Saturday, April 28, 2018

Seeing what should be (but isn’t, alas) obvious

= No, we will do the choosing ==

Earlier, I posted a lengthy critique of an issue of the economics newsletter published by my friend, John Mauldin. In a separate newsletter, another friend (of very different political persuasion) Mark Anderson of the Strategic News Service offers an interesting comparison. Very thought-provoking, and your reaction will be very telling.

“Imagine that it is Orwell's 1984, and you live under the most repressive regime on the planet. One day the dictator, Big Brother (remember that wonderful Apple ad?), announces that all citizens will be forced to carry a device that tells the police state everything about them. No one will be spared. There are protests and uprisings, people are jailed, dissenters form rebel groups, geeks find ways to spoof the technology, proxies get on TV and talk about the benefits of sharing everything as a good citizen. A few are shot up against a wall.
“Or, alternatively, imagine you are in the freest nation on the planet. A brilliant entrepreneur (who looks just like Steve Jobs) invents a magical new gadget that does all these cool things, and you can buy one today. Good consumers spend up to $1,000 just to have one, and pretty soon just about everyone does.
“What's the difference between these two scenarios? The main difference is likely a higher take-up rate in the free country and less concern about what these devices are up to.”
I do wish I could share these newsletters with you folks! The business types among you should get company subscriptions! (And how I am tempted to start my own.)

As for Mark’s scenario – in which free citizens ironically choose the same level of self-exposure as in an Orwellian state, through social media self-indulgence -- it was a clever and apt thought experiment... up to a point. Mark showed what should be blatantly obvious -- that there will be no hiding information from elites.

To which I must answer: so? 

That has never been the issue. No human society ever blinded its elites. European efforts to do this - while well-intended - are delusional, in light of wildly proliferating systems like facial recognition. 

Seriously, what's the prescription? Going off-grid? Given the Moore's Law of Cameras, that's utterly futile.

Fortunately, what elites know about us is not the issue.  It never was the issue.  It never, ever will be the issue. It is a distraction from the real issue.

The difference between Mark Anderson’s fictional Orwellian state (or real life China) and a nation of the truly free is not what elites can know about you, but what they can do to you. And that difference is night vs. day.  

Think about why most Americans are not paranoid about all this self-expression.  The patronizing reflex is to assume our fellow citizens are fools. (Well, there's been some evidence for that; we'll see.) But in fact, they do it because they feel safe. And only one thing is responsible for that sense of safety. A general assumption that if powers try to harm them, citizens will have recourse to both light and law.

The crux is this. We can limit what the mighty DO to us only if we can detect, record and deter harmful actions. That's what matters. And it happens not by futilely trying to hide, but by assertively demanding to see. It is the whole purpose for the most under-appreciated amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the wonderful Sixth, that empowers citizens with recourse to the Truth. 

That recourse to light and accountability is not going away! 2013 was the best year for civil liberties in the U.S. in three decades, because that year all branches of the federal government avowed a citizen’s right to record his or her interactions with police. Our wretched-dour media never gave this the attention it deserved – a critical milestone demarking the true difference between America and Oceania, or “Sesame Credit” China.

That is the difference. In Orwellian societies, the Telescreen only looks in one direction, not at Big Brother.  And note that every tyrant seeks, above all, to be safe from the accountability that comes with light. Signs abound, across the planet, that they are laser focused on shutting it down.

It's now been 20 years since The Transparent Society, and I sink into despair over how simple -- yet utterly un-intuitive -- this blatant fact appears to be.  Folks nod their heads and say: "yeah, I get that." Then they go back to hand-wringing about how Zuckerberg or the Deep State is "looking at me!" Never offering a plausible way to stop it, but always talking about hiding. Instead of picking up the one thing that ever made us free...

...the saber of light.

== The blatancy of the Korean “problem” ==

Another area where I impudently declare that I see something others don’t… something that should be “obvious,” is the dilemma of North Korea. 

Okay, here I am on shakier ground, and it’s not a matter of certainty as being willing to take odds in a wager.  Example: I’ll take 3:1 on an imminent and utterly contrived “Tonkin Gulf Incident” leading to a trumped-up U.S. war vs. Iran – a Potemkin/fake “war” with only one conceivable-foremost winner… but all the world’s tyrants doing great.

