Books

Cellular Automaton: Life Animation in “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1”

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

 

When I was 12 or so, I read about John Horton Conway’s cellular automaton Life in Scientific American. Back then (c. 1970) we had to painfully draw each generation on graph paper. The personal computer revolution made it possible for hobbyists and students to simulate large fields and thousands of generations easily, building self-replicating structures and Turing machines… Life could simulate life.

Later in my career, I wrote artificial life simulations similar to what is portrayed in Red Queen — these are an extension to simulation of creatures in a simulated environment. There is a progression as simulations get better and better — eventually the simulation of life in an environment can become as complex as the real world, which has led to current theories that the universe we live in may itself be some kind of simulation on an underlying substrate.

The video below is an amazing zoom from tiny gliders to glider guns to megastructures… and then to Life itself simulated by Life.


Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1.

Sarah Hoyt’s “Darkship Revenge”

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt - photo Baen Books

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt – photo Baen Books

I’ve had more time to read fiction since I gave up my subscription to The Economist, which has abandoned its tradition of support for free markets and classical liberalism. I’ll try to review the best of these….

Sarah Hoyt’s latest, Darkship Revenge, is set in the same Darkship setting as her last,
Through Fire. As in that book, a genengineered woman from the secret space colony Eden ends up embroiled in war between the Usaians and Good Men on Earth, but this time the stakes are higher: Athena and her husband Kit are on a run to collect power pods when Kit is kidnapped. Athena and her newborn baby have to make their way alone to Earth to try to find Kit.

It turns out the ship which left Earth carrying many of the genengineered “master race” on a mission of colonization has returned and sent its youngest clones down to Earth supposedly to negotiate peace and a territory for the returning colonists. But all is not as it appears, and soon Athena, Kit, and their baby are fighting for their lives against the forces of both the Good Men and the returned starship. The fate of the world’s human population hangs in the balance!

This story is beautifully told and Hoyt makes time for both a kind of family drama (since the clones feel like younger siblings or children to their older originals) and action-packed fight scenes. Family ties form between strangers who’ve grown up abused and disowned, and the loyalties strengthen as the odds — and the sacrifices — pile up. Luce and Nate from A Few Good Men show up to play secondary roles, but you don’t need to read any of the other Darkship series books to follow the story.

A good read which deepens the understanding of the Darkship setting and demonstrates real wisdom about parenthood and its emotions in the midst of a battle for survival.

Substrate Wars Omnibus: Now on iBooks, iTunes, Kobo, Nook, Scribd, 24Symbols, Page Foundry

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

The Kindle versions of Substrate Wars books are still cheap — $0.99 for Red Queen, $2.99 for Nemo’s World, and $2.99 for the latest, Shrivers.

A new option: the Substrate Wars Omnibus, all three books in a single e-book, now available at many non-Amazon book sellers and subscription services:

Apple iBooks/iTunes, $7.99
Barnes and Noble Nook, $7.95
Kobo Books, $7.95
Page Foundry, $7.95
Scribd, Unlimited subscription reading.
24Symbols: Unlimited subscription reading.
Tolino, apparently using iTunes outside the US.

2016 Worldcon / MidAmericon II Report

l-r: KCPL building, Municipal Auditorium, Kaufmann Center, Convention center

r-l: KCPL building, Municipal Auditorium, Kaufmann Center, Convention center

I had planned to go to MidAmericon II in Kansas City, where I grew up, when my mother still lived there in assisted living north of the river. But we moved her to Tallahassee to be near my brother eight months ago — by then I was committed to participating in the unveiling of the Heinlein bust (which I had helped complete by my last-minute donation) destined for installation in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the capital building. Like 99% of science fiction readers, I had never attended a Worldcon (World Science Fiction Society convention) fully — I dropped in for one day at San Jose’s ConJose 2002 Worldcon when I lived in nearby Sunnyvale.

The above photo was taken from the fitness center on the 22nd floor of the Marriott, one of the convention hotels. The convention center is on the left, in the Power and Light District named after the 1930s Kansas City Power and Light building on the right. When I was young it was the tallest building in town and the lighted top changed colors to give the weather forecast. the area is now coming to life as a residential and entertainment center with cool restaurants and high-rise condos.

Our room was actually in the renovated Muehlebach tower next door, and we spent a lot of time walking back and forth across the skybridge between them.

Worldcon2016i02

This is the view north, with the old in-town airport on the right and the suburb I grew up in, Gladstone, in the green hills above the river bottoms in the center. Kansas City was formed from several small settlements, one at the river landing in this shot, another at Westport a few miles south where wagon trains assembled for the trails west. Settlers arrived by riverboat and later train to make the overland trek west, and local merchants thrived outfitting them.

Downtown KC - City Hall in center

Downtown KC – City Hall in center

Kansas City had one of only two highrise city halls in the country, Los Angeles being the other. The city is known for its large and creative black community, with associated achievements in jazz and barbecue. Its science fictional associations come from Robert A. Heinlein’s childhood; he grew up in KC after being born in Butler, MO to the south. Like many families including mine, his family moved from a rural area to the city to pursue opportunity.

I brought my husband Paul along. He reads more science fiction than I get a chance to these days, tending to prefer the action-adventure-military variety more prominent at Libertycon. Because of his rotator cuff surgery a month earlier, he was still in some pain and wore a sling to prevent his healing shoulder from being injured. Which is why we didn’t take up the Heinlein Society’s invitation to join them for the official installation ceremonies in the state capital following the con.

The bust unveiling was one of the first events, and we had some trouble finding it in the vast exhibition hall. I was introduced and lots of nice people thanked me for stepping up to put the fund over the top.

Heinlein bust unveiling, with MO representative TJ Berry and Keith Kato

Heinlein bust unveiling, with MO representative TJ Berry and Keith Kato

The state rep, T. J. Berry, was present with the proclamation passed by the House. He made a short speech before the unveiling.

Sculptor E Spencer Schubert with Heinlein bust

Sculptor E Spencer Schubert with Heinlein bust

Heinlein bust: Missouri House resolution

Heinlein bust: Missouri House resolution

Heinlein unveiling

Heinlein unveiling

After the ceremony and pictures, the Heinlein Society had a cake and cookies reception in the con suite area:

Heinlein unveiling cake party

Heinlein unveiling cake party

Friday night, Keith Kato threw a chili party for the Society and guests at his hotel. We Ubered up there and enjoyed wine and chili, four different kinds — including “Silverberg recipe,” extremely spicy. Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven sat across from each other and I managed to talk to both of them briefly (achievement unlocked!) though both were pretty tired and out of it. We left fairly early as Greg Benford arrived, and thus missed out on Robert Silverberg, who normally attends. I therefore missed my chance to apologize for calling him on the phone when I was twelve, when (being quick) he recognized my book report excuse as transparently fabricated.

A typical KC thunderstorm was just starting up as we left the party, and our first Uber driver dropped us when rates suddenly went up, but we had another in a few minutes. This was the first time we relied on Uber to get around all weekend, and it went well generally, with $5 rides far easier and cheaper than renting a car and paying hotel parking rates.

Heinlein Society party

Heinlein Society party

Heinlein Society party

Heinlein Society party

Worldcon2016i17

I had a long talk with the sculptor, E. Spencer Shubert, about his use of 3D cad cam techniques in his work. He had discovered this online after another artist hinted at it, and he’s now pioneering what is becoming important in sculpture. Which is another example of how internet access is aiding transmission of new technologies, something Heinlein didn’t think of first!

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me at Heinlein Society party

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me at Heinlein Society party

More pictures of the bust and the artist:

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me with Heinlein bust

Artist E. Spencer Schubert and me with Heinlein bust

Heinlein bust

Heinlein bust

The Heinlein Society also had an exhibit area with personal momentos like his typewriter and ephemera of the day:

Heinlein Society

Heinlein Society

Have Russian spacesuit, will travel - Heinlein exhibits

Have Russian spacesuit, will travel – Heinlein exhibits

Heinlein exhibits

Heinlein exhibits

We did some panels — or at least I did, because Paul was tiring quickly and needed to rest back in the room. Mike Resnick and Eric Flint, who often collaborate, have apparently been doing panels together for a long time and have it down to an amusing art:

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

The Mike Resnick and Eric Flint show

Later I went to a panel on future government, which was a little unimaginative but still worthwhile. Karl Schroeder and Matthew Johnson presented the aggressively Canadian perspective, while hot new novelist Ada Palmer (Too Like the Lightning) kept the niceness from being oppressive. Schroeder barely touched on radical notions like smart contracts and and DAOs. And the much more practical concept of liquid democracy and Google’s voting experiments weren’t mentioned at all.

