Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Retrotopia: Public Utilities, Private Goods

This is the fourth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator, having arrived in the capital of the Lakeland Republic, discovers that things are even stranger there than he thought...

I’d already guessed that the hotel lobby probably wouldn’t look much like the ones I was used to seeing elsewhere, and so I wasn’t surprised. Instead of the glaring lights, security cameras, and automated check-in kiosks I was used to, it was a comfortable space with sofas and chairs around the edges, ornate chandeliers overhead, and a couple of desks staffed by actual human beings over to one side; off to the other side, glass doors framed in wood led into what looked like a full-service restaurant. A bellhop—was that the right word?—came trotting over to take my suitcase as soon as I came through the door, said something pleasant, and followed me over to the check-in desk.

“I’ve got a reservation,” I said to the clerk. “The name’s Peter Carr.”

I’d been wondering whether the hotel would turn out to use an old-fashioned computer system with a keyboard and screen, but apparently even that was too complex for local standards. Instead, the clerk pulled out a three-ring binder, opened it, and found my reservation in about as much time as it would have taken to input a name on a veepad and wait for a response to come out of the cloud. “Welcome to the Capitol Hotel, Mr. Carr. We have you down for fourteen nights.”

“That’s right.”

“Looks like everything’s paid for in advance. If you’ll sign here.” She handed me a clipboard with a sheet of paper on it and an old-fashioned ballpoint pen. Fortunately I hadn’t quite forgotten how to produce a non-digital signature, and signed on the line at the bottom. “Anything you order in the restaurant here—” She motioned toward the doors on the far side of the room. “—or for room service can be billed to the room account. How many keys will you want?”

“Just one.”

She opened a drawer, pulled out an honest-to-Pete metal key with a ring and a tag with the room number on it. “Here you go. Stairs are right down the hall; if you need the elevator it’s to the left. Is there anything else I can do for you? Enjoy your stay, Mr. Carr.”

I thanked her and headed for the hall with the bellhop in tow. My room was on the third floor and the stairs didn’t look too challenging, so I asked him, “Do you mind if we take the stairs?”

“Not a bit,” he said. “Comes with the job.”

We started up the stairs. “Do you get a lot of people here from outside the Lakeland Republic?”

“All the time. Capitol’s just four blocks away, and Embassy Row’s between here and there. We had the foreign minister of Québec here just last week.”

“No kidding.” There had been rumors for years that the Québecois started tacitly ignoring the embargo even before Canada broke up; we had decent relations with Montréal these days, but that hadn’t always been the case, and so any news about what was going on between Québec and the Lakeland Republic were worth my attention. “Big official visit, or what?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” said the bellhop. “Really nice lady. Had a bottle of champagne sent up to her room first thing every morning.”

I laughed. “Heck of a breakfast.”

“Nah, breakfast was a couple of hours later, with more champagne. Go figure.”

We got to the third floor, left the stair, and went down the hall to my room. “Just leave it inside the door,” I said, meaning the suitcase. “Thanks.”

“Sure thing.”

I didn’t have any Lakeland money to tip him, but guessed the couple of Atlantic bills I had would do. Fortunately I was right; he grinned, thanked me, and headed back toward the stair.

The room was bigger than I’d expected, with a queen-sized bed on one side and a desk and dresser on the other. I knew there wouldn’t be a veebox, but thought there might be a screen or even an old-fashioned television in the room, but no dice. The only things even vaguely electronic were a telephone on the desk and a boxy thing on the dresser that had a loudspeaker and some dials on it—a radio, I guessed, and decided to leave turning it on for later. Curtained windows on the far wall let through diffuse light; I went over and pulled the curtains open.

The bellhop hadn’t been kidding. There was the Capitol dome, half-complete, rising up above a ragged roofline right in front of me. That would be convenient, I decided, and let the curtains fall again.

I got my things settled and then went to the desk and the big envelope of yellowish paper sitting on top of it. Inside was the notebook Melissa Berger had mentioned, a couple of pens, a packet of papers that had BANK OF TOLEDO printed across the top of each sheet, an identification card with my name and photo on it, a wallet that was pretty clearly meant to hold money and the ID card, and a letter on government stationery welcoming me to Toledo in the usual bland terms, over President Meeker’s signature. Then there were half a dozen pages of instructions on how to get by in the Lakeland Republic, which covered everything from customary tips (I’d overtipped the bellhop, though not extravagantly) to who to contact in this or that kind of emergency. I nodded; clearly the bellhop hadn’t been exaggerating when he mentioned plenty of foreign guests.

I dropped my veepad in a desk drawer and got the wallet and some of the papers settled into the empty pocket. First things first, I decided: visit the bank and get the money thing sorted out, then get some lunch and do a bit of wandering.

Down in the lobby, the concierge was behind his desk. “Can I help you?”

“Please. I need to know where to find the Bank—” All at once I couldn’t remember the name, and reached for the papers in my pocket.

“Out the door,” said the concierge, “hang a left, go a block and a half straight ahead, and you’ll be standing right in front of it.”

I considered him. “You don’t need to know which bank?”

“There’s only one in town.”

That startled me, though I managed not to show it. “Okay, thanks.”

“Have a great day,” he said.

I headed out the doors, turned left, started along the sidewalk.  A cold damp wind was rushing past, pushing shreds of cloud across the sky, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why most of the other people on the sidewalk were wearing hats and  long coats; they looked much warmer than I felt. Still, Philadelphia has plenty of cold weather, and I was used to the way the chill came through bioplastic business wear. What annoyed me a little, or more than a little, was the way that my clothing made me stick out like a sore thumb.

In retrospect, it was amusing. Everybody else on the sidewalk looked like extras from half a dozen random history vids, everything from fedoras and trench coats to the kind of thing that was last in style when Toledo was a frontier town, and there I was, the only person in town in modern clothing—and you can guess for yourself who was the conspicuous one. The adults gave me startled looks and then pretended that nothing was up, but the kids stared wide-eyed as though I had two extra heads or something. As I said, it was amusing in retrospect, but at the time it made me acutely uncomfortable, and I was glad to get to the bank.

That was a three-story brick building on a street corner. Fortunately it had BANK OF TOLEDO—CAPITOL BRANCH above the doors, or I’d probably have missed it, since it didn’t look anything like the banks I was used to. Inside was even weirder: no security cameras, no automated kiosks, no guards in helmets and flak jackets pacing the balcony waiting for trouble, just a lobby with a greeter inside the door and a short line of patrons waiting for tellers. The greeter met me with a cheery “Hi, how can we help you today?” I got out the bank papers, and a minute or two later got shown into one of three little office spaces off the main lobby.

On the other side of the desk was a middle-aged African-American man with a neatly trimmed beard. “I’m Larry Jones,” he said, getting up to shake my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr.—”

“Carr,” I said. “Peter Carr.” We got the formalities out of the way and sat down; I handed him the papers; he checked them, we discussed some of the details, and he then unlocked a drawer in his desk and pulled out a big envelope.

“Okay,” he said. “Everything’s good. The only question I have at this point is whether you’ve ever used cash or checks before.”

“I’m guessing,” I said, “that you ask that question fairly often.”

“These days, yes,” he replied. “Bit of a change since before the Treaty.”

“I bet. The answer, though, is cash, yes; checks—well, I’ve seen a few of them.”

“Okay, fair enough.” He looked relieved, and I wondered how many people from the cashless countries he’d had to walk through the details of counting out coins. “Here’s your checkbook,” he said, pulling the thing out of the envelope, and then opened it and showed me how to write a check. “Up here,” he said, flipping open a notebookish thing in front, “is where you keep track of how much you’ve spent.” He must have caught my expression, because he broke into a broad smile and said, “Long time since you’ve done math with a pen, I bet.”

“Depends on how long it’s been since never,” I told him.

He laughed. “Gotcha. Glad to say we can help you out there, too.” He opened a different drawer in his desk, handed me a flat little shape of brass. “This is a mechanical calculator,” he said. “Adds and subtracts for you.”

I took the thing, gave it a baffled look. “I didn’t know you could do that without electronics.”

“I think we’re the only country on earth that still makes these.” He showed me how to use the stylus to slide the digits up and down. Once I had it figured out, I thanked him and tucked the calculator and checkbook into my pocket.

“Do you have a minute?” I asked then. “I’ve got a couple of questions about the way you do things here—about banking, mostly.”

“Sure thing,” he said. “Ask away.”

“The concierge at the hotel said there’s only one bank here in Toledo. Is that true everywhere in the Lakeland Republic?”

“Yes, if you’re talking about consumer banking.”

“Is it the same bank everywhere?”

“Good heavens, no. Each county and each city of any size has its own bank, like it has its own water and sewer district and so on.”

“That makes it sound like a public utility,” I said, baffled.

“That’s exactly what it is. Again, that’s just consumer banking. We’ve got privately owned commercial banks here, but those do investment banking only—they’re not allowed to offer savings and checking accounts, consumer loans, small business services, that sort of thing, just like we’re not allowed to do any kind of investment banking.”

I shook my head, baffled. “Why the restriction?”

“Well, that used to be law in the United States, from the 1930s to the 1980s or so, and it worked pretty well—it was after they changed the law that the economy really started running off the rails, you know. So our legislature changed the law back after Partition, and it’s worked pretty well for us, too.” 

“I don’t think banks were public utilities back then,” I objected.

“No, that was mostly further back, and only some banks,” he agreed. “The thing is, the way we see it, there are some things that private industry does really well and some things that it doesn’t do well at all, and public utilities like water, sewer service, electricity, public transit, consumer banking, that sort of thing—those work better when you don’t let private interests milk them for profits. I know you do things different back home.”

“True enough. But isn’t it more efficient to leave those things to private industry?”

“That depends, Mr. Carr, on what you mean by efficiency.”

That intrigued me. “Please go on.”

Unexpectedly, he laughed. “I give a talk on that every year at one of the homeschool associations here in town. Efficiency is always a ratio—more or less efficient at producing an output in terms of a given input. A chemical process is efficient if it turns out more product for the same amount of raw materials, or the ssme amount of energy, or what have you. We get people from outside all the time talking about how this or that would be more efficient than what we do, and you know what? None of them seem to be able to answer a simple question: efficient for what output, in terms of what input?”

I could see where this was going, and decided to head onto a different tack. “And having consumer banks as public utilities,” I said. “Is that more efficient for some output in terms of some input?”

“We don’t worry so much about that,” the banker said. “The question that matters to most people here is much simpler: does it work or doesn’t it?”

“How do you tell?”

“History, Mr. Carr,” he said. He was smiling again. “History.”


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John Michael Greer said...

On the off chance that any of my readers are true believers in the infinite goodness of the free market, and object to the ideas of banks as public utilities, a personal note: I've lived in places where electricity was provided by publicly owned utilities, and places where it was provided by for-profit companies. The publicly owned utilities reliably provided better service at a lower cost. I suspect publicly owned banks would do exactly the same thing. 'Nuf said!

sgage said...

Ah, back to the Lakeland Republic. A very interesting and entertaining episode, if not shocking :-)

Now he's going to go out wandering around a bit - should be some amusing scenes...

whomever said...

JMB: Just to back up banks as utilities: A LOT of countries (including Japan and Germany so we aren't talking backwaters here) have banking offered by the post office. The Japanese Post Office is actually the world's largest savings banks by deposits. The UK did it in the 19th century. People have seriously suggested it for the US but of course no chance of THAT happening so long as the US Govt remains a holy-owned subsidiary of Goldman Sacks.

Glad to see Canada coming into the mix and props for getting the accents right! (I'm not Canadian and don't speak French, but it feels polite).

William Church said...

Have to agree with you on the banks John.

Isn't it amazing how many lessons individuals and societies have learned and then forgotten. And then learned again. Only to.... Well you get the idea.

Ideology. It is amazing to me how much it can keep one from seeing what is right in front of you. To any unbiased observer a great deal of our nation's neoliberal experiment has been an unmitigated disaster. But your never get that idea from listening to most economists and politicians.

Does it work. That is a question I would love to see the US direct at our medical system. My goodness, it would be a giant step forward if we simply stopped to ask what it's purpose is.


Ozark Chinquapin said...

This may be of interest regarding future scenarios in the Great Lakes region

Around 8000 years ago, the climate was dry enough that at least some of the Great Lakes became closed basins.The Great Lakes have small watershed sizes compared to their area, which makes them vulnerable in a drier climate. The dry climate of that period was likely caused by weather patterns emanating from the still present ice sheets in Canada, but if climate change were to produce a drier climate in the Great Lakes region, or even if the precipitation amounts stayed similar but evaporation increased significantly due to warmer average temperatures, the lakes could become closed basins again, which would not only impede shipping between the lakes, but also lead to wildly fluctuating water levels and pollutants becoming concentrated.

The Great Lakes area does have a number of advantages in a deindustral society where the coasts are dealing with rising seas, but their Achilles heel is vulnerability to a drier overall climate. On the other hand, as long as longer term trends bring enough precipitation, their huge size makes them resilient to shorter term droughts.

Tom Bannister said...

I am loving this story (and part of me is going "What-t-t-t-t!!!!! but surely it is common knowledge that privatization is more efficient! the natural correction of the marketplace (the invisible hand) will ensure that resource are allocated more efficiently! any interference whatsoever is a BADDD THING you are disrupting the beautiful purity of the 'marketplace' of beautiful neat straight lines and nice diagrams! all reality is of course reducible to nice neat straight lines and equations of course!!!) as for technology: But what what, the latest technology will surely trump!! are you trying to put us back in the stoneage!!!

Phew that better. clearly I still have a lot of subconscious techno-copernican /neo-liberal issues to resolve...

I guess too I just love the shock factor of trying to be as retro as possible. I am so looking forward to the day when I live my entire life like a citizen of the Lakeland republic (I reckon its worth it just for the shock factor I'll get when people like Mr Carr here ask how I do things).

ptor said...

There have been a few ideas tossed around of how the US post offices could provide basic banking.

Bruce E said...

I like your comment on public versus private operations of utilities, but in light of that idea, why isn't investment banking seen in the same light as consumer banking? I'm of course with you on the Glass-Stegal separation, but it seems to me that profit motive and the tragedy of the commons would be amplified when it comes to facilitating investment and hedging risk and all the fun stuff unregulated financial wizards can do with market derivatives and such. Perhaps the separation itself provides the psychological impetus for the financial non-elite to steer clear of securities altogether and thus the cash flow to their version of Wall Street is naturally throttled by such "inefficiencies" caused by this impetus?

Bob Wise said...

I've banked at credit unions in preference to banks for decades. They provide good service, lower fees, and better interest rates - at least, back when you actually earned some interest on your deposits. Not much different from a "public utility" bank, except that they're owned by the members rather than a government.

JimK said...

I think of efficiency as having two dimensions. One is what you mention, what are the inputs and what are the outputs that are considered important. The other dimension is risk. Whatever process, e.g. borrowing and lending, the outcomes are not entirely predictable. Sometimes things come out really well and other times it can be a bit of a disaster. One can envision a probability distribution of outcomes. Maybe process A is moderately better than process B 80% of the time. But 20% of the time process B is still doing OK while process A is a total catastrophe. Which process is more efficient? It's not a simple question!

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
I’m pleased to report the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 440 meetings are now listed in the MeetUps forum on Lakeland Community College has an arch with “Welcome to Lakeland” emblazoned upon it. Group photo?

Pinku-Sensei said...

Happy Autumnal Equinox! The world you're describing reminds me of an offhand comment I made when you discussed Steampunk that "the movement doesn't just express an interest in more elegant technology, but in more elegant people. I detect an interest in a world that hasn't lost its manners or its enthusiasm. Our current culture seems to be losing both." Your response was "so much of modern culture consists of the pursuit of ugliness and rudeness for its own sake; an alternative is worth pursuing." You've created a future that has both more elegant technology and more elegant people and shows it's an alternative to what's happening not only now, but in the Atlantic Republic as a projection of current trends. The Atlantic Republic looks like an ugly future, on might look at trash to energy as something even more worthy of attention than generating electricity from solar energy. That is exactly what my readers appear to believe based on page views. I'm not sure I agree with them.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I'm going to nitpick a little. There were a few details I didn't expect in this particular place at this particular time given its history. JMG, I know that you are very careful about telling details and about consistency. I'm not asking you to justify your choices, just saying they took me out of the story for a moment.

In descending order from most unlikely to least unlikely, they are:

1. Narrator mentioning the bank officer's race when he hails from a multiracial region and has not made note of the race of anyone he previously encountered IIRC.

2. Midwesterners greeting each other with "Have a great day."

3. Ballpoint pens, unless the bank keeps a stash of them for foreigners.

4. After civil war and the passage of generations, locals still think a proper capitol building needs a dome like the one that formerly graced Washington DC.

William Conklin said...

I just heard a lady interviewed on Public TV who published a book called the Pentagon's Brain, if the military really does develop and extensively use these drones, how will that change this vision of the future?

Eric Backos said...

A bank as a public utility sounds functionally similar to a credit union. Or am I oversimplifying? Also, could you tell us how Lakeland repelled the invasion by Brazil? I proposed Finland’s Winter War methods to my fellow aspiring Green Wizards.

pygmycory said...

I like the idea of public banks, and of separating consumer banking for investment banking. It seems to me there would be less possibility of losing all your money, and loans made to government owning the bank need not have exorbitant interest rates.

As for privatization, here's an example of what can happen: BC ferries used to be publicly run, and is now privately run. The food has gotten better, but passage is much more expensive and the bigger ferries now devote a significant portion of their space to fancy restaurants or other areas that you have to pay extra to get into. Those are aimed at business travel.

Schedules for smaller routes seem to have worsened, which has big impacts on isolated communities. There has also been several high profile accidents, including a ferry that sank and from which the passengers had to be rescued, and a collision with a dock. The catamaran-hulled ferries they bought were really expensive when you consider they can't get up to full speed on much of the journey because the ferry is traveling close to and in between islands and they don't want to swamp places with the wake, resulting in very little time being shaved off the voyage to and from Vancouver Island. I'm not sure the catamarans have much to do with the privatization, but the next one definitely does: The CEO is now making much more money. I don't think privatizing BC ferries was a success for most people who use the services regularly.

I notice you have divided Canada up in this story. How many pieces are you positing, if you've considered it in detail? Are Alberta and BC separate or together? Has BC joined up with Washington State?

kleymo said...

I believe an example of a publicly owned bank would be North Dakota, with excellent results.

Peter Wilson said...

What will be fascinating is when Mr Peter Carr wakes up a bit poorly one morning and heads to the local doctor or hospital for a check up :)

Cherokee Organics said...


Hmmm, the cloud - I've heard it amusingly said before that no one understands the cloud! It is a strange place where I feel that it is not safe to leave things that you wish to retrieve at some later stage. Don't you think that it is funny that computers moved from a few decades ago when they were centrally controlled dumb terminals into these super nifty independent machines - only to be taken slowly back bit by bit to transform into centrally controlled dumb terminals again. You have to admit that it is weird.

It is interesting that you introduced the concept of Mr Carr lost in reverie on his way to the bank. Am I correct to assume that Mr Carr will be staying on for a bit longer than he expects? No need to reveal plot secrets though!

I don't laugh about the automated bank kiosks - they're already clamouring for them here. Apparently the boards of the banks are a bit nervous about the move after there was a significant customer backlash after they tried it the last time around. Still, if they act in concert...

I have a particular fondness for the days of paper ledgers. You know what though, if the person preparing them can do long addition quickly and accurately - they are actually faster to prepare than the computerised versions. It is also worthwhile mentioning that I was not allowed to use a calculator back in the day - even in exams (except for the final state wide exam). The only real advantage with the computerised versions is the fancy report writers - they are good, no doubts about it. The cloud versions of the software are much slower than local or network for obvious reasons – and it has absolutely nothing to do with the internet connection here which is possibly much faster than it actually needs to be. It is really unsettling to mention this to people only to have them disbelieve me and then see it for themselves after they’ve committed and there is often no going back. The marketing is good for that stuff though. I just don't – or can’t – tell sexy stories of progress.

Yes efficiency is a very misused term. Have you ever wondered at the word reform? I heard it used yesterday I believe. The new Prime Minister here apparently announced that he'd be seeking tax reforms, in the form of a tax cut for the highest income earners. If I was being very cheeky I'd could say that we now know his trade and now we know his price - but I'm not that cheeky to suggest anything as crude as that.

An enjoyable tale and I look forward to reading the paperback edition in full.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Frankenstein lives where I tell a steam punk tale of life here. The newly designed and constructed bee hive is nearing completion. The berry enclosure is almost completed too. There are lots of cool photos of spring plants too. Enjoy!

Doctor Westchester said...

SAVE THE DATE. The 2015 Fall NYC Green Wizard meetup will be held on Thursday, October 22nd starting at 6:00 PM at a location TBA near Grand Central Station. If you have any questions, please email me at doctorwestchester42 at Google mail.

John Brink said...

Thanks for an entertaining story John. One of the things that seemed to have mostly disappeared from everyday life is wool clothing for winter wear. I'm thinking working people's wool shirts, vests, and coats not dress suits. There are still a few makers but mostly available only by "mail order". I'm guessing the people in the Lakeland Republic have started up some small scale manufacturing of natural fiber warm clothes and purchase their wool from some of the local farmers. I know they would be able to sell plenty to merchants north and west of them. Let's see, the banks were deregulated in the 1980s and the clothing turned to "all natural polyester" and flooded the market with cheap imports as the North American clothing industry mostly went bankrupt. I'm looking forward to a warm set of woolies when it's thirty below this winter.

Doctor Westchester said...

I’m almost surprised that Mr. Carr and the Atlantic Republic uses physical cash at all. The War on Cash is a hot topic right now with a growing number of house-broken (or tame) intellectuals over in Europe telling one and all how eliminating physical cash would solve all our economic problems. Perhaps some very public-spirited hackers will have shown the folks in the Republic (or us) what a totally stupid idea this is by taking the electronic banking systems off line for a day or two. That lesson might be one that even the Atlantic Republic couldn’t ignore. This wisdom might have also resulted from what the Chinese did in ’21.

James Fauxnom said...

Here in Saskatchewan province, our government run corporations have a virtual monopoly on providing water, electricity, natural gas, formerly alcohol sales, etc. It works well enough, especially for the vast rural areas that would be without services if abandoned to the market. A public bank would certainly serve us better, as many small towns have to do without as the private banks withdraw to larger centres.

Another excellent addition to the Carr adventure :)

Sawbuck said...

The tale justs gets more and more lovely. The reference to the late Glass-Steagall Act warmed my heart.

August Johnson said...

JMG - I've still got my Addiator Arithma around here, I saved up and bought it when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I think I still have a Lightning Calculator also.

GreenEngineer said...

Let me ask you this: is there some cultural or legal reason that there are ZERO electronics in Lakeland? Because absent some yet-to-be-explained taboo or prohibition, the complete absence of such things strikes an unrealistic chord, given that Lakeland appears to otherwise be a pretty prosperous culture.

For example, magnetic card readers are SIMPLE electrical technology. They are currently done with integrated circuits, but they don't have to be - you can do it with analog electronics. And while it would not make sense in a residential or even most commercial contexts, a hotel keeper would bend over backwards to have it, because physical keys are a huge pain in the butt for them. Analog electric locks (like modern electronic locks) eliminate the need to change the lock every time a guest loses or forgets to return a key, for example. And you can re-key the lock for every guest, so security is enhanced.

I understand the point you are trying to make about the fabricatory depth of modern electronics and the externalized costs associated with them. But there are a lot of things which we currently do using high-fab-depth technologies where the function could be duplicated with lower-depth technologies if the function is useful. Most of the functions we currently put those technologies towards are not very useful, but a few are. Those functions are likely to be preserved or recreated if the society has the technological base to do so, which Lakeland does appear to have.

Myriad said...

The Addiator! I had a cheap tin version in grade school (and at a different time, a cheap plastic version of the kind of mechanical adder that's a row of rotary dials.) I wish I'd saved them, but like most things taken to school, they were probably lost or stolen by Thanksgiving.

To operate it, you enter your addends one digit at a time using the stylus. You can proceed in left to right order just as you would write the numbers. Insert the stylus in the hole or notch at the number. If the slider next to the number is white, move the stylus down to the bottom (the white means no carry is needed). If it's red, requiring a carry, move the stylus up to the top (subtracting the ten's-complement of the number you're entering from the current place) and then continue around the little hook shape to the left and down a little (adding one to the next place). An extra step is needed if the next higher digit was already 9. Subtraction works similarly but needs a second set of slots, essentially the same thing upside-down, that operate the same set of internal sliders.

Unlike an abacus, the rather finicky poking and sliding operation of the Addiator doesn't lend itself to high speeds with proficiency. It's probably not faster than pencil and paper for most people. But it is faster to learn than either of those. (Even so, Carr seemed to pick it up rather quickly. He'll probably be good at arithmetic if he ever learns it!)

