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Blank slate: politics and context in the 21st century

Idea ganked from elsewhere on the internet (yes, I am on a vacation from being on vacation, why do you ask?) ...

Political positions drift over time, quite dramatically, as the Overton window slides back and forth.

Prior to 1832, in the UK it was a Radical political position to campaign for votes ... for adult Protestant males aged over 21 who weren't land-owners. The campaign for a universal adult male franchise, much less votes for women, was the territory of the radical-radical fringe: the sort of people who were arrested for subversion and sentenced to exile with hard labour.

(Note that the Great Reform Act of 1832 massively extended the male franchise so that almost 15% of the male population could vote.)

Alternatively: do you believe passionately in free trade, and the right of western corporations to hire armies of mercenaries and conquer third world nations in order to make more efficient use of their natural resources and labour? Congratulations! You're a late 18th/early 19th century Liberal (or "Whig" as they were then known—the L-word came later).

Are you an authoritarian militarist who supports a totalitarian leader and is determined to implement universal military service in order to carve out an empire—a place in the sun—around your nation's borders? Then you might be a Conservative! And as such, you're also the fellow who invented social security and the state retirement pension. (Say hello, Prince Otto von Bismarck.)

(I gather in Russia today people who believe Stalin's legacy should be honoured are considered to be Conservatives. Whereas the free market capitalists are the Liberals.)

Finally: left-wing or right-wing? The meaning of the term indicated where you chose to sit in the National Assembly following the French revolution; like-minded representatives sat with like, to the left or right of the President's chair.

The point I am trying to make here should be fairly obvious: today's political labels have a long and interesting history of being applied to bizarrely different (not to mention incompatible) belief systems. The British Conservative party today is very (radically) different in ideology from the Conservative party under Harold Macmillan in the 1950s; meanwhile, if we look to Australia, the main right-wing party are the Liberals and the Labour Party is barely a whisker to their left (indeed, any English-speaking nation that has a Labour Party today has one that is way more committed to doctrinaire corporate capitalism in the American model than its supporters in the 1970s would have imagined possible). The labels remain, but the underlying ideology drifts and mutates surprisingly fast, when viewed over a time scale of decades.

In my next novel (the one I'm going to write for publication in 2014), I'm planning on tackling the future of politics circa 2030-2040. Today's front-rank politicians, aged 45-70 and children of the Boomer generation and their immediate predecessors and successors, will be elderly and retired or dead by that time; the pre-occupations of politics will revolve around the issues and preoccupations of Generation X and Generation Y, those born between 1965-1985, and 1986-2000. Meanwhile, although political allegiances firm up in the late teens to twenties, people seem more inclined to vote as they mature; so those same Gen-Xers are going to be the heaviest-hitting demographic in the voting population in, for example, the USA or the UK. These generations barely remember the Cold War and the bipolar superpower era at the end of the 20th century. Rather, they've grown up surrounded by the wreckage created by the baby boomers.

What are they going to be preoccupied by? And what incongruous labels will they attach to their ideologies?

414 Comments

1:

"Alternatively: do you believe passionately in free trade, and the right of western corporations to hire armies of mercenaries and conquer third world nations in order to make more efficient use of their natural resources and labour? Congratulations! You're a late 18th/early 19th century Liberal (or "Whig" as they were then known—the L-word came later)."

Well, given that this describes 21st century Liberals in the US as well as the 18th century --- with a few necessary adaptations --- politics in the future is likely to look very uninteresting.

The only political innovations since Marx poked his head up has been fascism, which is just a synthesis of Marxism with conservatism. A few planks differ -- but all in all, there hasn't been real politic thought since the enlightenment.

So, either it's all the same today -- or it's as different as politics was between 1680 and 1780, where the rules completely changed.

As a side note --- this is probably where a big part of political dysfunction lies, in that need to obliterate the continuity with the past in order to cover up the essence of their ideology. Liberals pretending to not be basically the same liberals as in the 18th centuries (new! with less race hatred!), ancestor worshippers ("Marxists") pretending to be radical thinkers, Conservatives running from themselves --- it's all delusions intended to keep us from thinking whatsoever.

(Did Marx go around saying he was a proponent of "Hegelianism" over and over, as if he didn't have a thought in his own head?)

2:

How about the idea that by 2050 everyone properly understands how the money supply works and the economic cycle is tamed. Here is part one of three of the arguments that will be understood


There are only two ways to create money in the UK economy:-
1) The normal process of credit creation carried out by banks - banks lending out more money that they charge interest on. Apart from minting coins or printing notes this usually creates over 95% of the money (called M4) in the economy.
2) QE - The Bank of England crediting its reserves with money and then using the credits to buy assets or outstanding government debt from banks.
Since 2008 banks have largely shut down credit creation. M4 which normally grows at over 5% per year is only growing at 2% per year. Expansion of below 5% pa means the economy contracts. This is by and large, as in all t after a financial crash, why the world and UK economies are in such a mess.
The line that our Government (and now several others) are giving us is that There Is No Alternative to austerity and cuts. They are justifying massive tax rises and catastrophic cuts in public spending because they say excess government debt, built up due to the massive worldwide recession in 2008 and the cost of bail outs, must be paid down.
This is obviously false as Governments can use QE to buy up government debt from the banks that are holding it and retire it. This is happened to a massive degree already in the UK with over a third (over £275 billion) of the UK's government debt is currently sitting in the wholly publicly owned Asset Purchase Facility.
But what about inflation? Wont retiring government debt in this way cause inflation? No- if there was inflation it would happen when the Bank of England bought the government debt up from the banks. This is the moment reserve credits are released and there is an increase in bank liquidity. We have done £275 billion of QE (equivalent to about 20% of UK GDP) since 2009 and M4 has contracted and we are at risk of deflation rather than inflation. Quite simply no matter what we say to them banks don't want to lend enough to get the economy growing.
So it is perfectly safe to retire government debt when banks aren't creating enough credit in the economy. If this is a natural phenomena because the banks don't want to lend (they are deleveraging) it is safe to retire government debt. As long as the money supply is kept at around 5% all is well - the economy neither contracts too quickly causing inflation or collapses causing a depression.
It is also perfectly safe at a happier time in the economic cycle. Say in 5 years time when the economy is expanding, banks are lending too much. At this point we would want to use QE to expand the money supply as we would want to restrict bank lending to ensure we never get another crunch like 2008. When eventually we need to increase the capital adequacy levels in banks (to make them safe) we will need some mechanism to ensure the money supply is kept expanding at the needed rate (5%) we will need to use QE to retire government debt.
The most depressing thing about this is that the current Government is misleading people so badly about how the money supply and economy work. The analogy of a National economy and household one is - the only word I can think of is evil. This is an action of people who represent their corporate funders and want to mislead you to prevent you questioning in who's interest they are acting.

3:

2

Don't fall for the idea that future tax revenue are required to pay-off government debt. In fact, it is a myth that taxes "pay" for any government spending.

When an economy is at 'full capacity', (i.e. very low unemployment and all resources in the economy being used productively), a government may wish to spend say £20Bn on something everyone agrees is needed - it could be repaying govt debt, defending the country, building hospitals, whatever. When it spends this money it inevitably causes inflation - this is because you have more spending chasing the same amount of goods and services. The amount of goods and services does not change because the economy is already at full capacity.

To enable the government to spend without causing an inflationary spiral, the government taxes by an equal amount to prevent the private sector spending by the same amount - so overall the spending (public and private) remains roughly constant, so no inflationary spiral.

So the extra tax is to prevent an inflationary spiral when the economy is at full capacity - it is not required to "finance" govt spending. This is why government economics is nothing like household economics.
However, when an economy is the position ours is in with excess capacity, spending by government is permissible without taxation as it doesn't cause inflation.
Given that our economy has not been at full capacity for over 30 years (hence the high unemployment), the government does not need to increase taxes or cut spending elsewhere to "pay" the interest on govt debt or to "pay" for anything.
The big question is why does the government issue bonds at all and pay interest to private investors? Why doesn't the government just create the money at the mint or Bank of England - this won't be inflationary as there is spare capacity.
An answer often given is that when governments issue bonds someone has to surrender money to the government. If it wasn't for the bond that money would probably have gone into the banking system instead. This is called a 'reserve drain' and was clearly necessary when we had the Gold Standard/Bretton Woods or some other type of Fixed Exchange Mechanism.
The argument given now is that debt is a better way to stimulate the economy. Supposedly there is a problem with a liquidity trap in the banking system. By issuing bonds the government can take money away from the banking system and make sure that it is being spent.
However, it's pretty obvious that for countries with their own floating currency, deleveraging banks and with economies working at way, way below spare capacity that you can use QE to clear government debt at will without any inflationary effects.
This is obviously in the UK since there is £275 billion sitting in the Asset Purchase Facility. This money was bought using reserve crediting in 2010/11 and the result of the purchases was deflationary - M4 last year after £200 billion of QE had hit stall speed with growth at only 2% (more than 5% growth is needed to prevent the economy contracting).
So we are left with a ridiculous situation where the Tories are moaning about the huge and "unaffordable" government credit card bills. At the same time over a third of the debt they are moaning about is stuck in the government owned Bank of England with no hope of it ever being anything other than cancelled and retired. To add to the hilarity the Treasury, through a wholly government owned agency called the Debt Management Office pays interest on the £200 billion in the APF to the wholly government owned APF. This money is just building up and will eventually (as all profits for the Bank are) be returned to the taxpayer. You couldn't make this up.
So clearly in economic circumstances such as now you can print money directly, buy outstanding government debt and retire it with no inflationary consequences. Nevertheless Governments are continuing to use an explanation built up at a time of Bretton Woods with full employment, fixed exchange rates and no deleveraging to explain why they don't use the QE to clear down debts.

4:

I'm actually hopeful that we might start to move away from the football team model of politics.

I mean I'm not seeing any real willingness to stop willfully misinterpreting opposition arguments on specific issues.

But in the UK at least I'm starting to see a lot more willingness to actually vote for different people at different elections, instead of the traditional "I will loyally render my happiness almost irrelevant to my elected representative" strategy.

Another million years of evolution and we might actually get this democracy shit to work.

5:

3 and a link to a good article on Modern Monetary Theory.

Of course the current Government is badly misleading the public about the economy in a way that is certainly immoral and evil and verges on treasonous.

Take a look at the following graphs -

http://www.3spoken.co.uk/2011/12/uk-sectoral-balances-and-private-debt.html

The private sector is deleveraging. Households, private sector companies and banks are all reducing economic activity and hoarding cash (£650 billion of it). In this circumstance the state has no choice but to make good the difference. It is not a choice. It is an accounting law.  See the graph showing a perfect relationship between private sector surplus and public sector deficit (including trade deficits).

Until Osborne puts in place policies that make the economy grow the deficit will continue. His fiscal policies of course will continue to cause depression and higher unemployment and lower living standards.

Public sector debt is private sector income (by definition) and it matters not a jot.  As MMT proves - higher public sector debt DECREASES gilt interest rates. 

The current governments policies will fail by definition - look at the graphs - public sector debt = private sector surplus + balance of payments ALWAYS. 

The sectorial balance graphs are also a great way to compare labour and conservative records on public sector spending.  Look carefully and prior to 2008 you can clearly see labours record is better. 2008 was a world wide crash which effected every nation in the world. 

The Tories were pushing for further deregulation of banks in 2007!!-

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/06/01/john-redwoods-part-in-the-credit-bubble/

The current government is dramatically reducing spending on useful activities such as education, health, transport. These are the deepest cuts since the 1930s and we are only an eighth into the planned program. 

But what we can clearly see is exactly what Modern Monetary Theory would predict.  The deficit reduction program is and will fail. It has to by definition (see the graphs again showing public sector deficit equal private sector surplus ALWAYS). 

Osbornes spending cuts  will always be replaced with higher spending on housing benefit, unemployment benefit and lower tax revenue.  All at the cost of lower growth and higher unemployment.

And how's the Tory plan working out for people in practice? The government has tried to reduce itself in size. The economy has tanked. Living standards have fallen. Government debt has increased as every pound no longer spent on employing a teacher, nurse or mending a road is more than compensated for by the extra costs of unemployment benefit, housing benefit etc. government tax revenues are down despite higher vat and income tax due to the stagnating economy.

We are in a liquidity trap. I can't say this often enough to austerians. Without QE the money supply has been contracting for three years. 

http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2011/11/18/753971/on-misunderstanding-qe-and-uk-inflation/

Banks are deleveraging and lending less money into the economy. Households are poorer so are spending less money in the economy. Now the government is trying to spend less money in the economy. Government fiscal tightening in a liquidity trap leads to a depression and a slump.

The only thing saving us from falling into a free fall abyss is QE and automatic stabilisers such as unemployment benefit and housing benefit.

If we did as the Telegraph and Cameron want and further reduce the size of the state, companies  won't have any customers for their goods as households will be poorer and more of them will be unemployed. There will be no aggregate demand for their products. Households are getting poorer due to the austerity, more people are unemployed.

Pretty soon we enter the world of asset price deflation. This is the tipping point when an insane right wing government has sucked out so much demand from an economy that prices drop. Then the real fun begins as people hoard cash and goods as cash is worth more (prices are now dropping) if not spent and goods are more valuable than cash. This throws the economy into a vertical nose dive with hyperinflation as in Weimar germany and rapidly rising unemployment. Firms lay people off to try and reduce costs. This reduces demand further. And repeat.

some people just never learn do they?

Read and learn and see how badly you are being mislead-

http://hir.harvard.edu/debt-deficits-and-modern-monetary-theory

6:

What will I, as an American Gen Xer be preoccupied with politically in 20 years?

1. Jobs. We'll be well on our way towards a post-work era by then but American social attitudes are Calvanist, so those of us who were called slackers in our teens and early twenties will feel the sting of having spent our late twenties and thirties trying to prove we aren't slackers in a world that no longer cares whether we are gainfully employed. (I'd like to think by 2030 the US would have adopted some Socially Democratic safety nets but I'm not so sure.) Not having a job in America is a huge stigma. Even if you have some nominal job, like Wal-Mart greeter eight hours a week will be a badge of honor for aging Gen Xers.

2. Environment. We Xers were raised to be aware of the environment. Whether we are conservative or liberal, reaction for or against pop-environmentalism.

3. But we're also cynical, so we don't put up with bullshit pablum from politicians. This may lead to what appears to be a more relaxed attitude in the public arena. Politicians who don't wear ties. Some may even have tattoos if they are Green. We'll still be hoodwinked but we'll see it coming.

4. Space exploration. The one optimistic day dream popular among Xers who grew up watching Star Trek is the dream that we'd go off and explore the stars. Someone will pander to this impulse in a big way.

5. Flexible Social organization. We Xers are a lot less likely to define ourselves by our family and more by the ad hoc social groups we form around us. We're also a lot less homophobic and more comfortable with non-standard/non-specific gender roles or selective orientations than our parents are. As we age, our Nakama will become a big deal, as it will take the place of traditional family roles. Aging Xers will move into group houses, where they and their friends form a familial unit and can look after one another as they age.

So, basically all the issues routinely ignored by politicians today. Aging Boomers don't have the mental software to deal with them. The Boomers, at least American Boomers, all had their boundaries set when they were in their teens. If it isn't in a Beach Boys song, they don't know how to think about it, which is why they are obsessed with hot rods, premarital sex and the pronouncements of California hipsters.

7:

Surely the failure of the banks to lend is an argument for a state owned banking sector for business that does what it's told?

8:

In the USA I predict the Republican party will see a strong lurch to the left overall on social issues, likely ending up in a moderate stance. Evangelicals will find themselves marginalized as their voting bloc shrinks from age-based attrition, ultimately ending the grand alliance between social and fiscal conservatives. This is especially likely if someone like Rick Santorum (who is to the right of nearly everyone on social issues) gets into office and makes a complete hash of it.

Then again, Ron Paul has a strong youth backing, so Libertarian thinking might very well take hold among Republicans in twenty years time. This will mean extreme fiscal conservatism by modern standards, as well as a fairly strong streak of isolationist foreign policy, but also a social agenda that might actually be to the left of the Democrats on many issues, especially when it comes to the drug war.

As for the Democrats, I suspect under the circumstances above the party will be weakened as its more conservative members begin to find stronger common cause with the Republicans. On social issues and fiscal issues I anticipate little change. But, if we keep getting into wars based on humanitarian intervention, the Democrats may actually become the hawkish party in the next 20 years.

I don't predict any major label changes, though there will be a new set of Tea Partiers and Occupiers around. But those two labels won't survive two decades.

9:

Pretty soon we enter the world of asset price deflation. This is the tipping point when an insane right wing government has sucked out so much demand from an economy that prices drop.

See also Greece ...?

VAT on food/drink is 23% now, compared to 13% last year, but VAT receipts in January dropped 18% year-on-year.

On the other hand, you don't seem to be asking, who benefits? My take on it is that we're seeing Disaster Capitalism imposed on the west because there's nowhere else left that can support the parasitic financial metastructure that benefits from it. And of course the revolving door between high finance and finance ministries ensures that people who pay at least lip-service to the austerity theory occupy the right seats to implement the policies their former employers need.

Biggest asset-stripping spree in recent history.

But that's now. What are things going to be like in 20 years' time, when the dust (and the rubble) has settled?

10:

My take on Ron Paul is that he's a stealthed neo-Nazi -- there are reports that he gets along just fine with fascists and has met with Nick Griffin (source: Anonymous, so treat with caution), and there's a lot of dog-whistling about "states rights" in his platform that boils down to him being not a lot more liberal on contraception and abortion than Rick Santorum (just more reluctant to come out and say it in front of a hot mike).

11:

What will aging Gen-Xers be concerned with? I don't know, because we haven't seen at least four of the really formative moments, because they're coming in the next decade. Those are:

--How the Baby Boomers die. I don't think the 401k system is working, and pensions have proven hollow. Watching your elders die in poverty (and in the US, getting saddled with the debt for their care in the last years) is going to really piss off a lot of people. Similarly, Europe's going to have trouble maintaining the welfare state for the next decade. Our current ability to ignore dying and death will fade away, and that's not going to be fun.

--The older part Gen Y has borne the brunt of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while the younger part (in the US) will bear the brunt of the student loan bubble when it pops. All of them will have real trouble getting jobs and job security. This is going to be a real formative experience. They're also feeling disenfranchised by a wealthy establishment, and that they're inheriting a world that's falling to pieces due to the idiocy of their elders. That's a potent combination

--There's all the thrashing about with the energy economy. I don't really know how it's going to change, because the status quo has so much power currently. To me, this indicates that the critical events (like the Fukushima meltdown) will be black swans. It could be something from a string of Cat 5 hurricanes trashing the US' ability to refine oil, or new tech in solar, wind, or whatever (cold-water oceanic power generation? You've heard of that, certainly), or climate change (droughts, coastal inundation, and similar) mobilizing large populations and making massive infrastructure investments infeasible.

--How the current conflict between direct democracy and monied power plays out. I don't think this will be over in the next decade, but I suspect this will take the place of the communist vs. capitalist fight of the last century. In the US, neither of the existing political parties is really taking the side of the people. Instead, both are working for the "one percent," and trying to brainwash everyone else. This isn't a terribly stable position, and the politicians who figure out how to mobilize more of the masses are going to become very powerful, very fast. Hopefully they won't be fascist killers, but that's (sadly) entirely possible as well.

The nice thing about writing this is that you can let a flock of black swans fly, and write about where their crap lands. And black swans produce a lot of crap.

12:

I'm not sure why the 5% increase in money supply is the desirable target. I don't think it spoils the argument for retiring a chunk of the debt if the target is different.

But I would venture that money supply has to have some stable relationship with GNP, and I really wouldn't want to decide which drives which. I suppose each drives the other, with varying amounts of lag, and the ups and downs of government debt are involved in dealing with that lag. Gosh, it sounds almost Keynesian. Problem was, debt wasn't reduced during the boom.

But then we have outfits such as Moodys warning of a significant chance of a downgrade of Britain's debt rating, because of the Euro business, and they're the same people who were saying good things about Greece and Spain and Italy. And it seems that pleasing them is the core of Government fiscal policy. Bread and Circuses for the masses is so old hat.

And if the austerity dismantles the health service, I doubt I shall last long enough to see what happens in 2030.

Well, maybe those generations that didn't see the nuclear missiles on their launch pads (three of them, fueled with LOX and kerosene, on a site which only had three missiles--you don't move all three on the site out of their blast-proof shelters for a training exercise), will be a bit less paranoid. Or maybe they'll be on one side or the other of a "do they have oil" split, and I wouldn't bet on the UK being one of the "who cares, we have nuclear" countries.

Still, it is an old joke that the weapons of war will be so expensive that the USA has one combat aircraft, shared between the USN and USAF, with the USMC getting to wash and polish it on Sundays. Maybe the way to resolve conflicts will be the TV game-show of the UN's choice. Maybe wars will be fought by SAS-style soldiers acting rather like today's terrorists, but where would you get them from without the pool of infantry units?

And maybe cyber war has taken over, and the King's Birthday Parade (I expect it to be a King by then) will be of serried ranks clad all in black, the only break in the sombre tone being the Guy Fawkes masks.

And if the National Armies and Air Forces and Navies of today have become too expensive, can even the gigantic multi-national corporations afford effective mercenaries?

No, I think power might be expressed in different ways, and, while the labels change, the politics will still be about controlling that power.

What will Secretary-General-for-Life Simon Cowell want?

13:

One huge problem that is going to emerge is that the global economic powerhouse will be Asia, not the West. The growth that politicians rely upon will not be here.

14:

I'd hesitate to expect liberty from Libertarians. Not the US Brand at least. It's economics red in tooth and claw.

15:

Hypothesis: if the value of money is essentially based on the economic entity backing it, an asset-stripping policy will make the stolen wealth worthless. Convert a factory to cash money, what backs the cash?

Maybe some of the smartest thieves will be keeping their money in China. Watch for the exchange control regulations.

Silly conclusion: a wuxia movie about Shaolin accountants hunting down foreign devils.

16:

One of the very interesting trends right now, is that we have supernational forces with significant influence on national policy.

No, I'm not thinking about EU here, I'm thinking about S&P and Moodys ability to tell governments that their economy sucks, Googles ability to tell countries like Belgium that their concept of copyright on newspaper articles is wrong and Amazons assault on literature in any language which isn't English.

I can also easily imagine that the imagined communities on FaceBook, LinkedIn, WoW and Twitter will mean more to people, than the nation states fossilised imagined community.

Nation state politics will have a lot less room to maneuvre in the future.

17:

Is the "plain money" idea appealing, to you, then?

Sounds pretty reasonable to me, but then my background in economics is very limited.

18:

Gen Y seems mostly concerned about climate change, and with good reason. In twenty to thirty years time, the impacts will be increasingly obvious and the pain will be starting. In rich nations, we'll still be able to afford to cope, but poor nations will be increasingly less able to cope with more frequent and more intense droughts, floods, and storms with the attendant famines and wars.

The social response to this could well be something as unproductive as blame. Blame for the boomers who caused the problem, blame for gen X who didn't do anything about the problem, and blame from the poor world to the rich for having dumped this on their heads. Whether that translates into effective political action is a different question, but blame-driven politics is never pretty.

19:

As I apparently just scrape in under the bar as Generation-X, my prediction of the big political causes over the next twenty-odd years:

* The Corporation vs. The Citizen

Corporations have big piles of money, and money talks. Specifically, it talks to politicians. More and more frequently, it gets corporate-friendly politicians elected. Corporate interests are however not necessarily in the best interests of the masses of ordinary people. But there are a lot of people, and between them they control quite a lot of money and not a few votes too.

Obama's election campaign was notable for his ability to fund-raise by soliciting contributions directly from individuals. That he's been pretty much hog-tied since election by the House and Senate establishment -- most of whom are exceedingly wealthy due to their business interests -- might be seen Corporate vested interest fighting back.

The icing on the cake of course is that each side really cannot exist without the other, and in this struggle, to destroy the opposition utterly would be to destroy your own side as well.

* Who profits from my personal data?

The ability of mega-corporations to harvest personal data and mine it for their own highly lucrative benefit has been one of the more spectacular developments due to the Internet.

Today people (especially children) give away valuable personal details for peanuts -- free access to a popular blue-and-white website in exchange for a condensed biography, a listing of your social circles and information about what you like to see, listen to, eat, think and do in your school, work or spare time? Is that really a such good deal? As has been said about Internet companies: if it's not clear what the product is, then *you* are the product. Can you be sure all that valuable personal data is properly secured? What guarantee do you have that by releasing it you won't suffer all sorts of negative consequences from identity theft to cyber-bullying?

Sometime soon there will be a realization that this stuff is too valuable and too dangerous in the wrong hands, and if we're going to let anyone have it, then we want proper recompense and reasonable protection (probably in the form of insurance) against the consequences of it being abused.

* The voice of the people

Internet technologies mean that anyone can have a global audience for a price well within the reach of the average person. The ability of news media oligarchs to influence (if not control) popular opinion through their media outlets is going to be severely weakened -- the days when it was "The Sun wot won it" are gone.

Instead, it's going to be a much more chaotic process: Chinese whispers by the megaphone of Twitter and the drone of innumerable blogs and podcasts; jumping onto any passing band-wagon and condensing gossip into group-think. The next generation of king-makers is going to be the one that figures out how best to influence such processes.

(As an aside: the concept of what a 'Publisher' is and what it does is going to need a radical overhaul. Our esteemed host's business model is likely to look quite different by the time he gets close to retirement.)

* The Environment, Stupid!

Polarization about the reality of anthropogenic climate change will deepen. Anyone not persuaded by the state of the evidence now is as unlikely to change their mind as a flat-earther would be to travel to Australia. Like the debate over Evolution, this will become a quasi-religous argument with feeble attempts by the anti- side to dress themselves in some thin veneer of (pseudo-)Scientific respectability. In the mean time, there will be an increasing occurrence of extreme weather events, droughts, famines, volatility in the costs of basic foodstuffs and consequential social and political upheaval. (The Arab Spring is a consequence of the position of the jet stream in 2008-2009 and the deleterious effect of the resultant high temperatures on the Russian wheat harvest leading to massive inflation in the price of soft wheat. Discuss.)

20:

b.1974

Formerly tried to get involved with mainstream politics, to the point of standing for local council (LibDem). Since the last (UK, obviously) election, I've become so disillusioned with the entire political process I can't see myself becoming involved again in any capacity, and for the first time am genuinely considering not voting.

None of the parties represent my spectrum of concerns, and I've sufficient experience/cynicism/pessimism to discount alternative candidates (or starting my own party) as possibilities. The system is not there for me, and changing it requires such massive investment of time and energy from so many people I can't see it happening. Arab spring? Don't make me laugh.

My concerns:

1: Energy. More nukes, now. I will happily live and work next to a well-engineered waste storage facility with my family. More wind and solar wherever it goes, and to hell with people who don't like the look of them. Build the Severn Barrier while we still can.

2. Crime and Education. These go together for me as two sides of the same coin. Privatised prisons are an abomination, likewise schools. Advances in biology and neurology specifically may shed some light on how to improve these, but we may not like the solutions.

3. Health. The USA arrangement is a model of how not to do things, and must be avoided at all costs. Open to other ideas.

4. War. A large standing military is already obsolete, unless you are going to going for colonial-style occupation, already an anachronism. Full Swiss-style neutrality should be on the table. For everybody.

21:

I see the fundamentalist Christians gradually losing control of the American Republican Party as it takes a more Libertarian bent.

By 2030 I expect gay marriage will be legal everywhere in America. Medical marijuana will be legal in most states and the federal government will no longer be fighting it. Recreational marijuana use will still inexplicably be illegal, but enforcement will become increasingly difficult as it gets harder and harder to find a jury willing to convict somebody for possessing a small amount.

The Spanish-speaking Latino population will increase. The scapegoating of this population will decrease, at least long enough for reasonable pathways to citizenship (like the DREAM Act allowing citizenship for illegal immigrants who get a degree or join the military). Discrimination WILL increase every time there's a recession -- if not of Latinos, then of some other convenient minority.

The Democratic Party will continue to limp along as the slightly-to-the-left-of-the-Republican-Party alternative. Sooner or later a viable third party may emerge to supplant one of the two major parties, but my money's on "later". And the way the American electoral system is structured, a third party can't really coexist alongside the major parties, only replace one or the other; it would require significant electoral reform to change this (at a minimum changing the rules of presidential debates and changing the electoral college to a proportional rather than all-or-nothing system -- that's without geting into the possibility of eliminating it entirely, or switching to a system other than simple plurality) and I don't expect that to happen any time soon either.

Technology's a lot harder to guess at. I imagine we'll still have much the same corporatocracy we have now (with hopefully some modest regulatory increases, though I doubt we'll get more than that in the near future). The current TV, film, and music industries will still exist in one form or other, and still exert some substantial control over Congress, but they'll be weaker than they are now. TV organized by numbered channels will be history, and tuning in at a specific time of day because that's when your show is on will be limited to live events like sports and, if they're still around, competition shows. Warner, Viacom, Newscorp, GE, Disney, and Sony (have I left any out?) will still be around, still producing bite-sized chunks of entertainment, and still freaking the hell out about whatever the latest piracy mechanism is, but will have more independent competition and will have a much better digital distribution system for their own offerings. (It's just a matter of time before the TV, film, gaming, and publishing industries finally reach the same conclusion about DRM that the music industry eventually did.) Overbearing copyright legislation will still come up, and still be supported by computer-illiterate politicians, but every single politician will be somebody who's casually pirated quite a lot of content over the years and that will likely play into their decisions too.

