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Reasons to be Cheerful

Elsewhere on the interwebbytubes, an acquaintance asked, somewhat grumpily, if anything good had happened in the past decade (aside from the iPod).

So I went dumpster-diving in memory lane for things to feel good about ...

Prior to 1988, diagnosis with AIDS was essentially a death sentence.

Between 1988 and 2000, chemotherapy became available that was pretty horrible but made it more or less survivable if you were good at sticking to the treatment regime and had potloads of money (or your healthcare providers did).

Between 2000 and 2010, AIDS somehow turned into a non-fatal-if-treated chronic medical condition, and the drugs got cheap enough that even developing world countries can afford them; and despite the huge epidemic, AIDS is no longer killing more people than tuberculosis or malaria or the other classic hench-plagues of the grim reaper.

I'd call that an improvement. Wouldn't you?

Oh, and we're close to exterminating polio and dracunculiasis (aka guinea worm disease) in the wild. (Two extinctions I won't be shedding any tears over.)

In other news of improvements, both China and India underwent annual economic growth averaging around 10% per year throughout the decade. The sheer scale of it is mind-numbing; it's as if the entire population of the USA and the EU combined had gone from third-world poverty to first-world standards of living. (There are still a lot of dirt-poor peasants left behind in villages, and a lot of economic — never mind political — problems with both India and China's developed urban sectors, but overall, life is vastly better today than it was a decade ago for around a billion people.)

The number of people living in poverty and with unsafe water supplies world-wide today is about the same as it was in 1970. Only difference is, there were 3 billion of us back then and today we're nearer to 7 billion. Upshot: the proportion of us humans on this planet who are living in third world poverty (unable to afford enough food, water, clothing and shelter) has actually been halved.

Africa averaged around 5% growth throughout the decade, too. It's unevenly distributed, and there's still the fallout from the hideous war in the Congo, but: net improvement. And Africa is huge — again, over a billion people have, in many cases, seen a significant improvement in their wealth and health.

Warfare ... we haven't nuked ourselves. It is now two-thirds of a century since an invading army crossed the Rhine, marking the longest period of peace in Europe since the height of the Roman Empire. Despite certain inadvisable excursions in the middle east and central Asia, the absolute number of people living in states in conditions of civil war or external warfare has dropped significantly since the previous decade, which in turn experienced a massive drop after the end of the Cold War (and proxy conflicts fuelled by it). It would be premature to hail an age of world peace, but we do seem to be fighting a lot less.

Our computers are about ten times faster in clock speed than they were circa 2000, but have vastly more (and faster) storage, are cheaper, and are crawling into everything from hotel room doorhandles to automobiles and TVs. My mobile phone today is significantly faster and more powerful — and has a higher resolution display and more storage! — than my PC in 2000. And my broadband today runs roughly 32 times as fast as it did in 2000. (Whether this is good or not is a matter of opinion, but at least it's available if you want it.)

There's been enormous progress in genomics; we're now on the threshold of truly understanding how little we understand. While the anticipated firehose of genome-based treatments hasn't materialized, we now know why it hasn't materialized, and it's possible to start filling in the gaps in the map. Turns out that sequencing the human genome was merely the start. (It's not a blueprint; it's not even an algorithm for generating a human being. Rather, it's like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process. Debug that.) My bet is that we're going to have to wait another decade. Then things are going to start to get very strange in medicine.

Finally? The war on terror seems to be dampening down. While 9/11 was traumatic, for all their chest-beating Al Qaida failed to score a repeat. Even the horrors of the Madrid and London bombings didn't come close. It turns out that organizing major terrorist atrocities on the scale of 9/11 is hard, and folks with the brains and persistence to do so are more likely to pursue their political ends through conventional channels; what we're left with are the idiot clown-car brigade trying to set fire to their underpants or blow up their shoes.

I'm sorry to note that most of the good stuff didn't happen to those of us in the developed world — but the human world is indisputably in better shape overall in 2010 than it was in 2000. And what makes my neighbour happier without damaging me makes my world a better place.

240 Comments

1:

I'm sorry to note that most of the good stuff didn't happen to those of us in the developed world — but the human world is indisputably in better shape overall in 2010 than it was in 2000.

You know, I think I'm happier with your list than I am with the usual lists of 'cool toys' one finds in the papers. We've had more than our share of luck over the last few generations — it's comforting to realize that for the vast majority of people in the world things really are improving.

Thanks for starting out 2011 on a note of hope.

2:

It's not just AIDS and polio, a large number of diseases have become far more treatable. To pick one example, between 1970 and 2010 testicular cancer went from being almost certainly fatal to having a more than 90% recovery rate.

Another very, very good thing that has happened, in part over the past ten years: population growth around the world is dramatically slowing. Former fears of over-population look as though they're simply wrong.

Admittedly, I don't expect any of this to appease pessimists, many of whom seem to have a deep-felt need to believe that the world is getting worse, regardless of the evidence. It's a form of hubris to believe that things are going badly merely because one personally doesn't see solutions to hard problems (e.g., climate change).

3:

"The number of people living in poverty and with unsafe water supplies world-wide today is about the same as it was in 1970. Only difference is, there were 3 billion of us back then and today we're nearer to 7 billion. Upshot: the proportion of us humans on this planet who are living in third world poverty ... has actually been halved."

I want to say this is a good thing, but the way you put it brings out the moral skeptic in me.

Suppose: everyone born on Mars will be happy & rich; everyone born on Venus will be miserable & poor; there's no interplanetary migration; Venusian reproduction is at replacement level; the Martians are experiencing population growth. Is the universe getting better year after year? I find that I can't say.

(I'll omit examples where we do ghastly things to the poor to reduce their numbers.)

4:

I'm not even that sorry that the most dramatic gains went to those near the bottom instead of those near the top. Diminishing returns means that increased prosperity near the bottom does a lot more good than a continued increase near the top. The difference between consuming no electricity and 500 watt-hours per day* is dramatic. The difference between consuming 20000 watt-hours per day and 20500 watt-hours per day is negligible.

I think that renewable energy sources are actually pretty remarkable in that they can provide for electrical consumption comparable to early 20th century North American consumption... without long distance transmission infrastructure, without air pollution, and without recurring utility payments. Plus a watt-hour can do quite a bit more work today than 100 years ago thanks to all sorts of electrical and electronic innovations.

Renewable energy appears relatively expensive and inconvenient in highly industrialized parts of the world, but only because we already have it so good. We turn up our noses at renewables like a man who's indifferent to a free spaghetti dinner because he already eats Beef Wellington daily.

*About what you can get out of 1 square meter of cheap solar panels in a sunny region.

5:

One that hit very close to home for me: the motherfucking miracle of Imanitib. A drug therapy for leukaemia!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imatinib

Even better, my friend who has CML *and* has the mutation that is resistant to Imanitib is now one of the first humans enrolled in trials of a drug that *is* effective, so far, against her cancer.

6:

Also our average life span is getting longer and longer. Another thing is that cars are getting safer. And smoking has reduced, no need to be a second hand smoker, if you do not want. Things are getting better and better, but there are storm clouds gathering, mainly peak of oil. I hope we can solve our energy and climate problem, and then nothing can stop us.... Happy new year to you all...

7:

[ RACIST WANK-FEST DELETED BY MODERATOR. ]

[ Hint: what part of no platform for fascists don't you understand? -- CS. ]

8:

We also found hundreds of exoplanets! For the first time we are seeing beyond our local pond.

9:

#7 (@Sean Strange)

What "Malthusian afflictions"? We are *both* much more numerous and much better off than ever. And this is not a coincidence.

10:

Well Charlie, it's your blog and I respect your intelligence, but I don't really understand your hysterical response. What you call fascism I call a rational understanding of nature, and what you call socialism I call Christianity in disguise. It's so strange how otherwise intelligent people are so afraid to confront their own fears and ideological contradictions.

11:

For Malthusian afflictions, see modern Haiti. This tiny, impoverished island has twice the population of Norway and their birth rates are far higher (and just exploded following the earthquake). They are a net drain on the resources of the first world, and the situation seems be getting worse. This is an obvious disaster, but we are stuck in a narrative that requires us to send aid workers who effectively just guarantee that the problem will be worse next time.

12:

Sean, your ignorance of the historical context of Haiti, and the nature of the political problems that have held that particular island back, is breath-taking. Seriously. Hint: source of cheap labour, saddled with outrageous amounts of debt by their former French imperial owners, corrupt rulers supported by external business interests ... Haiti isn't a basket-case because Haitians are lazy and stupid: it took real malice and hard work to make it that bad.

13:

There is A very,Very Old and BASIC saying that goes far beyond the first decade of this 21st century, and it goes ... Where There is Life Then there is HOPE.


Against all expectations, MAY WE ALL yet have a Happy New Year.

14:

Happy new year, and may 2011 be better than 2010 ...

15:

Apologies for summoning the SS. (Happily, I didn't have to read it.)

I was just trying to say that it is possible that sometimes a crude look at numbers doesn't encourage sufficient sympathy for the worst off.

I tried to keep it safe by sticking to fiction, and avoiding Earth history. Sigh! ;(

16:

I am sorry, Sean, but whatever you think you know about Haiti, it is not an example that can be generalized for humanity as a whole. The simple correlation still holds - there are more of us and we are better off. You can discuss if this means anything (I think it does) but the facts remain as they are.

17:

Yeah, happy new year BTW :-)

18:

Charlie, good to read this entry ... gives me hope that Peter Watts was only partially correct re: comparative pessimism. Here's hoping that 2011 will be sufficiently good that we'll be able to look back on it and evaluate whether it was a good year or not. (Hell, every year which offers that possibility is a pretty good year, innit?)

Happy 2011 to you and yours! *raises glass*

Dare one speculate that you've finished the death-slog of checking the corrections for Rule 34?

19:

Hmm, any improvements in politics during that time period? Seems the best we can do is regimes where those 'in charge' stopped being destructive maniacs. Any positive movements at all?

20:

Awesome post, collecting the state of the world.

>>[The genome is] like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process.

Cool analogy, but the same description can be used for compiled code. :-)

>>I'm sorry to note that most of the good stuff didn't happen to those of us in the developed world

First, don't forget the robotics breakthroughs. Presently mainly used for weapons -- the ultimate technoporn to read about, but irrelevant to our lives -- but there should be life changing products in the next decade.

Second, as others have noted, we should be happy for the world's (ex) poor. (It is fun that the economies started to happen when the 3rd world embraced liberalization.)

(In six months, we will know if Polywell worked. If not, let's hope for General Fusion or Tri Alpha. If all those fail, let's go solar.)

Happy new year!

Btw, should we make bets on what happens to Jyllands-Posten? Probably not, didn't bin Ladin finance his work by betting against the airplane industry on the stock markets? :-)

21:

Agreed, Charlie. Two hundred-plus years worth of malice and hard work in Haïti's case.

And back to those exoplanets: over 500 so far, and we don't know how many more yet to be announced.

22:

They are a net drain on the resources of the first world, and the situation seems be getting worse.

The first world has made a tidy profit out of Haiti. Repayment of the Independence Debt, trade, money siphoned outside the country by corrupt dictators, and 'aid' money spent with first world contractors don't show up on the official 'balance sheet', but they are there.

23:

I don't suppose Dave Griffith is reading here, huh? He'd posted a thing to usenet, back in '97, that was similarly cheerful. (And I just reread it, and the difference between '97 and now is actually rather depressing.)

24:

I assumed that Sean was joking. I haven't been keeping up lately with your blog Charlie. I hope every thing is going well. I enjoyed this post, I had been very negative about things going on here in the U.S.A. Now, at least I can't be too upset. I have no problem with the Indians and the Chinese being better off than they were in the last decade. Still, I am not convinced that the technological advance haven't made most people in the U.S. and the EU better off.

Also, I can't wait to read whatever you put out in the upcoming year.

25:

There's been enormous progress in genomics; we're now on the threshold of truly understanding how little we understand.

That's exactly it. The exegesis of the genomic palimpsest will be going on for a very long time; that's one messed up mess of nucleotides and the epigenetics are complex and super dynamic too. As you say: "the anticipated firehose of genome-based treatments hasn't materialized" as the 0th order model of there being a localized gene defect to disease mapping isn't usually the case.

However there are lots of great WTF discoveries happening right now that are leading to improved models and better, more specific drug targets. My favorite is the discovery of bitter taste receptors in the lungs (http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v16/n11/full/nm.2237.html) from the abstract: "Inhaled bitter tastants decreased airway obstruction in a mouse model of asthma."
My wife takes two inhalers for her asthma attacks, the stronger is super bitter and she always complains how acrid the residue tastes. I wonder if the mechanism of action is primarily bitter taste receptor activation...

26:

This tiny, impoverished island

Haiti isn't even an island sean; it's the less fertile side of the island of Hispaniola, the other (slightly larger) half being taken up by the (slightly prone towards committing acts of genocide against its neihbour) Dominican Republic.

27:

I'll add near grid parity for solar PV power in select places, like California. Finally getting close to getting a lot more relatively clean power. Hopefully wind is getting there in N. Europe.

On the downside, anti-biotic resistant bugs are on the rise and we aren't yet close to having new drugs based on different mechanisms of action, e.g. cell signaling.
Perhaps another decade?

Happy New Year to all!

Looking forward to reading Charlie's 2011 offering[s].

28:

Reasons not to be cheerful:

It is no longer possible to travel in much of the developed world without being strip searched.

Privacy is a dead concept.

The concept of democracy providing a meaningful choice between competing ideological platforms is a dead letter in the US, UK, Canada, and many other places.

Economic standards of living in the west have remained stagnant or declined for the past decade.

Civil liberties, political rights, and press freedom are all in global retreat.

The American coal lobby has successfully blocked any efforts to avoid catastrophic consequences from global warming.

The United States government has become completely dysfunctional for all purposes other than killing foreigners or giving money to rich Americans. As much as the Americans deserve this, it's a problem for the rest of us who are the subjects of American rule.


Billions rising out of poverty in Africa, China and India is nothing to sneeze at, but all seven billion of us walking into a hot world defined by authoritarianism is nothing to smile at either.

29:

> peace in Europe

Nevermind that recent small spot of bother in the Balkans.

30:

Agreed with D. Joe: the nasty, nasty wars during the Yugoslavian dissolution definitely happened in Europe. I'll add to that list the two Chechen wars.

Europe is certainly far more peaceful this past half century or so than it was any prior such period back to Rome. But it's not a lasting peace until 1- there aren't any wars, and 2- that condition lasts.

31:

These are all problems, yes. But they're overwhelmingly in the category of first world problems - and limited to a body politic of roughly 300 million people.

Sure, 300m is a large number - relative to your local neighborhood. Sure, it influences the economies and policies of many outside of its grasp - and disproportionate to its size. But for a still-worryingly large number of people, the issue of authoritarianism was A. still or already in place whilst we current Americans were too busy being self-congratulatory about past successes, and B. an /extremely/ secondary issue to basic sustenance.

It's a matter of /weight/. Loss of privacy, democratic representation and freedom of the press are less weighty issues when most of the species can't afford an internet terminal to lose their privacy to, haven't been able to vote in the last few decades without having to stare down gun barrels anyhow, and can't afford to waste money on newspapers.

The burdens of health and sustenance, on the other hand, are omnipresent weights upon their shoulders. Omnipresent, universal, and unarguably significant. When balancing out whether or not the decade's been worth it, reducing poverty and curing illnesses always outweigh.

32:

sean I don't know where your from and thus what access to news sources you have. As Charlie has eloquently explained Haiti was an appalling mess before the earthquake, leaving them with little resources to deal with the mass damage that befell them, the like of which the united states has never seen.

Would you suggest we should now abandon New Orleans as result of Katrina? Clearly it is filled with people who cannot survive without massive help from aid agencies! For 5 years on whole sections of New Orleans have been left abandoned and little attempt has been made to repair the damage by the government only NGO/Aid agencies have attempted to help at all. From this we can clearly see in microcosm that Americans 'are morally and functionally inferior people ( )p )' unable to manage on their own without massive funding from the outside world - just look at the size of their debts and the constant desire of their republican governments to borrow and spend.

By the way Katrina was an entirely political choice. The Bush US government chose to stop funding repairs to the levies, despite repeated warnings that it would make a Katrina like event ever more likely to happen. The fact that their was no systematic government support for people in New Orleans after the event and that there has been strong political pressure towards resettlement elsewhere of the areas population that was largely POC suggests political machinations that we more often see in Africa performed at the behest of large corporations. There is a strong body of evidence to support this view but this is neither the time or the context to go into it further.

