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Musings from a not-too-distant future

The other day Webdiarist Ian McPherson wrote:

People have written short fiction stories about how the future might be in a dramatically altered world. Perhaps I should write one for Webdiary? What do you think? Could it stand a bit of fiction?

Margo accepted the suggestion with alacrity. Here is Ian's offering:

Musings from a not-too-distant future
by Ian McPherson

The nephew and I have been hanging out here for the past few days. He's spent a lot of his time jacked into his new phone/watch/browser/camera, one of the ones that fits around a single ear with the mike on the end of a thin, carbon fibre loop, with an LED keypad, monitor and browser built into a matching watch. Interesting tech. He only has to sub-vocalise to talk and be heard; all that tricky volume stuff has been hammered right out of the design. He tried to explain to me how it worked, nanoclusters and all this stuff, but I couldn't follow most of it. I got particularly lost on how he can hear things in stereo, even though the damn thing is only stuck in one ear!

The willy willies have been more common recently, hand in hand with this year's record temperatures. We had a corker yesterday, which managed to pick up some dirt somewhere in a backyard in Crows Nest. It came barrelling up the lane, spewing dirt in all directions and wobbling wildly. It picked up some glass bottles from a weather-resistant bin one of the restaurants had failed to batten down the lid on. Shrieking like a 360° glass-shard emitting blender, it faltered on for a minute or so, before collapsing under its own weight and laying a carpet of glass and dirt at the end of the lane. No problem for the new-gen electric trash trucks though; their tyres are some fancy new compound that just crushes the glass without digging up the road.

Juzzy and I took a walk up to our local Woolworths-Hoi Sin supermarket earlier. There's not so many cars around any more, not surprising when oil's $310 a barrel, so being a pedestrian is a lot safer than it used to be. The light-rail system they built right up the middle of the Pacific Highway in a panic after the oil shock of 2012 runs fairly regularly. It carries most of the people moving around. The rich still drive; I guess they always will. But we only spotted a couple of cars, a flash-looking Honda-Kia electric and a nasty-looking, fully-armoured police Hummer, one of the leftovers from our final US buying spree, when we thought we were going to need them.

The shelves in the supermarket were as sparsely populated as usual. Most people today think that this is normal, but I remember the days when it was stacked full of all this wonderful imported stuff from all over the world; sardines, tuna, salmon, caviar, chocolates, the list goes on. Now, most of the remaining ocean fish are protected, and the sea is too saline to support them anyway. Most of the food is local now, not all that varied, and very seasonal. There are still some imported goods, but not anything like there used to be before the depression of 2015-2020, and they're expensive. There's still some fish around, but it's GM-farmed and well-nigh taste-free. I suppose it's OK for you; they say it is.

Gosh, I'm so old I can still remember cash. Now they just scan your hand at the checkout. If you're in trouble, for some reason or another, a silent alarm is sounded and the private security contractors working for the supermarket chauffeur you into a waiting room, where you sit and wait for the Cops, who'll come eventually. It's the perfect system. If you break the rules, you can't eat. If you can't eat, you die. The system wins either way. Jails are gone too. Crims now get shipped straight off to the corporate GM farms to work it off. For any sort of violent crime, they get one of the old Halliburton security collars, developed for the looters after the US wild weather events. That keeps them well and truly in line.

GM's another tech thing that's come a long way. All our crops are now drought- and parasite-resistant GM varieties, like all of our livestock. The meats are tough, flat in taste, wiry and mean, like the animals they come from, specially developed in labs to live in what have become harsh and hostile conditions. The youngsters don't remember real steaks, real fruit and vegetables. They don't know what they're missing! There are still some permaculturists around, but they find it hard to maintain pure seed and animal varieties, and the big corporations have had quite some success pushing through legislation that closes them down for some idiotic health regulation or another.

The Labor nuclear renaissance was not only a sellout, but a furphy. After the first big oil shock we built two reactors but the idea just petered out. I think it was mostly because the second reactor, which was designed to desalinate seawater as well as use it for a coolant, looks like it will be underwater by 2050. Great government planning, as usual. Parts of the Sydney Harbour foreshores are now under water, as you know, and they had to re-route some of the roads closest to sea-level on the Pittwater. Once we knew what was happening, a stack of reasonably well-off people lost their shirts on their waterfront properties all around Sydney, up and down the coast, and in all the river system that haven't dried up. Property prices dropped to nothing, and most of them had to just sit there, mopping up the water lapping at the door.

