Friday, August 21, 2015

Unsolvable 5, Part 3

Unsolvable means just that.

Here stands a problem that refuses be fixed.

For example:  Let’s say you’re driving on a bright Tuesday morning, and furthermore, you’re obeying the laws of the road.  But while stopped at a traffic light, surrounded on three sides by other law-abiders, a dump truck behind you suffers a catastrophic brake failure.  And furthermore, the truck’s driver is 23, poorly trained and stubborn.  How can these fucking brakes not work?  He pumps and pumps, and then seeing the future with the clarity of a prophet, he honks his horn.  Which you hear.  Looking into your rearview mirror, disbelief dissolves into the same prophetic vision.  Cars sit on your left and right and straight ahead, and you have exactly two seconds to react.  Two seconds.  But where is the solution to this conundrum?

For my purpose, unsolvable means that the collision is inevitable.  You might live, you might die.  But if you’re lucky enough to survive, pain and disfigurement are pretty much mandatory.  This isn't to say that your future won’t be wonderful, after the surgeries and the profitable lawsuits and finding love with the young lady who pulled you out of the flaming hulk that was your Dodge Dart.  Who knows?  You might have gone into this catastrophe thinking about killing yourself, but the clarity brought by a year of rehab and reappraisals serves to deliver a happiness that you never knew before.  Yet that doesn’t change the essential inevitability.  The dump truck is not going to stop until your car and the five vehicles ahead of you are mashed into an accordion of steel and dying computers.

Climate change is a brakeless dumptruck.

Dogs and writers have their biases.   For this barking writer, the first clear experience with hotter temperatures happened in 1988.  That was the year James Hansen testified to Congress about the coming heat.  And that was the year I visited Alaska. That Federal province was enduring a terrific heatwave.  As it happened, I found myself next to some old-time locals trading stories about the changing climate.  By “old-time locals”, I mean people who came north in the 60s. These were public school teachers given lush deals to serve for twenty-five years or so before retiring relatively young and well-moneyed.  The day’s heat was a subject, sure.  But more important was their shared amazement with the recent winters.  What they experienced in the 1960s was memorably savage, while these recent bouts of anemic snow and ice were nothing.  And winter was an important subject just then.  Anchorage was interested in chasing the Winter Olympics, and nobody in this pack of white educated and relatively happy souls could promise that there would be a winter worth the skiing.

In the end, the Olympics went elsewhere.

And today, winters are so mild that Alaska has trouble pulling off a worthy Iditarod.  A point that escapes people shivering in the “outside”, as they call the Lower 48.



And drought.

Those are my linchpin visions of climate change.  The bias does tend to shift after I come across some alternate view of the hotter future.  Reading Hansen, I find myself more open to the idea of glacial collapse and rising seas.  I’m perfectly happy using sea rise as a backstory to my work.  “Dead Man’s Run”, for instance.  It’s not explicit, but a drowned Miami means refugees and the usual complications.  But being Nebraskan by birth and by outlook, I realize that regardless how wet Nebraska is today--and we are very, very wet now--the entire region is three months removed from catastrophe.  The rain stops, the temperature rises.  Then the native plants go dormant, and the corn, a tropical grass, dies on a shifting plain of dust.

As a genre and as a state-of-mind, science fiction has its strengths.  For instance, my colleagues and I have a stubborn capacity to defeat every kind of thought problem.  How will humans fly to the stars?  How do we make contact with alien minds?  How exactly do we build robots we can trust?  And how do we survive any one of a hundred apocalypses--some of them real but most dreamed up by writers with too much caffeine?

This is our job.  Nightmares are. But thought problems and cleverness only carry so much weight, particularly in a world full of history and inertia and faith and well-practiced incompetence.

Now return to our hero sitting inside his Dart, watching the dump truck bearing down on little him.

A less clever writer, perhaps working in the thriller genre, might see the obvious answer.  There’s no delay for disbelief.  Our driver takes a glance in the mirror and then instantly opens his door, deftly releasing the safety belt, leaping out of the car and vaulting over the next car with time enough to yank a pretty young woman out from her death-trap vehicle.

That’s the genius of thrillers.  Zero thought, all reaction.

And the very clever SF writer?  Well, obviously, someone invents a time machine and goes back to alter certain key events.  Or aliens intercede to save our Dart driver, because they need him for a special mission.  Or maybe every car waiting at the light is sentient, and working at machine speeds, each makes the logical decision to hit the gas, blowing through the stop light while the runaway truck rolls to a harmless stop.

