Thursday, May 25, 2017

On Voter Fraud, Immigration, and Economic Disparity

== The New “Voter Fraud” Commission ==

As usual, Democrats are right to complain… and they are doing it all wrong.

President Trump declared a commission aimed at justifying his unfounded voter fraud claims.  (“Millions cast illegal ballots, giving Hillary Clinton her huge popular vote margin.”) But instead of appointing a blue-ribbon, bipartisan committee of nationally respected sages, the commission will be spearheaded by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, often tied to white nationalists.

Riiight.  Go to Kansas - by far the worst governed state in the Union - for wisdom. I'll get back to that, later.

To be clear, I have never objected to gradually ramping up requirements that voters show ID. (See my earlier,more extensive postings on this.) But we need to bear in mind:

(1) There is no factual evidence that this is a major problem requiring urgent-rapid action. Voter fraud has repeatedly been shown to be almost nonexistent.

(2) Other forms of cheating are either blatant -- gerrymandering -- or seem extremely likely - e.g. many red states use voting machines that cannot be audited and are made by known-rabid rightwing partisans.

(3) There is a simple test as to whether red state GOP legislators pushing voter ID laws are sincere, or attempting bald-faced suppression of US citizens exercising their rights.  What is that simple test? When red states pass these restrictions, do they also allocate money for compliance assistance

Whenever the federal government – or most states – apply new regs upon business, there is almost always some provision offering those businesses help in complying with the new regs. Sometimes the help is modest, often it is substantial. But the principle is well-established. Moreover, if a new regulation’s impact hits small fry hard – like mom and pop establishments – then the calls for compliance assistance are compelling!

So, here’s the simple test. Have any of the GOP-led state legislatures who passed stiff voter ID laws also alloted funds to help poor citizens to get the IDs they need? It's a win-win, since getting clear ID will also help poor folks to do banking, establish businesses and lift themselves out of poverty. A concerted effort to help a state’s citizens get ID would be both beneficial and prove that those legislatures were sincere. It would refute the accusation that these laws have one sole purpose – cheating.

Okay, here’s the crux. The on-off switch. The total fact that proves criminality and treason. Not one of these red states have passed even a single penny of compliance assistance, to accompany a stiff, new regulatory burden they slapped on their poorest and most vulnerable citizens.  In fact, many of these red – no, they must be called gray – states went on a binge of closing DMV offices “to save money,” mostly in poor or democratic-leaning counties. They made compliance with their own law harder. Deliberately much harder.

Hence the indictment is proved. As it is with the utterly laughable-hypocritical “commission” that Donald Trump just appointed.  They are exposed as liars. Cheaters. Betrayers. Hypocrites and traitors. Confederates.

== Disparities in wealth.. and lifespan ==

Want the wealth disparity problem brought starkly home? Look at this chart. Then ponder what one worried analyst wrote, in late April:

"What is interesting is that whereas Mr. Trump was elected (partly) because he promised to improve the condition of the American worker, since his election, the 0.1% have gained the most as the stock market capitalization has increased by over $2 trillion. Therefore, by now the wealth of the top 0.1% should exceed the wealth of the bottom 90% for the first time since 1941. Remarkably, the recent pronouncements by Trump and coterie suggest that they equate the stock market strength with a strong economy as well…."

Notice how the blue line started surging upward, in tandem with the red line's fall, with the arrival of Ronald Reagan's tax cuts on passive capital gains. 

Tell me. Do you actually think the crushed middle class will continue to drink the plantation lords' koolaid -- the soothing rhetoric that the beneficiaries of this trend aren't the ones to blame for it?

 Lifespan disparities among the races have been narrowing (in the U.S.). Good news... though that may change. Meanwhile, lifespan disparities have been increasing geographically. Look at the map. Now squint and correlate it with our red-blue divide. Several observations:  (1) Appalachia and the Olde South got huge help from FDR, then Kennedy and Johnson, and these disparities declined. (2) They started climbing again directly after the arrival of Nixon-Reagan and the installation of GOP governments in those states.

Indeed, look at the fiscal condition of states like booming, creative and budget-balanced California vs disasters like Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and...

