inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #26 of 156: Matthew McClure (mmc) Tue 4 Jan 11 12:47
    
Two things I thought were notable in 2010 were the passing of Chambers
Johnson (*Blowback*, *The Sorrows of Empire*, *Nemesis*) and the
meeting in Cancún.

Johnson was very good at tracing - and decrying - the increasing
militarism and imperialism of the USA. I think his passing leaves an
empty niche that I hope gets filled.

Cancún didn't produce much in terms of specifics but did illustrate
that leadership on world-changing matters like climate change is more
likely to come from people like Mexico's Felipe de Jesus Calderon
Hinojosa than from Barack Obama.

Pursuant to George's <16>, Bill McKibben had a very eloquent argument
in *Mother Jones*:

"If we let this planet warm much longer, scientists tell us that we'll
lose forever the chance of getting back to 350. That means we'll lose
forever the basic architecture of our planet with its frozen poles.
Already the ocean is turning steadily more acidic; already the
atmosphere is growing steadily wetter, which means desertifying
evaporation in arid areas and downpour and deluge elsewhere."
(http://bit.ly/gWh9XJ)

Happy New Year!
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #27 of 156: Matthew McClure (mmc) Tue 4 Jan 11 13:17
    
Oops, meant Chalmers Johnson, not Chambers, in <26>. More of a mindo
than a typo.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #28 of 156: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 4 Jan 11 13:50
    
I know the feeling. Fat-synapsed it. 
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #29 of 156: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 11 15:25
    
Here's a Chalmers Johnson quote:

"In Blowback, I set out to explain why we are hated around the world.
The concept "blowback" does not just mean retaliation for things our
government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to
retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out
abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This
means that when the retaliation comes -- as it did so spectacularly on
September 11, 2001 -- the American public is unable to put the events
in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against
the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet
another cycle of blowback."

Hearing something like that from someone of his background reminds me
how woefully ignorant we inherently must be of the state of the world
we're here to discuss. Journalism is deceptive - you get facts, but no
truth.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #30 of 156: la brujaja (zorca) Tue 4 Jan 11 18:57
    
with all this talk in america of founders' intentions, i've been going back
and rereading a bit. it's bracing/terrifying to read james madison, for
instance:

"If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of
fighting a foreign enemy."

we must look so foolish (and pompous) to those abroad. any advice for those
of us still clinging to the hope that democracy can be reignited here?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #31 of 156: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 4 Jan 11 20:09
    
From off-WELL reader karger@mit.edu:

You mentioned the need for people to address climate change
themselves.  An interesting effort for that is underway at
<http://climatecolab.org/>

Question: while information is now easily accessible, people still
show an amazing tendency to believe things that said information shows
to be false (cf. climate change).  Is there any hope that this will
change?  Will the web evolve into an instrument that causes people to
become better informed?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #32 of 156: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 11 01:43
    
In the intro to this talk, we say this is the 11th annual State of the
World talk, but there was a 12th, in January 2000, called "Bruce
Sterling: A Viridian Future." (Just wanted to correct the record - we
had two different numbers in the air.)

Also a reminder that anyone can send a comment or question for this
discussion to inkwell at well.com, and a host of the Inkwell conference
will post it here.

Finally, note that Bruce in in Belgrade, several hours ahead of the
U.S., ostensibly sleeping while the rest of us are posting.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #33 of 156: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 11 02:05
    
Quick insomniac response to karger at mit.edu, above:

You ask if the web will evolve into an instrument that keeps people
better informed, and I refer you to my post above where I say
"Journalism is deceptive - you get facts, but no truth." While that may
have been an overstatement, it's relevant to your question. With the
web we have an explosion of information, more and more "facts"
delivered to more and more people, but a glut of information can
obscure the truth, rather than reveal it. Access to information isn't
the same as access to understanding, to wisdom. People can be on fire
with bad facts, or misguided interpretations of facts. A robust
information environment invites robust propaganda techniques. At the
same time we see Internet adoption increasing, we see increased
political polarization, due in part to astroturf engines spewing
political lies and disinformation.

