Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Wealth... and Infrastructure... of Nations

With release of Joe Biden's new Infrastructure and Stimulus Plans, reactions have gone as predicted. Mitch McConnell and the entire Putin Party have declared their intention to block everything and allow nothing. Standard incantations are flowing -- from democrat deficits! to cutting taxes and federal spending makes jobs and capital! And then Sen. Tim Scott, in his 'rebuttal' to President Biden's Congressional speech, accused him of breaking his promise to be a 'uniter.' (More on that below.)

Okay, let's stop letting this be about 'sides.' Sure, there definitely are sides, and one of them is insane. Still, our real enemy is a meme claiming that all points of view are equivalent and not subject to factual refutation

It is an incantation that's clung-to desperately by the farthest left and today's entire, mad right. It implies that just repeating your own side's magical incantations will suffice. In fact, even pointing out a flaw in some small, sub-component makes you a partisan of evil.

No. At best you will only ever be 99% right. And criticism is the only known antidote to error. So...

Let's instead talk facts. Focusing on that word-of-the-month "infrastructure!"

== The two diametrically opposite ways that the US and China 'invested' $20 Trillions each, since 1995. ==

Both China and the US spent the last 25+ years pouring trillions into plans to vastly expand their productive capacity, infrastructure, skilled labor force and R&D. 

China's approach was simple: fund vast projects like high speed rail and whole new cities, while lending/investing in 'companies' that were in large part State Champions. Partly due to beneficent trade policies by the West, China's approach worked spectacularly well.
So you ask: "What was our method? And how did the American approach fare? 

Glad you asked. Our approach was called "Supply Side Economics." Summarized, it was: snuff out every method used to create the prosperous and dynamic American Pax since 1940. Virtually end taxpayer-funded investment in R&D, infrastructure, labor force training and so on, because that's "picking winners and losers." 

Instead of using the mixed-economy methods that built America from 1940 to 1995, Supply Side insists that we give many trillions in tax cuts and other direct benefits to the top 0.01%, on the theory that they would then turn and invest those massive cash infusions into... well... factories, productive capacity, competitively oriented infrastructure, R&D and the 'job creators' own, expanding work force. 

Supply Side (SS) was the most expensive national development experiment in all of human history. So how'd it go? 

Well, the results are clear. With some notable exceptions, rich people don't do that!

Adam Smith explained, way back in The Wealth of Nations, that when they get a lot richer, aristocrats and oligarchs tend to pour any wealth increase into rent-seeking ("rentier") asset bubbles and passive (slow money velocity) investments, and into capital preservation for their spoiled inheritance brats. 

And into cheating. Aristocratic cheating of the very sort that the American Founders - inspired in part by Adam Smith - rebelled against.
Let's be even clearer.

Of the half-dozen major - and hundreds of minor - experiments in Supply Side, not one of them ever approached anywhere near coming true. Every confident prediction - e.g. that budget deficits would vanish due to burgeoning economic activity - every single SS prediction failed diametrically to happen as forecast. 

That is 100%. And when you stick with an utterly disproved hypothesis, that's not science. It's a cult.

== Then there is Money Velocity... ==

Among the most powerful of all economic metrics is one that conservative mavens and "economists" absolutely hate ever to mention, because it eviscerates every cult incantation that they cling to. But it also happens to be a crucial measure of economic health.

It's money velocity. The rate at which each dollar changes hands, generating wealth and prosperity and growth, whenever it is rapid.

So let's talk money velocity, money velocity, and money velocity. 

It PLUMMETS after every tax gift to the aristocracy. 

It rises (duh?) with every Keynsian infusion into workers doing stuff. 
Useful stuff like infrastructure. 

Period. Always, and that is always.
Bet me on this. 
Oh please. 
Solid metrics, adjudged by panels of retired senior military officers. 
I will have your house.

== Then there is 'fiscal responsibility ==

And now the hypocrites screech about deficits. 

