Saturday, January 30, 2016

Insistence of Vision and other forward-looking tales

Fantastic news for those of you out there who love the genre-of-an-active-mind. 

First, my long anticipated and long-delayed third short story collection is now available for pre-order.  (Discounts only for pre-orders.)

To be released in March, Insistence of Vision will open doorways into possible (and mind-blowing) tomorrows and alternate realities. Through tales like “Chrysalis” and “Transition Generation” and “Stones of Significance” you’ll explore the consequences, if we get want we ask for.  You’ll meet alien invaders unlike any other, in “Mars Opposition” and in “The Logs.”  There is also a novella offering new drama from the Uplift Universe! 

The most recent tale in this volume -- "Tumbledowns of Cleapatra Abyss" -- is included in four best-of volumes from 2015, so far, and it's only January. 

Surprises and ironies abound in Insistence of Vision… as they will in the territory ahead.* Our future.

More good news? Download your free e-version of  Future Visions: Microsoft has published an anthology of original Science Fiction short stories reflecting its research projects, with entries by Elizabeth Bear, Greg Bear, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Robert Sawyer, Seanan McGuire, and Jack McDevitt. My story in Future Visions is the only recent tale of mine that's not included in Insistence of Vision.

== Star Wars on Trial: the force awakens ==

The new edition of Star Wars on Trial! The new “Force Awakens” edition of Star Wars on Trial has been released, just in time to tie in with the Force Awakens movie (Episode -what-is-it-seven?) No, the editions aren't that different.  Mostly my new introduction... and a cool modification to the already hilariously apropos cover.  You still get terrific, incisive, often-sarcastic but also on-target skewerings… and defenses… of this incredibly popular pop-culture phenomenon. 

And yes... I finally did take the family to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. See my comments on this phenomenon.

Meanwhile, another author appraises why the Jedi themselves undermined the Old Republic. Others are decrypting secrets of Star Wars… as in this hilarious... and rather convincing explanation of how the seemingly insipid and foolish Jar-Jar Binks is almost certainly a Sith master.  You will chuckle, growl, and finally admit it must be true!

== Brief looks at recent Sci Fi ==

What alien life might we find under the vast ice shelves of moons such as Jupiter's Europa? A Darkling Sea, by James Cambias, explores a First Contact scenario under the kilometer-thick ice sheet of the moon Ilmatar, which circles a distant gas giant. Humans have established a deep sea research station, with a strict promise of non-interference with the blind, but intelligent creatures that have evolved in the dark ocean depths. Tensions rapidly rise when the Terran crew is discovered, setting the scene for a solid adventure story and complex inter-speces political negotiations... as two vastly different cultures seek to communicate and possibly, reconcile. With intricate world-building and vividly detailed aliens.

For a fast-paced science fiction mystery-thriller, try The Fold, by Peter Clines. The hero, a high school teacher with a perfect eidetic memory and the ability to make tremendous deductive leaps, is called upon to evaluate a super-secret DARPA project -- a team of scientists have developed The Albuquerque Door, a bridge through a fold in space-time. The reclusive researchers claim it works perfectly and will soon be safe for teleporting humans, until things go horrifyingly wrong… with implications that may threaten all of humanity. 

Scheduled for release in January: All the Birds in the Sky, a debut novel from the talented Charlie Jane Anders, editor of io9, which SF Signal calls, "a stunning novel about the end of the world - and the beginning of our future. 

It’s their planet now! A riveting post-apocalyptic tale that taps into your darkest nightmares: Slavemakers, by Joseph Wallace, is a sequel to his earlier novel, Invasive Species, where deadly parasitic wasps (known as thieves) nearly wipe out humanity. In Slavemakers, set twenty years later, most remaining humans have been enslaved, under the mind-control of the venomous wasps;  isolated pockets of refugees eke out an existence, protected by a vaccine created from a rare cultivated plant. And a few uniquely powerful individuals are able to tap into the linked hive mind of the wasps in order to alter the fate of the planet...

What if your tablet didn't just provide you with information, but anticipate your needs, providing prompts... as you find it harder and harder to recall even ordinary words? The Word Exchange, a debut novel by Alena Graedon, envisions a near-future where the written word is nearly extinct; people are dependent upon their handheld Memes to the extent of buying words they can't remember. Our protagonist, Anana Johnson, is assisting her father in producing the final print edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, when he mysteriously disappears. She desperately seeks clues, even while communication becomes increasingly challenging as a word flu pandemic sets in, causing many to lose the basic ability to speak. Interesting, but the random word substitutions in the text do slow the flow of the novel.

