Friday, October 19, 2012

Has 21st Century Science Fiction gone cowardly? Or worse… nostalgic?

In a bit, I'll tell you about some way cool interviews and podcasts about science fiction and the future.  But first --

Jonathan McCalmont is a critic of popular culture and science fiction whom I'll be watching. Not because I especially liked or agreed with his lengthy and rather incoherent screed: "Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future." In fact, I found his arguments dyspeptic and chaotic, cherrypicking examples in order to complain about this or that pet peeve.  

Nevertheless, while constantly aggravated I was also amused or fascinated often enough to keep reading and enjoying a chain of insightful snarks, some of which are extremely on-target. 

"Contemporary science fiction is not interested in science, culture, history, ideas or real human psychology. Not really. To be interested in such things requires engagement not only with the world but also entire bodies of knowledge generated by hundreds of fevered human minds. Incapable of taking anything seriously and unwilling to risk disapproval by writing anything that might be deemed in any way political, genre writers spend their days like performing dolphins; pushing a load of battered toys around the pool while undemanding audiences roar their approval. Occasionally, a particularly well-trained dolphin receives a celebratory bucket of fish heads in the ballroom of a beige mid-Western hotel."

Hm... dolphins.  Yes, that reminds me.  Any exceptions Mr. McCalmont?  But save that thought.

Disappointing: McCalmont is very poor at creating a clear picture of his complaint. Yes, overall, 21st Century SF is heavily warped and crushed under a burden of nostalgia and anomie toward the future. He says -- and I agree -- that this dismally destructive and demoralizing trend controls most of the top magazines and most of the Best of the Year anthologies... oh and the awards.  McCalmont illuminates how this is not only manifest in the omphaloskeptic (navel-contemplating) short story community of SF but in sub-genres that proclaim themselves to be bold, like Steam Punk and the surge of Skew Cultural science fictional novels  (many of which I find admirable)  by non-male, non-western or interestingly-origined authors. 

I might have hoped that McCalmont would have cited the work of SF scholar Judith Berman, who published a devastating decryption of Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, showing that its pages almost never portrayed problem-solving, progress, or even very often the future, but instead (sometimes artfully) wallowed in endlessly repeated themes of loss, regret and passive acceptance of limitation. The most frequently repeated lesson?  Ambitious endeavors often have unexpected side effects. (Duh?) Ah, but the lesson is, therefore, banish ambition. 

As you might expect, my biggest disappointment was McCalmont's reluctance to ponder exceptions -- authors who are trying to engage with the future and its myriad possible decision points, ranging from technological and social to political, scientific and transcendent.  No mention of Vinge, Robinson, Bear, Kress, Haldeman... or me. But beyond that, even when he takes on bold and eager authors, it is mostly in order to take jaundiced views of very narrow aspects of Iain Banks, Hannu Rajaniemi, Michael Chabon, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter Hamilton, without at least avowing that they try and try hard, to offer the grand vision he desires. 

Nevetheless, in this review of a review-survey of some reviews, I do recommend McCalmont's screed. Don't get all in a twist where you disagree (you will!) He offers a different perspective and an ornery/contrarian one that challenged me! It got me sputtering and grinding my teeth.  That's the sort of fellow I like. I'd rather argue all night with a fellow like than, than spend an evening being flattered. 

== Br-interviews and podcasts galore! ==

A collection of three videos from UCTV...on the seriousness of Science Fiction as literature, Positive Sum games and more. Very professional and nicely done!

For your commute, one of the more interesting and well-done interview shows is the Roundtable Podcast.  Catch this episode in which a number of top sci fi authors were asked a particular question at the recent World Science Fiction Convention (Chicago 2012): "Describe your ideal protagonist."  Providing short, pithy and fascinating answers were Elizabeth Bear, Alan Dean Foster, Howard Tayler -- and yours truly -- along with many more.  Good stuff.

Many of you know that I've been somewhat critical of the Star Wars universe (which I started out adoring, after The Empire Strikes Back.)  My indictments of this down-spiraling mess include infamous denunciations in Salon Magazine, which led to my being the "prosecutor" in the wonderfully fun debate volume STAR WARS ON TRIAL. (Defense counsel was one of Lucas's novelizers, Matthew Stover. We had a terrific time calling witnesses and cross-examining them... one of the most hilarious nonfiction books in years!)  Now see a fresh perspective on the dismal condition of humanity and the Republic, by Ryan Britt, who maintains from evidence in all the movies -- and the novels as well -- that Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate. Indeed, what likely happens in Episode Seven?  (After Return of the Jedi.) Simple.  The droids get tired of working for morons and do what they should have done from the very beginning.

Another Br(interview) of me on Genre Online by Mark Rivera.

