Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why all the Zombies Means You'd Better Vote!

Howdy Halloween... and how about the symbolism as the dead seem ready to rise up, in the coming election?

And yes, I connect the two events, especially with one network pushing a zombie movie at us, just before we vote, in a blatant political ploy!

Seriously, zombies are political?

Well. Apparently -- zombie flicks flourish when Republicans are gaining ascendency. After all, such works works depict a garish, simplistic exaggeration of what they dread most -- an unruly uprising of the filthy, ignorant masses.

Vampire films, in contrast, represent fear of a predatious-controlling aristocracy and so, this genre surges in perfect tempo with times when democrats rise in influence.

S'truth! Moreover, given the sudden greenlighting of ever-more remakes of remakes of remakes of the same dull zombie scenario... the same cliches, over and over again... it looks like we may be in for a very long period of aristocratic rule.  Perhaps like the 4,000 year feudal reign that only ended with the American Revolution, and that may resume at any time.

io9 charts a spike in zombie movies coming out close to historical events involving war or social upheaval -- the Vietnam War, the Global recession, the Iraq War...

In fact though... what I've perceived goes deeper! It appears that there is a whole monster CLASS SYSTEM. 

"These gore-flecked flicks are really competing parables about class warfare," writes Peter Rowe in With Obama comes the return of the vampire, in the SanDiego Union Tribune.

After all, if vampires are old-style aristocrats (and by-the-way, those who wallow in vampire idolatry truly are bona fide traitors to our modern Enlightenment), and if zombies are the proletariat...

...then which monsters represent the MIDDLE CLASS?

Well, it used to be lycanthropes, of course. Werewolves. Poor schlumps in the suburbs who got bitten and who must now wrestle with the temptations of raw, animal power. The only movie monsters who were portrayed with families, mortgages to pay and lawns that need mowing. Their affliction used to be depicted with sympathy and angst and made for interesting stories! Their new powers and temptations, conflicting with bourgeois values, led to compelling and very sympathetic tragedy...

...except in the wonderfully up-beat and American Teen Wolf.

Alas, then, for the recent, utter betrayal of the whole idea behind wolfmen, in those awful new series we've seen lately -- you know, the ones that portray "lycans" as just another kind of arrogant asshole monster race preying on normal people, completely missing the point of what they are about!

Wanna see my own, highly original (and hilarious!) riffs on classic monsters? Portrayed in a raucous sci fi action comedy?  See my new serial "The Ancient Ones" in Baen's Universe. (Late note: This magazine is, unfortunately, now defunct.)

You'll fall off your chair! ;-)

For a more philosophical and academic look at this pop culture phenomenon, take a look at the collected essays in Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy: New Life for the Undead, edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad.

=== But Just a Little Politics Now, Please ===

There are so many lies.  So many tricks being used to sucker millions of Americans into voting for their own worst enemies, the venial thieves who have robbed us and brought America low.  At this late moment, it's hard to summarize even a few points, but I must try.

Ask these questions of your Fox-watching neighbor:

1) I have put out this challenge for years and no one on the right ever dares to respond! In all of human history, which enemy of freedom crushed and destroyed more markets or competition or opportunity or liberty?  Socialists or oligarchs?  In 99% of human decades, it was the latter. 

So why are you letting a propaganda machine that is financed by a bunch of secretive billionaires and middle-eastern oil princes feed you all your political ideas and stoke up your passionate hatred against your neighbors?

2) If the Bushites over-spent more freely than Obama, and lost more jobs by far, and if "ObamaCare" is actually based upon the Republicans' own 1995 health plan... exactly why are you so eager to put the GOP back  in charge?

3)  Do you actually...? 

Oh, but it is time to stop.  I have tried for 10 years to come up with silver bullets that might wake up decent conservatives from their fevered delusion -- that their movement has not been hijacked by monsters.  It seems hopeless.  They will not hear the sound of Barry Goldwater, spinning in his grave.

So let me put it this way. It is up to moderates... moderate and pragmatic, dedicated to a calm America, where negotiation is still possible... to make a difference in this election.

For you all to realize that it is time to be militantly moderate!  And, this decade (maybe not the next one!) that means punishing the party that is inarguably insane.  The delirious ones on the right.

Enough talking.  Find a tight race near you and tomorrow go down to the HQ of that race and volunteer to help get out the vote.

Fight both the zombies and the vampires.  Fight for us mere, middle class werewolves!

Fight for the republic.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Keeping Fear Alive... When a Candidate's Religion Matters

= When is it appropriate to contemplate a politician’s religious beliefs? =

Good question.  We have grown up during an era when - progressively - a candidate’s private faith has become ever-less relevant in American political life (a trend even more pronounced in Europe and Australia.) Moreover, most of us see that as progress, akin to the putting of racism and sexism and corruption into disrepute (though their remnants are still vile and remain with us.)

Indeed, the modern reflex is to cringe back from anyone who says that we should scrutinize the private beliefs of a public person.  And yet, are there exceptions? Are there times when it would be negligent - even stupid - not to take those beliefs into account?  I suggest that such articles of faith have real - even profound - relevance, when they reflect upon a politician’s general view regarding the world, the value of his or her fellow citizens, and the prospect of applying those articles to guide actions in the temporal world. For example, specific dogmas are highly relevant:

1. When those beliefs cast Judgment (with a capital "J") on the fundamental worth and goodness of a majority of Americans.    Or, indeed, any large and non-criminal minority of them.

2. When those beliefs implicitly or explicitly declare it acceptable, even glorious, that a majority (or large minority) of his or her fellow citizens are... or should be... consigned to eternal torment (in Hell) for holding differing beliefs.

3. When a candidate prays openly to hasten the day when her nation will end and democracy vanish, I have to assert that is pertinent to whether voters might want to democratically elect her to lead that nation.

4. Further, when he or she yearns openly for events to unfold that will purportedly “rain fire from the sky,” is that pertinent to our decision whether to assign such a person control over our nuclear tipped missiles? 