There is something called Outcomes Correlation. When outcomes so clearly correlate with policies, that doesn't prove the policies were responsible for the outcomes. But it does create that presumption. It shifts the burden of proof onto those who hold otherwise. In this case, the correlation suggests that citizens of these states should recall why their parents adored FDR and Kennedy and Johnson.

It suggests that they have been very badly governed by their GOP state leaders, whose confederate policies (favoring rich plantation lords) might be discredited compared to policies that show blue states doing ever-better.  Outcomes appraisal should "trump" left-right dogmas or identity-populism. Outcomes appraisal is a sign that you are sapient, capable of examining what's in your self- interest.

What's in your outcomes-correlated self-interest? To never trust a Republican Politician with a burnt match, ever, ever again.

See outcomes appraised in some detail, if you dare: Do outcomes matter more than rhetoric?

== Kansas, Kansas, doodle doo ==

Oh, I promised a further thought about Dorothy's home state.

Almost hidden in the announcement of a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia -- in which Trump treasonously swore to help the sheiks and princes 'get a great deal' from U.S. companies -- is a small matter of industrial shift.  Using Saudi money as a cudgel, Trump coerced agreement from Boeing, Lockheed etc to move production from blue states to red ones, at least partially, with Kansas the biggest beneficiary.

Sure, this is partly just more mean-minded politics.  While Democrats in power sent heaps of blue state generated money (and NASA centers) into Appalachia and the South as part of anti poverty programs, Republicans push cash flows in the same direction as a matter of pure spite and vengeance, with California and New York special targets.

 But there's a particular reason to single out Kansas for this latest huge largesse. You see, under Sam Brownback, the GOP-led state government there doubled down on "Supply Side (voodoo) Economics," slashing taxes on the rich while chopping services for the middle class and poor. The theory posits that giving gushers of gifts to the aristocracy will stimulate economic activity so much that it will erase deficits. In fact, SSVE has never worked. Once. Ever. At all. Anywhere or at any time.

Sure enough, Kansas is now drowning in debt, bankruptcies, ruined schools and collapsing infrastructure. KS voters punished the GOP in the last election, but nowhere near as much as seems likely, next time. Worse yet for the plantation lords, the Kansas economic collapse is so stark that maybe, at long last, a large majority of Americans will get riled up and thoroughly smash the trickle-down insanity.

The lords' hope - underlying the Saudi Arms Deal - is that transferring production from Washington State and California to Kansas will federally prop up the latter state's disaster enough to keep the delusion going for just a while longer. 

And now you understand the insidious sub-text, beneath the news.

== Points of disagreement ==

I’ll happily offer up moments when I don’t disagree with President Trump. (In part because it maintains my credibility to oppose his many deficiencies.) Two of these are found in his admiration for some Canadian policies.  For example, he recently spoke positively of Canada’s single-payer healthcare system. Which we are are now more likely to get, since the recently passed GOP “Obamacare replacement” will explode in short order.

Another is in the under-discussed matter of LEGAL immigration, which has far greater effects than the infamously transfixing topic of undocumented incomers.

“In the U.S., about two-thirds of permanent residents are admitted to reunite with family members,” writes Paul May. “Less than 20 percent are admitted because of their professional skills. In Canada, by contrast, it’s almost the opposite: more than 60 percent of permanent residents are admitted via the economy class, and only a quarter are admitted because of family reunification.” 

The family reunification system, set up by the democrats, is horrible.  Oh sure, it sounds nicely moral and goody-goody and I support reuniting parents and children and young siblings.  But beyond that, it is actually deeply immoral, giving advantage to people in the “home country” who are already way luckier than their neighbors, by having American cousins who send money and advantages. This luck advantage is wretchedly indefensible and has no justification at all.  

Why not let in folks who can adapt to US society swiftly and productively, giving us a win-win? Can you think of any better way to keep us rich and diverse and vibrant -- and rich -- enough to keep being generous in the world and letting in more?

== Miscellany ==

* People are prank calling President Trump's new office to report illegal "criminal aliens" — just not the type of "aliens" President Trump had in mind when he created the office.