== Sci Fi related miscellany ==   

"Over the last few decades, miners in South Africa have been digging up mysterious metal spheres. Origin unknown, these spheres measure approximately an inch or so in diameter, and some are etched with three parallel grooves running around the equator. Two types of spheres have been found: one is composed of a solid bluish metal with flecks of white; the other is hollowed out and filled with a spongy white substance. The kicker is that the rock in which they where found is Precambrian - and dated to 2.8 billion years old! Who made them and for what purpose is unknown."  Okayyyy.  (1) probably a hoax. (2) Huh... grooved metal spheres. Drat. In EXISTENCE I portrayed them as holographic crystals. But of course they'd have an outer metal shell for surviving atmospheric entry....

Fascinating lists of politically-redolent science fiction! Fifty Fantasy and Science Fiction Works that Socialists should read -- a brief (and very incomplete) survey of authors who write -- or wrote -- from a leftist or socialist perspective, ranging from oderate (Kim Stanley Robinson) to feminist-liberationist (LeGuin or Butler) to ourtright communist.   

Then browse through the lists of the libertarian Prometheus Awards.

A professor appraises the political liberalism of Captain America 

== ...and... == 

Wish I noted the URL. Otters eat the sea urchins that devastate kelp forests... that appear to be the fastest removers of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Otters otter get more appreciation, I guess.  Sorry, I couldn't kelp it. 

--For more Speculations About Science Fiction


jollyreaper said...

McDonald's makes food that isn't very good, nutritionally. It's very satisfying in a junk food kind of way, ringing the buzzer on grease, salt, and sweet. McDonald's has been very successful and Americans eat there in droves.

One side will say McDonald's is supplying a market demand. If Americans didn't like the food, they wouldn't eat there. The other side will say that human beings aren't mentally capable of handling abundance properly and the food served there is as tailor-made to hit our biological addiction centers as cigarettes and alcohol.

So do we blame Americans for having poor taste, McDonald's for pandering to poor taste or shaping that taste? If science shows that a corporation's products cause public harm, where does the corporation's responsibilities lie? And is it even possible to have a measured, sane public debate on a topic like this when there's so much money to be injected into the fray by interests who would prefer to preserve the status quo?

This is pretty similar to the scifi debate. The author proposes that what's out there isn't "good." We can scientifically establish "good" when it comes to food. We can show that fries and burgers are bad and soups and salads are good. With art everything is subjective.

Commercial success is no guarantee of artistic merit. But good art that doesn't pay means someone's going out of business.

Publishers get buying signals from what succeeds. That informs the kinds of projects that get greenlit. For the most part the business people don't really care about art so they're perfectly comfortable making terrible movies, television shows, and books. If it sells, it sells.

Writers are sole proprietors who have sell an idea to the publisher before they ever get to sell it to the public.

Frankly, I can't decide who's to blame. The Transformers movies were loud and insultingly stupid, incoherent messes. They were also enormously successful. I would be tempted to say that you could just about spend $200 million on anything with sex and explosions and make money. But there have been other extravaganzas equally expensive and stupid that have flopped.

Written entertainment has an advantage over television and film in that the overhead is very low, especially when self-published. All it takes to write is food, pencil and paper. Granted, there's a few more steps and money involved in traditional publishing but nothing like what's involved in making a movie.

There's always good stuff out on the periphery if you know where to look. The problem is that the volume of material produced these days is so vast, it's impossible to have enough time to be fully conversant with everything that comes out.

David Brin said...

Interesting musings and speculations. We are a very diverse species. Some of us are logical and capable of self-appraisal even when logic is failing and the amygdala has our emotions running in high gear. Others of us seem barely to qualify as sapient, responding to reflex symbols and pre-cro-magnon tastes with utter devotion.

I keep hoping that Poul Anderson's BRAIN WAVE will happen; the Earth will move out of the galactic region of suppressed electron motility and everyone starts getting smarter...


atomsmith said...

As a professional user of artificial neural networks, if there is one thing I've learned it's that they always get much stupider right before they get smarter..

jollyreaper said...

Then they declare war on the flesh beings.

sociotard said...

Speaking of your short stories, look at the new record holder for staying underwater with scuba equipment, for an idea what the dolphin-guy in Existence might have looked like by the end.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm not sure how new science fiction authors are supposed to avoid appearing lazy. I now a few who want to write and when they hear I have a physics background they have asked me to look over a plot idea to help them make it a bit more realistic. Basically they are trying to avoid a story where the cyclones in the northern hemisphere rotate the wrong way or something like that. My limited experience says they mean well, but don't have the education to take on that task and need to do team writing. None of them have had any success as far as I know.

I'm not sure how a budding science fiction author is supposed to deal with the rapid pace at which we are accumulating knowledge. I'm not even sure that team writing is enough. Is it laziness to avoid a task they can't do and focus instead on soap opera elements in a story? 8)

ERic said...

