Media Challenge FAA Drone Ban — and drones conveying beauty?

MEDIA-DRONE-BANDrones have already been used on several occasions in the US to document the news. Last week, a storm chaser in Arkansas used a drone to record the havoc wrought by a tornado. But the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been very slow to adopt rules for private and corporate drone use and has taken a draconian zero-tolerance policy on its interim ban on almost all such uses. Now, a number of media companies, including The New York Times and The Associated Press, accused the Federal Aviation Authority of violating the First Amendment.

Is this a difficult problem? Sure! Just imagine a future city scape abuzz with irritating mechanical vultures — delivery owls and snoopy eye-spies, swooping about, colliding with buildings and each other and power lines, causing blackouts and raining shattered, glowing parts on all below… at minimum city use should involve devices capable of situational awareness and detection of collision hazards and minimum separation rules. But dig it – we will only get there if the experiments can proceed in a few cities to see what really happens!

Start with Houston. They don’t give a darn anyway….

== Drones, androids and robots bring you the news! ==

ROBOTS-NEWSWill human journalists become obsolete? I participated in an online (HuffPost) panel discussion about the latest trend… robotizing the news media.  Here are just a few examples of the trend.

Japan Unveils  It’s First Android Newscaster. Not exactly uncanny, yet.  But they’re busy. With an expected 7% drop in population, their interest in automation is very high.

AP Will Use Robots to Write Some Business Stories.   – 4000 robo stories in the time it takes human writers to do 300.

Shades of Max Headroom! The following couch discussion of this is… fluffy and made me want to replace the panel with robots!  Another News Outlet Is Using Robots To Write Stories

Apparently most sports stories have come to us this way for several years.  (I suspect decades, even generations.)

== And more drones…  ==

Drones… everywhere!  Illustrating what has sometimes been called Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law… that cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile faster than ML. Now… watch how the flying cams are getting far more rugged, using a simple gimbal in a cage approach!  Watchbirds here we come, yippee.

Oh, but see the very end of this blog for one of the best links you’ll ever click, brought to you by a drone.

== The insurrectionary recourse? ==

citizen-uprisingAll the ructions and revolutions overseas raise an earnest question: could it happen here? Dialing in closer: is it still even theoretically possible for a mass citizen uprising to topple the government of the modern, western state? Mr. Harry Bentham makes an earnest effort and raises a few interesting points in “Does Modern Tech Render the 2nd Amendment Redundant?

Alas, his appraisal winds up being rather shallow, simply reiterating his arm-waved and evidence-free assertion that a mass uprising, armed with civilian rifles, could naturally and easily overcome forces of the modern state. Mr. Bentham leaves aside any discussion that:

- Any mass civil ruction will likely feature as many armed civilian “tories” as “rebels.”

- Local police have lately been heavily up-armed to close to military levels. Their loyalties in a crisis would complicate matters.

Jefferson-rifle   – Everything depends upon the morale and attitudes of the troops. If they retain strong connectivity and identification with the populace, they will be unreliable instruments of repression.

These and other factors were discussed in my own treatment on this issue – The Jefferson Rifle: Guns and the Insurrection Myth – where I appraise whether modern westerners — and Americans in particular — still retain an “insurrectionary recourse.”

And why attachment to that ideal is THE driver behind the refusal of the Gun Lobby to consider even modest compromises.

 

Fireworks== Finally… drones and sheer beauty 

I cannot recall when last an item of media so delighted me. I am… for once… speechless. Though proud to live in …
oh, just click this. Full screen. 

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Brilliant innovators – hopeful signs

First a reminder that two of my TED style talks are up. THE FUTURE IS HERE Science meets Science Fiction Imagination, Inspiration and Invention was a lavish event last May in Washington DC, presented by the Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. Here’s a link to my talk: Otherness: will we supply our own new diversity? (Follow along with the slides on Slideshare!)

Also “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?” My talk at TEDxUCSD finally offers a public version of this disturbing notion I’ve been discussing for years — that an unseen addiction is destroying our civilization.  (Follow along with the slides on Slideshare! )

== Innovation will save us ==

Dean-kamen-slingshot-waterYou cynics out there had better not read this article about one of the heroes of our age, Dean Kamen, whose new water-distillation machines may provide healthy supplies to hundreds of millions of needy people, slashing disease rates and even preventing war. Kamen’s knack for making money while attacking “impossible problems” goes way back. His FIRST Robotics League has made nerdy inventiveness cool and high-status and fun on thousands of high school campuses. Guys like him — and Elon Musk and Steve Jobs and others — prove that it’s not about left-vs-right. It is about deciding to be confident problem solvers, helping us all to win the positive sum games.

What was the federal government’s role in starting the shale-gas revolution? There is much ado in the press over the arrival (long expected by some of us) of cheap natural gas and renewed supplies of domestic petroleum, developed inside North America. The prospect of U.S. and Canadian energy independence is shaking up political dynamics all over the globe and (among other effects) helping to fuel a new renaissance in American manufacturing.

What seems bizarre is how this has become a crowing point for the Right. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal regularly runs opinion pieces that criticize federal efforts to advance energy technologies and their commercialization… and completely ignore the past federal role in research and stimulation and infrastructure, that made the shale boom possible. See this piece in Physics Today. Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y?

The gas industry itself has spoken on behalf of federal research efforts. “The DOE started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it,” said Mitchell Energy’s former vice president Dan Steward. “You cannot diminish DOE’s involvement.”

== Inheritance of acquired… nervousness? ==

My colleagues Greg Bear and Mark Anderson have been among those who for years have suggested that Darwinian puritanism blinds us to certain ways that Lamarck might have been at least a little bit right. That some acquired characteristics can be passed to the next generation. Now comes experimental validation of their suspicion… in a way that many of us always knew in our gut. That trauma can get passed down the generations.

FEAR-PARENTSSee this report: Can We Inherit Fear From Our Parents? In a laboratory experiment, traumatized mice appeared to mature normally. It was only when researchers subjected them to behavioral tests that differences became apparent. The traumatised mice appeared to be reckless, wandering into bright, open spaces that mice usually avoid. Yet they also appeared to be depressed. When placed in a tank of water they gave up and floated instead of trying to swim to safety. 

“When males from the traumatised litters fathered offspring, their pups displayed similar abnormal behaviour even though they had never experienced trauma. The pups’ insulin and blood glucose levels were also lower than in normal mice – a symptom of early life stress. The offspring seemed to have inherited the effects of their fathers’ trauma. Furthermore, the next generation, that is the grandchildren of the original stressed mice, also showed abnormal behaviours. How could trauma be transmitted down the generations?

