Is Bad Data Better Than No Data?

TLDR: We should always be working to improve our specific data. But let’s keep in mind that the process itself builds our general knowledge of the world. And the real solution is to increase the number of people viewing and contemplating the data.

Nate Silver recently said: “We’re not that much smarter than we used to be, even though we have much more information — and that means the real skill now is learning how to pick out the useful information from all this noise.” How true is this statement, really? We might not have reached our knowledge or wisdom capacity, but we are smarter, at least commensurately with the objectives of big data. So while it’s true that “marketers might know less about individual consumers than they think,” maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe understanding the abstract consumer is better — politically, economically, and ethically — than knowing everything about every individual consumer. Not just because of information overload, which is an important concern, but also because we don’t necessarily need that level of accuracy to build general and universal knowledge about our society and species as a whole.

That’s why, although professional concerns and wanting clients have the most accurate and up-to-date data they can remain priorities, we are not necessarily panicking at the continuous flow of anecdotes and surveys indicating we’re in a “bad data epidemic.” Take the recent Deloitte University study of U.S. professionals: a little over a hundred professionals were asked to privately study their own data (that is, the things about them others have extracted) and 71 percent overall found substantial inaccuracies, with a high of 84% inaccuracy for economic data, and a low of 41% for “home” data. Sure, that’s concerning in terms of reaching specific customers, but even inaccurate specific data (wrong addresses, age off by a year, profits miscalculated) may aid in (or at least not overly hinder) the generation of metadata for purposes of things like consumer analysis, AI, and some sociological data.

What inaccurate data can’t generate is good choices for those whose primary use of data is personal contact and the maintenance of contact-based relationships. So this isn’t so much an issue of data failing because it’s so often inaccurate, but that the “art” of metadata and the “science” of work that relies on specific accuracies and the ability to append diverge, at least to a degree.

For those that rely on strict accuracy, if we do the mathsix percent of annual revenues (on average) are lost to bad data. This is bad for consumer-driven work where small margins can keep a business in business or kick it to the curb. It’s bad for political work where a candidate needs every extra vote they can get in a tight citywide or district race. In the world of metadata and broad analysis, people are more “fungible” than they are in tight races and competitive markets.

In fact, since we are always (hopefully) in the act of improving the specific and objective accuracy of data we might also consider how to improve its general insights and usefulness. One way to do this is to further “democratize” data, increasing the number of “eyes” on it, from the collection to the integration to metaanalysis. Democratized data gives us the best kind of accuracy — accuracy that serves the people.

To determine how democratic data actually is, we can ask questions like: can everyone locate the data? Recently, Wichita State University wanted to get better measures of student satisfaction, retention, and dropout rates. In order to do this, a team of analysts created a “data fabric architecture” eliminating “silos across departments” and providing “a single view of university data regardless of its location.” The work made it easier for everyone to report new data. The result? “WSU got to the root cause of why students leave, deployed mitigation plans and increased the numbers of alumni who graduated. The agile, scalable AI and analytics platform enables further examination of student and operational trends.” The more people can see the data, particularly those people with a stake in the knowledge, the more likely we will be able to maximize both the short-term details and long-term wisdom of its conclusions.


Why Not Just Let Us Be Spaceships?

Sure, we manage your data, but what if that data were to gain consciousness? AI sentience scenarios are ubiquitous, but one important subset of them, sentient spacecraft, is worth considering more closely. Sentient spacecraft are now a staple — a main trope, even — in science fiction. They are “living ships or brains in a box“: either the ship itself is a sentient creature, or the hardware of the ship is controlled by the wetware of another (usually human) creature’s brain, if not otherwise integrated into the hardware (computer programs are a frequent conduit). Living ships are so standard now that they figure into cutting-edge science fiction podcasts like Khôra Podcast and We Fix Space Junk. The device reaches across a wide readership demographic too, with Lydia Kang’s young adult novel Toxic also featuring sentient craft.

