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Why I've been quiet lately

If you're regular here, you might have noticed lately that my blog entries have been structured more as triggers for discussion than as lengthy discursive essays. There's a reason for that: I've been busy working, and it's easier to occasionally pop into a discussion than to come up with a coherent, structured, defensible essay a couple of times a week. Besides, there's enough of a community here that I figured I should let you folks do some of the heavy lifting for once ...

Well, I just got to type THE END at the end of another novel. This doesn't mean the work is over; my esteemed collaborator has a chunk of tyre-kicking to do and may yet flag it up as not finished yet ... but in principle, I think we've got a workable first draft of "The Rapture of the Nerds", which is due out from Tor next September.

I really get bugged by being labelled "the singularity guy", but unfortunately there's no way out of it this time: RoTN is clearly a singularity novel, and bears some alarming parallels to Accelerando, if you can imagine me doing a mind-meld with Cory Doctorow, smoking hash until hallucinating, then feeding that earlier novel to a wood-chipper.

In other news things are going to be quiet again next week, because on Wednesday I'm off to DARPA's Hundred Year Starship symposium in Orlando. (It's only a weekend event, but the routing from Edinburgh to Orlando is baroque, so I won't be home and back on local time 'til the following Wednesday.)

To quote DARPA's intro web page:

The 100 Year Starship Study is an effort seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. ... This endeavor will require an understanding of questions such as: how do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more; what models have supported long term technology development; what resources and financial structures have initiated and sustained prior settlements of "new worlds?"
This is, in my view, vital stuff; as you probably guessed (if you've been following the intermittent essays and discussions on space colonization) I think we're still at the stage of dealing with "unknown unknowns" here, trying to scope out the right questions we should be looking for answers to before we can actually evaluate whether space colonization (or even long-range exploration) is a practical proposition.

Hopefully I'll have something to report the following week ...

311 Comments

1:
if you can imagine me doing a mind-meld with Cory Doctorow, smoking hash until hallucinating, then feeding that earlier novel to a wood-chipper.
Sounds... interesting.
2:

"how do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more"

Look no further than religion, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Bad new for democracy IMHO, even if the model of choice is a corporation.

3:

Corporations would be a lousy model -- they have a life expectancy around 30 years, they're lousy at handling externalities, they tend towards a sociopathic disregard for human-level ethical considerations, and their board-level appointments are prone to churn and capture by ambitious hierarchy-climbers whose personal goals are not aligned with those of the organization.

While the RCC has proven durable, it has proven to be anything but flexible (over a time period of less than centuries). Its goals are defined with reference to a fixed, dogmatic body of holy doctrine; it would deal very badly with, for example, new research findings that conclusively contraindicated some of those axioms. (The usual response is denial, followed by a retreat into metaphor -- not integration and redefinition of goals.)

4:

You've been having these intermittent discussions for a while. Now I'm wondering how long this has been in the works? Did one lead to the other? And whatever happened with $sekrit_media_project (or however it went)?

Just curious (or snoopy, your choice).

5:

But isn't inflexibility exactly what you want?
Otherwise the organization morphs away from its original goals.

6:

What IS an example of a stable long-term human group?

Maybe the answer is to create several competing groups and let their bad decisions balance out?

Congratulations on the first completion of Rapture.

7:

I'm currently re-reading Project Orion by George Dyson about the nuclear pulse designs that Los Alomos and General Atomics were working on in the 50's.

You have to admire the chutzpah of those guys. Designing a 4000 ton craft as your base vehicle with a payload of 1000 tons when the Saturn V had what a 50 ton payload?

I'd imagine the political hurdles would be as high as the technical but man, single stage, ground to Mars and back in months not years is pretty tempting.

The Ted talk is pretty entertaining for anyone who hasn't seen it.

http://www.ted.com/talks/george_dyson_on_project_orion.html

Being that is was ARPAs first project that they funded maybe it will come up at the symposium...What's your take on this Charlie?

8:

Perhaps the Imperial Chinese government would be a useful model. It combined the centralising influence and quick response of an autocrat with a cultural desire that said autocrat should not meddle, and, in fact, should do as little as utterly possible.(It rarely lived up to this, but there was at least something to it.)

Additionally, the presence of a mostly seperate administrator class meant that small and medium scale changes could take place, and that during classic succession crises, the essential services usually stayed intact despite the social upheaval. It was immune to any one large scale failure, from famines to corruption.

It still failed occasionally though, mostly due to cascade failures resulting from a large number of small problems, excaberated by one large one. (corruption plus economic depression plus sepratists, catalysed by a succession crises or bad harvest).

It's easy to make an organisation that is immune to any one failure mode, or even all of them. The challenge is working out one that can survive when they all arrive at once.


9:
What IS an example of a stable long-term human group?

How about the whole planet?

10:

For certain values of stable, universities can last a very long time. Of course, they aren't priest factories any more etc etc, but they are still centres of academic excellence, some still in some of the same buildings and doing some of the same things.

Some universities have lasted longer than the countries they are in, the languages spoken therein, the prevailing politial systems etc etc. Anathem isn't just fiction.

Festivals can last a very long time too, mutating to suit the circumstances. Appleby Horse Fair has had a charter since James the Second, but I assume there was some kind of event there before that date.

there are festivals in India that claim to have been continuously celebrated since the second millennium BCE.

My old school has been teaching children since 1604, though what it teaches and who it teaches to has changed.

11:

My old school has been teaching children since 1604

Ah, one of the newer foundations then.

(At mine, the school uniform predates that date.)

12:

These old schools are one of the reasons why the term "Grammar School" has a marketing value. And why the British Public School system of private education doesn't seem to like state Grammar Schools. They're competition.

13:

My old school isn't one of the great "old schools".

Mine became a 6th Form only college in the late 1970's, discarding the uniform and the CCF in the 80's, and (horrors!) merging with the tech college in 1987. It was never a first-rate school, and despite 400 years of existence, the list of famous ex-students is very small. (While looking it up I discovered I shared a maths class with a well-known mathematician, though I don't remember him - unsurprising given my sparse attendance). When I was there we could wear what we liked, wander round town in off periods, be spotted smoking or eating in the street etc. As a founder member of the Indoor Rock Climbing Society, my initials are chalked on the inside of all it's >30 attics, some very hard to reach undetected.

I'm probably wrong in claiming the oldest UK school still in existence is my ex-neighbour - King's, Canterbury. Some say it was established by Saint Augustine about 600AD. Others don't.

14:

I've put my thoughts on that topic on one of my blog posts already. Now, this has prompted me to write up another one, to be found here.

In short: Spaceflight is a great way to do PR for both governments and corporations (and both of them need it in the US). However, you need to provide a self-sustaining story that doesn't get boring (by doing all the same stuff all over again), but also doesn't require excessive investment by having to out-do yourself all time and again. (Which is why the Egyptians stopped building pyramids.)

How? Build permanent structures, solve key problems that prevent structures from being operated permanently (wiring, plumbing, refurbishing stuff in place etc.). After that: try to something that can build something useful without having to bring it there. A factory. (Solar cells are such a "factory" that did away with the need for fuel or batteries to generate electricity. But you'll need more substantial stuff as well.)

15:

There are a few institutions which have survived, even thrived, fow more than a hundred years. Monarchies, obviously, though they have all had their ups and downs. Some unversities. The Roman Church - also some subsidiary institutions such as monstaries or monastic orders (e.g. the Franciscans and Dominicans which were both founded in the late 13th century). A few states (rome, china, the swiss confederation).

The english court system has its origins in the 12th century. I wouldn't entirely rule out corporations, there are some early (circa 13th century) banks which still exist. Very few such institutions will be recognizably the same after 3 or 4 hundred years.

I would argue that small polities (such as city states - Milan, Genoa, Venice) tend to be vulnerable to outside pressures (principally from other larger polities) even if relatively stable internally. Interesting to see what would happen if you removed the external pressure from other polities.

16:
bears some alarming parallels to Accelerando, if you can imagine me doing a mind-meld with Cory Doctorow,
Hah! I thought that Manfred Macx in Accelerando was supposed to be a thinly disguised Cory Doctorow.
17:

When in 1964 I was transferred from a Secondary Modern School to the latest, and just created, Comprehensive School I was made to Buy a Uniform ..or rather my parents were.The alternative was to leave school age 15 with a thing called the Northern Counties School Leaving Certificate, so my Mum was keen on the alternative.That uniform was not the best of things to be bought -all be it subsidised - for a teenage boy - the jacket very rapidly became rather tight and also short. The idea of uniform dress was good but the practicality ?? My new school was modelled on the idealisation of a public school/grammar school with all that implies by way of Houses and Prefects and so forth ..I was made a prefect and that is not to my credit; if, on Death, I were to be translated to Hell I would be put in charge of something or other.


Did someone say ...

" Mine became a 6th Form only college in the late 1970's, discarding the uniform and the CCF in the 80's, and (horrors!) merging with the tech college in 1987. It was never a first-rate school, and despite 400 years of existence, the list of famous ex-students is very small. (While looking it up I discovered I shared a maths class with a well-known mathematician, though I don't remember him - unsurprising given my sparse attendance)."


Ho Hum, I discovered on transfer to my new school, that the PE teacher of my old school was actually a maths specialist ..not that I experienced any of his classes but rather had the joy of Maths from an assortment of teachers who wished to Experience this new Fangled Comprehensive School - and ran off screaming after one term so that of a 4 subject possibilities for Maths at CSE I underwent 3 ..and failed the Maths exams spectacularly as did all of my fellow students. I did rather well at History and English ..Cthulhu and the Elder Ghods Knows why for it sure as hell wasn't effort since I was and am Intellectually bone idol.

Ah, Happy School Days ..Daze?

18:

That bit about "externalities" is quite important. It means that no current organization is a good model. They show neither their weaknesses nor their strengths in this environment.

FWIW, I'd go for a Parliamentary Monarchy with a strong House of Lords (similar to the US Senate, but hereditary). And I'd have the bureaucracy run by an AI with an inflexible charter along the lines of "Promote the General Welfare". (After all, if we're talking starship, we're talking AT LEAST 50 years in the future.) And I'd go to a modification of the Anglo-Saxon model for choosing the King...anyone out to cousin (second cousin?) of the current King is a candidate, and the actual successor to the current King would be chosen by the House of Commons. This lets you concentrate your resources on the education and evaluation of a reasonably small number of candidates, but still gives you a fairly wide field to choose from.

The thing is at least one Parliamentary Monarchy has shown the ability to morph itself extensively without excessive violence. (I.e., no more than is involved in changing dynasties.)

P.S.: All bills involving expenditure of money, not just raising taxes, should be required to initiate in the House of Commons. That's proven to be a good check on hereditary power. But some people with hereditary power have shown a kind of foresight that one doesn't get in elected politicians. (And, of course, most of them are blithering idiots that shouldn't be trusted with tying their own shoes...but that's not that much worse than your average politicians, and at least they're likely to ignore the governance rather than get in the way the way an elected politician does.)

N.B.: I'm dubious about this system, but then I can't think of one that I'm not dubious about, and at least most of the components of this have been previously tested.

19:

The Hudson Bay Company is an example that may apply. Essentially a company with a Royal Charter that has been in existence for about 350 years. It is still a trading company and has adapted to changes during that time frame. Many of the original company factors became governors of new colonies in present day Canada.

20:

P.S.:
I'm not clear how much of that government should be window dressing. That depends a LOT on how well AI has advanced by the time of launch. In the proposal I put an AI in charge of the bureaucracy. If it's good enough I would suggest that it be in charge of the entire executive operation of the government, and that it be able to ignore any directives that it finds go against it's charter. In that case the main function of the human part of the government would be to take the blame for anything that people found undesirable, and to give the populace something that they could relate to easily. And the tricky part would be coming up with a good charter.

N.B.: If the government is a figurehead, then the Monarch becomes even more important.

21:

My comment got (temporarily) eaten by the too-many-links moderation policy. It was too long anyway, so I put it on my blog (click on my name, it's the current entry).

Basically, it's a plea to put the emphasis on creating a sustainable story first, instead of creating an organization or institution.

22:

Consider the Aristocratic holdings in the World Capital City of London ..favourite of oligarchs and tax avoiders everywhere from Russia to China and all points in between.

Despite the imposition of Death Duties we have long had in the UK ... well, look here ...

http://www.richest-people.co.uk/articles/who-owns-london/


Most resilient social model ? The Family and the extended Clan.

The British aristocracy is harder to kill off than Bed Bugs or Head Lice and has even transferred its model to The Americas with an electroplated coating of " Democracy " that ' We the People ' actually Vote for.

23:
This endeavor will require an understanding of questions such as: how do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more; what models have supported long term technology development; what resources and financial structures have initiated and sustained prior settlements of "new worlds?"

Surely that one's a gimme:

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning.

Props to Herbert for that one. Any earlier examples in the literature exploring the consequences of extremely long term organizations?

24:

Hah! I thought that Manfred Macx in Accelerando was supposed to be a thinly disguised Cory Doctorow.

I wrote Accelerando before I met Cory.

25:

FWIW, I'd go for a Parliamentary Monarchy with a strong House of Lords (similar to the US Senate, but hereditary). And I'd have the bureaucracy run by an AI with an inflexible charter along the lines of "Promote the General Welfare".

I'm going to disallow AIs from consideration. We don't know for sure that they're even possible, much less how functionally useful they'd be for arbitrating human social structures.

I dislike the idea of an absolute hereditary house of lords or monarchy too, unless you steal from the Chinese imperial bureaucracy: each generation loses at least one grade of rank, unless someone sits the civil service exams to qualify for promotion. (In other words: granddad might be a baron, but you're just a jumped-up commoner with a posh title unless you work on it.)

Hereditary monarchy: really bad idea. I'd consider a non-hereditary monarchy -- i.e. life presidency -- as long as there's a succession mechanism to handle abdication, impeachment due to incompetence, or total loss of parliamentary confidence ... and as long as being a relative of the previous monarch, out to first cousin or thereabouts, permanently disqualifies you from selection. Then make picking the new monarch a jury selection task.

I'm pretty sure you won't end up with anything worse than the random genetic draw of an hereditary system, and it's a whole lot fairer if almost anyone in your polity might wake up one day and discover they're king or queen.

26:
Corporations would be a lousy model -- they have a life expectancy around 30 years, they're lousy at handling externalities, they tend towards a sociopathic disregard for human-level ethical considerations, and their board-level appointments are prone to churn and capture by ambitious hierarchy-climbers whose personal goals are not aligned with those of the organization.

Well, that's the problem for just about any organization, innit? The older I get, the more I tend to the view that 95% of the world's problems (especially the biggest ones) are caused by maybe 5% or less of the people. In my gloomier moments, I suspect that this is entirely a genetic predisposition.

But technology has the answer to this one! And unlike the Bene Gesserit test for humanity, a relatively painless one - prospective candidates for the order are screened with a simple brain scan for sociopathy. You don't pass the test, you don't get in.[1] Once again there is nothing new under the sun - Phil Dick did this one with his Voigt-Kampff test in "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"


[1]Note the obvious failure point. Otoh, while I've become increasingly skeptical of true AI (which precludes one from actually being the organizational head), I think that expert systems are more than capable of beating humans at the game of medical diagnosis.


27:

Archaeopteryx: The British aristocracy is harder to kill off than Bed Bugs or Head Lice and has even transferred its model to The Americas with an electroplated coating of " Democracy " that ' We the People ' actually Vote for.

+1 to this.

28:
Any earlier examples in the literature exploring the consequences of extremely long term organizations?

I heard of this series of books about a certain Foundation...

29:

Heh. The Bene Gesserit were over 10,000 years old by the time the events in the original Dune occurred.

The Foundation (I or II) otoh, was more like 600 years old . . .

Btw, I get the impression that the Second Foundation had some sort of university type of organization, per some of the comments above.

30:

consider the stanford prison experiment.. if the roles are fixed then the underclass has no stake , and you will eventually get a revolt
make it a lottery draw, or some sort of merit thing, and then youl have a greater involvement

31:

Both disqualified -- because they're basically works of fiction and thus qualify as the hobby-horses of their respective authors. We have no way of knowing whether organizations constituted along those lines could function as described without running a very long experiment. (My suspicion is, no they wouldn't.)

32:

Kaiser Wilhelm II had a Parliamentary Monarchy that worked well. Look how long it lasted after he came to power. And what he did with it.
I think we need to get into space, somehow. Project Orion is the only way till something totally new is found. It was killed by the the in the air nuke test band treaty. Treaties can be changed, how bad would the rads be for one firing. Keeping in mind how many rads burning col puts in the air. Would one for making a Power sat be a good thing.

33:

Project Orion is the only way till something totally new is found.

Pulse-detonation nukes have a nasty side-effect: EMP.

It would have been bad enough due to fallout in the late 50s/early 60s; today, an Orion-type ship would take out every piece of electronics within a couple of thousand miles of its launch site, and destroy most of the comsats in orbit! (1970s NASA proposals for a PD ship proposed lofting it on a bunch of Saturn Vs, assembling it in orbit, then kicking it out round the far side of the Moon before lighting off the first nukes -- and getting it well away from Earth before going to full power.)

Actually, clustering cheap LOX/Kerosene rocket motors seems like the way to go right now for getting into orbit. (See also: SpaceX.) There is a point at which going for ultimate propulsion efficiency becomes the enemy of actual productive engineering -- LH2 is expensive to engineer for and difficult to work with, and needs strap-ons or an inefficient but high-thrust first stage to lift the launch stack off the pad, and if you go with the lower energy but higher density fuels you can simplify the hell out of your launch system, as SpaceX appear to be doing.

Or alternatively you can use simple structural materials and go large. For example, Sea Dragon -- a two stage launcher: first stage, kerosene/LOX, second stage LH2/LOX, payload: 560 tons into low Earth orbit. Of course, it would have weighed 18,000 tons at launch ...

34:

>no more than is involved in changing dynasties

Hi! I'm the Battle of Towton, and I'm here to kill 1% of your adult population in a single day!

How about we go for much, much less violence than involved in changing dynasties?

35:

I like the idea of doing brain scans (or something similar) for sociopathy. They get instantly sterilized, they're banned from politics, and they get instantly drafted into the military with promotions up to the level of say... major or colonel, but no further.

In the event of truly horrible circumstances, such as a war, they get temporarily promoted to Field Marshal, and keep control until the war is over.

(Yes, the idea is a little simplistic, but I suspect that sociopaths do play a part in human progress, however much the rest of us may hate it.)

36:

I think a strong objection to Project Orion was the number of early deaths per launch - a quick google suggests "1-10" is the figure bandied about, but it was certainly enough to make Dyson think twice about it.

37:

The oldest continuously operating organization in human history is most likely the Australian aboriginal dreaming.

I didn't realize what the trick was until I read Gonzales' Deep Survival, but songlining is a very simple trick. Basically, if you can tell a story of your travels (here I saw this interesting thing, then I saw this weird thing, and so on), then you can get back to the start simply by rewinding the story. The trick is to pay attention and have memorable landmarks.

The tracks of the Dreaming are such stories. They sound weird to us, but that's because we're not out walking the tracks, learning that this rock formation has all this mythology associated with it, it's a day's march from this water hole, and so on. The great dream tracks span the continent, across tribal groups and even languages, and allow people to move around, even in places they rarely or never go.

That's a structure that spans about 40,000 years, so it holds the longest record for holding survival information intact for a small groups of isolated people. If we're talking about how to organize information for running a starship, we could do worse than to borrow elements of their techniques for organizing and transmitting information. The key tricks are to figure out how to encode survival information so that it sticks in most peoples' minds, so that possessing more information makes one both more useful and more senior, and finally to make it readily teachable to an average person. This isn't impossible, but it's very different from current technical manuals and FAQs.

38:

Of course I was being facetious. Otoh, my point regarding screening candidates based upon our medical and technological advances was not.

Offhand, it strikes me as a good thing that potential sociopaths not be permitted to join an organization.

39:

That sort of thing would be a horrific abuse of the technology, which I suppose was your point. But since we're talking about an organization where membership is decidedly optional, I don't see the problem with doing this as part of the admissions procedure.

