Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The downer interpretation of anti-modernism... a symptom of mass future shock

CITOKATE (Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error) means being willing to admit that you were wrong. And, despite many anomalously on-target predictive “hits,” I can also be way off target, sometimes. Here’s an area in which I must have been influenced by wishful thinking.

I am growing ever-more convinced that we were all wrong about the psychological impact of the turn of the century and millennium. Surface features have blinded us to the undercurrents. We should have noticed earlier that modernity and confident modernism were in way-deep trouble.

But who knew? Back in 2000, it looked as if we had dodged the “Y2K” bullet and shrugged off almost any trace of “millennial madness”. There were no cults seen burning their homes and chanting on hilltops, awaiting the Rapture. In fact, people seemed almost jaded toward the whole thing. True, Al Gore’s fizzy arch-uber-modernism had failed to win him the presidency. Still, he did win the non-fluke electoral majority, despite a cosmic boredom and geek quotient. There did not seem to be a crisis of confidence.

EmpoweringCitizensEven when the future struck us like a hammer, nine months into the newborn Millennium, your average citizen took the events of September 11, 2001 with far more aplomb than almost any pundit seemed willing to credit. Far from “panicking,” they displayed remarkable agility and resiliency - or, at least, that is what we saw from the New Yorkers and Bostonians who were mostly affected, that day.

In any event, that is how I chose to interpret events. Given my penchant for finding a contrarian viewpoint (if one seems legitimately tenable), it seemed obvious to take an optimistic perspective, at a time when only officials and members of the “chattering classes” were the ones verging on panic. Just call me Mr. Sunshine.

It took some time - years, in fact - for me to come around to a much more pessimistic interpretation of the mood in our country and our civilization. A mood that appears to have swung away from the main theme of the post-WWII era. Even during the Cold War, and under Nixon and Reagan, modernism and apolitically pragmatic problem solving were often at the fore.

In contrast today, even as the spectacular success of modernist society is evident everywhere -- e.g. while the Cassini Spacecraft is transmitting home bona fide miracles, on a par with almost anything in the bible -- our confidence and pride in our accomplishments appear to have plunged to an all time low. (Do you even hear or see Cassini mentioned in mainstream news media?)

Even liberals, who used to fizz with can-do enthusiasm, can only oppose now, projecting surly, sourpuss negativity. Yes, the thing they oppose is monstrous - a version of antimodernism that would shove us back toward feudalism. But while opposing this reactionary madness,are liberals offering anything that remotely resembles a positive, assertive and joyful - even (yes) - entertaining - plan? One that keeps faith with the problem-solving spirit of George Marshall and Vannevar Bush and Martin Luther King? One that is for something, beyond simply opposing what is monstrous?

At least Bill Clinton believed in all these things (especially being entertaining). Moreover, he made us believe that he believed. (How ironic that he and Hillary completely blew their one ambitious, can-do endeavor - National Health Care - and never seemed to offer any others. You can blame the Gingrich Congress, I suppose... or else perhaps re-examine that word “seemed.” For, what other word than “ambition” can explain the weird shift in Bill’s attention, transforming his goal from trying to achieve something from the standard liberal shopping list to solving the one problem nobody expected him to take on... the budget deficit? An accomplishment of staggering scale. Yes, I agree with Michael Mandel that any surplus should have gone to scientific research. Still Is anybody else willing to see it for what it was?)

Well, Clinton was a 20th Century man, and those days are slipping away. However you put it, the national mood is weird, and weirdly downer. It is as if the very appearance of the "2" at the head of every date has driven huge numbers of otherwise bright people into a mental condition that festers and stews just below a surface of normality. A mood that manifests in frantic romanticism, oversimplification and devotion to downright insipid political dogmas.

All right. I can only maintain high grouch levels for brief intervals.

 Next time, back to problem solving.


reason said...

I'm wondering what prompted this outburst. It is clear that many Americans have a strange impulse to attach an intrinsic value to ideological purity that leaves most outsiders (excepting of course the Vatican and Islamic extremists who share this sickness) scratching their heads.

But is there really such a thing a a "National" mood. The nation is made of a huge number of unique individuals.

jomama said...

...the eternal myth of the balanced budget. There are many who disagree. I doubt anyone knows the extent of the budget.