* An elder thought: I do wonder if I am the only person on the planet who remembers how, in the 60s and early 70s, there were economists hand wringing a worry that seems utterly weird, today.  At then-present rates, if all the pension plans were fully vested, then by 2010 the workers would - through those pension plans - "own the means of production."  They would own the factories and have the largest share of stock equity.  Then came wave after wave of refusal to vest the pension funds... and the 'problem' is now entirely forgotten!

I can't even get economists my age, like John Mauldin, to remember this.  They get uncomfortable and change the subject. Do any of you remember it, at all? With citations?

* When was America great? I have eviscerated the confeds’ first, reflex answer — the 1950s of “Happy Days” — is easy to refute. But then, romantic nostalgists are adaptable. As they keep moving the goal posts on climate change, they will shift when they say American greatness peaked. Though this article shows how even the first billionaire, in 1916, lived in many ways worse than most middle class Americans of 2017.

Romantic nostalgia is an ancient poison, as described in this interesting piece. “How Nostalgia Made America Great Again.”  See my takedown of 1950s nostalgia here. The Greatest Generation - of that era - wanted desperately to make a better world... and they succeeded.

Anybody who wants to go back to the 1950s insults the great men and women who lived and strived and worked then!

 * A meme warfare unit? A hilarious spoof that ought to be true!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Science Fiction in the news: Nebulas, flicks and real-life Skynet!

Congratulations to the winners of SFWA's Nebula Award for best in science fiction and fantasy for 2016. Charlie Jane Anders won Best Novel for All the Birds in the Sky, Seanan McGuire won Best Novella for Every Heart a Doorway, William Ledbetter won for Novelette, and Amal El-Mohtar for Short Story.

It's Space Opera Week! "Explore the Cosmos in 10 Classic Space Opera Universes!"  On the Tor site, Alan Brown takes you on a tour of his favorites. Good stuff! (Okay I am biased, but they're all good! ;-)


A recent TV interview, Resolving 21st Century Challenges - on Future Talk TV in the Bay Area, with host Martin Wasserman.

Want something to do with a spare minute, now and then, while out and about with your phone? I’ve begun answering questions on a new phone app called Askers! For info, see TheAskers.com. New users get free credits, so no charge to listen to my first few 1-minute answers - about singularities, uplift, gravity lasers, AI and The Postman flick. You can even earn money by asking popular questions!


The rebooted Omni-Online has featured ten science fiction books that "changed the genre forever." From The Time Machine to The Left Hand of Darkness, 1984 to Neuromancer, The Giver to I, Robot. Very flattered to see The Postman on this list - though there are certainly many worthy candidates for post-apocalyptic fiction.


Oh, we just watched "Passengers" -- the recent film about two people stranded aboard an interstellar luxury liner when their hibernation ends 90 years too soon. A pleasant and well-crafted film that touches traditional notes in freshly sf'nal ways.  What I found remarkable though is that it eschewed the standard need to base everything upon Villainy, Apocalypse, Pessimism, Incompetence and Dystopia (VAPID).* 

The peril and jeopardy and tension in "Passengers" are all the result of bad luck, happenstance, character and a rough universe -- no bad guys. In this respect, it was like "The Martian" and the lovely, gentle Spike Jonze film "Her." One can hope that more creators will rise above the reflexive Idiot Plot and ponder how drama can be told without the lazy, plot-simplifying assumption of stupidity.

Only slightly less rare are shows in which either the villainy is secondary to the generally positive and uplifting theme -- "The Arrival" and "Eureka" -- or else at least some faith is kept with the notion that humans and their institutions can gradually improve: "Star Trek," of course, and "Stargate" and "Babylon Five." Others folks? Oh but the Idiot Plot is vastly more common. Read about it.

== SF interfaces reality and science! ==


NIAC, NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program funds twenty-two visionary space concepts -- many seemingly from the pages of science fiction! Wait for word about the coming NIAC Symposium in Denver, September 25-27. Open to the public, if you register. As a member of NIAC's advisory External Council, I'll be there.