Regarding those South African spheres:

Hank Roberts said...

> Klerksdorp_Spheres

Drat. I hoped for a moment there that whatever laid the egg we call Iapetus had had a much smaller Terrestrial relative ....

Agree on cowardly-nostalgic. Is there a story _besides_ the models described by the dandelion-seeds or the mushroom wasp?

(Mushroom wasp is from Wackernagel and Rees, _Our_Ecological_Footprint)

Stefan Jones said...

I read McCalmont's essay a week or so ago. My reaction was a mix of "yeah, I know" and "Oh, PLEASE, give me a break!"

Tony Fisk said...

I find it can be fun to wallow in the nostalgic mire, and then twist the plot around.

A couple of other relevant points:

1. Clarkesworld recently bemoaned the rather light state of the slush pile

2. November is (inter)National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I was thinking that, those who find 50,000 words in a month a bit daunting might try Clarke's preference for 5,000. We could call it 'AngstNoWriMo'...

Finally, for climate remediation, there's nothing hotter than an otter!

Hank Roberts said...

Ya know what's wrong with the near future? This kind of thing:

Ian said...

Has Michael Chabon ever described himself as a science fiction writer though?

Apart from the marginal case of The Yiddish Policeman's Union, all his work appears to be fantasy.

Fro that matter, the same goes from Mieville with the exception of Embassytown.

Part of the problem with genre sf currently seems to me to be that people who a few decades ago would have been writing for Analog or Galaxy and working with sf tropes are now working in other genres. As well as chabon and Mieville, I'll mention Kim Newman as an example of that.

David Brin said...

Both sides of this image are creepy and I admit that pushing the left side on people is a churlish, unfair act. We all have bad moments.

But we're not the ones who turned normal politics into outright Civil War. Honor has long been abandoned by the Murdochians, and the image is powerful at a deeply visceral and memic level. People who allow Mitt's boardroom style to make them ignore his protean re-invention of every stance and fact to fit the audience... those are the people who operate on a visceral level and who need such images tunneled straight to the amygdala.

Tony Fisk said...

I must say I tend to associate such threat displays with the fervently religious. The rictus of the upper lip certainly doesn't come across as warm and friendly as it's probably intended.

David Brin said...

A very poorly written and turgidly partisan rant... that nevertheless lays out the scary dynamics of how republican operatives and donors happen to own and run the companies that make most of the nation's voting machines, especially those involved in the infamous "flip" of 6 percentage points into the Bush column, in Ohio on election night in 2004. And now the news that Romney heir Tagg is heavily invested in one of those companies.

I don't know whether I am more upset by the blatant horror of all this, even if only 5% of the smoke is coming from real fire... or by the democrats' inability (or unwillingness) to bring resources to bear against it all.

Stefan Jones said...

Chabon is a mainstream author is a geek at heart. Comic book lover, Doctor Who fan. Besides the Yiddish Policemen's Union alternate-history, the most fantastic thing he's done is the juvenile fantasy Summerland, which I totally loved. I'd bet, though, that he and guys like David Eggers would have our backs defending SF from the likes of McCalmont.

Jumper said...

ES&S HQ is located at 11208 John Galt Blvd., Omaha, NE 68137-2364

No lie.

This should provide a clue.

François Marcadé said...

I just recently read an interview on the same topic (it is in French I link it because Dr. Brin is fluent in French: It irked me the same way: “Authors do not write the Science-Fiction the People should read, only me knows how it should be done” in one case it ends in “Read my book!”, in the other “Ask me how!”.

Even if both have good points, Their insistence in dismissing books that I have thoroughly enjoyed because they do not corresponds to what they want to see in the “genre” disqualify them. Science Fiction and even general Literature cannot be judged like that. It is not like an essay that can be judged based on its truthfulness and the relevance of its content. Literature is meant to provide a memorable reading experience, if a book succeeds to do so its author was neither lazy nor a coward.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I don't know whether I am more upset by the blatant horror of all this, even if only 5% of the smoke is coming from real fire... or by the democrats' inability (or unwillingness) to bring resources to bear against it all.

Thom Hartmann likes to rant about how the process of vote-counting was ever allowed to be privatized in the first place.

Between the trade-secrecy of the voting machine software itself and the profit-motive of the voting machine companies, I don't know which is more of a problem. The accuracy of the result is guaranteed by little more than "Trust us.", while the "us" in question is beholden not to delivering an accurate vote, but to maximizing profits for investors.

And yes, the Democrats reluctance to make an issue of this in public suggests either that they're complicit in the problem or that someone has dirt on them as a counter-threat.

Ian said...

"The accuracy of the result is guaranteed by little more than "Trust us.", while the "us" in question is beholden not to delivering an accurate vote, but to maximizing profits for investors."

Consider for a moment, the impact on profits of gettign caught faking an election.

