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Dead plots

Way back in 2000, when I published my first collection of short stories, "Toast, and other rusted futures", I wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek foreword explaining that time has a way of rendering SF futures obsolete.

For example, after the probe fly-bys of the 1960s it was no longer possible to write planetary romances set in the swamps of Venus or among the barbarian tribes roaming the arid deserts of Mars. After 1969 it was no longer possible to write a story about the first human landing on the moon without being aware of Apollo 11. Even though those futures are still accessible via contrived parallel universe or alternate history conceits, you can't write them naively or unironically, and unironic or naive stories written beforehand tend to read badly after the events that rendered them obsolete.

One of the stories in "Toast" was a Y2K parable. I was working in IT during the 1990s, and while Y2K denialism is a Thing in the media today, it's only a Thing because a lot of people worked a lot of overtime hours to ensure that almost nothing went wrong on the day (the dog didn't bark because the dog was in intensive care at the time and made a full recovery).

Anyway, the 21st century has rendered a whole slew of 20th century plots obsolete, including the first moon landing, habitable planets elsewhere in our solar system right now, Martian and Venusian aliens, Y2K causing the downfall of civilization, a USA/USSR nuclear war causing the downfall of civilization, and so on.

But what are the contemporary plot lines from the first two decades of the 21st century that no longer work?

I'm going to note the corrosive influence of "everybody has a mobile phone" on the crime and contemporary horror novel in passing. For the most part, authors have figured out how to deal with it. Some of them still rely on the old trope of "battery runs down" (a bit weak in an age where everything uses one of two types of plug and booster batteries are sold in newsagents), "dropped in a puddle" (again: see IP67 and IP68 standards), and "no signal" (which is a total fail in pretty much any city on the planet: it's still viable in rural/wilderness areas but even then satphones are a Thing and most major roads are networked to provide at least GSM signal). More sophisticated authors actually make cellphones — and more recently smartphones — integral to the plot: Iain Banks' non-SF thriller "Dead Air" from 2002 had a plot that wouldn't work without everyone having a cellphone.

This stuff shouldn't be rocket science, but I note the average age of first-time novelists is somewhere north of 30, and established novelists are typically in their 40s to 70s — not the prime time for adapting to new technologies.

The internet (and Facebook in particular — the search interface for people as opposed to things (Amazon) or facts (Google: NB, sprinkle with irony to taste)) is another phenomenon you can't leave out of a story without going seriously retro. In fact, the arrival of internet dating made a big impact on the contemporary romance sub-genre: a bunch of older how-do-you-meet-someone plots went out the window, but a whole bunch of new ones showed up.

But meanwhile the eminent mainstream literary faculty are still turning out deeply sensitive realist-mode explorations of the human condition that totally neglect the tech dimension. We live in a world with killer drones, state level actors gaslighting each others' electorates with bots and sock puppets and AI generated user icons, where the average TV viewer is ageing by more than 12 months per year as demographic shift kills the video star and moves everything online, where private space launch companies are listed on the stock market and cars park themselves. A realist-mode 21st century novel that ignores phenomena that were tropes in 20th century SF is a de-facto historical novel, or a retro nostalgia trip for people who are deeply uneasy about modernity. Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe with a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone or use the internet is to make them either a criminal on probation (who's been forbidden from using those everyday tools on pain of going back to prison) or to give them some sort of disabling condition — a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, perhaps, or locked-in syndrome.

Moving forward, we come to some new nope-outs in fiction. First up, is using AI to rig elections. Interface, a 1995 novel by "Stephen Bury" (a pseudonym for Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George) was set in a then-near future that seems eerily prescient from today's perspective, focusing on the election campaign of a US presidential candidate with shadowy backers who has been fitted with an experimental biochip to prompt his public gestures and speech on the basis of feedback from a focus group of random voters. Of course, how you pick the training set for your AI is hugely consequential, and it's both funny and chilling to contemplate in the light of subsequent events — as is 1999's Distraction by Bruce Sterling, in which the Chairman for once missed the target by hopelessly optimistically setting the date for the USA's final political gridlock in 2044, rather than a couple of decades sooner. Again: neurocomputing, shadowy influencers and manipulators, emergent tech, and a political system that's unfit for purpose. If you put these two SF novels together with either The Whisper of the Axe or Prizzi's Glory by Richard Condon (author of The Manchurian Candidate) you basically get the American 21st Century redux. (In The Whisper of the Axe a talented African-American woman decides it's time for payback — payback for everything since 1639, that is. And in Prizzi's Glory, the third novel in the trilogy that starts with the much more familiar Prizzi's Honor, a Mafia family decide to go more-legit-than-legit and successfully take over the White House.)

All these plotlines are now dead. (Mob family in the White House? Political leader motivated by a total ideological committment to destroy their own country? AI-mediated-focus groups directing candidate public appearances? Politics causing gridlock and societal breakdown? Dead, dead, dead because they already happened, like the Moon landing.)

Next on the chopping block is pandemic novels, with a side-order of zombies.

Pandemics: we are now intimately familiar with what actually happens — the majority of folks behave reasonably on the basis of the information they're given by those in positions of authority. (Escape clause for "the authorities are deliberately gaslighting the electorate in order to get people who don't vote their way killed".) A minority act out (e.g. illegal parties in AirBnB's booked under fake names: refusing to socially distance in public spaces). The problem has been aggravated by a general destruction of trust in consensus media narratives for political gain (or just advertising click-through rates) in the past couple of decades, but we don't need pandemics in escapist fiction right now, and it's too soon for the deeply serious navel-gazing Novel of the Plague Years. (Just keep a diary.)

Zombies: zombies are a dehumanization narrative, with their roots in a slave society — originally a slave nightmare (of being worked to death, then raised from the dead to carry on working) it was appropriated by slaveowners and white supremacists as a coded euphemism for fear of a (obviously, non-white) slave uprising. Popular with rich media entrepreneurs because it panders to Elite Panic, an entrenched belief in the volatility and violence of human nature (which in turn reflects the paranoid outlook of a slaveowning elite, who had good reason to fear other people).

The thing about zombie narratives is that we are all zombies these days, unless we're in the 0.1%. Disaster capitalism immiserates and impoverishes its victims, and while it was originally the generalization of strategies of imperialist wealth extraction to no-longer colonized peripheral states, it's now been brought home with a vengeance to the public of the most populous Anglosphere nations. But — shockingly — people tend to hang together, rather than riot, when times turn harsh: it actually takes the police rioting against the public to generate the bad news headlines we keep being fed.

So, unironic zombie pandemic stories? Busted. And also unironic pandemic novels. (I will grant a conditional pass for kitch, camp zombies and zombies as a metaphor for something other than the lumpenproletariat getting lumpy with the slave overseers, but I've got my eye on you.)

Also busted: cops (not necessarily including forensics or detectives) as good guys. I'm sorry, but if you look at gun-toting mirrorshade-wearing "blue lives matter" law enforcers today and see good guys, you're a racist. Might as well try and write a sympathetic protagonist who's a homophobic fundamentalist pastor and young-earth creationist with a side-order of anti-vaxx and birtherism. (I had a moment of forced introspection a few months ago when I realized a major protagonist in my new Laundryverse trilogy was a cop and did a double-take: luckily for me she's an ex-cop turned private eye, who got railroaded off the force for being insufficiently complicit. So I didn't have to rewrite very much at all. But it's an illustration of how fast social norms can turn on a dime that something that would have been unexceptional in 2010 was a huge nope by 2020.)

Spy stories: the same. (Edward Snowden stuck the knife in and twisted, aided and abetted by the CIA providing the black sites and torture chambers for him to leak the existence of.) The Empire is real, the Empire has ears and eyes everywhere, and the Empire is nobody's friend. Are you a loyal subject, reader? If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear. (Etcetera.)

What else is on the skids towards 21st century obsolescence?

I want to sound a cautionary note at this point: a bunch of fictional tropes don't exist to be taken seriously but to provide emotional focus and punch to a story, or an escapist refuge from the mundane horrors of everyday life. Vigilante superheroes have in principle been a bust since Alan Moore stuck the boot in with Watchmen in the 80s, if not before, but they sit firmly in the escapism basket, with a bolt-on of modern polytheistic myth-making (in many cases their power spectrum resembles that of the gods of classical mythology). There's still a queasy element of sleaze to some of them — Batman is a billionaire who could solve child poverty in Gotham with a stroke of the pen, but prefers to dress up in latex fetish gear and beat the crap out of poor people — but it's not all terrible.

Fantasies of agency are a drug. We live in an age where individuals almost never get to make a significant difference. The past 4 years have been an object lesson in how little power the Imperial Presidency of the United States actually wields, insofar as Trump could have been far more destructive if he'd been remotely competent — just yanking on the levers like a monkey in a behavioural experiment doesn't get you very far. And I have a feeling that sooner or later we're going to need to go cold turkey and come down off the pleasant high of imagining that we can fix global climate change, or colonize Mars, or punch the Joker, on our own and without collaboration.

But the biggest total nope for the next decade (at least) is the conspiracy theory as a world-view in fiction.

Conspiracy theory is dead to me. It used to be a funny plot trope, as witness Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy. You could read these batshit theories put together by people who thought the Martians had assassinated JFK, or the Jews ran a secret Masonic conspiracy to pollute everybody's bodily fluids by fluoridating the municipal water supply, and giggle at the stupidity of it all. But then a funny thing happened: Facebook. Facebook and Twitter mainstreamed conspiracies and they went viral on the grey matter of people who had never been educated to think critically, evaluate sources of evidence, and fact-check, and we all know the results: QAnon, Donald Fucking Trump, Brexit, a massive upsurge in anti-semitism and white supremacism and neo-Nazism. Not to mention 5G radiation conspiracy theories, anti-vaxx, flat-eartherism, and all the other nonsense. It ends up with people believing shit like the late Francis E. Dec's Gangster computer god rant — and if you listen to it for lulz, because it's basically the ravings of a paranoid schizophrenic with hypergraphia and the controling-machine delusion, just keep watch for the racist interjections.

Folks, writing conspiracy theories in fiction is over. It's not clever: it's like pouring accelerants on a house fire, or playing with matches in a harborside warehouse full of ammonium nitrate. It runs the risk of taking off like an explosive chain reaction and causing immense damage. Those 5G conspiracy theorists in the UK have led to arson attacks on cellphone masts, resulting in emergency (fire and ambulance service) blackouts that put lives at risk. The risks of the anti-vaxxer nonsense (thank you, Mr. Wakefield was causing lethal disease outbreaks even before it convinced about 40-50% of the UK population that they wouldn't accept a vaccine against COVID-19 because vaccines don't work/are a conspiracy/Bill Gates wants to put a chip in you (why?)/you might have a child with autism (hey, no ableism here, honest). And so on. Our current media environment has scrambled our society's ability to assemble a consensus view of reality so badly that conspiracy theories should be considered toxic. And that's not a good thing from my perspective because it puts the entire viability of creative-lies-that-amuse-and-inform — fiction — in jeopardy.

1690 Comments

1:

That democracies will endure in an age of Facebook and Twitter?

2:

I thought I had understand what QANON was about...but a guest on a NPR radio program laid it ALL out--and its bugfuck NUTS, even more than I ever imagined.

So yeah, Conspiracy theories? DEAD.

I think this also kills things like the World of Darkness, where it's a conspiracy that there is this secret magical society within our own. (hmm, that also kills Harry Potter, but Rowling is doing that already)

3:

“No signal” is perfectly plausible in 2020 in the centre of the city of Canterbury. It’s a combination of lots of buildings with thick stone walls and a conservation area (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) that stops anyone from putting up visible masts.

4:

You didn't mention the "Twilight Zone" of Mercury, before it was realised that Mercury's day is longer than it's year ....
Source of a lot of really old-style "adventures"
"No signal" - AIUI one of the problems with th recent really nasty crash near Stonehaven was "dead spots" along the line for calling the emergency services.
That, of course was a primary plot-driver in one of D L Sayers' Wimsey stories .. "Have His Carcase" - it took Harriet Vane ages to get to comms, by which time the tide had washed the body away ....
Well, we have a Manchurian President, in the USA right now, don't we? That novel ( & film IIRC ) was very prescient.
Conspiracy theory ( Or theories ) The standard plot driver for Frank Herbert, wasn't it?
Got repetitive & boring after the 3rd iteration.

"The boss" is VERY suspicious of any upcoming C-19 vaccine - mainly because she is horredously allergy-prone & had a very bad reaction the last time she was given antibiotics ( Which were needed, actually )
But she generalises her, personal, very real problems to apply generally.

Princejvstin
Um
QAnon is itself a zombie ... it's a revival of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" - right down to the child-killing in secret blood libel.
As far as I can see it's almost pure Nazism, with all the world conspiracies of that madness, "adapted" to the modern world.
My father's generation spent oceans of blood & all their treasue defeating that evil & putting a stake through it's heart.
And it's come back.

5:

I think this also kills things like the World of Darkness, where it's a conspiracy that there is this secret magical society within our own.

ITYM the Masquerade.

Heh. I had fun nailing that one in The Delirium Brief ...

6:

A few weeks ago I was traveling along I-80, the most heavily used east-west freight road across the US Great Plains (the big trucks are, for practical purposes, a badly-organized rail service). I get my cell service from T-Mobile, now the 2nd largest carrier in the US. In North Platte, Nebraska, the largest town in a circle more than a hundred miles in diameter, I got nothing but 911 emergency service. No data, no text, no regular voice. As it turns out, T-Mobile does not provide coverage outside of the actual urban areas for the 800 or so miles along I-80 across Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

7:

Sadly, if you live in the rural US there are still lots of places where cellphone service ranges from bad to non-existent. This depends somewhat on your carrier, tho. We picked our carrier by asking folks at our house to make a call and see how it worked. Nobody got really good service; Verizon was spotty but clearly better than the rest, so we went with them. It stayed spotty for 10 years until four years back, when Verizon built a new tower about 2 miles down the road.

And it's not like we lived in the wilderness. We were about 3 miles outside of a town of 2,000, ten from a city of over 150,000, and near the top of a local high point.

8:

The recent Netflix show The Umbrella Academy has avoided the cellphone problem by being set in an alternate timeline where among other things cellphones either don't exist or haven't come into wide use. But that's not a twist every SF show can use, and certainly doesn't work for any reasonably modern mystery.

9:

The 2020 Clean Mental Air Act ?

Until now, we have not really faced the question of precisely how much uncritical thinking a democracy can suffer and still function.

The vast majority of the population used to be fed a carefully curated view of reality, provided by skilled bull-shit-filtrators keeping the schools and news-channels "sober".

What the internet did was pull the rug financially, and bypass these "do-gooders" in terms of bandwidth.

Since critical thinking is not something humans are born with, and actively frowned upon in most authoritarian subcultures, things went off the rails, pretty much precisly as Sagan predicted it would.

We've already seen the initial legislative attempts to reduce information-pollution, and soon politicians will tire of playing whack-a-mole with FAANG and push through "comprehensive" legislation to outlaw spin.

Consequently there may be a showel-ready near-term SF story in trying to squeeze daylight between The Internet Protection Agency and The Ministry of Truth, China, EU and USA.

My personal nightmare is that such a law is a real success-factor, because that by definition gives China a huge head-start.

10:

> and "no signal" (which is a total fail in pretty much any city on the planet: it's still viable in rural/wilderness areas but even then satphones are a Thing and most major roads are networked to provide at least GSM signal)

A minor thing that may even be fixed some day, but I'd just note that, in 2020, in downtown San Francisco, CA, about 2/3rds of my block has no signal. I have a microcell repeater in my apartment.

But we're talking about the US, so the general rule holds.

11:

As it turns out, T-Mobile does not provide coverage outside of the actual urban areas for the 800 or so miles along I-80 across Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Useful to know. I'm an east coast T-Mobile customer. But now you're started a thought train. We switched to T-Mobile because it saved us nearly $100/mo over AT&T with our 4 or 5 phone plan. But much of that was based on a discount though my wife's work. Now that she is on the track to retirement I have to check and see if that discount still applies.

As to T-Mobile being the second biggest that is mainly due to the merger with Sprint. If Sprint has coverage in those areas T-Mobile GMS phones might get it as they switch the systems over from IDEN to GMS.

12:

If you want data in Canterbury, use multiple networks. Herself and I were playing Ingress down there (about a year ago, I guess, since we'd been with you, Mike) and we piggy backed off each other's data a lot in the centre. Between O2 and 3, we were OK everywhere we went to.

But you live somewhere where I don't get signal, or didn't a year or two ago. It used to make my former car unhappy, as it relied on the O2 network to get SatNav info.

13:

has avoided the cellphone problem

As someone who wants noise in the background when working I will at times play old cop shows like Rockford or Law & Order while working. Which leads to funny or absurd plots line if done today. There are very few Rockford plots (70s) which work without answering machines, answering services, and/or pay phones. Plus lots of coordination of "I'll be some where at some time". L&O started in 1990 and ran for over 20 years. So the cops went from pay phones and pagers to iPhones during the show's run.

14:

Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe with a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone or use the internet is to make them either a criminal on probation (who's been forbidden from using those everyday tools on pain of going back to prison) or to give them some sort of disabling condition — a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, perhaps, or locked-in syndrome.

Holy fuck, check your privilege dude.

Two examples pop immediately to mind:
--My sister in law the elementary school teacher in Escondido (not a small city) lost 20% of her students when the pandemic took their classes online. The students didn't die, they just had no internet connection. Ergo, they disappeared from class, and the last time I heard, she hadn't been in contact with them.
--Yesterday, a local public radio station had a long piece about drug courts for veterans, to try to rehabilitate them and keep them out of prison. Biggest problem? Vets without internet connections or cell phones for required therapy visits that they could no longer make live. The court was struggling to find them cheap-enough phones and open library internet connections (30 minutes/person/day) to try to keep them on track, meeting with therapists and not relapsing.
--Actually, here's a third example: my friends are working with the local Kumeyaay tribe to try to stop the border wall installation from destroying more of their cemetaries and religious sites. Again, the problem? Lack of internet access, so the wealthy white activists are working with the Indian tribe (which does, incidentally, have a casino, not that it brings in a lot of money) to get them connected.
--And here's a fourth: The Navajo tribe doesn't just struggle with internet access on their reservation of 71000 km2 (bigger than the ten smallest states, although it holds only 173,000 people), they struggle to get access to water, and the resulting lack of sanitation has made their reservation a hot spot for Covid19.

And I can get into the burgeoning problem of homelessness. Yes, I see them all the time clustering around outlets to get their phones charged, but many don't even have that luxury, especially when they get chased away from buildings at night.

And that's just in one small corner of the US.

So yes, it is entirely possible and normal for real people, especially if they are not white males in the tech industry or with steady jobs, to go without internet access or even cell phones.

If someone thinks it is not possible to include them in a story, it's either due to lack of imagination, lack of research, or racism somewhere.

15:

I recall an American private-eye TV show, "Cannon" perhaps? from the 1960s or 1970s Where the PI had a radio-phone in his car. He'd call the radio-phone operator who would make the landline call for him and then connect it to the radio system. This was a Big Deal, apparently.

16:

I think this also kills things like the World of Darkness, where it's a conspiracy that there is this secret magical society within our own.

Well, I have a hard time with basically all current-day or near-future roleplaying games. Cyberpunk 2020? (Though now rebranded to 2077.) Shadowrun? Ha. I also suspect that I won't be running a GURPS Cops (or Illuminati, for that matter) game.

Alternate history games are still kind of okay. I've started to wonder if the Twilight:2000 timeline (short nuclear war in the end of the Nineties, the default game premise is about US (NATO) soldiers trying to get home from Poland after everything has broken down) is the better one. I think that in the GDW that was history for 2300AD, so people got to rebuild after the war.

17:

Regarding your comments on conspiracy theorism - could this not now be more believably used in a style similar to the unreliable narrator? The protagonist goes going about their perfectly ordinary life, and the major plot point half way through the book is that it actually is safe to approach one of the Obelisks of Death (telecommunications mast)?

I'm sure it has been done before and I'm just not aware of where, but it could be yet another amusing take on "Hans - are we the bad guys?" et al

18:

Not quite no cell phone service, but I know a place about 8 miles from UCLA where the only cell service is Sprint. It's up a canyon, and the governor of California used to have a house in there (yes, that one. It's not a poor neighborhood). Since I don't have Sprint, I have no cell service every time I visit relatives in that canyon.

The back story is that when they were setting up the cell towers, the companies decided among themselves who got which canyon. As a result, each canyon is single service only to this day, 20-odd years later.

Also as a result, I've had to drive people well out of the canyon to get them to a place where they can get an Uber driver to pick them up. Can't do that on the internet (phone calling house WiFi) or a landline, you actually have to have a cell phone with GPS activated before Uber will acknowledge your existence. To avoid hacking. Turns out you can't use your iphone via wifi either. Facetime works just fine, but calling out on a cell phone via wi-fi gets problematic to impossible.

19:

If you want to do real science fiction though, I'd simply point out that coming up with a realistic story wherein people seriously fight climate change is science fictional at the moment. Kind of 1950s, actually, with the unironic idea that people use science to save the world for a change.

Weird, that.

Actually, maybe the other dead plots are the ones that involve irony? Perhaps times are bad enough that writing about hope for the future is something people might want to read?

20:

Folks, writing conspiracy theories in fiction is over.

Of course for some of us they never were. My mother was deep into them. When we cleaned out her house after she died I collected some of her magazines with all kinds of articles.

Did anyone else know that the coordinated effort to fight the Somali pirates was a test run for the Navies of the world to operate under the coming One World Government?

Or did anyone have their parent send them a DVD about Chem Trails?

And have them get mad (actually very angry) if you pointed out the flaws in the various stories?

21:

Holy fuck, check your privilege dude.

America is not a developed nation, in terms of functioning infrastructure. Seriously, here in Scotland we've got state schools who, sending kids home due to COVID-19, provided loaner iPads and a source of bandwidth so they can continue with lessons while in isolation. (Hint: not private schools, this is government-funded.)

22:

Of many problems with the recent X-Files revival, I think this one was far and away the biggest. Mulder's conspiracy theories were cute and charming in 1993. In 2016, he was waxing poetic about how 9/11 was an inside job and hanging out with a character who was clearly based on Alex Jones. And that was *before* Trump was elected.

I think there could be a good story in there, in Mulder going around the bend and becoming a sad echo of his former self -- and to be fair, there are elements of that in there; that's certainly Scully's perspective at the start of season 10 -- but ultimately he's still the hero and the show still treats him as the good guy, and his increasingly unhinged and dangerous ravings as The Truth.

I remember Robert Anton Wilson commenting that when he and Shea wrote Illuminatus!, they were just making up the craziest conspiracy theories they could come up with, but in the years that followed, as Watergate and MK-ULTRA came to light, they realized that what was really going on was far weirder and crazier than their wildest fantasies.

23:

We live in an age where individuals almost never get to make a significant difference.

As opposed to which age?

24:

Back up a century and tell me that Marie Curie didn't singlehandedly make a difference. Or Florence Nightingale and/or Mary Seacole. Or Humphrey Davey or Thomas Edison.

We live in an age where the low-hanging fruit have been plucked, so in the absence of new fields opening up, it takes teamwork to hold a whole stack of ladders up to the remaining fertile branches.

25:

I'd argue that Edison's setup was based on teamwork. Setting that up was probably his great achievement though - the industrialisation of invention itself.

26:

It’s implied but worth noting that many of Charlie’s caveats only apply if you are a fairly aware and socially engaged left of center tending author.

I can’t see the [i]average[/i] Baen*author** being particularly concerned by many of them for example.

*Other Mil-Sci-fi-wank publishers exist.
** Bujold et al very much not the average Baen author.

27:

America is not a developed nation, in terms of functioning infrastructure. Seriously, here in Scotland we've got state schools who, sending kids home due to COVID-19, provided loaner iPads and a source of bandwidth so they can continue with lessons while in isolation. (Hint: not private schools, this is government-funded.)

And

Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe with a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone or use the internet is to make them either a criminal on probation (who's been forbidden from using those everyday tools on pain of going back to prison) or to give them some sort of disabling condition — a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, perhaps, or locked-in syndrome.

North American is basically Canada, the US, and Mexico. We'll just wait until the guys from the Balkans and Eastern Europe chime in about European connectivity, shall we?

That's the point about checking your privilege. I don't disagree with getting students connected. Far from it. What I disagree with is the notion that it's impossible to write a story set in San Diego where internet access is a problem for someone. It is a problem for a lot of people right now.

The adjacent problem is when a storyteller naively assumes that this kind of story cannot be told. My response is simply: why not? That's the problem of privilege. Pay more attention to reality, and a lot of these stories become quite possible again.

28:

sending kids home due to COVID-19, provided loaner iPads and a source of bandwidth so they can continue with lessons while in isolation.

Doing that here also. But the numbers are a bit over the top. Our Wake County North Carolina PUBLIC schools have passed out 80K Chromebooks. With another 85K on order. Plus hotspots to give out to any house without an adequate Internet connection. We have 162K students.

I've read where districts in California are told it will be months before their orders are filled. Like the opposite of airline seat demand Chromebook and tablet demands have the factories running at full speed but it will likely be 6 months to a year before shipments catch up to orders.

29:

And as to privilege it's a bit odd. The people who could afford them bought something for their kids over the summer. So the free (likely loaner) ones are going to the lower income families without anything. The "rich" will get theirs at the end of the line.

30:

North American is basically Canada, the US, and Mexico. We'll just wait until the guys from the Balkans and Eastern Europe chime in about European connectivity, shall we?

Oh boy, you've never been to the Balkans or Eastern Europe, have you?

Seriously, bandwidth out there is cheap. Also plentiful. Even though cash incomes are lower, the cost of being hooked up in terms of percentage of disposable income is lower than in the USA. (You guys pay through the nose for utterly shit service. Ditto Canada.) Listen, Malaysia makes the USA look like a cellphone backwater! So does Estonia! And Croatia! Personal experience speaking here.

The UK is relatively expensive/slow compared to much of the rest of the world -- it's only streets ahead of the USA because the USA is ridiculously bad.

31:

There's a publishing house which specialises in Mil SF and Mil quasi-SF, and has had good sales of stories where Rugged Individualists band together against government thugs and eventually right the country's wrongs after a number of heroic deaths and carefully detailed set-pieces of atrocities carried out by said thugs.

Recent events, as noted in the satirical headline "NRA Accidentally Forgets To Rise Up Against Tyrannical Government", make me think this plot needs to be added to the kill list. Or be mercilessly mocked...

32:

96 out of 167 countries are democratic. Democracy will survive. The US and the UK might not.

33:

The vast majority of the population used to be fed a carefully curated view of reality, provided by skilled bull-shit-filtrators keeping the schools and news-channels "sober".

I think, like most of us, it's easier to take that view if you happen to be cisgender male, white, and urban or suburban. The mainstream news hasn't changed all that much (nor has education), but its power has been diluted.

Blame postmodernism if you like.

34:

I think, like most of us, it's easier to take that view if you happen to be cisgender male, white, and urban or suburban

Oh, totally agree. The downside of a curated/central media narrative is that non-mainstream voices get drowned out when they're making well-reasoned arguments for changing the dominant social structures, not just insane neo-nazi conspiracy junkies.

35:

There's a publishing house which specialises in Mil SF and Mil quasi-SF, and has had good sales of stories where Rugged Individualists band together against government thugs and eventually right the country's wrongs after a number of heroic deaths and carefully detailed set-pieces of atrocities carried out by said thugs. Recent events, as noted in the satirical headline "NRA Accidentally Forgets To Rise Up Against Tyrannical Government", make me think this plot needs to be added to the kill list. Or be mercilessly mocked...

Bingo.

We can add in the additional evidence that trillions of dollars spent on military intervention lipsticked as "nation building" or "democracy building" generally utterly fail, in-country armed coups succeed at most 25% of the time, while nonviolent revolts succeed around half the time. We can get into the whole NRA fraud investigation (schadenfreude!) another time.

But yes, the idea of a small band of armed insurgents succeeding in overthrowing a tyrannical state is as massively counterfactual as having rockets that fly to and from Mars without refueling on Mars.

Conversely, developing a set of nonviolent overthrow tropes for SFF is another thing entirely. It's too bad Joan Slonczewski doesn't hang out here any more. Still, there's a lot of literature on the subject, much of it available for free.

36:

Not sure if this an answer to the question, but Iain M. Banks Culture novels still work really well-begin with a nonironic utopia and then go places where people have chosen something else and interrogate why that choice was made. So maybe unironic utopias are still useful starting places?

37:

In addition to burned 5G masts, No Signal is a reality for me on Hampstead High Street, probably one of the poshest places in the UK, because of wealthy Hampstead residents' NIMBYism for cellular towers.

Now that governments in the US and UK have given up on even the pretense of competence, Kafkaesque or Gogolean gallows humor on the self-licking ice cream nature of modern state bureaucracy are due for a revival.

38:

I dunno, Charlie. There's a lot of those plots that can be used... if you consider *how* to use them, and not use them in the easy "grab conspiracy off the shelf, and no connection off the other shelf..."

Actually, your mention of ubiquitous cellphones gave me a thought on a story that I might do: Bester's Demolished Man. Substitute allways on cellphones (esp. when not intended to be on)....

39:

Ta-daa! Yet another reason libertidiotism is a faulure: how 'bout privatize the roads?

"Oh, hell, my GPS wants us to that that Interstate, but we don't have a subscription to their owner, we'll have to go way out of our way to use the services we are subscribed to."

One system, and the money assigned to each owning company? Really? Would T-Mobile trust Verizon, or Apple trust M$?

40:

Can I have a one world government, please? With taxes on stock trades, and no hidden bank accounts in minuscule countries?

41:

I also hang out on fark. I, and others, have hit our Brave 2nd Amendment Defenders, and if we get a response, it's mealy-mouthed, or "I don't agree with the protestors, they're all criminals".

42:

I think, along with zombies, it's time to stake the werewolf and vampire motifs, for a couple of reasons.

One is that Universal tried to bring them back with their "dark universe" initiative, and they pretty much failed with everything except kaiju. So banking on a big series involving vampires, werewolves, zombies, or heck, mummies is probably a non-starter.

Second is that there's the whole trope of the bloodsucking elites and neighbors who've been transformed into monsters that's a bit too on the nose for right now. It's not escapist entertainment, it's effing developers and your uncle Ernie who's into Qanon. So bin these tropes with the all-too-real idiot conspiracies by rich evil bastards.

The good news is that Lovecraft is still in, if you mock him mercilessly. HBO's Lovecraft Country is getting rave reviews. They're getting serious mileage out of the protagonists being black and the shoggoths being white. Also, the story's as good or better than what Matt Ruff committed to words, and the actors are quite good.

43:

Reality is unrealistic, as always...

44:

ITYM the Masquerade.

Reading the otherwise pleasant Dresden Files, one can only wonder how the space and military agencies would react to someone/something having the capability to change the trajectory of a satellite in an obviously targetted manner, and ponder about the survival time of the fae or the fomor in the inevitable Empire Games-like setup that would follow.

I suspect the white court would do ok though.

45:

Steve Simmons @ 7: Sadly, if you live in the rural US there are still lots of places where cellphone service ranges from bad to non-existent. This depends somewhat on your carrier, tho. We picked our carrier by asking folks at our house to make a call and see how it worked. Nobody got really good service; Verizon was spotty but clearly better than the rest, so we went with them. It stayed spotty for 10 years until four years back, when Verizon built a new tower about 2 miles down the road.

And it's not like we lived in the wilderness. We were about 3 miles outside of a town of 2,000, ten from a city of over 150,000, and near the top of a local high point.

I think I was with GTE before Verizon, but they had the BEST coverage of any network in the U.S. and I had a good, cheap plan with unlimited minutes and unlimited free roaming. I don't remember going anywhere in the U.S. where I didn't have service ... although I haven't driven I-80. I-70 was on my "to do list" for 2020, because I was going to visit Yellowstone National Park.

Their network was why Verizon acquired them, to get their network. And for the most part Verizon has maintained their coverage, although locally I did have some problems when Verizon switched off the GTE network where it overlapped with Verizon's existing network - I live on the side of a valley & the GTE tower was down at the end of the valley; Verizon's tower was across the valley and on the other side of the hill.

The frequencies that cellular relies on are essentially line of sight & their tower was out of sight. There used to be a spot out on the street where I had to stand to get any cell service, but Verizon seems to have fixed it now because I can get cell service pretty much anywhere in the house, although I do occasionally get a dropped call walking from my desk in the dining room into the kitchen ... it's about 20' and there's a dead spot about 8' along.

Or maybe it's the newer phone?

I never got much into zombie stories, but I do have a video game that's primarily about trying to survive after a zombie apocalypse. It posits some kind of weaponized, gene-engineered Cordyceps fungus that killed 90%+ of all the women and turned 90% of the male population into cannibalistic zombies (the fungus apparently spreads itself that way).

In the game the zombies act like they want you to kill them because it's the only way to free them from the plague. The zombies aren't really a problem, you can avoid them easily enough and kill them if you must (I don't usually because it takes a LOT of ammo & ammo is scarce, I only shoot the ones I can't outrun). The real danger is other feral survivors and remnant militaries who have become essentially bandit gangs.

46:

It'll be interesting to see if Starlink and similar satellite broadband services can deliver their promised high bandwidth and low latency.

I recently read a novel (Devolution by Max Brooks) where an eco-community near Mt Rainier gets cut off by the eruption of said volcano. They're too rural for cellphone service, and they the dedicated landline to the community is cut along with their road access by lava flows. The book is supposed to be set a few years into the future (they get deliveries by drone pre-eruption) and I couldn't help but think a large part of the plot would be negated by the advent of Musk et al's satellites.

Certainly me and the missus are considering selling up and moving from the NYC 'burbs to somewhere more rural in eastern CT or her home turf of South County, RI, if my employer embraces the permanent remote worker option. A big constraint will be a decent internet connection though.

47:

"The mainstream news hasn't changed all that much (nor has education), but its power has been diluted."

As I said: The Internet routed around the filters of "good vs. bad taste".

But dont make the mistake to think that this is only a problem with The News.

It is *very* much a problem in and with schools, probably a bigger problem in the long run: Educating kids with real-time high bandwidth access to easy to swallow memes and misinformation is simply not a thing. At least according to the teachers in my circle of friends.

"The downside of a curated/central media narrative is that non-mainstream voices get drowned out when they're making well-reasoned arguments for changing the dominant social structures, not just insane neo-nazi conspiracy junkies."

Absolutely!

But populations where 40% of the electorate believe bat-shit-crazy conspiracy theories, is a problem in an entirely different and much more severe dimension.

48:

We live in an age where the low-hanging fruit have been plucked

Like PCR in the 1980s and, most recently, CRISPR-CASx (Ref Jennifer Doudna)? Those came out of the blue, or were sudden phase changes in an existing body of information.