Cloning in the news: Harvard scientists have inserted wooly mammoth genes into an elephant's genome. Wooly mammoth clones may be resurrected in our near future -- a topic visited often in SF. See: "Twelve Memorable Times Science Fiction Sent in the Clones" which offers a selection of novels that explore futuristic implications of cloning, from Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief to Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, Kazua Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go... and my own Kiln People. Well, a kind of clone, I guess.

AI: Inspiration: The New York Times names science fiction novels that have helped frame the discussion about artificial intelligence, including books from I, Robot to Ghost Fleet and films from Blade Runner to Her

World’s largest hedge fund to replace managers with artificial intelligence.” For years I have warned that “Skynet” is less likely to arise from military programs than from Wall Street, where more money is spent on AI research than at the top twenty universities… and where the central ethos is secrecy, insatiability, predatory, parasitical and completely amoral. Bridgewater wants day-to-day management—hiring, firing, decision-making—to be guided by software that doles out instructions.” And as I write this… we just watched Terminator Genisys last night.  Yipe.

On a more positive note: See an extensive blog posting by  the innovative maven of computational theory - Stephen Wolfram on developing the alien language for Arrival, and how the alien spaceship might work. Plus see his chart on reasons aliens might come to Earth. He offers much more, actually, like a dissection of some concepts for interstellar travel. 


Stephen's more recent, mini-book-length posting offers an amazing, expansive and comprehensive posting - is actually a mini-book, contemplating what insights he has had since his epic book “A New Kind of Science” came out, 15 years ago.


Newly released from MIT Press: Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of all Kinds, an anthology of notes and essays commemorating the bicentennial of Mary Shelley's groundbreaking novel. Essays by Doctorow, Bear and others explore the social, ethical and scientific implications of Shelley's tale.

Apparently The Expanse is teetering on the edge of cancelation. Spread the word and consider ways to make your viewership visible. And The Handmaid's Tale is premiering on Hulu.


== News and announcements ==

On Locus Online, eminent critic Paul Di Filippo offers an insightful, thorough and positive appraisal of my new transparency anthology Chasing Shadows. If you were wavering, this might put the book on your Get List! 

How to endure the unendurable? A lovely reading of my short story, The Logs -- from my collection Insistence of Vision.

I originally submitted two scripts to the one page screenplay competition in LA.  The first one -- "Bargain" won the contest! The role of Ronald Reagan was delightfully performed by Peter Nelson. Poor sound quality, but nicely done.

The second one "Diaspora" was also produced -- well sort of.  The reading was less artfully done.  No effort was made to get the accents. Heck, the taxi driver could at least have turned his chair! Still, it's a thrill to be produced! Here comes the bigtime! I hope you enjoy an ironic little piece.

Oh and now this cool item. A team of brilliant cinematographers have forged ahead on the "Neo" film, about humanity's future. Their first announcement trailer won the 'Future-Maker Award' at Beijing's 2016 Global Innovator Conference and was covered domestically in the US. I'm flattered how they made use of my miserably limited supply of erudition and charisma.

Here is a link to the film's news page.  The filmmakers are currently in their 2nd round of financing, aiming to continue production this Spring 2017. Neo was also just accepted into the Realscreen Summit Showdown at the end of January in Washington DC where they will have the opportunity to pitch the film to leading distributors like Netflix, HBO, Discovery, Nat Geo, and more.


===

====

PS... okay I admit it what one of you pointed out. * Substitute "despair" for "pessimism" and you could use "DAVID".

Friday, May 19, 2017

Don't Impeach! Plus appraising GOP proposed legislation -- and why is he really in Saudi Arabia?

I had prepped a missive appraising GOP legislative proposals... but it seems we must always lead with the latest, daily crises. With some Republicans already murmuring about impeachment and getting all moony-eyed toward the notion of "President Pence," let me repeat what I've said for a year now.  

"Impeach Trump" is a trap. 


Any day, Paul Ryan will make his offer: "if you Democrats do the heavy lifting, we'll supply JUST enough GOP defectors to get a bill of impeachment passed, okay?" 

 
If the Dems stupidly agree, the GOP will grab a win-win-win. They will get rid of their Trumpian embarrassment, they'll get Pence (an eager Murdoch-lapdog, mixed with apocalyptic-dominionist toxins), who will then appoint Ryan VP.

