Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Politics in Science Fiction #2 -- Getting Changes Wrong A

In 1965, it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that Barry Goldwater had led American conservatism to permanent defeat.

In 1955, it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that Southern politics would be dominated by segregationist Democrats for at least the rest of the century.

In 1905, Americans moving to Mexico outnumbered Mexicans moving to the US. To the best of my knowledge, nobody speculated that this would reverse five years later.

In the 1950s, Arthur C. Clarke and other British sf writers took for granted that England would remain a world power and would be a leading power in space. By then, it was no longer a major power. (And yes, I mean "England" rather than "United Kingdom." Ask your friendly neighborhood Scottish Nationalist or Welsh Nationalist for the explanation.)

In 1987, Michael F. Flynn's In the Country of the Blind -- set at an indefinite time in the 21st century -- had the Soviet Union as part of the background. (Analog, October and November 1987.) The novel relied on the assumption that social prediction could be an exact science.

In 1988, Flynn had a two-part article which made it clear that he really believed this. ("The State of Psychohistory," Analog, April and May 1988.) The article contained projections for (among other countries) the Soviet Union well into the future.

[In 2003, Tor published a revised version of the novel. The Soviet Union had disappeared from the revision. A revised version of the article was included; it had no mention that the original version had been overoptimistic about the Soviet Union's health. I'm not yet certain whether the 1990 Baen version and the 1993 Pan version of the novel had been updated.]

How can an sf writer avoid getting future politics too far wrong? It's not possible to avoid all mistakes, but there are ways to minimize them.

1. Look to see what's already happened. In the US, the post-WWII baby boom is generally considered to have begun in 1946. By 1948, it should have been obvious that American high schools would have to cope with much larger numbers of students; and that American colleges would have the same problem a few years farther down the road.

In the UK, the post-war continuation of food rationing ought to have been a strong clue that one was not living in a world-power country.

2. Assume that everything which looks strong may be weaker than any sane person imagines. An important industry can become minor. One country's dominance in an economic sector can disappear. Any political party can go the way of the Liberal Party in England, or the Italian Communist Party.

3. Do not read National Review for facts about American politics. Don't read The Nation, The New Republic, or Reason for facts, either. These are magazines of opinion, not magazines of fact.

On the other hand, blogs of opinion are currently better at finding some facts than newspapers and other traditional news media. (For a quick introduction to some blogs worth watching, see http://politicalwire.com/southpaws and http://politicalwire.com/wingers.)

The equivalent is probably true in other countries.

4. Look for American political news at the state level and lower. That's where national changes start. (http://stateline.org has state political headlines and summaries with links to newspapers. http://polstate.com has reports from individuals.)

5. If you're sure you understand another country's politics: pray for humility, have your medication adjusted, or take some other action to reduce your level of certainty. In extreme cases, place large bets on the next election there. (For US and UK elections, see http://tradesports.com.)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Politics in Science Fiction #1 Politics is People.

Why do engineers write stories with political systems which operate exactly according to specifications? Why does anyone write such stories?

Politics is people. Laws -- written, oral, signed, telepathed, etc. -- produce results only if people enforce them. They produce the intended results only if interpreted as intended. (And only if other things go right, of course.)

Ideas matter only when people use them. Those people don't have to believe an idea; they can use it to cover up their own self-interest or as camouflage for less acceptable ideas.
(How many Southern politicians ever really believed in "Separate but equal?" How many English politicians ever truly believed that Scotland and Wales were equal partners in the United Kingdom?)

And like other institutions, governments tend to place the welfare of people inside the institution ahead of the institution's purpose.

Staff the government with genetically engineered saints, transhumans, artificial intelligences, or frogs with enhanced brains? That simply puts another kind of people in charge; they'll generate the same problems.

