Saturday, January 13, 2018

Times of change: male behavior, boomer crankiness

I’ve long held that Rebecca Solnit is one of the best essayists in the modern era. I’ve reviewed some of her books and deem A Paradise Built in Hell, to be of immense importance, touting it in almost every futurological speech especially to our “protector caste.” In her new missive, Solnit waxes both eloquent and actinically angry over the seemingly endless litany of crimes committed by patriarchy and – let’s face it – the male of the species. In “Let this flood of women’s stories never cease: on fighting foundational misogyny one story at a time.”

I am not at all inclined to ask her to stop! Indeed, I generally respond to most political jeremiads by asking for perspective on 6000 years of history. And across that time, countless women have suffered at the hands of males, in nearly all contexts and places and cultures.

So what is the solution? Those of you who've read The PostmanGlory SeasonEarth, and at least a dozen of my short stories know how many variations I’ve explored, dealing with the same core issue. What’s to be done about the one-quarter of human males who are clearly unsuitable for civilized company and should not be allowed anywhere near women and children? And another quarter who… well… badly need remedial help for better impulse control!

No, I'm not claiming to have explored these matters with the kind of chilling terror of Alice Sheldon’s “James Tiptree Jr.” stories, or Joanna Russ, or Margaret Atwood, or all the other women authors who convey the victim’s perspective so well. On the other hand, there truly is a side to all of this that gets missed, asking: why did this revolution never happen before? Sure, there were candles in the darkness! (The Postman is dedicated to Lysistrata!) Still, a powerful, civilization-changing movement awaited this very era we are living in.

Without taking anything away from the leaders and the brave millions of women who are vigorously demanding their human and adult rights, it is also clear that feminism benefited from millions of dads and brothers and husbands and sons who were – despite some doofus lapses – generally pretty decent fellows. Who encouraged their daughters and drove them to karate lessons and never lifted a finger to their wives, and groveled appropriately after raising their voices, or letting some Cro-Magnon reflex briefly take charge. Men who are cringing at these recent stories, as many of us did, upon reading The Screwfly Solution.Men who would – if summoned by a wise and truly sagacious Council of Women, show up and lay our swords at their feet.

There is an aspect to this that even a genius like Rebecca Solnit – in her well-deserved wrath – seldom sees. I discuss it in The Postman. That we would go a long way toward a solution if the problem were parsed as choosing between good and bad men! This is not something that even has to be argued. Once you ponder it, you know it, in your brain and heart and gut.

Nor is this a surprise, biologically! Female mate choice propels the exaggerated traits of males in most species. And so, imagine if our daughters simply declared: “The exaggerated male traits that will be rewarded, from now on, will be copious kindness, capacious calm, reasonableness, respectful love and self-control. Predators will have no place in the coming gene pool.” 

Yes, this is more radical, by far, than any of today's near-term (and necessary) palliations. I do not offer it instead of our drive for legal and reputational responsibility, outing abusers and driving them out of positions of power! That near-term uprising is way overdue. Nothing should take away from the anger and righteousness of this too-long delayed revelatory revolution!  Bring it on! 

But we science fiction authors are always looking a bit farther ahead. I am only offering the ultimate weapon in this fight for justice and decency. The cure - over the long run - must come from a form of Darwinian selection.

==  Boomers trash the place on their way out ==

The baby-boom generation, which has voted reliably Republican in recent years, has been the largest generation of eligible voters since 1978. But in 2018, for the first time, slightly more Millennials than baby boomers will be eligible to vote, according to forecasts from the Center for American Progress’s States of Change project. Higher turnout rates among baby boomers will preserve their advantage among actual voters for a while. But sometime around 2024, Millennials will likely surpass them. The post-Millennials, Americans born after 2000 who’ll enter the electorate starting in 2020, will widen the advantage.” - from The Atlantic by Ronald Brownstein.

Oh, and we’re cranky! White male boomers feel creaky. We thought youth was our thing! Damn kids! 

No wonder we went for the insanely rapacious, short-sighted and feudal Tax Bill, which benefits 99.99% of us not at all.  No wonder we inflicted in the nation Donald Trump. And Fox News, where catheter and mobility scooters pay the advert bills.

Oh, but didn't we have great music? The kids avow that openly. Moreover, while I am eager for the much nicer and more sensible next generations to take over our social and political lives, I will point out one thing: that we made them. 

For all our faults, we boomers appear to have been terrific parents.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our - controversial - future in space

This one will be a mix, mostly about space. Some riffs about a U.S. "return to the moon," plus news about SETI... some interesting snippets! And a wee observation on politics.

Okay for starters, I suppose this counts as “space news.” President Trump announced his intention to send NASA back to the moon!

