inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #76 of 131: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 10 Jan 04 09:44
    

Vincent Omniaveritas once wrote:

"As American SF lies in a reptilian torpor, its small, squishy cousin,
Fantasy, creeps gecko-like across the bookstands.  Dreaming of
dragon-hood, Fantasy has puffed itself up with air like a Mojave
chuckwalla.  SF's collapse had formed a vacuum that forces Fantasy
into a
painful and explosive bloat."

What's the state of hard science fiction today? 

*Well, "hard science fiction" was traditionally the preserve
of physics majors.  Those guys have been awfully down in
the mouth ever since the collapse of the Superconducting
Super Collider.  If there was a moment when the cultural prestige
of the Atomic Age died on the floor of Congress, that
was it.

*The only rival for prestige that physics had was 
"computer science," but that lacks the rigor and
sublimity of physics because it's basically a melange
of ideas and techniques that are clustered around a
lame commercial gadget.

*So it's been very hard to whip up any rah-rah, crypto-religious
enthusiasm for hard SF as a torchbearer of the intellectual
avant-garde.  Instead, we see fantasy reach
its apotheosis with Aragorn and Arwen
Tolkien Barbie-doll figures.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005BM41/downandoutint-20/002-0332863
-2057621


inkwell.vue 204: The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
#74 of 75: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Fri 09 Jan 2004 (08:32 AM)


What's wrong with our Space Program?  

*It needs a coherent reason to exist.
It's okay for Nazis and Communists to 
launch giant rockets as a kind of  public
relations loss-leader, but a capitalist society
has a hard time justifying an outlay that
size that has no revenue stream.

What's right? 

*Bin Laden can't do it. He is probably feeling
kind of humiliated by machines crawling around
on Mars.  It's public proof that his 
theology is crap.  

Bin Laden likes smashing big shiny aircraft (because
he can't build his own)  but smashing big shiny 
spacecraft is harder. Plus, spacecraft
can and do spy on him.  Delta Force with satellite
phones and  GPS might show up at his cave-mouth some day
if he gets careless.

 What would you do if
you were head of NASA?

*I'd throttle it way back with the cornball
sense-of-wonder Buck Rogers rhetoric, 
(for it's nice but it never lasts). I'd pull
a Teddy Roosevelt on the aerospace trusts
like LockheedGrummanMartinGeneralDynamics,
outsource the launch biz to cheap and eager
Indians and Chinese, and then fill the sky
around the earth with sophisticated 
monitors.

*There would be no Space Station, no
astronauts, no Shuttle.

*Having then fired everyone with a
Cold-War relic military-industrial  sinecure
and broken the iron rice-bowl, I would
hire young NASA engineers without preconceptions,
make them read the complete works of Freeman Dyson,
and see if we couldn't get into making and
launching something along the lines of
his "space chickens."  Something you can
throw into space that is cheap, small,
disposable and quasi-biological.
http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Obits2/Dyson_NYTimes.html
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #77 of 131: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Sat 10 Jan 04 10:02
    
You hit that softball out of the park, Bruce.

Space chickens, that's it?  So you want to send organisms around the galaxy
and start a life building chain reaction?  I can see that.  It's fertile
ground for sci fi books and short stories and maybe a subplot of the up and
coming (maybe) Battlestar Galactica.

If you were to write a tv miniseries, what would it be about?  Why don't you
do this?  You probably have something lying around on those huge wall to
wall bookshelves or in one of those limitless piles in your library/office.

If you were building your home again, what would you do different?
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #78 of 131: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Sat 10 Jan 04 11:43
    
Was it the Cylons or the humans that messed up?

What about doing a movie - sci fi - using homegrown videographers, writers
and actors/actresses?  You write the script and a team of volunteers make
it?  Local.  Homegrown.  Sci Fi.  Done with networked webcam/cameras.

What high tech sectors are going to grow in Austin?  I'm guessing your going
to say solar, biotech and gaming and less on semiconductors and software?
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #79 of 131: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Sat 10 Jan 04 11:47
    
What's happening with the arts, poetry, music scene.  Will it flourish or be
squeezed?  Richard Florida?
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #80 of 131: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 10 Jan 04 15:30
    
Wait a minute, terry... if I have anything to do with it, it's WIRELESS 
that'll put Austin on the map. Or maybe Austin will put wireless on the 
map. And Bruce will be leading the charge with a massive wifi radio mast 
planted firmly on the roof of the Viridian Vatican. Just in time to 
televise the revolution...
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #81 of 131: Ted (nukem777) Sat 10 Jan 04 16:48
    
Austin is already on the map.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #82 of 131: Ted (nukem777) Sat 10 Jan 04 16:52
    
Bruce, thinking of the 'electronic mob', how much political advantage
do you give to the slick use of the Internet in this upcoming election?
Do you think they can use it to skew things to their advantage during
this technological lull, while the 'old school' catches up to its
potential? I'm thinking in a couple of years it will all be so
commonplace that people will ignore it like everything else, but right
now it seems to have some potency.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #83 of 131: Dan Flanery (sunspot) Sat 10 Jan 04 18:52
    
>I think Bush, whom I do not greatly admire, is a
>better man than his admin and than we credit him
>for. He responded to conservative pressure to 
>condemn Islam as a "failed religion" by attending 
>Friday services at a mosque and calling Islam a
>"religion of peace".

