Thursday, November 06, 2008

Michael Crichton, dream on

I only met Michael Crichton once, when we fillmed a PBS show together with the late Octavia Butler. He struck me as a very pleasant fellow... along with being outrageously tall. Well-spoken and courteous. I quite liked him and was shocked and saddened by his recent passing.

I also had the historic opportunity to attend - standing room only - Crichton's famous, or infamous, speech before the AAAS, back in 1999, an hour that he spent defensively proclaiming (in effect) "I do not hate science!"

Certainly, I had my differences with Crichton, but they were entirely philosophical.

Take, for example, his contention that, even when 99% of qualified experts in a field agree about a scientific matter (e.g. global climate change), the phrase "scientific consensus" should be ruled meaningless. Indeed, Crichton maintained that any such a consensus of expert opinion should have no relevance at all, in the arena of public policy. In effect, technically trained boffins - even when they agree with near-unanimity - can be rightfully ignored, leaving technological policy matters to be decided, without reference to science, by 51% of uninformed politicians. A fascinating stance! And, because the one putting it forward was someone I respected, I gave it my full attention, trying hard to see this issue through Michael Crichton's eyes. (I admit, I ultimately failed.)

200px-MichaelCrighton_TimelineLikewise, as a fellow writer of science fiction explorations - and I dignify him, quite willingly, with the high encomium of "sci fi guy" - he had some authorial propensities that I found irksome, yet interesting from a broader perspective. For example, I had no problem with his utterly consistent theme of "there are things Mankind isn't meant to know." (TATMIMK) Look, dire warnings are always welcome, and a few of Michael Crichton's were so vivid that they may even qualify as Self-Preventing Prophecies, so influential that they actually helped to gird vast numbers of people against the described failure mode. And I believe that there is no higher praise for any creator of scenarios about the future.

(I think we'll all be safer from sixgun-toting robots and velociraptors. Less tongue-in -cheek, some of the arguments about biological warfare spawned by The Andromeda Strain have had quite salutary effects.)

No, it wasn't his dour anti-technology perspective, but rather, the consistency - and, eventually, tiresome predictability - of his story arcs, that made me (with some regret) lose interest as the years went by. The characters who preached TATMIMK in every tale always faced a dire situation wrought by monumental technological hubris - some arrogant scientific ambition that usurped the prerogatives of Heaven - unleashing death and danger. In this, Michael Crichton was clearly the direct heir of Sophocles and Euripedes and a tradition going back thousands of years.

Alas, since every one of his scenarios involved secrecy that exacerbated the Big Mistake even more than hubris, it might have been nice to see Crichton explore how things might differ, had the same projects been pursued in the open, cleansed and criticized by the scrutiny of colleagues, peers, competitors, regulators and... well... wary authors like Michael Crichton.

Indeed, I took to ignoring the TATMIMK rants of his characters, and instead perceiving his scenarios in this light -- as explorations of what can happen when "progress" takes place without the benefit of criticism, which (I've long contended) is the only known antidote to error. As Edward Tenner points out, in WHY THINGS BITE BACK: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, it is perfectly true that bold endeavors often have unintended consequences. And if Crichtonian-style villains are ever put in charge of any real world projects, hiding their efforts from the public eye, then it is quite plausible those efforts will go badly wrong.

Of course, I do wish Crichton had shed light upon this variable, or let it even be mentioned (more than in passing) once in a while, since secrecy arguably is the key error-generator, rather than ambition, itself. But, then, we clearly disagreed about that.

The Andromeda StrainThen, of course, there is the other thing he nearly always did. Putting everything back the way it was... except (of course) for the dead. Dinosaurs scream and charge, nanomachines run wild, diseases invade from space, magical spheres... do their magical sphere thing... but always, after the climactic scene, the world remains unchanged and society continues as a late 20th Century Republican version, perpetually flawed but stable as-is, with a tentative hope that it can stay that way, untouched by the mistakes that unfold in his books, forever.

Okay, I admit being fascinated by change in a different way than he was. I play with scenarios that might challenge the status quo, pondering how peoples and societies might transform, ever after... the way that we have changed so much, and often for the better.

Admittedly, there were advantages and benefits, to Crichton's near-universal recipe of hubris plus secrecy. It certainly did help drive dozens of plots, allowing the requisite mayhem to commence without delay. And boy did it lend itself to movies! And of course it helps to assume that civilization is too slow or stupid to be of any help, or at least not in time. Unimpeded and unbothered by civil institutions, due process, or the kinds of teams of smart and skilled professionals who might get the protagonists out of their jam.

Indeed, so entrancing are these plot situations, that one quells the urge to shout at the screen, during Jurassic Park, demanding "Why didn't you just make herbivores? Duh?" Of course, that would have been logical and sensible.

But it wouldn't have been as much fun. I admit it.

And that's the crux, after all. The world has now lost one of its prime fonts of delicious, scary fun.


Jen said...

Very nicely said.

Robert said...

This kind of reminds me of how I started writing fanfiction back in 2000 and 2001. I felt that since I was using someone else's background and characters, I should put everything away nice and tidy afterward.

A few years later I slowly grew out of this "nothing changes" venue of writing (and in the non-fanfiction stories I write, I let the fallout land where it will, rather than "reset" everything). But I can see a parallel between Crichton's storytelling and my own initial fanfiction.

Perhaps it is a conservative bent in his writing, feeling that the world will go on despite what happens. Change happens, sure, but people don't. At least, not rapidly.

It's a shame he's dead. It would be interesting to see how his worldview shifted if President-Elect Obama not only remains true to the dream he showed us, but manages to change the country in doing so.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

tiggerbone said...

I have long been annoyed by the TATMIMK point of view, but this post has shown me that it does have its uses. I enjoyed Jurassic Park as a sort of one-shot, but when I discovered that it is the over-arching theme of his work, I could not read further. Perhaps I shall go back and read a few and try to see how they have shaped the world around us.

In the mean time, have you ever considered writing something that starts with a Crichtonian premise and then infusing it with your own transparency themes? I think that would be a fascinating read.

mark said...

In the mean time, have you ever considered writing something that starts with a Crichtonian premise and then infusing it with your own transparency themes? I think that would be a fascinating read.

Wow, second that! Awesome idea.

David Brin said...

Um... sort of doing that as we speak....

tacitus2 said...

My first read of Jurassic Park and Postman were roughly contemporary.

I read Postman while visiting friends, and I fear I was a poor guest. It hooked me pretty completely, and on setting it down my thought was "a small gem". (small in the sense of being two novellas grafted together, not a huge LOTR whopper).

I read J.Park over the course of a long weekend. On setting it down I thought "damn, this will make one heck of a movie".

I stand by both judgments, but apologize David if it brings back any residual Hollywood rancours...


David Brin said...

Not much rancor. See my lengthy thing about the Postman movie at:

I tilted it a bit extra favorably because I wanted to be a team player. In fact, there were some truly miserable aspects to the experience that might have been used by others as cause to engage in a resentment drug high...

...but I guess I don't look at things that way. I look for things to be happy about.

Sure, KC was a complete jerk...
...OTOH he did kick out that evil bastard Erik Roth and replace him with Brian Helgeland -- who dwells somewhere in the general vicinity (for Hollywood) of decency, intelligence and sanity.

Instead of horrid and crude and vile, the movie's worst trait was several scenes that were cringeworthy dumb.

But many others weren't! Some were even brilliant. And it had a great big huge heart. And the main character was a right-on, almost perfect (except 40 IQ points dumber) version of mine. And the whole thing is visually/musically so beautiful it can make you cry. (THAT is Costner's true genius. The world was denied a truly great cinematographer, because he was born too pretty.)

Sure, instead of EVER having even a single beer with me (it would have helped the film) he slipped into the film a couple of actual insults aimed directly at me (why???????). But I laughed and shrugged at those. Anyone who EVER says I'm not a good sport has been totally disproved.

And let me leave it there.

David Brin said...

Open call! Somebody please keep track on this and report when there's more news.

Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, formerly from New Line, have signed on to produce their first project over at Warners, climbing on the adaptation of Isaac Asimov's futuristic sci-fi epic Foundation, which they will produce through their Unique Features banner.

Stefan Jones said...

DB, you should submit this essay to Salon!

* * *

I'm sad to see that John Leonard has died. A lefty intellectual critic who had the amazing luck to get a spot on the feel-good "CBS Sunday Morning" for many years.

Leonard grew up reading pulps and understood the importance of SF.

He managed to vote last Tuesday. Bravo.

Matt DeBlass said...

I think part of the fun of the Crichton formula - something horrible happens in secret and is quickly hushed up after it's resolved - is that it lets us not only imagine that it could happen, but that maybe it already did!

He was a great storyteller, which is what I think he was going for, and the movies made great use of his stories to show off their towering, special effects monstrosities (I'm speaking, of course, of Jeff Goldblum).

My eight-year-old daughter loves Jurassic Park. However, she openly roots for the T-Rex. the kid loves dinosaurs, what can I say?

Anonymous said...

I gave up on Crichton when he ceased to surprise me. There's no point in reading a "thriller" when the suspense is missing.

Cliff said...

I think we'll all be safer from sixgun-toting robots and velociraptors.

Indeed, thanks to Crichton, I know that velociraptors are best fought with flamethrowers, to combat their primitive, distributed nervous systems. :P

But yeah, he did some romping good stories.

atomicsmith said...


Your PBS interview today with maybe-Chopra, any idea when it will air?

Sounds like it could get... lively.

Sociotard said...

The Onion does make a gem, every now and again. Watch and see if you can laugh at yourself.

Gilmoure said...

Woulda' been cool to see the t-rex hit south-central LA. Or maybe have dinosaurs and cowboys. Dances with Velociraptors woulda' rocked!

David Brin said...

Great Obama-supporter riff!

My local PBS-TV station will run the piece 8pm on the 20th

ColonelZen said...

Then, of course, there is the other thing he nearly always did. Putting everything back the way it was

I'm surprised, Dr. Brin. You're missing the primary genre-gap in all literature. Your statement limns the primary thesis of existentialist literature.

If the protagonists changed the world for the better, they'd be heroes rather than anti-heroes. For all the pain and anguish they suffer they are only allowed to save themselves and gain only inner knowledge, not do something which makes the world as a whole better.

There's some fine existentialist literature out there, including Chrichton's. But as you may have gathered I'm not a fan of existentialism.

-- TWZ

David Brin said...

I said "changed" not "better." The distinguishing trait is not existentialism, but curiosity.

Anonymous said...

"I come not to criticize Crichton, but to bury him..."


David McCabe said...

Messenger bags! Perfect!

Will those of us without TV be able to see this interview?

Tim Whitten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Whitten said...

Shame about Michael Crichton, and a shock too. He had some odd ideas, and his stance on climate change did seem rather blinkard. But there's no denying he could write a cracking read when he had a mind to. Plus he made dinosaurs cool again, which made my inner five-year-old very happy!

David - I'm intrigued to see your comment about deliberate insults aimed at you in The Postman. Weird! Care to elaborate? I didn't pick any of that up, indeed, on the whole, I think it is a pretty good movie. Not as good as it could have been, but watchable enough. Some elements of your book survived and came across very well, I thought.

And the music was great....

David Brin said...

Crichton did write crackin' good yarns.

Alas, he and Spielberg saw fit to not offer any credit to Charles Pellagrino for first positing the dinosaur blood mosquito-in-amber notion.

Oh, in the Postman, when the holnist soldiers boo the violent film and want THE SOUND OF MUSIC, remember? Actually, I loved that! It showed theat the dream of better days lay in most people, even those following a monster.

But the film they booed was about an augmented super-soldier and I hearn on good authority that it was a dig at the "augments" at the end of the Postman... a plot element (by the way) that I would leave out of any movie and DID leave out of my own Postman script.

(Which KC never asked to see.)

From an Obama interview with Joe Klein in TIME: A perfectly concise diagnosis of and prescription for the current state of our economy:

“[T]he engine for economic growth for the last 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20, and that was consumer spending. I mean, basically, we turbo-charged this economy based on cheap credit. Whatever else we think is going to happen over the next certainly 5 years, one thing we know, the days of easy credit are going to be over because there is just too much de-leveraging taking place, too much debt both at the government level, corporate level and consumer level. And what that means is that just from a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.”

Polly said...

Another point of view: Michael Crichton dies

David Brin said...

Seen an amazing collection of world headlines:

Larry said...

Dr Brin, I'll ask a question I never got an answer to on another board:

What exactly is the "The Journal" image (on the very bottom row) doing there?

- Larry Hart (long time lurker, first time poster)

Arcanedesigns said...

Dr Brin,
I remember you said your next entry would be advice for the next president.

Sounds like planning has been thoroughly underway for quite some time.

Alex Tolley said...

A number of his books are very different from the type mentioned, e.g. "Rising Sun", "Airframe" and "Timeline"

Personally I found Crichton's later novels increasingly boring so I stopped reading them. Particularly irksome was this style that was like a fleshed out movie script, which seemed to appear c. 1990.

