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NY 2140

I really hate giving up on a book. This leaves me deeply conflicted when I don't like the book. There are many things to hate in NY 2140, starting with the structure, a series of episodes each starring one of the not very interesting characters. Many of these episodes seem utterly pointless, not advancing the plot nor saying anything interesting. Many seem devoted to the author's theory of finance, a subject I don't think he understands at all well. Others consist of dialog less interesting than anything you might here in the grocery store. A who done it ought to have a plot, and it ought advance at a sprightly pace. Nobody seems to have mentioned this to the author. It's like one of those amateur play productions where you spend more time watching the stage hands move the furniture than watching the action. To be continued.

Inequality I: Net Worth

The great failure of capitalism is enormous inequality. Inequality has been rapidly growing in the US, and has recently reached levels never seen before. The richest man in the US has more than a million times the net worth of the median household. He had about 100,000 times as much as a 90th percentile household (top ten percent). He even has ten thousand times as much as as one of the top 1% households (99th percentile). The curve may steepen. A top 0.1% household (99.9 percentile) only has about 1/3000th of Richie Rich's wealth and even the 99.99th percenter has only 1/1000th as much. The 1% are very rich compared to me and almost everyone I know, but in the grand scheme of things, the poorest slave in ancient Greece was economically closer to its richest man than a 0.1 percenter is to the richest American.

A Star is Born

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Caption: the Pillars of Creation, dark cloud remnants of a giant molecular complex backlighted by reflection nebulae illuminated by bright young stars. Some evidence suggests that this complex has already been blasted apart by a supernova still enshrouded in dust. Definitive evidence should reach us in a thousand years or so.So you say you want to be a star. A lot of success in anything is about being in the right place at the right time. In the case of becoming a star, that place is in a galaxy with sufficient dust and gas, and getting down to the nitty gritty, being in a massive molecular cloud complex, in one of the cores of such complexes. Such clouds are the coldest (10-30K) and densest parts (up to 10^6 molecules/cm^3) of the interstellar medium - the gas and dust that occupies the space among the stars. The big ones have masses from thousands to millions of times the mass of our Sun. It seems to be only in these massive, cold, and dense clouds that gravity can overcome p…

Unsolved

What are the unsolved problems in science today? My list: Origin of life: this is one where we really seem to be closing in. I would be surprised if it's still unsolved twenty years from now. There are still plenty of crucial steps to be filled in. Finding life on another planet would probably help answer a lot of questions. What is dark matter? It's probably some new particle, but all attempts to detect it have failed. No clue as to when or if this one can be solved. And how about dark energy? This one is a real stumper. What is consciousness? I can't decide if this is a real problem or not. And then there are questions which we may never have any answers too: The origin of the universe, the nature of time, and why it is like and unlike space. Anybody got any other good ones?

Socialism

Socialism seems to be picking up a bit of speed lately. Not Leninist Communism, which has pretty much retreated to a couple of backward redoubts - and I suspect that it's crumbling pretty fast even in Cuba and Venezuela. I'm talking instead about the kind of democratic socialism that flowered in Europe after the war. Leninism only seems to be able to grab power by more or less violent revolution. It's big scores were Russia and China, and in each case succeeded due to the hopeless incompetence of the predecessor states. It's probably worth noting that neither of these revolutions was an utter failure. They were bloody, murderous, and ultimately economically disastrous, but they also destroyed some of the most backward elements of their local cultures. Both Russia and China remain unfree autocratic states, as they were before their revolutions, but neither is still Communist or even socialist. That happened because their leaders realized that the Communist syste…

Capitalism

Capitalism seems to be a fairly successful economic system when it's tried, in the sense that it seems to be pretty good at producing economic growth. It has a few powerful enemies. As Adam Smith pointed out in his seminal book, nobody hates a free market like the capitalists who have to compete in it, and since successful capitalists get a lot of money and concomitant political power, they work like crazy to shut down competition. Fascism, crony capitalism and oligarchical kleptocracies are a common result. Every once in a while, oligarchies get so inefficient and cumbersome that they trigger a successful revolution. That's the fate that the hysterics on the anti-left would lead us to. Those who see Communists under every bed and in every closet would turn the nation over authoritarian minded would be fascists like Trump.

Unprediction

Science fiction was a big part of my youth, from age ten until at least the end of my teens. Much of what I loved was already classical, from Jules Verne to Edgar Rice Burroughs to the golden age of SF in the 1930s-1950s. Lately, I've turned back to SF in a small way, but mostly been disappointed. Currently I'm reading New York 2140, a fairly highly praised book by Kim Stanley Robinson. The hard SF of my youth was filled with astonishing predictions: nuclear power, space travel, robots, communication satellites, smartphones. There were some others that didn't work out: time travel, psychokinesis, and that staple of Popular Science, flying cars, but overall, guys like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein were amazingly prescient as well as entertaining. The central conceit of New York, 2140 is that sea levels have risen 50 feet due to global warming, but that Manhattan underwater is still thriving, and many major buildings of today, suitably reinforced o…