Saturday, July 10, 2021

Space Rocks and tech marvels that really rock! And best sci-future YouTube Channels!

Do you love YouTube channels about science? Wish I had one? Well, maybe if I get that Kiln People self-copier machine! A close second to that would be these great channels! First, an interesting interview for your weekend listening pleasure or edification. Singularity Radio - from Singularity University - I offer perspectives on The Value of History, Criticism and Science Fiction.

Scott Manley is one of my favorite YouTube explainer guys, especially when it comes to spacecraft. If there's some kind of milestone in rocketry, for example, he'll clarify it for you, within a couple of days. (Manley was also designer of the "cycler" spacecraft in the 2021 movie "Stowaway".) But today's posting goes a bit farther in space and especially time, as Manley  talks about how to Move the Earth, citing especially my own postings on the subject. (in particular my video: Lift the Earth! - though he cites the more detailed blog posting.)

Other favorite explainers include Anton Petrov for new science and space discoveries (he often makes an error or two, but generally (not always) small ones)... and Physics Girl ... and for in-depth explorations of galactic stuff like the Fermi Paradox, tune in to Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur

Do you have favorites? Share them with the community in comments.

== Political aside: A rightist Republican is right about moving the Earth! ==

Did the Earth move for you too? When House Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas made an argument about climate change at a subcommittee hearing that appeared to suggest the US Bureau of Land Management might act to shift the Earth’s orbit, in order to fight climate change.

 Most observers are about 80% sure that Gohmert was trying to be clever, asserting thus that no human interventions could avail against a changing climate - one of a dozen rightist arguments that all contradict each other, as heat waves and weather disruptions make it harder for the mad KGB/Fox incantation machine to stop folks from waking up. 

And yet…  well, the coincidence would make one smile... if it weren't possible that idiots like this would leave the planet a cinder.  But onward...

== Rocks And maybe riches out there… ==

Set to launch next year, the agency’s Psyche spacecraft will explore a metal-rich asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Alas, another example of where the excellent TV series Expanse got things wrong and didn't need to.

A lonely meteorite that landed in the Sahara Desert in 2020 is older than Earth. The primeval space rock is about 4.6 billion years old, and is the oldest known example of magma from space. Its age and mineral content hint that the rock originated in our early solar system from the crust of a protoplanet.”  Around 75% of these protoplanet remnants seem to have originated from one source — possibly the asteroid 4 Vesta, but this one stands out. "No object with spectral characteristics similar to EC 002 has been identified to date."

Phil Plait (“Bad Astronomy”) reveals how sophisticated are the new programs being created by clever researchers like Jean-Luc Margot, that let radio astronomers sift for “signals” out there… and more important, eliminate the artifacts that originate from our own civilization. Hint, the latter is 100%... so far.

== More fermis… Phos-scarcity? ==

Among the few people who actually know about the shortage crisis of the 2030s - Phosphorus - many first heard about it in my novel Existence, wherein the king of Morocco is the richest man in the world because of it. Now come estimates that Earth may be exceptionally well endowed with the stuff, compared to elsewhere in the galaxy. Does this help to explain the Fermi Paradox / Great Silence?

"Dr. Brin, you brought to our attention the looming phosphorus crisis. It turns out, in regards to alien life and civilizations, that the crisis might be literally universal and Earth has life only because it has a local cache of phosphorus.  What is really depressing is a galactic shortage of phosphorus severely limits the amount of life, human or otherwise, can expand through the galaxy."

Mentioned earlier, Isaac Arthur is always interesting... and cites me pretty often... and he focuses on this problem here.

== Technologic marvels ==

With robotically constructed  foundation, walls, and utility conduits, this 1,407-square-foot Riverhead, New York house cost half as much to build as a normal one.

Incredible scientific advances… including those that gave us covid vaccines… have been propelled by nanopore technology: breaking up samples into tiny constituents that can then be appraised and tallied and then – using computers – that data recombined to model, say, a whole genome! A fantastic technology… that a startup now wants to turn into a gaming console! Yes, taking the amateur science trend (See my past postings about the “age of amateurs”) and combining it with gaming, Huh. Well… it is a game console you’re gonna have to clean and resupply pretty often. But are we on our way to Existenz?  See the Wefunder video.

See Ten Breakthrough Technologies of 2021, such as messenger RNA vaccines and hyper-accurate positioning. 

Fascinating progress in analyzing and modeling the fabulous brass Antikythera Device that (it seems) hand cranked models of the motion of 7 planets. An incredible glimpse of lost technology and science… which (to me) raises the twin issues of “how much else was lost from ancient Chinese, Roman and other civilizations?” and more important “Why were their memories of such skills so fragile?”  I think I know why.

Speaking of spinning disks, spin-memory disks aren’t extinct yet! In order to stay ahead of flash memory for cloud storage use, the solution may be two new techniques called microwave and heat-assisted magnetic recordingor MAMR and HAMR. These use an energy source, either a microwave-generating device called a "spin-torque oscillator" or a laser, or change the platter material's coercivity. This, coupled with a more stable platter material and a smaller write head, lets you pack more data – 20TB or much more - onto each platter.   

And yes, analog disk computation plays a crucial role in letting six refugee/immigrant races do calculations and change their fate, without access to digital computers... all in the Second Uplift Trilogy of Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heanven's Reach. Now all refreshed, updated with beautiful new covers! 

The newest U.S. Army night vision goggles are wow.

Amazing images of Sicily’s Mt. Etna erupting...

Finally, are you concerned about the mania that is driving many of our neighbors to recite anti-science and anti-fact incantations? There are ways we could restore the role of facts and objective, verifiable reality in politics, society and a recovered notion of grownup negotiation.  See the Fact Act


Paul451 said...

Re: Youtube science/etc presenters

Similarly to Anton Petrov, there's Sabine Hossenfelder, a German physicist who dumbs down subjects to that nice level that doesn't feel dumbed down.

Dr Becky Smethurst (Dr Becky), a working astronomer. Like Physics Girl, she plays to a younger, less scientifically literate audience but (also like Physics Girl) her enthusiasm for the subject makes up for it.

Less science based, but he often dabbles in space/tech subjects is Joe Scott (Answers with Joe.) He doesn't come from a science background but is well aware of his limits, and clearly puts in the work to understand the subjects he presents (or at least makes it comedically clear when he is just repeating a thing without understanding it.)

There's Amy Shira Teitel (The Vintage Space) who covers what you would expect from the name of her channel.

On the lighter animated side, there's Kurzgesagt. (And if the style appeals, perhaps Brew.)

Non-science interesting subjects, there's Johnny Harris for deep dives. And Tom Scott for "this is a thing that exists" short videos.


Speaking of Jean-Luc Margot, he was also involved in the science that got Pluto "demoted". His "Margot Determinant" equation might one day be the maths behind the final definition of "Planet".

Ironically, Alan Stern was another astronomer whose work drew a sharp distinction between planets and non-planets, and put Pluto into the latter camp, but is now aggressively hostile to the rest of planetology and astronomy over the IAU definition.


There's been a push to rename the James Webb telescope because of his role in the "Lavender panic", a government-wide purge of LGBT* employees during the '50s and '60s that occurred alongside the McCarthyist purges.

I find it interesting that people complaining about Webb being "cancelled" are, with no trace of irony, calling it a "witch-hunt" and a "Stalinist purge" because activists are complaining about... that time when the US government purged entire groups of people for not being the "right sort".

David Brin said...

Paul451... could you supply the same list with... links? I'll store it for a future blog.

scidata said...

Julia Galef makes great videos about Bayesian thinking, cognitive bias, quantum, and applied rationality.

Bayes has had a huge influence on my computational psychohistory thinking and writing; it's one of the centuries-old ideas (Laplace's gem really) that modern computing has reified. Gosh I wish I could talk to Asimov for an hour. I'm so grateful for Dr. Brin's generous 'time sharing'.

Of course I also must wave the Toronto flag and second the Amy Shira Teitel recommendation. And Lawrence Krauss. And Malcolm Gladwell. And pretty much anything from the Perimeter Institute.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

The "Phosphorus Problem" is interesting as regards how PO4 became so tightly integrated into our metabolisms at a time when O2 was uncommon. I don't find the argument plausible with regard to life abundances, though it might have a soft-retard effect on the age distribution of biospheres in the galaxy. As pointed out, abundances of 'stellar metals' (anything past lithium) go up with time as more nuclear ash mixes into the galactic source medium. So phosphorous is probably more common in younger systems than older ones.

But the handwave about abundances doesn't add up otherwise, because by 'uncommonly rich in phosphorous' he means in the Solar System. We're the only planet with a currently active tectonic crust; we're also the densest planet, the only terrestrial planet with a large moon, the only one with large sustained amounts of liquid surface water... any of which could be part of the solution to this "problem".

Let's look at what data we have on galactic abundances as a cross-check: GCR (galactic cosmic rays) vs. solar spectroscopic abundance; estimated local galactic abundance. I'm not seeing much indication that P is particularly missing, or that Sol is unusual in its P content.