There will be some new bogeyman that freaks the older generation out, in the grand tradition of rock music, horror comics, and first-person shooters. Several states will introduce legislation to restrict it. It will either fail or be struck down by the courts.

All of which are fairly safe and obvious predictions, I think.

What's less predictable and more interesting is how privacy law is going to evolve.

22:

@10: Charlie: Haven't you heard? It turns out that Ron Paul wasn't *really* a racist when he made all those racist comments in his newsletter. His former assistant has assured us that Ron Paul is an OK fellow -- but that he needed to *sound* like a racist to drum up subscribers for his newsletter. Worse yet, the American MSM played that soundbite with a straight face...

23:

"Hypothesis: if the value of money is essentially based on the economic entity backing it, an asset-stripping policy will make the stolen wealth worthless. Convert a factory to cash money, what backs the cash?"

Take the stolen wealth and use it to buy real assets eg land, gold, Asian manufacturing capacity, intellectual property.

24:

Interesting question. If I extrapolate the current political landscape in Germany (and our recent disruptions), some of the political axes 2030 could be the following:

- Representationalists (believing in representative democracy, maybe gripping onto "conservative" and somehow old fashionend values like strong leadership) vs. Fluidicists (descendants of today's Pirate Party and the Occupy movement, believing in liquid democracy and net-based, ever-shifting delegated participation)

- Postindustrialists (green movement, knowledge based industries, arts, basic income) vs. Neoprotestantic Industrial Confucianists (work, success, a high rank in the WTO state ranking as core values)

- Organized Hedoproles (the avantgarde of materialistic consumer class, strongly nationalistic) vs. Softhearted Globalist Entrepreneurs (St. Gates and St. Jobs, embarrassed by ghe working conditions of the global poor as well as by their sinking stock index)

Or, in a more global perspective:

- Communicative Networked Individualists Association (states, taxes, ... - how old-fashioned) vs. The Autocratic BRIC Capitalists (strong interest in the economic wellbeing, classicsl conservative vslues, belief in leadership and community-based wellfare,uninterested in democracy)

25:

Look like I messed up that link:

http://www.soziologie.uni-halle.de/huber/docs/london2001.pdf

[[ Moderator: I've fixed your original link for those encountering it first ]]

It's only an abstract but it's easy to find more in depth material on the subject. I believe it addressed the likelihood of the developments we were to witness quite some time before they became obvious for everyone.

26:

Well, we historians are better at predicting the past than we are adroit with predicting the future, but you may wish to look at what some of the folks are doing here: http://ccsrwm.berkeley.edu/

I've been involved with the working-group here for a few years. Figuring out how we got to where we are now might aid in your speculative endeavor. As you no doubt are aware, our definitions in the U.S. don't have any feudal class baggage, and one-upon-a-time we had such beasts as Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats (the former are extinct and the latter are now Republicans). One interesting question is whether our conservative coalition of free-marketeers, libertarians and religious triumphalists will hold together, and if not what happens when it explodes?

27:

Charlie: No argument (assuming Anonymous is factually correct). But he's also the only candidate to openly call for ending the war on drugs and to bring up the massive racial disparity in American prisons. He's also the only Republican candidate who opposes a new war against Iran.

Paul's other positions make him unelectable, and rightfully so. But if some of these ideas take hold among younger Republicans (and I'm hoping it's these ideas, and not going back to the gold standard), I consider his candidacy a good thing.

28:

The Greens will be anti-nuclear and anti wind farm and therefore against the environment. They will be in alliance with Heritage and other nimbys who object to the sight of solar cells.

There will be a group protesting total surveillance by employers and the state, possibly calling themselves The Real Conservatives but from the establishment's point of view, radical terrorists. They will be opposed by anti-immigrant groups and the right to food movement. The current Conservatives will be trying to reduce the franchise to people with income from jobs or investments, and their children.

There will be debate about whether over-80s should receive public healthcare, and the dementia problem. There will be hand-wringing about the burgeoning prison population, but, you see, people will keep downloading.

29:

> 2030 to 2040

18 to 28 years from now.

Looking back on the last 30 years of politics, technology, and economics, and the last 40 year in general...

I'm going to go for the position that not a hell of a lot is going to change at the visible level. The infrastructure may change, but to most people, the infrastructure is just that - they don't know or care how electricity gets to the wall socket, how water gets to the tap, or what happens to their garbage when they set it out. It could be interdimensional translation, chain gangs, or nanotech... but it still be part of the background they don't notice.

30:

Paul is more neo-Confederate than Neo-Nazi. Slim difference, I know, but it's all about which dog whistles, and he's been blowing Dixie since the 80s.

The distressing part are the obnoxious, single-issue Democrats who now support him because all they hear him saying is, "blah blah blah legalize pot blah blah blah." They completely miss the part where he talks about overturning Roe V. Wade and issuing letters of Marque and Reprisal so Blackwater can hunt "terrorists" for sport.

31:

"Internet technologies mean that anyone can have a global audience for a price well within the reach of the average person."

Which matters not a damn if the people do not *act*.
Otherwise, it just becomes a forum for the disaffected to let off steam and continue on, grumbling but never doing anything. The essence of the Usenet politics groups.

32:

The current establishment does not need to restrict voting rights. Apathy does that, and as we have seen, it doesn't matter what major party is in power they all act the same. Hey! - it's a free country - you can waste your vote on any insignificant party that takes your fancy.

33:

And on the subject of banging my own drum once again, Zero State is giving a lot of thought to these problems and we will actually be *doing* stuff.

34:

Representative democracy is not a cure all. Hitler back doored into power. But Mussolini won vote after vote. All you need is a mob of true believers who don't believe in facts. Their personal id is tied to what they believe. Not what's in front of their eyes. The Moslem true belvers think democracy is against the will of God and will kill Moslems who go against the will of god. Non Moslems too. All we need is rulers who know 2+2 is 4. not 22 or what they want it to be. But its hard for rulers to lead by facts.
Asia will be a powerhouse only a long as the west (America) can buy what they sell. That can not be for ever, what happens ten?

35:

>I>The ability of mega-corporations to harvest personal data and mine it for their own highly lucrative benefit has been one of the more spectacular developments due to the Internet.

I think this is the most over-hyped concern out there today. Sure, mega-corps have access to all of our data. But what are they doing with it? Using it to micro-focus group product placement. Targeted commercials. Corporations are so narrow minded, they don't know what to do with this data. They could sell it to the FBI for criminal profiling but they'd rather use it to put your name in a commercial for liquid detergent.

There's also the issue that the FBI is paranoid and doesn't trust data it hasn't collected itself. They're still in Cold War mode, launching satellites to listen to your mobile phone conversations when they could just make a deal with Facebook instead. But how do they know Facebook isn't short sheeting them? So instead they dream up stuff like Eschlon, or developing the fourth iteration of the wheel (this time with lasers!).

Everyone's got their own data silo but no one knows what to do with it. Because data without context is meaningless. Information is important and that is still in short supply.

36:


But they do act. Even just to comment or bear witness -- it all adds up. Witness SOPA/PIPA and now ACTA. Or the downfalls (inter alia) of Ghaddafi and Mubarak. The Occupy Movement.

Politicians occasionally complain about the lack of political involvement of the populace. That's not entirely unrelated to the old saw about "it doesn't matter how you vote, it's still the government that gets elected." ie. a comment on the interchangeability of members of the political class and the inability of the citizenry to move the agenda away from established party norms.

Populist, internet mediated movements have had a measure of success at pushing their own interests on to the agenda. It doesn't take many events like that before people become convinced that such actions work, and because of that belief, they get involved, and so the action will succeed.

37:

Some bold predictions of my own for the timeframe.

1. We will see (at least the beginnings of) a new economic system, one that shows an ancestry of capitalism and socialism, but is a genuinely new approach. Can't guess what that will be, but it's been so long since we've had any really new ideas, and so many current economic systems are failing, that the ground is quite fertile. I expect lots of new, wrong ideas to be tried.

2. China will have a revolution. Sooner, rather than later. What emerges will be the seed of an economy that will eventually be dominant, but won't really take off until the generation born after the revolution reaches working age.

3. We're reaching the technological level where the majority of people won't need to work for sustenance, but no one yet has the cultural answer to how to distribute "stuff" without tying it to "work" (without creating a dependant culture unable to sustain that technology). Tying it to votes will have ended disasterously within a generation. I expect various nations with various new ideas of how to solve this problem to be the major point of economic contention 30 years from now (see #1).

I don't really think we'll have any great new answers by 2030-2040, but I do think we'll finally be on to the right questions.

38:

I was really surprised about the real life physical response to the Four and Five Letter Words acts. More so that it wasn't entirely too late. It's still a quirk.

39:

"The Arab Spring is a consequence of the position of the jet stream in 2008-2009 and the deleterious effect of the resultant high temperatures on the Russian wheat harvest leading to massive inflation in the price of soft wheat. Discuss."

More to the point, what is the political effect of these kind of events happening somewhere in the world, every year?

When food becomes unaffordable, people riot. We're looking at a world where there will be more regions that are suddenly unable to grow food (or cash crops to pay for food). This is a recipe for perpetual turmoil in poor nations and an increasing desire for immigration to rich nations (not just to the West, but to India, China, and other nations that are now managing their economic take offs).

40:

"Asia will be a powerhouse only a long as the west (America) can buy what they sell. That can not be for ever, what happens ten?"

They only need the West to prime the pump.
They then have their own internal markets, and the rest of the world. Which is far larger than "the West".

41:

"But they do act. Even just to comment or bear witness -- it all adds up. Witness SOPA/PIPA and now ACTA. Or the downfalls (inter alia) of Ghaddafi and Mubarak. The Occupy Movement."

SOPA/PIPA etc were opposed by some of the biggest companies in the world. It;s wasn't stopped by Net nerds signing petitions.

The Arab spring is largely a result of inept dictatorship. The West's dictatorship is far smoother, and based on the interests of the ruling class. The current "face at the top" is of no importance. Soon the Arabs will catch up with us and have "democracy", but little will change except the PR. The reason why ordinary people are allowed a vote is:
a) It makes no difference
b) It renders armed insurrection illegitimate in the eyes of most people.

42:

Yes, although it depends on how much their elites are nationalistic. The USA, UK etc are in trouble in part because their elites are global and do better by screwing the home workforce down rather than helping them boost their home consumption capabilities by paying decent wages.

You know, I'm sure that a decade ago I would have had some answers to the original post question, but now I feel a little lost in a maze of words and manifestos which all look the same.

43:

Wearing my political hat, I'm going to dig out the same thing I always say to this question: nothing ever changes very much or very fast. In every parliament, the government will talk about how much better things are going to be, the opposition will talk about how much worse things are going to be, and the reality will be more or less no government-driven change from how things were last year. This is because any attempt to change things - regardless of who it might be better or worse for - is now always clawed back to preserving the status quo. Since it is no longer possible to sneak things through secretly, it is guaranteed that every proposed action will be strongly opposed. This trend has been increasing and seems likely to keep doing so, as the ability of people of all forms to network and organise opposition vastly exceeds the ability of any government to orchestrate change.

This has the worrying implication that in 2050 we will still be stuck with all the same political problems, and politicians will continue to try applying the same outdated approaches to new problems, experiencing roughly zero success.

Putting that fairly boring hat back on its peg, let's think about context a bit. Assuming we have no radical changes in technology (which is wrong, but we can't predict much about those) we're going to be looking at a decreasing population, where a very large segment are retired. Underpopulation will be the word of the day: there will not be enough workers to do all the jobs that the society of 2012 relies on. This will only barely be balanced out by the rate at which jobs can be obsoleted by technology, and ideas like a doorman, receptionist, or home cleaner will be seen as wasteful relics of the past. People will stop saying "how many jobs will be lost to this new technology" and start saying "how many workers will be freed up by this new technology". The black market will shift from luxuries to labour - immigrants from third-world countries will be quietly shipped in by unscrupulous organisations, while a government that is pandering to the votes of the elderly maintains a firm official anti-immigration stance "to prevent the shortages getting worse" while quietly trying not to allocate much funding to enforcing that.

Healthcare and pensions will be a really big deal - the elderly vote in the government, and they want more money and better care, which they see as their right. The young will be outnumbered, unhappy, and completely disengaged. The corporatist streak of today's politics will shift into a pension-management streak - and the economy will keep chugging along by investing in other nations (and probably asset-stripping them).

Liberals (whatever we're called by then) will be calling for economic incentives to have children funded from wealth taxation, to solve the problem in the long term, and will be ignored by the bulk of the population who won't benefit in the short term from anything like that and won't stand for their pension funds to be raided to pay for it.

The current right-wing are likely to obsess over pension management and foreign investment, saying "more for everybody (most of it for me)" like they always do. The current left-wing are harder to call, since they're a bit directionless these days and tend to shift every couple of decades, but I'm going to take a shot in the dark and say they're likely to pick up the other bucket and obsess over the management over the healthcare system as the way to improve quality of life (and also free up manpower). So, let's glibly label them the "Funders" and the "Healthcareists". Both of these groups will be very little-c conservative.

44:

Here's one other future possibility.
The voting public becomes so apathetic that only a small percentage of "fanatics" vote, resulting in radical excursions from the expected mean ie status quo

45:

"They only need the West to prime the pump."

And this model was already used on UK universities, many of whom massively expanded based on overseas students in the first 6 years of the millenium. Then all the students went home to run departments, so their governments didn't need to send people overseas any more...

46:

I'm half expecting a return to the end game of the Roman Empire, with an increasingly cash strapped state squeezing the available tax payers so hard they go off grid and seek protection from the corporations, who find ways to pay them that are untaxable, thus creating a Neo Feudalist civilisation.

Worst case, the environment collapses, and the rich try to run things on the Saudi line, using religion in place of bread and circuses.

47:

I don't think it's reasonable to predict or expect any time when an understanding of anything is universal or near-universal. The idea of natural selection is borderline self-evident and has been a part of scientific literature for more than a century, but there's still a movement in the (generally educated) United States against teaching people about it. Economics is a lot more complicated in essence than natural selection.

48:

My question for Charlie is - given the increasing apathy and/or cynicism amongst (UK) voters over the past 20 years, reflected in ever-decreasing turnouts, does he envisage the world of circa 2030-2040 having single-digit turnouts, or does he intend to postulate some development in the next 20-odd years that reignites peoples' interest in politics?

49:

To extrapolate current trends, the next 30 years will be an era of asset stripping where the trappings of civilization as we knew it are actively dismantled or are passively allowed to rot to feed the greed of a hereditary 1%. To facilitate this in the face of public opposition (see: Greece, OWS, UKUnCut), politics and the state will take on an increasingly authoritarian bent ultimately ending in a neo-feudalist flavor of market totalitarianism.

The official ideological line, broadcast from all media by co-option rather than overt coercion, will be that the 1% deserve 99.5% of all economic output. If there are any dissenting views, they will be expressed very quietly, as far as possible from technological or human surveillance.

The dissenters will regularly adopt new labels for their ideology as each label they use is discredited by the 1%. See, for example, how the (remnant) American left wing calls itself progressive because the conservative majority has made the words "liberal" and "Democrat" pejoratives in popular discourse.

Dissent will be ineffective because the majority will believe in the official ideology.

Higher profile forms of dissent will be punished by the state but smaller exercises will simply render dissenters unemployable for the few jobs that remain.

Think North Korea except with a different ideological basis and a more targeted punishment regime.

50:

The problem is what black swans await, assuming that the US and the UK still are operating under representative (*cough*HA!*cough*) democracy. Such animals are almost entirely reactive in their behavior. So any discussion of politics must be predicated upon the economic and social conditions. If I choose to trend, then the US will be a fully static and fascist plutonomy, with 70% of the population in prison working under peonage labor conditions, 29.999% working in prison infrastructure,supply, and retention, oligarchic support, security, etc. and the remaining .001% hoarding 99.99999% of the wealth. Although I'm sure by then the Bill of Rights will have been altered to allow robots equal protection under the law, so that drones cannot be prosecuted.

And that's the optimistic version. Worst case? People will be divided into Morloch and Eloi, and the major preoccupation will be what format your stone hand-ax is in.

But seriously, assuming the shit doesn't hit too much of the fan over the nest 20 years, then I suspect that the Eastern political version of communal/consensus group leadership to be more common in the West. This is based upon, yes, social networking, along with the new gig-based economy, cooperative supports, increasing change in emphasis from DIY to DIWO, and group selection being powered by a combination of Q (density of connections), and the "Santa Fe Institute/MIT Building 20" factor (cross pollination of specialized fields).

As such, people will recognize the POTUS about as well as they do the next Chinese leader currently visiting the US (what his name? ah, Xi Jinping).

(And as for Ron Paul, he's a complete waste of time. Wants to take the country back --- to the 1890s).

51:

Ron Paul isn't dog-whistling Nazi, he's whistling Dixie. States Rights, traces of racism, and wanting to turn the legal, cultural, and economic clock back to the mid-1800s? Check, check, and check.

52:

I don't think he's actually a neo-nazi, but more a un-reconstructed Southerner. States Rights, etc. are clearly evident in his proposals.

Also, *because* many of his attitudes are cloaked, they won't be manifested in the attitudes of his followers when he isn't leading. (And I don't expect him, personally, to ever be more important than he was this year.)

His followers, however, may be more important. And they will be inspired by his public message, not by his hidden agenda. (Of course, they'll have their own hidden agendas...)

53:

With a dose of salt, I'm expecting the opposite ...

1)Governments becoming more corporate ..

The European Union is, to me, the first experiment in national governments coming together to operate as multi-divisional corporation. Although the EU requires members to honor some human rights values, at heart, it's really a business entity. In fact, it's likely to become even more financially focused given recent events in Greece, Ireland, etc. (I wonder whether the EU will still expel/sell off Greece if Greece continues to be non-profitable.) This of course presents an opportunity for new national-corporate blocs/alliances.

2) 'Govcorps' competing with corporations ...

Governments-as-corporations could also give traditional corporations a run for their money if these new govcorps developed, produced and consumed any of their own products/services. This would not be the same as communism -- since govcorps would license interested groups of individuals (via contracts) to create ad hoc businesses for a short-term designated purpose. (This already happens in some types of consultancy.) Corporations would argue that such action would reduce gov't revenues since fewer corps would be around to pay taxes. Gov'ts would argue back that total tax revenue would actually increase because such new ad hoc corps would actually be paying their taxes unlike most traditional corps which over time through various failed stimuli-package attempts to get them to create jobs, now enjoy a near-permanent tax-exempt status.

54:

What's the big deal about Ron Paul? I have to admit I haven't been paying close attention to US politics ever since Howard Dean didn't make the D ticket.

O.k. I guess I'd have to back Gingrich, for the one thing he honestly represents, and many thanks to Stephen Colbert for pointing it out is: "Newt Gingrich is a family values candidate. He values families so much, he’s had three!"

55:

As far as non-state entities go, don't forget about organized crime. Drug trafficking alone has come close to destroying two nations so far, Mexico and Honduras. One might throw Russia and many of the ex-Soviet states into that mix.

And, organized crime has its fingers in many other large scale businesses.

56:

The gold standard is a bad idea, but so is letting governments freely print money. They have, every time, proven to be irresponsible counterfeiters.

So some commodity based money seems to be a good idea. For a long time I was in favor of the silicon standard (single crystal silicon of quality sufficient for manufacture of the current generation of computer chips). At other times I've been in favor of the water standard or the iron standard. Both have the defect that it's more freely available in some places than in others, whereas with silicon you only need to build a factory anywhere in the world. (Admittedly, some places have better starting materials.)

Currently I'm contemplating other possibility, including having different standard based currencies (each based on some material object) that were allowed to float against each other. A requirement is that each material should be redeemable on request in hard currency (i.e., silicon crystals, ingots or iron, etc.) and that manufacturers should actually so redeem them, i.e., you've got to maintain quality, and no cheating on the currency conversions. Note that this would mean that governments would have no reason to be in the currency business, and it could be left to the material suppliers and lesser bankers. (Meaning, snidely, that the banks dealing with paper bills would be lesser of importance than the materials producers. This is snide because it isn't really true, as most currency exchanges would be done in paper. And each local area would probably do all it's exhanges around one currency base, for reasons of convenience. Electronic gadgets, however, mean that this isn't a real necessity, and electronic currency exchanges could easily be in any mixture of currencies.)

*IF* you could trust governments to be honest, then the current monetary system wouldn't have nearly the problems that it does. OTOH, my current ideas are clearly less than half-baked.

57:

I don't know about the UK, but I was under the impression that Gen X is far smaller than either the Boomers or Gen Y in America.

My best guess for the US and Western Europe in 2040 is similar to the USSR circa 1970. The systems will have broken down far enough that nobody really believes in them anymore, and most of the economy's productivity is siphoned off by one clique or another. Global warming and oil shortages won't be helping, either. People will voice their discontent with the system in increasingly clear manners, but there will still be enough loyal cops and soldiers to keep a lid on revolution. Revolution comes 2050 to 2060, when hardly anyone even remembers that the system used to work.

58:

I'm a mid-tier U.S.-born Gen-Xer, model year 1974, and one of the defining life events for Xers of my age and older is the experience of the fear of nuclear war and dying at any moment without much warning. We saw The Day After when it was broadcast on network TV in 1983. We had 'disaster' drills in elementary school where we all went in the hallway, knelt against the wall and covered out heads with our hands. Our teachers made no secret of what the disaster in question was.

The dividing line I've used for a long time is the question 'When you were a kid, did you ever look at a vapor trail going across the sky and wonder if you only had 15 or 20 minutes left to live.' A large number of people born between 1965 and 1977 will look at me wide-eyed and say 'God, yes. I thought I was the only one who remembered.'

I'm not certain how that's going to affect us when we actually get to run things, but it lurks in the psyche of a large percentage of my cohort. I've noticed that, in contrast to the Boomers, who tend to be idealistic and individualistic, we tend to be cynical and prone to ad-hoc cooperation. We don't see a ton of legitimacy remaining in traditional societal structures (church, government, corporations) even though we were mostly raised within and continue to work within them. But we've been looking after ourselves for so long (either because our parents were narcissistic Boomers or because our folks were a part of the blue-collar middle class that had to run faster and faster to stay in one place) that we don't have much problem grabbing the line and towing the barge when there's a barge to be towed, and then going back to whatever we were doing once it's past our stretch of the river.

59:

Asia will be a powerhouse only a long as the west (America) can buy what they sell. That can not be for ever, what happens ten?

Sorry, but that's a bit of myopia. It's already less true than it was, and as wealth accumulates in China and various other countries, it becomes increasingly less true. It *is* true that a sudden cutoff would be distressing to China (and probably to other trading parters of the US and the EU), but the trade is steadily becoming less significant. In a couple of decades it will probably be as significant as Iceland's trade with Britain. Not gone, but not a large part of the trade balance, either.

N.B.: China, for good reason, tends to be very introspective. They may or may not become isolationist (if you can say that about nearly half the human race). (Well, I exaggerate about their population, but you get the idea.)

FWIW, I wouldn't be surprised to see China re-evolve a mandrinate, or even an Emperor. Remember that Mao Tse-Tung was nearly an Emperor. If he'd left China to a son, the distinction would have been miniscule. (Court customs evolve. They aren't there at the inception of an imperium.)

60:

I fear you have no idea what money is ...

61:

Just kidding, don't be afraid:


---- Evaluation Report begin ---
Take off. Whoa. Woudn'ta believed it if anybody told me. Feel incredibly light. Past the 110th floor.
---- Evaluation Report end ----
---- Evaluation Report begin ---
Getting the hang of it. Past the initial panic. All in control. Initial misgivings probably due to false assumptions.
---- Evaluation Report end ----
---- Evaluation Report begin----
Falling past the 20th floor. Still nothing lethal. Almost certain the supposed landing is all a myth.
---- Evaluation Report end----

...

62:

Once we get to 2050, riot control will be done by semi-autonomous drones run by a very small cadre of very well paid operators who will think nothing of gunning down the dirty deserving poor in the streets.

Revolutions only succeed if the security forces switch sides because they have been inadequately compensated in money and power by the ruling elites. Advanced drones will reduce personnel requirements to the point that the compensation problem will be trivially solvable and therefore will make violent revolutions against authoritarian regimes impossible.

63:

Yes, there are a lot of echoes of the Confederacy in the Republicans, although fewer since Rick Perry got out of the race.

Fortunately for all of us, the EU is currently demonstrating how an economic confederacy fails, and that seems to be toning down the rhetoric (outside Ron Paul) for making Washington tiny and going for states' rights in a big way. That and the realization that in a Confederate US, California would have to play the roles of both France and Greece simultaneously...

I'm still not so convinced that Ron Paul's appeal to the racist right is something to be entirely shrugged off. Remember that the Southern Poverty Law Center still sees a lot of discriminatory action. Despite real advances, racism isn't dead yet.


64:

One thing that's getting a little repetitive is the drumbeat of "OMG, China and India are Rising, we're all doooommed."

Let's go back a little bit in history, shall we? Rome got in a serious trade deficit importing Chinese silk and Indian spices.

This isn't new.

In fact, only the last 100 years (China) to 200 years (India) are unusual, in that Europe had something of an upper hand in the Chinese trade. Before that, Latin American silver propped up the Chinese economy, while Chinese silk and ceramics flowed to Spain and England.

We're not seeing anything really new here. China and India have traditionally be major players, and they are simply reassuming their old place on the world stage. We managed to live about 1900 years with this system, and we have a good chance of managing in the near future.

Also, remember that the Chinese invented paper money, and so thereafter they invented hyperinflation, which is why Spanish silver was so welcome in China. The current problems we're having with fiat money aren't new either, and we still haven't solved them well.

65:

Seriously, tying the money supply to any physical item is far more trouble than it is worth. The main issue is debt based finance as we have now, to which quantitative easing (not the same as printing money) is the answer until things can be stabilised again and we can reign in the finance systems. Unfortunately the politicians all appear to have been bought out by the lords of finance so proper restrictions may not become reality.


Have we seen any internet originated terms for political and economic processes move into mainstream language? I can't think of any but that isn't my area of expertise. I think if you find any of them then that'll be something of a pointer.

I expect the precise areas of occupation to vary depending on nationality. In the USA, it is clear that the scrabble for work, healthcare housing and food will only become harder. In the UK if the condems get their way, ditto, although starting from a lower gini coefficient it will take longer to wreck everything.
The generation Y folk, they're just waking up to the problems, but many are distracted by
ohhh, shiny thing.

Where was I? Oh yes - the main problem is not that the old labels are in use but that the basic problems are the same as we have had since Marx. Sure, there's extra technology on top and in most countries there has been a broadening of social freedoms such that even homosexuals can get married.* But the fundamental problems are still who works, how much do they get paid, and who owns the means of production.

Well ok, maybe there's further questions on top like how can we stop damaging our life support systems.

* I'm a scientist, not a social scientists, but I would hesistate to say there is more social variation now, given what there used to be in the time of greater localisation.

66:

To run for anything as a Republican you must say that 2+2 is 22. Not what anyone can see if they look. Bush 2 said he was fixing things so the real good old days could not come back. I think he was talking about running the government out of money. Now, the thing is we can see that going back to when things worked will fix most problems. And I keep thinking about how back in the 60's or 70's Buckminster Fuller said he had proof that the whole world could live as well as Germany. If things were run the right way.

67:

In Australia...

Well, presuming the country isn't underwater for half the year and on fire for the other half (but then, would we notice the difference?), we'll probably be in another Labor-led phase on a Federal level. By this time, the ALP will be in firm coalition with the Australian Greens in order to control the Lower House of federal parliament, while the last remnants of the National party (formerly the National Country Party, formerly the Country Party) will have died out, leaving the Liberals attempting to snag socially conservative pseudo-independent rural MPs in order to form a government.

In the aftermath of the mass media collapse of the mid-'teens (triggered by the collapse of the large "news" creators, such as News Corporation), broadcast media are largely regarded as dinosaurs. Older folks still get their "news" from old-style forums like Twitter and Facebook (although these are regarded as being hopelessly out of date by the young un's) and some of the crinkly wrinklys tend to wax nostalgic for things like radio, newspapers and television news, but by and large obtaining political perspective via gatekept and pre-supplied perspectives is regarded as a mark of political ignorance and apathy, not to mention cognitive sloth. Being intellectually agile enough to sift your own truth from a large number of conflicting perspectives is seen as a marker of "true" political participation.

There is still the requirement to participate in the electoral process on a state and federal level, although this is even less of an imposition since online voting was introduced as a consequence of the completion of the National Broadband Network. With the consequent massive reduction in cost of elections, there was a brief period in the 20's where governments were voted in and out of power on almost an annual basis, a reflection of the reality that since approximately 2010, no single political party has been elected to parliament with a strong enough majority to form government in their own right. However, political brinkmanship has gone out of fashion once again, with consensus and compromise being perceived as political virtues, rather than a strong adherence to a particular doctrine or platform.

The big issues, as always, are the grand balance between jobs and welfare; environmental concerns versus unbridled economic exploitation of mineral resources; state and federal balance (the premiers of Western Australia and Queensland are talking secession again as a result of the last GST revenue distribution; they argue revenues generated through economic activities in their states shouldn't be used to pay for maintenance of facilities and infrastructure in New South Wales and Victoria); and whether "economic refugees" from the territories which were once known as the United States of America should be allowed to emigrate to Australia (there's a strong argument against this, as their particular brand of Protestant Evangelical religious practice is regarded as being disruptive to the Australian way of life).