NASA funding, Forbes
Alas, as Ethan Siegel shows in Forbes, it simply isn’t going to happen: As a percentage of the federal budget, investment in NASA is at a 58 year low, and Trump shows no sign of changing this.  

Oh, there is one way an American will step on the moon in say a decade or so, without much increase in NASA budgets, and I’ll tell you how, below.

Of course, this return-to-the-moon fetish - a GOP obsession - is a debacle that will only do us harm. With this decision to squander NASA resources on the same dumb goal sought by every wannabe Apollo-imitator -- China, Russia, Europeans, Indians and various billionaires -- Trump sabotages our chance to do what none of those others - only we - can do. 

Only the U.S. has the capability to go where the real riches are. Asteroids & Phobos… which also happen to be the route to Mars. That path is not helped an iota by landings on the Moon. Only the utterly delusional think that our path to becoming a spacefaring species passes through that dusty, sterile gravity well.

Sure, a lunar orbital station is valuable for many reasons! Scientific, developing deep space capabilities, and defense, among others. Such an orbital station would be ideal to bring back robotically retrieved asteroidal materials for study and processing, to see if estimates are true... that there are hundreds of trillions worth of resources to be easily accessed out there.

Also, such a lunar orbital station could sell services to all those wannabe groups desperate to plant dusty footprints on the (for now) useless moon! How's that for savvy? Us making a buck or two out of others' obsessive rush to imitate our past glories, repeating Apollo? The Russians can't complain, having charged us vampire rates to launch our astronauts to the space station.

But another U.S. Apollo landing?  Yawn! Go ahead. Name any benefits for the U.S. joining the symbolism craze! Say what? Helium Three? Yippee, let's base space policy on cheap sci fi flicks! But zero facts. (Care to show us this magical substance in samples of lunar regolith, in “ore” concentrations? Show us how to collect it or refine it? Um, care to point out a real life customer who will buy it?)

What? You want to do this out of pride? All that repeating Apollo does is make us part of the pack! 

And now it is prediction time: dig what will happen. As costs mount, Trump will declare a diplomatic breakthrough! Turning the US moon landing effort into a wonderful "international cooperation" like the ISS! A new detente! And suckers will fall for it, kvelling as we subsidize Russian and Chinese footprints and they get access to every scrap of U.S. space technology. A lose-lose-lose for good old USA.

The fact that our political civil war has become dominant even in choosing space destinations is a pathetic sign of our times. Alas.

Just like the coming Iran War, the winners in all of this are the same… those who rake in billions by controlling down-Earth resources in energy and minerals want to divert us from new, sustainable technologies and access to the true riches out there. And as an added bonus, disappointment in the utter uselessness of this boondoggle is sure to associate NASA with both money-wasting and Trumpism, undermining overall support among the US citizenry. Spaceba tovarisch!

== The gold in them thar rocks... ==

The Planetary Resources site can show you a lot of cool stuff about the advantages of asteroids. Many are easier (robotically) to reach than the moon's surface. And the "fractionation of ores" can be a million or a billion times better than we see on the moon.

See also their planned spacecraft, which was to be a partner in NASA's own effort re asteroids, a business-public partnership that Republicans claim they want to see. 

I reiterate. There are zero aspects to this ‘back to the Moon” announcement that serve long term U.S. interests. Indeed, every outcome will favor foreign rivals and legacy mining interests down here, who want us never to access the real riches in space.  

Yes, doggie. Gooood doggie.

== Star Wars defense ==

I was critical of 1980s "star wars" space weapon fantasies – if supportive of the technological research. But this "historical" article is lefty-biased, tendentious and throws out babies with bathwater. 

There was plenty to diss about the Pournelle-led “Citizens’ Advisory Council on Space.” It was too rightwing to see clearly, and would have demolished the one thing (reciprocal deterrence) that kept us alive through the Cold War. We now know most of the required tech was not achievable then or now… though some core goals were! (In a weird way that I won’t talk about.) Fortunately, Isaac Asimov had the whole thing sussed. It was in fact an economic and psychological weapon to shatter the Soviets’ budget and morale. And you can’t argue with such success. (Though one can argue with how Bush Sr. completely blew the ensuing peace, consigning us back into another, even more vicious “cool war.”)

Alas, this essayist also attempts to discredit the “sci fi” notions of space resources and industry, needlessly welding that admirable and achievable ambition to the far-right. And thus the article proves that the left also contains its own shortsighted jerks.

In contrast, some Strategic Clarity: Exponential industrialization of space is more important than combat lasers and hypersonic fighters. This author takes the same position as the Air University Space Horizons faculty, that investing in "take-off" industries in space could secure strategic and economic leadership and safety for generations to come.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

War on Facts and Reason... and vs Iran...

