Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Strangeness and Multi-Worlds

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual.The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community."--William James

Fifty years ago this month Hugh Everett III published his paper proposing a "relative-state formulation of quantum mechanics" - the idea subsequently described as the 'many worlds' or 'multiverse' interpretation. Its impact on science and culture continues. In celebration, a science fiction special edition of Nature on 5 July 2007 explores the symbiosis of science and sf, as exemplified by Everett's hypothesis, its birth, evolution, champions and opponents, in biology, physics, literature and beyond.

Though I always found it weird that in this one case a sci fi idea pronounced by a grad student was so thoroughly embraced by the physics community, making his rep for life.

And while we’re discussing weird ideas from physics... Richard Gott’s infuriating, thought-provoking, “Copernican” approach to predicting that humanity has 5,000 more years. (I’ve seen the same kind of analysis give us just twenty years, or less. huh.)

Speaking of many worlds, I highly recommend the latest book to ponder the topic of “where is everybody out there?” Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials was written by former senior U.S. diplomat Michael A.G. Michaud, who chaired the committees that developed the well-regarded “SETI Protocols.” I served with Micahaerl on those committees...

...until they unraveled, just this last year, under the strain of the increasingly tense METI imbroglio, or the debate over whether humanity (or rather, a few peremptory individuals) should start shouting into a strange and dauntingly silent universe. An excellent book, covering these issues from many angles!

See also my collected articles on SETI vs METI.

==Changing Times==

The Arlington Institute issued this warning: The era of cheap food is over. The price of corn (maize) hasdoubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. Thefood price index in India has risen 11 percent in one year, and in Mexicoin January there were riots after the price of corn flour (used in makingthe staple food of the poor, tortillas) went up fourfold. Even in thedeveloped countries food prices are going up, and they are not going tocome down again.

Cheap food lasted for only fifty years. Before the Second World Warmost families in the developed countries spent a third or more of theirincome on food (as the poor majority in developing countries still do). Butafter the war a series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the GreenRevolution, raised agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long,steep fall in the real price of food. For the global middle class, it wasthe Good Old Days, with food taking only a tenth of their income. It will probably be back up to a quarter within a decade, and itmay go much higher than that, because we are entering a period when threeseparate factors are converging to drive food prices up. The first issimply demand. Not only is the global population continuing to grow (aboutan extra Turkey or Vietnam every year), but as Asian economies race aheadmore and more people in those populous countries are starting to eatsignificant amounts of meat.

An experiment in viral hit measurement! A bright young SF author, Jeff Carlson, is about to see his first novel published. We are also writing a book together! He has just posted his very first author web site at www.jverse.com. Now for the experiment. Let’s see how many hits we can generate on Jeff’s site and show how thumping big and influential the Contrary Brin community really is!

President Bush has signed a directive granting extraordinary powers to the office of the president in the event of a declared national emergency, apparently without congressional approval or oversight. The directive establishes under the office of the president a new national continuity coordinator whose job is to make plans for "National Essential Functions" of all federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments, as well as private sector organizations to continue functioning under the president's directives

New Scientist reports a single hydrogen atom has been snipped off a molecule and then added back on again, marking the first time a single chemical bond has been broken and reforged in a controlled, reversible way. The team first used their STM to locate a methylaminocarbyne (CNHCH3) molecule that was fixed to a platinum surface. Then they turned up the voltage, increasing the flow of electrons. That was enough to break one bond – between the molecule's nitrogen and hydrogen atom – but not to disturb any of the other bonds, leaving a molecule of methylisocyanide (CNCH3).

To reverse the process, the group simply bathed the sample in hydrogen gas. The platinum surface catalysed the splitting of the hydrogen molecules into their hydrogen atoms, which reacted with nitrogen in the methylisocyanide molecule to re-form methylaminocarbyne.

Okay, the last part was more classic chemistry, manipulating the surroundings rather than a single site. Still. Wowzer.

DID YOU KNOW THAT...newly discovered fossils show that penguins as tall as 5 feet roamed what is now Peru more than 40 million years ago

There is a growing body of evidence that the Earth's magnetic field is about to disappear, at least for a while. One of those signs is that the strength of the field has been falling by 5% per century recently. Other evidence comes from old navigation records showing that patches of abnormal magnetism have been growing off south-east Africa and in the South Atlantic.

