Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Illegal Aliens Part One... and me NOT on the Colbert Report

Did anyone see the Colbert Report piece on "alien hunting" last night? Yes, that's the segment that I was cut from, after giving their crew an entire day in our home.  And now I can see why.  It...was... awful!

Look, I am a BIG fan of the show and admire Stephen Colbert immensely. I understand the need to put humor first. It is - after all - Comedy Central.  I even expected to be edited into an object of... well... some ribbing and poking. (All in a good cause!) When I was told that my portion of the bit was to be cut, I felt a bit of disappointment. But, I accept the needs of TV. When time is short, the sober-minded intellectual has gotta go.

Moreover, let me add that I was treated fine by the intelligent producer they sent out west to question me, and by the Colbert Report staff. (I loved the "Rally to Preserve Sanity…or Fear" schwag!)  I get a lot of film crews at the house and this experience was pretty good, all-told.

But as for the segment that finally aired, boy am I relieved I wasn't included! Unlike many other Colbert Report pieces, this one was tediously repetitious, banal, unimaginative and dull, it wasn't even remotely funny! (Well the part about vaginal contractions, beamed into space.  All right... but...) 

Look... one of the choice things about the Stewart/Colbert shows is that they appeal to us on many levels.  They have proved that hilarity and thought can blend.  That we can use humor to shine light on topics that genuinely merit further attention. When their crew spent 7 hours in our home, I tried to point out lots of aspects about the very wide and deep concept of extraterrestrial life... the search, the vast range possibilities (far beyond tiresome, big-eyed "gray-ufo types), and some strange personalities and quirks in the field, that might draw both viewer fascination and terrific laughs.

It is the only scientific field without any known subject matter... isn't that funny? Heck, I had the crew in stitches, giving my routine about what I'd say to gray UFO types, if I ever confronted one. (Hint: they are putzes who don't react at all well to taunting!)

I mean, dang, there is SO MUCH regarding the real issue of plausible aliens that could be made funny!  So why return to the tedious gray abductor nonsense... and do it badly, to boot?

SETISee some of my writings on SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence vs METI: Messaging to Extraterrestrials.

Hey, I continue to consider myself a Friend of the Show. But I'm glad not to have been on that segment. Maybe they will revisit the topic, someday. Sigh.


 Next time... the other kind of "aliens"... why both parties lie about their real agendas, when it comes to both legal and illegal immigration.


Acacia H. said...

I guess you truly are a Friend of the Show that they spared you from being linked to the program by people who don't follow you on various online social networking sites. ;) Though you did do a fine job of advertising the show for them, no doubt. ^^;;

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

The cutting room floor is proof from Col'b3rt that grey aliens do have a sense of humour.

It's laugh, Jim, but not as we know it.

(Always thought the B5 scene where Vir tells Morden what he'd *really* want would have ended well with a buzzed comment from one of Morden's invisible escorts, and Morden smiling at Vir's receding back in response)

David Brin said...

Tony, great spock riff

Acacia H. said...

Got another science news article: thunderstorms on Earth have been caught creating antimatter. More specifically, positrons and electrons... and when the positrons find other electrons to glom to, they create a specific light pattern.

Rob H.

David Brin said...



Tacitus2 said...

I do recall warning you about the TV gig...

But nothing wagered, nothing gained. It does sound like being edited out was a kindness.


Paul said...

Still, in the early eighties, I would so have watched Alien Hunter.

LarryHart said...

Well, the political angst seems to have peaked, and maybe it will soon be time to post about "Foundation's Triumph". I've held off doing so because I don't want it to be in the middle of a political discussion which swamps the other.

I don't intend to continue any liberal-vs-conservative arguments about the Giffords shooting now. I'd just like to shout out to Tacitus2 that I appreciate his reasoned approach to that argument, and that I'm coming to the conclusion that we each bring our own expectations to the Roarshach test of in incident of this kind. For example, I've internalized the "fact" that politicians and talk-radio hosts (Alan Berg) who oppose the right-wing do so at their peril. So when an incident like this occurs--the shooting of a DEMOCRAT who ran against the Tea Party--the "fact" that this is a manifestation of right-wing anger against liberals is the expectation I bring INTO the discussion. It's not something that needs proof, but rather something that only a very high threshold of DISPROOF would sway me on.

I'm not saying I'm right or that you're wrong in our various preconceived notions--just that the fact OF those preconceived notions might get missed in a discussion, and to therefore make that discussion less comprehensible.

Acacia H. said...

That said, it would have been as much a tragedy if John McCain had been shot. And, much like Gifford, I suspect McCain would have lived through it. In fact, knowing McCain, he would have charged the asshole shooter, probably getting hit several more times, ripped the gun from his hands, pounded him into the dirt, and then realized "oh damn. I've been shot. Multiple times." And then pass out.

Because while I feel the current McCain is a shadow of his former self, he is still as tough an old coot as Reagan was, and I say THAT with full respect intended.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Um, it was Teddy Roosevelt who did all that.

Tyler August said...

Not to contradict our honoured host, but...
Teddy Roosevelt continued and gave his speech still standing before passing out. Which is considerably more badass.
Of course, TR's was just a flesh wound, and he was quite a bit younger than McCain is now, or Regan when he was hit.

Acacia H. said...

Teddy Roosevelt goes beyond "tough old coot" and goes straight to "Badass" territory.

Duncan Cairncross said...

What has McCain done to justify "tough old coot"?

As far as I can see he managed to get himself shot down
- after crashing a record number of times-
And then was tortured - a notably passive act - like a lot of other guys
Where is the toughness?

rewinn said...

For that matter, what did Reagan do to qualify as a "tough old coot"?

Besides entertaining starlets throughout WW2?

He was an actor, with the role of a lifetime, but you want tough? talk to David Niven or James Doohan (yes Scotty got shot six times storming Juno Beach, losing a very expressive finger in the process...)

Paul said...


Wasn't McCain offered release from his POW camp, but turned it down when he found out his fellow inmates weren't going home.

(But I think he just gives off that nuggetty aura. It's a shame he sold his soul after the 2000 primary.)

Tacitus2 said...


It was my understanding that "Scotty" only lost a pinky finger, which I guess could be considered expressive. And Juno beach did not hold a candle to Omaha. I think he ended up as an artillery observer in a small plane.

Niven was iirc in the Commandos. Certainly an order or two of magnitude up from Reagan's war. Christopher Lee had a similar WWII experience, when Peter Jackson tried to tell him what kind of sounds were made when one was stabbed, he corrected his director!

An unsavory person and topic, but if you want the grand prize winner-retire the award-for assasination survival it goes to (drum roll) Rasputin.


Acacia H. said...

I think that Space.com might be prejudiced in the whole "return to the Moon" debate. Their article on why we should not return to the Moon is out... and is quite lackluster and doesn't really sell the case why we shouldn't return, compared to the previous article on why we should. Heck, I've seen Dr. Brin give far more effective arguments concerning this, arguments that have shifted my own opinions despite the fact I still believe a permanent international lunar base is in our best interests.

I'm halfway tempted to encourage Dr. Brin to submit his own article to Space.com on why we shouldn't return to the Moon seeing that the current article is so lackluster and limited in scope.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...


An unsavory person and topic, but if you want the grand prize winner-retire the award-for assasination survival it goes to (drum roll) Rasputin.

Good call. He might rival Hitler as an actual person who turns up as a comic book supervillain.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, you might want to check out the Global insert (page 6) for the February Time Magazine ("Where The Jobs Are"); there is an interesting article on transparency in government for London, England which is having positive benefits for improved finance efficiency due to "webizen" efforts that translate that data into graphs, charts, and documents that can be understood by viewers, as well as other information sharing such as live updates of traffic congestion and the like.

Rob H.

JuhnDonn said...

rewinn said... what did Reagan do...

He was a life guard.

rewinn said...

As to Scotty, it is completely irrelevant whether "Juno beach did not hold a candle to Omaha". Taking six bullets and staying in the war is sufficiently bad@ss for me. It's not as if being a artillery spotter in an unarmed plane is remotely comparable to starlet duty in Hollywood.

I'll give ya Reagan as a teenage life guard, but if that's "bad@ss" what are we to make of "Baywatch"?

I'm not gonna say one word against McCain since being a POW is pretty tough in itself and his torture qualifies him for the most gentle treatment, although it doesn't qualify him as "bad@ss". He gets no credit for refusing to be released out of turn since the rules on that are very clear (prisoners are released in the order they were taken), and for obvious reasons; it is contrary to the good order of the military to let captors play one group off against another.

rewinn said...

The Article on London Rob spoke of is indeed worth reading (I was momentarily nonplussed at the thought I'd have to go get a physical copy of Time to enjoy it, but the google triumphed again!)

Tacitus2 said...

Actually, Rewinn, the N.Viets found out that McCain was a son and grandson of prominent admirals. Otherwise the early release offer would not have been made. Or so the story goes.
POWs with serious injuries/illnesses are actually supposed to be repat. first, and you see how well that system worked.


Tim H. said...

Reagan's absence from combat was more legitimate than John Wayne's. There, I said something nice about a republican, and lightning didn't strike.

Acacia H. said...

You're wrong. Lightning did strike. But then, there's a lightning storm on average every other second, assuming that the statistics of 16 million lightning storms a year is accurate. ;)

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"Rewinn, the N.Viets found out that McCain was a son and grandson of prominent admirals...

It puzzles me why you should think this is (A) news or (B) probative of bad@ssery. To the contrary, it is (A) public knowledge and (B) indicative of a secondary reason for the rule that makes McCain's reported refusal not "bad@ss". There is little if any record that America's many POWs gave in to the temptation of giving the enemy a propaganda victories (other than obviously faked confessions extracted under duress) piled upon distrupting the good order of the military. If you want to argue that all of America's POWs are "bad@ss" I will not disagree.

TheMadLibrarian said...

A number of Hollywood actors served in combat, like Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. The military was not adverse to either capitalizing on the stars in a USO show, or sending them into a war zone, depending on the needs at the time. BTW, Scotty's 'expressive' finger was, in fact his right middle one according to his autobiography. They used hand doubles for scenes in Star Trek like running the transporter panel, otherwise, it was clever editing.


squisman -- a floppy political actor

JuhnDonn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JuhnDonn said...

Robert said...... there's a lightning storm on average every other second, assuming that the statistics of 16 million lightning storms a year is accurate.

If there was some way to skim off some of this energy. Maybe with flying wooden ships...

David Brin said...

Errol Flynn tried repeatedly to enlist but was 4F... which no one would publicly believe, given his jumping around onscreen. Wayne had no such excuse. Some of the greatest baseball players signed up & served. My favorite was Mo Green. Look him up. "The strangest man ever to play baseball"

And that was said by Yogi Berra! (Who is still alive!!!!)