The predicted run-up to a U.S. Iran War is experiencing a hiccup, as massive street demonstrations in two dozen cities raise a slim possibility that theocracy might give way to a modern, moderate and reasonable-modern state. Slim, because the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is large, rich, and highly motivated to keep their gravy train in motion. So what would be the best approach for a sensible, grownup and pragmatically enlightened U.S. policy?

Tweet-storms.  From a 'genius,' no less.

"In an interview, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic who now lives in exile outside Paris… warns that U.S. President Donald Trump’s statements in support of the revolt will be counterproductive. 'If the fear of outside intervention by the Trump administration and those allied with him who advocate the disintegration of Iran — namely Saudi Arabia and Israel — becomes strong enough, it will prevent a majority from sympathizing and joining the protests. In this sense, Trump’s tweets only serve to deflate the movement.” ...

Donald Trump and his cabal are very aware of this. Their worst nightmare is that a moderate revolution in Iran would erase all justification for a US-Iran War -- their goal for years, but now propelled by the urgency of getting a distraction from Mueller and all that. Compare U.N. Ambassador Nikki Hayley's recent harangue listing provocations by Iran -- none of which bear up under scrutiny -- and compare it to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 speech explaining the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war with Iraq - a pretext that all now know (and even Donald Trump admits) to have been based on lies and fabrications.

This article does a good job, but goes nowhere near far enough, tying together the cords that tauten tighter, every day, dragging us toward pre-planned disaster. Read it… then see far more detail here… and later here… where I describe how many factions would benefit, including the Iranian mullahs. And of course, the real master of the White House.

Even if you credit nothing else I say about this, remember that every Republican president after Eisenhower has rushed gleefully into war. 
Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Junior, and now the Trumpists... and you don't see a pattern of concocted war? Every single one. (Except Ford, who oversaw our final defeat in Vietnam.) 

Madness. And you are complicit, if you don't at least read up on this looming debacle, and speak up.

== Okay so you got your Big Tax Cut Grab; what now? ==

Brad deLong asks the same question posed in a few chapters of my novel, Existence - whether those in the oligarchy, who are pushing so hard for a return to feudalism, are being smart... or very shortsighted. 

In Existence, I portray savvy trillionaires holding conferences to appraise how a new aristocracy might rule not-stupidly (for the first time, ever.) Here, deLong makes crystal clear the alternative:

"In the America the politicians you support are building, it may well become the case that one day your grandchildren are in the center of a web of political influence, and the next day they will find themselves not: Some of them will be involuntary guests at the Wichita Ritz-Carlton" - (referring to the hotel in Riyadh where some of the world's richest princes are now held, by a state they thought they had controlled) - "The rest will try to make a run for it in the Learjet, or in the rubber boat.

"So is it really wisdom on your part to want to win this round?

"To be blunt: a social democratic middle-class society is much better society in which to have a large stock of entrepreneurial, inherited, or rent-derived wealth than is a communist society. But it is also a much friendlier society to the wealthy than is a fascist society. And social democracy and fascism—hard or, if you are lucky, soft—are the only options the future will allow: tertium non datur."

Interrupting, let's be clear: the leaders of the anti-west alliance know this. They are not rebuilding idealistic-if-bloody communism, but a fascism in which oligarchs may amass billions and live lavishly, but the state can expropriate and cut throats at any moment. (The Nazis did it to the Prussian junkers caste and to the industrialists, whenever they liked. It now happens annually in Russia.) Those who believe that strong socialism or traditional aristocratic feudalism are possible alternatives are dreaming. It's either true-liberal middle class Transparent Democracy or fascism, as deLong continues explaining to today's shortsighted American plutocrats:

"The political descendants of the politicians today you support who lead chants of “lock her up“ will be the greatest threat to the liberty, the wealth, and perhaps even the lives of those of your grandchildren and great grandchildren who are plutocrats. Look ahead into the future a little bit. Do not focus on the pile of moolah under your nose."

Looking beyond their nose is what I portray some "trillies" doing, in Existence. (Have a look at the amazing video preview-trailer, with incredible art by Patrick Farley!)

Alas, it seems increasingly clear that the intelligent aristocratism I depicted there is simply not an option. Nowadays, those zillionaires who are smart - whose wealth derived from creating new goods and services - are also Democrats (with a few libertarians). In contrast, the oligarchs backing today's putsch are mostly squatting atop piles that derived from rentier-inactivity (hence favored treatment for passive income in the tax bill), or golgafrincham finance parasitism, or inheritance or crony market manipulation. They have feral cleverness, but no sapient sense of history. Trying to show them the big picture, deLong is wasting his breath.

Do read deLong's whole short essay. Alas, these foxes now run the hen house. The confederacy has conquered Washington. And their stupidity can be lethal all around.

== The War on Facts and Reason: the Entire Right… and chunks of the Far-Left, too! ==

The Right Side’s war on science gets utterly open and explicit, with Donald Trump openly declaring the Bannonite meme of a "deep state," declaring war not just on science and scientists, but all the civil servants, law professionals, intel agencies and military officers who avow that they believe in facts.