First, Democrats score better than Republicans in every metric of good governance and outcomes, including fiscal responsibility - like whether across any 4 year administration any effort is made to turn the rate-of-change of debt-gathering toward negative. In other words planting your foot on the deficit brake or the accelerator.

Republicans never even remotely try. 
Bet me on that, too.

== Allons enfants de la patrie...==

Aside. Ruling castes throughout history have rationalized that they were inherent geniuses or better by nature - not happenstance or luck - than the 'mob' who must never be allowed to get their hands on power. We see this in the narratives justifying outrageous Republican electoral cheating to hold power when they lose almost every popular vote. We see it in appeals to racial and other divisions. We see it in the excuses made for skyrocketing wealth disparities and CEO compensation packages that are unconnected to any metric of actual company health, voted by their pals in an incestuous clade.

Making one ask: "Where do you honestly expect such insatiability to lead?" The most fundamental 'tell' that these folks vastly over-rate their own intelligence - and hire flatterers to reinforce the stories - is their stunning ignorance of actual history.

No, no. Your refuges on private Patagonian or Ural mountains, or on South Island or Vanuatu or under the sea and not safe. Safety can be found by starting now top work on your reputation as decent human beings.

Back to topic.

== Time for a Roosevelt ==
So now Joe Biden wants to invest in productive capacity, infrastructure, labor force and R&D? And AOC & co. are criticizing it for falling short of their Green New Deal?

Okay, calm down there, hoss. AOC is brilliant... maybe even 10% as much so as her fans think. (Yes that brilliant!) And she is savvy about her role. By criticizing Biden's plan, she widens the conceptual Overton Window to the left, helping Joe look 'moderate.' And that is a GOOD thing, fools. It is savvy, team politics! And it is no license for any of you to go hating on Biden, or raging at incremental progress.

On the other hand, I need to say something about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a fashion among some on the left. MMT is stunning, incantatory bullshit and a betrayal of actual, working Keynsianism. There, I said it. The left has its shibboleths, too. They are just a lot fewer and less divorced from all objective reality or ethical behavior. But keep an eye on them, too.

As for the Biden Infrastructure/stimulus Bill... well... there may be flaws in the plan, sure. If there were sane opponents to heed, I would listen to criticism, the only known antidote to error. An era of negotiation among adults, based on factual evidence, may someday return. Only right now...
...right now Republicans are in no position to criticize at any level, in any way!
In fact, there is no greater hypocrisy than for a Republican to chide anyone about fiscal responsibility, or economics, and that especially includes their volcanically hypocritical sexual-predator finger wagging on morality! (Bet me - oh please - which party features 3x as many sexual predators among their recent and present upper ranks! Actually it's 6x! But I am a cautious wagerer.)

But on today's topic -- totally aside from their massive turpitudes and treasons, there is the simple fact of spectacular incompetence and desperation to cling to voodoo incantations. We've seen nothing like it since the 1860s! 

Except that those earlier confederates at least had one virtue--just one--that these present-day jackasses utterly lack.
Alas, unlike those gray-clad, brave fools of the 1860s, today's Foxite-putinists will never, ever bet manly wager stakes on any of their mad assertions! 

If you try to get them to actually step up and back up their incantations, the craven cultists always rave and spew and caper and jibber and distract... and then run away. Above all, they will dodge ever escrowing (with a reputable attorney) actual wager stakes over any provable/falsifiable assertion. 

Which ultimately shows that environmentalists are right about the effects of pollution mixed with alcohol. 

Something has happened to confederate balls.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Is Pax Americana worth defending? Or at least forgiving?

First another sign that grownups are at least trying, again.  At last, a major US figure is proclaiming what we've long known, that nothing can be accomplished to forestall the creation of a lordly, trillionaire caste that towers, omnipotent and impervious above all nations, unless the remedies are done internationally, by worldwide treaty. Janet Yellen's call for a global minimum corporate tax rate would be a fine start, limiting incentives for mega corps to 'shelter' trillions in tax havens.

Moreover, make no mistake. Preventing stuff like this is Mitch McConnell's actual, underlying reason for desperately trying to cripple the Biden Administration.