But is there really such a thing a a "National" mood. The nation is made of a huge number of unique individuals.

Could it have ever been or will it ever be otherwise...anywhere?

daveawayfromhome said...

Jeez, David, you're really bringing me down here. You're supposed to be the optimistic one.
Yeah, Year Five of the the Bush Corp and things certainly do look bleak, indeed. The country has been taken over by an incompetent bunch of Kleptocrats, we're in yet another Unwinnable War that is probably signalling the end of our single superpower status , the Supreme Court is about to take a long trip down a dark road, and the Neo-Cons have got at least three more years to fuck things up even more before maybe, maybe we'll wake up and straighten out our asses. It's hard sometimes to think we will, though.
I've seen a lot of explanations for the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats, but the big difference, I think, is this: Democrats are all about what you can do, while Republicans are all about what you cannot do.
That was why everyone but the GOP loved Clinton, he was an optimist. We can provide Health Care for Everybody, we can reduce the deficit, we can allow gays in the military if we just dont ask, we can prevent ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
Contrast that with Dubya: "No" to stem cell research, "no" to international treaties, "no" to scientific reason that disagrees with ideology, "no" to gay marriage, "no" to a rational drug policy (legal and illegal), "no" to anyone who doesnt think the way he does.
We traded in our Leader, and instead got a Daddy who wont let us go to the Big Dance 'cause we've gotta stay home and do Bible study.
Maybe you just didnt go far enough in your Millenial Event thinking. We do like to think of ourselves as a fairly rational people, after all. But maybe instead of running and screaming and setting the world on fire during one crazy week in January, we subconsciously chose to run and scream and set the world on fire in eight stupid years, starting in January. Maybe we'll wake up sometime in 2007 with a whopping hangover, look around at the mess, and think, "Jeezus, I'm never drinking that shit again".
It only looked like we didnt freak out, but we did. We've just missed it because it's just too damn big.


Anonymous said...

I think part of the mood you're mentioning might in a way be the fault of sucesses of modernism and in particular science fiction. Soylent Green was set in 1999. 2001 was set 4 years ago. How much sci-fi was set in the distant future of the twenty-first century? Lots.

And it's the twenty-first century now and, well, much of that hasn't happened. Most common way I've seen it said is "Where's my flying car?"

There's plenty of science fiction mircles that have happened like cell phones, the Internet, clothes that resist water and stains, medical technology, and a bunch of others I can't think of off the top of my head. But our cars are 90% like cars back in the 50s. There's no moonbase, or big commercial space stations. We still largely use the same power plants as we did in the 50s, and nuclear power didn't turn out to be the world-saving miracle people hoped it would be.

Most of these things that didn't happen aren't really the fault of science fiction or of modernism, a lot were driven by more mundane fights like expense. And companies and people who didn't want to change even when the change would be better. But none-the-less, it's the 21st century, and it doesn't really feel like it. Maybe we need some kind of snappy comeback to "Where's my flying car?"

Ouranosaurus said...

I've been wondering for the past few years if the Democrats aren't moribund because they won all the fights they think they're capable of winning, during the Clinton years. If they aren't struggling because they think they won the culture war. That's left them with no forward drive.

The next front of a future Democratic Party should obviously be the one that has animated politics since the early 1800s, when modern Liberalism was spinning off all its little step-children, in the form of socialism, Marxism, anarchism, the free-trade movement, the union movement and so forth. But the Dems are dominated by the baby boomers, who were brought up in an era when the broad culture war (racism, sexism, the draft, abortion, gay rights) were the major political issues. I think the Democratic leadership, and a hell of a lot of the rank and file, can't see past those issues. So they really have very little in the way of an economic vision, certainly nothing revolutionary.

If the Democrats stood up tomorrow and said "We've achieved a lot on the culture war front. We're going to take a breather there and let broader American society catch up with its most enlightened members. In the mean time, we'll focus on economic issues"... well, I don't know that they'd actually stage a comeback, but it would be a strategy that hasn't really been tried in two decades.

What if the Dems openly said they were on the side of the working class, and actually did something about that?

