Friday, March 24, 2017

Economic Inequality: opportunity vs outcomes

Our last posting -- extensively  shared by thousands -- offered long, verbatim quotations from epic science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, revealing his amazing prophecy of an America falling into perilous failure mode.  

Now let's back off from our immediate crisis and try some perspective.

== The Equality Problem ==

This article - Is Inequality Inevitable? — asks a fair enough question, whose answer is “Sure, inequality is inevitable. So?” 

That don’t mean we can't always make things better.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry starts with studies showing that the children of elites have always stood a better chance of becoming elite, themselves, and that efforts to equalize outcomes by force - such as Maoist cultural revolution - always fail. Indeed, in Europe, the same surnames have been elite for 400 years.

True enough.  Only then M. Gagny calls all liberal efforts at mitigation futile and useless -- an assertion that amounts to stark-jibbering toilet raving.

One refutation is to point out the staggering amounts of cheating and repression that inherited oligarchies and other elites have engaged in, across all eras, to ensure advantages for their offspring. Nearly all of recorded human history reveals the lengths that lords and masters went to, using law and religion and sheer economic bullying to prevent sons or daughters of the poor from competing fairly with their own children. 

If aristocracy were self-replicating on the basis of simple, inherited quality, why then the relentless frenzy of desperate repression that we see across all annals, in all nations and eras?

Further, if inherited lordship were a matter of genuine superiority, then why - across the long epochs before our egalitarian experiment - were nearly all kingdoms and oligarchies so delusional and so horrifically-governed?  There is a name for the cosmically stupid way that 99% of post agricultural societies were governed. In a general sense, that name is feudalism. Another word for the endless litany of insipid and lethal errors committed by aristocrats is -- history.

Or, in more modern parlance: Idiocracy.

In my novel, Existence, I portray a meeting of uber-trillionaires in 2048. They can see they are going to win, that their putsch against liberal democracy is about to succeed, and looming success has them worried.  They can also see that feudalism is vastly less productive, innovative and far more error prone than open systems like transparent republics. Is there a way out of this dilemma?

At their conference, they earnestly seek ways to imbue the rule of inherited oligarchy with meritocratic and competitive elements, weaving in some of the powerful synergies of the Enlightenment... without its egalitarianism.  Kind of like what the Chinese ruling caste has been desperately trying to achieve, for decades. There are inherent flaws to this plan. But at least these oligarchs are smart enough to see the alternative:

Paris: 1789. And tumbrels.

(See my earlier posting: Class War and the Lessons of History. Oh and ponder this: why have Google searches on the words "Karl" and "Marx" been skyrocketing of late?)

== Easing our way out of a lethal attractor state ==

Sure, our egalitarianism has been flawed, often corrupted and always imperfect. Yet, our ongoing enlightenment experiment does correlate with a singular society that has been vastly more creative, productive, fair, scientific and happier than all others… and yes I mean absolutely all of them… combined.

If the grandchildren of rich people do tend to be rich, and the kids of scientists may somewhat tend to replicate that success, then liberal-minded folk will cite favorable circumstance as a chief reason. Nurture over nature. And so far, that presumption seems more right than wrong. 

But even if there is also a strong, genetic component, we still seem well-served by at least addressing those unfair inequalities that do cause disparities. And make each generation of favored kids work to prove it. To earn what they achieve.

We must do this for one reason, above all others — in order to stop wasting human talent.  Expanding opportunity for the children of the poor, of all races, genders etc., is simply logical and a vast improvement over the institutionalized, reflexive and wasteful bigotries of the past. 

Any excuse-making in the opposite direction is not only morally vile, it is also deeply impractical! Because it rationalizes reducing the number of skilled, eager, confident and competent competitors to enter our markets.  In other words, those who rationalize inequality of opportunity for children and youths are betraying the very essence of Adam Smith, of Friedrich Hayek and all other icons of competitive enterprise.