The reality of Haiti, is that we the aid givers have gained in our aid. Most of the aid that is given btw is often tied to the buying of goods from the donor country, it is fact pork barrel funded via Haiti; Just as most of Iraq war is pork for the huge US military industrial complex. But outside this straight pork barrel politics, we are also learning how to manage crisis better, were learning and building new tools that allow us to quickly rebuild infrastructure, tools that were used months later by the US when it was in crisis simply caused by a snowapocalypse that shut down it's ability to care and manage it's population - you know like keeping people alive.

like I said I could go on, but this is just distracting from the positive note of the original OP. I would rather be commenting on that!

33:

Despite the differences between my libertarianism and your political views, I completely agree with everything on your list being a good thing, and I share your wishes for it to continue. Best wishes for the new year and the next decade!

34:

I'm amazed that people can think of this last decade so poorly. you were mentioning how the BRIC countries have grown to first world like standards of living, but even in Africa, long a place where the US and Europe mined for resources be they mineral or people has started to heal itself. Democracy is spreading like a rash across Africa now that we have stopped supporting the creation of dictatorships, yes corporations are massively powerful still and need to be controlled but the cityfication of Africa continues apace and along with it the growth of economic and social wealth. their are few places on the planet have no information networks albeit many are still slow, but with the rollout of 4G across the planet in the coming years everybody will have access to information age. Already farmers across the world have access to world wide weather forecasts, market news etc all via simple SMS messaging on 'old' generation phones. Increasingly technology such as photovoltanic cells combined with LED lights, radio, phones has been used to give everybody access to 24/7 culture.

The advantages of mass production mean that the cost of local power generation be it heat or electricity has dropped like a stone. Yes we are beset by the consequences of our unwillingness to change from a fossil fuel culture and I hope we survive that mistake in the years to come but the last ten years have been a time of massive change and growth for our entire planet. And for those of us suffering from the hangover from the end of the party in the US and Europe don't forget the other 80% of the planet are doing fine without us.

Thank you Charlie for the list and for all of you who have added to it, I hope you have a great time in the coming decade or arbitrary set of earth rotations whilst in orbits it local star depending on if you think our cultural date management system is important or not

35:

Polio - will only be exterminable if some really vile humans are publicly and messily wasted.
ANY "religious" leader who claims that the polio treatments are a "Western plot to render islamic women infertile" needs to be painfully and publically done in.
And, no, I did NOT make that story up, and there really are people so deranged and dangerous as to spread stories like that, and it has already happened, more than once.

Water - except in N, Ireland, of course!

"War on terror"
Don't bet on it. There are at least two desparate religious-theocratic states loose. (Israel WILL use its' nukes, but only if overwhelmingly invaded - I realise that "Benny" is probably only marginally sane, but consider the others) The illegal guvmint in Persia, whose leader appear to believe their state is expendable, provided the umpteenth prophet/saviour appears, and North Korea - which is now embarassing even the Chinese.

Haiti
Chalie - almost, but not quite. The debt to the French was paid off before either of us was born. And the dreadful state it is in is NOT helped by the endemic corruption and gang-violence.
This is not to say that, like DRC, a lot of it is externally financed by men in suits.
Also, consider Jared Diamond, who points up the contrast between Haiti and the OTHER state on the same island - which was a military dictatorship until quite recently.
Um.

@ 27
Wind-power?
Forget it.
Which European country has most wind power, and which SAME European country is the biggest (coal-fired) polluter? Denmark.
Oops.
We are going to have to smash the empty rhetoric of what Charlie calls the "Doubleplus Ungood Quackspeak" of the so-called greens, before we get sensible (Nuclear) power in useful amounts. (Like the French)

@ 28
Agreed: - more unfavourable publicity is desperately needed, to counteract the vast amounts of money being put about by Exxon and the Koch foundations, to try to trash the GW facts.
It you can stomach it, try looking at almost anything written by two "useful idiots" in big oil's cause: James Delingpole, and Christopher Booker. It is horribly depressing.

36:

Charlie,

Thanks for the posting, for it has cheered me up a bit. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.

37:

I think a lot of people, on both sides of the arguments about Aid Money, don't realise how much it tied to purchase deals with with donating country.

That's not automatically bad, but it can easily be abused.

With so many donating countries having a specialised industrial base--can British companies still supply the hardware needed for a particular infrastructure project--all that a British donation, tied to a British supplier, might do is pay a few drones for skimming off a percentage between the purchaser and the true supplier. It's not so much a benefit for Britain any more.

It's not much different from the losses there might be due to corruption. Either way, the people who get the money tend not to spend it in ways that keep it circulating. "Trickle-down" doesn't appear to work.

38:

Armies crossing the Rhine doesn't cover every war in Europe--in the last couple of centuries it would exclude both Spanish Civil Wars, the formation of modern Italy (including the battle of Solferino which inspired the founding of the Red Cross), and a whole series of wars in the Balkans. Also a couple of wars involving Prussia, the Swiss Civil War, and multiple revolutions.

But Napoleon, Kaiser Bill, and Hitler; all their wars involved armies crossing the Rhine. The Franco-Prussian War was pretty big, but it wasn't pan-European.

When you look at the overall picture, the collapse of Yugoslavia was bad, and it's never good for the people involved in a war, but the trend is pretty good.

39:

I'm not convinced that the reluctance to rebuild certain mostly black parts of New Orleans is racist. Certain areas of the city are built in areas which would be flooded frequently or even permanently without expensive drainage operations. These flood prone areas also tend to be areas with lower housing costs as better off people prefer to live in less flood prone districts. Blacks tend to be poorer so concentrate in cheap areas. If areas are abandoned these ones which are both relatively expensive to maintain and not terribly desirable to inhabit are the areas which are most likely to be abandoned. Given that New Orleans had a long term trend of population decline it makes sense to abandon areas where the housing even if rebuilt would probably be uninsurable against flood risk. Basically they aren't rebuilding in areas that shouldn't really have been built on in the first place.

40:

Hello? (Waves hand.)

Which decade are we talking about?

The Yugoslavian civil wars ran 1991-95; the Kosovo war (and the NATO bombing of Serbia) ended in 1999. In any event, we're talking about a civil war resulting in the break-up of Yugoslavia in the wake of the end of the Cold War, not a general land war in Europe.

Again, Chenya -- go look for it on a map; it borders Ingushetiya and is claimed as territory by Russia. It's land-locked, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea -- hardly in Europe, unless your definition of Europe includes Vladivostok.

The fact remains; in the 2000s, Europe has been at peace. And in the 1990s, strife in Europe was limited to civil wars that didn't cross earlier borders (such as Yugoslavia and, arguably, Northern Ireland or the Basque country).

41:

I wonder why goverments do not use taxation as a way of control where people live. Like putting higher tax on dangerous areas, like flood plains and top of volcanoes and such... If people are dying later next year to avoid paying taxes, it could be useful tool for city management. Also getting more powerful computers help us in science and technology. One of benefits of this year is unleaded fuel. No more lead poisoning to our children. Also we have banned asbestos and get banned those gases that caused ozone hole (I hope I typed it right,but you know what I mean)
I hope you survived the new year's party :P

42:

Because voters tend not to like voting for politicians who impose new taxes. (See also George H. W. "no new taxes" Bush.)

A better way to do it might be indirectly and sneakily; to make proof of fire/flood/earthquake insurance a mandatory requirement for payment of property taxes, so that someone who isn't insured is going to have endless headaches paying the existing tax. Insurers tend not to be keen on granting cheap policies against flood damage to folks who live on a flood plain. The insurance obligation should fall directly on the real estate owner, to prevent unscrupulous landlords from offloading it onto [generally less-well-off] tenants.

But the flip side of this is, where are the poor people going to go and live? Making it expensive to live in dangerous areas is a stick; where's the carrot? (As the residents of the Chernobyl Zone demonstrate, people with an attachment to an area and little to lose can be very difficult to relocate.)

43:

Greg: ANY "religious" leader who claims that the polio treatments are a "Western plot to render islamic women infertile" needs to be painfully and publically done in.

Ah, no. Because doing that will just serve to convince the next crop of god-botherers that the conspiracy theory is true.

The correct solution is a tame god-botherer with a visibly-pregnant wife who can testify that she's been vaccinated. I believe a small donation to cover their travel expenses should be sufficient unto the job in hand.

44:

The private sector is dealing with that. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Englandshire as insurance companies have declined to insure houses on flood plains against flood damage.

The problem in the US is that such areas are occupied by the poorest of people who cannot afford to live anywhere more secure. Tax them out of that area, and you have a much more serious problem on your hands.

Unleaded fuel was mandated a long time ago here, possibly in the late 1980s. I remember owners of classic cars having to use a special lead-replacement additive in the mid-90s. I thought the US had mandated it earlier than we did.

45:

A better way to do it might be indirectly and sneakily; to make proof of fire/flood/earthquake insurance a mandatory requirement for payment of property taxes, so that someone who isn't insured is going to have endless headaches paying the existing tax

From what I've seen of America these past 9 years, that'd be very hard to do. Americans don't like mandatory insurance (see all the fuss about healthcare plans and the "forcing of mandatory insurance on everyone").

Property taxes are collected by the the local town, many of which aren't geared up for this sort of work. Some places can barely cope with collecting taxes in the first place (about the only cheque I ever write, these days, is the quarterly property tax to my town; I'm not sure they can even take electronic payment!). I can't imagine them also doing annual insurance verification.

IMHO, the best place to "require" insurance is to let the mortgage companies deal with it themselves; after all it's this asset that's covering the loan! Many of these companies already require standard property insurance; more recently a number of them are also requiring flood insurance if you live in a flood zone (normal insurance may not cover flood). Of course this only covers the cost of rebuilding the physical building; it need not cover the cost of replacing individual possessions. Also it ensure coverage for property with no mortgage, but that's an edge case.

46:

Oops; missing a "not" in my final sentence!

47:

Flood insurance is a requirement for many people holding mortgages. Either that or mortgage insurance, which requires the other insurance to get.

You need to have a certain amount of equity in your house before you can opt out of the insurance. Which many people do, because flood insurance is freaking expensive.

48:

Thank you for compiling the decade's good news.

Terrorism winding down isn't the same thing as the war on terrorism winding down, though it helps. I'm also not sure that, while there's been a lack of big attacks in the first world, whether the frequent small-to-medium attacks in the developing world have slowed down. At least East Timor isn't a hot spot any more.

Faint memory: I have an impression that the levees in New Orleans were misbuilt as well as ill-maintained.

More good news: There seems to be slow but steady pressure on the Chinese government to be better-behaved.

49:

Charlie @ 40: Many people would claim Chechenya to be in Europe. The Wikipedia article Borders_of_the_continents was pretty fascinating reading on the dozen or so competing theories of the European/Asian border. (I just had to look this up, because my geography teacher always taught the border to run on the Caucasus.)

50:

A few people touched on solar power, a facet of reasons to feel properly cheerful: renewable energy is getting 10% to 20% cheaper every year. Photovoltaic is close to grid parity during peak demand (hot summer days), and uptake will increase significantly once the trend line crosses that threshold. Already the market is around 4 Gigawatts / year, at 25% availability the equivalent of one large nuclear plant every year at 2010 rates, possibly double or triple that amount by 2020. That assumes demand scales linearly with inverse price, but market displacements are rarely that orderly once a new good is less expensive than the old one. We might see solar demand explode as it hit certain price points.

Batteries and other storage are improving at the same rate, making electric or hybrid vehicles lighter and cheaper as well. US car fleet mileage increased markedly over the past few years, with a decrease since 2006 in miles driven, so along with better hybrids it looks as if US petroleum consumption is decreasing with no end in sight. That's all to the good: oil companies funding climate deniers in the face of a changing planet are good examples of evil.

Nuclear power looks like it's finally grown up, with past mistakes and successes learned in new plant design. France shows properly run nuclear needn't involve Chernobyl or massive US-style financial liability, although the unique French model of public-private coordinated management may not be exportable to other countries.

There are hitches, of course: fusion is still decades off, and retrograde forces such as coal and oil are digging in their heels, but overall it looks as if nasty CO2 emitting energy is starting to be shoved aside.

51:

> Which decade are we talking about?

The ones that were a two-thirds of a century long.

52:

Every western hemisphere country that's been invaded by the US does less well (according to the CIA World Fact Book, half as well per capita, roughly) as the countries in SE Asia that went communist (at least long enough to kick the Americans out). Haiti has been occupied by the US many many times. It also has had to pay French banks back for the money paid to former slave owners for the liberation of their property.

I'm currently living in Nicaragua, which had a history from about 1930 to 1979 of supplying cheap docile labor to foreign interests. It has been invaded and occupied several times by the US before the Somozas who stole most of the aid money given to help with their capital city earthquake (Managua has still not recovered). It's the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. People of all sides of the political spectrums would like the US to stop helping them (interviews by a friend, now in press, I believe).

Nicaragua's major exports now are agricultural, which is forcing people to chose between cash crops and subsistence crops, and even bean are being traded to Venezuela for oil, which has caused the price of red beans to rise steeply over the last months.

Most of the better income producing industries require significant investments in material and education. which is hard for debtor nations to acquire. I see no lack of work ethic among my neighbors (many of whom were selling goods on Christmas Day).

The other thing is that even countries like Nicaragua (and probably Haiti pre-earthquake) are better off than most European populations in the 19th century and earlier.

53:

The government in the US does use tax policy to "control where people live." The only problem is that they created the policies in the Cold War and wanted people to move away from cities. The theory was that if America was hit with a nuclear attack then at least the folks living in more remote areas would survive.

The problem is that when you live in a remote area your home is susceptible to fire damage because you live in a forest with no fire trucks. So in America home insurance is pooled and people in safer areas help subsidize people in unsafe areas.

This was a deliberate policy and it had the desired effect of spreading the population out. I don't know if it would really help in a nuclear attack.

54:

Also, on the subject of war, Europe and Caucasus, one should not forget the rather recent South Ossetia war in 2008, which certainly cannot be just thought of as just a civil war. (e.g Russia bombing Tbilisi among other stuff)

And the position of Caucasus as a part of Europe is also valid and defendable, as 49 pointed out.


55:

@ 45:

From what I've seen of America these past 9 years, that'd be very hard to do. Americans don't like mandatory insurance (see all the fuss about healthcare plans and the "forcing of mandatory insurance on everyone").

Well, no, that's not it. Americans don't have any objections to having to buy auto insurance if they drive. Neither do they object to the requirement of having homeowners insurance if they want to buy house.

Being forced to buy auto insurance even if they don't drive? That's way different.

56:

There's also the state of advancement in what facts are acceptable in political discourse. Pre-2001 people who disputed global warming or refused to admit the reality of Peak Oil scenarios were still taken seriously. Nowadays? They scarcely exist as forces to be reckoned with.

That really hasn't gotten us very far, of course. But the first stage of dealing with a problem is acknowledging it exists.

57:

Well, no, that's not it. Americans don't have any objections to having to buy auto insurance if they drive.

Actually I know a number that do. Especially in NJ where car insurance is seen as a state legitimised protection racket. However I don't see the situation as being comparable; in many cases you're not insuring your car, you're insuring other people (you hit someone, they shouldn't be out of pocket - your insurance covers that). Your own car insurance is an extra. Flood insurance, on the other hand, is insuring your own property.

Neither do they object to the requirement of having homeowners insurance if they want to buy house.

I covered this case; it's not mandatory government enforced, it's part of the contract with your mortgage company. If you buy a house without getting a mortgage, or you pay off your mortgage, then you have no obligation to have homeowners insurance. And the insurance the mortgage company does require you to have only insures the premises; there's no obligation for contents insurance (although you normally get that as part of the bundle).

58:

Ah, one more thing: everyone and his dog have a space program these days. Some Usians, being Usians, say that space exploration is going to the dogs when what they mean is that it's no longer the sole province of their home country. As for manned space exploration, I could very easily see oh, say, China, putting a human on Mars by 2050. I just might live to see that one!

59:

I'm personally not sure if I'd call the iPod a good thing ;-).

That said, to get into the less angry cousin of the thread that appears to be dominating the discussion here: mathematically, unless you are performing some kind of hedonic calculus based on individual suffering (something that is very impractical), the mars-and-venus example does in fact represent a net gain for the solar system. Whether or not that net gain is meaningful depends on which planet the person assigning the meaning is living on ;-).

For the capitalist types (disclaimer: my agnosis about preferential economic systems gets me a lot of flack from the already-decided), a boom in wealthy population could be argued to be good regardless of where it came from, since it opens up opportunities to market goods to more people, and to market new goods to a large enough group of people that it would be profitable to do so. It's probably indeterminate whether it's more profitable to have the wealthy come from an already wealthy culture or to come from a culture that formerly was not wealthy, and may depend upon whether the person cashing in on the new population has flexible manufacturing and distribution processes. Discounting the results of a hypothetical hedonic calculus of enjoyment and suffering, and assuming that Late Capitalism isn't already dead, a legitimate rise in the proportion of wealthy to poor is a 'good' thing.

