Friday, June 28, 2013

The Science of Climate and Geo-engineering… and more

On June 18 I joined a blue ribbon panel (via Google Hangout) on the topic of Reinventing Climate Management: Staring Down the Possibility of Geoengineering, led by scenario thinker Jamais Cascio, author of the book Hacking the Earth: Understanding Geoengineering. He moderated a terrific group of scientists and other innovators (plus me… for comic relief I guess) wrestling with this issue, joined by visitors from the web with questions and ideas.

ReinventorsManaging the climate in the face of global warming is a wicked problem that requires getting almost every independent nation to coordinate. What would a system of global governance look like that's up to the true challenges ahead? And how do we start thinking about whether we need to take more desperate steps in the form of geoengineering?

I came away from the discussion convinced, yet again, that some things merit much closer examination and experimentation.  Out of all of the ideas that have been raised for either removing carbon from the atmosphere or reducing the sunlight that feeds the greenhouse, only one would attempt to emulate nature's own process for removing CO2, the way by far the largest amount has already been removed -- through chemical and biological sequestration in the open ocean. That proposal is Ocean Fertilization.

Yes, yes we have all read about silly, half-baked "experiments" in which poorly instrumented boats dumped tons of iron dust into ocean currents. These created plankton blooms, all right, but also questionable after-effects. They did not get very good press.  And they poisoned the well - so to speak - for more intelligent proposals that would more closely emulate what Nature, herself does.

vanishing-face-of-gaia1And if anyone gets tentative rights to "speak for Mother Nature" it would be James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis.  With Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum in London, Lovelock proposed trying an option that would place vertical pipes some 200 meters long in the sea to pump nutrient-rich water from depth to the surface, thus enhancing the growth of algae in the upper ocean. The algae, which are key in transporting carbon dioxide to the deep sea and producing dimethyl sulphide involved in the formation of sunlight-reflecting clouds, should help to prevent further warming. According to his note in Nature: 

"Although fertilizing the ocean with iron as a way of stimulating algal growth is being considered, the use of pipes to use the ocean’s existing nutrients as fertilizer is certainly novel."

Well… novel? Except that ocean bi-layer nutrient mixing was shown to readers way back in my novel EARTH (1989).  Our friend, The Economist's Oliver Morton, wrote an extensive blog on the Lovelock/Rapely proposal -- which may get funding from the Gates Foundation for preliminary research.  And Morton fairly describes some of the critics, as well:

“The concept is flawed,” says Scott Doney, a marine chemist at WHOI. He says it neglects the fact that deeper waters with high nutrients also generally contain a lot of dissolved inorganic carbon, including dissolved CO2. Bringing these waters to the lower pressures of the surface would result in the CO2 bubbling out into the air."

Well, then shouldn't we look into it and find out?

ocean-pipes-1Might this concept be compatible with Nathan Myhrvold’s innovation… pumping warm surface water below the thermocline?  As reported by Oliver Morton, the system would be something a bit like a floating paddling pool with a long pipe dangling down from its centre. Because there will be waves outside the pool but not inside, water will splash in over its edge but not out, and so the water level inside the pool is higher than the level outside the pool, providing the downward force.  A company called Atmocean has in fact built prototype systems which aim to do it in almost exactly the opposite way to the Searete patents, by using wave power to pump cool water up, but the effect would be the same, spreading nutrients from below to where the sunlight is…

…exactly what happens in the world's greatest fisheries, off Chile, the Grand Banks and Antarctica. Why do extra nutrients spur fecundity and ocean health in those places, but not in "dying seas" that suffer from eutrification (death by excess fertilizing runoff from agriculture), like the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean and especially the Black Sea?  Well… just look at them!  The difference should be obvious to the eye. The choked seas do not "drain well."

Let's make a parallel.  It is said that ninety percent of the oceans are "desert" realms where very little lives, because of lack of nutrients to feed a food chain… mostly the stuff that you find in "dirt." Now turn back onto the continents.  What do we sometimes do to make deserts bloom?  Onland we irrigated,  bringing water to soil.  At sea the proposal is to bring "soil" to the water in a sense. (The mouths of most river systems are also generally fecund.)

