Monthly Archives: March 2019

Off the edge of the world, politically

usa_cliff.png

Own work, public domain.

Last week, we mentioned a few ‘off the charts’ natural disasters that would hit our civilization hard.   What about the political equivalents?  We’ve seen this happen overseas time and time again, but in America, our institutions, as frayed as they are, still have some sort of structure and coherence.   We may not like who is the President, or the makeup of the Supreme Court, or the Congress, but these things still exist, and power has shifted from left to right and back again over the years.

This doesn’t mean things have been smooth sailing, of course. In the US, we’ve had some rough moments.  An election that was finally decided by the Supreme Court; National Guard troops firing on students; a run up to impeachment with Nixon (before he resigned); the impeachment of Bill Clinton (which didn’t get rid of him), and a few presidential assassination attempts (only one of which was successful, the last being JFK), thanks to the Secret Service and a bit of luck.  In spite of it all, every four years, we’ve had a peaceful transition of power, and nobody who lost an election has been tossed in jail on political grounds.  For that alone, we should be thankful.

Some might say that certain Supreme Court decisions have been huge disasters (Roe v. Wade if you are a conservative; Citizens United if you are a progressive).  The US has bumbled along, and in spite of everything, politically, as screwed up as things are, we seem to have a clunking-along republic.  Or is this just an illusion?  If there was an event that made us ‘flip a bit’ with regards to our governance or political landscape, what was it, or what might it be?  Or is this a slow process (like the fall of Rome), with no real delineation of ‘before’ and ‘after’?   Perhaps the last person to be President might be considered our own Romulus Augustulus, but the delineation of before and after might not be so clear cut.

It may be that we may politically founder on the rocks, rather than going over a waterfall.  Or, as available energy, tax revenue, or population becomes less concentrated and abundant, the US government (like all governments around the world) will simply become smaller and less powerful, like the Catholic Church.

How might we reverse this trend, or guide the ship of state to a place with a sandy bottom, rather than see things end with bang?  Or steer the ship to calm waters? There may be a way, but it may need (as Michael Ruppert once said), a revolution of the mind more than anything else.

 

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Off the edge of world

boat_over_edge.png

Own work, into the public domain.

Last week, a neat bit of robotic technology was brought out.  Of course, it is highly dependent on a suite of technologies that are all highly interdependent upon each other.  The original thought was to expand on this, but in ruminating on it a bit more, and pulling the proverbial zoom lens back, there was a realization that trying to talk about this or that finite resource or material doesn’t really convince people of much.  What does convince people?  Disasters.  Big, fat, hairy disasters.  Not just random snowstorms, earthquakes, or hurricanes, but big random events that impact the large swath of a country.   Mere human events, like wars, are bad enough.  Ones made by Nature, especially those that come with little to no warning are chilling in the uncompromising and all-encompassing effects that they have.

What is so striking about these events is that they seem to  be forgotten over the years, falling off the historical “edge of the world” with their reality safely tucked away in the pages of history books.   For North Americans, especially Americans on the wealthy coasts, there seems to be a neat ability to forget much of our natural history, and the large scale events that could wreak almost unimaginable havoc in our lives.

A recent article in the New Yorker about the Really Big One in the Northwest (which is overdue for a massive earthquake and tsunami by the rupture of the Cascadia fault) made me wonder about some of the large scale events that have impacted a good chunk of the planet.   Here’s a short list of some of the big events we’ve had over the past few hundred years; some have had small effects and others large, but the scale and size of these natural events are something most of us cannot even comprehend:

There have been other glitches; Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Super Storm/Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and numerous earthquakes in California may come to mind to some of you.  Yet in spite of the damage, loss of life, and economic impact, these regions did bounce back, and there was the rest of the country to pick up the slack.   This is not to downplay the severity of these events.  However, it is one thing to lose hundreds or a few thousand lives, and many billions in property damage and another to lose tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, and for property damage to go into the hundreds of billions or more.

The point to be made here is that many of these events had very little warning and huge worldwide impacts.   Some of these, like the Carrington event and the Cascadia fault events didn’t have much impact, because at the time, the infrastructure was relatively immune or population wasn’t large.  But had they happened today, in a populated and technologically complex area, their impact would be devestating.  As we’ve gotten used to a world which is more crowded, and more technologically dependent and complex, these sorts of things will one day make a very big dent in everyone’s world.

Questions:

  • How do you make people take notice of such things?  Some “primitive” (yes, that’s in quotes) tribes have oral histories that have been passed down so when certain events happen, they respond quickly.  Why do these stories get listened to, and others don’t?
  • Which of these seems like it might do the most damage to a modern American or European society?

 

 

 

 

 

Neat tech

429px-Toyota_Robot_at_Toyota_Kaikan_02.jpg

This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toyota_Robot_at_Toyota_Kaikan.jpg under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

As much as there’s a waryness about too much technology, this bit about disabled folks using telerobotics to do useful things made me think that we might see some unique things down (and perhaps on) the road in our own lives.

In this “use case” devices are being controlled by people who can’t do physical things in the real world in cafes.  Driving trucks, running construction equipment; those and every other job that AI might take could be done by these folks, as the ZH article notes.  It is all dependent on high tech, high-speed communications, and other reliable infrastructure, of course, and that might not exist down the road.  More on this to follow.

 

 

The Sheep Look Up

1024px-Ewe_sheep_black_and_white.jpg

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ovis_aries#/media/File:Ewe_sheep_black_and_white.jpg ; By George Gastin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6663137

A few posts ago, it was asked “Who got it right?” with regard to predicting our current crazy situation.   After asking the same question to some science fiction aficionados, the title The Sheep Look Up, by John Brunner came up.  The book is a easy but disjointed read (per design); it has some of the same short blurbs that Twitter gives us, and has the random news that one might get off of Zero Hedge or a Reddit feed.   The precursor to this, Stand on Zanzibar is similar, and this is a nice bit of praise (from 2000):

Thirty years after its initial publication, Greg Bear praised Stand on Zanzibar as a science fiction novel that, unusually, has not become dated since its original appearance: “It’s not quite the future we imagined it to be, but it still reads as fresh as it did back in 1968, and that’s an amazing accomplishment!”

Another bit of accurate prediction came with a book Paris in the Twentieth Century, by none other than Jules Verne.  Although written in 1863, it was published in 1994, and has a good view of 1960.

It will be interesting to see who in our era predicts the future of 100 years from now.