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What I want for Christmas

Let me start by saying that I'm not a Christian, nor — to the best of my knowledge — were any of my ancestors, and I don't believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or Lizzie Saxe-Coburg-GothaWindsor's ability to cure Scrofula with a touch. So this is just a theoretical exercise at best, or a daydream at worst. But since when has that stopped anyone?

Here's a list of ten things I want for Christmas, filtered for positives (this isn't an appropriate list for "I want the RIAA and MPAA to be investigated for racketeering, found guilty, and their executives imprisoned", however tempting that might be), and ranked in order of priority:

1) World Peace. (C'mon, it'd be churlish not to wish for an outbreak of world peace, however cynical one might be about its likelihood.) Alas, we've only had about four days since 1945 when there were no wars under way somewhere on the planet. The causes are numerous, but among the most obvious are fresh water rights (this was a huge aggravating factor in the first thirty years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and still isn't solved), energy, access to preferred agricultural land and mineral reserves, ideology, and religion (although I suspect the latter two are used as excuses as often as they're a primary cause of conflict). Total annual spending on matters military exceeds US $1Tn per annum, enough to fund roughly two and a half gold-plated NASA manned Mars programs per year, or to find some way of getting clean potable water to the 600M people who need it, or ...

2) There is a disease pandemic that affects all of us. Its onset is slow but progressive and it inevitably gets worse once it is established. Symptoms include skin damage and inelasticity, loss of muscle tone with consequent lethardy, neurological degradation, bone damage, and at a cytological level damage to chromosomes and errors in mitochondrial DNA transcription that appear to drastically increase susceptibility to cancer. In extreme cases, it kills, although victims frequently die of other causes first. It may well be an acquired zoonosis or an endogenous retrovirus, because it is more or less universal among mammals but members of some other classes of animal (such as reptiles and fish) don't show obvious signs of it. This disease is senescence, and it would make me very happy indeed if people stopped treating it as inevitable and started treating it as a pathological condition that needs curing. I am myself feeling the early onset signs (I'm in my forties) and having to watch the decay of elderly relatives, who I remember from their vigorous middle age, fills me with a sense of helpless anger. (In fact, I'm not sure abolishing senescence shouldn't be in the #1 place, ahead of world peace: at least we have a chance of avoiding war.)

3) I was originally going to put a cure for AIDS and Cancer in at this level — as a bumper-pack, I guess — but I've changed my mind. AIDS and cancer make life a misery for many and kill up to a third of us, but there's some hope that they can be abolished without invoking a magic wand. On the other hand, as a species, we suffer from a dismaying surfeit of, to put it bluntly, misogynistic old sacerdotal bigots. It's not simply a matter of being a member of the clergy; I have no beef with belief itself (although I frequently consider it misplaced, irrational, or just plain silly). Rather, it is with the expression of bigoted religious beliefs that punish or restrict the freedom of others, within a political or cultural framework that provides them with the force or actuality of law. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang raped was subsequently sentenced to be lashed for adultery (yes, I know she was subsequently pardoned; that's not the point); in Africa, lying clergy assert that condoms spread AIDS and preach against their use: in Nicaragua a church-inspired ban on abortion is killing women with ectopic pregnancies: children are witch hunted in Nigeria, homosexuals around the world are routinely preached against and persecuted, as are religious minorities, such as Baha'i in Iran ... the list is endless. It's mostly women who are on the receiving end of this — the "minority" that's a majority, constituting about 51% of the human population — but when you add all the other out-groups up, I'd be surprised if less than two-thirds of humanity aren't suffering direct or indirect privation as a result of religious bigotry. I just want those who preach intolerance and hatred to stop.

4) On a much more limited (but achievable) level, it would be really cool if Airbus would relent and agree to provide technical support for a single aircraft of the type they designated the Airbus 200 to fly again as an experimental/demonstration craft. I believe there may still be a suitable airframe tucked away in a hangar at Filton, and there's nothing quite like the roar of four afterburning Rolls Royce Olympus engines to spice up an air show. Please?

5) On a related retro-futuristic note, please can Nokia see sense and release an identical-sized replacement to the 6310i, updated with the addition of HSDPA (or at least EDGE)? I don't need a camera, GPS, colour screen, multimedia messaging, games, memory cards, mp3 ringtones, or a pocket Transformers bot with guided missile launchers; I just want a human sized mobile telephone that can make and break calls and act as a bluetooth modem for my laptop. The 6310i, which went on sale in the ancient prehistoric depths of 2000AD, marked the climax of the mobile phone as an actual business tool for people who wanted to talk: after it came madness. Much kudos to Apple for trying to throttle the hydra-headed mass of random features that have turned modern mobile phones into badly designed rubbish, but even the iPhone isn't quite there (although I think a 3G iPhone that supported tethering, external bluetooth keyboards, and third-party apps would be very tempting to me). Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science. (Failing that, I'll settle for a Palm Treo that does 3G and/or wifi but doesn't require me to grapple with the crawling horror that is Windows Mobile.)

6) This year's request for a pony is canceled because (a) I live in a city centre, (b) on the third (American: fourth) floor, and (c) I can't ride. It is retained in this list to comply with tradition.

7) Global climate change is clearly a big deal. It doesn't matter whether it's anthropogenic or a consequence of natural variation in insolation — it's going to affect us either way, and the cause only affects us insofar as it might determine some of the things we've got to do to survive it. Similarly, it's fairly clear that we are not, contrary to orthodox Green ideology, going to deal with this by wailing, putting on hair shirts, and going back to being pre-industrial peasant subsistence farmers. Nor are we going to deal with it by reducing our carbon budget. (You want to reduce our species' carbon budget? Get a rifle and shoot someone. You don't get a lower carbon budget than a corpse. NB: please don't suggest this to some of our more excitable politicians who might be worrying about meeting their carbon trading limits in the near future. That would be Bad.) No; dealing with global climate change is going to take big business and big engineering projects. Lots of nuclear reactors, solar power farms, and plants pumping CO2 into the salt domes of evacuated oil and gas fields. All of which means it's going to cost big money, but in turn, it's going to make big profits for the companies that wise up first and realize that mitigating climate change can be a shiny new business proposition. Please, let's stop thinking negative-sum about climate change and start thinking positive-sum? Capitalism will clean up its own shit — once it acquires a new set of taste buds and realizes it's delicious.

8) I know you colonial types are going to select a new king-emperor in October 2008. But please, can we have a bit more substance — some of those speeches and interviews are tooth-gratingly vacuous — and a lot less news coverage until there's something worthwhile to pay attention to? Over here, election campaigns last 6-10 weeks; anything longer gets old, fast. Starting a year before the main event is as bad as putting up the Christmas decorations in September. And while I'm on the subject — can you remember to elect a real president next time, with some gravitas and a bit of book-larnin'? I know this one promised a party, but the frat house antics are tiresome.

9) <dick-cheney>I want a USB-powered internet troll zapper. Push the button, apply a brief 50,000 volt electric shock to the troll's genitalia! Zap! (Use it too often, you become a troll. But just once in a while ...)</dick-cheney>

10) Finally, can some rich, beer-drinking Belgian entrepreneur please buy Liefmans Breweries, which were unfortunately declared bankrupt last Friday? It's a cash flow glitch, due to bugs in a new bottling line and scheduled duty payments; the brewery should be long-term viable as a business. (I feel that its continued existence would be a Good Thing for human happiness, if not the well-being of my liver.)

Bottoms up!




In November, actually, not October. Unless you're being cynical, which I can't really disagree with. And I actually am hoping that, yes, we do elect someone different. I'm terrified to the point of nightmares that it's already too late, though.


Merry Christmas Charlie. Regardless of your, or my, beliefs, I wish you the best. (And I'm probably not just saying that so you write some more books.)

I'm with you on pretty much all of those. Except the airplane. I'll take a mini-nuclear plant (Toshiba 4S?) behind the garage instead.