68:

In an information economy it seems likely that attitudes towards intellectual property would go from a fringe interest to something more approaching core politics.

Today you have some people today suggesting the complete abolition of the patent and copyright systems (sometimes these people even misquote Lessig and Doctorow as supporters of this radical position). In Poland this weekend 25K people turned out to protest ACTA.

It's often suggested that as we increasingly automate existing jobs out of existence - it is the "creative" jobs that will provide future employment. I'm guessing attitudes towards intellectual property as that property becomes more critical to modern economies will be a substantive part of any future political philosophy.

69:

heteromeles sounds like he or she may have read David Graeber's DEBT: THE FIRST 5000 YEARS. Or maybe he or she has just read the same sources. Good stuff either way.

It's a book I want to roll up into hypodermic form and inject into the long thigh muscles of several brilliant contemporary SF writers. Look, Charlie, the Winged Victory of Samothrace!

70:

What's the big deal about Ron Paul?

His biggest fans are to people who think if the government got out of almost everything life would be wonderful for all. Very very objectivist in most of his thinking. Plus if we just go back to the gold standard all financial issues would go away. He doesn't necessarily believe all of this but his fans do. He'd just rather go back in time. He seems to feel that life would be better because we'd all be responsible for every aspect of our lives. Not that all problems would go away. Most of his older fans think like would be wonderful if we rolled back the government clock 100 to 150 years. They are mostly delusional. IMNERHO.

He also has a very big backing from people in their mid to early 20s who don't understand how government works but figure if it would go away (or at least all those odd things that we surely could live without) their taxes would also. For a reference to their thought process look back to Charlie's comment about why most fiction writers can't start until they are in their 30s or 40s. The just don't have the life experience to make fully rational choices.

71:

My take on Ron Paul ... and there's a lot of dog-whistling about "states rights" in his platform that boils down to him being not a lot more liberal on contraception and abortion than Rick Santorum (just more reluctant to come out and say it in front of a hot mike).

He's totally against abortion and many forms of contraception. The ones that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting.

But what you have to realize is he wants to turn all these decisions back to the states. Legalizing drugs. Abortion. Food and drug safety. Whatever. If California wants to totally control all these things, fine with him. Well not really fine but if that's what they want so be it. He'll live in another state.

In some ways he wants to go back to the articles of confederation. But he knows that's not possible so dialing the government clock back to 1900 or a little early is what he's aiming to do.

72:

Speaking as a previously very political left-wing Gen-Xer - I have yet to see a political philosophy/movement that rings my bell. As you said earlier Charlie - in Australia, there is a bee's dick between the philosophies of the major parties. Both major political parties; the Nationals (think rural socialists)/Liberal (think small business/big business) Coalition and the Labor Party (a rump of unionists/progressive middle/political class) have agreed on common assumptions. We have universal (very basic) healthcare, social security and universal education. The concern is that these services wind up becoming much more safety net and last resort, while the wealthier 50% have access to subsidised PRIVATE education and health.

Mining Oligarchs, along with their now no longer as wealthy fellow media oligarchs rule the roost here now. The mining boom here - which has insulated our economy against the ongoing GFC - has resulted in mining oligarchs pretty much running the show. Most of them are from Western Australia - which has a tendency towards being more right wing and libertarian. Yet the majority of the population live in the Eastern States, which is where most of the service/manufacturing sector is. The tension is between a resource rich, sparsley populated West and a less rich, densely populated (relatively) East. Many in WA would like to see secession! Our richest woman, Gina Rhinehart (one of the world's wealthiest women) has already decided to branch out into buying the largest media company in Australia - this after her and the other oligarchs knocked off a serving Labor Prime Minister, and look like downing his successor.

Not pissing off China is our number one obsession - while they slowly, but surely buy up large mining, farming and infrastructure. We have a fine line to walk between our strong American alliance and our close economic relationship with the US. The US is fast receding as a major trading partner....geopolitically, its a hard ask.

I don't know what the NEXT political movement is going to be. I'm with Ken MacLeod in seeing the Greens as a bunch of smelly reactionary/romantic anti-technologists. I don't see the Sheenisov (see Fall Revolution series) anywhere on the horizon, and the Social Democracies in Europe seem to be in as much of a mess as our own homegrown social democrats. I do see a continued attack on the educated classes/elites in this country, which is replicated in the US. The ongoing denigration of the so-called "progressives" makes it hard for us to cohere as a group - we tend to be splittest and our own worst enemies in any event.

73:

I'm a mid-tier U.S.-born Gen-Xer, model year 1974, and one of the defining life events for Xers of my age and older is the experience of the fear of nuclear war and dying at any moment without much warning. We saw The Day After when it was broadcast on network TV in 1983. We had 'disaster' drills in elementary school where we all went in the hallway, knelt against the wall and covered out heads with our hands. Our teachers made no secret of what the disaster in question was.

I was born in 54 and never had any duck and cover drills. And I don't know anyone who ever did. It was my impression that these died out before 1960. Or at least after the Cuban missile crisis when it was made clear to most people that we were all going to be hosed if things happened. I lived in western KY and between the targeted missile bases in Arkansas and Fort Campbell we were told it didn't matter what we did day one.

Now about the mid 60s it became popular, with good reason, to have tornado drills in most schools. Which was where you went out into the halls and sat against the walls as that was usually the safest place to be if a tornado hit your building. Are you sure that wasn't the reason for the drills? Or that your teachers were maybe idiots. (Not an uncommon affliction amongst the profession in some areas.)

74:

heteromeles sounds like he or she may have read David Graeber's DEBT: THE FIRST 5000 YEARS.

Believe it or not, it's on my Kindle for non-fic reading right now (I'm still in the first quarter of it). Recommendation strongly seconded!

75:

And the way the American electoral system is structured, a third party can't really coexist alongside the major parties, only replace one or the other; it would require significant electoral reform to change this (at a minimum changing the rules of presidential debates...

Unless I'm mistaken the rules of presidential debates are not set by law. They are set by the sponsors of the debates. Like the League of Women Voters or similar. And both Perot and Anderson were included in them back in their time. Show some support greater than at least 1% and you'll likely get consideration to be on the podium.

76:

OK, well the obvious answer is that we will all be on a war footing, attempting to deal with the decline in fossil fuels and the collapse of society.

However, that would derail your 'Halting State' sequence significantly, so lets assume that the baseline case doesn't happen, someone waves a magic wand and allows us to avoid that 'most likely' scenario. Well, that energy source will upset the global applecart in its own right - but it's an OCP.

So, simple stuff only.

People are already sick to the back teeth of the corruption and failure of the democratic process. Not only are candidates/parties bought and paid for by rich business, but the candidates don't deliver, don't even take notice of the populous, and are only a hair's breadth apart as they race for the sewing up the biggest tranche of voters.

So people won't vote.

I think there is the possibility of a dislocation event, an "Internet Summer" to match the "Arab Spring". When reality TV voting is bigger than political voting, where does the democratic mandate lie? How much does it take to say 'you no longer speak for or to us, goodbye'? There is the possibility that the people simply state that online voting is now the democracy, and that anyone who attempts to cling to a past is a traitor. One successful implementation of that democratic idea and it would roll around the world, flattening the status quo.

Now I think that's a hell, since most people are dumber than dogsh*t - but the progressive lack of faith in politics and the progressive growth in comfort with the online life means the potential for a catastrophic 'tip' is there.

I'd couple that with the limiting of globalised 'free' trade. Eventually the west is going to realise it can't compete with the cheap, but smart, east. It's not really got an option, it HAS to put up the barriers, and with it the whole WTO game gets rolled up. That means that globalised business takes a big hit - and with it the power of multinationals. Think breakup or breakdown.

So we end up with independent islands, all joined together and friendly, but complete unto themselves, not being able to poach on each other. Each would take different 'political' paths, with differing success metrics.

In short, I don't think left vs right, representative democracy of the static nation state is likely to be the future. I think evolutionary, competitive true democracy will be the new model.

77:

To the original point. And I'm talking about the US.

I can't see how our government can keep spending at current levels with the current taxes being collected. One or both has to give/break. And the D's and R's seem to be hunkering down into a "my way or the highway" such that neither side is willing to give. If this continues I see the US becoming much poorer over the next 10 to 20 years. At some point China will stop buying our debt. Now maybe India (I doubt it) or Brazil might take their place but again, not forever. At that point the last few years will be thought of as "not so bad".

Social issues will continue to fracture us for another decade at least. With the hard right / conservative evangelical hard core continuing to alienate anyone who disagrees with them in any way whatsoever.

The biggest issue will be what happens when the under 40s decide they will not pay for the SS retirements promised to the over 60s. As it becomes abundantly clear that the various SS "funds" are not really solvent as that solvency requires them to redeem US debt which means the money has to come from current (at the time) taxes.

And I'm not optimistic about how the population will react to these thing. Two things.

Most of the people in my social circle have house hold incomes that are above $75K. Many above $100K. Which means they are in the upper 10% of income groups in the US. And they think of themselves as middle class. Which is just plain wrong. Therefore they have totally warped views of how the economy and taxes work.

Second, my wife works for American Airlines. And I've lived in Pittsburgh during the decline years of the 80s. There are way too many people in the US who want to be paid a fair wage. And by fair I mean that in their mind MORE than their neighbors. And they want their wages guaranteed no mater if the company is making money or not. They have a mindset that totally divorces their wages and work from how well the company is doing. She keeps being recruited to join a union (her work group in not currently unionized) with them saying "give us 3% of your wages and we'll make sure you get more money to take home and the company will be better off". But they never say how this magic will happen.

These delusional attitudes towards money, wages, and taxes do not give me hope for my generation doing the right thing. Either on the "right" or the "left". Define the later terms as you wish.

78:

I was born in 77 and we never did duck and cover drills. We were cheerfully told that such things were pointless as we'd all die instantly from the blast or painfully and slowly from radiation poisoning. I was around 7 first time I was told this.

I did however experience the banal absurdity of weekly air raid sirens when I lived in Guantanamo bay Cuba for 3 years. That was an interesting bit of security theater as well.

79:

Year 2050... We're talking about Gen-Z or Gen-AA here, aren't we?

How mamy of them will even read and write? Few will have gone to college and graduated. None will have ever had a permanent job. Few will be free of debt, save the children of the rich; but none will protest .

I blame the parents... So lets take a look at them:

There will be *some* Gen-Y graduates in the voting pool - half will have found work and become bigoted and grasping grind-the-poor Republicans, or Tea-Party hate-the-Government paranoiacs; and half will never have worked in any kind of job that matched their education and abilities, let alone paid down their debts - but in 2020, 30, 40 and 50, nobody talks about them, nobody represents them, and whatever the hell they ever believed in doesn't matter any more.

A few will be in prison; a vanishingly smaller few wll have comitted acts of violence that had no effect other than to justify ever-harsher 'terrorism' laws that will have effectively made politics illegal. As in: your political engagement is limited to choosing between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, and you'd better be nice about it.

The non-graduate Gen-Y will reach 2050 ground down by decades of unrelenting poverty in which half of all the pople they grew up with have slept rough, had an injury or an infection go untreated, and been arrested and beaten. All will fear destitution and disease, and with good reason. Most will be functionally illiterate, and most of their children will be too. All will live and breathe indoctrinative politics from Fox, and all will blame their misery on gays, or liberals, or Europeans, or Chinese; none will have the vocabulary or the mental tools to know who is responsible for their miserable condition.

Or maybe they will blame someone else. Who?

My guess? Politics in 2050 will be the illiterate and the ill-informed deciding whether to support the candidate who campaigns for burning gay people and abortionists at the stake, or the one who urges them to go out and shoot liberals and evolutionists.

The interesting unpredictability will be "What else?" and "what will there be, in politics in 2050?" that we would never have guessed...

So my prediction, that the debate about science teaching in our schools will be *two generations* beyond today, with the brief controversy over so-called 'evolution' no longer even discussed; the Copernican heresy banished, done and dusted, utterly discredited and all the teachers who taught it fired or forcibly retired... And something we can't even imagine, not even in mockery, will be the 'teach the controversy' displacing whatever remains of science teaching in schools - if schools even exists, except as Christian madrassehs where geometry is taught by rote and Newtonian mechanics are unknown.

You probably think I'm joking, or trolling... Think about Alabama, or rural school districts in Florida and Mississippi.

Imagine a country *two generations* beyond a ban on abortion and the beginnnings of legal restrictions on contraception. Where extrajudicial execution by fiat and detention without trial have been accepted for forty years.

What could they possibly still be debating, or using as a touchstone issue to separate the candidates for nomination, or election? If such concepts as debate and election even exist, the political issues of the day will be nothing we care about today; not even enough to mock.

80:

You probably think I'm joking, or trolling... Think about Alabama, or rural school districts in Florida and Mississippi.

I think you're mistaking sizzle for steak. As a conservative Christian myself you have to understand that these hard core folks are causing a split in the conservative and Christian circles. Right now they appear to be the majority but most of that is because they are yelling the loudest and willing to go out in the snow and vote. But a

Now they might win if the rest of us stay home and don't vote or participate. But as of now they are no where near a majority of though on the R side of things. They are just more engaged.

81:

Why the Tea Party and Ron Paul are gaining traction in the US.

On tonight's local new there is a story about how about 20 pre-school kids at a NC elementary school had their lunches they had brought from home taken away and were given cafeteria food plus a bill for their parents to pay for the food.

Details are still emerging but everyone seems to agree this was done under the instructions of a visiting USDA official. Current word is said official decreed that school lunches were nutritious but lunches brought from home may not be so the school had to force everyone to eat cafeteria food. Some parents are, to put it mildly, upset. Even those who didn't send a lunch in for their kids.

82:

Zero State - a virtual autonomous community.
One possible trend will be for people to crystallize around new "communities". Think a cross between the Freemasons and gang culture, at all levels, cutting across existing social boundaries and outflanking the state.International in scope, but having a presence in every neighbourhood. Ultimately wielding political power as they command the loyalty of more and more of the apathetic non-voters who are screwed by the existing system. As usual the Chinese got there before us:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triad_(underground_society)

83:

Thanks for the reference. I'll add it to my list.

I got that Spanish silver thing out of Charles Mann's 1493, which I also strongly recommend.

Anyway, I'm male. I'll grunt and scratch a little more to make that obvious.

84:

Getting back to the future, I'm actually fascinated by who the Gen-Y crowd will turn out to be.

Gen-X (my generation) are the equivalent of the kids born in the late 1930s, too young for WWII and too old for the Depression. The first Gulf War was our war, and the dot.com bubble and housing bubbles were our bubbles too.

Gen-Y in the US grew up with the internet, think Bush 2 is normal, and were formed by the mess of Iraq, Afghanistan, the housing bubble (which probably killed their parents' prosperity), and the Great Recession. They're wracking up massive student loan debts, but seeing the world change so fast that the notion of career stability is quaint.

The other thing that defines them is that, even more than Gen-X, they're mostly clueless about fundamental tasks, like cooking or fixing things. For them, electronics are made to be tossed and food comes in plastic.

This is a fascinating mix, because on the stress side, they're like the Baby Boomers who went through Vietnam and the craziness of the 60s. It's the Internet and Iraq rather than LSD and Vietnam, but it's still pretty bad. On the functional side, they're naive in a rapidly changing world. It will be fascinating to see how they turn out, especially if the internet gets balkanized. That will be the defining crash of their lives, at least in the US.

85:

Sounds like a beat-up. Just like the unemployed in your street won't work even if offered perfectly good jobs slaughtering lambs in Death Valley, or how the local leftie council won't let the school put up Christmas decorations!!

86:

Here's an open-ended question: I'm trying to figure out when the first space war will happen.

As I see it, the main purpose of attacking satellites (which is what I see as the first, and possibly, the only space war) is to cripple enemy communications and intelligence. All the big players increasingly depend on everything from GPS to spysats to satellite-linked communications to fight wars, and even drones increasingly depend on satellites to function. The US appears most dependent on satellites, and it therefore follows that anyone wanting to attack the US will go after our satellites first, to cripple our ability to respond.

I'm also quite sure the US military realizes this, and has responses in depth prepared. Not that this is going to stop anyone, any more than the US industrial capacity stopped Japan from launching Pearl Harbor. However it starts, the end result will be the Kessler Syndrome, and rebuilding our space infrastructure is going to be pretty freaking difficult afterwards.

This is the question: what will trigger such a war? Some obvious triggers include increasing US isolationism (especially President Ron Paul, not that this will happen in 2012), collapse of the US space sector (lack of ability to replace satellites), massive military defunding, and similar evidence that the US is weak and no longer cares.

The most likely scenario I see is a fight over central Asian oil, if the rest of the world's supplies run out and we haven't gone over to renewables in any significant way. I suspect this is the one the US military sees as well, given how fast they're trying to go green.

What do others see? Is Space War One within 10 years? 20 years? Or not likely to happen?

87:

Not likely to happen between the major space powers since they all have too much to lose. Iran or NK could loft a few tonnes of ball bearings though. A bit more effort and you might be able to do a figure 8 orbit between earth and moon sweeping geosync space on a regular basis

88:

I'm not convinced the first space-war will become a problem before space junk does.

Your observation about over reliance on space-based "assets" makes for an interesting possibility of role-reversals in military clashes, if space junk makes it hard or unfeasible to replenish the low orbit tools.

89:

A more covert war attacking undersea cables would have far greater consequences.

90:

In my next novel (the one I'm going to write for publication in 2014),...

This is early to start torturing us with stuff about a novel we can't read yet, even for you Charlie! ;-)

91:

With a bit of luck, people will start realising that what a campaigning politician means by "I am a Libertarian" is "if you have less money than I do, then you have the right to die in poverty if I can turn an extra buck as a result" rather than "you should have the right to do anything which you can afford and does not harm anyone who is not giving informed consent to your actions".

92:

I expect that by 2050, the internet hive-mind (possibly no longer called anonymous) will be a major political force.

re: @Curmudgeon Drones will be hijacked and hacked left and right. Also, they are pretty cheap to build. The "compensation problem" will no longer be a problem, but attribution (who made this drone did this?) will be, especially when they become more autonomous. I doubt authoritarian regimes will have a monopoly on them.

93:

I've got a post stuck in moderation. It may not be the best post in the world, but it is mine.

[[ Moderator: the scripts threw a tizzy overnight. I've just pulled back 4 posts from the pending folder ]]

94:

Pretty pesimistic responses so far. Here’s a little sunshine

In the West politicians may be dealing with a significant upsurge in economic growth and the reversal of the off-shoring we’ve seen over the last few decades as wages and labour productivity per $ in China and India begin to equalise with the West and their own demographic issues land.

By 2040 baby boomers will be dying (assuming no radical changes in medical technology) and the bills for pensions and health care will be coming down (or levelling off) for the first time in decades.

It might be quite a rosy position and I think they may be working out how to spend the proceeds of growth.

And that for me is the question of the 2030’s and 2040’s in the West, what are we going to do with all the money and is that decision going to be a collective one (brokered by the state or otherwise) or one made by several individuals.

95:

Ooh ooh! _I_'m a late generation Xer (or early Y, depending on your cut-off-date), from the US, living abroad, and I have *tons* (or 0.907X tonnes) of fascinating opinions and perspectives. Gather around me to hear my tales of the future.

Seriously though, I think interesting things will happen in the 2020s to 2030s, when the Ys' kids start rebelling against their parents' ideology. If our parents were hippies, rebelling against their eat-your-casserole 50s moms and racist fathers, and we're yuppies rebelling against my parents rainbow-colored nonsense, what will our kids hate about us?

96:

There were quite a few things that conspired to help universities expand massively in the early part of the Noughties, including the "Education, Education, Education" mantra of the early years of New Labour.

And while it's broadly true that countries like China are tending to not send their students abroad any more, a lot of that is because they've signed very lucrative franchises deals with universities (certainly all 5 I have close contact with) and they're importing our expertise by a sort of brain drain.

In fact three people who were doing their PhDs at the same time as me are now, for different universities, working in China.

97:

In terms of where the odd things will be politically, I have a feeling we're talking right in the unpredictable x%. Political plans tend to be rather short term after all - the politicos promise for the next 4-5 years (7 in France I think) and then reboot and do it all again, rubbishing "them" and telling us how wonderful they are. Failures are unceremoniously booted to the kerb and the new incumbent heads off in a new direction.

So in 40 years, we'll have had several cycles of lurching on topics that will become harder and harder to predict. Given that, some fun rather than deadly serious suggestions:

I think that in that time frame we'll have seen an end to lobbying and posturing about climate change, or the lack of it, in the US. I would guess this will be on the "American jobs making green energy to save the world" kind of basis but with a groundswell from probably Twitter so we'll have a hashtag political rallying cry.

Although I dislike most sports, I am aware that the next FIFA world cup (or next but one or something) will be played somewhere really stupidly hot. Without wishing ill on anyone in particular, let's predict at least one death from heat stroke and several abandoned matches. A political movement using football/soccer metaphors will grow up on the sympathy from that. If I knew any beyond "gave 110%" and "It's a game of two halves" I'm sure I could make some up. This will, at minimum, consume European males but the terminology will stick long past that.

Somewhere, I still predict France, will kick a major bank into touch and break the stranglehold they seem to have on Western European political thinking. Various people will cry "OMG you can't do that!" (starting with Georgie Porgie if it's soon enough). Short term it will work nicely - with some suitably French rhetoric - and we'll have a batch of new French terms equivalent to throwing our clogs into the works. If it works nicely for the French over a year or two, we'll see political parties across the world jumping on the band-wagon. Ireland, maybe Portugal (although like Greece it might be too far gone) and Spain are other good candidates for the move, Spain and Portugal for nice sounding phrases to import into political discussion.

ESA, China, Russia and India will all be looking at Moon shots again. Maybe together, maybe a new space race. We'll definitely have some political rhetoric there.

M$ will have died. Google will turn grey and suit-heavy, and have died. We'll still google stuff though, although the origin of the name will be gone. Wearable computing will be old tech, but implanted tech will be rare - various "cyborg alliances" including hopefully Skynet, will be part of the political process.

There you go.

98:

European males are not all into soccer/Wendyball/kissball!

You can add "I'm as sick as a parrot" and "I'm over the Moon" to the list of Wendyball cliches though.

99:

Okay, guesses: The Three Revolts.
Firstly; Against IP.
Intellectual property is dead. It no longer exists. No patents, no copyrights, no nothing - The lobbying effort to combat piracy via ever more draconian means having finally overplayed its hand to the point where the public hates the very concept with a fire unseen since the salt taxes in India, and the pirate party and its future equivalents succeeded in burning the entire edifice to the ground.
They then promptly loose all political salience again, having succeeded themselves to death. Impact is varied, with innovation in certain sectors where the old regime was especially pathological accelerating dramatically (Tech. Software) while research in other areas is reduced to whatever the state cares to fund. Entertainment gets an extra sector bolted on as people start making spinoffs and sequels to everything interesting without so much as a by-your-leave. Much of this is offensively awful, and some is so brilliant as to leave the original creators embarrased.

Secondly: Against Finance. - The financial sector has been legislated into oblivion. Quite possibly, it is in fact the sole domain of the state, with all banks and insurance being public utilities wholly owned by the government.

Third: Against Nimby. - This is the great age of megaengineering as the coal plants and gas turbines are turned off for good and instead small mountains float atop hydralic pistons carved out of bedrock, the cities of the north instal plug reactors into their district heating systems, and a vast network of HVDC lines carries power from the deep sahara to anywhere within a thousand miles of that bonanza of cheap solar. - The north coast of africa and the fertile crecent see an explostion in agricultural productivity via saltwater greenhouse and forward osmosis desalination driven irrigation. Rail is everywhere, and very, very fast. The bridge connection from RussiaAlaska is a recent construction, which makes it possible to travel from Scotland to Argentina without flying or setting foot on a boat, altough it would take.. Quite a while, even at 500 km/h the entire way.

100:

Quite a while

I'd guess so, even more so if you're heading for the tip of Tierra del Fuego.

From where I am, with current trains, we reckon up to 10 days to get to Vladivostok by train alone (changing train thrice only). Now that's not using high speed rail except for the London to Brussels chunk, but I wouldn't expect the stretch through Siberia to get upgraded to high speed in a hurry. The current Rossija train runs once every two days, which means not much passenger traffic.

What I think is more likely is that you will get high speed rail 'continents', with slower long haul links between. So, you'd get Europe as far east as Moscow and environs. You'd get a NA West Coast strip. You'd get NA East Coast. You'd have long distance links from the NA West Coast over that Alaskan/Siberian link, connecting down to the trans-Siberian. But it'd be built more for freight than for customer travel.

(Hmm, I see I could even get to Singapore by train.)

What would be even more fun would be to link train overland to ekranoplan overwater. Big oceanic ekranoplans providing a fast-enough-for-most-things substitute for freight aircraft might make that Alaskan bridge pointless.

101:

By "big ekranoplans" I presume we're talking bigger than the one Charlie designed with its own airfield on top?

102:

Thirding (Fourthing?) the David Graeber. Fantastic stuff: especially the bits where he lays into neo-classical economists which I'm all in favour of.

He's very good on the tight relationship between debt, cash money and access to power: I'd have liked to have seen some analysis of *why* credit-based economies are prone to blowing up, but he's left that ground for others to plough.

103:

> I was born in 54 and never had any
> duck and cover drills.

Born in 1959, had "nuclear attack" drills in schools in four states. They were the ones where you hid under your desk. One state (Tennessee) had tornado drills. We had to move away from the windows.

104:

A cure for the NIMBYs - when the lights start to go out the places closest to power stations get priority.

105:

I'm not optimistic about high-speed rail in on the US west coast, for one thing.

There are two big problems. The one that's killing high speed rail in California appears to be property rights. Someone owns every bit of that land, and they need to be bought off. Some of the best routes are already so built-up that it's cost-prohibitive to build them.

The other problem is geography. There are some pretty gnarly mountain ranges lying across the shortest routes. These have been causing trouble for rail since the 1850s, which is why San Francisco and Los Angeles are much larger than other coastal cities (they're at the ocean terminus of the easy passes).

The other, bigger problem is that the first likely symptom of climate change will be increasing aridity in the US southwest. Couple this with increasingly unreliable power, and people will be immigrating north. Neither LA nor SF will be totally abandoned (they've got great natural harbors and existing rail links), but in 50-100 years (if not 20) the Rust Belt will be the happening place. Seattle might be too, if Mt. Rainier hasn't wiped the place out.

Since air conditioning and big dams have enabled many people to move south and west in the last 60 years, a faltering power grid and chronic water shortages will almost certainly drive their descendents away in the next 60 years. Since the south is driving much of the current republican politics (the South is rising again), you can figure out the political consequences too.

Basically, John Scalzi's ahead of the curve.

106:

Solar PV powered with air conditioning will solve that problem. It *might* even solve the domestic water problem if energy is used to condense atmospheric water.

107:

There was a DARPA study a decade or so ago that concluded that, for payloads over 5000 tonnes, an ekranoplan would need nuclear propulsion. So yes, paper studies of ekranoplans with up to 10,000 ton payloads exist.

The biggest design I'm aware of was a Beriev design bureau plan for a blended-wing vehicle with around a 250 ton payload, so not that much larger than an Antonov 225 or an Airbus 380.

I think ... even if we're relying on expensive synthetic fuel by 2100, we'll still be using airliners to ship passengers across long distances; they're fast and efficient. What we won't be using is regional jets and small narrow-bodies to cover distances of less than 1000km between dense population centres, with service frequencies of one flight every 1-2 hours, as is the case in much of the USA today; it's horribly inefficient compared to either high speed rail or self-driving buses. (I'm thinking here in terms of interstate highways with dedicated lanes for self-driving traffic averaging speeds of 150-200km/h, as feeders to airports for long-haul wide body airliner traffic, or to rail terminals for medium-haul high speed rail.)

The railway bridge from Siberia to Alaska (and the Gibraltar Straits bridge, allowing rail traffic from Europe down into Africa) are going to happen, though. Freight that can run at 100km/h for days at a time will take much of the slightly-less-perishable traffic off air routes, and lots of higher value stuff off sea routes (I suspect the speed of sea freight will drop over the coming century as oil prices increase, leaving ships dependent on wind or nuclear for propulsion).

We still need teleport booths, of course.

108:

further to death by nuclear blast:

by the time I was ten (1983) I'd read rather a lot of post- nuclear winter death fic in my local children's library and graduated to the grown up stuff in the adult library [parents were meant to supervise here]. And there is always "when the wind blows" by Raymond Briggs, first published 1982
I also vividly remember my mother gayly recounting the fact that the parents of a class mate planned to poison to death their four children in the time it took the shock wave to come over the hill from central london (15 miles) to spare them the misery. So there wasn't much point to doing air raid practice.

After that the idea that the world could randomly knock you down at the knees at any moment has never really gone away.

109:

Ron Paul is a racist, (and probably a fascist as well,) but that's not the problem with Ron Paul. The problem is that he's the only major American politician talking about certain important economic issues in a meaningful way and he's a racist.

On one hand I'd love to see him with the Republican primary, because some of those economic issues would get addressed loudly and publicly in the general campaign. On the other hand, I'd hate to see his take on "too big to fail" banking policy linked in the public mind with Paul's other, very wrong ideas...

110:

The "duck and cover" stuff seems to correlate to how much nuclear firepower was aimed at you in the specific time and place you were growing up. No nukes = no drill. Too many nukes = no drill. Just one or two nukes = practice ducking and covering.

