Saturday, August 27, 2016

Science: A long, long road to… us

== Lottsa Luca ==

Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, is estimated to have lived some four billion years ago, when Earth was a mere 560 million years old.  For a long time the three great domains of life -- bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes -- seemed to have no common point of origin. But now scientists have zeroed in on 355 genes that probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea (and hence us eurkaryotes)… and thus they stumbled onto strong indications of conditions for the origin of all Earthly life.  Because those 355 genes point very strongly at deep sea volcanic vents – “the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor.”

The 355 genes ascribable to Luca include some that metabolize hydrogen as a source of energy as well as a gene for an enzyme called reverse gyrase, found only in microbes that live at extremely high temperatures.  This much is spectacular!  It means that astronomers are not the only ones using amazing inferences to peer beyond all previous limitations toward early origins.

From my perspective as a planetary scientist and science fiction author, I have to say that the implications are huge for life elsewhere.  For volcanic vents are exactly the sort of thing one expects to find at the bottoms of the “roofed oceans” that we now figure exist on at least ten small worlds in just this solar system, starting with Europa and Enceledus. Such roofed worlds are not dependent upon so-called "goldilocks zones" and might exist in the vast majority of solar systems and make up the vast majority of abodes of life.

Moreover, the LUCA lead researcher has taken this a step further, in an inference that is weaker but just as startling!  The inferred, 355 gene LUCA seems to be missing so many genes necessary for life that he believes it must still have been relying on chemical components from its environment! In other words: it still relied on a surrounding “soup” of chemicals created abiotically, presumably by the basal “Miller-Urey-Orgel” processes.  Hence it was only “half alive,” Dr. William F. Martin of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf writes.

The latter supposition is viewed skeptically by those who think the Soup got all used up millions of years earlier, before the Late Bombardment. And I share this skepticism. Still… it is a terrific article.  Wow.  What times we live in.  And what a loss for those waging War on Science. You folks are missing out, exactly as we are learning so much about Creation. 

== Homo economicus… make him extinct? ==

Much of modern economics is based upon a general theory of human choice behavior called Homo economicus, which posits that market participants (humans) behave in ways that reflect self-interested game theory. Only lately, study after study has shown this set of assumptions to be problematic. One quandary comes from the fact that initial research focused on the easiest test subjects for western university professors to get ahold of. Their own students.

This fascinating article by David Sloan Wilson calls it: “the WEIRD People problem.(Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic)  Researchers often think they’re studying “Homo sapiens“, but actually they’re studying a particularly peculiar form of cultural psychology. This is because, until recently, most studies have been done with WEIRD undergraduates. But, it turns out when placed in cross-cultural perspective WEIRD undergraduates are psychologically rather unusual and a really poor model for our species psychology.

But it gets… weirder. Wilson interviews Joseph Henrich, who says, “Not only do we find that the Homo economicus predictions fail in every society (24 societies, multiple communities per society), but instructively, we find that it fails in different ways in different societies. Nevertheless, after our paper “In search of Homo economicus” in 2001 in the American Economic Review, we continued to search for him. Eventually, we did find him. He turned out to be a chimpanzee.

"The canonical predictions of the Homo economicus model have proved remarkably successful in predicting chimpanzee behavior in simple experiments. So, all theoretical work was not wasted, it was just applied to the wrong species.” 

Read more in Henrich's book, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species and Making Us Smarter.

== Send in the Clones ==

Remember Dolly, the cloned sheep? Back in Glory Season, I speculated that it would be difficult to clone mammals and that hence there might still be some (slight) need for males, even in a hyper feminist world.  Well, we’ve seen some ups and downs since. Dolly seemed to suggest that tech empowered female humans will be able to dispense with us hairy-inseminators in the future – and at times I admit, I wouldn’t blame em.

Only then Dolly died young, sickened with many diseases of aging and with shortened chromosomes, suggesting that a cloned mammal inherits some of the aging clock of the parent and does not reset its embryonic timer back to zero! Baaaah! So much for parthenogeneis and eliminating males.

