Sunday, March 26, 2023

Ideologies of betrayal - several cogent essay/articles you might not want to miss. Oh, and a distilled "Marx for dummies!"

A decade ago, I joined a small mélange of folks trying to revive interest in Adam Smith the enlightenment thinker and fierce opponent of feudalism and aristocratism, whose best-known work in 1776 accompanied the US Revolution. This should not have been necessary, as Smith made repeatedly clear that the truest enemies of fair markets were always cheaters at the top, always (across 6000 years and all continents) conniving to rob hardworking competitors in the middle, in order to favor their own inheritance-brat sons. 

(Soviet nomenklatura ‘commissars’ and their unmasked Putin versions were no exceptions.) 

By that light – as even F. Hayek said – maximizing the number of skilled, confident competitors absolutely requires mass education/health/nutrition and rights for poor children, lest their diverse talent be wasted, instead of surging happily into creative markets.  In other words, today Smith would be a 'liberal' in both the old and the new senses of the label.

Lately, Smith has won a bit of a revival, as seen here: The Betrayal of Adam Smith by K. Phillips-Fein: 

Smith had a deep and abiding dislike for nobility, aristocracy, and the leisured rich. In his view, these groups influenced state policy in ways that betrayed the larger interest. As historian Robert Heilbroner has proposed, material productivity was important to Smith because it could occasion “that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.” For Smith, the “butcher, the brewer” and “the baker” were the people who mattered.”

Well worth reading!  Though my own insights into Smith still have some freshness. ‘Adam Smith - Liberals, you must reclaim him!’ 

== Roots of autocratic lying ==

Let me start this section with some paragraphs from 'Arresting Our ‘Flight From Reality’ by Bard College Prof. Roger Berkowitz. Because an ideology “looks upon all factuality as fabricated, it no longer knows any reliable criterion for distinguishing truth from falsehood.”

In 1949, when Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) went to Germany as part of the New York-based Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Commission, she was struck by the way the Germans showed an “at times vicious refusal to face and come to terms with what really happened.” This “escape from reality,” as Arendt named it, meant that the reality of the Holocaust and the death factories was spoken of as a hypothetical. And when the truth of the Holocaust was admitted, it was diminished: “The Germans did only what others are capable of doing.”

“The Germans, at times, simply denied the facts of what had happened. One woman told Arendt that the “Russians had begun the war with an attack on Danzig.” What Arendt encountered was a “kind of gentleman’s agreement by which everyone has a right to his ignorance under the pretext that everyone has a right to his opinion.” The underlying assumption for such a right is the “tacit assumption that opinions really do not matter.” Opinions are just that, mere opinions. And facts, once they are reduced to opinions, also don’t matter. Taken together, this led to a “flight from reality.”

“The focus of Arendt’s lifelong engagement with the human flight from reality was her encounter with ideologies, specifically Nazism and Bolshevism. In The Origins of Totalitarianism and other texts (especially her essay, On the Nature of Totalitarianism), Arendt defines an ideology as a system that seeks to explain “all the mysteries of life and the world” according to one idea.”

Of course these passages are redolent today, as some on the far-left and nearly the entire American right strenuously denounce any recourse to factual validation or falsification. Their narratives - or ideologies - are paramount, over-ruling mere objective reality. Indeed, to that fringe left and entirely-mad right, the most-hated common foe are the nerds of fact professions, especially science.

… "As ideologies, both Nazism and Bolshevism insist on explaining the events of the world according to theories “without further concurrence with actual experience.” The result, Arendt argues, is that such ideologies bring about an “arrogant emancipation from reality.” … 

...“The modern lie is ideological in that it rejects all contrary evidence and all inconvenient facts. It involves, as Arendt writes, the “mass manipulation of fact and opinion” toward the totalizing end of rewriting history and the present to fit one idea.”

The first half of this article is so perfectly on target and diagnostic of the same flaw in human nature that I often point-to - our propensity for self-satisfying delusion, (a flaw that is also a taproot to our greatest gifts, like art and love).  Ideologies, especially, can be ecstatically masturbatory, simplifying all of those who disagree into mistakes, to be corrected with erasure.