America really needs a major influx of new political-economic thought. It should have a range of views, from hard-right Libertarianism to Chavez-style socialism being debated openly by people with real political clout, not two parties with a 5 per cent difference in their economic policies.

Anonymous said...

Cassini is a marvel! And what a tease by the Huygens probe. A "rover" on Titan would be amazing.

Let's not forget about the Mars rovers, still going strong, and continuing to make new discoveries.

Many foreigners are stunned to learn how small the budget is for NASA compared to other government programs.

Living in a Red State, many "space" stories tend to not make headline news.


SUV's with "support our troops" magnets/stickers - is this a contradiction?

Also regarding SUV's, why is it that I rarely see an "Environment" license plate on one of these behemoths? In Indiana, we have an option to spend an extra $40 for environmental plate to promote environmental causes . . . and the plate has a nice picture of an eagle, clearly different from other Indiana license plates.

Interesting that when I visit a "healthy" grocery store, such as Wild Oats, I see a parking lot full of autos with the Environment plate . . . and not "support our troops" stickers.

What should I deduce from this observation?

How many Republicans visit Wild Oats and have an Environment plate?

Rob Perkins said...

I'm not a Republican, but I absolutely visit Wild Oats. It's the only place which carries my favorite cheese, and cuts of beef we can stand to eat.

I neither carry "Support our Troops" magnets, nor do I own an SUV. Nevertheless, I cast a vote twice for G.W. which, as time creeps on, seems like it should really have been a vote for Badnarik, who I thought wasn't as sane or adult as Bush.

(Now I'm absolutely not so sure. But it would never have been Kerry. I'd have voted for Homer Simpson before Kerry. For a stray dog on the street, before Kerry.)

There is absolutely a "national mood", IMO. The outpouring of support for evacuees on the scale we've seen is otherwise impossible to explain.

I do not consider the nomination of John Roberts a "dark road" for the Supreme Court. I think he's going to surprise quite a few factions. Constructionism cuts more ways than just one.

And, I can think of an easy, immediate way to set the brakes on the neo-cons. Simply hand the Congress (specifically the House, but both houses if possible) back to the Democrats. If they can come up with something like a progressive "Contract with America" idea, I'd bet it will be possible. (Speaking of which, wasn't the Republican "Contract with America" a can-do, positive kind of thing?)

If all they do is bash on the President, they won't win, I predict.

Anonymous said...

The "Support our troops" bumper stickers and magnets are almost universally simply war profiteering. The money doesn't go to supporting the troops, it just gives a balm of "I'm more patriotic than people who don't have one" to the people who buy them. So they can then go on without doing anything different and driving their SUVs.

The above isn't universally true, but it seems to apply much of the time. After all, didn't the President tell us our patriotic duty was to go shopping, after 9/11? And has the President asked for ANY sacrifices between the war and Katrina? No, just more tax cuts for the top 1%.

And Rob, I'll bite. What did you hate about Kerry so much? The Vietnam protests, the "flip-flopper" tag, or something not completely spun?

Anonymous said...

I think that there is a sort of national mood which is simultaneously both emergent (based on broad strokes of public attitudes) and synthesized (by the media and other "taste setting" industries.).

So I'm wondering: Is the current down mood the result of our leaderships' anti-modernism, or bad feelings resulting from falling wages and less security for all but the top wage earners?

Can anything be done about it? I think it is really hard to make deliberate, drastic changes in the public mood. In addition to being romantic, we are cynical and practical. A desire for comforting belief is balanced by the snarky delights of irony.

* * *

At the risk of repeating myself:

The folks at World Changing are undoubtedly liberal, and undeniably optimistic.

This crew is a more Cyber, more international, less White SoCal-Hippy successor to the Whole Earth folks.

Hey, if any of you see an old -- I'm talking 1970 old -- edition of the Whole Earth Catalog, pick it up. You won't be sorry. I found a copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog last year and it is a wonder. The sheer amount of stuff that Brand and his gang were aware of is astonishing. These hippies weren't into dropping out, they were into building and learning. How can you not like a counterculture catalog that raves about Olaf Stapledon novels a few pages in?


Rob Perkins said...

It isn't a hatred: He isn't the worst of all men, to be sure, but I just don't like the way a relatively-obscure-but-wealthy young man took his veteran status and turned it into a career in the Congress.

