Sunday, November 15, 2009

Well, at least science pushes on...

First some REALLY important news. Splash! NASA moon strikes found significant water. Having an abundance of water on the moon would make it easier to set up a base camp for astronauts by providing drinking water and the ingredients for rocket fuel. 

No one could be more proud than I am, to see a great scientist's theory play out and be proved before the world. All the more so for a discovery as important as finding water on the moon (in deep-shaded craters at the south pole), which fact may help open the solar system to all humanity.  So let me brag right here that this possibility was first broached back in the 1980s by UCSD Professor Jim Arnold, who at the time ran the California Space Institute and honored me by serving on my doctoral committee.  (I was studying the mechanism by which the water might have got there in the first place -- comets.)

And while we’re ‘out there’... Apparently, the European Space Agency scanned science fiction stories for ideas that could be used in future space missions - this is the project's report.  Further details about the study, together with the fact sheets, images and sources, can be found at

Name That Decade...

Sure, science has been marching on.  But what else?

 David Segal of the New York Times quoted me in an article about “what to name the decade that’s about to end.”  My suggestion -- the Noughty Aughts signifies what a great big set of zeroes we’ve been living in, since 2000, wallowing amid self-righteousness and self-pity, instead of innovating and looking toward the future.   I distinguish “noughty” (meaning zero-ish) from “naughty”... which would imply that at least we had some fun, by being a bit bad!  (Alas.)

Note that I don’t single out any particular group to blame for this plague of gloomy self-indulgence.  Indeed, lefty-Hollywood seems almost as much  at fault  - for putting out endless droves of future-hating films -- as the neocons are for their travesty-betrayal called Culture War.  Somehow, I hope we can rediscover our capacity, as adults, to restart the can-do spirit of innovation, negotiation and faith in tomorrow.

More Science... High!

So, what would it take for human intelligence to march forward, even during the Noughty Aughts?  And might we start sharing the gift of intelligence with others soon?  (As in “uplift”?)

”If humans are genetically related to chimps, why did our brains develop the innate ability for language and speech while theirs did not? Scientists suspect that part of the answer to the mystery lies in a gene called FOXP2. When mutated, FOXP2 can disrupt speech and language in humans. Now, a UCLA–Emory University study reveals major differences between how the human and chimp versions of FOXP2 work, perhaps explaining why language is unique to humans.”

Might a simple modification of this one gene have interesting effects upon chimps?  Would that fascinating prospect justify germ-line experiments on a great ape? Nobody mentions this question in the article, for obvious reasons.  The first person to even broach the idea will meet a firestorm.  And yet, it is obvious.

Ah, but always be willing to follow up!  See this dissent-critique of the whole FOXP2 “speech gene” thing as a possibly grotesque oversimplification.  In fact, we should all be wary of “this is the gene for that”.  Yes, defects in single point genes can remove a capability.  But single point additions seldom have a direct turn-on effect.  Phenotype depends on genotype in the most convoluted and nonlinear ways.

A Pause of Optimism?

Ah, but now, for those who doubt the possibility of progress:“Since the 1950s, while Earth’s population has grown to more than 6 billion people, the large fraction suffering from malnutrition has shrunk from one-third to one-sixth. And although the total number of people suffering from malnutrition remained the same—one billion—this means some 5 billion people, more than ever by far, get enough food to eat today.”   

Good news for liberal progressives, who really want to save the world, who are willing to admit that sometimes good news happens, and who think it is no sin to admit it.  TERRIBLE news for lefty grouches, who just want to complain and bitch and whine.  (When will liberals ever wake up and cut their ties to those jerks? Ah, but I am MUCH harsher on the right. See below.) 

BTW, note.  The virtuous fish to eat is tilapia.  All right, it is kind of bland and needs to be seasoned. (Costco sells nicely spiced frozen tilapia.) But it is the farmed fish with the greatest food efficiency and lowest eco-impact. And, as a vegetarian fish, it accumulates the fewest metals out of the food chain.

Ah, but now for some bad news....

The Decline of the West Correlates With That Of Science Fiction

Doubt it?  Take this I just received from my friend, scientist and SF scholar Joe Miller:
”Today I cancelled my 48 yr old membership in the SF Book Club. The woman who answered the phone asked me why. I told her that the club does not seem to do SF anymore--horror, fantasy, DVDs, tv series, everything but. So she asked me for the names of authors who had not appeared recently. I said Greg Benford, Greg Egan, Greg Bear, David Brin, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, etc. She said she did not recognize any of these authors. So I asked her who she would consider a SF author. Her reply was Anne Rice! QED!”

Yipe.  Maybe Spengler was right, after all.

News from the Front..  in the War on Science...

Ah, but continuing re civilization’s decline... a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the GOP is alienating scientists to a startling degree. 

Only six percent of America's scientists identify themselves as Republicans; fifty-five percent call themselves Democrats. By comparison, 23 percent of the overall public considers itself Republican, while 35 percent say they're Democrats.  This may seem unsurprising, given the red-meat troglodytism of recent years.  Still a startling figure.  Moreover, since we are talking ablout inarguably the nation’s smartest and most learned people, the Fox-propeled culture warriors have to find some way to wave off what thie implies -- that their movement is nothing less than the rebirth of the infamous Know Nothing Party.

