Saturday, February 27, 2016

Insistence of Vision and colonizing the Milky Way?

Well deserved! SFWA has announced that C.J. Cherryh has been named its 32nd Grand Master for her fantastic contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy. About time! Huzzah Carolyn. Truly a master and a grand one.

I've been asked to post online my recent story "The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss," which has been chosen for three "best-of 2015" anthologies... so here it is! Who asked? Well some of those planning to attend (and/or vote in) this year's World Science Fiction Convention! 

Also, it's a sampler-taste of the quality of storytelling you will find in my new collection, INSISTENCE OF VISION.   

See this rave review for Insistence of Vision. This one very, very perceptive. Only note the ticking clock. Just another couple of weeks for pre-order discounts!  

Post-Iowa Notes: NYT Nobelist economist Paul Krugman highlights ‘uplift’ in his analysis of the Iowa returns. His point being that we should choose to be more ambitious -- the one core thought that Bernie Sanders has contributed. Can we ‘uplift’ our society, our civilization? The American public mood is addicted to downer memes, despite every statistical metric having actually improved! While science fiction is filled with many negative stories, it is the one medium where perhaps 10% of the time, we see real optimism and hope.

Next? Be still my heart.  Will some university lit departments get over their smug postmodernist claptrap and realize that the most American-spirited of all literary genres may deserve some attention, study and tenured faculty?  Okay, okay, it shows that I truly am a sci fi dreamer.

== Will we colonize the Milky Way? ==

In a recent essay -- There is no Planet B: We're not colonizing the Milky Way any time soon -- my colleague, friend, and treasure of science fiction Kim Stanley Robinson encapsulates the reasons why he believes our classic fantasies of interstellar colonization are  at-best naïve and likely forlorn, ideas explored in his recent  novel, Aurora.

Still, I do feel a need to explain why I quibble with my bro. Like me, Stan's writing is often propelled and driven by polemic, which isn't a bad thing, when you are that smart and shine light - as he does - on real dangers!  Both he and I want to save the Earth and both strive hard for that. (I even named a novel after our world; beat that for commitment.) 

Alas, we differ not over general direction or sense of urgency - or a shared belief that humanity can improve - but over a matter of personality. KSR is (I believe) being progressively drawn into a leftist perspective of zero sum thinking... that it is a matter of either-or choices.  Either we devote our whole attention to terrestrial sustainability or watch our support system dissolve under the corrosion of greedy human civilization. 

Zero sum assumptions posit that attention aimed in non-core directions - e.g. outward - will diminish the value we devote to what we already have -- the only known place where life and humanity can flourish.

Again, I share Stan's sense of urgency, and we agree about the forces that today are endangering all of us through short-sighted, proto-feudal greed. Our lists of worst-villains probably overlap 90%! Where we differ is that I see many, many positive sum paths before us. While I am not a fizzing optimist like Peter Diamandis, I avow that as many good things are happening, as bad, and that studying what is working is just as important as railing against what doesn't.  

Moreover while the ancient foe of freedom and science -- feudal oligarchy -- is today's worst threat, by far, where we part company is that I see little to admire in the far-left's penchant for dismally simplistic prescription.
Circling this back to his recent article and novel... We see this failing in Robinson's dismissal of the very possibility of space - especially interstellar - colonization. 

Oh, without any doubt, science fiction was due for a corrective chiding, that the galaxy will not be settled as easily as humans just moved-right-in to the Americas. In Heart of the Comet (1984) Gregory Benford and I explored how necessary it will be for humans to modify themselves, in order to meet any new ecosystem more than halfway.  Still, Stan's polemical reasons for taking this position force him into an exaggerated declaration of near-impossibility for that hoary-classic sci fi dream.  In his novel, Aurora, he shows relentlessly all the things that can go wrong with an "ark" style generation ship... then, at the very end, he off-hand introduces a technology (a highly plausible one) that would make generation ships completely unnecessary, allowing humanity to bypass every problem he spent 700 pages describing. See my extensive review (and nitpicking) of his novel.

Oh, just to remind you, I am nitpicking one of the greatest science fiction authors ever to breathe. And a paladin of our tomorrows.

I’ll be on stage with Stan at UCSD’s annual James Arnold Lecture on May 5.

