Friday, January 23, 2015

The Robots and Foundation Universe: Issues Left For Us by Isaac Asimov


"It is the business of the future to be dangerous."
-- A.N. Whitehead 


A week ago, I explored the complex matter of Robert A. Heinlein. Now, let's dive deeply for a close look at another of our field's Grand Masters... one about whom I am officially an expert!

== Isaac Asimov and the joy of endless argument ==

Ah, robots.

Ever since Karel Capek coined the word in his stage play “R.U.R.”, its meaning has gone through steady transformation.  The fleshy slave-workers of Capek’s drama would today be called “androids” or be likened to the replicants of BLADE RUNNERRobots per se became associated with metal and plastic... computer chips and cool, artificial intelligence, without direct connection to protoplasm.  

Like aliens, robots have served as foils for two great drivers of sci fi plotting -- the Dangerous Other Who Must Be Feared... 

...and the Innocent Other Who Must Be Protected From Vile Humanity... especially our wretched and oppressive institutions.  

We all remember many examples of both kinds.  From viciously genocidal machines of THE TERMINATOR and THE MATRIX to cute little robots who are pursued by nasty generals, in SHORT CIRCUIT and D.A.R.Y.L.

Some science fiction tales did try to move beyond these awful cliches. I am reminded of Robert Heinlein’s THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, whose hero is a tinkerer-inventor, building household automatons that are actually useful in the home, without necessarily writing sonnets or planning extinction for all humankind. (The inspiration for today's successful iRobot corporation.) Indeed, this gradual introduction of utilitarian models better predicted events than any of the clanking humanoids that spun off the pages and screens of bad sci fi over the decades.

But no article on this topic would get far without turning our attention to the biggest and most impressive science fictional universe in which robots hold a major presence -- the “Robots and Foundation” universe that was created, over the course of a lifetime, by one of SF’s Grand Masters... the good doctor Isaac Asimov.

I had the honor of being chosen to “clean up”.... to tie the loose ends that Isaac left dangling when he so lamentably left us too early, some years ago.  Along with my collaborators and pals, Gregory Benford and Greg Bear, I helped create the new SECOND FOUNDATION TRILOGY, with the blessing of Isaac’s heirs, his wife Janet and daughter Robin.  These books can be read separately or (loosely) together.

 As author of the final book, I had a mission a bit different than Greg and Gregory, whose fine novels zeroed in on certain details of the life of Hari Seldon.  Never shy, I went the other direction, attempting to bring together all of Isaac’s themes -- even from obscure titles like PEBBLE IN THE SKY -- in a final grand adventure, entitled FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH. Believe me, that required a lot of study!  And revisiting great old tales in one of the finest epics of all time.

Hence, in honor of what would have been Isaac's birthday, this week, I’ll let you in on some of the background story...

== The explorer begins in New York ==

Isaac Asimov first started pondering human destiny while working in his father's candy store, at a time when the world was in turmoil. Vast, inscrutable forces appeared to be working on humanity, making whole populations behave in unfathomably dangerous ways - often against their own self interest. Countless millions believed that the answer lay in prescriptions - in formulas for human existence - called ideologies.

Young Isaac was too smart to fall for any of the dogmas then on sale. From Marxism to fascism to ultra-capitalism, they all preached that human beings are simple creatures, easily described and predictable according to incantations scribbled on a few printed pages. 

Even as a youth, then as a student, Isaac could tell that these scenarios were wishful-thinking, having more in common with religion than real science. Yet, he could easily understand why people yearned for a model - a paradigm - for human behavior. Surrounded by irrationality on all sides, Isaac dreamed that maybe, someday, someone might discover how to deal with the quirky complexity of contradictory human nature... if not individuals, then perhaps the great mass of humanity.

He had no idea how to solve such a problem, and was too sensible to expect useful formulae from the fools and demagogues ranting on mid-Twentieth Century radio. But what about the far future? How about when human beings filled the galaxy? Might so many individual foibles cancel out, simplifying the problem enough to let mathematics describe human momentum, the way chemistry’s gas laws simplify the behavior of vast numbers of molecules?

Take this notion and combine it with young Isaac's reading matter; one summer he devoured Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Now stir in a poetic soul and a little yearning for adventure... can you start to see a pattern developing? One that would eventually turn into one of the great classics of mid-20th Century science fiction.