JuhnDonn said...

Um, Moe Berg?

JuhnDonn said...

His is the only baseball card on display at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. Wikipedia

David Brin said...

Agh... goddam GODFATHER movie keeps screwing my head. Yes Moe Berg.

Tacitus2 said...

Mad Librarian

I stand corrected. (wonder if some sanitized accounts did not want to mention that it was what in Latin referred to as digitus impudens!)

ReWinn, trying to gauge the relative bravery of POWs is not a useful exercize. They all, well almost all there was that Garwood chap, did the best they could with the circumstances.

Very few Amercican POWs ever really collaborated. There were numerous WWII exceptions from other Allied nations, Russia, even the British empire.

Scotty was always my favorite TOS character. If did not mean to besmirch Mr. Doohan in any fashion.


Tacitus2 said...

I actually have a lot of favorite baseball players, but give special honor to two who hold records that will never be equalled.

Old Hoss Radbourne
Germany Schaefer

As the Old Perfesser said, you could look it up.


Tacitus2 said...

Aw, heck, too good a story to let you miss.

Old Hoss's pitching stats for 1884

Won 59
Lost 12
Innings pitched 678
ERA 1.38

Humans will never match this. I don't think cyborgs could.

Herman "Germany" Schaefer appears to be the only man in major league history to every legally steal first base.

We stand in the shadows of giants.


Ian said...

I recommend that people keep an eye on current events in Tunisia.

The long-term dictator has been overthrown as a result of popular protests in the streets and his interim successor is promising democratic reforms.

This is already having a wider influence in the Arab world with demonstrations outside the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo with people chanting "Revolution in Tunisia is revolution in Egypt".

Things could still go horribly wrong but it's just possible that the wave of democratic reform that's spread across Eastern Europe; South America, South East Asia and Africa may finally be reaching the Arab world.

Acacia H. said...

I've an article for Dr. Brin that matches something he said recently on slavery in the Old South: here's the article in question.

And yes, events in Tunisia are undoubtedly worrisome to some of the dictators in the region. However, it's not all roses for Democracy; Iran has revealed the sad truth that if the government is willing to kill to retain its power, then revolutions can fail.

Rob H.

soc said...


Let's not forget to mention that the Iranian government is itself a "revolutionary" regime. Protected, no less, by the Revolutionary Guard.

Frankly, the revolutions in France, Russia, China etc., make me pretty uneasy when a new one comes along. Too often it's "meet the new boss, same as the old boss, or worse."

BCRion said...

"Frankly, the revolutions in France, Russia, China etc., make me pretty uneasy when a new one comes along."

Sometimes you get George Washington, more often you get Chairman Mao...

David Brin said...

The most important outcome of the WikiLeaks Imbroglio may be one that the WL founder, Julian Assange never imagined.

The leaked State Department cables appear to have increased the credibility of the U.S. government at a crucial moment, as winds of revolution have toppled one dictatorship, in Tunisia, and threaten the stability of corrupt regimes elsewhere across the Arab world.

Those cables, which were written for internal use by American diplomats and officials, offering their frank and even blunt opinions to headquarters in Washington, contained scathing appraisals of the Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on Friday.

These analyses have great credibility, among the activists pushing for freedom in Tunisia, precisely because they had been secret and meant only for internal State Department use. They prove that U.S. support for democracy over there was and is sincere, and not mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. Cynics, who claimed that America was in bed with Ben Ali, were cut off, at the knees.

I wonder, does this outcome surprise Julian Assange. In none of his preening public statements... some of which claim that the leaks will cripple a corrupt (U.S.) giant and others that they will eviscerate American duplicity... in none that I have seen, does he admit a third possibility -- that the disclosures would reveal an American government that is mostly behaving pretty well, most of the time, and operating under mostly good intentions.

David Brin said...

Soc, tell it to the revolutionaries in Poland, Chekoslovakia, hungary, E Germany, estonia, lithuania, latvia, Bulgaria... and especially Romania.

South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Honduras...

Shall I go on?

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
soc said...

Point taken.

But I think the crucial point comes down to the leadership of the movement. A revolution in Egypt would bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power. We know how strong Hizbullah is in Lebanon, and in Pakistan the Taliban would come to power much like the Ayatollahs did in Iran.

In Europe, many saw communism as an alternative to the entrenched oppressive systems, but after some time in power, the commies lost currency. The crazies in the Middle East still have alot of currency; they're the main opposition. Iran is the exception here. If they had another revolution, I suspect they would achieve a democracy, like the former soviet countries did.

Ian said...

"Iran has revealed the sad truth that if the government is willing to kill to retain its power, then revolutions can fail. "

I'd modify that slightly: as long as the military and police are willing to kill for the government, they can retain power.

I think Tunisia has passed that point.

So what happens if 10 years from now, all of the major Arab countries are democratic with economies growing at 8-10% per year - and still hostile to Israel?

Acacia H. said...

Off on a tangent here, Dr. Brin... I went to Arisia today, a Science Fiction convention in Boston, MA. It was most enjoyable, and there was a decent-sized crowd; the Dealer's Room didn't have quite as many vendors as some conventions I've gone to, but there was a good selection (including several vendors selling a goodly amount of science fiction and the like). There was even an auction that included some true classic science fiction literary magazines and collections of those magazines. And I attended a pair of panels by women fiction writers (both science fiction and fantasy) on writing (which included some truly fascinating glimpses at the state of the publishing industry, and the fact that bookstores as we know them, as well as publishing itself, will likely undergo some serious upheavals in the next ten years).

From what I saw, I have one thing to say: Science Fiction is not dead. It is not dying. It is changing, but has not Science Fiction always been (at its heart) about change? And while some aspects of the genre have changed significantly from the early days of science fiction literature... in other ways it is still very much true to the heart and soul of what science fiction has always been about: the future, with a scientific/technological bent. ;)

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

rewinn said...

@Tacitus et al ... I agree that measuring related badassery is a futile endeavor, and to that point, you may enjoy the current "Terminal Lance" ( one of the first webcomics by a current US Marine ) aptly entitled "Not Survivorman". Don't miss the text afterwards explaining things for the rest of us.

For those who don't follow links, the gravemen is that there's different kinds of badassery, depending on what your job is. But Terminal Lance is much funnier about it.

David Brin said...

Sorry. The genre's market share is plummeting. The number of publishers. The size of worldcons etc.

Did you see any young people? Possibly, in Boston. But in most parts of the US, sci fi cons are geriatric, with more canes, walkers and wheelchairs than families with baby strollers or teens with iPods.

Most fan orgs are happy with this. They are like the old Shakers. Very few fans are "breeders" as some others call us people with kids. A few fans on the east coast do care about posterity and get their fan orgs into outreach.

Most of those in the West are actively hostile toward any thought of reaching out to a new generation.

It boils down to treason, of course. Science fiction is a genre of literature that directly correlates with a nation's forwardness and success. The rising tide of know-nothing troglodytism in America has, as one of its symptoms, the decline of the literature of can-do aspiration, of warning and hope.

rewinn said...

"...So what happens if 10 years from now, all of the major Arab countries are democratic with economies growing at 8-10% per year - and still hostile to Israel?"

I mustn't pretend to have more than a layman's knowledge of the subject, but it seems to me that democratic regimes wouldn't need Israel as a boogeyman to keep the subject lower classes in line, leaving "only" the Palestinian problem as a reason for hostility ("only" being in quotes out of respect for the intractibility of the issue).

* Perhaps Arab nations, once they become prosperous & democratics, would lose interest in the sufferings of others; call me cynical, but this is not impossible.

* Perhaps the Palestinians will come to realize that Gandhi won where Arafat failed, and change tactics; call me realistic, but at this point it seems to me that this would require an almost superhuman degree of forgiveness or forgettingness.

* Perhaps once global warming gets really going, Palestinians and Israelis alike will discover the advantages of Alaska's, Canada's and Russia's new if somewhat boggy farmlands, and stumble over each other in their haste to sell what land they have to the other.

* Perhaps we could harnass the power of a dictator's ego, flood the Qattara Depression to form what would inevitably be called the Khaddafi Sea and move the entire Palestinian state to its rain shadow. I would (in my ignorance) guess that a significant fraction of Palestinians would be content to have an olive orchard or whatever in Libya to what they're likely to get fighting for their ancestral lands. But perhaps I'm excessively rational about this.

Tim H. said...

Declines are reversible, there remains the possibility of a work re-energizing the genre. The cons may go the way of computer user groups, the former membership getting information online and insufficient budget to have internet access and club dues. Related, does "Boy's Life" still publish SF? It's where I first read Arthur C. Clarke.

Acacia H. said...

The young people at Arisia outweighed the geriatric crowd by a good margin. Now, part of this may be that a good number of them are attracted to manga, steampunk, and other tangentially-related genres. But I like to think that these younger people will still look at the genre of science fiction and buy a book or two to see what the hubbub is all about... and enjoy it.

As for the market share... as I mentioned, one author talked about how the entire publishing industry is in a significant state of flux; her perception of where bookstores and publishers will be in a decade is that the large chain bookstore will no longer exist, except in combination with another format such as a coffee shop (similar to what Barnes and Noble has been working toward), and several machines in the back that would print books on demand much like those stores that in an hour will have your pictures all set.

I don't know. I know it's a bit of a distance for you, Dr. Brin, but maybe you should come to Arisia next year. It's not a huge convention by any means, but it is still an enjoyable one (and managed to dodge the bullet of massive snowstorms, which would have hurt attendance). And being among younger readers might help restore a little bit of your faith in the industry. ;)

After all, the industry might be in decline in several parts of the nations... but if the seeds take in New England, they might slowly spread across the East Coast and regain some level of prominence in the future.

Rob H.

soc said...

Perhaps Arab nations, once they become prosperous & democratics, would lose interest in the sufferings of others; call me cynical, but this is not impossible.

I'm not sure I agree that prosperity and democracy makes people care less about others. In any case, properity and democracy in the west hasn't stopped many westerners from caring deeply about the conflict. Why would prosperous and democratic Arab nations be any different?

David Brin said...

Palestinians are the best-educated, most modern and urban and gender-equal and... well... most Israeli-like... arab people. They don't want to herd goats in some faraway rain shadow. They want all this stuff to be over and to do business. Ideally with the Israelis.

Peace is being held hostage by radicals. For 50 years it was primarily the fault of the arab aristocrats who kept the Palestinians imprisoned as pawns, instead of letting them just move wherever they wanted in the arab world. Now though, the large radical/religious wing in Israel also wants to prevent peace.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus, regarding the stealing of first base...

I read about how that German Whatsisname guy ran from second back to first base so that he could try the double-steal a second time. After a bit of ruminating, I wondered:

1) Was that move legal to begin with?