Hypocrisy -- by their own standards.

And sure, yes, inequality (for children and youths) is also immoral. But notice that some people find it easier to shrug off that appeal, than when you base your argument on the practical benefits of equalization. Remember -- oh remember -- that the American founders seized up to a third of the lad in the former colonies from elite-lordly families and redistributed it! An act of "leveling that made FDR look tame. And they did it for pragmatic reasons. In order to keep the revolution one of a calm, middle class, not a rabid mob.

Why emphasize children and youths?

Elsewhere I explain in detail the difference between interventions that aim to equalize opportunity and those that aim at equality of outcomesFoolish  reactionaries like M. Gagny seem to agree with radical levelers on the other side, that liberal interventions aim at outcome-equalization. Indeed, if that were the case, perhaps I could see a point to the ravings of the far-right and the far-left. 

If that were the aim, then call me a rebel-libertarian.

But that vile, lobotomizing “left-right axis” is built upon shavings of stupidity. In fact, I assert: if state actions concentrate only on raising up possible opportunities for children of the poor, then outcomes will manage themselves. Contra-wise, those who slash investments in the children of the poor aren't just evil people, they are traitors to our revolution.

== The context for it all: The Fermi Paradox ==

Many of you know that I am the principal tabulator of hypotheses and proposed explanations for why we seem to be alone in the cosmos -- the Great Silence... also called The Fermi Paradox.  Of the hundred or so theories that have been offered, I rank a Top Ten.  And high on my list is...

... feudalism.  The chief attractor state of human governance, sucking in 99% of all human societies that ever got metals.  Feudalism rewards big males who act like elephant seals and bash other males to take their women and wheat.  We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled that off.  

Moreover, the Darwinian logic probably applies on other worlds, perhaps most other worlds. And if so, we get a powerful "fermi" hypothesis: that all over the galaxy kings and feudal lords and priests suppress science and advancement and environmental care, because they are focused on short term battles to stay on top.  

Only our enlightenment experiment broke away from this pattern and found another, in which equalization of opportunity, plus rights and transparency and love of science, opened up all the positive sum games that utilize competition -- markets, democracy, science, justice courts and sports.  The resulting cornucopia has been dazzling!  But humans who rise up high will always be tempted by urges to shut down competition and become lords.

That is the grand context.  Our current struggles may matter even on a galactic scale!  If we are the first to rise up to Star Trek levels of enlightened maturity, then we could rescue all the others, out there, trapped in cycles of feudalism.

Oh but let's get back to Earth. Literally.

== Climate denialism is a symptom ==

Did I say feudalists suppress science? We've reached the point where denialists are frantic. Having invested in raging contempt for science and scientific civilization, while claiming the opposite, they must now double down -- trying desperately to prevent cognitive dissonance. They must avoid doing that almost-impossible thing for human beings... but the act that science teaches.  

To admit: "maybe I was wrong."

I could link to sage articles and scientific studies till the sun burns out and they would have no effect. Cultists will answer with nostrums and "talking points" concocted by Koch-financed shills who could not parse the gas vapor laws if their lives depended on it. But jpegs re sometimes convincing. Here are four images that make the point fiercely.

First the rate at which humans have been adding CO2 to the atmosphere of a world that skates the inner edge of our sun's continuously habitable zone. And that's a crucial aspect!  Because it answers the cultist line: "How could measly humans affect habitability of a giant planet?"

Let me reiterate: our Earth skates the very inner edge of our sun's continuously habitable zone. Because of that, our world must have a very transparent atmosphere with a Gaia Balance that has only just enough CO2 for plants to live.  Needing to allow heat to escape, we can afford very little greenhouse gas. 

Indeed, some time soon (less than 100M years) we will have to move the Earth!)

But saying "humans can't change an atmosphere" can easily be measured.  That is: if we're allowed to!  The Bushites sabotaged satellites and hampered scientists, but the Trumpists have taken things to a whole new level, cancelling programs and ordering NASA to never look down at a planet called Earth.  

