Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Future Imagined by Conservatives

Washington Post Magazine has an imaginative article written by Marc Fisher about what life would be like in Washington, DC in 2025. Why 17 years and not a nice round 20? I guess because 2025 just sounded cooler than 2028.

Now I normally like this kind of imagine-how-we’ll-all-be-driving-flying-cars-and-have-robot-servants kind of thinking, but as I started reading between the lines I noticed there were an awful lot of straight up conservative ideology being passed off as “the inevitable future.”

Let’s start with Marc Fisher’s causal assumption in both future scenarios he envisions, which follow two families (both nuclear), one which is supposed to be have and the other a have-not, that the U.S. is besieged by waves of terrorist attacks. It’s the world of 24-OMG-terrorists. I suppose fear is important element to keep alive if you want people to give up all of their rights and liberties.

In scenario one Heath Shuler is president so we can see how all the democratic ideals to keep sprawl down will fail in every way possible.

Shuler's lure was the great open spaces that were now finally fully linked to AmeriWeb, the wireless information network that extended into every community in the land, the result of the most massive public works project since the construction of the interstate highway system.

The Second Age of Discovery, as Shuler called it, was designed to spread out the nation's population from the traffic-choked suburbs and therefore ease the road, rail and air gridlock that was strangling the economy.
Because Democrats are concerned about global warming, gridlock and making sure people have internet access.
What could be changed was the idea that the only way to keep housing affordable was for workers to live far from their jobs. The new acceptance of a more diffused population didn't do much to preserve open spaces, but Shuler and other politicians sold the idea by dangling before employers and workers alike the carrot of jobs and homes in close proximity. The idea was to engineer a significant drop in driving, which, coupled with striking increases in energy efficiency, would yield sharp declines in consumption of fossil fuels.
But what fools they were!
Alas, as the Ververs would learn, reality did not live up to political rhetoric. Finding a job near home turned out to be harder than the president's pronouncements made it out to be.
Journalism falls apart – left to a “ragtag crew of volunteers working out of their cars and bedrooms” ... shouting “Wolverines!” no doubt. Meanwhile Victor Verver’s job is monitoring blogs for government contractors in case “any opinion wildfire might be threatening the policymakers in his assigned sector.” Would that be Oceania or Eurasia?

However in the future (both scenarios) we don’t have to worry about those pesky Spanish-speaking brown people. Any brown people with a $1 million dollars – which really shouldn’t be all that much in 2025 – are allowed in and all the brown people from Central America leave.
Besides, Prince William's schools were imploding, losing an entire school's worth of Hispanic students each year as recent immigrants steadily left the county, an exodus fueled by both pressure -- tough enforcement programs aimed at illegal immigrants -- and the lure of the good money back home in Central America, where the service, hospitality and health industries were hungry for workers around the huge retirement colonies filled with septuagenarian boomers from El Norte.
Yes, somehow in the future FTAA has fixed the economies of poorer countries...I mean why else are people still sneaking in America. Didn’t NAFTA totally fix Mexico’s economy so no one wanted to immigrate anymore? But just in case it didn’t, we really totally cracked down on illegals this time!

Anyway there’s definitely one odd contradiction in this future. Somehow we fight a Total War for Energy Independence (because after all, how did our oil get under their land) but yes a mere four years later the “middle east” is now more welcoming and secular.
(To the great surprise of many, while energy prices soared steadily for almost two decades after the 9/11 attacks, in the past few years the cost of fossil fuels had stabilized. Depending on your political ideology, this was the result of either the Total War for Energy Independence that President Jeb Bush launched in 2021, or of Iran's velvet revolution and the new openness toward the West that the secular-friendly Young Islam movement was exporting across the Middle East.)
You can’t read it in the online version, but the magazine has several cutaway quotes that explain the thinking of the article’s consulted experts. So this passage:
Victor had suggested that she might be able to teach at one of the new, private Asian Academies that wealthy Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and Korean Americans had opened to train the children of new immigrants for jobs in the tech, health and communications sectors.
Is highlighted with a cutaway quote:
Our panelists are almost unanimous in declaring that the District’s public school system will have to be dissolved, sold off or otherwise disposed of. Not one of our panelists sees much hope for success in the reform efforts of the early 21st century. Gary Marx, president of the Center for Public Outreach in Vienna, foresees a decision to shut down industrial-age schools and reinvent education with a heavy emphasis on expanding the ranks of creative workers and diminishing differences across national borders.
Really, the roughly 223-year-old experiment in public schools is going to collapse in a mere 17 years?

