Wednesday, November 11, 2020

True or Phos? Science news that makes you ask: "Please back that up?"

Taking somewhat of a break from politics... and how I wish (with all of you) that we could have just sighed relief and moved on by now. But here, as a breather, is a pile of way-cool science news!

Don't get too excited by the titles: "Room-temperature superconductivity in a carbonaceous sulfur hydride." Of course it's a version of the grail we've sought. But it only happens at incredible pressures.

NASA researchers have detected nuclear fusion in metal loaded with deuterium. And yes, it seems a kind of “cold fusion”… though requiring activation by a gamma ray beam. I’ve never been adamant about this, either way. But it has always seemed worth investingin small projects such as this one. Anything to avoid a future either without fusion power, or dependent on insane white elephant tokamaks.

A new theory of causality may be the stuff of science fiction. It suggests that time travelers can do what they want, and paradoxes are not possible, because (as portrayed in some SciFi tales) the universe will have a causal elasticity so that events will always adjust themselves to avoid any inconsistency.

Does TIME itself come in discrete quantum-sized lumps, or even a Higgs-like particle? Those lumps may be large, maybe someday within reach of our atomic clocks to measure.

In a related vein… exquisite laboratory measurements of nature’s weakest force – gravity - showed that the inverse square law holds even for objects separated by a mere 52 microns (0.002 inches), "establishing that any ‘extra dimensions’ under string theory must be curled up with a radius less than 1/3 the diameter of a human hair.”

I assume you’ve heard of Isaac Arthur? His podcast - Science and Futurism - series about space and space exploration is hugely popular. Sample this one: Becoming an Interplanetary Species.

==  True? Or Phos! Predictions!! ==

See page 160 of The Transparent Society - where I predicted (back in 1997) that cops would wear cams... and the folks they pull over would use them, too. Everything recorded. It seems obvious now. It wasn't, then.

Any new predictions? Well, news comes from Venus, a broiling, high pressure hell, down at the ground level. But my colleague Geoff Landis and others have speculated about a shell-level of the dense atmosphere who temperature and pressure (though not gas mixture) could be pleasant to Earth-type life, encouraging thoughts of balloon beings or steam-punk dirigibles… AND NOW a stunning discovery of spectral signs of Phosphine gas - - a molecule made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms - which on Earth is pretty much always (outie of certain factories) a sign of life!

While I'm on a prediction-brag roll (EARTH is on several "10 best predictive novels" lists, including TIME's.) It just occurred to me that in EXISTENCE I forecast what the great resource shortage crisis of the late 2030s would be. Phosphorus. The rarest ingredient of life, a necessary fertilizer. And America's great deposits in Florida are depleting fast, leaving Morocco and Iraq and Iran as the world's richest nations - the next OPEC - in two (or less) decades.

Yes it was brought to mind by the discovery of Phosphine in the Venus atmosphere. Only what's pertinent now is how I depicted my "Michael Crichton character" in EXISTENCE railing against the emergency laws of the 2040s. Laws demanding that citizens conserve phosphorus. 

In my novel Existence, this fictional author pens a book -- PHOS-SCARE CITY -- popular among the MAGAs of that decade -- which fulminates against the requirement that men pee into phos-urinals... or at least into their rose gardens outside... so the precious element doesn't just wash into sewers. Denouncing the laws for sexism(!) he calls it just a 'hoax" aimed at undermining individual freedoms...

... just like today's MAGAs howl against mask wearing in a pandemic... and they earlier screeched against seat belts, or auto mileage standards, or changing our refrigerants to save the planet, or being told to take their stinky tobacco addictions outside. Anyone see a pattern? I sure did!

== Tech Stuff ==

A 2-acre farm packs into a shipping container? Climate-related food shortages? Maybe it's time to purchase a Farm From A Box, which feeds 150 and comes with water-smart irrigation, renewable energy tech, and its own hoes and shovels.

An amazing recent physics experiment appraises what happens when (rarely) a supercooled atom approaches an impassable barrier… and quantum tunnels through it. 

Speaking of cooling… India is building a lot of its solar panels atop irrigation canals, saving land costs, easing evaporation and cooling the panels to increase efficiency. Algae blooms are also lessened And cleaning the panels needn’t waste much water.  

