Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thoughts of astronomy and space… and a trip report… and the cliff!

One outgrowth of DARPA's 100 year Starship project has been serious attention to certain potential FTL (faster than light) drives that might open access to the galaxy. One that gained a sudden burst of attention (and some slim support from NASA) is described at io9 by George Dvorsky, though it's appeared in SF tales (including my own) for decades. Fascinating, indeed... and also worrisome, in that it would leave only three possible answers to the Fermi Paradox. (1) We're the first. (2) It becomes a terrible weapon that destroys species who use it. (3) it is the means by which fierce, galaxy-wide law is enforced.  Including whatever law now keeps us isolated in silence. Once you get a cheap and easy warp drive, those are just about the only three possibilities that are left.

NASA is apparently thinking seriously about launching astronauts to Earth-moon L2, a spot in space beyond the moon's far side. EML-2 is a so-called libration point where the gravitational pulls of the moon and Earth roughly balance out, allowing spacecraft to essentially park there. Astronauts would ride to EML-2 aboard NASA's Orion capsule, which is being built by Lockheed Martin. Orion would get off the ground atop the Space Launch System (SLS), the agency's huge new deep-space rocket. The launcher's first unmanned test flight is slated for 2017, and NASA hopes the SLS-Orion combo will begin carrying crews by 2021.

Why (Earth-moon) L2? From there, astronauts could teleoperate rovers on the far side with relative ease, helping explore a part of the moon that remains little-studied to date.  But ther's another reason. Though it has many ambitious aspects, setting the stage for Asteroidal and even Mars missions, it will be perched at a point from which it is very easy to get home, should something go wrong.  In fact, it is the farthest you can get from home, and still have an almost-free return ride.

Now the dissenting view:  Is there really any need for this, right now? The Orion and SLS are starting to look like dinosaurs, in an era when Elon Musk's Falcon and Dragon may lead to similar capabilities at far lower cost and several other private space ventures appear on the verge of bearing fruit, as well. When you get right down to it, almost anything humans can do at L2 can be done by robots and the biggest reason to go with humans is to justify the existence of Orion and SLS. Far mor interesting might be to actually start doing something interesting with the International Space Station!  Oh, but that's another story.

Spelunking Rover for the moon? I've met Willaim "Red" Whittaker, who wants to send robots probing lava tubes that we have reason to think may be up there, and that might be potentially great resources to serve as habitats for lunar stations. Serving on NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts advisory board, I helped appraise this cool concept.  The Moon isn't the only astronomical body that is pocked with holes. Pits on Mars, lined up like strung beads above what seem to be lava tubes, promise to reveal details about the planet's inner layers without the need for drilling holes. And underground caves on Mars could shelter ice deposits, or even remnants of life.

== While here on Earth... ==

Out of 13,950 peer-reviewed climate articles over 11 years, 24 rejected global warming. Most of the "papers" claiming to refute human generated climate change are issued by think tanks and not published in the competitive peer-reviewed  journals. Moreover, those think tanks are often politically affiliated and - in many cases - were formerly associated with similar obstruction-denial campaigns that delayed consensus about the disease causing effects of tobacco... or earlier, the smog causing effects of auto pollution.  The chief excuse offered by such folks, when shown the near universal scientific consensus?  That scientists are herd-creatures, timidly following each other and grubbing climate grants. Such apologists have never met scientists, who are the most competitive humans, ever. So what's the next excuse for inaction?

Do you think we in the USA live in times of exceptional danger and division and paranoia?  It ebbs and flows. Periods of reason seem to alternate with wild-eyed plotting and attempted putsches.  Watch this history video about the purported plot on 1934 to persuade Gen. Smedley Butler to lead an effective coup, modeled on Mussilini's black shirts, against the elected government of the U.S.

All political wings have raving lunatics like this.  And yes, they exist on the left, too! But there's a difference.  These guys are inside the Georgia State Legislature.  They are among its leaders. And their kind now chairs the House Science Committee.  The Science Committee.  Of the House of Representatives.  Of the United States of America.

Ah but let's move back from the ridiculous to the sublime.  Inspiring!  Poor kids playing instruments (mostly) made from recycled bits!

== Caribbean sojourn details ==

Though I have posted summaries over the last few weeks, here are some details from our trip. First we flew to Miami to board the Norwegian Cruise Line's flagship, The Pearl, for a 7-day "Not the End of the World" Caribbean cruise (our first cruise ever) featuring speeches and seminars by astronaut Steve Hawley, Mayan expert Inga Calvin, several astronomers including Erica Ellingson and Nick Schneider, Hollywood science-advisor/producers Kevin Grazier and Andre Bormanis, plus a pair of sci fi authors (Rob Sawyer & David) for onboard seminars and great astronomical fun. We marked this event deep within the Yucatan jungle, at Coba, climaxing with 200 skeptics climbing the second-highest Mayan Temple, defying the much ballyhooed completion of the Mayan calendrical b'ak'tun, greeting the winter solstice with the skeptics' incantation -- a headshake and a jocular "naaaaah!"

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd thus we appear to have succeeded at staving off the end of the world. And as Fox tells us, appearances are the same as absolute proof!  So you're welcome.

Oh but the trip wasn't all hard, planet-saving work. Cheryl and I also managed to appreciate the  Pearl, whose gracious chief engineer gave eight of us an exclusive tour of engines, purifiers and other systems. (Cruise ships are marvels: truly test beds for starships, as I depict in one novel.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also danced, tried parasailing and jet-skiing at a tiny Bahamas islet, and then, in Jamaica hiked up the mile-long Dunn's River cascade of waterfalls, went zip-lining and tube river-running. This was followed by more dancing, some eating, met a dolphin or two and then went wreck-snorkeling. Oh and some more eating and using the onboard gym and some more dancing. And eating.  They say you gain a pound a day on a cruise, but Cheryl and I just about broke even. Credit our busy schedule, I guess. Iron tourists!

Rob Sawyer and Carolyn Clink frequently joined us with Andre and Mishe and Kevin and Carrie, at meals featuring talk of ways to get mass media (mostly television and Internet, as film-Hollywood is moribund) back to focusing on cool new ideas and dramas that have content and punch.  Bormanis told us of his work - with Neil deGrasse Tyson -- on the new remake of Carl Sagan's brilliant old show COSMOS.  Sawyer described the rise and fall of Flashback, and Grazier had stories about Battlestar, Eureka, Falling Skies and several new projects in the works.

DSC_0100About a third of the participants were members of the popular online-podcast community Astronomy Cast, a lively bunch who gathered on the fantail many evenings to observe and discuss whatever was up in the sky.  Their hosts, Fraser Cain and Pamela Gay, added zest to daytime astronomical talks.

All told, it was a lovely gathering of science-fans, skeptics, individual thinkers and explorers, seeing things and doing thing they had never done before, expressing faith that the world will go on.