Researchers studying Neanderthal DNA say it should be possible to construct a complete genome of the ancient hominid despite the degradation of the DNA over time. There is also hope for reconstructing the genome of the mammoth and cave bear, according to a research team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

NASA is joining a Japanese team in a space experiment that uses a “reverse origami” tether to keep satellites in their proper orbits, or to return spent rocket stages quickly to Earth. This tether will have to be strong considering its gossamer construction. Looking like a strip of aluminum foil, almost like a tape measure, the tether is 1 km (3280 feet) long, but only 0.05 mm thick and 50 mm (close to 2 inches) wide.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirms that Bush's use of presidential signing statements are, in fact, utterly without precedent. Though they've been used by American presidents for about 200 years, signing statements - edicts issued by the president to declare his intent to construe a provision within a law differently than Congress does - are constitutionally questionable.

Scientists can now sugars ubiquitous in nature to a replacement source for those products that make oil so valuable, with very little of the residual impurities that have made the quest so daunting. The process converts glucose directly in high yields to a primary building block for fuel and polyesters. That building block, called HMF, is a chemical derived from carbohydrates such as glucose and fructose and is viewed as a promising surrogate for petroleum-based chemicals.

A US company is taking plastics recycling to another level – turning them back into the oil they were made from, and gas. All that is needed, claims Global Resource Corporation (GRC), is a finely tuned microwave and – hey presto! – a mix of materials that were made from oil can be reduced back to oil and combustible gas (and a few leftovers). Key to GRC’s process is a machine that uses 1200 different frequencies within the microwave range, which act on specific hydrocarbon materials.

(I thought of this 25 years ago, only with a twist that could take uses FAR beyond the range of just converting hydrocarbons! Anyone know these people or more about them?)

Pathetic "broadband." The median U.S. download speed now is 1.97 megabits per second — a fraction of the 61 megabits per second enjoyed by consumers in Japan. Other speedy countries include South Korea (median 45 megabits), France (17 megabits) and Canada (7 megabits).


Doug S. said...

The thing about the "continuity of government" directive is that things like that have been in place during the whole Cold War and never actually invoked. How is this anything different than the old plans for what to do in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union?

Nate said...

Part of the reason corn prices have gone up lately, at least in the US, is ethanol subsidies. Most of the biodiesel and ethanol methods currently popular use corn, even though corn's really not that great a source for making ethanol. It's just subsidies for the giant corn factory farms.

Hawker Hurricane said...

The cold war version was passed by congress, had provisions for congressional oversight, and allowed congress to decide when the emergency was over.

The president's new one has no allowances for oversight, and no rules for it being ended by anyone but the President.

ErnieG said...

The emergency powers regulations are bad enough demonstrating Another Bush power grab to shore up his concept of a unitary Presidency (Decider or can you say Dictator). But they are a clear instance of the executive writing laws. A big No-No in Article One of that document that is just a piece of paper.

The signing statements I have to disagree, they are and have been since the first President used them a flagrant "written" statement that the President will not "faithfully execute the law". A written confession of breaking trust with his oath. Which is grounds for impeachment. A 'high' crime being breaking your oath and not executing your duties and responsibilities as specified in the "piece of paper".

If the President can not or will not follow the law he can always veto it.

We should eliminate as Nate said the subsidies for ConAgra, Archer Daniels Midland et al.
Cellulosic ethanol is the ticket! Grow Switch Grass a native NA Plains grass or Heaven Forbid HEMP.
The drug Czar recently quoting operations in Shasta Cty CA saying that growing the Old MJ is a terroristic activity.

This is the creeping crime definition blight that allows little old ladies to prosecuted using RICO meant for criminal Organizations (The Mob).

As far as powering up the transmitter and shouting to the universe here I am, that sounds about as smart as walking down a dark alley in a city and talking loudly to your buddy," Wow did you know these hundred dollar bills have Independence hall on the Back".

You might get mugged.

The broadband situation is exacerbated by the telcos. They have successfully outlawed community based initiatives for both wired and WiFi High Speed > 10 Mbits up to 100Mbits in several states. the worst thing is that they got huge tax breaks for a supposed rollout of high speed, example VERIZON in NJ and PA and did not deliver. The tax breaks and rate hikes were to pay for rollout of high speed internet.

