Should We Lift the Earth?

Think of our poor sister world Venus – almost the same size as Earth, it probably had oceans at the beginning. But Venus was closer in to the sun — and was never in the continuously habitable Goldilocks zone. Instead our poor cousin Venus quickly got a greenhouse effect that erased its oceans, drove all the water away, leaving a desert world. And that’s what will happen to Earth – if we either fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases – or if we just wait a hundred million years, as the Goldilocks zone inner edge moves past where our planet orbits.

LIFT-THE-EARTHSo, let’s lift the Earth, raise it up – the whole planet! There are ways to do this – and reasons to do this.   After all, anyone who saw Woody Allen’s movie Radio Days knows that we were promised five billion more years of having a habitable earth! It turns out that’s not true! Woody lied to us….It turns out that it’s five billion years until the sun, a G-type star, expands prodigiously and eats the earth. But a long time before that , the sun’s gradual increase in temperature is going to make our planet uninhabitable, perhaps as soon as one hundred million years from now – about the same timescale it took for mammals to evolve into us, after the asteroid killed the dinosaurs. Earth might have only one more chance if we blow it.

Earth skates the very inner edge of the so-called Goldilocks zone around our sun – the continuously habitable zone. This is the reason why only a little bit of carbon dioxide generated by human industry in our atmosphere is causing so many problems. Because we need an atmosphere that is almost completely transparent in order to lose heat fast enough. The Gaia balance adjusts the amount of greenhouse gas so that the seas stay liquid. If the earth had been where Mars is – and if Mars had been larger – we would have a sister world out there with oceans, and a very dense CO2 atmosphere – reached by its Gaia balance.

Slides-8_800_600But we have no such wiggle room. We skate the very inner edge of our sun’s continuously habitable, or Goldilocks zone. And that inner edge is creeping outward slowly – don’t confuse this with human-generated climate change. This is much slower – but it’s too fast for comfort! In a hundred million years, the deserts will spread and the oceans will start to go away. We’ve got to get out of here! We’re told: You can’t move the earth, so flee! As Elon Musk wants to do, and so many others have talked about, we should create other habitable zones for humanity, both inside the solar system – Europa, Mars, the asteroid colonies – but also, interstellar.

But I have some emotional attachment to this planet. I’d like it to survive longer. So, can’t we do something for our Earth?

Asteroid Fly-by

ASTEROID-FLYBYOne method, if we were to get out into the solar system – we could steer asteroids. Those asteroids would swing right past the earth in near misses, and transfer some of their forward momentum to the earth with each pass, and gradually pump its orbit up. I think that’s one of the stupidest ideas ever imagined. Sure, it might work, if you were to fly past 10 million times. And in those ten million near brushes, what god-like level of competence would you require to know for sure that none of them would veer a little bit and strike the planet? Seems a bad idea.

Another possibility is called the Gravitational Tug. This is how we might move asteroids that are heading toward the earth, and shift them out of the way. That is to take a heavy spacecraft with an ion engine, and hover it near the asteroid and pump away with the ion engines, just enough so that the asteroid’s gravity is not broken away from. In that case the asteroid follows the spacecraft. We could set up an asteroid at the L1 or L2 or L5 Lagrangian points of Earth’s orbit and tug the earth away.

100-MILLIONNow there’s a problem with these ideas. It’s going to take millions of years to lift something as heavy as the earth with little nudges. Generations. Eons. The lifespan of whole civilizations. Perhaps the lifespan of species. Moreover your method is going to have to survive rises and falls of these cultures. Periods of times when a society decides against investing in such projects, opting for short-term thinking. We don’t have the money right now, we’re passing through a depression. Perhaps civilization falls, and they have to recover and read the old records and re-realize the imperative that they owe their planet. Whatever method you come up with is going to have to survive disruptions, pauses, even changes of government.

Electodynamic Tethers

TankFarmCoverNewLet’s pause and do an aside about Electrodynamic Tethers. I talk about them in my novel Existence, and in a short story, Tank Farm Dynamo. As the world expert on tethers, Joe Carroll has indicated, if you allow a conducting cable to settle into gravity as its orbiting around the earth, it will stable along a radius from the center of the earth. This is called Gravity Gradient Stabilization. Let’s say it’s made of a conductive material. This orbit is cutting through Earth’s magnetic field. So an EMF or electromotive force, or voltage, becomes induced – just like the armature of a generator – along the length of this tether. If you were to spew electrons off one end of the cathode, you would then be able to suck energy out of the orbit. The tether would slowly go down, but you’d get all the power you need for your space station. I talk about this in Tank Farm Dynamo.

But if you had a lot of power (with a nuclear power planet or solar cells) and push electrons against the EMF so that they spew out the other end. Now you no longer have the armature of a dynamo – but the armature of a motor! You’re cranking against the earth’s magnetic field, and the electrodynamic tether rises. The experiments have been done. Joe Carroll’s Tether Applications has done them with the Air Force. We’re about to use this method to send spacecraft around earth’s orbit without expending any rocket fuel – just energy.

Up with Space Elevators

obayashi_space_elevatorYou can see that this is a relative of the space elevator. The space elevator is a tether that is anchored to the earth at the equator and has a counterweight beyond geosynchronous orbit – with a big space station at geosynchronous orbit. The new carbon fibers may make space elevators a reality. Kim Stanley Robinson envisioned them around Mars in his novel, Red Mars. Let’s combine these concepts. Imagine a space elevator that is electrically conducting – cutting through the earth’s magnetic field. This will tug on the earth – and maybe tug it upward. There’s a problem. The earth is rotating so fast, with a 24 hour day, it would be very difficult to time the pumps in just the right way so that the effect is not on earth’s rotation but on its orbit. You have to add momentum to earth’s orbit, so that it rises – so that it gets farther from the sun.

Space-elevator-moonThere is another approach. You cannot count on generation after generation maintaining a space elevator on the earth. And if it falls, it’s going to do some damage. But, what if you put a space elevator on the other side of the moon? If it falls, not a lot of damage. If it breaks, the elevator just floats away into space. If this space elevator on the moon were also electrically conducting, it would take commerce in, receiving resources from the asteroids. It would be sending out refined, developed materials, part of a lunar industry. People would be counting on this space elevator, without thinking about what it going on in the background. That is: you have a conducting cable that is cutting through the sun’s magnetic field. Now it takes a month for the orbit so it’s easier to time the pumping of the electrons. A constant rhythmic pumping action that is tugging on the moon. As it tugs on the moon, the moon tries to rise, but the earth resists – and the earth follows!

This is how you raise the planet, without endangering the earth with asteroid flybys. You pump it with an electrically conductive space elevator on the far side of the moon. The great advantage? Civilizations can rise and fall. Budgets can be cut. The tether can be cut; it just floats away. You replace it. Over the course of millions of years, all you need is for phases of the rich civilizations to do this – maybe half the time – and move the planet. As the sun’s heat moves the continuously habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone, further outward.

lift-earth-video-stillThe question is, could this solve our problems now, with global climate change? There’s a branch of science called geoengineering. Too many people are opposed to even thinking about it. There’s nothing wrong with doing preliminary experiments. Of course our number one job is to prevent things that we are doing that are harming the earth.

Indeed, most of the actions required to prevent Global Climate Change are TWODA – Things We Ought To Do Anyway. Actions that would help us to become more energy-efficient, and save money, while alleviating the rise in earth’s greenhouse gases. We should be able to talk about options to find win-win engineering projects that could help us save the planet. Stirring bottom muck in the oceans could raise so much plankton that we stimulate new fish nurseries, like what happens off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, or in Chile. That might suck carbon out of the atmosphere. But…should we be thinking about moving the earth a little farther away from the sun? I think that’s a little too ambitious — for now. But it’s not too soon to be thinking – in science fictional terms – about the ambitions that our rich and fantastically capable descendants might undertake to save this planet that’s been very good to us.

Lift the Earth!

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A World of Ruperts

Just in time for the year that Robert Zemeckis — in BACK TO THE FUTURE – said we would have hoverboards… suddenly, it looks like a crude version of Marty MacFly’s little floating plank may be on the way!

Indeed, I was interviewed about hoverboards just a month ago, on the great new show XPLORATION STATION!

== The World of Ruperts ==

Rupert Sheldrake is back, this time roiling waters on a TedX talk that TED then (controversially) banned. You can see the smooth-talking savanarola here: The Science Delusion – Banned TED Talk.

