Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Our dumb-as-rocks New Feudal Lords… steering us to Helvetia

Back from schmoozing with his fellow oligarchs at Davos, the U.S. President is about to proclaim his agenda at the State of the Union, presenting a picture of both nation and world that will be scrupulously tidy and scrubbed free of facts. But one core point of today's back-from-the-dead confederacy is likely to be left out, for now -- slandering the “deep state” – civil servants, intelligence agencies, the FBI and military officer corps. 

In fact, Donald Trump is likely to point at a few military heroes in the balcony, but don't be fooled. They were the last fact-centered professions to be attacked; but now it’s their turn.

For years I inveighed, we need a tsunami of retired officers running for office in every ‘red’ district in America – folks who are perhaps conservative by personality and demeanor, but modern and scientific, and hence willing to pragmatically negotiate for progress. And free of puppet strings leading to the busy, meddling fingers of oligarchs. It’s happening! 

Bless ‘em. Read about three women - graduates of Annapolis - running for Congress in reddish districts. One of them just scared off her Republican opponent, Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who announced his retirement, rather than face her in November. The article cites some GOP candidates who are also former officers, which is fine by me! Let members of this fact-using, pragmatic, “deep state” community run as both dems and repubs! (I’ve linked to Col. McGrath before.) 

And so, before diving in to a range of political topics, here’s another example of why sincere professionals – traditionally deeply apolitical – feel they must step up. In an open letter to Congress on Thursday, a group of 17 former nuclear launch officers argued that President Trump “poses a clear and present danger to the country and the world” and warned that “there are no reliable safeguards” to prevent Trump from deciding to launch a nuclear missile on his own.

In fact, I have offered up the most logical way to protect the world from a presidential “spasm.” It’s very simple, though it would take some courage from at least fifty GOP lawmakers. Only look at it if you plan to seriously read and understand. It’s not for skimming. 

The alternative that people are bandying about – impeachmentis a trap! We are being deliberately led to it and this is not a recommended route out of our dilemma. In fact, there are worse things than a manic clown car. Far worse things. 
== A gathering of gnomes ==

After delivering on his one actual campaign promise, to the billionaire caste (“I just made you a whole lot richer”), Donald Trump seems to taunt the working class whites who called upon him to 'drain the swamp.'  Breitbart is a wholly-owned propaganda arm of the Mercer family, when Fox and InfoWars and Cato are all owned by other Davos elites. One gambling lord launders money from a foreign government through his Macao casinos straight into the Republican Party. Another just resigned as GOP finance chair, fleeing sex-abuse charges, but safely continues funneling favors to Trump, a fellow casino mogul.  

It's no surprise that one side of the ongoing civil war turns a blind eye to rising plutocracy. The confederacy was always a tool of feudal aristocracy, at every phase. In the 1770s, when southern tories were big supporters of the King, and the 1850s and 1860s Civil War phases, defending the property rights of slave-owning plantation lords.

== The one question that would expose every hypocrisy ==

The central question that not a single Democrat has ever publicly asked is “When do you MAGA folks envision that America ‘Great’"? 

Under the 'Greatest Generation' that overcame depression, crushed Hitler, contained communism, took us into space, cured polio and built a mighty middle class?

Fine, only dig it, those GGs knew the feudal enemy and they adored Franklin Roosevelt, voting in high tax rates that (surprise!) accompanied the highest growth and best-flat-fair capitalism in U.S. history. Sure, we’ll concede that our parents in the Greatest Generation accomplished a lot – like beginning the long struggle to cleanse our national heart of racism, sexism and other absurd wastes of talent. Led by FDR, their defeat of aristocracy and confederatism produced our ‘greatest’ era! And dismantling that modern American Contract has been the sole GOP-plutocrat aim since 1981.

Alas, when they met in Davos, theoe zillionaires did not do what I portray some of the rich doing in EXISTENCE - soberly discussing how to rule better. At least, better than feudalism's dismal record of 6000 years. No, these masters-of-the-world will hear the mob sharpening scythes, pitchforks and torches... and they'll do what lords always do: order sycophants to sing their praises louder.

Or, as Ken Fitzer  put it: Feudalism: When it's your Count that votes.”