The range of themes and creativity around the conscious craft trope is remarkable. First, the themes of works featuring intelligent spacecraft are often very political. Take, for example, the political implications of sentient craft without the rights aspirationally afforded to sentient beings in liberal societies. In We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the titular character dies after being hit by a street vehicle and wakes up more than a hundred years later as an AI unit derived from a scan of his original brain activity. In the new society, AI replicants are slaves, and the government uploads the replicants into space probes to explore strange new worlds.

Perhaps this political angle feels especially appropriate for fiction about ships that are so often used as platforms for war. In Embers of War by Gareth Powell, these ships organize together in a post-war galaxy to aid distressed spacecraft in a kind of redemptive philanthropy. Or take the first-in-a-Y.A.-trilogy Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre, where an entire race of sentient ships, called the Leviathan, visit earth to share their knowledge benevolently.

Second, the personalities of the ships are often their key feature and might offer an even lighthearted tone to the story. In Ian M. Banks’s Culture series, the spaceships speak in different styles that match their consciousness and personalities: the ship Serious Callers Only speaks cryptically, skittish about being dragged into a conflict it wants to have nothing to do with. The ship called Sleeper Service is a detective and entertainingly talks like a detective noir character.

And sometimes the explorations of ships’ or people-to-ships’ personalities are treated more seriously, psychologically or sociologically. The great Anne McCaffrey wrote a highly imaginative series in the 1960s, including The Ship Who Sang, The Ship Who Mourned, The Ship Who Killed, The Ship Who Dissembled and others. People born with physical deformities are offered up as cyborg-brains for various machines including ships. In The Ship Who Sang, one of those cyborg characters, Helva, learns that she can sing beautifully in her new “body.”

Finally, the presence of sentience can invite analysis of the logistical, physical and moral hazards which are being discussed around autonomous vehicles. AVs are accused of being vulnerable to attack, in danger of accidents or even radiation exposure, and causing social calamities like mass unemployment. But this is where my proposal comes in: what if we were the vehicles? We’ve already seen a huge sci-fi precedent for such transformations. What if we simply modified our own bodies to synthesize with space travel-ready hardware?

If so, data management would presumably play a central role in this modest proposal. If humans are fused with spacecraft, or spacecraft fused onto and then built on us, our brain functions must be capable of navigating a complex ship’s worth of details, meaning either that our brains will be augmented with faster (perhaps quantum) data processing skills, or we will have amazing data management systems at our fingertips (or whatever our new appendages are). Regardless, it’s worth hoping that the spaceships that we are turned into look more like the Enterprise than the Millennium Falcon.


The Impact of Animal Testing on the Environment

We often process information and advocacy about animal testing in “ethical” terms, but there are “utilitarian” reasons (or secondary harms) to consider even if one prioritizes the ethics. The Faunalytics website platformed a great 2014 study by a number of researchers on animal testing’s role in laboratory waste production, sourcepoint pollution, effects on lab workers’ health and biodiversity implications. Important insights included recognition that a single toxicity test project can use between 6,000 and 12,000 animals over the course of several years, and that animal testing is uniquely energy-intensive, requiring heavy ventilation, lighting, space to accommodate animals, and “barrier protection from outside pathogens”.

Moreover, animal testing uses a wide range of chemicals, including toxic and carcinogenic substances “for extended time periods and in large quantities.” The study’s authors pointed out that “millions of animal bodies — as well as supplies such as bedding, caging, needles, and syringes — are disposed of each year. The routine disposal of hazardous waste also produces harmful substances and air pollutants.” Animal carcasses and tissue themselves are contaminated and toxic, particularly after testing.

This “secondary” harm from animal testing, a harm that also befalls the non-human realm, is an interesting reminder of the multidimensional case against anthropocentrism — the view that humans are, if not the moral “center” of the universe, at least the subjects of primary concern and have an innate right to prioritize and exploit other forms of life. This larger insistence on decentering the anthropocene stands out and even goes beyond “environmentalism,” because in some instances standing up for nonhuman rights may itself harm the “natural” environment, such as the case against horse removal in the fragile ecosystems of the mountain west. Kristen Stilt wrote last year that “some environmentalists view the horses as ‘feral pests’ that damage the fragile ecosystem and compete with wildlife — and privately owned cattle — for resources.” But opponents say the rounding up of horses is needlessly cruel and that the cattle grazing those lands are no more entitled to do so.