A staple of old sci fi is the nuclear battery that drives your electric stuff for years, never needing recharging. Well guess what. Here it is. Carbon 14 extracted from nuclear waste is a beta emitter, so none of the really bad radioactivity, just electrons, which of course make a batter go. The carbon14 is squished to become a diamond, sealing it tight then surrounded by more diamond and then chipped. If the processing can be made efficient and safe (and that is the one, big "if." then it can also help reduce waste. (Nevada folks are fools to reject Yucca Mountain, which would be a bank vault full of riches.)

== Tech wonders in the air? ==

Might airliners in the future fly ‘in formation’ in order to save fuel?

Paramedics with jetpacks?  A rescue outfit in the UK  providing helicopter emergency services, is testing a jetpack made by Gravity Industries to one day allow paramedics to fly up a mountain to provide first aid. “In a jet pack, what might have taken up to an hour to reach the patient may only take a few minutes, and that could mean the difference between life and death.”

== Simulations! Scary and … attractive? ==

Yipe! Simulation of a Three Gorges Dam collapse. I’m glad they squeaked by the recent heavy rainy season. Now to squeak by our own floods of craziness and viruses…

Robotic, animatronic dolphins?  Uncanny realism! Truly amazing, just $3 million each, in prototype! Less, soon. And did I say uncannily realistic? And what does this do to the tradeoffs to doing a Startide Rising movie?

== Do some on your own! ==

Yes, all this unwanted free time opens some opportunities, like buying and reading fresh copies of favorite sci fi... or exercise or developing hobbies in what I've called the rising "Age of Amateurs." With millions of people trapped at home during the pandemic, citizen science projects are seeing a boom in engagement. While the projects generally have scientific aims, many allow people to also act as amateur sleuths. Some scour satellite images for rural houses across Africa so they can be connected to the electricity grid. Trace Labs runs competitive events in which teams of hackers gather as much information they can to solve missing persons cases, or to put names to the faces of female scientists who appear, uncredited, alongside their male colleagues in historical photographs.

I go into the Age of Amateurs in this PBS interview from a while back, as well as in this YouTube video.

== And yes, politics ==

Fooled ya? Hell yes, there's always some politics. 

In my last blog I offered some ways to corner Republicans - especially the two senators in the January 6 runoff - so they'll be damned if they do or don't. I'll offer more, next time, when we discuss Mitch's nightmares.  I don't expect any of these ideas to even be discussed, any more that the 100+ tactics in Polemical Judo were tried, at all, by anyone... even though some would have made last week's election a blowout. 

But I'll share them with you, at least.  Alack.


David Brin said...

I hadn't seen anything that might actually push Pence to invoke the 25th... till now. This might do it.

Trump Jr. Just Got The Democrats’ Attention – He Demands For His Father To Declassify Everything

duncan cairncross said...

TCB said
Acacia, economic growth year after year, without end, is not even theoretically possible!

At infinity - no
But if we assume no more "inputs" no increase in raw materials even then we CAN have economic growth for at least the next 100 years

That is after all what engineers DO - we work out how to do more with less
And today we are a very long way from some utopia where we had used up all of the possible improvements

Alfred Differ said...

Darrell E, (from last thread)

Strongly against Trump is not what comes to mind when I think of the 2016 election results.


1. It wasn't 2.1% in every State. Some voted heavily for him. Some heavily against. Comparing aggregates of communities is fraught with danger as they seldom carry the meaning they had in local communities.

2. The 2016 election was as much about people favoring Trump as opposing Clinton. The better number to use is this 2020 result where 70M+ voted for him. They weren't opposing Clinton this time. They were favoring the con man/fascist. Still… his opponent is coming in with a much higher margin.

3. The Devil Himself could probably run against a Democratic nominee nowadays and secure the Evangelical vote. If I recall their mythology, they kinda predict that behavior will occur someday, right? They predict their own failure. Seems to me they grease the slope with their belief system.

They know it when they see it and they like it.

Yah. We are NOT rational choosers. We are emotional choosers. Make the libs cry!

I'm no exception. My opposition to him is solidly built upon emotions. Reason is being used to rationalize my actions. He's an evil con man who would harm my family and not give a fuck about the damage. He'd brush it off with a rationalization explaining why I deserved it. Then he'd call me a loser for losing.

Alfred Differ said...