You denialists who have long proclaimed "the jury is still out!  We need more data!" are now exposed as hypocrites. The truth is the very last thing you want.

But none of this is as horrifically dishonest as the standard riff used by Ten Cruz and other fanatics, claiming "there's been no net warming for 5 years!" Then 6 years. Then it was 7! Always increasing by one.  

Why so specific?  Look at our third jpeg and note the spike in 1998. The general slope of temperature has increased relentlessly, but fools and liars used that spike as a "before" to claim subsequent years were 'decreases.'  That is, till new peaks came in 2014... and 2015... and so far 2016, with all but one of the last seven months breaking records. Oh, so much to be proud of.

But the kicker is the ocean. Not one of the cult's shill "think tanks" has been able to concoct an incantation to answer the damage we are doing via ocean acidification. There are no even hypothetical causes for the effect that is killing coral and replacing fish with jellies, in all the regions depicted in our third jpeg, as well as helping to eutrophy (choke) the Black Sea and Mediterranean and Caribbean.

So what can we conclude?

Nothing new.  I made this list to arm you with talking points, because all that America needs to do, in order to win this phase of our recurring Civil War is to just peel off just 10 million still somewhat sane and reluctant and uncomfortable members of this weird-confederate coalition.  
You can do your part by hammering one, just one nervous aunt out there. (Your uncle is probably hopeless. Unless he's ex military; stay tuned for ammo that will work with him!)

Peel away one, then another. It's your assignment. Start with ocean acidification. I mean it. They cannot run from it or explain it, and Fox doesn't even try. They shout "squirrel!" and point offstage.  But use it, over and over again...  ocean acidification. ocean acidification.ocean acidification.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Looking back at Heinlein's Future History - coming true before our eyes.

This one is so pertinent and important, I tried to find a more public venue for it. But one of the tragic consequences of the Trump Era is the decay of op-ed journalism -- everyone recycling the same whines. I'll speak more of this, at the end. But now -- this just can't be put off, any longer.  Prepare to go wide-eyed!

== A chilling forecast: accurate down to the last detail ==

You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic. – Robert A. Heinlein, Revolt in 2100

Robert A. Heinlein’s 1953 "Future History" collection, Revolt in 2100, vividly portrays citizens rising up against an authoritarian theocracy which has taken root in America. A succession of fundamentalist despots have ruled for nearly a century, dating back to the First Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder. John Lyle, a graduate of West Point and now a member of the Prophet's elite guard "Angels of the Lord," joins an underground revolt when he finally begins to question the society under which he always lived: 

"I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything -- you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him." (If This Goes On-- Chapter 6)

Does that sound familiar? Oh, but you ain't seen nothing, yet. Prepare to be amazed.

Sure, Heinlein's voice is different than mine. But he largely raised me, and I deeply resent it when some folks lazily dismiss RAH as a "right winger" or even "fascist." Sure, there are ways in which he reads rather retro, today. And he yelled "get off my lawn!" at hippies who came to pay homage, after Stranger in a Strange Land.

But he truly saw himself as a champion of equal rights and equal opportunity, even if his characters can seem cringeworthy, through modern eyes. His libertarianism is of another, Jeffersonian-Adam Smithian variety, and he despised Ayn Rand.

Of course, our chief overlap is seen in that extract, above. Heinlein and I both portray light as the cleanser and liberator. We must all see as much as we can handle, and then more. It is a citizen's duty to look! And yes, to re-examine things we had been comfortable believing.  Transparency is key to reciprocal accountability, which we use to be both free and smart. It is the miracle tool that enables us to question the lies of monsters.

== Amazing prophecy! ==

Is it ironic that the author of a novel about false prophets nailed the future so well? Oh, but it gets much better. Especially the paragraph in bold, below.

