Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 26 Dec 01 10:07
Introductory Hash Because he's a distributed kind of guy, you can find a broad set of texts by and about Bruce Sterling in many (more *and* less visible) virtual corners of cyberspace. Why build an intro from scratch? Here's a set of fragments that seem to do the job: Standard Bio Bruce Sterling is the author of many books, including The Hacker Crackdown, Holy Fire, Heavy Weather, Distraction, and most recently Zeitgeist. With William Gibson he co-authored the acclaimed novel The Difference Engine. He has written for The New York Times, Newsday, Whole Earth Review, Details, Mondo 2000, bOING bOING, Interzone, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and is currently a contributing writer to Wired. The winner of a Hugo (for the novelette "Bicycle Repairman"), he is currently working on a non-fiction book about beauty, truth, and technology which should appear in late 2001. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Austin, Texas. Some Quotes (http://www.disinfo.com/pages/article/id817/pg1/, 1/31/02001, Ash Crawford, interviewer) "A 'futurist' is an increasingly old-fashioned thing to be. I don't think this has much to do with weariness of subjects or genres, though. I think the culture's sense of historical continuity has broken down. There's no Progress myth, there's no Titanic Manichean Death Struggle. Societies still have a future. That's very obvious, but they've rejected consensus myths of The Future. The Future is discredited; no one dares to declare that their dreams will surely come true. To declare that the Forces of History favor you is seen as 'ideological,' 'fanatical,' 'imperialistic,' 'phallocentric,' 'anti-market,' 'deterministic,' 'statist,' 'arrogant.' Pick your dismissal. "We're entering a different conception of history, in which Armageddons and Utopias are seen as simple-minded. Because they're the same thing: a bogus method to stop thinking about the passage of time. In a Utopia, history ends because everything's perfect; in an Apocalypse, history ends because everyone's dead. The problem here is not that we need pie in the sky or death-threats in order to feel awake. The problem is that the clock doesn't stop ticking just because we might find that intellectually convenient." From the Sterling FAQ http://www.well.com/conf/mirrorshades/sterfaq.html I finished my second nonfiction book, called TOMORROW NOW. I'm also spending a lot of time running a mailing list and website about the Greenhouse Effect and postindustrial design. Plus, I write science fiction. I'm a design groupie. They're a whole lot like really good science fiction writers, only with much better shoes. From the Seminal Viridian Design Speech of 1998 http://www.viridiandesign.org/viridiandesign.htm "We're Viridian Greens, the Viridian movement. That's because we're green, but there's something electrical and unnatural about our tinge of green. We're an art movement that looks like a mailing list, an ad campaign, a design team, an oppo research organization, a laboratory, and, perhaps most of all, we resemble a small feudal theocracy ruled with an iron hand by a Pope- Emperor. We have our own logo -- or we will. We have our own font and our own typography. And we have an entire list of favorite Viridian-approved tie-in products: T-shirts, chrome stickers, socks, solar panels, ultrasonic sterilizers, and so on.... We're going to be spending a lot of time picking bits and pieces out of the background clutter, and assembling them, and placing our stamp of ideological approval upon them. The future is already here. It just hasn't been assembled as a cultural ensemble."
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 26 Dec 01 10:19
As we open this interview, India and Pakistan are pointing nukes at each other, and you can feel the itch on those trigger-fingers all the way down here in Texas. With that, plus the Afghanistan engagement and chilly weather over Palestine, we should probably talk about war...?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 26 Dec 01 21:50
As long as we're hashing, I've won two Hugoes and my new book won't be out till late 2002, which is just as well as the 21st century likely started on Sept 11. It's pretty interesting to see the Titanic Manichean Death Struggle back in its Al Qaeda guise. We've got some no kidding, fanatical imperialist phallocentric characters here, but I don't think they're all that good at their work. They're just too simpleminded. Bin Laden thinks he's Dr No, but when you see him at his ease, he comes across like a cross between Aum Shinri Kyo and a Rasta guru. An efficient bin Laden wouldn't bother to blow anybody up; he'd probably keep the handy disguise as the philanthropist to camouflage his world subversion. Kinda like Bill Gates.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 27 Dec 01 05:26
(The curse of the Internet: outdated bios persist! For the record, the second hugo was for the novelette "Taklamakan.") Bin Laden reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain. Except that, in this case, it's not Toto but Tommy Franks and Nic Robertson that yank the curtain and expose the pile of flesh and fur standing behind it. More interesting, I think, is the war fervor in the U.S. and elsewhere; the escalation of intentions as our blood overheats. Conflict really seems to boil the testosterone over into regions of the brain otherwise content to eat, sleep, and contemplate emanations from the telly. Is war hell, or is it sport (especially when mediated by CNN/MSNBC coverage)? GW Bush says this is a war year: is he shortsighted? Is it in fact a war *century*?