So, in part, the Vietnam protests. I studied that war: we were winning it before Kerry and others did what they did. And the aftermath for the Vietnamese was worse after we left them. (As it was for the Iraqis after 1991)

The "flip flopper" tag was useless to me; I understand that law and sausage have a couple of things in common.

Mostly though, *he just didn't articulate any good ideas!*

Didn't matter though. I live in Washington State, but not in King County. My vote for President counted for less than I would have liked.

Anonymous said...

Dang, things are falling apart all over! The virtual fantasy realm "Worlds of Warcraft" is being plagued by . . . well, plague:


I think this is wondeful. Multi-player network games have always been ridden with players whose on-line personas are sociopaths who delight in ripping apart other players. They become the true "monsters" of the place. Virtual dark knights.

Now the inhabitants of this faux world are faced with a danger they can't take out by having a +3 Flaming Sword of Cold and ST 18. It will be interesting to see if there is a social change in response to this menace.

* * *

As relevant now as when it was written:

"Modern science has imposed upon humanity the necessity for wandering. Its progressive thought and its progressive technology make the transition through time, from generation to generation, a true migration into uncharted seas of adventure. The very benefit of wandering is that it is dangerous and needs skill to avert evils. We must expect, therefore, that the future will disclose dangers. It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.

The prosperous middle classes, who ruled the nineteenth century, placed an excessive value upon the placidity of existence. They refused to face the necessities for social reform imposed by the new industrial system, and they are now refusing to face the necessities for intellectual reform imposed by the new knowledge. The middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security. In the immediate future there will be less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilization. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages."

--Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 1925.

Stefan Jones

Rob Perkins said...

And here I forgot to talk about the "Support Our Troops" mags.

I don't like 'em. I agree that they're probably war profiteering, in the same way that those bracelets popularized by Lance Armstrong, and now sold for any or no purpose, probably aren't altogether for cancer research any longer.

But this is why: I fear that one day some indignance-junkie Fundamentalist is gonna turn that ribbon on its *side* and say something inane like "Look how much it now looks like the Christian mackerel!"

...at which point my single temptation would be to write the word "Darwin" in the teardrop middle, sketch some legs underneath, and run for the hills...

David Brin said...

I totally agree with raising the Contract With America.

Half of its components were neocon foolishness. Reduce taxes on the rich and we'll see both poverty and deficits vanish dues to accelerating economic activity! Yeah right. Only one tax break has such direct effects... incentives for technological research. This one was a complete lie.

Still, the other half were great ideas! Congressional accountability and transparency, plus an end to pork, etc.

My dream is for the dems to raise this half of the Contract as a major issue. ADOPT it! Invite Newt aboard. And add more contract items of their own.

I will repeat below my proposal for IGUS:

This reform - (and the law itself could be written on a single page) - would gather all of the Inspectors General, in every cabinet department and agency, under one roof. (Every agency currently has an IG or equivalent, charged with ensuring that the agency is obeying the law.)

Currently, these Inspectors General are jokes, beholden to the agency secretaries and directors who appointed them. Many are political shills.

Under this proposed reform, the IGs would instead be highly trained civil servants who are members of a uniformed quasi-military service, like NOAA and the Public Health Service (headed by the Surgeon General), with similar standards of rigid accountability...

...and all would report to a new officer called IGUS - the Inspector General of the United States - who would not be a member of the President's circle or cabinet, but would have the right to sit at Cabinet meetings.

This proposal - so simple that voters would find it obvious - could play against what will soon be a storm of scandals emerging from the tapering-off of this administration's freak show. A reform candidate could benefit from the obvious contrast of offering IGUS as a campaign proposal. Indeed, it could be an EMBLEM of the can-do reform push of the next administration.

(On a side note, I think NOW would be a good time for a Democratic candidate to propose an agreed limit to the number of presidential pardons any administration could offer. The would put Bush in a very difficult position. If he accepts, hundreds of his cronies will go to jail. If he refuses, he takes a political hit now, when he can ill afford it.)

Anonymous said...

Rob, I simply don't see how any modernist can possibly have voted for Bush, however unimpressive Kerry was. Vote 3rd party. Any 3rd party. Or just don't vote.