And you know, screening for bad apples is done all the time in most every large organization I can think of, albeit often on a par with testing someone for witchcraft. So why not use the latest science to improve an already-accepted procedure?

40:

I know people like to cite China as having a long continuous civilization, but please, people. Have you read any history? Saying China has a continuous society is pretty much like saying the Pope is Caesar. Just because a dude's ruling in Rome, it doesn't mean there's political continuity. Don't be confused by conquerers coopting labels to legitimate their takeovers.

Thing is, the territory of the present country has been split at least three times, the capital has moved repeatedly, China has been ruled by foreigners twice (Manchu and Qing), and even successful dynasties typically fall to internal corruption, where the imperial court focuses on internal power plays while the provinces starve. They were then overthrown, often with decades of unrest.

It's not a stable institution.

The same story is true for Egyptian history. All those dynasties (30 before the Ptolemies and Rome) marked periods of strife and takeover. They had foreign rulers, Egypt was split repeatedly, and so on.

Calling oneself "Pharaoh" or "The Son of Heaven" is an excellent political move when one is attempting to consolidate political gains. However, a succession of emperors does not imply political or dynastic stability, and I'm pretty sure that neither Chinese nor Egyptian history (nor Japanese history) are records of tranquil existence.

Nor am I sure that I'd put any of those dynasties in charge of a starship. At best, they get one good ruler in three, and that's not sufficiently good to maintain a mission.

41:

I'm not sure why someone would pick a monarchy as a stable political institution, given that violence over succession was pretty routine.
--

For long-lasting organizations, how about the Freemasons? Or the Knights Hospitaller? (S They've both declined dramatically, but they're still around and kicking; wikipedia tells me that there are ~6 million Masons and ~13k knights and 80k volunteers associated with the SMOM.

I would think that the ideal long-term "private" organization is one with it's own internal philosophy and culture to provide motivation and draw in recruits, and with a raison d'être that continues to attract interest (and money) and have meaning even when progress seems to have stalled. The profit motive isn't going to as useful, because a lot of the stuff such an organization would need to do would not be profitable for a very long time, if at all.

Plus, I think we should have an international organization that gives knighthoods to astronauts.
--

and they get instantly drafted into the military with promotions up to the level of say... major or colonel, but no further.

In the event of truly horrible circumstances, such as a war, they get temporarily promoted to Field Marshal, and keep control until the war is over.


Militaries don't need sociopaths. They have conditioning for that.
42:

Alex, most sociopaths are harmless. Firstly, it's a spectrum disorder; a lot of them merely have depressed, rather than absent, emotional responses. Secondly, even among the truly damaged, most of them learn that in order to survive in a society of non-sociopaths there are certain behavioural codes they need to abide by. Thirdly, we've got no reason to believe the trait is hereditable -- and sterilization is a barbaric way of treating people who are, at the bottom of it all, just suffering from a neurological impairment. (It's morally almost indistinguishable from advocating sterilizing folks with a low IQ, or autism, or ...)

Finally, as up to 3% or so of us lie somewhere on this spectrum, you'd need one hell of a big army to employ them all. And once you have such an institution, your leaders will find a use for it ... which I do not consider to be a good idea!

43:

... Sounds like a consensus memory palace?

44:

A profesional archeologist and historian I know tells me that their standard google search for almost anything includes the terms " -freemasons -templars" etc. For almost any site or find there are unsubstantiated or over-egged claims that these kind of groups were involved, these claims are rarely useful.

A lot of these groups are later organisations with spurious claims to antiquity - e.g. the Masons, a bunch of grocers, charity fundraisers, occasional revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, profiteers and bent coppers who made themselves feel better with cod titles.

You're right that militaries don't need sociapaths. I think a lot of military training is how to not be such a person, and there is some tactical advantage gained if your enemy is one.

45:

I'm very sorry about the frequent typos that are creeping into everything I write. Some of it is due to a long-standing hand injury, but for the others, I'll try to preview posts more carefully.

46:

You're probably right. It's simply that as an American, I'm currently watching selfish idiots (the spoiled rich) partner with badly damaged insane people (the nutcase Jebus people) to destroy my society. I just want the crazy people to go away and I really don't care how it happens.

47:

I just want the crazy people to go away and I really don't care how it happens.

While I completely understand where you're coming from, I'd just like to note that it's extremely dangerous to think that way -- because that type of nuance-free absolutist thinking is precisely the thing that makes them so dangerous to civil society. In other words, we have met the enemy, and we is in danger of turning into them.

48:

I think we should consider some of the special social factors at play on a generation-ship.

1) no outsiders. I suppose there might be outside influences via radio, but there won't be any invaders.

2) no undiscovered territory. Therefor no expansion, no marcher-states, no trade opportunities or savages to conquer for second sons with wandering feet. Also, no place for exiles to go. You'll have to just kill or cure people with anti-social tendencies.

3) small population. Whatever the size of the star-ship, it will probably not support millions upon millions of people, which will mean slow technological progress (not many geniuses, statistically), fashion, etc. Also no political maneuvers that require hordes of people. Also probably a limited number of non-overlapping social groups (i.e. political states). Maybe only one or two.

4) centrally-controlled EVERYTHING. If we assume the life-support systems can be controlled by passengers (and they would need to be), then whoever gets a hold of those controls first will have an enormous advantage. Are the peasants on deck 3 getting uppity? Just dial down the 02 concentration in their air mix.

5) limited war. Obviously no bombs or anything capable of breaching the hull. Wars will be fought with assassins or maybe by stylized duels. Or by warring tribes of programmers, trying to sabotage each other's life-support, I suppose.

Put them all together, and you get something like Tokugawa Japan+Viking Greenland+ancient Egypt. No outsiders, very harsh environment, small number of people, whose existence depends totally on state-controlled allotments of life-giving resources.

Also, is the goal to get these people to their destination with some sense of purpose intact? Or just to get them there alive?

49:
I wrote Accelerando before I met Cory.

If you believed Alan Moore or Grant Morrison's view of writing as magic then you could say you conjured him up from thin air.

50:

I'm pretty sure you won't end up with anything worse than the random genetic draw of an hereditary system, and it's a whole lot fairer if almost anyone in your polity might wake up one day and discover they're king or queen.

Didn't the Byzantine empire work this way for much of it's life? After the fall of Rome (pick any of the popular dates) it lasted something like 500 years or more.

Some of the emperors were commoners who had been butchers and what not.

51:

Is DARPA's 'organisation' the entity here on Earth that will maintain communication with the travelling starships? Or the societies inside the starships themselves?

If the latter, probably the best recent model of an isolated highly developed society is the Tokugawa shogunate. That lasted all of 250 years before the cracks started appearing. Whoopee. But there might be lessons there.

The former problem is much, much harder. How does a minor part of a changing and developing global society maintain focus on a mission for hundreds of years? No doubt DARPA has already consulted the Wikipedia list of oldest corporations, and investigated further, to see if there's anything to be learned.

For thousands of years? The Jewish diaspora - anything to learn there?

52:

I like the idea of doing brain scans (or something similar) for sociopathy. They get instantly sterilized, they're banned from politics, and they get instantly drafted into the military with promotions up to the level of say... major or colonel, but no further.

And of course there will be no false positives. Or the current leaders can't fake the results for his political opponents?

53:

Crack human ageing and send a crew of negligibly senescent people who are highly motivated for the goal and still will be x centuries on.

Of course you need to have a couple hundred years previous experience with extended lifespans to be able to gauge if and how human brains go wonky after their first century or two despite being in otherwise perfect health.

54:

The former problem is much, much harder. How does a minor part of a changing and developing global society maintain focus on a mission for hundreds of years?

When I read this post the first thought I had was of the Foundation series and how the first foundation was adrift from it's original plan within 3 generations. Remember when no one showed up for the big meeting?

We're talking 7 generations of people here. (You don't launch with only babies on board.) How many people groups have lasted with a purpose for that many generations? Other then the continuation of the group.

To me this would be more a sociological experiment than anything else. I suspect if it was done most of the folks would NOT be interested in leaving the ship when they arrive at where ever they are going. Which is true of most long term things today. Most people involved have no interest in changes to the status quo. No matter what the goals of their great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

55:

And you'd better make sure that they have plenty to occupy them, so they don't go bonkers from living together in a big tin can for several centuries.

56:

Knights of St John/Malta
Charles has already done a piece on them attempting to buy a chunk of Britain. Last I heard, as a charitable org, they were giving away $10 BILLION per annum. They have been around for something like 900 years

57:

I'm not a huge fan of hereditary monarchies, but an advantage is that they can be trained from birth for public service, and if this is done properly they've a better chance of being good at the job than someone who is randomly selected. Can this be done without also giving them a massive sense of entitlement?

Can a society be designed - not to avoid failure - but to fail safely? I suspect a system of semi-autonomous cantons and city states is more stable in that way than a monolithic empire.

If the launching society is expected to survive, then exposing the colonist group to a great deal of media from back home may be a way to prevent culutural divergence to some degree. This isn't foolproof - an odd feature of, for example, the interpretation of American movies, is that most non-American viewers may believe that cops live in million-dollar apartments etc. And a non-native viewer sees a movie scene and thinks "Ah, a city", whereas an American would think "Philadelphia" etc. So a culture emerges that has a whole bunch of oddities but self-identifies with the original.

I've met "British" people who were raised in former colonies, schooled in expat environments, and are more "British" than those who've always lived here, in a Jenny Agutter, Richard E Grant type Britishness. They are often baffled and upset by the real thing when they finally meet it.

Colonists might more closely resemble their launching culture, (at time of launch), than those who stayed behind. I've been told that parts of New Zealand resemble a 1950's dream of Britain.

58:

Actually I got that from a Stephen Baxter novel, and indeed the crew fare badly in the long term, becoming extremely fixed in their behaviours, although they do manage to shake it off a little when their circumstances change at the end of the voyage. They were basically running the "long term lifespan" experiment de novo during the voyage which is why I specified first we figure it out on earth.

Thousand year old people to run a thousand year organization sounds like an obvious gotcha, but personally I'm pessimistic about long term human mental continuity. I would very much like to be immortal but I concluded that in any real sense the person occupying my space in 200 years is not going to be me.

That doesn't mean he won't share my goals though.

59:

Another possible structure that might better last for 100+ years while maintaining its goals and ideals intact is that of a legal trust, established with the narrow goals of organising the required spacecraft and industries. The only problem is finding enough initial funding to establish the trust such that it can actually fund the spacecraft's research and construction.

The downside is that a trust is heavily dependent on the external society it exists within, specifically its legal and financial frameworks. The trust isn't going to survive any type of societal collapse or comparable disaster, although this is a moot point since such a disaster would also likely destroy the industries responsible for building the spacecraft.

60:

Universities are another model that has lasted centuries. In the US we have a couple that have lasted 3 centuries, and Europe as some that have lasted two or three times as long. And they tend to be more stable than corporations but not as fixed as a religious organization. Perhaps examining the traditions and cultures of academia could point to ways to build an organization devoted to space exploration and colonization.

61:

Another reason I like the University model -- we don't know what conditions will be like when the ship arrives. We will probably be able to detect planets with the right mass, atmosphere, and temperature by the time we could build a star ship. But we'll really have no clue about the exact conditions, hazards, native life, etc. An academic culture with a highly educated population and research orientation would be ideal for overcoming any obstacles. It could be useful if there are problems en-route as well, if there is a large engineering faculty.

62:

One thing I've noticed in SF stories with cryostasis of some sort is that there is a division between crew and colonists. Often some sort of generation ship for the crew combined with a much larger frozen colonist population. Alternatively, the ship is controlled by AI and all the crew is frozen.

Assuming AI isn't possible or isn't trusted, but cryostasis is possible, there is another option. Breed the crew along the way. Each generation is born and raised as crew, working to maintain the ship and giving birth to the next generation. At the age of 35 or so they could be suspended.

Once they reach the colony planet, all of the suspended crew/colonists are revived. You end up with some really big extended families where everyone is 35....

63:

Why would a population of academics be better at solving problems, at least within the kind of timescales a colonisation mission would need? I don't think this necessarily follows at all.

If you look at the history of science you will see numerous occasions where bad solutions were supported for years for political, ideological or economic reasons. Science is still the best model we've got for solving certain kinds of problem, but it is not the best model we have got for reacting decisively in survival situations. Even at the best of times and with maximum resources, scientific method can be very, very slow.

I would think that the most adaptable population would be one which had within it a variety of skillsets and problem-solving approaches.

64:

Consensual memory palace? Yes, that's a reasonable way to phrase it, except that it's mapped on the ground, not in an arbitrary way in someone's head. Actually, any culture has some element of a memory palace in it: language, customs, touchstones. This one happens to be the oldest continuous system.

The bigger issue is that critical knowledge needs to be accessible and memorable. On a broader scale, a lot of technical knowledge is hampered by bad jargon design. For example (picked because I looked it up yesterday, explain the difference between "sensitivity" and "specificity" in statistics, and figure out a way to remember it. The words are arbitrary, and it makes them hard to remember unless you're a statistician.

This is one issue where the military has some experience already, and DARPA may be able to contribute some research.

The question is, how do you make the science and technology of running a starship so memorable and trainable that the (small) crew can teach it to their children of average intelligence? How do you organize the knowledge so that all of it is valued, most of it is readily accessible, and the most knowledgeable people are treasured and listened to?

If people can use these techniques to live in the Outback using indigenous resources, perhaps some of them are applicable to space as well? Do you create songlines for every bit of infrastructure, so that people can sing their way to a probable break, rather than running through a checklist or schematic? I don't know, but unlike something like interstellar propulsion, it's a question that can be studied now, and it might have uses in the today's military world.

65:

Or make the starship a living organism and the inhabitants live in symbiosis (or similar) with it? No maintenance required, just living until the destination is reached.

66:

But some corporations have a long life span. Dupont E.I de Nemours has been in existence for over 200 years.

For the 100 year starship program, the organization is going to need huge resources which cannot be looted during the operational period. That is going to be a tall order except for a large, private entity with an ironclad mission statement enshrined in it's incorporation documents.

67:

That would be:

E.I. du Pont de Nemours

68:

Crack human ageing and send a crew of negligibly senescent people who are highly motivated for the goal and still will be x centuries on.

Of course you need to have a couple hundred years previous experience with extended lifespans to be able to gauge if and how human brains go wonky after their first century or two despite being in otherwise perfect health.

This brings to mind another SF example: the Howard families. In fact if I recall correctly, Lazarus Long had at some point to deal with organizing his memories differently than he had previously and from how the usual human does.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is any more helpful to this project than the Foundation example or the living starship one above: as I understand it, what is useful for this project is known to be feasible technologies and methodologies. Using any of these examples from fiction is like libertarians holding up Atlas Shrugged as "proof" that their theories are right.

If we're going to assume technologies not currently in evidence, we might as well throw out the whole 100 years idea because we can just assume translight-warp-hyper-skip-wormhole-jump drive. We first need a research program hundreds of years long to get those hundreds if years of data. It gets a bit circular, and if we had that and the goal of long-term space travel we could just apply that expertise to the space travel question.

69:

Guilds, in the old apprentice-journeyman-master mold. Longevity, technical skills passed on, etc.

70:

"as I understand it, what is useful for this project is known to be feasible technologies and methodologies."

I don't think that is true. There are tracks on quite way out speculative propulsion ideas. Synthetic biology is likely to make large strides over the next century. Living technology might well be relevant for space exploration/colonization.

71:

A trip time of less than a thousand years to any star within 10 light years means velocities on the order of 1% of c. This isn't attainable by any propulsion system we have today with reasonable mass ratio, so some advanced technology will be necessary.

72:

There's a couple of generic problems with synthetic biology:

1. DNA is the worst known spaghetti program on Earth. I'm not against rationalizing it, but synthetic biologists are in the position of computer programmers working in a monstrously bad multilayer legacy system, where the previous programmers didn't document their work at all and kludged it together until it worked. And you don't have the specs they were following either.

2. Following on that, the failure modes of synthetic biology technology are going to get interesting. Viroids, anyone?

3. On this planet, biology engineers are known as doctors and veterinarians, because most animals don't do modular very well. Doctoring is generally a high intelligence, highly skilled profession, and keeping a colony that's all doctors would be tricky.

Note that I'm not entirely off synthetic biology. Conceivably, you could use engineered bacteria and fungi to grow mechanical parts through clever culturing techniques (think mild steel sponge with a pearlite steel shell. Light, hard, and more complex than anything you could forge). A synthetic biology manufacturing system would be slow but low energy, and it might be good for a ship where energy was limited. Of course, you'd have trouble building a spare part quickly...

73:

Apprentice, journeyman, master... Yes, but not quite.

There's nothing wrong with a graded hierarchy, *provided* (and this is crucial) that enough people get to the top levels to keep the whole system working. Remember that the three level professional system was based on earlier monastic systems. They're a better model, with the proviso I mentioned above.

Here are a couple of problems with the traditional guild system: First, journeymen journey. They were supposed to go to other shops to round out their education, before they produced a masterwork to satisfy a guild, settled down, and became masters. This doesn't work in a ship environment. Second, masters were independent businessmen. It wasn't necessarily in their interest to graduate too many journeymen, especially if it cut into their bottom line. Towards the end of the guild system, there were even guilds of journeymen, simply because the masters were turning into factory owners and not advancing their underlings. Today, we're seeing similar problems with the modern guild system: academia. Professors spend more time fund-raising than doing research, postdocs (and grad students) have little chance (<10%) of advancing to the top of their profession, and so forth.

As I said, a graduated hierarchy makes sense in context, because it's a proven tool for lifelong education. I agree with that absolutely.

However, you have to put it in perspective for a starship. You need to graduate fully qualified crew members, whether they go on to be doctors or whatever. Too many specialist positions, and the whole thing will fall apart. In the synthetic biology example, if the master engineers on a ship need to all be the equivalent of MD/PhDs to transplant parts into and out of the life support system, you're not going to have enough qualified engineers to keep the system working unless you have tens of thousands of crew children to choose from.

74:

Using any of these examples from fiction is like libertarians holding up Atlas Shrugged as "proof" that their theories are right.

Someone needs to tell architects that the Fountainhead may not be the best model for how to live the life of an architect.

75:

you're not going to have enough qualified engineers to keep the system working unless you have tens of thousands of crew children to choose from.

That brings up the point of a post a few months back about how many people would have to move to Mars to continue modern society. Especially at the technical/industrial level. Without a very large group, 50K+ maybe 250K+, of people and a really humongous ship they are basically on a voyage of mostly static technology. Will the ship have a semi-conductor fab facility? If not then they might be stuck with the computers and "Droids" available when they leave.

And if this is the case, what happens when the earth tech becomes so good they have the ability to go catch the ship and bring them "home" as the originals goals make no sense. Do you go after them or just let them lead their "primitive" existence in peace?

And just how many people have to be on board to keep down the issues of people marrying cousins and locking in genetic issues?

76:

I like your idea. Sounds like nazism. Sign me in!

77:

DARPA's Hundred Year Starship symposium in Orlando.

I guess it fits. Hold a "let's just dream conference" in one of the few metropolises in the US dedicated to fantasy. As the 3rd most popular destination in the US for people from other countries I can't help but wonder that the rest of the world thinks of us as a bit strange. Especially when the #2 destination is Las Vegas.

78:

I disagree with some of your specifics for the social conditions in play aboard a generation ship.

Population size: almost certainly has to be huge, in the absence of indefinite life prolongation meds or actual working AI. Reason is, the crew need to be able to repair any subsystem -- hardware or biological -- that malfunctions in flight. They also need to be able to train the next generation to at least the same level of competence, which means they need an educational system, and enough surplus people to ensure that if the designated future expert on the Number Four Waste Recycler turns out to be more interested in baroque poetry there can be someone else to train up in their place.

They also need to be able to carry the skills to engage in terraforming at the other end of the journey, or to build the engineering infrastructure out of rubble and sunlight to construct a new interstellar launch stage so they can go somewhere else (back to the solar system, onwards to a new destination).