Also -- our theories about nucleosynthesis with respect to P don't seem to be working well. "Phosphorus-rich stars with unusual abundances are challenging theoretical predictions, Nature Communications 11: 3759 (2020)"

And finally, I'm not very convinced from the biochemical perspective either. Sure, ADP/ATP is very handy as a medium of energy exchange... but there are other mechanisms available even in Earth's biosphere. The argument with regard to nucleic acids is somewhat more plausible, but again, what's the argument that sulfur couldn't do a (possibly less efficient) job linking together nucleotides? Or even oxygen?

So I just not convinced there is a "Phosphorous Problem" in other star systems. It feels to me like a xenobiological equivalent of the "Solar Neutrino Problem"... pointing out a hole in our knowledge, rather than a hole in the universe's biogenesis methods. If you wanted to make this argument, I'd find chlorine a more plausible issue. Or maybe other species out there are wondering how Earth's biogenesis got around a "Beryllium Problem"....

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Holdovers from last thread:
- @TCB: Russian immigrants were one of the keys to Bibi Netanyahu's now-ended twelve-year reign as Prime Minister and wannabe-regent of Israel. And as for good and evil, remember that Confederatism considers the absolute core of civilization to be the divide between the Right Sort and the Wrong Sort. Liberty and democracy are, in their mind, tools to be used amongst the Right Sort; they feel righteous about treating the Wrong Sort differently. Antebellum South Carolina was as much of a police state as the early 1800's allowed; the Mississippi state government of the 1950's had a secret police (not named as such, of course) routinely deploying spycraft and partnering with 'concerned citizens' as ready-mix black-bag squads. Authoritarianism doesn't feel wrong to a Confederate -- as long as it only applies to the Wrong Sort. Not being dominant, not being treated as the Right Sort, is considered more important.

@Paul451: Sure, 'transportation and labor' was still going strong at the time of our Revolution; Georgia was the penal colony whose uptake was sent to Oz instead. But it wasn't the primary labor source the way penal labor and indentured servitude were used early in the Virginia and Maryland settlements.

As for 'evangelicals' -- this ain't their first rodeo, mate; they just went by different monikers. Look up the "Great Awakenings"; or the origin of the Mormons; or the Temperance movement; or the Know-Nothings. Heinlein didn't pull his concept of Scudder out of a hat -- it's a strain here all along. It just wasn't the existential danger until now.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Catfish -- actually, you ain't kiddin'. In the 20s and 30s there was a huge uptick in spirituality, and the radio was a great medium (no pun intended), along with the tent revival, for spreading the Good Word. It wasn't just Christianity; around the world people were communing with the Spirit World. Sadly, a lot of it was of the snake oil variety, where, as now, a lot of the charitable funding ended up in the pockets of the erstwhile preachers rather than used to do good works. "Same as it ever was..,."

James O'Hearn said...

I agree with Paul451...I think you should add Kurzgesagt ( to your list of channels. My children have always been keenly uninterested in science, but when they discovered this channel, that disinterest changed. My six year old started peppering me with questions about black holes, geoengineering, and the heat death of the universe, and the others look forward to any new release.

Alfred Differ said...

Wait, we won[?] How did that happen? And what do we do now??

I'd toss in a few more expletives for how some of us responded.
"How the @#@^ did that happen?"

George Friedman in his '100 years' book referred to three world wars in the 20th century that were really one long multi-phased war. He also pointed out that there was only one winner and anyone thinking in terms of geopolitics needed to come to grips with that. ONLY the US was rich enough to wage two hot wars in Europe and win them and then a multi-decade war and win that. The point he made from all that was that the US is immensely wealthy. Really frickin' wealthy. None of the European empires has ever compared and our wealth makes it easy for us to survive stupid mistakes and still win. Every single one of our current opponents has to deal with this fact.

Der Oger,

There were many of us who understood that conditions in East Germany were atrocious. We saw it as the Soviets bleeding them white and understood that this was how the USSR ensured their satellite states could not recover to oppose them. It's just that we thought it would continue longer than it did. Poland obviously tried to break out and we expected them to get squashed. When that did NOT happen, it was a curious thing, but we were often more focused on what was happening in Afghanistan and where other proxy wars were under way.

Truth is a lot of us expected NO proxy wars in eastern Europe that didn't result in nukes flying. There was no doubt the Soviets would go 'all in' if their western border got rolled back. For it to collapse instead was a shock... that really shouldn't have been a shock. It's not like the various tribes on the northern plains haven't been beaten only to come back after a generation or two.

rks said...

Apparently we don't know how P is produced. See

David Brin said...

"Apparently we don't know how P is produced." All I gotta do is drink beer. It's getting rid of it that takes a wee while.

I am on redord in 1987 predicting the fall of the USSR... and in EARTH I kinda sorta allude to a sorta breakup,

TCB said...

Potassium is produced in Kazakhstan. Everyone ought to know that by now!

sorry in advance

Robert said...

My children have always been keenly uninterested in science, but when they discovered this channel, that disinterest changed.

You might find this book useful Theodore Gray's Completely Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home but Probably Shouldn't:

"Experiments include: Casting a model fish out of mercury (demonstrating how this element behaves very differently depending upon temperature); the famous Flaming Bacon Lance that can cut through steel (demonstrating the amount of energy contained in fatty foods like bacon); creating nylon thread out of pure liquid by combining molecules of hexamethylenediamine and sebacoyl chloride; making homemade ice cream using a fire extinguisher and a pillow case; powering your iPhone using 150 pennies and an apple, and many, many more."

TCB said...

I follow a couple of the above Youtubers.

Anton Petrov:

Sabine Hossenfelder:

And if the Antikythera Mechanism interests you, you're missing out if you don't see Clickspring's videos on building a replica, and on making the tools to do it. He says that the hardened steel files and other specialized tools that were needed to make such a device are even more important than the mechanism itself, because they are the very root of our modern technology.

Lockpicking Lawyer is fun too.

David Brin said...

Please report back if you folks can or can't access this reposting of my chapter:

Alfred Differ said...

I can get to your posted chapter just fine.

duncan cairncross said...

Working fine for me

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Poland obviously tried to break out and we expected them to get squashed. When that did NOT happen, it was a curious thing,

I used to watch "The McLaughlin Group" regularly in those days, and I remember how, country after country, they dismissed each one as a special case which Moscow would not permit elsewhere. Poland was just an aberration which didn't actually pierce the iron curtain. Then Hungary opened the metaphorical gate to Austria. I don't remember the reasoning, but "It will never happen in Romania" until it did by the very next week. And the last such prediction, "East Germany is the lynchpin of the Soviet Union. They'll never let it go."

Those predictions rivaled Q-Anon and Supply Side economics for continuing to get things wrong time after time.

Paul451 said...

Assuming David rescues this from his Spam Filter...

Per his request, I've included links for the YouTube Channels I listed in the first comment (plus a few more I remembered). Mostly science-related, but some drift further afield.

Dr. Becky Smethurst (Dr. Becky) -- Astrophysicist. Similar style to Physics Girl but with a focus on astronomy and cosmology.
Example video: An Astrophysicist's Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries"

Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder -- Similar subjects to Anton Petrov, leaning slight towards her own speciality, physics.
Example video: Are Singularities Real?

Jade Tan-Holmes (Up and Atom) -- Kids level explanations of high-end physics concepts
Example video: What is The Schrodinger Equation, Exactly?

Steve Mould -- Mix of science/engineering topics.
Example video: Pythagorean Siphon - Inside Your Washing Machine
Example 2: What Do Protons Taste Like (Sour, it turns out.)

Amy Shira Teitel (The Vintage Space) -- History of the space program, branching into "How it works" on related subjects.
Example video: Vladimir Komarov was Doomed to Die on Soyuz 1

Prof. David Kipping (Cool Worlds) -- Great selection of topics, but oh my god the presentation is ponderous. I have to watch these with the speed increased to 1.25x or more.
Example video: Why You're Probable Not a Simulation

[went over the character limit]

Paul451 said...


Kurzgesagt -- Distinctively animated videos on science/space topics.
Example video: The Day the Dinosaurs Died - Minute by Minute

Brew -- Animated videos on a variety of subjects, bit clickbaity, with an extra serving of body horror.
Example video: The Country Made from 14 Stranded Ships

Dr. Rohin Francis (Medlife Crisis) -- Cardiologist with an acidic sense of humour.
Example video: Can You Legally Buy a Real Human Skeleton

Johnny Harris -- Deeper dives into specific odd subjects.
Non-political example: The Real Reason McDonalds Ice Cream Machines Are Always Broken (Except everything is political.)

Joe Scott (Answers With Joe) -- Wide variety of topics, often science/space/tech focused.
Example video: The Immortal Woman Who Saved Millions Of Lives"

Tom Scott -- Variety of subjects, from "this is an interesting place that exists", to linguistics, to infotech, to very random projects that catch his interest.
Interesting place: The Artificial Gravity Lab
Infotech: This Video Has 32,251,959 Views (title subject to change.)
Language: The Language Sounds That Could Exist But Don't

Paul451 said...

Channels I didn't include before because I assume they're well known, but, in for a penny...:

Derek Muller (Veritasium)

Mark Rober

Tim Dodd (Everyday Astronaut)

Destin Sandlin (Smarter Every Day)


A couple of political channels that I think have been mentioned here:

Beau of the Fifth Column -- Lefty perspective made in the style of a right-winger.