2) If so, is there any reason why its subsequent outlawing was NECESSARY?

I mean, it's certainly legal to run backwards BETWEEN bases (as during a rundown), so the only question is/was whether it is permissible to go backwards AFTER one has attained a base. It sounds as if the rule was specifically changed after this incident to prevent specifically this sort of action, but I don't see a particular need TO prevent such things.

The point of the antic was to entice the catcher to throw to second, thus allowing a third-base runner to score. Since the catcher already decided NOT to make that throw the first time, the same catcher certainly has the same option NOT to throw no matter how many times the same runner attempts to go back and forth between first and second. At best, the runner gets back to a base already conceded. At worst, he puts himself 90 feet further back and subjects himself to a force play that he was not subjected to on second base. So really, where's the harm?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin warned:

It boils down to treason, of course. Science fiction is a genre of literature that directly correlates with a nation's forwardness and success. The rising tide of know-nothing troglodytism in America has, as one of its symptoms, the decline of the literature of can-do aspiration, of warning and hope.

Seems to me that some armchair psychology can be applied to the shift in escapist literature from the sci-fi of the mid-20th to the fantasy/magic of the current era.

The science-oriented fanboy of the 1940s was excited about what could conceivably be accomplished just around the corner. The fanboy of today seems to engage in pure wish-fulfillment fantasy because he's lost hope for real-life accomplishment.

More's the pity.

Jonathan Roth said...

On the SF front, I don't read a lot of SF these days (I'm trying to correct for not getting enough non-fiction) but I really liked "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" and wonder what our esteemed host would think of it. As for how welcoming we are to new fans, I live in San Jose, and while there are not a ton of kids at the SF gatherings I go to, they are welcomed.

soc said...

Could 'difficulty' be part of the problem? As science and technology march forward, they become more complex and challenging for the lay-person to understand and keep up with. As Science Fiction literature advances in tandem, it too becomes challenging.

A science fiction writer has to be pretty bright to come up with scientifically plausible problems and solutions. As a reader, it can take quite a bit of mental work to keep up - so much easier to simply wave a wand.

I know this isn't the whole story, but I think this might have a tiny bit to do with it.

David Brin said...

Jonathan, is that a web site?

Geez, this guy really lays it on the line:



Jonathan Roth said...

It's a novel by Charles Yu. i should have been more specific: http://www.amazon.com/Live-Safely-Science-Fictional-Universe/dp/0307379205

soc said...

For any John Cleese/Monty Python fans,

This was broadcast in 1987 but it's very relevant today. It's on extremism in politics...some things never change.

John Cleese SDP/Liberal Alliance Political Broadcast

It gets good about a minute in...

David Brin said...

John Cleese is brilliant in this older bit of electioneering (from Britain in 1987) about the addictive mental illness of self-righteousness and how indignant partisanship feels great... but ruins nations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKp7HDv01hk

BTW, I was living in Britain during that election.
(When Cleese speaks of "The City" he means the UK equivalent of "Wall Street.") Give it a look. Excellent points.

I might add that in those days (the 1980s) Americans seemed more moderate than the steeply partisan Europeans. Yes, even during the era of Ronald Reagan. Now, how things have changed.

Tacitus2 said...

Regards stealing first base I guess you could get metaphorical and say it runs counter to the American ethos of progress! But probably it was banned due to the taunting aspect of it.
Germany Schaeffer was an odd duck (changed his nickname to Liberty on US entry to WWI), one of many who exist in that limbo between fact and legend.

My SABR brethern will claim that he did this trick several times, and that it was not officially banned until after Germany's untimely demise from TB.

One of the concepts I loved from Postman was that of converging legends, based on fact but not entirely limited by them.

Baseball contains many such.

Another favorite of mine was Burleigh Grimes. He came up in the early 20's and was grandfathered permission to thow the spitter. (As the last such he, in theory, threw the last spitball in organized baseball).

Burleigh hated it when batters dug in. He would yell at them: "You comfortable? Good, they're gonna BURY you there!" and launch a pitch at their head. Once, for variety I guess, he plunked the guy in the on deck circle.

But he attained legendary status one spring training when his 15 year old son asked to stand in for a few swings. Grimes Jr. dug in. Grimes Sr. zipped one past his ear.

"Burleigh, that was your own son!" his teamates remonstrated.

And Burleigh replied. "Dammit, my own grandmother digs in she's going down too!"

Burliegh Grimes died, unrepentant, at age 92 in a small town just up the road from me.


LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I might add that in those days (the 1980s) Americans seemed more moderate than the steeply partisan Europeans. Yes, even during the era of Ronald Reagan. Now, how things have changed.

Kurt Vonnegut had a flashback scene in "Bluebeard" which drove home the fact that Americans--those rah-rah pro-American believers in American exceptionalism--as recently as the 1920s could feel superior to Europeans precisely because Europe was continually engaging in war after war. It was jarring to be reminded of this in the 1990s when I read the book. By then, of course, any self-respecting flag-waving pro-American was in favor of any war for any reason.

I was reminded of this when the Iraq War was revving up in 2003, and the pro-war faction was condemning France and Germany for being too pacifistic. To me, Americans (rah-rah pro-Americans, I mean) should be down on their knees thanking God that it's possible to even IMAGINE France and Germany as pacifists.

LarryHart said...


My baseball enthusiasm has waned over the years by virtue of being a fan of the (now) one remaining team who has gone 100 years without a World Series victory and 65 years without even an appearance. However, your enthusiasm shines through in your storytelling.

I don't want to derail that with politics, so I'll just briefly mention that there CAN be political analogies read into whether or not one agrees with the pitcher's position that digging in is a provocation requiring an escallated response. Just the way my mind works, I guess.

Sorry to keep hanging up on the stealing-backwards thing (you just want to revel in the story, and I keep asking about pesky story elements), but how exactly has the move been "banned". Is a runner now automatically out if he runs clockwise past a base he's already taken? Is he simply eligible to be tagged out even ON a base that he had no right to take? If someone caught in a run-down between (say) second and third ends up overrunning second base and now finds himself hung up on the other side of the second base (with the second baseman holding the ball there), can he run back toward first base in THAT situation? Inquiring minds want to know.

LarryHart said...

I'll have more to say about "Foundation's Triumph" soon, but let me throw this question out before I forget.

Are Asimov's "laws of robotics" meant to be laws that were imposed ON the design of robot brains as safety measures? Or are they "laws" in the sense that the functioning positronic brain depends upon them? In other words, were they "laws" like the Ten Commandments (authoritative directives) or were they "laws" like the law of gravitation (scientific discoveries)?

I ask because I suspect that Asimov viewed the laws of robotics differently at different points in his long writing history, and that my question probably doesn't have a single consistent answer that would fit every story.

Tacitus2 said...


Cubs fan? My sympathies.
My two all time favorite short stories are

"Shhh.." by D.Brin and
"The Last Pennant before Armegeddon" by W.P. Kinsella.

The latter postulates that if the Chicago Cubs win the NL Pennant that the world will come to an end soon thereafter. Worth tracking it down.

I believe it.

Bartman saved us all.


Tacitus said...

And to answer your question, the specific rule was enacted in 1920. In essence it says if you have legally obtained a base you are not allowed to run backwards to a previously occupied base. The umpire shall call time and call you out. The rule mentions "attempts to confuse the defense and make a mockery of the game".


Marino said...

David Brin wrote

Palestinians are the best-educated, most modern and urban and gender-equal and... well... most Israeli-like... arab people. They don't want to herd goats in some faraway rain shadow. They want all this stuff to be over and to do business. Ideally with the Israelis.

It was true a couple of decades ago when Palestinians played the role of global middle class in the Arab world (bankers, physicians and all... heck, my late father in Rome was cared by a Palestinian orthopedicist).
But when you add up Hamas rule, economy slumping dow, corruption rampant and Israeli military interventions, border walls, land seizing and blockades, I suppose the average Pali being less educated, poorer and more embittered than twenty years ago. A success story both for Israel and Palestine. NOT

Acacia H. said...

RE: The state of Science Fiction in the 21st Century

Having taken more time to consider the argument, I do concede that Dr. Brin is correct... in the frame of reference he is looking from. The sales and publication of science fiction print literature is down, and readership of that specific print literature likewise has declined. (Also, a lot of the past science fiction doesn't have the re-readability of other classic literature because of how technology has marched on past these stories, making them outdated and odd - similar to how Star Trek's use of panels and switches seems so odd now that we've touchscreens and the like.)

However, from my frame of reference, Science Fiction is in fact still undergoing growth and increased readership. Take the webcomic genre: some of the oldest and most classic webcomics (Freefall, Schlock Mercenary, General Protection Fault, and Nukees, to name a few) are in fact science fiction. They are not alone; there are newer science fiction webcomics cropping up all the time.

There are also a number of science fiction stories to be found on the internet. On the Relic Forums, there were a number of fanfictions based on the computer game Homeworld, some of which were truly imaginative and well worth reading. On any number of other forums and discussion boards other science fiction is appearing, being read, inspiring others, and then vanishing into the digital wastelands that is the Internet.

Science Fiction is not dead. Science Fiction is not dying. Science Fiction instead has embraced the new medium, the new technology, and run with it. It is the future of amateur writing, and it inspires people all the time... and encourages new people to dream and imagine something new. And in a truly glorious accident, it has shifted into a format that everyone across the planet can access and be inspired by.

At Arisia, one writer told me that the publishing industry right now is where the Big Three Automotive companies were at the start of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2010. We will very likely see several big-name publishers succumb to their blind refusal to embrace new technologies and new mediums. But unlike the American automotive industry, there are more than three publishers in the U.S., and we'll likely see smaller publishers rise up to take the place of older companies that refused to change, because they accepted the changes that were coming and changed with them.

Does this not hold true to the genres of literature? Why is science fiction now selling... unless it's because the older hidebound publishers refuse to sell it because they fear it won't sell? While some of these younger newer publishers that will take the place of these old companies may, by the very nature of being more accepting of change, rise up to the occasion and allow a resurgence of Science Fiction in the print medium (and e-book medium), even as Science Fiction has moved into other formats.

Rob H.

Catfish N. Cod said...

BREAKING: Ex-Cayman/Swiss banker feeds data to Wikileaks. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/business/global/18baer.html?hp

Will the Helvetian War be avoided after all? ;-)

Catfish N. Cod said...

Ian said: I'd modify that slightly: as long as the military and police are willing to kill for the government, they can retain power.

This is a subset of an argument I made on the sources of power:

"The legitimate power of any government comes from the consent of the governed. There are only two questions that determine whether an illegitimate government retains power:

1) Are the people motivated enough to act in their rejection of the government?

2) Will the military and security services, formal or informal, fire indefinitely on unarmed civilians?"

