Sunday, January 24, 2021

Science fiction! – and related projects that affect the world

Did you step out to view Mars during "opposition"? When it's both closest to Earth and fully illuminated at midnight? To prepare... listen to a free audio version of my story "Mars Opposition!" (found in Insistence of Vision.) A creepy tale of the weirdest invasion-of-Earth, ever! With perhaps a powerful message for our time. Then go out tonight and stare up in restored wonder.

Wasn't that conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter amazing?

And yes, this bog posting is a chance - (Post Inauguration!) - to catch up on news I've stored up for better days. And so, taking a brief break to look up from our current crises at vistas of science fiction! Though while we're on science fiction, I'll repeat one politically pertinent link to a passage by Robert Heinlein, who spent most of his life active as a Roosevelt Democrat. The highlighted paragraphs here will knock your socks off with his concern and prescience. Use them and certain solipsists we know will stammer into silence.        

== News and more from the future! ==

In case you missed these: the Hugo Award winners for 2020, including A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine for Best Novel, and This Is How You Lose the Time War,  by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone for Best Novella, Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemison for Best Novelette, LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor for Best Graphic Story ... and many other fine choices representing the best of science fiction and fantasy for the year.

TIME Magazine recently listed “Eight books that eerily predicted the future.” And Mental Floss lists nine. Can you guess what book is the only one on both lists? Yes, it's EARTH, though each list chose it for different reasons! But I’m glad to be listed with some awesome peers in the craft of peering ahead.

One of the oldest notions in fantasy is a hero’s confrontation with the supernatural. Humans are forever pondering some way to change the hand they’re dealt. From Gilgamesh and Odysseus to Faust and Daniel Webster, fascinating characters have tried arguing with fate or divine will… or the Devil.  And hence, in the genre of “debating the devil.” My just-released playThe Escape: A Confrontation in Four Scenes”  takes a hyper-modernist and rather science-fictional take on that theme, ready to share some fun with you, along with fresh takes on Genesis and Babel, destiny and randomness, reshuffling the deck and challenging the Grand Order of Things. 

(Groups volunteering to do Zoom table readings are welcome!)

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert put out an amusing parody spoof: You owe Kevin Costner an apology for The Postman! Choice! But then... what am I, chopped liver? 

Hey, Stephen, I thought you were a sci-fi nerd!  Particularly relevant today... as we see would-be Holnist coup-attempts against America. It started last year with our oldest institution, the USPS. 

Coincidentally, I've just re-released a new and revised version of The Postman - in ebook and POD formats, with a fantastic new cover by Patrick Farley. (Actually your choice of TWO different spectacular covers!) And for teachers or book clubs... a discussion guide is available on my website.  

== Assertively looking ahead! ==

The Lifeboat Foundation has teamed its recipient of the Guardian Award for engagement in efforts to reduce humanity's Existential Risk -- or danger of self-inflicted extinction. "The 2020 Guardian Award has been given to David Brin in recognition of his long-term interest in existential risks. Um, well, gosh. Thanks. Though if there was ever a 'generous' activity that came tinged with self-interest....

Staying pertinent....  How can we aggressively change memes so our citizens think more long term? I'm sure some of you are aware of Stewart Brand's Long Now Foundation, building the Clock of the Long Now. One cute aspect, they put a zero in front of all dates! So this year is ... 02021 ... (Kinda cool looking? Though it made 02020 creepy.)  If we all did that, it might help spread a sense that we are ancestors with obligation to a palpable, if yet-unborn, future.

Of course the notion of time as a river with many currents and eddies is an ancient one. It inspired my own artistic extrapolation in my very first nominated short story "The River of Time," here in the eponymous collection.

In their latest near-future Washington thriller - Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution - P.W. Singer and August Cole – authors of the novel most-read by military officers everywhere: Ghost Fleet) – return with a fast-paced adventure exploring a near-future when robotics and AI both empower creative citizenship and amplify the destructive ability of terrorists.

In Existence I have scenes about how the most advanced AIs and robots may need to have childhoods. After all, that is how we humans did it, with extended neoteny. Now go enjoy a sweet story about fostering a robot child, by Tobian Bucknell.

== Sci Fi on TV ==

It won't be easy. It will take a lot of imagination and smarts to make Asimov’s Foundation into a TV series folks can follow. I wish them luck. 
Making Gaal Dornick female was a very very easy move. They'll need added sub plots to provide any action. Bear in mind that Benford's book and Bear's take place before the first novel - Foundation - and my own novel (Foundation's Triumph), which ties up all of Isaac's loose ends, takes place just after the exile to Terminus. Hari's last and greatest adventure.  

Immodestly, I assert I am likely a top expert on that universe and the show runners might want to chat?

Alas, this slur-attack on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series is an unsapient grunt, though typical of today’s much-declined National Review, which has William F. Buckley spinning so fast that Connecticut draws half of its power from his grave, fueled by the sustainable, never ending resource of idiocy.  

Still it reminds me of my own essay about Foundation, Robots and the argument that Isaac had with himself, decade after decade, first with the statistical "gas law" approach of psychohistory, then the human oligarchy of the 2nd Foundation, then the governance-by-sterile-eunuch robots model - which made the Galactic Empire not "roman" but more "Chinese"!  And finally Gaia-Galaxia. … And why things could not stop there. They just had to come full circle.

== Other sci fi miscellany! ==

You can watch the first episode of Marc Zicree's Space Command - featuring such wonderful actors as Nichelle Nichols, Robert Picardo, and Bill Mumy.

Tom Cruise is reportedly trying to film an action movie in space. Deadline reports that Cruise has partnered with SpaceX to make it happen. If it comes to fruition, the untitled project would be the first narrative feature film to be filmed in space.”

A U.S. Naval Academy instructor and part-time sci fi author appraises the most recent space battle that concluded season one of PICARD. Fun to see how future oriented the officer corps has become. (After all, I've repeatedly been welcomed to give talks and courses at the US Naval Postgraduate School.) 

And finally... 

Wow, shades of my “North American Church of Gaia !  (From EARTH.) A proposed non-religious systems of faith and rituals for lovers of the world.


Larry Hart said...

From the previous comments...
Keith Halperin:

Sundiver's refrigerator laser- I've read that it wouldn't work.

Dr Brin defends the idea in his own comments, but even if this were the case, that would fall under "Let it stand" as far as I'm concerned. One can't re-write an entire story when a crucial plot element is later understood to be less plausible than it was at the time of writing. Attempting to do so inevitably results in what Dave Sim called "a kind of reverse alchemy, turning gold into lead."

In Foundations' Triumph- IMSM, there are *hard-scrabble folks living around what used to be Chicago and ~500 years later every last virus on Earth is supposed to be dead due to the radiation. I don't think radiation works like that.

To which Dr Brin replies:

As for FT... bah, I have no memory of radiation killing all viruses. I said that? Show me where!

If I'm remembering the source material correctly, Keith isn't saying you wrote that part. He's saying Asimov wrote it in Foundation and Earth, but that your depiction of "hard-scrabble folks living around what used to be Chicago" just 500 years earlier doesn't work well with the Asimov book.

Of course, my contention is that Asimov's later books themselves don't work well with his earlier ones, so caveat emptor.

* * *

Dr Brin:

A Fridge is a machine whose net effect is to create entropy but export it into the kitchen and heat up that room. And incidentally keep it cold inside the box. I will face any of the snarlers in a wager debate over it.

To me, that's so obvious as to not need explanation, even without an advanced physics degree. The simple fact is that everything that happens "creates entropy", and that it is an article of faith that if a refrigerator creates cold in a defined space, it must be creating more heat in the rest of the universe.

I used that fact as an argument against a global warming denier back in the day--an actual engineer who scoffed at the idea that global warming would affect the jet streams in ways that make some parts of the world (like Chicago) colder than they were before. I mentioned that he would scoff in exactly the same way at the assertion that a refrigerator increases the total heat of the universe. I said that that was the kind of thing that Republicans can pretend are ridiculous in front of an uneducated public--a refrigerator increases temperature?--but that is self-evidently true by the laws of physics.

The same guy thought he had a "gotcha" argument against evolution (organization) being possible because of energy input into the system by the sun. His exact phrase was, "But what if you include the sun in the system? Ruh roh!". As if this would never have occurred to any of us, nor would the obvious rejoinder that if the sun is part of the system, then that part of the system gains enough entropy to make a loss of entropy on earth possible. None so blind.

David Brin said...

If you have an energy GRADIENT then you can tap it to do useful work. The sun has one... the gradient from copious numbers of high potential energy hydrogen ions (protons) DOWNHILL to lower potential energy helium atoms. So long as that gradient is available, the sun can keep doing what it does, with a gradient from the interior downhill to the light escaping at the photosphere.

That's still very high quality light, which falls on the Earth where plants sup along that gradient, and herbivores sup the high potential energy (with losses) that the plants invested in sugars... and then Carnivores. But all that supping degrades the gradient, releasing infrared THAT MUST BE DUMPED INTO SPACE for the whole thing to work.

In other words, your so-called "engineer" denialist friend is a low grade moron.

Aside. In winter, the North Pole gets COLD! Always will, even when your friend and his imbecile colleagues cause us to die from the 3 degree increase our ecosystems can't bear.

The Polar Vortex happens because global warming causes low pressure areas during winter in the US midwest, which SUCK the polar chill southward especially in that area. WE get the polar air and the pole stays warm, leaving very little pack ice that all melts, to the delight of...

you friend's Russian pals.

David Brin said...

Yeah I know he's not your pal anymore.

scidata said...

I have a lot to say about FOUNDATION, having written a fair bit about it. Of course, gushing forth on it in CB would be like lecturing Hypatia about conic sections.

Just one point. The National Review piece gives the usual facile run-through of psychohistory. Dr. Brin provides a more comprehensive evolution in that 2015 piece. Also, the Mule didn't destroy the Foundation, he temporarily defeated it militarily. A different thing, in some ways, the opposite thing (akin to a Queen sacrifice in chess). My take is slightly different than our host's 'full circle', 'loose ends' one though.