Octavia Butler did a charming short story - Speech Sounds - along similar lines.

What lies are told to keep society functioning? In Emma Newman’s recent novel, Planetfall, one individual is ‘called’ to an alien planet by a vision. The story takes place twenty-two years after colonists established an outpost at the base of an immense alien artifact -- God’s City. When a mysterious stranger shows up, it opens up long-hidden secrets from the founding of the colony. The story centers around Ren, a talented 3D printing engineer, her social isolation, anxiety, her eventual mental unraveling… and perhaps transcendence.

Keep your eye open, soon, for Avengers of the Moon, a rollicking space opera in the Doc Smith tradition, by Allen Steele, and Charles Stross's new paratime series opener Dark State.

*Which prompts a smile-worthy thought. Our daughter, Ari, observed that “ironman” actually translates as FeMale! A spooky/fey observation and an ironic one… till my wife pointed out that “Fey” and “Irony” are the very same thing.  Oog. Never mind that.  Pre-order Insistence of Vision! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is cheap oil a bad thing? And more science.

I cannot understand the markets’ panic over lower oil prices.  Sure, it hurts if you own Exxon or drilling-fracking services companies, or work for one, or if you are Saudia or Venezuela or Russia or Iran.  But for most of the world, it amounts to a spectacular tax cut and cost discount for all manufacturers, transportation and consumers of almost anything. See this article on much cheaper airline deals.

 Is this flood of spendable cash supposed to somehow… hurt us? For 50 years, steep rises in oil price sent us tumbling into recession and drops helped get us out.  What's different this time?  Pundits claim that it is because a larger fraction of the oiul we use is produced domestically, now.  But (a) that was true in the 1970s too, and the oil shock killed Jimmy Carter.  And (b) increased energy independence from foreign sources is... er,... bad news?

The plummet in stocks smells funny to me. I'd look closely at some of those petro state sovereign wealth funds.  Just sayin'.

Only now, a truly salient fact that will weave together with the others. 

== Does denial have any limits? ==

Two U.S. government science agencies announced that 2014, which had smashed the 1998 record as hottest year in human history, did not hold the top title for very long. It’s official, 2015 has topped even 2014’s torrid temperatures.  And the forecast is for 2016 to be hotter still.

But hey, let’s suppose 2016 dips slightly, as would be natural, as each year oscillates around a slope that has arced steadily higher for 50 years. What then? Expect to see Ted Cruz and other murdochians leaping to announce: “See? It’s going DOWN!”  

(They can no longer use their former lie-trick, pegging the El Nino year 1998 as their “before” comparison. That year, which shattered records across all of recorded human history, was left in the dust by hot 2014 and hotter 2015.)

There is only one response… to those of you out there who have bought into the Murdoch-Saudi-Koch-Fox propaganda and War on Science.  And I will append that message below. 

== Too late to stop sustainables ==

Well, the petro-price plummet might have really hurt us all, if it happened a few years ago, by choking solar and wind companies to death with floods of cheap oil. But it’s too late for that, now. 

Bloomberg New Energy Finance finds that 2015 was a record year for global investment in the clean energy space, with $329 billion invested in wind, solar panels, biomass plants and more around the world. (The number does not include investments in large hydroelectric facilities).

That’s 3 percent higher than the prior 2011 global investment record of $318 billion — and most striking is that it happened in a year in which key fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas — were quite cheap.  “Measured in terms of electricity generating capacity, the world saw an additional 64 gigawatts of wind capacity added and 57 gigawatts of solar capacity, BNEF estimates. The most striking figure here is that while 2015 only saw about 4 percent more clean energy investment than 2014 (when $316 billion was invested), the growth in renewable energy generating capacity was much higher at 30 percent. This, again, signals declining cost.”

Sure, if oil had dropped five years ago, it would have been a disaster for the Earth by undermining and possibly destroying solar and wind etc. Now? They have huge momentum, are competitive even with cheap oil -- something denialist then claimed to be impossible -- and new techs are looming that will make the transformation epic.

At this point, cheap oil is only good news. It frees western nations from fretting to please petro princes, it boosts every industry except corrupt resource extraction, giving both producers and consumers in-effect a huge tax cut (a "tax" that had been going to Saudi Arabia). And it lets us cap the bitumen wells, the tar sand pits and other dirtier sources, reducing fracking, keeping those wells ready in case we need them in-future, a reserve-surge capacity that should keep prices down.  Which is exactly the right approach.