I was born in late 1964 in Leeds, England, in the middle of a fat circle of strategic targets. The UK was within range of Soviet medium-range bombers and IRBMs, never mind the heavy stuff, and was the major NATO logistics hub for trans-Atlantic re-supply, so had a disproportionate number of warheads aimed at it: the government gave up on civil defense in the early 1970s, when the projected death toll from the first strike passed 70% in the first 24 hours and 90-95% at six months.

111:

It strikes me that the aridity problem for SF and LA could be addressed by new-build nuclear to provide base load for desalination. They're not going to stay in business as agricultural hubs, but SF has the huge network of tech-sector stuff going for it (being at the north end of Silly Valley), while LA has the media nexus -- not just the film and TV studios, but the skill base to produce content. These are major, major industries and I wouldn't write them off quite so fast (although they're vulnerable to being rendered obsolescent by newer fields if they don't move to keep up).

112:

Since air conditioning and big dams have enabled many people to move south and west in the last 60 years, a faltering power grid and chronic water shortages will almost certainly drive their descendents away in the next 60 years.

I dunno. Local solar will supply power to homes and more efficient water use (and desalination plants for coastal cities) will compensate for aridity...in the cities. Farming however, may get into bid trouble. Its already getting iffy with unstable water supplies from the irrigation districts and a Central Valley water table that is lowering by ~ 1 ft/yr.

113:

Yes Dirk, and the PV panels will even insulate the roof from some of the sun that's heating it up. Unfortunately, that's not the problem.

The problem is that we've also got some big energy tycoons messing this all up. I keep trying to keep from getting totally sucked in to the desert wind and solar mess, and I've not entirely succeeded.

The problems with rooftop PV and local wind turbines are currently more political than technical, and the costs of either option are high enough that most people can't afford to switch to them right now. Politics, in this case, means fighting over who gets rich (among the entrepreneurs), who maintains control (among the power companies), and who gets the benefits.

Finally, water from the air is great, assuming the water's in the air to begin with. When dealing with water issues, it's always worth remembering Mark Twain's observation that "whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over." This is still true 150 years later.

114:

OFF-TOPIC, but for those interested in solar issues, especially in California, here are some links:

Good information from the environmentalist side at: Basin and Range Watch.

If you want to take action, there's

The Million Solar Roofs campaign, from Environment California (an offshot of Calpirg), and

Solar done right, which includes a call to action for energy democracy in the US.

I'm not affiliated with any of these groups, but I'm with a group that's working with them. The reason I'm posting is that this issue comes up so frequently on this blog (sorry) that anyone who's interested might want to get involved in the real world, too.

If you're not interested, feel free to ignore this.

115:

.. Not anywhere near a coastline. Wars are much more expensive than forward osmosis desalination plants, even if you have to power them with extremely expensive nuke plants, and in a lot of places with water shortages, the climate is also very suited for solar. There are also high-elegance tricks like the seawater greenhouse design.

116:

A cure for the NIMBYs - when the lights start to go out the places closest to power stations get priority.

Then I'm set. We have an 800MW nuclear plant about 15 miles away. Our county does not use anywhere near all the output. :)

117:

I've been to Port Augusta where there is a seawater greenhouse in commercial operation (according their website).

If you can farm tomatoes there you can farm them anywhere.

I have one question about the technology - no mention of legionella control. Should they (or we) be worried about this?

118:

OT question this makes me curious about: Are there any nuclear powered planes in existence? If not, is there any particular reason that makes them less viable than their nuke-powered sub & aircraft carrier counterparts?

119:

Never mind, I forgot the rule to never ask a question you haven't yet bothered to google for an obvious answer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_aircraft

120:

Most of the water in the SF Bay area comes from the mountain snowfalls

There is no evidence that climate change is disrupting these. We could as easily get more snow rather then less

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/15/BA8N1N7HNQ.DTL

I think it is difficult to predict at this point what areas of the globe will be negatively impacted and to what to degree by climate change. Most of the existing models are simply not predicting anything with any degree of accuracy.

121:

I think it's the weight of the shielding for the reactor.

A Los Angeles class attack sub weighs in about 6,000 tonnes.

An Airbus A-380 fully laden weighs in at about 650 tonnes.

I Am Not A Nuclear Submarine Engineer but I'd guess that the reactor on an LA class sub weighed about as much as the Airbus A-380.

122:

As far as political scenarios, I think it will be very similar to early to mid 1800's.

There will be existing entrenched power elites with complete control over existing systems of government. These older systems will become increasing discredited with regards to the general populations, and increasing ineffective at exercising control, even as the adopt more and more authoritarian methods

There will be challengers to the status quo, utilizing new technologies and organizational methods. At least one new political ideology will emerge (probably a techno -centric one, distributed democracy, something along those lines). Eventually, a series of evolutions the older systems will collapse.

I think the liberal/conservative access will transform more and more to conservative/revolutionary dichotomy, existing political groups fragmenting to align either with status quo or change agents (this is happening already with the US republican party)

123:


"How about the idea that by 2050 everyone properly understands how the money supply works and the economic cycle is tamed."


What I'd expect:

1) By 2040, 25 years will have passed since the worst of the Crash. Taking a US-centric analogy, that would correspond to the mid-60s. The Hot New Modernness will be the idea that It's Different Now, with a mid-21st century Friedman et al campaigning for trashing the hard-learned lessons. At the point where Charles is aiming, it'll be the bleeding edge of economic 'thought'.

2) The elites hate economic understanding; they looooooooooooooove simplistic and false beliefs by the masses, so that the masses can be plundered.

3) The punditry will generally serve their masters. This is aided by the fact that being stunningly wrong about reality is no problem, so long as they were wrong in the right direction (pun intended).

4) What I'm uncertain about is the role of the economics professoriate/prost*t*toriate in this. The 50-something professors will be the grad students whose formative years were spent in the wreckage of the neoliberal consensus. OTHO, the economics profession can also be classed as pundits, whose disregard of reality is total right up until actual guillotine blades come down on actual necks, and the phrase 'blood in the streets' is not figurative.

5-10) The above applies to the US/UK/EU. The thought in the now-developed countries of China, India, Indonesia, (Brazil?), etc, will be based on their experiences (and the wishes of their paymasters).


124:

Whilst reading the comments these are a few potential conflicts, dialogues, debates dichotomies or tensions that have occurred to me.

By conflict I don’t necessarily mean war.

Entreprenuership vs Cartels

Do we see a series of global anti-trust actions or do we see a series of large cartels quitely running things to suit theselves?

Generational

There’s a conversation to be had between very expensive not quite dead yet Baby Boomers vs their heirs / care providers.


Localism vs Regionalism vs Globalism

Where are decisions going to be take. Links to the entrepreneurship vs cartel question. If firms are very very large, operating in a cartel and transnation arguably we need very large transnational states to negotiate with them on behalf of the citizen.

If firms are smaller and / or threatened by start ups and new entrants we don’t need to pass so much power to large transnational states.

Those whose grandparents had a mortgage vs those whose grand parents didn’t.

Perhaps mainly applicable to the UK but I think if you are the decendents of grandparents who have paid off their house and not had to sell it to pay for care in their dotage you get a free house. If your grandparents didn’t leave you a house then I think the world looks a very different place.

Energy and Water Rich vs Not So Well Endowed.

We’ve seen quite a bit of this at the moment but over the next few decades the places with energy and water are going to change around a bit (this makes me smile whenever I have to walk home through the pissing wind and rain in Edinburgh). Some areas where conflicts are

Health Care Control Freaks vs Free Bodiers.

There are a bunch of medical technics on the way that come with some ethical considerations. There are also some medical technics, such as antibiotics, which won’t work well soon because we’ve been to promiscuous with them. I can see some intense debate about how we control medical technology.

Electoral Reform

In the UK (if it continues to exist) I expect we’ll have electoral reform back on the table sometime around 2030 – 2040.

Rationing

Whilst I think we’ll be richer generally I’m not so sure that we’ll have greater access to all resources. Key resources such as water, energy and meat and fish might be scarce. How are we going to ration these? With formal rationing, by price or through rioting?

125:

Galbraith was writing in the 60's.

126:

Nuclear planes:

During the 1940s and early 1950s there were plans to equip a Saunders-Roe Princess flying boat with a reactor. (Nothing came of it.)

The USA pursued an expensive nuclear-powered bomber program until it was cancelled by JFK in the early 1960s. The NB-36 testbed flew with the reactor at criticality; used about 100 tons of lead shielding to protect the flight crew. The reactor was also used in powered turbojet on static test beds on the ground, but no reactor/propulsion combo was flown before program cancellation.

The USSR pursued its own nuclear-powered bomber program and actually flew a heavily-modified Tu-95 on reactor power in the 1960s. Program cancelled (they probably found in-flight refuelling was cheaper). Typically, they didn't bother with the heavy shielding, and 5 out of 7 of the test crew have subsequently died of cancer.

There is no point in planning nuclear propulsion for any aircraft or ekranoplan that isn't able to spare 100-200 tons of payload for shielding. But on the other hand, a 5000-10,000 ton payload ekranoplan could easily provide for reactor shielding. (Reactor cores themselves can be extremely small -- on the order of 1-10 tons -- if running on HEU or Pu-239.) The issue of what to do in event of a plane crash is somewhat more complex, but probably no worse than what to do in event of a nuclear bomber accidentally crashing and burning with an H-bomb or two up the spout.

127:

"I see the fundamentalist Christians gradually losing control of the American Republican Party as it takes a more Libertarian bent."

Or it becomes far more authoritarian (except for the elites, who are Lords above Law), since that seems to sell quite well. Actual Libertarianism doesn't; it offends the authoritarians, disrupts the masses, and empowers the elites (barring that magical day when libertarianism actually applies to them).

128:

Let's correct some numbers: 80% of the water in California goes to agriculture, while about 80% of the power goes to cities (and some significant proportion of that goes to moving water in cities).

Yes, if we get rid of California agriculture, we'll have no problem keeping the cities watered. That will certainly work.

The bigger concern is that snowfall in the Sierras is getting more unpredictable. Yes, I see the article in SF Chronicle, and the graph there is a wonder of misdirection. Yes, the average is flat. Anyone notice how there's a small minority of years that approach that average line, and most of the years are either above or below, in a thoroughly unpredictable pattern? One of the predictions of climate change is increased chaos.

How do you deal with droughts and floods in rapid alteration? That's the issue. California's built a bunch of reservoirs to try and even out the annual water flow, but basically, it's a system that takes a chaotic annual water input and tries to turn it into consistent water output. This in a system that's consistently adding people and changing technology. Not an easy task.

129:

Snowfall in the Sierras has been a chaotic thing forever. There is no evidence I have seen that snowfall is "getting" anything. Feel free to provide links though.

The fact that the climate is going to change is a given, however I am pretty skeptical of anyone who claims to know in what way? Even wetter versus dryer is a crap shoot IMO. No one knows, the models are utter utter crap on any kind of micro level (and pretty bad at a macro level too)

"How do you deal with droughts and floods in rapid alteration". Well, it's called engineering and it's actually a heck of a lot easier in California then say the Mississippi river basin.

Look at the places that have massive problems with flooding today and massive investments in flood control THOSE are the places that will be hit hardest by more chaos (mostly not in California by the way). Would not want to live in Bangladesh that is for sure.

California actually benefits in a lot of ways, we simply do not have much in the way of weather, and the weather we do have is mostly in the mountains where no one lives. Don't need air conditioning or heating really in the Bay Area. Very mild, very predictable.

130:

David
It's not the debates that matter; it's who controls districting (eg for the US house of representatives) and then who runs the census. If you didn't find all those poor people, and then find a way to turn the rest away at the polls.... Then if you have two parties that agree to gerrymander electoral districts so each side has safe seats....
It's very difficult to get in the game without capturing one of the existing parties.

131:

As follow-on to rule 34, Charlie is clearly going to have to anticipate significant pushback from organized crime, since he dreamed up a way to bankrupt them.

132:

What are your thoughts on BitCoin as an alternative currency?

133:

James Blish's "Cities in Flight" stories were conceived and written in the late 50s and early 60s. The Galactic standard monetary unit (which was the method of measuring wealth and transferring it around) was commodity-based around germanium because that was the only material you could make transistors out of. Then the mid-sixties happened and suddenly germanium wasn't the future of money any more.

Humanity has slowly and painfully developed a commodity-based system for money. It's so useful and so universal we just call it "money". It is decoupled from wealth as that's something else but wealth in the form of valuable entities such as (but not limited to) land, labour, materials, promises for the future delivery of valuable entities, insurance against the failure to deliver promised valuable entities etc. can be traded by means of pieces of paper or their electronic equivalent. The ratio of pieces of paper (or in some cases plastic) required to purchase a given valuable entity may change but that is the nature of valuable entities -- a warehouse of food is valuable, five years the same food is rotting spoiled waste that has negative value in that it will cost money to clear it away and make the valuable entity that is the warehouse worth something again.

The gold/commodity bugs and their ilk are trying to solve an already-solved problem. It's a religious belief on their part, easily spotted by circular reasoning and a desperate desire for frictionless perfection.

134:

'When you were a kid, did you ever look at a vapor trail going across the sky and wonder if you only had 15 or 20 minutes left to live.'

I was born in 1966, and I never did that. Which is not to say I never thought of possibility of WWIII, but I always imagined it would start with Soviet invasion of West Germany, or with some naval clash at sea, or with something like another Cuban Missile Crisis. In other words, I would have few days' warning. It never occurred to me that WWIII could start out of the blue, for no reason at all.

135:

For predicting US politics, I recommend taking into consideration:
Political cycles; see Arthur Schlesinger, "The Cycles of American Politics"
http://www.ecfs.org/ushist/since40/units/unit5/supplements/schles_cycles.html

Generation cycles.

Moral panic cycles; for example, gambling is considered harmless at one point in a cycle, then is Viewed With Great Alarm at the opposite point. (Note: In 1909, the Nevada legislature outlawed gambling forever.)

There's at least one pair of linked cycles: At one time, heroin will be considered a very evil drug and cocaine comparatively harmless. When the cycle turns, cocaine will be regarded as the very evil drug. (Cynics may see a resemblance to the conservative-liberal political cycle.)

136:

We've been looking into that, and similar schemes, in order to create an internal economy within ZS. Of course, it needs a large number of people to adopt it and there are problems. For example, the exchange rate with other "real" currencies is problematic.

137:

Did Charlie design that? I thought the Soviets had planned something like it but never built it.

One of the things I like about Charlie's writings is his penchant for ferreting out and making "real" so much actually proposed but (somewhat to utterly) crazy tech.

138:

I was born in Sunderland of the North East of England in 1949 and thus grew up in the post WW 2 austerity ..rationing was still in force when I was an infant, which is one of the reasons for my better than British Teeth, ..

http://www.guardian.co.uk/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-22429,00.html


Though genetics do play a part and I was once told, by a Senior Scientific Exec of P and G, that his Giant Multi National Co did long to reproduce my mouth chemistry in tooth paste for the masses ..apparently my mouth is Death to Carries and this cannot be passed on by kissing me or one like me.

I wonder what can be passed on by kissing me?


Anyway, whilst I was growing up I did read ...


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


And came to the conclusion that it was a diversion and that the real regional centre for Government was Sunderland .. on the coast, supply easy, and not Newcastle that would be zapped by Nuke as a major City an absurdly over capable local Telecom s system, a Civic Centre that looked like a fortress against Civic Disturbance /riots that in any case had never happened in recorded history and so forth. Obvious really if you were sufficiently paranoid and suspicious of the Obvious Party Line..where would the London Establishment think was Far Far Away and not Scotland ..that would be Zapped as the Home of the Nuclear Subs at Holy Loch and might as well be Nuked to be on the Safe Side.

Oddly enough, and as I recall from way back then at the height of the Cold War - whatever the Back History might say we - in our rather Industrially Large Niche in the North East of England -just weren't all that bothered by the prospect of Nuclear War .....too far from London?

139:

We were cheerfully told that such things were pointless as we'd all die instantly from the blast or painfully and slowly from radiation poisoning. I was around 7 first time I was told this.

Exactly. We were told it was nothing we should worry about, because we were on top of one of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve salt domes, and therefore on the first strike list. They told us we'd never even feel it.

140:

Ilya: "I was born in 1966, and I never did that. Which is not to say I never thought of possibility of WWIII, but I always imagined it would start with Soviet invasion of West Germany, or with some naval clash at sea, or with something like another Cuban Missile Crisis. In other words, I would have few days' warning. It never occurred to me that WWIII could start out of the blue, for no reason at all."

I was born in 1957 and I never imagined any other start to The Big One than a futile meaningless mistake. I sometimes had genuine nightmares about it - especially in the late 60s, and again in the Thatcher/Reagan era. I never believed that the Russians would invade West Germany, or any other part of western Europe, nor that they would try a nuclear first strike and destroy the world in spite. But I did fear that their old tech systems might make them think they were being attacked when they weren't.

I was slightly more worried about the Americans trying a first strike - partly because they were more capable of it, partly because I thought that some US conservatives actually believed the stuff they were saying about evil empires. Once I was into my late teens I never really took the Soviet leaders for other than old frauds trying to hang on to power by pretending to be Marxists, so I thought they had no interest in starting a war - why should the fox burn down the hen coop? It was stupid accidents I was afraid of, not deliberate strategy.

I imagined that the earliest warning we would get of a nuclear war was when our TV and radio went down from the EMP, or from the broadcast stations being destroyed. Even today - I mean literally today, it happened last night - I sometimes feel a shiver of fear when a TV picture breaks up for a fraction of a second due to some electronic problem.

And yes, the world we live in now is nowhere near as scary or as violent as the one I was brought up in. Things actually have got a little better.

141:

I think that the full impact of a global marketplace will become clear in the period that Charlie is discussing. If you can convince someone that you are world-class, you can get a world class salary anywhere.

If you are unskilled, and the task can be done by someone in India or China, then there is no reason to expect to be paid more than residents of those countries.

If/when the salary expectations in India/China get excessive, then the labour will be moved to somewhere cheaper, for instance Africa.

In the west this will cause massive disruption as peoples expectations are re-calibrated.

George Orwell hinted at this in his provocatively titled essay here: http://www.orwell.ru/library/articles/niggers/english/e_ncn

142:

Revolutions only succeed if the security forces switch sides because they have been inadequately compensated in money and power by the ruling elites

Not true. Of the thee classic revolutions in European history - the English, the French, the Russian - that was partly true of the first but hardly at all of the other two. Looking further abroad, Mexico, China, Cuba, Iran, South Sudan - in each case the military stayed loyal but became irrelevant once a revolutionary situation developed. New military forces formed out of that revolutionary situation, and when new bosses took over they ran the place with those new forces.

There have been revolutions run by the existing military - the founding of the Turkish republic is an obvious case - but they aren't that common.

Sorry Americans, the American Revolution wasn't so much a revolution as a war of Independence - the social structures and the laws and the power base in society were the same the day after independence as they were the day before. And the recent events in Egypt were not a revolution either, so much as a coup. Not much changed other than the name-plates on the office doors. A military coup is not a revolution!

143:

Charlie misses the mark with Generation X, living under the fear of nuclear annihilation is one of the defining experiences of our generation. It's one of the reasons we are so cynical, and also one of the reasons we don't trust our leaders

It is also one of the principle differentiators between us and Generation Y, who are like us in so many superficial ways and exactly unlike us in so many fundamental ones

144:

If/when the salary expectations in India/China get excessive, then the labour will be moved to somewhere cheaper, for instance Africa.

Of course. Though the process will be slow, not sudden. And it is desirable. That's one of the ways capitalism and free trade (they are different things and you can have either without the other) that's one of the ways capitalism and free trade spread a certain kind of prosperity around the world. If you have got to have capitalism then this side effect of spreading jobs around the world is a Good Thing. It makes people better off. Fewer children starve.

We kicked off the modern industrial and trading economy here in Britain. From here it spread to France because they copied our tech and undercut our wages. Then to Germany. (There really was once a time when "Made in Germany" was a badge of shoddy goods and cheap imitations) Then to America. Then to Japan. Then to China. Taking in a lot of smaller countries along the way of course.

When the wave of industrialisation and mass production and proletarianisation finally makes black Africa sort-of-prosperous there will be no-where else to go next. No remaining continent-sized pool of vast numbers of under-educated under-employed low-wage workers and peasants to exploit for the next great leap forward. What happens then? That's an interesting question

145:

Ships are much more fuel efficient per tonne-km than railways. If the liquid fuels situation gets extremely bad, diesel rail will run into trouble before shipping does.

Building intercontinental railways to save liquid fuel use over shipping makes no sense unless the routes and intra-continental networks are electrified.

146:

To clarify, it wasn't the duck-and-cover stuff that was scary; I only included that to show that it was prevalent.

The main point was that for a lot of us, there's a deep sense of impermanence about the world. This probably fed a lot of the cynicism and mistrust of societal institutions, up to and including family. It was possible, and sometimes seemed likely, that nothing would survive us. As a result, being a part of a much greater whole, a part of a system that continued through time, has never really been an available source of comfort. I think it inclines us toward bottom-up, networked, evolutionary progress rather than top-down, hierarchical, long-term planning, which will inform how we go about cleaning up the mess the Baby Boomers leave for us.

Put another way, I don't think the similarity between the form that emerged from the design goals of the internet and the problem-solving strategies of my cohort are an accident: they're both a rational response to a world with ICBMs.

147:

What we are going to see is the world population becoming middle class, and spending their time cleaning up after the declining population. 90 years ago world population was less that 2 billion. 90 years from now it will once again be bellow 2 billion.

Over the past century, the Victorian Nightmare drove a toxic dream that made people march in lockstep to destroy their neighbor. The past few decades have seen the frantic rush of that failed Victorian Nightmare scramble to stay in control.

The next 90 years will be a time when neighbors come together to close out the old family homes, clean up the decay, return it to park land. The world will get quiet as people return to change occurring over generations rather than months.

Yet, none of that is sexy, story-able, thus people would rather live their fears rather than the reality that is to come. We are in the beginning decades of the Great Quiet.

148:


> I was born in 54 and never had any duck and cover drills. And I don't know anyone who ever did.

Me in 1945, and ditto. We weren't all that far away from a major target either. Might be interesting to find out just where the d&c actually happened.

149:

Re. moving to low wage countries, Caterpillar is moving a favtory from unionised, 'high' wage Canada to one of the southern states, I forget which one. This sort of thing will happen more often as the living standards of the lower part of the american populace are further reduced.

The biggest problem is that we are still using a market capitalism international system with states. Thus the same critiques from Marx and others after still hold true.
Until we move away from such a system, the fundamental issues won't change, even if we end up arguing over copyright of MP3 tracks as opposed to sheet music, or how much people should have to fork out for a decent education.

150:

"We were cheerfully told that such things were pointless as we'd all die instantly from the blast or painfully and slowly from radiation poisoning."

I am outraged at how young children get lied to; this completely overlooks the fairly good odds of being burned alive.

151:

“Intellectual property is dead. It no longer exists. No patents, no copyrights, no nothing – ... With the single largest IP violator off-shore and not prosecutable, no wonder. This might change if/once that economy actually develops its own R&D – with emphasis on “R”.


“The financial sector has been legislated into oblivion. “ – If this happens, its effects will spill over to other areas, notably the 'private' US healthcare system which is run by financial orgs (HMOs) who act as gate-keepers.


“James Blish's "Cities in Flight" stories were conceived and written in the late 50s and early 60s.” – Did Blish introduce the ‘govcorp’ (city-state modeled on for-profit corporation) concept in this book? I’ve not seen it anywhere else.


Re: Attitude/concept for Charlie’s Overton Window analysis: “desirability of self-employment in the US”

Expect continuing erosion of American can-do attitude leading to decreased per capita earnings and standard of living as increasingly more Americans look exclusively to big business for their livelihoods. (All the while increasing their charitable donations to NGO-run Third World micro-banks. – Go figure!)

I don’t know how the American psyche got high-jacked into thinking that the ONLY way to make a decent living is to work for someone else. This trend started around the mid80’s during the Reagan administration – don’t know what legislation or policies might have fueled it. (The only reliable publicly available stats that I could find quickly are in a paper comparing US vs. Canadian Self-Employment trends. Key excerpt is immediately below with url at end if you want to download/read the entire paper (PDF).)

“The growth of total self-employment was substantial in both Canada and the United States from 1979 to 1997, although much higher in Canada (77% versus 37%, unadjusted for CPS redesign; 25% adjusted) (Chart A). The increase in Canada’s self-employment rate (the share of self-employment in total employment) between 1989 and 1997 was striking, from 14% to 18%, after having remained stable during the 1980s. The American rate changed little, registering around 10% over the entire period (Chart B).”

http://prod.library.utoronto.ca/datalib/codebooks/cstdsp/71f0004xcb/2004/pe_archive_sa/english/1999/pear1999011003s3a05.pdf

The ‘better to work for big business than for yourself’ attitude still prevails in Japan but at least there’s a cultural reason for it there (feudalism). For the US, this trend just doesn’t make sense considering how entrepreneurialism/ individualism is still touted as the American Dream.

152:

this completely overlooks the fairly good odds of being burned alive.

No one in the 60s or later was going to see a nuclear event like Hiroshima. That was peanuts compared to the warheads in place by the 60s. The Hiroshima bomb was what? 45kilotons? And all warheads by the 60s were measured in megatons. A blast effect 100 to 1000 or more times stronger. Very few survivors anywhere within a few miles of a blast.

153:

Daniel Benson, here’s one possible answer to your question: there will be a new conservative, religious generation, with heroes like Tim Tebow, who reject the extreme materialism and hedonism of recent generations, and rediscover the central role played by religion in taming the beast man and creating this thing we call civilization.

From where I sit, this trend is well underway, and some kind of large scale “revolt against modernity” is in full swing. If any institution is powerful enough to hold society together across the many lines that divide us (at least here in America), my guess is that it will be religion, not any secular ideology. How amusing if, say, Christianity succeeds where it’s secular spawn, Marxism, failed!

154:

My understanding is that the problem is in healthcare costs. Normally these are picked up by the employer. If you are self-employed then you have to find your own insurance, which is expensive. This massively increases the risks of striking out on your own, especially if you have dependents.

Big employers generally have better insurance plans than small employers, so people are reluctant to leave them.

But what do I know? I live in the UK with our free-at-the-point-of-use NHS.

155:

There's a rather naive assumption people made about a nuclear war back then. They assumed one bomb per city. One targeting plan I heard of for Moscow was a 6x6 grid spaced at 3 mile intervals with each nuke around the 300kT mark.

156:

My 2 cents on US politics (since that's what I'm familiar with).

I think that the positions associated with US Libertarians will be more mainstream. And barring a religious revival, the "Religious Right" in the US will be a fringe. The trend seems to be heading toward more personal liberty and less direct government intervention. Look at the supporters of Ron Paul for a current US position. The vast majority are under 30, politically active, tech-savvy, and completely at odds with the rest of the Republican Party.

The trend in the US seems to be that voters become more conservative as the age, so as those young Democrats who helped get Obama elected get into their 30s and 40s, they will find a niche created by the Ron-Paul Republicans today. (or possible vice versa, the RP Republicans joining a more conservative Democrats.

Though there is always the possibility of a party completely collapsing and a new one rising. The Republicans arose as a liberal party in the US after the Whigs split over the slavery question. I don't think there's anything as divisive as slavery now, but who knows what combination of pressures could arise to split a party. Either the aforementioned libertarian wing of the Republicans could split and gain followers or a Progressive or Green faction of the Democrats.

157:

You want insane engineering? Just go to wikipedia and look up super-heavy tank and start browsing.

Special chops go to the Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte and Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster projects, although to fully appreciate the latter you need to know about the Schwerer Gustav and Dora artillery pieces (which the P.1500 was designed to carry).

158:

Whatever Ron Paul's personal beliefs may be or were in the 80s and 90s, his current supporters certainly aren't racist neo-nazis or anything of the support. They tend to be young, idealistic, pro-civil liberties fiscal conservatives.

159:

I was raised in Norfolk, VA, home to the Atlantic Fleet and Navy strategic command, next door to the Portsmouth Shipyard, and across the bay from Washington DC. Something like 1 in 10 nukes were aimed at my house. We didn't bother with duck and cover drills.

160:

"The gold standard is a bad idea, but so is letting governments freely print money. They have, every time, proven to be irresponsible counterfeiters.

So some commodity based money seems to be a good idea."

Your first and third sentences contradict each other; I don't think that you understand why a gold standard is a bad idea.

161:

The thing about Ron Paul is that he is an old man and will retire or die soon. The real question is what happens with the framework of support he has built. I think his son Rand is the one to keep an eye on.

162:

Only the developing world uses diesel for prime mover power these days. Well, the developing world and the USA. The developed world runs on electric trains -- including freight -- which can be driven by nuclear, coal, oil, hydroelectric, solar, anything that can provide enough current.

163:

"I'm a mid-tier U.S.-born Gen-Xer, model year 1974, and one of the defining life events for Xers of my age and older is the experience of the fear of nuclear war and dying at any moment without much warning. We saw The Day After when it was broadcast on network TV in 1983. We had 'disaster' drills in elementary school where we all went in the hallway, knelt against the wall and covered out heads with our hands. Our teachers made no secret of what the disaster in question was.