Here, I’d like to quote extensively from Revolt in 2100's afterword, “Concerning Stories Never Written,” in which Robert Heinlein takes an incisive look at a possible dark future for our country:

As for ... the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. 

"It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

“Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country – Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as Voliva’s Zion, Smith’s Nauvoo, and a few others. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.

“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not – but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. 

"Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

Jiminy!  Heinlein wrote that in the early 1950s! Is there anything he did not hit right on the head? Heck, he even nailed the dominionist "Prosperity Gospel" so popular among Ted Cruz types, promising fervid followers that their "material heaven here on earth" will come by righteously seizing the property of unbelievers. (Late note: a prosperity gospel preacher keynotes Donald Trump's inauguration.)

Seriously, read his last paragraph (above) again.  Then recall that Heinlein portrayed Nehemiah Scudder taking the White House against the will of a majority, in 2012.  (He also spoke of America sinking into "The Crazy Years.") 

As for you blithe judgers who dismissed Heinlein as a 'fascist'? Shame on you.  He was fighting the good fight before you were born, far more persuasively and effectively than you'll ever be.

Oh, but back to his essay. It gets even more amazing:

“I imagined Nehemiah Scudder as a backwoods evangelist who combined some of the features of John Calvin, Savonarola, Judge Rutherford and Huey Long. His influence was not national until after the death of Mrs. Rachel Biggs…. who left Brother Scudder several millions of dollars with which to establish a television station. Shortly thereafter he teamed up with an ex-Senator from his home state; they placed their affairs in the hands of a major advertising agency and were on their way to fame and fortune. Presently they needed stormtroopers; they revived the Ku Klux Klan in everything but the name – sheets, passwords, grips, and all. It was a “good gimmick” once and still served. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.

“Impossible? Remember the Klan in the ‘Twenties – and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. Remember Karl Marx and note how close that unscientific piece of nonsense called Das Kapital has come to smothering out all freedom of thought on half a planet, without – mind you – the emotional advantage of calling it a religion. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."

Give Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 a read (available for Kindle.)  

Are the parallels with our present situation perfect? Well, no. For one thing, there is the spectacular hypocrisy of U.S. fundamentalist Christians gushing their fervid support for a man who is - in every conceivable measure of action or character - the diametric opposite of Jesus. Even Heinlein could not have written that.  

No, this has to be a clarion call. Members of the American center and moderate-left must get past their clich├ęs... like the insipid stupidity of calling old-fashioned Jeffersonian libertarians like Heinlein "right-wingers." For one thing, anyone who loves science, nowadays is, by definition, no member of that cult.

We must be welcoming of fellow citizens who flee the rising, confederate madness. Soon, these will include waves of 'retiring' U.S. military and intelligence officers, potential allies of stunning value in our task of saving civilization! So do not listen to fools on the far-left, who would spit in the faces of such refugees. The far-left can be as crazy as the entire-right has become. Especially if they would reflexively spurn powerful allies, just because they have good posture and sport crewcuts.

Or powerful inspirations, like the science fiction author and American, Robert A. Heinlein.

Honor the legacy of Heinlein and Pay It Forward! Support the efforts of the Heinlein Society -- which promotes education, blood drives and provides books to veterans.

== Addenda ==

Oh, you don't believe that there is a nationwide cabal of fundamentalists who aim for precisely the scenario that worried Heinlein? Read this. An escapee from the "christofascist" network describes how a million or so children at any time are not only being homeschooled, but indoctrinated to think of themselves as holy warriors, battling a satanic republic. And this is the central goal of Betsy DeVos, our new Secretary of Education.

And yes, central to their belief system are not the words of Jesus, but the diametrically opposite and hate-drenched Book of Revelation.  With hand-rubbing delight, they anticipate the torture and death of you and your loved ones and our nation, followed by eternal torment and damnation, plus an end to all democracy, science, ambition, curiosity, questioning, exploration and every other thing that makes us human. And... oh yes, a violent end to the United States of America. And I did not exaggerate a single word. Every single one of those outcomes is directly and explicitly what they pray for, daily.