“The researchers analysed the traumatised fathers’ brain tissue, specifically in a region called the hippocampus, where memories are formed. They noticed larger than normal quantities of tiny RNA molecules called microRNA. Like tiny switches, these molecules are known to turn the activity of genes on or off.

“An abundance of this microRNA was also detected in the traumatised fathers’ sperm and in the brain tissue of their offspring. Could it be that the microRNA was somehow imprinted with the experience of the trauma, transmitting the memory to the offspring? To answer this, the researchers extracted the microRNA from the sperm of traumatised mice and injected it into embryos. The pups that developed from these embryos displayed the same behavioural and metabolic abnormalities as the traumatised fathers, while pups injected with RNA from un-traumatised fathers did not. It was strong support for the hypothesis that the sperm RNA was transmitting the experience of trauma.”

== More science ==

Thorne-Zytkow-neutron-starA red supergiant that contains, in its bowels, a neutron star? The existence of such an object was first proposed by (my friend) Kip Thorne, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and Anna Zytkow, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, UK. Now there is a strong candidate to be an observed Thorne-Zytkow object. Amazing.

Goodbye High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). Conspiracy theorists have accused the program of doing everything from mind control to global communications jamming. Now bulldozers await as the research program (on interesting things, not mind control) wraps up.

Exobiologists surveyed more than 1,000 planets for planet density, temperature, substrate (liquid, solid or gas), chemistry, distance from its central star and age. They developed and computed the Biological Complexity Index (BCI) suggesting 1 to 2 percent of the planets showed a BCI rating higher than Europa, a moon of Jupiter thought to have a subsurface global ocean that may harbor forms of life. With about 10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, the BCI yields 100 million plausible planets. At a glance, it seems a shallow conclusion, in part because Kepler results skew heavily toward massive planets orbiting close to their stars. And because Europa-style moons have no need for a Goldilocks Zone and hence may be pervasive.

Neuroscientists have suspected for some time that the brain has some capacity to direct the manufacturing of new neurons. Now generative neurons that stimulate stem cell production of more neurons have been found.

See the “raptor” two legged robot that can speed faster than a man.

TheGapIn The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals. Psychologist Thomas Suddendorf provides a “definitive account of the mental qualities that separate humans from other animals, as well as how these differences arose.” Says Ray Kurzweil: “Drawing on two decades of research on apes, children, and human evolution, he surveys the abilities most often cited as uniquely human—language, intelligence, morality, culture, theory of mind, and mental time travel—and finds that two traits account for most of the ways in which our minds appear so distinct: Namely, our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on scenarios, and our insatiable drive to link our minds together. These two traits explain how our species was able to amplify qualities that we inherited in parallel with our animal counterparts; transforming animal communication into language, memory into mental time travel, sociality into mind reading, problem solving into abstract reasoning, traditions into culture, and empathy into morality.”

Let Phil Plait show you (and explain) the stunning and strange surface of Saturn’s moon, Phoebe.

== Amazing, if true. ==

HP’s new computer technology can manage 160 petabytes of data in a mere 250 nanoseconds.

‘There is something about the brains of high-IQ individuals that prevents them from quickly seeing large, background-like motions.’ Very interesting re differences in brain function. Interesting grist for deep pondering… or else (as I’ve seen)… we’ll see this used by dogmatists proclaiming “see? Smart people must be stupid!”

Papyrus-plant-bookA fascinating article in Salon, from the book Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World: From Ancient Egypt to Today’s Water Wars” by John Gaudet, describes how the papyrus plant gave ancient Egyptians the ability to make boats and use their water world.

Finally, a glimpse at male-female vocabulary differences showing we still have a way to go.

 

 

 

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Everything leaks – get used to it.  Use it. Also: is Skynet coming?

== Will Wall Street give us Terminator? Others weigh in ==

AGI-artificial-general-intelligence A few years ago, I posed a chilling hypothesis, that AGI — or “artificial general intelligence” that’s equivalent or superior to human — might “evolve-by-surprise,” perhaps even suddenly, out of advanced computational systems. And yes, that’s the garish-Hollywood “Skynet” scenario leading to Terminator.

Only I suggested a twist — that it would not be military or government or university computers that generate a form of intelligence, feral and self-interested and indifferent to human values. Rather, that a dangerous AI might emerge out of the sophisticated programs being developed by Wall Street firms, to help them game (many might say cheat) our economic system.

Indeed, more money is being poured into AI research by Goldman-Sachs alone than by the top five academic centers, put together, and all of it helping to engender systems with a central ethos of predatory opportunism and parasitic amorality.Oh, and did I mention it’s all in secret?  The perfect Michael Crichton scenario.

Barrat-Final-INvention Now comes a book by documentary filmmaker James Barrat — Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era — reviewed here on the ThinkAdvisor site — Are Killer Robots the Next Black Swan? — in which Barrat discusses a scenario sketched out by Alexander Wissner-Gross, a scientist-engineer with affiliations at Harvard and MIT, that seems remarkably similar to mine. Opines Wissner-Gross:

“If you follow the money, finance has a decent shot at being the primordial ooze out of which AGI emerges.”

Barrat elaborates: : “In other words, there are huge financial incentives for your algorithm to be self-aware—to know exactly what it is and model the world around it.”

The article is well-worth a look, though it leaves out the grand context — that “emergent-evolving” AGI make up only one category out of six different general varieties of pathways that might lead to AI. To be honest, I don’t consider it to be the most likely.

But that has not bearing on what we — as a civilization — should be doing, which is taking reasonable precautions. Looking ahead and pondering win-win ways that we can move forward while evading the most obviously stupid mistakes.

Secret schemes of moohlah masters — that’s no recipe for wisdom. Far better to do it all in the light.

== Everything leaks ==

Heartbleed: Yes It’s Really That Bad.  So says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Heartbleed exploits a critical flaw in OpenSSL, which is used to secure hundreds of thousands of websites including major sites like Instagram, Yahoo, and Google. This article in WIRED also suggests that you can redouble your danger by rushing to trust fly by night third parties offering to fix the flaw… and meanwhile, “big boys” of industry aren’t offering general solutions, only patches to their own affected systems.