The dividing line I've used for a long time is the question 'When you were a kid, did you ever look at a vapor trail going across the sky and wonder if you only had 15 or 20 minutes left to live.' A large number of people born between 1965 and 1977 will look at me wide-eyed and say 'God, yes. I thought I was the only one who remembered.'"


The thing which really p*sses me off about this generational BS is that most of the people talking about it have no clue whatsoever what they are talking about. It's like people who don't understand that the pseudo-classical architecture in Washington DC is not actual buildings built by the Romans.

I was born in 1960; I was quite aware of the possibility of nuclear war, as was everybody in the developed world who was alive and mentally competent during these decades.

The big break, IMHO, will be between those who came of age under that threat, and those who came of age after the Cold War was over (say, people born 1980 and after).

164:

Yep. I've seen some very interesting discussions that the son is why Ron Paul will never look to create a 3rd party. It would destroy his son's future chances to move the R's or form his own 3rd party. It really seems like the current Ron Paul campaign is really just the beginnings of a process to put his son on the national stage in 10 years or so.

165:

Only the developing world uses diesel for prime mover power these days. Well, the developing world and the USA. The developed world runs on electric trains --

Again I wonder how much of this is geography. (Thinking back to the issue of a nationwide organ transfer system vs. a regional one for the US.) The eastern seaboard from from around Washington or Philadelphia up to Boston is mostly electric. The density supports it. It's the rest of the country that is diesel. I wonder just what the economics of running electrified rail over those longer distances is relative to diesel. Especially as you move west towards the plains and have to deal with voltage drops over 100s of miles.

And of course there's that minor detail that in the US building the extra power plants to provide the needed electricity isn't going to happen any time soon.

166:

Mike, being born in 1960 you are technically a Baby Boomer but only just barely, GenX generally seen as starting in 1961

Generations are very leaky and rough concepts...

167:

"On tonight's local new there is a story about how about 20 pre-school kids at a NC elementary school had their lunches they had brought from home taken away and were given cafeteria food plus a bill for their parents to pay for the food."

Bull.

168:

They tend to be young, idealistic, pro-civil liberties fiscal conservatives.

You mean schmucks, which is what's so obnoxious about Ron Paul supporters. They've still yet to realize that social conservatives and fiscal conservatives are the conjoined twins of American politics.

Single-issue voter blindness is what keeps the GOP in business and Paul is counting on it to keep him in the race. He has the potheads convinced he's going to legalize weed and the solipsists convinced he's going to lower their taxes, and is expecting that neither will bother to look any further into his record to see that it's littered with racist, isolationist and misogynist pablum. In this way, he'll whistle Dixie all the way through the primaries, when he should have been laughed off stage months ago.

169:

> I am outraged at how young children get lied to

Oh, that's because it's extremely effective. Ever been to catechism? Or a Young Pioneers class? Get 'em young and defenseless.

170:

We went across Canada behind a pair of diesel locos. But we did hear talk even there that 'they' are seriously considering electrification of the part over the Rockies at least.

171:

@161

I can't tell if you're excoriating me or not, but I should point out that I chose 1965 in keeping with the parameters OGH set out in the contextual setup to his question. I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that those of us born between those years had a monopoly on nuclear war-affected childhoods.

172:

It takes around 4MW of juice to power up a London Underground train set on a cold (freezing) morning. It takes around 10MW to power a 1000 ton inter-city express train in the UK (max speed: 140mph). The customized TGV Atlantique multiple unit that set the world steel-wheel-on-rail speed record -- around 360mph -- drew 36MW. The big multiple-diesel units used to haul US freight locos have much heavier payloads but go a lot slower, too -- counting prime movers they're probably drawing 8-32MW depending on the size of the train set (and whether they're hauling 20,000 tons of cargo up a long gradient).

This is penny-ante stuff by national grid standards; and with the right of way for existing railroads, the rail companies could in principle string their own high tension DC pylons and build their own step-down transformers along the main freight routes.

On the other hand, it's infrastructure: costs a lot to put in, write it down slowly over many years. Whereas diesel oil is a consumable and you can write it off as an operating cost the instant you burn it. Even if 'leccy would be cheaper in the long term, corporate execs required to optimize the quarterly balance sheet will opt for diesel every time.

Which is a long-winded way of saying "blame the accountants".

173:

One of the more fascinating aspects of recent generations is that they don't seem to care about the future. I don't know whether the specter of oncoming Armageddon (nuclear, environmental, religious) drove this, or the idea of Progress making old stuff obsolete and lifting all boats, or whether it's leakage from the ADHD land of computer development. Wherever it's coming from, we don't seem to care any more.

This is hard for me as an environmentalist. If I want to save an old growth forest because it takes hundreds of years to grow the stand (that's solar-powered nanotechnology for you), but most people seem only to care about whether it can be turned into money, or jobs, or whether it's a fire threat and should be cut down. The idea of saving something for the long-term is becoming increasingly alien.

The problem is that it takes people working across generations to grow forests. And cities. And infrastructure. We seem to be losing the ability to focus ahead, especially beyond our own lives and lifetimes. At best, too many of us want either the Apocalypse or the Singularity to come along and end it all.

Wonder which generation will lose this attitude first?

174:

Back in the late 70's I read a book on electrifying American rail. The one off cost would be a killer. But the cut in oil use would be great. Like breaking OPEC. Maybe it would not be necessary to junk the engines right away. Today's trains are run with electricity make by diesels. I wonder if electricity could be added on the very long upgrades first. With the breaking power put back in the system? It would take long term thing and the free market is not big on that.

175:
There are way too many people in the US who want to be paid a fair wage. And by fair I mean that in their mind MORE than their neighbors. And they want their wages guaranteed no mater if the company is making money or not. They have a mindset that totally divorces their wages and work from how well the company is doing.

You mean someone like, say, Angelo Mozilo or Dicy Fuld ;-)

See, I'm enough of a naive idealistic technocrat to think that a demand economy running on price signalling inputs is superior most of the time to most of the alternative ways to organize an economy. But as a famously disgraced American politician once noted "a fish rots from the head down."

And if most of my fellow countrymen believe that in theory the system works but that in practice it has been corrupted by parasites accountable to no one, well, can you blame them for adopting the prevailing ruling class mores?

A big issue to be tussled over for the next couple of decades - keep the current system despite the systemic corruption and hypocrisy of those at the top, or get rid of the present setup because the systemic corruption and hypocrisy of those at the top have made it unworkable.

176:

This is penny-ante stuff by national grid standards; and with the right of way for existing railroads, the rail companies could in principle string their own high tension DC pylons and build their own step-down transformers along the main freight routes.

I don't think you realize just how hard it is to do ANYTHING just now in the US that requires building power plants or stringing up new grid lines. NIMBY. One reason, and there are many, we don't have high speed rail is the push back on right of ways. It's a very hard push. Be everyone next to the existing right of ways and the new ones needed to straighten out the rails. Stringing new overhead lines or 3rd rails would take years to just get approval for any one route.

But you are right. It is very much a long term investment vs. short term expense. And since rail roads blew all their wealth years ago, they'd have to raise it on the markets. And that just isn't going to happen any time soon.

177:

Context rather than politics, I kind of want to channel Phil Dick and ask what drugs are the kids taking and what music are they dancing to? And cynically, what's the nostalgia act playing the Glastonbury 2032 Pyramid stage for the Sat mid evening set?

20 years on should be fairly easy because 20 years back is a recent memory. In 1992, Ebenezer Goode. 2012, nothing has really changed except there's more sub-bass and there are randoms in the crowd looking for ket. Come 2032 and I figure Glastonbury will now be a full 2 weeks but the experience will be pretty much the same. And there'll be a dwindling group of people with zimmer frames and no teeth who were there in 1971.

Ah, nostalgia, there's something key here. In 2032 there will be people having the beginnings of a mid-life crisis and feeling nostalgic for the time of their life they had in 2012. So what is it they'll feel nostalgic about; A friday night at Fabric? Helping out at the Really Free School?

178:

"Bull"

As I said, details are emerging. This is in a somewhat rural county. But there does seem to be a lot of smoke. And it the story is wrong then a fairly reputable news station and multiple papers will have egg on their face. Left and right.

Here's the latest local story.
http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/10731857/

School is under a special program that required the school to verify that lunches met a certain standard. (I have a big problem with that as the standard is way broad and doesn't address a lot of things that could be healthy such as a vegan diet.)

Student (4 or 5 year old?) had lunch from home inspected and teacher then offered (told?) child that they might be missing some nutrition from their lunch and maybe should have something from the school system. Child was confused and got in lunch line for school food. Details are conflicted after that.

My problem with all of this is a teacher can't have a give and take conversation with a 4 or 5 year old. Suggestions to such a chile can be taken as orders from God. Or obliviously ignored. If a teacher wants to make suggestions for a pre-schooler's lunch it should be made to the parents ONLY.

179:

I dont think I was quite clear - I dont expect the death of IP to have anything to do with China. What I am expecting is for some trade association tasked with "defending the interests of x" will sooner or later do something which is legally sound, technically sweet, and complete idocy. Like figuring out a way to document 70% of all IP violations on the net for a six month period, and then suing all of them for punitive damages. Or actually cut everyone who commits an infringment of IP off from the net. very shortly after that, the industry said association represents then ceases to exist in its current form because the entire legal framework behind it gets repealed by an extremely irate electorate.
This is not the type of IP reform I wish for, but given the attitudes prevalent in the IP industries, it is the reform I expect to happen.

180:
There is no point in planning nuclear propulsion for any aircraft or ekranoplan that isn't able to spare 100-200 tons of payload for shielding. But on the other hand, a 5000-10,000 ton payload ekranoplan could easily provide for reactor shielding. (Reactor cores themselves can be extremely small -- on the order of 1-10 tons -- if running on HEU or Pu-239.) The issue of what to do in event of a plane crash is somewhat more complex, but probably no worse than what to do in event of a nuclear bomber accidentally crashing and burning with an H-bomb or two up the spout.

Otoh, nuclear powered trains run just fine and don't have any of those nasty safety issues one usually has to confront with atomic-powered propulsion.[1]

And of course - as more than one wag as noted - the type of transportation that dominates society seems to unsurprisingly dominate it's overall look and feel.


[1]Is "atomic-powered" finally becoming something of an anachronistic phrase? I don't hear it nearly as often as I did in my youth; the much more accurate "nuclear-powered" descriptor seems to have firmly supplanted the former monicker.

181:

"A blast effect 100 to 1000 or more times stronger. Very few survivors anywhere within a few miles of a blast."

That gives you a larger area of Hiroshima-levels of effect.

The circumference of the circle around the zone of total destruction is that much larger.

182:

Surely the main generational difference in the 2030's to 40's will be between the new generation, of late 90's and into 2000's, who have always had mobile phones and the internet, and those of us who can remember what an LP is.

I recall a variety of old-fogish discussion online over the years about how the youngsters today rely too much on wikipedia, always assume they'll be able to contact someone and spend too much time on their computer and not enough talking to people in real life.
So we can expect more transnational political efforts arranged via the internet, and more attempts to control or throttle it.
Heck, if the corporations and governments get their way, the internet will have several tiers, with most people walled into corporate gardens and outside the lonely hackers.
Perhaps new groups will be perpetually spinning off from the subset of the populace which is not cowed or brainwashed into submissions. They will reject conservative and liberal ideas and labels, see the success (up to a point) of the occupy mob, who lack a central point which can be co-opted by the liberal/ conservative elite.

Certainly amongst many of the younger generation I expect both conservative and liberal to be dirty words, signifying someone who worships money and is a hypocrite. Their opposition will include conservative christians who deny such issues entirely and try ever harder to keep their children from what they see as liberal swamps.

183:

Third: Against Nimby. - This is the great age of megaengineering as the coal plants and gas turbines are turned off for good and instead small mountains float atop hydralic pistons carved out of bedrock, the cities of the north instal plug reactors into their district heating systems, and a vast network of HVDC lines carries power from the deep sahara to anywhere within a thousand miles of that bonanza of cheap solar. - The north coast of africa and the fertile crecent see an explostion in agricultural productivity via saltwater greenhouse and forward osmosis desalination driven irrigation. Rail is everywhere, and very, very fast. The bridge connection from RussiaAlaska is a recent construction, which makes it possible to travel from Scotland to Argentina without flying or setting foot on a boat, altough it would take.. Quite a while, even at 500 km/h the entire way.

Iow, what you're talking about is just - infrastructure. It's already been extensively discussed here and elsewhere how this will be one of the big game changers of the 21st.

184:

Given the posts about a plugged-in society, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the obvious big mover: the Rise of the Modelers.

One unfortunate consequence of 20th-cen physics has been the confusion of what actually is with what is actually a model. Gravity is just a manifestation of curved space-time, right?

Wrong.

Gravity can be modeled - and very accurately modeled - as a certain type of curvature of a certain type of 4-d manifold with a certain metric that has a certain signature etc. But there's no reason to believe that gravity is "really" just the curvature of four-dimensional spacetime, if you take my meaning, generations of pedagoguery to the contrary.

I strongly suspect that in the future the voting public will be much better versed as to what models are and their concomitant metaphysical properties. And given big fat data pipes along with the computing resources needed to abstract some sort of easily rendered diagram, and given the adaptive models that interpret those diagrams, the general public will a)have a much more accurate picture of economic trends (at least in the short-term, weather vs. climate if you will), and b) will have a much more sophisticated notion of just what a given model will buy you vs. what it won't.

If there is one thing that really is different "this time around", it's the general state of knowledge and - perhaps more importantly - the general public's state of knowledge.

185:

The problem is that neither area nor radius scale linearly with weapon yield. Double the yield does less than double the effect. The gargantuan weapons, such as the "Tsar Bomb", only made sense for attacking the deeply-buried super-hardened targets under some convenient mountain.

That's why Charlie devised his nuclear carpet-bombing scheme: it's the way you can sterilise a large area.

186:

I'll believe that people are getting sophisticated about modeling when they replace high school calculus with high school statistics.

There's an irony here. I took calculus, and I haven't used it in so long that I'd have to do a refresher before I could use it again. I use geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and stats all the time, but not calculus.

The more reflective people I know typically bemoan the fact that they didn't take enough stats in college, but far fewer use calculus for anything.

That's one of my predictions: when we go through the next math curriculum overhaul, calculus will be left for college (or on engineering tracks) while stats will be the typical high school math.

Note that I'm not saying calculus isn't useful. Beyond that, I'd even say it's screwed our economy royally by teaching businessmen to aim for the maximum in a profit function and ignore everything else.

Thing is, only a small minority use calculus beyond freshman year, and that's a huge educational investment with very little return. Most of us could benefit from learning when we're being lied to with stats, which is very regularly, and as you noted, most of us need stats to understand when a model is useful and when it's bogus.

187:
I'll believe that people are getting sophisticated about modeling when they replace high school calculus with high school statistics.

By a strange congeries of events, that's precisely what I've been agitating for, and for over a decade now.

I lie; what I want is a basic stat requirement instead of algebra. Oddly enough, my basic stats students seem to heartily concur; certainly for elementary stats on finite sets one needs only the most rudimentary algebraic tools. Any of the more intensive mechanical data reduction can be done via calculator.

Iow, something easily within the general public's allegedly diminished intellectual capacities, even by right-wingers lights and expectations.

188:

Excellent! Something we agree on for a change!

189:

Off Topic:

There's an irony here. I took calculus, and I haven't used it in so long that I'd have to do a refresher before I could use it again. I use geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and stats all the time, but not calculus.

When I'm not teaching remedial math, I really am a bona fide mathematician. So why is it that the only time I use "calculus", it's to differentiate and integrate polynomials? Growing up, it seemed that one always had to "learn calculus" to be considered even marginally proficient at the sort of math the heroic sf engineer/scientists of yesteryear were so adept at? If I had to give any advice about math proficiency today, it would be to be good at a)algebra, and b) in particular, linear algebra.

So where did this trope about calculus being the sin qua non of mathematics get started? Campbell?

190:

Charlie:

I think this pretty much sums up the American Gen-X view:

http://www.emptyage.com/post/11591863916/generation-x-doesnt-want-to-hear-it

(And apologies (i) for not reading all the posted comments prior to posting this, and (ii) to the author of this entertaining summary of Gen-X attitudes... although I think he would appreciate the additional audience).

I can speak to this, being an American Gen-Xer born in 1973. I will say also, though, that I clearly remember the Cold War, although my perspective during it was as a kid and teen-ager. The wall came down when I was 16 I believe.

191:

I've always assumed that calculus was thought of as (or was used to represent) something like the power computers have given us. Maybe most SF writers assumed that when we had machines that did math, they'd be operated with calculus, rather than linear algebra (or geometry, to get into algorithmic analysis.)

192:

Thermal effects scale with the square root of the increase in yield. Blast effects scale with the cube root. Big bombs mean thermal effects dominate. Even with dinky bombs like Hiroshima (13 kilotons iirc) and Nagasaki (21 kilotons), burns were a very common cause of death, up to 60% of the deaths on the first day in Hiroshima.

193:

Ahhhh, scentofviolets, you b*stard !

I'd succeeded in putting bloody Riemann curvature tensors out of my mind since university days. There is one horrific set of 'screw up your head' equations I NEVER need to see or think of again.

What people really have to learn is that models are used for illumination. They aren't suited to support decisions - mainly because they can be horrifically wrong. A lesson the traders who misapplied quants numerical models need drummed into their heads, with a hammer.

194:

You need calculus if you want to understand the basics of physics and most engineering, instead of just using the magic formulae.

195:

It's in one of his shorts; a really big ekranoplan, with sufficient detail of its weaponry and cargo than anyone who has a passing familiarity with the 1970s Soviet Union OrBat and the ekranoplan concept (like Charlie and myself for two) will sort out what sort of size it needs to be and what it needs to look like. The structural and aerodynamic engineering can then be left as exercises for grad students. ;-)

196:

If the accountants are to blame for this (and speaking for my people) it's a time value of money and cash flow issue not an accruals issue.

An electrical railway infrastructure will be writen off over a number of decades and charged to the P&L in small slugs.

The same number of decades worth of deisel will also be charged to the P&L in small slugs.

What is different is that having to raise the cash for new infrastructure borks your NPV unless the future annual operating costs are significantly different.

197:

SoV said " I took calculus, and I haven't used it in so long that I'd have to do a refresher before I could use it again. I use geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and stats all the time, but not calculus."

Sort of likewise; the last time I used calculus was to pass a college Maths exam, but I use at least one of the others pretty much every day. Well, except for the bit where you're performing a practical integration exercise when deciding "is that gap in traffic big enough for me to pull out?" or "can I overtake this guy here?"

198:
It never occurred to me that WWIII could start out of the blue, for no reason at all.

And yet that's exactly what would've happened if Stanislav Petrov hadn't kept his cool that day in 1983

199:
The railway bridge from Siberia to Alaska (and the Gibraltar Straits bridge, allowing rail traffic from Europe down into Africa) are going to happen, though.

Hmm, the problem with a Bering Strait bridge is that the nearest railheads (a) are thousands of km apart and (b) have different gauge. Particularly in Russia, where the nearest railhead is across the river from Yakutsk (newly completed in Nov 2011), it's three thousand km or so. Having a break of gauge right at the Bering Strait would be interesting, yet Russia probably won't want thousands of km of foreign gauge.

Of course, if you are able to get Russia to be OK with foreign gauge, you can do an extra thousand km or so and join up with the Chinese network, which is same gauge as the US — and the EU. A bit more construction in central Asia and you'll have a US-EU route via Russia, China (existing), Tajikistan, Afghanistan (actively being planned), Iran (existing) and Turkey (existing), with no break of gauge anywhere.

201:

Bitcoin is not fundamentally anything new. It's an electronic emulation of commodity money. This makes it different among other electronic currencies (which tend to be emulations of paper money), but at the fundamental level it works like commodity money, which is about as old as sin.

Internet money is yet to be invented. It could be fundamentally different from both paper and commodity money, but there's nothing like that today.

One faltering step may be the Ripple project; although their narrative uses the word "dollar" throughout, the concept itself is interesting.

Another possible inspiration might be the various karma / reputation / rating systems being built by various websites on a rather ad-hoc basis, really.

Whuffie, for a science-fictional example, complete with its own problems playing part in the plot.

Of course, if I knew how Internet money would work, I'd go invent it...

202:

Well, yes. US, China, Iran, Turkey and (most of the) EU are all already on standard gauge and the northern corridor in Afghanistan currently planned is also standard gauge. If you can get Russia to be OK with foreign (that is, standard) gauge, you can build those 4000km-odd standard gauge too, and the bit in Tajikistan.

Then you'll be able to go all the way from New York to London without going through a break of gauge.

203:

My link specifically relates to ways of managing guage breaks. We can't use 3 rails through Russia because standard gauge and Russian gauge are too close to each other.

204:

Charlie: Only the developing world uses diesel for prime mover power these days. Well, the developing world and the USA.

Actually it's more a case of freight rail uses diesel, and passenger rail uses electric, and most rail in the US is primarily / only for freight.  I don't have any figures but I'd wager that a comfortable majority of the passenger trains run in the US are electrically propelled.  Even in the developing world, those countries with a significant passenger rail sector like India tend to have a lot more electrification than those that don't.

Rail is supremely economical for moving bulk, non-time critical goods long distances over land, and is usually so efficient at that that the economic benefit of electrification is low.  Passenger rail, given sufficiently high usage is usually better off electrified.  (Even the UK government, despite the Age of Austerity, has finally realised this!)

But with freight, even if you electrify all the main lines, chances are that any given piece of freight's origin or destination is down some little-used, but in the US quite possibly dozens of miles long, branch line that's never going to be economical to electrify.

Sure you could use diesels to cover the first/last hundred miles to and from the classification (UK: marshalling) yards, and electric between them, but that means sacrificing some of the economies of scale and standardisation that (especially in the the US) railways have got very good at over the years.

You could buy bi-mode locos, and these have become more efficient and more popular with operators in recent years, but they still involve carting heavy unused kit around a lot of the time, especially if you're mostly electrified.  They're often Not Terribly Good at their subsidiary mode: here in Metro-North land we have bi-modes to cover the competing requirements of the northern ends of most of the lines not being electrified and diesel emissions being banned in the Park Avenue tunnel and Grand Central Terminal.  These "Gennies" are essentially diesels with third-rail shoes attached as an afterthought.  Because they can't draw enough third-rail powe to pull a full rake at any speed, they run on diesel all the way to Harlem, over maybe 30-40 miles of electrification.

Even in the UK, the vast majority of freight is diesel-hauled, with electric mostly limited to services like dedicated mine- (or now port-) to-power station "merry-go-round" services that were designed from the ground-up to be electrified with power from the power stations they supply.  I'd be willing to bet that even after the present electrification programme is complete, most UK railfreight will remain diesel-hauled for years to come.

205:

Agreed. You need calculus for physics (and actually quite a few other things).

The issue for high school is that basically everyone needs to know something about stats these days, but calculus has much more restricted usage. If we're trying to improve societal numeracy (the equivalent of literacy), I'd suggest stats are more important.

I'd speculate that calculus crept into high school as a way to accelerate the training of engineers and physicists, at a time when these professions were where the bright young men went. The problem is that a lot of would-be engineers drop out, having wasted a bunch of classroom time on math they no longer need.

Not too long ago, physicists and engineers learned calculus in college and did just fine in the professional world. I'm not sure whether the world has changed so much that this couldn't be done in the future as well.

206:

> The problems with rooftop PV and
> local wind turbines are currently
> more political than technical

PV is within my budget for my current remodeling project, but unless I can have the neighbor's trees removed, it would be a waste of time. Not the shading; the continuous downfall of sap that covers my roof, my walls, and my vehicles would shortly lower the efficiency of the PV panels to not enough to worry about. And I'm not inclined to climb up on the roof with a bucket and scrub brush every few weeks.

Unfortunately, trees are practically worshipped here. Having one removed from your own property requires a permit from the city, and it would probably take an expensive lawsuit showing imminent danger of property damage to do anything about trees on someone else's property.

207:
What people really have to learn is that models are used for illumination. They aren't suited to support decisions - mainly because they can be horrifically wrong. A lesson the traders who misapplied quants numerical models need drummed into their heads, with a hammer.

Welllll . . . not exactly. Take the example I used above: gravity is not - repeat not - an effect of curved spacetime. It is modeled as being an effect of curved spacetime. Yes, it's a very good model - but the map should not be mistaken for the territory, to use a hoary old chestnut that used to be mistaken for profundity. The problem (which imho can be traced to the success of 20th-cen physics) is that sometimes the models are so good[1] that this distinction doesn't seem to get made a lot, with the consequence that other other models in other domains get treated as "the real thing" even if they are grossly defective.

Now there are good reasons (or rather, bad reasons) why this is so, but the fundamental problem - again imho - is that most people haven't been explicitly educated wrt the differences between reality and that which merely models it. That's going to change shortly, because modern computing resources, modern methods of data collection, and modern data sets make complicated and accurate modeling possible. But those same modeling methods tend to make their own ad hockery very clear :-)


[1]Interesting bit of history - when the Church first officially opposed that new-fangled theory about planets traveling in ellipses instead of perfect circles (or circles within circles within circles), it was in large part because epicycles were more accurate. The mathematical machinery of the day simply wasn't up to calculating the positions of heavenly bodies whose paths were elliptical - that required the development of calculus. And during the transition from one model to another, it was quite common to believe that the planets "really" moved in ellipses while referring to the epicycle model for detailed computations of their precise positions.

208:
You need calculus if you want to understand the basics of physics and most engineering, instead of just using the magic formulae.

While that may be true, that's not the question I asked. Why is calculus the canonical example of "complex mathematics" instead of, say, topology or algebraic geometry or category theory?

After all, "calculus"[1] is easy enough that it's often taught (rather poorly imho) at the high school level.


[1]What seems to be meant by this by my incoming students when they indignantly declaim that they do so get calculus and why did they get such a poor exam grade is that they've learned how to differentiate and integrate polynomials. Which is a good thing, don't get me wrong - but why then, if they "took calculus" do they seem to be deeply ignorant of basic trigonometry?

209:
An electrical railway infrastructure will be writen off over a number of decades and charged to the P&L in small slugs.

The same number of decades worth of deisel will also be charged to the P&L in small slugs.

What is different is that having to raise the cash for new infrastructure borks your NPV unless the future annual operating costs are significantly different.

The same thing happens in the U.S. wrt to paying out dribs and drabs for maintence on overhead electrical lines rather than decently burying them out the sight of the elements. Makes good sense over the long run, but the various municipalities are notorious for being reluctant to fork over the initial capital outlays.

Iow, "free markets" seem to be really lousy at implementing optimal outcomes if those outcomes lie much more than a few quarters into the future. As someone noted way up above, a big part of our economic and financial woes can be traced to our elites climbing up a grade to the local maximum. But having got up that hill, they can't get down again :-(

210:

Might want to check on the local laws. While removing a tree from your own property would require a permit, pruning a neighbor's tree back over your property line might be totally legal, especially if you pay for it. Even the Romans had laws about these issues (see usufruct). Calling a local arborist might be useful, since I seriously doubt you're the only one with that particular issue.

Moreover, if it goes to court, you can always charge your neighbor for the maintenance costs your neighbor is imposing on your property. Start keeping receipts for soap and time costs for cleaning up after those trees.

211:

I think the thing about trigonometry is that it's taught at the end of geometry, and any subject taught at the dog-end of the course tends to get short shrift.

It's another infrastructural thing: trig seems to be used mostly in such fundamental jobs as traditional navigation, figuring out heights in building, and various electrical functions. Most people don't work at those levels anymore, thanks to GPS, CAD, and computers, so trig's a bit of a specialized set of maths. Like calculus, I suspect it's embedded in the educational system due to society's needs 50-100 years ago, not now.

I've had to measure a lot of tree heights, polygon areas, and (for an SF novel) the position of the other moon in a Neptune-analog system. That's the only reason I use trig so much.

212:

Based on my (painful) experience, because "teachers" insist on labelling the sides of the triangle as A, B and C, and then saying Sin(theta) = A/B rather than doing it right, labeling the sides as Adjacent, Opposite and Hypotenuse and just teaching SOHCAHTOA?

213:

NB - refers to UK law.

Trimming/pruning the neighbour's plants which are overgrowing horizontally back to the property line is normally legal; it's less certain that you can coppice plants on their side of the boundary, and I suspect that we're dealing with mature trees that would need coppicing here.

214:

If you want high-speed rail across Russia, then you're talking about building new lines. At which point, you might as well follow the Japanese Shinkansen model and make them standard gauge, even though the other lines are not.

215:

...doing it right, labeling the sides as Adjacent, Opposite and Hypotenuse and just teaching SOHCAHTOA?

One of the few things I remember clearly from my secondary school maths - and just about the only mnemonic they taught us that I ever found useful - "The Cat Sat On An Orange And Howled Horribly". Write it out in 3 rows ;)

I think there might be a difference between US and UK education here. I went to a grammar school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that is a selective school for those who scored in the top 15% in the 11-plus exam (basically an IQ test). We did what was then called a maths O-level, and it had lots of trigonometry. And it wasn't an add-on to geometry, it was taught almost from the start of the course at eage eleven. But there was effectively no calculus at all. Differentiation was described rather than studied, and that only in the fifth of five years, and there was nothing about integration at all.

The 85% who went to the "secondary modern" schools mostly didn't do O-level maths at all and are unlikely to ever have gone near calculus.