 You've seen reports on the Trump Administration muzzling researchers, cancelling peer reviewed reports they dislike, Accusing (without any evidence) scientists of engaging in vast, conspiratorial hoaxes... and now this Orwellian policing of speech. But buried in this article is the real howler!

Instead of the forbidden words, "analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of 'science-based' or ­'evidence-based,' the suggested phrase is, 'CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes..."

Truly, the horror is now clear. Always obsessed with symbolism and incantations, the confederates are now reaching out to the other group who seeks to police science on the basis of "community standards" -- the far, postmodernist left.

Make no mistake. This notion of "community standards of truth" is a roar against objective reality itself. And while it pervades the length and breadth and all heights of the confederate madness that has hijacked American Conservatism, there is a far-fringe on the "left" that is gleeful, eager for the radicalization, the resurrection of symbol-based catechisms that George Orwell described in Homage to Catalonia.

The oligarchs who are funding all of this think they will win the Prize - a return to obligate inherited feudal lordship, as I depict in EXISTENCE. But they are stirring something monstrous at the other end of the spectrum. And if they succeed at rousing a True Left from its slumber, then they will inherit the wind.

As for the left:  
Repeatedly some of you demand that I “name one example of the left being crazy or anti science or anti-western”… and each time I stare, boggled that the Union side in this civil war must be hobbled by such ignorant people. Jiminy, ask anyone from Poland, Hungary and so on, how bad the left has been – or read Orwell!

Hey, you’re all about diversity, right? Not the dogmatic uniformity we see among confederates? Then why can’t you admit your side has a wide spectrum? And some parts of that spectrum are just plain nuts?

This is one of the most cogent brief articles I’ve read in some time, dissecting the logical lunacy of far-leftist postmodernism and how it collaborates – in a sly alliance – with the much larger insanity on today’s entire-right. No, it doesn’t go into an analysis of Derridan Semiotics or Sokal Hoaxes and all that. Just the core conceit that everything is subjective – there’s no objective reality - and science is an evil white-male-elitist plot!

Read this! As we’ve seen with Trump and his Geppetto, you don’t need an explicit plan and a handshake, for different enemies of the West to collaborate toward our demise. Yes, 99% of our attention needs to go to stopping the reinstatement of feudalism… which would end us all.

In contrast, the postmodernist, far-left loons are – for now – a minor, 1% irritation, who damage our fight primarily by giving Sean Hannity anecdotes to shriek-at. BFD. We can shrug them off.  For now.

But never lose your ability to swivel your head, alert for danger in all directions. Don’t just stare at the velociraptor in front of you! Trump’s extravagant theater has many purposes and one of them is to resurrect the crazy left. Young people have sent Google searches on “Karl Marx” skyrocketing, recently -- a zombie we thought safely buried. Steve Bannon giggles happily, rubbing his hands as it shambles from the grave.

Another way to look at it:

Sure, today’s mad ENTIRE right CONSISTS of troglodyte-screeching dogmatists who wage war on science and hate the American tradition of steady, pragmatic reform, and who would impose their prescribed morality on you.  

But the FAR left CONTAINS troglodyte-screeching dogmatists who wage war on science and hate the American tradition of steady, pragmatic reform, and who would impose their prescribed morality on you.

FAR is not the same as ENTIRE. And CONTAINS is nowhere near as bad as CONSISTS. So?

Take note of a tactical advantage: when you avow that your side does have a far-loony fringe that hates science, and say “we’re aware of our side’s few loonies… why can’t you conservatives do the same?”… that increases your credibility!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Strange visitors from beyond...

Oumuamua surprises! The first confirmed and clearly observed visitor from interstellar space has everyone agog. 

Instruments like ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile show that this unique object - traveling through space for millions of years - appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal content object. It varies dramatically in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. About ten times as long as it is wide, Oumuamua exhibits a complex, convoluted shape... So let me guide you through some aspects of this new scientific wonder.

1) Breakthrough Listen used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to aim SETI instruments at Oumuamua, the interstellar asteroid visitor that - (sorry) shows every sign of being just a rock.  And so, despite its weird - even spaceship-like elongated (cigar-ish) profile - is probably not a giant space-probe, like Arthur C. Clarke (who turned 100 December 17) depicted in Rendezvous With Rama. Or Greg Bear’s even more spectacular Thistledown, from his novel Eon.

Still, I have to wonder… have the SETI guys aimed their scopes also at the direction Oumuamua came from? And where (after a hyperbolic swing past our sun) it’s now going? Might our sun have been a swing-by course correction?

2) Note that this won’t be the last! Our instrumentalities have improved so much that we should be spotting more such interstellar visitors from now on, perhaps yearly!  And yes, you are a member of a great, scientific civilization that does stuff like this!