Sociotard said...

Timeline had a little bit of "nothing changes", but it was because the ability to look into the past was decided to be more boring than previously expected.

And I always hated time travel stories where it was impossible to change the course of events.

Tim Whitten said...

Oh - but if you don't take the "lock the past" route, Time Travel stories pretty rapidly run into a world of paradoxical hurt!

The most common alternative seems to be to have parallel worlds sprouting forth depending on what monkeying around you've been doing in the past - that way preserving some semblance of free will. But for all its Multi-Worlds-Interpretation pedigree, I'm finding that this approach is less and less satisfying as well: the usual reaction is "um, which universe am I supposed to be caring about again?"

Still, yeah, Timeline. Not one of his best. The State of Fear is the one that actually annoys me however, at least a little bit. I mean; it was fine for him to be a climate change sceptic - and he needed to voice those questions in order to progress the science in general. That's how it works. But I can't help but wonder if it was slightly irresponsible to write it in a thriller that was bound to end up on airport bookshelves. I suppose it is the soap box that he had to stand on, and if you want to get a message out you use the best tools you have available.... but I can guarantee you that there are people out there (possibly already not too impressed with those dam' tree-huggers telling us what we can and cannot do) who will have read State of Fear and allowed that book to become their only source on the subject. It's a tricky one. Is it only okay for authors to use their fiction to make a point if we agree with that point...? After all, at the opposite end of the spectrum, I first became interested in environmentalism after reading the good Dr Brin's Earth and Uplift books - so is that any different?

On the economy - and speaking of SF authors who've had a big impact both inside and outside the genre - have any of you got a copy of Rendezvous with Rama? Apologies if this is a bum steer; but I'm fairly sure that in Clarke's future history for that setting he had the world suffering a huge economic collapse in the early part of the 21st Century. Directly as a result of consumer profligacy and massive use of easy credit.

Good old Sir Arthur. Still - I take this as a positive sign that we'll get over it, have a mature interplanetary society within a hundred years, and be making contact with giant alien space-cylinders within and hundred and thirty. Rock on!

matthew said...

One of the best articles I've seen in DailyKos for quite a while; pushing the idea that Obama's dominance came from the geeky side.

For eight years the collective Nerdery has stared in astonishment as the atavistic Bush Administration went to war against nearly everything that was sacred to this proud people. Myopic executive orders on stem cell research, purposeful obfuscation of climate change science from official government sources, attempts to bind and silence outspoken critics of the Administration's science policy, the subtle war on Network Neutrality, the betrayal of the telephone companies when they gave free access to their customer data to the Administration without even a hint of a warrant, the weak and impotent plan for future space travel and the trivialization of NASA – the list goes on and on.

Very interesting in pulling together several threads e.g. Obama's superior fundraising, online organization, and canvassing methods, and showing a glimpse of how they came to be.

Uses excessive Star Wars imagery, but that works into the Obama cult of personality (maybe he has a high concentration of mitachlorians).

Arcanedesigns said...

I think the most damning thing about State of Fear was when I was reading later on. One of Michael Crichton's referenced sources was talking bitterly about how the the data they had given him had been completely distorted and used to show the exact opposite conclusion.

Now, more importantly, I have a little bit of game advocacy to do... Tim was saying... The most common alternative seems to be to have parallel worlds sprouting forth depending on what monkeying around you've been doing in the past - that way preserving some semblance of free will.

One of the most fascinating time travel stories I've come across are the two video games of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. The first is relatively simple, some kids in the middle of their planet's history discover a world wide devastation will be caused in the future - so they go about averting it.

The sequel (Chrono Cross) is far more complex. Most of the story also has to do with two parallel worlds which are being forced into perfect symmetry... I guess attempting to rejoin at some later date. Some event radically destroyed the symmetry and the external force attempting to rejoin the two is attempting to fix the situation. Also, I'm not quite sure how it fits, but it also has the future that was killed attempting to reassert itself.

It is very hard to follow it through the complexities, but the game raises some very tricky questions about the complications of time-travel. I bring it up because I estimate this is a piece of counter-culture on David's blog. Also, I think that games, when they achieve something, should be recognized for their merit - since they have so many detractors.

Tim Whitten said...

Good grief - I didn't know that about the "facts" in State of Fear. Okay, my mind is made up - he REALLY shouldn't have written it.

You'll get no argument from me on the game advocacy, arcane! (I'll check out Chrono Trigger / Cross - sounds intriguing). Speaking as an apprentice game developer of, um, no repute.... I think there is a whole lot of room for (computer) gaming to really raise its expectations in terms of story and character. I figure it is like cinema was back in the twenties - they had the basic technology worked out, including sound: and that's when people started making films with proper stories.

Those few games these days that really manage to tell a good story should definitely be recognised for it.

Finally, just seen this, and I'm afraid I can't resist sending it to everybody I've ever heard of:

Genius! Turns out he's actually miming to a Canadian band called moosebutter - but it is still genius.

Alex Tolley said...

Tim Whitten - re "Rendezvous with Rama"

I'm afraid your memory fails you. The setup was a devastating meteor impact in 2077 that demolished two Italian cities. While he mentions the impact that had on the loss to the arts, there is no mention of any subsequent economic collapse.

Ref: RwR, ch 1 "Spaceguard", p2.

Tony Fisk said...

Tim Whitten is half right. However, the scenario he's thinking of is the background to 'Rama II', where an economic collapse called 'the Great Chaos' was caused by under-damped and over-reactive stock management systems, and a communications logjam. It led to a rather glummer and more regimented society than previously.

Tyler August said...

Rama II, however, had in its background a massive economic collapse which actually lead to the failure and evacuation of all off-world colonies.
A plot device which I found *very* disappointing as half the fun in the first Rama book was all the world building he got up to across the Solar System. I found it unlikely that colonies established long enough for the cultural divergence (to the point of stereotyping) in the first book would fail so easily.
Seems to me that Sir Arthur never liked to be shackled too much by continuity of what he wrote before, though. (2010 being the sequel to the movie 2001 instead of the novel, and then still loosely, being the best notable example) The story of Rama II didn't call for what would have developed from that multi-world human civilization, so he did away with it. That is of course his prerogative, and it probably made Rama II a better read, but still, I found myself missing those Mercurians.

On topic, Crichton will be missed. His Andromeda Strain was golden, and I'm young enough that Jurassic Park made my adolescence much more entertaining and raptor-ful. It's really a pity that one of his last books had to have been State of Fear--it shan't do anything good for his legacy, I fear.

Alex Tolley said...

Rama II - Does anyone know if the "Great Chaos" was Sir Arthur's idea, or Gentry Lee's?

I found the Rama sequels to be quite dull and I suspect a lot of the prose was written by Lee. Most of Clarke's collaborative novels are relatively disappointing, and that includes his last, principally written by Fred Pohl.

Tony Fisk said...

The wikipedia entry suggests the Great Chaos was a device to insert a bit of current day issue grittiness into the tale (which is what Lee wanted to write about). However, the chapter describing the Great Chaos, itself, had Clarke's touch to it.
(Agree on reaction: I stopped reading about halfway through the last of the series)

Just to add a bit of relevance, Clarke did have some fun in 3001, where he described a resurrected Frank Poole's panic reaction to being confronted with a Jurassic Park velociraptor! (used in the fourth millenium as a useful pet and ... park gardener!?)

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Daily Kos has an interesting article on NASA and on its gutting under the Bush Administration. Considering we'll be going past 2010 without visiting Jupiter and seeing a big black monolith, we can only hope that President Obama restore NASA to a place of honor and prestige rather than relegated to the dust-bin of history.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

I don't believe Obama is that sympathetic to NASA. Frankly I would have NASA get out of the manned exploration business altogether, concentrate its money on research only and funding science missions. JPL and the other specialist institutions still seem to know how to do things correctly and their successes have been a notable counterpoint to manned space program.

The latest debacle on the Ares launcher - that it has excessive vibration that needs a shock absorber and that in gentle (20kph) winds it could sway into the tower - suggests that NASA is no longer a competent agency. The return to the moon program was supposed to be based on existing technology and even then it was to take nearly twice as long as the Apollo program starting from scratch. That is pathetic. The Chinese will be on the moon before we get back. Add in 2 shuttle disasters, a semi-functioning space station in orbit to nowhere and I think it is clear that NASA has failed to take a lead in manned space flight. Let it do the research needed for private industry to do commercial development, much like the old NACA did for aircraft.

Robert said...

The money required to get into space is too high for most corporations to go there. The scientific gains for going into space are too important to ignore it. We need to be in space. And we can't just send unmanned drones. Men can do what machines cannot. At the very least, we need someone within a few seconds (via radio transmission) from probes and rovers in order to react to stuff that needs immediate responses.

Take for instance the trouble with the ovens on the Mars Observer. The soil clumpiness made it difficult for the machinery to efficiently put the soil into the ovens. A man could have done that with a fraction of the difficulty. We can't plan for everything... and if we did, the cost of the machinery would be so great that it's cheaper just to send a man anyway.

We belong in space. It calls to our very soul. And if we wait until we have everything on this planet fixed, we'll never leave.

Rob H.

William_Shatner said...

You said just what I was thinking. Again. Sometimes you repeat my own thoughts, and don't give me credit.

That's the true problem of mind-reading that science fiction has yet to hit upon; Plagiarism. The Lawyers would either extinguish or jail all psychics, or the psychics would have to go to law school and sue them into oblivion first. I don't think you could have psychic creatures survive past the stone age. They'd all have clubbed each other to death for finding that stash of really good clubs the other cave man had been hiding.

I believe that the TATMIMK is more from a religious perspective of Original Sin. Frankenstein's monster was created, not because Dr. Frakenstein was evil -- but that he dared too much and challenged God. However, Crichton did not improve from Mary Shelly's original plot device.... all of the problems experienced by the character are from lack of accountability and transparency. Secret dungeon stuff and all that. Apparently, Mankind can play god, as long as we are willing to have peer review and regulations. I've always said; that God isn't so much upset that we are "playing God" but that we aren't Practicing to get better at the job. The goal isn't WRONG, it's just the way we've been going about it.

It seems humanity may be able to create life, human animal hybrids, and extend our own may fly existence for hundreds of years in the near future. Strangely, we have these abilities WAY before we have FTL and teleportation beams -- go figure. Star Trek never took those issues very seriously -- you had a device that could make you an instant steak but no way to rearrange cells to make replacement body parts?

All the classic ideas of things TATMIMK seem to me all the things that need doing; Immortality, computer enhanced brains, and hair replacement.

ben said...

One of my earliest movie memories is Andromeda Strain (I was six when it came out, but I don't remember how long it took to get to TV). Other early favorites of mine were the Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green. I was a weird little kid :)

About 20 years ago, David Letterman was making fun of Stephen King and his new book, "Gee, This Would Make a Great Movie!" Some stories adapt more easily to the big screen than others, it seems. I guess in the case of ER, the small screen ;)

William_Shatner said...

alex tolley said...
I don't believe Obama is that sympathetic to NASA. Frankly I would have NASA get out of the manned exploration business altogether, concentrate its money on research only and funding science missions...

Why is it that we have to be so cheap? How do you do great things as a country, without spending money? It's possible, but seems to only get you half way there. And halfway into space is right back down to the planet as a fiery ball of ionized particles.

We have to look up occasionally, and be Aspirational rather than just Persperational. After we created the Internet Infrastructure, the only thing we've had is BAD NEWS and a long list of the things we Can't Do. This is not only depressing -- it creates a weak mindset. The importance of going after lofty, impossible goals is NOT that you might fail -- you WILL FAIL, and often. The America that stole everyone's heart did the impossible before breakfast and never learned to quit.

You know what else we CAN'T DO? We can't end world hunger. Why? Because. It's another one of those things we've got to wait for God to do, and all humanity can hope for is to give a lot to charity and feel better about the impossibility of solving problems -- and going right back to muddling through life as all good Crichton stories do.

No, because it's TOO EXPENSIVE, to put a moon base up or a space elevator. And it's TOO EXPENSIVE to end hunger and poverty. But damn, if we can't just piss away almost a Trillion dollars because some fat cats who should know better got in trouble over leveraging themselves at the craps table.

Having said that -- I agree that NASA may not be the place to do it. Too much dead weight from political appointments. But the government will have to fund something like this and give it a new, snappy name; I'd like to vote for "Uplift" as the new agency name. Nobody will forget what the goal is then.

William_Shatner said...

Brin said,
But many others weren't! Some were even brilliant. And it had a great big huge heart. And the main character was a right-on, almost perfect (except 40 IQ points dumber) version of mine. And the whole thing is visually/musically so beautiful it can make you cry. (THAT is Costner's true genius. The world was denied a truly great cinematographer, because he was born too pretty.)

I don't often make this point. But I think the character was improved by not being as smart as he could be. Really, you've got this minor con artist, who is swept up into a leadership position. He had a choice to make when presented with opportunity. But the times and the needs of the people made the man. I think of FDR the same way; that he was an elitist at first, but the demand for him to represent the new will of the people, and his inner decency, made him the person we needed him to be.