I’ve spoken less about Pyongyang and the Kim regime. And in what follows, I think it's important to consider thoughts that are outside the standard narrative. (My specialty! But it also means my successful predictions (there are many) are laced with some real howler errors!)

Let’s launch from this quotation I found in the Global Post:  "Whether this imaginative approach — rooted in Korea’s historic strategy of fending off its dominant neighboring powers of China and Japan by aligning with distant powers — is any more realistic than the U.S. expectation of denuclearization"

Okay, let’s dive in:

1. Much is made of Kim's nukes as a deterrence against attempted regime change. But he had that already, with 10,000 artillery tubes aimed at Seoul. The city could be flattened in one hour. No, the biggest reason he needs nukes is because - after the first few -- they are cheap!  

With a dozen safely deployable nuclear weapons, he can justify slashing his ginormously expensive army and possibly save his economy.

Hence, I will take wagers on this: Trump will get a "terrific deal" that grandfathers ten or twenty North Korean nukes in exchange for massive troop cuts on both sides of the DMZ, proclaiming this as a "concession".  When in fact it will be a win-win-win for Kim.

2.  I cannot begin to imagine why every pundit simply accepts at face value the notion that the Kim regime is independent of foreign control. In 1955 there were a million Chinese troops in North Korea.  The 1956 Hungarian revolt rocked both Moscow and Beijing, who doubled down on multi-layered controls over their satrapies, while creating potemkin "local governments" that they utterly regulated.

I am not proclaiming utter belief that Kim is a puppet of his big neighbor. But I am appalled that the very possibility goes unremarked and never even seems to occur to anyone!  When it is the simplest hypothesis under Occam's Razor.

All we have to the contrary are stories and shows.  Dig it: all the brattiness and uncle-killing etc has nothing to do with real power. Ponder how rapidly the Kim regime acquired both nukes (and H Bombs) and ICBMs.  Something isn't fishy? Beijing's "complaints" have always been toothless.

Why would Beijing want this?  

Ponder. The North Korean regime would offer a way to bloody the west -- e.g. via an EMP strike -- while retaining deniability and hence protection from retaliation.  This is exactly what's done by China commercially, via supposedly independent zaibatsu companies.

I don't expect to convince you of this theory... I am not convinced of it, myself!  But the tunnel vision of our punditry -- its inability to even consider the logical possibility -- is something disturbingly common in modern group-think nowadays. Even among very smart people. Alas.

Well... I try...

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Science Fiction Updates: Hugos, prescience, and geeks in high places!

All right, this didn't blow just me away, but also Greg Bear, who says he went slack-jawed one night recently, while watching The Late Show. It appears that host Stephen Colbert and his guest, actor Paul Giamatti, are genuine sci-fi geeks. And not just a little bit! We knew Colbert was a Tolkien scholar. But name dropping Jack Vance, Larry Niven, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore? Okay, they are the real deal! 

(Alas, what am I, chopped liver? Hey, guys, I'll ship you some signed stuff ;-)  

Oh, and Barack Obama has kvelled on Liu Cixin and a number of other SF authors. Is this cult of exploration and Big Ideas inveigling itself into high places?  Perhaps in time to save the world? (See reference to "TASAT," below.)

== A milestone for the genre ==

Congratulations to the 2018 finalists for the Hugo Award!  Including Mur Lafferty, Anne Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, Martha Wells, Sarah Pinsker, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Gailey, Aliette de Bodard, KM Szpara, Suzanne Palmer, Vina Prasad, Fran Wilde, Linda Nagata, Ursula Vernon Caroline Yoachim, Yoon Ha Lee, Kim Stanley Robinson and John Scalzi. Notably, except for the last three mentioned gentlemen, all of the nominees in every fiction category are women or bendgender in some way. Come a long way! (Though SF was always expansive for its time, in any time.) Ursula would’ve been proud. We soar.

(Nancy Kress, Anina Bennett and I held a memorial session for Ursula K. LeGuin this last Saturday, at San Diego's Comic Fest.)

== All you geeks! Here's your chance to save the world! ==

Locus announces UCSD's new TASAT site, for nerdy sci fi aficionados who can cite old SF tales that might be pertinent to modern problems. 