I find these questions - entailing the potential survival of my children - to be entirely germane to making political choices as to whom I should entrust with our nation’s military, political and practical power.  Moreover anyone who sneers that I am bigoted, merely for asking them, is no friend of the republic, of human civilization, or of me.

...and finally... I'll finish with a large except from a recent and powerful article about the roots of the financial crisis.  I'll post the fist few paragraphs here... and then some more down below, under "Comments."  It makes very clear to whom we owe the recent near-depression, that was spawned in an era when the Federal government's sole reason to exist seemed to be enabling vampires to run wild. And that is still the agenda of the party that got us into the mess.

Get out the vote.

===Predatory Lending==

Take a look at The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America and Spawned a Global Crisis by  Michael W. Hudson

9780312610531A few weeks after he started working at Ameriquest Mortgage, Mark Glover looked up from his cubicle and saw a coworker do something odd. The guy stood at his desk on the twenty-third floor of downtown Los Angeles's Union Bank Building. He placed two sheets of paper against the window. Then he used the light streaming through the window to trace something from one piece of paper to another. Somebody's signature.

Glover was new to the mortgage business. He was twenty-nine and hadn't held a steady job in years. But he wasn't stupid. He knew about financial sleight of hand—at that time, he had a check-fraud charge hanging over his head in the L.A. courthouse a few blocks away. Watching his coworker, Glover's first thought was: How can I get away with that? As a loan officer at Ameriquest, Glover worked on commission. He knew the only way to earn the six-figure income Ameriquest had promised him was to come up with tricks for pushing deals through the mortgage-financing pipeline that began with Ameriquest and extended through Wall Street's most respected investment houses.

Glover and the other twentysomethings who filled the sales force at the downtown L.A. branch worked the phones hour after hour, calling strangers and trying to talk them into refinancing their homes with high-priced "subprime" mortgages. It was 2003, subprime was on the rise, and Ameriquest was leading the way. The company's owner, Roland Arnall, had in many ways been the founding father of subprime, the business of lending money to home owners with modest incomes or blemished credit histories. He had pioneered this risky segment of the mortgage market amid the wreckage of the savings and loan disaster and helped transform his company's headquarters, Orange County, California, into the capital of the subprime industry. Now, with the housing market booming and Wall Street clamoring to invest in subprime, Ameriquest was growing with startling velocity.

Up and down the line, from loan officers to regional managers and vice presidents, Ameriquest's employees scrambled at the end of each month to push through as many loans as possible, to pad their monthly production numbers, boost their commissions, and meet Roland Arnall's expectations.

                    (...continued below, under Comments...)

==Rally for Fear==

I am supporting Stephen Colbert's Rally for Fear, for several reasons. First, my career lies in scaring people via vivid science fiction novels. (Sure, they also contain science, reason and confidence in a bold future... still, what would a plot be without pulse-pounding peril? Keep fear alive!!)

JonStewart_Earth10Second, I'm fuming with rage at Jon Stewart for blatantly stealing the title of my novel EARTH, for his merely-hilarious guidebook for aliens visiting this planet. Heck, I won't even tell you want it's called, so you can't order it, right away, and laugh yourself sick.

(Mind you, one of my novels was a finalist for the Stephen Colbert Award for Literary Excellence!  But I would never allow that to sway my judgment! (Guess which novel?))

All right, I admit that I kinda like "sanity" and share Stewart's overall worry about the plague of sanctimonious, self-righteous indignation that aging-sourpuss baby boomers are inflicting on this great land, from every political extreme.  (I've even written about the scientific/biological aspects of this epidemic, and spoken about it at the National Institutes on Drugs and Addiction.)  I'm glad the rallies on Saturday will be about restoring the calm spirit of negotiation that was the hallmark of the Greatest Generation... and that might return, after the bilious Boomers fade and our smarter kids take over!

Hence I'm pleased that (despite some overlap) this won't be a rally for the Democratic Party.  Certainly, the left has some indignation jockeys of its own, who give Glen Beck a run for it.  Oh, they aren't in the same league, when it comes to outright puppeteer-lying!  But Keith Olbermann certainly matches Beck when it comes to choleric-polemic pyrotechnics!

Hence, I seldom link to Olbermann, even when I agree with him! We should all be tired of proof-by-loudly-delivered-anecdote... and his latest screed serves one gigantic helping of separate and questionably-linked anecdotes, about the truly "eccentric" gang of Tea Party candidates who are spearheading the Fox Crusade To Distract Populist Wrath Away From The Oligarchy And Instead Toward All the People Who Know Stuff. 

 Again, I find anecdotes less persuasive than sanity and facts. Still you have really got to watch this Olbermann rant!  Endure the first few minutes for the sake of what follows -- a lengthy and scary list of maniacal quotations from the new Know Nothing Party that seeks to "march this nation as far backward as it can get... an attempted use of democracy to end this democracy..."

While I have you, here are items to show that "ostrich conservative" of yours, who dislikes the Bushites but who has so far convinced himself that "the alternative is marginally worse." Or who actually believes that his movement has not been hijacked by crazies.  (There are millions of these poor, abandoned, Nice Conservatives. Help them!

war21centuryA pair of older pieces I wrote in 2004, before things got THIS crazy...

War in the 21st Century: Maturity vs. Neocon Panic and the True Role of Pax Americana 

Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War

And for your libertarian theoretician friend or brother - the under-achieving MENSA-member who goes on and on about Left, Right, and MODELS of government systems and Adam Smith and what keeps getting in the way of freedom and markets send him here for a wake-up.

Oh, Back to Jon Stewart... here's a chilling parallel! Stephan Richter writes  “Jon Stewart is a powerful one-man version of all the Weimar cabarets. If the underlying causes of his rise were in any way a reflection of what ailed the Weimar Republic, that would be bad news indeed — not just for the US, but also the world as a whole.”  I love it when someone makes me stop and go "huh!" Even when I'm not sure what his point is!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Road We've Traveled

Let's start with a basic fact that is too-seldom discussed. Nearly all of world development, since WWII,  has been financed by American purchasing power ... us buying countless trillions of $ worth of crap we never needed.  US consumer purchases -- uplift via Wal*Mart -- has lifted more people out of poverty than all the "aid" given by all nations, across all of time. (See: How Americans spent themselves into ruin...but saved the world.)