David, I don't understand why you would consider ETs dangerous. If they were expansionist and capable of getting here, they would already be here. Finding earth-like planets is incredibly easy compared to interstellar travel, and our reflected light is very bright compared to our radio emissions. The only danger I see is if they are interested not in our resources but in us. If that's the case though, and if they are looking, we can't possibly hide.

daveawayfromhome said...

@Rob: I didnt like Kerry much at all and I had serious reservations about the nomination process which got him to the election, but you're not just electing a president, you're electing his staff also, and it should have been obvious after the first four years that BushCo's staff was a corruption-filled disaster.

As for Roberts, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I'm worried about who fills the O'Conner seat. Has Dubya ever shown any signs of moderation in his five years in office? We'll be stuck with whover he chooses for decades.

@The Contract With America: If only one exception can be cited, then I will consider my analysis better than I'd hoped - no simplistic comment like mine can hope to be exception free, just generally true. As for the good parts of the Contract, "Bring 'em On!" Good government is good government, regardless of who's behind it.


Admiral said...

This seems a lot of anecdotal evidence of the country being in this "downer" mode. People have always felt that way about the country under Bush because of perceptions, but a lot of Republicans feel great. They're not all dumb. Some yes, but not all. And if you thought things were bad NOW, imagine if the Clintons had gotten through their health care plan, destined to break the bank and decrease the health of everyone in this country? We have the best system on earth and it could get better if we'd free it from this third payer non-sense and decreased various price elasticities...

Tony Fisk said...

I think the 'downer' mode is, to a large extent, the result of a natural tendency to think that things will always be as they are at the moment.

In September, 2005, that is:
- The white house is packed with 'grifters' with radically different views and policies to your own.
- said grifters are set to party for another three years.
- The war on terror is a tragical error.
- NO and Louisiana is awash.
- Texas is about to go the same way

...so when's the california earthquake?

At a more general level, I wonder whether a national 'downer' might not also have some of its origins in the rise of economic rationalism?

While it's a fine idea to apply free market principles to government in order to promote efficiency, it ignores a basic issue: governments are *not* just a business whose main aim is to be productive and give dividends to its shareholders. The primary responsibility of Government is social care.

When this is overlooked, people come to be regarded as personnel in the governance process, things, organic assets, or produce. The socially poor and out of work become regarded as excess overhead, to be reduced (ie simply discarded). Left out in the cold. (interestingly: there's a growing push to consider *any* waste as a sign of process inefficiency). And, things that *people* care about tend to be discounted.

A bit of basic management hygiene theory:
-People who feel good about themselves tend to have some control over their situation.
-People who feel bad about themselves tend to be controlled.

How in control do you feel?

We've been discussing romanticism, and the dangers of looking to the past when applying policy. We've not necessarily considered how the past can be applied as a tool of control. Over others. Over yourself.

A little more ersatz management theory (zero inventory accounting):
- forget what's past
- where are you now?
- where do you want to be?
- what's the best way to get there?

On Cassini: just because the mainstream media isn't covering it doesn't mean everyone's forgotten about modernist endeavour. As a counterexample, I'll point to the massive level of public commiseration and support that the Planetary Society received following the failure of Cosmos 1 during launch.

In this era of easy on-line access and blogging, the mainstream media is less of a public barometer than used to be the case (although, as a portrayer of the 'party line', it still projects an aura).

...and yes to IGUS! Based on what happened to the Kennett government in Victoria in 1999, the public *definitely* grok the need for independent auditors!

Anonymous said...

The talk of a national mood brought back a question that's been rattling around in my head since America started reacting to 9/11.

First off, I'm Canadian, so I may not have a good read on the national mood of America, but I can say what I see from outside. I think the immediate reaction to 9/11 was tremendously positive. People were doing all the right things, from the guy on the street right up to the President. Once the initial shock was over you immediately did the one thing that needed to be done to get rid of a real threat to your security (and for that matter mine): you invaded Afghanistan and eliminated a regime that was doing nothing positive at all in the world. There was a plan to get in, solve the problem, clean up the mess it made, and to eventually get out. It's not quite done, but its working. It's as if you picked yourself up, brushed off the dust, said "well I'd hoped I wouldn't have to do this, but..." and you did what needed to be done. You were ready even before the attacks happened. You were willing to try other methods before, but when they didn't work you did what was necessary. It was the best of America: compassionate whenever possible and strong when needed.