...and all of Trump's supporters will be enraged into a war footing against Democrats, blaming liberals for Trump's fall. The disaster that is looming for the GOP, in 2018, will turn into their greatest victory. 

Oh, and the country will burn.

I'm not the only one issuing this warning, In Commentary, John Podhoretz, an anti-Trump conservative, worries that potential Democratic efforts to remove Trump from the presidency for possible legal and constitutional violations could trigger “political violence of a sort we haven’t seen in 50 years, and maybe haven’t really seen in this country in the modern era. Those who believe Trump is a unique menace … to our democratic way of life will be met with those who believe the elites are using illicit means to oust the legitimately elected president of the United States.”

There are signs that Democratic leaders can see this trap looming and are downplaying impeachment talk. Especially since Donald Trump's recent shenanigans have somewhat neutralized his ability to do truly dangerous things. (See where I explain, at the end of this posting). Still, the warning cannot be repeated too often. Do act to secure the nation from catastrophe! But then exercise patience. 


This is their problem.  Let them deal with it.  More about how, at the end of this posting.

== A remnant sapient conservative speaks ==


David Brooks is one of the smartest and most reliable writers from the old, Classic Republican school. You know... wanting capitalist markets to be flat-fair, competitive and actually work, instead of tools for oppressing the middle class.  His latest Big Perspective is worthwhile:

"Abraham Lincoln was a classic Enlightenment man. President Trump is an anti-Enlightenment man. There's a long line of Enlightenment thought that included thinkers like John Locke and Immanuel Kant who argued that people should stop deferring blindly to authority for how to live. Instead, they should think things through from the ground up, respect facts and skeptically re-examine their own assumptions and convictions.

"Enlightenment thinkers turned their skeptical ideas into skeptical institutions, notably the U.S. Constitution. America’s founders didn’t trust the people or themselves, so they built a system of rules, providing checks and balances to pit interest against interest."

What does Brooks imply, but not mention - Republican that he is (was?) - is that of course the U.S. Founders dreaded feudal oligarchy - the great enemy of 6000 years -- far more than they feared the People. 

Indeed, the crime of "ostriches" like Brooks is that they neglect ever to pull their heads out far enough to boldly make that clear. Still, he is trying. Unlike the Worst Man in America, George F. Will. 

"De Tocqueville came along and said that if a rules-based democratic government was going to work anywhere it was going to be the United States. America became the test case for the entire Enlightenment project. With his distrust of mob rule and his reverence for law, Abraham Lincoln was a classic Enlightenment man. His success in the Civil War seemed to vindicate faith in democracy and the entire Enlightenment cause."  Go read more.

Oh, but the enemies of enlightenment have tools they are refining. I never thought I'd push this book repeatedly, but get Tears of Abraham, by Sean T. Smith... an especially disturbing novel about a new American hot Civil War.

== Supply Side Voodoo… in a nut’s shell ==

Why impeach, when we can prove the entire party is insane? I'll offer my impeachment alternatives below.  But surely you know the definition of insanity? Falling for the same alluring fallacy over and over again?  

In Republicans Keep Repeating the Same Tax Mistake, economist Megan McArdle, an avowed libertarian writing on Bloomberg – a financial/investment zine – reams the Supply Side mythology from just the simple aspect of demand elasticity, offering just one (of dozens) of reasons why it never worked.  At all.  Ever. Even once.

There ought to be a door in the wall, right here. I'll just charge through... wham! Ow!

There ought to be a door in the wall, right here. I'll just charge through... wham! Ow!

There ought to be a door in the wall, right here. I'll just charge through... wham! Ow!

It never worked. Once. Ever. Even a single time. Look at what's happened in Kansas. Look what's happened to America, following the Supply Side cult. And boy, have we reamed the middle class lured by this pied piper. This voodoo.

== The evil just goes on ==

We'll get back to my impeachment alternatives in a moment. But first. Here's what the bill H.R. 610 "Choices in Education" does.