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 27 Dec 01 10:20
Looking for something else last month, I happened over your closing talk from CFP98, Bruce. And I thought, "Wow! This guy *is* a futurist!" 'cause you mentioned anthrax, ad hoc political arrangements, Afghan guerrilas, "segmented, polycephalous influence networks" and more. How do you keep yourself not just *aware* of the cultural pulse, but *ahead* of it? Looking forward to the new book, too.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 30 Dec 01 18:49
The secret is in setting my watch forward. Ha ha ha. You wanna read a real futurist, check out this blurb I just wrote for Jules Verne's latest English-language translation, INVASION OF THE SEA. "Mr Verne's latest techno-thriller boldly confronts the menace of Islamic terrorism. He has topnotch chops in technical accuracy, with endearing dashes of broad humor and a keen eye for telling detail. Let me be the first to predict this: someday this French novelist will be known worldwide!" And it's true, because Verne's book really *is* about Islamic terrorism, specifically, French engineers versus fanatic desert saboteurs in North Africa. Some "wars" are older than others. Bin Laden thinks that war been going on since the 12th century, but, you know, how often do the rest of us bother to notice?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 30 Dec 01 21:51
We do seem to jump into the fray, when provoked. This latest war has weird features, though: it's so open-ended. The enemy's not a nation, but a network, and it's in the shadows. We could fight this war for years, no? And evolve a kind of Spartan culture, always bulking up for the next battle.
crying "well a day." (vasudha) Mon 31 Dec 01 13:16
I've just recieved, "Hubbert's Peak: The impending World Oil Shortage" by Kenneth S. Deffeyes of Princton for Christmas and been reading it. And so therefore I can't help but believe that the impending war(s) around the region of Saudi Arabia have all to do with the necessity of controling oil production. Considering qualified academic speicalists in the field are predicting world oil production will peak within the next five years, I would assume the major oil suppliers and oil businessmen would know the same. Suppliers can fake a shortage when there is none but a supply cannot be faked. Once we turn that corner everything will change.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 31 Dec 01 15:06
You wanna read some trippy oil stuff, read Thomas Gold's "The Deep Hot Biosphere." In the way of contrarian science theory, that's probably the weirdest thing I've read in the past ten years. Gold thinks that crude oil is carbonaceous chondrite material that is embedded throughout the Earth's crust and oozing *up.* So if you leave an oil field fallow long enough, it'll top off again. Personally, I doubt that the climate can survive burning all the oil, so whether we invent some shortages or not is immaterial.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 31 Dec 01 15:19
On the war front, I don't see a lot of point in becoming Spartan in order to fight shadows. If anything, we're likely to become spookier. You end up dressing the Special Forces as Yankee hippie tourists, and every time they go click click click with the digital camera, it's off to Fort Meade with the data. Once civilians figure out that they are the primary target for casualties, they're likely to get pretty enthusiastic about becoming informants. If bin Laden is killed or captured, this "war" per se will be over, but no matter what happens the Great and the Good are going to take the New World Disorder a lot more seriously from now on. Any place on the planet that is left to rot will breed narcoterror. The Powers That Be are going to be imposing client states on anybody who doesn't get it about government.
jumping the railroad gate (vasudha) Mon 31 Dec 01 17:47
<bruces>, as if the civilization isn't poised to burn all the fossil fuel? After that's done they'll head for the Rockies and dig them up for the coal.
