Saturday, March 27, 2010

Living in the future, Egyptian politics section

Steven A. Cook writing in Foreign Policy [thanks to]:

Perhaps more important was the return to Egypt in February of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after a 12-year absence. ...Foreign news outlets estimated that as many as one thousand Egyptians turned out to welcome him home at Cairo’s airport -- and to implore him to run for president in Egypt’s 2011 elections (a significant number given the government’s record of intimidation and violence).

He coyly told the Egyptian and foreign press that he would consider running if the Egyptian government enacted electoral and party reforms to ensure truly free and fair elections. At the same time, he formed a new political organization called the National Front for Change, which encompasses a broad swath of Egypt’s fractious but largely ineffective opposition movement.... The creation of the Front, along with his tantalizing public statements, only amplified the ElBaradei phenomenon. By late February, Egyptian bloggers and journalists were reporting that one thousand people were joining ElBaradei’s Facebook page every ten minutes. This story is surely apocryphal, but it is nonetheless worth noting that ElBaradei currently has 82,069 Facebook supporters, compared to [Egyptian President] Gamal Mubarak’s 6,583.

Image:ElBaradei's Facebook fan page.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

October Fool's Day

Short and sweet from Will McLean's A Commonplace Book. Life in the future/the present/Will's parallel universe is far more entertaining than the usual lies that make up the news. Unlike the regular news, this is all true.

Image: Pope Gregory VII and his own aerial protector.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

A Hollywood future history

Last year I posted a number of entries about "living in the future" -- how I sometimes felt I had slipped into a science fictional world.

Sometime over the weekend a writer who calls himself IOZ, and who devotes his blog to scathing satire and sacred cow massacres, wrote this, a fine example of the "living in the future" genre, if not necessarily one I would've written myself. It is called Apocalypse Cow.

Living in the future is like totally awesome. One guy running for president is a secretly Muslim mulatto terrorist subversive, the kind of dude who's supposed to be living outside the city walls in the radioactive wasteland that was once the earth. His running mate is a loquacious droid assembled in the basement of a secret Visa/Mastercard facility. His opponent is an insane former soldier who can't conceal his cruel rictus whenever the topic of Death comes up. His opponent's running mate is one of Captain Kirk's girlfriends. I swear to Jesus that the Mayan's were right about this whole 2012 thing. I might have become a Christian if someone had told me the End Times were going to be this fucking hilarious.
It would all be much funnier of course if I were sure we would survive it all.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Over on Scott Aaronson's blog there's been a lively discussion about a knotty problem. Aaronson is a computer scientist interested in quantum computing (which I always think of as something pertaining to a rather distant future) and therefore quantum mechanics.

Well, back in October Scott found that a couple of lines from lectures he's published on the web constitute the entire script for an Australian ad for Ricoh printers. You really owe it to yourself to see the ad on YouTube. He's not quite sure what he should do about it. Hundreds of people have made suggestions in comments and I suggest you go over there and give your prejudices an exercise. Somebody has already contributed a comment that will raise your ire.

Opinion there polarized around two positions: one, that Scott should not be such an uptight American about intellectual property and feel complimented or something that his words got out there; and two, nobody (the ad agency) should be making money with his stuff when they didn't even ask permission.

I can see both sides, since I have plenty of lectures on the web. I don't know if anyone's ever stolen them (for term papers?). I'm glad to have my stuff out there to be read, but on the other hand...

An interesting problem indeed.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Living in the present: Phil Dick's world

The same evening I watched 300, set in a mythic past where people with delusions of godhood really like body piercings, I saw on TV an episode of CSI: New York where the cops had to investigate a murder by tracking his/her avatar down in Second Life. I've occasionally written here about my occasional sense of "living in the future;" watching the episode Down the Rabbit Hole, I had a slightly different feeling, that I was living inside a Philip K. Dick novel. Dick was a prolific science fiction writer who worked mainly in the 1960s and 70s. If you don't know his books, you may have seen films based on his work, especially Blade Runner and Total Recall. I'm very fond of Blade Runner, which I think Dick would have liked, but even it does not give more than a hint of what Dick's universe was like. He was scorned by many dedicated SF readers back then because he tended to focus on the ludicrous or trivially aggravating aspect of the future. A good example is quoted in a recent article on Dick in the New Yorker (brilliantly entitled Blows against the Empire; hijack the starship!):

In “Ubik” (1969)...the first premise is that the ancient human dream of communication with the dead has been achieved at last—but, when you go to speak with them, there is static and missed connections and interference, and then you argue over your bill. At the beginning of the novel, one of the heroes, Runciter, tries to connect with his “passed” wife, Ella:

