources or the strength to defend the sunflower forest and simultaneously to follow the beckoning road across the star fields. It is now or never for both and the price is very high".

== Ponderables ==

Might there be a subtle variation of the fine-structure constant with extreme distance in the universe… and even with directionality effects? If this new study is correct, however, it instead presents a universe with a dipole structure, not unlike the North and South poles of a magnet.

Just 1000 light years away, a black hole found only from the tight orbits of two nearby stars. One of them visible to the naked eye! Close! “An invisible object with a mass at least 4 times that of the Sun can only be a black hole,” and  “There must be hundreds of millions of black holes out there, but we know about only very few,” and there are likely many more, some closer still.

An now it is asserted that there may be a LOT of stellar range black holes out there... perhaps enough to account for dark matter?  Perhaps they gather in compact clusters, similar to those that ancient races seek as their final homes in the "embrace of tides" effect, you read about in Infinity's Shore and in Heaven's Reach?

And...

Emily Levesque's The Last Stargazers takes you on a personal journey through the art, science, frustrations and passion of  modern astronomy, especially those ever-evolving mountaintop tools that let us pry secrets out of the sky - those magnificent telescopes.

Finally.... A cute rap song about cosmology! And a nice video in which some whipper snappers make a to-scale model of the solar system out on a California lake bed.

And for you geeks.... Wow. An artillery shell that incorporates a ramjet to triple its guided range.

And yes, if you don't want to face the business end of munitions, this phase of the American Civil War must be won decisively, overwhelmingly and soon, so we can end the violent fevers (both covid and confederate) and get back to being joyful problem solving, with facts and science.

Next... Chapter nine of Polemical Judo...  

America’s place in the world - Part 1:

Pax Americana and the rise of China


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Hey Joe! You can shatter all their plots with one tool. One offer, in one speech. (The Blackmail and Henchmen chapter.)

Sorry, I've fallen behind my twice weekly schedule to post these chapters of POLEMICAL JUDO.... tied up in meetings of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC), and re-issuing both my Out Of Time series of YA novels and Colony High!  But I haven't forgotten the crisis we are in. 

First though, if you are actually a person who reads... This cogent article details at least two dozen ways the coming election might be messed-with by those who are desperate for democracy to fail.

As it happens, today's posting of Chapter Eight is all about the only possible solution. One that either Joe Biden or some democracy-loving zillionaire could implement in ten minutes, just by issuing a statement!  Alas, it is 2020 and people don't read anymore. (Did you intend to read this chapter in its entirety? Of course not.)  Hence, I'll summarize the gist right now:

Joe might say: "None of the plots against American democracy can succeed if enough light shines upon them. So I call upon the henchmen... the helpers or hirelings, or those who have been blackmailed, coerced or bribed! This is your moment to step up and be heroes! Collect evidence and spill it now, while there's time for it to get independently confirmed. And if your information makes a real difference, I promise you this --

"When I am president, I will appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will look into

every credible story or accusation... yes, those made against Democrats too, including me! Eminent Republicans will be asked to serve and retired senior judges and military officers and respected scholars and clergy. And -- solely upon their recommendation -- I will consider clemency - full or partial - for those who do more good with light, than they ever did harm in shadows.

"I offer this especially to those who live in fear of blackmail coercion or who are restrained by NDAs. This may be your chance to escape those traps and gain fresh esteem as a hero! You can find details at my website. But in fact, shouldn't your greatest reward be to do the right thing? Do it now! Gather evidence. Expose crooks and traitors. Our nation has always been the one - across all the annals of history - that did best in sunlight."

To which some patriotic zillionaire might add:  "Without consulting the Biden campaign or any other, I will now add a further incentive! A million dollar prize - plus protection for a year by a top bodyguard service - to those five whistleblowers, or former henchmen, or blackmail victims who step up with solid evidence and proof of the worst current plot against American democracy."

Why is this obvious step so counter-intuitive? Shouldn't it be obvious? 

Okay, let's get on to Chapter 8 of Polemical Judo, Where you'll see how long I've recommended this very thing! But for those who stick with it to the end... I'll offer a final recommendation that would help Joe Biden crush it, at the coming debates!

==================================================================

 This Chapter began in 2008 as a posted danger-warning[1] to congressfolk who were newly elected that year, but it grew in scope and universal relevance. In fact, I’ve felt guilty for not pushing the alert harder. It is my chief reason for putting together a collection and book. And yes, it segues directly off the previous chapter on conspiracies.

We all think we have the world sussed, seeing things that others don’t. As an author of techno-thrillers I’m pretty well-informed about dangers looming ahead. But our biggest threat may be as old as civilization itself. 