== About the Cliff ==

Finally a prediction good for 24 hours.  The politicians will let us go over the cliff and it won't matter.  They will scurry to pass a stopgap by Wednesday or Thursday . The delay has several roots: (1) After January 2 the bill can be described as a tax cut for the middle class.  A nicer sell than doing it in December and just keeping middle class taxes the same. (2) The rich will see their new, Clinton-era rates reduced by some amount that lets the GOP portray it as a big favor to their patrons.  (3) Speaker Boehner can get himself re-elected by his caucus before having to crack the whip.
In fact, they may wait another week or two, to let the newly elected Congress take over. This will allow: (a) The dems in the Senate to change some of the filibuster rules (I hope) on their first day in session, removing some aspects of gridlock. (b) The GOP margin in the House to shrink down to a range where just 15 moderate Republicans could announce a new "Goldwater-Eisenhower Cauucus" and threaten to break GOP party discipline across-the-board.

If that happened, sure, they'd face Tea Party rebellions in the primaries in their districts.  But moderate Americans could reward it by proclaiming support for any Representative who did this, despite party affiliation! If 15 swing moderate Republicans did this, it would actually give Boehner a face saving way out, letting the new deal pass with nearly all Democratic votes.

This won't work a couple months later, when the dems have their own civil war over cutting entitlements!  But it could buy time.

And now let me wish you all a terrific 2013.  And let's hope when the REAL 21st Century begins (centuries really start on their 14th year) it will be in great and positive directions.


Stefan Jones said...

I'd like to see us "go over the cliff."

It would give the Republicans a face-saving way to raise taxes on the wealth . . . by giving them a modest tax cut from post-"cliff" levels.

It would give Democrats leverage.

And I wouldn't mind a stock market correction now, so I can make some investments during an (artificial, likely brief) trench.

Tacitus said...

Nice travel pix Dave.

From the previous thread (damn working world)...

JRRT mentions in the Appendices that the dwarves had about a 2:1 male to female ratio. If you look very close and very fast, in the scene where the dwarves are fleeing Smaug you can see a handful of female dwarves. Or I suppose Gimlis in drag.

Tolkien mostly synthesized a new world from various bits and bobs of Norse and Germanic lore. But he would on occasion put up an obvious analog of a modern society. Rohan is a pretty blatant America for instance.

Now, if only there were somewhere a modern society obsessed with manufacturing and business. One with a remarkable male to female ratio. Maybe somewhat short statured?

Nah! Never happenin'

who promises to stay on topic henceforth

Anonymous said...

Constructive suggestion...

The climate change debate has extremists on both sides. At one extreme we have a fringe group denying any effect by man on climate. At th other we have those exaggerating catastrophic and imminent disaster. The rational debate is actually over the size of the effects, especially a regards to feedback.

In summary, the real debate has never been between the fringes. It is about the size of the change, especially due to feedback. From here we can have reasonable discussions of pros and cons of various actions based upon the immediate effects and the feedback.

It is either disingenuous or naive to position the debate as between the denialist fringe and everyone else.

Acacia H. said...

Is there a need for remote missions to the other side of the Moon? Yes. We need to use L2 to see how astronauts handle operating telerobotic probes on another body. We'll not be putting boots on an asteroid or on Mars! We may very well hire out Musk's Falcon and Dragon for these operations... and I'd love to be a fly on the wall of Congress when NASA submits THAT idea! Oh the screams will be heard on the other side of the globe on how this is "stealing jobs" and the like. ;) And every poli who screams will be revealed for the tax-and-spend hypocrite they truly are. Oh, and some Democrats will likely be revealed as such as well. ;)

Just canceling Orion and SLS isn't doable, however. While Obama (and to some extent some at NASA!) would love to do this and rely on private industry, having an alternative system in case private industry decides to go for a monopoly in this situation is a good thing. Sure, it may seem a waste of taxpayer dollars... but if you cut Orion and SLS from NASA's budget, that money will not go elsewhere in NASA. It'll be sucked away to other government agencies. If only to punish NASA for killing congressional golden eggs.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

BTW, can I find it amusing that the two nominal conservatives of this discussion group (Tacitus and myself) are more accepting of Jackson's "The Hobbit" than certain other parties? ;) Dr. Brin, I suspect your anti-Middle Earth sentiments have colored your views a bit. Still, I must admit some curiosity: what specific scenes would you excise from the movie to speed things up, and what segments would you condense to lessen lag? (For instance, I for one would cut out the Stone Giant fight. It's not needed. But that's also only two minutes. I counted during the scene to determine the length.)

Oh, and here's a prediction for the SECOND movie. Within the first 30 minutes of the film, Azog will be killed by Beorn. Azog's son, Bolg, will swear vengeance on the dwarves and on Beorn. (I still say that Azog needed to be in the film so that there was a central antagonist for the first film. Azog is H:AUJ's prime antagonist. Smaug is H:DOS's antagonist. And Bolg will be H:TBA's antagonist.)


As for the Fermi Paradox... why is it so hard to believe we may be the first species to leave the constrains of their home planet in the Milky Way Galaxy? I've noted multiple times the multiple reasons why sentients may not leave their planet. You handwave the ideas away, but they still exist.

Oh, and there is of course one other alternative: what if there IS sentient life... but it got the math wrong on FTL travel and is doing things the old fashion (slow-travel) way? We've just not seen any probes reach this world yet.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, Rohan was not America. Say What??? name one common trait? ONE!

Rohan was a mix of Gothic names and traditions (Theoden, Eomer etc) and the then extant notions of the great Aryan migration that scholars supposed to have made Europe what it became

Anonymous, sorry, you don't get away with that. There are lefty flakes but they do not control the vast majority of scientists and moderates and reasonable people who have all along avowed that climate change is a danger worthy of close attention and precautionary measures. The lefty exaggerators exist, and are irrelevant.

ANY attempt to soften or excuse the monstrous denialist movement is rejected hereby and with full force and venom. You guys are in your end game, having retreated from "what warming" to "it's natural" to "Man-caused changes are small" to "the north is warming and the south pole is cooling"...

...and now it is "we NEVER claimed it wasn't happening! We were just asking for better studies while zeroing in on the amount!"

Bah and poppycock. That is precisely the pattern that the right followed when denying and obstructing... then finally admitting that cars caused smog. Or that tobacco caused disease. The pattern is perfect... only this time we will NOT let the denialists and tools of Big Coal forget what they said and did. We have the Internet and their credibility is gone, kaput. They are exposed as having been insane people.


Robert, Elon will not get a monopoly on commercial space, any more than his leadership in electric cars resulted in a monopoly. Indeed, the fear is that Lockheed and Boeing will do to him what GM and Ford did. Say: "Damn the upstart, he is forcing us to modernize. So let's modernize big time and crush him!"

If Elon succeeds then you can count on Lockheed and Boeing suddenly discovering how to be efficient. Like magic!


Robert, the Stone Giant thing was okay, I guess. Pure fantasm and it makes you wonder why Gandalf doesn't negotiate with one of them to smash Barad dur... or why the trolls in LOTR are immune to sunlight. I found most of the Rivendell scene to be bloated, as was the fight across the catwalks in the Goblin City and the long chase by the wargs. The Troll scene could have been half as long. Even the scenes with Gollum were stretched interminably. And WAY too much Radagast!