I think a lot of the Great Men in history, probably started for the wrong reasons. The Positions of Power don't often go to men of peace and humility -- it works the same in the movies. We wonder how the Prima Donnas get all the best acting roles -- well, when you don't compete with the egos of the producers, the put their vision on the picture and it has to fail. You kind of end up with one prick or another, who thinks he is the greatest man alive and nobody could do it better -- and occasionally you strike gold, but you could never have gotten there without the ego and circumstances being thrust upon unworthy men.

Any Smart Person might never have been put in the position the Postman ended up in (success wasn't guaranteed, but the PEOPLE need to come together to survive). And if you didn't have a prick as a leading man, the movie would never have had heart.

But what am I saying,... it drives me nuts that ALL the heros today, are morons, who become heroic because they have the bright idea of bringing the bigger gun. Yeah, having a smart scientist with heart -- like in the fricken' real world, would just melt some skulls. Nope, we've got to have another lantern-jawed guy convinced of his own mission from God to prove the fool-hardy scientists wrong. While kids trade Business School for Engineering to make the big bucks.

... The Postman was a success, that could have ended up as a post-apocalyptic version of Daniel Boon. *cringe*

Alex Tolley said...

Rob, I don't disagree with anything you say. What I am saying is that NASA as an agency is failing to do what we need to do.


1. Rebuild NASA from the ground up. Maybe that will clear the deadwood and get them working right again. I doubt it.

2. Take the operational end of the space program, put it in private hands and finance them. NASA does R&D that is used in commercial projects and funds the commercial operation. They have already started to do this with non-human experiments and I believe will use this approach for some early human flights - Virgin Galactic for sub-orbital experiments and SpaceX's Falcon 9 for orbital (assuming all goes to plan). Then there is the Lunar X prize that is currently underway for non-human moon roving.

My point is that NASA has become fossilized and apparently unable to manage its function wrt. human spaceflight operations. It's time for them to get out of the way as the primary mover in this arena.

If we follow the air industry history, the government should fund aircraft research and provide some subsidized commercial activity to get the business started. Then let the specialty manufacturers and business firms have their head as the business expands. Bigelow wants to run orbital hotels, has his demo in orbit today and is just waiting for business and cost effective launchers to develop. I don't see NASA doing this.

Like me, you probably want to see people on Mars. That will never happen while NASA is in control and Congress is doing the funding. Those people will probably not be Americans, when it does happen. Yet you have the Mars Underground just dying to go, even at much more risk, if only they could float some tin cans and push then in the right direction.

Final beef with NASA. Bacjk when I was graduating from university in 1975, one of my thesis projects was to look at whether humans would need some artificial gravity for long flights or whether zero g was OK. There was only some Skylab data at the time, and that for teh first 3 month mission, which looked a bit ominous for teh zero-g approach. An obvious experiment is to fly a g simulator and look at how mice/rats do. The simulator need be nothing more than a circular tube spun at varying radial velocities. Put in parallel with different radii, and you could test, cheaply, how well these standard mammals do under different levels of g, from 0 to 1.
Over 40 years have passed and has NASA ever done this experiment? No! But they will spend forever doing zero-g experiments, bed rest experiments, treadmill experiments. You name it, they will do every experiment but the one that would give them a clue as to whether even a small g field, might be enough to prevent all the physiological problems manifested by long term zero g exposure. That is to me emblematic of the problem of human spaceflight at NASA - doing lots of expensive stuff, but failing to do the fundamentals that are needed for people to design real spacecraft.

As Kubrick and Clarke understood so long ago in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Orion spaceplane was run by PanAm (poor choice unfortunately) and the space station run by Hilton. Not a NASA logo in sight.

Had we adopted that approach early on, we might possibly have commercial lunar operations by now.

Killing Moon said...

Your remarks, Alex, dance dangerously near to suggesting you're "no longer competent" as an intelligent being.

This, alone, would be enough.

William_Shatner said...

>> One more thing about NASA; The Japanese have a very workable idea for a space elevator;
What are we going to do? Invent the next TV, transistor, computer just so some other nation can sell it to us at WalMart?

Build a damn space elevator. Use the energy potential difference to produce all the power you want and pay for the dang thing ten times over--the taxpayer can come out ahead. Then ship the electronics and materials to the moon where you assemble the space ship bodies. From there, it's 1/10th G to liftoff. Use Rail Guns to launch all your probes on the cheap. AND you can use mini-nukes as the best propellent available to power very large spaceships. Just never have the craft go near the earth as a good precaution. There, you now have a viable plan to start a real inter-solar space program.

Now, if someone would give me a few Billion dollars ... well, Faster Than Light isn't much harder, but you've got to be able to create and contain anti-matter on a large scale to manipulate your position in space/time -- trying to create the massive gravity waves that would be required to bend space/time to have a "warp drive" is many factors harder. Don't make me have to do all the work here, people!... This may fail utterly, but it would be more useful than the Wall Street bailout which is being used to buy up banks.

>> Picking up from last blog....

You made me just think up an extremely brilliant idea -- and Brin should like the Transparency aspects:
Yes, I very much think that Obama is picking up from Lincoln the idea of having a very diverse cabinet. Hopefully, he will make these debates live -- totally remove the concept of secrecy in cabinet meetings. Having great minds from the Left and Right (OK, the right of Eisenhower's day) set the bar of intelligent discussion -- rather than leave that up to the media. So, make the Cabinet Meetings on Sunday at 2PM and televise them. Meet the Press has run its course anyway... here is the gist of my diabolical plan;
1) The MEDIA loves free content, because they are busy profiting from News, they seem to be trying to milk everything they can from the Goose that Laid the Golden egg. Of course, consistent milking of avian creatures can, I hear, lead to their demise. Roll over McGlaughlin Group -- here comes "The Obama Round Table." Make sure you put that roundtable in there so we get "Camelot 2.0" the media loves to recycle themes -- not aluminum cans.
2) Set the example. We've descended into a state known as "The Lord of the Flies." Apparently, no adults have been around, and the kids have created some new effigy, to worship and basically blame for all the bad things they have to do that are extremely profitable. It used to be Greenspan, then it was Bush, now it's just "The Market." Well, the market has the head of a pig, and the body of Karl Rove -- which kind of just makes it all the more pig like. Since it's a bear market, this just means we are dealing with ManBearPig. ManBearPig can only be defeated by adults, putting forth reason.
3) Because as Plato once wrote; "Every list requires 3, but more than 10 is ostentatious." Having a televised discussion in your cabinet makes the opposing points of view MATTER. You see, in Humanity 2.0 world, nothing matters unless a pundit can tell you; "everybody knows X to be true." While the NeoCons in exile will be throwing every sort of poo at the Obama White House wall to see what sticks, they will be saying; "More Liberal than Stalin!" Every Democrat who ever took the lead was the "most Liberal" and this moderate is no different. So, have those people debate both sides and FRAME THE DAMN ARGUMENT, before your policy becomes a debate topic. You see, that's what the NeoCons have been so brilliant at; "When did you stop beating your wife?" THAT is framing. The debate is now about a timetable -- not a whether or not we should have healthcare... you haven't stopped beating your wife yet? Bastard! Obama can bypass the big flag lapel pin and make the debate about; "Do we have Universal Healthcare or does the government just provide a competitive health insurance policy people can buy into?

Rove has nothing on me. My sixth grade class would have eaten him for lunch -- which is to say, we used to leave sandwiches in the locker for a whole week, to see who could eat the most foul thing. That was the most obvious sign I was at a school for the gifted. That and we played "Red Rover" because apparently, nothing is better for a big egg head than ramming it against another egg head...

>> Obama seeks to have a "Post Partisan" administration. This worries the hell out of me. Hopefully, this is simply a "Trojan Post Partisan" ruse, and William Kristol will roll a big wooden horse into the Bernanke compound, and out will pop a bunch of subpoenas -- just like a PinĂ¥ta. A "Trojan Subpoena Pinata." Nobody will be expecting that.

>>>tim whitten said...
Just quickly - to get it out of my system - big fan of your work, David. And Stefan Jones is here too! Brilliant! (Don't tell me that is the *real* William Shatner as well....)

Welcome Tim!
Alas no -- I am not a Canadian, and I still can't quite forgive Shatner for his poor decision in that matte. Not that there is anything wrong with being Canadian, it's just that so many good people come from their, it just gets kind of Obvious -- like a comedy writer on the Daily Show not working on the Sabbath... anyway, I became William Shatner, because I wanted to join in on the discussion on the Fake Steve Jobs website, and that blogspot login followed me HERE. I'm a huge fan of the Post Reality Movement. I should have taken the handle; "Fake William Shatner." I'm a fan of his -- but more for the way I knew he was and wasn't able to show until he got to Boston Legal. Used to bother me how he was dismissed as a "Big Ham" when that is kind of the JOB of acting -- they are all huge hams that want attention -- that's why kids get into acting, or doesn't anyone but me pay attention to these things? This is like pointing out the one pig that likes food. Not interested in attention; you become a Director. You don't like people; you become an agent.

I'm sure, however, that the REAL William Shatner, would be crafty enough to pretend not to be himself, and then be himself. Or at least, wait until I say something brilliant and just steal it. Hey, that's my quote! Right, and your name is? So the whole "Post Reality Movement" isn't so good for copyright.

Unfortunately, Stefan and David Brin are actually themselves, which really takes the fun out of everything, and will allow you to say something stupid in front of your heros. I wrote some Physics theories of mine which will one day be in the text books ( like my prediction that the male species descended from Parasitic symbiosis ) -- and he said it was lots of giggles. Next time I'm going to use spell check -- but you can't change first impressions. Or last. In fact, people just remember the times when you slip on a banana peel, so they can remember you as that guy. All the worlds a stage, and we fret and frolic and imagine everyone in their underwear.

>> Later today, I'm going to say something important and serious, so everyone needs to come back again to read it, OK?

If you can't tell, I'm still recovering from suddenly NOT being depressed when Obama magically won the election. Oh, I do suspect there might be a false flag even tomorrow, or maybe the day after,... but I'm just so surprised we finally got a good man in office. And not one that is a chump either. The MAIN reason, Obama was able to pull it off, after it seems we have 10 Million people kicked off the voter roles and being forced into uncounted Provisional Ballots, was because one pet Geek of Karl Rove's got indicted. Yes, I know it was important that a lot of Independents and Republicans woke up -- but it was more important that we didn't have that Late Night, customary Vote-Flip we've all become so accustomed to. Mike Connell, has been the man behind hosting much of Washington's web sites (including Democrats), and allegedly being the man behind the curtain, behind the dog Toto, pulling the levers that manipulate the Diebold machines. Thank God someone was paying attention, and put this guy in a court room just before the elections. Karl Rove stopped predicting a last minute win for McCain just after that.

You see, Democracy CAN work, theoretically, as long as someone is willing to back it up with a big punch in the nose. After you beat the weaker, non-Democratic person into a pulp, they think that voting is a great idea. So, historically, all the elitists who don't really believe in Democracy, must be publicly humiliated and put back in the closet. Only THEN we can get back to being nice.

>> I look forward to some great discoveries of Mike Connell's little computer projects for Karl Rove -- hopefully the two can be bunk mates after they rat each other out.

Tim Whitten said...

Great posts, William - makes up for the "disappointment" of finding out you aren't real! I mean, really real. Or something....

I've decided that I'm bound to say something stupid sooner or later, so why worry? The only thing to fear is fear itself. (I'm glad I wasn't totally wrong with the Rama / economic collapse prediction thang - but that'll teach me to post without checking my facts first. Turns out that after an exhausting 30 seconds down the google-mines I found the reference to Rama II as well. Oops. And, unfortunately, it puts paid to my theory that we can rely on that prediction to be confident of a populated solar system within the next century. Sigh - another future history bites the dust).

Somewhat more seriously though - Killing Moon says:

>Your remarks, Alex, dance dangerously near to suggesting you're "no longer competent" as an intelligent being.

>This, alone, would be enough.

Not sure I'm with you on that, KM, or maybe I'm missing your point. Phoenix is impressive, of course, and our robots will no doubt only get better and more capable. The science that they can do will always be fascinating.

But in terms of stirring the heart strings, helping us dream of exploring strange new worlds, and maybe even filling out a job application to do it; I'm afraid it really doesn't hold a candle to something like the Earth Rise photo. Knowing that it was a real human being called Bill Anders behind that shutter.

And that's just for keeping us space-nuts going. At the risk of sounding like I'm obsessed with Arthur C Clarke (last one I promise) - don't forget that quote of his:

"If man survives for as long as the least successful of the dinosaurs—those creatures whom we often deride as nature's failures—then we may be certain of this: for all but a vanishingly brief instant near the dawn of history, the word 'ship' will mean— 'spaceship.'"

I couldn't find a good quote from Michael Crichton about space exploration.... but lots of other clever people have made them:

(Nothing there from David Brin though? How come?)