As it turns out, there is only one recourse for rationalizers of the Right to fall back on... 
      ... to preach that “being smart and knowledgeable doesn’t necessarily make one wise.”

Well, when you put it that way, sure.  Duh.  We all have known bright fools.  It’s a truism with some basis in fact.

Ah, but what Fox and Murdoch and the new right culture war machine have done next shows genuine, feral canniness.  As a subtext underlying alomost every narrative, they extrapolate this basic truism into a completely new message:

“Being smart and knowledgeable automatically makes someone unwise.”

Sound ridiculous?  Absurd?  But that is precisely the message being pushed by culture warriors. It is absolutely essential, in order to justify dismissing the consensus held by 99% of the atmospheric scientists in the world, regarding global climate change.  It underlay the subordination of science to politics, during the Bush Administration. 

In fact, let me be so bold as to claim that this is an unnoticed underpinning to the entire movement, propping up almost everything that the Neocons have pushed, for this last decade, and longer.  For, without exactly this foundation assumption, there could be no venom-driven hatred of the Civil Service, or contempt for the advice of well-informed experts.

Let’s take this farther. Leaders of the GOP used to brag that their party was more than a year ahead of Democrats in average education levels.  Okay. That seemed obvious and easy to explain. Remember, for generations the dems have included most of the immigrants and the poor.  That, alone, affected the averages.

Only now? According to surveys taken across much of the last decade, the average Republican is now behind the average Democrat by more than a year of schooling -- and this despite the Democrats still representing society’s poor and underprivileged.

What could this mean? Other than reflecting a party-migration by nearly everybody in America with real expertise or a post-graduate degree? Including, lately, a great many members of the US military’s Senior Officer Corps.  (Except for MBAs, of course.  Funny -- they still tilt toward the Grand Old Party.)

Seriously, might the “Republican War on Science” and George Bush’s war against the US Civil Service, plus Culture War animosity in red counties toward Urban America, all be rooted in something deeper and more fundamental than anything that's spoken aloud?  Deeper than the run of the mill talking points?

At this juncture, I am willing to wager that Culture War has almost nothing to do with race, or even region.  Certainly not classic “conservative” policies, since Barry Goldwater would be a democrat, today.   No, it is -- to some large extent -- about something puerile and basic.

Hating smartypantses.

Some Politically Redolent Items

Oh, while we’re in rant mode, see Russ Daggatt's latest!

You’ve all heard my riff -- about how the democrats ought to rediscover the “first liberal” Adam Smith, and steal him from the Republicans, who have warped and perverted and reversed almost everything that Smith wrote and stood for. (Seriously, dems, he’s almost a poster boy for your side!)  Now see a wonderful article in which Salon “interviews” Adam Smith -- one of the founders of Classic Liberalism. (And see my letter that follows it.)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano called for closer collaboration with foreign partners, more intensive cooperation with local law-enforcement officials, and greater involvement by citizens in watching for and responding to terrorist threats."For too long, we've treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than an asset in our nation's collective security"...  a line that seems lifted almost verbatim from one of my many essays on this topic.

Meanwhile... illustrating my point about a possible “Tsunami of McVeighs”... we’ve seen plenty of action on the far right.  Just to remind folks it can come from the other direction, too. (Though, in this case, what does “right-left” even mean?)

Salon Magazine offers a cogent look at Archie Brown's major new book “The Rise and Fall of Communism. At minimum, read the review.  I find it depressing, in conversations with so many contemporaries, how little people know about that fantastic, huge, failed experiment in politics, economics and - ultimately - human nature.

See a clear comparison of red states vs blue states, when it comes to rates of divorce, teen pregnancy and subscription to online porn.  Some pretty astonishing placings!

PJ O’Rourke “tweets” the US Constiution!

And finally, from the ridiculous to the sublime -- Stefan Jones found an archive site containing Patrick Farley’s brilliant online strip “Spiders.”  I wish even 10% of the folks I have met at CIA, DTRA NSA or ODNI had as much insight into the core problem -- and its ultimate solution -- as Farley exhibits here.


Tony Fisk said...

Sez Farley (on another comic):
I would love to finish the Apocamon series before the end of 2010. The coming new decade needs to see Millenarianism -- and the infinite cruelty it represents -- laughed into oblivion.

The sheep are rebooting

Michael Vassar said...

When you say that hating smart people is 'basic', do you mean to say that you think it is a natural, evolved, or otherwise hard to escape default behavior? Might it once have been adaptive? Might it still be for some reason? What do you think causes it?

On a related subject, what do you think the prospects are for very near future uplifting? I was thinking today that it might be a better idea (after calculating that the reproductive rate of crows is not great enough to very rapidly lead to massive overpopulation).

I assume that we should start with dogs, but Ravens may have the most potential for alien cognitive abilities without the existential risks that GAI might present.

Acacia H. said...

Again, I suggest that SciFi is not in decline, so much, as it has shifted to a new venue: the internet. It would be interesting to take a look at several science fiction websites to determine if there is an increase in amateur fiction being posted to these online venue, seeing that the print field is ni-impossible for non-established scifi writers to get into.