Then there’s the story about the rich guy noticing anger simmering in the faces of the poor, so he tells the poor white guy that the poor black guy wants to steal his cookie. Same as it ever was.

== Are we “hacked”? ==

An important article by Roger McNamee - an early Facebook investor-insider - explores how the algorithm-led strategies of Google and Facebook made them inherently vulnerable to foreign hack-meddling aimed at wrecking our civilization:

“It reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery. This is precisely what happened in the United States during the 2016 election. We had constructed a modern Maginot Line—half the world’s defense spending and cyber-hardened financial centers, all built to ward off attacks from abroad—never imagining that an enemy could infect the minds of our citizens through inventions of our own making, at minimal cost. Not only was the attack an overwhelming success, but it was also a persistent one, as the political party that benefited refuses to acknowledge reality. The attacks continue every day, posing an existential threat to our democratic processes and independence.”

The author, once a friend and mentor to the CEOs of these brash companies, now has burned his bridges in calling for a national response based on veritable survival.  Let me add that the core problem of insularity and echo-chambers (‘Nuremberg Rallies’) that can be manipulated by cynical savanarolas is one that I predicted, long ago, in my novel EARTH (1989)

Remember: whether or not the Mueller investigation proves “knowing collusion” isn’t the point!  What matters is that hostile foreign powers wanted a U.S. political outcome, strove to achieve it, and got what they wanted. And they are still at it.

Though we must always calibrate! Jim Wright – whose Stonekettle blog is always lively and fascinating – inveighs that the word “hack” has very specific meanings that should not be muddied as we (rightfully) complain about and act against foreign and domestic meddling.  

“Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other platforms were manipulated to shift outcomes in Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, and unless major changes are made, they will be manipulated again.”

I consulted at Facebook, some months ago. One top piece of advice? “Get out of the news business.” Now, it seems they are taking steps.

== Action Items! ==

You should ask your congress-critters to support the Secure Elections Act.  “The bill reads like a computer security expert’s wish list.”  Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are key co-sponsors of the bill. Which makes me curious about this young Lankford feller. I mean, really? A republican senator supporting a reform that would eliminate a major GOP cheat? Of course it won’t pass this year. Murdoch and his shills know they’ll need every cheat to suppress to coming Wave. But could this fellow be part of the revival of sane-not-treasonous conservatism?

Truth is as vital a part of the civic, social and intellectual culture as justice and liberty. Our civilization is premised on the conviction that such a thing as truth exists, that it is knowable, that it is verifiable, that it exists independently of authority or popularity and that at some point — and preferably sooner rather than later — it will prevail.”  This LA Times editorial: Why Trump Lies dissects the problem when a U.S. president appears completely incapable of recognizing his own lies and taking even marginal pains to keep them consistent, or to not paint us - or even himself - into lethal corners.

The top confederate article of faith - rigorously conveyed on Fox - is: “repeating an assertion makes it so!” Hence the open war against all fact-using professions.

Alas, instead of bemoaning this, leaders and thinkers in Sane America need to think tactically and strategically. “What can be done to make the issue of “facts” a decisive weapon, instead of one more thing to whine about — *rewarding* the enemies of fact, as they giggle victoriously over our complaints?  Don’t any of you liberals and moderates and nerds remember the modus of Junior High School bullies? Who answered our appeals to reason with guffaws of mockery?

I laid down a way to do this. Alas, not one moderate or sane US politician or pundit has come anywhere near doing what has a real chance of working. But here it is:

The Times finishes wisely: Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.”

And thus they prove they are fools. You are asking that the folks in Sane America be what they already are, and implicitly demanding we continue to wrestle with the confederacy using Sumo, grunting and shoving by inches. Instead of shifting to Judo.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Opportunities and dangers in Space! (If we are even allowed to get out there.)

Another space posting! We'll start with some news items:

Here's a great summary of the coming year's super endeavors in space exploration: the biggest rocket launches and missions for 2018 - including the launch of NASA's InSight Mars Lander and the Parker Solar Probe.

NASA has started planning a mission that would send a spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri system in... 2069. Yes, that's 52 years away, and timed around the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11's trip to the Moon.