 

  

Chapter 8 of Polemical Judo

 

Poison and Antidote – 

Blackmailers, Henchmen and Whistleblowers


 

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

 

All of you enthusiastic neophytes to national power – this may be the very moment for a little protective paranoia. Always remember that some powerful people will see you as a threat to their interests. Some of the more unscrupulous may seek to neutralize that threat, using classic methods, known across history. One of the most basic ancient techniques – going back to biblical times – has been entrapment and blackmail.

 

Remember the U.S. Marine guards at our embassy in Moscow, some decades back? It all started when a few boys – lonely and far from home – were invited to party with some local “students.” A little alcohol, then sex with local hookers... were followed by a drug high or two... and a few lewd pictures... then some incriminating ones...

 

At any point, early on, those young men could have saved their own lives and served their country, simply by turning themselves in. The first to do so might even have saved his career. Others could have escaped with minor punishments. Instead, alas, they let themselves be blackmailed, by gradual stages, into doing the KGB “just a couple of harmless favors”...

 

... relatively harmless, at first. Xeroxing a few embassy visitor lists. Penny-ante stuff. Only then, the Soviets had real dirt on the poor fellows. Proof of espionage that could produce real prison time. And meanwhile the girls and drugs kept coming. Plus flattery. ("You are special, James Bond types – above normal loyalties and laws." Very similar patterns of ego-milking helped to suborn the Walkers and that dismal FBI agent, Hanssen.) Soon, those marines were trapped. Fully in the pockets of their nation's enemies, they were betraying really harmful secrets.

 

DO YOU DOUBT IT STILL GOES ON?

 

Security experts and intelligence agents know all about this process, which has been used by kingdoms, empires, syndicates and unscrupulous groups since time immemorial. Indeed, all through World War Two and the Cold War, it was a key job of counter-intelligence professionals to watch carefully for hints of subornation. They collected and correlated patterns of travel, or unaccountable wealth, or crony-favoritism, keeping a wary eye open for anything consistent enough to merit closer scrutiny.

 

So now? Does it really matter that our roster of “enemies” has changed a bit? The KGB is “gone.” But there are others – some of them heirs of past enemies, employing the very same agents and methods – who do not want our civilization to thrive. Or who would influence our top decision-makers in order to be better parasites. Anyone who thought this classic danger ended with the Cold War has to be titanically naive.

 

Moreover, consider this: Bribery is actually far less efficient and reliable than blackmail!

 

If you bribe an official or legislator or bureaucrat, they may demand more next time. Or else say “I helped you enough this year.” But blackmail puts them in your pocket for good. It transforms the relationship, making him or her less a business associate and more the blackmailer’s personal servant.

 

Has this scenario already been in play, among members of the present ruling caste?

 

Of course, the imagination can run wild – colored by your degree of paranoia and your personal politics. (How else would you explain some decision patterns, in recent years, that seem relentlessly to benefit just a few hostile interest groups, over and over again, at great cost to the general commonwealth? Always start by listing the big winners.) [3]

 

No, I won't go into detail here as to who I think may be orchestrating present day attempts at subornation. Nor does that matter, since no one can point to a single era of history when it did not happen.

 

We are better off assuming the tradition goes on. And that some enemies of our republic, our civilization, and the Western Enlightenment are doing it right now.

 

 

THE WARNING APPLIES TO YOU

 

Oh, especially you incoming Democratic lawmakers and staffers, don't be fooled by the fact that most of the known American traitors, across the last 40 years, were Republicans![4] (e.g. the Walkers, Hanssen, Manafort[5] etc.) Democrats are fallible, corruptible and human, too! Indeed, there may be forces at work in DC, right now, who aim to test this methodology on the newest players in that wild and ethically-challenged town.

 

Even veteran Democratic representatives may need to heed this warning, because only now have they become more interesting targets for subornation.

 

Moreover, while the main topic of this open letter (and the book) is political subornation, can anyone doubt that even greater efforts have gone into the commercial kind? Rivals and predatory arbitrageurs – both domestic and foreign – have a long history of targeting human weakness in the executive suites and research labs of competitors. It ranks among the top methods for intellectual property theft

 

Even if I am exaggerating the current extent of suborned betrayal within the many branches and agencies, corporations and media that make up the American Establishment, this warning stands, because it will always be a danger. A peril that can turn almost any friend of our civilization into a snake, dwelling in its heart.[6]

 

Hence, let me offer a little advice to all loyal Americans – whether Republican or Democrat or independent entrepreneur – who may be embarking upon careers along avenues of power.

 

 

TAKE SIMPLE PRECAUTIONS

 

Consign yourself to live a super-clean life. Become a personal prude. Back away from temptations, even if they take place in the apparently secure confines of (say) a billionaire’s yacht or on a private estate,[7] or a royal palace in some foreign land.

 

Especially in those environs! Because those may be the very people who would like to “own” a representative or bureaucrat. The more flattering and friendly and ego-stroking they may seem – assuring you of secure and private pleasures – the stronger the possibility that the very walls may have cameras. Aimed in order to guarantee that you will remain a valued friend.

