Saturday, March 29, 2014

COSMOS Brings Back the Wonder!

Cosmos_Carousel-carousel-360x282I hope you all have been enjoying the remake of COSMOS(Sundays: Fox Entertainment and Mondays on National Geographic.) While episodes one and two were merely very good -- with some stretches of preachiness -- we were awed by the third installment, which was stunning on a par with… even exceeding… the Carl Sagan original.

Yes, all right, I'm biased: Edmund Halley has always been one of my heroes and the depiction of comets (so well-executed by show science director Andre Bormanis) seem to have been taken from my doctoral dissertation!

(See below about the controversial earlier choice of Giordano Bruno as the historical centerpiece of episode one.)

== What's wrong with us? ==

But none of those elements mattered next to the awesome vistas and deeply-moving messages of this exciting and enlightening show, so well delivered by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you have not watched… and heavily proselytized… this event, then you must have simply fallen into a torpor. Wake up!  It's time to restore our civilization's confidence and sense of can-do wonder.

Just ponder one absolutely amazing fact.

Last week, it was announced that a telescope on the south pole, financed by your tax dollars, just mapped out the inflation event that occurred in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.  Is that the amazing thing Brin is referring-to? No, it is not.

mars_curiosity_1_r640x453Or was it last year, when your taxes paid to send a capsule threading the narrow atmosphere of of a distant planet. A capsule that then -- in the exact-right millisecond -- deployed a parachute, that precisely deployed a rocket, that used a crane to gently lower a complete, mobile science lab onto %$#! Mars… was that the amazing thing?

Nope, nor was it the discovery last week of an asteroid with rings, or finding a new mini-planet beyond Pluto, nor the announcement of seven hundred new planets beyond our solar system (see below.)

No, the amazing thing is that YOU, when you heard about these things… and dozens more, in just the last year… , did not run outside -- (even naked) -- grabbing every random person you met, telling them about it, bursting with pride and shouting "I am a  member of a civilization that DOES stuff like this!"

Admit it.  You didn't do that. Now admit it reveals that something has gone very wrong with us.

Yes, restoring that sense of confidence and joy is what COSMOS is about.

== One small fret? ==

sagan-diskAs one of the show's side-endeavors -- and a way cool one -- kids all over the world have been invited to use an online drawing tool to scrawl "messages to extraterrestrials" on a stylized version of the Sagan-Lomberg "Golden Record" that is carried aboard the Voyager space probes. Have a look: some of them are endearing and give hope for the next generation. A worthy activity that stimulates thought!  However…

…there is this rumor going around, that some of the producers -- perhaps Neil himself -- plan to announce a surprise stunt to "beam" some of these messages into space by radio dish.  And if it turns out to be true, well, that would be a major blunder.  Ever increasing numbers of prestigious scientists are coming out against such "METI" stunts, which arrogate a peremptory right to change one of our planet's major observable characteristics without ever exposing the endeavor to critique by scientific peers.

There are no good reasons to do such a thing, without discussing it with humanity's greatest sages and with the public involved.  Indeed, a number of us have come up with some very good reasons not to! So please, Neil, just in case the rumor is true, stay scientific and don't do it. And if you do it anyway, recall that a Klystron can transmit at very low power.  Talk to us…all of us. You're doing a great job at that. Leave such stunts for a later, more-knowing generation.

== Oh, in keeping with the spirit of Cosmos… ==

FALL-IN-LOVE-WITH-SCIENCE…see this very moving essay: "It's time we fell back in love with science," which bemoans how British attitudes toward science are becoming crazier… as in America.

"When science used to tell us things we didn’t want to hear, we listened. Now we stick our fingers in our ears and say “lalalala” before finding someone who will tell us what we do want to hear." writes Alex Proud in The Telegraph.

==Was Bruno the best choice? ==

Interesting articles spin online, about how COSMOS producers chose in episode one to focus so long and hard on Giordano Bruno, whose immolation in Italy cast into stark focus the fear and wrath provoked by heretical beliefs.  (I was surprised that Tyson did not pose next to the statue of Bruno that now towers over the square where he burned.) Although I speak of Bruno often, I never portray him as a saint of science. Rather, he was a paladin of confrontation… the top contrarian of an era that was just learning how to accept the prodigious benefits of open and fair argument.  And this fellow contrarian appreciates him in that ornery spirit.

Statue-Giordano-bruno-romeAs far as science goes, well, this article (Did Cosmos Pick the Wrong Hero?) compares Bruno to the Englishman, Thomas Digges, who was quietly doing much more to bring the ideas of Copernicus into the  mainstream of European thinking, without the accompanying in-yer-face theological dross that Bruno added, that multiplied his troubles.