RPC said...

Two words: credit union.

Mike Monett -Ohio, Florida said...

Here in Dayton, 150 miles south of Toledo, this actually happened this week, and it is too relevant to your story for me not to tell you about it...

The 35-year-old downtown branch of PNC Bank, which 3 mergers ago was an old-fashioned local bank, closed. It is replaced by a "technology only" branch" in the new Riverscape development about 3 blocks north, as of last week. There are ATMs in there, and gals standing nearby to "help" me do all my banking now by ATM. All the people I knew for years at the downtown branch are gone. I asked how the hell I could do things like get cashiers checks, etc. The gal said I could still get those, but it might take a while longer than it used to. When I asked how far out into exurbia I need to drive to find a "traditional!?" branch, she didn't know. I was afraid to ask how long her job was supposed to last, before I supposedly would have "learned" to do EVERTYHING electronically, with no human employees there at all.

My money is still in PNC because once upon a time, before all the deregulation, my paychecks were direct deposited into the Dayton bank that was gobbled up by National City before National City was gobbled up by PNC.

I just retired. I live downtown. I will move my retirement nest egg out of that stupid bank and into the downtown credit union. I held off doing that anyway because I saw signs in 2013 that PNC was stepping back and re-embracing personal service again. That sure didn't last long.

James M. Jensen II said...

Your exchange with you-know-who in last week's comment thread inspired me to start rereading The Wealth of Nature (so there's one good thing that came out of that). The Lakeland Republic is, of course, taking your view that economic history should outweigh overly-abstracted economic theory, and is better off for it.

One thing occurs to me, though. Economics is, of course, the home of some of the best examples of so-called "magical thinking," and of systematically ignoring evidence in favor of elegant theories. Those with the boldness to criticize economics as a whole have frequently called it a pseudoscience and compared it to witchcraft, voodoo, or dogmatic religion.

Economists are actually quite like the evil wizards that haunt our fantasies, pouring over arcane formulae and whispering dangerous and seductive lies that ruin those who listen.

And yet, in many ways economics is the epitome of modern rationalism. Much of what's so seductive about it is that it promises to explain everything from first principles using elaborate mathematical models. Its frequent friend, extreme forms of libertarianism, offers the same thing in the realm of law: assume self-ownership and the principle of non-aggression, and everything is supposed to follow from that.

I know the seductive power of this first-hand, especially when elaborate rationalizations are layered on afterward to make things more palatable.

This suggests to me that modern economics has the power it does in part because truly challenging it -- not just token jabs or partisan in-fighting -- is unthinkable for most of us. It's just too hard to say "That way of thinking is crazy," when that's the way we think about everything else, too, just moreso.

John Michael Greer said...

Sgage, I'll do my best to make it entertaining.

Whomever, true enough! Lakeland Republic post offices also offer savings accounts -- that's part of what makes the postal service there self-supporting and well funded. We just haven't gotten there yet. As for the accents, I read French (though I don't speak it), and have a thing about getting the details right.

William, I'm quite convinced that if you asked that question of the medical system, it would turn into a pumpkin and a collection of mice, or something like that!

Ozark, fascinating. 2065 is a bit soon for that to start playing a role, but further in the future is another matter.

Tom, the latest technology will certainly Trump -- that is to say, it'll parade around on stage making grandiose promises and avoiding serious questions, and then go declare bankruptcy.

Ptor, and it's a perfectly sound idea, one that many other countries use with great success. One of these days Americans may figure out how to learn...

Bruce, for the same reasons casinos aren't publicly owned. Cut off from consumer banking, investment banking is basically a means of gambling. More on this as we proceed -- Carr will be visiting the Toledo stock market fairly soon.

Bob, yes, and I know other people who use credit unions -- I've considered it myself. I'm suggesting an alternative.

Jim, good. That's one of the things the banker was suggesting with his reference to history. More on this theme coming up.

Eric, pleased to hear it. If there's a group photo, I want everyone in pre-1950 clothing -- your choice of eras, but nothing 1950 or later.

Pinku-Sensei, good. Yes, and that's also a point I'm trying to slip in. Mr. Carr will be buying clothing next week, btw.

Unknown Deborah, I've mentioned several other people's skin color and used other tricks to point up ethnicity. When this gets turned into a book, there'll be more of that -- thanks for pointing out that not all readers notice the subtler hints. As for the other details, heh heh heh...

William, drones are easier to down than they are to build. Curiously enough, Carr will be attending an annual Drone Shoot a bit later on -- though the technology's slightly more complex than in the video! ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, all in good time.

Pygmycory, I don't happen to know what's going on out in the western part of what used to be Canada -- any suggestions?

Kleymo, exactly. That was one of the examples I had in mind.

Peter, why, yes, especially when it turns out that doctors make -- you might want to sit down before reading further -- house calls...

Cherokee, paper ledgers are great, and of course the mental skills you develop while learning how to use paper ledgers have their virtues, too. As for "reform," these days, doesn't that basically mean "more of what we've already found out doesn't work"? ;-)

John, the Lakeland Republic has its own textile industry, all the way from field to factory to clothing store: cotton, linen, hemp, and wool are all in common use. I'll have a bit to say about that next week. Good wool clothing beats the crap out of the "bioplastic" I've invented for the story -- think of something halfway between cheap polyester and Tyvek, and you've got a fair sense of it.

Doctor W., you'll doubtless have noticed Carr's reference to cashless countries. The Atlantic Republic isn't one of those, because so much of the real economy there is under the table in one way or another.

James, I've had similar experiences with public utilities.

Sawbuck, I'd be happy to see that one reenacted. It amuses me, watching politicians and economists dodge the fact that we had a much more stable and successful economy during the years when Glass-Steagall was in force!

August, glad to hear you're out there on the cutting edge again! I have an Addiator knock-off around here somewhere -- that's what I had in mind in that scene, in fact.

GreenEngineer, you haven't been paying attention, have you? There was a radio and a telephone in Carr's hotel room -- I believe a telephone counts as electronics, and I know for a fact a radio does. Now of course the question you're actually asking is why they don't have the kind of electronics that are popular these days, and we'll get to that in good time -- but do please note the presence of electronic devices when they appear!

Myriad, that's the one! It doesn't have to be fast; it's accurate, especially when adding up long columns of numbers.

RPC, one word: So?

(In other words, if you're going to raise an objection, explain what you mean by it and why you think it's an objection.)

Mike, doesn't surprise me at all. The bizarre notion that an economy can flourish when fewer and fewer people have jobs, because all the jobs have been given to machines, remains stuck in far too many people's minds.

John Michael Greer said...

James, exactly. To get out from under the delusions of economics, it's necessary to let go of the thinking that makes it seem to make sense -- and that takes a certain ability to think reflectively, and a significant amount of self-knowledge. No wonder both those latter traits are so forcefully discouraged these days by education and the media!

Chic Noir said...

Mr. Carr
Women seem to do pretty well in this world. It's refreshing considering, women seem to lose all rights in most distopias.

The Handmaid's Tale comes to mind.

Vesta said...

Regarding paper vs electronic business management, here's an interesting anecdote. In Seattle where I live and work in the building trades, there is an important local supplier of doors. Everyone doing residential and light commercial remodeling and construction uses them. I don't know their books, but based on the number of staff visible on the premises I guess they do at least $30 million gross annually, maybe twice that.

They write all their orders in pen, on old-fashioned 4-layer carbon copy invoices, and file it in a bank of cabinets. Same thing on the shop floor. Projects are scheduled with a bank of clip boards, cut sheets are still sheets of paper, and the equipment controls are plain old meat, bones and blood.

It is at least as fast as a computerized system, and much more pleasant for everyone involved. In the 20 years I've been going there, nothing has been upgraded, nothing has gone wrong, and no one wants it to change.

If electronic business systems added real value, a competitor with more 'modern' systems should have driven these guys out of business: they are producing a commodity product, in a very competative market, with no trade secrets or proprietary technology involved.

That this has not happened is telling. Call it efficiency, productivity, or whatever you want, what really matters is what gets it done.

Lakeland looks realistic to me so far.

MayHawk said...

None of this life in Lakeland seems odd or strange to me. In fact I would feel very comfortable there. I am old enough to remember a world that was quite a bit simpler and more "hands on" than today. We didn't have a TV until I was 14 or 15 and I can remember listening to radio programs like "Yours Truly; Johnny Dollar", "The Whistler" and "The Shadow".

Both my Parents were born rural before the "Mechanized" age really began and I grew up with a lot of stories about what that was like. I once asked my mother when she was about 65 if necessary could she still harness a horse to a buggy. She then described the whole process and I didn't know most of the nomenclature.

There was very little money in the house for incidental spending. But there was a lot of Books. My Mother said we were "Book Poor" meaning any extra money went into books. I suppose my childhood would have been classified as "deprived" but looking back now I would say I was privileged.

So, that said where do I get my immigration papers for Lakeland Republic??

FreeWheels for Kids said...

I'm very interested to see how unequal, or not, Lakeland is. Everything so far seems to point to more widespread prosperity and a society more primarily interested in making things work peacefully than in cutthroat competition, but we've also seen quite a bit of bourgeois amenities that, while not "cutting-edge technology" are still out of reach of a simple, egalitarian agrarian society, particularly one that has been ravaged by wars and climate instability.

Are we to infer from the juxtaposition of the nice hotels, banks and railroads Mr. Carr has frequented and the primarily agrarian mode of production that Lakeland's farms are so productive that they allow for a relatively complex, stratified society that peacefully supports an urban administrative class, complete with the attendant services and servants for that class? Or should we infer that there is more trouble than meets the eye? A very interesting piece of prefigurative fiction so far, I look for

Joe Roberts said...

One thing I truly dislike about our modern society is that in certain buildings one is *required* to take an elevator to go to higher floors, with the lobby stairway doors locked from the outside at ground level. I have an admittedly unhealthy phobia of elevators, but the idea of forcing visitors to take an elevator grates on me quite a lot. So I'm grateful that the Lakeland Republic is stair-friendly. A nice detail!

Claire said...

Re Western Canada in 2065. Given that the Rockies are a huge barrier and that Canada's current rail transportation system doesn't compare favourable even with the US rail I doubt BC and AB will be connected. However a Retrotopian Cascadia has great possibilities. There is already a movement to build a bioregional political identity. It is greatly inhibited by the international border but I sense that will be less of a problem once the continent is politically fragmented elsewhere.

I'm looking forward to hearing more about the clothing and textiles manufacturing.

Roger Leybourne said...

John Michael Greer, have you ever read Nick Land? ( I think there's probably a lot with which you would disagree (vehemently) with Nick Land. Regardless, I discovered this blog via his own blog. I've been reading this blog for probably a year at this point, maybe longer. There is much of interest to me here, even if I don't always agree with it.

What interests me these days is that there seem to be an increasing number of people (often flying under the official radar) on both the right and the left who are very, very displeased with the current state of affairs. I appreciate your commentary on that, even when I don't entirely agree with you (though I think you have a fairly good handle on it).

Last week, there was a comment by a reader to the effect that if he were to vote, he would vote for Trump, even though he really dislikes Trump, simply to accelerate the collapse of the current system in order to get to what will replace it. This was the most interesting comment to me last week because it mirrors the "agree, amplify, accelerate" (AAA) strategy emerging in the alt-right/neoreaction movement. It's not commonly seen on the left, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it.

One thing I think a lot of those who comment on this blog seem to get wrong is that a lot of the support for Donald Trump is not because people actually want Donald Trump, but because he can be a tool for bringing the system down. At this point, all that remains is trolling the system until it collapses under its own weight because those running the show have absolutely no desire to hear voices of dissent -- on either the alt-left or the alt-right.

There are actually quite a number of people on the alt-right (myself included), who, according to AAA, would see the best possible situation for the US Presidential election consisting of the Republicans not giving Trump the nomination, even if he were the front runner, then him running as an independent. That would destroy the Republican Party (and given demographic trends, the 2016 election, 2020 at the latest, is probably the last chance they have at winning). That would split the vote on the right, thus ensuring that the Democrats were to gain power. I'm not sure who I would prefer -- Clinton or Sanders (the worse, the better) -- but four years, if not eight, of complete Democrat control (preferably also of both Houses and the Supreme Court), with no credible alternative (and Republicans masquerading as "conservatives" don't count as they are the biggest part of the problem) would be the point when things really became interesting.

I think your insights on these matters are pretty accurate. However, I think a lot of the people who comment here have little to no real understanding of the actual conversations and movements building on the alt-right currently. It's also worth pointing out that a significant number of the leading figures on the alt-right are under 30, or even under 20. Many even originally came from the left (or grew up heavily steeped in it).

Gaianne said...

How did I miss the fact that Carr's first name is Peter? And what other Peter has a last name that is a deadly machine, but spelled with excess, trailing consonants?

That would of course be Peter Gunn.


Wikipedia says the series ended in 1961. I have of course long since forgotten.


MawKernewek said...

About the cloud, I saw an eye-opening article about content moderation in social media (some details of NSFW subject matter - no pictures but keywords on the page might be a bad idea at work) which illustrates how anything in 'the cloud' may be being scrutinised by people around the world more often than you might think.

I think some of the push for the 'cloud' and what's called Big Data etc. is certain parts of the IT industry are really quite nostalgic for the old days of the 1960s or so when they were the high priests who dealt with the deep mysteries of these strange machines called Computers, and they are wanting to bring back those days.

Yupped said...

This continues to be highly entertaining, and thanks. One of the biggest cultural shifts that was bundled up with neo-liberalism and financial de-regulation was the idea that people are supposed to aspire to be consumers of corporate products and services, as suggested by marketing and advertising. So, slowly, people stopped doing things for themselves and valuing thrift and savings and just trying stuff, and began to buy many more things, often using credit. This seems very strange, because the former type of life is so much more interesting and satisfying, at least to me.

It seems in the Lakeland Republic that this dynamic has reversed, probably of necessity, and that Lakelander's have been encouraged to see themselves as productive citizens again, not consumers of corporate goods. Whereas in the Atlantic Republic I'm assuming that while most people operate in the black economy, the cultural narrative is still to aspire to a life of consuming corporate products. I'm interested in why this might be, especially after the various disruptions to the narrative of progress that have clearly happened up to 2065. What was the main solvent that undid the narrative in Lakeland, while it stayed somewhat intact in the Atlantic? Did the narrative fall apart by itself, or did it need a push from above and an end to advertising and easy credit?

Rita Narayanan said...

Interesting the comment at the end about *public utilities* and the private sector...In India more or less the opposite has occured people worked in the private sector earned a meagre salary, had to deal with world but taxes kept public sector. Many projects of the government were very ambtious all kept by these meagre taxes.The quality of public utilities was/is so bad so also health, education etc unless you can pay privately.

Liberalisation brought in crony capitalism but it is always interesting for me to read about the efficiency of government services because here socialism was always corrupt but benefitted a high minded *thinking* elite that took our taxes and showered it on more programmes.This elite could always use grants/patronage to keep their thinking cells going and also enough perks.

I love to read western blogs because I admire the leaders in the *West*....they were fallible,human but brought down a lot of tangible gain to their people. Here we had international leaders like Gandhi and Nehru oft quoted by President Obama but I only wish you could see what I have see. :) Cheers & thanks as always!

Sébastien Louchart said...

Hello JMG,

I'm delighted to see that the Lakeland Republic imports Champagne from my country. I'm even more delighted to learn that, in this not far distant future, my country is still able to produce this fine good.

And for the record, France has a long tradition of public utilities as well. Retrotopia makes me think of my childhood in 70's France. No automatons, no credit card, 2 banks in town (Post Office and "Caisse d'Epargne"), no electronic devices and still a few horse-drawn delivery cars.

Thank you for this story. Cheers!

Karim said...

Greetings all!

JMG wrote:" None of them seem to be able to answer a simple question: efficient for what output, in terms of what input?”

This is splendid! Efficiency is like a thought stopper! It prevents one to further question what is being promoted as "efficient". It is here to prevent dissent. To accept without question what is being touted as the new and therefore the thing to have.

Martin B said...

public utilities like water, sewer service, electricity, public transit, consumer banking, that sort of thing

Bravo on keeping the natural monopolies under citizen control. Privatizing e.g. water supply is like handing your dangly bits to someone and asking them not to squeeze. And I say that even as we face periodic load-shedding because our state-owned electricity utility didn't build enough power stations for the increasing demand.

Basically, any organization needs good management, and it doesn't matter whether that management is provided by the private or the public sector. Private management faces the discipline of the bottom line, while public sector management faces the discipline of the regulator. Of course, when appointments are based on connections and influence rather than on competence, problems arise, as we are finding in our state-owned industries. On the other hand, organizations driven by desperation for profits can do great damage to the common good.

But mechanical calculators? Noooooo! I have used those tinny little slidey things, as well as four-figure logarithms, ten-figure logarithms, slide rules, coffee-grinder calculators, electro-mechanical calculators, and electronic calculators, and you will have to prise my electronic calculator from my cold dead hands.

Calculators will be one of the survivors of our electronic technology. With built-in solar panels, they don't even need a power supply. They are just so dang useful, I think they will be around for as long as pencil and paper are used.

OT. My contribution to a previous thread: resource-constrained fiction.

Ervino Cus said...

JMG wrote:
“The thing is, the way we see it, there are some things that private industry does really well and some things that it doesn’t do well at all, and public utilities like water, sewer service, electricity, public transit, consumer banking, that sort of thing—those work better when you don’t let private interests milk them for profits."

For one time I agree TOTALLY with you. Here in Italy we are just starting to see the perverted damages of the dogma "private service is better in every field" going full steam. It's totally depressing... :-(


PS: A mechanical hand calculator for balancing a checking account? It isn't a little to hig-tech? I mean: paper, pencil (no ballpont pen too, please! .-) and... UYDB (use your da...rn brain) for the basic math! ;-)

Spanish fly said...

'The only things even vaguely electronic were a telephone on the desk and a boxy thing on the dresser that had a loudspeaker and some dials on it—a radio, I guessed'

OMG, Mr Carr has to do a big effort to realize that box is a radio...It's a sad detail for me, because I was in a radio station some years ago and I love radio world. When I was 9, the best gift at First Communion (sorry, I had a catholic education)was a cool and big AM/FM radio.
I've seen here that radio receivers are no longer in the wish list for children birthdays or 1st Communion...that trend is scaring for me, in the name of ultramodernity, we are teaching kids to reject a good part of our technological culture. It's the same thing in the U.S., I guess so...

Spanish fly said...

Ah, consumer banks as public utilities...very good. So be careful, John, you may be accused of communist (sorry, it's a bad joke).
When I was born, my father opened in my name a saving account in a bank. That bank was a public utility, like the post office or firemen. Of course, in my country there was some private consumers banks, too.
However, my dad liked public banking for long time accounts, maybe for personal bias (he worked to government in these times).
Some years later, politicians and economist said that public banks were outdated, waste from the old Franco's dictatorship. Socialist government (yeah, those leftists boys, not the other conservative and catholics morons)privatised my bank.
When i got my first decent job, I closed my old saving account and opened another in other bank.
Business hadn't been well to he formerly public bank. Services for the clients worsened, bank CEOs did'nt managed getting money enough, and...nowadays this bank no longer exists. It was sold at loss to a foreign bank some years ago.
You can believe that all this shitty and sad story is a government conspiracy (and their financial friends at private banking)to kill the chicken and eat it; maybe there it's a lot of it in the affair. But I think that economic orthodox religion is a good part of disaster, too.
My actual bank has better service than old one when it was provatised, but a lot of people has been in troubles with it for tricky advertising, trash products or bad practices...bordering on criminal fraud.
I've always run away when men/woman at bank's counter has offered a "very good offer that you can't refuse". What a pack of conmen.
I'm looking for some "ethical bank", but for the moment,that expresion seems to me an oxymoron, they are private banks too...note very reliable.

Unknown said...

Deborah: Classical architectural motifs have been used for literally thousands of years. Little reason to assume they'll go away in the next couple hundred.

Damo said...


RE: analog vs magnetic locks

What I take away from this story is the idea that there are (gasp) limits to what you can do. Magnetic locks might be technically feasible, but perhaps the Lakeland Republic prefers to divert their scarce resources towards electric trams, telephones and radios.

For a modern analogy perhaps consider our very limited space program. Humanity could almost certainly construct a moon base and send people to Mars, but this would divert resources from other meaningful endeavors such as global surveillance networks, aircraft carriers and mobile dog washes :p


Tyler August said...

When and why did the Québécois relocate the capitol from Québec to Montreal? On the face of it, it makes little sense to me. Montreal is less centrally located, and much less, well... Québécois, than Québec city, with large anglophone and immigrant populations. Was the mid-21st century separatism less nationalist than the kind we have today? Moving the National Assembly there would also violate the usually solidly good idea of separating political and economic power (one need only look at Ontario and Toronto to see how combining them can go badly for the rest of their catchbasin, in a Canadian context).

The foreign minister from Montreal also struck an odd cord in her behavior, not just her origin. Champagne for breakfast sounds more like a Parisian thing to do (or perhaps just an American caricature of the Parisian thing to do). The French Canadian national character does not quite tend to that sort of decadence, in my experience. Then again, if she is from Montreal, that town has a reputation to keep up...

Denys said...

Two things I just loved - the residents reaction to Carr in his bioplastic clothing. It made me wonder if it was see through! Also the fact that Carr will be in Lakeland 14 days. I can't think of the last time I heard of anyone traveling anywhere for 2 weeks. Just last week someone I know flew from Philly to China and stayed 2 days. It was for business but still the flight hours were almost as long as the stay.

RCW - said...

This private vs. public delivery discussion brings to mind my initial encounter with accredited mainstream economics, in ECON 101, Macroeconomics, studied as a freshman in 1980. While it focused solely upon the ostensible myopic benefits of Adam Smith's invisible hand & Capture Theory, altogether absent from any study was the often obscure long term detriments examined in the Tragedy of the Commons. Primary & secondary education do their students & our society a grave disservice by deliberately failing to discuss & debate both the yin and the yang of serious subjects. Aside from truth, nothing of this world is all good.

Shane Wilson said...

Forget electricity, JMG, the million $ question is, do you prefer to buy your bourbon from state stores or privately licensed ones (those privately licensed ones being mom & pop & not big box)? :P
Please tell me that the phone in the hotel room is a durable, solid, rotary dial one of the kind Automatic & Western Electric made mid century, and that all the exchanges are named to make it easy for people to remember their phone #?

Vilko said...

Narrator mentioning the bank officer's race when he hails from a multiracial region and has not made note of the race of anyone he previously encountered IIRC

My wife hails from very multiracial Mauritius. I've been there. All the Mauritians I know always mention someone's ethnicity, as an important characteristic of the person (which it is). Mauritius has 1.3 million residents and about ten ethnicities (most of them being East Indian ones). A Gujarati and a Tamil speak different, unrelated languages and they have distinct temples, Hinduism being more like several religions than like one. Besides, most Tamils are noticeably darker than most Gujaratis. Your ethnicity determines who you can marry, who you feel comfortable socializing with, and basically who you can trust, in a country where the rule of the law is a recent innovation and corruption is a national disease. That's why ethnicity is very important.

I suppose that Mr Greer means that "multiracial" will mean, in the USA of the future, "one ethnicity with many different shades of skin color, but basically one culture." Maybe that's America's future, but IMHO that's unlikely. Islam doesn't mix with other religions, never. Even in Mauritius, Black people (who are a minority in that Hindu-majority country) are poorer and less educated than the rest. They are also Christian, and that's a good reason for self-respecting Hindus and Muslims to refrain from mixing with them. I expect the USA of the future to be like Mauritius. The official discourse to tourists is: all the communities live in harmony in diverse, exotic, sunny Mauritius, a paradise on earth. That's a joke, of course. I never heard as much Muslim-bashing anywhere as in Mauritius. There are occasional clashes between communities, incidentally. Mauritian independence, in 1968, began with deadly fights between Muslims and Hindus.

If there is a multiracial nation in the USA of the future, IMHO it will not be the American nation, but one nation among others. It may be the majority, but it probably won't be the only ethno-religious or ethno-linguistic group. North America will probably look like the other continents, with distinct nations living side by side, and therefore conflicts between those nations.

Nations arise from homogeneous entities: the Germanics, the Latins and the Slavs of the 4th century AD were basically homogeneous nations. Then, as they began to live in separate political entities, their languages and cultures diverged, and the nations of modern Europe were born, in a slow but inexorable process which took several centuries, even a thousand years in some cases. In the 4th century AD, the ancestors of the French, the Italians, the Rumanians, the Spaniards and the Portuguese still spoke Latin. English, German and Dutch were still one language.

Vilko said...

On banks as basic utilities: we had the postal service as a bank, in France, until recently. Then the government privatized it (as the EU had recommended) and it became La Banque Postale, an ordinary bank.