Now please understand I am not bemoaning RS standing on a stage proclaiming “there’s tentative evidence that there may be more to our universe than meets the eye.” In fact, I have been known to use similar concepts in my novels! My main characters in the Uplift Books have some basic psi powers, for example, enhanced by future tech.

science-freedom

On the other hand, I have to be deeply loyal to the date who brought me to this party — a party that gave me – and most of you – the first freedom from fear, want, oppression and grinding ignorance in the history of this (and possibly any) species. I deeply resent bombasts who milk and stir NOT skeptical inquiry but reflexive suspicion and hostility toward a “scientific establishment”… which, to the small extent that any such “establishment” even exists, is past-all-doubt and by orders of magnitude the wisest collection of genuine sages our world has ever seen.

The ultimate irony? Were we forced to choose topmost elites to rule us, the 1930s technocrats were right and scientists would be by far best. (See the 1930s film Things To Come.) But scientists would refuse! They are the ones who understand the need for reciprocal accountability and the dangers of hypnotic delusion that corrupt the minds of anyone who is not subjected to relentless scrutiny and lateral criticism… the sort of lateral accountability that oligarchs suppressed in 99% of past cultures and that would-be lords like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi partners seek to impose, today.

Sheldrake

Is Sheldrake applying lateral criticism? Or just more hypnotic delusions? Any scientifically trained person who watches him or reads his screeds can tell.

If he were to say, “here are TEN EXPERIMENTS that I now challenge the world to perform. I do not proclaim any conspiracies to evade them. Moreover, I will modify them if scientific critics suggest ways for them to be better targeted and less vague or tendentious, and above-all well-falsifiable. Moreover, if these experiments are null-result, then verified, I will back off in that category and admit that science is not blind to alternative possibilities.”

He won’t do that. He is part of the pan spectrum attempt to undermine science. And that I won’t abide.   See my essay about psi that ran in SKEPTIC: Parapsychology and the Need to Believe.

== The Weather – or more from Ruperts (this one a Murdoch) ==

ARCTIC-WARMING

Prepare for another major IQ test for cable news watchers to utterly fail. Can warming of the Arctic cause major cold waves to devastate Eurasia (and sometimes North America)? The answer is way-yes. Warming has caused the sea ice pack in the Arctic to decline so steeply that the Russians are opening twelve new ports — and military bases, which the US and Canadian navies take very seriously. (There are no denialist-cultists in the senior naval officer corps.) But what about those frigid winters?

It’s called… science.   See this article: “When they ran the computer models under low sea ice scenarios and compared them to simulations using high sea ice cover, they found that low sea ice, which closely matches recent conditions, made the occurrence of an unusually cold winter over Eurasia twice as likely to occur.” Because the weakened jet stream is more liable to twist and dip the Arctic’s winter-chilled air further south.

But the Koch machine will talk millions into muttering “if winter is cold, there can’t be this global warming scam!”

== Speaking of Ruperts ==

not-scientistAn important article about one of the great cop-outs of our time. “When politicians say – “I’m not a scientist,” it is an exasperating evasion. It’s a cowardly way to avoid answering basic and important policy questions. This response raises lots of other important questions about their decision-making processes. Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels—or do they not because they’re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that they’re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldn’t know, of course; they’re not military generals,” writes David Shiffman on Slate.

To be clear, no one is asking them to stop taking advice from generals regarding war or engineers regarding infrastructure. (In fact, both are dissed and ignored almost as much as scientists are.) Rather, it is the Mockery and abuse of science, followed by this cop-out whenever the dolts on the US House Science, Technology and Space Committee are cornered with specific questions.

These are cowardly loonies, who continue in office only because of cable news moguls. Thanks Rupert. But this will not wind up going well for you.

== At the edge of Human ==

51WPpcrB96L Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human by David Roden argues that the debate over human enhancement “projects a human face onto an empty screen.” This includes both optimists and pessimists like Francis Fukayama (author of “Our Posthuman Future.”) Says Roden — we actually do not know what will happen and, not being posthuman, cannot anticipate how posthumans will assess the world.

As reviewed by Kurzweil News, Roden’s book posits “speculative posthumanism” as distinguished from both “Critical Posthumanism” – a philosophical look at humanity in relation to  epistemology, ethics and politics; and  “Transhumanism” – which looks to enhancing the technical advancement of humans and their capacities. Roden’s book discusses how post humanism can fully integrate with the future transformations of technology.

== Re-evaluating our origins ==

kon-tikiThis is amazing! Recent genetic appraisal of native inhabitants of Easter Island - or Rapa Nui -suggests that their Polynesian ancestors interbred with South American tribes between 1300 and 1500 CE, just before the Spanish conquest. If verified, it would resurrect the theories of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer and author of Kon-Tiki, a book that enthralled my generation, back in the 1960s, proposing that Easter Island had been settled by raft-voyagers setting out from the region of Peru.

Heyerdahl “proved” his case by constructing a raft in the fashion of pre-Incan Peruvians and arriving successfully at Rapa Nui. Only subsequent scholars determined for a fact that Rapa Nuians were descended (mostly) from Polynesians and had thoroughly Polynesian culture. Whereupon Heyerdahl — whose feat set off the “recreation of ancient arts” trend that is so cool in our culture — fell into obscurity. Now though? How cool to explore, recreate… and eventually be proven (partly) right.

Of course there was some implicit racism in Heyerdahl’s thesis… and it seems more likely that the far-voyaging Polynesians were the ones doing the traveling. Still… This article continues on to reveal some even bigger mysteries!

== Science Snippets ==

AIElon Musk worries that Sci Fi scenarios about Artificial Intelligence could really happen.

Scientists experiment with robotic bacteria. 

Earth’s magnetic field could flip within a human lifetime!

Kewl! A basket-star!

3D gun makes – and shoots(!) paper planes. Okay, now I am just proud to be human.

A eukaryote cell’s mitochondria were once energy parasites?

Fascinating look at medicine: The NNT index measures how many people need to take a drug for one person to benefit.  This one could be important to you!

And finally… Australian researchers are attempting to use the highly sensitive antennae sensors of the common fruit fly (drosophila melanogasterto detect illegal drugs and explosives.If this works, you’ll have a chemical sniffer on your phone, in some years.

Don’t just stand there. Vote.  For the Enlightenment Experiment.

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Demonization and the deliberate destruction of U.S. politics

survival-richestLet’s start with Survival of the Richest: How the recovery left the middle class behind: All right, this is Mother Jones. Still, any conservative American who actually has the guts to look at these graphics will come away realizing that we truly are at 1933 again. And that we must do something about the skyrocketing wealth disparities that threatened every past generation of the American Experiment. And that Supply Side Voodoo Economics assurances have by now proved 100% lies.

Past generations found reasonable, compromise solutions and negotiated pragmatically to both keep a vibrant flat-open-fair-competitive capitalism and maintain social mobility.

Indeed, it is to prevent such negotiations that today’s oligarchs have financed the destruction of politics in the U.S. (e.g. the “Hastert Rule” that no republican may ever negotiate with democrats, over anything, ever. It is an explicit and openly stated rule within the party and the chief reason that Newt Gingrich was fired as a leader of the party, for negotiating with Bill Clinton both the Budget Act and Welfare Reform.)

It is for that reason the right spares no effort to call Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) the same thing as Satan Incarnate… even though our parents in the Greatest Generation adored him more than any other human.

Fact, is, FDR effectively SAVED capitalism and the wealthy, in America. The aristo fools who demonize him and seek to restore feudalism seem too stupid to realize the alternative to a middle class America — such as FDR built — is not feudalism… but tumbrels. They should be the ones seeking a new Roosevelt. reciprocal-demonization

== Can science overcome demonization? ==

I oft point out the top feature of the re-ignited U.S. Civil War – that normal politics of deliberation/negotiation is dead in America, killed by reciprocal demonization that’s funded by — well — traitors.

But science offers hope! Yes, we tend to think the “other side” is motivated principally by hatred. See my earlier posting: Who Benefits from the Politics of Outrage?

“But according to a new study being released by PNAS, it’s possible to get people to think more positively about their opponents. All it takes is a small cash payment to get people to step back and think. And with a more positive understanding of the opposition, people become willing to think that compromise is possible.”

Be afraid Rupert! All it will take is $12 per US citizen to get them back into a mood for negotiating with their neighbors! Now, get me the ear of Warren Buffett…

== Selling Cynicism == secret-government

In sharp contrast to that positive news… now dive into this paean to cynicism in the Boston Globe by Jordan Michael Smith, “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.” While surficially satisfying, the essay in fact is flat out dopey food-for-lazy-cynics, pushing the pablum sneer that voting does not matter, because Obama is just the same as Bush.

Alas, all Mr. Smith proves is that there are lefty-fools, as well as righty ones. Want just one devastating example?