== The archetype nerdish power! ==

It all starts with Hari Seldon, a character that most critics closely identify with Asimov, the writer-scientist himself. Seldon only appears as an active character at the very beginning of the original FOUNDATION TRILOGY. But his shadow stretches onward, across all of the many short stories and novels that span five hundred years of history and many thousands of starry parsecs.

In later novels we learn of meddling by another trademarked Asimov character, the mighty immortal robot, Daneel Olivaw. But at first, here in Asimov’s first great work - the Trilogy - the tale appears to be limited to human beings. Ten quadrillion humans... and an idea. One of the biggest ideas.

The idea that we - or maybe just a few of us - might look ahead, spot the inevitable mistakes and jagged reefs, somehow charting a course around the most dangerous shoals, leading eventually to a better shore.

What a concept to explore! But Isaac Asimov’s fertile mind did not stop there. Another matter roiling in his brain was the problem of Robots. Far too long maligned as Frankenstein monsters, in magazines with lurid covers, they seemed to him filled with far greater possibilities. Yes, the simple-minded approach was to make them objects of dread. But what if we could program them to stay loyal? To grow with us? And maybe to grow better than us... while remaining faithful to the last?

The result - Asimov's universe of Robot Stories - became another instant classic of science fiction, introducing several concepts, such as deeply-programmed protective "laws" that are widely discussed by Artificial Intelligence researchers today

The Foundation Universe and the Robots - for many years, these two cycles of fiction stayed separate. 

Then Asimov did something controversial. He chose to combine them. It seemed a strange decision at the time. Indeed, as a teenager in the 1960s and 1970s I was -- shall we say -- a bit cheesed at the Good Doctor, for what I then deemed to be a terrible self-indulgence! So, we have robots int he 20th and 21st Centuries... but non in the year 3030?  Say what?

But in the long run, that combination brought about something truly remarkable. A great conversation. A conversation between Asimov and his readers. 

And one that Isaac kept thrashing back and forth... with himself.

== Isaac's journey ==

Indeed, Isaac Asimov kept re-adjusting focus in his universe!  Like any truly honest scientist, he re-evaluated. Each and every decade, Isaac found hidden implications in his universe.  Things that were already tacit, between the lines. In meticulous honesty, he always bared these implications and explored them... till the next decade started another round.

Follow along closely, and be amazed.

First he wrought the Foundation, treating a quadrillion humans as ‘gas molecules’ whose destiny could be calculated through Hari Seldon’s wondrous new science of psychohistory. And that satisfied the young nerd in biochemistry... for a while. Only...

Later, Isaac realized that perturbations would interfere with statistical predictability, even in such a marvelous new science. (Today we call it the Butterfly Effect.)

So he introduced a secret cabal of psychic-mathematicians (the Second Foundation) who would be dedicated to guiding the Seldon Plan back in line, should the emerging New Empire drift down a wrong path.

That seemed to satisfy, for a while. 

But a decade or so afterwards, Isaac realized the moral flaw of the Second Foundation... that it left humanity led forever by a secret, inherited aristocracy!  A mutant branch of the race, locked into permanent, psychic dominance over all the rest.

This was offensive to Isaac’s liberal-democratic sensibilities. Hence, he searched and found a solution to this, by bringing both halves of his life-work together... by inserting robots into the Foundation Universe!

Daneel Olivaw and his scrupulously honest positronic followers would act behind the scenes, manipulating even the Second Foundation, all for our own best interests and welfare, of course, and preventing dominance by a lordly human caste. Picture dedicated court eunuchs, who cannot conspire to become lords themselves, because they will have no offspring. (And hence my observation that Asimov's fabled Empire was less Roman than actually rather Chinese!)

Loyal robot eunuchs, standing beind the Second Foundation, manipulating it to only do good. They can be trusted... right?

Or can they? A little while later, Isaac realized something... free will had been reversed!  

The mechanical servants had memory and volition. They were rare, precious and powerful! While humans were as numerous and powerless as insects. The "masters" had amnesia about their past and no control over their future, utterly and secretly controlled by all-powerful "servants." Now that didn’t sound like such a great destiny either! 

What a life Isaac had! Holding this decadal conversation and argument with himself. Finding an answer to a problem, then having the honesty to admit that it caused a new problem! And answering that one... only then honestly coming to realize...