We lucked out. The princes kept oil high during the span when sustainables were being born. Now the infant is walking and starting to run. And the Carbon Age will taper off, perhaps even in the nick of time. Maybe.

Oh but timing is everything? Take this headline: Scientists say global warming has canceled the next ice age

Okay okay. I can just imagine the next denialist chant, after they are forced to move the goal posts yet again. Having to admit that science shows huge global warming due to human-generated CO2? The next riff will be:

 "Yay!  We polluters prevented an inevitable ice age!"  

That's one interpretation - (a moronic one) - of this scientific study that suggests - indeed - human activity 5000 years ago might have tipped the balance and prevented another glaciation.

In which case yay ancestors. Now let's be scientific and responsible and not wreck the place.

== Miscellaneous News Items ==

Robert Waldinger heads the 75 year continuous Harvard study of four score men and their families and what traits correlate with long or healthy or happy lives, in this fascinating TEDx talk. 

The Fixion? If they ever find a particle like this one, will they give a Nobel to the XKCD guy, despite his being a cartoonist?  

Stunning video closeups of a real-live giant squid near Tokyo. So cool.  

Researchers believe that we could manipulate genetic human intelligence and give human cognitive capabilities a boost, using a newly discovered network of genes directly associated with neuron and brain activity.

Crash Course is a YouTube Channel that adds to the list of cool sites that explain things clearly and well.           

Here’s an interesting site. “How We Do It” by Robert Martin, MD covers a wide of fascinating topics having to do with human reproduction, including of course sex. For example most mammal females have two womb chambers and so do a few, rare women. Why do human males have no penis bone?  Why do testicles have to “chill”?  And can warming them serve as a male contraceptive? Why must childbirth be so challenging?  Marin also has a book, How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction.  

And finally... The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm species 1 millimeter long with a nervous system containing just 302 neurons, is the perfect organism to model, on our path to understanding how neuron based nervous systems function. So far, these models have (for example) successfully run a LEGO mindstorms robot.  Now scientists have observed record the activity of 77 neurons from the animal’s nervous system in action, flashing in real time as the worm moves about. 

And if you don't yet think we live in cool times... well we do.

========= Addendum for you denialists =========

*You… are… science-hating morons.  Worse, you are fanatics who threaten the lives of our children. All children.  And when climate refugees flood the planet, they will be given your homes.  Hey... just... sayin'.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Fear Trump? Loathe Cruz? Not as much as the GOP lords do.

== Deadly Memes, spread by hypocrites ==

The lords of the U.S. right - from the Murdoch-Saudi owners of Fox News all the way to the faux-intellects at National Review - have been desperately seeking magic bullets to bring down Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, so they can restore their till-now complete, top-down control over the GOP political caste. Hence a double barrel attack, with old guard pols, like Bob Dole, talking about Cruz’s “hateful personality.” 

As for Trump? While most of the world piles onto him as “fascist” (an accusation I tend not to believe), National Review and Fox are trying a new tactic: accusing the Donald of being “too moderate!”  

Of course that accusation would be poison to the populist volcano that the lords themselves deliberately fueled for 20+ years, exactly as the Junkers lords did in 1920s Germany, using populist, lowbrow bigotism as a weapon against leftists and liberals… till that frenzy exploded out of their control. 

Proudly ignorant of history, today’s GOP lords seem actually to believe the same hallucination -- that if they tar Trump with “too-liberal” — spreading more glue under the nostrils of their horse — that they can then tighten the reins and hold on a while longer.

It won’t work.  All they prove daily, by ignoring history, is their stupidity and unworthiness for the lordship that they seek over a re-feudalized West.  

Mind you, my own reading of Donald Trump is that, yes, if he gets the nomination he will then charge for the center as fast as he can. In which case he will need a strong ambassador to quash rebellion from the molten-hot confederacy. And that envoy would have to be Ted Cruz. ANY republican nominee will need Cruz for that role. A role - as VP running mate - that I have long asserted has always been Cruz’s one goal. 

His only goal, all along. 

== Ted Cruz: the Secret Plan ==

 I tell you this.  Actually winning the GOP nomination for president would be Ted Cruz’s second-worst nightmare! (The very worst -- of course -- is to be ignored.)

He knows that as ticket-leader he would be crushed in the general election and the confederacy left in smoldering ruins. For example, it does not bother the maddest right a bit that scientists, even Texas ones, have demolished his climate lies, time and again. But in a general election the crazy science-haters will not decide. As the GOP's presidential nominee he would drive off so many moderate voters who still care about facts that all of his dreams will collapse.