And no the reasons do not "exist"... Sorry Robert, but you are the one handwaving re SETI. We might be the first, but any long list of reasons that others would not travel (and I have listed many of my own, like pyramid shaped societies) does not work statistically, when ONE exception could fill a whole galaxy. Those excuses can winnow the numbers down. They are not obligate exclusions.

Tacitus said...

Two free peoples, one with an older lineage one newer. The newer nation crossing long distances several times to save the older in time of war.

JRRT was a young man, and once again a mature one, when Britain was anxiously waiting for the equivalent of the Riders of Rohan to come over the horizon in darkest hour.

Of course he also despised allegory and would say I am full of nonsense.


Tony Fisk said...

The Rohan cavalry, arriving in the nick of time...
Never thought of casting LOTR as a Western!
But why not?

Am intrigued to see what part Radagast plays. He is never met in the books, and is referred to, in passing, about twice.

For that matter, why not bring in Tom Bombadil? Is it because he's regarded as a mix of Wesley Crusher and Jar Jar Binks?)

David Brin said...

Tolkien... despised... allegory? Um?

But I get the point.

Jumper said...

North Carolina's Republican legislature has made it ILLEGAL to spend state money on studying the effects of seal level rise - which is actually going to be the highest on the east coast, according to newly compiled gravitometric data. I would challenge our anonymous to name anything on the moonbat side corresponding to this madness.

A thought on the Fermi paradox: if one civilization discovers another, perhaps they simply stop looking for another. There could be many reasons for that, some are not good; the others not so bad: the new place is so fascinating it takes 100% effort for millenia to comprehend and exploit.

Tacitus said...

From the forward to LOTR

"Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence."

This follows a passage where he specifically said LOTR was not a retelling of "the real war".

David, I thought you better versed in such matters...


Ian said...

What would you say to an intelligent octopus?

(Other than "Sorry about the whole calamari thing.")

Maybe the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that CETI just isn't worth the hassle.

Jonathan S. said...

Perhaps there's no interstellar "noise" worth mentioning because even for civilizations interested in communicating remotely with their neighbors, radio waves are simply too inefficient, and by sheer chance nobody's pointed a maser in our direction yet.

Perhaps they haven't been here because we're just not that interesting.

And then again, perhaps we are, if not the first, at least one of the Elder Races, much like the setup in Star Trek. And if this is the case, will we have the wisdom to invoke the Prime Directive when we find a pre-spaceflight culture?

Paul451 said...

Rob H.
"We need to use L2 to see how astronauts handle operating telerobotic probes on another body."

Not really. You can already do this by having ISS astronauts control "rovers" on Earth. Even for lunar rovers, the Earth-moon lag is short enough for direct teleoperation. Far side rovers just need a relay satellite in L2, not an entire manned space station. So if the moon really was a scientific priority, we can already do it, and it would cost vastly less than any manned program. (And I'd love to see a COTS-style program to do exactly that. Hell, at least co-sponsor GLXP, that's only $30m.)

Proposing teleoperated rovers on the lunar farside from an L2 station is just a post-hoc justification for a manned program which otherwise has no purpose other than "we need to be doing something, this is something." SLS receives similar justification, of all the things we can do with a Really Big Rocket; particularly ironic when SLS actually prevents any of those suggested uses by making them too expensive.

Re: Political hypocrisy over SpaceX.

Republicans have long been blatantly attacking COTS/CCDev/SpaceX on behalf of their sponsors, typically much worse than Democrats. And people have repeatedly called them on the hypocrisy of favouring Big Government over cheaper alternatives. And.... they keep doing it.

One of the current favourite lobbying tactics is to condemn "outsourcing and offshoring America's [capability/expertise/funding/etc]", ie, to always put NewSpace in the same category as being dependent on Russia for manned launches. To pretend that encouraging a domestic private manned launch capacity amongst multiple independent American companies is the same insult to American sovereignty as being reliant on the Russians.

[The other favourite is to claim that SpaceX is only cheap because they've "taken out" safety measures. Ignoring the other possibility that SpaceX never "put in" the bloat of NASA's primary contractors. Musk has claimed that every time they have to deal with a supplier outside of SpaceX, it immediately blows out the cost/schedule for that item. The status quo at NASA (and DoD) is to favour bids that outsource (heh) as much of the work to thousands of sub-contractors around the country... Exactly what SpaceX finds too expensive and avoids. Personally, I think NASA (and the US) would be greatly served by gradually pulling all development work in-house. If you can buy something entirely off the shelf, do so. If you can't, develop it entirely in-house. Eliminate traditional contracting entirely.]

Paul451 said...

Re: Fermi.

Rob H.
"why is it so hard to believe we may be the first species to leave the constrains of their home planet in the Milky Way Galaxy?"

That doesn't solve the paradox, it just rephrases it.

"effects of seal level rise"

No doubt a constant concern of Ian's octopus civilisation.

"if one civilization discovers another, perhaps they simply stop looking for another."

How does it apply to every possible civilisation?

"the new place is so fascinating it takes 100% effort for millenia to comprehend and exploit."

But there's been a lot of millennia so far, millions of them. That provides room for a lot of full comprehension/exploitation.

Jonathon S,
Re: Fermi. "They haven't pointed a maser at us."

However, as long as the numbers of civilisations is high enough (*), there will be occasional pairs of civilisations close enough to accidentally attract each other's attention. Once they have detected one civilisation, common sense says to look for more. Over time, sans Berserkers, you not only build up a more and more chatty network, but one more and more interested in detecting new civilisations and recruiting them as new members. Particularly amongst younger races who have yet to score a "first contact". Which means, IMO, every civilisation around us would have been spraying us with the highest powered direct signals they can afford the moment they detected industrial pollution in our atmosphere, hoping for us to be a radio-user, begging us to invent radio astronomy. Since they aren't...

(* if the number of civilisations isn't high enough, then explaining that is the paradox. It doesn't matter why the 9 civilisations in the galaxy don't talk to each other, or haven't expanded; what matters is why there's only 9.)

Re: What if we're the first, an elder race.
That still doesn't explain the paradox. What has prevented civilisations from developing over the previous however many billion years since metallicity first allowed life in the galaxy.

Acacia H. said...

Easy. The first batch of stars out there were hydrogen/helium/lithium stars. There was so little other matter out there that planets could not form. The second wave of stars that formed once the first super-stars started to nova were the ones with a larger selection of matter... but still had a decided scarcity of iron and other heavy metals. It's only stars of Sol's generation that we find planets with the heavy metals needed for industry to thrive. And we even have a stellar neighbor that is LOW-metal.

Imagine for a minute that you have civilizations arise on those metal-poor worlds. If they cannot access their metals or their metals are so scarce that they do everything with biological technology instead, then they're kind of stuck on their planet. They may not even develop societies that would try to communicate with the stars... because they lack the materials to build radio telescopes and transmitters.

We could in time find several ancient civilizations out there... confined to one world each which they never were able to escape from due to a decided lack of metals. It's the current generation of stars where you'll find life that can expand into the galaxy itself.