Which equates to having the sustainable high-tech civilization necessary for interstellar vehicle construction and keeping the above in reasonable comfort.

Wars ... a really bad idea: wars in a confined bottleneck with no way out have lousy exit strategies for the losers. Consider the War of the Triple Alliance where the losing side had no lines of retreat (other than into the backwoods of the Matto Grosso) -- the male fatalities among the Paraguayan population hit 90%. Note that said war was fought with sharp pointy implements, muskets, and the odd cannon-armed riverboat. Again, it didn't take more than machetes to enable the Rwandan genocide to take place.

War aboard a generation ship is probably fatal for everyone -- if not during the conflict itself, then a generation or two later when the practical skills possessed by the folks killed in the war turn out to include some irreplaceable critical path tools required for maintaining the biosphere.

Socially, my guess is the best starting mix for a generation ship is going to be a very large, and mostly homogeneous group with a very Scandinavian cultural and social outlook; that everyone has a duty of care for their neighbours, that differences must be resolved by consensus, and so on. In other words, not vikings, but the people descended from the folks the vikings left behind.

79:

Yes, that would work.

As I've noted repeatedly over the years, certain Magic Wands grant wishes wrt. space colonization. One of the most plausible is serious medical life extension, combined with fixes for the physiologically damaging aspects of space travel. (We're not going to get workable life extension without also getting a handle on cancer, which is the main consequence of long term cosmic radiation exposure. The other issues are mostly zero gee related; I assume a generation ship would, at a minimum, have a spun hab to provide the minimum simulated gravity needed to maintain physiological stability in humans and their food chain.)

(Mind you, I'm not convinced that human memory extension is feasible without external prostheses (e.g. lifelogging), and if you send a very long-lived crew out on a starship it would be embarrassing if as they approached their destination it turned out they'd all forgotten the procedures for initiating deceleration and planetary approach ...)

80:

Actually, Charlie, having read the programme, the conference looks like about the only thing that would get me back to Orlando. Other than a trip into space, of course, but that's now irrelevant as Soyuz is the only way to fly (and way cooler, right?)

I think some of the people in this thread really ought to go read the original High Frontier thread as they're rehashing so much of it. (We concluded, regarding organisations, that either a university or a pub was the way to go.)

81:

The question is, how do you make the science and technology of running a starship so memorable and trainable that the (small) crew can teach it to their children of average intelligence? How do you organize the knowledge so that all of it is valued, most of it is readily accessible, and the most knowledgeable people are treasured and listened to?

Well, my baseline assumption is that you don't. Because your starship is embarked on a voyage where there is no "there" at the other end, they must take everything with them. Consequently, a generation ship is essentially an autonomous human space colony (with a thruster module bolted onto its arse so that it doesn't stay in the same orbit the whole time).

I'm not thinking something with the population of HMS Beagle here, I'm thinking something with the population of Sweden, or LA. In other words, a medium-sized nation in flight.

82:

The external society problem may be the big one. There are plenty of examples of successful long-lived organisations, but they don't rule the world. They can influence their environment, but they succeed because they can also adapt to the changes.

All of these systems are constrained by human lifespans. An hereditary element does seem to counter that, but has other problems.

So what do you base a long-term scheme on? Religions have been an obvious inspiration for fiction. And inventing a religion isn't a new idea.

I think most of us can point to one SF writer who had more success at inventing a religion than at writing. The organisation has survived him, and has survived some pretty heavy criticism. I'm not going to troll-bait the thread with names, and I reckon there are some huge flaws in that instance, which would go against long-term survival.

If you want to set up such a major project, you have to take into account the environment. Is some sort of wacky cult the way to survive the attention of governments?

Maybe a partial answer can be found in such things as the ESA and CERN. No one government controls them. The costs, for each individual government, are tolerable, and backing out would be politically troublesome.

Not a religion, nor a government, but a bureaucratic administration.

83:

You missed several options for synthetic biology. One is enhanced peptide systems where we hack ribisomes to read not three bases per codon but four, then piggy-back a huge bunch of artificial amino acids on top of the usual twenty-something; these are used not as structural elements in their own right, but as scaffolding for carrying, oh, chunks of cunningly designed graphene or fullerenes?

Another option is artificial biology -- ditch DNA/RNA/ribosomes and start from scratch with something where we do have the design docs. (This has the advantage of being unlikely to eat us by accident.)

Then there's non-organic biosystems -- stuff like this seems to be going in that direction.

Ultimately, synthetic biology blurs at the margin into aqueous-phase nanotechnology. And while I don't want to over-sell nanotechnology -- the magical nanite pixie dust of Star Trek hasn't done the field any favours -- it really does have the potential to revolutionize our ability to deal with a lot of the roadblocks.

84:

OGH@25: Random selection of leaders? G.K. Chesterton's "The Napoleon of Notting Hill," FTW! Except that (a) it gets messy quickly and (b) it's a Catholic parable.

Heteromeles@40: Agreed. The idea of China as a model of stability--viz. Chou En Lai's comment about the French Revolution's consequences, that it's too early to tell--is propaganda that appeals to the yearning of some people for a government more stable than their own (and run to their own satisfaction, of course). As you point out, China's history is mostly that of a succession of leaders (not all of them even Chinese) barely managing to keep that sprawling empire from flying apart.

But is it proper that universities are being hailed as models of stability--with good historical reason--right when they are under serious threat from economic and political forces? Loss of state funding, competition from the internet, erosion of endowments and degradation of the academy concept by opinion mills like the Heritage Foundation make it questionable whether universities will survive the century.

Just reducing the scope of the space exploitation question by keeping it fairly local, within the inner-to-middle solar system, will easily keep us busy for the next hundred years. At least we can stop worrying about generation ships for now.

Just my two micro-credits worth.

85:

>>>Consequently, a generation ship is essentially an autonomous human space colony (with a thruster module bolted onto its arse so that it doesn't stay in the same orbit the whole time).

And here is the catch. The moment we can have an autonomous human space colony, we essentially immortalized our race and colonized the entire universe. We don't need planets anymore. Just grab an asteroid and build a new colony whenever you want. There won't be any point to reach other stars other then pure curiosity.

86:

Some corporations survive a long time, yes. But their life expectancy is still short, just as it is for the individual nucleus in a radionucleide. Even your 200 year old company may go out of business next week.

As a possible counterexample, I had the opportunity to chat to one of the Frescobaldi family, who trace the start of their family business back some 30 generations. On the other hand, when they started, they were Lombardy bankers with farms and vineyards as a minor sideline. Now, they're winemakers. Any strategy they may have had has long since been lost, and apart from the family name, it's arguable as to whether they can really be considered to be the same organisation. And that's with family ties to help.

87:

Non-family-based firms can sometimes stay with their core competencies over long periods of time but I posit that may be because they have little competition in a niche market.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been making bells for over four hundred years in Whitechapel in the middle of London. They can trace their bellmaking history back another couple of hundred years in the same general area to a particular master bellfounder operating in the 15th century.

There's not a great demand for bells year on year so one or two founders in a given country will suffice to fill the orders as they come in. It's not a business that a newbie can lever their way into easily as it's a very conservative industry and it's also capital and knowledge-intensive -- naive bellmakers in the nascent US tried to remake the Whitechapel-made Liberty bell after they broke it and failed miserably. The bronze alloy used in bells is non-standard and the physical properties needed are not obvious unless you have a few hundred years of failures to learn from.

BTW the Whitechapel company got stiffed on the invoice for that bell -- the US claimed it was not fit for purpose and never paid for it. Whitechapel has a standing offer to fix it for them if it is returned in the original packaging.

88:

Well, this is an image of Charlie I didn't need right now!! http://xkcd.com/239/ ;-)

Ref the Tokogawa Shogunate - What you seem to be ignoring is that it was an attempt to create a "closed society" on an archipelago, during a time of exploration etc. It was always ultimately doomed, as soon as someone found that Japan had something whey wanted sufficiently.

89:
how do you make the science and technology of running a starship so memorable and trainable that the (small) crew can teach it to their children of average intelligence?

I would imagine a starship crew's average intelligence would be comfortably higher than earth's average, though we run into questions of IQ heritability, maybe the kids would regress to the wider human mean over time but that seems counter intuitive.

If we're going to assume technologies not currently in evidence, we might as well throw out the whole 100 years idea because we can just assume translight-warp-hyper-skip-wormhole-jump drive.

Negligible senescence is not even remotely in the same ballpark of blue sky as warp drives or such. It is an extremely hairy maintenance problem, but not impossible or dependent on unknown physics.

We first need a research program hundreds of years long to get those hundreds if years of data. It gets a bit circular, and if we had that and the goal of long-term space travel we could just apply that expertise to the space travel question.

My assumption is that we'll be running the long life experiment on earth sooner or later, it's not like we have the capacity to put Sweden in space right now. Invent negligible senescence in the next 20 years and in 500 years, when you're ready to launch your generation ship you'll know if 500 year olds are reliable.

Then you send the ship full of 30 year olds, because you still don't know if 1500 year olds are reliable.

I'm seeing a lot of symmetry between organization longevity and individual human longevity, a lot of the challenges are the same, senility leading to loss of flexibility, hijacking towards selfish goals by later administrators (=cancer) or simply loss of target goals in the long term.

90:

Looking at existing examples is not very positive, because most lasting isolated communities (some islands in the Pacific, Arctic dwellers, even Tokugawa Japan) are extremely conservative and technologically stagnated at a certain comfort level, which is why they are stable in the first place.

I think the first choice has to be if the colony is effectively isolated or if it benefits from some communication link with Earth, even if it is mostly one way, as it will be impossible to separate cultural memes and distorsions from useable information, so there will be disruptive influences from Earth, together with the bigger research pool possibilities.

Of course if the ship will reach a sizeable fraction of c, communication will soon not be an option, though they will still receive late news from the lost home.

From a safety/survival point of view, I wonder if a group of ships, accelerated via some kind of giant rider, would not be a better option. Ideally you should be able to communicate within the swarm, and allow even limited personnel transfers, while a catastrophic loss would only kill off a fraction of the whole expedition. City states rather than Sweden.

91:

There won't be any point to reach other stars other then pure curiosity.

(a) Population pressure.

(b) Given than new Earths are likely to be vanishingly rare unless we put prodigious amounts of time and energy into terraforming them, why not go for autonomous space colonies instead?

92:

Universities, festivals, schools -- they are stable because their primary function is the reproduction of individuals who produced more such individuals.

If you're going to make stable structures, they have to be entrained toward their own propagation -- which makes them usually pretty bad prospects for other goals.

93:

I don't get the "humans to space" concept.

Humans are incredibly ill-adapted to space -- it seems to make as much sense as "humans into the iron core of the planet" or "humans into the sun".

Build space-colonizing robots -- or creating entirely new space traveling species -- that might make sense.

But this kind of project sounds like fish designing suits for colonizing the surface of the planet.

94:

In other words, a medium-sized nation in flight.

Hmmm, a project to create a modern nation state from whole cloth on a historically short timescale, in a hostile environment. Have you just invented Israel?

(And if so, who are the Palestinians?)

95:

I agree 110% about DNA. It's definitely a bear to decode. However I suspect that with another 50+ years of computational advances and modeling, we'll achieve considerable success in being able to "engineer" life systems.

What I am looking for however, is not pure life engineering, but rather a melding of life and "conventional" technology. Artifacts will be much more complex, both as structures and mechanism, mimicking life processes.

What I want in a starship is a technology that is not dead, but "alive" in some sense, able to maintain and repair itself, adjusting it's internal environment as conditions change.

It may have completely conventional old technology parts, e.g. engines and nuclear power sources, but these will be embedded, controlled and maintained by the living structure.

96:

It's been done. (",)
Surface Tension, by James Blish.

97:

"..hack ribisomes to read not three bases per codon but four, then piggy-back a huge bunch of artificial amino acids on top of the usual twenty-something..."

Even though that has been done, the redundancy in the genetic code allows addition of additional amino acids. This has been achieved in existing organisms by carefully rebuilding the DNA sequence to remove the redundancy. This paves the way for recoding.

So far these are demonstrations only. It may turn out that robustness needs the existing genetic code and amino acids we see.

98:

"Humans to $Other_Star_System" is a very different concept from "Humans in Space".

The point of "Humans to $Other_Star_System" is to move humans from here to there, rather than to have them in space for the sake of having them in space.

99:

Looking at existing examples is not very positive, because most lasting isolated communities (some islands in the Pacific, Arctic dwellers, even Tokugawa Japan) are extremely conservative and technologically stagnated at a certain comfort level, which is why they are stable in the first place.

Doesn't that bring into question the entire concept? Maybe the correlation here is meaningful?

The most long-term stable human adaptations are the Australians (40k+) and the New Guineans (agricultural stability going back 10k+). They are also the most conservative societies on earth.

That's not an accident -- stability requires a massive suspicion of innovation.

And this problem in the discussion isn't surprising -- an attempt to create human stability in the face of a completely new ecosystem is essentially misbegotten.

It's the old committee of Gorilla's trying to draw up specs for the next step in evolution.

100:

The point of "Humans to $Other_Star_System" is to move humans from here to there, rather than to have them in space for the sake of having them in space.

What's the point of that? What are the odds of getting "there" to a place that has a chemistry close enough to ours to make it at all sensible to send humans there?

You have a huge universe composed of infinite chemistries and energy sources -- and folks are talking about spending our finite resources on trying to hit bullets with bullets across galactic distances because of a genetic fetishism.

As I said, land-suits for fish!

101:

What's the point of that? What are the odds of getting "there" to a place that has a chemistry close enough to ours to make it at all sensible to send humans there?

You're using "chemistry" in some weird sense I don't understand, here -- it's fairly clear from astronomical observations that most of the building blocks of our kind of life are widely distributed throughout the cosmos. While I wouldn't go as far as to endorse panspermia here, I think there are good odds that if we find extra-solar life it'll have evolved from some sort of ribonucleide replicator. If it's RNA or DNA based the precise codon sequencing and base pairs will probably be different, but it should at least be recognizable (even if inedible).

102:

>>>(a) Population pressure.

Then build more space colonies. There's enough matter in the solar system.

>>>(b) Given than new Earths are likely to be vanishingly rare unless we put prodigious amounts of time and energy into terraforming them, why not go for autonomous space colonies instead?

That's what I'm talkinga bout. There is no point flinging those space colonies into the void when they can stay nearby, talk to each other, send guests...

103:

Humans today live in almost fully artificial environment, and live much better than when they used to in the wild. I see no reason why we can't build a space colony that is safer than Earth.

104:

>>>As I said, land-suits for fish!

CLOTHES are land-suits too, you know. For apes from tropic climates.

105:

What's the point of that? What are the odds of getting "there" to a place that has a chemistry close enough to ours to make it at all sensible to send humans there?
Unknown, as I'm certain you realise. Given sufficiently advanced observational instruments it may become possible to be certain that we are sending the ship to an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and carbon-water biosphere though.

What is wrong with discussing "how to go somewhere, if we can find a place worth going to"?

106:

Colonization as relief of population pressure probably isn't realistic: it'll likely come down to the minimum number of kilograms and selected individuals needed to establish a human toehold on a distant Earthlike world. "A New Life Awaits You In The Offworld Colonies" (Bladerunner) may have been a fine movie moment but probably isn't realistic beyond our own solar system.

Maintaining a stable generation-ship population when on the one hand the biosphere limits the number of bodies it can support and on the other hand there are years with nothing better to do than that which makes babies could be a challenge. You probably want to start with a stable population (everything from old folk to children) and put your crew/biosphere into isolation early in the shipbuilding phase so things can still be fixed in the first decade or two.

107:

Charlie @ 91
Assuming, of course, that the ftl non-violation stands, and that the recent neutrino results do turn out to be observational error.
If not, then it's a very different game.

108:

Colonization as relief of population pressure probably isn't realistic:

You misunderstand.

There's no point in us trying to deal with population pressure by space colonization. The cost of getting individual humans into orbit is way too high. However, once autonomous self-sustaining colonies are out there, they're gradually going to end up competing for specific resources; this solar system being finite, eventually some of them will have an incentive to move on out to nearby stars.

109:

Yup.

There's definitely something flaky about physics as we understand it at present -- we're ripe for a huge paradigm shift. Even if it isn't the lesser spotted faster-than-light neutrino, stuff just doesn't seem to add up.

For what it's worth, I'd bet (cautiously) on the speed of light being an absolute speed limit. But despite that, there may be interesting loopholes we can make some kind of use of.

110:

Alex,

I sympathize, but the problem is that living tissue has all the vulnerabilities that humans do. Nothing living actively moves and metabolizes naked in a vacuum, for example, nor at the temperatures required for any sort of rocket.

I've been fiddling with ideas for living starships for a little while, and the best idea I can come up with was effectively a dead shell surrounding a living ecosystem that can be used to regenerate the dead structure. I say ecosystem because much of the really interesting synthetic stuff gets done by bacteria and fungi, and they're probably simpler than maintaining, say, mammalian or plant organisms for your cultures.

I was a little sad that Charlie missed that whole part of the first explanation, but yes, I'm assuming you could, with enough tinkering, make everything from our person pet-favorite material (graphene or whatever's next) to steel struts, with engineered bacteria and fungi (there are bacteria that deposit iron, for example). A bit of engineering and some clever culturing inside molds are the basic needs.

Otherwise, the problem with DNA is that spaghetti coding works well for getting multiple uses out of one hunk of DNA, but it's hell to hack. I'm waiting for someone to create a "rational E. coli" where the genetic architecture follows good human programming rules. My bet is that said rational genome will be 10-100x larger, and the cell will be 10-100x metabolically slower than with a wild E. coli. Double those estimates that if they make a "rational yeast."

111:

A ship with 8 million people on board? Good grief.

The basic issue here is that humans need approximately an acre of farmland to support them, and probably at least that much again for water and nutrient recycling. Call it two hectares of surface/person. Now if there was a meter of soil behind each hectare, that's 20000 square meters*1/3 tonne/meter (about) or 6666.67 tonnes/person, not counting the person. At eight million people, that's 5.33e10 tonnes. That, basically, is your life support system. Now we can build the ship itself, plus any other stuff to make civilization satisfactory.

Presumably this isn't a rocket, so we don't have to multiply that mass for fuel. Or do we?

So we're looking at the equivalent of an asteroid 3-5 km wide mass-wise, except that this is where the simulation falls apart. Mass isn't surface area, so the structure actually needs to be bigger to work. Either it's an asteroid 3-5 km across that's totally reworked to be a starship, or it's one, say, 10 km across (I really don't know how to engineer this), hollowed out and braced in a way that it won't collapse. Mass on order 1e15 tonnes.

Note that humans haven't built a biosphere anywhere near this size. Nor, in fact, have we demonstrated a closed biosphere that's sustainable to the point where you could have children in it.

Well, in a post-oil world, we're not building anything like *that.* Presumably fusion needs to fulfill its promise in short order if we're going to try something this crazy.


112:

This is a great idea - humans turning into a grey-pink goo and converting the entire universe into space colonies.

113:

A ship with 8 million people on board? Good grief.

You may remember a couple of years ago I did an essay called "The myth of the starship", saying that "ship" was the wrong paradigm?

That's what I'm getting at. This isn't a ship; it's a mobile nation. As I said: the difference between an asteroid colony and a starship is, the starship is an asteroid colony with an engine. (Probably using a small Jovian moon for fuel and reaction mass.)

114:

In what way does "humans turning into a grey-pink goo and converting the entire universe into space colonies" differ from "humans turning into a grey-pink goo and terraforming every suitable terrestrial mass planet until it's a clone of their original habitat"?

(As per one of Ken MacLeod's novels, we're just sapient spam.)

115:
A ship with 8 million people on board? Good grief.

You might need 8 million people to keep an advanced technological society running, but you don't need to keep them all on one ship.

In fact, it's probably better to make this venture a fleet of, say, 50 to 100 ships. Not only are catastrophic point-failures avoided, but you might end up with something more sociologically stable in the long term - you get exogamy, different macro environments and specializations on each ship, the ability to move if you don't like where you're living, etc.