And of course, there's the scifi webcomics, some of which are quite well done and more grounded in science than the majority of what passes for Science Fiction publications these days (what with Star Wars and Warhammer 40K fiction being the primary source of soft scifi these days).

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tony Fisk said...

“Being smart and knowledgeable automatically makes someone unwise.”

It may be a premature judgment because it has been widely acclaimed elsewhere and because I'm still listening to it, but one thing that strikes me about Bill Tyson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'* is the way he portrays nearly every brilliant scientist mentioned as having some spectacular character flaws (Marie Curie appears to have escaped unscathed so far, but she had radioactive cookbooks, so stay away from her!). It helps add a bit of human interest to the story, of course, but I wonder how long it will be before the trogs notice it.

*It is a fun read btw

Ilithi Dragon said...

When I first heard about NASA's lunar probe, reading an article that also mentioned the possibility of using volcanic tunnels under the moon's surface as a natural foundation for a sub-surface base, I was struck with an idea for a story revolving around first contact with a sentient alien civilization living inside the moon, having evolved in tunnels and chambers beneath the surface of the moon. Maybe I'll take a crack at it after (if) I manage to get the fantasy/"Theological Fiction" story I'm writing published.

On the spider comics, I absolutely love that. Wish we could see something like that for real, instead of just in a web comic.

I'm also tending to agree with Robert that Sci-Fi in general is not in decline, it's just in a decline of quantity and quality in the mainstream and traditional medias, with the former especially in books and the latter especially in movies (in truth, there is little shortage of sci-fi-based movies today, they're all just low-brow quality). I am hoping to rectify that at least a little, though, as my career goals are becoming more and more solidified in the direction of becoming a professional sci-fi/fantasy author (writing what I hope will be quality sci-fi and fantasy).

Tom Crowl said...

* Good News on the moon water! Especially since its better than the initial disappointment with the impact's visuals.

And I'm happy for the news on Tilapia since it's everywhere these days.

Sad about the SF Book club which I left back in the 80's when SF started turning pessimistic and then worse yet, the book club dove head first (literally) into fantasy and magic!

Many other interesting tidbits but...

* RE the Anti-intellectual Problem:

I'll confess my proposed avenue for consideration comes out of my myopia on this subject...

But I believe the anti-intellectualism is connected to a person's belief that intellectuals are no longer aligned with his concept of his tribe's interests!

The truth or falsity of this is less important than the perception.

In the past we happily admired our Jefferson's and Hamilton's because we saw them as our guys. Even where people may not have understood all their ideas (which were not always in alignment) they saw them as on their team.

Having never been a hunter/gatherer it's hard to say, but I wouldn't imagine it would be too healthy to devalue your smartest members.

However, it might be quite natural to dislike and distrust the smartest guys in the tribe over the hill!

I believe anti-intellectualism is directly connected to problems in the social contract. And that the problems in the social contract preceded and abet that disconnection.

I also believe it can be fixed. However, it takes affirmative steps to bolster the social contract... and technology.

Unknown said...

"At this juncture, I am willing to wager that Culture War has almost nothing to do with race, or even region."

Before Obama's campaign, I was under the impression that racism was an old people's game. I've changed my mind since seeing the sorts of things that concerned my peers during the election. For instance, the idea that Obama was secretly a Muslim.

I was puzzled at first why such a wild rumor would have such traction among normal people. When they switched their focus from Obama's Muslim faith to Obama's "racist" United Church of Christ minister, I figured it must have been about race all along.

The rumor that Obama was a Muslim enabled people to talk openly about how Obama comes from a strange, foreign, and traditionally mistrusted culture, and how he would use his position to help "his people" at "our" expense -- all without implying the N-word. Once Obama's minister provided a new focus for that paranoia, they dropped the Muslim rumor at once. After all, he can't be Muslim and United Church of Christ.

So I think race plays a pretty heavy role in the culture war. I'm beginning to think that in this part of the country, it defines it.

Tim H. said...

This old person knows racism to be a form of self deceit, a poor guide to dealing with others. That said, I think the Obama-bashers still don't quite know what to make of him, he's African-American from a different direction than most. Even though he's half Kansan, I don't see a need to keep that border war going. On culture war, reduce the economic stress, and it will pretty much go away.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well, what better way to vilify your opponents and their arguments and evidence, etc. than to establish them as members of an inferior 'other' race? After all, if they are inferior to you by the very nature of their genetics, their 'race', then their arguments and reasoning and evidence are all inferior to yours, as well, and so are not worth listening to or recognizing.

It worked great for the slavers, European and then American colonists and frontiersmen, and Hitler, too, among many others.

It's also a dangerous trap that we are not immune to falling into, as our frustrations and remonstrations of the ignorant 'rednecks' and 'neoconservatives' can slip dangerously close to a racial or ethnic stereotyping of our own, if we get careless about it. Not that anyone here has, just that any time you are vilifying a 'tribe' (general or specific, organized or not) of 'others', classifying them by inferior birth or genetics can become very tempting (Picard's comment at the end of "The Drumhead" about how vigilance is the price that we must constantly pay applies just as much to ourselves as it does to those around us).

teridr said...