 

Hire a good professional paranoid for your staff. Someone who knows all about these nasty tricks and who can spot bait-lures on the horizon. Likewise, have a truly wise confidant – someone not on your payroll – to whom you can turn when temptation comes your way. And don't entirely trust either of them.

 

Have a scenario-plan worked out, for when you are approached with either a potential entrapment or a follow-up blackmail threat. Those first instants of surprise and confusion could be critical. If you are prepared (especially technologically), you may be the one to turn the tables on your persecutors... and thus do your nation a service out of all proportion to any “goods” that the bad guys have on you.

 

Indeed, talking this over among yourselves, you may also be well served to look into whether agencies like the FBI may offer pre-training services and even some technology, empowering you and others like you to act decisively and confidently, when and if such a time comes. (And if they don't offer such services, ask why not.) 

 

Indeed, if you make it openly clear that you are wary, it may keep such plotters away.

 

Contemplate the algebra of forgiveness. Some of you reading this may have already tumbled over the edge. It may have happened to you – some moment of weakness or falling into temptation. Perhaps even blackmail based upon faked photos or videos, or something you never did! (A modern problem that I discussed way back in the last century, in both Earth and The Transparent Society.)

 

Maybe you’ve been on a hellish spiral for years, hating yourself...

 

...or else rationalizing that you’re now serving a superior side. That's what human beings often do. Even the worst traitors seldom view themselves that way. Blackmailers are often supremely good flatterers.

 

However it has come down, consider this: It's never too late to do the right thing. 

 

Consider the following… then ponder it again. Then contemplate. 

 

If the subornation process that I describe has been going on in a systematic and pervasive way, polluting our institutions and corrupting our trusted public servants, how do you think history will view the first of you to show some guts? The first to stand and fight back?

 

If you do it with savvy and skill, somehow turning the tables on your blackmailers – as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos arguably did[8] - can you even doubt that your nation will value that service, far higher than it disdains your original, disreputable deeds? 

 

I know I will! I’ll fight for you, and so will millions of others.

 

Help foster a civilization that rewards openness and forgiveness. This is a long term goal. But if we keep making progress toward a civilization that has a sense of proportion about lesser human failings, then we may neutralize many situations that were, or remain, “blackmailable.” 

 

Little sexual lapses should matter less than graft and treason, for example.[9] (But remember, once you are blackmailed for the one, you may then be pushed to commit the latter, and be blackmailed for that!)

 

In any event, we all need to help foster trends toward a nation and a world where people will feel safe to own up to their faults, rather than feeling terrified that their smaller slips and faults will doom their hopes. We should not be led by folks who are afraid of light.

 

 

WHISTLEBLOWERS, HENCHMEN, 

AND OUR ULTIMATE VICTORY CONDITION

 

Pausing here in this chapter’s “open letter to a politician” motif, I’ve repeatedly hectored many of our top defenders to step back and consider what might be the long-range victory condition for our kind of civilization. Not just the USA, but for any species that aims for justice, integrity, progress, accountability… and the stars.

 

It’s easy to see that victory condition if you recognize one simple truth. All of our deadly foes, who wish us harm, are lethally allergic to light.[10]

 

Bearing that universal in mind, it is clear that the long range victory condition for our kind of civilization is a future world that’s filled with open-fair competition, calm negotiation, but above all… light.

 

Of course this relates to our current topic – blackmail and other kinds of secretive coercion. I have already spoken of whistleblower protection and rewards, in Chapter 5’s section on “The Fact Act” and in Chapter 7’s riff on conspiracies. We’ll return to the topic again and again, because no form of light can be more effective than revelations from dark corners. That’s why I have long urged a Henchman’s Law to help protect those who do this.[11]

 

Moreover, some private, patriotic zillionaire might get it all rolling by offering a set of prizes – perhaps $5 million – for some employee of, say, a corrupt voting machine manufacturer who comes forth with proof. And if proof doesn't appear, you don't pay! (But instill fear in those bastards.) If you do wind up paying, you become a hero for saving the nation.[12]

 

As we go back to my “open letter,” just keep in mind – light is the one cleanser that every kind of filth – in and out of our society fears most.

 

 

PICK THE ULTIMATE WINNER: CIVILIZATION

 

The crux? Consider again: blackmailers love to give their victims a sense of helpless isolation. But the sickness may be far more pervasive than you imagine! And spreading. For it is the nature of evil men that they are insatiable. They will keep trying whatever has worked in the past, casting their nets wider and wider, under an illusion that the good times can go on forever...

 

... until, at last, they try these tricks on people with the courage, wit and patriotism to fight back. At which point, the whole vile deck of cards may come tumbling down.

 

Where will you be, when that happens?