Compare government’s ability to at least make small investments aimed at payoff on a century timescale… to the recent reduction of industrial R&D, eliminating nearly all the “R” and reducing Return on Investment (ROI) horizons from ten to five years… and now most companies' ROI horizon is more like five weeks. There was an architect to this calamity to western capitalism – his name was Milton Friedman – but an entire caste of vampires financed the architect. And we'll get back to that another time.

Oh, here's an interesting glimmer. What sort of atmosphere could surround each of the seven rocky, Earth-sized planets that orbit a star known as TRAPPIST-1? Several calculate as likely to retain theirs.  

== Politics of Space ==

Among the most puzzling aspects of our current phase of civil war has been the sheer number of issues that should be decided via rational negotiation over facts and evidence, that instead have become political dogma footballs and unnecessarily partisan. This plague of partisanship has even crippled decision-making over space science. I’ve earlier spoken of how Democrats and Republicans now differ diametrically over whether our near-term emphasis in human spaceflight should be on asteroids or a return to leaving dusty footprints on the surface of the Moon. 

More about that in a minute. 

Only now see how Breitbart and the far-right pundit-sphere is raging against SpaceX, the one rocket company that brought competition back into space launch systems, making costs plummet, saving the taxpayers hundreds of millions, and re-taking the lion’s share of commercial launches for America, while making all its parts and components in the USA. (The ULA’s Atlas uses Russian engines.)

Read how the Breitbart complaints actually have nothing whatsoever to do with Elon Musk’s company, and in fact prove the diametric opposite. But Elon is part of that Pacific coast tech-elite who earned their wealth through market innovation in new goods and services, instead of inheritance, Wall Street jiggering, gambling or sweetheart resource extraction. Hence, he is a hated member of the fact-using community. Automatically The Enemy.

Seriously read this! You’ll learn a lot about the tech and politics of rocketry. 

== What we must prevent – being “filtered” out of the galaxy ==

Ah, but can doom be prevented?

The latest fad among bright intellectuals? “Great Filter” fetishism. Based on the Fermi Paradox (the riddle over the apparent absence of extraterrestrial civilizations) and a few logical incantations, they conclude that such a filter must winnow out all tool-using species, before they can spread into the cosmos.  

And the most ‘popular’ failure mode they’ve largely glommed-onto?  The notion that “technology democratizes the means of destruction, until even small groups or individual lunatics will have it in their power to slay billions, or topple civilization.”

Now, to be clear, as one who catalogued the largest number of “fermi” theories for the longest time, I do rank a Technological Self-Destruction Filter as one of my top ten plausibles. But five or six others rank much higher, in my estimation. 

Sure, we should, as a society, innovate and invest to ensure that our odds improve!  And I argue elsewhere – in both fiction and nonfiction - that we’ll do this best by moving forward with technology transparently, so every dangerous loony knows that he is seen – not by an all-powerful state but by peers and neighbors who welcome positive-sum innovations, but quickly denounce negative-sum actions.  

I type all this with the Las Vegas mass-shooting fresh in memory. Citing the Fermi Paradox, "filterists" claim that technology is empowering individuals & small groups to wreak havoc. Thus, other species out there either clamp down, forbidding technology and democracy… or else some lone tech-empowered maniac makes them extinct. Either way, no one goes out to the stars. 

It’s a tenable hypothesis and worry. And sure, let’s start taking vigorous precautions. Still... those who claim it is the underlying Fermi explanation are leaping to an absurd conclusion. We – not Homo sapiens, per se, but this quirky-creative-accountable offshoot civilization -- are the counter-example! An open transparent society, empowers millions of citizens to spot each others’ stupidities and cancel many of them.

Elsewhere (and at several Washington alphabet agencies) I’ve described how the ratio of sane to insane practitioners of a dangerous, dual-use technology can converge toward overall safety. But demonstrably this can only happen in an open, and not a tightly controlled society.

And that (I believe) is a paramount answer to the Fermi Paradox. There is a way to skirt the filter of tech-driven self-destruction, but few species or societies ever try it. Instead of clamping with fierce, top-down control (the method prescribed in 99% of past/feudal human nations) we should stay true to the opposite approach that gave us everything. 