Similarly, prioritizing the comfort and reducing the suffering of animals used for testing (an ethical consideration in favor of animals) is very energy-intensive, meaning the ecological impact of taking care of those individual animals tends to be high. The case for animal welfare in science is thus materially (if not essentially) at odds with the case for environmental protection — that is, unless we find alternatives to animal testing.

But the controversy over animal testing is still volatile because defenders of the practice insist there are no feasible alternatives, and that testing is necessary for the rapid development of vaccines. This is a timely enough argument that even the National Institute of Health, through its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases group, put out a statement last year titled, “The Important Role of Animal Research in mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Development.” Not only are rodents critical to this process, according to the statement, but ” primates are used during the later stages of vaccine development and typically build upon the knowledge accumulated in earlier small animal studies.” This was critical to the 90-ish percent effectiveness of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, and with variations continuing to spread, modifications of these vaccines will require even more animal testing, according to NIH.
Meanwhile, though, animal testing continues to be environmentally harmful, its impacts largely unaddressed and unregulated. An Australian report suggests that the breeding and possible escape and mating with wild and native populations, are another potential complication. Like the report mentioned earlier, Australian researchers also point to “particulate matter, organic compounds, pathogens, and radioactive materials may be released as part of the incineration process and exposed into the surrounding environment.” Perhaps the competing needs of the pharmaceutical industry and the environment will soon prove incompatible, and new methods of research will need to emerge.


Military Space Tech Enables Commercial Internet in Space

Imagine waking up in a hotel room overlooking the moon. You eat breakfast in the hotel lobby, from which you can see Earth — a blue marble in the distance — and a space station compound in a geostationary position relative to both. You drink your coffee and orange juice and go about your morning as usual — checking your emails or posting something to your favorite social media network. you sit down and check your email or post something on a social media network. Later in the “day,” you’ll likely meet others staying at this space hotel, each filling various societal roles: telecommunications, education and training, engineering, even law enforcement and conflict prevention. The possibilities for business and commerce in space are endless.

Now, consider that at present we’ve never had more than 13 human beings in space at the same time. Nevertheless, multiple corporations are racing to build space hotels, some with outlandishly ambitious construction dates (this year). Last September, according to Business Insider, Bigelow Aerospace invited NASA astronauts to tour its “life-sized prototype of an inflatable habitat that could one day house astronauts on a journey to Mars.” This is technology that would almost certainly also accommodate tourists. In fact, according to the same article, reservations for soon-to-be-build hotels are available for booking now.

This all belongs to the “space-for-space economy,” where productive activity in space requires secondary economies, residences, meetings, people and things needing to show up in the right place at the right time. And, where recreational and other interactive activities will necessitate entire economic ecosystems. Think of businesses along a frontier, but without easily attainable natural resources. Supply lines are everything in such a scenario, and to be successful they’ll have to be clustered.

Similar to on Earth, the most common harbinger of what becomes widely-used technology in space will be governments and their militaries. Recently, for example, there have been efforts to development of internet services in space (rather than satellite internet tech for terrestrial use — part of the “space-for-earth” economy to extend the above phrasing). Writing for Space News, Sandra Erwin reported on March 22 that “LEO [low-earth orbit] constellation moves DoD closer to a ‘hybrid architecture’ with a mix of satellites in different orbits, providing more resilience against cyberattacks or anti-satellite weapons.” Those needs translate into innovations for wireless internet availability in orbit, able to connect to users on earth in decentralized ways. As early as 2004, NASA tested “Tropos Wi-Fi mesh network gear for possible use on future missions to the red planet.”

It’s also good PR for the military-industrial complex. MIC consultants like the Center for Strategic and International Studies believe it is very important to emphasize those military-private sector connections in order to get taxpayers and elected officials firmly on board with those investments. So, statism and technological capitalism combine to create a culture of partnership between owners, entrepreneurs, and the military. In fact, NASA already has the “Deep Space Network”,  a radio precursor to what will eventually be an interplanetary internet network. Experts have been speculating on space communication from both a military and commercial standpoint for as long as we’ve known space travel to be possible.