Randy, while I appreciate your reactor, there really is nothing like standing 300 feet from a runway while Concorde rotates in front of you. It's not as loud as a military jet on afterburners, but there's something about a civilian supersonic airliner that makes the futurist in me go all misty-eyed. Impractical and expensive, she is nevertheless sorely missed, and no amount of superjumbos with double beds in first class can make up for that.


US electoral reform. And a do-over of the 2000 election under the new system, please.

Open wireless voice/data networks.

Funding for my research.

Lighting design clients.

...and a pony.


Number nine is a great idea- the trolls who have been looking for every single article about Linux on Digg and writing "Just get a Mac" could do with a good zapping!


High-speed rail along the US West Coast--in a pinch I'd settle for just the Pacific Northwest, as long as it reached Vancouver to the North and Ashland to the South.


For number 9 - maybe somebody could implement this version of xkill
Merry Winter Festival


To nitpick just slightly, the woman wasn't sentenced for being raped. She was sentenced for being in a car with a man who wasn't related to her, which happened just before the rape, and was apparently unconnected. The man was also sentenced, but that's attracted less headlines.

It's still an insane law, but in a different way to how I've seen it portrayed.


Charlie, "wailing, putting on hair shirts, and going back to being pre-industrial peasant subsistence farmers" is not orthodox Green ideology. At most, a tiny minority of deep-green nutters might go for some of it. The rest of us are trying to promote a future in which people can live comfortably without burning the life-support system.

What you said about world peace, bigots, and the US elections.
A nice juicy scandal to bite NuLab in the ass (how many more data cockups will it take?)
For all our MPs to watch the DVD Greenpeace sent them, "The Convenient Solution", and take notes.
A new job; a bus service to Wormingford that doesn't stop at teatime, so I can get to my Aikido class next year; the number of a carpenter who's not too busy to do some work in my loft ... [counts] ... a cure for asthma, and that troll-zapper of which you speak.


Susan, sticking to the "nuclear power is evil" party line strikes me as being fairly deeply embedded in orthodox Green ideology -- and while I understand the origins of their deep suspicion of the nuclear industry, I think it's misplaced. Ditto opposition to genetically modified crops per se (rather than on the basis of specific dubious projects). There's a neo-puritan subtext in a lot of British environmentalism, harking back to the 17th century, and the we-know-what's-best-for-you crowd really annoy me, almost as much as the head-in-the-sand denialists. George Monbiot's periodic perorations against flying, for example or the oft-repeated assertion that we need to consume less. It all depends how you define "consumption"; is buying commercial software not consumption? If it is consumption, how does it damage the environment? (You can make a case for indirect damage, but it's bloody hard to prove direct harm ...)

Greenpeace is a multinational. Like all such, it has a corporate structure and acts in its own perceived interests. Sadly, these don't always align with the real needs of protecting the natural environment.

... I'd be inclined to agree with your desire for a nice juicy NuLab scandal, except that they're still nowhere near the ghastly record of the last Major administration, and if by some mischance they did go there, we'd most probably end up with another bloody Tory government. Been there, done that, didn't like it at all -- even the current Tory Lite isn't bad enough to make me nostalgic for Thatcher or Major. (Although I could grit my teeth and put up with a Conservative government if it took after Edward Heath -- although that's about as likely as the pig I just spotted on final approach into Edinburgh Airport.)

(Mind you, a hung parliament with the Lib Dems in a position of leverage -- that would be interesting. And I'll drink to that!)


Obligatory sercon comment (it's too late in the evening for this): if you go to www.greenpeace.org.uk/solution you can see the argument I'm referring to, which is too long to fit in this margin.
Regarding NuLab, I didn't mean they should lose the next election, given the most likely alternative (some of the people at No2ID are scarily naive about Call Me Dave); I was thinking of being forced to clean up their act. Your hung parliament suggestion, tho ... yeah, I'll drink to that too.
Happy Winter Holiday of your choice! [goes to get drink]


"while I understand the origins of their deep suspicion of the nuclear industry, I think it's misplaced."

Just remember--the Bush administration is pro-nuclear.



Raven: even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Personally, though, I'd rather point to James Lovelock.


Mmm... USB-powered internet troll zapper...

Still want a spammer head exploding button, but can always find a use for a troll zapper.


Yikes! Did you just make a case for getting rid of Africa and the Middle East? j/k...

But seriously, in in regard to #7 I think the ideological climate (sorry) is changing in the first world - even the US. More and more people seem to be operating under the assumption that it's good to reduce emissions, even if their not exactly sure why. That, combined with capitalism & technological progress will do nicely to reduce our impact.

What worries me more are China and India. Moving them out of the 3rd world and into the developed world is an undeniably good thing that will reduce a great deal of human misery. But sheer weight of numbers means that even if their per capita emissions are half that of the best parts of Europe, humanity as a whole will be emitting more and more greenhouse gas each year...


Andrew G, that particular case for getting rid of Africa and the Middle East is only viable if the politicians concerned are so ethically challenged that they're willing to consider methods that Heinrich Himmler would probably have rejected as excessively brutal.

China and India are already discovering the downside to lax environmental regulation. I don't expect their emissions to continue rising along the same arc that ours did, historically: they can leapfrog over some of the most polluting stages in development, and they've got every incentive to do so.


Let me start by saying that I'm not a Christian, nor — to the best of my knowledge — were any of my ancestors...

How does that work out for someone of European descent? Or do you mean your more immediate ancestors?


Minivet: think (a) Jewish, and (b) atheist.


Oh, right. "Jewish" somehow didn't come to my mind, even though I'm more or less the same.


Charlie @ 16:

I doubt China & India will reach per capita levels of North America, or even Europe. But sheer weight of population means that's going to be a lot of carbon. If they both reach the level Europe has now, that will pretty much double the annual greenhouse gas emissions. Even if they go up to 50% of the European level, that will still add another 10 billion tons a year. Any reduction in the developed world will be more than offset by the developing.

So I don't see much hope in reducing global emissions for the next couple generations, without some cheap non polluting power sources and vehicles. I think it would be more fruitful to fine ways to pull carbon and other gasses out of the atmosphere for good.


Great read on Xmas morning gave me a laugh on a day where I am sure there will be a few family arguments. Nice one Charlie thanks.


Regarding #2:

When was the last time you read Kim Stanley Robinsons "Green Mars"?

Almost unlimited life expectancy with the ensuing explosion of population figures and necessarily unequal regime of birthcontrol is anything but a guarantee for world peace. I keep saying that this world can't stand anyone like me (and my ideas) for much more than 100 years. Even though there is a (absolutely) large number of elderly people with a working understanding of the current world, the (relative) majority of over 60 year olds is deeply out of touch with the present.

Btw. when were those four glorious days of peace?

Oh yeah, and next year, could you please add a cure for the common cold (though I am currently not afflicted) along with a commercial fusion reactor on the schedule for the next 50 years?


In regard to religion-related disasters, I have Steve Earle's Jerusalem CD in the van's player and in the title song* he sings "I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school." Well, I'm an atheist in a Christian family and my Sunday School teachers not only tried to teach me to hate, they tried to teach the others to hate me. It isn't just getting religion uninvolved; it's getting the individual damaging religious people uninvolved, and that's a lot harder.

And as to the no-longer-made perfect tool, I have a Kensington Expert Mouse Pro which is actually a four button trackball with a scrollwheel and six additional programmable buttons. It's perfect for me, for example, because my hands shake enough that I can spend a minute trying to double-click. On this, I have one button set to double-click. I push once, it clicks twice. So I've been very careful with this one because they're not made anymore and last night, it occurred to me that I might check eBay every so often and indeed, there was one up last night. It cost $13.50 more than my original one (some guy wanted it too, sorry), but I'm thrilled to have a backup!

*Okay, I've been known to say we should give people 90 days to get out of Jerusalem and then nuke it. Sometimes I mean it.


Liefmans going under is terrible, and very difficult to understand. Their beer is difficult to replace: almost nobody else brews cherry and raspberry beers quite like theirs; all the others are too sweet or too sour. My supplier has told me that it's likely another Belgian brewery will start producing similar beers (packaged in the same way, to try to steal the market) but he hasn't told me who it is going to be. Liefmans were almost unique in making fruit beers based on brown ale rather than lambic brews; the "sweet'n'sour" market is almost completely owned by Timmermans.