Including - for the first time - hope.

== Alas, the nuts are shouting on our "behalf" yet again ==

More on METI: I am cited briefly in this short essay arguing against any rush to make contact.
Which brings us to the latest METI-stunt. “The San Francisco-based METI Institute sent its message toward the red dwarf star GJ 273 (also known as Luyten's Star), 12 light-years away from Earth. The message was sent in October from the Eiscat transmitter in Tromsø.” 

Now to be clear, I like Doug Vakoch, the METI-head. A nice fellow… and now a cultist, who has declared his intention to perform sneak attacks like this one, avoiding all proper scientific vetting, discussion or process, gambling our future based on questionable assumptions and assertions, some of which he repeats, despite knowing them to be utterly disproved. When Frank Drake sent the “Arecibo Message” in 1974 — a brief blip to the Hercules Cluster, he chose an objective 24,000 light years away, in order not to commit humanity to a fait accompli it might regret. But these fellows insist on praying for salvation from above, on our behalf, without ever consulting us.

In a Newsweek interview, Vakoch said: "Everyone engaged in SETI is already endorsing transmissions to extraterrestrials through their actions." Alas, he knows that is an utter lie

Ah, but are “they” already here? The latest – secret – Pentagon UFO sighting investigation team has been shut down.

To be clear, as I point out in my short story “Those Eyes,” the very logic of UFOs comes down as weird and suspect, especially in a world where the number of cameras doubles roughly every year.

My classic 1983 paper on SETI and “The Great Silence” – still the only full review article of nearly all the field’s basic concepts – has been laboriously translated into Turkish!

See the originalSurprisingly, there have been almost no new ideas since then, though plenty of heated opinion! Quarterly Journal of  Royal Astronomical Society, fall1983, v.24, pp 283-309.  

This site that links to many articles and speculations by David Brin about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

== The Moon, redux ==

I'm on the science fiction advisory panel for Peter Diamandis's X Prize Foundation, that has done such spectacular work using prize incentives to get teams working on difficult problems. Example, the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize stimulated advanced in portable diagnostic tools that soon will be available to latch onto your cell phone! 

Alas though, one of the most ambitious of these contests has (for now) gone bust. The Google X Prize -- luring teams to send their own lunar landers to traipse across the Moon without government subsidy -- has passed its deadline. 

I am sure it will be renewed and eventually win great success. Private efforts... and some continuing national science... aimed at the Moon is fine. Heck, I might be proved wrong!

Still, as many of you know, I do not approve of the fixation I referred to, above, of the Republican Party to spend nearly all our NASA budget on a "return to the Moon." There are no defensible reasons for such a boondoggle and zero foreseeable benefits to the United States joining a pack of Apollo wannabes chasing the ego-satisfaction of planting footprints on that dusty and (for now) useless ball.  

Even Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN and his way cool sequel ARTEMIS, avows that the only industry with any clear profit potential, down that lunar gravity well, is tourism.  Hence, small surprise that a hotel magnate wants to set up shop, down there!

As I've explained elsewhere, all the scientists and tech entrepreneurs and people who can sniff trillions in wealth want to go mine asteroids!  An eventuality that legacy Earthly mining interests are desperate to prevent. Think about how that might have influenced this GOP-loony obsession for the Moon.

Ah well... this was how I put it in a snarky FB posting:

"One of dozens of actions taken by the villain in the still-suppressed novel THE SIBERIAN CANDIDATE, to undermine the US and the West. We're living in a 2075 simulacrum holo-sim dramatization of that best-seller. I won't spoil it for you. But civilization eventually prevails. The moon is left to dullard Apollo-imitators while America gets stunningly rich on asteroids and Phobos and Mars."

It's a trap. Like every single thing done and said by the confederate forces that took Washington.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cheating, oligarchy - and an uneven playing field

Below, I'll weigh in in why it doesn't matter at all if some in the FBI or on Mueller's team dislike Donald Trump.  But first, let's talk about te great news being celebrated by the world's owner-caste, right now in Davos. Their biggest investment has paid off.