Only now … another reversal!  It seems a dozen more Dolly clones are doing just fine, with no sign of premature senescence.  So maybe it just took a better process.  Sorry guys. Your services are no longer needed. (Except maybe for amusement and moving some furniture, now and then.) Try to tidy up a bit on your way out, hm?

== Bio Wonders! ==

African birds who guide humans to hidden beehives in order to share in the beeswax and honey.

Will painting “eyes” on the butts of cattle help deter lions so African herders can live side by side with them?  I guess we’ll find out.  

A potential breakthrough.  Scientists have developed an “artificial leaf” type of solar cell that uses water and sunlight to transform CO2 into CO or carbon monoxide.  Don’t let it escape! Because CO is a nasty greenhouse gas and indoors it can be poisonous.  But fed into further processes it can make methane – natural gas – which can be stored and used as fuel.  One more piece for the puzzle.  

Biology challenges us!  “The federal government announced plans Thursday to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human. Receiving special concern are experiments designed to create animals with human brain cells or human brain tissue. Scientists might want to create them to study neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. But the experiments would undergo intensive scrutiny if there's any chance there might be a "substantial contribution" or "substantial functional modification" to an animal's brain. In other words… “uplift.”

Critics denounced the decision. "Science fiction writers might have imagined worlds like this — like The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brave New World, Frankenstein," says Stuart Newman, a biologist at New York Medical College.  

On the other hand... there is no more certain proof of lack of agility, than to see someone purportedly “wise” commenting on a potential scientific problem, by citing only the oldest and most simplistic clichés. Try reading something written after 1910, grampa.

And inspires…

In the last 62 years, there have been 115 interactions recorded between humpback whales and killer whales, and in a great many cases the Humpbacks have gone to great lengths fending the Orcas off from attacking other species, like Gray whales and even seals. “The most logical biological explanation for the humpbacks’ vigilante-like behavior is that the whales receive some sort of benefit from interfering with orca hunts.”  Of all the incidents the scientists investigated over the last five decades, killer whales targeted humpbacks just 11 percent of the time. The other 89 percent involved orcas hunting seals, sea lions, porpoises, and other marine mammals. 

We keep learning how nature has islands of altruism, and yes friendliness to humans, despite all we've done. (E.g. elephants and whales and dolphins who travel great distances to where some kind of "rumor" has informed them that the humans are kindly, and will remove the fishing net, hook, or snare.)  Yes!  Nature needs us to behave much much better with our power. But can we?

We are surrounded by nihilists who cynically proclaim that all is already lost, so why bother trying?... and by short-termers seeking only short range benefit for themselves... and 'reformers' who agitate for a better world but frantically denounce any offer of good news, because "it might undermine our sense of urgency!"

What can the majority of science-loving, progress-seeking, cautiously optimistic-while-worried, pragmatic reformers do, in the face of such cynicism, ferociously-repeated with the fervor of a cult?  The one personality trait that unites a mad far-left and an insane entire-right?

I have been a fighter for the Earth for all my adult life and before that. (See my novel EARTH!) Hence I know one thing very well; the short-sighted profit-grabbers and "it'll all be over soon" kooks are both the enemy. Cynics are no friends. And they are wrong.

Case in point. Go back to 1980 and find anyone who would put money down that every species of whale would still be around, in 2016.  And growing more numerous, each year. You'd have found no takers.

We have a chance, still. But only if we believe we do. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Economics of the Election

== Ah the ‘flat tax’ ==  

Two catechisms of the American right? The bizarre notion of a “flat tax” on incomes and idolization of Russian President Putin – who happens to have instituted a flat 13% income tax a decade ago. And how’s that working out?  (Note if Gary Johnson gets on the debates, you’ll hear him convey love of a flat tax… proof that 50% of the libertarian movement’s message is lunacy paid-for by Steve Forbes and the Koch brothers.  The other half?  Actually, kinda interesting stuff and vastly more so than the loony GOP.)