So. Add in another factor: does the planet have the material resources needed for a technological civilization? If not... then it doesn't matter how intelligent that species is. They're trapped. Just as they're trapped if their gravwell is a bit heavier than Earth's (say if their planet is three times our mass or more).

So. You want a planet not too small. Not too large. With the right amounts of metals for civilizations to thrive upon... but not TOO much so that they never seek to expand. Its star needs to not be too large (lest it die before life develops intelligence - no point in gaining sentience only for their star to supernova on them), nor too small... and not in an inhospitable portion of the galaxy. And it needs to either be a star that has more metals, or be a planet formed with sufficient metals that was then captured and had its orbit stabilized within the lifebearing orbit range.

You know, it could very well be that with a big galaxy (and it is a fairly good-sized galaxy) and the required conditions for a spacefaring civilization... that we just happen to be in an area that hasn't yet been expanded into. Or even that we're the First. And there is no shame in that.

Rob H., calling in the New Year with a continued beating of an old horse ^^;;

Paul451 said...

Rob H.
When astronomers talk about "metal" they don't mean metal. Their universe consists of hydrogen, helium and "metals". "Low metal" life can't exist because carbon and oxygen are "metals". Silicon is a "metal" and, this one will shock you, so is iron, so a low-metal planet wouldn't exist either.

But more than that, the sun is not a particularly old example of its type. Astronomers/solar-physicists know what will happen as the sun ages by looking at examples of sun-like stars billions of years older. Hell, even Alpha Century system could be a full billion years older than the solar system (it also has a higher metallicity.) The sun's iron/hydrogen ratio is right in the middle of the peak of the distribution of for PopI stars: perfectly average.

"say if their planet is three times our mass"

Why? There are over 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, and it looks like most stars have planets. Current low-ball estimates are around a trillion planets. We are not going to be short of planets with Earthlike properties, even if it's a one-in-a-million case that's still a million Earths.

So why assume an extreme case?

[Also, that's only 20% higher surface gravity, if their planet has the same density as Earth (which is a dense planet). If they have a slightly lower density planet (like Mars/Venus/Mercury) then their surface gravity will be about the same as Earth. Any heavier than 3x and you're not talking about terrestrial planets any more. So habitable planets are going to have a surface gravity roughly the same as Earth's, the "trapped" scenario can't happen (except culturally).]

Paul451 said...

"Silicon is a "metal" and, this one will shock you, so is iron, so a low-metal planet wouldn't exist either."

Oops, I meant "terrestrial planet", referring to the "trapped civilisation" scenario. A low metal hydrogen gas giant could still exist.

Ian said...

As I've pointed out before, the most common type of planet we've found so far by a big measure is Hot Jupiters.

if that isn't just an artifact of our limited detection technology, then there are several specific problems in developing technology and space travel.

Vacuums are going to be damn hard to make which will retard chemistry and probably make vacuum tube technology impractical.

Cryogenic technology will be lot more difficult too.

Then assuming you get to the point where you're ready to launch a space ship you have the added difficulty of lifting a vessel capable of containing, say 10 or 20 Bars of pressure along with a heating system capable of keeping the ship at a constant toasty 500 or 600 degrees Kelvin,

Paul451 said...

"the most common type of planet we've found so far by a big measure is Hot Jupiters. If that isn't just an artifact of our limited detection technology,"

It is. High mass, short orbital period. Easiest signal to spot.

If it took 5 orbits to confirm a large planet, 10 to confirm a small one, then Earth would take ten years to confirm and Jupiter would take 25 years. A hot Jupiter, a couple of months. Even if they were a hundred times rarer, all you'll get at first is hot Jupiters.

The longer we look, and the more planets we find, the more "normal" the distribution is getting. It doesn't make hot Jupiters any less weird, but at least they aren't "normal".

[For the rest, I doubt that hot Jupiters will have life, let alone civilisations.]

locumranch said...

Consider for the moment that the human inclination toward curiosity for curiosity's sake, coupled with the self-loathing desire to escape the planetary-based bounds (bonds?) of our own mortality, shows that humans are inherently irrational and intellectually immature.

A less flattering solution to the Fermi Paradox would then follow:

Why would any other species, assuming that they possessed compatible technology (a BIG assumption) and the same desire to escape their fate (an even bigger assumption), desire to talk to an unstable species when it can only offer them cultural and emotional instability?

The Climate Change (or Fiscal Cliff) "debate", with its bipartisan hyperbole devoid of practical solution, is merely the most recent symptom of our inherent irrationality.

We destroy ourselves with the very technology that could save us because, deep down, we do not want to be saved.

Our technology is like our collective psyche: It is deeply and (possibly) irredeemably flawed.


David Brin said...

appy 2013 all! Later in the year I will scare you with my reminded (spoken elsewhere) that each of the last several centuries actually "started" on its 14th year. A thought that came to mind when Cheryl & I dined in one of the 7 restaurants aboard the Norwegian Pearl... the "Summer Palace"... which was Russian themed with double-headed eagles and huge portraits of Czar Nicholas and his doomed family on every wall.

Agh! One of the great, cerifiable morons of the last 100 years, who helped turn great hopes into agony in a hellish half century of ruin, staring down as we ate! (Poor Anastasia.)

It reminds me of how, in a fun Freudian Slip, I wrote to some fans that they'd find stimulating my book STAR WARS ON TRIAL...only I somehow typed instead TSAR WARS...

David Brin said...

Locumranch you miss the point. An advanced race would DEPUTIZE sub-selves, servants, envoys, agents to take care of relations with the universe, even if they dived into virtual reality. The universe is still important, so it knowledge. We send envoys (entymologists?) to study ants even if ants are not interesting to 99.999% of humanity.

Tony Fisk said...

Tsar Wars sounds like a classic eggcorn to me!

Envoymologists = Speaker to Animals

Tony Fisk said...

In the current atmosphere of over the cliff edge nuttery, someone unearthed this classic quote:

"I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin..." — John Adams.

Ian said...

Tsar Wars is actually th tittle of one of the Nikolai Dante graphic novels.

Initially seralized in 2000 AD, Nikolai Dante follows tje adventures of a Flashmanesque rogue in a Russian-dominated future.

locumranch said...

An advanced race would DEPUTIZE sub-selves, servants, envoys, agents to take care of relations with the universe ...

That's an uplifting assumption: Why do you consider the need to "proselytize" an advanced trait?

History shows us that proselytizating cultures are also weak and insecure. They force their limited worldview upon others out of deep-rooted feelings of inferiority.

Do you think the aboriginal, indigenous or autochthonous peoples of ANY WORLD deserve to be enslaved, subjugated or 'rescued' by their culturally or technologically superior counterparts "for their own good" ?

"Thank You, Alien Master. We is ever so grateful . We's love these enlightened chains you placed on us. We's just love living under your technological thumb, worshiping your superior god and picking your superior cotton. You has saved us from them there evils of maturity, responsibility and autonomy. Glory, glory, glory."

Or, how about "Envoymologists = Speaker for the Dead".


Ian said...

David, we observe ant, we don;t seek to engage them in dialog.

When we do seek to engage apes in dialog, we remove them from their native environment first.