60:

Some of the belligerents in the war in Yugoslavia wouldn't have characterised it as a civil war--on the grounds that the new states had declared independence before the war broke out & it was therefore a war between the old Yugoslav state on one hand and the new states on the other (especially once the new ones had been internationally recognised). One of the new states (Croatia) also went on to interfere across borders by getting involved in the war in Bosnia. I take your point that this wasn't a war between states which had both been on the map as the top level of sovereign entity for 50 years, but the numbers of people killed/made homeless and the damage to the social fabric still make it a lot more than civil unrest, and made living standards in that region a lot worse than they had been a generation before that...

61:
Pre-2001 people who disputed global warming or refused to admit the reality of Peak Oil scenarios were still taken seriously. Nowadays? They scarcely exist as forces to be reckoned with.
This is certainly not true in the US, where large numbers of Congresscritters and between 1/4 and 1/3 of the population are convinced that "global warming" is either not important or a hoax intended to rob them of their wealth. Just in the last week I've read several comments in newspapers to the effect that the heavy snow storms that have hit the US and Europe prove that there's no "global warming". Willful ignorance is still very much with us.
62:

Another thank you, Charlie, for a post that gave me a little more cheer, as opposed to most of the news of the "developed world" that's been consistently giving me less. I think the really good news is that much of the developing world is finally in a position to shake off the remnants of Western colonial and imperial influence and create their own futures.

One point about everyone having a space program: solar power satellites may still turn out to be practical, and having some strong competition among manufacturing and launching concerns might be the best thing that could happen to get the technology up and running at reasonable prices.

63:

Space-based solar is, as our gracious host has (I think) observed in the past, a great idea with one unfortunate drawback: a solar power satellite capable of delivering usefully large amounts of energy to the ground in a suitably focussed beam constitutes an orbital death ray. (One that most major governments would be really unhappy to see in the hands of anyone else, including other major governments....)

64:

Nicaragua is technically the 2nd poorest in the Americas, not the western hemisphere. (Though when you have a PPP GDP per capita of less than 1/4 of that of Turkey or Panama, such niceties may seem irrelevant.)

The western hemisphere runs from the Greenwich meridian to 180 degrees west, and includes a good deal of West Africa and some island dependencies that most people have never heard of. According to the CIA World Factbook, the nations and colonies poorer than Nicaragua in the western hemisphere are:
Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha
Tokelau
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Liberia
Sierra Leone
Mali
Haiti
Burkina Faso
Ghana
Cote d'Ivoire
The Gambia
Senegal
Mauritania
Western Sahara.

65:

I clearly have a particularly good insurance company because they pay for both cars as a standard. In fact, there's no way they'd pay for just the other guy.

66:

"Well, no, that's not it. Americans don't have any objections to having to buy auto insurance if they drive."

I object to insurance companies. I object to thinly disguised financial companies kiting on the lag between premium payments and claims, cherry-picking customers rather than pooling risk, poorly providing a service that decent governments have provided better. I especially object to insurance companies buying laws that provide for criminal penalties for not buying their products, (especially auto insurance in areas where driving is as much a necessity as running water) or even for having a late payment due to a automated-debit snafu.

That happened to me here in Georgia - auto-debit snafu, $30 payment six weeks late, sheriff pulled me over for speeding (25% over the limit), cuffed me and hauled me to jail, $1300 cash-only bond (same as maximum fine), no checks or debit card on me and the bondsmen wouldn't go for cash in the bank rather than cash in hand, so I was looking at 30 days before trial and a six-month license suspension on top of the $1300 fine (plus court costs, jail fees, phone charges...). The local lawyer wanted a $6000 retainer which I didn't have. I managed to get out of jail after a day with $1500 in charges and later plea-bargained down to a no-suspension offense, but that was more than half luck. All that for the insurance company getting my new bank information wrong. Auto insurance truly is an extortion racket, with the profits going to private companies and the rough stuff outsourced to the corrupt state.

(Of course, if I'd had a few tens of thousands to post as bond, I could have self-insured a whole fleet, and gotten interest on the bond to boot. Insurance requirements don't apply to the rich.)

67:

As with most such worries, the vaccine-infertility link may have a germ of truth - perhaps not in the case of polio vaccines, but certain tetanus vaccines distributed primarily to women in the third world. Several articles I have seen claim that human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG - essential for maintaining a pregnancy) was included in tetanus vaccines administered in Mexico, Nicaragua and the Philippines only to women of child-bearing age, causing anti-hCG antibodies to be produced, thus causing infertility.

The scientific literature seems to bear out this possibility - for instance see:
Am J Reprod Immunol. 1997 Feb;37(2):153-60.
"The HSD-hCG vaccine prevents pregnancy in women: feasibility study of a reversible safe contraceptive vaccine."

The linked article above references five other scientific studies going back to 1976 whose titles appear to support the claim of hCG vaccine birth control. I looked up the abstracts and these are real studies on the topic. (The 1980 paper's abstract (mostly on immunological response in women) had an interesting line: "In vitro, antisera were capable of neutralizing the activity of hCG in stimulating testosterone production in Leydig cell cultures." - i.e. potential castration of men by hCG vaccination (depending on how much cross-antigenicity there is to the nearly identical luteinizing hormone (LH)), a noticeable side-effect which would explain why only women are alleged to have received hCG in vaccinations.)

I don't know whether the specific claims that several samples of the Philippine vaccine were analyzed and found to contain hCG and that 26 of 30 tested vaccinated women had high levels of hCG antibodies are correct, however. It does not seem to me unlikely that there are controlling parts of organizations that would consider population control to be an objective sufficiently critical to override any duty to obtain informed consent from those they likely think of as poor, uneducated third-world peasant women.

68:

In the UK when buying car insurance you can buy fully comprehensive insurance which covers both you and the other party, which is what you are refering to. You can also buy third party only insurance which covers damage or injury you cause but does not cover any damage you suffer. There is an intermediate class as well; third party, fire and theft which adds fire and theft coverage but doesn't cover accident damage. UK law requires that you have at least third party cover, the insurance industry in turn is required to have a central fund to cover damage caused by uninsured and untraceable drivers (the Motor Insurers Bureau). Insurance companies are in general perfectly happy to sell all types.

69:

We've got a severe la niña going over the past few months that most forecasters didn't take into account. The Unisys satellite sea-temperature maps show about 1.5C below average on a worldwide basis, including nearly all the world's coastlines aside from the south Atlantic and Australia (and in the latter the heavy rain and clouds have lead to below average inland temperatures.) The recent cold temperatures are global. That does not mean that they aren't transitory. Given the long-term record It would take several decades at least to reach a tentative conclusion about any supposed trend - perhaps several millenia for real sceptics.

The fact is, climate always varies wildly, even without increased CO2. We need to hold climatologists to high scientific standards especially when their claims accord with our preconceptions of globally rising temperatures - no dropping inconvenient stations from the data (~75% fewer stations are used now than 30 years ago - even though data often continues to be collected at those predominantly montaine and arctic stations that have been dropped from the global temperature calculations), applying seemingly unjustified "homogenization" and "corrections" that nearly always make the past cooler and the present warmer, smearing out data from one station on the tarmac of an airport to stand for conditions in the mountains 1200km away... these tactics are not really scientific. If their results contradicted our preconceptions, we would scream bloody murder about the methodology. If any scientific hypothesis can stand on its own, it does not need support from this sort of ad-hoc "corrected" "data". Use all the raw data available, release it, base corrections on the known local interferers without bias towards the answer you want to get, and open those corrections to scientific debate. If it's politicized, it isn't science. These days, it isn't science.

70:

I'm rather sure that insuring your own car isn't mandatory anywhere in the US; it certainly isn't in Texas or Washington, which are two opposite ends of the political spectrum here. Insuring against damages done to other parties is, and if Georgia had a larger immigrant population all of the people complaining about having insurance would switch to complaining about "Mexicans" not having insurance and wrecking other people's vehicles like they do in Texas. You're using public property and have high risk of doing damage to other people's property; it isn't onerous to have to have proof of being able to pay for that damage. Whether it's "required" to drive or not is beside the point- the places where you are forced to drive are set up that way because society at large didn't think it was a big deal. If you do? Move somewhere else. The social contract doesn't always work as just positives, sometimes there's negatives.

71:
I'm not convinced that the reluctance to rebuild certain mostly black parts of New Orleans is racist.... Basically they aren't rebuilding in areas that shouldn't really have been built on in the first place.
Yet somehow no one applies this supposedly unbiased argument to the low-ground, prone-to-flooding, submerged-to-halfway-up-the-third-floor but coincidentally predominately white and multi-million-dollar Lakeview neighborhood.
72:

I agree that the human world seems to have gotten a bit better. The natural world? Not so much. In the last decade, we seem to have not only avoided opportunities to make needed changes in our infrastructure (ecological and economic), but we instead sunk trillions of dollars into wars. That money's gone, we have to service the debt, and the problems have only gotten bigger. I'm not sure we won the wars either, but we sure made some war corporations rich in the process.

On the natural front, one thing I *am* glad about is that radical Muslims seem to be as squeamish about biotech as other religious fundamentalists. This is a good thing.

In 2001, a lot of mycologists were not-so-quietly glad that Al Qaeda went for the big showy explosions, and didn't invest the same effort in spreading crop killing fungi across the American grain belt. At that time, many labs held teaching collections of these fungi, and a renegade mycologist could have equipped a garage lab to propagate and spread some nasty stuff just about anywhere, without detection.

The mycologists moved to secure their stocks of the nasties long before the government acted on the threat. It's far from impossible to unleash a crop killer now, but fortunately, the terrorists have been unwilling to attempt these real atrocities.

I'm really glad for that. Compared to predictions about in the Cold War, we (collectively) have been remarkably squeamish about launching true weapons of mass destruction. We may be stip-mining the seas for cheap fish and strip-mining tropical forests for the latest tacky composite flooring and disposable chopsticks, but at least we've been mature enough not to unleash plagues. That's something to celebrate.

73:

If you haven't seen Hans Rosling's 2006 TED Talk, here it is:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html

74:

"...if Georgia had a larger immigrant population all of the people complaining about having insurance would switch to complaining about "Mexicans" not having insurance and wrecking other people's vehicles like they do in Texas."

Been there, done that, got a strained trapezius from a car wreck in Texas on the way to school with an uninsured latina driving a '70s beater making an illegal turn which totaled my dad's gray-market BMW 7-series (2nd hand from a German Graf). If I'd been driving my reflexes would have likely gotten me out without any impact. (He's had at least 6 wrecks to my 0.) Got an "A" on my first-period Biology test 20 minutes later anyway, then went to the hospital to check on my neck. I blame '70s beaters with drivers who don't watch where they're going and my grade-obsessed, slow-reflexed dad. (And the #%^*&! insurance company of course for not having the balls to lobby the legislature to send out the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team - the 144 psychos with reflector sunglasses, cowboy hats and guns) to personally hunt down all the uninsured latinas with beaters and shoot them somewhere - 'cause obviously just locking them up is squishy soft on the whole "kamikaze Messican-in-beaters invasion" thing. /sarcasm)

"You're using public property..." So what? Private property would be different? No. The roads are paid for with gas taxes. I'm using public property so I should be locked up for being late with a payment to a private company which uses my money to pay lobbyists to get me locked up? Say what?

"...it isn't onerous to have to have proof of being able to pay for that damage." No. It is fair to pay for actual damages, it is onerous to pay for corporate profits and corporate bribes to politicians.

"Whether it's "required" to drive or not is beside the point..." Bullshit. That's exactly the point. Let's rephrase that so you can see how stupid that is:
"Whether it's "required" to breathe or not is beside the point, you're using public air, and society has no problem with you being locked up for not not buying enough carbon credits to offset your choice to exhale." Ok, well some here might disagree with that example...they're idiots, of course - but they'll be on my side when they have to insure their bicycles, with GPS per-mile road fees, insurance against causing strokes among the drivers they block, the "excess metabolism" surcharges and the "vegetarian tailpipe emissions test" payments (not to mention the likely need for 6" diameter adapter rental on that last one).

"...the places where you are forced to drive are set up that way because society at large didn't think it was a big deal." You mean the whores in the legislature didn't think it was a big deal. Society at large was distracted on purpose with the latest Brittany Spears story, etc., ad nauseam.

"If you do? Move somewhere else." Love it or leave it, huh? Back at ya, ya [lengthy obscene description omitted involving unlikely acts crossing several phyla and orders including lawyers, ctenophores, insurance salesmen, telemarketers, marsupials, monotremes and several permutations thereof].

"The social contract doesn't always work as just positives, sometimes there's negatives." Yeah - us blog commenters for instance.

75:

"Use all the raw data available, release it, base corrections on the known local interferers without bias towards the answer you want to get, and open those corrections to scientific debate."

What, like they've done for the NZ temperature record? Oh look, here's all the raw data.

And the methodology and base corrections.

And given that most of this work was done in the 1970s, there's been a recent review of the data and the corrections by non-NZ scientists. The original trend and the revised trend match very closely and show unequivocal warming.

The quality of the data for the rest of the world is much the same. So, do you want to come up with some valid criticism or do you want to stop wasting our time by repeating the usual tired denialist bollocks?

76:

Charlie @ 43
Agreed - with one small proviso.
A TAME god-botherer? Come on, they're all loopy!

"Europe"
I thought the border was defined as the Urals, with a rather wobbly line Southwards from there. River Volga course is a good compromise
However .. Turkey is NOT in Europe (geographically, by classical definition.

SoV @ 56
( & 61 )
Unfortunately, you are wrong - I wish you were not but ...
Try looking up almoist any article by Christopher Booker or James Delingpole ("google") and then, if you really want to make your head ache, read the following comments.

EH @ 66
I trust you sued the auto-insurance crooks for every last, erm, cent?
& 74

Please don't!
I have this copy of a verse, describing the sexual activities of Australians, and their concern for the environment .. and if you aren't careful, I'll post it up....

77:

EH: You are becoming monotonous on the subject of automobile insurance, and you're very off-topic.

This is your yellow card. Drop the insurance thing and nobody needs to get banned.

78:

Hi Scent ...

You used the analogy:
Being forced to buy auto insurance even if they don't drive?

If you are comparing this to the (proposed?) National Health Insurance malarky (whatever it may be called in the US) then perhaps your analogy would be better phrased as "Being forced to buy auto insurance even if they don't crash!" ...

Otherwise Charlie ... yep, a good list indeed and all the best for 2011.

79:

Oooops! Just seen the Boss saying leave off the auto-insurance and I just posted ...
[falls to knees]
please don't ban me please don't ban me please don't ban me please don't ban me ...

80:

Relax.

Let's just ignore the derailing/ranting Americans for a bit, okay?

81:

Perhaps the next decade will see the emergence of tactfulness and contextual awareness as social norms among the anonymous and the pseudonymous. I truly doubt there's an innate human need to behave like a braying jackass to random strangers. My own guess is that it's some form of culturally-mediated deep psychological insecurity. Like long-term rates of interpersonal violence, this too might drop.

I can even conceive of a possible mechanism. The People's Republic of China is well-known to employ paid anonymous trolls to disrupt domestic political discussions on the Internet. But just as the political informer has become despised throughout the world with the rise of the modern authoritarian state, might not the compulsive Internet master baiter become similarly despised and rejected by greater society? becoming no more well-liked at large than the police spy or the kiddie flasher?

Something to look forward to, at any rate.

82:

A nice thing is 30 mpg cars aren't crap boxes anymore, a small thing, but progress.

83:

* Blinks *

My Volvo 850 estate does around 35mpg on long-haul driving, and came off the production line in 1994! I'd hardly call that a "crap box".

(Although as you're working in US gallons, your mileage will definitely vary ...)

84:

Point taken, but at least one of the 30+ mpg fords was clocked at 14.0 in the quarter mile, 40 years ago that kind of acceleration came in a 8~12 mpg beast, progress. BTW, my father used to own a PV series Volvo, and claimed 32 mpg at 80 mph. The new stuff does it with much less maintenance.

85:

I think this post is great as far as it goes...which is not very far. Degradation of our environment and ecosystems is so severe that even without the threat of global warming, we might be in severe trouble. So my question would just be: are you really ignoring those problems or saying they're not civilization-threatening?

JeffV

86:

2010 was the year I discovered Iron Sunrise in the library, and with it Charlie Stross. So some good came from the year, at least for me.

87:

Some synchronicity: the Guardian posted today "20 predictions for the next 25 years".

Quite a bit of overlap in some areas.

88:

No Jeff, I'm looking specifically for positives, not denying the existence of negatives. That's because there's so little positive news out there that it's necessary to go look for it, lest one become terminally demoralized.

IOW, there's a time and a place to consider the ongoing climate and resource depletion emergencies and the grim meathook future waiting for us all: but that time and place is not now and not here.

89:

You say, " civilization-threatening? " ? Which Civilization would that be ? And just how would it be threatened?