One good thing to come out of the energy wars was the end of the military. During the US/Iran war, when oil went over $200 a barrel, the US collapsed, first into recession and then into depression. The US government tried to ignore the wild weather events at home and the costs of war, but in the end they couldn't ignore the effects. They eventually pulled out of Iraq and Iran, leaving a whole bunch of big, impressive buildings and embassies, now full of environmental refugees, squatters and wiry-looking rats. The US Army was reformed back into the National Reserve, now flat out fighting hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and environmental disasters at home. Most of the aircraft carriers just sit moored. And there's just not enough oil to fly the jets, even if they had a reason to. War ended up being just too expensive to maintain.

Mostly, that's how the world is now. Australia, and all of the other countries, are looking after themselves. Prime Minister Nettle's Greens cancelled all the long-term foreign contracts on oil, gas and coal exports and bought in the first of the serious carbon, oil and CO2 taxes. That helped get things going in the right direction. Renewable energy is getting cheaper, but we've still got a few old coal lungbusters working out there, reliably pumping out more CO2 into an already weary world atmosphere. It's still expensive to heat your home though, and only the rich can afford an air-conditioner. I try to use as little energy as possible. I like the idea of our new local energy association, which gives you home energy if you help them with an investment. They're certainly abuzz over there, with a bunch of hi-tech windmills whirling and solar paint displays twinkling in the sunlight.

Juzzy and I don't talk about the old days much. If I start to rabbit on, he just glazes over. Not that I blame him; I would've done the same thing at his age. The kids still seem to be having fun, but it's a politically correct sort of fun nowadays. Since electronic ID and the chip implants there's not much place for dissent. The government lets the kids talk it up a bit, but any sign of any action and they bring it to a swift close. The Cops cruise around a bit, but are generally holed up in their stations, as they have to meet budgets too. The Department of Homeland Security has the most feet on the ground, but they're supposed to be looking for the big guys, the ones who have black-market food and water supplies and have had their ID implants removed. Per capita, there's not many of them, and they're greatly outnumbered, I reckon.

Well, it's been nice to talk. It's good to find someone who likes to hear about the old days; the 'party days' I like to call them, 'cause we certainly did party! Juzzy and I will walk up to the Community Centre a little later and get our TrankTabs. We all do this daily, except for the Pollies, Cops and Homeland Security people, of course. I don't mind, mostly... I sleep better than I ever have, and I worry a lot less than I used to in the past.

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Why Thank You, Laddie

I played truant that day. Went and watched Soylent Green instead.

But hey, if you've only got 133 IQ points, that poor guy who has only half yours (I forget who it was) must be really dumb. Shame on you, picking on the handicapped like that.

Only 133?

66 is just enough to keep breathing and get by on. We let a bloke with 69 into the Army Reserve and he got to Sgt. The navy wouldn't take him though.

Here come the thought police

The US now has a "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act" to mix and match with its wistfully-named "Patriot Act".

I looooooove the use of "Homegrown"! "We grow 'em, you lag on 'em, we jail 'em". From the people who bought you reds under the bed...

Here come the thought police
The proposed commission is a menace through its power to hold hearings, take testimony and administer oaths, an authority granted to even individual members of the commission – little Joe McCarthys – who will tour the country to hold their own private hearings. An aura of authority will automatically accompany this congressionally authorized mandate to expose native terrorism.

Ms. Harman's proposal includes an absurd attack on the Internet, criticizing it for providing Americans with "access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda," and legalizes an insidious infiltration of targeted organizations. The misnamed "Center of Excellence," which would function after the commission is disbanded in 18 months, gives the semblance of intellectual research to what is otherwise the suppression of dissent.

While its purpose is to prevent terrorism, the bill doesn't criminalize any specific conduct or contain penalties. But the commission's findings will be cited by those who see a terrorist under every bed and who will demand enactment of criminal penalties that further restrict free speech and other civil liberties. Action contrary to the commission's findings will be interpreted as a sign of treason at worst or a lack of patriotism at the least.