That "indefinitely" is important -- several revolutions succeeded because one outfit fired on protestors, and the rest were so horrified by the result that they refused to fire the next time. To maintain a kleptocracy, you need loyal but cold-hearted killers who will fire again, and again, and again, in spite of all humanity. This is why indoctrination is so important in creating a stormtrooper.

It's also why the idea of a coup in America is still nonsense. There's no way that the National Guard will fire on demonstrators in America. You would have to rip out a lot more of the Founders' safety systems before we reached THAT point.

David Brin said...

Aw now, that rule calling a runner out for going backward is just plain stupid.

Asimov speaks of a period, early in the positronic brain invention period, when it was required that the 3 laws be woven into the core design so thoroughly that anyone wanting to leave them out would have to start from scratch and gain no benefit from 100 years of progress. I fould that unlikely to happen... and somebody would Linux such a system, just for kicks.

Marino, the situation you describe is Gaza, not Ramallah.

Catfish, thanks for the link about whistle blowers on swiss banks. I am getting pissed off at Salon for sitting on my article. Where I said:
"If the activists truly want a better world, they should go, as streetcorner missionaries, and preach to the sons and daughters of bankers in Zurich and Berne, In Vaduz and the Caymans, seeking that one convert - one conscience-driven Bradley Manning - who could do a truly mighty, revelatory deed."

It appears that this has happened, on a moderate scale:

Stupid Salon.

David Brin said...

Interzone Online has republished a reading-podcast audiobook version of my Hugo-nominated story "The Giving Plague." It's an excellent reading, clear and dramatic and fun. You'll like it. It's all about diseases!



Rob said...

Ah David, you're giving me the shakes. I've *been* a street-corner missionary in Zurich and Berne; such types are outlawed in Vaduz, and the success rates of such an approach were less than zero. Couldn't have been what I had to say, because the vast majority never stopped to listen, and the rest stop you before you get past, "Ich heisse..."

So... y'know, good luck with that.

David Brin said...

No one ever said it was easy. Read Jonah. Jeremiah. Good luck inside the fish!

Rob said...

Jonah only met the fish when he was on the lam from activism. Jeremiah didn't find his Bradley Manning, unless one is credulous about the Book of Mormon story, and that was the story of people getting out of Dodge.

What point were you making, again? ;-)

David Smelser said...

My biggest complain about the swiss banker turning documents over to wikileaks, is that wikileaks appears to be selective in which documents/names it is going to go public with.

Exactly what purpose, other than extortion, does a "whistle blower" have if they sit on something and refuse to blow the whistle that they have placed in their lips?

Tony Fisk said...

...My thoughts when Assange claimed he had 'insurance' articles concerning a certain media mogul. (An interesting choice of insurance, but what happens to it if nothing 'happens' to Assange?)

In the case of the Swiss data, though, Wikileaks might need a bit of time to sort through the raw data before presenting it as a report.

Anonymous said...

Catfish N Cod claimed:

"There's no way that the National Guard will fire on demonstrators in America."


Moreover, national guardsmen have been shooting down unarmed women and children in America for more than 75 years:

"National Guardsmen killed 2 and wounded over 200 strikers in Toledo Ohio during the Electric Auto-Lite Strike. "

I won't even go into details about the bomb that police dropped on "radicals" in the MOVE siege in Philadephia in 1985, burning down 50 to 60 other homes in the process:

The level of self-delusion and denial of reality on this forum are truly epochal. The national guard and police in America have long acted as corporate terrorists and official death squads, and largely explain why America no longer has any union movement to speak of.

But by all means, enjoy living in your fantasy world, people.

Tony Fisk said...

Which suggests the best way to gag Wikileaks is to spam it (with eg 250,000 cables reminiscent of 'Who' articles)

David Brin said...

Rob. The point: it ain't easy.

Dave. If Salon would print my damn Wikileaks piece, you'd see I make that point.

Tony Fisk said...

You know, the problem with that NRA argument that would-be assassins would get gunned down in a well ordered society is 'why don't they get gunned down?'

David Brin said...



Catfish N. Cod said...

I'm not going to argue with you, Anonymous; I simply point back to my earlier statement about the word "indefinitely". Kent State is a terrific example of the scenario I described (though it wasn't the one I was thinking of).

asicsshoes said...

I would like to be the supporter of yours.Thank you for sharing!I think these are very valuable information.

Evony said...

i thought aliens are from outer space.lol

Ian said...

"That "indefinitely" is important -- several revolutions succeeded because one outfit fired on protestors, and the rest were so horrified by the result that they refused to fire the next time. To maintain a kleptocracy, you need loyal but cold-hearted killers who will fire again, and again, and again, in spite of all humanity. This is why indoctrination is so important in creating a stormtrooper."

The Tien An Men Incident is instructive in this regard.

The Beijing Municipal Police; the Beijing units of the People's Armed Police (a paramilitary organizxation similar to Italy's Carabineri) and the PLA Beijing command all refused to fire on the protesters.

The Central Military Command had been afraid something like this would happen and had arranged for army units stationed in Inner Mongolia to be confined to base and under a total media black out for about a week before hand.

Thr troops were told they were puttign down a "counter-revolutionary attempted coup" and marched towards the square chanting "The People's Army loves the people." unable to figure out why residents were throwing things at them and shouting for them to turn back.

David Brin said...

Exactly. This is why re-igniting America's civil war is such a lengthy, drawn out process.

Acacia H. said...

And now we're on attempt #4. The last attempt never even bothered showing up. I am truly starting to hate Blogger.

I’ve some more scientific news briefs to amuse and bemuse. Friendship may be influenced by genetic factors; researchers have found that people may form social bonds with people who share certain genetic traits that may be linked to a gene linked with alcoholism, while other genetic factors include being attracted to people with differing immune systems.

Scientists believe they’ll be able to clone Woolly Mammoths thanks to new technologies that allow frozen cells to be used in cloning; the method could be used to find healthy nuclei in mammoth cells and bring back an extinct species. Though one friend of mine asked “what would they eat?” my own concern is more: what about the bacterial flora that inhabited their guts? How will they replicate that symbiotic relationship for a species that no longer exists?

Also, scientists have isolated bacteria inside bubbles encased in salt crystals that are likely to be 34,000 years old. Scientists haven’t figured out how those bacteria manage to remain alive due to the degradation that DNA usually suffers from over time; if it’s inherently a part of the bacteria itself, then I could see uses for this in extending human lifespans as DNA damage is one of the causes of aging. (Personally I suspect the bacteria are anaerobic and thus are not exposed to the oxygen that causes DNA damage, in which case we couldn’t use this with air-breathing species for life expansion.)

Finally, scientists believe a super-storm system could form that would flood much of California with over 40 days of rain and 10+ feet of rainfall in that time period; what’s more, geological records show that these super-storms have happened in the past and have about the same frequency as major earthquakes striking the San Andreas Fault. Why do I have this weird mental image of people starting to build Arks in California now?

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin said:

Aw now, that rule calling a runner out for going backward is just plain stupid.

I agree, for reasons I already mentioned. The runner's team gains no tactical advanatage (that I can see) from running backwards, so why penalize him extra for what is already essentially a self-imposed penalty? The only reason the runner in question had for doing so was to give the catcher extra chances to throw him out (allowing a differnt runner to score from third). But the catcher ALREADY has the option of not throwing the ball in that situation.

Asimov speaks of a period, early in the positronic brain invention period, when it was required that the 3 laws be woven into the core design so thoroughly that anyone wanting to leave them out would have to start from scratch and gain no benefit from 100 years of progress. I fould that unlikely to happen... and somebody would Linux such a system, just for kicks.

I just recently re-read a lot of old Asimov stories, and I remember the one you speak of. I also remember at least one story where Susan Calvin implied (if not said right out) that a positronic brain could not be stable WITHOUT the Three Laws. I took that second explanation as an indication that Asimov meant the Three Laws to be something implicit to robot functioning rather than something imposed UPON robots as a safety feature.

But as I say, I don't think Asimov was entirely consistent on that point throughout even his early robot short stories. It was more like he was responding to criticism of the earlier stories in the story elements of later ones--a blurring of the lines between story and letters column.

That's not a condemnation of Asimov, btw. Just an assertion of one more reason that "tying it all together" is an impossible task.

LarryHart said...

Expanding a bit more on Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics...

It occured to me fairly early on in reading Asimov that the sci-fi element of "robots" was really two separate sci-fi elements: the positronic brain and the robotic body. There was even one short story (I believe it was "The Evitable Conflict") which did not have physical robots in it, but rather a worldwide bank of computers (called "The Machines") which clandestinely governed humanity, and which (IIRC) followed the Three Laws as if they were robots.

When we think of sci-fi "robots", the humaniform body is the prominent image, but one can imagine the positronic brain separate from a robot body, and likewise, one can imagine a crude robot-like body with a different governing mechanism. The two elements are separate, and it is only Asimov's specific stories, not some larger law of nature, that marry the positronic brain to the robot.

What makes a robot do anything? Asimov's robots are portrayed as taking orders from human beings, actually figuring out how to fulfil those orders, and then taking appropriate action. That's actually more like the functioning of an employee (or a slave) than the functioning of a machine. I mean, a car is designed to go foreward when one hits the accellerator, but it doesn't do that because it "wants" to go foreward--it simply turns the energy of buring gasoline into foreward momentum by following the laws of physics. If an impediment prevents the car from moving forward, it doesn't "feel bad" about not being able to obey an instruction. It doesn't try to find a different way to accomplish the same end.

It's the blurring of the line between machine and intelligent being that makes the stories compelling in the first place.

Rob said...

I read a quote from Asimov someplace where he said that when he told his short robot stories he wasn't writing a rigorous engineering story. Rather he invented a set of rules which would allow him to write interesting mystery stories, giving his characters something to solve. The first focus was on an interesting human story, the robots weren't characters in their own right until the novels, I think.

Paul said...

Not in any way relevant...


ABC/Yahoo Poll claiming 77% of people approve of the frenetic "lame duck" bills. 91% Dem, 62% GoP, 79% Ind.

Regardless of whether people cared about particular bills, I suspect the sense of progress and activity itself proved popular. [Edit: 77% supported ending DADT, 70% supported START treaty.]

In which case, if David's theory about manic Dems, lazy Republicans holds, they may have seriously harmed their 2012 chances by winning the House. [Edit: Maybe not. Obama gets the credit or blame, 60%.]

Hypnos said...

The US cables on Tunisia show that the American government was deeply unease about having to deal with the Tunisian dictatorship, and that it was actively pushing for democracy and human rights.

However, security concerns trumped moral issues and US military aid to Tunisia continued unabated.