Impossible technologies.

Intervention from the stars.

Noble machines rescuing humans from their inevitable messes.

You can always spot the unsolvable problems.  They’re the ones where we are stuck sitting at the steering wheel, watching events unfold around us, and the only answers we have involve magical thinking.


I’m a lousy blogger.  I admit this.  My output is sporadic and too occasional, my tone falling short of the frothy dash-it-off-today attitudes.  But I do try to make plans and hold to deadlines, and for the time being, Unsolvable 5 feels finished.  I won’t blog anymore about heat or drought or ocean rise.  At least not until some new thought catches my attentions.

But I want to warn both of my readers that Unsolvable 5 means that I have four other Unsolvables cued up, each worse than climate change.

By my estimations, of course.

And for the sake of my two or ten readers, I promise to move faster, spelling out each of the next four nightmares before moving on to the gristly meat of each.

All the best.

To all of us.



(In a different universe, "The Principles" would have won the Sidewise Award, and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro would have delivered this thank you note on my behalf. In this universe, however, my story didn't win, and there was never going to be any little ceremony at the Libertarian Worldcon. And as I should point out, there is a third universe where people don't care so much about the verdict of a jury or press releases to Locus.)

History might be simple.  One narrative, one cast of characters.  A tidy collection of incidents and accidents, wars and mass migrations, leading to this inevitable moment where a decent enough fellow stands before you, accepting an award on my grateful behalf.

But I rather suspect that vision of history is bullshit.

For me, history is a chaotic muddle.  An intriguing chaos, sure.  But the past refuses to leave simple records behind.  Remarkably little data survives from one moment to the next, and almost nothing survives across the centuries.  Worse still, the wisest, most introspective person is hard pressed to explain why she did what she did last week.  That’s why I refuse to believe in any one account of a war or a cabinet meeting or the ins and outs of two friends discussing last week’s weather.

And worse still is the nature of this effortless universe of ours.

Quantum mechanics.  Cosmology.  These twin children of science have quite a lot to say about reality, and according to both of them, we live inside is an unabashedly infinite creation.  There have to be Earths besides our Earth.  Indeed, there can’t be any end to the churning histories.  Every one of these narratives follows its own inspired course.  There’s no counting the vivid characters trying to live their vast little lives.  And that’s why this moment is inevitable:  A tie-wearing fellow accepting this award on my behalf.

At this point, one has to ask:  Why bother feeling grateful?  Seriously, if every sweet moment is inevitable, why bother with a rush of adrenaline and the genuinely surprised smile?

Because the infinite is usually predictable and too often drab.

Because inside the infinite, there are rarities that deserve to be celebrated.

This award, for example.  And in that spirit, I accept the Sidewise and I thank all of you for this honor.

But there’s a greater rarity at work here.

I’m talking about the nominated stories and the authors who wrote them.  An amazing churn of events has given birth to each of us, and it’s hard to believe that any creatures but us could spin these tales exactly as we have done.

The Infinite doesn’t end, no.

But this tiny portion of the Everything has been made Ours.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Embracing the Cloud

I want to believe that my head works better than most heads. I want to know shit that nobody else knows, and I crave the capacity to figure out puzzles, usually by routes nobody else would have taken. And in particular, when it comes to recalling the past, I want to remember everything.  Sharp, rich recollections are the most useful raw materials for any writer.

Unfortunately, the universe doesn't have much interest in what I want.

In some areas, my brain works well. Bits of science, bits of world history. But I’m lousy with every language besides Midwestern American.  Always have been.  I’m also taxed by fresh names and the strangers attached to those names.  At 58, I'm beginning to feel as if my head is juggling too many faces and too many complicated life stories.  A shortage of cognitive RAM, that’s what this is.  I hope. And to make matters worse, authentic lives are vast and murky, badly acted and most endings happening far offstage.

But despite those liabilities, my personal past remains immediate.  My childhood.  My twenties.  And to varying degrees, events closer to today.  The substance of conversations that everybody else has forgotten: That's my specialty.  Facial expressions, the tone of the voice, and the buried, revealing meanings inside offhand statements.  The precise phrasing usually gets lost.  (My wife, the trained journalist, does a far better job pulling out authentic quotes.)  But I like to believe that the heart of every important conversation is mine to hold.