49:

Nojay @ 15: I recall an American private-eye TV show, "Cannon" perhaps? from the 1960s or 1970s Where the PI had a radio-phone in his car. He'd call the radio-phone operator who would make the landline call for him and then connect it to the radio system. This was a Big Deal, apparently.

It reminds me of a story my dad used to tell about two men who worked as salesmen for the company my dad worked for.

I don't remember their names, so I'll just call them Bob & Bill. Bob & Bill were brothers, but not anything alike. Everything always fell into place for Bob, it was champaigne & caviar all the way and the high life was effortless. Bill was always playing catch up, if he did get beer & skittles, he also got stuck with the check ...

One day Bob comes into the office and invites everyone out to see his latest "tool" for sales work. He's got a mobile phone in his Cadillac, and he extolls on how much extra work it allows him to do making contact with sales prospects because he can make calls while he's on the road. He doesn't have to stop and use a pay phone.

Of course, Bill is just GREEN with envy.

A couple of weeks later Bill comes in to the office and invites everyone out to see the new mobile phone in his Chevy. While they're all standing around he says, "I'm going to call Bob on his mobile phone and tell him that I've got one too."

The call goes through and Bill says "Bob, you'll never guess where I'm calling you from."

... to which Bob replies, "Bill, can I put you on hold? My other phone is ringing."

It's a very sixties kind of story. Kids today wouldn't understand.

But you know, I remember when we didn't even have a "private" phone line. It was a "party line" shared with a bunch of other users and our phone number was only 5 digits "x-xxxx". We got a "private" line when I was in high school because of the nasty old lady down the street who was always hogging the line, listening in on other people's phone calls & intercepting calls meant for other people and hanging up on them.

50:

Scotland we've got state schools who, sending kids home due to COVID-19, provided loaner iPads and a source of bandwidth so they can continue with lessons while in isolation.

It's not country- or even state-wide in the US, of course, but there are places where something like that is happening. Sometimes modestly, with chromebooks and wifi repeaters hung on phone poles in poor neighborhoods, but happening.

E.g., https://www.themonitor.com/2020/08/12/mcallen-begins-wi-fi-installation-throughout-city/

51:

A slightly more charitable view on why conspiracy theories have gained a hold from Cory Doctorow- https://pluralistic.net/2020/05/15/out-here-everything-hurts/

Key extract-

"why is it so easy to find people who want to believe in conspiracies. My answer: because so many of the things that have traumatized so many people ARE conspiracies.

The opioid epidemic was a conspiracy between rich families like the Sacklers and regulators who rotate in and out of industry. The 737 crisis was caused by Boeing's conspiracy to cut corners and aviation regulators' conspiracy to allow aerospace to regulate itself.

Senators conspire to liquidate their positions ahead of coronavirus lockdown, well-heeled multinationals conspire to get 94.5% of the "small business" PPP fund, Big Tech conspires to fix wages with illegal collusion while fast food franchises do the same with noncompetes.

In a world of constant real conspiracy scandals that destroy lives and the planet, conspiracy theories take on real explanatory power."

52:

> phone poles

It just struck me that kids probably have no idea what the connection between "phone" and "pole" might be.

53:

Thad @ 22: I remember Robert Anton Wilson commenting that when he and Shea wrote Illuminatus!, they were just making up the craziest conspiracy theories they could come up with, but in the years that followed, as Watergate and MK-ULTRA came to light, they realized that what was really going on was far weirder and crazier than their wildest fantasies.

There may be a reason why "Truth is stranger than fiction" is a cliché

54:

Seruko @ 32: 96 out of 167 countries are democratic. Democracy will survive. The US and the UK might not.

That's about 57.5%. I hope the U.S./U.K. will survive, but I'm a bit more concerned whether "Democracy will survive" in the U.S./U.K.

55:

A friend noted recently that "The Marching Morons" is prescient, with its storyline involving a group of self-appointed elites who appoint a dimwitted huckster as chief executive to carry out the elites' program of genocide. The huckster in that novel is even a former real-estate mogul.

But my favorite example -- and one I've been thinking about often lately -- is "The Last Policeman" and its sequels, by Ben H. Winter. It's an end-of-the-world novel set in a small city in present-day New Hampshire. Astronomers have identified an asteroid on course to hit the Earth in roughly two years. Everybody knows this, it's no secret, it was broadcast far and wide on the news. The asteroid will kill all life on Earth, and there's nothing anybody can do about it but get ready to die.

It's a beautiful, sad, and ultimately uplifting story -- one of my favorite novels of the past decade.

But I don't remember _anybody_ in the story who doesn't believe in the asteroid. Nobody's just in denial or claims it's a hoax.

P.S. This comment is a reply to Heteromeles because I was startled to see that he, like me, is in San Diego. America's Finest City is small enough that it's startling to see a neighbor in this faraway place. Hi, neighbor! Send me an email and say hello -- I'm mitch@mitchwagner.com.

56:

Fazal Majid @ 37: In addition to burned 5G masts, No Signal is a reality for me on Hampstead High Street, probably one of the poshest places in the UK, because of wealthy Hampstead residents' NIMBYism for cellular towers.

Why couldn't they disguise it as a tree? That's what they did in Cary, NC.

https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM65A_Pine_Tree_Cell_Phone_Tower_Cary_North_Carolina

Apparently popular in other locations as well:

https://www.vox.com/2015/4/19/8445213/cell-phone-towers-trees

I wonder why no one has thought of growing a real tree (or some other kind of plant) around a cell phone tower?

57:


Then perhaps, just maybe, it's time for optimism.

Go the Iain Banks route. Go Star Trek. Show a shining, utopian future. World government; benevolent Strong AI; a colonised Solar System; post-scarcity abundance and the human condition perfected.

Try to resist the urge to blow it up.

Maybe that's the niche market of the 2020's, the thing we all want (nay, need) to read.

Or, you know, you could just go write for Warhammer40k and GrimDark the decade away. Your call, of course.

58:

Charlie @ 21
SO true ... but you couldn't possibly provide absolutely necessary teaching aids during the pandemic to the chidlren ... because that would be socialism - like universal Health Care, too ....

Auricoma
Not even wrong
Individuals make a difference if they are scientists or inventors - sometimes, assuming that Edison doesn't screw you, of course
Individual politicans can make a difference, too - in both directions
... as Charlie has noted
In more recent times ... Randall & Boot or Shockely/Bardeen/Brattain or the DNA people ...

Seruko
Oddly, I give us, the UK better chances than the US at the moment.
WHEN the reaslisation sinks in as to how awful Brexshit was, the backlash will be horrendous
The US may not survive the chaos between 3rd/4th Novemeber & January 2021, if DT gets his way ...

Charlie @ 34
Yes, well.
I was absolutely terrified during 2012 - when ABSOLUTELY NO DISSENT WAS AIRED - at all - regarding the "Olympics"
It showed how completely a government or group could totally control news & reporting, if they really wanted to.
Don't ever forget it.

Misgovernment
Re-quote:
The new way of governing: Announce a stipd policy, abandon & repeat
Can we remember that one, please?

59:

It just struck me that kids probably have no idea what the connection between "phone" and "pole" might be.

They probably also wonder what that funny banana-shaped thing with lumps on the end on the call/hangup icon on their phone's screen is supposed to represent.

https://www.tuktukdesign.com/call-icon/

60:

I think that in the GDW that [Twilight 2000] was history for 2300AD, so people got to rebuild after the war.

Yup. They ran a fairly free-form game in the warehouse to write the future history for T2300 (which later was rewritten as 2300AD).

I liked the original 2300 (the Traveller 2300 version) more than the rewrite, mainly because the rewrite felt like a Hollywood version of history where once again America saved the day and reclaimed its place as Leader of the Free World.

61:

Also busted: cops (not necessarily including forensics or detectives) as good guys.

I've been thinking of late that there's a little meat left in the old "consulting detective" trope. Not another Holmes pastiche, but something that takes the same basic idea and updates it for a connected & crowdsourced society.

62:

A new plot trope for these times?
- An Indy article on new TV series

63:

Actually, maybe the other dead plots are the ones that involve irony? Perhaps times are bad enough that writing about hope for the future is something people might want to read?

Ghod, I hope so...

64:

Yeah, our school district (in northern VA) sent out a questionnaire on who needed devices for remote learning this year, so our daughter is now picking up her device next week. I'm assuming it is a Chromebook or similar. Note sure if they did anything for people without internet, didn't apply to us, though I remember internet accessibility being a question asked.

65:

You’ve not read Peace Talks yet then?

66:

Oddly, I give us, the UK better chances than the US at the moment.
WHEN the reaslisation sinks in as to how awful Brexshit was, the backlash will be horrendous

You are absolutely right.

In Scotland, it'll almost certainly cement a resounding majority vote for independence -- currently polling at 53-55%, but I expect "no deal" plus Boris Johnson's tone-deaf and condescending campaigning to push it up to 60%.

But in England? There'll be a huge backlash, but it will be expressed in the form of anti-immigrant pogroms and a huge upswelling of support for neo-nazis. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Conservatives split and the more rightwing fragment align with Britain First/National Action (way to the right of BXP, UKIP, or the BNP) and mop up a huge proportion of the conservative base, possibly forming the post-2024 government.

67:

You’ve not read Peace Talks yet then?

I have. Compared to Empire Games the mundane reaction is just weaksauce :-)

68:

L.A. has been putting in cell-phone boosters that are in light poles. Dead zones exist.
(I lived in one in 2005. Major street, a block and a half from a major freeway, and I had to walk down the street two blocks to a park to get a signal on my phone at all.)

69:

If you think Empire Games pulled out all the stops, wait for Invisible Sun!

Which is officially being released for production at Tor -- for copy-editing and the rest of the 12 month turn-it-into-a-book-and-publish-it cycle -- next week.

(And your reward for patience is that it's the longest book in the series by a considerable margin -- nearly as long as the original big fat doorstep I handed in back in 2002 and which got sliced and padded to produce the first two volumes as originally published.)

70:

My parents got a "private line" in the late 50s, because the other party on the line had young kids who thought it was an intercom (which they'd have seen on TV).

71:

"Cell pines" are fairly common in the US. I've also seen at least one "cell palm". (There are also church steeples that host cell antennas. Tall, generally good coverage, and people don't object so much.)

72:

OGH: Our current media environment has scrambled our society's ability to assemble a consensus view of reality so badly that conspiracy theories should be considered toxic. And that's not a good thing from my perspective because it puts the entire viability of creative-lies-that-amuse-and-inform — fiction — in jeopardy.

It's worse than that.

We're at the terminal point of deconstruction and postmodernism. When everything is a lie, when all meaning is subjective, when consensus is no longer possible and there's nothing left to deconstruct, we're back to the state of nature. Without some minimal consensus, there can be no just law and thus no sustainable order. Everything reduces to raw power competition. What constitutes "reality" becomes a matter of will and the ability to impose it (i.e. resources). To the victor(s) go the spoils.

For the majority of us, that means gambling on which new "reality" is the least evil and most accommodating to our personal survival.

Studying history is interesting. Living it in real-time sucks.

73:

Charlie I wish I could agree with you. I think you don't want to stop using conspiracy theories because they're definitely not going to stop being a part of the world. In fact they're only going to increase in importance from here on out. I wish conspiracies were always laughably false information. Unfortunately in addition to the dangerously false information there's also plenty of stuff labeled conspiracy theories that's true. For example everyone talking about the stuff Snowden was going to reveal about US government spying on everyone before he revealed it. Also MK Ultra, operation Northwoods, "War is a Racket", claims the Iraq War was based on lies, and the Tuskegee experiment etc. We live in a world where the authorities take it upon themselves to lie to us for our own good in ways I that can get some of us killed witness Anthony Fauchi claiming that masks were know good not so very long ago.

74:

OGH--Hello! I'm a fan!--the link re police riots goes to a PJ Media article that seems the opposite of your point. Major cognitive dissonance; given your lead-in my brain kept trying to process the linked article as Onion-type satire until I finally figured out that it was an actual conservative media site. Was that intentional?

Re current dead plots/tropes, the same culture shift that makes the "cop" protagonist more difficult has also (hopefully) killed off any sympathetic character or setting in the U.S. adopting the "Lost Cause" view of the Civil War, or portraying Southern culture as aristocratic/noble/heroic in a non-ironic manner. Not a problem for most SF admittedly, but my first thought was of ye olde John Carter, a former Confederate officer who escaped to Barsoom, a fantasy-land stand-in for the never-existed South of aristocracy and nobility (but with fewer clothes requirements). Can't think of a more recent example in SF, but it has pervaded the culture generally for far too long, in music, general fiction, U.S. politics...

75:

Olivier Galibert @44: That is always mentioned as the reason the magical people keep very, very quiet. Although the last book seems to have ended that.

Uncle Stinky @51: Been reading Private Eye since I was a teenager. Depresses me how many real, low level and slightly rubbish and incompetent conspiracies there are. Not so much people sitting down and plotting evil intent, more a build up of compound cock ups, corner cuts and petty theft. You can also add Grenfell tower to your list. Nobody set out to kill anyone, they just didn't care enough to think they might. But the effect was the same.
Strange that in this age of super-conspiracy, no-one is getting mad about these less exciting ones. I genuinely wonder if the 5g causing interdimensional viruses nuttiness is pushed as a smokescreen by the people who are merely emptying other peoples money into their pockets. Post Office computer system bugs been sending people to jail for 20 years? You'll be telling me Bill Gates is a lizard next!

Allen Thomson @52: You back to talking about Eastern European network cover?

76:

There's kind of a fine line between conspiracy theories and some sorts of political action. Is the SNP a conspiracy? Is my 30-year plot to separate the American West from the rest of the country a conspiracy? Well, no to the last one, at least, because so far it's just me.

77:

I'm on board with "cops are bad frequently enough that they can't be portrayed as unexamined good or even neutral", but... I don't know, man, you're *really* stretching it with "anyone who doesn't problematize cops is a racist". I think you're assuming way too much about how many people are on board with specific left-wing discourse. Twitter's got you in funnel-vision or something.

Cops are often bad. A lot of racist people like cops. Policing, as currently constructed, has some racist roots. But there are different *reasons* people might find cops unobjectionable, including just plain unexamined white privilege, being sheltered, or even not hooked into the same political filter bubbles that you are.

78:

("Funnel-vision" was a typo, but it actually does seem apropos.)

79:

I think the thing about Conspiracy Plots is that they're too real at the moment to be good escapist fiction. There's too many would-be Illuminati trying to run the world, and most of them have more in common with the fabled "Illinois Nazis" from the Blues Brothers than with the ones in the trilogy.

Speaking of which, the "Illinois Nazi" clip really doesn't play well at the moment. A car driven by white ex-cons ramming a free speech rally? Yeah. Even if it is Nazis, that's kind of uncool.

80:

Just thinking about it, if you wanted to recycle a dead plot, I give you 21st Century Dune.

Instead of a warped look at the Human Potential Movement on drugs in space, how about the New Butlerian Jihad, updated for the problems of the moment?

As OGH has noted, we've got slow AI already: it's called big corporations, if you believe OGH. Why not write a story about a "jihad" (or possibly a real jihad) to save the world from big corporations by (non)violently overthrowing them and setting up functioning substitues? Instead of the Human Potential stuff Herbert drew on to create the Mentats and Bene Gesserit, draw on, use Permaculture to create livable alternatives to fight climate change. It's where the counter culture is now, that and fungi solving every problem from drugs to concrete substitutes.

There are two problems with the Permiculture Jihad: one is that if you don't know from permaculture, you'll need to spring the big bucks for Permaculture, A Designer's Manual. The last chapter is about how the founder envisions using permaculture to design a new society, so you can just literally use that as your design template.

The other problem is that the Permies think that civilization is inherently evil and don't favor anything about villages. Hard to do that with ten billion humans around, but maybe the problem can be handwaved. The bigger problem is that the Permies propose to own and run the villages based on a series of interlocking trusts. If you know anything about wealth management at the moment, you're probably aware that complex structures of interlocking trusts, foundations, and corporations are how the wealthy shield their property from taxation and control.

So there's an inherent conflict between the problem (the wealthy and the slow AI big corporations that are their wealth) and the proposed solution (small, world-saving trust-based ecosystems that support the Brave Protagonists fighting the good fight against the behemoths). Fortunately, resolving this conflict is the backbone of an epic trilogy about saving Earth for life.*

Feel free to swipe this idea if you want to. I'm just spitballing ideas, not thinking about writing this one. Weird as it sounds, orthodox permacultures are likely be more functional than the "government sponsored Big Ag permaculture" that is the default solution to climate change at the moment.

*This isn't too different than what Robinson did in his Mars Trilogy, if you want an example of this kind of revolution in action.

81:

My kids, and granddaughter, know what it is.

It looks *just* like the one sitting next to my left hand as I type, here on my desk. Princess style.

82:

Leapfrog...

What do we have in place of cell phones in the future?

When I was younger, I wanted a 2400 baud half-duplex modem in my mastoid. so I could both phone to humans and voice-type to machines. A little low-tech these days.

Elizabeth Moon did the same, but with ansibles. Also low-tech, just long-ranged.

What would be high-tech? An imaginary friend you provide a world for? An overlay to the world of all sorts of information like available apartments the the building in front of you, but only if you were apartment-hunting? Night vision would be nice.

Maybe time vision: who has been past that surveillance camera in the last few minutes, so you can decide if you want to keep walking? Or so you could follow your spouse from out of sight, or your prospective victim.

Yeah, time vision. Evil and good, randomly whipped together.

83:

Wellll.... about John Carter: you need to read the first chapter or so *carefully*. He *predated* the Old South. He had no idea how old he was, but there are suggestions? hints? that he fought in the 1600's.

And as I read it, unlike the rest of the Southerners you see for a little bit, he treated the slaves like people.

Of course, he *did* fight for the South, but....

84:

Saying that they can't be not treated as a question, but then not assuming racism is "far left"?

Sorry, bugger off. I grew up in the slums in north Philly. I've lived around the country. In other than a very visible public location, esp. in neighborhoods, they do not make me comfortable.

And, btw, I prefer "beige" or "salmon" to describe my melanin content.

And I am a socialist. If you think *I'm* "far left" you have accepted the Faux News def of "far left" (y'know, like Kamala Harris or Obama, both socialists, according to them).

85:

The permies. How they think it should go.

ROTFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Look up "anarchist-syndicalist", says the twice-member of the Wobblies.

86:

bunch of older how-do-you-meet-someone plots went out the window, but a whole bunch of new ones showed up

One of my daughter's school friends has a twin brother. Both twins are gay. Both are on Grinder. On at least one occasion they ended up hooking up with the same guy -- without realizing it. And without mentioning to the poor guy "I have a twin, and he is also gay". (Not out of malice, just an oversight.) The result was definitely worthy of a romance plot.

87:

Sometimes you can solve two problems by putting them together.

Stories about conspiracies no longer work.

Stories about the development of brilliantly logical artificial intelligences by thoughtful, competent scientists like Noonian Soong or Susan Calvin no longer work.

Stories about the development of artificial intelligences that immediately start ranting about Q-anon, however, would totally work.

88:

Stories about the development of artificial intelligences that immediately start ranting about Q-anon, however, would totally work.

Realities already done that…

https://www.theverge.com/2016/3/24/11297050/tay-microsoft-chatbot-racist

(OK, not Q-Anon, but the same idea.)

89:

(Proof that I’ve read past the fold: is that a missing close paren after “Wakefield”?)

Charlie and all, another plot that won’t fly any more is “future society with a cure for cancer/death/diabetes/common-cold” etc. We know now that Big Pharma is real; we won’t get utopia, we get the healthy 0.1% and the rest of the population bled dry.

@51: I love that Doctorow piece which I’d not seen before.

90:

Re current dead plots/tropes, the same culture shift that makes the "cop" protagonist more difficult has also (hopefully) killed off any sympathetic character or setting in the U.S. adopting the "Lost Cause" view of the Civil War, or portraying Southern culture as aristocratic/noble/heroic in a non-ironic manner. Not a problem for most SF admittedly, but my first thought was of ye olde John Carter, a former Confederate officer who escaped to Barsoom, a fantasy-land stand-in for the never-existed South of aristocracy and nobility (but with fewer clothes requirements). Can't think of a more recent example in SF, but it has pervaded the culture generally for far too long, in music, general fiction, U.S. politics...

Are you watching the HBO series "Lovecraft Country?" It debuted just a few days ago and that very point you make features prominently.

The hero is a Black American in the 1950s. When we meet him in the very first scene of the very first episode of the series, he is reading the first John Carter of Mars novel. Challenged about his choice by an older Black woman, he says something about beautiful stories having flaws and you need to love them despite their flaws.

I've had a similar philosophy for years, but I phrase it in a more direct manner: You can either see past the racism and sexism in early sf, and enjoy the work, or you can't. And either response is OK.

As for me, I still enjoy police procedurals but I view them as a form of fantasy.

91:

Hmmm. Not sure whether permacultural finance maps onto anarcho-syndicalism, because the first one's got issues with scaling up on civilization that the classic anarcho-syndicalism never got to.

That said, why should Ayn Rand have all the fun? Or Kim Stanley Robinson, for that matter? I just figure that since trusts and associated shenanigans are a center-piece of the wealth management system that's bleeding us dry at the moment, then centering a SFF story around that bit of culture, for good and bad, makes good sense.

Hell, maybe I'll have to write that story. Instead of Galt's Gulch and vibrator torture, it'll be Galt's Garden and forced Zoom conferences.

92:

96% of the US owns a cellphone and the ones that don’t are old

So Charlie’s statement is correct and no checking of privelage is required

81% own a smartphone

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/

Somewhere between 88% and 93.7% of the US has broadband access

93:

You don’t really need starlink to stay connected when outside of cell range their are plenty of affordable gadgets that will do the job

This is the one I use for texting when off the grid

https://www.somewearlabs.com/

Though startlink will get you much more bandwidth

Beta program people are getting aronnd 20Mbps up and down. Even that is fine , but should improve over time I imagine

94:

You really want to read the poll results before you use them to support your argument, because they support mine.

If 20% of kids can't Zoom to make classes, why not? It may be that the one computer in the house is being used by a parent or relative for work, or a sibling for school. But on this survey, they would qualify as wired.

Ditto phone. It looks like they have access to phones, but do you want to use a non-smart flip phone to try to do video conferencing? Neither do I, but in the poll, they'd qualify as wired.

Finally, we fortunately do not have 20% of the population homeless (it's around 5000 in San Diego County out of a population of 3,000,000-ish), but they're vulnerable when their essential services are online and they are not.

To quote Charlie, "Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe with a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone or use the internet is to make them either a criminal on probation (who's been forbidden from using those everyday tools on pain of going back to prison) or to give them some sort of disabling condition — a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, perhaps, or locked-in syndrome."

Here's three versions of how someone can fall through the cracks very, very easily, and thousands of them apparently have. Each one of them might be a story waiting to be told.

I'm sorry your imagination failed in this case, as did his.

95:

Charlies original statement (which you jumped all over) had jack shit to do with anyone zooming anything. That was a tangent you brought to the conversation

His original statement was

"Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe with a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone or use the internet is to make them either a criminal on probation (who's been forbidden from using those everyday tools on pain of going back to prison) or to give them some sort of disabling condition — a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, perhaps, or locked-in syndrome."

This statement is factually correct

96:

they're vulnerable when their essential services are online and they are not

Especially when the old standby of 'public library computer' isn't available, either because of the pandemic or (in happier times) shutdowns and funding cuts.

That was a problem on the Sunshine Coast even before the pandemic (according to friends that live there) — one branch of the government closing an office because their clients could 'do it online at the library', another branch cutting library funding (which cuts access)…

I've got an old smartphone, and I'd hate to have to do anything form-based on it. A lot of websites aren't really designed to by used on a tiny screen.

97:

a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone

I've got friends in their 50s who have a mobile phone, but almost never have it turned on unless they're expecting a call. (They got it because the husband needed it for work.)

I was travelling last year with a friend who, while he had a better smartphone than I did, insisted on keeping it turned off to save power so it was effectively useful only for outgoing calls. (This despite having a car charger and being able to charge our phones every day.)

Some of my nieces turn off their phones so they aren't bothered by friends interrupting them. Apparently some of their friends take poorly to being ignored (and the app reports that message has been delivered or whatever, so my nieces can't say 'didn't see it').

I've told my nieces that they deserve friends who understand that your friends aren't at your beck-and-call, but apparently a lot of younger people disagree…

98:

Another data point to counter OGH's assertion about the universality of cell phone access.

Officially designated wilderness. I can take you to places on Mt. Hood within 50 miles of Portland, Oregon, that do not have cell access and are unlikely to have it for some time. Why? Deep canyons, near wilderness areas that officially do not allow for the placement of cell phone towers, and are surrounded by minimal year-round residents. I know of one wilderness area near Portland where it is quite feasible for someone to exploit if they want to disappear, and have collaborators.

I live about 60 miles from the deepest canyon in the United States (no, not the Grand Canyon...Hells Canyon on the Snake River). No matter who your cell phone provider is, you still lose contact by the river. Again, official wilderness designations. The same is true in many of the areas outside of the Wallowa Valley here. We're talking a big area with a very small population. Wallowa County is 3,152 square miles (8,160 square kilometers). Population is roughly 7,000, concentrated in three small towns. Population density is 2.2 inhabitants per square mile, 0.85 per square kilometer. And a big chunk of that land is wilderness, where you can't put up cell towers.

Sat phones? Ha! Rare. Expense is a big part of it, and I can assure you that unless you're a government entity or a guide/outfitter escorting clients, you're unlikely to be carrying one. Radio repeaters are what I think tend to get used if you have the need to carry some sort of communication device, but it ain't your cell phone and it's not an everyday expense. Needless to say, Search and Rescue becomes an interesting experience when some hiker runs into trouble in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Or in the canyon. That said, again, government entities or wilderness guides/outfitters are the primary folks who will have access to outside communication.

It's pretty easy to get into trouble in this country and be out of cell phone range. That tends to be a common problem during the fall hunting seasons when we get an influx of out-of-the-area people in the woods, many of whom are older and not necessarily a.) familiar with the country or b.) familiar with what it takes to survive here.

The equation is rugged terrain and low population density. I would think this is an issue that occurs frequently in many low-population areas with lots of mountains and canyons.

99:

"Spy stories: the same."

Mm, as much as I'm with you on all the rest, not sure I agree with this one. I'm currently rereading Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories, arguably the first spy stories ever written, and they hold up surprisingly well. (This, by the way, is not true of some of Maugham's other stories, which now read as racist, misogynistic, trite, and predictable.) The Ashenden stories are about powerlessness, about the moral ambiguity of being a cog in the machine, about the impossibility of grand narratives that can explain everything -- themes that still seem relevant today. I may change my mind after I've reread all the stories, but right now -- I think there are still themes that could be fruitfully explored in spy stories.

100:

[Some notes, writing in a hotel in northern Vermont with WiFi but with no cell phone data access. There are places nearby with zero cellphone coverage.]
Some conspiracy theories are falsifiable, and some are not.
Some that can be falsified have been falsified. QAnon in particular is continuously falsified and then revised to fit (recent)historical reality.
Some conspiracy theories are falsifiable but have not been falsified.
Some of them are not (easily) falsifiable, e.g. religion, the existence of the current reality's scriptwriters, etc.
Fiction where there are obvious attempts to falsify a conspiracy theory is fine IMO; It shows a process that we should all be regularly engaged in.
Society is a shitty arbiter of what is obviously false and what is obviously true. A Committee To Define Consensus Reality is a bad idea, since the entirety of the consensus is almost certainly wrong, and often parts of it are constructs, sometimes with agendas behind them. Charlie played with this in The Rhesus Chart - “EVERYBODY KNOWS vampires don't exist.”. This was a consensus reality, and also a manufactured reality, like so much of our contemporary reality, albeit that one had a supernatural manufacturer.[1]

A mundane example, alluded to by Frank Shannon #73, are certainly non-pharmaceutical interventions to slow the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The early ones rolled out were dogma, old dogma. Some correct, some not.
- Universal wearing of masks was discouraged. Early on in the pandemic, anyone in the West who advocated for universal wearing of face coverings was branded a killer of medical workers, and probably delusional. Even early on, it was clear that the spread was airborne (maybe semi-ballistic) from analysis of early superspreader events, that any other hypothesis was probably at least mostly false. The reasons for the dogma had to do with some dubious science during the 1918 influenza pandemic related to dubious masks (gauze), a lack of massive and utterly unethical RCTs for testing face coverings as source control for pandemic respiratory viruses, and a switch from cloth masks to disposable masks for medical workers in countries where most science is done. Also, rarely are patients masked.
- Early on, hand hygiene and surface cleaning were strongly recommended. few months into the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, no evidence had yet surfaced that fomite transmission (through contaminated surfaces) spreads SARS-CoV-2. (This remains the case. No solid examples.) The guidelines in many countries continue to emphasize hand hygiene and surface cleaning. In the US, this summer there are parks where all the picnic tables are in large chained-together piles, for no good reason. It remains a hill to die on for medical workers. My doctor even freaking made up (as far as I can tell) a paper about a soup ladle transmitting COVID-19 in a supercluster event. To be clear, these measures block the spread of other infections agents, which in some part of the world are quite common.

The emerging consensus is that masks and other measures to limit sharing of unfiltered exhaled air are important to limit community spread of SARS-CoV-2, and that surface clean and hand hygiene could be deemphasised in a jurisdiction if no other common diseases would be blocked.
Yes, the science drove in these shifts. Slowly.

[1] The Nightmare Stacks? Isomorphic with some truth. :-) [2]
[2] "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..." (Peoples lived experiences are different. I have never seen a UFO, or a classical ghost, or bigfoot. A fast-moving Dodder tendril freaked me out as a child, pre-internet.)

101:

“ Sat phones? Ha! Rare. Expense is a big part of it, and I can assure you that unless you're a government entity or a guide/outfitter escorting clients, you're unlikely to be carrying one. Radio repeaters are what I think tend to get used if you have the need to carry some sort of communication device, but it ain't your cell phone and it's not an everyday expense. ”

I think the technology has moved on a bit from what you describe. There have been significant advances in the last 3-4 years. And there will be incredible ones in the next 10

The device I carry

https://www.somewearlabs.com/global-hotspot

$349 with a $9.99/ month plan

Waterproof, shockproof , tethers to a mobile phone

Text from anywhere
Send location from anywhere
Downloads maps and weather data anywhere
Tracks you do others can see where you are
SOS

I’ve used it extensively it works, even in pretty deep canyons provided you aren’t in a hurry for the message to go out

I’m basically never disconnected even if I’m in the deep cascades or on the middle of the Sahara

Garmin also makes similar devices with more bells and whistles, but at more of an $500 dollar price point

https://www.amazon.com/Garmin-GPSMAP-Handheld-Satellite-Communicator/dp/B07S5GK8NL/ref=mp_s_a_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=garmin+satellite+communicator&qid=1598067447&sprefix=garmin+sa&sr=8-4

102:

a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, ...

I've been joking about this with my wife for a while now. "Don't go on social media, or you'll catch 5G!"

OK, now back to absorbing the serious message, which from skimming is about the political elite having gone completely feral.

103:

I've never seen that joke (don't open that email, you could catch a virus from it!) before....

With *such* appreciation to Bill the Gates....

104:

"Why is Amber jumping on the top of the cowshed with her hand in the air?"
"Someone might have suggested there was a bar of cellphone coverage around there..."
"Was that you???"

There are still places with terrible cellphone coverage. It just means you can't set a story which is blown apart by easy communication in the places where most people live.

105:

Sure, John Carter the character might have 'predated' the Old South. As you imply, though, that doesn't really alter the fact that ERB wrote him specifically as a Confederate veteran. But my point really was just that Lost Cause tropes, or trying to fill in a protagonist's backstory using the Confederacy in a sympathetic way, might finally have met a cultural shift it won't survive. It's a literary feature that has been used throughout the 20th century and has withstood what sporadic objection it ever received, until (perhaps) now.

106:

I haven't watched Lovecraft Country; neither wife nor daughter are interested and I have few opportunities to watch something by myself. But I love the premise and I hadn't heard about the Princess of Mars shout-out--love it!

As it happens, I do agree, read 'em and enjoy if you can--I loved the ERB books when I was a pre-teen and early teen, and re-read a couple of the Mars books in my 40s, purely for nostalgia purposes. I read with a wince for what I had not registered the first time 'round, but still enjoyed it. Same for me with the Doc Savage stories; I have I think all 172 of them (the Bantam reprints, not the zines) and read many of them repeatedly as a teenager and even in my 20s. And Heinlein; I still have copies of all his books even though there are some I have been afraid to re-read. But I can't help but re-read and enjoy, over and over, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Red Planet, and Citizen of the Galaxy, and Starship Troopers, and Tunnel in the Sky, and even, Bog help me, The Star Beast. Nothing I would ever recommend to anyone else, but some of my critical faculties simply do not function for these books.

107:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeah, that one still holds some power.

My rediscovery of SF was through William Gibson, specifically the Burning Chrome short story collection. So much of it seems prescient now, an outcome I am certain he did not want.

As OGH said in a previous post, a new world is being born. It's fucking terrifying. We are all making decisions and taking actions that are hopefully rational and make sense in the context of 2019, but we don't have a lot of confidence that they are wise in 2020 and beyond.

Walter Lippmann wrote something about the summer of 1918 that feels painfully similar. Everyone knew something was going badly wrong, but everyone carried on as if it weren't. Businesses placed orders that would not be filled. People made holiday plans that wouldn't happen. They seemed like prudent, well informed decisions but they were based on a stable world order that was in the process of exploding.

I'd love to read an SF novel that explores that painful space between what characters can reasonably expect based on history to date and what is actually happening. And some way for them to take agency, somehow. Because it's hard to see any now, aside from the usual voting and activism. Certainly violence won't work for any realistic character process or affecting any actual change.

It may be that SF writers will have to handwave 50 or 100 years into the future and just refer to the 'Jackpot' as Gibson has recently done. A century long disaster that kills most people in myriad ways.

108:

On the whole no cellphones thing, it's really noticeable when you visit "third world" countries how ubiquitous they are, even in very remote areas.

Because those countries either had ravaged infrastructure or no infrastructure at all, they completely skipped all the hard wired tech and are going straight to mesh cellular and 3/4/5G to strategic backhauls. All you need is a local power source for your tower and line of sight from that to the next one, and boom, your Ruritanian locality is online. In most cases all the cell providers share the towers, there's a lot of cross-charging behind the scenes.

And that's not even getting into the advances in satellite connectivity, easily demonstrated by the arrival of inexpensive in-plane wifi.

109:

"But my point really was just that Lost Cause tropes, or trying to fill in a protagonist's backstory using the Confederacy in a sympathetic way, might finally have met a cultural shift it won't survive. "

We don't find many sympathetic Nazi characters, nor Khmer Rouge - though I am not familiar with Cambodian literature so what do I know.

110:

Charlie ( @ 66 )
No
What was the "Conservative party" will split, but the ultra-right will not succeed, especially if Starmer is still leading Labour.
Will be very noisy, though.