From the cables:
“Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems. Notwithstanding the frustrations of doing business here, we cannot write off Tunisia. We have too much at stake. We have an interest in preventing al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold here. We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral. We also have an interest in fostering greater political openness and respect for human rights”

Human rights, quite obviously, come in last.

France performed even worse, with the foreign minister offering riot police to quell the rebellion.

The Tunisian rebels will not look kindly upon the West. They known perfectly well that their rights were traded for stability in the region. And the same goes for most other MEA dictatorships. Citizens there know perfectly well the main reason behind their enduring oppression is Western backing of the oppressors.

Just look at Shell and Nigeria.

Ilithi Dragon said...

So perhaps a clue as to why Lucas doesn't make movies appreciating society... He thinks it's all going to end in 2012.

Wish I could get him to bet me half his fortune on it...

Tony Fisk said...

Oh goodie. Then we darned sinners can get left behind and just get on with sorting the mess out.

Personally I prefer Neil Gaiman's thought for the new year (and intend to repeat it with him at the end of 2013):

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, that 2012 tale might have had something to do with a supposed list of 10 worst sf films rumoured to have been compiled by NASA (story here)

An example of why people should learn to count beasts for themselves instead of relying on the number given to them by some friendly apple merchant.

David Brin said...

I know Yeomans. It is a strange world. and the Internet - in some ways - makes it stranger.

Paul said...

"From the cables: “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom [...] We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral." The Tunisian rebels will not look kindly upon the West."

If I was a Tunisian rebel, I would have read the US cables as the voice of a kindred spirit. "We hate these guys, we'll do what we can to keep them off the backs of the people, but we wish something better would come along."

(And, as David said, the cables have the air of honesty about them, because of the way they were leaked.)

Competent (rebel) leaders will have had realistic expectations about the US's ability to openly act.

Moreso, people aren't proud of outsiders stomping in and taking over, no matter how bad their situation. The rebels will feel enormous pride in being able to achieve something even the mighty US couldn't. Now they won't look weak getting US/UN help establishing a new regime.

I suspect they'll welcome the US with open arms.

(France though...)

Acacia H. said...

Just a little something to amuse... Jon Stewart once again uses humor to puncture the self-righteousness of the Right-Wing Entertainment Division of Fox (they're not news, and they keep calling themselves entertainment, so why dignify them by calling them "Fox News" or the like?). He doesn't hesitate in poking fun at himself either, though I must admit I enjoy his apparent "realization" of how the phrase could be taken.

So, Dr. Brin... would you be willing to go on the Jon Stewart show despite the fact he "stole" Earth from you? ;) After all, he did leave an open call for guests to the show. ;)

Rob H.

Corey said...

Speaking of Fox News, a survey from about a month ago testing the knowledge of 2010 voters apparently found that among viewers of MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News, those who watched Fox News were considerably more misinformed on a variety of issues than the viewers of the other two networks, regardless of voting preferences.


Corey said...

Looks like the report also included categories for PBS/NPR, newspapers, and local news as primary sources of news (all pretty much more informed than Fox News viewers).

LarryHart said...

Rob said:

I read a quote from Asimov someplace where he said that when he told his short robot stories he wasn't writing a rigorous engineering story. Rather he invented a set of rules which would allow him to write interesting mystery stories, giving his characters something to solve.

That sounds about right. Each of Asimov's series of stories (Foundation and robots) set up its own set of rules inside of which many stories could be told.

I also heard that the impetus for the first robot NOVEL ("The Caves of Steel") was in response to Campbell's declaration that it was impossible to write a good sci-fi detective story because the sci-fi could always generate any deus ex machina that the detective might need to cheat. Asimov wrote "Caves of Steel" not primarily as a "robot novel", but as a good old-fashioned murder mystery set in a futuristic robot-inhabited setting.

David Brin said...

That article does show that PBS and MSNBC and CBS viewers were more likely to believe some untrue things. But did you notice the trivial insignificance of those mistakes, compared to the staggeringly horrible misconceptions clutched by Fox viewers?

Acacia H. said...

Of course, the real question is this: is Fox News presenting more inaccurate information and thus dumbing down its audience, or is the type of person attracted to the content in Fox News more likely to have these misconceptions to begin with? Yes I know, it's the classic "What came first, the idiot or the egg" question but it is a valid point to consider.

Rob H.

Corey said...

Well iirc, Republicans who watched Fox News got more of the questions wrong than Democrats who watched Fox News, but only by a relatively small margin.

Members BOTH parties who watched Fox News were generally much more misinformed than members of either who watched any other news source (except on that one thing about the Chamber of Commerce, which is trivial compared to the things they were wrong about).

Idiots may watch Fox News, but they have to get their facts from somewhere, and that's precisely the reason they're watching it in the first place. I think the picture painted here is one that's clearly of deception.

As further evidence that the blame goes squarely on Fox News, the Huffington Post's article was updated with a response to the study by Fox News, and the response given was not only a classic ad hominem attack on the University of Maryland, who conducted the study, but was actually a FACTUALLY INCORRECT ad hominem attack!

Not that the Huffington Post is a beacon of unbiased news itself, not by any means, but running into their article when searching for this study on Google, I don't doubt this particular statement by them.

Betty Abell Jurus said...

1/19/11...David, did you read that Dale Featherling died today? Damned shame. He was such a nice guy and good writer. I immediately thought about you and Greg Bear being interviewed by him in the bookstore when you two won the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He was writing for the San Diego version of the LA Times then.
Big Hugs...Betty

David Brin said...

Betty thanks for dropping by... tho with sad news. A real loss for our community.

Somehow, it brought to mind this tidbit that someone sent me, just a little while back:

Last week we saw a white Catholic male Republican judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, and this was all eulogized by our African-American President."

An America that can be like that.....

Imagine that statement appearing in a sci fi story of 1958. COULD it have appeared in even the most far-fetched magazine?

Ah, but I would then have to add... that NONE of these people would be admitted into heaven, if the present governor of Alabama or the former governor of Alaska have anything to say about it.

Tony Fisk said...

If the present governor of Alabama or the former governor of Alaska have anything to say about it, would you *want* to be admitted to heaven?

Betty Abell Jurus said...

Betty Abell Jurus
Not a prayer, David...either of that appearing in 1958 nor any going to heaven. So guess we can say that some progress has been made in human relations. But then I think of that pair of jokers at the end and wonder how fast we could also go backward.

Tim H. said...

How fast could we go backwards? Civilization is still pretty thin, can get ugly under duress, a quick review of Germany's last century as a warning is not out of line.
And if the idea had occurred to Heinlein in 1958, he would've been delighted to rattle the bars with it.

LarryHart said...

Appropos nothing particular, I got a bit of a scare this morning listening to WCPT (Chicago's Progressive Talk) radio. This being the second anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, they were talking about the swearing in speech he gave two years ago, and also the one JFK gave 40 years earlier ("Ask not what your country can do for you...").

In the next breath, the radio hosts were talking about how the Chicago-based president just declared that if the Bears beat Green Bay next Sunday and go to the Super-Bowl, he (President Obama) will go to the game.

In Dallas.

In the third year of his presidency.

Yipe! That's almost enough to make me root for Green Bay.

Tacitus2 said...

Green Bay Packerism is a religion here in Wisconsin. There are noticable changes in the psyche of the community based on their fortunes.

Regarding Obama, I recognize that there is a certain ceremonial function to being Prez. You are supposed to do cute things like pardon the Thanksgiving turkey, and if you don't throw like a girl, to toss out the first pitch for a major league opener.

I think Obama would be well advised to limit such fluff. Although he is certainly learning on the job he still lacks a degree of gravitas. It might be better to do what the commoners do, watch the Superbowl in the comfort of your modest manse while snacking and sipping a little past moderation.

If I were President, not gonna happen btw, I think I would devise a system whereby every week a randomly selected citizen (plus spouse/domestic parter) would be invited to the White House. Fly 'em in (commercial, but First Class as befits your bosses). Put 'em up in the Lincoln bedroom or some other appropriate venue. Set aside an hour for lunch/dinner and actually learn a few things about being an Alaska fisherman, or a New Jersey teacher, or an Iowa farmer, or an unemployed 20 something.

I would guess that even allowing for crisis, campaign and vacation, that in a four year presidency you could entertain guests (employers) from each Congressional District, and be the better informed for it.

It might be a more useful symbolic activity.


Ilithi Dragon said...

I like your idea, Tacitus. I'd thought of something along similar lines when I was first pondering my own ambitions at the Oval Office (largely put aside now, though not entirely off the table).

LarryHart said...

Illithi Dragon:

...my own ambitions at the Oval Office (largely put aside now, though not entirely off the table).

I sure hope both of your parents were US citizens and that you possess the original of your birth certificate to PROVE that you're eligible for the office.

LarryHart said...


Green Bay Packerism is a religion here in Wisconsin.

That's only slightly less true here in Chicago regarding da Bearss. Still, I'm hoping your team wins if that saves the Prez a road trip past Dealey Plaza en route to the game.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Nifty science news! Scientists discover that even amoebas know how to farm their food.

Rather nifty, and it supports the idea floated around here that cells themselves are much more than simple on/of transistors, but complex processors in and of themselves.

David Brin said...

LarryHart, yeah, scary scenario.

Tacitus... inviting in regular folks is fine. But see my suggestion at the very end of http://www.davidbrin.com/seiu.htm (I have got to stop wasting my time writing these cogent lists of things folks oughta do. Nobody listens.)

Corey said...

Amoebas are eukaryotes (typical protists), which grants them a significantly higher level of complexity than any bacteria, so while they still follow the same pre-programmed routines built into their DNA like any other organism, it's not at all surprising that they're capable of behavior with a fair bit of sophistication to it.

We already know amoebas are capable of very specific reactions to environmental stimuli because of how they encase themselves in cysts when they find themselves in hostile environments.

Corey said...

Of course, surprising or not, the idea of a farming amoeba is still a rather cool and amusing notion :)

Tacitus2 said...


The phrase "regular folks" when spoken by politicians almost always has a whiff of condecension about it. Although I am sure you had no such notion, I think you will concur that many Americans are not "regular" at all, but quite extraordinary.

I like my version better, a designated session where the opposition got to send in an advocate might be regarded as an ordeal--political castor oil. A randomly selected citizen plucked from census data or, if you insist, voting rolls, would be less predictable.

But either iteration would be an inexpensive, politically savvy experiment that might bear fruit.

Who knows, in some parallel universe where Spock has a beard and Brin doesn't it might even be tried!


ell said...

Robert wrote: "Though one friend of mine asked 'what would they eat?' my own concern is more: what about the bacterial flora that inhabited their guts? How will they replicate that symbiotic relationship for a species that no longer exists?"

Write "Woolly Mammoth Park" and point out this glitch to the misguided mammal scientists.

ell said...

