Friday, September 22, 2017

Science Fictional futures: used by companies, agencies and bad cinema

Science fiction as a commercial product, for companies to use in either planning or sales, is not completely new. Monsanto’s 1950s House of the Future, at Disneyland, offered both a public puff piece and a way to focus their corporate culture. The Arconic Corp. re-imagining of the Jetsons comes vividly to mind. And if you want to explore this topic further, there’s a recent pair of Novum podcasts, entertainingly appraising both science fictional portrayals of advertising and advertising uses of science fiction.

A related trend has been asking SF authors to conjure stories and scenarios to dramatize, illustrate or even interrogate a client’s plans and vision.  As far back as the 1980s, I participated in scenario-building exercises for NASA, defense agencies and companies that resulted in brief, fictional vignettes, a couple of which I then developed into pretty good stories.  

I recently collaborated with Tobias Buckell on an action-adventure tale set on the very edge of outer space, in Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere, an anthology of terrific tales for Pluto (New Horizons) explorer Alan Stern’s World View stratospheric balloon company.  The ebook can be downloaded for free on the ASU website.

I’ve mentioned Japan’s ANA Airlines collaborated with the X Prize Foundation in an anthology about an airliner whose passengers left Tokyo in 2017 and arrive in San Francisco of 2037.  Here’s Bruce Sterling’s writeup. Read the stories on the ANA site: Seat 14C.

Now an entertaining article in the New Yorker reveals how Industrial-Grade SF has taken off, especially at Ari Popper’s company SciFutures. Another excellent adventure in Applies Science fiction is Berit Anderson's bold endeavor called Scout. Browse some of the great content
== Sci Fi Cinema ==

We watched the highly touted flick Logan. How sad. It featured excellent dialogue, top actors and good (if uber-violent) action choreography… but the premise and background logic were as atrocious as that over-hyped monstrosity, Mad Max 4: Fury Road. 

Both utterly betrayed the premise of their universe in order to wallow in some of the worst clichés that infest Hollywood today.  Loony-cartoonish villains who deliberately violate every hint of logic or even self-interest. Infinite supplies of disposable henchmen, none of whom have a scintilla of motive for following an asshole into hell – certainly no families of their own or qualities that might question death-loyalty to jerks. Pathetically, the Logan scripters thought that making the viewer wonder "what happened to the hundreds of millions of mutants?"  - yet never giving a hint - would somehow be a delicious puzzle for us all, instead of a grinding scrape of fingernails that persisted through every scene.

Yes, J.J. Abrams did something similar when he annihilated the Planet Vulcan, but at least there he allowed the Federation to be the Federation. Both Logan and Fury Road utterly obeyed the reflexive catechism of lazy Hollywood scripting: “Thou shalt never show any institution functioning, nor any chance of a working civilization. And all your fellow citizens and neighbors are useless sheep.” 

Ironically, the previous X-Men films… and Mad Max episodes one through three… did not follow those insipid rules. In all of them, both citizens and institutions were complex and included elements trying to do the right thing. In fact, X-Men and Mad Max used to be about that! True, Mel Gibson’s character seldom got much satisfaction, except by rescuing a few drips of civilization, but those worth-protecting glimmers existed!  And most of the X-Men flicks were about calling citizens and institutions to rise up to their better natures. 

Don't let fight scenes and good actors distract you from wretched storytelling. Demand: what supposedly happened to all the mutants?  There were hundreds of millions of them! And nations who had made peace with them, incorporating their talents. And billions of people would have started relying on the talented ones.

I sat through these things, as I sometimes do, in a state of self-lobotomization, in order to enjoy the good parts.  In both cases, the action choreography and in Logan’s case, watching Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart and the youngster-with-a-big-future act away.  But every minute after, I got angrier. Then reached a limit and shrugged it aside.

== Life on the sun? ==

On Quora, someone asked: “Could there be life on the Sun?”