In 2013 the Obama Administration supported what the Bushites opposed, the most important civil liberties action in 30 years. A declaration backing court decisions that citizens have an absolute right to record their interactions with police. Had Republicans been in the White House, the cases might have been appealed to the Supreme Court and possibly reversed.

And this is likely to be extensible to other authorities. This precedent empowers citizens to make the inevitable top-down glare at least somewhat two-way. No Republican supported this move, which arms us with a core entitlement to use fast-improving technology to balance power, at least somewhat. At least in principle it does! At the level where it matters most — on the streeets. It will be up to us to keep extending it, indefinitely. sousveillance

Mr. Smith’s whines about NSA spying are the sign of a dismally unimaginative reflex. Nothing will stop surveillance. Drive it out of the NSA and it will dive somewhere else, even harder to supervise, like a game of whack-a-mole. But it can be rendered harmless with sufficient sousveillance!

That is where the fight should be radical, militant and fierce. But we are undermined by fools who sit and cynically glower that “there’s no difference.” (That is, if Mr. Smith is not already in the pay of Rupert Murdoch.)

No difference? Here’s another huge, huge area of dem-gop divergence that would matter, if our punditocracy were 1/10th as smart as they think they are: The diametrically opposite doctrines under which liberals and conservatives wage war.

We are seeing this difference play out, yet again, before our very eyes.

But the final dismissal of such monstrous cynical sneers is simple enough to repeat to yourself, over and over again: “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid. And… oh yes. It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”

== You would actually re-hire these guys? ==

Name one unambiguous statistical metric of US national economic, social, scientific, fiscal or middle class health that improved across the span of any recent GOP tenure in power.   (In any way that can be reasonably attributed to their governance.) You cannot name more than a couple that did not plummet.  Let’s state that clearly. Outcomes from both Bush administrations were almost universally disastrous.  And those include conservative metrics such as near total destruction of US military readiness.

One measure of the delusion dominating America’s gone-around-the-bend right wing is the matter of military readiness. At the end of the Clinton Administration, 100% of major US military units were rated fully combat ready. By the time GW Bush left office, not a single major army or marine unit was so rated… half have now regained that status.http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/…

Do outcomes matter at all to you?  Or only Fox-assertions and anecdotes and incantations to feel good.

Fact, more than half of those statistical metrics improved markedly under Clinton and Obama.  Nothing I said here has anything at all to do with left or right.  It is simple outcomes appraisal.

Adults do it.  Fox-watchers do not.

manchurian-candidate-politicsIn fact, such a perfect record of doing damage to America almost beggars explanation. (And make no mistake, the “brain trusts” of both Romney and McCain were filled almost entirely by Bush appointees.)  Elsewhere I’ve offered 20% odds… or 1:4… that the almost perfect tally of unalloyedly harmful outcomes from both Bush presidencies might… just might … have been deliberate:  “Indeed, it does parsimoniously fit all Bush Administration outcomes, far better than the standard theories: dogmatism, venality and stupidity. But the truly curious thing is that absolutely no one will discuss a lesser-odds option — the “manchurian” one — even just to have it on a corner of the table.”

Well, well. I stand corrected. The “Manchurian scenario actually has been broached in a few places. Once by Robert Buzzanco, Professor of History, University of Houston. But even more bitingly by the brilliant cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. Come on.  Do what you can, before the mid-terms. And vote.

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Looking to Space…and Beyond

No roundup abouit space would be complete without mentioning the disastrous crash of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two… and the explosion of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket. Are we under attack by UFOs? (Yes, silvery guys… I’m lookin’ at you.) Seriously, our sympathy to both teams and best wishes for recovery and future success.

== Space News ==

niac-videoIs suspended animation possible? Can we 3D print whole structures on the moon? How about swimming the ocean of Europa? Our leader at NASA NIAC – Jay Falker – explains the mission, to explore highly speculative ideas with small, seed grants. Watch this short video about NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts group. I am proud to be on the board of advisors. YOU should be proud to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Art often interfaces with science, but not quite like this. As reported by Adam Rogers (my former ArchiTECHS co-star) in WIRED — The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar — it seems that the special effects team for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming (and much-awaited) film Interstellar consulted with another friend of mine — Caltech’s brilliant Kip Thorne, who supplied equations that Nolan’s team crunched and crunched… in order to show us what (according to Thorne) a Black Hole “will actually look like.”

This isn’t the first time that art rendered a best-image for science! One small, personal example: my doctoral dissertation, predicting how dust layers on comets would affect their activity, has been proved yet again with recent missions. But it was the novel Heart of the Comet that nailed the size and shape of Halley’s Comet, just before Europe’s Giotto mission confirmed both within 20%.

But this is just plain terrific. If you are like me, you are bouncing against walls with eagerness to see Interstellar! Both as fans and for what it may do to shatter the stunning cowardice toward new ideas that dominates today’s studio-Hollywood.

== More Comet News ==

Rosetta-probe-ESA-space1200Eau de comet? The Rosetta Probe sniffs Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — and detects odors resembling “rotten eggs and horse pee” — also known as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and formaldehyde.

Thousands of comets observed flickering in and out near the new solar system of Beta Pictoris.

Bizarre Pyramid on Comet 67P? “It looks almost as if loose dust covering the surface of the comet has settled in the boulder’s cracks. But, of course, it is much too early to be sure,” comments researcher Holger Sierks.”  Um again, this is exactly as my thesis forecast, way back in 1980. (Hey, you’d preen about that too ;-)

==Space Updates==

NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation of humans. It’s about time! It also makes clear the advantages of competition, which Elon’s company has restored.

B6-12The Sentinel program – developing satellites that can warn in advance of medium/small asteroids on collision course – reveals in vivid detail what the U.S. Defense Department had heretofore (for unfathomable reasons) deemed secret — that from 2000 to 2013 there were twenty-six “nuke-level” incidents, when meteors of asteroidal scale exploded in the atmosphere, delivering from one to six-hundred kilotons of energy. A “city killer” strikes Earth once per century, though the greatest danger is if one of these events ever took place in a touchy region, possibly sending itchy trigger fingers racing for buttons.

Watch the video… then consider participating.

Want another worry? Earth’s magnetic north pole has been speeding up in its movement and this year passed its closest to true north. Interesting… and sci fi worrisome.

How cool is this? “Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have located at least one and possibly three Kuiper Belt objects that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft can reach after its flyby Pluto next year.”

Meanwhile, I am helping my friend Jon Lomberg (creator of Hawaii’s famous “Galaxy Garden” and co-creator of Carl Sagan’s Voyager Record) in his effort to get a similar trove of human wisdom and art stored aboard the New Horizons probe after it finishes doing science, screaming past Pluto next year.

== And yet more inspiring science! ==

Scientific American asks: “Conspiracy theorists may wonder, why does NASA’s next major telescope director need top secret clearance?” Interesting indeed. “The Webb telescope is being planned as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and will peer at some of the farthest reaches of space and time. The $8.8-billion observatory is due to launch in 2018.” Past Space Telescope directors did not need clearance. But in fact, I believe that this event has little to do with the Webb Telescope. Remember that NASA just took delivery of two Hubble class Keyhole space telescopes, no longer needed by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO. I guess they want to be sure that, in converting those scopes for scientific work, sensitive tech does not leak . On the other hand, what if the Webb is being used as a civilian cover operation for next generation spook craft, just as the Hubble had been? Maybe an even bigger reason.

gamma-ray-burstsGamma Ray Bursters as cullers of life: “Only at the outskirts of the Milky Way, at more than 10 kpc from the galactic center, this probability drops below 50%. When considering the Universe as a whole, the safest environments for life (similar to the one on Earth) are the lowest density regions in the outskirts of large galaxies and life can exist in only ~ 10% of galaxies.” Interesting hypothesis. On the role of GRBs on life extinction in the Universe, by Tsvi Piran, Raul Jimenez.

Tiny diamond nano threads could someday support a space elevator?

Ten horrifying technologies that should never exist, by George Dvorsky, citing weaponized nanotechnology, brain hacking devices, weaponized pathogens…and more terrors.

Will “torpor” let us put astronauts into suspension (as in 2001, saving resources for deep space missions? As I mentioned earlier, this work is funded by us at NIAC… actually, one of the less plausible grants, in the next decade or two.  But good press!

7m9evHeh cute visualization to put things in perspective; How close is our closest neighbor, our moon “It’s tempting to think it’s much closer to Earth than it really is. The Moon has an average distance from Earth of 384,399 kilometers (or 238,854 miles if you prefer)….It turns out it’s far enough to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare, ” notes astronomer Christian Ready. 