Now that the Tax Cut for the Oligarchy has passed, watch the pattern of the last several decades play out. The GOP has controlled Congress for all but two of the last 24 years, setting new records for indolence, sloth and corruption, as respect for that institution plummeted and only cheats like gerrymandering keep their grip on power. 

But they are always hard-working - even manic - on one topic. They can be relied upon to deliver "supply side" gifts to their uber-rich lords. For example:

"GOP mega-donor Charles Koch and his wife donated about $500,000 to Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) joint fundraising committee, days after the GOP tax plan was passed... lowering the corporate tax rate and estate taxes....  He and his wife also gave $237,000 each to the National Republican Congressional Committee on the same day..."  

Drain the swamp? There have never been better days for K Street lobbying firms.

To be clear, some tax cuts are different than others. It would be harder to argue against cuts that were actually aimed at achieving - in real life - the fantasy goals of every Supply Side gift to the rich. When cuts are targeted to incentivize R&D, or investment in productive capital, or export sales or job growth, these things historically happened, resulting in economic stimulus on the "supply side." So why did this GOP tax cut (and nearly all of the others) do none of those things?  Not even some infrastructure spending that might prevent a recession?

As Adam Smith described... and every sane economist knows... most plutocrats won't invest in such things, when they get a big new slug of cash. Instead, it nearly always goes to inflating "rent-seeking," passive asset bubbles. (Anyone notice the stock market? Or how passive rentier income was way-advantaged in the Tax Bill, over wages or innovation?) 

The top trend subsidized by Supply Side "reforms" -- after skyrocketing wealth disparity -- has always been ever-shorter ROI (Return of Investment) horizons.

Note: that's diametrically opposite to the long range view of guys like Elon Musk or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, who got super rich by working with engineers to deliver better goods and services. Guess which political party these innovator billionaires are never part of?

== Real entrepreneurs know this... ==

Fully 50% of our economy derives value and function from the prodigiously creative innovation that Americans performed since before the Second World War. That trait defeated Hitler, ended the Depression, won the Cold War, built a great middle class and - more importantly - kept the greatest general peace the world ever knew. It made the U.S. so rich that we could uplift most of the planet through our ironically-beneficent trade deficits: buying anything the world wanted to sell us and thus transforming their nations, cities and lives.

It took us to the moon and made our existence vastly more interesting, putting all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips! Those who would directly undermine our national penchant for innovation are - therefore - at-best fools and at-worst outright traitors.

And you know that I mean the “T-word” literally. It is the only conceivable explanation for the Mad Right’s outright and open War on Science — along with every single other fact-centered profession.  There is only one reason for them to do that… to eliminate any competing elites who might counterbalance a return to 6000 years of feudal power.

New York Times
Now look at an article Lost Einsteins: The Innovations We're Missing, by David Leonhardt in the New York Times - which included a national map that uses one metric — number of patents per 1,000 children — to elicit obvious… well, just look at the map and see what thoughts are roused.

Now I have some reservations about the article itself. It hollers so, over the glass-half-empty that the author fails to note how full it is! This is the core insanity of liberalism. If writers like this were more balanced - giving us glimpses of good news, as well - then Fox & idiots would not control the narrative, so.

Consider this: right wingers -- and the prevalent Dumb Wing of Libertarianism -- sneer at liberal efforts toward equal rights for all genders/races etc. They deride this great project as based on sappy do-gooderism or else sanctimony. They style themselves to be the “practical” ones.

But what is practical about wasting talent? What could be less “libertarian” than pre-biasing a child’s outcome based on traits for which she had no choice, and thus preventing her from proving herself with accomplishment? Thumbing the scale so that the number of skilled/confident competitors is minimized? That was the trick of feudalists for 60 centuries, and shame on every faux-libertarian who justifies it! Even if Ayn Rand approves, Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek despise you.

There are many aspects to this problem, such as the failure of our leaders to stand up to those overseas who steal our innovations hand over fist. Some of that is to be expected - Americans were I.P. thieves in the 19th century - but the insatiably rapacious extremes of recent years are so predatory that they are tantamount to war. Tantamount to stupidity! Because the predators - unable to engender their own creative caste - are killing the goose that has laid their own golden eggs of development. And my biggest disappointment about Barack Obama was how tepidly he addressed that travesty.

