Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Still putting off getting back into reading economics. Had 2 John Scalzi's queued, so I decided to do both of them.

First I read "The Human Division", the latest (book 5) in the "Old Man's War" story arc. I have most of Scalzi's earlier stuff in paperback, so I actually bought a paperback of this book. It felt a little odd reading it when I started. Each of the 13 chapters was originally published as a stand-alone story. It seems like it would have been fairly challenging to do, but together, the narrative flows well. He does a nice job of making a supporting character in 1 story the central character of another. Plenty of the snappy/snarky dialogue Scalzi is known for. (Note, I quit following him on Twitter, he was just a little too snarky for me, which I would not have thought to be possible.)

The only down point of the book for me was the middle story, "The Dog King". There is a history of shaggy dog stories in SF - Jack Vance came to mind for some reason - but the tongue-in-cheek tone of this story clashed somewhat with the rest of the stories. This one would have been better as a stand-alone.

The stories are all page turners and enjoyable reads. The "Old Man's War" story arc is left with many issues open, so there will be more in the future.

Then I read "Lock In". In the near future, a disease locks some people into their bodies - their minds work but the bodies don't. They get around this with implanted neural net hardware that lets them transfer their consciousness into robots (threeps, nice) or into the brains of a small percentage of non-locked-in disease survivors who also have implanted neural net hardware, allowing them to act as hosts.

Within this framework, the story is basically a police procedural, with some noirish detective overtones. It differs from noir in that rather than having the detective work his way up the food chain from a small, maybe senseless, murder to the rich and powerful, you kind of start out with the rich and powerful. It's a question of figuring out who's up to what, and in what body.

The story reminded me in a very general way of the Alfred Bester classic "The Demolished Man". That novel also is a detective story, but set in a world of telepaths, making for a different kind of detection.

It is, again, a real page turner - I read it in 2 days, a few hours each day. Amazon says it's 337 pages, seemed like less. There are some very nice software and network security discussions that are well informed. It has a satisfactory conclusion, with all loose ands tied and questions answered.

I also read "Twelve Tomorrows", a collection of 12 near-future short stories published by MIT's Technology Review. As you would expect there are lots of interesting extrapolations of current technology trends. Most of the stories are fairly short. The only real disappointment was the Brian Aldiss story, mostly because it seems like he has succumbed to DOM (Dirty Old Man) syndrome. I think I've commented on this before. As some authors get towards their 70s, they seem to get sex-on-the-brain. Heinlein and Frank Herbert both suffered from the syndrome towards the end of their careers. Always kind of sad to see it crop up.

The Peter Watts story was also a little off. As a former Weekly World News subscriber, I of course am required to enjoy a spontaneous human combustion story. But still, I couldn't quite figure out the tone of this story.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Letter to the Editor

A recent H-L article quoted the CEO of Murray Energy Corp. as saying "global warming is a hoax". It's good that the company is privately held. Otherwise stockholders would surely clamor for the removal of a CEO who displays such willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outright dishonesty, or all of the above.

97% of the world's climate scientists have concluded that the evidence for human-caused global warming is overwhelming. 99% of all scientists concur. Denialists say climate scientists get more grants for supporting global warming. But what about the 99% of scientists in other fields? What is their motivation?

If global warming were a hoax, it would mean thousands of scientists were falsifying data, and collaborating to keep the data consistent. Most scientists are motivated by a love for data, logic, and discovery. They are not trained to be conspirators, and would be easily found out.

On the other hand, fossil fuel companies are dedicated to one thing: extracting as much as possible of the $27 trillion in fossil fuels still in the ground. They want their money, and if it leads to millions of deaths and trillions of dollars of losses from unchecked global warming, so be it.

The Pentagon has declared climate change to be a clear and present danger to the security of the US. I have seen calls to charge denialists with treason. That seems a bit much. Maybe wanton endangerment might be a starting point for charges, and we see where can go from there?

Well, that's my 250 words for the Herald Leader. I wanted to include this as well, but, no room :-( I think I'll send this one in next week.
The First Amendment famously does not protect yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Global warming denialists are standing by the exits of a crowded theater that is on fire and yelling "There's no fire! Stay in your seats and enjoy the movie!" What crimes would you be charged with for this behavior?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Letter to the Editor

Congressman Andy Barr's infrastructure "jobs" plan shows just how completely he has been bought and paid for by big money. A lesser-known reason why the rich oppose tax increases is that it forces the government to borrow from them, and they of course make interest on the loans. So instead of paying a necessary and fair share as taxes, they lend to the government and make more money! This drives up deficits, but they really don't care about deficits. In fact they like deficits, because they can use them as an excuse to cut social safety net programs.