The Chinese Civilization has had a Little more time in operation than our Western Democratic model of Civilization, and so whose to say that it isn't more likely to survive the coming ecological crisis than our Anglo/American and .... Democratic ? Model of Civilization?

The Chinese are used to dealing with the shock of the New and Black Swan events of the 'Interesting Kind ' ..remind me .. how long has the US of A s model of Civilization been in existence?

Do WE of the Human Race really Hold, These,... how does it go now ?

" We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Self Evident ?

We have good reason to be positive about our future ..so far so Good ... as a species but that future may not be one that we, here now and in the UK of AmeriStates, would find to be all that comfortable or comforting.

90:

My reasons to be cheerful:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MESSENGER
March 2011: Mercury orbit insertion

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_Spacecraft
July 2011: Vesta arrival

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory
Lauch somewhere near the end of 2011

91:

"The HSD-hCG vaccine prevents pregnancy in women: feasibility study of a reversible safe contraceptive vaccine."

Your abstract doesn't seem to support your point?

92:

Sorry. My last post seemed amusing at the time, but perhaps not to those without three or four pints on board.

On topic, while there are a few bright spots such as the ones you listed, the past decade seems to me to have been one of the worst in a long while. I hope the next ten years are better; it shouldn't be too hard by comparison.

One bright spot you didn't mention is the enormous growth in digital storage capacity. This has kept pace with Moore's / Kryder's Law while the improvements in single processor cores have lagged over the past few years. There really isn't any need to delete anything to make space anymore, aside from videos, and even that is quickly becoming unnecessary.

In high-performance computing, the move to make GPU cores into general-purpose computing devices with error correction and double-precision arithmetic has put a teraflops on the desktop for less than $2000.

For special-purpose computing, prototyping and networking, FPGAs also continue to improve in line with Moore's law. Current affordable models have >10Gbps networking and the equivalent of several million gates. Models announced for release within six months will exceed the projections of Moore's law, using 3-D stacking, through-silicon connectors (moving connection density to a function of area rather than edge length), 28Gbps transceivers and a 28nm process.

FPGAs are often integrated with other components on the same die - always memory, nearly always transceivers and DSP-adaptable elements, often CPUs and sometimes analog and RF. In the coming decade we'll see all of the above and more on cheap, low-wattage, high-volume production chips.

As design, development and initial fab costs for chips rise while silicon area and marginal unit costs decline, fewer designs will be economical to produce. At the same time FPGA integration will accelerate over the next few years with reconfigurable hardware tying together so many different special-purpose on-chip resources that fewer different models of chips will be needed.

We will see future small, multifunction devices similar to today's netbooks, cell-phones, and i-Thingys that are cheaper; do more things, better, and may only have a couple of chips - and those chips will be so general-purpose that they might also be found in a router or a washing machine.

This promises to lower the barriers to hardware design and production which in turn could have some interesting and positive effects.

93:

Here's to hoping that the Naughties were just a small Ice Age in terms of the world getting better!

One thing I've been thinking about recently: given that AIDS turned non-lethal last decade, what will the impact of that be on African economies? There's a fairly large cohort inbound on the labour market, and the soon-to-be pensioners have sadly died (either of AIDS, or of general bad living conditions). Does this resemble post-WWII Germany and/or Japan somehow?

94:

In the vein of looking for positives where it's so easy to see negatives, I just reread Kim Stanley Robinson's "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" which was written in the early 90's. It presents all the reasons the 20th Century gave us for despairing of the brutality of humankind, and then shows why optimism for the future is not inappropriate: there are many places and people on Earth with a centuries-long history of peace and cooperation. Strongly recommended.

95:

My point was that an anti-fertility vaccine is possible, not that it is permanent or totally unsafe. (Given variations in age and immunologic response it would likely be permanent for a few women, though.)

It may well be safe, but I'm a bit worried about possible auto-immune effects. If it has been tested without informed consent, that is beyond unethical, both for the obvious reasons and because of the potential to impede life-saving vaccination programs.

On the other hand, if it is safe and of moderate duration and taken willingly, it could be a positive, even revolutionary development in family planning - so perhaps another reason to be cheerful.(Unfortunately religious politics may prevent it from reaching widespread availability, even if it is safe, but I'm long-term optimistic that reason will prevail.)

96:

I get dividends from my insurance company almost every year.

97:

You probably know this, but last night I was pleasantly surprised that On Her Majesty's Secret Service was mentioned in The Well of Lost Plots.

98:

I think the progress that is being made in getting everything that humans have written online in digital form is a real bright spot. Depending on your interests you can read source documents in an amazing array of languages, living and dead.

This afternoon I spent time at rarebookroom.org looking at John Warnock's copy of Robert Hooke's Micrographia. It would cost me thousands of dollars to travel somewhere where I could be in physical contact with a copy.

I will confess that I have something approaching 100 GB of books I've downloaded from Google books. I've been researching 19th century machine tools.

99:

Gawd, the sh*t in that post is pretty vile.

As to anti-vax people, what country are you living in that you don't hear anti-vax lies from within?

As to Iran, just how in the name of [insert here] do you conclude that their government is illegal?

Further as to Iran, what evidence do you have that "whose leader appear to believe their state is expendable, provided the umpteenth prophet/saviour appears"

And as for using nukes, it's pretty frikkin' clear to anybody who's honestly watching that Israel will use nukes first, and not in self-defence.

100:

Charlie, I've got to apologize (to you) for the tone of my reply to Greg (who does not deserve an apology).

I've come to the conclusion that the people propagandizing for a war against Iran, after seeing the results of the last war, can no longer be excused as ignorant and innocent of the likely consequences.

101:

Big Kate @32, you seem to be ignoring a few facts about the levy concerns in Louisiana. Federal funding (with a recommendation from the Army Corps of Engineers) for major levy improvements was available for decades but not tapped because the state of Louisiana did not pony up there part of the bill. I don't claim to know (and haven't been able to find out) whether the legislature chose not to do so or simply lacked the funds without ignoring too much else in key infrastructure in the state. Post Katrina situation isn't much better but I don't think that can be entirely blamed on the feds. That whole "we-ignored-it-for-years-now-fix-it-for-us" doesn't play to well with citizens in states that actually ponied up for disaster readiness. If the feds kept on pushing $ at Louisiana for post-Katrina, how long should they push $ at California and Illinois for their state employee pension disasters? In all three cases, responsible behavior in advance by the state governments--yes, I still dream--could have minimized the damage.

102:

That Guardian article was either too smart for me -- most of the authors were hardy uninformed -- or the authors had too many special interests. :-)

Nothing about organs from stem cells? I'm not aware of any show stopper? Moderately complex organs should be installed in less than a decade. (See bladders, which aren't that simple, etc.)

No 3d printers? Will they be too complex and the promise for home production fails? :-(

What happened to solar cells and economic impact? They should start to take over in less than a decade (in middle Europe and further south).

Robotics? The electronics will be cheap in fifteen years; a built in mobile phone with a few extra sensors for sound/video/?? (the network can be used for telepresence and to offload heavy processing, when needed). Then it is "just" a matter of mechanics for locomotion, aimin.. cough, manipulation, etc.

The second point surprised me, totally.

Do Britain give "handouts" to banks in trouble? Without e.g. taking shares in the bank (which will be at a low valuation at that time)?!

In Sweden during the big crash in the early nineties, the state in the end earned money from bailing out banks and later selling the shares. (Since then, there strangely hasn't been any crashes that needed to be covered by the taxpayers.)


And Barry in #99, you call others vile and argue that a democracy will use WMDs first, in an attack?! Demonization in absurdum? :-) I am certain the host hates eternal flame wars like this subject on his blog. I know I dislike them.

103:

Sorry for reaction, didn't see that comment when I wrote previous.

104:

I'm excited about the following developments in the past decade:

Windows 2000 started a trend of consumer OSes that in my mind were every bit as reliable as Linux (i.e. uptime in months, not hours like Win3.1-ME). Some people still hate on Microsoft, but they have long since recovered my good graces. And with Mac OS X, every consumer OS now offered is "modern," in the sense that Windows 3.1 and previous Mac OSes were not.

The spread of WiFi was a true revolution. I'm not sure if anybody still remembers what a pain in the ass it was to connect a PC to a network just ten years ago. I believe I used a null modem a few times in this decade but thankfully those days are gone. Along the same lines, the rise of Flash, USB, USB drives, and the death of floppies.

The rise of managed/dynamic languages started in the last decade. I don't know if there were any milestones in the past ten years, but they've certainly made steady progress in displacing C/C++.

I don't think ten years ago, anybody would have predicted just how big wind power would have become in such a short time. It's still a tiny percentage of total power, but if we look at growth, it was huge.

Electric cars moved out of the realm of hobbyists and research projects to actual cars that are for sale to the public. I didn't expect that.

The Bush years were a nightmare, but they ended in this decade, so we ended on a high note. As much as we all hated the Iraq war, it's easy to forget how much we hated the sanctions regime prior to that, so I think the balance sheet is positive on that one too.

And nothing really terrible happened to Russia in a whole decade, which is a good thing if you remember how bad things were in the 90's.

105:

"I've been researching 19th century machine tools."

That's a very interesting field. I'd be interested to see what your research has turned up. Have you been to the Society of Ornamental Turners? They are getting a bit grey, but the work shown at their annual meetings is still mind-blowing. The article at the link above has some difficult to find information on various sorts of advanced techniques such as elliptic, eccentric, epicyclodal and rose cutting.

Holtzapffel, Evans and especially the Goyen lathes are worth researching.

106:

I personally find it uplifting that after so many years administrating and moderating his blog, Charlie has neither had a stroke nor gone a quest to hunt trolls.

107:

I think someone might have mentioned it already (I've been reading this over the course of the weekend) but there's also the continuing march of energy efficiency. I can now have a full-time webserver connected to the net that uses about 30 watts total once the router and modem are factored in. Even in up here in the gods-forsaken woods of Wisconsin I could probably toss a cheap solar panel up to power it with a watt or two to spare. My TV and refrigerator use about half the power compared to what I had at the start of the century.

108:

Haiti is half an island, not a whole one, and your comment is less right than that.

109:

Madeleine, that's because I'm currently sleeping around 10-11 hours a day, and the trolls are most active when I'm a-bed. Life's too short to eviscerate the entire comment thread before the first mug of tea in the morning, so ...

110:

I hold no brief for the latter Bush, but surely the major failing prior to Katrina was at the state and city level?

If you live in a city under a river then it is hard to see anyone who has a bigger stake in the engineering, and so on for people living nearby, depending for work and trade and services, or simply being part of the economy.

The further you go, the less obvious it is that other people should have been preventing it.


Once it had failed, the federation as a whole should have been sorting it.

111:

People living in the UK will have noticed that the primary course of tetanus immunisation is of 5 injections, 3 at one month intervals and two later at longer intervals.

Nowadays it is mixed with several other immunisations, annd the precise details vary from year to year.


So the barking mad idiots in the antivaccine site referred to above who write:-


"The vaccination protocols call for multiple injections -- three within three months and a total of five altogether. But, since tetanus vaccinations provide protection for ten years or more, why are multiple inoculations called for?(3)"


... have not even learned what the standard course of immunisation is, whatever else they might have wished to draw our attention to.


Very odd people get into this, and their brains don't work as most people's do, in at least this respect. It is curious, it started before Jenner, and hasn't greatly changed.

112:

On the subject of vaccinations, I think it's worth re-reading Jim MacDonald's post on Making Light of a couple of years ago, Why We Immunize.

It's a salutary reality-check.

113:

Barry @ 99 ( & 100 )
There ARE "anti-vax" loopies in the UK, but no-one takes any notice, any more, at any rate. Everyone tells thenm to shut up and go away, as they are known loonies.
AND
The doctor behind the scare (Andrew Wakefield) made fundamental mistakes, and the rest of the profession caught up with him, and very publicly slapped him down.
( Unlike the US, I understand )

Iran: OF COURSE the guvmint there is illegal - as illgal as the guvmints in Cote d'Ivoire, and Zimbabwe, and for the same reasom ... the election was openly rigged, and there were great protests against their vile religious regime. To no effect, because said regime has all the guns and "god" on its side - sound familiar?
I suggest you actually look at what Ahmenidjad has publicly stated, including again, the familiar phrases about "god" - again reminding one of a certain Shrub.

Even given that Benny N. is vile, Israel is still, sfter a fashion, a democracy, and there is protest against the extremism within that state. I make no support for the occupation of the West Bank, or the "settlements" - who like Hamas, and Hizbollah, claim that "god" has given them the land.
Isn't "god" wonderful?

And WHERE have I even vaguely SUGGESTED that a war against Persia is a good idea?
I am vehemently against it - because that is what Ahmenidjad wants. It would cause the Persians to close ranks behind his vile regime, whereas, if he cannnot manufacture a "short victorious war", then his religious crooks' hold on his unfortunate country will probably fall apart. And the female half of the populace will be much better off, at least.

For an apparently deliberate misunderstanding of everything I've written, I think I can award you at least 90%

@ 104
Wind-power is a bust.
Remember the case of Denmark.
Cheap(er) solar and nuclaer are the winners, provided Greenpiss are told to go and play with themselves.

114:

Yes, it's a clueless comment in the article about multiple shots being needed, yes all the standard childhood vaccinations have a high benefit-to-risk ratio, and no, I haven't read anything else on that site and was careful not to endorse their claim that hCG was part of the tetanus vaccine. The claimed five shots is a little unusual - three or four is the standard adult tetanus schedule, but certainly not any kind of evidence.

My point was that the infertility vaccine fears that derailed the polio vaccination campaign were not quite utterly baseless (although they were certainly criminally wrong-headed in their assessment of risk.)

Sorry if I gave the impression that I was endorsing an anti-vaccination site rather than just referencing their claims. I was surprised that hCG vaccines actually exist; that doesn't mean the article's other claims are correct, let alone those on the rest of that site.

115:

While I agree with nearly everything you say (and I doubt GWB was properly elected either time) I don't think there is substantial evidence that Ahmadinejad didn't win the 2009 election. According to Wikipedia, the poll with the best methodology, conducted shortly after the election by a US university-affiliated organization confirmed the election results.

There was genuine protest and doubt of the results among Mousavi supporters and a ruthless response by the Iranian government, however it appears to me that the protests were magnified by tactics that had been used in the other "color revolutions", which were guided - even stage-managed - by a number of western organizations (NED, USAID etc.) with strong links to the CIA. The similarity of the US media coverage of the "Green Revolution" to the other color revolutions reinforced my suspicions in this regard.

(n.b. I do not support the present Iranian government or its brutal policies, nor do I support an invasion.)

116:

I think the ozone hole should be on the list of something to be cheerful about. It was in this decade that we showed that by taking action on things we are doing that are damaging the environment we can reverse the damage.

That no-one is bothering about it any more shows how successfully it's been changed. Yes, I know, there is still ozone depletion going on, and things are not back to normal. But the curve has turned the corner.

117:

There are generally two ways to rig an election: you nobble the count, or you nobble the criteria for candidacy to disqualify your opponents.

I will note that the candidates for the Iranian presidency had to be pre-approved by the Guardian Council, thus disqualifying anyone who wasn't basically working within the system. Which also deterred folks who really didn't support the regime from voting. Meanwhile, Ahmedinejad had a strong predominantly rural base and was popular with the conservative militias and urban working class.

Notwithstanding which, Ahmedinejad has about as much political clout in real terms as the Governor of Texas. The title of "President" does not mean in Iranian politics what naive American on-lookers think it means; he's not actually the chief executive, isn't in charge of foreign policy, and doesn't have control of the armed forces. (He's got the interior ministry -- i.e. the police and national guard equivalent -- through also being appointing the interior minister, but the actual Head of State is Grand Ayatollah Khamenei.) And Ahmedinejad has taken great delight in tweaking the Great Satan's nose accordingly, secure in the knowledge that the important people understand that anything he does is just gesture politics.

I dislike the current Iranian regime and I wish I understood why successive US administrations have gone out of their way to shore it up. (Maybe because having a containable threat is convenient leverage against the Saudis ...?)

118:

As someone with a close friend who has AIDS now, and who's seen others die of it many years ago, I call this a good decade. (Even Bruce Sterling's prediction in "Islands in the Net" was conservative--it mentioned a ship's pilot who was alive but miserable.)

That George W. Bush, despite help from his UN ambassador Yosemite Sam and from Condoleeza Rice, probably the dumbest Secretary of State in living memory (oh, yeah, and SecDef Rumsfeld), failed to ignite Cold War Two, is a good thing.

Near-eradication of the Guinea Worm owes a lot to ex-President of the US Jimmy Carter. bOINGbOING did a piece on that recently.

US jingoism certainly fell off after about 2005, well before Obama got elected. Anecdotally, the missus, who's Australian, noticed loads of yellow ribbons, flags and Support The Troops bumper stickers in 2003, but less and less of them over the years (sample: suburban Houston, Texas).

