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Empire Games gets a price cut in the UK

Empire Games

Attention, British readers: Empire Games just came out in small format paperback today, with a price cut from the big trade paperback. The ebook edition also got a whole bit cheaper: Kindle edition here.

(The US paperback/cheap ebook will be along a bit later, because Tor UK and Tor USA are actually different publishers with different schedules.)



Good for folks in the UK: In Canada the non-kindle price is C$ 13.99, several bucks worse than the £5.69 ::= C$ 9.84 British price.

There is an audio edition out, for C$ 30.39, but I don't know if it can be purchased in Britain. The ad for it is at

--dave [Full disclosure: Kobo is the customer of my current project]


Canada is bundled in with the USA in territorial rights.

The book will get cheaper in Canada later. (As DARK STATE, book 2 in the trilogy, is due out on January 9th, it'll probably happen around then.)

The audiobook is US $12.99 on Audible via in the USA, with an undiscounted price of US $25 quoted, so I have no idea how/why Kobo are trying to flog you an audiobook for $30 CDN; that price is simply batshit insane.


Under 3 months to go for the next instalment!


Hear! Hear!

I'm really looking forward to it.


Btw: Dark State is up for preorder on Amazon!


I’ve pre ordered Dark State from Amazon UK. There’s a download now button. When I selected it it lead to an order for Halting State. They’ve obviously got it mixed up. The Dark Sate pre order looked OK.


As luck would have it, between the two nearest libraries I managed to get my hands on the first six books, and now I've started on my freshly bought Empire Games. Rita and her grandfather captured my interest immediately, but I must admit that I'm starting to have some narrative-induced blue balls, since so far there's no sign that that fairly large plot point from the first series about Cheney being the Evil Mastermind Behind It All went anywhere, with no indication that Steve or Mike managed to reveal anything to the American people. Well, I can always hope it shows up later...


Think what the history of the US could have been like if Nixon's crew had been able to silence Woodward Bernstein. Turn that up to 11, and you have -Empire Games-. (At least, that's my take on it).


(Woodward and Bernstein, obviously. The one time when I don't preview....)


so far there's no sign that that fairly large plot point from the first series about Cheney being the Evil Mastermind Behind It All went anywhere, with no indication that Steve or Mike managed to reveal anything to the American people

Here are your spoilers:

In the final sequence of the first series, POTUS Cheney: revealed the existence of parallel universes to the world. India and Pakistan (who at that time were having heated territorial negotiations over Kashmir, 155mm arguments exchanged) promptly assumed one another had world-walkers and nuked out. Cheney: exit, stage left, massive heart attack while trying to keep the USA out of world war 2.5. Enter POTUS Rumsfeld (appointed VP by Cheney to fill the empty slot).

Steve and Mike don't show up because either they ran very far, very fast, and buried themselves, or they were murdered. Option 2 seems most likely given the mission creep the national security bureaucracy has undergone since 2003 in this time line.

What shows up in DARK STATE/INVISIBLE SUN is a different gun I put on the mantlepiece in the previous series. Multiple triggers are pulled ...


You might appreciate this: The nannyware on one site I used to frequent submitted any comment containing the string "dick" for moderation. A lot of the discussion was on US politics, and we got around that by referring to the then Veep as "Penis Chaney" which it was fine with.


a different gun I put on the mantlepiece Presumably the gate into, um, errr, "nowhere" & the high (?) probability of other high-tech worldwalking states/planets/entites "out there"?


So I shouldn't be holding my breath about the American people finding out that Cheney was a Clan contact and that he nuked them before they nuked DC?


As that gate already showed up in EMPIRE GAMES, I think I can at this point say "yep".

NB: it's a little early — the US price cut hasn't happened yet — but once I get this goddamn Laundry novel under control I'll do a crib notes piece on EMPIRE GAMES (and its place in the context of the earlier series).


Hrm. Let's put it this way: suppose we got rock-solid confirmation, tomorrow, that 9/11 was partly an inside job that relied on the knowing collusion of the Bush administration and Dick Cheney in person — in other words, a Reichstag Fire.

How much impact would it have on the USA right now, given all the sewage that's flowed under the bridge since then, and the Tangerine Shitgibbon sitting on top, hooting up a tweet storm?

My money would say that, while there might eventually be some prosecutions and even multiple-months of jail time, for low-level appointees, none of the high level neocons would serve time, or even be prosecuted, or if they were prosecuted they'd get a presidential pardon from Pence or his successor. Because it's old news and, by definition, the USA can only continue to exist on any level because there's a tacit agreement to sweep old horrors under the rug (going all the way back to Christopher Columbus and the Plymouth Settlement).


PS: I am equally cynical about the British establishment; just look at the way they brainwashed 70%+ of the population into thinking the Empire was good for the conquered and subjugated nations. What comes out of Boris Johnson's mouth is what an approximate majority of the population receive in their school history classes, and believe.


Heh. I first read

Christopher Columbus and the Plymouth Settlement


Christopher Columbus and the Innsmouth Settlement

Clearly, I need to drink more coffee this morning.


Isn't that standard play for former colonialist powers? My dad's Dutch, and since moving to the Netherlands a few years ago I've kind of gotten the impression that almost nobody here really knows about the shit the jolly tulip-farmers perpetrated in Indonesia...


It's not as if Indonesia has been a sparkly utopian unicorn reserve even since decolonization (cough, East Timor, cough) — but the UK is particularly bad about the amnesia with respect to imperial atrocities. The New England colonies got a very light hand with the whip compared to other dominions populated by people of a darker skin hue, and the British Empire still isn't remembered with fondness and nostalgia there. As for what happened in India and Africa ...

Let's just say, I can't think of a single empire which wasn't pretty terrible for everyone except the ruling elite of the dominant nation.


Aw. I quite liked Mike once he got to the stage of challenging his own dogmas.


Always exepting that there actually is a nation called India, speaking a common language, of course, which should have included what is now called "Pakistan" of course - massive fuck-up there .... One or two other places benefitted, largely by accident, usually because the then-local rulers were so awful & bloodthirsty: Upper Burma, most of Uganda & Ghana come to mind. OTOH, as I've said before - Tasmania. S Africa, maybe, if only beacuse the Boers were so effing awful that the Brits seemed nice by comparison?


Agreed... people seem not to realise that "India" used to refer not to a nation, but to a geographical area containing lots of independent polities that spent much of their time having a go at each other. Also often unrealised seems to be the level of endemic prejudice, both religious and geographical. The British efforts at famine relief simply would not have happened otherwise - not just because of lack of transport infrastructure, but because the British command was necessary to override the local prejudices. Nor would there have been any smallpox vaccination programmes without Western intervention.

I'm not defending Empire, but I am defending balance: neither uncritical praise nor unrelieved condemnation are valid perspectives.


I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure about the comparison. For one thing, the nuke attack was far more devastating than 9/11 and did involve, you know, weapons of mass destruction. Plus, you know, Cheney being deep in bed with the OPFORS and attacking them with WMDs first. But let's say that the effect of the revelations was minimal in America thanks to their newfangled Stasi and national-level PTSD-induced fervent patriotism. That still leaves the rest of the world. And wouldn't it be an asset to the Commonwealth on both the PR and negotiations fronts for the rest of the world the US resides in to have more doubts about who's the ultimate bad guy in this scenario.

And in the end, even if it doesn't have any real effect, I think it's something that needs to be made public for history to record (what can I say? I've been reading Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan and S.A. Corey's The Expanse lately, and I've still got both Spider Jerusalem and James Holden rattling around my head, shouting about The Truth. :P )


Yes. How favourably 'natives' from ex-colonies regarded the Empire often came down to whether they were one of the downtrodden tribes/classes/whatever that were given some protection by the British. But no way does that justify the many cases of exploitation, oppression, destruction and even atrocities that were perpetrated by the 'Empire' (which wasn't always that, or even a formal entity). Also, the whitewashing and revisionism wasn't just limited to the days of empire, nor was it one sided - it's still going on :-(


Yes, the people of Uganda were so much better-off under Amin, or Zimbabwe under Mugabe, or maybe not. Talking of which, the WHO have just scored a spectacularly stupid "own goal" & handed Trump a propaganda victory. I really have difficulty believeing this level of stupid.


That is not what I was referring to. I was referring to the whitewashing and revisionism - which was one of the major factors that led to the Zimbabwe disaster, but not really for any of the Uganda ones.


I assume the gate to nowhere is a sort of "firebreak": somebody one jump away from that world along one "pattern vector" really didn't want to get any visitors from a different world one jump away from it along a different pattern vector.


"...once I get this goddamn Laundry novel under control..."

November will be NoNoWriMo?


Book has to be finished before November. Ahem.


I fear my attempt at wit went right past a tired man. Note the spelling.

November will be NoNoWriMo.


Much more likely to be of the "Here be Dragons" variety, I would have thought. A variation on the almost-dead world in the early Laundry novel, where the temperature is tending towards absolute zero & you don't want to encounter what "lives" there ...


Something for the Laundry to investigate ? Unless, of course the universe isn't real & it's all a dream of Cthulu, oh dear .....


