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.



** 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."


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. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A world Cyber Collapse? And Jerry Brown: President in exile

Yes, the title of this posting is an odd juxtaposition. On Friday a ferocious ransomware attack crippled thousands of computer networks around the world, including Britain's National Health System. So, what does this cyber-blitz -- long predicted in sci fi -- have to do with California's spectacularly successful, popular and effective governor?

It's simple. There are matters - like cyber security - in which we cannot wait for the natural election cycles to replace bad leadership. Someone  is going to have to step up and speak for us, and I suspect we'll see nothing useful out of Washington, for quite some time.

First though, some good news. While the U.S. federal admministration thrashes and flails in a state of near-collapse, we need to remember our strengths:

1) Civil servants and other professionals continue to do their jobs. Ranging from the FBI and Intelligence Community to energy researchers to diplomats to scientists, teachers, journalists and military officers - our skilled women and men out there are coming to terms with the real lesson of the Comey Affair... that the president can only fire or bully so many people. In fact, that bolt is largely shot. If he tries going on a "you're fired" rampage, Donald Trump must know that John McCain and other GOP adults will reach their fed-up limit. At which point they will lead a counter-attack against him. Anyway - as Comey is realizing - being fired by Donald Trump is likely to open career opportunities for the victim, not close them.

Yes, the Confederacy has achieved a major Putin-Koch objective, just by throwing grit in the machinery. Trump pleases his masters, even if all he can accomplish is slamming the U.S. federal government down to grinding first gear. Make no mistake, we're being harmed.

2) But there are other strengths to our federal system. In fact, much of the damage can be bypassed.

No, I'm not talking about Congress, or even the Supreme Court... though a day will come when three men -- Roberts, Alito and Gorsuch -- will have to choose between loyalty to a gone-insane conservative movement and faithfulness to the great enlightenment experiment that is America.  But we aren't there yet, and there is no telling whether they will pass that test. (I would bet against it.)

No, the hidden strength I am talking about is federalism. The fact that states have a great deal of power and potential, even in this modern age. And to make this clear, let me tell you about something called the Uniform Business Code.

== Treaties Among (semi) Sovereign States ==

Commencing during the Second World War, state governments sent experts to conferences where they negotiated a number of uniform acts that 'harmonize the law of sales and other commercial transactions across the U.S.'  This meant that businesses and individuals could compete or cooperate, buy-and-sell, with confidence across state lines.

Over the decades since, adjustments have been worked out so calmly and effectively that most members of the public aren't even aware of the UBC.  We learn in school that the federal government has laid its meddlesome hand down, through the "commerce clause" of the Constitution. But in fact, the UBC is more pervasive. It is applied to far more matters than federal environmental, safety and other regulations, every day. Moreover, it is just one of many joint projects of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) and the American Law Institute (ALI). 

Nor are uniform codes the only way in which U.S. states act to bypass Washington. I am far from an expert on this (and any mavens are welcome to weigh in below, under comments.) But such inter-state accords range from water rights to joint hydroelectric and transportation projects all the way to recent agreements about marijuana deregulation rules. And while these endeavors do have to take into account acts of Congress, they have often been used to bypass the gridlock of Washington.

The education reform known as Common Core was likewise negotiated among states and not - as commonly assumed - imposed by Washington. This consensus among states, calling upon all school systems to meet minimum standards, was originally a conservative idea, till that movement was hijacked.

(An aside: I also think states should be more bold about doing experiments that are different and not uniform. Colorado and Oregon led the way out of our stupid Marijuana War. There are countless other experiments that could be parceled out to states, as 'laboratories of democracy.')

Alas, such pragmatic treaties used to happen more often, back in those halcyon days when the Conference of Governors was a working group of 50 adults, instead of a conclave of posturing-partisan prima donnas. Today, the divide among states could not be more sharp. And not just as a matter of 'left-vs.-right dogma, but far more about competence versus incompetence and sane versus insane.