The crux? (1) change your passwords on sites where financial or other vital info is dealt-with, then gradually work your way through the rest, as each site offers you assurances. (2) try not to have the passwords be the same. (3) help ignite political pressure for the whole world of online password security to have a rapid-response component (not dominance) offered by a neutral agency… one that is totally transparent, neutral and separate from all law or espionage “companies.” And…

Everything-leaks…and (4) might I ask if you’ve noticed that this kind of event happens about twice a year? And it has been that way since the 1980s? Each of the events a scandal in its own right… hackers grab half a million Target card numbers… or Microsoft springs a leak… or Goldman Sachs… or Equifax… or Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange and Edward Snowden rip off veils of government secrecy… and pundits howl and the public quakes and no one ever seems to draw the correct conclusion –

- that everything eventually leaks! And that maybe the entire password/secrecy model is inherently flawed. Or that there is another, different model that is inherently far more robust, that has only ever been mentioned in a few places, so far.

Here is one of those places.

Meanwhile, whistleblowers remain a vital part of reciprocal accountability. I would like to see expanded protections that simultaneously expand reciprocal accountability and citizen sousveillance… while allowing our intitutions to function in orderly ways.

Whistle-blower-lawsNow this announcement that the Project of Government Oversight (POGO) install SecureDrop… a new way for whistle blowers to deposit information anonymously and shielded from authorities trying to root out leakers. As author of The Transparent Society, I sometimes surprise folks by straddling this issue and pointing out that the needs of the bureaucracy should not be discounted completely! Or by reflex. Whistle blowing falls across a very wide spectrum and if we are sophisticated citizens we will admit that the revealers of heinous-illegal plots deserve more protection than mewling attention junkies.

Still, there is a real role to be played by those pushing the envelope. Read more about Pogo here.

Then again… Facebook can now listen in on your activities with a new audio recognition feature for its mobile app that can turn on smartphones’ microphones to “hear” what songs or television shows are playing in the background. Sounds cool… um, not.

== Brandeis the Seer ==

The famous dissent in Olmstead v. United States (1928)To , by Justice Louis Brandeis, is a vital mirror to hold up to our times. Take the most famous part of eloquent dissent, regarding a seminal wiretapping case:

Brandeis-criminal-law-olmstead“Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher,” Brandeis concluded. “For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.”

Which brings us to Andrew O’Hehir’s article on Salon, recently, using Brandeis as a foil to discuss – and denounce – some recent polemics against Edward Snowden and his journalist outlet, Glenn Greenwald. To be honest, I found O’Hehir tendentious and sanctimonious, but there were some cogent moments that made the article worthwhile, especially when he shone some light on the incredible prescience Brandeis showed, in his 1928 dissent:

“If Brandeis does not literally predict the invention of the Internet and widespread electronic surveillance, he comes pretty close,” for Brandeis wrote, “The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire-tapping …Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.” Brandeis even speculated that psychiatrists of the future may be able to read people’s “unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions” as evidence. O’Hehir notes, “…as far as I know we haven’t reached that dystopian nightmare yet. (But if that’s the big final revelation from the Snowden-Greenwald trove of purloined NSA secrets, you read it here first.)”

== Transparency media ==

Anyone care to review this for us? Post-Privacy and Democracy: Can there be Moral and Democratic Development in a Totally Transparent Society? by Patrick Held. It provides arguments why the end of privacy or at least secrecy might be inevitable given our individual demand for technology.

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A War on Reason? Many cliches you believe are “opposite to true”

In this era of argument-by-facebook-jpeg, there was a lot of positive vibe for the simple graphic that I posted, a while back, showing that the U.S. budget deficit suffers a positive 2nd-Derivative (2D) — that accelerates toward skyrocketing debt — during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower. And that the 2D — contrary to every “truthy” slogan we’ve been taught — improves or decelerates during almost every year of every Democratic presidential term.

Here’s a whole site (nonpartisan) of tax graphics of interest.

WAR-ON-REASONSo, why do people continue to believe “common knowledge” things that are diametrically opposite to true? Other examples abound.

For example, Democratic presidents always beef up the U.S. Border Patrol and reduce illegal immigration, while GOP presidents almost always cripple the Border Patrol and open the floodgates of illegals. It is right there in the budgets and manpower figures, with the one exception that G.W. Bush started down the usual GOP path, slashing Border Patrol funding… but then had to increase it again after 9/11.

If you actually thought about it, you would understand why both parties’ actions run diametrically opposite to their reputations and rhetoric. Dems actually benefit from LEGAL immigration, which increases the potential numbers of loyal union members and voters. Unions do not want illegals undermining wages… which is something the top GOP masters do want. If you hate the ethnic changes in America, fine, but go after the dems for legal immigration, which they did open wider, and stop obsessing on the much smaller illegal influx, which your own party has relentlessly caused. But if you are that kind of person, logic is wasted on you, anyway.

Deregulate-WordThe same cognitive dissonance between cliched expectation and reality can be found in “de-regulation of excessive government bureaucracy.”

Which party talks and talks and talks about that? Ah, but does the GOP ever do anything about it? Even during the many years when they held every lever of power?

In fact: ironically, it was the democrats who disbanded the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) that Ayn Rand deemed the worst example of “captured” government, favoring railroad moguls over competitors. It was the democrats who disbanded the horrid old Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and restored airline competition. They unleashed the wild-open Internet upon the world, with almost no regulation at all! Dems did every other major DE-regulation of the last century except in one industry.

Finance. Wall Street and banking. The GOP led the charge deregulating there, for the simple reason that regulation of finance is desperately necessary to prevent massive raids on our economy. And rampage raids on our wallets happened after every GOP-led “deregulation” of finance, especially in the 1920s, the 1980s and the mid-2000s.

And so the question is raised… why do all the pundits and journalists and pols and online yammerers never even glance at any of these horridly opposite-to-true cliches?

== The real war is against reality ==

WAR-EXPERTISELikewise, the War on Science… and against all smartypants professions. Forty-three years ago, when Richard Nixon was president, roughly forty percent of scientists and twenty-six percent of U.S. journalists (the people in society who interview and question the widest samplings of Americans) called themselves Republicans, only slightly fewer than called themselves democrats.

Today, just 7% of US journalists so identify and less than 5% of scientists.

What’s changed? Similar steep declines are seen in nearly all of the professions that require extensive knowledge and skill, from teaching and medicine to economics, law, law-enforcement and civil service to university professors in almost every field, even to the U.S. military officer corps.

When I ask my GOP friends (and I remain a registered Republican) to explain this, they reply with blanket condemnation of each of these professions, calling them rife with pointy-headed drones and herd-following myopics, betraying their fields by plunging into political bias. Science, they declare, has been betrayed by the scientists themselves!

An interesting assertion, argued generally by that most-persuasive modern device, the mass-forwarded facebook jpeg! Today’s postage-free equivalent of a crazy-uncle chain letter! How much more convincing than actually talking to the people who can tell Bernoulli’s equation from a cellular automata model… from a hole in the ground.

otherculturewar(Name a single exception to this demonization (mostly by the right, but also by some elements of the radical left) of folks who actually know a lot! After a decade spent asking this question publicly, I have seen just three professions listed that are of high intellectual attainment and skill, yet have escaped regular attack by the central cathedral of Know-Nothingness — Fox News. Can you name those three?)