I'm all for thinning out the sociopaths from leadership. Unfortunately the schizotypal folks are successful enough that they attract followers. The Universe knows how to dish up irony when we take note of how often they successfully attract mates and produce children.

I'm very skeptical that social pathologies will be surrounded and neutralized. I've seen too many C-suite folks who are at least borderline sociopaths. They are pretty good at faking a sense of justice since that is vital to their survival.

Tests help, but the real arms race involves emotional intelligence and is fought by all of us when we chose who gets to reproduce. Sociopaths fail at the fakery when we try to love them and eventually notice they can't return the effort. That takes far more than a test. It takes time, deep exposure, and the attending risk.

Much more fun is conversations between economists and physicists. I'm guilty of misreading more than a few economic statements, but there is one that finally got hammered into my head.

Economic growth is more about the value we place on stuff than it is about physical stuff.

Anyone who derives income from royalties and licenses knows this. Effort was required in producing the thing first, but future value is disconnected from the original physical stuff. Things don't sell themselves, so something physical is still involved, but it might not be much… and it might come from the other side of the trade.

In other words, economic growth isn't really about physical stuff. It's not clear to me that it is limited by anything more than our imagination and desire.

Alfred Differ said...

If Two Scoops actually orders that, I suspect many SCIF's will suffer locking mechanism failures, lost combinations, and such in order to slow the impact.

If I recall my training correctly, the person who can actually declassify DoD secrets is the person who classified them in the first place... or their organization's leadership. That means the President can ORDER it, but it takes time and someone else to execute the order.

The person getting the order ALWAYS has the option of pondering whether it is an illegal order.

Der Oger said...

@ Yucca Mountain: Isn't "Building a nuclear waste depot on the sacred grounds of Native American people against their will" the same as forcing them to leave their lands and into reservations to make way for settlers?

And building a depot in an earthquake area isn't exactly an idea I'd embrace.

Darrell E said...

Sounds too good to be true, but WOW. If that carbon 14 diamond battery works out even just reasonably close to the claims, it will be stunning. A real game changer.

The point I'm most skeptical of is sourcing C14. They say that even when they run out of existing stocks of appropriate nuclear waste source material that they can economically make their own. Their are no free lunches. Energy costs money. It either has to be harvested or produced using other resources. Obviously it is feasible to make more, just making more nuclear power plants geared towards producing C14. But I doubt that will be cheap. And batteries that can supply power for years to decades to centuries, that's a lot of energy that has to be harvested or produced.

Even so, even if these things work out otherwise but are not as cheap to produce in the long run as advertised (on par with lithium ion batteries), still a game changer. We'll see if they pan out.

Anonymous said...

It appears that someone _did_ adopt one of your polemical strategies, only it was someone from the other side, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

Tim H. said...

News without "Drumph!":

As John Gruber @ has pointed out, Apple's M1 SOC is what they're deploying in entry level Macs, what they plan for the more serious machines should be even more impressive. Potentially, this transition may be less annoying than the last one, but hold off until you're certain that the software you must have is ready.

Smurphs said...

So Doc, are you buying a robotic dolphin with all your millions? ;>

Russell Osterlund said...

Thank you for two article references - and - as they touch on topics that are especially interesting to me. I have read Carlo Rovelli's books, "The Order of Time" and "Reality Is Not What It Seems", and find his idea of a "quantum foam" as the fabric of reality to be very appealing. The idea that the forces of nature can be described as slight tugs and nudges on the fabric of spacetime makes sense to this non-physics lay-person. The two articles, particularly the first, support the concept of how "fast" forces propagate along the links in the foam. (It is too bad that access to original paper is hidden behind a subscription to Physics Review Letters.)

scidata said...

Re: Indigenous people vs Astronomers
My heart hurts whenever I read about the telescope conflict in Hawaii. And it's more than just the painful way that Tulsi dresses. My gawd girl. It's uplifting to see how things could be, with naming like 'Skyworld' (Wiradjuri).

Re: Citizen Science
You know, in the long term (the arc of civilization), widespread and popular scientific literacy is the -only- path to the stars. Victims of the Great Filter were likely too aggrieved and tribal to make the journey.

Unknown said...

Man, you hurt my brain for a moment. Time particles? Then I read the article.

DP said...

As for time travelers and causality, perhaps those concepts can be integrated into the infinite number of parallel universes in the multi-verse.