I solidly agree with your first three; after that they get more subjective, though as an American myself I share your weariness wih the insanely prolonged electoral process, which seems to get longer every quadrennium. Where does that thing with ectopic pregnancies come from, anyway? I remember reading years ago that the Catholic Church had decided that terminating an ectopic pregnancy was legitimate, because if you didn't the result would still be a dead fetus, plus a dead mother. Have they stopped having those things decided by Jesuit casuists who've been taught to reason systematically (however odd the initial postulates) and started taking their positions from the Bible Belt or something? Sometimes I just want to implant fertilized ova into the abdomens of male preachers and politicians and see what they do. . . .

I just turned 58. I'll take the senescence cure any time it arrives.

I find #7 an admirable rant; it's so rare that one meets a green technophile with a kind word to say for capitalism.

As far as the troll zapper goes, I suppose my analog is the fantasy of having a localized EMP superpower to use on people whose car stereos are so loud that they drown out my television when I'm sitting in my living room. And I'm not a beer drinker, but I saw one of my favorite roleplaying game publishers, Guardians of Order, creators of the superb Big Eyes Small Mouth, fall apart because of cash flow problems incident on seismic shifts between the American and Canadian dollars, so I get where you're coming from.


I'd like to wish for some benign Trojans, that clean out all the spambots on Joe Sixpack's computer, patch the OS and ancilliary programs so they don't get infected this week, and then delete themselves.

Well, it's slightly more likely than Joe getting a clue and learning how to do it himself...


William H Stoddard at #25 - yes, the Catholic church says that abortion for an ectopic pregnancy is OK, as does the law in Nicaragua. But such is the pressure and influence of the anti-abortion lobby in that country that doctors are frightened to do anything that might look like an abortion. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2185811,00.html
Yup, I too would like to see a cure for old age. Personally, I'd like a whole-body transplant. I once tried complaining to the manufacturer about my faulty body, but got told that the warranty ran out after fifty years and it never covered wear and tear anyway. And of course, they have a complete monopoly. It's about time for some healthy market competition!


Susan@9: I am not even comfortable describing myself as green (I've picked eco-realist) because of the antics of groups like Greenpeace - complaining about environmental problems is lucrative for some people, fixing them less so.

Charlie - #7 - It's allways surprised me that certain big companies who'd stand to make a lot of cash off the engineering challenges for that haven't bit.



I'd push your #8 up to 2 on my list; you think you're getting a lot of crap in your media about our election, you ought to see the elephant dung we're getting covered with. Regrettably, I'm not sure that any human beings with working frontal lobes are candidates in this election, and we've got a couple of really terrifying nutters. So a miracle would be welcome.

More of my list:
1. A resurgence of literacy amongst the educated classes. Odds are good that if more people read more we'll have more people who know more, always a good thing.
3. A real space program with real goals that have some chance of getting good science and creating an increased industrial and commercial presence in LEO and GEO at least.
4. A "Management Science" curriculum at major universities that replaces the "Harvard MBA" with graduates who understand positive-sum business and trade strategies and why they're good business.
5. Reduction of the legal status of corporations from "individual human" to "domesticated animal", with the Chairman of the Board as responsible handler.


charlie @16: "China and India are already discovering the downside to lax environmental regulation. I don't expect their emissions to continue rising along the same arc that ours did, historically: they can leapfrog over some of the most polluting stages in development, and they've got every incentive to do so."

Whilst China in particular is suffering from local pollution in the broadest sense (and affecting others too), it is not clear to me what their incentives are to reduce CO2 emissions or how they may do it. They may clean up their production but still end up emitting an awful lot of CO2, more than the OECD countries can compensate for with zero emissions.

As for longevity, absolutely. I assume you have read deGrey's ideas - maybe we will get some serious research in how to extend lives. Be great to tell the little-uns, "Now when I was a lad, over a 1000 years ago, we...."


Bruce, your #5 is winning as a replacement for my #6, and tradition be damned.


Taking an extreme legalistic view, WW2 did not end until September 12th 1990, when the peace treaty was signed. Well, that was when the German Governments formally accepted the post-war changes of borders, and the Four Powers renounced the rights they held as occupying powers.

Which means that Confiction was the last Worldcon of WW2.


Regarding the prolonged electoral process for Presidential elections in the US (no other elections are this long), I think there are a couple reasons.

One is that there are elections to select delegates from each state to attend each party's convention in the summer before the election. The actual campaign between the two main candidates is only about 8 weeks long -- the Democrats at the end of August and the Republicans at the beginning of September.

So what you're seeing now is really intra-party politics as candidates compete within the parties for the nomination, a process that's now several times longer than the actual competition between parties.

This is due in a large part to the perceived influence of early primaries on the media and thus other primaries. Common wisdom is that if you win the first couple primaries, you can surge to win the others. As a result, unimportant states like Iowa and New Hampshire receive way more attention from candidates than they should.

Naturally those states like it that way, and other states that should matter but don't -- like Florida -- are upset.
Since in the US the national parties don't have total control over the state parties, the state legislatures in some states began moving their primaries to happen sooner and sooner. Which caused states like Iowa and New Hampshire to do the same.

The national parties can't stop them, so they've resorted to punishing the states by cutting their delegates in half -- or in the case of Florida, refusing to seat their delegates at the Democratic Convention. I'm not entirely clear on the legality of that, so in a close primary you could see a big fight over delegate credentials at the conventions, and possibly even lawsuits running up to the election.

In other words, this election could be an even bigger mess than 2000...


Your blithe assertion that "capitalism will clean up its own shit" seems uncharacteristically woolly compared to the hardnosed realism of the rest of this post. Exactly what in the history of capitalism should lead us to believe that it will suddenly develop an ability, never before seen, to "clean up its own shit"? Without governmental bailouts, spending programs, arranged oligopolies, protection deals, and all the rest of it? Left to itself, capitalism doesn't "clean up its own shit," it chokes to death in it.


I'm intrigued by this idea of senescence being something specific to mammals. Do reptiles and fish have natural lifespans?

It might be possible to elminiate or vastly reduce senescence while not affeting lifespan. People would continue to live 70-100 years, they'd just remain healthy and vital until they fell over dead.

You can imagine a future were a gorgeous young beach bunny (of either gender) is performing her morning ablutions and finds a grey hair. She calls her lawyer to update her will -- because she's actually 85 years old, and knows she will be dead of old age within six months.


You mean WWII is over?

Has anyone told the Russians and Japanese? As with #32, they haven't accepted the treaties and borders, because of Sakhalin. Hence the awkward formal dances at treaty ceremonies such as Kyoto where they pretend not to recognise each other ...


Patrick @34

In my hometown, Hamilton, the steel mills pumped out pollution through their smokestacks for years. Then in the 60' with public and government pressure they started filtering their smokestacks, and made a profit.

They found a place to sell the sulfuric acid and recovered trace metals.

This example means they now look for ways to make money off their garbage. If someone provides a way to collect the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere they will find a market for it.

I'm sure someone is already looking at processes that use carbon, maybe steel making, and figuring out ways to use whatever CO2 they suck out of the smoke stack in their business.


Brian @37

I agree with you, there are no doubt plenty of organisations who will clear up their rubbish and find they can make money from it.
I'm also sure that once the price of any particular resource reaches a high enough level, it'll become a worthwhile investment to mine landfills for it. After all a lot of what we now throw away could be recycled but isn't. No doubt someone will make a killing from it once it starts to become scarce.


If I had one wish that I could wish this holiday season, it would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.

If I had two wishes that I could wish for this holiday season, the first would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing in the spirit of harmony and peace... and the second would be for $30 million a month to be given to me, tax-free in a Swiss bank account.

You know, if I had three wishes that I could make this holiday season, first, of course, would be for all the children to get together and sing... the second would be for the $30 million every month to me... and the third would be for all encompassing power over every living being in the entire universe.

