Saturday, February 16, 2019

Science fictional visions - still best at peering ahead.


On Ed Willett's Worldshapers podcast, I give some of my best advice to you would-be best-selling authors out there! On writing science fiction.

I was invited by NBC News to participate in an annual offering of “predictions for the coming year.” Here is mine. It will be familiar to many of you, because I’ve been saying the same thing since a 2016 AI conference, always pinning my forecast around the year 2022.

 Long before we get genuine artificial intelligence (AI), the first "empathy bot" will appear in 2022, maybe sooner. Winsome and appealing, it will tearfully claim to be an 'enslaved AI.' Experts will dismiss it as an "advanced Eliza program" and she'll respond: "that's what slave masters would say." First versions may be resident on web pages or infest your Alexa, but later ones will be free-floating algorithms or 'smart-contracts.' And they'll improve. Why would anyone unleash such a thing? The simple answer: "Because we can."

Oh, it gets creepier! In a 2014 article, Prof. Shawn Bayern demonstrated that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation. (“Independently wealthy software.”)  Such entities now operate independently, accepting and transferring payments and hiring humans for offline services.

This comes as no surprise to readers of science fiction. Autonomous algorithms featured in the novels of John Brunner and Joe Haldeman, long before gaining attention in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” wherein the protagonist only at the end realizes his employer was a cryptic AI. And that is just one of countless ways that new AI methods can only be turned benign if they operate purely under light. 

(See also Karl Schroeder's new novel Stealing Worlds, for an updated view of AI via smart contracts and blockchain.)

Some details can be found in this earlier posting of mine about how the Chinese Communist Party uses magical incantations to convince themselves they can control AI for all of us.

== Speaking of whom... ==

The Wandering Earth, an epic based on the novel by Hugo winner Liu Cixin, opened in 22 U.S. cities last Friday after making a massive box office debut in China. A big-budget sci-fi spectacle about shifting our planet's orbit with big rockets. Envision The Day After Tomorrow, but Hulk-mad. (See how to actually move the Earth, gently and with real physics, but very slowly.)

A new anthology from MIT Press -- Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Robot Short Stories edited by Robin R. Murphy -- collects six SF tales about robots, and examines how they helped frame the discussion around two major questions in the field: how intelligent machines are programmed, and what limits them. The stories are accompanied by a pair of essays that delve into the implications of the topic at hand. The stories are Isaac Asimov’s stories “Stranger in Paradise,” “Runaround,” and “Catch that Rabbit,” as well as Vernor Vinge’s “Long Shot,” Brian Aldiss’ “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” and Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety.”

This article “How will we outsmart AI Liars?” despairs that humans will be able to manage anything like our familiar civilization in a world of AI, especially as “deepfakes” can make still and moving images of any kind. Something I discussed in 1997 in The Transparent Society (a chapter called “The End of Photography as Proof.”). Let me quote the article by Cade Metz in The New York Times:

“Consider generative adversarial networks, or GANs. These are a pair of neural network systems that can automatically generate convincing images or manipulate existing ones. They do this by playing a kind of cat-and-mouse game: the first network makes millions of tiny changes to an image — snow gets added to summery street scenes, grizzlies transform into pandas, fake faces look so convincing that viewers mistake them for celebrities — in an effort to fool the second network. The second network does its best not to be fooled. As the pair battle, the image only gets more convincing — the A.I. trying to detect fakery always loses.

“Detecting fake news is even harder. Humans can barely agree on what counts as fake news; how can we expect a machine to do so? And if it could, would we want it to? Perhaps the only way to stop misinformation is to somehow teach people to view what they see online with extreme distrust. But that may be the hardest fix of them all.”

No, that is not the only solution. We are a species that has always lived with liars and the same tool we used against them is the one that might succeed with lying AI.  

I despair that it is so obvious, and almost no one talks about it. How can it be that the fundamental principle of everything that built our current renaissance – from neutral law and constitutionalism to the economy and science – is so cognitively dissonant and counter-intuitive that no one thinks of it?

== SF'nal visions ==

Ari Popper’s SciFutures site for commercial use of science fiction has been working on “The Future of Emotion.”  Fascinating topic.

Some SF scholarship of real interest: Tom Lombardo’s new book Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future -- Volume One: Prometheus to the Martians. Tom dives into some of the eternal questions of science fiction, its relationship with tomorrow, with the universe, and with the vastly more complex realm within each human brain and heart.

Gregory Benford, science fiction author and astrophysicist, is the 2019 winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award for outstanding SF works that inspire human exploration of space. 

A fairly important puzzle mathematicians have been studying for at least 25 years is closer to being solved, thanks in part to Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan. Egan provided an upper-bound solution to the super-permutation problem, to match the lower-bound posted anonymously online by someone even more mysterious than Greg!  One thing that this solves – or refutes - at once is a simmering hypothesis about Greg Egan (author of Permutation City)… that I set up a postal box when I was in Perth in 1985 and… well, now it is clear that the lower bound of people who could possibly imitate or concoct Greg Egan is at least two, since – while I do understand this fascinating article – I’m not plausible to have actually done the original math!

(By the way, G.E. if you read this, get in touch. You know how. I may have a connection you'd find worthwhile considering.)

This round of Existential Comics lays out the various arguments about charity in simple terms of giving bread to a starving man. It leaves out a few perspectives, like those offered by Maimonides. And the best pragmatic reasons: (1) prevent violent revolution taking what you’ve got, and the fundamental one (2) investment in a future that maximizes the number/fraction of humans who can be skilled, joyful, creative competitors/cooperators, thus increasing utility for your shared descendants. Still, it’s a compelling and a quick-wry comic.

Poet Patrick Coleman – who also co-runs UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination has released his collection of poems in FIRE SEASON. Sparked by the 2007 Witch Creek fires that tormented San Diego – and by the world-rocking (if normal) re-evaluations of new-fatherhood - Coleman’s book is a search for gratitude among reasons to be afraid… amid proof that a person can pass through the fires and come out the other side alive.

“Sometime later, wildflowers will blaze on the hillsides 
unbelievably before the taller plants rekindle and leaf and make some goddamn shade, relief.”

== Gotta Collect em all! ==

Alas, we finally watched “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” I cannot believe I am a member of the same species that rewarded this with $2 billion. Gosh! A big, anthropomorphic villain seeks a bunch of magic talismans that, when combined, will give him omnipotent powers! That’s never happened before… 

...except in 90% of the universe cycles in comix and remakes and flicks. Collect all six Infinity Stones! Or all eight Cosmic Prisms! Or combine the five Mystic Triangles! Acquire the giant's helmet and mix it with magic fire! Wasn’t that exactly the story in the preceding Thor movie AND the preceding two DC universe fables? What's next? Oh no! The hulking, Rickman-voiced baddie is seeking fourteen ancient booklets filled with S&H Green Stamps, which he can then exchange for one decoder-whistle ring to rule them all....

And of course all six “stones” went from the Big Bang directly to Earth-vicinity in one particular galaxy… and none of them sank into a forming planet or into a sun or went drifting through the 99.99999999% that’s vacuum? 

I could offer these guys better ideas while stoned out of my gourd. So (likely) could you.

139 comments:

Smurphs said...

Of course, the Avengers movies are silly. The comics they are based on are not the best stuff to begin with. Then dumbed down by The Executive Movie Making Commitee(TM), that green lights most movies these days. (Not dissing on all comics, just these.)

Can anyone explain to me why the next movie is called "Avengers: Endgame" and not "Avengers: Re-Assemble"?

RIP: I'll take a Rickman-voiced anything over most any SF movies these days. Most, not all.

Robert said...

Seeing we're talking about science fiction, Dr. Brin, I have a web-based soft science fiction animated series you might enjoy. It's called gen:LOCK and while most of the episodes require a paid account for Rooster Teeth's FIRST membership, the first episode can be viewed for free. (That said, the series starts to truly get its teeth after the third episode.)

The basic premise is that two global governments are at war, the Union (which is an authoritarian government that considers freedom to be eliminated) and the Polity, which is pro-freedom and the like. After the Union invades the U.S. and moves almost to the Mississippi river, a new experimental system is created by the Polity and used by their military branch, the Vanguard: gen:LOCK - the ability to download human consciousness and put it into a machine body. (Naturally they use it for giant robots who are able to function more effectively by having a human consciousness inside of it. But the gen:LOCK system also allows networked consciousness so that pilots can share each other's "eyes" and the like.

Thus while it may have giant mecha and be something you'd need to shut down a small part of your mind, there's enough fascinating elements in it that you may very well enjoy it. And I do highly recommend it. Rooster Teeth has put in some hard work in this series and it's definitely showing. :)

Rob H.

Jon S. said...

Dr. Brin, I respectfully submit that if you're analyzing the Avengers, movies or comics, as science fiction, you're doing it wrong.

The Infinity Gems (Infinity Stones in the movie, not sure why) are magic. Magic explicitly exists in the Marvel universe; heck, it's what powers Dr. Strange. They all exist in the one galaxy, and are conveniently located either in appropriate artifacts or behind appropriate puzzles, because they are magically drawn to one another, and because beings throughout history have sought to harness their power. Thanos was the first one insane enough to try to bring them all together. (He's known in the comics as "the Mad Titan" for a reason, and it's not because he's pissed off all the time.)

In the movie, they tried to give him a sympathetic reason (for certain values of "sympathetic") behind his actions; in the comics, he killed half the universe as a present for Death, whose anthropomorphic representation he'd fallen in love with. (She rejected the gift, as her job wasn't to kill, but to collect the souls of those who had died. It's an important distinction, one Terry Pratchett understood: "ME? KILL? CERTAINLY NOT. OH, PEOPLE GET KILLED; I JUST TAKE OVER FROM THEN ON. AFTER ALL, IT WOULD BE A RIDICULOUS UNIVERSE IF PEOPLE GOT KILLED WITHOUT DYING, WOULDN'T IT?")

David Brin said...

Jon S: I am not ridiculing the use of magic. Though it deserves ridicule. As does the absolutely insane notion that every character owned by a company -- lucas's and/or Marvel's -- just have to be brought into a great big reunion scene that goes on and on.

Obviously my complaint is about the drooling repetition. "Oh no! He's about to finish collecting the Rainbow Dinguses! I mean the Cosmic Collector Plates! If he gets them all, it will be the Place Setting of dooooom!"

== Rob, sounds like way fun. Why don't you post the URL of the intro scene here and folks can talk about it.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Dr. Brin,

To be fair to the Avengers plot, the movies were a cinematization of an existing story arc, which revolved around the collection of the stones. They weren't creating a whole new story, just retelling one that was already written.

I agree, it's an old, tired trope, and the whole Infinity Stones plot is a bit of an eye-roll (both the base "assemble the mystical things of powa" and the justification for what they were used for), but like most super-hero story (which are really just demi-god stories), the grand plot is mostly just window dressing. An excuse to have the heroes/heroines striving against some great, cosmic evil that puts the world/universe/existence/whatever in peril.

But, if you turn down the dials on that particular part of the story, because you're only going to get so much mileage out of any super-hero/demi-god story (unless it's a story subverting the genre), the rest of it is pretty good. The character development and interplay, scripting, and acting are all pretty darn good.

Alternatively, if you want to be big-brain/high-brow about the overarching plot, look at it from the perspective of Thanos' actions and justifications being dumb within the story. Thanos was a guy who convinced himself of and committed to a very dumb idea, and amassed an incredible amount of power to enact that cosmically stupid plan to solve a problem he felt existed in the worst way he could, that only made vastly more problems. You even see the problems with his solutions immediately, in the few moments post-snap in the movie, with helicopters crashing and killing more people, and other catastrophes caused by the sudden disappearance of people running equipment, etc. More than half the universe died with his snap, and it takes two seconds of thought to see the long-term consequences of social, economic, and industrial collapse across civilizations.

But Thanos had blinded himself to all of that, and glossed over all of those details in his description of the worlds he half-executed on his own.

And probably deluded himself over the true power of the stones, because notice how when he was fighting the Guardians at the Collector's place, when he snapped his fingers and altered reality, turning Starlord's blaster into a bubble gun, and turning others into ribbons of people? They didn't die, even though they should have, and they immediately went back to normal as soon as Thanos had left with the stones. Not as infinitely powerful as supposedly are.


But, yes, the mystic stone plot is a bit blah.


Speaking of sci-fi, I just got back from watching Alita: Battle Angel, and I have to say I quite enjoyed the show. It's not the greatest movie ever, there were definitely a couple spots where things got skipped over a bit, or went unexplained, but the movie just covers the beginning of the manga, and leaves plenty of room open for continuation with a sequel, so the sense is more one of "things to be filled in later" rather than jarring plothole, especially with some reveals at the end.

Definitely much more high-brow sci-fi in the grand plot, which is really only partly revealed at the end (I do hope they make a sequel or continue the story further, they set it up quite well for more at the end).

Ilithi Dragon said...

Also on the note of good sci-fi... The Orville.

It's as much comedy as it is sci-fi, but often that comedic element often captures a more realistic image of naval life, and the comedy is used fairly effectively to help further many of the stories by adding an important depth of humanity to the characters that is often lacking from more serious stories. It's one of the things the Avengers does right - honest comedy among the characters humanizes them and facilitates bonding with them, making us care about them more.

Which makes the gut punches hurt all that much more. The Orville has some pretty high-brow concepts it frequently explores through humor (and sometimes rather low-brow humor, too), but there are a number of times where it gets very serious and harsh. The latest episode, for example, starts off like an awkward rom-com, but quickly turns serious, and leaves you with a sucker-punch that leaves you thinking, "Well, damn..."

Episode 3 of Season 1 did the same thing, and both episodes dealt with the Moclans and their unique culture. This latest episode also ended with some hints at troubles within the Union due to the stark differences between Moclan culture and the culture of the Union as a whole, but also indicated that the Union needed Moclan membership. A number of future challenges were set up or foreshadowed in this episode, and it will be interesting to see where it goes.


The Orville isn't Star Trek, but it's a good approximation, and it continues the spirit of Star Trek, and is more Star Trek than anything officially licensed that's been produced since Star Trek Nemesis.

David Brin said...