One can understand the right’s bromance with Vladimir Putin on many levels, but one that’s seldom mentioned is the steady re-emergence of the Communist Party in Russia, as millions recall that they felt both powerful and equal once, across the last thousand years, and it was not under the current oligarchs. Ah but this article shows the CP’s slog will include overcoming a top echelon that is loyal to… guess who? “With the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution looming, Russia’s Communists are confident that history is on their side.”

This article offers up a chilling way in which the GOP has been consistent, at least: “Over the course of the last year, as Trump positioned himself as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, there’s been no shortage of Republicans who’ve asked, in panicked tones, how their party and its voters could embrace someone so ignorant and dangerously unprepared for national office. And yet, many of these same Republicans, just two presidential election cycles ago, were prepared to put Sarah Palin one heartbeat from the Oval Office.”

See some of her recent remarks and remember… this lobotomized mess is what the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater has come to.  If they were alive today, those three would join forces to drive a stake into the heart of the undead zombie elephant that is shaming their memories.

Why has the U.S. economy performed better under Democratic than Republican presidents, “almost regardless of how one measures performance”?  This Evonomics article by Steve Roth - Economists Agree: Democratic Presidents are Better at Making Us Rich. Eight Reasons Why - probes the blatant difference, that even top GOP think tanks admit to be flat-out fact.  When they attribute it to “luck” they ignore the scores of other metrics that also do better across democratic administrations… 

.. such as rates of entrepreneurship and small business startups, military readiness, U.S. military casualty rates, terrorist attacks and the rate of change of deficits. All of these conservative desiderata do dramatically better across democratic administrations, which should attract  party-switching by those who are sincere. (It should not have taken Trump!)

Others, like declines in poverty, environmental protection and rates of investment in science, education, culture and infrastructure, should please more than just liberals.

Roth explores likely explanations, several of which boil down to the same thing — that the Republican Party’s controlling oligarchy simply does not care about outcomes-based governance or long term metrics of national health.  Their executive and legislative branches have shown interest only in impulsive self-interest, using specialists to concoct incantations — like “WMDs” and “Supply Side Economics” — to justify what amounted to raids upon the commonwealth. 

The fact that the Congressional GOP leaders - Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan - have shown no interest in adapting laws to fit 21st Century changing circumstances, blocking even minimal legislation that does not benefit the clade, is entirely consistent. To be clear, GOP Congresses in this century have been the laziest in the history of the republic.

But read Roth’s article.  It’s a bit partisan, but offers possible explanations for a flat-out fact.  That no one who looks at history or evidence should trust the Republican Party with governance over even a local pest control district.

==Will we see an oil crash? ==

I have seen very few “economics” articles more blatantly stupid than this one on Yahoo Business by Mr. Sam Ro, who asserts that low oil prices hurt everyone, not just petroleum producing nations.  As they even-out on a low plateau, “importing countries will lose their one-time windfall from falling prices,” Ro quotes High Frequency Economics’ Carl Weinberg. At first I thought both the quoter and quotee might be shill-propagandists for a petro house.Or possibly insane, Then I realized… it’s much worse.

They might be sincere. They are actually capable of ignoring the fact that low oil and especially natural gas prices have been luring investment in manufacturing in the United States. Those manufacturers and everyone from railroads to airlines to consumers are delighted to have energy prices stay nice and low and flat for the extended future.

The oil price plummet could have been a disaster to the planet, had it happened a year or two earlier, undercutting the rise of sustainables. But now even solar and wind power producers are fine with it, since they have reached breakeven with fossils and their ongoing, spectacular takeoff will benefit from low manufacturing overhead.

Are Ro and Weinberg shills then?  Or dumb? Or is something else at work? Chillingly, there is. The mindset of “Margin Parasites.” Brokers who do best when markets gyrate and swing, giving their kind of leech a chance to grab nibbles with every fluctuation.  And they rave a 50 year excuse that they do a “service” by helping to “discover true prices.” A mystical chant that has no bearing on actual economics.

Parasites who actually convince themselves that sucking from the arteries of manufacturers and commodities users (who suffer when they scurry to adapt to rapid swings) is a gooood thing. Value extractors who turned “finance” into a lamprey industry, weakening all the makers and do-ers and innovators and hard workers. Seriously I take it back. This is insanity. Alas, it is an insanity that controls much of our economy and is trying to become our feudal lords.