Re: Building arks in southern California...

It's very warm and dry (28% right now, but it gets down to single digits) today and a Santa Ana is in the works.

Land-based sailcraft is more like it at the moment.

Acacia H. said...

Technically, all you need to do is find a frozen mammoth, dissect it under clean conditions, examine the contents of its stomach and take samples of its intestinal flora, and from there you likely could find alternatives in existing bacteria and the like that could do the job. But it's still something to consider. Also, you have to consider what the point is. If you're going to restore the species, you need to have a viable genetic population. That means finding several hundred viable genetic samples from which you can build a herd. While it's likely you could put these critters in Siberia or northern Canada (or even Alaska), there is still considerable cost. All that for a species that died how long ago? And which we don't even know if mankind is responsible for killing off?

Seriously, why?


The U.S. Navy's Free Electron Laser weapon is ahead of schedule, with a powerful new electron injector having proven viable. Now they just have to scale it up to the megawatt range... but it could prove a deterrent to supersonic missiles. Now, supersonic torpedoes is another critter entirely....


Infectious cancer cells have proven to be able to spread to other hosts and steal mitochondria and other genetic material to remain viable. Those little thieves. Tsk. I can almost sense a sequel to Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wind in the Door" (written by someone else as L'Engle is with her husband and other loved ones wherever we go after death).

Rob H.

rewinn said...

A chief executive might well follow the (likely fictional) example of Henry V ( Act 4 Scene 1) to speak with the regulars (or the extraordinaries, if you prefer) all unknown, the better to get honest advice rather than "homage sweet,
But poison'd flattery".

Failing that, weekly lunch with a random selection of citizens seems both politically savvy and substantively useful for occasionally short-circuiting the courtier class. IMO our current president thinks too much about his governing duties and not enough about his political duties, and look how well that worked for Jimmy Carter!

Tony Fisk said...

The circumstantial evidence for who killed da wooly mammoths is pretty compelling. Tim Flannery covers it in 'Here on Earth' (fascinating book!), as well as why mammoths or something similar would be a must-have for a re-emerging tundra.

(Interesting trivia: the continent whose original megafauna remains the most intact is: Africa. Horses and camels originated in the Americas, and emigrated West into Siberia across the land bridge. There they met H Erectus and got slightly decimated before figuring out 'two legs bad', and evolving some survival tricks against the apes. Then H Sapiens migrated East and met the naive stay-behind equines, who promptly vanished into the pot.)

Corey said...

It seems to me to be a bit silly to think too hard over the disappearance of the Woolly Mammoth when a perfectly obvious explanation is right in front of us.

The Younger Dryas climate shock happened right at the end of the end Pleistocene, taking many species with it, including large animals like the sabertooth tiger and American lion. Tons of stuff was dying off around this time, so I wouldn't be too inclined to go out and try to find a special explanation for any particular species.

Acacia H. said...

I had a "holy smokes!" moment when I came across this graphic showing the relative sizes of various astronautic bodies, starting with the Earth and Moon... and ending with the largest known star to exist. I have to admit it's pretty awe-inspiring. And it also makes you realize just how tiny we are. ^^;;

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

It seems to me to be a bit silly to think too hard over the disappearance of the Woolly Mammoth when a perfectly obvious explanation is right in front of us.

A perfect example of what Descartes was talking about when he said "a reasonable explanation is not necessarily the correct explanation"

David Brin said...

All had experienced climate changes before. The different thing, that time was... us.

Tony Fisk said...

Oh, in case anyone's interested, NanoSailD has separated and is preparing to deploy (over a month late, but better than never!)

Corey said...

There's a difference between a simple climate shift, and the Younger Dryas freeze.

The climate had already been shifting notable further up and down than any species would be comfortable see (called the Dansgaard-Oeschger events), but this was something much, much bigger, and more cataclysmic... like Micheal Bay cataclysmic.

After a long warming trend, temperatures plummeted, in some places, by 15 degrees Celsius, with widespread drops of no less than several degrees C, practically overnight (about a decade or so). Basically, we're talking about a change on the order of the worst projections for human-caused global warming over the entire 21st century, occurring over 10 years.

Now, does that mean humans played no part in the events of the day? Well I suppose it's hard to say what our impact was, but we were certainly not the force of mass destruction that wiped out the end-Pleistocene mega fauna. How do I know? Well we just didn't possess that kind of destructive power for wipe out many of these species, not prior to about the mid 20th century.

Take the saber-tooth tiger and the American lion for example. Now, cats are not easy to obliterate. They share the same exact reproductive physiology that makes rabbits so prolific, and even in recorded history, famous examples of endangered big cats, like tigers (long hunted in India as a pest in the 20th century), easily withstood the worst pressures humanity could unleash until the advent of rugged vehicles for transport and high powered rifles, the kind of things way beyond the sticks and stones of humanity from 10-12k years ago.

These are much the same technologies, in more advanced form, that wiped out the America buffalo.

I don't doubt that humans were an ecological pressure, even 10,000 years ago, but wiping out entire species that are otherwise health is an inordinately difficult task without a lot of people, and at least basic access to technology (the kind of technology not available to relatively small tribes of humans who were either pre-agrarian, or proto-agrarian at best).

In all likelihood, there were probably multiple factors that lead to the disappearance of the megafauna that died in the end-Pleistocene extinction, but humans had been around long before, and long since, and never has any extinction on that magnitude occurred during our time here prior to the 19th century.

This leads me to think that a lot more was going on then than humans throwing a few too many pointy sticks at passing herds of mammoths. In fact, I once emailed Dr. Peter Ward on the subject (who, if I recall, noted being an acquaintance of yours, Dr Brin, is that true?), and the subject was purely on extinctions driven by climate. Never, at any point, did he say anything about humans causing the end-Pleistocene extinction.

Corey said...

Oh, in case anyone's interested, NanoSailD has separated and is preparing to deploy (over a month late, but better than never!)

Well it's about damned time! Solar sails are something I've thought NASA should be playing around with a lot more seriously for years.

It'll be cool to see what kind of results they get (to see if it ends up having any kind of viability for future craft).

Tony Fisk said...

Deployment telemetry received. Still awaiting visual confirmation.

Will go fossicking in 'Here On Earth' to put the full case it makes for man-made extinctions.

Corey said...

Please do, Tony. I'd really like to hear what the author has to say.

Don't think for a second that I'm the type to let humanity off the hook, extinction wise (even if I'd have to seriously re-think career plans were it not for the mess we're making); I'm just cautious about allowing that gut reaction disdain for the recent behavior of our species to be grounds to throw conventional wisdom to the wind on large extinctions.

David Brin said...

I'll believe it later. The pod beings have sabotaged every sail for 50 years.

Acacia H. said...

Hey, Dr. Brin, I thought I'd let you know I stumbled across a science fiction webcomic that seems to emulate some of the early scifi in feel, with glimpses of how technology and science has altered humanity and society. It's still a fairly young webcomic so it won't take that long to read either (and there's other science fiction webcomics on the site as well).

As I said before, SciFi isn't dead. It's just moving to a new medium. ^^;;

Rob H.

Anonymous said...


Loved the planets on parade.

Once in a great while I feel a bit provincial living in a smallish town.

No more, dude, you hipster coastal urbanites are just specks on an equally small sub pixel!


Tony Fisk said...

OK. Here goes.

The main indicator Flannery refers to is a bit of forensic work. Apparently, the fungus Sporomiella grows well in animal dung, and its spore concentration in soil and sediment layers is a pretty good indicator of animal population density.

Up until twenty thousand years ago, mammoths flourished throughout Northern Europe and Siberia in a form of grassland known as 'mammoth steppe'. It was a surprisingly rich environment, considering that it occupied what is now tundra at the peak of an ice age, with a harsher climate than today. Then the spore levels start decreasing, indicating that mammoths died out in the southern and western part of their range, hunted out by neanderthal and, later, modern humans. Around fifteen thousand years ago, as the ice age ended, and humans were able to enter new areas, mammoth died out in all but the most remote northern islands and peninsulas. With them went the mammoth steppe, for the mammoth and other megafauna acted as fertiliser; recycling vegetation, and keeping essential elements like nitrogen and phosphurus (and sporomiella) in circulation. Without them, plants lay where they died and, instead of rotting, became waterlogged and frozen: a sour permafrost peat that today only reindeer can forage in.

Flannery speculates that this effectively locked up a large store of carbon and may have been why the increases in CO2 at this time were somewhat less (about 15ppm) than at the end of previous ice ages (Anthropogenic Global Cooling! It is, however, only speculation).

The main point here is that the Eurasian extinctions were gradual; remnant populations hung on until only a few thousand years ago: a form of long-horned wooly rhinoceros may even have survived as late as the tenth century AD, giving rise to the unicorn myth.

Tony Fisk said...


The story in the Americas was dramatically different: starting 13,200 years ago American megafauna died out in 500 years: 34 North and a whopping 70 South american genera of large animals, gone. I would say that the dieback in the South argues against the 'dryas freeze' being the primary cause. Furthermore, a few groups persisted in the Caribbean islands, implying a short delay while canoes were readied...

It is interesting to note that the 'modern' large American fauna (bison, moose, brown bear) derive from species that originated in Eurasia and came across the land bridge at the same time as humans. Furthermore, most species of American horse and camel did not survive yet some species, having made their way into Eurasia some time earlier, did survive. Flannery makes the case that these species, heading into Asia, would have encountered H. Erectus, a capable but not devastating hunter, and was able to survive long enough to learn about two-legged creatures with pointy sticks. Mammoths, never having been bothered by such wimpy little things, got a rude awakening when the far more formidable neanderthals, and then moderns, started North (robust Neanderthals quite likely tackled mammoths and stabbed them to death! It wasn't until modern humans arrived, though, that the declines really started). They got some breathing space from the harsh climate of the far North, but not for long. The climate warmed, and humans became better able to protect themselves from the cold.

As for the American fauna, by the time humans got there, it was open season.

Tracking the progress of man the ruthless, reckless hunter, though, is only part of Flannery's overall thesis (the above takes up only one chapter). He thinks that something more has been going on than mere 'survival of the fittest' (a term not coined by Darwin and only incorporated in later editions of 'Origin') and seeks to interpret evolution, not just from Darwin's analytical perspective, but from Alfred Wallace's more encompassing holistic approach. (While not blind to Wallace's more dubious pursuits, Flannery is a clear admirer, creditting him with a first attempt at atmospheric science, a 'Gaia' hypothesis, and even exobiology)

Tim H. said...

Perhaps the wooly mammoth had a little celestial push towards the exit?

Acacia H. said...

I had an idea when looking at an article concerning debris in space and altering the orbits of satellites after they have outlived their usefulness: why not utilize solar sails to pull satellites out of the Earth's orbit once a satellite outlives its usefulness? New satellites could have a small chamber dedicated to a folded-up solar sail that would, once the satellite's lifespan has ended, unfold and pull the satellite into higher and higher orbit, ultimately to leave Earth orbit and go into solar orbit where it won't pose a threat to other satellites.

In addition, existing satellites that have outlived their usefulness often are pushed into a higher orbit where they theoretically won't get in the way... but all you need is one meteorite to hit just the right spot and you suddenly have a debris field in upper orbit that could endanger other satellites if the debris trajectories are elliptical. The solution would be to launch a "caretaker" satellite to visit these dead spacecraft and attach solar sails to each satellite in turn. These dead satellites would then be boosted by solar radiation until they in turn leave Earth orbit (the sails could even possess photovoltaic materials to power processors to allow the sails to "tack" when the satellite's orbit takes it between the Earth and Sun).

I had been considering patenting the idea, but I don't think concepts are patentable, especially when part of it requires the use of someone else's creation (solar sails that can be folded into a small shape and unfurled in orbit). (Note, this won't do much good for things in very low earth orbit as the atmospheric drag would be greater than photonic pressures, though it might be a useful way of dragging space debris into thicker atmosphere to burn up.)

Rob H.

Corey said...

Tim, what you're looking at there is one of the hypotheses on why the Younger Dryas freeze occurred in the first place.

Tony, the idea is an interesting hypothesis, but barring more direct evidence, I see a few reasons to be cautious.

First, the mammoth would have already been under pressure from a warming earth. Their distribution as they dwindled may follow human distribution, but it also perfectly follows the simple distribution of temperatures one would expect as interglacial warming robbed the animals of their useful habitat.

Today, habitat loss is always the greatest pressure on animals, by far, greater than overharvesting, even.

Also, we're talking pre-agrarian humans, so they wouldn't have moved en masse. We're talking about tribes of people that probably rarely numbered past the dozens. Given that fact, it seems that their presence would have been less than sudden in appearance.

Humans might well been the final nail in the coffin for the mammoth, and might have contributed with other species, but unilaterally blaming them for the entire extinction of the globe's megafauna is a problematic assertion at best.

Moving to other species, again, we have two aforementioned problems. The first is lack of numbers and capability. Taking down something large, numerically sparse, and already writhing from disappearing habitat like mammoths is something that might have been within our capability, but moving to the Americas as a few hundred people and driving big cat species to extinction is simply something we're not destructive enough to do. They're prolofic, extremely powerful, and it would have taken us centuries to migrate over the whole of the Americas, more than long enough for any species to become cautious of our small roving bands.

The other problem is that the trend doesn't continue. This is some trend in extinctions that starts 60,000 years ago (the rough appearance of modern man), and continue through all of history. It starts and stops with the Younger Dryas, starting up again as our technology finally becomes advanced enough to hunt many species out of their historical ranges (again, going back to the capability of a few pre-agrarian humans if countless technologically advanced humans were required to drive wolves and cougars off their historical range in N. America).

The distribution is also rather funny here for an anthropogenic killing, yet perfect for a climatic event. Typically, in any mass extinction (of which this is a miniature version), when environmental factors are to blame, it's the animals that the very top trophic levels and those that are physically largest that most go extinct. That was actually the question I had when I emailed Dr Ward on extinction selectivity (it seemed logical to me, but I wanted confirmation from an expert). That fits perfectly here, hence why we call the victims of the end-Pleistocene "mega fauna".

Corey said...

If humans were solely to blame, or even the primary culprit, then why did all the Kodiak bear sized cats die off, but not the "medium" big cats? Their coats were more ornate, they'd be easier to bring down, and we know people have hunted them for as long as people have existed (hence the classic scene of the African tribesman wearing the leopard skin). Despite these facts, these cats survived, globally, but globally, the really really big ones died off.

Even the distribution of localized extinction among survivors doesn't really follow what one would expect from an anthropogenic cause. For instance, cougars in N. America are all genetically very similar to each other, and evidence exists that they may have died off in N. America during the end-Pleistocene, but repopulated, presumable from middle and S. America. That doesn't at all fit a human-caused extinction though. Aside from the near impossibility of going through EVERY field and EVERY forest and along EVERY mountain on a continent 7.5 million square miles in size, somehow in a way so swift, that they couldn't even re-populate (remember, they have rabit reproduction :) ), how, if Puma concolor couldn't survive our initial colonization with a fully established population, could it slowly re-introduce itself over the entire N. American continent again in the presence of an established human population, without the slightest hint of interference?

Again, this just goes back to the whole timing of extinctions starting and stopping right on cue with the Younger Dryas.

Given the desperation of what was going on, I wouldn't say humans didn't play a part in helping to add unneeded ecological pressure for many of these species. It's entirely possible that we were a contributing factor for some of them, and maybe even a great number of them, but I just don't see the evidence there to suggest that the overall end-Pleistocene extinction was human driven, exclusively or primarily. It just doesn't seem to fit the overall picture for all of the species involved (both extinct and surviving).

Humans certainly have a lot to answer for, environmentally, but I'm also leery about the big bad wolf syndrome of trying to blame us for everything, all the time, that seems to surround so much of studying our past.

Your author has compelling information, but as far as drawing conclusions for it, I personally find it insufficient and a little too contradictory to other evidence, to blame an ENTIRE extinction on humanity in this case.

As an aside, I'm not sure why extinction in the South rules out climatic causes. A climate shift as big as the younger dryas should pretty much be felt, severely, all over the planet.

ell said...

Humans are the hermit crabs of the mammal world. A demand for mammoth wool coats could have contributed to extinction.

David Brin said...

Tony gets Post-of-the-day for that great summary.

Of course, as Corey points out, there are complications. The Clovis Culture apparently vanished about the same time as an intermediate-large meteor impact and deep winter may have been the megafauna "last straw" in N. America... humans continued, but without the CLovis tool kit, suggesting small patches of non-experts re-seeded human existence...

Corey, giant cats are more fragile, specialized and less adaptable than medium-sized ones. Likewise, given that hunters drove whole herds off cliffs and into deathtraps, a key trait is whether an animal has a "disperse" component to its stampede pattern, or clumps together in panic.

Rob, when my new book EXISTENCE comes out you'll see another way of eliminating orbital trash.

Acacia H. said...

Ah, but will it have the coolness factor of hundreds of solar sails eventually pushing satellites out of the solar system, to be found billions of years from now by alien civilizations emerging from their own planets and wondering just what that twisted lump of metal and plastic is that's drifting by the planet and what purpose it serves? ;)

Rob H.

Corey said...

giant cats are more fragile, specialized and less adaptable than medium-sized ones.

I don't really think that's true. In fact, there's an amazing extent to which a cat is a cat is a cat. Even across genera, there really isn't a whole lot of structural difference between, say, a cougar (at one time placed in the genus Felis for its similarity to small cats), and leopards (the prototypical "big cat" on finds in Panthera).

The most specialized cat species out there, today, are cheetas, unique in being built for running rather than leaping.

If one were to look at the specialization and adaptability of modern members of Panthera, and compare, say, the leopard to the tiger, at first glance one might note that leopards inhabit two continents to the tiger's one, but tigers survive in an equally vast array of actual habitats (I'd even give them the edge if it wasn't for amur leopards).

I CERTAINLY wouldn't characterize tigers are more "delicate" than leopards (that award actually goes to the smaller cheetah as well). I'd characterize saber tooth tigers as less delicate still, given their absurdly robust builds.

The only ecological disadvantages the relatively giant cats of the world have compared to smaller cats, insofar as I'm aware, are larger requirements for viable habitat and energy. There's no reason to believe that the very numerous, yet very solitary animals, would have sufficiently increased susceptibility to primitive humans to be vulnerable to extinction.

Again, the case of cougars also doesn't remotely make sense. Something drove them out of North America completely, and fast, yet whatever it was, it apparently disappeared soon after, because even after their large, established population had been wiped out, they meandered right back in in small numbers from distant places, with insufficient resistance to stop them from spreading their range over the entire continent (into all types of habitat).

To suggest humans caused this temporary extinction in the N. America population, but somehow didn't become noteworthy only a short time later, is to suggest that a less established population of humans can easily drive an absurdly large population of cats to extinction, but a more established population of humans can't do it over against with an incredibly vastly smaller number of cats (even given the time it would take to discover their return, which might allow them to regain a tiny fraction of their former numbers before human pressures returned).

David Brin said...

Unless the humans had meanwhile lost parts of their toolkit... which appears to have exactly happened, when the Knock-Down that finished off so many beasts also wiped out the Clovis technology... though not all human life.

Corey you make many excellent points. But you seem to think the cats would only have been wiped out by directly being killed by humans. But major shifts in prey animals... types and numbers, as well as habits like migratory patterns... are what kill off predators more often. If human hunters caused shifts that BENEFITED some predators, like wolves, at the expense of others... then those others would be on their way out, without even one of them dying from a spear thrust.

Example. Lewis and Clarke almost starved because the mountains contained no game. It was all still grazing on the prairie, only migrating uphill in high summer. Later, the plains were too dangerous and moose etc stayed up high all year round.

But you raise interesting perspectives!

Tony Fisk said...

Corey, humanity can also breed up pretty quickly!
I didn't mention that essentially the same thing happened in Australia.
Humans arrived 50,000 years ago. A megafauna die-off then caused aridification of the N. Australian rain forests.

Habitat destruction is a major cause of extinctions, as you say. Humans didn't have to go after *every* species to kill them off, just the biggest plant eaters. Changes in vegetation may do the rest.

It is interesting that the continent whose megafauna (including cats!) remains essentially intact is the cradle of humanity; Africa.

Anyway, it is always dangerous to concentrate on one cause for things like this. Flannery doesn't mention the Dryas event in this book (although he is well versed in paleo-climatology, and is surely aware of it)

Flannery also speculates on why humanity did *not* wipe out everything edible. Rather than recap the whole book, I'll point you to an interview he had with Robyn Williams at the start of the year here.

David Brin said...

Also... fire. Changes ecosystems.
Humans did wipe out ecosystems too, Easter Island. New Zealand's mega birds.

GUYS! someone use
to inform us when the solar sail may be visible.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Healthcare repeal reform half-time report.

Corey said...

You both bring up very valid points. By what indications we have (which are sadly a bit sparse going not at all very far back), humans have caused some rather notable ecological stress.

Enough to drive a given species to extinction, whereas they would have been not only extant, but perfectly healthy, otherwise? Perhaps the problem here is that judging human contributions to ancient extinctions is like trying to judge exact climate sensitivity to CO2 today. When you're dealing with a lot of independent variables at once, singling out which is doing what becomes difficult, especially given the lack of detailed evidence due to the age of these events.