 

According to the algebra of redemption, only the first to blow the whistle will be heroes, forgiven all, rewarded with everything. After them will come the most agile rats, abandoning a sinking ship, tattling and pointing fingers in exchange for clemency...

 

...and the last to come out will be hung.

 

Again, if you are already caught in this mesh, they want you to think you are alone. But there are likely hundreds, even thousands of others, any one of whom may suddenly erupt with conscience, patriotism and courage. History shows that this kind of thing is never stable. Either it will result in democracy being thoroughly corrupted and destroyed... as happened many times...

 

... or else such schemes will collapse, as American and Enlightenment civilization continues its inexorable progress toward an open and transparent and accountable society. In the first of these two eventualities, you may thrive, having sided with the new masters. But you will know (deep inside) that you helped to end the Great Experiment. May it gnaw your guts.

 

But suppose what happens is the second outcome. (I have reason to believe it.) Then cowards who let themselves be blackmailed or cozened or suborned or bribed or flattered into treason will eventually be brought to light. And they’ll be sorry.

 

Either way, you can see what’s at stake. So be careful. Take precautions. Cut through the rationalizations. Keep your eyes open.

 

- Oh, one final point: If you seek the people's trust and are granted political power, that makes you a soldier: Live with it. 

 

We are a civilization that’s at war for its very survival. Moreover, “terrorists” are among the most pallid and laughable of our enemies.[13] There are worse threats to the continuation of our Great Experiment in open civilization, in science and democracy, in social mobility, in truly free-creative markets and a joyfully open mix of competition and cooperation.

 

None of those great things can work well in darkness, manipulated by cheaters.

 

Stand up. Know what the enemy can do. And deny them the power.



======================================================================

Lagniappe concerning the coming 2020 presidential debates:  Of all my scores of suggestions, someone get this one to Biden! 

At the debates, when Trump assails Joe's supposed physical or mental problems or being "drugged," Biden should say: 

"Mr. President we both have Secret Service details waiting just outside. Both details have qualified doctors, EMTs and nurses. Let's invite them into this auditorium RIGHT NOW to take blood samples, witnessed on live TV, and have the samples submitted to three different labs for a full workup. My tests won't be perfect, but I am happy to clear the facts for the American people. I am rolling up my sleeve, right now. Have you the guts to do the same?"
Even if Trump is NOT medically shaky (and of course he is) he would likely be terrified of needles. Bets?

If you see a common thread in all of this. Yes. It is light. We are the side of light. They stand for darkness in every conceivable way. I stand ready to take wagers on that.

======================================================================


[1] “Political Blackmail: The Hidden Danger to Public Servants.” http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/blackmail.html

 

[2] Note that government officials are far from the only people available as targets! Anyone in command of critical infrastructure is on the list. Power plant operators. Commercial IT providers. Website gurus. News organizations. Indeed one of the most chilling predictive novels of science fiction – The Cool War, by Frederik Pohl, foresaw an attrition campaign of reciprocal sabotage that could – short of nuclear conflict – grind all sides down to poverty. Highly recommended. The book, not the war.

 

[3] How innocent this 2007 posting seems, posing this question as theoretical! That we are seeing this program implemented on a massive scale, in 2019, seems beyond any question or doubt.

 

[4] And nearly all of the major-predator sexual perverts, from Dennis Hastert to Roy Moore and so many of those with squelched National Enquirer articles in David Pecker’s safe. That safe – plus the blackmail files of Jeffrey Epstein and his madam – constitute troves that – if leaked – might inconvenience many top players, but also offer America and the world a cleansing.

 

[5] Inserted during revision for the book version: convicted traitor Paul Manafort stands in here for what appear to be scores of suborned or complicit or blackmailed Republican leaders or factotums, including (likely) a famously retired jurist.

 

[6] Oh, the connections I have made with my own ‘chart of yarn’! I’ll not publish any of that here, for many reasons, including the insurance policy of my own reveal-on-my-death cache. And because disproved libels could (rightfully!) ruin a fellow who is so rash as to to point fingers at individuals. Anyway, this book is filled with more than enough stuff to act upon, already.

 

[7] Was this 2007 paragraph prophetic, in light of the Jeffrey Epstein case? No. It was obvious.

 

[8] The best recent example, though hard to emulate, was billionaire Jeff Bezos, who defied his would-be extortionists and turned the tables on them. And yes, he’s the world’s richest man, so it was fairly risk free. Still, it’s behooved on folks like that to point out the way. There are many tales of French officials who – shown photos of their infidelity in Moscow, have snarled. “You call zees photography? Let’s try again.”

 

[9] For a century, prejudice against homosexuals was justified by declaring they were vulnerable to blackmail. How many decades and ruined lives passed, before the answer to that circular “logic” became obvious?

 

[10] I do not include as “foes” regular business or cultural rivals. May they compete and prosper in positive-sum ways, alongside us.