== Sci Fi and culture ==

The first issue of the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Science Fiction is up! Check it out! Also from the folks building toward the new Museum of Science Fiction — Science fiction is the story of humanity: who we were, who we are, and who we dream to be. 

Debates over “singularity” topics can be fervent and quasi religious, which should not be surprising, since the transcendentalists of conservatism and optimism are only channeling their millennia-old tussle with a new, scientio-techno gloss. Francis Fukayama and Ray Kurzweil fought it out, a decade ago. Now Richard Jones continues inveighing in Against Transhumanism - with a review and answer provided by Guilio Prisco.

fascinating review of“ Occupied” – a new Norwegian, near-future thriller about Norway attempting to shut down its own fossil fuel industry, followed by a Europe-approved Russian invasion.  Weird, but I am intrigued. 

Some of the most beloved movies ever were based on books. But just because we loved them doesn’t mean the original author did.  See: eleven authors who hated the movie versions of their books. I had more reason, yet am more forgiving than some of these folks.

A fun and pleasant musical reinterpretation of… Spock.  

And while we’re on music… I mentioned the score to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, elsewhere, but only with an amateur’s perspective.  This brilliant essay decrypts the score in fine detail and suggests that John Williams knew a lot more than J.J. Abrams is letting on.

Szymon Sokół offers up a beautiful compilation of Babylon 5 riffs.   One forgets how beautiful that series was.  Well written, breakthrough art and effects, fine acting, sometimes dark… but underneath it all, B5 joins Star Trek and Stargate and (somewhat) Serenity as among the very few optimistic science fiction dramatizations that actually believes in our potential.  In us.  

Huh. Science Fiction as vehicle for Jihadi Propaganda. "The Unit" by Yuito Abdillah, published in the German magazine Kybernetiq. Any German speakers here feel like tracking it down for a review?  “Despite claiming that this story is a work of propaganda, what exactly the author is advocating for is cloudy at best. The group’s affiliations are not totally clear, but a representative told Radio Free Europe that they “aren’t from ISIS.””

The original NCC-1701 is being lovingly restored at the National Air & Space Museum. They take their sacred responsibility very seriously ...

Recent news: eagles being trained to attack drones!  Someone pointed out where this might all lead… in this vivid action page from The Life Eaters.

Vote for your favorite science fiction authors on this crowd-ranked list!

Yipe.  I don’t normally tout products I’ve never used.  But this one puts together so many things we never knew we wanted.   Lily is the world's first throw-and-shoot camera. It lets anyone create cinematic footage previously reserved for professional filmmakers.  Lily is waterproof, ultra-portable, and shoots stunning HD pictures and videos. Straight outta scifi.   (Of course it is best for folks who get off their behinds and go outside….) 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Will Trump veer-to-center?

"Interesting" doesn't even begin to describe this incredible U.S. political year.  For example, one of the statistical mavens at Five-Thirty-Eight points out that Marco Rubio's best path to thwarting Donald Trump's coronation march is to concentrate a lot of attention on blue states (those that award GOP delegates winner take all) or on blue-urban-college-educated districts. One of the richest potential troves, for example, would be districts along the California and Washington coasts!

How can this be? In zones where democrats outnumber republicans, it turns out the fewer and better educated GOP voters have outsized ability to choose Republican convention delegates. Wow. 

Of course this weirdness was deliberate... it gave Romney & McCain advantages in past years and it now seems the establishment's last hope. But the party masters who designed the current rules dug a pit for themselves, as Trump keeps winning districts by mere 35% pluralities yet getting all of each district's delegates. That is why he swept the boards in S.Carolina, despite getting only a third of the votes. Well, well, cheaters eventually are hoist by their own petard.

Okay so here's the stop-Trump path, a narrow one. If Cruz, Rubio and Kasich all three take their own winner-takes-all home states - perhaps by urging Texas, Florida and Ohio voters to pick "favorite sons" - then there's a chance for some momentum shift.  But then, in that case, none of the three will drop out!  Next, divide up the rich upper midwest, Michigan etc.  And somehow get those educated republicans in blue districts, who are staring in horror at this train wreck, to actually come out en masse. Then, a brokered convention.