Oh, certainly, I am more like Bruno, I suppose.  But with just enough maturity to know that civilization is actually pushed forward by more modest men and women of science.

== More compact!  Yet cogent ==

Less flashy than Cosmos, the "inFact" series by science journalist Brian Dunning, aims to offer net-era brevity to snappy-but-wise riffs on science for the interested layman.  I especially recommend the short piece on global climate change which aims -- above-all -- to calm folks down and get us no longer making science decisions based upon our political party.  Compact enough to get your crazy uncle to watch!  Oh, also see his video about Tesla!

Kind of impressive.  I would have added a couple of notes… e.g. that the mavens of weather forecasting make vastly more money than climate scientists and have no vested interest. They are the geniuses who transformed the old, 4 hour joke of a "weather report" into a ten day miracle. They know their stuff and have no reason to foist a scam on us… their "grants" are safe. Yet all of them agree we should take reasonable steps to become more efficient and reduce the worst effects of climate change.

Still, a very compact and cogent missive.  I recommend it highly, especially as a bridge for all your crazy uncles, out there.

== And yes, we live in a time of wonders, this month! ==

RIPPLES-BIG-BANGHave you been paying attention to the news just in recent weeks?

Again, let me reiterate… a special polarimetry telescope (at the south-freaking pole!) has tracked the subtle light twists that may show the gravity wave echoes of the first pico-pico-second of the Big Bang?  (Formerly, the cosmic background studies could only penetrate to about 300,000 years AB (after bang.)  Your taxes paid for this.  An earlier, science friendly Congress voted to be the kind of civilization that invested in such glories.  Run into the street about this!

Better yet… make sure science-friendly folk aren't lazy about voting, this year! Think of the Supreme Court and get busy!

And in the same month: we tracked an asteroid passing in front of a star and found it had rings!  And also… we (you and me and others) discovered a new dwarf planet out there beyond the Kuiper Belt.

A little more than a month ago, Kepler scientists have confirmed the existence of 715 new exoplanets — four of which are located within their star's habitable zone. It's the single largest windfall of new confirmations at any one time. That's a 70% increase... in just one announcement.

astro_graph_And we're all taking part. See a chart of astronomers and physicists who have the most twitter postings and followers. And how many years they've been at it. All told, I suppose I score pretty well (@DavidBrin on Twitter). Especially since I don't tweet that much… and science is not all I talk about!

Still, I won't compete with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The New COSMOS is a wonder.  Drag everyone you know into watching. It is a tonic for a scientific civilization, fighting to save itself from those agitating for a new Dark Age.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is World War IV taking shape?

World economics seer Louis-Vincent Gave, of the Gavekal Partnership, has explained the pivotal meaning of the Crimea Incident in a larger context which he calls a looming "World War IV" -- the conflict between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam, in which Sunnis control larger reserves of oil, but Shia populations are restive in the very places where that oil is pumped.

(* Clearly, in its decades of tension and expense and geopolitical importance, the Cold War was a tepid-simmering "World War III.")

WORLD-WAR-IVIf a rising axis of Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq takes hold - (the latter three Shia-ruled, currently) - then fear will tighten across the Sunni belt. Tensions will drive arms sales and raise oil prices, which is the only condition under which Russia prospers.  U.S. efforts to sap the strength of that alliance make a major reason for the Obama Administration's peace efforts with Iran… which Vladimir Putin will try to wreck.

It is also a good reason to ponder whether Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan -- himself politically embattled -- might do the one thing that would settle matters in Syria… sending in the Turkish Army.  Even with the excuse of humanitarian reasons, it would be risky. (The threat to Russia's Tartus naval base would raise tensions to stratospheric levels, though.)

Russia-Iran-Iraq-SyriaThe real locus of what-if pondering must zero in on Saudi Arabia.  Are they sufficiently unnerved by the Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria axis… and simmering problems with their own restive Shia populations… to decide upon a change in policy?  To back off from their blatant efforts to manipulate and poison American political processes, for example, and to instead meddle in more constructive ways?

One ponders all this while reading the latest missive by veteran US diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross, who makes some interesting points about President Obama's coming trip to Saudi Arabia, writing in the Los Angeles Times, in "Soothing the Saudis." He refers to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that Louis-Vincent Gave referred to as "World War Four."

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish extremist Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have ceaselessly striven, since 1948, to stymie any peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis' Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of -- an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

Sixty-plus years ago, they decided to keep the Arab-Israeli simmering at near-boil, instead of helping to end it.   Now, as negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis reach a critical juncture, the Saudis might sweeten the deal with financial incentives that would finally salve this awful wound. Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, if they were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.

That might seem worthwhile, creating a core of strength all through the region that would solve the Saudis' security problem without a shot.  Oh, but if only if those grandsons of a genius are half as smart as their ancestor.