Initiates the school voucher system (ages 5 through 17). Begins the defunding process of public schools.

Eliminates the Elementary and Education Act of 1965, the nation's educational law which also provides equal opportunity.

Repeals ESSA*, the Every Students Succeeds Act, that covers programs for struggling learners, AP (Advanced Placement) classes, ESL (English as Second Language) classes, classes for Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance, and Federal Accountability Programs. Abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch.

== Back to the crisis and... impeachment ==


Let me reiterate. Falling for any offer from Paul Ryan -- to 'help' democrats remove Donald Trump -- would prove what we long suspected, that Democratic politicians are mostly-loyal  and well-meaning... but politically dumber than a sack of rocks.   If Ryan makes such an offer, the dems must say: 


"Trump is YOUR problem. Get the entire GOP House to vote impeachment and (maybe) we might provide a few votes."

Better yet, face it - Trump is more an embarrassment than a deadly danger! Now, with the entire civil service, Intelligence Community and Officer Corps alerted to the craziness, he is in many ways already neutralized. This task of ensuring our safety can be completed, with carefully chosen measures that will not ruin the office of the presidency... just make it child proof.


Instead of impeachment, Dems -- and a critical mass of sane Republicans (the few, the not-so-brave) -- should concentrate on a quartet of carefully crafted pieces of neutralizing legislation. Items so clearly in the national interest that McCain and Collins and a few dozen others would feel compelled to help them get passed, in lieu of the stupid trauma of impeachment.

1) Give the Joint Chiefs authority -- if unanimous -- to passively delay execution of presidential orders -- those commanding them to perform acts of violence or combat -- for up to a week, giving them time enough to put their misgivings before a select congressional committee. This will only diminish Commander-in-Chief authority in extremely dubious conditions. The entire nation will sleep better, yet future presidents won't be hobbled.

2) Put half of all presidential contingency and operating funds out of reach, unless the president agrees to give control over his appointments calendar, one afternoon a week, to the other party. I've proposed this before. All presidents should do this, but it is critically important right now, that the president meet and listen to eminent people beyond his current, paranoid seige-bubble.

Trump will be different if he hears other voices from outside his handlers' carefully erected walls! (Recall how he was in love with Obama for a week, after meeting him, in the White House?) This one thing could draw him far enough into the light so that he at least won't be an existential danger...

... and did I remind you to say the words "President Pence" over and over again, letting your imagination go wild? That fellow actively prays for armageddon! He will fill the White house with dominionists (look it up) with potentially scary consequences far worse than anything Trump could or might do Please. Trump chose him as impeachment insurance and you had better believe he knew what he was doing.


3) Appropriate funding for a Fact Checking Institute. Bipartisan. You will get enough Republican defectors to pass this one thing. Do it. 

Nothing could more transform this phase of our civil war than a set of fact-checking services vouched for by the top "adults" in American Conservatism. (Recruit David Brooks! Robert Dole. Sandra Day O'Conner. Heck, even George W. Bush.)

Do not shrug that one off! Stop. Close your eyes. Envision how everything today would be different, if there were a Snopes that Fox and Jones etc could not sneeringly dismiss as a liberal plot. Read about Russian-based waves of tuned social media meddling in the American psyche, and then offer us one other answer that will be one-tenth as effective as simply and finally having a place to point and say "that's not true."

4) Create an ad hoc bipartisan committee on appointments consisting of twenty House members from each party and ten Senators from each party. Call it the Alliance of Grownups. They will agree to caucus to vett presidential appointments so that competent, mature and moderate individuals will face likely confirmation -- with a grudging acceptance by the democrats that this president will appoint mostly conservatives. Work it out. Thirty sane republicans could do this, while 259 fume helplessly... then grudgingly go along.

Wouldn't Trump simply veto such bills, while screaming "traitor" at the cabal of thirty Republican grownups? Not if those thirty -- and thirty Democrats -- promise to resist impeachment calls for at least a year! He would go for that.

Do those four things, just those, in conjunction with McCain and a few Republican remnant sapients, and we would then be able to outlast the current occupant of the White House, letting him do his noble work of demolishing every last shred of credibility clutched by the Murdochian Confederacy.  