There were good things and bad things about the postal service as a bank. The good thing: since it was a public service, it always accepted you as a client, even if you were virtually penniless. The government had given instructions to that effect.

Then the bad thing: because the postal service as a bank (it was called Les Compte-Chèques Postaux) had to accept everyone as a customer, they had many customers which definitely didn't deserve to have a bank account. As a consequence, many businesses were loath to accept Compte-Chèques Postaux checks.

My wife had opened Compte-Chèques Postaux accounts to our children when they were still toddlers, so that they could have some money when they became teenagers, but later, as grown-ups, they ditched Les Compte-Chèques Postaux for more "respectable" banks. Imagine someone making a face when they see your Compte-Chèques Postaux check, as if they thought: "Is that guy so poor that he can't have an account in a good bank?"

Besides, there were banks which selected their clients but which nevertheless had a social vision of banking, like Les Compte-Chèques Postaux. For instance, Crédit Agricole, which was created for rural areas and later spread to cities, had branches even in remote villages.

There's also Le Crédit Mutuel, which began as an alternative to capitalistic banking, and which, as they say, "belongs to its clients". I am the treasurer of an association which has a Crédit Mutuel account. Once a year, all the clients in town are invited to a general assembly where the finances of the local branch are explained, and we vote on the reports. That's fine, but Le Crédit Mutuel has grown so much that it now invests in international financial products like any other bank. I chatted with one of their top executives during one of the annual assemblies, and I was flabbergasted when I realized how much he admired Goldman Sachs. I told him than in my opinion the directors of Goldman Sachs were a bunch of crooks, and our conversation abruptly ended.

escapefromwisconsin said...

A bit off topic (but sort of not); I don't know if you've seen this: The WWII-Era Plane Giving the F-35 a Run for Its Money. It's a fascinating article about how the technology that soldiers really need in Afghanistan is basically a low-tech, close combat, propeller-driven aircraft that relies on human abilities; but instead the blind faith in "high tech" always being better led to more costly, less useful weapons and needless loss of life. It's a great real-world illustration of the exact points you've been making here.

“The A-10 is the best ‘close attack’ plane ever made, period,” Sprey tells me. “But the Air Force hates that mission. They’ll do anything they can to kill that plane.” He says retiring the iconic A-10, a twin-engine attack jet with 30-mm cannons that hit with 14 times the kinetic energy of the 20-mm guns mounted on America’s current fleet of supersonic fighters, became an article of faith among high ranking Air Force officers, generations of whom had been raised to believe in the redemptive power of technological innovation.

That mentality drove production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s first $1 trillion weapons system. Development of the F-35 was going on in the background throughout the Afghan War despite mountains of evidence that the stealthy jet would never be able to attack ground targets like the A-10 could. Far away from the fighting, the generals in Washington, DC supported the F-35 because they believed “more technology is always better.”

Mark Hines said...

John, I am loving the storyline so far. I am in my late 50's and still use a checkbook to pay my bills which come in the mail. I can tell you at a glance what my financial situation is by checking my pockets and looking at my checkbook register. No need for computer, and I can even do it without electricity by candlelight. It is actually faster and much less glitchy for me to do it this way.
I think lakeland republic is what our country would look like if we all chose intentional technological regression.
Looking forward to the next installment/.

zaphod42 said...

"... private industry does really well and some things that it doesn’t do well at all, and public utilities like water, sewer service, electricity, public transit, consumer banking, that sort of thing—those work better when you don’t let private interests milk them for profits. I know you do things different back home.” "

Well, sir, I have tried to make this point with various friends who disagree with having public anything. They are not happy with the thought.

Also, you forgot public health... which, it seems to me, is one of the worst offenders since private health (insurance, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, doctors, dentists,... the entire lot) have the ability to quite literally make their 'customers' (read, 'victims') an "offer they cannot refuse."

I remember the flat brass mechanical calculators. Neat, but I kept losing the stylus!


Dan Mollo said...

It seems to me that the preoccupation with readers as to why certain technologies are not present in this possible future scenario is that even though they may be shrugging off the monolithic faith in progress from their particular world view, they still are shackled to the the particular artifacts that faith in progress has produced, be it particular mental constructs or specific physical objects.

With regards to technology, I can't think of how many times on your blog that you have repeatedly stated the the adoption of a technology is determined by a host of factors, including the embedded cost of that technology, the energy return of using that technology compared to the embedded energy cost and the continual maintenance cost of using that technology, and the social, political, and cultural decisions to pursue a particular technology. Not to mention the suites of other technologies that are needed for a particular technology to even work in the first place. I think a lot of people still don't truly get that.

So with regards to why a particular item is not present in your scenario, it is a safe bet to assume that:

1. Technologies that are currently in use are being used because they are cheaper to salvage, produce, and maintain, as well as requiring less energy inputs.
2. Technologies that are currently in use are being used because they are more durable and easier to use.
3. These technologies are not reliant on as many suites of technology.
4. These technologies can be locally salvaged, produced, and maintained, requiring less reliance on outside inputs and adding more resilience to the system.
4. These technologies are more elegant and personal, enhancing a sense of skill and craftmanship necessary to salvage, produce, and maintain. (a very important social construct in my opinion)

Mister Roboto said...

So the more advanced areas of The Lakeland Republic would appear to be at roughly a nineteen-twenties level development, while the more "retro" rural areas are at an eighteen-seventies level of development. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some places in the boonies that are at an eighteen-twenties level!

averagejoe said...

Hi John,
Today I have just read this newly published report (thanks to the Guardian Newspaper web site),

"An Ecomodernist Manifesto".
Shot full of flaws it useful captures the flaws of the religion that is modern day industrialism. The belief that through technology, we can somehow overcome our problems, including, the limits to growth. It really is desparate stuff from modern day'experts' and I thought you would find it amusing/interesting.
Loving the latest chapter of the story by the way. Looking forward to next week.

RPC said...

Touché! It comes from trying subtle communication through an unsubtle medium. "Credit unions" was not meant as an objection, but as an alternative. As a distributist, I'm going to favor organizations corporately owned by those most involved in their operation. For instance, the other types of utilities you mentioned (electric, water, etc.) can be implemented as state-run, investor owned (with varying degrees of regulation), or as cooperatives. I'm simply philosophically inclined toward the last of these.
BTW, does the Lakeland Republic allow fractional reserve banking?

RPC said...

"think of something halfway between cheap polyester and Tyvek"...all right, that's got me a lot more grossed out than any of the bodily functions you were discussing in the last Galabes post!

Nastarana said...

Dear Pincu-Sensie, More elegant people, is it? I am not sure if you mean high fashion elegance, or some other kind ,but, in general, elegance costs, costs which simply cannot be meant by people paying half to three quarters of their income for rent and utilities. I would much prefer to to see an increase of virtue and wisdom, which, I am happy to report, I do begin to see faintly taking hold in my (formerly) working class neighborhood, especially among young women.

I am waiting to see if the Archdruid will get around to discussing the high cost of rents and the effect that is having on our country.

Dear John Brink, are there no sewers in your neighborhood? If you can't afford their prices--premium product being deserving of premium prices--they are likely experiencing similar frustrations about things like carpentry, plumbing, etc. Maybe you could work out some kind of trade? For example, it is almost impossible to find for any moderately reasonable price a sturdy table on which one can cut out fabric. I searched for two years before buying a hickory table, obviously homemade back in the late 1800s, from a dealer going out of business, and that one, while excellent in every respect, is really a bit small for what I need.

Aron Blue said...

Retrotopia playlist additions:

Levon Helm and the RCO All Stars
Sing Sing Sing
(This is a truly special song.)

Sturgill Simpson
Livin the Dream

Also, pre-1950s clothing only? I'm much more of an early-mid '70s dresser myself, minus the polyester. Lots of denim, cotton, leather. I'd think fibers matter more than era, right?

Johnny said...


When I was a kid in Trinidad we did math with a pen too, at first with a bottle of ink and then in the higher grades we were allowed to use cartridge pens. They are much nicer to write with than ball point pens which is all that seem to be around for use these days (here in Canada). Anyway, I got a smile out of reading it in today's section.

Stuart said...

To pick up pygmycory's line of thought: how and when do you imagine Canada breaking up in this history? What causes Quebec's capital to shift to Montreal? What's going on in the western provinces might depend on the circumstances in which Canada dissolves.

Gunnar Rundgren said...

The part on efficiency is good (I don't mind the public bank either). efficiency is a really devious word as the clerk points out. And it is not only about input/output but also Whose efficiency. Who benefits

Mike said...

I predict that all the shocking things our hero has taken in regarding the Lakeland Republic will seem insignificant compared to the truths that little radio will reveal about his homeland when he finally gets around to turning it on and hearing an outsiders' perspective.

Ceworthe said...

I presume the elevator is hydraulic, able to be used in 2-4 story buildings? I was surprised a couple of years ago when I was asked at the post office if I wanted extra cash. Can't deposit yet, but can withdraw at the P.O. And SUNY Upstate Medical center has just announced it is going to start doing house calls for Urgent Care in some of the richer suburbs and rural areas to the East of here, with an eye to greater expansion elsewhere if things go well. Allegedly doesn't cost more

peacegarden said...

Happy Autumnal Equinox to all…what an abundant summer we have had here at Peacegarden.

Last evening, we had a small gathering to celebrate, first with a meal of grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup sourced from our garden with a bottle or two of our 2011 sparkling hard cider.

We then built our fire and allowed the moon to bathe us in her gentle light, while we pondered the repercussions of having/not having balance…it scales up pretty well, but always I try to remember that my job is tending to my own balance, rather than whining about everything else that is “off”.

A good time was had by all.

I am loving this story, Mr. Greer, and actually was still up and about late enough to read it last night. I got to the bottom of this week’s entry, and thought that it had been mighty short…until I scrolled back up and realized it was my immersion in the story that made time fly/not exit/be irrelevant. That is what a good story does so well.



MediaMaven said...

Not sure if has been mentioned, but The U.S. Postal System has been in the banking business in the past. There was window in our local post office dedicated to taking deposits, making payouts and so forth.

Johannes Roehl said...

No kidding, but when I spent a year as an exchange student at the U of Washington in 1995/96 I did have to learn the US checking system.
I had never before written checks because they were not common in Germany. (They were used sometimes but not common for the type of business a young university student is involved with.)
In that time, one usually paid cash in stores and rent or utility bill was paid by bank transfer every months. In the US debit cards were then slowly beginning to replace checks in stores and I usually paid cash in stores, credit card for things like airplane tickets but I had to use checks for dealing with the landlady and similar things.

SLClaire said...

Re binders, I was pleased to see their appearance in the story. My husband and I buy binders whenever we see them in yard sales and thrift stores. Just last weekend I bought three wide binders for 25 cents each at a yard sale, far less than the big box office store charges for binders. I do our household accounting on paper and keep the papers in binders, as well as photos and a monthly newsletter I receive that is drilled for a three hole binder.

I'm old enough to remember using metal hotel room keys. Note to GreenEngineer: the advantage to re-keying motel room locks when needed is that it provides a job for a person, which the electronic equivalent doesn't do. JMG has noted before that using people to do many things that we have automated will be a choice that makes a whole lot of sense in a low-energy society. LR may not have much energy but it has plenty of people who are ready and willing to work and plenty of work that needs to be done to keep its people healthy and happy.

My husband and I belong to three different credit unions between us. We prefer them to banks, but they are not immune to the trends that have infested banks. Two of the three credit union branches nearest us have put all their tellers in a windowless room in the basement, with our only contact with them being through a TV screen and provisions to send paperwork and money back and forth. That's when you walk inside the branch, instead of the desk and the tellers behind it that used to be there. How long from there to a kiosk? One of the credit unions made a big deal of how it's keeping its branch in Ferguson (yes, that Ferguson) because it's committed to serving the community, just moving it from a place it rented to a place it owns. Fine, but the place it owns has the set-up I just mentioned. Its Florissant branch a few miles to the west has tellers behind a desk. Do I need to mention that Florissant is more prosperous than Ferguson? Grrrr.

Bruce E said...

Definitely interested in the visit to the stock exchange and a society that views investment finance as a form of legalized gambling.

We do, today, pretty heavily regulate legalized gambling through a number of things including very steep windfall taxes. I wonder, given a society that views the stock market as gambling, will the stock market inherit the legal, and perhaps more importantly the moral look-down-your-noses-in-disgust, connotations that gambling "enjoys" today?

I wonder when it was that the whole legal distinction between "earned" and "unearned" income decoupled itself from the moral distinction that uses the same terms, and those who inherited their fortune and/or made their obscene amount of currency-based-wealth through financial derivatives started patting themselves on the back and pretending they were actually worth 50,000+ times the average schmuck who works 50-60 hours per week for a salary or hourly wage.

Odin's Raven said...

It seems as if you are showing that 2065 could be quite like 1965, and that some sense of style or taste has been retained in Lakeland. Surely they've retained or re-invented fountain pens rather than plastic rubbish? In 1965 I think that everyone who regularly needed to write carried a fountain pen and ballpoints were cheap and nasty products for cheap and nasty people. It's a bit jarring to find them in the context of serious and affluent people. If a clerk had faced a customer who had mislaid his own fountain pen he would surely have offered his own. Is the association of Mr. Carr with ballpoints a hint that his hosts have identified him as a cheap and nasty plastic person incapable of appreciating and properly using a fountain pen? This may be a all the more mocking if he is some sort of journalist, sufficiently affluent to stay at a good hotel and sufficiently senior to interview important people, but barely literate; a foreign vulgarian.

So far Mr. Carr has only met people whose business it is to politely serve affluent strangers. Is he likely to receive a rough awakening if he meets those of more common clay? Presumably a recent history of separation, strife and suspicion will have heightened local patriotism and disdain for foreigners with funny accents and strange habits. Will we get past the product placements and bland meetings to see how popular attitudes have changed, and human nature not changed at all?

Glenn said...

FWIW we use both a Credit Union and a locally owned (well,next county over) bank. Regrettably, both have recently become less local. The CU was absorbed by one from the next county south, and the bank has "gone public" on it's stock, rather than being held privately and entirely by it's customers. C'est la vie; they are still the best that can be done here besides stuffing cash in a mattress, which also has it's proponents.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

wagelaborer said...

There is indeed a movement to have post offices offer banking services. According to them, post offices back in the 30s used to do that, and you can still buy money orders (I believe) at post offices.
There is also a public money supply movement. It advocates turning banks strictly into the kind of thing people now think banks do. That is, store your money, lend it out at interest, and pay you a portion of the interest in return.
Banks, however, because of the fractional reserve system, actually create money. Indeed, the only money circulating in our economy is that created by debt, both public and private. That is why we are urged by the PTB to - Go to college! Buy a car! Buy a house! Go shopping! Each person that succumbs and borrows helps put more money into the economy. However, the money supply must grow in order to pay the interest, and that is inflationary and also, self-limiting. At some point, someone has to go bankrupt.

Therefore, banks should not only be publicly owned, money should be a public good, supplied by the government, in order to facilitate necessary goods and services exchange, but not to be speculated with.
On a side note, we were in San Francisco a couple of years ago, and when we came back to the car, the window was broken and someone had stolen my husband's computer. I woke up a homeless person to ask him if he saw anything. He hadn't, but we had a nice chat, and then I wandered down the street to see if the thief had perhaps discarded the computer when he realized it was old and outdated.
Later, in the car on the way home, my husband mentioned that he had also talked with the homeless man and the man had said to him "You should have stored your information in the cloud"
I was amazed. The man had seemed so nice and rational and intelligent. But, clearly, he was crazy and I hadn't noticed. Put information in the clouds?
That was the first time I had ever heard the term.

Dave Ruggiero said...

I just happened across this article this morning, which describes how US Navy Seals fighting in Afghanistan actually spent years advocating for a 1950s-style turboprop attack plane for support rather than the newest, most expensive, and most high-tech gadgets to come out of our aerospace industry. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakeland Republic's military had come to a similar conclusion themselves.

I have a few other speculations regarding how they managed to stave off a technologically superior invasion force, but I'll keep them to myself on the (slim) chance that I've guessed correctly.

Hubertus Hauger said...

whomever: ... Germany ... have banking offered by the post office."
In Germany there still is Post Office banking. But rather deteriorating nowadays. Slipping out of public service, getting privatised.

Origionally I worked with a saving-book. All transactions being written in there and officially stamped each time I made a draft. Guess, that would be sensible to immplement again, instead of giro-accounting. In that upcoming future, when more robust services are needed.

It was just put out of service, when I entered work, that the employers handed out salaries via envelope. I could well imagine a quite less complex money system to emerge out of the ongoing collapse. Quite workable, if you are a ordinary labourer. I assume a majority will become.

S.Treimel said...

Response to GreenEngineer:
No disrespect intended, but I believe JMG alluded to the reason for few electronic devices earlier in his discussion of the war that occurred prior to the time of the story. Any widespread reliance on electronics would make a territory vulnerable to a low altitude electro-magnetic pulse device. Having multiple means for communication and record-keeping leaves a functioning backup in case of attack or sabotage.

Courer du Bois said...

Hmm. Betcha I can down a little quadcopter drone with an arrow, Matter of fact I betcha I can come up with an arrow for taking down drones. Hmm. To the workbench!!!


Unknown said...

"The publicly owned utilities reliably provided better service at a lower cost."

This matches my experience exactly; from small rural co-ops to SMUD, publicly owned utilities run rings around investor-owned utilities,(ironic that their acronym is IOU).

pygmycory said...

What is happening circa 2065 in western Canada is a good question. You've clearly posited Quebec as an independent country, so I'm going to assume that Canada as a country has broken into multiple pieces. I suspect Newfoundland has gone its own way, and there's probably a union among some of the maritimes. I think Ontario and Alberta are not part of the same country because they've never gotten along very well. Saskatchewan is probably in the same country as Alberta, Manitoba could go either east or west. It's possible Alberta may have hooked up with the area just south of it, as a lot of Albertan attitudes seem to me to be more americanized than much of Canada.

BC is a bit odd because the BC interior is very different from the BC coast, especially the big coastal cities. The interior is much more politically and socially conservative, and the economy has been heavily impacted by fires and beetles. Small towns in both areas are doing badly and losing a lot of their young people to the cities. Most immigration has gone to the big coastal cities which are strongly multicultural, tolerant of gender differences, and riven by economic inequality. Housing prices have been driving a lot of ordinary people out of Vancouver (like both halves of my divided family, for one), but authorities are refusing to admit that there is a big problem with housing prices. When the bubble bursts, it is going to be messy and very, very painful.

In short, BC is a lot like Washington State. I think BC is better off economically and in working infrastructure right now than Washington State, but how long that will last I don't know. I suspect north-eastern BC will go east with Alberta if BC goes South or goes it alone, as that corner of BC is east of the Rockies and has very strong ties to Alberta. I sure hope Alberta and BC don't fight over it. It is a potential flash point that contains oil and gas resources.

I like my credit union. I used to use one of Canada's larger bank, but the credit union I use now doesn't charge a monthly fee for a chequing account, which the bank did. I also like the idea that it is a lot less entangled in the over-leveraged global financial system.

pygmycory said...

There's a very interesting article on neglected tropical diseases in the very poor in the southern USA that people here may find fascinating:

Unknown said...

I have to say I've always bridled at the idea that private is always more 'efficient' than public. Yes, a private company may make bigger profits, but is that our sole measure of 'efficiency'???

An example of this is the privatisation of the public utilities(gas, electricity, trains etc) in Britain. We were relentlessly told that it would mean more competition and therefore lower prices and a better service. The problem with this whole thesis for me was that the utilities were already making massive profits, which could then be ploughed back into 'public good' rather than going to line the pockets of already wealthy people. Sure enough the service didn't really change and the price didn't drop, in fact the service got a whole lot worse in the case of the railways and spectacularly more expensive, but a lot of people who had money to spare(ie rich people) got even wealthier from the rising share prices and the dividends that accrued from the shares. Privatisation is a scam for rich people to get even richer and for banks to have another revenue stream.

Recently, a Railway company was doing incredibly badly in the private sector, and was taken back into public ownership. It was transformed into the most profitable railway company in Britain. It was hurriedly privatised ,as soon as possible, as it was setting a bad and embarrassing example.

We had a Post Office bank here too, that was sold of as well. America pressurized Japan to sell off its' Post Office as they thought it was distorting markets! Much more likely they thought they could get their hands on its' massive deposits!

Jonathan said...

Has everyone forgotten that credit unions are private utilities?

pygmycory said...

Yes, credit unions are not government-run. That said, the one I'm involved with elects its directors. Everyone with an account at the credit union has a vote. It's very different from dealing with a big bank. It's a lot like a co-op.

Brian Kaller said...


Thanks for another instalment. A few people mentioned post offices, and those are still used here in Ireland, where until recently few people needed to move large amounts of cash fast. When your community is close-knit and your needs small, you don’t need to withdraw large amounts of money for child care, transportation, housing, entertainment, and so on. It just doesn’t make much sense for the same institution that handles the widow’s pension to also handle vast casino-style speculation.

In fact, banks have been pressuring the government to force the post office to reduce its interest rates, as it’s making the banks look bad:

On the other hand, many of the banks that have arrived in the last few decades are multi-nationals, sometimes giving themselves Irish-sounding names here. “National Irish Bank” was actually a division of Danske, and one day, without much warning, they abandoned their branch offices for anything but high-profit investments.

“This is a BANK, sir,” one of their staff huffily informed me when I walked in and asked about my account. “We don’t have MONEY here.” You literally couldn’t get your money out except through the internet. Obviously I don't use them anymore.

When I asked about Missouri in your hypothetical future, you asked me what I thought. In a partitioned USA as you describe, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it torn apart, as it was during the Civil War – the part pronounced “Missouri” and the part pronounced “Missourah” are culturally very different.

The first, a strip from St. Louis to Kansas City, is Midwestern but cosmopolitan – St. Louis is culturally the place where the East meets the West and the North meets the South, hence the Arch as its symbol. I could see that band, and the farmland to its north, merging with a coalition of states that could include Illinois and Iowa. I could see the train and boat traffic from Chicago to St. Louis becoming a vital artery again, and riverboats piloted up the Missouri to Jefferson City again.

Below and parallel to the Missouri River, however, runs a cultural Mason-Dixon line (or the grits/polenta line, as we called it), and everything below it – the Ozark Mountains, the Bootheel – would gravitate to the South, merging with whatever Arkansas and Mississippi are part of. Thoughts?

August Johnson said...

Ah yes... It surfaces again. Magnetic strip locks and pocket calculators are "just so useful" that they won't go away. Everybody forgets about the massive high-tech manufacturing infrastructure that's needed to produce these devices. Even if the technology to produce these devices might possibly exist, there's no way they'll be affordable unless they're produced by the millions (billions?) like they are today.

I remember the first consumer four-banger calculators from the early 1970's, $200+ for something that could just add, subtract, multiply and divide in 8 figures. No scientific notation either. Producing those $5 calculators today, not done in the U.S.A. for decades BTW, requires multi-billion dollar factories producing 10's of millions of units/year. And they're built by people earning a couple dollars/day.

The mag-strip lock may be "useful" but the mechanical lock can be made/repaired by just about anybody. Not so with the hi-tech version. Just throw it away and buy another.

John Roth said...

Part of the myth that public enterprises are less efficient than private ones is the myth that government bureaucracies are full of inefficient drones that spend their time passing paper back and forth without getting anything done.

It required mid-70s integrated circuit technology for a pocket calculator; I seriously doubt you're going to see them anywhere in the Lakeland Republic unless someone imports them for some reason. I'm assuming that the top tech level is about 1950s, which would give punched card accounting machines, although I doubt if they find them attractive.

I'm wondering about telephone systems. Mechanical switches were hugely complicated, sometimes taking up whole buildings, and anything except very basic service was very expensive; per-call billing was common, leading to acres of punched-card systems to do the accounting and billing. Trunk cables might have had several hundred (!) twisted pairs, each with an individual color coded wrap so that the engineers could tell which pair was which. It ought to come as no surprise that Bell Labs or Western Electric did most of the original work on non-standard color vision.

John Michael Greer said...

Chic Noir, well, this isn't a dystopia! One of the points I hope to make by way of this story is that you can return to older technologies without returning to older social habits; another is that "History, Mr. Carr" gives you the opportunity to pick and choose among the various options presented by the past. More on this as we proceed!

Vesta, doesn't surprise me at all. It's a source of endless amusement to watch defenders of the high-tech insisting that their technology is "more efficient" while gliding right on by the inevitable costs in time, money, etc. of all that extra complexity.

MayHawk, if the Lakeland Republic reminds you of the America of an earlier day, why, it's doing its job. ;-)

FreeWheels, every human society is unequal. Some societies acknowledge it, others -- the contemporary United States is an example -- insist that inequality doesn't exist or doesn't matter, and so allow it to metastasize into monstrous forms. The Lakeland Republic has gone its own way here as well, as you'll see in later episodes.