Here’s one rule of thumb.  The distance from Earth to moon is ten times Earth’s circumference.  So wind a measuring tape ten times round the equator.  That should do it.   In fact… now that I put it that way, I am starting to suspect….

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Voter ID Laws: Scam or Accountability?

During this (or any) electoral season, it pays to get off the left-right political axis – and examine particular political issues on their own merits. So let’s take a closer look at one of them… Voter ID laws. (Feel free to watch this essay given orally, on YouTube!) Voter-ID-laws-blog

To some, these laws deal with a problem — electoral fraud, when cheaters pretend to be someone else to cast illicit vote. Statistics show such voter fraud is extremely rare. (See “Voter Fraud is Rare, but Myth is Widespread.”) Still, when it happens it is a bad thing.

Opponents to this spate of laws – which have nearly all erupted in “red states” – denounce them as infringing on the rights of, not just poor people, but the ill-educated, or recent citizens, and the young, who often lack clear ID. In particular, this presents hardships for women, who may have failed to re-document after marriage or divorce. Some on the left call this another front in the “War on Women.”

Fundamentally, Voter ID laws are supported by red state white-older voters because – and let’s be frank – there is an element of truth in what they say. Voting is important. It is reasonable, over an extended period of time, to ratchet up accountability – and to ask that people prove who they are. That reasonableness lets these politicians propose these laws as a necessity – and implicitly, those who oppose them must have some agenda: SHOW-ID

“If you don’t want voters to show ID, it’s because you want to cheat.” This is how you get a reversal of those who are blatantly cheating accusing others of cheating. It’s important to parse this issue.

To reiterate this point: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with gradually ratcheting up the degree to which we apply accountability to potential failure modes in society. This is what my book, The Transparent Society, is all about. We apply reciprocal accountability to each other. For example, we have poll watchers to make sure there is no cheating during elections.

(Is it also reasonable to demand accountability from the manufacturers of voting machines? Nearly all such companies are now controlled by men who have been high level Republican partisans, at one time or another. Should this be deemed… suspicious? Especially in those states (mostly red) where no paper audit trail is required?) RespectandProtectVoteButton

Is there a test that would nail down whether Voter ID laws are, as their proponents say, merely ratcheting up accountability – or, whether they are, as the opponents of these laws say, blatant fragrant attempts to cheat and steal votes away from poor people, minorities, young folks, and women.

Is there a way such a simple and clear test?

There is.

== The crucial metric of hypocrisy: compliance assistance ==

According to the conservative thinkers and agendas going back to Buckley and Goldwater, regulations that are onerously placed on business should be accompanied by assistance so those businesses can meet and comply with these new regulations. This is standard conservative dogma. compliance-assistance

Indeed, Democrats agree! Almost always, whenever new and onerous regulations are applied to business, there are allocations of money to set up offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods with the aim of helping corporations – and the rich – comply with the new regulations. It’s called compliance assistance.

You can see how this applies to the topic at-hand. The fundamental test here is this: In any of the red states that have passed new Voter ID laws, or other laws that restrict the ability of poor people young people, women and so on to exercise their franchise, were any significant funds appropriated or allocated for compliance assistance?

Were any new offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods set up to help them comply? “Here is an onerous new burden upon the poor, women and so on — but we are going to show our commitment to assist voters with these new regulations, by allocating money.” A serious effort to go out into the communities and help the poor, minorities, recent immigrants, women, young people – to obtain the identification they need to exercise their sovereign right to vote. voter-id-laws-video

Note! This type of outreach would not just help them with voting, but would likely help them to STOP being poor! By helping them get on the path to helping themselves. This should be what conservatives are for.

Instead these efforts are sabotaged, deliberately and relentlessly. Not one red cent has been allocated for compliance assistance in any of the red states that have passed these new voter ID laws. Not one red cent.

== Dealing with vampires: always seek the silver bullet ==

There you have it, you liberals out there. Don’t make this a matter of goody-goody, or of denying a long term need to ratchet up accountability. It makes it look like you’re in favor of cheating. Or it gives fools that excuse.

Make it a matter of hypocrisy. Of lying. The blatant lack of sincere compliance assistance provides clear-cut and decisive proof that these are attempts to steal elections – just like gerrymandering. NEUTRALIZE-GERRYMANDERING

(Indeed, gerrymandering is being erased in one blue state after another, as those citizens rebel against unfair districting, often even overcoming the objections of Democratic politicians. These rebellions have taken place in California, Washington, Oregon, and – we can hope in a few weeks — in New York. Meanwhile not one red state has seen a rebellion of its citizens against the blatant theft and cheating called gerrymandering. Just as you’ll see no rebellions against the blatant theft and cheating called Voter ID laws. This is a cultural matter. In some parts of the country – it seems – cheating is just fine, “so long as it is my side doing it.”)

Your silver bullet. This is what you use. The fact of zero Compliance Assistance exposes the hypocrisy here.

That is what makes the difference between people who say, “We need to have more accountability in the voter rolls” and blatant, lying, hypocritical thieves, for whom no excuse or shelter can excuse the title of traitor. voter-repression-laws

Make this clear to your uncles and cousins. If, when they hear about this, they are still supporters of these horrid hypocritical robber, then the tar sticks to them as well.

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An Unstable World? Part One: Russia and China

People have lately been asking me why I seem so calm.  It seems that every week brings news of yet another brewing disaster, with the world apparently spinning into chaos.  So much for Francis Fukayama’s famous line – around 1990 – that the rapid and unstoppable spread of liberal democracy would soon bring an “end of history.”

unstable-worldA few years earlier, I had made a different prediction. That the Cold War and the communist empire would soon shatter… (few believed it even remotely possible)… but that our struggles would move on to cultural strife between a rising world-liberal culture… and one branch or another of machismo… traditionally male dominated cultures upset over the prospect of seeing their women become like ours. At the time, I could not say which it would be… Latin, Hindi or Muslim machismo, though I guessed the lattermost of these. With the saving grace that – thereupon – the other two would swing our way.

But never mind that. Lately I’ve heard a lot of: “Brin, you warned us, way back a year ago, that 2014 could be world-shaking! You said the last three centuries began in their fourteenth year! Aren’t these ructions around the planet signs that you’re right?”

Well… yes… perhaps.  But here’s how to tell when someone really is in the future biz.  He doesn’t wed his ego to any one forecast! Or any twenty! I am in the line of posing possibilities to explore. Being proved right? I’ll leave that for others to judge.

In fact, looking at the crises of the moment, I have not yet broken a sweat. Maybe I’ll tell you why, later in this series.  But first, some specific trouble zones.

== What’s up with Russia? ==

ukraine-rebelsFascinating! The pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk (eastern Ukraine) are resurrecting Soviet symbols, incantations and methods, even collective farms — and (as described in this article), it was already happening in other disputed territories like South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

We already know that Russian President Vladimir Putin called the breakup of the USSR “History’s greatest tragedy.” But… but… he’s also supervised the most spectacular rise in oligarchic-moneyed inequality since the days of Ivan the Terrible. So… what gives?

I have to tell you that I lay 30% odds that Vladimir may be something that no one on Earth suspects. Sincere.

I may be alone in thinking it is possible. But lonely observations are what I do. (Why does no one even consider what I deem a 20% possibility: that the absolutely uniform chain of destructive-to-America outcomes from the GW Bush presidency might have been “manchurian”? It does parsimoniously fit the facts, much better than the standard theories: dogmatism, venality and stupidity.)

What do I mean by sincere? Ah, well, if you ever actually read Karl Marx (which I assume no member of my generation ever has done), you’d realize how easily the present situation in Russia is “adaptable” in Marxist-Leninist terms.  A couple of hundred oligarchs have consolidated all wealth, capital and power in a few hands? That is actually a well-described Marxist phase. When the time comes… but I will leave that as a what-if hint. Remember, I only laid a 30% on this one. But it fits.

Oh, one last item.  Look up this fellow: Fyodor Dmitrievich Berezin is a Ukrainian science fiction writer. In the Ukraine Civil War he currently serves as the deputy Defense Minister  of the People’s Republic of Donetsk.  His sci fi always features virtuous Russian or revived Soviet forces destroying decadent-smug American hegemons.  Wowzer.

== China: a humble historical correction ==

great-vault-forwardChina and the West are clearly heading toward an inevitable — and we hope very peaceful — reconfiguring and renegotiation over trade and other relations. Why? Because the trade imbalances… tsunami flows of money, capital investment, knowledge and intellectual property … have achieved their main historical purpose, lifting China in history’s Great Vault Forward, transforming that ancient land into a modern marvel. For which let us all say mazeltov! Let us get used to – and welcome – the idea that a billion talented and creative people are joining the world ranks of prosperous problem-solvers. It will be a better planet… after they adapt and finish their own, self-guided transformations.