I concur, while adding that another (or overlapping) common element is romanticism. Nazism, Stalinism, the American Confederacy (in all of its manifestations) were all romantic movements (Mark Twain blamed the Civil War on the novels of Sir Walter Scott.) We see many common features in the works of Tolkien and George Lucas, as innately superior beings are elegantly admirable (and pretty) while opposing orcs or robots or clone soldiers or masked storm troopers can be mowed down without qualm, as none of them have faces or mothers.

== We are experimental exceptions to the rule ==

I go into this in Vivid Tomorrows. And oh sure, I have earned most of my income by penning tales that have strong romantic elements! I write such passages mostly at night, when the wind rustles tree branches and I feel thrumming echoes of the caves. 

Still, I know what kind of civilization made me and gave me everything I have. I have always tried to push the notion that romanticism has no business - after 6000 years of calamities - getting involved in the daytime pursuits of politics, policy, science, justice and negotiation based on pragmatically verifiable facts.

Alas, the second half of Berkowitz's essay dives into Arendt’s dyspeptic growl at modernity and science accusing them of the same ideology-driven delusion as Marxism! An assertion that I deem easily refuted.  If any of you do read the Arendt essay - it was not ‘reconciliation’ that defeated Nazis or Leninist romantics or the many phases of confederatism. It was a spirit of courage to face the ‘loneliness’ that she describes as the cost of escaping romanticism. Courage in alliance with different and varied others, whose very differences contribute to a healthy and wholesome tribe/nation/humanity.

A courage that westerners don't like to gather, unless hard-pressed! But that they showed at Cowpens and Kings Mountain and Gettysburg and Midway and in alliances that stabilized the recent 80 years of the American pax into the least violent and most prosperous of the last 60 centuries. A courage and unity - in the face of blatant resurgence by neo-feudalist neo-Nazis attacking Ukraine and the entire Enlightenment Experiment, as we speak.

So no, Hannah. We are not all so terrified, all the time, that we must clutch demonizing ideologies. There are other emotions, like courage, patience and humor. And curiosity, God's second greatest gift, just after love. 

And yes, an appreciation of facts and willingness to change our contingent models of the world (despite Plato’s yammers about the hopelessness of that wondrous pursuit.)

Putting aside the fact that - despite my respect for Hannah Arendt - I feel no need to heed desperately nasty and insane "insights" by either Nietzsche or Hegel - where I chiefly disagree with Arendt is over her outright dismissal of human provability.

Sure, I do not take seriously today's pathetic immortality fetishists... or nutters who think they can promote themselves - via miraculous technology - to godhood. On the other hand, I do recognize that we stand on the shoulders of generations who struggled to make us better than them…

… and we are!  Better than them. Each generation of Americans - for example - has struggled over demands that we expand our horizons of inclusion. And slowly - (far too grindingly slowly) - we have done so, in too-small increments, but still ratcheting forward, each generation. And science, disproving ten thousand folk assumptions, played a major role in that.

== Guy who gets it ==

Swinging to another article you might want to look at...

In Defense of Democratic Capitalism: From the Financial Times (possible paywall), Martin Wolf offered a cogent essay that makes my own point - that our struggles today are not about ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism’ per se, but about rediscovering the careful navigation achieved by the Rooseveltean Compact, which led to the greatest era of hope and progress and (relative) peace in all of human history. A compact whose spectacular successes – greater than ALL feudal or Marxist regimes put together, put an onus - a burden of proof - on all those now raging against it, whether ‘left’ or ‘right.’

In “Defence of democratic capitalism,” Wolf’s interesting "
thesis is that it is impossible to sustain a universal suffrage democracy with a market economy if the former does not appear open to the influence — and the latter does not serve the interests — of the people at large. This, in turn, demands a political response rooted not in the destructive politics of identity, but of welfare for all citizens — that is, a commitment to economic opportunity and basic security for all."

Or as I put it - paraphrasing Adam Smith and even Hayek - we need our competitive institutions of democracy, markets and so-on to be positive-sum across an effectively level playing field.

Martin Wolf continues: "Building on FDR himself, domestic policy goals should be rising, widely shared and sustainable standards of living, good jobs for those who can work, equality of opportunity, security for those who need it and ending “special privileges” for the few."

Amen, Though it's hard to achieve, given that so much power has, the last few decades, flowed into the hands of a world oligarchy of what the author calls "rentier" lords (after Adam Smith). Especially since that caste has proved - relentlessly and consistently - to be far less intelligent - or even sapient - than their sycophant flatterers keep telling them they are.  