== Iterating Destiny ==

He sought a way out of the powerful-servants dilemma of the 1980s... and came up with Gaia! The ultimate robotic plan for humanity -- for us to transcend together as a race, leapfrogging beyond our loyal-but-manipulative servants into a a new level of being, transforming all of humanity into a single, all-powerful mind! 

Okay, you've seen this concept positively portrayed by a third of the greats... by Arthur C. Clarke* in CHILDHOOD’S END and in 2001: A Space Odyssey... and it goes back to Teilhard de Chardin and others. But never explored with Asimovian attention to detail. You've also seen this notion -- of monolithic group transcendence -- portrayed negatively in Star Trek’s infamous Borg! (Indeed, I tried to give it a subtle twist-and-spin in EARTH.) 

The Gaia/Galaxia resolution that Isaac put forward in FOUNDATION’S EDGE seemed to solve his problems. It would eventually deify humanity, restoring our memory and authority over robots again, in a fashion that Daneel Olivaw would find acceptable, because it would eliminate the fractious individualism that was always messing things up with violence and confusion and chaos. Such a coalescence into mega wisdom would make humanity mature, allowing Daneel at last to put down his ancient burden and step aside for a long deserved rest.

Only then Isaac took things to the next level, and realized... hey, wait a minute!  Maybe this "solution" needs some tweaking, as well.

== We'll never know for sure. ==

Asimov added several entire courses to our endless and ongoing dinner-table conversation about destiny. Alas though, his time was up. A sad flaw in the 1980s blood banks robbed us of his brilliance. 

Still... curious minds demand more! Where would he have gone next! His shoes were hard to fill, but someone had to try. 

In fact, Isaac dropped plenty of hints, before he died. In scores of details, and in the momentum of ideas, he actually made it pretty clear... at least to Benford and Bear and me... where the next dilemma lay.

In continuing Isaac Asimov's epochal saga, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and I faced a daunting challenge - to keep adding ideas and possibilities to the Foundation/Robots setting. Concepts that captivate the reader. Visions that are new, awesome and wonderful, illuminated in stories filled with interesting characters and vivid adventure. And yet, we had to remain true to Isaac's overall vision of a startling and intellectually stimulating future.

Fortunately, Isaac's clues -- like those in a good detective story -- were all there, if you looked closely! Pointing to mysteries and logical quandaries that he clearly meant to deal with someday. 

We also had to capture the delightful flavor of an Asimovian tale!  Isaac was, above all, a lover of detective stories, and so, logical twists and turns carried over into his science fiction. Furthermore, readers of his works have come to expect certain traditions.

The protagonist faces adversaries whose masked motives are peeled away through logic and insight, with successive reversals offering delicious surprise.

Tantalizing mysteries. Isaac left "hanging questions" in many books... using these as hooks for the next tale. New books should continue this tradition of asking more unanswered questions.

Moral quandaries. Isaac wasn't afraid of presenting readers with ethically ambivalent situations. The hero must choose among several paths, each with advantages and drawbacks. Villains have reasons for their actions.

Issues of cosmic relevance. Isaac dealt with DESTINY.

Frequent referral to events in other books. While each of his tales can be immensely satisfying on his own, Isaac's readers also loved catching brief references to events that took place elsewhere in his universe.

These traditions combined into a classic futuristic universe, a stage where we could watch a play as vivid and timeless as anything by Hugo or Dumas.

== And returning to... ==

Finally, there is Hari Seldon (who is also the hero of our new Second Foundation Trilogy), a monumental figure, able to see so much about human destiny, yet also feeling himself trapped by strange forces that he barely understands... until achieving a strange triumph at the very end. His struggles to bring humanity -- at long last -- to a sanctuary of happiness and fulfillment are epochal

Mortality catches up with us all. But the logic is right there - a path implied by several dozen delicious clues that Isaac laid down, over the years. Clearly, he was not finished amazing us. These clues told a new generation of writers what to do next.

What matters is to stay enthralled, remaining ready to be provoked by new thoughts, to keep pushing back the curtain a little bit, learning and discussing more about our future.  Whether the topic is robots... how to keep them loyal and interesting... 

...or almost any other dramatic device of science fiction... dramatic devices that may become tomorrow’s world-wreckers... or household convenience.