Arnold Toynbee, arguably the greatest of all historians, said that the one trait shown by almost all nations that failed or collapsed was when they stopped investing and heeding their own "creative minorities."

Which leads us back to the glaring generality… that the wing of American political life that should care most about the health of innovative enterprise has become its worst enemy. Again, the recent Tax Bill wages open war on every single aspect of American ingenuity, creativity, science, R&D, and innovation, top-to-bottom, so systematically that its true author must have been some foreign despot.

== Prosecutors gotta prosecute... ==

As promised, here's the polemical point that no one seems able to make, in defense against the latest Fox-Mad harrangue about the Mueller probe.

Does anyone in politics or punditry have three neurons to scrape together? Trump supporters scream “bias!” because some at the FBI, or Fusion GPS, or or Robert Mueller’s team may have - despite Mueller’s scrupulous efforts - displayed distaste against DT or even Republicans. “Bias!” 

Alas, Trump opponents should have a trivial answer - one that no Democrat or journalist or independent public figure has spoken, to my knowledge. That answer is… “So?” I mean prosecutorial bias? Horrors! … Um, not!

Dig it, our justice system - like markets, democracy, science etc. - is designed to be adversarial! There is no need for investigators or prosecutors to be completely disinterested or impartial, so long as they follow well-know standards of conduct and eventually, before trial, subject their behavior to defense discovery and scrutiny. Eagerness to “get that guy” is their job!

Take Ken Starr, whose relentless pursuit of Bill Clinton cost the taxpayers upwards of a hundred million dollars, put the nation through hell, and finally came up with just one thing: a husband desperately fibbing about some consensual-adult 3rd-base infidelity in a hallway. That… was… it.

Sure, the whole Starr Chamber witch hunt was disgusting political theater, but among all the decrepit lunacies of that affair, the least noxious one was “these investigators blatantly dislike the guy they’re investigating.” Starr and his pack committed innumerable lies, torts and even criminal offenses. But enthusiasm for their goal was not one of them. So long as a skilled defense team has full access to every action and datum… and so long as the courts are fair and unbiased… then prosecutors should certainly want to succeed at prosecuting.

All of the current, desperate confederate whining against Mueller et. al. is far beyond hypocritical. It isn’t remotely logical! And it is a sign of the microcephalic stupidity of liberals, that they are unable to pause, perceive this counter-meme - and a myriad others - and actually respond with knife-like logic. 

Caught between evil-treason on one side and stupidity on the other… what can we do?

Well, get more folks to subscribe to Contrary Brin!


== Addendum: Hayek would be so mad, by now... ==

I mentioned him earlier: How ironic that Friedrich Hayek is generally dismissed as an apologist for elimination of all market regulation, yet the liberal (leaning-Keynesian) economics site - Evonomics - explores Hayek’s views on both market theory and evolution with considerable respect. (Evonomics is also the one place, online, that most often studies and lauds Adam Smith!) In this conversation, several leaders in both economic theory and evolution start by praising Hayek’s revelations that markets are about information and how over-regulation is inherently fraught with errors that stymie the crowd- and open-sourced wisdom of markets.

Alas, Hayek thereupon was lured to the opposite extreme, as his arguments were used to justify elimination of regulations that kept markets flat-open-fair and competitive. If 500,000 civil servants are too narrow a clade to allocate economic resources well, then how is an incestuous, conniving-secretive and conspiratorially greedy CEO caste of golf buddies supposed to be more wise? 

Hayek’s criticisms of socialism applied cogently to Leninist regimes, but as these scholars point out, they’re much less meaningful when aimed at Norway.

“Regulations” that break up power concentrations (e.g. anti-trust action vs. monopolies and duopolies) are not suppressors of competitive enterprise, but rather gave birth to its golden age… as our parents in the Greatest Generation well-knew, before those beneficial and stimulative regulations were chopped away by right wing “reforms.” (Followed by collapsing growth rates.)