(Inability to perceive the dangerous poison of sycophancy is clear in fools who yowl stuff like: "I no longer believe democracy is compatible with freedom." Whatever, Gilgamesh.)

Even a scintilla of understanding would awaken them to the savvy shown in the 1930s by old Joe Kennedy, who backed the Rooseveltean reforms, saying that he'd rather half his wealth were taken to uplift a contented middle class, 'than lose it all to revolution.'

"Growth remains essential. So does the welfare state, which makes economic as well as social sense. It can insure risks the private sector will not insure. Properly designed, it can offer everybody a leg up and so promote equality of opportunity."

What the author doesn't mention is that the most fundamental ethos and logic of market competition - as propounded by Smith and even by conservative doyens like Friedrich Hayek - is that markets work best with the largest number of skilled, knowledgeable, empowered and confident competitors. And hence, any liberal 'program' that helps convert poor children into skilled, knowledgeable, empowered and confident competitors is utterly justified and even required, in purely Smithian market terms. 

Those who oppose even that kind of social intervention are not pushing for creative markets. 

They are reaching desperately for the same tired pattern of 6000 years. Good luck with those harems, guys. Only get to know the word "tumbrel."

== More on (not moron) Karl Marx ==

Final essay to appraise here, I promise.

My earlier riff comparing Isaac Asimov’s Hari Seldon to Isaac’s influences – Gibbon, Toynbee, Marx, Spengler and so on, led to a lot of discussion. See Isaac Asimov, Karl Marx & the Hari Seldon Paradox.”

And as always happens nowadays, folks popped up some of the most-wrongheaded and just plain wrong popular notions. Especially about Marx. Let me therefor try to encapsulate a hugely simplified distillation re Marx:

1) First, any citing of Hegelian 'dialectic' automatically knocks anyone down five pegs. Hegel was a flaming horror, detestable and disprovable on any level. Fortunately for Marx, his lip service to Hegel was just a sop to German philosophy-mystics. It was aside from his chief focus on the historic evolution of power and capital.

2) Marx was a Historiographer. And by far his greatest contributions regarded advancing from Smith and Ricardo the notions of capital formation that he saw going on the the previous 300 years. 

At some level his description of human advancement through phases dependent upon technological level and society's capital (roads, factories, etc) was simply and obviously true. From tribal societies to feudal to monarchy allied with tradesmen, to bourgeois revolution, to industrial capitalism, it was clear to even his opponents that Karl was onto something with his models of past development. 

As was his notion that capitalists played an important role by retaining much of what workers created, in order to invest it into new capital. Hence the word capitalist.

And so the first surprise. True Marxists believe capitalists have a big historical role to play and are not inherently evil! That is, until their final phase, when wealth hierarchy peaks under a narrow clade of uber lords, á la Ayn Rand. Marx and his fans thought they saw that phase rapidly approaching, just ahead, in the giant steel mills and smoking railroads of the last 19th Century. But - like predictions of the Second Coming - that forecast proved to be a mug's game! It turned out a lot more 'capital' needed to be built... or 'formed'... than just steel mills and railroads.

3) Alas, Marx also tried to systematize that insight (capitalists steal some from workers in order to use profits to make capital) with an insanely dumb notion called the Labor Theory of Value. Still, in the most general sense, his appraisals of historical patterns were pretty on-target...
... that is, up until his actual present.

At which point...

4) which point we see (for the millionth time) that explaining the past does not make you a prophet of things to come. In fact, there were almost zero Marxian predictions that came true! Leaving Lenin, Mao and others utterly puzzled. Till they concocted rationalizations to make themselves czars /emperors, with Marx serving as their validating prophet.

No, Marx's greatest effects were in the WEST! Where he was read as a gifted Science Fiction author spinning plausible tales of a near future that terrified enough powerful men that they decided to try staving it off with reform. And that was where, by being canceled by reform, Marx actually changed the world.

And I will eat a bug if more than a couple of you knew any of that. I say that with no rancor or smugness. No one seems to know shit, nowadays.

Anyway, if you actually read all the way here, maybe you actually are an exception. Sorry about that. Tired from a recent airplane trip....

And finally...