Karl Schroeder, Matthew Johnson, and Ada Palmer on future politics panel

Karl Schroeder, Matthew Johnson, and Ada Palmer on future politics panel

I captured a bit of video to give you the favor of it. Note this was for *personal use* and not in violation of the con’s rules! (I am gently making fun of certain people now claiming no one can record a panel without getting permission from everyone involved.)

Earlier, people packed a tiny room for the highest-powered panel of all, moderated by Chuck Gannon and including many of the remaining warhorses of “science-y” science fiction: Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, David Brin, Greg Bear, and Greg Benford. I came in a bit late and ended up sitting on the floor in the last available space near the AV stands, which explains the strange camera angle….

l-r Chuck Gannon, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, David Brin, Joe Haldeman (obscured), Greg Benford

l-r Chuck Gannon, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, David Brin, Joe Haldeman (obscured), Greg Benford

For the panel on hard science in science fiction, Ann Leckie (representing “soft”) sparred amusingly with Geoff Landis (representing “hard.”) While this was fun, I had to leave early.

Ann Leckie and Geoff Landis

Ann Leckie and Geoff Landis

Crowd awaits panel

Crowd awaits panel

“Masters of Science Fiction” had collectible cards made for them, which were presented. Connie Willis was as charming and fun as I’m told she normally is, bantering with Silverberg gamely.

James Gunn, Connie Willis

James Gunn, Connie Willis

Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven

Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven

The playing card guy hands out framed copies

The playing card guy hands out framed copies

Joe Haldeman accepts playing card

Joe Haldeman accepts playing card

I was impressed by Jim Davidson on the immortality panel — he sounds like me, which means he must be right! Greg Benford is involved in a biotech startup, thus his interest in the topic.

Jim Davidson, Greg Benford on immortality panel

Jim Davidson, Greg Benford on immortality panel

Worldcon201606

The Retro Hugo Awards went to deserving works from 1940 (as I recall) which was before Hugos were presented. The competition was stiff and made current work seem a little shallow by comparison. Keith Kato of the Heinlein Society accepted for Heinlein’s two retro Hugo wins, and everyone was touched when A. E. van Vogt’s granddaughter stepped up to accept the retro Hugo for Slan. The 1940s touches included a swing band and dance, plus some well-done period announcing and costumes.

retro Hugos - Swing dance band

retro Hugos – Swing dance band

Retro Hugos - Swing dance

Retro Hugos – Swing dance

Worldcon201610

Retro Hugos - Keith Kato accepts award for Heinlein

Retro Hugos – Keith Kato accepts award for Heinlein

Retro Hugos - Old-timey announcer

Retro Hugos – Old-timey announcer

Exterior of Convention Center

Exterior of Convention Center

Carnival games in the Midway

Carnival games in the Midway

Whimsical Room Names

Whimsical Room Names

Inflatable Spaceman

Inflatable Spaceman

Miniatures and Games

Miniatures and Games

Worldcon201622

The River was full of Monsters

The River was full of Monsters

Vendor Area

Vendor Area

San Jose next year

San Jose next year

Con suite - just a big open area with tables

Con suite – just a big open area with tables

Display in lobby: KC likes sportsball!

Display in lobby: KC likes sportsball!

Barcon from on high

Barcon from on high

Paul meets a writer!

Paul meets a writer!

More Barcon crowd - Laughing Scalzi

More Barcon crowd – Laughing Scalzi

Barcon crowd

Barcon crowd

Paul needed a martini to cope with the pain after rotator cuff surgery

Paul needed a martini to cope with the pain after rotator cuff surgery

Barcon scene

Barcon scene

B Daniel Blatt shows off his eclectic outfit at Barcon

B Daniel Blatt shows off his eclectic outfit at Barcon

Worldcon2016i24

Crowd awaits Hugo presentations

Crowd awaits Hugo presentations

Video of AE van Vogt's granddaughter accepting retro-Hugo

Picture from AE van Vogt’s granddaughter accepting retro-Hugo

Hugos broadcast booth

Hugos broadcast booth

Nominees file on for reserved seats

Nominees file on for reserved seats

Later that evening I ran into Dave Truesdale, who edited and published one of my essays over at Tangent Online. I missed the now-famous panel where his moderation resulted in loud disorder and got him expelled from the con, but I wrote what little I have to say about that affair here.

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

More travelogue: the city is a lot livelier than when I left 40-odd years ago, with a spiffy new convention center and lots of arts and entertainment to be had in town. I had remembered the oppressive heat and humidity and suffering while I mowed other people’s lawns, but I had forgotten that every few days a cold front sweeps through bringing cool, dry conditions, and we had two perfect days of it with highs in the 70s. I was actually cold at times since I had neglected to pack any nicer or warmer clothes.

We ventured downstairs to the old lobby of the formerly grand Muehlebach Hotel, now just used as an annex of the Marriott:

Old lobby Muehlebach, front desk

Old lobby Muehlebach, front desk

Lobby old Muehlebach, phone booths

Lobby old Muehlebach, phone booths

Plaque commemorating founding of Barbershop Quartet Society, 1938, Muehlebach Hotel

Plaque commemorating founding of Barbershop Quartet Society, 1938, Muehlebach Hotel

My cousins remaining in town took us to the Jack Stack barbecue nearby, which is apparently better than the famous old standbys like Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. After we were seated, Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine was shown to the table next to us, which meant much of our dinner was accompanied by a jostling scrum of reporters and cameramen just a few feet away. The full retinue included Secret Service, even more staffers, and a dozen reporters and cameramen. Their cars parked outside blocked our cousin’s car in, since they had been allowed to pull up and park in front of the door.

Jack Stack BBQ - VP candidate Tim Kaine

Jack Stack BBQ – VP candidate Tim Kaine

Jack Stack BBQ - Secret Service guys eating

Jack Stack BBQ – Secret Service guys eating

The Marriott is a well-designed, mostly well-managed hotel, but the restaurant was inadequate to convention needs. They had the usual breakfast buffet and plenty of table space, but bottlenecked it by inadequate servers staffing — several mornings there were long waits to be seated when there was plenty of space and most people were just going to the buffet line anyway. Sunday we had to find a sandwich for breakfast when they told us the wait would be thirty minutes. For dinner, the food was uninspiring.

Marriott restaurant - meh

Marriott restaurant – meh

On the other hand, the entire 22nd floor was dedicated to a great fitness center and indoor pool, which not surprisingly was underused during the con.

Marriott gym, 22nd floor. Best hotel gym ever.

Marriott gym, 22nd floor. Best hotel gym ever.

We escaped to local restaurants on foot and via Uber. Lidia’s is a great Italian place run by the eponymous TV chef:

Dinner at the upscale Lidia's restaurant

Dinner at the upscale Lidia’s restaurant

And Monday we Ubered out to the airport and returned to real life:

KC International Airport on takeoff

KC International Airport on takeoff

Kansas City in the distance after takeoff

Kansas City in the distance after takeoff

I would have enjoyed being on a panel or two, but by the time it occurred to me to volunteer, it was too late (a month before the con).

Worldcon2016: The Dave Truesdale Affair

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

Controversial ejectee, Dave Truesdale

Before I write the AAR (After Action Report) for Worldcon 2016 / MidAmericon II, I want to address the controversy over Dave Truesdale’s expulsion from the con for offensive behavior. I missed that panel, so unlike many others I’m not going to pass on rumors and sit in judgment of Dave or ConCom because I wasn’t there. But I did listen to the recording and have read almost everything posted about it.

First, conflict of interest: I’ve had one essay edited and published by Dave in Tangent Online (Fear is the Mindkiller), and I am generally sympathetic to his views. I give him credit for his many years of labor reviewing short stories and running a Hugo-nominated publication. Which doesn’t give him permission to be assaultive, of course, but should count in his favor.