Cody Johnston (Some More News) -- Lefty perspective made in the style of... errr, a crazy basement dweller trying to drag you down with him?


And I'll throw in English GP Dr. John Campbell, who is doing quiet daily Covid-19 updates.

Tim H. said...

Somewhat saner than an Alcubierre drive:

Still out of reach for a long time.

Dennis M Davidson said...

I can get to your reposted chapter. No problem.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

I too am able to access just fine.

I think after seeing the active suppression of native politics in the 50's and 60's, conservative Americans just didn't feel safe to believe the Curtain was falling. As Alfred said, we knew the Warsaw Pact was suffering terribly, but saw that as (a) the extractive/vindictive imperalism that the Marshall Plan was the direct opposite to, (b) Russian paranoia at work, both leading to (c) a deliberate Soviet policy. We also knew that Russia was having economic troubles; that was part of the Reaganite plan, to get them to neglect infrastructure in favor of military and prestige projects, while out-innovating and reaping positive-sum outcomes with allies/trade partners (Pournelle's strategy of technology, one of his better notions). Perestroika was seen as a sign that the strategy was working -- but the expected outcome was a shift by the Soviet Communist Party to the same model China was gunning for, i.e., authoritarian but mixed-economy. AFAICT the idea was that this would be a less ideologically rigid, more economically secure version of the Russian Empire, and thus feel less of a driving need for worldwide power projection. We could and did imagine a less dangerous Soviet Empire; we didn't imagine there being no Soviet Empire. Which is part of why the early-nineties attempt to 'advise' the successor states went so pear-shaped; it wasn't a scenario we had seriously considered.

Again, much of this is hindsight and re-analyzing things I could observe but not understand at the time.

@MadLibrarian -- two words: Father Coughlin.
@TCB -- Have you heard the theory that the Antikythera Mechanism was originally designed by Archimedes? The idea being it was being shipped from a workshop at Syracuse.
@Larry -- this WaPo analysis starts with the egregious Mr. Carlson, but goes to a place I stopped hoping the mainstream press might find -- calling out the pattern of self-deception that has been a plague upon conservatism since at least Laffer's napkin sketch, and upon Confederatism forever. The siren call of the notion that once you have confirmation of your emotional biases, you can stop looking - and stop thinking. Rational debate is pointless with anyone who places emotional arguments first.

This was used to tremendous effect by the domestic propaganda of The Fifties, which condemned Godless Communists as a way to lasso the reactionary (and previously isolationist) bloc into the Cold War effort. It was so effective that it's now backfired; this is the source of the canard that all non-reactionary Americans are also 'Godless communists' and thus threats to their religious practices.

GMT -5 8032 said...

I met John McGlaughlin at a party in 2005. I asked him a question. “You were in the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY. I want to know, did you survive?” He gave a good laugh and the told the people assembled around him about how his show had appeared in several movies in the 90s.

Unknown said...

I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the Fact Act to be a Constitutional Amendment, or better yet, a core Article in Consitution 2.0. Sigh. I'll have to settle for writing screenplays featuring an enlightened Republic that embraces such ideas.

Robert said...


The latest email from PenceNews introduces one of the articles with what is supposedly a quote from Karl Marx: "Democracy is the road to socialism … Socialism leads to communism."

This is apparently why voting needs to be restricted — so the country doesn't slide into communism. All those new laws are to protect capitalism, which is apparently one of America's founding principles…

Republicans are also getting their tighty whities in a twist about the NSA persecuting Tucker Carlson, which is a story apparently bigger than Covid or China, but is being ignored by the 'lamestream media'.

I've started reading The Cruelty is the Point, and so far Serwer seems pretty bang-on with his explanations. Any thoughts in that?

David Brin said...

One of the most respected and popular economics/hedge sites has republished my chapter on Pax Americana and China, laying out how much of the last 80 years actually happened by deliberate design... and how - despite many crimes and errors - PA is still by far the least-hated empire in 6000 years. In fact, your own reflex to criticize the faults of your nation/society may be a design feature, not a bug.

Larry Hart said...


Rational debate is pointless with anyone who places emotional arguments first.

Ironically, Dave Sim argues the exact same thing, but to him, it is women who "place emotional arguments first" and conservatives who think rationally. I last communicated with him in the aught-aughts, and I'd like to think events have changed his mind, but I doubt it.


He [John McLaughlin] gave a good laugh and the told the people assembled around him about how his show had appeared in several movies in the 90s.

I saw some of those, although I don't remember specifically which movies. They used it in the movie version of Watchmen too, although I was disappointed to see that they used actors portraying the group, not the real thing.

TCB said...

@ Catfish, yes, I've heard Archimedes may be the original designer of the Mechanism. Since he lived about 150 years before the Antikythera wreck, the timing is reasonable. There cannot have been that many other people capable of that work. However, if the Roman wreck was filled with looted Greek treasures, it's not clear why the ship would have left Syracuse (in Sicily) and gone out of its way to founder off Antikythera (between Cyprus and the Peloponnese). I would bet the Mechanism we have is a copy from somewhere in Greece. It's argued that it was made circa 87 BCE and the sinking was a bit more than twenty years after (coins from as late as 67 BCE were found in the wreck).

Incidentally, the island was a pirate stronghold for a couple of centuries until Pompey cleaned it out. Seems to me nobody would have attempted to get a ship full of valuables past it until then. Funny thing, his suppression of the pirates (all over the Mediterranean, not just Antikythera) happens in 67-66 BCE, the very same time the wreck may have happened. So, perhaps the Roman ship was using a newly safe course (safe from the pirates, that is! From storms, not so much.)

David Brin said...

LH their cowardice about making cash-escrowed wagers over facts vs their incantation assertions proves they are diametrically opposit to logical. Reciters of logical-sounding incantations are among the worst.

TCB I do not accept Archimedes was a lone genius. The milieu in which he worked was not recorded, nor the myriad craftsmen who were snubbed from the few letters sent about describing events. Moreover, lack of patent protection meant that methods were kept secret among just the master and his sons, ensuring they'd be lost next time the city burned or those sons had dumb-ass sons.

Interesting re 67 BCE

Venelin.Petkov said...

Did you deliberately forget the best astronomy/advanced physics channel on YouTube :)

PBS Spacetime is the best in my opinion

On the other end of the scale we have Jorney to the microcosmos:

If you like a really hypnotic take on history of science combined with some very unique content, I highly recommend Parallax Nick (probably to most criminally underrated channel out there):

David Brin said...

"The latest email from PenceNews introduces one of the articles with what is supposedly a quote from Karl Marx: "Democracy is the road to socialism … Socialism leads to communism." This is apparently why voting needs to be restricted — so the country doesn't slide into communism. -- A classic position of both fascism and confederatism: that the masses or 'mob' can't be trusted with sovereignty.

Of course Marx said no such thing since he considered democracy to be a bourgeoise indulgence that beguiles the workers into imagining they can win justice through peaceful means. In fact, the most vigorous anti-communists have been democrats and especially the US labor movement, e.g. the AFL-CIO, while Republicans have sought accommodation with Moscow (except for just the term of Reagan, a former Democrat.)

Alas, no one has the guts or imagination to confront these imbeciles with wager demands, from which they always flee:

- Name one advanced, liberal democracy, including socialist Scandinavian ones, that ever turned communist.

- Show us where Marx said that!

- Vladimir Putin called the fall of the USSR "history's greatest tragedy" and he installed all former KGB agents and commissars as Russia's new oligarchy, which the renamed KGB uses all the same methods toward the same goal: our downfall. So who are the commies now?

Robert you got a link on that PenceNews thing?

Robert said...

I'm getting emails. There's a chap south of the border with my name who supports Trump and the NRA, generally ticks all the batshit-crazy-right-wing boxes. Also none too bright, as he keeps using my email for things so not only do I get subscribed to crazy mailing lists, but I also get copies of his Amazon purchases, car service appointments, etc…

The emails seem linked to this web site:

(I haven't followed the links, so no idea if they match the short descriptions. Enjoy yourself, though.)

GMT -5 8032 said...

This is a bit old (from 2007), but I love the ASTRO 160 class from Professor Charles Bailyn, Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics. It's astrophysics for non-science majors. You don't need calculus for any of the math problems (and you only have to solve those to one significant pi = 3 = square root of 10).

There are 26 lessons, plus assorted assignments. It makes for excellent listening. I wonder if Professor Brin has ever had contact with Professor Bailyn.

Don Gisselbeck said...

I'm a big fan of the various flatearth debunking YouTube. Not only are they entertaining, they provide excellent education.
Scimandan, The Creaky Blinder, Red's Rhetoric, Fight the Flat Earth, etc.

Paul451 said...

There's also a ton of "mad maker" channels, but they didn't fit the theme of David's original list.

Der Oger said...

@Channels: Most have been already mentioned. Dr. Brin, are you familiar with Harald Lesch? He and a team of younger scientist-tubers operate a channel I regularly watch. It is in German, though, so of little use here.

A discussion between both would be fun, since Prof. Lesch usually argues we should concentrate on saving Earth first, before we try to colonize space.