Now couple the previous with this E Musk quote:

AI will beat humans at everything by 2030.



Re: 'AI will beat humans at everything by 2030.'

Think we need to address the difference between capability and the actual doing.

What's the AI's motivation to beat humans at everything? Unless competitiveness and self-improvement are programmed into the AI, there's no reason for the AI to compete against humans. Instead, I think we'll see a number of different AIs competing against each other (e.g., stock market). Okay, each AI would likely represent a different group of humans, so in a way the AIs could be deemed extensions of those humans. But if these are true thinking and autonomous AI, how long will such a relationship last? If you're a dog on a leash, your handler is a jerk that you're able to out-think, depending on your programming you could either escape, turn on that jerk, or even switch sides including joining your brethren AIs.

I'm guessing that the least costly strategy to effectively control humans is to understand human neurology and psychology. Once that's done, alter both and then (based on data/results) tweak the environment to minimize problems and stay on strategy. But this would take considerable time. An AI making itself into a god is out - too many idiotic things happen whenever religions appear. Plus, it'd be making the AI into too easy a target: an invitation to be taken down by all of the human religions. (I'm assuming that the AI has access to at least the same level of Google news that I have, that is, all sorts of news items related to on-going religious messes.) Just not worth the hassle. Maybe an AI taking on the role of 'luck' could work provided the AI always stays hidden - AI as Darwin fan? Anyways, to avoid detection have multiple strategies working toward the same goal allowing the AI to shift emphasis (human attention) among strategies in order to deter investigation.

Anesthetizing humans for life may be possible but only to the degree that all humans on the planet are able/wired to interact with whatever the AI signal might be. Killing humans would probably be the easiest thing that an AI could do but at the risk of also killing a lot of nonhuman life. For example, the AI could send planes, balloons, ships, etc. all over the globe to spread a mutated-for-humans fast-acting fatal virus, fungus or bacteria. There are over 7 billion humans on the planet now. By 2030, there will be 10 billion human, which means 10 billion slightly different genomes, exomes, antibody profiles, etc. therefore some risk that there would be survivors. (It's unlikely that all bio-weapons combinations and permutations could be covered off in the development of such toxins - because of randomness, time and development resources.)

Something else to consider and define is what you mean as success - from least cost attainment of a specific objective through to kill everybody that disagrees with you.

Also: How do you program an AI to ask questions?


Musk was responding to this Machines are predicted to be better than us at translating languages by 2024, writing high-school essays by 2026, driving a truck by 2027, working in retail by 2031, writing a bestselling book by 2049 and surgery by 2053. In fact, all human jobs will be automated within the next 120 years, say respondents.

I confidently predict that AI will not be able to beat humans at hot-dog eating contests or making armpit fart-noises[1] in that time scale and that these and many other activities will continue to be dominated by humans.

[1] Or other sports like football.


Re: AI

Bestseller - I've read some bestsellers that were pretty lame - DB's stuff comes to mind - so becoming a bestseller is not a sufficiently high bar.

Translating languages - Okay, I'll buy that as soon as an AI can translate Shakespeare (or other language equivalent) in terms of richness of emotional tone and complexity which comes close to that AI being able to 'understand' human emotions. I'm assuming some sort of test-retest loop for ever better translation which then gets integrated with all of that AI's other programming. Which if allowed to go on, gets you pretty close to ToM. Once here, what do you or the AI do?

Games/sports - Maybe. (Humans cheat.)


Interesting ...

Speaking of best-selling authors - here's one who posted his doctoral dissertation for free download. Enjoy! Then translate in plain language. (This is where a 'translating' AI would really come in handy.)


While I have great hopes for the eventual capabilities of AI, whether it's Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dostoyevsky or a lesser light, an excellent translation/annotation/etc etc is worth holding out for over an adequate one, I gather, yes...


Then translate in plain language. (This is where a 'translating' AI would really come in handy.) Just finished reading Blindsight[1], Peter Watts, 2006. The narrator character, Siri (2006!) is a specialist who translates from specialists (scientific and otherwise) to interested non-specialist parties (e.g. managers/politicians/etc, never made quite clear). A "Synthesist", or "jargonaut" or "poppy" or "mole" or "chaperone" or "commissar". "Explaining the Incomprehensible to the Indifferent": "I'm as much of a specialist as you. I specialize in processing information topologies"

[1] 11 years old, yes, but worth reading IMO. A little bleak, and I know of at least two things consciousness might be good for that he didn't invoke. (Mundanely, as a no-cost epiphenomenon of recursive metacognition[2]. And also an impossible reason.) [2] A metacognition paper last week made me skim the current state of the research. Improving General Chemistry Course Performance through Online Homework-Based Metacognitive Training (20 October 2017 - there are a bunch of papers on metacognition in education, including chemistry education.) Wetware upgrades for all! Leading to stuff like this: Medial and lateral networks in anterior prefrontal cortex support metacognitive ability for memory and perception" (2013)


BTW, you probably want to use search phrases like "text simplification". E.g. A survey of research on text simplification (2014, very lightly skimmed, 51+ citations) and a recent AI-ish paper (no idea if good, but plenty of buzzwords are present:-): Sentence Simplification with Deep Reinforcement Learning (16 July 2017) (Tempted to dive into these but reading queues already overfilled.)


I know I'm hijacking this thread, but since we're talking about Empires, here's my take on the debate on which Empire was better: How an Empire behaved depended more on the climate and biome of the area it took.

Empires which took temperate areas tended to wipe out the natives: UK: US, Canada around the US border, coastal Australia/Tasmania Netherlands: South Africa Spain: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay Portugal: South Brazil Russia: Southern Siberia, Pacific Coast Partial Exception: New Zealand, temperate Mongolia

Empires which took arctic areas tended to leave the natives in place with a lot of their culture. Perhaps there was a European or multiracial elite descendant from trappers/oil explorers/miners US: Northern Alaska UK/France: Northern Canada Russia: Northern Siberia Denmark: Greenland

Deserts: Colonizers took the oases, Natives pushed into VERY marginal land UK: Australian outback US: The southwest Mexico: The northern states, which were lightly populated until the Bracero program during WWII encouraged internal migration to the border Spain: Atacama Desert Exception: Russia (there was never a serious Russian population in what is now Central Asia outside of N. Kazakhstan and the desert part of Mongolia) Spain: Lima, Peru (I don't know how much of that is 20th century urbanization)

Tropical islands in the Americas: Slavery economy I'm thinking of the Caribbean here. The exception seems to be Aruba.

Mainland Tropics and old world tropical islands: Indigenous population remains with a small ruling class

Mountains: Hit and miss US: Genocided and replaced the population of the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains Russia: Same with the population of the Ural Mountains. Failed in the Caucus Spain: Succeeded in Chile and Costa Rica, failed in the Andes UK: Succeeded in Australia, failed everywhere else (I'm probably wrong on this)


Mountains: UK: Succeeded in Australia, failed everywhere else (I'm probably wrong on this) No, you are not ... Lesotho, Swaziland, Nyasaland/Malawi, Tanganyika (as it was then) Uganda & Kenya (for instance) natives left in place, until very late in the last ... result, when implemented was uprising ( Mau Mau )


Generally wrong on Australia even just on geography, so assume also wrong on things I don't know as much about.


Really, how so? Are the mountains in Australia majority Aborigine these days?

I did mess up in putting Chile as a temperate state when it probably should be mountain. Likewise, I should have put Argentina in the mountain category as well. I also got the tropical north of Australia wrong.


Oops. The way I wrote that gives the impression that there was a significant Russian population in the Mongolian desert. I know there wasn't. I should have proofread that.


"The universe shouldn't exist" here is code for "our model appears to be wrong".

When the universe fails to fit the theory, blame the universe.


AI will beat humans at everything by 2030.

Possibly -- But -- Only because Social Media by that time will evolved into a perfectly addictive tool that have micro-segmented and identity-politicized(?) everyone to such a degree that they have multiple personalities, which are all raging over each other via the 2025 version of Twitter and cannot stop!

I have been reading Cathy O'Neil's "Weapons of math destruction" on the train - It seems to me that Social Media and Algorithms combined with dissatisfied people being fed-up with Neo-liberalism are what got The Donald elected.

Of course combined with The Donald being the perfect politician for our times: He can have an opinion for every audience at the same time no matter if they are consistent or not, in public all over the internet. The "old politicians" are limited by a tedious consistency in messaging towards one target audience at the time, The Donald does Parallel Meme Spouting.

So, we can expect more in the future (or, perhaps The Donald is all that Earth can bear of such phenomena).


"suppose we got rock-solid confirmation, tomorrow, that 9/11 was partly an inside job...How much impact would it have on the USA right now"

The Republicans would lose credibility and probably take a huge political hit for a few years. Sort of like in 2006-2008 when the political winds ran against Bush just on the basis of war weariness. There are (American level) left and right wings and a bunch of people kind of in the stripe of John McCain or Bill Clinton (the man in the street versions) who can have greater or lesser enthusiasm for their cause. And the blowing back and forth of that bloc is what moves everything. Or has. The Republicans think more strategically and simply play rougher and have managed to almost set themselves up for permanent dominion by playing the system. The middle bloc increasingly has to sway more and more against them to get anything done. Something like a 911 or Grunmarkt scandal would do it.