Tilapia is tricky, though. Farmed tilapia, which is pretty much the only tilapia you can get your hands on right now, is corn fed and, perhaps as a result, has very low levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and very high levels of detrimental omega-6 fatty acids. In terms of omega-6 levels, you'd be better off eating bacon, unfortunately. I can't attach my link to the original study because my campus has hidden it behind a no-share firewall, but here's a link to an article about it:

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David Brin said...

Michael, remember that America has long been drenched in anti-authority memes, self-generated by the population but fed by Hollywood. The diff tween goppers and dems is often WHICH "elite" they perceive trying to be Big Brother.

On the Gopper side, the crazy way that Fox gets away with stirring this mythos, in a fuming, populist rage against civil servants and scientists ... while people in red places utterly ignore the rise of a new oligarchic-feudal aristocracy... reminds me of the way Southern plantationers suckered half a million poor whites to fight and die for the right to protect the slaveholders' rights.

Uplift... birds would get fewer PC human rights complaints.

Robert... amateur sci fi sites are great. I coined the "Age of Amateurs" remember? Still I am a pro with bills to pay. And Hwood reaches the masses and if the pros are ignored by publishing, then Hwood will ignore us too.

Is anyone following flash forward? Based on Robert sawyer's novel? Go to and watch the episodes to catch up. It really is above average and thought provoking... if also infuriating.

Aliens living UNDER the moon? HG Wells did that!

"But I believe the anti-intellectualism is connected to a person's belief that intellectuals are no longer aligned with his concept of his tribe's interests!"

Alas, Toynbee said civilizations fall, above all, when they start spurning their Creative Minorities.

teridr... Rats! And I thought tilapia was a miracle. Instead it is merely great news. Indeed, the solution seems obvious... to feed tilapia and Chinese Carp food that includes ALGAE that are rich in omega-3 oils.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Aliens living UNDER the moon? HG Wells did that!

Hmmm... Dormant inspiration pulled from the subconscious, perhaps? *shrug*

Robert Leyland said...

On the demise of Science Fiction. It is harder and harder to find good SF in bookstores - not that I use many these days, that's just one of the reasons.

Good SF is hard to write and hard to produce. The media outlets have become lazy.

A really good indication of this: SciFi channel became SyFy - we now call it the syphilis channel - and its all about horror, wrestling and phantasy.

If it wasn't for Eureka I wouldn't even look at it.

Acacia H. said...

The problem with the lack of science fiction in bookstores lies with the new model that bookstores are running under. Rather than keeping books on the shelves that are a couple years old, bookstores constantly put up new books and ignore old classics... unless those classics are guaranteed sellers. For instance, try to find Martha Wells' Death of the Necromancer or her Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy... and you won't find them. Likewise, Eve Forward's Villains by Necessity (a most excellent novel that takes an interesting twist on the normal "heroes save the world" in that the villains have to save the world because the heroes banished almost every bit of evil, and thus caused an imbalance in the world which will cause it to end and cause an imbalance in other universes as a result) can only be had through used bookstores and the like.

If you go into Borders or Barnes and Nobles, you aren't going to find much by Isaac Asimov (outside of his Foundation series) or Robert Forward, or even by David Brin. To get those books, you have to special-order them... but if you've not seen them before, then how are you going to know to special-order them? What happened to the time-honored method of browsing through the first dozen pages of a book and see if it actually interests you? Well, outside of new books and guaranteed sellers, you're plain out of luck.

Bookstores themselves are now threatened through the e-books. Once the actual e-book device drops below $100 (and especially if it goes down to say $20) then you'll see people storing their libraries on their devices... and only picking up a few specific tomes for their bookshelves. The major bookstores will shift initially to those books that aren't well-suited for e-books (such as colored texts and over-sized tomes), and eventually the technology will be such that even those can be put onto e-books efficiently and effectively.

The smarter bookstore chains will adapt by becoming more of a coffee store or mini-restaurant with a selection of print books... and some may start specializing in reselling used books... trusting to free wifi, coffee, and pastries to keep customers coming in, while print succumbs to the same market pressures that the newspaper industry suffers from now.

This will happen within the next ten years. And when it does, it will take more than just the bookstores with it; the publishing industry will be devastated as small electronic presses start offering amateur writers the opportunity to become published through an electronic format... and bypass many of the hoops that exist now for new hopeful writers.

Ironically enough, we may see literary critics rise to higher prominence in this environment: we will need people to sort through the increasing levels of chaff to find the gems worth reading and buying in the e-book market. But mostly I suspect the e-books will use such hooks as allowing people to read the first 20-pages of the book for free, to determine if they want to read it or not.

Rob H., who still intends on getting into the print market before the e-books destroy the publishing industry, as established writers will be better situated in the new venue

David McCabe said...

Powell's has a good selection of David Brin right now, including many hardcovers, a first edition Postman, and proofs of Heaven's Reach.

I don't understand what use anybody has for Borders and Barnes & Nobles. (I guess they stay in business the same way as the Olive Garden and other blights of American chaindom. But how is that?) Good bookstores that sell new and old books together, though, have a future.

Tony Fisk said...

On e-books: keep an eye on Pixel Qi over the next few months (Their screen for the OLPC XO-1 is already pretty good)

Tony Fisk said...

Of interest:

the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla is currently producing online tutorials on how to process the raw images from various spacecraft.