Just as there are essentially zero proven cases of voter fraud, there are esesntially zero proven xcases of voting machine raud.

Tony Fisk said...


I earlier said of morose stories "I find it can be fun to wallow in the nostalgic mire, and then twist the plot around."

Mr. Stephen Fry has just unearthed a perfect example of this! (Stick it out to the end: it's only three minutes!)

Tony Fisk said...

To be honest, the system of US vote registration and electronic processing of votes by privatised interests reads like a recipe for disaster from where I stand.

Presumably the votes are scrutinised somehow, but how do you 'scrutinise' the process of displaying an electronically stored count?

LarryHart said...


Just as there are essentially zero proven cases of voter fraud, there are esesntially zero proven xcases of voting machine [f]raud.

According to Thom Hartmann, exit polling is considered the gold standard for calling elections. Europe makes extensive use of exit polling with great accuracy, and so did the US until a funny thing happened around the start of the 21st century. Co-inciding with the increasing use of propriatary-software touch-screen voting machines, the exit polls started diverging from the final results, always in the direction that the Republicans did better in the machine result than in the exit polls.

As a result, most polling firms simply stopped doing exit polls.

Whether or not this chain of events constitutes "proof" of malfeasance is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder.

jollyreaper said...

The same hands feed both political parties. The dems don't fight harder because all of the best talking points would indite them as well. See rude pins it's latest rant about how Obama is to the right of Nixon.

Left vs right is taking sides on which princeling should rule the land. Neither one has a problem with monarch so long as they get to be the monarch.

Jacob said...

I just finished a course called Securing Digital Democracy. In it, there was a description on how some DREs like those used in my home state could be re-programmed given just a couple of minutes of access.

In America, we have very strong Ballot Secrecy. That is good if there is a strong threat of coercion. (Violence, Voting Buying, Job Loss, Domestic Violence or just disappointment.) However, this Ballot Secrecy is imperfect itself. Suppose Team Evil decided to capture votes. They could apply pressure through coercion (hard or soft) in order to get Vote by Mail ballots from individuals. Then they could submit their choices rather than the actual voters. A voter could override that vote by Early Voting or Voting in Person, but Team Evil could also monitor the Voting Book at election day. (The Parties do this currently to help their GOTV efforts) If they see that their captured votes are signed in before the Mail in Votes happen, they could take revenge on that individual. Just telling people you plan to do that would discourage most from trying to override the vote.

So it is hard to do it secretly, but Ballot Secrecy would need adjustments in order to be maintained.


Now you may ask why I'm talking about Ballot Secrecy when the topic at hand is Election Integrity. There is a tension between Integrity <-> Secrecy that was clearly mapped out during the course. We should be applying Transparency in order to secure Integrity with reasonable (if imperfect) safeguards to assure voter privacy.

We should have a website that displays all Voter -> Ballots Cast. We could Encrypt the Voter's identity by using a pin or encrypt the vote using something called E2E (End to End Verifiable Voting).

Pin 476582da6ce Votes for Micky Mouse
John Smith Votes for 476582da6ce.

Either way a voter will have a key to decrypt the other half in order to assure their vote was counted as cast.

In practice, you have to allow for the traditional system as well for those who would respond to Privacy Fear mongering. But the more brave Americans who use this system, the more obvious it becomes that voter tampering has taken place. (Example: Wait! 83% of the Traditional vote when to candidate X in order to win with 50.3% of the vote?)

Great things also happen if we combine this with Internet Voting.

Jumper said...

There is one hypothesis that more Republicans are early or absentee voters which skews exit polls. However, verified voting activists have noted too many other real statistical anomalies.

There are many cases of "machine fraud" but can be claimed as "accidental glitches" which nevertheless have benefited Republicans.

That profits would decline if rigging is found and this is sufficient to prevent chicanery, well, see Wall Street.

LarryHart said...


That profits would decline if rigging is found and this is sufficient to prevent chicanery, well, see Wall Street.

I'm not disagreeing. In the final analysis, who is the "customer" who buys voting machines? The partisan officials of the individual states. So while officials in Chicago might fire a private company whose results skewed Republican, officials in Ohio or Florida might be getting exactly what they knowingly paid for.

The root cause of the problem is not the machines, but the fact that US elections are run by partisan organizations. That and the fact that attorneys general are partisan officals are two of the most obviously-disfunctional aspects of our political system.

Jumper said...

Good work, Jacob!
For those wanting more info on this I recommend reading archives of Black Box Voting
or Daily Kos, if you can stand the guy's egotism, although he's pretty fact-based in general in this matter.

I have been reading my own special Google News sections on "election fraud" for years, now, to keep up with this issue, at least in part.

Then again, any competent internet user who knows a valid source from baloney can get up to speed pretty well, although maybe not quickly.

Tony Fisk said...