Those who went on to do science A-levels in the sixth form (age 16-18) either did calculus at in a maths A-level (but only a minority of a minority got anywhere near that level) or else we did an "Additional O-level" which included a brief introduction to differentiation, some very basic statistics, and set theory (which in those days was NOT part of the normal maths course) amongst other things. Integration was mentioned but, IIRC, dealt with graphically as the area under a curve, not algebraically. I suppose there must have been some very simple differential equations but I don't remember any.

So for us calculus might have stood in for advanced maths because we were never allowed near any! I didn't really get to grips with it until I was about 50, when I took a catch-up maths course for an MSc I was doing. That was the first formal maths teaching I'd had since O-level, despite having done two science degrees in the meantime. England might be the only country in the world where it is possible to specialise in science at university and be taught no maths after the age of 16, and without ever having studied integration, set theory, or matrix algebra - all of which I picked up in my 40s and 50s.

But anyway, I doubt if one person in ten in my age group in England ever studied calculus at all. And most of them won't remember it.

216:

You're a few years older than me, and English rather than Scottish, so our mileage does vary a bit.

Calculus was taught at O Grade and Higher in Scotland in the mid 70s (and early 80s, source my younger sister).

Otherwise you're pretty much on the money here.

217:

I'd say it's precisely the fact that calculus is the highest math most people ever are exposed to.

People are aware there's more complicated and more specialized stuff out there, but don't even have the remotest concept of it.


Regardless I'm completely in agreement... I needed calculus for my physics degree, but what I learned in high school was a waste as far as actual college level calculus anyway, and if I had studied English, those high school classes would've been even more useless.

Stats though, as you say, would've been of far, far more long term use. Hm... we're way OT at this point aren't we...

218:

I needed calculus for my physics degree, but what I learned in high school was a waste as far as actual college level calculus anyway,

A friend and his son visited the USAF academy and were told that they did NOT want prospective cadets to take calculus in high school. They found that those with it had to unlearn way too much and wasted the time of those with a clean slate.

219:

Makes good sense over the long run, but the various municipalities are notorious for being reluctant to fork over the initial capital outlays.

Given the initial costs are somewhat eye watering, yes they are reluctant.

Of course we could solve this if the US raised it's power rates to match those in the EU. Once the riots were over.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_pricing

220:
Then again, Ron Paul has a strong youth backing, so Libertarian thinking might very well take hold among Republicans in twenty years time. This will mean [...] a social agenda that might actually be to the left of the Democrats on many issues.
Well, apart from the racism and homophobia.
221:

Obvious point:

As people live longer there will be more old people. These old people will need caring for. I expect we'll see more young people employed as full time carers. Presumably these people will demand more political representation.

I also suspect we'll see some really rather nasty anti-old-people sentiment amongst the younger generation. This will happen partly as a reaction to older people living longer (and hence accruing more wealth and status as they work for longer and live for longer in retirement) and the resultant sense of disenfranchisement and powerlessness by the young. Maybe there will be a "fck the old" movement amongst radical youngsters by 2030?

I'm assuming Charlie will have read that baby-boomer-bashing article in The Exiled (link : http://exiledonline.com/thirty-more-years-of-hell/)

I don't like this "anti-generational" stuff. We have a lot to thank the baby boomers for, and in any case it isn't fair to persecute a group for the crimes of a few.

222:
My link specifically relates to ways of managing guage breaks.

Ah, right. Obviously you can do that, but all of them are going to be somewhat more difficult at 65° latitude.

@bellinghman

If you want high-speed rail across Russia, then you're talking about building new lines. At which point, you might as well follow the Japanese Shinkansen model and make them standard gauge, even though the other lines are not.

Well, I think a lot of the use would end up being freight, but that's not the main problem; the main problem is that rail gauge is probably strategic in Russia. It has hampered one major invading army already. This would certainly be an issue for my proposed route, because it would divert traffic to the southern Silk Road from the trans-Siberian route (economically strategic). It would also be an issue for making a high-speed standard-gauge trans-Siberian, because then there would be high-speed rail directly into Moscow on convenient gauge from all plausible military enemies — US, China and EU. For all that rail has declined in importance, you still just don't do that.

Which all basically leaves us with a break-of-gauge station at 65° North.

223:

@221 broken link there, should be

http://exiledonline.com/thirty-more-years-of-hell/

Ahh the Millennials. Raised their entire lives to believe they are special snowflakes, with self esteems the size of small planets, only to graduate into an economic reality that has nothing more in store for them then changing their grandparents bedpans for minimum wage.

I imagine they will get a little peeved about the injustices of it all. Good for them.

224:

I also suspect we'll see some really rather nasty anti-old-people sentiment amongst the younger generation. ...
I don't like this "anti-generational" stuff. We have a lot to thank the baby boomers for, and in any case it isn't fair to persecute a group for the crimes of a few.

Of course a non trivial number of those boomers were at one point in time going around telling the world you can't trust anyone over 30. At least in the US.

225:

I think one thing Charlie as saying was "the more things change the more they stay the same".

I just saw the movie "Breaker Morant" for the first time in over 20 years. And many things ARE still the same. Or even better in the US and EU.

226:

One word answer as to why self-employment is not a big thing in the US - Healthcare costs. It's extremely difficult and very expensive to get individual cover, so it reduces self-employment as a viable option. YOur best bet is to be married and use the spouses' coverage.

227:

The USA pursued an expensive nuclear-powered bomber program but they were so slow that they would be too easy to shoot down. Of course the dead bird would be very hot. I think it was Dyson (?) who wrote abut them. It was hoped that they would be afraid to shoot one down and this would put them in a mood to talk. There was a ideal to make a slow drone. It would have no payload and it would be so hot In case of war it drop down so low as irradiate the ground. All this was dropped when missiles improved. And JFK had a chance to kill a lot of Republican nuke weapons programs. This was after Stalin worked hard to scare the sap out of us.
Everybody loves high-speed rail. The thing is the track work. Right after a Japanese high speed train passes many track crews jump out to check and put the rails back where they must be. The force is squared. When you push, or wreak, at 40 mph, its 4 times the force of 20 mph. Not 2 times.

228:

Alternatively to dealing with the Winter at 65N outside, you can build long train sheds. Pretty much every nation I've ever visited has bult at least a few train sheds that are capable of accomodating 150m of train. Nations I've not visited that I know have also done this include Russia (OK, maybe USSR at the time, but that doesn't move Moscow or St Petersburg {NB, not the one in Florida]), China and Japan.

229:

The USA pursued an expensive nuclear-powered bomber program but they were so slow that they would be too easy to shoot down.

Well, since said programme only got the length of test flying the reactor in a B-36, no-one actually knows how fast the nuclear powered bomber would have been, only how fast a B-36 was(n't).

230:

Right after a Japanese high speed train passes many track crews jump out to check and put the rails back where they must be

Yeah, riiiight.

It's funny how I never witnessed that, despite having travelled over the majority of the Shinkansen network. They must be really, really good at hiding in the undergrowth. And I'd really hate to be those track crews on some of the routes, like the one where the Nozomis are going through every three minutes at peak. 180 seconds isn't very long if you've got to wait for the train to go past, check the rails, get out of the way of the 200mph train going the other way on the adjacent track, get back in, move the rails(!), and then get out of the way again. They'd make Formula 1 pit crews look like layabout wusses.

Nojay? You're the real Shinkansen traveller round here. Is this something you've ever seen, or is d brown imagining things?

231:

Getting sidetracked, but probably not in a way to offend OGH.

The LA class subs can go to around 400m according to my memories of various books and a quick look at wikipedia. They have a service depth of around 300m. That's 30 atmospheres of pressure on the hull, and they're supposed to withstand shockwaves from nearby detonations and hopefully even smallish torpedoes.

A380s are supposed to withstand about 0.5 atmospheres, and support themselves through turbulence. It is however supposed to be capable of flight, so is going to be built light.

There's a huge difference in the materials and construction required. Most of the mass difference is there. A quick bit of Googling (which probably now has me on a watch list somewhere) indicates the entire reactor system including cooling and infrastructure had a mass of around 1700 tonnes. That's admittedly 2.5 times the A-380, but leaves a lot of mass left over.

232:

I've lived next to the Spanish AVE lines for a long time (A quick wikipedia trawl seems to indicate similar speeds to the shinkansen) and I've never seen a single person on the lines anywhere ever (Over a decade of cycling semi daily a few km alongside the tracks and a couple of years commuting in the trains themselves). All I've seen are maintenance vehicles looking like stubby locomotives, but they're not a common sight.

233:

And, still on the same subject, HST sets used (source A Nock, and if you want to argue with him about UK railways, please ante up for snacks and beers for the audience) to achieve 145mph on wooden sleepers without causing track creep.
Similarly, the whole point behind the APT and ultimately Pendolino is to allow speeds up to about 150mph on conventional British tracks.

The French TGVs set the chairs in continuous (for values of continuous) cast concrete, and don't suffer this track creep...

I'm sure we can go on if we have to.

234:

Train sheds? What's odd or special about 150m train sheds? Doesn't everyone have train sheds? London is full of the things. A major part of the landscape. Most people probably don't ever notice them.

As for high speed and tracks, the fastest of the old slam-door EMUs on the Brighton Line could do over 100mph. And they had no locos, no streamlining, and ran on low-voltage DC 3rd-rail systems designed in the 1920s and 30s. Trains are quite fast ;-)

And also the idea that the topography of the USA stops them having modern fast electric railways is nonsense. Most of the populated parts of the north-eastern USA have similar gradients and hillinesses to the northern and western parts of Britain, or much of France. And more predictable weather. Most of Japan is hillier than that. And European high-speed trains don't just run in flat bits of France and northern Germany. They run in the *Alps* There are no mountains like that in the eastern US (and not in the more populated parts of California either)

And in Norway there is line from Olso to Bergen. Real mountains, and it snows in every month of the year at the top.

The real reason, as someone alredy said, is because they share routes with goods trains, and the freight people have more money, so the railway owners see passengers as at best a minor side business, at worst a frivolous nuisance. US railways aren't about moving people fast, they are about moving coal and corn cheaply. Which is why they need new track and new routes to improve.

235:

They run in the *Alps*

I've ridden a TGV between Lausanne (Switzerland) and Paris, and the experience was interesting, because the track in Switzerland was not an LGV. At one point, the front and rear extremities of the train were parallel, but pointing in opposite directions, the track was snaking so hard.

As a result, the train felt like it was crawling.

There is another TGV running into Switzerland from France at Basel that continues on to Zurich. Experienced travellers will often wait for the following train though because it's faster: TGVs are built for full blown straight line speed alongs LGVs, and the Swiss lines prefer going round mountains to over or through them. The Pendolinos are much faster on the curves.

236:

Concerning the Presidential candidates, most of them have an appealing idea or two, and twice that in appalling ideas. If one could take Ron Paul'sideas on foreign policy and ending the war on (unpopular with fundies) drugs, Newt's ideas on the space program and Obama's ability to look like he cares, you might almost have a viable candidate. A job for Dr. Frank'n'furter?

237:

"I can't tell if you're excoriating me or not, but I should point out that I chose 1965 in keeping with the parameters OGH set out in the contextual setup to his question. I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that those of us born between those years had a monopoly on nuclear war-affected childhoods. "

Mike, you said: "I'm a mid-tier U.S.-born Gen-Xer, model year 1974, and one of the defining life events for Xers of my age and older is the experience of the fear of nuclear war and dying at any moment without much warning. "

If that's not a monopoly, then a 'defining event' for a particular generation is something experienced by at least two generations. Which to my mind is not a defining event for a particular generation.

I don't want to be a pedant, but the idea is that if anything is a defining event here, it's that the next generation (b. 1980 and later) in the developed world will have grown up without the background threat of nuclear war. However, they'll live their entire adult lives under a constant turmoil, especially economic turmoil.

238:

"...very shortly after that, the industry said association represents then ceases to exist in its current form because the entire legal framework behind it gets repealed by an extremely irate electorate."

I've not seen a national electorate (in the USA, at least) which has ever gotten so irate, and irate in a direction not approved by the Powers That Be (e.g., Tea Party).

239:

"So we can expect more transnational political efforts arranged via the internet, and more attempts to control or throttle it."

That will be one of the large, ongoing struggles which run in the background, and shape politics for the next several decades.

240:

" It never occurred to me that WWIII could start out of the blue, for no reason at all.

And yet that's exactly what would've happened if Stanislav Petrov hadn't kept his cool that day in 1983"

That's what 'background' means; that from sometime in the 1950's until the fall of the USSR, Armageddon was ready to go in an hour or so. Now, there were undoubtedly really, really good systems to prevent accidental launch, but we spent decades rolling and re-rolling those dice...................

241:

d brown: Everybody loves high-speed rail. The thing is the track work. Right after a Japanese high speed train passes many track crews jump out to check and put the rails back where they must be.

Speaking as someone who's ridden the Shinkansen Nozomi express, you're talking rubbish.

(The track bed is much deeper than a regular one, the "sleepers" are slabs of pre-stressed concrete with no track ballast visible between them, and the rail segments are five times as long as "regular" rails -- but your track crews don't exist, and if they did, the service would be unable to operate: they run a Shinkansen every ten-fifteen minutes.)

242:

"A friend and his son visited the USAF academy and were told that they did NOT want prospective cadets to take calculus in high school. They found that those with it had to unlearn way too much and wasted the time of those with a clean slate."

I've seen a math professor say this, as well. Along with the idea that if the HS students were to take calculus, they should spend a year on Calc I, so that they've actually learned it.

243:

"Then again, Ron Paul has a strong youth backing, so Libertarian thinking might very well take hold among Republicans in twenty years time."

Libertarianism has always been the youth wave of the future (USA). And probably always shall be.

244:

they run a Shinkansen every ten-fifteen minutes

Or even more frequently. We took a Hikari Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka back to Tokyo. In the 10 minutes we had to wait for ours, three Nozomis stopped at the adjacent platform.

(We didn't feel like paying the excess for the super-fast 300 kph Nozomi service: the 270 kph Hikari was plenty fast for us.)

I'm suspecting that's probably about as frequent as they get, but that was still 4 Shinkansen departures in barely over 10 minutes, all for the same destination. If that had been an air route, it would pretty much have saturated an airport at either end.

245:

Um, for the west coast of the US, do remember that Los Angeles County (the most populated county) includes a 10,068 foot high mountain (Mt. Baldy). That's from sea level. LA County also sits across part of the San Andreas fault complex, and that makes railroad engineering a wee bit more interesting than it would be otherwise. Finally, the most likely rail route north (the Grapevine) only gets to 4160 feet at Tejon Pass, but it's steep enough that burning vehicle brakes are a source of wildfires on an annual basis.

Similarly, the San Francisco Bay Area is centered around the Bay, which has its own interesting engineering issues (a lot of soft mud, underlain and surrounded by other parts of the San Andreas complex)

The biggest problem, though, is the cost of land. It's expensive enough just buying up central valley farmland for the straightaways (see the $100 billion cost for the proposed high speed California rail). In the cities, simply finding an affordable route is a huge problem. Proposed routes include parks and rivers, which make the environmentalists really cheerful about the whole mess.

Unfortunately, given the current political situation, getting the west coast infrastructure upgraded properly will probably require an epochal earthquake or a wartime defeat on par with what happened to the Axis powers in WWII. Sorry, I'm feeling cynical at the moment. It's frustrating when Snow Crash starts looking like a reasonable future.

246:

Um, for the west coast of the US, do remember that Los Angeles County (the most populated county) includes a 10,068 foot high mountain (Mt. Baldy). That's from sea level. LA County also sits across part of the San Andreas fault complex

Please also remember that LA County covers an area of 12,300 km^3. The whole of England covers 130,000km^3. So LA County is not small. (England contains roughly 30 counties, if I remember correctly, not including London.)

Maybe what CA needs for high speed rail is a humans-only maglev monorail, running on pylons, suspended above existing interstate highways wherever possible so that the need for tunnelling or buying up additional right-of-way is minimized?

247:

Maybe what CA needs for high speed rail is a humans-only maglev monorail, running on pylons, suspended above existing interstate highways wherever possible so that the need for tunnelling or buying up additional right-of-way is minimized?

Actually, people have suggested similar stuff. It might make some sense, because the freeways go where the people are. Unfortunately, building something on a freeway is freaking expensive and politically fraught, because a lot of people use those roads (to the point where googling "most congested freeways in Los Angeles gets you the Wikipedia entry for I-405). The ground isn't empty under freeways either, because there's pipes and all sorts of other crap. Underpasses too, I should add.

Finally, the failure modes are so bad they could make a good disaster movie. Imagine a gasoline tanker hitting the maglev pylon and bursting into flame, around rush hour, right before the packed commuter train hits that pylon and too soon to stop the train. I don't even care about the maglev failing under the heat of such a fire, a conventional train could seriously go off the rails at this point. At over 100 miles per hour. Over a packed freeway. And how are the rescuers going to get in if no one can even get to the accident scene due to the crush of traffic and no off-ramps to get people out of the way?

That's why running a train beside the LA river can look like it makes sense. Moving half the people in LA back to the rust belt to rebuild Cleveland and Detroit might make even more sense, actually, but that's not really in the cards until climate change warms up the upper Midwest to proper Angeleno temperatures in a decade or two.

248:

There have been so many studies done in the bay area around various flavors of trains. We have a lot of pain around transportation and lots of clever people wanting to apply innovative solutions to it. There was even a startup a year ago that did a thorough analysis of elevated train options and then decided it was non-starter.

The results are always too expensive compared to existing systems. If the train is on the ground, right of way gets you, if the train is suspended, technology and maintenance costs get you.

Eventually we decided to bite the bullet and do a megaproject and do it the old school bullet train way, but then the economic recession hit. They are still building one of the terminus outside my window even as I type, so we can always hope.

I'd love it personally.

249:

I suspect that trains have similar costs ratios to parking for cars. In our small urban area I've been told that ground level parking costs about $10k per car. Above ground about $20k. Underground about $30k.

But with trains underground you have a somewhat better chance with right of way issues. Maybe.

250:

> Moving half the people in LA back to
> the rust belt to rebuild Cleveland
> and Detroit might make even more
> sense, actually,

The Black Helicopter aficionados would LOVE to hear about that plan...

251:

Well, I do have this unfortunately sarcastic streak. However, when we're talking about $100,000,000,000 to build a single high speed train track, and houses costing $100,000 in Detroit, moving a million people out of LA begins to look feasible, doesn't it? That's not enough to make a difference, but it's a start.

252:

Your mention of documenting 70% of all IP violations reminds me of some of the technological developments I'd like to see more extrapolation on.

One of the biggies is DNA analysis. The gear to do it keeps getting smaller and cheaper and faster. Sure, people already talk about how this will be used by insurance companies, and there was GATTACA, but I am talking about taking it farther than that.

Imagine a day when it fits in a signet ring and can work via a few skin cells, so you can surreptitiously analyze someone's DNA via a handshake. Imagine a handshake being able to identify you if you're in the database, but identify your family members and ethnicity and certain traits (like propensity for certain addictive behaviors and how broccoli tastes to you) even if you're not in the database.

The other biggie is combining Paul Ekman's work with improved technology. Experts in his techniques can already do something eerily close to mind-reading if you don't understand how it works, by paying attention to involuntary fleeting microexpressions and other involuntary and poorly-controllable muscular action that corresponds with internal traits. Combine this with, for example, thermal imaging, so you can tell which regions of the face have increased blood flow, and you're getting even closer to a real lie-detector, and that's without the work that's also been going on in the realm of literal mind-reading via MRI. It seems likely (to me) that the day will come when truly reliable lie detection is a fact of life.

Forget the big-brother government side of that: can you imagine a meeting between a business and a vendor rep during which the vendor rep was being reliably monitored for falsehoods and evasions? Or a speed-dating setup where all parties were monitored that way?

And of course I'm sure there are related areas of research that I haven't heard anything about.

It seems possible to me that within the time frame Charlie is talking about, we may have more than one technological change that results in radically more transparency in the world, for good and bad. Just think, what would today's American politics look like if it were literally impossible for anyone on a TV news program to get away with a lie or evasion? What would happen to marketing?

And what happens to anonymity when everyone who shakes your hand or brushes against you in a crowd might just have snagged your DNA sequence, timestamped and geotagged it, and uploaded it to a public database overlayed on something like "Google Earth"?

Fun times ahead!

(And for the record: I'm American, Gen-X, born in 1968. Charlie would probably consider me a nutball conservative. Many Americans would consider me a nutball elitist liberal, except for the ones who'd agree with Charlie. And I did really enjoy the Douglas Coupland novel.)

253:

There are those of us who moved out of the north/northeast because we just got tired of being cold. I picked NC where I can put up with 1 to 4 weeks of really cold per winter.

But Detroit? Chicago? New England? Cleveland?

No way. I'd put up with a greatly reduced standard of living before moving back to that kind of cold again.

254:

I've lived in So. Cal and the Upper Midwest for a decade in each spot. Personally, I didn't think it was bad at all. Temperatures rarely got below 0 deg. F, people were good, and snow was a nuisance only in March.

Yeah, they complain about the heat up there, and how the humidity is worse. My take on that was that ninety and humid was better than 115 and smoggy any day.

With global warming, Cleveland will have South Carolina temps soon enough.

255:

You meant advances in DNA technology like this?

256:

I've actually persuaded someone to give a public lecture in a month's time on lying with statistics, for exactly this reason. One of the few things I'm happy about from the last 10 years of Irish government is the reformulation of the curriculum puts much more weight on statistics.

@sabik.eta, 201: Who was it that wrote about reputation markets, again? (",)
Time to expand on that concept, perhaps?

257:

What you have to understand is that it's different in the USA and your suggestion is therefore impossible. Now what was the question?[1]

re, why passenger rail transport is obviously too hard.

258:

I'd say war, famine, plague, etc. have been 'one of the defining life events' for many, many different generations over the past 7000 years or so, none of which have a monopoly on them.

'Nuclear annihilation without warning' is very new in the grand scheme of things, that's all.

259:

Expand on it? HA! The kids of today! .. I reach off to a Billy Bookcase, that is just to the left of my desk, and past the Hound Proof - 'My Fur is Damp ..why didn't we do drying properly? ' - Glazed Doors that actually cost more than the Bookcase itself but were well worth the expense, and it is but a moment to draw forth ..... " How To Lie With Statistics " by Darrell Huff with illustrations by Mel Calman, and a title page fronting illustration that has two wine glass clutching conversationalists with the tag " Don't be a novelist ..be a statistician, much more scope for the imagination "....

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

The 16mm Film version of the book was pretty good too ..I lost count on how many times I showed it to the Basic Principles of " How To Be a Cynic " classes in Business Management as she was spoke way back then, as it were. Some things don't change, see here and shake the Kaleidoscope ...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17039513

260:

Different? It is indeed! I've just sprung from memories of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit " to google ...


" General Motors streetcar conspiracy "


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


And thus to discover that ...there may - AT LAST !! - be a sequel to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit " ! Oh , Joy!


" Robert Zemeckis, Roger Rabbit’s director, has wanted to make a sequel for decades. Now, according to Bob Hoskins, star of the original, Zemeckis is committed to bringing the Roger Rabbit sequel to the big screen via motion capture, not unlike his past three projects, The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol—movies that aren’t exactly adored by the general viewing public. "


http://screenrant.com/bob-hoskins-who-framed-roger-rabbit-2-benm-79063/

261:

Strange you should mention that. Today there is a report of a DNA analyzer that fits into a thumb drive.

262:

High speed inter-city trains of the Eurasian continent work so well because the destinations are dense and centralized from thousands of years of brutal pre fossil fuel economics. The result of 60 years of U.S car culture has the destinations most are travelling to so far from central areas, the time spent to reach your aunties house in the 'burbs with your bags in tow makes the whole adventure less than desirable even if you made the trip from Des Moines to Indy at 250kmh

The point being, I don't think the U.S. really wants a 200-250kmh network for 2-600km trips for you and your bag, but a 150-175kmh network that lets you bring your bags and YOUR CAR on 500-2500km journeys if only to save you the pain of either driving for a whole day or walking the last 2-6 km.

Of course, a DHS Security Piece Theatre will create a time penalty that makes this unworkable.

263:

One of the biggies is DNA analysis. The gear to do it keeps getting smaller and cheaper and faster. ... Imagine a day when it fits in a signet ring and can work via a few skin cells, so you can surreptitiously analyze someone's DNA via a handshake.

That day is already here.

Remember, you don't need to sample their DNA and analyse it on the spot; Oxford Nanopore's new GridIon sequencers can be racked and run in parallel; 20 could do a full human genome in 15 minutes. Okay, this unit is rackmounted and not that cheap (the cheap version is a disposable USB stick that costs $900, but won't do a full genome in 15 minutes). But all you need is some skin cells. Your signet ring doesn't need to contain a sequencer, it just needs to have some mechanism for abrading and storing a fragment of skin when you shake hands with your target.

264:

255, 261, 263...jinx!

This looks like one of the few gadgets I'd love to have. Comparative genomics, here we come! Microbiome descriptions, here we come! Whoopee!

Assuming it works, of course.

The problem, of course, isn't collecting the data, it's making sense of it. The level of spurious signal is going to be enormous in genomic datasets, and finding the correlations you need to answer a question without getting slimed by the false positives is going to need some heavy duty statistics.

I suspect over the next decade we're going to see spurious genomic results on par with the fMRI finding brain activity in a dead salmon (ref).

Still, if this works, it's going to be seriously fun. Of course, humans have rather small-average genomes for eukaryotes, so it will still take time to sequence a rain forest, but devices like this speed things up considerably.

265:
"the entire reactor system including cooling and infrastructure had a mass of around 1700 tonnes. That's admittedly 2.5 times the A-380, but leaves a lot of mass left over."

The S6G reactor in the LA class generates around 150-160 MW (according to Wikipedia). The RR Trent 900 series engine, used on the A380, generates 310-360kN of thrust in static testing. Converting static thrust figures into nominal power ratings is ... something of a minefield, but if we make some assumptions, we can get a very approximate figure. Assuming that we're cruising at a steady 250 m/s (at some suitable height; probably around 35,000 ft) and that this requires the engines to be throttled back to 1/4 of their nominal static rating (which is the ratio for the 747-200; see here) then we get the following:

Power = Force*Velocity
Force (one engine at quarter power) =320,000/4 = 80 kN
Velocity = 250 m/s (~0.9mach)

Power = 80,000 * 250 = 20MW

Which would (making some very dodgy assumptions) allow a 160MW reactor to provide thrust equivalent to approximately eight such engines. Maximum takeoff weight for an A380 with four of them is 569 tonnes, and maximum landing weight is much lower (391 tonnes). Which suggests that you're going to have difficulty flying your reactor system unless you're willing to pare down the shielding a bit. Provided you ignore the bit about needing much more thrust for take-off and landing than you do during cruising flight. And the fact that you won't be able to land it at all unless you can dump a lot of weight somehow (since you're not going to be using hundreds of tonnes of aviation fuel and reducing flight mass that way). And when you're flying a nuclear reactor, the ability to return it to the ground safely is a major consideration.

Oh, and if you want a significantly slower cruise speed, you need a much larger - and thus heavier - wing.

You're probably better off just building a nuclear rocket and providing it with a decent guidance system so that you can go up and down wherever you like without worrying about runways and such.

266:

The trick with the nuclear-powered bomber was that the designers realized they didn't need to shield the reactor -- they needed to shield the flight crew. Who were in one convenient place (the flight deck). So: giant lead plug between flight deck and reactor (in middle of the hull). Also, for take-off and attack runs the plane was going to fire up afterburners or kerosene-fuelled turbojets or whatever to augment thrust; the reactor didn't need to be powerful enough to drive the plane at full throttle. Again, it didn't need to carry a full fuel load, either -- instead of 100 tonnes of fuel, it could make do with the 10-20 tonnes used for take-off and emergency evasion, and use the clawed-back weight for reactor shielding.

The reactor itself, without shielding, would fry anyone within half a kilometre ... which is an airprox. Except for the crew, who sat in the radiation shadow of a giant disk of lead shielding.

267:

"many track crews jump out to check and put the rails back" It was from a magazine years ago. And there were pics of what looked a lot like a race car pit crew waiting and jumping out. It could have been different places and different times. The article said it was after every run. I was pro fast train till I read that. It could have been wrong, but that's what stuck in my mind. And of course I may be just plan wrong. We need real knowledge, not logic here. There must be a real train nut out there who knows. I remember "How To Lie With Statistics." Its one of the things that make me hate the Republicans. You can't compare any government numbers with the pre-Ronnie ones.
There was a SF book called "Steam Bird." It was written by someone who had been in the nuke plane program. One of the worries was rollup. If it crashed on takeoff it could roll the reactor smaller and make it into a dirty bomb. If you like your SF with rivets it was not bad.

268:

It's just possible that the track crews were working on a test track. You've heard the numbers for track occupation on the Shinkansen. One of the elements of the British high-speed train development was improved bogie design, which reduced some of the loads on the track.

The Shinkansen came into service in 1964 on specially-built lines, and the original design had a similar speed to the British Intercity 125, introduced a decade later, which runs on "ordinary" lines. There have been some realignments and rebuilding at junctions.

A common feature of High Speed Rail, and its precursors in the 1930s, is special signalling. In Britain, the streamlined express trains of the 1930s ran under special procedures, because the signal blocks were not long enough for the train to stop from full speed. By the 1970s, signalling systems allowed longer blocks and the brakes were better, but the driver's ability to see the signals was affected by the speed. So modern systems don't depend on trackside signals.