Joe, I'm fond of stairs as well. In the Lakeland Republic, by and large, elevators are for those who need them -- the elderly, the mobility-impaired, etc.

Claire, that makes sense. I don't know that the fate of Canada will come into the story much, but if it does, I'll keep that in mind.

John Michael Greer said...

Roger, yes, I'm familiar with Nick Land; I found him via the stats page for this blog, since a fair number of readers came to his blog directly from mine. An interesting cat, and one of the very few people who've commented intelligently on the literary dimensions of this blog. On the other hand, you're quite right that we disagree on just about any issue you care to name -- and I'd extend that more generally to the alt-right, of course. (As an old-fashioned Burkean conservative, I have no problem believing that a very large fraction of NeoRx types came out of the left; the lot of you seem way out there on the left to me.) As for the AAA strategy, you do know that Trotsky proposed that, I trust? His slogan was "worse is better," and the Communists applied it in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s The results were, shall we say, not exactly encouraging...

Gaianne, I didn't think of that at all! As for Mr. Carr, I didn't give him a first name until this post, so you were justified in missing it.

MawKernewek, the whole "cloud computing" thing strikes me as so spectacularly dumb that only absolute blind faith in the great god Progress can explain it.

Yupped, thank you! We'll be getting into the process by which the Lakeland Republic walked away from "modernity" in later posts.

Rita, there are of course massive differences between the American Midwest and India, and I'm not at all surprised that what worked fairly well on this side of the planet wouldn't work at all where you are.

Sébastien, but of course! Trade agreements between Québec and France have made Montréal a major source of imports from Europe in 2065, and any number of French products reach the other North American republics from there. With the collapse of the California wine industry -- California in 2065 is a failed state ravaged by drought and civil war -- French wine has once again taken a very large share of the North American market.

Doctor Westchester said...


Your answer to my point about the use of physical cash in the Atlantic Republic raises an additional question – Is the economy of the Atlantic Republic itself doing better or worse than the totally cashless countries? I could see the answer going either way. Either the Atlantic Republic is such an economic basket case that it’s been forced not to ban cash like all other “advanced” countries have. Or, the fact that it has not banned cash gives its economy somewhat more vitality than other countries that have. The last possibility is a truly sad and disturbing possibility considering the shape the Republic is in.

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"-- California in 2065 is a failed state ravaged by drought and civil war -- French wine has once again taken a very large share of the North American market."

Nah, thanks to Global Weirding, Cascadian wines will pick up the slack. Of course if Civil War in the intermountain west has cut 'Meriga off from civilization [i.e. those lands west of the Rockies], Lakeland and the Atlantics may have to make do with European substitutes for the finer things in life. [insert grin for the irony impaired]


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Where we indeed, are cultivating wine grapes.

GreenEngineer said...

Sorry, JMG, you're quite right. I made my comment in a rush. What I should have identified is the absence of even the most primitive information processing technologies.

Now of course the question you're actually asking is why they don't have the kind of electronics that are popular these days

Actually, no, that wasn't my question. I know the answer to that question. I am surprised that we don't see the sorts of information processing electronics that were common in the 40's-60's, before the advent of the integrated circuit. Analog electronic computers, for example.

Related: simple information processing. Obviously nothing like what we're used to today, but there is a lot you could do with 40's technology plus modern knowledge of digital techniques. That sort of knowledge was not going to be developed in the absence of major investments in digital computing hardware, but the methods so developed can be adapted to much "dumber" computers. If you can make silicon PV panels, you can make simple ICs - again, nothing like the modern day, but still useful if you're clever about it. Of course, all of this assumes that the knowledge was preserved even though the industrial base was largely destroyed, but I get the impression that that is the case in this fiction - this isn't Star's Reach (or at least, not yet).

GreenEngineer said...

@August Johnson

You are grossly underestimating what can be done with a little bit of technology. A little technology (like a little energy) can go a long way and do a great many useful things if you're clever about it - especially if you have access to a knowledge base that was developed at a time of much higher resource availability. We don't do it that way now (outside of a few maker communities) because we still have the energy subsidy, but if we get over that historical blip without completely crashing, we may have the opportunity to rediscover what is possible.

Digital pocket calculators - probably not, though I'm not clear that an small analog mechanical calculator is going to be much less expensive or intensive in that context. You're talking about a lot of precision machining. But if there is any kind of electronics available, they will get used for phone switching; as another posted noted, such a technology replaces rooms of mechanical logic (all of which requires a substantial industrial base to maintain in its own right).

Very likely, if you have radio and basic silicon processes (e.g. for PV) you will also have something akin to modern packet transmission. The speed and bandwidth will be tiny by modern standards, but text requires very few bits compared to audio or video. Modern knowledge plus old school methods can probably get to you something akin to ARPAnet.

John Michael Greer said...

Karim, exactly! "Efficiency" and "productivity" are both used that way, and both of them are going to come in for skewering as we proceed.

Martin, you're welcome to your calculator, as long as you're willing to pay all the costs of manufacture, disposal, etc., including a share of the costs of all the supply chains and materials sources. In the Lakeland Republic those aren't dumped on the public as "externalities" -- which means your calculator will cost about as much as a car. If you want it that badly, by all means!

Ervino, the mechanical calculator is a convenience for those who didn't learn how to do math when they were in school. Here in the US, that's nearly everyone who isn't homeschooled these days -- the public schools have given up teaching kids to do math themselves, and just teach them how to use calculators. Wait until Carr does some shopping and gets change for a ten...

Spanish Fly, you'll be pleased to know that the Lakeland Republic has a lively radio industry including shortwave broadcasts, so in 2065 you'll be able to tune into it from Spain! As for being called a Communist, well, I've been accused so far of being an apocalyptic doombat, a devil-worshipper, a fascist, a liberal, an anarchist, a Republican, a Democrat, a Jew, an evil space lizard out of Dave Icke's paranoid fantasies, a hack writer, and a ghoul, so I suppose being called a Communist would be a nice addition to the list!

Tyler, it's quite common for newly independent nations to relocate their capitals, so I suppose Québec did that in the decade or so after Canada came apart. As for the foreign minister, I thought of that as a personal quirk rather than a national one -- there have been American politicians who had such habits, you know.

Denys, no, it's not see-through; imagine what you'd think if you saw somebody walking down the street in a business suit made of the same stuff they use for plastic envelopes these days. As for fourteen days, he's going to be very busy -- stay tuned!

RCW, exactly. You'll be interested to know that the economics profession suffered a profound setback in the Lakeland Republic and is still struggling to get on its feet again. It was really very simple: the legislature passed a law mandating that anybody who lobbied for this or that economic policy had to provide at least one example from history in whihc that policy had actually done what it was supposed to do...

Shane, I haven't had a chance to look at the phone yet -- I really do work these things out as I go -- but it may well be a dial phone; the technology is much simpler, both on the phone end and on the exchange end.

Vilko, er, the Germans of the 4th century CE were anything but a homogenous ethnic group. They were a diverse assortment of tribal peoples speaking different languages, not all of them even in the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family. The only reason the Latins were more or less homogenous is that they'd been united by Rome centuries earlier -- before the Roman conquest, Italy was full of different ethnic groups (Latins, Etruscans, Samnites, Umbrians, etc.) and not all of these spoke Indo-European languages! I can't speak to the Slavs as my background in Eastern European history isn't what it ought to be. "Homogeneous" ethnic groups come into being in the wake of dark ages, and the raw material is usually a random collection of whoever happens to be in the territory in question; time and intermarriage do the rest.

As for the postal bank, that I know of, most countries that have made a post office banking system a success only offer savings accounts through the postal system, thus avoiding the problem with checks you mentioned.

John Michael Greer said...

Escape, yes, I saw that! Another example -- one of godzillions, these days -- of the fact that the more "progressive" product is very often not the best choice to get the job done. If the F-35 ever does become the frontline US plane, and we get into a hot war with some less delusional opponent, the US is going to lose very, very badly.

Mark, my wife and I pay bills by check, too, so there's one old technology that still has a fan base. ;-) The whole point of the Lakeland Republic is that it's showing some of the things that intentional technological regression might do.

Zaphod, we'll get to that. There are a variety of ways to do health care; the US has arguably the worst system in the world -- people in many third world countries get better health care than we do, which is why our national stats for infant mortality and similar measures of public health are worse than those in many third world nations -- but I'm far from convinced that a national bureacracy is the only, or the best, alternative. "History, Mr. Carr..."

Dan, excellent. The crucial point is a combination of your points 1 and 3. In the Lakeland Republic, costs of technologies aren't dumped on the public by way of "externalities" -- if you want a given technology, you get to pay for all of its costs. That really changes the playing field. More on this as we proceed!

Mister R., you won't be surprised. I think I've mentioned in passing that there are five tiers, and different counties fall into one or another; each tier has a baseline year that determines what public utilities are provided out of residents' tax money, and the five baseline years are 1950, 1920, 1890, 1860, and 1830 for tiers five, four, three, two, and one respectively. There, you know something Carr won't find out until next week!

Averagejoe, thank you -- I get a certain amusement out of reading really bad science fiction, and the "Ecomodernists" may be the most prolific practitioners of utterly implausible bilge-level SF today.

RPC, fair enough. I'm not a Distributist, as you've probably gathered, and have chosen to take things in a different direction. As for your reaction to the fabric, good. That was my intention. ;-)

Aron, thank you! Time to crank up the Victrola...

Johnny, most people in the Lakeland Republic use fountain pens or dip pens, but there are ballpoints available for people like Carr, who haven't learned how to write with a real pen without smearing ink all over the page!

Stuart, good question. All I know so far is that Québec is independent and the Maritime Provinces united with New England (thus "the Republic of New England and the Maritimes" mentioned in earlier comments).

Gunnar, true enough!

Mike, not to mention when he picks up a newspaper and discovers that there's so much more actual information there than there is on metanet news sites. (Seriously, compare a printed newspaper to an internet news site some day in terms of number, length, and comprehensiveness of stories.)

August Johnson said...

@Green Engineer
"You are grossly underestimating what can be done with a little bit of technology. A little technology (like a little energy) can go a long way and do a great many useful things if you're clever about it - especially if you have access to a knowledge base that was developed at a time of much higher resource availability."

I'm not underestimating anything, I've worked with all these types of technologies for decades, and fully understand how to be creative with little, worked in underfunded physics and chemistry research labs using much surplus and scrounged equipment. I'm also an old-school Ham Radio operator, the epitome of cheap and scrounging.

I also was involved in building state of the art astronomical imaging experiments that flew on the space shuttle so I know what can be done.

I was involved with amateur packet radio, almost from it's beginning. Just having radio and silicon tech for PV won't get you anywhere near having packet communications. That won't build you an 8-bit microcomputer with 32KB ROM and 32KB RAM. That's what the early TNC's (Terminal Node Controller) had. I think you should search back through the comments on past posts here for my comments on that exact subject. If you don't have the tech for a pocket calculator, we don't have the tech for packet radio communications, they're the same. Just because PV and ICs are built on silicon doesn't mean they are the same, PV doesn't need the high-precision and extremely small imaging. Even for 1970's type ICs.

We're not talking analog pocket computers here, this is a decimal, i.e. 1 out of 10, not binary pocket computer that I could build out of wood if necessary with a coping saw and a file and maybe a chisel. Not very high precision. These were stamped out of sheet metal by the 1,000's and they worked well. They were sold in the 1920's through the 1980's and when I bought mine in the late 1960's cost less than $10.

John Michael Greer said...

Ceworthe, I'm not sure -- there are plenty of good, safe ways to build an elevator for three or four stories. If Carr ever finds out, I'll be sure to let you know.

Peacegarden/Gail, thank you! That's welcome praise for any author. Glad to hear your equinox was blessed.

MediaMaven, I didn't know that! Many thanks; I'd already decided to have savings accounts at post offices all over the Lakeland Republic, and this confirms that decision.

Johannes, paying by check used to be practically universal here, for anything other than small cash transactions. Difference in national habits, I suppose.

SLClaire, good. Glad to see somebody's paying attention to the issue of employment vs. automation!

Bruce, good. You're going to enjoy the Lakeland Republic's tax system, I can tell.

Raven, it takes a certain amount of skill to use a fountain pen without getting ink all over everything. Ballpoint pens don't have that issue, and so a bank that deals with a lot of foreign visitors -- say, the Capitol branch of the Bank of Toledo -- has ballpoint pens handy to give to foreigners who open accounts there. That point will be made a bit later on...

Glenn, if you lived in the Lakeland Republic, your county would have its own public bank, with an elected board of directors answerable to the voters, and regulators from the national government hovering over them to make sure they followed the law. All very local, and very responsive!

Wagelaborer, good. Yes, money in the Lakeland Republic is also a public utility, issued by the Treasury, and there's no fractional reserve banking -- in LR law, that's called "fraud" and is punishable by long prison terms.

Dave, I'll give you a hint, which you've probably figured out already: the Lakeland forces defeated a technologically more complex invading force precisely because the invading force was technologically more complex... ;-)

Hubertus, back in the day, it was standard here in the US for the week's pay to be handed out in cash on Friday afternoons. Many banks still have longer hours on Fridays as a result. Care to guess how most people working non-salaried jobs in the Lakeland Republic get paid? Exactly.

Courer du Bois, that eminently practical response earns you tonight's gold star. I trust you'll be there at next year's drone shoot to demonstrate!

Unknown, I've never met anybody but a libertarian or neoconservative ideologue who claimed anything different.

Pygmycory, thanks for the info! If the fate of Canada comes up for further discussion, I'll keep that in mind. Also, thanks for the article on neglected tropical diseases -- most interesting.

John Michael Greer said...

Brian, thanks for this. I'd already settled that Missouri was partitioned between the Confederacy and the Missouri Republic, but this confirms that choice.

August, exactly. We'll be getting quite a bit further into those issues as the story proceeds; as I noted in response to an earlier comment, in the Lakeland Republic, all the costs of any given technology are carried by those who choose to use it, not dumped on the public via "externalities." The convenience of a pocket calculator or a magnetic strip lock looks rather different if the end user has to pay all the costs...

John, telephone systems are expensive if you factor in all the costs, so some counties have them and others don't. A lot of counties that don't -- ham radio geek warning here -- use two-meter radio systems as a kind of low-end replacement. More on this as we proceed!

Doctor W., we'll learn more about the economy of the Atlantic Republic later on. I don't know about the cashless countries -- will have to see what Carr mentions!

Glenn, due to global warming, the Yakima wine country is desert in 2065, though I'd expect some decent vinyards to be springing up on the formerly wet side of the Cascades. Since the Cascadian Republic is more or less a Chinese client state, though, most of its produce goes across the Pacific.

GreenEngineer, actually, your question and mine were the same; nearly all the electronics that are popular these days rely on information processing. The purpose of information processing technology is to put people out of work -- yes, I know, it gets dressed up in all kinds of fancy rhetoric, but that's what it amounts to in practice. The Lakeland Republic has plenty of people who are eager to work, while most other resources are in rather shorter supply. Why don't they embrace technologies that exist for the purpose of increasing unemployment by replacing workers with machines? You tell me.

By the way, it's simply not true that if you can make PV chips, you can make ICs. If you can make PV chips, you can make transistors; the miniaturization needed to pack many transistors onto a single IC is an entirely different kettle of fish, with vastly more demanding technological requirements.

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"the Yakima wine country is desert in 2065, though I'd expect some decent vinyards to be springing up on the formerly wet side of the Cascades."

My remark was more or less tongue in cheek. But we _do_ live on the wet, west side, and vineyards are springing up here; and we have a couple of vines of our own in the Bramblepatch. The joke my brother makes is that the Northern California wine country climate has followed us here, he just didn't expect it so soon.

Banking: Our 16 year old daughter finds the concept of fractional reserve banking both criminal and nauseating. The fruit falls not far from the tree, I am please to observe.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Fabian said...

“If the F-35 ever does become the frontline US plane, and we get into a hot war with some less delusional opponent, the US is going to lose very, very badly.”

It also looks like the F-35 Lardbucket is going to gut the Norwegian military. In order to pay for the F-35, the Norwegian army is being reduced to two combat ready battalions, the Norwegian navy will lose all of its submarines and corvettes and the Norwegian coast guard is being reduced from 15 ships to only 13. Even worse, the Norwegian government just reduced the order from 52 to 42 F-35’s, because they can’t afford any more even after gutting the rest of their military. But they just had a grand ceremony to celebrate the official handover of the first F-35 to the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Too bad the Lardbucket won’t be combat ready for at least another four years due to continuing technical problems and software that hasn’t even been written yet after all these years…

And all this while the Russians and Chinese are preparing to field stealth fighters like the Chengdu J-20 and the Sukhoi T-50, both of which are far more capable than the F-35. Not to mention other state of the art war machines from the DF-26 “Guam Killer” IRBM to the Armata tank. If we manage to blunder into a war with the Russians or the Chinese, we’re going to get curb stomped. If I look closely, I think I can see the Twilight’s Last Gleaming. ;-)

The F-35 Lardbucket is just like herpes: it’s the gift that keeps on giving…

Fabian said...

Speaking of America’s unspeakably incompetent foreign policy, have you seen the latest news coming out of Syria?

You have Russian Russian marines and warplanes pouring into Syria with the Russians saying they will take on Islamic State whether the Americans cooperate with them or not; Russian marines linking up with Iranian marines and Hezbollah commandos in Syria and Russian marines linking up with Iranian forces in Iraq. Meanwhile, our so-called allies in Saudi Arabia and the GCC are getting their heads handed to them by a bunch of Iranian backed insurgents in Yemen.

Oh, and there are also rumors that the Chinese are sending troops and combat aircraft to the Russo-Syrian bases in Tartus and Latakia. I’m sure the People's Liberation Army would love to gain some combat experience for its commanders, troops and fighter jocks, especially fighting alongside an experienced and battle hardened military like Russia’s. We know that Russian marines have already engaged Islamic State forces in ground combat on at least one occasion in the last few days.

In addition, it seems that Russia, Iran and Iraq just activated a joint command center in Baghdad with reports that there are already several hundred Russian marines on the ground in Baghdad and that Russian generals are the ones now running the show. To top it off, now Egypt seems to be gravitating towards Russia. The Egyptians even agreed to buy those French Mistrals that were originally built for the Russian Navy (for which the Russians had to give their approval since parts of the ships were built by Russian contractors) while the Russian Navy is already working on its own equivalent class of amphibious assault ships with the funds the French government had to refund to the Russians for breaking the contract.

I also found it interesting that when things started heating up in Syria, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two of his top generals flew to Moscow, not Washington D.C.

It looks to me like the era of American domination in the Middle East is coming to an end. We have set ourselves up for disaster and the Russians have outmaneuvered us at every turn. They even managed to turn the US/EU sanctions to their advantage. I suppose that's what happens when a former KGB colonel, chess master and martial arts master with a 8th degree black belt in Judo matches wits with a bunch of rank amateurs and incompetent hacks like Barack Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power and Susan Rice.

As Solomon over at SNAFU puts it:

“The Russians are playing chess while our State Dept and Pentagon are in a corner eating snot.”

“What's the scorecard? Russia is putting Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Iraq in its orbit. The obvious conclusion? Saudi Arabia/GCC are getting lined up for a regional war”

“From my chair it looks like we're about to see a high tech war pitting the latest and greatest weapons from the West vs. Russian with a bit of Chinese tech thrown in. Wouldn't it be a kick in the a** if this all kicked off during the last year of the Obama Administration?”

Myriad said...

There is an alternative to building-sized automatic exchanges (the banks of electromechanical switches that literally count the clicks as the dial unwinds as you dial [literally] each number) for connecting telephone calls. We'll have to find out what Peter Carr hears when he picks up the receiver. A dial tone, or a voice saying, "How may I connect your call?"

If the electronic technology includes discrete transistors then the radio in Carr's hotel room might be boxy for style and ease of repair, rather than because it uses vacuum tubes. Repairability should be a major consideration in all Lakeland product design! A radio receiver only needs a few transistors, and that type will use a lot less power than a tube one. There are trade-offs either way.

Older information technologies like punch card systems don't need transistors but have some other subtle supporting-technology bottlenecks. For example, the Third Reich had control of Hollerith machines during WWII but sometimes had difficulty using them because no facility for manufacturing the super high quality paper for the cards was available in Europe, and the U.S. eventually figured out not to sell it to them. Substitutes would jam too often. I doubt Lakeland would use them, but it might depend on what their tax system is like.

One minor but possibly revealing detail the narrative doesn't catch: are the bank's pens in the lobby area attached to chains? We see that the bank is willing to lend a calculator to a VIP customer. But chains on pens have been around for a long time (as have jokes about same), and probably started out not so much due to deliberate theft as to absent-mindedness.

Unfortunately, the banks back in Atlantic probably don't require or provide pens at all. Otherwise: "Except for the pens chained to the desks, it didn't look anything like the banks I was used to."

jean-vivien said...

your Retropia is amazing, because you describe a society with an Information Technology that works. Based upon paper, ink, and human labor. All it took was different choices... Still a minor quibble : in such a society, I have trouble imagining that there would be enough food resources to spare for employing someone just as clerk or "IT" worker.

Also, I have watched the GOP's great debate amongst Presidential candidates, and what struck me was that each of them was invoking some parts of what appears to constitute the American psyche (or something like that... remember I am a foreigner). I wonder, maybe the mental idea of a nation, upon which the nation itself was built, used to be a lot stronger, and therefore a single individual was able to articulate a whole vision of what makes the nation so special. It could be that as it has lost strength over the years, that ideal of the nation has dimished in importance or belief inside each of its individuals, and that is why now even the people who ambition to run the country can articulate, when speaking individually, only fragments of what that vision used to be. The candidates made for an interesting chorus, not really debating each other, but instead, each of them bringing his or her small bit of what, taken all together, would constitute a coherent vision of the national ideal. With a lot of glue, and a lot of patching-up work required...

I know it is mostly related to current events, but it could be an idea you can reuse in your fiction : Mr Carr would be VERY surprised to find out that a single citizen of the Lakeland Republic could sketch out, on the fly but in a clear and structured fashion, a vision of the entire Republic, whereas back home, it would take a whole assembly of Repu-Mocrats fumbling together to achieve that.

As for your expeditive treatment of current economics, I have been watching an excellent interesting documentary about the worn-out subject of Nazism and occultism (Hitler's Dark Charisma), which features a sentence I found so... British, because it is fairly imaged and moderate yet implies a lot : "By that time, Hitler's fantasies had parted completely with reality." (he was in his bunker toying with a model of an Austrichian town how he would build his own museum there, and accomodate the whole city map to his fashion... all the while the Red Army was delving into Germany, pounding the last of his defenses). I do wonder if we could say the same thing about economics as it is being professed nowadays, even though not to such dire consequences. In any case I am sure that the Lakeland Republic will have developped some efficient means of keeping in check with reality, even if it cannot escape the inevitable power plays acted out in a nation state.

jean-vivien said...

@Juhana : And to reply to one of last week's comments, by Juhana about the Camp Of Saints by Jean Raspail, it is one of the flagship books of the far right here. I have read it, and it reads like a boy-scout joke, written by and for little boys. I found the author's style just pompous, and his ideas pretty childish. Still, Raspail has revolved his writing around societies on the brink of collapse, and though it wasn't uncommon for writers to do that in his time, he still deserves credit for charting uncomfortable territory. His originality was that, instead of the future nightmare scenarios fantasized by SF writers of the time, he took existing, or fictional but in the past, societies. Therefore he was a direct embodiment of the now-familiar adage, "collapse is already here, just not widely distributed yet". And he always advocated an attitude of stoïstic dignity against the turn of events, very far from nowadays' political correctness. Unfortunately his attachment to old, revolute values constantly veered onto reactionary views, which hasn't made him very popular.

In its time, the Camp Of Saints was written before the crisis of the Boat People, and would have been a visionary work, if it weren't for the fact that the Vietnamese refugees did not come in such large numbers and were just frightened, starving people. Who behaved really well once assimilated : here Asian people have the well-earned reputation of being hard-working, discrete... At the time, he envisioned larger mass migrations threatening the integrity of the old European nations betrayed by their own sense of moral self-righteousness and pity. The recent images of people who look not quite like they are starving, and are hung onto their cell phones, certainly do update Raspail's vision back into actuality, but it is hard to fully capture the horror of what these people are fleeing from. In other words, we are not in their shoes, so it is hard for us to judge. To be fair, a lot of France's economy has been driven by immigration, even over the latest years. The wealth pump in favour of the USA and Germany is what I deem to make up a much heavier bunden on our economy, but right now the Front National is the only party with the gut and media credibility to articulate it out loud.

