Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ban the pesky cameras? Before we all agree, consider what works.

First an update: Like millions, I fret about our calamitous political schisms increasingly resemble civil war. POLEMICAL JUDO, offers many perspectives on our crisis that you’ve never seen. Over 100+ tactics to help defend our Great Experiment. Now in both e-book and paperback.

Get  free sample chapters. Scan the table of contents, for a breadth of modern issues covered in unusual - perhaps sometimes science fictional  - ways! If 1% of the ideas might prove useful, shouldn't some be tried? (Priced super-low, because it’s more important to see these methods get into the right hands than to make a buck.)
Do help spread the word... and Amazon plaudits are welcome.

== Seeing should not be believing ==

Okay, it's a fraught era, all right, and one that some of us predicted. As if straight out of Earth and The Transparent Society — “Google just dropped a trove of visual deepfakes “free to the research community, for use in developing synthetic video detection methods.” The dataset includes 1000 “before” and “after” videos in which the faces of people were swapped with other people’s faces.” In the long run, we will document all our lives for simple self-protection.

Seeing isn’t believing: How to spot manipulated videosStraight from my chapter* “The End of Photography As Proof of Anything At All…”  The Internet is increasingly populated with false and misleading videos. These researchers set out to develop a guide to label altered videos and hold creators and sharers of this misinformation accountable.

And San Francisco recently banned facial recognition technologyMight the city’s ban on the technology set a nationwide precedent? How is this supposed to work, when both hardware and software get better at exponential rates. And cameras get faster, cheaper, smaller, better and more mobile quicker than Moore's law? There are already face recognition cell phone apps! Nothing will keep all elites from having this, though by law you might prevent average folks, for a while. How is that supposed to help, again?

== Right Diagnosis -- Deadly Wrong Prescription ==

The cause gains momentum. These privacy activists are vigorous and rightly concerned about misuse of surveillance tech -- standing on the Capitol steps scanning 13,000 faces for recognition, wearing signs demanding "Make this illegal!" Oh, these are good folks, with right-on concerns about the coming surveilled world that could easily turn Orwellian. Right problem! ... But absolutely and spectacularly wrong solution! A prescription that is not only technologically and historically clueless, but that plays right into the hands of every would-be Big Brother.

I debated this very topic last week on NPR's "To The Point" with Warren Olney.  The ACLU attorney - Kade Crawford - was smart, cogent, admirable and agile... though she also utterly misses what history tells us -- that it's no use 'hiding' from elites. What works -- the ONLY thing that has ever protected freedom and, yes, some privacy -- is when average citizens can maximally see, thus holding elites accountable.

Why do you think Putin, Trump and Fox desperately seek to preserve al kinds of secrecy? The sole fallback position of today's GOP distills to "Don't Look At Us!" Tax returns, staffer testimony, Trump's bragged-about "Great Wall of NDAs"... when will our paladins of freedom at ACLU and EFF (join today!) ever grasp the core truth of human nature -- that all enemies of the enlightenment are terrified of light?

We mustn’t be the ones giving them excuses to blind us, while retaining in secret all the powers we foolishly “outlawed.” Listen to the stimulating debate on NPR.

== They are already watching you... so look back ==

Oh, you ask: "Who is EFF?" The Electronic frontier Foundation (I’m a member and you should join) is an NGO that vigorously gathers information about those who are gathering information about us. That’s the side of modern, e-activism that is utterly essential and it can work. And articles like this one show it, in action, as the authors reveal the depth and breadth of surveillance tech used by law enforcement in San Diego.

Indeed, it is a daunting list, from body-worn copcams to face recognition (FR) to cell-phone spoof “stingrays” to license plate readers and doorbell-cam ‘sharing’ and drones, it’s clear that the sum total could be used by a top-down state to control or oppress, as this very sum of converging technologies is being used today, in China. Most cryptic and mysterious is the Palantir data analysis system, which unabashedly aims to empower mighty elites at the expense of citizens. 

“Between the busiest border crossing in the United States, a large military presence, a major port, a booming tech and cybersecurity industry, and elected officials who campaign on government innovation, it’s a wonder that San Diego has yet to become a Big Brother hellscape. Or has it? Perhaps the process was so gradual that no one noticed.”