Then too, if they're limited to sublight expansion, an alien species is likely to diverge relatively rapidly into a clade or related but divergent cultures and, eventually, species.

Maybe speaking to those distant kin is more rewarding than talking to aliens.

Tony Fisk said...

We'd still observe aliens, even if we didn't speak to them.

With a sample of one, it's impossible to know, but my current favoured notion is that we passed one great filter (invention of sex) a billion years ago. Evidence: it took a couple of billion years for single celled life to figure it out ( place Tantric jokes here)

David Brin said...

locumranch and Ian, I have not a single clue why you two took those bizarre interpretations of what I said. I simply stated the obvious. That advanced races would be able to be "interested" in all sorts of things that are otherwise beneath their level, simply by deputizing sub-agents. They WOULD do this because the real universe is a source of surprise and potential danger.

Jonathan S. said...

Then again, perhaps "intelligence" isn't all that great a trait for a species' survival - Turing knows we've come close to extinction-level events caused by our own inventions, and may well face what the SCP Foundation refers to as a GK-Class environmental disaster in our future if we're not careful (but at least we've avoided SK-Class events like nuclear war, so far...). Maybe there are only, say, nine Great Civilizations because the others never got around to achieving sapience. ("The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.")

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim Whitworth said...

4: There are no habitable worlds and this blocks expansion for the long term.
5: technological civilisations are not long term.
6: something else prevents contact, like disease intercompatibility.

Anonymous said...


You are projecting your disdain for climate denialist fringe upon me. There are indeed idiotic fringe elements on both side. One fringe denied that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the other side Reframed the debate around twenty foot sea changes (remember Gore's book). The rational debate is between these extremes and always has.


Tim H. said...

Don't see interstellar exploration happening before we master off-planet habitation and industry. Our species may be unable to adapt to long-term microgravity environments, we may never work out radiation shielding without massive weight, or adequate power sources for the long night. If we, or someone else does, a galactic civilization may be inevitable, but unlikely to have much to do with terrestrial dirt.

Tim H. said...

Anonymous, it's been said "There ain't nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos" and in the climate debate it's particularly true. Only friends and enemies, no shades of gray need apply. But whatever our descendants do for energy in the next century will occur in that grey space.

rewinn said...

Don't see interstellar exploration happening before we master on-planet habitation and industry. We're coasting by on the inherent human-friendliness of Earth's environment, but can't keep fouling our nest forever. It's a solvable problem, of course. But ... barring a discovery of a miracle stardrive ... significant amounts of interstellar travel (more than the occasional robot probe) requires a heck of a lot of resources, which have to come from somewhere.

Now maybe the answer to industry is to move it off planet, but barring miracle technology, that'll require a huge capital investment. Why wouldn't it be more efficient simply to make earthbound industry less of a problem for habitation?

rewinn said...

Perhaps "advanced races" simply want someone to talk to. A love of learning (whether motivated by actual delight in acquiring knowledge, fear of ignorance, or some emotion for which we human lack the biology) would seem to be pretty important for developing technology sufficient to communicate between stars.

Even civilizations sunk into virtual reality may have motivation. After enough time playing chess with the same people, the game becomes less interesting because it's predictable. Perhaps a group of Sagitarrian World Of Warcraft fans want to recruit Earth's octopusses simply because of the difficulty in figuring out their game strategies.

Tim H. said...

The energy and materials are out there, the energy would be useful here, but why loft anything out of this gravity field if we can build out there? If a human culture worked out how to live out there, what use would they ever have for a dirt ball? And once away of living has been devised for an Oort body, comets in an adjacent stellar system would be a reasonable target, for people by then generations removed from living on a terrestrial planet, with little interest in doing so. If one can make a living without an earth-like planet, a lot more systems become available, and little reason to worry about alien microfauna. Presupposing that humans can live off-planet indefinitely.

gregory byshenk said...

Some comments on souveillance from Steve Mann via the IEEE:

"Steve Mann: I think the potential for abuse in a surveillance-only society is immense. Surveillance is putting cameras on property, like land or buildings. It comes from a French word meaning “oversight.” However, by putting cameras on people, we can have what I call “sousveillance,” or undersight. Sousveillance is distributed. Surveillance cameras are not going to go away, but sousveillance gives us a new way of collecting data. We’ll be discussing the relationship between surveillance and sousveillance at the upcoming 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in June.

IEEE Spectrum: You’ve also been sounding the alarm about McVeillance, one-sided surveillance by powerful corporate entities that simultaneously forbid people from using their own cameras. Does Google Glass (and similar products) have the potential to counterbalance this?

Steve Mann: I think so. Suppose that you invite me over to your house, and you say, “I am going to keep a recording of everything you do.” That’s called surveillance. And you also forbid me from having a camera myself. But if I am wearing my glass, I also have a way to collect data. We can have veillance from all different directions."

David Brin said...

Roger, sorry, you are utterly conflating two things. (1) the fact that left and right both CONTAIN exaggerators and even sometimes liars. vs...

(2) the fact that the right is utterly controlled and in all ways disciplined and operated by its exaggerators and outright liars.

Your effort to claim both sides are equally responsible for the present mess of vicious incapacity to negotiate is disingenuous and utterly misleading. One side contains a few exaggerators... plus ALL of the planetary, climatology, meteorological and other sciences who actually use the actual equations in actual models applying actual data: modeling climates of EIGHT PLANETS and transforming our old 4 hour weather reports into ten day forecasts.

If I projected you as being a person of the right, it is because you do what folks on that side do. You assume that the crazy wing represents all of the people on the other side. It does not. That phenomenon is restricted to the right. And I pray for the day when Goldwater-Eisenhower adults decide to stand up and retake their movement from out and out lunatics who have harmed our children.

Google the following "TWODA Things We Ought To Be Doing Anyway." WHen you can explain to me why the GOP whines "we need more data" and then cut every climate science program and eliminated the satellites... then come back and tell me both sides are at fault.

Acacia H. said...

Sadly, Dr. Brin, that won't happen. At least, not while the current primary system exists. You see, the current primary system encourages radicals on both sides to be elected to the general election because it's the hard left and hard right who are most likely to vote. Fortunately, the CANDIDATES among Democrats who show up and get financing are still fairly reasonable... but you still get the nutcases in there among them.

Sadly, the Right finances its nutjobs and they become their politicians. And as my father pointed out, they won't get voted out because voters don't have the ability to take a chance with the other party's candidate these days. Thus we're stuck with the Tea Party "let the country burn" fanatics in the House, while the Senate is slowly becoming polarized as well.

Sadly, Barack Obama is to blame for this. It was a wonderful thing for this country to elect him... but it radicalized voters among the Republican Party, fed by the vitriol of Far Right Media types seeking to maximize personal profits through a diet of taking offense. After eight years of Obama, the Republican Party will be permanently poisoned. It will not be salvageable. Our one hope is that enough moderate Republicans will flee the party and it will become a permanent minority party... which slowly becomes smaller and smaller as the last ostrich Republicans leave and the older Republicans start to die off. Of course, Obama is just the catalyst of this change which was slowly happening anyway. His presence may ultimately reduce the harm the radical Republicans will cause to the nation by concentrating the nutjob aspect so it became visible fast enough for people to notice and go "this isn't for me."