The adventure continues. Enjoy! And keep thinking about our wide-open destiny.

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(Addendum #1: A reader's guide to the Second Foundation Trilogy.
All three of our books in the 2nd trilogy can be read separately or in any order. Bear's and Benford's each show a vigorous, younger Hari Seldon, while in Foundation's Triumph, I tackle Hari's series of realizations and fateful decisions, at the very end of his life, including a final and fateful confrontation with R. Daneel Olivaw. 

(In Foundation's Fear, Benford takes you on a rapid-fire adventure with many non-canonical twists. In Foundation and Chaos, Greg Bear provides a strong Asimovian Voice in Isaac's favorite detective format... while I aimed for sweep, tying together many loose ends and shining light on a surprise culmination that -- I believe -- will make you say: "That HAS to be where Isaac was going!" Here's hoping you feel stimulated to think many new thoughts. That is - after all - what that puckish brain-stirrer, Isaac Asimov, loved most to do.)

(Addendum #2: Here's a handy guide to the chronology of Isaac Asimov’s brilliant Foundation and Robots universe. 
         The chronology helps, if you want to read them in order as a “history.” 
         If, on the other hand, you want to get to the "meat" of the main ideas, gathering the overview of grand concepts (but skipping some great yarns)... I recommend this order: 10, 11, 12, 2, 5, 13, 9d. More below, in comments! And your own opinions are welcome.)


Monday, January 19, 2015

SETI and Libertarianism

What better launching point for this topic than my previous posting about science fiction Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein, who both lifted our gaze skyward and exemplified what I deem to be an older and far saner form of "libertarianism" than today's culti-like version of the movement.  

Was that a provocative-enough opening?  Well gird yourselves, because it's all about life and destiny and the Galaxy.  There's a whole lot more at stake than just you and me and Earth.  Indeed, it boils down to - forgive me - the nature of Existence

What can the absence of SETI extraterrestrials tell us about human history and politics?

Routinely, I am called a “liberal” or even “leftist” or “commie,” because I denounce the treason-drenched insanity that spreads outward from today's Fox’d American right. 

Anyone who follows me at all chuckles at that knee-jerk response. No science fiction author, for example, speaks at a wider variety of gatherings and political groups, sometimes indeed poking at left-wing shibboleths.  

Indeed, I talk regularly at libertarian gatherings, like Freedom Fest, and once keynoted an LP convention. True, I speak as a heretic, speaking up for Smithian flat-fair-open competition, as opposed to loony-randian solipsism and propertarian worship of oligarchy - the 6000 year sickness that historically ruined markets and freedom.

Still, grant this much even to Rand-Rothbard cultists: unlike conservatives... and many leftists… they still love to argue!  They are probably better than you, in that one respect. They welcome a challenge and keep inviting me back to disturb their incantations.

Hence…

My article in the latest issue of Cato Unbound discusses "Libertarian aspects of the search for Extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)." 

How's that for a juxtaposition?  In fact, the essay gets to the libertarian aspects only in part 4. Till then, you get a digested version of my JBIS treatise about the current state of SETI -- and recent foolish attempts to "beam messages" to ET.  Come get perspective on our place in the Cosmos!

As for the other aspect in part 4? SETI and... libertarianism???

Well. In the Cato article, I lay out today's SETI/METI debates and the Fermi Paradox... the mystery of why we (so-far) see no sign of advanced alien civilizations.  

I then show how the struggle within libertarianism could be about issues far wider and deeper than most ever bother to realize. Like our galactic destiny.

Just one of many aspects... what if feudalism turns out to be just as compelling a social driver in other species, out there, as it has been in 99% of human cultures that achieved metals and agriculture? Given how repressive almost all feudal-oligarchic cultures have been, and how anti-science, could it be that most fail to spread to the stars because of such a simple -- but darwinistically compelling -- flaw?

I have catalogued a hundred "fermi" theories.  Frankly, I deem this one to be in the top ten! There are a few others that I rank higher. Go ahead and give the Cato article a look... then comment here. 

Only know this... you are a member of a rare civilization that loves argument, that fosters it.

That may be our trick.  Our Secret Sauce.

== Following though == 

See also: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.

PS... this shows that you folks who call me "just another liberal" are dopes.  As are those who try to label me on the other side. 


I can turn my political head. Can you?