3) At first, astronomers were shocked to see no signs of a comet-like tail from outgassing, as Oumuamua swung past the sun. Theory suggests that the vast majority of small objects flung from planetary systems should be icy.

But the latest findings suggest water might be trapped under a thick, carbon-rich coating on its surface. The way that 'Oumuamua reflects sunlight and found it similar to icy objects from our own Solar System that are covered with a dry crust. Perhaps carbon rich molecules fused by long exposure to interstellar ultraviolet.

Saving ego for last, let me point out that this model - icy small bodies accumulating layers of insulating dust that choke off outgassing over time, happens to be - in the words of a Monty Python character - “mine.”

My own doctoral work at UCSD, way back in 1981, first laid down the theory and simulations of accumulated dust layers or mantles on comets and other bodies, eventually putting them to 'sleep.'

My scientific work has been sparse, as I pursued a wide variety of careers. But a few of my hits might merit remembering.

== More space news ==

My friend William Schopf of UCLA found what he claimed to be the oldest known example of life on Earth, dated back 3.5 billion yearsSome doubted the objects, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, were actually bacteria and microbes. Since then, technology has improved. Schopf and his colleague were able to connect specific carbon-isotope ratios to specific fossil shapes—essentially, enabling them to identify a handful of different ancient living beings. After analyzing the microfossils individually, they identified five species, concluding that two were photosynthesizers, two were methane-consuming organisms, and one produced methane. Wow.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of the TV series “Closer To Truth” gets to ask deep questions of some pretty deep minds. I was privileged to be interviewed for: How should we approach the question of 'are we alone?' "David Brin walks through the logic, along with Jill Tarter, Frank Drake, Francisco Ayala, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrum and others. "

The Planetary Society (I'm on the Advisory Board) is running a contest for Haikus About Space! Here's one - translated from the original dolphin-Trinary:

Oceans everywhere!
Ice roof sheltered, life…
…may fill the cosmos.

A newly discovered pair of massive black holes, orbiting each other very closely in just 80 or so days, has been discovered in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Preliminary estimates suggest the pair will collide and merge into one black hole “in as little as 350 years or as much as 360,000 years.” When that happens, the show (especially in gravitational radiation) should be very impressive.   (Hm, well, on more careful reading…  we’re seeing them through Andromeda. They may be 2.6 billion light-years behind (1000 times farther away than the Andromeda Galaxy! Still a great show... but somewhat less dazzling.)

A “zombie” star that appears to have gone supernova… and survived.  Perhaps even several times. Really weird.

A new planet in the neighborhood! In 71,000 years, it will become our closest neighbor, and Ross 128 will be the closest temperate planet.

Meanwhile… preliminary evidence for a second planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. I’m a little doubtful.

In 1975, the USSR actually fired a cannon from an orbiting space station. Forty years later, we finally get a good look at this gun

Cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the interiors of large, stony objects. Researchers report using it to study the known and potentially unknown voids in the Great Pyramid in a non-invasive way. They report the discovery of a large void (with a cross section similar to the Grand Gallery and a length of 30 m minimum) above the Grand Gallery, which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. At NASA NIAC we funded a study to use this method to map the interiors of asteroids. Wow. 

The first and only cat sent into space – Felicette – was sent up by France in 1963. 

A cool new telescope company has a Kickstarter. Skip the expensive and complex secondary optics and use the prime focus to do images digitally.  Alas,  in fact, their imitation of Newtonian optics for viewing is silly. Skip to a VR goggles method. Contact me, I know exactly how to do it and who can implement!

Another player!  Spaceflight startup Vector — which specializes in micro-rockets — plans to launch its first orbit-bound vehicles from Virginia in mid-2018.  The Vector-R is a four-story-high vehicle that can loft satellites weighing up to 145 pounds into lower Earth orbit. The other vehicle is the Vector-H, which is larger, and capable of carrying 350 pounds to LEO.  They hope for hundreds of launches per year.

== Nukes in Space ==

Interesting developments in space nuclear power: “NASA is developing reactors for spacecraft propulsion and for a planetary power source, with the goal of having both available for a crewed mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. But although the agency is advancing a reactor technology that uses low-enriched uranium (LEU), containing less than 20% of 235U for propulsion, its planetary power source, known as Kilopower, utilizes weapons-grade uranium enriched to 90% or more 235U.

“Nonproliferation advocacy organizations have objected to the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU, material containing 20% or more 235U); they say an LEU design, although it would require more time to develop, would be feasible and consistent with US policy.”

Solar energy’s attractiveness is reduced on the Red Planet  because the solar flux reaching Mars is much less than Earth’s and varies greatly depending on the season and geographic position. In addition, Martian dust storms can last for months. Although solar flux on the Moon is comparable to that received on Earth, nonpolar missions would experience a long lunar night period of half a month, which would require massive energy storage.