No I haven't forgotten the potential end game if Trump falls short of a convention majority. The "white knight" of that scenario - House Speaker Paul Ryan - would act very very coy and reluctant.  Still, he's laying down polemical points either way, hedging his bets in case Trump wins, by saying that Republicans can "fix the country's problems" with "whoever the Republican president is."

Let's see. The GOP had the presidency 20 of the last 30-some years. They have had Congress vastly more often than the Dems. Indeed, they held all three branches of government simultaneously from 2001-2007, able to pass anything... anything at all... that they wanted.  So, why didn't they "solve the country's problems" then?

Let's be clear, aside from huge tax cuts for the rich and loosening banking/Wall Street regulation - and wars - they did zilch across those 6 years of absolute power. They canceled no programs or agencies, reformed no entitlements and in fact created Medicare Part D without any way to pay for it. They did nothing about abortion or immigration or any other part of the Fox-rant agenda. 

That period of absolute power-lock was the laziest six year congressional period in US history. All whining and no action.  (Oh, and actual outcomes from periods of republican rule were spectacularly negative.)

Um... "fix the country's problems"? Even if you are a radical right winger, why should you believe Ryan, this time?

== Out in right field ==

My reading of Ted Cruz led to a crackpot theory that his aim, all along, given his Nixonian unlike-ability, was to emulate Nixon and go for the VP slot as a stepping stone. That would have happened if Walker or Jeb or Perry were the nominee.  Now? The earlier bro-mance between Trump & Cruz (which fit my theory to a T) is now over amid a huge mud-slinging fest. 

No it's time to peer ahead to Tump's likely running mate. Sure, Nikki Haley was set up by the GOP masters to be the obvious choice. For example, she'd cancel some of the "Trump's a racist" stuff and give the establishment some hope Prez Donald won't last 4 years.  But I tell you it all depends. She's the right choice if he stays the Donald we've come to know, so far -- a raving Mussolini.  In other words, the act he's been putting on, to win the nomination.

Only... he's not a Mussolini. Will Donald - the day after he's nominated - drop all his confederate shiboleths and charge at full gallop for the American Center?  

I'd bet 3:1 odds that's what he'll do, suddenly channeling Bernie Sanders in his anti-oligarch schticks! Raise taxes on the rich! Regulate Wall Street and break up big banks! He'll jiu jitsu Hillary by out radicalizing her reformist agenda!  She'll be left stammering in amazement... unless she gets ready first.

If this center-veer happens, then Don'll need a Veep who can keep the Confederates and Southern Baptists from feeling betrayed.

If it ain't Cruz, then my money is on Mike Huckabee. Not Palin... nono. Not Sarah Palin. Huck scares me more in logical terms.  But Palin is... just too... er... entertaining.  An overdose.  Watch the hilariously scary flick IRON SKY.

== The other Trump we glimpsed ==

You think I am exaggerating Trump's ability to do sudden, brilliant veers?

Ted Cruz had reasons for baiting Donald Trump into defending New York.  They are battling for the… shall we say the “red vote”?  It is a more accurate term than “religious conservative” or rural or tea-party or neo-confederate or any of the other categories that pundits apply. Hatred not just of city folk, but of all smartypants types like scientists, schoolteachers, medical doctors, law professionals, and so on.  

Sure, Trump stood up for the spirit and gumption and skill that New Yorkers showed, both during 9/11 and for years of rebuilding. Indeed, standing on the rubble, New Yorkers turned east – toward the co-owners of Fox News whose cousins and sons hijacked those planes – and shouted: “Is that all you got?” 

City folk are the ones with terror targets on their backs, yet they get on with life, while the rural folk who are screaming loudest about terrorism are mostly safe.

(To be quite clear, not all or even most rural folk are “rednecks,” by far! Just as most city folk are not marching PC activists. But when it comes to GOP primaries and caucuses, it is the most vociferous in both parties who show up.)
Of course, Donald doesn’t dare point out the rest of the story.  That “New York values” – portrayed as depraved by the radio shock jocks – actually have vastly better outcomes, when compared to practical measures of morality in Red America.  Putting aside Utah… and some sections of Chicago etc… the comparison between Blue “values” and Red are pretty clear, with Red America surging way ahead in rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs, domestic violence, divorce, dropout rates, gambling and a myriad other areas of gross immorality like addiction, alcoholism, drug use, and even obesity... this in an area that screams shrilly and aggressively that it knows better how lives should be lived. 