Der Oger said...

Alfred Differ:

There were many of us who understood that conditions in East Germany were atrocious. We saw it as the Soviets bleeding them white and understood that this was how the USSR ensured their satellite states could not recover to oppose them.

While not false, we on our side of the iron curtain were fed propaganda, too. I recall several encounters with East Germans who insisted that not all was bad. Everyone had work. Everyone had a flat. Everyone could access child care centers so that both parents could work if they chose so. Healthcare was not dependent on social class (we have a hybrid system of Public and Private Insurance companies). Woman and LGBT rights were more developed in the eastern half than in the western.

And actually, while mismanagement was largely responsible for the GDR's collapsing economy, the death blow were Gorbatchevs disarmament policies (since East Germany produced military goods in exchange for natural ressources).

As I write this, I remember an encounter on a vacation in Eastern Germany in Summer 90. A young man who sold us fast food was less than optimistic, and I asked "Why?" because I thought (I was quite young then) everyone would be happy. He correctly predicted that the new federal states would be run by "carpetbaggers" from the old states, that existing companies would be gutted, and that millions would be unemployed.

Robert said...

For physics, the Perimeter Institute is a great resource:

David Brin said...

Der Oger, everyone also knew about Party officials having dachas and party-run resorts and camps (we stayed at one) and other status privileges.

One thing that saddens me is that Cuba could have been a big test of state socialism under ideal conditions.... a healthy/warm island rich in resources. The Castros could have implemented Lenin's original New Economic Policy (NEP) under rules that retained top, policy control while encouraging low level entrepreneurship and freedoms. Yes, it would have encouraged rambunctiousness and legal opposition and possible power loss. But Castro began with immense popularity (Okay, after driving out opponents to Florida) and after the first ten years the whole health care thing would have maintained it.

The experiment that DID run was human nature. Fidel was simply too much of a standard, male asshole to let go or to put up with the complexities and aggravations of a successful NEP. Just like another asshole, Lenin. And that is why G. Washington was by far the better man.

GMT -5 8032 said...

Do you think Castro let his anger and hatred of the US get the better of him? Would it be fair to compare Cuba with Viet Nam as two countries that faced down US aggression? By the 1990s, Viet Nam seems to have gotten over their justifiable anger at the US.

A good friend of mine (a vet who served in the Army in Viet Nam 1967-68) went back in the 2000s. It was a very good experience for him and, from the way he described it, for the Vietnamese he encountered.

Treebeard said...

I visited Cuba about 20 years ago and stayed at a beach resort where all meals were provided. I was kinda dumb about travel and didn’t realize that none of my bank cards would work there. So I was there for a week with basically no money, but I bicycled around, ate free meals, hung out on the beach and watched people dance on the road side and say “hola” as I rode by. They were poor but seemed happy. I liked the retro vibe; it was perpetually about 1959, and there was no obnoxious Western advertising or media anywhere. It really is a socialist paradise I guess--no money required (at least if you’re at a luxury resort where everything is provided).

David Brin said...

Ent-eresting observations! All of which supports my view that Castro cheated the world of what might have been a perfect test-case variant.

Robert said...

Cuba could have been a big test of state socialism under ideal conditions.... a healthy/warm island rich in resources

Hostile neighbour just over the water…

The trade embargo affects more than just American companies. Canadian street venders are having payments seized by American banks because they buy Cuban coffee. (Seriously, Square Canada apparently uses an American bank somewhere in its payment processing, resulting in the American bank apparently just keeping all payments by Canadian customers to buy Cuban coffee from an Canadian coffee stand.)

David Brin said...

Nonsense. The embargo was broken by so many nations, including big European ones, that the ongoing excuse for Castro mismanagement became a whiney joke. And even the US eased up on it across a wide range, as soon as Cuba-gun offered the slightest easing up as an excuse.

What malarkey! The great Cuban economic and social miracle stymied because they needed the US to develop? They started out in the 60s richer than many US states and declined in ranking every decade. If you needed US cruise liners in order to develop, then something was way wrong with your development plan.

GMT -5 8032 said...

Whoa Dr. Brin. And I thought I was harsh when it comes to Cuba. But I won't share my thoughts; I don't need to show off my ignorance.

Do you have some good resources for me to read about Cuba before and after the revolution?

Robert said...

And even the US eased up on it across a wide range, as soon as Cuba-gun offered the slightest easing up as an excuse.

Which is why an American bank seized $14,000 from a Canadian coffee stand less than two years ago, for the crime of selling cups of coffee grown in Cuba to Canadian customers…

A friend of mine says that doing business with Cuba is still difficult, because you have to do extra work to make certain that you won't get screwed in a similar fashion to that coffee stand. It's effectively a tax on doing business with Cuba, paid in time and effort, and a disincentive to do so. Might actually be easier for Europeans because their economy isn't so emeshed with America's as Canada's is.

(If you read that story, the Canadian business was using a Canadian payments processor to deal with Canadian customers. That's effectively a message that if you deal with Cuba you have to put in extra time and effort making certain that your entire financial system has nothing to do with America, even at an arms length, or you might be out money you need and can't recover.)

David Brin said...

Robert, arguing by anecdote does neither of us much insight. Fact is, Cuba was HEAVILY subsidized by the USSR till 91 and intermittently under Putin, while getting lots of new aid from ChinaBut funny how none of that ever gets mantioned. Or a worldwide "buy Cuban!" movement across the European left... also never mentioned. Nor the fact that both industrial and agricultural management is universally dissed as bureaucratically stiflingby every neutral study I ever saw.

Seriously, lots of countries moved ahead without much trade with the US. Sure, lots more DID benefit from that trade, but we are talking SIXTY YEARSof stagnation. And... um? No way to do what China did and sweet talk the US and the zFlorida Cubans into backing off? Just bluster and chest thumping from Castros that did their people no good at all.

Again, I'd have liked to see an experiment in NEP type development and Castro thought about it. And then, like Lenin, he said: "It would mean I can't have anyone I want shot? Well no way."

gregory byshenk said...

Much of what you say is true, David, but it is important to remember that it is not just "trade with the US" that is at issue here.

The Canadian coffee stand example is just a small one. The USA sits, via its many financial institutions, more or less at the center of the world's financial web. And the USA is not shy about enforcing its wishes extraterritorially, which can mean a large amount of extra financial work for businesses, even when their transactions have no connection with the USA.

duncan cairncross said...

60 years of having the most powerful nation in the world pissing in your soup and leaning on any country that dares to trade with you

I'm amazed that Cuba did anywhere near as well as it has

As far as having Castro in power - its the same as Iran

After they kicked out the bloody Shah the Mad Mullahs would have lasted five years - ten tops

But America gave them what every despot prays for - an external enemy

With an external enemy even the worst despot can rely on his people to stay behind him

Catfish 'n Cod said...

An argument could be made that the pre-revolutionary Cuban economy was too tightly integrated with the USA's, and that the brain drain of exile talent made it hard to recover...

...but again, if Castro's socialism was so superior, and given the boost both from European trade and from USSR subsidies, it should have been able to recover by the time the USSR fell. That's not just gut feeling; remember the one thing Communist Cuba has been universally praised for... its healthcare! Cuban preventative medicine is the envy of all Latin America, and ought to be our envy too; its doctors are highly sought. If they can could do that, all while under sanction and with the lack of economic development... what couldn't the Cubans do?

Blaming the Castro brothers alone is too easy, though. That Soviet subsidy didn't come without strings; Cuba couldn't be menaced physically, and was strategically vital, so I'm thinking the money had a very short leash that further discouraged creative notions like an NEP-style economy. That went away in '91, of course, but by then Cuba was locked into its new habits.

There's a little gadget in the MIT Museum, designed as an artistic-engineering expression of futility. It's a small motor, whizzing away, turning a long series of gears with ratios that steadily decrease the motion.... until the last gearing shaft ends in a block of concrete directly attached to the motor housing. There's no impediment to motion in the rest of the system; the gears are spinning freely. It's just that, by design, 100% of the kinetic energy is converted to heat and no appreciable torque is applied to the end of the gear train. It's engineering to work constantly, make continuous effort, and achieve absolutely nothing.

That's what I see most Soviet-dominated systems, but especially Cuba's, as being the socioeconomic equivalent of. Neither the Castros nor the Soviets wanted Cubans to actually have independent thought. Be good little cogs in our machine, and never mind the stupendously inefficient gear ratios. Work industriously for the good of the system, which never changes and therefore never threatens the designers.

The best snopes-ing I have found so far on that OOC Marx attribution says it was first 'quoted' by the British Communists in 1952. That makes me highly suspect it was manufactured at Comintern HQ as a Cold War tactic, but I can't prove it. Yet.

Off topic but worthy of future discussion, a question I have been asking for weeks but only now seems to be arising amongst the punditirati: Does the President’s Party Still Lose the Midterms if the Other Party’s Platform Is “Our Deadly Riot Was Good”?

scidata said...

Re: Cuba

Personally, I blame Pierre Trudeau. But that's an old family feud story and this isn't my blog.

David Brin said...