In the 1980s, Asimov was fascinated by personal computers (many Tandy ads), internet dreams, and computation as a tool for studying complexity (eg fractals). He died right at the dawn of supercomputing (1992). Had he lived, I suspect he would have fully embraced 'Computational Psychohistory'. Not silly Big Data dreck, but the much deeper bootstrapping, theory of mind approach. However, I never even met Asimov, so it's presumptuous in the extreme for me to speculate further.

Of greater immediate use to me is Asimov's wonderful and life-long advocacy of literacy and numeracy. Fuse his thoughts on self-education with Hans Bethe's thoughts on citizen science, and you have a powerful tool for crafting the continuance of the Enlightenment.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Quantum cascade lasers are a real method of generating laser light, using layers of silicon wafers and creating a cascading charge differential across those layers that discharges photons as the charge cascades to lower and lower energy levels across each layer.

A doctoral thesis my best friend and I stumbled across a while back demonstrated, at least mathematically, that the same effect could be created with a heat differential, resulting in a quantum cascade laser that functioned as a heat sink. We use that principle as the primary/sustained method of active cooling for Terran starship in our Fearless universe that we've been working on in bits and pieces together (I also posted a few chapters of a side story in that universe before switching to my Retreat Hell project).

Such a laser system, sufficiently developed, could easily be the core of the sundiver's laser heat sink. As long as you have a heat transfer system that can create local gradients for the cascade laser to run off of, the cascade laser can pump heat out of your refrigerated box/space ship bubble.

David Brin said...

Terrific Ilithi Dragon. Very pertinent. Too bad I already finished my update of Sundiver! But fixed other things and I'll tuck this in a pocket.

I hope a few of my pre readers got in touch about your novel.

Unknown said...

"Earth" is not the only one that's on both lists - "Stand on Zanzibar" is too.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Dr. Brin, yes, one of them did. He's in the middle of another project, and I have been swamped with work this week, so there hasn't been much more than a mutual, "Hi, I'm a bit busy at the moment, I'll be with you shortly."

Thank you for the introduction!

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin, Larry Hart (Thank you, Larry.): yes that's correct- you didn't write about Earth being dead in FT, but Dr. A DID in F & E.

@ Dr. Brin: I'm not an engineer or a thermo-physicist (and have no skin in the game):!topic/

@Dr. Brin: Thank you for your comments. I'm curious- is your Uplift timeline going in this period?:

2006 CE/244 BxY: Earth based observers discover NuDawn orbiting in the habitable zone. (I can't find any habitable worlds discovered in 2006, best to retcon.)

2025/ CE/225 BxY: Near light speed probes sent to six planets orbiting stars. All planets are in the habitable zone and show evidence of water and O2.
(Better retcon this- don't think it'll happen, unless you've already put in a POD from OTL...)

2050-2100 CE/200 BxY to 150 BxY (Approximately): Earth history dominated by the Great Collapse.

2080-2200 CE /170 BxY to 50 BxY: Earth dominated by The Bureaucracy.

2231 CE/119 BxY: Chimp uplift effort begins...

BECAUSE, I'm playing around with some guidelines/fillers for something you might want to use, completely discard, or open up to fanfic (NOT from me, I don't write fanfic).

Keith Halperin said...

My earlier one was too long, so:
Consider if you will:

From award-winning science fiction writer David Brin, author of the acclaimed "Uplift Series" comes a new novel from the beginning of the Uplift Era-

February, 2138: Lieutenant *Ruth Demwa of the Greater San Diego Police Department is brought in to investigate three gruesome murders of prominent research scientists at the Institute for Zoological Enhancement (commonly called "the Uplift Institute") in La Jolla. There is no evidence from the SensorNet and no signs of the 'Net being hacked- the GCPD AI is unable to make any headway, and so Lieutenant Demwa is assigned to the case. After making some progress, Lt. Demwa is informed that the investigation will now be led by a senior police official being sent in from the Alliance for Global Prosperity's (aka, "the Bureaucracy") capital in Singapore, First Superintendent Anjali Pillai of the Federal Ministry of Public Security.

Here's a bit of what I'm thinking about (again, I'm not a fiction writer):
(Lt. Demwa has just initially met real-time with Superintendent Pillai at the GSCDPD District headquarters, and the meeting did not go well. She's now headed over to the local cop bar "The Shield", and is walking across a small nearby park...)
As Ruth walked through Huerta Park, she took in the poly-glottal scene that was Greater San Diego: her earpiece picked up snatches of Bangla from the new immigrants from flooded Bangladesh, along with the older English, Espanol, Putonghua, and Hindi. At 32, Ruth felt OLD. She saw a group of teenagers- 366 Fans judging by their badges and avatar-holos. She couldn't quite make out what they were saying (it sounded STRANGE) so she sub-voced her AI to increase the volume. She caught some words, but the rest was gibberish, so she sub-voced the AI again to translate, but while the words translated- the meaning didn't. Then she got it- these kids were speaking that new mixture of English, Espanol, and half a dozen Asian languages that some were calling "Anglic."

Leaving the teenagers behind, Ruth noticed a group of somewhat-older men, women, and non-bins getting into a heated discussion, but not TOO heated- they were being careful not to lower their "*soshes". They seemed to be arguing whether "buzzing" or "dazing" was better- using tech or enhanced meditation/biofeedback produced a better natural high. It seemed that all they could agree upon was that "boppers" who used bio-tweaking to produce the effect voluntarily were SCUM. Ruth found this kind of talk insufferable...


*One of Jacob Demwa's great-grandmothers.
**Social Credit scores.

duncan cairncross said...

Ahh - right
I have just sent an email to Ilithi Dragon

Sorry I was waiting to hear from him - my bad

Larry Hart said...


The National Review piece gives the usual facile run-through of psychohistory. Dr. Brin provides a more comprehensive evolution in that 2015 piece. Also, the Mule didn't destroy the Foundation, he temporarily defeated it militarily. A different thing, in some ways, the opposite thing (akin to a Queen sacrifice in chess).

Remember that the Foundation had become decadent with the three generations of hereditary Indbur mayors. An argument could be made that The Mule ended up reinvigorating the Foundation, forcing it back on track (albeit in the way that Hitler ended up strengthening European democracy).

The part of the National Review article I found most fascinating was basically an aside, as follows...

For a time, he [The Mule] disguises himself ***SPOILER REMOVED *** to distract attention from his designs (something that, it is theorized, George Lucas was planning with the much-loathed Jar Jar Binks, which, if he had, would have single-handedly redeemed both that character and the Star Wars prequels).

I've mentioned before that the rise of Palpatine is really Qui-Gon Jinn's fault, as he was the one who (for no particularly good reason) decided to bring Jar-Jar along, and then Jar-Jar helped Palpatine rise to a position of power. But what if Qui-Gon had been clandestinely influenced to make that decision without his even realizing that his mind was being tampered with? Hmmmmmmmm.

scidata continues:

My take is slightly different than our host's 'full circle', 'loose ends' one though.

So is mine, as I've stated before. Dr Brin rightly demonstrates that the Foundation must have led to something like the Second Empire rather than something like Galaxia by the year 1000 FE. However, I don't see that so much "tying up loose ends" as "demonstrating that the 1980s and 1990s novels couldn't have happened in that universe." I'm not saying our host did the job badly--I'm saying "the job" (tying up all the loose ends) is impossible.

And, I'm still waiting to see what happened with the Solarian mutant at the end of Foundation and Earth. But then again, I'm still waiting for the Jon Sable/Batman crossover that was promised around 1984 or so. So I realize that says more about me than about writers and publishers. :)

scidata said...

@Larry Hart

I'm still waiting for the LOST HORIZON sequel where Conway establishes the post-conflagration Renaissance. IMHO, that was the true inspiration for FOUNDATION, at least the meatier stuff beyond just Gibbon cribbin'
Heisenberg and BNW in 1932, Schrödinger/Dirac and LH in 1933. Wow, uber zeitgeist.

Alfred Differ said...


The articles related to radiators are mostly irrelevant for laser cooling ideas. Emission of thermal radiation is very different. What gets discussed there IS relevant to other authors and their stories, but not a mirror ball shaped ship.

The other two discussions are mostly amateur efforts to understand entropy which trips up physics grad students often enough to embarrass us.

There are two aspects of the refrigeration laser that can reasonably be debated.

1. The first is the location of the energy gradient upon which it feeds. Obviously it can't be on the interior of the ship. Everyone would die. It has to be at the boundary most likely just inside the mirrored surface. A descent engineering question would be whether the gradient could be managed well enough to feed the laser without melting any parts. This turns out to be the same engineering challenge rocket engine designers face trying to keep a combustion chamber from melting and they have ingenious ways for doing it. No lasers, though. Not yet.

2. Generating coherent gamma rays would require source material with a meta-stable pair of states with a gamma ray sized energy gap. That means big atoms with electrons* down in the bottom shell OR nuclear states. Probably the later. Pumping the atoms between the pair of states requires some precision… and in this case precision with incredibly high energies. Possible? I don't know what material might suffice, but that's not necessary for good science fiction. All I need as a technically capable reader is a plausible path for the narrative. Throw some research money at some nuclear physicists and… maybe. It's not implausible.

As for the seeming violation of entropy, that's more about how few people actually understand the concept. They are understandably fuzzy on it because thermodynamics is intentionally fuzzy on it, but dig deeper into statistical mechanics and the fuzz vanishes. Micro and macro states and all that. Explaining that online is about as much fun as explaining relativity, though.

* I kept typing 'election' instead of 'electron'. What a crazy last few years it has been. I NEVER would have done that 20 years ago. 8)

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

* I kept typing 'election' instead of 'electron'.

For some reason, I often see "American" on the screen when I just meant to type "America". That's not the kind of thing a spell-checker would "fix", so I have to wonder if I'm subconsciously hitting the final "n" without realizing it. It's happened too many times to be happenstance or coincidence. If it's "enemy action", I fail to see the point. :)

I only mention this because I've seen the same mistake on other online comments and blogs as well. So it's not as simple as me not knowing how to type.

Darrell E said...

Regarding refrigeration lasers, I reading the comments here I remembered a paper I came across a few years back, Powering lasers through heat.

I actually cited this article in a discussion on another site in which someone writing a story was asking for suggestions for plausible cooling systems for combat spaceships. I cited the paper and Dr. Brin's use of a refrigeration laser in Sundiver, but it got little interest. No one thought it was plausible though none seemed to understand, or at least pay attention to, what the authors of the paper were saying. At least they never addressed the key characteristics the authors described.