Dave’s initial post with audio recording.

Some points I made in a conversation with Anna Yeatts, who was there and felt stressed by the tension in the room and the very loud and large man behind her (who later discovered he had also been expelled, but by an email he didn’t see until after the con was over):

– It’s not unheard of for a person appointed moderator of a panel to open with a provocative stand against the thesis of the panel written by someone on the program committee. In this case, the posited “Golden Age of Short Fiction” was the topic and even the description suggested it might be debatable. Dave was more incendiary than necessary to make his point, but the panel dealt with it and continued after the disruption to a productive discussion, with Dave doing a good job of moderating. It appears that ConCom’s expulsion without (according to Dave) giving him an opportunity to respond was an overreaction, unless there is more to it.

– Jim Hines has promoted the story that Dave committed further heinous acts which are the real reason for the expulsion, but he can’t name a source and I’m gathering he walked that story back when his source realized the story was being passed around. It’s easy for one person to say “he must have done more than this” thinking the expulsion seemed disproportionate otherwise, and for a listener to take that as “he *definitely* did other bad things, justifying expulsion.”

– Moshe Feder (editor at Tor) comes out as a true liberal, defending free speech even when it’s obnoxious or disagreeable. Which is also my position; you can always leave or respond to speech you disagree with, and banning speech you don’t like encourages the attitudes behind it to go underground, giving them a glamorous outlawed importance they don’t deserve. The best way to discredit bad ideas is to let their promoters speak, counter their arguments, and let others judge for themselves.

– Audience reaction was a big part of the problem. The heckling and booing contributed to the tense atmosphere, and Anna’s fears were in part due to this breakdown in decorum. Dave is partly responsible since he need not have made his point so provocatively, but everyone who turned up the volume shares the blame.

– Tranparency is needed. Far too many people are taking positions based on pre-existing tribal tendencies without any direct knowledge or reliable facts; I’ve read lots of piling-on comments by women who think Dave made misogynist comments and suggested women and PoC should not be included. ConCom needs to release a statement of what facts they had when they decided to expel Dave. Failure to do so has led to more character assassination and speculation about other high crimes Dave supposedly committed to justify expulsion. This itself is damaging to the community.

– The con asked Dave to moderate, which makes the con somewhat responsible for what happened. Dave’s beliefs are well-known, and for some programming people to ask him to volunteer then have other ConCom people judge him severely for his immoderate moderation would seem to repel future moderators from volunteering. It could easily be assumed his views, which are held by quite a few con attendees, are being punished as much as he is. ConCom should make it clear that’s not the case.

This new culture of victimhood — quick to take offense and call for authorities to enforce restraints against speech that disturbs delicate sensibilities — is outlined in the post Men of Honor vs Victim Culture.

At MidAmericon II (Worldcon) Wed Aug 17th- Sun Aug 21st

MidAmericon II (Worldcon 2016)

MidAmericon II (Worldcon 2016)


Flying to KC for MidAmericonII at the crack of dawn tomorrow, so starting to pack now. Cousins are supposed to take us out for BBQ after we settle in at the Marriott, so I hope we don’t get delayed. I grew up in KC (Gladstone, north of the river), but since my mother moved to Tallahassee to be in assisted living close to my brother, there’s no one much to visit except them.

I was a bit disappointed after going through the program when I discovered all the Kaffeeklatsch and beer sessions require signup a few hours earlier — making it unlikely I’ll get any up close and personal time with all those legendary sorts (Niven, Bear, Benford, Resnick, Pournelle,…) So there will be more free time than I expected.

We’re also travelling light, so I can’t bring books to sign or bring back any from those writers I’d want to fanboy. [I have verbed a noun, watch out or I’ll do it to you, too!]

Anyone who especially wants to spend time with me is welcome to drop me a note and we’ll try to get together. I have no book signings –not enough readers yet to merit that kind of thing.

Trump World: Looking Backward

Cover: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Cover: A Canticle for Leibowitz

The children ask how we got here, and I try to explain, though so much has changed that my stories only lead to more questions — “What’s a news network?”, “How did people live without augments?”

We had a Republic, once, and it was wildly successful. That attracted more people from all over the world seeking freedom and work. It was freedom that let new industries grow unchecked by jealous rivals, but over time citizens sought shelter from the rigors of a free market and elected more regulation-prone politicians who tried to soften all the hard edges. Finally we reached a time so advanced that children were supposed to grow up without any challenges, to be deemed special and successful without any accomplishments, and the resulting adults became childlike in wanting to silence any voices that disagreed with them.

The world as a whole had benefitted from the opening of closed Communist countries and free trade, with the costs of transport and communication declining rapidly. The boom in emerging economies lifted billions of people out of grinding poverty, the greatest improvement in world living standards the world had ever seen, and increasing wealth and freedom defused the Malthusian fears of overpopulation and resource depletion of the previous decades. But the competition destroyed the protected world of US unskilled workers, who had gotten used to living well after WWII destroyed most of the manufacturing plants of Europe and Asia.

“The Sound of Silence” was a famous Simon and Garfunkel song, written in the 1960s to protest the conformity of an earlier era — the 1950s — when broad consensus and the limited number of mass media options stifled outlier opinions. Capitalism broke that mold, when “outrageous” ideas and lifestyles could be marketed and make money. Selling rebellion was big business.

The Internet seemed to end the constraints on opinion, but a new sound of silence appeared when its two-way nature allowed crowds to join together to silence expression of ideas they found threatening. People lost their jobs because of one errant tweet, and politicians found it useful to stoke the flames of envy and resentment to gain votes. A new victim cult appeared, seeing racism and sexism in every element of US life, and command of the cult’s lexicon enabled entry to academic and government positions.

The left-behind grew angry, and simmered in disability payments and painkilling drugs while they saw their children discriminated against by the gateway institutions built by their forebears. They had supported the growth of the Federal government through costly wars and the building of a social safety net, only to be left out and denigrated by their ruling class. Federal agencies were taken over by progressives and affirmative-action hires, and wasted time and resources shuffling reports and holding grand meetings to write about working toward solving problems that barely existed while neglecting their core functions. The levels of incompetence tolerated grew and grew, until civil service employees could hold their jobs after being absent for years or being discovered spending most of their time viewing Internet porn. Major new government programs and projects failed and billions of dollars were wasted without consequence, those responsible for the failures being promoted to further damage the private economy by ruling from Washington.

The new media were staffed by college graduates who had been subjected to progressive indoctrination, and rarely questioned what government sources told them. And how could they, since time had been sped up and in the Internet age, stopping to investigate original sources that might disagree would only bury their story in tomorrow’s old news?

Trump appeared after two decades of Washington-centered rule by two factions of the same technocratic party. He gained the support of the dispossessed by voicing their resentments, long suppressed by the bien pensant. His supporters were so tired of being told their feelings were incorrect and didn’t matter that they failed to notice that Trump had no fixed beliefs of his own, other than winning.

And win he did, up against Hillary Clinton, who everyone knew was a habitual liar and corrupt influence-peddler. After she was nearly indicted for her negligent handling of secret information, Trump the bully won the election handily despite the rioting in major cities and the crashing stock market.

Thoughtful observers saw this as a test of the Founders’ three-branch design. In theory, the checks and balances and separation of powers between the three branches of government would limit the damage he might do. In practice, previous administrations had accreted so much power in the office of President that Trump was able to run roughshod over good government concerns.

Trump terrorized the agencies and the civil service bureaucracy. His bully-boys formed a shadow organization which intimidated any civil servant who dared stand against him — his friends in the Mafia proved useful in extralegal persuasion. If regulations got in Trump’s way, they were rewritten. Favored people and corporations found their way smoothed, while others who failed to support him were blocked and gutted. In that, he was only a few degrees worse than his predecessor, but the collapsing private economy provided no alternative routes for survival. Almost everyone knuckled under to wait for better days.