And so we come to the point where I always part company with my dear friends and colleagues and paladins of freedom at EFF. For I have never known one of them to look in a mirror, and notice the phenomenon that they are seeing there.

By all means, read this summary! Be aware. Then refuse to panic. YOU go look in a mirror while you are flush with suspicion of authority (SoA) endorphins… and recognize THAT you are reacting that way. 

Good. Nurse that voluptuously urgent sense of SoA militancy! But also know that a majority of your fellow citizens share it. And if we together choose to supervise the elites controlling these technologies… and use them ourselves, then yes, there is a chance. Our only chance, but a real chance to stay free.

== On privacy and cameras ==

Sean Carroll - on his Mindscape podcast - interviews my colleague Ramez Naam (The Nexus Trilogy) about reasons for optimism that humanity can (tho not necessarily will) solve many of the crises that we face. Mez kindly cites me in the final 16 minutes… though I think I’ll give up trying to explain to folks that David Brin does NOT think “privacy is dead.” 

Sure, only one thing will save some privacy for us — along with freedom. We’ll retain both, providing we all get to see nearly everything. Which would mean (and no one ever gets this) that we’ll catch voyeurs and spies and peeping toms who try to barge in on us, and be empowered to hold them accountable with MYOB! (Mind Your Own Business.) It's what all of us do, when we dine at restaurants! Glancing around to ensure no one if leaning/listening in.

But aside from that… Mez gives a truly fine interview that will leave you inspired and motivated to help those good trends save the world.

== Why tech suppression won't work ==

Brin’s corollary to Moore’s Law is in effect, as the cameras get smatter, better, faster, cheaper and more mobile/numerous every year. Now: The “World's smallest camera is size of a grain of sand.” Just the sensor part, which fits at the tip of a thread for surgical uses. But the notion you’ll be able to “hide” is nonsense. You are better off protecting freedom and (some) privacy by letting everybody see.

And sensors can be helpful: when a bicyclist hit his head in an accident, knocking him out, his Apple Watch detected a “hard fall” and called 911 with his location. The watch also sent a text to the man’s son to let him know his father had suffered a fall.

Stop fearing the future! Yes, many daunting problems and even minefields lie in front of us. DO peer ahead and warn! Science Fiction plays a big part of that and I have offered lots of warnings!  But almost every solution that could possibly work will require confidence! Confidence in us and the tools of elightenment.

== Bringing us full circle ==

Which takes us back to my new book filled with tools!  POLEMICAL JUDO - offers scores of tactics potentially useful right now! If only someone out there gets it read by someone in the right position to apply them. 


* in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Science fictional futures: news & updates

First... one of the best surviving science fiction and mystery bookstores left in the west is San Diego's Mysterious Galaxy. It looks like they may have to close without a new owner or investor. If you have any leads, refer them here... or to me.

I've been busy, all right. In addition to my e-book on political tactics you never see in the news*... we're almost ready to announce something that many of you have written to ask for over the years --both an e-book and POD paperback of The Ancient Ones, my sci fi comedy novel...

...and our own e-book re-issue of Sundiver! Stay tuned.

And yes, many of you have written in or commented on the huge new popular online game Death Stranding, and yes, well, some things are obvious. "If you’ve ever read David Brin’s novel, or seen the 1997 Kevin Costner film, The Postman, this shares a similar premise. The only difference of course would be the supernatural elements,"notes Adam Beck in Hardcore Gamer.

A new anthology Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow includes 14 speculative stories from such accomplished authors as Paolo Bacigalupi, Emily St. John Mandel, Annalee Newitz, Carmen Maria Machado, and others. By turns funny, alarming, and inspiring, Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow is a thought-provoking excursion into the futures we would and would not want to live in. 

== Science fiction and the news ==

Congratulations to this year’s winners of Hugo Awards:

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal — Best Novel (And I recommend highly.)
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells — Best Novella
“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow — Best Short Story
“If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho — Best Novelette
Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers — Best Series

And in this world...

Los Angeles recently ended its insistence that all tall buildings have heliports. Ironic! Because uber and other are designing networks of hover cabs to ferry users between rooftops.

Forget flying cars. How about wooden ones? New “Metallic Wood” could lead to Super-Light CarsIt’s as tough as titanium, but light enough to float in water.