Replace government with competing businesses, voluntary cooperatives, Fourieran phalanxes, organized crime, free agreements between individuals? You'll still have the same kinds of problems.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Friday February 25, 2005. 2/25/2005
National Journal’s Saturday bombshell: DeLay cited with new House rules violations
From http://stateline.org:
Alabama: House vote kills Jeffco filibuster
The House of Representatives killed a filibuster Thursday by Jefferson County lawmakers who were trying to obtain state money for a domed stadium or other area projects. By Kim Chandler, The Birmingham News

Arizona: Birth-control pills removed from bill
Arizona women who use birth control pills won't have to search around to find a friendly pharmacist. By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
Arizona: Legislature spends day in heated debate
A Senate bill mandating school instruction on skin-cancer prevention and a House measure to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill morning-after birth-control prescriptions if they have religious objections dominated an intense afternoon of debate Thursday at the Legislature. By Robbie Sherwood, The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

Colorado: CU reviewing staff records to ensure loyalty oaths taken
The University of Colorado is reviewing administrative records of all employees to see if they signed loyalty oaths after a controversy was sparked by the school's inability to find the loyalty oath of professor Ward Churchill. By Staff Writers, Denver Post

Colorado: Churchill artwork mirrors artist's
New questions arose Thursday about the professional history of controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill when his artwork was shown to be nearly identical to that of a well-known Western artist. By Arthur Kane, Denver Post

Connecticut: Conn. nears OK of gay civil unions
The Connecticut Legislature is poised to establish civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, which would make the state the third in the nation to offer legal recognition to same-sex couples. By Yvonne Abraham, The Boston Globe

Illinois: Ban of .50-cal. rifles sought in Illinois
Anti-gun lawmakers are seeking a ban on .50-caliber "sniper rifles," saying they're favored by terrorists and can shoot down aircraft from a range of more than 2,000 yards -- though they don't appear to be tied to any crimes here in the last decade, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis shows. By Frank Main and Art Golab, Chicago Sun-Times

Kansas: Kline - Records could ID child sexual abusers
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline on Thursday defended his secret inquiry into the records of late-term abortion patients, saying it is necessary to prosecute suspected child abusers. By Ron Sylvester, The Wichita Eagle

Kentucky: Sound of silence
It ended, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with barely a whisper. On the last day of Lexington's last tobacco auction, there was little tobacco, and few tobacco buyers. By Jim Warren, Lexington Herald-Leader

Missouri: Lawmaker wants to ban sex offenders from wearing Santa, Easter Bunny suits
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - An Illinois legislator is once again trying to prevent sex offenders from donning Santa suits or Easter Bunny outfits around children during the holidays, or handing out candy at Halloween. By Kate Thayer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

New Hampshire: Rochester police cultivate understanding of gay issues, officers
ROCHESTER, N.H. — Local police and members of the Gay Officer’s Action League held the state’s first-ever training session Wednesday designed to help cultivate understanding between straight and homosexual police officers. By Jason Howe, Foster's Online (Dover)

Rhode Island: Lawmakers, neighbors voice coyote concerns
A second bill related to the growing coyote population has been introduced in the General Assembly, even as state residents have been meeting to discuss the problems coyotes create. By Scott M. Lowe Jr., The Providence Journal (registration)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Wednesday February 23, 2005. Americablog, which helped break the Jeff Gannon story, has this:

WorldNetDaily savages GannonGuckert
by John in DC - 2/23/2005 06:12:00 PM

Jesus. One of the best, BEST, stories ever about GannonGuckertGate and what it means, and why it matters, comes from one of the most - MOST - conservative pro-Bush news sources on the Internet. This guy spells out exactly why this is a story. Exactly why this is so outrageous. And note, his column doesn't even criticize us, the liberal bloggers. It is pure and simple an article about how outrageous Gannon's and Talon's AND THE WHITE HOUSE'S actions were in this entire affair.