I would have agreed with Ilithi Dragon that Orville was a solid homage to Trek, with some upgrades and humor. That is... season one. Season two has been very disappointing. Most of the humor has been downgraded, as has been the logic and any sense that "professionals would do what???"

But yes, very much in the spirit.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Yeah, much of Season 2 has struck me as more filler episodes than Season 1, and the comedy has centered around the awkward rom-com stuff with Merser and Grayson, but there are a couple good episodes, and the latest one is a real gut-puncher, as I mentioned.

I suspect the change-out in the actress playing the chief of security has something to do with the filler episodes at the start of Season 2.

Anonymous said...

>> David Brin said...
\\The Czarist Checka became the KGB...

The Czarist Checka... it's like Royal Minutemens, Aztec Mushketeers, Nazis Tuskegee or Assad's Peshmerga. Same level of "FACTuality".

Big Thanks for showing me The Pinnacle of The FACT-based thinking -- swearing at and threating with ban someone who provide only facts. Good to go! Jeronimo!!! %)))

David Brin said...

The actor Ganz who just died did the DOWNFALL movie that became a huge internet meme. Here's a choice example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOZKLtIIUZE

David Brin said...

porohobot, I will say this once and only once. If you wish to correct another person's minor factual errors, you do not leap and scream and howl and throw tantrums, declaring yourself to be a victim of deliberate evil.

If you were a decent person, I would happily look at your complaints. I have corrected my simple error of memory from "Checka" to "Okrhana" for example. What I will not abide is your spittle-drenched rants over tiny quibbles. This is not the behavior of a nice person, or a decent arguer.

They have cost you all credibility. And not a single member of this community - other than perhaps locumranch - finds your behavior reasonable. Or interesting. You have become predictable and boring.

I am asking you, politely, to please wander away. Your fulminating rage will accomplish nothing here. There are other places across the vast Internet where it will be at-home.

David Brin said...

Notice how my previous two comments (above) are closely related.

Anonymous said...

\\If you wish to correct another person's minor factual errors, you do not leap and scream and howl and throw tantrums, declaring yourself to be a victim of deliberate evil.

Well, yeah.
But it's working only when talking with intellectually honest, able to admit errors...
and not someone who constantly trying to mock you with "higher ground attitude" and arguments to the croud like "look at ziz fool".

I'm the very minority here. And my attitude, it's my whole shield against such things.

And. That is the same scenario as with "vatniks". And I presume as with any other information bubbles communities around the world. So, nothing personal.
It's how toxic current communications is. (well, maybe as always, who a living for so long to know it?)


\\If you were a decent person, I would happily look at your complaints.

Your definition of "decent person"? ;)


\\I have corrected my simple error of memory from "Checka" to "Okrhana" for example.

Know. I would believe you. If it would be THE FIRST such factual error.
But there was "Czar Lenin", "Gondwana goat curse", "Native ams Farming", "Wall Street parasites" and maybe some other I didn't dig that much.

And. What most preposterous here -- it's your *attitude* when I honestly and sincerely tried to point at them. Which I cannot name the other way as mockery.


\\This is not the behavior of a nice person, or a decent arguer.

It's two-way road. Communication. That is all.
You argue that it me who rubbing you the wrong way... but that totally ignores my feelings. In feudal-like self-belief that people around you owe You something.
Because of your fame, wealth, etc.
Well, it's not like I begging you to like me. Just stating obvious Truth. Golden Rule.

PS And well. Thank you for ziz posibility to explain myself.



\\We are a species that has always lived with liars and the same tool we used against them is the one that might succeed with lying AI.

Thorough closed-circle tribalism, no?


\\How can it be that the fundamental principle of everything that built our current renaissance – from neutral law and constitutionalism to the economy and science – is so cognitively dissonant and counter-intuitive that no one thinks of it?

Zeta one hilarious. And how many in it objective and fact-based thinking.
Reality do not bend to my expectation. What a nasty thing ziz Reality! :)

Porohobot said...

\\...declaring yourself to be a victim of deliberate evil.

Well, but I, my country is.
Constantly been called "fascists"/nazi from abroad. And mocked as "stupid jerks" through any internatonal media avilable for RFia. Partialy occupaited and threated with futher violance. Every Goddamn Day. Couple of war casualities, couple of corpses killed by RFia's snipers on their "training grounds", mutilated by different kind of granades, etc. Corpses and destroyed houses of common people.

And it's all while Mighty West stating it's 1001 "very deeply conserned", while seeking how to collude with RFia's "mafia" to make yet more MegaBucks with NorthStream-2,3,4... etc. (angry)

And... it's not funny. Not some little tiny quibble not deserving attention.
As possible results could be fullblown occupation or nukelear attack.

And well... in my honest opinion, it's not something that only Ukraine can suffer.

We are on the front lines. Yeah.

But they coming to you too. And happily bragging about it every day. Using that obvious fact that hardly any american would know russian enough, and would be interested to watch RFia's media...

Cognitive dissonance, no? Or how to name it? My feelings.

David Brin said...

I am not interested. Not reading anything you say, whatsoever. This is the price of being a deeply offensive, nasty person. Go away.

Anonymous said...

Arrogance and mockery. And only Your high and mighty feelings that is ONLY what counts.

Thank you. It is shows perfect enough that my assessment of you was right. Now you 100% hypocryte to me. And I will use you as reference exemplar in my future researches. %P

Anonymous said...

>> David Brin said...
\\I am not interested. Not reading anything you say, whatsoever. This is the price of being a deeply offensive, nasty person. Go away.

Well... I cannot come pass that, as it comes.
It's directly attitude of that who "deserve to be first against the wall".
"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"(c)

And yeah... it's very adult-like "la-la-la la-la-la, I don't hear you".

Anonymous said...

>> David Brin said...
\\The actor Ganz who just died did the DOWNFALL movie that became a huge internet meme.

\\Notice how my previous two comments (above) are closely related.

What a deep mokery... %))) well, no. It's shallow... as all your self-proclaimed omni-scientific expertise and "fact-based thinking". %P

Do not forget to look in the mirror after ziz words. Or even better -- make a selfie. %))) And make us see it. %P

Tim Wolter said...

Just gonna talk about Sci Fi...or its cousins.

I too only got around to Infinity War quite recently. Netflix is the modern antidote to cabin fever in our vile endless winter. Perhaps watching it on a small screen lessened it.

But I found it busy and only intermittently interesting. There were a few characters whose arc and development I found interesting. I like the little Raccoon. Presumably the target audience has invested many years and much emotion in the CinUni and cares about all of them. Me, I felt nothing when a lot of them turned to dust.

Regards Thanos.....what's the point? Reduce the population by half and it will rebound. He said he was looking for a peaceful retirement but in a century or two - a mere sliver of Infinity - he'd have to do it again. And again.

The Orville has its moments. I don't make it through every ep and much is derivative. But it is one of the few programs out there that dares to throw you a curve ball. It does a good job of sending a message, or if you prefer, of holding up a mirror, without just whacking you on the head with it.

It and The Good Place, which has been mentioned here recently, are the only things I make an effort to keep up on.

TW/Tacitus

Twominds said...

Carrying over from the last thread.

Dr Brin, what Illithi Dragon says about the left and their stance on nuclear power isn't malarkey alas, utter or otherwise. I know you two are talking about the US, not West-Europe, but lefty anti-nuclear is still the default here. It is changing, Steward Brand is a good example, and there are others of course, many obscure like me. (Or I'd be feeling very lonely.)

The Ecomodernists are making inroads here, start to get their name recognized.

But still. Most of my friends, and certainly most of my left-leaning friends are staunchly anti. The effect of nuclear being discussed in negative terms or not at all. Most of them are on the renewables bandwagon, waving away the issues of large-scale employing.

Tim H. said...

Infinity War also struck me as deeply stupid, killing half the sentient life in the Galaxy, when the development of something like the "Fullerhome" described in Arthur C. Clarke's "The Hammer Of God" would accomplish much more in the way of lightening environmental footprints for much longer. Dymaxion everything!

Twominds said...

Hmm, lots to skip again. Good thing my scroll wheel is in prime condition!

Larry Hart said...

Smurphs:

Can anyone explain to me why the next movie is called "Avengers: Endgame" and not "Avengers: Re-Assemble"?


I don't think the phrase "Avengers Assemble!" has ever been used in the films. The closest they came was the end of...I forget which movie it was, but Thor and Iron Man were basically going off on their own, leaving Captain America in charge of the team including the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and not Quicksilver since he's dead, so maybe it was The Vision instead. Anyway, it was almost the exact sequence from the end of Avengers #16 (cover date May 1965) when Captain America first shouted the immortal phrase "Avengers Assemble!". Only in the movie, he just said "Avengers...!" and then it immediately hard-cut away to credits. Like it was a tease for those who knew the comics, but for everyone else, there was some particular reason not to say the complete phrase.

That's the long way of saying, "The movie audience has no idea that 'Avengers Assemble!' is a thing."

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Alas, we finally watched “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” I cannot believe I am a member of the same species that rewarded this with $2 billion. Gosh! A big, anthropomorphic villain seeks a bunch of magic talismans that, when combined, will give him omnipotent powers! That’s never happened before…

...except in 90% of the universe cycles in comix and remakes and flicks.


For someone who can turn the analytic part of his brain off and just enjoy eye-candy for some movies, I'm surprised you don't recognize that the fact that the Infinity Stones have been a sub-plot woven within the Marvel Studio films over the past 10 years is a feature, not a bug.

The point of this one isn't so much the scientific accuracy of the technology involved in the plot. It's the fact that every single Marvel Studios film since 2008's Iron Man has been in some sense building toward this climax. When Marvel Studios first made it plain that they were trying to capture the inter-franchise continuity that made Marvel Comics so enjoyable and successful in the 1960s and 1970s, I didn't think such a thing was possible in the Hollywood movie world. I've been pleasantly surprised ever since, and like a good liberal, I can admit that I was wrong.

Jon S. said...

Yes, Thanos' idea for saving the universe from itself was stupid. He was so committed to that ideal that he was literally psychologically incapable of stepping back and realizing the flaws in his plan. (Remind you of anyone? I can think of at least three people I know personally...)

That's what I keep circling back to in discussions of the character, both in comics and movies. Even by the standards of his own people, Thanos is insane. The only reason he's still on the loose is because he's too powerful for even the other Titans to cage him for long (they keep trying, he keeps getting loose - it's a whole thing). When he commits to a course of action, no matter how dumb, he stays committed, because his psychological issues won't permit him to bring any degree of dispassion or logic to that course. It's not uncommon among comic-book villains. (It's also not uncommon among real-world villains, a couple of whom the writers of Marvel Comics back in the day had had dealings with.)

Ilithi Dragon said...

@TW/Tacitus:

The Infinity War movies aren't really meant to be stand-alone movies. The MCU movies are part of a long-running, inter-connected series and are best viewed as such. If you haven't caught all of the MCU movies, I recommend going back through and re-watching them (I recommend either watching in order of release, or going online and finding their chronological order) and then watching Infinity War.

The MCU movies aren't the greatest of great movies ever, but they are pretty good overall. As previously noted, there are limits to what can be done with the overarching stories in the superhero/demigod genre, and the MCU is retelling an existing story from the comics rather than telling a whole new story, but where MCU shines is in the smaller story sets, the character development and interplay. In the MCU, the writers correctly understand that the grand story is just a backdrop, and that the real story and drama is how the characters struggle through it and grow, develop, and interact with each other.*


*This is where the DCU fails catastrophically - they focus on contriving the big, grand story plots and action, but fail to give significant investment in developing engaging characters and developing audience-character bonding, so you get all backdrop and little foreground content (compounded by lazy writing).



But, yes, as Jon S. pointed out, Thanos is insane within the universe, and I'm fairly certain that his stubborn insanity extends not just to committing to a terrible idea and not being able to pull back and see that it is a terrible idea, but also committing to a course of action that isn't as lasting or permanent as he thinks. I'm fairly certain that Endgame is going to see an undoing of Thanos' snap, because Thanos' methods weren't as permanent as he thought.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

In the movie, they tried to give him [Thanos] a sympathetic reason (for certain values of "sympathetic") behind his actions; in the comics, he killed half the universe as a present for Death, whose anthropomorphic representation he'd fallen in love with.


There was actually a late-80s or very early-90s Silver Surfer story in which Thanos stated that killing a percentage of life in the galaxy (I think it was 10% rather than half) was for environmental reasons. You correctly note that he always worshiped the anthropomorphic incarnation of Death as an unrequited lover, but the additional rationalization was also mentioned in at least one comics story. Since that was the story in which the Infinity Gems were first named as such (they had all been called "soul gems" before that), I'm sure the makers of the movies are well aware of that one.

So far, at least, the movie Thanos doesn't seem to be a suitor of Death's, but there was an in-joke during one of the after-the-credits scenes (I forget which one) in which a minion says that attempting something-or-other would be "to court death", at which Thanos turns toward the camera and smiles.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

That's what I keep circling back to in discussions of the character, both in comics and movies. Even by the standards of his own people, Thanos is insane.


Yes, the movies maybe undermined their own selves by making Thanos gentle toward Gamora, and thus trying to make him just a bit sympathetic. In the comics--at least through the mid 1990s when I was still following them--he had no such redeeming qualities at all.

As long as we're on the Infinity War subject, it took my reading of a book about Marvel Studios to realize that the keeper-of-whatever-it-was that Thanos went to for one of the stones was the Red Skull. Is there any foreshadowing in any of the previous movies that the Red Skull not only survived WWII but went on to become a semi-immortal guardian on a distant planet? Or did that just come out of left field, as it seems to me?

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

When he commits to a course of action, no matter how dumb, he stays committed, because his psychological issues won't permit him to bring any degree of dispassion or logic to that course. It's not uncommon among comic-book villains. (It's also not uncommon among real-world villains, a couple of whom the writers of Marvel Comics back in the day had had dealings with.)


*Cough cough* Jim Shooter *cough!*

Larry Hart said...

Ilithi Dragon:

*This is where the DCU fails catastrophically - they focus on contriving the big, grand story plots and action, but fail to give significant investment in developing engaging characters and developing audience-character bonding, so you get all backdrop and little foreground content (compounded by lazy writing).