Take actual outcomes. Despite a few outliers, like Texas and Utah, most states that have deep-red governments -- governor and legislature -- have had gruesomely awful results, the last few decades. Those doing best among them, like Virginia and North Carolina, have been turning purple, fast. Those doing worst -- including the deep Confederate South and Kansas and Oklahoma -- are sinking fast.  Meanwhile, pure-blue states along the coasts appear to be doing great, and not only where it comes to budget balancing and investing in people. Any libertarian-leaning person is a hypocrite, if he or she fails to notice which states are finally backing out of the loony-catastrophic so-called War on Drugs.

Which brings us full circle back the California's Governor Jerry Brown, whose fourth tenure in Sacramento is so successful, we all would have plotzed to have him be the Democratic Party nominee for President, in 2016, despite his age. 

But okay, that's done. So why do I call him "president in exile"?

== Put it all together ==

We must face a harsh truth.  We are currently in phase eight of the Civil War, a recurring national fever that has broken out in America ever since 1778. Washington is in confederate hands and -- as usual -- the Union is late responding, slow to anger and at a loss where to find its generals.

Well, until we can locate our ideal combination of Lincoln and T. Roosevelt and F. Roosevelt and Ike, we'll have to make do. And right now, blatantly, by every metric of population, success and delighted citizenry, there is one leader of Blue America, if only he would stand up to take the position he has earned.

Jerry Brown is -- de facto -- president in exile of what remains of the United States of America.  Moreover, it is time to slap him into realizing it.

Is the U.S. federal government being deliberately frozen and rendered impotent by (at best) fools or else (at-worst) traitors?  Sure. Shall we just march and scream and tell jokes on late-night TV? Or might we use tools that are already in place?

Oh, sure, Jerry Brown cannot call an emergency meeting of the National Governor's Conference. A majority of the attendees would be Republican dogmatists who seem bent on dragging their states down a toilet swirl of cheating and failed ideology. There is a Democratic Governors Association -- a small group, chaired by CT Gov. Dan Malloy -- and it would be a start.   

Sure, there are plenty of pragmatic matters generally on the agenda, when the governors of active, and not confederate, states meet. But I assert it is time for more than that. It's time for this group to make plain that they intend to provide a nucleus for action on behalf of the American Experiment. And yes -- if need be -- in that noble endeavor's defense.

Example #1 - the Affordable Care Act is not dead, yet. Nor would the House bill kill it completely. Blue States can step in, on a dozen issues. Foremost among these: All it will take to "save the ACA insurance markets" will be for these states to impose their own individual mandate penalty tax on young people who shirk buying insurance. Sure it's risky.  But blue state youths are very solidly democratic. And if they were to join the insurance pool in large numbers, state-centered versions of the ACA won't "explode" as Trump raves that he wants them to.  At least not in those states.  And the contrast with places like Kansas will soar beyond anyone's ability to ignore.

But that's not today's main point. As I said at the beginning, what makes all this critical is a matter of safety and security.

Which brings us back to Friday's massive cyber attack. What can a dozen governors do about what is clearly a national and international problem?

Well, these blue states combined have the world's fourth biggest economy. They hold the world's greatest universities and research institutions and the most tech savvy populace. They provide most of the tax revenue that the rest of America utterly relies upon, as well as nearly all of the productivity and inventiveness. A point that could be made very clear if Jerry Brown went on TV and did the job that Donald Trump is supposedly there to do.

== Tell us to get clean! ==

Talk to computer security experts and they will tell you that most of our vulnerability today comes from both citizens and companies being lax about updating their security software. Millions of home and office computers are now suborned into participating in "botnets" or networks of surreptitiously connected machines, that criminals or foreign governments then use to transmit and amplify their attacks.  For whatever the reason -- generally laziness -- those corporations and individual users cannot be bothered to do simple things that would prevent their machines from being taken over.  