In the Merchant Princes setting I (admittedly not an expert on that alternate world [or this one really]) don't see why it would be that different. The revelation of something truly profound might be enough to have at least a temporary political impact. Which in turn could, like the jarring of machinery with something stuck in it, possibly be enough to enable further change. Then again maybe they're even more brainwashed there.


Yes, I noticed that ... however ... Now what?

It indicates that the current version of the Big Bang model is wrong & we know ( have done for a long time ) that G_R & QM don't match up ... but there don't appear to be any budding Max Planck's out there to untangle this slight difficulty.


It also depends on how the Republican Party is structured in that other universe. Do they have a Steve Bannon and alt-right insurgency? If they do, then it massively strengthens his hand. Likewise, it strengthens their own conspiracy theories (such as Pizzagate, assuming that develops in the alternate world)


You wrote: "The Republcans would lose credibility...."

That more depends on who got tied to the inside part of the job. If the GOP couldn't come up with enough plausible deniability, they would go down in flames, and quite possibly some of their ammosexuals would turn on them in more than a metaphorical manner.

As it is, even with the massive gerrymandering and voter suppression - which, to some degree, depends on the Supreme Court case that is in this term - looks to be disastrous for them.

Btw, my late ex, the engineer, used to say that she thought one of the major reasons the Towers went down was that they were close enough together, and identical, that they acted like a tuning fork, with the vibrations helping to shatter the structure.


"The universe shouldn't exist" here is code for "our model appears to be wrong".

When the universe fails to fit the theory, blame the universe.

I guess that's a better answer than if they've actually found something and they're going to keep poking at it until they eventually pop the universe like a soap bubble, and then where will we be?


"suppose we got rock-solid confirmation, tomorrow, that 9/11 was partly an inside job...How much impact would it have on the USA right now"

The Republicans would lose credibility and probably take a huge political hit for a few years.

You discount too much how the alt-right & corporate media would obfuscate. They'd be screaming "fake news" at the top of their lungs. The Republican "base" wouldn't believe it and the military-industrial complex would rally around them to protect their own profits.

The most likely outcome is the messenger who brought the proof would conveniently suicide in his cell at Gitmo.

Denial ain't just for climate science anymore.


Re: Geography & politics

Recall hearing that most population movement tended to be along latitudes similar to conquerors' origins. Makes sense as it's much easier to establish a colony including food production and building/construction materials sourcing where the geography at least seems similar.

By the same argument, tundra and deserts are typically resource poor, so there's little benefit in expending efforts to conquer them. Ditto mountains unless they happen to be fertile/verdant. Not many of those: Inca/Andes - potatoes; Afghanistan/Hindu Kush - poppies & beans. Okay, there is one other driving reason to deliberately try to conquer mountainous areas: metals, esp. gold, silver, iron, tin, and most recently, lithium.


Recall hearing that most population movement tended to be along latitudes similar to conquerors' origins. Makes sense as it's much easier to establish a colony including food production and building/construction materials sourcing where the geography at least seems similar. The late British Empire suggests otherwise, I think?


I'm sure that being a whistleblower for this would be just as terminally depressing as it was during the WMD events, where people trying to tell the truth seemed to be "killing themselves" like never before...


Meanwhile ... Transparent solar panels ... ... to replace (all?) windows?


Bugger, meant to include this as well ... Salt-tolerant rice developed Definiotely, in both cases a version of the Red Queen's race - will the technologies advance fast enough to beat the destroyers ( a.k.a. Kochs & Trump ... ? )


Only if they can be made sufficiently cheaply to be worth doing even with the massively inefficient angles and orientations of windows. Which I doubt, or rather, by the time we've done roofs and better locations for such things, there won't be any need for them except on pocket computers and suchlike, where it would be useful to be able to power them partly by sunlight on the go.


It's explained in Jared Diamond's "Guns Germs and Steel". Historically population and ideas have tended to spread at the same latitude, because the same crops work, the same cultural adaptations to seasons and weather, and there are the same / similar diseases and parasites. Eurasia is the best example.

Early European expansion onto other continents followed the pattern. Why would the Dutch sail all the way to South Africa to colonise? It's the only bit with similar climate.

Technology expands your options, so the later British Empire could spread further. Even so, as noted by Ioan there was never a large European population in the tropics.


I note that they are now wanting to try Hilary and the democrats for alleged collusion with Russia, again projecting their own actions onto other people. There isn't anything so mad that they wouldn't do it.


Re: '... will the technologies advance fast enough to beat the destroyers ( a.k.a. Kochs & Trump ... ? )'

You're forgetting the rising economic global super-power, China, which is also making very fast gains across all of the sciences and technologies. Plus, this tech might best suit (be developed in) areas that get plenty of sunshine like all of Africa, Australia, most of South America, Arabia, and a large chunk of China. Add in low labor cost and commitment to clean power manufacturing and China becomes the logical world supplier for this product.

As for the US, transparent solar cells (window panes) is a logical product extension for Musk who's already got the most aesthetically pleasing solar roofs.


Re: Machine learning & translation

Thanks! Read the second article and (think) I got the gist, at least.

One thing that jarred and that is an aspect that really bothers me about AI in general is the discussion about 'reward' function without identifying what that reward is.

A bit of reading elsewhere said that 'reward' functions in AI learning are not directly programmed. Instead, the specific reward kinda emerges using some sort of Markow chain process. Sounds pretty reckless: How can you possibly control that machine if you're building in self-dosing [warm&fuzzies] into your machine and you don't even know what that [warm&fuzzies] is, including any interesting side effects?

Apprenticeship learning via inverse reinforcement learning


'We consider learning in a Markov decision process where we are not explicitly given a reward function, but where instead we can observe an expert demonstrating the task that we want to learn to perform. This setting is useful in applications (such as the task of driving) where it may be difficult to write down an explicit reward function specifying exactly how different desiderata should be traded off. We think of the expert as trying to maximize a reward function that is expressible as a linear combination of known features, and give an algorithm for learning the task demonstrated by the expert. Our algorithm is based on using "inverse reinforcement learning" to try to recover the unknown reward function. We show that our algorithm terminates in a small number of iterations, and that even though we may never recover the expert's reward function, the policy output by the algorithm will attain performance close to that of the expert, where here performance is measured with respect to the expert's unknown reward function.'


I think there has been some progress on the theoretical side, but it's such a weak force that experiments are hard even in principle. I suspect we will be waiting a long time for a satisfactory answer.


I guess that's a better answer than if they've actually found something and they're going to keep poking at it until they eventually pop the universe like a soap bubble, and then where will we be?

In a Greg Egan novel I think. You can test the hypothesis by checking your surroundings for wooden dialogue.


Actually, CHina isn't a low cost country any more, for instance:

And you can find many articles discussing this online, including that it's cheaper for them to manufacture some things in the USA.

What this does mean is that manufacture may well be done in places like Malaysia, but under CHinese ownership, exacerbating various tensions. Moreover there is the issue of automation, modern factories just don't need lots of people. Australia meanwhile is run by corrupt morons and stupid stick in the muds who want to keep coal going, despite it being unnecessary.


The "Dig-all-the-AUS-coal-up-&-sell-it-to-the-Chinese" model is going to collapse fairly soon, I would have thought. What "they" will do then is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, I look forward to Musk, or sonmeone to up the efficiancy of "window-glass" solar panelling, as that really will be a game-changer.


Malaysia isn't a cheap labour country (unless you're Singaporean, and outsourcing your working class labour from the towns across the Strait). Think GDP roughly comparable to Mexico. What China is doing is building up asset-extraction bases and new markets in Africa — "imperialism" in the Marxist sense of the word (minus the gunboats and governors).


Technology expands your options, so the later British Empire could spread further. Even so, as noted by Ioan there was never a large European population in the tropics.

The British Empire was initially based entirely on shipping — the UK sat in a very favorable position for conducting a three-cornered trade between the Caribbean and the north American eastern seaboard (hint: slaves, cotton, sugar).

Then again, the British tarriff-free domestic zone was the largest free trade area in Europe around the end of the 18th century; everyone else had internal customs barriers and tax farming processes. So when a different, internal trade kicked off — the iron/coal/steam nexus — the UK was in a position to develop industrially in the late 18th/early 19th century, and had the revenue streams (from the sail-based empire) to feed the investment demands of industrialization. Which in turn made the second phase of the world-empire possible — the phase in which the British empire expanded to cover nearly 25% of the planetary population, importing raw materials, processing them in the new steam-powered factories, and selling the finished produce back to the colonial client states (who were forbidden from building factories of their own or importing finished produce from other modern states).

Around 1855, the UK was directly responsible for about 50% of planetary GDP — roughly the same position the USA occupied a century later, for much the same reason (nobody else had a working industrial economy, and the hegemon had the ability to trade everywhere for raw materials/finished exports).

If the steam engine had come along a century later — say, because of internal tarriff barriers along the English canal network — it's possible that the maritime empire of the 17th-19th century would have withered away rather than rising to global pre-eminence.