And then you did the thing that I still don't understand - the exact opposite of the Afghanistan invasion - you turned inward and built a fortress around America. You gave up freedom for security. You didn't try to show the terrorists they couldn't keep America from going about its business. You changed the way you do things. There are restrictions everywhere that would have been intolerable before and there is not much more than grumbling acceptance of them.

Then there’s the Iraq war. It’s not that Saddam didn’t need to go – it should have happened long ago – but the way it was done makes it seem like it came out of anger and fear, not principle.

So here's the question: why are you afraid? It can’t just be the attacks. I'm sure my fellow Canadians would wither away if a terrorist attack ever shocked us out of our smug complacency. But you are Americans. You don’t wither in the face of difficulties. You get out there and solve problems.

What happened to that America? Why are you afraid to be that America again?

David Brin said...

Wayne, you raise a dozen points we have discussed. Modernist America - and its partners - are alive and well on this and a million other points of light, bloggy and otherwise.

A point or two. Afghanistan worked because Bush said "go!" to a war plan already set up by Clinton-Clarke.

The "don't believe in us" propaganda is not JUST Bush-ite in origin. Go back a few postings. I think part of it is a weird reaction by the Paid Professional Protective Caste (PPPC) against the looming Age of Amateurs.

The difference. The PPPC is not doing this deliberately. We need to talk to them. Get them to realize the people are not out to steal their turf.

We want to protect them from their real enemies...

... the moronic SUPER-empowered amateurs running things at the top.

A crew of inept ideologues comprising an administration of meddlesome maladroits who think they know more about diplomacy than diplomats, about war than trained officers, about science than scientists... and more about "mandate" than the sovereign voters.

Anonymous said...

As a World Traveller (born a Canadian) looking in on our southern neighbors, there is a National Mood.

While I was not around for the 50' and 60's it seemed like it was everyone had the same vision of a better country.
I know that in the late 80's you guys were proud (Berlin wall, Gulf war etc..) of your wins, as you had a right to be. Optimistic about the future, and generally positive. Americans I met abroad were comfortable with their image and the direction fo their country.

Now everyone is afraid. Not of terrorists, but of Big Brother. Up North we cringe everytime we hear another one of your civil liberties beign tramped on. We are exasperated everytime we hear about the US government being Non-Cooperative/Unilateral (Kyoto Accord, Landmines, War Criminals, Nafta).
Abroad, I have yet to meet an American, that would defend its Government policies, or stand proudly behinds its latest series of actions. Why because they realize there is no basis for these actions, no explanation to justify them.
In essence you are no longer a leader/role model for a free and just society.
In my opinion the everyday american knows this and it is hard to be optimistic when you are not happy with where you are in life.
Just my thoughts

Anonymous said...

Maybe we need some kind of snappy comeback to "Where's my flying car?"

A bumper sticker reading: "My other car is a flying car". :)

Tony Fisk said...

The best comeback would be:

Here is your flying car!

(Actually, it's been 'nearly' here for the last few years. Current Volantor status: about to undergo manned, untethered flight tests...or should that be 'unfeathered'?)

Tony Fisk said...

Oh! Wonderful irony!

...just lose the 'W'!

Rob Perkins said...

Your flying car has been stunted in its development, by 15,000 pages of government regulations regarding air travel, part of which has kept airframes in the 1960's, and airplane powerplants firmly in the 1940's.

Other factors include tort abuse, such as when Mel Carnahans widow's lawyers sued everyone (*everyone*) involved in the manufacture and maintenance of the airplane he died in, and bird dogged them to the point where in one case one manufacturer of a pair of parts which *didn't* fail on that plane LOST a liability suit regarding the crash

...and promptly went out of the business of making those parts!

It's also been hampered by land speculation, and rapid urban and suburban growth, which has surrounded the small airports where flying cars might have been berthed (at least until wind-stable levitation technologies could be found), surrounded them with neighborhoods, whose first owners knew there was an airport, but who nonetheless agitate for its closure...