Business Week article predicts: “Space tourists could one day get an immersive astronaut experience, be wined and dined with incredible views of the Earth, or even play zero-gravity games like Quidditch.” This kind of luxurious wining and dining is a feature, not a bug, of statism, a hierarchical view of governance that makes militarism necessary in the first place. Let’s just hope that workers at the hotels and telecom firms unionize and push back against the drive to extend labor exploitation into space. It’s not without precedent.


Could Asteroid Mining Stop Mineral Injustice in Africa?

There are two sides worth considering in discussions about the privatization of space. The first is the view of cynical realists, who see space development as the next frontier of exploitation. The second is that of the wide-eyed, but critical optimist, who characterizes space development very differently.

But it’s not hyperbolic to say that whatever these big projects turn out to be, humanity needs to be prioritizing equity; and, as unpopular as it is in some circles, it needs to be committed to righting historical wrongs.

There’s a strong and justified suspicion on the left that space development will just replicate earth development: colonialist, imperialist, neoliberal capitalist. In the words of Victor L. Shammas & Tomas B. Holen, space development is a project and paradigm benefitting “a specific set of wealthy entrepreneurs, many of them originating in Silicon Valley, who strategically deploy humanist tropes to engender enthusiasm for their activities . . . the arrival of capitalism in space is fueled by the expansionary logic of capital accumulation” and particularly a hack allowing “capital to transcend its inherent terrestrial limitations.”

But socialists would also be quick to point out that this criticism isn’t intrinsic to the core idea, the science and, to an extent, the technology of space development. Like any collective labor, space development is good if it serves humanity as a whole, for example by allowing for collective reparations and rectification of past wrongs, or if it promotes a reciprocal relationship with the laborers and ecosystems from which the value of such labor comes. However, if it reproduces and empowers the exploitative logic of capital, it’s not good.

This is why it’s important to consider the view of space tech writer David Oni, who, in his case for asteroid mining, points out that Africa is a site of great material oppression around the mining of rare earth metals and critical components of technology (as well as traditional precious metals and diamonds). Terrestrial mining has destroyed much of the environment and trapped countless people into brutal working conditions. “Ongoing mining projects worth more than US$1 billion are taking place in South Africa (PGM 69%; gold: 31%), Guinea (bauxite and aluminum), Madagascar (nickel), Mozambique (coal), Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia (cobalt and copper), Nigeria and Sudan (crude petroleum), Senegal (iron), among others.”

Tech optimists say asteroid mining could save the planet, allowing unlimited extraction of resources at what we currently believe is relatively little environmental cost — presumably none to the “space” around the rocks (although who knows what we’ll learn) and, once we develop renewable rocket power for launches and do most of our productive work in space, at much less cost to earth. On earth, mining will always be disastrous and traumatic: “To establish a mine,” Oni writes, “a portion of vegetation is cleared. This causes deforestation (and eventually, erosion and flooding) as well as the loss of biodiversity, which adversely affect native inhabitants. Leakages and tailing dumpings have raised serious environmental concerns.” But with countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria developing their own technology to join together with current tech giants in China, Russia, and the U.S. the possibility exists that developers from around the world can co-create relief from terrestrial mining.

This doesn’t make the exploitative nature of either capitalism, space tech companies or mining go away. It’s possible that being a space mine worker will be every bit as exploitative and asymmetrical as being an earth-based one. But it does present an opportunity to change the landscape, or in this case change landscape to spacescape, transcend limits and, potentially, open up space to facilitate environmental and humanitarian relief from existing capitalist exploitation on ecologically scarred land.


Conceptualizing the Jetsons’ Flying Cars

Iconic scenes from an iconic TV cartoon: the clean, benevolent whirring of future flight; a family with smirks on their faces racing past towers and saucer-shaped houses on platforms; “traffic jams” of whirring machines; a foldable car. One blogger calls the Jetsons’ flying car “[o]ne of the most easily identifiable elements of the show” and it is as universally recognized as anything in American cartoons.