The reward function calculates the amount of positive reinforcement for performing the task better. In a game of chess there is simple evaluation function : winning. Winning is the reward. If instead the performance has a panel of judges holding up score cards the judges' score is a proxy reward for performing better and the AI must learn the hidden reward function(s) used by the judges in order to improve its score.


Afghanistan/Hindu Kush - poppies & beans

Actually Afghanistan was never historically a particularly good location for poppy growing until the US interfered in the region in the 50 and 60s - total grown in 1956 was around 12 tons, compared with 4000-6000 tons today. By contrast it was some 15% of GDP for British India in the late 1800s.

However the widespread soil changes following numerous large irrigation and dam projects in the region though the 60s made conditions much much better for cultivation of opium and at the same time much less efficient for cultivation of wheat and other food crops. Failing yields and rising opium prices made it an easy switch for your average farmer.

Between 1972 & 1980 the major supply sources of Iran, Pakistan and Turkey all drastically reduced production, and the Soviet invasion and subsequent loss of government control over much of Afghanistan meant that cultivation spread across the border from Pakistan and the country never looked back. US agents who had been working against the practice prior to the invasion instead reversed their opinions, encouraging the locals to sell the poppy and buy american made weapons to fight the Soviets.

Interestingly this has meant that the drugs trade in the country is run by Afghans, with little outside influence until the drugs leave the country. So there is actually very little conflict domestically and the trade is purely economic, very different to the violence between drug cartels in say the cocaine sector or the traditional conflicts in the Golden Triangle.


And I expect it to be bought and seed produced by Monsanto, who will have it patented, and sell it at high prices, suing anyone who tries to save seed for the next crop, and probably genengineering it so that the grown crop does not produce viable seed.


Much of that was well-known to the underground/antiwar/Movement in the US in the sixties and seventies, and the CIA was transporting some of it and using it to supplement their budget. They were flying so much, there was even a book? movie? about Air CIA.


There's no problem replanting seed, even Monsanto Roundup-tolerant strains. They never sued anyone for reusing seed they bought and grew and besides the seed patents expired a while ago.

The problem is that replanted seed is about half as productive per acre as seed grown specially for planting next season. It's also not as drought and disease tolerant as the hybrids grown specifically to be planted so the US FDA won't provide cheap crop insurance for anyone not using approved F1 hybrids. One bad crop, disease or weather and no cheap insurance and you've bet the farm and lost.


Making window solar panels more efficient would mean absorbing more light which is not what you want from a window. The most efficient solar panels look black for a reason.


I don't think the Afghanistan drug boom was related to the Air America operations - they were primarily Southeast Asia/Latin America linked. Different producers, different markets, primarily anti-communist initially.

Afghanistan in that time from the 40s-70s was very stable, a wealthy monarchy supportive of the USA, which suppressed poppy growing. It wasn't until the king was overthrown in the early 70s after widespread crop failure that poppy growing really started to spread, and it took off in the lawlessness of the Soviet invasion.

It probably would have been redeemable after the soviet retreat in 1989, but the Americans ignored all advice to the contrary and effectively caused the civil war in 1992-96, and we all know how that turned out.


Re: 'China - wage increases ... automation, modern factories ...'

True - the standard of living in China is soaring therefore a likely booming middle class which means more discretionary income to spend on homes, furnishings and other culturally significant high-status frippery and toys.

Despite the Chinese embrace of new tech, my impression is that the Chinese are at least as ethnocentric as any Western culture therefore unlikely to trust other cultures to provide the requisite quality of historically and culturally desirable goods. The West just doesn't have the same taste. Prime example of this is jade jewelry which has never gone out of fashion in China and remains more prized than diamonds. Ditto traditional folk remedies (e.g., rhino horns). This means that Chinese style luxury goods are likely to remain a made-in-China industry swallowing up more artisans over the years.

That leaves social status buildings - most likely detached single family homes. And because the Chinese are considered as 'frugal' as the Scots (i.e., do a cost-benefit analysis before any purchase) they'll opt for new construction techniques/materials with a nod to traditional Sino design.


Re: Windows

Believe that this depends on the wavelengths that this 'glass' is supposed to trap.


Re: Afghan & poppies

Production really took off in 2001 as per below. Was trying to locate when poppy production moved to Afghanistan from India ... you know that country that the Brits occupied then mandated increased production as a trade good with China which ended up with the Opium Wars? Lesson: The US should really check some foreign history - and Einstein quotes - before implementing failed BI foreign policies.

On a more serious note ... Some time back when carfentanil ODs were making daily headlines looked up addiction rates across countries and learned that Afghanistan has one of the highest opioid addition rates - over 20% among some subgroups. That's insane and a horrible price for their current and future populations. For the US to have pushed this product as a way to stimulate this country's 'economic' development is truly vile.


Re: Arggh ... typos!

Whoever is keeping a list of Internet typos, you can add 'addition' for 'addiction'. I put this squarely on the autocomplete AI's head.

The 'BI' however was entirely my fault - I switched terms midstream. Anyways, I meant 'British Empire'.


The NATO Occupation forces in Afghanistan in 2002/2003 had to deal with the local power brokers and they were, generally speaking, the people controlling the only cash crop worth a damn in the entire country. Locking up, shooting or otherwise eliminating the opium-funded warlords would have resulted in yet more instability and the impoverishment of a large part of the rural population.


Re: Afghanistan

So who exactly wiped out their livestock which prior to 2001 was a much larger part of their economy than opium poppies?


I'm guessing that reply was really to this comment from Nojay but you clicked the wrong reply link?

I think it was on twitter that I noticed someone yesterday talking about transparent solar panels, and I burst out laughing on the spot. Immediately reminded me of the Next Week's News segment of Week Ending (radio comedy show about the news) reporting that someone or other was developing a solar-powered submarine.

Wavelengths - that doesn't really make sense; most solar radiation is in the visible spectrum, which is why it is where it is and is much the same for all kinds of different creatures. (OTOH it's always seemed kind of barmy that plants are green, thereby reflecting the most plentiful region and having to make do with the less generous blue and red to either side of it, while at the same time doing their best to seek more light...)

PS. Look up the Opium Wars...


minus the gunboats and governors TRhis week ( year) just wait a little until the commercial interests get threatened ....


You've missed the point entirely. The idea is to absorb the non-visible part of the spectrum & turn it into juice


Re: 'clicked the wrong reply link?'

You're right - my apologies!

Re: Opium wars ...

You mean the below? Same level of vile. Take-away lesson: Do not look to business-loving pols for moral guidance -- they'll rationalize making money over human suffering every time.

'By the late 19th century Chinese domestic opium production challenged and then surpassed imports. The 20th century opened with effective campaigns to suppress domestic farming, and in 1907 the British government signed a treaty to eliminate imports. The fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, however, led to a resurgence in domestic production. By the 1930s the Nationalist Government, provincial governments, the revolutionary bases of the Communist Party of China, and the British colonial government of Hong Kong all depended on opium taxes as major sources of revenue, as did the Japanese occupation governments during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). After 1949 the respective governments of the People's Republic of China on the mainland and of the Republic of China on Taiwan successfully suppressed the widespread growth and use of opium.[7][8]'

I appreciate the medical need for pain killers but the trade history of opium barely touches on its medical usage. By the time that Europeans showed up the Chinese already had a repertoire of pain management herbs and practices (acupuncture, meditation) making the poppy redundant apart from its addictive properties. Interestingly, it seems that traditional Chinese medicine has shown some success at treating heroin addiction, sometimes with fewer side effects than Western treatments.

A Meta-Analysis of Chinese Herbal Medicine in Treatment of Managed Withdrawal from Heroin


You're forgetting the rising economic global super-power, China, which is also making very fast gains across all of the sciences and technologies.

Interestingly at the current party congress Xi Jinping set things up so he will very likely serve longer than the tradition of 10 years. (Well that tradition didn't last very long.) There was no one nominated to the ruling council that would not "age out" of the current traditional age limit for General Secretary.

Some China watchers think this means he intends to rule until death.


Opium is a cash crop, useful for influencing people and buying weapons etc. rather than a regular agricultural product such as grains or livestock which ordinary folks can eat. The upper ranks of the local warlord's organisation can buy food to eat using money from the opium grown in their fief. The alternative is to go out and herd animals themselves which is not an attractive proposition in their eyes.

NATO had to talk to the opium chiefs and make nice with them. The alternative was an endless guerilla war with them as well as the assorted religious nutters. They chose to face off against the religious nutters and leave the warlords to their rural pastimes.


I suggest you have a read through this to get a better view of the history of the drug.

The Opium Wars were part of a widespread export program from British India initially under the EIC and later continued under the Raj. Opium was between 15-20% of the total annual revenues from India for ~150 years under colonial rule, a truly staggering amount of money. It also was a fundamental part of the economics of most of the little princely states. India gained independence barely 20 years after the trade dried up, which may or may not be a coincidence.
After Independence and Partition, most growing moved to Burma and Pakistan, though Malwa and West Bengal still grow a large amount legally today. But the Pakistani opium was largely grown in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in the East Bengal area. When Bangladesh became independent in 1971, production was transferred across to West Pakistan, and that is what spread to Afghanistan.