The mass-desertion of the GOP by all the smart people does not discredit Smart People. It discredits a “side” that has gone crazy, by waging war on smart people. This is no longer “conservatism” in any recognizable sense, but rather a cult. Goldwater and Buckley are spinning in their graves.

 

== And Finally ==

All right, this is just terrific. A generic “why I am right and you are wrong” anthem for our (insanely self-righteous) times.

 

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May I bring up climate change?

OCO_spacecraft-high1A few days ago, I drove up the Califonia coast to help my son move. The trip coincided with the attempted (3 am) launch from Vandenberg AFB of JPL’s Orbiting Carbon Observatiory — OCO-2 — which will nail down Earth’s CO2 cycle. OCO is part of a constellation of five earth-sensing satellites bring launched just this year. (The first OCO failed, weirdly, and others were canceled, back during the Bush Administration. Whereupon it took a while to re-start the earth-sensing programs.)

That late night – early morning – my son and I stood with 1000 invited onlookers, not very far from the pad. In fog that was deemed “no problem,” we murmured along with fellow True Believers in science as the count-down reached T-minus forty seconds… and the announcer called “hold-hold-hold – there’s no water!” Alas! Someone forgot to turn on the water sprayers near the rocket nozzles, meant to dampen the sonic vibration when they ignited, and – with the 30 second window lost – the launch was scrubbed. (This keeps happening to me!) We could have gone back the next morning at 3am, but we were already wiped…

Still — OCO went up! And civilization ekes another small step forward, against the screaming resistance of ankle draggers who want us wallowing in dark ages.

==The smart-rich stand up for their own long-term interest: civilization==

Recall a while back, when I cited Greg Page, executive chairman of Cargill, Inc., who leads a large group of very conservative agri-businessmen that — despite strong GOP bias — broke with the Fox Party Line on climate -- turning instead to face our desperate need to save the planet.

Climate-changeThey aren’t the only ones! Think. What businesses will be hurt most by the ever rising instabilities we face? News item: an insurance company is suing nearly 200 Chicago-area towns for failing to do more to prevent damages it says are linked to climate change. Farmers Insurance is asking the communities to return flood claims from the spring of 2013, which caused at least $218 million in losses. The towns should have done more to fortify their sewers and stormwater drains, the group argues.

So, as the smart-practical conservatives peel away, what is the Fox-Koch end game plan for when obscurant denialist delaying tactics hit the inevitable wall? It happened before, to “cars don’t cause smog!” And when — after 25 years and 20 million lost lives — the Tobacco Lobby finally surrendered and admitted “we lied.”

Will they declare “we NEVER obstructed!”

To hasten that day, here’s the bullet I find most effective, because your crazy uncle will not have an answerOcean acidification.

Roll the words over your tongue, and your keyboard.  Ocean Acidification.

It is blatantly happening. It has no other possible cause than increasing atmospheric CO2. Watch, when you raise this point, what happens next! As your crazy uncle quickly changes the subject by pointing somewhere else and yelling “squirrel!”

== Just how evil is efficiency? ==

CAFE-AUTO-FUEL-STANDARDSUnder the new, 2009 CAFE standards, the U.S. auto industry is required to raise the average fuel efficiency of its vehicles to 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025. But consumers have been slow to adopt hybrid technology, so car companies have to find other ways to get fuel savings. All automakers are pushing efficiency R&D hard. Fuel economy is right up there with safety. This article describes some of the innovative ways that the companies are making cars far lighter while just as strong and safe.

The GOP delayed raising auto efficiency standards for 25 years, shouting it would “destroy Detroit.” When the CAFE standards were finally raised, in Obama’s 1st year, guess what happened? (1) The GOP tried to destroy the U.S. auto industry by refusing loans to GM and Chrysler (loans that are now 90% repaid). (2) The mileage standards are working! Mileage is rising rapidly, American drivers are saving billions at the pump, the automakers are highly profitable, the air is cleaner…

And this is a perfect example of TWODA. Improvements in efficiency that are win-wins, that would help us deal with Climate Change and that would still be worthwhile, even if every single climate scientist turns out to be an insane idiot (as depicted on Fox!)

twoda-brinTWODA – Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway – whether or not climate change is real. (It is real, by the way.) In other words, there are scads of things we can do, without risk of “ruining the economy.” (Almost all TWODA measures would help the economy, in fact, not hinder it.)

Simple and relatively modest investments in R&D, in efficiency, in infrastructure and new technologies that would all be worthwhile, even if all the pointy-headed “alarmists” proved to be absolutely 100% mistaken.

Oh, and on the off chance that 97% of climate, weather and atmospheric scientists, and nearly all the science, prove to be right, after all? The guys and gals who gave us the ten day weather report, who successfully model climate on 6 planets and actually know the Navier-Stokes equations and cellular automata models… (do you?) What if — just maybe — the folks who actually know stuff turn out to be right?

Then we’d have taken prudent measures to save a world for our kids. TWODA.

So why have the masters of one of our parties propagandized like mad against TWODA? Against even modest measures to improve efficiency? Against even sitting down and discussing modest efficiency measures?

Because they are the only ones whose wallets would be hurt by TWODA ! Coal Barons and foreign petro-sheiks (including those who co-own Fox).

ClimateSkepticsUse this! As they backpedal from “there’s no warming!” to “yes the ice caps are melting and the US Navy is worried, but the SUN is doing it!” to “Okay it’s not the sun, but it ain’t a greenhouse!” to “Okay it’s a greenhouse, but it’s too late already and any effort to ameliorate it would destroy the economy!”… as they backpedal and dodge and weave, have one word in your hip pocket. TWODA.

But again. The most effective thing to raise is ocean acidification. It won’t convert them! No logic or facts can do that. But at least you’ll get a giggle when they point offstage and yell “squirrel!”

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Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetric—it’s not about physics… but politics

Back when I published research on optical ellipsometry, “polarization” seemed an innocent-enough term — and indeed, lately there have been applications that let us peer into the very origins of the universe. Alas though, more and more, we hear talk about a polarization of politics — especially in the USA – that has destroyed a great nation’s ability to argue fairly, negotiate pragmatically, and forge the sort of effective compromise solutions that enabled past generations to keep moving ahead.

The worst aspect of all this has been the devolution of politics into cliches, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward science… along with every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. And not all of it from the right! The far-left contains plenty of anti-modernists.