It's our destiny, or it has to be our destiny, as sure as eggs... shouldn't be in one basket.

Robert said...

There is a far simpler and more logical approach to this: a global initiative to reach and colonize the moon, and then to explore Mars.

The cost factor alone makes it prohibitive for a manned Mars mission (or for that matter, large-scale colonization of the Moon). Even the United States at its highest point of financing could not do this without hurting itself in the short run, and democracy itself is a short run system of government (with four-year terms barely allowing a good head of steam going for administrative practices and policies).

President-Elect Obama has already shown a tendency to look beyond our borders. I could easily see him extending a hand in friendship to Europe, China, and Russia and saying "Let us, together, go to the Moon. We worked together in creating the International Space Station. Now let us work together in developing and sharing new rocket technology to allow each of us the ability to work together in a global initiative to go to the Moon and establish ourselves there for energy, industry, and scientific purposes."

I'd be willing to bet that Europe would gladly join in. China probably would as well, because it would allow them to gain new technologies that they are working to develop on their own. Russia then would be left to decide "do we try this on our own? Or do we work together with the West and China?"

They will join in as well. It would be too potentially detrimental not to.

The future lies in cooperative space exploration, not each individual country doing it alone. As such, NASA needs to become part of a global initiative.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

WS... What's interesting is that Dr. V Frankenstein was not punished for arrogating God's powers. What brought his doom was his callous, hateful treatment of the Creature... in other words being a Bad Dad.

Re NASA: Step one. Surround Marshall Spaceflight-Prevention Center, and arrest all the pod-people who now work there, every day, with the sole mission of preventing humanity from ever again doing anything meaningful in space. Ransom them back to the aliens for the REAL space engineers who were kidnapped and replaced by doppelgangers. You think I am exaggerating? Only by a little.

WS, antimatter is NOT a key to FTL. It is a key (eventually) to half-decent relativistic travel at speeds up to 70% of c.

Alex Tolley said...

Rob: As Heinlein said, "When you get to earth orbit, you are halfway to anywhere". As we know, the costs are primarily the cost/weight to orbit.

The Shuttle was originally suppose to get that down to $500/lb (c,1970 dollars?). That never materialized. Current costs are ~$5000/lb to LEO and ~$20,000/lb to GEO.


To really get space going, we need to drastically reduce those costs. That means a drastic rethink on how to get to orbit. Space elevators would be nice if they existed, but more likely it will be something more prosaic, although probably not a chemical fueled vehicle.

As for doing things now using existing technology and international collaboration - for why this is fraught with difficulties, see exhibit A, the ISS. The duration of the planning and construction is too long for changing governments, and geopolitical agendas tend to assert themselves. I think we are better off using more compact institutions like corporations that have better goal stability and can focus resources better.

As to why we would do this, I look to commercial reasons - tourism, resource extraction, etc. Get some decent commercial activity going in orbit and it will extend to the moon pretty quickly. Mars will be further off, although I could see a lot of early robotic activity for private ventures if the conditions were right.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Alex Tolley: An obvious experiment is to fly a g simulator and look at how mice/rats do. The simulator need be nothing more than a circular tube spun at varying radial velocities. Put in parallel with different radii, and you could test, cheaply, how well these standard mammals do under different levels of g, from 0 to 1.

You're in luck, Alex, because the Mars Gravity Biosatellite is designed to do exactly the experiment you're asking for. (I have the honor to be a former deputy science director on the project.) We only need a few million dollars to finish our Critical Design Review (we passed Preliminary Design Review about two years ago), build the ship, and plop it aboard one of Elon Musk's new Falcon 1 rockets.

It would be a bargain for NASA -- missions like this usually cost $40 million -- but so far they haven't taken us up on it, so they're trying to do it on advertising. Buy a spot on the hull and help make it a reality! In fact, everyone go check it out -- it's awesome and totally done by volunteer student labor!

Stefan Jones said...

I'll repeat my suggestion that this essay could be submitted to Salon or similar venue.

RE the observation that Crichton likes to put things back they way they were: In an old (1990?) essay, Bruce Sterling compared Frankenstein with modern SF. He noted that the monster and his creator were shuffled off to the arctic after dabbling with things that man was not meant to know . . . while in modern SF dabbling in things man was not meant to know is par for the course, and that a modern version of Frankenstein might show how industrialized monster creation would effect society. (Shades of Kiln People!)

Could Crichton's distaste for global warming be based on a predilection for things being put back the way they were as the novel ends? Because if you admit there's a real problem, you have to conclude that everything is going to have to change!

Tony Fisk said...

Re NASA: Step one. Surround Marshall Spaceflight-Prevention Center, and arrest all the pod-people who now work there, every day, with the sole mission of preventing humanity from ever again doing anything meaningful in space.

Shades of 'Senses Three and Six'

Alex Tolley said...

CatfishNCod: Awesome!

I'd be really interested to know what your team found out about why this is the first such experiment and why NASA hasn't done anything like this before. What is NASA's current position on this? What is the nearest work NASA has ever done in this arena?

My NASA contacts say that there was an experiment designed for the Shuttle but it lays in mothballs for no discernible reason.

may DB is right, they are pod people.

Alex Tolley said...

Regarding DB's comment on NASA not wanting to explore.

I was at the SETI "Day of Science" a few weeks ago (no, David, they were not talking about anything but listening strategies). One of the speakers was Margaret Race of NASA talking about "planetary protection". Well, the red tape just for robotic probes was immense, and as far as letting a live human touch Mars and contaminate it, well forget it. If Bob Zubrin had been there, he would have had to be restrained. I'm all for looking for life while Mars is pristine (I'm a biologist by education), but putting the planet out of bounds until we have definitely ruled out any possibility of life there is giving the "Prime Directive" way too much importance. We'd never put a foot on the surface. Applying those rules to early humans would have kept us on the East African Savannah.

A few years ago I attended the public meeting of a NASA astrobiology conference to listen to talks about should Mars be allowed to be contaminated or not. It was pretty clear that there is no way we could prevent contamination and that a sizable fraction of the attendees didn't want to allow any contamination at all. Never was there even a suggestion that Mars might have been contaminated by earth origin meteorites either. Hope for life on Mars is now down to bacteria in the deep rocks, or possibly in sealed lava tubes.

Tom Craver said...

Since there's discussion of "What Obama should do about NASA", here's my 5-point proposal, which I submitted at Obama's website, and a previous posting on the same subject.

Quick summary - the fastest way to reduce the cost of getting stuff into space is to avoid launching it out of Earth's gravity well. Start making stuff on the moon.

But don't waste time and money and lives by sending humans - the moon is close enough that we can use robots remote controlled 24-7 by shift-workers on Earth - clumsy, but about 1% the cost of directly establishing a human occuped moon base.

Mars - follow a similar strategy, by starting with an orbiting base (faster, cheaper, safer) from which robotic technologies developed for the moon can be tele-operated,to search for life (for a couple years) before humans land, as well as build the industrial base needed to let humans live and work on Mars.

BTW - you can submit your own ideas at Obma's site - no idea if anyone pays any attention to what gets written, but here's the link. If you like my suggestions, I'd invite you to echo them with your own twist. The more proposals for *some* CHANGE in NASA, the better.

rewinn said...

The economics underlying the Crichton novel is often questionable.

This is not to deny he could craft yarns worth a couple hours of your life; but if you had the bioengineering ability to make dinosaurs would you use it to make a theme park, or would you put the effort into something likely to enrich you and/or your shareholders, such as an algae that excretes gasoline?

"State of Fear" is even sillier; it posits global warming fakirs investing gazillions of simoleons to create lightning storms and a tsunami for the ultimate purpose of getting grants! Now, grantingwriting can be a very competitive process, but the economics of this project just doesn't pencil out. Instead, consider how much the Pentagon would pay for a tsunami generator.

(I hope that last is entirely hypothetical.)


Manned spaceflight also, unfortunately, doesn't pencil out, at least with the technology we have today.

Man, I love SF, Luna City, Barsoom, the Belter Civilization, Star Fleet Command ... and I sincerely hope someone develops the McGuffin Drive. But until then, you can drop on-the-order-of-magnitude-of 100 'bots on Mars for the cost of the first human expedition.... because you don't care about getting the bots back, and they can be built not to need oxygen or water.

The human brain is an extremely flexible controller but it is too delicate. Bots may be slower and stupider but, you know, it's not as if Mars is going anywhere. If bot #7 gets stuck on task 7.10a, just wait for bot #8.

Why not develop a bot factory to drop on Mars, just smart enough to build a more bots per instructions beamed from earth.

Lego Marstorms anyone?


Let me echo Tom's wise suggestion to contribute ideas while the new administration is still a-borning, but suggest putting them on the new official transition site at which has a Share Your Vision form for just such a purpose. I can't predict what .gov will do with them, but this year has seen a massive improvement in the use of the world brain to think through problems, so there is (dare I use the word?) hope.

David Brin said...

Dang Tony, you really ARE a fan ;-)

Alex, planetary protection is perfectly reasonable when it has no tradeoffs of human benefits, only a little added cost, in order to get a l;ittle practice acting in a mature way.

Anyway, see my story "Mars Opposition" !!!

See Tomorrow’s World in the Salon Archives.

Some excerpts from the latest Daggatt blog:

By now, you have probably read or heard some variation of this:

Rosa sat so Martin could walk

Martin walked so Obama could run

Obama ran so our children could fly …

George Bush declared a "mandate" from the people when he won in 2004 by a mere 35 electoral vote-margin. He did so despite barely eking out a majority with 50.7% of the popular vote -- only a 2.4% margin over John Kerry, the narrowest win for any elected incumbent seeking reelection since Harrison beat Cleveland in 1888.

Obama sailed over John McCain with a clear majority of almost 53% of the popular vote and a margin of victory in the popular vote of over 6%. His 7.4-million vote margin of victory was more than twice that of his predecessor. And his electoral-vote total was over twice that of McCain (his electoral-vote margin of victory was over five times that of Bush). Obama's win was a landslide by contemporary standards.

Actually, it has been 20 years since a president won with over 52% of the vote -- George H.W. Bush in 1988 (who won with 53% -- just barely more than Obama’s margin). You have to go back to 1964 for a Democratic win greater than 52%. Even in 1996, Bill Clinton only got 49% of the vote.

Reagan won with only 50.7% in 1980, but I seem to recall that was trumpeted at the time as a huge “Reagan Revolution” (because Republicans also ended up 53 seats in the Senate, although they still trailed by a large margin in the House). Gringrich’s big “Republican Revolution” in 1994 left Republicans with 230 seats in the House. The next Congress will have at least 255 Democratic House members and at least 57 Democratic Senators – more than any Republican majority in recent decades. So if 1980 represented the “Reagan Revolution” with his 50.7% win and 53 party members in the Senate, and 1994 represented a “Republican Revolution” with 230 Republicans in the House, what do you call an Obama win with close to 53% of the vote, at least 57 Democrats in the Senate and at least 255 Democrats in the House?

Obama carried the white male vote by a larger margin than Bill Clinton did in 1996.

The most amazing outcome of the election: Obama carried the youth vote (under 30) by more than two-to-one – by an overwhelming 66 to 32. The only age group McCain won was the over 65 crowd (53 to 45). Obama also won among voters at every education level (he won whites with post-graduate degrees by 10 points), but McCain won whites with no college education by 58 to 40. So basically, McCain was left with old guys and poorly-educated whites.

This does not bode well for the future of the Republican Party.Prior to this year, in the eight presidential elections since 18 year-olds got the vote, the youth vote varied from the overall vote by less than two percentage points on average. This time, they went Democratic by an overwhelming 34%. That has to be the biggest story of this election.

Obama carried the white male vote by a larger margin than Bill Clinton did in 1996.

The most amazing outcome of the election: Obama carried the youth vote (under 30) by more than two-to-one – by an overwhelming 66 to 32. The only age group McCain won was the over 65 crowd (53 to 45). Obama also won among voters at every education level (he won whites with post-graduate degrees by 10 points), but McCain won whites with no college education by 58 to 40. So basically, McCain was left with old guys and poorly-educated whites.

This does not bode well for the future of the Republican Party.Prior to this year, in the eight presidential elections since 18 year-olds got the vote, the youth vote varied from the overall vote by less than two percentage points on average. This time, they went Democratic by an overwhelming 34%. That has to be the biggest story of this election.

still no time to write my "suggestions" piece....

Marcus said...

Crichton maintained that any such a consensus of expert opinion should have no relevance at all, in the arena of public policy.....A fascinating stance!

As far as I can tell, that's highly questionable portrayal.
He would not appear that foolish if one would give him the courtesy of direct quote concerning these matters.

It would be a right thing to do since this is an eulogy.

On to the specifics:

In the speech "Science Policy in the 21st Century"
he talks specifically about how to obtain high-quality scientific information for the benefit of policy-making.

That is not someone who is inherently hostile to the influence of science in politics.