Jacob, your description of a transparent voting system sounds very like something I started work on a few years back (it didn't get far, but see here if interested)

Ian said...

Larry, would you admity if you voted Republican?

I apply the same standard of proof I apply to the accusations of voter fraud - has anyone been convicted?

Ian said...

Jacob, there's an even simpler fix.

You cast your vote. The machine prints out a paper copy of your vote. If it's correct you press "confirm" then go palce the aper ballot in a ballot box.

If its wrong you press "redo" and revote.

Jacob said...

Hi Tony,
I've been your website before and support your efforts. We spoke about this a while back.

Hey Ian,
That is a very strong form of Voting Integrity to the point of the Ballot Box. However, Insider Attackers could throw the ballot away rather than counting it. We know this use to happen the US. The ballot scanning machine itself might be modified. But to be fair, there are lots of good practices that could make this a rather strong form of Integrity. It is more costly than I'd like though.

David Brin said...

Ian in Blue states like california, there is almost always a paper receipt that goes into a ballot box and randomly chosen precincts are audited.

The states in which this is not true are states with Republican legislatures. You figure it out.

LarryHart said...


Larry, would you admity if you voted Republican?

Heh. Sure, maybe individuals lie to exit pollsters. In 2008, the accepted wisdom was that in order not to appear racist, people would say they were going to vote for Obama when they really weren't. I always thought it was going to work the other way--good ol' boys weren't about to admit publicly to voting for the black guy, even though many of them actually did.

But according to Thom Hartmann, exit polling has been a reliable means of predicting outcomes for decades, and is considered the gold standard of prediction-making in Europe. So I'm not looking at exit polling in a vaccuum and trying to evaluate how well I think it works. I'm accepting the fact that it is a proven methodolgy.

Couple that with the fact that it used to be a fairly reliable method of predicting outcomes in the US, and that seems to have changed around 2000-2004 when electronic voting machines with non-transparent software became ascendant. And suddenly, exit polling became so embarrasingly inaccurate that polling firms simply stopped doing them.

No, that's not proof-in-a-court-of-law of malfeasance, but I contend that it is evidence to suspect a problem, to warrant further investigation, and to cast doubt upon the machines as a reliable method of counting the vote.

I apply the same standard of proof I apply to the accusations of voter fraud - has anyone been convicted?

In the case of voter fraud, the Bush Administration had every attorney-general in the 50 states pusuing voter fraud as a priority, and they still couldn't come up with any cases to actually prosecute. In the case of voting-machine fraud, no one in either party seems interested in investigating whether fraud is being committed. I'm not sure you can draw the same conclusions from the one as from the other.

LarryHart said...

Assuming the details in this article are accurate, on what basis could a conviction be expected?

As in virtually every close presidential race, Ohio may well hold the key to the Electoral College decision as to who will become the nation's next chief executive. The presence of Hart Intercivic machines in Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati, means there is a high likelihood the votes that will decide the presidency will be cast on them. Major media like CBS have begun reporting thatCincinnati could be "ground zero" in this year's election.

But these Hart machines are deeply flawed and widely know to be open to a troubling variety of attacks and breakdowns. There is no legal or other means to definitively monitor and re-check a tally compiled on Hart or other electronic voting machines. Ohio's current governor and secretary of state are both Republicans.

To repeat: There is no legal or other means to definitively monitor and recheck a tally. The machine tally IS the count. There's no other standard to gauge accuracy against.

Just as the game-deciding calls by "partisan" replacement referees stand even though everyone admits the calls were functionally incorrect, so do the tallies of voting machines and all they imply stand as the official election result. There's nothing to convict anyone of, and even if there was, there's nothing that the (inevitably) Republican governors and secretaries of state of those states would want to pursue.

rewinn said...


"Election fraud doth never prosper:
Why’s that odd?
Why, if it prosper,
None dare call it fraud".

With apologies to John Harington!


More helpfully perhaps ... as you suggest, successful election fraud is not prosecuted, for the winners themselves name the Attorney Generals who choose whether or not to prosecute.

This makes the prosecution of Nixon all the more remarkable, and perhaps explains the replacement of John Ashcroft (who, having had a previous independent political career, may not have been sufficiently obedident) with the more compliant Alberto Gonzales.


I voted today, on paper. What a wonderful thing if 100% of adult Americans did so!

David Brin said...

Mitt Romney’s Tax Dodge
A guide to how the multimillionaire twists the law to hide his massive fortune - and avoid paying his fair share in taxes

Yipe, it is a long long loooooong list! Your ostrich uncle could wave away one or two. If he waves away twenty? Then he's the sort who would have sided with King George in the Revolution.

the hanged man said...

Has anyone noticed this news story:

Of course, we all know who owns the media.

Ian said...