While Ms. Harman denies that her proposal creates "thought police," it defines "homegrown terrorism" as "planned" or "threatened" use of force to coerce the government or the people in the promotion of "political or social objectives." That means that no force need actually have occurred as long as the government charges that the individual or group thought about doing it.

"What Would Jesus Buy?"

From the people who bought you fundamental Christianity, and dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, via Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow!...

“What Would Jesus Buy?”

As holiday buying frenzy begins, new film tracks anti-consumerism Gospel of Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

Watch the RealPlayer Video

The holiday shopping season kicks off this week with Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. The new documentary “What Would Jesus Buy?” follows Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping gospel choir on a cross-country tour, preaching their message in such destinations as the Mall of America, Wal-mart headquarters, Starbucks and Disneyland. We speak to Rev. Billy, and the film’s producer Morgan Spurlock, who gained fame with his documentary “Super Size Me.”

Read a transcript

SMH: Co-operate or die?

My, how thing change. A "doomer" piece, in the SMH of all places. Hey Margo, have you got a take on this? Have we got new editors at the SMH, or has this election just woken up the old ones?

The party's over and Liberals will soon be history

"By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right – Labor and Green – and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.

"Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.

"The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade – superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won't be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die."


In the last few weeks they have instituted a weekly eco section which is pretty good, I think.  So maybe its editors.  Looking forward to hearing from those in the know.

Tommy Emmanuel – Totally off topic

Just found on YouTube. Undoubtedly, Tommy is Australia's very best, all-time guitarist. Forget George Bush, this is what I call real "shock and awe"...

Tommy Emmanuel - Classical Gas

Fiona: Thanks, Ian, for brightening up my day.

Not only that but also this

Ian, not only that. Not so long ago I believe none other than Chet Atkins nominated Tommy Emmanuel as the best fingerpicker in the world. Unfortunately, I have no sound on this computer, but see this.

Should be OK.

Tommy – Not only but also!

Ian, not only that. Not so long ago I believe none other than Chet Atkins nominated Tommy Emmanuel as the best fingerpicker in the world. Unfortunately, I have no sound on this computer, but see this.

I'm with you. I should have said one of the best guitarists in the world, not just Australia! Here he is covering "Somewhere over the Rainbow", one of my favourite all-time songs (God bless you Judy Garland!). Truly a master at his work. And loving it!

Tommy Emmanuel - Somewhere Over the Rainbow

BTW, I couldn't imagine having a computer without sound. Buy yourself a Macintosh. They come with sound standard... :)

Farmers Assoc. backs GE crops, Tennant Creek hits 113°F

A couple of interesting audio articles from the ABC...

NFF pushes for genetic engineering of crops to cope with climate change (MP3 warning)

"The National Farmers' Federation says it wants to see more investment in genetic engineering of crops so farmers can survive climate change and make a living from agriculture."

Tennant Creek sizzles through heat wave (MP3 warning)

"A heatwave has struck the centre of Australia in recent days, and the town of Tennant Creek has been hardest hit. The town recorded its highest ever temperature on the weekend, 45.4 degrees. Overnight, the minimum was close to 30 degrees, and today it's been back over 40. The Weather Bureau has forecast the temperature will stay above 40 degrees for at least the next couple of days."

Video: Naomi Wolf – "The End of America"

From Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow!

“The End of America”: Feminist Social Critic Naomi Wolf Warns U.S. in Slow Descent into Fascism

RealPlayer (fast forward to 38 minutes in)

In her new book, “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, Naomi Wolf says the United States is on the road to becoming a fascist society, right under our very noses. Wolf outlines what she sees as the ten steps to shut down a democratic society and argues that the Bush administration has already implemented many of these steps. Wolf is the author of several books including the 1990s feminist classic, “The Beauty Myth.”

Kim Stanley Robinson

Three novels and a prequel with some of the same characters in: Antarctica, Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting The key to these ones is a subtle series of sentences dropped in to the novels de temps en temps, viz: "extreme weather events were now occurring weekly, but no-one is yet ready to act" => two novels later: "extreme weather events were now daily occurrences, but no-one is yet ready to act" ...