In legal terms, that is negligent-complicit participation in crime. And it is a cancer in our society, as we saw, last Friday. Moreover, the solution is obvious! Someone we trust - who has some authority - needs to go online and on TV to say:

"Those of you out there who have negligently allowed your computers to become hackable have opened opportunities for criminals and parasites to prey on others, and upon your communities, states and nation. I am not here to propose making that negligence a criminal offense. But I will now warn you that you can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse. Moreover, I am asking that state legislatures pass the following amendment to tort or civil law.

"If you take basic precautions, annually, to maintain your system's security updates and use any of a dozen state-measured, commercial anti-hacking programs, then that good faith effort will be enough to leave private individuals and most small businesses non-culpable for damages from future botnet attacks, even if their systems wind up being used in clever hacks that the security companies missed. Moreover, here are links to videos that will explain it all, and your options.

"But if you have not done basic security updates, and your system is used to infect others, then you will bear a proportionate share of the damages that eventually are awarded to victims of such crimes. Moreover, this responsibility will apply to any interests that out-of-state parties have in California, or any other member of our group of states."

There you have it. Just three paragraphs. And I promise you, the very next day millions of lazy people and companies would rush to update their systems and to run security programs! Within a week, many if not most of the botnets operating in America would be severely undermined, if not crippled. And tens of millions of Americans will be safer, by the way.

Why am I combining two topics today, by asking Jerry Brown to make this public statement? Isn't this a matter for the President of the United States, or some other high, national official?

Think about that question and answer it for yourself. 

 It's not just that we have a sabotaged and crippled national government, at-best incompetent and at-worst treasonous. It is that this matter cannot wait!  

And yes, okay, I would also love to see Jerry do something nationally memorable. There is even a chance that Blue America -- which now includes every single fact-using profession -- might rally around him as an elder statesman who has no ambitions for 2020. 

Well, well.  It's a fantasy. Like the dream that was America. Like the palpably successful dream called California.

== Jerry's Evil Conterpart ==

That should suffice for today. But before we close, a note about someone who is just as smart... in service of evil.

Do I still call George F. Will "The Worst Man in America," when he applies his sharp pen to eviscerating Donald Trump? In this case, his diagnosis is acid:

"This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence."

Given how much I agree with Will's assessment of DT, might I retract my own aspersions aimed at George Will?

Consider them doubled. This brilliant wit dedicated his adult life to undermining the equally brilliant clades - from science and medicine to investigative journalism - that engendered most of our wealth, achievements and power. His rationalizations helped fuel the War on Science, now being waged against every fact-based profession. His scalpel pierced deepest, in the steady lobotomization of American conservatism.

In denouncing Trump, Mr. Will expresses outrage that an impudent upstart leapt into the saddle of confederate, anti-intellectual populism -- a rabid, frothing beast that the lords of the right thought to be their private steed... just as the Junkers Prussian nobility were appalled when a raving rider seized the reins of 1930s German rightwing populism. In both cases, the first victim was sensible, rational conservatism. The version of conservatism that Mr. Will claims to represent, but that he has systematically assassinated.

George Will's unctuous pleadings for oligarchy - and excuses for wealth disparity rivaling 1789 France - persuaded many of today's aristocratic morons to believe what their egos and sycophants told them. Despite history's lesson, they think that this time  they'll do neo-feudalism right, by pounding the great American middle class that the Greatest Generation built, and by inciting populist rage against all the fact-using, "smartaleck elites" who stand in oligarchy's way.

Of course the only possible outcome from this lunatic-stupid oligarchic putsch is that they will wind up riding tumbrels.

Wait... is it possible that was George Will's intent, all along? As in that famous Tom Tomorrow cartoon? I never said he wasn't clever! 

But no. This is why he is the Worst Man in America. Instinct nor reflex nor dullard rationalization made him do all this. He brought us here with open eyes. And now, his horrified denunciations of Trump are like Viktor Frankenstein screaming at his monster.

You did this. Deal with that fact. Then maybe we'll listen.