...because the 40's-era powerplants on all the planes are too loud!

...along with *developers*, who want the airport land for their own use, to turn into mini malls, Wal Marts, etc, etc.

IOW, that same huge federal bureaucracy which makes marvelously competent and safe pilots, able to keep a clear head while landing an Airbus jet full 'o people in L.A. today, without a single injury or fatality, is the bureaucracy hampering the development of your flying car.

Rob Perkins said...

BTW, most of the people I know are not in a funk about America. Rather, the "national mood" around here seems to be sort of a self-awe at the level of wealth offered to victims and evacuees of Katrina, the mobilization efforts around staging efforts for Rita.

There's a lot of can-do around here. We recognize the elitist melancholy coming off of major network news outlets, and the sensationalist doomsaying off of Fox News, as spin on the truth. I wouldn't try to believe them on how Americans feel.

@Contract w/America, how do we get the Democrats to approach things in this way?

Tony Fisk said...

Concerning 'supercar', I suggest you check out what Paul Moller has to say wrt infrastructure and legal issues. He doesn't seem too fazed by them, and he's been working on this forever, which means he either knows what he's doing or he's got some *very* gullible investors.

Like LiftPortal (space elevator by 2018) whether or not he succeeds is almost immaterial. It's fun watching him try.

On Contract w/America: The first thing to get the Democrats to approach this is to approach the Democrats...

Anonymous said...


Sorry. Most people I know ARE in a funk about the country. Including many Republicans. They feel "let down".

Travelling overseas, I also noticed a fair amount of animosity towards America. "What has happened?" is a question often heard.

Self-awe? You are joking right. I hear more sarcasm: We can rebuild other countries (well, attempting to do something like that) but not one of our own. Oh, and the money will come from "somewhere".

To be perfectly blunt: Our commander-in-chief is not qualified to be President. We can pick this up in a different thread . . .

Travelling British Columbia, I hear the same sentiments. You are spot-on.

People, this President believes that Intelligent Design is okay to be taught in school. If you weren't sure about his credibility before . . .

Anonymous said...


Maybe the culture is turning anti-modernist, but I just finished Charlie Stross' THE HIDDEN FAMILY (predictably modernist) and Mary Jo Putney's STOLEN MAGIC (last place one would *ever* look for an enthusiastic defence of the Industrial Revolution!) and one other (too sleepy to recall) in rapid succession, books chosen at random - Putney's is a supernatural romance set among the high nobility / 'wizarding world' in 1750s England! So - ca ira!


Anonymous said...

As for the comment "Maybe we'll wake up sometime in 2007 with a whopping hangover, look around at the mess, and think, "Jeezus, I'm never drinking that shit again".

OK. Hold your ears.

Oh, I came home four years ago, as drunk as I could be; and there was an ape in the White House where Clinton used to be. I said to my daily paper, explain this thing to me; what's this ape doing here in the White House where Clinton used to be. (and they said ) "Oh, you drunk fool, you blind fool, can't you plainly see? 'Tis only Barry Goldwater where Clinton used to be!

Well, I've traveled this wide world over, a million miles or more ... but an unintelligent Goldwater, I never did see before!

More verses by request.

Rob Perkins said...

Moeller might not be frustrated, but *you* will be...

...when you learn that the FAA is the agency you have to go to get permission to drive/fly one

...when you learn that unless Moeller has been substantially priming the governmental pump these last two decades, it may take at least 5 years for the FAA to *propose* a new aircar private pilot certificate category, and an interminable amount of time to discuss it...

...when you learn that you will be required to have a level of personal physical health which exceeds that for driver licenses by quite a bit, including regular physical checkups with FAA-designated flight surgeons, at your expense, and...

...that when you go and take your driver's test, you will pay a private citizen a fee to impose government standards on you, and he sets the fee...

...when you learn that the cost of getting permission to fly that aircar on a clear day, including the cost to visit that flight surgeon, and the designated examiner, will likely exceed $6000 and require about 120 hours of your time, including instruction...

...when you learn that the cost of getting permission to fly the thing on a *cloudy* day will add another $7000 to $10000 to your learning and getting permission, and that you will by then be required to be something of a skilled meteorologist....