== Mistrust of Science ==

I confront folks on the US right with a simple fact: that their once-intellectual, but now lobotomized cult is in full tilt war against science. And not just science! Name one profession of high knowledge and skill that’s not under attack by Fox & its cohorts?  Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors… oh, yes and science.

They never even try to name one exception! Instead, they almost always blather something like (recently): "I'm amaze at how often the experts are wrong yet people are willing to call them experts." (sic)

OK then. Let's start by admitting a truth... that *not all smart people who know stuff are wise.*  

We all know that's true. We've all known smart people who know stuff who weren't all that wise.

But that truism has been mutated by propaganda into something quite different, the Fox-confederate incantation that: "ALL smart folks who know stuff are therefore - automatically and naturally - far less wise than people who are dumb and don't know stuff."

It's a propaganda stretch that should never have worked... but it has! In fact it is the central confederate catechism - their core article of faith.  They HAVE to swear allegiance to that mantra!  Because all the smart people who know stuff are fleeing the gone-mad American right as fast as they can run.

Including those who are conservative by nature, or capitalists or libertarians.  All of them!  Oh, you might fish for a few Koch-paid denialist cultists or Young Earthers with PhDs. Okay and Doctors of Divinity and hedge fund managers. But it will just make you look ridiculous.

Let's reiterate: This is what these guys now rant and rave. They are NOT saying "not all smart people who know stuff are wise."

They are raving "ALL smart folks who know stuff are therefore - automatically and naturally - far less wise that people who are dumb and don't know stuff."

There is no squirming out of this. That's the core belief.



== addenda ==

Oh, just because today's mad right CONSISTS of that message, don't think I am unaware that the far-far left CONTAINS some people like that. I am wary in that direction, too.

 But I know which cult threatens my planet and children and nation, right now.

Followup: In 1974, conservatives with college degrees had the highest level of trust in science and the scientific community. Today, they have the lowest. And scientific folks have noticed where they are unwelcome. Thirty years ago, 40% of US scientists called themselves Republican, now it is 5% and plummeting. They are voting with their feet, the smartest, wisest, most logical and by far the most competitive humans our species ever produced.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Put up or shut up, Don

"We support reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibits commercial banks from engaging in high-risk investment." A brand-new GOP platform plank, running completely opposite to the party's position just a year ago; in USA Today. Both presidential candidates now appear to back reinstating Glass-Steagall.
Before our main point: My wife - a HUGE Jon Stewart fan - felt perplexed and saddened by Stewart's departure (as did I) - at a weird time for him to leave, just as this bizarre, tragicomic election year got underway.
Her hypothesis is similar to this biting cartoon from the LA Times... only having the fellow on the other end of the conversation being Bill Clinton?  No way! Not worth the risk.  No, this year's genius merits replacing BC in the cartoon with Jon Stewart.
Oh, but it is not HALF of the American public. It's half of half. Remember folks; the Union has always been slower than the confederacy.  But we moderns outnumber the troglodytes. This IS a scientific nation

== Put up or shut up, Donald. ==

What's the magic bullet for dealing with this craziness?  Time to demand WAGERS. I'll give three examples.

Challenge Number 1) “I’ll bet 10% of my wealth vs 10% of yours - the loser to pay the winner’s favorite charity - that there’s no real evidence the election will be “rigged” in the democrats’ favor. In fact the the preponderance of rigging now favors the GOP.”  

Seriously. HC or Tim Kaine should drop everything and declare a national crisis! "You have impugned our entire electoral process. You insult the 250,000 election officials and volunteers. You set the stage for de-legitimizing our entire government. So PROVE IT!"

Demand that Donald Trump name six prominently grownup Americans for a commission. Six more to be named by the dems and 6 by retired Supreme Court justices like Sandra Day O’Connor. A commission to investigate right now Trump’s allegations that seek to undermine Americans’ confidence in their electoral process.