You might save the world, someday, when something weird happens and the official Investigating Commission draws an obvious-but-wrong conclusion… 

...but then a dissenting member looks to TASAT and says: “y’know… There’s A Story About That…”

== A Coming Age of Transparency ==

Chasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World - now out in paperback - is on the Locus 2017 Recommended reading list for Best Anthology. I don't recall ever getting such a positive review from Gardner Dozois as this praise (in Locus) for the anthology.

Much is owed to the incredible quality of the authors, from Cat Rambo and Aliette de Bodard (a 2018 Hugo nominee) to Bruce Sterling, Brenda Cooper, Robert Silverberg, and Karl Schroeder... and to the unusual theme of the volume. As well as my co-editor Stephen W. Potts. You'll find good stories that tease with truly remarkable thoughts that... well... you likely never thunk before.

Here’s the review by Bill Fawcett coming in Galaxy’s Edge:

"The subtitle of this anthology is “visions of our coming transparent world.” All the stories relate to communication and human interaction as modified by technology, and privacy. There are over thirty stories by many of the top writers in SF. Each is categorized under such sections as Big BrotherSurveillanceNo Place to Hide, and Lies and Private Lies. Some of the stories and short essays are included were written from as far back as the 60’s, though more than half of the stories are new.

In a way, it was hard to review this anthology. The usual approach doesn’t apply. At the risk of frightening off readers, I have to say that this is a collection of stories that has something important to say about an issue that is vitally important to your world today, not something you can very often say about a SF anthology. Each story in each topic shows how SF authors have been concerned about the questions of privacy, control of one’s own data or even oneself, and the consequences of technology that will affect the coming decades. More importantly this rather large anthology is brimming with excellent, well-written and sometimes frightening or uncomfortable stories.

Normally you pick out a few outstanding entries that justify the collection. But whom to pick from this one is a problem. There are classics such as William Gibson’s “The Road to Oceana,” emotionally evocative classics such as Damon Knight’s “I See You,” and Robert Silverberg’s “The Invisible Man.” There are stories with an open warning such as Jack McDevitt’s “Your Lying Eyes” or David Brin’s “Insistence of Vision.” (You will never look at Apple glasses the same way again after reading David’s story.) The original stories in the volume are of equal quality and impact. There is no way to avoid one cliché phrase when describing these stories, thought-provoking. Read this just after signing off from Google, or looking up someone on Facebook."

== It wasn’t obvious? ==

How did I know? This is from THE POSTMAN

“It was called 'the Big Lie' technique, Johnny. Just sound like you know what you're talking about -- as if you're citing real facts. Talk very fast. Weave your lies into the shape of a conspiracy theory and repeat your assertions over and over again. Those who want an excuse to hate or blame -- those with big but weak egos -- will leap at a simple, neat explanation for the way the world is. Those types will never call you on the facts."

Lately I’ve been getting mail from folks like author Bruce Golden about this passage. And sure, another book was on my mind when I wrote it, in 1984. My dread of this evil method arose from a deep reading (even then) of history, which was manipulated all too often by monstrous liars.

Indeed, a small part of me frets about my own possible role: did some of today’s masters of Confederate Lie-Distraction read that paragraph above and decide “hey, what a good idea!” Because we are living amid the very crisis that I wrote about, in of The Postman.

Saith Bruce: “Funny, that thought crossed my mind briefly too. That someone connected to Trump (or his upbringing) read that passage and that YOU were the cause of all this havoc. Of course I laughed off that possibility immediately. And, as we know, Trump doesn't read.”

Alas, this havoc predates Trump, who is only the latest symptom. The master manipulator - Rupert Murdoch - does read… or did, back in 1984, when his campaign gained momentum to destroy Western Civilization.

== And more ==

A compilation of videos of some of my interviews on Russian media and speeches while in Moscow, March 2018.

The first issue of the latest reboot of AMAZING STORIES is planned for August, to be available at WorldCon in San Jose; several well-known writers have already committed to contributing to it. The magazine will be published on a quarterly basis after that. Hugo Gernsback published the premier issue of Amazing Stories back in April 1926.  It was the world’s first science fiction magazine and Amazing went on to publish works by writers now recognized as giants in the field, such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, E. E. “Doc” Smith, Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov and others.

