July 20th, 2005

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On Space Colonies (Part 7)

Back in 2003, I made a series of postings (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) exploring the likely political economy of space colonization. I concluded, by analogy with past precedents of human colonization on Earth, that the push into space would be state-directed, if not in terms of the total number of efforts then in the total number of surviving efforts. Further, I argued that these efforts would always be dependent on external subsidy, and that the likelihood of developing a self-sustaining off-Earth economy was low.

I was inspired to continue this series a while back, when pompe linked to an interesting preprint of a paper at arXiv, Milan M. Cirkovic and Robert J. Bradbury's "Galactic Gradients, Postbiological Evolution and the Apparent Failure of SETI." As pompe notes, while transhumanism and cognate philosophies are too often overused, they aren't overused in this paper. Cirkovic and Bradbury suggest that future civilizations will be more notable for their efficient usage of existing resources than for exorbitant expenditures of said, that the Fermi Paradox might be answered not by predicting the catastrophic end of most every sophont species but by expecting advanced civilizations to be so efficient as to avoid exorbitant waste.

In other words, the authors argue that SETI enthusiasts should forget about detecting extraterrestrial technological civilizations by their Dyson spheres, or the hard-radiation trails left by the high-speed starships that link planetary systems. Rather, look for point sources of electromagnetic radiation out on the fringes of the galaxies or in the depths of interstellar place, in the places where ambient temperatures are low enough to allow for truly high-speed computing necessary to run complex virtual-space civilizations. Expansion, in this paradigm, is rare phenomenon for any advanced civilization.

In contrast to the usually assumed model of expanding "colonial empire" from human history (which confronts us with the gravest form of Fermi’s paradox), the present picture would rather use a model of a "city-state"--if anything from the human history is to be even remotely analogous to the generic pathway of ATCs, which is itself a doubtful proposition. It is too often forgotten (both among SETI proponents, as well as the contact pessimists) that colonial expansion has been an exception, rather than the rule in human history so far; our Western-centric attitude should not blind us into accepting a wrong model for civilizational behavior. Countless city-states, be they in ancient Greece, pre-Aryan India, Babylonia, medieval Italy, Germany or Russia, pre-Incan Andes or Mayan Mexico, have all together much longer and stronger traditions than imperial powers, of which there are no more than two dozen examples altogether, from Assyria to the USA. Even in the cases where cities and other smaller organizational units have been peacefully or otherwise incorporated into a larger whole, this was often regarded as optimization of resources and management, and clear limits to growth have been set in advance; examples in this respect range from Achaean League, to Hansa, to Swiss Confederation, to China after Ch’in unification. It is exactly this understanding of limits (or resources and communication) which made the longevity of civilizations like the Chinese, or organizations like the Roman Catholic Church so prominent in the human history so far. Vice versa, it was disregard for these limits which contributed to downfalls of all historical empires.

What does this imply for space colonies? Nothing very cheery, I fear.

Let's assume that my arguments from 2003 about the ultimate peripheralization of space colonies for the foreseeable future are correct. Further, let's assume that barring the development of biotechnologies and/or nanotechnologies capable of plunging humanity directly into the Land of Cockaigne, there will always be limits on the physical expansion of civilizations. Even at our current levels of technology and wealth, the terraforming of Mars may just be within our civilization's horizon. Barring much more economic growth and technological advancement, however, the settlement of the Alpha Centauri trinary most certainly is not. And when human civilization, mono- or bi- or multi-planetary as it may be, reaches the point where it can achieve that task, will it necessarily be interested? It's worth noting that the settlement of Manchuria took place six and a half centuries after Beijing, on the Manchurian frontier, was selected as China's capital, and two centuries after the Manchus conquered China, and then only because Manchuria was threatened by the Russians and Japanese.

What reason could possibly justify the expense of venturing off-Earth to found offshoot societies, absent direct threat or a compelling need? Ideology of some sort would seem to be required, that or obvious and immediate economic benefit. Most of the possibilities that I can think of--lunar and Mercurian helium-3, solar energy, research into non-Earthly biospheres--could be just as easily achieved by outposts ultimately dependent on Mother Earth, while cultural-separatist settlements may not necessarily have extended lifespans. Without cornucopian technologies, Earth may forever remain the only world of humanity.

[BRIEF NOTE] For debate

Sighted on my friends list:

It's been said to me time and time again that Toronto gay men are stuck-up, cliquey, and very anti-social. As a frequent patron of Toronto’s most popular gay bars (Ie: Woody's, fly, tangos, 5ive), I full-heartedly agree. Not only is it bad, it’s ugly! It appears many gay men thrive on childish name-calling and shallow remarks about ‘beauty,’ for ‘who isn’t beautiful, isn’t worth approaching.’ There's also a growing fear and arrogance towards male femininity, gay guys who only want 'straight-acting' friends and boyfriends. I must say, my fabulous, tight, pink-stripped tank-top has found a more acceptable residence tucked in the back of my dresser. *sigh*

Toronto's gay men have been coined as the most unapproachable queer species around, as was recently expressed by a pair of tourists who recently visited the so-called "homofriendly" city. They were shocked by how stuck-up and rude many of Toronto's gay men were.