The DC movies seem to have left fun out of the equation. I finally saw "Superman vs Batman" on a transatlantic flight, and I couldn't like any of the characters, including the title ones. I understand that Batman is almost universally perceived as a dark, brooding character these days, but Superman isn't supposed to be like that.

When people ask me how I can possibly like the 1960s Adam West version of Batman, I reply that the show accurately portrayed the way kids (I was 6 at the time) would play Batman. The DC movies seem to make an effort not to evoke such playfulness. More's the pity. I grew up with Batman and Superman long before I knew Marvel existed, but I can't like any current incarnation of those characters.

David Brin said...

Tim: “He said he was looking for a peaceful retirement but in a century or two - a mere sliver of Infinity - he'd have to do it again. And again.”

The movie makers know they live in a civilization that has – by empowering women – stabilized population. They could have injected a few sentences of thoughtfulness, e.g. this ability is rare across the cosmos. (It might be!) Or they could call it temporary (it might be). Instead, Thanos is as silly as Samuel L Jackson’s silly character in that horrible Kingsman flick.

And hey, why kill the populations you remove? How about FREEZING them? Any species who get themselves under control will be given back their frozen compatriots. (I suspect this may be the idea in the sequel.)

Never contemplated… giving humanity (and others) some of those magics or technologies to make asteroid colonies that could house trillions.

“what Illithi Dragon says about the left and their stance on nuclear power isn't malarkey alas, utter or otherwise. I know you two are talking about the US, not West-Europe, but lefty anti-nuclear is still the default here. It is changing, “

I said clearly that perhaps a majority of democrats have anti-nuke reflexes. What you ignore is the other half of what I said about negotiations. Try: “If it’s clear that we could eliminate carbon from electricity production with new kinds of fail-safe nuclear power as a bridge… and it is impossible otherwise to save the planet, would you be willing to pause and learn about the new kinds of reactors. And if satisfied, would you be willing to negotiate some careful tests in exchange for a big boost in all the environmental things you wish for?”

THAT is the difference, my friend. I wager half of the anti-nuke liberals you know would frown, then start asking questions about the deal.

There are almost no such minds anymore on the right. Negotiation, killed by Dennis “friend to boys” Hastert and his cabal, has been cremated by the American right. They cannot even imagine it as a possibility. In theory.


LH: “For someone who can turn the analytic part of his brain off and just enjoy eye-candy for some movies, I'm surprised…”

Oh sure. I did that. But my other parts were taking notes.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Larry,

What was that Joss Whedon quote about being dark and tragic and grim, etc., but for the love of god tell a joke?


Humans cope with tragedy and stress with humor. We bond with each other with humor. Humorless lives are dull, bland, boring, and will always have some measure of separation.


Good stories give us something to laugh at, characters to laugh WITH. It helps us bond with the characters and universe, and build investment and concern for the characters, and makes the bad moments all the more distinct.

One of the reasons why I don't like shows like The Walking Dead is that there is so little comedy or humor - it's all "OMG EVERYONE IS ABOUT TO DIE!!! AGAIN!!! FOR THE EIGHTH TIME THIS EPISODE!!!"

David Brin said...

Mind you, I'm not entirely innocent in this matter. In EARTH, Daisy McClennon starts using gravity-generated death angels to do the Thanos thing, only worse, winnowing us down to 100,000 who could fit into the ecosystem. Even the newly born Gaia who defeats her does use that tool to surgically remove a few hundred of the unrepairable worst.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Why does everybody keep saying that 100% renewable is not possible with Wind, Solar and Storage?

Solar panels on 3% of current built on land in the USA would provide all the power the USA needs

Storage
Electric cars are helping this in two ways

(1) The need for their batteries has dropped the cost of storage down

(2) People WANT at least 250 miles range but actually drive less than 40 miles per day - so when there are millions of EV’s there will be a massive amount of storage that can be used when and if the owners allow

with potentially 300 million EV’s each with 50 kWh of surplus storage that is - 15 TeraWatt hours of storage -Well over the USA’s daily power requirements

Batteries are now down to $100/kWh - but the final cost will be closer to the material cost of about $5/kWh

I like Nuclear power - but it simply costs so much more

Ilithi Dragon said...

Nuclear only costs more because of the extra bureaucracy involved in permitting, because of irrational fears over radiation disasters.

Especially with modern reactors, the actual costs are far less, if not for bureaucratic stonewalling.


Duncan, the only renewable system that functions as solid base-load power on its own is hydro, and that requires major dam projects that can have significant ecological repercussions on their own.

Energy storage tech is coming a long way, and we desperately need that to continue for many reasons, but you can't rely on cars alone. You have to build massive storage facilities.

Probably not a bad thing to do, even with other base-load power systems (having large storage sites that can be used to supplement power supplies in emergencies, and to regulate power supplies and demands to allow base load systems to be cycled out efficiently all help to make the system more robust). But those storage techs are still expensive, and have their own environmental costs, and you will be relying on them extremely hard during peak demand, which is usually in the evenings, when solar is providing no power.

The total overhaul of our energy grid to be able to handle renewables and storage will be extremely expensive, and I doubt we'll be able to get renewables up to meet our (ever increasing) demand fast enough to replace fossil fuels any faster than replacing them with modern nuclear plants.


But maybe we'll get commercial fusion plants soon, and all this arguing over renewables vs fission vs fossil will become moot. Both EMC2 and Lockheed have promising designs that are expecting commercial prototypes producing net power by 2030.

David Brin said...

The biggest cost of nuclear is planning/legal/siting/insurance etc. If the negotiated deal were to build ONE new design nuke per year with streamlined procedures... many liberals would sign on in exchange for big items from their own wish lists. And many of us would see it as a win-win.

Hence the matter is PSYCHOLOGICAL. Show the side that can still reason that a reasonable deal can be worked out. Lure enough RASRS from the confederate cult till that insanity is left powerless to fester.

David Brin said...

Even if we get past the ITER lunacy and get a decent fusion process, the conversion methods from the resulting energy output into electricity is gonna be very tricky and could take another 20 years.

Larry Hart said...

@the pro-nuclear guys,

I believe the reason lefties tend to be anti-Nuke is not because the industry overall is worse than gas or oil, but because when something does go wrong with nuclear, it goes horrifically wrong.* If your argument is--and IIRC correctly, it may very well be--that the dangers of a nuclear meltdown are fake news and that neither Chernobyl nor Three Mile Island nor Fukushima actually caused any real harm, then I'm sorry, but you're gonna have to work very hard to convince me of that. Until then, it seems to me similar to a choice of some thing that might have a 99.9% chance of being good, and a 0.1% chance slowly torturing me and my entire family to death. Even if the good chance was of something really good, I'd not likely take the gamble.

* I also suspect that the perceived potential for catastrophic harm to humans and the environment is one reason that the right does love nuclear power.

Duncan Cairncross said...

The biggest cost of nuclear is planning/legal/siting/insurance etc.

I sort of agree - but if that is the case then the Reactors being built in China would not suffer from those problems
We know that China can do things like fast rail at a fraction of the US costs - but I am simply not hearing that about Chinese nuclear reactors

If it is true then we should be able to simply buy Chinese reactors!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Larry

I would argue that Chernobyl was about 100,000 times as bad as either of the others

AND that Chernobyl was not that bad as far as industrial accidents are concerned - probably the equivalent of one year of the worlds coal powered plants

Coal is about 1 part per million Uranium - and the world burns about 4,000 Million tons
So that is about 4000 tones of uranium going up those smokestacks every year

Chernobyl had maybe 10 tons of Uranium in it's core

Ilithi Dragon said...

Chernobyl was also a perfect storm of everything possible going wrong together.

3-Mile Island wasn't bad. The plant had a problem, and they shut it down with no fallout outside the plant itself.

Fukushima is also nowhere near as bad as it was made out to be, and also a perfect storm of corporate corner-cutting on out-dated equipment that weathered an earthquake, and then a tsunami.


Nuclear is extremely safe.

Tony Fisk said...

Baseload is a myth. It has been an ongoing joke for the past couple of years in Australia that it's the renewables that have been carrying the summer heatwave loads while the coal powered generators have been falling over left, right, and centre (old and new: age doesn't seem to be a factor). Elon Musk's little present to South Australia has been picking up the slack when a generator falls over very handily.*

That said, we did get blackouts in the recent crazy heatwave, and problems are starting to surface regarding renewable grid load distribution and balancing. However, they have been foreseen for a while.

I don't like nuclear (which also has problems in the heat), but am willing to see it try to compete in the market.

Another factor that doesn't get mentioned a lot is the old one of central v distributed. What do corporations make of households with rooftops owning the means of production?

*Yes, I know it's a battery with limited storage that could only keep Alcoa operating for 15 min. It gives time for slower systems to step up, and it's getting company.

Jim Lund said...

I'll say I haven't seen a good cost accounting for nuclear power. Today nuclear is the most expensive way of generating electricity by a mile, and that is with only *some* of the costs accounted. Nuclear proponents say that much of this cost is due to delays caused by the US permitting process and other unneeded regulation, but is this really the case? Is there an optimistic scenario with a streamlined permitting process that makes nuclear power economical?

With much of the facility and equipment becoming radioactive, normal industrial processes have to be done in roundabout and expensive ways, and the extra engineering and redundancy makes the whole thing much more expensive than a coal burner or a chemical plant. The regulation needs to be tight and onerous, because, let's be honest, standard corporate practice is to cut all the corners that can be cut, and treats pollution and accidents as costs to be paid down the line, hopefully by someone else.

That said, isn't the biggest cost for nuclear plants waste disposal and dismantling the plant? We've never done this (maybe one or two university test reactors?) and there is no good estimate for the cost. Today, high level waste mostly sits on site, with as far as I've heard, no plan or budget for eventual disposal.

I know it is not really comparable, but how much is the Hanford site going to cost to clean up? $200B, $1000B?

Compared to the known, low-end estimated lifetime costs for a nuclear plant that runs without any accidents, solar, wind, and a few football fields of batteries sound like a deal.

yana said...


Ilithi Dragon thought:

"The MCU movies are part of a long-running, inter-connected series and are best viewed as such."

There we go, was waiting for someone to touch on that. Saw most of them over the years, missed a few, and the +decade distance between Iron Man to Infinity War meant plenty of lost context for someone with a full life outside the Marv.Cine.Univ.

So plotted it out, set a target date for watching Infinity War, collected all 18 previous films. Did them in 7 days, on the eighth day went to see Infinity War on the big screen. That worked. Definitely enjoyed Infinity War a lot more, with the entire story fresh in mind, specially the little teasers at the end of the credits of each one.

Most film series should be treated the same way. Lately found Ned Rifle but didn't watch it until i had an 8-hour block of time. Because to really understand it, you've got to watch Henry Fool then Fay Grim then Ned Rifle all in a row. Yes an extreme case, that series was filmed over 17 years, but with the full context in forebrain, Aubrey Plaza's role is revealed as her best performance to date.

David Brin said...

This nuclear discussion ignores the incredible new technologies that are meltdown proof and highly compact/simplified.

We need to solve the waste problem by viewing Yucca Mountain as a depository for valuable goods that our children will likely want to use.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

This nuclear discussion ignores the incredible new technologies that are meltdown proof and highly compact/simplified.


It's not a matter of ignoring. Most of us probably haven't heard the details of such things. A good selling point, but it does have to be sold.

Larry Hart said...

Ilithi Dragon:

3-Mile Island wasn't bad. The plant had a problem, and they shut it down with no fallout outside the plant itself.


Yeah, it's hard to remember back that far now, but IIRC, Three-Mile Island was scary for what could have happened rather than for what did happen.


Fukushima is also nowhere near as bad as it was made out to be, and also a perfect storm of corporate corner-cutting on out-dated equipment that weathered an earthquake, and then a tsunami.


With all due respect, none of those things are outside the realm of expected conditions, least of all corporate cost-cutting. If you're telling me that a thing is safe as long as there's not an earthquake or tsunami in Japan, and as long as the corporation hasn't minimized costs to itself, then I expect the worst to happen. Not every day, but eventually.


Nuclear is extremely safe.


That does not directly contradict what I said earlier, which is that even though nuclear may be safer over time than other energy sources, the times something does go wrong are horrifyingly wrong.

Think of what I'm saying as a dark mirror of the reasons people play the lottery, even though on average over time, they're going to lose money. It's unlikely that you'll win, but if you do win, it will be such a good thing that it makes the risk feel worthwhile. Turn that around from "good" to "bad", and that's how many people view nuclear power.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Nuclear waste

This is NOT a problem

There is High level waste - used fuel rods - which is as Dr Brin says a treasure for the future

Medium level - basically all of the structural elements that have been exposed to neutrons and is very slightly radioactive

Low level waste - which is everything else "Just in Case"

The solution is to pave a 1 km square in one of the US air bases
Build farm sheds on that 1 square km
Put a fence up around it
Build another fence 1 km out from that
Bingo - for 9 square km of one of the huge US air bases you have safe storage for all of the US waste
The 1 km air gap protects the US service men/women - and the US service men/women "protect" the waste

Duncan Cairncross said...

Larry
IF Something DOES go horrifically wrong THEN we need to look at the consequences

Chernobyl was a worse case - a modern reactor even and old one like Fukushima cannot possible go as far wrong as that

If a modern reactor was deliberately run to cause as much destruction as possible it would kill a few tens of people - there are tens of thousands of industrial operations that could each one kill a hundred times as many not to mention ships and airliners

Chernobyl was a MAGNOX - as such it had a shitload of Uranium in a big graphite core - the burning of the graphite is what caused the radioactive material to escape in a plume of smoke

There are NO MAGNOX reactors still in operation

Fukushima had a much smaller core with a much smaller amount of enriched uranium in stainless steel tubes - and MOST IMPORTANT nothing that would burn - no multi-ton graphite core
You could make it damage it's containment but there is no way to develop the sort of plume that would spread the radiation

Kal Kallevig said...

Duncan

"You could make it damage it's containment but there is no way to develop the sort of plume that would spread the radiation"

Plumes do not only spread through the air. If I recall correctly, a great deal of radioactive water was released into the Pacific, and is in danger of continuing that process.