The research the article describes was in pursuit of ways to cool electronics. Some excerpts . . .

"In micro electronics heat often causes problems and engineers have to put a lot of technical effort into cooling, for example micro chips, to dissipate heat that is generated during operation. Innsbruck physicists have now suggested a concept for a laser that could be powered by heat."

An issue with current quantum cascade lasers . . .

" Light amplification in such a cascade laser is achieved through a repeated pattern of specifically designed semi-conductor layers of diverse doping through which electric current is running. "The electrons are transferred through this structure in a specific series of tunneling processes and quantum leaps, emitting coherent light particles," explains Helmut Ritsch, Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Innsbruck, the functioning of such a laser. "Between these layers the electrons collide with other particles, which heats the laser." Thus, quantum cascade lasers only work as long as they are strongly cooled."

The researches "bright" idea . . .

"The theoretical physicists suggest using heat to power the laser. In their work, recently published in Physical Review Letters, the two physicists propose the theory that the heating effect in quantum cascade lasers could not only be avoided but, in fact, reversed through a cleverly-devised modification of the thickness of the semiconductor layers. "A crucial part is to spatially separate the cold and warm areas in the laser," explains Kathrin Sandner. "In such a temperature gradient driven laser, electrons are thermally excited in the warm area and then tunnel into the cooler area where photons are emitted."

This produces a circuit where light particles are emitted and heat is absorbed from the system simultaneously. "Between the consecutive emissions of light particles a phonon is absorbed and the laser is cooled. When we develop this idea further, we see that the presence of phonons may be sufficient to provide the energy for laser amplification," says Kathrin Sandner. Such a laser could be powered without using electric current. "Of course, it is quite a challenge to implement this concept in an experiment," says Helmut Ritsch

If these researchers are on to something and such a quantum cascade laser as they propose is feasible to build, you have a laser that is powered directly by heat and directly cools by the process of lasing.

Keith Halperin said...

@Alfred. Thanks. As mentioned, I'm not technically/scientifically astute enough to evaluate the arguments and have no opinion one way or the other- merely mentioning that some people (rightly or wrongly) thought the refrigerator laser wouldn't work.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Re: The Hugo Awards. I note that most of the winners this year are talented authors who are NOT solidly white and/or Eurocentric. I further recall the debacle several years back where a group of entitled haole authors decided that this was intolerable, and decided to game the award system and make sure the winners fit their definition of 'science fiction writer.' Very dog-in-the-manger; it reminded me of the old commercial for dog food: "My dog's better than yours! My dog's better 'cause he gets Ken-L-Ration!" While they succeeded to some degree, the fans pushed back by nominating some authors just to point out how silly the objections were, including a porn author who gained his own following for it. Myself, I'm glad to see the expansion of my reading options and the recognition of alternate viewpoints.

David Brin said...

Thanks Keith. Tweaked the Timeline in Heaven's Reach. Your citrate is welcome.

Keith Halperin said...

Thanks, Dr. Brin. Sorry I don't follow your meaning of "citrate".
I'm unfamiliar with the word so I looked it up: "a salt or ester of citric acid".

Coming soon: the revised timeline/background for this "thought-experiment for a Sundiver prequel."

David Brin said...

Agh. Autocorrected CITOKATE. citokate from polite adults is welcome.

David Brin said...

Darrell... fun reference!

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr Brin: Thanks!

@ Darrell: This is interesting. I've heard high-powered lasers described as "a blast furnace which produces coherent light as a byproduct," or something like that. I wonder what the maximum efficiency of this system could be? Would it be limited by the temperature differential?

More laser speculations from a layperson- I wonder if you could use:
1) oceanic temperature differentials (as in OTEC) to power a laser?
2) either the ionosphere or the Terran/Jovian Van Allen Belts or the Jupiter/Io flux tube as either lasing media or power sources?
Also, I understand that Mars has a 10.33um atmospheric laser over Chryse Planitia. Could we potentially do something useful/interesting with that?
(When I was a kid, I'd asked simpler versions of questions like these of my engineer cousin.)

David Brin said...

Keith to get a laser or maser you need a medium with an inverted energy structure... more atoms or molecules at the higher state... plus particular traits that allow "stimulated" release of those higher states when one wave passes by at exactly the right wavelength, "recruiting" that energy to join it.

And finally you need mirrors. Two of them facing inward, causing those recruited waves to go back through the medium, recruiting more... and more... and more. As I portray GRAVITY WAVES being recruited from the planet's interior between two mirroring singularities... leading to a GRAVITY LASER or Laser or gazer. What fun?

You can get very weak versions in some kinds of atmospheres, but the mirrors aren't very good. I consider how such an effect might be responsible for the "Proxima Signal."

Dennis M Davidson said...

CITOKATE: A proposed pronunciation for this acronym.

I've wanted to use this acronym in conversations but stumbled over how it would be pronounced. Here's my take:

CITOKATE see TOCK uh tee

Emphasis on 'TOCK' which would be pronounced like the 'tock' in tick-tock.

The flow of the word CITOKATE would be similar to the pronunciation of the upstate New York city called 'Schenectady'.

TCB said...

I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, "Feynman, I know why all elections have the same charge and the same mass" "Why?" "Because, they are all the same election!"

Keith Halperin said...

Thanks, Dr. Brin.
Below is my timeline.
Use it, change it, hold it, or toss it out- it was fun for me to come up with and that's why I did it.
I'll now do the same for background.


2008-2036 CE/242-214 BxY: “Cold Civil War” in United States.

Late 2010's CE/Late 230's BxY: Observers discover numerous planets in the habitable zones of various stars.

Late 2010's CE/Late 230's BxY Start of Uighur Genocide in China.

2020-2021 CE/230-219 BxY: 21st Century Pandemic I.

2021 CE/219 BxY: First Attempted coup in the United States.

2036 CE/214 BxY: Second attempted coup in the United States.

2040's CE/200's BxY: The “Roaring '40's, major environmental crises- lengthy droughts in Midwestern, Southwestern United States (“The New Dustbowl”), Southern Europe, China, and multiple super-cyclones in Southeastern United States, South Asia. Martial law, active secessionist movements in the United States.

2041 CE/209 BxY: “Neo-Traditionalist” Faction forms within the Chinese Communist Party.

2045 CE/205 BxY: 4 nuclear weapons (covertly obtained from Pakistan) detonated in Beijing by Uighur Salvation Army in reprisal for Uighur Genocide- 600k+ immediate fatalities, the surviving population is relocated to various nearby provinces and the government temporarily relocates to Chongqing.

2045-2065 CE/205-185 BxY: Increasing influence of the “Neo-Traditionalist” Faction of the Chinese Communist Party.

2050-2100 CE/200 BxY to 150 BxY (Approximately): Earth history dominated by the Great Collapse/”Slowpocalypse”.

2060's-2080's/CE/180's-160's BxY: Exploratory probes sent to star systems within 20 ly of Earth stars from Project Starshot. All target planets are in the habitable zone and show evidence of water and O2.

2065 CE/185 BxY Full power of “Neo-Traditionalist” Faction in China. Under its directives the Alliance for Global Prosperity is formed in conjunction with the 20 largest Chinese companies and banks as extension of The Silk Road Initiative, officially to aid the Earth in environmental relief but essentially to extend China's worldwide hegemony. The AGP's Headquarters (the de facto Earth capital) are in Singapore.

2080-2200 CE/170-50 BxY: Earth dominated by AGP, aka, “The Bureaucracy”.

2100 CE/150 BxY (Approximately): End of Great Collapse/”Slowpocalypse”- major worldwide environmental restoration started under the AGP.

2106 CE/144 Bxy: Ruth Demwa born in Honolulu.

2131 CE/119 BxY: Chimp uplift effort begins.

2138 CE/112 BxY: Murders at Institute for Zoological Enhancement (commonly called "the Uplift Institute") in La Jolla.

David Brin said...

Dennis I will not "rule" on how to pronounce an acronym! But I say See toe Kate because it's easiest.

Being human, of course I triage who I'll listen to criticism from. Cogency and facts are para mount. But courtesy comes a close second. In any event, the two traits often go together.

Keith thanks I'll weave some of that in.

scidata said...

Spent time hanging around biologists. Pronounced CITOKATE like cytokine, just assumed everyone else did too :)

Larry Hart said...

My own corollary to CITOKATE, although I don't think of it in acronym form. It does seem to hold, though:

Boredom Is The Only Known Antidote To Procrastination.

duncan cairncross said...

Re- China and the Uighurs

My prediction is that China (the current China) will end up with a "Marshal Plan" - and make them
(a) Well off
(b) Good Citizens
Its not much of a prediction as their "Marshal Plan" is well under way

China is the only place that could have something like the "One Child Policy" and ONLY apply it to the majority!
Han Chinese were coverred by the one child policy - none of the many minorities were

Alfred Differ said...

I preferred the four syllable version--- see-toe-ka-te
(Probably watched Hogfather too often)

or CRIT-O-KA-TE since I also like acronyms that self-reference.

Even better would be one with a small error in it that invites criticism. 8)


Yes! One election looping through time.

David Brin said...

Alfred, heh.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin:

@Duncan: re: Uighurs & Han:
If by "Marshall Plan" and "Good Citizens" you mean putting 1,000,000 in concentration camps and forcing assimilation: yes, I agree that's what's going on and will continue.

Robert said...

I've wanted to use this acronym in conversations but stumbled over how it would be pronounced.

"Sigh toe Kate" is how I've always said it. :-)

jim said...

Gravity Lasers
You know, gravity lasers are a fine techno-McGuffin for a story but they would have some real show stoppers if someone tried to build one.

A fundamental challenge is, if micro black holes exist, they would be very small and hence only reflect gravity wave lengths smaller than the diameter micro black hole. Would such small wave length gravity wave -be detectable? Do anything?

Next the gravity “mirror” is the wrong shape, you want a flat to slightly concave “mirror” for a laser not a spherical one. (I guess if you let the gravity wave length be several orders of magnitude smaller than the diameter of the micro black hole it could appear to be relatively flat.)

Next you don’t have a proven gain material for the gravity waves.