In The Uplift War, there’s a riot scene (that readers call a laugh riot!) in a chimp bar called the Ape’s Grape, wherein the tables are made of straw and the beer bottles out of paper, only partly for reasons of cost/ecology… mostly to limit damage, because a nice riot is one of the objectives, every evening! Now Carlsberg brewery is developing paper beer bottles. Eco driven for now. But expect the fun-to-damage ratio of bar fights to improve mightily!  

Another prediction happening: in Earth (1989), I portrayed Sea State using power-generating kites. Now Google’s “X” team at Makani has moved closer the day when a kite massing far, far less might generate as much power as a massive windmill tower.   One use here is offshore platforms, potentially floating ones, or getting small island nations off diesel generators.  Later, much more.

One more for the prediction registry? It Slices, It Dices, It Binds, And Stops Bugs: Dental Floss Is Your Secret Multitool.” Yeah. In The Practice Effect, my hero uses dental floss to tear down a wall and escape from prison.

My Hugo nominated story “The Giving Plague” is reprinted in an anthology (along with many originals) of science fiction about health care!  Some stories in VITAL explore advances in treatment for serious and emergency conditions; imagine a healthcare system that is simpler to navigate and cares for the whole person, or envision a world where the average life expectancy is 200 years.

A fun story by my colleague Ted Chiang has a title “The Great Silence,” that I coined in my 1983 general review article on SETI, before the mystery of the missing aliens was even called the “Fermi Paradox.”  The subtitle: “A parrot has a question for humans,” pretty much cues you in to the well-written little tale. And the narrator has more to say than the poor parrot quantum-messengers in my novel Existence. The plaint of a soon-to-be extinct sapient bird and species isn’t rancorous, though moving.

Along similar lines see “What the Dead Man Said,” a new short story about climate change, migration, and family secrets, by Chinelo Onwualu.

And from the sublime to the deliberately ridiculous…  ‘Alcohol in Space: Past, Present and Future’ is now available — including a story (*hic!*) - of mine own. Collected by Chris Carberry, with a forward by Andy Weir.

A new film “Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is me!” tells the story of 13 ability-diverse global citizens as they explore their identity through artistic expression and making a home for themselves in the VR Metaverse.

A simple proposal that could change a generation. These new e-sports leagues are just now setting up their rules. So why not require that the players POWER their own devices with exercise? As long as it's a level playing field, so to speak, with allowances for age and handicaps, it would add another dimension! It could be part of game play. Above all it would set an example that these new e-sports don't have to be slovenly and destructive of physical health. It might inspire a whole generation to at least move a bit in both the real and virtual worlds.

Chinese Director Says He’s ‘Truly Sorry’ for Sci-Fi Flop. Teng Huatao, the director of “Shanghai Fortress,” on Saturday expressed his “extreme sadness” over myriad memes joking that the movie had “closed the door” on expectations for Chinese sci-fi. While such films have performed poorly in recent years, the runaway success of February blockbuster “The Wandering Earth” had ushered in a surge of excitement and optimism about the genre’s future — that is, until now.

More soon!

* And yes, my new e-book POLEMICAL JUDO sets our current crisis in many perspectives you’ve never seen, offer ing100+ tactics to counter the would-be destroyers of our Great Experiment. Free sample chapters! And the paperback is now available for Print-on-Demand.

Maybe someone will pick up some of these tactics and win some victories for us.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Look away! Political distractions and more...

Distract! That’s the GOP ‘strategy,’ ever since it became clear that there was screaming "quid" for every howling "quo."

For example, there are no legal bases for Attorney General Barr’s ‘criminal investigation of the FBI’ for following hearsay leads that led to overwhelming evidence, that led to jury convictions for real crimes. But unleashing the probe will get Trump off Barr’s neck. All of you have RASR cousins etc. who buy into the core Fox line, which boils down to: “Don’t look! There’s nothing under that smoke, so don’t even look! I don’t want to know!” … 

Here are 9 one- or two-sentence answers that demolish their “don’t look!” party line:

1- Rules about hearsay, or ‘bias’ by investigators or witnesses all apply during a TRIAL. Rules of admissibility are far looser during investigations or indictment proceedings, which can hear secret testimony, as happens in a Grand Jury

While there might be cause to “confront” all witnesses during a trial, at this stage protecting whistleblower identity is not only fair, it is traditional and paramount.

