Friday, April 09, 2021

The war on expertise... And ways to navigate the minefield.

 == Again: How to defeat the War on All expertise ==

The Enlightenment Experiment absolutely depends upon training citizens - especially the young - to provide the one thing that almost all past nations desperately lacked, criticism of society's elites, lest they smugly assume they are right, an endemic failure mode, since humans are (all of us) inherently delusional. But we don't share the same delusions and so point out each other's errors.

Alas, there's a flaw - arguably the worst in human nature. We inherently hate criticism! 

And hence, so many past and present ruling castes - wielding tyrannical power - crushed it! Then went on and implemented any damn policy that made them feel good... resulting in the litany of catastrophes called 'history."

Occasionally, across that dismal darkness, a glimmering concept arose. That of reciprocal accountability - people catching each other's mistakes (since we seldom can see our own). Pericles, for example, spoke of how this method was working so very well in the Athens democracy... till he died and Athenians dived into cycles of overwrought 'criticism' that proved lethal, the failure mode that enemies of our current enlightenment are trying (with much success) to trick us into, right now.

So how does an enlightenment nation and society strike that balance?

Today, our massive propaganda system - Hollywood - relentlessly repeats lessons of criticism, suspicion of authority (SoA) and individualism... along with notions of tolerance and diversity and "otherness." Historically, NO other society taught its children to reflexively assume fault in their own tribal elders, while assuming other tribes are wise. And admit it, that's your trained reflex, as we speak.

 Alas, we fail to teach our young to notice how they got these values -- via the most intensely pervasive indoctrination-by-media in human experience. That perspective is badly needed.

(See the powerful effects (good and bad) of sci fi movies and lit dissected in my new nonfiction book about the power of fictionVIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood.)

Especially since -- as I alluded above and have pointed out many times -- Suspicion-of-Authority (SoA) can be turned cancerous and used against us! Consider the aphorism given in italics below. One that is blatantly true, believed by almost all members of this civilization... and denounced by almost all rivals and previous cultures.

"Just because a person is smart and knows a lot or has a position of authority, that doesn't automatically make them wise."


All of you reading this likely agree that the assertion (in italics above) is true. 

Simply and obviously true. 

And because we know it to be true, each of us feels empowered to point out what we deem to be possible errors by elites. 

Even if citizens or amateurs are wrong in 99% of their crits aimed at elites, catching that 1% has real value!  

This is absolutely essential if we're to navigate the rush into the future while minimizing lethal errors. 

It is also a basic reason to always err on the side of transparency.

So far so good. Experts may know a lot, but they aren't gods.

Only here's what's happened. Our enemies saw a flaw - one that could be exploited against us. The same flaw that blew out post-Periclean Athens and Medici Florence and threatens us today -- self-righteous sanctimony.  

Let's look at that core underpinning again:

"Just because a person is smart and knows a lot or has a position of authority, that doesn't automatically make them wise."

True! It's one of our fundamental tenets. But there is only a small step from that truth to a toxic lie! 

"Because a person is smart and knows a lot or has a position of authority, that automatically makes them unwise."

Now of course, when you put it explicitly and baldly like that, the mutated version is obviously insane!  

And so, Fox/Sinclair/KGB savanarolas never make it explicit! Yet, that's the message implicit in their daily jeremiads against every expert caste, from doctors and scientists to civil servants and law professionals and most of their fellow journalists. They croon at their hypnotized ditto heads 

"Your opinions (supplied by us) are automatically more valid than the informed judgments of smartypants, who are all both conniving conspirators and cowardly, paradigm-obeying conformists!"

See also: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols. 

= Is There A Way Around This? Burden of Proof. =

Yes, there is a way out. But it depends on first admitting what the enemies of enlightenment are doing, and then adjusting, adapting new, 'judo' tactics.

The key concept is "burden of proof." 

No, elites and experts should NOT get to "rule" ex-cathedra on what's True! Freedom of speech is not enough... critics of established paradigms should have access to venues to challenge orthodoxy... as is the case in science... 

...though the credibility of the critic can justifiably be used to scale those venues, maximizing crit that has value over that fizzing from sources who have none. 