In 20 years it will be small enough that we'll see a viable Center-Right party emerge (or a Center-Left group leave the Democrats).

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, ending gerrymandering would help. But I think the biggest solution would be for the dems nationwide to say "join the party OF your district."

When all of a districts dems join the local GOP... or vice versa) the primary will simply be the election.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Guys

How stuck are you with your "Primaries"?

Nobody else seems to use that system


Everywhere else seems to have increased numbers of independents as you move down towards a local level - but not the USA -

Sometimes I think the US system is set up with so many elective offices deliberately to make the population sick of democracy

Like giving a kid so much chocolate that he becomes sick of it

Tony Fisk said...

Too much democracy? Let's get rid of the onus to vote, then! (so says a Queensland white paper. Gillard isn't having a bar of it, saying it would 'make our democracy the plaything of cashed-up interest groups'! I'm inclined to agree with her)

locumranch said...

Problem is democracy is not necessarily rational. Neither is "engagement" nor proselytization.

A rational democracy requires a homogeneous populace with similar values and/or goals; social engagement, whether or not it occurs between equals, inferiors or alien superiors, also requires shared interests and/or common goals; and proselytization (the act of "winning over" or converting allies) also makes the same assumptions in regards to commonality.

So the problem remains the same -- Finding Commonality -- whether or not we're talking about Right & Left Politics, Climate Change controversy or Alien Uplift.

We like to assume commonality exists, if not on earth then among the stars, but this assumption shares just as much with rationality as it does with wishful thinking.

The interests of the US political right & left diverge at a basic level, as do the interests of the first & third worlds, gun owners & gun victims, meat eaters & vegetarians, geeks & jocks, leaders & followers, aggressors & apologists, industry & conservation, etc. That's why we disagree as often as not.

And, even though we agree & disagree in roughly equal amounts, we're all pretty much genetically identical "peas in a pod" when compared to any conceivable technologically advanced alien race.

Why do we then assume that we will find easy commonality with an advanced alien race? Only because it makes a better bedtime story.

More likely, humans and aliens will have little in common and nothing to say to each other. We will stand in our respective corners at the interstellar party and try very hard to ignore each other. Some will try to bridge this gap only to be rebuffed like an unattractive male at a preteen Sadie Hawkins dance.

To put it another way, the Fermi Paradox has it backwards:

High probability estimates regarding the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations do not correlate with commonality, shared interests and/or a desire to engage.


Tacitus said...

No doubt David is getting ready to flit on to a new topic, but what the heck.

I think you can stop worrying about the GOP. At this time they are divided between a small group whose principles you do not care for and a larger group who apparently lack principles.

The first group is actually useful to our body politic. History is replete with despots whose behaviour was modified for the better by having to come to a parliament, or assembly, or congress looking for money. This is a useful function of representative government, and if you believe polls (meh) most Americans want spending controlled.

But for better or worse we get the government we deserve, and any nation that rejects Paul Ryan has little to gripe about when the bills really come due. As they will.

We now are approaching a one party state with an affiliated Ministry of Information.

Dissent will still occur, but any serious rivals will be painted as greedy/crazy/dumb.

Sadly, when our debt crisis can't be papered over any longer it will be exactly the most fervant supporters of the Party who will be hit the hardest. The young who will foot the bills for us. The poor who suffer the most from a Grecian economy, the minorities who bear the brunt of a failing public educational system.

Oh, also blue debtor states but for them I have less sympathy than I do for the above.

In the end it could be like the Breznev USSR, with decay and collapse. And of course from that wreckage you will see the nomenklatura slither back in as a batch of real oligarchs.

(who can also find a few positive things...not enough to avert the crash but enough to ease the recovery)

Ian said...

"The first group is actually useful to our body politic. History is replete with despots whose behaviour was modified for the better by having to come to a parliament, or assembly, or congress looking for money."

I admit I too find hope in the number of House Republicans willing to vote for the tx deal. (I assume that's what you're referring to.)

With luck, the next four years will seem a series of similar bipartisan deals.

Tacitus said...

Is anyone, of any stripe actually claiming that this tax increase will have a significant effect on the deficit? To say nothing of the hideous off the books promises that are out there in other forms (pension and future health costs for instance).

Sure, lets all take comfort in republicans who bow to political reality in this matter.

Now, how much will the democrats bend on entitlement reform? Show me that and I will be a bit more optimistic.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, it is too soon for gloom. I am wagering that Obama actually wants to modify entitlements, but wants to blame it on the GOP. (They deserve it, in any event.) He will use the debt limit showdown as an excuse to both give in for Social Security and Medicare changes...

... and to demand further limits on deductions that will raise revenue further from those who can afford it. Without actually raising rates.

I favor BOTH and if both happen then John Mauldin will prove right and the red ink will start to decline... and even more as the economy recovers. And even more if we DON'T skimp on R&D and resume our tradition of innovation.

Too optimistic? We'll see. My bet. McConnel said "I'll piss off my right this time. Next time you piss off the left." We'll see if Obama will stand by it.

Paul451 said...

Re: Tony's comment about compulsory voting.
Compulsory voting favours the centre-left, voluntary voting favours the right and particularly the fringe right. So the local conservative parties tend to float the idea of ending it whenever they want to distract a an already weak centre-left government. (Fortunately they tend to drop the idea once in power. But Queensland was notoriously corrupt for decades.)

Re: Paul Ryan
You seem to still have the idea that Ryan is a "grown up", economically speaking. He isn't. His economic plans have always been hand waving "cuts to spending to be named later" and wishful thinking revenue "growth" due to tax cuts. Voting against anything to do with Paul Ryan is not a rejection of responsible budgets, it's a rejection of voodoo economics and the jackasses who have ruined the US economy, jackasses like Ryan.

Paul451 said...

"Is anyone, of any stripe actually claiming that this tax increase will have a significant effect on the deficit?"

If you look at changes in wealth distribution over the last thirty year, the share of wealth has drifted steadily upwards. Likewise, the distribution of GDP growth has flatlined or fallen for increasing percentages of Americans. (That is, fewer and fewer, wealthier and wealthier people actually benefit from increases in GDP. It's not even the "1%" any more. Income for the bottom .99% of the top 1% has been relatively flat. Only the top 1% of the top 1% are now increasing their wealth.

So if you move your tax base "down hill", as you have done over the last 30 years (for eg, payroll tax is now a much larger share of Federal revenue, while corporate tax makes up a smaller and smaller share, while wages are stagnant) you are trying to tax a declining part of American wealth. You are trying to get blood from a stone.

"To say nothing of the hideous off the books promises that are out there in other forms (pension and future health costs for instance)."

Except that the US pension system is self-funded and $2.5+ Trillion in the black. People who piss and moan about "the deficit" and then immediately talk about social security are just lying to you. Not "holding a different opinion" nor "having a different philosophy", just bald-faced lying. They are not your friends. And they are not friends of your country.