No. Ted Cruz wants caucus and primary victories, but only enough to solidify his blatantly obvious role. He has positioned himself — if trends continue — to demand the VP slot and to get it, from whoever wins the top position. (Including from the secret white-knight of the establishment: Paul Ryan. And be aware that playing a role of kingmaker, at the GOP convention, would suit Ted just fine.)

From that VP slot in 2016, win or lose in November, Cruz would confidently expect to become the Republican Party's heir apparent, either in 2020 or 2024, after four or eight years collecting political IOUs, exactly the pattern that his role model, Richard Nixon, pioneered - (with more than a touch of Joe McCarthy, whom Cruz physically resembles to an astonishing degree) - though determined that his own tools of power will be perfect, unlike Nixon's.) 

It is a cunning plan. Revealing genuine shrewdness and patience. This man is playing a long, long game.

== Rebels to save American Conservatism?

It is hilarious to reaRich Lowry, editor of the William F. Buckley's once-intellectually conservative National Review, try to explain why his magazine's "Against Trump" special edition - gathering anti-Donald rants from dozens of top republican figures - is not part of a grandly-orchestrated campaign by the GOP establishment to keep party control in their hands. The timing and uniformity are straight out of Roger Ailes's 20 year, winning playbook. Want proof what a standard Republican Mr. Lowry truly is? His repeatedly-expressed belief that shouting "No, I'm not!" is enough to make something untrue. 

Triumph of the will? Or lots of cold cash, changing hands? Do you hear that whirring sound of Bill Buckley and Barry Goldwater, spinning in their graves?  Tap that spin and we could reduce energy costs enough to fix climate change.

Are all conservative voices - other than Trump and Cruz and their beer hall fervids - controlled by the party lords? 

Well, there are some dissenters from what used to be the adult wing of the GOP. The Eisenhower family has shown some guts. And David Brooks is the conservative columnist who comes closest, from time to time, to doing what far more of them should right now, if they had cojones. That is, stand up and acknowledge that their movement has been hijacked by crazies and by foreign and domestic proto-feudalists. 

Only by rousing genuine anger at what’s been done to U.S. conservatism — denouncing those who transformed it into a know-nothing rabble waging war against science and every other caste of knowledge and skill in American life — might the once intellect-driven cause of Goldwater and Buckley and Eisenhower veer away from looming cliffs of insanity.

Alas, while Mr. Brooks tries for some stylishly militant flourishes, in calling for mainstream Republicans — state legislators and donors etc — to step up, in the end his proposal boils down to “let’s all rally behind Rubio and/or Bush.”  It lays no onus on the ruiners of the GOP who set up the current, Munich-style beer hall frenzy. Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch and their Saudi co-owners of a media machine whose blatant efforts to stir lobotomized populist radicalism are now coming home to roost… as the Junkers lords got more than they bargained for, in 1932 Germany.  

Here's a much harsher assessment of Mr. Brooks's call for the GOP "donor class" to step in and rescue the party from a populism they themselves created. No longer even offering a figleaf pretense that it has ever been about anything but oligarchy. 

(Nor is this "donor class" anything more than the surface. Underneath the Kochs and Murdochs etc is a flood of laundered Macao gambling money flowing to Republican candidates, a poisonous foreign influence that the U.S. political process would be better off without. And I will leave you with three guesses why Macau casinos are the most profitable in the world. Unrealistically and impossibly "profitable." You've had enough hints... and that is all that I will say about the source of that profitability.)

No, it will take more than this, Mr. Brooks, though I’ll give you credit for at least being more open and much more of a man than George F. Will, who could have ended this madness years ago, but wimped out.

== Triumph of the Won't ... and Failure of the Will == 

Of all the hypocrites who have aided and knowingly abetted the hijacking of American conservatism, none is more culpable than George F. Will, a columnist whose intelligence and wit and secure income would have equipped him to lead a counter-revolution against the ruination of the American Right… but for his craven selling-out.  

Back in the late nineties, Mr. Will clearly recognized the plain fact that metrics of U.S. national health do vastly better across democratic administrations than GOP ones, especially for conservative desiderata that range from trends in the direction of change of federal deficits, to entrepreneurship, all the way to military readiness. And regarding illegal immigration rates, which go in directions that would surprise you.

Hence, Mr. Will might have influenced his own party to emphasize rivalry vs the Democrats in innovating methods of governance that deliver equal or better quality of service, according to testable and verifiable metrics, while encouraging healthy market competition. (This approach was once championed by Barry Goldwater.)