We all want(ed) the small, car-like flying vehicle featured in the cartoon. And it seems we might have one now, although it’s a propeller vehicle. The Jetsons’ vehicle, as we will see soon, has an engine, or maybe more than one. In the Jetsons’ society, acquisition of the car is an expected consumer endeavor. Paleofuture blogger Matt Novak puts the Jetsons’ flying car into historical perspective, describing the episode where “George and Jane set out to buy a new car and arrive at Molecular Motors where they and the viewers at home are treated to a car salesman’s pitch from the year 2062.” As Novak explains, these flying machines had been in the imagination of both artists and entrepreneurs for many years before they were developed for the cartoon.

In another article we learn that in 1954 Ford Motors designed a concept car that would later be modeled by the cartoon’s creators. with “far out styling, a Jetsons-like cockpit, a centralized driving position, joystick controls, and a rear monitor meant for who-knows-what purpose,” FX-Atmos, as it was called, would have been impossible to fly conventionally, “unable to roll under its own power,” the article points out.

The Jetsons’ car sure runs, though. Way back in 2010 John Pearley Huffman wrote a piece on the vehicle for Car and Driver speculating on precisely how – a question for which there’s considerable data, but, as far as I know, no uniform canon. Huffman observes that in the “Jetsons’ Night Out,” episode, the car runs out of fuel, which George Jetson refers to as “fuel pellets.” He asks for “high-octane pellets” at the gas station and asks that the vehicle’s radium be checked. We thus learn that the car also runs on radium, although it’s unclear how much of one and how much of the other. Huffman theorizes that “there’s some sort of pressurized nuclear reaction going on. Going out on a limb, it’s probably cold fusion, with each putt in the putt-putt sound from the car’s exhaust representing a new, heavier nucleus being formed.” This means the Jetsons drive a hybrid.

A comment on the same article adds: “In the episode ‘The Space Car,” George instructs his wife, Jane, that a little button on the left activates “the horizontal power cluster.’ This leads us to conclude that the Jetsons’ car uses multiple separate systems for generating both the vertical anti-gravity effect and horizontal propulsion.” The idea that one system makes the vehicle defy gravity, and the other accelerates and propels it, might violate Occam’s Razor – the simpler explanation would be a singular hybrid fusion engine.

The Jetsons’ aesthetic is so recognizable that most people reading this post will have scenes and snapshots of the series in their heads as they read it. In another article, Matt Novak, who loves writing about the Jetsons so much he wrote a 24-part series on the show, calls that aesthetic Mid-21st Century Modern, citing Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic. It was actually a look into the Los Angeles and Hollywood architecture of the time, though added in were platforms hundreds of feet above the ground. The cars matched the architecture. Everything was curvey and sleek and shiny and clean. Whirrrrrrr.


Theater of the Absurd’s Most Absurd: A List

There were really interesting developments in theater during the 20th century. Not only were there revolutionary changes to dramatic theory, manifested in Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater, but there also emerged Theater of the Absurd, with works emerging from the premise that there are no premises – essentially, that there is no meaning to the world. Often in such plays, nothing happens, or characters return exactly where they began, having gone nowhere at all. Endings are unpredictable and, well, absurd, offering no closure. It’s possible that these plays are either enjoyed or hated; but this writer happens to like them.

This post presents a short list of some of the most absurd plays of an absurd style. Several notable avant garde plays were intentionally left off the list, because they’re too “on the nose”; these include Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Israel Horovitz’s first play, Line, which is about people who fight while standing in line. I’ve even left out a personal favorite, Jean Genet’s The Balcony, a microcosmic play about revolution and the absurdity of social rank. Instead, the pieces on this list are equally thought-provoking but more difficult to interpret. They present the world as a paradox and humans as infinite and inconsistent. They present a deep incongruity of reality, often funny and silly, with no promise of eventual coherence.

If I found videos of the plays, I linked them. It may be worth having a screening party – perhaps any guests, following Ionesco’s The Chairs below, will be invisible.