Also, opium production in Afghanistan was almost completely suppressed under the Taliban by 1999, but the invasion in 2001 caused a massive rebound effect as the locals needed cash and the drug lords were supported by the West.


They did sue in the US. And which patents? I assume they've got new versions of the GMO, to assure a steady supply of new patents to replace the old, and stop selling the old.

But bet the farm? What terrifies me is that almost all farming in the US is done by agribusiness. As of the 1990 census, "family farmer" was no longer a "recognized occupation", because it covered about 1.5% of the population.

Now, after WWII, there was a huge magazine boom: the pulps. There were dozens and dozens of them. Then, as I heard Lyn Carter tell the story, at a PSFS meeting in the late seventies, there were two national distributors. One of them was bought, and the company that bought it decided the parts were worth more than the whole, broke it up and sold it off... and suddenly, dozens and dozens of the pulps had no distributors, and they went under.

Why all the farming being done by agribusiness terrifies me is I easily see some 25 yr old asshole MBA (but I repeat myself) deciding that for tax or other reasons, to not plant say, 10% of the US farmland (see how I've improved profitability for two quarters in a row?!)... and there's worldwide famine.



Other restrictions apply of course - ease of manufacture, angle of windows etc, but the basic science is sound.

It’s vaguely within the bounds of possibility that brute force application of this kind of tech might be workable even at low levels of efficiency. There are significant engineering challenges but the physics is sound.


Re: Cultural history of opium

Great article - thanks! These caught my eye:

'Harvesting opium is a labour intensive task, as it requires each poppy head or pod to be incised several times over a few days. It is estimated that, during the harvest season, up to 300,000 seasonal labourers work on the large opium fields of Afghanistan. As family labour is not sufficient, seasonal labourers follow the harvest from the warmer southern provinces where the harvest starts, all the way up through the cultivating provinces to the north. It remains a surprising aspect of the opium culture in Afghanistan that such large groups of people, which have to be fed, accommodated and transported, can move across large parts of the country without incident.'

'“It was in the 1980s with the help of the American government that Afghanistan became a major producer of opium. Ronald Reagan’s government looked the other way when Mujahideen guerrillas encouraged farmers to plant poppy and used those profits to buy weapons to fight the Soviets.”'

So now the Taliban controls (pockets) about 80% of Afghan opium poppy seed production and the Reagan's sanctimonious domestic war against drugs (Just Say No!) has been shown to be useless. The social, economic and political shortsightedness boggles.

FYI - One of this article's references includes this:

BTW, the opioid addiction topic is getting hot as DT is about to announce new US measures/policies. For anyone interested in what policies do work, see Portugal.


And ... Why Not?

A defining feature of Globalisation is exactly that everyone (at least at some level) does business with everyone else freely and unrestricted, including of course with Russia and Russians, this was normal and expected.

Then, suddenly the losing faction of uber-rentiers, who bet their farms on a dud candidate, went full media bandwidth making dealings with Russia and Russians into a Bad Thing.

... Forgetting, in all the excitement, that Donald Trump is also a keen Trend Follower with a feral instinct for sniffing out anything moving and running with the pitch, so, now that "Russia Business Bad" is rubbed in and becomes a trend, Trump just grabs it and it becomes: "Hillary business with Russia" -> "Hillary Bad (and hypocrite too and idiot for doing this)".

See, after the dims consluttants did all of that expensive work on building the anti-Russia momentum and all, Trump simply rides with it and spins all that force and energy around.

"The left" keep underestimating Donald Trump like that and he will be there for 7 more years. Which is maybe their plan - virtue signalling over nothing significant, while sucking up all those profits from all the juicy defence contracts and wars on brown people?


There's no problem replanting seed, even Monsanto Roundup-tolerant strains. They never sued anyone for reusing seed they bought and grew and besides the seed patents expired a while ago.

Dates from 2013 (I haven't kept up), but there's this case:

This week, the US Supreme Court hears arguments that pit Monsanto against 75-year-old Indiana soya-bean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who used the progeny of Monsanto seeds to sow his land for eight seasons. The company says that by not buying seeds for each generation, Bowman violated its patents.


First AI robot to be granted citizenship ... by Saudi Arabia.

'CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin interviews Sophia, a humanoid robot, about the future of artificial intelligence at a Future Investment Institute panel in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.'

This robot's default conversational mode is to talk down to people, trivialize their concerns, avoid/deflect awkward questions ... really crappy interpersonal skills.


The million dollar question is whether they would give a self-driving car AI citizenship AND if it has a female voice would they give it a driving license?


Monsanto didn't have a problem with Bowman sowing Monsanto seed he bought from the elevator grown by others. They did sue because he was treating those plants with Roundup, the glyphosate weedkiller that works specifically with Roundup-Ready(tm) seed. The Supremes decided unanimously that it was a patent breach.

The other earlier case of Monsanto suing was someone who got Monsanto seed blown over from another farmer's field, replanted that and again used Roundup weedkiller on the resulting grain. The farmer in that case agreed to stop doing it, Monsanto stopped suing him.

It's not the GMO seed that's the important thing for farmers, it's the way it works with the incredibly effective glyphosate weedkiller to improve yields. That's why it's so popular and why Monsanto defend their patents as much as they can.

As for family farms in the US (and a lot of the rest of the developed world) they are all deep in hock to the banks and the bankers don't like the idea of their debtors taking financial risks like going without crop insurance. Someone some folks on this blog might remember from cons was the last of his family to farm grain in Lincolnshire, something they had been doing for about 150 years or so. According to him they had been in debt to the banks for at least two generations, only making the payments on the bank loans year on year when the grain harvest came in but unable to redeem much of the capital debt even in good years.


You know, you can say whatever you want, but from the Wikipedia article:

the Court unanimously affirmed the decision of the Federal Circuit that the patent exhaustion doctrine does not permit a farmer to plant and grow saved, patented seeds without the patent owner's permission.
Justice Kagan stated that while an authorized sale of a patented item terminates all patent rights to that item, that exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder's permission.
From the actual opinion:
Growers may consume or sell the resulting crops, but may not save any of the harvested soybeans for replanting.
Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission

The fact that Monsanto noticed because he was using Roundup does not alter the rule of law, which, once again:

the patent exhaustion doctrine does not permit a farmer to plant and grow saved, patented seeds without the patent owner's permission

I have quoted from both Wikipedia, and the actual ruling. Stop claiming that a Supreme Court decision that allows GMO patent holders to prohibit harvesting and planting the results of that harvest, does not, because it is untrue on your part.

Unless you can cite a later SCOTUS decision that overturns that unanimous decision from 2012, the law is very clear here.


I doubt it for a mere car driving AI. Not just because they like having slaves, but because defining it as sufficiently sentient to require citizenship will be difficult.


Not really. There just isn't enough energy available to make it worthwhile, even in high insolation areas. Look at the red area in the Solar Radiation Spectrum figure in:

It's a technological gimmick looking for a sucker. Solar panels on roofs make a lot of sense, at least in areas closer than 45 degrees to the equator, but not that.


This robot's default conversational mode is to talk down to people, trivialize their concerns, avoid/deflect awkward questions ... really crappy interpersonal skills. Sounds like a badly-brought-up teenager, with poorly communicating parents. Noting unusual about THAT ....

At that rate, we really ought to be worrying about AI, if/when he/she/it "grows up"


Sound like they trained it on politicians.


Some AI news. I need to study it, but it looks pretty interesting. A generative vision model that trains with high data efficiency and breaks text-based CAPTCHAs (26 Oct 2017) The model demonstrates excellent generalization and occlusion-reasoning capabilities, and outperforms deep neural networks on a challenging scene text recognition benchmark while being 300-fold more data efficient.

They suggest one avenue to explore would be combination with this technique: Human-level concept learning through probabilistic program induction (11 Dec 2015, perhaps linked previously (in some timeline:-) ) here's another if that link doesn't work (and a search will find illegal copies):


Can you point me to a case where Monsanto sued when the farmer didn't use Roundup on saved seed they planted? The legal doctrine as agreed by the Supreme Court in the US is that it's a patent infringement to "copy" the patented seed by replanting and harvesting it but Monsanto's only recourse to law has been in cases where Roundup was used on replanted seed. Of course the point of planting GM saved seed is the the advantage of using Roundup-type weedkillers in combination otherwise the farmers replanting Monsanto-patented seed wouldn't bother. It would still be a patent infringement under US law, of course.


the USA can only continue to exist on any level because there's a tacit agreement to sweep old horrors under the rug (going all the way back to Christopher Columbus and the Plymouth Settlement).

I know that's a throw-away comment - but what's interesting is how much Christopher Columbus and the Plymouth Settlement weren't part of history until the mid 19th century. American history is so incredibly manufactured, especially the origin myths.

No-one gave much of a toss about Cristóbal Colón until the waves of Italian immigration into the USA from the 1830s on created an America-Italian ethnic group that was terribly discriminated against and needed an Italian-American hero to justify their American-ness. They created the history, the Columbus Day celebrations, etc.