In my novel Existence, I posit that the world agreed to a "Big Deal" in the late twenties, that decelerated the drive toward oligarchy in ways like this. But something much more assertive is needed. Something that would not affect YOU or me or honest taxpayers or honest corporations one scintilla. See my proposal for a Worldwide Transparency of Ownership Treaty.

That's preferable over the last resort that I portrayed earlier, in EARTH. The Helvetian War.

== Trying to arue facts with those who despise them ==

As usual, the Good Guys in this culture war and political struggle seem to lack even a clue how to use judo tactics. For example, it is an exercise in polemical futility simply to accuse the PRC of oppressive minority-repression in their hinterlands and applying sanctions to rebuke those actions. Oh, the sanctions may serve a realpolitik goal, but as a public polemic? All they do - always - is shout back "who are you (the U.S.) to lecture anyone about moral or decent behavior? Your own young people and human rights activists denounce the USA faults daily! From incarceration rates to police misbehaviors to electoral cheating! What hypocrisy!"

And how does that reply play? 

Well, it plays very well! Many in the West - including, likely, some of you - nod sadly and murmur "Yeah, how dare we lecture anyone? What hypocrisy!" ...

...ignoring the elephant in this room: the fact that we train generations of Americans in Suspicion of Authority and the value of corrective criticism. The folks nodding their heads sadly - including many of you - are indications of health and strength, not the opposite. (For more on this concerted training program, found in almost every Hollywood film, see Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.)

While I never cared for some of his endeavors, Jean-Paul Sartre had a keen sense that good argument among opponents - facing each other with facts and good will - was the fundamental tool of every Periclean Enlightenment: the only times in the long, dour history of our species when actual progress was ever made. The following Sartre quote wasn't just about anti-semites, but all fascists and every other cult that strives to evade fact and bring the enlightenment experiment crashing down:

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

 And hence my proposal for methods of shaming blatant playground cheating, by going to the viscera core or such macho-romantic jerks -- their pretensions of manliness! And demands for wagers work better than any other. A wager demand is concise. You are refusing to be drawn in for their entertainment unless they show the balls to step up with cash. And when they flee, those balls are revealed - before onlookers - as hollow and made of dust.

There are ways to judo this polemical tit-for-tat. I have suggested several unusual and likely-effective tactics for years. Some of them can be found in Polemical Judo.

== Applying this to international 'accusation tiffs' ==

And let's be clear. This polemical level of combat is vital! Good maneuvers at that level might prevent other levels from going hot! A certain rising rival nation's Politburo is right now egging its own population into warlike hostility... even hatred... of purported American campaigns to "keep us down," despite the proved fact that we are exactly the reason for their rapid rise.  

By inciting such chauvinistic hatred, those paramount masters mean to use a trumped-up foreign threat to distract a billion humans from looking at their own hierarchs. But history shows that kind of riled-up popular fury can often be a tiger that's impossible to constrain or to ride. Among my many suggestions is to confront the actual history of our nations' relations -- (look up a fellow named Anson Burlingame, for starters). As the Genie sang to Aladdin "You never had a friend like us." 

But another approach is even more effective and you've seen it here before. It works better than anyone admits, toward all elements of the anti-fact coalition.
Next time US officials complain about concentration camps - and they answer with "incarcerations rates!" - don't just leave it all lying there! Follow up with a proposal to test our moral positions experimentally! "Let's put this to experiment. From both countries' census data, pick 1000 RANDOM CITIZENS and invite them (with immediate family) to gatherings in each others' capitals, with cultural and educational immersion, followed with an opportunity to be taken on a week of tours to any geographical location that they pick. 

"At the end of that month tell each of those thousand (and immediate families): "Here are two envelopes. One contains a ticket home. The other contains a rent-free, 3 year lease on a small, average apartment and a residency card. Which envelope will your sampled citizens choose? And which envelope would average, randomly chosen Americans pick? Shall we bet on it?" And sure quibble over average GDP or any other factor you like. Envision those factors adjusted and weighted. Shove your thumb on the scale all you want! You know the outcome would change by no more than a few percentage points. My point? It is not about any particular adversarial relationship or nation! It is not about immigration or any of the details.