The doctors grumbled when they were drafted to serve in the new Trump Medical Corps, but after their licenses were pulled when they refused, they fell into line. Trump took over hospital chains by eminent domain and staffed them with uniformed Corps personnel; he had personally overseen the design of the new uniforms, gold braid trim and all. Federal medical costs were cut by 50% as salaries fell and procedures deemed too costly were outlawed. The upper crustaceans, of course, joined new luxury practices and went to private hospitals, as they always had. Medical school enrollments dropped and quality of the applicants fell, as it became clear doctoring would no longer be a high-status occupation. Research on new drugs evaporated when the primary source of drug profits, the US, joined the rest of the world in controlling their prices.

Apple’s new iPhone assembly factory opened in south Texas, and their mostly-immigrant assemblers tried to duplicate the quality of the phones built by contractor facilities in China that had taken decades to develop. The US-assembled phones cost $200 more and failed more often, but Apple made the transition successfully since all of their competitors were similarly hobbled. And by opening their own manufacturing plant, they instantly reached the better employee diversity numbers they had been pretending to strive for for years.

The Chinese and Russians were relieved when Trump was elected — someone they could deal with without any unpredictable concerns with human rights to interfere. Deals were struck and trade managed. For awhile this seemed to work, though the people of Hong Kong and Ukraine felt abandoned as they lost their remaining independence. The EU collapsed in disorder as internal divisions and new migrations overwhelmed their governments.

And so it was that the opportunity society became the are-you-with-Trump society. Bribery came back with a vengeance. Inequality decreased, but only because more people were poor. The world economy had stalled, and grew worse as Trump’s new tariffs and trade barriers decreased world trade. The Chinese people grew restless when their standard of living began to drop, and the Chinese leadership started warring on neighbors to distract their people.

And that’s what I tell the kids. We came here to be safe, to guard our traditions, and to last through these times. The radiation is better now, and our growing huts get more sunlight than in those lean years right after. We have a good stock of electronics, drugs, and solar panels, and our store of knowledge and technology is intact. It’s safe enough to go outside for days at a time, and soon we will be able to travel to meet with others who survive.

We’ve had all the time in the world to teach our children where we went wrong. I’m hopeful that this time they’ll get it right.


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

2016 LibertyCon Report

I’m back from LibertyCon in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s a smallish, old-school SF&F convention, limited to 750 people, and definitely tending toward military SF and Baen Books authors. One of the best things about it is the author-fan ratio — heavily tilted toward authors, so unlike most bigger cons, you have a good chance of spending a little quality time with your favorite authors up-close and personal, and authors have more time to hobnob with each other.

It’s also a little harder to get to since Chattanooga is a small city with limited air connections. Most fan attendees live close enough to drive. Coming from a small city in California, I was lucky to get there with only two hops, three on the way back. Many fly into Atlanta or Nashville and rent a car to drive the rest of the way.

The venue: The Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel built around the old train station, with several old buildings scattered around the station and two “trains” of passenger cars repurposed as hotel rooms. The conference center across the street is just the right size for the con. Be prepared to do a lot of walking if your room is in faraway Building 3!

Some photos of the facilities:

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel Entrance (Old train station)

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel Entrance (Old train station)

The Engine

The Engine

Plaque in front of the train engine

Plaque in front of the train engine

Room cars on the passenger platform

Room cars on the passenger platform

Station Public Restroom

Station Public Restroom

The first day I felt a bit out of it. It was like going to a party where you don’t know anyone, but they are all good friends. Being typically introverted, it took me awhile to start meeting people. I dropped into Sarah Hoyt’s room party and started meeting people I knew from FB but had never met IRL — Sarah and her family, Paul and Sarah Clithero, Dorothy and Peter Grant, Tully Roberts, and more. Larry Correia dropped in — I expected him to be bigger!

The next day I was on a panel about Militarized AI, which was my first panel experience — no one died! Good conversation with smart people. And some audience members (hi, Sub Man!) knew more than we did about their specialist fields.

One obvious difference at LibertyCon — it’s a Red Tribe con, meaning most attendees are in the liberty-loving, military-respecting, rural-BBQ-and gun-loving population typical of the US away from the coastal urban enclaves. Since I grew up with those people and understand them well, I’m not frightened by guns, blades, military uniforms, seared meat, or the occasional less-than-sensitive remark.

In more Blue Tribe and progressive terrain, it is entirely possible for one intersectional-class person (say, a lesbian) to commit heinous offenses against another (say, a gay man) which will be a subject of endless commentary and second-guessing by an online community positively eager to defend the weak from slights they didn’t witness by people they don’t know. Many in the social justice headspace need rules and some daddy-authority to back them up over often-imagined sins — not that there aren’t real assholes around, but I encountered none in the homeland of the militaristic Baen Books-loving racist-sexist-homophobes (that’s a reference to a certain editor at Tor’s comments.)

The following day I was on a panel in the big theater on Military SF as probably the least experienced in actual military service — I am more the analyst type, trying to understand defense and military issues from book learning and analysis. Which was one of the main topics: can you write effective and engaging military SF without any actual military experience? We concluded you could, with enough research and consulting with the more experienced, since there are plenty of examples of convincing novels written by armchair soldiers. The panel included Doug Dandridge, Charles E. Gannon, Peter Grant, James Young, and Kal Spriggs (who can all out-talk me about anything military) — so I felt honored to be included. I must have been chosen to fill in for someone like Brad Torgersen, who couldn’t make it. I was a little shaky since that’s the biggest audience I’ve been in front of since I was on a similar panel questioning Jonas Salk around 1974.

After that panel, one of my readers came up to say kind things about my books. I wanted to take him home with me for moral support. I don’t have that many readers yet, but it was a nice surprise.

Here are some photos of various sessions I attended:

Sarah Hoyt, John Ringo, Larry Correia, and Toni Weisskopf on MHI panel

Sarah Hoyt, John Ringo, Larry Correia, and Toni Weisskopf on MHI panel

David Pascoe and the Hoyts reading

David Pascoe and the Hoyts reading

One interesting session featured Peter and Dorothy Grant discussing self-publishing, contracts, marketing, and the alternative publishing houses like Castalia House offering better deals for authors than the Big Five:

Dorothy Klapp (Grant) and Peter Grant on self-publishing panel

Dorothy Klapp (Grant) and Peter Grant on self-publishing panel

This was interesting, since while I get much higher royalties publishing myself, I don’t get good distribution outside Amazon, which is the one thing Big 5 publishers still have to offer. The situation is fluid, but anyone waiting for a contract with a traditional publisher is probably making a big mistake at this point – if your work is good and you are able to do some promotion, you will do better on your own. Advances for SF&F novels from the Big 5 are down to $3K or so and most don’t earn out. Is $3K per novel enough to survive on? No. Meanwhile, a few years of writing quality, entertaining books can bring in enough to live on through ebook sales alone, and more if you’re willing to produce your own audiobooks. They comment that publishers now look for guaranteed sellers, meaning one of the few ways to get their attention is to already be successful as a self-published author — if your fan base is big enough, they need you more than you need them. Meanwhile, conventional publisher slush piles take six months to a year to return a 99.9%-probable form rejection.

Dropping into the vendor area:

Vendor room

Vendor room

Michael Z. Williamson's Blades

Michael Z. Williamson’s blade display

At the airport waiting for my flight out, I ran into Chuck Gannon (who had been at the other end of the Military SF panel) finishing a plate of french fries. He reassured me I did okay on the panel, giving me this blurb-worthy quote: “A distinctive voice!” — Chuck Gannon

LibertyCon is a close-knit, fun group — for many there, the family they wish they had. I hear the 2017 memberships are already up to 500 of the 750 limit, so if you want to go, sign up soon.

Review: Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson

"Freehold" by Michael Z. Williamson - cover photo by Baen Books

“Freehold” by Michael Z. Williamson – cover photo by Baen Books


On the plane back from LibertyCon I was able to finish up Freehold, first in the series by Michael Z. Williamson.

Looking over the reviews at Amazon, I see many five-star reviews (completely justified) and lots of one-star reviews apparently motivated by hatred of the book’s libertarian bent. One review starts out, “I really wanted to like this book, but it quickly became a tired repetition of Libertarian fantasy…” — that review’s not marked as verified purchase, so I suspect it’s just anti-libertarian axe-grinding.