(The first composite shots from the Huygens probe as it parachuted down to the surface of Titan was by amateurs)

Good bookstores are essential for maintaining the portals to L-space.

Tony Fisk said...

This underscores another riff:

- An Airbus fit for a king
- An Airbus fit for the rest of us

Yes, I see a future for vubblejets.

argodyte: mineral formed from successive layers of aircraft parts.


Acacia H. said...

@David McCabe: When all you have in the area are Borders and Barnes & Noble (and small used book stores which often go out of business after a few years), then you make due. To be honest, I've gotten so used to the chain stores that I don't know anything about alternative stores (outside of the used bookstores).

For that matter, many of my own books were acquired through book sales at public libraries and the like (including a number of repeats I need to remove from my bookshelves).

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Online Sci-fi in other forms:

"Praise be the Tweet"

Fake_William_Shatner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim H. said...

Joe Bageant's posted a letter and essay that hit on some of the recurring themes here.
Not mentioned was the dubious morality of using sin taxes to finance tax cuts for the connected.

zygarc, geometry on the sauce?

JuhnDonn said...

Talk about SF leaving the book shelves. There was a time when Waldens (before the two 'B's) had seperate SF and Fantasy shelves. Granted, they were right next to each other but the separation was visible.

Was at upscale Borders last weekend. For a three year old store (newest mall in Abq), it was a dump. The carpeting was worn, the facilities were run down and on the SF Shelves, there were six David Brin books and four C. J. Cherryh. But there were two shelves (about 2-1/2' wide) devoted to Twilight, smack in the middle of everything. I know that Borders is on the ropes but still, very disappointing.

Went over to B&N at older mall and was much better experience. But yeah, was single SF/Fantasy section, with gaming and graphic novels/manga thrown in. Had better selection but still disappointing to what I remember.

Guess it's back to Amazon for me.

Oh yeah, I also suggest Schlock Mercenary for a decent SF web comic. It's more like old Star Trek in it's handling of SF, with lots of unobtanium and such but the author still plays the game of what if and follows tech and sociological branches out to interesting ends. Is about the only web comic I'm still following, after almost 10 years of reading 80 comics a day.

Acacia H. said...

After glancing through the Wikipedia article on the "reimagined" V television series, I started thinking; how many science fiction novels in the last ten years have examined the ramifications of peaceful contact between humanity and alien life? Either of humanity finding an alien species (either less advanced or an equal) or the aliens finding us?

If you think about it, there is tremendous possibilities for an examination of cultural and sociological implications of First Contact and what it would say of humanity itself as a whole. I'm sure there would be those people out there who refuse to believe the aliens are peaceful, and there would undoubtedly be incidents that occur, some of which may be quite tragic.

It seems of late the "contact" between alien and humanity is one of war and conflict. But conflict does not necessarily mean combat. Conflict can be sociological and cultural. It can occur between peaceful encounters. And properly written, it can say far more about humanity itself than any war story dressed up in the guise of science fiction with bug-eyed critters being humanity's foe.

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I guess when I gave up on science fiction in bookstores was when the big booksellers came in, drove all the small-time owners out of business, and then shut down their own stores. Thanks a lot guys.

But I solved the problem as well as I could. I always buy and read "The Year's Best Science Fiction" Dozois's book, and often buy Hartwell's similar offering. Then I know which authors to buy online. It also helps to know which reviewers one trusts. (There are certain midsized newspapers whose good reviews on the jackets are the kiss of death.)

Anyway, once I know who's good I'm set to go online and order. I think "Kiln People" is the first book I ever ordered online. (And glad I did) But I learned about that right here. ;)

David Brin said...

Rob, I do not mind fiction that warns.

What I despise is the SAME warnings, over and over and over again, always in the most simplistic form possible, without nuance or any semblance of interest in the vast range of possibilities.

Tales that depict aliens as friendly then inevitably show US as horrifically vile and unredeemably stupid... except maybe the protagonist.

...cue AVATAR...


There are SO many potentially dramatic tales that would offer the same fast-paced action and engaged sympathy that a Hollywood film needs... only showing complexity. Perhaps mistakes made by both sides. Or jarring, dangerous misunderstandings.

I have a THICK FOLDER of such concepts that I have pitched to studios and production companies, over the years... till I realized that it is useless.

Cocaine, apparently, is the greatest enemy of good science fiction.

rewinn said...

Imagine an SF novel that basically recaps the first century or two of contact between the West and Hawai'i.

Although there were isolated incidents of violence (and ultimately a rather questionable takeover) for the first couple of centuries, IIRC the two groups interacted in interesting and complicated peaceful ways: lots of dickering, diplomacy and petty crime!

Tim H. said...

At least, if a film ever takes on the uplift universe, there should be salable plush chimps and porpoises. Hard to do with Thranx.

David Brin said...

Michener did Hawaii very well, with all the complexity and nuance and humor and good and bad will.

Yes, today's gen of native Hawaiian activists are recidivist and angry, even though the (true and nasty) robbery of their kingdom did leave them with more than most other yankee land thefts. Still I'd have to add it to my list of contact scenarios that were far more interesting than simply tragic.

Dave Rickey said...