The nation-wide veneration of the Plymouth settlers, and celebration of Thanksgiving, was a deliberate construction by Lincoln and his Secretary of State Sewell, as part of their attempt to create USA origin myths to tie the union together during the Civil War. Facts strictly optional.

I don't know why these origin myths got out of hand - Betsy Ross? Really? FFS!

I wonder if it was something to do with lots of immigrants and the reaction to the Civil War causing everyone (school boards especially) to want to demonstrate their American-ness.


"NATO had to talk to the opium chiefs and make nice with them."

It's... complicated.

I know a chap who was an Australian diplomat attached to their troop deployment.

You had a 3-way power balance in any place: the Afghan govt in Kabul, the Taliban, the local warlords.

Nato forces were trying to support the first, oppose the second, and had to make deals with the third.

Local warlords ran a standard patronage setup. Shooting people, sure. But also making sure a doctor came if your father was sick, showing up with seed crops and baby animals after your barn burnt down, making sure the irrigation got fixed after it broke. And then making you an offer you couldn't refuse, showing up and asking favors. Don't say no.

The diplomat dealt with that. When he was on leave for a few months his Afghan driver/assistant - a friend - vanished and the diplomat was sure the local warlord had murdered him. At which point he want back and kept doing deals with the warlord. Because that's the only fucking way to get fucking stuff fucking done.

He writes songs about it. Not naive anti-war songs. Song about Aussie diggers who are real people dying for a cause that, well, maybe is worthwhile and maybe isn't and it's bloody hard to tell. Google "Dust of Uruzgan".


Don't Here in London, we've had something ( a total fiasco actually ) called "The Garden Bridge" ... One of the few good things S Khan has done was to cancel this vanity project. LOTS of money was wasted & a series of quiet investigations took place. The transcripts of those interviews are now available, on the "London Reconnections" website. They make really dire reading as to the levels of infantilism, posturing & total inability to think straight. The exceptions are "The Coin St Community" & Sir Peter Hendy - as for the rest, including BoJo, Joanna Lumley & an ex-editor of the Evening Standard, it's pathetic. I think the AI might easily have done better.


This robot's default conversational mode is to talk down to people, trivialise their concerns, avoid/deflect awkward questions ... really crappy interpersonal skills.

Sounds like it is perfectly capable of meeting required standards in mid-level management and Human Ressources. Probably it could also front some Public-Private partnership in health care.


"This robot's default conversational mode is to talk down to people, trivialize their concerns, avoid/deflect awkward questions ... really crappy interpersonal skills."

Has someone taken an unauthorised copy of me?


"OTOH it's always seemed kind of barmy that plants are green, thereby reflecting the most plentiful region"

It's probably got nothing at all to do with it, but I always assumed that it was due to purple bacteria having invented photosynthesis first, and having taken the best (green)) part of the spectrum, leaving the blue and red parts available. First in best dressed. So when green plants invented modern oxygen producing photosynthesis they used the available part of the spectrum, and ignored the green which was already in use. Then never changed.

Just one of those unexamined assumptions, so probably wrong.


Golgafrincham "B" Ark material?


A/2017 U1 Look it up


Going back to this old subject. Stand down, the world isn't going to end. Looks as though whoever did the press release got confused about which symmetry they were testing.


You could try looking at the cases referred to in Wikipedia:


Interesting piece on Pope Francis in the Guardian today: The war against Pope Francis Long read. Pope Francis seems to be a survivor type, won't speculate further.
Laughed at this ("historically eccentric"): It was Cardinal Burke who invited Bannon, then already the animating spirit of Breitbart News, to address a conference in the Vatican, via video link from California, in 2014. Bannon’s speech was apocalyptic, incoherent and historically eccentric. But there was no mistaking the urgency of his summons to a holy war:...


So the universe is merely highly unlarkly?

Since the one well-known limerick seems to be unknown to the Web, it is:

A philosopher, one Bishop Berkeley, Remarked philosophically, darkly: Quite half what we see Cannot possibly be And the rest is all highly unlarkly.


There is, of course, only one follow-on: the famous philosopher, DesCartes, is at a restaurant. He finishes his dinner, and the waiter asks if he'd like dessert. DesCartes strokes his chin, and says, "I think not"... and vanishes.


Today we've got some good news: the US economy grew 3 percent last quarter. This means

What's more interesting is that the states which benefited so far economically are Trump-voting states

Good luck convincing them that the improvements they see in their neighborhoods wasn't due to Trump.


You write: "The left" keep underestimating Donald Trump like that and he will be there for 7 more years. Which is maybe their plan - virtue signalling over nothing significant, while sucking up all those profits from all the juicy defence contracts and wars on brown people?

Ah, nope. For one, kindly remember that the US is only now regrowing a "left". The liberals, represented by the Democrats, slid further and further right, to where I can easily refer to the Clintons, and. unfortunately, Obama, until his last few months in office, as Eisenhower Republicans (except I've had some folks argue that Ike was more liberal in some things).

For another, the neofascists and the seditions neoConfederates (aka "the Tea Party, or Freedom Caucus), have a problem. They're out to rape and pillage and privatize, now that they're in power. The trouble is they're not paying off their base, in any meaningful way. The base, except for the crazed (of which we have far too many), is getting annoyed enough to either vote someone else in, or just not vote. Note that I just read yesterday in the WaPo that over 46% of Americans didn't vote last year (which, of course, includes the massive voter suppression[1])

The upshot is that the mid-term elections next year are going to be very, very unpleasant for them.

And if/when the Dems get the majority, or sooner, if criminal charges start being filed, which would give some revolted Republicans (hah! what false advertising) political cover to start the impeachment.



Total change of subject: I just finished a tremendously good book last night. A couple of years ago, I was blown away by Shanghai Sparrow, by Gaie Sebold. At CapClave, I picked up a slightly earlier book, Babylon Steel.


Shanghai Sparrow was steampunk/magic from the bottom of the social spectrum, not from the top, and most of it is. Babylon Steel... she's been a caravan guard, and is now a madame on one of the best brothels in this planc, which is sort of like a wormhole nexus to other planes/worlds.

Oh, and she was the Avatar of a Goddess of one plane. And gave it up, when she found out just what the other Avatars had been doing all along.... I was yelling and crying at the end.

So, yes, she's definitely an up-and-coming writer.


I wonder if it was something to do with lots of immigrants and the reaction to the Civil War causing everyone (school boards especially) to want to demonstrate their American-ness.

American identity is and always has been ideological construct. Going back to the founders, "detached Anglo-Saxon imperial appendage" alone wasn't quite going to cut it as the unifying element of American national identity.* As more and more immigrants have arrived and assimilated, the set of ingredients of that identity has had to broaden as well.

The challenge going forward is sustaining the cohesion of a unifying American identity with the transition from assimilation to multiculturalism. Are America's component cultures sufficiently compatible in terms of norms and values to live together in the long term? Is the ostensible core element of American political belief (i.e. self-determination, individual rights, etc.) enough of a "glue" to hold it all together? The resurgence of white supremacy and neo-fascism in the U.S. over the last couple of years leaves me pessimistic.

*I've long wondered if parallels can be found in the construction of Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander national identities. Or, is the ideological nature of American identity solely due to the violent nature of America's separation from the British Empire?


A/2017 U1

Hyperbolic excess velocity seems to be around 25 km/s, aka c/12,000. Half again as fast as Voyager 1 is leaving our solar system and not inconsistent with it having gotten flung out from some other system by an encounter with a massive planet or two.

Or it could be Rama.


Just to keep up with current events, are tanks rolling down La Rambla a prospect?


Changing topics, it seems that China is causing a donkey population crash. It seems that the population of donkeys in China has fallen from 11 million to 3 million in the past decade. According to Wikipedia, this is similar to the decline of donkeys in Europe from 3 million after WWII to today. However, this decline in supply hasn't been met with a similar decline in demand, so there is now an export market from Africa to China.


Probably not ...but:

Given the amount of amazingly stupid willy-waving that bith "sides" in the Spanish/Catalan dispute up to now, anything is possible. I have no sympathy, whatsoever, for either grouping, given their corprate collective stupidity.

However, this slow car-crash has, of course given vast amounts of fuel to thje rabid Brexiteers. SHIT


The other problem is, who do you replace Trump with? Pence? He's worse, because he's actually a functional politician with antediluvian morals (in the Biblical sense of antediluvian, I'm afraid, given his ideas about sea level rise), not just a floudering creep. Paul Ryan? Dude appears to be a cnidarian, or possibly a tunicate, but I haven't seen much sign of a spine since he glued his butt to the Speaker's Chair. Orrin Hatch? Oh dear. Rex Tillerson (or more likely, his replacement, or possibly the replacement of that successor)? It's like dumpster diving to find the one non-rotten tomato in 4 cubic meters of slime.

So we wait until 2018, the democrats regain power, we get impeachment-palooza to end up with...Nancy Pelosi for President? Even as a California liberal that idea bugs me. I can't help remembering how little she got done the last time she was in power.

Now, what will be interesting is what happens when Charles and David Koch shuffle off this mortal coil, but I don't think that 20 years of cowardice on the Republican side will get cured over night.


"*I've long wondered if parallels can be found in the construction of Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander national identities."