== The Pentagon is concerned... ==

… about many things.  I spent an entire day there, a couple of weeks ago, consulting with strategic planners, who have a whole lot on their minds -- like the resurgence of a militarily advanced and aggressive Russia, after the Bush-era leaders pretty much disbanded our peer-capable military in favor of insurgency-fighting SWAT teams. Still, that's not what has the senior officers and officials breaking into a sweat.

Quadrennial-defense-2014The nation's military leadership is in unified agreement that climate change is real, and also that it poses a clear and present danger to the US and especially its armed forces. "The Pentagon's thinking is revealed plainly and publicly in its own 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review , which features no fewer than eight direct, specific, and unambiguous evaluations of climate change as it relates to geopolitics and military strategy."

Ah, but the U.S. Officer Corps is no longer respected in the heartland.  As of November 2013, 23 percent of Americans said they "didn't believe in" climate change.  Which will be about as effective as not believing in a bullet that's been fired at your nose.  No wonder a cult-like tenor has set in, waging war not just on science but every other clade or profession of knowledge and skill in American life.

To be clear, the unequivocal position by the U.S. military has had some effects upon the Fox News party line.  Facts like Russian bases erupting along the Arctic Ocean and the opening of the Northwest Passage to summer shipping are pretty undeniable… so Hannity and company have veered to changing the message: "All right, the climate is changing… but… but… climate has ALWAYS been changing and that don't mean we gotta do anything!"

In fact, that's a lie, top to bottom.  The last 6000 years has been among the most stable, climate-wise, in the last 20 million… and even so, small perturbations like the 1500s Little Ice Age wrought horrible havoc on nations and peoples. Any astrophysicist will show you how closely Earth skates along the inner edge of our sun's "goldilocks" or habitable zone… and hence why we can afford only traces of greenhouse gas.

But the greatest sign of stunning low-IQ is how Fox-viewers never notice the change in catechism!  From "there's no warming!" over to "all right it's hotter: but prove that it's human generated!"  It's like the millions of Glenn Beck followers who never once asked "WHICH eight foreign governments did you say George Soros toppled?"

Unscientific-AmericaThese and dozens of other, never asked questions show that this is the greatest know-nothing campaign against a sapient, scientific civilization in 150 years. Possibly since the Inquisition.  And you have to ask: what do Rupert and his partners hope to gain?

Finally, connecting this story to the preceding one, um… you are aware who Rupert's top co-owner of Fox News happens to be?  Maybe the rising Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria axis will convince that House to stop financially supporting Murdoch's campaign against American sanity.

== Aw heck… while we're on the subject… ==

"Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns a 7 percent stake in News Corp — the parent company of Fox News — making him the largest shareholder outside the family of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch. Alwaleed has grown close with the Murdoch enterprise…. Last weekend, at the right-wing Constitutional Coalition’s annual conference in St. Louis, Joseph Farah, publisher of the far right WorldNetDaily, blasted Fox News for its relationship with Alwaleed."

Go ahead and dismiss the fact that this particular commentator is rather left wing. Or else… maybe look at the inarguably factual content and ask yourself if the hypnosis-rally at Fox News -- which has deliberately torched any thought of compromise, negotiation or discourse in America -- is really being perpetrated out of love of this country. Or else, perhaps, our Second Civil War is being instigated by those who want us harm.

== There's a much bigger threat ==

TransactionFeeTerminateNew York State is (once again) stepping in to do what the US federal government should be doing (if it weren't deliberately crippled by trumped-up civil war.)  New York's attorney general has called for curbs on services provided to high-frequency traders, allowing giant firms with superfast AI systems to jump in between buyers and sellers and haul away the value that both saw in making a deal.  In nature this is called predatory parasitism, and I go into detail here: A Transaction Fee Might Save Capital Markets.

It is the next huge scandal.  It could easily be prevented. But the real reason to be concerned is deeper… much, much deeper.  It could make climate change look tame.

In related news…  One person is about to go nuclear in the financial computer arms race. He and his partners will make a $50 billion exaflop supercomputer for foreign exchange trading.

Ah… I, for one, welcome our new Skynet banker-overlords…

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hypocrites stand up for Liars! While others hold out for truth...

= Hypocrites abandon all pretense of supporting competitive markets = 

Amici-curiae-cato-instituteOhio has a law on the books that criminalizes "lying" (as determined by the State) in political discourse.  In opposition, P.J. O'Rourke and the Cato Institute have filed what one observer calls "the funniest -- and possibly best -- amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court, ever."

Yep… maybe, to today's snarky-smug cynics it's "best," but I'm getting tired of this fellow who has spent his life ridiculing any standard of decent behavior, no matter how loosely applied.