There is also testing of a nuclear rocket.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Our mother ocean in peril

At the recent FiRe Conference I got to sit down with my friend, the mighty ocean explorer Sir Roger Payne, who manages to maintain his optimism, despite regularly seeing - with both eyes and instruments - the terrible damage we’ve done to Earth’s resilient ecosystem. Roger knows that doomcasting is an indignant habit that hinders us from attacking problems with confident optimism.  Optimism based on some real positive news! Like the growing populations of whales, who provide some of the most important fertilization services, at sea.

Here is an online article that proposes an assertive, ocean-focused program aimed at two ends: (1) Fertilizing barren regions for nature and food production. (A majority of ocean area is “desert” some of it caused by humans hunting whales almost to extinction.) And (2) ideally drawing lots of carbon out of the atmosphere. 

“David Brin points out that ocean-fertilization is the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.” 

Yes, though I've pointed out that it’s more complex. Across 8000 years, humans have “added water to land” and crude irrigation was disastrous in those regions with poor drainage, where salts accumulate and cause deserts. In contrast, some sites with good drainage and fine traditions have been irrigated for thousands of years, without harm.

See The Planet Remade: How Geo-engineering Could Change the World, by Oliver Morton.

The sea equivalent of stimulating life is “adding land to water” - as nature herself does, with upwelling currents off Chile and the Grand Banks. Alas, our 'contributions' went badly in regions with poor drainage, like the Caspian and Black Seas, which have been killed by agricultural fertilizer runoff… and the Mediterranean and Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, which are under dire threat. The most vibrant parts of the ocean are where nutrient upwellings feed into strong currents. There are some strong current areas that could benefit from human supplied nutrients.

And yes, this may qualify as “geo-engineering” or G.E. And yes, all geo-engineering proposals merit skeptical criticism and burdens of proof, especially of reversibility!  Ideally, any G.E. proposal should be one that can be tested in small scale and hence inherently recoverable experiments. Near term, modest efforts at ocean fertilization satisfy those requirements. But this article takes the notion much, much farther, into territory of science fiction. (And is that a bad thing?)

== Mother of Waters ==

The Futurism site has a series of interesting articles on how our world’s habitability might be preserved and/or we might terraform other worlds.

The most-feared consequence of climate change is not an acceleration of unstable weather. Oh, we’re seeing that, all right, with heightened hurricane seasons, gyrations in El NiƱos, wildfires, glacier loss and arctic-conveyor-freezing winters... well as ocean acidification (see more on this, below.) 

Nor is the biggest danger from spreading deserts and the swarm of tropical diseases now targeting the U.S. South.

No, our top worry is a “blurp”… the possibility that the warming trend might trigger release of methane trapped in sub-sea ices or in tundra or even in regular topsoil.  Now see how the latter of these fears is now utterly proved by careful and repeated scientific studies. 

Now the good news.   “All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. “Lesser” emitters are another story. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels." (See more below.)

The lesson? Coal barons, oil sheiks, petro boyars and their parroting media fought to delay this, but innovative men and women refused to be held back. Some of you are among those heroes!  And some are among the villains who tried to prevent these breakthroughs that might yet save us. 

If you voted for the madmen who are now raising carbon fuel subsidies and trying to cripple sustainables, I have three thoughts for you: (1) You are too late. (2) You - yes you - are among the villains. And (3) this time, we'll remember. And your homes will go to climate refugees.

Oh, here’s that link about terraforming.

== Returning to the sea... ==

A rich source of inspiring indie documentaries is FiRe Films. For example, seven years ago I touted a great film “Chasing Ice,” which tracked with dramatic time lapse photography the catastrophic collapse of glaciers all over the globe, including huge losses along the entire coast of Greenland. A spectacular movie in its own right, filled with courage, suspense and adventure, it also showed with utter decisiveness the effects of global warming. 

(Alas, the Denialist Cult is expert at moving goal posts. The very same folks who cried “prove to us there’s any warming!” then shifted their cant and yelled, “sure it's warming! Now prove it’s not natural!” And when proof is provided, the shout turns to: "Squirrel!")

So now I’ve viewed a sequel, “Chasing Coral,” a gorgeous work of adventure/nature film-making that was unveiled at the 2017 FiRe Conference in Utahin October. It also nails decisively how two effects of climate change — warming and acidification — are killing the vast, rich seascapes that are the nurseries for a majority of sea life. A feast of beauty, admiration, adventure and deep worry.

And let’s be clear, the acidification can only have come from human generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ask your denialist cultist cousin to explain it otherwise and he can’t, because Fox always changes the subject when acidification comes up. (Seriously, say those two words - ocean acidification - to any Fox-cultist and invite them to measure the change themselves with a Ph meter. Watch them blanch, then point offstage, shouting "squirrel!)