I personally experienced the stupidity of Bell Atlantic(VERIZON). In 1996 they went up the street unreeling Fiber Optic and installing what I will call Transformers ( signal converters Glass to Cu). Then 4 months later the company retrenched and decided after seeing how much it cost to do a full rollout in Dover NJ not to follow through. They came down my street and ripped up the Fiber optic and removed the 'Cans' on the telephone poles.

Again this was in >> 1996 << .

So there is one and only one reason ,greed, that we do not have High Speed.

Legislatures bow down to the Golden Calf, which demands they they be profitable.

PCR said...

The link to http://www.jverse.com/ is incorrect (right now it's pointing to http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/www.jverse.com).

Let's get our powerful community pointed the right way!

zorgon the malevolent said...

Dr. Brin, I don't buy the claim that any family in America will spend 25% of its income on food in the foreseeable future. What with agribusiness subsidies, massive economies of scale, and the accelerating use of genetic engineering to produce even hardier strains of insect-resistant and drought-resistant crops, all the available evidence shows that food prices in America will continue to decline -- not rise.

Do you hvae any hard evidence from peer-reviewed scholarly journals to back up your claim that food prices in the developed world will rise 25% of the median annual income?

As for "pathetic broadband" in the U.S. averaging 1.97 megabits -- be glad you can afford broadband. I can't. Broadband is only available in my area at 100$ a month and up. Way up. Like the 50% of Americans who don't live in huge cities, I'm on 56K dialup and will be until I die.

Andrew said...

Speaking of food, Norman Borlaug just received the Congressional Medal of Honor for a lifetime of research into high-yield, disease-resistant wheat. (He can put it on the shelf with his Nobel Peace Prize, Presidential Medal of freedom, and a couple dozen other honors.)

Zechariah said...

I think the "Neanderthal" link is broken as well. Try http://www.sj-r.com/News/stories/9918.asp

I'm glad nobody was talking about cloning one. I'd like to see a cloned mamoth or cave bear, sure, but homonids seem unethical. (the cloning of them, that is, not the homonid itself)

I wonder if we'll ever have a "Pleistocene Park"?

Enterik said...

Putting aside the very real failings of corn as a food crop, I think there is one very clear problem with using plantable land to produce corn ethanol as food for cars. It increases overall demand for corn (and grain in general) and as demand increases so does price. Mind you, we are nowhere close to replacing gasoline with ethanol, even for US consumption and probably won't offset global increases in oil demand.

The USDA figures we are using 20% of our corn to produce ethanol already and that will be at least 25% next year. Trading has heated up the price of corn from $1.86 per bushel in 2005 to $3.32 per bushel today (National Corn Growers Association). This increase in market prices translates directly into higher prices for beef and poultry producers and the producers of any food containing corn (most of what fills the American pantry is corn or corn fed).

It gets worse, now that people are seeing corn ethanol as a combustable alternative to gasoline, the price of corn is influenced by the price of oil, which is not going to go down appreciably.

profit-motivated companies are now creating even more demand by building corn ethanol refineries at a blistering rate and will double capacity by the end of 2007.

Also, now that corn is more profitable, more corn will be planted to take advantage of the market. This means fewer fallow fields, perhaps a switch from other crops to more profitable corn and forest clear cutting in the "underdeveloped" southern hemisphere to get in on the demand.

And with that last point I will stop short of presenting the (intentional?) full thickness burn of grain/corn price increases that will be spurred by America's food for cars culture.

Here at home, the quarter of Americans inhabiting the lower tier of the economy, the burn of higher prices already stings and on its way to scalding; for the three-quarters of us in the upper tier we're holding that hot pan with varying amounts of insulation...

Markbnj said...

Dr Brin said... in passing (buried in the middle...)
President Bush has signed a directive granting extraordinary powers to the office of the president in the event of a declared national emergency, apparently without congressional approval or oversight.
Also known as National Security Presidential Directive #51 (NSPD-51).

The most chilling thing about this new Illegal LAW since it was announced May 11th is the LACK of COMMERCIAL coverage by the NATION's PRESS.

Try "Googling" NSPD-51.
IT's terrible. Nothing in the "mainstream" media comes up.