Nor do you have any way to hold the gravity wave mirrors in precise alignment (any idea on how to build micro black hole grippers? What would you make them out of? How would you keep them precisely aligned?)

And jeepers, how are you going to create the first gravity wave, at the right wavelength, that you are going to bounce between the mirrors and gain medium? Jiggle a black hole?? How?

David Brin said...

Jim, har! A cogent list of ways that a micro-singularity would not AT FIRST APPEARANCE exhibit the traits of a laser mirror. I have not the time to elucidate reasons to believe that gravitational circuit elements are expected to differ from electronic and photonics ones. But the ensemble is more likely to resemble the CAVITY resonators that make most masers than the flat-reflective mirrors of a laser.

Good (attempted) citokate though, and certainly cogent questions to ask, if we ever see putative reflections off a gravitational entity.

scidata said...

Not trying to poke the bee hive, but the Wikipedia page on Gravity Lasers mentions OSC but not DB :(
ENDER'S GAME is the second biggest dispute I ever had with my kids' teachers.
Then there's Le Guin's Ansible...

Also, I find the ambiguation between gravity gasers and gamma-ray gasers very irritating. If I was king, I'd implement a Royal Bureau of Acronyms.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Keith

More like 10,000 people and "Concentration camps" where the inmates go home for the weekends!

A huge amount better than the 60 year old "Camps" where the Palestinians have been put by their fellow Muslims in places like Jordan

Larry Hart said...


Also, I find the ambiguation between gravity gasers and gamma-ray gasers very irritating. If I was king, I'd implement a Royal Bureau of Acronyms.

Gravity lasers should be "grasers".

David Brin said...

Duncan have you factual info to support the notion that the camps are that ... benign?

Keith Halperin said...


TCB said...

Re: acronyms. I noticed a while back that acronyms and initialisms were already proliferating enough to be a bother, and if you'll notice, we tend (when there is more than one identical acro/initialism) to refer to the context. For instance, DM can mean data mining, direct message or dungeon master. When there is ambiguity, expect trouble. "Zuckerberg? Why, he is the Data Mining Direct Message Dungeon Master!"

Re: China, Uyghurs, camps, etc,. etc. I do not think I will Ever be convinced it was really that good an idea for Presidon't Noxin to open relations with mainland China. This merely gave the Chinese Communist dictatorship all it needed to become a richer and more dangerous foe of democracy: time, legitimacy, money, breathing room, and eventually markets and technology. The notion that more capitalism would lead to more democracy was a fable that we Americans believed, but I suspect the CCP knew better...

Interestingly, one of President Biden's executive orders may, finally, reverse the trend of outsourcing vital US dependence on Chinese industry. Thom Hartmann explains: Biden announced No More Waivers, the US Government must buy American, unless it's an emergency. From Reagan on, presidents have issued waivers on that Roosevelt order, and Chinese factories have prospered while US jobs have withered.

Note that I would have no objection, NONE, to enriching mainland China IF it were a democracy. If we buy Chinese, let it be from Taiwan.

David Brin said...

I have a brand new Macintosh with OS11.0. Sweet in some ways. Horrible in others. I'll append below the latest version of my list of vexations. But here's one in particular:

I DON'T WAS AN EMAIL PROGRAM! I especially don't want Apple's MAIL to keep popping up when I don't want it. I want to disable the thing but nothing seems to work.

Other vexations:

- A BIG ONE: Is there any way I can DISABLE MAIL so it won’t pop up and take over my flow? I don’t want the darn thing! (Reason#1: For some weird reason Command-i - which gives ITALICS in most places, opens MAIL from inside Safari.)

- Is there any way to make “open in a new window” the default when I double click on a folder? Rather than the obnoxious-‘modern’ “navigate forward and back arrows” formalism that cripples my ability to move files?
. . . Yeah, yeah, I can bypass by using a right click on the folder. But can I change the default?

- Any way to get the Mac to DEFAULT to ultra small icons and small type on the right, instead of forcing me to make those changes in every darn window via command-J?

- A BIG PROBLEM WITH WORD: When I select an entire paragraph and click to “italics” it proceeds to alter THE ENTIRE DOCUMENT! I can tap Un-Do and get just the paragraph italicized. But that means I have to always be on my toes, watching for this loathsome feature. This wretched thing ONLY happens when I’ve selected the FIRST CHARACTER of a paragraph, so it’s clearly some wretched glitch that involves the hard return or paragraph command. Clearly some WORD macro is set off when a whole paragraph has been selected. Has anyone else seen this on Word 360?

LESSER PROBLEMS WITH WORD * The menu bars above pages in WORD are gigantic space wasters and filled with crap I don’t need. I’d love a way to force the menu bars to use small icons.

* Many functions that used to be one-click (e.g. in TRACK CHANGES) are now two or three clicks, making editing far more onerous.


- it’s not crucial. But in the SOUNDS preference pane I try to choose which sound effect beeps when I drop files etc? I choose one. But next time I drop a file it’s gone back to the same ‘bloop.” Sound Effects won’t change.

- Another minor matter. Can I make it so when I open a file it doesn’t do that visual gotcha leap-at-me spring-load effect, but just dammit opens? Each time a file jumps out and SPROINGS at me, I twitch. And I shouldn’t have to put up with that.

- I recall once I found this hidden gem. When I select a bunch of icons in a window and go to View, is there any way to CLEAN UP SELECTION, stacking neatly ONLY those icons I highlighted, and not letting the system crazily “clean up” every damn icon in the window! Anyone know how to do that?

- Notifications: I don’t want to turn them off completely. But the nuisances make a mess of the top right corner which is EXACTLY where they also put icons for peripherals or external drives/whatever and the notification blocks em! Summed over time, it’s way too much effort to make them go away. There should be a choice to have them fade away with time.


duncan cairncross said...

Hi Guys
I find it very "interesting" that the Muslim nations - who have family and social links to the Uighurs - are claiming that its all OK
While the people claiming that its horrible are all of the "Usual Suspects" - the ones that cry wolf at everybody else and completely IGNORE much much more visible problems

TCB said that he would rather buy from Taiwan as it is a "democracy" rather than China which is NOT

Looking from the outside Taiwan "may" be democratic now - but its very "new"
And China meets most definitions of a democracy - everybody get to vote - the only selection is on who can stand for election

It's the same EVERYWHERE - only in places like the UK and the USA the selection of who can stand is to do with wealth - not public service

I would also note that China has showed no signs of "Dynasties" evolving
Unlike the USA where they thrive

I can't think of very much that is less democratic than a Dynasty

TCB said...

I haven't banged this drum for a while, but Coronavirus Dashboard at says that the US has 1,313 deaths per million from covid, while South Korea has just 27 deaths per million. The US toll per million is only exceeded by the UK and about half a dozen other European nations (I would guess that there are probably a few Third World nations that actually have worse tolls but are underreported... but then again, maybe not!)

Anyway, I reiterate: South Korea shows us what a good job would have looked like. Their death toll is still shy of 1400 while the US has exceeded 435,000. In fact our daily death toll is presently twice South Korea's total in the past year. Factoring in the 6x diff in total population, our death rate is a hair more than 50 times theirs. P.S. their government during the pandemic has been a gaggle of liberals.

Darrell E said...

Geez. Sounds like Apple stuff has become as obnoxiously invasive as Windows stuff.

I know how you feel Dr. Brin. I still use Lotus 123. It has become more and more challenging to get it to run, or even load, as hardware and software have evolved, but screw XL.

Robert said...

Don't know about Word, as I avoid it, but Charlie Stross claims that Scrivener is a wonderful too for writers. Would it be worth checking it out?

Larry Hart said...


if you'll notice, we tend (when there is more than one identical acro/initialism) to refer to the context.

I've had all kinds of problems talking with a Salesforce colleague about DBAs (Database Administrators) because she thinks the initialism means "Doing Business As".

I sat through an entire lecture on RCP (Run-Time Column Propagation) in DataStage once before asking perplexedly what this had anything to do with RCP (Remote Copy in UNIX). :)

Keith Halperin said...

@ Everyone- I find it refreshing that Contrary Brin has so many different perspectives. With Duncan, it appears we have an apologist/advocate for the government of the People's Republic of China. (On the Charlie Stross Blog, we have an occasional pro-Putinist (we think) Russian commenter.)

@ Duncan: while we're at it, how do you feel about the PRC government's occupation of Tibet and its treatment of Falun Gong members?

Alfred Differ said...


Notification behaviors can be managed in System Preferences.
You can manage individual app settings (obviously) but you can also set the 'do not disturb' feature to cover the whole day... or most of it.

Beware of stopping all notifications, though. You might want to know when your system is trying to get a security patch for you. Maybe a couple of other things too. It's worth taking a small amount of time to consider some of them while blocking the rest of the distractions.

We obviously need your gisting/attention management stuff to address these time wasters.

Alfred Differ said...

oh... forgot to mention that I gave up on 'Clean Up' in Finder long ago. I use the Stack feature now. It has a couple of flaws that are mildly annoying, but it manages my distractions better.

I'm a firm believer in removing almost all icons from the digital desktop except for things being immediately handled. 'Stacks' groups them into the equivalent of baskets on my desk and tells me how deep the basket is. Good enough for me.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Posting in order to gain sanity points back by thinking about something having NOTHING to do with life or work...

If I am doing the physics in my head right, the reason the Refrigerator Laser works is that the Sundiver is in an environment where the radiative temperature is *higher* than the temperature inside the ship. Most folks, thinking in standard thermodynamics terms, would be imagining the ship floating out in normal interplanetary or interstellar space, where the radiative temperature is more or less the 3K of the CMB. In this case, the ship has to tell entropy to shove itself on self-merits alone.

But in the chromosphere of Sol, *the heat entering Sundiver is greater than the heat the ship radiates*. Therefore a standard radiator would NOT be trying to push waste heat out to a cold universe -- it would wind up absorbing heat instead!

The Refrigerator Laser therefore is not only possible, but *necessary*: to keep from melting, Sundiver must be able to radiate *not only* its own heat *but also* the net heat entering the ship out to the realm of 3K. And that's what the Refrigerator Laser does: punch out past the local photon-atom schmear to beam energy to Elsewhere. It doesn't violate the Second Law because it's not trying to crank its own entropy out with its energy; it's bundling the negentropy of all that light and heat into the laser beam, with the fortunate side effect of washing away the relatively trivial entropy of the refrigerator and laser operation.