(Note that our species has never generated more competitive humans than scientists, who at each other with relentless determination, eager to expose the flaws in their experiments or theories.)

One chant-incantation by the mad right meme-media is "there's no such thing as "scientific consensus" or "there's no VOTING over facts." While that incantation is strictly true, it is also bullshit!

When 99% of those who know a lot and are expert in a field say something is true... despite rivalries among them... then yes! it is still possible for that consensus to be wrong! There have been a few such cases across the annals of science and the dissenters who bravely took down the false paradigm are well-known, even revered. 

But that happenstance is very rare. Generally, when a critic claims "99% of those who know this field are wrong!" that critic bears a Burden of Proof.

Above all, this holds when it comes to PUBLIC POLICY, which simply cannot wait for 100% agreement and utter removal of all plaints and objections! It is perfectly reasonable for a nation or state or company or world to take action on warnings and recommendations made by a majority of experts in a field, especially when the possible consequences of inaction are dire. As is the case re: climate change.

Though yes, it is also right to allocate some resources so that critics may continue to criticize.

== Wagers, again ==

In pushing WAGERS as a tactic against the jibbering-insane War-vs-Facts, I never claimed you'll actually get paid. I never have been. They always whinge, squirm and finally run. But that in itself is a victory, because the one thing they live for is macho

They know "a real man is willing to put up stakes and let the chips fall where the facts take them." In squirming and fleeing, these mostly-male idiots prove (if you taunt them in front of others) that they aren't 'real men.'  Alas you must do it right! 

1- Nail down a specific provable/falsifiable assertion. (I like ocean acidification because if it's true we're screwed, and it can be proved with a Ph meter. And there are ZERO alternative theories for why it is happening.) 

Or: "let's pick any random ten lies from the registered list of Trump's 30,000 false statements and see if any were worse than the ONE fib you called 'intolerable and impeachable' by Bill Clinton!

2- Definite stakes in advance. I generally demand they escrow $5000 with a reputable attorney before I'll even negotiate terms. Thus, I savagely imply they aren't trustworthy. (It does work.)

3- Adjudicators! It's their last refuge, since their cult wages war on all fact-using professions. (Bet them they can't name an exception!) From science, teaching, medicine, law, journalism -- to the "deep-state men and women who crushed Hitler, stymied Stalin, won the Cold War and the War on Terror, their cult slogan is that all nerdy fact users are evil!

So I make it explicit. "You pick a pair of senior, retired military officers who aren't known for being rabidly partisan, but who have been lifelong Republicans. I'll pick two. Together they will pick a fifth for a panel to adjudicate our bet, based on confirmed facts. Let's do this! If you have any guts or balls!" 

It's a trap! If they deny the fact-centered honesty of retired senior officers, they are stabbing at the last American clade of expertise they supposedly respect and revere. But if they accept, they know they'll lose!

Do you see the logic? Of course then there is...

... #4 -- do all this in public, because they will run away! The only thing you'll win is utterly shaming a raving loony by gelding and emasculating him in front of witnesses. (And how I'd love it if a guest on Hannity or Tucker did this!) That public shaming is a good thing and if we all did it a lot, QAnon and Proud Boys will shrivel under the sun. 

See my formal wager demand in comments. Copy and use it yourselves.

== Sometimes the old ways still work ==

What about using the courts to force slanderers to admit it and face deterrence and punishment?  Well, in theory, that's a great idea! In fact, I have yearned for a decade for some prominent news reporter to shout "enough" after being slurred as a conspiratorial-lying promulgator of "fake news!" and suing for one of Tucker Carlson's many, many mansions, ranches and yachts. It is a form of wager!