...perhaps then you'll understand why I'm skeptical now where Moeller, who has to raise capital for his aircar company, might not be.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I know I'm the one who brought it up, but it was an example, not necessarilly what I thought. So here's what I think. Currently, the flying car is a really stupid idea, honestly.

Not so much because of the threats of beuracracy or terrorism, but because our infrastructure isn't set up for them at all. Which won't happen until they exist and we need the infrastructure, so that's a nice little circle. They'd mostly be useful as really small planes to hop from airport to airport, you couldn't go tooling around the city in them until there was much better VTOL. And if they became popular, they'd require regulations somewhere between a plane and a car probably, especially some equivalent of "roads" in the sky, just to prevent accidents.

As for the Democrats, the first step to anything would be getting the ones in office to pick something they stand for, and then have them actually stand for it. Too many of them are trying to do short-term political calculus and protect their own power. Plus, 90%+ of them are baby boomers or older and busy re-fighting old wars (Vietnam, anyone?) and resting on old victories.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Nate.

Like an S.U.V., there will be applications for which a "flying car" will be darn useful. But you're not going to commute in one, not ever. That is a phant'sy for people who take Popular Mechanix too seriously.


Anonymous said...

Oh . . .

If you have spare housing for a hurricaine evacuee, or God forbid need housing:



Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, Bruce Sterling's Viridian Green design movement has been self-consciously attempting to present an optimistic vision for building the future since 2000. I'd have to say he's only been mildly successful, but it's still a model for how to go about it.
Viridian Green Manifesto: http://www.viridiandesign.org/manifesto.html

- David A. Spitzley

daveawayfromhome said...

Like LiftPortal (space elevator by 2018) whether or not he succeeds is almost immaterial. It's fun watching him try.

2018! Does NASA know this? Seriously, forget flying cars, people can barely handle rolling cars. But a space elevator! Why doesnt NASA get involved in this? Is it because NASA is more about National Prestige than actually going to space (plus, we dont own any equitorial land).

Tony Fisk said...

2018 is ... ambitious.
One of the advantages of the 'ribbon ' approach by LiftPortal is that you don't have to be on the equator: (Sri Lanka can stay put!)

@Rob, Stefan
Oh, Moller's tilting at windmills. No question.

And yet...
Moller has encountered the issues you raise. Some of these articles may give some more insights into his approach.

Do you know the tale of a certain John Harris, Lincolnshire carpenter? Became fascinated with clocks. In an era when quality timepieces could vary by 15 minutes a day, he was building ones that kept time to within one minute a month! Spent twenty years perfecting a marine chronometer for the 'longitude prize' (eventually extracted from a recalcitrant admiralty by an act of parliament following the enthusiastic patronage of that arch tyrant, George III) (refer 'Longitude' -Dava Sobel)

In a 'can-do' world, surely we can have some time for just a few people with crazy visions?

Anonymous said...

I have to try to answer an earlier question: "Why aren't people optomistic in a time with 'miracles' such as Cassini?"

The answer: Because it doesm't affect us directly. I love a good observatory as much as the next, but I realize that whther or not a tenth planet gets discovered tomorrow, it's not going to change the quality of my life one bit.

Even though I don't agree with the "Why explore space when we have so many problems at home?" argument (Because we need hope, and research pays off in unpredictable ways, etc.) I can sympathize: Why care about hubble if it's not improving your life.

Maybe if I start working in astronomy though...


Cyberknight2000 said...

While I can kick pretty hard about numerous Bush decisions, comparing Iraq to Vietnam is just plain wrong. The military commanders on the ground, not the administration, determined the troop levels sent. Don't take my word for it, read the memoirs of the CENTCOM commander who was there at the start. No territorial boundary was considered sacrosanct as refuge for the enemy and no proxy enemy openly supplies the insurgents.

One similarity, Edward M Kennedy opposing our own military support for our allies in Vietnam as well.

David Brin said...

Dylan, you are making anti-modernist noises. In other words, you appear to have chosen the cliche. But don't think it will work here. Modernism is the underdog. Optimism has the hard road against the massive cult of cynicism.

Chuck, this is totally absurd. The military asked for 5 times as many troops. There has never been so much meeddling by lame brained amateur politicians in a military operation.