Call it a gut feeling or maybe wishful thinking, but I think a bit of perspective is returning re terrorism, so maybe the security theater is lagging that. At least there seems to be less of the "loudly agree with Fox/Jyllands-Posten or go join the Jihad" attitude except by clowns like Bernard-Henri Levy. My own position, FWIW, is that, while I support the right of cartoonists, politicians or filmmakers to stir the anthill, my taxes shouldn't pay for their protection 24/7. But whoever kills them should be pursued and punished to the fullest extent of the law!

Hurrah for old Volvos! I left mine (1988 240DL wagon, er, "estate") in the States when I moved away, but my father keeps it and I throw money at it every now and then in an attempt to restore it. I'd pay at least as much if I rented a car, so why not keep the Great White Shark in good repair instead?

119:

t's not a blueprint; it's not even an algorithm for generating a human being. Rather, it's like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process. Debug that.

If I could only convince most biologists I know of that. It'll take a decade for most of them to start understanding how little they understand -- they're mostly not up to Craig Venter snuff (who said precisely that six months ago).

120:

Charlie @ 117
You said: "..the current Iranian regime and I wish I understood why successive US administrations have gone out of their way to shore it up"
Really?
The US are HELPING "Iran" - in what way?
Strikes me as both exceptionally stupid and counterproductive - not that that would stop them, given previous examples.

121:

Greg, the current Iranian regime is internally repressive towards dissidents -- but it has a strong claim to legitimacy based on defense of the realm (that is, of the Persian Empire).

Iranians haven't forgotten the 1953 coup against Mossadegh and the subsequent imposition of a brutal dictatorship, or the earlier occupation (during WW2). Britain and the USA are seen as foreign threats who would subjugate Iran and impose a harsh puppet regime while extracting oil. Nor have they forgotten the CIA shopping around in 1978 for army officers willing to slaughter thousands of civilians (during the anti-Shah revolution) and impose martial law. Nor have they forgotten western support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran during the 1980s.

Every time a western politician harangues Iran and accuses them of sponsoring terrorism, this provides indirect confirmation for the foundational mythology of the regime (that is, that it exists to defend Iran against external threats) and generates internal support for the hard-liners.

GWB was vociferous and frequent in his denunciations, and the Neocons clearly wanted to pick a fight; given the extent of corruption and inefficiency within the regime a third of a century after the revolution I suspect that the only thing propping it up and blocking a genuine democratic, secularizing counter-revolution from gathering pace is the US (and Israeli) political threat.

122:

Throw in US support (via Iraq) of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, which has harassed the Iranian government for decades, and you have a country that has as much reason to love the US as Russia has to love Germany. Actually less, since reunited Germany turned out to be very friendly to Russia, despite the USSR's fears.

I think the US can best help the Iranian opposition by just shutting up for awhile. Sure, protest the really disgusting stuff, like stonings and executions of gays, but otherwise turn down the rhetoric.

Sadly, there was a tiny window for diplomacy right after 9/11, when Iran under Rafsanjani offered its sympathies. Instead, Bush reaffirmed Iran's position on the Axis of Evil, which probably also helped Rafsanjani lose to Ahamadinejad. Thanks a lot, George.

With the latest Wikileaked cables saying Israel is "prepared for war," Iran would be crazy *not* to gin up at least one A-bomb (if they still can), since only nuclear powers seem to get any respect in geopolitics these days. But to counterbalance that, surely there's a memo floating around that calls Ahmadinejad for what he is, a bantam rooster to be counted on to troll the US when things get too quiet.

Back on topic: the invasion of Iran didn't happen and probably won't.

123:

Back on topic: the invasion of Iran didn't happen and probably won't.

They'd have to be insane to try.

Iraq, 2003: 26 million-odd people, three major regional ethnic groups who don't get on well, in an artificial state (carved out of the wreckage of the Ottoman empire by the British and French), held down by a rather half-assed fascist dictatorship. No major geographical obstacles in the south, which is conveniently close to where the US client states (and bases) were located.

Iran, 2010: 70 million-odd people and various ethnic groups but overall tightly integrated in the shape of the classic Persian Empire, which has existed as a political entity for something like 2500 years and has a, shall we say, strong sense of identity. Main religion has a tradition of martyrdom/dying willingly for the cause. Bordered on all sides by towering mountain ranges except on the coast. Is one generation past their equivalent of WW1, complete with war memorials in the form of fountains of blood -- long enough to have recovered demographically but not to have forgotten. Government has some democratic legitimacy and wraps itself in the flag at every opportunity.

... It'd be like the difference between invading Yugoslavia and Germany.

124:

EH@75: So don't use their service, post a bond with the state instead.

125:

I edit the newsletter of Ornamental Turners International.

One interesting bit of information is that Charles Babbage knew Charles Holtzapffel and contributed an article to Holtzapffel's third volume on Turning. The interconnections in British society are a treasure trove of material for Steampunk novels.

Babbage was influenced by an automaton, built by John Merlin, he saw as an 8 year old. Merlin was also a harpsichord maker and was a friend of the Burney's. The Burney family, including novelist daughters Fanny and Sarah, lived in the house in London where Newton had lived.

The spread of mechanic skills by the apprentices of Maudsley and Holtzapffel parallels the way Silicon Valley sprang from Shockley Transistor Co.

126:

They'd have to be insane to try.

So really it was only luck that we didn't, right? :D

127:

@ 57:

Well, no, that's not it. Americans don't have any objections to having to buy auto insurance if they drive.


Actually I know a number that do. Especially in NJ where car insurance is seen as a state legitimised protection racket. However I don't see the situation as being comparable; in many cases you're not insuring your car, you're insuring other people (you hit someone, they shouldn't be out of pocket - your insurance covers that).

It doesn't strike me as quite cricket to say that "Americans don't like mandatory insurance" when it quite obvious that some do and then object to my statement on the grounds that there are easily found counterexamples. You might as well object to me saying that dogs are four-legged animals by pointing out that three-legged dogs exist (I have one - or rather, my daughter has one - myself.)

The larger point here was your statement that Americans don't like mandatory insurance without any specification on who they were insuring. And in this case your further elaboration actually helps make my point. That mandatory insurance that Americans oppose? Well, that's because for a lot of them, they'd be forced to pay out a lot more than they paid in (and of course, this doesn't help drop the cost of health care either.) Yes, eventually these same people would be old enough that they'd be getting back more than they paid in, and in fact, that's exactly what happens with Usian Social Security.

And here's the good thing: Americans have no objection to this form of social insurance when it's administered by the government as a governmental program. But when it's being administered by for-profit private concerns? That's where they draw the line.

My fellow countrymen haven't fallen so far down the rabbit hole that they buy into this sort of Capitalistic bushwah, and in fact, give every indication of drawing back from the precipice. I'd say that over the course of the last ten years, most (U.S.) people have ditched that whole libertarian schtick of government being the problem and have come to (re)acknowledge the fact that government is the counterweight, if not exactly the solution, to Capitalism's excesses.

And that's a good thing.

128:

@ 98:

I think the progress that is being made in getting everything that humans have written online in digital form is a real bright spot. Depending on your interests you can read source documents in an amazing array of languages, living and dead.

And for that matter, add in digital photography. Over the last ten years, cameras have become good enough and cheap enough that any snapshot taken by anyone has the potential to be held in long-term storage, say at least fifty years. I'm guessing even longer.

But that's just the beginning: we also have cheap portable video cams that can be taken practically anywhere, and they've done a lot to demonstrate police malfeasance and brutality. It's no longer just your word against the cops. If there's going to be a panopticon future, at least it can be utilized by the public as well as the authorities.

129:

@ 128:

Our computers are about ten times faster in clock speed than they were circa 2000, but have vastly more (and faster) storage, are cheaper, and are crawling into everything from hotel room doorhandles to automobiles and TVs. My mobile phone today is significantly faster and more powerful — and has a higher resolution display and more storage! — than my PC in 2000.

I read somewhere recently that hardware speedup since the late has been nothing like the algorithmic speedup. Ah, here is is:

Fifteen years later – in 2003 – this same model could be solved in roughly 1 minute, an improvement by a factor of roughly 43 million. Of this, a factor of roughly 1,000 was due to increased processor speed, whereas a factor of roughly 43,000 was due to improvements in algorithms! Grötschel also cites an algorithmic improvement of roughly 30,000 for mixed integer programming between 1991 and 2008.

I remember as a programmer myself in the mid-90's all the doom and gloom about no new advances in programming techniques per se; it was all going to be brute-force hardware improvements that drove things like visual recognition.[1] So stuff like protein folding was always going to be relatively intractable, no matter how close hardware came to realizing theoretical ideals. Happily, this has not been the case.


[1]I remember coming up with a sorting algorithm that worked in O(n) time in the early 80's only to be told that something like this, while workable in theory, couldn't be practically achieved on any machine of reasonable (or reasonably unreasonable) size. And that sorting as a procedure was pretty much written in stone by that point.

130:

That point about getting stuff on line is a good one. I met a former colleague this Christmas who, since retiring, has been volunteering to transcribe various documents at the local museum. So whereas in the past these would exist in local archives, available only to those able to visit (and to read old handwriting) they'll soon be available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection for free. That's a Good Thing.

131:

Before I finish reading the comments, I just want to comment on a comment, and say that "the exegesis of the genomic palimpsest" is an awesome phrase, not just evocative but accurate and realistic as well.

132:

Thanks for the blog, it reminded me of something I took for granted.

Germany has drafted its last 16.000 soldiers. While it hasn't been true that everyone had to go to the army by a long shot for quite some time (I dodged the draft rather easily), it didn't seem realistic at all to expect the end of the draft. It was too entrenched and the current government is a conservative one. But somehow, it happened ... and I just barely noticed.

Ok, the "somehow" is the financial crisis combined with a rather desperate political position of the current government (*), which meant that Germany could no longer afford to continue this particular foolishness and had a government that had little to lose. But the mere ability to stop being crazy is something to behold, something I was afraid that we lost the ability to do.

(*) The current German government is a traditional coalition of the liberal democrats (Free Democratic Party FDP) and the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In recent polls the FDP dropped below the 5% threshold to get into the government and the CDU is barely above 30% - which is an accurate description of how popular the government is.

133:

All good points.

"I wish I understood why successive US administrations have gone out of their way to shore it up."

Reminds me of a old punchline: "...a pig like that you don't eat all at once." Iran was a vital counterbalance to Iraq and still is to the other Sunni states. They had money that was useful for funding the Contras and paying the weapons makers a little more, too, though that deal was a minor thing.

The influence on Hezbollah makes them a useful tool to help keep the Israelis becoming even more insufferable than they usually are, and the Farsi dialect speakers of north and west Afghanistan and neighboring countries are strategically important. Iran's military is unusually well equipped, trained and led for the region, and the topography is even worse than Afghanistan, so direct conflict may have seemed riskier than invading Iran's neighbors to the east and west, doing some covert ops and funding separatist and other armed groups. The Iranian people generally aren't going to welcome western interference,let alone invasion any more than they did the Iraqis, so prevailing either through politics or force is at best very challenging.

Most importantly, the nominal enmity is just too useful not to cultivate and save for later.

134:

Another trend based on the internet over the last decade: the democratization of access to expensive scientific instruments. Until very recently if you wanted to get time on a big telescope you either had to be on the faculty of (one of) the institutions that funded it or you had to request it long in advance, and either way you had to travel to the telescope when you wanted to use it (often spending your entire yearly travel budget). Now many telescopes and satellite instruments are networked, and schedules are maintained online, so you can request time, maybe even finding out about last-minute cancellations, and get the data sent to you as it's downloaded from the instruments. Similar kinds of things can now be done with networks of seismometers, volcano-watching instruments, and automated weather stations.

This is not only a Good Thing, it's a guaranteed way to have a 21st Century moment.

135:

Fascinating connections! I'd be interested to see a James Burke-style piece on Holtzapffel's connections.

While not nearly of the order of the Holzapffel lathes, you might find these machines worth a look:

My family set up a knitting mill near Hartford Ct. in 1838 (after the gunpowder mill exploded - the du Ponts did better in that regard). They made nearly all their own machines. In the 1880s, in the 3rd generation after the startup, Joseph M. Merrow adapted the principles of the knitting machines to the invention of the overedge stitch sewing machine. These are complicated devices with multiple threads choreographed by some rather interesting cams. These have been adapted to various purposes over the decades and are still produced. If you search on "Merrow Machine" and "disassembly" on YouTube you can take a look at the mechanisms.

136:

There's some great stuff at the OTI website- you ought to use it as your URL when you post.

It seems like those rose engines deserve some really fine material to shape. Have you seen the Gilmer Wood site? They've got just about every species and figuring you could name and some you probably have never heard of. Total wood porn. The pink ivory is always a favorite, but I like the amboyna burl the best.

137:

Has the world really progressed in the last 10 years?
This is a very tough question that does not have an easy answer.
Whoever thinks otherwise is simply one-sided.

Yes, there are reasons that indicate that the world progressed.
Alternative energy became at last mainstream.
Internet usage became 6 times higher as well as internet speed.
Linux became mainstream and the opensource revolution advanced rapidly.
The information revolution continued unabated.
The communication revolution as well...

Yet things turned nasty in many essential areas.
The economic system collapsed back in 2008 and the whole world sinked to dept to bail out corrupted bank institutions.
The democracy became a joke in the western world especially after 2001 where a new control surveillant system Orwell style flourished.
Secret jails as well as the nightmarish return of torture and kidnappings returned.
New fences eastern style were built in the western world to lock out immigrants.
Biotechnology contaminated the ecosystem.
Bloody pre emptive wars Nazi style were waged against Iraq and Afghanistan.
Irrational patents like copyright even software and gene patents mock the human creativity and the right to share.
The monstrous IMF invaded the core of the western world like Greece and Ireland destroying the economic level of these countries.

So?
So we are just at the beginning of a great transformation that will lead humanity to the realm of happiness and plentifulness.
Meanwhile the money forces and the rigid violent institutions will do everything to stagnate humanity and prevent it from reaching the true level that deserves according to the contemporary productive forces...

138:

Those are all first world problems. The third world living conditions have improved, meaning less starvation, sickness, and death. So on the whole, I would say the world has become better.

139:

@ 132
NOT the first time this has happened.
The French (!) went through this 15-20 years back, and in Britain it happened in the late 50's
By 1955 the Royal Navy had stopped taking "National Servicemen", and the RAF by (I think) 1960, leaving the Army - who didn't want them.
The Armed Services recognised they wanted professionals ... but it took several years to persuade the POLITICIANS to stop the idiocy.
All the usual bullshit about "training" "moral fibre" "comradeship" and "national cause" were trotted out. Some people still believe this shit.

@ 133
Understood.
However, I find you depreciation of Israel (not its current government, which is horrible) interesting ... given that Hizbollah and Hamas ARE Nazis ...
Have you never come across the history behind the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the time he spent in Berlin (not leaving until Jan-Feb 1945) and his followers?

@ 137
If you feel that badly about it, I suggest you lie down for a bit.
Here, at least, some small alieviatory measures seem to be underway to retreat the Atate's panopticon.
- - - & 138
If the First World ( & I include China in that category, now) goes down the tubes, there is no hope for the rest, so I wouldn't be too over-optimistic either.

140:

... It'd be like the difference between invading Yugoslavia and Germany.

I'm sure this isn't the point you are trying to make, but Germany has been successfully invaded a lot more times than Yugoslavia.

141:

A cheery piece of news from todays ToryGraph ...

"The first trial of a 'polypill' for the over-50s is being launched in Britain today. "


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8238068/Trial-of-daily-polypill-to-protect-heart-begins.html

Since I suffer from an arthritic condition I take rather more than the single, low dose, aspirin tablet that has often been suggested over the last few years to be a Good Thing for the middle aged person and so the idea of regular medication doesn't trouble me.

Mind you the development of inexpensive life extension treatments over the past few years does seem to driven the political classes into a frenzy of bashing the unworthy poor with wave after wave of 'Social Security Scrounger ' polemic and so, after that Polypill anouncment, just watch out for the next wave of ' The Peasants Are Revolting ' type of headlines.

142:

Sort-of ...

Yugoslavia: you can invade it without too much effort (it's small), you can (if you're bright) get one of the local ethnic groups to hold down the other groups on your behalf, but they hold long grudges and nothing good will come of it. Luckily they're too busy hating each other to come after you once you wise up and leave.

Germany: is a lot bigger and harder to invade. Since unification, Germany has been successfully invaded just once -- by 73 allied divisions from the west, and by over 2.5 million Soviet troops from the east. IIRC the immediate post-VE day occupation forces were numbered in the multiple-millions.

Iran has a population of 76-80 million, area of 1.65 million square kilometres -- it's the size of France, Germany, and Spain combined -- and large chunks of it are a geographical nightmare for invaders. As I said, occupy that.