What’s amusing is that Williamson’s “libertarian paradise” of planet Freehold, a breakaway colony of an Earth ruled by a micromanaging UN, is far from a paradise — it’s just different, relying on individualist philosophy, much as in the US Blue Tribe urban areas are politically very different from rural Red Tribe areas. These differences are exaggerated in this future, but neither Earth under the UN or Freehold under its minimal government are portrayed as perfect. Those negative reviewers illustrate exactly the issue addressed in the book — the collectivist Earth government can’t tolerate even the peaceful co-existence of a civilizational cousin that shows them up by thriving and outdoing them in growth and technological progress without the endless regulatory bureaucracy they believe in. People who believe in the One True Church of Government cannot tolerate even a fictional exploration of alternatives, where every individual is held accountable for their actions and those who don’t work, don’t eat. Heresy!

Aside from the politics, this tale of conflict is superbly-written and engrossing. Kendra Pacelli is a UN Forces worker in logistics, framed for embezzlement and forced to escape to Freehold. Williamson spends the first half of the book detailing Kendra’s escape, exposure to the individualist culture of Freehold, and training for the armed forces of Freehold. She goes through old-school boot camp, contrasted with the soft training she had received on Earth for the much less disciplined UN force. She also meets two attractive love interests and loosens up enough to enjoy Freehold’s casual nudity and permissive attitudes toward sex, which are contrasted with Earth’s prudery and acceptance of rape as something that happens but is no big deal.

So there is more on Williamson’s mind here than libertarian politics. Some action-oriented readers will find the first half slow as he builds up detail about Kendra’s character and contrasts her military training with Earth’s (and we are seeing this relaxing of training standards going on right now in the US.) But this buildup pays off in the second half, as UN forces invade Freehold and the surviving Freehold forces fight back with guerrilla warfare and incredible sacrifices to free their planet.

The lack of respect for liberty and military mindsets is an increasing problem with the academic, government-reliant culture of the pampered urban citizenry in the US. If you are unable to identify with Kendra, who is one of the best active female characters I’ve seen in fiction, you need to get outside your bubble more. Government schools no longer teach the history of Western civilization, and it shows when supposedly educated people recoil in horror at realistic depictions of war and frontier society.

Williamson is an increasingly rare type — the fully-civilized man, capable of violence and aggression when called for, but also a well-read student of history capable of great emotional sensitivity. Some passages brought me to tears, and he keeps the political commentary incisive and plot-driven.

The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher

The Weapon Shops of Isher - Thrilling Wonder Stories

The Weapon Shops of Isher – Thrilling Wonder Stories (1951)

Gawker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to avoid paying the bond which would otherwise be necessary to appeal the $140 million judgment against them in the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit. (It’s a good thing I don’t have to explain that sentence to a time traveler from the last century — would take a long time.) There have been plenty of stories and hot takes on it, so I’ll reach back to discuss what the real problem is — the cost of justice is too damn high.

Meanwhile, the Orlando massacre has been used opportunistically to try to re-open the gun control debate, with Administration and Democratic efforts aimed at diverting outrage from Islamist terrorism to domestic political targets.

A. E. van Vogt’s classic science fiction novel The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) commented on both issues: the lack of practical access to justice in an increasingly corporate-dominated imperial society and the value of the right to bear arms as a counterweight to a domineering government. While the novel was by today’s standards not very well written, it exploded with ideas and commentary on a corrupt society and individual rights of defense and access to justice for the private citizen. From a review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke:

…[T]he Weapon Shops’ credo could be adopted by the gun lobby today without much fuss: “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.”

Thousands of years from now, humanity is locked into the solar system, having colonized the planets but able to get no farther without faster-than-light technology. The solar system is held tightly in the iron grip of the Empire of Isher, currently headed up by the young, arrogant and impulsive Empress Innelda. The Empire itself is, however, dysfunctional at best, riddled with graft and corruption. Corporations run rampant, pulling scams and illegal takeovers left and right, gouging the helpless citizenry and government agency alike — no matter that most corporations are owned either wholly or in part by that same government. Enter the Weapon Shops… ready and willing so sell all manner of destructive power dirt cheap to the people who want it. And what power it is! Guns that instantaneously teleport to the owner’s hand with a thought, casting up defensive screens that protect the wielder from any and all power the Empire can bring to bear.

There’s a catch, though. Soldiers, government agents and others in the service of the Empress are not allowed entrance to the shops, much less the ability to buy weapons. Likewise, no one with malice towards the shops and their makers are allowed access either. And just to make sure a “Saturday Night Special” factor never comes into play, the fantastic weapons can only be used for hunting, self-defense or suicide. When turned against another human being or used for crime they will not function. If only the same could be said of today’s street level arsenals!

Today’s United States resembles the Empire of Isher more than a little — a relatively prosperous population, but with layer upon layer of accreted law, regulation, and bureaucracy, with ideals of justice corrupted in practice so that only the wealthiest can afford government-sanctioned courts. Everyone else — even a wealthy and famous citizen like “Hulk Hogan” (real name Terry Bollea) — has to appeal to some organization or government agency for relief. Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit against muckraking new media giant Gawker could not have gone forward without secret financing from billionaire Peter Thiel, who is said to have kicked in $10 million to finance this and other lawsuits against Gawker. As Thiel told the New York Times:

Mr. Thiel added: “I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.” He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”

Mr. Thiel said that he had decided several years ago to set his plan in motion. “I didn’t really want to do anything,” he said. “I thought it would do more harm to me than good. One of my friends convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would.”

Mr. Thiel has donated money to the Committee to Protect Journalists and has often talked about protecting freedom of speech. He said he did not believe his actions were contradictory. “I refuse to believe that journalism means massive privacy violations,” he said. “I think much more highly of journalists than that. It’s precisely because I respect journalists that I do not believe they are endangered by fighting back against Gawker.”

Plenty of ink has been spilled on this verdict, mostly by writers for publications afraid that billionaires will crush media outlets that dare to offend them. But the real problem highlighted is the lack of justice for everyone else. Gawker had already willfully trampled on the privacy rights of hundreds of citizens in a manner that might easily have resulted in damage awards had any of those victims had the financial resources to pursue claims against it in the court system. But none did, and the abuse of privacy and copyright by clickbait publications like Gawker had become a highly-profitable industry, selling ads for thousands of articles that more responsible media would not have touched for legal reasons.

This is not unlike the “tragedy of the commons” seen in junk calling — a small burden on every phone customer converted to big bucks for the junk callers through mass violation of both good manners and the Do Not Call Registry law. And similarly, there is a call for government regulation — to create an agency to get justice for the little guy when the court system is impractical. In Britain, schemes to create arbitration agencies that would reduce costs to all parties in defamation complaints are being discussed, with the goal of allowing people of more modest means to pursue valid complaints while reducing costs to the press. In the US, there is no similar movement, although anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws exist in some states to allow targets of lawsuits by well-funded interests to have them dismissed more easily — but there is still little assistance for either plaintiffs or defendants in civil court.

In civil cases, most individuals are forced to represent themselves, as in this case from “We don’t need fewer lawyers. We need cheaper ones,” an article by Martha Bergmark of Voices for Civil Justice:

Unable to afford representation, more Americans are going to court alone, and they’re losing. In 2014, a Louisiana woman, J., landed in court after a dispute with her landlord over a $25 parking fee. J., 52, was suffering from cancer and did not have an attorney. The court ruled against her and ordered her to vacate her home within 24 hours.

J.’s case, which was later taken on by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, sounds extreme, but for someone who can’t afford legal counsel, the outcome isn’t surprising. The sad reality is that many Americans facing the loss of a home, family or livelihood are going it alone in civil court, and they’re losing.

In well over two-thirds of critical cases in America’s civil courts, people appear without a lawyer, even though the stakes are often just as high as in criminal proceedings. Many people suffer crushing losses in court not because they’ve done something wrong, but simply because they don’t have legal help….