And while infinite in number, most parallel universe created wither by quantum decision making, individual choices or time travelers would only exist for a brief period of time before rejoining the mainline universe.

For example, there is a parallel universe where I had raisin bran this morning for breakfast instead of cornflakes. That universe didn't last very long flashing in an out of existence as it it rejoined the time line of the main universe, reintegrating with the main timeline before lunch.

In a sense all of these infinite universes act like virtual particles which flash in and out of existence in the quantum foam. The exceptions being those a very few universes where the change is so radical that the new universe achieves "escape velocity" from the parent mainline universe and becomes a true permanent parallel universe.

The Nazis winning WWII in "The Man in the High Castle" would be an example of a quantum universe that achieve escape velocity and became permanent. So would "Guns of the South" where Afrikaner racists go back in time and give Lee and the confederacy AK-47s which lets them win the Civil War.

So there may be literally an infinite number of parallel universe, only a few are permanent enough to exist for any length of time.

Larry Hart said...

One explanation for Trump's success...

About a year ago, during a rally in Minneapolis, Mr. Trump addressed his followers with wistful eagerness, recalling the night of his 2016 victory: “That was one of the greatest nights in the history of television.” It was one of the most revealing moments of his years in the White House: His presidency, it seemed, was not an event in the political history of the country, but an event in the history of television.

What Mr. Trump promised was the power to create imaginary worlds and the freedom to unleash a selfish and extravagant fantasy life, free of the constraints of political correctness or even good manners, the limits imposed by climate change and the international rules tying America to the ground. This extreme form of freedom — call it hyperfreedom — appealed to Greenwich, Conn., financiers no less than to West Virginia coal miners. It was also, as we found out in the election, attractive to some minorities.

In the traditional way to think about freedom, we want to limit or even eliminate obstacles to individual choice, but ultimately we must deal with reality. Mr. Trump’s example is to take it an extra step: Why not be free from reality as well? Indeed, this may be the ultimate goal of contemporary America: a society that is pure fantasy life, free from reality.

Which seems to be another way of saying, "They don't care if Trump is giving them bull semen, because it's great bull semen."

Bathymetheus said...

While Carbon-14 can be used as a battery, the long half life (~5000 years) means the energy density is quite low. A while back, I calculated that to power a smart phone would require more than 200 grams - call it half a pound - of pure C-14. And that's assuming 100% energy capture efficiency.

So all the hype about nuclear batteries is just that - hype. It is theoretically possible, but not practical.

Jon S. said...

"Does TIME come in discrete quantum-like lumps?"

No, TIME is a magazine. Sometimes its articles are even factual!


Gamma radiation makes deuterated metal hulk out!


The article on causality seems to me to rely at least as much on faith as math. If you change the past, it'll still happen exactly the way it did before, just through some other method? You mean that if, say, one were to stop a hypothetical artificially-created virus spread by a comic-book-style supervillain from even being created, some *other* comic-book-style supervillain would just step up and take his place immediately? Seems a tad farfetched to me.


And, sadly, last I heard the apparent phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere would appear to have been a detector error. Nice while it lasted, though.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Unknown, I don’t mind Tx guv offering whistle blower prizes, since facts are on our side. Apparently our generals are simply brain disabled from seeing obvious things.

Der Oger, what “earthquake area”? Folks who don’t give a crap about a future 5 years ahead are suddenly citing controversial estimates of a 10,000 year possible fault? Dig it, man. The radionuclides stored there will be bought by customers within 30 years after being deposited.

Scidata I am appalled that no one - especially native Hawaiian SUPPORTERS of astronomy - makes the simple point: “If this mountain is sacred to a goddess, and Poli’ahu truly can do miraculous things, then what is her miracle? What is special about her mountain? So special that all the world, including unbelievers, acknowledge its amazing truth? It is that she made her mountain the greatest window upon the Heavens. That is the one blatant and irrefutable fact here. And you would throw away the one great gift she has offered you? A way to lord it over all the elite scientists who come in supplication, offering to teach your children skills to take over the Great Quest? How many religions make vague claims of miracles weithout any proof? YOU have one right there and you would refuse it, for the sake of righteous anger.”

Smurphs… all what millions?

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

The article on causality seems to me to rely at least as much on faith as math. If you change the past, it'll still happen exactly the way it did before, just through some other method?