116:
The most long-term stable human adaptations are the Australians (40k+) and the New Guineans (agricultural stability going back 10k+). They are also the most conservative societies on earth.
That's not an accident -- stability requires a massive suspicion of innovation.

I'm guessing that there's an upper technological limit imposed by the laws of physics. Worse, I wouldn't be too surprised if we weren't terribly far from the upper bound. So in the end, any society is going to end up being innately conservative when it comes to innovation, simply because they have no choice.

Does this mean we end up with Niven's canonical hydraulic empires? Probably not. But it suggests that the problem of long-term stability isn't one that applies only to sending people out on prolonged missions into space.

That's why I worry about stuff like parasitism by a predator class of sociopaths, mechanisms for decision-making that everyone agrees to abide by and which cannot be hijacked, etc.

117:

Not really.

Let's throw out Tokugawa first. It only worked for a few hundred years. Yes, this is massively better than we're doing in our culture, but it's not starship territory.

Australia and New Guinea are some of the most hostile places on Earth. You get conservative cultures there, not because they're stupid backward or whatever (please check the racism at the door), but because they are hard places to live, long term. Modern Australia is basically five big cities and a bunch of depopulating towns, and it's not clear it will even exist in another 200 years in its current form. The aboriginals actually were doing some simple farming (in areas now paved under cities), and the tribes who are most intact are (no surprise) the ones who live in the most hostile environments. They had to live simple, nomadic lives simply because that was what the environment allowed. Australia is notorious for having an unpredictable climate. Being able to move and adapt was and is critical, and defending farms and gardens in the Outback was and is a death sentence.

As for Papua New Guinea, it's one of the most hostile landmasses for a human to live. The Papuans have demonstrated a lot of creativity to everyone who met them. They're great at adopting new crops (see the sweet potato revolution of 300-400 years ago, or the avocados that they now grow), the highland tribes are now making their own guns out of industrial trash, and so on. Their problem is that, without agriculture, they starve. By 5000 years ago, they'd already domesticated everything on the island that was readily domesticable. There's simply not enough wild food on most of the island to support human life.

I'd also point out that both anthropology and archeology show that the Papuans have actually changed quite radically in both the recent and middle-term past. Sweet potatoes reached the island about 500 years ago, and both legends and archeology show that cultural arrangements changed radically at that time. Far from being in stasis, they readily adopt anything and anyone that will make their lives better--so long as it works.

In other words, both the aborigines and Papuans are normal people, surviving in extremely hostile environments. That's why their stories and techniques are relevant to living in space. For that reason, I'd predict is that space culture, if it ever comes to be, will be both rigorous, conservative, and probably highly diverse, depending on conditions.

118:

I recently read a report on some research (not the paper itself I'm afraid) that suggested that professional stock brokers exhibited more destructive behavior than control groups of institutionalized sociopaths and convicts while not generating more profit. Destructive behavior meaning they were much more willing to risk suboptimal results as long as this behavior would damage the competition more than themselves.

But it's not just the brokers, just look at Nokia or HP, where clearly insane decisions were made in what looks like binges of recreational drug abuse.

So, no, I don't think today's market forces and corporation models would sustain a small population for long term space travel.

119:

Agreed.

Not that this is the post-oil thread, but one could make a case that our current civilization is effectively a bubble-making system set up to benefit a relatively small group of sociopaths at the top, and that's why we're having so much trouble dealing with the concept of post-oil limits.

To make it more interesting, sociopathy isn't very heritable (as Charlie noted), which is what makes hereditary aristocracies unstable in politics or in business. Pity the average heir of the great leader.

120:

It looks like we're back to James Blish and Cites in Flight.

121:

If we want the society to be as stable as possible, might it be better to have a population of sterile clones rather than allowing ordinary reproduction? Probably for whatever type of social model we want to use (a university, say), certain people are likely to have a genetic predisposition to being better-suited to this model than others. Long lived human institutions are to a large degree self-selecting, but a totally closed society can't afford to be. Not to mention that certain people might be much less predisposed to violence and aggression than others, and you want to keep that to a minimum on a generation ship.

Since this is presumably not going to happen until well into the future anyway, we might imagine that human cloning is already pretty common on Earth, so we'd already have millions of examples of genotypes that have already been used to create multiple clones, so we would be able to get some idea of the predispositions of these genotypes.

122:

For a slightly different look at the singularity and machines that are smarter than people:

http://www.gocomics.com/overthehedge/2011/09/26

123:

If we want the society to be as stable as possible, might it be better to have a population of sterile clones rather than allowing ordinary reproduction?

Jesse, here's a thought experiment: imagine that, whatever society you dream up for a starship or space colony, you are going to go and live in it for the rest of your life. Ask yourself if you'd enjoy that? If not, good luck finding a crew.

(This is a side-effect on Rawl's theory of justice, which a lot of libertarians seem to have difficulty getting a handle on: place yourself not in a privileged position when evaluating a possible society, but somewhere at random in the populace. Does it, from that position, look as cute and cuddly as it did from the stratosphere? If not, then you got something wrong.)

124:

I think the stability and resilience issue is central (and not just for space traveling humans). If we do consider the most stable human populations (Australians and New Guineans, and Bali too), their stability is supported by rich cultures of learning (oral traditions, songlines, etc.) that combine metaphor, beauty and participation with rigorous observation and practical resource efficient design. This future culture will likely be a synthetic tribe that embraces more sustainable economic systems, dispersed decision-making structures that emancipate non-human stakeholders, gift-economy values, art as service to communities and ecosystems and embedded systems thinking at all levels. Biological modifications could support the emergence of this as well. These people are likely to diverge very quickly from us. It might also be wise to include time-release information (think Anathem) to stimulate different types of discussions and biological/cultural changes once they arrive.

125:

100 year starship program knowledge is relevant to survival on Earth in catastrophic event, human behaviour under severely restricted environment, etc .. its actually quite a broad potential application program.

126:

You know, I was recently toying with the idea of rejiggering the Cthulhu mythos. The idea was that Cthulhu was a dormant starship seed, and the various beasties of the Mythos were the elements of a nomadic, voracious galactic civilization very much like modern capitalism, something that only could exist for a short time when conditions were right--say, when a good chunk of a planetary biosphere had been mobilized by an indigenous "intelligent" species. They then take over, extract enough resources to reproduce the Great Old Ones, and send them off to new planets, leaving a depauperate planet behind them to lie fallow and rebuild its biosphere for the next wave.

Oh well, if Craig Venter's sampling ship Sorcerer starts making questionable stops over disquieting deep ocean sites, and starts comes back with earthshaking finds, then we'll know that the Great Old Ones are putting on suits and ties...

127:

Jesse, here's a thought experiment: imagine that, whatever society you dream up for a starship or space colony, you are going to go and live in it for the rest of your life. Ask yourself if you'd enjoy that? If not, good luck finding a crew.

I don't really see the problem. A society of 8 million sterile clones could still consist of 8 million distinct genomes, so it wouldn't create a sense of boredom with seeing the same faces all over the place. And they could all still have sex as much as they liked (no worries about birth control either), and raise children if they wanted to, the only difference is that no couple would get to raise their own biological children. Parents who adopt generally love their kids just as much as those who have biological kids, if this just became a cultural norm I don't see this as being any great source of unhappiness.

128:

Okay, I see we're going for "sterile clones" in the Brave New World sense rather than the worker-bee sense.

Still not sure it makes sense. How are we going to produce replacement clones? (Hint: engineering an artificial uterus is way beyond the state of the medical art ...)

129:

Efficiency. Planets are a horrible waste of matter. All this stone being used only to hold atmosphere and create gravity, when you can keep the air in the hull and make gravity by rotation.

Better to disassemble planets and build more space colonies out of them.

130:

scentofviolets @115: "In fact, it's probably better to make this venture a fleet of, say, 50 to 100 ships."

That sounds very reasonable. Maybe even with competing sociological and economic models. Let's say some democracies, a couple of monarchic systems, some brands of theocracy, Marxists and racists. They'd have to cooperate in some ways and antagonize each other much like they do on Earth now. It could end in a large cloud of expanding gas, but as Keynes says in the long run... . OTOH with a much smaller total population they'd learn to live with each other better than we do today.

131:

I hope we go that route. We could also go to Papuan style cannibalism, if the ships' system doesn't work out well.

I've got to admit though, the idea of millions of people on a slowly moving asteroid strikes me as a cross between The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Cruising the stars...

If we're going to go that route, we need to be sprouting moon bases, asteroid bases, Mars, and the Oort Cloud first, just to get a good engineering understanding of how to move and build a large, sustainable biosphere in low-G or free fall. Colonizing Ganymede wouldn't be a bad idea either, because we don't currently have good enough radiation shielding for a star ship. Might as well do a lot of dry runs closer to home.

Oh, and before that, we need to set up sustainable metropoli in the Sahara desert (might as well regreen it, too), Antarctica, and Greenland, and relocate the populations of Lagos, Mexico City, and Shanghai to them. Just for practice.

132:

... POSSIBLY they'd learn to live with each other ...

133:

unit testing: I'm all for it.

134:

I do think there may be a reasonable argument to be made that humans are so ill-equipped to deal with interstellar travel that it's more reasonable to think about fundamentally reengineering humans than it is to try to find a workable generation-ship. (And as noted in this thread, barring major new physics you're talking millennia, not centuries.)

The "spaceship in a can" from Accelerando relies on a lot of things that may or may not turn out to be workable in reality, but I'm not convinced the 'interstellar colony' idea is any more plausible.

135:
engineering an artificial uterus is way beyond the state of the medical art ...

As is space Sweden heading into deep space with 8 million people on board, we need some parameters for acceptable tech otherwise we might as well go back to talking about our exciting post oil future lifestyle of walking around with a donkey with pots and pans hanging from the sides... :)

We may not be able to engineer an artificial uterus but if we REALLY, REALLY needed one we could probably genetically engineer compatible cows or pigs and bring babies to term in their wombs. Except it would be ICKY.

136:

Going back to the specific question quoted by Charlie: How do you create an organization that keeps focus and momentum to achive a goal that's a 100 or more years down the line?

I think if you want to do that, you need a nation baking that goal into its own sence of nationhood, making it part of a definition of who they are and teaching it in schools as a part of the general brainwash you impose on children to make them citizens. For a country like the USA that may mean teaching about the Apollo missions and the space race in general in history lessons, notions of rocketry in science lessons and information about mars, the moon and other colonizable places in geography lessons. If you manage to define the sense of purpose of a nation as being the ones who'll colonize the space, then it'll be easier to keep future generations engaged in your goal.

137:

I totally agree with the importance of dry runs here at home and in nearby space colonies. Just the process of convincing DARPA, key politicians and military/scientist/industrial survivalists of the importance of applying tribal art-as-embedded-fractal-knowledge and cultural pattern language wisdom to this would be revolutionary. This goes to Charlie's "thought experiment: imagine that, whatever society you dream up for a starship or space colony, you are going to go and live in it for the rest of your life. Ask yourself if you'd enjoy that? If not, good luck finding a crew." Millions of people without music, deeper meaning and creativity won't thrive. How do we pack as much survival benefit (think permacultural stacking functions) into everything that goes up? The ship as unpackable totemic survival science and wisdom tended by populations guaranteed not to understand it all. So each song before a meal and each ornamental door handle needs to remind us of the whole and invite further exploration. Like countless tiny mutually reinforcing rivulets heading towards the sea.

138:

A literary extrapolation and exploration of the sterile clone question can be found in C.J. Cherryhs Cyteen, Gehenna etc. - birth-lab-birthed, tape-educated masses to colonize one or the other planet.

Re the sustainable metropolis in the desert: isn't Masdar (UAE) a plan for something like that?

139:

Also I just realized just because the clones are sterile doesn't mean they don't have functional wombs, just implant surrogate children into them, they're adopting anyway.

140:

My own personal theory on the neutrino business goes something like this: The Theory of Relativity is correct. (If relativity was incorrect your GPS wouldn't work) However, it does need one minor tweak if the experimental results are correct: Neutrinos are slightly faster than photons, but there is still a speed limit, and it's not too much faster than light.

If I understand correctly, neutrinos are smaller than photons, and I suspect that there is a relationship between size and the ultimate speed a particle can attain.

I suspect the problem comes from the fact that Einstein was unable to observe a neutrino (IIRC they hadn't been discovered at the time) and he was thus unable to work it into his theory.

The far more likely answer, of course, is that there was something wrong with the experiment, but that's not nearly as much fun to speculate about.

141:

As XKCD said on the subject of FTL neutrinos:

Got $200?.

142:

"Re the sustainable metropolis in the desert: isn't Masdar (UAE) a plan for something like that?"

There you have a good candidate for an initial trial run and a nice tie-in with the Post Oil thread. Can we convince the oil states of the gulf to build, now that they have the wealth to do it, more or less closed systems where half a million people can live and be fed with the produce of the system? Even if they don't do air recycling or full water recycling they could be useful models and their failure modes analysed for further improved without risking the lives of their inhabitants.

143:

Complex systems need larger populations to maintain them, but large populations require larger (and therefor more complex systems). I wonder where that curve levels out.

I absolutely agree about war, but I think people will still sometimes find it convenient to arrange the deaths of others. Perhaps assassination will be the rule of the day. Or maybe some kind of very effective coercion that we haven't developed yet.

144:

The problem is that the Michelson-Morley null result might not apply to >c neutrinos

145:

Still not sure it makes sense. How are we going to produce replacement clones? (Hint: engineering an artificial uterus is way beyond the state of the medical art ...)

But do you think it's so radically far beyond the state of the art that it's unrealistic to expect this technology on a shorter timescale than would be needed to develop giant asteroid starships with self-contained biospheres and fuel systems that allow them to reach nearby stars in under 10,000 years? (assuming in both cases that we don't have all-powerful nanotechnology or superintelligent A.I.) I'm sure the uterus provides a complicated cycle of many different hormones and other biomolecules that are important to the growth of the fetus, but I don't think it actually targets different parts of the fetus' body with different chemicals, so if we made an exhaustive study of the concentrations of all the biomolecules in the uterus at every moment of the growth of the fetus wouldn't that put us pretty close to an artificial uterus? (of course there may also be feedback effects where the uterus responds to the biomolecules sent out by the fetus) My suspicion that what the uterus is doing to help the fetus grow probably isn't that impossibly complex to break down is increased by the fact that we aren't so far evolutionarily from animals whose fetuses grow in eggs that are separated from the mother, like the platypus (though of course the egg itself spends a limited time growing inside the mother before being laid...but we aren't even that far evolutionary from fish and amphibians for whom that isn't needed either, I suspect most of the genes involved in embryonic development in humans would also be present in frogs).

Artificial uteruses aside, "sterile" just implies that the women don't create egg cells and/or the men don't create sperm cells, the women still could have functional uteruses of their own, so as Nestor says the cloned embryos could be implanted in them.

146:

Of course, all clones think alike and believe the same propaganda - just like all twins.

147:

"...ideas for living starships for a little while, and the best idea I can come up with was effectively a dead shell surrounding a living ecosystem that can be used to regenerate the dead structure."

I would agree. The hull could be a mineral based shell (e.g. mollusc) or an organic carbon "bark". Regenerating from the interior to compensate for "wear".

Lovely as this image is, I think a living starship would be something rather different.

The hull could be a reinforced shell created by slightly modified biology - like coral encrusting a steel ship. Or it could be synthetic biology creating all the parts, metals, minerals and organic parts. I think teh biology could be much more programmable that life today, even if it meant adding genes that were triggered by external chemical or other signals. Perhaps only the engines or solar sails would be manufactured.

Much of the "living" technology might well not look biological to our eyes, but would be based on features of biology, perhaps embodied differently.

However, despite Charlie's protestations, I suspect that we will find some way to bootstrap living systems from just the information in the cells. Maybe it takes several stages to do this, growing artificial humans as wombs for the main human payload. Maybe the first generation is crippled by non-human upbringing, but this is relieved by generation 1. Or perhaps we can induce long periods of cold sleep/hibernation and solve the social situation more directly.

Whatever the eventual solution, ships technology that has the characteristics of living systems seems to offer a solution to the problems of long duration exposure to erosion from relativistic dust and cosmic radiation.

148:

Of course, all clones think alike and believe the same propaganda - just like all twins.

Can't quite tell if this is just a joke or a real criticism, but in the latter case, I only said that certain genotypes might be more likely to fit into a given type of social environment, like academia or the army. Just a matter of odds, not certainties of course.

149:

Too bad it's so hard to convince half a million people to live in a city as an experiment to failure of the city's design. We'd have so much progress otherwise...

150:

I don't think biological systems are inherently maintenance free. Self maintaining up to a point, and then arguably harder to maintain/fix.

The early posts about cultural mnemonics for science reminded me of Warhammer 40k's future dark age, in which a priestly caste of techpriests maintain ancient technology through rote memorized maintenance litanies and prayers to the machine spirits. (Warhammer being a tabletop game there's no pretense to coherent world building, it's all just for flash and fun)

151:

I agree with the spirit of your comment, but I would go further and suggest than an actual "cosmic religion" that considers expansion into space as the summum bonum of civilization would be even better. It seems to me that the longest-lived human institutions by far are inspired by religious belief (what secular institution can compare to Judaism, Hinduism or even the Shaolin Temple?) This is why I expect the people who really push space exploration to be more like Mormons or Scientologists than secular bureaucrats or engineers. I find the idea of astronaut-monks and a science fictional religion very appealing, and judging by the growing popularity of the Jedi religion, so do a lot of other people!

152:

You should really all call it the 100 year hypogeum ship project.

You want people living inside an astroid if I understand correctly. Instead of thinking about societies and institutions that can last 100 years you should be thinking instead about societies that can thrive underground and also be going about trying to isolate the claustrophiliac genes and/or formative childhood experiences. Not an easy matter, so you'd better start right now.

Also, you should hold the next symposium in the middle of the darkest winter and in here instead of sunny Orlando:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_City,_Montreal

153:

Personally, I suspect that a generation ship or any other crewed STL ship will prove to be impossible. Even a frozen colonist ship could prove impracticable.

The most likely STL interstellar colonization ship will likely require some from of artificial uterus, a very good ship expert system navigator, and parenting expert systems to raise the colonists.

154:

See, if you can find it, "Birthdays," by Saberhagen. (A story so casually cruel that for years I thought it was by OSC.)

155:

If a generation ship is impractical, then so are off-planet, self-contained colonies.

I'd also point out that if we can carry everything that makes life worthwhile, plus artificial uteri to reconstitute humans at the other end, why bother with the uteri? Presumably we'll have some sort of upload culture riding in the ship itself. It's going to be a huge hassle to make the ecosystem to support humans anyway, so you might as well just send the uploads and have done with it.

Otherwise, I agree with Charlie: the difference between a ship and a colony is the engine. However, I disagree on the size of the beast. If we can't make it work with 10-1000 people, it's probably unworkable.

156:

Well, the first thing DARPA needs to sponsor is Biosphere Three, and get it to work - very non-trivial.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosphere_2

157:
So we're looking at the equivalent of an asteroid 3-5 km wide mass-wise, except that this is where the simulation falls apart. Mass isn't surface area, so the structure actually needs to be bigger to work. Either it's an asteroid 3-5 km across that's totally reworked to be a starship, or it's one, say, 10 km across (I really don't know how to engineer this), hollowed out and braced in a way that it won't collapse. Mass on order 1e15 tonnes.


Note that humans haven't built a biosphere anywhere near this size. Nor, in fact, have we demonstrated a closed biosphere that's sustainable to the point where you could have children in it.

Well, in a post-oil world, we're not building anything like *that.* Presumably fusion needs to fulfill its promise in short order if we're going to try something this crazy.