I began to write in junior high, Bic pens filling up spiral notebooks. But no matter the writer's name, editors don’t like inky scribbles.  So I learned to type. There was an old black Underwood with an agreeable rattling music, and in college, a manual office Royal.  Where other students tried pot, I experimented with an electric third-hand IBM, learning to despise its humming, hot engine and how it shut off without warning.  Later came a succession of electronic typewriters.  "Pragmatism" is my middle name, and those early digital days brought me a series of electronic Brothers.  I still sent paper manuscripts to the magazines, but I'd reached a point where I could at least save my work as ASCII files. If the story was bought, I had to tuck a magical disk inside a magnetically-protected envelope and then launch both by mail.  But this sluggish evolution frustrated the markets.  I can't recall our actual words, but one important editor warned me that with all the money she’d sent my way, I should buy a real computer.  Which was a $1500 investment, as I recall.  The CPU and monitor, a printer and all of that other necessary crap.  At 5 cents a word, a state-of-the-art beast was rather less important than paying my rent.


Three more conversations come to mind.

My brother is three and a half years younger, though strangers often assume that I’m the younger one.  He has always enjoyed responsibilities and paychecks as well as notoriety in his profession.  And being a brother, he thinks he knows more than his sibling knows, and I should welcome his gracious help.

I liked those cheap electronic typewriters.  Dimwitted pieces of machinery helped me write all of my early successes, and like cherished lovers, each died under me while I was enjoying myself.  At the same time, my brother was working for a college, inhabiting an office filled with new Apple computers, and with a very serious tone, he informed me that I needed to buy one of these marvels.

Honest as can be, I explained that no, computers were too expensive.  If I wasn't working part-time, I wasn't working. Besides the writing, of course.  $1500 was too much of an investment in a machine that looked as if it would break down two seconds after you began believing in it.

But my brother refused to let it go, which generated a second painful conversation.

“You really need a computer,” he said.  “It’s the wave of the future.”

Those probably aren't his words.  But the “wave of the future” cliche was buried in his argument.

Needing another rebuttal, I offered my best second answer:  I hated the green letters riding on the dark background.  And I meant that word, “hated." I absolutely despised that flashing cursor and the slow responses, and those old screens that were either tiny or extraordinarily expensive.

Nothing deserves scorn like two honest answers.

There was a third conversation, and again I suffered the pestering tone, that younger-sibling-knows-best attitude.  And being tired of this shit, I finally offered an idea that he apparently believed.  Because years later, seeing me pushing through my working life, my brother said, “But hey, I thought you hated technology.”

Apparently he had forgotten my two genuine excuses.


Newly married, with two credit cards and a healthy bank account, I felt flush.  But I still avoided purchasing a computer.  My wife with the real job took that gamble.  A Windows 95 system.  No green glow on the monitor.  My new brother-in-law worked for Gateway, and we got what we thought was a solid deal.  The entire system cost us $2000, including the printer and a lot of software that sounded essential. And then a few hours after we made the historic order, the transmission of our Chrysler LeBaron’s failed.

My wife’s computer was always hers.  Except when I played Civilization 2, which was a wonderfully compulsive game that I have no interest in returning to.  I really don’t.  Except today, working on this little essay, I still see the very simple, very random landscapes generated by the computer, and the enemy armies that I had to face, and Christ, I get halfway embarrassed, remembering how those nonexistent empires would piss me off.

For writing, I stayed loyal to electronic typewriters.  But the ribbon cartridges were growing scarce and Brother wasn't building new models.  I had no choice but purchase my own computer, another Gateway, and not long after that--I believe this is correct--my wife’s machine began to have enormous troubles.  Something about the hard-drive needing to be reformatted, and a friendly voice in North Dakota told me how to do this necessary chore. The woman's husband was serving in the Air Force, I recall. And I remember asking if it was important, hearing a distinct pop when I booted up the machine one day.  “No, that's nothing,” she lied.  Later, my brother-in-law admitted that Gateway had shitty hard-drives, but a good reformatting could give you another few months of illusionary health.

As a rule, my computers always lasted just long enough.  I used them daily, sometimes for full days and part of the night, and I've been both lucky and shrewd when picking my particular species of Windows.  My first was a 97--reliable and not too slow.  My second and third computers were XP.  Very stable, at least compared to the frail contraption where the operating system lived.  Through my wife’s machines, I got to experience the prurient challenges of Millennium and then Vista.  Which leads me to this observation:  Terrorists have tried and tried, but that have never inflected as much economic pain on the West as Microsoft manages with its balky operating systems.  Viruses swarm. Commerce stops while Windows reboots. And then comes the blue-screen-of-death, wiping away one woman’s faltering dreams of doing the household books.