Finally... A Scottish newspaper listed coverage of the Trump Inauguration as a Twilight Zone reboot: "The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have often dabbled with alternative history stories... It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible..."

== The meta problem, here ==

I had saved up this posting, offering it to every venue I could find (or shortened versions, eliminating my personal voice.) It is interesting, effective and different. But there is the rub.

Look, there's one more factor at work now. Fear. When that emotion reigns, even the side that believes in openness and originality shuts down psychologically. At the very moment when we need a wide stance and originality, mass media have circled the wagons, allocating op-ed soapboxes to pals who re-word the same whines, over and over.

Like the latest wave of ill-considered reactions, screaming about the Trumps' increase in military spending, as liberals fall for a baited trap, reflexively shouting hate at the Military Officer Corps, spurning another set of victims, another fact-centered profession. This is the stupidest thing we could possibly do, right now.

It's not that they are wrong in opposing this tsunami of Confederate madness! Their mistake is a belief that the Union can win this phase of civil war with "resistance" alone, pushing back with grunting sumo.  Again and again I cry - as Heinlein did - that this is a time for agility.  For judo.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Shifting views on immigration

In 1939, the infamous ship St. Louis limped around the Atlantic and Caribbean with over 900 German Jews on board. Arm-twisted by the Nazis, but also shamefully, the United States and Cuba both refused sanctuary to the refugees. Eventually the ship returned to Germany and most of the passengers on board were eventually killed during the Holocaust.

Bard College professor an director of the Hannah Arendt Center, Roger Berkowitz talks about a luckier refugee, Hanna Arendt: In 1943, Arendt wrote a poignant essay 'We Refugees': "The stateless person, without the right to residence and without the right to work, had of course constantly to transgress the law."

Berkowitz expands on Arendt's experience: 

"The word, refugee, flattens a person and a people marked by loss and vulnerability. Having lost their home, their language, their friends, and their families, refugees live in camps, in public; they experience the rupture of their private lives and their public visibility as only a mass.
   "The refugee is transformed from a person with a history and world into a pitiable figure. We can have compassion for an individual, look into their eyes, touch their shoulder, and feel the humanness in their pain. But faced with masses of refugees hands open, seeking refuge, compassion is too often replaced by pity (if not by fear).”

I’ve long accused all sides of hypocrisy regarding immigration!

History shows that Democrats protect the borders and reduce illegal immigration --demonstrably better and more vigorously than Republicans (till Trump) -- for the same reasons that they boosted legal immigration — because legal immigrants can join unions and eventually vote. Yes, this sounds counter to popular impressions because liberals try to be kind to illegals, once they are here. But democratic presidents always boosted the Border Patrol (Obama deported all the illegals who misbehaved, who he could get his hands on).

Think about why, until 9/11, GOP presidents always slashed the BP. It's true!  Why? Because their owner caste loves cheap labor that must live in fear and that undercuts unions.

If cranky, white, male boomers want to blame anyone for the changing look of America, blame the Democrats all right! But for legal immigration.  The landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eased the path across the nation's borders for people from Asia and Africa by removing old regional quotas. That was moral and right.

That 1965 Democratic Congress also did something that seems also to be right-sounding… easing the way for families to re-unite, if one member is already legally a U.S. resident. And there, well, I disagree

Sure, unite parents and children and spouses. But the sibling and cousin advantage is just immoral and wrong. 

Think.  Anyone in another country who has a U.S. relative is already much luckier than his neighbors in say, Bangladesh. Think, I mean it, actually think about this. Those relatives back home already get remittances and packages and favors, and help with legal paperwork trying to emigrate. They are already lucky! Why should they automatically be luckier than their neighbors, in Dacca?  Don’t those neighbors deserve a chance, too? See my earlier posting: Hidden factors in the rush to immigration reform. Must luck be kept limited to arbitrary family chains?