This is urgent. Lest after Trump’s trouncing on November 8, we then suffer a wave of delusional-wrathful Timothy McVeighs. And it should be couched in simple terms of confidence or cowardice. If he is too wimpy to step up to a simple wager, that is the only character trait his frothy followers would truly hold against him.

Challenge Number 2) Demand that Donald Trump right now give the IRS permission to tell the public whether he is currently being audited. And if the answer is no, to immediately release his tax returns. 

Trump has broken a 40-year-old tradition of U.S. presidential candidates making public their tax returns because he claims to be under audit by the IRS — but he has yet to prove he’s really being investigated. At his request, the Internal Revenue Service would produce a letter stating that he is under audit. I eagerly await his imaginative excuse for that one.

Oh… and add one more demand.  That Trump give the IRS permission to drop any current audit, in the national interest and to allow electoral transparency, without being thereupon accused by DT of plotting against him.

A SIDE-NOTE: The Clintons’ newly released tax return shows $10.6 million in income.  Not exactly the middle class levels from before and during Bill’s presidency.  Their profession since – as far as income is concerned, not time – was the same as mine. Public speaking. Only I don’t charge anything close to what they do! One thing I do know.  A speaking fee does not oblige you to do favors. Not when you are in demand.

They paid 48% in taxes and another 10% to charity. Ratios that Trump would sneer as making them “suckers” and thus disqualified for office.

Another SIDE-NOTE: At least they are consistent. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has so far refused to release his tax returns, as well. 

Challenge Number 3) Is President Obama an American? Hey Don. Show us the “amazing” things your investigators “found in Hawaii.” He will answer: “I’m not talking about that, anymore.” So make it a simple wager! He maligned the Chief of State of the United States of America.  That should be worth at least a bet as to whether he had anything.  Anything at all.

Challenge Number 4) Bonus question: Demand Republicans explain why the last six highest GOP officials - GHW Bush, Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and John Boehner - went un-mentioned across the entire span of the Republican National Convention? Or indeed by almost any of the folks running in the GOP primaries? 

What kind of party is so ashamed of its leadership, across 28 years, that it never mentions any of them? Or a single large, verifiable accomplishment? And you'd trust such a party with a burnt and doused match? 

And now the fellow who actually ran the Republican Party for 20 years, Roger Ailes, is exposed as a sexual predator. Oh it comes in floods.

No wonder they screech so at Clinton. Hysterical distraction from what they see in the mirror.

In fact, this is not about Trump at all.  It is about crazy

== Liberal Media Bias? ==

Complaints fume among DT supporters that the Lame-Stream Media are paying too much attention to Trump’s outrageous behaviors and statements. But absolutely nothing has changed since the Primary Season. Back then he bragged – and his rivals whined - over Donald getting ‘a billion dollars worth of free publicity’ each time he opened his mouth.

The only difference now is demographics. Back then, he was vying among fellow crazy candidates (a more accurate phrase than “conservative” these days) for pluralities of GOP primary voters – AKA Confederate crazies.  Hence, free attention to wild-ass statements helped him win support from 40% of the one-third of American voters who were vigorous republicans.

Now he is being the same guy and getting the same outsized attention. Only those behaviors that enamored him to the one-sixth of voters who got him the GOP nomination – and that are overlooked by another one-sixth who are in denial -- are hurting him with the 70% or so of U.S. voters who are not part of that cult.  It truly is that simple.

What’s not simple is returning to the Stewart Question.  My wife pointed out a very simple question. Why did Jon Stewart retire from fake-news comedy just when his skills and insights would be most-useful to the republic?  And just as the Trump phenomenon hit full stride?

You want to go full tilt paranoid over that? Knock yerself out. 

== Rats Jump Off ==

Here's a semi-comprehensive list of the many notable Republicans who have said they won't support GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, why they're opposing him and who they'll back instead.  It is a very, very long list of American leaders who in the past tried to propel sense and reason from inside the Bush-Cheney-dominated GOP tent. 