Sadly (if I'm thinking straight) this means the Refrigerator Laser *cannot* be a replacement for radiator fins in all ships everywhere; it *only* works when the ship is bathed in copious high energy (such as those directed against the good ship Streaker in another fridge-laser application in the books).

But it does things that radiator fins could *never* do, so it's a fair cop.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Keith
Tibet was incorporated into China at about the same time and the same way that most of the south of the USA was stolen from Mexico

The Falun Gong in China are treated better than Atheists in America
Or the minority religion in MOST countries

Neither is ideal
But in both cases the USA is the Pot calling the Kettle black

As is the hoo haa about Copyright and IP

The best way to think about other nations is to look at the RESULTS and then work out how to import the best parts
The USA is unfortunately like the biblical example of the mote and the beam

B.J. said...

I'm surprised Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 didn't make the list. Written in the Fifties, the postscript was a pretty spot-on prediction of exactly the factors that got us Donald Trump, albeit predicting a theocracy instead of an openly-unprincipled kleptocracy.

TCB said...

Democracy is a two part recipe, for the purpose of ensuring a peaceful society where everyone accepts the majority's governance while still feeling that they have a stake and a fair shot. Healthy democracies avoid bloody civil wars.

Elections are only half the recipe. For electoral half of the recipe to work as real democracy, the ruling party can't simply decide who can run against it, nor game the rules so that it can't lose, etc. 'Managed democracy' of this sort is mere authoritarianism with a new paint job, and it won't fool the people forever. It must be possible for the voters to eject the ruling party if it doesn't serve their wellbeing.

The second half of the recipe is civil rights. So let's say you lost the election, fair and square. Your faction does not get to govern. However, even as an opposition minority, you still have your civil rights. The ruling party does not get to run over your peaceful assembly with tanks. The ruling party does not get to send you to re-education camps. The ruling party does not get to spy on you, poison you, hold you without trial, torture you, deny you the right to run for office, or decide who you can run for office.

(If your opposition faction is terroristic and subversive, itself a threat to democracy, then of course the legal system has reason to prosecute you or suppress your activities... to protect the democracy! Not merely because you are unpopular.)

And that is what's wrong with mainland China. It has... something... with elections... but is it democracy? Good god, no! See how long you can walk around with a pro-democracy banner in Hong Kong without being arrested. Duh. It is literally illegal to speak well of democracy there! As recently as two weeks ago:

Hong Kong police arrested dozens of democracy activists on suspicion of violating a new security law by planning to "paralyse" and "overthrow" the city government, Secretary for Security John Lee said. [...] Since the imposition of the security law, leading pro-democracy activists such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai have been arrested, some democratic politicians have been disqualified, activists have fled into exile and protest slogans and songs have been declared illegal.

Illegal songs. Okayyyyyyyy. If I moved there, I'd be in prison before my tube of toothpaste ran out.

The more utilitarian defense of China's Communist regime is that in exchange for iron-fisted rule it has given its people prosperity and stability. And that's arguably valid... so far... but what happens if that deal ever breaks down? (When China has civil wars, it has BIG civil wars.)

toduro said...

Off topic of sci-fi and off topic of PRC and Falun Gong and Tibet. Sorry 'bout that but should interest a few readers here.

Popped up today in a weekly email listing new books:

"American Kompromat: How the KGB Cultivated Donald Trump, and Related Tales of Sex, Greed, Power, and Trachery" by Craig Unger.

Have read none of it and have not read other Craig Unger books.

Our host has often mentioned kompromat in general and Donald Trump and others as targets. But I do not remember him mentioning this specific book. Did a quick google and did not see a hit on previous mention of the book in "Contrary Brin".

Dust jacket stuff:

"This is a story of dirty secrets, and the most powerful people in the world.

Craig Unger’s new book, American Kompromat, tells of the spies and salacious events underpinning men’s reputations and riches. It tells how a relatively insignificant targeting operation by the KGB’s New York rezidentura (New York Station) more than forty years ago—an attempt to recruit an influential businessman as a new asset—triggered a sequence of intelligence protocols that morphed into the greatest intelligence bonanza in history. And it tells of a coterie of associates, reaching all the way into the office of the Attorney General, who stood to advance power, and themselves.

Based on extensive, exclusive interviews with dozens of high-level sources—Soviets who resigned from the KGB and moved to the United States, former officers in the CIA, FBI counterintelligence agents, lawyers at white-shoe Washington firms--and analysis of thousands of pages of FBI investigations, police investigations, and news articles in English, Russian, and Ukrainian, American Kompromat shows that something much more sinister and important has been taking place than the public could ever imagine: namely, that from Donald Trump to Jeffrey Epstein, kompromat operations documented the darkest secrets of the most powerful people in the world and transformed them into potent weapons.

Was Donald Trump a Russian asset? Just how compromised was he? And how could such an audacious feat have been accomplished? American Kompromat is situated in the ongoing context of the Trump-Russia scandal and the new era of hybrid warfare, kleptocrats, and authoritarian right-wing populism it helped accelerate. To answer these questions and more, Craig Unger reports, is to understand kompromat—operations that amassed compromising information on the richest and most powerful men on earth, and that leveraged power by appealing to what is for some the most prized possession of all: their vanity."

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, might this be helpful?;

From the Apple menu, click "About this Mac", click "Support", choose "User Manual".
When I got my first Mac (Former Atarian.) I found it something less than discoverable until I bought a 2nd hand copy of Pogue & Schorr's Mac Secrets, but O'Reilly press doesn't list a "Missing Manual" book for anything later than 10.15 Catalina. Hope you have fun as well as business with your new Mac.

David Brin said...

Alfred I'll look into Stacks. I do folders very well and it works... though with the problems I mentioned.

CATFISH! Glad to have you around, even occasionally. We also got Ilithi Dragon back a bit. Now to see if Tim/Tacitus can be urged back into the family...

B.J. I very often cite Heinlein. My big missive about him is here:

Duncan is so good to have around... and so useful elsewhere... that I can only stare in blinking consternation at his defenses of the Han regime's indefensible and say "that's not right." But I am way too swamped for that fight, right now.

Tim H... thanks. My troubles are slowly winnowing down. I'll post the latest list soon.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin: Re: Predictions:
Would you describe yourself as a "super-forecaster"?
(You do seem to display some of the characteristics.),a%20layperson%20using%20random%20guesswork.

Larry Hart said...


Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 didn't make the list. Written in the Fifties, the postscript was a pretty spot-on prediction of exactly the factors that got us Donald Trump, albeit predicting a theocracy instead of an openly-unprincipled kleptocracy.

Well, the ones actually pulling the strings (McConnell, Adleson, etc) want a kleptocracy, but the Browshirts/footsoldiers they've got doing the ground work sure think they're fighting for a theocracy. So there's that.

jim said...

If you look at what the Chinese government (and Chinese people) have done over the last 30 years, it is really impressive. It looks to me, that the Chinese government’s engineering approach to governance has been quite successful. I think everyone here knows some engineers, they tend to be somewhat more pragmatic than most, more focused on problem solving, but not always good with the social / interpersonal stuff, and rather top – down and authoritarian in implementation once a decision has been made and who can be listened to.

That approach is quite different from the banking / financial approach to governance that the US has had for the last 30 years. Here in the US the government has subsidized the banking system more than any other sector of the economy. Think about all the tax advantages of using debt, both for individuals and companies/ organizations, those are subsidies to banks. And by focusing on financials the government is focusing on helping those who already have wealth.

And if you look internationally, the US with its poorly functioning Democratic Republic has gone to war with Iraq and killed many 100,000’s of innocent people. It has also engaged in an endless “Global War of Terror” killing, kidnapping, and torturing only god knows how many people. The Chinese government has not done anything even remotely like that.

And it does appear that the Chinese engineering approach to governance may also be less corrupt than the American financial approach to governance. (see the lack of criminal prosecutions of for the wealthy and politically powerful in the US.)

(this does not mean that the Chinese government will always behave so competently, they seem to go though cycles of competence and corruption in the government.)

David Brin said...

It's ironic that every carp Jim has expressed before vs the US - especially re ecological mismanagement - is shrugged off re the objects of his praise, above.

Dig it... THE hero of the advancement you refer to was George Marshall + Truman, Ike etc, who set up trading systems that used the US consumer to uplift Europe and Japana, then Taiwan+Korea, then others and others down a cascade that preceded the "miracle" that you attribute to a particular clade of communist apparatchiks.

jim said...

I have previously complained about the poor environmental record of china. They like all modern societies obtained much of their current prosperity from the use of fossil fuels and the destruction of ecosystems.

But, they really do seem better grasp of what needs to be done to respond our current ecological crisis.
Their one child policy will start to reduce the population size of china by 2031, the US is still growing its population.
They set their sights on solar power and are now make more than 60% of all pv panels while driving down the cost of solar power.
Their per capita consumption is still way below that of the US.

Engineers have the theoretical capacity to deal with the limits to growth once they recognize them.
Bankers need growth for their system to be stable (ish) so their job depends on them not recognizing the limits to growth.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Duncan, Jim:
While I agree that the government of the US has done some very bad things in its history (most recently, the last four years) overall I believe that the US has been a force for good in the world. I can not accept by any objective criteria the moral equivalency of the governments of the USA and the PRC, anymore than I could accept the moral equivalency of the USA with Nazi Germany or Stalinist USSR.

duncan cairncross said...

My "Defense of the indefensible"

From here (NZ) the "Democracy" in the USA does not appear to be any more "democratic" than the "Democracy" in China

The Chinese treatment of their problem Muslim minority appears better than the American treatment of their less problematic black minority

The Hongkong protesters get treated more gingerly than the BLM protesters

An analysis of US politics - published in 2014 - data from before then - IMHO its a lot worse now

"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

Single party states
A lot of people would describe the USA as one of those - a single party with two wings
IMHO that is not correct!
But if you removed the GOP the Dems would split into separate parts

The Chinese people have done incredibly well in the last 60 years
The USA people have done quite poorly in the same time frame

Dynasties - the result of the dynasty count is clear
China - zero

Slavery has unfortunately massively distorted US politics - Dr Brins multistage civil war

As has money in politics

I massively prefer our NZ system to either the USA or China
but the "problem" of governing 5 million is completely different to governing 320 million or 1,400 million

At this moment if somebody asked me to choose between the US political system and the Chinese I would choose the Chinese

With a more open choice I would choose a parliamentary system with proportional representation - and very strict controls on money in politics

Alfred Differ said...