Oh yes - "No comms" not a plot line?
Really?
Last night, our internet & others went down for several hours from about 21.00 onwards. Not just our ISP - I couldn't "see" any other local net-contacts at all.
Also your own ISP going down, as well as the usual in-house/home problems, when a cable gets just dislodged.
One could construct an all-too-real plot line where one had rolling/intermittent comms failures, quite possibly from malicious sources, screwing with the comms just enough to ....

PJ Evans
We, too, have cell trees - it's just that ( enough of ) the burghers of Hmapstead are arseholes & stupid.

FUBAR007
Actually, I ran across an arrogant deconstructionist ooh, way back in the late 1980's who sneered at "Objective Reality" & dumb scientists.
Took me about 3 minutes to demonstrate that he was an ignorant arsehole.

Heteromeles
the Permies propose to own and run the villages based on a series of interlocking trusts.
Oh ... SHIT
How to re-construct the very worst aspects of the social "organisation" of both Nazi Germany & the USSR, in one easy lesson.
IIRC there was even a short by Solzhenitsin on the subject - (?) For the Good of the Party (?)

Christopher Biggs
We know now that Big Pharma is real; we won’t get utopia, we get the healthy 0.1% and the rest of the population bled dry.
The USA is NOT the planet - OK?
Simply will not, does not CAN NOT work in a civilised or developed country - the USA is neither.

Bill Arnold
Some of them are not (easily) falsifiable, e.g. religion
REALLY?
"No form of BigSkyFairy is detectable" - certainly falsifies xtaianity / judaism / islam / hinduism.
Mind you the ingenious wrigglings, lies, inversions of logic & argument - all usually followed by angry shouting, poor dears are ... interesting.

OTHOH, a lot of surface cleaning will cut down on a lot of other infections & low-level nasties, so - don't de-emphasise it too much!

Rocketjps
Post-1918. A whole lot of grief, that came home to roost, later, was people "Wanting to get back to the way it was before 1914" - without realising that it simply could not be done, at all.
The Gautama's dictum about stepping in the River applies here ...
But you STILL get sympatheic treatment of the bloody-handed, dripping with peoples intestines of the RC church, don't you?
See above & below ...
...
And- lastly:
"Lost Cause" tropes
Brexshit is a modern version of the Jacobite Cause & as hopeless & disastrous, for all involved.

111:

Some of the old tropes might come back into play given further research. Europa & Enceladus are prime examples of where life might lurk in the Solar System, hidden beneath kilometres of ice, and there may be other examples. Of course the definition of habitable and the nature of the aliens has changed, but the potential is still there. Stories using them would be more Andromeda Strain (sample return mission goes wrong) and Secret of Life (corporate exploitation of non-terrestrial life) than Barsoom.

112:

Noted: "police riot" link now goes somewhere more appropriate.

or portraying Southern culture as aristocratic/noble/heroic in a non-ironic manner. Not a problem for most SF admittedly, but my first thought was of ye olde John Carter

Your touchstone for that trope is the Western, which was riddled with distressed former southern gentleman-soldiers righting wrongs on the frontier. In a reality seldom depicted in film or fiction, a third to half of cowboys in the old west during 1870-1900 were African-American ...

113:

Depresses me how many real, low level and slightly rubbish and incompetent conspiracies there are.

Well, yes. The ISO standard actually-occurring conspiracy is: someone makes a career-ending/jail-inviting cock-up that causes significant suffering, or they steal an awful lot of stuff. But either they do so within an organization (so that if they're exposed everyone else gets to lose their job at the same time) or they have enough friends that they can throw shade on the investigation. But investigators seldom work alone, so sooner or later another investigator turns up, and they have to double-down on the denials.

Eventually the whole messy tower of lies crumbles but it's possible for a lot of people to be killed or hurt first.

The key feature of the ISO standard conspiracy is that they are avoidable in the first instance (you simply wouldn't do The Bad Thing if you had the common sense of a bluebottle) and they are ad-hoc contrivances that acquire additional complexity over time as the lies pile up, rather than being pre-planned by some Evil Committee of Evildoers like (fictional) SPECTRE or (probably fictional) the Illuminati or the (non-existent) Elders of Zion.

114:

I think you're assuming way too much about how many people are on board with specific left-wing discourse.

No, I think I'm on board with about 30% of people in the USA/UK being irredeemable racist dirtbags who are comfortable in their racism.

115:

Why couldn't they disguise it as a tree?

BANANA

116:

We live in an age where the low-hanging fruit have been plucked

Somewhat related, an article on how all the easy startups have been done and now its mostly about individuals who have PhDs in two different fields. You can group research all you want, but too often it takes a deep understanding of both* fields to get the key insight.

https://techcrunch.com/2020/07/19/the-dual-phd-problem-of-todays-startups/

* may be more than two

117:

On the whole Conspiracy Theory Plague thing...

Neal Stephenson's Fall or Dodge in Hell has a subplot in which the USA political right completely loses any connection with reality and winds up in a cult based around the literal truth of the Book of Ecclesiastes, often with some really nasty extras added on by local cult leaders who enjoy a psychotic power trip.

Which got me thinking. What if the Zombie Apocalypse is a *memetic* plague in which people are turned into homicidal lunatics by a combination of bad viral memes spread through the Internet. In this world QAnon is merely the start.

Looking at this through the "Zombie Apocolypse = Slave Revolt" lens this is of course my STEM-degree middle-class anxiety about the uneducated masses being stupid. But still, there are a lot of middle class people with STEM degrees out there...

Also, of course, Snow Crash and The Riddle of the Universe and its Solution. And Monty Python.

On the other hand, maybe there is a Herd Immunity effect coming. The real draw of conspiracy theories is the power of being privy to the Secret Knowledge, a trope common ever since Ancient Rome, but over time people will see that real secret knowledge is not to be found on dodgy websites and Facebook pages.

Schools are likely to add critical thinking to their curricula. This has already happened in History, which (in the UK at least) explicitly includes critical analysis of competing sources:

[Pupils] should understand how different types of historical sources are used rigorously to make historical claims and discern how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been constructed.

So extending this to the rest of the curriculum is not a big stretch. A class in which children are immunised against pathalogical viral memes by exposing them to some flat-earth and creationist literature, and encouraging them to think about what these have in common could be effective.

118:

It'll be interesting to see if Starlink and similar satellite broadband services can deliver their promised high bandwidth and low latency.

I'm waiting for the first major outage they cause to someone else's satellite system just by causing "occasional" errors often enough to break it. They're already fucking up astronomy something awful, even with less than 20% of the announced satellites in place (~2600 when just two companies are promising more than 15k between them)

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20200812/09274245099/regulators-are-ignoring-how-low-orbit-satellite-broadband-is-trashing-night-sky.shtml

119:

who doesn't have a mobile phone

Then there's that friend we have who you can never reach. She let's her cell phone battery run down most of the time and never does check her voice mail. And thus it is always full messages from the distant past and you can't even leave a message.

And messaging her can be hit or miss since when she does power on her phone there can be from 10 to 40 messages and she doesn't read through all of them.

She admits she's a bit of a ditz in terms of tech.

So she HAS a smart phone but for all practical purposes it is more of a brick than a useful device.

120:

A lot of websites aren't really designed to by used on a tiny screen.

I'm with you. But it is changing. About half seem to be OK now. When on a "real" computer you can tell the forms that are designed to work on cell phones. Huge buttons, only 1 or 2 fields per screen, etc...

121:

Stories about the development of artificial intelligences that immediately start ranting about Q-anon

Yeah, but those are news stories. It was only funny the first time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tay_(bot)

122:

I've got friends in their 50s who have a mobile phone, but almost never have it turned on unless they're expecting a call.

We have relatives in their 80s like that. They also comment at times that we never call them.

123:

It's a literary feature that has been used throughout the 20th century and has withstood what sporadic objection it ever received, until (perhaps) now.

Only recently did I realize how much of US TV and Movies rely on this trope. In the 50s into the 70s for TV. Earlier for movies.

124:

local power source for your tower and line of sight

The second half of that is why so much of the western US and other places with similar geography don't have cell service. Add to that that the geography also tends to result in very low population densities and thus low demand.

125:

Most of what has been said about mobile telephones is thoroughly misleading. While 'almost everybody' owns a mobile telephone and 'most people' own a smartphone, in many groups those spend most of the time switched off, often with the battery flat. Yes, it's highly age-related, and NOT because the elderly are technophobic!

Have you ANY idea how hostile those things are to people with hearing loss? Their acoustic quality and maximum volume vary from low to unusable. In order to use my 1-200 pound 'smartphone', I need a 4-500 pound dongle to connect to my 5-6,000 pound hearing aids. Worse, to set them up needs a mildly complicated ritual involving very small and well-hidden buttons, doesn't always work, and so you have to perform a marginally more complicated one involving even smaller ones (and a biro or pencil) to reset. I carry a booklet of instructions (which I needed to play PDF printing games and trim to make). In my case, I have ample technological expertise, I read pseudo-technical gobbledegook fluently, and have very good short distance vision and adequate physical coordination. Miss ANY of those (and most elderly people lack at least one), and it would be a nightmare. Text isn't a great improvement, because it critically needs good short distance vision and adequate physical coordination, and is a gruesome way of doing anything other than sending short, informative messages.

Harking back to the original post, most of the SF I have seen completely ignores these issues. At most, it issues the old, tired canard about older people being reluctant to use such things because of technophobia! It would be refreshing to see some referring to the (real) issues and how the future handles them.

As far as coverage goes, quite a large proportion of the UK has no signal or a near-unusable one - by land area. By habitations, that's down in the 0.1% level. The West Country and some other places can fairly be described as crumpled, and even dense, wet trees will block signal. There's a lot of the Highlands without any signal - and without any habitations. I have used a satellite phone and, while they are a lot better than they were, they are heavy, power hogs, and very prone to signal blockage. You need to get somewhere with a clear line to the south.

I agree that things have changed a lot, and are continuing (e.g. masts are being installed in national parks, because we can't leave anything approaching wildernesss to be undeveloped), but the meme of universal coverage isn't any more plausible than the 1960s one of having to hunt for a telephone.

126:

On cell-phone infrastructure in the USA:

There is something weird about a bunch of Americans telling someone living in Edinburgh to check his privilege about access to technology.

127:

'We know now that Big Pharma is real; we won’t get utopia, we get the healthy 0.1% and the rest of the population bled dry.'

You're just voicing a US conspiracy theory. In a sense it might be true in the USA where winning elections needs money and the healthcare sector has lots of profits to 'invest' in politicians. But outside the USA drugs don't generally have astronomical prices. New drugs can be expensive but they also require a lot of clinical testing and drug trials. In my ten years of overseeing lab participation in hundreds of clinical trials I've seen how much this costs. My policy in charging for drug company trials was that the NHS should make a profit from all the lab tests and data involved in such a trial. I gradually increased the prices for this until, when I was told our costs were among the highest of any labs I reduced the surcharge from 200% to 150%. Most labs in the UK had unrealistic prices and were doing tests at a loss. There are lots of other costs. Dedicated medical doctors and nurses need to be recruited, hospital pharmacies have charges comparable to labs. Consultants need to be convinced of the need for the potential drug. Drug companies need a lot of staff to plan, administer and deliver the logistics. They also need staff to analyse the data. So many people are involved that new drugs can't be cheap.
And when the new drugs have been produced organisations like the NHS have huge buying power and can negotiate prices in a way that Medicare and Medicaid in the USA are forbidden to do.

128:

W.r.t. Y2K. It never was likely to be the disaster than many pundits claimed it was, because it really only affected accounting applications (in the general sense of accounting). You are fully right that the reason nothing much happened was because people were fully aware of it, and took care to arrage that. What I personally was scared of was the gummint panicking, and turning telephones off (fixed line, mobile or both), which was at one stage a policy. As they were used to control water supplies, sewage works and supermarket deliveries, that would have turned a minor problem into chaos.

The year 2038 problem is going to be far, far worse, because much of the code will not be overtly handling dates, but will be deep inside code that nominally does something else entirely. Worse, while two-digit years were used for security and data consistency, pretty well all of that code had been purged by 1985 (sic). It isn't just NTP, most security mechanisms, backups, application building mechanisms etc. that will fail, but any program that contains similar logic for other purposes. Making that even worse, two-digit years were almost invariably stored in variables that were clearly dates of some sort, but Unix timestamps are just plain integers, and it's often very hard to know whether a variable might contain one.

Because modern software is typically built by plugging existing components together and using ghastly scripting languages to bypass and kludge up failure modes, there is decreasing expertise in several critical infrastructure areas. I can witness that I failed to find ANY top-level expert in either NTP or TCP/IP in the UK when I needed one, and my contacts with those in the USA indicated that there at most a single digit number left, worldwide. Indeed, I was horrified to discover how few 'experts' knew even as much as I did :-(

On this matter, fixes to the 2038 problem will often be intimately bound up with C's conversion and promotion rules. Hands up anyone who knows what they are, how they differ from C++, and (most importantly) what they have been over the period 1980-present. At one stage, I was one of about half a dozen people in the UK who could have put up my hand half-way, but am now too rusty.

We have already been within a gnat's whisker of having one of the Big Five banks go bankrupt because its infrastructure failed (they couldn't do any inter-bank transfers) and they couldn't locate the problem. They probably did (after 48 hours), but may have abandoned the code and installed a different mechanism. There have been other, nearly as serious problems, too.

I can't predict when, but we ARE going to have a serious IT infrastructure failure that can't be bypassed and kludged up. And, by serious, I mean enough to bring major economies to a near complete halt, indefinitely, and change the geopolitical balance as our result. Our experience with minor failures does not teach us how we would handle such a thing.


On a peripherally related matter, I am not sure that COVID is a reliable indicator of what a really serious pandemic would be (e.g. a pandemic of Ebola). The point is that most countries' economies would not have taken more than a 50% hit from COVID, even in the short term, if they had simply let it run its course and left people to recover or die at home. As you know, diseases get much nastier!

129:

There is a common belief by "Big Pharma" conspiracy theorists that all new drugs come from America, indeed all drugs production for the entire world is based in the USA. This results in accusations that the rest of the world are somehow conspiring to force America to sell them drugs at less than their real cost and hence the US Holy Taxpayer is subsidising ungrateful welfare recipients who aren't even American.

130:

W.r.t. Y2K. It never was likely to be the disaster than many pundits claimed it was, because it really only affected accounting applications (in the general sense of accounting).

Ha ha ha ha no. This is so utterly and totally wrong, it deserves a place in the International Hall of Wrong Fame, right up near the front door with a dozen spotlights drawing attention to it.

131:

In order to use my 1-200 pound 'smartphone', I need a 4-500 pound dongle to connect to my 5-6,000 pound hearing aids. Worse, to set them up needs a mildly complicated ritual involving very small and well-hidden buttons, doesn't always work, and so you have to perform a marginally more complicated one involving even smaller ones (and a biro or pencil) to reset.

At least modern cochlear implants can have bluetooth capabilites and can be used as basically BT headphones. I'm not so sure about regular hearing aids, though, as CI external devices have relatively large batteries, and BT can draw much power. The smallest regular hearing aids might not have enough juice left over to run BT for very long.

132:

That's not a complete solution, unfortunately. Bluetooth is yet another transport mechanism with a zillion features, options and so on, and it's common for two devices to have bluetooth capability for the same purpose yet be unable to communicate. That is the case here. My hearing aids will talk directly to a Iphone, but not to an Android phone. Don't get me started on trying to get it to work under Linux :-( I have a friend with a similar problem, who is faced with the prospect of buying new hearing aids (at the same price) to be compatible with his new smartphone.

But, even without needing the dongle, many of the problems remain for people with very poor short-distance vision or poor physical dexterity. And that includes a LOT of elderly people.

133:

A lot of the clinical trials I was involved in were for American companies. I've even had an FDA inspection of my lab.
But the procedures weren't significantly different from European and UK firms. One difference was that they sometimes wanted to store samples and send them to the USA for testing. I objected to sending samples to US labs with poorer quality control. Since there are always tests such as ESR which had to be done on fresh samples I charged as much for ESR and secure storage as I would have charged for the whole test menu of the trial.

134:

Oh, really? The problem originated in IBM's date format, I was peripherally involved in IBM's (and its customers') planning for the Y2K issue in the 1980s, and was managing the UK's (third?) largest supercomputer on the relevant date. I think that I might just know a LITTLE amount more about this than you do.

Yes, I know that Microsoft did its level best to emulate IBM's mistakes of 30 years previously, but the vast majority of 'mission-critical' real-time systems (which were the ones were a failure would have been a disaster) did not run Microsoft systems. That was the era of Windows NT 4, fer chrissake!

135:

Am I the only person who remembers a 1970's Norman Spinrad novel "Bug Jack Barron". There are important similarities between Qanon's fantasy and the plot of the novel. I am certainly the only person who remembers "The Iron Dream". Nasty idea, I should not have read it. But I was young and stupid.

136:

Ha ha ha ha no. It wasn't just accountancy, everybody and their dog had 2-digit year codes in working code running embedded control systems in aircraft, marine operations, military equipment, civilian infrastructure and manufacturing and more. I personally worked to fix a Y2K bug in a business in the 1990s that used a two-digit year code literally cast in iron, on large paper-making machinery rollers. They couldn't be insured to operate unless they had traceable ISO9000 certification linked to that number and the two-digit year code broke stuff if not handled properly after 2000 rolled around. There was no easy software fix since there was no way to physically add two more digits to the hundreds of rollers in operation around the world but it did require a code workaround/bodge to meet the required certification.

Accountancy systems were only one part of the Y2K problem, every time someone poked at a bit of legacy code or ancient technical architecture another Oh Shit! satori eventuated. That's why there were a lot of extra hands on duty at various locations over the New Year as 1999 rolled into 2000.

137:

Are you watching the HBO series "Lovecraft Country?" It debuted just a few days ago and that very point you make features prominently.

It's based on a novel. (I don't do TV; the book is in my to-read pile somewhere. I don't generally read much Lovecraftiana by other folks, unless it's written for comedic effect, and my appetite for American-centric parables about the evils of racism is negligible.)

138:

Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe

You emphasized the wrong clause.

You should have spotted:

Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe

Novels are a dramatization of life: someone without connectivity these days is not a plausible fictional protagonist without some plot-relevant mcguffin to account for it.

Maybe they live 30 miles down a dirt track in a shack with no running water, never mind power: okay, that'll do it, but it needs to be a major plot point. In general dramatic fiction shies away from depictions of extreme poverty or deprivation because those things don't sell books.

139:

In a reality seldom depicted in film or fiction

Another seldom-depicted aspect of the American West: gun control.

"Tombstone had much more restrictive laws on carrying guns in public in the 1880s than it has today,” says Adam Winkler, a professor and specialist in American constitutional law at UCLA School of Law. “Today, you're allowed to carry a gun without a license or permit on Tombstone streets. Back in the 1880s, you weren't.” Same goes for most of the New West, to varying degrees, in the once-rowdy frontier towns of Nevada, Kansas, Montana, and South Dakota.

Dodge City, Kansas, formed a municipal government in 1878. According to Stephen Aron, a professor of history at UCLA, the first law passed was one prohibiting the carry of guns in town, likely by civic leaders and influential merchants who wanted people to move there, invest their time and resources, and bring their families. Cultivating a reputation of peace and stability was necessary, even in boisterous towns, if it were to become anything more transient than a one-industry boom town.

Laws regulating ownership and carry of firearms, apart from the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, were passed at a local level rather than by Congress. “Gun control laws were adopted pretty quickly in these places,” says Winkler. “Most were adopted by municipal governments exercising self-control and self-determination.” Carrying any kind of weapon, guns or knives, was not allowed other than outside town borders and inside the home. When visitors left their weapons with a law officer upon entering town, they'd receive a token, like a coat check, which they'd exchange for their guns when leaving town.

The practice was started in Southern states, which were among the first to enact laws against concealed carry of guns and knives, in the early 1800s. While a few citizens challenged the bans in court, most lost. Winkler, in his book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, points to an 1840 Alabama court that, in upholding its state ban, ruled it was a state's right to regulate where and how a citizen could carry, and that the state constitution's allowance of personal firearms “is not to bear arms upon all occasions and in all places.”

Louisiana, too, upheld an early ban on concealed carry firearms. When a Kentucky court reversed its ban, the state constitution was amended to specify the Kentucky general assembly was within its rights to, in the future, regulate or prohibit concealed carry.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gun-control-old-west-180968013/

140:

I'm waiting for the first major outage they cause to someone else's satellite system just by causing "occasional" errors often enough to break it.

Looks like Musk took the American techbro "move fast and break things" mantra literally.

141:

Yes, but you could do it with a dedicated back-to-nature fanatic (who? me? though I am over 70) who had an extended encounter with selkies, the fae or whatever in a remote corner of the western Highlands. I know such novels are out of fashion but, as you know, they have a respectable ancestry and a few do still get published. It's not your scene, to be sure, and is nowadays a very niche market, so that's just a niggle.

I don't realistically see how to do it except with a single person or very small group and some events like aliens, elves, ghosts or 'unusual' animals, set in such a location. As soon as you want to involve other people, as almost all novelists do, your point kicks in.

142:

the US Holy Taxpayer is subsidising ungrateful welfare recipients

Well, that part is true, given that most of the research for new drugs funded by the government (thus the taxpayer) with only the last stage paid for by the pharmacorp — and the pharmacorps, like all corporate welfare recipients, are distinctly ungrateful.

143:

The fact that a paper-mill has to go offline for a while to get the software upgraded scarcely counts as a problem, and is assuredly not a crisis. The fact that a lot of software had to be fixed is irrelevant - it was the potential for major disaster that the was the real Y2K problem.

I know that the media reported examples of the form you gave, but I have definite evidence that most of them were urban myths. As I say, competent software developers started fixing such issues round about 1980. I had conversations with people in several of those areas about the issue, including a developer of embedded systems for aircraft.

Me: the media has reported that your area has a lot of Y2K problems that will cause chaos; I can't believe that.

Him: you're right - we're not idiots.

There will be a resurgence in really ancient code in 2050, because the most common kludge will stop working, but I doubt very much that it will be significant.

144:

In medical labs we had few problems on January 1st 2000 because we, and the equipment manufactures worked hard to update software.
There was a problem in another lab which had serious effects. The lab was using home-grown software for maternal screening for Downs syndrome. This involves three (of four) lab tests and software to calculate the individual risk. The maternal age (a major risk factor)was entered and presumably displayed) correctly. But the software made all the mothers young and gave an incorrectly low risk.
I don't know all the details of this but it was a serious error which had nothing to do with IBM or any other large company.

145:

Email from Amazon today about Invisible Sun:
'Hello Michael,
We have received new release date information for the item in the order below. The release date has been changed by the publisher and we want to provide you with the updated release date. We apologise for the inconvenience caused by this delay. We'll keep your pre-order open on your account and you'll receive a confirmation when the item is available for download.* '

146:

Sorry but you're living it a bubble. I dealt with Y2K issues on various non IBM systems. And even got to deal with the new code and fix up code for an application that was using 8 bits for months past 1970. For various reasons we had to get it fixed by around 86/87 as we had to deal with dates a few years into the future.

Disk storage was just so crazy expensive compared to today that programmers got to do all sorts of crazy things to save space. Like "this US based system with alpha coding doesn't need 8 bit characters so let's just use 6 bits and pack them 4 into 3."

147:

I really hate to say this, particularly on Charlie's blog, but the person you should probably be communicating with is Eric S. Raymond, who as you probably know is a very knowledgeable programmer (and also a gun-toting Libertarian/John Birch type with political ideas that most of us here would find... just a tiny bit problematic. Just a little.)

But he's also the guy who maintains both the GPSD and NTPsec projects for Linux, and of course he goes way back in the programming world. You can check out the projects he's working on here:

http://www.catb.org/~esr/software.html

But of all the people in the world, he's also one of the few who can probably take on the problem.

148:

"extreme poverty or deprivation"

That's assuming that the factor of desire never applies.

There are people like me who fucking hate the things. To say "I don't want a mobile phone" misses the true emphasis: "I do want to not have a mobile phone"; it's not a case of passive lack of desire to have one, it's having an active desire to be without one. I wouldn't have a fixed internet connection either if I hadn't already had a technical interest in computers.

I get the feeling that you disregard this kind of possibility because your own inclinations are rather the opposite. But you do know fine what kind of reasons there are to hate the things since you have written some horribly scary scenarios based around them. And one possible result of such situations is that the adverse aspects are so glaringly obvious that people can't help developing a deep antipathy.

Indeed, in your OP you have mentioned that people actually are burning down mobile phone masts even while we're still in the "hopeless addict" phase. The reasons why they are doing it seem to be entirely obscure. But it doesn't seem unreasonable that it would become a much more popular activity if people had much more obvious reasons and reminders like the boarded up houses in their street remaining after the midnight disappearances because of phone addicts having been headfucked via Arsebook etc. into voting for the Nazis.

I'm not convinced that something like that is necessarily a dead plot. I think it could be very much a live one. Orwell might well have thought similarly.

149:

Maybe they live 30 miles down a dirt track in a shack with no running water, never mind power: okay, that'll do it, but it needs to be a major plot point. In general dramatic fiction shies away from depictions of extreme poverty or deprivation because those things don't sell books.

You've heard of the rags to riches story?

I take this personally, because it does affect my family. My wife, an immigrant, spent a good chunk of her childhood in two room apartments where she shared a bedroom with her four siblings while her father got the other bedroom (her mother passed when she was a child). She got a doctorate, incidentally.

Or we can take Joe Biden, whose family fell on hard times for about the first ten or so years of his life. Although his family had started wealthy, they fell on hard times and had to scramble back up to selling cars.

Kamala Harris was raised by a single mother.

Barack Obama's African father left when he was a baby. His Indonesian stepfather moved them to Indonesia for awhile, before Obama left to attend a good school in Hawai'i while living with his grandparents, who were white.

Bill Clinton's father died when he was a baby. His stepfather was an abusive alcoholic.

Ronald Reagan was the son of a salesman.

By the way, bios of Reagan, Clinton and Obama were best sellers.

Part of the fight right now over Black Live Matter is, in part, getting white people to realize that, despite the very real American Dream, it has applied far less to people of color. It's not just that the Police treat Black people as targets, it's that they rarely get ahead. Worse, the Republicans, despite having several rags-to-riches stories themselves, have gone all-in as being the party of inherited wealth and power. "Check your privilege" is a warning that you're not getting the full extent of what's going on here.

I know you're trying to make rhetorical points by criticizing the US as "not a developed nation" and all that to save face, but this is important. The idea that you can't sell a book about someone in poverty in the US is simply, mind-bogglingly wrong. Even and especially today. Since the US is your biggest market, you really do need to get this point.

The Digital Divide is very real in America. It's not trivial, and it's perfectly reasonable to use it in a book of any sort.

150:

30% sounds about right for the UK. Possibly even 35% - look at the 2019 election result, they voted in someone with the intellect of a house brick and the moral integrity of a puff adder on speed.

50% of the population are below average intelligence, so what do you expect?

151:

The thing about conspiracies is, they *are* real. They just aren't all that controlling. The real controls are visible, if you dare to notice them. (Thus "Don't see the fnord.".) And there are multiple conspiracies, with lots of levels of competence/power/destructiveness. Some are pushed by an individual wealthy person. I don't know *who* pushed QAnon, but it's a conspiracy that's become visible pretending to be an anti-conspiracy. (Well, many conspiracies pretend to be anti-conspiracies.)

This doesn't mean they aren't too dangerous to play with, but simplistic denialism is also too dangerous.

The point about Facebook and Twitter as amplifiers is very well taken. Which brings up the interesting question of "What other amplifiers might be in the future?" and "What will they amplify?". That's a really difficult one to predict, but deep-fakes may point towards one of them.

152:

I told the company in writing in, I think, 1989 that their naming system for these rollers was going to be a problem in 2000 and they should think about changing it before then. The word I got down from On High (I was a lowly contractor, not a system architect) was that they had paperwork for rollers they had made going back to the 1950s which were still certificated for use under the old numbering scheme. If they changed their system to add two digits in the front, changing from 89/0013 to 1989/0013 they would have to replace a shitload of very expensive paperwork to accommodate new rollers with this new nomenclature as well as cover existing rollers already in use -- mills swapped out rollers for refurbishment and the insurance was based on the QA certificates for each roller and they absolutely had to match that 2-digit-slash-4-digit format to be covered because that's what the insurers had agreed to as the unique identifier when they carried out the risk assessments.

The "fix" I came up with was to rewrite the certificate generation database software to work with 2-digit year codes on the basis that the oldest roller still in use was, I think, from the early 1950s so anything from 51 through 99 was treated as 1951 onwards, 00 through 50 was treated as 2000 onwards. Page three of the documentation explicitly stated, in large type, that this code would stop working (and throw up specific error messages) and should not be used after 2050. That warning was, after review, regarded as ISO9000-compliant which kept things legal and the insurance was covered.

153:

Decided to post before reading the comments because a bunch of items popped into mind while reading Charlie's post. (Apologies if this duplicates other posters' comments.)


Dead plots:

That the human mind (heart) is knowable, e.g., motivations (love, hate, anger, etc) can be seeded, grown, channeled and used. Alternately, only an AI can ever know the human mind/heart – humans are too selfcentered. Prevents people from even trying to understand the diversity of human thought, emotion, being.

All things including people fall within an idealized bell curve – everything/everyone else can be ignored – unless you’re the hero, ‘glorious leader’.

That all you need to learn for a good, productive life, you’ve learned by elementary school – social, sci-tech, econ/financial evolution is faster than ever, life-long learning is a necessity and needs to be part of any long-term societal plan

Shiny tech esp. for profit is a good thing (Musk) – there’s so much sky, we needn’t worry about toxic space-spills (like oilers, plastic bags) destroying our atmosphere, interfering with (mobile phone) communications, falling into and burning up ever-scarcer O2/contributing to poor air quality, starting fires, damaging property/airplanes, killing people (sat-nav/enabled AI-driven cars, etc.)

One mad genius can create/solve any problem – no need for international cohorts of specialists to research/collaborate on projects. Besides – in the sciences, there’s only one right way to look at/evaluate a problem/solution.

Only ‘big’ creatures matter re: ecosystems – no need to sample, identify/study and ensure continuation of anything we can’t see with the naked eye … ditto for establishing a space colony (forget the microbes)

The typical/normal human being can know everything needed to know in our society

The typical human can only know/is interested in only one topic area and is and always will be a complete idiot re: everything else.

Emotions don’t matter – everything that is really important is visible and can be measured using physical metrics or $$$ (puzzler: why is right-wing media usually in full-on rant/rage mode; why do autocrats insist on loyalty?)

If aliens (ghosts, creatures from the Dungeons dimension, etc.) ever land on planet Earth …
a) they’ll visit the White House first
b) we can trust the White House/POTUS to meet/negotiate with the aliens to all of humanity’s benefit
c) all of humanity/all national gov’ts will react as one when the aliens land
d) ETs will feast on Big Macs at the White House
e) ETs will be able to visit anywhere they like, touch anything/anyone they want because there’s no fear they/we might have microbes that could be deadly to the other
f) ETs will not need to be first screened by scientists before interacting with humans face-to-face
g) ETs arriving to settle down on Earth will have to find jobs and pay taxes like everyone else –
h) ETs can teach us about tech & the ‘hard-sciences’– they’re otherwise too different from us therefore we shouldn’t expect to learn anything from them about psych, soc, econ, medicine/bio, bio/agriculture, etc.
i) ETs will never invade/enslave us via our financial systems – we always know exactly who all of our current investors are, what they own, what taxes they owe/pay, their preferred investment sectors, their preferred trade styles, etc.

154:

I'll heartily agree; I have one for occasional use, but it is merely a tool that I utilise. My bank and credit card company have both decided that it is to "my" advantage for them to use my phone for 2FA. I do not want it, but now on random but frequent occasions I have to schlep down two flights of stairs to find my phone and then rush back to the computer to key in a code. Customer service this ain't.

155:

At least modern cochlear implants can have bluetooth capabilites and can be used as basically BT headphones. I'm not so sure about regular hearing aids, though, as CI external devices have relatively large batteries, and BT can draw much power. The smallest regular hearing aids might not have enough juice left over to run BT for very long.

You've never used a pair of modern wireless earbuds like Apple Airpods, I take it? Especially the Airpods Pro, which have some moderately serious on-board signal processing? (Beam-shaping microphones, active noise cancellation, a mode to amplify external speech frequency sounds while damping background noise ...) Battery life is about 2-3 hours, but they recharge in their case in about 30 minutes from flat, and a 1 hour top-up takes about 5-10 minutes. The case itself is the size of a cigarette lighter, if that, and holds enough juice to power them for 10-12 hours.

Anyway, I mention this because it puts a bound on the upper end of how much power the in-ear bluetooth CI devices are pulling.

156:

Yes, of course, there was a certain amount of incompetely-written software that failed - but how many people did that kill or leave disabled?

In particular, that bug would have given a negative age for the mother - any system-critical software that doesn't check for that is incompetently-written and the programmers should be sent to reeducation camps.

For the last time, I am not, repeat NOT, saying that only a little software needed fixing, but the CRISIS claims were that a large amount of critical software would go belly-up as the year turned, causing major disasters and loss of life, and that never was plausible.

As I said, competent software houses either (a) never introduced the problem in the first place or (b) started dealing with it in the 1980s, and MOST system-critical, real-time software was written by that sort of organisation. Than, as now, a very small proportion of software has the potential to cause even widespread disruption.

To Heteromeles: yes, I know of Eric Raymond, and he has probably heard of me under my real name. I haven't communicated with him, and can't judge his level of expertise, but you may have misunderstood what I am talking about as a top-level expert. Anyway, I am stopping here.

157:

You know, getting out of bed before noon was a lot easier, had more meaning when I could go do something.

158:

Re: 'Eventually the whole messy tower of lies crumbles but it's possible for a lot of people to be killed or hurt first.'

Like what we've recently learned about the new virus? Considering that PRC/Xi isn't averse to public executions, curious to see who/how many local politicos will be named and executed and how many civil rights/anti-death penalty folks will protest this. The mess just keeps spreading farther and deeper.


'US intel agencies find Wuhan officials kept Beijing in the dark for weeks about coronavirus'

https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/21/politics/us-intel-wuhan-covid/index.html


I think part of the reason for such stupidity (cover-ups) is that people in certain levels of authority/power are made to feel that they should and always do know everything there is to know about any situation: that ignorance is not a normal (or healthy or transient) condition that can be addressed. Very simplified engineering/authoritarian based mechanistic view of biological systems/critters.

159:

Two abortions were carried out and several Down’s syndrome babies were born. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/sep/14/martinwainwright

160:

I remember reading somewhere that the USSR was run like a company (of the old-style Ford Motor Company vintage*). If that is the case, it's not surprising that the PRC has the same organizational problems as a large (pre fintech) company, such as lying to look good to the boss, and blaming the messenger…

*Company housing, company papers, company police, company 'sociological department' able to question a worker and their family at any time…

161:

re: 96 out of 167 countries are democratic. Democracy will survive. The US and the UK might not.