He also explicitly speaks against secrecy in that speech.


Far better for policymakers to create a forum in which opponents can engage in direct debate - the much-touted free marketplace of ideas. Insisting the debates be public is also a good idea, as sunlight always has a sanitizing effect.

And I want to make the argument-I think it's already true in many areas-that government-funded data ought to be publicly available, except in circumstances where privacy issues take precedence. Otherwise, I don't see why data isn't on the net at the time of publication. I don't see why anybody has to sue a laboratory to release its data. The public has paid for it, the public owns it, and the public has an absolute right to access it.

Criticism that he ignored the malicious effects of secrecy is completely uncalled for.

He spoke against it directly in public and indirectly in his fiction.

(Dr. Brin) "...since every one of his scenarios involved secrecy that exacerbated the Big Mistake even more than hubris..."

Exactly. He was the one who created those scenarios.

One point more:

He indeed calls scientific consensus irrelevant (by itself). Sounds extreme but it's perfectly sensible if you bother to think about it a little. Science is about facts, logic and results, not appeals to authority.

If you have the former, that's good. Hand-waving about "consensus" just wastes time.

Anders Brink said...


Sorry, but I beg to differ. It is true that scientific consensus means nothing with regard to truth.

However, consensus is essential for effective mass action. And things like climate change require mass action.

In things like the climate, it is better to be a bit wrong, to gain consensus, so that effective action against global warming can be taken. Just in case it is man made.

After all, the worst case scenario is this: global warming is man made, and we sat on our hands and did NOTHING to mitigate it, and just let it extract a huge death toll upon us.

To imagine that there is cabal of scientists trying to take over the world and hence do nothing, is thus ridiculously and horrifying insane.

Alex Tolley said...

Brin: "planetary protection is perfectly reasonable when it has no tradeoffs of human benefits, only a little added cost, in order to get a l;ittle practice acting in a mature way."

Agreed. I'm all for keeping our robot probes sterile while we search for life. But we cannot make humans sterile. Once humans touch another planet, contamination is inevitable despite our efforts to contain it. The issue is how long should we hold off with human presence in the name of keeping celestial bodies sterile?

The "planetary protection" caution could be invoked indefinitely while we try yet another search for life just in case it exists.

At some point we have to just let go the "don't touch, there may be life here".

But what if we did find life? Would that bar human presence forever? How long should we hold back? Is there any human benefit to a Mars landing that is worth potentially destroying existing life forms (note the assumption that earth life must be "superior" to native forms - a relic of European expansionism?) I don't have answers to these questions, but I personally am more in the "let's green the universe" camp than the "let's not contaminate anything" one.

BTW - is "Mars Opposition" in a collection or do I have to hunt down the Analog issue?

FK said...

I think Crichton tended to confuse a political consensus with a scientific consensus. I really believe that there is such a thing as a consensus among experts, and that deferring to that consensus is deferring to expertise - not authority.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but when we say that scientists have arrived at a consensus (say on evolution) are we not saying that experts in the field carried out observations, performed experiments, looked at data, critiqued each other's work and then arrived at a common conclusion.

In other words, isn't a scientific consensus reached when scientists independently arrive at the same or similar conclusion?

Here's what Crichton told the Associated Press:

He spoke to few scientists about his questions, convinced that he could interpret the data himself. "If we put everything in the hands of experts and if we say that as intelligent outsiders, we are not qualified to look over the shoulder of anybody, then we're in some kind of really weird world," he said.

Imagine how a creationist, with no training in biology whatsoever, could use that to dismiss evolution.

William_Shatner said...


Yes, a remote-controlled robot mission on the Moon is a must for colonizing the solar system. But really, it is all about getting out of the earth's gravity well. 1/10th G means about 1/100th of the energy to lift off (I used my fingers and toes so this may not be accurate).

Anyway, a space elevator, or at least just using the X33 is part of the equation. I think we should give any mission to Mars a back seat until we set up a moon base. What we can learn there is not as important as getting our base on the moon manufacturing for us. We don't need to worry about radiation, pollution, or air with robots on the moon.

William_Shatner said...

david brin said...
WS... What's interesting is that Dr. V Frankenstein was not punished for arrogating God's powers. What brought his doom was his callous, hateful treatment of the Creature... in other words being a Bad Dad

>> True. In the GOOD versions of the Frankenstein's story, we have a super powerful being rejected by his father. His sin in a sense is either being a bad dad, or a bad God. But all the ham-fisted copies of Frankenstein's monster, in their various forms -- and regarding Michael Crichton (he will be missed and Andromeda Strain was a classic), is in regards to challenging God's domain. It follows the theme of Things that Man Must Not Know. In the 1980's, almost all sci-fi adventures were based upon scientists messing around with things humans shouldn't do.

It is why I don't like Charities -- they are a way to socially accept eternal problems and a salve to our conscience. What the piss does it matter if you send $25 a month to some charity that shows you a hungry kid that you fed when they are wiping out people for oil in Darfur? Is some Charity going to stop China, and organize anything more difficult than a pot luck? The only Big charity making a FUTURE difference that I know of is Habitat for Humanity. Of course, started by my hero Jimmy Carter.

My point is about the larger theological struggle in this country, and they tap into all the time about "not playing God." It's the theme behind stopping Birth Control. Hey, we play God all the time, from food additives, to helping these preemie babies live. If God didn't like Abortions, then he wouldn't be making about half of all first time pregnancies end in a re-absorption of the Fetus. There seems to be selective myopathy for the Religious groups on "playing god" and if it helps the profits of a corporation or takes away civil rights -- they are for it.

But I'm a futurist who welcomes extended life, who welcomes putting computer chips in the brain as long as it isn't owned by Microsoft and I don't need copyrights on my memories. At the same time, I argue with every fool who thinks cloned Cattle is a great idea, or that GM crops shouldn't get a heck of a lot more oversight. This is probably why lots of birds and bees are dying -- but we won't know for sure, because money is spent keeping us ignorant of the effects of Monsanto and ADM genetic engineering, Global Warming, and there is even money to be made putting crappy corn syrup in our food.

The future is bright, as long as Corporations don't get to educate us on the risks. We had the worst of both worlds under Bush; anti science when its something like green energy that could empower smaller startups, but pro science, if it can make a multinational corporation more money. And save money by making all our inspectors want to quit their jobs -- fire the good ones that blow the whistle.

Hopefully, the 21st Century has started with Obama.

William_Shatner said...

WS, antimatter is NOT a key to FTL. It is a key (eventually) to half-decent relativistic travel at speeds up to 70% of c.

>> No -- that isn't what I mean about using Anti-matter at all. I'm talking about some theories in physics that talk of a higher dimensional nature to all particles. In experiments with Quantumly linked matter, even separated by a distance, the matter acts as if it is still connected -- haven't had my coffee yet so I can't remember the term. At first I thought the ideas of these extra dimensions were like all the particles string theorists keep coming up with to explain reality when it doesn't fit -- but a few restless nights and it locked in for me; the 4 dimensions of matter in what we think of as this Universe, have a corresponding 4 dimensions that we don't interact with. When we create anti-matter, we are really flipping the dimensions -- and I predict we will find that anti-matter has negative gravity.

Many physicists are puzzled by the "missing mass" theories and how to resolve the "Big Bang." They assume that the matter and anti-matter destroyed each other and we are left with the ten percent. How they can know the "percent" of infinite is beyond me. But no, It's pretty clear to me that after the "big bang" the 12 dimensions separated into 3 discrete "branes". The lower 4 are what we know, then there is 4 dimensions to what we think is empty space -- call it an aether (in a sense, the DIMENSION of space/time, which we only notice by the byproduct of its flowing INTO our dimensions and by the apparent distance between objects), it is the medium, and the higher 4 dimensions, when we interact with them, appear as anti-matter. Position in this Universe is dependent upon resonance of the higher 4 dimensions. When matter is quantumly entangled (thats the word), it means that the higher dimensional aspects of that matter are in resonance. They can move in our space, but there is still some sort of information exchange at the higher level -- where Space/time is not interacting with matter.

As I've visualized, space is part of the middle 4 dimensions that "falls down" from the this conjoined Universe. As our Universe gets older, space between objects is growing. We still have gravity shadows from this other dimension -- which gives our physicists fits as they try and hunt down dark matter--or just space with gravity. But gravity is the flow of space time through each particle with mass into this dimension. It does not rule out, however, extra pressure in regions of space that reflects some incongruent property in the higher 4 dimensions. What's a bit tricky here, is that the middle brane, must have the coincident property of the 4th dimension in the higher and lower brane. That's what "ties" the particles in this one to their higher dimensional aspects, so you could say that there are 3+3+3, and 1 time but for the sake of book-keeping, time should also have 3 dimensions or you cannot describe its flow. So, here3+space3+higherDimension3+time3, or here&now4+space-time4+antiMatter&noTimeorSpace4

Anyway, I could spend days talking about this. It has implications for why we have electric charge, and how the Universe will age. I took a stab at explaining at least the dimensional part of the theory, but it would be a post about twice a long looking at the paper I just wrote. And I'd rather not look like an idiot unless anyone is interested. Right now, I think it is a pretty self-supporting theory and I don't find any holes in it where things contradict. But it is a far cry simpler than String Theory. And at least I get to WHY there is a speed limit on light, or how you get something from nothing.

Or, I could just be really full of crap, but in an interesting way that might sell books. But judging by how strange and wonderful the Universe is, a guy like me has just as high an infinitesimal chance of guessing right as the rest of the clever monkeys on this planet.

Alex Tolley said...

WS: "...,who welcomes putting computer chips in the brain as long as it isn't owned by Microsoft... "

So Google is OK? :) Corporations won't need to copyright your memories, just make you pay to use them, or you don't get access...

William_Shatner said...


It is important to get consensus, and I believe that a lot of the weather scientists kind of went along with some of the Global Warming pronouncements because it is vital we address the issue.

Climate change is occurring -- or we should say; Humans are having a potentially irreversible impact that will speed up changes faster than we and other creatures can adapt -- not good.

The Deniers, like the Big Tobacco apologists before them, are trying to take any wedge or discrepancy in the science to say that detrimental changes aren't occurring, which is completely intellectually dishonest.

I think this is a bit like saying that Evolution isn't occurring, because Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest" doesn't completely explain everything we observe. Well, there are LOTS of other theories for how things evolve, and even conserved genetics, that can be switched on by the environment; and example is blue eyes and fair skin, which can switch on in humans in a generation or two -- like we see in high altitudes in the Andes. That isn't the result of only one out of a hundred people surviving with blue eyes -- it's a conserved gene that gets activated by mothers not getting enough vitamin D (or something).

But there are a lot more theories than that.

And the planet can both cool and warm at the same time in different places from cloud cover, CO2, methane and the like -- and neither are going to be good. Momentarily low solar activity and smog in China, may be reducing the impacts of global warming right now -- but do we want MORE smoke in the air? No. It may be like taking aspirin when you have a brain tumor -- masking symptoms but not changing the cause of death.

We are at a cool point on the graph at the moment -- but the coolest years in ten, of a record 50 years of warming, and that is a spike from a thousand years.

Yeah, when the permafrost in Siberia melts, that produces more methane and dark soil to trap heat. The ice caps melting at the poles means water absorbs more heat than ice -- but it also means we have a lot less krill and that changes ocean fishing. Well, we also know there is methane starting to bubble up from the ocean floor setting off alarms on oil tankers (that's how it was discovered). Is there a certain temperature, where Methane is trapped at the bottom of the ocean, and then one degree higher, it all gets released? Does anyone even have an inkling of how many billions of tons of trapped methane might be released all at once?

And what is the long-term effect of the acidification of the ocean?

The other tiny details, that those who would want to ignore this don't think about, is stuff that has huge implications. You can have the same average temperature, but say the day is cooler but your nights are warmer -- what is the big deal? Well, N3 plants need cooler nights to produce carbohydrates from Photosynthesis, and N4 plants do just fine without cool nights and will outcompete them. Why is this important? Other than Soybeans, almost all our crops are N3 plants.

>> All the things that can bite us in the butt from a rapidly changing environment, are things we don't even have a clue about. The Risks far outweigh the few rewards like a North Sea passage for shipping. We didn't know, for instance, a few years ago, that water levels could rise so quickly because the scientists assumed that the ice on Greenland and the South Pole had to melt. No, it just has to have enough melting at a fast enough rate to create a lubricating layer under the ice mass and it can fall right into the ocean.

And the melting of too much ice, can change the Gulf Stream flow, and plunge Europe into a mini ice age, while other places might turn into deserts. We may be to late on that -- but its not something that anyone sane should be playing politics with, or risking for the sake of some company making a quarterly profit.

It seems obvious now in hindsight. But there are more dynamics systems involved in this earth that we aren't aware of until we see them break.

William_Shatner said...

alex tolley said...
WS: "...,who welcomes putting computer chips in the brain as long as it isn't owned by Microsoft... "

So Google is OK? :) Corporations won't need to copyright your memories, just make you pay to use them, or you don't get access...