Ah, you answer, but hasn't irrigation been a mixed blessing, and often a downright curse? Yes! Our ancestors ruined the so-called "Fertile Crescent" by pouring river water over fields, allowing salts and toxic metals to accumulate until the land died.  But this did not happen everywhere.  Many regions -- e.g. the Ganges valley and the Yangtze -- have been heavily irrigated for thousands of years without suffering desertification. Again, the reason should be eye-obvious: Those river valleys had good drainage, allowing salts to be washed away by monsoons.

The Gulf Stream, the Antarctic Current, and the fisheries near Chile are not enclosed seas -- they flow.  So ocean fertilization experiments should start where strong currents can disperse the plankton blooms.  So let's try some of the more natural-like layer mixing or bottom stirring proposals. And let's see if we can make another Grand Banks somewhere.

== Another concept ==

PPS02A truly ambitious concept for ocean fertilization by layer mixing would go beyond those mentioned above.  It would use pipes more than 1000 meters long and power them by planting the bottom end right atop an oceanic hydrothermal (volcanic) vent!  

A thousand meters?  Atop a volcanic vent?  Well… I think we should try some simpler mixing methods, first.

== More factors ==

Again, Oliver Morton (in private correspondence) explained why  the first recourse in ocean fert has always been iron.: "Iron is interesting because its a *micro*nutrient. That gives it great stoichiometry -- you can see in the literature estimates of C:Fe ratios of around 100,000:1, IIRC. That gets you a lot of C for a tonne of Fe. As I understood it you were suggesting mobilising phosphorous reserves in ocean sediments or deepwater. For phosphate fertilizaton the ratio is 106:1 -- the ideal Redfield ratio of C to P in marine biomass. The practical ratio, given losses, would almost certainly be a lot less; for iron it is more than 10 times less. If that were true for macronutrient fertilization, you'd get only a few tonnes of C stored for every tonne of P mobilized. There have to be better ways of getting rid of a tonne of C than that. You might do better -- 10 tonnes C, maybe 30? But that still means a vast mass-moving operation to work at the desired gigatonne C level, because you would have to mobiliza a lot of tonnes of sediment or bottom water to deliver one tonne of P. This is a very different and more extensive infrastructure than needed for iron fertilization."   (See Morton's survey of geoengineering schemes in Nature: Climate Crunch: Great White Hope .)

hackingTheEarthWow.  Okay. Look, I never doubted than iron fertilization was efficient, compared to ocean bottom stirring, or bi-layer mixing.  What I maintain is that not enough attention has been paid to studying the most effective parts of the ocean - e.g. the Grand Banks and Chile and Antarctica -- to determine if they are also big net carbon sinks, as well as fantastic fisheries.  It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that there might be other places on Earth that have almost the right conditions and that might be tipped into similar fecundity with just a little help. 

Instead, the reflex is to assume that all meddling is always bad, all the time.  Indeed, the metaphor I used was irrigation and that was the very reflex. We all know what shortsighted irrigation did to the Fertile Crescent... and that metaphor makes us ignore the lessons of other watersheds that remained productive and healthy for 4000 years.  Again, this is the main difference between Chile, Labrador, Antarctica... and the eutrophic dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean and Black Sea.

To my knowledge, this consideration was not handled well in most of the iron experiments.

Continue to Part 2 of Ocean Fertilization, discussing Push-Pull Ocean Pumps.

== More using natural forces: Solar Towers ==

Some great ideas have been around for a long time.  Way back in 1989 I talked about desert solar towers that use temperature differentials to suck greenhouse-heated air past turbines, generating electricity for free. A test unit was built in Spain 10 years ago.  

== Climate Miscellany ==

A fascinating survey of how past climate changes, especially in the 17th century, severely affected societies and people worldwide, in The Inevitable Climate Catastrophe by Geoffrey Parker on The Chronicle.