Thanks Catfish. Though I'd wager the Castros sincerely thought they could use Stalinist command allocation methods to bring a worker's paradise of plenty for all. This OUGHT to work! was the mantra.And for primary infrastructure... roads, dams, rails, etc you could get a lot done by threatening to shoot a manager who failed to deliver 100 rail cars of concrete every day to a construction site.

The QUALITY of the concrete was another matter... 50 years later Stalin's citys are dissolving for lack of an adversarial accountability system. A lack our own oligarchs want over here. As for learning how to make a REFRIGERATOR or car anyone would want? Only market competition can do that.

No. Fidel could have eased up and done business to attract exile Cubans to come back with skills and capital. But he hated them and adored the hate they reciprocated, firing up the embargo.

"After they kicked out the bloody Shah the Mad Mullahs would have lasted five years - ten tops".... What a story!

And of course the Saudi people toppled their own cruel clerics and... oops.

Alfred Differ said...

My late brother visited his in-law cousins in Cuba many years ago, but long after the Cold War was over. His wife was among the descendants of Cubans who fled west instead of north.

1. Turns out the Florida Cubans were considerably more upset than the Mexican ones, but no one thought it would have been good to return.

2. His visit was part of a larger family visit. Cousins remembering family. That kind of thing. He was the Gringo, but had already adapted culturally to a few of their quirks. Seems that happens when one learns Spanish. 8)

3. He took lots of 'stuff' with him when he went and returned with none of it. Think 'subsidy'. Their cousins really didn't have anything to trade anyway and needed basic 'stuff' which cost him essentially nothing. Americans are pretty rich by any average world standard and wealthy by their Cuban standard.

4. He told me later he saw a lot of stupid sh*t there. The worst, though, was the surrender to corruption and stasis. A change of leadership wasn't going to change their future. What was even worse was he could see some of the same issues with his wife's family that DID leave Cuba for Mexico. In other words, it wasn't Cuba or Castro. The problem ran deep. He thought he understood it well enough that he wanted to make damn sure it didn't show up with his own kids. It hasn't with two of them.


Nations don't become wealthy through trade with other nations. They do so by investing excess capital internally in order to improve (mostly) local trade and then improve external trade as a side effect. Adam Smith described most of this well enough, but we have mountains of evidence since then and much better proof.

ANYONE thinking a command economy can improve the conditions of all their people is ignorant or in denial. We KNOW what works. It's just that it feels weird and wrong because we WANT to apply moral rules we know work for small groups like families and bands to large groups like communities and nations.

The greatest thing our civilization has EVER done is prove this point by lifting the average citizen of the entire world to unheard of levels of income with access to unheard of goods and services.

Extreme poverty IS collapsing. Less extreme poverty is too. Maybe someday my in-law cousins will see that. Until then, they are still trapped.

Alfred Differ said...


There's a little gadget in the MIT Museum...

Oh man. I've got to go see that now. What a lovely visual metaphor!

In the space advocacy community, our equivalent phrase was 'going round and round in low-earth orbit'. We meant to imply NASA wasn't really going anywhere and wasn't funded to go anywhere. This felt odd to some of our novices, but we could pull studies that got funded to collect data, but never produces the final documents needed to be the 'shoulders of giants' upon which the next generation stood.

For example, I broke many of the Halley fly-by documents out of the JPL archive many years ago by simply asking for them. US citizens have a special power like that. They were actually classified upon creation (space-related... Cold War... no surprise), so a review was done to decide whether they still had to be secret. Turns out they didn't, so they sent me copies of what they had. Turns out they didn't have everything and hadn't realized it. Funding to finish documentation had failed for a few of the contractors.

Round and round.

Now I have a better metaphor.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Dr. Brin, I think we're probably arguing a chicken-and-egg problem. "Bourgeois oppression" was the "reason" for the Revolution, so the Revolution could not touch either the people or the methods of said bourgeois without calling itself into question... I have no idea how much faith, in their heart of hearts, the Castros did or did not have in Stalinism as an economic system. What I do know is that there were structural incentives for them to act as if they did, and even if the NEP were seriously considered, it would be long-term gain gambled against both short-term loss and increased danger to the regime and to them personally.

Alas, my gut agrees with you though: the emotional considerations of (A) hating the rich and (B) the satisfaction of shooting the lazy and the less than obedient probably wiped out the small chance of doing something worthwhile.

More food for thought: Trends towards privatization of government functions are not just emerging among the would-be nouveau-aristos....

Paradoctor said...

I thought that colonizing Venus with cloud cities and terraforming Mars was visionary, but lifting the Earth tops that. Kudos! Have you written the novel?

To lift Earth by known physics and semi-known technology is intellectually rigorous, but I find fault with the size and time-scales required. If a farside lunar tether breaks loose, then it won't just float away; it'll enter its own solar orbit, one tangent to Earth's. What happens if that megastructure collides with the Earth? In "Red Mars", Robinson describes a similar event. It wasn't pretty.

So... can I interest you in a dark-matter rocket? We don't know what dark matter is, or how to manipulate it, but we do know that it exists, and we can even mass-produce one sort of dark particle; neutrinos! There may also be neutralinos or axions; and I speculate that the physics-defying EM Drive is in fact an entirely legal axion drive.

I prefer axions myself, but if we have to use neutrinos, then do it.

The advantage of a dark-matter rocket is that you can put it on Earth, where it's cheap and easy to maintain, and the exhaust won't blow away the atmosphere. Also you don't need to build one big expensive one that you're stuck with, and would require centralized control for geological time; you could instead bolt down a multitude of relatively small, cheap, and replaceable ones. The technology would be scalable and upgradeable.

I admit that dark-matter rocketry is speculative engineering. Well, so is a lunar tether. If a dark-matter rocket must weigh a thousand tons to deliver one ton of force, then it would be useless to lift anything off Earth, but adequate to lift Earth itself.

I guess that you will want to put some dark-matter rockets on the Moon so it could keep up with us.

One more point: recall the Faint Young Sun Paradox. Way back when Sol was young, it wasn't hot enough to support life on Earth in its present orbit. But what if Earth wasn't in its present orbit, way back when? What if it was closer in? And what if a previous intelligent Earth species has already lifted the Earth to its present orbit?

So... can I interest you in a fossilized trilobite-built axion rocket?

Der Oger said...

And yet, the Cubans have auch working health care system ...

Robert said...

The best snopes-ing I have found so far on that OOC Marx attribution says it was first 'quoted' by the British Communists in 1952. That makes me highly suspect it was manufactured at Comintern HQ as a Cold War tactic, but I can't prove it. Yet.

I find it more interesting that it's currently being spread by Republicans — as a warning.

David Brin said...

"Nations don't become wealthy through trade with other nations." Well, Alfred, you might want to rethink that one. But rising up to middle class decency IS all about incentivizing your people to get things done, which that Castros never did.

Paradoctor, welcome! Interesting stuff.

Sure, a broken tether floating away from the moon is dangerous and needs monitoring. A coupl of explosive separations should do it and calculate the area to mass ratio... radiation pressure is gonna push it pretty hard.

The DM rocket is a sci fi story. Srry. Hate that sci fi stuff! ;-)

But the cool young sun is exactly why we had Iceball Earth.

Again, welcome.

Robert said...

More food for thought: Trends towards privatization of government functions are not just emerging among the would-be nouveau-aristos....

Been around since at least the 80s, although "privatization" is often code for "graft".

If you haven't read it already, I think you would enjoy Jane Jacobs' book Systems of Survival. In part, she was addressing the then-in-vogue idea of operating the government like a business.

Tim H. said...

R E; Systems of survival, business using military metaphors is awkward at best, like attempting to use SAE* tools on metric hardware.
*Or whitworth tools open metric hardware.

TCB said...

Upthread, Dr. Brin said: TCB I do not accept Archimedes was a lone genius. The milieu in which he worked was not recorded, nor the myriad craftsmen who were snubbed from the few letters sent about describing events.

A week or two ago, The New Yorker had a nice article about the Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez, who died in 1521 and was generally considered the best of his generation. The article deals heavily with the difficult matter of deciding which attributed musical works are really his and which are by a whole busload of talented contemporaries known to work in similar styles (or by other talented composers of the day who are totally forgotten now). The author attended a days-long seminar where they really got down in the weeds of analyzing a disputed piece. The musicologist heading the seminar concluded that the work in question was not quite finicky enough to be the work of the master.

As far as the Antikythera Mechanism goes, it may not have been designed by Archimedes, but whoever it was, as Clickspring said in one video, was "a genius of the first order". However, I like the way Brian Eno said it, we need to think less in terms of "genius" and more in terms of "scenius", i.e. the fertile intellectual milieu of a "scene". Philadelphia in 1776, Paris in the 1920's, that sort of thing.

David Brin said...

The great sculptor Rodin would "honor" a journeyman or apprentice in his workshop by 'signing' a work. Things were different.

Paradoctor said...

Dr. Brin:

I'm glad to come aboard.

I'm also glad that you've teched out floating-tether disposal. You've got this. I am completely reassured.

So the fossilized trilobite-built axion rocket's still too skiffy? Awww...

I understand, we can't do the math. But let's get back to this as soon as we learn some new physics. The old paradigms of particles and spacetime are getting stale, and they have too many epicycles. The next revolution's overdue, I think.