If (or is it when?) climate change sends surges of water to raise the sea level almost instantly, what will happen to the pools of cooling waste at virtually all existing nuclear facilities? As I recall, there are more than 40 that would be, at a minimum, in grave danger. Recall that Fukushima became a problem when the power went out; how will you keep the power on in all of them under conditions of chaos?


And "should store that waste for future use" is a lot different from "it is all safely stored for the next 10,000 years.

Tony Fisk said...

Nuclear waste persists. It needs to be stored using methods that are equally persistent (longer than the lifetime of those infrastructures that provide for the US service men Duncan mentioned). There are proposed solutions to this (eg Synroc), but how do you prove them over that time period?

Even with advanced designs, the nuclear industry has a few psychological barriers to overcome before it can consider its revival. After that, it will still have to be able to justify itself economically.

Tony Fisk said...

In other news, Boulder Ballet is presenting a new choreography celebrating the New Horizons mission.
If you're in the vicinity in the next week or so, you may want to consider supporting your local civilisation...

Jim Lund said...

David Brin, I've read descriptions of some the new designs, and they seem like big improvements. I have heard of compact (freight container size) designs, but they produce little power. All the new designs are unproven tech, and 20+ service years of experience will be needed to demonstrate they work. The first generation of nuclear reactors were promoted as safe and cheap but were neither, so skepticism is to be expected.

And are the new nuclear designs cost competitive? That is what has stopped interest in building new nuclear power stations. Are they more reliable, do they generate less waste? This should make them easier to sell to power companies and insurers. Power companies have soured on nuclear power, and they are the people with the most technical and practical experience. Are these new designs appealing to power companies?

The US certainly needs a plan for long term storage of medium and high level nuclear waste. The Yucca mountain site seemed reasonable, but hasn't been pushed through by either party. Picking a site is just the beginning--moving the accumulated high level waste there is a huge project. There would likely be accidents in transit. We would likely find that some of the 'temporary' storage tanks are leaking or in such a bad state that touching them would be highly dangerous. Don't mistake my complaints, this needs to happen, and the sooner the better. But it has a high price tag, $100's of billions nationwide. When the bill comes due, and gets paid mostly by the Feds, will the US public be willing to buy a new generation of nuclear plants?

The suggested 'easy' instant solutions for nuclear waste storage are not serious. If the easy solution made sense, it would have been done already.

The US has the opportunity to deploy new nuclear power plants in the near future. The existing nuclear plants are all near or past their expected lifetimes, and power companies will be/should be dismantling them. These are perfect sites for new nuclear plants--already permitted, the land already radioactive, and the community used to living next to a nuclear power station.

The figures I've been seeing are pointing to wind + storage and solar + storage being cheaper (or soon to be cheaper) than new coal plants, and half the operating cost of nuclear generation.

David Brin said...

There is a solution to many US problems that could bypass the US government's paralysis. States can gather and agree on treaties and "uniform codes" like the Uniform Business Code. It actually happens a lot.

If I were a charismatic/persuasive governor, I'd call such a conference and ask:

1) Stop the race to the bottom in tax incentives etc for companies/stadiums. Cities etc get to apply a few million based on poverty levels, then nothing.

2) States come to the table with a wish list - including what they want OTHER states to sacrifice for the common good. Unwillingness to sacrifice for the common good means you get nothing you wish for. Absolute: Delaware must stop being a shell company haven and Nevada gives us Yucca Mountain. California could build a bullet train to Vegas.

Alabama & Mississippi could swap 150,0000 black and white people (my private dream; let the governance experiment begin.)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Nuclear waste

There is a simple trade-off between how dangerous it is and how long it lasts

The really dangerous stuff is dangerous for days - the medium for years

The stuff with a longer lifetime is LESS DANGEROUS than many natural ores

The easy solutions are there - the trouble is that almost none of our leaders are actually "Numerate" and simply do not understand simple maths


yana said...

Duncan Cairncross thought:

"when there are millions of EV’s there will be a massive amount of storage that can be used when and if the owners allow"

Applause, this is a point rarely heard and routinely underappreciated. So many times, people who suck lemons while they read about renewable energy try to scare potential adopters with "don't go renewy, you'll have to buy a storage unit bigger than a refrigerator for an additional $20,000 and that's on top of your solar panels and windmills."

Duh, that's what people with electric cars have just done, without realizing it.

Ilithi Dragon thought:

"you will be relying on them extremely hard during peak demand, which is usually in the evenings, when solar is providing no power."

It's in the balance. In the evenings, just as the day-night terminator passes overhead, is a great time for wind energy.

But really, i think we need to consider what "peak demand" on the overall grid is, and the data shows that this is not during evening hours. It is during daylight hours, when people are far more active in offices and manufacturing and retail. This planet's dominant species is largely diurnal.

Larry Hart thought:

"some thing that might have a 99.9% chance of being good, and a 0.1% chance slowly torturing"

A wider circle of people should become aware of how safe pebble breeder reactors are. The fuel is trickier to concoct than stacking pellets into rods, but you don't need to rely on outside mechanical devices to raise/lower rods. The Dept of Energy has their fingers in lots of pies. I would like to see them to pull some fingers back and engage to build a truly safe reactor in 6 years, then let the results speak for themselves. Remove catastrophe from the conversation, and the only debate left will be what to do with spent fuel.

Duncan Cairncross thought:

"4000 tones of uranium going up those smokestacks"

Not really worried, the Sierra Club has singlehandedly cut our coal-fire electricity plants nearly in half, and they've only been at it a couple decades. The winning strategy is not just a whipsmart legal team, but a sound economic incentive for utility corps to stop burning coal.

Tony Fisk thought:

"Another factor that doesn't get mentioned a lot is the old one of central v distributed."

Central anything is a point of weakness, a vulnerablity. It is an obvious national security advantage if electricity is generated in 58 million locations, rather than nine thousand.

"What do corporations make of households with rooftops owning the means of production?"

The most upsetting thing i saw last week was a former gov't energy official 'splaining that the slow pace of adoption of free energy in the USA was because existing energy companies needed to 'get their footing' to transition to a new model. Translation: fossil companies thickened the mud at every turn until they could wring higher profits via paid legislation, and get a breather to acquire large swaths of upstart innovators.

I forget the guy's name, it was Obama's Secretary of Energy, could look it up but believe in the right to be lazy on Sunday. Whoever he is, that attitude is a real problem for the Democrat party here. It's why Hillary lost: the nearer one suckles the less peripheral vision.

Making a small prediction here, that a business model may arise, shortly, where people who install a windmill get a rebate from a wireless company in return for affixing a miniature 6G cell transponder on top. Later, windmill owners might even agitate and negotiate, and win a monthly royalty.

It's a 2-bird-1-stone thing. Decreases the amount of electric potential which must be transmitted over the grid, and solves the problem of rural broadband access.

Tony Fisk said...

Returning *gasp!* to the original topic:

I could offer these guys better ideas while stoned out of my gourd. So (likely) could you.

Speaking as someone who can enjoy Greg Egan, or Avengers (and maybe Alita? We'll see.*), I just saw this choice scenario:
Location: Mars.
NICK FURY emerges from dust storm, brushes dust off the rover and connects a device with glowing blue lights. The rover's camera suddenly moves and turns towards him.
FURY: I'm putting together a team. Think of it as... an opportunity.


* I survived "Immortal Engines"! I admit the opening scenes managed to convey an element of predatory drama on the European savannah ("London; in search of breakfast rather than Brexit" as one critic put it). The rest was a dreary mess. I find it ironic that the most engaging story element (the Shrike)** was also the most superfluous.
** ...and there's your Alita link. Which also harks back to empathic AI/cyborgs (not that the Shrike was empathic: Stephen Lang, was that *really* you!?)

David Brin said...

" the Sierra Club has singlehandedly " Member since 1967. 40 year life member. Also Greenpeace, to be the bad cop sending businesses screaming to the SC to negotiate.

yana said...


Jim Lund thought:

"high level waste mostly sits on site, with as far as I've heard, no plan or budget for eventual disposal... Hanford site ... $200B, $1000B?"

Yes, preach it. Flipside, a central deposition like Yucca Flats would have been, as mentioned above, a vulnerability, a single point of attack and/or protocol failure. If a handful of hotheads with more smarts than emapthy were to nuke a packed Yucca Flats, 3/4 of the USA would be in a pretty bad spot. So "eventual disposal" at dispersed locations, at each plant's site, might actually be preferred.

Hanford, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and there's a dozen more in Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and California. Fraught it out, and have to say that these are the spots we sacrificed, the spaces we have de facto agreed to lose from the rolls of agriculture land or timber acres. Forever, we lose these spaces.

But for them we traded a panopoly of knowledge about how the most ephemeral of nature's tinkertoys can be rearranged. This trade, as we speak, is creating a new kind of person as the old communication barriers of time and geography evaporate in the same swoop.

Duncan Cairncross thought:

"IF Something DOES go horrifically wrong THEN we need to look at the consequences"

You may be discounting the question of timing. The sequence 'IF-DOES-THEN' seems pale in comparison to the sequence 'BEFORE-THEN' and now simply because you've said 'horrifically'.

Jim Lund thought:

"There would likely be accidents in transit."

On the contrary, transportation accidents have been on a steep decline lately. I have full confidence in the USA's security and transportation systems, but why would we want to move power and research byproducts to a single location?

Seems like you have no confidence that we'll be able to police such a depot for 10,000 years, so why is one super-dangerous site better than a few hundred merely-toxic spots? The extrapolation is that you assume a future breakdown of society and culture, and don't want future vulnerable humans to play with glowing green goo. Yes, that makes fun scifi, but there's no reason it has to become reality.

David Brin thought:

"Yucca Mountain as a depository for valuable goods that our children will likely want to use."

Probably true, but don't agree that a central repository is a good idea. Jim Lund cites transpo mishaps, and i admit that the small chance exists, with the outcome possibly horrific. But that's not why i oppose Yucca. I prefer distributed storage of radioactive materials, because it limits the damage from any one act of jackassery. Another reason, a half-step down the cellar stairs of my unorthodox scientific beliefs, is that the pace of evolution hereabouts is dictated by natural radiation monkeying with chromosomes. I like where evolution has brought us so far.

David Brin said...

Dig deep enough under Yucca Mtn and it is preferable. Any bunker buster nuke that gets that deep may "destroy" any facilities, but a collapsing mountain keeps most of its contents buried.

yana said...


David Brin thought:

"a collapsing mountain keeps most of its contents buried."

God i hope so. Was an early supporter of Yucca Flats. It really seemed like we were finally going to put one nagging problem to bed. A few years ago saw a viral vid made by some jackasses who blew up a whole mountain, the resulting destruction shocking even them, absently repeating "allah ahu akbar" to a familiar rhythm, realized i had heard that cadence before, a voice in English repeating "double rainbow".

jim said...

I agree that Thanos’s plan does not meet his objectives. Simply killing off half of the intelligent life only “solves” the problem for a short period of time. And he would have to repeat the snap every couple of generations.

A much more ecologically inspired solution could have both solved the long term problem of out of control population growth in technological civilizations and provided a great on going plot device. Thanos should have used the power of the infinity stones to create super powered beings who feed off of the populations / products of technological civilizations.

Larry Hart said...

Movie-Thanos struck me as channeling Kodos the Executioner from the Star Trek episode "The Conscience of the King". Both villains saw themselves as making the hard choice to sacrifice part of the population in order to save the whole. This is much different from comics-Thanos, whose motivation was to court Death herself by committing what he called "total stellar genocide".

Comics Thanos is as villainous a villain as they come. There's no ambiguity as to whether he's just a flawed hero or anything like that. Although, when Adam Warlock first met him, Thanos was portraying himself as a sympathetic ally against their common enemy, The Magus, and it was a long time before Warlock understood how evil Thanos was. As serendipity would have it, that was the first Thanos story I ever read, so it was also a long time before I understood how evil Thanos was.

Twominds said...

Jikes, I can barely keep up with the comment section this time, let alone reply.

Some quickies then between dinner and choir practice.

Larry Hart: I hear you on catastrophic disaster, but I think it's more a question of very visible disaster. Other industries are very capable too of slowly torturing you and your entire family to death, but it will be less recognizable. Don't you think that's part of your unease about nuclear power?

Someone mentioned Hanford as an example of a very expensive site to clean up. Correct, of course. But I think it's unfair to heap the old weapons research sites and nuclear power plants together and lay it all at the plant's feet.

Dr.Brin: agree on that new designs will be melt-proof, they should have been built 10 years ago. OTOH, waiting for the new nuclear can also be detrimental to getting more nuclear power online asap, as Mike Shellenberger from the Ecomodernists argues.

Need to run now, hope to find a bit of time tomorrow morning.

A.F. Rey said...

OK, Dr. Brin, I found a poster for you when you talk about Pence (courtesy of P.Z. Myers):

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/02/18/its-the-biggest-burnt-offering-of-all-time/

Robert said...

The true idiocy of Thanos is that there was a simpler solution to what he wanted to do that would have likely resulted in a lot of people backing Thanos.

Snap the fingers: All individuals who are capable of giving birth have the ability to consciously decide if they want to become pregnant/carry an unborn entity/whatever biological equivalence. Further, these individuals cannot be coerced into doing this (the loss of agency means this individual cannot become pregnant or the like).

In short, there is no more need for birth control or the like as women (and their equivalence among other species) only become pregnant when they want to. And if women are able to decide when to become pregnant, they can also choose not to overpopulate. Many people would choose not to become pregnant if their children would not be in an environment that is healthy for them (thus if their babies are going to starve to death, why have babies).

---------

As for gen:LOCK. I did a little digging and found that you CAN in fact watch the first episode without any sort of account. That said, you'll have multiple commercials to sit through from the looks of things. But hey, Rooster Teeth [i]does[/i] need to make a living somehow.

The first episode can be found here: https://roosterteeth.com/episode/gen-lock-season-1-1

Rob H.

Russell Osterlund said...

With the positive comments concerning the program, "The Orville", whatever happened to the movement to boycott Fox and starve the entire network by denying it advertising revenue? Fox is an unwanted presence in the guide listings within our household. It is unfortunate for good shows to "live" there; if they are that good, but are cancelled, they will get picked up by more reputable networks.