9:31 AM

No Alex -- my little joke is partly serious. With the right chips in the brain, orchestrating memory storage by increasing a little current in the hippocampus, we can FIX memories -- decide that we want things we don't forget.

Right now, I have a 16 Gig flash drive on my keychain. In ten years, we could have a petabyte chip that could fit on a fingernail. That much storage in the brain might just fit every song you ever listened to, and every movie you paid to see in a theater.

You see or hear it once -- you have it forever. Where does the copyright model of re-selling things that you've heard or watched go? Also, what if retelling a memory, involved the process of just downloading some details from this chip? Does Disney get to blur out any image of their copyrighted material if you want your Mom to see your vacation trip to the Pirates of the Caribbean?

Perfect reproduction of memories may be indistinguishable from consumption of copyrighted or patented information. Such a future is irreconcilable with the "Royalty Economy" that many in the Western world are trying to force on the planet.

At the very least, we can see from Global Warming -- that an unrestrained Capitalistic/Profit model is NOT sustainable.

We have to urge other nations to adopt more progressive ideals towards women's rights. Where women get control over their lives and reproduction -- the birth rate reduces. Reducing the rate of increase of humans is the number one thing we can do to get a handle on this.

We either have a green economy and a Progressive, slightly socialistic model of self-empowered people in our future, or we will probably get a dystopian, resource war model of the future.

And seriously, the Royalty+Forever Copyright model cannot only be supported in the near future by a Corporate Police State. To stop P2P networks and such, people will not be allowed onto the internet anonymously anymore -- so what happens to freedom of speech and blogs like this if Your company can track you down and control what you say? How many people can participate in Democracy, with no separation between personal speech and employment? That isn't a theoretical question and it has ended up in people getting fired, or kids getting kicked out of school.

So, either we have the ability to be anonymous, and very minimal protections on copyright, or we track every speck of dust and we give up free speech -- at least for individuals who are employed by companies.

Alex Tolley said...

WS: Just having a [very] little joke. What you say about future storage is very much in my mind lately and I am very much in the Lessig and Doctorow camps regarding copyrights and IP.

William_Shatner said...

With most of the Independents I know, and about half of the Republicans telling me they were voting for the Democrat -- and I'm willing to bet a lot of people on this blog have the same experience. Just WHERE does the impetus for only a 53% lead come from? Who LIKES the Republicans MORE now than 4 or 8 years ago? It was damn close then and it's relatively damn close now... I don't think that the Republicans being nearly 50% of the vote, over 3 decades or more is due to just making half the people happy. Did I mention I live in Georgia, about the Reddest state in the Union? Obama nearly got 50% of the vote here. There were 250,000 queries of the Social Security administration to kick about 50,000 people off the voter roles for having names not matching -- that was illegal by the way.

Like I said above when talking about Rove's hacker, I think that Republicans have been manipulating votes for years.

They've gotten electronic, because they need to switch even more votes. And they've caged voters, to push a lot of new voters into provisional ballots. At least 10 Million people voted on Provisional ballots this year -- do you think they were all people risking a felony to try to vote twice? Are we even counting those ballots?

It's pretty strange that Ted Stevens, can be convicted, and still win the election in Alaska. Maybe this has something to do with 26% of the vote not being counted... LINK . I expect to hear a lot more stories like this. As I've said, I didn't really expect Obama to win, but there had to be massively huge numbers voting for Democrats to turn this election in their favor. And even at that, it is ludicrously close.

>> But thank God we won. The coming economic collapse will be a lot easier, if stimulus is directed at the bottom, rather than at the top. To say nothing of all the wars that America usually gets involved in after a downturn.

William_Shatner said...

alex tolley said...
WS: Just having a [very] little joke. What you say about future storage is very much in my mind lately and I am very much in the Lessig and Doctorow camps regarding copyrights and IP.

10:27 AM

No problem. I knew you were kidding -- it just reminded me of the concerns of where I see Royalism and Information ownership as only being supportable by a police state -- it runs counter to IMPROVING the status quo.

Who are Lessig and Doctorow by the way? Is that to do with CopyLeft? I'm just too lazy to google.

I believe in rewarding innovators, because I plan to be one -- but we reward OWNERS of innovative works -- the actual people who invent things often die poorer than their attorneys.

You've also got drug companies getting patents on things that the government helped them achieve with taxpayer dollars. They sell the drugs for pennies for livestock, and dollars to you and I -- but cheaper overseas. Why do we help Big Pharma, when they spend more on advertising now than research?

All the innovation and economies of scale seem to be happening in computers, where everybody is more busy innovating than suing. Software, seems only mitigated by the fact that so many people can program. You've got a million Henry Fords in America. So where the IP gets in the way with nonsense patent's like Amazon's single-click, you at least have relatively low barriers to entry.

How long can that last if people patent whole swaths of common algorithms and you have to spend more time doing a patent search on code than in solving problems?

atomicsmith said...

"It's pretty strange that Ted Stevens, can be convicted, and still win the election in Alaska. "

I know a somewhat smart Alaskan that voted for him based on what he does in/for Alaska, rather than in the Senate for the country.

tintinaus said...

WS: The release of methane storages embedded in the oceans should be a great concern to everyone. It is one of the hypothesised reasons for the Permian Extinction. This is the worlds largest extinction event with 98% loss of sea life.

William_Shatner said...

tintinaus said...
WS: The release of methane storages embedded in the oceans should be a great concern to everyone. It is one of the hypothesised reasons for the Permian Extinction. This is the worlds largest extinction event with 98% loss of sea life.

>> So, is that the one they USED to think was caused by a meteorite because of the layer of slightly radioactive dust scattered around the globe that was typical of meteorite rock? I've forgotten my epochs.

Prior to that, there was the growth of Oxygen producing algae -- they believe the planet almost froze over, because Oxygen was highly toxic to almost all life on the planet. We came to within a few degrees of having permafrost planet because of the freezing of CO2 -- that would have trapped it forever. Maybe some Advanced Aliens came back and bioengineered something to survive in their garden...

.... by the way, here is some good information about ideas for cooking during a Zombie apocalypse;

>> But I think if we had a Massive Methane release from the Oceans, you'd be putting up reflective fabrics and looking at some supply of water to create a cooling aerosol. Atmosphere might change a lot and you'd want to do some home-grown hydroponics.

I'd think good social skills and organization are actually the best things during hard times. If you can organize your neighbors and each can specialize on a task, rather than trying to do everything yourself -- you've got a better chance of survival. Why does everyone think we have societies anyway?

Even though I'm real happy about Obama, I am well aware that it takes a long time to steer a large ship, and we are still headed for the iceberg. If I were on the titanic, I'd be in the kitchen covering myself with lard to insulate from the cold water, and finding something to float -- because I'm damn sure not getting on the SS Paulson lifeboat with all the Banksters.

But, if having a short economic depression can finally get Corn products out of our food -- well, then it might be good for our health in the long run. A bit of survivalism and being forced out of our Native mall habitats should do us some good.

Gilmoure said...

William Shatner said: You see or hear it once -- you have it forever.

Aaaaaugh! I'm still having problems getting Seasons in the Sun out of my head.

Still, seeing has how wife and I can view the same scene in a movie and see totally different things, I think folks might make a few bucks selling their memories of stuff. Would be cool to watch Casablanca through Scorsase's filter or Star Wars through Dr. B's.

Robert said...

I've been having a series of rather interesting and sad conversations with a very good friend of mine who is a Massachusetts Republican. (Of course, I was a Massachusetts Libertarian (before moving to New Hampshire) so I'm even crazier. ^^) And while I tell him that if he were in any other part of the nation (outside of California) he'd be a liberal Democrat by comparison, he is still suffering from knee-jerk anger over Obama winning the election.

He has stated that Obama hired the Black Panthers to scare Republican voters away (without giving me any links to news stories, seeing he was talking over the phone), that he wasn't a U.S. Citizen and was refusing to show his real Birth Certificate, and that Obama was using voter fraud to destroy Democracy. He also believes that the Democrats and Obama will destroy what's left of this country and that while the Republicans are corrupt, they're far better than the Dems. Basically, he was rattling off everything that you hear the more reactionary Republicans state about an Obama Presidency.

I even managed to witness this otherwise intelligent and well-educated individual suffer from a refusal to accept facts over his "gut feelings" when I linked a number of Snopes articles stating that much of what he was saying was false (except for the Black Panthers - that hasn't made it to Snopes yet apparently). He instead got snippety because of my tone in my e-mail when I said I was hoping he was yanking my chain because I expected better out of him. Okay, maybe I shouldn't have said that last bit... but it's like these people want to wallow in their fears and insecurities rather than admit that Democrats are not the monster they believe them to be.

Mind you, while my friend is a blue-collar worker, he's got a truly gifted mind and I feel should return to college and get a degree in something useful. (He's paying child support on two children, and their mother makes far too little as a school bus driver to support them on her own, even though she's living rent-free with her folks. So I can understand why he's not going back to college... even if I see it as a waste of an otherwise exceptional mind.)

You have to wonder just what goes on in the minds of people that they cannot bend. I mean, I don't like Democrats. But I see the corruption and idiocy that went on with the Republican party, and am willing to give the Dems a chance. It's better to try something new than keep putting coins in the same old slot machine hoping that finally it'll give you a meager payoff.

No doubt Michael Crichton would find a way to use this inability to change in one of his scientific thrillers... with an executive refusing to budge on a policy despite how detrimental it has become and the danger it's causing if an experiment finally does go out of control. ^^

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Marcus, I never said that there was a total absence of wisdom in Crichton's work. Nor did I ever say that he did not ever diss secrecy. Indeed, his designated TATMIMK decryer would nearly always mention - in passing - that the arrogant experimenters had exacerbated the problem by insisting on secrecy. Nevertheless, this was nearly always merely a nod in the general direction of this blatant failure mode. I would be interested in whether any of you could name an instance when his characters said "this whole endeavor probably would have worked, if you hadn't been so secretive about it."

No, it was as if he associated the malignant effects of secrecy directly and indivisibly with ambitious hubris, like inseparable Siamese twins. Moreover, by far the worse crime was hubris.

As for MC's attitude toward "scientific consensus" - the proof is in his riffs against the global warming paradign offered by members of the communities of environmental and climatological scientific communities. His arguments that "you cannot vote on what is true or not" had a certain basic philosophical truth to them... while being used in a deeply deceitful way. True, objective reality doesn't care what 99% of experts believe, and there have been cases where 99% of experts have proved wrong.

But the issue before us is whether or not public policy should respond - with some measure of deliberate speed - to the advice being offered by 95% of those human sages who actually k now a thing or two about atmospheric science, or whether some companies with a vested interest in the status quo should be able to exercise far greater sway, by deploying distractions, such as drivel that there is "no such thing as scientific consensus. In this matter, MC's rationalizations were clear, explicit, dramatically wrongheaded and deeply harmful to a civilization that was very very good to him.

The worst thing is that this was not a situation in which going with the experts had much of a potential downside! Even if the 99% of sages proved utterly wrong, a big effort to develop efficiency technologies would only benefit us all, and especially America. But not Exxon. And that is why anyone who ever participated in Climate Change Denial (the cult, not the reasonably skeptical lower-case version), ought to examine their own psychology. Cause it's been cracked.

Alas, AT, "Mars Opposition" may have to wait for my next collection. It's a good un! ;-)

WS... another Carter admirer? Number 43 on my time travel to do list is to tell him to keep the Iranian diplomats he sent home (honorably expecting the iranians to reciprocate) at a luxury beach hotel in order to emphasize the contrast between a barbaric and civilized nation. But still keeping them to trade for our people.

David Brin said...

Rob H note that all of your friend’s reasons for fearing Obama were assertions and stories. The GOP no longer offers statistics or provable factual correlations, because those are almost 100% favoring the other side. Moreover, the just-so stories are never, ever proved, across decades.

Ask him to put down money on ANY of his stories ever being validated. Offer him odds. Especially since, if he accepts, it is easy money. I find that putting money on it often makes story-spreaders back off REAL fast!

Cliff said...

Another thing on Crichton - I really liked "Timeline," except for one small detail:
The time travel science he used. Or I should probably say, "science."

Never mind the notion of sitting back and letting people from an alternate dimension, who have figured this stuff out, do the heavy lifting. (I believe that was the explanation - "We don't know how, but someone in another timeline does and they'll be happy to help!")

No, the notion of shrinking people down to subatomic size by burning off atoms with lasers was what got me. (That was how they shrunk the adventurers down to allow them to get through the wormhole.)
I tried to point out to a friend that if you were to shrink someone this way, they wouldn't end up with tiny little brains that use special tiny little atoms, but rather the cells would get burnt away and they would get really dumb before they died.
He shrugged and said Crichton was using actual science for this stuff.

Of course, there may have been some critical detail I missed that makes it all okay to burn someone to ash with a laser and send them through a wormhole. Anyone?

Alex Tolley said...