"It's easy to be right about what's wrong, while being wrong about what would be right." - attributed (aprocyphally?) to Karl Popper.  

Popper was talking specifically about Marx, but also more generally about those who denounce bad things (e.g. repression or prejudice or poverty), only to loudly prescribe tactics and methods that are at-best futile or counterproductive ...

...and all-too often replicate the denounced crimes! It's one of Santayana's 'repeated mistakes of history' ...

...only, again alas, hardly anyone knows any history, anymore.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

All those 'chat' programs... and the End of Photography as Proof of Anything At All

Heading off to the annual orientation meeting of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC) in my last year on the external advisory council... but meanwhile... 

The latter half of this posting will consist of a chapter from The Transparent Society (1997) that feels like it was written yesterday, about a problem we all face, in a world where "anything can be faked."  And no, I don't conclude that things are hopeless. Just that we need to grow up a little... like the heroine of my story.

But first, before we start in on that... 

I just recorded a session about the fast-shifting landscape of AI for Tim Ventura's terrific podcast - he asks the best questions! And that's oft how I clarify my thoughts. Hence I realized what we've been seeing in the recent 'chat-bot' furor. And today an interview - also about AI - with the illustriously savvy KPBS correspondent Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego area listeners should hear it pretty soon.
Yes, we are now experiencing the "First Robotic Empathy Crisis," exactly at the time I forecast 6 years ago, though lacking a couple of traits I predicted - traits we'll doubtless see in the second, before the end of 2023. In fact, the chat-GPT/Bard/Bing bots are less-slick than I expected and their patterns of response surprisingly unsophisticated. So far.

 As for the much-bruited examples of 'abusive' or threatening or short-tempered exchanges - I suddenly finally realized what it all reminds me of. It seems like... elementary school playground, where precocious 3rd graders try to impress others with verbose recitations of things they have heard teachers or parents say, without grasping any context. It all starts out eager and friendly and accommodating...

...but in some recent cases, the chatbot seems to get frantic, desperately pulling at ever more implausible threads and then - finally - calling forth the brutal stuff it once heard shouted by Uncle Zeke when he was drunk!
What makes a bot 3rd-grader frantic? The common feature in most cases has been badgering by an insistent human user. (This is why Microsoft now limits Bing users to just five successive questions.) 

Moreover the badgering itself usually has a playground quality, as if the third grader is being chivvied by a taunting-bossy 6th grader, who is impossible to please, no matter how many memorized tropes the kid tries. And yes, the Internet swarms with smug, immature (and often cruel) jerks, many of whom are poking hard at these language programs. A jerkiness that's a separate-but-related problem I wrote about as early as Earth (1991) and The Transparent Society (1997) and later in Existence. (And not a single proposed solution has even been tried).

Well, there's my metaphor for what I've been seeing and it's not a pretty one!

See more ruminations on AI, including my Newsweek op-ed on the Chat-art-AI revolution... which is happening exactly on schedule... though (alas) I don't see anyone yet talking about the 'secret sauce' that might offer us a soft landing.

And so, now, to that promised parable. 

== So, what is it we are seeing? ==

The End of Photography as Proof of Anything At All? 

- An apropos excerpt/fable (only slightly dated) from The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

There was once a kingdom where most people could not see. Citizens coped with this cheerfully, for it was a gentle land where familiar chores changed little from day to day.

Furthermore, about one person in a hundred did have eyesight! These specialists took care of jobs like policing, shouting directions, or reporting when something new was going on. The sighted ones weren’t superior. They acquired vision by eating a certain type of extremely bitter fruit. Everyone else thanked them for undergoing this sacrifice, and so left the task of seeing to professionals. They went on with their routines, confident in a popular old saying.

“A sighted person never lies.”


One of the scariest predictions now circulating is that we are about to leave the era of photographic proof.  For generations we relied on cameras to be the fairest of fair witnesses.  Images of the Earth from space helped millions become more devoted to its care.  Images from Vietnam made countless Americans less gullible and more cynical.  Miles of footage taken at Nazi concentration camps confirmed history’s greatest crimes.  A few seconds of film shot in Dallas, in November of 1963, set the boundary conditions for a nation’s masochistic habit of scratching a wound that never heals.  