To your specific point, industries that could be adversely impacted by
viable responses to anthropogenic climate change, and others who see
climate change as a liberal plot to bring more regulation to "free"
markets, are forcefully spreading doubt that climate change is related
to human activity, or that climate change is even happening (harder to
argue when polar ice caps are melting and weather effects are
increasingly evident). The issue's heavily politicized and
propagandized, and I would argue that it's easier to mislead within
today's robust, complex information environment than it might have been
in a simpler and more limited information environment with channels
dominated by a few real experts and a more constrained debate.  We need
a whole new kind of literacy to extract real understanding from the
complex 21st century media matrix. (I'm looking forward to the book
Howard Rheingold's writing on the subject of digital literacy.)
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #34 of 156: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 11 06:17
    
From John Ohno, via Facebook: "The focus appears to be on physical
technologies that help with increasing the signal to noise ratio by
filtering out the noise, but historically, that has been the job of
social technologies (by which I mean things like money, government, and
table manners). Perhaps social technologies could be leveraged in the
context of avoiding the kinds of problems that we are getting with the
pollution of google alert results, etc., especially if our social tech
is not then standardized and reimplemented in the form of a physical
technology (like twitter's 'retweet' becoming a button -- a monoculture
is much easier to subvert, and physical tech tends to be both less
mutable and more likely to be made universal than equivalent social
tech)."
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #35 of 156: Man proposes. Man (God?)disposes (robertflink) Wed 5 Jan 11 07:15
    
The forgoing prompted some questions I can't resist.

How do we increase diversity, freedom, opportunity, etc while
developing the never-before-existing common perceptions and cooperative
actions on a world scale over long periods of time that seems to be
required to address global problems of concern?  

I fail to see how a system truly capable of addressing these global
problems would be run well by creatures that have been historically
shown to be susceptible to the seductions of power.  

Is virtual omnipotence sobering for humans?  Even gods seem to have
had trouble here.

Is the cure much worse than the disease?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #36 of 156: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 5 Jan 11 08:05
    
We can take some comfort in discussing the State of the World, rather
than the state of the USA.

Back in the 90s, when I was travelling in Europe, I used to get a lot
of  eager queries about the USA.  What's new over there, what are you
doing with your lives and your riches and your technology, why is your
government like that?    This was considered a matter of urgency, and
most Europeans I met, who were naturally from techie, artsy and
literary circles, held views of America that were surprisingly like
contemporary paranoid  Tea Party views.  They had interestingly wacky
private theologies about the Pentagon, the CIA, Wall Street, the
malignant military-industrial complex and so forth...  Not that they
ever bothered to find out much about the factual operation of these
bodies.  Stilll,  they were sure that the USA really mattered.

Nowadays, the Europeans are just not all that concerned about Yankees.
 They don't ask; they're incurious about America, they are blase'. 
Being an American in Europe now is rather like being a Canadian, and
it's trending toward being a Brazilian.  

Americans are much rarer in Europe,  due to the cost of the euro.  
Wikileaks or no Wikileaks, there's no sense that that USA has any
particular agency in Europe or the world, other than the usual oil and
Moslems.  There's no global American agenda that matters to anyone
much.  Civil rights?  Free expression?  "Winds of freedom and
democracy?"  Aw come on!

People in Europe were extremely scared when the USA invaded Iraq, but
now that the paper tiger is stuck there, they no longer fret much. 
People in the USA are certainly upset about the visible decline of the
USA, but if you look at the US from a European perspective, the USA
isn't doing anything very alarming or even interesting.  It's a big
country, yes, but it's a peaceful, stagnant, slothful country. 

 There are no riots or violent street marches in America.  There
aren't any assassinations, which America used to be so famous for. 
Militias are nonexistent.  There are no coups brewing.  

There's zero in the way to effective dissidence about the American
ultrarich and the moguls in the banking system.   The American Left is
completely enfeebled and without one creative idea in its head, and the
American Right is delusionary; it's not a violent, nationalist, scary
right-wing, it's a bunch of fat southern guys listening to Glenn Beck
and denying evolution.  

The US is broke.   So they can't buy anything from people; they're not
selling anything that people want, except for guns and iPhones. 
There's just not a lot of reasons for foreigners to exercise any
hostility against the US, or even care what the beached whale is doing
one way or the other.

American soft power is vanishing.  Foreigners are much less interested
in American television,  movies, pop music...    America once had a
tremendous hammerlock on those expensive channels of distribution, but
those old analog megaphones don't matter  half as much in today's
network society.    