Yes, but did he do and say those things because he believes in them,
or did he do and save those things because the Saudis could see to it
our economy was wrecked and ruined just in time for his re-election
campaign if they, say, started selling oil only in Euros?

Remember, you're dealing with a man whose family has been making
sometimes-shady business deals with Saudi Princes for decades and
decades.  They've got each other by the balls.

My question for Bruce is, how long do you think we have before
advanced weapons of mass destruction – bio-engineered plagues, horrible
new toxins, suitcase nukes or container ship nukes that can't be
detected, or other stuff I haven't heard of yet – become available to
terror organizations like Osama's?  Because as I see it right now, the
threat from these nutjobs to the continental US is fairly low, apart
from their potential to disrupt the oil supply should they spark a
revolution somewhere like Saudi Arabia.  There are only so many big
high-rises they can smack planes into, and after a certain point it's
just not worth the effort.  But if they could float a nuke into San
Francisco Bay, or whip up a bioengineered virus that only kills men
with blonde hair, they could wreak serious havoc.  If we can determine
how long it is before such weapons might exist, we can develop a
timeline for dealing with the situation – we have this long to drain
the swamp of Islamic political culture before what's breeding there
bites and kills us.

Because as I see it, we've wasted an enormous amount of time and money
eliminating one of the most secular states in the Islamic world – Iraq
– while doing jack to defuse the threat posed by radical
fundamentalism in places like Pakistan or Egypt.  If anything, our
actions to date have only kindled the fires of fundamentalism as a
political movement in the Islamic world.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #84 of 131: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 10 Jan 04 20:20
    
I'm interested in "smart mobs," and mobs have
traditionally been pretty good at agitation
and political pressure.  I don't quite see how mobs
are supposed to govern.  They might get somebody
elected, but when is somebody who has been
elected going to convey some real power on mobs?

Electronic democracy is a pretty old notion
now, but so far, despite some clear advances
in social software, I haven't seen so much
as a small city council that's truly run electronically.
I want to see this technique actually supplanting
earlier power structures, instead of just hacking them,
and adding an extra layer of spin.
Then I'll account myself a believer.

Just maybe, some day, when some bunch
of elected officials faces some political challenge,
 instead of  scaring up the usual cornball "blue-ribbon
panel" of worthy graybeards (generally appointed to
make sure that nothing actually happens for a while) --
they will instead declare:  "You know what we need in
a crisis like this?  We need Move-On!"

So, yeah.  When we see these nascent institutions 
deployed by some accountable power structure
to resolve real problems in the body politic, then
we'll know it's past the hype-and-bubble stage
and getting traction.  I'm inclined to think
that this is likeliest to happen in some place other
than America, though.  

The World Social Forum, maybe.  That
is a hobbyist talking-shop that really looks
painfully anxious to become some kind of
newfangled governmental body.  And after
such a revolution, things would be different.
Not better, mind you -- just different.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #85 of 131: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 10 Jan 04 20:46
    
My question for Bruce is, how long do you think we have before
advanced weapons of mass destruction – bio-engineered plagues,
horrible
new toxins, suitcase nukes or container ship nukes that can't be
detected, or other stuff I haven't heard of yet – become available to
terror organizations like Osama's? 

*Interesting question.  I was just talking to some guys at RAND
about this just a couple of days ago, RAND being the original
home of Herman Kahn and "thinking the unthinkable."  What
you're basically asking about here is some "rogue unthinkable."

*We were discussing the likelihood of a "nuclear exchange"
within our lifetime, and we kind of agreed that the problem
with that idea nowadays isn't so much with "nuclear" as with
"exchange."  

For instance, if Pakistan disintegrates, it becomes MORE likely
that New Delhi vaporizes, but not because of some Code
Orange Defcon IV missile launch in a 1960s stylee.  
Instead, some kamikaze Kashmiris
just haul over a rogue Pakistani warhead in a bullock cart.
And not thirty warheads.  Just one or two.  A gang of terrorists
just doesn't have enough bureacratic capacity to do
more than one or two.  It's hard work.