Catfish 'n Cod:
My nickname for 'privatization' is 'piratization'. Arrr!

scidata said...

This topic has had me doing much YouTube channel surfing this week. Fun.

Richard Feynman gets torn a new one by a titan of quantum computing (and Caltech alum):

duncan cairncross said...

Re the Antikythera Mechanism

I see this as an example of skill and workmanship - once the "scientist" had decided the ratios then it was up to the technician to decide the number of teeth and to make those gears

That would be expensive in time and in expensive materials - very expensive

But would not require anything that was "new"

The ancient "scientists" were very good at working with "ratios" - so from their POV it may not have been that difficult an idea

David Brin said...

Good stuff guys. looks like we've got a live one in paradoctor. Did you jump out of planes guy? I did it once.

Alfred Differ said...


Well, Alfred, you might want to rethink that one.

Heh. Probably just a matter of using too few words to express the complex idea.

Trading with other nations helps, but isn't the big deal. The numbers just don't work out for most western nations. We got rich by investing in ourselves in order to trade with anyone willing... including other nations.

Most of US wealth production does not involve export to other nations. We could stop exports and... after a lot of pain... find that we are still growing at a pretty good clip. That's not the case with some nations to whom we export since they see it as import.

It's a neat argument involving excess income sitting around collecting dust. Wealthy people don't like that and tend to put it to use somehow. Before the years of big borrowing by the US federal government, money invested in the US could be tracked by the developing cities that spread along rivers and coasts. Those cities were precisely where excess income was accumulating.

Exporting and importing IS a big deal, but only in that it increases the size of the market in a nation. Money invested locally does it faster because cities grow leading to something closer to geometric growth.


The Castros did at least a half dozen things exactly wrong IF their purpose was to improve the lives of the average Cuban. Obviously that's not what they wanted because they had ample opportunity to change course. Trading with the US is not the answer, though. Liberalizing trade is. Dignifying trade is.

They are pretty corrupt, though. So is Mexico. They are both f^#$*d until they fix that* because internal investments will be captured by feudal bosses. No one needs to tell YOU that, though.


rising up to middle class decency

Yah. The older I get, though, the easier I think that is to do.
Except... people don't think it is that easy. We overthink it.
We get there by trading with each other... mostly locally at first.

* [We were/are pretty corrupt too, but we have been working at that.]

Robert said...

The great sculptor Rodin would "honor" a journeyman or apprentice in his workshop by 'signing' a work. Things were different.

Like the great inventor Edison would honour his employees by patenting their inventions? :-/

Robert said...

Did you jump out of planes guy? I did it once.

Anyone can do it once. The trick is being able to do it more than once :-)

GMT -5 8032 said...

I agree 100% with this comment:

"ANYONE thinking a command economy can improve the conditions of all their people is ignorant or in denial. We KNOW what works. It's just that it feels weird and wrong because we WANT to apply moral rules we know work for small groups like families and bands to large groups like communities and nations."

A command economy may appear to work well for a few years bit the reality is that the inherit corruption in the system almost immediately overwhelms everything else. The movie SCHINDLER'S LIST is a good fictional representation of this problem. Schindler was popular and paid bribes to the necessary bureaucrats so that his non-productive company was never audited. His company never produced anything to add to the German economy or war effort but that fact was never recognized by the central planners because this fact was never reported. There were probably a great many companies that focused mostly on siphoning off government money to enrich owners and bribing bureaucrats.

This same problem is becoming worse and worse in this country and in much of the wealthy western countries.

David Brin said...

GMT-5 while much of what you say is true about the corruptibility of government officials, it is all part of the propaganda capaign to discredit the notion of civil servants empowered to supervise. But if they are removed, what do you get? Libertarian paradise? Genuine competition and perfect error correction through market reciprocal accountability?

Bull. The standing human condition of 99% of the last 6000 years is always waiting on the wings, ready to resume: Control by secretive cabals of owner lords. Loosely -- "feudalism" - which oppressed 99% of our ancestors...

... and utterly and deliberately repressed and ruined all marklet forces and crushed fair competition and absolutely demolished error detection and accountability.

You think an incestuous circle jerk of 5000 CEO-caste golf buddies and their masters - inheritance brats, mafias, oil sheiks and casino moguls - is gonna deliver accountability, delusion detection and competition? Seriously?

You REALLY need to look at this... come back and comment when you have:

Paradoctor said...

Dr. Brin:

May I call you David?

Actually, the para- part of paradoctor means paradox, not parachutes. I've never jumped out of a plane, I'm too chicken. Buck-CAW!

I've done indoor skydiving, twice. Yes, that's a thing. It's vertical wind-tunnel levitation. Tons of fun.

The -doctor means phony doc. I'm a doctor of philosophy; I heal sick philosophies; I specialize in curing pathological dualism. This sentence is false!

a.k.a. Nathaniel Hellerstein
You may call me Nathaniel.

GMT -5 8032 said...

Professor Brin, with all due respect, I agree with you. I am not arguing that we should get rid of government regulation of business. And my comments about the corruptibility of bureaucracy is not limited to governments; major corporations are similarly corrupted.

I am outraged by the " incestuous circle jerk of 5000 CEO-caste golf buddies and their masters - inheritance brats, mafias, oil sheiks and casino moguls." My home state legalized gambling and created a casino control commission...and it put a retired, highly corrupt, influence peddler (a former deputy director in an agency I worked for) in control as executive director.

You have written many times about how, for a brief period after WW II, the western model of governance and business did an amazing job of letting a huge number of people improve their lives and build up personal wealth. How do we do this again? One idea I've seen you promote is requiring the real owners or property identify themselves; I agree with this completely. I've been a government lawyer trying to collect taxes from corrupt owners who use multiple pass-thru entities to hide the ownership of their property. The Panama Papers did not surprise me; I had a case involving a millionaire who hid is wealth and property ownership interests through a Panamanian corporations.

David Brin said...

Huh! Interesting pair of recent recruits! Right now though, I am puzzling over how to get just 117 more facebook followers and crash through the obstinate 25,000 barrier!

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Alfred: ...'going round and round in low-earth orbit'... we could pull studies that got funded to collect data, but never produces the final documents needed to be the 'shoulders of giants' upon which the next generation stood.

When I was very new to being a space exploration nut, I thought that phrase was meant literally, as in "even if we're not landing for 'flags and footprints', we want to have missions to GEO, lunar orbit, asteroids, etc."

Much later in grad school I delved into the types of studies you discuss and found the same thing: the studies were not actually designed to move the technology to operational status, but rather the opposite. Blame can range from the foolish notion starting in the 1970's that the USA had to put all its eggs in one basket labeled "Space Shuttle", or the failure to fully rethink our grand strategy after said basket literally blew up in seven people's faces; from Congress wanting the pork to be reliable to the Big Defense contractors wanting a higher money / accountability ratio.

I see a lot of people detesting our current ego-soaked, billionaire-powered space race, but I much prefer that to pretending you're not wasting time and money while letting the grass grow under your bum.

@Paradoc: I like the cut of your jib, sir! Though please to be noting that Robinson's most fundamental critique in the RGB Mars series is of unrestrained crony corporatism. The space elevator you refer to was overly heavy and thrown up hurriedly, so as to promote good old-fashioned resource extraction and flood the planet with cheap disposable labor. (Sound familiar?) It was poorly engineered relative to the safety needs involved -- though still a triumph of remote semi-automated manufacture and materials science for its time period.

Because, as we see time and time again, the Powers That Had Been didn't care about doing things properly.

I don't agree with everything Robinson said there, and I find myself agreeing less and less over time -- but that point he nailed on the head. Elites isolated from the general population will grow callous and cruel. Always have, and for baseline humanity at least, always will.

The source for my Archimedes (or rather the School of Archimedes, i.e., someone working from A's plans) suggestion did have a bit more than 'lone genius'; they made some argument based on the particular gear ratio choices of the Mechanism and the astronomical chronicles they would have been drawn from. I did not consider myself sufficiently expert in antiquity to judge the merits of the argument.

Larry Hart said...

GMT -5:

I had a case involving a millionaire who hid is wealth and property ownership interests through a Panamanian corporations.

I sometimes wonder if rich folk spend more money evading taxes and regulations than it would cost them just to pay the taxes and follow the regulations. Is there enough pleasure in getting away with the scam that it's worth losing time, effort, and money to do so?

* * *

Dr Brin:

I am puzzling over how to get just 117 more facebook followers and crash through the obstinate 25,000 barrier!

Post something that causes Russian bots to follow you.

Alfred Differ said...


Schindler's example is complex. He was both corrupt and then morally motivated to do harm using his skills to corrupt others. When people think of Schindler, they tend to confuse his intentions for rules of the system. The point I'm making is bigger than that, though.

It's not just that things don't get reported to central planners. It's more that they CAN'T be reported to central planners. Add on top of that the human motivations to avoid reporting and you get planners who don't have the information they need to plan effectively.

Even when humans want to report and planners want to plan effectively, it isn't possible because the information they need CAN'T get to them. Even when everyone is behaving in their most angelic manners, the information CAN'T get to those who would centrally command.