Does this mean I approve of a Republican bill?  Really? These monsters who have betrayed Adam Smith and Lincoln and who have sent Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave? 

Well, in fact, while it seems old-fashioned, I am capable of fine parsing. And there are portions of this bill that are as loathsome as anything else spewing from Paul Ryan’s Confederate Treason Cabal. But to be honest, there are parts that I can shrug over.

Look, we need to prioritize. Obama himself had no problems with simultaneously creating a citizenship path for "dreamers" - kids who came here as babies, while vigorously deporting slimes who betrayed their adopted land by wreaking crime and harm.  He called for kindness and help for hard-workers who were already here... while spending quite a few millions beefing up the Border Patrol and laying hundreds of miles of new fences, so immigration can channel through the legal processes.

Just in order to shock you all, let me say: "Build your stupid wall." It's about time Republicans were willing to employ lots of semi-skilled workers in infrastructure, creating high velocity money in the economy instead of sucking us dry with tax gifts to the rich.

If this were a negotiation, I'd let em have the wall, in exchange for... for... for not being jerks at war with facts and brains and heart in every way they can possibly find.

== Immigration and Violence ==

From the Los Angeles Times: Californians are 30% less likely to die a violent death today than other Americans. Since 1980, California’s rate of reported crime overall has fallen by 62%. The state’s criminal arrest rates, too, have fallen considerably, by 55% overall, and by 80% among people younger than 18 — a population, it is worth noting, that is now 72% nonwhite. 

Violent crime in California has fallen by an impressive 50% in the same period. This includes drops in robberies (65%), homicide (68%), and rapes and assaults (more than 40%). That last figure is even more remarkable when you consider that the legal definitions of both assault and rape were expanded during these years.

Trump often points at violence in Chicago. An outlier that is less blue and less immigrant rich, and far smaller than California. 

Oh, and California generates inventions and jobs faster than anyone. Texas keeps sending governors here to try to raid and poach our companies. Um, why? Can't generate your own?

Efficient government, top schools and universities... and sure, filled with problems... that are being handled better than any red state. Why? How? We haven't abandoned the formula of the Greatest Generation. We have unions, universities, infrastructure, tolerance and the rich pay taxes. And business flourishes. 

Oh, one more thing. We like being a little bit funky-crazy. It's cool. It is one of many reasons why we're the sane ones.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Science Fiction: Into the future

Let's take a pause to envision how science fiction makes a difference.  First by pointing at the rocks that lie in wait, downstream, that might yet be avoided. Second, by shining light upon the possible -- on things that we might want, or the people we choose to become. And finally...

... the category of I told you so. Rubbing our Cassandra warnings in the faces of those who just didn't listen!  Very soon, I will post about how Robert Heinlein is suddenly oh, so pertinent again, in all three categories.  But for now, let us romp through the lesser but still fascinating tulips all around us.

== Appreciation from the mighty ==

We have fans in unexpected places.  For example, the (then) President of the United States - in his final interview in office - touted The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin and conversed tangentially about the Hugo Award. Yes, he has long been – tangentially – a sci fi reader. Great stuff!  But. Um hey, sir? Did you notice my name, in small letters, on the back cover of that book? ;-)

Well, well. In this interview, Obama says, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species. I think that what one of the jobs of political leaders going forward is, is to tell a better story about what binds us together as a people. And America is unique in having to stitch together all these disparate elements – we’re not one race, we’re not one tribe, folks didn’t all arrive here at the same time. What holds us together is an idea, and it’s a story about who we are and what’s important to us. And I want to make sure that we continue that.”

What a terrific interview about books and reading with a truly amazing American who isn't done helping the world. 

Even more powerful... Google has shown its appreciation often. For example, I spoke last week at the blue-sky and far-out research group "X" -- with thanks to our host, Rapid Evaluation leader Rich DuVaul and his fine colleagues.  And in this article how another group, Google Creative Lab, is currently taking applications for The Five, a one-year paid program for five lucky innovators, drawn from a pool of artists, designers, filmmakers, developers, and other talented, multi-dextrous makers. And yes, SF authors.