First is Eugène Ionesco’s Jack, or The Submission: In this “family” piece, the main characters name is Jack, and all the other characters are named after him – Father Jack, Mother Jack, and so on. Jack, however, is a disappointment to his family because he won’t marry the woman they chose for him.

Next we have The Skriker, by Caryl Churchill. This piece features an ancient fairy pursuing two teenage mothers, along the way turning into all matter of objects and people, and speaking in a rhythmic arcane language Churchill invented for the play.

Though we’re skipping Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett still makes the list with his extremely abstract Nacht und Träume. A figure sits alone in a dark room, music by Schubert (also called Nacht und Träume) starts to play, and hands come out of nowhere and tease and touch him. That’s it. That’s the play.

Speaking of human parts, The Gas Heart by Alfred Jarry and Tristan Tzara is top absurdist form, as it centers on the personification of facial parts – ear, nose, neck, eyebrow and eye – in nonsensical, circular dialogue, the random (or deeply metaphorical) lines mentioning emperors, mollusks and pockets. This is an explicitly Dadaist playDadaism was absurdity as protest, formed in response to the horrors of World War I.

Next, is Arthur Adamov’s Ping-Pong, a play about two characters inside a sentient pinball machine who dialogue about being in a pinball machine, unable to transcend their surroundings. It has a strong Marxist vibe, with a Chaplinesque trapped-in-the-machine flavor, and lots of despair.
Finally, Eugène Ionesco earns a second entry on the list with the utterly delightful, utterly nonsensical, and a little touching The Chairs. You want to read this play and watch the video as well. An old man and an old woman are preparing for a party by arranging chairs throughout the play. It may take place in a post-apocalyptic world where there aren’t going to be any guests, or the old man and woman may be ghosts and the eventual (invisible) guests the real beings, but the ending introduces a new, completely paradoxical character into the mix, shattering whatever we might have thought we’d figured out by then. Perfect absurdity.


Is Climate-Sensitive Space Flight Possible?

The optimism of the coming Space Age 2 – with its tourism, mineral mining, colonization and endless derivative benefits – may be short-lived if we kill ourselves faster back on Earth from the carbon cost of accelerating such an era. The footprint of a routine space launch is around 100 times larger than a long airplane flight, already substantial. Furthermore, launches release large amounts of soot, hurting both the stratosphere and the ozone layer. As Rebecca Heilweil at Vox reports, “a study from 2010 found that the soot released by 1,000 space tourism flights could warm Antarctica by nearly 1 degree Celsius.” That’s why the scientists interviewed for Heilweil’s article make clear that they do not think space tourism and the like come close to justifying their wider environmental costs.

So: is climate-sensitive space travel possible? That’s a difficult argument to answer. At present, researchers are testing a variety of green fuel fixes that could change the risk assessment considerably. All of these solutions presuppose that enough shareholders and stakeholders will demand that the fuels be prioritized even if they cost more in the short term, and that governments will incentivize or mandate the transition. If that were to happen, we could likely mitigate the carbon impact of launches, although the technology may not be carbon neutral as carbon would be a necessary ingredient in the manufacturing of the technology itself.

Importantly, this green technology already exists. The challenge, however, lies in scaling and adapting. While it is possible that rockets could become smaller in some cases, ultimately we will have to eliminate carbon from the process, or at least use a much smaller amount that’s offset elsewhere.

“Green hydrogen” is “produced using water electrolysis (using electricity to extract the naturally occurring hydrogen from water) and renewable energy sources.” The BBC reports that it’s both completely carbon neutral and currently very expensive. The same BBC article discusses a second option, bio-fuels, which are “produced from organic material” or biomass like plants, animal waste, food waste, that kind of thing. At the center of any discussion, however, is the recognition of whether or not we have the political will to develop something or take a certain action. In many ways, the development of biofuels epitomizes this: it proves both that the harnessing of alternative and widely available energy sources is possible, and also that their role in transitions are not inevitable.