As for Medicare, costs would be reduced if the Republicans would allow it to negotiate with suppliers like every other medical fund, and every equivalent program in the world.

"how much will the democrats bend on entitlement reform? Show me that and I will be a bit more optimistic."

"Entitlements" are not the cause of the US budget (or debt) problems. They are an excuse and a distraction, to avoid doing things that would tackle the growing economic inequality in the US. "Kick down, kiss up" as they say in the Army. If you see the Democrats cave, and you will see the Dems cave, it doesn't mean "sanity prevailed", it means the madness has won, and you country continues its long decline.

As for David's comment about Obama wanting to blame "entitlement" cuts on Republicans, it's the opposite. Republicans have already started using Obama's tendency to give-in (even when the other side isn't actually negotiating) to further justify stripping Medicare and raiding the pension trust. "You can't blame us, even Obama supports entitlement cuts."

Ian said...

"Is anyone, of any stripe actually claiming that this tax increase will have a significant effect on the deficit? "

I am.

As I've explained before, it isn't necessary that the US achieve a budget surplus, simply that the deficit as a percentage of GDP be reduced to below 3% - equivalent to the long-term average real growth rate.

That's the point at which the national debt as a percentage of GDP starts declining.

That requires a reduction in the deficit of around 50% - from circa. $1 trillion to ca. $500 billion.

Most of that will come from the so-called automatic stabilizers - as the economy grows tax revenue will rise and welfare payments will decline.

So the actual amount of deficit reduction required is around $200 billion a year- so yes the projected $60-65 billion a year in increased revenue is a significant contributor.

Ian said...

"Except that the US pension system is self-funded and $2.5+ Trillion in the black. People who piss and moan about "the deficit" and then immediately talk about social security are just lying to you. Not "holding a different opinion" nor "having a different philosophy", just bald-faced lying. They are not your friends. And they are not friends of your country.'

Not exactly, the Social Security system is now receiving less money in contributions than it pays out in benefits (largely because people are living longer).

Social Security is now recouping the money previously loaned to the US government - and those repayments are treated as part of the annual deficit.

Ian said...

There's also no need for entitlement reform to screw the poor - for starters you could raise the maximum amount of income subject to payroll tax and then index the maximum level to inflation or to real wage growth.

Ian said...

A final gripe about budget deficits - any public company that drew up its accounts on the same basis as the average national governmennt, the board of directors would go to prison.

Despite some reforms, national budgets are drawn up on the basis of a hopelessly primitive and wildly inaccurate basis.

For example: the deficit is the different between cash receipts and cash outlays - which is not even close to the accounting definition of profit as most people seem to assume.

For starters,the US (for example) has a staggeringly large asset base - ranging from real estate and buildings to military assets to revenue streams from sources such as mineral royalties, changes either positive or negative in that asset basis are not included in the deficit for the most part.

i mentioned payments from the budget to the social Security trust account earlier, only in public sector accounts can repayment of a debt be treated as a current cost.

On those rare occasions when non-cash assets and liabilities are mentioned it's in wildly misleading terms - like "$100 trillion in future liabilities!" - without any mention of the fact that those liabilities are going to come due over a period of around 50 years and that most of them will be met from future revenue. (I.E. future claims for Social Security benefits are reported as part of that $100 trillion without making allowance for future Social Security contributions.)

Paul451 said...

"(largely because people are living longer)."

Longer life-expectancy was built into the system.

"Social Security is now recouping the money previously loaned to the US government"

I was under the impression that the trust was meeting it's commitments from current revenue and interest payments due on existing Treasuries. I didn't think they had actually needed reduced the value of bonds owned yet.

"There's also no need for entitlement reform to screw the poor - for starters you could raise the maximum amount of income subject to payroll tax"

Except the people who talk the loudest about "entitlements" are not going to allow an increase in the upper cap. For the same reason they don't allow Medicare to negotiate prices. Actually making the system work better is not the aim.

"any public company that drew up its accounts on the same basis as the average national governmennt, the board of directors would go to prison."

You say that, but how many companies have raided their employee pension fund. What must those guys think when they see a $2.5 Trillion fund just sitting there?

"national budgets are drawn up on the basis of a hopelessly primitive and wildly inaccurate basis."

Howard (well, Costello) switched to accrual accounting immediately after winning government. And from memory it lasted about a year before they switched back. I laughed.

(ommizre: Food cooked in the Omnian style.)

Ian said...

Well, this would certainly make a manned mission to the L2 region a lot more interesting:

"Researchers with the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California have confirmed that NASA is mulling over their plan to build a robotic spacecraft to grab a small asteroid and place it in high lunar orbit. The mission would cost about $2.6 billion – slightly more than NASA's Curiosity Mars rover – and could be completed by the 2020s.

For now, NASA's only official plans for human spaceflight involve sending a crewed capsule, called Orion, around the moon. The Obama administration has said it also wants to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid. One proposed target, chosen because of its scientific value and favourable launch windows for a rendezvous, is a space rock called 1999 AO10. The mission would take about half a year, exposing astronauts to long-term radiation beyond Earth's protective magnetic field and taking them beyond the reach of any possible rescue."

Ian said...


So far as I know, Australian governments still do accrual accounting in parallel with the more familiar cash accounting, peopel just ignore the data.

his is unfortunate since it allows frauds like the Newman "audit" to get through.

Ian said...

Paul, looks like you're right about trust fund interest more than covering the shortfall.

The Federal government paid money into the trust fund in 2011 and 2012 but that was to make up for the temporary cut in the payroll tax.

Tacitus said...

Reasons for optimism

-people are not entirely stupid. household credit card debt has been paid down significantly
-drilling sideways and fracking appears to make Saudi Arabia just a bunch of losers in robes. Good thing too, our automobile oriented society would be crippled by European gas prices.
-there is considerable, albeit not universal, fiscal sense at the state level.

But to also look globally at the negative side of things. Add on:

-student loan indebtedness...a huge drag on the segment who should be up and coming.
-when speaking of pension issues I was actually thinking of the shameful underfunding of public pensions and future health care costs. Like student loans you can get out from this...note Calpers suing bankrupt San Bernadino for a harbinger of the future.
-there will always be the unexpected extra costs. not just climate change related stuff, big storms, the next unexpected influenza mutation (bad juju this year btw), etc. We are fighting with no reserves.

I myself am in pretty good shape, being both frugal and in a job description that our current health care fun house can't manage without.

The rest of you....I'm sorry.

(who won't touch Illinois municipal bonds with a ten foot stick)

Tacitus said...

Well, its not as if the tax collectors have never done anything

Useful for America

Off to sleep now.


Tim H. said...

Something a bit more cheerful:
Random chain of kindness at Tim Horton's
A customer paid for the order of the car behind him, and the next 227 customers did likewise. Such comparatively small things make the world "Suck less".

Enigma said...

There may actually be a reason why FTL (or the warp metric) is so rare:

The math reveals that the bubble catches particles as it accelerates; these particles in space energize until the bubble stops, at which point all that energy is released in the direction the craft is pointing. Like a giant gamma ray laser, the burst very likely fries whatever it's pointing at. There's also no upper limit on the energy. So perhaps ET fried themselves on accident in a giant gamma ray laser?