What's oil got to do with it? Total oil production over the past century wouldn't be enough to launch 10^15 tons into orbit from Earth's surface. It's hard to think of any circumstances where you'd launch 10^15 tons into orbit (or beyond) from Earth's surface. If a generation ship of this scale can be built at all, it won't be done by imitating International Space Station construction on a bigger scale. I personally think that the generation-ship concept or any interstellar travel is unlikely to take place with unmodified Homo sapiens sapiens, but let's entertain space-megastructures for a moment.

In near-Earth space, solar energy is abundant, cheap, and reliable. You don't have to worry about weather, atmospheric attenuation, or (with proper placement) intermittent operation. A megawatt of PV panels in Earth orbit masses less than a megawatt of nuclear reactor, though large reactors may overtake the specific energy of PV systems. Heat engines like fission or fusion reactors have a much more severe heat-rejection problem in space than solar arrays. The advantage is tilted even further in favor of solar if you need concentrated thermal energy instead of electricity, or if you build your generation ship in orbit around Venus or Mercury to take advantage of the greater solar flux.

Of course your generation ship would need some nuclear energy source for the actual journey between stars. There's not enough light in interstellar space for anything else. The potential energy per unit mass of deuterium is only a few times better than that of uranium, and the reactor durability is likely to be lower due to the much more severe neutron damage problems; I'm not sure fusion is even desirable, much less necessary. Since we're already entertaining ludicrous amounts of mass, would it be possible to use radiothermal generators based on transuranic elements instead of full-blown reactors? The specific energy is lower, but the engineering is much simpler. The heat sources should last for hundreds to tens of thousands of years depending on isotope selection.

158:

Do I need to point out that a stable, conservative, long-lasting community is exactly what you DON'T want when you get to the other end of your journey?

You will be met by the need to adapt, change, grow, fill niches - all those human characteristics you want to remove to make a stable society. And if your destination ends up being already occupied, you need those war-like characteristics too.

Nope, there's no point to going a'travelling until you've got uploads and the ability to grow bodies from scratch and populate them with those knowledge filled minds. Sidesteps most of the issues - it's more tractable as a problem set than mucking about with 'aboriginals in space'.

159:

Hmmm, so the ancestors of the aboriginals settled some fairly bizarre new lands using no help from home, and using only materials they found when they got there.

What's wrong with that attitude again? It doesn't involve uploads, was it?

The basic point about aboriginals is that, oddly, these primitive, conservative people have managed to survive in more places than civilized people have, doing more different things. Weird, isn't it? We certainly can't learn anything from how they manage and transfer their information. Even if they're doing what we, oh, evolved to do, as human beings.

Nah. Nothing of value there. We need shiny new answers, obviously.

160:


There seems to be a real love of Monarchy in this blog, I wonder why. They last, but not that long as the same unchanging group. And at what cost. Greek democracy and the Roman Republic lasted longer that as any one Monarchy I believe.
I remember reading about the RAND Corporation Delphi method poll. It gave me hope. As I recall they found that ordinary people in a large enough group gave better answers than panels of experts. So real Democracy can work if allowed too. IF ALLOWED TOO.

161:

heteromeles,

They may have got there 40k years ago - and then what?

40k years of doing ... nothing very much. If that's your idea of going travelling in the big wide universe, why not stay and home and do nothing there? Much less hassle.

There is a tendency to eulogise over primitive cultures as somehow being superior and 'wiser' than us. The myth of the noble savage. Reality is they are the losers in the game of civilisation and when you get up close with them the picture is usually not as pretty a one as you are sold by those at a distance.

162:

There are times when I think that nobody in this wonderful hi-tech culture of ours wants to take farming seriously.

Or field-scale bio-engineering if you insist on a few buzz-words.

If you can't feed half a million people for a few centuries it doesn't matter what else you can do.

How many non-agricultural experiments have been running since 1843? (Broadbalk, Rothamsted)

And you think fusion research is long-term?

163:

SEF @ 154
Saberhagen is a christian, and Card is a moron - so of course they are both cruel .....

164:

I've never played WH40K, so this made me think of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Canticle_for_Leibowitz

165:

So ... you pick a suitable asteroid (say, 433 Eros) and hollow it out to contain a suitable population (say, 120,000) then you can have considerable spare mass to lob out the back for propulsion (and increase the liveable space over time to cope with population growth).
Do the offspring of mechanics always become mechanics? How many musicians, artists, etc, do you include in the population?
Natural breeding interspersed with IVF using DNA from a sperm/egg bank to continually add genetic diversity to the population.
A store of the essential minerals and metals that make us up that will be sufficient for any population growth (will we carry enough of the rarest elements in us to permit population growth).

Can we get off the planet before it becomes fiscally impossible!

166:

Do "artists" have to be "full-time and permanent"? I know several very good painters and musicians who've never "done art" as their primary job. OGH has done other things besides writing for a living...

167:

Sorry, I can't claim to have had ancestors around here for that long. There was a Glacial, about 20kyears ago.

For most of us, civilisation has been barely visible for over 95% of that time. Some things may have changed, but the scum still rises to the top.

The "primitives" have systems that work. They're on a small enough scale that the participants know the crooks and liars, and they can still fail. And changes to their environment usually happen at a speed the system can cope with.

What they have is not a good answer, but it obviously works. And the Laxton Court Leet is still running. Would a system based on Capitalism work on the Starship? It's really too soon to say.

168:

The "offspring of mechanics" problem is a bit of an illusion in that form, but making sure the next generation has the skills to continue the journey isn't trivial.

Arts and culture, they involve everyone. It shouldn't be dependent on full-time professionals. Amateur theatre has slipped back a bit--TV and stuff, I suppose--but it was widespread until at least the 1950s. In some ways, the pop explosion of the Sixties depended on traditions of amateur entertainment and bottom-up creation.

If Charlie wants a horror story, Simon Cowell managing The Beatles. The Fab Four performing numbers from musicals in the style of The Ink-Spots?

169:

There seems to be a real love of Monarchy in this blog, I wonder why.

I note that it seems to mostly infect Americans, who haven't had the benefit of growing up living in a monarchy. (Hint: I have, and I'm not a fan of it as a system of government -- even in the very mild, neutered version practiced in the UK.)

170:

FFS, again with the artificial uterus zombies. (Now there's an idea.)

171:

Yes, I’ve thought for a while that instead of one big vessel a flotilla of ships would stand more chance of getting from here to there with everyone still individually and collectively sane.

I’m thinking Greek city-states in space here as a role model. Not so much the military conflict but the idea of having several similar organisations near each other who exchange ideas and people and where the potential for co-operation and rivalry keeps things dynamic and fresh.

This builds in redundancy in the knowledge needed to keep the ship moving as each ship will have experts, manuals, tacit knowledge and succession plans and rivalous peers to consult and it one “dynasty” of experts fails you can reboot from a flotilla member.

It also softens the politics somewhat. If one ship finds it can’t resolve a conflict with an individual or a group of individuals those individuals have the option of migrating. The potential competition for high status individuals or groups from other ships gives individuals something they can trade for political asylum or political rights.

172:

I think a really interesting questions here is “what is this for?” and, assuming a mission control back on Earth “if I help you with your mission, what’s in it for me?”

The folks back on Earth will be presumably be most interested in the information that the colony / exploration ship can send back that they can’t get from Earth or they have some kind of quasi-religious interest in human exploration and colonisation of interstellar space. This will be somewhat important for a small section of the population. Or they might be funded by a pension fund who thinks the information might have some resale value that justifies keeping the ground watching institution going.

I think the folks on the ship are going to mainly interested in keeping themselves alive and nurtured. This will be vital for everyone. Also important are the reason they left the Sun. Are they explorers? In which case a university type set up might really work. Are they responding to over population? Are they the losers in an ideological conflict? Are they going to Their to stay and / or to have a look and / or just passing through? What’s important to them at the beginning of their journey? How important is it to them to keep this thing important for the whole journey?

The space-faring culture gets the opportunity for a reboot every so often when it arrives in a solar system with lots of useful stuff in a worn out ship. After spending ten, a hundred or more generations inside the ship the culture then has to spend some time building the infrastructure to build a new ship (or ships). Will everyone want to get back on? Will their be room for everyone?


In the meantime, there’s not a lot that the folk on Earth can do to help the folk on the ship. If the ship is working the people on it have everything they need for the time being. If part of the ship stops working then the people on Earth are going to be of limited use beyond passing on some information from other ships who had similar problems. They won’t be able to hand them a spanner.

This changes when the ship arrives somewhere interesting and the crew either wants to stay and / or build a new ship to continue their journey. At which point there is an opportunity to trade a thousand years of Earth’s technology for some nice pictures of a different star. The economics of that are interesting.

173:

Given that we are unlikely to change human nature the best way of sustaining a common goal is to have a common enemy; either real, imaginary or virtual.

As previously discussed, wars in/on asteroid spaceships are probably a Bad Idea which discounts real enemies (I initially thought about having two societies who could compete and at least one of them would survive to get to where they are going).

Moving on to the imaginary, do we just tell the crew there are Bad Things "out there" and that they have to keep their house ship shape and Bristol fashion for when they are attacked? We could even go as far as to have automated attack drills at random periods to ensure people didn't forget about the Bad Things (maybe not even letting people know they are drills?) Although I doubt it would actually work long term as some lazy so and so would soon realise they didn't do there job and nothing bad happened. Plus a state of fear is not conducive to a healthy environment (global warming anyone?)

That leaves the virtual enemies. What about a massive "World of Warcraft / Everquest" style environment with progress as a common goal? It would take a hell of a lot of programming to be sure but with a combination of effort from Earth based programmers and user generated content I'm sure something could be knocked up that had 100 years of play time. Plus, make it educational so that you HAD to learn the skills required at the final destination to advance in "The Game". Fancy learning teraforming even though you know you'll be dead before you get to try it out? Me neither. Fancy learning terraforming and trying it out in The Game to make your own world? Go on then!

It gives the IT guys something to do too - learn how to make your own CPU's etc to replace the burnt out ones - A useful skill at the final destination.

The idea could be extended ad infinitum.

174:

Arguably, the really damaging flaw in the UK constitution (as compared with that of Germany, France, Switzerland, or the US) is that too much power is vested in the person of the *prime minister*. Given a parliamentary majority the PM enjoys far greater power in relation to the legislature than any democratic president. He/She is a "king in parliament" or an "elected dictator." This has the potential to be very un-stable. One ape with lots of power and responsibility has lots of psychological failure modes. I do wonder to what extent the only reason Britain hasn't lapsed into dictatorship[1] is simple good luck, as opposed to anything intrinsically wonderful in our political institutions.

I think if you want clues as to how to create a long-term stable polity don't think in terms of single-person heads of state or prime ministers, think in terms of committees consisting of genuinely equal individuals. The Swiss head of state is a council of seven representatives from the major political parties. Such an arrangement bakes in a bias to consensus-building, gradualism, and staying-the-course whilst also being robust against the psychological malfunction of any individual ape.

Of course the Swiss also have more direct democratic institutions than almost any other polity. I wonder if democracy is more or less conducive to "stability of purpose" in the long run? I guess if you have your basic culture being something like "Scandinavian collectivist mentality" (after Charlie @78) (or whatever the Japanese cultural outlook is) democracy *would* guarantee stability, as cultural norms would strongly influence policy, and cultural norms change more slowly than policy... right?

But suppose your executive apparatus is something larger than one ape and smaller than several hundred apes (a parliament). At one end you have the one ape=single point of failure problem, and at the other end you have the many apes=disagreement, tribalism, and poo-flinging problem. Is there an optimum number of apes for guaranteeing stability of purpose?

Caveat: the results of direct democracy are not always pretty, as we saw with that business with the Swiss minarets. This is an example of a problem with democracy in the "tyranny of the majority" sense. Of course if you're on a generation starship and some breakaway group is getting dangerously heterodox ideas you may *need* a major slapdown. Of course if that leads to war, as our host points out, you are basically fcked.

[1]: Of course, we're counting the much-vaunted "stability of British political institutions" from after 1688 right?

175:

... too much power is vested in the person of the *prime minister*. Given a parliamentary majority the PM enjoys far greater power in relation to the legislature than any democratic president. He/She is a "king in parliament" or an "elected dictator." This has the potential to be very un-stable.

I'm not convinced.

While I agree that the elected dictatorship aspect of the British constitution is very bad, I don't think the PM is quite as strong as you think -- they can't do anything without the consent and backing of an outright majority of the House of Commons (by implication, their own party or coalition partners). And the Commons can move a vote of no confidence at any point, which effectively triggers a fresh election.

As we've seen within living memory (if you're over 25 or so) even a very strong and autocratic PM -- like Thatcher -- can be backed into a corner and forced to resign if enough of their own MPs think they've driven into a swamp and are at risk losing an election.

The real failure mode would be if the PM and their party decided to go off the reservation. With a majority backing them, they could pass something similar to Hitler's 1933 Enabling Act, and I'm not convinced the monarch would be able to stop them. (The royal veto is a one-shot weapon: it's never been used since 1688, and nobody knows if the trigger has rusted in situ or if the breech would explode on firing.)

Overall, though, you've got a good point: we don't know what the optimum size of a government is for reaching consensus without succumbing to gridlock vs. giving too much autocratic power to an individual.

176:

I did wonder about that post; personally I'm no big fan of a constitutional monarchy (too much chance of of a Vicky or Lizzie "this is a job for life so I shall never resign" type, or someone like Speaker to Plants or his younger son "Harry Nice but Dim"), never mind an absolute monarchy where you give them real power, and I know that most regular contributors are from the UK or from a constitutional republic.

177:

Charlie Stross wrote:

Overall, though, you've got a good point: we don't know what the optimum size of a government is for reaching consensus without succumbing to gridlock vs. giving too much autocratic power to an individual.

If I recall, C. Northcote Parkinson concluded that a committee of between 5 and 7 members had historically been the optimum size. I think his arguments still stand.

178:

Charlie @ 169
As you know, we disagree over this one.
It is my contention that we actually, practically, live in a Republic that happens to have an hereditary Head-of-State (The monarch).
This is similar to the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and now Spain. Greece was like this, until the CIA FUBAR'D the place comprehensively in 1967.

The monarch has a duty to advise and to warn.
But, it should be noted that no monarch has actually refused to sign any legislation put before him or her since Anne (Rg 1702-14).
Perhaps more consideration should be given to this apperntly very stable form of government, expecially when you consider the upheavals and deaths over, erm, "constitutional issues in other nearby and neighbouring countries over this period.

paws4thot @ 176
There are constitutional precedents for stepping either down or into the background.
The Dutch have done this often, and the future Geo IV stood-in for Geo III after the former's porphyria affected his mind. One wonders if Elizabeth might retire into the background, if/when Philip predeceases her - as he almost certain to do.

179:

I couldn't have named a name as the person who first proposed it, but I've certainly seen a committee of that size advocated as the optimum size for decision making before.

180:

Well, most of the more successful British governments rely heavily on Cabinet committees (usually about that size, mixture of ministers and officials) to get work done. As Clement Attlee said, Cabinet should decide, not discuss. Break out into small committees to hack through the details, then go into cabinet to sign-off action, back out to committee to monitor results.

As you know, regarding the monarchy, I think the UK is a Germanic elective monarchy with an unusually long time-to-live field set thanks to the Act of Settlement. Rather than picking every time, Parliament decided to meta-pick and set the rules of succession (i.e. the Protestant heirs and successors of Her Serene Highness the Princess Sophia of Hannover, in the male line, if they be of sound mind and have attained the age of majority). It's a hereditary plug-in to an elective system.

181:

On the love of monarchy front, I think we can all agree that Charlie's not a fan!

But I live here and I quite like it.
I like the Monarchy because (perhaps mostly!) I hate politicians, and I don't mean the people who drift into Politics after doing something useful with their lives, I mean the career politicians we seem to be saddled with these days. Entering University with the express intention of climbing the greasy pole into politics. Argh! Hate them Hate Them HATE THEM!
As Marx (Groucho!) said about a club he wouldn't want to be a member of if they'd let him join - something similar for Politicians! If you WANT to be a politician straight from university that should exclude you from being one!

I like the Monarchy (and the House of Lords) because they (mostly) don't have a political axe to grind. There's no benefit for them in making decisions and they can, for the most part, sit outside the sordid House of Commons politics.
Once we start electing the House of Lords it'll be no different from the Commons and heaven help us!

Also, a small consideration, but the Monarchy is (I understand) cheaper to run than a full blown President. I certainly trust the Queen more than I trust any of the last few Prime Ministers!

I do understand the objection that the role should be open to anyone, but as I have no ambition to be King I really don't have a problem with forcing some pour schmuck who's unlucky enough to be born "Royal" into doing it!

182:

I have similar feelings about career politicians; my biggest issue with your "If you WANT to be a politician straight from university that should exclude you from being one" statement is that I also think that the easiest way to tell when a politician is lying is that you can see their lips moving! ;-) and that I can't think of a way of screening for this desire to be a career politician than to exclude anyone under $age like the US does for the Presidency, or to have term limits so that if you try and go straight into politics then you positively know that you'll be looking for a first "proper job" some time in your mid to late 30s.

183:

Cheaper? I don't know about that. Consider the Royal Family's vast personal wealth (and yet they still take a wage from the country). Not many presidents have private gardens that are more than 10 miles across, in the most expensive real estate in the country. What's the cost of having a bunch of squaddies in pretty costumes poncing about for their amusement?

Many politicians are total tools, yes, but not all of them. Just as some monarchs may be reasonable, but not all of them - and you can't easily vote out the bad ones.

184:

As a child I did a paper round that at one end had a council estate, and at the other end a different kind of estate - Cumberland Lodge - home of the Queen Mother. Each Christmas I got a tip from each of the council estate customers. I never got one from the QM, despite her single delivery adding a couple of miles to my route. (Possibly because the QM didn't even question where the papers came from and the staff didn't have the authority to tip me, possibly because she was completely tightfisted).

And at least the politicians who went to university got their places based on good A-level results. I know, if I was going to be King one day I wouldn't work very hard at school, either.

185:

If it came the the party and PM voting for an "enabling act", I suspect that given the widespread cynicism about politicians amongst the more ummm, repressive organs of the state, the politicians would shortly be arrested and imprisoned on the orders of the Queen/ King. Especially if their actions were not supported by the majority of the populace.

(Obviously it would be a bit different in a genuine revolutionary situation where by some miracle the revolutionaries had control of parliament and the enabling act was because of incipient nastiness {but then such a thing would amount to starting a civil war anyway} and the parliament could call upon large numbers of civilians to man the barricades.

186:

I don't necessarily agree. Term limits are a bad idea -- it takes years to get a handle on the complexity of some governmental processes, and firing the only legislators who've put the time in is both wasteful and damaging to the system. And people who want to make a career in politics from an early age are highly motivated -- and fairly clearly not 100% devoted to pursuing money (otherwise they'd be training as stockbrokers or bankers instead).

On the other hand, I'd love to see a requirement that anyone standing for any office above a certain level (municipal councillor, maybe) must be able to point to having spent at least three years in a "real" job: said real jobs to be defined as just about anything except employment in politics, law, academia, management, financial sector, or journalism covering those fields. The purpose of this requirement being to ensure that elected politicians should have some minimal insight into how the other 98% of us live and work.

187:

I specifically wasn't advocating term limits; all I was saying was that they were one of the few controls I could think of that stops people seeking a career in politics.

The idea of requiring anyone seeking election to be able to show experience of a "real job" as a candidacy qualification does have merit though.

188:

OK .. so Phil's not a fan either ;-)

[Cards On Table] I'm a royalist (though you probably guessed already!)

Cheaper:
The money the Royal Family take from the Gov is in return for paying taxes - some historian could tell you when this deal was struck - and it was the Gov's idea to make this deal as, presumably, they do rather better out of it than the old setup!

Much of the wealth came from that tightfisted QM who brought her wealth with her when she married into the royal family. But do you think the Queen could sell, for example, Buckingham Palace and buy a condo in Marbella with the proceeds? I'm guessing she really couldn't. Sure, much of the royal estate(s) is theirs, but they're not necessarily free to do what they want with it. I look on them as guardians of the royal estate, and from where I'm standing they look a lot like golden manacles!
Not saying they don't have a few bob, mind, and whilst I'd love the money I wouldn't want to live their lives!
The whole history of landed gentry is a tough one to rationalise for sure. These people mostly hark back to feudal times and that certainly isn't something I aspire too, but I don't feel any great sense of injustice about it. It happened a long time ago and the current crop are mostly just riding the wave. Some (many?) have squandered their fortune, and some have built a new one (Beckham, Elton John, etc).