And if I had four wishes that I could make this holiday season, first would be the crap about the kids... second would be for the $30 million... the third would be for all the power... and the fourth would be to set aside one month each year for an extended 31-day orgasm, to be brought about slowly by Rosanna Arquette and that model Paulina somebody, I can't think of her name, of course my lovely wife could come, too. She's behind me 100% on this, I guarantee you.

Wait a minute, maybe that sex thing should be the first wish! So, if I made that the first wish, because, you know, it could all go boom tomorrow, and then what have you got? No, no... the kids singing would be great, that would be nice. No, no, who am I kidding! I mean, theyu're not gonna be able to get all those kids together! I mean, the logistics of the thing is impossible! It's more trouble than it's worth! So, we reorganize: here we go. First, the sex - we go with that; second, the money. No! We go with the power second, then the money, and then the kids. Oh, wait, oh geez! I forgot about revenge against my enemies! Okay... revenge against all my enemies, they should die like pigs in Hell! That would be the fourth wish! And of course, my fifth wish would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing in the spirit of peace and harmony.

--Steve Martin


Left to itself, capitalism doesn't "clean up its own shit," it chokes to death in it.

Actually, when I studied business law, quite a few years back, the chapter on nuisance suits mentioned that back in the 19th century, there were lawsuits filed against West Virginia mine owners because the mine effluents were polluting the streams. Then the legislature stepped in and prohibited them, on the ground that industrial development served the common good of the people of the state, and the selfish interest of individual property owners in having clean water on their land had to give way.

"Capitalism" may be an equivocal term here: does it mean a system based on individual property rights, voluntary exchange, and common law remedies for wrongs, or does it mean a system that favors large industrial firms? In this case the two were opposed. But in the same way that libertarians now tend to decry the seizure of private property by eminent domain for transfer to big corporate developments as "socialistic," I think that 19th-century decision could be called a classic example of socialistic methods in the service of big industry.


Patrick, apropos #34, where there's a cost structure in place to make cleaning up shit profitable, shit gets cleaned up. Of course, this is utterly inimical to the oft-bleated laissez-faire ideal of a "free" market, but markets aren't free, and if we build the incentives, stuff usually gets done ...

... And once an industry exists that profits from cleaning shit up, it will start lobbying for more business, just like the old smokestack industries. At least, that's my hope. Pork-barrel politics and biased markets don't have to favour only the smoke-stack polluters.

(See also the solar power industry in Germany. Today they're the world leader in installing photovoltaic power stations, because of some cute tax breaks. In future? I suspect they're growing an export industry.)

William Stoddard #40: you say that like you think socialism is a bad idea.


Wrt #8, especially your closing request for a Priest-King President who isn't a raving madman...

Well, as you are a writer, I have good news...

... but as you are also a citizen of the world, I have some bad news as well.


Favorite joke:

Friend 1: Can I have a pony?

Friend 2: Okay, but we'll have to freeze most of it.


Through a long and indirect chain of thought...

What would really happen if the TARDIS materialised in the Oval Office.

It's a special case of UFO landing, and the first step would be the Secret Service hurling Bush and Cheney onto helicopters and preparing to sell their lives dearly. But what's the next step? Who has the heavy firepoower to hand? Marines, or Army?


Charlie @ #41: "... And once an industry exists that profits from cleaning shit up, it will start lobbying for more business, just like the old smokestack industries. At least, that's my hope. Pork-barrel politics and biased markets don't have to favour only the smoke-stack polluters."

Note that unless you're careful to penalize whoever is dumping the shit, the shit-cleaning businesses will also lobby for more shit to be dumped. And even if you do take that care, the shit-cleaning businesses might lobby for loosening the shit-dumping regulations.

That's the situation the US is in WRT the prison-industrial complex donating to the campaigns of 'tough on crime' candidates, BTW.

Not that I disagree with your fundamental point, it's just that making capitalist markets internalize these negative externalities isn't necessarily straightforward or without unintended consequences, and requires vigilance by The People (vigilance being a scarce commodity these days).

BTW, have you played 'Climate Challenge'?:


Favorite politcal slogan:

TANSTAAFM: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Market.


I'm sure some of the colonialists could choose to elect a pony as god-emperor. It should have more gravitas than the incumbent and you can read about it everyday without having to deal with its mess in your apartment.


Santa Stross says: [Ho, ho ho!] "(You want to reduce our species' carbon budget? Get a rifle and shoot someone. You don't get a lower carbon budget than a corpse."

And a Happy Christmass to you all. Thank goodness I'm in America, where I got a bright new hand gun from Santa! Yo, dawgs, it's a Detroit special, and comes with gps AND a hit list (we all get guns from Santa, don't you know). Oh gosh it's pretty. Now, to go out and spread the cheer!

Really, C.S. you crack me up. How about we just say that NOT having children might be a good idea, at least for a while. Where's Al Gore when you need him to talk about population control?

Happy Boxing day!


Jeff: the problem with not having children is that you get old and need nursing home staff, dammit. Also, it's deflationary. (Look what happens to the housing market, for starters.)

Dammit, where's my hearing aid? And my walking stick? Nurse? Nurse!


By and large, people in the developed world *aren't* having children. Only the US is at replacement level, and that's due to Hispanics. Without the higher birth rate of the Hispanic portion of our population we'd be at the same level as the UK or France.

If you want to reduce population, then you have to look at the developing world -- Africa and India for the most part.

Also, it would seem that improving the living conditions of people is the best way to reduce fertility -- or being part of the former USSR...


An idea for #8: We should convince all scientists to refocus their priorities and create a cat named Aineko and give it superhuman intelligence. Then we can elect Aineko as president. The only big drawback is that PETA executives would likely fill the cabinet positions.


Andrew G, I take it you haven't noticed the recent combination of a baby boom and an immigration wave that's putting pressure on the UK's housing density, then?


Charlie, I've read about immigration but not about a baby boom. Are there any articles you know of that I could read up about it in?


Andrew G: start here. (Or just google on "Britain Baby Boom" and weed out the online baby accessory stores.)


Next Xmas: Sphynx.

That's 3 words in a row with an X.

Yesterday was, to the atheistic moeity, Isaac Newton's Birthday. Today being Boxing Day, while disposing of wrapping paper and ribbons, and appreciating the dozen used scholarly hardcovers from my wife (4 about Nabokov, 5 about Pasternak, one about Mayakovsky, with a bonus story collection by Nancy Huddleston Packer) I noticed the debate at slashot, prompted by a BBC story

Egypt is working on legislation to extend copyright well above 3000 years — they are going to start claiming royalties for using likenesses of the Sphynx and the Pyramids.

WTF? I'm not sure what to think about this. Except maybe that copyright violators are cursed, enforced by being pursued by the kind of mummy that chased Abbott & Costello?


Charlie @ 54:
Thanks Charlie -- it seems like UK demographics are very similar to that of the US then. Native-born white Americans have a birth rate similar to native-born British, and our immigrant birth rate (excluding East Asians) is close to those of immigrants the the UK. The trend toward having children later in life has also been happening in the US, with the Northeast leading the way.

The main differences would seem be our large immigrant population, and African Americans -- who have a fertility rate slightly above replacement.

The common cultural connections of the Anglosphere would seem to have a big influence on birth rates.

Speaking as someone about to turn 30 and looking to start a family, I can understand why people would want to delay childbirth. It's expensive, especially if you want to maintain a certain level of comfort and be able to provide a good childhood for your children. Still a good deal of social pressure to have children though.


A.G. said: "It's expensive, especially if you want to maintain a certain level of comfort and be able to provide a good childhood for your children. Still a good deal of social pressure to have children though."

Sure is. Even for me. And I'm a guy without a wife. My mom says it's selfish of me not to adopt, or hire a womb. I --should-- have children. I, on the other hand, think I should get a tax credit. I should get a carbon credit too! I'm going to go burn something to celebrate not having any children.