269:

But all you need is some skin cells. Your signet ring doesn't need to contain a sequencer, it just needs to have some mechanism for abrading and storing a fragment of skin when you shake hands with your target.

With some interesting results if you're dealing with a meet and greet line.

270:

"(I gather in Russia today people who believe Stalin's legacy should be honoured are considered to be Conservatives. Whereas the free market capitalists are the Liberals.)"

And yet, there is some fairly clear psychological similarity between Russian conservatives and US conservatives, in how they respond to things. They're both a type of 'authoritarians'; they like authority, they like giving to the authority more powers and fewer responsibilities.

It is especially clear on the example of soviet union and Russia. The very same folk who really bought into and participated in soviet propagandist activities, became devout Christians who go to church; they have a cross hanging on the same nail that Lenin's portrait used to hang from.


Some people think government has too much power and too few responsibilities. And they think government needs less power and more responsibilities.

Some people think government needs more power, and fewer responsibilities.

The former people would e.g. be in favour of drug decriminalization, along with free healthcare. The latter group would be in favour of massive spending on the drug related prosecution, and no free healthcare.

Both are willing to give up their money for something, but the one type wants to give the money to get something back, while the latter wants to give the money to do something bad to some other people.

271:

I'm just going to keep recommending this book until everyone's read it, I think. ",)

272:

It's sort-of true but utterly false at the same time.

What happens is that the entire Shinkansen network closes down at about midnight or shortly thereafter and doesn't restart until about 6:00 a.m. There is a lot of maintenance and checking done on the tracks, overheads etc. during that six-hour period and any significant maintenance is done at the same time with the aim that none of the track is out of service during the 18 hours of operations the following day. It doesn't always happen that way but it's pretty rare that a section of line would be non-functional for any length of time, even after major earthquakes.

Saying that the Great Tohoku Eaarthquake in March last year took down a big chunk of the track through Fukushima and it wasn't fully operational by the time I rode that section in June 2011 but it was working, the train was just limited to about 200km/hr for about 50 km where the worst of the earthquake damage occurred (it was noticeable by seeing lots of blue plastic tarps held down by sandbags on house roofs). The rest of the trip from Tokyo to Sendai and back was at the rated speed of 320km/hr. It was the new Hayabusa (Falcon) service which was meant to begin operations about three days after the earthquake hit -- it's the fastest service you can book for no extra charge on a JR pass in case you're interested.

273:

"Except for the crew, who sat in the radiation shadow of a giant disk of lead shielding."

And stayed there, for the rest of their life if no ground crew showed up.

274:

This is the kind of calculation that screws up anti-gravity conspiracy theories. Even if one had a 100% efficient anti-gravity engine the power supply (which must almost certainly be electric) is the problem.

275:

The rocket's launch mass grows exponentially with velocity, as per Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation. It's literally an exponent, not figuratively speaking. Throwing stuff which you took with you downwards at high velocity is the least efficient way to go anywhere, the further you want to go the worse it is. It wouldn't be hard for anti-gravity to beat the rockets, albeit it may be less spectacular than usually imagined (picture a giant solar array slowly climbing at elevator's speed), unless nuclear energy is used for power source.

276:

Ahh and for nuclear reactor powered spacecraft, it would also be much less spectacular than typically imagined. You still need giant surfaces to radiate off the heat; I did some calculation a while back and it seems to me that in the space near the Earth the nuclear reactors are not very sensible as general energy sources - you still need giant heat exchangers, and whenever you use nuclear or concentrated solar (or for that matter, 'cold fusion') to get the heat for your heat engine, that would not make a great deal of difference.

277:

Incidentally, thanks for pointing out the Overton window concept, I had intuitively figured it out years ago but it's nice to have an official name for the idea.

278:

The problem with anti-gravity is that in order to lift itself it has to accelerate the whole mass, including reactor and electric generator, at 1g minimum. AFAIK no powersupply combination currently existing could do that. Of course, once it's in space it becomes very useful, but it certainly will not be outperforming an F16 fighter anywhere near Earth.

279:

What you want for your fusion powered spacecraft is something like this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dense_plasma_focus#DPF_for_nuclear_fusion_power

280:

How *did* the crews get off the atomic-powered bombers?

281:

> How *did* the crews get off the atomic-powered bombers?

IIRC there was a hatch in the floor of the crew compartment that would mate up with a heavily shielded tube leading either underground or perhaps to a shielded ground vehicle. One problem, again IIRC, was gamma rays getting around the crew compartment shadow shield by scattering from the ground while the aircraft was on or near the ground.

282:

Well, they could have got out and walked away. They'd have got some dose, but what they'd have got in the period taken to recede to half a kilometre would have been nothing compared to what they'd have avoided getting in the shadow of the disc.

Or (and this would help the ground crew too) they 'turned off' the reactor before getting out. However, I don't know how much the radiation level drops if you bring the reactor down from criticality.

283:

That now depends to how the anti-gravity would work. The 100% efficient anti-gravity would consume no power to hover, and consumes energy equivalent to difference in gravitational potentials when you go up/down.

Something that would make some constant acceleration from constant input of energy, regardless of the speed, without expending reaction mass, well, that is not exactly anti-gravity, and it has a problem with energy conservation - the mechanical energy it makes will be proportional to speed. If you make it run in circles and rotating some shaft, if its going fast enough it'll be making more energy than you put in. Unless it's a special case, a 'photon drive' (regular flashlight would do), that has incredibly low thrust per watt.

284:

> Or (and this would help the ground crew too) they 'turned off' the reactor before getting out. However, I don't know how much the radiation level drops if you bring the reactor down from criticality.

One would hope they'd shut down the reactor before landing. Even so, for at least hours after shutdown, the fission products probably would be emitting enough gammas to worry about.

And, thinking about this, taxiing and takeoff under nuclear power would not seem to be a good idea either. Neutron ground shine would be added to gamma shine.

Numbers would have to be run to see how serious a problem this would be, but I'm getting the sense that the nuclear airplane might want to have a conventional set of engines for takeoff and perhaps flying around a bit to let the reactor cool off some before landing .

285:

Unless there is a preferred reference frame

286:

heteromeles, scentofviolets @various posts on statistics vs. calculus:

I guess I'm a little late for this discussion and I'm not going to throw my insignificant mathematical weight in on this debate, but I find it a little disappointing. Just because most students fail to grasp the significance (ha!) of finding a function well correlating to their experimental results doesn't make the endeavor unworthy. Please don't feel offended if I say that IMO statistics and it's mongrel child (or parent?) stochastics are just excuses for not tackling the real problem. You can always cut and whittle away at the outliers of your statistics, and if they still don't fit, you can ignore them (i.e. reduce the scope).

It is incredible how far one can take this and how well ignoring facts will work. Imagine if Newton or Leibniz or whoever hadn't cared about minor discrepancies in statistical results.

Take one popular meme (around here), the singularity. It doesn't exist in statistics before you apply some magic on it to make it calculus, right?

287:

Okay, you have a nuclear reactor. So obviously, you have a great way of making lots of helium. Or, if you're in a hurry, lots of hot air. So the early phase of your launch is of course by using a large semi-rigid balloon.

Zeppelins In Space!

289:

As I posted above, I'm not denigrating calculus. What I'm asking is whether it should be taught in high school, while statistics is taught in college, or whether the converse makes more sense.

My take is that almost everyone runs into statistics during their lifetime: it's their risk of cancer, the chance of something defaulting, or (if you're a Gen-X'er) the probability model in an RPG (aka a random role table). That doesn't even get into gambling, either for recreation or in the stock market.

Contrast that with calculus, which is used mostly by physicists, engineers, and mathematicians. Personally, I'd be happy to see it used more in biology, but iterated solutions are often more useful than trying to integrate biological functions.

Finally, I'm not a statistician, but when I can see that the statistical analysis in a science paper I'm reviewing is crap, and it's accepted anyway, then it's pretty obvious that most biologists don't understand statistics well enough. As you noted. Shall we discuss what a P value really means? Anyone?

Add this all up, and I'd say that if we've got limited time to teach kids various maths, stats is more generally useful than calculus.

Utility is the ultimate question, at least to me. Education really should be about turning kids into functioning adults in their society. If a class such as calculus functions more as a rite of passage (learn and forget) than as a set of intellectual tools, then we're wasting the time set aside for that class. This isn't so good.

290:

If you take the reactor sub-critical, you lose the fission neutrons. What you don't lose is the secondary gamma radiation from decay products. As with Fukushima, this can amount to almost 1% of the radiation output of the live reactor. But again, if the crew walk away from the nose of the bomber and keep that lead disk between themselves and the reactor (presumably by walking along a painted line) they should be okay.

I believe on the NB36 the reactor was located amidships in the middle bomb bay of the converted B36. There was provision for cranking the thing down into a concrete underground chamber -- it wasn't permanently mounted (the NB36 was a test-bed for in-flight criticality, not a nuclear-powered aircraft). So presumably they'd park, drop the hot reactor into a hole in the ground, have a tractor tow the bomber away, and then the crew could disembark at leisure.

291:

If you're talking some sort of no-reaction-mass thruster (insert handwave about pushing at the rest mass of the entire universe) you'd be correct. If the behaviour is more like Cavorite, maybe you could control power required by a slow climb, reducing the rate of change of gravitational potential energy.

But since the best model for gravity we have means anti-gravity would have to be a space-warp of some kind, I think it would be closer to the no-reaction-mass thruster. On the other hand, we know that model produces awkward infinities in some conditions.

292:

So, Charlie started this thead asking about Overton windows. An underlying theme in much of his writing is ongoing prisoners' dilemmas. We have lots of examples of escalations to chaos.

What conditions make people act nicer? I started to write about "conversion" experiences in Cat's how do we get there from her thread, but made a wisecrack about gangster believing they were ordained by god to rob (er civilize) others. Got a disquisition about the Inquisition. Depressing.
Really weird, because as far as I can tell (if Jesus was a real person) he seemed to start a religion that said be nice to one another. What the heck happened? Can things switch back? I picked the US and India in my examples, because the Indians managed to gain independence through non-violent confrontation. The US had civil rights/feminist/gay rights movements. Though they differ on causation the tea party and occupy movements agree that the basic rules of fairness have been violated and must be changed. Gene Sharp has been cited as providing the guidelines for much of Arab Spring organizing. Are these less important than bullet trains?

To go back to the Inquisition, maybe it has been beaten by a most unlikely force: the pill. Small changes can combine and sneak up in ways that are not expected.

293:

he base of money is faith. Back in the day there was a game show for a million dollars. Not that long ago there was a new one. Time magazine pointed out that the new million was worth about 62,000 dollars in the old money value. Only a few nuts like me freak about it. I bet its worse now. Nobody else cares. Someone said that if you laid all the economists in the world head to toe they would not agree.
Having said that the Keynesian Ecomy worked till the OPEC oil shock. Even Reagan's OMB David Stocman said "Reagan's tax cut was a Trojan horse for trickle down (supply- side). It never ever worked." The Rich hated Keynesian. The rich always make money as the economy goes up and down. Selling on the up and buying on the down. Keynesian mostly levied out the economy.

294:

This is exactly my life, and Homer Simpson's. We were both born in '56. HA!

“A baby born in 1956 would have graduated from high school in about 1974, from college in 1978 or so. Look at almost any historical chart of the American economy, and you see two sharp breaks in the 1970s. First, in 1974, household incomes, which had been rising since World War II, flattened. Real wages started to stagnate. The poverty rate stopped falling. Health insurance coverage stopped rising. Those trends have continued ever since.

Second, a little later in the decade, around the time today’s 55-year-olds graduated from college (if they did—fewer than 30 percent have a four-year degree), inequality began its sharp rise, and the share of national income going to the bottom 40 percent began to fall. Productivity and wages, which had tended to keep pace, began to diverge, meaning that workers began seeing little of the benefits of their own productivity gains. The number of jobs in manufacturing peaked and began to drop sharply…If there was ever going to be a generational war in this country, that high school class of ’74 would be its Mason-Dixon line.”

I lived that. State Employees here in New Mexico haven't had a cost-of-living increase in 20 years. I retired making half the income that I would have been paid if I'd at least received a yearly COLA. I literally bought a year so that I could retire early and start getting yearly COLA increases through retirement.

295:

You mean like in Iron Sky?

296:

Sorry for what's going to be a long-ish and fairly off-topic digression, but I'm not a huge fan of Gandhi - his morals yes, his politics no.

Non-violence was only part of the story. There was a fair bit of violence during the Indian struggle for independence, up to the 1946 CP strikes with running street battles in Calcutta and Bombay while the British were negotiating with Congress.

After the British withdrew in 47 the "solution" of Partition was a disaster - with perhaps more than a million dead, and the long-term result of two nuclear armed states waging an on again, off again war for the rest of the century. Gandhi's acceptance of Partition - possibly intended to prevent such communal violence - was disastrous and forced a polarisation into Hindu and Muslim societies, rather than along class lines.

Gandhi could have helped form a genuine socialist society - instead he detached the struggle for independence from the struggle for social change, leaving control of India and Pakistan in the hands of privileged groups using the same bureaucracy and police forces as the British. Apart from national sovereignty there was very little social change, and Gandhi's failure to define the struggle along class lines enabled the division along religious lines - which as I've already mentioned, led to a million prompt deaths and a great many in subsequent outbreaks of communal violence.

Could things have gone differently? Perhaps. Could things have been better? Perhaps, but I'm not sure - if there had been a truly socialist struggle in India/Pakistan, then something like the Korean War might well have happened but on a larger scale.

297:

Sorry, don't know what came over me. I seem to have been possessed by Dave Spart for a moment there!

@295Chrisj - I'm really looking forward to that.

298:

You too, huh? I have this childish theory that people's experiences between 15 and 25 have a major effect on their outlook on life for the rest of their life. It's the period they spend the rest of their life feeling nostalgic for. So a touchstone for understanding them is to ask what cultural background affected them deeply at 20. People in the UK and USA who's formative years were '70 to '80 will have been shaped by some extraordinary events[1]. Probably because I was also born in '56 I feel this era (and by implication its people) is ignored and forgotten. Too old to be X-ers. But actually too young to be Boomers. I hate the term 'Gen Jones', but feel there's some truth in it. The thing that snuck up on everyone though is that Gen Jones is now in charge!

Fast forward to 2030-2040 and the world is being shaped by people who are 15-25 right now. This is the time they will feel nostalgic for. So I think we could get a good idea of the world in 20 years time by asking somebody who is 20 now what 2012 looks like to them.

[1]3 day week, Nixon, Saigon, Sex Pistols, Bob Marley, Windsor Festival, OPEC oil crisis, Callaghan->Thatcher transition, White riot.

299:

Thats ... insane.

I suppose it makes sense that if you're on a mission of genocide, elfin' safety of the general populace is not a great concern. But ... how do you practice ?
this was before the time of computer simulations, after all.

300:

Are you seriously discussing Alaska-Siberia railroad? With the current political and economical situation in Russia as it is? I mean, seriously?

301:

Presumably, airstrips for nuclear bombers would not be located in the middle of large cities...

302:

If you're taking this idea seriously, as a deterrent, then you have to practice these flights.

Expect around 10% of them to crash, especially as the 'plane is so significantly different to others that adapting to it will take effort. Thats all sorts of accidents, from controlled-flight-to-terrain, to burst tyres on the runway. Not that big a deal, if you were a B-52 and the crew survived, and you didn't have live bombs on board, wholly different picture here.

e.g. if planned maintenance involved lowering the reactor out down a hole, to allow the plane to be "mostly" non-radioactive, how do you change a burst tyre at the end of a runway?
How do you cleanup a nuclear reactor that went critical, didn't have shielding, at 200mph _anywhere_ ?

303:

Training: build airstrips in Alaska, fly over the ocean.

Changing a burst tyre: use an unmanned movable lead sarcophagus to remove the reactor.

304:

Nuclear Planes

As some of you noted this was a bozo idea. And it was realized as such before they built more than a prototype. During the 50s there were many such ideas. And most got tossed before too many billions were spent. But at the time the thought process was consider anything to stop the "commies".

But of course we don't do such things now. The Crusader was a very logical system cancels by silly cost cutting bureaucrats.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XM2001_Crusader

And we stopped flying the shuttle when it became obvious that it was going to cost somewhere between 10 and 100 times its design goals per flight. Especially when compared to existing rockets. Right?

305:

There are a couple of caveats to your argument. The problems which QE causes are certainly non-trivial; the devaluation of sterling means that we do see price inflation, and the combination of artificially lowering gilt rates combined with strengthening capital adequacy rules for banks actually serves to reduce bank lending.

If we want to increase the money supply via QE, we'd actually be much better off handing every adult in the UK two grand to spend as they wished.

306:

Looks like vat-grown animal-free meat might be arriving just in time then....

307:

Note that it would take so long to build a Siberia-Alaska rail route (all those bridges) that by the time it was operational the political situation would probably be completely different.

308:

$11 billion on a self propelled gun?
That is a ludicrous amount of money, the vast majority of which was probably pissed away with nothing to show for it but paper.
I would put the actual development cost of something like that at around $200 million if it were done right.

309:

Phil
Gandhi Yes. I was hesitant about using Gandhi as an example. I've been reading "Gandhi Churchill" by Arthur Herman that makes the same point.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gandhi-churchill-arthur-herman/1102808627
And he got done in by a radical hindu. Then look what happened to Jesus. Maybe the pope will send out assassins to kill off pill manufacturers. Oh wait. He's got Rick Santorum

310:

One thing the Wiki article didn't show was that, as best I can recall, the thing was originally planned to look like a wood or coal fired locomotive with the trailer holding ammo that would could be "automatically" transferred to the gun cab without anyone going outside. I'm sure that concept added a dollar or two to the development costs.

311:

The delays in completing a large project like a trans-Siberian TGV would not be specifically due to the size of the project -- something like that can be built in multiple sections simultaneously. The problem is paying for the operation and/or getting funding for it in the first place. Getting fifty billion Eu to be spent over twenty years is a lot easier than getting, say, thirty billion Eu to be spent over a five year period. The downside is cost overruns and cancellations are more likely the longer a project runs (see trams, Edinburgh, brewery, piss-up for a worked example of that problem).

312:

Simply giving money to people has been dismissed as an insane idea for decades now. Nice to see that previously crank ideas are being thought about by someone. Of course the powers that be aren't interested in such solutions anyway for obvious reasons.

313:

I think people are thinking about too big science.
A few years ago there was documentary called Connections
http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/james-burke-connections/
that talked about little, seemingly disconnected changes that added up to big and unexpected changes.

Not very many people predicted the impact of the internet (except Vernor Vinge), and most science fiction was about rocket ships. Things sneak up us. Maybe that's a good thing/maybe bad, because they seem "natural" before opposition has had time to gather.

Sheesh, Analog (?!) just ran two singularity stories (April 2012), a Bob Sawyer serial (not very convincing Jesus freak stuff) and a short about cell phones evolving into implanted telepathy chips that is.

314:

The Crusader was one of those exemplary projects for the old adage of preparing to fight the last war again.

Howitzers are designed to pound on stationary targets like fortifications, bridges, supply dumps etc. They can only do this when they are in range of their targets -- the Crusader's maximum range was about 40km at which point its accuracy was seriously degraded. Compare this to the existing MLRS which was achieving a GPS-accurised range of 60km plus with upgraded rockets and even a non-nuclear ballistic missile capability exceeding 300km at the end of its development life.

In reality most beyond-line-of-sight operations a howitzer system like Crusader would be tasked with in today's modern battlefield are covered better by air-to-ground attacks involving JDAM or other precision-guided ordnance. Yes there are all sorts of precision munitions and base-bleed range extenders for the larger artillery weapons but they didn't need something like the Crusader to fire them and they are still outranged by air-to-ground and missile systems.

315:

simply giving money to people

Charles Murray in his book "Coming Apart" about the moral decline of the white working class suggests exactly that - a guaranteed wage. At least I think he said that. I saw it in an article in the NYTimes. But there is so much discussion about how to, or whether to, morally reform the poor, I can't find it anymore.)

We're back to how we get to a post scarcity society

316:

Crusader is also an exemplar of the tendency for certain types of military procurement project to get wildly gold-plated as people with vested interests realize it's totally useless and try increasingly desperate measures to make it look like the next big thing(tm). Another classic example was the M247 "Sergeant York" (DIVisional Air Defense) gun - notorious in certain circles as the only military procurement project ever to be cancelled under Ronald Reagun and once described as an ingenious way of making an anti-aircraft gun that "cost more to fire than a missile without losing any of the disadvantages of a gun".

317:

speaking of big science did anyone catch Stephenson's speech at "Solve for X"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TE0n_5qPmRM

318:

Well, the only way I know to get to a post-scarcity society is to get to where people spend no more than 20-30 hours per week foraging for or growing their food, and have the rest of the time to do whatever.

This worked for our hunting and gathering ancestors for, oh, a majority of the last 100,000 years or more, and it might be why we think post-scarcity is a good thing.

There are a couple problems with this path. One is that it requires at least a 99% population decline. The other is you don't get to keep your phone if you're one of the 1%. On the other hand, we know it works, because we kind of evolved for that type of life.

319:

heteromeles actually it kind of didn't work

We were extincting large mammals and mucking with out environment pretty seriously even before we stopped hunter/gathering. Somewhere around the Mesolithic we got to the point where we could till just about anything pretty easily, and then we went out and did it a whole lot.

Something triggered that whole neolithic revolution thing. I don't think hunter/gather is sustainable.

320:

Considering that the hunter/gatherer lifestyle was sustained for longer than every other human lifestyle combined, I think you're arguing against history there.

321:

Oh, artillery still has some point - I can't find the reference (I will keep looking), but fire support that arrives in seconds rather than minutes and has no altitude ceiling, when you're operating on the Afghan Highlands?
Self-propelled and armoured guns, now...

322:

I must concur. The ability to call in support fire right now is very important. So is the ability to drop a whole bunch of rounds into a whole area, either in a few minutes or spread out over many hours, as the guys out in the field may find convenient.

Precision strikes from aircraft are very handy, but that's not always what you need.

323:

Perhaps you'd have the undercarriage designed to recess to put the sheild exactly between the crew and the reactor as the walk away.

324:

Not the reference I was thinking of, but damnit, close enough: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/720883/posts
Of course, this doesn't imply anyone needs to spend billions on designing new guns, never mind new gun platforms.

325:

Hunting and gathering did "work" from Homo erectus forward. Yes, there was a mass extinction in there, I agree. As a system, it's got a better track record than anything we've tried since.

You've got to do compare and contrast. We're having trouble keeping our current system going for 200 years, so complaining about something that lasted 500 times longer (through bigger climate swings than we've experiencing now) is a bit weird. Success only counts if it's perfect for more than 100,000 years? I'm pretty sure that we can't possibly do anything even that good, even for a few hundred years.

326:

Humans sustained hunter/gathering longer then any other human part of history sure, but still only an eyeblink from a species-on-the-planet perspective.

We also came really close to going extinct a couple times in the early parts and started making everything else extinct in the later. It was not a nice sustainable steady state, but an ever accelerating rate of change for pretty much the entire period.

In order to even have a chance of resetting any of that you would not only have to eliminate 99.9% of the population but eliminate even the memory of simple machines and fire from the remainder.

327:

Reminder to self: sarcasm doesn't translate well on the internets.

So it's okay to go doe pie-in-the-sky post-scarcity, but when I *sarcastically* point out that the only known way is to kill at least 99% of the population and go back to the stone age, the response is "well that wasn't precisely sustainable for 100,000 years?

Really?

Please turn the same intense skepticism on schemes for future post-scarcity, then get back to me. And do remember there's a profound difference between sustainable over 10 or 100 years and mostly sustainable over 100,000 years.

While I'm not a proponent of "crash back to the stone age" as a survival strategy for humanity, it's as close as we've gotten to long term sustainability so far.

328:

Nuke subs were not practical till water was used for shielding. All lead was to heavy to be practical. Water in open compartments did much/a lot of the shielding. That only made the subs longer. It would not work for planes.
The "Sergeant York" was needed if we had to fight a enemy with helicopters. It was doomed by newer rockets. It had less range than the newer helicopter rockets. The radar targeting never worked. It was not killed till there was a demonstration of how well it worked for the big brass. It locked on to a fan behind the Brass's stands. And I read, almost fired. It took that to kill it. And its hardly the only thing that was nursed that way. The best way to make rank is to report how well you project is going. The best way to never get promoted, is to say the promoted guy you replaced, lied like a rug. The best thing for you is to lie and pass it on. And get away from it.


329:

@heteromeles I don't believe there is any real possibility of long term sustainability for the human race, at least no as-is without some kind of heavy modification.

Like I said 100K years is nothing, and I also note you are ignoring the whole "almost went extinct at least twice in that time period" part. You yourself have pointed out species count their lifetimes in the millions of years not in the 100K's.

330:

Yes, I guess I was ignoring it. It happens to be part of my canned lecture that where I talk about endangered species using us as an example of why conserving endangered species is important, but whatever.

The word is "almost." I'm a pessimistic optimist, and I'll take almost extinct over certain extinction any day, even if my skull is one of the ones bleaching in the sand.

I also don't particularly like the idea that humans can only survive with heavy modification, because the last people who thought that was a good idea were the...well, I'll invoke Godwin's Law if I go there, but I was pretty damn surprised to see a scholarship in eugenics being offered by some group a few years back. It's not a good idea, even if we think we know what we're doing.

We are evolving, but given the level of leadership the world is seeing right now, I'd say the worst thing we can do is to try and plan that change to match anyone's prediction of the future. Let's bumble on, and see if there's enough diversity in the current population that some people survive and have lots of kids for the future.

331:

>>>It's not a good idea, even if we think we know what we're doing.

As long as it's not compulsory, why not?

Not that I think we'll need eugenics, not when we'll soon be able to edit the genome of adult humans and grow new organs.

332:

>>>While I'm not a proponent of "crash back to the stone age" as a survival strategy for humanity, it's as close as we've gotten to long term sustainability so far.

What's even the point of sustainability if you have to live like an animal? Seriously, if our only choice was between living forever as hunter-gatherers or burning all fossil fuels in a few generations and then going out in a blaze of gore, I'd choose the later in a heartbeat. At least you get to have some fun before the end of the world.

333:

Calling in fire support from artillery is great if you're in fixed positions fighting off the enemy, such as Vietnam firebases i.e. the last war. Crusader was designed to fight on the West German plains delivering long-range artillery fire on armoured Soviet forces while retreating as the enemy advanced. This was the last war that was never fought.

If you want artillery support at long-range (up to 40km, Crusader's greatest reach) then you have MLRS available, each projectile with more punch than four 155mm shells and able to volley-fire faster than the gun system that outweighs the MLRS by a factor of two. The missiles have better on-target accuracy since they can be guided to target. They also can carry assorted payloads such at AT mines etc. rather than simple explosive-shrapnel shells. For everything else there's cruise and precision air-to-ground.

Basically Crusader was the land-going equivalent of a battleship; loud and inspiring but expensive to build and operate and functionally obsolete in today's sort of warfare.

I'm not saying all artillery is useless but the engagement envelope Crusader was designed for, the medium-range 20-40km space is better served by other options given its logistics limitations and operational constraints.

334:

In 2030, perhaps we'll have got over the habit of endlessly whining about the Youth of Today being useless, morally decadent, etc.

*please*. it's not an interesting insight. it is never right. it's just a combination of a cliché and some sort of psychological support-mechanism. save the words.

Things I'll be nostalgic for: the Internet. Occupy. That's about it, really.

335:

Also, Otto von Bismarck didn't seek a platz an der Sonne. That was Wilhelm II, after he sacked Bismarck... (it's in the wikipedia article, ffs)

336:

I'm already nostalgic for the early days of the WWW ie pre-millennium. I can't say I'm nostalgic for anything in my teenage years or twenties. As I said elsewhere about people hyping up "The 60s" - I was there and it was shit - that was what all the trouble was about.
We live in a great age, and the best is yet to come.

337:

Re: Post scarcity vs crashes back to the stone age.
Changes in productivity have sort of taken care of this in the short term (though I don't know enough about environmental degradation etc) to know if this trend is sustainable. In the west, even the out of workest, welfare crippledest lazy moral degenerates have a standard of living on the dole unimaginable in most of history.

Not everywhere though. If you want to read something really depressing, try this review
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/books/katherine-boo-on-her-book-behind-the-beautiful-forevers.html?_r=1&ref=books

If there ever is post-scarcity lots of people are going to have to find some other rationale for living than work. I thought it was interesting that a really conservative thinker like Charles Murray would be able to jump to a guaranteed income.... Looking for a cite... Umm, I've underestimated him and others (like Milton Friedman)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income_guarantee


338:

I'm nostalgic about World of Warcraft vanilla. When men were men, women were men and warlocks were afraid.

339:

I think there's an inherent contradiction in what you said, Anatoly.

Let's say we have post-scarcity: you don't have to kill yourself to make a living, whether it's working as a peasant or as a wage slave in a major corporation

What do you do with all that free time?

Yes, some people will compose major works of art. Most people will live just like the human animals they are: socialize, groom themselves and others, have a lot of recreational sex, and hang out.

So what you seem to be saying is that you'd prefer to work yourself to death and watch the world go up in flames, rather than being the human animal you are and doing what's natural, whether it's a stone age post-scarcity scenario, or a solar powered sustainable nanotech version of post-scarcity.

That's totally bizarre.

Even today, development specialists comment about "the affluence of indigence," places where people have more than enough food (such as an island in Kiribati), and even though they don't have much money, they have no incentive to get more, because their needs are meant.