Jumper said...

I'm operating on the hypothesis that inflation bumped up in one huge pulse when oil went up last year, and we're all playing catch-up now. So the price of food rising should be no surprise. When oil first went up, the difference in price between high-octane and regular stayed the same though all prices rose. Now, the difference between high-octane and regular has increased. A sign of inflation to me. Lately I just consider a dollar a sort of half-petrodollar, half- electrodollar.

David Brin said...

Everybody please give Jeff Carlson a bump at

We're working on the sequel to SKY HORIZON together. (BTW, order a copy of SH!!!)

Bright young fellwer. Carrying around his hot-printed first novel like a baby... and he has two babies!!

As for the expansion of presidential powers, nothing could better illustrate EITHER:

1) that today's conservatives are about a billion neurons short, and unable to grok that their adversaries will control the presidency that they are trying to strengthen.


2) that today's core neocons actually believe (with good reason?) that they can prevent that from ever happening.

I find it utterly chilling that Bush etc are striving so hard to increase these powers when they have only 18 months in which (supposedly) to use them. This should be screeching alarm bells everywhere.

Especially among those who we pay to be paranoid (the intelligence community)...

...and among the men and women of the US Officer Corps, who must be hurled into s maelstrom in 2008, in order for such a scenario to come true...

...and especially the Navy. With the Army in tatters and the Air Force possibly suborned, it is the Navy that I see in greatest danger, right now, from these monsters.

Moreover, the Navy remains -- as in the Tonkin Gulf and Havana Harbor and Pearl Harbor -- the convenient war-trigger victim. The Navy or some urban center. The clock is ticking on the neocons and you can be sure that one or both of these targets are in the crosshairs.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Further proof that American c(r)apitalism has nothing to do with a free market:

America's economic system is all about creating corrupt monopollies, crushing the little entrepeneur, and using government as a club to beat competitors to a pulp. 4 media monoplies control all TV, newspapers, radio, books and CDs, 1 giant monopoly controls all computer operating systems, 2 giant monopolies control all soups on the market, 3 giant giant monopolies control all the cars and trucks made in America...and the list goes on.

Mark said...

I wonder what internet speeds in these countries really mean, practically. I have fiber running to the house and can get almost 15 megabits if I test from the relatively close Seattle site but only about 5 if I test from NY which is much further away, implying the internet backbone itself is the issue, not my connection. Do the Japanese really have 60, or is that just some theoretical number?

As far as executive power goes, I used to be in favor of gun control but recent events convinced me the second amendment isn't as obsolete as I assumed. For the past several years I've feared martial law being imposed before a major election, canceling the election. I don't really expect that to happen, but I'm glad the second amendment is there to help prevent such an action.

Mark said...


I actually agree with you for the most part, but your examples don't hold up well.

3 giant giant monopolies control all the cars and trucks made in America

GM, Toyota and Ford? I have a Honda that I think was assembled in the US, but it's so hard to be sure these days. I certainly hope you weren't including Chrysler as one of the three. In any case, "all" isn't particularly accurate.

1 giant monopoly controls all computer operating systems

As one responding on a Mac I find the word "all" a bit inaccurate. I could be using my Wii, as well, plus Google is looking to change the definition of "operating system".

But still, the point is valid. A free market is not a steady state on its own and the U.S. has forgotten that in recent years.

Enterik said...

David Brin mused,

"1) that today's conservatives are about a billion neurons short, and unable to grok that their adversaries will control the presidency that they are trying to strengthen.


2) that today's core neocons actually believe (with good reason?) that they can prevent that from ever happening."

David, I'm going to go with a modified version of option 1, that today's regressive, especially those in positions of power, know that a Democratic president will follow shortly and they don't care. Sure they would rather not endure four years of Democrat sponsored immorality but they also know that the sorts of powers they are sculpting are not all that likely to be abused by a Democrat as baldly as they intend. This is a loooooong term strategy to advance their agenda. Unlike the Democrats, they know that sooner or later they'll be back in power. I will even go so far as to add that their strategy benefits from a periodic loss of leadership because regressive policies tend to wreak havoc on the lower quintiles of society and all manner of domestic and foreign policy. They need a Carter or Clinton to dump their share of the blame upon in order to cull enough gullible biconceptuals and naive pragmatists to get a 51% mandate. They know full well the idealogical regressive constituency is hard wired to respond to such thought pre-empting pablum as they offer up.