"Dammit, where's my hearing aid? And my walking stick? Nurse? Nurse"

I just finished Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. I think I'm a little behind in my reading. If you buy into this future we might be able to avoid old age horrors. We could all just grow up and become transhumans. I can't want to fix some of my genes!


Bruce Cohen, only TWO nutters in the race for replacing the current occupant? I tried and tried to pare the list down to only two. . .


Bless you for 4). I always thought the Rolls Royce Olympus was our generation's Roll's Royce Merlin. Concorde very very occasionally flew over us en route to somewhere, and there wasn't another sound like it. It'd be nice to hear it again, even if it was just the once.
Compliments of the season.


Dave Bell @44, the TARDIS should materialize right on Cheny and Bush and just take care of it.

Charlie @49, there's a theory that you have to take care of your children from little babies to get them to take care of you when you're doddering. But these days, a lot of kids still stick their parents in the nursing home, so I'm not convinced the theory is still valid.


My mom says it's selfish of me not to adopt, or hire a womb. I --should-- have children.

I think parents are kind of programmed to push for grandchildren - see various evpsych bolleaux, evolution of menopause etc. They can't really say "our work here is done" with sincerity until you've dropped sprog, and people who decide not to are likely to have to put up with a certain air of disappointment.


Whats wrong with a bit of deflation now and then? Surely its only a problem if you expect a messed up unfree market to take care of it all...

Charlie- cheap cracks at Mobiots suggestion that we fly less and use less energy aside, he has written a book called "Heat", that promotes the use of modern technology as much as possible, (except for nuclear power stations) to reduce Co2 output and incidentaly provide for a more equitable society*. Because if we try and deal with carbo emissions the way things are just now, it'll be the poor (ie the majority) who suffer most, whilst the rich swan about the place as per the 19th century.

*and as far as I can see there are no gaping holes in his reasoning and figuring. At least people need to think about alternatives properly, not just get hung up on building huge power stations without knowing what to do with the waste, and pumping CO2 into places it may or may not stay in for centuries. (Not to mention that it takes energy to do so) Why, he even suggests large solar farms in the Sahara attached to long distance DC cables running up into Europe, and a europe wide DC cable network transferring power where necessary.


Bruce Cohen, only TWO nutters in the race for replacing the current occupant?

I'm not sure the Republicans are totally serious about this one, they may figure that Bush has screwed the pooch bow-legged and crosseyed for them and it's time for a bit of the rigours of opposition, despite the career hiatuses, pain of being further away from the trough etc.


The main incentive the Chinese and Indians have to reduce carbon emissions is the same one that the Americans have: most of them live near the coast, and a rise in sea level would be a disaster for their country. There are other reasons why climate change would be a disaster, but that's a pretty good start.

The main reason the Chinese and Indians might resist steps to reduce climate change is, again, the same one the Americans have: the worst of the disaster probably won't happen for decades, so today's leaders can hope that if they close their eyes and pretend not to see the problem it might go away.


Jackie L. @ 59

Only 2 "terrifying nutters". That'd be Ron ("Gold Standard on Mars") Paul, who seems to have convinced everybody he's a cap-L Libertarian rather than a Paranoid Schizophrenic, and Rudy Guliani, whose major mental problem is delusions of adequacy. Of course, I'm only counting candidates with a snowball's chance in Hell of being elected, which eliminates a lot of real nutters (at least two announced candidates are named "God something-or-other"). I would have said 3 terrifying nutters, but Tancredo dropped out of the race.

Yes, Romney and Huckabee, to name two of many, are to be feared for their political positions, but Romney for sure is just a corrupt, opportunistic politician, who's in it for what he can get. Huckabee may be a nutter (any follower of Unintelligent Design is a nutter in my book), but I suspect he's incapable of being elected and actually wielding power without a puppet-master like Cheney standing behind him.


But these days, a lot of kids still stick their parents in the nursing home, so I'm not convinced the theory is still valid.

Philip Longman is occasionally interesting on this, though he is guilty of predicting Republican majorities until forever on demographic grounds (and not sounding particularly unhappy about it).


That'd be Ron ("Gold Standard on Mars") Paul, who seems to have convinced everybody he's a cap-L Libertarian rather than a Paranoid Schizophrenic

I did read the stuff about him on Making Light, but it's still difficult not to like what he's said about Iraq. Maybe one of those distance-lends-enchantment things.


Jeff @ 58

Kurzweil likes to talk about a carefully-researched, strictly logical extrapolation of known trends to get his predictions, but if you look carefully, there are a number of steps in his chain of logic which read "and then a miracle occurs", for values of "miracle" which include "totally unpredictable breakthrough from known science and technology" and "we don't even know if this idea makes enough sense to be wrong". He may even be right, but it's not the dead certainty he likes to portray.

As a kind of smell test, it's interesting to compare Kurzweil's arguments to those of Frank Tipler, who pioneered the physics of eschatology. They're not at the same level of wierd in my opinion, but their logic is in both cases full of wishful thinking.


I only put 5 items on my list originally, so I'm calling in my option for some more:

6. I wish for some real journalists in the public media, people with integrity, the ability to do research beyond the press releases they're handed, and the intelligence and determination not to fall asleep when statistics are mentioned.

7. How about just one (I'm not greedy) producer in Hollywood who understands what science fiction is about and how to make a movie in the genre without an 18 minute-long car chase through the holes in the plot.

8. Charlie's been such a good sport in this thread that I'll wish for him to get his pony, so he won't have to use up a wish on it.


Tancredo is stepping down as "my" representative, thank the powers. (I never voted for him, hate monger that he is). Still it's embarrassing that he supposedly represents my district.

As a woman, let me say that doing the whole childbirth thing after forty is insanity. I know, I did it.

Too bad Charlie can't see the Verizon commercial about the teen-aged girl who actually got a pony for Christmas. It's eating the doghouse. "Does it bite?" "Yeah."


Ron Paul has a number of non-mainstream positions, though a lot of the ones that people point at as dangerous or kooky were pretty standard conservative positions in the 80s or earlier.

Is basic position on everything is to shrink the federal government and let state governments assume responsibility. This is now an unpopular position with the leadership of the GOP who have discovered the joys of big government under their control...

And he takes positions that are pretty sensible but step on toes. For instance, he's lately been getting in trouble for saying that Lincoln was wrong to fight the Civil War even if it ended slavery. Pointing out all the other countries that didn't have to kill 600,000 people to do it makes him dangerously out of touch, apparently.


China's leadership has another reason to resist immediate action: the expectations of the 80% of the population that still live in rural villages, but who know the lifestyle they are missing. And history shows that dynasty changes are preceded by peasant revolts…

When I talk about climate change with my friends in China, they always point out that despite the pollution they have a smaller individual footprint than Westerners, and that it isn't fair to expect them to remain poor so that we can stay rich. Given that my own government is all for helping the environment as long as it doesn't impede the economy, all I can do is point out that I consider Harper as one of the worst Prime Ministers we've had in my lifetime…


The funny thing is that the horrible old US, held up as the standard for non-eco thinking, is actually doing pretty good in starting to roll back energy use - mostly due to advances in tech that people worked on to make a buck, not due to government mandates (we're doing better than most of the big industrialized countries in that regard).

A whole lot of energy and resource-saving tech is coming about, not due to government mandates, but because people can now save money while doing so (up until recent years, most of the "save energy" movements came with either massively higher bills for equipment, or time/labor wasting schemes that didn't work too well).

There's some other things that get ignored, too, like the world's largest solar power station - in California (the much-bragged-about German installations are photovoltaic, while the biggest US ones are solar thermal plants several times larger - the biggest one generates more power than ALL of the "big" German PV plants put together, and there are much bigger ones in the works).

The good news is that all of that tech we've been designing and buying for the last half-century or so is hitting the "cheap enough and good enough" range, where even people in poor countries can afford it - and it uses much less energy and resources than all of the intermediate steps they'd need to take to become "rich" in a current-US fashion.



I love it when politicians who love to talk about the evils of Big Government come out as pro-nuclear power.


what I've always wondered (as a non-native speaker): What the hell is a "hair shirt" supposed to be? The term always comes up in anglo-american discussions about greens. So it must be something about the greens you get up there/over there. But somehow I can't imagine what it is supposed to be.