Somebody go read this and review it for us here?  The Age of Global Warming: A History by Rupert Darwall.

==  Plus Science Miscellany! ==

With three terrestrial-mass planets in the habitable zone of this small, red star (they would all be tidal locked facing their sun), "the likelihood of one of them actually being habitable is tremendous." Just 22 light years away.

Interstellar Visioneers and a limitless future: Read a review on Centauri Dreams of UCSB Professor W. Patrick McCray's new book called The Visioneers: How A Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies and a Limitless Future on the lives of  Gerard O'Neill and Eric Drexler, and how their innovative visions and research into space colonies and nanotechnologies transformed society -- and shaped our future.

Anthropologists see evidence that developing the ability to throw well was a major evolutionary driver.  Something that Bill Calvin hypothesized 20 + years ago in The Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain.  Indeed, throwing is one of our many prodigious skills that made us formidable and scary, even discounting "intelligence."

== call my agent… quick! ==

BrainScansPast Brain Activation Revealed in Scans: "What if experts could dig into the brain, like archaeologists, and uncover the history of past experiences? This ability might reveal what makes each of us a unique individual, and it could enable the objective diagnosis of a wide range of neuropsychological diseases. New research at the Weizmann Institute hints that such a scenario is within the realm of possibility: It shows that spontaneous waves of neuronal activity in the brain bear the imprints of earlier events for at least 24 hours after the experience has taken place."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Starships, cultish non-science and exciting advances

Another potpourri of science wonders!  After an announcement or two... and a brief re-look at METI.

First - announcing: a first round of videos are now up from the Starship Symposium at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, with speakers Peter Schwarz, Freeman Dyson, Patti Smith, Geoffrey Landis, Neal Stephenson, Robert Zubrin and Chris Lewicki… all about the prospects for some child born today to possibly becoming an interstellar voyager.  Sublime …

Mythbehaving… and… Mythbehaving is a way-fun site filled with interesting podcast interviews and other goodies.  I gave them an hour recently and it went pretty well, with only one or two foot-in-mouths mixed in with lots of ideas.  About science fiction, dystopias, augmented humans, science, movies, advice-for-writers, clues to piercing propaganda and so much more!  Good for your daily commute.

And scroll downward if you want to skip past the METI stuff to a pile of terrific links about science wonders! Seriously, some of the news is spectacular.

==METI Redux ==

But briefly, back to the ridiculous.  A week or so ago I called for public and media attention to zero in on a pack of fools who arrogate a right to speak for all of humanity, and who for ego and brazen profit, are deliberately altering a major physical attribute of our planet, veering our descendants onto a destiny path that they might later regret -- and all of it without even a scintilla of scientific responsibility or subjecting their schemes to collegial criticism or review.

METISome expressed surprise over my opposition to METI or "Messaging to ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence." Snarkers and trolls called me "paranoid" for demanding the responsible equivalent of an adversarially questioned environmental impact statement and peer-reviewed due-diligence - exactly as every biological researcher does, every year -- before deciding such things on behalf of all of humanity. Paranoid? Heh, people who say that have clearly never read anything I've written, in a long life spent exploring every concept of the "alien", via science and fiction. Okay, it's made me keenly aware of the vast range of what's possible, good, bad, indifferent or weird.
Folks who would sneer at Shell or Exxon for claiming "nothing can go wrong" at a stockholder meeting, while wriggling out of responsibility for "unlikely" outcomes that later prove devastating, are happy to plunge ahead with blaring stunts that might pose a small but real chance of causing our descendants deep regret.

The "discussion" at most of the sites that carried this imbroglio, including Science2.0, consisted largely of arm-waved "of course" assumptions, especially appeals to the "cat's out of the bag" or the "Barn Door" excuse that Earth has already been noisy for a long time… and not one person did any reading to see if that Hollywood myth is … actually… true.  (Hint: real scientists, using real equations, find that "I love Lucy" became background static within half a light year after departing Earth.)