Ed said...

Hey, you might wanna fix that jverse link. You can't show your true power with a broken link.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Now if you protest the Iraq debacle, your house and your car and everything you own can be taken away:http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/07/20070717-3.html

So much for transparency.

Tony Fisk said...

Sec. 4. I hereby determine that the making of donations of the type specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 and expanded in Executive Order 13315, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 1 of this order.

... so don't even think about 'providing material assistance' to anyone:
'(A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq' (eg by seeking troop withdrawals; in the senate no less!);
'(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;' (eg by seeking to look into the process by which no-bid contracts have been issued)

No mention is made as to who will get the benefit of all that confiscated property.

All these bits of paper, probably trumped by the original bit of paper.

Don Quijote said...

As for "pathetic broadband" in the U.S. averaging 1.97 megabits -- be glad you can afford broadband. I can't. Broadband is only available in my area at 100$ a month and up. Way up. Like the 50% of Americans who don't live in huge cities, I'm on 56K dialup and will be until I die.

There is a simple solution to that problem, elect a Progressive Democratic Congress, Senate and President who will have the intestinal fortitude to shove mandates down the throats of the Telcos. They will bitch like there is no tomorrow, but twenty years from now they'll be grateful someone forced them to upgrade their infrastructure.

Tony Fisk said...

Sounds like ADSL (2 be or not 2 be) over here (Oh, well, who wants to watch streaming video all the time? Especially the ones that start as soon as you look at the site, chewing up your monthly download allocation!)

Meanwhile, back on the WOT(?), it seems the UK is also running low on troop reserves.

And whether or not the sheep look up, maybe the sheepdogs are, in Pemberton

Zechariah said...

elect a Progressive Democratic Congress, Senate and President who will have the intestinal fortitude to shove mandates down the throats of the Telcos.


See, I know that republicans no longer actually follow through when they promise small government, but at least they still pay lip service to the idea.

Let the government mandate when upgrades must come, and how much it must cost, and where it must be available?

Oh hell no!

I won't assume that our infrastructure should be what it is in Japan or Europe. Our population density is much lower! Our lifestyles are different. It would be far more expensive to create the same coverage, and wouldn't return proportionate value.

Trust the invisible hand. I'll agree that the government needs to investigate monopolies and back-door deals, but lets keep them out of business as much as possible.

Don Quijote said...

Government at work in the interest of the people: Rural Electrification Administration (REA)

I live 45 miles north of time square, NY and if I want Broadband access I have a choice between Cable and nothing.

See, I know that republicans no longer actually follow through when they promise small government, but at least they still pay lip service to the idea.

Oh, they believe in small government, it's just that it's small government for the poor, the working class and the middle class and big government for the the Military-Industrial complex, the Prison-Industrial complex and their big business cronies.

Let the government mandate when upgrades must come, and how much it must cost, and where it must be available?

No, just let government mandate minimum standards.All Americans must have access to broadband at some defined bit rate, how the Telcos do it is their business.

I won't assume that our infrastructure should be what it is in Japan or Europe.

I assume it should be better because we are substantially wealthier and that we invented many of the technologies that are at the base of a modern infrastructure.

Our population density is much lower! Our lifestyles are different.

Not really, 80% of Americans live in large metro areas, there is no reason for Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami or any of the other large Metro Area to have substandard infrastructure.

It would be far more expensive to create the same coverage, and wouldn't return proportionate value.

Land and Labor are cheaper in the US than in Japan or Western Europe, so it should not be any more expensive. Why wouldn't we get identical returns on our returns?

Trust the invisible hand.
What invisible hand? we live in a country in which every major industry is an Oligopoly.

I'll agree that the government needs to investigate monopolies and back-door deals, but lets keep them out of business as much as possible.

How can government keep out of business when it is government that created the structures of business. Where do you think corporations come from? the bosom of mother nature.

Don Quijote said...

I won't assume that our infrastructure should be what it is in Japan or Europe. Our population density is much lower!

You'll also notice that Canada has a lower population density than we do and faster broadband than we do.

zorgon the malevolent said...