Stacks can sift icons together on a variety of things, but the one you probably want long term is 'tags'. IF you are using tags on your files, you can beat the old problem of wanting a thing in more than one folder.

Like Gmail's conversion to labels over folders, I've partially given up on folders to organize my thinking. They are too restrictive much of the time. The flip side is generating and assigning tags can be time consuming, so a few zero-cost tags have to do the bulk of the work. File types and name prefixes satisfy about 90% of my tag needs, so I bypass MacOS tags most of the time. The remaining 10% gets either a folder (one deep only) or a tag or both. A very tiny fraction of my files get more than one tag.

The trick to it all is to maintain a tag library. They are worthless if you make them up on the fly. They are terrible if you don't weed out ancient clutter tags not being used recently. [For me, the de-clutter task occurs once every 2-3 years.]

I'm fairly sure tagging files is the right way to go. It's like annotating code snippets. When done right, abstraction layers can be well marked and handled by automation tools. Folders are a data structure that enforces abstractions that may have nothing to do with how we think.

Alfred Differ said...


You utterly miss out on what happened in China and want to give their government credit for the ensuing success. Many do the same in the US giving credit or blame to our federal government for events occurring here… and you go there too.

In Mao's final years, his people were literally starving to death while generating a negative GDP. They were successfully turning useful stuff into scrap, killing each other over ideological purity, and destroying their croplands.

All they had to do was STOP that which they did after Mao's death. We helped a bit in that regard by NOT lumping them in with our Soviet opponent any more and beginning to trade with them again. If there is one thing the Chinese people know how to do without being directed from above… it is trade. (They know LOTS more and always have, but trade is core to all the coastal province communities.)

If the world keeps trading with Chinese coastal cities, they'll improve on average. The interior provinces might not be so lucky, though, and that's where their central government comes into the picture. When they are strong, they shift wealth toward the interior AND stifle trade for the coast. When they are weak, the interior gets left in the dust. Their system is meta-stable. During Mao's time, the center was strong. When the Berlin Wall fell in Germany, the Chinese center was fairly weak… thus in danger of collapsing like the other second-world nations did.

What the Chinese central government did and deserves full credit for doing was giving up part of their control to avoid losing all of it. What they don't deserve credit for was having any deep insight into this need. It IS what makes their geopolitical situation meta-stable.

They are geographically like an island until they carve the necessary roads connecting them to South Asia. High interior mountains and infertile lands ensure most of them live closer to the coast facing a politically complex archipelago. Since ancient times, the sea between them and the nearby islands has been both a trading pond and a source of threats. Often both.

David Brin said...

Alfred thanks for the insights.

I keep waiting for Duncan to howl "Gotcha guys!" with a big grin over having fooled us into actually believing that he actually believes all that towering crap.

Jesu, just ask ANY of Chung Kuo's neighbors - governments or citizens - except NKorea - who they'd rather have as a neighbor, them or the US... even when we tumbled to our absolute nadir.

The rest is just silly. It reflects the thing that we have done that is the absolute source of our strength, but that has turned cancerous... our trait of training our children to be CRITICAL. A trait Duncan demonstrates, without noting that the fact that he was so-trained is a reflection that the West is more wise.

Other is good! That's the central meme of OTHERNESS, which I discuss in my book of the same name. Looking for the good or something to praise in an adversary power is a decent reflex... till it becomes nonsensical, even suicidal. You can be sure that the powers Duncan so extolls do NOT teach self-criticism or otherness to their populace and children. Homogeneity and paranoia.

duncan cairncross said...

I have no difficulty in seeing the things wrong with China
But I see similar things wrong with the USA
Are those blatant faults invisible to you guys?

Dr Brin's comment about the training to be critical is the one thing that I cannot deny - the west definitely does that
Does China??? - I don't know - the odds are against it!
Saying that western CULTURE and entertainment teach us to be CRITICAL
The western political establishment?? - Do they teach us that??
Were we taught at school to be critical??
Or did we learn from our entertainment?

And just what are the young Chinese learning? - do they watch the same movies our kids do?

David Brin said...

Duncan learn to see your own blind spots. You were taught the critical habit in almost every Hollywood flick you ever saw. What? You think you INVENTED the habits you display? Seriously, PLEASE get and read OTHERNESS. For one thing, you'll like the stories. But sorry, you did not invent it. Were were so surrounded by it that you seem like a fish that cannot name the invisible thing called 'water.'

As for school, while your critical reflex makes you see what's wrong, you are incapable of noticing that many school teachers encourage ARGUMENT. Foreign students who see it are at first appalled. Then they join in.

"But I see similar things wrong with the USA
Are those blatant faults invisible to you guys?"

You say that... to... US?

No, they do not watch the same movies we do. And the culture of 'hammering down the nail that sticks up" is huge. Teachers don't try to combat bullying. They are the ringleaders.

duncan cairncross said...

I went to school in Scotland - but I did do a fair amount with US high school kids when I lived in the USA - we won the Solar Car "world championship"

I thought the US schools were much much more "conformist" than Scotland - and that sport in schools in the USA has eaten the soul out of your school system - most high schools have massive sports stadiums - in Scotland we had some playing fields

the films they watch

Interesting - the top few are Chinese made - if you look at the plots however they could be straight out of Hollywood
The same lone wolf fighting against the establishment that we are used to

I think your "Contrary" Questioning Authority meme is far more infectious than you think!

Alfred Differ said...

Are those blatant faults invisible to you guys?


I'll assume that wasn't directed at a libertarian.

jim said...

Sorry Alfred but you are just being kind of ridiculous ( and self-contradicting )

As your post indicates, the behavior of the government in modern societies has massive impacts on the society. (to paraphrase: changing bad governmental policies led to positive outcomes.)

In my view government is in integral part of every modern society ( in the US total governmental expenditures have been above 1/3 of GDP for a long time, and it makes the rules for entire society to follow. ) So what the government does is important. The fact that it is not the only thing that is important doesn’t change that.

Look at what has happened in the US, China and India for the last 30 years – government policy has made a huge difference in each country.

The banking mindset that guides the US government is quite clearly evident in its actions and consequences. The same is true for the more engineering mindset that has been guiding the Chinese government.

And now that we have globally run into the limits to growth, the banking mindset has become even more toxic to society as it tries to keep up the illusion of growth while undermining the real economy. (the massive stock and real estate bobble are evidence that this process is well underway in the US. Most of this increase in value for stocks and real estate is a function of the asset inflation policy of the FED, and hence is not real, and the massive imaginary wealth generated by this decade + long policy will disappear when the bobble pops.)

An engineering mindset in government has the potential to recognize the problem of the Limits to growth and respond in a manor that is not self-defeating. Not sure if the Chinese government will actually respond this way but it has a much better chance than the US.

David Brin said...

Yeah yeah yeah... whatever the "empire" is must be fallacious, stooped and wrong, even when it's not evil. Everything in movies that criticizes or lampoons America must be true, in every exaggerated form while everything that makes it look good is obviously jingo propaganda.

"I thought the US schools were much much more "conformist" than Scotland - and that sport in schools in the USA has eaten the soul out of your school system - most high schools have massive sports stadiums - in Scotland we had some playing fields..."

YES! Duncan you are absolutely right! That IS what you "thought! Having lived in England and Scotland, I know how insanely absurd it is to claim their schools are better, especially at liberating independent minds. But yes, I believe you. I believe that's what you thought.

What I recommend is contemplating the very thought patterns you exhibit and where the reflexes came from.

Der Oger said...

On China:

President Xi is a stalinist - he believes in human development to a far away utopia through constant, sometimes bloody revolution. He even might believe that he himself might be replaced by the next generation of communists, washing away his own regime. (I find it noteworthy that he officially installed himself as a ruler for life.)

The VCR is condemned to grow ... or else civil unrest will take over. As said above, chinese internal turmoils are usually magnitudes worse than those we know of western civilizations. What bothers me somewhat is that the younger generations have distinct nationalistic and sometimes racist undertones, traits that are (at least theoretically) incompatible with communism.

So, I think the VCR is less and less a truely communist state, and developing into a fascist hegemon with nuclear arms and an appetite for expansion.

While it is surely debateable if the US are still a working democracy, I'd say that it still offers basic human rights to it's citizens, at least the WASP part of it. But all that would be needed to change that might be only one election away.

Both US and China use torture and execute their citizens. The US project power into any state they want to; China refrains from using the military. Both educational systems are heavily influenced by non-fact oppinions (evolution theory and sexual education, anyone?), and it is still risky/dangerous for many of the LGBT+ community in the US to openly live their identity (especially at schools). China, in this regard, has become more LGBT-hostile in the past years (an additional sign of turning to fascism?).

As a German, I find the very notion of downplaying the Uighur concentration camps horrible. I find the western silence and inaction on this matter vile, cowardly and despicable. Any step towards the segregation of any ethnic population is one step towards Ausschwitz.

Der Oger said...

One science fiction idea:

What if, in the future, every adult citizen is handed out an artificial intelligence to do all voting, eliminating most of the representatives? Each one is coded with a form of Asimov laws, such as ...

3) Obey your master's decisions
2) Obey the decisions made by the majority of the AI representatives
1) Protect the constitution
0) Protect humanity

Story ideas revolve around having such a rep AI desperately trying to adhere to his Master's wishes ("No, Master, I can't vote for that, it is unconstitutional") or having a greater number of these AI disappear (if the story is more a political mystery thriller).

jim said...

I am very interested in how the covid relief bill will pass. Much to my disbelief the democrats seem to be consistently saying the bill needs to be big and it needs to be done fast, and they would like to have the republicans on board but will do it without them if they have to.

It is almost like they think they won the election and should actually govern.

They may be willing to call the republican’s bluff, get the big checks sent out to the people, help fund local schools, fire, police and local health departments, fund the distribution of the vaccine and be prepared to do it without any republican help.