Tagg Romney is one of several partners in solarmere Capital - in which other romney family members have also invested money. Solarmere in turn has money invested with HIG Capital, a company which specializes in leveraed buy-outs and has equity shares in dozens of other companies.

Solarmere has no equity interest in HIG so far as I can tell - they give HIG money which HIG invests on their behalf.

HIG owns part of Hart Interciviv - which has been printing ballots and building voting machines since the 1910's. How big a part no-one knows.

The Chairman and CEO of Hart - per the company's website - have been with the company since well before the HIG Investment. However the other three directors are HIG employees.

So a company that Tagg works for, has invested money with a company that owns a (potentially large) stake in a company that manufactures votign machiens, some of which will be used in Ohio.

How is this more credible as the basis for "Tagg Romney owns the voting machines!" than similar stories about George Soros and Hugo Chavez?

Anonymous said...

Help me out here. What the hell is Skew Culture? I did the logical thing and googled the phrase, assuming that some of the top results would lay it all out for me.

No joy.

Which authors/books/etc. does that refer to? What attitudes/memes/worldview distinguish Skew from notSkew?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and, re: the fraudulent voting machines owned, almost invariably, by GOP-friendly corporations:


He's had 3 years and 10 months. Jesus H. Christ *$@)&*@^#

Ian said...

Anonymous, maybe he did and they found nothing.

LarryHart said...


The Tagg Romney thing came out of left field (to me), and is really not the aspect of the whole mess that I'm most concerned with.

What I find most disturbing--and voting machines are only a tool here, not the root cause--is the fact that one political party tries to expand the franchise as widely as possible, and one party tries to limit voting to its own supporters, and these two positions are given equal credence.

Whereas I find this truth to be self-evident, that all eligible voters should be able to vote and tha the count should be as mathematically accurate as humanly and technologically possible.

If doing so benefits one party more than the other, then that other deserves to lose. It does not deserve to have a strategy that benefits itself (voter suppression) consdered equally as legitimate as said "self-evident truth" as if each positon is defensible only in partisan terms.

David Brin said...

Three telling points:

1. In California and most Blue States, the electronic voting process involved paper receipts that the voter can examine to ensure that the bits are matched by a physical record he or she can verify, then drop into a ballot box. Random precincts are audited, comparing those recipts to the electronic results, ensuring that any scheme to cheat can get caught. This is not the case in many states that are controlled by Republican legislatures where (can you believe it) the elctronic machine companies -- which are all owned by highly partisan Republicans -- are deemed trustworthy, needing no checks.

2. The address of one of those companies? Election Systems & Software, Inc. (ES&S) 11208 John Galt Blvd. Omaha, NE I kid you not. John Galt Blvd.

3. And now, under pressure, many of the national polling firms are cutting way back on exit polls, which used to accurately reflect that national and local voting with great accuracy, till they cpnflicted with the sudden swing in electronic tallies in favor of the Republicans in 2004 in Ohio. The, suddenly, they were deemed "unnecessary and untrustworthy.

David Brin said...

Spent money and time on the EXISTENCE trailer and it has barely budged. (tell folks!)

But THIS 14 second YouTube Haiku is verged on goinf viral!

Spread word!

Tony Fisk said...

Am currently retrieving jaw from where it rolled under the desk...

Minnesota bans Coursera

(Actually citing legislation requiring universities to obtain permission to operate. Even so... shall something like Wikipedia be deemed to fall into the same category?)

Ian said...

Yeah, 2004 also coincides with much of the Republican base deciding that the Lamestream Media were traitors who Wanted The Terrorists To Win.

So is it that surprising they'd declien to take part in exit polls?

Ian said...

@ Larry, I agree with essentially everything you say. I just disagree with the Tagg romney conspiracy theory.

From an Australian persepctive, the solution seems obvious. Set up an independent state level body funded by the state government to supervise elections and ensure that theres' a consistent voting method across the whole state.

Anonymous said...

Great things also happen if we combine this with Internet Voting.

A big problem I have with Internet Voting (other than security) is that it does away with secrecy. Sure, you can vote secretly, but you can also show your buddies, the chap paying you some money, your boss, and/or the controlling head of your household how you voted.

Anonymous said...

Ian said: "Yeah, 2004 also coincides with much of the Republican base deciding that the Lamestream Media were traitors who Wanted The Terrorists To Win.

So is it that surprising they'd declien to take part in exit polls?"

Exit polling is never wrong by more than a percent or so, since it involves polling people who just now voted. If it differs noticeably from the official tally, the official tally has some explaining to do.

The GOP party line in 2004 and after, in order to explain the mathematically impossible results in Ohio that year, has spread the lie that exit polls are untrustworthy. One "explanation" they have spread is that Bush voters were "embarrassed" to talk to the pollsters; I am not aware of any evidence that this is true, unless you count the overbearing insistence of guys like Karl Rove that it is so. Oh, please.