But why?

 Isaac Asimov once commented: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Or take this from another commenter: “Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favor of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.”

Hm, replace “bumper sticker” with “snarky Facebook Jpegs.” This depressing article — America Dumbs Down — in Canada’s MacLeans Magazine certainly offers a litany of statistics suggesting that at-minimum, the citizens of the United States are splitting in twain — with half the country going out o’ its ever-luvin’ mind.

== Do I sound depressed? ==

In this new article, America’s Cult of Ignorance is No Match for Asia’s Cult of Intelligence, Texas professor John W. Traphagan suggests that this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. Other nations are not sabotaging themselves this way, they are pushing education, intellect and admiration for accomplishment:

“It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.”

Polarization-politicsSo… Is there any way out of this third phase of the American Civil War? Both sides are more politicized these days, but it’s not equal.

A recent Pew study of the American political landscape breaks down the population into eight groups, seven of them engaged in politics at least to a degree and the other mostly on the sidelines. Three are highly ideological and politically engaged — two that lean to the Republicans, one to the Democrats. Four other groups are “less partisan and less predictable” in their political views, what the study calls a “fragmented center” that poses challenges for both major parties:

“The most loyal followers of the Republican Party account for about one-fifth of the total population, more than a quarter of registered voters and more than one-third of politically engaged Americans. The Pew study labels these two Republican groups as “business conservatives” and “steadfast conservatives,” writes Dan Balz in The Washington Post. Almost nine in 10 people in each group are white, and about six in 10 in each group are men. Two-thirds of steadfast conservatives are 50 or older…” The study also appraise divisions among liberals and leftists.

See: Yes, Polarization is Asymmetrical…and Conservatives are Worse — in The Atlantic.

Personally, though I respect Pew, I find their categories silly to the point of uselessness. For reasons I go into, elsewhere. Nevertheless, the article is interesting.

politics-outrge== The Good Billionaires ==

Smart billionaires are worried. They see their own their own futures being endangered by the dumb billionaires. Those who got rich by paying attention to trends — like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… and Warren Buffett… are starting to see a truly scary prospect on the horizon. Torches and pitchforks. Or one word that says it all (look it up).

“Tumbrels.”

The dire, freedom-wrecking consequences of wealth disparity were discussed long ago by Adam Smith. They were the root cause of both the French and American revolutions — one of which resolved the situation with moderation, the other with self-defeating pain. And the tradeoff is starkly portrayed in an article by billionaire Nick Hanauer, on Politico: The Pitchforks are Coming…for us Plutocrats:

Hanauer-tumbrels-capitalism“Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”

This kind of “smart billionaire” will be our secret weapon, in the fight for our Great Experiment to continue.

Nor is Hanauer alone. We know that most of the tech billionaires have joined Warren Buffet in rejecting the winner-takes-all mantra of Fox-style economics. But how about midwest agri-business leaders?

Greg Page is executive chairman and former CEO of Cargill, Inc., the largest private company in the U.S. Page participated in the high-level “Risk Committee” of top business leaders that forecast the U.S. economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change.

page-climate-change Page describes the northward movement of the American agricultural belt. As average temperatures have risen over the past decades, the growing season in the northern plains has grown, while heat waves further south have baked America’s traditional agriculture producing states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

==Looking for Solutions==

What can the rest of us do?

lesterlandMayday PAC was started by my colleague, Professor Lawrence Lessig (founder of Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America’s political system. Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics — they have five days left to meet their goal.

Start with the TED talk by Professor Lessig called “Lesterland” — a program detailed in his book, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption — “a map for a democracy we could reclaim.”

Or view Steve Wozniak’s 3-minute video: America’s Operating System is Broken.

I am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.

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Can Citizens Become a Political Force?

Is there one thing that an average US citizen can do, right now, to help end the current phase of America’s ongoing civil war?

may-day-pac-lessigOnly a few days are left in the crowd-funding campaign for Lawrence Lessig’s citizen-centered Super Pac: MAYDAY-PAC. Aimed at changing the playing field, so that raw money is less of a force in U.S. politics.

Mayday PAC was started by my colleague, Professor Lawrence Lessig (co-founder of Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America’s political system.

You are summoned! To spend one minute – in a minuteman-tradition – to make a difference.  Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics — they have five days left to meet their goal.

lesterlandStart with the excellent 2013 TED talk by Professor Lessig called “We the People …and the Republic We Must Reclaim” — with over a million views.

Lessig’s ideas are further expounded in his ebook, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption — “a map for a democracy we could reclaim.”

USA-lesterland-lessigSummarized by Lessig: “Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government. These “Lesters” determine this critical first election in every election cycle—the money election. Without them, few believe they have any chance to win. And certainly, neither party believes it can achieve a majority without answering the special demands these “funders” make. Our Congress has thus become dependent upon these funders. In this sense, we are now “Lesterland.””

Or view Steve Wozniak’s 3-minute video: America’s Operating System is Broken.

Lessig-take-back-democracyI am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.

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Viral Video – for those who like ideas

In this golden era of public speaking, “chatauqua” style presentations range from enlightening (e.g. the best TED talks) to absurd flim-flam (e.g. the worst TED talks)… all the way to the hilariously on-target Onion Talks. I’ve certainly been kept busy in this new century, giving blather that — I suppose — spans that entire range. Now, two of my best recent talks are available, online!

1. Otherness: Will we supply our own new diversity? Suppose we don’t meet aliens. Might we satisfy our thirst for “otherness” anyway, by widening the range of who “we” are? The greatest discovery of recent, scientific civilization has been tolerance. Inclusion of all types, races, genders of people as full citizens, contributing fresh perspectives and wisdom. That task of expansion is not complete! But already we’re discussing the next phases. Incorporating intelligences that are artificial, or human variants, or uplifted animals. What are the dangers and opportunities?

Othereness-Smithsonian-Brin

Explore these Big Ideas along with David Brin’s assumption-shattering talk at the Smithsonian, in May 2014.

Alas, the editors of this slide-heavy talk chose to focus mostly on me and my boring face, which may prevent you from making out the illustrations. But you can follow along on Slideshare! Just open the window alongside and click along with me. (Some overlays and animations don’t play.)

2. “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?” My talk at TEDxUCSD finally offers a public version of this disturbing notion I’ve been discussing for years — that an unseen addiction is destroying our civilization.

TEDxUCSD-Indignation

For a generation, we’ve been taught that the best way to deal with any problem – personal or national or worldwide – is to get mad as hell!

plague-sanctimonyRecent science exposes this as a scam that has produced the most disastrously addictive force in civilization…. a veritable plague of sanctimony that is pushed by cynical media, selling fear while poisoning our native ability to negotiate with one-another.

