Archive for November, 2009


Monday, November 30th, 2009

Years from now, Dubai will be seen as the symbol of the age that’s drawing to a close: a massive white elephant in the desert, totally unsustainable in the era of peak oil—and totally embedded in denial while everything falls down around its ears. The Independent has published a magnificent expose of the Arabian Disneyland, underscoring the extent to which the whole place is (basically) a slave-state with medieval laws that imprisons immigrant workers and deports dissenters while degrading its environment to dangerous levels, particularly when the cash runs out.

Which is of course what’s happening now, as Dubai’s debt-crisis gives the lie to any notion that the global economy is on the path to recovery.  The sad truth is that we pretty much sidestepped taking our medicine earlier this year, particularly when Obama put the same people in charge of the economy who had done so much to wreck it.  Dubai is the accelerating sinkhole in our cozy illusions . . . . and as James Kunstler notes, civilizations build their most extreme monuments at the very moment of their collapse.  The desert will ultimately do to Dubai what it did to Ozymandias, only the resultant poetry is unlikely to be anywhere near as good.

Taking the temperature

Friday, November 27th, 2009

“Climategate” is, obviously, a PR debacle of the first magnitude. It’s also a first-class piece of agitprop—faced with the reality of a U.S. presidential administration finally getting onto the AGW bandwagon, global warming skeptics have been running scared for some time now. Dropping this bombshell on the eve of Copenhagen is aimed at the one audience that might still intervene to save them—the U.S. Congress, which will have to ratify anything Obama signs in Denmark . . .and which is now going to be that much less likely to do so, given the confusion that the revelation of these emails is going to cause.

Climate scientists haven’t helped themselves either–as the Guardian points out, the response of the University of East Anglia was nothing short of hare-brained.  And Jones et. al. should be resigning pronto instead of acting like this is all much ado about nothing.  They’ve done tremendous damage to their own cause, all the more so as the science beneath all of it remains fundamentally sound.  Marine biologist and SF maestro Peter Watts provides good context in this regard.

Not that global warming deniers were ever really that worried about the evidence in the first place.  Their core ideology centers around a conspiracy-laden meme whereby climate scientists and bureaucrats systematically falsify and distort evidence as part of a master plan to gather us all into One World Government.  Climategate will play into their hands, fueling what Hofstadter once called the “paranoid style” in American politics.  What’s particularly interesting about those who propound this meme is that they want to have it both ways:  they see themselves as insurgents fighting a corrupt system, when the truth of the matter is that they’ve been running that system for decades now.  We can read their hysteria as the product of their anxiety at being forced from power.  And their propaganda has been nothing if not effective, causing people who should know better to deride environmentalism itself as a “religion” . . . . as though the idea that decades of sustained industrial activity might impact the world’s climate is somehow on a par with believing in invisible sky fairies or the transmutation of bread into the flesh of some dead god.  Pulling off this hack on East Anglia constitutes their masterpiece.  The result is nothing short of catastrophic.

China’s growing space power

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Ah, the contrast between the U.S. and Chinese space programs. The Space Shuttle is due to be retired next year, even as budget pressures intensify for its Constellation/Ares successor.  Meanwhile, China continues to forge ahead with plans for a lunar rover by 2012, a manned space station by 2020, and a taikonaut on the Moon shortly after that.  It’s tempting to read this as a tale of two empires—one rising and the other in decline.  But I’ve got a funny feeling that should the Chinese actually get hardware onto the lunar surface, the U.S. space program might receive the kick in the ass that’s been so long overdue. After all, the only reason we got to the Moon in the first place was because Sputnik scared us shitless.  It’s a little sad that when you get down to it, the best reason for getting into space we’ve ever managed to find is that the other guy is doing it. . . . but the coming space race is likely to be a lot more intense than the one that occurred during the Cold War, because this time each side has the capability to field maturing space weaponry. China’s antisat test from two years back still reverberates, while the U.S. directed energy weaponry program continues to make strides.

But the next few years are likely to be all China’s, and the contrast between the two publics couldn’t be more stark.  Space launches over there are big news, whereas here they’re pretty much a non-event, unless something blows up or astronauts die.  And China has the added advantage of not having to worry about civilian vs. military coordination—the Chinese space program integrates the two (an advantage of dictatorships).  Ironically, right now the U.S. is in a similar position to pre-modern Ming China back in the 14th century, when they scrapped their vast exploration fleets to focus on internal considerations.  Indeed, there’s (disputed) evidence that China reached America first . . . just as centuries from now, it might seem like a curiosity of history that Americans walked on the Moon decades before China set up shop there permanently.

When your gun says no

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I don’t know what’s cooler, a story about black box guns, or the fact that the title namechecks Judge Dredd.

But what I do know is this.  Eventually there will be three types of guns:

1.  Legacy guns dating back to the age when guns didn’t contain tracking/override electronics.

2.  Federal-controlled guns whereby Uncle Sam gets to decide if you can have another shot.

3.  Hacked guns

2. and 3. of course will be tough to tell apart.  This is going to be fun.

Water on the Moon

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

From today’s news.


So at the end of Moon there’s a labyrinth. At the end of that labyrinth’s a chamber. That chamber wasn’t built by man. It’s been there since this rock cooled. It contains the most valuable thing in this world.

“Water,” says Sarmax.

He steps into the light. His armor looks pretty beat-up. It’s been burned almost black. He walks toward the ramp’s edge.

“Come again?” says the Operative.

“Water,” repeats Sarmax.  “Or should I say:  ice.”

“My latest fortune,” replies Sarmax.

He stops just short of the edge—gestures at the sloped walls. He looks back at the Operative. He smiles. He’s so close the Operative can see teeth through visor.

“You’re a resourceful man,” he says quietly.

“It’s just too bad that such resourcefulness has to compensate for such lack of planning,” continues Sarmax. “Such a goddamn shame it’s forced to rely so heavily on pure luck. You almost brought the roof down on your stupid head, Carson. It’s a wonder you didn’t get buried in those tunnels.”

“Would that have been such a terrible outcome?” says the Operative.

“Now that,” says Sarmax, “depends on your point of view.” He gestures at the ramps and ladders stacked about him. “You see before you the industry of a new era, Carson. We live in the dawn times, old friend. Humanity is poised to boil out beyond the Earth-Moon system. The red planet will be colonized en masse within the next two decades. The prospectors are even now testing the tug of the gas giants. The Oort is surrendering her secrets to the probes. It’s all there for the taking. And it all makes me say I don’t give a fuck if you take me down. I don’t give a damn about the Rain or anybody else. Let them squabble. Let them plot. What does it matter when history itself is coming into focus?”

Congratulations, NASA.  May we make it back to that rock yet.

Brazil, the blackouts, and Russian nukes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

It takes an event like the Brazilian blackouts to bring home the banality of Twitter, where the event barely registered amidst the maelstrom of posts on New Moon and Captain Zeep. But the incidents can be seen as good evidence of just how rickety a lot of the developing world’s infrastructure is getting under the pressure of growth.  With its regional power status—and hosting of both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016—Brazil will be more in the limelight than most, at least until the developed world starts sharing a similar problem.  At which point we’ll be too deep in our own energy/infrastructure mess to worry about those of others, especially since it turns out that peak oil is coming even faster than we thought, with reports that world oil estimates have been drastically inflated.  In the meantime, we’re grabbing all the kilowattage we can lay our hands on. . . .for example, did you realize that 10% of the U.S. power supply right now comes from dismantled Russian nukes?  The spoils of empire indeed.

UPDATE:  killer blackout pix.

Happy Veterans Day

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
--Rudyard Kipling