These “moderates” should have seen the Fox-ignited insanity long before Trump made it so blatantly obvious… and they still make the mistake of personalizing the symptom, rather than the deeper disease.  Still, they are now – Like Oskar Schindler in 1943 – saying “I can sink no lower. I must oppose madness.”

Skim to the bottom of the list.  You’ll find the smartest of them all, like Brent Scowcroft, and Richard Armitage, who are part of group of 50 leaders in the Republican foreign policy and national security community wrote an open letter condemning Trump and pledging to oppose his presidential candidacy.

 Only notice a funny thing. The really brainy and serious ones? They aren’t just opposing Trump. They are supporting Hillary.  She’s too-liberal economically, okay.  But geopolitically she’s “solid and capable.” They think of her as democrats viewed Eisenhower in the 1950s.

Shrug and murmur. “We’ll live.”

== False Equivalence ==

I'll concede that pharma and Wall Street have some voices in the Democratic Party, which is a vast and wide tent. Bernites & reformers will only get part of what they want.  Which is why "never Hillaries" are foolish. Because reformers WILL get part of what they want, and be able to build on that. 

Whereas goppers have run the laziest, do-nothing congresses since the beginning of the republic. Corrupt and slavishly devoted to Oligarchy.

"They're the same?" Equivalence zealots ignore the fundamental.  That there will be LESS oligarchy in America if HC & the dems get in. MORE laws requiring pharma openness and broken-up banks and bolstering the SEC. 

Ever heard of the CFPB?  Dems fought for it and Goppers blocked it every step of the way.  You know your false equivalence is flat out dumb.  Goppers have slashed the budget for auditors at IRS and the SEC and EPA and FDA... Dems will put them back to work. Want to run off to Jill Stein?  Grow the hell up.

Better yet, fight good fights down ticket!
Note:  We should all look around and find the geographically closest congressional or state assembly race where things are tight enough that a little cash or a little volunteer work could make a difference.  There is one such race near me.  There is likely to be one not far from you.

BTW volunteering in a local race can be fun!  You get a sense that your own efforts make a difference, unlike the Presidential circus.

== The Libertarian Gambit ==

Some of you have been opining on "what is libertarianism?" now that the "Never Trump" faction in the GOP is leaning toward supporting Gary Johnson & the LP.  Stop oversimplifying. It's an interesting and complex topic that most libertarians themselves do not understand. e.g. most think they can defend oligarchy AND competition at the same time. 

Wrong, those have been opposites for 6000 years, as described by Adam Smith.

Do I hope the LP will offer a home for 20 million quasi sane US conservatives fleeing th insane GOP?  Sure. From then on, they'll stop caring about controlling womens' bodies and bathrooms.  Progress. Terrific.  I just sent Johnson some money.

 But if the LP is controlled by oligarchs like Forbes, Kochs and Romney?  No, No. The revolution is ongoing. And that is not True Libertarianism.

== Is Putin supporting Trump? ==

Read: Is Vladimir Putin Taking Sides in the Election?  The article mentions the “Gerasimov doctrine,” formulated by Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov in 2013, proposes that modern conflicts are waged and won not with guns as much as through dirty tricks. This 'hybrid warfare' aims to destabilize the opponent's political system in order to weaken the enemy.  I guess we’ll see how this works out for them, when HC is president and remembers what they did, on Trump’s behalf.

Side note. In EXISTENCE I have a character named “Genady Gorosumov,” the team’s xenobiologist.  Huh.

== And stooping… but no lower than this crazy year… ==

Okay, it’s gossip, with a toe dipped into nasty rumor.  But the link I am giving you is Snopes. Which appraises the following rant from Occupy Democrats: 

  Surprise, surprise! Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and the ex-wife of Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch and current girlfriend of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Wendi Deng Murdoch, are best buddies who just went on a lavish vacation together. Might that explain Fox News’s unbelievably slanted favorability towards Trump’s despicable brand of politics? Could you imagine the outrage by Republicans if one of President Obama’s daughters were hanging around with Putin’s girlfriend?”

To whatever degree it's true... even 1%... there is one word. Oy.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Science Fiction! Science Fiction!