It's not my fault that most of you have bought into Political Fused - Spine Disease and can only look in one direction.  When Big Brother can and will try to launch himself from any direction. Any part of the "spectrum" where angry people convince themselves that ends justify means.

Moreover, while I consider today's right to be the sicker and more dangerous treason-to-reason at this moment... that does not make me forget there is a ditzy-far-far-left. They control nothing, certainly not the Democratic Party. But I am old enough to remember the USSR.

Snap out of your dogmas! Our descendants... and possibly the fate of the galaxy... depend on it.
    
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See more on:


Friday, January 16, 2015

Robert Heinlein and looking Beyond This Horizon

Robert A. Heinlein was a question-asker. And much less "political" in any classic terms, than most later critics would perceive and/or be willing to admit. Sure, he expressed countless political opinions!  But these often contradicted musings that he offered in other novels. While it's true he had a general "libertarian" bent, that leaning was in directions so diametrically different than today's dominant "libertarian cult" of selfish solipsism that I deem it likely he would have - by now - returned to the Party that he worked for, most of his life -- the Democratic Party.

But hold that thought.  In honor of the imminent release of Part Two of the Heinlein biography, I want to offer up some much more general observations about this truly remarkable character, who changed many lives and transformed science fiction forever.
heinlein-beyond-horizonFist-off: I consider Robert Heinlein’s most fascinating novel to be his prescriptive utopia Beyond This Horizon. (A "prescriptive utopia" is a tome wherein an author “prescribes” what he or she believes a better civilization would look like.) 

While Heinlein did opine about society in many books, from Starship Troopers to Glory Road, (and, as I said, in many cases each contradicting the other), it is in Beyond This Horizon that you’ll find him clearly stating ... This Is The Way I Think Things Ought To Be. And it turns out to be a fascinating, surprisingly nuanced view of our potential future.
Like most Heinlein novels, Beyond This Horizon divides pretty evenly into two parts -- one vigorous and active, followed by a lazily conversational part. It is only the second half of this book that I hold in high regard. Heinlein wrote the first half at behest of the famed editor of Astounding Magazine, John W. Campbell, who was then holding forth on one of his favorite themes . . . that “an armed society is a polite society.”
anecdotes-historyIn pushing this strange notion, Campbell was behaving very much like his arch-nemesis, Karl Marx. A few anecdotes and a good just-so story outweigh a hundred historical counter-examples. 

But no matter. Heinlein did as good a job of conveying Campbell’s weirdly counterfactual idea* in fiction as anyone could. So much so that the first half of Beyond This Horizon has been cited by state legislators in both Texas and Florida, proposing that all citizens go around armed! Naturally, this leads (paradoxically) to exactly what you'd expect, the opposite of Campbell's forecast, a wild shoot-em-up, in the first half of Beyond This Horizon.  An irony which RAH suddenly veers away from, at the midway point.
heinlein-star-beastThis division between halves is typical of Heinlein novels and it makes reading them an interesting, multi-phase experience. Generally, RAH was a master at starting his tales–in fact, I recommend that all neo writers study carefully the first few pages of any Heinlein book, for his spectacularly effective scene-setting and establishment of point-of-view. (The opening scene of The Star Beast is the best example of show-don’t-tell that anyone can find.) Alas, most of his novels reach a vigorous climax, concluding part one… and then peter out disappointingly in the last half, amid a morass of garrulous, often contradictory finger-wagging and speculative-blather.
This is where Beyond This Horizon reverses all expectations. Sure, part one is action and part two is talk, as usual. Only in this case, the action is tediously silly... and the talk-talk is riveting! In fact, this is where Robert Heinlein displays how broad his intellectual reach can take us.
Here - rather than in his novels Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Landwe see the clearest ever expression of his political philosophy, which is demonstrably neither “fascist” nor anywhere near as conservative as some simple-minded critics might have us think.