 

[11] https://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/10/attention-henchmen-voting-machines-and.html?fbclid=IwAR0BWXJYHp_Cr6w_0fpIVskBuwQL0kkBcXqCmsj-_Afo_EmfoUCPUrugzp8

 

[12] Something like it was tried, briefly and without much fanfare – or enough money – in the wake of the November 2016 election. http://www.protectourelections.org/2016/11/17/one-hundred-thousand-dollar-reward-offered-for-evidence-of-election-fraud/

 

[13] Comments Republican Pat Scannell, on critiquing this project: “I’ve always been amazed at our outsized quest for security.  We won’t spend $100M in civilization building efforts, but we’ll spend $1 trillion in response to 19 guys with box cutters.  We struggle to pay $3K/years in pre k per student, but we have no problems spending $60K/year to incarcerate them later.  We lock down our schools, thinking it has made them safe from school shooters, but those efforts, like TSA, are more theater for our concerns – the generation of an artificial narcotic (and fake) sense of security, to quiet the cognitive discontent we have that we are insecure.  Better, as Alan Watts says, to have the wisdom of insecurity, and an accurate view of balanced risks, which in the end, are far cheaper bets than the costs of trying to secure ourselves against all risks.”

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Chapter 7: Oh, the Conspiracies!

I've been posting (for free!) chapters of Polemical Judo, in hope that at least a few of the ideas may percolate through some of you to where they'll do some good.  (Or start fresh with Chapter 1. Or else... actually buy a copy?)

Last time we offered Chapter Six where we discussed some basics of mature conservatism that would be welcome at the negotiating table... if there were any mature conservatives to talk to. Mostly, I listed a vast and depressing rundown of times and issues when they were wrong, wrong and proved utterly wrong by the course of facts.

 Here in Chapter Seven we offer ways to deal with conspiracy theories!. And yes, I wrote this before the Kremlin anf KGB inflicted the madness of QAnon upon us, in hope of converting a bilious Phase 8 ot the American Civil War into a hot and murderous phase nine.

But first a bit of news!  Ranked Choice Voting is on the ballot in Massachusetts and Alaska this year! We’ve used it in science fiction communities to vote for Hugo and Nebula Awards for decades and while not mathematically perfect, it is a huge, huge leap forward from current plurality-voted politics. Anyone you know in those states should be encouraged to support the move. Especially anyone remotely tempted by third parties, since this would at least give them a chance, while still preventing the worst from winning. (The way Nader and Stein supporters screwed us all in 2000 and 2016.)  

And now... from a posting in June 2019 – if you can believe that.[1]

 ===========

 

Chapter 7 of Polemical Judo

 

Oh, the Conspiracies!

  

 Travel anywhere in the world, visit a bar, pub, barbecue or someone’s house or hut – you’ll find one topic easy to spark: conspiracy. No matter the nation, tribe or ethnicity, folks will quickly rail about some group grudge and how “people like me” are being put upon by conniving adversaries who are simultaneously evil and almost super-naturally clever. The world may be filled with fools who believe the cover story. But my brave and savvy folk see the truth!  

 

Naturally, those foes flatter themselves in exactly the same way, both sides muttering fill-in-the-blanks tales, as if from a giant book of Mad-Libs. Texts from olden times reveal the same pattern. Ah, should humans be known as Homo credens, the credulous ape? 


No wonder the age of science seems threatening to many, whose favorite fantasies might shrivel under the light of evidence. I wrote The Transparent Society about how open and reciprocal accountability often reveals what’s true, rather than what feels so satisfying to believe.

 

Alas, there truly are conspirators in this world, flourishing wherever light doesn’t shine. Moreover, they developed a great technique to distract from their own plots – they help spread a stinging miasma of paranoid ravings that genuine schemes can hide behind! (See it illustrated in this stand-alone scene from Existence.[2]) Indeed, the last thing you will contemplate is that your favorite conspiracy might be part of that distraction fog.

 

(LATE 2020 note: This isn’t just me, waving counter-incantations. Researchers have sifted online links and paths taken by a variety of conspiracy theories. Visual representations of those story frameworks showed them how false conspiracy theory narratives are held together by threads that connect multiple characters, places and things. But they found that if even one of those threads is cut, the other elements often can’t form a coherent story without it.)

 


METHODS TO SIFT WHICH PLOTS SEEM PLAUSIBLE

 

Dip your toe. Any conspiracy theory will suck you into a vortex of evidence and “evidence” along with persuasive rants and incantations. Who has the time? Even for ones that appeal to my ego, my prejudices, or my “side” in contemporary tiffs. Hence, I cope via a set of questions to ask, whenever some folks – especially those who are “like me” – foist their favorite Evil Plot That Only We Can See. Let’s start with an example that may infuriate many of you.