In fact, open mindedness has always been present, at least among geniuses. Winston Churchill wrote an extensive essay about… alien life. How amazing! We will fight them on the beaches and the landing grounds...

== Cool links ==

Tune in to Episode 5: "Limits of Understanding: cosmology, imagination, and the role of theology", with Paul Steinhardt (author of Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang) and David Brin, part of the "Into the Impossible" podcast series by UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

Also check out the extensive archives of Starship Sofa for more audio science fiction stories. 

Yea for time sinks! Dust offers a great collection of entertaining and provocative Sci Fi short films.

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, done with the late Terry Pratchett, will be televised by the BBC. And Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land is coming to television as well. 

On the international front... Looks like a really interesting contribution to the African SF Renaissance.  Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun, tells the tale of a Nigerian geologist who has been asked by his nation... to steal a piece of the moon.

And this from the New Scientist: In China, this is Science Fiction's Golden Age, by Lavie Tidhar. 

Did SF predict the iPad, Skype... or Trump? Business Insider lists: The seven most freakishly accurate ways science fiction predicted he future.

== Sci Fi novels in the news ==

Larry Niven’s classic story Inconstant Moon asks the question, “What would you do if it were your last night on Earth?” and takes place over one catastrophic night in Los Angeles.  It’s been picked up for a film by the producers of The Arrival.  Terrific!  

In other Niven News, Larry’s terrific novel Protector is assigned reading for the Special and General Relativity course at West Point! The tale’s vivid depiction of interstellar spaceflight at relativistic speeds culminates in a relativistic space “dogfight” past a neutron star.  Though of course the tactics shown at the end of Startide Rising ain’t shabby, neither, ahem. 

Jeez, what’ll it take to get some royalties, around here? Have a look at an Interesting spin on dittos in a video game…  that actually looks kinda cool. 

And then there’s this: “Terminator and Avatar director James Cameron has signed a deal with AMC to produce a six-episode documentary series, titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. The series will explore how science fiction has tried to answer humanity’s “big questions” throughout history.”  I’ve been on a lot of these shows, e.g. Masters of Science Fiction and Sci Fi legends, but I expect Cameron to bring a big budget sensibility and a strong sense of why we are all different from our ancestors. Largely because of a new habit of looking ahead.

Oh, here's another interesting novel, this one by Norman Spinrad (author of Bug Jack Barron and The Iron Dream). HIs latest, The People's Police tells of New Orleans in a near future when Category 6 hurricanes are the norm, when deflation is getting millions tossed from their homes, when voodoo comes alive... and when the police tire of serving the money-masters, devoting their loyalty instead to the common people.   

Norman can get a bit polemical... then he makes you laugh out loud with something outrageously unexpected, like a vodoun spirit talker elected governor of Louisiana. I think he gets wrong how our public servants will rise up to protect and defend and serve us.  But it is a near-certainty that they will.

Just released: a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler's powerful novel, Kindred. 

And Margaret Atwood has created a graphic novel, Angel Catbird -- a tale of genetic engineering.. and a superhero who emerges after the accidental merging of human DNA with that of a cat and an owl. Volume 2, To Castle Catula has just been released.

Following up on his classic American Gods, Neil Gaiman's latest novel, Norse Mythology was released in February -- with his own colorful re-telling of the legends of the ancient Norse pantheon of gods. 

== Science Fiction & Politics ==

Slate has invited ten writers to envision the possible (dystopic?) future of Trump's America. You can read compelling selections by Lauren Beukes, Jeff Vandemeer, Elizabeth Bear, Saladin Ahmed, Nisi Shawl, Ben Winters and others in The Trump Story Project.  

Our metaphors fill society.  This one was posted with zero commentary needed.