For some reason, that reminds me of a bit from a memo that circulated on what was then the internet in the 1980s--a compendium of funny and ironic sentences turned in by students on history papers. "Homer was not written by Homer, but by someone else of that name."

You mean that if, say, one were to stop a hypothetical artificially-created virus spread by a comic-book-style supervillain from even being created, some *other* comic-book-style supervillain would just step up and take his place immediately? Seems a tad farfetched to me.

To me as well. It seems more likely the other way around--that the "butterfly effect" would cause parallel worlds to diverge quickly from the most trivial of differences.

But then, despite being a fan of Marvel Comics, I've never bought the "every choice causes a divergent universe" theory. I mean, wouldn't it take a great deal of matter and energy for another universe to come into being? How does "facing a choice" cause that to happen? I don't get it.

The theory seems to me to be a back-handed way of excusing amorality. "Maybe I'm a serial child rapist, but it's ok, because in a different universe, I'm not one. And if I wasn't one in this universe, there'd be another one in which I am. So it's all good."

Acacia H. said...

Sacred ground is sacred ground, Dr. Brin. This would be the equivalent to razing the White House and Washington D.C. to put in a nuclear power waste disposal plant. Or destroying something that you yourself consider important.


David Brin said...

Acacia, you clearly did not read or grasp a word I said about Mauna Kea. Kindly argue with the point, instead of repeating a nostrum.

To go with your parallel, if God showed us that the very best place to put the base of a space elevator that would give us the stars would be on the White House grounds, then I say accept the gift that He has offered us.

Darrell E said...

Dr Brin, Acacia H.,

I think Acacia was thinking of Yucca mountain, not Mauna Kea. Both have been mentioned in the comments and I think some confusion resulted.

David Brin said...

Darrell, I doubt that. But if Acacia meant Yucca Mtn it's even stranger. We need to get radioactive waste away from our cities and safely underground.

Larry Hart said...


Der Oger commented on Yucca Mountan. Acacia commented on Muana Kea. Two different conversations.

matthew said...

The "Farm in a Box" link appears to be broken.

scidata said...

Acacia: equivalent to razing the White House

Heh, that's an interesting analogy. The Mango has lamented the 'Canadians' doing that same evil, while brave Minutemen defended the airports at Fort McHenry. The point is who gets to declare land as sacred? Tragic, bloody history hurts my heart even more than the Mauna Kea argument, and almost as much as Tulsi's wardrobe. She looks like the High Priestess of the Romulan Empire.

Alfred Differ said...

The Yucca Mountain argument isn't really about the geology of the region. It's about the fact that the Feds own a large chunk of NV with no plans to divest. NV isn't in control of its fate and that brings up State's Rights issues. The geology thing is just a rationalization.

I agree that Yucca Mtn is the best option available. The way around this involves buying off NV. Let them have some of the profits to be made in a few years when everyone wants to buy back the waste products. Maybe all of it.

Larry Hart said...

Is our tendency to treat life as a tv drama contributing to Trump's ability to imply that he will end up prevailing when all is said and done?

I mean, realistically, the more events that pile up in our favor--multiple key states in Biden's column, officials declaring that there was no fraud, Giulinani's inability to provide evidence of fraud--the more secure we should be in Biden's prevailing. But in the "logic" of fictional suspense drama--with us cast as the villains--our smug certainty of our victory is just setting the audience up for the catharsis of an unexpected turnaround of fortune in the final act.

The hero (that would be Trump) prevailing against all odds is part of the formula. Everything is supposed to look like it's against him, until it isn't.

Alfred Differ said...


How does "facing a choice" cause that to happen? I don't get it.

Yah. I've tried to understand this by reading what actual physicist proponents write on it. There is one important thing to get straight right away. It isn't a 'caused' thing. It's more of an 'observed' thing. Entanglement connects events, but causation is an observation illusion.

However, even if you avoid that illusion, there is a more fundamental problem. These physical theories are inherently subjective. The observer is embedded. As a science, physics was supposed to remove all that. We are supposed to be able to answer the question "What next?" in a way that causes improved precision in results as knowledge of initial conditions improves. We've run into some limits inherent with probabilistic theories, but nothing as bad as the built-in observer that some advocate.

