Amid fretful resignation, we learn of the likely loss of the magnificent Kepler mission...which discovered as many as three thousand planets beyond our solar system. (About 10% of them now confirmed.) Only two of the four gyro systems are still working, not enough for the probe to aim at more than a hundred thousand stars with uncanny accuracy, each day. While this will be a sad loss, the epoch introduced by the Kepler Mission bodes well for you understanding of the universe.
Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) and I have both agreed and disagreed about transparency, for years. In his posting, Crime and Privacy, he has opined, for example, that “Ironically, the more the government clamps down on individual privacy, the more freedom the residents will have. When the government can detect every sort of crime, it will be forced by public opinion and by resource constraints to legalize anything it can detect but can’t stop.”
Optimism is so out of fashion these days, on both the left and the right, that - ironically - a guarded optimism has become the natural state for any genuine contrarian. I could try to ignore that reflex and stay true to my natural dour cynicism. But facts are lining up with those who see light at the end of the tunnel. For example, I often cite Professor Steven Pinker's proof (The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined) that on average, per capita levels of violence have declined steeply (if unevenly) around the world every decade since 1945.
Baseball fans, here’s a unique (true?) tale of how - just after World War II - a baseball team consisting of Stratford-on-Avon actors and ex-POWs would dress in Elizabethan blouses and crush teams from nearby US air bases. “A dream team “with Paul Robeson (Othello) on first base, Sam Wanamaker (Iago) on second, Laurence Olivier (Coriolanus) on third and Peter O’Toole (Shylock) at shortstop.
We'll start this time with CHASING ICE —a documentary by and about one of the world's greatest adventurers, who spent years with his brave & hardy team designing, building and setting up some of the world's toughest cameras to endure the planet's harshest environments, all to track by time-lapse whether glaciers are growing or shrinking. It's spectacular to watch, long before you finally get to see the hard-won footage.
Straight from the pages of Existence… though sooner than I expected… researchers now claim to have the entire Neanderthal genome in published form, as clear as that of “any person on the street.” Okay, start your countdown till someone announces she is pregnant with… That will be a real boat-rocker…
...but there are other events on the near horizon that may be more important to saving our world.
I haven’t said much political in a while. Moreover, amid all the talk of budget balancing and sequesters, I’d like to shift attention to a topic that may - at first sight - seem a bit wonkish and detached: farm subsidies. In fact, they are an area where Blue America remains frightfully ignorant and where the flood of entitlement spending merits closer attention, in times of near bankruptcy.
That’s like asking: Which of your children do you like best? Glory Season is my brave, indomitable daughter. The Postman is my courageous, civilization-saving son. Earth is the child who combined science and nature to become a planet. The Uplift War…well, I never had a better character than Fiben the earthy-intellectual chimp!
Mention George Soros anywhere on the far-right and you’ll get fulminations. To Republicans, Soros is an aristocratic mastermind who swore to “spend whatever it takes” to end the Bush-Neocons’ grip on political power in America… a vile plutocrat, striving to trample the will of plain-folks, along with the populist GOP that protects them. Glenn Beck railed to his audience, calling Soros the "Great Oligarch" and a master manipulator "who toppled eight foreign governments." (The one thing Beck never mentioned, and that - tellingly and symptomatically - not one member of Beck's vast following ever asked, was "which eight foreign governments did George Soros help to topple?" Tune in at the very end for the amazing answer.)
Yesterday morning I was diverted to serve a stint as astronomy pundit - on BBC - regarding or planet's double encounter with asteroids. Wow. As one asteroid about 50 meters across zipped by earth, closer even than our communication satellites, another (probably just ten meters in size) gave up more energy than an atomic bomb … gradually, thank heavens, but right over a city in the Russian Urals… briefly outshining the sun and shattering hundreds of windows. My job on-air was to reassure that there would be no dangerous radiation… that in fact, bolides like this one seem to strike our planet once or twice a decade or so, but always till now over open ocean or deserts or countryside. (In the 1970s one such event, off Japan, almost triggered a rise in DEFCON alert level at the US NORAD!)
I came from a family of writers and always figured that storytelling would be my artistic side-line… most scientists have one. I knew science would be harder that storytelling and I respected it more, drawn to the Enlightenment’s greatest project. After all, every culture has had storytellers, but only one ever invested heavily in training a myriad brave investigators to find out heartofthecometwhat’s actually true, despite our preconceptions
Want a scary story about the near future of you and your money on the internet… and the future of e-commerce? Try this from Mark Anderson, one of the top tech business pundits around, in the newsletter of the Strategic News Service
Why the U.S. Civil War -relates to Sci Fi. Each night in November we watched Ken Burns's CIVIL WAR documentary with our 16 year old. A terrific work of high-class, dramatic and enriching media, very highly recommended. Still, I felt the documentary was a bit light on the underlying causes of a national trauma that is resonating within and among Americans.
Does science fiction owe a “duty” to the past? I’ve long pondered: might the field better have been named Speculative History? First: SF authors read more history than science (only a few of us know very much about the latter). Second, almost everything we do is about extending, or extrapolating, or pondering alterations in the grand, sweeping epic of humanity. Even when zooming down to the private angst of one narrow life, we in this genre remain keenly aware of the context - our shared drama and the poignancy of change. I’ll talk some more about this below… and in my next posting…
I enjoy a habit of contrarian-poking at overused assumptions. Especially the hoary nostrum that humanity is not improving. Elsewhere I take on one aspect of this cynical calumny, where folks sadly shake their heads over how "our ethics haven't kept pace with technology." What malarkey. What stunning ability to ignore all we have done in the last 60 years.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I favor immigration reform, under the general outlines that have been proposed both by President Obama and the recent bipartisan committee in the US Senate. After a shellacking at the polls, Republicans now seem ready to join in resolving an array of issues. Still, I'm less interested in discussing this consensus than factors that the public may not know about.
I have been asked to post a few “David Brin Classics”.... some of my older riffs and rants… here online for a new generation to share and ponder. I’ve been mulling which ones. Then the topic of the Second Amendment and gun control recently came up. Along with the observation that some liberals are starting to nurse fantasies of needing to be armed, themselves, in the era that they see coming down the road.
As for the recent launch of a satellite by North Korea, upon a rocket with clear intercontinental potential, I can only repeat my earlier recommendation to the U.S. Administration. One important part of the solution to the “North Korea problem” would arise by announcing that the Hermit Kingdom’s actions will all be attributed and accounted to the legal responsibility of its biggest supporter, enabler and protector.
Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets — rather it destroys entire markets.” So reads the final line of a report released by the Republican Study Committee of the House of Representatives that is highly critical of current copyright law
First some nostalgia for the future! Need that gift for your nerdy sci fi friend? Underbrain offers T-shirts, mugs and caps with all sorts of logos from David Brin’s Uplift Universe - symbols of the Five Galaxies, dolphins & chimps posing for the Uplift Center, and the Terragens Marines patch! And the Eye-Q symbol for the Quantum Eye oracle computer in Existence. Got civilization? This will ensure that you do!
Its apoco-raining this weekend in San Francisco, proving that the transhumanists neither see the future clear enough to choose a nice weekend nor have magical evil powers over the natural world. But they do put on incredibly fascinating parties at wild warehouse-cum-commune spaces full of smart technophiles. We had to drag ourselves back in to the conference this morning so we wouldn’t miss Andrea Kuscewski, David Pearce, Ben Goertzel, Jamais Cascio, Ramez Naam and the others folks speaking today.