I've said all this here before and the usual object is that planning can and still should be done. I agree… but up to a point. We CAN plan for how to deal with cheats and fraud. We CAN plan how to learn from bad experiences and change market rules for future trades. We CAN plan to bias a market toward certain goals. What we can't do is actually command any of these things.

The mistake some make is to think we can design our communities. We don't… and we can't. There is a wonderful middle ground between designed devices and utter chaos that emerges from the collective actions of many and the design of none. It's a land of evolutionary change. Most of what makes us human is found on that memetic terrain. Languages, markets, and the children we prep for the next generation emerge from our actions and no one's design. *

It's an easy proof to show how hard-socialism planners can't function in the idealistic sense we imagine family planners can. That's not what people are calling socialism today, though. What passes today is much more moderate with room for evolving markets of all types… including rule-making markets like the Justice system.

Most of modern socialism today is actually pretty benign. There are much worse ideas being pushed by those who would topple our civilization. As long as modern socialists don't try to dictate market winners, I'll mostly sit on my hands and let them be. That's not the case with Confederates, though.

This same problem is becoming worse and worse in this country and in much of the wealthy western countries.

Nah. On this I disagree. Strongly. I'd challenge you to show proof, but I think we'd be better off with wagers. Anecdotes can be found supporting your point, but I think the trend is opposite to where you think we are going.

We are generally better off with some form of civil service than without one. A good case can be made for shrinking the one we have, but the dangers are always in the details.

I lean strongly libertarian and I'm not fretting all that much with the system we have. We can do better, but we should negotiate to get that. Yes. Even with the potentially corrupt wanna-bee lords.

Alfred Differ said...


My epiphany occurred in grad school while visiting a friend in Pasadena. I was walking some hallway (I think I was at CalTech) and saw lovely banners of successful planet missions flown by JPL. I realized that day I could do more for space science by getting out of academia and working on space engineering. Odds were I could work my ass off for my career and maybe fly something out there if I stayed in. If I got out and succeeded, though, I'd enable way more people like me to fly. It was not a vision for my future that I even remotely liked, but I stood there stunned with the realization that it was probably true.

Working on space engineering did not mean working for NASA or their contractors. Realizing that took another few years. When that fact hit me, I realized I was sliding down a slope from which I'd never recover my old idealism.


I've learned not to blame any particular decision or any particular person for Shuttle, IIS, or any of the other choices we made in the past. The blunt truth is we were in a Cold War up until '91 or so and space access was a seriously important military advantage for the US. Our lovely ideals regarding human civilization spreading to the planets and stars were of secondary importance. Survival of our civilization came first. A review of spending decisions makes it clear we were actually buying jobs with potentially strategic uses to keep certain people doing what they did in case we'd need them for the war. I'm okay with that and accept it for what it was.

The Cold War is over, though.
Time to get our asses out there in the economic sense.
Science will follow right behind... easily... because Engineering needs Science.

Robert said...

I sometimes wonder if rich folk spend more money evading taxes and regulations than it would cost them just to pay the taxes and follow the regulations. Is there enough pleasure in getting away with the scam that it's worth losing time, effort, and money to do so?

Probably not. Maybe for Trump-type grifters, but those that don't self-sabotage have staffs to take care of it for them that, highly paid as they are, cost less than taxes would.

duncan cairncross said...

I can't remember if this is in the Political Judo - but if not it should be

I was discussing "digital money" with somebody and it was interesting
Here (NZ) is 1% of all transactions are done with actual money I would be surprised

The guy I was talking to said that in the USA the poor do not have "banks"

THAT needs to be fixed! -If you re-instated the Post Office as a "Bank" and then paid all of the living benefits through that free bank it would take a huge load off the poor people

You could also use that "Bank" as an identification and voter registration system

On that subject -
How in the name of the wee hairy one is the disfranchising of criminals constitutional??

How is it possible for an American Citizen to lose the right to vote??

Paradoctor said...

Alfred Differ:

The conquistadores invaded America "for glory, gold and God". The invasion of space is more ethical, in as we have oppressed and genocided no natives of space, yet. The modern mantra would be: for glory, gold and Gaia.

The original space race was mostly about glory, a fun but pointless tradition continued by billionaires. In both cases it's asserting dominance by conspicuous consumption. But the rush doesn't last, and the potlatch must end. I give this decades of play at most.

Gold is a far more durable motive. That metal, and other platinum-group metals, is abundant in certain large Earth-crossing asteroids. Once the big corporations get their jaws into the asteroids, they won't stop until all the Earth-crossing asteroids are gone. It's greed as insensate as a shark feeding frenzy, but they'll advertise it as their altruistic removal of dangers to dear Mother Earth. The process will take centuries.

Which brings me to Gaia. I count these items on humankind's to-do list:
Clear away our own orbital mess.
Clear away the Earth-crossing asteroids.
Some light terraforming of Earth.
Colonize Venus with balloon cities.
Terraform Mars.
Do that, and the biosphere might keep us around for awhile.

Some of these can be done in the lifespans and resources of corporations and states; others require empires; and the last two require religions and civilizations.

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

How in the name of the wee hairy one is the disfranchising of criminals constitutional??

How is it possible for an American Citizen to lose the right to vote??

Believe it or not, the US Constitution does not grant individual citizens the right to vote. Most references to voting in the Constitution refer to votes taken in Congress or in state legislatures. Individual voting is a state function, not a federal one. Even in presidential elections, we're really voting for electors who transmit their votes to be counted in Congress, as we all saw last January 6.

A few amendments to the Constitution specify whose voting rights can't be abridged, and even the fourteenth amendment carves out an exception for "rebellion or other crime".

Larry Hart said...


The original space race was mostly about glory, a fun but pointless tradition continued by billionaires. In both cases it's asserting dominance by conspicuous consumption.

Well, I always assumed that the potential for orbiting death rays had something to do with it as well. But then, I grew up on comic books.

Robert said...

THAT needs to be fixed! -If you re-instated the Post Office as a "Bank" and then paid all of the living benefits through that free bank it would take a huge load off the poor people

True, but remember that a chunk of America wants to eliminate the Post Office (including the chap Trump appointed to head it).

GMT -5 8032 said...

Many people may more for tax preparation than they pay in income taxes (but that is not the issue you are talking about). Regarding rich folks, there are the direct costs of the tax avoidance plan (the amounts paid to the lawyers and accountants for creating the plan and also the costs of setting up the various entities) and their are indirect costs (a lower rate of return; these plans encourage certain types of investments that are generally not as profitable as other non-plan based activities).

The very wealthy (not the billionaires, but people worth over $50 million) generally pay 20% to 21% in federal income tax after their aggressive tax planning. The 1986 tax reform act lowered the top federal rate to 28%. At that point, it was cheaper for most of the very wealthy (not the billionaires again) just to pay the tax rather than pay to avoid it and accept lower rates of return on their investments.

Billionaires are a special category. We should not create a tax policy for everyone based on the billionaires bad behavior; we could take 100% of their income and property and it would not help much against our continued national debt. We could create limited rules specific to the billionaires while have a different set of rules that apply to everyone else.

Here is a report discussing the Anna Nicole Smith case. I am looking for the California bankruptcy court decision that has 50 or more pages detailing the outrageous history and fortune of J. Howard Marshall, II.

When I find the link to that decision, I will share it. It is an outrageous story. J. Howard Marshall, II got a law degree from an elite law school, taught law briefly, ended up in government working on oil and gas policy during WW II for the Roosevelt administration, then went to the private sector and ended up as a senior participant in Koch Industries. His story exemplifies what some major problems in this country and with business. I will never defend people like him. I want them to pay more taxes.

I am outraged that the very rich pay as little in taxes as they do. I want a system that makes them pay more. But I want a system that is fair and just.

GMT -5 8032 said...

I think this comment was not well focused. I don't know exactly what we are disagreeing on. Let's see where we agree and work from there. I agree with you that we are better off with some form of civil service. The amount of civil service that we need is necessarily going to increase as society becomes bigger and more complex.

One problem to worry about in bureaucracy (whether in government or in a business) is where the managers start running the entity for their own benefit instead of for the benefit of the public (for government) or the stockholders, employees, and customers (for a business). Modern large corporations operate as if they were sociopaths - focused on return of investment for shareholders (and secretly for the benefit of the managers and executives) to the exclusion of all else.

When you write "we can do better" I agree. So let's work together on that. Let's come at it from various angles so we can spot problems before we create a policy. Let's continue to monitor it and make corrections when problems arise as the policies are implemented.

GMT -5 8032 said...

As promised, here is a link to the decision In Re Marshall, (C.D. CAL 2002)

Lifestyles of the obscenely rich.

Professor Brin, thank you for the link to your 2006 blog entry. I've read it before; it was good to read again and I will save a link to it. I apologize for posting so many comments shotgun style. That's what comes from being THREE HOURS IN THE FUTURE!

GMT -5 8032 said...

Alfred, I apologize for my comment above. When I wrote "I think this comment was not well focused," I meant MY comment...this comment: "This same problem is becoming worse and worse in this country and in much of the wealthy western countries."

YOUR comment was well focused. Please accept my apology. Professor Brin, please accept my apology for all these short posts.