If we set aside (temporarily) concerns about labor practices, corruption and eco-side-effects, the creation of a nascent world middle class has been one of the greatest achievements of Pax Americana, fully on a par with toppling Hitler and staunching the fever that was communism. By one light, our trade deficits have been sacred and noble things.

Find that boggling?  Compare Japan and Europe in 1945 to now. Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Brazil... and today, as we speak, even in a recession, we are lifting the economies of China AND India... at the same time.

But how have we afforded to do this?  Every decade, dour pundits predicted that calamity would result, but it never happened.... that is, till now.

The reason is simple.  HALF of all GDP growth - since WWII - occurred because of scientific and technological advances.  Jets, satellites, pharmaceuticals, copiers, computers, the Internet... you name it.  We dealt with IP theft by creating new patents faster than others could steal them!

This is why the right's endless rants against both science and labor unions are monstrously stupid and self-defeating.  The solution is not to drive working Americans into penury.  Nor is it to hate the smart people who kept us dining on the 'golden eggs' of new discoveries and inventions. These were the folks who kept the rising tide that lifted all boats, and allowed the US to stay ahead, and able to pay for it all.

But today we are seeing the result of the Bushite War Against Science.  Ronald Reagan shifted R&D from Carter's energy program (which would have taken us off of the Middle-East oil teat, by now) and onto frantic overdrive in developing things we prayed that we would never use!  But, even still, at least in those days, Republicans liked technology!  And some science.

Reagan's version of the War on Science was mild. He funded some research and listened to OSTA, now and then.  In contrast to the neoconservatives, who trashed the OTSA as their very first order of business, I miss Reagan, terribly.  At least he would negotiate.  He called liberals foolish.  He had no truck with labeling his fellow citizens as satanic beings.

The dawn of the 21st century saw the first US leadership that directly and deliberately undermined the basic source of our power and strength, as well as the health of the Middle Class.  The font from which we took IN so much wealth that we were able to uplift the world, through trade.

Can we believe this? Whether this parsimonious explanation is true -- that it was done deliberately -- or else the preposterous story that is believed by nearly everybody -- that such a perfect record of harm to the United States was wreaked unintentionally, out of staggeringly uniform and manic stupidity -- either way, the harm has been grievous. And it is ongoing.

The relentless campaign of propaganda that manifests on Fox News and in the Tea Party Movement has one common them... Hatred of All Smartypants.  Fuming, smoking spite toward America's "creative minority" --

-- the same minority of smart folks that the great historian Arnold Toynbee once called the core to any great nation's success.  The same segment of society that Rush Limbaugh recently spewed venom toward, in openly-declared hatred and in extremely clear, general terms.

Let us be plain.  They want us to cook the goose that laid all those golden eggs.  And serve it to a conniving oligarchy that is almost as profoundly short-sighted and stupid as it thinks itself smart.

An afterthought... preventing this realization is probably the reason that many of the puppeteers have inflicted on us the treason of subsidized culture war.  By deliberately fostering populist, know-nothing confederate hatred of urban/science/blue America and a million other distractions, they get enough political clout to prevent any populist reaction against aristocratism in Congress.

And finally... I repeat it everywhere.  Liberals, get off your butts and RECLAIM THE FIRST LIBERAL!  Adam Smith. The theoretician who despised conniving oligarchs far more than any other enemy of competitive enterprise.

Read Smith!  Don't take the word of doofus right wingers who proclaim that Smith wanted "laissez-faire" to run roughshod over the poor.  In fact, in his fervent support for public education, social mobility, transparency, open competition and the creation of power centers that can hold the oligarchy in check, Smith provides a litany of neocon-demolishing quotations!

Moreover, by reclaiming Adam Smith, we:

1- emphasize liberalism's roots in pushing social justice, not just because it is "nice" but because it is totally pragmatic to maximize the number of capable, competitors!

2- anti-monopoly sentiment is fizzing, just below the surface.  Harness it!

3- It is political jiu jitsu!  BE the party of enterprise!  It is about time that competitive markets got a champion, after the Republican Party has spent a generation demolishing them.

==While Defending Sanity on Saturday - Bring Along (Decent & Smart) Capitalism==

Folks may be curious how I can avow to be a libertarian (albeit a heretical one who despises Ayn Rand) and an admirer of Adam Smith... while urging everybody in sight to attend the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rallies, this coming Saturday and to "think blue" on election day.

For starters, because contradictions don't bother "Contrary Brin"... in fact, they're part of the fun in life! Also because most are illusory contradictions.  (Have you actually read Adam Smith? Today he'd be a democrat.  It's clear on almost every page.)

One commonly-used crutch that I've long denounced is the hoary-stupid so-called "left-right political axis" -- a monstrous metaphor that lobotomizes all who use it. It should be abandoned because it's puerile, misleading, illogical... and because it's French! (;-)

Seriously, if you'd like to probe everything from several dozen fresh perspectives, that I guarantee you've never thought of before, then have a look at this essay series I wrote for a group that wants to transform libertarianism from a fringe-of-flakes into a real force for pragmatic freedom in American life.  I wish them luck! (Though I won't hold my breath.)

Will the comedians rescue us? To those of you heading for the Stewart-Colbert rallies, October 30 in DC... thank you, heroes! And if you cannot attend the main event in Washington? Then find a satellite rally at !

Is American Civilization in a steep decline? So you'd think from dyspeptic ads running on Fox.  But for a broader perspective, historian and diplomat Joseph Nye gives us the 30,000-foot (TED-talk) view of the shifts in power between China and the US, and the global implications as economic, political and "soft" power shifts and moves around the globe.