(Indeed, they have started contributing to humanity’s highest art form — science fiction! You have heard me praise Liu Cixin’s terrific Three Body Problem trilogy. Coming this fall from Tor Books.)

We are obliged to be welcoming and glad about this Great Vault. Indeed, let us recall that Americans were intellectual property thieves, once upon a time. (Though we never stole so much that it killed the goose.)

east-westWhat we are not obligated to do, however, is swallow a narrative that is circulating over there. A smug and self-flattering tale that all of this happened because China invented just the right mix of state capitalism and clever, predatory, mercantilist ruthlessness. Or that any and all tactics – such as the rampant appropriation of intellectual property – can and should go on forever, for two reasons:

(1) Westerners are decadent fools and their proper role is to serve as (figurative-commercial) prey or cattle (that exact metaphor is used).

(2) That all tactics are justified as recompense and pay-back for centuries of oppression and colonialism by the West.

Oh, sure, there is some moral justification there in number 2, though Chinese leaders played a huge role in their nation’s slide from world pre-eminence, centuries ago. Still, the victim narrative only goes so far, for one simple reason.  And you all should be ready to deploy it, over the years ahead.

Let me reiterate that I say this in a spirit of friendship and respect. But the basic fact is… that in all of its 4000 year history, China never had a real friend.

Except one.

Indeed, one reason for that lack of friends was Chinese policy — proclaiming to all that they were Chung Kuo… the center of the world, an attitude that we are seeing glimmers of, again, across Southeast Asian seas.

And then, yes, came the abuse by many foreign powers, when China was no longer able to enforce that centrality.

Only, across all that time there was one nation that generally treated China well, or at least better than anyone else did. Just one nation that stood up for China (sometimes tepidly but at other times with ferocious loyalty) when China was down. Just one nation who (admittedly) did make some mistakes with China, and did a few wrong things, but generally could be seen trying, far more often than not, to be generous and fair. china-us

That friendly outsider was the United States of America. And if your reflex is to deny this, then in fact you know no history. No one else stepped up to tell the European powers to stop their expanding “concessions” and refused to seize any of our own.

No one else stepped up to help China resist brutal invaders – in the 1930s – and went into a savage war for which we were unready, and paid dearly, directly due to standing up for China, in its hour of existential need.

Even the long enmity of the Cold War was all about the U.S. choosing one “China” over another. All right, perhaps more subtlety was called for, then, and for a couple of years Chinese and American soldiers killed each other, each considering the other pawns to distant masters. But just as soon as Mao put his hand out, there was Nixon ready to shake it.

Again, there were mistakes! On both sides. But there is no way that China’s attitude toward the U.S. can be informed or ever justified by “getting even for colonialism.” If, across 4000 years, you can point to any substantial nation that was ever as good a friend… or that at least sometimes tried to be… then maybe we’ll listen to the “colonialism” guilt trip. But you cannot. And we should not.

Walmart-EconomyAnd we are still at it. Because the narrative about 40 years of trade imbalances could be viewed in another way, dear friends. We have raised up the billion people of the Central Kingdom, by the magnificent method called “foreign aid via WalMart.” The greatest uplifting in all the history of our species.  And it was not the act of bleating, helpless sheep, but deliberate policy, established by Marshall, Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower and so on, to establish counter-mercantilist trade flows. The only “pax” imperium ever to do such a generous thing. (China did nothing of the sort, when it was on top of the world.)

It merits real respect, this rise of yours, from the dust, to standing next to us, as brothers and sisters and equals. Well done!  But it also merits some gratitude. You’re welcome.

== So where’s the optimism? ==

ISIS-CRISIS-SYRIASorry, not this time. You’ll have to wait for me to plumb the “ISIS-Crisis.” And the endless disappointments between Israel and Palestine. And Ebola! And so many other modern ructions that make it seem that I was right about the “fourteenth year.”

Well, sure… I might be right.  Or I might be crazy.

But I am starting to perk up a bit, imagining that… I might be wrong.

====================================

== Food for thought ==

A fascinating quotation from George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” –

1984“…it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance…”

diamond-social-structureThat is, indeed, what would-be lords fear most. The trend after World War II to create a diamond-shaped society, with an empowered and educated middle and working class so large that it outnumbers the poor and politically dominates the rich… this was key to every piece of good news since civilization’s nadir in 1943. It led to all fine things, from science and moon landings to the plummets in world poverty and (per capita average) violence that Stevn Pinker documents in his book that I cite below.

It would lead, eventually, to Star Trek and to a society in which a person might get rich – through smithian competition and new goods or services… but there would be no way for him or her to pass on to children the kind of obligate lordship that was the fiercely obsessive goal of every generation of brutal men, during all of the millennia leading to our Enlightenment Experiment.

It cannot be allowed to happen again! Orwell gave us a graphic warning…

…and yet, Orwell was crude in his interpretation of method. War, as a means of keeping society pyramidal, instead of diamond-shaped? Well, sure… but it is a chaotic, unreliable, destructive method, especially when an educated populace, if even 5% of it truly understands, will have the technological means to shatter everything.

tyrannies-futureNo… here is the fellow who got it right. The one who will win the old argument. Aldous Huxley. Tyrannies in the future will have to fool the majority into thinking they are still in charge. Distracting them, not with pain, but with pleasure.

Without any doubt we should all have skeptical hackles, whenever a president or politician raises a clamor for war. Indeed, elsewhere I have carefully parsed the differences between democrats and republicans in HOW they wage war, a stunningly opposite matter of style and effectiveness.

But here I want to point out that cases like our present ISIS-crisis are no-brainers, if you want the era’s “pax” power to have any credibility, at all. And that, in turn, hinges on whether you can stomach the era that we now live-in… Pax Americana.

It has lasted all our lifetimes, since WWII saw the passing of the last vestiges of Pax Brittanica… the “British Peace.” (The term refers originally to Pax Romana or the Roman Peace that kept the Mediterranean placid and open to commerce for 600 years. Pax Sinica refers to similar epochs across China and east Asia.) War21Century-Pax

Here is the crux. Almost every Pax era has been better for average people on planet Earth than almost every era without a pax empire, when competing kingdoms would send armies slashing and burning and looting across each others’ territories. Average humans today live in more peace than at any time in the history of our species, as shown in Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, with only a few percent ever experiencing personal and direct contact with war in their lifetimes. One top benefit: Pax-protected world trade has uplifted 2/3 of the world’s children out of poverty.

Are there costs, whenever there is a ruling imperium? You bet! When the First Emperor – Chin – squashed the Five Kingdoms and unified China, peace then reigned… along with one of the most brutal tyrannies ever, and a collapse of the vibrant, cultural competitiveness that had prevailed, before. Minority cultures had plenty to complain about, under Pax Parthia, Pax Alexandrine, Pax Romana, Pax Mughal etc… Where Pax Americana is different is in having reduced most of the bad outcomes of a pax era. Rigid domination, imperial mercantiism and repression of diversity. A priesthood with a lock on “truth.” Outright and barefaced conquest.

Suspicion-of-authorityIs Pax Americana perfect? Hell no! Many crimes, yes, I could name several dozen without even trying. But the memes that it spreads – especially through Hollywood – are critical memes, such as suspicion of authority and admiration of diversity, that you express, even as you fume at me for praising the pax that taught you all those values. Memes that encourage criticism of the pax power even (especially) by its own youths! Indeed, many of you are expressing that memic upbringing, as you glower at these words.

Here is more about Pax Americana: Pondering Pax Americana and the Government Shutdown.

Was PA awful at times? Sure… except compared to every single other nation that was ever tempted by such power. If you make that comparison, PA is day to their night. Was PA drooling-insane-stupid under both Bushes? Sure. So much so that you have to wonder if that Saudi-owned family did it on purpose.

Should Pax Americana be replaced with something grownup, at last, bringing an end to all empires? Sure! Would Star Trek be better? Sure! We’d all love to see your plan.

Will it happen if PA simply goes away or stops enforcing peace? Baloney. Before you prescribe NOTHING as a replacement to the current pax power, please find for us, across 6000 years, a lasting era when that prescription worked well.

PA is the only empire that ever had as its (hypocritical) policy “there should be no empires.” That hypocrisy has one saving grace…

…it will make itself come true.