2- The House is that Grand Jury, deliberating indictments that the Senate would then try.

3- Impeachment is Constitutional, not judicial. Moreover - and dig this well - it’s not even remotely analogous to criminal trial, where life or liberty might be deprived. The closest parallel is that it’s about an employment issue - far more like a company’s board of directors deciding to fire a corrupt CEO.

4- The House can make its own rules on proceedings leading to a vote of impeachment, as when the GOP rammed through impeachment of a husband for fibbing about a 3rd base consensual infidelity. Only here’s a fact conservative Judge Napolitano made clear, discomfiting whining Fox hosts: Pelosi, Schiff etc. are now following - precisely - rules established in 2015 by a Republican House under John Boehner, when Republicans hoped to impeach the utterly stain-free Barack Obama.

5- Having declared an absolute right of Congressional oversight over Clintons and Obama (who handed over everything and prevented no one from testifying, amid 25 years of never-fruitful “investigations”), many of the same men now howl that a GOP president needn’t cooperate at all, may stonewall and declare himself above all law, even for “shooting someone on 5th Avenue.”* (Yes, Trump’s attorney just said exactly that. See the cogent cartoon by Clay Bennett.))

6- Oh, about those evidence-exclusion” rules that sometimes tossed as inadmissible “the fruit of a poisoned tree….” Conservatives long railed against that doctrine! Now, suddenly-hypocritically, it’s their favorite! 

7- Again: 25 years and half a billion dollars of our money spent chasing Clinton-Obama accusations, including Koch/Fox bribes offered to scores of witnesses - (“Bengahzi!”… “Emails!”) - found nothing whatsoever, a result repeated just last week by Pompeo’s State Department when they cleared Hillary Clinton of any serious or deliberate wrongdoing.

8- There are obvious reasons why the rising oligarchy wants secrecy and darkness enshrined in our political processes. From the Panama Papers to a wave of likely blackmail, we see how much they have to fear from light. Take the link below and see Polemical Judo!

9- Every Trumpian defense consists of “Don’t look! The people mustn’t see facts or truth!  Tax returns, financials, Deutsche Bank records of laundering for Russian oligarchs, testimony from administration officials who never spoke a word to the President and hence have no basis for “Executive Privilege…”

… the actual contents of Trump’s private meetings with communist dictators and “ex”communist KGB-agent mafia dons…

…and Trump’s beloved “Great Wall of NDAs” (the best wall ever) keeping scores of past settlements secret. And the contents of David Pecker’s safe. And the blackmail that turned William Barr into a mafia stooge…

…and for all of that, your “ostrich republican” cousin has one desperate response, keeping his head in his Fox-tuned hole, repeating incantations and chant-rationalizations for why he should not know about any of those things. “I don’t wanna know. Nobody should know. Look away… look away!”

== It can be painfully funny ==

Che Shows The Way! On Saturday Night Live, last week, Weekend Update host Michael Che voiced (brilliantly) a meme I had been spreading about a new and clever way to deal with the weird-crazed phenomenon of Donald Trump. “I don't know how to ask this, but are we sure that it's OK to make fun of this guy?” he asked. “Did you ever read Of Mice and Men? Remember how Lenny was really ‘strong?’ What if Trump is really strong? I've got a cousin who is also strong. And he loves alligators too, but we don't make fun of him.”

It got some good laughs and cheers, but I am quite serious in proposing that some mid-level democrat or pundit use this powerful meme weapon.  Imagine if say Mayor Pete were to hold a news conference and — with tongue only barely in cheek — *denounce* fellow Democrats for their unsympathetic pestering of an addled old man! An emotionally and cerebrally challenged senior who clearly qualifies for extra care and kindness. Feigned outrage that liberals and dems are ignoring their obligations to Trump, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

Not only would it draw huge attention and seize that day’s news cycle. It would also directly undermine what George Lakoff calls the fundamental basis of Trump’s base-support — his illusion of playground bully “strength.” Envision what a tweetstorm that would rouse from Two Scoops! It would obsess him and possible burst a blood vessel… and so, on second thought, maybe let’s not. The last thing we want is a Trump  martyr!

