My predictive “hits” keep adding up... but before touting some recent successes, a quick announcement: "Life After People" returns to the History Channel Saturday 2/28 5pm! The most popular show ever on History... featuring yours truly (among others.) And here’s hoping it’s not prophetic! (Though my next novel will edge daringly close to the same theme.)
Note, the job of a Futurist is actually not prediction per se, but to lay out a range of plausibilities. Still, some fans do keep track of how often I am right. (And sometimes dead wrong!) Making it worthwhile, I suppose, to use up one of my twice monthly blogs by updating some recent close calls.
Edging toward worker ownership?
The Ford Motor Company can substitute its stock for as much as half of its payments into a retiree health care trust under a deal announced Monday by the automaker and the United Automobile Workers union. The agreement could form the basis for similar deals with GM and Chrysler, which need to cut costs and demonstrate they can survive under terms of federal loans. “The modifications will protect jobs for U.A.W. members by ensuring the long-term viability of the company,” the union’s president said in a statement.
See my list of “100 unusual suggestions for a time of crisis.” This kind of stock-for-concessions deal was near the top of my list. Still, it is only a half measure that stops far short of both Unions and Company recognizing a fundamental fact -- that the workers in-effect already own the car companies... and ought to start acting accordingly. Only they can buckle down, re-arrange the obligations, and trim the companies down for 21st century creative competitiveness. If they wake up in time.
We need to get beyond “left-right” cliches. This is not a matter of socialism, or betrayal of market principles. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with workers and their organizations and pensioners accepting part of their labor value in equity. And once they have the guts to admit that things really have changed, maybe they will also find the courage to accept their responsibility to do whatever it takes to make their own companies work.
Transparency’s double-whammy in the news...
One topic area that straddles my careers in both nonfiction and fiction is “transparency” and the value of open information flows, in a society whose most fundamental institutions -- democracy, markets, science and law courts -- turn rancid and die, whenever the players cannot know what’s going on. My book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? forecast many of today’s quandaries, including economic ructions caused by secretive or opaque business practices. Sound creepily familiar? (It is one of the only public policy books of the 20th Century not only still in print, but quoted more, every year.)
Hence, it was with some pleasure that I read a piece by WIRED Magazine senior writer Daniel Roth last week: Road Map for Financial Recovery: Radical Transparency Now! in which he lays down the importance of business reporting standards that are not only thorough and honest, but also clear and easily parsed by any citizen armed with a good computer. So-called market defenders who call transparency “oppressive meddling” can only be hypocrites, who do not really believe in the most fundamental of all capitalist principle -- that of people making their own best judgements, based upon genuine and useful information.
Along similar lines... Pat Matthews wrote in with the following, about a forecast that I made 20 years ago in a novel -- that Swiss banking secrecy would become a major issue: ”I remember reading EARTH and taking the Helvetian War for granted as the major early-21st Century Crisis, without bothering to wonder what triggered the public mood of anger at their secrecy and covering up for dictators etc.- a worldwide economic crash in which the Swiss Bankers appeared to be the primary culprits, and the witch hunt is on until Helvetia glows in the dark. Yes. This makes SUCH good sense. Different timeline, of course, since it's the American financiers who are now in danger of being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. But - google for UBS in trouble. Now, several months into the current recession, it becomes painfully clear that you knew what you were prophesying!”
Alas, though, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
--- Heavenly Messengers ---
And in the realm of science... see my doctoral dissertation at work -- ”Dark comets may be prowling the Solar system, posing a deadly threat to Earth. They are formed when reflective water ice has evaporated away, leaving behind an organic crust - similar to tar and related to the richest parts of carbonaceous chondrites - creating a surface that only reflects a small fraction of the light of normal asteroids.”
My predictive hit on this? Well, it is in two parts. First, my PhD thesis predicted that such layers would form -- now the standard model of comets. Second, my novel (with Gregory Benford) HEART OF THE COMET was the work that predicted the surface layer would be extremely dark. All right, that’s more obscure than forecasting technologies and secrecy campaigns against Swiss banks. Still....
--- Speaking/Consulting in Phoenix? And/or Washington D.C.---
It appears that I’ll be spending the last 3 weeks of July in beautiful, warm Phoenix Arizona, helping the US government in a project brainstorming certain aspects of the future. I’ll have some time on the side - especially evenings - so I’m open to suggestions (and introductions) re: Phoenix-area companies or groups that might want a consultation or speech, laying open some vistas and perspectives on an era of rapid change. Stunning insights guaranteed!