Well, at last it is at least starting to happen. Lawyers for conservative attorney Sidney Powell told a federal court on Monday that "no reasonable person" would conclude her unfounded claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election were statements of fact as she fights a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. (Late news, Dominion is also going after Rudy Giuliani, FOX News and the My Pillow guy.)
Said an eminent DC observer I respect: 

"I get it - claims often are unbacked by fact. However if someone claims something, is it not a sign that they think it's true and thus if they're wrong, then defamation?" And further that their statements were both intended and had the effect of undermining the persons and corporations so defamed?
One part of the remedy that a jury in the suit -- or a settlement -- can demand -- in addition to a financial penalty -- is that Powell herself - not her attorneys - issue a statement of retraction and apology, admitting with crystal clarity that her intent was to sway "unreasonable people" into harmful hostility toward both the plaintiffs and democratic electoral systems.
While it is delicious to see Dominion Voting Systems pursue these devastating cases, they truly are special in that the deliberate defamation and the economic harm have perfect clarity that plows past our reflex 'freedom of speech' defense, that always gets benefit of the doubt.
Alas, no member of the political caste can do that without accusations of orwellian "attempted suppression of opposition" doing more harm than good. I think some news reporters should long ago have sued over "fake news" slurs, since some cases were especially egregious... but the same worry probably deters them.
Which is hence why my "judo alternative" of WAGER demands kicks in. 

True, you'll not get the dollar rewards of a jury judgement or a court settlement... no one, certainly not a Fox yammerer, will ever actually PAY. But cornering say Hannity/Carlson with their refusal to even negotiate crisp, falsifiable/verifiable terms for fact-based manly wagers can then be used to slash the macho stance that is the foundation of their cult following.

I'll append in comments once again my standard Wager Demand that attempts to deal with all the bob-and-weave evasion tactics these macho liar-bums have tried over the years, before screaming (always) and running away.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Evolution of Science Fiction

With the popularity of The Queen’s Gambit, the Post points out that its author, Walter Tevis, was hardly a one-hit wonder. Tevis wrote science fiction greats like “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and the overlooked classic “Mockingbird,” as well as “The Hustler,” later turned into a movie with Paul Newman.

Way back in the 20th Century, science fiction couldn’t get no respect. Jack Williamson barely escaped being committed for the lunacy of writing tales about possible tomorrows. Aside anomalous best sellers like When Worlds Collide, it took Heinlein to get anything like real books distributed beyond the drug store pulp rack. Later best-sellers like Vonnegut, Atwood and Le Guin kept waffling whether to spurn or embrace their roots in a genre that had fostered them. Academics sneered and while many universities had to run a science fiction class - (a lit course ‘for the nerds’) - that SF instructor almost never got tenure.  And every five years or so there appeared a hit piece in The Atlantic, or Harpers, or The New Yorker, slagging the entire field as “febrile fantasies.” 

My how things have changed! Last month a postage stamp was issued honoring Ursula Le Guin (my former teacher.) Science fiction research programs sprout up at many universities. And those same elite magazines now run reviews of - or sober reflections upon - SF in its many forms. True, much of this new status comes packaged in vehement liberation-rhetoric, some of it unfairly ungrateful to earlier SF generations who were generally progressive and friendlier toward inclusion than their times. But no one can sanely object to the overall trend, discovering and developing appreciation for exploratory literature and film created by members of many nations, races, genders and mythic systems! Setting aside the occasional, spate of undeserved and self-defeating hostility toward allies, this is a trend that science fiction can justifiably be proud of.

(Much of this is discussed in my own recently released academic tome Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.)

Exemplifying this trend is a series of fine reviews that has been appearing on the website of National Public Radio (NPR), including...

…this review of Sarah Geiley’s novel -- The Echo WifeCooked right, science fiction and murder mysteries taste great together…” 

(I agree! In fact, I always tell my writing students that they should do a murder mystery first - as I did, with Sundiver - in order to truly understand story and character arcs and plotting!)

… this rumination by Ramtin Arablouei on my dear friend and colleague, the late Octavia E. Butler.  After whom the Perseverance Mars probe landing site was recently named!

… And NPR reviews Everina Maxwell’s recently released novel --a romantic space opera,  Winter's Orbit.

 … and for some non-fiction that has that good old sci fi apocalypse feeling to it, take a look at Elizabeth Kolbert’s Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. This volume covers in a reporter’s thorough detail some of the dire topics of humanity's impacts on ecological change I conveyed in novel form, in Earth.