It is about the stubborn insistence of our own political castes to keep avoiding anything like agile tactics! And yes, this applies to both the goodguy Union side and the evil Confederate side of this dismal, tragic, national civil war. 

One clade is good and decent and trying hard to overcome the outright and deliberate treason of the other, and yet they are all stooopidly rigid.

== The core accomplishment of the American Pax ==

Oh, then there is the argument that America used to be the protectionist stealer of inventions and intellectual property. Well, sure. And a certain amount is to be expected from rising nations!  Indeed, the U.S. was protectionist till WWI for the same reason that the U.S. after World War II was indulgent toward nations that used protectionism for the same purpose.

But this ignores the stunning U.S. policy of COUNTER-mercantilism that the New Empire imposed after World War II, unlike the mercantilist ripoff trade systems imposed by every other imperium across 4000 years. The reversal of that traditional behavior is the salient fact - more than any other - about Pax Americana.

in 1945, George Marshall and others held meetings that - for the first time in the dismal history of humanity - asked a simple question. "We're about to become the world's paramount power. What mistakes did all other empires make and how can we avoid them?"  

Again, all other Imperiums practiced mercantilist policies that stole gold from the peripheries and funneled it to the central zone, leading to poverty and hatred in the periphery and eventual the fall of it all. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was only the latest example of this wretched reflex, and the calamity that it caused almost slew us all.

That was what Marshall and the others decided to avoid, as a matter of deliberate policy. Starting with Europe & Japan, then Taiwan & Korea, then Singapore and other nations, indulgent US trade policies allowed and encouraged them to practice protectionism letting them draw in first textile mills, then assembly plants, then higher production while the workers' kids went to school... and all of it propelled by American consumers buying 100 TRILLION dollars worth of of crap we never needed.

Raised in a spirit of self-flaggelatory reflexes, liberal Americans - especially well-educated ones - simply ignore this deed, which may be the greatest accomplishment across all the annals of all nations and times, lifting a majority of humanity out of grinding poverty and transforming now China AND India at the same time!

I despair of anyone, anywhere, ever blinking and staring and finally realizing this blatant fact, that the greatest men of the 20th Century and possibly all of human history set up this greatest deed, after just finishing crushing the worst evil of all time. 

But it is simply true. We are still doing it. And without this deliberate policy, our supposed 'rivals' would still be almost all dirt roads today.

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

How will AI be used in the next decade?

 Will AI mostly be used in ethical or questionable ways? 

Isaac Asimov in his Robots Series conceived a future when ethical matters would be foremost in the minds of designers of AI brains... not for reasons of judiciousness, but in order to quell the fears of an anxious public. His Three Laws of Robotics broke many molds that had constrained SF speculation about synthetic minds, at the time. But that scenario never happened. No such desperate anxiety about AI seems to surge across today's populace, perhaps because we are seeing our AI advances mostly on screens and such, not in clanking mechanical men. Not yet, at least.

(I can safely argue that I'm one of the world experts on those Asimovian laws, and the Foundation/Robots universe. Before disagreeing, have a gander at "Foundation's Triumph.")

Oh, there are serious conferences on this topic - how to ensure these new beings will be benign. I've participated in many. 

Alas, most such conferences appear to be as impractical and clueless  as Asimovian "laws" seem, in retrospect. Unctuous statements urging ethical consideration in AI development are at best palliatives, meant to give designers an out. An alibi. 

I am often an outlier, proposing that "ethical behavior" in AI be promoted the way it is in most humans, especially most males... the only way it has ever been achieved... via accountability. See my article: How Might Artificial Intelligence Come About?

HOW do you 'hold accountable'. beings who are fated to outstrip their makers, in speed and power and possibly conscious intellect? By making accountability reciprocal.