David Brin: "Even if the 99% of sages proved utterly wrong, a big effort to develop efficiency technologies would only benefit us all, and especially America"

This is also a somewhat disingenuous. If the new technology costs much more to operate, there will be a net drag on the economy. Essentially this is the argument of the fossil fuel companies - existing technologies are the cheapest way to deliver and use energy. If the efficient energy technologies incur costs that are greater than the cost of fuel saved, there is an economic loss.

Please note that I am not arguing that we should not do this, as the costs of environmental damage and ensuring oil supplies, if fully accounted for, might change this equation. (Assuming we can even maintain supplies for much more than a few decades). What I am saying is that one cannot make blanket economic statements about the benefits of changing the existing the energy system when it is not clear at all what the truth of this is.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Because it's science! } ; = 8 P

Yeah, it bothered me, too. I think I read back over it three or four times the first time through, trying to figure out what I was missing that made the lasers not vaporize or slice-and-dice them...

Maybe the lasers just obliterated the person down to a few bits of genetic material, which got sent through to the aliens on the other side, who then reconstructed the person from the genetic material (since these interdimensional aliens are such helpful people)?

Rob said...

Speaking as someone who is still not sure that global warming is anthropogenic, I still think all the action called for by eager and optimistic environmentalists is worth doing.

There is simply *no downside* to finding new and clean sources of energy, and to adding efficiency to our energy-burning engines, and to being less wasteful and more far-sighted in how we allocate and spend our resources.

None. Less waste equals more use, period. Everyone is wealthier.

David Brin said...

What's so weird about this "no brainer" is that it is the so-called "conservatives saying to forget "waste-not" and thriftiness and efficiency and savings, while it is the so-called free-spending libruls who balance budgets and wag their fingers saying to re-use and pinch pennies and save for a rainy day.

Robert said...

Well, my friend explained that he has a "bad feeling" about Obama and that when he listens to Obama speak, he gets the same chill he got concerning an ex-friend of his who turned out to be a less-than-pleasant individual.

While I respect my friend's intuitive flashes, he also did stay married to a woman who abused him (physically and emotionally) for 13 years, and who still has to remind himself of how bad she was at times to keep from wanting to go back to her (though much of that is also he misses his kids and is worried for their welfare). So I have to wonder how much of this "psychic flash" of his is due to true intuition and how much is fear of the changes that an Obama Presidency will bring.

Pretty much the largest fear I've heard from the people around me is that Obama is going to be weak on the international front and that we're going to "surrender" to Al Qaeda and Iran. This is perhaps the largest failing of Republican rule that this belief we can bully other countries around, and that diplomacy (and give-and-take) is a sign of weakness has become so prevalent in this nation.

Rob H.

Doug S. said...

David, I'm having a problem with your web page:

Allow me to post a short excerpt of what I see...

---begin quote ---
In fact, I think that we should go forth and crush every other worldview that doesn't promote tolerance!

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---end quote---

Something went horribly wrong somewhere. Everything after that one line consists of garbled characters.

Incidentally, is the Paranoia worldview still in retreat? (Recently, Russia has taken to acting like a 19th century imperial power. Another bastion of Paranoia is Israel. Israel has been even more paranoid than Russia ever since its founding in 1947 - and Israel really does have powerful enemies that are out to get it!)

Ilithi Dragon said...

I have to agree with you on the last point there, Rob. A few of my self-identifying conservative friends have voiced opinions that they think Obama is weak because he 'waffles' on subjects and 'compromises', instead of taking a hard-line, all-or-nothing, refusal-to-budge stance on 'critical issues'. The problem with that is that, first, being willing to compromise on issues, especially issues that you cannot get everything you want on (or not any time soon) is not a sign of weakness, but a willingness to cooperate, and the ability to recognize that your viewpoint isn't the only strongly-held belief, whether or not it's right. Second, it's been my experience that the willingness to compromise in order to get things done requires a lot of strength, especially when you're compromising on issues you feel strongly about (or you're dealing with someone who feels strongly about their position), where as throwing out a hardline stance and rejecting all considerations that don't match almost completely is actually pretty easy - you just gotta keep repeating yourself and reject anything that isn't exactly what you want (especially if your position is a long and well-established party line with well-developed reasoning and catch-phrases pre-made for you to use).

Additionally, such hardline stances only work with people who already agree with the position, in one form or another. You won't convince someone who thinks you are wrong by being a hardliner about your position - you'll just drive them further away, deeper into their own convictions, and only make yourself look like a stubborn, repetative fool in their eyes. Yes, if you're loud enough, or have enough people backing you, you can drown out or tramp down opposing positions with a hardline stance, but you don't really convince anyone of your position, you basically just spam them out, until they can't be heard or just give up trying. Is that victory? I guess it could be, in that whatever position or idea the hardliner is preaching gains dominance, but the opposing viewpoints will still be there, just in the background or driven underground, where they can't be eradicated.

That victory can be achieved through compromise, though, because a willingness to compromise indicates a willingness to at least hear and understand the opposing views, and acknowledge the right for those views to be held, thus making people who disagree with you and would reject anything you say by reflex if you took a hardline stance, to be more accepting of your position, and susceptible to the influences of your position, especially if you're the one taking charge of the compromise initiative.

Lastly, I've also heard a lot of people argue that compromise is 'giving in', accepting something less than victory on critical issues and not continuing to work towards that 'total victory' of whatever critical issue is perceived to be right/just/correct/moral/etc. This is incorrect as well, because accepting a compromise does not mean that you have to stop working towards achieving your goals on that issue, it just means that you are settling for a partial victory in the short term, where you know that a total victory is impossible. You can still work towards the total victory of your position in the long term while accepting compromise in the short term, after all. For example, agreeing to a ban only on late-term abortion with considerations for the health of the mother now does not mean I would have to give up working towards a total ban on abortion in the future, it just means that I'm smart enough to recognize that I am NOT going to get a total ban on abortion now, now matter how much I may want it or may think abortion is morally wrong, and that a partial victory now is better than nothing, ESPECIALLY if it allows me to continue working towards a total ban on abortion from a position in which the opposing sides would be more sympathetic, or at least open-minded to my arguments.

Would you rather do, get nothing at all until you can achieve your entire position all at once, or take what victories you can now while working towards the total realization of your goals, especially when the chance for total victory in anything remotely close near-term is nonexistent?

Matt DeBlass said...

I always try to stress the climate-change mitigation as a kind of secular version of Pascal's Wager.

"The Earth is getting warmer, many scientists who know more about it than I seem to believe human activity contributes to it in some degree. We should take steps now to minimize our contributions. If we're wrong, well, we spend some money and get better gas mileage, if we're right, we save our asses big time. Conversely, if we do nothing and we are right about this global warming thing...well..."

And, by the way, I've often said that environmental stewardship is a conservative value.

On other fronts, Nate Silver takes a jab at the idea that the new Obama voters in Calif. are responsible for the passing of Prop 8 here

I'm inclined to agree with him and think that it's a dangerous and divisive meme that should be squashed before it fosters another rift among minority populations.

And, as silly as I think Prop 8 is, the banning of adoption for nonmarried people in Arkansas is just barbaric.
Even if you're not an advocate of gay marriage, I think it's just downright hurtful and blatantly anti-family.

While I'm off on a tangent, I just wanted to point out to Dr. Brin that "garrige" is where British people park their cars. ;-)

Oh, and William Shatner, you're posts are both brilliant and long, I confess that I often skip over them and then read them later (but I usually DO read them).

My non-work access to the intertubes is sporadic this week, sorry to ramble, but I will be back soon!

David Brin said...

Rob H, your friend's "creepy feeling" about Obama is yet another story. Stories, stories stories... I tell em for a living. But dig it. Stephen King doesn't ACTUALLY believe in vampires.

Doug, Ishall ask my beauteous & sagacious web designer to look into the memewar piece. Strange.

I never claimed that the most fundamental Russian personality trait was gone with the fall of the Berlin Wall! It is rooted in many things, like winters (brrrr) and the way they raise their kids. I simply said that when a generation came that finally had never known either invasion or Stalin, it would ease enough for them to start acting a bit in their own self-interest.

They are doing that now, in a way. Though another Bushite crime has been to stoke that paranoia above a simmer, instead of helping lull it into deep sleep.

Israeli paranoia is proportionate to the risk they face. And So have most of their responses.

Ilithi, the kind of grotesque immaturity that you are describing is one more reason that Republicans (in general, not as isolated individuals) should not be trusted with more power than the disposal of a burnt match -- that's been drowned in the toilet... and then only by guiding their hands gently to the flusher knob and supervising carefully till it's done.

We have to take a position that they can respect, which means utterly in their faces. Stop trying to reason with "no-compromise" people and instead tell them that their stance is treason. Literal and total treason to the fundamental adult basis of the Enlightenment. It is precisely what the Russians have done, in rushing into Big Man worship of Putin.

Their stance is why GWBush isolated himself from all criticism and citokate, running an administration rife with delusion, corruption and failure.

True, Clinton tried too hard to reason with maniacs. But BHO will do better. Cherrypicking sane grownups from amid the GOP and leaving the "no compromise" fanatics in a rump Party of The Stupid, to play their kindergarten games.

And that goes double for the no-compromise left!

Moderate reasonableness has got to be a militant movement. One of ferocity and passion and determination! We need to remember that we moderates and negotiators and pragmatic problem solvers and believers in citokate and accountability are the rebels! Against the old ways of fanaticism and delusion and oversimplification and tyranny.

We must crush and marginalize all political movements that refuse to negotiate kije grownups!

(And if that makes you smile with iorny, then you are one of us... and cursed be he who quotes THAT line out of context.)

Cliff said...

ilithi dragon - I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't understand how people survive vaporization by laser.

I do have to disagree with you on the compromise issue (and I'm going along with Brin here).

I think your approach would work if we were dealing with people who can adjust their behavior to reflect facts.
But really, for the most extreme wingnuts, trying to reason with them is taken as a sign of weakness. Liberals compromise and discuss, and heaven forfend that they ever resemble a liberal.

So you have to take the matches away from them and leave them to learn through pain, or die.

David Brin said...

Better yet, have the satisfaction of looking them in the eye and saying:

"You lost the popular vote in 2000, yet declared a "mandate" to rule by fiat, without negotiation or listening. Your side strove to expand the power of an imperial autarchy-presidency and sneered at "whiners" who then complained.

"You would deserve what you got, then, if the Presidency you sought to invest with unrestrained power now stomped all over your political desires, backed by a GENUINE popular mandate.

"Go wallow in your fantasies. Waste your Christmas money buying guns that will still be legal one year, four years or eight years from now. (Democrats now realize WE may need them.) Keep making up unprovable stories as your reasons to stay bitter and uncooperative, while we city folk have all the facts, statistics and mature due-process stuff on our side.

"Keep marginalizing conservatism, while poor, lamented Barry Goldwater spins in his grave and we are denied the wisdom that a sane conservatism could have provided.

"Oh, we'll try to be patient and not laugh in your faces, when your vaunted, frenetically flag-waving version of "super-patriotism" proves paper thin, and you switch to waving secessionist flags and hanging posters of Nathan Bedford Forest and Timothy McVeigh. You've already proved what you are and some things are dismally predictable.

"Indeed, we'll probably keep on trying to reason with you. It's in our blood, we true patriots of the deep American Revolution -- a revolution of freedom and reason against fanaticism. The most important thing any nation ever did.

"But we admit we're human. And it is possible that we, the rational and educated and reasoning majority could perhaps get fed up. We're human. In theory, we might finally surrender to human nature and start ruling the way you always said that those in power should. For the good of all. After all, you and Bush fought hard to create an imperial, unaccountable, king-like presidency. Fools.

"I hope it never happens, but if it does, it'll have been almost all your doing, and you'll miss the pragmatic negotiators we once were. Then we'll see who the whiners are. Crybabies."

Gilmoure said...


Militant Moderate!

I like it!

Just needs a bit of slogan underneath it to make a great bumper sticker. Any ideas?

Fixing the world's problems ?

Gilmoure said...

Oh yeah, Daggatt has a post about the $150B tax break Paulson cut for the banks.

Go swine!

David Brin said...

Militant Moderate!
Defy all #!#! fanatics. Adults negotiate solutions!
(It's the American way.)

Robert said...

While Stephen King might not believe in vampires, I have encountered things that cannot be explained away by science. Specifically, four years ago I went through what I call the Summer of Shadows, where these black forms kept appearing outdoors and moving despite the lack of wind and lack of movement by overhead trees (or even the lack of trees).

These shadow people were a blackness that was darker than black, and almost seemed to shimmer with the lack of light. Nor were they limited to two-dimensional forms. Some floated in mid-air, dark splotches where a shadow should not exist.

After the 2004 Presidential Election, the shadows stopped appearing, for the most part.

And ironically enough, my Republican friend was by my side and verified what I saw without my telling him what I was seeing.