The Reuters' War College blog staged an interesting analysis, though maybe a little simplistic, so far the most synthetic assessment I have as yet come across regarding this crisis :

Another world is inevitable, and it is taking shape right in front of our very eyes... there will be plenty of pain to be shared, whence the importance of tooling ourselves with a coherent, workable, and even more importantly, desirable vision. Enter Retrotopia.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.

This is very entertaining to read, for many reasons. I have been thinking about France's shape, but yes, even with the climate change, I hadn't really envisioned French wine going completely away. And since we speak about France, I find it utterly amusing to see that several "changes" that happened in the Lakeland Republic are reminiscent about what De Gaulle implemented post WWII over here. John Michael, would you like to add "Gaulliste" to your set of labels ? Maybe it is just me, but imagining you and the General chatting together is an image that lightens my day.

And now, if you feel like reading it, here comes my "Mr Carr" true story. Some 10 years ago, I was working in a great science lab, in an office sitting on top of an impressive computing center in sunny and hype California. Being scientists in a new office we did the first important thing scientist do when they get to a new place: we bought a coffee machine, and set a shared system for the costs. When it was time for me to pay my dues, I entered J's office, the senior scientist in charge of collecting the funds, and asked him how to proceed. He showed me a little tin box on a shelf. The tin box contained cash, a sheet of paper and a pencil. Being the kind of "self-proclaimed-geek-smartass" I was at that time (now of course I am *completely* different), I smirked and told him "What ? We are in one of the world's top computing resort and we use... *this* ?". To that, he just smiled back, and in a tone of serene evidence he just said "Appropriate technology".


Scotlyn said...

Well, I'm here to tell you privatization does lead to efficiency. Since our bin (waste) collection service was privatised, a large number of citizens have discovered that the mist efficient way to dispose of their rubbish is to cut out the middleman and chuck it anywhere, including out a car window. As a farmer straddling a main road with 2x600 m of roadside verge, this efficiency is supremely inelegant. However, elegant people, from time to time, organise volunteer squads to attempt to restore some semblance of elegance to our be-littered landscape.

For what its worth, I've long argued that public goods needs to be operated and safeguarded publicly, and private ones privately, which gets me in hot water with all sides of the public private debate.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, your sixteen-year-old is a very smart young woman. I'm glad the vineyards are going in -- that'll give your descendants a good source of hard currency -- well, other than China's lease on the Everett naval base, of course.

Fabian, I do hope that you're referring to the F-35 as the Lardbucket generally, whether or not you're mentioning where you got the term. ;-) As for the business in Syria, I'm watching that very closely indeed. If Russia, China, and Iran have decided to take out Daesh ("ISIS") and are readying boots on the ground to do it, my guess is that they can accomplish it, and if that happens the global political situation is going to change drastically in the very near future. I wish I knew what was happening at the Kermanshah tactical air base, which would be the logical staging area in Iran for the eastern end of a Syrian operation; if Russian and/or Chinese planes are showing up there in force -- especially if some of those planes happen to be troop transports -- we could be in for some dramatic headlines.

Myriad, the banks in the Atlantic Republic do everything by touch screen, so pens aren't something Carr is used to seeing there.

Jean-Vivien, au contraire, the US in the early 20th century supported quite a substantial number of clerks, secretaries, etc., while still having half the population working on farms. That sort of thing can work quite well -- ask any ancient Babylonian IT worker, aka scribe...

Seb, okay, that's a new one! Gaulliste -- I'll add it to the list. I have a certain fondness for de Gaulle, mostly because of his famous despairing comment: "How is it possible to govern a country that has three hundred varieties of cheese?"

Scotlyn, I know -- and yet history shows that private ownership really does work better for some things and public ownership really does work better for others. I'll be talking more about that as we proceed.

Martin B said...

Thank you, JMG, for allowing me my calculator. I wouldn't pay the price of a car, but I'd certainly pay a month's salary for one if I was working with numbers professionally, e.g. as an engineer, land surveyor, accountant, etc.

I'd like to think that along with blacksmiths and wheelwrights, a new type of artisan, the electron-wallah, is plying his trade. If not, I'd smuggle my calculator in from whatever country still permits dirty industries. Having worked in an engineering office from before the time that desk-top calculators became available, I can tell you that those things are like crack. Once you've tried one, you never want to go back.

On telephones: you could always go back to a central exchange manned by telephone operators. My last experience of them was in the 1980s when my father took ill and I was stuck in the middle of Namibia. I'd have to go to a public telephone, crank the handle, and explain to the operator that I wanted a reversed-charges call to Cape Town. Problem was, they only spoke Nama, and I only spoke English. Nama is a language full of clicks, so there'd be a furious burst of conversation sounding like popcorn popping as the operators discussed my request amongst themselves. I could only recognize one word, "umlungu" i.e. "white man". But full marks to them, they always got me connected.

Unknown said...

(*Deborah Bender)

@Unknown, with regard to the dome on the capitol building, I was making a more narrow point. Up until WWII, most government buildings in the US imitated Greco-Roman public architecture, as did most banks. It was visual shorthand for "serious purpose" and "built to last". I spent my childhood in a suburb of Washington, DC and saw plenty of examples.

My point is that while government buildings with colonnades and pilasters and architraves and cornices were once the norm, the specific pattern of the US Capitol Building, a big dome over a flat base with symmetrical wings, has been copied by almost every statehouse in the Union, with minor variations in the proportions of the dome so that they look like sort of careless copies. This consistency is pretty remarkable. The Governor's mansions in the various states look totally different from the White House, and the Supreme Court didn't even have a separate building of its own to meet in until the 1930s IIRC. But for some reason, when they erected houses for their legislatures, most of the states used the Capitol Building as a model.

The Lakeland Republic was born out of a civil war and has had to defend its independence since then. Unless it regards itself as the true successor to the former federal government, why would it want to copy the Federal building style for its new statehouse? Just because it's a republic, must it pretend to be Roman?

The San Francisco City Hall as rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake has a grand dome, but instead of being of white marble and looking like a Roman temple, it's in the Beaux Arts style, extravagantly gilded, and looks like the the palace of the Doge. Which is exactly how Mayor Willie Brown, who organized its restoration, used it.

steve pearson said...

@ Vico, I would like to propose that the Mauritian model is not the only way a country can form in descent or otherwise. In Hawaii, where I live, more people are multi racial than uni racial. It was not an an entirely smooth process and there are, certainly, still some rough edges. The process was, perhaps, facilitated by a dearth of subcontinental Hindus & Muslims, though there are more now.
Fiji, where they ultimately formed a majority, followed a much rockier road. As the dietary and ritual purity concerns begin to break down, Fiji is becoming more integrated.
Here in Hawaii, if the state were to be divided by racial or cultural lines, many people would have to be chopped into bits. Race is, however, still used in describing a person , as are height, weight, gender, age and various other personal quirks.
On another topic, I love watching the insanity of the American obsession with the F35, or hi tech weaponry in general.If they ever have to use it in combat, they will so totally get their clocks cleaned. It is so symbolic of their mind set that they are going to replace the A10, one of the greatest ground support aircraft ever built with the flying version of Goldman Sachs. Amusing: during the Korean war, the Americans used an 81mm mortar. The Chinese used an 82mm, which would fire captured American shells, whereas the Americans could not fire captured Chinese ammunition.
Cheers, steve

Sébastien Louchart said...

@Seb Ze Frog +1 with the parallel between Lakeland Republic and the late 4th/early 5th Republics.

p.s. Now everybody's gonna think all french guys are called Seb :D

Spanish fly said...

OK John, I'm really pleased with shortwave emissions from far Lakeland Republic. I bet that "lakelandian" emissions would be fairly well listened from the hills near my town, with a good comercial radio receiver (maybe a bit rusty); and and BBC world service too (if Brits continue broadcasts in 2065). Lakelanders with SW radio would be able to listen spanish broadcasts, I suppose there would be some sucessors to Radio Exterior (the spanish national radio broadcasting to the world).
And for communism: I was only kidding. :-D

Vilko said...

Mr Greer,

You wrote: "the Germans of the 4th century CE were anything but a homogenous ethnic group. They were a diverse assortment of tribal peoples speaking different languages, not all of them even in the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family."

There was Nordic Germanic (the parent language of the Scandinavian languages), Eastern Germanic (Gothic, Wisigothic and Ostrogothic) and Western Germanic (the parent language of English, Dutch and German). There were, undoubtedly, dialectal variations, but each of the three branches was basically one language, and the three languages were themselves very closely related.

The tribes which spoke non-Germanic languages were not Germanic. I guess that you thought of Barbarians in general, not all of whom spoke Germanic languages.

The only reason the Latins were more or less homogenous is that they'd been united by Rome centuries earlier -- before the Roman conquest, Italy was full of different ethnic groups (Latins, Etruscans, Samnites, Umbrians, etc.) and not all of these spoke Indo-European languages!

Undoubtedly. And the only reason Americans are more or less linguistically homogenous is because...? As an American, it doesn't matter if your ancestors spoke English, German, Hungarian, Russian, Cherokee, or Armenian. What defines you linguistically is the language you presently speak. Similarly, it doesn't matter if the ancestors of a 4th century Roman spoke Umbrian or Etruscan, since all those languages had died centuries before.

It seems to me that linguistic balkanization is an unavoidable consequence of collapse. Largely autarchical, endogamous communities develop their own dialects, which eventually turn into languages, if they are spoken in the places which become the next centers of power. Until the 19th century, every European village had it own patois, hardly different from the patois of the next village, but the differences accumulated from village to village, until the accumulated differences were so great that mutual understanding was impossible. People spoke French at one end of the Latin domain and Portuguese at the other end, without a clear line separating, say, French from Spanish, and Spanish from Portuguese. French resembles Occitan (Southern French) a lot, which resembles Catalan, which resembles Spanish, which resembles Portuguese.

When centralized kingdoms emerged in France, Spain and Portugal, the kings imposed their dialects on their subjects. The printing press also made it easier to standardize languages.

Between the variety of American English that you speak, and the English of Beowulf, there are only about thirty generations. That's a line of thirty men, each of whom was certain that he spoke the same language as his father. What made languages change faster than they now do was widespread illiteracy. But are we sure that compulsory, government-funded primary education would survive a total civilizational collapse? IMHO it wouldn't. Especially is the daily language of third or fourth generation survivors becomes too different from textbook English.

This being said, the Lakeland Republic would probably stick to standard English (the language of what can be saved from technology) as its official language. Lakelanders would, I guess, speak dialect at home and with their friends, and use Standard English in writing and for trade with foreigners, official events, and of course in education. Mr Carr would have no problem talking to a bank clerk or a hotel employee, but he would have difficulties understanding two Lakelanders chatting in their dialect.

And if he gets lost in the countryside, he can consider himself lucky if the old peasant he meets is fluent in Standard English... In 19th century Europe, that's what travelers often had to deal with!

averagejoe said...

Hi John, just read this article.
Well that makes grim reading for those of us in the UK. I’ve been convinced for some time that on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the UK and a fair part of Europe is not going to get hotter but colder, with weather conditions that are familiar to those in Alaska, when the north Atlantic current switches off due to the influx of cold salt free water due to melting ice. This is likely to lead migrations from the UK and Europe, from those unable to adapt to a new reality. Perhaps that could be useful woven into the story. Or perhaps it already has/will be .

Shane Wilson said...

I'm having trouble picturing Lakeland being as smoke free as today. I'm picturing lovely brass and crystal ashtrays adorning the tables in the hotel and the bank (and everywhere) to go with the retro mood. I always thought today's war on tobacco was simply an outward expression of the extreme biophobia and fear of death of today's people, and would not age well into the future as people come to terms with their own mortality. I also think tobacco's role as social adhesive would be more resilient than today's smoking bans. (The fact that it spread so quickly from the New World to all other civilizations attests to that. Even now, smoking rates still hover in the low teens in the most restrictive areas with the highest taxes.) So, if today's smoking/tobacco bans and tobacco taxes survive no worse for the wear in Lakeland (or even Atlantica), what's the rationale, absent today's biophobia/fear of death? If not, where do people smoke or chew tobacco in Lakeland? What kinds/forms of tobacco are popular (cigars, cigarettes, pipes, snuff, chewing tobacco)? Are ashtrays and spittoons once again common sights?

Tidlösa said...


So far the Lakeland Republic looks pretty moderate, I mean, public utility banks? Come on, Harry Truman nationalized the steel plants and Richard Nixon imposed a price freeze. Surely the Lakelanders can do better than *that*?!

I´m still waiting for the really extreme stuff: polyandry, the cult of the talking image of Urur and (gulp) compulsory Quebecois French classes in senior high school!!!


latheChuck said...

Just a couple of technical comments on the commentary:

Analog computers were indeed built without integrated circuits, but the kinds of problems that they solve are completely different from the uses of digital computers. They're no good at all for "accounting" problems, because they have no discrete memory for any quantity. The state variables are ANALOG voltages on a capacitor, good to maybe two decimal places, and we expect million dollar accounts to balance to the penny. An analog computer can't route calls for a telephone exchange; that's a fundamentally discrete switching problem. An analog computer for hotel-room access might be do-able, if you have less than 100 rooms, and really good wiring from each door to the computer room...)

Having re-keyed a number of locks, I know that it takes only a few minutes. A locksmith has to charge for travel, but a hotel-staff lock-changer could get it done while the linens are being swapped.

I've used a dip-pen for routine writing tasks for some months now (e.g., maintaining my ham-radio log book), and found that I'm essentially tethered to my inkwell and pen-wiper. I tried using a fountain pen, but leaving it idle for a week or two, it dried out (with disastrous consequences). Also, ball-point pens are essential for making carbon-paper duplicates.

You may be able to do arithmetic with "pencil and paper", but that does require consumption of paper and pencils (or ink, but then you're tethered...). An abacus (or Addiator) serves as much as a memory for the result as it does the computation, indefinitely erasable for the next computation. It's not the addition and subtraction that are hard, it's remembering the result for as long as it's needed that can be challenging.

John Roth said...

re: electronics

JMG - you’re overstating the case against electronics. Mid 1960s manufacturing is perfectly capable of creating inexpensive integrated circuits without a huge amount of externalities, fuss and bother. The first clean rooms were invented in one of the national labs not far from where I live in New Mexico - the technology was so simple that a lot of people thought he was faking it.

The question isn’t whether they could do it without huge supply chains and massive externalities, the question is why they’d bother. I’m familiar with the business case for business computing in the 40s, 50s and 60s - the first system I was paid to work on (for an insurance company) had vacuum tubes! My mother worked as a bookkeeper and tab machine operator for Illinois Bell in the 40s and 50s - I still have her IBM 407 Accounting Machine manual packed away somewhere.

I quite agree that the hotel wouldn’t use any form of automated data processing, but the phone company? Unless they’re doing flat rate billing, which is possible, they won’t be able to have any kind of scale without it. There was a reason why banks only operated four days a week, with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday off. They needed the time for back office bookkeeping to keep the ledgers up to date.

re: fractional reserve banking:

I worked most of my life in the financial industry, and I have to laugh at the comments I see or I’d be shaking my head in frustration at the misunderstanding.

Without fractional reserve banking, you will be paying the bank to hold your money for you, in which case, if crime is relatively low, keeping your money in the mattress is far cheaper. The only way a S&L can make mortgage loans, for example, is to use the depositor’s money. Those post office banks are loaning the depositor’s money to the government to fund the national debt. That’s fractional reserve banking in a nutshell. It’s that simple.

If you want to get rid of fractional reserve banking, you’re not going to have a consumer and small business banking sector. That “Bank of Toledo” can’t exist without it.

There are systems that don't allow loaning money at interest. One of them is called Sharia.


Using operators for local calls doesn’t scale. If a Tier 1 county like Toledo is using operators, for all practical purposes it doesn’t have a telephone system.

You’re absolutely right about the quality control needed for punched cards. IBM had the reputation of sending entire carloads of cards back to the manufacturer if they didn’t meet standards. A box of 2000 punch cards was expensive as a result.

Tidlösa said...

Concerning Syria, while I don´t like Russia (come on, they have never been a democracy and perhaps never will), I hoped for a Western-Russian-Chinese alliance against "Muslim" fundamentalism and terrorism since about 9/11. Call it Realpolitik, if you like. Indeed, for a brief moment, there was such an alliance, since both Russia and China supported the U.S. attack on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and a contingent of Russian troops actually had their own sector in Kabul (at least for a while).

This pragmatic alliance seems far off today, due to the conflicts in the Ukraine and Georgia, and also because the West backs up Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the fact that these factions are more than likely to double cross us by playing with ISIS backstage. Osama bin Laden was "our" Frakenstein´s monster. Are we creating a new one in the Middle East as of this writing? It took Bin Laden about 20 years to bite us, the next monster might be biting us already!

The lesser evil would be negotiations in the Ukraine and Georgia, both the U.S. and Russia telling Erdogan to back down from his intrigues in Syria (Turkey and Russia actually has pretty good economic relations, ironically), and a great power alliance against ISIS and Al-Nusra in Syria. Indeed, the only way to stop Iran from extending its power would be such an alliance. If the West doesn´t do it, the Russians and Iranians might very well decide to take out ISIS on their own, and I´m pretty sure we won´t be invited to the victory celebrations in Mosul...

Good grief, where are the Machiavellians when we finally need them? No irony!

Edward said...

Speaking as a programmer, the usual drive for using so-called "public" cloud computing from a business perspective is not for any nefarious means, but so that we (as a business) do not have to deal with the nuts and bolts of maintaining the servers themselves, and also so that we can spin up as many servers as we need at a moments notice, and then stop using (and therefore paying for them) when they are no longer required. The other advantage is that it lets us divide up our over-powered servers into smaller logical units to handle different jobs.

The disadvantage is that you are handing over some of the keys to your business to another entity, which raises all sorts of fun questions about who has access to the data on said servers, which locality has jurisdiction over said data, and what happens if (when!) the entity hosting your data screws up. For this reason, it's interesting to note that many IT people in their own time are quietly starting to move away from cloud computing, and doing things like hosting their own email.

Interestingly, one of the causalities of the drive to cloud computing has been the legions of IT staff who were previously tasked with the aforementioned tasks of maintaining the physical plant of local servers, cabling, and other data centre paraphernalia and so on who are no longer needed. As JMG has noted, the purpose of information processing machinery is to reduce the number of people required to do a given task. Lately I've been raising the awkward question in after work drinks of what happens when we automate everyone people out of a job. Nobody seems to have a good answer. I wonder how long it'll be before this is a self solving problem.

architrains said...

Glad you mentioned skin color in this installment, for one of my favorite webcomics, despite using antique graphics scanned from old books, continually demonstrates the average person's misunderstanding of the History Buffet, when the artist is feeling political (like today):

Of course, he also has done extensive historical research to back up his opinion that "people have always complained about technological progress, and the world has not ended yet, so questioning progress is stupid." Needless to say, once I got into the peak oil scene, I stopped following his comic so closely.

daelach said...

@ JMG: What intrigues me is whether Mr. Carr will really go back to the Atlantic Republic after all..

As for Russian technology: I remember a story about a fire fighter aircraft they wanted to build. The water refilling was designed to work in flight over a water surface (lake) with a tube. They wanted to have an automatic shutoff system with all bells and whistles. Calculating the numbers, the engineers estimated that this system alone would cost as much as a whole wing. Too expensive, the management said, find some cheaper solution.

So the Russians cut a hole into the upper side of the water tank, welded a U-shaped tube on it and mounted a rearview mirror. When the tank was full, the water splashed out of the tube, and the pilot would see that in the rearview mirror. That's Russian technology at its best. Simple, cheap, reliable.

Mikhail Kalashnikov: "Everything important is simple, everything complicated is superfluous."

Violet Cabra said...

JMG, you've mentioned before in some essays the different lines casualty that frame a slow, stair-step decline and a fast collapse. You emphasized that the stair-step decline is far and away the more destructive to cultural and technological legacies as business as usual is maintained at enormous costs while most people desperately try to stay afloat in stormy waters. This combination leads to the priorities being:
1) maintaining a broken system, and
2) scratching out a living from said broken system

With these priorities being what they are even literacy can be lost as decline gets underway. You seem to me to be illustrating this causal line beautiful with your character of Mr Carr, and the Atlantic Republic in general.

With fast collapse, such as what was experienced in Europe during the Plague years, you have pointed out that the greatest resource available is the accumulated knowledge of the culture. In such a situation one could expect that people would look to their libraries in order to find methods that worked in the past. What you would then see is a scaling back of the culture to to that parameters imposed by the new circumstances, with an added emphasis on the conservative preservation of the cultural and technological legacies that undergrid said society.

You've mentioned in the commentary that there were international sanctions on the Lakeland Republic on account of war crimes. They also, with this instalment, seem to have a heavy emphasis on history and what has been tried and trued. The emphasis on libraries seems very telling to me. It reminds me somewhat of Cuba's "special period," but with Burkean conservatism as the pervasive politic.

I love your narrative fiction - and love the cliffhangers you've been employing! Thank you for sharing such thought provoking material and for crafting new narratives.

Best wishes,

Justin Patrick Moore said...

At work today I see the library bought a new children's book (inevitably inferior to ones written 60 years ago). The title: "You wouldn't want to live without the internet". Even more scary in the same batch is "You wouldn't want to live without plastic." The authors of these books need to take a trip to Retrotopia I think.

I'm glad it will be coming out in print form, as my wife doesn't like the internet, but will enjoy reading these stories when finished.

RPC said...

Drat, Myriad beat me to it! But I'll second the motion: when Mr. Carr picks up the telephone (which has no buttons or dial), he will hear a voice ask, "How may I direct your call?" I just hope it won't be Lily Tomlin...

william fairchild said...

On the public utilites: it reminds me of what Abrham Lincoln said. "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. But in all that people can individually do for themselves, government ought not to interfere."

The key phrase here seems to be "or cannot do so well for themselves." I can remember very vividly, as a little boy, my mother explaining what the public in public library meant, and why it was valuable. And she is a Republican, although she now feels her party went off into nutty land and left her in the dust. There used to be this quaint idea of the common good. I have long believed there are certain social and community functions that the market is unsuited for. Policing, security screening, the miitary being obvious. But healthcare, mass transit, utilities, and banking seem in the top ten for sure. Of course one has to be careful. People must guard against corruption, cronyism, and nepotism. They will eat the public systems from the inside.

Another phrase that stuck in my head is "efficiency is the opposite of resiience." Effiency is also socially corrosive. I see it everyday as people flow through the airports,, using kiosks and smartphones, never interacting with fellow humans. I have dropped 25 or 30 carryons off in the jetway and maybe one or two people say "thanks" if I am lucky. To everyone else, we the rampers, are invisible. It didn't used to be that way. I am old enough to remember metal keys and bellman and clerks who could actually make a decision if something went bad, rather than referring you to a 800 no or a website. So sad.

Sylvia Rissell said...

As a textile enthusiast, i have to ask. Is "bioplastic" assembled into garments by hot glue, welding, or adhesive tape? Is it printed with designs and logos? What kinds of fasteners are used? (velcro tm, zippers, magnets?) If the pants are not made to measure, do you hem them with a staper?
None of this has any bearing on your plot, of course.

Rita Narayanan said...

JMG said *Rita, there are of course massive differences between the American Midwest and India, and I'm not at all surprised that what worked fairly well on this side of the planet wouldn't work at all where you are.*

this is true :)tks :)

mirela said...

"-- the public schools have given up teaching kids to do math themselves, and just teach them how to use calculators"

It's worse than that....

One of the kids I tutor told me last week that he got an 85 on his last math (Algebra I) quiz. The class average was 20. I asked how on earth this was possible. He tells me most of the kids are using a smartphone app called "Photomath" to do their homework: you take a picture of the problem with your phone, and it gives you the answer. So of course when it came time to solve problems using their only their brain cells, they had no idea what to do.

I have a reputation at work for being the truly evil tutor who takes away calculators and forces the kids to do work manually. I was pleased that the student thanked me for this.

/five paragraph rant on the current state of education edited out as being not particularly useful/

I'm really enjoying this series. Agree with the other commenters saying I want to emigrate to the Lakeland Republic (I'm currently living in the Republic of Texas. Yes, it's crazy here!) Frustrating that the story only comes out once a week. -sigh- A lesson in patience, I suppose.

william fairchild said...

A10s, A29s and F35s. I know alot of guys at the local ANG base. The word on the street is that the F35 is FUBAR. There use to be an understanding that different A/C had different jobs. The A10 was ground attack, a tank killer. The F18 was for carriers, the F16/F14 a ground based fighter, the B52 a long range bomber. Now they want one plane to do everything. Efficiency is the opposite of resilience. This is a recipe for disaster. I think killing the A10 was really, really stupid. But maybe I am wrong.

Greg Belvedere said...

