Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talk in Boston

I'll give a talk and Q&A on QUIDNON at the Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA at 8pm on Thursday, May 4th. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Obsolete Maps, Unfamililiar Landscapes

In his recent blog post, A Matter of Mercy, James Howard Kunstler compared the common state of mind of the USA to that of an Alzheimer’s patient. Themes pop up in the news and mass media mouthpieces wax hysterical about them. Then, abruptly, their mouth music stops, and thème du jour vanishes from view. “Russian meddling” in the US presidential election made a lot of noise; and then… crickets. Moving right along, there was an alleged chemical attack in Syria (of which there is still no verifiable evidence); therefore, “Assad must pay” (by having a handful of unused 30-year-old jets blown up). Awkwardly, only about a third of the very expensive Tomahawk cruise missiles manage to reach the target (the wrong end of an airfield). Even more awkwardly, the Russians take this opportunity to show off their previously top secret electronic warfare equipment. And then the story dies (just as the US refuses to authorize an investigation into the chemical attack). And then it’s on to North Korea. And so on, endlessly.

Kunstler makes the point that the national dialogue in the US is plumbing the depths of senility: disturbing images flash across the screen; some number of supposedly well informed and right-thinking people make loud harrumphing noises about them along the lines that “something must be done,” and then… nothing! That, indeed, is what we have been observing. But what are the root causes of this serial national amnesia? Even if it looks like senility, may this be just a symptom of an entirely different national ailment? After all, not everyone in the US is senile… A much better explanation is not hard to find. Let’s delve.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ridiculously versatile

The world is full of boats that do just one thing quite well. QUIDNON is not one of them: it does a great number of things adequately and just one thing ridiculously well.

Ocean yachts are designed for ocean cruising and racing. They make poor houseboats due to lack of space. They can’t go through shallows because they have a keel. They don’t make good canal boats because their masts can’t pass under low bridges. They require a crane or a Travelift for hauling them out for maintenance. They are expensive. They are also quite slow. They can’t carry much freight.

Motor boats are sometimes big enough to make good houseboats. They are either unable to make long ocean passages because of their limited range, or they are expensive to take on ocean passages because of fuel costs. They can go faster than sailing yachts, but then their fuel consumption becomes quite ridiculous. When used as houseboats, their large engines make a poor investment. They also require a crane or a Travelift for maintenance. Some of them can carry a considerable amount of freight, but this makes them slower and increases the fuel consumption.

Houseboats are either houses built on floats or boats that can’t handle rough water. They are reasonable to live on and can be used on rivers and canals, but they can’t venture out on the ocean, never mind make ocean passages. They don’t carry freight.

Houses are great to live in—much roomier than any boat. But they do have two major shortcomings: they don’t move, and they don’t float. This is increasingly a problem: lots of houses are lost to flooding every year, and the toll will only go up as oceans rise and extreme weather events associated with climate change become more frequent. If an area where you have built a house becomes unpleasant or dangerous, you can’t just move the house but have find yourself a new dwelling.

Boats do float, but with most boats nobody particularly wants to live on them on dry land. On land, both yachts and power boats have to be put up on jacks, and then living on them is like living in a treehouse, with a long climb up a ladder just to get home. If a flood causes them to float off the jacks, they are unlikely to settle back onto them. Instead, they fall over and get damaged. Then they don’t float any more.

Houseboats generally do better on dry land than other kinds of boats. The Dutch have built some houses on barges that are designed to float up and down. When the water is low, they bicycle home; when the water is high, they row a dinghy. That’s a good idea in a country that’s mostly under water. But I haven’t heard too many stories about people living on houseboats on dry land.

QUIDNON is specifically designed to do a great number of things adequately.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Announcing: QUIDNON Crowdfunding Campaign

For the next month or so we will be trying to raise money to build the first QUIDNON. If you want to see this project realized, please consider making a contribution.

We have t-shirts, posters and books for those who donate.

And if you donate $500 or more (USD) we will do our best to deduct the amount of your donation from the price of your eventual order of the QUIDNON kit (if and when it becomes available).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Mystery of American Violence

In a recent article, Paul Craig Roberts examined the violence unleashed on the world by a succession of recent US presidential administrations. Most of these acts were either partly or entirely illegal under international law, and all of them without exception were initiated with bogus justifications. Roberts concludes that “Washington is a collection of morons, people stupid below the meaning of ‘stupid’.” Yet he himself sounds dumbfounded: “What is the reason for all the death and destruction and the flooding of the West with refugees from the West’s naked violence? We don’t know.” The only rationale he can find is that “…violence is what America is. There is nothing else there. Violence is the heart of America.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Groundhog Day in Syria

When listening to people you shouldn’t necessarily trust (because, for instance, they are known to be liars) it is very important to try to assess whether or not they are lying. And so it is with the representatives of the US government and their counterparts in the EU: they have lied about a great many things in the past; are they lying about Syria now? They lied about the Gulf of Tonkin and used these lies to start the Vietnam war. They lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and used that to justify the invasion of Iraq. They lied about humanitarian disasters in Kosovo and in Libya, and used these to dismember Serbia and to destroy Libya. And so a good, conservative starting point is to assume that the Americans are lying, then search for evidence that would indicate that this time they might be telling the truth. Let’s take a close look.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

QUIDNON: A Guided Tour

There are lots of exciting developments for this project. First, we are zeroing in on the design, putting the finishing touches on various pieces. Second, we are about to announce the crowdfunding campaign to the world, so stay tuned.

In this post I will provide a look at all the more important elements of the design by presenting and narrating detailed views of the 3D model.

We start our tour underwater, as a scuba diver would, approaching a floating QUIDNON from below.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Demiurge and the Banality of Evil

During my recent book tour to promote my book Shrinking the Technosphere there were several occasions when I found myself hard-pressed to answer a simple question: “But what is the technosphere, really?” Calling it is an “emergent intelligence” sounds highly intellectual but doesn’t answer the question of what physical entity, if any, possesses that intelligence. Saying that it is a generalized property of human minds bolstered by such things as internet servers and robots again misses the mark: how can a property have an agenda—which is to pursue an abstract teleology of infinite growth and total control? At one point I ventured that the technosphere could be conceived of as a spirit, and that its influence on the human minds it holds captive could be characterized as a sort of demonic possession.

Let’s keep in mind that however we choose to characterize it, be it as “emergent intelligence” or as “demonic possession,” we are still completely reliant on metaphors. And since one metaphor may very well be worth another, it seems worthwhile to ask which metaphor happens to be more effective and accurate. This is bound to vary by audience: those who are cerebral, agnostic and try to find out about the world by reading nonfiction (and perhaps science fiction) probably find the term “emergent intelligence” more palatable than “demonic possession” while those who feel their way through life might think that things invisible are all of one nature whether they sound scientific or unscientific.

And so, following on the last post, which explored the confines of what is known about “the guy who created the universe” in this one we test the limits of what can be achieved by considering the technosphere as a demiurge. We will again do our best to adhere to anaphatic theology, which relies on what can be observed and reasoned about rather than on the creative outputs of revelation, prophesy, imagination, wild fancy or plain old lunacy.

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