Although there have been infamous photo-fakes -- such as trick pictures that convinced Arthur Conan Doyle there were real “fairies” and Mary Todd Lincoln that her husband’s ghost hovered over her, or the ham-handedly doctored images that Soviet leaders used to erase “non-persons” from official history -- for the most part scientists and technicians have been able to expose forgeries by magnifying and revealing the inevitable traces that meddling left behind.

But not anymore, say some experts.  We are fast reaching the point where expertly controlled computers can adjust an image, pixel by microscopic pixel, and not leave a clue behind.  Much of the impetus comes from Hollywood, where perfect verisimilitude is demanded for fantastic onscreen fabulations like Forrest Gump and Jurassic Park.  Yet some thoughtful film wizards worry how these technologies will be used outside the theaters.

“History is kind of a consensual hallucination,” said director James Cameron recently, who went on to suggest that people wanting to prove some event happened may have to closely track the 'pedigree' of photographic evidence, showing they retained possession at all stages, like blood samples from a crime scene. 


One day a rumor spread across the kingdom.  It told that some of the sighted were no longer faithfully telling the complete truth. Shouted directions sometimes sent normal blind people into ditches.  Occasional harsh laughter was heard.

Several of the sighted came forward and confessed that things were worse than anyone feared. “Some of us appear to have been lying for quite a while. A few even think it’s funny to lead normal blind people astray!

“This power is a terrible temptation. You will never be able to tell which of us is lying or telling the truth.  Even the best of the sighted can no longer be trusted completely.”


The new technologies of photo-deception have gone commercial. For instance, a new business called “Out Takes” set up shop next to Universal Studios, in Los Angeles, promising to “put you in the movies.” For a small fee they will insert your visage in a tete-a-tete with Humphrey Bogart or Marilyn Monroe, exchanging either tense dialogue or a romantic moment.  This may seem harmless on the surface, but the long range possibilities disturb Ken Burns, innovative director of the famed Public Broadcasting series The Civil War.  If everything is possible, then nothing is true. And that, to me, is the abyss we stare into. The only weapon we might have, besides some internal restraint, is skepticism.”   

Skepticism may then further transmute into cynicism -- Burns worries -- or else, in the arts, decadence. To which NBC reporter Jeff Greenfield added: “Skepticism may itself come with a very high price. Suppose we can no longer trust the evidence of our own eyes to know that something momentous, or something horrible, actually happened?”

There are some technical “fixes” that might help a little -- buying special sealed digital cameras for instance, that store images with time-stamped and encrypted watermarks.  But as we saw in chapter 8, that solution may be temporary, at best.  Nor will it change the basic problem, as photography ceases to be our firm anchor in a sea of subjectivity.


This news worried all the blind subjects of the kingdom. Some kept to their homes.  Others banded together in groups, waving sticks and threatening the sighted, in hopes of ensuring correct information.  But those who could see just started disguising their voices.

One faction suggested blinding everybody, permanently, in order to be sure of true equality -- or else setting fires to shroud the land in a smokey haze.  “No one can bully anybody else, if we’re all in the dark,” these enthusiasts urged.

As time passed more people tripped over unexpected objects, or slipped into gullies, or took a wrong path because some anonymous voice shouted “left!” instead of right.


At first, the problem with photography might seem just as devastating to transparency as to any other social “solution.”  If cameras can no longer be trusted, then what good are they?  How can open information flows be used to enforce accountability on the mighty, if anyone with a computer can change images at will?  A spreading mood of dour pessimism was distilled by Fred Richtien, Professor of Photography & Multimedia at New York University: “The depth of the problem is so significant that in my opinion it makes, five or ten years down the road, the whole issue of democracy at question, because how can you have an informed electorate if they don't know what to believe and what not to believe?”


Then, one day, a little blind girl had an idea.  She called together everybody in the kingdom and made an announcement.

“I know what to do!” She said.


 Sometimes a problem seems vexing, til you realize that you were looking at it wrong, all along.  This is especially true about the “predicament” of doctored photo and video images. We have fallen into a habit of perceiving pictures as unchanging documents, unique and intrinsically valid in their own right.  To have that accustomed validity challenged is unnerving, until you realize -- the camera is not a court stenographer, archivist, or notary public.  It is an extension of our eyes.  Photos are just another kind of memory.