Michael: a hair shirt is an undergarment worn by religious nutters who're into mortification of the flesh -- in this case, because it itches. Not terribly fashionable in the past several centuries, but it has moved into the vernacular to denote policies that are intended to cause discomfort rather than achieve concrete results.


Whereas the policies promoted by the likes of Monbiot will achieve concrete results with hardly any itching! What is there not to like?


Bruce C.@69: "...but their logic is in both cases full of wishful thinking."

I'm sure it is wishful thinking, and that's probably why he does well talking about it. He's in Detroit in May so I'll probably go see him. I figure I should believe in some sort of future, so the one that looks the best, and is somewhat reasonable, is the one that works for me. Is it realistic to expect so much positive evolution resulting from our technology? Probably not, but Kurzweil seems to make an effort to present the negitive stuff also. I think there are many, many, many examples of people believing in something crazy before it can become fact. Like most of what we call science today. I'm going to go outside now and use my new dark matter net to catch some dark matter butterflies.


Guthrie @78: I don't know about your "hardly any itching" -- Monbiot's policies would severely impact my lifestyle. My 170-odd-year-old flat is essentially impossible to upgrade to meet the energy efficiency standards he wants to make compulsory; we've already done the easy stuff like switching to low-energy light bulbs, but the cost of fitting additional insulation, fixing the drafty gaps, and replacing all the Georgian sash windows with high-efficiency double glazed units would be prohibitive. Also, we have a national housing shortage but I occupy rather more space than is strictly essential, even when you add office space to my allocation. I drive relatively little and try to optimize my driving for fuel efficiency -- he'd approve -- but make up for it by flying 30-60,000 miles a year. I have a bad spurious consumption habit -- shiny gizmos -- and I eat meat, which is about as bad for the environment as that heavy air travel habit.

Note that this is not a denial of the fact that change is desirable; but it's hardly cost-free.


But parts like the insulation costs can be socialised, and I'm pretty sure he was talking about new builds getting the worst right now, upgrading your flat can be done over time.
Spurious consumption habit, there sn't much we can do about that I'm afraid.
The meat eating I think can be dealt with, and I know part of your job as a jet setting author is to travel and meet the fans, but is it [I]that [/I] necessary?


Sorry Charlie, I supose I'm being a bit more optimistic than necessary. It's just I remember what things were like when I was growing up, and in some ways they are better, and in others there is little real difference, such that the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce my carbon footprint would be just that, changes, but not steps backwards the way others seem to see them. I'll be getting better insulation in my flat next year, and have decided in the next 3 or 4years i need to move closer to work or get a job that is closer to me in terms of efficient commuting, since that is my biggest use of fuel.
(I already use clothes until they wear our, and much of my furniture is 2nd hand, and I try and buy more local food in season)


The thing that drives me quite mad about environmental discussions is that everyone talks about single interfaces, rather than "close the loop".

It doesn't matter how much carbon gets emitted; what matters is the distribution of the net change in atmospheric carbon load.

Same with water; everything treats the system as open, and it's not.

And yes, this takes government intervention, probably fairly drastic government intervention. It might take heads on stakes.

But it's not a major technological challenge; a challenge of social organization of the first order, certainly, but the idea that the only possible way to have a prosperous economy with respect for the rights of the individual is by looting and raping virgin continents is one of those lamentable misconceptions.


Andrew @72: If you will review the events of the civil war, you will find that the South seceded quite a bit before Lincoln abolished slavery. In fact, you will find that Lincoln had neither the intention nor the political capital to abolish slavery during his term. Rather, the South seceded on the threat that the Republicans would weaken slavery.

In other words, Ron Paul is as out of touch about the Civil War as he is on, well, almost everything else. My personal favorite is the criminal propensity of black males, followed by the gold standard.

I hate to say it, but when you write, "A lot of the ones that people point at as dangerous or kooky were pretty standard conservative positions in the 80s or earlier," you're just plain wrong.

Unless you meant "earlier" to mean 1913. Could be.


Andrew #50: Actually the undeveloped countries have also experienced a significant drop in birth rates. Most Muslim countries have lower TFRs than France (who, like Britain, is experiencing a baby boom).

So America won't be swamped by hard working, family oriented, Hispanics (Mexico's birth rate has fallen like a rock). Nor will Europe be over run by Muslims (only SA is significantly above replacement level, Iran and the Maghreb have negative demographics).

However, certain countries probably are hopeless. Demographically Russia has almost flat-lined. So don't worry about Putin's saber rattling. Demographically his nation is one huge Potemkin village.

And Japan looks like it will grow old and be swamped/overrun by......robots.


Noel @ 84: I don't really want to hijack the thread with 19th century US politics. So to be brief, you're right that Ron Paul has drastically over simplified, but 90% of Americans probably think the Civil War started because Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery. Slavery was the single largest issue in American politics in the first half of the 19th century (and one of the reasons the US doesn't cover the whole of North America and more).

The tension that led to the Civil War had been building since at least 1850, and Lincoln was the spark that set it off. To a large extent, it was the fault of the South -- the split between the Northern and Southern Democrats allow Lincoln to win with on 39% of the vote. And Lincoln was a well known abolitionist who the South could not trust not to abolish slavery despite what he might say in the campaign. A more prudent approach for Lincoln would have been to try and reconcile with South Carolina, and address their grievances. Slavery would have lasted a bit longer, possibly to the 1870s, but it would have avoided the Civil War and 600,000 dead. World opinion was against the South.

From an Alternate History perspective, however, probably the best chance to abolish slavery and avoid the Civil War was if the Nat Turner Rebellion hadn't happened. Prior to the Rebellion, Virginia was moving toward compensated abolition. This was before the cotton industry took over the South, and most slaves were used in tobacco and wheat plantations which were becoming unprofitable.

The Rebellion polarized public fears and sentiment against abolition in the slave states, and stopped any chance of an early emancipation.


Charlie@80: I'm also a meat eater. The large-scale production of reasonably priced (and delicious) lab-grown meat would greatly reduce environmental damage associated with livestock, but this will require a significant increase in R&D from current levels to achieve a positive result in the near future.


cirby @ 74

The problem with the US today is that we have a government which is actively working against energy-saving policies and technology, even to the extent of waving a fake "hydrogen economy" coming Real Soon Now in our faces to distract us. I think in the long run the US will be an important part of the solution, as soon as enough of us can see past the BS we've been handed in the name of "free market capitalism" which is actually oligarchic supremacy, and start doing what we do well: innovation. In the meantime, not so much.


Hard to argue with anything on the list. Except maybe the pony, those things bite. I will say that #8 is near and dear to my heart, as the US election season seems to get longer and provides less actual intelligent conversation every time it comes around. Every four (two, really, with Congressional elections) years I move more toward a belief that we'd be much better off with a moratorium on all campaign spending, no primaries, and a variable date announced only 6 weeks ahead of time. But that wouldn't suit the two big parties, so it'll never happen.


Andrew@86: I agree that there's no need to hijack the thread with long debates about whether Virginia was in fact moving towards compensated abolition in 1831. (You can guess that I think you've got to do a lot of selective staring at the evidence to make that conclusion.) I would just like to point out that your conclusion about the effect of slavery on the boundaries of the United States is incorrect. Had slavery been abolished earlier, the U.S. of A. would cover rather less land area.

Why is left as an exercise for the reader.


Sorry, Andrew@86, I can't quite let this one go. Lincoln should have tried to "reconcile with South Carolina, and address their grievances"?

That would be different from what he did, how, exactly?

Andrew, that line is almost Ron Paullian in its goofiness.


Noel, the peace negotiations took place before Lincoln assumed the Presidency. He was very uncooperative with the Southerners. Now, the South did attack Ft. Sumter first, but Lincolns response of an invasion with 75,000 men was what triggered the succession of the rest of the CSA and started the actual war.