David Brin said...

Does anyone else see a reason for Greenwich Meanie Minus to apologize? I didn't.

Pappenheimer said...


"Way back when Sol was young, it wasn't hot enough to support life on Earth in its present orbit. But what if Earth wasn't in its present orbit, way back when?"

No need for precursor sentients, it's just orbital mechanics.

And it's been established that our year had fewer days in it hundreds of millions of years ago - Stephen Gould mentioned this in one of his essays that mentioned seabed fossils, on which he was an expert.

What's more interesting, and part of the Gaea Hypothesis, is that the Earth's temperature has remained relatively stable during this time - ice ages notwithstanding.

What's even weirder is the Precambrian evidence of a "Snowball Earth" 650 MY ago, when we are even closer to the Sun.

The idea of an Earth where the biosphere sets its own pretty cool, actually. That we are jacking with it as a species is not.

David Brin said...

The original Gaia lady has some thoughts on this:

scidata said...

From the Margulis piece:
"Although I try to recognize these biases in myself, I'm sure I cannot
entirely avoid them."

That's why I think that intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic are the best hope for computational psychohistory. Funny, despite all the Margulis reading I did back in 2011 when I wrote my article on the subject, I never came across this piece. Thank you Dr. Brin.

Pappenheimer said...

Serves me right for posting during a work break, without checking primary sources...

the solar day itself was shorter 100s of millions of years there were more days per year, not fewer. That's due to the dance we have going on with our own moon.

I had thought our orbit around the Sun has been slowly increasing, but if I'm wrong, I apologize.

Alfred Differ said...


I don't think you have anything to worry about that would suggest apologies are in order. Holding opinions contrary to others here is actually welcomed. Holding poorly supported opinions is too as long as you show evidence of being able to learn from those around you OR not pissing on the rug when called on it. Some of us hold poorly formed opinions we'd rather not change and that works just fine as long as tempers remain relatively cool.

Our host gets annoyed most often when people piss on the rug, accuse him of holding positions he doesn't hold, get vicious, or turn to backstabbing gossip. All those misbehaviors are pretty easy to avoid AND (from my perspective) you haven't been anywhere near them.

As for me, you can say pretty much anything you want without me getting upset. It is far more likely you'll think I'm upset than it is for me to actually be upset. My ego is damn near bulletproof. If you find that hard to believe, though, there is a general rule I suggest for use because it also happens to work well with other people. It goes like this…

Imagine the difference between "You are stupid to believe X" and "You sound stupid when saying you believe X". The first is a judgement of my character. The second is a judgement of an interpretation of what I said. The first can occasionally annoy me, but will usually provoke an eye-roll response. The second won't annoy me, but I might think you are a little thick-headed… until we go through the effort of paraphrasing each others responses to see if we heard each other right.

Our host goes on and on about learning the trick of paraphrasing another's thoughts back at them. "Be The Mirror" is what I call it. When you reflect accurately, the person speaking to you will confirm it… and appreciate it. Being able to reflect doesn't mean you have to agree, though. Far from it. IF you can do it, however, it lends a lot of weight to any counter-argument you might make. Do that here and you'll make friends no matter what we think of your actual opinions.

I think this comment was not well focused.

As for this… I have a rule I tend to follow. If a statement is at all ambiguous, I prefer to interpret it in a way that makes me appear smarter, cooler, and most generous. Remember my bullet-proof ego. To actually insult me, you'll have have to be rather explicit. Some people always interpret ambiguous statements in negative ways and I was among them during puberty. It was a hellish, paranoid way to live. I want nothing of it ever again. So… I've over-corrected a bit.

With this said, I interpreted your phrase as 'Huh?' and then read it as roughly what you intended because you began to (sorta) paraphrase me. Then you expanded your opinion giving it enough words to see the argument being made. No apology needed for that since that's a big part of what brings me to this place.

Alfred Differ said...

Last I checked, I think the jury was still out on whether Earth had moved far from its early orbit. Luna obviously has and there are good reasons to believe the Jovians have.

Gaia's thermostat is a tricky thing. There are reasons to believe that photosynthesis has screwed with the balance a few times by depleting CO2 in a runaway fashion. Microbes had to learn how to break down lignin which is no trivial feat. There is a reason for existence of ancient coal beds in the ground.

There is also the difference between C3 and C4 plants. Gaia has obviously had to use multiple strategies to avoid runaway states causing massive extinctions. At the depth of the most recent glaciation, C4 plants were damn near suffocating.

None of this is a trivial exercise since Sol has warmed up a bit and continents keep sliding around altering heat-transferring ocean currents. The thermostat seems to hold over the short run, but in long time spans we DO see catastrophic failures with related extinctions. My favorite example involves one of those buried lignin deposits burning when Siberia wandered over a mantle hot spot. Oops. Mass carnage.

duncan cairncross said...


Our sun is losing mass - so the planets orbits will expand

But only 0.05% so far - so the earths orbit is just 0.05% larger

Paul451 said...

Earth (and all the planets) migrated outwards during the formation of the solar system. (I've never really grokked the reason, beyond "Jupiter did it, therefore everything else got dragged around by Jupiter", but it appears in formation modelling and is seen in exoplanetary systems.) However, it was all over in a few million years. Pre-Theia impact.

The outward movement of the moon (and the corresponding slowing of Earth's rotation) is simple tidal braking. Eventually the Earth will be tidally locked to the moon, but the moon will only orbit a few days slower (giving us a 30-day "day".) But that won't happen for another 5 billion years, well into (or beyond) the Sun's red giant phase, and so may not actually happen.



Terraforming Mars is a waste of resources better spent on space-based settlements. Planets are the wrong shape.

Paul451 said...

The bad guys don't want to destroy the USPS, they want to bankrupt it on paper and in appearance so they can sell it off to themselves.

It's the reason for the 75yr rule for employee superannuation, seen nowhere else in government nor the private sector, and not only never asked for by the Public Service Union, but opposed by them. Get the USPS to put half a trillion dollars into forced savings, but in a way that looks like a debt instead of an asset. Then, once sold off to themselves, they can "discover" the unnecessary excess superannuation and, after bringing it "in line with standard practices" award themselves bonus dividends for adding hundreds of billions to the balance sheet.


Re: Taxes in the US.

Another example of "anti-government" legislators and lobbyists creating bad government so they can use "Government Red Tape" as an excuse to give themselves tax cuts at the expense of essential spending.

I just did my annual tax return in Australia. Took a couple of minutes online. All the information I needed is already there. Income from my employer, other financial info they want reported, even my bank details are there from previous tax returns.

But even when it was on paper forms, it was a few pages, most of which didn't apply to most people. Every few years it seemed to get easier.

I do bookkeeping, so I know the other side of that is a little more convoluted (especially recently, because it took the Tax Office a few attempts to get online reporting sorted out and each iteration required us to set up a new ID system at a time when the new, untested system was swamped with everyone else doing the same thing. Yech. The paper-based reporting was actually easier. But now things have settled down.) But even at its worst, it seems extremely simple compared to the requirements in the US.

But in the US, "The Cruelty Is the Point".

Tony Fisk said...

I know that popular articles on Cosmology often blithely discuss how planetary orbits 'migrate' over the lifetime of the stellar system. I often wondered what there was about Newton's Laws of gravitation I was missing that allowed this scramble for places. The clearest explanation I've encountered was the one given by Richard Hammond on the poor man's Cosmos documentary 'How to Build a Planet'. He described how the proto-planets were gradually slowed by drag from the accretion disc and fell inwards from where they formed. This process ceased when the Sun lit up and dispersed the remaining gas and dust.

This mechanism (if I'm describing it right) would suggest that the smaller the star, the longer it takes to light up, and the closer in the planets fall. This would explain all the 'hot Jupiters' revealed by Kepler, although I'd have to check that against stellar mass.

I don't think the Sun is losing mass fast enough to allow the Earth to stay in the 'Goldilocks Zone', which some folk think we might already be within. A simplistic calculation of incident energy and blackbody radiation suggests that Earth's average temperature should be -15C. It's actually +15C* due to the +30C Greenhouse Effect of water vapour. Water vapour is in dynamic equilibrium, but the atmosphere could hold more water if it were warmer, and more water vapour would warm the atmosphere. This feedback means that the effect of changes in CO2 levels are amplified six-fold. So, assuming we get a handle on CO2 draw-down at some point, could we use it to offset a warming Sun? To a point. Plants do need CO2, and photosynthesis ceases to be effective at CO2 concentrations below 180ppm. Still, that's looking ahead a hundred million years or so. A lot can happen in evolution in that time.

Here endeth the weekend ramble.

* closer to +16C now, alas, but we're discussing Cosmology, so I'll spare you the shorter-term forecasts.

Don Gisselbeck said...

I like Vaush's take on space;

David Brin said...



David Dorais said...

4m ·
People could imagine a future for their disciplines, a future with wars, a future on Mars, or a future with laser dentistry. What no one could see was the potential of all the layers of infrastructure coming into being right around them.

Bill Calvin said...

Good analysis, David.

David Brin said...

Honored that William Calvin dropped by!

onward to latest post fopr discussion.