If facts could convince - wherever abstinence-only is the preachified sex education course, the direct and nearly universal outcome is more, not less, teenage sex. 

Here, we get again the core Fox Fact. What matters isn't what's true, but what’s “truthy” and ought to be so.

== The Rise of the Religious Right ==

Do you actually believe the radical Christian right’s rise had anything, fundamentally, to do with abortion? Try looking at the real history: The Real Origins of the Religious Right.  Even years after Roe-v-Wade, even the Southern Baptists were yawning, calling abortion “a Catholic issue.”  It was court decisions – and Nixon enforcement – banning tax-exempt status to fiercely segregated private schools that lit the torch firing up the movement we now see.

What this article leaves out is the way far-right social conservatism benefited from a devastatingly stupid wound self-inflicted by the left – 

-- the insane over-reach called Forced School Bussing of students away from their neighborhoods, in order to impose integration de facto, by force majeur. 

That utopian-orwellian effort from the 1980s was senseless, cruel, distracting, ineffective, wasted vast resources and drove millions unnecessarily into the arms of fundie radicalism. Forced School Busing was absolute proof that the right does not hold a complete monopoly on dogma-driven stupidity, and that the far-left needs be watched, as well.

See the new book, Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right, by Seth Dowland, which discusses the importance of gender issues and private Christian schools in shaping how "religious freedom" consolidated the religious right.

Sure, there’s no comparison at this moment. Some campus PC excess? That’s loony and rude. Watch: Monty Python’s John Cleese Blasts Orwellian, PC College Campuses. 

But PC-bullying is a hangnail irritant compared with the Entire Right’s plunge into madness, anti-science, anti-all-knowledge-professions, oligarch-loving, Earth-wrecking, economy-ruining troglodytic madness. Elsewhere I elucidate the true, underlying reasons for the abortion frenzy, as well. 

Face it, this is the revived Confederacy, friends.  There is no other explanation for why millions of lower middle class whites would support their class oppressors.  This is phase 8 of the American Civil War.
== the Bloomberg phenomenon? ==

Yes, yes, another East New York City billionaire is pondering his own run.  Michael Bloomberg so far has generated little enthusiasm.  But if Donald Trump gets the GOP nod, Bloomberg could draw a sudden effussion of support from several directions.  Despairing "ostrich republicans" -- who have been in denial over the party's plummet into insanity -- might hurry to MB. As might establishment republicans seeking one goal, for Trump to lose so decisively they can get their firm hands back on the reins of the rampaging elephant that they spurred to madness, in the first place.  May they get the first half of their wish. 

Oh but while we're in sci fi territory:  Bloomberg Sanders? Trump-Sanders? Never gonna happen.  But I am paid to go what-if.     

== Finally - ==

Bernites: check this Al Franken endorsement. He's still funny and very smart and emphasizes that you have no need to get over-emotional. Leave that to the dissolving hysteria on the other side. The only times that the loyal, Union side wins these phases of recurring civil war is when Blue America stays calm, practical and fiercely determined. 

I just wish Franken had mentioned science.  There is one symptom of the current psychosis that has taken over U.S. conservatism that disqualifies it from holding a burnt match, let alone power.

Their war on science.  And every other knowledge profession in American life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Regulated competition is the wellspring of our revolution

The hot new Evonomics site offers some of the best writing about fresh  economics perspectives around. I was one of their first writers and now they have published another piece on "The Fairness Divide" making a clear distinction between equality-of-opportunity vs. equality-of- outcomes.  I think it will set some familiar perplexities in a much clearer light.  

Along related lines, Lawrence Lessig has joined others in questioning one of our laziest assumptions: that capitalism is the same thing as corporate oligarchy, and that the secret to a healthy capitalism is zero regulation.  

Anyone who actually reads Adam Smith - or who knows a thing about the last 6000 years - knows that oligarchy is the worst enemy of flat-open-fair-competitive and creative market enterprise. 

Here's a passage from Lessig's recent review: 
Theorists and principled souls on the Right are free-market advocates. They are convinced by Hayek and his followers that markets aggregate the will of the public better than governments do. This doesn’t mean that governments are unnecessary. 

"As Rajan and Zingales put it in their very strong pro-free-market book, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, 'Markets cannot flourish without the very visible hand of the government, which is needed to set up and maintain the infrastructure that enables participants to trade freely and with confidence.' 

"But it does mean that a society should try to protect free markets, within that essential infrastructure, and ensure that those who would achieve their wealth by corrupting free markets don’t.”

"Rajan and Zingales further describe:

“Capitalism’s biggest political enemies are not the firebrand trade unionists spewing vitriol against the system but the executives in pin-striped suits extolling the virtues of competitive markets with every breath while attempting to extinguish them with every action.”

== Must markets be 'blind'? ==

Way back in the last century, I was pointing out that those proclaiming “Faith in Blind Markets” — or FIBM — mostly ignore those 60 centuries, when lack of market regulation simply meant “those who have, rule.” Across that era, laissez faire inevitably led to feudalism and stunningly stupid governance. The last 200 years have been an exception to that brutally nescient and incompetent span. This was Adam Smith’s foremost complaint.

Does this validate the opponents of FIBM? Those who proclaim Guided Allocation of Resources, or GAR? Surely the examples of Leninism, Maoism and Japan and China show that central control has severe limitations. Without any doubt, the FIBM guys have a point — that there’s such a thing as too much regulation. (Ironically, which U.S. political party actually de-regulates obsolete agencies and loosens regulation, as often as it tightens it? Democrats, by far.)

I go into the tradeoffs of GAR and FIBM elsewhere.  But the outlines are clear.  Both cults want control and allocation by elites. The FIBM crowd (who call themselves “libertarians” but in fact are not) differ only in which elite they would make all-powerful allocators — not bureaucrats, answerable to an electorate, but a secretively-incestuous CEO caste of 5,000 golf buddies.  

That’s not flat-open-fair-creative market competition, and it certainly isn't Hayek. That is hypocrisy. It’s the tired old way: feudalism.

But read the Lessig article.  He's an economist and has lately earned some real cred from us.

== More on Hayek ==

Others are weighing in on Hayek, and the rampant misinterpretation that he favored zero regulation. As economist David Sloan Wilson put it:  "Hayek had two way-ahead-of-his-time insights. First, that economic systems have a distributed intelligence that cannot be located in any individual. Second, that this intelligence evolved by cultural group selection. Contemporary science — complex systems and multilevel evolution — validate those claims. But Hayek fans are mistaken to believe that his insights mean markets should be unregulated."

Or as Evonomics pundit Jag Bhalla says: "Hayek’s right that no “central planner” can know what’s distributed among people in markets. But computer scientists have studied distributed processing’s limits. Many tasks can’t be efficiently distributed. Most still need central coordination. Aren’t market computations similarly limited?" ... and "Effective market regulation should heed biology’s regulatory lessons. Economies, like complex organisms, need distributed reflexes and a central nervous system. They need more than one price-like signal to prioritize and regulate for the whole, and to manage systemic risks. That doesn’t happen automatically."

== Libertarianism and conservatism, redux ==

Let's look at this same issue from another angle.

The real problem with today's versions of libertarianism and conservatism isn't "selfishness" per se. As Adam Smith showed. competitiveness is one wellspring of human creativity and leftists are fools to deny it. 

No, the problem is that conservatives and libertarians almost never mention the word "competition," anymore.  Because they know people sense a contradiction with the modern religion that has taken over libertarianism. Idolatry of unlimited personal property. 

At best, these two concepts - competition and propertarianism - are tense partners, with some genuine property rights necessary, in order to foster competitive drive. But they can become often diametric opposites, even enemies.

Yes, property rights are essential, but they become toxic when overly concentrated. (Just like any other good thing, e.g. water, oxygen and food.) Adam Smith knew this. To him, the true enemy of market enterprise  - across 99% of societies - was feudal owner aristocracy.  And it is true today. 

Let's stick this point: Idolatry of unlimited personal property is the same thing as declaring hatred of flat-open-fair competition.

See my classic essay on this, appealing to all -- especially libertarians -- to get over their voluptuously silly Ayn Rand solipsism kick and actually read Smith, a philosopher who understood so much more than slimplistic left or right credit him with, and who changed the world.

See this recent essay about Ayn Rand's cult of selfishness and the real world cases where it has been put into practice... Sears/KMart and Honduras, both of which were suddenly converted to Randian principles of cut-throat internal competition.

Both are now teetering on bankruptcy.

== A useful innovation that can sour ==

Let's try this from yet another perspective: George Friedman, founder of Stratfor the strategic analysis firm and now working with economist John Mauldin, discusses the modern, limited liability corporation:

The very idea of a corporation is a political idea. That someone should be able to own part of a company but not be liable for all its debts is a very modern idea. It's also a very radical idea. Many people, including Adam Smith, did not trust the corporation. Smith argued that unless you were an owner of a corporation, you were not committed to its interests. ... It is the state setting liability. 

The notion that there can be limited liability doesn’t flow from the free market. It flows from the state, which says you can have this kind of corporation”

To be clear, Smith was not all-knowing.  The limited liability corporation has definitely had its uses and allowed more bold risk-taking in pursuit of economic dynamism.  But the moral hazards mount up over time.  Not only should LLCs be fundamentally limited to prevent monopoly and conniving duopoly etc, but there are good arguments for assigning them lifespans, so they will not become immortal and toxic.

== A plethora of angles on a problem ==

To be clear, something like a modern political economic system is a lot like the proverbial elephant, being groped by blind pundits, each proclaiming a single, linear metaphor to be THE thing itself. In fact, these perspectives -- like the hoary "left-right axis" - are only useful to the degree that users bear in mind: the map is not the territory.  And our metaphors can lobotomize.

So let's restate "left" and "right" not in obsolete terms from the French Revolution.  Instead, I think conservatism vs progressivism is all about the process of "horizon expansion" that I talk about here and here. Wherein the circle of inclusion in society keeps being pushed outward, a process that gained momentum in our Great Experiment gradually, for the last 250 years.

A process that the left has made their core religion! So much so that they despise and denounce anyone who disagrees even slightly about the pace of tolerance/inclusion expansion and openly question whether old loyalties are still pertinent.

The right, in turn, despises those who push hard on inclusion-expansion and hates to be nagged to do it.  They like their old loyalties.

LIBERALS are a third type, totally different than leftists. They tend to like the general process of inclusion expansion ... but they also like their old loyalties.  They are the only ones conceiving this as a positive sum, win-win process. Again, liberals are neither lefties nor righties. They want new kinds of citizens!  But they also don't mind keeping some older ways around.

You see the same thing when it comes to the concept underlying our great competitive ARENAS... markets, democracy, science, courts and sports ...All five innovative systems achieve positive sum cornucopias of output because they nurse vigorous competition... but regulated in order to minimize cheating and maximize opportunities for creative rivalry.

Leftists despise the word "competition" ignoring (1) that is is the source of fecund wealth we use then to help people and expand inclusion! Moreover - oh the irony - (2) they they are themselves being very very competitive!

Rightists are worse!  They claim to love the word "competition" but hate REGULATION... without which competitive processes are always always always and always ruined by cheaters.  (In fact, enabling cheaters is now the main purpose of the Republican Party.)

Again, liberals are the only ones who see no dichotomy.  Who see the combined word "regulated-competition" as the wellspring of our revolution and bold new way of doing things.

Which brings us full circle.  Sure, regulations - even well-meaning ones - can stifle enterprise. (And dems are better at eliminating those.) But without a regulated marketplace we fall back upon 6000 years of cheating - and FIBM soon becomes just another excuse for GAR.

It's complicated, and not very satisfying to those who want simple prescriptions.  Rather, our role as adults is to accept that it is complicated.  To embrace all this complexity! To keep fine-tuning a role for regulation in enhancing infrastructure and science, education, health etc -- things that increase the overall number of skilled and confident competitors!  But also to back away from those well-meaning regulations that try to impose nit-pickery outcomes.

Militantly moderate, ferociously reasonable, courageously contingent... it is the liberals who seem less passionate, but who have the closest thing to an adult perspective. One that might bring us to even greater heights.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Science Fiction and Freedom

While in San Francisco for a panel on artificial consciousness, I had an opportunity to stop by the headquarters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- dedicated to preserving your freedom online and off.  As part of their 25th year anniversary celebration, EFF released Pwning Tomorrow, an anthology of science fiction stories by Bruce Sterling, Ramaz Naam, Charlie Jane Anders, Cory Doctorow, David Brin, Lauren Beukes, and others. You can download it for a donation to this worthy organization.