143:

Hi, Greg! Yes, I do indeed still believe this shit. Be polite now; this comment space attracts a lot of people with rather different opinions. Some of us even think that they can be defended by facts and logic, and have good reputations for changing our opinions in light of both.

So be polite. Supporting the draft may be incorrect, but it isn't idiocy. I regret Germany's decision, just as I regret earlier ones by France and Spain and the United States.

144:

@ 143
A well-trained professional (all-volunteer) force will always beat a conscripted force of the same size, or larger. This applies even more in Naval or Air encounters, of course.
But, if you are merely thinking of "grunts on the ground" - erm, why?
I think you'll find that military leaders of any competence prefer volunteer, non-conscripted forces.
There are very good reasons for this, not least getting real familiarity with the kit said forces are using, and using it as combined teams.

If OTOH, you are thinking of it as a "good" in the political terms I mentioned earlier, I'm going to have great difficulty being polite, as it is always (AFAIK) used as a con-trick by said politicians.

145:

Aerostats ....
or advertised as "hybrid Vehicles"

Mentioned in today's BBC news.
"Survellance, Logistics, Aid" seem to be the advertising slogans.
More details here
NOT high-altitude vehicles, though.

146:

@ 144:

A well-trained professional (all-volunteer) force will always beat a conscripted force of the same size, or larger. This applies even more in Naval or Air encounters, of course.

Well, there's a little bit more to it than that. From an NPR story a week or so ago:

In Germany, since the late 1950s, young men have been required to serve six months in the military or do community service. The German government recently decided to suspend the draft and few Germans expect it will ever return. And thats causing anxieties at hospitals, retirement homes and non-profits. They have benefited from free labor from the many young men who chose the community service option.

Like it or not, the military is one of the few acceptable jobs programs for a lot of western countries (and probably quite a few elsewhere.) Military service remains a good way to keep idle young troublemakers off the street. Not necessarily the best, but if that's all you've got to work with . . .

147:

"A well-trained professional (all-volunteer) force will always beat a conscripted force of the same size, or larger."

So say you. Evidence? Personal experience? You're not correct in this. And while you are correct about the preferences of current Army officers, much of that stems from the inherent small-c conservatism of the organization. IDF officers disagree.

C'mon, Greg. No reason to bullshit; your opinion against conscription is perfectly valid in terms of fiscal savings.

"If OTOH, you are thinking of it as a 'good' in the political terms I mentioned earlier, I'm going to have great difficulty being polite, as it is always (AFAIK) used as a con-trick by said politicians."

Why yes, among other things, that is exactly how I'm thinking of it. I urge you not to get impolite with me. For your own dignity. I won't mess up Charlie's blog with a slang-fest, but you shouldn't want to drag yourself down into the mud.

148:

My understanding is that the point of conscription in post-war West Germany (and post-unification Germany) was neither to recruit soldiers nor to provide employment for the young: it was a nation-building exercise. Between 1918 and 1933 the small, professional Reichswehr became increasingly divorced from the polity, making it relatively easy for the Nazis to roll its officers and, by effectively bribing them with vast resources, to turn it into yet another tool of the regime.

By switching to a "people's army" model, the idea was that the army would be of the nation and leadership by an isolated elite officer caste wouldn't be able to regain a toe-hold.

149:

Noel, I think Israel is arguably a special case: the initial military service is three years, followed by a month a year until roughly age 50, so Israeli conscripts have vastly more experience than, say, a typical Italian conscript in the 1990s (six months basic training then six months make-work, according to a friend of mine who had to interrupt his PhD to go square-bash).

Indeed, in the 1980s, when Thatcher rattled some cages about reintroducing conscription in the UK (as a means of cutting unemployment) the main push-back came from the Army chiefs, who pointed out that it takes more than three years to train a modern infantryman to the point of being useful: reintroducing conscription would have cut the number of available front-line soldiers by diverting huge numbers of experienced NCOs into nurse-maid duties for a revolving door crammed full of trainees who would be of no use in actual combat. (Not to mention the inevitable screams of outrage the first time an 18-yo conscript came home in a box from Ulster. Or a bunch of NI civilians ended up on the wrong end of a scared conscript's trigger finger.)

150:

@ 147
AND
I was talking about using modern weapons and systems.
I CAN (and have) use a 0.303 Lee-Enfield, but a modern semi-auto rifle is another ball game, never mind going anywhere near say the GPMG, or a Milan.

There is, of course, the OTHER argument against conscription.
The people you force into it, particularly if they are intelligent, but consider it a waste of their talents.
The Brit guvmint got it entirely correct, for instance, when they refused to conscript my father in 1941 -as a soldier, but instead conscripted him to MAKE bombs (He had an M.Sc. in chemistry, and what he didn't knew about making things go bang, wasn't worth knowing, at least up uintil about 1970 ...)
I would be a really lousy soldier.
I MIGHT have made a good pilot, when I was 20, I might have made a good Naval Officer, perhaps ...
Got the idea yet?

151:

@ 148:

My understanding is that the point of conscription in post-war West Germany (and post-unification Germany) was neither to recruit soldiers nor to provide employment for the young: it was a nation-building exercise.

That accords with my basic understanding as well. However, whatever the original intent, it seems that for a number of countries the military evolves into an institution that in part absorbs whatever surplus labor there is lying around. That's imho, of course, but it certainly seems to be the case in my home country.[1] And, occasionally, that surplus labor is actually put to productive use (per the NPR link. I'd like to see more of this - soldiers armed with sponges and meals on wheels as opposed to soldiers carrying machines designed to put small bits of metal into people as quickly and violently as possible.)

Ive never understood how the Powers That Be can be so stingy with civilian programs for the long-term unemployed (in our case, while making pious noises about the deficit gap), and then without turning a hair spin around and vote for increased military appropriations. But there you have it.

[1] One place my reading is severely deficient is in contemporary and not-so-contemporary history. It seems that everything I can reasonably get my hands on has a pro-American slant[2], and I simply don't know enough about who to trust and who not to when it comes to ordering any material outside our public library. Can anyone recommend any good history texts for any time period from, say, 1700 to the present? I'm very much a historical forces kinda guy, the march of technological progress and all that.

[2]I've been accused any number of times by the usual suspects of being anti-American for not eating up the usual rah-rah propaganda. I'm not, of course, I'm just not particularly pro-American on any of a number of issues. If I had to label myself, I'd say that I was pro-serf.

152:

There are reasons to be cheerful, but not for those of us who live in the West. For us the story is one of continuing decline, loss of power, loss of wealth, loss of social cohesion, and ultimately balkanization and collapse. The UK in particular seems to be circling the drain rather rapidly, now that the financial shell game that has propped it up has been exposed. There seems to be something ineluctable at work, some vast cosmic power that is conspiring to destroy western civilization. Maybe Spengler could explain it, as some cyclical end state when liberalism has totally deconstructed the foundations of your civilization and left it with nothing to stand on.

In my crystal ball I see gathering darkness. I see holy wars fought in European capitals; I see the Han tribe marching toward world domination; I see the Anglosphere imploding and sinking to third world status; I see a new Hitler emerging who will attempt to expel the muslims in a desperate bid to save the West from its suicidal trajectory. The only “solution”, given the cul de sac we find ourselves in, may be total collapse, followed by rebirth. The progressive myths of our age are totally played out and bankrupt; we are living in global Weimar.

153:

@ 152:

There are reasons to be cheerful, but not for those of us who live in the West. For us the story is one of continuing decline, loss of power, loss of wealth, loss of social cohesion, and ultimately balkanization and collapse. The UK in particular seems to be circling the drain rather rapidly, now that the financial shell game that has propped it up has been exposed.

Well, it used to be back in the 50's that the decline of the West was due in large part to nuclear fireballs sprinkling the globe. But even back then that wasn't the death of humanity; the seat of culture and learning was just transferred elsewhere. Um, say, Piper's Terro-Human Federation, where the big players operate out of South America, South Africa, and Australia (iirc.)

Say what you will, but if power is transferred south of the equator and the all the Western powers suffer is some sort of economic decline and loss of world influence, well, that's a big improvement over the former future scenarios in my book :-)

Which goes back to Charlie's last paragraph:

I'm sorry to note that most of the good stuff didn't happen to those of us in the developed world — but the human world is indisputably in better shape overall in 2010 than it was in 2000. And what makes my neighbour happier without damaging me makes my world a better place.

Which I agree with, in spades. I'll also note that a number of those countries enjoying a modern, more western affluence are also seeing a relative decrease in authoritarianism, again imho. Maybe they're still more authoritarian than places like Germany, England, etc, but still, that's got to count for something, doesn't it?

154:

MODERATION NOTE

Sean Strange, this is your red card.

In other words, you're banned (and any subsequent postings on this topic will be deleted).

((This relates to a reply SS made to SoV which has been moderated due to the sheer quantity of neofascist craziness boiling off it -- stuff about class of cultures, decline of civilization, iron jackboot of alien cultures upon the liberal western neck, etc. etc.))

155:

they should rename it, 'trickle-down' should be 'pocket-fill'

156:

LED lights, which may end up replacing plant oils (which are a consumable source of calories) in the Third World. They certainly are beneficial to my Christmas tree, which has lasted extremely well (ok, ok, it comes down this next weekend. It's still pretty). Fewer worries about Christmas trees going up in flames, less worry about how much water is in the basin of the holder (a slug of cheap vodka right at the beginning appears to keep the tree from shedding needles, mind you), fewer houses burning down.

Oh, and the human genome--
"We have arisen to new and dazzling levels of bafflement"--Miles Vorkosigan, _Komarr_. And maybe junk DNA just means we don't know what it's for yet.

157:

I was speaking from the point of view of the US leadership, who generally support Israel, usually because to do otherwise is political suicide. Power-seekers such as these don't appreciate having their leashes yanked too hard or too often, when this happens they find Israel annoying. I suspect they may sometimes get back in passive-aggressive ways such as not invading Iran and not completely shutting down Hezbollah. Or it could also be that the Israeli leadership is cultivating the continued existence of outside threats to maintain internal cohesion, threats that aren't always quite as ineffective as they would prefer.

Most of the really important stuff in US-Israeli relations is secret, or at least never officially acknowledged. You aren't going to hear much on the news about the spying, blackmail, extortion, theft, threats, assassinations, war crimes and bribery. If you hear a position being pushed in the US mass media on Israel or its neighbors, it is going to be for a reason, and very unlikely to go against Israeli leadership interests. That is not at all the same thing as the Israeli people's long-term interests, even though the vast majority of Israelis are squarely behind just those government policies that they would most object to if the situation between them and the Arabs were reversed. In the long run these policies are going to harm everyone. The same is true of some of the policies of Israel's enemies, the main difference being their lesser power and more recent reasons for feeling self-righteously offended.

158:

My normal media coverage have too many rants on the Mideast situation. :-(

There should be lots of better places for that particular meaningless flamewar.

It is not my sake to police this blog, but this is something that bores me extraordinarily.

Let me take one example:
>>even though the vast majority of Israelis are squarely behind just those government policies

Huh? That looks like demonization.

The Israeli peace movement is quite big.

Afaik:
A large minority (to a small majority) in Israel votes for peace oriented parties -- and a majority in Israel is squarely behind a two state solution. (Without being an expert, it seems that the hawks get more votes if a peace agreement seems unlikely.)

Democracies with terror problems tends to go a bit crazy -- and here we talk about not only rocket artillery against cities, but an existential threat. Any democracy in that situation will have a large support for extreme security measures, etc.

But certainly, what I've read might be wrong.

Do you have a non-extremist reference to your claim(s)?

But please, just post a link to some other discussion place where you put the link -- and if I feel energetic I might bother answering. :-(

159:

I agree with you about the Israeli army, and as I said, the cost argument for countries that don't need large military services are fairly compelling unless you have other reasons to support conscription.

I don't think, however, that those British officers were being straightforward when they said that it takes three years to train an infantryman. ITB at Fort Benning lasts 12 weeks. There are other courses, and unit training continues afterwards, but you are combat-ready at the end of the course. More to the point, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore maintain highly efficient conscript armies based on relatively short terms of service.

The real reason, I'd bet, that they didn't want conscription was threefold. First, general conservatism. Second, an abundance of manpower --- why spend on a bigger Army than you need? Third, and most importantly, the exigencies of counterinsurgency in Northern Ireland. Unless the state desperately needs the manpower, conscript armies in a situation like that can backfire in both directions, as you allude.

But the training argument, I am not convinced, having seen the training up-close and personal.

160:

"Got the idea yet?"

That is rude. Why are you being rude? Don't be rude, it is very unbecoming.

161:

The twelve weeks at Fort Benning thing is basic training -- physical conditioning, obeying orders, basics of military culture, how to aim a bang-stick. You nailed it with "there are other courses, and unit training continues afterwards, but you are combat-ready at the end of the course." Combat-ready in what capacity? What the British Army was wanting was fully trained soldiers integrated into units and with the specialized skills to operate effectively in the specialities they needed, not grunts carrying rifles. In other words all that extra stuff you mentioned.

Note that this debate occurred in the early eighties. Conscription in the UK was abolished in 1960 (or thereabouts -- just before I was born). The senior officers having the debate will have remembered how the British Army operated as a conscript-based service, and didn't want to go back, despite the offer of (effectively) doubling or tripling their manpower. They were saying at the time that the current five-year short enlistment gave them about two and a half years' useful (i.e. fully trained and integrated) service out of a soldier.

162:

Isn't the British attitude a bit different, since "your" main interest is to train soldiers to go visit others? :-)

If the French/Spanish/Germans had a few successful landings of armies during the last few centuries, there might be a bit different attitude to training every (half way) able bodied man to use a rifle...

163:

BerntB: well, the British view has traditionally been that, since Britain's an island, the first line of defence for the homeland is the datum line of the enemy coast. Having a big army for homeland defence isn't as important as having a big navy; hence why there was (albeit limited) naval conscription, but not military conscription, during various European wars.
But mass conscription for a navy is less practical than for an army, because a navy's made up of technical specialists. For this reason, too, mass conscription for a modern technological army is less practical than for a 1914 or 1815 army.

However, there have been various changes in attitude towards universal military training - the militia in 1800 was massive, and highly prominent, as was the Volunteer movement in the late 19th century.

164:

Well, since Israel seems to be the topic du jour, then it's another reminder of 2000-2010 being a pretty good decade, and that scattered episodes of local bad craziness occurred during this time actually prove the point.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up, it was conventional wisdom that the Middle East was a very likely flashpoint for WWIII. Some of my crazier countrymen, such as the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, actually wanted that to happen.

Some American fundamentalists wanted Israel to rebuild the Temple of Solomon, incidentally bulldozing Islam's second most holy shrine, the rock where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was supposed to have ascended bodily to Paradise. Restoring the Temple would fulfill part of Millerite End Time prophecy, with the likely result, a war quickly going nuclear, satisfying the rest as near as dammit. Final victory over the Evil Empire! The same prophecy also said that only 144,000 (or maybe 14,400) Jews would survive, and as Christian converts at that, a bonus for some of the fundies.

Happily, the Israeli government wasn't stupid, and that last point probably wasn't lost on them either. With the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and even the rise of Putin, the above scenario became a dead letter. If the Cold War had still been on, America's response to 9/11 and Israel's failed invasion of Lebanon would have had me stocking up on gold, women and sheep. If Israeli hardliners still manage to wreck the Middle East, at least they won't take down the rest of the world with them. (After growing up half-expecting a Mad Max-style world (or that of A Boy And His Dog) as a *best*-case scenario, terrorism as an existential threat is a joke.)

And the past decade was when Falwell died (looking like the poison toad he was) and the Rev. Pat Robertson piddled away the remains of his credibility, so that made it pretty good too.

165:

@ 164
Small technical correction.
There is no "god".
Therefore there are no "prophets".
Now, or in the past.
Just dangerously deluded nutters.
And, unfortunstely, their followers.

Such as the aforementioned Israeli "settlers", and Hamas/Hizbollah BOTH claiming that "god" has given them the (same piece of) land.

166:

Even more minor correction: there is no "greg." If you consider the vast amount of space and matter in the Universe, the amount of greg is so negligible as to be nonexistent for all practical purposes.

#164: totally agree with you on comparing 9/11 and the Cold War. I was always shocked at how people could forget in less than 10 years what real dread was. On the other hand, terroism is on a human scale and thus actionable, with the main action being unreasoning panic and manipulation of said panic. While mutually assured destruction has a tendency to elicit a might-as-well-ignore-that-giant-reptile-in-the-sky-attitude-cause-it's-going-to-do-what-it's-going-to-do attitude.

167:

@ 166 & 164
When a senior politician is brutally murdered for merely SUGGESTING that persecuting people because they don't follow the erroneously-taken down rantings of a demented Dark-Ages camelherder, it is long past time to take notice.
And it isn't funny, given the armament of the state in which that politican lived.