One source of optimism is that entrepreneurs themselves talk a good game and, in doing so, make themselves publicly accountable if they drag their feet later. For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that the chief of executive of British rocket developer Orbex openly says climate change is real and that making the emissions problems a thing of the past is imperative. Orbex “uses bio-propane that it says can cut CO2 emissions by 90% compared with traditional launch fuel,” which is huge if true. Similarly, a German satellite maker has developed a “mini-launcher,” a very small rocket with an environmentally-friendly propellant, which has the potential to become a model for light-load tourist launches. Stefan Brieschenk, the chief engineer at Rocket Factory Augsburg, the German satellite maker, shared an interesting observation with Reuters: He is only 34 years old, and his colleagues not only at RFA but throughout the industry are mostly young like him. As such, they understand there is a climatic responsibility that’s been placed on their shoulders and they accept their consideration of climate change in their work is a necessity.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that if we create permanent bases, colonies, and off-Earth construction and industrial operations, we likely will no longer need to burn anything near the amount of fuel required to leave Earth. That being said, we must simultaneously be committed to preserving the living systems on Earth, regardless of where we are in the universe; and the elimination of carbon from space flight, especially if/as it becomes more common, is both a moral and ecological imperative.


7 Reasons Why Outer Space Development Should Be Common Not Private

In the coming decades, we’ll likely see unprecedented private space technology and exploration. This may hasten and help the overall development of the space industry and travel in several specific ways, but not necessarily in ways that help us. We need to keep making the case for a “socialized” space – a space commons where global cooperation and public projects eclipse private ventures and man-boy fantasies.

To outline the arguments enumerated below, I’ve relied on three well-argued posts taking on some of the central assumptions of the privatization crowd: Spencer Roberts’ article last September titled “We Need a Socialist Vision for Space Exploration,” Nick Levine’s “Democratize the Universe” post at Jacobin six years ago, and George Zarkadakis’s post on the risks of space privatization published last August.

1. The “true ethos” argument: Space is the backdrop of universal science, discovery, and education. Juxtaposing space with earth – and the “overview effect” so many talk about – is ultimately about coming together as humanity. “Peering into the void of space,” Roberts writes, “inspires the deepest questions facing humanity: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? While a space program catering to the science fiction fantasies of billionaires is decidedly dystopian, conceptualizing space exploration as an educational mission to remotely probe the depths of the galaxy can help animate a more equitable vision of futurism.”

2. The “haves and have nots” argument: The privatization of space creates hierarchies that undermine democracy and humanity, Zarkadakis points out. He writes, “if left to become a ‘winner-takes-all’ race between powerful private conglomerates,” space exploration “may result in humanity splitting in a ‘space-abled’ minority who would be traveling in space and enjoying massive financial and scientific dividends, and a ‘space-disabled’ majority stuck on Earth. Such a divide would be detrimental to the survival of democracies and, indeed, to humanity itself.”

3. The efficiency argument: Capitalism isn’t always efficient. Public checks against private fantasies are important. Private interests are not the gateway to efficiency or prudence in development. They often reflect the hubris of the financial giants that fund the work. Take the exploration of Mars, for example, which is a severely inefficient use of our resources. As Roberts points out, Mars “has very little carbon dioxide, and no amount of terraforming will reinstate the magnetic dynamo that once deflected the solar winds now stripping away its depleted atmosphere.”

4. The “exclusion must be defended with force” argument: Private assets, territorial assets and even nation-state-exclusive assets, all imply the exclusion of other actors, which will require more of the military outposts, weapons and other military and institutionally violent infrastructure that already suck up huge amounts of public spending.

5. The “consider the satellites!” argument: Socialization of space development transforms satellites and their use from private, commercial interests to public goods. As Roberts writes, “Satellites can serve many other public interests, such as facilitating research that helps scientists monitor problems like climate change, deforestation, and forced labor,” and also provide utilities like “free global broadband coverage with minimal infrastructure.”

6. The “models exist” argument: Sovereign wealth funds like that used by Alaska, or other dividend policies, can give everyone “shares” of the economic benefits of common resource use. “As an international commons, outer space offers an opportunity to experiment with such redistributive mechanisms beyond the traditional confines of the nation-state,” Levine writes, calling it a “Galactic Wealth Fund.”