I'm really loving this series of fiction. I wonder if I can find decent tube amplifiers and stereos in parts of the Lakeland Republic. I could make due with acoustic instruments, but I do love the sound of electric instruments and the ability to play a vinyl record even if it was only a juke joint. I play bass guitar and sold my amp and bought an acoustic bass guitar a few years ago, so I have a fondness for the unadulterated sound of acoustic instruments. But electric instruments have a great appeal. I know it is a fringe concern, but the discussion of electronics makes me wonder about this. Amplifiers seem a possibility, though expensive if you have to pay their true cost. Most effect pedals would probably be tougher to manage on a 1950s suite of technology. Though I'm not sure because although they became more widespread in the late 60s onward, I don't know about the tech needed to produce them.

On the subject of taking down drones, I just saw a great video of animals taking out drones of all kinds. Most of them are from the drone's camera.

A bit off topic. But I thought you might find this interview with Noam Chomsky interesting. In it he makes a lot of the same observations about current events you have made over the past few months. The reality of Bernie Sanders, Greece's handling of their crisis, austerity, banks being propped up by subsidies.

I feel that your political and economic views differ on many points, but I daresay you agree on a lot of things that most people are not even aware of.

donalfagan said...

Off the topic of the Lakeland Republic, I saw Roger Baker's Rag Blog articles, You've got three more years to drive normally, which brought my mind back to when I first heard about peak oil through Kunstler. You can find them through his latest on Reslience.

I was thinking of writing something about energy depletion never being as simple as predicted, but Robert Rapier already did, and very well indeed:

I guess I'll blog about bikes, or something ...

GreenEngineer said...

The purpose of information processing technology is to put people out of work

You can say that about all forms of technology. And it's true of all forms of technology, to an extent. It's even true of technology in "purest" sense - that of a refined body of technique, with little or no infrastructural requirements beyond sufficient social stability to transmit a body of knowledge between generations.

Radios put pony express riders out of work. Trains put ox-drivers out of work. Most things which humans can do with technology, can be done with a greater expenditure of effort, if that is the overall social goal. Information technology is not in any way unique in this regard. If the primary concern is that technology displaces human labor, there is no bright line demarcation between the technologies you depict and the ones that are notable by their absence.

The much more interesting question to me is the interplay between technology, human effort, human strengths and weaknesses, and the resource base that supports it - and maybe my error was in assuming that this was the basis of your future history scenarios. A honest accounting of this relationship would put much (most?) of our current technology base underwater, but would leave room for many other modern technologies to adapt and remain in use albeit in forms that are unfamiliar (and would be considered "inefficient" by most modern observers; your point about the perils of efficiency as a virtue-in-itself are very much noted).

. f the primary concern, on the other hand, is the relationship between technology and externalized costs, then the

Shane Wilson said...

RE: dramatic headlines in the event of a takedown of ISIS by a Chinese, Russian, Iranian coalition, not in Western, particularly American, media. Expect a near blackout of coverage, relegated to the back pages, footnotes. Nothing to see here, nothing at all, by American media, or some such about propping up an evil dictator in Syria.

Bob Patterson said...

For your imaginary Lakeland, I would have thought an abacus more appropriate than a mechanical calculator. But it would have required more getting used to.

dragonfly said...

While such things are completely outside my realm of knowledge, I find myself wondering at how a visit to a Lakeland Republic pharmacy or drug-store would be instructive to Mr. Carr. Perhaps he develops a headache, or a sore throat ? My guess is that the sorts of things available "over the counter" might be rather indicative of the level of trust placed in, and responsibility expected of, the Republic's populace.
Greatly enjoying this tour of the Republic through the eyes of an outsider. Carry on !

GreenEngineer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tidlösa said...

Small trifle. Concerning AAA and Trotsky, surely it was Stalin (not Trotsky) who proposed the AAA for Germany, seeing the Social Democrats rather than the Nazis as the main enemy, even speculating that a Nazi victory might be good for the Communists, since it would only be temporary, force the masses into the Communists´ arms, etc?

That being said, keep up the good work with the Lakeland Retrotopia!

John Roth said...

@Green Engineer

Examples are good. Correct examples are even better. The pony express only existed for less than two years around the time of the Civil War and was put out of business by the telegraph. I don’t know about anyone else, but bad examples in an area I know about makes me doubt the person’s knowledge and reasoning in other areas.

@Shane Wilson

Subscribe to a foreign newspaper. The only general news site I read is the Guardian, which is, I suppose, better than nothing. I find their ideologically oriented front page irritating, though, and I’d like suggestions for a better (or at least different) news site.

@Bob Patterson.

Yeah, I wondered about using abacuses (abaci?) The problem is that they’re not part of current western culture, even though they’d get the answer you want faster than you can input one of the numbers into those toys.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Electronic hotel locks, it is said by those who know about such things, can be opened in a few seconds by various electronic devices that have already been invented and manufactured. Myself, I would rather see a mechanical lock on the door of a hotel room I was staying in. It takes somewhat longer than that to pick one.

As for rekeying rooms after patrons check out, there are interchangeable core systems where an authorized hotel person with a special "control key" can swap out the old core with its old key for a new core with its new key in less than a minute's time. You don't need to "pin" (build from scratch) a new core each time someone checks out of a room. If you have, say 300 rooms in your hotel, you just need a supply of maybe 400 interchangeable cores in all, each with its own unique key, and you keep on swapping one core for another from one room to the next as people check out. The same core and key will be used repeatedly in the course of a year, but not in the same room in any predictable pattern. (The control key is different from the master keys that the cleaning staff use. Master keys open many doors, but don't permit one to swap out the cores.)

Caryn said...

Happy Mid-Autumn Equinox everyone! Mid-Autumn / moon-cake and lantern festival here in Southern China tomorrow evening. We've been spending all week at school getting the kids to make their own lanterns, (no glow-sticks allowed). It's my favorite holiday here! Their imaginations and ingenuity have astounded us.

daelach: That reminds me of another, my son's favorite 'appropriate tech' story; so preposterous it may be an urban myth, but here goes: Post space-flight, post perestroika; there was a conference of the American and Russian space programs. Engineers on both sides got to kibitzing on how they solved various lack of gravity problems for the astronauts and the issue of a gravity fed ball-point pen for keeping logs came up. The NASA engineers went on about the million dollars of research and development that had gone into their new design of a ball-point pen that could work in anti-gravity. They'd come up with a whole new technology! A whole new pen! They then asked the Russian engineers how they solved the problem. The Russians replied, "We used a pencil".

RE: the F-35, I think we all know, it's not about efficiency or preparedness, honestly, not even about the fairy-tale religious belief in progress. It's about profits for military contractors who lobby and control decisions in congressional military appropriations. I remember reading an article in the NYTimes, about US Naval budget appropriations, about 1 week after 9/11. The Admirals were all firm that immediately post 9/11, what they needed were a fleet of small quick coast guard boats to guard the 3 coast-lines, and a few fighters for longer distance, (a few other things, all were older models, tried and true). Congress ignored them, at the country's vulnerable time, it instead appropriated their entire annual budget to 1 behemoth air-craft carrier. It was still under construction and design, that would not be ready for at least another 4 years. The Admirals knew about it and had rejected it out of hand as ever being effective militarily. It was being designed and (hopefully) built by their favorite lobbyist/contractor, (as I recall, it was Lockheed Martin, but can't remember exactly which one). If that doesn't convince us that congress could not care less about the country, nothing will.

UGH, enough depressing talk. Looking forward to Mr. Carr's continued journey!

PS: As one of those outside of the US info-firewall, I'll try to keep you posted on any news of China's military adventures, at least as reported here. We're pretty accustomed to reading between the lines of our official news releases. :)

Fabian said...

I have not been able to find any info about what’s going on at the Kermanshah tactical air base, but apparently, a veritable air bridge of Russian Il-76 and An-124 transports have been flying to and from Syria via Iranian and Iraqi air space. According to the reports I have seen, the Russian transports and warplanes bound for Syria take off from Russian air bases, fly south over the Caspian Sea and then make a sharp turn to the west over north-central Iran. The Russians have been using the Hamadan tactical air base as a refueling and logistic support point for their planes making the trip, especially since the Su-24 and Su-25 attack planes have limited range and can’t make the trip to Latakia without refueling either in the air or on the ground. The Hamadan tactical air base is roughly halfway between Tehran and Kermanshah.

I have also seen reports that Chinese ships (both warships and transports) are already on route to Tartus and that the Chinese are planning to send both transport and combat aircraft to Latakia.

From what I understand, the Russians have primarily deployed Su-24’s and Su-25’s to Latakia. These are dedicated ground attack planes. The Su-24 is the Russian equivalent of the F-111 and Tornado IDS, while the Su-25 is the Russian equivalent of the A-10 Warthog. Both are 1970’s era Soviet designs, but are considered to be among the most capable warplanes of their type and the ones remaining in Russian service have been extensively upgraded with modern electronics and weapons systems. The Su-25 was particularly feared by Afghan and Chechen insurgents.

I expect a Russian-Chinese-Iranian offensive would be primarily executed by elite troops such as special forces, paratroopers and marines with heavy air, armor and artillery support. Most of the Russian ground troops deployed to Syria and Iraq so far have come from the 336th and 810th Marine Brigades. Mechanized infantry will follow to clear out enemy strongpoints and hold captured towns and other objectives. Assault troops will be landed behind enemy lines by helicopter or parachute to cut off enemy lines of retreat while other units will infiltrate behind enemy lines before the main offensive begins and set up blocking positions. Russian paratroopers used both of these tactics extensively during the counterinsurgency campaign in Chechnya.

The paratroopers and marines would also be heavily mechanized as well in order to carry out fast moving assaults in order to keep the Daesh forces off guard. In other words, blitzkrieg on steroids followed by the relentless and systematic reduction of trapped enemy forces. This is classic Russian tactical doctrine and when executed by well-trained and well-organized forces, it’s both devastating and brutally effective.

It’s also quite likely that very few members of Daesh will be allowed to surrender. Some will be taken for interrogation and a few might be publicly tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but most will be quietly dispatched with a bullet through the brain.

The Russians and Chinese are a lot less squeamish then we are and realize that the best way to ensure an enemy as dangerous as Daesh can’t come back to haunt you is to make sure that its members no longer exist. It’s ruthless and brutal but its effective when applied in an intelligent, consistent and unrelenting manner. Since we are talking about Daesh, few people will care except a few middle class liberals and ivory tower activists who will whine about alleged “human rights abuses” because this sort of thing offends their delicate and rather naive sensibilities.

John Michael Greer said...

Martin, you wouldn't have to smuggle it, but you would have to pay a very substantial import fee -- and if one turned up that hadn't been legally imported, you'd have to pay the fee plus a substantial penalty. The interesting thing, to me, is that I grew up with electronic calculators, and use a slide rule by choice; when I took my ham radio license exams, I brought my handy trig rule and got every math question correct; I also find that I can usually get the answer to a math question on a slide rule while the calculator-users are still punching in numbers.

Spanish Fly, I knew you were kidding, but hey -- I've now been called a Gaullist, which I think trumps Communist! ;-)

Vilko, er, you've just jumped from ethnicities to language families -- not the same thing, you know. I'm quite sure that most people in the Lakeland Republic speak standard American English -- rather a different language from the one spoken in England these days -- because fifty years isn't normally enough to create a new dialect.

Averagejoe, the interesting thing there is that a lot of people live in Alaska, and seem to get by just fine! My guess is that if the Gulf Stream does shut down -- which wouldn't surprise me at all, all things considered -- you'd have a lot of well-to-do people fleeing for warmer climes, while most people in Britain, France, Germany et al. would simply adapt.

Shane, nah, smoking (tobacco or marijuana) has roughly the same social role as drinking alcohol; you do it at home, you do it at businesses that have that function, you don't do it in most public spaces. Things have been tending that way for some decades, and for good reasons.

Tidlösa, the talking image of Urur? Good heavens. That gets tonight's gold star for sheer obscurity of reference; I've read Hartmann's parable, but I'd be startled if more than a very few other readers have even heard of it.

LatheChuck, as I recall, hotels back in the day normally had somebody on staff who could change locks as well as other simple mechanical tasks, so it was no trouble at all. As for pencil and paper, I'm quite sure abaci are in common use in the Lakeland Republic, but they take a certain amount of skill; anybody who pays attention can learn how to use an addiator in minutes, which is why the bank hands them out to foreign clients.

John, I'm wondering if the term "fractional reserve banking" is being used outside the industry the same way it's used inside it. As I understand it -- and please correct me if I'm wrong here -- before fractional reserve banking came in, a bank that took in a million dollars in deposits could lend a million dollars in loans, minus whatever reserve the law or basic prudence required; its assets (in terms of loans on the book plus reserve) equalled its debits (in terms of deposits). Under current law, no such limit restricts the generation of loans; a bank doesn't need to take in deposits to make loans, it can simply make the loan, take the money paid out as a debit on the books, and then either sell the loan or let it sit on the books as an asset balancing the debit of the payout. That was certainly what I heard from friends who worked at Washington Mutual when it bubbled and popped! That ability to manufacture abstract wealth by making loans on a basis of thin air is the issue that people are discussing when they talk about fractional reserve banking.

John Michael Greer said...

Tidlösa, I really have no idea what, if anything, is going on in the alleged brains of the leaders of the US. We've handed Russia a perfect opportunity to get combat experience for its armed forces, show off its military capacities, and redefine the politics of the Middle East -- and what are we going to do about it? Insist that they have to leave Daesh alone, when we've spent all that propaganda money presenting it as the biggest bogeyman on the planet? If in fact Russia, China, and Iran decide to squash Daesh, reconstitute Syria at gunpoint, and perhaps create a Republic of Kurdistan friendly to them rather than to the US, the US will have done a huge amount to make that happen. Talk about own goals!

Edward, I suspect that one of the main things driving the push to "the cloud" is the ability to hold business clients hostage, and make them pay for regular expensive upgrades they don't need; a lot of businesses these days are staying with older software, and that's got to be hurting the software industry's bottom line. The Windows 10 fiasco isn't exactly going to help that!

Architrains, I've actually mentioned skin color in a couple of other scenes, but yes, it's an important issue. The point is that restoring an older technology does not require returning to older social customs, prejudices, etc.

Daelach, he'll be going back. I don't propose to copy Callenbach that precisely! That said, there are plot wrinkles not yet divulged...

Violet, thank you for noticing that! Actually, the two republics have followed different curves of slow collapse; the difference between them is that the Lakeland Republic has taken control of its destiny, and the Atlantic Republic is drifting. More on this as we proceed.

Justin, the person who excreted those books needs to stop calling himself or herself a writer, and accept the label "propagandist" instead. Gah.

RPC, we'll just have to see, now won't we? ;-)

William, exactly. The American tradition used to be a neat balance between public and private spheres. We've largely lost that, but the Lakeland Republic has regained it.

Sylvia, good question. I know it feels clammy and vaguely slippery to the touch; I'll have to take a closer look at it.

Rita, that's why I talk mostly about the United States, and make such a point about the world not needing another clueless American attempting to lay down the law globally!

Mirela, the Lakeland schools -- we'll be visiting a couple of them -- would hire you in a minute. On the other hand, any child who used a gimmick like that on homework anywhere in the Lakeland Republic would get an F for cheating.

William, I've heard exactly the same thing from everybody except for industry and USAF flacks. The F-35 is a disaster for everything but Lockheed's quarterly profits, and if it becomes the mainstay of the US Air Force, the next shooting war is going to end very, very badly.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, tube-based electronics are certainly around in the Lakeland Republic -- I'm pretty sure the radio in Carr's hotel room uses vacuum tubes, and since tube-based electronics are highly resistant to electromagnetic pulse weapons and the like, that's all the more reason they'll have been popular. I can't speak to fancy effect pedals, but electric guitars were common in jazz groups from 1936 on -- if you're at all familiar with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, for example, you know Charlie Christian's electric-guitar sound -- so anywhere in the Republic that's got grid electricity will probably have electric guitar music ringing out from nightclubs and concert venues on Friday and Saturday nights.

Donalfagan, "three more years..." Well, we'll see. It wasn't that long ago that Guy McPherson was insisting that by 2012 there would be no more cars on the roads due to petroleum depletion.

GreenEngineer, that's a common misconception! Some technologies expand and enhance human capacities, others replace existing human capacities; the former tend to create jobs, the latter eliminate them. For example, nobody anywhere lost their job because of the invention and development of lens technology -- quite the contrary, a galaxy of new professions, from lens grinder and optometrist to telescope builder and microscope technician, were created through the emergence of that technology. Information processing technology, by contrast, was invented to replace human employees; the only things it can do that weren't already being done by clerks, typists, and so on are those things that would have required spare planets full of clerks, typists, etc., to do, because of their sheer scale.

Now of course lens technology and electronic information processing technology are close to the ends of a spectrum; every new technology creates some jobs, and most new technologies eliminate some jobs. One of the questions that a sane society would ask about new technologies is where they fall on that spectrum -- do the benefits of having the technology really outweigh the number of people dumped on the employment rolls as a result of deploying it? -- and once energy and other natural resources are depleted enough that they can no longer be treated as free for the taking, and the relative cost of labor vs. energy and other resources comes back to a more realistic level, that question is going to be very hard to avoid.

Shane, that's why I don't read American media.

Bob, exactly. Kids learn abacus in the schools, but to hand out to a foreign visitor who doesn't have the time to learn how an abacus works, an addiator is a much better choice.

Dragonfly, that's an interesting question. We'll see what happens!

GreenEngineer, I can't edit comments. All I can do is post them or reject them. If you'd like to repost the final sentence you had in mind I'll be happy to respond to it.

Tidlösa, you may well be right -- I know that Trotsky made a point of the "worse is better" strategy, but that wouldn't be the first idea of his that Stalin ripped off.

Robert, good point! I'd forgotten about those. I figured, though, that there would be several people in the maintenance staff with locksmithing skills, as used to be standard once upon a time, so one way or another the locks could be managed.

John Michael Greer said...

Caryn, thank you -- I'll look forward to any bits of news that you happen to hear! As for the F-35, sitting-duck aircraft carriers, etc., exactly -- these things are brilliantly designed and built to carry out their actual mission, which is to funnel tax dollars into the bank accounts of huge corporations. They just don't happen to be worth much when it comes to their ostensible mission of protecting the country. If anything ever happens to put the US nuclear deterrent force out of commission, we may all have to learn Chinese in a hurry.

Fabian, Hamadan makes good sense as a staging area, but to my mind it's too far away to serve as a forward air base once the fighting begins -- Latakia's well positioned on the west, but they'll need something close in for the eastern front in Iraq. As for the campaign, what you've outlined is pretty much what I'd expect. I hope the Russians et al. have the good sense and strategic flair to start out with a decapitation strike on the Daesh capital at Raqqa; Spetsnaz at 2 am followed by waves of helicopter gunships and infantry an hour before dawn would do the trick, leave Daesh without its top leadership, and quite possibly turn up embarrassing documents that show just who's been funding Daesh, which would be a nice bonus. The next dark of the moon is October 13; I'd be watching the news feeds around then.

Cherokee Organics said...


Exactly and too true in that particular case of the automated bank kiosks, because it had already been tried and people didn't like it.

I spotted that theme in the business section of today's newspaper (I actually read it from the hard copy version of the newspaper over a civilised coffee this morning): Driverless trucks, trains and automobiles: Now for the pilotless passenger plane. What could possibly go wrong?

There is those little problems of: jamming, hacking, extortion threats and just plain old fashioned full on EM pulses. It looks to me like the pursuit of economic goals over good old plain common sense, but what do I know?



John Roth said...

@ about language:

Language is one of my interests, so here goes. There are about 9 major “sound dialects” in the US, with a lot of variations within each. Someone with a good ear for them can tell I’m from the Midwest, even though I’ve lived in Albuquerque for a decade. Even with a common syntax and vocabulary, sound dialects can render someone’s speech almost unintelligible until you get used to it. Example: Mary, marry, merry. If you grew up on the Atlantic coast of New England, these words have three distinct pronunciations; if you grew up most anywhere else, they’re homonyms. Another example. When I was exiled to the farm after my family broke up, my foster mother would say: get me the spider. I had no idea she was talking about the frying pan, not an insect.

Given that the Lakeland Republic started out with sound dialects from Wisconsin to Kentucky, I doubt if the situation is less complex; that they were separated from the rest of the world for a couple of decades gives lots of time for some additional sound shifts. On the other hand, radio is a pretty good leveler in that respect, so is the ability to travel long distances. A lot of the regional variation in the US vanished in the 20s and 30s because of those two factors.

Grammar changes all the time. A few years ago we got a new preposition, because language. A couple of decades before that we got like as an intensifier, together with a great deal of anguish, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments about how English was being destroyed. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a few differences between the English used in the Lakeland Republic and the Atlantic whatever, but mostly they’d be ignorable.

John Roth said...

@re fractional reserve banking.

There do seem to be some issues between the technical definition and how it’s being used elsewhere. So to the details. Prior to the banking reforms in the 30s, a bank could loan out any amount of its deposits; part of the reforms was to require banks to keep a fixed percentage in reserves, either cash in the vault, on deposit with the Federal Reserve or in long term class AAA bonds, that is, US government bonds, which, by constitutional edict, cannot be disavowed or depreciated. That’s still the system today. In economics, the increase in the money supply because of bank generated money is called the multiplier.

There’s a current problem with AAA bonds. The rating is set by private rating institutions. It used to be that someone who wanted to buy a bond would ask the rating company to rate it; then they might publish the rating or keep it private. At some point in the past, companies that wanted to issue securities started to ask the rating companies to issue a rating. That changed who the rating company’s customer was, and lead to a lot of incorrectly rated securities - anyone who’s familiar with the financial situation in the oil industry is quite familiar with securities that have a much higher rating than they ought to have.

There are several things that have changed. First, not all financial institutions are regulated the same as banks; not all banks are “banks” in the same sense as consumer banks. You didn’t used to be able to “securitize” mortgages and sell the package until one of the Federal home loan bureaucracies invented mortgage backed securities (MBS). Today, a bank can issue as many mortgages as it wants, but it doesn’t violate the fractional reserve requirement because it simply sells them to a packager, that then turns around and sells them to investors such as pension funds. At no time does the bank have more invested in mortgages than it’s allowed to have.

One of the reasons for all the loopholes is that the original regulations were established to create confidence in the banking system, not to regulate the money supply. It’s the latter that’s turned out to be important, and that hasn’t been done.

Those things are what makes the current situation messy: unregulated financial institutions, derivatives and the rating companies abandoning their historical function as watchdogs.

Now as to how I’d see this applying to the Lakeland Republic. First, I’d move economic regulation to a government department (called the Department of Economic Regulation (DER), just to give it a name). It would regulate *everything* having to do with the financial system - there are no loopholes, there is nothing outside its reach. It’s goal (or one of its goals) is to make the money supply match the supply of goods and services - that is, to eliminate inflation and deflation.

I’d do something else that may be a bit strange: outlaw stocks as perpetuities. That is, the whole late 19th century idea of the modern corporation would need to be rethought. “Stocks” would have to be repaid from profits, and once they were repaid, there would no longer be “stockholders” for the board of directors: the employees would take that function. This may be a step too far, but without it I can’t see a stable financial system.

Martin B said...

On electronic locks: our grandest, six-star, hotel had guests complaining that their room safes were being broken into. Nonsense, sniffed the hotel staff, those are the latest super-secure digital safes imported from Sweden, they cannot be broken into, it must be your own carelessness.

Well, the police were called in, and discovered in the basement was a defective safe that was never installed and abandoned by the builders. A near-illiterate janitor used to fiddle with it during his lunch breaks and eventually figured out how to crack it, and formed a syndicate with the room staff to rob guests. Red faces all round!

JMG, did you read "The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?" in The Atlantic? They predict the next big war will be U.S. v China, based on Thucydides' observation that a superpower finds a rising new power intolerable and they will most likely go to war, c.f. Sparta and Athens. Read in conjunction with Fabian's reports of Chinese interest in Syria, it's really quite alarming.

Scotlyn said...

I just found out there was a manual telephone exchange here in Killybegs (Co Donegal) up until 1983. It employed six people, one of whom was heard reminiscing. Telecom Eireann continued to be a public utility for a number of years following full automation, and I fondly remember that dialling "10" put you in contact with a friendly and capable operator who could find out everything from which doctor was handiest, to how to go about locating Mr Martin B in far off Namibia. Sadly, in the mid-1990's, the religious movement known as "privatization" hit Telecom Eireann like a bombshell. The first casualties were the intelligent operators. The second was the "comfort and convenience" of the frustrated customer trying to work out whether pressing "1" "2" or "3" (possibly again and again) would provide the quickest route to the information or service needed.

hapibeli said...

Myriad said...