Term Limits: (Charlie)
I sometimes wonder what expertise the politicians have that warrants them getting posts in the cabinet, and how they only seem to stay in a post for a couple of years tops! Exactly what you said ... they have some time to comprehend the magnitude of the problem, a few months left to half-heartedly have a stab at some reform or something, then off to head some other part of Gov. Seems crazy to me!
Certainly Ed Vaizey doesn't seem to have any real grasp of the communications part of his "Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries" post if his handling of DEA is anything to go by ... I thought they were going to can it as soon as they got into power ... 3 strikes [shakes head] ... and I actually quite like the man when I've seen him talk.

Of course, if the interstellar city is considered a ship, would that not offer the opportunity to have something like the naval hierarchy in place? If there's an emergency, you don't always have time to call a meeting! On the other hand, you would want some sort of oversight to ensure the captain doesn't lose it and go crazy-ape-shit-bonkers when at the wheel.
This would offer anyone the option of entering the 'service' and working their way up, but obviously not everyone will get a chance to drive, and I think we need to acknowledge that there will not be an equal chance of leadership amongst everyone on board.
The oversight committee/cabal/quango would have past captains, and maybe some other people from the command and control hierarchy, plus others from other important areas of the collective.
Might work?

189:

But do you think the Queen could sell, for example, Buckingham Palace...
Not Buck house or the other designated "royal palaces" she couldn't. OTOH she could sell Balmoral estate, Sandringham, the "Castle of May"... Point taken?

190:

I suspect the monarchy pays for itself just in terms of being a world class tourist attraction.

191:

@186: On the other hand, I'd love to see a requirement that anyone standing for any office above a certain level (municipal councillor, maybe) must be able to point to having spent at least three years in a "real" job: said real jobs to be defined as just about anything except employment in politics, law, academia, management, financial sector, or journalism covering those fields. The purpose of this requirement being to ensure that elected politicians should have some minimal insight into how the other 98% of us live and work.

My current and previous MPs are both academics by background. The previous was a Reader in law (and returned to that position), the current worked on DNA computing. They both rate(d) far higher in terms of attendance, taking part in debates and all the other metrics on TheyWorkForYou.com than many MPs who've had "real jobs", and are well regarded locally.

If you want MPs to reflect the population as a whole, you need a jury service model, which opens a brand new, family size can of worms.

192:

Hey Paws ...

Well, there's what are known as "Crown Estates" and Balmoral isn't one of them, similarly Sandringham. It was (privately) purchased in 1852 and presumably wasn't included in the deal that created the Crown Estates, presumably because they were not part of the original royal portfolio, but more recently added properties. I know ... that's a tricky one!

If we return to the Crown Estates, the link informs us (thru the usual Wiki-Filter that may or may not be accurate!) that the Gov gets £230.9 million (as at 31 March 2011) annual profit. I think the Gov gives rather less than that back to the royal family as the "Civil List".

If people are saying it's somehow not fair that families inherited money (we can ignore the inheritance of 'title' as that really means nothing without the means!) from their ancestors then where do we draw the line? I own a house. I paid for it out of money I earned, and paid tax on (I am fortunate to have not been in the situation to inherit anything yet! Oh ... I got an OLD tv from my grandfather). Should I not be able to bequeath that to someone on my death?
If I do, surely that potentially starts the cycle again? If I'm not allowed to, then maybe I'd have frittered the money away on fast cars and faster women and just live off the state in my old age? Where's the incentive to strive?

193:

The argument that the royals take in more money than they cost is the only thing I've ever heard that makes any sense as a reason to keep them around. On a purely pragmatic level, if they're a profit-maker for the country, then hey, have fun with the human tourist attractions.

But I can't see how it'd be worth paying so much as a buck of taxpayer money to keep them around, so I'd hope they keep the money coming in.

194:

@ 183
Re the "Civil List
The monarchy's "cast wealth" is directed towards the state, and they get a "Civli list pension" from the guvmint.
It has been pointed out that if the Civil List were to be terminated, but the Royal Family were to incorporate as "The Firm", and pay taxes in the bormal way.
erm ...
The monarchy would apparently cost the country nothing, but the guvmint would lose out in tax revenues, by a considerable sum.
Err .....

@ 190
Correct

195:

Making a "real job" a requirement before entering politics is deeply problematic.

Firstly, it will discriminate against the young, carers, stay-at-home parents and the disabled who have never been able to work, so would almost certainly be unlawful and unethical. Secondly, and more importantly, it wouldn't work anyway as many of the career party hacks spend several years in university in think tanks or as journalists or in law firms being groomed, on the surface "proper jobs".

Who gets to say what a proper job is, anyway? How would you ensure that the decision was fair and free of prejudice?

I hate the fact that our rulers are a de facto political class, a new aristocracy, but most of the solutions are as bad if not worse than the problem.

196:

I would say simply that hunters and gatherers are the losers in this particular century.

HOWEVER...

Civilization in *any* form has proved fairly incompetent at dealing with large-scale climate swings, whereas hunter-gatherers somehow have survived them. That's things like ice ages, as opposed to, say, mega-Nino events. While I don't entirely believe that civilization is doomed if the moderate predictions on global warming come true, it's far from impossible. If so, hunters and gatherers will be among the survivors, as will nomads and subsistence farmers.

More to the point here, star ships need to work on a scale of centuries. Our information storage media generally last on order of a decade or two, and our teaching curriculum now seems to be designed to teach people to forget after after a test, and to regard educated people as tools. To put it very bluntly, we've become totally incompetent at transmitting information on the time-scales needed to conquer the stars.

The basic point here, which is a critical one, is how do you transmit information so that it lasts for centuries? Traditional societies have demonstrably solved this task, modern society has not.

My suggestion to DARPA is that they should study how knowledge gets transferred without error on the very long term, and apply what they learn to the organization of knowledge for a starship. The nice thing about this question is that it's actually relevant to our world now, unlike questions about how to rebuild an asteroid to house a million people.

197:

Of course, if the interstellar city is considered a ship, would that not offer the opportunity to have something like the naval hierarchy in place?

That's a really good reason for ditching the suffix "-ship" from "starship".

Because your traditional naval hierarchy is a dictatorship. Which is not a nice way to run a city-state from which there is no practical possibility of physical escape.

198:

"...so would almost certainly be unlawful and unethical."

Unethical, perhaps.
However, the law is what Parliament says it is.

199:

"If people are saying it's somehow not fair that families inherited money (we can ignore the inheritance of 'title' as that really means nothing without the means!) from their ancestors then where do we draw the line?"

I would draw the line at 10x the wealth of the average citizen.

200:

Not whilst we're still signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Some of the examples I gave would be in breach of convention rights.

201:

As that is about 260,000 pounds, it would mean you'd be unable to pass on the ownership of a small broom cupboard in London to your child

Rex

202:

Charlie Says: "Because your traditional naval hierarchy is a dictatorship."

OK ... but someone somewhere has to have the emergency say so when it is imperative a decision be made. You cannot call all 7 (or 11, or however many) people together for a chin-wag when emergencies hit. In that situation you need someone at the helm to make the call.
Our impression of navel hierarchy includes the dictatorship, but if they moved up through the ranks due to merit, and there was always the oversight committee to slap them down if they step out of line, might that not offer the best of both worlds?
There would likely be similar hierarchies running other aspects of the ship - Maintenance, Health, Agriculture, etc ... all of whom are represented on the Council.
Anyway, that's sort of what I was suggesting, not a full on Naval Setup with swords and braid and whatnot.


Dirk suggested: "I would draw the line at 10x the wealth of the average citizen."
Excellent. Well that's sorted out that little problem then. Oh, is that the average driven citizen?

I do rather like the idea of fixing the Politicians salaries as some multiple of the Average Earnings though. I also wonder why there isn't one pay scale for all Government Employees, be they nurses, firepersons, police, etc, and of course Politicians.
If we combine the grades, where would a back-bencher sit amongst the nursing grades I wonder?

203:
Making a "real job" a requirement before entering politics is deeply problematic.

Perhaps in the broader sense. But in the context of creating and maintaining a stable institution viable over hundreds (or thousands) of years, it makes a great deal of sense, imho. As I suss it, there are to related but distinct problems that shouldn't be conflated. One is the problem of getting good, competent, reliable people into the decision-making points of the organization.

The other is keeping the bad, incompetent, sociopathic types out. Since membership here is optional (at least, I assume it is), I think it's permissible to do everything possible to keep the parasites at bay. This would include using the latest technology to identify and bar suspect personality types, excluding people who don't have relevant experience in, say, life support, power, etc. (don't let the bean-counters stage a coup. But listen to them.)

204:

The way governments deal with emergencies is not to appoint a supreme dictator with no term limit (at least, not usually) but to (a) provide for a state of emergency, during which various procedures are executed by a civil service, civil defense agency, or military or other groups -- within pre-determined limits, include duration.

In other words: responsibility for various emergency tasks is pre-determined and delegated to different groups in accordance with a major incident plan. Incident happens: task groups do their shit, which may include privilege escalation so that they can take extraordinary measures in a hurry and without the need for a long debate first. Incident under control: regular civilian processes are resumed.

My suspicion is that on board a generation starship, the response time to an emergency will be measured either in months/years/decades, or in milliseconds, but very rarely in anything in-between. If it's the former, you've got time to chew it over. If the latter? Your response had better be automated, and fast.

205:

£260,000 sounds more like 10x the average annual income than average wealth?

206:

There is an argument for paying elected politicians: if you don't pay them, either they will consist of the independently wealthy, or be in thrall to the independently wealthy.

There is also a separate argument for paying elected politicians well: if you want high calibre executives, you are going to be competing with industry, and the best execs can charge top dollar.

Personally, I think argument #1 is solid and argument #2 is not only specious, it's a variant on the usual nauseating apologetics for CEO pay skyrocketing while the pay of the regular workers on whom they rely stagnates.

A sensible option for elected politicians is to assume that you need to pay them so that they aren't in thrall to the moneyed, and you need to pay them well enough that they're not tempted to pass the hat for donations from the moneyed -- but you don't want to attract the sort of people into politics who are solely obsessed with maximizing their income (the sociopathic CEO personality type).

In other words, peg them against middle management or skilled professionals (of the type who require multiple years of training: medical doctors, professors, architects). And make this explicit by having a unitary pay scale for civil servants and specifying where on this scale MPs sit.

207:

I should have googled before posting. The actual 2010 figure is 235,000

208:

"Not whilst we're still signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Some of the examples I gave would be in breach of convention rights."

Parliament can unsign us.
No Parliament can bind its successor, and ultimately UK law is what the Queen, as head of state, signs. Irrespective of treaties.

209:

"As that is about 260,000 pounds, it would mean you'd be unable to pass on the ownership of a small broom cupboard in London to your child"

Actually, more than £2 million
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/7723561/Average-household-wealth-jumps-150000.html

Which is quite enough to give anyone a very good start (or finish) in life given that they have not earned it.

210:

"Dirk suggested: "I would draw the line at 10x the wealth of the average citizen."
Excellent. Well that's sorted out that little problem then. Oh, is that the average driven citizen?"

It does include those with chauffeurs.
However, to simplify the statistics for you, it is mean - not median or mode.

211:

It seems way to early to be talking about interstellar world-ships, but in principle is there any reason why a medium-sized asteroid couldn't be hollowed out, spun, supplied by materials from nearby asteroids, comets and moons, and colonized? This seems like a much more realistic goal for the next hundred years than starships!

212:

"There is also a separate argument for paying elected politicians well: if you want high calibre executives, you are going to be competing with industry, and the best execs can charge top dollar."

That's an argument for paying civil servants more than politicians.

213:

Actually, it's an argument for a 90% marginal income tax rate at CEO pay levels. With stock options and similar wheezes taxable as income in the year they're issued.

214:

Definitely agree on that one.

215:

In the old Roman Republic it was known that in a emergency a Republic could not act fast enough. The leaders of it would look around and make someone a Caesar with power to end the problem. Then the power would go back to the Republic. Worked for a long time. Till the rich become too powerful and Rome turned into something whose duty was to make the rich, richer. Then Julius Caesar ended it, and he may have had a point that the real Republic was already dead.
Having worked in rerfom political campaigns I think that any one who will do what it takes to win should not. The more you see how it really works, drafting leaders with a lottery for a short time is looking better and better over here. Its not like pols know anything anyway.


216:

A friend had an idea for turning the whole tax thing on it's head thusly:
Someone works out what the minimum liveable amount of money is, and _everyone_ get's given that amount of money.
Then the single tax rate on _everything_ you earn (be it wage, dividends, etc) is calculated to pay for it.
No more unemployment benefit, etc, as everyone gets 'enough' for the essentials.
If you want more you have an incentive to work for it ...
Of course it'd never work because it costs more to live in some areas than others, but I rather liked the simplicity of it.

Of course, on a Space City maybe it would work? Will there be 'tax' on, er, 'in' our asteroid city?

I do wonder if heavily taxing (ie 90%+) the super rich is counter productive. They are well placed to just move elsewhere where the tax burden isn't so onerous. Sure, some'd stay, but many would just leave.
Maybe that too would be a good thing, but if they're the captains of industry maybe we want them to stay?

217:

There are times when I think that nobody in this wonderful hi-tech culture of ours wants to take farming seriously.

While some really enjoy working with plants, animals, and dirt; most do not. As long as the food supply line works most of us don't think about how important it is to our daily life.

My father was born in 1925 on a decent sized working farm in the US. They had a small saw mill and slaughter house in addition to the other typical farm things. So he had a decent life during the depression compared to many in urban areas. When I asked him why he didn't stay in farming his response to me was something along the lines of "I enjoyed it a lot until I had to turn the engine off and get down off the tractor or truck."

218:

In the UK we have very few "captains of industry" and rather a lot of overpaid people gambling with money that is not their own.

219:

If people are saying it's somehow not fair that families inherited money [...] from their ancestors then where do we draw the line?

Draw the line at a system where wealth spirals out of control instead of decaying over time. How many generations later should the descendants still be privileged and wealthy, unless each generation rose to the occasion and earned new wealth and privilege to pass on to the next?

220:

"Of course it'd never work because it costs more to live in some areas than others, but I rather liked the simplicity of it."

Google "Citizen wage"
The fact that it costs more to live in some areas rather than others is not relevant. It usually costs more in those areas because there are more jobs and they pay better.

Another scheme would be to raise minimum wage very substantially for jobs that can't be exported. Quite a lot of sweatshop jobs like cleaning and McD are indirectly subsidized by the state through tax credits etc. So push the price right up. If a job can't pay a living wage it should not exist.

221:

Making a "real job" a requirement before entering politics is deeply problematic.

Perhaps in the broader sense. But in the context of creating and maintaining a stable institution viable over hundreds (or thousands) of years, it makes a great deal of sense, imho.

Hmmm. Depending on what you call a real job then Obama and Biden barely make the grade. Both practiced law for about 3 years as their total work for a pay check for a "regular" business.

Interesting but true for many politicians in high office for both parties.

222:

Pay for public servants ought to be generous, in order to avoid aristocracy, plutocracy, or kleptocracy. On the flipside, you have to put up with bureaucracy. But it's better by far than the other three, and far more compatible with democracy.

The real problem isn't that the public service should pay more for talent, although I'd be cool with civil service pay going up and I'm actually OK with some people being paid more than the prime minister*. It's that society should be more egalitarian.

As for ship hierarchies, for the short-term OODA loop (Asteroid ahoy! Klingons on the starboard bow! MASTER CAUTION on reactor six!) a naval or air model is probably pretty good and less dictatorial than you think. After all, The Dictator is defined as "whoever is officer of the watch for that department when the balloon goes up". Perhaps they have to report to a democratic structure after a given time lag? Perhaps they are decentralised around their parts-of-ship?

*in charge of nuclear reactor inspections? why yes!

223:

The politicians I know seem to get into politics to help their people. It really is that simple. Relatively few seem to be the sociopaths who crave power.

Now, the problem is that they can't do their job alone (by definition: they work with a polis). A lot of people are going to be telling them they're wrong, a lot of people are going to be begging for something, and/or demanding something, and many of those demands will seem stupid and/or childish. And then there are the threats (variations on the theme of silver or lead, with or without violence) Furthermore, if they're good at their jobs, there will be someone trying to make them feel appreciated, trying to make them feel like the bigger job would be more fun, or less stressful, or that they need to get more powerful in order to make the difference they want to make...

Yeah, I think they should be paid. I don't know how they even stay sane in such an environment.

Moreover, I think they should be left alone to actually learn how to do their damn jobs properly.

What's missing here is a good feedback system. Most of US VOTERS don't pay attention enough to our pols to tell whether they're doing a good job or not.

Worse, we don't have great ways of rewarding a good job, nor do we have a good way of penalizing a bad job. Think about it: either you get a little pat on the head or you get fired. Nothing in between. Kind of stupid, isn't it?

Rather than term limits, I'd advocate experimenting with pay bonuses, revocation of privileges, and similar. Give them immediate feedback positive and negative, give them a chance to learn and improve, and so on. Recall the crooks and idiots, certainly, but otherwise, it takes too long to learn to govern well to insist on term limits.

Here's one example that (unfortunately) was never implemented: when the US Congress shuts down the government, they should immediately lose their parking privileges for three months. Every one of them from the Speaker on down will have to scramble with the lowest plebes on the hill for parking every morning. Further screwups, more privileges revoked.

224:

"You cannot call all 7 (or 11, or however many) people together for a chin-wag when emergencies hit."

But, um, that's exactly what happens.

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

And the military have tactical briefings etc. I don't think there's a single commanding officer that doesn't have a little chat with a few people before deciding on a course of action. "An officer that ignores their subordinates is not long for command."

@everybody - I didn't know the Crown Estates weren't the Royal Family's personal property. However, they are still ridiculously wealthy, on the residue of what today would be Mob money. I mean insanely wealthy. Worrying about someone coming to take away your grandad's TV somehow misses the point. If your grandad owned Cornwall, that's a closer analogy. It would be very hard to tell how much of the £17 billion "in trust for the nation" is private money. If you live in a place, know your children will live there, and anyone else who tried to get in would be shot or stuck in a mental hospital, that's pretty close to owning it.

And if they do bring in tourists, imagine how much more we'd make if we stuck them on the Old Vic stage every night, and twice at weekends?

225:

Yes. But navies weren't the only organizations with ships.

Pirates had them, too. Their solution to the command problem was interesting, and not a dictatorship.

226:

Yeah, and we could have a revolution of the proletariat that replaces bourgeois democracy with true socialism. Or our secret lizard masters could decide to come out of hiding to crush the puny humans beneath their scaled feet.

The point is, we are signatory to ECHR, so discrimination of that kind is presently unlawful, and withdrawing from ECHR is not a trivial thing to do, nor would it be done without consequence. Prohibiting discrimination is a good thing - remember why the ECHR came about in the first place.

227:
I do wonder if heavily taxing (ie 90%+) the super rich is counter productive. They are well placed to just move elsewhere where the tax burden isn't so onerous. Sure, some'd stay, but many would just leave.

I'm not seeing you say why this is a problem. We already know that the "super rich" can capture the machinery of governance to even further enrich themselves at the expense of others. We also know that when they do gain control, they refuse to allow any sort of solutions to a problem become part of the law if those solutions would entail them losing any measure of wealth/power. Even if those solutions are widely recognized to be correct and necessary by everyone else.

I'm guessing that you don't live in the United States ;-)

So given the obvious and evident downsides, what are the benefits of having these sorts of people stay in your polity? Specifically.

Maybe that too would be a good thing, but if they're the captains of industry maybe we want them to stay?