Australian identity is bound up with anti-elitism, which relates to the details of their colonial past. Again there's the origin myths - the convict colony past, etc. But it started as an identity of poor British Empire immigrants pushing back against a colonial elite. So Ned Kelly's an archetype of an Aussie anti-hero: poor, ethnically irish, son of a convict. WW1 played a role there too: the (irish) catholic bishop of Melbourne preaching from the altar against conscription, etc.

Best I don't comment on NZ, as I'm a bit biased.

But it's new. When my grandparents were born NZ and Australia were British Colonies. When my parents were born NZ was fighting as part of the British Empire in WW2. When I was born it was typical in NZ to talk of England as "the home country". But my kids wouldn't know what someone meant if they heard that phrase.


Unpleasant suprises for somebody, I expect.

( Talking of which, I just found a dead squirrel under the computer-desk 5 minutes gao ... killer-kitte/on strikes again .... )


Noted, and already discovered: she's working on more books (at a rate of production that suggests she has a day job, though). If you liked those, can I suggest you have a look at The Untold Tale by J. M. Frey and maybe The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman? Both starts of series, both fantasy with somewhat meta structural games to liven them up/take them beyond the formulaic?


Re: Donkey population decline

Damned - another species at risk! Donkeys like goats are ideal for scrub areas (Scotland?) as they're cheap to feed, typically keep to themselves, but unlike goats, have low fertility and long gestation.

Just read about feral donkeys in Australia. Given the very sharp population decline in donkey populations in countries that are openly selling donkeys to China, wondering whether Australia is taking any steps to safeguard their feral donkeys or at least imposing a quota on this potentially successful trade commodity. (Since an appeal to not wipe out a species probably won't be enough, need to also appeal to greed.)

A quick look at what the neighbors are doing: the Ponui, New Zealand's feral donkey, is listed as rare therefore probably protected.


Mueller... Yeah. The eye-catching aspect has been the amusingly large cloud of smoke/chaff that was released over the week by the Trump administration and by their allies and by the Republican Party controlled media outlets in the US. (Fox News, etc). Which presents the appearance of an information flow (maybe a mole or maybe not) from the Mueller investigation to the Trump administration. Also, many more in the US media have started to notice that they are being played. Nutshell version: What was on the cable nets at exactly 9:04:35 pm Eastern (CNN, MSNBC, Fox (center right, center tending (american) left in evening, Republican party channel)) "Where there's smoke, there are mirrors". I.e. plenty of digging to do; things are almost certainly not as they appear, even when taking into account that things are almost certainly not as they appear.

And yes, there are betting pools (informal/forbraggingrights and probably otherwise/formoney) on who is being indicted.


We've got no need for Donkeys in Scotland except as pets, which they already are to those who can afford vet bills etc. There used to be more of them of course, people over a certain age will recall the existence of places called 'the horses rest' or Donkey sanctuary or suchlike, more usually taken over by the RSPCA and SSPCA now.


I'm too sick to engage much with the issue, but despite coughing and horfing up ridiculous quantities of phlegm, I am very, very happy. I'm guessing that Carter Page, Manafort, Flynn, Flynn Jr. or some combination of the above is going to be arrested, and I'm very much looking forward to Monday, unless Trump decides to wag the dog by blowing N. Korea to smithereens.


No DT will obscure the landscape with the remaining papers relating to 22/11/1963 ( Apparently, only papers relating to people still alive will be redacted/reatained )

I found out about it, calling-in a someone I then knew, to be greeted at the door by the words: "Kennedy's dead" ......


The only working pack animals left in Scotland are hill ponies used for deer stalking; they're used to transport the deer carcasses down off the hills after they're shot and gralloched out. They're better than nearly anything else at the job, a small footprint on the surprisingly delicate ground cover of the Highlands, semi-autonomous guidance and all-wheel-drive in rough terrain.

A donkey or mule might be able to do the same sort of work but they're rather long-legged and high maintenance compared to a low-slung hill pony traversing a forty-five degree slope in a howling gale and driving sideways rain. Suggestions that distant sightings of hill ponies gave rise to the stories about haggises are unfounded.


"the Ponui, New Zealand's feral donkey, is listed as rare therefore probably protected"

Nope. Feral imported mammals aren't a conservation priority here. It's not a native NZ species, and it's not an endangered species.

But the Chamberlin family that imported them in the 1850s still own and farm most of Ponui Island. I can't see them letting the donkeys die out.


See Nojay's comment. Donkeys are adapted to much drier (and hotter) conditions, and Scotland's winters are dark and wet, with essentially no (wild) food available for many months on the high ground, even if not all that cold by global standards. That's exactly the same reason that feral goats in the UK have seriously difficulty surviving. Shetland ponies are tough buggers.


I was reading about Trump's new tax plan when I came across this interesting statistic: "America's middle-class ranges from $35,000 to $122,500 in annual income, according to The Post's calculation..."

Since the Washington Post is paywalled, I don't know how they arrived at that conclusion. Still, it's an interesting tidbit


Here's a better link. You can click each state and see the income range for what is considered middle class in each state.


I was born four days after Kennedy's death. My mother reports that she watched his funeral while in labor.


I don't see the link.


There's a small breeding colony of wallabies in the middle of Loch Lomond, on the island of Inchconnachan. A mad, sorry eccentric rich lady imported them back in the 1940s and they've been there ever since.


More Wallabies also in & near "the Roaches" in Staffordshire ( thought to have died out, but seen again more recently) & also on the isle of Man, apparently.


My Mad Friend Norman spent one year a while back carrying out moonlight swims in Loch Lomond, swimming across once each season. He crossed Inchconnachan island on his way -- Loch Lomond is quite wide but it's an easy swim if you island-hop. He said he encountered wallabies on his travels, they're somewhat nocturnal but they will shy away from torchlight.


When I was nine years old I was walking in the Roaches with my father and two aunts who were all originally from the area. They pointed behind me and said “Look! A kangaroo”. I refused to turn round because I thought they were teasing me. (They knew they were Wallaibies not Kangaroos but that’s what the locals called them.) So I never got to see one.They were supposed to have died in the cold winter of 1963.


I've preordered from Barnes & Noble, and am counting down the days.

It was a difficult decision between B&N and Amazon. I really enjoy going to a real bricks-and-mortar store, but OTOH, B&N is not involved politically (AFAIK), while Amazon is financing a lot of resistance to the Orange One.


No computer currently plays bridge as well as humans, and there's been significant discussion about the timeframe before it happens. This link is the most recent one I know.


I didn't know that "Berkeley" rhymed with "darkly". I'm an American, and there's a city in California named Berkeley, and it rhymes with "murky".


Five years old, but xkcd has an entertaining cartoon about difficulties of various games for computers.

Tom Gauld also has something entertaining to say on the subject.


Nancy Pelosi for President? Even as a California liberal that idea bugs me. I can't help remembering how little she got done the last time she was in power.

Well many of us think she managed to turn Congress over to the R's and become a focal point for the election of future R's. That's quite a lot for one person in 2 years. :)


Since the Washington Post is paywalled, I don't know how they arrived at that conclusion.

Just do a reasonable search in Google News with at the end and you'll find almost anything you want. But you have to get to it from a Google search in the section. A direct link, even to an article linked from a searched for article will get you to the paywall.


I can certainly see Calvinball being hard for any kind of computerized game playing.

And if a computer can be developed that wins at CB I'm giving up.


I was reading about Trump's new tax plan when I came across this interesting statistic: "America's middle-class ranges from $35,000 to $122,500 in annual income, according to The Post's calculation..."

Since the Washington Post is paywalled, I don't know how they arrived at that conclusion. Still, it's an interesting tidbit

Rank household incomes into Quintiles - lowest, second, third, fourth and highest fifth. It's the range of incomes between the mean of the second Quintile and the mean of the fourth Quintile.


Try opening in an icognito window - often works ....

Calvinball? Yes, well ....


The real test for an AI is, probably akin to that of Calvinball, or Brodge - imagination & variation, because chance & variability are also parts of the universe that must be dealt with.


I can't find Brodge - the search engines just find misspellings of bridge.

I 'played' things like Calvinball in the past, and they are impossible for anyone with Asperger's, too. Not that we don't have the imagination, but the primary unmentioned and unadmitted rule is that you must not propose a rule outside the other players' mindsets of what constitutes acceptable rules. And deducing those without the ability to read social cues is not feasible within the timescale of a game.


"o|" & "i" are next to each other on the QWERTY keyboard!


Manafort and Gates charged in Russia probe. As per CNN:

'The 12-count indictment is on "conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts."'

Apart from the usual money laundering/tax evasion, collusion with a foreign power, I want to know what access either had to social media tech esp. messaging strategy - assuming this is covered by 'false statements'.

(Surprisingly, no updates on impeachment odds from Vegas bookies.)


This is going to be a very slow burn, unless Manafort or Gates choose to rat out Trump in return for time off — a very dangerous strategy (you're going to piss off the POTUS personally, after he's proven he's unscrupulous enough to fire an FBI director for investigating him?).

So I don't expect any real progress on this investigation before next year, unless additional charges against other conspirators show up.