But it is not the "danger" that motivates me, nor all the other top figures in the SETI field who have resigned from major commissions in protest over what Carl Sagan and Frank Drake and others denounced as faddish foolishness.  No, it is the callow rudeness of ignoring
every procedure of adult science.  Zealotry is no substitute for maturity. For-profit scamming is no substitute for actual science.  Rudeness is no substitute for common courtesy. I don't blame the snarkers for knowing nothing about how science works; but the purported "scientists" pulling these stunts… aren't scientists.

Oh… have a look at one of the "winning" animated gif and messages Lone Signal is beaming out, to represent us. (What is he picking at?) Never mentioned: these "selections to represent humanity" are chosen on a pay basis, a for profit biz, using a radio telescope paid for with our tax dollars, to emit #$@! like this.

But there is a sensible wing. Let's expand the number of telescopes that are looking and listening!  For example: a young Equadorean astronomer is trying to drum up interest in building a "second Arecibo" in his homeland. of course I am very interested in a second Aricebo, though most attention is going to the Square Kilometer Array which will go to South Africa with some facilities in Australia.

SETI-LeagueI am even more interested in the other end, expanding SETI to amateurs!  Finding a millionaire who would fund (for only a couple of million dollars) the creation of a turn-key amateur radio telescope that 5000 hobbyists might easily afford to erect in their backyards. With just a few thousand, we would then cover all of the sky, all of the time and catch most transient events, quickly notifying larger observatories to steer their antennae onto the source and catching it before it goes away. Naturally, this would help SETI to become much more serious and effective, but it would have many other great benefits.

Only now dig this postscript about the "Lone Signal" dopes: as it turns out, their refurbished radio telescope cannot do what they advertise, so it is also a scam.  Basic calculations by the Benfords show that they will not deliver anywhere near the on-target visibility that they claim.  In other words… sigh… never mind.

== Onward to REAL science! ==

What we should be doing, while learning as much as we can about the cosmos, is becoming a civilization that deserves contact with anyone decent out there… and that is mighty enough to withstand contact with anything indecent.  And it is happening!  For example:

Take the 3-D printer revolution. Combine it now with another burgeoning trend, research aimed at creating digital avatars that contain much of your personality, that can emulate you. What starts to take shape?  How about a possible precursor to Kiln People in real life? See: This man is not a cyborg. Yet.

ArkydCheck out this 3 minute retro-type humorous video about Planetary Resources and their aim to mine asteroids. Boy bazillionaires can afford some fun stuff.  But do participate -- help fund Arkyd, the first publicly accessible telescope on Kickstarter!

Met a fellow who is helping to develop "tri-alpha fusion" power.  This method will use a much simpler magnetic pinch system than the absurdly and hopelessly ornate Tokamak to fuse protons with Boron 11, in a reaction that releases three alpha particles (hence the name) or Helium3… but with almost no neutrons. That last item is crucial, because it eliminates most sources of radioactivity and destruction of the container lining.  Here's hoping.

Physicists are in a lather. They found the Higgs Boson, right where theory predicted it -- but then uncovered theoretical quirks showing that they should not have discovered it, even though they did. Is this proof that we live in a cosmos that is merely one bubble in a fantastically ginormous "multiverse"?  Humbling beyond humbling.

== And more wonders… space! ==

Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf and the star closest to our system, will pass in front of two background stars in the next few years, offering opportunities to do great science by "micro-gravitational-lensing."

dnews-files-2013-06-mars-rat-abandon-130606-200Ah, human pattern recognition.  Recall the "face on Mars"?  Now look up "Mars lizard"!  Then click here for the "rat on Mars." Oh, my.