Some of those answering sneered about the Sun being too hot for molecular life.  To which I answer: “So? Try actually stretching your conceptual noodle.”

“Life” can be defined as a dissipative structure that utilizes thermodynamic gradients to: (1) produce entropy, (2) export entropy from a confined area in order to create islands of order, (3) reproduces new versions, in order to continue.

The sun provides many kinds of extremely steep energy and thermal gradients. We use some of them here on Earth. In the solar atmosphere (chromosphere) these gradients might by exploitable. Moreover, while it is too hot to allow molecules and molecular chemistry, there is another kind of structure that might, possibly, become self organizing.

In my novel SUNDIVER I portrayed entities consisting of self-sustaining magnetic field loops, that use the copious energy flows to energize, grow, and spawn new loops. We can already do similar things in the lab and we see field loops forming all the time in the Chromosphere. Not in ways that satisfy a definition of life. But it’s not precluded.

See an illustration of my sun beings in the cover art to Sundiver, created by the brilliant Jim Burns. I have it hanging on the wall behind me. And yes, I have had Nobel winners compliment this book, so it ain’t all that crazy… just far-fetched! ;-) 

== Miscellaneous ==

Reminiscent of a scene in my 1989 novel Earth, the National Wildlife Property Repository, near Denver, is crammed with stuffed monkeys and ivory carvings, snow leopard coats and dried seal penises, chairs with tails and lamps with hooves. The repository contains 1.3 million confiscated items.  See a purse of alligator skin; a stool made of an African elephant foot with a zebra skin cushion; walrus tusks; a hat made of black bear skin; medicinal snake wine; an orangutan skull. A room filled with tigers and leopards.  I don’t know if it existed in 1989… but read my ultimate suggestion for what to do with these things… in Earth.

Anyone know David S. Goyer  Or Josh Friedman? Their  plans for a "Foundation" TV series seem to be moving ahead! Just putting it out there that I'm probably the best living expert on the story arcs of Isaac Asimov's universe, having written the ultimate sequel Foundation's Triumph, that tied together all of Isaac's loose ends.  (Isaac's widow and daughter were very happy.)   

Indeed, the producers ought to know where the books of the Second Foundation Trilogy fit in the sequence. Greg Bear and Greg Benford wrote prequels showing Hari Seldon as a young man... and my story fits right in among the opening chapters of FOUNDATION. Just sayin’ that a chat might be called for.

Oh, for the several of you who asked... The Postman is now back on Audible.

== Why Alternate Histories are generally silly – “if the South had won.” ==

Okay, I am going to use a new sci fi parallel world TV series as a kickoff for a historical (hysterical?) rant.

A new parallel world show called “Confederate” seems a timely, provocative riff on our re-ignited American Civil War. “The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

Romantics claim the outcome of the 1860s phase of our ongoing Civil Was was iffy and could have gone either way. But it's just not true. Even the southern-born scholar Shelby Foote avows that "The Union fought with one hand behind its back. If it were ever in peril, it would have just brought out the other hand."

Romantics claim the question teetered on bare chance, at Gettysburg. Bull. The outcome at Gettysburg was foregone, the day the Army of Potomac arrived and Reynold's men gave Hancock's Corps time to form up along a ridge in good order.  All the AoP had to do then was sit tight. Let Lee fumble around and discover why offense was so darn near impossible with 1860s technology. Picket's Charge was just a capper. Lee lost before the battle began.

And if he had won? Crushed the AoP and moved on to Washington? So? The AoP had proved its stunning resilience over and over, and always reformed within a week after even devastating losses like Chancelorsville. Augmented by truly vast numbers of alarmed northern militia and led by Sherman, the reformed AoP would have fallen on Lee's rear while he tried to noodle a way around Washington's defenses.  Without any conceivable source of supplies, he'd be doomed.

And yes, this holds even if both France and Britain joined the slave-holders' side (they wouldn't, but pretend they did.)