This needs careful defining. There's a very good argument that no sizeable country is a democracy right now. The US claims to be a representative republican government, not a democracy, but even that's a bit dubious.

There are horrendous scaling problems. Classical Athens was probably pushing the limits of what a true democracy can encompass, and they disenfranchised probably 3/4 of the population. I can imagine technical solutions that would allow scaling problems to be solved, or at least mitigated, but they haven't shown up yet. Informal research on this is being done by lots of Free Software projects in their project management protocols. It's pretty clear that nobody has solved the scaling problem. Sometimes fast action is needed, and that requires small groups to govern what is to be done, but what prevents those small groups from acting when fast action isn't required? This has caused projects to fork, but those forks aren't seen as the systematic design problem that they are.

Nominal democracies are quite common. Real democracies are (almost?) non-existent among nation-states because of multiple scaling problems. The US is definitely not a democracy, I don't believe that Britain is either. Both have governments designed to allow small groups of people to exert unchecked influence on governmental actions. Perhaps Vermont is a democracy. I think Rhode Island is probably to populous. (In both cases I'm guessing.)

Democracy will survive because it's one of the basic ways of organizing small groups of people. But Facebook, et. al. place larger democratic organizations under increasing stress, and make them less likely to survive. Society rules already make this difficult, favoring instead strong man approaches, like companies with an owner.

162:

While, in theory, there could be antagonism to mobile phones, extreme gimmickry, and all that, that would be either (a) in an alternate universe or (b) following a major "back to basics" revolution of the sort we haven't seen in centuries. While novels about eccentrics like thou and I are known, they are rare and I get the impression don't sell well. OGH could easily include characters of that nature, but a complete novel? You are niggling, in the way i did in #141.

The current mobile mast destruction is interesting, and concerning. Currently, it is mostly irrational vandalism, initiated by the same media that gave us Yarl's Wood, the hostile environment and Brexit, and enhanced by social media. It will probably be suppressed or fade away as they find a new target, but might just possibly turn into an anti-technology pogrom. We wouldn't be the society to have destroyed itself by such an insanity.

163:

Grant & Charlie
Nowhere near
Probably between 15 & 29% - BUT - very important but ... they are extremely loud & attention-getting & - until very recently, the alternative presented was a serial incompetent, who still hasn't learnt one single thing since 1975.
BoZo is actually, superfically very clever indeed - so clever he hardly ever checks on consequences & has- so far - got away with repatedy lying.
What you don't realise is that these arseholes, the 15-20% have ALWAYS BEEN THERE, but now, they are being heard, more's the pity.
They were all too apparent in the London of the 1950's, but fortunately, the zeitgeist of the time was against them ... but they were there, they are always there, no matter what.

SFR
Emm, no ...
They will visit Horsell Common, near Woking first ....

164:

Nojay @ 59:

It just struck me that kids probably have no idea what the connection between "phone" and "pole" might be.

They probably also wonder what that funny banana-shaped thing with lumps on the end on the call/hangup icon on their phone's screen is supposed to represent.

https://www.tuktukdesign.com/call-icon/

I'm pretty sure that up until this year kids still went on school trips to museums & stuff like that. So they'd know what phones used to look like.

And they've probably seen people use a telephone in some of the old movies the 'rents have on DVD. Hell, they may even know what VHS tapes are or seen their grandparents mess around with actual film.

165:

There are basically two virtual divides today

One is about connectivity, the elderly vs everyone else, I think Elderly Cynic well represents that viewpoint. Where basically a combination of habit, physical disability, paranoia, resistance to change, inability to learn new things, and misinformation conspire to keep them in the 1990’s with regards to the internet

The second is one of bandwidth not connectivity and effects the poor, mostly the rural poor. While this set of people does have connectivity, at least enough to send email, pictures and texts and leverage the big apps like Facebook, Amazon and google, they don’t have sufficient bandwidth for things like streaming movies, online gaming and video conferencing and online education

They also often have trouble with websites that don’t have dedicated low bandwidth apps or options, like government sites

However that second set will likely disappear for the most part in the next 1-10 years as things like starlink come online, cellphone tower penetration increases, 5g happens and smart phones continue the trend of becoming ultra cheap commodities

This is a continuation of the thing that happened all across the world in the 2010’s as the first wave of cellphone proliferation killed the first digital divide, one of connectivity

So that second set is not a good subject for a SCIFI book set in the FUTURE as it is likely to be obsolete by the time the book hits print

I mean the tech that makes it obsolete is in beta right now, sssuming it drops at the promised price point those days are over

So again, Charlie is right in his assessment and you are quite obviously wrong . I’m not sure what is up with your stubbornness on this thread dude, whether you are virtue signaling your wokeness or hung up in your own personal experiences to the point where you can’t see where the trends are going

If you want to write about a digital Divide in the future it’s probably those with rich augmented reality / vr and those without , or something like that

166:

Robert Prior @ 60:

I think that in the GDW that [Twilight 2000] was history for 2300AD, so people got to rebuild after the war.

Yup. They ran a fairly free-form game in the warehouse to write the future history for T2300 (which later was rewritten as 2300AD).

I liked the original 2300 (the Traveller 2300 version) more than the rewrite, mainly because the rewrite felt like a Hollywood version of history where once again America saved the day and reclaimed its place as Leader of the Free World.

That wouldn't be such a bad thing if they ever actually got it right and "America" was really like what they taught in the public schools when I was growing up; an actual land of equal opportunity and all that. If they're relying on the "America" we've got today, there won't be a Free World to lead.

167:

re: ...unexamined good or even neutral", but... I don't know, man, you're *really* stretching it with "anyone who doesn't problematize cops is a racist". I think you're assuming ...

You're ignoring systematic effects. Police are systematically encouraged to support each other regardless of what the other is doing. So if you have one bastard, everyone else is going to feel required to support his actions. This is sort of a "thin blue line" kind of thing, and has a lot of validity. People who need to depend on each other for safety need to be able to depend on each other. But the side effect is that people who would normally be appalled by something will end up defending it. And then will change their minds so that defending it is honorable. This is a process that reinforces itself, and it tends to be a feedback loop with a positive gain. This is why "outside control" is so important, but the loop inherently fights against any outside control that it can't bring into the loop. (D.A.s are often brought into the loop. Also Public Defenders.)

For an individual to stand against that is a true act of heroism. It's also likely to get them injured or fired, and will definitely get them considered "unsafe to partner with".

168:

167 was a reply to 77, but that link somehow got lost.

169:

** Maybe they live 30 miles down a dirt track in a shack with no running water, never mind power: okay, that'll do it, but it needs to be a major plot point. In general dramatic fiction shies away from depictions of extreme poverty or deprivation because those things don't sell books.

You've heard of the rags to riches story?

You're making Charlie's point for him. In a rag to riches story, the poverty is a major plot point. While making an story where the person doesn't have a cellphone and what comes with it just because they happen to be poor wouldn't fly as well.

170:

re: Stories about the development of artificial intelligences that immediately start ranting about Q-anon, however, would totally work.
It's not fiction.
https://qz.com/653084/microsofts-disastrous-tay-experiment-shows-the-hidden-dangers-of-ai/

171:

Frank Shannon @ 73: Charlie I wish I could agree with you. I think you don't want to stop using conspiracy theories because they're definitely not going to stop being a part of the world. In fact they're only going to increase in importance from here on out. I wish conspiracies were always laughably false information. Unfortunately in addition to the dangerously false information there's also plenty of stuff labeled conspiracy theories that's true.

How would you write about "conspiracy theories" responsibly, in such a way that the story didn't become a part of the problem? How do you frame the story so it doesn't become another "conspiracy theory" itself?

172:

Uhnnnn... I expect the StarLink connection speeds to go down as saturation increases. It's a good match for a rural area, but I expect even suburban areas to have a population density that will quickly overload them.

173:

Speaking of conspiracy theories ...

I've mentioned before that I now have an iPhone. One of the "features" of the iPhone is I get "Apple News Spotlight" notifications

This just in:

Why did these YouTubers give away their son? What is the effect of the "Karen" meme ...

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem (or the precipitate ...)

174:

You are not the only person who remembers those: "Bug Jack Barron" has dated badly, but "The Iron Dream" is hysterically funny -- if you read it as intended; as a metafiction and a commentary on the fascist tendency in SF, as skewered by Michael Moorcock in his essay Starship Stormtroopers.

175:

Actually, some of my reasons are that I know the lines that most people swallow unquestionably ARE misinformation! My health centre won't use Email, on the grounds of security, but is happy to use text. Sheesh. There are many other technical reasons to prefer older mechanisms, too, but many youngsters swallow the misinformation that the newer mechanisms are 'better'.

176:

You've never used a pair of modern wireless earbuds like Apple Airpods, I take it? Especially the Airpods Pro, which have some moderately serious on-board signal processing? (Beam-shaping microphones, active noise cancellation, a mode to amplify external speech frequency sounds while damping background noise ...) Battery life is about 2-3 hours, but they recharge in their case in about 30 minutes from flat, and a 1 hour top-up takes about 5-10 minutes. The case itself is the size of a cigarette lighter, if that, and holds enough juice to power them for 10-12 hours.

No, I don't use earbuds, so I really don't know all. Hearing aids have a different usage pattern, though: they usually need to run most of the time their user is awake, so 16-18 hours is usual. I don't have experience with many of them, but there seems to be a difference between rechargable and disposable batteries in CIs. The chargeable ones last for maybe twenty hours, and the disposable can last four or five days. The CIs need to run the inductive circuit to get the sound data to the implant itself, so I'd think it's more energy consuming than regular hearing aids.

177:

Re: 'They will visit Horsell Common, near Woking first ....'

Ah, so you're still sending out signals! :)

178:

Hard to say. The beta is still well well below the target speeds, so there are probably two competing trends, saturation of users vs saturation of satellites + software optimization

179:

Michael Cain @ 76: There's kind of a fine line between conspiracy theories and some sorts of political action. Is the SNP a conspiracy? Is my 30-year plot to separate the American West from the rest of the country a conspiracy? Well, no to the last one, at least, because so far it's just me.

Well, you and Sarah Palin's husband Todd. I think in order for it to become a FULL BLOWN CONSPIRACY you're going to have to recruit at least one more member.


180:

Well, there was Spinrad's "The Iron Dream".

181:

wrt memetic plagues, John Barnes wrote several rather good stories about infectious memes and the horrifying wars that resulted. Picture a meme taking control of an entire school of pupils and marching them directly into the machine gun fire of an opposing ideology. Oh, wait...


Anyway, he posited the memes eventually evolving to some sort of decency and working to actually improve the world. Now *that* part is the bit that seems like a far-fetched fantasy that makes it science fiction. Try ‘Candle’ or example.

Somewhat related, a thing that makes me sad is that the utterly deranged US health ‘system ‘ is so entrenched in US culture that you rarely see a future set story where there is actually a sensible system. You’d hope that writers trying to envision a different world might spot that one.

182:

re: or (probably fictional) the Illuminati

It all depends on what you mean. There definitely existed a group called the Illuminati back around the time Mozart was writing "The Magic Flute". Whether they did anything more than pay Mozart a bit is less certain.

And there have, to my knowledge, been three different groups calling themselves "The Illuminati" since 1960. One was organized by Bob Wilson. The others were about as serious.

The one that Wilson wrote about was clearly fictitious. But it's less certain that there wasn't a group that took themselves more seriously. That I haven't seen any evidence of such isn't a shred of a claim that it doesn't exist, and I rather think the odds are that at least one such group did/does exist. But as to influential except as a psyops....there I agree with you probably not.

183:

Unholyguy @ 92: 96% of the US owns a cellphone and the ones that don’t are old

So Charlie’s statement is correct and no checking of privelage is required

81% own a smartphone

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/

Somewhere between 88% and 93.7% of the US has broadband access

Tell that to my little brother who can't even get a POTS landline to his house so he could use dial-up.


184:

I remember one piece of code where I basically gambled that nobody over 90 would need to use that particular path through the data, and just flipped dates less than 0 years over to over 100 years. It seemed to work, though. (I simplified, and there was about a decade to play with as folks less than 15 years old weren't allowed to be entered into the database.)

185:

America is not a developed nation, in terms of functioning infrastructure.

Point six of this article…

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/six-ways-america-is-like-a-third-world-country-100466/

186:

Charlie Stross:

my appetite for American-centric parables about the evils of racism is negligible.

Why is that? I can think of two possible reasons:

- You are not American, nor an American resident.

- Too parochial, not taking into account how American racism fits into broader world trends. There’s a nonfiction book near the top of my to-be-read pile that addresses just that issue: “Caste.” I’ve heard interviews with the author and it seems very good.

187:

"America is not a developed nation, in terms of functioning infrastructure. "

Note that England is likely heading towards 'not a developed nation' status, given the Tory lock, intentions, and incompetency at keeping things running.

188:

Myself, it's not so much a matter of I won't take the COVID vaccine as I CAN'T take the COVID vaccine since I'm not immune-competent. I'm going to have to wait until my doctors at the National Institutes of Health say I'm good to go. Meanwhile, I'm getting vaccinated for Hep-A and shingles, not that we know for certain if I'll develop immunity for them. We're hoping that convalescent plasma therapy might be effective for me, but again, having hypogammaglobulinemia means that you become a great big variable in times like these. During the meanwhilst, I am working at my university library part-time, we're now going to be working one week in three (three permanent employees, rotating), and we're doing what we can with proper due diligence.

I considered trolling the QAnon people with new conspiracy theories, but then I considered: What if one of mine gained traction and took off? I couldn't live with that. Let them fester in their own sordid minds, or whatever exists in their skulls.

189:

"But in England? There'll be a huge backlash, but it will be expressed in the form of anti-immigrant pogroms and a huge upswelling of support for neo-nazis. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Conservatives split and the more rightwing fragment align with Britain First/National Action (way to the right of BXP, UKIP, or the BNP) and mop up a huge proportion of the conservative base, possibly forming the post-2024 government."

I have a fantasy of a large fleet of liberation taking off from Normandy, landing in SE England, while the Celtic League forces head south across Hadrian's Wall. All in coordination with the Welsh Uprising, supported by paratroopers.

It's a hard struggle against Tory die-hards, but eventually the EU flag is hoisted above Westminster.


190:

Since I just reread the first three or four books a few years ago... then never got to see the John Carter movie, let me note that even in the scenes set in the Old South, Carter is... different. And the slave owners who may(?) be relatives, are very... not sure how to put it, but they appear to think that he's odd, the way he treats the slaves.

191:

It's extremely hard even to TALK about such things, so writing a story would be fiendish. If we ignore conspiracies to cover-up, which are SOP, I have made more errors in my life assuming no conspiracy (when there was) than assuming one (when there wasn't). I have been told there was no conspiracy, even after facts had become public proving there was more than once.

192:

Heinlein?

How about Double Star? Or Time for the Stars? Or Glory Road? Or the second, maybe, *real* sf story I ever read, the one that really pushed me, Have Spacesuit Will Travel?

193:

Barry
Bollocks
As I said, if you'd read my reply ...
What used to be the "Conservative" party will split - into semi-fascist ( Faragiste? ) & actual tory wings - the latter making cause with the remains of the Lem-0-Crats.
There will be a Labour guvmint or a coalition against the extremeists.
Remember that the ultra-right have always been there ( As I also said before ) - but they will not get actual control - - right now is probably the closest they will get.
The Brexit crash will discredit them

194:

"Which is officially being released for production at Tor -- for copy-editing and the rest of the 12 month turn-it-into-a-book-and-publish-it cycle -- next week."

And the people cheered!

195:

Phones... let me cover it all in this one post: I have a flip phone. It's a "cellular telephone", for "talking to people at a distance". If people leave me a voicemail, I *will* listen and get back to them.

But then, I'm not afraid to *talk* to people.

UNLESS YOU ARE PAYING ME, I AM NOT AVAILABLE EVERY TIME YOU HAVE A BRAIN FART TO RESPOND WITHIN A MINUTE OR TWO.

Now, when I was working, and now that I'm retired, I'm in front of my computer most of the day, and well into the night (except for eating dinner with my SO, and mowing the lawn, etc). Why the *FUCK* do I need to be online every waking minute?

And then there's this, that I've been mentioning for years: around '10, I heard a review of the latest mobiles. In the last one minute of a ten minute conversation, the interviewer asked, "how's the voice quality", to which the response was one was ok, one was mediocre, and the other eight or so were *terrible*. This means they are not "phones", which involves SPEAKING AND HEARING, but mobile teletypes.

When I am forced to go to one, I *really* want one with a PHYSICAL keyboard, because virtual keyboard on touch screens are a mind-crogglingly back kludge.

I'll take a virtual one... when you can hand me a VR keyboard, and I can virtually touch type on it.

196:

Oh, all that, and I forgot one more thing about phones: I have a land line (ok, it's FIOS, damn it), as well as my flip phone.

In '04, I was living on the Space Coast of FL. VERY unusually, a hurricane came through. (Normally, they're either south or north of the Cape - that's why there's a Cape there.) The power was out for something like 10 days.

So, the cable Internet was out. The cell towers were overwhelmed. I had land line (good old POTS - copper, phone company power) until Monday or Tuesday, then it went down, came up for an hour or so Thursday, and I got a call out, went down... and came up Friday and stayed up, while power didn't come back until Sunday or Monday.

Three ways to get out, which means no single point of failure.

197:

Once again, let me recommend Mike Flynn's In The Country of the Blind. Mid-1800's, The Formula for predicting the future is discovered, Trouble was, it happened to be steam engine time....

Just because you're a Secret Society Dedicated to Ruling the World, and are good at being secret... doesn't mean there aren't *other* groups, with the same plan, who are also good at being secret....

198:

And the websites that are designed to be used on a mobile phone... that are *crap* on my 24"? 27"? monitor? For example, why the FUCK does facepalm INSIST that I fullscreen my browser windows to see someone's "story"?

If a *lot* of us had to spend a *lot* of time making websites work with Internet Exploder 6, and everything else, they can spend time making it work on real computers with real monitors.

199:

Charlie Stross @ 112: or portraying Southern culture as aristocratic/noble/heroic in a non-ironic manner. Not a problem for most SF admittedly, but my first thought was of ye olde John Carter

I never got that from Burroughs' Mars books. That might be my naiveté when I read them as a boy, but I think the "Lost Cause" narrative hadn't really begun to catch on when Burroughs wrote the book.

All those statues & monuments date from 1915 - 1920. Burroughs wrote "A Princess of Mars" in 1912. Burroughs wasn't a southern apologist. He was born in Chicago and educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts & the Michigan Military Academy. You don't get much more Yankee than that. All of the Civil War veterans he would have encountered would have been from the Union.

I did know "John Carter" was a veteran & came from Virginia, but I guess I missed the part about him being a veteran of the American Civil War. The only veterans I knew had been in WWII or Korea (and maybe the First World War). If I even thought of it I associated him with WWI, like Buck Rogers.

Him being from Virginia just explained him having courtly good manners ... a lot more Colonel Sanders than Nathan Bedford Forrest.

I went to public schools in Durham, NC in the 50s & 60s and I never heard of the "Lost Cause" then. The history I learned in school was always that the American Civil War was about slavery. Period! They glossed over Jim Crow, but I never learned anything that suggested the "Southern Cause" was in any way a just one. They barely even mentioned "States Rights" and that only in reference to the debate leading up to the Compromise of 1850.

I don't think I ever heard of the "Lost Cause" before Reagan was President and criticism (in the academic sense) of that narrative began to take off.

The "Lost Cause" is a stupid lie & deserves to be debunked, but I don't really remember it from reading Burroughs' books.

200:

" "We live in an age where the low-hanging fruit have been plucked, so in the absence of new fields opening up, it takes teamwork to hold a whole stack of ladders up to the remaining fertile branches. Now that does surprise me ..you dont think that ,say, " "William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist. He is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. " Isn't worthy of note alongside ever so many Victorian/Edwardian Heros of Invention, and Industry, of long ago? Or, let us say? " "Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS (born 8 June 1955), also known as TimBL, is an English engineer and computer scientist best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. " Or, then there's .." Many people believe that American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick discovered DNA in the 1950s. In reality, this is not the case. Rather, DNA was first identified in the late 1860s by Swiss chemist Friedrich Miescher. " And so on and so forth. The thing is it might look like Modern Teams all the way down, but someone individual has to have the first Idea ...and then maybe lead a Team onwards?

201:

Have a plot possibility: Meds are better and cheaper outside the US. Smuggling!

202:

Why is that? I can think of two possible reasons:

Both are applicable. Also a third: lack of sympathy/empathy for certain aspects of US culture, which strike me as ludicrous/offensive/repulsive. (The whole "south shall rise again" meme and its trappings are one of these items. The overt religiosity is another. There are probably more.)

This is an outsider-case of a problem in fiction: lack of empathy for people who aren't like us. I can usually bridge it, with a bit of effort, if I'm given an incentive/reason to do so. But it turns out that in the commercial fiction market, the hard economic reality is that it's hard to sell a large demographic slice of the paying readership a story that isn't about protagonists who are heterosexual, cisgender, whitebread small-c christian middle-Americans, because they won't try to bridge the empathy gap.

The widespread perception of this being true among publisher and bookstore staff makes it hard for BIPOC and non-American and non-straight authors to sell books. It has begun to break down in SF/F in the past decade, but it's still a thing in the 21st century. It doesn't matter how well written a book is, if the public won't buy it, the publisher can't afford to print it -- and the Karens and MAGAs won't buy books they think are doing them down.

203:

I agree.

For the one that drove me *nuts* were all the pundits who could only think of PCs, and talk about how the date would become 9.

SPEAKING AS SOMEONE WHO SPENT YEARS ON MAINFRAMES, that's completely ignorant bullshit. EBCDIC would have had the last four chars/digits that way... NOT THE FIRST FOUR.

Then there were the assholes running companies. I've mentioned before how my manager, the VP of DP in a Fortune 500 (Fortune 50?) mortgage co, told me they'd fix it in '92... when I told him that the fired programmer's "algorithm" for leap years was "is it 76, or 80, or 84, or 88, or 92?". In a mortgage co. With 30 yr mortgages....

2038 will not be a problem. For one, people have been addressing that for years. For another... a short is now 16 bits, not 8. By then, I would be surprised if it wasn't 32 by default.

204:

Not hardly. Great novel.

Spinrad... actually, one of my favorite Spinrad stories was The National Pastime.

Which I have written an R-rated takeoff on....

205:

Thank you VERY MUCH for that link.

206:

Use past tense.

I've got a story set around the 1600's, maybe, in France. I've changed names... but it's an homage to CL Moore, and involves (in the original version) the great grandniece of Jirel of Joiry.

Trying to find someone to buy it....

207:

That could be a *real* interesting plot: one group, destroying phone masts, convinced that The Government Is Controlling Our Minds... and the other group, *non* government, is a conspiracy who's using 6G-C to wake people up, such that they can't ignore what's right in front of them....

208:

I've looked into that a *tiny* bit, and know there's a lot more to it.

The "official hearing aids" run $3k-$6k in the US... but they do things like automatically adjusting volumes in different ranges of audio spectrum, etc.

Expensive earbuds seem ok, but... well, my late father, back in the early 80's, had real hearing aids, but would take them out, for exactly that reason: back then, it amplified *everything* equally, which made a restaurant, for example, extremely loud and noisy.

209:

David L @ 124:

local power source for your tower and line of sight

The second half of that is why so much of the western US and other places with similar geography don't have cell service. Add to that that the geography also tends to result in very low population densities and thus low demand.

That sounds to me like something that could fixed by installing cell-phone boosters or repeaters on power poles like the ones P J Evans mentioned @ 68. At least you'd have service along the roads so you could call for assistance in an emergency.

We need a program like the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to bring Cell Phone service and broadband internet to EVERYONE in the U.S.

Maybe that would make for a good plot for an inspiring story.

210:

Um, in a word, no.

Why on earth do you think the urban poor - not only Blacks and other ethnics, but poor whites have the same capabilities that you do? That they can keep paying the ever-rising costs required for improving ROI for the CEO and big investors?

Do you think the big companies care much are assuring good service in poor neighborhoods, much less slums? Or former suburbs that have gone downhill?

211:

Let's also note the AMORC (American Rosicrucians). Of course, I've always said that they weren't the Real Rosicrucians, since the RR Would Come And Get You if they wanted you.

I've also thought, since the seventies or eighties, that it would be a great thesis project, the effect of the full page inside front, back, or outside back cover ads that AMORC put in, and how it kept sf mags afloat.

212:

JBS @171: Maybe the path with conspiracy fiction is to make them less outlandish, make it about the real incompetence and fraud that happens as above. Raise awareness of what they should be worried about. Perhaps with a dash of those committing bungled cover ups occasionally nudging the paranoid lunacy theories, in the hope that people will think that "they" are actually competent.
Could go two ways with it-either a comedy of cover up, or a grimdark about people simply not thinking or caring, leading to results that an outsider will think MUST be down to evil intent.

213:

Paul @ 126: On cell-phone infrastructure in the USA:

There is something weird about a bunch of Americans telling someone living in Edinburgh to check his privilege about access to technology.

I expect it's because someone living in Edinburgh has better, more reliable, cheaper access to mobile phone technology than economically challenged people in the U.S. have. I know people who leave their phones turned off half a month at a time because they've used up all their minutes or data & can't afford a plan with more minutes/data, and for damn sure can't afford à la carte rates.

Hell, people living in some "third world shit-hole" countries have better, cheaper mobile phone service than you can get is some parts of the U.S.

214:

Are you watching the HBO series "Lovecraft Country?"

I watched the first episode on Friday night; and rather enjoyed it. It seems to be taking the approach of the HBO "Watchmen" TV series - so, just as a generation of white Americans suddenly learned about the Tulsa Massacre (and hopefully went: Wait, What?!?) that same group are now having the concept of Sundown Towns depicted rather graphically.

I'm looking forward to episode 2; but waiting for the first set of racist apologists to claim that "ancient history is being rammed down their throats".

I think it's a worthy approach; the film "Little Big Man" depicted the racist massacres carried out by US Government troops in the "old West" - the film-makers were careful to depict only behaviour that had a provenance from contemporary primary evidence. The point was made, and the apologists couldn't hide behind claims of "inaccuracy". The latest incarnation of Doctor Who has done similar in short form, in covering Rosa Parks, and Partition.

215:

Charlie Stross @ 174: You are not the only person who remembers those: "Bug Jack Barron" has dated badly, but "The Iron Dream" is hysterically funny -- if you read it as intended; as a metafiction and a commentary on the fascist tendency in SF, as skewered by Michael Moorcock in his essay Starship Stormtroopers.

It is kind of a shame though that Starship Troopers isn't quite the paean to fascism so many take it for. I think too many judge the book based on Verhoeven's shitty movie.

216:

It's also worth reading the book, Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country. There seem to be two things going on in the screen translation, and both are interesting.

One is the obvious distilling of the book onto the screen. They're actually using quite a lot of the book, although it's an adaptation, not a translation. Ruff wrote his book originally from a failed pitch for an anthology TV series, and from everything I've seen, they've picked up his central notion of how the story is supposed to fit together.

The second is the racial bit: Ruff's white, while the director, producers, and most of the stars are various shades of black (and colorism does pop up as a subtext). One of the things the HBO series has done is to put harder edges on what Ruff wrote. While he very clearly did his homework in writing Lovecraft Country, I get the impression (backed up by some of the reviews I've read) that the people adapting the book thought that Ruff went a bit gentle on some things, and scoured off the whitewash, as it were.

217:

The "official hearing aids" run $3k-$6k in the US...

I haven't tried them, but Costco's house brand -- built by one of the major brands, using the same DSP/Bluetooth chip, with the software somewhat stripped down, no rechargeable battery, and without the replacement policy -- appears to offer a lot of features at $1500 for a pair.

218:

Re OGH's observation that "We live in an age where the low-hanging fruit have been plucked, so in the absence of new fields opening up, it takes teamwork to hold a whole stack of ladders up to the remaining fertile branches.", Arnold suggested:

"William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist. He is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation."

Feel free to name one thing invented by Bill Gates. Not "most widely known of in MS products", but invented by Bill Gates personally. (Perhaps worth noting: no variant of the word "invent" appears in his Wikipedia article.)

"Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS (born 8 June 1955), also known as TimBL, is an English engineer and computer scientist best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web."

Sir Tim's Wikipedia entry does use the word "invented" a fair number of times. But the thing he is best known for inventing is the WWW - a method for using hypertext (invented in the 1940s, though arguably not meaningfully implemented until the 1960s) to share linked documents using a computer network. Useful? Absolutely. World-changing? Arguably, although multiple computer-based hypertext systems already existed, and some of those certainly could have been modified to work the way the web does. A breakthrough comparable to Newton's work on Optics or Motion, or Boyle's on the behaviour of gases? I think not.

"Many people believe that American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick discovered DNA in the 1950s. In reality, this is not the case. Rather, DNA was first identified in the late 1860s by Swiss chemist Friedrich Miescher."

So you're saying that a thing "many people believe"[1] was discovered recently was actually identified by someone working one hundred and fifty years ago, thus reinforcing Charlie's point that the things a single person working by themselves can easily discover were all discovered some time ago. I don't see how you think this helps your case.

[1] such people, if they are at all interested in the history of science, clearly lack access to good sources or the ability to check them - which is not necessarily their fault in any way.

For what it's worth, I think there is a very limited extent to which discoveries/inventions that used not to be low-hanging fruit become so as technology advances. A single person with a decent home PC can now do computer modelling that would have required a team of specialists and a supercomputer twenty years ago. Custom testing equipment that used to cost a fortune is now just an FPGA, a breadboard, and a handful of 3D-printed components away. But there are an enormous number of things that can be investigated in such ways, and only a tiny number of them will turn out to be meaningful breakthroughs. Perhaps two or three over the next century, in the absence of genocide, major wars, climate-change-induced ecosystem collapse, etc.

219:

Yep. And it's also the way Charlie phrased the notion that lack of access to tech is a stupid, dead plot now, when it's annoyingly alive in my everyday life. That level of condescension pushed me to slap back, hard.

To give another example, when I do non-profit Zoom meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, I have to shut off my phone and get my wife to shut off hers, just to keep the connection. Now we live in an upper middle-class neighborhood with high speed wifi. The problem is *everyone* and possibly some pets are Zooming right then, and the bandwidth is getting maxed out. Googling something on the phone causes a noticeable hit on Zoom. Heck, sometimes I leave the camera off just to get a better connection.

Or we can talk about the Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Task Force, which is in charge of overseeing how the shit (and recycling, and garbage) moves in one of the biggest counties in the US (it's over three times Scotland's human population into about 20% of Scotland's area). When the Task Force hold their monthly meetings, the chairs of the task force call in on landlines. Why? Webex, which the County insists on using, crashes too frequently to make it viable. One of those chairs is an ex-mayor who's extremely unhappy about that situation, but I know for a fact she's not living at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Nor is she poor. Nor is she afraid of 5G radiation, or any of the other crap Charlie heaped by proxy on her head. For all I know, she might even read some of his books. The other chair (a relative) has read some of Charlie's books.

This is the audience he says that mainstream publishers don't publish books for. So if he's going to go about criticizing areas where people like, say, Arnold Schwarznegger and Harrison Ford live when they're in town, he may want to consider how much he's actually interested in having Hollywood, Third World shit-hole that it is, adapt his work.

This is what "check your privilege" means. If you think this is abnormal and automatically sneer at someone else's problems, that means you are privileged and they are not, not that you are a normal human and they are subnormal.

220:

How about Double Star? Or Time for the Stars? Or Glory Road? Or the second, maybe, *real* sf story I ever read, the one that really pushed me, Have Spacesuit Will Travel?

How could I have forgotten Double Star! I just re-read that in the last year, and still love it. And of course I've read all Heinlein's novels and short stories and have kept my much-tattered copies. Heck, I've even re-read I Will Fear No Evil multiple times. All of them have "problematic" elements in some way or another in the current culture. I re-read Have Space Suit, Will Travel within the last few years and enjoyed it (especially the so-satisfying final scene back at the soda fountain), but it has never stuck with me quite the way Tunnel in the Sky or Citizen of the Galaxy did.

Anyway--I've derailed the conversation somewhat. I should at least make clear that, even in bringing up John Carter, I wasn't really criticizing the book so much as mentioning it as having a cultural trope that won't survive the present moment.

222:

Some competent people set up a bunch of incompetents to run a conspiracy, to make it all fail and be exposed for what it is. Unfortunately, the incompetents get one or two folks who know what they're doing, but nothing about anything else, and it *works*....

223:

#139. Good point on the West and gun control. The most often dramatized actual gunfight in the history of the West was the mythologized 'Shootout at the OK Corral' between Doc Holliday and the Earps, and the Scranton brothers.

The much mythologized Wyatt Earp and clan were law enforcement officers apparently trying to enforce a ban on gun possession in the town. That the result was a gun battle with multiple fatalities (of the other guys) is somehow an unreflected part of the American foundational mythology.

224:

"But what are the contemporary plot lines from the first two decades of the 21st century that no longer work?"

Anything involving over-population such as "Stand on Zanzibar"

Oddly enough, if you take Brunner's premise of "If you allow for every codder and shiggy and appleofmyeye a space of one foot by two, you could stand us all on the 640 square mile surface of the island of Zanzibar." - it works out to a world population of almost 9 billion (about 3x the world's population when Brunner wrote the book).

The novel is now famous for all the things it got right (the current world population is almost 8 billion - close enough), such a legal marijuana, mass shootings, Black societal and economic advances triggering a White racist backlash, China becoming America's chief rival, video avatars like Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, etc.):

https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190509-the-1968-sci-fi-that-spookily-predicted-today
https://themillions.com/2013/03/the-weird-1969-new-wave-sci-fi-novel-that-correctly-predicted-the-current-day.html

But overpopulation themed SF is now a dead plot line for two reasons:

A. It came true
B. It won't be true much longer.

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53409521?fbclid=IwAR2ZH8BZvDqfOQE92HFdW8K_ZceSeDbr4E_0Ugmj5KFcP-sUZ6aSikwBftY

Fertility rate: 'Jaw-dropping' global crash in children being born...As a result, the researchers expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling down to 8.8 billion by the end of the century. "I think it's incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is; it's extraordinary, we'll have to reorganize societies."

This is great news for the environment, but horrible news for the economy. There is no such thing as "no growth" capitalism and growth is impossible to generate with a shrinking population (every year a business owners labor costs will increase in real terms and his customer markets will shrinking while paying ever higher taxes to fund pensions for an ever increasing proportion of pensioners) that is aging rapidly, top heavy in pensioners (see Japan in the 1990s, see Russia now, and see China in the next decade).