Likewise I will be in Washington DC, for government consultations, April 27-29. I might be able tack on some events either before (4/26-27) or after (4/29-30) if companies or groups make arrangements soon.
------ INTERESTING MISC ITEMS --------
Twisting radio beams into a helical shape as they are transmitted could help ease the congestion in spectrum available for wireless communication, encoding huge amounts of digital data into the pitch.
According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (very liberal): The "envipolcon/project," study identified that environmental laws in Europe, Japan, Mexico, and the United States had converged toward stricter and more similar regulation in the last 30 years. Simply put, instead of a race to the bottom due to regulatory competition -- the lowering of national environmental standards as a consequence of participation in international competitive markets -- the exact opposite has taken place. Environmental regulation has grown stricter over time in countries that have participated in globalization.
In four studies carried out across different cultural, religious, and political contexts, we investigated the association between religion and popular support for suicide attacks. In two surveys of Palestinians and one cognitive priming experiment with Israeli settlers, prayer to God, an index of religious devotion, was unrelated to support for suicide attacks. Instead, attendance at religious services, thought to enhance coalitional commitment, positively predicted support for suicide attacks. In a survey of six religions in six nations, regular attendance at religious services positively predicted a combination of willing martyrdom and out-group hostility, but regular prayer did not. Implications for understanding the role of religion in suicide attacks are discussed.
Message from Stefan Jones: Philip Jose Farmer dead at 91 Ninety one! May he end up at a good spot along the river(world).
From Frederic Bastiat's 1845 Petition from the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected With Lighting:“Dear Deputies [of Parliament]: We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price. This rival is none other than the sun ... We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds -- in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country."
Germany Generates Half the World's Solar-Cell Electricity (from the Progressive Policy Institute...) Germans installed 1131 megawatts of solar cells in 2007 -- up from 81 megawatts in 2001 and 5.3 in 1995 -- and now have 3862 megawatts of solar cell capacity. This is nearly half the world's solar-cell megawattage. The panels produced 4.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year, or 0.7 percent of Germany's total 621 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. By comparison, America's solar cell capacity is now 830.5 megawatts, and combined with concentrated solar power contributes about 0.2 percent of America's electricity.
From anthropologist David Buss: “Wilson and Daly (2004) provided evidence that men possess a specialized adaptation for discounting the future, valuing immediate goods over future goods. When given a choice between a smaller sum of money tomorrow versus a larger sum of money at a later date, men more than women tend to choose the immediate resource. The discounting function became especially steep after men viewed images of physically attractive women. This shift in the steepness of future discounting did not occur after men viewed images of unattractive women, nor did it occur for women viewing either attractive or unattractive male faces. The male-specific shift in future discounting, rather than reflecting maladaptive impulsivity, reflects an adaptation designed to obtain immediate reproductive benefits when future opportunities are uncertain.” Yeesh. Buss does take some of the impulsive mystery out of it all.
---- Just a wee bit of politics? ----
It’s not about how high executive pay has gone. If you want to see definitive proof which side has is right -- whether the catechism is true that cutting taxes stimulates the economy and raising them quashes the economy -- look at Russ Daggatt’s devastating examination of 1992 to the present. Seriously, go look at this entry. Only monomaniacal loonies would continue to maintain a mantra that has proved so overwhelmingly false. Adults are supposed to admit it, when their every single prediction proved diametrically wrong, across twenty years. The only similar example I can think of is the 70 year delusion known as the Soviet Communist Party.
Also: See a rather clever and painful description of some underlying American (actually, human) reflexes in terms of a deeply immature “cargo cult mentality.” Important caveat. Don’t just think about your opponents, while reading it. Ponder your own side. Even yourself.
Also: Ward Three Morality, by David Brooks, that appeared February 2, 2009 in the New York Times.
--- Finally.... Last chance to Hugo Nominate ---
Alert! If you are a member of the World Science Fiction Convention - (held this year in Montreal in August) -- you have till Saturday night to nominate works for the Hugo Award. I have something available in the novella and “related-book” categories. But don’t let that sway you! At this point, there’s only time to do it online.
(Or whip out your credit cards and join for that purpose! ;-)
Oh, if any of you know a schoolteacher or librarian or educator who works in Montreal, let me know...
Thrive & endure.