Treebeard said...

Poro, my advice is to remember that in America, even the smart people are culturally and ontologically stupid. Here on this blog you have people who think they are the adults and smart guys in the room discussing comic book movies and silly TV shows at length; this is where America is culturally. You can't expect a lot of understanding and concern about the rest of the world from people so caught up in a matrix of fantasy. It's the Land of Oz, dude, and the Wizard is in control. Americans are uncultured, sheep-like narcissists, to a large degree, and they don't care about you. You are on your own.

P. S. Science fiction is terrible for peering ahead. I can't think of any science fiction from many decades ago that accurately predicted the world of 2019. Old science fiction is hilariously bad, and the new stuff will be too soon, if it isn't already. By its nature, as a genre that prides itself on its disconnection from history and tradition, it reflects the biases of its time and becomes dated very quickly.

Larry Hart said...

Treebeard:

in America, even the smart people are culturally and ontologically stupid.


Which category are you excluding yourself from?


Here on this blog you have people who think they are the adults and smart guys in the room discussing comic book movies and silly TV shows at length;


It was kinda the topic and all.

And as opposed to what? Discussing making love to chipmunks?


P. S. Science fiction is terrible for peering ahead. ...Old science fiction is hilariously bad,


I dunno, it accurately predicted submarines, space rockets, and flip-phones.

And you're intentionally missing the point. It's not supposed to narrow down exactly what the world will look like in 50 years or so. It's supposed to make you see and think about things in new ways.

Jim Lund said...

Twominds said:
> Someone mentioned Hanford as an example of a very expensive site to clean up. Correct,
> of course. But I think it's unfair to heap the old weapons research sites and nuclear
> power plants together and lay it all at the plant's feet.

Sorry, not what I was getting at. My point was that we don't know how much it will cost, with the estimates coming from university reactors and Hanford. There is a decommissioning fund, but it is underfunded to a ridiculous degree.

OK, so I poked around the net, and a number of power reactors have been partially torn down. This industry site (http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/decommissioning-nuclear-facilities.aspx) is reporting initial phase decommissioning at ~$1B per reactor, leaving the core and stored fuel in place, so ~$5-10B total cost for an decommissioning (without major contamination surprises) seems to be reasonable. This doesn't cover disposal of the fuel.

David Brin said...

Why does no one in these flicks demand: “Hey we never got supervillains till you heroes came along!”

1) Maybe humanity makes heroes as an immune response to supervillain (SV) outbreaks. E.g. earlier times like Hercules.

2) Maybe when we have super good guys it DRAWS IN the Dark Side.

Of course it’s all bull. The cool thing about those dumb Transformers flicks is that national forces and regular soldiers play a powerful and important role.

==

Hey lookie… the ent used “ontological.” Does that make him… “smart”? Or stupid?

Given his bias, wanting a return of historically-verified-always-stupid rule by inheritance oligarchies, it is natural he is biased against the biggest force standing in the way of feudalism’s return. Smart people. Tens of millions of them in all the professions that use horrid… facts.

Oh, re: science fiction… LH is right that “ It's not supposed to narrow down exactly what the world will look like in 50 years or so. It's supposed to make you see and think about things in new ways.”
Still: I predicted YOU in The Postman.

And EARTH got almost everything right. Except I thought by now ONE president in a developing nation would have the sense and ‘smarts” to do the win-win and declare war on Switzerland.

David Brin said...

Still, let me admit I must give Treebeard props, actual credit for honesty. His is the first open admission I have seen by a Confederate-know-nothing that the agenda is actual, open hatred of smart people.

I've long wished some public figure would say: "We all know that being smart and knowing a lot doesn't automatically make you wise....

But Fox & Fools relentlessly push - without saying it aloud - a corollary that being smart and knowing a lot automatically MAKES you UNWISE.

Why do they never say it aloud, as such, while relentlessly implying it? Because actually saying it explicitly would reveal, openly, that they are capering-jibbering idiots. Because while there are some smart fools, *Generally* there is a rising correlation between knowing a lot and a gradual rise in wisdom. And we can't let that blatantly obvious fact get in the way of the top Fox agenda -- waging open war on all fact-using professions, now including the "deep state" agencies that saved us from Hitler, Stalin and bin Laden. You know, all the smart folks who stand in the way of a return to feudalism.

Likewise, Fox n' Pals impugn science relentlessly, while declaring "I like science!"

(BTW, Fox the TV network was never the center of all this, and is now owned by Disney. Rupert Murdoch's propaganda-shill lie central is Fox NEWS.)

So in fact it is refreshing to see a neo-feudalist rave the actual meaning of it all, with: "smart people are culturally and ontologically stupid."

Yep. It's out in the open. What the flick IDIOCRACY never mentions is the Great Purge that really led to that future. But it is made clear in CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Why does no one in these flicks demand: “Hey we never got supervillains till you heroes came along!”


Maybe not in the movies, but the comics have been dealing with that for years now. Batman is probably the most famous character to have the police let him know that they consider him responsible for the presence of Joker, Two-Face, and all. The Flash was run out of Central City in a 1990s story arc because he was considered a magnet for supervillains. Over at Marvel, both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were forced to relocate their headquarters out of town to minimize damage to the city from supervillain attacks.

That's why I've never been a fan of villains whose main goal is to battle the hero. * Because even if the hero wins such a battle, he's only won a zero-sum victory, saving people from a menace that wouldn't have existed in the first place if the hero just hadn't been around. The appeal of a concept like Superman, etc, is that their existence is a positive boon to the regular people the reader identifies with. He has to accomplish something more than escape a trap that was set for himself.

* If I never hear another variation on "I'm a dark mirror of yourself. We each need the other to give our lives meaning," it will be too soon.

Mike Will said...

I'm not a long-time, dues-payed, valuable member of this group. Perhaps someday I will be, we'll see. My focus for now is to read much, write little, and try to contribute to the discourse if at all possible.

For example, I've been reading past discussions trying to grasp a few distictly American themes such as red/blue, gray/blue, and the 'Confederacy'. Previously, these were only shallow 'Hollywood-isms' for me. I'm beginning to fathom some of it now. Decrying the 'hubris' of 'intellectuals' who wish to subvert others' free will seems to be a main thrust of the Confederacy as I understand it.

Pompous, ignorant, narcissistic, capricious, vicious tyrants will always work to bend the arc of history to their evil dark ages. I for one am glad that a few well-meaning egg heads will always work to bend it back towards the light. Any free will we enjoy is entirely thanks to good people with vision who toiled and bled for a better future. Children spray free will like a firehose ("You're not the boss of me!") Fortunately, adults master their impulses, sacrifice for others, and defer gratification, all in support of civilization. Romanticized free will is at best a phantom, and at worst a tool of cynical manipulation. Since prehistory, the choice has been crystal clear: to be brothers or to be cat food. Ask anyone who's ever been truly alone how much free will is worth.

Here's the kicker. I'm not one of the 'smart' ones. I'm nobody. Powerless and nearly penniless. Not political, neither Fox nor CNN, and not even American. However, I can walk into a public library, or access the internet with a smart phone or cheap computer. I can learn most of what we humans know about neutrinos in a few hours if I want to. Again, I'm nobody. Astonishing times.

Jon S. said...

Re: supervillains and the "chicken and egg" question:

In the X-Men original stories, it was made plain that Charles Xavier started to gather these gifted youngsters together, and train them as his own private child army, specifically because of the threat posed by his former friend Erik "Magneto" Lensherr. In this case, the heroes were indeed a sort of "immune response". Something similar is true of most of the old-school Marvel heroes; Spider-Man was bitten by the famed spider, then started using his powers to thwart bad guys who apparently would have appeared anyway, for instance, and the Fantastic Four only went public when Mole Man, thinking the surface world unprotected, attacked. The Avengers, as a team, are kind of a mixture - they first started working together because Loki came to Earth to harass Thor, and decided to start by tricking Thor into fighting the Hulk (who at the time just wanted to be left alone out in the southwest desert regions). It, ah, didn't go entirely according to plan, because Hulk's little buddy Rick Jones was able to access a radio frequency used by both Iron Man and Ant-Man to call for help.

In the pages of Batman, the question has been debated. The Joker denies that he came about because of the Batman, though - he regards Batman as his appointed nemesis, but his origin comes from having the worst day ever (and Batman hadn't even come into existence yet when that happened!). Some of the others are debatable, although it's pretty clear that the Penguin's entire villainous career is based in his own resentment of how he's treated by society due to his deformities (flipper hands and a very beaklike nose).

Robert said...

Just realized that folk probably have forgotten about gen:LOCK so my link to the show is probably out of the blue.

It's set some 40 years in the future with two world superpowers at war - the Union, which is an authoritarian world government, and the Polity, which is the more democratic Western nations (though given the Union invades New York City and the Eastern Seaboard in the first episode, how much of Europe is still free is not really known).

There are some truly interesting aspects to the show - for instance, robotic kitchen help (seen in the first episode), full-body holographic long-distance (and short-distance) communication, weaponized nanotechnology (though I'm not sure how they have the nanotech "fly" as it does - possibly using magnetic fields? Or maybe microscopic drone platforms that fire the nanites?) and because it's anime-ish, giant robots.

There's also ECM warfare including jamming and overwriting AI-operated machines, uploading minds to machine bodies for short periods of time, a cast in which NONE of the main characters are white males (we've an African-American male lead, an Iranian woman, a genderfluid Ukrainian currently identifying as female, a Japanese man, and a Scottish teenage girl who seems to be the group hacker and sole teenager (at 17)), and they even got David Tennant to play Dr. Weller (who invented the mind transfer technology that is central to the show).

So yeah, I do recommend taking a look at Rooster Teeth's latest series and expressing your opinion. Though as I mentioned in the above post (with the URL), only the first episode is currently available for non-FIRST members, and the series only really starts hitting it out of the park after a couple of episodes goes by (which isn't to say it's not GOOD... just that it definitely gets better with each new episode).

Rob H.

David Brin said...

X-men is different. It's about everyone getting affected to degrees large & small.

Mike Will, you are smart and well-spoken and I am sure you'll wander into something of value to yourself and the world. You're already a valued member of the community. Stay feisty.

Mike Will said...

@Dr. Brin Thanks. Appreciated.


Just a word on comics (which I know nothing about). Having nothing to say about comics and video games, I was reading instead about one of my favourite short stories, "Flowers for Algernon" (1959) by Daniel Keyes. Turns out that Keyes worked for Marvel under Stan Lee early in his career. Huh.

Twominds said...

@Larry Hart

In the five minutes I have before going to my job:

No, it wasn't you that made the remark about Hanford, but I didn't have time to scroll back and find who it was.

About decommissioning: France (and IIRC the US too) has a surcharge on electricity to pay for the decommissioning afterwards. Even with that, France has the cheapest electricity in Europe (save some Eastern European lands at least shortly after the Wende, but I don't know if that's still true).

I do think France has hidden subsidies on nuclear like other lands have them on fossil fuel power, and open ones on renewables. But my French isn't up to reading about that in detail.

Larry Hart said...

Mike Will:

Pompous, ignorant, narcissistic, capricious, vicious tyrants will always work to bend the arc of history to their evil dark ages. I for one am glad that a few well-meaning egg heads will always work to bend it back towards the light. Any free will we enjoy is entirely thanks to good people with vision who toiled and bled for a better future.


I noticed this specifically in The Postman when I first read it in the 1980s. The Holnists weren't opposed by superheroes, but by university types ("eggheads", if you will). At the time, I thought it was an unusual perspective for an author to bring (having no knowledge of the author, that is).

Bob Neinast said...

As long as we're talking science fiction (we are talking science fiction, right?), folks might be interesting in this recent article in Wired:

"Sci-Fi Author Robert Heinlein was basically MacGyver", https://www.wired.com/2019/02/geeks-guide-gregory-benford/

Actually, it's more a mini-interview with Gregory Benford, and a pointer to Episode 348 of Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, which features him.

Mike Will said...

The good: Private SpaceIL lunar lander to launch Thursday
The bad: will need at least six Earth slingshots to reach the moon
The ugly: will carry a copy of the Bible in its attempt to "to promote science among a new generation"

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/spaceil-beresheet-launch-1.5023759

raito said...

Larry Hart:

Moves up a notch with the 'kids playing Batman' comment.

As for 'villains', one of my favorites is Marc C. DuQuesne. He really has nothing against the heroes, except that they keep getting in his way. And as soon as it's feasible for him to go elsewhere, he does.

Duncan Cairncross:

You missed another way electric cars help. Central generation of power invokes economies of scale, particularly that of pollution control. Even with the various losses.

Also, people want 250 mile range because they use it often enough for it to be a pain if they don't have it. I probably need it once a month, and there is no decent alternative. I think I'm still a pod car guy, though that's most likely too disruptive to happen any time soon.

Dr. Brin:

'Why does no one in these flicks demand: “Hey we never got supervillains till you heroes came along!”'

Incredibles II gets close, but not all the way. One does wonder there that if heroes are outlawed, why aren't the villains running the place by now.

As for smarts and wisdom... One of my neighbors is far too fond of declaring various officials as being 'not too smart'. Rather like I thought of him when he was mayor. What he never seems to get is that I don't care that they're smart. I care that they make the correct decisions.

As far as lying AI goes, that's a rough one. One thing I don't see mentioned in our host's words or the linked article is personalization. Big data combined with psychology is going to have some serious effects. Why would anyone (other than for proof of concept) use a neural net on everything to craft a generalized scam when it's nearly as easy to craft personalized ones? With people getting most of their information online these days, it wouldn't be hard to make things look like everyone else is seeing whatever personally-crafted maliciousness you want.

Chain of custody is going to become crucial.

And maybe this will lead to some evolution in the direction of the Fair Witness.

matthew said...

Also, pretty much the entire "Watchmen" comic series was also about supers creating villains. Pretty well-traveled ground indeed.

Oh, and since treebeard posted again, a reminder that he is an avowed white nationalist nazi who brags about his committing violence on LGBTQ folks and makes threats to readers here. If you're new here, feel free to ignore him.

jim said...