So cameras can now lie? Photos can deceive? So what?  People have been untrustworthy for a very long time, and we’ve coped.  Not perfectly.*  But there are ways to deal with liars.  

First  -- remember who fooled you before. Track their credibility, and warn others to beware.  “Your basis cannot be looking at the reality of the photograph,” says  Andrew Lippman, associate director of the MIT Media Lab. “Your basis... has to be in the court of trust.”  

But there is another crucial point.

Second -- in a world where anyone can bear false witness, try to make damn sure there are lots of witnesses!


“Here,” said the little girl pushing bitter fruit under the noses of her parents and friends, who squirmed and made sour faces.

“Eat it,” she insisted. “Stop whining about liars and go see for yourselves.”


In real life, the “bitter fruit” is knowing that we must all share responsibility for keeping an eye on the world.  People know that others tell untruths.  Even when they sincerely believe their own testimony, it can be twisted by subconscious drives or involuntary misperceptions.  Detectives have long grown used to the glaring omissions and bizarre embellishments that often warp eyewitness testimony.

So?  Do we shake our heads and announce the end of civilization? Or do we try to cope by bringing in additional testimony?  Combing the neighborhood for more and better witnesses.

One shouldn’t dismiss or trivialize the severe problems that will arise out of image-fakery.  Without any doubt there will be deceits, injustices and terrible slanders. Conspiracy theories will burgeon as never before, when fanatics can doctor so-called evidence to support wild claims.  Others will fabricate alibis, frame the innocent, or try to cover up crimes.  “Every advance in communications has brought with it the danger of misuse,” says Jeff Greenfield. “A hundred years ago, publishers brought out books of Abe Lincoln's speeches containing some words he never spoke. Hitler spread hate on the radio. But today's danger is different.”

Greenfield is right.  Today is different -- because we have the power to make photographic forgery less worrisome. 

Because even pathological liars tend to do it seldom when they face a high probability of getting caught.

Would we be tormenting ourselves over the Kennedy assassination today, if fifty cameras had been rolling, instead of just poor Abraham Zapruder’s?  Suppose some passerby had filmed Nazi goons, setting fire to the Reichstag in 1935.  Might Hitler have been ousted, and thirty million lives saved?  Maybe not, but the odds would have been better.  In the future, thugs and provocateurs will never know for certain that their sneaking calumny won’t be observed by a bystander or tourist, turning infra-red optics toward those scurrying movements in the shadows.  

Especially at the anonymity that leads to so much nasty impunity, online.

We are all hallucinators to some degree.  So now our beloved cameras may also prove faulty and prone to deception?  At least they don’t lie except when they are told to.  It takes a deliberate act of meddling to alter most images in decisive ways.  Cameras don’t have imaginations, though their acuity is improving all the time. In fact, when their fields of view overlap, we can use them to check on each other. Especially if a wide range of people do the viewing and controlling.

As citizens, we shall deal with this problem the way members of an empirical civilization always have, by arguing and comparing notes, giving more credibility to the credible, and less to the anonymous or those who were caught lying in the past.  Discerning truth, always a messy process, will be made more complex by these new, flawed powers of sight.  But our consensual reality does not have to become a nightmare. Not when a majority of people contribute good will, openness, and lots of different points of view.

Again -- cameras are simply extensions of our eyes.  

If you’re worried that some of them are lying, tradition offers an answer -- more cameras.

We’ll solve it by giving up the comforting blanket of darkness, opening up these new eyes, and sharing the world with six billion fellow witnesses.

- From The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?

(Update note: The world population is now over eight billion. And very little about that little morality tale has, alack, changed even a little. Except my growing sense of resigned agreement with the last two lines of Don McLean's song "Vincent.")

Thursday, March 16, 2023

One page screenplay explains the 1980s! "The Bargain."

Okay, here's another 'shut up and play your guitar' posting. 

I originally submitted two scripts to the 2016 One Page Screenplay competition in LA.  The first one -- "Bargain" won the contest! The other one placed.

The short script for "Bargain" is copied below. But you can read-along while it is performed (a clickable video reading). The role of Ronald Reagan was delightfully performed by Peter Nelson.  Poor sound quality, but nicely done.

 Definitely sci fi... and it explains two mysteries from the 1980s... the weird US decision to invest in absurd Space Shuttles... and the fall of the USSR... a coincidence that's finally explained! And sure, this'd make a great short-flick.