Hating Microsoft is the central cliche of our age.

It's like hating the Yankees. Except in this case, what you despise is living inside your house. Mickey has broken into your liquor cabinet, the Babe is chasing your women, and A Rod is sitting on your office desk, shooting god knows what into his arm.


Good writing has many ticks, but one very important item is usually neglected by those who teach writing.

The words you use are just not that important.

Imagine your favorite story. Right now, think of the tale that stirred your imagination most when you were seven or seventeen.  Or sixty-three.  I bet you don’t remember every word used by the author.  You might have a few passages memorized, but not five or fifty thousands words, you don’t.  Unless you're someone who wants trying to steal honest work from a computer.

For the purpose of this writing exercise, let's agree that this is the perfect story.  You remember where you read it. You still get a buzz just thinking it. The story lives in your mind.  But the specific words are gone.  In fact, they've been removed from the world, every copy burned, every digital file erased. And now let’s say that you want to resurrect that piece of fiction.  Resurrect it just from memory, and you’re a good enough writer to pull off this trick.  And you aren’t the only one trying.  On the same day, ten thousand and nineteen other compulsive fans set to work.

All of you remember the basic plot and most of the characters.  But nobody knows the specific letters used or the spaces between letters or those dots and dashes that make copy editors happy.  Ten thousand and twenty people set to work independently, and the project takes a full year, and twenty of you die during those months.  But the rest of you endure and succeed, and that’s why ten thousand versions of that first story now exist.

For shits and giggles, let’s assume that each version is a success.

Ten thousand stories, and each is its own beast.  Very similar characters and very similar adventures, but in the end, each effort is unique.

This is what I mean when I claim that the specific words don’t matter nearly as much as you might believe.


My first laptop was a Windows 7 machine--a slab of plastic and rare-earths that cooked my thighs for several years.  I was loyal to Microsoft Word in that way you have to be loyal in a monopolistic world.  I knew there were other writing programs, but I was comfortable with this one.  If usually took a few minutes to boot up the machine in the morning, and unless there were updates and patches, but I could always do other things.  And well, sure, the machine might lock up before noon, but I could always reboot and have lunch while waiting for that ritual to pass.

I don’t recall when I started playing with Google Drive, but I'm rather sure it was called Google Docs.  Maybe.  I had a much slower Internet connection, and the program wasn’t as advanced or as stable as it is today. But what I appreciated, probably from the first few lines, was the simplicity.  “Pragmatic” means stripped down and clean, and Docs didn't distract me with features that I never used, writing like a crazy boy until the Internet gave out.  Which it always seemed to do.

Eventually I moved all of my files to Docs/Drive.

But I kept local copies on venerable Word.  And of course I leaned hard on Microsoft whenever I had to deal with the larger, less forward-thinking publishing world.

Chromebooks already existed.  At first I didn't have any burning urge for that kind of machinery.  But I got more comfortable with the Googleverse, and Samsung put out a well reviewed and wonderfully portable Chromebook.  I wanted portability.  I wanted to pay less than $300, which is a pretty cheap revolution.  And after making that enormous step, I felt absolutely entitled to be furious when the machine refused to load my longer works, and then three days into the relationship, the keypad stopped playing nice.

I sent the Samsung back to Amazon, but still enamored with the idea of writing in coffee shops around Lincoln, I bought a second PC, a Toshiba Satellite ultrabook.

The Toshiba proved heavy and slow-witted and I hated the keys.

Which leads me to another professional observation: Words do matter, but the writer’s relationship to his or her keys can matter almost as much.

I stayed with my old slow workhorse laptop, although the machine continued to get crankier and hotter, collecting various species of malware as the months passed.  Then Acer put out their little C720, the model with 4 gigs of RAM and a dependable solid-state drive.  For more than a year, that little Acer screen and keyboard were my closest companions, and the old computers were booted up only on special occasions, for Word work and updating, and a good round of cursing too.

That new normalcy might have continued for another year or two.