Ja'Nell (goldennokomis) Tue 1 Jan 02 10:21
It's already been done here in the Appalachians...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Jan 02 11:32
Considering <vasudha>'s response above, based on your view into 'clean energy' evolution through your Viridian work and whatever crystal balls you might have laying around, do you see any hope for recovery from fossil fuel addiction in the short term? It seems to me that there's 'way more focus on 'clean energy' sources now that there were in years past.
exiled in viridianistan (reid) Tue 1 Jan 02 12:31
How do you feel about the news blackout surrounding civilian deaths in Afghanistan? It seems that a techno fix along the lines of those wingless angel minicam/cell phone units would come in handy over there right about now. I remember something similar in Islands, where "terrorism" is met with a total news blackout, and I remember feeling like some of the characters you created had these enormous blind spots because of this policy (the singapore riot in the soccer stadium where Laura mentions the no-smoking rule exemplfies this almost autistic perspective) How relevant is the world you created in Islands in the Net to today's situation and how do you reconcile this idea of news blackouts as a counterterroism measure with your idea of information armaments like the cheap civilian minicam cel phone combination?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 02 16:37
I don't think it's so much a "news blackout" as a "relevance blackout." It's not like there's some magic number of Afghan civilian casualties where the Coalition is going to suddenly have a moral qualm about them and declare "oh well never mind then." That's not their mission. A superpower had its military nerve center blown up. The US military will not slow down until they feel that they've severely diminished the chance of a repeat performance. Anyone who gets in the way of this will be shredded. Every power player of consequence fully understands this. Anyone who failed to flee that rain of vengeance is politically expendable. Point of view is worth eighty IQ points here. Afghans die in droves whether Yankee bombs kill them or not. There's also a "news blackout" on Afghanistan's casualties over the past 30 years, or the past 300 years. So it's not a question of lives saved; it's a question of American political culpability. There is not gonna be a lot of publicity traction over Afghan civilian casualties, because (a) the carpet-bombing is over and (b) everybody is sincerely terrified. So as long as the vengeful Americans don't go utterly nuts and start incinerating rich people wholesale, there will be few audible complaints. The media blackout I'm trying to pierce is the curious one over bin Laden's most recent tape. The other one -- that impromptu confession that was war booty -- that was pored over word by word, but OBL latest Al Jazeera communique doesn't seem to have an English transcript on the web. I'm very interested in knowing what OBL had to say. I think there's a good likelihood that he or various pretenders and impostors will be popping up with similar genocidal sermons for the next ten years. If the War fails to deliver bin Laden's head in a bag, it's going to dawn on people that Al Qaeda and all the top Taliban have successfully scarpered, leaving the Yankees in the position of computer cops who seized the ISP without arresting the hackers. If so, that'll change the tenor of the conflict.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 02 16:38
On the subject of green energy, I'm determinedly optimistic, but I'm looking toward Europe for progress. America is most definitely the Greenhouse Evil Empire. It's extremely dangerous to confront America militarily in its current mood. An economic confrontation will just beggar all parties 1930s style in the fragile global market. That leaves environmentalism as the best and safest arena for othr governments to assert some sovereignty and initiative and take the Yankee Hyperpower down a peg. Maybe something useful can be made to happen. More likely it'll continue to be mostly eyewash until some cataclysmic Greenhouse event takes out a chunk of Manhattan. If that happened tomorrow the Greenhouse compass would turn, Bush would be greener than green overnight, and all the delay would be blamed on Bill Clinton.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Jan 02 18:02
Isn't it more likely that, though, that greenhouse disaster will creep slowly enough along that the catastrophe won't be evident before it's too late? That's assuming reduced funding for Arecibo won't result in collison with a 'Near Earth Object' before the polar ice caps finish melting... <http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/arecibo_cuts_011220.html>
You wanna read some trippy oil stuff (stewartc) Tue 1 Jan 02 22:06
In 14, are you saying that adding cheap media feeds from areas of Afghanistan (and, say, Kasmir, the West Bank, Yemen, etc.) with civilian casualties will not change the political/military climate? How much can it cost to place a dozen live feeds in Kabal, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, etc. Certainly it's less money than the genetic engineering operations budget of Greenpeace, cheaper than one cruise missle. It seems to me that <reid>'s point in 13 is that lots of cheap media is used as a political tool in Islands, so maybe it's worth trying in the current war to avoid civilian casualties. Just because the Pentagon doesn't give a shit, and the "no kidding, fanatical imperialist phallocentric...simpleminded" terrorists use previously recorded video, rightfully or not, doesn't mean that lots of micro feeds from blacked out places might change the political balance.