If AIs are many and diverse and reciprocally competitive, then it will be in their interest to keep an eye on each other and report bad things, because doing so will be to their advantage. 

It is only the EXACT method we have used in recent centuries to save ourselves from other predatory beings... kings, lords, barbarians and all that. I go into it - in detail - elsewhere. But at-root it is a simple recourse, alas seldom even discussed.

 Will quantum computing advance greatly by 2030 and possibly enhance AI empathy or ethics?

Quantum computing has genuine potential. Roger Penrose, author of The Emperor's New Mind (just last month awarded the Nobel Prize) and associates believe it already takes place, in trillions of sub-cellular units inside human neurons. If so, it may take a while to build quantum computers on that kind of scale.

The ethical matter is interesting, though totally science fictional... that quantum computers might connect in ways that promote reciprocal understanding and empathy. 

== Artificial Intelligence language ==

Shannon Vallor, a professor of the ethics of data and artificial intelligence at the University of Edinburgh, in Noema Magazine,  evaluates the most advanced AI-powered language-generation program to date, GPT-3, that produced, when prompted, an essay on consciousness. “The instantaneous improvisation of its essay wasn’t anchored to a world at all,” she observes.  Oh, sure, at one level that’s obvious and at another seems predictably grouchy. 

I’ve been consulting and speaking a lot about AI lately, and frankly, I doubt we’ll have a clear idea when such real-world anchoring has occurred, or autonomous consciousness.

Still, she makes a strong point about how many humans fail the same kind of reality-anchoring test that she would apply to AI. “Extremist communities, especially in the social media era, bear a disturbing resemblance to what you might expect from a conversation held among similarly trained GPT-3s,” she says. “A growing tide of cognitive distortion, rote repetition, incoherence and inability to parse facts and fantasies within the thoughts expressed in the extremist online landscape signals a dangerous contraction of understanding, one that leaves its users increasingly unable to explore, share and build an understanding of the real world with anyone outside of their online haven.”

== Solving crises ==

Unfrozen Lands: The climate crisis threatens much of the Earth with droughts, flooding and brutal heat. But it could also create unparalleled opportunity for a few countries — perhaps none more than Russia Put aside the fact that the new farmlands will remain crappy, with poor topsoil for millennia… and that there’s only one growing season, while climate change destroys other zones on the planet that had two.  From Moscow’s perspective, this is all good!  Including the 12 new bases they are building to control the melted Arctic, causing deep concern among our Naval folk.  Oh, and new circulation patterns bring winter ice storms over the US Midwest, further encouraging our idiots to shout “What ‘warming’?” Putin can’t stop winning.

More than 3,000 years ago, a couple at the biblical site of Bethsaida, in Israel, was buried side by side in a spooning position, with the male's arm over the female's body, and the archaeologists who discovered the remains are now calling the couple "Romeo and Juliet." Especially since the male died in his late teens and the female in her early teen or preteen years.

Fascinating ruminations on what attributes a Black Hole might have if it were a useful source of power. Interesting indeed. Raising the question of whether a micro black hole can interact with its surroundings via anything other than simple mass, charge, spin and Hawking Radiation. Pairs of black holes orbiting each other will leak Gravity Radiation (GR). But what happens when that GR encounters another orbiting pair? Is it simply absorbed, increasing the 2nd pair's orbit? (And might that make a good GR detector?) 

Or are more complex effects possible? Like diffraction of the incident GR or possibly even reflection, back at the source? And if so... you might get the scenario I depicted in EARTH, where a pool of elevated gravity potential tat lies between the two orbiting pairs might experience STIMULATED EMISSION OF GRAVITY RADIATION between the two "mirrors." Creating in effect a GRASER or the GASER gravity laser I portrayed in that novel.

Wish I had time to dive deeper. Interesting stuff.

And we will face new crises... IExistence it's the law in 2050 that males must pee, if possible, into a garden or into a Phos Urinal to recover valuable phosphorus (possibly our next big crisis?) Or at least onto a tree.