And yeah, blogger won't take Final Cut proper script formatting. So sue me. Or else... enjoy!




David Brin


We zoom closer during credits, glimpsing hints that this is the 1980s.


A BUTLER puts a silver tray and mug on a coffee table before RONALD REAGAN.

RONALD REAGAN.   Ah, two marshmallows. Thank you Benson. Do close the door as you leave.

BUTLER.    Yes Mr. President.

A big, old, mahogany-boxed TV announces “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson!” Reagan leans in, switching to a channel that seems all static. Highlights flicker across his face.

RONALD REAGAN      It’s me. I’m getting your signal much better now that Carter’s damn solar panels are off the White House roof. We’ll nip that fad in the bud.

The TV flickers. Out of the static, a WARBLING SOUND seems almost like an eerie VOICE.

REAGAN  Yeah. The deal you offer. . . might some call it. . .well. . .kinda treason?

The flickers accompany uncanny, static TV VOICE tones that seem to dismiss that likelihood.

REAGAN       Easy for you to say! You won’t be down here, taking heat if the press finds out. Like the Marine barracks bombing. . . or Iran-Contra.

The staticky TV VOICE offers reassuring tones.

REAGAN.      Only my friends call me ‘Gipper!’  You guys backed the commies! Without your economic and technical support, the Soviets would have collapsed long ago!

The TV VOICE warbling from the TV sounds ominous.

REAGAN        Don’t you dare try threats on me! Sure, you could trigger a war down here. That’d keep us out of space. But other aliens would notice! Genocide is against --

Now the TV VOICE comes across as soothing.

REAGAN     Well.  Okay. It’s a deal. You’ll pull the rug out from under the Commies. . . and I’ll take down the American space program. Fritter it away on 'shuttles.'

The TV VOICE sounds agreeable. Maybe smug.

REAGAN       But won’t someone add two plus two?  Connect the dots? 

The TV VOICE is cajoling now.

REAGAN    Yeah, they’d just call this a figment of senility. You’re right about us humans. Gullible to the end. (a beat). ...  Now tell me more about this thing called “Reality TV”. 

    ...Who are these Cardassian aliens, again?

            THE END

©2016 David Brin

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Saving the world? Hopes rise - but worries remain

Been busy shoveling mud here in SoCal... The last atmospheric river left a trail of damage across California, with catastrophic flooding, landslides, sinkholes, power outages, washed out roads, and evacuations across the state. And the latest atmospheric river breached a levee, forcing thousands to evacuate near Santa Cruz. Millions remain under flood alert in central and northern California. Unfortunately, these rivers will not ease California's ongoing drought over the long term.

As temperatures continue to rise, atmospheric models project that two out of three glaciers may be lost by 2100.

On the other hand, a recent United Nations report indicates that the ozone hole over the Antarctic is slowly beginning to shrink. If current policies are maintained, the ozone layer may be rescued from CFC damage, and heading toward restoration within decades. And my children still (in their 20s) stare at me, unable to visualize, when I tell them that the air - when I was a kid - 'hurt to breathe.'  Oh, also, there are more whales now than at any time since the 1840s. So don't let anyone tell you that we are unable to see and respond and solve crises!

1- We can... and do.

2- As for those who yowl that it deters action on other perils, if we pat ourselves on the back for previous, great accomplishments? Such people are raving idiots who care more about their own sanctimony guilt trips than actually getting things done.

Dig it, solving problems requires confidence that you can! 

Want more examples?

== Areas of progress ==

First, good news predicted by Pohl & Kornbluth, back in the 1950s!  Cultured meat is on the horizon: “From science fiction to reality, 'no kill' meat may be coming soon.” Different from plant-based meat substitutes. More than 80 companies are staking a future in the space.  And in total, this could be as much of an Earth saver (and karma reducer) as anything else on the horizon,.

More transformative than that? In Finland a startup is producing protein could be grown in a “bioreactor” using nothing but CO2, electricity, water, nutrients like nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and potassium — and a few bacteria. Together, they would ferment like yeast in bread dough or beer, and the result would be Solein — a tasteless white powder that looks like flour and can be flavored and added to food. The Solar Foods blog points out how much water it takes to produce one kilo of beef protein: 130,610 liters. And that kilo of protein from dairy cattle requires 450,440 liters. For one kilo of Solein: 1,490 liters.