I've been very disappointed in SciFi for a while now. About the only authors I "follow" anymore are Stross and Weber, although I'm currently catching up on Stirling's The Change series, that's because word of mouth told me that the more recent material was much better than the earlier stuff. Sorry, Dr. Brin, you just aren't prolific enough for me to feel I need to check the shelves every time I'm in the store (not to mention I'll have heard from here if you have something new).

eBooks are going to change the rules, I expect, and I'm likely to take the plunge on a Kindle soon what's bringing me to do it is the internet-anywhere capabilities more than the books (I'm still not big on paying the same prices for device-locked electronic copies as for physical media, the same reason I don't buy the contents of my MP3 player).

There are some healthy results of how our anti-authoritarian myths are evolving in this connected world, the anti-credentialism of Wikipedia and the University of Google, for example. Over the next decade, children that have never had their intellects restrained by limited access to knowledge are going to come of age, a new wave of "Renaissance Men", and the results are likely to be profound.

However, there is a cultural crisis of literally historic proportions brewing in the US, one that is almost certain to become violent. It's economic, religious, intellectual, it's all of the contradictions that were ignored for the last 50 years reaching the point where they *must* be resolved, one way or another. It's going to get ugly.


JuhnDonn said...

Robert said... how many science fiction novels in the last ten years have examined the ramifications of peaceful contact between humanity and alien life?

Check out C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner Series. Is very heavy on the sociological issues of different races dealing with each other. While her series has gotten a bit out of control (10 books, really?) the first three are worth reading.

I'm still waiting for my Apple tablet as an ebook reader. One day...

David McCabe said...

Truly, what is the deal with Kindle ebook pricing? Almost zero marginal cost, yet it's priced higher than a paperback. Meanwhile, Amazon is scalping the publishers, according to Stross. I do not see any indication that the Kindle is a loss leader, either. Will ebook prices return to reason (that is, a bit less than a paperback) when there's more than one vertically integrated ebook reader on the market?

David Brin said...

While I admire Wikipedia (and predicted it!) I have to tell you, it's 99% attitude and habit. Everyday I came home from school and plucked a volume of the trusty old Americana Encyclopedia to flip thru, while snacking. Almost randomly flipping pages.

It added up. It SHOULD be easier to do that on Wikipedia... but I don't see it happening. Of course, I was weird then and I am weird now.

Tony Fisk said...

Yes, electronic browsing doesn't hold a candle to the old way. Surely it wouldn't be hard to set up a sidebar of random references?

peataho: Western Irish version of a 'hangi'

Dave Rickey said...

You can flip randomly through Wikipedia (although this is more likely to take you to a pop-culture page than anything useful), but Wikipedia isn't just one reference, it's a collection of them, each with it's own consensualist oligarchy maintaining, organizing, and refining it. Sure, are *most* people pursuing it voraciously, learning the equivalent of several degrees worth of knowledge in a matter of months? No. But most kids didn't read the encyclopedia to kill time, either (something I also did). I stand by my position, the very best of our "best and brightest" are becoming scary-smart in a way that eclipses even the 12 year-old collegians of our era.


Tim H. said...

Flipping pages on wikipedia would not be as immediate as paper, unless you had a lot of it cached on a fast machine, seems possible, though I don't know how. If you could flip through as fast as I liked to with the World Book encyclopedias, you'd still have to deal with knowledge restrictors who might not wish a page on methamphetamines to exist, or be easily accessed.

yelityp, a precursor communication tech., with megaphones.

Marino said...

Dave Rickey wrote

although I'm currently catching up on Stirling's The Change series,

more they go on, more they turn into fantasy (well, Clarke's Law), the entities who caused the Change* may have been gods, aliens or post/trans human civilizations.
(*We fans have dissected the authorial fiat ad nauseam, but there is no way to relate the change in gas behavior to the change in electrical conductivity)

And Steve, who's no fool when it comes to marketing, is doing a urban fantasy with vampires (with a lot of scientific explanations balancing the fantasy side, and it was a retake of Williamson's Darker than you think well in advance to the current Twilight fad)

word: sessico: odd form for an Italian article meaning "sex-related?"

JuhnDonn said...

David Brin said... Wikipedia...

Here at work, where I'm limited to the sites I can browse (mostly news sites, google based sites, and wikipedia), I keep a wiki page open all day long, just following links. While not that good for deep knowledge, it definitely helps with getting a grip on things and how they're related. Reminds me a bit of a show back in the 90's called Connections (?). Kinda' fun.

TwinBeam said...

The first creatures to be uplifted in any significant numbers, will (hopefully) be human beings.

rewinn said...

The Foglios (of Girl Genius) seem to be experimenting with what might be called a twitter novel: Othar's Twitter.

It's intended to be experienced as a periodic twitter from a "Gentleman Adventurer". Of course, to get the whole thing, you have to read it from the BEGINNING (in 2007), BACKWARD and, for pacing purposes, one twitter per day.

While the content is steampunk/gaslight fantasy/comic SF, the concept might work structurally for other genres including serious fiction of all sorts. But economically? (...assuming authors have to eat...) I don't know; for the Foglios, this is just part of their Empire that they seem to support through the online sale of books, T-shirts, et cetera .... and good for them, they earned success! But I don't know whether it'd work for many others.

sociotard said...>

According to leaked information: because the negotiations are secret;

on a third accusation of internet piracy, you could not only lose your IP for a year, but this would be public, and all other companies could deny you access also.