exiled in viridianistan (reid) Wed 2 Jan 02 05:53
The December 11 tape transcript? From www.robotwisdom.com Thursday December 27, 10:00 AM Full text of Osama bin Laden's videotaped comments DUBAI (Reuters) - Following is a transcript of the videotaped comments of Osama bin Laden as broadcast by Qatar's al-Jazeera television on Wednesday. Bin Laden, shown dressed in a camouflage combat smock and with a submachinegun at his side, spoke in Arabic: "Three months after the blessed attacks against the international infidels, against the main infidel America, and after almost two months have passed since the start of the vicious Crusade against Islam, we would like to talk about some of the facts that these events have revealed. "These events have revealed a lot of very important issues to Muslims. It is very clear that the West in general, spearheaded by America, holds an indescribable amount of Crusader loathing for Islam, and that those who have lived all these months under the constant bombing by different types of U.S. planes know this for a fact. "How many villages were annihilated without committing any crime? How many, if we calculate, millions of people were made homeless during the biting cold, and how many of these oppressed men, women and children are now sheltering in tents in Pakistan? They have not committed any crime. America launched this campaign based on a suspicion. "Those who claim to uphold humanitarian values and freedom, we saw their true criminal nature. A shell weighing seven grams is sufficient and actually more than sufficient (to kill) a human being but America, because it loathes the Taliban and Muslims to such an extent, used on our brothers on the frontlines projectiles weighing as much as seven tonnes and those who can calculate know that this is equivalent to seven million grams when seven grams are sufficient for a human being. "When the youths, may Allah accept them as martyrs, detonated (the bomb) in Nairobi less than two tonnes, America said this is a terrorist strike and this is a weapon of mass destruction. (But) when it uses two bombs each weighing seven million grams, there is no shame in that. "And the (U.S.) Minister of Defence comes out after they bombed whole villages without just cause, just to terrorise people and to make them fear hosting or coming near Arabs... and he says that this is our right. It is their right to annihilate people as long as they are Muslims and not Americans. This is crime in its clearest form. All you hear about (them) making a mistake, that is a clear lie. A few days ago, they hit what they claimed were al Qaeda targets in Khost and they directed a missile at a mosque, although they said they made a mistake. Investigations proved that Muslim ulema (scholars) were praying Taraweeh (special Ramadan prayers) and that they had a meeting after the prayers with the hero... Sheikh Jalal al- Din Haqqani who was one of the most senior mujahideen against the Soviet occupation and who rejected the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. "They hit the mosque while the Muslims were in prayer, killing 150 of them but Sheikh Jalal survived, may Allah bless his life. "This is the Crusader loathing, so let those who repeat words without thinking about its consequences and they say we denounce terrorism. Our terrorism against the United States is blessed, aimed at repelling the oppressor so that America stops its support for Israel." (yahoo news Singapore)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 2 Jan 02 06:23
Since we're talking prediction, we could also consider Pat Buchanan's new book, _The Death of the West : How Mass Immigration, Depopulation & A Dying Faith Are Killing Our Culture and Country_. From Publisher's Weekly: "Fearful that America is being 'de-Christianized,' Buchanan argues that 'while the prognosis is not good,' America must reevaluate itself and reclaim its white, Christian origins; despite the current 'coarseness of her manners, the decadence of her culture, or the sickness in her soul,' the nation is worth saving."
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Wed 2 Jan 02 08:53
that's certainly ugly
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 02 10:15
Thanks a lot for the transcript, but surely that's not half an hour's worth of rambling, even in Arabic. Where's the rest of it? I don't think "cheap video feed" helps much unless there is some context for response. For instance, a lot of people die of lung cancer, and you could put "cheap video feed" into cancer wards, but would this cause smokers to change their behavior? I didn't stop smoking until I couldn't stop coughing. Then, yeah, I managed to quit, but there are plenty of people who don't and can't. Maybe if I'd had cheap video feed of the inside of my own lungs in real-time... But to think that cheap video feed would stop the US from bombing Al Qaeda... All they have to do to counter such a feeble act of propaganda is to turn up the amps from the images of mayhem at Ground Zero -- some o' those *expensive, nicely produced* video feeds. One Geraldo on wholly-owned Fox News is likely worth about 100 little NGO guys with shouldercams. So if the hundred start "changing the political balance" in some annoying way, why not restore the lost balance by just buying and deploying another Geraldo? I doubt that OBL is winning many recruits by complaining about how big the Yankees' bombs are. It's the same kind of category error, really. Yeah brother, the enemy controls huge, centralized industries that manufacture really big bombs. That's kind of the point, actually. The Yankees don't have big bombs because they have huge amounts of emotional rage against Islam. They built the bombs that way because of the economies of scale, a phenomenon that the Koran doesn't address. The guys who are throwing those things out of the backs of B-52s, they're probably listening to techno music on headphones.
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 2 Jan 02 10:20
Bruce, have you seen part two of Patrick Farley's online comic, "The Spiders?" (http://e-sheep.com/spiders/02/) He draws up a very nice skiffy universe of streaming footage from Afghanistan and posits some interesting applications for same.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 2 Jan 02 13:10
The argument that US bombing is state terror and worse than the idealistic terror of the "little guy" has been compelling in a lot of other situations, and will appeal to a lot of people in this situation too. The size of the bombs is just a metaphor. Looking at that transcript I'm thinking those guys are still trying to have the moral appeal of the intifada, citizens with stones versus occupying forces with guns. Size is very important, and "ours is smaller" wins in that argument. Something the US is not used to countering, you know. It would be good to see the rest of the transrcripts, but that segment seemed provocative to me. I know GW Bush said he found it boring. Bruce, I happened to have a NY Times on a flight yesterday, and found myself reading the captions and notes on the weather page. I found something slightly alarming. Though the advantage of more recorded weather records might be that "average" has more data, the NY Times noted that "average" temperatures were previously based on 1961-1990 but would henceforth be based on 1971-2000. I'm assuming that now "cooler than average" may mean "warmer than what average meant to old farts who have been around for more than three decades." And that disturbs my Viridian sensibility.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 02 14:20
You think that's heavy, check out this New Yorker article. http://www.newyorker.com/FACT/?020107fa_FACT
Craig Newmark (cnewmark) Wed 2 Jan 02 17:49
This is just to thank Bruce for two ideas which we're trying to make real. In Holy Fire, he observes that emerging biotech may greatly exacerbate the difference between medical have and have-nots. I have a friend with an emerging genomics startup that might be a big deal... and we talk about how they can give away some technology that might be substantial. I've offered even to buy cheap gene-crunchers for grad students up the street at UCSF if it makes sense. ("the street" is Parnassus in SF, where the novel's protagonist initially lives.) Whether or not something really happens, I don't know... but I think I can find a way to inject this, meme-style, into local media. In Distraction, there's a nomadic, high-tech tribe which governs by reputation system online. In the craigslist discussion boards, we're quietly putting in the underpinnings of something like that. It'll be a long effort, and there's lots of ways to go nowhere ... but we've put in some fraud protection right at the beginning, which might make for success. All this says is that Bruce's work is more influential than usually credited. All of this might go somewhere, maybe not... but we're persistent. thanks! Craig
Members: Enter the conference to participate