== Biology and all that! ==

And while the subject is "rats"... The naked mole rat lives about 10 times longer than mice. And unlike mice, (especially lab mice, 95 percent of whom die of cancer), the mole rat is impervious to the disease. A sugar, called hyaluronan, binds cells together. While all animals have hyaluronan, the mole rat’s version is unusually large: about five times the size of that found in humans, and it pretty clearly is the key. Interesting. But then why don't other species do this? Do we get some benefits from skating along the edge of cancer risk?  Stay tuned for a story about that!

Along similar lines… a possible "cure" for PTSD? Scientists identify a gene in traumatized mice that is also linked to post-traumatic stress disorder in humans – and find that a drug can treat symptoms in mice by triggering a key brain receptor.

And… Your gut bacteria can affect your brain… apparently.

Go placidly because getting upset a LOT might affect your unborn grandkids. "Your ancestors' lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain."  In other words, Lamarck - and Greg Bear - may get a last chuckle and mom's craziness may never be escaped.

Study shows correlation between language and altitude. Yes, altitude.

At Teardrop Glacier, high in the Canadian Arctic, 400 year frozen plants have sprung back to life. The glaciers in the region have been receding at rates that have sharply accelerated since 2004, at about 3-4m per year. That is exposing land that has not seen light of day since the so-called Little Ice Age, a widespread climatic cooling that ran roughly from AD 1550 to AD 1850.

== And back to space and sci fi ==

KerbelKerbal Space Program is a space mission simulator game. The player takes command of a space program run by little alien-ish creatures called Kerbals. The player can build and customize rocket ships to blast off the planet and then attempt to fly their ships through space to reach other planets and moons. And half of the staff of JPL are - apparently - addicted, even though it's only in prototype!

== A tsunami of technology! ==

OrCam, an Israeli start-up, has developed a camera-based system that gives the visually impaired the ability to read easily and move around freely. OrCam reads text and recognizes faces, locates bus numbers, monitors traffic lights, and identifies objects, products and places, and uses sound (via bone conduction) to convey information.

Speaking of which… a telltale quirk in brainwaves appears to correlate in toddlers with later diagnoses of autism. 

Researchers at Bell Labs in New Jersey say they've used compressive sensing to build a camera that needs no lens and uses only a single sensing pixel to take photographs. What's more, the images from this camera are never out if focus. The same approach works for other wavelengths of light such as infrared and millimeter waves. It takes time to acquire the data for each image. So the camera only creates images of still scenes. Cool!  Almost as cool as knowing Bell Labs is back in business.

And… saving the most-stunning for last.  This is simply incredible. Scientists have taken the first atom-by-atom pictures, including images of the chemical bonds between atoms, clearly depicting how a molecule’s structure changed during a reaction.  Click and see.  If you know any chemistry, you'll be stunned.

I mean dang.  Wow.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Taxes, climate and more political notes

I am finishing that article on  the NSA/Prism brouhaha, stay tuned. Also coming: my reactions to Ironman 3, Atlas Shrugged 2 and the coming sequel to “300.”

In mental formulation -- a story on how banking secrecy affects developing nations, especially after honest governments realize how much wealth was squirreled away by former kleptocratic rulers. The archetypes would be Fernando Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.  It has been asserted that this category of cryptic wealth is vastly larger than the sums that are at-issue for US and European tax authorities. Indeed, that may be the underlying reason why the Swiss and other banking havens… oh, but more on that later. (Unless I am bribed into silence, that is.)

Meanwhile, so much has been going on, regarding space and Mars, starships and SETI and human immortality, that I’ve neglected the process we’ll count on to get there. For all its gruesomely corrupt “sausage-making” qualities, politics is what must keep civilization running and to pay for all of that other good stuff.

So let’s turn (briefly) back to that dismal but necessary domain, with a grab bag of political perspectives.

== Letting good news affect Culture War? ==

FederalBudgetDeficitFirst, I’ve long predicted this. The U.S. federal deficit is shrinking rather quickly — both in absolute dollars and as a share of the overall economy. The Congressional Budget Office projects it will drop below 4 percent of GDP next year and below an easily bearable 2.5 percent in 2015. This, after four years in which deficits were called a far more desperate danger than joblessness, or than decaying American infrastructure, or the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

The economy is paying a price for that deficit obsession, in slower growth. Even some conservatives are now warning that austerity has gone far enough.  Oh, but if we do turn the corner in both the deficit and economic growth, where will the angst-ridden doomcaster go, to groan that we live in hell-on-earth?