The USA has become a big banana republic; in other words,  it's come
to behave like other countries quite normally behave.  The upside is
that we don't get blamed for what happens; the downside is, nothing
much happens. Decay and denial. Gothic High Tech.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #37 of 156: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 5 Jan 11 08:05
    
With that said about the USA, I kind of worry about the Europeans.  I
know them better now than I used to, and the bloom is off the rose
there for me.  One always knew, as an American, that you were in old
societies, but the gaudy tumult at the end of the Cold War disguised
that.  

     Now the Europeans really do seem to be acting old -- not
delusionary and bewildered, like the USA, but elderly, crotchety.  Bent
over their knitting.
 

      Without Americans and Soviets around to boss and screech at
them, the Europeans are obsessed with immigration and internal
minorities.  It's all about the lazy, job-stealing Polish plumber or
the North African guy next door who killed a goat in his bathtub....  

 Obviously immigration is a big deal for small, relatively homogenous
societies with big language and heritage issues.  But something about
this pervasive anxiety  really makes contemporary Europeans seem feeble
and small-minded.    These used to be massive, globe-spanning,
imperial states.  Even in the Cold War, they were at least the major
pieces on the planetary chessboard.  Now you can ask what the glorious
European Project is about, and it's  mostly about a cushy retirement
for what's left of their managerial class.  Europe's younger generation
is getting one of the rawest deals you can imagine.  

Then there's Brazil.  Oh boy!
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #38 of 156: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 5 Jan 11 08:06
    

People in the discussion here have been fretting about violence. 
Brazil is incredibly violent.  Murder rates are sky high.  The most
popular movie in the country is a gritty cop shoot-'em called "Elite
Troop" which is all about green-beret types fighting the drug gangsters
in major Brazilian cities.  It like a drug-fueled class war or a
class-fueled drug war, take your pick.  The violence is on television
all the time too, in bars, hotel lobbies, it's a Vietnam level of
rat-a-tat-tat.

Obviously this drug violence is not going to go away in Brazil. 
They're not going to beat it with helicopters and Iraq-style house
raids.  The demand for the drugs isn't going away, and the favelas have
an infinite supply of young outcastes.  

    There's also kidnapping and burglary as thriving enterprises.  But
if one asks if Brazil matters these days, if its trade is expanding,
its influence rising, if is government  is nationally or
internationally effective, the level of violence in Brazil scarcely
comes up as an issue.

      Obviously the violence matters plenty if you yourself get shot
or mugged or robbed, but in geopolitical terms, it's just not very much
of a problem.  Even as a problem, it's a puzzling business.  

I went into a favela in Sao Paulo, because I had some friends who knew
a guy there who was a kind of left-wing crime writer type.  This was
an exceedingly interesting visit, and I naturally imagined, "wow, we're
heading for a genuine favela,  this is gonna be a menacing journey
full of crack-fueled tough guys.  Then we moseyed into the favela and
it was basically a nursery.  It was full of little kids.  

      Our writer friend showed us a kindergarten he was sponsoring. 
It was impossible to come across all Mickey Spillane when you were
being followed around, by dewy-eyed curious four-year-olds.  They were
born there.  They lived there.

     Our host had two major beefs about his native favela, (a), the
drugs, which he doesn't consume and (b) police death squads showing up
in plainclothes packs and icing any teenage male on a motorbike. 
Because having enough cash to own a motorbike is prima facie evidence
of favela drug money.  Also, tough kids on bikes with pistols can zoom
over toward the police station and return fire.  Obviously that won't
do.
   
       I believed him.  I'm quite sure he was telling the truth.  The
favela is in the grip of the dope trade and summary executions.  It's a
fact, but as far as me myself being in the favela, obviously the
locals could give a damn.  They didn't care.  They couldn't have been
more politely indifferent.   They're not some kind of supernatural
ultramenace from Mars, they're big-city poor people in improvised
housing.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #39 of 156: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 5 Jan 11 08:07
    

      Later, in Brasilia, the wife and I were idly  strolling down the
major boulevard when some female bureaucrat made us as tourists.  She
busybodied on up to us and in excellent English, she urged us to get
off the streets and hide our shoulder bags.  Because we might get
robbed.  

    Robbed, in broad daylight, in the streets of the capital of
Brazil.  We were two strolling pedestrians in a colossal empty
street... More like an endless plaza, really, a kind of Brazilian Tian
An Men...  And the question is, you know, robbed by WHOM?  Robbed HOW? 
There wasn't a soul around.   Just us.  And her, trying to clue us in
about the crime terror.