I have no idea what this means. Do you have any specific examples? Or is this just a vague "what if" that I feel absolutely no obligation to entertain - any more than I would expect you take "what if aliens came to Earth tomorrow and gave us free replicator technology" seriously as part of this discussion.

228:
Hmmm. Depending on what you call a real job then Obama and Biden barely make the grade. Both practiced law for about 3 years as their total work for a pay check for a "regular" business.

I would agree with this, though I don't see the point of bringing it up. I try not to let my detestation of Obama color these sorts of discussions. Especially here on this blog, which I take to be somewhat of a respite from the usual.

229:

Yes, it is. I failed to read Dirk's post correctly and replied on a basis of average income
Rex

230:

Dirk
My apologies I misread your post. I assumed income rather than wealth. Nevertheless
I do do not think being able to pass your primary residence on to your family is unreasonable
Regards
Rex

231:

Interesting claim: one-third of sun-like stars have a planet in the habitable zone.

Perhaps there's something out there to go for? Or is this just Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics again?

232:

I think we have a good handle on how to organize and plan for emergencies, see Jim Macdonald's post at Making Light on how Incident Command works. The times when emergency response gets screwed up are usually the result of a) poor planning for specific situations, b) failures in intergroup communication (the US still, 10 years after 9/11, has no standard interagency communication network for combined emergency operations), or c) sheer incompetence as a result of corruption, nepotism or deliberate sabotage (FEMA stands for Fix Everything, My Ass).

One thing you can't do in an emergency is change the way the policy-setting parts of the government function in an attempt to make the response faster. If you haven't got the fast-response systems in place in advance you probably aren't going to be able to react fast enough to handle the problem, and guaranteed, trying to get the policy-makers to deal with it will just make the cluster-fuck that much clusterer.

233:

ISTM that what we need is most certainly not a very stable social system: stable systems don't react well to change, unforeseen dangers, or bright individuals who figure out how to game and/or break the system. What we need instead is a dynamically stable system, one which can adapt to change, respond to unforeseen dangers, and maintain meta-control so as to defeat attempts to game it.

Monolithic societies, including monarchies, autocracies, single-group oligarchies, rigid hierarchies, and theocracies are all excluded by this consideration. Systems which are easily captured by special interest groups, like rigid two-party political systems are also ruled out.

As soon as we get the floors in the bottom story of our house fixed and can unpack all the books again, I'm going to find my copy of On the Design of Stable Systems and see what Weinberg has to say about this problem.

234:

"my detestation of Obama" Just had to put that in, right. What did he do other than try and stop the March back to a Golden Past that never was. He wanted to put taxes up to where they were before Bush put us in the dump? Some say Americas best times were under Eisenhower. I don't, but his top taxes were up to the mid 90%. Past what Obama has ever wanted. The top of the top 1% are the only ones with the money. That's math.
FEMA worked fine before Bush. It seems to be working now.

235:

If a job can't pay a living wage it should not exist.

I couldn't disagree more strongly. There are lots of jobs that people like to do and that provide some small but real benefits to others, so that it's worth paying something for the job but less than minimum wage. Call them hobbies if that makes more sense. If somebody's hobby provides a tangible benefit to others, then not allowing this hobby to exist as a job is a distortion of the labour market that pushes people into jobs that they like less but that pay more. Raising the minimum wage makes this problem worse, not better. If people can live off their citizen wage, they can do their hobby as their main job even if it pays only part of the bills.

Another scheme would be to raise minimum wage very substantially for jobs that can't be exported. Quite a lot of sweatshop jobs like cleaning and McD are indirectly subsidized by the state through tax credits etc. So push the price right up.

The price for those jobs would go through the roof if there wasn't a steady supply of people desperate for a job, any job, no matter how awful, because their life is even worse without a job than with an awful job. Eliminating that supply (e.g. by providing everyone with a citizen wage), is preferable in many respects to distorting the labour market (e.g., by mandating a minimum wage).

236:

I try not to let my detestation of Obama color these sorts of discussions.

Well I don't detest Obama. I was just pointing out that the CURRENT guys seemed to lake much "real" job experience. As do many others in high places in our political setup. Past and present. Both parties.

237:

Actually, it's an argument for a 90% marginal income tax rate at CEO pay levels. With stock options and similar wheezes taxable as income in the year they're issued.

A 90% marginal tax rate reduces their income by an order of magnitude, but their incomes are several orders of magnitude out of whack. I would argue for a logarithmic scale. Marginal tax rates would come arbitrarily close to 100% for arbitrarily large incomes, but the take-home pay would still be a monotonically increasing function of pre-tax income. Taking the base-2 logarithm of the ratio of the top incomes to minimum wage brings it a lot closer to the price multiple for a really really nice house/car/meal/etc..., over the barely acceptable counterpart someone on minimum wage can afford.

So they'd get their conspicuous consumption, without having to figure out what to spend the other 99.9999% of their income on.

238:

Returning to the question of why we go out in space, I suppose most humans will live, die and get extinct in planet Earth. But if we wish humans (beings calling themselves humans) to last for some significant time, we need to get out of the planet.

Once we move out in the system, it probably will not be so difficult to start bootstrapping mobile asteroids, and I hope some descendants will start spreading through the galaxy, and hopefully beyond.

It will not really matter to us, unless there is a huge breakthrough in the next thirty years in longevity, but I would prefer some humans living on.

239:

d brown @ 215
The word for a temporary-absolute commander in the Roman Republic was ... "Dictator" (That's where the word comes from)
The old Republic was effectively dead after Marius and Sulla each had their turn at corrupting the system (If you read your Tacitus/Suetonius etc)
All Julius did was bury it, though at least Cicero tried to revive it - unfortunately, he bacame in hock to the rich optimates ....

Alex @ 222
Like the current very senior civil servant, who was in charge of the centralised fire-control fiasco, costing wasting £469 MILLION for nothing.
Who has since been PROMOTED, rather than being sacked on the spot .....
I quote ("Daily Telegraph"):
Peter Housden was permanent secretary and principal accounting officer at the Department for Communities and Local Government, which ran the project. Last year he was knighted and promoted to permanent secretary of the Scottish administration.

So, Charlie, you can expect some monster fuck-ups in your neck of the woods real soon now (Making Edinburgh-Trams look like a job for amateurs).
This sort of thing USED to involve lamp-posts and rope!


@ 225 and previous
"Absolute" command of a ship.
Yes - BUT. And a very big but... captains operate through a chain-of-command and by consultation usually. Those that don't tend not to last.
The rule of absolute commend is there for immediate emergencies, at sea, when the Capn' is "on the bridge" and a really quick decision is needed.
Really bad captains get mutinies, or other methods of removal.
Aand always excepting the much-maligned Bligh, of course.

Taxes
The (personal) top-rate should really NEVER be more than 60%.
BUT, simultaneously, the tax take should not even START until you are somewhere near a very basic decent wage - in the UK, about £15k a year, rather than the current insanely low level of £7476 (I just looked it up)
Taxes should be "progressive" not "regressive" as they currently are in the US, favouring the super-rich.
And I really can't understand why SoV dislkes Obama, either.

240:

poor planning for specific situations

The best people in an emergency are usually the ones who are good a "making it up" on the spot. You can't plan for all emergencies. 1) It would require investing all your time in planning for every possible event. 2) By definition an emergency in many situations is a new thing that was not anticipated.

The Apollo program did all kinds of mission emergency simulation planning. But when Apollo 13 when bad it was something they had not planned for. But they had a crew that was able to adapt to the situation while under intense time constraints and make things work. But I suspect that using a manual cover page as an adapter for square pegs in round holes was never planned.

Basically disaster handling requires knowing when to follow the process and when to toss it aside. And training for that is hard.

241:

I'd be happy to see a logarithmic income tax, yes. (More complex, but arguably fairer than a 90% marginal rate.) Harder to explain to folks, though, which may mean you'd experience even more push-back! As it is, a lot of people don't understand that under progressive taxation, if they go over the threshold for a higher tax bracket, only the proportion of income ABOVE the threshold is taxed at the higher rate.

242:

From "theyworkforyou" "Please note that numbers do not measure quality. Also, representatives may do other things not currently covered by this site"

In other words, this site does not measure how good an MP is at the job. In particular, addressing the points Charlie and I were discussing, it does not show how good they are at running a department, or at drafting and revising legislation, how effective they are in committee, how effective they are at addressing constituency issues...

243:

That's true as far as it goes, but the "Crown Estates" includes lots of stuff that isn't "land", like certain mineral rights on the seabad.

244:

Please read Charlie's post that I was replying to; he specifically excluded academe, journalism and law from the list of "proper jobs". Since IIRC he has actually been a journalist...

Oh and FWIW I've got several friends in academe, so don't have a particular axe to grind by excluding them.

245:

Logarithms are not hard to explain: The rate of taxes essentially depends on the number of zeros your income has. Add another zero and you add another 10% (or whatever).

To make it fairer, you're putting in some steps in-between, because there should not only be an increase between 10.000 and 100.000 pounds/euros/dollars, but also between 20.000 and 50.000 and all other incomes.

You can look it up in a table or use the following magic combination on your calculator[...].

246:

Indeed so.

Taxes where the entire amount kicks in immediately are usually felt to be unfair, and have odd effects in addition. The most obvious one is English stamp duty, where if a property sold for over $FOO, a ~1% tax is applied to the whole amount, but no tax at all applied if under the threshold. There tended to be a pooling of house prices just below that threshold until it couldn't hold any more, whereupon there was a sudden jump as the pressure was released.

(I was in at least one sale where the fixtures and fittings were generously valued because they didn't count into the total, and neither side of the transaction wished to trigger the tax.)

I would argue that the progressive income tax rates were an attempt to approximate, however roughly, to a logarithmic rate.

247:

There is a lot of commentary here about tax rates of 80% and 90% on the really wealthy. On income and/or total wealth. Which leads me to some questions. And I'm not making political statements here.

Why does it seem to me, someone from the US, that most all the Facebooks, Microsofts, Sun MicroSystems, Apple, Intel, Google, etc... seem to come from the US? Is it cultural? Financial? Something in the air? Or are there similar companies on the other side of the pond. I know of Nokia and Erricson but most of the rest seem to be big older companies that have grown into high tech, not started from scratch. Korea also comes to mind as a place where new companies can go from zero to enormous. Japan not so much.

With tax policies like those discussed would we have a Microsoft or Apple? And I'm trying to separate out the discussion the issues of if you feel one or both of these companies are evil.

And some of this comes form my daughter's recent 12th year of schooling in German. Don't get me wrong. She really likes Germany and the experience but some things struck her as odd. Most of the teens in the upper level school she attended would talk about how they'd have to move to the US to become rich and/or famous. She never could quite get out of them why they didn't feel they could not start a company or rock band or whatever there and make it big. They just all felt they had to move to the US to make it happen.

And on a really odd note none of the teens or adults in Germany could comprehend how drivers deal with 4 way stop signs here. They wanted much more definite rules than what we go by over here. To them it was just not a workable system of first come first served, ties yield to the right, and after that just be polite.

248:

Logarithms are not hard to explain:

Then go to the employees in a restaurant or bar or factory floor and give it a go. I suspect you'll get nowhere fast. They may be easy to explain in the crowd you or I hang with but to the general public, well no.

249:

Charlie: "a lot of people don't understand that under progressive taxation, if they go over the threshold for a higher tax bracket, only the proportion of income ABOVE the threshold is taxed at the higher rate."


I think what most people (including myself) see is the marginal tax rate[1], i.e. "if I earn an extra £100 next week how much of it do I get to keep".

I have absolutely no problem with progressive taxation. I didn't feel the slightest bit hard done by when my income started creeping into the (UK) higher rate band with a small proportion of it incurring a 40% rate, and didn't (and still don't) feel that the overall amount of tax I was paying was unduly onerous.

What hurt a little more was when I got my first salary increase *after* reaching the threshold for higer rate tax, 40% went straight into the governments pocket and, after other deductions only about half of it reached me.

What stung rather more was when I received a modest (in the great scheme of things) windfall as a change of control resulted in share options vesting early[2]. After NI[3] (both employer and employee) and Income Tax (40% on the lot as both my tax free and basic rate allowances had already been eaten by my salary) I saw significantly less than half of the headline sum, an outcome which at the time I found.... disapointing.


[1] My apologies if I've misused the term...

[2] If the options had vested at their original date, as part of an Inland Revenue approved Company Share Option Plan I'd only have had to pay tax on them as "Capital Gains" at a much lower rate.

[3] For the benefit of overseas readers NI, or "National Insurance" is an additional government levy shared between employer and employee originally introduced just before WW1 then extended/expanded after WW2 to fund the UKs growing state welfare provision. Many people, myself amongst them would argue that we're not going to get anything remotely resembling a sane, understandable, and transparent tax system in the UK while NI in its current form continues to exist. As an example of the sort of anomalies it introduces governments can claim not to have increased income tax while manipulating the (somewhat arcane) NI system to increase the amounts paid under it and, as it's not payable on income which doesn't derive directly from employment individuals can receive substantial amounts of income in the form of dividends on shares held in a company they are employed by and not pay a penny in NI...

250:

If you use the first paragraph as an elevator pitch, they'll be ok:

Add a zero to an income and you'll pay 10% more taxes.

251:

[1] Yes, that's correct; the marginal tax rate is the effective rate of change of actual income. For example if someone gets an increase of £10/week, and loses means-tested benefits worth £8/week as a result then their marginal rate on that increase is 80% (ignores any increase in income tax and NI).

After NI[3] (both employer and employee) and Income Tax (40% on the lot as both my tax free and basic rate allowances had already been eaten by my salary) I saw significantly less than half of the headline sum

HUH!!? There is a top income above which you pay no more NI. Unless this is a very recent story, I'd have thought that a 40% tax payer would not incur NI on a bonus (cash or securities).

252:

Better yet: Add a zero to an income and you'll pay 10% more tax on the extra

253:

"Prohibiting discrimination is a good thing - remember why the ECHR came about in the first place."

Nice conflating of ideas eg racism is discrimination, therefore discriminating against the rich is just as bad.

254:

"There is a top income above which you pay no more NI."

Not any more there isn't, and this particular payout came shortly after the Upper Earnings Limit was effectively replaced by a reduced rate on everything above it. I've got the figures and if you *really* want to know how it works out I can let you have the complete breakdown but I don't think anyone would thank me for posting it here!

Anyway (beyond the needless complication and opportunities for avoidance NI introduces to the UK tax system) this is a digression from a digression, and going back to the orginal digression...

I don't often disagree with OGH, but I have to say that I think he's wrong this time - the people who it affects (that is those already paying it) see changes in higher rate tax rates in terms of marginal tax rate and as such, for middle income earners like myself[1] it can on occasion assume an emotional significance out of all proportion to its effect on our overall tax bill. I'd say this is in fact a good reason to look at a logarithmic[2] tax rate as the crude thresholds we have now have all sorts of unpleasant (and I imagine unintended) effects for those fortunate (or unfortunate as the case may be) to be hovering just on either side of them.

All that said: I'm in favour of a progressive taxation system, I don't in general feel unduly penalised by the current regime, I think if it were done right (with no nasty threshold effects) it would be good thing if the system was *more* progressive at both ends of the spectrum, and (in spite of the fact that I have at times actually benfitted quite considerably from it) I feel that the complexity of the current system provides far too much latitude for those in a position to influence *how* they are paid to at least partly avoid the bits of it which are meant to make it progressive.

[1] Enough to pay a bit of 40% tax but not enough that it's anything like the dominant component in the overall tax bill.

[2] Or some other mathematical function giving the desired degree of "progressiveness".

255:

"The price for those jobs would go through the roof if there wasn't a steady supply of people desperate for a job, any job, no matter how awful, because their life is even worse without a job than with an awful job. Eliminating that supply (e.g. by providing everyone with a citizen wage), is preferable in many respects to distorting the labour market (e.g., by mandating a minimum wage)."

But the labour market is already distorted.
Companies can get away with paying minimum wage because govt tops up those wages with things like tax credits. So raise the minimum wage substantially and there will be less McJobs, more unemployment. Or rather, less hidden unemployment.

256:

From my 251 "Unless this is a very recent story..."

It wasn't total disbelief; just a "HUH" moment caused by the fact that unless you referred to the present (or possibly last) tax year that statement appeared to be wrong. OK?

257:

I've just traced the entire thread back. I think you've just been trolled by someone who was looking for a fight, but didn't want to try and have a fight with Charlie, since the original idea was his.

Oh and incidentally Ms Sunlight, the ECHR does not ban you from discriminating against people who work in a particular type of job, or who have a certain minimum net worth.

258:

I tend to reply to the idea, and not the person.
Anyway, it lets people know where I stand on these issues.
And for those interested, here is an even bigger clue:
http://zerostate.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=413

259:

Dirk Bruere wrote:

Nice conflating of ideas eg racism is discrimination, therefore discriminating against the rich is just as bad.

Not at all; I don't even understand where you got that from. No straw men, please.

What I said was, requiring people to have a "proper job" before standing for an elected position would discriminate against certain groups - those who had never been able to work due to age, caring responsibilities, disability etc. - and that this would be classed as prohibited discrimination under ECHR.

Sex discrimination against mothers and disability discrimination would be of particular concern to me. However, the idea of a "proper job" does carry with it connotations of a hierarchy of workers, with some jobs being "proper jobs" for "professionals" or "breadwinners" and some being "pin money" or "make work" that echoes the historical language of discrimination against women in the workplace.

260:

Is there the remotest prospect of you actually reading Charlie's post #186 paragraph 2 before continuing this conversation?

261:

I read it. Why are you assuming I haven't? It's a problematic idea. It would be discriminatory, and the idea that someone would determine what is and what is not a "proper job" is unworkable. The political class would game the system to get around it anyway.

I'm not trying to attack anyone here, so I am puzzled by the tone of your comment; I will assume it was not intended to be condescending.

Probably best if I stop replying now.

262:

Applying experience criteria to job applicants does not amount to discrimination under the ECHR. Otherwise we would be hearing cases about how being a single mother with no education or work experience should not disbar one from running CERN etc

263:

Ok, you are coming across as not having read it, because my use of '...a "real job"...' in #187 is a direct reply to that paragraph. Accordingly, the same definition of what is being meant by the term applies.

Also, since your complaint seems to be one of aledged potential discrimination, I dug this quote out from Wikipedia:-
"A candidate to become a Member of Parliament must be a British or Irish or Commonwealth citizen, must be over 18, and must not be a public official or officeholder, as set out in the schedule to the Electoral Administration Act 2006[7] (this was a reduction in the lower age limit, as candidates needed to be 21 until the law came into effect in 2006)."

264:

Dirk, that's another straw man. The two things are not the same. We're talking about elected office here.

By having this requirement you would be banning people from standing; whether they have the personal qualities and experience to do the job is a question for the voters.

Do I think the system in the UK is fair? No, I don't, but that doesn't mean I think another unfair thing would make it better.

265:

"By having this requirement you would be banning people from standing; whether they have the personal qualities and experience to do the job is a question for the voters."

So you claim, but Parliament may decide otherwise without infringing the ECHR act, by requiring certain relevant experience.

As an example, quoted from wiki

"Both Houses possess the power to punish breaches of their privilege. Contempt of Parliament—for example, disobedience of a subpoena issued by a committee—may also be punished. The House of Lords may imprison an individual for any fixed period of time, but an individual imprisoned by the House of Commons is set free upon prorogation.[15] The punishments imposed by either House may not be challenged in any court, and the Human Rights Act does not apply.[16]"

NOTE THE LAST SENTENCE

266:

Once again, people, please pause for a minute before posting. Don't assume the other person is stupid, an idiot, or is out to attack you. This is getting somewhat heated, and there's no need for that.

Dirk, quoting what you want to say and highlighting it is great; there's no need to yell (which is what all caps means in this medium).

267:

I note it, although you could have provided a cite for context. I do not see what point you are trying to make, as it appears to be talking about something else entirely. HRA != ECHR and enforcement of parliamentary privilege != qualifications for standing.