Let's recall that the very day Lee ordered his last gambit at Gettysburg, Grant finished off the Confederacy's last outpost on the Mississippi, Vicksburg. Half of the CSA's ports were already taken by smaller Union armies. So, let's say Lee takes Washington and forces an armistice. Or say McClellan wins the 1864 election and signs a treaty. The "Confederacy" might include much of the official territory you see on maps...maybe even (unlikely) including Texas and Arkansas. But none of the great waterways or rivers.

Moreover, consider what happens next. Even supposing McClellan lets the CSA have transport rights on the Mississippi, the economic power of the CSA will be negligible. Texas would likely declare independence, or else rejoin the Union.  And both sides would spend the next ten years re-arming for another war. And the 1870s phase would not be in doubt past the first day, the first minute.

Industrial and military capacity in the Union was skyrocketing by the end of the war.  Heck, in our own timeline, in 1865, the US military could have taken on all of the armies and navies of the world, combined. Propelled further by a deadly grudge, by 1875, the US would far outstrip the industrial capacity of Britain. The behemoth faced by the South would have been overwhelming.

But look at history. The 1875 war would not have been for unification, but punishment and correction. The CSA would have lost Virginia, Florida and the Mississippi Valley... and the slaves would have been freed. Perhaps they'd be given Georgia.  All of it. Every house and stick of furniture. What remained could then call itself the Confederacy.  Until they provoked a third war.

Is that parallel world better than this one?  You'll see it in no sci fi paratime novels, because an equal struggle makes better drama. But it's the likely course, had Lee or McClellan got their wish and Lincoln not prevailed.

Let me be clear. Those of who who denigrate the Confederacy are right on every moral or historical plane, save one. That horrific "cause" had one unsullied and spectacular grace... martial courage, resilience and audacious effectiveness. Them rebs were fighters, all right. And southern men sign up for military service at higher rates, even today. And you have no right to criticize faults, unless you have the calm maturity to acknowledge virtues. Those that are there.

Still, here's your Halloween costume.
== Weirdly connected to sci fi ==

The internet goes wild and… okay, Snopes says this is for real. I mean, there it is, a scanned document. The book, "Baron Trump's Marvelous Underground Journey", by Ingersoll Lockwood, was published in 1893. A tale of a boy named Baron Trump who can time travel. Lockwood's next book was called "The Last President", of which the president had a cabinet member named Pence. 

Now calm down all you fantasy maniacs. Isn’t it likely that Donald Trump would have known of this book, and then later have named his son after it? No need for time travel, dudes.  Heck, one is more impressed with the episode of a 1950s cowboy series called Trackdown, that is about a conman named Walter Trump who convinces the townsfolk that the world will end—unless they build a big wall around the village. 

In fact, the other book – “The Last President” – is a little polemical tract attacking the real Democratic candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan and the Free Silver movement, prophesying what would happen if they took power.  While I am no fan of Bryan – the famed prosecutor in the infamous Scope Monkey Trial (played brilliantly by Frederick March in Inherit the Wind) – the other side was even worse, as evidenced by Lockwood’s turgid tirade screed.  Other than the irrational screaming, it has zero overlap with Donald Trump, that I can see.



Zepp Jamieson said...

Hollywood has a bad habit of denigrating a carefully-built world--or even an extant one--for some cheap plot devices.
Case in point: Last night, I watched "Churchill" starring Brian Cox. (The actor, not the rock-star astrophysicist). It was frustrating, because Cox was absolutely brilliant, and the production values were good. But Churchill, while he had his flaws, was never a coward, and would never have contemplated, let along begun to act on sabotaging Operation Overlord (D-Day) because he didn't think it would succeed.
It's a Hollywood thing, I guess. Trash the primary world of your film in order to install some idiot soap-opera plotting.

donzelion said...

re Logan: The young mutants fled north for asylum. Apparently, functional civilization persisted in Canada.