(Also, on midsummer night, I saw three circles of light... or more specifically, disks of light that hovered an inch off the ground. My friend saw more of these faerie lights than I did, but those three disks are the ones I remember... and saw in a region where the shadow figures were not to be seen.)

So I'm not one to ignore feelings and intuition and the like. I have witnessed things that cannot be explained away by science. And I know there is much more to this universe than what our sensors and sciences may lead us to believe.

(That said, I still take my friend's "bad feelings" about Obama with a ton of salt... because I trust my own gut feelings, and I've not had bad feelings about Obama himself.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Those may have been "cobblies"... things that dog notice all the time (hence the frenzied barking) but humans seldom. See CITY by Clifford Simak. I never excluded the possibility...

...Otoh, friends walking side by side can also be on a shared (perhaps involuntary) acid trip... ;-)

The thing about quasi delusional or unverifiable things is this... we need to stay open and interested, keep seeking new modes of verification while not refusing the psychic benefits of the creepily ineffable!

But such stuff belongs nowhere near policy! Neither does fantasy, storytelling or romanticism. It wasn't just Bush who ruled us "from the gut" but every monstrous king and tyrant across 10,000 years.

"Gut" can be a good clue provider. By all means investigate any gut suspicions and back them up! But also be willing to lay wagers on your gut feelings, and pay off, and admit it when your gut has been so wrong it's bankrupting you. As the right wing's gut proved insanely wrong over and over, re Bill Clinton.

People who base policy on "gut" - without either proving it or paying off failed wagers -- are fools and hypocrites and liars and bona fide traitors to the enlightenment.

And America IS the enlightenment.
Or oughta be.

Alex Tolley said...

DB: "And America IS the enlightenment."

Ahem. The enlightenment first appeared in Europe and has a long history of success there. Arguably more success there than in the US of late. It is extending nicely into other cultures too, although many still resist it.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Cliff, Dr. Brin:

I see your point on approaching the more radical members of the lamented GOP ('regressives' to coin a phrase), but what about those who are not so radical? The 'romantics', who are normally very nice, reasonable and intelligent people, but still mired in the muck of partisanship, following the party line not because they're radical or corrupt, but because they're simply still bogged down in the, for lack of a better term, 'brain washing' of both the neoconcervatives, and the general concepts of the party system as a whole?

I have several friends, and family members, who would fall into that category, and I'm sure many others do as well. I don't think serving these types with a hardline stance is the way to go, for the very reasons I presented against taking a hardline stance above. It will only drive them further away, and deeper into the arms of the radicals and the corrupts most of us here are opposing.

One of the most common arguments I've gotten from this type is that the 'other side' isn't any better, that they're 'just as bad', being no less corrupt or susceptible to temptation, and no more concerned for the common people than the current batch. I actually think this is a negative side-effect of the over-saturation of suspicion of authority influences in popular media. People have become TOO suspicious of authority, loosing all trust in most authority figures, ESPECIALLY governmental authority figures. In this mindset, they're ALL corrupt, they're ALL lying, cheating, stealing, two-bit, good-for-nothing con-artists, so what's the difference between one and the other? I get hearty agreements that the people in there now are bad and corrupt, but run into a wall if I try to suggest that any other politician, no matter who they are, is any less bad or would do any different.

Yet, despite this general complete lack of trust for politicians as a whole, they still vote along party lines, because the politicians are supposed to be following the general policies and moral and ethical positions of the party. I still think reasoned arguments and presentations of enlightenment are the best means to sway these people, though presenting convincing evidence will be a challenge, since they tend to reject anything that would suggest a politician might actually make some kind of attempt to do the job our taxes are paying them to do, and that we elected them for.

The other type of regressive I most commonly encounter are those from the 'religious right', whose faith-guided moral beliefs ring to a certain harmony with the 'party line', that has been so custom-tailored to fit those moral and ethical beliefs. With anything involving religion, a hardline stance of opposition is the LAST thing you want to do, because if there is anything that strengthens faith, it's opposition. I think a lot of these people simply fail to see the corruption and how their faith-based morality is being used against them. And history has certainly shown us how easy it is for people in power to do take advantage of religion in exactly the same way.

Then there are the 'true' regressives, the people who openly admit their belief that humanity cannot better itself, not even bothering to hope for it because they consider it a naive pipe dream, and who openly admit their lack of faith in, or outright contempt for humanity. Would a hardline stance work against such as these? I don't think so, either. I think it would simply invoke cynical comments, and, from their point of view, only be a demonstration of naive and pig-headed ignorance of how the world really worked and what people were really like.

Also, Dr. Brin, I think you're falling into your own sterotypes with your 'city folk vs country folk' concept. I don't think you actually follow that stereotype, but I've seen you repeat it often enough that I feel the need to caution against it. Especially because I was born and raised in rural PA, and can barely tolerate living in cities, large or small, yet I am almost entirely in agreement with your progressive stance, and the progressive stances of many others who post here, and am far from conservative (though I consider myself almost equally as far from the liberal side of the fence). It's not a matter of city vs country, and if the reports from the election I've been hearing are any indication, less and less about education vs uneducation (though that's still definitely a huge factor). Anyway, I should probably stop there before I go off on another tangent that I'm too tired to properly present. I just wanted to point out that I'm a country boy, born and raised, and I don't jive with the stereotype of the 'progressive' city folk vs the 'regressive' country folk (then again, I have always maintained that I'm weird... Normal people scare me...).

@Rob on the supernatural: I consider myself a man of science, but I also very firmly believe in magic, and see no reason why the two should be irreconcilable. Magic (or the various forces that fall under that general heading) is simply another force of the universe, another piece of existence, which hasn't been given a whole lot of serious scientific examination, and which, like many things in advanced physics, is beyond the means of our technology to properly detect and examine in detail. Science is simply the study and collection of knowledge of the universe, excluding nothing.

I don't follow this without proofs of my own, either, such as an occasional connection to my twin sister (such as getting dizzy and faint at soccer practice when I was well rested and hydrated and nowhere near my limits of exertion, at the exact same moment my sister had to stop and sit down and hydrate because she had missed the first several practices and hadn't yet gotten used to the intensity at which we were training). I've also been mentally contacted by my best friend, once. She was meditating on my over her lunch break, and at the exact time she was doing that (I confirmed it with her later), I felt her presence pop into my mind, like she was there, and focusing on me, only not actually there. A very interesting experience, to say the least, though it lasted only briefly. There are other proofs for my belief as well, though those are of a more personal nature.

Tony Fisk said...

ilithi, my personal view about the 'decent' conservatives is that they are showing 'brand loyalty' to the conservative cause.

And why not? True conservativism encompasses a number of useful traits (risk management being one)

My thought is that the current GOPpy crop should be re-branded as 'self-servatives'. That might help with the winnowing.

wrt urban vs country: while it is unfair to individuals, there is some evidence for it. A high resolution map of voting trends in the election clearly shows that country folk voted for the GOP and city-slickers went Democrat (Ooh! They've updated it for the 2008 election!)

(Pa looks pretty blue anyway ;-)

(essresi - SRSI: Simulated Repetitive Strain Injury - the modelling used to demonstrate the damage caused by doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different outcome)

Ilithi Dragon said...


I'd have to agree with you on that, about true conservatives. I just wish more people would see the need for their brand to be refurbished, or recreated under a new name.

As for PA... The areas around Philly in the east and Pittsburgh in the west (two biggest population centers in the state) are both pretty solidly blue, as well as the area in and around State College (main Penn State campus) and the majority of the state's population, but most of the state outside of that, including the area I grew up in, is red.

Now, I'm not saying the concept is entirely inaccurate, I just have a thing against stereotypes.

David Brin said...

Ilithi, nobody has worked harder to come up with reasoned arguments to use with sincer conservatives than I have. Probably nobody in the entire USA. My "ostrich" essays were meant to show - entirely from the perspective of rational conservative values - how thoroughly such people have been betrayed by their own side...

...and how thoroughly they have been lied-to - or lie to themselves - when they delusionally insist that "politicians are all the same."

If I seem militant and angry, it is in part because reason has done so little good. Yes, a six% margin in the popular vote is HUGE by modern standards. But it is not the repudiation that the Gang of Klepto Thieves and Outright Traitors deserved. And lazy delusions make many ostriches "reason-resistant" if not "reason-proof."

I have found that a certain amount of outright anger is not only called-for, but actually rocks these ostriches back and forces them to ponder why their always so-tepid liberal cousin may actually blaze with righteous patriotic (!!) anger.

(And express it in patriotic terms! It is time to yank that term back from posers!)

Our nation has been weakened by every conceivable measure...

...and THAT is where you start. We were strong, respected, loved, rich and ready, under Clinton. All brigades tanned and trained, etc... and all of that's reversed. Such a vast list of diametric opposites puts the lie to "they are all the same."

As does the utter failure of a billion dollar witch hunt to ever nail a SINGLE Clintonite with a single official (that's official) wrongdoing.

Tell them the time for just-so stories is over. From now on, when they slag Obama etc based on some rumor, dare them to put money down in a time-limited bet! With the burden of proof -- actual proof -- on those who would smear the president of the nation. (Dig it, there was tons of proof re Bush crimes.)

And defy them to admit that, when the stories ALWAYS fade away, unproved, that it actually means something!

say: "Wouldn't YOU want a perpetual lack of evidence to end rumors against you? Would not you - if subjected to endless slander-rumors -- shout out PROVE IT! PROVE EVEN ONE OF THESE MALICIOUS STORIES!" They would demand it, so it is only fair to demand it of them.

As for the voting trend maps, have you seen the one showing blue for areas Obama improved on Clinton's performance vs red for those areas he did worse. THAT is the trend indicator, and it is all blue, everywhere but Arizona and Appalachia and the deepest south.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I see your position, Dr. Brin, and I largely agree with you, I just think that there are still a lot of people who can be better reached through reason (or at least unrelenting presentation of fact after fact), and I am opposed to any kind of real 'hardline' stance, because it generally presents the appearance of refusing to consider, or even listen to the position of the opposing side, even if it is entirely not the case.

But then, that's not really what you're advocating, is it? I think I initially misunderstood what kind of stance you were advocating. Not a hardline 'we're right, you're wrong, all our way or nothing' stance, but rather a fiercer and firmer presentation of the cold, hard facts, while unyieldingly calling the regressives and ostriches to the carpet for their denial? I can certainly get behind that and push.

The biggest obstacle I see to that, though (aside from the head-in-the-sand denial itself), and the biggest obstacle to the reasoned approach all together, is gathering enough hard, verifiable and reliable references to back up the facts we present, references that we can throw in the ostriches' faces when they refute or deny the facts, or try to play on one of their just-so stories or beliefs. Because I can report all the facts until my face turns blue, but Uncle Jack's denial will reject them without some irrefutable references to back them up.

That's been one of my biggest roadblocks, anyway - a lack of irrefutable sources to back up the facts, especially sources that I can be presented quickly and easily, even offline (and especially offline, since most of my Uncle Jacks are not very internet savvy, and I usually only see them when I don't have access to my internetz).

David Brin said...

Many facts here:

Thanks and happy hunting...

Anonymous said...

What Alex Tolley said.

Also, to add obvious facts to the reasons against manned space exploration...galactic cosmic rays will turn any space explorers into walking tumors if they stay on the surface of the moon or Mars for any length of time. (Reason: the moon and Mars don't have strong enough magnetic fields to channel these super-high-energy particles to the poles, as happens on earth.) GCRs are so energetic that the Apollo 11 astronauts saw intermittant brght flashes when these heavy super-accelerated nuclei impacted the vitreous humour of their eyes.

During an 18-month space voyage to Mars, astronauts would get blasted with so much of these high-energy particles that they'd probably die of cancer.

So space explorers would have to lurk in underground bases deep under the lunar or martian regolith, seldom venturing outside. If that's the case...why bother to send humans? What's the difference between having humans in deep underground bases on Mars or the moon controlling surface robots, as opposed to humans on earth tele-operating robots on Mars or the moon? We seem to have done pretty darn well with remote-controlling the recent Mars probes. So it's not obvious why we even need live humans on other planets.

Getting into low earth orbit remains the killer. That takes most of the energy and most of the money in space travel. I agree that a space elevator is ideal. However, we also need to get a drastically simpler LEO vehicle than the space shuttle.

The Space Shuttle requires a ground crew of 20,000 experts to launch it into orbit. That's absurd. People who gripe about the inefficiency of government bureaucracies have Example Number One in NASA's space shuttle program. It's an outrage. Ideally, we should design a Big Dumb Booster, remote controlled, pilotless, that takes a ground crew of 200 people max to get into low earth orbit. This is doable. The Russians did it. They resupply MIR with pilotless vehicles. Another example: instead of fitting up their launch vehicles with elaborate gyros and attitude control rockets to make 'em spin on the way up, they just use a rotating launch pan. The Russian launch vehicle spins on the way up because of momentum. Cheap, simple, obvious.

This is what NASA needs -- simpler, cheaper, more obvious, lower-tech solutions. 20,000 people to launch the husttle is ridiculous. We can do better.