In 70 to 98 percent of cases in America’s civil courts today, one or both parties are not represented by a lawyer. One report found that civil legal aid programs must turn away almost two-thirds of the people who seek their assistance in critical civil cases, despite research showing that in many such cases, access to legal help makes all the difference. In evictions, for example, two-thirds of tenants who go to court without a lawyer lose their homes, while two-thirds of those represented by an attorney are able to keep them. In complex areas of the law, legal help is essential to enable people to understand and defend their rights. But legal help has become so expensive — about $200 to $300 an hour on average and drastically higher at the largest law firms – that it’s unaffordable, not just for those struggling to make ends meet, but even for most middle-class Americans.

There have been some efforts at reform in civil courts. CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy) outlines the civic legal aid system and some efforts to assist defendents representing themselves in court:

Civil legal aid in the United States is provided by a large number of
separate and independent staff-based service providers funded by a variety of sources. The
current overall funding is approximately $1.34 billion. The largest element of the civil legal aid
system is comprised of the 134 programs that are funded and monitored by LSC…. there are a variety of other sources, including local governments, other federal government sources, the private bar, United Way, and private foundations.

Over the last 12 years, the civil legal aid system has begun in earnest to utilize innovations in technology to improve and expand access to the civil justice system. As a result, low-income persons have access to information about legal rights and responsibilities and about the options and services available to solve their legal problems, protect their legal rights, and promote their legal interests. Technological innovation in virtually all states has led to the creation of Web sites that offer community legal education information, pro se legal assistance, and other information about the courts and social services. Most legal aid programs now have Web sites with over 300 sites.

All states have a statewide website, most of which also contain information useful both to advocates and clients. Most of these statewide web sites were made possible by the Technology Initiative Grants program of LSC. All of these state sites can be accessed through http://www.lawhelp.org. Half of the sites are hosted on one platform operated by Pro Bono net. Dozens of national sites provide substantive legal information to advocates; other national sites support delivery, management, and technology functions. Many program, statewide, and national websites are using cutting-edge software and offering extensive functionality. I-CAN projects in many states use kiosks with touch-screen computers that allow clients to produce court-ready pleadings and access to other services, such as help with filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Video conferencing is being used in Montana and other states to connect clients in remote locations with local courthouses and legal services attorneys.

In criminal cases, indigent defendants are appointed counsel from a public defender’s office, usually an agency of the state. These attorneys are of uneven quality and assigned too many cases, often resulting in less-than-adequate defenses for the poor who rely on them. Then other non-profit organizations sue the states for providing insufficient resources for public defenders, and the game is on — more lawyers contend to paper over the real problem of a costly and antiquated justice system by calling for more tax money instead of reforming the system’s processes to save money by using new technologies and streamlined procedures. The same phenomenon has left us with failed urban schools at very high cost, and inflated costs and lowered quality in every government-run or heavily-regulated service. This absurdity reaches its peak in California’s death penalty expenses — prosecution in a death penalty case costs about $1.1 million more than a similar life sentence case, and the state pays $90 thousand yearly per death row inmate in incarceration costs, plus another $85 thousand yearly in public defender costs to deal with ongoing mandatory appeals. Legislators and judges created a slow and complex process, then both prosecution and defense attorneys are funded with taxpayer money — justice is delayed for decades and both victim’s families and perpetrators get no closure.

Alternative dispute resolution methods — including regulatory agencies, class-action entrepreneurs, and binding arbitration of consumer disputes — have been created to deal with the impracticality of enforcing the law and contracts via the court system. None of these are entirely satisfactory.

Regulatory agencies like insurance commissions, banking regulators, and the alphabet Federal agencies (FTC, FDA, EEOC, DoL, etc.) tend to be captured by the industry they regulate, and the revolving door providing cushy lobbying jobs for retired regulators gives them an incentive to rule for the most powerful. These agencies can perform a valuable role in mediating and screening out groundless complaints, but the higher the level of government they operate at and the larger the industry revenues involved, the less likely they are to be approachable and helpful for average consumers. State-level health insurance regulators, for example, vary widely in quality, but in many cases went to bat for consumers to rectify the worst health insurance company abuses, while the Federal takeover of individual health insurance markets via the ACA has left consumers with limited choices. State insurance regulators dare not threaten the few companies remaining in many markets with loss of their licenses.

Class-action lawsuits combine the small grievances of many consumers into one lawsuit against offenders. This is called “mass tort litigation” or “multi-district litigation” (“MDL”). While these suits can result in effective punishment for egregious mass violations of law or contract, more commonly they are settled by big companies regardless of actual guilt as a cost of doing business, and they have created an ecosystem of law firms that extort settlements returning little to the injured and enriching primarily the law firms involved. Judges will occasionally push back when the attorneys from both sides fail to propose much of a return to the supposedly injured parties, but more commonly will accept a token effort while most of the settlement goes to fund the lawyers involved. Elizabeth Chamblee Burch of the law school at U Georgia comments on recent trends in MDL settlements which show widespread self-dealing by plaintiff attorneys:

I’ve spent the better part of the past year and a half analyzing the publicly available nonclass aggregate settlements that have taken place in multidistrict litigation alongside leadership appointments, common-benefit fees, and, where available, recovery to the plaintiffs. This has given me an in-depth look at what’s happening (or has happened) in Propulsid, Vioxx, Yasmin/Yaz, DePuy ASR Hip Implant, Fosamax (2243), American Medical Systems pelvic mesh litigation, Biomet, NuvaRing, and Actos…. This endeavor has been deeply unsettling for a variety of ethical, doctrinal, and systemic reasons…. I had no idea how widespread the problems were or how they had evolved over time from deal to deal until now.

Propulsid appears to be the primogenitor, for all subsequent deals in the data replicated some aspect of its closure provisions. But Propulsid is extraordinarily troubling: 6,012 plaintiffs abandoned their right to sue in court in favor of settling. Only 37 of them (0.6 percent) recovered any settlement money through the physician-controlled claims review process, receiving little more than $6.5 million in total. Lead lawyers, on the other hand, received over $27 million in common-benefit fees through a deal they negotiated directly with the defendant (and had the court approve). Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…. [R]epeat players on both sides continually achieve their goals in tandem — defendants end massive suits and lead plaintiffs’ lawyers increase their common-benefit fees. But this exchange may result in lower payouts to plaintiffs, stricter evidentiary burdens in claims processing, or higher plaintiff-participation requirements in master settlements.

Even worse is the collusion of tort bar attorneys with state Attorneys General to target entire industries for shakedowns. The first major example was the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement, where many states and law firms cooperated to extract $billions from tobacco firms, then tried to limit new entrants into the cigarette industry to allow the settling companies to extract enough revenue from addicted smokers to pay the hefty settlement fees. Currently, a similar effort (conspiracy?) is underway to target oil companies and dissenting voices for their failure to warn investors and citizens about the risks of climate change.

So not only is justice through the courts too costly for all but the wealthiest individuals, the system can be systematically abused to extract rents from targeted groups, unjustly enriching certain attorneys and furthering political corruption.

Binding arbitration clauses now appear in most contracts between consumers and businesses. This protects the business against tort bar extortion while in theory allowing a low-cost, streamlined adjudication of consumer claims. The Federal Arbitration Act outlines conditions allowing mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts to supersede class action or other lawsuits in US and most state courts. This was most recently upheld when the Supreme Court overruled a state court ruling and disallowed a class action lawsuit against DirecTV in California:

The decision is consistent with a series of rulings in recent years that have given corporations a legal way to bypass the courts. Company lawyers say arbitration can be a faster, less expensive and fairer way to resolve disputes.

Consumer-rights advocates and plaintiffs lawyers mostly disagree. They say that many consumer complaints, including over unexpected charges and fees, are too small to justify someone going through an arbitration hearing. The DirecTV fee, for example, could be as high as $480. If consumers cannot join a class-action suit, such complaints will go unheard, advocates say.

“This is another troubling day for American consumers who are ripped off by corporate greed and malfeasance, whether it’s a satellite TV system that doesn’t work, unlawful credit card fees or a defective vehicle,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, and one of the lawyers who represented consumers in the litigation. “The Supreme Court has taken away Americans’ only right to obtain justice: their day in court.”