Hayek’s greatest failing? His inability to refer to the other great enemy of market enterprise, feudalism, which wrecked far more nations and economies than poor, dumb socialism could ever dream of. A flawed and stupid system that wrought hell in 99% of past cultures, feudalism is rooted in human temptation to cheat, and it appears to be roaring back. And the shills who work for the lords are - alas - really good at oversimplifying and misquoting Friedrich Hayek.

The fundamental is this: if markets work best when the maximum amount of information (and least deception) is acted upon by the widest diversity of market participants... then liberal policies that intervene to ensure all children get education, health care and infrastructure are best -- not for “goody-two-shoes” reasons but for entirely pragmatic and Hayekian-capitalist reasons! 

And "conservative" policies that empower a narrow caste of 5000 secretive-conniving golf buddies are the worst enemy that free and creative markets could possibly have.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Science Updates!

== We are still busy, even while sabotaged ==

Among my messages that get the most buzz, is proclaiming that we need to be militant and proud! This spectacular and near-miraculous, scientific civilization can only be defended by folks who start by admitting it's wonderful. That the incessant campaign to undermine science - and every other fact-using profession - is an existential threat... not just to our nation, civilization and survival... but to something that may even be crucial to our galaxy.

Make no mistake, among all of the fact-using professions, science is the one that most stands in the way of an oligarchic-putsch. And hence, see how "Trump has tried to restrict science almost 100 times already."

A lot more than that, since I know of many cases not listed in this daunting compilation.

In sharp contrast, see my TED-style talk where I castigated the theme song of whining Baby Boomers ("I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!") and called for it to be replaced by something vastly smarter and more useful.

== Worrisome news ==

Each year a  report, titled Global Catastrophic Risks, is based on the latest scientific research, and contains contributions from leading academic experts all over the world, detailing major global risks, and provides a summary of what actions are being taken to manage them. Of course nearly all of them can be addressed by a confident, transparent and scientific civilization. Failed models like “traditional” feudalism will not work.

But danger can be stunningly beautiful! Hurricane Harvey as a ball of swirling sea salt. Hurricane Irma scooping up the sands of the Sahara. Hurricane Ophelia, bizarrely, taking smoke from Portugal and pulling it up to the coast of Ireland. A new visualization from NASA shows the hurricanes from 2017 season from a new perspective — that is, their impact on particles carried in the wind.” 

Dig it, the folks doing this are smart and know stuff.  Alas, in 2017 that makes them the enemy, at least according to those who cry: "ignore all the category 5 storms that used to be rare!"

Ah but.. The planet just had its hottest 4 years in recorded history, while confederates fiddle in denial, Earth burns.

== Ah, the future (sci fi) is here ==

Tentatively, we may have edged forward a notch in understanding the origins of life. Scripps chemists found a compound, diamidophosphate (DAP), that seems to have played a crucial role in the formation of cell-based biochemistry, allowing for the combining of three ingredients that are critical to early life forms — short nucleotide strands to store genetic information in, short amino acid chains to carry out the majority of cell work, and lipids to form cell wall structures.. It was even shown to phosphorylate simple sugars, which could have led to the creation of carbohydrates that supported the formation of early life.

And now this... Mail-order DNA CRISPR kits allow anyone to hack DNA: Some would call this the Beginning of the End and the solution to the Fermi Paradox.  In EARTH and EXISTENCE, I called such desktop gene splicers "MolecuMacs": Desktop kits will enable hobbyists... biohackers to edit bacterial DNA (for only $170 -- now on Amazon).

== Biomedicine ==

Researchers have experimented with psychedelics with more rigor lately, including LSD and psilocybin the main ingredient in magic mushrooms, which seem likely to be added to treatments for depression. After the treatment, there was less blood flow in the part of the brain that is involved in emotion processing, called the amygdala. 

Weird. Men who received blood from women who had been pregnant were more likely to have died after three years, compared to men who received blood from a male donor or from a woman who had never been pregnant. Well, I’m doing my part. I just reached my 11th donated gallon.  That’s over 40 liters, to you modern folk….

In a small study researchers found that most dyslexics had dominant round spots in both eyes - rather than in just one - leading to blurring and confusion. They discovered differences in the shape of spots deep in the eye where red, green and blue cones - responsible for colour - are located. In non-dyslexics, they found that the blue cone-free spot in one eye was round and in the other eye it was oblong or unevenly shaped, making the round one more dominant. But in dyslexic people, both eyes had the same round-shaped spot, which meant neither eye was dominant.