It this part that made me wonder who all these “panelists” were and if they were shared in an libertarian/conservative ideology of privatization in everything? Because the ideas are certainly interspaced throughout the article. Businesses provide everything from housing to busing to workers who can’t afford to work for them otherwise. And this isn’t presented as a dystopian future...merely the byproduct of, well sprawl.

And that’s just scenario one (which I’ll spare you all the boring isolation-of-the-electronic-age bullshit. How people can’t even make real friends now that the internet exists).

In Scenario Two there’s still that Total War for Energy Independence and terrorism, a “beloved top general” was just assassinated (in battle? Cause wouldn’t that just be a causality of war then?) Oh yeah and there just happens to be a GIANT NUCLEAR HOLE IN MANHATTAN. Yet somehow the family of have-nots (this time called the Pinerios) lives are shaped more by air-conditioning than terrorism. DC has been turned into a Baghdad with a Green Zone. The poor Pinerios can’t afford the security clearance implants so commuting takes hours to cross checkpoints.

Once again, public schools barely exist. (Funny how that’s true in both scenarios).
Petra, being 15, was loath to leave her hard-won place at the District's Wilson High School, which was operated by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees government workers union. She didn't want to give up her post as president of the school's Anti-PED Campaign, which agitated for a return to the days before officially sanctioned performance-enhancing drugs had changed the face of scholastic athletics. But over time, Paula convinced her daughter that a new school would have a far superior academic program and more kids like herself. It's not that Petra had anything against the Chinese and Iranian immigrants who dominated Wilson's population; she just sometimes felt excluded from their social circles.
I take it to mean little Petra Pinerio is white. Damn those immigrants’ kids.

Still there are parts to scenario two that remind me a hell of a lot of the dystopian novel Jennifer Government who’s daughter bemoaned the fact she went the McDonald's schools cause they were so darned cheap. Everyone knew the Pepsi schools were the best.
In Konterra, Petra wouldn't be a minority -- no one is. Fed High, like all of Prince George's County, had no dominant racial or ethnic group. And with the entire county school system now operated by Google PeopleShaping, Fed High was free of all No Child Left Behind regulations, free to offer a full range of courses in subjects that the city's schools hadn't taught in decades, such as music and drama.
And once again we find that any fears about civil liberties were proven to be totally wrong.
Then there were the national ID cards that, once the controversy died down, really had helped to control the borders, redefine labor markets and reduce health costs.
Real ID cards also fixed the national debt, put a chicken in every pot and helped me find my car keys!

Anyway somehow despite all the superbrillant Chinese immigrants there still isn’t enough, ahem, “homegrown” workers to fill the need for workers. (Why, oh, why did we keep out all those talented brown people?)

But in the future women now get college grants if they pledge to give birth.
By enrolling in a Google-sponsored school, Petra would automatically qualify for one of the new Brin college grants for young women who pledged their intent to bear children -- a policy aimed at relieving the persistent shortage of well-educated, homegrown workers.
Plus DC residents will desperately cross the Maryland border for the ”fried food speakeasies.” People will just do anything for their oil fix, man!

So, in short, the future is racist, fearful, undersurveillance, privatized, and people eat Soylent Green.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Digusted By The News

Time for another Friday guest cat pic, this time from my long-time poster Jon. His own title for the pic, "Oliver disgusted after reading the news."