    I could envision getting robbed at the local bus station, which
was maybe four colossal blocks away, because if you're a thief, you can
grab the bag, hand it to a confederate, jump on two buses and split
the loot later...  but nobody walks across vast areas of empty space
and sticks up a foreigner.  That's just not practical.  That's not how
crime works.

     "There's nobody here to help us," my wife observed, gazing around
us at the urban abyss all spooked,  but how was it even possible to be
afraid of  nobody?  There was no threat.   

      So, basically, it was the two of us who were the issue-- two
people talking English and rubbernecking.  Rulebreakers.   This
apparatchik woman was trying to chide us into a taxi, so we would stay
out of trouble.   We ourselves were the trouble: in much the way that a
dorky guy who fails to take off his shoes in the airport terrorspace
is a menace to propriety.   

       In reality, nobody was going to hurt us.   We were stout and
sober and fresh from Belgrade.  We could probably curb-stomp most
Brasilia purse-snatchers, unless they knew capoeira.  

         I still wonder about it.  

       Just suppose, for some reason, that Al Qaeda had hijacked three
Brazilian airplanes and attacked the tallest buildings in Sao Paulo
and the defense ministry in Brasilia.  That would have been shocking,
and everyone would have expressed regret and anger and sent blood
donations, and by now everyone would have forgotten all about it.  It
would have been a freakish oddity, and by now Brazil would be just
fine, as Brazilian as ever, and no more daunted by that incident than a
rubber sandal by a pebble.  "Violence."  Yeah, right.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #40 of 156: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 5 Jan 11 09:29
    
How do you see the global shift in power and development - the
BRICI's(Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia)? We've been talking
about Robert Kaplan's Monsoon and Ian Morris' Why The West Rules - For
Now here on the WELL. They both seem to think the new Great Game is
the Indian Ocean region, from East Africa to Malaysia and Java and
argue that it's not a question of if, but when - varying from 2050 to
2100. Are time and tech going to speed things up so quickly as to make
that kind of global power shift?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #41 of 156: KUMBAYISTA! (smendler) Wed 5 Jan 11 11:44
    
>>This apparatchik woman was trying to chide us into a taxi, so we
would stay out of trouble.

Maybe the trouble was waiting inside the taxi... (2010 was the year
Brunner used for STAND ON ZANZIBAR, right? With its pseudo-cabs?) I
might think this is emblematic of something: the folks "warning you of
danger" may have nefarious intent themselves. How do you know whom to
trust?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #42 of 156: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 11 13:12
    
I gave a talk about the history and future of the Internet at a local
coworking facility today, and I was thinking how serene and attentive
everyone seemed. No sense of angst in the room. A bunch of freelancers
eager to learn more about the network that's become a foundation for
their way of life. We take the network for granted, like indoor
plumbing, running water, and central air.

The future of the Internet isn't science fiction, in fact it's rather
mundane. "Augmented reality" sounds sexy, and it's useful, but it's
really nuts and bolts and geocodes. Almost boring to think about. All
the standards and patterns for life online are pretty well established;
I'm having trouble thinking what would knock my socks off at this
point. 

A couple of weeks ago I saw The Eggmen, a Beatles cover band here in
Austin, perform "I Am the Walrus" with strings, every note in place,
and I thought how much of life is like being in a cover band, trying to
hit the right notes, make that perfect replication of what went
before. 
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #43 of 156: david gault (dgault) Wed 5 Jan 11 13:18
    

>make that perfect replication of what went
 before.

In my little neck of the internet woods, we automate to achieve 
that goal.   
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #44 of 156: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 5 Jan 11 14:39
    
Sylvia is knocking my socks off at the moment...an AI personal digital
assistant. I love it. Should be ready for public release
soon...http://vimeo.com/4234956
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #45 of 156: Gene Gallagher (gallaghergene) Wed 5 Jan 11 15:38
    
I guess this is no news or old news, but I must chime in with a couple
of commentary bits:

-guy in CA tells me that he notices a real shortage of ammo at gun
shows recently.

-Bakersfield, where even real Mexicans speak English with Oakie
accents, has a sizable, prosperous and enterprising Sikh population
that includes some American converts.