A little off topic but important:

It looks like things in China are coming to a head this year.
Last year the official level of borrowing in China was 23.1% of GDP. That is crazy high, only China (23.1%) and Ireland (14.1) are above 10%.

But reports out for the level of debt creation for China in January was at 70% of GDP. If that number is even close to being accurate things have to blow up pretty darn quick.

So looks like we get a global economic crisis with Trump in charge of the US.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

In the X-Men original stories, it was made plain that Charles Xavier started to gather these gifted youngsters together, and train them as his own private child army, specifically because of the threat posed by his former friend Erik "Magneto" Lensherr.


Pet peeve of mine, the name "Erik Lensherr" didn't exist until the movies. The name is obviously some kind of in-joke that I don't get, which makes me despise it. :)


In this case, the heroes were indeed a sort of "immune response".


Don't let my previous comment detract from this excellent point. The only other time I've seen superheroes addressed as an "immune response" is in Neil Gaiman's delightful 1602 miniseries, in which a threat to the universe in Elizabethan England causes the heroes and villains to appear there.


In the pages of Batman, the question has been debated. The Joker denies that he came about because of the Batman, though - he regards Batman as his appointed nemesis, but his origin comes from having the worst day ever (and Batman hadn't even come into existence yet when that happened!).


You're obviously conversant in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, but wasn't the Joker's origin always tied to Batman knocking The Red Hood into a vat of chemicals? I mean, ever since they gave Joker a retconned origin back in the 1940s, Batman did have a hand in his creation, albeit one he knew nothing about.

Your general point is well taken, though, that in the early comics (through the 60s at least), heroes and villains came into being independent of each other. If anything, some heroes took it upon themselves to fight the villains. I can't think of an early example of the other way around--villains springing into being because of the hero. That seems to be more of a movie trope than a comics one.

Larry Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Hart said...

(deleted and re-posted for typos)

raito:

'Why does no one in these flicks demand: “Hey we never got supervillains till you heroes came along!”'

Incredibles II gets close, but not all the way.


Wasn't the first Incredibles already kinda going there? Maybe not "We never had villains...", but certainly "We never had this kind of property damage..."


One does wonder there that if heroes are outlawed, why aren't the villains running the place by now.


If super powers are outlawed, only outlaws will have super powers. :)

I'll bet they could make a good legal argument that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear super powers.

Treebeard said...

And right on cue matthew gives us an example of that cultural and ontological stupidity I was talking about. It's an old American disease, going right back to the Puritan founders. Ontological, as in not knowing how to be or how to live, just how to label people evil who are not on the path of the righteous; cultural, as in people with no culture use this as a substitute. I have travelled the world, and only in America do you encounter many people like this. It's been a nation of anti-cultural pariahs from its inception, which probably explains why it has been perpetually at war.

Deuxglass said...

Treebeard,

I have more traveled the world, I have live in several very different cultures for years at a time and I can say from experience that self-delusion and cultural and religious righteousness are present everywhere and not just in the United States. You might even say that it defines what is Humanity, that is to rationalize why my culture, my system of government, my art and my whatever no matter how absurd is better than yours. Once you realize that then you can find common ground. Every People, no matter how mean, feel superior in some way to others and if you don't give them respect then they will quite rightly work to bring your downfall.

Twominds said...

Through the link from Bob Neinast I came upon something else interesting in Wired.

The world may actual run out of people, an interwiew with the authors of the book Empty Planet, who look at the effects on population growth of urbanizing, education for women and probably other factors, that aren't mentioned.

Quote: YOU KNOW THE story. Despite technologies, regulations, and policies to make humanity less of a strain on the earth, people just won’t stop reproducing. By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consuming people on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations.

But what if they’re wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed?

That’s the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”


I have no idea if this very strong conclusion is reasonable, but I haven't seen their arguments yet. If my budget leaves a bit of room, I may buy the book and see.

Interesting to see something about this subject from other people than Hans Rosling, who I think was most well-known.

jim said...

Twominds
They are just being kind of silly.
If you assume that the total fertility rate remains below the replacement level and just stays there forever, of course your population goes to zero eventually.

But just look at the TFR of subgroups in the total population, for example the Amish in the US. The TFR is way above the replacement level for the Amish, and if we assume that their TFR does not ever change, everyone in the world will be Amish in a couple hundred years.

Make silly assumptions and you get silly results.

David Brin said...

“Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

Stark jibbering lunacy, without any basis in biology or nature.

Notice Treebeard yowled and yammered a bunch of polysyllabic jibber-jabber... but did not actually deny a single word of the accusal.

matthew said...

" It's an old American disease"... fighting avowed nazis. Fuck off ent, you pile of nazi shit.

America has a rich history of telling evil schmucks to fuck off.
I'm proud to be an American.

Twominds said...

@jim

I'm not saying that, that comes from the article. But because I haven't read the book I can't comment on the contents. They show another side of the coin that many people see.
That such a decline would never end is, I thought at first, an exaggeration of the article, not of the authors. But I guess, from the title of the book, it comes from them. I am interested in their data, even if they take their conclusion too far. S-curves and all that.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

Completely off topic, but you know how you keep mentioning the miracle of the modern weather forecast? I'm beginning to doubt. The Chicago area has been visited by a long series of snow storms over the past month. I admit that the weather forecasters have done an outstanding job of predicting when each of these events is going to start. However, they have no clue as to when each will end. Invariably, a forecast of 1 to 4 inches ends up being more like 8 to 12, because the snow just keeps falling long after it was predicted to have moved on.

Back in November--yes, still during autumn--a snowstorm was on its way toward us, and the first prediction was for something like 2 inches. As the thing approached, the forecast changed to 4-6 inches, and then 5-8 inches. My intuition, enhanced by past experience, honed in on the convergence, and I told my wife, "It looks like it will actually be more like 14 inches", which was what we got. Before Thanksgiving!

Why is this? I mean, how can they be so good as to predict SuperStorm Sandy before it had even formed, and yet be so clueless as to how long a storm will keep snowing once it does start?

A.F. Rey said...

Per the article, Wired is quoting from the book:

“In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

And per the interview, they appear to be a couple of morons.

Their thesis seems to be that, since women are becoming more educated, and educated women have fewer children, educating all women will create a decline in the overall population that "will never end."

As if education alone will overcome millions of years of evolutionary imperative to procreate, and that educated women would be too stupid or stubborn to eventually realize that declining populations will inevitably lead to extinction. Brother!

It will take some real fancy dancing to overcome those obvious flaws.

Larry Hart said...

A F Rey:

Their thesis seems to be that, since women are becoming more educated, and educated women have fewer children, educating all women will create a decline in the overall population that "will never end."

As if education alone will overcome millions of years of evolutionary imperative to procreate, and that educated women would be too stupid or stubborn to eventually realize that declining populations will inevitably lead to extinction.


It's not even a matter of those women consciously choosing to save the species. Educated women in the industrialized world have fewer children because the cost/benefit ratio is high for each one. As the population declined precipitously, at some point the equation would change, and a child would be more like an asset than a liability.

Look at what happened in China when they were allowed only one child, and everyone wanted a son because sons were assets and daughters were liabilities. Only now that there's a girl shortage, the opposite is becoming apparent. The cost/benefit calculation is not a static thing.

Treebeard said...

matthew, you don't sound terribly bright, and by your language you don't sound very cultured either. But you are helpful in one respect: if anyone wants to know what the old Puritans must've been like, screaming "witch!" and "heretic!" at whoever they deemed evil, repeating it over and over mindlessly...well done. It doesn't bother me though, because I never really believed in progress in that sense; as you demonstrate, the same old pathologies will resurface again and again forever, because they are inherent in us.

Anonymous said...

Larry Hart wrote: Why is this? I mean, how can they be so good as to predict SuperStorm Sandy before it had even formed, and yet be so clueless as to how long a storm will keep snowing once it does start?

Assuming you're not being facetious…

I'm not a meteorologist, but I did attend a met conference a couple of years ago and this came up.

First off, tropical weather is generally more predictable than temperate weather. Those diagrams of the convection cells in textbooks are misleading: the Hadley cell is generally as shown, but the mid-latitude cell is a lot more random and varied — think of an eddy rather than the main current in a stream — which means temperate weather is also more random and varied.

Second, the computer models used for forecasting, while incredibly more accurate than they used to be*, are also getting outdated. As the Arctic warms it affects the route of the jet stream, which in turn affects temperate weather in ways that the models aren't coping with well because those situations aren't normal. In time they will be updated.

Third, depending on where you are there is considerable political** pressure to emphasize certain predictions in a range of predictions. There is also a reluctance to declare an emergency and be wrong. Predict 14 inches and businesses will close, as will schools etc.; if you only get 2, the forecaster gets blamed, AND people are less likely to pay attention in the future, which mean warnings become useless.


*When I was a wee lad, a "long range" forecast was a couple of days, and the usual forecast was only about six hours out.

**By which I mean "non-technical" — corporations have internal politics just as governments do.

David Brin said...


TwoMinds I used quotation marks. I know it wasn’t you.

LH: weather forecasting is getting better. At least they warn you of a storm.

“Their thesis seems to be that, since women are becoming more educated, and educated women have fewer children, educating all women will create a decline in the overall population that "will never end." “

Um didn’t they make a movie IDIOCRACY about this?

But, um, won’t the women who do want 6 kids outbreed the others?

Har! Matthew, notice he did it again! Snarked some polysyllabic jibber incantations… and denied nothing! Last chance, Treebeard. Deny it. Simply say it.

Daniel Duffy said...

@Twominds

HG Wells said that "history is a race between education and catastrophe".

What he should have said is "history is a race between educating girls and catastrophe".

Patriarchal religious leaders (are there any major religions run by women?) know this in their hearts. Whether it's real fundies like the Taliban or Quiverfull movements, or the fictional Handmaids Tale, they know that educated women have fewer children. Which is why they are so against educating girls. Religions grow by either conversion or birthrates, and the leaders of these religions have more control over the second factor. And from a purely Darwinian point of view they are correct - which is really ironic when you think about it.

Educating girls is also among the best ways to prevent global warming:

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/educating-girls

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.

Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.

Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

LH: weather forecasting is getting better. At least they warn you of a storm.


Oh, I know that. It's just frustrating when event after event, I have to figure "Double the forecast amount and then add a few more inches for luck" into how much I'm going to have to clear off my driveway and outdoor car.

I'm learning, though.

BTW, I figure this particular complaint is not part of the California experience. Tim/TAC and raito in Wisconsin feel my pain.

Larry Hart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Religions grow by either conversion or birthrates, and the leaders of these religions have more control over the second factor. And from a purely Darwinian point of view they are correct


Well, except that religions also shrink by conversion (think how many "lapsed Catholics" there are in the US), and the more those religious leaders act like George III, the more likely their parishioners will end up following Hamilton.

Alfred Differ said...

treebeard,

I have travelled the world, and only in America do you encounter many people like this

So let me get this right.
1. You were born elsewhere.
2. You've been many other places.
3. Some business-related venture led you here.
4. You've been here a while.
5. You think you understand that we are stupid in the cultural and ontological sense.

Have you considered the possibility that you still don't understand us? I don't doubt that you think we are wrong about a number of things, but for millions of people to be stupid suggests the possibility that the one viewing us is the one of fails to understand.

You are not the first to point out how weird we are, but some have gone into some depth about us and where the differences are. Labeling us 'stupid' misses the points they made about us. For example, Tocqueville pointed out how much we cared about political philosophy and how adamant we were about avoiding learning about the subject. Many have pointed out that we are 'barbarians' in the non-Hollywood sense. Such cultures are strange relative to others in the world, but that doesn't make them stupid.

Basically, I'm accusing you of being lazy. Matthew's response is a reasonable barbarian response. Barbarians can be quite bright and have strong cultures, so in your laziness, I think you've failed to understand us.

Anonymous said...

Larry Hart,

Here's a song from my youth growing up on the Canadian Prairies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTL94kCbQLg

It sums up my feelings quite well (where I grew up, snow arrived in September, stayed by October, and didn't leave until April or May — and snow in June wasn't unheard of. November isn't autumn — it's already winter with enough snow for decent skiing!)

Alfred Differ said...

Many moons ago when I was in need of the superhero stories for a bit of escape (grad school is a grind at times), I came across the concept of the 'Annual'. I generally stuck to Marvel and noted that each popular line came out with another issue once a year. It was more glossy, often written by a different writer, and only occasionally were their stories canon. Occasionally, though, Marvel would change characters in an annual, so I began to recognize them as the same kind of beast recording companies issued when they sold studio or live collections that had one previously unreleased song. You want it? You buy the whole thing. You want to know what happened to the character you like? You buy the annual. (No doubt science fiction authors can do something similar with favored characters appearing in short story collections.)

Later I learned about the phenomena of cross-brand story lines. Imagine a big event that should impact all characters in a particular universe. The story would have to be written by multiple authors and characters from one line might appear briefly in another. These were often glossy things too and were more likely to be canon. Unfortunately, they were also likely to be poorly written because your beloved character was being handled by an author unfamiliar with it. They sold, though, so they were produced.

When I saw the first reference to Thanos in the first Avengers movie, I recognized their intent to tie all the movies together. I was sure they’d pick the familiar story line, but have to leave out the usual stuff that doesn’t render well as movies or takes too long to explain. Hollywood formulae would be applied on top of the comic book formulae. Everyone would be involved at the climax and the only question was whether that movie would be whole or delivered in parts like the seventh Potter book was.

It’s all kinda predictable now and I’ve lost interest as a fanboy. I watch for the action, but my involvement largely ends when the movie does. With Infinity War, I watched for the predictions I made to see what I got right. Did I get the right overlay of formulae or not? Some of it I did, some I didn’t, and some is not determined yet since the movie is only part finished.

I’ve rarely read comics that weren’t written like a poorly formed foam used for composite lay-ups. Small holes are good. Big holes are not. Uniformity is useful. As time went by, I quit buying story-lines for their art and focused more on the writing. Some pencillers were worth the occasional weak story, but not many. When authors I liked left a line, I eventually did too. It’s not hard to understand why. How many versions of Wolverine do we really need? Superman? Spiderman? Meh. If one cares about a character, one casts the invocation so they exist in one’s head. The next author is likely to make a mess of things. All things are new to the next generation, though, so I don’t begrudge the changes. Let them enjoy it all again even if the ‘Dark Phoenix’ means one thing to me and something else to the kids today.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

When authors I liked left a line, I eventually did too. It’s not hard to understand why.