An apropos moment for a SF'nal posting, as I report to you all from the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, MO. Many fascinating people saying an doing interesting things. Lots of discussion of "da future." And congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Hugo Award! But that will wait a bit. For now...

 Something is missing. Sure SciFi has taken over popular culture -- especially cinematic, TV and web dramas -- a tsunami that has relegated grownup, literary SF (that explores deep ideas) to quaint backwaters, seeming a bit of a revered grampa.

But what's truly missing is connection to our past. No, I am not talking about silly-feudal fantasies, that bear almost no relation to our ancestors' real challenges and grueling lives. Rather, the oral rhythms and voluptuous wordplay of true, epic poetry! 

Now that tradition - beloved of our forebears - has a pulsing, with-it revival in science fiction!  Frederick Turner's wonderful Mars colonization canto led the way.  Now he expresses some of our deepest fears... and can-do spirit of hope... in "Apocalypse" wherein he puts into throbbing iambic beat a blending that Suzette Haden Elgin, Ray Bradbury, Marge Simon, Jonathan Post and many other SF poets aimed for with the Rhysling Awards ... and that some of the best hip hop guys* have stabbed-at. 

Only Fred creates an epic so fluidly readable you'll call it a compelling novel... that just happens to sing. Baen Books will start a ten-week electronic serialization of the poem on its very popular subscriber website. Ilium will simultaneously issue the book in inexpensive but handsome hardback and paperback editions.

== SF on the near horizon of reality! ==

What about a future where you could be sued by a door demanding micropayments? A prescient scene from Philip K. Dick's 1969 novel Ubik

"...he therefore vigorously strode to the apt door, turned the knob and pulled on the release bolt. The door refused to open. It said, "Five cents, please." He searched his pockets. No more coins, nothing. "I'll pay you tomorrow," he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again, it remained locked tight. "What I pay you," he informed it, 'is in the nature of a gratuity; I don't have to pay you." "I think otherwise," the door said. "Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt." In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory feee. Not a tip. "You discover I'm right," the door said. It sounded smug. From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt's money-gulping door. "I'll sue you," the door said, as the first screw fell out...

And yes, my work in micropayments may help make this (shudder) happen.

== Recent Science Fiction ==

Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu is a dystopian far future action tale. Humanity has largely abandoned a toxic Earth and established colonies in the outer solar system. But society has fallen through a Great Decay; brutal wars and a devastating plague have left civilization short of resources. Their only hope lies with time traveling Chronmen -- who undertake dangerous raids into the past to recover precious artifacts and power sources. To avoid timeline anomalies, they arrive just before known disaster strikes. Struggling with demons from his past, hard drinking Chronman James Griffin-Mars sets off on a final mission, and breaks the Time Laws, bringing back a female scientist from Earth’s past. They become fugitives, escaping the reach of the authorities and powerful megacorporations, even while seeking to save Earth. Time Salvager, the first of a trilogy been optioned by Paramount, with Michael Bay to direct.

 Infomocracy, by Malka Older This political thriller envisions a near future where nations are dead, borders are open, and war is a thing of the past. A new world order in the form of micro-democracy has taken hold. Global elections focus around “centenals,” groupings of 100,000 people who select governments led by corporate giants (PhilipMorris, Sony-Mitsubishi) or ideological parties (Policy1st, Heritage, Liberty). The coveted prize for the regime winning the most centenals worldwide -- the Supermajority. Information rules -- for every aspect of life (and the elections) is moderated by the all-powerful search engine known as “The Information.” A major election is underway, when sabotage shuts down Information and global communication. Mistrust grows as our main characters gather intel on propaganda, misinformation and fraud in a system that fails to live up to its idealistic promise. See an extensive review by Annalee Newitz: 

The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese, is a noir/science fiction/mystery/humorous offering, drawing upon flavors of Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). The novel is set in 2039 in a divided, post-Collapse Los Angeles, with a Disincorporated Zone left to the rule of gangs and warlords. But there are aircars! When a genetically altered, oversized sheep goes missing, PI “Phenomenological Inquisitor” Erasmus Keane and his Watson-like assistant Blake Fowler set out to investigate. Things get complicated when they take on a second case, helping celebrity-actress Priya Mistry unravel just who is threatening to kill her. But the next time they meet her, she has doesn’t recognize them. A fun, witty read.

 Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar, is set amid the rundown neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, aswarm with masses of poor refugees, cyborgs, robotniks begging for spare parts… as well as data vampires, robot priests and digital entities known as ‘Others’. Rising above the center of the teeming city is the towering Central Station spaceport, a link to the interplanetary colonies where much of humanity has gone. Brain nodes connect nearly everyone to the incessant chatter of man, machine and AI in the vast memory stream -- the ‘Conversation’. And certain genetically-modified children possess near magical powers to read minds and tap into the torrent of data streams. Tidhar presents a richly constructed future in this beautifully crafted world.

== Brin News ==

Just released: The audio version of my new short story collection, Insistence of Vision -- with stories that overflow with drama, strangeness, danger and hope -- nicely narrated by my friend, Stephen Mendel. 

A fan with both a whimsical sense of humor and a scrupulous eye for detail – William Taylor – has begun setting up Wikipedia entries for some of the races in my Uplift Universe. First up: the Hoon, featured in the Brightness Reef Trilogy.  Get in touch with him if you want to help. 

Trent Shipley's new (moderated) David Brin fan site, is just starting out but has big Ambitions. He is seeking  contributors. of fan fiction and art,* encyclopedia style articles (original), thought pieces, reviews and “anything else that can remotely be justified as Brin related.” Send questions to Of course those wanting an encyclopedic approach should get their hands on Contacting Aliens!

The Walter Day company has issued a series of way-cool “Sci Fi Author trading cards.”  Mine has just been released, and I am honored to announce that my number is… is… 42!  Sorry, Douglas Adams! There’s also an interview at the site.

Here's another reader's choice poll! Science Fiction authors rankedOh, just a gentle reminder... but you sci fi fans could vote and affect these rankings. According to your own taste and standards, of course. Just sayin....

And finally...

Just got crackpot email from a fundie whose Book of Revelation (BoR) yammer came with an interesting twist - that Satan is behind all UFO sightings! 

There's a feral-crude SF'nal cleverness about this scenario: When the Rapture takes a select cream of 144,000 pure Christians bodily to heaven - (out of the world's 7 billion ensouled human beings) - corrupt media will foist an alternate explanation - UFO abduction! Otherwise, everyone would see the obvious and quickly confess-convert. (Duh?) The whole BoR scenario collapses in a fit of logical self-interest and the whole 'kill almost everyone else and send them to perpetual torment doesn't work! No need for sky scorpions, moon-eating dragons and the other maniacal BoR stuff Patrick Farley so well conveys in Apocamon.  (Seriously. If you read one web comic, read that one. It reveals a book that far too few modern citizens have actually looked at, in appalled disbelief.)

Only dig it. This cleverly explains how UFOs manage to stay blurry, just at the edge of clarity, even as the world fills with folks with HD cameras - because Satan and his angelic collaborators are masters of illusion!

Still, clever as this twist may seem, it's pathetically illogical, since everyone on Earth could see who was 'abducted' and draw obvious conclusions, whatever the media say. Sorry, you hate-spewing, nasty BoR junkies. It still won't work. Your scenario is probably the most sadistic thing ever conceived by any human mind. Diametrically opposite to every “red-letter” passage spoken by Jesus, the BoR is truly, the Christian Bible’s “satanic verses.”

But hey!  Twist this yet again! Suppose actual UFO aliens wanted to kidnap a hundred thousand humans and mess with our heads so that we won't go alien-hunting, but instead turn on each other? Simple!  Snatch up only fundamentalist Christians!  Rapturists will go all 'left behind' on us and we'll be too busy to send the air force hunting the real culprits.

Did I just give UFO-teaser-jerks the idea? Rats! Though I deal with their asses a dozen different ways, in EXISTENCE.

And that oughta hold you, for a while.