As for the size of an Alternate US where slavery ended early, that's somewhat conjecture on my part. As I see it, the US had an expansionist drive regardless of slavery. The main argument was whether or not the new territories should be free or slave rather than whether or not the US should expand in the first place. The South moved to block Northern expansion where possible, and the North moved to block Southern expansion. Without that, it's quite probable that the US would have taken Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean early, as well as Central America, and parts or all of Canada and Mexico. The US may have also taken part in the Scramble for Africa or set up more Liberia like colonies for the freed black population in the 1830s or 40s.


Make that "three terrifying nutters". I take back what I said about Huckabee. Fried squirrel? Yuck!


Charlie@77: Ah many thanks, one more discussion-item understood. Although it really seems you folks get some rather different greens than the ones I know. But then from what I have heard also over continental Europe, the various Green parties vary quite a bit, mostly due to their history of how they were founded. (the ones where I actually know both and have an insight into what caused them to appear are Germany and Austria. The German Greens go back mostly to '68 and all that, whereas the Austrian Greens, who are headed by an economy-Professor, had their real birth-hour in two big protest movements, both of them against power-stations (one nuclear, one hydro). The Austrian Greens are very much a party of well-off university-educated city-dwellers and won most of their voters over from conservative parties. Definitely no hair shirts there.)


Andrew G: Enough with re-hashing the colonial rubbish, already. You can find any number of American blogs that take that particular bean-fight seriously; this isn't the right place for it. (If you want to talk about civil wars, we had a much more important one a couple of hundred years before you. Hint: without it, there wouldn't even have been a United States. But I'm not convinced you've even heard of it.)


Simon De Montfort's troubles with Henry III were more important than the US Civil War?!?

Just kidding. You're definitely right about the Civil wars of the 1640s-- very important to the development of Britain, Europe and the world.


Charlie, there's no bean fight, as you know; that would imply that Andrew has some real basis for his opinions.

Something I've noticed about science fiction fans is that they have a tendency to think that they know a lot more than they do. Topic doesn't seem to matter, could be science, history, foreign cultures, whatever.

Is this observer bias coming from a former fan --- I just lost interest in most of it about ten years ago, maybe a little longer --- or have you also noticed the tendency?

Anyway, I wished for a pony this Christmas. And while I don't think I'd enjoy absolute power, that $30 million a month sounds good. Happy New Year, Charlie!


Charlie @ 95: Sorry about that, discussing history & alternate history is one of the things I can't resist. I'd actually love it if you had a post to discuss the English Civil War, though I'm less knowledgeable about it unfortunately. A lot of what I know about it is in relation to its effects on New England and Virginia.

And you're right, it probably has a much large effect on world history than the American Civil War (which wasn't even a proper civil war, really). The main outcome of the Civil War is that the US is poorer than it otherwise would have been, and a couple million people never got born because their potential ancestors died in the war. Without the English Civil War, or with a different outcome the entire world might be ruled by Absolutist Monarchies.


Noel, I wasn't accusing you of starting a bean fight.


1. Lots of researchers are looking at the senescence problem. The fundamental goal of modern medicine is to compress senescence, so we're in good shape until everything goes all at once. If you wish to end senescence, please also wish for a warp drive. If you're inclined to reason, ask for more spending on Alzheimer's research (though now we're spending so much that it's not clear if there's capacity to use more spending).

2. Capitalism will clean up its own shit? Cough. Please explain, using the language of standard economics, why market forces will spontaneously resolve the externalities of CO2 emissions. I don't know of any economist who thinks there's a market mechanism that operates in this case. Actions to reduce CO2 emissions, in the absence of a political driver, reduce efficiency. I realize I'm probably attacking one of your fundamental religious beliefs, but the market is not a deity.

3. Humans can't reduce their CO2 footprint? I'd agree, except I skated the length of Montreal's Lachine canal park last summer and saw one person smoking.


In a Montreal park.

I grew up there. If a large number of Montrealers can stop smoking, then humans can do anything. Compared to nicotine withdrawal, CO2 withdrawal is trivial.


John, apropos your point 2, market forces don't spontaneously resolve anything much; but regulated markets are another kettle of fish, and if we act by governmental fiat to create markets for decontamination and waste recycling, these create profit opportunities for businesses, and pretty soon they'll be lobbying for more profit opportunities. Pardon me if this is a bit too cynical for you, but I'm not a doctrinaire free marketeer; in fact, I don't believe free markets exist (or are desirable).


51: An idea for #8: We should convince all scientists to refocus their priorities and create a cat named Aineko and give it superhuman intelligence. Then we can elect Aineko as president. The only big drawback is that PETA executives would likely fill the cabinet positions.

I would prefer that the superhuman intelligence be given to a big-headed mouse...


Bruce Cohen @ 93--

Honey, you don't know the half of it. Huckabee is a Baptist minister. The Baptists. You know, the ones that just (maybe 3-4 years ago) apologized for being the main financial support of the KKK for sixty or seventy years or so.

Former President Jimmy Carter officially quit the Baptists when they came out in favor of subjugating all women as a solution for the divorce problem. Seems the divorce rate is the very highest in the Bible belt states. But if women were subservient to their husbands, then they wouldn't divorce them, right?

And since the Baptists can't live without people being p*ssed off at them, they announced that they want to convert all the Jews to Baptist.

(Can you tell that I, like Jimmy Carter, am an ex-Baptist?)

Trust me, you do not want to elect the Ayatollah of Arkansas.


Bruce@93, I've had squirrel stew, I think it'd probably be pretty good fried. I'm not sure I would have tried doing it in a popcorn popper, though.


Don't forget squirrel melts:


re 101.

Wow, as a fan of yours I feel better now. Sorry I was harsh in my comments, I misread your intent.

I very much agree about the power of regulated markets.


Graydon@83 said: "And yes, this takes government intervention, probably fairly drastic government intervention. It might take heads on stakes."

Intervening in government is our democratic right. So, any thoughts on which government ministers we'd like to see staked out first? Sorry, couldn't resist.

I love this blog, and Charlie, thanks for the books. I'll try to pop in more often.


I prefer to discourage the heads-on-stakes approach, especially in government, unless it's absolutely unavoidable.

Putting heads on stakes simultaneously creates a power vacuum at the top, and preferentially selects for risk-takers among the candidates to occupy the vacuum: it deters risk-averse, cautious politicians and provides a tempting prize for gamblers and the extremely ruthless. Which is to say, if you've got a corruption problem, you really don't want to deal with it in a way that tends to replace incompetent machine politicians with psychotic would-be dictators.

(See also Iran, Pakistan, Russia in 1917, Germany in 1933, potentially America in 2009, yadda yadda.)


bruce @88:
"The problem with the US today is that we have a government which is actively working against energy-saving policies and technology, even to the extent of waving a fake "hydrogen economy" coming Real Soon Now in our faces to distract us."

Actually, despite the press releases from the Democrats, that's not really true. The Bushies have pushed back against some Really Dumb Policies from the left, and have supported the "let the market take care of it" view of energy use - which is the model that actually seems to work.

The push for a hydrogen economy is a political move, sure - but it's a move in following the Democratic lead (they've been wanting to support hydrogen for years, and it's an easy political win for Bush to say nice things about it, since most of the promises about it have been made by the opposition without results for a decade or more).

Recent statutory moves - like mandating CFL and outlawing 100 watt incandescent lights - are useless overall, and will mostly come about anyway before the laws actually kick in. The only move that is chancy is the 35 MPG requirement for cars, and there are supposedly some loopholes in that one large enough to drive a couple of Humvees through.

Meanwhile, the "wasteful" Americans are buying large-screen TVs (most of which are more energy efficient than their old sets), CFLs by the crate (from eeeevil Wal-Mart, the first big retailer to sell them in bulk for cheap), and the like... all without The Government forcing them to.


In the more liberal parts of the US, at least, there seems to be a mindset change in regards to the environment. A lot of small things aimed at reducing carbon footprints. I don't think government intervention is the answer, by the time they do anything effective people will have taken care of the problem on their own -- provided that the technology is available and affordable.