Only immigrant friendly countries will continue to have growing economies, which still means essentially the USA. But what kind of immigrants? Well they won't be comming from Europe:

https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2011/06/one-in-three-people-will-live-in-sub-saharan-africa-in-2100-says-un/

One in Three People Will Live in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2100, Says UN

One half of all the working age adults in the world will be living in sub-Saharan Africa by 2100. So if America wants to remain a great power, it's going to need immigrants. It will have to chose between being a great nation or a White nation (ironic, no?). Whites will no longer be in the majority by 2040 in any case, which explains much of the support for Trump.

New SF will have to assume aging/declining populations, racial/immigrant tensions and stagnate economies.

225:

JBS: You may well be right, that ERB had no intent to inject an express "Lost Cause" trope into the Barsoom books. But again, it's a cultural background shift that I was trying to describe. The American background culture has embedded antiblack racism and Lost Cause images of the pre-war South at such deep, foundational levels that it does not take intent to perpetuate them.

From the opening passages of A Princess of Mars:

My name is John Carter; I am better known as Captain Jack Carter of Virginia. At the close of the Civil War I found myself possessed of several hundred thousand dollars (Confederate) and a captain's commission in the cavalry arm of an army which no longer existed; the servant of a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South.

I do not intend to criticize the book or ERB, or say the book isn't pulpily well-written and fun given the culture and time in which it was written. But at present, I think no editor of fiction to be published in the U.S., at any reasonably mainstream publication house, is going to let the phrase "a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South" pass as a throw-away line building a protagonist's character or backstory. Nor would it be usable to indicate that the person was aristocratic, noble, well-spoken, etc., etc. And I think that is a change from how it was even six months ago.

226:

Sorry, but *that* sucks. It'll "drop" to about or more than we have right now?

That's not sustainable.

We need it *down*. Half of what it is now would be a decent target. Of course, you'd need to figure out how everyone would live, with a shrinking population.

Y'know, as I typed that, I started laughing. Let's see, right now, we're in the worst depression (fuck economists, let's give them cooties with that word) since the Great Depression... but the stock market's over the moon. They can keep pretending with their Ponzi scheme, while we make a livable world.

And about them... to paraphrase the Batman, "stock traders are a superstitious and cowardly lot."

227:

Your touchstone for that trope is the Western, which was riddled with distressed former southern gentleman-soldiers righting wrongs on the frontier.

Amen. I am not a big reader of Westerns but can hardly have grown up in the U.S. (with Dad loving John Wayne movies and older brother reading Max Brand and Louis L'Amour) without being aware. The cultural shift from George Floyd forward will have ripple effects into other genres, I hope. The only Westerns I read and enjoyed as a kid were a relatively obscure series around a character named Tom Buchanan, author (publishing house name) Jonas Ward. Buchanan's best friend was a black prizefighter named, so help me, Coco Bean. The series did not start well in treating that relationship, but by the books published in the mid-70s and later their relationship had changed to one of warm friendship and mutual trust and support, with Buchanan insisting that his friend be treated equally, served in saloons with him, etc. I wouldn't call them enlightened books by any means, but I perceived even that level of less-South-pandering portrayal of a black man was unusual for the genre. But then, Buchanan was a West Texan and not linked in the books to any of the Old South or Confederate tropes.

228:

Only recently did I realize how much of US TV and Movies rely on this trope. In the 50s into the 70s for TV. Earlier for movies.

Yes, exactly, me too! I mean, I was aware of it, and it annoyed me occasionally, and I disliked it in a passive way, but my emotional reaction to it wasn't pronounced enough to throw me out of the story. And years later, my memory of the movie or show had simply edited out any of those issues. But culturally I don't think that will happen much more, if at all. It's not as if Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind haven't received significant and continuous criticism ever since they were first released; but culturally the criticism just didn't get the broad societal traction it needed to effect true re-evaluation and change, until now.

If the military is openly discussing changing the names of military bases named after Confederates, and Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA is being dismantled, then something has seriously changed.

229:

“ To give another example, when I do non-profit Zoom meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, I have to shut off my phone and get my wife to shut off hers, just to keep the connection. Now we live in an upper middle-class neighborhood with high speed wifi. The problem is *everyone* and possibly some pets are Zooming right then, and the bandwidth is getting maxed out. Googling something on the phone causes a noticeable hit on Zoom. Heck, sometimes I leave the camera off just to get a better connection.”

Well there is this minor thing called a “pandemic” going on. Europe is also having similar bandwidth issues . This is hardly normal operating conditions for the internet and the fact that any of it works at all is something of a minor miracle that is aps almost completely unappreciated

However you still should not be having this degree of problem if you are in a major metro area with a high speed fiber connector. It’s hard for me to tell what exactly is going on though since a lot of your post is gibberish

What exactly do you mean by “we live in an upper middle class neighborhood with high speed wifi “? You aren’t using public WiFi are you ?

230:

Begs the question, how do you grow an economy while the population is shrinking and aging?

Capitalism itself becomes an obsolete concept and corporations become zombies (like Japanese companies kept alive by continuous IV of loans from the Japanese government which nobody expects them to ever pay back - while Japanese debt explodes).

As for the economic divide between Wall Street and Main street, the upper half of the American economy have decided that they simply no longer need the lower half to remain prosperous.

The lower half will be given bread and circuses (food banks and the internet)

231:

A datum: I have no intention of *ever* seeing the made-a-few -years-ago Lone Ranger. I know it's shit.

I'm assuming no one involved with it *ever* actually watched the TV series. My late wife bought me the two VCR tapes of the origin story, that they played on air every year.

1. Tonto, the trusted Indian companion, was played by Jay Silverheels, a Navaho.
2. The Bad Guys are the Clanton gang, *white* men.
3. The bad sheriff, aligned with the Clantons, treats Tonto as a stupid Indien... and the viewer's sympathies are, without a doubt, with Tonto.
4. And, as an extra bonus, when the Ranger catches up with Silver, who is wild, he explicitly says he'll use a hackamore, NOT a bridle, and wants the horse to be his partner, not break him.

232:

That's my point.

From an joke book I had when I was a kid: three guys are marooned on a desert island, and when they're rescued after 10 years, they're each millionaires, each of them having cornered the hat market several times.

Capitalism, with modern population and technology, is a failure, and it's time for socialism - that is, social control of capital.

233:

To depart from the current topics of discussion, there's now a declassified 40-minute Soviet video about the operation that tested the 50-megaton "Tsar Bomba". Good stuff for seeing how such things looked from close up.

https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2020/08/rosatom-releases-previously-classified-documentary-video-50-mt-novaya-zemlya-test#.X0DV3JOojzU.twitter

234:

Meds are better and cheaper outside the US. Smuggling!

Americans coming north to buy cheaper medicines has been a thing for a long time. It's a low-level concern up here, as if large numbers do that it will affect supply levels for Canadian patients.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/u-s-canada-prescriptions-border-1.5137350

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/insulin-prices-united-states-canada-caravan-1.5195399

It's not just medicines, either. Rand Paul, a Republican Senator, came up here for an operation.

235:

You might want to look at this app, if you have some hearing difficulties:

https://petralex.pro/en


Was at a conference last year and one of the other attendees told me about it. What he did was put on earphones plugged into his iPhone (which was running the app) in his breast pocket. He said it made it possible to follow the speakers using one of the free settings (although you can pay for fancier features).

I don't recall him using it in smaller seminars, but for the big sessions with a speaker walking around at the front of a lecture theatre and a somewhat whispery audience it was apparently the difference between understanding the speaker and not.

236:

Fiction using the Rural Electrification Agency?

I guess you're referring to Samuel R. Delany's story, 'We , In Some Strange Power's Employ, Move In a Rigorous Line'; published 1968.

237:

Many people believe that American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick discovered DNA in the 1950s. In reality, this is not the case.

They (and Franklin) worked out the structure of DNA. I've never seen a textbook, even ones aimed at elementary school students, claim otherwise.

238:

It is kind of a shame though that Starship Troopers isn't quite the paean to fascism so many take it for. I think too many judge the book based on Verhoeven's shitty movie.

I think a lot of people don't realize that Verhoeven was satirizing fascism in his film.

239:

I was wondering how long it would take someone to mention Rosalind Franklin, who should have won the Nobel along with Watson and Crick.

240:

People have been getting meds and/or treatment in Tijuana for quite a long time too, due to price. The whole cross-border medical trade made things a little weird with Covid19 transmission on both sides of the border, with the areas closest to Tijuana spiking in cases. Fortunately, they moved patients between hospitals to balance the treatment load across the county, but things got messy for a bit.

241:

I think you made the point for me. We completely agree that ..."there is this minor thing called a “pandemic” going on. Europe is also having similar bandwidth issues . This is hardly normal operating conditions for the internet and the fact that any of it works at all is something of a minor miracle that is aps almost completely unappreciated."

Remember, here's the original remark I'm reacting to:

"Indeed, the only way I can see to write a novel set in North America or Europe with a protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone or use the internet is to make them either a criminal on probation (who's been forbidden from using those everyday tools on pain of going back to prison) or to give them some sort of disabling condition — a neurotic terror of 5G radiation, perhaps, or locked-in syndrome."

And when various of us point to the digital divide, or the pandemic (thanks for that), or the way things work around LA or San Diego, the response is (#21 above):

"America is not a developed nation, in terms of functioning infrastructure. Seriously, here in Scotland we've got state schools who, sending kids home due to COVID-19, provided loaner iPads and a source of bandwidth so they can continue with lessons while in isolation. (Hint: not private schools, this is government-funded.)"

This is why I said "check your privilege." It's great that Charlie is privileged to live in a city that has such good service and public schools, so that what we yanks deal with as a matter of course are not so far off his radar that he wouldn't even put them in a horror novel. It's not so great that when he (or anyone) thinks his privilege is normal and suggests that the rest of us (a good chunk of his audience) are subnormal. I'm getting annoyed with that, and I decided to point out how it came across.

242:

I don’t agree with you

I think Charlie’s original statement is spot on

You can’t write a near future scifi about the US or Europe without assuming cellphone and internet access or providing some disabling reason

- Everyone Today has a cellphone

- Virtually ever cellphone today has some form of internet access

- The current trend is more penetration of the above not less

QED

The existence of a digital divide in no way invalidates his statement because he didn’t make any claims on how good the internet access needed to be

The fact that many of those cellphones can’t perform certain advanced functions doesn’t invalidate it either because again, no claims were made there

The fact that you got triggered and went off on a series of weird ragey tangents doesn’t make the original statement incorrect . Your welcome to go off on tangents but they aren’t really related to the statement in question

The fact that Charlie made snark about the US’s infra also doesn’t invalidate it though I might add I don’t see Europe launching a Starlink so we just leapfrogged you, whose infra sucks now neinerneinerneiner

The fact that your personal internet is broken doesn’t invalidate it either but I would certainly call your provider and get them to fix it. Sounds like a bad cable to me

243:

The problem is *everyone* and possibly some pets are Zooming right then, and the bandwidth is getting maxed out.
This happens to my residential cable service as well. In particular, (traceroute shows) a nearby router starts dropping packets, typically 50 percent, during times of heavy congestion, pre-pandemic typically snow storms where school is closed and kids are at home. Pandemic it occasionally happens during the day. Sometimes also ping times climb up to a second or two; not as bad.

244:

And this is why I have a landline. (I connect via DSL.)

245:

On pharmaceutical prices in the US: my pharmacy prescriptions have a place on them where they tell me how much they claim I've saved via insurance (Medicare, as it happens). The amount saved is, I think, based on the full-price brand-name drugs in the US, as I can't imagine that, frex, atorvastatin is $800 for 90 days in any *sane* country.

246:

On Y2K: -

Talk about the size of ints totally misses the point. Nothing important used C-like languages.

A *lot* of big bank internal systems and interbank settlement systems were, and probably still are, running COBOL code that originated in the 1960s.

In those systems, dates were and are stored as PIC 999999. (Usually appending COMP-3, saving two bytes.)

Without the work that went in to avert disaster, the world's finance system would have seized up, probably for a year, possibly for ever.

Everything else was idiocy, apart from the lurking fear that in some ICBM silos in Kansas, long-forgotten launch control code was susceptible to some kind of auto-launch failure. That turned out not to be the case, luckily for us.

247:

> Have a plot possibility: Meds are better and cheaper outside the US. Smuggling!

Been done: Dallas Buyers Club. A dramatization of reality.

For one example.

248:

On using Zoom or other video calling software: use a wired connection.

Wi-Fi 6 goes some of the way to ameliorating the problems with Wi-Fi by implementing a TDMA algorithm, but almost no-one has Wi-Fi 6 yet.

If you're video-calling, use a wired connection. A 100 megabit USB2-to-ethernet is a few dollars/pounds/euros, and a 5- or 10-metre Cat 5 patch lead is about the same.

If you can't afford that, then sit your device right next to your wi-fi access point, and go into the access point's settings and change it to minimum transmit power. And turn off everything else that uses Wi-Fi or bluetooth. Especially devices at the far end of the house.

Oh, and also open up a blank white page in your browser, so your face gets diffuse illumination.

There seems to be a belief that you need a lot of bandwidth for video calling. Yes, you need better than dial-up speed, but 800 kilobits is plenty. 2 Megabits if you insist on Full HD.

249:

use a wired connection.

Inside your house that can help, depending on how well/badly your wifi is set up.

But in Australia at least a lot of the upstream congestion isn't at a level where different connection technologies make a difference - the ISP hasn't paid for enough bandwidth so you can't get any more. If you're particularly unlucky the infrastructure is maxed out so "buy more bandwidth" means persuading NBNCo up upgrade their system. Which, because they're controlled by right wing fucktards who are determined to prove that the NBN cannot work, is often impossible. Many of us are still on cable, which means we're limited by the technology (although with more fibre back bones the rings are smaller now)

I would not be surprised if that is the case in the UK or US, although TBH I am somewhat persuaded by Heteromeles' arguments above* that as a general rule people in the US don't have internet access anyway, so speed isn't an issue.

* and from reading TechDirt etc, who have regular pieces about the dismalitude of US telecoms and internet in particular.

250:

"Western" ( i.e. Hollywood-film ) tropes
Well, there's always Blazing Saddles

Troutwaxer
Very unfortunately, Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously - otherwise there would have been a 1916 Physics award .....
[ Henry Moseley ]

"No (mobile) phone or internet"
I know someone who has neither & refuses to have them - he could easily afford it, he simply does not want them.

251:

'I might add I don’t see Europe launching a Starlink so we just leapfrogged you, whose infra sucks now neinerneinerneiner'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OneWeb

252:

don’t see Europe launching a Starlink so we just leapfrogged you

You're just bitter that the Nazis never got to draw a swastika on the moon like they wanted to. But stopping the rest of us from seeing their failure is a bit of an overreaction IMO.

Was the plan to write "coca cola" on the moon so we could all see it fictional? I forget.

Conspiracy: the giant fuck-you's of satellites are a plot to stop terrestrial astronomy so that only the USA can look out into the universe. What are they trying to hide?

253:

Rosalind Franklin, who should have won the Nobel along with Watson and Crick.

A few problems with that -- Franklin didn't publish anything about DNA being a double-helix or suggest how it replicated, the breakthrough that Crick and Watson got the Nobel for. She died in 1958 and the DNA Nobel was announced in 1962. The Nobel committee only nominates living people for awards (sometimes nominees die before the award is made but that's rare).

254:

"Was the plan to write 'coca cola' on the moon so we could all see it fictional? I forget."

Both Heinlein and Clarke used the idea. I'm not aware of anyone who considered it for real.

JHomes.

255:

Maybe I'm not reading the description of John Carter the way it was intended, but what I see is that the Confederacy lost. It was squashed flat. It's an inconvenient truth that normal people fight for evil governments, and if those governments lose, those normal people have to find something to do with their lives.

I'm not saying that drug smuggling-- or cross-border buying-- doesn't happen in the real world or that there's been no art about it, I'm saying that it's a plot element which still makes sense and could be amped up for science fiction.

Suppose the drugs get somewhat better, let's say an extra 20 years of good health for most people. (Some people are too ill or unusual to get much good from the drugs, and the drugs duplicate the best existing longevity genetics, so if you've already got the genetics, the drugs don't help.)

Drug patents mean that the drugs are so expensive in the US that only the top 5% or so of Americans can afford them, and it's a significant financial hit for the lower part of the 5%.

Due to lack of capitalism, no one in the rest of the world sees a reason to expand legitimate production of the drugs to accommodate the illegal American market. Does this make sense? I'm not sure. Our Gracious Host and Guests can argue about this if you like.

256:

What about raising zombies to fight a corporate war for you. Epic/ tencent Mobilizing 12 year old kids to fight Apple and Google. Who can at least raise a more "adult" zombie army.

257:

Talking of plots:
What could possibly go wrong? - trailer for BBC Vampire short series ....
Oh dear, what could possibly go worng .... & so on, recursively.

258:

Crack the Safe @ 225: JBS: You may well be right, that ERB had no intent to inject an express "Lost Cause" trope into the Barsoom books. But again, it's a cultural background shift that I was trying to describe. The American background culture has embedded antiblack racism and Lost Cause images of the pre-war South at such deep, foundational levels that it does not take intent to perpetuate them.

From the opening passages of A Princess of Mars:

My name is John Carter; I am better known as Captain Jack Carter of Virginia. At the close of the Civil War I found myself possessed of several hundred thousand dollars (Confederate) and a captain's commission in the cavalry arm of an army which no longer existed; the servant of a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South.

I do not intend to criticize the book or ERB, or say the book isn't pulpily well-written and fun given the culture and time in which it was written. But at present, I think no editor of fiction to be published in the U.S., at any reasonably mainstream publication house, is going to let the phrase "a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South" pass as a throw-away line building a protagonist's character or backstory. Nor would it be usable to indicate that the person was aristocratic, noble, well-spoken, etc., etc. And I think that is a change from how it was even six months ago.

I think you're right, I just had not heard of the "Lost Cause" narrative when I read the book as a child & by the time I encountered the "Lost Cause" narrative in the early 1980s, I did not connect it with that opening passage which I had long forgotten.

And again, the "Lost Cause" narrative goes against everything I learned about the American Civil War in school. For as long as I've known about the American Civil War, I've known secession was about slavery and nothing else; that the south started a war they could not win because they never had the economic power, the industry or the manpower to sustain the effort. And the hope that England or France might come in and force the U.S. to accept dissolution on southern terms was just plain stupid.

I know now when the narrative began in the 1870s (or even earlier) and how it spread throughout the U.S., but I just never heard of it myself until Nixon's "southern strategy" began to bear fruit for the Republicans (and somehow the goldfish swallowed the whale). And I already knew it was bogus.


259:

waldo @ 236: Fiction using the Rural Electrification Agency?

guess you're referring to Samuel R. Delany's story, 'We , In Some Strange Power's Employ, Move In a Rigorous Line'; published 1968.

No, I wasn't thinking about fiction at all. I was thinking more about the U.S. needs an agency similar to the REA to get cell phone/mobile phone service and broadband internet out to every nook & cranny of the U.S. the way the REA got rural electrification going.

260:

It's an inconvenient truth that normal people fight for evil governments,

https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/20-08-2020/why-is-new-zealand-intent-on-honouring-the-legacy-of-an-unrepentant-nazi/

Coincidence or not... you decide

261:

Robert Prior @ 238:

It is kind of a shame though that Starship Troopers isn't quite the paean to fascism so many take it for. I think too many judge the book based on Verhoeven's shitty movie.

I think a lot of people don't realize that Verhoeven was satirizing fascism in his film.

He should have found a different vehicle for his "satire" and not EFFED UP Heinlein's story.

262:

_Moz_ @ 252:

don’t see Europe launching a Starlink so we just leapfrogged you

You're just bitter that the Nazis never got to draw a swastika on the moon like they wanted to. But stopping the rest of us from seeing their failure is a bit of an overreaction IMO.

In "The Atrocity Archive"? I thought it was Hitler's face?

Was the plan to write "coca cola" on the moon so we could all see it fictional? I forget.

I don't think Heinlein actually used the real brand names. He had his character D.D. Harriman call on the rival soft drink companies (that were not Coke & Pepsi) and have them each pay to NOT allow the moon to be defaced with their rival's logo.

263:

I was thinking more about the U.S. needs an agency similar to the REA

Federal loans to member-owned cooperatives?

Sounds like a weird socialist blue-state idea to me :-/

264:

In "The Atrocity Archive"?

I only have the most vague recollections, I was mostly trying to link everything into my world-spanning conspiracy to hide the rest of the universe from us planet-bound mortals. But Hitlers face, arse, whatever, if it's defacing the moon I want to know why, not hide it behind a wall of shiny space toys.

265:

his "satire"

That was my take too. I realise satire is hard, but if huge numbers of people don't realise it's satire you're doing it wrong.

Producing satire then having real world idiots take it as suggestions is a different problem entirely.

The Herd have a song by that name that's not satire per se, but does capture the mood.

266:

So you haven't seen the movie? It was a very funny, low budget NZ production back in 2014. I have hopes of this sequel.

267:

I was involved in the developments that preceded the World Wide Web. With all respect to Tim Berners-Lee (who I knew), he was the one who got the zeitgeist right, and not one of the many dozens (me among them) who had almost the same ideas but didn't. I felt that his scheme was unmanageable, would lead to hugely erroneous data, and wouldn't get out of Cern for that reason. Well, two out of three :-)

MOST inventions are like that. Special Relativity was that Einstein had the physical insight and scientific nerve to say that the laws of light transmission followed the (existing) Lorentz transformations. If he hadn't done that, someone else would have done. Of the thousand or so inventions I have made in my life, I found (upon later investigation) that nine hundred or so had been invented previously - probably no more than a dozen were absolutely original. In several of those cases, I know that other people have invented them subsequently :-)

Yes, such things are done by individuals, but the reason that the 'low-hanging fruit' remark is correct is that most areas of interest have had lots of people looking at them. That DOESN'T mean that teams are essential, but DOES mean that an individual needs to be either a genius or think highly laterally.

268:

I think this ("normal people sometimes end up fighting for evil governments") is more the tack taken in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books with "Vampire Bill" Compton. Compton was a typical Louisianian of moderate means, if I remember right from the couple of books I read, who fought and lost before being converted to a vampire during his trip to return home from the war. The general tone is more that being a soldier fighting for a (lower-case) lost cause is not much fun; in general his war experience is referred to as a way to deflate the truth behind the claims of a couple of modern-day community leaders drawing credit from the war exploits of their ancestors. That approach is probably still practical as a writing tool.

Speaking of unrepentant Nazis, and to further the point made about normal people, in the late 80's I had as an officemate a German immigrant. This was in Huntsville, Alabama, so this wasn't exactly surprising - he had gotten his Master's in math in Germany in the early 50's then come over to work under Von Braun. He worked for NASA for 30+ years, retired, and spent about a month around the house before his wife said, "Klaus, you are underfoot," which is how he came to be sharing an office with 22-year-old me.

He had been a member of the Nazi Youth during the war so that, as a 16-year-old, he could man an anti-aircraft gun in his neighborhood. When challenged on that one time by a co-worker (asked if he had any regrets), he said, "Well, you people were throwing bombs at my house; it seemed like a good idea."

269:

Re the 2038 problem. Yes, explicit dates won't be a problem, but there is a HUGE amount of code which uses timestamps for ordering and other such purposes, doesn't appear to, and never gets looked at. By then, there will often be nobody thoroughly familiar with the code, and may be no experts left in the C/C++ it was written in.

Also, Microsoft (through third-parties) coerced the C committee into introducing the 'long long' incompatibility, and allow 'long' to be stuck at 32 bits. And THAT'S the problem, not 'short'! It needs only one integer variable to be converted via anything below 'long'. Worse (which was my point about the C languages), there are a LOT of unobvious ways in which calculations can be converted via 'int' without people realising it.

I stand by my point. It's going to be far worse than Y2K actually was, though that could cover a multitude of sins.

270:

People have been getting meds and/or treatment in Tijuana for quite a long time too, due to price.

It's the entire MX-US border. Here's what the main street in Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas looks like.

https://www.google.com/maps/@26.0581914,-97.9508074,3a,75y,82.06h,95.43t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s5NOuhQrPeWoylhlF3NNROw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

271:

My hearing aids have a volume limiter - they need it, because my hearing loss over the speech range is 50-80 dB (though one ear rises to 40 dB at one frequency). They also have complex modes to reduce background noise.

Despite that, I wear them only when listening to people, as I find the background noise I am not accustomed to very tiring.

272:

ESR: I went off him long ago, I wonder if the hole in fetchmail was ever fixed?

Y2K: Oh, I just love the "it only affected accounting applications" as an attempt to minimise what was at risk.

Practice Management Systems for Doctors, Dentists, Veterinarians, &c, are accounting applications, but they have patient management information in them, accurate dates are generally considered useful.

Charity Donation and Disbursement systems, no one cares if there's a mistake?

Then all those little meteorological and geological monitoring widgets, that have been sending data back home since the 1970's, using short dates to save on cost, no one needed to tweak the machines recording that data to make sure it referred to 20xx not 19xx?

And it wouldn't matter in refinery distribution system where they fill up petrol tankers, and gas (as in LNG/CNG) tankers, and really, really toxic chemicals, the date things happen there isn't important, either.

PIC(999999) or an equivalent was used by so very, very many programmers in so very, very many languages, because storage cost money. Or so they or their managers maintained. Or did so at one time. (And I still have to deal with that mind-set with some of the people I work with today!)
Not just COBOL, but mainframe ASM, mini- and micro-computer assemblers such as MACRO-11, several variants of PASCAL, I've even seen FORTRAN-IV code with it, and SPL 'ported to PA-RISC boxes that still used it.

Yes, a lot of the fixes where adding a "date window" so that years less than X meant 2000+x and greater meant 1900+X, and it's still being used. ZAP! (or SUPERZAP!) allows you to do strange and ugly things to a binary, but not everything can be ZAPped.

A bloke I worked with here in Oz until a few years ago, who had been at ICL in the UK in the 70s had a page sent to him by a bloke who fixed some code that he wrote waaaayyyy back then, it's quite probably still in use!!

273:

Re: "long long" in C - yes, it's a problem, but Microsoft coerced noone, they went the IL32P64 path, DEC went ILP64 with the Alpha (modulo 32-bit mode, which was ILP32, just like a VAX), and everyone else went I32LP64.

If you use "time_t" - well, the problem sort of goes away, admittedly at the moment only if you compile 64-bit, but really, tweaking "/usr/include/sys/types.h" is hardly a problem.

Of course, you have to massage the data, but that is just a SMOP.

274:

Any Euro-centric, American-centric or even Chinese-centric SF story will no longer work when 1/3 of humanity (and 1/2 of all working age adults) will be living in sub-Saharan Africa by 2100.

Either these nations (Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, etc.) will become the new super powers, or global warming will force a massive diaspora of people out of Africa to White countries that both desperately need their labor and deeply recent their presence.

If the future of humanity is "Africa Rising" its' going to be a messy version of Wakanda.

In an era of cost efficient renewables, distributed power grids, cell phone based internet, air taxis - who needs traditional infrastructure of centralized power stations and massive grids, roads and high speed rail. China's "Silk Road" initiative in Africa is obsolete before it is even built. Politically, the borders left by the European colonial empires made no sense geographically or demographically so look for national governments (like Somalia) collapse - existing only on the map - and be replaced by local governments and transnational currency and trade unions.

275:

Jesus wept! Haven't any of you read "Ship of Fools"? That story was precisely about what the blithering classes claimed might happen, and what I was talking about.

276:

Re many of the comments about rural internet service in the United States:

1) The REA's charter was expanded and it is now the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The current charter includes telecommunications services (as well as electricity and things like sewers).

2) In an incredibly stupid decision made in the mid-1990s, the US Federal Communications Commission classified internet access as an information service, not a telecommunications service. (Okay, I understand why they made the decision they did at that point in time; I said then that it was stupid, and events have unfolded much as I said they would.) RUS can't fund information services. Congress has occasionally provided separate funds for rural internet access infrastructure -- it's never been close to enough to address the last mile(s) problem.

3) Under President Obama, the FCC attempted to reverse the classification error. In order to resolve some technology limitations, they had to assert that they would selectively not enforce certain parts of the law for telecommunications services. The courts were not pleased.

4) To one of OGH's points on a different subject, no sane country would do things this way. Unfortunately, I see no hope of restoring sanity that doesn't require replacing the Constitution.

277:

Haven't any of you read "Ship of Fools"?

Which one? Plato's allegory? Brant's satire? The novels by Normington, Porter, Rossi, Russo, and Stone? The book by Carlson? The Christian website?

I read the Republic (a Penguin translation) years ago, but confess I haven't retained much of it.

278:

"Only immigrant friendly countries will continue to have growing economies, which still means essentially the USA. "

Sorry to skip ahead, but IMHO the USA no longer counts as immigrant-friendly, even if Trump loses and the GOP loses the Senate.

Remember that the evils in the US system unleashed and promoted by Trump will remain, and will take many years to purge, under the rather unlikely best of circumstances.

And it's clear that the next GOP President can undo vast amounts of that under executive discretion.

Given that a lot immigrants are looking for a place where they can live out their lives without fear, that puts the USA down quite a bit.

279:

but might just possibly turn into an anti-technology pogrom

In the US there's a growing resistance to smart power meters. Not due to security issues of which there should be on going work. And not due to "police state" monitoring issues which can also be a concern.

It's all about how the WiFi built into these meters causes health issues with the customers. I was amazed at the vehemence of the anti crowd when the discussion came up in my neighborhood. And best was the lady who wears an anti-EMG amulet because she KNOWS it works and without it she gets ill anywhere there is WiFi about. (I had flash backs to conversations with my mother in that one.)

And all backed up via YouTube videos and such.

280:

My health centre won't use Email, on the grounds of security, but is happy to use text.

We can go better. As far as HIPPA (health care security rules) are concerned faxing is secure but email isn't. These days 90% or more of faxes travel via email. Duh.

But doctors have to have a physical fax machine while everyone communicating with them is using an email to fax setup.

281:

Boyd Nation @ 268: Speaking of unrepentant Nazis, and to further the point made about normal people, in the late 80's I had as an officemate a German immigrant. [...]

He had been a member of the Nazi Youth during the war so that, as a 16-year-old, he could man an anti-aircraft gun in his neighborhood. When challenged on that one time by a co-worker (asked if he had any regrets), he said, "Well, you people were throwing bombs at my house; it seemed like a good idea."

Probably would have been shot by the Gestapo if he'd refused to join.

Would you blame the kids who joined the Boy Scouts in the 50s & 60s for all the racism and homophobia that ran rampant through the organization back then? Do you blame alter boys for pedophile priests?

Y'all wouldn't, but there's a whole lot more out there in the rest of the whole wide world who would, and do.

282:

re: ...60s and I never heard of the "Lost Cause" then. The history I learned in school was always that the American Civil War was about slavery. Period! They glossed over Jim Crow, but I never learned anything ...

That's the history I learned to. But it was at least a partial lie. As far as Lincoln was concerned the Civil War was mainly a denial of the right of states to withdraw from the Union. Much of the southern agitation against him was that he was anti-slavery, but there's no evidence that he would have done anything about that without the Civil War.

That said, there was a lot of anti-slavery opinion in the North and pro-slavery opinion in the South, and that polarized things quite significantly, but still states rights was the principle cause of the war. It changed "These United States" into "The United States". But slavery had been a festering division for decades.

As usual, things are more complicated than people are taught, and political orators and hagiographers lie and fabricate freely.

FWIW, the Civil War would have ensured that "states rights" was a lost cause even if the South had won. The Confederacy during the war had to centralize control to an extent the Union hadn't even attempted prior to the war. And it was railroad time (with a nod to Charles Fort). Railroads strongly benefit from a centralized organization...and not only for time zones.

283:

I can't imagine that, frex, atorvastatin is $800 for 90 days in any *sane* country.

Checks 2019 edition of the BNF I just happen to have lying around ...

40mg tablets, generic, priced at £79.20 for 90 days. That's about 12% of the US medicare price you quoted. Weirdly it's nearly the exact same price for 20mg or 80mg tablets (I'm on 40mg) -- most of the price is to do with manufacturing QA, packaging, distribution, and so on: 90 days of the pure chemical, in the absence of other ingredients, weighs 3.6 grams (so roughly a tenth of an old-school ounce).

284:

While DNA was discovered a long time ago, that it was the carrier of the genetic code is a much more recent discovery (early 1950's). It only became plausible after it was crystallized and had it's molecular form determined by XRay analysis. That required a team with access to a lot of specialists and some fancy equipment. Before then most people has assumed it was some protein or other, or combination. (They hadn't yet considered how complex the structure of sugars can be.)

285:

I read the wikipedia article and learned that the 2038 problem has been addressed to some extent; that is, that most open-source Unixes have moved their kernels to 64-bit time, which should be helpful.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2038_problem

Also, Raymond states that the NTPsec utility he maintains "is as on top of the problem as is possible without a wire-protocol rewrite."

How this affects any programs/daemons/utilities running on NTP or the various Unix/Linux kernels is another matter - I suspect that some of them are still running on 32-bit time in one form or another - and of course embedded systems are still a major problem.

In short, I agree with you that various forms of disaster are still highly probable without rewrites of an astonishing amount of code.

286:

Charlie
For the benefit of our readers in the 3rd-world rip-off shithole that the USA seems to have become .....
OK that, when sold that's the "Over the Counter" price for said drug.
How much is it costing you as a fully-paid up citizen on the NHS - are you paying a prescription charge, or not.
Rub it in ...

287:

Snowball Effect, Katherine McLean

288:

Elderly Cynic @ 271: My hearing aids have a volume limiter - they need it, because my hearing loss over the speech range is 50-80 dB (though one ear rises to 40 dB at one frequency). They also have complex modes to reduce background noise.

Despite that, I wear them only when listening to people, as I find the background noise I am not accustomed to very tiring.

I wonder if there's any technology for my hearing problems.

I have particularly acute hearing. When I went for my draft physical in 1970, the audiologist told me my hearing was exceptional, that "I could hear a rat pissin' on a tin can in Vietnam at 5,000 yards". Fortunately, I didn't have to find out if that was true.

When I did join up later, I always wore my hearing protection. I developed tinnitus in Iraq from the constant growl of the generators, even with the hearing protection. It seems to come and go. Just fades from my consciousness sometimes rather than going away. As soon as I notice it's gone it comes roaring back.

But I still have problems hearing voices in conversation due to background noises that other people don't seem to hear. It makes people think I'm half deaf when it's exactly the opposite. I have trouble shutting out all the background noise.

289:

re: We need it *down*. Half of what it is now would be a decent target. Of course, you'd need to figure out how everyone would live, with a shrinking population

The problem with that is that even half of the current world population is too many people. Somewhere between 1/4th and 1/10th is what's required. And that's with careful land management...which we haven't been using. We've been overusing the environment, and we need to allow it a chance to recover if it isn't going to collapse completely.