Leave him there! At least till November 2018. 

On behalf of Stephen Colbert I beg of you. Be patient.

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** ADDENDUM: A Constitutional scholar weighs in with perspectives on why, if possible, we should approach any talk of impeachment with cautious and grownup deliberation. That is, unless there is a "Reichstag Fire."
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Lagniappe: I am registering here a prediction call... a 50% probability that Donald Trump will announce some kind of Israel-Saudi deal for those two 70-year enemies to move closer together: targeting Iran. The Trump White House overflows with men who have stated or implied an eagerness for war with Iran. Because every evil force on the planet wants it to happen. 


Not the educated citizens of Iran, who are struggling gradually to wrest power from the mullahs... but the mullahs certainly want such a war! They'd be safe from major damage, under the Russian nuclear umbrella, and a nasty little snit would help them crush democracy, at home.


It serves Russian interests, since it would then drive Iran into Moscow's arms and destroy all chances of a Persian democratic renaissance. It will push Trump's political crises off the headlines and make him look 'strong.' And it serves the Saudis to a (dumb, shortsighted) T. 


One question: would the Israelis foolishly fall for this trap? If they are offered a huge inducement? A Big Peace Deal with the Sunni Arab World? It could happen. Can we hope that Rouhani's landslide re-election in Iran might put the kibosh on these war drums? Oh, but then the connivers can always try a Tonkin Gulf or Gleiwitz Incident, alongside their terrorist Reichstag Fire.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What's new in science & tech?

Okay, let's turn to the side of civilization that is doing best. Doing spectacularly well in fact, despite a relentless campaign to undermine science. Just today -- as I type this, in fact -- I am in a conference call as a member of the advisory council of The Planetary Society, hearing reports about how TPS - under Bill Nye's charismatic leadership - has seen a turnaround, with increasing membership and a social media following that has crested above a million! Why? Because people are noticing how many wondrous accomplishments are pouring forth from the universe.

Indeed, I urge you all to not only join the Planetary Society, but engage in Proxy Power -- joining half a dozen of the wonderful NGOs of your own choice, each dedicated to something wonderful and fitting your concerns -- from science to the environment to fighting poverty. There is progress in the world!

And now... a potpourri of science news.

== Onward ==

Good news on the health front: We appear to be winning the war against ancient diseases! The World Health Organization is on track to meet its goals to control, eliminate or eradicate sleeping sickness, Chagas and other ancient illnesses by 2020. Example: In 2016, just 25 people worldwide were infected by Guinea worm disease or dracunculiasis, a parasitic infection transmitted by contaminated drinking water. President Jimmy Carter, whose campaign against this parasite was especially effective, wants the “last Guinea worm to die before I do.”

The Berggruen Institute seeks to identify and nurture new ideas that have the potential to shape a better human future... committed to science as a source of knowledge and innovation and to philosophy as a source of critical perspective and deeper understanding of the place and role of humanity in the world.  Each year they offer the Berggruen Prize, a $1 million award that recognizes humanistic thinkers whose ideas have helped us find direction, wisdom, and improved self-understanding in a world being rapidly transformed by profound social, technological, political, cultural, and economic change. 

Is Apple dreaming of space internet?

Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, according to 140 years of data. This article demolishes the insane riff that technology doesn't produce jobs.

Calling the Predictions registry! Back in Earth I wrote about a time when citizens, activists and amateur scientists and sleuths would have in their pockets both vast computing power and science-ready instruments for sensing their surroundings. Now: PocketLab Voyager offers an all-in-one science lab that is "capable enough for a professional engineer and simple enough for a fourth-grade student". Voyager can measure motion, light, magnetic field, and temperature.

Shades of Glory Season: a programming challenge to build a clock that displays accurate time by having pixel elements obey the rules of Conway’s Game of Life.

market-ready manmade spider silk product launched at SXSW this March. Starting with ties. “At the molecular level it is spider silk made by human hands.” Competitors in the market such as Japan-based Spiber, have released concept pieces, like The Moon Parka for The North Face. Similarly Adidas recently teamed up with AMsilk to unveil a shoe made from Biosteel fiber, which it aims to both have on the market later this year

Airbus has revealed a concept for a self-flying car capable of operating both on the ground and in the air, and plans to test it later this year. The cool concept is to separate the three main functions.  The road-wheel-motor system, the flight system and the passenger module.