So there is slaughter, there is mayhem, there is genocide
in a can, and the center of Indian government ceases to be.
And we sort of mulled that likelihood over for a while, and then
we went back to talking about AIDS.  Mostly because,
well, AIDS by any objective measure is going to be
a lot worse than that.  A whole lot worse.  

If global warming is going to kill off a million species
by mid-century or so (as was recently suggested)
that's worse than nukes, toxins and bioviruses, too.
And the trend-line there is really quite steady and blatant,
it doesn't require any imaginative stretch or sense
of paranoid alarmism.

The problem with "the unthinkable" is that when
it enters into your everyday cost-benefit analysis,
it's like dividing by zero.  Life becomes senseless. 

 It's reminiscent of
Steiner, the intellectual in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita,"
who, confronting the moral abyss of the 1960s,
murders his children and himself.  Wouldn't it
have been a little smarter of Steiner just to hang
loose and see if the Cold War didn't turn into
something he had never expected?  It's
easy to expect annihilation, but if you start
invading countries out of the blue because
you suspect they're 45 minutes from armageddon
and it turns out there's nothing much there,
it really can't much help the cause in the long run.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #86 of 131: Ted (nukem777) Sat 10 Jan 04 21:36
    
Thanks for the response Bruce -- more to chew on.
For the google impaired and those of us who like to point and click
the World Social Forum is just a click away at http://www.wsfindia.org
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #87 of 131: Ted (nukem777) Sat 10 Jan 04 22:15
    
gee, thanks for those comfortable words in #85, now that we're shaken
we might as well be stirred; politics and religion. And that was
certainly a case in point. How do see the major religions playing out
in the future? Are they forever entangled with politics? Are we at the
mercy of knee-jerk reactions to Luddites? Some kind of universal
Buddhism? A new secularism? All or some of the above or something
completely different?
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #88 of 131: Dan Flanery (sunspot) Sat 10 Jan 04 22:41
    
>The problem with "the unthinkable" is that when
>it enters into your everyday cost-benefit analysis,
>it's like dividing by zero.  Life becomes senseless. 

Excellent response.  Something I hadn't considered.  Thanks!

But one thing to keep in mind - you say that AIDS is going to be a
whole lot worse than terror WOMD, by any objective measure.  But:

1) We could discover a vaccine or cure or effective, inexpensive
treatment for AIDS tomorrow

and

2) If AIDS begins to depopulate some third world nations (which hasn't
begun to happen yet, in spite of a decade plus of dire warnings and
ominous trend lines), might it also relieve some of the pressures
driving the fundamentalist rampage to begin with?  Didn't the Black
Plague ultimately help to kick Europe out of the Dark Ages?  If so was
it bad fortune or good fortune?

It's like that old, supposedly Chinese story about the old man who
lost his horse (bad fortune) which soon returned home with a herd (good
fortune) which the man's son began to ride, until he fell from one of
the horses and broke his leg (bad fortune), which left him unable to go
fight in a battle in which he surely would have been killed (good
fortune).  And so on.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #89 of 131: Reid Harward (reid) Sun 11 Jan 04 04:51
    
Hey Bruce, 

You mentioned some interesting ideas regarding technological tools and
the emergence of software frameworks for public participation and
democratic governance.  I find this intriguing, also.  I'm also
extrememly interested in how technology can lend some concrete forensic
accountability to, what I consider, dangerous, irresponsible media
like cable television news.  

Is there any way to subvert or diminish the influence cable news has
on how people perceive the world?  Do you consider it much of a
problem?  How does irresponsible information media rate as far as a
potential threat to stability and security on your personal scale?  
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #90 of 131: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 11 Jan 04 07:43
    
1) We could discover a vaccine or cure or effective, inexpensive
treatment for AIDS tomorrow

*I'm all for it.

and

2) If AIDS begins to depopulate some third world nations (which hasn't
begun to happen yet, in spite of a decade plus of dire warnings and
ominous trend lines), might it also relieve some of the pressures
driving the fundamentalist rampage to begin with?  Didn't the Black
Plague ultimately help to kick Europe out of the Dark Ages?  If so was
it bad fortune or good fortune?

*Well, that was the particularly frustrating part of this RAND
discussion.
For ages I've been trying to find a simple spreadsheet or pie
chart that describes whether or not Africa is having a demographic
AIDS
disaster.  Twenty years from now: more Africans?  Fewer?  What's
the story?

*The truth is nobody can tell.  They don't have the necessary
facts to make sound conjectures.  They don't know how fast AIDS
is spreading, what varieties of AIDS are spreading, why
AIDS in Africa seems to be heterosexual when that's still a
rarity in the developed world, how long people will live
with AIDS, or how much war and civil disorder there will be,
which always helps to spread epidemics.  So futurists
seem unable to squeeze even a ballpark figure out of
this massive plague, which seems weird, but such is the
state of the forecasting game.