Can anyone pass this on to Mayor Pete?  

== Where we're headed ==

This Vox article on “9 scenarios for how the Trump-Ukraine impeachment process could end” is a pretty interesting conversation starter. But it leaves out at least half a dozen more. Such as party leaders talking Trump into taking a leave of absence, or several different weird scenarios under the 25th amendment. 

And the scariest of all… the one that makes Bond-villain logic for Putin and McConnell, giving them their only chance at a win win win scenario, eliminating the liability while riling up his supporters to a rabid frenzy… That scenario is martyrdom.  God Bless the United States Secret Service! I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. Good luck guys! (And if anything happens, you fools better not celebrate! You must be enraged at the deliberate-cynical disposal of an addled old man, just because his usefulness to our enemies came to an end.)

I am a fan of AOC and I am glad the Democratic "Roosevelt wing" is very active. Still, it is vital to avoid splitterism and falling for tricks to harm our enlightenment-patriotic coalition against the Putinist Cabal. Especially, all this piling onto Nancy Pelosi is both unfair and intemperate/shortsighted -- an example of 'sumo' politics that always, always falls into Republican traps. The Judo approach requires timing. Those who question Pelosi's courage or determination bear a steep burden of proof. Under what scenario do they even imagine she is shy over combat? Of course she is being strategic! Why assume anythings else? What matters now is not going for formal impeachment, followed by a failed Senate vote. What matters is:

1-  that formal impeachment hearings might corner Chief Justice John Roberts into ruling in favor of Congressional subpoenas, since that is a process specifically described in the the Constitution. This is paramount! Nothing else matters as much, because once the subpoenas and hearings are unleashed, the Trumpists face evisceration. (And we must be prepared with a plan in case Roberts betrays us.)

2- that the impeachment process must not wind up being seen as just "revenge for Clinton," allowing the Red Base to rally around their martyr. If you think it will be enough just to defeat the GOP in 2020, you have ZERO memory of 2010 and 1994 when they came roaring back. They must be crushed for all this criminality and treason, and removing Trump a couple of months early is less urgent.

3- If you want a huge symbolic victory, then time impeachment so that the senate trial is held in the new Senate that takes hold a couple of weeks before inauguration in 2020. Think about that.

4- tune the meaning. A tsunami of corruption revelations during 2020 will win us defections from the confederacy, while a Senate trial that happens before those defections will win us an earthquake of Timothy McVeighs. Above all, our audience is the so called "deep state" - a fictitious, slanderous term for the brave and devoted men and women who have been preserving the republic by adhering to the law, during a lawless regime. If they see us dotting the i’s while revealing crimes, we keep them loyal.

5- Pence. OMG have folks any concept of reality at all? Trump is largely cauterized by his own blithering moronic behavior. Pence gets in and ALL THE DAMAGE TO THE REPUBLICAN BRAND goes away as he smoothly croons about peace and reconciliation, winning large numbers of relieved officers back into the GOP fold... the leaky Trump White House gets replaced by one packed by Pence with devout Book of Revelations Dominionists, utterly disciplined and dedicated to the end of the world. Literally. Absolutely and literally.

Pace yourselves. Radicalize! Fight! By getting your neighbors ready with tumbrels and torches.

== Consider this ==

The National Rifle Association acted as a "foreign asset" for Russia in the period leading up to the 2016 election. Um duh? Today’s traitor U.S. right is absolutely gaga in love with the Putin mob, which has coordinated all out war against all of our institutions and professional castes.

Roughly 500 Soviet commissars were aided by cronies of George H.W. Bush around 1990, in “converting the Russian economy from communist to free enterprise.” Now drop the last two words and replace them with “mafia oligarchy.” All they had to do was replace hammer-sickle emblems with orthodox crosses and wink slyly at the western partners who funded their grab of every USSR state asset.  And that’s just one of two reasons why Bush Senior was – by far – the worst U.S. president of the Twentieth Century.

Finally... Here’s a review article “The Culmination of Republican Decay” - from The New York Review - of the recently released book American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War - and the Rise of President Trump, by Tim Alberta.

And "Trump tries to banish the specter of impeachment with red-state campaign tour.

And in my new book - Judo Polemics - one of my 100+ tactics - is to make him and his campaign pay ALL costs of such trips, In advance.