== finally, too-big means get-smaller ==

The Federal Reserve is pushing the biggest U.S. banks to shrink so that they’re less of a risk to the financial system. Fed proposals include imposing additional capital requirements for the eight largest banks — including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America — that exceed the levels mandated by international regulators. “Capital surcharges” would increase in proportion to how risky the regulators deem a bank to be. ken-burns-roosevelts

Ken Burns documentaries are always a great buy, for your viewing time. His most recent — “The Roosevelts” — focuses on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. Terrific. Fascinating stories. Only… I find my own thoughts drifting from the past, to the present and the future…

Galt’s Gulch Chile? One common theme that spans from leftist-hippies to followers of Ayn Rand is the notion of anarchic utopianism — that those who have free spirits and the right ideology can create an ideal community, free of the ills they perceive in our complex, compromise-ridden civilization. On rare occasions, these communities have thrived… ironically those that have been run patriarchally by brilliant administrators, replicating feudalism-of-old, with a patina of egalitarian catechism. But most swiftly collapse. As in the case of the AnyRandian ideal community described here.

This is not the only libertarian dream community in the works. Perhaps more sturdy, but still problematic, are seasteading efforts propelled by Patri Friedman and Peter Thiel.

LIBERTARIANS-PROPERTYIn the end, however, this is tragic for us all. Libertarianism might have served as a rational and pragmatic counter-balance to the tendency to try solving all problems with statist approaches. It might also have held true to the sane vision of Adam Smith – to do what is needed in order to maximize the number of skilled and capable young COMPETITORS in a flat-fair-open society. Instead, it has been hijacked by solipsists who never, ever mention the word “competition” anymore, in their obsessive defense of towering accumulations of PROPERTY, never noticing how this serves the proto-feudal wishes of the oligarchs who were denounced by Adam Smith, and have always been the greatest enemies of markets and freedom.

See my dissection of Any Rand here: http://www.davidbrin.com/aynrand.html

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The Spirit of Exploration: Comets, Pluto, Titan and Mars

NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation of humans (at $70 million a seat). It’s about time! It also makes clear the advantages of competition, which Elon’s company has restored. How interesting that SpaceX is being paid only a little more than half what Boeing will be paid, for the same number of crew/cargo deliveries.  If Elon is trying to make a point… he is succeeding.

philae== Comets! ==

As a licensed cosmet… I mean cometologist, I find this truly exciting news: In early November, the Philae lander — currently tucked inside the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft — will drop down to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Philae will make measurements while anchored to the comet by a harpoon. Scientists have just chosen Site J — located on the comet’s head for touchdown. Landing will be challenging: the surface of the 4 km double-lobed comet is jagged — with unpredictable outgassing jets that will become more active as the comet approaches the sun.

This cool online item visualizes Rosetta´s 10-year journey to explore a comet, with all important moments, current positions and also upcoming steps of the mission.

67P-Aug6-albedo-TR-580x417Upon approach to Comet 67P, Discovery.com reported: “A spacecraft chasing a comet in deep space has found that its target is surprisingly dark in color. Instead of arriving at a bright, reflective, ice-covered heavenly body, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe found that its target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or 67P/C-G), appears darker than charcoal…”

In fact, this is old news. When the Giotto spacecraft flew past Halley’s comet in 1986, there was “shock” that the dusty material was so dark. Though in fact we should have guessed, because other than water, a lot of material in the outer solar system is carbonaceous. At the time, my doctoral thesis on comets was new. It had predicted the dust layers, but not quite how dark they would be. In fact, that prediction was only made in one place, a sci fi novel called Heart of the Comet!

== Cosmets and the Red Planet! ==

maven-marsElsewhere in the solar system… MAVEN — the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN craft arrived at Mars on Sunday Sept 21. After a ten month journey, Maven begins its study of the Martian atmosphere. Scheduled to arrive two days later is Mangalyaan — or Mars Orbital Mission — India’s first interplanetary spacecraft. MOM?  Seriously?  As in Mars Needs Moms?

Ah… but then, few weeks later….

Comet Siding Spring is heading toward a close encounter with Mars on October 19. Planetary scientists were worried about cometary debris harming delicate instruments on Mars orbiting spacecraft while could in turn hurt our relays from the rovers. The latest assessment indicates there should be minimal danger. But I’ll be biting my nails, while eagerly peering at the science data!

 ==On to Pluto!==

New-Horizons-PlutoNASA’s New Horizons probe was scheduled to cross the orbit of Neptune on Monday (Aug. 25), 25 years to the day after Voyager 2’s encounter. (Voyager was our only probe ever to visit Uranus and Neptune.) New Horizons is now streaking toward a flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015 that should return the first good images at the distant dwarf planet and its moons.

Now Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston has produced created the best-ever global color map of Neptune’s big moon Triton, by enhancing images taken by Voyager 2 probe during its flyby of Neptune and Triton, a generation ago.

(Alas “crossing the orbit” does not mean a flyby. There will be no Neptune science this time, from New Horizons.)

==And beyond==

Trailers for scientific papers? Hollywood has borrowed relentlessly from science (occasionally even respectfully), so why not turnaround? Sean Carroll reports that some young physicists have created a truly fun and cool trailer that in one minute teases you to know a lot more than you did before… about superfields and super-gravity and inflation! 

Yes, books have trailers too! Some of you have seen the amazing video preview-trailer for Existence, with incredible art by Patrick Farley!

Copernicus-Complex-ScharfHow Rare is Intelligent Life? Just released: The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities by Caleb Scharf argues that Earth will still be special, even after all sorts of alien worlds are catalogued. Unlike Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, who argued in Rare Earth that intelligent life on Earth relied on so many unlikely accidents that we are probably alone in the universe, Scharf doesn’t think it’s likely we’re entirely unique, just rare. See more articles on SETI.

NASA is expected to sponsor a contest to build better airships, breathing new life — and funding — into the idea. High-altitude airships are still in their relative infancy. None has ever flown at 65,000 feet for longer than eight hours. But a recent study from the Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech suggests that a more capable airship may not be far-off.

Mind you, we have been reading “revival of airships” stories for thirty years! But the technologies now seem especially ripe. See my own portrayal of the vibrant future of towed zeppelins in “The Smartest Mob.”

==Toward Titan and Mars==

Super-ball-botSee the Super Ball Bot: this flexible tensegrity-style robot can land with a bounce — and roll to explore planetary surfaces — funded by NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts Group (NIAC). (I am on the external board of advisors for NIAC.) Researchers are considering Saturn’s moon Titan for the robot’s first mission.

Looking ahead: is it time to re-evaluate beamed power from space?

Win a trip to space — and back! – aboard XCOR’s Lynx Mark II Spacecraft, a fundraiser to benefit MarsOne, and their plans to build a human settlement on the red planet.

Read also about Elon Musk’s plans for a Mars colony — he calls Mars a serious fixer-upper.

Mars-curiosityRecommended: a look at the teams of scientists and engineers who designed, built, launched, landed, and now operate the Mars Rovers: Curiosity – An inside look at the Mars Rover Mission and the people who made it happen, by Rod Pyle. These individuals are the ones who keep pushing at the frontiers of exploration…

Finally: Um… didn’t I already do exactly this, in a novel? “NASA Announces Plans To Launch Chimpanzee Into Sun.” — from The Onion!

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How Far Conservatism Has Changed

All right, it is an important U.S. political season.  As a registered Republican and a frequent speaker at libertarian gatherings, I remain hopeful that this will be the year that several million temperamentally conservative Americans wake up to the way their movement and the GOP have been hijacked. And that only a shattering drubbing at the polls will send the American right back to the drawing boards — learning to do politics again. Including negotiation about real problems. Oh, but it will be so hard!

The oligarchs who have done the hijacking have ordered up so many narratives, from “birther” paranoia to climate denialism, from preaching “oligarchy is gooood for you” to utter lies about U.S. history. I will explicate the best and most hilariously most damning example below — the George Soros Effect.

thats-not-austinBut first — In That’s Not What They Meant!: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America’s Right WingProfessor Michael Austin examines dozens of books, articles, speeches, and radio broadcasts by such figures as Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Larry Schweikart, and David Barton to expose the deep historical flaws in their use of America’s founding history. In contrast to their misleading method of citing proof texts to serve a narrow agenda, Austin allows the Founding Fathers to speak for themselves, situating all quotations in the proper historical context.

What emerges is a true historical picture of men who often disagreed with one another on such crucial issues as federal power, judicial review, and the separation of church and state. As Austin shows, the real legacy of the Founding Fathers to us is a political process: a system of disagreement, debate, and compromise that has kept democracy vibrant in America for more than two hundred years, but that regularly comes under attack.. How extreme has been the veer off any path of sane conservatism?