The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy, will be held at the University of California, Irvine, on April 26–29, 2018 

"The difference between visionary and crackpot is hindsight." - Irene Petrick

Nerrrrrds onward! Humor from SMBC Comics. 

== For writers and would-be writers ==

Would you like to become a World Famous Author? Or at least improve your writing skills? Odyssey Podcasts are excerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Director Jeanne Cavelos runs one of the best in the world.

Futures is the award-winning science-fiction section of Nature and it accepts unsolicited articles. Each Futures piece should be an entirely fictional, self-contained story of around 850–950 words in length, and the genre should,  be 'hard' SF. Send submissions to, including a 30-word autobiographical note to be appended to the story if published. Prospective authors are advised to read earlier Futures stories at

Writers! Especially of murder mystery (the most pure form of story arc execution): Here’s important news!  By analyzing changes in a deceased person's gene activity, new software can determine an exact time of death, which could assist forensic investigations. “After death, over 600 muscle genes either quickly increased or decreased activity. Meanwhile, there was minimal change in gene activity in the brain or spleen.” There are limits: the majority of increases and decreases in gene activity happen between 7 and 14 hours after death.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What will - what won't happen?

"The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now. But now they're setting records. They're at a record level." - Donald Trump, to Reuters, quoted on

This will be a weekend catch-all that offers up a lot of interesting items - some worrisome and some hopeful - that share a common theme... the future that's barreling toward us.  It was start non-political... then get more so. Because that's where the battle for our children is taking place.

First... some links to how and where you can hear my best blather about the coming era.

== Brin-sights ==

Just posted from the Fire 2017 conference: What is AI Telling Us? An interview about the future with Google’s Joseph Smarr and David Brin.

Posted by GigaOm: Voices in AI: A conversation between David Brin and Byron Reese, discussing intelligence, consciousness, Moore's Law and the likelihood of a near-future crisis in AI - specifically the first AI empathy crisis.

And another, from The Planetary Society Radio: AI, Space and Humanity's Future: A Conversation with David Brin, Emily Lakdawalla, Bruce Betts and Mat Kaplan. 

And now some gosh-wow non political stuff...

== The world moves ahead ==

Dubai is planning to introduce self-driving octocopter taxis sooner than anyone anticipated, with  a maiden air taxi test flight with Volocopter back in Sept 2017 and a planned first commercial service launch with eHang this Summer. Futurist seer John Smart foresees mostly high-end customers, at first. “Using them will be expensive in the 2020’s, and it is my hope that we’ll see air deliveries for urgent goods first, but the most exciting application, multipassenger commuter drones, should start to get mass-affordable for daily use in the 2030s.”  John goes on to discuss noise abatement, flying ambulances, collision avoidance, safety airbogs/parachutes and many other aspects.

A very detailed and informative run-down of how our cities will soon utterly transform into an added dimension. (That is, till some terrorist uses these things to scare us into shutting it all down again, alas.)

One of our generation’s best SF writers – Brenda Cooper – is interviewed about “The Nexus of Digital, IT and Science Fiction in the Future of Work.”

But okay now. Ponder the fight for civilization.

== Will anyone stand up? ==

There are two possible paths for the wave of retiring GOP Congressfolk. Some are slinking in deserved ignominy. Others - moderates like this fellow - can't bring themselves to sink into Trumpist-Confederate swill enough to survive their coming primaries. Both kinds will cash in on rich K Street consultancies, of course. Ah, but can I dream that one would stand and fight for the dream of a sane, decent, fact-and-science-loving version of conservatism? Enduring fire from Fox for the sake of the nation?

These defectors could help save us by standing for one, core issue. Restoration of respect for facts. Helping establish a credible, nonpartisan fact-checking service. No other act would so effectively quell this madness. But I fantacize.There are glimmers that perhaps Mitt Romney's ceaseless efforts will pay off and sober, residually-sane Republicans might hold a Grand Conference, this summer. Perhaps aiming to achieve what Democrats did in their "Miracle of 1947." 

I'm on record as the first to predict this... though still at low odds, since all we've seen so far is callow cowardice.