One reason I'm always pushing "nearly closed ecology" for space settlements so hard is that we're going to need it on Earth very soon is we don't stop overusing the existing life support system. People can say what they want, but I've SEEN the decline in the number of insects and earthworms. Even just a couple of decades ago earthworms used to cover the sidewalks after a heavy rain. Now I rarely see any. When I was a child flowering plants were nearly swarmed with bees/wasps/beetles. Now they are rarely seen. Etc. And my father was in the military, so I'm not just talking about one local area.

290:

OneWeb which is bankrupt and being sold for parts?

291:

“ For the benefit of our readers in the 3rd-world rip-off shithole that the USA seems to have become .....”

People who live in Boris Johnson’s house should not throw stones 😀

292:

re: "It's time for socialism"

Socialism also has it's problems. State control of capital usually has problems with deciding how to allocate funding, and almost always has problems with risky investments...unless there's corruption that has a fortuitous side effect.

Most capitalist gains are expended wastefully or conservatively too, but occasionally a capitalist will take after a vision. This is quite difficult to justify in a socialist system.

I think the real problem is corruption. I'm explicitly thinking of regulating agencies where the staff is hired from the companies that they regulate, and returns there after being on the regulating committee. It's my opinion that nobody who has EVER been on a regulating committee should EVER be allowed to accept ANY recompense from the companies that they regulate/regulated. This includes even a free lunch. And if they own stock in any of the companies that they regulate, they must dispose of (not put into a trust) all of that stock BEFORE starting to work with/for the regulatory commission. Money from a stock even indirectly on any company that is regulated should count as recompense from the company. And this should be enforced by, at minimum, forfeiture of savings up to the amount of the entire last years savings, and if there's any intention proven a prison sentence in addition (and possibly additional financial penalties).

293:

Resistance to smart meters--arg. We opted out ourselves (we live in Seattle, Washington), for reasons of security primarily. It bugs me no end to think that I'm being lumped in with the tinfoil hat crowd.

Re Seattle's implementation of smart meters, I see no indication that they are properly addressing the security implications of having a fully networked, centralized control system that can remotely monitor and turn off power to any or all residences, businesses, and government buildings in an entire geographic region. One hacker, one access, massive vulnerability. And the general problem, applicable to many other contexts especially in technology oriented toward "efficiency" and minimizing the need for human labor, was identified by Chuang Tzu and is the reason for my moniker on this forum.

294:

@213: Another data point on the mobile phone comparison: price per megabyte in 228 countries:

https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/

Trouble is, it lists the min, max and average for each country, but doesn't seem to take account of how widespread the different plans are. Still interesting though.

USA average $8. UK $1.39. Australia $0.68

295:

I have trouble shutting out all the background noise.

Might not be hearing damage.

I have trouble following a conversation in a crowded room with lots of people talking. Got my hearing tested, because my brother-in-law had that problem and a hearing aid fixed it for him, and my hearing tests OK.

Then I realized that the problem doesn't happen as much when the other conversations are in languages I can't understand — it's when I can recognize words in the other conversations that I have trouble disentangling one conversation from another. All the English words just get mashed together and figuring out what someone is saying to me is difficult and very tiring. (It helps if I can see their lips.)

Whether this is neurological or psychological I don't know.

One of my nieces has very sensitive ears, which makes it hard for her to concentrate in the typical office. Being told to "just ignore it" doesn't help; neither does being told her hearing protectors are "unprofessional". Bloody open offices run by extroverts…

296:

Choose another city, preferably one outside of California for stories about people without cell phones. They give them out free here in California, paid for by government subsidies. They even come with a limited amount of data.

297:

Well, Atorvastatin is prescription-only, so there is no over-the-counter price.

You can buy it on private prescription for the price I quoted, plus probably about 50% to the pharmacy, and another fee to the GP who mugged you for the private prescription.

But the BNF is the British National Formulary, a list of all licensed legally prescribable (and OTC) available in the UK, and overlaps pretty much 100% with what the NHS will pay for.

There is a per-item NHS prescription tax in England and Wales -- £9 per item unless the consumer is tax-exempt (under 16, over 65, is unemployed, has certain conditions such as diabetes, etc). You can also buy a certificate of pre-payment for about £100/year which basically means you've paid your tax for the year and the meds are free at the point of delivery thereafter.

In Scotland, there is no NHS prescription tax: all prescriptions are free at the point of delivery. (You're paying indirectly via income tax: that's all.)

298:

...states rights was the principle cause of the war.

That is confusing the cover rationalization for the actual motivation. The "state's rights" trope is basically a "Lost Cause" trope. It seeks to evade, once again, the central fact that the South wanted to continue to classify some human beings as property for exploitative purposes.

Sweeping generalizations are always subject to caveats and of course there was plenty of "state's rights" rhetoric thrown about by the South. But if there is any one central issue that caused tremendous, intense, emotional outbursts that actually motivated both the North and the South, and caused the war, it was slavery.

The governing class in the South did not have their knickers in bunch because of an intellectual disagreement about the praxis of distributed governance. The Southern economy relied to a vast extent on slavery and nominal-cost labor. Southern society and culture had rationalized and explained slavery as natural and just and appropriate for literally over a century. By 1860 the country had been roiled for decades by political debates, civil protests, and violence from John Brown to a Congressional inter-house attack by a pro-slavery House Rep on an anti-slavery Senator. The South feared any loss of slavery, whether by admission of another free state that might tilt the federal balance, or by election of a President who might under any circumstances not protect their central cultural and economic foundation.

299:

USA average $8. UK $1.39. Australia $0.68

I don't know where those figures come from but, intuitively, they're wrong.

My phone plan -- cancelable at one month's notice, phone not includes -- comes with unlimited data for £22/month or about US $26. In practice the small print says "do NOT go over 12Gb/month when roaming internationally outside the UK or we may surcharge you; if you persistently go over 20Gb/month in the UK we may get annoyed", but it's effectively under US $1.2/Gb, not per Mb.

A really shit, expensive plan with no included data might charge £1/Mb for any data use at all, but I'm pretty sure nobody buys those any more: the plans they push at the public all seem to start with 1-5Gb/month thrown in, and an entry price floor of around £10/month, so $0.12/Mb would be in the right ballpark.

300:

Er, not really. The fact that it was the chromosomes was known in 1910, and that it was the DNA in 1944; it was the discovery of DNA's composition that was after 1950.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_genetics#Emergence_of_molecular_genetics

301:

Quite possibly. Hearing is almost entirely 'soft', and different people hear different sounds - it's as low-level as that. But you would need a very good hearing aid consultant and would get no change out of $10,000 - possibly more.

302:

Elderly Cynic @ 275: Jesus wept! Haven't any of you read "Ship of Fools"? That story was precisely about what the blithering classes claimed might happen, and what I was talking about

Which one?

Ship of Fools (satire), a 1494 satire by Sebastian Brant
Ship of Fools (Porter novel), a 1962 novel by Katherine Anne Porter
The Ship of Fools (Spanish: La nave de los locos), a 1984 novel by Cristina Peri Rossi
Ship of Fools (Stone novel), a 1997 Doctor Who spin-off novel by Dave Stone
"Ship of Fools", a 1999 short story by Unabomber Ted Kaczynski
Ship of Fools (Russo novel), a 2001 novel by Richard Paul Russo
The Ship of Fools, a 2001 novel by Gregory Norminton
"Ship of Fools", a short story by Charles Stross from the 2002 collection Toast: And Other Rusted Futures
Ship of Fools (book), a 2018 political book by commentator Tucker Carlson

I read Porter's novel when it came out, although I probably didn't half understand it. Don't know if I've read OGH's short story. Can't remember if that collection is in our local public library system. It is or if it's one of the short stories he's made freely available on-line, I've read it. Otherwise not.

303:

Michael Cain @ 276: Re many of the comments about rural internet service in the United States:

1) The REA's charter was expanded and it is now the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The current charter includes telecommunications services (as well as electricity and things like sewers).

2) In an incredibly stupid decision made in the mid-1990s, the US Federal Communications Commission classified internet access as an information service, not a telecommunications service. (Okay, I understand why they made the decision they did at that point in time; I said then that it was stupid, and events have unfolded much as I said they would.) RUS can't fund information services. Congress has occasionally provided separate funds for rural internet access infrastructure -- it's never been close to enough to address the last mile(s) problem.

That's why I want a new agency that can fund information services, or at least the infrastructure necessary provide universal access & solve the "last mile problem"

3) Under President Obama, the FCC attempted to reverse the classification error. In order to resolve some technology limitations, they had to assert that they would selectively not enforce certain parts of the law for telecommunications services. The courts were not pleased.

4) To one of OGH's points on a different subject, no sane country would do things this way. Unfortunately, I see no hope of restoring sanity that doesn't require replacing the Constitution.

I hope not. I hope we can become a country that finds a Constitutional way to live up to the ideals expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution

304:

Let me give you poor, confused readers a clue - two, actually. Who is the owner of this blog? And which of those are about the Y2K issue (which was the context)?

If you can't guess after that, please say so, and I will post a link.

305:
I can't imagine that, frex, atorvastatin is $800 for 90 days in any *sane* country.

You'd be right -- I pay 4.36 EUR for a box of 30. Well, actually I don't because its paid for by the social security and my mutual insurance, but 4.36 EUR is how much *they* pay.

306:

Robert Prior @ 295:

I have trouble shutting out all the background noise.

Might not be hearing damage.

I know it's NOT hearing damage. I do have some loss up around 20kHz where I used to be able to hear tones slightly above 20kHz

I have trouble following a conversation in a crowded room with lots of people talking. Got my hearing tested, because my brother-in-law had that problem and a hearing aid fixed it for him, and my hearing tests OK.

I have problems in an uncrowded room with no one else talking except the person I'm trying to converse with. It's like being in a crowded room except that all the other interfering "voices" are background noises from outside.

Then I realized that the problem doesn't happen as much when the other conversations are in languages I can't understand — it's when I can recognize words in the other conversations that I have trouble disentangling one conversation from another. All the English words just get mashed together and figuring out what someone is saying to me is difficult and very tiring. (It helps if I can see their lips.)

Whether this is neurological or psychological I don't know.

Nor do I. Although, I haven't experienced it that way.

One of my nieces has very sensitive ears, which makes it hard for her to concentrate in the typical office. Being told to "just ignore it" doesn't help; neither does being told her hearing protectors are "unprofessional". Bloody open offices run by extroverts…

I have really good custom molded hearing protection. My most recent pair cost me north of $400 USD. They have dynamic attenuation, basically a little port with a captive ball that reacts to air pressure changes. Louder noise levels push the little ball to plug the port; especially louder percussive noises. I ordered them and had the ear-molds made at a gun show.

If I remove the lanyard that connects them (that keeps them always together so I don't lose just one of them), you can't tell I've got them in. When someone does get a look at them up close they think I've got hearing aids.

Maybe if she could afford something like them, she could wear them in the office & have everyone think they're hearing aids ... which they would be. They aid your hearing by excluding extraneous noise.

307:

Distinguishing neurological from psychological effects in hearing is, at best, a research topic - for practical purposes, there is no way of telling. Due to being partially deaf from early childhood, there are certain sounds I simply do not hear - whatever the volume. That includes some French vowels when spoken by a woman, but not generally when spoken by a man. Surprisingly, I can pick up a few sounds and differences (and sometimes even understand speech) that most people with normal hearing can't, probably because I have been listening close to my threshhold all my life. I know that I depend more on micro-timing than frequency, so am very sensitive to some forms of distortion caused by digital transmission. In one ear, I hear very low frequencies only via the harmonics they create in my skull, which they discovered only when running a test with background white noise!

Not being distracted by background speech in a foreign language is common, because even picking up phonemes is largely learnt. That's why a few languages are so hard to learn for speakers of some other languages.

308:

Charles H
"Regulatory Capture"
The water industry is completly captured ...
Others, not so much, in varying degrees.

Crack the Safe
Me too.
I WILL NOT have a "smart" meter in my house & if it's forced on me, I will put a Faraday Cage round it.
There's also a nice little ramp going on, where if you have a "smart" meter installed they (!) surprise (!) find half your equipment is "defective" & turn the power off so they can sell you new stuff ( All for "safety" reasons, of course )
The Internet of things - no thank you.
... Ah yes the "States RIghts" the US South was protecting was - specifically & publicly slavery - IIRC - at least 2 if not more of the seceding states openly said so in their secession declartions, didn't they?

Charlie
Thanks for that _ I hope our US friends read it ...

309:

Crack the Safe @ 298:

...states rights was the principle cause of the war.

That is confusing the cover rationalization for the actual motivation. The "state's rights" trope is basically a "Lost Cause" trope. It seeks to evade, once again, the central fact that the South wanted to continue to classify some human beings as property for exploitative purposes.

That's what it came to be, but the argument for secession over "state's rights" originates up north. From about the time of the War of 1812 up through the 1820s there were various threats by New England states to secede because the south was thwarting Congress from enacting tariffs to protect their nascent industry.

That was the original regional conflict.

You want high tariffs to protect your industry if it's not well established (or just want to keep foreign competition out), but you want low tariffs if you don't have any industry and need to import industrial products from somewhere that does have well established industry & cheaper products.

Then the south turned the argument back on the north to defend slavery. Actually to demand the Federal Government & northern states enforce runaway slave laws and not constrain the southern slavocracy from expanding westward.

And the north continued to invoke "state's rights" as reason why they shouldn't have to enforce runaway slave laws if they didn't want to.


310:

Update: the original cited paper was on price per Gb of mobile data, not per Mb. Stand down, folks.

311:

Charlie the series is all from a POC POV

312:

Maurice @ 311: Charlie the series is all from a POC POV

I think you're talking about the Lovecraft Files or whatever it's called on HBO, but I'm not sure. It's a little vague. You might specify which series.


313:

From about the time of the War of 1812 up through the 1820s there were various threats by New England states to secede because the south was thwarting Congress from enacting tariffs to protect their nascent industry.

I have read little about that specifically but I don't doubt you. Nothing about "state's rights" is inherently a Lost Cause argument; it is a useful argument any time there is a locally important issue that the federal government is not addressing in the way one would prefer.

Which also supports the point, that state's rights is never the issue but rather the rationalization or justification used to gain advantage/control with regard to the real issue. As a currently-practicing U.S. lawyer (Washington State only) with a strong amateur interest in early U.S. history, I notice that rhetorical sleight of hand often.

Not that state's rights is an invalid principle under American law. The U.S. government is after all an explicitly divided system, under which states reserved considerable sovereign powers for themselves and the federal government was created only with an express set of specific powers with a penumbra of "necessary and proper" incidental power to put the specific powers into effect. The dividing line between federal and state power has shifted considerably over time, in different directions at different times and on different topics. Usually those shifts are legislated, judicially drawn, or happen through governmental mission creep and eventually become basically accepted.

But once we had to fight an internal war about it. Not because people cared so passionately about "state's rights" per se, but because some states wanted to continue their slavery-based economy and culture, and one method of achieving that--short of war--was to try to convince enough people that state laws enforcing slavery could not be abrogated by federal law. Which certainly does not make the Civil War "about" state's rights.

314:

Greg--

Smart meters, internet of things, etc.: exactly. The borderlands of privacy shrink, and the borderlands of autonomy and personal control over one's home as well. The notion that having multiple methods available of external access and control to features of my house and appliances...[shudder]

State's rights: Yes, I think at least one seceding state explicitly cited slavery, though I don't have the cite off the top of my head. But really, slavery was so basic to the background of the conversation that it often was not expressly mentioned. There was no need to say it out loud because the entire audience, both those with you and those against you, knew what was being talked about, even when the entire argument was spoken in terms of state's rights.

315:

Greg
I had a smart electricity meter installed at the end of last year. The immediate consequence of this was that my direct debit was reduced within three weeks of installation. They didn't find any of my equipment (all pretty old) and there have been no negatives at all.

316:

re: ...That is confusing the cover rationalization for the actual motivation. The "state's rights" trope is basically a "Lost Cause" trope. It seeks to evade, once again, the...

That's what it is NOW. At that time if Lincoln had been willing to allow states to leave the Union if they wanted to there would have been no Civil War. And Lincoln had taken no steps to restrict or eliminate slavery, and there's no evidence that he intended to. So slavery is a strong background issue, but state's rights is the presenting issue.

OTOH, the Republicans of that time did want to either eliminate or strongly restrict slavery. So the attitude of the South isn't solely about "state's rights". But the actions of the federal government was driven by (denial of) state's rights...in particular the right to withdraw from the Union.

317:

Yes, they knew DNA was in the chromosomes, but they didn't think it was the genetic material. Chromatin is in the chromosomes too, but it's not a genetic material, and you don't think it is. At the time, though, some people were considering it (I don't know how seriously).

318:

The BBC on the Tulsa massacre Euw.

After you get done with that one check out the Wilmington Insurrection.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_insurrection_of_1898

319:

A problem is that the US Constitution is unworkable if taken seriously as written. It assumes a sparse population with slow transportation and very limited communication. It assumes that most of the governmental power is local, not even state level. Etc.

The idea was that it would be amended as needed to change with the times. That didn't happen. Instead they played pretzel games with the interpretation.

And even as written, and even in the early days, look up how John Marshall established the power of the Supreme Court. Look up the Alien and Sedition acts. It was never really workable as written. It needed several rounds of debugging that it never got.

320:

... Feel free to name one thing invented by Bill Gates.

I’ll name you two: Microsoft Corporation, and the business model of selling software as something separate from hardware.

321:

I quite believe that the reason for the succession was to protect slavery, but the war was over the right of states to succeed. If they had been allowed to do so, there would have been no war.

Consider how different BREXIT might have been if the EU had just said "No, you can't do that.".

322:

Americans coming north to buy cheaper medicines has been a thing for a long time. It's a low-level concern up here, as if large numbers do that it will affect supply levels for Canadian patients.

It is getting (or has been for a while) more formalized. I know people who email/fax their US prescriptions up north and get their meds back in the mail.

323:

Consider how different BREXIT might have been if the EU had just said "No, you can't do that.".

But the EU couldn't do that. It didn't have the legal authority to do so. The EU is basically the outcome of a series of international treaties by which 27 -- now 26, but probably increasing again in a few years -- nations gradually agreed to pool a bunch of their lawmaking powers for the collective good. There's no military, no sovereignty -- the EU presidency is a 6 month slot occupied by each nation's leadership in strict rotation -- a parliament that passes laws but they have to be more or less duplicated by a commission of national government representatives, then enacts as laws locally. And there was a formal secession mechanism, in the shape of Article 50: nobody ever expected it to be used, but it was baked into the treaty structure just in case.

One day the EU might disintegrate ... or it might equally well undergo another centralization-via-treaty and finally congeal into a United States of Europe. I don't think either option is likely within the next 5 years, and after then, it'd most likely be a reaction to external world affairs. (One the one hand Brexit poured a bucket of cold water over nationalist/separatist movements throughout the EU, but on the other hand, right now the USA and China are providing brilliant worked examples of what can go wrong with over-centralized imperial hegemons.)

324:

Much of the southern agitation against him was that he was anti-slavery, but there's no evidence that he would have done anything about that without the Civil War.

Lincoln was against new states being slave states. Or at least against the rule that they had to enter the union in pair. One slave and one not. Which the south knew would lead to slavery going away.

325:

I had a smart electricity meter installed at the end of last year.

Just to make this conversation more confusing. There is a lot of variation in the definition of a smart meter between states in the US and what is/can be done with them. And based on what I've seen discussed here what it means in the UK vs the US is also not exactly a match.

326:

I'm curious, as an outsider, why did the EU feel it was necessary to have an exit clause? What convinced the parties like France and Germany to approve it?

327:

Read the constitution of the CSA, of the states like Mississippi, all written with secession, laying out why they were leaving -- slavery is at the top.

See this morning: Jon Meacham on the history of the revisionist Glorious Lost Cause history of the War of the Rebellion -- which began immediately. In truth, it began at least as soon as Vicksburg fell, with Davis and others suddenly dropping 'slavery' from their cause for fighting -- though it was top and center in their constitution as a 'nation' and the secessionist state constitutions. Seeing the writing on the wall, they reacted like tuuuup is right now setting up a narrative in case he loses that the election was rigged, fraudulent and corrupt. People who know they are committing crimes try to figure out how to white wash before they are caught - brought in - indicted - tried.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/23/books/review/lost-cause-meacham.html?

No way would they allow live and let live either, even if the Union were to allow it. That is not how these people do. They're not letting us live and going away on their own right this minute either. Again it is always our way or we kill you. As it ever has been. They never stopped and they're not stopping now.

It all about white supremacy and they are willing to tear it all down and go with it rather than let them -- and women -- have respect, dignity, justice and opportunity.

Goof grief if there was such a thing as equal opportunity, we'd have to PAY people to risk their lives and health to save our homes. It was working so well having the incarcerated do it -- who are majority poor and of color. Ooooops. Terrible California, letting convicts out on early release because prisons are major hot spot for spreading covid 19. Yet the agency and others are furiously criticizing that decision because now our homes are burning because we've no prisoners to do that -- for a $1 a day, and the prohibition against getting a job as a state agency fire fighter when they served their time. But look at all the tax money we save by not allowing experienced firefighters into the force (who aren't white) with equal pay and insurance. No real opportunity gets them right back in prison too. Win-win.

329:

"I'm curious, as an outsider, why did the EU feel it was necessary to have an exit clause? What convinced the parties like France and Germany to approve it?"

In the northern European tradition for establishing organizations, can largely be summed up as "Settle the rules for disagreements while still friends".

Therefore almost all founding documents also has clauses for disestablishment.

Where membership is involved, clauses for both entering and leaving is the norm.

So there is nothing special or even remarkable about the EU treaty having an article for how a country can leave, to the point that it would have beem much more remarkable if it did not.

In hindsight it is noteworthy that the specific text in section 50 was submitted by UK and everybody else just nodded it through.

A lot of people forget that UK had their first brexit referendum almost before the ink on their ascent to the Treaty of Rome was dry.

It may be that the UK delegation had that in mind, and offered the article 50 text as a sure-fire escape-hatch with a guaranteed deadline while everybody else saw it as so properly puntative, that nobody in their right mind would even think about invoking it.

330:

At least four states mentioned slavery as a reason for secession. The Confederacy's declaration of secession described slavery as the primary reason.

https://portside.org/2013-11-04/absolute-proof-civil-war-was-about-slavery#:~:text=The%20Lone%20Star%20State%20actually,on%20their%20anti%2DAfrican%20sentiment.

"The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions--African slavery as it exists among us--the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution [...] The general opinion of the men of that day [Revolutionary Period] was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution [slavery] would be evanescent and pass away [...] Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."

331:

I had a paragraph about scaling down conspiracy theories to make them work but I arrived at John Grisham novels.

Personally I can't imagine writing a political satire anytime soon: Veep might be the last notable one the US sees for a while. Trump's incompetence and the general numbness to it puts me in mind of Catch 22, in all the wrong ways.

332:

I wonder if there's any technology for my hearing problems.

My new aids are somewhere between the simplest and the really sophisticated in terms of price. They have an astounding -- to me, a digital audio and video compression guy for years, but a newcomer to wearing hearing aids -- range of settings that I can choose from: various noise suppression strategies; dynamic range compression; Bluetooth connectivity to my phone for a whole range of functions. After three weeks, (a) I owe a lot of people apologies for not getting these sooner and (b) I am so looking forward to the next time I can have dinner with a particular group of former colleagues.

333:

It's a whole 2m across so unlikely to survive the atmosphere as more than a sprinkle of dust, we can hope though...

334:

While catching up on this thread today I was thinking about how the failure of US Reconstruction was the basis for the Lost Cause. So yeah maybe it didn't exist in name when ERB was writing a Princess of Mars, but it was part of the zeitgeist of the time, and ERB would likely have been swimming in it while creating John Carter.

And there's a clear delineation point when the Lost Cause mythology (perhaps not yet going by that name) became mainstream in the US: The Presidential election of 1876.

But I didn't want to organize my thoughts enough to write about that here.

Then, only partly coincidentally, I came across this article which opens with several paragraphs of discussion of that election: What happens if Donald Trump fights the election results?

tl;dr: The 1876 election was deadlocked. In a compromise, the Democrats allowed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to swear in as President, in exchange for Republicans agreeing to withdraw troops from the South. Withdrawing the troops allowed White Southerners to reassert oppression over Black citizens, establishing a cruel Jim Crow regime which lasted 90 years and whose effects are still being felt today.

By the 1890s you had White veterans of the Union and Confederacy side-by-side getting drunk and reminiscing about the war, each conceding that the other side fought honorably and for a just cause. Blacks weren't allowed in the room other than as servants.

Which is not to say that all subscribers to Lost Cause were racists. At least not knowingly. When I was a teen-age White kid in the 1970s, Black-power so-called blaxploitation movies like Superfly and Shaft were venerated alongside the Dukes of Hazzard, set in a fictional town in the Deep South with a supercar named the Robert E. Lee with a Confederate battle flag on the roof.

335:

At that time if Lincoln had been willing to allow states to leave the Union if they wanted to there would have been no Civil War.

Seriously? That is an argument to show that slavery was not the primary cause of the war? "If you had just given me your TV we wouldn't have had to deal with the whole breaking & entering unpleasantness." "If you had just let me break your arm we never would have gotten into that fight." Tell us why, pray, did the South want to secede? Just to prove they could?

The South did not secede in order to preserve the right to secede. The process is not itself the reason for engaging in the process. Nor is the broad bundle of issues encompassed in "state's rights" within the framework of the Constitution equivalent to the drastic "right to secede," and conflating the two is simply an evasion of the substantive argument.

And Lincoln had taken no steps to restrict or eliminate slavery, and there's no evidence that he intended to. So slavery is a strong background issue, but state's rights is the presenting issue.

Aside from just sounding like sealioning, the "no evidence" switches the topic. We aren't discussing what Lincoln "intended" to do when elected. We are discussing the reasons the South was willing to go to war. And the South seriously feared, and was awash in frantic propaganda about, the threat to slavery that they believed Lincoln's election posed.

I also don't know what you think you mean by "presenting issue" but as I understand the term, it means the superficial thing/symptom that is actually being caused by something more fundamental. A patient might "present" with a symptom, which is caused by an underlying condition. So yes, exactly: "state's rights" was a superficial issue driven by the fundamental cause of the war, which for the South was a determination to take not one step closer to elimination or reduction of slavery. Yes, the decades-long dispute over slavery in the United States heated up drastically with South Carolina's secession, though the shooting war did not start until later. That does not make "secession" the reason for the war. South Carolina seceded expressly to preserve their ability to enforce slavery, and protect themselves from the North's sporadic refusal to enforce fugitive slave laws. Any sealion with access to Wikipedia could figure that out--the primary documents are available.

336:

And Lincoln had taken no steps to restrict or eliminate slavery, and there's no evidence that he intended to.

By the way--totally backwards timeline. Multiple states seceded before Lincoln took office. Hard for Lincoln to "take steps" when his feet hadn't reached the Oval Office yet. More indications that this is an argument from the Lost Cause portfolio of revisionism.

337:

There have been several alternate history stories in which the South won the Civil War and slavery persists into the present day. Most recently, the folks who produced Game of Thrones had an idea for an alt-history TV series on that premise. But fans said, "Dude, no. Just no," and AFAIK the idea has been shelved.

I have a partly baked idea for a series based on the opposite premise -- that Reconstruction was not abandoned in 1877, and Blacks continued the advances they began in the 12 years following the end of the Civil War. The liberation of all that creativity and intelligence results in a golden age for technological progress, with space colonies on the planets by the 1920s.

338:

Maybe I'm missing something, but John Carter's story just doesn't sound like a Lost Cause narrative. His side lost the war. He gets transported to Mars. Doesn't he just stay there?

As far as I know, he doesn't miss Earth.

339:


"I remember reading somewhere that the USSR was run like a company" - there is an academic paper from 1961 about this that I think is or was fairly widely known:

USSR, Incorporated
Alfred G. Meyer
Slavic Review
Vol. 20, No. 3 (Oct., 1961), pp. 369-376

https://www.jstor.org/stable/3000500?seq=1

340:

RE: Lincoln, the Union, and slavery.

AIUI, Lincoln's main concern was to hold the Union together, against fears that if it broke up the European Great Powers (inc but not only Britain) would move in and take over. To achieve this, he was prepared to tolerate slavery, but that was not enough for the slaveholders, who demanded it be endorsed, which it appears he was not willing to do, probably because he really was against it.

JHomes

341:

Something to consider on slavery & secession, Lincoln was considered unwilling to allow the expansion of slavery from the States where it was already legal, such an expansion would have been likely to increase the book value of slaves, allowing their owners to negotiate better terms with lenders* and borrow more money.
IOW, they weren't doing it for the money, they were doing it for a shitload of money.

* Which may explain the existence of New York copperheads.

342:

With apologies to the shade of John Candy.

343:

Founding a company entails getting a bunch of (generally off-the-shelf) legal documents and paying a couple of registration fees. No invention involved.

And the first company to sell software independent of hardware was the Computer Usage Company, before Bill Gates was even born. So he didn't invent that unless he had a time-machine.

344:

RE: y2k,

I was the manager of a group of engineers at a large ISP back in 1999, and worked with another team who literally tested every single piece of gear we had on the network, identifying which ones could deal with the millennium, which could be patched, and which were going to poop the bed at midnight 1/1/2000.

Most of the switches, routers, firewalls, and so on were fine, being new enough or recently enough patched that it had been accounted for. Those that had a problem we either replaced or worked with the vendor to get a patch in place.

But there was one weird switch that was problematic. It did an ATM-OCx translation that didn't have an equivalent for from any other telecom equipment vendor, the original vendor was defunct, and there wasn't enough time to vet a new vendor, spec equipment, test, program, and replace them all at the time the problem was discovered. In testing, iirc, the test team discovered that after Y2K the device would lose its ability to keep its various line clockings in sync, which wasn't discovered until late in the testing procedure because it wasn't something anyone thought to test for. If the clocking slipped, you'd get packet loss, and there's a reason ATM already had the nickname of "the packet shredder," which would only get worse if the device translating data between low-level transmission standards decided to do so to a different, randomized beat.

Ultimately, I asked if we could just sever their links to NTP and reset their clocks to the 1970s, the earliest their little internal calendars could accept, and kick that bucket down the road another few decades. Of course, initially I was told "No, never, we'd never do that," but ultimately that's what we did, having reached the point where we no longer had the time to do anything else.

I hope all those devices have been ripped out with extreme prejudice (horrible interface, notorious for being difficult to get working when required, and who the fluff uses ATM anymore, really?) If not, well, I truly hope someone remembers to reset the clock on those things, or there's going to be problems.

345:

Maybe I'm missing something, but John Carter's story just doesn't sound like a Lost Cause narrative. His side lost the war. He gets transported to Mars. Doesn't he just stay there?

Not so much Lost Cause as dude who was a great southern gentleman who left the south after the war and is now the hero of current story.

The Virginian TV show as an example.

346:

Dunno where you got the idea I had issue. I mentioned my late father, back in the eighties, and a few years back I was looking around for a friend who really couldn't afford thousands of dollars for a Real Approved Hearing Aid.

347:

I have trouble following a conversation in a crowded room with lots of people talking. Got my hearing tested, because my brother-in-law had that problem and a hearing aid fixed it for him, and my hearing tests OK.
Then I realized that the problem doesn't happen as much when the other conversations are in languages I can't understand — it's when I can recognize words in the other conversations that I have trouble disentangling one conversation from another.

Sounds like me. I'm terrible at listening to talking if there are other voices around me. And aside from age related higher frequency drop off, my hearing tests fine.

I've always assumed it is tied to my brain being a bit off center. I also can't pick faces out of a crowd without looking at each face one by one for a few seconds each. (Much to the consternation of my wife for the early years of our marriage.) I also fail the color dot tests but can tell you the color of any one dot. Don't even expect me to color coordinate my clothes. To my eyes most anything goes with most anything else. And if ladies make a big change to the style of their hair there's a good chance I'll not recognized them next time I see them.

348:

Sorry, you're missing the point. The way you appear to present the issue is that "everyone has a cellphone* in the US, and it works 100% of the time, and cost is not an issue".

If you run out of money partway through the month, you do not have a cellphone. If it doesn't work in half the neighborhood you live in**, you do not have a cellphone, yuo have the equivalent of a payphone on the block.

* Please specify "cellphone" or "mobile", asks the guy with a cellphone, a flip phone.

** Back when I lived in Chicago, I read an article in the Trib, where, I kid you not, the reporter was talking to a black teen on the southwest side (Black neighborhood), and he LITERALLY DID NOT UNDERSTAND that downtown Chicago did not "belong* to another gang, and he could go there if he wanted.

349:

*sigh*

For the first time, I had a zoom get-together with two of my daughters, and my granddaughter. The daughter who's the mother of my granddaughter occasionally froze. Her new husband is video editing in the office (wired), and she was using the house Wifi. A cable across the hall? She says "dog, and kids, and running down the hall?"

350:

But wait, Jim, it's worse than that. I read an interview with the director, and he said HE NEVER READ THE BOOK.

351:

In the last month, C is one of the most-used programming languages. It'll be there in 18 years, as will experts.

The real question is whether asshole CEOs/MBAs will pay money for experts, or some jerk just out of college with zero experience, and having written a total of maybe 4000 lines of code in their life.

352:

I hope you didn't mean the one by white wing white supremacist male chauvinist pig Fucker Carlson....

353:

I'm talking vaguely achievable in the next century, absent a billion deaths from something.

Back in my twenties, or so, I did some crude calculations, based on Aubrey, I think it was, who said the typical early human band might have been around 20. Then I took as an assumption that half the land surface of the planet was habitable (which, of course, it's not, it's less), and that gave me an optimum planetary population of humans at about 1B, which was the population around 1810.

I'd be happy if it was 3B - at the very least, you could find a parking space.

Oh, and one thing that aggravated me about the recent "Clean Up The Marvel Universe" movie was, oh, half the people in the world disapper... so, we have the same population we did around the time of 'Nam?

Waaay too complicated for Hollywood.

354:

I really, *really* have to write my political book. I am *so* tired of folks automatically assuming they know everything about socialism, and that there is only one version (or maybe two), and neither works....

Control capital. It doesn't stop people from starting small-to-medium sized businesses. If they grew past a certain size, the government starts owning a part, depending on size.

How's that hit you?

Oh, and anyone in regulatory signs a non-compete clause, good for, say, 10 years, and in the meantime they may not get ANYTHING FROM THOSE REGULATED IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, or FORM.

No, you can't work for that non-profit think tank, it's funded by....

I would like an explicit punishment for violating one's Oath of Office.

One last note: right now, if when I wanted to give my manager (and friend) a present, it had to be worth $20 or less, period. That's reasonable.

355:

Now, the gas company offered me a "smart" thermostat. Screw that, I told them.

On the other hand, the meters outside the house - dunno how "smart" they are, but they do have radio broadcast (like RFID) so they can read the meters by driving down the block. I don't have a problem with that.

356:

It appears that it would fit in the back of a pickup, meaning it'll break/burn up in the atmosphere, if it even hits.