Sure, there was a long stretch in my youth when giving the finger to "standards" was a necessary phase and boy did we boomers take to it!  The most self-righteous generation in history used our mighty Power of Indignation to take on all sorts of stodgy, repressive authority: right on!  Breaking ancient taboos that ranged from racism and sexism to uptight "morality" over normal human libido… a whole industry burgeoned around the ethos of "screw you dad!" And in large measure -- despite his heroism against Hitler and all that -- Dad had it coming.

But self-righteousness can become a nasty habit and it is currently poisoning America, in particular.  Moreover, it just downright stupid to claim that there are NO standards that decent people might universally apply.  Like "don't deliberately harm people."  And "don't repeat deliberate, out-and-out lies that you've been confronted with, countless times and that you know damned well to be false."

Cato-HypocrisyIn denying even that extremely loose and generous definition of "lying," P.J. O'Rourke's credibility is like the so-called "libertarian" "scholars" at Cato, an intellectual brothel, bought and paid for by an oligarchy that hires mouthpieces to concoct rationalizations and excuses for an oligarchic putsch that will end real competition, real capitalism, real competitive enterprise and real freedom. We'll say anything you want, oh masters who pay the bills.

They fulfill what has become a complete (and unnoticed by media) betrayal of Adam Smith and the American founders -- who knew very well one core fact: that the truest enemy of freedom and fair competition has seldom been civil servants.  Across 6000 years, most of the time, those good things were routinely crushed by cabals of cheating, competition-suppressing owner-feudal lords. The same caste that Smith and the Founders denounced.

In this particular case, it's no wonder that O'Rourke and Cato snark and sneer and ridicule -- calling today's tsunami of organized lying "part of political discourse." The ability to lie without consequences is fundamental to the Koch-Murdoch-Sa'udi campaign to destroy American aptitude for pragmatic negotiation and instead stoke Civil War. (In fairness, it was part and parcel of the far-left, back when they were the most looming threat to freedom. Even today, the left spawns something called "postmodernism" that also denies the existence of any kind of verification or truth.)

No scientist would ever have any truck with such nonsense.  Nor any medical doctor, teacher, journalist or any of the other clades of knowledge who are declared to be enemies by this new Know Nothing movement. Yes, much in life is contingent, arguable, unproved or at least tentative, but the crux of science is that we build a hierarchy of improving models.  And there comes a point where we can say "that's simply false."

Cato-O'Rourke-Fox-News-Supreme-CourtThe Big Liars' goal - to make slander and deception consequence-free - has a perfect illustration: Fox is the only "news" outlet ever to sue not for protection from inadvertent errors or accidental falsehoods but from any accountability for relentlessly repeated and knowing lies.

Oh, the snarks by Cato and O’Rourke can be funny and indeed, they have a point. As illustrated in Kurt Vonnegut's classic satire "Harrison Bergeron," law-centered “solutions” to human deficiencies in character are inherently problematic.  Naturally, one can concoct a worst-case version of an anti-lying law to ridicule as an example of statist-meddling, thought-policing and nanny-finger-wagging prudery. O'Rourke is really good at skewering that sort of thing.  We boomers specialize in sarcasm. (And our vastly better kids will make a great world, when our sanctimonious boomer asses shuffle off this mortal coil.)

But that is not how anti-deception laws would work in any real America, and O'Rourke knows it.  Any such law would have to put stiff burdens of proof on the accuser that an assertion was deliberately public, known to be factually false, that the perpetrator had ignored repeated confrontations with the truth, and that the perpetrator was abusing a position of public trust.  Moreover, the sliding scale of penalties would consist almost entirely of retractions.

Indeed, one potentially great outcome would be public fora for weighing factual evidence, as I describe in my Disputation Arenas paper. Looseness is an essential feature of American life and no one will go after internet polemicists bandying stupid-ass untrue jpegs.

But there has to be a backstop!  A point where relentlessly repeated lying by media hits a wall called Proved Truth. A point where the resulting shaming actually reduces the public credibility of the Goebbels-level Big Lie machines, out there.

That sort of thing will not suppress discourse.  It will sway discourse toward something we used to be good at.  Conversation.  Fair argument.  Debate.  Comparison of real evidence. And, ultimately, a word that the Murdochians do their best to rail against, hobble, cripple and destroy… negotiation.

Only dig it... the whole thing will soon be moot as technology provides us with actual, bona fide lie detectors.  They aren't here yet, but as this article shows, researchers are zeroing in.