@John Roth,

Live operators can scale. The key to it is that there is not one central exchange that can connect any line in the nation to any other; instead, it's a fractal tree structure with more localized exchanges feeding into more centralized ones when needed. A longer-distance call will go through multiple operators (though typically the customer only speaks to the first one, who speaks to the others down the line as needed to place the call). This is nothing new. The main landline cables connecting cities aren't called "trunk lines" by accident.

As an illustrative example, imagine Mr. Carr wants to make a call to a Toledo business from his hotel room. The first operator he speaks to will be the desk clerk. The desk clerk has a patch panel right there at his desk that can connect any room phone to one of three external phone lines. If all those external lines are already in use, Carr will have to wait, unless he only wants to call another room, in which case the clerk can patch the room phones together directly.

A small community in an isolated (but still tier 1) area would have exactly the same setup on a more spread-out scale, with lines running to nearby homes or businesses instead of hotel rooms, and the patch panel would be located somewhere that would be staffed at odd hours; perhaps the local inn or the police station.

A larger community would be the same, except that operating becomes a full-time job in a dedicated office. That would also be the case for stages deeper in the tree structure. Peter Carr's call, when plugged into one of the hotel's three outgoing lines, would be received by, let's say, the Toledo District 2 operator. If the business he's calling is also in District 2, then that's a "local" call at that level of the hierarchy and the operator patches it down the appropriate branch, where (perhaps) the duty manager of the office block finally patches it through to the specific office. (The duty manager is the the equivalent of the hotel desk clerk, except that her service is only available during business hours because there would be no point at other times when all the businesses in the block are closed. Like the hotel clerk (and present-day receptionists), phone operation isn't her whole job; she also handles other collective needs for the office park.) But if the business Carr is calling is in Toledo District 5, the District 2 operator instead connects the call to one of the several dozen branch lines available to connect District 2 to District 5. Again, if all those are in use, Carr must wait his turn.

If the phone system is somewhat larger, then the direct District-to-District connections won't be be practical, and there will instead be a Toledo Central exchange that handles inter-District calls as its "local" calls and inter-city calls via external "trunk" lines. Note the fractal self-similarlity, though: Toledo Central would be doing the same thing as the hotel desk clerk, connecting some calls as "room to room" between any two District exchanges and patching others into some limited number of lines connecting to "the rest of the system."

The number of operators increases as n log n with the number of phones and the number of simultaneous calls. However, as long as most calls are local, the increase stays closer to linear, meaning that if a small-town local phone system employing an operator is economically practical then a national one with sensible usage limitations probably is too. The increase in costs associated with the additional operators at the deeper levels of the network (that's the log n) are paid for by making long distance calls very expensive. Thus there would be some population of users who can afford a phone but cannot afford to make frequent long distance calls. That, in fact, was the norm here in PA when I was a kid, because those automated exchanges weren't cheap either. (briefly cont.)

Myriad said...

(cont.) The dials on dial phones worked (originally) with electromechanical automatic exchanges, which is of course another option. Those would be arranged in a similar hierarchy, which is why phones used to have different audible busy signals for the phone you were calling being busy versus the trunk lines somewhere in between being busy. Many real antique phones (as opposed to replicas) have no dials, which is why characters in old movies often grab them up and press the hook rapidly a few times and shout "Operator, get me..." {the police, the newspaper office, the President, or whoever) without dialing anything.

@JMG, hope this helps if Carr ever picks up that phone. Unless, of course, you had some other approach in mind. For greater economy locally, there's always party lines. Two short, one long ring means it's for the Gustafson family...

GreenEngineer said...

Some technologies expand and enhance human capacities, others replace existing human capacities; the former tend to create jobs, the latter eliminate them.

All technologies exist along a continuum between these poles. Some are much closer to one pole than the other! Lenses are a good example from the benign end of that scale. Most medical technologies are as well.

But the majority of technologies are a mixed bag in this regard, including most of the ones that you depict, and much of it comes down to how technologies are used rather than something inherent to the technology. Information technology as it currently is used is pretty far over on the malignant side of the scale, but that is not inherent to the technology.

the only things it (IT) can do that weren't already being done by clerks, typists, and so on are those things that would have required spare planets full of clerks, typists, etc., to do, because of their sheer scale.
This effect is, in fact, of massive significance to our technological capabilities. I personally benefit from this effect every day of my professional life. This will remain a very attractive feature of this kind of technology, even in the context of a culture that values human labor for itself. The presence or absence of this technology is an enabling factor for at least as many classes of scientific endeavor as is the lens.
Closely related is the ability of information technology to leverage human capacity so as to make tractable classes of problems that would otherwise collapse under the weight of their own internal friction of communication. This is similarly a powerful enabling technology, although it's benefits are greatly attenuated in the modern context by countervailing market influences.

What I'm saying comes down to two points:
1) I agree with your characterization of some technologies as malignant and some as benign, but where you seem to see a bright line between them, there is actually a line so fuzzy and broad that it encompasses all but the extreme ends of the continuum.
2) Information technologies in particular have enabling capabilities that you seem to be underestimating. That's easy enough to do, because there is so much noise and uselessness in that space (particularly the consumer space). But if that is stripped away there is still a fundamental capability enhancement relative to our abilities to communicate, quantify our understanding of the world, and mine data for interesting patterns. I am NOT asserting that we will always have the resource base necessary to support these technologies. But I am suggesting that a culture that has the necessary resource base (which the LLR appears to have) and values things like scientific inquiry (broadly construed) will be strongly motivated to make these capabilities available - albeit in a very different form and context than what we are used to today.

Just in case it is not clear, I am picking nits on this subject not because I dislike your vision but because I think that what you are doing with this fiction project is worthwhile and important. Stories matter to people in ways that rationally constructed knowledge does not. That's why I'm motivated to dissect the underpinnings of your fiction - please take it as a compliment.

GreenEngineer said...


I apologize for the first part of my last response. For some reason, my screen only loaded the first part of your response initially. I see now that you acknowledged that technologies reside along a continuum with respect to their impact on employment. That was one of the points I was trying to make, but I see now that I did not need to make it.

That said I do think my second point, about the relative value of information technologies, is valid.

MawKernewek said...

I made a comment on an earlier post that came to mind just now.
I always remember that the Internet was supposed to reduce the role of intermediaries, but actually employment agencies, outsourcing companies etc. seem to be doing OK.

Some of the advantages of IT, namely the processing of large amounts of data for scientific purposes, also seem to be backfiring in the same kind of way. I refer to what is called "Big Data Science". Usually, it isn't Big* and it's not Science. An example of the tail wagging the dog. If you say "correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation" they'll look at you like a heretic.

* technically that means too much data to fit on your desktop hard drive or compute on a desktop in reasonable time

John Roth said...


A telephone operator can only handle so many calls per hour. The more calls you want, the more operators you need. That's the piece that does not scale. At some point you get everyone running the telephone system and nobody making calls.

With human operators, telephone calls were expensive. A personal anecdote: my maternal grandmother, a staunch old Italian lady, got so fed up with people using her phone, and her having to pay the bill, that she badgered the phone company into putting a pay phone in her house. Today most phone companies give you unlimited local calling for a flat rate.

I lived for a while in a building where the desk clerk ran a manual switchboard - in Chicago in the 70s. I thought it was cute when I moved in. It turned out it was miserable - and I dislike phones intensely.

As far as your discussion of how long distance can be handled, that's pretty much the way it used to be done before automated long distance exchanges got set up. You had to book a call, and it could sometimes take hours to get the connection. Then you had to decide whether you were going to accept anyone at the other end, or it had to be a specific person. The system was, frankly, miserable. About the only thing worse was not having it. Although Mark Twain was reputed to have said: "I wish everyone an afterlife in heaven. With the sole exception of the inventor of the telephone."

Fabian said...

If Russian military history is any guide, the assault on Raqqa that you outlined is exactly how it will start. The Soviets used similar tactics in many of their military operations, including the opening stages of the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

To kick off the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, a Soviet airliner faked a distress call and the Czechs allowed the plane to make an emergency landing at the international airport in Prague. Once the plane hit the ground, 100 Spetznaz operatives in plain clothes bailed out of the plane, some of them jumping out the doors as the plane was still rolling down the runway, and seized control of the airport. The Spetznaz airplane was also equipped as a mobile command and communications center and pulled off to the side of the runway.

As it did, it started jamming Czech military communications, TV stations and radio stations. Right behind the Spetznaz team was the entire 7th Guards Airborne Division, complete with artillery and light tanks. The Spetznaz plane acted like a mobile air traffic control tower and guided the Soviet An-12 transports in. The Spetznaz operatives and paratroopers then fanned out and captured important objectives throughout the city and held them until relieved by other Warsaw Pact forces advancing overland.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan started in much the same manner. A joint Spetznaz-KGB assault team stormed the Presidential Palace in Kabul (Operation Storm-333) and assassinated then president Hafizullah Amin, while Soviet paratroopers and Spetznaz teams seized control of other key objectives around Kabul.

As for the capture of documents, yes that would be extremely interesting, especially since there have been rather some interesting theories, speculations and accusations floating around concerning who has been in bed with Daesh. In particular, the Turkish government has been widely suspected of collaborating with or at least turning a blind eye towards the activities of Daesh so long as they refrained from attacking Turkish soil.

Even after a Daesh suicide bombing killed dozens of Turks in a border town, the Erdogan government has demonstrated a distinct lack of enthusiasm about fighting Daesh and has instead used Obama's half-hearted air war again Daesh as an excuse to settle scores with the Kurds, which has become a major source of friction between the Turkish and US governments. If an independent Republic of Kurdistan does emerge out of the ongoing train wreck in the Middle East, these factors will be a major why.

If the Russians, Chinese and Iranians do find hard evidence of Turkish collaboration with Daesh, the consequences will probably be pretty harsh and a large percentage of the Republic of Kurdistan will likely consist of former Turkish territory. With hundreds of thousands of Russian, Chinese and Iranian troops within striking range of Turkey and in a vengeful mood, not to mention Turkey's reputation in ruins, the Turks would have no choice to accept whatever terms their enemies dictate. Erdogan has been playing some extremely dangerous games over the last decade or so and I have no doubt that they will eventually bite the Turks in the bum. Karmic blowback can be really brutal.

PS I read an article earlier today in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. General David Petreaus recently proposed sending thousands of additional American troops to Iraq to bolster the faltering war effort against Daesh. The Iraqi foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, rejected this proposal out of hand, but said the Iraqi government would welcome additional Russian troops...

latefall said...

@Fabian re intervention in Syria:
Thanks for the assessment. I have to admit that I missed the recent turn of events after getting fed up with Russian movements being consistently reported way out of proportion.
As I see it the overall geopolitical situation does not call for a US intervention, apart from nominally regaining the initiative in the region (which is not necessarily a good thing). The US would almost certainly be perceived as crusaders by a significant fraction of the MENA population.
I think all this is still pretty much inevitable fallout of a foreign policy that among other things accomplished in a few swift strokes what Iran never managed since 79. Although things could and probably will become significantly worse, I think even a well advised overt policy would run into so much opposition it'll feel like going up Hill 937.
Europeans would have more incentive to intervene, but they cannot assume lasting popular support in face off the direct costs, as well as offering Putin half a dozen ways to pry it apart and inviting asymmetric warfare on their turf.
Even so France recently polled a majority in favor of boots on the ground intervention. Also note that the Mistrals seem to be going to Egypt now, with the Russians supplying the helis. Germany is arming, training, and harboring Kurds, often perceived as the most likely ally of Western influence in the region. Germany's armed forces active personell stands at 180k compared to 800++k Kurdish diaspora. Although such proxies are inherently risky they seem much more prudent than advertising yourself as a target in a region you have relatively little to gain from (if the pipelines can't be built there it means less competition for hydrocarbons on the international market). At some point though Europe will have to redefine its defence and intervention framework, which is an aspect that is only slowly sneaking into the whitebooks (NeoGaullism?).

Re a Russian, Iranian, Chinese action:
This could indeed be a watershed event, and much of it could play out as described. If you ask me though I don't think they go straight for for the jugular, although it would be possible and pretty spectacular. If they don't have the absolute element of surprise, urban combat (with any kind of infantry) is a very messy affair. If there is still visible resistance when the cameras start rolling in the morning even more so. I am not sure how much air support/transport can be surged to make up for lack of artillery which usually is the backbone of Russian offensives.
I'd put more of my money on a two staged operation that tries to drive/lure Daesh out of population centers into the next best defensible terrain, where it is then trapped in a cauldron, or sack. After the intl press received its talking points and arrived on scene the enemy forces could be reduced at arms length. There is of course the problem of making sure you separate the local population to a sufficient degree from the civilian population. I think this is where Iran will come in, or if that fails, 152mm. Of course there's also the Chinese - who always good for a real surprise, although I think they'll save that for a bigger occasion.

latheChuck said...

Re Banking (fractional reserve) If I understand him correctly, Ken Denninger (of the Market Ticker blog) proposes that banks make loans on the basis of the capital invested in them, not the money deposited in them. Those who just need a "safe" (so to speak) place to store their working funds can make deposits and withdrawals, with a small service charge. Those who want to assume more risk could buy shares in the bank, and the proceeds from the share sale used for lending. If the lending is prudent ("prudence" being the value-added by the old-fashioned banker), profits from the loan would be paid as share dividends.

I don't recall where I read this, but Somebody on the Internet suggested that lending could be done without increasing the money supply, if the borrower were required to repay the principal in cash but the interest in barter. If I loan you money to buy seed corn, you pay back the money, and give me a bag, truckload, or barge of corn. If I can find someone to sell it to, I convert the interest to cash, but the amount of money in the system remains constant.

The more I learn about money, the less I understand it.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, all I can say about the whole driverless car business is that the first time the onboard computer crashes, as of course it will, it's going to give "blue screen of death" a whole new meaning!

John, with regard to language, no question -- give it another two centuries or so and the Lakeland Republic will be speaking something that's very hard for someone from Texas or New England to understand. At the time of Carr's visit, though, I'd guess that the difference between Philadelphia English and Toledo English will be limited to accent and slang. As for banking, many thanks -- and you'll be interested to know that perpetual corporations don't exist in the Lakeland Republic. More on this as we proceed!

Martin, I did indeed read that article. Have you by any chance read my novel Twilight's Last Gleaming, which centers on a US-Chinese war that the US loses disastrously?

Scotlyn, fascinating. Too bad they got rid of it.

Hapibeli, sounds great. Now let's see what happens when they plug in realistic numbers for the cost and availability of renewable energy, and discover that they can have all those wonderful things on the condition that the middle class has to give up its cozy lifestyles...

GreenEngineer, you're not picking nits, you're raising an important issue, and I appreciate that. We're agreed that every technology falls somewhere on a spectrum between "helps many people and hurts few" to "helps few people and hurts many," and the question is purely where electronic information processing technology (IT for short) falls on that spectrum. You've noted that you personally benefit from IT every day of your working life, and I get that. At the same time, many, many more people suffer harm from IT every day of their non-working lives, and even more every day of their burger-flipping, temp-working, or scrambling for bottom-level jobs lives. Tens of millions of jobs that used to keep people gainfully employed as secretaries, typists, file clerks, stenographers, locksmiths, and the list goes on for pages no longer exist because of IT, and the number of jobs created by IT is miniscule in comparison, because IT is mostly used to replace human capacities rather than expanding them. For these and other reasons, the Lakeland Republic chose to reject IT entirely and return all those functions to human beings. That's not an accidental feature of the story; it's a core element of what I'm doing, and will be developed in much more detail as we proceed.

MawKernewek, I know! Some of the worst science I've ever seen, and I've seen plenty of bad science, has come out of those "big data science" data-dredging projects.

Fabian, most interesting. I gather the Russians still do a decent job of teaching military history to cadets in their service academies. It'll be interesting to see just how ambitious the Syrian operation turns out to be.

LatheChuck, based on "History, Mr. Carr," we could have a stable and viable banking system by the simple expedient of reinstating Glass-Steagall and other sane banking regulations, and requiring banks to keep their reserves in a form that was actually sound, not just a piece of worthless paper that had acquired AAA rating by some combination of mis-, mal- and non-feasance on the part of the ratings agency. That seems good enough for me.

Myriad said...

John Roth,

How many Archdruids does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: "Do you really need a light bulb there?"

In other words (bear with me if the relevance of the above isn't immediately apparent), yes, telephone calls using operators are expensive. So are telephone calls direct dialed using electromechanical automatic exchanges, when the resources to build and power such things are scarce and there are many other competing needs for the required capital. The building-sized switching networks that made direct dialing possible prior to the digital semiconductor era were so large and complex and impressive that in the early 1960s, both Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury wrote short SF stories about the telephone system spontaneously becoming sentient. That was a fantasy, of course, but was loosely justified by the fact that the growing number of switches in the phone system was becoming comparable to the number of neurons in the human brain, a number then believed to be in the low tens of billions. Those switches were components you could heft in your hand, rather than a few atoms on a microchip.

(The stories were "Dial F for Frankenstein" and "Dial Double Zero" respectively. The latter has never been published in print, but was referenced and partially dramatized in a 1963 TV documentary about Bradbury's daily life as a writer.)

So, with or without operators, or perhaps with a locally varying mix of automatic and operator-assisted switching, today's unlimited calling plans are not going to exist in Lakeland. The question is not, how can Lakeland make phone calling cheap and convenient? Given that it's renounced integrated circuit technology, it can't. So the important question instead becomes, for your average Lakelander, how badly do you need to make that call?

Denys said...

The topic of human telephone operators is funny - my grandmother was a widow with three children and went to work for "Ma Bell" in the 1950's. It's name wasn't really Ma Bell but Bell Telephone, but it was easy to hear from her stories how it got the name. Often several households shared a telephone line (party line) and entertainment would be listening in on other people's calls. Mothers were often home to take care of children and so mothers did most of the listening. The women who worked as telephone operators also listened in to calls. All the overheard information was shared around town.

I'm sure there were policies against listening in, but it was so easy to gather information it wouldn't surprise me if the switchboard operators had information on their bosses so they couldn't be fired. It wasn't considered surveillance although it really was!

We have a tendency to think the people who live a generation or more back, or those that live a generation or more ahead of us, are more noble, caring, and better than the current crop of people alive now. Nah. Same humans.

daelach said...

@ Green Engineer:

"The presence or absence of this technology is an enabling factor for at least as many classes of scientific endeavor as is the lens."

Scientific endeavours become meaningless when you lack the resource base to actually put them to use. Scientists may find it "cool" to research out of curiosity, but when they want to do this as a paid job instead of a hobby, they demand the rest of the society to subsidise them. In this case, they have to give back something the society actually has use for, or else they will not fund the scientists.

If you don't have the resources to build high-tech devices, then there is no point in doing high-tech experiments. You don't need high-tech equipment to figure out low-tech solutions. People even built delicate cathedrals without CAD workstations.

"Closely related is the ability of information technology to leverage human capacity so as to make tractable classes of problems that would otherwise collapse under the weight of their own internal friction of communication."

In this case, computers help to solve problems that would not even exist without computers. That's why LLR seems pretty decentralised. As a side effect, the resilience of their whole system increases. What big projects would that be anyway? Given that resource shortage is the whole point of the story?

"Information technologies in particular have enabling capabilities"

Oh yes, Utopia is always just around the corner. If only humans were not acting like humans then.. ooops. Trying to address human problems by use of technology is one of the major flaws of the geekoisie, and for anyone besides them, it doesn't come in as a surprise that this fails.

"there is still a fundamental capability enhancement relative to our abilities to communicate, quantify our understanding of the world"

We can see where it has brought us. The predicaments of our current situation (that leads to LLR in this storyline) are a consequence of this approach, and more of the same will push things further downward the road. Basically, that's the party line in the Atlantic Republic.

Besides, that's the myth of progress rehashed over and over. More science is good because more technology is better. Only that more technology comes with ever more resource demands, which will be in short supply. In that world, less technology is better. Techno-Uptopia has already failed in that world, that's why it's rejected.

"But I am suggesting that a culture that has the necessary resource base (which the LLR appears to have)"

It does not have the necessary resource base for IT stuff. Basically, they threw IT out to free up the resources for more important things. The whole bunch of resource needs behind IT becomes clearly visible once it isn't being hidden away in China als elsewhere. If you can't push the externalities onto other people, the value of IT massively decreases.

Nastarana said...

About Russian intervention against Daesh/Isis/Isil

An aggressive, fundamentalist, expansionist state occupying roughly the territory of Ancient Assyria constitutes a clear and present danger to the members of the Collective Security Organization (Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan. Intervention from that quarter is, therefore, no surprise, and I, at least, wish the Russians, et al well in that enterprise.

Furthermore, as Foreign Secretary Lavroff has pointed out, Russian Syrian alliance goes back decades, with Syria having been a client of the former USSR.

Unfortunately, the allegations of the involvement of some parts of the American govt. in financing and organizing Deash are all too creditable and further illustrate the wicked presumption of far too many American officials, beginning with former Secretary Clinton. The US State Dept. apparently never learned or never heard the wise statement that a Minister of State must above else guard himself (or herself) from the vice of presumption.

American citizens are left fearfully to wonder, how many of its murderous, slave-trading pets and protégés the CIA will be resettling in our towns and neighborhoods.

I doubt Chinese involvement will be more than token; the members of the CSO surely understand just how expensive Chinese involvement is likely to be, oil concessions on favorable terms, settlement of Chinese in the most fertile parts of the Jaxartes Valley, borders established on terms favorable to China, etc. etc.

Shane Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy Sutton said...

So glad to see your implied acceptance of the validity of 'non-debt' money.. I'm sure you're familiar with NEF, AMI, etc, who are all working to educate us about this subject. It is so hard to explain the creation of money to the ordinary person, and I've beat my small drum about the neat for a 'picture' to make it clear. Advertising understands and uses that psychological fact... and I'm tickled to pieces to see you creating that 'picture', by means of our most powerful communication form.. the ubiquitous 'story'. (It's amazing how a 30 or 60 sec tv adv can tell a whole story.. you can see who's buying the talent and psych/sociological research. BTW,I've got my Bernie button on at all times ;)

Nancy Sutton said...

Oh, and Bernie & Elizabeth Warren have submitted legislation reinstating Glass-Steagall :)

whomever said...

Fabian: Not saying you are wrong, but lets not forget that Turkey is a member of NATO. Lets not forget that one of the causes of the Cuban missile crisis was the US stationing nukes there. So, a Russian attack on Turkey would be a Big Deal, archduke-assasination type thing. Ugh.

I have to say, having been there and having friends from there, Turkey is a truly lovely country with super friendly people and really good food; Istanbul is an amazing, cosmopolitan city that's about as hardcore Muslim as NYC is christian, and lets not forget that homosexuality was legal there at the time Oscar Wilde was being sent to jail (I have a gay friend who says the gay scene there is amazing). Of course, they also have a lot of baggage in their closet (Armenian massacre etc). Erdogan is roughly to Turkey wha Lindsey Graham is to the US, but one thing I want to point out is that Turkey and Erdogan has probably done more to help the Syrian refugees then anyone save maybe Lebanon. So the guy may be a religious nutjob, but he does apparently remember the bits of the Koran about charity. So if what you say happens, It will be really depressing for a LOT of reasons.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

This present blog posting tries to contribute to ongoing discussion of prospects for integrated-circuit (IC) electronics in Lakeland and similar post-crash jurisdictions.

How feasible is it to build a modest 1970s-style IC-chip-based digital computer, say at the level of 1949 Cambridge University EDSAC 1? (Recall here: (a) EDSAC 1 ran internally stored machine-language programs, but had no compiled language; (b) EDSAC 1 was built for the most part with the in-house fabrication capabilities of Cambridge University, in a funding climate of postwar austerity.)

Experience of USSR student "XYZ", from 1970s Tomsk State University Control Systems and Radioelectronics (TUSUR), is instructive.

Background: TUSUR had 1970s population of approx 3,500 students.Although XYZ is not known to me personally, I have minor adequately-high-grade contemporary channel(s) of information - in, as it might be, UK, USA, Estonia, Canada, Singapore, Poland, Bhutan, Namibia, Antarctica, whatever - re XYZ and TUSUR.

Details: XYZ, in fifth (i.e., final) yr of his course of studies, had to do "Diploma Project", over a period of roughly 10 months, investing something like (I'm likely accurate to within factor of 2) 600 hours. Working in a "numbered", i.e., in a military-confidential, building "RST" within the ambit of TUSUR, he - one guy - produced an IC chip.

His IC had on the order of 30 to 40 transistors. It was an audio amp, covering approx range 0 Hz - 30,000 Hz, in approx 10 stages of amplification, with good linearity in each stage. There were on the order of 15 pins in the edge-of-chip pinout (not as few as 5, not as many as 30).