Which annoys me, I keep calling for one to hit Mar-a-lago....

357:

No, no. Oberth didn't write The Rocket Into Interplanetary Space until around '24. So, by the forties.

Fun note, from AC Clarke, in, I think, Profiles of the Future: NYT: perhaps even Herr Oberth's wild ideas might come to fruition before the human race is extinct. It appears, rather, that they might come to fruition before Her Oberth is extinct. (Clarke, writing in the early sixties, I think.)

358:

Not only does he not miss the Earth, in the beginning, he continually talks about longing for Mars, and there are hints that he might actually be *from* Mars, somehow transported to Earth.

359:

I'll also note thta the North was busy industrializing, but I've read that at that point in time, the South was where the big money was.

The North had a much larger population, though.

360:

The North had a much larger population, though.

These days the South has a larger population.

#1 in average weight!

361:

Thanks for the concise breakdown of the mad, mad, mad, mad world we now live in.
Looks like it's all sci-fi detective stories from here on in.

362:

Surely there's no cell reception because the cops have shut down the signal over half the central city yet again, in a futile attempt to stop footage getting leaked of their curb-stomping a peace march. I mean, that's just Saturday.

363:

I'm curious, as an outsider, why did the EU feel it was necessary to have an exit clause? What convinced the parties like France and Germany to approve it?

Why wouldn't it have an exit clause? It's not an empire trying to gobble up its neighbours and annex and tax them, it's a trade confederation -- if something goes wrong, you don't want to be manacled to it!

I suspect a lot of American reporting on the EU falls into the trap of assuming that the EU is like the USA. It isn't: it's more like NAFTA on steroids, with very vague sentiment towards a tighter union at some undefined point in the future that always seems to be receding.

364:

I can't imagine writing a political satire anytime soon: Veep might be the last notable one the US sees for a while. Trump's incompetence and the general numbness to it puts me in mind of Catch 22, in all the wrong ways.

Satire relies for its bite on the cognitive dissonance between that which is clearly happening and that which is admitted in polite society (or whatever passes for it).

To make satire work you take the gap, fictionally exaggerate it, and then explore the consequences of the burlesque being taken for reality by the shocked, shocked, onlookers (as a proxy for the reader's underexercised skepticism about the target of the satire).

But everybody[*] knows that the Trump administration is monstrously, epochally, blatantly, and openly corrupt and says so in public and it has no effect. There is no gap: it's all out in the open.

You can't satirize Trump by exaggerating Trump because he's completely shameless. (Ditto Brexit/Boris Johnson, at least since the November 2019 election.)

[*] Except for the MAGA-hat types who are so invested in white supremacism and conspiratorial thinking that they belive Trump is Jesus or something. And of course the grifters who prey on them, who understand the real situation but don't admit it in front of their marks.

365:

Yes. The only thing beyond that is farcical buffoonery that is the literary equivalent of slapstick or the more inane television cartoons of the 1960s. I thought that I was cynical, but I never expected things to descend this low, this fast. I regret that I agree with you in #66, and that Greg Tingey's glasses are too rose-tinted in #193. I share Barry's fantasy in #189, but it's no more likely that the Brexiteers' vision of Arthur awakening and leading England back to greatness.

366:

I've also been thinking about how writing a book about politics. Not socialism in particular, but how to evaluate a political argument, how to avoid allowing the status-seeking parts of your brain to override your common-sense, etc.

368:

Charlie
That assuming that the EU is like the USA is another of the brain-failure modes of the Brexshiteers, of course.
Thei rhetoric always assumes that the EU is a monolithic entity, with vast bureaucratic powers ....

EC
Actually, if I was wrong re #193, I can tell you one thing - should it come to an EU invasion to save us from the fascists, London will rise up to welcome the invaders.
Been done before, of course, in 1688 ....
( @ 367 - well colour me surprised - not very much )

369:
Thei rhetoric always assumes that the EU is a monolithic entity, with vast bureaucratic powers .

Yup:

Brexiter: The EU is an evil all-powerful superstate.
Me: No, it isn't, it's a free association of sovereign states.
Brexiter: See, it's a toothless waste of time.

370:

Thanks for that link. I've never seen that paper, but probably read something by someone who had.

What I read explicitly mentioned Taylor, with a nod to the early Ford Motor Company. The author argued that in capitalist countries the company was seen as the base organizational unit, in communist ones the country was. There was more but memory is vague — I think I read this in the 1990s or maybe late 80s.

371:

So slavery is a strong background issue, but state's rights is the presenting issue.

I think that the primary sources prove you utterly wrong; and that the best sources by far, are the political declarations of each State as to exactly why they had chosen to secede. They were absolutely clear, and proud of it - it would be daft to insist that they didn't mean exactly what they said. They defined themselves as "the slaveholding states" and their opponents as "the non-slaveholding states" - how much clearer could they be?

So, here are some of the "Declaration of Causes" for the secession (link), by the Governments of each of the seceding states. These quite clearly declare the presenting issue to be slavery; please, do point out a single "state's right" in the various declarations and ordinances that isn't about slavery?

Georgia: "A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia."

Mississippi: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery"

South Carolina: "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery."

Texas: "We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable."

Of the other states;
Florida (unpublished): "The nullification of these laws by the Legislatures of two thirds of the non slaveholding States important as it is in itself is additionally as is furnishing evidence of an open disregard of constitutional obligation, and of the rights and interests of the slaveholding States and of a deep and inveterate hostility to the people of these States."

Alabama stated in its Ordinances of Secession: "Be it ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled, That an ordinance adopted by the people of this State, in Convention at Huntsville, on the second day of August, one thousand eight hundred and nineteen, disclaiming forever all right to the waste or unappropriated lands lying withing this State, is hereby repealed; but the navigable waters of this State shall remain forever highways, free to the citizens of this State, and of such States as may unite with the State of Alabama in a Southern Slaveholding Confederacy. Adopted, January 28, 1861."

372:

Control capital. It doesn't stop people from starting small-to-medium sized businesses. If they grew past a certain size, the government starts owning a part, depending on size.

Back in the 80s I visited Italy, where I learned that many of the factories I saw were not owned by a single company, but a collection of companies each just small enough to be classed as a small business for tax purposes.

On a more SFnal note, remember People's Capitalism from Mack Reynolds' stories?

373:

I suspect a lot of American reporting on the EU falls into the trap of assuming that the EU is like the USA. It isn't: it's more like NAFTA on steroids

With the steroids being things like labour rights, human rights, health standards…

NAAFTA was pretty light on enforceable rights for everything except capitol, property, and business; CUSMA looks to be worse.

And that's ignoring the whole "why bother having an agreement when the US President can just say 'national security' when he wants to ignore it" thing.

374:

I am not arguing with that.

375:

I agree with you, but the absolutist position is also wrong- there were strong secondary reasons to do with the south feeling (and probably being) suppressed by the north, even though the dominating reason was slavery. The treatment of the south in the aftermath was a disaster - the hamstringing of its industrial and economic development led to the creation of a poor white underclass, Jim Crow and what we have today. A mistake repeated in 1918.

376:

COVID-19 re-infection confirmed

Just got this NYT headline email alert and Google isn't showing any other sources. If the headline is accurate, we're in for a really hard Fall with flu season coming up fast.

Hoping someone here can find more info/sources.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/24/world/covid-19-coronavirus.html


'Researchers in Hong Kong are reporting the first confirmed case of reinfection with the coronavirus.

“An apparently young and healthy patient had a second case of Covid-19 infection which was diagnosed 4.5 months after the first episode,” University of Hong Kong researchers said Monday in a statement.

The report is of concern because it suggests that immunity to the coronavirus may last only a few months in some people. And it has implications for vaccines being developed for the virus.'

The 33-year-old man had only mild symptoms the first time, and no symptoms this time around. The reinfection was discovered when he returned from a trip to Spain, the researchers said, and the virus they sequenced closely matched the strain circulating in Europe in July and August.

“Our results prove that his second infection is caused by a new virus that he acquired recently rather than prolonged viral shedding,” said Dr. Kelvin Kai-Wang To, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong.'

377:

It's always strange watching US TV drama where some character is in the hospital and their relatives/friends are discussing how to cope with the bills. Even weirder when the show (as many are) is actually made in Canada which has a normal health care system.

378:

SFR
Which gives us the question:
Is it ( C-19 ) like its relative the Common Cold?
If you get a mild dose & then an even milder dose - does it matter ( to you - not to others ) ...
Will you be getting the blood clots & other @orrible side-effects, or not.
More known unknowns to deal with.

379:

I'm not sure this is anything more than click-bait. It sounds like he came home to Hong Kong and someone gave him a COVID-19 test, at which point they discovered the virus in his bloodstream - but he was asymptomatic, which says to me that his immune system was doing exactly what it should.

My guess would be that he picked it up in the airplane, at the airport, in the airport shuttle bus, or some similar place. If he'd actually shown symptoms of the disease that would be another matter.

380:

If he was contagious the second time, even though asymptomatic, then it's worrying because it means the number of silent spreaders is likely to increase.

381:

In re The Iron Dream: The critical essay at the end is a riot. It takes the satirical theme of the novel and cranks it up another octave.

382:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 330: At least four states mentioned slavery as a reason for secession.

They all cited slavery as the primary cause. The ones that do mention "states rights" do so in reference to other states & the Federal Government not giving "full faith and credit" to slave state "rights" by not enforcing runaway slave laws. The only rights they cared about was "property rights".

Some of the Declarations of Secession were hard to find on the internet. I did eventually find them all several years ago, when I first got interested in this discussion, but I no longer have the links and I'm not going to look for them again.

But I've read them all and they all cited slavery, runaway slave laws and property rights in one form or another. Some of them did cite northern states' resistance to allowing the admission of new slave states as an additional grievance.

383:

Vulch @ 333:It's a whole 2m across so unlikely to survive the atmosphere as more than a sprinkle of dust, we can hope though...

But you know that if it does hit, THEY will make damn sure it hits a "Blue State".

Actually, reading past the headlines, it's pretty likely it's not even going to brush the outer fringes of the atmosphere; something like 0.041% chance it will hit earth. I was kind of bemused, and slightly suspicious of, why it was announced now in the manner that it was.

Anyone have an idea how the size compares to the one that hit Arizona & formed that crater?

https://www.meteorite.com/meteor-crater/

384:

whitroth wrote:

...The "official hearing aids" run $3k-$6k in the US... but they do things like automatically adjusting volumes in different ranges of audio spectrum, etc...

I've been using a set of those for about 3.5 years, and am very happy with them - much happier than my parents were with theirs, which were simple amplification devices. These include some low-level communication between the two devices, but not bluetooth. The do frequency-based amplification, and are programmed to deal with my asymmetrical frequency loss with left vs. right. My batteries last about 3 days.

I'm due for scheduled replacement in another month of so, and am going to give the bluetooth feature a hard look. When I got my current ones bluetooth added about $1000 to the price. That price reflected some other things as well, 9 frequency bands rather than 5, etc, so the price difference was likely only partly due to bluetooth.

385:

If subsequent infections are much less serious, it could end up as one of the diseases that are best caught in childhood, so to get resistance to later infections. Unless there is an effective vaccine giving similar resistance, it's bad news for us old fogies but otherwise a short-term problem. If subsequent infections are NOT much less serious, it's a major long-term problem.

386:

I once contemplated an alternate universe where Lincoln, instead of being a lawyer, was (for all practical purposes) an economist. And instead of fighting the Civil War he convinced the Southern States that accepting a buy-out of all their slaves and using that money to industrialize was a superior economic path to exploiting slaves - in retrospect it's probably pretty naive, but I still like the approach.

387:

I don't know how reputable this site is, but it looked interesting:

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2020/Pres/Maps/Aug24.html#item-1


Also this resolution from the Republican Party:
RESOLUTION REGARDING THE REPUBLICAN PARTY PLATFORM

WHEREAS, The Republican National Committee (RNC) has significantly scaled back the size and scope of the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte due to strict restrictions on gatherings and meetings, and out of concern for the safety of convention attendees and our hosts;

WHEREAS, The RNC has unanimously voted to forego the Convention Committee on Platform, in appreciation of the fact that it did not want a small contingent of delegates formulating a new platform without the breadth of perspectives within the ever-growing Republican movement;

WHEREAS, All platforms are snapshots of the historical contexts in which they are born, and parties abide by their policy priorities, rather than their political rhetoric;

WHEREAS, The RNC, had the Platform Committee been able to convene in 2020, would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration;

WHEREAS, The media has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020 and continues to engage in misleading advocacy for the failed policies of the Obama-Biden Administration, rather than providing the public with unbiased reporting of facts; and

WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;

RESOVLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;

RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention calls on the media to engage in accurate and unbiased reporting, especially as it relates to the strong support of the RNC for President Trump and his Administration; and

RESOLVED, That any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.

https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/RESOLUTION_REGARDING_THE_REPUBLICAN_PARTY_PLATFORM.pdf?_ga=2.109560193.504857691.1598219603-2087748323.1598219603

TLDR: Looks like the Republican Party is now officially the Trump Party.

388:

Martin wrote:

I think that the primary sources prove you utterly wrong; and that the best sources by far, are the political declarations of each State as to exactly why they had chosen to secede.

Martin is correct. I've read at least 3/4 of the statements of secession in full, and skimmed them all. Most of the ones that mention "state's rights" do so with an explicit statement that the right to own slaves is what they're concerned about.

389:

This one is 2m across, Chelyabinsk was about 20m, the Meteor Crater impactor is thought to have been about 50m across originally but probably lost about half its mass on the way down so around 40m when it went boom and dug the hole.

390:

Rbt Prior
The BBC is saying the same
The Grossly Oligarchic Party is now the Trump "family" personal fiefdom.
Welcome to C15th Italy!
Or a 1920's Mafia stitch-up, not that there is much significant difference

391:

I quite believe that the reason for the succession was to protect slavery, but the war was over the right of states to secede. If they had been allowed to do so, there would have been no war.

Again, timelines prove you wrong. South Carolina secedes in December 1860; and starts shooting at the resupply ship for Fort Sumter three weeks later, in January 1861. The Confederacy starts mobilising in February/March 1861; the Senate of the USA passes the Corwin Amendment in March; the attack upon Fort Sumter happens in April 1861. Lincoln doesn't mobilise troops until after Fort Sumter has been fired upon.

The war happened because the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter in April 1861, on the direct orders of Jefferson Davis. Even into March, and after Lincoln's Inauguration, the Union was attempting to avoid conflict (see the Corwin Amendment), and wasn't taking warlike measures to prevent secession.

Your claim appears similar to a suggestion that if France and the UK had just allowed Germany to divide up Poland with the USSR... there would have been no WW2 in Europe.

392:

Crack the Safe @ 336:

And Lincoln had taken no steps to restrict or eliminate slavery, and there's no evidence that he intended to.

By the way--totally backwards timeline. Multiple states seceded before Lincoln took office. Hard for Lincoln to "take steps" when his feet hadn't reached the Oval Office yet. More indications that this is an argument from the Lost Cause portfolio of revisionism.

We do have the record of how Lincoln proposed to govern; i.e. to allow the continuation of slavery where it already existed, but to not allow its spread into western territories and NOT to allow the formation of new slave states.

That latter was the threat the slave states feared most, the eventual loss of power as the balance between "free-soil" states and slave states shifted with the admission of future states.

Had the southern states not revolted, slavery would have "de facto" ended eventually, but we'd still have a big problems with "race" here in the U.S.; a lot worse problems than we do have now. And if the southern states had been allowed to leave, there would have eventually been war between the Confederacy and the United States for control of the American West.

I don't believe "Lincoln had taken no steps" can be part of the "Lost Cause" narrative. If anything, it is antithetical to it, because there is ,at that point, NO CAUSE to be lost.

I think the fairest assessment is that from the Union point of view the American Civil War did not begin with the purpose of ending slavery, while from the Southern POV, it was ALL ABOUT the continuation of slavery.

393:

Hey, what's wrong with first contact stories, or relations with aliens (assuming we can figure them out enough to talk), or new colonies...?

He asks, about to start looking for an agent for his new novel next month....

394:

Hey, there's still actual *humor* - intelligent, witty. If I want slapstick (I don't) I'll watch the GOP convention.

395:

I'm sorry, but I think you need to explain further. Where they just a bunch of small businesses, or were they actually *held* (interlocking boards, officers, etc) by one organization?

Also, you're simply not going to have small businesses owning infrastructure or major services.

396:

Creation of a poor white underclass? That was already there. The big plantation owners were the big frogs, and everyone else... I've read of families that owned, count them, one slave, and the slave lived in the house (or hovel) because that was all they had.

This is explicitly what the rich slaveholders used - you're poor as dirt, but you're not a slave. Fight and die for us!

397:

JHomes @ 340: RE: Lincoln, the Union, and slavery.

AIUI, Lincoln's main concern was to hold the Union together, against fears that if it broke up the European Great Powers (inc but not only Britain) would move in and take over. To achieve this, he was prepared to tolerate slavery, but that was not enough for the slaveholders, who demanded it be endorsed, which it appears he was not willing to do, probably because he really was against it.

Holding the Union together was Lincoln's concern AFTER the southern states revolted. He was elected on a platform of containing slavery, not abolishing it in the states where it already existed, but also NOT allowing it to expand into new territories.1

https://www.americanyawp.com/reader/the-sectional-crisis/1860-republican-party-platform/

https://millercenter.org/president/lincoln/campaigns-and-elections

1 And to increase the industrial capacity of the U.S., with tariffs to protect American manufacturers & Federal financing for improvements to harbors & navigable waters along with a national railroad linking the east to the west, which would primarily benefit northern & western "free-soil" interests - see planks 12, 15 & 16 of the 1860 Republican Platform. The south, locked in the embrace of the Plantation aristocracy, saw no need for industrialization, a mistake they never managed to overcome.

https://youtu.be/S72nI4Ex_E0?t=46

398:

Well, there is, but the context was attempting to satirise the situation in either the USA or UK. Just adding humour isn't satire, and that's all that can be done without becoming slapstick. Look at this, for example:

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/coronavirus-boris-johnson-worst-case-winter-planning-document-death-toll-a9685561.html

399:

whitroth @ 355: Now, the gas company offered me a "smart" thermostat. Screw that, I told them.

On the other hand, the meters outside the house - dunno how "smart" they are, but they do have radio broadcast (like RFID) so they can read the meters by driving down the block. I don't have a problem with that.

I don't think the newer ones even require that. They can somehow piggy-back the signal on the electric line that comes up to your house and send in their readings that way. No need for a "meter reader" to even drive down the street anymore. All the water meters in Raleigh have transponders on them as well, and I don't think they have "meter readers" driving past to get the data.

Thinking about it just now, I'd mount the device that "reads" the meters on the city Sanitation trucks, because they do have to come down the street every week. When the trucks get back to the garage in the evening, the device dumps it's load of data into the system via WiFi.

Most of the "smart" thermostats I've seen are just timers, zone controllers & maybe a itty-bitty AI that monitors the temperature inside & out so that if the weather turns bad in a way that going to require HVAC that doesn't match your normal pattern it can adapt ... "Woah! It's already 90°F & 95% humidity outside and it's only 6:00 am ... maybe I'll just add a little cool dry air to the house NOW and not wait until my normal 9:00am start time"

That was how an energy management system I worked on when I was with the burglar alarm company worked. Monitored outside temperatures & if it was getting hot early in the day it would go ahead and start the chillers early to get a jump on cooling needs. In the winter, if there was an unusual cold spell, it might start the heat up at night to keep the store from getting too cold. Over the long haul, it saved energy to do it that way because you didn't get these big spikes of energy usage you might get if the store was allowed to heat up/cool down too much over night.

I don't know how the gas company reads my meter. There's an obvious transponder, but I don't know if it's able to communicate over a long distance or if a "meter reader" has to drive down the street.

I know the thing in my car that monitors it has a cell phone built in, 'cause it has its own phone number.

400:

whitroth @ 356: It appears that it would fit in the back of a pickup, meaning it'll break/burn up in the atmosphere, if it even hits.

Which annoys me, I keep calling for one to hit Mar-a-lago....

Never gonna' happen. Mar-a-lago is not in a "Blue State".

401:

whitroth @ 359: I'll also note thta the North was busy industrializing, but I've read that at that point in time, the South was where the big money was.

The North had a much larger population, though.

The "South was where the big money was" is only because of the "monetary value" placed on slaves. Slaves were not a liquid asset. In fact, when liquidated, they were not an asset at all.

402:

RESOLUTION REGARDING THE REPUBLICAN PARTY PLATFORM

It appears to be the real thing from the RNC site: https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/docs/Resolution_Platform_2020.pdf

I note that the first WHEREAS contains no mention or hint of health concerns, just "safety".

403:

Oh, sorry - when they say "smart" thermostat, they *were* talking web-enabled.

I told them I *so* much want some 16 yr old asshole setting my thermostat to 90F in the summer, or off in the winter....

404:

Robert Prior @ 387: I don't know how reputable this site is, but it looked interesting:

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2020/Pres/Maps/Aug24.html#item-1

Wikipedia page about the site:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral-vote.com

Wikipedia page about the site's creator:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_S._Tanenbaum

I didn't find info on the other guy, Christopher "Zenger" Bates other than the site says he's "the (somewhat) less mild-mannered historian ... who lives in California and teaches at UCLA and Cal Poly Pomona.

405:

Anyone have an idea how the size compares to the one that hit Arizona & formed that crater?

Wikipedia says, so it must be right, that "The object that excavated the crater was a nickel-iron meteorite about 160 feet (50 meters) across."

The present object is estimated to be about 2 meters in diameter, so around 1e-4 the mass if it's also made of iron, less if rock.

406:

Re: 'More known unknowns to deal with.'

Yeah, that's basically the net take-away including among virologists and front-line ER epidemiologists. Lots of variables at play and not enough double-blind studies have been conducted often because of medical ethics, i.e., 'do no harm'.

BTW, I've since seen this story elsewhere on trusted sites: it's not click-bait.

In the most recent TWiV podcast, Daniel Griffin, MD, PhD spoke at length about the reality of treating a patient during a novel virus outbreak including medicos' version of the trolley problem re: do no harm (try everything to help the patient in front of you) vs. best research practices (double blind studies so that you can learn enough to help the population at large even as you see the patient in front of you get worse). Overall, MDs tend to want their patients to pull through.


407:

Maybe I'm missing something, but John Carter's story just doesn't sound like a Lost Cause narrative. His side lost the war. He gets transported to Mars. Doesn't he just stay there?

Perhaps I overstated without meaning to. I didn't mean that the Barsoom books are based on a Lost Cause narrative, but rather that it seemed okay, to ERB, to drop a "hope of the South" line into the backstory for his hero. The original post was about "plots" but OGH mentioned more trope-like things such as "cop as protagonist" and I was riffing off that: a feature of 20th cen. writing that used to be largely unproblematic and accepted that now likely isn't.

Also, in my mind, John Carter's whole aristocratic, heroic, sword-fighting, courtly demeanor is a kind of riff on the trope of the Southern Gentleman. Doesn't have to be; there are plenty of aristocratic stereotypes to play off of. But ERB for whatever reason chose the Southern Gentleman as opposed to, say, a Ruritania/Prisoner of Zenda kind of background. Maybe he just wanted an American hero with a "natural" reason for aristocratic attitudes and sword fighting skill, so he went with what was closest to hand. But in these new days, I think an author would think twice before bolting a Southern Gentleman trope onto a protagonist.

408:

That's all the details I remember, I'm afraid. That legally they were a bunch of small companies (enough so as to qualify for tax breaks), even though it looked like a single large manufacturing plant.

In terms of your suggestion that the government owns part of companies over a certain size, I think the workaround is obvious.

409:

"Protagonist aged under 70 who doesn't have a mobile phone"

Charlie- I think the character you're casting about searching for, a mobile phone recluse, could be the so called Well-Adapted Misanthrope.

As a plausible fictional backstory for this character, make him contemptuous, condescending and slow to empathize by nature or an inborn place somewhere on the autism spectrum. Aware of his own personality flaws, he's come to terms with them over time. Frantic youthful attempts to compensate for his own insularity are humiliating enough to set him on a solitary path, until by chance he happens on a young lady of similar temperament. Together they make a satisfactory lifestyle for themselves but never really connect with the mentality of the larger community, and never notice a deficiency in their contentment from any lack of personal friends, since they both harbor grudges and resentment at the memory of long vanished friendships.

Happy to let relatives contact them by email or postcard at their semi- remote small town dwelling, they have sufficient superficial glibness to get by in their careers until DINK (dual income no kids) savings allow early retirement. Free riders hiding in plain sight, they enjoy many of the physical advantages America offers but disdain its cloying mindset, resolving to live without paying for broadband since it's readily available in stores, restaurants and libraries.

If that's too self-centered and unsympathetic to sell as a plot line, you could alternatively just make this character a generic sitcom personality who's real anal-retentive about spending two cents on anything at all, so much so that he frequently rides a bicycle across town to mooch a few minutes of wifi from the library after it closes, or out behind the big box discounter on slow Sunday afternoons. Not exactly "wardriving" the way you and Corey described it, but still a practice so offensive to the prevailing ethos of conspicuous consumption, few readers would accept it, without making the character a villain or comic foil.

Ideas to kick around anyway. I mean, it's at least possible someone like this could really exist, don't you think? Or is my imagination running away with me...

410:

I think you're right and wrong. John Carter comes back to Earth repeatedly to visit his nephew (putatively ERB). This is how we get his stories.

I don't think Burroughs was some sort of crypto-confederate. IIRC, he was born in Chicago, and per WIkipedia, he was the son of a Union cavalry officer. He enlisted in the 7th Cavalry in Arizona (where John Carter begins), but got a medical discharge due to a heart condition. He did a bunch of jobs until he got his first pulp sale in 1912 ("Under the Moons of Mars") and the rest is history.

Why confederate and not union? Perhaps it was the idea of vagrant rootlessness. I don't know.

OTOH, unless you're some sort of sick puppy, this is maybe not the background you want to use for a protagonist at the moment. Besides which, if you're doing a Barsoom pastiche, you could probably have more fun by having John Carter be a veteran of the US Cavalry 9th Regiment, or if you wanted to go full-on steampunk, write about a veteran of the 25th Infantry Regiment in the late 1890s getting transported to Barsoom.

411:

JBS: I don't believe "Lincoln had taken no steps" can be part of the "Lost Cause" narrative. If anything, it is antithetical to it, because there is, at that point, NO CAUSE to be lost.

I think we are trapped in the Strange Loop of revisionist history. The "Lincoln had taken no steps" was presented by Charles H to support an argument that the Civil War wasn't primarily caused by the conflict over slavery, but was actually to protect state's rights. Charles H supports his argument by implying that the South wasn't reacting to a threat to slavery because Lincoln wasn't threatening slavery; ergo, state's rights must have been more important. So if the "cause" of the "Lost Cause" was slavery, you are entirely correct. But if the "cause" was state's rights in some benign, non-slave-y sense, I do think it's a "Lost Cause" element.

I think the fairest assessment is that from the Union point of view the American Civil War did not begin with the purpose of ending slavery, while from the Southern POV, it was ALL ABOUT the continuation of slavery.

That is the most succinct statement of the nuance I've yet seen, and much better than the rambling mess I've been spattering through the comments. Thank you for that.

412:

When I said that, I was, of course, considering sole owners or small partnerships. And, of course, I meant by INCOME, as opposed, for example, to the stock traders who only had a hundred people in the company who signed up for the recent small business support grants... never mind they were making hundred of millions.

Oh, and of course you're going over 90% tax brackets when you start earning over, say, $50M/yr. Ditto, I think, on trusts or other such organizations - the ones that allow billionaires to control tens of billions, without paying high taxes now.

413:

Possibly because he wanted the idea of not a victor, but someone who fights lost causes, or really has nothing to come back to?

414:

Re: 'That any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.'

Wonder what this means in terms of the Republicans who spoke at the Dem convention - legitimizes their expulsion, torpedoes their chances of re-election as a GOP member in good standing? Maybe an internal witch-hunt.

Overall though - more than keeping DT safe, this keeps McConnell as the untouchable power behind the throne regardless of what polls say about him, DT, or the GOP. (McOnnell's had a DISapproval rating around 50% since 2017 - and, frankly Scarlet, he don't give a damn.)

415:

You misunderstand me. I completely accept that the reason the South succeeded was to protect slavery. What I'm asserting is that if they Union had agreed to allow them to withdraw, there wouldn't have been a Civil War. And that therefore the Civil War was about states rights, in particular the right to succeed.

This assertion has been directly denied above by Foxessa in 327, and that's a legitimate opinion. I think that it might have prevented a war, but if it hadn't it would have delayed it, and what would have happened would have been a war between separate countries rather than a civil war. But these are opinions, and not subject to claims of truth or falsity. You can't validate them.

416:

Meanwhile, the latest on Mr. Navalny:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/24/world/europe/aleksei-navalny-poison.html

While not able to pinpoint the exact poison, the doctors said tests showed it came from a group known as cholinesterase inhibitors, sometimes used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease.

I wonder if that cholinesterase inhibitor might have a common name...

417:

[citation needed]
I've lived in CA for most of my life - cell phones aren't being given away AFAIK. They may be subsidized by government for the very poor - but the rest of us have to pay for them, and the service charges.

418:

Texas has a lot of co-ops for rural electricity and telephone service. I can see it for internet service as well - and either kind of co-op would do, or a combination. (We got a small satellite dish for additional TV service that way. The 'local' stations were more than 40 miles away.)

419:

My electric meter is a "smart" meter, and I haven't had that problem. (They were having billing problems when it first went in, but that got sorted.) I average about 260KWh per two-month billing period, higher in summer because it's L.A. and it gets hot. (This week they don't currently think it will get over 38C.)

420:

whitroth: Control capital. It doesn't stop people from starting small-to-medium sized businesses. If they grew past a certain size, the government starts owning a part, depending on size.

Yes, this. At a certain point accumulations of economic power accumulate too much political power. Accumulation of political power is a signal that the entity is shifting from business enterprise to public institution, and it should be heavily constrained by government in some fashion to avoid distorting effects on governance by natural persons.

The U.S. tries, feebly, to maintain government authority with regulation rather than ownership transfers. It tried, for a while, to do it with antitrust law, which was stunted at birth and has never really been effective. The history of corporations in the U.S. is instructive on what kinds of constraints have been attempted. One that hasn't been attempted in the U.S. so far as I know is partial transfer of ownership to the government. (Except in isolated instances, such as bailouts, where government ownership is eventually divested.)

The practical problems are huge and detailed of course, but FWIW I think the concept is a reasonable point on the capitalism/socialism spectrum.

421:

Texas has a lot of co-ops for rural electricity

Smart meters in Texas have one big function. They allow the consumer to pick who the wholesaler is for their power. Ranging from "I don't care" to nuclear to wind to hamster wheels or whatever. When you want power somewhere you have to go to a web site or call a central number and pick supplier company and plan. That company then arranges for the grid to source the power you have picked.

Now many plans have terms and such but in theory the tech and systems will let you switch power plans day to day.

Last mile is handled by whoever built out the local grid but they don't get to lock you into "their" power.

To allow this to happen the last mile provider has to be able to read your meter at least once a day. Remotely.

Now meters can be used to do other things but this is the base line in Texas.

422:

America is not a developed nation, in terms of functioning infrastructure.

I think it's more that the US is not a uniformly developed nation, in terms of functioning public infrastructure.

If you've got the means to live well, you can live well. If not, then deal with displacement, dislocation and decline.

Unfortunately the threshold for 'adequate means to live well' keeps rocketing upward.

423:

Yes. I have access to 800/40 with Spectrum cable service but are only paying for 400/20 at this time. Plus AT&T DSL[1] or Fiber up to 1000/1000 with the connection point on my pole. And Google fiber to the side of my house with up to 1000/1000 if I want to connect to them.

I'm definitely on the edge of the bell curve.

[1] I've heard that AT&T will no longer connect DSL service if you can get fiber. But they will sell you a very slow speed over the fiber if you want.

424:

I wonder if that cholinesterase inhibitor might have a common name..

Depends on whether it was a dementia drug, a pesticide, a chemical warfare agent, or something more recondite...

425:

Pardon me for going completely off-topic, but I have to know:

@OGH: Was this an inspiration for our old friend (and now PM) Fabian Everyman?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbHVPk2V6_M

426:

johnpbh @ 361 Looks like it's all sci-fi detective stories from here on in.

I should probably get started on mine, then. Avoid the rush. :)

427:

Charles H @282: [T]here was a lot of anti-slavery opinion in the North and pro-slavery opinion in the South, and that polarized things quite significantly, but still states rights was the principle [principal] cause of the war.

After significant pushback from multiple people...

Charles H @415: You misunderstand me. I completely accept that the reason the South [seceded] was to protect slavery.

I don't think I misunderstood your statement at 282.

Charles H @415: What I'm asserting is that if the Union had agreed to allow them to withdraw, there wouldn't have been a Civil War. And that therefore the Civil War was about states rights, in particular the right to [secede].

"Therefore" nothing. Seceding and fighting a war are two methods of trying to achieve the same goal: preservation of slavery. If the South had agreed to abolish slavery or admit additional free states without requiring an equal number of slave states, there would have been no war because the South would have had no reason to secede.

South said "we want to keep slavery intact and the U.S. is slipping away from it so we secede," and North said "you agreed to the rules when we all formed the U.S. and you can't take your bat and ball and go home now because the rules aren't giving you the result you want, this is a single country and the resolution of slavery will be determined by all of us under our existing governmental structure." Since the North would not go along with South's first move to preserve slavery, they fought instead. War is a continuation of political discourse using additional (violent) means.

It's trivially true that the argument over the primary cause, slavery, was often couched by the disputants in terms of the government structure determining who got to decide whether to allow or enforce slavery: state's rights, federal supremacy, full faith and credit, etc. But that doesn't make the War "about" state's rights or the right to secede.

Lumping the "right" of secession--the right to abandon the country completely--with other state rights that can exist and have meaning only within the state/federal Constitutional framework, is yet another Lost Cause evasion.

The state's rights evasion is squarely within the purpose of the whole Lost Cause trope: to deny that the South first seceded, then fought a war, expressly to preserve the practice of enslaving and exploiting human beings for white society's profit and comfort.

428:

Keithmasterson
You do realise that you are describing ...me? ( almost - I maintain contacts with friends from Uni, back in the late 1960's & a few other people )

SFR
Wonder what this means in terms of the Republicans who spoke at the Dem convention - legitimizes their expulsion, torpedoes their chances of re-election as a GOP member in good standing? Maybe an internal witch-hunt.
That is exactly what it means
Here we have what is still called "The Conservative & Unionist Party of the UK"
It isn't - since BoZo's internal coup it's a Brexiteer semi-fascist rump, where REAL lifelong conservatives, like Ken Clarke & Nicholas Soames are booted out ....