== Heinlein's Visions of the Future ==
heinlein-libertarianIndeed, Heinlein's famed libertarianism had limits, moderated and enriched by compassion, pragmatism and a profound faith that human beings can improve themselves, gradually, by their own diligence and goodwill. A libertarianism of the compassionately practical variety preached by Adam Smith and the American Founders, not by psychopathic lunatics like Murray Rothbard or Ayn Rand.
I was amazed by many other aspects of this wonderful book-within-a-book, especially by Heinlein’s startlingly simple suggestion for how to deal with the moral quandaries of genetic engineering — what’s now called the “Heinlein Solution” — allowing couples to select which naturally produced sperm and ova they want to combine into a child, but forbidding them to actually alter the natural human genome.
Consider the elegance of this proposed compromise. Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally. Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. (No fashionable feathers or lizard tails, just kids who are the healthiest and smartest and strongest the parents might have had, anyway.) It is a notion so insightful that biologists 40 years later have only recently started to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.
When it comes to politics, his future society (in the prescriptive Beyond This Horizon) is, naturally, a descendant of the America Heinlein loved above all things. But it has evolved in two directions at once. Anything having to do with human creativity, ambition or enterprise is wildly competitive and nearly unregulated -- though with no feudal meddling, inherited status or presumptions based on race or gender or class. 

But where it comes to human needs, the situation is wholly socialistic! One character even says, in a shocked tone of voice: “Naturally, food and shelter and education are free! What kind of people do you take us for?”
Are you surprised? None of this fits into the dogma of Ayn Rand, whose followers have taken over the libertarian movement. If Robert Heinlein was a libertarian, it was clearly of a more subtle kind, less historically or anthropologically naive, more compassionate… and more interesting.
But here’s the crux. For the most part, with Robert Heinlein, you felt he wasn’t so much lecturing or preaching as offering to argue with you! His books let you fume and mutter and debate with this bright, cantankerous, truly American soul, long after his body expired. 

Indeed, this is why I seem to be far, far more forgiving of Paul Veerhoeven's Starship Troopers flick, than almost anyone else. Veerhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier put more actual lines of dialogue from the book into characters' mouths than almost any other novelization you could name! The characters speak to every value that RAH (experimentally) mused in the novel... to which Veerhoeven answered with twists of irony and discomforting symbolism, as if saying to Heinlein "all right, sir, you get the words -- and the characters believe them all! But I still find it worrisome, and my camera will show a darker side."

To which I imagine RAH answering: "Fair enough... that is, if I had been around to offer a counter-rebuttal!

That's the part I wanted. And maybe I'll put it in a story. 
writer-science-fictionBut it is this joy in argument – in posing and chewing over thought experiments – that I want to conclude with.  It is the very soul of what it means to be a writer or reader of genuine science fiction.  For SF is supposed to be humanity's Department of Advanced Exploration, Thought Experimentation, and Argumentation About The Future!

(Amid a plague of simplistic dystopias and apocalypses that poke at no new failure modes but simply offer cheap, lazy ways to put cliched "chosen ones" in peril...that mission of sci fi appears to have been forgotten by all but a few, alas. One way to tell?  Is the hero(ine) a "chosen one"? Are the great masses of surrounding citizens nothing more than bleating-useless sheep?  See more on this.) 

That is why it's dismally unfair to take a true sci fi artist like Heinlein and dismiss him as all one-thing or another. The "fascist" appellation might feel good to you, when you compare Starship Troopers to Farnham's Freehold, but it it is stupidly simplistic when you contrast with Double Star and Stranger in a Strange Land

True science fiction seeks a positive sum game. The gedankenexperiment aims to probe a section of possibility space. The writer's next exploration may go to a completely different part of the frontier... beyond this horizon.

== Heinlein: In Dialogue with his century ==
Finally, for more about Heinlein, see the extensive new two-volume biography - from Tor Books - by William H. Patterson, Jr.:
Patterson (who lamentably passed away recently) is off-target or a bit clumsy in places. But he did us all a service by elucidating this uniquely American life.

To honor Heinlein's forward vision: Pay it forward! Consider supporting The Heinlein Society -- which provides scholarships to students, educational materials to schools, and books to the military.

=== ===

== addendum on guns as enforcers of a "polite society" ==

* The basic notion of Beyond This Horizon and even Campbell is that the best protection for freedom and rights must be rooted in the individual feeling confidently empowered to defend those rights herself or himself.  That notion underlies reciprocal accountability which is the underlying force within our enlightenment arenas... markets, democracy, science, courts and sports.  As I demonstrate in The Transparent Society.

But it is simple-minded to the extreme, to actually believe that can happen... via guns.  Just slapping arms on every hip will not make a "polite society"... not overnight.  We are still an impulsive, emotion-drenched species and far too many of us (indeed a whole lot of young males) respond to emotional challenge by grabbing up the nearest weapon. This experiment ran, in the Wild West, and the death rate was prodigious. 