== A Miscellany of much smarter people… ==

…than the Cato sellouts surrounds us!  Let’s start with a woman who is incredibly American. "A California woman who applied for American citizenship had her application rejected because she identified herself as a “conscientious objector” who will not bear arms for the United States because she objects to war on secular moral grounds." She wrote: “As a woman in my mid-30’s, I understand that it is unlikely that I will ever be asked to take up arms to defend this country. I could have easily checked ‘yes’, sealed the envelope, and sent it out,”  so, let's see -- taking a self-righteous moral stance on abstract principle, knowing that (1) the matter is of moderate memic importance and (2) that she'll actually suffer very few negative outcomes…?  Yep. She's already a real American. Proud to keep her.

Is MJ Harmless?  I have always liked California's outspoken, slightly weird but fantastically effective Governor Jerry Brown. He so often hits the nail on the head. "California Governor Jerry Brown said he is not sure legalizing marijuana is a good idea in his state because the country could lose its competitive edge if too many people are getting stoned."

Oh I can hear howls from most of you, out there. And mark me: it is terrific that we are finally moving away from the insipidly insane and counterproductive Drug War!  Marijuana is a lesser problem and should be treated as a minor vice, compared with so many others. And yet…

… those who go too far the other way and say it is not a vice, at all, are coo-koo birds.  Sure, as with alcohol, millions can use it once a week with no deleterious effects. And even habitual users aren't dangerous to others, the way alcohol abusers can be!  And yet… those who deny MJ's one major down side are hypocrites or blinkered fools.  For a large fraction of heavy users, it is an Ambition Destroyer.  It mellows guys down below the energy level it takes to get up and get innovative-transforming work done.  You all know guys like that.  And just because MJ is not the problem that puritan idiots said it was… that doesn't mean it's not a problem at all… one that we should keep thinking about.

And you can see the common theme with my screed about the mockers of all standards (above).  Just because a prudish system was 90% wrong, don't compound the travesty by ignoring the 1% that was core and right.

Is the "age of the gun" as the Great Equalizer over?  See a thought-provoking argument that the past 700 years have been the Age of the Gun - when barely-trained infantrymen were the basis of military power. Says Chris Phoenix: "The implication I see is that Enlightenment ideals may have been based on, or at least supported by, the fact that a fairly small amount of work and training could create an army out of ordinary people.  But a quadcopter-mounted gun beats an infantryman.  So what happens, socially, when the leaders no longer have any fear at all of the people?"

Jefferson-rifleMy answer: It all depends.  This assumes that citizen militias cannot have quasi equivalent quadcopters. An Orwellian state would make sure of that.  But an Orwellian state does not mix well with the ethos that still reigns in the civilian population from which the military draws its recruits.  (The Animal House ethos that P.J. O'Rourke embodies.) Which makes it very hard to make a cohesively repressive occupying force, or a very large coterie of defection-free henchmen.  See this illustrated in the 2008 film about drones called SLEEP DEALER.   And in my own novel EXISTENCE… and in this discussion of "The Jefferson Rifle."

Oh, but finally… These guys are a hoot!  The "New Monarchists" actually dare to show their faces… as we near the anniversary of the week when two microcephalic grandsons of Queen Victoria ignored every plea by real statesmen and plunged the world into a war from which today, a century later, we are still recovering.  Indeed, these guys are focusing especially on the Romanov (czarist) house and even suggesting Putin marry into it for legitimacy!

Oy!  Talk about microcephalic!

Want an irony?  My short story "The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf" makes the argument for a mild constitutional monarchy better than any of these guys do! So does Robert Heinlein's DOUBLE STAR.  And mind you, neither of us really believed it!  I mean Gee Wiz, if you're going to make a case for the preposterous, at least make it sound vaguely plausible.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Do We Really Want Political Dynasties?

== Come on… must we? ==
The verdict has been declared… at least by one political seer. " It's over: Jeb Bush will be the GOP nominee in 2016."
Oy!  And with Hillary the democratic heir-apparent -- and with the next-generation George P. Bush running for office in Texas… and rumors of Chelsea Clinton -- where does that put us, dynasty-wise?
Mind you, I have very different opinions of these two clans, one of which oversaw twin eras of absolutely perfect mis-rule and ruin for the United States, without a single positive outcome in any metric, while the other is recalled as generally effective and decent -- if fraught with a few personal flaws.
Still, do we really want this?
Way back in 2007, I suggested a bit of theater to put it all in satirical perspective. Picture a black-turtleneck-clad greek chorus holding up alternating pictures as they chant. The first round consists of just one phrase as they hold up one placard, labeled "1980" -- that shows the gipper with Bush Sr. And they shout "REAGAN-BUSH!"
The second round repeats showing 1980, then the same pair again, labeled "1984."  So the shan't is REAGAN-BUSH! REAGAN-BUSH!

Then 1980 and 1984 again but with one more cycle added… Bush Sr. alone in 1988… "REAGAN-BUSH! REAGAN-BUSH! BUSH!"