Well, well, you needn’t worry. For example, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said in 2010 that he opposed action to remedy or palliate climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.” He is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. Think this is an anomaly?  Have you seen some of the things said by the top three majority members of the House Science Committee? But this study by the University of Colorado is especially disturbing.  It found that belief in the imminence of  biblical end-times correlates very strongly with - and is a major motivating factor behind - resistance to curbing climate change.

Not all Republicans are like this! Take for example Ray Canterbury, a GOP delegate in the West Virginia state assembly, who has asked the state board of education to include science fiction novels in the middle school and high school curricula.  This article in the Guardian goes on to interview both James Gunn and me on the topic.  And kudos to W. Va Delegate Canterbury!

Nevertheless, he needs allies… fellow adult and forward-looking republicans who will join in rejecting the GOP’s current fetish with anti-intellectual hatred of all things smartypants.  Were he alive today, William F. Buckley would be at the forefront, helping with the resurrection of a different, more venerable and grownup conservatism. In fact, something like it already happened once, long ago. See The Miracle of 1947.

Oh… but lest you assume that I am solely motivated by party loyalty – (in fact I am a registered Republican who gives keynotes at Libertarian events) – let’s turn to an example of cosmic stupidity on the other side.

== Madness affects both parties ==

Seriously, what better proof could there be than this: California State Senator Leland Yee (D-SF) wants to legislate against 3D printers, proposing background checks, serial numbers and registration. All because roughly 1 part in 100,000,000 of the US civilian arsenal was crudely made on a 3D plastic printer.

"Terrorists can make these guns and do some horrible things to an individual and then walk away scott-free".

Brrr… Just because this kind of mania is more common on today’s right does not mean we should ever lower our guard against stupidity on the left.  Take, as another example, the imbecilic low-level partisan “civil servants” in the IRS who thought they were helping their side by engaging in ham-handed (and inevitably caught) bias in vetting political groups for tax exempt status.  Mind you, I’m dubious that any such group should be so favored.  But Jon Stewart was especially caustic in his appraisal of this doltish, and possibly criminal, abuse of government authority. (More on this below.)

Frankly, I hate having to do all my political shopping from one store. Heck, Jerry Brown is doing great, here in California, but the Illinois democrats bug the hell out of me, and I miss the intellectual challenges I used to get from giants like Buckley and Goldwater. Even if one side is crazier right now - (and boy has it gone plumb loco-insane right now) - we have to stay wary in all directions.

== A Republican Party in disarray… ==

Former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole (whom I always found respect-worthy) recently told Republicans to put a “closed for repair” sign on the door until 2014 so that the party can develop a “positive agenda.”  Dole said that he doubted that he and even former President Ronald Reagan could survive in today’s Republican Party. Dole told Fox News host Chris Wallace that “there was no doubt about it” that Republicans were abusing the filibuster because motions for cloture had increased from seven in 1969-1970 to 115 in last year’s 112th Congress. “There’s some cases where it’s probably justified,” the war veteran explained. “But not many.” (For clarification: cloture votes are the tip of the iceberg. In fact, there has been more filibustering since Obama entered office than in the entire previous history of the USA.)

Speaking of grownup Republicans, one of my heroes, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a GOP member who served both Presidents Bush and Obama, out of love of country (and who may have saved us all, under the drunk-stumbling W-regime) is interviewed about Benghazi and the Arab Revolutions. Read the views of a genuine adult.

As an example of the dysfunction, see how the state GOP in Alaska is dissolving into civil war between party oligarchs and Tea Party “reformist” grass roots rebels who – crazy or not – have a perfect right to wrest control by popular – albeit crazy – mandate.