Many-world theories come in many variations. I tend to toss out any of them with observers built-in. They might work computationally and still be worth learning, but they aren't really "physics". We ARE making an assumption that the Universe existed before minds existed to observe it, but it's the one we make when doing physics. Consider other options and one is simply doing something else.

duncan cairncross said...

Storing Nuclear waste

The solution is simple
Concrete over (with drains) a square km in the middle of one of the huge Air Force Bases
Cover that with farm sheds
Put a fence around it
Move out a further km and build a new fence
That will give plenty of room to store all of the waste - which will be guarded by the airbase with a 1 km gap to keep the airmen safe

Alfred Differ said...


...just setting the audience up for the catharsis of an unexpected turnaround of fortune...

If so, this episode will be titled "Dancing with Bullets" as foreshadow for the next episode.

We like our stories, hmm? As frames, they create meaning from the chaos. Fortunately, we all do NOT agree on which frame applies.

David Brin said...

Alfred re Yucca... exactly.

Yucca Mtn was chosen because it is not in any essential aquifers, geologically very stable, far from populations. It has many essential traits and yes, buy Nevado off.

David Brin said...

Huh. Bob's approved comment didn't show up. But I will never think of my episiarch species from STARTIDE again without Trump's hair and face, rejecting reality.

gerold said...

Getting back to politics and the mystery of how and why Maggot Orange conned his way into the White House: there is a repeating pattern of socio-pathology seen in human history when cultures face a strain exceeding their elastic limit. The catch-all name for it: Ghost Dance.

I propose that Trump is the prophet for a Redneck Ghost Dance.

For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon, it derives its name from a movement that swept through Native American cultures all over North America in the late 1800's. It was a nativist-populist messianic cult preaching that the proper ritual and blessing would confer invulnerability against the white man. His bullets would turn to water, or maybe your shirt would become bullet proof, but one way or another the invader would be defeated and it would MAGA.

Very similar have occurred all over the world, notably among the Xhosa of South Africa. They were told to slaughter all their cattle and not to plant any crops. That demonstration of faith would call forth the ancestors who would destroy the invaders and MAGA.

Needless to say mortality was very high as a result and it opened up new acreage for the Afrikaaners.

There are many other examples (see Weston La Barre "Ghost Dance" for copious documentation) but Trump seems to fit the description and so does TrumpCult. They have embraced an irrational and self-destructive article of faith, embracing a messianic figure as their totem.

We see how Trump denies the reality of the election, much like he denied the reality of the coronavirus. He's a pretend president playing POTUS like a daytime soap, and his drone army just keeps shambling along behind.

Redneck Ghost Dance. You heard it here first.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

That episiarch comment is under the previous comments.

David Brin said...

Amazing parallel, gerold. May I post that?

Larry Hart said...

Translation: "We're supposed to do the intimidation!"

But while the Trump campaign had promised “shocking” evidence of misconduct in Detroit, the affidavits Ms. McEnany touted turned out to be largely a grab bag of complaints by Republican poll watchers who felt uncomfortable in Detroit or who said local elections officials had treated them unkindly.

One poll watcher, for example, claimed that workers in Detroit were wearing clothes with Black Lives Matter logos. Another claimed that the public address system the poll workers were using was “distracting.”

A third poll watcher seemed not to like the looks that she was getting. “I felt intimidated by union people who were staring at me,” she said.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin should be amused by this news article about turning rocket bodies into small space stations. It even includes details on former plans to turn Space Shuttle external fuel tanks into stations, which Brin crafted into a short story.


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Jon S. said...

The theory seems to me to be a back-handed way of excusing amorality. "Maybe I'm a serial child rapist, but it's ok, because in a different universe, I'm not one. And if I wasn't one in this universe, there'd be another one in which I am. So it's all good."

I'm not sure if I see how that follows. Changing timelines doesn't necessarily imply multiple timelines in existence, it merely denies the existence of "fate". Of course, if you can change the past but there's only one timeline, you're stuck when you are, because your actions are part of this new world and your old one no longer exists, but some would call that a feature, not a bug.

Der Oger said...

About seismic stability at the Yucca Mountain site:

But still, I find the idea of placing it at a site belonging to the Shoshone (somehow) still more horrible. Sacred ground is sacred ground, no matter how you mint it.

Just for comparison: What would you have said if Trump and the Polish government had conspired to raze Auschwitz to build a golf resort there? Or oil would be found, and exploited, directly under Arlington Cemetery?