 

Question number one: Have trustworthy experts already worked the case? Are they accountable, transparent, and themselves scrutinized by a variety of interests? Are they answerable to multiple, separate structures? This is, after all, one reason we set up civil service with a diversity of agencies and chains of command – then augmented that setup with a free and diverse press – then augmented that with a wide range of member-supported NGOs, from Greenpeace to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

(And if you aren't a dues paying member of a dozen NGOs, each fighting for a future you believe in, then take another look at the hypocrite in the mirror. That method is a lazy person's cheap route to bragging rights: “I’m at least doing something.” Here's how.[3])

 

Of course, this network of accountability systems is exactly what conspiracy believers claim has failed. Indeed, they hold that such a thing – accountability through competitive openness – is impossible. Certainly Hollywood portrays accountable professionalism to be nonexistent in government. Writers and directors do this often not to promote SoA, but for reasons of lazy plotting that I describe elsewhere.[4] And in so doing, they spread a poison.

 

To be clear, betrayal by governmental powers belongs way up there on our list of things to watch for! Take the way one man – J. Edgar Hoover – for decades dominated the top layers of U.S. federal criminal investigation, often deciding to pursue or quash cases at whim. Still, we have inarguably the least corrupt institutions in the history of humanity. (If you doubt that, do try slipping a fifty to that cop giving you a ticket.) So, while Mr. Transparency, here extols “sousveillance” and looking-back at power, I am also skeptical toward raving paranoia.

 

Which is not entirely a symptom of the mad right! Take the lefty "Loose Change" conspiracy theory, about the 9/11 calamity - that the World Trade Center towers were deliberately demolished by explosives planted over the course of months, to distract from the intended target, WTC building #7. Among dozens of ways that theory is loony, explosives leave chemical residues, and the wreckage was sampled not by one agency, but scores of them plus news organizations, NGOs and private citizens. Moreover, there was no lack of available debris to analyze.[5]

 

Question number one allows you to deal with some, not all, of the most ridiculous purported plots – those presuming there are no competent people in the world. Which brings us to –

 

Test #2: How many conspirators are needed by this scheme? How perfect a plan and execution? Loose Change is an extremum test case for these questions. It would take dozens, even scores of the most skilled experts in building demolition to plant the required explosives, and others skilled at hiding charges behind walls and in stand pipes, plus dozens more providing security.[6] The entire WTC security staff must be suborned or replaced, but there’s no record of such replacements. (Most died in the disaster.) That’s at least a hundred henchmen, performing a task never done before amid vacuum-tight secrecy and executed with perfection never seen in any government project. Oh, plus another several hundred to perform the bizarre other half of this theory, faking the aircraft hijackings!

 

Now, you might answer: “I don't believe in the Loose Change conspiracy! Whereas MY favorite one…” Hm, well, show me even one popular conspiracy theory cult that has analyzed points number one and two? Then of course there’s right wing dizziness such as the mania that swarms over the death of ex-DNC staffer Seth Rich. But we deal with Clinton-Obama tirades in due course.

 

In Chapter 5 we discussed ravings of a “Deep State” conspiracy among civil servants, FBI agents, the entire intelligence community and much of the senior military officer corps, in cahoots with nearly all the scientists, journalists, teachers and so on… another case where tests #1 and #2 are devastating. Which brings us to –

 

#3: Why would the conspirators choose to do it? What would convince each and all of them to betray his or her oaths, profession, conscience and country? I’m not saying it doesn't happen! The Watergate break-ins and cover-ups involved a fair number of moderately (not very) skilled people who did it all for combinations of money, hatred, loyalty-to-a-faction and potential advancement to power. 

 

Let me repeat: I know there are conspiracies! Indeed, it’s laughable to ignore the most blatant one called Fox News, which openly works for a mélange of foreign billionaires, from the Saudis to Russian mafiosi, from Macao casino lords to an Australian deceit mogul. We’ll get to their motives and methods in several chapters. And lest we forget, the left was rife with secret foreign agents and nasty plots, at times in the last century… and may go down that path, yet again.

 

Still test #3 is a potent one. In our extreme example, none of the “Loose Change” zealots offer a plausible reason why even one skilled person would be remotely tempted to devote immense energy and dedication to performing such a heinous act on behalf of some currency speculators, let along several hundred of our most capable public servants or officers. 

 

Money? Please. That you would assume so speaks more about your inherent corruptibility, than theirs. Which brings us to a really big one –

 

#4: Why take the risk? Loose Change offers such a great example of every maniacally stupid conspiracy theory trait. And so, ponder a thought that would go through the mind of every skilled conspirator:

 

These fellows working on this evil plot next to me… any one of them could have recorded our activities and conversations. An hour from now, that fellow over there may spill it all to the FBI and the New York Times. He'll be a hero, get rewards and speaking gigs and be on talk shows forever, while the rest of us get arrested, tried and then parceled out to prisons where both the inmates and guards will make life hell for traitors and attempted mass murderers.