If someone hacked your wireless network, you and everyone in your household could lose your internet access, with NO Judicial oversight, no review, no necessity to actually prove you did anything...

And "Innocent until proven guilty" passes into the long dark night.

Unknown said...

While scientifically significant, I have trouble seeing lunar water at 10-100 ppm as economically significant. Its seems like it is being sold as an excuse to spend billions on a Moon base that will have no real effect on our ability to go to Mars or elsewhere. Launching moon water by space tug to dock with a Mars-bound ship to refuel it is the best scenario discussed, but why spend billions doing that when spending fewer billions launching fuel from Earth would be much cheaper? It seems like a scam from the Moon advocates that will only result is neither Moon bases nor Mars missions.

Unknown said...

If The Waters of Mars are any indication, perhaps we should stay away from the waters of the moon!

Acacia H. said...

One thing I can't quite figure out with the recent health care debate is why Republicans are dead set against a public option. When you look at the fundamentals of their arguments, those fundamentals are lies. People don't want a public option... except that polls show that people wouldn't mind a public option as an alternative to existing private insurance plans to encourage further competition. It would cost too much... except that the cost is less than a number of the weapon systems that ended up as duds that have existed in military spending. And so forth.

It seems like the supposed fears that Republicans are trying to stir up and claim are responsible for their being against the Democrat plan are smoke bombs to distract from the larger picture. If they worked with Democrats in forging a decent and less expensive plan, then something truly worthwhile would come about. But they refuse to work with that "upstart" President and "his" Congress.

Is their pride so overweening? Are they so deep in the pockets of private insurance companies? Why are Republicans building this Fortress of Forgetaboutit that will ultimately leave them isolated and unable to compete? (It's not just Health care, for that matter. I have to respect Mike Huckabee for standing up against the Republican base and saying "shame on you!" for their snide remarks about Obama doing things from viewing the returning bodies of dead servicemen to holding a Halloween party at the White House. It doesn't matter how much good Obama does with any of his actions, they're acting like Obama lost the popular election and barely squeaked out an electoral win rather than winning by nearly 10% and with a significant electoral majority.)

Meh. I probably shouldn't grouse before the morning coffee....

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

On a public health care option, looking at my pay stub, if my income tax doubled to pay for a public option health plan, it would be less expensive than what I pay Blue cross for coverage on myself and my child, after the employer contribution. I suppose that first rate health system happens for a higher tax bracket.

Boxylet, rejected, though fitting name for the Chevette.

rewinn said...


If may be that the interests of individual Republicans clash with that of the Party as a whole.

Those who join in the effort to block any progress that might have the side-effect of cutting profits are personally guaranteed an income for life. The type specimen is Billy Tauzin,

That the GOP as an organization may be temporarily harmed is not terribly important to Tauzin's backers; in the short run they run up tons of money and, in the long run, they'll use a little of their stash to refresh the brand name.

What a pity the Libertarians lack the whatever-it-takes to actually win an election. While their domestic policies have never worked, I'd cheerfully let them take over foreign policy in any GOP administration. Or in the current administration too!

Tacitus2 said...

Regards opposition to a public option.
The concern is that a public option would soon become the sole option, except for the very wealthy.
A fed run entity could, plausibly, have an unfair competitive edge.
The government would in the final analysis have the say on what goods, services and individuals all must cover. Said government, albeit a different arm of it, also judges compliance for all and metes out penalties. It would be very difficult to sue the government run entity, private plans, not so much. And once the State is the health care provider, it would be very difficult for the public option to not be generously funded, probably to the point of an unfair subsidy.
I do not say all these things would happen, but merely that they are reasonable concerns.
Conservatives have, as Dr.Brin has mentioned, an innate distrust of impersonal, big government beaurocracies, where the response to any inconvenient challenge is a wafting heav'nward of uncallused hands and the suggestion that some other department might be able to do something about your problem if it were not a Federal holiday and that there was a regulation that really made any other point of view non viable.
Oh, and I actually philosophically support health care reform. Shame the Obama admin has made such a hash of it.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Isn't the lack of competition for insurance companies part of the problem with healthcare in America?

Also, the 'public option' in the bill passed by the house and the bill currently working through the Senate would not allow for any such competition between the government and insurance providers, if I understand it correctly, since the 'public option' insurance is still provided for by the insurance companies, and just subsidized by the government instead of actually being provided by the government.

David Brin said...

Rewinn, efforts to snap the libertarians out of their simpleminded, indignation-junkie stupor continue at:

Unfortunately, the site is badly maintained and a number of my essays there have been lost. But you can see the gist at

Alas, the movement now perfectly characterizes the mood of culture war. Absolute, smug insistence on perfect virtue and a perfect model of the world, ignoring all contrary evidence or need for re-evaluation, and utter contempt for non-believers or heretics. The failure of the LP to improve its electoral standing in 2008 -- of all years(!!!) -- should have been seen as an alarum-call for careful re-evaluation. Instead, it became cause for retrenchment into dogma and contempt for the masses... which is the resort of ideological ninnies.

