Monthly Archives: October 2016

Things To Come


Ah, Things To Come.   One of the original sci-fi movies that promised a beautiful future, after a long struggle and world war.   Like most optimistic films of the time, it thought that technology, a scientific viewpoint, and the abolition of religion would make everything OK, and we’d all be wearing togas and living a wonderful life (as Donald Fagen would sum up so well in his ironic song IGY). 

Looking in the news, however, it seems that technology, for the Nth time, has backfired.   The most recent cloud of acrid technological blue smoke that has belched from the electronic smokestacks was the recent hack and network shutdown, caused by the ‘Internet of Things’ and an interesting piece of software called Mirai.  Here’s an interesting quote, from that article, showing how totally screwed up how some people connect with others:

Setting aside the shoddy security of these devices, yesterday felt incredibly weird. I spent most of my work day without access to Twitter and it was a miserable experience. The service has become an important part of my life, it’s where I communicate with my friends and first hear about important news. Without it, I feel eerily disconnected. I actually had to type a URL into my browser to find out why the service was down.

No Twitter?  Heaven forbid.   Like the exchange made by Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Sleeper:



I WANT TO RELAX ! LOOK AT ME !  LOOK AT ME ! I'M SHAKING !                  


It is for this sort of reason that keeping all your technological eggs in one basket, by hyper-connecting your life, and relying on security promises from firms that tell you all is well is the sure road to ruin.   Oh, and being connected 24-7 by an electronic leash.  Do we really need Internet connected toasters, fridges, stoves, thermostats, and so on?   This hack (which may have been simple or brilliant), like the first worm that was released a long time ago (before the Internet became what it is today), is truly the real shape of Things To Come, if this insanity continues.

The future (before it comes crashing down on us, from the usual suspects of financial chicanery, climate change, and resource depletion) is more likely to look like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil  (Tuttle-Buttle, and all that); a surreal and never-ending cross between Monty Python and Nineteen Eighty-Four.    Sure, it might be terrifying, but it might be that if the bureaucracy has its way, it’ll lose your paperwork.


  • What will the next big Internet of Things idiocy?
  • If this is what happens with DVRs, imagine what will happen with self-driving cars or self-driving delivery vans.  Does anyone smell a problem here?
  • How long before we realize that the expression ‘Internet of Things’ could wind up like nuclear power’s ‘Too cheap to meter’?
  • Crime is already quite readily committed by computer; when will we get our first homicide using an IOT device?   The Internet (via social media) has already caused people to be shamed, shunned, and to commit suicide.  What device might be the culprit? (Update:  The Michael Hastings incident might have been one; now, the next barrier is “When will something like this become public knowledge, if someone does this who doesn’t have great skill at hiding their crime?”)
  • There are rumblings of the US conducting cyber-warfare against its ‘enemies’.  Doesn’t this seem like the modern day equivalent of poison gas on the battlefield?   An attack on a hyper-connected network most surely will backfire, won’t it?








The Book of Ecclesiastes, as so it has been said, is one of those really odd parts of the Bible.  A bit self contradictory in places, but in general it gives some good guidelines to live by, like the Dhammapada.

Why bring this up?

A recent visit to help someone downsize a house had us going through old papers, books, records, and equipment of someone far closer to the end of life than the start.   It was a sobering experience.   Yes, we all know about “peak everything”, climate change, and the craziness of our financial system.  But that visit, plus JMG’s recent post on the the timescales of the Earth was another nail in the coffin (no pun intended) of the reality of of our short personal time here, and the short time of our civilization.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”


  • Why is it so hard for people in the Western world to accept the reality of their own demise, and the demise of civilization?
  • After the next few downturns, is it possible that we might be more cognizant of these things, and incorporate them into whatever society forms?
  • What concrete events have woken you up to these realities?
  • What have you read that has opened your eyes to the fragility and transience of life and civilization?


Noblesse Oblige

In thinking about leadership, and who will run things in the future, one wonders about that classic phrase, “noblesse oblige” – that the rich and powerful have serious responsibilities, keeping with their privileges.    The classic Wikipedia article on this has an interesting take on this – the concept may be reinforcing the idea of a nobility, and allowing them to exist:

Noblesse oblige, while seeming to impose on the nobility a duty to behave nobly, thereby apparently gives the aristocracy a justification for their privilege. Their argument is “as nobles, we have rights, but we have duties also; so such duties validate our rights.”

OK, we’ve got it; ‘noblesse oblige’ is the obligation part, but it might be a reason for the nobles/elites to stay in power.  This week’s essay is short, because frankly, it seems a bit of a coin toss if an elite that truly believes and acts for the benefit of society is a bad thing or a good thing.

Like it says on the tin, “More questions than answers.”


  • When did noblesse oblige go out of style?
  • Why did it end?
  • Will it come back, in some form, or does it have to die (with attendant pitchforks and torches) before it rises up?
  • Do the elites ever learn?
  • Should we care if there are elites and powerful folks, if they do good work, and lead nobly?
  • If a leader is truly a good one, believes in their mission, and acts accordingly (the casualty rate of nobles who fought in Rome’s wars was higher than regular folks, at least in the beginning), then should we be complaining?   Or does an elite always devolve into a greedy plutocracy?  Seems like it always has, but could this change?



In the public domain;,_c.1806_de_Juan_Antonio_Ribera.jpg

History is filled with some pretty gruesome characters, who have inflicted a great deal of pain and misery on the world.  Many times, people get seduced by power, and as soon as they get hold of power, they never want to let it go.   In order to hold on to it, they’ll stop at nothing.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are most people – folks who don’t want ever increasing power, and would be content to live their own lives, and go about their own business.

There are a small sliver of folks, however, who can lead, and lead quite well, but will only lead when absolutely forced to, and only when circumstances require that they lead.   The historical figures who exemplify this, unfortunately, are relatively limited.

There are only a few in history who seem to have had this trait.  Cinncinatus is the first that comes to mind; in “modern” times George Washington is seen as the “Cinncinatus of the West.” But the list after that is relatively short.  If you asked for a list of dictators, despots, and petty tyrants, you’d probably have no problem in coming up with a dozen.

It would be fantastic if we could make a list of common traits of these great leaders, who abdicate power as soon as they are done, but the list of folks to choose from is seemingly too short.  Narrowing down what makes these almost supernaturally disciplined figures arise, and what upbringing forged them is an interesting question.

We might welcome another Cinncinnatus, to help us in these crazy times.   But they are few and far between, it seems.

  • What makes these figures have the capability to lead,  and the capability of giving up power so readily?  Is this a genetic fluke, or something that can be taught at an early age?
  • Would anyone  from the U.S. (or other democratically controlled, civilian led) military have this discipline?
  • Who would you nominate as a modern day Cinncinatus; someone who achieves power for a short time then gives it up when the job is done?
  • How about from the science fiction or fantasy worlds?   Jean-Luc Picard?   Those who took the One Ring and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom?
  • Is the habit of power harder to kick than heroin?