 

At which point he'd think: “Maybe… I better be the guy who blabs first.”

 

Seriously, how do you stop defections? Communists were dedicated, yet we pulled in defectors all the time. ISIS and Al Qaeda are zealous, yet they leaked like sieves. Yes, you can both inspire and terrify your henchmen into mass-uniformity if you run a powerful state like China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia or a narco-kleptocracy, where their families can be crushed at will. But show me how that would work in a Loose Change scenario.

 

Seth Rich? Seriously? Show me a Democrat who can keep his or her damn mouth shut! Now show me the dozens who would have to be complicit, from local law enforcement to the nearby FBI bureau office, to the victim’s family.

 

Again, I’m not saying conspiracies don't happen. But consider, the first thing any conspirator with an IQ above slime-mold does is to establish murder insurance. You do this by setting up delay-drops containing everything you know, to be released in the event anything happens to you. Don’t these people ever watch movies?

 

Question #4 – is the biggie. As a society we should be making it our top transparency priority to reinforce it, by encouraging, not punishing whistle blowers. Elsewhere (Chapter 5) I describe ways to do this that could be entirely consistent with running a healthy and effective civil service. We should do this via both law and via private foundations that offer what I’ve called “Henchman’s Prizes.”[7] 

 

One urgent example? It has long been blatantly clear that several of the manufacturers of voting machines in the U.S. have suspicious connections to both Russia and the Republican Party. Is it coincidence that in most “blue” states, the voting machines are augmented by paper ballots or receipts that can be hand counted and audited, while most red states have refused that simple confidence and security backup? As of this writing, nothing has been revealed that is prosecutable - just a stench of the sort that propels so many conspiracy theories. 

 

But the stink got overwhelming in August 2019, when voting machines in Texas and Mississippi were caught blatantly switching votes before the voter's eyes. (See videos of it happening! [8] But don't worry. They'll remedy the "blatantly" part and hide it from the voter in the booth.)


Dig this about plausible conspiracies and Question #4. One rich dude might possibly fixvoting machine treason, by offering a $5 million whistleblower prize - plus guaranteed protection and hero status - for the employee of any company who brings forth proof of cheating. If proof doesn't appear, you don't pay! (But nevertheless instill fear in those bastards.) If you do wind up paying, you become a hero for saving the nation. How can that not be a win-win?

 

The easier we make it for henchmen to defect, the fewer of them Blofeld, Dr. Evil and their ilk will be able to hire and trust.[9] And so, we come to – 

 

#5: Who benefits? Oliver Stone slandered LBJ as the obvious beneficiary of JFK's murder. It sounds movie-plausible, till you realize how desperately Johnson slaved and strived (and aged), aiming to make all of Kennedy's hopes and plans come true. Alas, that included JFK's horrific-macho ambitions in Vietnam, but also - on the brighter side - civil rights, the vastly-if-still-partially-successful War on Appalachian Poverty, achievements in space and so on. Is that utter loyalty to every goal consistent with spite and conspiracy to murder? (See Bryan Cranston's film, All the Way.)

 

In fact, I’ve never found anyone who palpably benefited from the Kennedy assassination, though revenge is another matter. JFK had haters, ranging from Cuban communists and Cuban anti-communist exiles to the KGB, to the KKK, to the Mafia, to Marilyn Monroe fans… all the way to the armed, dangerously loony, individually motivated and perfectly situated expert marksman Lee Harvey Oswald.[10]

 

On the other hand, other conspiracies have blatant beneficiaries. Fox News has been a money machine for Rupert Murdoch and his partners (who for many years included Saudi royals). Even more important, it helped sustain the Supply Side “Voodoo” Economics (SSVE) cult[11] long after that madness was scientifically refuted, allowing Murdoch's pals to raid the US taxpayer time and again, for trillions. Above all, by fomenting culture war – also known as phase 8 of the U.S. civil war (Chapter 14) – Murdoch's shills have accomplished his top goal: the destruction of U.S. politics as a means for adults to deliberate policy and negotiate solutions across party lines. Gridlock is the goal, along with demolition of any trust between the people and the government that they own. So yes, that conspiracy passes the “who benefits” test.

 

Note that all five of these questions, so far, are simple and straightforward, and make demands upon the conspiracy ranters, not upon you. Which brings us to –

 

#6: Who is strenuously keeping things dark?  We don’t know for sure (yet) that there was direct collusion between Donald Trump and the Kremlin. But Trump’s absolute refusal to allow any look into his finances, or his behaviors in Moscow, or during half a dozen secret debriefings with foreign despots that lacked any credible U.S. witnesses, show someone who is desperate not to allow light onto those topics. 

 

Now add his obstruction of professional investigations and you have behavior that is certainly far more consistent with a conspiracy than most of the fantasies boiling around.