Toronto's current gay village, a queer community that was once overwhelmingly laden with united love and support, has taken a different course. Why are some gay men out to destroy each another? With the current success of gay marriage, a right some queers feel to be the final gunshot of this 'war of queer rights,' has 'comfortable queer living' given gay men enough confidence to claim shallow superiority over others in their community? Maybe they're forgetting they live in a metro-centric queer bubble and that the 'outside world' is still less accepting of queers. Perhaps it's an age factor. Today's under-30 crowd didn't have to fight for the same rights as today's 40-60 year-old crowds. As some queer veterans say - kidz today don't know how well they've got it!

Resolved: That there isn't such a thing as a GLBT community, that there is not such a thing now, and that there never will be. What is called a community, a collection of people united by shared interests and goals, is actually an aggregate, united by the incidental fact of being non-heterosexual (or, at a stretch, non-traditionally heterosexual) and sharing little beyond this. The aggregate contains communities, but it isn't one and never will be one.
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[BRIEF NOTE] What (Some) Environmentalists Don't Get About Nuclear Power

This morning on CBC Radio, an environmentalist was asked what Canada should do with its nuclear-plant waste. She said that the first thing we should do is close down the nuclear plants.

Idiot. As James Lovelock, environmental research and developer of the Gaia theory, concluded, if we want to sustain a technological civilization in the 21st century and let the Third World develop economically and avoid melting Antarctica, nuclear power is our only choice.

[W]e can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years; the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years. Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for civilisation.

Worse still, if we burn crops grown for fuel this could hasten our decline. Agriculture already uses too much of the land needed by the Earth to regulate its climate and chemistry. A car consumes 10 to 30 times as much carbon as its driver; imagine the extra farmland required to feed the appetite of cars.

By all means, let us use the small input from renewables sensibly, but only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy. True, burning natural gas instead of coal or oil releases only half as much carbon dioxide, but unburnt gas is 25 times as potent a greenhouse agent as is carbon dioxide. Even a small leakage would neutralise the advantage of gas.

[. . .]

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.

I'm amused to read the Indymedia UK reaction. The comments manage to miss the point entirely. Yes, nuclear waste is quite concentrated. That's the beauty of it: Unlike oil or natural gas, which produce classes of byproducts which quickly permeate the entire biosphere, nuclear waste is compact, delimited, much more controllable. If the 21st century is to be an environmentalist century, it will have to be a nuclear century.
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    green (not deep green)

[LINK] Why Iran Wants Nuclear Energy

Back in November 2004 at GNXP, TangoMan wrote a persuasive analysis of Iran's economic predicament. Iran needs more economic growth to create jobs for its baby-boom generation; Iran needs more energy to fuel this economic growth; if Iran uses its oil and natural gas to generate power, it will lose capital that it could otherwise have gained from exporting its hydrocarbon fuels, capital that it needs to replace shortfalls in foreign investment. If Iran was a happy secular democracy, I doubt that anyone would complain about its nuclear program. Unfortunately, it isn't. This creates problems.
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    mildly pedantic

[LINK] A Russian Demographic Meltdown?

From A Fistful of Euros, a disturbing analysis of Russia's demographic future from Murray Feshbach.

If anything I would now say that I was underestimating the losses to the population of Russia in the future. The current official projection (medium) by the Russian State Statistical Agency is some 101 million in 2050. [July 2005 estimate of current population is 143 million.] My expectation is that the number will be closer to 75-80, approximately the level of worst-case scenario. The current and imminent number of deaths from HIV/AIDS is much worse than anticipated, as well as the number of deaths from tuberculosis. In addition, hepatitis C deaths will, ceteris paribus, begin to be devastating at the end of the next decade. None of these health factors were incorporated into the projection model of the Statistical Agency.

Population shrinkage caused primarily by a low birth rate is one thing. Population shrinkage caused primarily by a high death rate is quite another. While one can hope that Feshbach's predictions won't come true, I'm reluctant to make premature judgements.

Assuming that this worst-case scenario comes true, Russia will be home to barely more people than Germany, or, if the projections hold true, France and the United Kingdom. Who knows? At this rate, France might end up beating Russia for first prize as the most populous country in Europe. The main difference between Russia on the one hand and the EU-3 on the other would be that Russia would be in significantly worse shape than any of their countries, poor and battered. One thought: What will things look like elsewhere in the former Soviet Union?
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[REVIEW] Wondrous Beginnings

Wondrous Beginnings, a short story collection edited Steven H. Silver and Martin H. Greenberg, is a very fun collection of the first published stories of such leading science fiction writers as Lois McMaster Bujold, Stephen Baxter, Orson Scott Card, Gene Wolfe, and L. Sprague de Camp. For its novelty value and the literary merit of many of the stories included in the collection, Wondrous Beginnings is worth acquiring. What makes it invaluable is the pairing of each story with a biographical text written by (or in the late Murray Leinster's case, about) the author explaining how the story came to be. Snap it up.
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    pleasantly entertained

[LINK] A New Wave of Portuguese Emigrants?