== And Political Miscellany ==

JEFFERSONRIFLEMoving farther afield, here’s an interesting take on the ideas underlying my “Jefferson Rifle” proposal for a cogent compromise on Gun Control. One that will protect basic gun rights better than the amazingly frail Second Amendment… while also helping to solve the tsunami of violence that will turn public opinion away from the NRA.

Whatever your position along the stupidly lobotomizing “left-right political axis” you have to find it disturbing when extremists of either wing take pains to suborn and control mass media, using the newspapers and other sources we used to trust, in order to push a relentlessly singleminded and one-sided agenda. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have always had tons of respect for the LA Times. And I join in opposing sale of the Times and the Chicago Tribune to the Koch Brothers. Sign the petition.

The Witchita Kansas Eagle ran an article chiding rural Kansas voters in one of the reddest counties in America for parroting fierce anti-tax and anti federal doctrines while accepting three dollars from the US government for every two dollars they put in.  Red radicals recently pushed through an end to the state’s progressive income tax which will now result in the court-required burden of maintaining schools and roads to fall on home owners.  How long do you think it will take for folk in such counties to realize – as their grandparents did, around 1933, that they’ve been had? (Answer: longer than you would have believed humanly possible.)

While we are in Kansas – and yes, this is a satire site – still, why does it read so realistic?

 A fascinating tell-all from within Fox News:   Joe Muto was “a liberal mole within Fox News,” working especially with Bill O’Reilly – who happens to be the one human being I respect at that circus. Bill is an extreme polemic, but of the older school, that relishes argument, not a festival of lies. This excerpt from Muto’s book – An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight Year Odyssey inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media – makes fascinating reading, offering insights into the most profitable enterprise on television and one of the most influential engines of propaganda since the secessionist southern press of 1861.

goldwaterEarlier, I referred to old-style Republican grownups like Buckley and Gates.  Now let me turn to the archetype of them all, calling up the ghost of Barry Goldwater --

Again, what we are currently experiencing is not normal U.S. politics. Rather – as I’ve said repeatedly -- it is phase three of the American Civil War.

== At the opposite extreme ==

 In an effort to curb Western influence, China's leaders have reportedly banned the discussion of seven subjects in university classrooms, including press freedom, universal values, and the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party.  Chinese professors and political analysts said a recent directive from Beijing to universities indicated an awareness among the country's leaders that the government is losing its ideological grip over students and younger faculty members.

While many faculty members said they had not been briefed by university administrators about the taboos, and in some cases had never heard of them, several professors said university leaders had instructed them at the beginning of May to avoid the subjects in class. According to academics who have been told about the list, the other taboo topics are judicial independence, economic neoliberalism, the wealth accumulated by top government officials, and civil society.



Do we have any hope at all, with such sensible folks along every patch of the political spectrum?  And other fools seek to scream for attention to the stars above! Depressed, I keep going back to Poul Anderson’s great Novel BRAIN WAVE and dream that Earth will enter a zone of space where minds work a bit better.  

Or else, maybe someone will invent a pill. Please.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Calling all flash mobs! Defend the planet from noisy fools!

On Science 2.0, Hank Campbell interviews the folks from Lone Signal who plan to beam "messages to ET" starting on Monday, targeting signals at the Gliese 526 star system. Read their profit-and-ego-centered rationalizations, then scroll to the bottom and see the announcement of their opening party in New York City on June 17.

Lone Signal launch event-1Oh, wouldn't it be fun to get a flash mob to picket the event? New Yorkers, think about it, will you? Half-serious and half in jest? But aimed at getting real discussion going.

And you SF Bay Area street theater folk… there's an opportunity for you too! (See below.)

For background from the "dissident" community, see what io9 says about it: New Project to Message Aliens is both Useless and Potentially Reckless, where George Dvorsky writes, "No one has given them permission to do this, nor have they consulted the larger community." Nevertheless, "This is the perfect opportunity for people who don't like their money," to purchase credits to send personal messages to space.