Mad Max I was an automotive Dirty Harry knockoff, complete with garages, trials, hospitals, and vacations that didn't end well. The Road Warrior and later followed a distinctively apocalyptic premise; 4 seems more closely linked to those two than 1 does to the others.

"Heck, in our own timeline, in 1865, the US military could have taken on all of the armies and navies of the world, combined."
Invading the original 13 colonies would have been futile, but in a global war against an American pariah, the Mexicans/Native Tribes would have carved off much of the Southwest (or at least prevented settlement), the Russians kept Alaska, the British carved off most of the Northwest (possibly through to Michigan). North America would probably resemble Europe, replete with lots of small countries, rather than three giants.

Rick Ellrod said...

Incidentally, I always wanted to say that the conclusion of Foundation's Triumph was inspired. I've never seen a better wrap-up to a series. :)

Alfred Differ said...

Invading the original 13 colonies WOULD have been futile, but that’s because we had strategic depth by then. Even in the original revolution, we had just enough to make the war unwinnable for the British.

A global war against an American pariah would not have gone well for those opposing us. Our heartland is difficult to reach. The navies of the world could have made life difficult for us at our ocean ports, but they would have to supply those forces from a distance while we hammered at them from our heartland. It REALLY would not go well for them and would be absolutely futile once our population climbed.

The American southwest is darn near impassible to 19th century armies that require support form a distance. Only two nations could reasonable fight there. Us and Mexico. No one else could keep up a supply for long.

The American pacific coast, however, could be taken by a hostile power and held for a while, but from a European perspective, our west coast is as remote as Siberia. It would have to be a self-sustaining force with a decent sized population backing it. In the long run, I think it unlikely a European power could have held it due to demographic problems. With the native population mostly wiped out, they would have had to import people like we did on the east coast. With the US heartland as a supply source, time would have favored the US.

To make matters worse, we were (still are) the barbarians of Northern Europe who would not suffer tyrants. We fiddled with religious doctrine and made up new ones whole cloth to rationalize our unwillingness to kneel and many other bad behaviors. Many underestimate this aspect of our history. Barbarians we are… to the core.

From a geopolitical perspective (cribbed from Stratfor), there are five strategic imperatives for the US. In order they are...

1. Dominate the Greater Mississippi Basin
2. Eliminate all Land-Based Threats to the Greater Mississippi Basin
3. Control the Ocean Approaches to North America
4. Control the World’s Oceans
5. Prevent any Potential Challengers from Rising

The first two are necessary for the later three. No leader of the US would fail to act on these, so the CSA really had no future unless they could destroy the US… which they could not. No matter what, they faced a huge demographic challenge.

duncan cairncross said...

As I have said before the Merrimack at Hampton Roads taught the wrong - or premature - lesson

If the Union Navy had been an actual Navy rather than a collection of ships led by cavalrymen then the Merrimack would have been boarded and burned while it was shooting at the Union ships

The Merrimack did not have the speed or the rapid firing armament to fend off a boarding action
The Monitor was worse!

The Union Army may well have been one of the most powerful but the Union Navy was nowhere near powerful enough to challenge the RN

As far as industrial output is concerned
In 1875 the UK produced 47% of the world production of Iron
In 1870 the UK produced 6.7 million tons - the USA 1.7 million tonnes
In the 1870's the UK still had a (slightly) larger population than the USA

David Brin said...

Sorry guys, the notion that any combination of powers could have taken on the USA in 1865 is ludicrous. The Federal army outnumbered and outgunned all the world's armed forces, combined. For a while, the US Navy was vasty greater than the Royal Navy and would have smashed it to flinders. The French withdrew from Mexico almost the instant that our attention turned that way and we told them to.

Mind you, by 1868 or so, most of the ships had been sold off, the Army was 5% its former size, and by 1875 we were back to being a 2nd rate power, but with industrial capabilities that only Britain could match.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Duncan: What you are telling me is not that the Navy could not beat the RN.... it's that the *Marines* were insufficient for the scale of boarding actions required.