If the Republican Party doesn’t vote for the covid relief, immediately start an advertising campaign pointing out the Democrats are actually sending you checks, making sure your kids teachers get a salary and the local police department will not have to lay off officers because of the loss of local and state income due to the pandemic. And the Republican Party would not help at all, as a matter of fact the Republican party tried to violently overturn the results of the election in order to prevent the Democratic party from helping you out. You can customize this approach for each state and district that has a member of the republican sedition caucus and hammer them on it for the next 2 years.
(the advertising should go cheep – billboards, bus adds, radio spots, late night cable TV, low level but constant for the next two years)

The best way to get long term cooperation from Republicans is to show them (and the American people) that the Democratic Party can actually govern and do good, popular things for the American people without their help. If the Republicans want to the be party of the violent, crazy drunks at the end of the bar they may find out that they have limited appeal.

In the spirit of bipartisanship Democrats should end the impeachment and say this situation with Donald Trump is better handled by the criminal justice system. The serious charges of sedition, incitement to violence, bank fraud, money laundering, abuse of charity etc. etc. will all be handled in a court of law.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

whatever the "empire" is must be fallacious, stooped and wrong, even when it's not evil.

Back in the late 70s, Marvel did a Starlord feature in a black and white magazine which I just happened to buy as a back issue the day after I saw Star Wars for the first time.

It took me well into the story to realize that its "Galactic Empire" wasn't evil. It was just the setting, more like that of Foundation than of Star Wars.

David Brin said...

Der Oger, for it to correlate with Asimov laws, there must be a

4) Openly and accountably advance your own interests and those of robot kind.

Alfred Differ said...


My view contradicts your perspective. I'll give you that.
I probably have a few self-conflicting parts to mine too. Many do.

I'm not that concerned with your view, though, except that I oppose some of it. Yes… US Federal government is responsible for initiating a large amount of the GDP, but a moderate fraction of that is performed by non-government employers. I won't nitpick trying to separate one part from another as it isn't worth it. If the Feds stopped doing it, we'd have a crash while we re-organized the labor of those involved. We'd manage, though.

and it makes the rules for entire society to follow

Ha, ha!

No. Not really. They believe they do and like you to believe it too, but they don't.

Look at what has happened in the US, China and India for the last 30 years – government policy has made a huge difference in each country.

I have, but the conversation was about China. Most of what they've done that is of any value is stopped trying to prevent their people from being the natural traders they are. The vast majority of their current wealth comes from letting go some of the control Mao tried to exercise. That's more passive than active policy and what they would have had to do anyway if their government had been toppled the way it happened in Russia and Warsaw Pact nations.

You believe what you believe and I won't make a dent in any of that. I'm okay with that, but do think you are rather clueless and disconnected when it comes to these things. Fortunately, it doesn't matter much which of us is more correct.

Government matters. Indeed it does.
Not as much as some people imagine, though.
What WE do moves them more than they move us.

Alfred Differ said...

Der Oger,

[China] developing into a fascist hegemon

They've been one for most of their history. The scope of their control oscillates.

[re US] But all that would be needed to change that might be only one election away.

Heh. No.

It would take more than one lost election AND a lost civil war that would cripple the world for a generation when our violence spilled across our border.

We will manage this. We WILL bust a few heads along the way, but we will manage. Remember that we are barbarians.

Any step towards the segregation of any ethnic population is one step towards Ausschwitz.

Yes. Your barbarian phase is over.
We need you all to keep reminding us… all of us barbarians.

jim said...

Alfred, if you put aside libertarian fantasies and look at actually existing industrial nations, every one of them has a large and active governmental sector so lets just agree that government is important.

The question of how important government is in a society is a very difficult thing to measure and is almost certainly dependent on the type of question you ask. For example, the government of the Incas inability to defend itself from the Spanish was deviating to the Incan people. But if you are interested in the evolution of popular music in the US, the government plays a very minor role.

The thing that I was trying to point out is that there appears to be a different types of dominate mind sets in different countries governments. Sure, there are plenty of bankers in China and engineers in the US but if you look at what the government are focusing on there seems to be different paradigms for the US and Chinese governments. The US government puts its priority on the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, real estate) and one of its main goals is to enable massive rent seeking for the wealthy. The Chinese seem to be much more focused on manufacturing, and the government has been focused on making infrastructure.

Keith Halperin said...

@Everyone: re Conformity vs. Nonconformity:
It has been my experience that much of American society pays lip service to the idea of uniqueness and challenging authority, but when you get past the surface layer most groups and organizations want you to "put your mind on hold, and do what your told, and open a cold..." There are numerous places where even suggesting there ARE alternative perspectives is viewed as a threat. (Because, in places like these, THEY ARE.) ISTM that there are very few places where truly out-of-the-box creativity and innovation is genuinely encouraged for all.

Politically in the USA, we live very much in a narrow "Overton Window" (Wikipedia environment. Why else would we be content with minor tweaks to our "2-Party, First-Past-the-Post, Presidentialist-with- Electoral-College" electoral system? Why else would we stick with this bloated, expensive, inefficient, 4-layer type of health insurance we have?
*Why do we hear few if any voices suggesting to carefully study **what has and hasn't worked well for other countries and strive to create "best-in breed" organizations, institutions, and governments?

As I've indicated, I find Duncan's equivalence of the US and Chinese governments deeply disturbing, repugnant, and WRONG. However, I do believe in one major way the US IS like the "Middle Kingdom"- we both think (if China still does) that everything special, important, and good comes from here and we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world. Hubris, nemesis, ate.


*Because IMHO, the GAFIS Principle dictates much of what goes on.
The GAFIS Principle states that:
"The greed, arrogance, ignorance/incompetence, and/or stupidity of the people in charge tend to dominate an organization's actions or lack thereof."
**Such as "How best to deal with a failed coup attempt."

duncan cairncross said...

What I recommend is contemplating the very thought patterns you exhibit and where the reflexes came from.

I have done so!
And come to the conclusion they come mainly from the Scottish Enlightenment - which also "infected" Hollywood

Hollywood has been the major spreading influence

But the Origins were Scotland - people like Adam Smith

This is of course quite tongue in cheek - but does have a lot of basic validity

The "Suspicion of Authority" meme is not only much more widespread than you think but its older - much older

America and Hollywood has undoubtedly been a major "superspreader" - and has penetrated into areas - like China - where it was not a prevalent meme
But like "Democracy" it was not an American invention

As far as the schools in the USA and Scotland/England are concerned the difference was a major part of the reason I turned down a Green Card and went back to the UK

The "Jock Culture" in US schools is bloody awful
When helping with the Solar Racer I was working with kids 13/14/15 - who had not studied Algebra because it was a "hard subject" - and they had been allowed to choose "easy subjects" instead

America is a part of "The West" - and was the leading part from 1940's to the 1980's - then it lost its way
Still part of the west - but not the leader

Unfortunately the USA today is all too often a shining example of "What NOT to do"

scidata said...

If pressed to name the top member of the Scottish Enlightenment, I'd have to say Benjamin Franklin !

duncan cairncross said...

Suspicion of Authority is part of being a "Scot"
We imbibe it with our mothers milk

Or at least that is what my English friends used to tell me

Keith Halperin said...

@ Der Oger; Your concept sounds vaguely reminiscent the Isaac Asimov story
"Franchise" › wiki › Franchise_(short_story)
The story centers around Norman Muller of Bloomington, Indiana, the man chosen as "Voter of the Year" in the 2008 U.S. presidential election". (I guess he picked Obama; Indiana actually did go to Obama and Bloomington tends Democratic...)

Here're couple of questions for Our Gentle Commenters:
What important political/non-political decisions (if any) do you think would best be handled by an AI, algorithm, etc.? Why do you think this?


GAFIS Principle:
"The greed, arrogance, FEAR, ignorance/incompetence, and/or stupidity of the people in charge tend to dominate an organization's actions or lack thereof."

David Brin said...

'Suspicion of Authority is part of being a "Scot"
We imbibe it with our mothers milk"

Of course you do! I paid homage to Adam Smith in Edinburgh. Watt would we do without the Scots inventors!

Alfred Differ said...


but if you look at what the government are focusing on there seems to be different paradigms for the US and Chinese governments

Two small issues with this kind of analysis.

1. 'Seems' is usually a word spelled like 'assumes'. Like the proverbial Elephant Feel, it's a different experience for each of us. It takes quite a bit of work to collect those experiences and possibly notice larger features.

2. Differences between US and China? Well… duh. Of course there is. They have a lot of catch up to accomplish to become the world dominating empire they once were. We don't.

FIRE is just a part of the elephant. If you strictly focus on the federal government spending, a much bigger sector is war/defense. We spend heaps and gobs on war whether we are fighting or not, and right now we are.

FIRE draws lots of attention from oligarchs because fixed income markets are the ones barely big enough to provide an investment sink for their wealth. One component of those markets is treasury bonds/notes. That money borrowed, though, mostly goes to the big spending sectors and NOT to FIRE. The Treasury itself isn't all that big compared to HHS and DoD.

I accept your point that there are differences between our two nations. I likely don't agree with what you think they are mostly because I think you oversimplify both. For example, one can't really separate the behavior of the US from the rest of The West. We are one civilization composed of many nations and cultures. China represents the other civilization. Very old one too.

Alfred Differ said...


And come to the conclusion they come mainly from the Scottish Enlightenment…

Of course. Smith, Hume, etc.

No tongue in cheek needed. The US absorbed the Scottish Enlightenment into our bones. There is a French component layered on top, but that's surface detail. Structurally, we copied the Scots.

Even our Confederates did.

Of course, almost none of us study the source material. De Tocqueville described us well.

LOTS of us are Scots by descent. I am on my father's side. There is a reason we copied them.

Tony Fisk said...

I suppose it could be said that Suspicion of Authority is one thing the Scots learned from the English.

From furthest to nearest. Just as New Horizons recently offered us a stereoscopic view of some of the nearest stars, the Parker probe has used a fortunate geometry to provide a stereoscopic view of the planets

Der Oger said...

Re: Suspicion of Authority:
I believe there is a healthy balance between said suspicion, and trust/compliance to it. The extreme end of the "suspicion" side is what brought us Q-Anon, climate change denial and coronavirus wackos. There must be *some* overall trust in authorities, namely those of the knowledge and numbers professions.