No, while I share the dream of a sane, pragmatic LP rising up to represent free enterprise solutions to modern problems, in a fairminded and vigorously stimulating debate with "consensus-solution" folks -- becoming a true home for those in America who are legitimately suspicious of government power, but who also want progress and change -- unfortunately, that potential replacement for the GOP just ain't gonna happen.

No, our best hope for a new two party system lies within the True Legislature of the United States... the Democratic Party. For the GOP to self- destruct, and for the reasonable conservatives and small-"L" libertarians to tug away the "blue dog" dems into a new party that Ike and TR and Lincoln might actually recognize.

Tacitus says: Regards opposition to a public option.
The concern is that a public option would soon become the sole option, except for the very wealthy.A fed run entity could, plausibly, have an unfair competitive edge."

And yes, that is a perfectly reasonable complaint! That is, it would be, if it were being raised by people who -- thereupon -- engaged in sincere negotiation, offering proposals that might help to prevent that from happening.

That would be something called "reciprocal accountability" plus iterative problem solving and consensus building. But it is not what anybody at all is doing on the right. And let me be plain, it is a kind of treason (!) for them to pose and shout these accusations, instead of using them as a basis for negotiation and thus improvement of the dem's bill.

If we are stuck with some of the problems they predict, then it will be THEIR FAULT for not playing their part in an adult process of foresight and preventative legislative problem solving.

Tacitus said: Conservatives have, as Dr.Brin has mentioned, an innate distrust of impersonal, big government beaurocracies,

Actually, I will demure here. They TALK a lot about that, but government power grew prodigiously under the Bushites. Sure, they don't like the bureaucrats themselves -- smarty pants civil servants who actually try to make the laws function. But they LOVE the actual bureaucracy, whose complexities have allowed them to steal like mad and favor monopolies over small business, at every turn.

David Brin said...

Guys, read up on this.

Regulatory capture.

Then ponder this. Most of the effective DE-regulation of US bureaucracy... reducing the extent of regulatory capture... happened under democrats.

Tacitus2 said...

The Republicans actually have put forward ideas on improving our health care system...they mirror the ideas I proposed months ago, right here.
Allow interstate competition between insurers. Serious tort reform. Take a hard look at the tax exempt status of the health care benefit. Reasonable starting points. And when the majority party controls all the mechanisms of legistative operation, none of them are going anywhere.

My problems with the current legistative mess is that they are expanding/extending the benefits with no real effort to control the costs. That happens later. Maybe.
I don't deny that there is a large amount of politikin' going on. But sometimes I wonder if the Dem approach is really more about social equality than about making sure everyone can afford their appendectomy. Our current health care system provides, unevenly, such a ludicrosly generous set of bennie's. No waiting. No age limits. Not much gatekeeping. No requirement to use generics. Viagra, please.

Given a choice between a more austere system that we could actually all afford, and Medical Disneyland for all, the Democratic party did not blink an eye...

I give them points for cohones for saying this is all gonna work financially.


David Brin said...

I agree with all you say, Tacitus. Except the situation remains as I described it.

A sincere GOP could have negotiated over ALL of this. Indeed, Reid and Pelosi have tossed them bone after bone after bone... without enticing a single Republican to come on over and start dickering in good faith.

Do some goppers raise some good points? Sure! But when raising good points boils down to a tactic in scorched earth partisanship, that hardly qualifies as much of a high attribute.

David Brin said...

On to next posting....

David Smelser said...

Tacitus2 said...
Allow interstate competition between insurers.

David S:
What now prevents an insurance company setting up shop is a new state?

It seems to me that "allow inerstate competition" is a kleptocratic speak for "negate state rights to regulate". How will "allowing interstate competition" not turn into a race to relocate the insurance head quarters to the state that benefits the insurance company best?

Rob Perkins said...

It seems to me that "allow inerstate competition" is a kleptocratic speak for "negate state rights to regulate".

That's a cynical way to look at it. Right now, there is no federal oversight over insurance; all insurance is sold state-by-state.

But consider the Portland, OR; Cincinnati, OH; Kansas City, MO; Memphis, TN; and many other places where the big city is smack up against a State border.

People in Vancouver, WA; Newport, KY; Olathe, KS, West Memphis, AR, places like that, are prohibited by law from pooling risk with people who are a scant few miles away, share basically the same life style and general political views, etc.

That makes the health insurance for those outlying communities much, much more expensive for its people, than people a 10 minute drive away.

That goes as well without mentioning that within these smaller pools are people who game the individual market by buying insurance when they know they have an elective procedure, paying a low premium, racking up a huge draw on the risk pool, and then canceling once all the bills are into the system.

Interstate risk pooling (and year-long contracts) would help mitigate those two cost inequity problems, by tapping into a much larger group of people.

Andy said...

The other problem with tilapia is that the farmed variety is being fed "protein meal" - ground up critters - in order to increase yields.

That's right, we have yet to learn the lesson from the CJD problem.

Hank Roberts said...

Newton Debunked!

David Smelser said...


I might buy that argument if I heard it from consumer advocacy lobbyists, but I don't. Those who lobby most about interstate insurance are the insurance company lobbyists.