I'll admit, your casual remark triggered me. Not only because I found it somewhat tone deaf, but also the approach - the Government deciding to build such a thing in an area with a population deemed unimportant - reminded me of Gorleben. Scepticism of nuclear energy is more of a cultural thing over here, I assume.

john fremont said...


You're definitely on to something. Your comment reminded me of an old article at Mike Huben's Critiques of Libertarianism website, Bob Black's essay Constitutionalism: The White Man's Ghost Dance. Suddenly , Mitch McConnell retracts his stance on confirming Supreme Court justices before Election Day to vote on "textualist" Amy Coney Barret. A quote from Black's 1995 essay:

"...The deeper allure of Constitutionalism is that it purports to be, not only history which explains, but technique which controls. Resentful and suspicious, Constitutionalists are certain that conniving judges, legislators and lawyers switched their own false law for the real law when the people weren’t looking. But the real law, the Common Law, lives still, for it is deathless; it is God, Nature, and Reason all rolled up in one. Although Constitutionalists loathe lawyers, they outdo them in their reverence for Law and their solemn obeisance before what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes mocked as Law regarded as a “brooding omnipresence in the sky.”

Constitutionalists look upon law as the word-magic of lawyer-necromancers who draw their wizardly powers from grimoires, from books of magic spells they have selfishly withheld from the people. Constitutionalists have extracted from these books — from judicial opinions, from the Constitution, from legal dictionaries, from the Bible, from what-have-you — white magic with which to confound the dark powers of legislation, equity, and common sense. Never mind what words like “Sovereign Citizen” or “Lawful Money” mean — what does “abacadabra” mean? — it’s what they do that counts. Unfortunately, Constitutionalist words don’t do anything but lose court cases and invite sanctions. Constitutionalism is the white man’s version of the Ghost Dance. But believing you are invulnerable to bullets puts you in more, not less, danger of being shot..."

“Constitutionalism”: The White Man’s Ghost Dance

By Bob Black
Liberty magazine , 1995

No wonder the GOP has been packing the courts and deferring legislation like stimulus packages. Trump, Mitch McConnell etc. they're all dancing the ghost dance.

Don Gisselbeck said...

The radioactive waste disposal experiment has already been done. Waste products in sandstone have limited spread over 1.7 billion years.

Darrell E said...

From what I understand the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics doesn't actually say that a new world branches off at every decision point. MWI supposedly makes the least assumptions of the various interpretations and varies from the others in one key way. It doesn't assume that the observer is an outside classical system interacting with a quantum system. It assumes that everything, the whole universe including the observer, is part of one quantum system which can be described by one universal wave function. The wave function describes the entire universe and it doesn't collapse, it evolves. At a decision point it isn't that all possible choices branch off into new universes, its that a superposition of all of the possible choices now exists in the single universe described by the single wave function. What does it mean that a superposition of all possible choices exist? Who knows. But according to MWI that is simply what the math says. MWI doesn't go the further step and try to interpret how what the math says is the case corresponds with our experience of reality.

Larry Hart said...


Redneck Ghost Dance. You heard it here first.

That observation is brilliant. Also, remarkably coincidental with the fact that I am currently re-reading Vonnegut's Player Piano, in which the Ghost Shirt concept is an important plot element. It's also heartening, as the ending for the Ghost Dance believers is remarkably consistent.

Larry Hart said...

Can you imagine if the 2000 "Butterfly Ballots" had been the cause of a Gore win instead of a Bush one? The recount would have lasted years.

Republicans remind me of Tonya Harding crying that the shoelace on her skate came loose so she needs to be given another chance, after trying to disqualify her opponent by having her boyfriend smash the woman's knee.

Doug S. said...

The phosphene gas detected on Venus may have been an artifact of a noise reduction algorithm.

Robert said...

Phos? As opposed to Skotos?

Or the genus of sea snail?

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

I've started watching the David Attenborough Netflix film about life on earth. The opening scenes of various plants and animals remind me of the visuals that Edward G Robinson's character got to watch while dying in Soylent Green.

Also on Netfilx, I highly recommend Aaron Sorkin's new film about the trial of the Chicago 7. While the events depicted took place 41 years ago, it seems in many ways to be torn from today's headlines. Or rather, what could be today's headlines had we not already been warned about--and largely rejected--the prejudices and assumptions prevalent in the late 60s.