I'm also pretty digusted by the news this week. Senate Republicans managed to block any voting on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that would restore the right to sue for pay discrimination (without getting technical, the Supreme Court has set up a standard that is impossible to reach. So no woman who is actually discriminated against can get relief).

Six Republicans joined the Democrats but I can't wrap my head around the others' thinking on this. Do Republicans really just not care? Do they think "well sure some women get screwed over but if we allowed them to sue for discrimination the U.S. economy would be hurt. Therefore some women just have to take one for the team." ("the team" being U.S. profits).

There were some objections to the bill based on some provisions...okay, but in the two years since the Supreme Court case its not like the Republicans have sponsored even a competing bill. So again, they agree its a problem, but object to how this bill is written and then not once made fixing the problem their issue. The Republican position is "we agree pay discrimination against women is a problem...we simply don't care if it fixed." Oh yeah, and McCain finally came out against it. Women need more training, not protection from assholes who think it's okay to pay them less because they are women.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another Thought of the Day

10 percent of registered voters think Barrack Obama is a muslim. Even among those who say they have heard a lot about the controversy about Obama's affiliation with the United Church of Christ and its controversial minister, the Rev. Wright, 9% still identify Obama as Muslim. I guess Rev. Wright's robe looked really Muslim-y despite the fact he's called a REVEREND.

Should I be happy or sad that 9 percent of independent voters think he's a Muslim?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Review: World Made By Hand

I haven’t done a book review yet, but World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler was something I couldn’t put down when I was in Boston. I knew nothing about the author, who wrote the non-fiction book The Long Emergency, about what happens to the world when oil runs out. Well in World Made By Hand he crafts the answer. The world looks like a cross between the 19th century wild west and a Stephen King’s The Stand (with maybe a little first-season Jericho thrown-in. Actually this was the direction I had hoped Jericho would have followed...)

The protagonist of the book is Robert Earle, a widowed former software executive-turned carpenter living in a Union Grove, New York. The novel takes place about a decade or so after a few nuclear bombs went out, followed by a plague, and suddenly everyone is still readjusting to the new world, which looks a lot like the old one, one with a early-to-bed-early-to-rise workaday existence. (Because the only light is provided by candles and the only labor is done by hand, or maybe by ploughshare pulled by horses, if you are lucky enough to afford a horse.)

Kunstler knows how to paint a vivid portrait of this new world. I loved the descriptions (and explanations) of what is the purpose of a summer kitchen. And reemergence of docks as river trade is one of the only connections to life outside Union Grove. The author is good at making you fully miss the depravations the characters do, like airplanes and sugar. (They get excited about sorghum being planted).

The Stephen King side of the story is that a new religious cult moves into the town’s old high school. Very late in the novel there is a Neo-meets-The-Oracle scene which opens up a world of possibilities for the future. The only problem with the book is that is lazy in tracing a plot, as the author is much more interested in examining every detailed corner of this new world. But because those details are so interesting one doesn’t mind the long parts that read like Laura Ingalls Wilder (there’s even a barn dance).

In the end a World Made By Hand is the kind of place where I love to visit vicariously through fiction, but, despite what I can see as a certain appeal, I don’t want to live there. However I would love to spend more time in Kunstler’s world and I’m hoping he’ll write a sequel.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Lena's Basket

It's been a while since I used a Lena photo for Friday Cat Blogging. Unlike Al, Lena has a sleeping basket. Oddly enough its one of the few places Al doesn't attempt to push Lena aside. It's like he understands that the basket is her personal space.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thought of the Day

Sweden has taken in 40,000 Iraqi refugees while America has only taken in 6,000 (which were mostly people who worked as translators and fixers for the U.S.).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: How You Doing?

After several weeks of guest cats, we're back to our feature star, Al the deaf cat. The lighting didn't work out quite as well as I hoped in this shot, but I wish you all could see the look Al is giving. It's very Joey "so how you doing?"