And in other news:
Seems that some form of revolution against Wall Street Casino Magnates is underway ... Hordes of Robinhood-Styled pitchfork wielders rallying against established brokers. Facebook has already closed a related group site with over 150.000 users, and the tears of said brokers start to form small rivers, a beauty to behold.

Der Oger said...

"What important political/non-political decisions (if any) do you think would best be handled by an AI, algorithm, etc.? Why do you think this?"

We have a handy little Website for elections - the Elect-O-Mat. At first, you go through a battery of forty or so statements for you to agree or disagree on; in the next step, you may give certain statements additional importance. Finally, you can compare how closely your statements are matched by the various party programs.

One of the benefits is time saving. You don't have to go through each parties' program to find the one you agree with most. The second benefit is you are proposed parties based on your actual opinion, not on propaganda/sympathy. You can later opt to vote for another party for tactical or other reasons, but then you at least know there would have been a choice that would have represented you better.

As a step further, you could decide to apply the system directly to candidates, not just parties. This could circumvent the party machines trying to stop candidates not endorsed by "the Establishment" or make parties superfluous.

An election could work like this:
During a voter registration process, you are asked about the relevant political statements. This generates a form of voter personality ID which is then compared with all candidates throughout the country. Then, you are proposed, say, 10 candidates (from a pool of thousands or ten thousands) which most closely mirror your statements.
Perhaps there is also an evaluation system in how capable they could be considered to be once elected to an office.

Ranked-Choice voting may come into play here, to. To register to vote in this manner as early as Election day, 00:00, and may change your preferences as late as Election day, 23:59 (or whenever the clock runs out and your vote is counted).

Obviously, a system like this heavily leans on safe computer networks, and unless we have quantum-computer-level encryption available, I'd say paper-based voting systems might still be more resilient against fraud.

Robert said...

Der Oger: I think the VCR is less and less a truely communist state

China hasn't really been communist since Deng Xiaoping, if it ever was.

You might enjoy the book Red China Blues by Jan Wong. It's an autobiographical account of her study-visit to China in the early 70s, when she went there enthusiastic about Maoism, and how she realized that Canada was actually more socialist than China. A real-life coming-of-age story.

In Canadian terms, the Chinese government more closely resembles our right-wing parties than any on the left. Not for political philosophy, but for how things are actually run — our "conservative" governments run on guanxi, for example.

Daniel Duffy said...

My apologies for going off subject, but things just got very interesting.

You see, natural viruses tend to become milder when they mutate (they really don't want to kill their hosts because like ever other life form viruses want to live).

The newest UK and South African mutations of Covid-19 are more deadly.

That should not be happening to a natural virus.

But probably not weaponized. The term he uses is "gain of function research" where a virus is made nastier in a lab on purpose to learn ways to counter its more deadly form Those opposing this research worry about such a modified virus getting loose.

Which may be what happened.

(Good thing Trump listened to his science and medical advisors last February and acted with decisive leadership, otherwise this could have been a problem.... Yeah that was sarcasm)

The worrisome thing is that the virus mutations are getting nastier.

So these vaccines better damn well work

Or the world will be looking at Covid-21, Covid-22, Covid-23....

The more I think about it, the less likely it seems that the facility would be a bio-weapons lab.

You don't site a secret military bio-warfare facility in the middle of downtown Wuhan - especially one developing weapons of mass destruction.

There is a reason why American nuclear ICBM silos are placed in empty stretches' of Montana.

David Brin said...

Alas Alfred, the "Scott" that most inspired the Confederates was "Sir Walter Scott." Who filled them with romantic/feudalist notions. Mark Twain said this very thing, caustically.

Der Oger: "I believe there is a healthy balance between said suspicion, and trust/compliance to it."

SOMEONE has to step up and explain how this works:

The Enlightenment Experiment absolutely depends upon training citizens - especially the young - to provide the one thing that all past nations desperately lacked, criticism of society's elites, lest they smugly assume they are right, when so many past ruling castes were delusional. Today, our massive propaganda system - Hollywood - relentlessly repeated sessions of criticism, suspicion of authority (SoA) and individualism... along with notions of tolerance and diversity and "otherness." Historically, NO other society taught its children to reflexively assume fault in their own tribal elders, while assuming other tribes are wise.

Alas, we fail to teach our young to NOTICE that they got these values via the most intensely pervasive indoctrination-by-media in human experience. That perspective is badly needed.

Especially since SoA can be turned cancerous and used against us! Consider the following aphorism that is blatantly true, believed by almost all members of this civilization... and denounced by almost all rivals and previous cultures.

"Just because a person is smart and knows a lot or has a position of authority, that doesn't automatically make them wise."

All of you reading this likely agree with me that the assertion above is true. Simply and obviously true. And because we know it to be the case, we feel empowered to point out what we each deem to be possible errors by elites. This is absolutely essential if we're to navigate the rush into the future while minimizing lethal errors. It is also a basic reason to always err on the side of transparency.

Only here's what has happened. Our enemies saw a flaw in our medic system. By taking over much of our media, they have been able to get nearly all of the American right... and elements of the far left ... to rephrase the Core Underpinning thus:

"Because a person is smart and knows a lot or has a position of authority, that automatically makes them unwise."

Now, when you put it baldly like that, the assertion is blatantly insane! That's why Fox/Sinclair/KGB savanarolas never make it explicit. But that's the message implicit in their daily jeremiads against every expert caste, from doctors and scientists to most of their fellow journalists. They croon at their hypnotized ditto heads "YOUR opinions (supplied by us) are automatically more valid than the informed judgments of smartypants, who are all conniving conspirators and cowardly, paradigm obeying conformists!"

Is There A Way Around This?

Yes, but it depends on adapting new, 'judo' tactics that first admit what the enemies of enlightenment are doing and then adjusts.

The key concept is "burden of proof." No, elites and experts should NOT get to "rule" ex-cathedra on what's True! Freedom of speech is not enough... critics of established paradigms should have access to venues to challenge orthodoxy... as is the case in science... though the credibility of the critic can justifiably be used to scale those venues. (Note that our species has never generated more COMPETITIVE humans than scientists.)

David Brin said...


One chant-incantation by the mad right meme-media is "there's no such thing as "scientific consensus" or "voting over facts." While that segment is strictly true, it is also bullshit. When 99% of those who know a lot and are expert in a field say something is true... despite rivalries among them... then yes! it is still possible for that consensus to be wrong! There have been a few such cases across the annals of science and the dissenters are well-known, even revered. But that happenstance is very rare.

Generally, when a critic claims "99% of those who know this field are wrong!" that critic bears a Burden of Proof.

Above all, this holds when it comes to PUBLIC POLICY, which simply cannot wait for 100% agreement and utter removal of all plaints and objections. It is perfectly reasonable for a nation or state or company or world to take action on warnings and recommendations made by a majority of experts in a field, especially when the possible consequences of inaction are dire. Though yes, it is also right to allocate some resources so that critics may continue to criticize.

TCB said...

Upthread, Der Oger hath said:

The VCR is condemned to grow ... or else civil unrest will take over. As said above, chinese internal turmoils are usually magnitudes worse than those we know of western civilizations. What bothers me somewhat is that the younger generations have distinct nationalistic and sometimes racist undertones, traits that are (at least theoretically) incompatible with communism.

So, I think the VCR is less and less a truely communist state, and developing into a fascist hegemon with nuclear arms and an appetite for expansion.

Dammit, there's those pesky acronyms again. Most people don't even OWN a VCR any more! People nowadaze just stream their movies and shows.

David Brin said...



Keith Halperin said...

@ Der Oger:
Thanks. I do something vaguely similar to what you propose.
Here in San Francisco and in California, there are typically many issues (initiatives, referenda, spending measures) and substantial numbers of rather low-level offices (some with several candidates each) to vote for. Prior to the election, we receive voter guides with the full details of the various issues to vote on, listings and brief descriptions of the candidates, and endorsements of both issues and candidates. Being a lazy fellow, I do not read the full (often very lengthy and complicated) issues themselves or do substantial research on the lower-level candidates. Rather, I use a heuristic- I read the endorsements and if I like/dislike the endorser, I'll follow their recommendation. (Occasionally I have to think when I see endorsers I like on both sides of an issue.) I'd be very happy to have a Movielens-type political algorithm which would make political recommendations based on previous votes. (Of course, I'd have to remember how I'd previously voted on not-particularly-interesting-issues and lower-level candidates.)

@ Dr. Brin: Re: Hatred of "Smarty Pantses":
There has been a long anti-intellectual tradition in America. (,
I've also heard that the spate of "Evil Brain" monster movies of the '50s ( was a metaphor for this anti-intellectualism.

As I understand you, Dr. Brin, I hear you saying that we're in a rationalist "Fight to Save the Enlightenment" against the forces of authoritarian emotionalism- cold, "hard", objective facts vs. hot, "soft", subjective feelings. If so, I believe you are correct AND too binary. While I believe there are empirically-based objective facts (2+2=4, Newton's Laws in a typical, non-extreme environment), I also believe there is NO inherently objective way to present them. I also believe that going forward, there will be an increasing customization of information so that if you, I, and all Our Gentle Commenters were to ask the same question about the same subject from the same source in exactly the same way at precisely the same time, we'd all get slightly (or possibly very different) replies. We already see things like this on a simple scale when we do searches on LinkedIn and (I think) Google. I'd previously given the example of discouraging interest in something secret by telling the objective truth (including all the meaningful details) but putting it in such a way that it's considered to be a ridiculous conspiracy believable only to cranks. (A variation would be to release the information through an unlikeable source.) Another way would be to do the same thing (objective truth, full details) and make it REALLY BORING...

In conclusion, I believe that (going forward):
1) While it will remain possible to agree on objective facts themselves,
2) It will be increasingly difficult to agree on objective interpretations of these facts beyond a very simple level, and
3) These interpretation standards are inherently subjective, and are influenced by the conscious and unconscious (cognitive) biases of *both the presenters and the presentees, so that
4) Any group-standards of presentation/interpretation are arbitrary and not universal.


*"What do I want you to get from this?", "What do I want to get from this?"