Certainly over 5 times a week, I have to contend with other religious loonies (fortunately without weaponry) who are equally demented about a collection of Bronze-Age goatherders' myths (sometimes called "the bible"). That these bampots are controlled from somewhere in Arizona, whilst I live in NE London, doesn't fill me with any more or less joy than the followers of the other loonie, previously mentioned.

So, I suggest you grow up, quickly.
Once people believe that "god" (in whatever form) has given them absolute commands, they will commit, quite literally, any atrocity.

168:

This may sound mean-spirited, but why is China's economic rise automatically a reason to be cheerful? Would you have also considered Nazi Germany's rise from the ashes of the Weimar Republic to be a reason for cheerfulness? The comparison may seem incendiary to some and will invite an invocation of Godwin, but it is not at all inappropriate. Nazi Germany was lead by an oppressive, undemocratic and authoritarian regime; so is the PRC. Nazi Germany was expansionist and made numerous claims on the territory of its neighbors (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland); so has the PRC (Taiwan, South China Sea and parts of Japan and Central Asia). Nazi Germany's economic rise was paralleled by a military buildup; so has the PRC's rise. Nazi Germany practiced a form of managed capitalism or "state capitalism;" so does the PRC.

An economically strong China is bad for Japan, bad for Taiwan, bad for South Korea, bad for the United States and the entire free world. The best outcome we can reasonably hope for at this point is for China's economy and government to collapse before it can make good on its intentions to annex Taiwan or any other part of the free world, as it did with Hong Kong. Short of a major war that the Chinese lose, I see nothing else that will spur its citizens to unseat its terrible government.

169:

Yellow card. (Consider yourself lucky I didn't delete that comment and ban you on the spot.)

Mark: International development isn't a zero-sum game. Nor is the "free" world as free as you think. Or as much of a good thing as you think. Nor is your mean-spirited disregard for the wellbeing of a quarter of the planet's population (going from civil war, intermittent famine, and despotism to first-world levels of development, relative peace, and a much less harsh despotism in 60 years) appropriate.

As for the Weimar/Nazi metaphor, it's just plain wrong-headed, and a dirty rhetorical trick that you should be ashamed of: the similarities you're trying to sketch in dissolve as soon as one begins to examine them, leaving a greasy stain and a nasty taste of eliminationish rhetoric. Here's a hint: Germany was already developed in 1919. In contrast, China in 1950 (or even in 1980) truly wasn't.

Note that nothing in this should be seen as a defense of the authoritarianism of the Chinese communist party; there are some very bad aspects to the regime, and I'd be a happy camper if they liberalized and democratized. But comparing them to the Third Reich is very inappropriate.

170:

Charlie, thank you for your reply. However, even though my comment was controversial, I think it's pretty clear that it was made in good faith, and for that reason, threatening to delete it or ban me was inappropriate.

The emotion that spurred me to post was not hatred, but rather fear; specifically, fear of Chinese nationalism and militarism. See, for example: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/129371/sino-fascism/john-derbyshire

As the article above demonstrates, the comparison to the Third Reich is not as inappropriate as you think. China is an intensely nationalist, expansionist, and yes, even a racist country.

I understand that international development and economics generally aren't zero-sum games. That's why I expressed no misgivings about India's rise; India has its problems, but it is a peaceful, democratic nation and a western ally. Its rise poses a threat to no one. China is an entirely different matter.

171:

I think it's pretty clear that it was made in good faith, and for that reason, threatening to delete it or ban me was inappropriate.

Nope. See the moderation policy. I'll ban anything and anyone I damn well please.

(But note that I didn't, in this case.)

Your citation of John Derbyshire does not fill me with happiness and joy; nor does your use of the National Review as a reference. Even so, you seem to have missed out some salient points about Derbyshire's article. As Derbyshire says, "To what degree Chi’s sentiments can be said to represent Chinese govt. policy is highly debatable." Then he spoils it by going on a citation-free rant (sort of an inverse mom-and-apple-pie spiel to make his readers feel uneasy about China) before concluding "It could turn to action only in extraordinary circumstances, and personally I’m not losing any sleep over the opium dreams of an old revolutionary."

To provide some context, Derbyshire bases this whole alarmist fantasy (before dismissing it) on a speech by an old war-horse who was eased out in 2003, presumably for being an embarrassment. And it's reported in a mag owned by Falun Gong, of all people.

If you want to know why the Communists have a flea up their arse about FG, and why FG hate the Communists, you might want to contemplate the history of the Boxer Rebellion, and the similarities between the overall shape of FG ... and the shape of the Righteous Spirit Society. (If I was running China, I would have a problem with organizations that combine martial arts with religion, like the one that triggered a civil war that directly killed over a hundred thousand people.)

Finally, if I wanted to write a rant about the evils of American theocratic fundamentalist imperialism, it'd be bloody easy to dig up some embarrassing comments by William G. Boykin, some effusions by Sarah Palin, and paint an alarming picture of America for an audience who've never visited that country: sort of an anglophone Iran with nukes and evangelical tendencies. But it wouldn't be an accurate depiction of US policy or sentiment, except on the fringes -- and it'd be insane to use it as a basis for calling for "a major war that Americans lose" to unseat their "terrible government".

172:

@ 171:

Your citation of John Derbyshire does not fill me with happiness and joy; nor does your use of the National Review as a reference.

Wince. Now there's a loose cannon. Derbyshire has actually written two of the better books popularizing mathematics and has a degree in the subject, so I've got to sorta claim him as one of mine.[1] What's noteworthy about his reprehensible views in other regards is that he can be at logger-heads with "traditional" conservatism, (American style) on a number of subjects. He'll even go against other writers in the National Review's stable, something that's usually Just Not Done, cf his very public disagreements with Podhoretz and Ponnuru. Quite clear that he thinks they're both dimwitted idiots, btw, and both those worthies seem to be very aware of this.

In short, he's one of those contrary mathematical types that you get sometimes whose opinions on certain subjects overlap with traditional conservatives, but apparently only coincidentally. Ted Kaczynski was another one of those.

[1]Though I disagree violently with a number of his opinions, he does seem to have a gift for expressing mathematical ideas in a clear, easily-understood, and unambiguous way that's far more the exception than the norm with these sorts of things. Insert a plug for Dunham's "Journey Through Genius" here.

173:

Mr. Stross I think you are being entirely too kind to the Chinese government. Whatever the problems of the United States, and as a Canadian I get to see those problems up close, a world where China was the dominant power would be much worse. To quote Orwell "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever."

174:

I'm not being kind to them; I'm just not buying into the currently-popular-in-North-America Yellow Peril phobia.

They're not nice people, no.

But if you were living in North Vietnam, 1961-72 (or any number of other times and places), neither was the United States.

175:

@ 173:

Finally, if I wanted to write a rant about the evils of American theocratic fundamentalist imperialism, it'd be bloody easy to dig up some embarrassing comments by William G. Boykin, some effusions by Sarah Palin, and paint an alarming picture of America for an audience who've never visited that country: sort of an anglophone Iran with nukes and evangelical tendencies. But it wouldn't be an accurate depiction of US policy or sentiment, except on the fringes -- and it'd be insane to use it as a basis for calling for "a major war that Americans lose" to unseat their "terrible government".

I think this is a good point to repeat my request for books on American history/culture/politics that are written by people who are more concerned with scholarship than they are acting as boosters for American exceptionalism. Which is yet another reason to be cheerful - just look at the state of blogging circa 2001 and now. To name one specific example, it was only through online blogs and other pointers that I finally got a more objective version of, say, the founding of Israel and their disgraceful antics since then. That's the sort of stuff you're not really going to come across in a typical bookstore or library unless you're already aware of it, a sort of chicken-and-egg problem. In fact, it seems that most of the relevant news stories are broken earlier and covered both more extensively and more objectively by the New Media than by the old, who increasingly look like just one part of a rather mangy, dodgy propaganda apparatus - and a not very effective one at that.

And The kids I see around my daughter seem to think that the intertubes are more trustworthy than what are regarded as the traditional sources as a matter of course, if somewhat more heterogeneous. After the seniors aged 70+ who seem to comprise most of Fox's market share die off, I don't see that old players have much of a chance of hanging on unless they radically change their ways to attract a younger more informed and more informationally savvy audience.

176:

Mr Stross do you realize that if you were hosting this blog from China you could be subject to arrest at anytime? Some of the criticisms you have made of the Conservative government in the UK, criticisms I share by the way, could land you in prison if you made them of the Chinese government in China. An ascendant China, as currently governed, is a threat to freedom everywhere.

177:

@ 173:

Mr. Stross I think you are being entirely too kind to the Chinese government. Whatever the problems of the United States, and as a Canadian I get to see those problems up close, a world where China was the dominant power would be much worse.

If you're saying that from a country whose one of our putative allies, consider what the neutrals and unfriendlys think. Say, all of the Middle East which despises us for our interventions there in general and for how we support Israel to name one particular.

See, the problem here is that you think the U.S. is better than average when it comes to being a dominant player on the world stage and that China would be worse than average.

I don't.

In fact, I suspect that any nation, once it gets large enough that it can throw it's weight around with impunity, is going to act pretty much the same way (I'd like to see the Canadian version of World Hegemony.) And when they do, they'll have elaborate explanations, beautifully ramified justifications, bolstered by the studies of legions of their own think tanks which are the equivalent of AEI, Cato, etc., as to why this is really for everybody else's own good.

That's not beating up on America. That's not regarding a country like China as a noble and misunderstood player. It's just noting that any institution made out of people isn't very good at handling power once they acquire it.

I've got to ask - is this really news to you?

178:

@ 176:

Mr Stross do you realize that if you were hosting this blog from China you could be subject to arrest at anytime? Some of the criticisms you have made of the Conservative government in the UK, criticisms I share by the way, could land you in prison if you made them of the Chinese government in China.

Somehow, I fail to see how this observation makes the point you seem to think it's making ;-) Could you be a bit less skimpy in detailing the links in your causal chain of reasoning?[1]

Why, precisely, do you think a dominant China would make me more subject to arrest in the United States for making public my displeasure with that foreign power?

[1]Once again what we have here is a narrative as opposed to a testable hypothesis that makes falsifiable predictions. Seems to be a bad habit all around, and one that's rather difficult to break, unfortunately.

179:

There is No Such Thing as a good global hegemon (Iain Banks' Culture excepted -- and they're a work of utopian fiction).

Imperial power corrupts, because with it flows a huge amount of money and, well, power. Global hegemony corrupts maximally. And the beauty of the current American system is that its foundational mythology makes it very difficult for anyone who has grown up with it to recognize that the praxis of hegemonic power is almost diametrically opposed to the values that the hegemonic power was supposedly founded to protect.

180:

Scentofviolets I have learned from your posts over at crooked timber that conversing for you is a mugs game. Sorry.

181:

Good no. How about better than?

182:

I can't speak for Charlie, but I don't really find it likely that China will end up as a global hegemon in the way the USA has done, within the next few decades. It has a multitude of internal problems, little apparent need for imperialism (although that didn't stop the USA), a variety of countries surrounding it who wouldn't want to see it get too powerful, and so on.
So what is the problem with China? How will it make large corporations and the governments they control any more corrupt, self seeking and controlling than they already are?

183:
...the Canadian version of World Hegemony...

God, that would be delicious.

"Prepare for assimilation! Uh, if that's OK with you..."

184:

@ 179:

There is No Such Thing as a good global hegemon (Iain Banks' Culture excepted -- and they're a work of utopian fiction).

Imperial power corrupts, because with it flows a huge amount of money and, well, power. Global hegemony corrupts maximally.

Not often noticed or mentioned, but the back story in Anerson's Tau Zero addresses this point. Those nice Swedes, the people who make Volvos, whose King had ABBA entertain at a gala affair, well what could possibly go wrong with putting responsibility for how the world was run in their hands? Could be worse, right? As it turns out, public opinion on that one reversed rather dramatically on that one once Sweden actually had the whip hand.

And the beauty of the current American system is that its foundational mythology makes it very difficult for anyone who has grown up with it to recognize that the praxis of hegemonic power is almost diametrically opposed to the values that the hegemonic power was supposedly founded to protect.

That's a Chomsky staple. But one I happen to agree with. The thing is, I don't think he went far enough in applying this notion. Imagine a world - as so many did way back when - where it is Western Europe and North America that collapses leaving the U.S.S.R. to fill the void. My impression is that in those oh-so-earnest conversations between exchange students living in a fictional Petrograd dorm, one of the natives would very sincerely and painfully explain how his great country actually saved the U.S. from itself and the soul-devouring Chthonic entity that is Capitalism.

Sterling has written a few stories where it is the Middle East that is ascendant in the 21st, and that they believe they have saved the rest of the world after it's willful turn away from God and Godliness.

And if it was France, we'd hear endless harangues about how they saved the rest of the world from bad cooking and bad wine. Really, we poor tasteless wretches ought to thank them. Even if we are forbidden from speaking French, the language of the Court, seeing as how we profane that language every time it's syllables pass our lips.

So it goes :-)

185:

>>Scentofviolets I have learned from your posts over at crooked timber that conversing for you is a mugs game. Sorry.

He do personal attacks? He writes fantasies about your opinions and attack them? And argues that he doesn't need to answer arguments from top 5 think tanks in USA (according to Wikipedia) based on a reference to something in the ninties in a different area he claims was bad?

Ah, well... I got the impression that is his modus operandi. :-)

He and Charlie do have a point, regarding China.

The US foreign policy is selfish realpolitik and they do an incredible number of military interventions -- but it is quite a bit better after the cold war and probably nicer than China will be.

(After the cold war, USA is less likely to support a regime ready to do a Darfur etc. Like China has.)

But we just have to accept that China and India grows rich and powerful, because that will help a lot of human suffering.

And rich countries generally democratize, it seems. Most trouble places are oil countries where the juntas need to keep people down, so they generate external enemies.

If it is possible to have economic freedom and keep political control (computerized Big Brother, maybe) we will get the 1984 scenario you referenced.

God (if it exists, against all taste and reason) help us all, then.

186:
There is No Such Thing as a good global hegemon

In no small part because the kind of acts required to become a global hegemon are neither moral nor intended to promote the common good.

187:

I think I'd rather deal with a rich China than a poor one. At least rich countries *can* democratize. It doesn't mean they will; China seems very happy with its system and its loyal capitalists, somewhat in the mold of Tsar Vladimir and his oligarch-boyars. Many capitalists, especially American ones, adapt easily to either.

Poor countries don't have a lot of room to do anything except stick more firmly to the road they're going down already. And if China is as evil or crazy as someone like Derbyshire would have you believe, I doubt a collapse would improve their mood or manners. Besides, I think it's pretty cool China are in the space race, and that's good motivation for the US space programs.

As for bashing religion, been there done that, in my libertarian / L5 Society days. It's pretty much wasted effort and only causes a reaction in people who otherwise don't feel very strongly about religion one way or the other. Religion's not going away anytime soon, at least because it's too handy an outlet for one's inclinations. But even if it were to disappear tomorrow, the 19th and 20th century have proved that people will find other justifications to get themselves through a long night and/or screw someone over.

188:

"Nope. See the moderation policy. I'll ban anything and anyone I damn well please.

(But note that I didn't, in this case.)"

I see. Well, given those sentiments, I guess it's not that surprising that you have a much more sanguine view of China and its government than I do.

And for all the talk about empire and global hegemony, could someone please provide evidence that the U.S. wages its power in a purely selfish manner to enrich itself at the expense of others? Specifically, how has defending Japan and South Korea for decades made us any wealthier? (Except indirectly by ensuring we have Japan and South Korea to trade with.) How have the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan made us richer?

189:

According to my world view, 'defending' Japan and south Korea for decades 1) helps ensure trade, as you say, 2) is a relic of cold war thinking and practise regarding the domino effect, 3) ensures that everyone knows you are big and powerful.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq seem to me to have had different aims. Afghanistan was a reflexive kill the murderer type effort, which later switched to nation building, and enriching itself was surely not the aim, rather to revenge itself on various guilty parties.
Iraq was a badly planned daydream, in which various parts of the US power had a common aim, for different reasons. Those reasons I can see are - 1) Finishing what his daddy didn't do, 2) fantasies of turning Iraq into a haven for american style capitalism in the middle east, 3) More money and contracts for the military and their suppliers and Cheney style privatisation of military functions, i.e. personal greed, 4) A desire to improve the world by getting rid of a murderous dictator.
Note that 2 out of the 4 reasons for Iraq are ones based on money, greed, and direct benefit to the USA, or at least that part of it to which those making the decisions belong.

190:

Hi, Charlie,

ITB and BCT are different. BCT is a nine-week course (or was; there have been changes I'm not current with) that is, in fact, basic training. ITB is the "infantry training course," and at the end of it you are considered combat-ready. (Nobody is ever really combat ready.) The additional courses I talked about are supplementary, and are usually taken after spending some time as a basic 11-series infantryman.