A commenter on the New York Magazine site said: Nothing underscores the change in the Republican Party more than to read Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 Republican Platform: government-head-heart

PHILOSOPHY: “Our great President Eisenhower has counseled us further: “In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. Government must have a heart as well as a head. “

LABOR: “Workers have benefited by the progress which has been made in carrying out the programs and principles set forth in the 1952 Republican platform. All workers have gained and unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 millions. “

EDUCATION: “Republican action created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as the first new Federal department in 40 years, to raise the continuing consideration of these problems for the first time to the highest council of Government, the President’s Cabinet.”

FOREIGN POLICY: “We shall continue vigorously to support the United Nations.”

SAFETY NET: The Federal minimum wage has been raised for more than 2 million workers. Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million. The protection of unemployment insurance has been brought to 4 million additional workers.

ENVIRONMENT: “We recognize the need for maintaining isolated wilderness areas to provide opportunity for future generations to experience some of the wilderness living through which the traditional American spirit of hardihood was developed. Added more than 400,000 acres to our National Park system, and 90,000 acres to wildlife refuges.”  

==On George Soros==  soros-globalization

All right. Here is one of the most powerful examples of the mad-right’s narrative machine, and how sadly incurious millions of our neighbors have become, nodding and swallowing anything that gets fed to them on Fox. Use this!  Ask your crazy uncle what he thinks of a man named… George Soros. He’ll tell you all about Soros! How he is a criminal mastermind with a huge media empire that has suckered millions in Blue America into raving socialist-communist frenzy. Never mind that Soros’s wealth and media “empire” are minuscule compared to the triumvirate of Rupert Mudoch, the Koch boys and the Saudi royal family, all co-owners of Fox. Folks following the narrative call George Soros a “super-leftist” master-demon.

A special moment: they nod in terror when Glen Beck howls “Soros toppled EIGHT foreign governments!” In fact, that’s true! For once, Beck ain’t lying at all. George Soros did help to topple eight foreign governments! He is, indeed, a formidable fellow. Alas, in a sign of how far GOP intellect has plummeted since days of Goldwater and Buckley, not one audience member of the Beck or Limbaugh or Fox riefenstahl-rallies ever lifts his head to ask … “Um… Glen? Rush? Sean? WHICH eight foreign governments do you credit Soros – the “super leftist” with toppling?” In ten years of daring these guys, none of the Fox-ites I’ve  confronted has ever been able to name even one of those toppled foreign governments. It just never occurred to them, to ask.

Are you ready to ask? Ready for the list? Here are those eight foreign governments Beck/Limbaugh/Fox credit George Soros with toppling.

The communist dictatorship of Hungary.

The communist dictatorship of Poland

The communist dictatorship of Czechoslovakia

The communist dictatorship of Romania

The communist dictatorship of Bulgaria

The communist dictatorship of Estonia

The communist dictatorship of Latvia

The communist dictatorship of Lithuania

And mind you it isn’t just uber-conservative Beck and Limbaugh who credit Soros with this terrifying feat! The Heritage Foundation and AEI and most conservative pundit-castes have repeated it! Along with many GOP candidates. (Though sometimes the figure is nine since it rightfully should include East Germany.) Indeed, Soros’s relentless efforts to undermine the USSR and communism made up his core life’s work and even many sane modern political observers credit him substantially.

soros-EULet’s make this explicit. Glen Beck and all those other right wing mavens officially credit terrifying leftist George Soros with the toppling of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Warsaw Pact, the liberation of hundreds of millions and the victorious end of the Cold War. Huh. I thought it was that other liberal (compared to today’s GOP) Ronald Reagan. In fact, they both share equal credit with Michail Gorbachev and with the plan’s architect – George Marshall. (With Jimmy Carter deserving more of an assist cred than you’d believe.)

Look, the crux here is not who actually tore down the wall. Hey,let’s credit the people of those nations, above all. No, the crux is this: why are the viewers of Fox and Beck/Limbaugh so cosmically stupid that they never — any of them — ask enough questions to notice the tsunami of ironies and contradictions at their Nuremberg Rally? So… um… where does this ghastly example of looniness, incuriosity and knee jerk obedience to declared dogma leave the credibility of today’s monster that has hijacked the once intellectually solid American conservative movement?

Oh, pity Barry Goldwater. spinning 6000 RPM in his grave.

== Make that 10,000 RPM… ==

I have long believed we should be dealing with crises with a multi-pronged approach. The far-left, in opposing even experiments in (say) ocean fertilization, is almost 10% as crazy as today’s entire US right. (Yes, that crazy!) Both sides poison pragmatism, which is portrayed on this page about ways to ameliorate the incredible harm that carbonate-driven acidification is doing to our oceans. phforecast But yes, there’s no doubt it is the Denialist Cult doing the worst harm.

Ocean acidification is the silver bullet, boys and girls. It is undeniable. It cannot be armwaved away with Fox-nuremberg-style sieg-incantations. It is pure fact, and caused by human generated CO2. And it threatens our children. Furthermore, those who would sneer us into doing nothing – refusing even to negotiate moderate improvements in energy efficiency that would save consumers billions – are complicit with murdering the future.

Do not let them get away with the tactic of yelling “Squirrel!” and pointing elsewhere to change the subject. Repeat it. “The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid. The oceans are going acid…. “…And if YOU guys keep this up, and the seas die, we will remember you. Yes you. By name.”

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Sci Fi Flicks! Some looks back & forward

AutomataKurzweil & co give us a sneak peak at the forthcoming movie Autómata: “Starring Antonio Banderas, here we have a believable future (2044, thirty years from now) in which desertification is threatening society, and a single company is leading the way in intelligent robotics.” says one George Mason university blogger.  Indeed, it appears to be part of the new crop of films that treat AI with some attempts at subtlety.

Of course, like most of you, I am eagerly hopeful about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. There appears to be some indication that it will offer us all the optimistic, can-do kind of confidence-building sci fi that this civilization desperately needs, after decades of stylishly-imitative cynicism. A theme that Luc Besson kind-of, sort-of, went for in “LUCY” (an under-rated film) and that Nolan’s protege murkily tried for, but failed to achieve in “Transcendance.” Marc Zicree and his team are clearly trying for this sensibility in “Space Command.”

LucyAbout LUCY. Now, first off, I am a Luc Besson fan — though I always make sure to tune down my IQ and mental age dials, whenever I go to see one of his films. I did that for LUCY and was rewarded by having a very good time. Though on this occasion… alas… well, this film was kind of tragic, because the IQ downshift should not have been necessary! Look, I am not looking for something as deeply thought provoking as Leslie Dixon’s wondrous screenplay for LIMITLESS

… but just five minutes of dialogue-doctoring could have shifted LUCY’s “we use just 10% of our brains” howler (that offended so many) into some much more plausible-sounding blather that we could more-easily shrug off. A little work with some sober science-advisers and hard SF idea guys could have soothed you nerds out there enough to make this film a real success. Likewise, some of the most “magical” scenes could so easily have been replaced with equally cool tech-manipupation stuff.

Having said that… LUCY has many moving and thoughtful scenes, along with gobs of Luc Besson’s trademark fun. And it does not go for the cheap idiot plot that is so common these days — that all our human institutions, neighbors and professionals are useless fools. Indeed, most are portrayed here as fairly smart and trying very hard.

HerEspecially, in the penultimate scene, when Morgan Freeman holds the super USB drive containing… well… no spoiler. But it represents a notion that is unabashedly Faustian and friendly to unlimited human ambition. That is refreshing, compared to the cliched, Crichtonian-nostalgic rant against science that pervades most media.

I saw this also in the lovely-gentle film HER.

The crux? I found myself won over more than I expected to be. Many good aspects of the film far outweighed howlers — like the ditzy villains. It is what Luc Besson does. As in The Fifth Element, this film is like a golden retriever who jumps on your lap and licks your face and pours love all over you until you surrender.

== Why this is rare ==

It is an uphill struggle for any film maker! Note the relentless number of dystopias, especially aimed at teenagers, that go for the cliched but timeless message: “I am a star-shaped peg that YOU (society/parents/schools) are pounding into a conformist square hole! Just you WAIT until I find my real friends and my real talents and powers!”

young-adult-dysopian-movieWho can compete with that timeless theme? Indeed, I praise and support the basic, individualistic, non-comformist love of tolerance, diversity and eccentricity that pervades most Hollywood dramas and sci fi novels! It is the only way we’ll get the self-preventing prophecies we desperately need, while keeping up our momentum of self-criticism toward a better world.

But when “warnings” become “idiot plots” that never once show the possibility of a decent civilization… that ONLY portray teen angst and repetitious chosen-one pablum, then we have a problem.

Below, I will offer up my comments (at last) on the flick Gavin Hood made from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”… and my reaction may surprise you!