Other films sponsored by FiRe include some we sampled about young heroin addicts, one about the poisons spread by algae blooms, of the sort spreading off the Texas Gulf Coast, and one about egg donors. Some of the films are available on the FiRe Films channel. Ideally, subscribe, or get your company to do a corporate membership.

== Remember to keep hope! ==

Again: “Offering a much-needed sign that human actions can be effective against climate change, new data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) shows that global CO2 emissions largely remained static in 2016. All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels.” - reports an article on Futurism.

Of course, even static emission levels mean that massive amounts of CO2 are being dumped into the atmosphere annually; more than 35 billion tons were released in 2016 alone. This CO2 is responsible for warmer ocean and air temperatures, plus more extreme, damaging weather, from droughts to hurricanes. Moreover, other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere—particularly methane, from agriculture and the oil and gas industries—rose by 1 percent in 2016. 

The good news: the Koch brothers’ sunk investments in coal are doomed to well-deserved worthlessness. Against the resistance of troglodytes, solar and wind and storage are taking off at rates never imagined even by optimists.

The bad news? Starting with Ronald Reagan tossing solar panels off the White House roof, then canceling Jimmy Carter’s energy research programs, the trogs managed to profit by delaying this day, perhaps by a crucial decade. Indeed, some deem or recent progress to be too late. At any moment, if the arctic seas and tundra “blurp” their methane, we may fall into a catastrophic tipping point. And even if we evade that calamity, there will be harsh times, before the climate finally stabilizes.  Someday we may get a billion climate refugees...

But let us celebrate tentatively. London School of Economics climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern told The Guardian: “All countries have to accelerate their emissions reductions if the Paris goals are to be met. (But) we can now see clearly that the transition to a low-carbon economy is at the heart of the story of poverty reduction and of the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The pattern: from Jim Crow to Smog, Tobacco, Ozone, Leaded Gas... and now...

First: I am told I should announce: “Just so you know: there are no 3rd party ads on my site. No guest posts. No one can buy a slot or a referral. I try always to attribute quotations, especially lengthy excerpts. And yes, I write this much. Phew.”

Meanwhile... alas... there is so much that's "political" that mass media doesn't cover well. That's why you come here, right?

== Step back and see the "always wrong" obstructionist pattern ==

In 1987, 197 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to stop releasing chemicals that were eating away at our planet’s ozone layer. And now, in a rare scientific triumph, the hole in the ozone layer has just about returned to the size it was at the time of the protocol’s signing: at its peak size in September, NASA reported that the hole was about 7.6 million square miles wide, the smallest it has been at peak since 1988.

As I pointed out, in EARTH (1989), we are capable of seeing problems, appraising them with intelligence and science, negotiating a mix of priorities, and then solving them. Contrary to the dogma of gloom spread today by the far-left and the entire-right.

Alas, this sapience is most often blocked by dogmatists and cheaters. As Jared Diamond reveals in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, a majority of past cultures hewed to rigid “traditional” hierarchies (most often feudal or theocratic) that made them brittle, unable to adapt to changing times. The great historian, Arnold Toynbee, surveyed hundreds of historical cultures and found that those with resilience were the ones who continued to invest both confidence and resources in their “creative minorities.”

We have plenty of examples in both directions. The same portions of society - in some cases the same people - who tried to block desegregation of the U.S. military, based on lies, then the ending of Jim Crow, also shouted “Cars don’t cause smog!” then “Tobacco is good for you!” then "dumping in streams and lakes is harmless!" then "Who needs oil well regulations?" and “the so-called Ozone collapse is a myth and those wanting to do something about it are commies who aim to destroy market capitalism!”

Let's zero in on one of those --

== Perfecting the methodology of delay-obstruction and outright murder ==

More than half a century ago, American media was saturated with tobacco advertising. Cigarettes were the most advertised product on TV and tobacco companies sponsored hundreds of shows. Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend - forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes. See Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes.

This is about more than Tobacco. The villainous shills who fought, obfuscated and delayed regulations to remove lead from gas and paint killed hundreds of thousands and were directly responsible for extending America’s worst era of crime. The very same ad agencies and law firms howled “hoax!” at scientific proof that cars caused smog, or that dumping into waterways caused lethal illness. They got their biggest contracts and refined their methods delaying any action about the tobacco plague.

Sometimes they fail quicker than others. The very same ad agencies and law firms used the same methods to delay action on the Ozone Hole, but this time humanity acted swiftly. Thirty years ago, the world signed that Montreal Protocol. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) credits that agreement with for preventing an estimated 280 million additional cases of skin cancer, 45 million cataracts, and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths between its signing in 1987 and the year 2050. Without the Montreal Protocol, the planet would have been about 4 degrees warmer by 2050 (resulting in more extreme weather events like droughts, floods and hurricanes).