Sure, if we did this, we would become more polite!  After a thousand years of blazing away at each other, the courteous and slow-to-anger would have lots more kids, passing on those traits! But till then? Sorry, our accountability arenas -- markets, democracy, science, courts and sports -- use more subtle means. But not all is loast for Campbell and Heinlein!  Because we can do this!  We can go around "armed" and hold each other instantly accountable and enforce politeness...

...with cameras.  It is happening already. The violent (even cops) and bullies and even the noxiously rude are getting comeuppance... only with this major difference from guns: that the quickest draw doesn't win. And if you "shoot" unfairly, there is a later chance to apologize.  

Try doing that with a pistola, Tex. 

Oh... see my rational suggestion of an actual, feasible compromise on gun laws.  Won't happen, of course.  Too much crazy. And RAH has joined Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So what is on the Congressional plate?

== Outcomes in Question ==

I frequently demand of our friends who are still loyal Republicans to name any positive, assertive steps that the party of Bush and Cheney will actually attempt to accomplish, now that they control both houses of Congress. 

Nu? Repeal Obamacare? Puh-lease.  The GOP leadership never wanted it repealed, since it is their own… damn… plan -- cloned from Heritage plans, Romney-care, Gingrichcare and the GOP platform.  They just want to yell and pretend, while letting it work.


Seriously, I ask again! Given that every GOP-run Congress since 1996 scored among the laziest and least productive in the nation’s history, what’s on their agenda now?

Deregulation?  Republicans sure do talk and talk about that! So is it strange that, despite many periods when they held every rein of power, they have only ever deregulated one industry? Wall Street/Finance (with results we all know)?

By comparison, dems have deregulated eight. I listed them elsewhere: (e.g. the ICC, CAB, ATT, and the Freaking INTERNET...)


Oh, Republicans like to NIBBLE deregulate.  Never eliminating bureaucracies, but reducing their effectiveness. Now they want to retract their own "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) and weaken its testing standards, leaving each test to the state. Why? 

Because All the red states (except Utah and somewhat Texas) are doing worse in student testing than predicted, because their schools have been torched. They test far worse than most Blue States and it's getting worse(r) daily. NCLB teststing lays out the embarrassment clear, so they must now abandon their own baby...

== At last, a sincere deregulation by the GOP? ==

Oh, but patience is rewarded! Suddenly, among Republican leaders, there is talk about a great big, bad regulatory target! Actually repealing and eliminating an actual bureaucracy!

  The Export Import Bank...

...which helps US companies to compete with mercantilist exporters like China. Okay but can we afford it when times are tight and when deficits are, er, um... steeply declining?


Okay, then, Mr. Boehner. What's the bottom line here?  How much is the EIB costing us?


Fact check: the EIB regularly pays billions in profits to the U.S. Treasury, having only lost money in one year out of the last 30.  


Please dig that again. The EIB both expands U.S. exports and makes a profit for the taxpayer. But suddenly the USEIB is the devil! How can that be? Why is the EIB the GOP's top target... since they "deregulated" away the Congressional Office of Science and Technology Assessment?


Because the tech companies that the EIB mostly benefits are generally democratic-leaning while the GOP-leaning corporations — in finance and resource (theft) extraction — don’t use the USEIB much.

Give it a read. And yes, I am impressed that the laziest and most corrupt politicians in US history actually have lifted their gaze to want to actually do something!  Something wrongheaded, venial and dumb. But something.

== About that "lazy" accusation ==

Already the House leadership has begun setting expectations, making clear they plan to blame President Obama for the coming two years of Congressional noise and inaction. They know folks have started noticing that...

... recent GOP Congresses have been the laziest in US history, holding the fewest hearings and introducing the fewest bills since 1792. Despite all their anger they have even issued among the lowest numbers of subpoenas!  Without the utterly banal/trivial Benghazi and IRS probes? Almost none at all.

Just to be clear.  For 6 years, under G.W. Bush, the Republican Party (and the Murdoch-Koch-Adelson-Saudi owners) controlled ALL branches of the US government.  They could have done anything on their agenda, anything at all. 