Alas, instead of admitting that Bill Clinton was delivering the goods, and boldly suggesting that republicans be competitive in that arena - in delivering actually measurable outcomes of governance - he waffled, then followed the Fox calliope — the hypnotic, siren song of “hate all government, all the time, in principle!”  With the underlying agenda of rationalizing any excuse to benefit oligarchy.

He did this, only dragging his feet slightly, knowing full well that the Greatest Generation - our parents who defeated the Depression and Hitler and Stalin and built the great American Middle Class - would have found the nostrum both absurd and noxious.

During the G.W. Bush era, Mr. Will occasionally showed that he could see right through the madness called Straussian “neoconservatism” — a monumental lunacy that threw our mostly strong-beneficent-marshallian Pax Americana into disastrously debilitating, romantic-imperial adventures that only served the interests of a single, extremely hostile foreign power. George Will hinted repeatedly that he could see all this, but did he lead a rebellion against those bona fide monsters?  

Hinting, always hinting… he lets savvy readers in on the secret, with nods and winks, that he knows “Obamacare” was the Republicans’ own-damn-plan all along, and that it basically works, and could have been improved by a Republican Party that negotiates.  Knowing full well that the never-negotiate “Hastert Rule” is tantamount to treason, he did not defend it, but instead encouraged the mythology and mantra repeated endlessly by the remaining Republican intelligencia… that “democrats are just as bad.” 

A pretty-darned pathetic slogan for continued loyalty -- even if it were true.

Above all, George Will might have led a counter-reformation against the Murdoch-Saudi-Macau financing of American Madrassas such as Fox News, making especially clear his demurral versus their outright War on Science, a campaign of venomous hatred-of-expertise that now extends to every single smartypants clade, from teachers to medical doctors to economists, civil servants, law professionals, professors... and Will’s own craft of journalism. 

All of them now reviled by the revived confederacy.

== Putin-Worship ==

Nothing makes the craven betrayal of this articulate, polysyllabic sell-out as vivid and stark as this recent essay attacking Donald Trump for exchanging admiring-longing looks with Vladimir Putin.  

Oh, hypocrisy-to-the-hypocrite-power! It is the Fox-plus savanarolas of our sickly hijacked confederate-right who have kvelled all over Putin, for years, erecting a cult of idolatry toward the Russian leader calling him (as Forbes repeatedly gushes) by far the “most powerful man in the world.” 

Endlessly simpering at barechested images of Putin, American Talibanistas like Sean Hannity  have crooned over how America needs such a caudillo-style comandante, proclaiming that the Russian President routinely runs circles around our own "feckless" leadership. And, from time to time, George F. Will has joined the refrain of adoration odes (punctuated by “of course he’s evil,” with shrugged asides.)

Now? To blame Donald Trump for passing around the same Koolaid? Sorry boys, you spent decades and billions re-igniting the American Civil War, so do not be surprised when the memes get away from you, as they did (I'll reiterate) when the Junkers and industrialists roused similar populist hate-festivals in 1930s Germany, thinking they could keep it all under control.

Oh, about Putin? He who nibbled back the Crimea… after losing Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence forever? Oh the Fox-hossanahs to "strongman" Putin -- and sneers at "feckless" Obama -- over Crimea, while never ever, ever mentioning the far larger western victory and Muscovian loss in Ukraine!

Any modern Russian will tell you that they do not view our current leadership as weak or impotent. Or "feckless." Vastly, vastly more important than Crimea or Syria, loss of Ukraine was a strategic debacle that they (including Putin) openly, publicly and loudly blame squarely on one guy. An aggressively potent Barack Obama.

 You know, the guy who killed Osama bin Laden and made Iran give up their bomb program and for the first time in 70 years is not giving the Saudis whatever they want. (Connect those two dots, will you?) The guy who took U.S. military readiness figures from zero percent of major Army and Marine units, at the end of the GW Bush administration, back to 100% today, as they were at the end of the Clinton Administration, while bringing death and casualty rates for U.S. service-folk back down to Clinton-era levels, as well, while supervising the most rapid technological transformation of Defense in history. That weakling?

Yeah, the "feckless" guy who (according to the Russians themselves) stole the Ukraine from them. Oh, and did I mention he killed Osama bin Laden? (Stop pretending you've forgotten that.) Yeah. That feckless one.

Mr. Will, you could have been historic. You might have helped lead a counter-reformation that saved American conservatism from such drooling insanity. Now? Sir, you will be utterly forgotten.