Scientists at CERN have discovered five new particle states, all at the same time. 

Remember the flashy-starry background behind Lady Gaga, at the start of her Superbowl show, singing from the stadium roof?  Lights that turned into a U.S. flag? They were 300+ drones supplied by Intel. 

A shakeup in the family tree of dinosaurs!  And another coup for the Huxleys.

== Health Updates ==

Yipe!  Apparently bacteria can colonize a J-sink drain, form a biofilm which can persist, climb back up, enabling bacteria to shoot up to a meter away when water runs. Has been observed in hospitals as well, spreading infections.

Can Whole Body Vibration achieve the positive effects of exercise? Not bloody likely, but mouse studies suggest it’s possible. (The mice were undoubtedly under stress.) Yet, more and more we are learning that half the things that work in mice don’t work in humans, at all…for reasons I describe here.

A Mayo Clinic study says the best training for adults is high-intensity aerobic exercise, which they believe can reverse some cellular aspects of aging.

Pre-order this book! Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity, by Professor Daniel P. Keating, offers a glimpse into a new, twilight region that yawns between Nature and Nurture, between genes and behavior, ensnaring both. It is a realm we must explore, without delay, so that our children might have confident children.

It sounds like science fiction, but doctors say a device worn on the head that makes electric fields improved survival for the first time in more than a decade for people with deadly brain tumors.

A hilarious and yet insightful riff on how one can use the placebo effect – even knowing the “medicine” is fake – to achieve positive-desired outcomes.  


== On Planet Earth ==

One of the best written and most fascinating science articles I’ve read in some time, describes recent work on metamorphic rocks in Canada (one of the geologically least-altered places on Earth) where tubelike structures have many of the chemical and physical traits suggestive of primitive life forms… only these would have formed at least 3.8 billion years ago, just as the planet was finishing a pummeling under the Late Heavy Bombardment. If proved out, it would push back our knowledge of life’s history here by over 300 million years, implying that life appeared with stunning rapidity, and diversified early. Suggesting further it may be pervasive in the cosmos.  And believe it or not, I know some dour fellows who deem that to be very, very bad news.

What is the super Volcano under Naples up to? Italy has upgraded the threat level. I mentioned a Naples disaster in Existence.

The strength of Earth’s magnetic field has been decreasing for the last 160 years at an alarming rate. This collapse is centered in a huge expanse of the Southern Hemisphere, extending from Zimbabwe to Chile, known as the South Atlantic Anomaly. The magnetic field strength is so weak there that it’s a hazard for satellites that orbit above the region, potentially portending even more dramatic events, including a global reversal of the magnetic poles. The poles have reversed frequently over the history of the planet, but the last reversal is in the distant past, some 780,000 years ago. 

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is recognized as the biggest living structure on Earth. Unfortunately, it's dying—with many portions facing no hope for recovery—thanks to back to back mass bleaching events. 

== Curiosities and worries ==

Naked mole rats are just so weird! They have a social structure like insects, they're cold-blooded like reptiles, and now scientists found that they use fructose like a plant. This enables them to replace glucose oxidation and thus survive in conditions with ZERO oxygen for up to 20 minutes.  

An inspiring and well-written story about a statistician who discovered a proof to a major mathematical problem, at age 67.

Just released: these color-changing U.S. postage stamps commemorate the upcoming August 2017 solar eclipse. Also, download a free resource guide to the eclipse.

See Flightlapse: incredible video footage of the Milky Way galaxy, shot by a pilot from his cockpit.

Oh, but it is easy to forget what a vibrant, brave and logical and forward-looking civilization we had, and can have, when a fraction of our fellow citizens are afroth, enforcing upon us a war on science that is now explicit and tantamount to treason against our children. Scan the wonders listed above.  They are spilling forth faster than leaks from the Trump White House!

Fight for a civilization that makes you proud.