Me? I am appalled that 99% of American are unaware of what we have accomplished.  And how simple it would be for the United States to remain the rich and influential and respected leader of the world.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Real Reason for Tea Parties

Lighting the political lamp (it may be on for a couple of weeks), let me begin with a disclaimer, for those of you who don't know me ... I despise all dogmatists, including those on the far-left. As a one-time keynoter for a Libertarian Party Convention, I have the bona fides of someone who has read and understood Adam Smith.  In fact, it is for that reason that I know which party the "First Liberal" would vote for, today, if he could. And it's not the one that touts his name the most.

Moreover, if communism was a principal threat to freedom, a generation ago, can there be any doubt that the madness and danger is coming from a different direction today?


To see just how crazy it is out there, you really must read this.  Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty:

“It was the middle of a tough primary contest, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) had convened a small meeting with donors who had contributed thousands of dollars to his previous campaigns. But this year, as Inglis faced a challenge from tea party-backed Republican candidates claiming Inglis wasn't sufficiently conservative, these donors hadn't ponied up. Inglis' task: Get them back on the team. "They were upset with me," Inglis recalls. "They are all Glenn Beck watchers." About 90 minutes into the meeting, as he remembers it, "They say, 'Bob, what don't you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.'" Inglis didn't know how to respond....”

Neither do the rest of us, Bob.  Apparently, the flabergasted Mr. Reasonableness who sits in the White House simply cannot pause - in his relentless attempts to negotiate - and parse out exactly what it going on.

So let me put it  simply.  The whole nation knows that the Republican Party was a festering nest of corruption and incompetence, since 1996 or so.  (I do not include the first year of the Newt Gingrich Revolution, during which actual conservative values were negotiated with the sitting president, and the parties, together, enacted both Welfare Reform and budget restraints -- a brif era of maturity for which Gingrich was resoundingly punished, by his own party, as it chose to plunge into lunacy.)

Under that party’s misrule, America experienced a steep plummet in nearly all unambiguous metrics of national health - from GDP to home values, from patent rates to small business startups, all the way even to military readiness!  The near-perfection of this national decline has never (for some strange reason) been laid out openly by the President or the democrats... probably for the same neurotic reasons that keep them from appointing a special prosecutor, to expose Bushite corruption and theft.  But the people clearly know that the Republican brand is soiled, almost beyond repair.

That left only one hope for the masters of that undead elephant... to market a populist rant that Democrats are even worse.  And since there is not a scintilla of real evidence for systematic Democratic wrongdoing or mismanagement (not a single Clintonite ex-official was ever covicted, even indicted, for malfeasance of official duties, and Clinton paid down the national debt), this populist rabble-rousing must take the form  of legerdermain and magic! Unproved or unprovable assertions, Beckian hornswaggle and Limbaughian incantaions of towering indignation.

The list of counter-points that the dems could use is astonishing... primarily in their total absence-of-use.  For example, picture a 60 second television spot describing what would have happened to Ma and Pa’s Social Security, if the GOP had been allowed to “privatize” it, back in 2004... and who the winners would have been.   Or the truth about which party does a better job beefing up the Border Patrol and actually limiting illegal (as opposed to legal) immigration? (Hint, it ain't the GOP, by a thousand miles.)

Or point out that Obama’s so called “socialist” health insurance bill was based on the Republicans’ own 1994 alternative plan. Sure that's well known to folks on the Sunday talk show circuit, but it would be devastating in a 60 second spot... purchased on Fox.

Let’s be clear about the poisonous nature of this campaign to win back Congress by painting the democrats as “even worse.”  In order for them to be worse than the Bushites, they must be portrayed as satanic beings... the very same way that the Southern press depicted northerners and Abraham Lincoln, in 1860.  The potential effectiveness of this populist campaign of lies is seen in the way a quarter of a million poor southern whites marched off to fight -- very bravely and well -- for the “cause” of protecting the interests of their local lords and cotton barons and slave-owning oligarchs.  Hey, don't under-rate it! The method worked for the Rupert Murdochs of past eras.  It's working for the Rupert Murdochs of today.

In fact, ok, it is that time again. Cyclically, regularly (and always) keep checking on the Fox News Boycott.  You have a right to make your purchasing judgements based on many criteria.  Including a list of those who advertise with Glenn Beck.


PROFILES IN COURAGE -- A group of 23 Communist Party elders in China has written a letter calling for an end to the country's restrictions on freedom of speech. I'll be commenting in detail about this, soon.

It can be fascinating to see how memes spread across the web, passed from peer to peer. But how can one tell what ideas are grass-roots and which are spread by political campaigns or corporations? Truthy, based at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing attempts to chart the diffusion of information & misinformation on Twitter – by tracking keywords and retweets.

Take a tour of “Richistan...” the America that Fox is so frantic to get average citizens to ignore.

"The revelation that Rich Iott, a Republican candidate for Congress from Ohio, was an active member of a group of dedicated to understanding the experience of soldiers who served in the Nazi Waffen SS by dressing up in their uniforms — and staging recreations of their battles — has forced historical re-enactors to defend their hobby. "That Mr. Iott engaged in this pastime came to light on Friday, when Joshua Green of The Atlantic published photographs of him in an SS uniform beneath a headline asking, “Why is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?” Um... the SS?  Jumping Jehosephat, if a democrat had done anything remotely like that....

Here's a terrific take-off on WWII cautionary posters about "loose lips sink ships."

The respect-worthy Amitai Etzioni - who is no pantywaist - is pushing for a simple “take care of America first” withdrawal from Afghanistan.  (And if they become an enemy state again?  Heck, enemy states are FAR simpler to topple than it is to fight a grueling insurgency.  Think about it.)  Anyway, we could sure have used the three trillion dollars these wars have cost.  Spent on R&D, it would have left all our enemies -- and our trade rivals -- in clouds of our (by-now) nearly transhumanist dust! Ah, parallel worlds.

Finally, see a county by-county map of education levels... and how this affects disparities in income.  From this it seems self explanatory why - and how - the Fox distraction campaign, to aim the ire of the ill-educated against the well educated, is working so well.

Find the nearest close partisan race and contact the HQ of the candidate you prefer... and help get out the vote!


For more of my articles on see: Politics for the 21st Century

Monday, October 18, 2010

Astronomy, SETI, science, transparency and wonders!