What's wrong with that again?

340:

The 60's was a lot of fun at Sussex University, by all accounts. I think the really good parts of the 60's were limited to a few cultural centres, and more widely distributed in the 70's but I'm only 45 so I can't be sure.

Certainly I'd give major parts of my anatomy to have seen Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, Geno Washington, early The Who, the Bonzo Dog Band, etc etc. The casual racism and sexism of the time I can do without. And I'd love to live in a society where I could walk out of a job in the morning and have a new one by lunchtime.

However I'm delighted to have seen Amy Winehouse, Peter Doherty etc when they were still coherent and tuneful.

341:

Discovering the secrets of the universe would be nice.

I can't personally muster much enthusiasm for another few kiloyears of mindless breeding and unreflective existence.

342:

I'm sorry, but I have real trouble believing in "the heaven before civilization". But let's assume humans can exist in such a state. Would I want to live in it?

This is stone age we are talking about. No industry, no science. No medicine to speak of. Infant mortality is 50%. Today's trivial diseases will kill you or leave you cripple for life. Modern criminal investigation practices are impossible.

And how long will it take for new stone-agers to forget about sustainability? I'd say 3 generations top.

And then they'll do what the old stone-agers did - multiply uncontrollably, invent agriculture and start the whole civilization thing AGAIN.

I'll pass.

343:

An earlier post of mine was eaten my the mods - and I don't disagree with their decision. Here's a sanitised version that doesn't name names.

Every 20 years or so there are major police operations which round up a generation of high-level illegal drug makers. They tend to get sentences of around 20 years or so, and when they come out, they've got few transferable job skills, they need to make money, and possibly they still have stock buried in the woods somewhere.

So there's a built in boom-bust cycle to the illegal drug market. In 2030 people will just be coming out who are being arrested now.

344:

If every 20 years there is an operation AND drug makes get 20 years in, then their release and capture should be simultaneous..

345:

I refer the honourable member to my use of the phrase "or so".

I cannot comment on credible rumours I've heard from certain people in the trade, which support my argument. Watch the wall, my darling, as the gentlemen go by.

346:

Yes, pretty much the only places where the 60s were fun was university.

347:

Drug making is no longer an industry that needs rare and arcane information. The Net has arrived. Just try googling MDMA manufacture, for example

348:

That's true. But people with large stocks of precursors and finished products buried have a market advantage, as do people with contacts in the trade.

349:

Guthrie, I'm not suggesting that it would be a great idea, just 'less bad' than QE as enacted over the past few years.

350:

"Contacts in the trade" are not hard to find. I know 3 dealers, at least one of whom is "big time". And I wasn't even looking - just friends of friends. As for precursors, that is a problem. However, some drugs are a lot easier to make than others in terms of commonly available chemicals and it is these that come to dominate the synthetics market.

351:

"you'd prefer to work yourself to death" and HELP the world go up in flames.
This has tended to lead to thinking that working yourself to death is a sign of goodliness and maybe godliness. ... and that those who don't share the same values are lazy, bad, immoral, ungodly....


352:

I'd prefer to live my life with all the comforts that high-energy civilization has to offer. The choice between burning more coal and living in a cave... is not a choice. Coal it is.

Of course, I'd prefer to burn something more energetic and clean if possible, like deuterium or at least thorium.

353:

have the "comforts that high-energy civilization has to offer." I like heteromeles "solar powered sustainable nanotech version of post-scarcity."

I don't have a problem with the technology. It's the ideologies that tend to go with them. Charlie was talking about Overton windows - A lot of problems come from the stories people tell about themselves and others, and the labels they apply. Writers have a shot at changing the stories if the ones they tell are compelling enough

354:

Generations: The future of America's history, 1584 to 2069, William Strauss & Neil Howe, 1991, William Morrow.
"...Their bold theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern."

355:

Well given the "I wouldn't start from here" situation, in my amateur opinion QE is one of the better options.

356:

To clarify, I don't particularly think the stone age was heaven.

What I do think is:
--As a species, we're still fairly well adapted for it, particularly if we're raised in such a lifestyle from birth.
--Many diseases are diseases of culture, ranging from pandemics that spread through human contact in dense settlements, to the lifestyle diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, hearing loss, possibly even alcoholism) that plague us now. They'll largely disappear if there are fewer people around.
--Yes, in primitive societies, many people died of childhood diseases, accidents, and (in some studied hunter-gatherer societies) homocide. The rest lived at least as long as we do now, with fewer old age problems. Is this a worthwhile tradeoff? Hard to say. We seem to forget that the death rate is 100%, and all we're arguing about is what causes of death are most appropriate.

Is this better than what we have now? For most of us, no, because we grew up in modern civilization, and like it or not, we're too old to adapt successfully to chipping stones and hunting our food. For the human species, it might be better.

The point is that hunting and gathering might be as close to "post-scarcity" as we can get as a species.

Just to mess with Anatoly a bit further, rather few hunter-gatherers lived in caves, because there aren't that many caves, and they often tend to be rather wet. Rather more primitive dwellings are made with plant products. And yes, plants are "solar powered nanotechnology."

357:

It really depends on what stone age you are looking at. I think when you get to a point of technology where we can feed ourselves relatively easily and don't have to worry too much about being eaten by sabre tooth tigers we are already well down the technology path.

I agree on on the most idyllic periods in human history was probably the 20k years or so before agriculture. Human populations were growing fast, all the natural predators were dead, game was easy to come by due to relatively sophisticated weapons and hunting techniques.

However at that point we were inevitably on the path leading to whatever triggered the neolithic revolution (my bet is wide spread starvation due to overhunting)

Up until that point, just eating, not being eaten, and not starving to death, especially during droughts was a significant challenge. I don't think being human was very say nice pre-stone tools, pre fire, which is what you are really talking about when you talk about the base state.

358:

"Well, I do have this unfortunately sarcastic streak. However, when we're talking about $100,000,000,000 to build a single high speed train track, and houses costing $100,000 in Detroit, moving a million people out of LA begins to look feasible, doesn't it? That's not enough to make a difference, but it's a start."

You can get houses for a lot less than $100k in Detroit.
Getting a job, however.................

359:

If you want my unorthodox speculation about how grasses domesticated people in the Middle East, here goes:

It wasn't overhunting, because remember that most food in hunting and gathering comes from the gathering part, not the hunting part. Rather, it was getting together in towns that drove us to agriculture.

As among California Indians up to 1900, my bet is that many early neolithic people lived in balanocultural societies, which means they lived by gathering acorns and other tree fruits. The thing about acorns is that, when they produce, they produce a lot, to the point where you can get a year's worth of food in less than a month of work and store it the rest of the year (this is a *neat trick* if you're doing agriculture or working for a wage) (ref: Oak: The Frame of Civilization). The California Indians also made this great stuff called pinole, which is flower and/or grass seeds ground (sometimes after being dry roasted) and mixed into gruel, and I'll bet the neolithic people of the Middle East did this too.

With some simple technology (leaching acorns and other toxic nuts, grinding them up, and cooking on hot rocks) you can get a lot of good food. I have yet to see the rumored photo of a Kumeyaay tribeswoman who was 126 in the early 20th Century and ate mostly acorns, but from all accounts, it's a good life most of the time. California had among the densest pre-Contact populations in the US, and that without agriculture...

But I digress.

There are neolithic settlements (like Çatalhöyük) where there's no sign of agriculture, so I'm guessing people made the first villages near their oaks, and settled down for a nice golden age (remember, God said to eat the fruits of any tree but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, right there in the beginning...). The problem came from too many people living together, not from overpopulation.

One good cure for that problem is alcohol, in the form of fermenting grass-seed pinole. There's a cool article on SciAm about how alcohol does interesting things like killing cholera and other bacteria in water (eventually). Alcohol also messes up various pathogens in vivo, especially if the human drinking it can withstand a higher alcohol concentration than the pathogen can.

My guess is that the neolithic people got together in towns while eating oak, got sick on a large scale, and medicated themselves with a new fermented grain preparation.

That let them have bigger towns. Oaks fell by the wayside because they needed so much grain to keep from dying of diarrhea.

Pretty soon they found that they'd been domesticated by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and were now stuck in a three-way symbiotic relationship with grass and yeast, something we now call civilization. This is little different than the relationship that fungi have forced on leaf-cutter ants, but I probably shouldn't point this out, since we tend to be proud of how unique we are.

It's entirely possible that we won't be able to lose the symbiosis to yeasts and grasses that has driven us to such a huge population. We'll see. At the very minimum, we'll have to get serious about public health, or get populations down to such low densities that bad hygiene no longer matters so much.

L'Chaim!

360:

Before the war to save human nature started in 2037, the big issues in all the civilized parts of the world were hymenopteran fusion and Indonesian strato-art. Funny how everyone forget s that now...

361:

The Russian government has already approved building a rail line out to the Bering Strait, under which they then plan to build a tunnel.

It's going to take them until 2030 just to reach the strait — 2,000-ish miles across Siberia — but they have already started on that part. Then a 60 mile tunnel, apparently, and the Americans have a shorter, somewhat easier distance to go on their side.

The Russians think they'll be able to make US$7 billion a year by selling fuel to the US, once (if) it's completed.

362:

Except that it actually serves to reduce bank lending, when its stated aim is to increase lending and liquidity in the wider economy.

QE drives yields on gilts down, which then means that the banks in this country find themselves holding less 'tier one capital' which means, to comply with solvency regulations, they have to hold more capital, and lend less.

If the aim is to inflate away state debt whilst keeping the market for gilts liquid, and throwing a lifeline to the banks, however, QE is a perfect solution.

363:

With the very big assumptions that $dealer is released from prison, immediately commits $drugs_offence and that $drugs_offence is detected by "the authorities" and generates sufficient evidence of criminality by $dealer for him to be arrested and prosecuted.

364:

I guess it comes down to the question -- what is the point of being human? To me it is creation -- of new things, new exeperiences, new knowledge. That is incompatible with hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and may be incompatible with sustainability in general. But I am with Anatoly here -- back when Homo Sapiens was basically glorified baboons, life was full of pain, hunger and terror. By the time humans got sophisticated enough that tigers were not a problem any more, whole sustainability thing was doomed. You cannot have safety AND sustainability. At least not for long.

365:


"Generations: The future of America's history, 1584 to 2069, William Strauss & Neil Howe, 1991, William Morrow.
"...Their bold theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern.""

Which only applies to the USA, for some reason, and is not affected enough by immigration to matter, and all people living in the USA (for practical purposes) can be group thusly.


366:

The Russian government also promised lunar bases, helium-3 mining, plasma stealth and who know what else.

367:

I suppose you can if you kill off the surplus population. Then again, you can't do that effectively without technology. People will run away from your sustainable settlement and proliferate somewhere else...

368:

Stone Age=no time for creativity? Yeah. Right. Heck, if you don't like my examples, go look at what they painted in Lascaux, and tell me that they didn't have time to practice art. No one gets that good without a tremendous amount of time to practice. In an Ice Age. With lions and bears and mammoths around. And working in a cave.

Some of my favorite art was made by neolithic people, especially Oceanic art. I quite agree that the Polynesians had a crappy record for sustainability, especially on smaller islands (see Easter Island), but we've certainly done no better.

Additionally, Micronesian proas were among the fastest boats in the world until around 1900, and traditional kayaks are among the most maneuverable. Anyone who can take some seal carcasses and driftwood and use them to make a personal watercraft that can survive in Arctic waters deserves a lot of respect as a creator.

The point here is that creativity is pretty universal. Given a choice between, say, living on a coral atoll and living in the USSR or North Korea, I'm pretty sure I know which one would give me more time and space to be creative.

369:

"The Russian government also promised lunar bases, helium-3 mining, plasma stealth and who know what else."

Just like the Americans.
I'm old enough to remember the slogan "Mars by 1984".
Now they can't even send a man into space on their own.

370:

It really depends on which stone age you are talking about again. It was a 2.5 million year period, of which homo sapien sapien was only around for the last 200K or so.

There were some bits in there that were pretty nice and some bits that were decidedly less nice.

Polynesian society had some down sides, they had some rather nasty death cults for instance. There is a spot in Hawaii I've been too where 50,000 people were ritually murdered over the years.

371:

Funny how US politicians announce major space plans when they need Florida votes, and then quietly cancel them later.

372:

I'm going to write something EXTREMELY controversial now, but at least I'll be honest with myself.

Art by itself is not creativity. It is a glorified "monkey with a typewriter" setup. What new knowledge or new experience will be created by million years of cave paintings, wood carvings and oral stories made by thousands of generations of people who live the same life? I could connect a random number generator to tvtropes.org and create millions of new stories simply by reshuffling old ideas. I could use a kaleidoscope and create millions of new pictures. What's the difference?

373:

Perhaps it sounds better than: "When I am President I will give the bankers another trillion dollars"

374:

And you could write millions of books.
Good plan - go for it.

375:

However, they can still send unmanned vehicles to Mars and operate them for years, not to mention space telescopes, extensive exploration of the solar system and rockets built by private firms (see SpaceX). USSR never could and Russia still can't. So I have much more trust in USA, space-wise.

376:

Your big mistake is the one that a lot of geeks make.
This world is not about science and technology - it's PEOPLE who make everything happen. If you can steer the decision processes of people you rule the world, or at least a little bit of it. And what steers people is emotion, often mediated by art in its various forms including, but not limited to, propaganda.

377:

The tail end of that capability, and even that is being cut back as the USA backs out of future Mars exploration plans.

378:

No, I couldn't. But software can already make a pretty good emulation of bad books. (Google "Random Fantasy Plot Generator", for example).

379:

We already know the language spoken by Martians - Mandarin.

380:

What decision process are you going steer in a static stone age world? The decision of what to kill for food today?

381:

USA just launched MSL, you know? And SLS is still funded. And I'm 90% certain Orion will not get cancelled, unless of course Elon Musk gets his crewed Dragon first. In both cases, USA human spaceflight capability will be restored.

382:

Thank you, that is a nice clear explanation.
Then one wonders why they are using that option, and that the politics is broken.

383:

By the standard of original experience and novelty, we should head for the stone age as fast as possible.

We'd get:
--Many more languages, including ones that encode things like directionality in language, or define time such that a chosen moment is defined as "now" and actions happen before, during, or after the defined event), ones that use tonal information, and so forth. Right now, we're losing all those different ways of looking at the world.
--Many more ways of making a living, from living in caves to living in the Arctic (drumming shamanism), in various rainforests (reality mediated by hallucinogens), steppes, mountains, and islands. Conversely, as most people become city dwellers connected via the world wide web, our experiences are rapidly getting homogenized.
--Many more toolsets
--Many more cuisines and foods (albeit not always what we'd define as tasty). Our genius is global food.
--and so on.

That's a lot of creativity. How much of 20th Century modern art was inspired by contact with Third World and primitive art traditions? A huge amount, especially when you look at who collected what.

This is about math, pure and simple. If a lot of fairly isolated groups are left to solve their problems in their own ways with their own limited resources, you are going to get a lot more creativity than if all of them are swiping solutions from people around the globe.

I'd argue that the internets feel more like they increase creativity only because we're seeing other people's work for the first time. IMHO, they encourage corporatism and groupthink. There's a huge globalization movement on to take all the current diversity and individual creativity and replace it with a good-enough system that makes money for a few creators, and I'd say that's a far bigger enemy to a creative society than living in the stone age ever was.

384:

Would that have been the Soviet government, for propaganda purposes?

Not that the current government is exactly incapable of propagandistic announcements, but the TKM World Link idea is something realistic (relative to the other things you mentioned), potentially lucrative, and that serves a longtime historical need for the interior of Russia to be able to trade easily internationally.

As demand for fuel in China continues to rise, the Russians will have realized that it's a lot closer. But the rail line would also cut out the need for Chinese manufactured goods to cross the Pacific by container ship, when they could more cheaply just travel by Russian train.

Of course there's plenty that could go wrong, but I still see a lot more incentive for a moneymaking railway than for lunar bases.

385:

SLS is a very large part of what's wrong with the US space program, not a good example of what's right.

"Let's re-implement Saturn V, 40 years later, using left-over bits of Shuttle kit, at about the same price in real terms." No, that's not a win. What Musk is doing with SpaceX on the integration/testing front is exciting. But NASA isn't about being exciting. It started out as a crash priority during the cold war to prove that the Soviets could be beaten, then in the 1970s it turned into providing a scheme for keeping the US aerospace engineering capability of 1968 employed, after aerospace development largely hit the buffers due to thermodynamics issues in the 1960s, for military-strategic purposes. Then it turned into general purpose pork.

The unmanned space sciences program is indeed productive, vital, and a wonderful thing. It's also the part of NASA that's getting hammered hardest by the idiot politicians who don't understand just what we're capable (or incapable) of doing in space with the current state of technology and the funds available. They keep demanding grandiose manned space projects, then NASA has to scrape up funds from somewhere to satisfy them and stuff like the James Webb Telescope gets raided for spare change.

386:

Hey, I wasn't arguing about merits of SLS. If I was in charge of NASA, it would be commercial launch providers, propellant depots, orbital construction and nuclear powered propulsion all the way.

I'm just saying that SLS is funded, it is much less crazy (and therefore cheaper) than Constellation's Ares V \ Ares I approach, and will probably yield a honest Shuttle-derived rocket (with no destination, but that's a different matter).

387:

No, that stuff hauls from modern Russia. All sorts or crazy things are constantly proposed, none of them are funded. It's mostly propaganda for domestic consumption. If you look at the sorry state of Russia's infrastructure and what the government does about it, you'll understand that no Bering Strait Anything is going to be built anytime soon.

388:

All this diversity in your imaginary world is doing nothing to the average person. Stone age, remember? No travel. You are living in your village and immediate area, and that's what you are exposed to.

You are also limited in time as there is no information storage (again, Stone age). Few generations into the past it is all a blur. If you are in the Arctic, not only you are unable to enjoy the Art of rainforests, you have no idea rainforests exist.

And even if you could somehow (telepathy) exchange information with other stone agers, it will be basically the same bloody stuff - the experience of surviving in the world by using only muscle force, while having no idea how the world works.

389:

@Anatoly so the perfect world is ....drum role please...Pandora from Avatar!!!!

390:

No world is perfect without Colonel Quaritch in a mech suit while on fire!

Which means Pandora is perfect, actually...

391:

Of course, in many neolithic and probably all mesolithic groups, there's little or no hierarchy, so talking about the average is talking about many of the people in the tribe. Right?

The point is global diversity. If Miley Cyrus stopped a thousand young girls from learning to sing and writing their own songs, that's a net loss of creativity in the world.

What I hear you saying is you want everything, right now, without paying for it, and you ideally want it in a post-scarcity setting to assuage your conscience that no one else worked unwillingly to produce it? Something like that? Good luck with that.

392:

>Miley Cyrus stopped a thousand young girls from learning to sing and writing their own songs

I thought it worked the opposite way?

Small bands of humans are the ultimate in surveillance society, everyone knows exactly what you're doing all the time, and judges you for it. I hear the murder rate isn't too low either.

Also I'd like to see a game plan for "heading to the stone age as fast as possible" that doesn't involve genocidal death tolls to dwarf anything the 20th century was able to pull. The Khmer Rouge spring to mind.

Nope, not sold on your plan at all, I'd say a post scarcity high tech society sounds even easier to implement, after all we're headed in that direction. While the potential for spectacular collapse of course exists, jumping into it with both feet on purpose seems... unwise.

Might as well be an extinctionist, leave the planet for the pretty little animals.

393:

re: post scarcity and stone age:

Majority of the population on Earth is living shitty life, with close to 90% of the people accounting for 10%-ish of resources use, meaning they consume 90x less than you do. The top 10% which includes you doesn't know jack shit about how the resources are distributed, doesn't want to know jack shit, burns close to 90% of resources, and uses all it's power to keep it this way.

I'm pretty sure we can all on average live significantly better than we do now, and all work 20 hours a week, using modern tech to improve productivity. The only problem is that no-one's self interest gets us there, i.e. this state is unreachable.

Also. If I am manufacturing stuff, I'll talk you into working 50 hours a week so you can get a big TV, a big car and live statistically as far from work as possible, etc. I'm gonna also talk you into thinking that you're working that time for 'essentials' when you're clearly not.

394:

I'll see that and raise Lunokhod, Venera and not actually trying to build a space telescope only to forget about gravity and build a device with astigmatism!

395:

What you are raising is a cloud of mold that grew over old Soviet equipment.

396:

It's entirely possible that we won't be able to lose the symbiosis to yeasts and grasses that has driven us to such a huge population.

Aren't you just imposing teleology on evolution here - to say nothing of treating biology as if it were value-laden, and laden with our values at that?

397:

You are 100% correct about self-interest. I have no interest in killing myself and 99% of humanity to bring back stone age.

In general, I have no interest in anything that results in my death. Survival of the species is meaningless to me, I am my brain, not my species. Evolution can go screw itself, I'm not participating.

I also have to interest in anything that will permanently lower my quality of life. And the only way you can make me lower my quality of life temporally is to persuade me that I can gain higher quality of life in the long term.

398:

Equipment of a similar vintage to the US programmes that you cited.

399:

Yeah, Lunokhod (1969-1977) is of similar vintage to MERs (2004) and MSL (2012).

400:

"The point is global diversity."

Emphatically disagree. Global diversity is meaningless if nobody is aware of it. One hundred different singers in the world that everyone hears is better than ten thousand if every individual can hear just one.

401:

Since I routinely get stuck listening to music I don't like (courtesy of a partner who is addicted to reality music contests), I think you're blowing smoke. The music everyone is willing to listen to is well down on the list of what most people think is good, because what each individual thinks is best is too diverse. Some people love Tuvan throat singing. I think it's technically interesting, but I can't stand to listen to much of it. Some people like death metal. Some people like Bach. Some people like Rihanna. Some people like anything that hasn't been discovered by the masses yet.

Besides, why should everyone be aware of any one piece of art? There's too much in the world for any single person. That's why we get stuck eating MacDonald's at airports, even though a majority of people don't particularly like their food. It's the thing everyone can agree is safe-ish.

If you want to inspire creativity, by definition, you're not going to be aware of most of it. Especially if however millions or billions of people on the planet are each being creative in their own way. If global awareness is your standard for good creativity, you're supporting global pop culture, with one language, one set of norms, and most people relegated to being passive consumers. That's not creativity.

402:

The limits of piracy - you might be able to get a HDD with every bit of music ever recorded on it, but no way could anyone live long enough to listen to all of it.

There's an analogous limit to the number of different universes in the multiverse - the number of different Human brainstates is something like 10^(10^16)

403:

I think you and I just have fundamentally different viewpoints. I do not eat at McDonalds, and love to try new foods. My music tastes are extremely varied. I am well aware that I can never sample all art (or knowledge) in the world, but I absorb great deal of it, and from all over the world. I do not settle for "thing everyone can agree is safe-ish", and I suspect far fewer people do than you give credit for.

In short, I like connected world.

404:

I am not a big believer that the scarcity world will be as bad as people are saying. if we have one. The Club of Rome said we were about out of copper. It did not happen. As Buckminster fuller pointed out we had copper in scrape yards. When a oil well is capped about 70% of the oil is still in it. It costs more to pump it out. so the oil companies would rater yell for taxpayer help and raise prices. Fuller has be saying for decades that better use will make sure we will not go back to the stone age. 4G phones and gameboys will cost more. Big deal, going back to the 50's the 40's or 30's is not that big a thing. And we will not stay there. Not if we get some leaders who think, not like now.
Peak Oil Debunked
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2011BY DAVID ROTMAN

His classic The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, which won a Pulitzer in 1992...
...Yet each time new sources were found. This is happening once again, says Yergin. With oil prices driven up in the early 2000s by increasing demand, particularly from an energy-hungry China, producers once against spent heavily to find new sources of fossil fuels. Enabled by increasingly sophisticated drilling and digital technologies, they have been remarkably successful around the world at tapping into vast quantities of "unconventional" gas and oil—resources that are economically viable to extract because of technological advances. The examples are numerous: deep undersea oil reserves off the coast of Brazil where one field alone holds 5 billion to 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil; oil sands in Alberta that contain an estimated 175 billion barrels of recoverable oil and an estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of oil in the ground, waiting for future technology to get them out; another 20 billion barrels of "tight oil" that is likely held in deposits scattered about the United States. And that's just counting the Americas.

405:

New York Times, February 2032

The Wisconsin town of Gratiot, Wisconsin was yesterday destroyed during fighting between rival factions. Gratiot was famous as the first real-world community settled en masse by an internet community. Unfortunately for Gratiot, that community was SomethingAwful.

406:

"Which only applies to the USA, for some reason, and is not affected enough by immigration to matter,..."

The first isn't entirely true for this book; they do track the generations back into English history.

As for the second: I believe they've since looked into other countries.

I'm dubious about cyclic theories of history in general, myself.

407:

I like the connected world too, and I don't eat at MacDonald's except under duress. My family also keeps a 700 year-old cookie recipe alive (with some alterations, admittedly), not because it's that old, but because we like the way it tastes.

We started this argument about what constitutes a post-scarcity world. My point is that the world we live in is not only not post-scarcity, not only is it not tracking towards post-scarcity, it is unsustainable.

There's a difference between saying, "well, this lifestyle is fun while it lasts," and "oh, we can have all we have now, only better, with everyone experiencing it. Forever." I don't think we can get there from here. While it would be good to be proved wrong on this point, I'm more busy making sure that we get to some place where people can live after the fun runs out. That's a rather bigger problem, and fortunately, it appears to have some interesting solutions.

Furthermore, what most people describe as desirable in a post-scarcity world are remnants of things that came out of our collective past, like different cuisines, different languages, different artistic canons, physical diversity, and so forth. While we brag about fusion, whether it's in music or me putting kimchi on cheddar cheese, it's recombining more than de novo creation. Some novel things will come out of our multicultural soup, but I'm not sure whether they make up for the loss of all the other creations, especially as people cease being creators and start being consumers. We're increasingly a world of consumers now, and if we somehow reach global post-scarcity land in spite of ourselves, I suspect the trend will only accelerate.

408:

Para 1 and Ilya's #403 - Similarly, with the note that I will eat at $pizza_chain in different countries because not every country makes pizza the same!

I'll suggest that experiencing different national cuisines has never been easier though, because with the Interweb we have a mechanism where $ethnic_recipe can travel the World electronically rather than everyone having to go to $nation to visit a restaurant that serves it.

409:

where $ethnic_recipe can travel the World electronically rather than everyone having to go to $nation to visit a restaurant that serves it.

In theory, yes. On the other hand, I have yet to see the recipe that was actually complete and didn't make any assumptions regarding the recipient's knowledge of that cuisine. A recipe is not a blueprint - it is something a cook will use as a basis, often diverging depending on availability of ingredients, etc.

We, when we travel, enjoy seeking out Indian restaurants in the various countries that we visit, to see the local variations (rather like your pizza example, but without the chain). The styles do tend to be different because they're cooking for a local clientèle, and that is not down to the recipe per se. But the people doing the cooking are usually of subcontinental extraction, and will be starting from a common basis.

The major occasion where that wasn't the case was a restaurant in Tokyo. It had been started by a pair of Sikhs who had then trained local cooks as assistants, and those local cooks eventually took over from them. By the time we visited, the restaurant had been going for 70 years, the founders were long dead, and the result of several generations of local cooks passing on recipes was that the curries were not like any Indian food we've ever encountered. This is a case where the recipe may be the DNA, but actual result is heavily dependant on the environment in which it is developed.

See also the difference between a Vindaloo curry and the dish Carne de Vinha D'Alhos. I cook both, but they are radically different dishes.

(The other advantage of the restaurant is they will have much better access to those fresh foobarfruits that just don't appear in the local supermarket, the really hot wood-burning ovens for pizza, the industrial woks that don't cool down too fast, and so on.)

410:

I wasn't suggesting that the execution will be the same everywhere. I once posted a recipe for stovies, adding the note that you could add chillies and/or hot sauce if you wanted to!

Oh and I know about the difference between "let's see you eat this you drunken idiot" ;-) in a UK located restaurant and "meat curry with wine (vinegar) and potato". I tend to cook the latter, normally with beef or pork.

411:

I would propose that execution is a large part of the experience though. It's the genotype/somatype thing.

Potato? Heretic!

412:

Even climate affects cooking. It's not just the availability of produce, it's the weather itself.

That 700 year-old cookie I mentioned came from either Germany or Switzerland, and you're supposed to let it sit overnight before you bake it. That used to mean the unbaked cookies got cold and dry (not refrigerator cold), because it's a Christmas cookie. In California, we set the cookies out in the coldest room in the house and hope that it's not too humid, especially if the night is foggy.

Many simple things, like getting bread to rise, depend not just on the recipe but on the environment of the kitchen. I have yet to see a recipe with a readout of temperature and relative humidity, even though any baker knows these both matter. Fun!

413:

And of course, altitude.

Which means that depending on where in Switzerland it came from, if it came from there, it would be different. I've eaten a meal in a restaurant at 3500 metres in the Oberland. And also at 250 metres in Basel (which I think is pretty much the lowest point in the entire country, since it's where the Rhine runs out of the country).

OK, I don't think they'll have been cooking at 3500 metres altitude 700 years ago.

414:

We have a light rail running up the middle of Highway 85 in San Jose. Unfortunately, when it gets into town it turns into a classic tram that takes long enough to get through town that I bike instead as it is twice as fast.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 14, 2012 4:45 PM.

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