In that sense, then, you're empirically mistaken.

That said, a modern Army requires a number of other specialities. "Advanced individual training" in intelligence, for example (I'm deliberately keeping to the courses in which I have personal experience) takes 16 weeks on top of the 9-week BCT.

And in that sense, you're correct. But the basic premise was not right.

191:

As for a Canadian World Hegemony, well... I'm a Canadian. We Canadians like to think that we are nice and inoffensive on the world scene-- but this is probably because we have almost zero clout. Places where we do have clout (inside our own borders), our record is not so good.

See the history of the Metis rebellions, residential schools, forced relocations of Inuit to the high arctic, and so on.

192:

I'm not the US government; I'm under no obligation not to infringe your right of free speech. Also? I'm paying for this server -- you aren't. (See the FAQ: "Why there is no tip-jar.") You're welcome to say whatever you want on the internet -- you can set up your own blog for free in several different places -- but this is my server, costing me on the high side (in US money) of a thousand dollars a year, and I feel no obligation to pay to publish opinions I find reprehensible or disgusting.

As for the South Korea/Japan defence thing, are you familiar with the term containment? (Hint: losing the cold war to a rival hegemonic power would have really put a cramp on the US economy.)

193:

@ 188:

"Nope. See the moderation policy. I'll ban anything and anyone I damn well please.

(But note that I didn't, in this case.)"


I see. Well, given those sentiments, I guess it's not that surprising that you have a much more sanguine view of China and its government than I do.

And for all the talk about empire and global hegemony, could someone please provide evidence that the U.S. wages its power in a purely selfish manner to enrich itself at the expense of others?

WHOOOOOOOOSH!

Can anyone who is filled with trepidation at the thought of China becoming the dominant world power explain - Specifically! - what actions and policies would be implemented on the world stage that would be so terrible it would count as a qualitative change for the worse?

I can't emphasize the word "specific" enough.

194:

@ 193
The re-colonisation of much of Sub-Shahran Africa by the Han? A process that is already under way...
Especially given that the Han regard other racial types as inferior - they are the inhabitants of the "middle Kingdom" after all. This was one reason that the "Manchu" (Quing) dynasty didn't do as well as might have been expected. It was disliked internally, no matter how they tried.
Much of the European racist looking-down on China and the Chinese was actually direated at delberate Manchi policies - the dress-styles and haircuts were Manchu externally-imposed strictures upon an unwilling population.
A complete takeover of not only Tibet, but Outer Mongolia, and both halves of Korea (?)

195:

I'm afraid that this comment is several days late and a few dollars short; but I'm suprised that no one mentioned the Greg Egan short story of the same name as this post. Or maybe my text searches weren't clever enough.

Anyway, thanks for posting this Charlie.

196:

You can't project Han social attitudes during the Qing Dynasty forward any more than you can project British ones.

Some Han are racist. Based on personal experience, I met fewer racist Han than I have Brits. Even in the small villages where I was the only foreigner, people were friendly.

Most seem proudly nationalistic, in a way that seems strange to a Canadian — they remind me of Americans that way, actually.

China's in no danger of becoming a hegemon in the next generation or two. They have to solve an environmental crisis, the corruption problem, and an impending demographic challenge just to avoid collapse. (At least, that is the government's official position.)

197:
And for all the talk about empire and global hegemony, could someone please provide evidence that the U.S. wages its power in a purely selfish manner to enrich itself at the expense of others?

Here's an incomplete list of interventions done by the US and/or its agencies during the 20th century. I'm not even counting declared wars or "police actions" or the more recent (21st century) blunders in Central Asia. Some of these were in support of American corporations, some in support of dictators that someone in the US liked, some against democratically elected governments that someone in the US didn't like. A couple were in retaliation for actions that were never proved (and where there was considerable evidence to the contrary) to be the responsibility of the places that were attacked.

The Philippines (twice that I know of)
Nicaragua (several times, mostly for United Fruit)
Guatemala
Republic of Congo (uranium, copper, vanadium, etc.)
Chile
Columbia
Afghanistan (during the Soviet occupation)
Cambodia
Laos
China (gunboat occupation)
Libya
Panama
Lebanon

198:
Besides, I think it's pretty cool China are in the space race, and that's good motivation for the US space programs.

It seems unlikely that there's going to be much of a US space program for a long time to come. There aren't many robot probes being planned and having any committed funding, and the manned program is spurlos versenkt (NASA is even being forced by Congress to spend money on the Orion vehicle this year, when that whole project has already been scrapped). I see little likelihood that the political mess in Washington is going to be fixed anytime soon, and until it is, there isn't going to be any political will whatsoever for space projects.

As a long time space junkie (I remember watching Echo 1 go over when I was a kid) I take absolutely no pleasure in this prediction.

199:

@ 196
I won't disagree with that, if only because the main body of China was, to some extent "occupied" by the Manchu, whilst they were sitting in the Throne of Heaven.

@ 197
Grenada?

200:

Hi Mr Tingley,

That's pop-history. A careful reading of peer-reviewed history books would beg to differ.

Near the end of the Ming dynasty (which was a native Han dynasty), The Manchu invaded westward/southwards and successfully conquered China because the intellectuals and bureaucrats in China supported them. In fact, the early start of the Qing dynasty went through the 3 dukedoms period where two of the dukedoms were ruled by native Hans. One of them being the general that let the Manchu across the critical defenses. Subsequently they were removed in the reign of the 2nd Emperor of Qing.

The Qing dynasty basically inherited the political and bureaucratic machinery left by the Ming, ie Chinese characters, Confucian examinations and so on. Of course, being a minority, they had to impose control through some showy gestures are the pigtail-queue. But the most historians interpret the Qing dynasty as a continuation of the Ming dynasty in terms of socio-political evolution.

201:

I agree, but don't underestimate a couple of other players. Firstly, ESA's long range robot exploration program is still running fine, despite the euro-zone wobblies. Secondly, Russia's economy is re-growing rapidly and sooner or later they're going to go back into that game. Thirdly, India is showing signs of getting into a space race with China.

The US space program could collapse tomorrow, and there'll be boots on the moon again within twenty five years. Just not American boots.

202:

Russia is one area where I'd really like reasons to be cheerful. But there seems to be basic problems?

1. Will the "the resource curse" allow it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource_curse

2. How stable are the political crimi... leaders?

http://reason.com/archives/2006/03/01/why-poor-countries-are-poor/print

That is, is it expected more lucrative to steal money for natural resources and keep the population down -- than really building anything?

3. Russia has been stomping on the same spot for twenty years, it seems. Have the education system really kept up? Can any country with that amount of corruption function acceptably?

Please explain why those are totally wrong. :-)

203:

@ 202
The answer, to your last question, is: "not for any length of time..."
Putin and Putin's friends can't or won't see that.
Putin, remember, is a believer in CONTROL. If he can't control it, he won't have it at all.
Unfortunately, a modern state cannot be run that way.

204:

@ 201:

Firstly, ESA's long range robot exploration program is still running fine, despite the euro-zone wobblies. Secondly, Russia's economy is re-growing rapidly and sooner or later they're going to go back into that game. Thirdly, India is showing signs of getting into a space race with China.


The US space program could collapse tomorrow, and there'll be boots on the moon again within twenty five years. Just not American boots.

Yes, definitely file this one under reasons to be cheerful. People grumbling about this sort of thing remind me of my mechanic dad grumbling about "buying American". Well, I drive a Toyota, and have been for over twenty years. And I'm not going to by a GM auto just because it's "American". Hmmm. Come to that, I wonder how many of those going on about the loss of USian supremacy buy an American car, wear clothes made solely in America, post from a computer built by totally homegrown companies operating inside the national borders, etc. Not many, I would wager.

Anyway, yet more reasons to be cheerful: I've been following the trade show and it looks like there's some pretty slick stuff rolling out this year. There's been a real explosion of tablet offerings, and in particular, that XOOM tablet is SHINY!

205:

I am also quite happy that there are active space programs outside the US; if we can't do it, someone should (and assuredly will). It just gripes me that all that ingenuity and determination has to be pissed away by a bunch of thieves.

206:

"I think this is a good point to repeat my request for books on American history/culture/politics..."

Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" is a scholarly classic. It's great for the quotes and sources, but his take on things is more depressing than energizing, and as an outsider (old-line leftist professor) he doesn't really dig into the mechanics of empire enough for my taste.

For something completely unscholarly but written with the insider's point of view and exposing the mechanisms of control that have been used in recent history, see John Perkins' "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" and "The Secret History of the American Empire". Some aspects of his accounts appear to be dramatized, but I think the overall story reflects reality. See on Perkins' WP page the first reference: "The Veracity of John Perkins' Accounts", written by the president of his publisher.

(For the original "Secret History" check out Procopius. He's a good read and a great inside source on the early Byzantine Empire.)

A book a good friend with a history degree recently recommended to me is: "Generations: the history of America's future, 1584 to 2069" by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Reading the top two Amazon reviews of the book will give a better summary than I can here. The book is long but the thesis is fairly simple - reading the first few dozen pages on Google Books lays out the idea several times.

It reminds me a bit of DeMause's Psychohistory with a cyclical rather than progressive point of view - for instance the equivalent of DeMause's Infanticidal stage of child rearing appears every four generations, most recently in the Lost Generation and Generation X.

207:

Also see Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" for more related to Perkins' thesis.

208:

And in speaking of reasons not to be cheerful for 2011, my country took another sickening lurch towards political dementia, in Arizona of course. Just too angry and appalled to say anthing else sensible.

209:

Yes but ... so far (a) the shooter's primary target is still alive (albeit critically ill), and (b) the shooter appears to be a fruitcake rather than necessarily a political hitter. (Time will tell on that one.) Yes, it's bad, but this kind of thing happens everywhere, not just in the USA.

210:

Also of note would be The Predator State by James K Galbraith (son of the famous J.K. Galbraith), which is an economist's take on the same ideas (independently arrived at).

211:

"A complete takeover of not only Tibet, but Outer Mongolia, and both halves of Korea (?)"

Um - to address one part of this, why would a takeover of North Korea by the PRC be bad news?

212:

@ 209
Nontheless, in this country, S. Palin would be in jail, RIGHT NOW, for incitement to murder.
Previously, people tried this with S. Rushdie, and were quietly taken on one side, and told to shut up, or else they would be prosecuted, and we don't care that it's your religious opinion, incitement to murder is a crime - got it?

@ 211
Yes, the PRC taking over N. Korea, would be an improvement ... but the South ?
Erm.

213:

@212


Yes, the PRC taking over N. Korea, would be an improvement ... but the South ?

Thanks! Very much agreed that a takeover of South Korea would be a deterioration.

N. Korea is a very special case. As far as I know, it is the only government which maintains both nukes and starvation. If it were to surrender to any of the existing nuclear powers, the world would then have one fewer nuclear power to worry about, and, with any luck at all, the North Koreans would be fed.

214:

@ 213
N. Korea

The solution is to be found in an old John Brunner (sob! - again) story: "Who Steals my Purse", origainlly published (I think) in "Analog".
I don't have copy any more ......
The title was taken from "Othello".

Plot synopsis:
Awkward, warlike, S.E. Asian country is peace-bombed into submission with tools, food, books, etc.
To do it, you'd need the PRC to fly the fighter-cover.
Um.

215:

"And what makes my neighbour happier without damaging me makes my world a better place."

That's a wonderful sentiment. I'm going to use that.

216:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine#Applications explains another bright spot, the successful use of Sterling engines to generate solar power without the need for 'conflict minerals'.

217:

Have to agree about the advances in treating chronic disease. If you were a type 1 diabetic in 1970, your life was radically different than today. Blood glucose testing, various medicinal therapies, insulin pumps, etc. have made this chronic disease far more easily manageable. Again, though, it is mostly for members of Europe, the US, and some parts of Asia.

218:

@ 217 & previous
Even so, I heard something on the radio this morning, which made me wonder.
A new test is being developed, which is non-invasive (no amniocentesis needle) and can detect Down's syndrome in foetus'. "But it's expensive, £500 a go".
And how much does it cost to support a Down's syndrome baby-to-child-to-adult for 29 years?
Stupid - it burns, is the phrase, isn't it?

219:

Greg, I should have added Down's Syndrome to my list of good shit that's happened in the past decade.

Life expectancy isn't great; folks with DS tend to succumb to dementia some time between 50 and 60 years of age (with the prevalence of Alzheimer's hitting 75% in the seventh decade). But with the right educational facilities and support, quality of life and outcomes can be surprisingly high. Go back 30 years: the consensus was that trying to teach them to read was pointless, and life expectancy was 25 years. Today life expectancy is 49 years, and the high water mark for education is graduation from university (although this is admittedly rare) thanks to much better educational techniques. Again, back in 1980 40-80% of DS children suffered hearing loss or deafness; today 98% have normal hearing (thanks to better understanding of how to manage the condition).

Yes, raising a child with DS is more costly than raising a child who doesn't have a chromosomal abnormality. But the outlook for such a child today is vastly better than it was 30 years ago.

220:

Good to know that positive waves are rippling through webspace to counteract some of the negative ones. I've added an observation concerning future HIV spreading to Blogging for Peace on Earth.

221:

Down's syndrome.
Better still.
Don't have them in the first place .......
Which is what I was pointing at, especially given the rise in numbers, because many women are having babies much later on in life.

222:

Well yes but. "Don't have them in the first place" is good advice, but it's nice to know that if things go wrong, the wrongness isn't as bad as it used to be, yes?

223:

Maybe

224:

"the drugs got cheap enough that even developing world countries can afford them"
Travel in Africa. You'll see people can't afford drugs. They can't afford food too.
"the longest period of peace in Europe since the height of the Roman Empire."
You forgot bosnia/serbia war. Russia VS Ukraine too.
About 9/11, remember that lots of people disagree with official version.

225:

Erwin @ 224
"About 9/11, remember that lots of people disagree with official version."
Yeah, like I said elsewhere ... lots of US people would rather believe Bronze-Age goatherders' myths than accept evolution.
Time for a reality check there, perhaps.

226:

Thanks, needed to read that today.

227:

Charlie:

My apologies for the extremely rude comment I posted earlier. It was unpleasant and uncalled for; Mr. Tingey happened to hit one of my hot buttons, but my response was inexcusably personal.

I'd like to tender my apologies to Mr. Tingey, as well.

228:

... aaand you've already removed it.

Thank you!

229:

People grumbling about this sort of thing remind me of my mechanic dad grumbling about "buying American". Well, I drive a Toyota, and have been for over twenty years. And I'm not going to by a GM auto just because it's "American".

You know, next time your dad brings it up, you might mention that the odds are pretty good that your Toyota was made in the United States, by American workers -- and, meanwhile, a lot of those GMs on the road were made overseas.

Lefty that I am, it sounds more "patriotic" to have money going to American workers than to (obscenely overpaid and rapacious) American executives.

230:

We have a company that helps get disabled people (and they pretty much mean Down Syndrone or similar) jobs and education, etc. They wear little pinnies, so you know who they are when you're out. (I drive by their building pretty regularly -- it's a few blocks from the credit union and the library.)

231:

How many Down Syndrome (current term) people do you know?

232:

Marliee @ 230
ONE.

233:

Ref #233, I spy spammers!!

234:

@ 230 232
There is also THIS PLACE where a lot of people with "learning difficulties" do useful work. And similar organisations.
It's great ... but ...
I still maintain that, and please don't get me wrong on this ...
Once these people are here, then we have a duty to help them, as best we can, as shown in the link. OTOH it is even better if we can prevent Down's-syndrome births, by using tests of the sort mentioned.

235:

Not everyone here is from the US.
Down's Syndrome, not Down Syndrome, is the commonly used name in the UK. Diseases often get the name of their discoverer in that form: it's "Alzheimer's disease", "Huntingdon's disease" etc.

236:

Nuked, thanks. (Am busy having a mad spring cleaning session in the library -- because I'm recovering from the chest bug, but not yet recovered enough to get down to work, so I get a little itchy -- hence not at the keyboard 100% of the time today.)

237:

Any time and HTH; it's a pleasure to use sites who's owners and moderators have the same sort of attitude to spammers as I do.

238:

You may not feel so angry at Down Syndrome folks if you know more of them.

239:

Thanks -- I would have guessed that changes were unifying names rather than separating them.

240:

Don't forget Brazil, folks. It may not possess the geopolitical importance of China, or even India, but there are enough lives being improved here for everyone to be cheerful!
It hasn't grown as much as India and China, but the economic growth came with a long due shrinking of the income inequality (although it still seconds only to South Africa, IIRC). Besides, the whole process is happening with far less political turmoil than elsewhere - in a increasingly stable democracy.

(needless to say, but sorry for my poor English - especially here, one of the smartest corners of the Internet)

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