1970s RST was well equipped - approx 6 floors, footprint approx 80 metres times 100 metres, perhaps 2000 people inside during normal working day. A channel of information presumes for me, without having positive knowledge, cleanrooms, and of course all the facilities necessary for photolithography on the silicon and doping on the silicon. A channel also stresses for me that supporting 1970s RST was the industrial capability of the wider USSR: surely it was not raw sand that entered RST (stresses channel) but some duly pure silicon crystal or wafer from elsewhere.

I suggest following conclusions: (1) Since 1949 EDSAC 1 had approx 3000 valves, to duplicate EDSAC 1 capability in 1970s style one would need a few thousand transistors. This would be equivalent to a few hundred (more than a few tens, fewer than a few thousands) of the ICs of the modest class produced by XYZ. (I remark here that photolithography lends itself to an extended production run: having made one chip, you can use the same darkroom masks for 100 or 500 duplicates.) (2) Lakeland Republic could therefore, **IF** it wished, assemble one or a few EDSAC-scale machines - assuming it can overcome the problems of procuring silicon wafers, photolithography chemicals, doping chemicals, etc. (I conjecture that since Republic has population of a moderately hefty state in today's European Union, and has at least some trading relationships with at least some other nations, these procurement problems **CAN** be overcome, should the administrative and political will exist.)


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

diaspora Estonian, of 1944-refugee parentage, living approx 25 km N of Toronto core


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Victorian analyst A.T.Mahan stressed role of naval power in diplomacy and conflict. I would for my part stress role of electronics in these same spheres.

Here I would cite (1) experience of 1939-1945 UK: (a) RAF summer-of-1940 success was owed in part to radar; (b) it is nowadays felt in some quarters that war was shortened by approx 2 yrs because from 1940 or a little later, UK was able to make heavy use of "Enigma" and "Colossus" decrypts of Reich radiograms. ("Colossus" was computer-like device: programmable, albeit without internal storage of program.)

I would additionally point to (2) role of electronics in current strong diplomatic-military posn of China: very large-scale integration (on the order of 1,000,000,000 transistors per IC for a personal-computer CPU) is done in the China fabs, with USA now in a very subordinate position; I now have the impression of danger (without, I confess, having researched this) that USA will have to rely even for some of its military-electronics procurements on China. (The ultimate nightmare: IC chips bought from China, and fitted into USA armaments, start behaving anomalously as Washington-Beijing diplomatic tensions rise.)

If I were advising Lakeland, I would suggest following: (a) Keep IC electronics out of hands of consumers and the schools, insofar as democratic, open-society forms of government make such an embargo possible. IC electronics have been found in period 1990-thru-2015 to be socially deleterious, putting into ordinary homes the combined capabilities of gambling casino and porn shop, and additionally undermining the classrooms by weakening pupils' study habits. (b) Do maintain modest (1970s?) IC capability for selected key government offices. (Corroborating story for "(b)": a homicide case in Los Angeles, 1970s approx, ground to a halt because investigator, despite working for a couple of years, could not get a fingerprint match. Fingerprint records were thereupon at his insistence computerized, with the primitive computers of the day. A match was found after just 6 hours' computing.) (c) As far as feasible (but Lakeland will be financially constrained), make computing available for scientists as first civilian priority. (Edsac 1, which had first run in 1949 as a vacuum-tube machine - but same design could be implemented in 1970s-style IC chips - was highly productive productive in the Cambridge Univ science depts, e.g. in crystallography. As some parts of life science cannot be done without microscopes, so some parts of physics cannot be done without computers.)



Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

All: Thanks for wonderful discussions of telephony, including "n log n".

We should discourage the contemporary North American mindset which sees the telephone as a thing appropriate for the private home. The telephone is not of high importance there. And yet it IS of high importance in police, hospitals, fire departments, etc. We recall from Sherlock Holmes stories that late-Victorian Scotland Yard already had telephones in some of its offices.

Some stats from 1937/1938 Estonia fiscal year (telephone was not then a normal household accessory; population of Republic was then approx 1,000,000) are perhaps interesting:

* total nr of individuals or institutions subscribing to telephone = 24,993
* domestic local calls = 26,667,561
* domestic trunk calls = 3,878,590
* foreign trunk calls, incoming = 55,620
* foreign trunk calls, outgoing = 50,992

Tallinn, which had then a population of 100,000 or 200,000, possessed an automatic exchange. I speculate that Tartu, Narva, and smaller towns were still on manual exchanges.

In the 1937/1938 fiscal year, overseas telephone service was instituted from Estonia to Greece, Japan, Turkey, and Malaysia.



PS: It **IS** important that individuals have ready access to telegraph offices (radiotelegraphy is cost-effective), if telephone facilities are nonexistent or constrained. We recall from the Sherlock Holmes stories that in Victorian Britain, it was rather normal to send telegrams even from small villages. And Holmes DOES at at least one point even cable the American police - though I think the per-word intercontinental charge was at that time shocking, nearly a day's wages, or something similarly steep, per word. (Hasty Google reveals England-to-India 1886 4 shillings/word, and carpenter earning approx 5 shillings/day around 1860.) JMG: Can you perhaps comment on Lakeland telegraphy, including radiotelegraphy?

John Roth said...


Remember that Lakeland had deliberately restricted itself to 1950s technology in Tier 1 counties, earlier in other counties. The transistor was invented in 1949, so technically the technology to manufacture discrete transistors could be used without bending the rules.

To manufacture a transistor you need to "dope" a platter of ridiculously pure silicon (actually germanium in those days) with an additive that changes its electrical properties. That required the technology to apply a mask so the dopant only goes where you want it to, and then a wash to remove the mask, cut the die into pieces, affix the leads and put it into a package (the "top hat" packages familiar to people who worked with discrete transistors).

To get the defect rate down to something reasonable, they eventually had to invent clean rooms; I've talked about those elsewhere. The technology required for clean rooms turned out to be simpler than anyone imagined before someone did it.

To progress to small scale integrated circuits (SSI) required an additional mask, deposit and wash step to add connections between active areas of the chip. Scaling it up requires shrinking the feature size. Each turn of the crank requires more precise equipment, better purity, more rigorous quality control and similar, which in turn is more expensive and can only be justified by massive production quantities, which in turn are only possible with a consumer culture that values such things.

I was there, as a high school student in the late 50s and college student in the early 60s. You cannot build any consumer electronics you couldn't build with vacuum tubes using discrete transistors. They would just be smaller. Building something as simple as an electronic clock requires integrated circuits.

Are discrete transistors useful. You betcha. The first company I worked for had two IBM 1401s, an IBM 1410 and an IBM 705. The 705 had vacuum tubes, the others were discrete transistor designs. They were smaller, faster and took less power. You also didn't have to hunt to find out which tube had blown its filament, or where the short had occurred because the voltage had caused a small filament of silver to ooze out of the solder and bridge the gap (aka silver migration).

As a side comment, IBM created the 1401 to replace a complex of tabulating equipment including a punched card sorter, a punched card tabulating machine (with a plug board for programming) and a summary punch. Those machines were pure electromechanical designs, with no vacuum tubes, transistors or anything similar. The one I'm familiar with, the type 407, was introduced in 1949. If I remember correctly, they sold about 10,000 1401s. Small businesses couldn't afford them; many of them went to "service bureaus" that did accounting and payroll for small businesses.

Does Lakeland use ICs? I'm certainly not going to argue with JMG when he's ruled out any level of semi-conductor technology.

Kevin Warner said...

It's been a long time since I smiled whilst reading a good piece of fiction and looking forward to each paragraph as it unfolded. Well played, sir! Well played! I hope too that you talk more about efficiency in terms of inputs and outputs in a future post. It is something that is never questioned nowadays and usually has the buzzword of progress attached to it to mute most criticism.
I find it significant that an educated official like Peter Carr is ignorant of the fact that the country he is living in once had a law separating consumer from investment banking. I have read, though do not know if it is true or not, that there have been attempts to have the text of the Glass-Steagal Act difficult to find not that long ago.
One of your readers - Seb Ze Frog - mentioned an anecdote which ended with the words "Appropriate technology" and I began to wonder. What if the Lakeland Republic is taking this further with not just technology but everything? As an example, the clothing that the people wear is more appropriate to the local climate, is durable and is functional than what is worn elsewhere. Pushed further, what if the Lakeland Republic is experimenting with appropriate social structures as well?
RE: the F-35. I have seen this circus before. Under Robert MacNamara back in the 60s, the F-4 Phantom was supposed to be a plane that could do the missions of several planes but it didn't work then and if sure as hell won't work now. We are buying the F-35 here but because of the huge distances in our country, selecting a single engine plane should have put this hunk of junk out of contention right from the get-go. For those readers with an interest in this topic, may I suggest the following links?

jean-vivien said...

Apparently the show has already started :

To read on Reuters that Russia is "mocking" the USA's efforts to arm Syrian rebels, to read that on Reuters is a subtle but sure sign given to the entire world.
In the meantime, next to that headline, you have this happening :

Victorious Catalan separatists claim mandate to break with Spain

Italy's Berlusconi says Crimea split from Ukraine was democratic

Iran's Rouhani: Assad government in Syria 'can't be weakened'

In my country, at least, I expect in the days ahead a lot of articles debating closer ties to Russia.

jean-vivien said...

(we can already read articles debating an alliance with Assad's regime, and behind that issue is drawing the other issue, of the attitude towards Russia... and it might even be good for the governing party, if they plan to get reelected in 2017's Presidential elections. Being hard on military concerns usually bolsters a President's popularity)

John Michael Greer said...

Denys, of course!

Nastarana, I wouldn't write China out of the scenario yet. They've been angling for a bigger role in international politics for a while now, and they have a dog in the fight already -- there are ties between Muslim insurgents in western China and their co-religionists in Syria and Iraq, and the thought of Chinese-friendly ports on the eastern Mediterranean littoral has got to be of interest. Also, and crucially, their military needs combat experience, especially after all the recent tech upgrades.

Shane, er, "Europe closer to the EU"?

Nancy, thank you. The metastasis of debt is to my mind one of the primary ways our society has gone off the rails -- debt allows paper wealth to become completely detached from the actual production of goods and services. Since Lakeland's my idea of a saner society, it's going to handle money quite a bit differently!

Toomas, we've already settled that the Lakeland Republic could have certain kinds of computer technology if it wanted to. For reasons that have partly been covered already and will be filled out in more detail as we proceed, they don't want to. The resources that might have been poured into that project went to other things. Period, end of sentence. (First bicycles, now computers -- I wonder what'll be next in the list of "Oh, but they have to have this..." No they don't.)

Kevin, oh, there's quite a bit of appropriate you-name-it in the Lakeland Republic. The one reminder I'd insert here, though, is that the title of this sequence is Retrotopia -- that is, the appropriate this and that will primarily be coming from the past, not from various imagined futures. That's an important part of the thought experiment, and again, will be explored in more detail as we proceed.

Jean-Vivien, do people in Ecnarf eat popcorn at the movies? If so, get some poppin', because it's going to be quite a show.

John Michael Greer said...

Oh, one general note. I have no idea why people have become convinced that tier one is the most complex technological tier in the Lakeland Republic, and the technology becomes simpler as the numbers go up. Not so; as I've actually explained once already, tier five has an approximate base year of 1950, tier four of 1920, tier three of 1890, tier two of 1860, and tier one of 1830. Nor, by the way, is there any kind of law to force people in a tier one county, let's say, not to have any post-1830 technology -- the last thing the Lakeland Republic needs is some kind of overgrown homeowners' associations telling people what they can and can't do, by majority rule or otherwise! It's much simpler than that: the tier level determines what infrastructure and services are provided by local government, and thus how high the taxes are.

In a tier one county, your local taxes are very, very low, because there isn't that much infrastructure to be built and maintained; at the same time, all the technologies that depend on any more complex infrastructure are going to be more or less unworkable. You want to have a car in a tier one county? Fine; there are no gas stations and no paved roads, and you'll be expected to drive your car at speeds that don't frighten your neighbors' cart horses and don't damage the dirt roads. Ergo, if you really want a car, you move to a tier four or tier five county, and pay the much higher local taxes necessary to fund paved roads and all the other expenses that, in the US, are dumped on the general public.

That's actually a core principle in the Lakeland Republic -- nobody's technological choices deserve a public subsidy. If you want a technology, you get to pay full sticker price for the whole system needed to make that technology function. We'll see that in action as the narrative proceeds.

jean-vivien said...

I'm drinking tea while watching the moon eclipse. I'll follow your advice, and save the popcorn for the spectacle of world events. Or I'll just spare the money to buy a Russian language 101 instead! (I already have the vodka...)

Bogatyr said...

To add to Fabian and Nastarana's discussion on Syria, the BBC reported last night on how IS forces carried out attacks in eastern Afghanistan, and notes that "Militants affiliated to Islamic State have have been gaining support in Afghanistan". That's close enough to China's borders for Beijing to be seriously concerned. In turn, that makes it sensible for China to join an assault on the IS core territories in Syria and Iraq, purely for self-defense.

It would also have the effect of setting a new narrative. So far (or so it seems to me) the cavemen in the US who have never understood that Orthodox Russia is a different thing to the USSR have been successful in setting the terms of discussion over Syria. If, however, Russia, Iran *and* China jointly engage in military action to subdue ISIS... then they announce that the post-WW2 and post-Cold War rules have now changed for good.

The Vineyard of the Saker site, by the way, has posted a very, very interesting Sitrep on current events which, inter alia casts a new light on the recent Volkswagen revelations. Well worth reading.

JMG, I'm also thoroughly enjoying the Retropia series. I first read Callenbach's Ecotopia when I was 16, in a castle library overlooking the Bristol channel, and it made a huge impact on my values and worldview. Retrotopia is shaping up as a worthy successor.

You mentioned that knowledge of magic has been lost by the time of the story; a pity - it would have been very interesting indeed to have seen a discussion of some of the magical tools you've discussed in the past and how they were used to help construct new nations!

I'm old enough, by the way, to remember when the banks in my hometown had not only biros on chains next to the tables in the public area, but also that those tables had (leather-bound?) writing pads with layers of blotting paper.

I bit my tongue when it came to the bicycle conversation. I live in Beijing. You wouldn't want to get me started on the topic of bicycling...

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Dear JMG, you wrote, "I have no idea why people have become convinced that tier one is the most complex technological tier in the Lakeland Republic, and the technology becomes simpler as the numbers go up."

The reason I thought that was that in the comments to a previous installment of this story, after you had disclosed that the technology of counties in the LR was tiered but hadn't given out many details about how it worked, someone posted a longish comment in which he worked through the question logically. I was impressed by his comment at the time but do not remember the name of the writer. I have since looked for it to refer to but have not found it again. At the very end of the comment as I recall it, he came to the conclusion that the most recent/resource intensive/energy intensive tier had the lowest number. You responded to that comment and I thought you confirmed his conclusions.

I was stunned and impressed by this reversal of the numbering order, because I wouldn't have figured it out and it made me realize how much of the progress narrative I retain unconsciously. In English, the word "higher" has a strong association with "better". By that association, the higher the tier, the more advanced and recently developed the technology.

If the goal of one's society is to manage industrial collapse, higher per capita energy and resource use is worse, not better. (One could however make the opposite argument, that the associations of Number One such as First Prize, Number One Son, Premier, etc., etc. should not be assigned to the least socially desirable tier.)

There is a minor practical reason to make the most energy intensive tier Number One. It allows for even lower tech tiers than 1830 to be instituted later without renumbering, in case even 1830 tech turns out to be unsustainable in the long run.

Before your most recent revelations that the tiers are organized around government infrastructure and utilities, and that people make residential choices according to the tax rates they are willing to put up with, I tried to figure out how to make the system work. Your way is much simpler and therefore easier to manage.

My idea involved setting a total energy budget for the county, with ongoing competition among counties in the direction of lowering their energy budgets. Government agencies, private organizations and households would be allocated portions of this budget to spend on any tech they chose, with incentives for staying within one's budget and penalties for overspending. To make this work requires both accurate information about the embodied energy required to produce materials and equipment, and a good deal of local government oversight. So your set up is superior to mine.

Marlow Charles said...

Close to finishing 'Decline and Fall'. Absolutely superb! Do read.
Many elements of the book are touched on within the comments of this post.
*On banking: "the loans create the deposit". Start there. Always there. As repulsive and twisted as it may seem to ones mind.

jean-vivien said...

More than pop-corn, though, web will definitely need handkerchieves or paper tissues... all players involved (USA included) are known for their disregard of civilian lives and human rights. This is a time of mourning, not of awe...

Shane Wilson said...

If a Russian led ISIS takedown doesn't throw the EU into the arms of Russia, then it will certainly encourage the fast election of European politicians who will bring Europe closer to Russia

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

@John Roth: Thanks for heads-up re on the one hand IBM 1401, on the other hand re IBM 1410. Wikipedia has fully detailed photo of IBM 1401 "Console" and "Auxiliary Console". Alas, most of the controls I understand not at all. But it does seem that on the depicted consoles you can load register(s) manually, literally using your own fair hands to set the successive bits in a register's word. (This is pleasant.)

@All: I now notice in connection with IC engineering (admittedly, eschewed by Lakeland) that has a table, showing number of transistors for a great many different CPU ICs. The range (I mean, the spread in the numbers) is striking: whereas a contemporary CPU contains on the order of 1,000,000,000 (in extreme 2015 cases nearly 10,000,000,000), the Z80 (at the heart of the old circa-1981 Osborne 1 portable business computer) contains just 8,500.

@JMG: Oops, I realize I asked you a question, on telegraphy, which you had already more or less answered in one of your story postings. The less technologically advanced counties in Lakeland, said one of your story postings, do have access to something like ham radio. This would almost certainly include, and would perhaps even be dominated by, radiotelegraphy. Unless you write something here in correction, I will assume that a radiotelegraphy upgrade of the Victorian-thru-1950 traditional landline telegraphy arrangements is common: if you need to send a telegram, you can go into your village to a radiotelegraph office; and if someone is sending you a telegram, the sender will pay a fee that inter alia includes the cost of a messenger taking the radiotelegram envelope from the local office to your door.

@all: I should perhaps have been explicit regarding the point of my remark on Estonia fiscal-year 1937/1938 telephone stats. The stats were intended to corroborate my assertion that an extensive network, of some technical sophistication, is possible in a social setup that makes the telephone predominantly a technology for the institution, as opposed to the private dwelling-place.

Tom (near Toronto)

mirela said...

"Ergo, if you really want a car, you move to a tier four or tier five county, and pay the much higher local taxes necessary to fund paved roads and all the other expenses that, in the US, are dumped on the general public. "

Do the tier four & five counties that allow cars pay any sort of "pollution tax" to the lower tier counties that live downwind to help fund healthcare for the people they've damaged with their emissions? Or is car ownership simply so expensive that there are few enough cars they've decided this isn't an issue?

The thing that gets me is this whole Lakeland scenario requires large numbers of people to make intelligent, thoughtful decisions. How on earth did they manage to accomplish this?

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

I'll try to add here a few small remarks on Canada.

(a) It is plausible for JMG to have made the Maritimes join New England. The traveller familiar with Nova Scotia, and now marvelling at that cultural mecca which is Boston, experiences a cultural resonance. It is as though Boston is the metropolis for which Halifax is a historically disadvantaged provincial outpost.

(b) It is plausible for JMG to make Quebec separate. But one cannot fully applaud his depiction of his Montreal politician as a sybarite, ordering champagne to her hotel room in the hours preceding breakfast. This suggests a stereotypical forcing of Quebec into the flamboyant mould of Paris. Quebec has for most of its history been agrarian, conservative, and quiet. (The argot for a staunch Quebec francophone is suggestive - pure laine, "pure wool": wool is not lace; wool is not silk.) After the disaster of 1759, the seigneurs who had been running New France went back to the mother country. This left the farmers - the social backbone - looking for political guidance to just one educated francophone grouping who had not boarded the ships - namely, their Catholic clergy.

The dominance of the Church was eroded only in the 1960s.

I also have to respectfully express my unease in JMG's making the new capital Montreal. Montreal does not strike the visitor as a particularly French city. It is in fact a mad mix - loud, brash, polyglot, a miniature New York. If Quebec transfers its capital from Ville de Québec up the river to Montréal/Montreal, the sensibility of the nation will have changed, in some disturbingly extravagant way.

One recalls here the late-1960s québecois song: Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver /.../ Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige ("My country is not a country, it is the winter/.../ My path is no path, it is snow"). On walking the streets of (Ville de) Québec, or on contemplating the ever-so-orderly farms along the banks of the St Lawrence, as the train makes its slow way from Nova Scotia into - eventually - Montréal's huge and noisy Gare Centrale, one may ponder the deeper import of these words.

I hope reasonably respectfully,
writing not from Québec
but from near Toronto,
100 metres from the passenger line
from Union Station out to Winnipeg,


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Further thoughts on Canada:

(c) Ontario is an artificial creation, the product of straight lines on a map. But within Ontario is a natural grouping, the old "Upper Canada" (coloured by the influx of political refugees from post-1783 USA; and coloured again, in those same tints, by the breakdown of 1812-1814). Historic Upper Canada, comprising what lies between the Canadian Shield and the Lakes Erie and Ontario, might have a bright future as a nation. The conceivable nation would be fortunate not only in its fertile farmland, moderate winters, and adequate rainfall, but in the presence of two Great Lakes as southern demarcators, enforcing a degree of cultural autonomy.

If I might express a wish for Upper Canada, it is that it develop socially along much the same lines as Lakeland, but possibly with less ideology. There would be, for instance, an industry in IC chips, to the modest extent that may prove possible in post-crash conditions (100 or 500 transistors per chip?). And there would be some modest concomitant deployment of computers and other bits of late-20th-century technology, as economic conditions may permit.

I would hope that Upper Canada would continue its present strong tradition in physics, currently centred in Kitchener-Waterloo (almost, but not quite, a suburb of Toronto; Kitchener is at the very periphery of the current Government-of-Ontario regional passenger rails). One might likewise hope that research in pure maths is kept alive, both at Waterloo and in some successor of today's Fields Institute in downtown Toronto.

In an ideal world, Upper Canada would keep the David Dunlap Observatory, here in Richmond Hill. But our 2015 world is not ideal. Readers of this blog might note, upon visting Google News, that the developer we have been fighting up here, a hydra variously denoted "DG Group", "Metrus", and "Corsica", now seems to be trying to drive our principal conservationist organization, the "Richmond Hill Naturalists", into bankrupcy.

On the diplomatic front, I would hope for formal structures of cooperation
between Upper Canada and Lakeland, in the spirit of the 1960s European Common Market. The two jurisdictions would have at least one urgent common ecological interest, namely the wellbeing of the Great Lakes.

(d) When it comes to the West, the contemporary (2015-era) rail traveller is struck by the isolation of Manitoba from Upper Canada. One is the rails for on the order of 24 hours, most of it on the bleakness of the Canadian Shield, before even crossing into Manitoba. When one finally finds oneself walking the Winnipeg streets, one thinks, "Here is a suprisingly solid and dignified city, with traditions, feel, and ethos unlike Toronto's. Here is the capital of a potential new nation, for whom the 18th-and-19th-century political dramas of Upper Canada seem distant and irrelevant."

Tom (in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto)




mirela said... occurred to me after I walked away from the computer I may have written "...counties that allow cars..." I should have written "...counties that support cars...", given your statement in the paragraph above the paragraph I was commenting on!

Debra Johnson said...

JMG - Perhaps a future Space Bats contest could simply be seeded with a title - like "3001: A Water Odyssey," "The Overshoot," or "Bags of Dirt." (Obviously, something better...)

hapibeli said...

My wife is asking; "what of a Tier 1 family with severe medical issues? How do they gain more care than a Tier 1 county can offer? Do they travel to a more technological Tier, and pay much greater costs, just as we might do today by travelling to a different country?
And what about simpler tech like glasses, dentists, hearing aids, etc.?
We think it is a very exciting exercise in understanding our needs, and desires! Thanks JMG!

Ed-M said...


First, I want to thank all the people who contributed to the thread on so-called permaculturalists who aren't serious about doing the work but are definitely seriously about evangelizing everyone else on the subject. Looks like I've coined a new word, "permacultists". ;^)

Now on the noticing of the bank clerk's race / ethnicity in this post: funny, I don't recall Mr. Peter Carr noticing anyone's race before, maybe just skin color. I for one think this country is going to fall into a race war as James Howard Kunstler has predicted. I am sure you realize there is a backlash a-brewin' over the Ferguson and Baltimore riots... at <a href=">this site here</a>, people are never-ending talking about blacks with venom. So I'm thinking that the blacks may have been purged from the NA ethnic mix and the African-American at the Toledo Bank is an immigrant from Kenya via Venezuela or somewhere.

One last comment on the fabric of Mr. Carr's suit being an apparent hybrid of cheap polyester fabric and Tyvek <sub>TM</sub> building paper: I got a new umbrella and I swear to the gods, its fabric is just like that!

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