Charles H
STILL not even wrong
Lincoln deliberaltely did NOT declare a war until AFTER the Slaveholders had deliberately & of their own volition intiated hostilities by firing upon Fort Sumter.
The "S" deliberately started the shooting war & there was no way around it.
AND STILL we get aplogists ( Like you ) - really, really not good enough.
Sickening, in fact, shame on you, sir!

SEE ALSO
Crack the Safe @ 427

429:

‘Scuse me. I think I have got carried away. Please blame the late night brandy, rather than (just) me.

First off, Charlie. Stories I write are not like that (not as good as yours, but). Inside them I don’t have much trouble with cutting out impossible plots just because times have changed, though obviously, detail needs fixing. I think two things: First is that I always look at people as fundamentally weird, so conspiracies, obsessive stupidity, twisted and irrational beliefs, and all the rest are normal. Second is that I also look at a lot of history, so current weirdnesses don’t look much different to the kinds of things an ordinary person might have learned about and believed in 1815 from newspapers and pamphlets, popular songs, stuff from pulpits, ‘societies’ and street meetings. Things, in other words, are not different, even if the kit we use to express ourselves has changed. For example:

“And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England’s green and pleasant land?”

Blake wasn’t just writing that out of the top of his head. Lots of people believed similar things, like the Shakers, who had a messianic prophet called Anne Lee, born on Toad Lane in Manchester (and good music).

We, the people, are not simple, truth ain’t easy, and a lot of it is mutable, even for the most hard nosed of us. For a light example, I noticed (and haven’t kept track enough to retain the link) that the Kon Tiki expedition theory, from Thor Heyerdahl, which I have been happy, most of my life, to think of as a piece of cheerful silliness, now has some real evidence (from, I think, the genetics of sweet potatoes). Whaay! I like that kind of changing my mind.

And I like Bug Jack Baron. What is un-contemporary about a journalist getting corrupted?

And internet access? A lot of the bandwidth we use is not from satellites, but off undersea cables, which can be cut. Your local goes through towers, but not long distance. The main line from Europe into Egypt was cut a few years ago; reports said it was some kind of undersea mudslide or some such, but whatever caused it, almost everything international stopped in Egypt. The terminal for a main transatlantic telecom line into the UK stops here in Leeds, and that kind of kit can be disrupted, so SF plots without phones or with heavy limits are quite possible, though you would have to, at least sort of, explain the cables breaking.

And “Stand on Zanzibar”. Nothing has gone away, and eight or nine billion does mean dystopia. No messing, so all those plots are still alive. I quite approve of the Doris Lessing reduction to about one million population on earth - seems about right, though I don’t want to live through getting there.

And Y2K. I didn’t code, but I did specify and use little local systems for the NHS, with two or three users, but affecting two or three thousand people. No big deal, but all our systems used patients’ dates of birth, so we had to fix them or lose them. There were thousands of bitty applications like mine, all over Britain. If one broke down it wouldn’t matter all that much - it would be annoying, and some people might get hurt - I kept and used data bases which warned medical and nursing staff about particularly dangerous patients, saying what to look for and what not to say, for example, but we would have coped. But all of them, every comparable little system, all at once? It took bits of work from thousands of us, in my case from 1993, to stop that happening. I also developed other bits of application to correct for errors in the big systems - they were part of the flow; we needed them to get half good local data despite the big systems, and losing our little bits of error correction, even with Y2K fixes on the big systems, that would have been a substantial problem.

Change of topic:

I think all the seceding states in the US civil war cited slavery (I have read the declarations and I can’t think of an exception) as the main cause. They couldn’t do states rights (that is a later fantasy) because they wanted and won cases (‘specially, but not only, Dredd Scott in 1857), which said their laws over-rode the laws in non slave states, so people in Massachusetts would have to present a runaway to the local court and help return them to their ‘owners’, and Massachutsetts had actually stopped slavery in the eighteenth century. The slavers also wanted to extend slavery into ‘new’ territories, so they wanted to extend their legal regime, rather than anything about protecting their little bits of land, or their ‘culture’ or anything of that sort. All that pissed the northerners off something rotten, even the ones didn’t care about slavery. So states’ rights is vacuous rubbish. Lots of answers on this thread, which I hadn’t read, as I am scrolling downwards. So NO! States’ rights is irrelevant.

Troutwaxer’s alternative universe at #386, where the southerners were persuaded to take money for abolition isn’t so unrealistic. That is exactly what happened with the abolition of serfdom in the Russian empire in 1861. Serfdom was slavery, with a few rather stupid legalistic quibbles - more like Carribean plantations than North American, but so what. The owners were given vast amounts of money (mostly paper) in 1861, and the serfs were given debts for their ownership, which they had to pay. I suspect that helped build the hatred and fear which expressed themselves in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. So, it is complicated. And, ending slavery in much of the British empire, in the 1830s, also involved big payments - I don't know about revolutionary effects from that.

430:

If subsequent infections are much less serious, it could end up as one of the diseases that are best caught in childhood, so to get resistance to later infections.
Perhaps you're referring to these. I'm generally partly dubious about molecular clock datings[1] but these are interesting and certainly topical. An argument is precisely that, that the endemic coronaviruses are less deadly because humans typically get infected as a child and acquire some long term immunity.
Complete Genomic Sequence of Human Coronavirus OC43: Molecular Clock Analysis Suggests a Relatively Recent Zoonotic Coronavirus Transmission Event (J Virol. 2005 Feb, Leen Vijgen, Els Keyaerts, Elien Moës, Inge Thoelen, Elke Wollants, Philippe Lemey, Anne-Mieke Vandamme, and Marc Van Ranst*)
Molecular clock analysis of the spike gene sequences of BCoV and HCoV-OC43 suggests a relatively recent zoonotic transmission event and dates their most recent common ancestor to around 1890.
...
However, it is tempting to speculate about an alternative hypothesis, that the 1889-1890 pandemic may have been the result of interspecies transmission of bovine coronaviruses to humans, resulting in the subsequent emergence of HCoV-OC43. The dating of the most recent common ancestor of BCoV and HCoV-OC43 to around 1890 is one argument. Another argument is the fact that central nervous system symptoms were more pronounced during the 1889-1890 epidemic than in other influenza outbreaks. It has been shown that HCoV-OC43 has neurotropism and can be neuroinvasive (4).

Evidence Supporting a Zoonotic Origin of Human Coronavirus Strain NL63 (December 2012)
Here, we show by molecular clock analysis that alphacoronavirus (-CoV) sequences derived from the North American tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) are predicted to share common ancestry with human CoV (HCoV)-NL63, with the most recent common ancestor between these viruses occurring approximately 563 to 822 years ago.

[1] Saw an interesting short informal talk Saturday (2020/08/22) about the hunt for a progenitor(not yet found) of a widespread tetraploid apomictic (asexual) fern, where a sort of molecular clock dating gave a value of about 15 million years.(!!!) (This was not consistent with the geology/range and known paleoclimate information.)

431:

The ironies of Kon-Tiki:
--First, there's no evidence that people from South America settled Rapa Nui prior to European contact (they did afterwards).
--Second, there's no physical evidence, beyond the sweet potato and now the genes, of anyone from South America taking a raft out into the Pacific and settling there.
--Third, there's hordes of evidence that the Pacific was settled by almost exclusively by people from South Asia and the Papua New Guinea area. Mixed.
--Fourth, Thor Heyerdahl and others, post Kon-Tiki, realized how badly he'd screwed up on the Kon-Tiki raft, and that's the interesting story that I'll get to below.
--Fifth, notice how the Pacific was settled by the mixed descendants of people whose ancestors had sailed south from Taiwan through the Philippines, then down to Melanesia and through, over 1000 years or more? Their genes tell the story, their technology tells this story, their crop plants tell this story. They mixed and matched. When they got to South America, of course the Polynesians stopped for a bit, married, had kids, learned how to grow the local crops. It's what their ancestors had been doing for around 1500 years by that point, whenever the opportunity presented itself. It would be shocking if, when they got to South America, they didn't do the same thing there.

What we don't see are people from Ica colonizing the remote Pacific, even the Galapagos, Rapa Nui, or the Juan Fernandez Islands. Some islands closer to the mainland, sure, but not the deep islands.

But since they did sail north to visit the Maya, they certainly could have sailed well into the eastern Pacific, and this gets to how Heyerdahl screwed up on Kon-Tiki. He didn't know how to steer it.

The people of coastal Ecuador (the Ica, among others), didn't use paddles to steer their balsa rafts. Instead, they used daggerboards, called guara, that they stuck down between the balsa trunks in the prow or stern.* (see http://www.runasimi.net/guara-5UK.htm for a weird but reasonably accurate summary). The boards are cool, because they provide up to 6 or more rapidly adjustable keels. Rafting sailors can even tack into the wind, by pulling up the stern guaras, then the prow guaras, and swinging the sail from one side of the bipod to the other. Having keels raised and lowered in different parts of the boat causes the boat to pivot on one end, then the other, and come about to a different course. Setting the guaras in different patterns allows the raft to sail across a current or at an angle to the wind.

Heyerdahl didn't know this when he sailed Kon Tiki, so he installed four fixed guaras, one on each corner of the raft (as lee-boards, basically), and tried to steer with a paddle. This didn't work very well, and the Kon-Tiki had to be towed across the Humboldt Current before it could continue the voyage. After that trip, Heyerdahl did more research and found out how guaras were actually used (https://www.jstor.org/stable/3629102). In 2006, a Kon-Tiki copy, the Tongaroa (https://azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai144_folder/144_articles/144_guara_boards_index.html) actually sailed right across the Humboldt Current and made it to Raiatea a month faster than Heyerdahl's trip did. It's not the only raft to make the trip since (e.g.https://exarc.net/issue-2012-1/ea/theory-archaeological-raft-motivation-method-and-madness-experimental-archaeology).

While the South Americans therefore could have voyaged into Polynesia there's no archeological evidence that they did (beyond the DNA and sweet potatoes, which says nothing about the boats). Their unique rafting technology certainly didn't spread beyond South America, and while that's a shame, it's inevitable. One key problem is that balsa trees never made it to Polynesia. A second problem is that rafts don't last more than a year or two (balsa in seawater), so even if they did make it to Polynesia, unless they turned around and rapidly headed for home, they were stranded. For this maritime technology to work, you need a steady supply of balsas to make into rafts. The range of the balsa tree in Central and South America is about as far as they made these rafts.

Still, the Ica (NOT the Inca) taught their central American partners how to work metal, so they actually did have a big cultural impact with their rafts. Just not the one we were looking for.

And that trick of sailing a raft across a strong current and tacking it into the wind is exceedingly cool and AFAIK unique in the world. It's far better than northern Europeans did in their bronze age.

*For those not up on balsa rafts, they're rafts made of odd numbers of balsa logs, longest in the center, shortest on the sides, flat stern and pointed prow. The logs float. They tie another platform of balsa or bamboo on top of the log raft to get the people and cargo above water. On that platform, they erect a bipod to hold a square or triangular sail. The guara boards get shoved down between the logs or pulled up. The boards are basically span-wide planks, straight or slightly curved, with a big handle on top for pulling them up, pushing them down, or tying them into position.

432:

#127 - Testing new drugs is insanely expensive because of the inherently low signal to noise ratio. Just switching from one batch of a drug to another can totally wipe out the signal. There are consulting companies that specialize in the arcane art of figuring out how much of a drug one would need to run a test. Since the result is roughly a single figure - 42 liters anyone - and the cost of getting it wrong rather horrifying, I can understand why even a seasoned drug developer would want to pay an expert who actually understands the problem.

As a big ERB Barsoom books fan, I am more than happy to just edit the prologue mentally. There's no particular reason Carter has to be a Confederate soldier, so I just read it as a soldier in the US Civil War, surely on the Union side given the actual racial messages in the novels. One gets the impression that Carter would fight on the side of anyone fighting for truth, justice and the Barsoomian way.

433:

Just for the record, web.archive.org has the pre-corrected version[1] with the "RESOVLVED, That the2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platformuntil the 2024 Republican National Convention;" (bold mine.)
The RNC could not do a typo-free one-page resolution!
Mistakes will be made. :-)

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20200823181334/https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/docs/Resolution_Platform_2020.pdf

434:

As I think about it, let's see, on Barsoom,
Red men good.
Green men, depends.
Black and White men, REALLY BAD NEWS

Hmmmmm....

435:

#201 - If you live in a US / Canada border town, odds are a lot of Americans scoot over the border to buy their medicines. Meanwhile, the Canadians have stuff drop shipped by Amazon and the like and haul it north to save money on taxes and shipping. Borders always offer good story possibilities.

#24 and others about low hanging fruit - We are living in the golden age of materials science. It is as big as the Secondary Products Revolution that introduced bread and cheese sandwiches. There are revolutions ongoing in osmotic membranes, meta-materials, power storage and a bazillion other fields. The problem is that most people aren't really seeing big improvements in their lives from all of this stuff. It's all barely perceptible, like a better phone screen, cheaper water, and microfiber wicking underwear. Now and then we get glimpses like negative prices on oil futures as renewable and stored energy start becoming relevant, but the movement is fragmented. There is no big PR push.

436:

#223 A surprising number of Westerns in the 1950s were based on theme of the passing of the gunfighter. Perhaps guns had their place, but that place was in the past. Look at The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane, The Wages of Violence or any of the Gunfight at the OK Corall movies. It always seemed to have something to do with World War II and the world's hopes for the future as much as the American frontier.

437:

And then there was the Lone Ranger, who did *not* shoot to kill. And Paladin, who actually didn't pull his gun in some episodes (he was really a fixer, not a gunslinger).

438:

#224 Assuming that population growth is the only possible driver of economic growth shows a lack of imagination. I suppose recent history has painted any idea of raising living standards as impossible, even in a story involving ships that can fly faster than light.

439:

I suspect there's no big PR, because in spite of the all-over-the-media love, by big fish of "disruptive technologies", they only screw with the business, and employees. They don't really want *real* disruptive tech, that will hurt them.

Btw, I'm not talking about the oil companies buying the 50mpg carburetor, and hiding it....

440:

#224 Assuming that population growth is the only possible driver of economic growth shows a lack of imagination. I suppose recent history has painted any idea of raising living standards as impossible, even in a story involving ships that can fly faster than light.

#236 There was a movie Wild River about the TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority. It was seriously overheated.

441:

They don't really want *real* disruptive tech, that will hurt them.
Large tech companies with broad portfolios try to milk the technoligy lifecyle curve for maximum profit if the company has a broad portfolio not dominated by the technology.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_life_cycle
E.g. for software products, when management decides that product is at/approaching maturity or starting the decline phase, software maintenance is moved to a low-salary country.
If the tech dominates corporate revenue, then it is protected as you say.

442:

Heteromeles @ 431 - This paper https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096098221830321X suggests, using more comprehensive genetic analysis that is available for phylogeny building recently, that the divergence of those polynesian sweet potato varieties is at least 100kya, and maybe over 1mya. Probably don't need to sweat the raft building given the lack of available humans to float on them in the general area.

443:

Has anyone actually called someone using a smartphone? The odds are maybe 1 in 3 that someone will actually answer for a voice call. People don't take voice calls anymore. It's usually spam, so unless it is a call they are expecting, they ignore it. It's a real problem for COVID contact tracers.

Has anyone actually left someone a voice mail message? People leave them for me, but they take from 6 to 48 hours to show up on my phone. Sometimes they get lost. Text messages are a bit better, but I've had text messages take several days to get through, and that was in midtown Manhattan.

It's an almost there technology, like GPS. It takes 20 minutes or so for a GPS to get a fix, unless you are somewhere with street signs and you probably don't need to use your GPS.

444:

Here's one for you: why do we need "economic growth"? What can we gain without such a thing?

Really. What happens when almost all the production lines are completely run by machine, and there are no jobs for half or three quarters of the population?

445:

Apropos of nothing: they're still arguing over whether 'Oumuamua is some bizarre interstellar comasteroid-thingie, or could it be...aliens? (https://www.livescience.com/oumuamua-interstellar-hydrogen-or-aliens.html)

There's likely a real, badly covered argument here about how something that we know so little about (size is estimated within an order of magnitude, composition is barely known, path may have quirks) could blow hydrogen and accelerate sort of like a comet, but not really.

If it is an alien of some sort, I can just imagine the dialog that went on inside as 'Oumuamua came into our system.

--Oh shit, there's a lot of modulated radio frequency signals*. The system is inhabited.
--Where?
--Third planet (coordinates). We're going to swing right by it if we go in dead.
--Are they stuck on the planet or in space.
--[Long pause]. In space. There are faint signals from multiple places.
--We just got swept by a loud radio beam. Looks like a radar system.
--Activate emergency procedure. We go in dead and cold. Use hydrogen maneuvering engines only. Repeat. Hydrogen only. Helm, will this work?
--Just barely.
--Okay, make it so. Everybody stay frosty and they may just not care about us.

More seriously, if you're on an STL ship that's coming into a system that you suddenly find is inhabited by something unexpected, what do you do? Especially if your ship is between 100 m and 1000 m long (that's 'Oumuamua's long dimension. It's about the size of an aircraft carrier)? Unless you need to stop and refuel or your mission is to stop and talk with whatever you find, there's a lot to be said for coming in cold and fast, doing no more maneuvering than you absolutely have to, and all the while trying desperately to look like a comet until you're well out of range.

*Radio signal attenuation is such that a STL ship coming in might be committed to visiting our system before they noticed that we were here. https://what-if.xkcd.com/47/

446:

It takes 20 minutes or so for a GPS to get a fix, unless you are somewhere with street signs and you probably don't need to use your GPS.

I fly quadcopters, which rely on GPS to maintain position*. It rarely takes even a full minute to get a lock on 14-16 satellites, which is enough to maintain position to a metre. Where are you getting 20 minutes from?

I've flown in Canada, Iceland, and Greenland. I doubt other parts of the world are worse for coverage.


*I could fly 'sport mode' and have full control of the aircraft, but as I'm mostly doing photography I prefer not to worry about wind drift and so rely on the GPS positioning to maintain position.

447:

On the topic of conspiracy theories, a couple of papers (one linked previously) on trying to computationally recognize conspiracy theories (and in the second paper, even anticipating some of them). Techniques are a bit immature and weak as described (point in time and for this group, though), but nonetheless potentially quite useful if running live and 24/7. (Uses both for good and for evil.)
An automated pipeline for the discovery of conspiracy and conspiracy theory narrative frameworks: Bridgegate, Pizzagate and storytelling on the web (Timothy R. Tangherlini, Shadi Shahsavari, Behnam Shahbazi, Ehsan Ebrahimzadeh, Vwani Roychowdhury, June 16, 2020)

Some of the same authors, newer work, preprint:
Conspiracy in the Time of Corona: Automatic detection of Emerging Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories in Social Media and the News (Preprint, 2020, Shadi Shahsavari, Pavan Holur, Tianyi Wang, Timothy R. Tangherlini, Vwani Roychowdhury)
We show how the various narrative frameworks fueling these stories rely on the alignment of otherwise disparate domains of knowledge, and consider how they attach to the broader reporting on the pandemic. These alignments and attachments, which can be monitored in near real-time, may be useful for identifying areas in the news that are particularly vulnerable to reinterpretation by conspiracy theorists. Understanding the dynamics of storytelling on social media and the narrative frameworks that provide the generative basis for these stories may also be helpful for devising methods to disrupt their spread.

448:

@415

["This assertion has been directly denied above by Foxessa in 327, and that's a legitimate opinion. I think that it might have prevented a war, but if it hadn't it would have delayed it, and what would have happened would have been a war between separate countries rather than a civil war. But these are opinions, and not subject to claims of truth or falsity. You can't validate them."}

Yes I can -- in a book of nearly 700 pp. plus 3000 citations etc.

So have many others.

The slaveocracy was about the protection and expansion of slavery and had way outgrown its Dixie perimeters and needed, like every other form of capitalism to keep growing or die -- also this top to bottom slave society-economy was a ponzi scheme. As long as the price rose things were good. But the price of slave wouldn't rise if there was no need for slaves -- i.e. new territory opening to slavery.

Only those who don't have the information about how the economics of this peculiar slave society operated, top to bottom, would even dream of saying that the slaveocracy would happily secede and live contentedly within its boundaries established as of 1860. They hadn't before, why would they now?


449:

What happens when almost all the production lines are completely run by machine, and there are no jobs for half or three quarters of the population?

We're stuck living off the dividends from our ten shares of Inalienable Basic, chum-pal. :-)

450:

Um, no. But thanks for showing me the paper!

I just read the entire paper. Putting on my Botany PhD nerd cap for a second, there are a couple of huge problems with the paper.

The big one is that the data presented pretty conclusively show that Ipomoea batatas originated in South America awhile ago. This isn't surprising, although there are a couple of huge holes in left unexplained that I'll get back to. Unfortunately, the study has no bearing on how I. batatas got to Polynesia or points west, like Papua New Guinea.

Does the fact that there are a couple of indigenous beach Ipomoea in Hawai'i and Polynesia conclusively prove that sweet potato floated not just to Polynesia but all the way to Papua New Guinea? No, and here's the problem:
There are only *two* beach Ipomoea (per the paper, I haven't checked), and neither of them is closely related to sweet potato. If sweet potato was that good at colonizing beaches, it would be a common beach plant throughout the Pacific. Not only that, it would have almost certainly undergone an adaptive radiation, giving rise to a bunch of closely related forms all over the Pacific. Look up the Hawaiian silversword alliance if you want an easy-to-find example of how this works. It didn't happen with Ipomoea.

More to the point, the study reported in this paper was not designed to answer that question. If they had wanted to answer that question, the proper test was something Darwin did: a floatation test. It's really simple and rarely done these days, and it should be done more. Basically, what you do is you take bucket of sea water and dump a bunch of seeds or fruits in there and just set it somewhere. Every week, you observe to see how many seeds are still floating (sinking takes them out of the test). Every month or two (or whenever), you take some portion of seeds (10-100 would be nice) and plant them out or otherwise check their viability. Genetics has nothing to do with this: if sweet potato fruits or seeds can't float and stay viable for many months to years, they can't float to Polynesia, period, and they had to get there in some other way.

The paper even admits the flotation test wasn't done. Were I reviewing it, I'd ask the authors to nix the whole Polynesia discussion, because it does not follow from their data.

Then there's the whole ploidy thing. I'm not an expert, but IIRC getting to 6N (hexaploidy) is tricky. Getting to 4N can be done by either meiotic failure followed by chromosome doubling in a diploid parent, or by two closely related species hybridizing, the chromosomes failing to link and cross over, then meiotic failure doubling both chromosomes. Either way ends up with four copies of each chromosome.

Getting to 6N normally involves breeding a tetraploid (4N, produces 2N gametes) and a diploid (2N, producing N gametes). The resulting organism is a triploid (3N) and normally sterile. The only way a triploid can produce fertile seed is, again, autopolyploid meiotic failure, resulting in a 6N offspring. Since this is fairly rare, it's not surprising that there's only one origin for a hexaploid sweet potato.

The problem is the invisible tetraploid that's not mentioned in the study. They only talk about hexaploid sweet potato and its close relative, diploid I. trifida. If there was a population of tetraploid I. trifida out there, that would explain it. Problem is, if sweet potato is a hexaploid cross between two populations of I. trifida that have different ploidies, sweet potato would then be genetically within I. trifida, not a species that's been separated for a reasonably long time. There's a ghost of an extinct Ipomoea here, and I'm a little surprised they didn't at least mention it.

But there's the bigger problem: there's no archaeological evidence for an ancient indigenous sweet potato in the Pacific, and that's a real problem for this paper. There are places (anoxic middens under sea water for example) where some old tubers might show up (at least as resilient starch grains), and no one's found sweet potatoes in such places, although they have found evidence for other tubers like taro.

Also, the presence of wild sweet potato varieties on the islands would hint that the Polynesians found there instead of introducing it from South America. Moreover, if it was already on the islands, the Polynesians would have had to domesticate it on every single island, making Oceania the likely hub for sweet potato cultivar genotypes. This does not seem to be the case at all. Instead, this paper and others say that the center for sweet potato diversity is Central America and the Caribbean, and the Oceanic cultivars are offshoots of these.

Finally, there's also the linguistic evidence of the name in various Polynesian languages, which is cognate with one from Ecuador and widespread through the Pacific: kumara (not batatas, the Caribbean term, incidentally). If the Oceanic peoples had found and domesticated sweet potatoes on a bunch of Pacific islands, there would be a swarm of distinct names, just as there were for other things that were invented independently on many islands (like intensive agriculture and hierarchical chieftainships).

Based on the evidence presented, I'm staying by the story of the sweet potato being introduced to the Pacific on Polynesian catamarans, probably around 1000 CE give or take a few centuries. It's consistent with the evidence presented in that paper, too. That's why ships and rafts are still important.

And yes, I'm a big fan of everything Oceanic. Sorry to nerd out on you.

451:

Could you expand on the idea of slavery as a Ponzi scheme?

452:

Heck, I lost GPS coverage in a big box store yesterday. My GPS watch yelled at me.

More to the point, I pretty normally lose coverage under canopies of chaparral, and I pretty normally lose GPS coverage in deep canyons. It was the bane of my consulting work (waiting around for the GPS signal after every other bit of data was collected, or putting an antenna on a staff to get some elevation above a shrub canopy). I also remember using a website back in 2007 to tell me when enough satellites were up for it to be worth doing a 1-meter accuracy survey, this of 1500 sprinkler locations on a gold course. When the satellites got low enough to be signalling through the big fence around the driving range, accuracy dropped through the floor.

Thing about a quadcopter is it's a bit higher up. Also, is 1 meter accuracy necessary in midair?

453:

She can speak for herself, of course. I'd thought that it was a basic tenet of capitalism, that inflation came in parallel with paying interest. Basically, capitalism works because you assume that you'll get more money out of investing it in some future than you will in spending it now. This works as long as investments produce growth. When growth stops, capitalism fails, not because people don't trade, but because there's no further reason to invest under this model.

What most people tend to forget is that the point of capitalism is to allow every human participating to complete their life cycles: have kids, raise the kids, get old and die, kids do the same thing, forever. That's not as easy as it seems, and it does take a lot of work and, yes, investment: making good farmland, fire-stick farming in Australia for millennia, and so forth. It's reasonably possible to do this without growing consumption of resources (for example, aborigines did it for 30,000 years, PNW Indians did it for 10,000-15,000 years) but capitalism doesn't work this way. Nor does communism, if you happen to be stuck on that particular duality.

If you want to do an alternative, rather than chest-thumping about your favorite ideology, remember that the ultimate point of politics is to make it possible for people to live their lives. Capitalism's currently failing on that: it struggles to provide food, medicine, shelter, or education without massive government intervention, even in the US. We really do need to start thinking more seriously about alternatives that will actually work.

Just to pick one: housing. In San Diego, we're vastly short of affordable housing. Developers want to build high end housing (these are the projects I fight) but that segment of the housing market is already totally saturated. The developers simply can't afford to build affordable housing without massive government subsidies, meaning taxes pay for the housing most people need, when we can get those funds unlocked and used. At this point, the free market no longer works for housing San Diegans. We need to start thinking about alternatives.

454:

Ironically, the assertion that ubiquitous cell phone coverage kills stories based on lack of comms has generated a ton of them here. Because things fail.

It used to strike me as ironic that you couldn't get a signal inside our control room at work, a supposedly prestigious research centre. Then the phone started to automatically connect over the internal WiFi.

455:

kaleberg
"Cheaper water"
Except in the USA, where ( It seems ) that more expensive poisoned water is the order of the day, because some crooks can profit from that, no?

Rbt Prior @ 449
OR
You are living in The Culture

Heteromeles
Correction
it struggles to provide food, medicine, shelter, or education without massive government intervention, evenespecially in the US.

456:

"Where are you getting 20 minutes from?"

20 minutes was the traditional "Cold" startup time for a channel-limited GPS receiver, and it consisted of two phases.

First a semi-randomized search over the entire search-space (which is huge!) for any satellite, in order to get a "toe-hold".

The toe-hold consists of the exact time (within a second) and a source of information about the remaining satellites (the "almanac"). Given that toe-hold, locking on to the rest of the satellites takes a few seconds.

For reasons of bad engineering, many receivers only started using the almanac once they had received all of it, which takes about 15 minutes, and other bad engineering choices meant that all GPS birds send the almanac in unison, rather than staggered.

On top of this, many of the first receivers did not have the smarts to figure out that if I can hear bird X with low doppler-shift, I don't need to even try any birds which are on the opposite side of the planet etc.

To compensate for these shortcomings, "good" receivers were equipped with non-volatile memory to store the almanac, since even a very old almanac would speed up "Time To First Fix" to less than a single minute. Some "really good" receivers also had CMOS real-time clocks, to speed up finding that crucial first satellite.

No receivers these days are channel-limited, they have hundreds or even thousands of truly parallel channels, so they can do a brute force search many times faster, and will incrementally use the almanac, as it arrives, to reduce the search-space based on very smart geometric heuristics.

Many receivers these days have an almanac built into the firmware, again, since even a very old almanac is better than no almanac at all.

Many receivers are also "connected", for instance in mobile phones, and they use "AGNSS" - Assisted GNSS, which means that they receive via the network a pretty precise time, almanac & ephemeris (~= per satelite much more precise almanac), and therefore they can output the first fix in less than a second.

So yes, surveyors drink a lot less coffee these days.

457:

Heteromeles @ 450 - Please don't apologise for nerding out, it's awesome and I appreciate it. I'm only a baby undergrad in plants because it's a second career and a late start for me, so I really do appreciate the expert nerdery. I'm basically a bundle of questions and not enough answers at the moment. Please accept my apologies for only really having a handle on general principles as I don't get to do the fun stuff until I get to masters in a few years time.

Is hexaploidy really that hard to achieve? I would have thought it'd be not too hard to get a backcross autopolyploidy between your 4N and your 2N precursor - or at least not harder than getting from 2N to 4N the first time around. That's wheat isn't it?
It doesn't matter that the normal reproduction would create an odd numbered sterile gamete, because you're skipping regular reproduction and going the oops-whole-genome-insertion route instead. I mean it's not *common* but it's frequent enough over geological time.

And yeah, the lack of the social aspect in that paper is a bit odd given the assertions they were making. I did think when reading it however that a mix of self-dispersing and human transport could explain the pattern we see.

I don't think commonality of names around kumara is as much of a roadblock as it's made out to be - we have lots of examples of genetically distinct plants being called the same thing because they look kinda the same and settlers just re-used the name they were used to. It's especially obvious for the much more recent english colonialism visible in oz and nz where I hang out, I don't see any reason a polynesian settling would be different.
I also dont know why floating seeds is important for south america to everywhere else if we accept that it happened before the breakup of gondwana when most of the places it turns up were attached to each other. Is there a big gap in the middle where it doesnt exist?

That quibble aside, I seem to recall we also have oral histories about the plants brought to NZ from hawaiki, and that includes kumara along with a handful of other useful plants as well as taro (of a type that died out here and got replaced by a hardier local plant that we call...taro).

Which is to say, we can all agree polynesians were carting plants around. But maybe that wasn't the only way they travelled, and maybe the genetics tells of some other dispersal methods going on too. Molecular clocks seem dodgy af to me as a proof point though*, and I don't know enough to judge how sensible the phylogeny in that paper is.


If you could hit me up with something to explain why you're worried about balsa for those polynesian settlers that'd be cool - my understanding was that they used regular hardwoods for ocean-going waka the same as the coastal versions we associate with the more recent maori round these parts, but maybe hawaii(ki) is different.

*My past life as an analyst says getting an average from a (relatively) small local sample and then extrapolating it over a big number of iterations is a *bad idea*, so the whole molecular clock approach makes me itchy.

458:

If subsequent infections are much less serious, it could end up as one of the diseases that are best caught in childhood, so to get resistance to later infections.

At this stage it looks as though long-term disability is roughly as likely as death. So it's possibly a bit more like exposing your kid to polio than measles.

But we don't know, all we have are anecdotal reports from people who have ongoing problems or relapses. It might be as trivial as CFS rather than as serious as polio. But I'd personally err on the side of not crippling my kid if I had that choice.

459:

As a plausible fictional backstory for this character, make him contemptuous, condescending and slow to empathize by nature or an inborn place somewhere on the autism spectrum.

That's not something I could sell, or a publisher would buy -- unless they're the villain in some sort of horror/crime novel. Because they're not something the reading public are likely to find relatable, and fiction is the art of writing appealing lies for money.

460:

I'm going to stick my neck out and say I expect enquiries to be either inconclusive, or report that it was a novichok agent.

Victim is a Putin critic, and since Salisbury novichok agents seem to be the Putin mob's signature assassination tool for enemies: only a minute dose is needed, it's allegedly odourless and tasteless, and apart from a small quantity that found its way into Russian mafia hands in the early 90s (no doubt long since degraded due to age/poor storage) it's a Russian government monopoly so it makes it blatantly clear who did it without having to claim responsibility.

461:

Nope, that's nothing to do with the Mandate.

This guy, on the other hand ... (crossed with Jacob Rees-Mogg).

462:

Michael Moorcock in his essay Starship Stormtroopers.

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing.

463:

That's irrelevant. When I said "much less serious", I was referring at least as much to disability as to death. Children and young adults are rarely either killed or disabled, which is completely unlike polio, and far more like chickenpox. But, as I said, we don't yet know whether previous infections DO give resistance to later ones, though we suspect and hope they do.

To Bill Arnold (#430): no, I was thinking of examples like the latter. There are many examples where early infection is fairly safe, and protects you in later life, either via immunity or resistance.

464:

It's like the bollocks that says watermelons originated in south-west Africa. Yeah. So WHO traded between the Mediterranean and there in whatever-it-was BC? Or did the early humans cultivate watermelon and nothing else during their migration north?

A far saner explanation is that it was a pan-African species in a dry era, and the Saharan population got split off from the Kalahari one when the climate became wetter. And, as with many cultivated desert plants, the ancestor is now extinct. We know perfectly well that this happened to many species of animal and plant.

465:

My GPS devices often take 5-10 minutes to get an initial fix.

466:

Hexaploidy is rare in nature, but not extremely rare. Wheat and plums are and, apparently, kiwifruit. I can't get at my books at present to look for anything else, but I recall seeing quite a few non-food wild plants that were hexaploid (though my memory may be at fault there). Obviously, food crops were selected from exceptional wild specimens, so it's hard to tell exactly how much hand humans had in creating them and how often natural hexploids form.

467:

EC & Heteromeles
Consider the Papaveraceae genus Meconopsis
With one exception, all of them are found in E Central Asia & eastwards, especially around the SE end of the Himalya ranges, across Tibet / China / Burma ( The four gorges area, etc )
But, the type for that genus has been known for a very long time, in the W end of Europe, especially in Wales & England, to the point that it is called "The Welsh Poppy" - Meconopsis cambrica.
The intermediates seem all to have died out.
Cambrica
One of the Blue Poppies - time-lapse film clip ( Ignore the short advert )
And, yes, they really are that stunningly beautiful.