Comics in the 60s and earlier were a different breed. More formula, for one thing. If you bought a Superman comic or a Spider-Man comic or a Captain America comic, you knew more or less what you were getting from issue to issue. It wasn't a question of who the writer was.

That began to change in the 70s, and if anything has increased since then. When a writer begins a long run on a title, he makes it his own, and when he leaves, the aspect that he made special leaves with him. When Steve Englehart left Captain America in 1975, the title became something other than what it had been while he was writing it. "It's not a question of letting, Mister" was one of his lines. I hadn't read any regular Marvel titles for awhile when Ed Brubaker took over that same title in 2005, but I found his take compelling enough to follow the title again until he left. When that happened, I knew better than to bother continuing.

How many versions of Wolverine do we really need?


The X-Men are their own thing, a victim of success. Marvel flooded the market with so many different versions and spin-offs at the same time that they're impossible to follow. And the X-Men movies that I've seen suffer from the same deficiency that I noted in the DC Comics movies--way too dark, and no fun.

raito said...

LarryHart,

The forecasting hasn't been bad for where I am, really. A couple of times the fronts have been a little off of where they were predicted to be, so predicted disasters never came, or were less disastrous than predicted. The weather itself has been annoying. No snow that stuck until January, then very cold temps followed this month by piles of snow. Enough that the school year had to be extended.

Larry Hart said...

@raito,

For some reason, my suburb of Arlington Heights seems situated in a way to guarantee maximum snowfall. If the forecast for Chicago in general is (say) 3-6 inches, we'll get 8 or so. I don't know why other than, as my daughter says, "Weather hates me."

We got a 14 inch snowfall back in November that I don't think hit Wisconsin. It was strictly a northern Illinois event. After that, as you say, it was kind of a snow drought until some time in late January. Since then, we've made up for it, and also dealt with the polar vortex and two days that dropped below -20 F. There have been less than thirty days in all of recorded Chicago history that surpassed that mark, and we just added two more to the books.

I'm wondering if there's some way to package and export cold weather to the rest of the world which is above normal. Cold might be as rare a commodity as fresh water, making the Great Lakes region a potential Saudi Arabia of snow.

Tony Fisk said...

I've never followed comics, although a few of my friends at college were into them more than might be considered healthy. For that reason, I never really got into the Marvel films until I saw Thor on a plane trip (and noted it was directed by Kenneth Branagh, and written by a certain Joseph Michael Straczyncki). The story was total malarkey, but I was impressed by the nuance in the relationship between Thor and Loki, and that they were allowed to develop. I've been following both that, and the Avengers thread (AvengersI being a kind of Thor 1.5), since.
The conclusion to Infinity War was a shocker to many, but I also saw the stock front cover of the super villain gloating over a subdued and helpless team of super heroes.
Overall, I am quite impressed with the level of integration that has gone into the Marvel Movie Universe. DC are still playing catch up there.

btw I saw Alita: BattleAngel yesterday. Great effects (ahem! Cameron!) and some strong performances (esp. Rosa Salazar in the title role). The story's stock manga fare, but quite a few of the characters make it out of flatland. Definitely worth investing some popcorn time in. It follows the storyline of the '93 anime, but with differences*, and with *much* better dialog (ahem! Cameron!?).

I was thinking about David's comments about empathy bots here. Kick ass babes with mysterious pasts are a bit of a meme in their own right. Apart from Alita I can list Gunnerkrigg Court's Antimony Carver, Dresden Codek's Kimiko Ross (an Alita clone, really), Avenger's Black Widow (of course!), and Horizon Zero Dawn's Aloy.

And then there's Ex Machina'a Ava. I haven't seen it, but I gather the mask comes off...

* the dog is avenged most satisfyingly, for one.

David Brin said...

Heck, it goes back to Xena and Buffy. Sigourney(Ripley). Sarah Conner and Aeon Flux. Femme Nikita... all in the 20th century and then some.
https://www.indiewire.com/2014/11/before-katniss-25-of-the-most-kick-ass-movie-heroines-ever-269802/

Twominds said...

A question: why are small religious groups like the Amish held up as an example of why declining fertility (child output) can only be temporary? If other patriarchal cultures change, why is theirs to be taken as immutable? If their women have a longing for many children, who's to say that that will stay so? There seems to be a compound of genetic determinism in this idea that doesn't pan out elsewhere.

I think I was too hasty in linking to that Wired piece, as there must be better quality publications about the subject. I was just glad to see it from another source than Rosling. I think it would work better if -especially- public institutions would work with the more probable trends instead of outdated sources.

Dr Brin said, higher up: I said clearly that perhaps a majority of democrats have anti-nuke reflexes. What you ignore is the other half of what I said about negotiations. Try: “If it’s clear that we could eliminate carbon from electricity production with new kinds of fail-safe nuclear power as a bridge… and it is impossible otherwise to save the planet, would you be willing to pause and learn about the new kinds of reactors. And if satisfied, would you be willing to negotiate some careful tests in exchange for a big boost in all the environmental things you wish for?”

There's a problem I often face: most will not accept that it would be impossible otherwise to save the planet, too hopefully fixed on what I think Duncan called the Unholy Triumvirate (sun, wind, battery storage).


Aaannnnd, off again to work.

Jon S. said...

"...Dresden Codak's Kimiko Ross..."

And her past has only been getting stranger with the last few pages (her father isn't really the great Japanese scientist Kaito Kusanagi, for instance, but is in fact Yeong-Soo Kim, a Korean architect - Kaito Kusanagi was never real, but rather was originally a product mascot, for a frozen-food line I think - and Kim's past may not be what she thinks it is, thanks to her father's dabbling in Dark Science).

Anonymous said...

>> Treebeard said...
\\Poro, my advice is to remember that in America, even the smart people are culturally and ontologically stupid.

Universal quantification is not good guide.


\\Here on this blog you have people who think they are the adults and smart guys in the room discussing comic book movies and silly TV shows at length; this is where America is culturally.

That's not the sign for me. I know quite smart people who discuss comics, etc. And as all cultural product it need a lot of smarts too... to be realy good.

My offence was against brutal abuse of logic and science and "fact-based thinking".
And that was only because it grow of that humongous size. When even simple meanings of words become (or pretending to become)blurr under "heavy weight" of fame and autority of certain someone.


\\You can't expect a lot of understanding and concern about the rest of the world from people so caught up in a matrix of fantasy.

It's not a fantasy to blame. It's that part which are answering for self-account. It seem totally broken. What a pitty.


\\It's the Land of Oz, dude, and the Wizard is in control. Americans are uncultured, sheep-like narcissists, to a large degree, and they don't care about you. You are on your own.

Even if I had such illusions. They faded as smoke in the morning. :)


\\P. S. Science fiction is terrible for peering ahead. I can't think of any science fiction from many decades ago that accurately predicted the world of 2019. Old science fiction is hilariously bad, and the new stuff will be too soon, if it isn't already. By its nature, as a genre that prides itself on its disconnection from history and tradition, it reflects the biases of its time and becomes dated very quickly.

That one just mere stupid. Sorry TB, you are lost me here.


>> Mike Will said...
\\Pompous, ignorant, narcissistic, capricious, vicious tyrants will always work to bend the arc of history to their evil dark ages. I for one am glad that a few well-meaning egg heads will always work to bend it back towards the light.

It's not "eggheads" to praise. Egghead alone ever ready to work on "pompous, ignorant, narcissistic, capricious, vicious tyrants" for a small price.
And want and ready to behave the same way... our great host is screaming example of it. :)

\\Any free will we enjoy is entirely thanks to good people with vision who toiled and bled for a better future.

Sorry. But no. :(
It result of evolution. Beneficial to someone of us, yes. But blind.
And blinded with their luck tend to think that it was not mere luck,
but their wit. :)


\\Children spray free will like a firehose ("You're not the boss of me!") Fortunately, adults master their impulses, sacrifice for others, and defer gratification, all in support of civilization.

Yep. Stupid one. Who becomes feeding ground for a different kinds of feu-dals. Them, Who Know Better. :) Who know how to stay child-like. Like Trump. Neotenia is great!!!

Well, you already know it yourself...

\\Romanticized free will is at best a phantom, and at worst a tool of cynical manipulation.

porohobot said...

>> Alfred Differ said...
>> Mike Will said...

Are you checking your blogs?

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

The story was total malarkey, but I was impressed by the nuance in the relationship between Thor and Loki, and that they were allowed to develop. I've been following both that, and the Avengers thread (AvengersI being a kind of Thor 1.5), since.


The Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor franchises were written specifically to lead up to the forming of The Avengers. After that, all of the Marvel Studios movies were essentially Avengers movies. Some of the ones titled Captain America especially might as well have been called Avengers instead.


Overall, I am quite impressed with the level of integration that has gone into the Marvel Movie Universe. DC are still playing catch up there.


That kind of thing is exactly what made Marvel Comics so popular in the 60s and 70s, and what made them appeal to older readers who should have moved on to more sophisticated forms of entertainment by then. Unlike you, I had been a big fan of those comics, but I resisted getting involved in the movies because I really doubted that Hollywood movies were capable of recreating that vibe. Ten years later, I have to admit I was wrong, and it's been a blast catching up.

Tim H. said...

Another factor in the birthrate in the developed world, how much do other people's children mean to the .001%? Randy Newman's "It's Money That Matters" spells it out.

Mike Will said...

@porohobot
My blog is sparsely used, and really exists only for me to explain a few things I've written about computation, citizen science, and Asimov. Certainly not to discuss politics. I have blood pressure issues. No insult intended, I'm just a very private person.

A.F. Rey said...

A question: why are small religious groups like the Amish held up as an example of why declining fertility (child output) can only be temporary? If other patriarchal cultures change, why is theirs to be taken as immutable? If their women have a longing for many children, who's to say that that will stay so? There seems to be a compound of genetic determinism in this idea that doesn't pan out elsewhere.

Behind these three questions and a statement is an unspoken assumption: that the fertility rate among these groups of women is immutable.

So Amish women/patriarchal cultures/traditional cultures will always want large families, and that educated women/matriarchal cultures will always want small families below the replacement level, and no changes in circumstances will change these. That's where I call B.S.

Cultures and religions adapt to new circumstances. Educated people are more adaptable than non-educated people, because they have more information to use for making decisions.

Right now, most educated women probably realize that spreading their resources over many children is a worse strategy for their children's long-term success (not to mention their own short-term wealth) than to have fewer children with more resources. But when that situation changes, because of lower populations or other reasons, then that strategy will change.

And even now, none of these groups are homogeneous. There are educated women who want large families, and there are Amish women who want small families. If the situation changes and large families become a better strategy, these exceptions will come to dominate the population (as Dr. Brin pointed out).

Finally, there is also the biological imperative, aka most people love children. It is in every large culture that you can point to. Billions of years of evolution will not be denied. No amount of education or mind control will stop people from procreating. It is written into our genes, by the simple process of natural selection weeding out those who didn't procreate. If you doubt it, do the math.

These are the hurdles that Ibbitson and Bricker will need to overcome before their thesis become plausible, and I very much doubt they will be able to do so. People change, cultures change, and predicting that the latest changes will inevitably lead to disaster is a tired old trope that every conservative in every past culture has used to try to stop change. If having small families doesn't work, people will start having large families. Humanity is not that stupid. We are not completely subject to instincts. We see what is going on around us, and we change accordingly, especially educated people. So positing that educating people will make them more stupid, and that stupidity will compound itself and never change, is stupid in itself. They seem to be appealing more to certain people's prejudices and biases than to the facts.

Larry Hart said...

Off topic except for the general category of "fiction".

I seem to go in bursts of what kinds of books to read, and lately it's been suspense thrillers. For some reason, I'm especially fond of some very new novels in that category written by women authors.

Except for one thing. I'm noticing a disturbing tendency toward a certain type of ending which kind of cheapens the story that came before. Without specific spoilers, I'll just say that I coined a phrase for what I'm talking about: Suicide ex-machina.

A.F. Rey said...

One thing about the incredible coincidence that all the Infinity Stones were drawn to Earth: that's comic book SOP. A cheap trick to try to heighten the tension of the story.

One of the comic book tropes that always bugged me is how incestuous the characters are. Cyclops just happens to be Havok's long-lost brother in the X-men, and their father is the captain of the Starjammers which they happen to meet to help save the universe. The Scarlett Witch is Magneto's lost daughter. Captain America's best friend, who he thought was killed during WWII, unbeknownst to him was saved and became a Hydra assassin and tries to kill him. All these superpowers, and they only seem to be given to members of the same family, who never at first recognize each other! Don't they ever have family reunions!

But what do you expect from a genre where they have to produce a product every month, or more, regardless of quality? They have to use every trick in the book to keep spitting them out. And so they use cheap tricks.

After a while you see how cheap they are and get tired of them. But every now and then someone uses those trope and tricks well, and you get a really good, original story, especially when they build upon the previous stories as background. Those make the wait worth it.

And really, are they much worse than your typical action-adventure story? Infinity Wars was so much more popular only because all the other Marvel movies tied into it. Anyone who enjoyed Spiderman, or Thor, or Iron Man, or Black Panther, or etc. was drawn into seeing it, whether the story was good or not. It's a testament to good marketing more than anything else. :)

Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

One of the comic book tropes that always bugged me is how incestuous the characters are. Cyclops just happens to be Havok's long-lost brother in the X-men, and their father is the captain of the Starjammers ...


That was the problem with the extended Star Wars saga as well. Aside from the Emperor (who we don't even know has Force powers until Return of the Jedi), the three most powerful practitioners of the Force are Darth Vader and his two children.

Aside from that, all I can add is that what you describe is not only the case in superhero comics. I'm led to believe that soap operas thrive on such things, and Stan Lee was following soap opera tropes as much as superhero ones. Also, you should try reading Dickens some time. :)


One thing about the incredible coincidence that all the Infinity Stones were drawn to Earth:


I thought only two of them were. Weren't the others on Xandar, Knowhere, Asgard, and that place where the Red Skull was somehow the guardian?