In all of those cases, it wasn’t so much “liberalism” that proved right, as that liberals paid attention to the evidence presented by science, which clearly showed that something needed to be done. Elsewhere I talk about my own role in one of these struggles… to get the lead out of gasoline. The delaying tactics that we fought down then caused immense human tragedy, till smart, sapient legislation finally made the poison go away. It resulted later in a steep plummet in the U.S. rate of crime. (New York now has its lowest rate since the 1950s.)

Today we have bald eagles again, because we limited DDT, and folks fish along sweet riverbanks in downtown Pittsburgh, and every species of whale still exists… all because we acted on warnings… and no communist hell descended.

Again: no… communist… hell… descended. Innovative enterprise markets boomed, and their only major enemy hasn't been "government regulation"... (though excess regulation can cloy!)... but old foes that our parents in the Greatest Generation knew well. Monopoly, duopoly, oligarchy and cheating.

No communist hell descended from any of these reforms... though there was a plague of amnesia, as our rightist neighbors forget they were wrong about every single one of those issues. Every single one.

== A perfected method... and not-quite perfect record being wrong ==

How many times must this happen before we see a relentless pattern? The same morons and cheaters forecast doom to the entire U.S. auto industry, if new efficiency standards were imposed, originally in the 1970s and upgraded in 2011. The actual result? Across the board improvement in our cars, which now have vastly higher quality in every category while actually dropping in adjusted price, compared to other costs of living, while saving consumers tens of billions at the pump.

Of course I’ve been dancing around the big one. Climate Change.  But we've talked about that, plenty. Here, we need to point out that the pattern is the same. The special interests and lobbyists and ad agencies are much the same, as are the messaging and delaying tactics.

After all of these examples, should the conservative position always be discredited?  

Nonsense! Criticism makes us better and sometimes a conservative assertion proves correct!  

Take the greatest mistake of modern U.S. liberalism, which hurt the movement grievously and helped re-ignite the confederacy across America, an insanity called desegregation by forced school busing. A lefty “innovation” of pyrotechnic stupidity in which it was the “reformers” who stubbornly ignored every bit of evidence that their position was pigheaded and wrong!

 Elsewhere I criticize some other liberal policies such as basing legal immigration on family reunions. Sounds nice. In fact it's evil. And don't get me started on liberal/democratic political stupidity!  But none of these exceptions fit a relentless pattern.

As you've seen, the relentless return of U.S. conservatism to hatefully anti-science error always turns out to have been bought and paid for by cynical oligarchs. Manipulators who are never brought into account for the countless lives their delaying tactics wrecked.

No, it is the process of denialism itself that merits our contempt and hatred. When conservatives stop this lunatic-dogmatic war on science and every other fact profession, then yes, I am sure they will have something to contribute to the national negotiations toward a better future. I want Goldwater types at the table!

But that will entail jettisoning... well... start with Clear Channel ravers. And Fox.

== Will the bubbles pop? ==

“The US stock market as a percentage of GDP is now far bigger than it was at the housing bubble’s peak, and it’s rapidly approaching the dot-com bubble peak. That ought to make us a little nervous as we watch the Dow hit new all-time highs.” Says John Mauldin.  I’m not saying it will pop tomorrow… nor does John. But just look at the chart. And note it was a month ago. The bubble is bigger now.

== The times demand it ==

Grad Students Would Be Hit By Massive Tax Hike Under House GOP Plan. The war on all fact professions - not just science - is thus made utterly explicit. Use stuff like this. Go after your uncle. Your obstinate friend. Above all, your aunt who doesn't dare speak when "he" is around, but who has a vote. As for student debt, ask if they have any justification for the Republican policy that student debts can never  be refinanced?

And yet. Can we try to be fair? Mocking Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his wife for posing with the first sheet of dollar bills with his signature on it? Seriously? And what would you do, if you had that honor. but pose with a first sheet, and buy it for the wall? Reflexive lefty twits! Choose… your… battles! There’s plenty to hate about these confederate plantation-lords. Control your rage and aim it at the unbearable real offenses, not harmless and natural stuff. You are supposed to be the sapient ones. All you accomplished, by shrieking at this, is making it harder to attract conservative defectors.

And finally...  In a book entitled “America Against America,” based on his travels in the U.S., Wang Huning, a top Chinese communist party ideologist just elevated to the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo that rules the Middle Kingdom, “compares American democracy and elections to shareholders in a corporation. In theory, he observes, all shareholders have a say; in reality, minority shareholders control the company.”

Following China’s Confucian tradition, [Wang] also calls for moral education to raise the moral standards of the whole society and especially of officials who he believes must ‘internalize’ ethical behavior.”