Barr's plan calls for government bonds to be purchased by multi-national corporations. And not only will the corporations make interest on the bonds, they get tax breaks on the deal as well! Pretty sweet!

If the last 30 years have taught us anything, it is that the supposed trickle-down effects of Reaganomics are pure fantasy. Instead what you wind up with is trickle-up economics. The wealth of the top 1% and particularly the top .01% is skyrocketing. Corporate profits are at record high levels. Meanwhile everyone else struggles to keep their heads above water.

Barr's plan is more of the same - a sweetheart deal for corporations. How about some real tax reform instead?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

1 + (2 + 1) + 1

I had been really looking forward to reading "The Causal Angel", by Hannu Rajaniemi. This completes the trilogy that started with "The Quantum Thief", and continued with "The Fractal Prince". (Hah, these 3 books trace my arc in eBook buying. I have the first in an Apple eBook, then 2nd in a Kindle eBook, and the 3rd in a Kobo eBook. Sure would be nice to be able to consolidate these ...)

This book made me realize how similar in background Hannu is to Greg Egan. When Egan's first novels were coming out in the mid-90s, I was blown away by (and jealous of) his knowledge of both computer science and physics. Egan seemed to start out writing more about artificial intelligence and gradually move to writing more about physics - his latest trilogy is in a universe where the laws of physics are different than ours. This is a very interesting mental exercise, but I haven't found it as compelling as his earlier AI stuff.

"The Quantum Thief" was completely groundbreaking in its insight into computer privacy and information sharing issues. Hannu's vision was years ahead of anything else written on the subject.

I think the trilogy as a whole doesn't maintain that level of brilliance - but, I think it would be hard for anyone to keep that up. We continue to follow the thief/scoundrel Jean de Flambeur and his and his frenemy turned ally Mieli as they wend their way through the various flavors and factions of post-human intelligences in a century+ future. He's one of those "rakish wag" types -- whatever that means. He reminds me somewhat of Keith Laumer's Retief character. Retief was a diplomat rather than a thief, but I think had the same level of insouciance.

I really have trouble writing a review of a book and giving many details -- I certainly don't want to be a spoiler to anyone else. Suffice it to say, "The Causal Angel" is a good read. It winds more with new physics rather than new computer science. I think I find this less appealing because, since Dark Energy, I sometimes feel that modern physics is somewhat flailing against the limits of what our current instruments can observe.

Next I read 2 novellas and 1 short story by James S.A. Corey, set in his Expanse universe; in 100 years or so, humanity covers most of the solar system, including the Oort Cloud, with standard inner/outer planets conflict.

The 1st novella was "The Churn". This is the backstory of Amos Lucas, one of the crew members whom we follow through the Expanse novels. I like these quick reads, and "secret origin" stories were always favorites in comic books. It's a nice, self-contained story.

The 2nd novella was "Gods of Risk". This is parallel fill rather than backstory. The protagonist is the teenage nephew (so does that make this YA?) of kickass martian marine Bobbie Draper. It's a nice read.

The short story was "The Butcher of Anderson Station". This is the backstory of how Fred Johnson went from the inner planets to the outer planets side. A nice, easy read.

I like the way they are using these short pieces to fill in the gaps of the Expanse universe. And at $2.99 and $1.99, easy to click on and buy.

Finally, I read "The Magician's Land", by Lev Grossman. This is the third of a trilogy. Kind of Harry Potter meets Narnia, for adults. It is well plotted and well written, and an enjoyable read, and reaches a satisfactory conclusion for the trilogy. I didn't notice any dangling plot threads.

Well I should probably start reading Keynes's "General Theory", but I'm kind of burned out on economics. It really seems to be such a politically contentious mess that I feel like, even if you could write a model that perfectly described all of economic history, it wouldn't change anybody's minds, if it disagreed with their politics. And, as I mentioned at the end of the post on Piketty, the political differences I think wound up being based on different ideas of morality.

So I think I'll read some more escapist stuff. I have a dozen or so unread novels and a few unread short story collections on my iPad -- it's just so easy to buy eBook, anytime a book gets some favorable references, boom, 2 minutes later I've bought it. Plus the new "Year's Best" is probably out and I need to pick that up in hardback (from Joseph-Beth, my local excellent bookstore). So, a bit more escapism, then maybe Jared Diamond's newest, then hopefully back to economics.