The Inter Press Service news agency reports, in Mario de Queiroz's article "Economic Woes Could Spur New Boom in Emigration," that, in the wake of Asian competition and the migration of many factories from Portugal to cheaper destinations in central and eastern Europe, the Portuguese are beginning to emigrate in large numbers.

The impact of factory closures on the economy, particularly in northern Portugal, has forced a growing number of people to move abroad, a practice that had almost disappeared over the last three decades.

In the Ave and Cavado valleys of northern Portugal, the heart of the country's textile industry, a average of 88 people a day sign off from unemployment insurance because they are about to emigrate.

The National Institute of Statistics (INE) reports that in this region alone, 39,000 people in 2004 and another 10,000 so far this year stopped collecting unemployment insurance after deciding to leave the country.

Portugal's long tradition of emigration has been traditionally associated with the country's poverty relative to the rest of western Europe. These new patterns of population movement are rooted in the new patterns of employment created since Portugal's evolution into a First World democracy, with the country still attracting almost as many residents via immigration as it loses natives to emigration.

Britain, already home to 250,000 Portuguese immigrants, and Northern Ireland, with 25,000, are the two most popular destinations for Portuguese workers today, according to INE statistics.

Another major destination is Switzerland, which received 135,000 Portuguese immigrants between 1998 and 2002. The total number of Portuguese immigrants was estimated to have reached 160,000 last year.

Emigration from Portugal reached its peak between 1965 and 1973. By the end of this period, there were a total of five million Portuguese living in other countries around the world, an extraordinarily high number given the fact that the population of Portugal totals 10.2 million.

Of the total, two million emigrated to other countries in Europe, 1.3 million to Brazil, 600,000 to South Africa, 400,000 to Venezuela, and 300,000 to the United States.

In 1974, the so-called Carnation Revolution - an essentially bloodless left-wing military coup that toppled the dictatorship installed in Portugal in 1926 - brought an end to the mass exodus.

By 1992, when national borders within the EU were thrown open, Portuguese emigration had reached an extremely low level, and practically no statistics were compiled from that point onwards, since citizens of any EU member country are free to work anywhere within the bloc.

Nevertheless, growing economic problems and low salaries have led increasingly large numbers of people to leave the country in recent years, a decision that has also been encouraged by the rise in the standard of living since Portugal entered the EU in 1986.

Many Portuguese are reluctant to take on low-paying, unskilled work, and leave these jobs to the country's 600,000 immigrants, particularly those from Portuguese-speaking former colonies like Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor, or eastern European countries like Ukraine, Moldavia, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Because of the free movement of workers within the EU, taking up residence in another country in the bloc is an easy task. The motive for doing so is overwhelmingly economic.

Portuguese workers can earn three times as much doing the same job in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, where prices for basic consumer goods are roughly the same as in Portugal. In Spain, where food and utilities are significantly less expensive, they can earn twice as much.

While France and Germany were formerly the primary destinations for Portuguese emigrants, their preference appears to have shifted to Britain, given the almost non-existent rate of unemployment and the fact that it is the most expensive country in the EU, translating into higher salaries relative to the countries of origin of foreign workers.
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    content with Toronto

[LINK] Ishihara Turns His Attention to the French

From Japan Today:

Tokyo Gov Ishihara sued for insulting French language

Thursday, July 14, 2005 at 08:01 JST

TOKYO -- A French language teacher and 20 other plaintiffs filed a damages suit Wednesday against Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara for his insulting remarks against the French language last year.

Malik Berkane, a 46-year-old principal of a French language school in Tokyo, filed the suit at the Tokyo District Court, together with 20 other French and Japanese people, demanding an apology over the remarks and 500,000 yen in compensation for each plaintiff.

According to the petition, Ishihara said Oct 19, "I have to say that it should be no surprise that French is disqualified as an international language because French is a language which cannot count numbers."

He made the remarks at a meeting of a support organization for Tokyo Metropolitan University, which opened in April after integrating five universities and colleges run by the metropolitan government, when he criticized university employees who opposed the integration, including those teaching French and other languages.

"After all, those guys desperately clinging to such kind of language are lodging opposition for the sake of opposition," he said.

While his unwitting support for the spoken Frenches of Belgium, Switzerland, and Acadia will doubtless be appreciated by members of those marginalized Francophone communities, I have to wonder what he's trying to accomplish by this and whether people are paying Ishihara too much attention as is.
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