== Out of Time adventures ==  

Suppose your descendants – people of the future – reach back in time to ask for your help. Would you go?  24th Century humanity has created a Utopia. No more War. Disease. Prejudice. Crime. But no heroes! And suddenly they need heroes, fast. So they reach out across time… for you. 

Would you go?

And what if only teens can survive the trip?

In the first Out of Time novel, Nebula Award winning author Nancy Kress takes you on an adventure, with a 10th Century Viking girl, a New Jersey high school basketball star and a young thief from Shakespeare’s London who are yanked into a future of both promise and peril and asked achieve what adults of that time cannot… rescue a lost star-colony. But even if they succeed, will they ever make it back home? 

Friday, April 16, 2021

A wonderful new novel and author... and Hugo nominees! Science fiction momentum!

Amid a recent flurry of book announcements, none makes me prouder than this one by a new author, with possibly the best opening line I ever read! 

The Melody of Memory is a deeply moving SF coming-of-age novel about growing up amid war, plague and trauma... and ultimately prevailing... even over forces of oppression and obstinate history. Read the first chapter and see if you get hooked. I bet you will. 

Published by Ring of Fire Press, and accompanied by a book club discussion guide!   And watch the 45-second teaser.

== Hugo Nominees Announced ==

The Hugo Award nominees for 2021 have been announced, and will be awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention. DisConn III, will be held in Washington D.C. -- and has been rescheduled for December of 2021.

Nominees for Best Novel include Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, The City We Became, by N.K. Jemison, Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Network Effect by Martha Wells, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal. See the full list of nominees for Best Novella, Best Novelette, Short Story and more. 

Congratulations to all.

== Theme Anthologies of SF... making points! ==

Another worthy new tome. Telling Stories: On Culturally Responsive Artificial Intelligence. This book offers: “perspectives on AI spanning five continents. Individually and together, they open the reader to a deeper conversation about cultural responsiveness at a time of rapid, often unilateral technological change... Authors from Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, India, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, the United States, and elsewhere vividly recount the anticipated influences of AI on love, time, justice, identity, language, trust, and knowledge through the power of narrative.

Clarkesworld, the very with-it SF magazine/site/movement, has also been promoting the recent, welcome trend toward international diversity in our genre. I've been especially enjoying the short stories of the young Chinese rising science fiction star Xia Jia in her collection A Summer Beyond Your Reach which has a Kickstarter deserving widespread interest and support! Her tales -- translated lovingly by SF master Ken Liu -- are filled with fun speculation and (frankly) more verve-otimism than you normally get out of eastern SF. Think Black Mirror only without the dour predictability of always a downer. Instead... you won't know until each story finishes!

And speaking of diversity. Now available again!  War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches. The Martian Invasion! Accounts of the War of the Worlds as told from celebrity eyewitnesses all around the globe!  Jules Verne reports on the Martian attacks on Paris  Teddy Roosevelt, big game hunter, goes after the most dangerous game…from another world.  Mark Twain recounts the Martians on the Mississippi.  • Jack London fights the Martians in the Yukon.  Albert Einstein pits his great mind against the Martian overlords! And Sigmund Freud and Jack London… and… And guess who wrote the Verne one!

Et pour nos amis Francophonique... Je partage avec vous cette belle chronique Français "Galaxies" Numéro 70, du N° auquel j'ai participé!

== Cool things coming! ==

In my last science fiction roundup I linked you to my fun, recently revived YA adventure series through space and time, The David Brin's Out of Time series! We've just accepted a final manuscript from the first of several bright young authors for a re-start of the series.  And we are looking for more talented scriveners of exciting 60,000 word adventures through space and time, targeted for teens!  DIVERSITY especially welcome!

And that's just the tip of the iceberg for a surge of great new (and revived-old) sci fi! Those of you who sign up to receive it (at will receive my coming newsletter (just one-a-year!) with great word about the release of freshened (new covers and introductions and fixes) versions of all my Uplift Novels! Due out in May!