An Australian-made 3D-printed  titanium and polymer sternum and ribcage has successfully been implanted into a 20-year-old. The movie KickAss was prophetic.

I always suspected this: “Death just became even more scary: scientists say people are aware they’re dead because their consciousness continues to work after the body has stopped showing signs of life.  That means that, theoretically, someone may even hear their own death being announced by medics…. (T)here’s evidence to suggest that there’s a burst of brain energy as someone dies.

== In other news ==

These people have one thing in common  ... they don't exist.  These face images were generated in NVIDIA's research lab by an artificial neural network.  These people don't seem to be residents of Uncanny Valley to me.  

Unlucky dinosaurs! Scientists estimate that only 13% of the Earth’s surface would make the perfect target for the 10km asteroid that struck Earth 66million years ago. Anywhere else, and the gases and aerosols spewed into the atmosphere would likely have been a bit milder, allowed some dinos to survive the ensuing winter.

Underwater archaeologists return to excavate the Antikythera Shipwreck.

Urban quadcopter taxis will arrive soon. The software for quadcopters is very well-developed and AirBus is betting that the battery energy density is improving fast enough. Expect to see more flying taxis and services within the next few years as the technology is further developed and tested.  Especially in LA, where, until last year, all high rises had to have flat-tops and heliports.  That rule ironically ended just before this new era!

== And back to the war to save us ==

VITAL (non-Brin) Weekend reading: The most recent edition of The World Post (carried on the WP site) is one of the most important ever, compiling a dozen links about how not-helpless we are, to deal with climate change.  Hope can be more disturbing and demanding than "all-is-lost" nihilism! But in fact, we may be able to turn the corner on this, if our ship's tiller can be yanked out of the hands of rich morons.

--- EXAMPLES: "From the oil belt of California’s San Joaquin Valley, Bridget Huber reports that climate policies are not killing jobs, but creating them. Through the prism of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs of the ironworkers’ and electrical workers’ unions in Fresno, she traces the return of robust job and wage growth to what had become a depressed economic zone. This is largely thanks to state mandates to meet requirements for renewable energy production. “Solar saved our bacon,” one veteran ironworker told her. Also contributing in a major way to high-wage employment, she reports, are the construction jobs associated with California’s massive high-speed rail project running through the region.

"Brian Barth reports from farms in eastern North Carolina where pork production giant Smithfield Foods — the largest producer of pork in the world — has rolled out efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its meat production “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” writes Barth, “agriculture accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the same as the combined total for electricity and heating, and well above the transportation sector, which contributes just 14 percent. Add emissions from refrigeration, shipping and other activities required to get your dinner from farm to plate, and the food system’s share of global greenhouse gases climbs to roughly a third, making it easily the most climate-unfriendly sector of the global economy.”

"Barth discusses Paul Hawken’s book “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution,” in which the environmentalist lays out the top 100 solutions to climate change. Of these, “11 are related to food systems, seven to energy systems and none to transportation systems. Electric vehicles are #26, while ‘tree intercropping’ — planting strips of apple trees throughout a corn field, for example — is #17. The top food-related practices — reducing food waste (#3) and switching to a plant-rich diet (#4) — are largely consumer-driven solutions.” Yet Barth’s reporting suggests that farmers and producers play a crucial part in reducing emissions as well. Barth also discusses silvopasture — a “mashup of forestry and grazing” — which is the highest-ranked agricultural solution to climate change in Hawken’s analysis.

"The challenge for all these distributed cases of climate action is how to scale them up to realize the potential for massive change as the clock ticks. The political roadblocks of vested interests which always resist change aside, what has been true throughout history is that, in the end, scale and resources follow cultural commitments. That commitment will only grow deeper if society becomes more fully aware of the whole picture of what it is already doing."

First a pro-forma announcement: “Just so you know: there are no 3rd party ads on my site. No guest posts. No one can buy a slot or a referral. I try always  to  attribute quotations, especially lengthy excerpts. And yes, I write this much. Phew.”