7. The “it depends on who the stakeholders are” argument: The Gil Scott-Heron “Whitey on the Moon” scenario presupposed unjust (and inefficient) use of resources in the first place – the context, not the consequence of space development. If we insist that the fruits of this development be available to everyone, it might slow and re-shape development, but it wouldn’t stop it. In fact, if the right political movement was in place, it might even accelerate it.

These are not the only arguments for making space development a common good, but they do provide a good introduction to the concept. Importantly, as in all cases of development, the question of space development is explicitly political, and places the interests of the majority of humanity at odds with the desires of a small investor and boss class. As Levine explains, “Whether the aims of providing for all and developing outer space are mutually exclusive depends on the political forces on the ground.”


Lefty Games Roundup

There are tons of games, gaming guilds, companies and collectives that fall into this category, and I may get roasted for not including even most of them. But the goal of this post is not a comprehensive list; rather, I want to give a very brief overview for those who may not be aware of the extent and depth of left-activist games, left options in every kind of game. This post mentions RPGs, video games, and physical tabletop/board/card games; and readers can always dive in further if they’d like to know more.

RPGs (role-playing games): My friends and I wanted to design some of our own lefty modules for D & D, and possibly for other retro games like Boot Hill (imagine a cowboy-early labor movement adventure) or Gamma World (the post-apocalypse is a natural setting for your ecofeminist critique, just don’t get bitten by a radioactive plant). But Dungeons and Dragons, as the template RPG, makes the most sense as a starting point. Eat the Rich is a collection of D & D adventure games at a really low price (they even have bargains for zero-to-a-few-bucks). The first volume, for example, has 17 adventures and is just about $20. Titles include: “Before we’re bled dry,” “Escape from Prosperity Hill,” and “Is Dryad Property Theft?”

There’s a lot of solidarity-building potential in RPGs, both because cooperation works as a strategy and also because of the performative nature of the games. It’s like Brechtian political/educational theater, or the theater of the oppressed envisioned by Augusto Boal — especially given its participatory nature. In well-managed RPGs, everyone has a say, everyone makes the story happen. It’s narrative socialism, and DMs/GMs (dungeon masters/game masters) can easily incentivize cooperation over competition among players, leaving the greed and amorality to NPCs. D & D modules also offer the opportunity to problem solve in interactive and complex ways. Breaking from the gameboard and going into roleplay mode allows the exploration of nuances and ambiguities, which is important in developing good praxis.

Videogames: Many games have leftist themes, but Means TV, “the world’s first worker-owned, post-capitalist streaming service,” has now produced with its videogame branch. At The Leveller, Ashton Starr reviews Tonight We Riot, which “feels like it could have been released in the early 1990s, as it displays 8-bit pixelated graphics, blasts retro synth-pop, and boasts gameplay in the style of the era’s popular beat ’em up genre.” But it’s no Street Fighter. In Tonight We Riot, revolutionaries take to the streets and factories and buildings to liberate workers, fight cops and white power groups, and eventually take on a final boss who is a technocratic Bezosian billionaire.

Tabletop & Card Games: My personal favorites are the collective and cooperative games created by TESA Collective. Among others, the Collective has made Space Cats Fight Fascism, STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion, Rise Up and the word game Loud and Proud. These comrades are doing it right, in my opinion: their games are games, but they are also seamlessly political in all the right ways. They like to do a variety of game forms, from cards to word and logic games to boardgames. The Collective’s latest effort is a team-up with Beautiful Trouble, a strategy resource organization that makes cards for activist education. At our commune, we played Space Cats Fight Fascism, a really f***ing hard game that’s difficult in all the ways that activism, particularly anti-capitalist activism, is. The fascists in the game are relentless. As a team, we felt stretched thin, needing to devote a lot of mental energy to stretching out resources and remaining life force. The fascists can use anti-cat propaganda and distracting laser pointers to turn the public against cats, or distract activists from militancy. I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say it’s an educational resource in a struggle that is happening right now and right here.