DragonflightScience fiction is one of the most "American" literary genres, because, like America itself, SF has a relentless fascination with change. In fact, I believe that this trait - rather than technology - is what most distinguishes SF from fantasy.  (It is certainly why Anne MacCaffrey, author of the “Dragonrider” series, proclaims quite firmly that “I am a science fiction author; I don’t do fantasy.”

Societies, families, and individuals have always lived on shifting sands.  When just a few of your comfy assumptions are rocked, you may find wisdom and solace in a closely-focused literary view. But if you want or need a bigger picture -- to ride the tsunami that change has become in modern times -- then literary science fiction turns the reader from a hapless recipient of change into an explorer.

The "what-if" thought experiment is the purest expression of a courageous mind.  Because authors hurl, and readers accept, the ultimate challenge to empathy --

-- not just putting on the shoes of your neighbor, but stretching your empathic power to other places, times, cultures and states of being.  To put aside the comfort food of familiarity, repetition, nostalgia or the myopic here-and-now... and instead reconnoiter the vast range of things that (for better or worse) our children might do and become.

Despite the simplistic banality of Hollywood sci fi, there is more to science fiction than garish, clanking monsters.  It can infect children with the dangerous mental habit of imagining things different than they are. And a surprising majority of scientists, doctors, astronauts, engineers, teachers, diplomats and world-changers all grew up devouring SF.  It can stir discontent with past and current injustice and then go on to warn of dangers on - or just beyond - the horizon.

A habit of questioning all dogmas - even those that your parents taught you - can makes science fiction seem dangerous, even to lit-professors, who cannot force the genre into slots or pigeonholes.  Because an SF author - once slotted - may bend all of his or her energy and considerable imagination to the project of breaking out.

It is the literature of rambunctious questioning.  And to the extent that Americans loved it -- we thrived.


The Astronomy Now site  has a 6 min piece about the debate that was hel in Britain a few weeks ago, at the Royal Society’s new Kavli Conference Center.  Featured are clips of Dr. James Benford & me on our side (urging that the issue of “messages to aliens” be discussed in more open fora) and Dr. Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute, on the other.  Of course nothing was resolved.

The most significant outcome? A straw poll of the attendees at the conference overwhelmingly and almost unanimously asked that the Royal Society and the AAAS support our appeal for international symposia on the issue, bringing in the world’s greatest sages from fields like History, anthropology, biology, philosophy etc into a discussion that may ultimately include -- and affect -- us all. 

Oh... and in related news....

Richard Dawkins speculates about extraterrestrial life in this video.

NASA Ames reveals DARPA-funded "Hundred Year Starship" program, with $1 million funding from DARPA. Announced at a Long Now Foundation event, the program is aimed at settling other worlds.


That 90 minute audio interview I gave last month, for Jay Ackroyd’s BlogTalkRadio (in conjunction with an event on Second Life), is now available on podcast. 

UK firm crowdsources security camera monitoring so you never know who's watching:

"Back in 1996, writer and scientist David Brin wrote "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between privacy and freedom?" a tale of two fundamentally similar yet very different 21st century cities. Both were littered with security cameras monitoring every inch of public space, but in one city the police did the watching, while in the other the citizens monitored the feeds to keep an eye on each other (and the police). These days, many UK police forces monitor their city streets with cameras mounted on every corner. Now, for a fee, a private company is crowdsourcing security surveillance to any citizen willing to watch, fulfilling Brin’s prophecy in a sense.”

Augmented Reality?.... Try diminished reality!

And? Pope Benedict XVI said on Thursday that the media’s increasing reliance on images, fuelled by the endless development of new technologies, risked confusing real life with virtual reality.  (Um... go to the Jesuit church in Rome and see the trompe l’oeil ceilings (fool the eye) that they are so proud of! dang. It was the immersion 3-D mind-blow of it's day!) 

 Fascinating possible alternative way to collect solar energy in the stratosphere and deliver it to the ground

Fun stuff!

A fabulous leap in the use of the Codona Coronagraph to block light from a distant star and see Jupiter-scale planets, as close as 5 au to their sun. 

See a great image of the tree of life and evolution in action. Look carefully and see how the tree suddenly THINS at certain extinction times (notice the dinosaurs vanish) but life soon fills in the gaps.  This really is terrific... even if it does prejudice by implying we are the "most evolved."

Cool video: Imagining the tenth dimension

A cartoon comparison of Huxley and Orwell Orwell feared those who would ban books; Huxley feared there would be no reason to ban books, for there would be no one to read them…

Five times we almost nuked ourselves by accident.

Fifty ideas to change science: Artificial life : biologists will make artificial cells, enzymes, stem cells, induce photosynthesis in the lab…you need a subscription to read the whole article.

=== WANT MORE? ===

A test of truthiness: Fascinating to see how memes spread across the web, passed from peer to peer. But how can one tell what ideas are grass roots and which are spread by political campaigns or corporations? Truthy, based at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing attempts to chart the diffusion of information & misinformation on Twitter – by tracking keywords and retweets.

At Carnegie Mellon, a computer named NELL (Never-Ending Language Learner) is busy uplifting itself: scanning info 24/7, calculating, categorizing – learning language as humans do. A step toward the semantic web and possibly true artificial intelligence?

The Lunar X Prize (backed by Google) will grant $30 million to the first privately funded team that lands a robot rover on the moon. The rover must travel more than 500 meters and transmit video and data back to earth. Deadline is 2012

Be sure to see Comet Hartley 2 (discovered in 1986). It should be visible with binoculars, appearing as a greenish smudge near Cassiopeia if you have dark skies. This comet will be targeted by NASA’s Deep Impact probe (EPOXI) for a flyby in November – coming within 435 miles of the comet.

Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford, once issued a challenge to young researchers: Concisely explain your research topic in an “elevator pitch”: Imagine riding an elevator with a friend who is bright but not a scientist. Explain what you do, what it means and why it matters – all before reaching the 15th floor. A worthy challenge in communicating science to the general public – who does pay the bills, after all. 

How will technology impact personal liberties? The ACLU is analyzing sci-fi plots to plan its future battles over individual freedom. Its report, Technology, Liberties and the Future, draws upon science fiction for worst-case scenarios to study possible civil liberties violations that may result from advances in technology: omni-surveillance, cloning, gene splicing, nanotech, cyborgs, AI…

Is it censorship if the government buys the entire first printing of a book (Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart), in return for the publisher’s agreement to destroy ever copy?

Kenyan tinkerer builds plane from scratch, using a Toyota engine and a wooden propeller, wings from aluminum siding.

An animated look at Changing Educational Paradigms

Danny Gold’s new movie: 100 voices A journey Home: the revival of Jewish culture in Poland

Check out this assembly of sculptures of human ancestors -- ranging from Australopithecus to Homo erectus -- amazingly realistic reconstructions created by French artist Elisabeth Daynes, fleshed out from casts of skulls. See her website with details on the reconstructions and methodology:

Our most precious resource, water, is increasingly being privatized. Global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, and demand will soon outstrip supply. The rights to divert water are a sellable commodity, but will markets deal with this problem equitably -- or pit industry against drought-stricken countries –  water haves against water have-nots…

A Moh’s Scale of Hardness for science fiction: how ‘hard’ is the science – is the story consistent with the laws of physics – and are the fictional extrapolations plausible? Click to expand the categories at the end.  My opinion?  Eh.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Auspicious omens, fear-rallies(!), aliens... more aliens... and science!

Today is 10-10-10... which in binary means it can be termed '42 Day',  Ah, it’s the answer!

earthI’m quoted on Stephen Colbert's "Restoring Truthiness" site: "Sci fi author David Brin: humorists are precisely the kinds of guys who can cut through the orgy of petty indignation that we aging baby boomers are imposing on this country.”

But heck, while we’re at it, see what book is a headliner for the Stephen T Colbert Award For The Literary Excellence! 

the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-presents-earth-the-book-a-visitors-guide-to-the-human-raceCould the fact that my novel EARTH was a Colbert Award finalist explain why that liberal so-’n-so Jon Stewart stole the title for his new guide book to the planet (for aliens)?  I am so ticked off over his hilarious tome-of-the-stolen-name that I won’t even link to it here!  You’ll have to google or amazon “Stewart” and “Earth” in order to rush & buy it for yourselves!  (Take that Stewart!)

In fact, I plan - on October 30 - to attend the local “Keep Fear Alive!” Colbert rally, in my hometown.  Find your own town’s satellite rally at  And march in support of Stephen’s campaign to resist sanity!  If Stewart’s ilk have their way, Republicans and Democrats will go back to negotiating with each other, reason will prevail, science will thrive and we’ll resume modernist quests for progress. Heck, we’ll even start settling outer space... and my far-out tales of futuristic adventure will all become obsolete!  For the sake of my children, march with Stephen!

(Side note: for us realist-paranoids means “rally-my-ass-off” for the Colbert Nation.  Clearly that means it will be a great way to trim those extra pounds!  But for Stewart’s crowd of pinko namby-pambies, rallymao has another meaning! Did you notice the last three letters? It’s a code! Clearly, they’re congregating to support the murderous commie founder of Red China.  Ooh, that burns, even worse than discovering that Che-Ney was Russian for the “new Che Guevarra.” And he seemed such a nice fellow!)

(More about this at the end.)


200px-StrangertidesOh, have you heard? Tim Powers’s great book On Stranger Tides  was bought by the producers of Part IV in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, starring Johnny Depp.   That bodes well for a hilarious film with some content for the mind and heart, as well!  And it couldn’t happen to a better book, or author.

Meanwhile, I just returned from the Royal Society’s gorgeous new conference facility, in the beautiful countryside outside London, where I participated in a debate over the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the silly notion that Earthlings should shout Yoohoo! into a dauntingly mysterious cosmos. On the blithe assumption that all advanced aliens will automatically be as beneficent as Californian and Canadian radio astronomers. Which proved ironic.  Illustrating the benign maturity they expect to find out there, three speakers in a row proceeded to use strawman arguments and ridicule against the three of us who were there to ask for serious discussion.  Although not one of us mentioned even a single “danger” in our proposal to expand the advisory panels to include historians, biologists, anthropologists, philosophers -- our opponents evaded this simple suggestion, instead choosing to concentrate on mocking the notion of “danger!” Presenting lists of lurid alien invasion scenarios straight out of bad Hollywood thrillers (“Are they coming to take our water? Our women?”) 

Above all, it seems that the core SETI community has acquired a deeply-felt and pervasive rationalized hatred of science fiction, bolstered by willful ignorance of the literary genre where most thought experiments about contact with alien life have taken place.

The irony is almost too rich.  A field that was engendered by science fiction, that had its roots in SF and that owes it everything, has turned inward, avoiding contact with most other human scientific specialties... so how will they deal with truly alien beings?  Above all, they offer only hackles toward the one literary realm that should be viewed as the R&D department of the entire field.  Especially during the era when SETI has no palpable subject matter other than ideas.

Oh, but fun and sci fi blend together elsewhere! This web-comic artist is one of the greats - and a (reciprocal) fan of mine.  Give him your support!

=== Now This Is Weird ===

From The New Republic:  “But there is one overriding reason why charity is largely absent from contemporary China: The Communist Party makes it difficult. Why? The party does not want competitors, especially organized ones. Charities, therefore, have to find government sponsors before they can register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and this requirement severely limits the number of them. Even Hollywood action star Jet Li, a favorite of Beijing because he makes “patriotic” films, cannot register his One Foundation, which may have to suspend operations soon. ... Don't be surprised that as of last year there were, in all of China, only 643 foundations not run by the government. There were an estimated 300,000 so-called grass-roots organizations that were operating without registering or had registered as business enterprises. Such organizations, functioning in a highly unorthodox manner, invariably find it hard to raise funding. For one thing, donors cannot obtain tax deductions for contributions to them.

“But forget about the lack of tax deductions: Some reports indicate that China’s wealthy are afraid of government reprisals if they make donations. In any event, severe government restrictions have had an effect. Last year, donations in China totaled about $8 billion, less than 3 percent of philanthropic giving in the United States.”


From the Transparency Front -- Eeek!  Creeped out, even though I both predicted this and expect it will be part of a generally good trend. With LOTS of irksome aspects to get used-to. Snoopers paid to catch shoplifters.

Past observations at visible and near infrared wavelengths had implied the presence of primitive carbon-rich materials on the moons  of Mars, which are usually associated with asteroids that populate the central part of the Asteroid Belt. But recent thermal infrared observations from Mars Express' Planetary Fourier Spectrometer did not find any such evidence, instead finding signatures that match types of minerals identified on Mars' surface.  Also low density and highly porous. This may be bad news.  But the Russians are persisting, fortunatley, in their space mission to Phobos.  Perhaps they’ll find resources - including water - making it one of the most valuable spots in the solar system.  Let’s hope.

Father and son film outer space, do-it-yourself style.

Hilarious: Glenn Beck’s words selling fear, set to a Donald Duck cartoon.

China has launched its second lunar orbiter.

Cyberweapons will continue to haunt us. The Stuxnet software worm – designed to destroy industrial control systems -- may have been designed to target Iran’s nuclear program. It infected 45,000 computers worldwide, most in Iran. The next generation of malware could be a danger to power plants and electrical grids worldwide.

The building blocks of life may be constant throughout the cosmos: humans and aliens may share the same DNA roots: ten amino acids form at low temperatures and pressures – you don’t need a miracle to arrive at the chemical cocktail for life. (Actually, Leslie Orgel predicted this decades ago.) Ah... but life ITSELF?  Stay tuned, stay ambitious.  And actually READ the passages in Genesis about the Tower of Babel.  This time, we have auto-translation software on iPods!!!

Nobel Prize awarded to two University of Manchester physicists for work with graphene – a two-dimensional, one-atom thick carbon sheet extracted from graphite. Graphene is the thinnest, strongest material ever developed, nearly transparent, an excellent conductor of electricity & heat. Can be mixed with plastic to generate flexible solar cells, smaller, faster transistors, high-capacity batteries & ultracapacitors.

NTT DoCoMo has developed a tiny display that clips onto a pair of eyeglasses and provides navigation services or information about local shops.

Filming human embryos used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) at an early stage in their development has allowed scientists to select those with the best chance of going on to develop into healthy babies, with an accuracy of more than 93%.

A new microphone system allows broadcasters to zoom in on sounds as well as sights, to pick out a single conversation.

A fascinating persepective suggests that our human ability to empathize broadly with other species... and perhaps even some of our intelligence... arose because of our 100,000 year co-evolution (perhaps a love affair?) with dogs. 


It turns out that almost all the job growth  over the last year has come from those who have reached "retirement age" (whatever that is) continuing to work or going back to work. The total number of people over 65 who are employed has risen by 318,000 over the last year, accounting for nearly all the job growth

And... oh... Ack!  Share this with your Ostrich.

===  FINALLY, BE AROUND PEOPLE on 10/30/10! ===
Seriously folks. (Or not.)  Find a place outdoors with lots of people, on October 30.  Stephen Colbert says we should all be VERY afraid of being indoors or alone, or too quiet, that day!

He’s being vague, but some of his hints may imply some kind of alien pod-people replacement attack in which the invaders feel a need to avoid crowds of people who are chanting, marching, waving placard/signs and having fun.  Especially the placards. (Ask any alien invader; those signs can really sting, when they smack you on the antennae or the sucker-pads!)

Or  maybe it’s not aliens but something similarly fear-inducing. Anyway, Colbert has good instincts about these things.  So get OUT of the house and join one of Stephen’s fear-preserving rallies.  Go to the main one in Washington DC (the safest place from alien probes, that day), or in your own town, via!

(Or else join Jon Stewart and his militantly-moderate-reasonable-rational-politeness-troopers... if you really must.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Quagmire War -- the Vietnam of our Era

The Vietnam of our era...

George Friedman, the principal of STRATFOR, a major international strategic consulting firm, has been meticulously dissecting the reasons for - and future prospects of - our nine year quagmire in Afghanistan. Here he gets to a point I have been talking about for years:

"While acts of transnational terrorism target civilians, they are not attacks — have not been and are not evolving into attacks — that endanger the territorial integrity of the United States or the way of life of the American people. They are dangerous and must be defended against, but transnational terrorism is and remains a tactical problem that for nearly a decade has been treated as if it were the pre-eminent strategic threat to the United States....

"Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan…. 

"As al Qaeda has fled Afghanistan, the overall political goal for the United States in the country has evolved to include the creation of a democratic and uncorrupt Afghanistan. It is not clear that anyone knows how to do this, particularly given that most Afghans consider the ruling government of President Hamid Karzai — with which the United States is allied — as the heart of the corruption problem, and beyond Kabul most Afghans do not regard their way of making political and social arrangements to be corrupt."

I would go much farther than George.  Because I have no doubt that the principal goal that Osama bin Laden had in mind, in perpetrating the crimes of 9/11, was to lure America into an extended, interminable quagmire of attrition in the "land where empires go to die."  While this may seem a bold statement that cannot be proved, it is consistent with three major facts:

1) American had to react.  It was predictable where we would have to strike.

2) Osama's salad days were spent humbling one superpower in the same mountains.

3) If you were a foe of the United States, you would study which past errors almost destroyed America.  Those two were Civil War and a land war of attrition in Asia.  (In fact, since 9/11, it appears we've been rapidly plunged into both.)

Where we surprised Osama was in the rapidly skillful way by which we allied with local enemies of the Taliban and crushed Osama's allies, in days.  Had we shown the in-and-out agility that we demonstrated in the Balkans Intervention - (and if we had chosen sane and sensible ways to eliminate Saddam Hussein, instead of doing everything there in all the worst possible ways) - America would now be seen as the toughest MF bastards around.  And we would be Three Trillion Dollars richer.

And if the Taliban re-established themselves after we left? Well, we could do it again. An enemy with actual assets, fixed locations an a nation to run is far more vulnerable than a guerilla force.