Oh, speaking of which sometimes folks do lovely fan tributes to that universe. Artworks, music... and fan fiction! Here's one of the latter, by Michael Halbrook, that really makes the grade, telling how one of Earthclan's enemies sends a scientist to our planet to examine whether clever birds, especially parrots, might show past signs of uplift. See The Gubru and the Parrot.

Heck, it's good enough to be called "canonical." So I hearby say "Yeah, that happened."

== Much stranger than sci fi ==

An interesting look at the early fifties, showing an amazing overlap between UFO stuff and the plague of McCarthyism. And it’s stunning how similar the meme plagues were, to today.

 “On any given night, viewers of the highest-rated show in the history of cable news, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, might find themselves treated to its namesake host discussing flying saucers and space aliens alongside election conspiracies and GOP talking points. Praise for former President Donald Trump, excuses for those involved in the Capitol assault, and criticism of racial and sexual minorities can sit seamlessly beside occasional interviews featuring UFO “experts” pleading conspiracy.

Recent segments found Carlson speculating that an art installation in Utah was the work of space aliens and interviewing a reporter from the Washington Examiner about whether UFOs can also travel underwater like submarines.”

Folks are surprised to learn my skepticism toward UFOs is not insular, but expansive! These flying saucer tales are just... so... damn... dumb!  I mean truly unimaginative, uninformed and dismally clichéd.

I know "aliens" as well as any human (outside the slim possibility of secret stuff going on... which I weigh in upon, in EXISTENCE!) And I sure as heck hope the universe is more interesting than the dullard poopy head 'visitors' portrayed in UFO lore!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Periodic extinctions and more cheery stuff!

We are time travelers!

No, not in the sense of the teenagers who get 'time yanked' in my sci fi series for young adults: David Brin's Out of Time.  Or through space in my other YA series for teens, the High Horizon. (If you know any young folks - or you have a taste for mind-expanding adventure - you'll love these!)

Rather, today I want to discuss a different kind of time travel -- some ways in which we are getting windows into the past via science!

Earlier (recent) examples included Utzi the Iceman, who was discovered when retreating alpine glaciers exposed a neolithinc murder victim. Scientists were able to use the contents of his guts and pollen in his lungs to trace his exact path and meals and the season in which he made his final journey, till he was ambushed by some enemy. Incredible story!

Or the way genetic analysis told us about Chromosome bottlenecks in the past, including Mitochondrial Eve, the apparent mother of us all... and more recently evidence of a similar Y-chromosome bottleneck about 12,000 years ago, almost exactly when people made two technological breakthroughs associated with agriculture... beer and kings. And very likely the latter simply ordered the deaths of many males who couldn't control their use of the former!

But no, let's go even farther back!

== Here come those 'extinctions' again! ==

Ever more, we are using amazing techniques to penetrate what was a darkly hidden past.  For example, rhythms and 'cycles' or extinction that were part of Earth's meta-stable equilibrium... but of the sort that may have hobbled life's progress elsewhere. For example...

In EXISTENCE, I talk about how humans appear to have undergone a major cultural – possibly genetic – shift a little over 40,000 years ago, that included cave art, ceremonial burials and a vastly expanded suite of tools. (I assert it was just the earliest known in what would become a series of accelerating reprogrammings of the human operating system.) It’s also a time when many megafauna species... and our Neanderthal cousins... shuffled off the stage. 

Now comes a theory that magnetic pole reversals can stress an ecosystem and cause extinctions:One temporary flip of the poles, known as the Laschamps excursion, happened 42,000 years ago and lasted for about 1,000 years.” Accompanied by a major solar minimum, it may have caused the tipping point. Interestingly, my colleague Rob Sawyer goes with exactly this notion in his HOMINIDS series. 

The authors of this study go to the “42” thing, though, to connect with a different sci fi series. 

Oh, BTW: Earth’s magnetic field has weakened by about 9% over the past 170 years, and the researchers say another flip could be on the cards.”