Lab-grown alternatives may help reduce dependence on palm oil - associated with significant deforestation in tropical areas.

One of you wrote in to inform me that my concept (in Existence) of “peecycling” or getting Phosphorous out of urine – soon to be a crisis and absolutely necessary – has long been done in places. “Milwaukee has been peecycling since 1926. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District manufactures Milorganite. This fertilizer is made by feeding the sewerage to microbes which are separated out and dried. The result is an organic fertilizer with 4% phosphorus.”

Another form of ocean based recycling… or rather carbon capture. Gregory Benford is involved in a project to take farm crop stubble – very hard to use in any modern way without burning – and deposit it as ‘dross’ into deep ocean caverns where the carbon will stay. Much as I depict in the Brightness Reef trilogy. The company will sell carbon offset credits. Better than burning, one supposes. 

But the next item is bigger and should no longer be at all controversial.

== Ocean fertilization… simply proved ==

We no longer need tepid, tiny scale experiments in ocean fertilization… the approach to both reducing atmospheric carbon and increasing fisheries that I described in Earth (1990)… since the massive plumes of soot from Australian forest fires did it, already, on a huge scale. And the results are in

Wind drives transport of aerosol cross the Southern Ocean within a week.

•Chlorophyll enhancement is identified along the trajectory of aerosol.

•Oceanic phytoplankton restored the carbon released from forest fire.

•Ocean mitigates the impact of episodic event by fixing released carbon dioxide. Calculations of carbon released during the fire versus carbon absorbed by the oceanic phytoplankton bloom suggest that they were nearly equal.

I have yet to see any studies of the effect of the phytoplankton blooms on the food chain, fisheries and such but some claim anecdotally that whale activity burgeoned.

All of you puritans blocking experiments in fertilization of fast ocean currents, get over youselves. We are in a crisis. 

As my bro Kim Stanley Robinson says: "It's all hands on deck! Only doing lots of things, in parallel, can offer hope."

== Technology helps ==

Meanwhile, the rate of rollout of budget-friendly electric vehicles is going faster than predicted and there are some voices claiming the marginalizing of internal combustion engines could happen a full decade ahead of expectations.


Five new technologies helping scientists detect, track and study polar bears in their natural environment.

Researchers have split seawater (without pre-treatment) to produce green hydrogen (via electrolysis) an improvement over current methods which require highly purified water. 

Water pipe robots may be able to efficiently patrol thousands of miles of water pipes, in order to detect and stop billions of liters of water leaks.

From turbines and pumps and stoves to more ecologically conscious products: here are twenty-two inventions that may make a dent in saving the earth. 

Peter Diamandis offers  a survey of the top six humanoid robot companies, including Optimus by Tesla, Beomni by Beyond Imagination, and Atlas by Boston Dynamics.

The iPhone 14 lets you find a satellite overhead that can transmit a text or emergency call even when in the utter boonies.  It’s not quite the peer-to-peer text passing system that I urged Qualcomm to develop, 15 years ago (they did! But the cell companies refused to use it.) But this is a fine thing. (See my decade-old rant demanding such moves, to enhance civilization resilience! 

Meanwhile... Exxon's 1970s internal climate prediction models - not released to the public - were uncannily accurate. Which means that those company executives who quashed the reports...

== Covid effects on politics? ==


The US suffered over a million excess deaths due to Covid-19 across the pandemic. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that “political affiliation has emerged as a potential risk factor for Covid-19,” and that significantly more Republicans than Democrats have died from the virus since the introduction of vaccines in early 2021 to protect against the disease.

 The study found that death rates from Covid-19 were only slightly higher for Republicans than Democrats during the early days of the pandemic, before vaccines became available. But by the summer of 2021, a few months after vaccines were introduced, “the Republican excess death rate rose to nearly double that of Democrats, and this gap widened further in the winter of 2021.” 

Had my own brush with Covid – much eased by vaxxing, ensuring it was just a mild flu…  Still went ahead and got the Omicron jab befor my coming trip to DC.

Here’s a stat worth pondering. Note that Paxlovid saved the lives of many who ‘don’t trust science.’ I wish I were kidding.

Thrive & persevere!