As George Friedman points out, the 9/11 attacks did not harm America at a deeply structural level. But our clumsy reaction to it has.

George goes on to suggest a solution: The Pakistanization of the War. Or allowing Afghanistan to fall into the Pakistani orbit, with them also taking on the burdens of dealing with the guerilla movements. But there are problems:

"The Taliban phenomenon has extended into Pakistan in ways that seriously complicate Pakistani efforts to regain their bearing in Afghanistan. It has created a major security problem for Islamabad, which, coupled with the severe deterioration of the country’s economy and now the floods, has weakened the Pakistanis’ ability to manage Afghanistan. In other words, the moment that the Pakistanis have been waiting for — American agreement and support for the Pakistanization of the war — has come at a time when the Pakistanis are not in an ideal position to capitalize on it."

Still, he foresees Pakistan brokering a peace deal... like the Paris Talks that ended the Vietnam War.  Here I think he is making up a bit of a story.  If this actually happens, I'll buy him a dinner.

=== The Faux Equivalence ===

One of the tricks mastered by the Murdochs (envision the Morlochs of HG Wells's The Time Machine!) is to create an impression of false equivalence.  We are seeing this here in California.  Every time GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman is accused of favoring never-ending tax largesse for the uber-rich, she responds by calling her opponent, former governor Jerry Brown, of being in the clutches of Big Unions.

It frustrates me that she is never given the ultimate rebuttal. "Even if this is true, the unions have been plummetting in power, for decades, while the super-rich have been skyrocketing. So which should we fear?"  What social force, in fact, did nearly ALL of our ancestors fear? What group ever came close to oppressing liberty, open competition, social mobility or free markets, more than oligarchy?  Whether they called themselves feudal lords or commie nomenklatura, or captains of the crony-CEO caste?

We older folk grew up in an America with the flattest social strata (for white males) in the history of the world, yet that did not prevent a vibrant capitalism!  In contrast, over the last two decades, the fraction of the total national income going to the top 1% doubled; the fraction going to the top one tenth of a percent tripled; the fraction going to the top 1% of 1% quadrupled - and capitalism is floundering. Can anybody parse cause and effect here?

 Do the Murdochs actually believe they can prevent the chivvied and harassed and cornered middle class from noticing this trend... forever?  How about when this disparity doubles? And doubles again? And again?  Is there a limit where the oligarchs will conceivably say "enough"?  Any limit at all?

 History doubts it.  Insatiable oligarchies are unable to stop, even in their own long term self-interest.  But don't take my word for it.  Pick a random decade and continent. Try reading history.

=== The Lords of Discipline ===

I wrote to my cousin, a speechwriter in the White House, with this suggestion:

Express  grudging (and ironic) admiration for how UNIFORM and DISCIPLINED the Republicans are, hewing absolutely to a rigid party line. In sharp contrast to the democrats' perpetual disorganization. (Many recall the 1930s humorist Will Rogers said: "I'm not a member of an organized political party -- I'm a democrat.")

Heck, this portrays democrats in a way most people find endearing! (Or at least unthreatening.) As eager, well-meaning, a bit scatterbrained and unable to be tyrants, even if they wanted to.  Meanwhile, the image of a tightly disciplined, collectively lockstep-obedient party on the other side is one that most Americans find instinctively chilling.

Note, all of this can be conveyed, without actually dissing anyone openly! Indeed, by praising (in ironic tones) the other side's discipline, you never have to mention other parties that were known for their discipline (e.g.fascists or communists).  Your tone can be amiable and tongue-in-cheek envious!  But the message will get across.

=== And Tidbits ===

With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now employs every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office. With Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all making moves indicating they may run for president, their common employer is facing a question that hasn’t been asked before: How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?  (C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences.)

I mean, what on Earth would some Bizarro Anti-Fox make of such suspicious goings-on?  Okay, there's MSNBC. But their viewers tend to be the wishy-washy types who THINK about attending Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity... and who shrug aside conspiracy theories (and probably don't wind up going, after all!) So don't say "MSNBC" at me.

For example: Why is Rupert Murdoch buying and promoting games made by the despotic government of North Korea? Dang!

Meanwhile, those darned academics and scientists are at it again:   "In this paper, we use the Moody’s Analytics model of the U.S. economy—adjusted to accommodate some recent financial-market policies—to simulate the macroeconomic effects of the government’s total policy response. We find that its effects on real GDP, jobs, and inflation are huge, and probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0. For example, we estimate that, without the government’s response, GDP in 2010 would be about 11.5% lower, payroll employment would be less by some 8 million jobs, and the nation would now be experiencing deflation."

It would be an interesting item worthy of cautious consideration and engagement in the politics of the day.  If today's politics had anything, whatsoever, to do with evidence, or even intelligent speculation.

=== and finally... ===

Kent Pitman writes: "There was discussion just this evening by someone on MSNBC about the fact (I think they said it was a fact—I think the alluded to some study or another—but what do I know?) that there is lately a trend toward people admiring people who don’t compromise. But that the trend is biased, with more republicans admiring this than democrats. Then they noted that if you get a bunch of compromisers together with a bunch of non-compromisers, it’s little wonder things drift in the direction of the non-compromisers. Alas. What a dilemma—to become stubborn as a self-defense against being rolled over?"

I don't think it is fundamentally about "compromise." The root is deeper... it is addiction. I have been trying to draw attention to this matter for years.  I even was invited to speak about it at the National Institutes on Drugs and Addiction. See my paper: An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology.

I believe the most powerful act of social politics that could take place, today, would be to scientifically verify and publicize the fact that self-righteous indignation is as powerful a self-doped addictive state as gambling, thrill-seeking or rage.   And much of our culture war would start to dissipate, if the indignantly outraged were viewed the way we do the pitiable (and contemptible) people who wallow in heroin and cocaine.

THIS is what Obama should be saying, right now.  It should be shouted at Jon Stewart's rally.  And I would be happy to do so, in tones of ringing (if ironic) righteousness.