Kazuo Ishiguro has long been recognized as one of the greatest writers in the English language, exploring fretful, endangered lives, as in Never Let Me Go, and clashes with modernity and ethics and constrained personality, in The Remains of the Day. 

Now, Nobel laureate Ishiguro returns to science fiction with a novel in the point-of-view of a robot companion, seeking to understand the humans it is confusedly trying to serve - with his newly released, Klara and the Sun

== The adventure Sci Fi series you've been seeking? ==  

Suppose your descendants – people of the future – reach back in time to ask for your help.  Would you go? 

24th Century humanity has created a Utopia. No more War. Disease. Prejudice. Crime. But no heroes! And suddenly they need heroes, fast. So they reach out across time… for you. 

Would you go?

And what if only teens can survive the trip?

In the first Out of Time novel, Nebula Award winning author Nancy Kress takes you on an adventure, with a 10th Century Viking girl, a New Jersey high school basketball star and a young thief from Shakespeare’s London who are yanked into a future of both promise and peril and asked achieve what adults of that time cannot… rescue a lost star-colony. But even if they succeed, will they ever make it back home? 

Your adventure starts if you click 'Buy Now' or 'Read for Free' and get sucked into this riveting tale of time travel in David Brin's Out Of Time Series!

And then more such adventures from the mighty Sheila Finch(!) and Roger McBride Allen... and soon a new wave of new novels resumes with one from Bram Stoker Award winner Patrick Freivald... and more in queue!

Friday, April 02, 2021

John Boehner pleads: "It's not my fault!"

 This absolutely stunning apologia by former US House Speaker John Boehner is both truth-revealing and overwhelmingly despicable. You must read it for his behind-the-scenes views of the Republican Party's slide, and then plummet, into turpitude, treason and insanity.  He blames - with real cause - Rupert Murdoch and the Kochs and Mercers and Sinclair Radio Nuremberg Rallies, without ever going into the puppet-master roles played first by the Saudis - (who have always owned and operated the Bush family) - and later Vladimir Putin.

 So what's Boehner's self-defense, now? Paraphrasing from his book, On the House: A Washington Memoir"I stayed in order to be a moderating influence." The same excuse given by so many of Donald Trump's enablers, and that Spencer Tracy demolished so well, in JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG.

It doesn't wash. Even slightly. Of the four pre-Trump GOP Speakers, Newt Gingrich set the stage, but demonstrably did at least want to legislate. Newt worked with Bill Clinton to get Welfare Reform and budget surpluses and at least a few modernizing bills passed. Gingrich trashed all the Congressional resources - like OTA - that questioned dogmatic "truthy" falsehoods. (And he later went completely insane.) But at least as Speaker he made some deals and he also appropriated money for non-policy science. 

The Republican Party was not yet at open war against every fact-using profession, from science, teaching, journalism, civil service and law to the "deep state" men and women who won the Cold War and the War on Terror.

For all of those reasons, the increasingly crazy GOP jettisoned Newt (whose "Contract With America" is a case study of how to do polemical politics successfully) in favor of Dennis "friend to boys" Hastert, a man of such stunning evil that I won't even begin to describe, but whose "Hastert Rule" declared utter vengeance on any Republican officer holder who ever again negotiated in good faith - or even socialized - with a Democrat. Thus, explicitly and openly, the GOP became the party that deliberately killed bipartisan politics as a way that adults might sometimes find common ground to act on behalf of a nation and civilization.

Gingrich, Hastert, Boehner and Ryan, all were utterly committed to transforming the America that was riding at its zenith in 1994 into an insular, oligarchy-run backwater devoted above all to the protection and enhancement of aristocratic-inherited privilege. (I'll save Paul Ryan for last. He was the smoothest of a wretched series and I wager has 'plans.')

Let's be clear. With the exception of Pelosi's brief 111th Congress, all the others since 95 were GOP run - despite losing all but once the popular vote - and all of them - including all of Boehner's terms as Speaker - were the LAZIEST and most unproductive legislative sessions in American history, setting records for low numbers of hearings (except Clinton witch hunts), bills proposed or passed (except firehosings of $trillions at open, aristocratic maws), and corruption and sexual perversion.