Oh, certainly problems sometimes merit indignation! But are we abandoning our greatest gift – the ability to actually solve problems?

Again, the TED-itors chose to emphasize my boring face. So here are the slides.  (Most multi-layer and animated slides don’t flow; you’ll just have to imagine!) And see links to some other cool videos, below.

== The ideas get even deeper! ==

Closer-To-Truth-David-BrinRobert Kuhn’s television series Closer To Truth “gives you access to the world’s greatest thinkers exploring humanity’s deepest questions. Discover the fundamental issues of existence. Enjoy new ways of thinking. Appreciate diverse views. Witness intense debates. Express your own opinions. Seek your own answers. Get smarter.” Wow… that’s a pretty hefty promise! So why not check out this fabulous series, now fully available online!

I contributed a few bits to the program, on topics ranging from cosmology and SETI to religion to ESP. My segments – sorted by show episode and category – can be found here.

But scan the impressive lists of other folks Kuhn interviewed, some of them WAY smarter than me! Such as David Deutsch, Freeman Dyson and Francisco Ayala. Mind-blowing stuff.

== What does it take to be “ethical?” ==

Elsewhere, the topic came up… to what extent is it fair to judge men and women of the past by OUR modern moral standards? And to what extent does that set us up for rebuke by much better descendants?

Certainly some who engage in the modern drug high of sanctimony chide their neighbors partly to lower their own “karma” … but also as a kind of aggression. (See my video on this: cited above!)

And yet the world does need to be saved! And we owe much to heroes who stood up — in days past — to question the “common wisdom” of their own times, when it came to racism, sexism, classism or environmental neglect.

Salk-Good-ancestorThere is a litmus that I apply to historical figures and I am willing to see it applied to myself.  Yes, they were products of their times — as am I.  Hence, what I ask is “did you try to be at least two standard deviations BETTER than your times?”

Did you try — and succeed — to shift the momentum or arc of your times in better directions?  By that metric, Thomas Jefferson gets some added slack and Abraham Lincoln is let completely out of purgatory.  Sure it’s self-serving. This standard lets me continue to eat meat, for example, so long it is judicious and sparing and I keep a nagging conscience affecting how I behave as a much-reduced carnivore. And so long as I am part of the movement to keep applying pressure for better empathy and treatment of animals… plus the technological push for tissue culture meaticulture that may take away the ethical conflict with our evolved natures… I don’t feel too guilt-wracked.

Or is that rationalization? Sure, my pisco vegetarian wife has better karma than I do. She’ll live longer, too! I expect I’ll reevaluate next year… and the next.

Likewise, I fight for a better world hard enough to know that I am trying and I cannot be judged as not having cared… yet I still fly in airplanes, drive a car.  I’m not in this to lord my virtuous nature over others, nor to win your approval.  I am in it to be (as Jonas Salk demanded) a “good ancestor.”

== Other Cool Media ==

The brainiac philosophers at “A Partially Examined Life” have posted both the two hour podcast of our interview and their followup notes. “What’s the point of thinking? David Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are.”

I tried hard to offer my best stuff since these are the alphas who actually did something with their philosophy majors! Maybe I tried too hard to impress em. Did talk a mile a minute, trying to cover a lot?

And now… here are the cliffs of Torrey Pines north of San Diego .  These men release their  hawks, and then soar with them. way cool.

Of Buddies, Offpspring and Artificial Mythology: A stunningly beautiful video/art riff by renowned artist Bob Vanderbob contains this background remark — “These (are) times of accelerating change, ill-defined angst, collective paralysis , anger and all sorts of regressive behavior. Times that are scary but also full of potential. It is important that we stay calm. One way to do that is to put our lives into perspective. Look at the big picture. That is what mythology does.” — while he presents images that are gorgeously evocative and thought-provoking.

Your Digital AfterLives: Here’s an interesting rumination, by Eric Steinhart, on the notion that we may be living in a simulation. Some subtleties.

== Miscellany ==

overstepping-artifacts Overstepping Artifacts, by Musicians with Guns, is a way-cool video that illustrates another great riff on fractal space. I’d love to use this as a basis for the ever-changing metal corals under the seas of Kithrup, in a Startide Rising flick.

See MyDream: a cool build-your-own universe/world game system recently funded on kickstarter.  It seems compatible with what Sheldon Brown and I have been working on… the Exorarium Project.

Are indoor shopping malls vanishing? No new one has been built in the US since 2006 and maybe half of them might disappear soon. For a generation, they were our town square. By all appearances (especially in the age of video arcades) in may be that GenX was the best of all times to be young and hang out.

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So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

Get ready, because I am about to use a concept from Basic Calculus to reveal to you Americans out there a lie that you’ve been taught to believe – almost all of you. No matter which party you support, you “know” one thing about their attitudes and behavior… how Republicans and Democrats differ toward deficit spending. Alas, what you “know” is exactly opposite to what is true.

BUDGET-DEFICITLet’s start with the fact that the U.S. posted a $130 billion budget deficit in May and the smallest shortfall for the first eight months of a fiscal year since 2008, as a stronger economy and rising employment bolster revenue. This trend reiterates a core difference between the two major U.S. political parties, when it comes to federal budgetary responsibility.

Okay, here it is:

The crucial 2nd derivative of debt… the pace at which the rate-of-change of the federal deficit is itself changing… either moving toward fiscal disaster or away from it… has been positive (toward accelerating debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower.

In stark and dramatic contrast – that crucial metric is always negative (deceleration) every year of every Democratic administration.

Let that sink in, because it is diametrically opposite to the rhetoric and propaganda and fulminations that have become accepted “truthy” notions in our minds. So? Are you a slave of truisms? Or are you capable of noticing facts that stare you in the face, and are nearly always true?

Why is the 2nd derivative more valid than – say – looking at the simple size of this year’s budget deficit? Because our fiscal situation carries momentum from actions taken three or five years ago, even a decade. Stepping on the brakes does not instantly stop your hurtling car — it decelerates your rush toward that cliff. The 2nd derivative tells you – almost instantly – whether an administration is at least trying to be fiscally responsible.

 

420px-FederalDebt1940to2012.svg

Let’s examine the 2nd derivative of debt in action. Have a look at this chart of the US federal deficit as a fraction of the nation’s GDP. Wherever the curve is seen to be turning, go ahead and guesstimate a rough CENTER to that stretch of curve. Of course things are bumpy, so a little subjective smoothing is called for, shrugging off blips. But if, across any 3 to five year span, the center point of your curve lies ABOVE, then the nation’s debt is on a worsening track.