WorldNetDaily's story is here: WorldNetDaily
From stateline.org:
Alabama: Senate bill upsets Christian Coalition
The Christian Coalition of Alabama or any other nonprofit group that spends more than $1,000 to influence an election would have to disclose the names and addresses of all its donors, under a bill passed Tuesday by the state Senate. By David White, The Birmingham News

Arizona: 78% in poll oppose guns-in-taverns bill
A new statewide poll shows that 78 percent of those asked oppose legislation that would legalize the carrying of firearms into places where alcohol is sold. By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)

Georgia: Ga. State Senate votes to honor frogs
ATLANTA - The green tree frog took a significant leap toward becoming Georgia's official state amphibian Tuesday, with the state Senate voting unanimously to honor the tiny creatures. By The Associated Press, The Washington Post (registration)

Georgia: Bill to ban pit bulls draws fire
A Georgia legislator's bill to ban ownership of pit bulls has angry dog owners howling that the plan is unfair. By Nancy Badertscher, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (registration)

Iowa: State says Iowa inmates' religion is a front
DES MOINES, Iowa - The state is seeking to overturn a 1974 federal court ruling that gave formal religious status to a prison group that officials say is a front for a white-supremacist group. By The Associated Press , Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska)

Iowa: Lawmakers hear how artists, downtowns are improving small Iowa communities
DES MOINES, Iowa — Local artists and vibrant downtowns are elements of improving Iowa’s small cities, according to community leaders from northwest Iowa and Muscatine, testifying before a legislative panel Tuesday. By Dan Gearino , Quad-City Times

Indiana: GOP passes elections bill; Dems walk out
Despite a walkout by Democrats, the Senate Elections Committee voted 6-0 Tuesday for a bill eliminating the bipartisan nature of the structure that now regulates Indiana elections. By Mary Beth Schneider, The Indianapolis Star

Kansas: Monkey trial redux
The Scopes Monkey Trial could be up for a 21st century replay in Kansas. Sometime this spring, three members of the Kansas Board of Education plan to hear testimony from proponents of evolution and intelligent design, in a trial-like hearing with a court reporter and cross-examination of witnesses. By Joel Mathis and Alicia Henrikson, Lawrence Journal-World

Maryland: Study - Smoking ban hurt bar business
Smoking bans in Montgomery and Talbot Counties have hurt bar and restaurant business in those counties, according to a report from the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which compared state sales-tax data for bars and restaurants before and after the smoking bans went into effect. By Julekha Dash, Baltimore Business Journal (registration)

Maryland: Study - Smoking ban hurt bar business
Smoking bans in Montgomery and Talbot Counties have hurt bar and restaurant business in those counties, according to a report from the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which compared state sales-tax data for bars and restaurants before and after the smoking bans went into effect. By Julekha Dash, Baltimore Business Journal (registration)

Maine: Cell phone ban gets one firm's guarded assent
Two cell phone companies are opposing a bill in the Legislature that would prevent most motorists from using hand-held cell phones while they are on the road. By Paul Carrier, Portland Press Herald

New Mexico: Panel OK’s domestic-partnership bill
Separate bills ruling out gay marriage and authorizing domestic partnerships got the go-ahead from a Senate committee on Tuesday. By Deborah Baker, The Associated Press, New Mexican (Santa Fe) (registration)

Virginia: Cell-phone ban is amended
The House of Delegates weakened a bill yesterday that would ban young drivers from talking on cell phones by allowing the use of hands-free devices, a change the Senate sponsor vowed to fight. By Pamela Stallsmith, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Monday, February 07, 2005

From alt.history.future, some guesses:

2008: In the US Presidential election, the Democratic candidate wins. Democratic majority in the Senate; Republicans hold on to the House, but their majority is seriously eroded. Pundits begin predicting the demise of the Republican Party and of conservatism.

2020: There are men on the Moon, again, and on Mars -- from the European Community, China, and India.

Nevada, Arizona, and parts of New Mexico are no longer gaining population; the cost of providing water has driven up the cost of living. The Plains States are gaining population.

Western Canada has gained enough population that Ontario and Quebec no longer have the majority of Canada's population. And at least one province along the Atlantic coast is unexpectedly gaining population.

2024: The Republican candidate wins the US Presidential election. Pundits begin predicting the demise of the Republican Party and of liberalism.

2050: The Republican Party supports gay rights. The Republican Party has always supported gay rights.

The Russian Federation has fallen apart. Russia itself still exists, and still includes Siberia. However, parts of Russia are economically dominated by EU corporations who've moved in to escape rising labor costs in Ukraine and the Baltic countries. Finnish is being heard again in Karelia.

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