One of the most memorable lines: "You've made the black man into a sympathetic figure."

Larry Hart said...

This looks to be as firm a number as we're going to have before the electors actually vote on Dec 14. It seems as if even dragging out Pennsylvania in court won't be enough to change the outcome now. Emphasis mine--Isn't 306 the same number of EVs that Trump won in 2016 (before losing two faithless electors)?

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. narrowly defeated President Trump in Georgia and Mr. Trump won North Carolina, as the two final states were called on Friday a week and a half after Election Day.

Mr. Biden now has 306 electoral votes and Mr. Trump has 232. Mr. Biden became president-elect when he won Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes on Saturday, passing the required 270-vote threshold.

tvindy said...

The text looks fine to me. My browser is Chrome, and I'm on a Mac.

David Brin said...

Okay, one path this might all take is not to a coup but to satire, with Trump refusing even to go. If so, he can't leave toe White House to attend the Inaugural, bcauise they'll lock him out. So... supposing he tries to squat... want a fun scenario? Dig it. The Secret Service and White House Police have as TOP priority the sitting President; ex-presidents are secondary. On January 20, Biden gets the most and the top agents, while Trump gets those on punishment detail. So if Trump tries to squat, Biden marches in and PERSONALLY frog-marches Trump out! If he does it right - grabbing the back of the collar and belt, then it's a matter of strength and skill, with the USSS guys peering like wrestling umpires to see to it no one is physically injured. And if Trump tries to wail on Joe - even a pathetic attempted punch - then priority sets in. Suddenly, he's a physical threat to the President and must be taken down and sat on, then hauled away.

Of course Joe won't do that, though what wonderful TV! No, instead he and Jill would go bunk with Kamala and Ed at the Naval Observatory while movers and FBI guys sift and then haul away anything Trump, including beds and drapes, from any room Trump happens not to be in at the moment. While he shambles about screaming, the new staff assembles to get to work in the Eisenhower Building, just fifty feet from the West Wing ... the fumigators move in! Then, ONE minute before the flea bombs are set off, Trump's USSS detail steps in to protect his life by hauling him away... their job.

Is that it? Well, no. Strictly speaking, they have to let him go in the driveway, where the fumigation gases don't threaten him with harm. But at that point the Marine guards don't let him back in... so he wanders about outside, screaming. Ivanka and Jared can't drag him away because their fingernails might harm an ex-president, so there he stays, fed and given blankets...

...til Biden has the extra fences taken down from around the People' House and tours resume, with a new feature, the shabby, homeless, wandering ghost. Till he is hemmed in by fenced areas of lawn being fertilized by fresh manure in stages that drive him ever close to the exit.... which point he is promised a nice airplane ride.

gerold said...

Ex-prez Trump as homeless haunt would definitely make engaging TV. He might not take the role however; who would do his hair? He avoids any situation where his hairdo could go awry.

When you're bald on top with long hair on the sides for the combover it's a delicate balance. When it comes undone it turns into Cryptkeeper hair; not a pretty sight.

Larry Hart said...

john fremont:

No wonder the GOP has been packing the courts and deferring legislation like stimulus packages. Trump, Mitch McConnell etc. they're all dancing the ghost dance.

Actually, I really hope so. At least, I hope it works out for them the way it did in Player Piano. Or the way it did in real life for American Indians.

* * *

Dr Brin:

Ivanka and Jared can't drag him away because their fingernails might harm an ex-president, so there he stays, fed and given blankets...

In the mid 80s, DC Comics decided to re-imagine all of their characters' origin stories and essentially reboot their entire universe. There was a Superman story that was supposed to be his new "first meeting" with Batman, and they met as adversaries, not friends. Batman had devised a sort of force field around himself which he claimed (and Superman could tell he wasn't lying) would trigger a bomb, killing an innocent person should Superman break the field. (Later, it was revealed that the victim in question was Batman himself). This kept Superman from being able to grab ahold of Batman.

It also prevented Superman from being able to whisk Batman away from a poison gas attack by the real villain of the piece.

That's what your scenario above reminded me of.

Larry Hart said...

Republicans on Diebold machines: "No paper trail, and the software is proprietary, so what are you gonna do? Trust the count."

Republicans on Dominion machines: "We need to open up the software and make sure it's working correctly."

David Brin said...