In truth, Bush could not win in 2004 unless a lot of his 2000 supporters returned from the dead! As Ian is an Australian, I don't expect him to know that the Dems were ITCHING to show up at the polls in 2004 and show Bush the door, and he was already losing supporters from four years earlier. And as he didn't even win that one, how, indeed, could he do better the second time?

A miracle? Pfft.

The evidence that he stole Ohio is plentiful, it's merely that it's taboo to talk of it in the very same Lamestream Media that supposedly is SO UNFAIR to conservatives.

Read this and don't just dismiss it as biased. Actually give yourself a chance to be persuaded.

P.S. you can have Murdoch back anytime.

Tony Fisk said...

anon. the scenario you refer to would require a widespread culture of many overbearing bosses to have a significant effect. If that is the case, democracy's dead (which it isn't)

rewinn said...

Internet Voting solves no problems at all, except perhaps for the small number of people who don't have access to the mails.

I just mailed in my paper ballot. I'd have been happier if the authentication were a thumbprint instead of my signature, but there's no evidence we have an authentication problem and if anyone is suspicious, the clerks can contact me.

So long at the election comes down to a few counties in Ohio, instead of every town in America, we'll be prone to gamesmanship. In a way, my vision of the best outcome at the Presidential level would be for Obama to win Ohio and the Electoral College, while Romney wins the popular vote. THEN and only then might we see some bipartisan moves toward a more democratic (small "d") system.

It might have been helpful for someone reliable on the Internet to do real-time factchecking during the televised debates, with the Truth-o-meter posted in front of the podiums. And pyrotechnics ready for pants-on-fire lying. As it is, Mitt got his points out and looked like a leader compared to the thoughtful Obama, who was obviously unprepared for barefaced lying; it reminds me just a little too much of Reagan's win ... the only difference being that Romney's not in the pay of billionaire tax cheats, he *is* a billionaire tax cheat.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the link I just offered is a bit of a mess.

Read this:

Like I said, don't just say "It's biased, hurf durf!"

As I've said elsewhere, conspiracies are real, they do happen, that's how guys like Stalin end up running countries. There's no magic force field keeping evil power-hungry men out of America; we have them here just like anywhere else. If people try to warn you about genuine evil, labeling them 'conspiracy theorists' merely helps the evil to thrive.

Tony Fisk said...

Internet Voting (read, online voting) decreases inconvenience to the voter. The procedure should be as easy as online shopping. If the procedure is that easy, then how much more engaged would people become?

Or is a half an hour say in the running of a country every four years or so enough for everyone? (At this stage of the electoral cycle, I think I know what the knee-jerk response will be! Think beyond that)

Tacitus said...

The issue with exit polling is that you do not get a complete sample. How many people decline to speak with pollsters and is there an ideological differential between chatters and clams? Unless you have a compelling answer to this question then putting exit polling up as evidence of fraud, either direction, is silly.

I am assuming that conservatives are less likely to talk to pollsters. I sure wouldn't.

And interesting side questions...would the differential be similar in a 50:50 split precinct as in a 90:1? Is there an ethnic factor in refusing to answer? Does gender race or age of the questioner as it correlates to the voter have a difference?

I have tried to peruse the available data, but of course pollsters are rather cagey about their stats. It is said that there was a 2.5% differential favoring the Dem side in Clinton/HW Bush calculations. And Mitofsky who "invented" exit polling indicated his belief that 56 democrats responded for every 50 republicans.

If this is a static percentage you can of course steep and simmer your stats a bit to adjust for it. But is it static?

I think conservative distrust of pollsters is greater now than in times past. Like so many facets of our political system, exit polling is in flux.


rewinn said...

@Tony Fisk - if we voted as often as we shopped, I could see the convenience argument.
But we don't. Few are those who vote more than twice a year, which is not enough to make the costs of figuring out the voting website worth the trouble, compared to traditional paper ballot. If is very difficult to find a more convenient system than mail-in paper ballots.
Now, if the goal is to increase voting, the answer is simple: give a tax break to those who vote. Who could be against cutting taxes?

the hanged man said...

It is so interesting to me that Venezuela has managed to perfect its voting process, yet we do not have the political will to do so also -- of course, it would mean no more stolen elections and, therefore, an honest-to-god democratic electoral process (well, except for the Electoral College, but that is a whole other discussion).

Here is a link to the Carter Center's examination and discussion of the Venezuelan election:

LarryHart said...


The issue with exit polling is that you do not get a complete sample. How many people decline to speak with pollsters and is there an ideological differential between chatters and clams? Unless you have a compelling answer to this question then putting exit polling up as evidence of fraud, either direction, is silly.

If I was saying that one election was suspect because it didn't match exit polling, then you'd have a point.