== Back to the Will ==

Some have questioned my calling George F. Will “the worst American.” After all, isn’t this urbane, articulate Goldwater-Buckley disciple one of the leading voices on the U.S. right now denouncing Donald Trump and everything correlated with Trumpism? And haven’t I been asking for this very thing? For residually sane conservatives to get fed up - at long last - with the accelerating lobotomization and derangement of their movement? For such men and women to stand up, before there’s nothing left of adult American conservatism to save?

I have faith that there are several million such “ostrich republicans,” finally lifting their heads from the sand of denial. Conversations are fizzing across the nation, about holding a conclave of such adults - the way liberals once did, saving their movement in 1947. If it happens, the fragile confederate coalition will collapse and a new phoenix of sapient American conservatism might rise rapidly out of the smoldering sewer of Murdochism-Putinism, ready to sit at the grownups’ table, negotiating with both facts and goodwill about our future together.

Certainly, in his latest missive, Mr. Will calls for the Republican controlled Congress to pry control over nuclear weapons away from “the incontinent tweeting, rhetorical taunts and other evidence of the frivolity and instability of the 13th president of the nuclear era.” 

He has elsewhere tepidly called for an end to the Right’s open and all-out war on science, and every other fact-using profession. And tepid support is better than none, in our battle to stave off idiocracy.

So why my fury at the man?

Is it because he for decades aided and abetted the radicalization, the confederatization, the dumbing down of U.S. conservatism and paving the way for a return of feudalism? Sure, but Mr. Will wasn’t the only one making that satanic bargain, betraying the Founders, decency, truth and - yes - Adam Smith. So why single him out?

Because, out of all the rationalizers who helped re-ignite phase 8 of the American Civil War, George F. Will did it with fiercely acute intelligence, clear-eyed perception and eloquence. Any other rationalizer might claim: “I never realized!” But GFW cannot. He knew. He knew all along, and deliberately helped to make the hell about which he now whines.

Oh, do read his missive about control over missiles! I’m glad that George F. Will is now using his eloquence against this phase of insanity and treason, even if I refuse to embrace him as a prodigal son. Indeed, elsewhere I’ve proposed the best way that Congress could protect us from a mad-president spasm… a method that is far simpler and more inherently effective than Will’s vague arm wavings. A method that’s immune from presidential vetoes and Fox diatribes, that would give our military professionals a place to go, if they are ever given a terrifying order.

My proposal. That could save us. Seriously.  

But sure, if he can help stir some cojones into the blood of McCain, Flake, Corker and that lot, so they’ll finally rise to their duty, then I’ll sign George F. Will’s pardon papers. Like in that movie "Inglorious Basterds."

But I’ll not shake his hand.

== By his fruits you shall know him… ==

That biblical saying suggests that we should heed actual facts, actual evidence, and take note when a leader – or a movement or a culture – always does badly by its people. And what's clear after 150 years is that the Confederacy… that angry twin welded to America’s hip… has an absolutely wretched record of governance. For example: “Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Utah and Connecticut rank as the five healthiest states, while West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi rank the least healthy in America's Health Rankings, according to the report by the United Health Foundation.

If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit & Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception. Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals.

Along similar lines… “Why Inequality Predicts Homicide Rates Better ThanAny Other Variable  The surprising factors driving murder rates: income inequality and respect.” Another thought provoking article in Evonomics.

It has now been seven and a half years since Sean Hannity said waterboarding was not torture, so much so that he'd be willing to be waterboarded for charity.  Because, ya know, it's like a dunking booth. Keith Olbermann pounced at that time and offered $1000 for each second Hannity could tolerate it.

And now, we are awaiting the other shoe to drop from Hannity's Cohen-connection.  Good lord. What will it take for the Fox News Boycott to take off?  

And finally...

Another deduction that is disappearing is one for fees paid to agents, other outside managers or headhunters, who take a commission on a salary directly from an individual. Are... you... kidding me?  Creative people must be shown their place.

And then....  Confound the science... One of the best pieces of musical political satire I’ve seen in years! Moreover, it does what no one else seems capable of... going to the heart of the real problem -- the open and all-out war against our civilization's sapience -- in a way that makes you simultaneously laugh... and cry.