 You can envision each round getting longer as we then add Bill Clinton twice, then Bush Junior twice, each time reiterating a chant that adds one more layer…
That last chant would have shown Hillary 2008. We'd then repeat the whole thing culminating in her second term. Then repeat again for 2016 showing Jeb… and Jeb again in 2020… and then… Chelsea?
Read the whole script here: Reagan Bush, Reagan Bush, Bush Clinton...
And yes, history passed that scenario by.  Though… why not resurrect the work of satirical art, updated and revised? All that's needed is to interrupt the repetitious chant with a double pause while the chorus offers a respite of two hosannahs… O-Bah-mah! O-Bah-mah! … before going back to the rhythmic Battle of the Dynasties.
If any street theater types want to pull off this satire, I can offer the whole script.
To be clear… I have no major beef with Hillary Clinton.  And Jeb does seem to be the least awful of his calamitous clan. Still, as I said earlier… oy. We don't have to do things this way.
== "Ostrich" conservatives! There are places for you! So lift your heads ==
Ostrich-conservativesI have mentioned before that among the crucial demographic of "ostrich conservatives" -- millions of decent folks who are in desperate denial over  the hijacking of their once-intellectually rich movement of giants like Goldwater and Buckley -- are waking up and lifting their heads to confront the GOP's veer down insanity lane.  Ashamed of the War on Science and the abandonment of any pretense of support for small business or fiscal responsibility -- or even common sense -- some genuine discussion is happening at THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE Magazine.
Another Goldwater-Buckley type wrote to me about the Hoover Institution:
"Interestingly, some good climate scientists are (or at least were) Republicans (Jim Hansen, Richard Alley, Kerry Emanuel, and some folks at the Hoover Institution, like George Shultz, who helped to fight the Tesoro/Valero/Koch initiative to undo AB32, and who gushes over his Nissan Leaf.  Unlike most of these thinktanks, that’s actually (mostly) a center of legitimate conservative thought, of the old-style conservatives, not Tea Party. It is certainly disheartening to see the disappearance of the oldstyle moderate Republicans, like Sherwood Boehlert or Olympia Snowe."
Alas, in the Murdochian push to reclassify "libertarianism" as purely anti-government, rather than pro-competition, the Powers that have done the hijacking are foisting on us ravers like Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose recent rants - based 100% on concocted falsehoods - against Abraham Lincoln clarify their purpose.  To ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people SHALL perish from the Earth."

No government.  Hm… I wonder why billionaire feudal-lord inheritance oligarchs would want that….
==  political miscellany ==
When May I Shoot a Student? An essay in which a Boise State University professor comments (tongue in cheek I hope) about the many advantages of Idaho's (soon to be) new law allowing guns on university campuses. A work of art that will make simultaneously laugh and cry…. What a crazy country we live in!
How to respond to people who claim the ACA didn't originate from the GOP.  Better yet just repeat this to republicans. "Obamacare was your… own… damn… plan."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Small wonders… a sampling for the coming spring