That said, too many specifics are way off for the entire end-Pleistocene extinction to be exclusively human, and many specifics, while not explicitly incompatible with the hypothesis of human-driven extinction, don't necessarily necessitate it either.

If I was personally to take a stab at what happened, I'd say it was probably a precise reversal of what's happening today. Today, we're dealing with a likely situation where humans have eliminated most habitat for many species, such that they can't react to climate change, which will signal the end of a number of species. The hypothesis, supported by at least one paper I've read which modeled this, is that species which are co-dependent, and form the biotic factors of a given habitat, react to a given climate change in different ways and to different degrees, which destroys the habitat.

Maybe you get a bird species that eats fruit and spreads/germinates seeds for a given plant, but it suddenly shifts its range and migration pattern because of another plant it likes, so the first plant suddenly doesn't get dispersed in the places it should, and the places where it stops growing because of this are the areas where an animal dependent on that plant live, so the animal gets ecologically stressed.

Basically it's climate change beating down species that we've already beaten down so badly, that they lack the ability for a healthy response.

In the case of the end-Pleistocene, my guess would be that climatic factors stressed species, who because of that stress then couldn't maintain the numbers necessary to resist human hunting (of course, it could always happen in the reverse order). When the Younger Dryas freeze ended, and warming resumed, those that survived re-populated despite human pressures, which failed to drive much else to extinction, at least for 10,000 years or so.

This would perfectly explain the sudden disappearance and reappearance of N. American cougars (which anthropogenic influences alone do not), as well as the specific timing of the extinctions, including when they cease and normal ecology resumes, as well as accounting for species selectivity by the extinction that favors climatic influences, while also accounting for some of the distribution of extinction that favors the anthropogenic explanation.

This would also explain why neither the Dansgaard-Oeschger events, nor some further 10,000 years of human activity (nor ~50,000 years preceding) exclusively caused further examples of this severe trend of wide-spread extinction of multiple species, not until the 19th century.

Corey said...

"It is interesting that the continent whose megafauna (including cats!) remains essentially intact is the cradle of humanity; Africa."

This is a not inconsiderable point of evidence, however, I would point out one very related peculiarity.

Cheetas exhibit extraordinarily low genetic diversity, so low in fact that we actually thought it would hinder captive breeding programs because the genetic variation for unrelated members of their species would be well into inbreeding territory for most other species.

What the Cheetah genetic anomaly strongly suggests is that at some point, the vast majority of their species was wiped out, and then recovered and re-populated from only a few individuals. I'd be willing to bet that if a study was done on their mitochondrial DNA, they'd be able to trace back these common few ancestors to about 10-12 thousand years ago, right during the end-Pleistocene.

Yet here they are, none the worse for wear over the past 10,000 years, being a perfectly healthy and numerous species until the modern day. They nearly died off, then suddenly all the severe ecological pressure stopped as quickly as it began, and they recovered (the biggest point in favor of climatic stresses).

Duncan Cairncross said...

Human caused extinctions

The New Zealand experience is instructive,
Stone Age Humans (and their plant/animal toolkits) arrived about AD 1200,
Possibly as few as 70 individuals - certainly no more than 300

By the time Europeans arrived - AD 1700s - the large birds were all gone AND had vanished from the Maori verbal history,
Along with the Moas went their predators including the Haast's Eagle, the largest eagle to have lived

Humans are an amazing predator, they can kill and eat almost anything and their mastery of fire means that they can re-make landscapes in a few years

It may be incredible but I believe stone age humans could have exterminated the American Mega-fauna in a scant few centuries

Tim H. said...


The link above is relevant to megafauna extinctions, not the smoking gun, but the bullet holes. Could tend to explain the survival of African elephants despite the existence of effective hunters.

Corey said...

Hmm, the evidence for an asteroid impact has been fairly compelling for a few years now.

Still, if we're talking about a continent-sized version of the Tunguska air burst event (even from multiple smaller impacts), I can't POSSIBLY imagine that humans would have survived that in N. America.

Of course, it could always have been something that just partially wiped out the continent, and contributed to what was going on at the time (and it's entirely possible that the Younger Dryas freeze was caused by that impact, though that's still up in the air).

I guess life all around was having pretty bad luck then. The idea of asteroids does still fit in with the fact that species were dying off, and then recovering immediately after.

Acacia H. said...

I have to admit, sometimes I wish I was a scientist so I could go about trying to get various studies that pop into my head started. The only problem being that I've so many different directions for these ideas I don't know what field that I'd have been able to specialize in to work on them all. ^^;;

Latest thought? A study on the effect low sleep levels and sleep deprivation has on a person's physical reactions to donating blood. In short, if a person hasn't been getting sufficient sleep are they more likely to suffer from dizziness, nausea, and other problems that sometimes arise when donating blood?

(Saying this after having donated yesterday and being once more hit for a loop... but also realizing I'd not gotten a lot of sleep this week and wondering if it has an effect on the reactions.)

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

After looking at this article on the evolution of bedbugs to gain resistance to pesticides I have to wonder when someone will start creating a pesticide that mixes the pesticide with an enzyme blocker to prevent the bedbugs from resisting the poisons. While eventually they'll evolve other enzymes that will eliminate the poisons, I have to think that it would be an effective short-term method of dealing with it... and the enzyme blocker could likewise be shut down afterward by spraying a blocker for that blocker.

Either that, or find the one scent that bedbugs absolutely love and use it in traps to draw in bedbugs like some form of ant trap that doesn't let the critters get back out again.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Just posted this greeting reminiscence to help the student house I lived in at Caltech to celebrate their 50th anniversary:

It is easy to imagine a few soot-covered groups of children crawling out of a cave, after a mega Tunguska ravaged N America and killed all the specialists who knew how to make Clovis points.

Corey said...

Killed them BECAUSE they were specialists? Sounds like the origins of the Tea Party and Culture War to me :)

TheMadLibrarian said...

The evidence for a meteor strike causing/contributing to the Younger Dryas is not well established. Many studies are inconclusive, with alternate, equally plausible explanations of the 'smoking gun' evidence for death from the skies. I'll see if I can find some of the discussion we've had on our meteorite list.


oeseisti -- fossilized naps

David Brin said...

Yeow! This is guh-mazingly awful!!!!



Corey said...


Aside from uncertainty in the evidence of an asteroid impact (uncertainty in indications of area and extent of damage, even assuming an impact), there are questions of necessity of needing the asteroid to explain extinctions.

The Younger Dryas climatic shift could have simply been the culmination of already-present influences, something Real Climate has commented on a few times, and obviously humans don't need asteroids to wipe things out.

That's part of the frustration here. It's not very parsimonious to seek asteroids as an explanation when other known ecological pressures that were known to be around at the time seem to be able to explain everything we see, and yet, the evidence of a potentially substantial event is there, which means it can't really be ignored either.

Corey said...

"Yeow! This is guh-mazingly awful!!!!"

I think the graph at the end (http://www.blogcdn.com/www.comicsalliance.com/media/2011/01/goodbadgraph.gif) pretty much sums up what this comic seems to be like... plus I give it definite points for ragging on the Galactica Finale :D

soc said...

More Wikileaks.

This one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tacitus2 said...

Regards SteamPunk Palin.

The First Amendment can be both awe inspiring and silly. No contradiction at all.

Besides, most late 40s women would not, not at all, object to being drawn like that!


Tony Fisk said...

Flannery points out that frontier colonisers tend to be a bit more gung-ho and aggressive (he draws analogies with cane toads)

Steampunk Palin could take out entire genera of megafauna on her own. (She looks better than a cane toad, though. Definitely an improvement on the Foglio standard body type!)

redgic: an alternate form of resunin'

Acacia H. said...

Considering it was Benn Dunn who drew it instead of Phil Foglio, I'm not surprised. Dunn has been drawing nubile animesque female forms for a couple decades now. Phil Foglio, on the other hand, has a more cartoonish style for his art; I actually kind of prefer Foglio's style to the overdone anime style, especially given the huge amount of background detail that Foglio adds to his comics.

Ro H.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, I was referring to Foglio's 'Girl Genius', wherein all the ladies appear to have had unfortunate encounters with high pressure air pumps (then again, the cartoon seems to be an ongoing set of unfortunate encounters, of all types!)

All good fun!

Acacia H. said...

Foglio has an attraction to the buxom frame. Part of it no doubt lies with the fact it's difficult to draw a small cup-size without having the character look either androgynous or male (the semi-autobiographical webcomic Taiki is a good example of this in that it took me a little bit to realize much of the cast was female and just not buxom - the cartoonist is a young woman who is modestly-endowed, as are the majority of her friends, thus explaining a rather refreshing change of pace for the drawn art for the female characters). And part of it is because while he draws for a living, he draws for his own enjoyment as well. Thus buxom young women. ^^;;

That said, there are one or two more modestly-endowed female characters in the comic. (Amusingly enough, there's even a male character I thought had been a modestly-endowed female, until reading the print novelization.)

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

On the "I don't think you meant to say what you said" front, Freshman Republican Senator Mike Lee stated "The shooter wins if we, who've been elected, change what we do just because of what he did," in regards to members of Congress being more sensitive about their use of inflammatory political rhetoric; he stated this during a segment on ABC News's "This Week." Now, it may very well be that he didn't mean that the shooter "wins" if politicians stop with the hate-speech, fearmongering, and gun imagery (both visual and verbal). But it sure as heck sounded like he did.


And on other explosive emissions, this one more scientific in nature, here's a cool article and video of an undersea volcano trying to emerge above the ocean. It's unlikely to succeed, apparently, as the seas are rough enough that they've beaten down several prior attempts.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

For prediction registries everywhere, here is the 1911 predictions for 2011 from that old fashioned patent stealer, Thomas Alva Edison.


Tony Fisk said...

Quite surprising how utterly all-but Edison's predictions were!

He did miss 'Angry Birds' though. And transmutation of metals in 1911?!

sociotard said...

yeah, I thought nuclear science was more advanced than "still hoping to transmute metals" in 1911.

Jumper said...

Right about now an old Edison prediction of large DC power transmission system would be funny.

Pattaya Girls said...

alien hunting was a terrible name for the show.

ell said...

Reasons why a larger human population didn't wipe out a smaller cat population:

A. The missing cats were determined to be of value and were conserved later when they returned.

B. Someone started worhipping cats. They not only forbade killing cats, they also slew mammoths to feed them...

ell said...

Soon to be seen in the household chemical section of our neighborhood grocery store: Bedbug Motels...

David Brin said...

B. Someone started worhipping cats. They not only forbade killing cats, they also slew mammoths to feed them...

SNORK! Inhaled my food! cough choke!

ell you get post of the day.

David Brin said...