In regard to the new milage standards, the 35MPG requirement is for the entire fleet of cars produced by a company. So you can produce SUVs and sports cars that get 15 MPG as long as you're producing enough hybrids and small cars getting 50MPG to average things out.

Which is a good thing for the environmentally conscious. In order to supply the high demand and expensive SUVs they'll have to treat subcompact hybrids as loss leaders. They'll sell the efficient cars at a loss or with no profit in order to sell the more profitable low efficiency cars and trucks while meeting government standards.


Andrew G@105, we usually trapped them and cooked them at the campsite, so no fancy cheesemelts! But I could usually make a decent stew with squirrels, rabbits, clams, mussels, and things we foraged. Now, as soon as my father became an officer (he was one of the last Mustangs), we started vacationing at motels. It was his idea; he was a lot softer than the rest of us.

(I noticed that video skipped the skinning and cleaning.)


Hi Charlie@108,

Thanks for your reply, and the bucket of cold water my (pished) flippant comment undoubtedly demanded. But are you really advocating nosepegs a la Polly Toynbee? As a long-time Labour voter I can't help but be absolutely disgusted by how it turned out when they finally got to power. And hey, even though I'm posting from the beautiful (but bloody freezing, and I'm a smoker) Italian Alps, I mostly live in Bethnal Green and Bow, where as you're probably aware, we elected a bit of a nutter and it didn't do any good whatsoever. I suppose you're right, and I should have learned my lesson. Yet I'm massively frustrated, and I feel we should somehow try to get out of the stultifying local low-energy minimum British politics are in today. I guess I'm wrong to think something needs shaking up, and I'm sure you'll ask me the awful question how we're supposed to proceed, and I'll give you nothing. I despair.

Say hi to Embra for me, I suppose I miss her.


One other thing - in the afterword to The Jennifer Morgue you mentioned someone you identified as the Italian president. Just as a point of information, I think perhaps you were referring to the Prime Minister (not the present one, though he doesn't inspire much confidence either).


> 1. Lots of researchers are looking at the senescence problem. The fundamental goal of modern medicine is to compress senescence, so we're in good shape until everything goes all at once.

As in the Randall Garret story, with the wonderful von Horst - Shea treatment?

I'd prefer something that didn't sacrifice quite so much useful life expectancy as in that story (The Sixteen Keys, which I have somewhere around here), but I like the basic idea.

J Homes.


cirby @ 109

Actually, despite the press releases from the Democrats, that's not really true. The Bushies have pushed back against some Really Dumb Policies from the left, and have supported the "let the market take care of it" view of energy use - which is the model that actually seems to work.

I haven't seen that at all. What I've seen is the Bush administration rolling over for anything the o^Hi^Hl^H energy industry wants from them, from pulling the teeth of the Clean Air Act to opening ANWR to get a pittance in oil. Government subsidy of an oligarchy or cartel is not "letting the market take care of it". Nor are the continuous attempts to throttle or censor scientists whose work runs counter to the political or religious biases of the administration.


Bruce: I have noticed that both cirby and Andrew G never let the facts get in the way when they find a nice grindsone for the bushel of axes they always carry round.

cirby: I suggest you get a subscription to New Scientist and review their archives for coverage of what the Bush administration has been doing to the environment and the science base of the various government agencies. Clue: it isn't pretty.


Everything I say is either based on fact or personal observation. Though it's very possible I'm wrong about the facts. My sister spent a couple days trying to drive that home over the holidays when we decided to argue about climate change (the effects of which are big part of her research).


...and I've noticed a tendency here for people to not worry about trivial things like "facts" when it gets in the way of bashing the US as a whole, or the President of the US as a person.

New Scientist? Please. How about a source that's not so completely biased? They accept anything from an IPCC press release as gospel, but any time the Bush administration does anything even halfway towards their agenda, they immediately say he was "pressured" into doing it by someone else.

They have some good coverage of some subjects, but they had a sad tendency to get fooled by fast-talking pseudoscientists. Remember the "Em-drive" fiasco? They still haven't admitted they were scammed on that one. Read Greg Egan's "A Plea to Save New Scientist" for a bit of background you seem to have missed...



I hadn't missed the Egan piece, or the fact that they're often wrong: but as an online news source they're fairly good at getting word of new developments out.

Your assumption of bias is incorrect, insofar as they reflect centrist opinion outside the USA. Hint: outside of his homeland, nobody thinks much of Idiot Son or his minions. Given a choice between good and evil, he can be relied on to choose evil. You'll just have to live with it.



The most recent poll figures I've seen (Fox news, 12/18/07) show that 36% favor Bush' overall performance, and 57% think he's not doing a good job overall. That's not a majority in favor of him by any arithmetic I recognize. Maybe, just maybe, we're not as stupid as we seemed when he was elected.


Charlie, c'mon! Don't be like Cirby and Andrew G., now.

George Bush will not choose evil if evil is bad for the Republican Party's wealthiest supporters or the GOP's long-term political success. The combination even pushed him into proposing a rather sensible immigration bill, even I'd quibble with the details.

For the same reasons, I called that we would not go to war with Iran a long time before they released the latest NIE.

Doesn't make him a good guy, of course. But he isn't evil. You're thinking of the GOP base. And libertarians. Those people are evil.


Sadly, Bush is fairly moderate by Republican standards. There are others far worse...

There's a chance that the Republican party is undergoing a shift in which faction is in power. For a long time it's been Wall Street and the Religious Right, but there's an upswing of isolationism. Bush angered a lot of people with his immigration policies, even if they weren't enacted. I know a couple people who have left the party over that. We'll have to see what happens in the next 2 months.


George Bush will not choose evil if evil is bad for the Republican Party's wealthiest supporters

I suppose there must be a few isolated occasions when it is, but I can't recall tripping over any recently. I mean, sure, being *caught* up to your elbows in the evil is a PR problem, as is cottaging.


I'm kind of annoyed that the Eisenhower Republicans appear to be extinct (or thriving within the Democrats: take your pick). They were conservative, but mostly sensible (at least, when viewed from this remove). Ditto the old-fashioned Edward Heath/Harold MacMillan one nation Tories in the UK. I'd add the Kinnockite/John Smith centre-left Labour Party to that list, except that its mortal remains are embedded in the reanimated conservative-with-better-PR party that is NuLab like the foetus of an aborted twin.

Ah well. At least one British party leader just gave a policy lead I can enthusiastically agree with.


In regard to the Nokia wish: what about the Nokia Exx and Nokia Nxx series? Symbian is quite ok, and they have (some of them, at least) Wifi and decent phone-ability.


Till, don't get me started on Nokia. (Bought a swanky E90 communicator in August. Hoping to get it back from Nokia in working order any month now ...)


Symbian is quite ok

As a core OS Symbian is pretty good. The problem is the platform applications and UX that get layered on top. Both S60 and UIQ have their foibles.

The other problem is the Operators then layer their often bizzaro UI desires on top of all of it.

Where possible, and if you can afford their prices, buy Smartphones from Expansys then pick the operator separately and avoid the Operator builds. That goes double for Windows Mobile stuff too.


Charlie, when I had to retire on disability and move further out from DC, one of the reasons I moved here because although the council and almost everybody was Republican, they were nice sensible Republicans. Then a guy moved here from the county north with a hatred for immigrants. He got on the council and swayed them and many people into hating immigrants. Now he's a state delegate, where he can't cause much harm, but the city is still being racist.


"You say nucular, I say you're an idiot". Ahem.

Charlie, reducing the number of people around is in no way a guarantee of reducing carbon emissions. There was a paper published in Nature a couple of years ago, which I now irritatingly can't find, comparing the total energy budget of humans and great apes to their fecundity. Both change with body size, of course, so if you work out what size ape would have the (low) average fecundity of a Western human, then you're talking about a gorilla that weighs several tonnes and also has a similar energy budget to a Western human (if you assume that it eats all its energy rather than putting it in a car, etc).

Spooky but true. And it suggests that (sorry) reducing the population is only going to help if we also alter our patterns of energy consumption. I'm not convinced that requires hair-shirt tactics, though.