“Is something the matter, Mr. Runciter?” the von Vogelsang person said, observing him as he floundered about. “Can I assist you?”
“I’ve got some thing coming in over the wire,” Runciter panted, halting.
“Instead of Ella. Damn you guys and your shoddy business practices; this shouldn’t happen, and what does it mean?” . . .
“Did the individual identify himself?”
“Yeah, he called himself Jory.”
Frowning with obvious worry, von Vogelsang said, “That would be Jory Miller. I believe he’s located next to your wife. In the bin.”
“But I can see it’s Ella!”
“After prolonged proximity,” von Vogelsang explained, “there is occasionally a mutual osmosis, a suffusion between the mentalities of half-lifers. Jory Miller’s cephalic activity is particularly good; your wife’s is not. That makes for an unfortunately one-way passage of protophasons. . . . If this condition persists your money will be returned to you.” . . .
Facing the casket, von Vogelsang pressed the audio outlet into his ear and spoke briskly into the microphone. . . . “This is very unfair of you, Jory; Mr. Runciter has come a long way to talk to his wife. Don’t dim her signal, Jory; that’s not nice.”
As the author of this article, Adam Gopnik, implies, this is just too similar to someone today complaining about their telecom problems.

I got a strong Phil Dick flavor from Down the Rabbit Hole. It partly took place in an online social interaction "world," and this had a touch of Dick's fascination with reality lurking behind appearances and semi-human simulacra. Most of the action, it turned out, was the result of a plot to kill a Congressman who met women in Second Life as a way of initiating affairs; Dick could have written that, his books were full of fraught relationships. But what drew the Dick comparison to mind was the little remote device, armed with video cameras, that the cops sent into a silent apartment to show them if there was any danger lurking. If it had only made a cute noise or held conversations with the cops it would have been a perfect Dick touch.

And none of this was at all fantastic; it's just life in the present, as depicted on broadcast TV.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Living in the future, for real

Something I saw on the Web today gave me a real "living in the future" chill: Al Gore speaking via hologram to an audience in Tokyo. This is exactly the stuff of the science fiction I read in the 60s and which was in many cases written 10 or 20 years earlier.

But nobody told me I could watch it via the Internet and learn a few words of Dutch at the same time!

This brings to mind a previous time I had a similar, but more joyful and profound feeling. It wasn't July 20, 1969, though that was a great day. It was at the time of the Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998 (I think) when the centerpiece of the opening ceremonies was various choirs around the world, including one in free South Africa, a South Africa not suffering from genocidal civil war, singing Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Man, somethings are better than science fiction.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

More on the Long Now, early history and living in the future

Further discussion continues at In the Middle.

You may want to look at this earlier post and its links.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Early history or living in the future?

I sometimes wonder whether this blog, originally conceived as an adjunct to my university teaching, has become too much of a general purpose site, including as it does lots of things that aren't directly about "early history."

Today, however in reading the Medieval Studies blog In the Middle by Karl Steel, Eileen Joy and J.J. Cohen, I felt reassured. Today's post is linked to an older one by Joy and commented on by Cohen, which clearly shows that these two scholars share my feeling that the various themes found here can shed light on each other.

Do read that post.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Living in the future -- plastic water bottles

If you live long enough, you begin to live in the future that you used to imagine. (And as a science-fiction reader since the age of ten, I've had a lot of help and practice.) Some of the things that happen in that future are unexpectedly good (the nearly bloodless collapse of European communism), some are bad surprises (name your genocide; global warming and the unwillingness of powerful people to do anything about it, or really even think about it). But it's the unexpectedness that gets me. Often this is most obvious in little things.

Yesterday, I had a "living in the future" experience at convocation. We faculty were sitting in a hot hall in front of the graduates and guests, slurping water from plastic bottles. When I was graduating from university that would just not have happened. First, there were very few plastic bottles of any kind. Second, buying water was seldom done (the current distrust of tap water strikes me as superstition -- bottled water comes out of a tap). Third, at least in my family, slurping from a bottle on a formal occasion was considered a slobby thing to do. Sure, drink out of a glass bottle at a picnic, or a picnic-like meal indoors, but at a graduation? Or, as recently, while delivering a paper at an academic conference?

Here's another smallshock from life in the future. Say you have to take a dog with you in the car on a sunny day. However careful you are you will want to have water for that dog. If you went out to the mall, both bowl and water are available. The bowl, if bought at a dollar store, has almost certainly come from China, may look quite attractive, and will last as long as a ceramic bowl does. Despite the fact that it has traveled half way around the world it will cost you a dollar plus tax. The water you put in that bowl is Canadian water from Ontario, is packaged in a disposable bottle made in Ontario, and costs a lot more.

Life in the future!