People are still reiterating the same age-old long-debunked fallacies about American broadband???

Belgium, with a high population density of 343 people per square km, has crappy broadband and caps in the low tens of gigabytes per month.

Sweden, with a low population density of 22 people per square km, has great broadband, with 25 megabits up and 8 megabits down and no caps.

Population density isn't the reason why America has such rotten broadband. The reason is lack of competition among providers. Like almost everyone else, I have a duopoly of broadband providers in my area, with Comcast "competing" with Qwest. Of course, in duopoly there's no actual competition, just tacit collusion, so Adam Smith's invisible hand turns into the invisible finger, with both providers giving it to you -- so in my area you can only get Comcast broadband if you first sign up for regular cable + enhanced cable + digital cable, which comes to $65 a month. Then you quality for a special "discount" that gives you broaband internet access at a mere additional $39.95 a month plus $3 a month for the cable modem, which works out to $110 a month. For Qwest broadband access in my area you must have regular phone service at $27 a month even if you never make a local phone call + $10 a month for additional services you don't want but must get in order to qualify for ADSL + $40 a month for ADSL + $3 a month for the ADSL box. So that's $90-plus a month.

With a duopoly, there need be no overt conspiracy -- each party just observes the other's prices and ups rates accordingly. Concidentally, by a magical happenstance, each party in my local duopolgy charges about $100 a month for internet access. Gee. What a coincidence. Naturally, there's no competition for broadband service in my area. You get Comcast service or Qwest ADSL or you go without broadband.

These fallacious claims about low population density and high build-out costs have been thoroughly debunked over on slashdot:

This is an old, tired and worn-out and patently absurd canard, which is being spread by apologists of the US telecommunication oligopolies since the beginning of the Internet. The truth is that in much of the US the population density in major metropolitan centres is as great or greater then the average Korean, Swedish or Japanese ones and yet, in those same very areas, which in your reasoning should be extremely suitable for deployment of 100mb Internet connections comparable to those being deployed en-masse in those other countries, you get .... 1.5 mb DSL. If you are lucky, that is.

In short, the problem is the ever expanding culture of corporate avarice, corruption, attempts to make a quick buck and wholesale deterioration of marketplace ethic in the USA, which then spreads via USA-based multinationals to other nations where those same multinationals and their CEOs have influence. Get rich quick at any cost to everybody else is the new "motto" of Corporate America. "Work hard and make a good product" is sooo early 20th century!

Large businesses need to fear their customers, but because they essentially run and control the US government -- the only force capable of opposing and controlling them -- they are in a position to no longer care about the supposed "invisible hand" of the marketplace. Now they can do whatever they want, and the "consumers" (the most derogatory term for a "person" ever invented) have to just take it.

And that is the truth of the matter, in affairs ranging from the Internet service to cell phone service to motor vehicle fuel consumption and so on.


Again, from slashdot:
I'm an expat living in Japan, and we get what we're told we get. I had 100Mbps fiber for about US$60/mo. They say it's a best effort and not a guaranteed connection, but they must be putting a lot of effort into it because I certainly got over 65Mbps throughput. The other 35Mbps may actually be my computer not keeping up with things, and not the network itself, for all I can tell. We don't have packet shaping. We don't have "fake unlimited" accounts, but real unlimited accounts. This sounds fair, we get what they providers advertise. Why isn't this the case in the U.S.? Sounds like unfair and deceptive practices, especially since "voting with your wallet" doesn't always work, since the alternative is just as bad.

But before you blast me with the "Japan is a smaller country and easier to get 100Mbps in urban areas", hear me through. I now live in Hokkaido, the northern most island in Japan, which accounts for over 23% of land mass, with a fraction of the population of the main island. This is closer to Canada or Alaska in terms of landmass/person. Next door neighbors may be several miles away. I live in a sleepy little town, and I don't have fiber, and I don't suspect we'll get it for a few more years minimum. But we do have ADSL, and I have it at about 45Mbps throughput (downstream) right now. Not bad at all. And again, no traffic shaping or false "unlimited" gimmicks. (For what it's worth, I don't think there are ANY providers left in Japan that have a cap on total trafffic per month anymore.)