ShoutingCosmos… then go into greater depth via my own paper on METI, Should We Be Shouting at the Cosmos? -- unveiling how many specious assumptions these guys make.  Like the hoary old (but technically disproved) cliche that "the cat is already out of the bag and the horses have already left the barn" -- because of past TV signals like "I love Lucy."  It is an old wives tale, refuted by real science.

Let's be plain, this is not science and these are not scientists.  They are pulling a stunt.  They are willing to fundamentally alter one of our planet's observable properties by orders of magnitude - a kind of deliberate pollution - while shrugging off and pooh-poohing any effort to get them to TALK about it first with scientific peers, before screaming "yoohoo" on our behalf. Those who refuse such discussion — shrugging aside any need or moral obligation to consult the rest of us — are the ones practicing censorship.

And point of fact, calm and openly collegial discussion is all we have asked! Dr. John Billingham of NASA's SETI program, Senior U.S. diplomat Michael Michaud and astronomers like Dr. James Benford and me.  Contrast our decades patiently working in this area with these people who are willing to throw dice with human destiny based on impulse, ego, and a profit motive, without ever bothering to converse with the wide array of real scientists who might offer useful insights about risk and benefits. Eager to gamble our posterity based on untested assumptions, these are not responsible persons.  My deepest hope is that they will not someday be remembered the way La Malinche (look her up) is recalled by the native peoples of Mexico. But that precedent should be on our minds.

ShallWeShoutThose who wish to explore more deeply can find resources at: SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

And yes, I have been exploring concepts of the alien in both science and fiction for a very very long time!  (I portray many of these concepts in Existence and in my short stories.)

Look, I won't convince most of you.  But if some of you live happen to know some theatrical or vigorous types near Manhattan, who might want to let the press attending that "gala" opening know there are two sides? And you others who dwell in the San Francisco Bay area,  it shouldn't be hard to find the newly recommissioned Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel Valley, CA and let them know how you feel on June 18, 2013.  Call in press and get your faces on TV!

Even better, open public awareness to a new form of human generated "pollution" that - though unlikely - might (a slight but real risk) endanger our kids. 

Make clear that such endeavors merit discussion.  All we have ever asked is to talk about it, first.

== Late (Ironic) Note ==

Today (6/14/13) I received a request from a Mr. Thomas Onorato, affiliated with the Lone Signal group, asking that I take down the image that I posted of the invitation to their "celebration" event on Monday.  "It is a private event by invitation only and we cannot grant any rights to re-publish invite and/or share private contact info on a public forum."

Um.  I replied with a query as to whether Mr. Onorato - or indeed anyone participating in this endeavor - has even a scintilla of perspective or irony?  As one of you pointed out, in comments, this all goes back to the number one rule of party throwing. 

Don't put out flyers if you can't handle who is going to show up, or what they are going to do. 

Sure, it breached common courtesy for me to meddle without permission and change their party without asking them, inviting strangers to their event, who will likely behave in unexpected ways.  

How does it feel, guys? Do you like it? Ah, the light starts to dawn...

== And if you thought that was far out… ==

NewOthernesscoverA couple of really creepy ones for the Predictions Registry!  Or for the predictions wiki some of you keep, tracking my veracity. (Oh but am I proud to have predicted these?)

First, one reader wrote in "Saw this and thought of your story 'Natu-Life'!  See a Terrarium for growing Edible insects in your home.

Another fan pointed out, "This link reminded me of your disturbing story "Piecework" - (one of my "ickier" tales!) - Woman wants to give birth to a shark!  Ai Hasegawa envisions women giving birth to endangered species...or even to their own food. Eeek! I'm not sure I want credit for that prediction…

You can find both tales in Otherness.

==Other stuff of a sci-fi-ish bent== 

== And finally ==

BTRiconMy podcast radio appearance on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd can be accessed now!  We start with transparency and secrecy and all that but go on the sci fi and SETI and other big picture talk-a-thon topics.