Of course it is also impractical for consumers to individually dispute corporate actions in court, and the real skirmish here is between class-action lawyers (who want more of a cut in the settlement proceeds) and the companies who prefer arbitration (who want lower costs and predictable remedies.) Even arbitration is impractical for small consumer injuries — which is why the remedy of taking one’s business elsewhere is so important, and why use of regulation to limit consumer choice and prop up monopolies in utility and telecomm sectors is so damaging to consumers, who end up paying more and have little recourse for bad service and abusive charges. And while it’s true arbitration schemes will often favor the big firms who select the arbitration agencies and pay the costs, the tort bar and big companies also cooperate to reach settlements that favor them jointly and neglect compensation for the injured parties.

The impractically-high cost of the court system has been a problem for decades. As early as 1983, thoughtful observers in a New York Times story worried that courts were too costly and were accessible only to the wealthy, and that the burden of slow and complex litigation was too great:

Experts as diverse as Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Attorney General William French Smith, Griffin B. Bell, the Attorney General in the Carter Administration, and Derek Bok, the president of Harvard University and former dean of the Harvard Law School, argue that the country suffers from too many laws, too many lawsuits, too many legal entanglements and, at least in Mr. Bok’s view, too many lawyers.

While such complaints are not new, they are being voiced with increasing urgency by many pillars of the legal establishment as well as by outside critics.

In his most recent of many complaints about the Supreme Court’s swollen caseload, a May 17 speech to the American Law Institute, Chief Justice Burger declared that the nation was plagued “with an almost irrational focus — virtually a mania – on litigation as a way to solve all problems.”

Mr. Bok, in his annual report to the Board of Overseers of Harvard College, said the United States had “developed a legal system that is the most expensive in the world yet cannot manage to protect the rights of most of its citizens.”

Warnings about increased litigiousness alternate with expressions of concern that most citizens cannot afford to hire lawyers to press legitimate claims and defenses against, for example, landlords and creditors.

Lloyd N. Cutler, one of Washington’s most prominent corporate lawyers, has written of large law firms like his own: “The rich who pay our fees are less than 1 percent of our fellow citizens, but they get at least 95 percent of our time. The disadvantaged we serve for nothing are perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the population and get at most 5 percent of our time. The remaining 75 percent cannot afford to consult us and get virtually none of our time.”

Thomas Ehrlich, a former head of the Federal program of legal assistance to poor people and now provost of the University of Pennsylvania, says that because “private wealth is the primary criterion for access to the legal system,” justice often eludes the poor.

But Mr. Bok stresses that “the wealthy and the powerful also chafe under the burden” of regulations, delays, legal uncertainties and manipulations. Some landlords, for example, complain that federally subsidized legal aid lawyers use technicalities to help poor tenants avoid eviction while they refuse to pay rent.

The chorus of concern about justice in America masks great diversity in the views of the critics, whose diagnoses often reflect opposing political views and whose prescriptions for reform often conflict.

For example, the contention by Chief Justice Burger and others that the legal system is being overwhelmed by excessive litigiousness has been questioned by scholars and others who are wary of any proposals to make it harder for individuals to bring lawsuits.

Marc Galanter, a University of Wisconsin law professor specializing in social research on the legal system, says overblown rhetoric about the increase in litigation distracts attention from more severe problems, such as the undue complexity that makes the system so costly and incomprehensible to lay people.

But reform efforts were intermittent, and overwhelmed by the incentives in the system to pass increasingly long and complex laws authorizing agencies to write even more regulations to micromanage every aspect of life. Improvement in some areas, like limitations on tort liability damage awards and increasing use of private arbitration in commercial contracts, were more than countered by production of new and more complex regulations by a bureaucracy needing to keep its staff busy by identifying more targets to regulate. Thirty-odd years later, the problem is worse, and the sense of powerlessness against monopoly services, schools, and governments has reached the boiling point.

Businesses are weighed down by the costs of litigation and the efforts to forestall it, like those undecipherable product manuals heavy with warnings meant to defend against lawsuits. Liability costs in the US are much higher than in most competitive countries. This chart from the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform’s June 2013 update “International Comparisons of Legal Costs” shows comparative costs as a percent of GNP for the US versus Europe:

Liability Costs, US vs Europe -- Institute for Legal Reform

Liability Costs, US vs Europe — Institute for Legal Reform

The “Litigation Cost Survey of Major Companies,” a statement submitted by Lawyers for Civil Justice to the 2010 Conference on Civil Litigation, cited the outsized cost of liitigation to US companies:

Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure frames the purpose of the Rules: “the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Every day, corporate and defense counsel must confront the fact that although well‐intentioned, the Rules are falling far short of this goal. The reality is that the high transaction costs of litigation, and in particular the costs of discovery, threaten to exceed the amount at issue in all but the largest cases….

Key Survey Findings

Litigation costs continue to rise and are consuming an increasing percentage of corporate revenue. Litigation transaction costs on average and as a percent of revenue have risen substantially over the past nine years. The amounts of judgments and settlements are not included in these figures.

• The average outside litigation cost per respondent was nearly $115 million in 2008, up 73
percent from $66 million in 2000.  This represents an average increase of 9 percent each year.

• For the 20 companies providing data on this issue for the full survey period, average outside
litigation costs were $140 million in 2008, an increase of 112 percent from $66 million in 2000.

• Between 2000 and 2008, average annual litigation costs as a percent of revenues increased 78
percent for the 14 companies providing data on average litigation costs as a percent of
revenues for the full survey period.

• Increases in hourly rates do not appear to be driving the increase in litigation costs, as the
available data show relatively little change in outside legal fees over time.

The U.S. litigation system imposes a much greater cost burden on companies than systems outside the United States.  As a percent of revenue, multi‐national company respondents to the survey spend a disproportionate amount on litigation in the United States relative to their expenditures in foreign jurisdictions.  Depending on the year, relative U.S. costs were between four and nine times higher than non‐U.S. costs (as a percent of revenue).  This disparity will inevitably influence decisions by corporations about where to invest their resources.  Global competition for foreign investment is increasing, and the changing dynamics of the global economy are affecting the United States’ ability to remain a leader in this area. The International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce has found that “many foreign investors view the U.S. legal environment as a liability when investing in the United States.”

What could improve this situation? Streamlined courts using modern technology to gather facts and judge cases. Smart contracts and online arbitration services for smaller cases. A thorough overhaul of the antiquated and expensive court system with its well-paid lawyers and staff to improve productivity and speed while lowering costs. Simplification of laws and a pruning of regulatory agencies to the minimum required to maintain a just society would also help.

The Weapon Shops of A. E. van Vogt’s novel were a long-lasting counterweight to oppressive governments, providing both smart weapons and low-cost courts. When written in 1951, smart guns and AI judges were far-future ideas, but real versions of both are likely in the near future. Current smart weapons are still impractical and too unreliable and complex for acceptance (when seconds count, do you want to find out your gun’s batteries have died?) but it won’t be long before personal weapons usable only by the owner and smart enough to detect improper use become available.

The book’s view of a complex society saved from tyranny by multiple power centers and the accessibility of both personal defense weapons and low-cost courts is more relevant now than when it was written. A few excerpts — first, a naive shop owner discovers how little he can do when he has been treated badly by a bank and tries to represent himself in court:

His high sense of duty rightly done lasted until mid-afternoon, when the bailiff from Ferd came to take over the shop.

“But what—” Fara began.

The bailiff said, “The Automatic Atomic Motor Repair Shops, Limited, took over your loan from the bank and are foreclosing.”

“It’s unfair,” said Fara. “I’ll take it to court.” He was thinking dazedly: If the empress ever learned of this, she’d… she’d–

The courthouse was a big, gray building; and Fara felt emptier and colder every second, as he walked along the gray corridors. In Glay, his decision not to give himself into the hands of a lawyer had seemed a wise act. Here, in these enormous halls and palatial rooms, it seemed the sheerest folly.

He managed, nevertheless, to give an account of the criminal act of the bank in first [loaning] the money, then turning over the note to his chief competitor, apparently within minutes of his signing it. He finished with, “I’m sure, sir, the empress would not approve of such goings-on against honest citizens.”

“How dare you,” said the cold-voiced person on the bench, “use the name of Her Holy Majesty in support of your own gross self-interest?”