I don't know if that is true but that's what you're implying.

@Alfred: I read that Stratfor piece as well. Thought-provoking. But you can't quite say we are merely Northern Europeans anymore. Too many from the rest of Europe, never mind the other assimilated. By the time you reach California, Americanness has been distilled and filtered. They would be even LESS likely to kneel... but lost the "throw out the invader!" attitude. Instead they are as secure as the Chinese: migrate all you want.... you'll be us eventually. An attitude other parts of America have, but which some have lost... and some never did have.

duncan cairncross said...

Most Naval actions of that time ended up in boarding actions - the Union Navy let a single ship just come out and shoot at them

I personally would blame the officers in charge - who were almost all much more at home on a horse

As far as the "Marines" are concerned - they were never even tested - the sailors need to get some boats alongside the enemy before the Marines could do their stuff

The normal defense against boarding was your own crew - Marines and Sailors on deck shooting back and using sharp things
The Merrimack did not have the large crew and places for them to defend
A couple of incendiaries dropped through the gun slots and it would have been toast time

Which completely scuppers Dr Brin's argument about the Union Navy - it's only unique warships were the Monitor class which were NOT very seaworthy and which were vulnerable to boarding - if they lasted that long

The Merrimack and Monitor needed more powerful engines and machine guns - once those were in place THEN the old warships became obsolete

Jon S. said...

Dr. Brin, I have to attribute the "Baron Trump" thing to pure coincidence. Your "parsimonious" explanation, after all, still requires one highly unlikely element - that Donnie had read a book.

donzelion said...

"Sorry guys, the notion that any combination of powers could have taken on the USA in 1865 is ludicrous."

I'm with Duncan on this one.

(1) The 1865 Union navy was built to blockade the Confederacy; the Royal Navy was built to destroy navies. Yes, we had more ships than they did. We had more ships than they did in 1812 as well. Didn't work out so well for us.

(2) The entire Northern industrial capability was an outgrowth of interconnected small/mid-sized factories. Look a little more closely at them, you'll find most depended on some form of international trade, international capital, or international labor/expertise (e.g., DuPont, a French/American company, provided half the black powder used by the Union during the Civil War). If all the world allied against America, how would these folks have provided the weapons to our troops?

(3) Our heartland is difficult to reach - for us as well as for any invader. Arm some Native American tribes...add a few cavalry units to support them...and few strongholds west of Chicago could have been held.

donzelion said...

Duncan: "The Merrimack and Monitor needed more powerful engines and machine guns - once those were in place THEN the old warships became obsolete"

The British had been building 9000+ ton ironclads for years before the Monitor (987 tons) or Merrimack (1160 tons). The Americans had dozens of ironclads by 1865 - all of which were a tiny fraction of what the British had already built. And it's not like our steel engineering was more advanced than Europe's at that time...

The thing is though, war between the Union and the rest of the world would have been inconceivable in 1865. The oligarchs throughout the world found they could make so much more money trading with the Union (and get their cotton elsewhere)...and the masses throughout the world found they could work land of their own in America (hence the demographic advantage of north v. south).

David Brin said...

Geez donzelion, almost nothing you just said is even remotely true.

We so did not have more ships in 1812. Not by an order of magnitude. Or even two.

As for the quality of Union warships, they improved by leaps and bounds. Just look at this confederate blockade runner and compare it to the British frigates of the time... then bear in mind that a union vessel hunted it down and captured it. By war's end, the US was only building iron ships.

#2 is only superficially true. The rate of increase of US independent industrial production was huge.

#3 is utterly hilarious! It has zero basis on anything but fantasy.

David Brin said...

That blockade runner. Look at it.

David Brin said...

Yipe, everyone knows about the Confederate submarine that destroyed both itself and a Union blockade vessel, the Hunley. Little known is that the Union had already developed a much better, operational submarine that worked very well, but wasn't developed further for lack of targets.

"The Union-built and French-designed submarine Alligator was the first U.S. Navy submarine and the first to feature compressed air (for air supply) and an air filtration system. Initially hand-powered by oars, it was converted after 6 months to a screw propeller powered by a hand crank. With a crew of 20, it was larger than Confederate submarines. Alligator was 47 feet (14.3 m) long and about 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter. The submarine was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras on April 1, 1863 with no crew and under tow to its first combat deployment at Charleston."

see also

duncan cairncross said...

That blockade runner - built on the Clyde?

The Merrimack - 3,000 tonnes

The Warrior - 9,000 tonnes

When they raised the Merrimack they left off the masts which cut the ships speed by two thirds and cut its range by 90%

The armour made it invulnerable to the big guns that were the main weapons back then

But the reduction in speed and the loss of the large crew on deck made the Merrimack very vulnerable to boarding attacks

During the Battle there were two Union Steam Frigates - both would have had superior speed to the Merrimack
Also during the Battle the Merrimack became stuck onto the Cumberland and could have been boarded from the Cumberland or any other ship that came aboard the Cumberland

During this battle the Union Navy showed an appalling lack of any organisation or sense at all
The RN has shot admirals for better performances than that

duncan cairncross said...

Changing the subject
With an election today we have a total clamp down on all party political stuff from midnight on Friday until after the polls close today (Saturday)

All bill boards had to come down - everything

donzelion said...

"We so did not have more ships in 1812. Not by an order of magnitude. Or even two."
I was being semi-facetious: we had 'more ships' (if one counts all the gunboats in the various mosquito fleets), the merchant marine, and a tiny 'real' Navy.' Nobody in that era would count a barge with a cannon on it as a 'warship' (except maybe Thomas Jefferson). Naval power was not measured by the 'number of ships' in 1812, or in 1865 for that matter. By 1865, we had a lot of ships; but probably not a navy that could have challenged the RN. Which makes sense, because ours was never designed to fight a real navy (theirs was designed to destroy any 2 of them at once).

"#2 is only superficially true. The rate of increase of US independent industrial production was huge."
How does one distinguish 'independent' industrial production from 'foreign' production?

DuPont was the odd French venture in America (albeit, 50% of the black powder...); the British financed the Louisiana Purchase, the Bank of the United States (both of them), most railroads, canals, turnpikes - just about everything that contributed to that remarkable pace of industrialization. After the Panic of 1837, when Southern states defaulted on their debts (but the Northern states that defaulted later repaid them), Northern states attracted ample foreign capital compared to the South; the North also industrialized faster. Not a coincidence.

Turn off those spigots of capital, and industrialization in the North would probably have looked much more like it did in the South.

"#3 is utterly hilarious! It has zero basis on anything but fantasy."
Well, you did offer a fantasy scenario of "all the world against the Union, all at once" - I just expanded that to include all Native American tribes too.

In a pitched battle, the Army of the Potomac could have crushed any force of Sioux, Apache, Commanche, Nez Perce, et al. But (1) feeding that army in the Midwest absent railroads in the face of guerrilla harassment would have required magical powers, and (2) that army would never actually have gone west in the face of a credible risk from the sea. What city west of Chicago in 1865 could have withstood such a force?

duncan cairncross said...

Now the polls have closed and we are getting lots of news as they count the votes

David Brin said...

"In a pitched battle, the Army of the Potomac could have crushed any force of Sioux, Apache, Commanche, Nez Perce, et al. But (1) feeding that army in the Midwest absent railroads in the face of guerrilla harassment would have required magical powers, and (2) that army would never actually have gone west in the face of a credible risk from the sea. What city west of Chicago in 1865 could have withstood such a force?"

Doubling down on stark, raving mania and utter lack of the slightest sense of either military or logistic capabilities.

David Brin said...

It did not take the Army of the Potomac to conquer the American West (and yes, commit bad deeds.) It took the entire Sioux and Cheyenne nations to defeat one battalion of the US 7th Cavalry Regiment at Little Big Horn, and even so, two of the companies held them off till relieved.

But if you want this fantasy, Pamela Sargent has a whole novel about the Russians and British arming a huge Amerind uprising in 1865.

duncan cairncross said...

Looks like National have maintained power - at least they are more sensible than most other center right parties

Ioan said...

Well, I just read up on the New Zealand election. If any actual Kiwis are here, please correct any mistakes.

The National Party won the election. They're a Mitt Romney style conservative party (pro Rupert Murdock if I understand the situation correctly)

However, they are 2 seats short of the majority. In order to form a majority, they'll have to form a coalition with either the Green Party or the alt-right New Zealand First party

Ioan said...

Sorry Duncan, I didn't see your posts. Plus, I forgot the nationalities of some of the board members. My bad.

Also, I forgot that the people on this board already knew who the National Party were. Too bad I can't edit my previous post.

M L Clark said...

On the subject of Logan, I had thought mutants numbered in several millions, not hundreds of millions. Did any of the other movies state hundreds of millions of mutants existed? One wiki gave the number as 16 million in the comic books before the destruction of Genosha, the mutant home nation.

Sixteen million is still more than would be on one private academy campus, but movie universes are different from comic books. I thought the movie explained that after the wiping out of Xavier's school, the US had begun to hunt down mutants, implying they did not exist in numbers to resist.

But hey, I never could understand how in Civil War the nations of the world launched a massive search for Bucky Barnes based on one grainy security camera photo, when they know technology exists to completely change somebody's face.

Didn't like Fury Road, so got nothing to say about that.

donzelion said...

I'll look up Sargent's book. But am merely assuming that matters that were difficult to attend to in Virginia (like feeding am army) would be much more difficult in Colorado, and assuming Native Americans on their own land would prove at least as difficult for a foreign army to handle as tribals in Africa or Asia had. The bigger fantasy is that they would all unite at one time, given rivalries, language barriers, and other factors, but that fantasy is a given in the scenario. There were few engagements against the Natives where Americans lacked assistance from at least some of the other natives.

Paul SB said...


I was able to get a bit of reading done yesterday and am in chapter 4 of "Bourgeois Identity." I just wanted to say that I am mostly buying it so far, but I have seen some indications of exaggeration in it. Specifically she claims that the pattern she has found for human history also applies to prehistory as well, and since this is something I know a little bit about, I can say with some confidence that she doesn't know what she's talking about. She does go to one of the classic sources, Marshall Sahlins' "Stone Age Economics" which is sound but outdated in many ways. McCloskey's statements there are an example of what happens when you dip your toe into someone else's field and make strident claims about it. The real experts know what the amateur is missing. But then, most of her readers would be economists, who barely comprehend historiography, much less prehistory.

That said, it probably isn't a huge deal, since the crux of her argument centers around the last 300 years, just like Pinker's argument, which is likewise both strident and inaccurate about prehistory but that hardly matters because the historical data are fairly good.

However, McCloskey has made it clear in the third chapter that the system which created so much wealth is not inevitable, and can easily be captured by the kind of people Dr. Brin refers to as the Oligarchs. In fact, given what has been happening in the last 40 years that seems to be exactly what its happening. You worry about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but this baby is starting to look like the Spawn of Satan. Out it goes... It is quite typical that civilizations are destroyed by the very thing that brings about their rise to prominence.

Paul SB said...

Harkening back to the previous thread:

I don't know about the whole Yoda thing, but I will say this: everybody thinks R2-D2 is so cute, but they had to beep out every single word he said. Every single word, in every movie he was in! Seriously?

Josh Freeman said...

What happened to all the mutants in Logan? Genetically modified High-Fructose Corn Syrup.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Loan

National have an automatic alliance with our "alt-right" party - ACT - but they only have one seat

New Zealand First - is not really an "alt-right" party - it is more of a personal crusade by it's leader Winston Peters
Depending on the subject it can be right wing or left wing - a strange mix!

Jumper said...

I recommend, if you want to not degrade your mood, then don't read about Andrew Jackson.

donzelion said...

Jumper: or if you do research Jackson, try doing it through Daniel Howe's 'What Hath God Wrought." Great history. Not a fan of Jackson the Oathbreaker (wins the most important battle in his career with help of slaves, Natives, and pirates; promises full pay, amnesty and freedom; breaks promise immediately).

I once made the mistake of comparing George W Bush to Andrew Jackson (when one tribe attacks America, destroy another tribe that did not because they might do so later). When I suggested that Bush was more like Jackson than Hitler, a bunch of would be lawyers at a prestigious school got confused. Silliness.

donzelion said...

But I'd still recommend Howe's book, simply to grasp the origins of the pre-millenialists, the importance of technology, and the challenges of distance (and how we started 1815 by moving toward overcoming it). Who new just how and why the postal service was the dominant political force of the first half of the 19th century?

Dwight Williams said...

I'm not sure how familiar you are with the source material that Logan draws upon for inspiration here...?

Paul SB said...


Not to sound too schoolmarm, but I don't think there is anyone here named for a temporary monetary transaction, with or without interest. The first letter is an /i/ but in some fonts that's hard to see.

duncan cairncross said...

loan Ioan ...
Apologies for the mistake

duncan cairncross said...

Damn - on my screen I could see the difference - only just
Once posted - they look identical

Ioan said...


No worries. I know my name is weird for Anglophone countries. You are the one who even let me know that the i could be mistaken for an L.

Ioan said...

Can you please explain why the ACT is 'alt-right' but New Zealand First isn't? Not putting you on the spot, I'm curious.

Alt-right ideology has plenty of left-wing elements. Before 2016, opposition to outsourcing was primarily a leftist position. Trump also used the promise of infrastructure to lure the white working class to vote for him. That probably won him the Great Lakes states. After Bernie Sanders, he sold himself as the "New Deal candidate". That was a reason why 10 percent of people who voted for Bernie in the primaries voted for him in the general election.

Also, the economic policy of National Front in France was very social democratic, if not outright socialist.

David Brin said...



And guys do try to get folks to read this new one. Spread the word, eh?

Andrew K said...

"To make matters worse, we were (still are) the barbarians of Northern Europe who would not suffer tyrants. We fiddled with religious doctrine and made up new ones whole cloth to rationalize our unwillingness to kneel and many other bad behaviors. Many underestimate this aspect of our history. Barbarians we are… to the core."

I'm sorry folks. I see no-one else is calling out this myth-making, so I'm going to have to do it. This is a dangerous self-aggrandising myth. It is not remotely true, in any way shape or form. You are not special, unique or different. Stop pretending to be so. Also, you know nothing about tyranny from a historical perspective and haven't suffered significantly from war or revolution in living memory.

We in Europe have suffered from Naziism, Stalinism, Royal Despotism and foreign invaders and, with a little help (thank you, we do appreciate it by the way) have defeated them all and created a multi-lingual union that the world should be envious of and which is the hated enemy of every tyrant, despot and authoritarian on the planet.

America is facing it's greatest challenge as we speak and if you guys don't wise up and realise you're just as vulnerable to the siren call of authoritarianism as everyone else, you'll fall into it's grasp and there'll be no way out save by a catastrophic war that will lay waste to all your built up industrial and cultural capital. Don't think you're different, it can happen to you too, just as it happened to us. DON'T MAKE OUR MISTAKES.

I have great love for the american experiment, whilst still being extremely critical of it's many flaws. We would have been screwed without you guys during WW2 (the nazis would still have lost, but we'd have just become a giant soviet instead) and I really don't want to see the US continuing on it's current path, because frankly, the EU has enough despots trying to destroy it already.