No overall theme, this time.  Just a small collection of worthy links to amuse.
No doubt you've already read and heard the biggest cosmological news in about ten years… Researchers say they've discovered that gravitational waves rippled through the fabric of space-time in the first sliver of a second after the Big Bang, the first direct evidence for a mysterious ultra-rapid expansion at the dawn of the universe. If confirmed, it would represent one of the most profound insights in decades to emerge from the field of cosmology.
Tiny variations in polarization in the microwave background appear to reveal wave-pattens that can only (most cosmologists seem to think) reveal the basic structure of "inflation"… Alan Guth's notion that the universe expanded vastly faster than light speed during the first microscopic fractions of its first second of existence.
WiFi-virusThe First Contagious Air-borne WiFi Virus: Attempting to emulate a cold virus, a team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called "Chameleon", and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.
Zello private radio allows ad hoc walkie talky systems. Look up how it becomes the most popular app suddenly in countries where mass demonstrations are arising, because it bypasses the cell phone companies and government control (somewhat).  Exactly the kind of system I've been calling for, for years.
Oh, but do your very wheels betray you? All cars tires sold since 2004 have had RFID tags embedded. The Tires are read at various airports and high traffic centers. Beginning next year, all Korean tires will come equipped with RFID -- to automate inventory management and maintenance.
Now this sure ain't gonna work: various state legislators aim to rein in the powers of the National Security Agency and the American surveillance state with bills that would limit cooperation by state officials or slow the distribution of state resourceslike turning off the NSA’s access to local Utah water.  Riiiiight.
But careful with that Corbomite Device!  Boeing has quietly filed papers with the FCC for a phone that self-destructs if you tamper with it. It's called the Boeing Black, of course.  I just want the app that  starts a loud countdown on my phone.  Heck, even as a ring tone! (Remember those?)
=== Miscellany ===
Shared ancestry: More than 70% of Jewish men and half of the Arab men whose DNA was studied inherited their Y chromosomes from the same paternal ancestors who lived in the region within the last few thousand years.
This F35 pilot proved three things: 1- how terrific his plane is and 2- that he is a master stick-jockey… and 3- that he badly needs to be grounded and assigned to dig ditches for 6 months, in order to learn to grow up.   Except… ooops… dang the reality of these newfangled game effects!  Never mind.  Still…. it is so way cool to watch. .
LITERARY-WORLD-ELITISTHow to suck at game design: Why Marketers fear the Female Geek.
Should authors avoid the word "crepuscular?" Laura Miller takes on the issue: Is the literary world elitist?  in Salon, writing:  "It’s usually those with the least faith in their own opinions who become the most outraged when the consensus does not agree with them."
== Over-rule Nature! ==
Now here's an interesting item. "Reducing Wild Animal Suffering." An hour long philosophical presentation… of the proposition the humanity is duty bound to aggressively intervene in nature and reduce or eliminate the agony and death that are core elements of the lives of wild creatures.
Reducing-Animal-SufferingThese guys talk around the point for an hour, arguing that if we dislike suffering and want to reduce it, we are obliged to work hard to ease suffering everywhere, not limited by species boundaries. In other words, as Clifford Simak portrayed in CITY, we should move toward remaking the world in a fashion far kinder than the situation that emerged in Genesis, after the expulsion from Eden.  A proposal that is fascinating… and yet also utterly predictable in light of the propelling habit of western civilization to "expand horizons." Indeed, see it portrayed in my novella "Stones of Significance."
These guys try to cover all bases… and fail miserably in just an hour, since they leave out 10,000 implications. For example, they shrug off theology. They assume that suffering is evil when it is a quantitative not qualitative difference from the sensory inputs we require, to survive. They fail to make Temple Grandin's point that the best slaughterhouses may be far gentler than the ways that most animals die, in nature. They allude, in passing, to the need for humanity to impose a vast program of nanotech-computerized birth control on all macro species and probably bacteria, as well. They demand a qualitative on-off moral switch that is simply shifted over an arbitrary amount, when a sliding scale would be both sensible and vastly easier to set in motion, allowing each generation to increase intervention smoothly, as capabilities increase. Could attempts to do this even explain the Fermi Paradox?  And so on…
Still, I enjoyed the mind-challenge, which is essentially about extending the range of our ambitions to the very fabric of creation, criticizing its original (intelligent or natural) design.  Nice class project.
== more miscellany! ==
The Next Godzilla. Okay, I admit this one is badass... tail-dragger or not!
What-if-xkcdIf you're a fan of the marvelous science webcomic xkcd -- or if you just like to wonder about"What if…" possibilities, take a look at Randall Munroe's first book, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.
In great news for fans of MacGyver fiction -- powerful muscles are produced by twisting and coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and sewing thread.  Twisting the polymer fiber converts it to a torsional muscle that can spin a heavy rotor to more than 10,000 revolutions per minute.  Subsequent twisting, so that the polymer fiber coils like a heavily twisted rubber band, produces a muscle that dramatically contracts along its length when heated, and returns to its initial length when cooled. Twisting together a bundle of polyethylene fishing lines, whose total diameter is only about 10 times larger than a human hair, produces a coiled polymer muscle that can lift 16 pounds. Operated in parallel, similar to how natural muscles are configured, 100 of these polymer muscles could lift about 1,600 pounds.  Oooh ooh!  Make a netktie of the stuff… body heat from the victim then causes….
What portion of Wikipedia edits are generated by humans versus bots?  As crowdsourced Wikipedia has grown too large — with more than 30 million articles in 287 languages — to be entirely edited and managed by volunteers, 12 Wikipedia bots have emerged to pick up the slack.
Remember the debris-grabbing tether that my astronaut uses in the first chapter of Existence? Now the European Space Agency wants to test a mission to try it. Decades of launches have left Earth surrounded by a halo of space junk: more than 17 000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup, which threaten working missions with catastrophic collision. Even a 1 cm nut could hit with the force of a hand grenade.  "Apart from deorbit options based on flexible and rigid connections, techniques are being considered for raising targets to higher orbits, including tethers and  electric propulsion."
Finally, Eli Williamson-Jones has this fun little film group that did a  philosophical look comparing both the film The Postman and one of my podcast ravings about the possibility of building a decent civilization. You might find it diverting… especially at the end when there's this little Jason Silva riff called Existential Bummer.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