Massive social calamities like epidemics never have simple
and straightforward effects.  So, if you're Cortez, you can
presumably chuckle into your conquistador beard over the
fact that smallpox is annihilating the Aztec population, so
that you don't have to.  However, from a more general
and humane perspective, I don't think this makes smallpox
good news.  We're a lot better off organizing to rid
our species of smallpox than we are coming up with
Jesuitical arguments to claim that it's somehow good for us in
the long run.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #91 of 131: Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Sun 11 Jan 04 12:14
    

Bruce, it looks like the president is going to announce plans for a
permanent moon base and (rather more nutty, IMHO, given the state of the
art) a manned mission to Mars.  Any followup thoughts on these looming
initiatives?
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #92 of 131: Thomas Petersen (sushi101) Sun 11 Jan 04 15:55
    
sunspot

1) We could discover a vaccine or cure or effective, inexpensive
treatment for AIDS tomorrow

We can without much effort cure measels a few cents per person, yet
400.000 kids in Africa dies of this every year. Often it is not the
cures but the political will that is the problem. This is why everyone
jumps in to help on SARS, they know that they can be hit by it and
there is not cure, they cannot justify to their voters that they do not
do anything about the problem. With AIDS it seems different (I think)
because the politicians does not really need to react to anything.
People have kind of accepted that AIDS is the problem of the
individual. 

Well that is at least how I experience it here in Denmark.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #93 of 131: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 11 Jan 04 16:51
    
Just a comment, since others have loads of questions and I can prop up my 
feet and relax... 

Mitch Ratcliffe and I are editing a book on 'emergent democracy' for
O'Reilly Books, so I'm paying attention to the current state of
"electronic democracy" thinking and tools, and it's beginning to look more
and more interesting.  Today technophiliacs can be somewhat effective
organizing politically online, and that's begun to overlap the mainstream,
most recently via the Dean and Clark presidential campaigns, which have
made effective use of 'net tools to organize and raise money. You can use 
standard tools to organize grassroots lobbying efforts, too... and I'm 
waiting for the day that ordinary citizens swarm their legislators and 
effectively overcome some bit of obnoxious legislation, like the recent 
surreal redistricting of Texas.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #94 of 131: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Sun 11 Jan 04 17:21
    
I'll chime in with Mike on the Mars/moonbase question, I think you partly
answered it a couple of days back.  .
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #95 of 131: Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Sun 11 Jan 04 18:02
    
<jonl>:

For a while I've been meme-casting my explanation of the the
difference between the Internet and other media "pipes":  It's about
the uploads.

Submitted for your consideration: 

www.moveon.org 's open call for anti-Bush political commercials - TV
spots that will soon blankent the Nation.  

By ordinary folks for ordinary folks.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #96 of 131: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Sun 11 Jan 04 19:53
    
Isn't this what bushin30seconds.com did, did you see these Dennis?
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #97 of 131: William H. Dailey (whdailey) Sun 11 Jan 04 21:39
    
The candidate from Vermont is a Fabian Socialist.
Our nation was created a Republic, not a Democracy.
9/11 happened because Afganistan wanted to charge too much to allow a
pipeline across their country.  The power elite needed an excuse to go
to war against them.  "Computer Software Science" has been invaded by
Socialism.  It could be much more systematic as is Computer Hardware
Science.  NASA could use the flying saucers we have hidden in "Area 51"
which were invented decades ago by the great engineer-scientist Tesla.
 In fact we could all be flying flying saucers instead of driving
cars.  No fuel, no fuel taxes, no roads, and no pollution.
The power elite have been supressing advanced energy production for
most of the last century.  Now they plan to take over the energy scene
using a catalyst that creates Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Electricity.  See:

http://www.worldenergymanagement.com

There already is an example of non-polluting, decentralized power.
see:

http://www.jeffotto.com

There is a cure for AIDS.  It is just not generally known.  

See:

http://www.devvy.com

Other bad diseases would go away too, but for certain government
agencies.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #98 of 131: Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Sun 11 Jan 04 22:31
    
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #99 of 131: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Mon 12 Jan 04 06:28
    
You nailed it Jon.  Todays AAS says "wireless may be Austin's next big
frontier"; it's on the Tech Monday Main page; "91 companies in Austin have a
strong focus on wireless".

And the wireless seminaar tomorrrow at MCC is "sold out".

Bruce, what was the process you went through in deciding to write your new
book, what were your research tools and what did you discover in the process
of writing it.  Referring to Zenith Angle.
  
inkwell.vue.204 : The 2004 Bruce Sterling State of the World Address
permalink #100 of 131: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 12 Jan 04 07:11
    
What *is* Fabian Socialism?  I've heard of it a few times but never
really got a definition.
  

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