But first… and be warned I am about to go VERY fan-boyt geeky on you now…

== Star Trek Lives! ==

axanarFirst… a couple of added notes about “Axanar” the cool looking indie film being developed in the pre-Kirk (and pre-JJ Abrams) Ortho Trek universe.

1) Reiterating — do have a look at the “Prelude” online. This is way cool and I hope you will support the Kickstarter.

2) All praise to Paramount for having taken the simultaneously noble and excellently profitable route of allowing wide latitude for indie and amateur play in this beloved universe, one of the very few that expresses belief in a better human tomorrow.

f61e3e22cad3740dcbea23faa355ad1b3) One small note… I have long been rankled by the tendency of Trek producers to admire the Klingons as macho dudes — kind of the way Frank Miller praises Spartans… when both were/are horrific slaver-holders and vile oppressors, deeply and savagely cruel. Yes, you must wind up with the Klingons of Deep Space Nine, who have reformed a lot and have (by that point) become gruff-macho but decent allies. But clearly they had to suffer many major losses before finally cleaning up… as did the Kzin in Larry Niven’s Known Space cosmos. One of those setbacks was the Chernobyl-like calamity shown in one of the Kirk flicks. Axanar will be the earliest of these setbacks for the earlier, super-nasty Klingon types. Fine..

But how about a glance at the slave races, languishing under Klingon conquest-rule? (If Klingon territory is comparable to that of the federation, there would be a lot of such oppressed systems.) Even a nod toward them changes the equation! As even a momentary sight of the Spartan Helot-slaves would destroy our sympathy for the vicious Queen Gorgo in the wretched “300” series by Frank Miller and Zack Snyder.

I hope the AXANAR script will show some slave planets rebelling and helped to join the Federation! With others promised… “someday, we’ll free you, too.”

Into-darkness4) Finally, about the J.J. Abrams spinoff series. Okay, okay, things could be way worse. Compared to the vast majority of Hollywood sci fi betrayals, they are fun flicks and Abrams seems to actually think he is paying homage to the Roddenberry vision. He does not get the need for an underlying theme of can-do optimism, but at least he’s not doing the opposite.

That is, except for killing off Planet Vulcan and raising James Kirk as a traumatized, bratty orphan. But yes, that works, too. Sort-of. At least Abrams is handling Chris Pine’s character well.

Only… here’s the rub… ** Has the original Kirk Universe been erased? **

It is a major bone of contention when you discuss the range of possibilities in multiverse and parallel universes! And artistically, it is one thing if the branch point (when Kirk’s father is killed) created a NEW track without destroying the original. It is another — with many philosophical ramifications — if it is an erasure and replacement. (For one thing, it means Abrams’s cosmos could likewise be erased, at any moment!)

Sure, this may be worrying the bone way too much! But it is a sign of how deeply this mythos has wormed its way into our hearts that it really does matter!

star-trek-spock1Indeed, what’s all this with the old (Nimoy) Spock having sworn never to tell anything or interfere? To what end? All the paradoxes are already in place. His words of advice are needed! Especially since, on this track, the Federation has been robbed of one of its strongest members — Vulcan itself. Old Spock should be putting a number of advice gems in a can — like Hari Seldon does for the First Foundation… and JJ Abrams could be doing this NOW, while Leonard Nimoy is still able!

One of those gems should show Nimoy’s Spock saying:

The universe I came from has not been erased. It stands alongside this one, unreachable, but just inches away, sturdy, like a trellis on which the vine of your new adventure now grows. All of my friends, their triumphs and losses and accomplishments still flourish… elsewhere. But this timeline… this path… is yours.”

That statement would give solace and comfort to the millions of fans who are (frankly) just a bit cheesed off at Abtrams over the genocide of Vulcan and Kirk’s lost childhood. It also (hint-hint) lays the seed for a way-cool encounter between enterprises (and ChrisPine-Kirks) in some possible sequel.

And that’s my earnest (urgent) advice to JJ Abrams, as one storyteller about destiny to another.

== Ender’s Game ==

Enders-game-movieOkay, we finally rented Ender’s Game for a viewing of four families, having all delayed until we could share it, cheap. (That’s the trick, if you need to see a flick, legally, but want only pennies to go to the makers. And yes, it had many of the flaws I expected. And yet…

1) It is still the formula Card perfected so well. A demigod chosen-one Nietzchean ubermensch-child garners reader-viewer sympathy by seeming really weak and standing up to bullies… finding his “true friends and talents and powers” and showing those bullies what-for.

2) He feels really really BAD about every brutal use of power that he was forced… forced!… to engage in. Luring the reader or audience member to say: “Ender, don’t be so hard on yourself! They made you do it!”

That’s what I like about cardian demigods. They are so soulful and angst-ridden. When they take over the world, they never enjoy it. It’s always for our own good.

UnknownGavin Hood’s screenplay softens some of this stuff. For example, Card’s relentless tirades that all democratic institutions absolutely cannot ever be trusted and are guaranteed to be corrupt, and that rule-by-demigod is the only rational choice. Those are gone from the film and the core villainy of the Earth Military is portrayed in a fairly plausible way. Indeed, that particular failure mode can – and has — happened! The quickie incorporation of the Formic Queen from “Speaker for the Dead” was okay and left out the truly horrific rationalizations in the original novel, reducing it, instead, to a fairly sweet paean to tolerance. Fine.

As a flick, it is only so-so. Ender only earns his rapid promotions by passing unscientific “tests” that are designed to fit the schoolmaster’s tendentious expectations. There is never a rising-from-equals that would truly be dramatic, as we see in “Hunger Games” for example. Still, without question, Hood’s film is an improvement over the dismally anti-civilization, demigod-worshipping originals.

I kind of enjoyed it, in fact.

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The right narrative to fight voter-suppression candidates

I sent the following suggestion to the campaign of Jean Schodorf, who is running to oust the “worst Republican in the world” – Kris Koback – from the office of Kansas Secretary of State. Schodorf is that rare creature, a genuine prairie conservative who would have been republican all her life, till she realized that the madness that has hijacked today’s GOP is not temporary and recently switched parties. Unlike the millions of sane but in-denial “ostrich republicans” who have buried their heads, moaning and hoping the craziness will just go away, Schodorf is taking it on, head-to-head. Zeroing in on Koback’s blatant and extreme efforts to suppress thousands of native born Kansans from exercising their right to vote.

Here is my suggestion… which any of you are free to pass along to your own favorite candidates-for-sanity.

 ————

Dear Jean Schodorf,

voter-suppression-laws-voteDavid Brin here – best-selling author and scientist – with a suggestion how to manage the voter-suppression issue in your coming electoral campaign.

Let’s start with the obvious: You will get almost nowhere just proclaiming that Voter Suppression laws are unfair.  That will be dismissed as “the whining of losers.”

There is a much better “judo” argument that will expose the Voter ID campaigns as hypocritical cheating… a much more powerful accusation.  Please carefully read my argument below, which is cribbed from one of my more well-known postings: Steering Our Outrage in Wrong Directions.

“In fact, as a moderate, I am not opposed to gradually increasing the demand that voters prove who they are! Even though at-precinct voting fraud is virtually nil, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with improving care and accountability. People who are against voter ID improvements in any form are probably dogmatic, too.

voter-repression-laws“But — and here is a very big “but” — if these laws aren’t aimed solely at stealing elections for the GOP, then the states in question would have accompanied the new regulations with measures aimed at helping their citizens to comply with the new burdens.

“States routinely give “compliance assistance” to major corporations, when new regulations apply to them. 

 “But apparently not one cent has been appropriated in any red state to help the poor, or young, or women, or minorities to get the required ID, a move that would also help them in so many other aspects of life.  In some cases, simple access to ID might help them to STOP being poor.

“Please dig that well, because it is the alarm and utter proof of both cheating motives and lying hypocrisy. How much have red states allocated to help newly disenfranchised citizens to comply with onerous new state regulations?  Not… one… red… cent.

Hypocrisy“Hypocrisy is still punished by some voters. If this point of compliance is hammered home, maybe ten percent of the voters might be swayed, and that’s a lot.

“Hammer that this is what the once honorable and intellectual movement of Goldwater and Buckley is reduced to. Not winning elections based on the merits of their evidence or by comparing the outcomes from their party’s past periods of rule. Rather, all efforts go to cheating and more cheating. And if you support this cheat, then no amount of arm-waving will let you escape the clear fact — that you are a cheater, too.”

Yes, that is a very aggressive way to put it.  But this issue could be a killer for candidates opposing the swarm of vipers who have taken over the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan.

With cordial regards,

David Brin

http://www.davidbrin.com

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