For John Boehner - Hastert's successor - to come before us now with a "tell-all" is simultaneously welcome (an interesting read) and contemptibly self-serving. His whine that a radicalized 'tea party" clade of radicals terrorized the party leadership is laughable!  That radicalization (through threats of primary election challenges) could have been staunched simply by ENDING GERRYMANDERING and restoring electoral importance to the General Election, when a district's moderate majority might defend a moderate representative.

Boehner could have restored - single-handedly - some science advisory staff to credibly challenge outright lies and coach GOP reps how to be conservative without denying the existence of objective reality. (See my proposals for how this could be part of a way to end the war on facts.)

Boehner had the power, at any time, to tell Rupert Murdoch "Go back to 'fair and balanced' or I will go to the People and tell all. And I'll do it now, in the 90s and Oughts... when it might actually do some good, instead of waiting till 2021 when the nation teeters and civil discourse has been shredded."

His explanation for why he put Michelle Bachman on the Intelligence Committee, where that fizzing loco and likely Kremlin agent had access to high US secrets, is the most spectacular piece of rationalization I have seen, in a long time. And his top complaint about Barack Obama -- "He could come off as lecturing and haughty" -- is doggie doo of the purest odor, redolent of the final redoubt of this mad Confederate campaign of outright treason --

-- which is spite toward all our expert and knowledge castes (name one exception). It's the good-old-boy reflex that has metastacized into hatred of anyone who knows anything and can speak in coherent sentences. A self-destructive curse that delights all our enemies, shatters every American strength and thatJohn Boehner did everything in his power to spread. Setting the stage for Donald Trump.

He concludes:

"Under the new rules of Crazytown, I may have been Speaker, but I didn’t hold all the power. By 2013 the chaos caucus in the House had built up their own power base thanks to fawning right-wing media and outrage-driven fundraising cash. And now they had a new head lunatic leading the way, who wasn’t even a House member. There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Senator Ted Cruz. He enlisted the crazy caucus of the GOP in what was a truly dumbass idea. Not that anybody asked me."

Oh fuck off you stunning piece of work!  You shambolic excuse-maker, still refusing to make amends with real courage.

I will say this in John Boehner's favor. That he issued this self-serving masturbatory "who me?" apologia at all does show one thing...

... that he is not one of a majority of top DC republicans who is either a known pervert or under someone's blackmail thumb. If he were, he'd have been ordered not to do this. And hence we can be pretty sure he was at least a half-decent husband and father. 

I'll grant that seems likely. But that is all that I will grant this truly wretched betrayer of the nation he was supposed to love.


Oh, Paul Ryan? For a while there a consensus pointed at him being the Republican Party's once and future prince. I expect he'll still try to do what Mitt Romney cannot - patch together a GOP winning alliance out of Trumpism and Foxite populaism and millions of 'ostriches' who are disgusted with the Trump era, but eager to mumble, with their heads buried in denial "that's all over, now. And Liberals are worse. Liberals are worse. Liberals are worse. Liberals are worse. Liberals are worse. Liberals are worse." 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

End of the World books, songs and movies and even some happy ones!

A roundup of fun and interesting news... plus music and flicks about that hoary-old topic that keeps fascinating... doomsday!

First something light. Coffee in Space: Politics with David Brin: Here's another podcast series to listen to... I've been giving a lot of these interviews. But if you haven't yet had enough of me ;-)!

Now how about analyzing war scenes from movies and TV shows, starting in a cool video with Admiral James Stavridis (ret.) and Elliot Ackerman (authors of 2034: A Novel of the Next World War) on Wired magazine. They have fun talking about what’s real and what is unlikely and a handful of different fascinating war movies from Doctor Strangelove to The Hunt for Red October.

Aaaaand a list of “50 great novels about apocalypse” includes some great, dire warnings.  Alas, there are far fewer novels that offer examples of hope. But yes, I’m high on the list.

See also: Best End of the World movies: 15 visions of the end times, including The Day After Tomorrow, I Am Legend, Independence Day. 