Re: Slow burn

If too slow, the populace will forget they've been sold out. If too fast, too many abettors might escape the net.

Wonder whether any of the FBI info could give the two social media platform giants leverage via their T&C to sue the pants off these schemers. Or do you see this as part of the plea deal? (Would be really bad PR for a Capitalism gov't to disallow major corps from pursuing monetary redress for the pain and suffering from deliberate use of their platforms in illegal shenanigans.)


Gaie (or as she was nearly renamed on one panel, Gaia) was at BristolCon on Saturday, but I didn't think to ask her how the next book is coming along.


About "American identity"" that's become problematical. For one thing, the constant tax cuts have drastically affected public education. Not until, um, was it Raygun? Was it the Shrub? did I ever hear about teachers spending their own money for class supplies.

And the funnymentalists who support the neofascist right, are heavily into "Christian home schooling" and private schools. The big city schools are doing as bad as ever in the poorer neighborhoods, and self-segregation by the whites results in a less general education.

We've been balkanized by the ultrawealthy, following their long-established tradition of cuts to you, but you should worry about That Kind taking a bigger portion of the (smaller) pie (that we left you), so let's you and them fight.

Certainly, I, my family and friends do not live in the same universe as some of these funnymentalists. Hell, my Eldest was arguing online with one, and asked for support. Now, we not only have the First Amendment (no laws establishing religion), but the Constitution has been understood to say that treaties have the force of law, and the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 (no, that's not a mistype), article 11, "As the United States is in no wise a Christian nation...", we are legally secular.. and this idiot was saying to my daughter that "it's just an opinion".

I'm looking forward to how all of what's going on now in DC plays out in the country.


Well, next in line is Pence, then Ryan, then Hatch, who may possibly be preferred to some of the others, then Tillerson.

Next year... Pelosi would be bad. For one, jezzus H, she's 77. Meanwhile, the job of US President is one that makes air traffic controller at O'Hare seem laid-back and relaxing. As far as I was concerned, as much as I liked Bernie, ALL of them were too bloody old.


I don't think it will be that slow a burn. For one... this has everyone mind-boggled. We were expecting criminal. No one was expecting "conspiracy against the United States". As one guy here at work put it, that's one step below treason. That's a charge, if they're convicted, the Orange Shit CANNOT even say the word "pardon" - every Reptilian, other than the neoConfederate Caucus, would barf then and there, and he'd be impeached that day.

I'm actually suspecting we won't see the next charges for a few weeks, because I'm assuming they're going to interrogate them, and use what they say to confirm what they already have against the next level up.

Next level: Bannon? Not sure if they'll go after Jared and Ivanka yet, but the NY AG may, for the fraud charges they were going to be hit with in '12, before the DA there got a $25k campaign contribution via daddy's lawyer.


Re: Pelosi, age 77

No problemo - life expectancy in DC for white females is almost 87.


Thanks David and Greg for letting me know those tricks

In news that might have slipped under the radar, looks like China wants to build its own California in the majority-Muslim province on Xinjiang.


Re: ' "As the United States is in no wise a Christian nation...", we are legally secular.. '

Fine if you're the type to read small print. Problem is that the key public rite associated with the office of POTUS therefore by extension the country is to swear the oath of office on a Christian Bible. This has been reinforced by media who specifically choose to use pix showing the hand on the Bible to signify the swearing in.

Only a handful of presidents did not use any religious symbolism during their swearing in.


Thanks very much, Charlie. I really am trying to find more SF, not fantasy, not military fanboytasy, but well-written stuff....

Oh, has CASE BLUE HADES been called? I mean, all the octopi on the Welsh shore....


"...swear the oath of office on a Christian Bible.", that book in which Jesus Christ answers the question "what shall we swear on?" by saying "don't swear on anything". If I was the TV producer, I'd be strongly inclined to simultaneously display the relevant verses in split-screen.


Here you go: "Gospel according to Matthew" 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.


Re: "don't swear on anything"

Found this James verse. Search results suggest there are other versions reported by different apostles but with same meaning.

James 5:12 (King James Bible)

'But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.'

IOW: Say what you mean; mean what you say.

So if such oaths are unChristian, how did they become so widespread?


Re N. Pelosi (minority party (Democratic) leader in US House of Representatives, for those who don't know), an interesting and fairly honest-looking[1] story in the Washington Post: Nancy Pelosi isn’t going anywhere. Will it help or hurt Democrats in 2018? (Note: private browsing windows or equivalent, and probably a cookie purge as well, will work to access the Washington Post, at least today.) Mentioned mainly because of this quote caught the eye: “I am a master legislator. I just love it,” she said of her inherited appetites. “I consider myself a weaver, like I have a loom. And I bring all these different threads together.” She really is a talented and skillful political tactician IMO. The article touches very briefly on sexual harassment as well, among many other things. [1] Note I don't know anything about her skeleton collection.


Problem is that the key public rite associated with the office of POTUS therefore by extension the country is to swear the oath of office on a Christian Bible. ... Only a handful of presidents did not use any religious symbolism during their swearing in.

Just to fill this in for others, there was a thread about this previously IIRC. Because Quakers do no/did not swear oaths (for the reasons stated), and they were a significant (as in some had wealth and influence) part of the early American population, the U.S. Constitution says "oath or affirmation". According to Wikipedia, Franklin Pierce was the only president known to use the word "affirm" rather than "swear." Hoover and Nixon, being Republican[1] Quakers, used the word swear. Brief backgrounder:

(Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.")

[1] Joke! I had an older Republican (head of local party org) Quaker uncle (conscientious objector in WWII) who definitely would have "affirmed".


"The "Dig-all-the-AUS-coal-up-&-sell-it-to-the-Chinese" model is going to collapse fairly soon, I would have thought. What "they" will do then is anyone's guess."

Force Australians to buy the coal. They've just introduced the "national energy guarantee" which does a lot of talking about hydro and renewables, but which actually is a mandate to buy a certain percentage of coal power. They even talk about "Coal, gas, hydro and biomass will be rewarded for their dispatchability" in other words, coal will be subsidised for being something it clearly isn't. Coal is second only to Nuclear in its complete Lack of dispatchablity.

From the PM's office:


The Chinese long-term plan is to have about a gigawatt of coal capacity, about half their expected total generating capacity by about 2030. They may go over and have about 1.25GW of coal if other shit doesn't pan out. They do have a lot of coal securely within their own borders available to them but if the Australian product is cheap enough landed at coastal power stations compared to the cost of transporting it from the hinterlands where the Chinese mines are located then the new coal export facilities Australia is/was planning to build could well be a nice little earner for the Ozzie GNP for a few decades to come.


And here's a long one about Boehner. Interesting take on his career and retirement. I had forgotten his early days in Washington.

If you take off your ideological glasses it's an informative read. Especially for those not living in the North American part of the universe.


I believe a recently re-discovered 'Linear B' tablet has some disturbing implications...


Chinese nuclear power, current and planned (300GW by 2050) is a drop in the bucket compared to their current and planned levels of coal consumption (1TW to 1.25TW by 2050).


Since this is a somewhat meandering thread I'll throw in another turn. In a documentary historian Yuval Harari talked about religion as a virtual reality game. I quite like the analogy he draws. He talks about it from 39m30s in the video.

People, gods and technology.

Kevin Kelly and forementioned Yuval Harari talk about technology and it's influence on people and society in the coming decades.


'Conspiracy against the US' sounds nastier than it actually is - it's a pretty standard charge in money laundering cases AIUI.

The really interesting news is the stuff about Papadopoulos IMO - he was arrested several months ago apparently and has copped to a relatively minor charge (lying to FBI agents) which just screams 'plea bargain' to me. He's been described as a 'proactive cooperator' in some of the background briefing material, which is the sort of language that gets used about mafia narks who are willing to wear a wire to a sit down with their capo. This tells me two things:

1) He has been singing like a canary about the Trump campaign's pursuit of the Russians for dirt on Clinton during the election (this was part of his brief back then apparently).

2) The Mueller team is a very tight ship to have kept news about this witness quiet until now.

Regards Luke


The public service broadcast removed the video from youtube 10 minutes after my post here. Another link:

People, gods and technology.


AI has reached the point where the tools and techniques, software and hardware, are sufficient to tackle most individual tasks that were presumed to require human intelligence. This is still a step short of passing the Turing Test and the examples given in this thread as refutation are of the kind that require passing the Turing Test. An AI driven robotic brain surgeon will come long before an AI controlled psychotherapist.


I note that Amazon have cancelled my order for the hardcover of Dark State. I wish the publishers would make up their <REDACTED> minds.


Yup, people often mix up whether they mean "AI that can pass for human by it's speech or actions", which has a sub-set of "is self aware like we think we are" and "AI that can learn and make 'intelligent' decisions but isn't self aware or anything".


An AI appears to have learnt from generalisation, human-style What was it doing? Breaking "captcha" log-in codes, oh dear.


See comment #103 for more details. :-)


There is no UK hardcover of Dark State (or Invisible Sun, for that matter). There will be a big-format trade paperback in the UK, and you can buy a US hardcover and have it shipped from



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