YOU can start a shift in U.S. politics

U.S.-POLITICS-2014You Americans out there: it's time.  The primaries are approaching, which means you and all your friends have a chance to vote in the only 2014 elections that truly matter… the ones in the spring, not the fall!  Tell everyone you know to use this one little trick and we all, as individuals, can help defeat gerrymandering… and thus help de-radicalize American politics.  YOU can  do it.  By getting all your friends to re-register using this one little trick…
== The parties are the same? ==
That is the new mantra being fed to depressed "ostrich republicans," who can tell that their party has gone insane, but are scratching for any excuse to hold on to their old loyalties… "They're all corrupt statists... so let's assume the dems are worse and hold your nose and vote GOP!"
Look, I am conservative enough to prefer a budget that's close to balanced, and libertarian enough to think government should be very tightly scrutinized and always need to satisfy a burden of proof, that its services would not be better performed by… us.  I show such trends -- toward a devolution of government activity to tech-empowered citizens -- in EXISTENCE.  Indeed, anyone who shares those desires… along with wanting a scientific, flat-and-open, just and entrepreneurial and future-looking civilization… would have to be crazy to support the current (hijacked) version of the GOP.
Deficit-declineOne graphic shows clearly how gullible are all the watchers of Fox News, who actually believe the rant that Democrats are the fiscally irresponsible big-spenders.  It starts with the Clinton era surpluses then shows how revenues initially dropped under the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy… without any "supply side" (SS) rebound.  (SS has never predicted correctly, even once.)
Watch the the spectacular (9/11/Iraq/Afghanistan) rise in spending - and in taxation (now pounding the middle class) -  under republican rule, then even steeper, after they torched the economy and revenues plunged in Bush's last two years. Then?  The chart shows federal spending almost perfectly FLAT under Obama, proving the one truth that should make any fiscal conservative vote democratic.  That the 2nd derivative of deficit is always negative under demmies and almost always positive under goppers.
Show this.  Remind your crazy uncle that we narrowly avoided a second great depression.
This is not about classic left-right issues.  It is about insanity.
== Wisdom from … Osama bin Laden? ==
Anyone -- including Buckley-Goldwater conservatives -- who believes that the currently constituted Republican Party -- the version owned by Rupert Murdoch -- with its heritage of Bushite calamity -- should ever again be trusted with anything more than a burnt match, should contemplate the following quotation from Osama bin Laden.
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedin to the furthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.
"This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahedin, bled Russia for ten years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat... So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."  
Quagmire-warIt's not that Osama wasn't our enemy.  He deserved to die (note who killed him) and the Taliban who assisted him deserved to fall.  But did we have to chase him in exactly the fashion that he wanted us to?  In exactly the way that the 9/11 attacks were designed to entice? Plunging -- Russia-style -- into a futile, absurdly senseless exercise in so-called "nation-building," into a quagmire attrition of insurgency in Asia?  Didn't we learn that mistake in Vietnam?
Note that my complaint is in no way "leftist." It is as one who actually thinks rather well of Pax Americana -- compared to all other eras across all of human history. As one who believes that PA must remain a strong and calming world leader for at least another decade or two or three. One who knows many generals and admirals, most of whom (at one level or another) have expressed horror over being so badly led during the Bush years.
Frankly, I do not care if this quotation attributed to bin Laden is real or an urban legend. It blatantly expresses what the 9/11 attacks were for. And the Bushites knew this when they plunged us into trillions of dollars of waste and thirteen years of agony, leaving only two victors on the battlefield. One was Iran…. and the other group was Bush family companies like Haliburton and Bechtel.
This is not about who's a pussy.  It is about who is competent.  Who preserves the reserves and keeps readiness high. Who is smart enough to avoid blatant traps that only overcompensating small-organ twits would fall for. The kind of overcompensating twits who are the opposite of Patriots, no matter how loudly they yell "Yoo Hess Hay!"
== Return of the Feudal Pyramid ===

Treasure-islands-shaxson Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World by Nicholas Shaxson, takes a somewhat radicalized investigative expose of how the corporate world uses tax havens to shirk paying its share of taxes. This costs the United States alone 100 billion dollars in lost revenue each year.  As you dive into this subject, the only question that keeps popping up is "am I being insufficiently radical in my anger over this?"
Now we see why the mantra of the new-right and of the hyper-libertarians is "death to all government" as a matter of fundamental principle, instead of the older movement to minimize or reform.  It must be absolute war, because only civil servants stand in the way of utter feudal oligarch. Hence civil servants must be "statist" satans… nothing less. Let's ignore that for 6000 years the enemy of freedom was oligarchic feudalism, whose rebirth is chronicled in books like this… till the lords forbid books like this altogether.
Liberal moderates can fight back by reclaiming "the first liberal" - Adam Smith - as their very own. His call for flat-open-fair-accountabble competitive markets included uplifting all children to a level playing field.  A level field whose destruction is the sole and central goal of the New Lords.