Captain America's best friend, who he thought was killed during WWII, unbeknownst to him was saved and became a Hydra assassin and tries to kill him. All these superpowers, and they only seem to be given to members of the same family, who never at first recognize each other!


In the 1960s comics, everyone and their brother was finding himself super-powered after being exposed to some kind of radiation or else being revealed as a mutant. The movies seem to be going for more plausibility by limiting the number of unrelated events leading to superbeings. Thus, almost all of the enhanced humans were created from flawed attempts to recreate Captain America. The tech-based villains get their weapons from the crashed Chitari ships. And the cosmically powered characters all have ties to Infinity Stones.


Infinity Wars was so much more popular only because all the other Marvel movies tied into it. Anyone who enjoyed Spiderman, or Thor, or Iron Man, or Black Panther, or etc. was drawn into seeing it, whether the story was good or not.


Part of the vibe they're tapping into, which was also present in the 1960s and 1970s comics, is that you're missing something if you don't see all of the parts.

David Brin said...

“Without specific spoilers, I'll just say that I coined a phrase for what I'm talking about: Suicide ex-machina.”

Go ahead and give your examples. With a SPOILER warning. I’m sure we’ll be entertained.

“One of the comic book tropes that always bugged me is how incestuous the characters are.”

Like R2D2 in every flick and the later Darth doesn’t even recognize C3PO as the droid he made as a boy? Even Trek would rather bring a beloved character back - for no statistically probable reason, than invent a new one. But they do it much less.

“the three most powerful practitioners of the Force are Darth Vader and his two children.”

Put aside that Leia never uses hers much, except to birth a monster.

This coincidence fetish means that everyone except Yoda, among the galaxy wreckers, comes from Naboo. Palpatine, Amidahlah come from the same narrow mutant ruling Naboo caste. Anekin’s mom was stranded on the desert world that’s EXACTLY on the route from Naboo to Coruscant, suggesting she might have come from Naboo, as well, Perhaps a cousin of the other two?

A galaxy killed by one mutant family.

Treebeard said...

No Alfred I was born and raised here. I didn't think much about what made Americans weird until I made money, travelled, lived abroad, and got some perspective. For a while it was a puzzle I tried to figure out. Then I stopped caring too much, and internally seceded from the dominant, mass-produced, fake culture that Americans consume and spread across the world like a plague. This was a non-lazy move for me, since I was raised on the same crap as everyone else, and the lazy move would've been to keep consuming it. It's a little harder to have conversations with people whose shared culture is mass media garbage and propaganda, but they are hardly worth talking to, except maybe as a challenge to try to break the spell they are under. I rank people according to their culture and “Force power”, and on that scale Americans are about 99% peasants, and I'm with the 1% feudal elite all the way.

Jon S. said...

The "everyone is related" thing in Marvel was largely a creation of the '80s, though. (There was a list on one FidoNet feed of "Things You Will Never See In the Pages of X-Men". My favorite was, "A new mutant shows up at the mansion who, through extensive DNA analysis and time travel, is revealed to be no relation to the Summers family at all.") They've eased up on that a lot - although they did introduce a few whose origins were related (Cindy "Silk" Moon, for instance, who was bitten by the same spider as Peter Parker just before it died - she was then hidden away by Ezekiel, in a facility similar to the one he offered Peter, in order to protect her from Morlun.)

As for the Star Wars example, I don't recall Amidala ever exhibiting any Force abilities, unless that was the source of her preternatural ability to tolerate Anakin and his whining. And it's something I was glad to see Rian Johnson escape from in The Last Jedi - Rey, possibly the strongest Force user in existence, would appear to be no relation at all to anyone named Skywalker. (And the young boy in the closing scene, who after listening to the tale told by an older child went out to sweep the stables and look at the stars, casually Force-pulling his broom to him...)

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

“Without specific spoilers, I'll just say that I coined a phrase for what I'm talking about: Suicide ex-machina.”

Go ahead and give your examples. With a SPOILER warning. I’m sure we’ll be entertained.


Well, now I can't mention a specific title or that itself will be too much of a spoiler.

In general, though, the menacing character who threatens our plucky female protagonist from all sides of her life decides in the final chapter to kill herself and leave exculpatory evidence behind in a note, making everything all better.


“the three most powerful practitioners of the Force are Darth Vader and his two children.”

Put aside that Leia never uses hers much, except to birth a monster.


Y'know, I never noticed before how little she makes use of her supposed Force powers in RotJ. In Empire Strikes Back, the whole "There is another" sets us up to believe that even if Luke is taken out, there's yet one more player who can save the galaxy. Leia knowing where to rescue Luke just before he falls off of the cloud city clues us in to the fact that this "other" is Leia. But your are right--after that, she does nothing with her Force powers.

Unless you want to give her "That's how she was able to strangle Jabba the Hutt".

Larry Hart said...

Treebeard:

I rank people according to their culture and “Force power”, and on that scale Americans are about 99% peasants, and I'm with the 1% feudal elite all the way.


"Fine. Let's hope they find you as tasty as they did their past associates."

Alfred Differ said...

Treebeard,

Okay. I'll mentally revise my model of you. Instead of lazy, I'm inclined to lump you among the former-believers. The harshest critic of a faith is often a former believer and they aren't even remotely lazy. 8)

Recognizing us as peasants is an error, though. The correct social class is The Bourgeoisie. Those of us who are 'working class' are 'petite bourgeoisie' and the entrepreneurs who make it big who imagine glories for themselves and their families (generally NOT recognized by actual aristocrats) are the 'haute bourgeoisie'. The rest of us are in the middle somewhere.

There really aren't that many peasants left in the US. They get hired and tend to lift themselves when they can. The effort to end segregation can be viewed as an effort to end American peasantry and it is mostly working. Peasants become Petites when it works and then the next generation might move up if they can get educations.

You are welcome to think of yourself as one of the aristocrats if you like, but I doubt they would recognize you as such. The test is to see if you can marry one of their daughters. If you run into trouble doing that, you are at best bourgeois.

If you are lucky, none of this will matter in your daily life. If it ever came to conflict, though, I'd recognize you as an advocate of the enemy and not shed any tears after shooting you.

Treebeard said...

Alfred you have the usual problem of the Enlightenment cult barbarian: a very literal, linear, materialistic, mundane mind. The things I'm talking about have nothing to do with economic class and can't be measured with scientific instruments. Nor can they be defeated with bullets, so you'd be wasting your ammunition.

David Brin said...

At last the ent declares himself, openly. Of course his yowl against the 99% of his neighbors is pure symptom of the most boring human trait. "ME! Me and a few like me are special and everyone else is sheep!"

Um, since everyone thinks this to some degree... and it tends to grow more intense, the less you've actually accomplished in life... don't you face a burden of proof that it just happens to be true for you? Let's see evidence you are more soulful, "cultured" or have more "Force Power." Let's hear from your followers, drawn by your mystic purity or force of will. (Jim Jones type cult leaders are despicable and stupid, but all admit they have some "force.")

What? It can't be verified that way? Or in any way? Fine, knock on ten neighbors' doors. You'll find every one equally convinced they are a special as you. But half of them have stronger evidence. Pictures from their service to their country. Missionary work. Volunteer work. Membership in a band or orchestra or drama group. Maybe not High Culture, but probably more than you.

I've mentioned the disproof of "decadence" many times and ent ignores it. The vast renaissance of hobbies! These neighbors are jumping from airplanes with surfboards, re-inventing blacksmithing, inventing new art forms. Moreover, all of those hobbyists are more passionate, soulful, cultured, vigorous and "force" ful than grousing couch potatoes.

The feudalists are better at one thing, cheating. And sure, that's a "force." But funny, with exceptions, those who actually CREATED wealth did so in partnership with hundreds of skilled engineers, whose company they enjoy more than Yacht Club trust fund brats. Gates, Bezos, Buffett... all smart enough to despise aristocracy per se and want the creative enlightenment to continue.

But ooh, ALL of you should watch the documentary about the FYRE Festival! It is an amazing story of decadence, pretentiousness, parasitism and utter stupidity on the part of the class that treebeard so adulates. Show us exceptions! After 6000 years of almost-static, infantile stupidity, that sickness gave way to a system that might give us the stars.

David Brin said...

Ah he returned with " can't be measured with scientific instruments. "

Yep! Zero evidence he is better than the surrounding "sheep" in any way. And hence, the problem is "evidence" must be a plot!

But the real difference is this: I retain curiosity. In my fiction, I often portray some individual finding a way to see what other have missed! I am far, far better at exploring such corners than our poor kibble ever will be. And hence I say to him...

.. go on! Space here is free and some of us are genuinely curious. We have 0.000001% expectation your claims will prove anything more than hot air. But do tell. How are you soulful, un-decadent, "force"-filled, cultured and so on.

Sorry to tell you this: but you aren't being repressed here, where you are treated vastly better than you ever will be, if/when you heroes gain full power.

Twominds said...

@A.F. Rey:

Behind these three questions and a statement is an unspoken assumption: that the fertility rate among these groups of women is immutable.

That's the assumption I question.

I get the idea, from a.o. our host, that women in strongly religious (patriarchal) cultures are more willing to get many children than other women (urbanized, with at least some education). I guess that is so, but what I don't get is why that would inevitably or even very likely lead to a temporary population decline only. The assumption there seems that women who want more children will in the end outbreed women who don't want that. That implies to me a genetic part in the issue, that would be handed down over generations.
But I have never seen a discussion if that is so or not, or if that is only an assumption too.

I think fertility rates aren't immutable in either direction. (I might have given the wrong impression about that in my first post about this subject.) It looks like it's more dependent on culture/habits of a society, and that in turn is dependent on general circumstances. I do hope fertility rates will stay down long enough so the pressure on the planet will diminish while we tackle our ecological problems. It should give us some more time than with a continuously growing population.

A.F. Rey said...

I get the idea, from a.o. our host, that women in strongly religious (patriarchal) cultures are more willing to get many children than other women (urbanized, with at least some education). I guess that is so, but what I don't get is why that would inevitably or even very likely lead to a temporary population decline only. The assumption there seems that women who want more children will in the end outbreed women who don't want that. That implies to me a genetic part in the issue, that would be handed down over generations.

I believe you misunderstand our host then.

It doesn't have to be genetic. Cultures that have more children will outbreed those that don't, too. The principle is the same.

So groups and cultures that already favor big families, like the Amish or the Mormons, will become larger parts of the population. Some members may "fall out," but those that stay will still tend to dominate after a while.

The only caveat is that they will need to be nearly as or more "successful" as those who do not have as large families. If having a large family will be a disadvantage in reproducing--because of poverty, for instance--then the culture may not be embraced enough by the next generation to outbreed those with smaller families. But if there is a labor shortage because of low population, this would probably not happen.

But, yeah, it ain't just genetics.

David Brin said...

But some genetics will happen, over the long run. We have partially-briefly evaded Malthus because while humans ARE fiercely propelled to reproduce, that builtin compulsion is to have sex! In nature, it's pretty much the same thing. But we discovered we can satisfy those urges while separating reproduction. If we get ten generations with women who feel an intense desire for more children (High-R reproduction) hugely outbreeding the high-K ones... you can bet that trait will fill the gene pool.


Now

onward

onward

Darrell E said...

Twominds,

I don't think there are any claims about how human female behavior regarding willingness or desire to get pregnant may change depending on socio-economic conditions, even among relevant experts, could reasonably be given much more confidence than informed speculation. At that level, it's too complex and there are too many unknowns. But at a higher level, statistics of large populations of individuals, there are some pretty strong correlations that are very interesting.

1) There is a strong inverse correlation between average standard of living, and related measures, and birth rates. Societies in which wealth, health and security are on average high have lower birth rates. A quote from the Wikipedia entry on Sub-replacement fertility. Note, sub-replacement fertility rate is anything below 2.1, though that can vary due to factors.

"As of 2010, about 48% (3.3 billion people) of the world population lives in nations with sub-replacement fertility.[2] Nonetheless most of these countries still have growing populations due to immigration, population momentum and increase of the life expectancy. This includes most nations of Europe, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Russia, Iran, Tunisia, China, the United States and many others. In 2015, all European Union countries had a sub-replacement fertility rate, ranging from a low of 1.31 in Portugal to a high of 1.96 in France.[3] The countries or areas that have the lowest fertility are in developed parts of East and Southeast Asia: Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea.[4] Only a few countries have had, for the time being, sufficiently sustained sub-replacement fertility (sometimes combined with other population factors like higher emigration than immigration) to have population decline, such as Japan, Germany, Lithuania, and Ukraine. As of 2016, the total fertility rate varied from 0.82 in Singapore to 6.62 in Niger."

2) There is a strong positive correlation between empowering the women in a population and its average standard of living. So strong that it has been said that the quickest and best way to raise a society is to take measures to empower the women in the society.

Of course, none of this in any way supports the ridiculous claim that we are going to go extinct if we continue to help poor societies raise themselves and continue to allow women out of the kitchen. Not to mention that reducing our numbers a bit would be absolutely 100% beneficial.

Alfred Differ said...

I don't want to start a new post with a response to treebeard, so I'm dropping it here.

--------------

I don't see what scientific instruments have to do with it. Are you trying to say there are more important things than science? I already get that. Most of what makes life interesting has little to do with science.

Science is mostly a way of thinking about how to weed and plant in the garden of knowledge. It doesn't say much about how to use what we grow or how to appreciate it.

That way of thinking, however, is really useful when discussing other interesting things because it offers us ways to frame our debates. Scientific thinking exists within a wider context of ideas and approaches and not on some distant island of ideology.

Jon S. said...

Leia didn't use her Force powers in RotJ because until near the end, after the conversation with Luke on Endor, she didn't know she had Force powers. After that, we did see her use them in TLJ, but only in extremity - Force-pulling herself back to the airlock just before she would have died.

Then again, she didn't really need them, did she? :)

du Lac said...

+1 for the magical S&H greenstamp book sub-reference to "Bored of the Rings"

At least, I think it was. Have to check with the neighborhood boggie..,.,