 

#7: Is there a devastating rebuttal/answer to the Conspiracy Theory?  Is there a short, sharp shock that would tear it to shreds?

 

We already illustrated this one with a crushing example – when yarn-pinning ravers persuaded millions that George Soros is diabolical meddler so powerful he toppled Eight Foreign Governments!  In Chapter 5, I posed a simple question that not a single audience member or Beck-critic ever asked: “Say Glenn, how about naming those foreign regimes that George Soros toppled?”


There's a reason Beck never said their names. Because doing so would devastate his entire conspiracy narrative beyond all hope of recovery. Take that example to heart. Ponder whether the next conspiracy offered to you has such an Achilles Heel.

 

#8: Am I doing due diligence by weighing critics of this thing and seeking smart/balanced arbiters?  I can almost guarantee you aren’t. Heck, I'm lazy too. Still, I offered a number of ways that our modern fact-arbitrating systems can be improved, not by ensconcing some elites to rule on Truth, but using the competitive/adversarial process we're already so good at. 

I pitched some of these ideas at Facebook headquarters in 2017, when the company was panicking over its role in 2016 election travesties. Alas, soon they were smugly back to assuring “We can handle this top-down, trust us.” 

 

How's that going for you?

#9: Why should we trust your elites? 
In Chapter 2, I spoke of the central message in most Hollywood films – Suspicion of Authority, or SoA, which has amplified the conspiracy-antennae, especially in most Americans. The basic difference between a decent, rational liberal and a decent, rational conservative is which group they worry is conspiring to become Big Brother. 

 

Of course, given human history, we ought to conclude that all elites are inherently dangerous. All will be tempted to abuse power, while rationalizing that it is for the greater good.  Ideally, we warily guard each other’s backs. Ideally. Our systems were set up by very clever people so that elites will compete with each other! In their rivalry – sometimes called separation of powers – we have found a way to prevent any one of them from becoming an Orwellian monolith.

 

So yes, examine conspiracy theories! I concoct and/or examine some, in both fiction and nonfiction. And if you’ll have a look at mine, I’ll have a gander at yours. It’s how we managed to stay free. So far. 

 

That synergy breaks down when – amid re-ignited civil war – one side has convinced all its partisans that freedom can be harmed only from one direction. I regularly make efforts to prove I do not have such a fused political spine – that I can turn my head. While I declare – based on mountains of proof – that today's American right has gone insane, in service to a rising oligarchy bent on re-starting feudalism…

 

…I often eviscerate shibboleths of a much smaller loony far-left, and urge sane liberals to be wary of those allies.  (See Chapter 12 and this: The miracle and compromise of 1947.[12])

 

THESE TESTS ARE ONLY A START

 

Are there real-life, bona fide conspiracies? Of course! Our civilization is threatened by some as we speak. It is to distract from real ones that so many false imbecilities are spewed. These questions won’t eliminate or parse them all. Again, I show some scary places this can lead in my novel Existence.

 

Over the long run, we must employ experts whose job it is to inspect possible crimes, both investing some trust in the skilled professionalism of our civil servants and striving to increase their diverse accountability, their sense that they live and work under scrutiny and light. Only with this combination of high professionalism and fierce citizen oversight do we stand a chance of navigating a bright but ever foggy era.

===



FOOTNOTES

[1] http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/06/oh-conspiracies.html

 

[2] https://www.wattpad.com/5827990-the-smartest-mob-a-chapter-from-existence

 

[3] “The Power of Proxy Activism.” http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/proxyactivism.html

 

[4] “The idiot plot: why films never show competence.” http://www.davidbrin.com/idiotplot.html

 

[5] Don't get me started on the "melting temperature of steel" drivel that's fountained by fools.

 

[6] You'd also need electronic timing and ignition systems similar to those used in nuclear bombs.

 

[7] “Attention Henchmen! Voting Machines and Other Flawed Conspiracies.” http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/10/attention-henchmen-voting-machines-and.html

 

[8] Red state voting machines caught switching votes on camera. https://www.newsweek.com/touch-screen-voting-devices-are-automatically-changing-votes-mississippi-1456445

 

[9] http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/10/attention-henchmen-voting-machines-and.html

 

[10] “Who benefits” can be extended to plotters who thought they would benefit, but failed. Far more plausible than Oliver Stone’s insipid scenario (based on zero real evidence) that JFK was about to pull out of Vietnam, consider the very opposite, that some U.S. officers saw we were heading into a quagmire and sought to eliminate the uber-macho leader who was plunging us into a devastating mess. Do I believe this? Of course not. But I can concoct paranoid scenarios far better than those going stale on our DVD shelves.

 

[11] The stunningly perfect record of Supply Side always being 100% wrong. http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2010/02/a-primer-on-supply-side-vs-demand-side.html

 

[12] The miracle and compromise of 1947. http://www.davidbrin.com/1947.html