268:

I presume you're responding to Dirk here? but it scarcely matters. I am quoting from the Wikipedia article on "Members of Parliament", and specifically the subsection on the UK parliament. My quote goes directly to your allegations that disbarring people by virtue of age or experience is illegal discrimination.

269:

The point is quite simple.
The Human Right Act, and by extension the ECHR, does not apply to Parliament.
Hence, Parliament arranges for itself an exemption when needed

270:

242:

From "theyworkforyou" "Please note that numbers do not measure quality. Also, representatives may do other things not currently covered by this site"

In other words, this site does not measure how good an MP is at the job. In particular, addressing the points Charlie and I were discussing, it does not show how good they are at running a department, or at drafting and revising legislation, how effective they are in committee, how effective they are at addressing constituency issues...

Both MPs I was talking about were/are backbenchers, so running a department was irrelevant(*), and they were/are very good at representing their constituents, which is what I consider an MP's primary duty to be. My point was that academics can be good MPs, so arbitrarily banning them from parliament is Not A Good Thing. People have this idea that academia is a feather bedded ivory tower, detached from quotidian concerns, but unless you've got a tenured position the reality is at least as brutal as any other job. Even 30 years ago, when there was a lot more money around, I spent 6 months doing research without even knowing if I would be paid at the end of each month, and I never had a contract longer than 2 years. Since I left that world back in 1984 to go into industry my employment has been far less precarious, and that includes two startups.

(*) If you think ministers actually run departments, please rewatch your Yes (Prime) Minister box sets. :-) At best ministers provide seagull management, at worst they get in the way. This is why the Home Office bureaucrats' desire for identity cards keeps coming back like Dracula, no matter which party is in power.

271:

And then the EU decides what the consequences of the exemption are, within their sphere of influence/authority over the UK. Ms. Sunlight already noted that Parliament could just withdraw entirely if it wanted to, but that it probably would not be done lightly. What exactly is the point here and if it is as small as you made it out to be, why all the spilled ink? The discussion itself is exhibit number one about why we do not normally want to make these kinds of bright line decisions about basic political access/rights. Women have often been told they are not in a proper job or not in a job as properly as others; it's not a pleasant history and I can see why they might get a bit put out by even the indirect implication here that stay at home moms and caregivers should volunteer to be de jure excluded from a sphere where they already get short shrift as a practical matter.

272:

"The old Republic was effectively dead...
All Julius did was bury it..." That's what I said, or tried to anyway. The point was that Republics can last a long time. A lot longer than most Kings and sons of Kings.
One thing. Your PM is the Boss, most of the time. Our President needs 51% of Congress to vote with him. Obama has never had that. HE MUST DEAL. And now they will not.

273:

Thank you for your clear and concise statement PrivateIron. I know I'm never going to get that top job, but I'd like to at least think I'm not legally prohibited from filling in the application form.

274:

It looks to this Yank that you guys pay a lot more than income tax. There's gas tax, some kind of VA tax and much more. Not progressive, not a little bit. Our rich are trying to make it so here.
Now I know more about Crown land I am astounded. What a way to strip mine people forever. It seems to me that a independent Scotland could be a danger to Crown lands.
I remember back in the 60's camping on land so the real owner would have to come out and name themselves. It seemed to me, and not just me, than the one(?) owner was keeping living space hard to find, so more could be charged for it.

275:

I did not camp on the land, only read about it. I know that's not what its called but right now I can't spell what it is. Not many Flint Fans here or "Slow Train to Arcturus" would be in play.

276:

#269 - As it happens I looked up my MP, who is also a backbencher. I could tell that he is an effective constituency MP from TheyWorkForYou, but I'd have doubts about whether or not you could. I suspect that the reverse is also true.
Yes (Prime) Minister is one of my favourite comedies. I know how true it can be, and also that it is possible for a politician who understands how his department works to win. In fact, as I'm sure you know, Hacker sometimes does win, or at least achieve a cancelling draw with Sir Humphrey.
Also, I'm sure that I've already posted in this thread that I have friends in academia. None of them ever had a post as insecure as you describe.

#273 - VA tax? Also, are you trying to claim that you don't have federal taxes on certain goods, sales taxes or property taxes in the USA?

#274 - I've tried to play "Slow Train to Arcturus" as a cite here before and been flat out ignored.

277:

VA tax? Also, are you trying to claim that you don't have federal taxes on certain goods, sales taxes or property taxes in the USA?

We have a slew of taxes over here. But the structure is different. At the federal level we mostly have taxes on income. It is put into different categories so folks can pretend that certain moneys go to specific things but basically there's a 15% tax on payroll up to just north of about $100K now. (Not sure of the limit. It's a contentious issue for 40 years now.) There's an income tax with a few zillion exemptions and credits and such which is why tax "planning" is such a big industry here. There's a separate rate for dividends and capital gains which again keeps debates going for over 40 years. Plus more planning to try and turn ordinary income into capital gains. There are many inches of IRS rules about this printed on many forests of dead trees.

At the state and local level we have most or all states with some form of property tax plus many with a sales tax. Sale taxes are applied at the "final" sale and I don't think there are any in the US as high as 10%. And some states have 0%. Plus some states have income taxes. And property, sales, and income taxes can also be done locally depending on the state. So you can have income taxes to be paid at the city, county, state, and federal level with sales and property taxes at the city, county, and state level.

Sales taxes in general were intended to be collected at the point of sale with self reporting for out of state purchases but with the rise of the internet states have gotten aggressive about collecting the out of state portions and big riffs have occurred in society as many don't get why they should pay the sales tax on something bought mail order.

Simple?

278:

The "VA tax?" bit was "what is VA tax?".

We also have slews of exemptions etc. I'd suggest that details of "national tax codes" really aren't something Charlie's normally happy with us discussing in detail though.

279:

VAT Tax?

280:

AH? In which case I'm not sure what's what and who was asking who what originally. VAT is a TLA for "Value Added Tax", which is the only percentage of $price sales tax that we have. It is applied to goods and services at rates which vary between 0% and 20% dependant on what you're buying in the UK. Other EU nations vary.

VAT Tax would be a tautology, and VA Tax is an unusual partial expansion of the TLA.

281:

275:

As it happens I looked up my MP, who is also a backbencher. I could tell that he is an effective constituency MP from TheyWorkForYou, but I'd have doubts about whether or not you could. I suspect that the reverse is also true.

Not quite sure what this has to do with my point that academics can make good MPs.

Yes (Prime) Minister is one of my favourite comedies. I know how true it can be, and also that it is possible for a politician who understands how his department works to win. In fact, as I'm sure you know, Hacker sometimes does win, or at least achieve a cancelling draw with Sir Humphrey.

Well, the programmes would have been less watchable if Sir Humphrey won every week. It seems to be that in nonfictional Whitehall most ministers are shuffled around every 18 months, which means only the most astute and hard-working actually get a grip on their departments, as opposed to an oversight.

Also, I'm sure that I've already posted in this thread that I have friends in academia. None of them ever had a post as insecure as you describe.

<python-yorkshireman>They were lucky!</python-yorkshireman>

It was the unfortunate interaction of being employed by the UK academic year, but funded by the calendar year by a US source that suffered political interference so never knew what it's research budget would be until mid-December. It was actually two autumn terms that I had the problem, with my contract being renewed for a month at a time, a few days before the end of that month, when the department scratched up enough spare cash to pay me (and fellow researcher) even if the US didn't cough up come the New Year.

I suspect your friends are familiar with 1 or 2 year contracts with no certainty of renewal though.

282:

The manner in which taxes are collected and their proceeds allocated do seem to have an effect on long-term stability (or at least symptomatic).

Note that the first part of that one, how taxes are collected, seem to get quite a bit of attention. The second part, how the money gets spent, does not. Here's an example.

Say two people go to lunch and one spends $80 on drinks, appetizers, a huge steak entree, and desert while the other one spends $20 on a grilled cheese sandwich, a salad, and iced tea (plus the tip.) When the check comes, the first guy is short and borrows $10 from the other, saying he will pay it back later.

I think most people would find it very disingenuous if back at the office, the first guy claimed to have "paid for most of the lunch".

That's where matters stand today when it comes to taxes; it seems the Europeans might pay a higher percentage, but they actually see a good deal of that money back in their community. Americans, however, don't seem get a lot of bang for the buck on average. They have a fair amount of taxes levied on them, but it all seems to go towards funding stuff like foreign wars or oil subsidies, or tax cuts for the elites. They don't see a lot of benefit in their own communities and complain accordingly.

And when taxes get too unfair . . .

283:

What seems to happen over here is that some rich people get screwed on Fed taxes? They pool their money and give it to Pols. When enough is given to the right people there is a new tax reform bill and the people who gave the money get rewarded with exemptions and credits. And different people get it in the neck. Then they pool their money and it starts all over for ever and ever. The main thing is the right Pols getting theirs. A lot of money is not used productivity, but who cares.

284:

Hey Scent ...
"... aliens came to Earth tomorrow ..."
LOL

But you don't know what captains of industry means? Really? I guess you do live in the United States ;-)

285:

Ooops ... apologies for the double post! [red face]

Moderator's note: duplicate now unpublished for you

286:

I've just seen an artificial uterus for sharks story.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/09/artificial-shark-uterus/

287:

What makes you think that an independent Scotland wouldn't be a monarchy?

You might want to look into King James the First of England's other title (James VI of Scotland) -- after Elizabeth I died, England imported the Scottish monarch, and for most of the next century the two separate nations shared a common head of state.

Given Scottish polling levels of support for the monarchy, it's quite likely that Elizabeth II would keep the job, were Scotland to go for independence in the next couple of years. (More's the pity, in my republican opinion.)

288:

Not quite sure what this has to do with my point that academics can make good MPs.
It proves that the TheyWorkForYou measured metrics are not good measures of how good an MP is, nothing else.

Well, the ... an oversight
True, but that's a problem with the PM, not with the cvil service. Nor does it invalidate any argument about experience.

They were ... renewal though.
Ok, accepted and true as applicable. It doesn't actually address Charlie's original base point that a university researcher or lecturer doesn't have the same type of life experience as a shop worker, computer programmer, factory assembly line worker, truck driver... though. Or his associated point that a researcher or lecturer in law or politics doesn't have a job that addresses the sort of problems that most people encounter every day. Doubly so in the case of a lecturer with tenure, who could take a sabattical for the parliametary term, and if not re-elected get his job back.

289:

One of the frustrations I have that simply seems to be inherent in the Uk system, is that an MP can be, inmy opinion, a dangerous evil bastard doing their best to destroy the country and everything people care for, but to a sufficient number of their constituents they are nice, important, visible and helpful and thus remain in office.
See New labour for so many examples, starting right at the top.

290:

@288:

Ok, accepted and true as applicable. It doesn't actually address Charlie's original base point that a university researcher or lecturer doesn't have the same type of life experience as a shop worker, computer programmer, factory assembly line worker, truck driver... though.

It's pretty much a tautology that the life experience directly related to $JOB1 is not the life experience directly related to $JOB2. However, unless you consider we are only defined by our jobs and have no personal life or hinterland beyond that, we have a whole lot of life experience in common no matter what jobs we do, simply by being human. Whereas I see what OGH was getting at in his idea for better MPs, his suggested implementation of blanket bans on various job categories seem unusually illiberal for him.

Or his associated point that a researcher or lecturer in law or politics doesn't have a job that addresses the sort of problems that most people encounter every day.

Paying the bills, being late to work after getting stuck in traffic, remembering to buy $SPOUSE a birthday present, getting the teenage daughter out of the bathroom, worrying about aged parents, arguing with the neighbours over the height of their hedge, being bored in tedious meetings, ...

Academics are free of these problems? Or what problems were you thinking of that most people have but academics are strangely free of?

Doubly so in the case of a lecturer with tenure, who could take a sabattical for the parliametary term, and if not re-elected get his job back.

Actually he got his sabbatical on condition that it was for only one parliamentary term. No university gives open ended sabbaticals, not even Cambridge.

291:

Yes, it's an uncharacteristically illiberal position for me. So, to clarify: what I've got against academia is solely the career track that leads from school through a university course focussing on economics or foreign affairs and then, via internships and research assistant posts for an MP or lobbying think-tank, to standing as a candidate.

Worked as a research assistant in the sciences or an instructor in art history? No problem. Used it solely as a gateway to a career in political lobbying and then election track? That'd be an issue ...

292:

And, let me add, I have no intention of discriminating against homemakers or people with no formal employment track, either.

I reckon someone who's spent a few years trying to live on the dole migth have some rather more interesting things to say on the subject of social deprivation and home affairs than the average talking-suit Tory mouthpiece.

293:

In most places, in most times the rich or the not so rich can't just take there gold and go elsewhere where the tax burden isn't so onerous. There were laws hard ones. In fact I think its a new idea that anyone can.

294:

As I see it, we don't need rules about who should be able to run so much as we need voters who demand that party's candidates have real or desirable life/work experience.

Unfortunately, educating voters sufficiently to demand competence from their politicians may be an even harder task.

295:

Dear Charlie, instead of responding to my comments, why did you delete them?

Here are the comments again:

[CLUELESS WITTERING DELETED BY MODERATORS]

(Moderation note: We have a climate change denialist. Who is using all the tiresome rhetorical tools of the biblical creationist intelligent design cranks to try and suck me into the swirling vortex of insanity that is his world-view. Life is too short to waste on such idiots, and yr. host. is not prepared to provide seats and a popcorn stand and crowd control for turning this blog into yet another venue for the inevitable flame war that would ensue if Phil's hobby horse gets an outing. So, Phil, this is your red card. Feel free to come back when you are willing to enter the existing conversation rather than try and use it as a soapbox from which to spam us to spam your propaganda.)

296:

other Phil @295 and the relevance to starships is?

297:

Charlie, I have lost all respect for you. Instead of addressing my comments and allowing other readers to read them and decide for themselves what they think, you instead deleted my comments and attacked me personally ad hominem, and insulted me by linking me to holocaust denial. Be a man and discuss my comments out in the open instead of hiding behind your editorial privileges (well, it is your blog, I guess). You're using the tactic every AGW warmist uses, which is ad hominem attacks because you're not able to argue and prove that the science proves that AGW is happening.

Here are my comments again, so be a man and discuss them and allow others to read them,

[ DELETED BY MODERATOR ]

298:

Phil, I am on a research trip and vacation right now.

I am not your troll-bitch and your delusion imposes no responsibility on me to respond.

Now fuck off and leave me to enjoy Disneyland, or I'll ban you from the blog permanently.

299:

Incidentally, I'm not a climatologist. I am, however, an autodidact authority on trolls and scams, and the stench of crankishness rising off the anti-climate change lobby (mingled with the propaganda dollars donated by Exxon) reminds me very strongly of other ideologically-motivated liars and fraudsters -- from the creationists through the christian Dominionists and proponents of "scientific" racism. Follow the money and see who benefits? It's certainly not the non-existent cabal of billionaire environmentalists desperately trying to keep the grant money flowing. But the billionaire coal corporations desperately trying to keep their business model alive in the face of evidence of environmental damage are another matter.

My instinct on seeing this particular pattern of advocacy is not to fall for the trap of engaging with it as if it's reasonable and sane -- because that only shifts the Overton window to bracket the idiocy. Instead, my considered response is to pick up a half-brick.

I am especially pissed-off by the sense of entitlement Phil dragged in, by assuming I'd be willing to interrupt a long AFK trip to pay attention to his hobby horse. It is, not to put it too strongly, a rude demand for attention.

Phil: you can shoot at the monkey's feet, but this monkey ain't gonna dance for you.

300:

Finally, I have a policy here (in the moderation policy) of not providing a platform for views that I consider to be (a) utterly wrong-headed and thoroughly debunked, and (b) actively harmful. I wouldn't provide a platform for neo-Nazis or Salafi fundamentalists, or for idiots who swallowed Andrew Wakefield's fabricated assertion that vaccination causes autism.

And at this point, I think it's reasonably safe to put the climate change deniers in this same basket. The only open questions are how far, how fast, and the extent to which GCC is anthropogenic in origin.

301:

Hi again, Charlie. Go ahead and ban me. The hypocrisy of our democracy, I suppose. I guess what I said must have really pressed a button, otherwise why would you get so upset? The truth is upsetting for a lot of people.

OK, I won't bother you anymore. I'm just really disappointed, because I never realised you were an Al Gore in hiding.

I wish you well, despite your ad hominem attacks and rude invectives.

302:

I guess what I said must have really pressed a button, otherwise why would you get so upset?

The button you pushed that got me upset was nothing to do with your content and everything to do with you barging in and demanding, DEMANDING!!!! my immediate response to your particular hobby-horse, while I'm on vacation.

You were downright rude, and I will not tolerate that.

(You do not get to have the last word on my blog; nor do you get to project your own bad behaviour onto my shoulders.)

303:

@291 et seq

Yes, it's an uncharacteristically illiberal position for me. So, to clarify ...

Thanks Charlie. I guess the original post was dashed off in a hurry and you didn't have time to ensure it said exactly what you wanted to say - you're normally pickier about that than most. Glad to know you have have the sort of viewpoint I thought you did. In which case, I agree with you.

Meanwhile, over in the alternate universe of the libertarian right, Guido Fawkes also wants MPs to have experience beyond PPE/SPS at Oxbridge, internships, Westminster research and the greasy pole. OK, his ideal qualification to be an MP is setting up your own company, but maybe something's in the air about university to Westminster, lifestyle politicians.

304:

I suspect that underneath some of the "MP's should have real jobs before they become MP's" is that if they are exposed to "the real world" they are presumed to become more amenable to the writers point of view, whatever that is. In guido's case, they'll suddenly become more business friendly. In the case of various lefties, well, I'm not entirely sure except that they might realise there's a bigger world out there and it gets nasty, so having a welfare system is a really good idea, at least if you have any pretensions to civilisation.

305:

Ideally I'd like an MP who had studied law and politics, spent at least a year on the dole/on disability benefits, to have been on the receiving end of racial/sexual/gender/age discrimination at least once, to test out as not suffering from a sociopathic personality disorder, and set up their own small business or gained a PhD. or a major literary award In other words: to have graduated from the university of life with distinctions after having taken courses in most departments.

Alas, we don't get 'em.

306:

Blaming voters for who they vote is fun. But not its that simple. Today's ad agencies lie better than Hitler did. Jimmy Carter was right about almost every thing. I knew he was doomed when I found out than Ronnie had the company that sold Coke. And the only one who would take the small money of the Democrats was a guy who sold miracle knives on TV. People seem to be hardwired to go with people who are sure sure sure. The more you really know the less sure you are, but that's just the way people are.

307:

Using those decriptions, I can't say I can think they suit anyone I know. Perhaps you're being a tad idealistic...

There's also the party structure to consider and the effects this has on power (the party currently proclaiming 'localism' is the party which has most recently centralised power within the party) and privilege. Not to mention the cheapness with which our government can be subverted.

308:

"I reckon someone who's spent a few years trying to live on the dole migth have some rather more interesting things to say on the subject of social deprivation and home affairs than the average talking-suit Tory or nu-Labour mouthpiece."

Fixed that for you ;-)

309:

Ideally I'd like an MP who ...

and a sparkly unicorn stud farm?

310:

Using those decriptions, I can't say I can think they suit anyone I know. Perhaps you're being a tad idealistic...

The word "ideally", at the beginning of my comment, ought to have made that clear, no?

311:

Well, 100 billion Euro spent on photovoltaics in Germany alone may not point towards a cabal of billionaire environmentalists ... but certainly a cabal of billionaire industrialists desperately (and successfully) trying to keep the subsidies flowing.

And climate change is the ultimate justification for those subsidies (about 0.30 Euro/kWh) - or at least it is what everybody is pointing to as soon as somebody starts to publicly doubt the wisdom of those subsidies. It has unfortunately also turned into the ultimate excuse for governments nowadays, when they fail to take responsibility for disaster preparedness. Not to mention that there is a bias in the public presentation of climate science, that makes it hard for me to tell how much of it is being left out and how to judge the quality of the science.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 25, 2011 1:37 PM.

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