And...? A while back I opined a semi-random thought about end times. “You all know the song “It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” Way fun... but I mean I mean jeez, most of the pop and political figures run-off in the lyrics are completely obscure now! Either R.E.M. or their heirs should do a new version every decade or they should license it! Seriously, it's a public trust by now! And... why the heck not?

(And Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" - again, should be updated at least every 10 years.) And yes, I’m “just sayin.”

Another apo-calypso is Genesis' "Land of Confusion". The delirious Reagan-era video they did with Spitting Image is *definitely* worth updating!

Also see: Apocamon: The Book of Revelation: The Final Judgment, posted online with wonderful illustrations by Patrick Farley!

Not enough doomsday for ya? Want more? Well then Contrary Brin Blogmunity member Yana offers this list:

Henry Burr - Last Night Was The End Of The World

Insane Clown Posse - Intro

DOA - Eve Of Destruction

Nick Cave - Red Right Hand

Smashing Pumpkins - Doomsday Clock

Arthur Brown - Prelude, Nightmare, Fanfare, Poem, Fire

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hell

Ronald Reagan - We Begin Bombing In Five Minutes

Motorhead - Orgasmatron

Good Rats - Writing The Pages

Time Zone - World Destruction

David Bowie - Five Years

John R Butler - The Hand Of The Almighty

Bad Religion - New Dark Ages

Coven - One Tin Soldier

Sons Of Abraham & Savior - Testament

Bright Eyes - Four Winds

Jethro Tull - Protect and Survive

Pink Floyd - Two Suns In the Sunset

Rush - Prelude from 2112

The Merry Minuet by the Kingston Trio

 "Aftermath" by Don McLean

And Tom Lehrer's "We'll All Go Together When We Go."

Though Daniel Duffy says The best "end of the world song" is "Five Years" by David Bowie."

And AF Rey offers us  Christopher Cross' "I'm Too Old for This" from his 2011 album Doctor Faith. ‘The tune is so-so, but the lyrics caught my attention.’

The willful ignorance across the nation
The screaming yahoos that rage on every station
It makes me crazy and I'm too old for this

Full lyrics here, -- and the music here.

And another member of the Contrary Brin blog community (one of the oldest and best on the web) - Jon S. - says “I vote for Rush's "A Farewell To Kings".

When they turn the pages of history

When these days have passed long ago

Will they read of us with sadness

For the things that we let grow?

We turned our face from the castles in the distance,

Eyes cast down on the path of least resistance

Cities full of hatred, fear, and lies

Withered hopes and cruel, tormented eyes

Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise

Beating down the multitudes and scoffing at the wise...

Here's a listing of 22 Doomsday Songs, many mentioned above - with links to videos.

== Short takes on fims==

We enjoyed Zootopia, animated by Disney.

In the film – “The Space Between Us” -- a woman on a mission to colonize Mars discovers after takeoff that she is pregnant.  And sixteen years later the child comes to Earth. Having watched the preview, I must ask: (1) Do you share with me the impression that this is a direct steal from Heinlein’s “Stranger In A Strange Land”? Milking the melodrama potential and poisoning the well for that classic to be filmed, while offering up none of the interesting contents of RAH’s classic? Your thoughts?

2) Beware. This preview, like so many others nowadays, simply tells the entire story.  All of it. The entire film. Beginning to end, encapsulated. Why do they do stuff like that?

Speaking of Star Wars, here's an interesting comment someone posted.

The Peacemaker – staring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman – deliberately defies the “idiot plot,” by showing institutions, public officials and professionals behaving as sincere and effective adults.

See a beautiful and fun and impressive example of the synthesis between human-created art forms and AI algorithms, all propelled by music.

Finally, yes, a plug for my brand new book of insights... VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood!  Some chapters are from 20 years of articles and postings - ranging from Star Trek vs Wars to King Kong, to Brave New World to Orwell to Ender to Buffy to Avatar... and others are wholly original. And sure, McFarland is an academic press, so it ain't cheap.  All I can tell you is that you'll get more insights and laughs and "huh!" moments per nickel than anywhere else. And I'll make that a bet!