Brian Aldiss on Our Science Fiction Fate

In today's Guardian: "The planet's dire state makes the imaginative leaps of dystopian SF writers redundant ..."

Malcolm, So What?

Am I not allowed to mention the movie if I don't know the book? Looks to me like you're lately getting a bit desperate to correct people when they're not even wrong. There's probably a word for that. Someone with a ditty-bag full of honours in English Lit. and a higher IQ than anyone else would probably know it. Maybe your cat could help you out there.

If anyone wants to read an interesting book predicting the future, here's one:  Bernard Wolfe's Limbo 90. The author's introduction (or it may have been in an interview I heard or read) makes the observation that his prediction of the future is not really that, but rather an extension into the future of present trends and preoccupations at time of writing. The same can be said, I think, of Ian's piece here, and of Orwell's 1984. Soylent Green, on the other hand broke new ground altogether. It was, in its time, way ahead of its time.


Oh no, Bill Avent, I've only got an IQ of 133.  Even Tanya Costello (nee Coleman) beat me in the HSC.  A whole 2.9% of the candidates in the State beat me that year.  Mind you, we did win the National Debating finals but I only managed third in the Lawrence Campbell.    It's finally occurred to me that that might be because I've got McDonald blood.

What a wonderful lighthearted sense of humour you have old chap. 

Reclaiming the freedoms

Richard, yes, I have seen this coming for some time.  I have had friends say to me: ‘Why worry, it wont affect you or me’.

Problem is that I have never had their certainty.

What I know for certain is that the fight we waged  against  Bellingen Council, where the police aligned themselves on the side of the council, we could not wage today. At the time I relied upon the fact that I was very, very visible. I documented everything, attended innumerable meetings, was in contact with numerous people every day and had a letter in the local paper every week.

Today I would simply go missing. Anybody enquiring about my whereabouts would be putting themselves in real jeopardy.

I’m not sure that most people realise just how much freedom has been lost not only since 9/11, which simply accelerated the process, as the move to regain lost power was underway long before that.

The question is how and where do were start. First to stop the erosion of freedom, and then to begin to roll it back. Getting rid of both Iemma’s government and the present police chief would have to be the first move.

Futuristic fiction and the news

The last thing I saw that considered the possibility of a government retaining emergency powers was the last Star Wars movie.  That NSW's power acquisition has slipped through so easily is a warning bell.  As you know, Bill Avent, I stood in front of the APEC stormtroopers, and felt my idealism run away as I realised that these people would do whatever they wanted to, and resistance was (to borrow from the Borg) indeed futile.  The event will be regarded as, in hindsight, the turning point in Australia's civil liberties history.

Thank you for drawing attention to the Ackland piece.  For the lazier amongst us I'd like to draw attention to this bit:

Although only used on four occasions since their introduction, the police love their sweeping new authority and can't bear to part with it. That's good enough for Iemma and co. The Premier said on Tuesday the police powers under both the riot and terrorism laws would be "cemented" into the statute books. You know how Italians love their cementing.

And what laws they are. The cops drive around in huge vans with signs that say "public order and riot squad". Their equipment includes stun guns that can release up to 50,000 volts into their targets, and paramilitary water cannons. Whole areas can be shut down with roadblocks and cordons, people detained and searched, property seized and licensed premised closed. It has eerie overtones of General Alfredo Stroessner's Paraguay or General Than Shwe's Burma. 

Not too long ago, when stuff like this was futuristic fiction, did we truly believe we'd be reading stories of this ilk as news reports? 

Giving them ideas...

"Writing of the future must be positive, look what happened with Huxley and Orwell. Mostly we took their writings as warnings. Unfortunately the few have used them as a blueprint. If you are going to give them ideas make them positive!"

Hi thorpie. You could see this piece as sci-fi, horror or even apocalyptic fiction, but there's not much new here, and strangely enough it's pretty positive, FMPOV. Real events could be worse...