If, on the other hand, I'm saying that exit polling used to be reliable until electronic voting became a dominant factor, at which point exit polling suddenly became unreliable, then I think I have a point.

To explain this your way, you have to posit that the old non-electronic voting was open to cheating by Democrats which just happened to be matched by an equal bias in exit polling, and now the electronic voting machines prevent Democrats from perpetrating their evil voter fraud.

To explain this my way, all I have to do is note that one thing changed (the electronic voting machines) and that the results of that change seem to be suspicious as compared to the thing that didn't change (exit polling).

Occam's Razor seems to have a liberal bias on this one.

Unknown said...

Perhaps I'll be showing some ignorance here about contemporary SF, but after the Cyberpunk movement it seems as though the genre has been ossified by marketing demands into targeting a slided and diced readership by sex, age group, ethnicity, and just about any other way to divide humanity.

But this has resulted in boring fiction, where stories are trapped, suspended like a bug in amber, forced into repetitions of motifs and surface characterizations that trade harsh realities in the conflict between technology and human moral limits for bland readership comfort in the easily recognizable.

This has happened across all content generation. In music, recent examples would be the absorption by record labels of the punk rock and then hip hop genres. In film one could point to the tremendous burst of independent creativity during the 1970s and contrast that to boring Hollywood today.

I don't think the problem is with the authors. I think it's with the publishers. We need a new distribution model. One that's digital and gives authors complete control over their content, marketing requirements be damned.

But, of course, I say that not as a serious published author. Perhaps those here earning a living at it might hold a different view.

Tony Fisk said...

Heh Randy. May I suggest turning your novel suggestion on its head and proposing that voters *get* taxed? After all, wasn't the rallying cry no representation without taxation?*

*Tumbrels first!

rewinn said...

A Modest Proposal:

Allocate Electoral Votes among the states by the proportion that each contributes, net, to the Federal Treasury.

This is fair; those states who take from the Treasury more than they give are moochers and freeloaders, robbing the John Galtish states that contribute net wealth to the nation. The looters should gladly cede the difficulty of making political decisions to the creators of wealth.

Political TroubleMaker said...

Using my other moniker for a moment. My latest vid, The New McCarthyism, has attracted almost 1500 views, a lot of upvotes, and quite a bit of negative attention from conservative fundamentalists.

<a href="></a>

This is by far my best piece yet. McCarthyism is only my third work, yet I'm really starting to get the hang of using Premiere edit together the pieces of a cogent story. Neutering American Men was an interesting experiment, but from a story-telling standpoint it failed to deliver narrative coherency.

David, you were bemoaning the lack of people in your movement capable of visual storytelling to help explain sousveillance as a concept to a wider audience. Well, to be honest I'm not making these videos strictly for that purpose. But I'll give it a try anyway.

Regarding your comment on exit polls in the United States, exit polling has been the gold standard for fraud detection throughout the world for decades. That it has been maligned and sidelined over the last decade in the United States ought to give everyone who expects free and fair elections in this country great pause.

Political TroubleMaker said...

hyperlink FAIL.

rewinn said...

On the plus side, Virginia officials have decided NOT to prosecute a guy caught throwing away voter registration forms.

The excuse given in the article is that the forms don't seem to list party affiliation, it can't be a partisan act, and if it's not a partisan act, why punish crime?

Some may say that tendency toward one party affiliations or another can be guessed at by various means, e.g. race, address, or just asking the voter when filling out the form. But they're missing the point: if we don't punish crimes that don't have a provable partisan motivation, we'll save a lot of money on prison cells. Downsize government!!!

David Brin said...

I am about to post my big blog: "How Republicans and democrats wage war."

Do try to viral it. Along with my previous one about the deficit.


Hank Roberts said...

Paging Dr. Brin, urgently:
"... researchers heard a nine-year-old whale named NOC make sounds octaves below normal, in clipped bursts.
... a diver at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in California surfaced saying, "Who told me to get out?" ...

This whale made an effort to produce sounds recognizable to humans -- using body parts in ways completely out of the natural range.

This sounds like the effort a human would make to produce sounds recognizable as speech by a Tralfamadorian.

And we call it mimicry?

Ross said...

Judith Berman's essay, published in 2001, has long disappeared from her site. But has it.

Unknown said...

I never mind reading short stories. But if it has something to give (an experience, knowledge, information) then I love to go through it twice or may be thrice.

The Equation Book

Nick said...

Simply put, as technology advances and communication brings us all closer, there is more and more content. Generally speaking I would agree the majority of the content, reflects pop culture, and "Hollywood" which is quite void of intelligence and vision. BUT there certainly is a very strong pulse of said work, you just need to feel around a bit longer to find it.

Can't say my latest work is very cerebral, but I like to think it's better then a lot of the muckety muck out there :)

Calling All Heroes, Sci-Fi serial