Also, I read somewhere, but I can't remember where, that the upper limit was cx5, so a star 10 light years away is still a 2 year round trip, while a star 50 light years away is a 10 year round trip, one 100 light years away is a 40 year round trip, and one 250,000 light years away is a 100,000 year trip...

rewinn said...

"....not while the current primary system exists..."

1. This calls to mind an anecdote in Michael Moore's latest book "Here Comes Trouble". He won his first electoral campaign because the opposition was so enraged at the very idea of a high school kid running for school board that they fielded SIX CANDIDATES against him. Boy, that sure taught him a lesson! The conventional candidates split the vote, making MM the youngest elected official in the country. It's well worth reading!

2. Our presidential primary system is the result of our strong-president system; parliamentary democracies don't have one because they don't need one.

3. For a way forward, let me point once again at the success of the Top-Top Primary system. Here in Washington State, our governor's race was between two sane, rational, non-extreme candidate. While I definitely preferred one of them on the issues, but the other would have been o.k. as an elected official because he seemed pragmatic (had he won, he could plausibly have entered the 2016 Presidential primary without drawing the deserved ridicule of last year's bag of loonies.) We enjoyed an issues-oriented campaign debating different sensible approaches.

If enough states adopted top-2 systems (or, I suppose, Instant Runoff Voting) extremists would lose the advantage they have in primaries.

"...student loan indebtedness...a huge drag ..."

A drag both on the students as individuals and on the economy as a whole. Training our citizens to handle the work of the future is a national benefit, similar to building highways, and it's as silly to require this to be individually funded as it would be to call out a levy of peasants to pave I-5.

@Tim H
"...The energy and materials are out there..."
Certainly there is an abudance of nuclear/solar sitting at the center of our System. The problem is it takes near-magic levels of technology to put a smelter into orbit. Someday someone will develop a micro-fabber to plant it on some conveniently sited rock to build the machines that build the machines that etc. but putting it Out There takes an initial bundle of resources that can't be borrowed from a future Oort Cloud Civilization.

But when we invest that bundle of resources into that level of tech, (A) why go to the expense of keeping a human brain alive Out There to supervise? and (B) why not use that tech to make earthside technology compatible with long-term planetary habitability?

Earth really is a nice spaceship; we just have to learn to be a good crew.

Ian said...

A corrected link to Tacitus' blog;

Tacitus said...


agreed regards the student loan issue, but this runs much deeper. It is the analog of the subprime mortgage nonsense. A house and a college education are both fine things in their own rights, and they lead to better still. But it is as silly to encourage running up unfettered debt for dubiously productive educations as it was to buy a sprawling McMansion on a McDonald's salary. Yes, this smacks of some elitism-and we really do need a few film studies majors- but it is still true. Also in each case society as a whole will probably be asked to step in and bail them out.

Ian, thanks for the fixed link. Carpe Circadium. Going back to sleep now.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, you complain about lack of reserves. That is reason to absolutely renounce any residual loyalty to the Mad Right.

Had Clintonian policies stayed in effect, and had we stayed out of insane foreign wars, we'd by now have an immense reserve fund that would have cushioned the Big Recession (if it ever happened at all) and that would have financed R&D leading to another boom with the Next Big Tech Thing.

The greatest accomplishment of the GOP. Turning the Clinton era positive sum game into a zero or negative sum one.

Enigma... unclear whether Lorentz time contraction still happens in an FTL bubble travelling 5xc. If it doesn't, then the method is a bummer for passengers. Only cargo makes sense!


War should be waged on the for-profit colleges who created student loan scams.


ONWARD to next posting

Paul451 said...

Replying here to avoid spoiling the new thread...

"-drilling sideways and fracking appears to make Saudi Arabia just a bunch of losers in robes. Good thing too, our automobile oriented society would be crippled by European gas prices."

However, oil is traded as a global commodity. It doesn't make any difference to the price where it comes from. If say Israel goes to war with Iran, and Iran blocks the Straits of Hormuz, the price of fuel in the US will go up just as much as it does everywhere else in the world.

[Exception is LNG. US doesn't have enough gas export capacity, so LNG prices in the US are well below market prices.]

Re: Student debt
Definitely a good place for one of David's debt Jubilees.

Re: Student debt and subprime
It's easy to mock the consumers (and students) who go into unserviceable debt, but why isn't there greater contempt for the supposedly smarter people who encourage lending? Consumers were bombarded with messages to borrow borrow borrow. Free credit for all. Students (and their families) are bombarded with messages about how valuable college is (and a good college.) Even today, the long falsified "million dollar education" campaign is still being shoved down students' throats. Why blame the consumer who is being told by professionals at banks, by the media, and in effect by the government, that these insane loans are a good thing? A business culture that encouraged and celebrated debt addiction, that scorned and shunned sensible restraint (not just restraint by consumers, but constraint by lenders, or any suggestion of restrictions by governments.)

[Locally, mortgages are better regulated than in the US. But we get a taste of the US system in consumer loans, "no repayments for 12 months*", "zero interest for 12 months", etc etc. Indeed, the company responsible for the vast majority of this, GE Money, is responsible for causing more pain to Australian consumers than any other aspect of finance. IMO, banning that one company, and its business practice, would dramatically reduce risk to the Australian consumer (and, judging by the US, to our economy.)]

Paul451 said...

"Had Clintonian policies stayed in effect, and had we stayed out of insane foreign wars, we'd by now have an immense reserve fund that would have cushioned the Big Recession"

Not necessarily. The private deleveraging, which Tacitus mentioned, has reduced money velocity. (Essentially, by transferring high velocity consumer money to the low velocity investor level.) And similar cuts to government spending at the state level. So you've essentially pulled trillions of dollars out of the US economy. While the Federal government could have made up the difference, it's clear that the austerity hysteria would have dominated even if the US had no Federal debt. There's no way the austerity nuts would have allowed a large enough stimulus ($2-3 trillion/yr) to make up for the GDP shortfall, not with the budget falling into massive deficit due to loss of Federal revenues even before you think about stimulus.

Ian said...

I'm sure this has been discussed somewhere but can anyone point me to anything on the logistics of turning an Earthgrazer like Cruithne into a permanent manned base and using this as a Mars cycler?

Anonymous said...


So all the extremists are on one side? You are unaware of all those preaching catastrophe from the other side? I repeat, one side has denialists. The other has catastrophists. The scientists are not supposed to be on either side of the political debate. They are supposed to allow the data to take them where it will and to offer facts which we can apply our values to. The scientists are NOT on the left.

The current state of the debate is that we do not know the magnitude of change. We also do not have a handle on the net pros and cons of the changes, nor even whether on net the effects are overall positive or negative. Nor do we know the various costs and benefits of our actions. This is where the debate actually exists now. That is our "excuse for inaction."

I am not a fan of the left or the right. And I am certainly not a fan for taking action before we know the costs and benefits of action or inaction. Nor am I a fan of suppressing the scientific progress on the topic. Nor am I a fan of feeding politically charged funding to those that are acting as hired guns for one side or the other.