Fara shivered. The sense of being intimately a member of the empress’s great human family yielded to a sudden chill and a vast mind-picture of the ten million icy courts like this, and the myriad malevolent and heartless men — like this — who stood between the empress and her loyal subject, Fara. He thought passionately: If the empress knew what was happening here, how unjustly he was being treated, she would–

Or would she? He pushed the terrible doubt out of his mind — came out of his reverie with a start, to hear the [judge] saying: “Plaintiff’s appeal dismissed, with costs assessed at seven hundred credits, to be divided between the court and the defense solicitor in the ratio of five to two. See to it that the appellant does not leave until the costs are paid. Next case.”

Fara makes his way to the local Weapon Shop, where he is transported to a different kind of court, and is told to get in line:

The man, a heavy-faced, blue-eyed young chap of around thirty-five, looked at him curiously: “You must know why you’re here,” he said. “Surely, you wouldn’t have been sent through here unless you had a problem of some kind that the Weapon Shop courts will solve for you; there’s no other reason for coming to Information Center.” Fara walked on because he was in the line now, a fast-moving line that curved him inexorably around the machine; and seemed to be heading him toward a door that led into the interior of the great metal structure. So it was a building as well as a machine. A problem, he was thinking, why of course, he had a problem. A hopeless, insoluble, completely tangled problem so deeply rooted in the basic structure of Imperial civilization that the whole world would have to be overturned to make it right. With a start, he saw that he was at the entrance. He thought with awe: In seconds he could be committed irrevocably — to what?

After showing the reader an example of the independent Weapon Shops courts in operation, the author hints that they enforce their judgments by directly taking from the bank accounts of the wrongdoers — the Weapon Shops operate in symbiosis with the government of the day, no matter what its form, by using advanced technology to rebalance the scales of justice. The current government, the Empire of Isher, is run by the willful and arrogant Empress Innelda, who plans to use a new technology to destroy the Weapon Shops and gain full control of her people. Some of her officers, seeing the danger in undermining one of the balancing pillars of Isher society, refuse to participate, and Innelda confronts one officer arrested for desertion:

At half past ten, free of urgent correspondence, she had the officer-deserter brought in. He was a man of thirty-three according to his file, country born and holding the rank of major. He came in; a faint cynical smile on his lips, but his eyes looked depressed. His name was Gile Sanders. Innelda studied him gloomily. According to his file he had three mistresses and had made a fortune out of a peculiar graft involving army purchases. It was a fairly typical case history. And the part that was difficult to understand was why he, who had so much, had given it all up. She asked the question earnestly. “And please,” she said, “do not insult me by suggesting that you were concerned with the moral issue of the war. Tell me simply and plainly why you gave up all your possessions for dishonor and disgrace. In one act you disinherited yourself. The very least that can happen to you is that you’ll be sent to Mars or Venus permanently. Were you a fool or a coward or both?”

He shrugged. “I suppose I was a fool.” His feet fumbled nervously over the floor. His eyes did not evade her direct stare, but his answer left her dissatisfied. After ten minutes she had got no real explanation out of him. It was possible that the profit and loss motivation had not influenced his decision.

She tried a new approach. “According to your file,” she said, “you were notified to report to building eight hundred A and, because of your rank, it was explained to you that at last a method had been found to destroy the weapon shops. An hour later, after having burned your private papers, you left your office and took up residence in a seaside cottage which you had purchased secretly — you thought — five years ago. A week later, when it was clear that you did not intend to do your duty, you were arrested. You have been in close confinement ever since. Is that picture fairly correct?”

The man nodded but said nothing. The empress studied him, biting her lips. “My friend,” she said softly at last, “I have it in my power to make your punishment anything I desire. Anything. Death, banishment, commutation—” she hesitated— “reinstatement.”

Major Sanders sighed wearily. “I know,” he said. “That was the picture I suddenly saw.”

“I don’t understand.” She was puzzled. “If you realize the potentialities of your act, then you were very foolish.”

“The picture,” he said in a monotone, as if he had not heard her interruption, “of a time when someone, not necessarily yourself, would have that power without qualification, without there being anywhere to turn, without alleviation, without — hope.”

She had her answer. “Well, of all the stupidity!” said Innelda explosively. She leaned back in her chair, momentarily overcome, drew a deep breath, then shook her head in irritation. “Major,” she said gently, “I feel sorry for you. Surely your knowledge of the history of my family must have told you that the danger of misuse of power does not exist. The world is too big. As an individual I can interfere in the affairs of such a tiny proportion of the human race that it is ridiculous. Every decree that I issue vanishes into a positive blur of conflicting interpretations as it recedes from me. That decree could be ultimately mild — it would make no difference in the final administration of it. Anything, when applied to eleven billion people, takes on a meaningless quality that is impossible to imagine unless you have studied, as I have, actual results.”

She saw with astonishment that her words had not touched him. She drew back, offended. It was all so crystal clear and here was one more obstinate fool. She restrained her anger with an effort. “Major,” she said, “with the weapon shops out of the way we could introduce steadying laws that could not be flouted. There would be more uniform administration of justice because people would have to accept the judgment of the courts, their only recourse being appeals to the higher courts.”

“Exactly,” said Sanders. That was all. His tone rejected her logic. She studied him for a long moment, all the sympathy gone from her. Then she said bitterly, “If you’re such a firm believer in the Weapon Shops, why didn’t you protect yourself by going to them for a defensive gun?”

“I did.”

She hesitated; then asked coldly, “What was the matter? Did your courage fail you when it came to the point of using it to defend yourself from arrest?” Watching him, she knew she shouldn’t have said that. It left her open to a retort which, she realized, might be devastating. Her fear was justified.

Sanders said, “No, Your Majesty. I did exactly what some of the other — uh — deserters did. I took off my uniform and went to a weapon shop, intending to buy a gun. But the door wouldn’t open. It appears that I am one of the few officers who believe that the Isher family is the more important of the two facets of Isher civilization.” His eyes had been bright as he spoke. Now they grew depressed again. “I am,” he said, “in exactly the position you want to put everybody into. I have no way to turn. I must accept your law; must accept secret declarations of war on an institution that is as much a part of Isher civilization as the House of Isher itself; must accept death if you decree it, without a chance to defend myself in open battle. Your Majesty,” he finished quietly, “I respect and admire you. The officers who deserted are not scoundrels. They were merely confronted with a choice and they chose not to participate in an attack on things as they are. I doubt if I could put it more honestly than that.”

She doubted it too. Here was a man who would never understand the realistic necessity of what she was doing. After she dismissed him she noted his name in her check-file, commenting that she wanted to hear the verdict of his court-martial…. She realized that it was now time to go to the Treasury Department and hear all the reasons why it was impossible to spend more money. With a tired smile, she went out of the study and took a private elevator up to the fiftieth floor.

After writing the Weapon Shops stories, A. E. van Vogt moved to Los Angeles where he met L. Ron Hubbard in 1945 and briefly headed up Hubbard’s Dianetics organization, which later evolved into the Church of Scientology. His interest in overarching meta-systems to explain everything was apparent in his writings, which as a result became less readable. Philip K. Dick cited him as an influence — “Van Vogt influenced me so much because he made me appreciate a mysterious chaotic quality in the universe which is not to be feared.”

The impunity with which Gawker operated for years while stepping on the privacy rights of people for profit is just one symptom of the inability to get justice at a reasonable price. The simmering resentments of citizens made unknowing scofflaws while going about their lives (see Radley Balko’s Reason piece, “We’re All Felons, Now”) and the increasing regulatory overhead to start and run a small business are slowing growth and damaging the careers of young people who have been trained to ask permission before trying anything new.

Meanwhile, the Party of Government, like Empress Innelda, sees only good in its efforts to limit the right of self-defense and increase the revenue and authority of government at every level. They mean well, after all, and this chaos of unmanaged freedom and unregulated commerce must give way to those who know what’s best for all the little people. America was a good idea once, but it’s too dangerous to continue the experiment started in 1776….

Walter Olson’s Overlawyered: Chronicling the High Cost of Our Legal System is a good source for news on justice system excesses and the negative side-effects of its high cost.


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


More reading on other topics:

Update: California High-Speed Rail Nearly Dead
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism
Orlando and Elite Bigotry: Come Out as an American
Progressive Displacement and Social Media: Gun Control Edition

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy