What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Wed 30 Dec 09 13:57
For the eleventh time, Inkwell rings in the New Year with a visit from Well member Bruce Sterling, to address the State of the World and Things Various and Sundry. Bruce used to write novels when there were bookstores, and used to write for magazines and newspapers when magazines and newspapers existed. Nowadays he travels a lot when trains are running and when airports aren't clogged by security theater. Once again, Bruce's interlocutory partner is Jon Lebkowsky. Jon writes about culture, society, technology. He is an Internet pioneer and thought leader immersed in contemporary social technologies, with expertise in digital communication and collaboration. An early online community moderator on The Well, and a founder of Fringeware, Inc., Jon has been a direct participant in the formative conversations that generated our contemporary global digital society. He's worked with bOING bOING, HotWired, The Whole Earth Catalog, Electric Minds, Whole Foods Market, and many other web and cyberculture projects and endeavors during the World Wide Webâs first decade. With Mitch Ratcliffe, Jon co-edited the book Extreme Democracy, and he was one of the webâs first bloggers, having blogged regularly since 2000. Gentlemen, the turning of the calendar finds me vacationing in Times Square. Where are you, and what's on your minds? Is it me, or is there a lot to talk about this time around?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 30 Dec 09 15:54
I think you're right - the polarity of the world is changing, literally and figuratively; the climate's wonky, the economy's tumbling like a house of cards in a demented wind, political will is weak and the body politic is disfigured in ways that are gross and fascinating. It's a circus, and the tent's on fire. I asked around for thoughts about what we should discuss, and got this from science-fiction author, Internet maven, and new Dad, Cory Doctorow: "Bruce, you're godfather to my daughter Poesy. As I type this, I am sitting in the driveway with her while she finishes her nap in the back of the rental car we picked up on our Xmas holiday with the rest of our family. I listen to her snoring away back there, and I think about the enormity of fatherhood, and I realize that I've never been confident enough in the future to make any kind of long-time plans... Instead, I've always treated the future as a kind of unpredictable lurching thing, and tried to keep my stance loose and wide so that I could adjust my center of gravity from moment to moment as it shifted beneath me. As a father, that strategy seems somehow irresponsible. Now I'm thinking about college funds, about my will, about where I'll end up living, all this stuff, and I realize that in order to do any of this I have to have some coherent picture of where the future is heading. If you were in my shoes, what concrete, discrete, individual steps would you take on behalf of your snoring little toddler? " I think that's a great first question.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 31 Dec 09 02:03
*Great to see that the burdens of fatherhood have succeeded in rendering even Cory Doctorow all bourgeois. A decade will do that to a guy. *Godfathers should be giving great advice, right? No. Actually, what godfathers should be giving is MONEY. If you're a comely young goddaughter, your godfather should knock it off with his sermonizing and give you, like, a car. *Well, I don't have any money now. Neither does anybody else. Even the smart operators with truckloads of money, like Gates, have lost more money than the GDP of Nicaragua. So it'll have to be the advice. Brace yourself. *Okay, first, the college funds. Cory, you're a guy who rather famously dropped out of college. I completed college with a lucrative degree in (wait for it) JOURNALISM. There are people coming out of colleges now with humanities degrees and debtloads of $100K. What precise benefit are you trying to confer here? You want your kid to go to some college? Move to a country like Italy where they've got FREE college, and people don't leave school till they're 28 years old. *Okay, you've treated your future as an "unpredictable lurching thing..." and now you're all morose about that... You and your generation CREATED that situation! Ever heard of "disruptive innovation," "disintermediation," "offshoring," "small pieces loosely joined," "de-monetization," "plug and play," "the network as a platform"? Of course you've heard of all that crap, because you've been tub-thumping it your entire adult life, but what the hell did you think that was all about? Did you think you were gonna bend every effort to virtualize reality, and then get a gold railway-retirement watch and a safe place to park the cradle? Guys with stacks of gold bars and working oil wells don't have any stability now! Much less guys like you, who move their fingers up and down on keyboards for a living. *You want some security? Demand government housing subsidies and a guaranteed minimum income! They bailed out every broke mogul on the planet, they might as well bail out the civil population. *Your will. Great. I think it's a good idea to write one of these. It's clarifying to contemplate mortality. Try not to get all hackerly about it and make it all super-complicated so that your heirs are "protected forever." Dead guys don't protect anybody, and the survivors don't care. When you're dead, mostly the survivors want to grieve, sweep up after you, and stay out of endless court proceedings. A guy like you, you're gonna be too clever by half with the damn will, lots of spreadsheets, flowcharts.... Basically, you want to save people trouble sweating over your obscure 12-dollar Latvian royalties getting probated in Canada. *"Where I'll end up living." You're a Canadian always in California who's married to a Briton who's always in Japan. Obviously you're not gonna "end up" anywhere. Forget about that. What are you worried about, your IKEA furniture? There is no "end up." Someday they're gonna bury you someplace -- that's likely relatively permanent -- or they might lock you in a prison or a clinic where they won't let you out. Other than that, you have made your mobile bed and you oughta lie in it. *You're thinking: "got some money here, might as well settle down in suburban Shepperton where the kid has a stable neighborhood with those delightful Ballard children." That's a joke. They're ALL FOREIGNERS in Shepperton now, just like you. They're living in DISINTEGRATED, ROOTLESS, MULTI-ETHNIC HOUSEHOLDS where people relate through SMS messages. Go outside, walk around in extremely globalized London, count the number of exiles in the streets. Is that Christopher Robin and Pooh at the gates of Buckingham Palace? The Buckingham Palace charades are wall to wall Brazilians, Indians and Chinese. That's why they put up with YOU. And the genuine kids there are even weirder than their parents, because they're multi-ethnic Brazilo-Indian-Chinese kids. *"A coherent picture of where your future is heading." Okay, fine. Let's imagine you're three years old again. You want to give your Dad, back in 1974, a coherent picture of what 2010 looks like. You know, something very actionable, lucid and practical, where he can just slap the cash on the counter and everything works out great for the family. Okay: given what you know now about the present, tell me what you oughta tell him about 2010, back in 1974. Use words of one syllable, so he doesn't have a stroke. *Then, I'll give it a shot.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 31 Dec 09 07:38
While we wait for that, how about a coherent vision of where the *present* is heading? Various entities and institutions have scrambled together safety pins and gobs of glue to rig the global economy so that it appears to be ambling along, but isn't it a great conceptual Jenga, ready to fall if you move the wrong block? What kind of shuffling and reshuffling can we expect, if there's a global economic meltdown? And has the collapse already happened - are we like the coyote, run far beyond the edge of the cliff, waiting for gravity's effect?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 1 Jan 10 02:39
I'm liking the Jenga analogy, but not the collapse, too much -- the folk-notions people have about collapse and meltdown are way too parochial, they're very Teabagger, very prepper. Basically we've got an emergent, market-driven global financial system that was all about a faith-based market fundamentalism. It was deprived of oversight for three good reasons (a) it rapidly brought prosperity to billions (b) under globalization, money is inherently global while governance is inherently local (c) complete regulatory capture of the system -- nobody but bankers understands how to bank. There's no caste of regulators left anywhere who have the clout or even the knowledge to do anything usefully stabilizing. No, not even if you give them guns, lawyers, money and back issues of DAS KAPITAL. *Too big to fail. So, what can you do? Cross your fingers, basically. Make some reassuring noises. Cheerlead instead of reforming the infrastructure. And pawn what's left of the credibility of government. *Twenty years ago, it seemed like this situation might lead to shareholder power, a kind of pension-fund ownership society. It kind of did, for a while. But over a longer term, the poor engineering told on the rickety, fungus-like structure of finance. The wealth and the executive capacity drifted into the hands of moguls. Not governments, big institutions, megacorporations, multinationals, but moguls, weird eccentrics, like Russian moguls. Madoff figures, Enron. Nobody was left to look. Even if they did look, all they could possibly see in Madoff and Enron was a genius, highly charitable head of the NASDAQ and the world's most nimble and innovative energy company. It's like looking at your SUV and seeing drowning polar bears. Just a minority viewpoint. *So we've ended up with our current "It's a Wonderful Life" Pottersville, where Rupert Murdoch plays our Mr Potter. Everybody who should have been down at the mall last Christmas stocking up at the Sharper Image is ruined, corrupted, prostituted, miserable, or a hysterical librarian. That includes the boisterous high-tech guys at the deceased Sharper Image. And, really, including Murdoch. Everything the guy touches turns brown. *Societies that are top-heavy in this way are just not gonna have major prosperity. Too much of the civil population has been fenced off from the trough. The wealth-generating capacity of the society has been short-circuited. There's zero political will to socialize the entire planet and re-channel its currency flows, so that's not gonna happen. Basically, the political class is waiting for the civil population to come back to the church of the free market and get over the fact that its cardinals walk in public with no clothes on. *So you're just not gonna see a lively, vibrant scene in Pottersville. You can have a Japanese Pottersville, where everybody's getting older and they're building huge concrete bridges to nowhere. Or a Managed Democracy Putin-Pottersville, where everybody agrees not to say anything much about the many Potemkin aspects. You could even get some Rio de Janeiro Pottersville full of armed, dropout-ethnic shantytowns where everybody's high on medical marijuana. But not prosperity. Because Madoff can't give you that. For thirty years, yeah, but for forever, no. *People have stymied sense of denial about the situation. It's very neurotic, anxious, and repressed. It's feeding into a strongly Gothic political temperament where popular culture is haunted by vampires and zombies. The population *identifies* with vampires and zombies, wants to marry them, settle down with them. There's an autumnal hush over the cultural landscape. People really hope they won't be hit between the eyes with the two-by-four again, but they also know that they are helpless to defend themselves against the sources of the blows. *You're starting to see weird forms of acting-out, neurotic displacement activities. Fetishes, even. Sarah Palin, for instance. I could go on about that woman every day. And so can everybody else, which is why they do.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 1 Jan 10 03:07
*I'm looking over my Twitter stream here, because it seems a more useful barometer to me now than Google News. Google News definitely has that rickety Jenga feeling that JonL is talking about. Whenever you see something on Google News nowadays, you have to wonder: "who owns this so-called news organization now? What's left of them financially? Is there even a shred of objective fact in this?" *It's like looking at something that used to be a warm, thick, consensus-manufacturing comforter, and realizing that it's built entirely out of Gothic spiderwebs from Mountain View. *Most of my Twitter tweeple, in expressing their mild hopes for the decade, seem obscurely terrified. "Well, it couldn't possibly be any worse than last year," seems to be the consensus notion. I haven't seen any Scrooge-like spoilsport remarking on the prospect that the twenty-teens could easily be MUCH, MUCH worse than the zeroes. The Depression of the 1930s was followed by the 1940s, right? It's casino thinking to imagine that the next poker hand is bound to be great just because you lost your ass in the last one. *There are some certain people in my Twitter list, though, who do seem genuinely perky about last year and in a buoyant mood for the next. I can list them pretty easily, because they are so few. A. Augmented Reality people. They're all like, "Wow! What a ride! The wife is pregnant! I bought a house! When do we cash out?" B. Cellphone guys, or rather, guys in the handset PDA Google-Android Iphone-Appstore weird flaky gizmo in your pocket space. They're used to working in corrupt dungeons covered with moss and rusty manacles, because they have to hang out with telephone companies. Business is great. Mostly political rather than technical, but great. C. Brazilians. I don't understand why Brazilians don't whine and complain more, because by world standards their country is still awful, with weird crap going on like armed dope favelas that shoot police helicopters and even ethnic pogroms of harmless Brazilian merchants in Surinam, but Brazilians are like, "Wow! I'm big on Orkut! Look at my new haircut!" They're like the least High-Tech Gothic and most Favela Chic of all the emergent powers. If they'd just grin more and say "have a nice day" they could be the new Norteamericanos. D. Bollywood guys. I think everybody on Twitter should follow at least some celebrities. Celebrity-followship is a major part of the Twittersphere. I wouldn't dream on wasting any time on Demi or Oprah, but Bollywood fan culture is fascinating. The hero-star contingent are getting a little more boring since they're getting the hang of it, but those first few months, when they were just sorta blurting out whatever they wanted off the Blackberry, that was awesome. You really get a feeling for Bollywood stars as a semi-solid, political-feudal caste from a massively populated, deeply troubled, hugely resilient, titanic emergent world power. *They're all Indian patriots. Every one of 'em. They're not pollyannas about it, but you never hear a cynical or dismissive or despairing remark from them. About the press, certainly, but about the Indian government or Indian civil society, never. Tremendous work ethic. Even the ones who come across like half-naked decadent femmes fatale are complete Type A overachievers. Very bouncy, very focussed. Educated. World travellers. It's impressive. *I don't follow Chinese guys on Twitter yet. Trying to figure out how.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 1 Jan 10 03:11
*Oh yeah. One other guy on my Twitter list. I forgot him. Andrew Keen. "Cult of the Amateur" Andrew Keen, "Antichrist of Silicon Valley" Andrew Keen. This is obviously a guy with a very dark, combative temperament, a Lenny Bruce figure almost, but he seems convinced that time is on the side of his analysis and that vindication awaits him.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Jan 10 03:57
This view of the present feels right, and in a sense hopeless. But the future is opaque, it's hard to imagine any optimistic scenario that feels real. Throughout the 20th century we could imagine a "great society," a "space age," a "long boom." We presumed future social/technical advance, progress, improvement, a presumption that was inherent in cultural and political artifacts of the time. Though we've seen ongoing technological progress, But for thinking people assessing today's reality, I think it's harder to imagine that the world twenty years from now will be better than the world today. However Sarah Palin's world-view seems to disregard any sense that we're fragile or imperiled, and of course that sells, the way that a self-help book or a Zig Ziglar seminar sells. It's an assertion of optimism, however unfounded. And I think it's a dangerous optimism, because it assumes that we can do business as usual, and everything the world will just work. What vision for the future could a leader offer today that doesn't ignore troubling but real issues like climate change and economic instability, but doesn't feel hopeless? (Posts 5 and 6 slipped in while I was writing this one.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 1 Jan 10 07:09
The best tweet I saw New Year's Eve was Dusty Reagan's: "2010 and still no flying cars...*sigh*." And today, the first day of the new year, Thomas Vanderwal says: "Rather tired of 2010 predictions already. Most are stating what happened in the last 2 years or so when they weren't paying attention." We're in a world where everybody can have a top ten list and the means to publish it. When I Google "top 10" + 2009, I get 115 *million* hits. Predictions + 2010 has 12.8 million.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 2 Jan 10 02:47
Well, the Chinese world is better. China's like flying-car and personal-robot better, compared to China in 1969. India's better. Fantastically better. India used to be in more or less the same cramped livestock-stall as Sri Lanka, Myanmar (okay, "Ceylon" and "Burma" -- this need to rename cities and nations is a sign of mental illness) Pakistan, East Pakistan "Bangladesh" -- nowadays the Indians get all kinds of juice and respect from the "international community," and better yet, all their local rivals are in the charity ward without the Indians even firing a shot. Brazilians are better. Lula's been a great Brazilian president. The currency's stable, there's low inflation, there's oil money and ethanol money, and when the Brazilian cop SWAT squads go gun down leftist evangelical drug gangs wholesale in the ghetto, sometimes people even notice. Americans who really needed some Vision Thing could go read some Lula speeches -- he's done about a million -- all about peace and justice and decent housing and ecology and the achievement of zero hunger and all that. You know, it's like a multiracial labor-union socialist community-organizer thing, the Lula regime in Brazil. Surely Americans wouldn't go for that, though. There's just no way. Not the American Way. American Way of Life Not Up For Negotiation. End of story. Americans really want and need and desire a Futuristic Vision Thing, they get all lonesome and moody without one, but it's absolutely gotta be one of those good-old-fashioned American Futuristic Vision Things, just like the Americans had in the 1950s when everybody else was still on fire from total war and cleaning up the death camps.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 2 Jan 10 02:50
Hey look, I wrote a new architecture-fiction story. Just for you guys who can't pay for printed magazines any more, and therefore doomed literature to an Andrew Keen descent into half-baked Internet virtual-totalitarianism. "The Hypersurface of This Decade" http://bit.ly/8RRbsZ
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Jan 10 05:25
<scribbled by jonl Sat 2 Jan 10 08:10>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Jan 10 08:19
Jamais Cascio suggested in a private email that we consider whether California's travails are predictive of a broader failures within the USA, and asks "if we're not seeing many signs of real hope, are we at least seeing signs of getting through the problems we face?" I can imagine complex yes and no answers... But that's the U.S., and you make the point that other parts of the world appear to be swimming along pretty well. But I wonder whether they're becoming more 20th century U.S., i.e. are they firing up high-standard economies and lifetyles by burning through finite resources?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 2 Jan 10 14:33
Well, there's no question that California's beloved of futurists, maybe because California's got so many futurists in it. It's hard for anyone from Texas to find the chutzpah to complain about California's state politics. For instance, Enron, a Texas company, basically decapitated California by illegally gaming the natural gas pipelines, and then getting a surprised and hapless Gray Davis run out of office. Ever since then, they've been stuck with Schwarzenegger, who's a cartoon figure. California's never done anything half that wicked to Texas. There are other states with state governments that are worse and more irresponsible than California's. There's Louisiana, Arizona, Oklahoma of course, and when it comes to electing swaggering guys with a lot of muscles because they can supposedly bench-press the state legislature, I'm looking at you, Minnesota. But there aren't any state governments with absolute tons of money and colossal populations that are as doctrinaire, hog-tied and amateurish as California's state government. They've become scary rather than enviable. I'm very fond of the culture of the Golden State, and there are many admirable people there who are both wise and inventive, but their state politics are just dreadful. It's like they re-invented Sacramento as a highway snarl. I'd never write 'em off, but I don't think they deserve their former reputation as a leading polity among American states. These days they serve as an exemplar of how not to go about things. The USA has fifty different states. It seems pretty likely that at least some of 'em are gonna manifest some hopeful signs of getting through the general problems the nation faces. Maybe it's time to stop kicking Californians when they're down, and search for some other bellweather state that seems to be getting a grip. California's been losing population for the last four years. They've gotta be going somewhere.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 2 Jan 10 14:39
North Dakota is doing pretty well.
KUMBAYISTA! (smendler) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:02
So are we simply moving into a time of more *efficient* suffering?
Sebastian Mendler (smendler) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:08
(btw, loved the story - hopefully the guy extrudes himself a machete while he's at it)
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:21
What about green energy? It's not covered much by the press, but it seems like the investments made by the Chinese government and the U.S. Department of Energy are looking pretty encouraging.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 2 Jan 10 16:37
After reading the story: so the next thing is to extrude habitat like some kind of caterpillar?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 2 Jan 10 17:33
What Jamais actually wrote, when I asked him for thoughts about what we might discuss, was this: "California as a foretaste of where the US as a whole seems to be going." I think he's focused there because he lives there; didn't interpret it as a bashing. Good point that the fifty states (and all the various global nations, for that matter) are unique entities with diverse strains of legislative DNA. While we're at it, here's another from Jamais' missive: "Geoengineering: 2009, Geo went mainstream in the media; 2010, it's probably going to hit the political world. It looks very likely to happen, but also looks very likely to trigger conflict. Would love Bruces' thoughts on the subject."
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 2 Jan 10 18:22
Bruce, when I read your response to <doctorow>'s e-mail re-examining his life with a new father's eyes, I didn't see a response to the sentimentality underlying his question, which made me wonder if there was some subtext I was not aware of, and if not, could I ask you to revisit his questions, being a father yourself? Did you have similar questions about navigating aspects of parenthood when you were a new father?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 2 Jan 10 18:23
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 2 Jan 10 19:21
<The wealth and the executive capacity drifted into the hands of moguls.> Hello again, Bruce, and welcome. Do you see any way to make these plutocrats more accountable for the warming air that the rest of us mortals must breath?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 3 Jan 10 01:53
"Making plutocrats more accountable." Dunno. In the past decade we seem to have created two new social classes, unaccountable global moguls with no regulations, and global unlawful combatants with no civil rights. It's either the penthouse or Guantanamo, and they're both invisible netherworlds out of reach of the rule of law. Both very dangerous to the rest of us. Not just that they assault us, but that we neglect the issues there. Putin more or less solved his own mogul problem by picking on one scapegoat mogul and having the guy railroaded into the slammer. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was as crooked as a dog's hind leg, but clearly he's in the Russian Bastille there at the pleasure of the state, so Khodorkovsky's kind of a unique example of a guy who's both an oligarch and an abductee. You'd think this was a pretty likely treatment for oligarchs, actually. Given that they create so much misery, destroy so much wealth, and harm the interests of so many other social classes, why not just car-bomb them? Russian moguls used to car-bomb each other with great glee. The same goes for mafia chieftains -- anybody with tremendous wealth and influence outside the rule of law ends up in great fear of others with similar characteristics. Jailing Khodorkovsky sure didn't make anybody more "accountable" to the civil population, though; it's just another example of Putin's political genius for fighting ugly wildfires with dirty water. The Russians sincerely love that guy Putin. I think his policies are spooky and pernicious, but Putin's so much better than the normal run of leaders the Russians get that you have to understand why they genuflect to him. There are some societies today completely untroubled by moguls, like, say, Sweden. You look at all the statistics that technocrats use to determine where people are doing just great, where society is thriving, and Sweden's been in the top five percentile for decades. Sweden does everything perfectly from a technocratic policy perspective, Sweden's like Oz, apparently. And then you ask Swedes about their future and so forth, and they're like: "Bring the razor and the bathtub! When can I die?" There are penniless, vitamin-deprived guys in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai who are upbeat and perky compared to Swedes. "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made," as the philosopher used to say.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 3 Jan 10 03:32
On the subject of geo-engineering, I think it's a crock. We'll never get there. They're all techie fantasies, far-out sci-fi notions, Star Wars physics-style. The cheapest and most effective method of geo-engineering is to cut the world's population in half. Just a tremendous massacre. That's the genuinely effective geo-engineering: it's fast, it commonly works, it's been proven effective for centuries by lebensraum exponents everywhere, and if you chose the right tactics and weaponry it might even look like a big accident. You don't have to put on a fascist armband and start ranting for the public's blood; an effort like that could be quite subtle and covert, the very opposite of showboat geo-engineering. "Mysterious deadly flu in the Congo? We'd better keep all our health workers right here, they're badly needed in New York!" Nobody's gonna sit around watching Copenhagen delegates debating giant phony orbital solar mirrors if the windmills in Copenhagen harbor are blowing over When and if it becomes obvious that we truly need massive, ultra-costly geo-engineering interventions, that we have no other choice, then somebody -- likely some traumatized veterans of weather havoc who are full of Al Qaeda self-righteousness -- they're gonna cut emissions in half by cutting people in half. Mankind wouldn't lack for means, motive, opportunity and eager volunteers. Genocide has much more proven shelf-appeal than any of these hokum Rube Goldberg geo-schemes. It's by no means easy to kill off half of everybody, but we've already invented a wide variety of ingenious ways to attempt that, and almost all of 'em are much simpler, more rugged and more plausible than putting the North Pole under a tinfoil hat. You don't see these Gothic issues raised in public discourse much, but you go hang out with some Beltway thinktank asymmetric-warfare types, and man, they talk this kinda stuff all the time. Kind of a Herman Kahn think-the-unthinkable industry. "Should the Center for Disease Control be scanning flu-strains for signs of designed interventions?" "Gee uh, maybe not, could cause panic... but if we had some off-the-books funding for that, that capacity could be pretty handy."
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 3 Jan 10 04:05
*Y'know, these very dark imaginings of utter civilizational mayhem -- I have to confess I don't find them very interesting. People always ask me about 'em, more so now than before, but I'm unmoved. It's routine. *When I was a college student in the 1970s, cataclysms were pretty interesting to me, in a kind of edgy "No Future" punk way. By now they've been almost completely mainstreamed. As a creative, I find that they lack their old charm. *Standard Hollywood fodder, full of this stuff now: "2012," "The Road," comic shoot-'em-up zombie movies... people are *keenly* aware that Banquo's ghost is hammering the front door. They don't really need to be beaten over the head with this by doomsayers. *Yeah, sure, people, we could all die suddenly and horribly, but we could have all died suddenly and horribly any time after the invention of the hydrogen bomb. That's not really news, it doesn't attract or inspire me; I write about in the obligatory way that I have to write about, say, heroin or traffic jams, but my former interest in these issues is kinda crotchety and banal. It makes me feel middle-aged, quite frankly: way too much chewed cud there for us ahead-of-the-curve cyberpunk dystopians. *Then we've got entirely other kinds of stuff like this: http://gishbar.blogspot.com/2010/01/chemical-composition-of-io.html *Guys hanging around figuring out what Saturnian moons are made of. Pretty boring, apparently. Even Star-Trek geeky astronaut worshippers glaze over when they look at this stuff. I have to say I adore it. It's really vivifying for me. I truly feel proud and glad to be alive in a time when my civilization can figure out -- with some actual evidence and calculations, with on-site inspections even -- what Saturn's moons are made of. *I don't even have the excuse of any Carl Sagan mystic-scientism bullshit here, either; I don't think we climbed out of the primal muck to go mess around with sulfates on Io. *Io is a complete mess. It's a world much like our world, a neighbor world of ours, but it's utterly beyond all redemption, it's off the charts alien. We have no instrumental uses for the place, it's not worth a dime, it's way past each, all and every standard of Earthly ruin. But it's a world, all right. It's just great that we've got it together to take a coherent interest in such things. *Kind of a minority taste of mine there, but it's kind of like the minority taste for a really great vintage Barolo. "Weird red wine from some rural village I never heard of? Who cares?" Then you have a sip of a great Barolo and it immediately transforms your backward personality. Two bottles later, and you're a more civilized human being. You never go back, either. You get stretched by the experience and you grow. *The good life is like that.
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