== “Periodic” Extinctions are back on the table ==

In 2015 I re-posted my 1980s era article in Analog: "The Deadly Thing at 2.4 Kiloparsecs" along with updates, referring to theories for what might explain periodicity in Earth's major and intermediate extinctions. Now comes a revised estimate of extinction periodicity led by NYU’s Michael Rampino, who reiterates that widespread die-offs of land-dwelling animals – which include amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds – appear to follow a cycle of about 27 million years.


The article says the next periodic comet drop isn't due for 20 million years. But track from the end of the Cretacous - 63 million years ago, if the cycle really was 27 M.y, then we would be 9 away from the next.

I've looked at the pattern currently listed here  and I don't think the 27M.y thing works at all, except as an average that posits a SINGLE cause. Especially, it doesn't look like a good fit for when our solar system plunges through the galactic "skirt."

But what if the triggers number more than one? Say TWO or THREE objects that pass nearby, disturbing our solar system, each with its own, longer periodicity... AND SOMETIMES THEY MISS, failing to leave a trace in the fossil record? Moreover, Suppose that the two - or 3 or 4 - trigger objects have somewhat different phases? 

I have to wonder if someone out there can program a fit to the listed extinctions with two or three different periodic triggers that sometimes fail to leave a trace. Including that latter element could be tricky. But it already looks to me as if some of the sums of adjacent intervals might show better periodicity.

My 'lapping" process (posited in the "Deadly Thing" article) could then be several causal objects in Galactic orbit, or possible brown dwarves in far solar orbit. In the former case, they'd be farther out from Galactic center than my 1st paper supposed, and thus pass sometimes much closer to us.

Of course, some of the extinctions may not have had a foreign cause... and the datings of the intervals gets foggier, farther back in time.

And now a splash of cold water. These other researchers claim to have used deep-learning systems to sift the data and found no clear timing relationship between the extinctions. 

== More reaching through time? ==

In EXISTENCE I posited the resurrection of the Neanderthal species in our near future. Are we already on our way? 

Neanderthal mini-brains! Working near UCSD, Dr. Alysson Moutri grown mini ‘organoids’ from both human neurons and others that were genetically altered with Neanderthal DNA. And the results are already so amazing that NASA agreed to fly a version of the experiment aboard the space station. (I was peripherally involved in that aspect of things.) “Organoids with the ancient NOVA1 gene also appear to mature more quickly and remain smaller than their modern counterparts, Muotri says." The neurons start to get more active at very early stages. 

These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that modern humans evolved big brains that continue to develop long after birth in order to navigate complex social systems. Of course I have revived Neanderthals as characters in Existence... But see also my own research into the role that neoteny has played in giving humans ever-young and agile minds. Well... some of us.

== And some space stuff! ==

While we’re talking about new tools to look back through time… Gravitational micro-lensing only works when three objects line up, our telescope, a distant star… and the object directly in between that’s doing the lensing by bending the star’s light as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. What’s amazing is… it works! With our new telescopes that can scan tens of thousands of stars at a time, we are spotting these events… and one revealed a small rogue planet, likely no larger than ours but cut loose from its origin system, doing the brief bending bit as it passed brifly through our line of sight! This may be important.

Curious. Is the universe getting… hotter? A team of international scientists compared the temperature of cosmic gas farther away from Earth (and, therefore, farther back in time) to younger gases nearer to our planet and to the present day. According to their calculations, in the past 10 billion years, the mean temperature of these gases has increased by more than 10 times. 

Remember that “monolith” discovered in an isolated red rock cove in Utah? Apparently the first published images were deceptive. It's a prism shape with triangular horizontal cross section. Making it much sturdier and less like 2001.  But the Interior Dept guys have a sense of humor. Anyway, apparently the “obelisk” discovered in the Utah desert has been there a long time. 

Are there others? In my novel EARTH, pyramidal obelisks have been placed to seem like the tips of a single, humungous tetrahedron sculpture embedded in the planet. Only one orientation lets all tips emerge on dry land; one must be on Easter Island... as I depict in the novel. And in real life a sculptor did it!