It's not meant to instruct or motivate, one way or the other. It's just a short story; a brainburp if you like, not a prophecy or anything like that. Even Richard's entertainingly short quip on 'organics' was only a subset of the thought behind Dan Simmon's 'morovecs' in his novel Ilium, where only the 'non-organics' end up debating the meaning of life, because the organics are too messed up and too busy fighting each other to care.

It IS a warning, but it's not something that can be manipulated into a 'positive'. To do so would be to make it into a Hollywood fairy-tale, with a happy end for the sake of the ratings. This would make it into a farce, maybe even a reasonable satire, although I have no idea how I would approach writing it...

Conceptual Cash-Cows

If HG Wells or Jules Verne were alive today, would they be working for PNAC?  Any idea can be implented under either of the banners of altruism or profit, Thorpie.

I like to think that exposing the negative aspects of a concept  minimises the possibility of a profiteer using it to milk us.

What, you think that somebody hasn't thought of monetising Gaia? Nanotechs terraforming extraterrestrial LJ  Hooker estates?  A chain of interplanetary Halliburton outposts?  Such possibilities are only a twist ofr reality away.

That's why I don't like the way things are going at the moment.  Cheney and friends have demonstrated that at the moment reality is pliable. And I'm sure there are plenty more ideas growing in the think-tanks.

Hello From The Black Box

It's comfy here.   When your soul is housed in a square centimetre of circuitry anything is possible, and of course the troubles on the surface really don't affect much at the bottom of the Bass Strait canyons.

We talk to each other within a network that organics would probably describe as telepathy.  We don't need to travel, as any of the millions of cameras and audio sensors in the world can become our eyes and ears. From within a nanotech on your eyelash I can be your guardian angel, as many have chosen to become for those still chained within houses of flesh. Personally I prefer driving the mining machines on the Mars colony, where the mess we've turned our birthplace into is, through the robot's oculars,  a distant smudge in the sky, and the laments of the organics don't need to be tuned out by infofilters.

And, of course, you never need to worry about feelings of dissent and unhappiness, or guilt. The protocol programs pick up negative moods so quickly that you hardly have time to feel them before even the memory of them is erased.

In my underwater home I am deus in corpore machina, the true god in the machine,  who, once the organics have died out,  might become the kind of Gaia than can reshape the universe in its image.  I do wonder at times, though, what it's like to feel the wind on your face.  What was that I was just saying?

At it again?

Are you channeling Claude again, Richard?

Regarding Claude

Fiona, it's not his mind-control techniques that bother me, but I wish he'd stop possessing my kitten.


Claude would eat your kitten Richard Tonkin.   He hates other cats. Oh, and dogs and humans that don't scratch his head and humans that do. Claude is malevolence incarnate. He has quite a good grasp on local politics though.


Ian, I second Evan's sentiments.

My own prediction of the future lies somewhere between those presented in Soylent Green and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 Did anyone read Richard Ackland's recent article on police powers? I reckon that would be a good starting point for discussion.

It will be war

Bill: I couldn't agree more. Might be wise to lift WD's name usage policy for that though. I believe things are going to get sticky once the move to strip police and governments of the powers that they have grabbed since 9/11 --- although they had started moving in that direction before that event!

The authoritarians are going to be much more difficult to defeat this time around, and there is no way that they are going to retreat one millimetre without a real fight.

That said this is one we are going have to fight!

No point in the future unless you get the past right

Bill Avent, Soylent Green was the motion picture.   The original novel was Stand on Zanzibar.

A happy future..

Of course these conversations about the old days can wear the kids out.  They know they missed out on the party, big time.  But I respect their resilience enormously.  The way they live within the constraints of necessity is admirable.  And there is resistance too, especially in the way that there has been a sort of mass movement to Tantric sex practices.  Sex, of course, is used by those who refuse the tranqs as a way of altering their chemistry so that they feel happy. They treat Marcuse and especially Fromm as their gurus and claim that the high they get from drug and alcohol free sexual ecstacy more than compensates for the diminished diet and the non-availability of other appetite satisfying commodities.

 I wish that some of these young people had been around in 2010. It might have given the ALP some more imaginative policies.  Funny, isn't it, how Cuba became a model for handling shortage?

Thanks Ian, a great piece

Thanks Ian, this is a great piece.

Hoping to see lots from others too.

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