Second-derivative-federal-deficit-us

If the center of the curve is BELOW, then there’s an improving trend, decelerating an arterial hemorrhage, so that it starts to curve back down, or even moving toward surplus. Think convex versus concave.

Now recall that GOP administrations began in 1969, 1981, 1989 and 2001. Democratic administrations began in 1977, 1993 and 2009. Now go draw your curves, find those center points. It truly is amazing!

Let me reiterate. The rate of rate of change of debt is positive (toward reckless debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration (post Eisenhower). It is negative (building momentum toward prudence) in every year of every democratic administration, (post Johnson).

BUDGET-DEFICITNow add in this bald-faced fact. That Bush Administration accounting tricks deliberately kept the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars “off the books” for half a decade, letting them finally slam the formal deficit just when economic mismanagement sent the economy into hell, leaving behind a mess that included hyper-velocity debt. In other words, the 2006-2007 “dip” is a lie.

Likewise “Congress controls the purse strings” is a silly excuse. The GOP controlled Congress both for 6 years before Bill Clinton left office and for 6 years after. Yet the 2nd Derivative was negative in the first six and swung sharply positive the very instant a GOP president replaced him, and Clinton could no longer veto the annual Supply Side Voodoo Economics Bill, opening our arteries to the (non) “job-creator caste.”

This is not just overwhelming, this rule correlates so perfectly that it seems almost at the level of physical law. Hence, any “fiscal conservative” who supports the GOP – no matter what the rationalization – would have to be either stupid or out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.

== Perspective time ==

I am libertarian enough to want budgets that are relatively balanced. Yes, a small amount of deficit spending is harmless and probably stimulating, especially if spent on national underpinnings like children and infrastructure. A moderate amount can be written off by tipping the scales toward slight inflation. Still, most economists think that a combined national/corporate/personal debt greater than 300% of GDP is in a Problem Zone, and I don’t disagree.

On the other hand, we have already seen how bizarre it is for the American right to fetish on debt, when every post-Eisenhower GOP president sent deficits skyrocketing and every demo prez fought them back under control.

140531-02

 

But is the United States an especially spendthrift and debtor nation? Look at this chart and you decide. It’s possible… just possible… that there are other matters that deserve equal footing on our national agenda. Like problem solving  and becoming a scientific and advanced nation again.

And putting people to work preventing 60,000 defective bridges from falling down.

== The underlying agenda? ==

In fact, the current U.S. budget shortfall would be well in the safe zone, were it not for the lingering Bush tax cuts for the uber-rich (and residual effects from Bushite wars). It would be one thing if Supply Side assurances (“the cuts will pay for themselves as job-creators invest!”) ever came true… even once, in the decades since the Laffer Cult sprouted. But that voodoo never came true. Ever. Not one prediction. Even once. But it is still pushed. Wonder why?

== The oligarchs step up ==

SECRET-SUMMITSIn what might have been a scene taken from the pages of EXISTENCE, 250 individuals flew into London for a conclave of the world’s richest people and estates, with the formal agenda of preventing revolution by making capitalist societies more inclusive.  Their combined assets, estimated at $30 trillion — amount to roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world. If money is power, then this is the most powerful group of people ever to focus on income inequality.

The titans of commerce and finance didn’t necessarily fly to this meeting in London out of a sense of ethics or moral duty, though that may be a motivation for some. For many, says conference organizer Lynn Forester de Rothschild, it’s a sense of self-preservation. Capitalism appears to be under siege.  “It’s true that the business of business is not to solve society’s problems,” she says. “But it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one of society’s problems. And that is where we are today.”

Question: were there meetings behind the open meetings, as I depict in fiction? Well?  Do any of YOU out there, reading this, happen to know?

Here’s the deal. These are the good billionaires! Here’s another secret confab, one that is endearingly free of any “help the world” rationalizations: Secret Summit: 24 Hours with the Koch Brothers.

== Ah, statistics… ==

Okay. If you can’t beat em…

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling (ie Hookers & Blow) will be part of Italy’s GDP as of 2014, and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

== And finally, the Big Lie propaganda about the American Revolution ==

Franklin-taxSaid Ben Franklin: “The Colonies would gladly have borne the little Tax on tea and other matters had it not been the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament, which has caused in the Colonies hatred of England and the Revolutionary War.”

The notion that the American Revolution was somehow against “government” and “taxation” in general, and not – as all the Founders said – against oligarchy and rule by monopolists and feudal lords – is among the most hilarious conflations and orwellian propaganda campaigns of our lifetimes.

 

 

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Can the Ocean solve the sky’s problems? Can youth “cure” old age?

== Are the only answers puritanism and efficiency? ==

Amid all the sturm und drang over climate change, and whether to try “geo-engineering” or ban even discussing such alternatives, it seems that polemics had trumped science. Leaving “progress” to be done in a fly-by-night fashion.

GEO-ENGINEERINGHas ocean fertilization been proved? Early indications may be spectacular. I’ve long favored careful experiments in this one kind of “geo-engineering,” which simply replicates nature by providing missing elements to some of the vast (90%) of ocean zones that are nutrient poor deserts, almost devoid of life. A senseless enviro-puritan reflex has blocked these experiments, which are inherently retractable — and which I portrayed way back in EARTH (1989). Frustrated by this excessive eco-prudity, a Native American tribe in British Columbia financed the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific in 2012, hoping to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.

That is what appears to have happened, on a stunning scale, starting with the expected plankton bloom. The following year – (according to Robert Zubrin, whose notoriety comes from promoting Mars colonization) – “the number of salmon caught in the northeast Pacific more than quadrupled, going from 50 million to 226 million. In the Fraser River, which only once before in history had a salmon run greater than 25 million fish (about 45 million in 2010), the number of salmon increased to 72 million.”

These numbers appear to be confirmed … though I welcome participatory research from you folks! Please help our group mind to follow up on this! If any cause-effect can be supported, it would seem to offer very strong reason to pursue further experiments in this nature, which promise better side effects than any other palliative measure (e.g. more food from vitalized fisheries) while pulling carbon from the air.

Read this article in the conservative National Review, where Zubrin offers up quotations from enviro-obstinates that reveal embarrassing political and mental obduracy on the farthest-left. Only also know this, that Rob Zubrin cherry-picked these quotations, which are extrema from a spectrum wherein most environmentalists are in-fact reasonable people. Rob is a vigorous and interesting fellow — I like him — but also a rigidly dogmatic person of the very far-right, which comes out in his article, veering into realms of denialist crackpottery.