Am I off-subject? I don't know.
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #46 of 156: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 5 Jan 11 17:16
    
More from off-WELL reader karger@mit.edu:

Jon, I agree with your point about the need for a new information 
literacy.  But there's a big challenge for this kind of literacy: 
apparently, people don't want it.  There's plenty of evidence that 
people use the Web selectively to confirm their prejudices rather than
seek the truth.
<http://www.suite101.com/content/we-are-all-biased-mental-filters-a325376>
<http://social.cs.uiuc.edu/papers/pdfs/hicss09-echo-gilbert.pdf>
   Traditionally, those who were illiterate may have been too 
embarrassed to admit it, but the benefits of literacy were widely 
recognized.  It doesn't look like that's the case for this new 
literacy.  If people don't care, can the right skills ever spread?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #47 of 156: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 5 Jan 11 17:17
    
And from justin.pickard@gmail.com:

It's been a tough year for the Europe, a continent haunted by the
spectre of defaulting PIGS. With Bruce in Belgrade, and Serbia poised
to join the EU in the next 3-4 years, I find myself wondering what it's
like looking in from the outside. Europe was the future once: a
low-key future of soft power, cities of culture, and Large Hadron
Colliders. In 2008, Bruce said there were days he found himself
thinking that "the EU is more likely to become Google than it is to
become a state." Does this still stand?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #48 of 156: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 11 19:32
    
Responding to David Karger: Good point re resistance to digital
literacy; my thought is that we have to teach it K-12, and it'll take
time. And we have to define digital literacy before we teach it - I'm
hoping Howard's book will be part of that solution. 

Seth Mnookin, author of "The Panic Virus," speaking on CNN, just
pointed out that there are still people who believe the world is flat. 
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #49 of 156: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 6 Jan 11 02:35
    
"The Sikhs of Bakersfield."  Wasn't that a really cool Dwight Yoakam
song?
  
inkwell.vue.400 : State of the World 2011: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #50 of 156: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 6 Jan 11 03:06
    
Things haven't been looking great for the EU as a 'state.'  It's not
Google, either.  Despite its elected parliament, it's more a protocol
than a state.  You obey the EU standards and they make you look
European, and if you do that long enough, then they let you play.  But
the game as a whole isn't evolving much.

It became a really big deal here in Belgrade when the Schengen travel
barrier dropped for Serbia.  It felt like a matter of hours before this
crooked corner of the Balkans stopped being a cyberpunk dystopia and
turned into a paranormal romance.  

A lot of European investors showed up -- not enough to avert a minor
downturn, but some did come, and with money -- and it was startling to
see a Serbian re-branding charm offensive breaking out at the airport
and the major hotels.  Suddenly Serbia, this notorious cockpit of
ethnic mayhem, was all about rosy-cheeked madchens in hand-knitted
aprons out in the blooming apple orchards.  Serbia was even an
eco-resort.

Serbian media, which used to be noted for its virulent
party-controlled tabloids and its edgy, hardcore-alternative
dissidence, really isn't about much of anything now.  It's about tennis
stars and water polo and celebrity couples.  This week I saw Marina
Abramovic, globally notorious Serbian nutcase self-scarring performance
artist, wearing lipstick and a pretty hat on the cover of ELLE.  Yeah,
the bourgeois, ladylike Marina Abramovic!  Man, if they can calm ol'
Marina down, anything's possible.

In short, Serbia's becoming a European backwater instead of a hideout
for crazed refuseniks.

The other big change here is the growing Russian influence.  The
Russians had cash and the Serbs sold off a lot of infrastructure to
them; the Russian alliance is the ace in the hole in case Europe gets
all obstreperous.  

There's also a growing Turkish influence.  Serbs hate Turks and
vice-versa, but there's some kind of tacit alliance there between
former-Ottoman powers that are on the fringe of Europe and not allowed
in it.

It's been ten years since the war.  That's a pretty good long time,
even by Balkan standards.  People are aces here at nourishing
resentments, but nowadays they seem more worried about 1389 than 1999. 
Serbia is no longer a tortured, crooked, postwar province of a wrecked
country... it's becoming just a weird little country with a dark but
receding past.

I never thought it would be relaxing to come here, but now I have a
quieter new apartment in a rather more leafy and spacious part of the
city, and, you know, it IS relaxing.  
  

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