As I've mentioned before (but as erstwhile internet lawyers have tried to play infantile word games with), America talks the free enterprise talk but walks the monopolist oligopoly robber baron walk.

Essentially all big American businesses are duopolies or tetropolies or some other form of collusive monopolistic restraint-of-trade cartel. Teddy Roosevelt never busted the trusts, he just forced 'em to do better PR. In Japan these colluding oligopolies are called keiretsus and feature interlocking boards of directors; in Korea, they're called chaebols. We've got exactly the same collusive anti-capitalist system in America, we just lie and call it "free enterprise" instead of the crony system of robber barons it really is. Whether it's AMD and Intel, or Windows, or Campbells soups and Progresso soups, or Mcdonalds and Wendys and Carls Jr. and Burger King, true competition and genuine free enterprise is hated and feared from top to bottom in American business.

The fiercest foe of free enterprise in America isn't the body-pierced anarchist tree-hugging hippy or the bearded Marxist academic, it's the American CEO.

America is a zoo full of corporate predators sheltered by corrupt sweetheart legislation and protected by monopolistic anti-competitive rules -- corporate predators who systematically devour helpless consumers for breakfast, lunch and dinner while their paid toadies in government look on and applaud the "marvels" of "Schumpeterian creative destruction" and the "magic" of "Adam Smith's Invisible Hand" even as more restraint of trade gets bought and paid for by giant monpolistic coporations. Massive restraint of trade like the Hollywood studios' region coding and CSS encryption on DVDs, or cable companies' monopoly sweetheart agreements with local communities, or the baby bells' monopolies on local phone service, or the RIAA's push to force DRM on all forms of radio and crush potentially competitive internet radio with confiscatory royalty rates.
arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070305-internet-radio-may-face-crippling-fees.should-xm-radio-and-sirius-... - 24k - Jul 19, 2007

(Now some peurile internet lawyer will haggle and quibble and squabble over my statement that "essentially all" big business in America involves corrupt collusive monopolies because Microsoft only controls 95% of the OS market instead of 100%. Grow up. Learn the English language. When someone says "all," 95% qualifies in practical everyday terms. Essentially all the people people whose parachutes don't open while skydiving wind up dead. Not everyone; every couple of years you'll hear about a survivor. For all practical purposes, in everyday life, 95% or 98% or 99% means "all." Stop nitpicking and start living in the real world, where real language means what everyone recognizes it means, and "all" means "essentially all" or 95%.)

Canada, by the way, is not the best exaple for low population density with good broadband access, because all the population of Canada is concentrated along a 60-mile-wide strip near the U.S. border. And, yes, "all" here means "essentially all," which is to say, over 95% of the population of Canada.

And now, on another note, an excellent article about our current Anti-enlightenment, which I've dubbed "The New Medievalism":

Just like the middle ages, we've got our "pie in the sky by and by" apostles of nirvana who provide cover for the greedy robber barons currently pillaging and raping our society. These new servants of the oligopolists assure us that all the corruption and lies and earthly squalor don't matter, since we're all about to experience the rapture of the nerds -- Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec and Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow offer us mind uploading! Superhumanly smart AIs! Bush robots! Utility fogs! Genetic engineering that will turn us into supermen!

No evidence for any of these miracles? O ye of little faith. Just kneel at the altar of the Vernor Vinge's Singularity and ye shall be saved. Yes, the lawwwwwwwwd of nanotech K. Eric Drexler will heeeeeeeeeal yo' afflictions with his tiiiiiiiiiiiiny robotic nanomachines! Rise and walk, sinner! Walk!!!

So don't worry, be happy, the Singularity is at hand. And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain misnamed "American free enterprise" -- you know, that CEO with his hand in your pocket, robbing you blind.

To paraphrase H. L. Mencken, the Singularity is the art of saying "nice doggy" while the corporate CEOs reach for a scissors to spay it with.

Zechariah said...

I will agree that American enterprise suffers from oligarchy and monopoly. I just don't see the logical connection to mandate government standards for services.

That's just treating the symptom (bad services) and not the disease (bad economic environment)

I hadn't heard the counter arguments to the population density problem. I just remember living in Del Rio, Texas and broadband being nearly impossible to get, while in San Antonio it was easy. Still, your arguments on that point are pretty good. Maybe I'll think about it some more.