Working your way through it will be a test of your ability to pluck (many) pearls from (a lot of) manure. Learn to do that… and that similar ratios sometimes are seen on the other side.

militancyMust this always be our fate? Having to pick our way through an opinion-minefield, between opposing, simplistic militancies? A pragmatically progressive civilization would shrug off both eco-puritans and fanatical climate denialists and seek precious positive-sum opportunities. We need to explore this one — this potential win-win of ocean enhancement — swiftly and carefully. Or else it will be done in the dead of night, from boats that dump “fertilizer” without oversight or scientific supervision.

Noteworthy is this parallel – 10,000 years ago we learned to irrigate and make deserts bloom with crops. Add water to land, and life burgeons… but add it WRONG and you poison the Fertile Crescent with salts and make desert. What you need is drainage to ensure that the water you are adding will ALSO wash salts away.  That’s the difference between the Euphrates Valley, which was chokes by poor drainage, and the Ganges and Nile which are still fertile after 5000 years of irrigation.

The way to look at ocean-fertiization is doing the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.  In fact, it’s been happening for quite some time and lessons have been learned. Agricultural runoff “feeds” life in the sea, all right. When it spills into vigorous ocean currents, there’s no visible harm. But when when there’s inadequate oxygen and circulation, you get algae blooms that bring death. The Black Sea is a horror story: virtually dead. Parts of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are also in trouble.

But fertilize into very strong currents that are rich in Oxygen? That is exactly like well-drained irrigation. It works, if carefully watched.  At least, that is a reasonable interpretation of all that we can see. Why not do the validation experiments scientifically and openly, instead of leaving this to fly-by-nighters?

== Can innovation help? ==

canals1Folks have been commenting on whether we will have “solar roads.” I find the notion silly. No place has more wear and tear than a road surface. Come on people.

The place to put massive numbers of solar panels, when we truly have the next economy of scale breakthrough, is as roofs over the California Aqueduct. There is no place as perfect. Nearly total sun. The transmission lines have an existing right of way, and savings from evaporation would nearly pay for it all. This has been done for a canal in the state of Gujarat in India (pictured).

== Bio wonders! ==

It sounds like something out of a comic book or a science fiction movie – the first report of a successful biological laser based on a single, living cell. The fan who wrote to tell me about this commented: “It only took thirty-one years, but Culla’s eyes in Sundiver are becoming a reality.”

Okay! I’m not sure this counts for full points in the Predictions Registry. But partial credit is fine… for now.

Meanwhile…

LIFEFORMScientists have made living organisms that use SIX nucleotides – the familiar GATC… plus X and Y. They need to be fed special X & Y bearing foods or they die. Many in the press are fretting this is bad news for keeping scientific progress accountable…

…when in fact it is the very opposite!  This is absolutely terrific news! If this pans out, it means we’ll be able to keep a much tighter rein on our laboratory creations by creating lines of organisms that absolutely rely upon supplies of nutrients that cannot get, outside of the lab. Why is it that no one ever sees the good side of discoveries?

Oh, then there is this: is cancer about to be knocked down several notches?

== Icky-scary… yet intriguing! ==

Only, here’s the ickiest-scariest science news of the month: “New studies show that young blood reverses effects of aging when put into older mice.” Argh, the images this brings to mind!! Creepy old billionaires craving the revitalizing blood of pre-teenagers!

Of course it doesn’t have to go Hollywood. I am about to be awarded my ten-gallon hat when I reach my 80th blood donation and young people could get college money in exchange for donating five times a year, without the slightest harm. This might be a lot less scary than I fear. In fact, it may lead to great things.

But at first sight, it is a really trashy sci fi flick scenario, come true! (Note countries with a skewed old-to-young ratio might be in trouble.)

In fact, it just gets creepier! Note HOW the researchers got this result. By co-joining the old and young circulatory systems for weeks! Apparently just a pint or two doesn’t do it. You need access to the younger creature’s kidneys! And it isn’tt just the oldster getting “younger”… the youngster gets OLDER!

“But for the young mice, getting old blood was a definite setback. When conjoined to an older mouse, the creation of new cells in the young mouse slowed. Old blood seemed to cause premature aging.”

Okay, okay, we are back in really scary territory. The only way this won’t go very badly is if zillionaires live in The Transparent Society. I mean it. Without an open world, old Struldbrugs will be sending out minions and snatching young people off the streets.

Oh, and science. Pray this news is analyzed and replicated artificially and cheaply, real soon. I’d like that.

== Pertinent Miscellany ==

Since the late 1980s, teen pregnancy rates dropped 51 percent by 2010 and the teen abortion rate declined 66 percent and the teen birthrate declined 44 decreased. Teen pregnancy rates declined in all 50 states. New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate of 80 per 1,000 women, followed by Mississippi at 76 per 1,000 women and Texas at 73 per 1,000 women; while the lowest rate was in New Hampshire with 28 per 1,000 women, Vermont at 32 per 1,000 women and Minnesota at 36. (Um… who is in a position to lecture us, morally?)

A new type of 3D printer developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh can turn raw wool and wool blend yarns into fabric objects that people might enjoy touching.

In the category of I Kid You Not… Argentina’s INTA governmental research body has developed cow backpacks that use a tube from the cattle’s rumen leading to a bag, to trap the methane they produce in order to turn it into green energy. You’d think this a joke, till you realize its 250 liters of methane a day. Question. At some point do they float away? Or by accident rocket away?

Google wants to create a fully, 100 percent self-driving vehicle — something that needs no human being at the steering wheel — the company is building a car without a steering wheel. 100 cars will be in the first run. Google X — the inventor’s central within the company that is (among other things) creating balloon-borne internet broadband hubs — has “started developing prototype vehicles that actually are built from the ground up to be fully self-driving.” says a lead developer at Google X, Chris Umson, working with Dmitri Dolgov. The car has a steel frame to protect passengers, but the front face is made of a soft foam that causes less damage in an accident. It’ll go no faster than 25 mph, and focuses on city street driving.

Sven Beiker, a professor at Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research, doesn’t think he’s going to see a fully self-driving car in his professional lifetime. “Right now in, the year 2014, we’re just making the steps towards partial automation. That means the driver still needs to be in the loop,” he says.

Google engineers have developed a simulated quantum computer called Quantum Computing Playground that allows you to write, run, and debug software using quantum algorithms.

The use of C60 (fullerene) nanorods, which have unique optoelectronic properties, including high electron mobility, photosensitivity, and conductivity, could make possible low-cost medical and security cameras that would empower even cell phones or Penny Cams, or micro probes inside the body.

 

 

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