What did they give us? Two trillion dollar wars, a tsunami tax gift for the uber-rich that achieved zero supply-side aims, deregulation of Banking/WallStreet (leading to disaster)… plus Medicare Part D, the only entitlement that passed with zero provision for paying for it.  NAME ONE OTHER major action taken by the GOP during the long stretch when they had total power.

It’s one thing to be crazy, dogmatic servants of oligarchy with a long list of social-political grievances.  It is another thing to yammer your grievances endlessly — while being too lazy to lift a finger about any of them.

== Their one positive-assertive agenda item ==

Any positives? Certainly not the Infrastructure Bill to repair 10,000 decaying bridges and put 100,000 men to work, generating high velocity, demand side economic activity. If that had passed 3 years ago, we'd be all the way into a boom, by now, and the results of the last election... oh, I get it. Pretty clever, guys. Treason. But clever.

Keystone. That's it. The only positive-assertive thing. Keystone! Subsidize petro zillionaires to ship Canadian tar over the most vulnerable and precious agricultural aquifer in the world and stink our air, to they can ship it to China... and what's OUR cut? Zero.

But at least Keystone is positive assertive!  

Now name one other positive assertive item. One. even one.  Just one.

== Anything else? ==


A large number of newly elected Republican Senators intend to vote to eliminate the food stamps program. Is this news item faked?  Well... in fact it comes from one of the many "satire" sites that simply do not understand one of the rules of true satire... do not call "satire" a story that is entirely plausible.  It's just not funny. 


Meanwhile, U.S. healthcare spending grew 3.6 percent in 2013, the slowest rate on record since 1960, federal health officials reported Wednesday.

== Guaranteed NOT to be on the agenda ==

2014 is in the running to be the hottest year globally on record, according to the latest data from the Japan Meteorological Agency.... the previous record years of 1998, 2005 and 2010 will be overtaken by a narrow margin.

The only way to ignore all this is to join the cult of “scientists are sniveling liar/cheater/coward/lemmings — ALL of them! Who scrabble after “grants” that one side does NOT have to list or point to or document.  Because vague is good!  As is belittling the smartest, wisest and most competitive humans our species ever produced.”

== My own top priority ==

Okay so now Ted (Joe McCarthy's clone) Cruz heads the committee overseeing NASA? Ooooog. My own priority it adamant. Mr. Obama stop letting them attach lunacies to must-pass budget extensions. (The GOP Congress has not passed an ACTUAL budget in ages.) Me? I'd veto every single thing till they reinstate the Congressional Office of Science and Technology Assessment. Destroying OTA was the smoking gun that this was no longer Barry Goldwater's GOP.

It is the biggest Know-Nothing movement since the 1840s.

(Join the petition to restore West Virginia's science standards in schools. http://www.wvsta.org )

 == Krugman on the Economy ==

Paul Krugman explains How Soaring Inequality May Lead the World Down the Path to Fascism: Whether your reflexes are "left" or "right," you should be disturbed by the picture painted here, and willing to ponder it.  You conservatives, when do you picture the ideal hey-day of capitalism that delivers for everyone? The fifties and sixties?  Certainly our parents in the Greatest Generation delivered one thing - a stunningly rapid rate of middle class growth, a burst of wealth and education that their children then used, to break old habits like racism, sexism etc.  The left is insane to ignore that it was wealth and middle class well-being that fostered those reforms...

...but the right is even crazier, to ignore cause and effect -- that capitalism was at its flattest, healthiest, fairest and most productive under regulatory and tax regimes instituted by the Greatest Generation's favorite person, the man they adored above all others, but whom Fox and its Murdochian-Saudi owners want you to envision as Satan.

          Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In contrast, for close to thirty years, Republicans have told us..."Tax-break gifts to the rich will make EVERYONE rich and erase government deficits!"  Supply Side Voodoo Economics (SSVE) has been tried over and over, and not ONE prediction ever came true -- and did  I mention not ever?  Scientists know what to make of such a theory... which is why the Right now wages war on science.

You liberals, use this.  Hammer it. Flat-open-fair capitalism is one of the main VICTIMS of the current oligarchic putsch.  Study Adam Smith, who founded liberalism AND libertarianism. And stop listening to your mad leftist allies.  FDR saved us from both insanities, communism and fascism. Focus on him and on Smith, and you can demolish the Fox-oligarch bullshit mountain.

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