== Politics-Economics of Star Wars ==

"Between authority and anarchy lies argument..." Adam Gopnik offers a cogent, if-brief appraisal of the late Antonin Scalia, and the essentially political nature of the Supreme Court ...

... framed with biting reference to the Star Wars Jedi Council! A riff that’s very much in tune with my own critique in Star Wars on Trial.  Well worth your time.

Following up on my blog-essay-review of the latest Star Wars film… Nautilus Magazine interviewed me about Star Wars. I’ve already said that I found the latest version, from J.J. Abrams and Disney to be pleasantly diverting, with very strong characterization, okay dialogue… if unimaginative plotting. It’s greatest virtue is showing almost no sign of the relentlessly awful, anti-enlightenment preaching George Lucas crammed increasingly into his epic saga, over the years. Here is my full review of The Force Awakens… and here is the Nautilus interview, pinning me with followup questions!

See this thorough appraisal of the galactic economics of Star Wars.  The sort of thing that might help to transform a sillier-than-Tolkien fantasy series into actual science fiction.  From "It's a Trap: Emperor Palpatine's Poison Pill" by Zachary Feinstein:

"In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations ("Death Stars") in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout."

Almost perfectly in synchrony and fascinating parallel, this article looks at the reaction in China to release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has led, as well, to the first real surge of (legal and illegal) viewings of the other six episodes.  I was struck especially by this bit near the end: 

“Some are learning that the saga is as much about politics and individuals fighting against a repressive government as light sabers and spacecraft—but the lesson they’re taking away isn’t what George Lucas may have intended. “A democratic parliament seems to be chaotic while a dictator-run empire seems to be stable. That’s worth our thinking,” one blogger wrote on Douban.”  

A good insight.  Except, of course, that (as I've shown in Star Wars on Trial) contempt toward democracy is exactly the lesson George Lucas intended. He said so openly and publicly. How ironic that that message is ignored in the West, but Chinese viewers notice it, clear as day.  Go figure.

Here’s an interesting article about why politics matters even… perhaps especially… in the Star Wars Universe.Lucas took inspiration both from ancient history and current events, sometimes even using the films as social commentary. If anything, in order to capture the public imagination, the Sequel Trilogy needs more, not less, politics.”

Alas, the author, Dom Nardi, starts with a wrong premise… The Civil War was essentially a debate between North and South about the authority of the federal government.”  

Sorry, but that’s just wrong. Starting in 1852, the southern states, having dominated the US federal government for at least 30 years, used its power - through US Marshals and Supreme Court decisions, to unleash platoons of irregular southern cavalry on rampages across all northern states, grabbing neighbors almost at random and hauling them away to misery. 

When local militias tried to resist the slave-hunter parties, southern presidents called in federal troops to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. The South was all in favor of a strong federal government and wanted to use it to repress northern abolitionist newspapers, a goal laid down explicitly in the secession declarations. (Actually read them!) They only became anti-federal the instant it appeared the presidency would no longer be their private sinecure.

Exactly, by the way, their reaction when President Obama was elected.

But that is an aside about a pet peeve.  My real complaint here is that Dom Nardi doesn’t note the fundamental political fact of the Star Wars series, which is contempt for democracy — even the remote possibility that something like the Republic can function.  The secretive and extra-judicial Jedi order may - at the command of Yoda alone - withhold crucial information (a withholding that in fact leads to disaster.) Only the Empire is shown as efficient and capable of getting things done.

== More Science Fiction ==

Speaking of the recurring American fever.... What would happen if the U.S. split apart into warring states -- set off by a far-reaching conspiracy?  I've read (in manuscript) a new novel by Sean T. Smith about a near future hot American civil war. Washington and San Francisco get nuked pretty early. TEARS OF ABRAHAM is a page-turner filled with vivid, believable action and characters you care about, along with sober, thoughtful insights into what it may mean - when the chips are down - to be an American. The book will be released (pre-order now) March 22. 

The same day, my new short story collection, Insistence of Vision, will be released.. with some of my best recent stories.

Oh, SFWA has established a new Speaker's Bureau -- with links to authors willing to make public appearances, and speak about the literature of the future. I've striven for 15 years to see this happen.  It is still primitive.  But yay to Cat Rambo and the other SFWA volunteer organizers!