But the Toshiba Chromebook 2 came out, sporting a gorgeous screen. I couldn’t ignore the opportunity.  Amazon didn’t have any C2s in stock, so I went to Best Buy, coming home with a machine that served me well enough for several months.  But despite the beauty of its display, it proved laggy, particularly with the largest files.  Plus the space bar and I never liked each other.  And then Google, knowing my mind better than I do, suddenly put out a new top-of-the-line marvel:  The Pixel 2015.

I bought the cheaper of the two Pixels, which can't be confused for cheap.  The Ludicrous Speed with 16 gigs of RAM and the i7 processor was a temptation, but my i5 Pixel is already like a gun being brought to a knife fight.  The LS delivers a platoon of Marines, and I couldn’t justify that additional expense.


I’m not a business man.  I am the business.  My head is my office, my factory, while these digital files are my showroom and warehouse.  The Pixel is a dream for typing, and it is swift swift swift, and the screen is brilliant and rock-solid clear, and when I guess about the future, I can imagine remaining loyal to this one machine for years.  Particularly as Google brings in more functions, including android apps and a better music player...well, my new best friend is going to grow faster and more competent.  Not slower and dumber.  Which is what every normal PC will do.

Two minutes of power washing, and I gave the Toshiba Chromebook to my daughter, and she put in her account info and was loaded and ready in minutes.  Which is another huge benefit with the Chrome  OS:  Like Doctor Who, you wipe away one identity, giving a new face and personality its chance to shine.

My old machines are still in the house.  And in fact, they’re busier than ever.  The Toshiba ultrabook became a much better machine when I stripped it of iTunes and Word and all of the bloatware that I could find.  I use LibreOffice for the occasional Word problem, and a lightweight program when I need a pdf reader, and doubling the RAM helped quite a bit too.  When I need a PC, there it is, booting up in a surprisingly brief while.  Meanwhile, the old Acer remains my emergency Chromebook, and just to see if I could, I pulled the tiny hard-drive, replacing it with a 100 gig monster.  In Chrome terms, that’s gigantic.  Then I put on Crouton and a Linux OS--xfce--that runs like grease beside my normal Chrome files. The only problem is that I can't seem to download my Google Play movies.  A bug?  A feature?  Don’t know yet.

As the original laptop, the heavy hot quirky Dell?  Windows 7 is banished.  After several experiments, I settled on Linux Mint Cinnamon.  Mint comes with a program to analyze your hard-drive, and Mint warned me that my drive was failing and to back up everything, preferably last week.  But I just yanked the old drive instead, replacing it with a 120 gig SSD beauty, and now I have a Linux machine that flies.

I’m considering throwing Linux on the Pixel, for fun and to increase its functionality.

Sometimes I think this is just the beginning. Growing comfortable with the magic, I'm making for the day when I back myself up on the Cloud.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Unsolvable 5, Part 2

Toes to the fire, here’s a confession plenty of agnostics would make:

I prayed once. Earnestly, fiercely prayed.

Nine or ten years-old, I was on a bad-news softball team embroiled in some kind of tournament.  In those days, I was a right-field specialist.  It’s a very difficult position, contemplating the universe from a portion of the field where almost nothing happens.  But I have one reliable excuse for being a lousy fielder:  My glove.  More toy than a professional instrument, it was slick plastic and undersized.  Somebody, probably my father, cheaped-out when they bought it for me, and they must have felt wise as a consequence, seeing how I couldn't catch half of the balls hit to me.


I was sitting on the bench when prayer happened.  Details suffer, what with the decades and the lack of ESPN coverage.  But I know it was a strange field in some distant part of town, and we were playing under the lights, both factors giving the event far more importance than it deserved.  I don’t know if I was pulled from the field as a defensive measure or waiting my turn to go up and swing at the fat, slow, impossible-to-smash ball.  Either way, we were losing and losing badly, and I was unusually worked up about our lousy play and anguished about my role in this ongoing tragedy.  That’s why I struck up a conversation with God.  Starting out with the old nonsense about “I don’t ask for much” seemed like a worthwhile tactic.  I remember that much.  Shameless as can be, I begged for one little effort on the Almighty's part.  Was it so damned hard, making a couple balls fly where they normally didn't belong?

It’s interesting to consider:  What if we had rallied and won?  What if I was the boy who cranked the dramatic home run?  Would I now be approaching forty years of service to God as a priest in the Episcopal Church?

The image brings a chill.

Despite my temporary passion for softball, and despite all the good that might have come from one little miracle, we lost our game.  And I will take a moment now to argue that my experience is common.  No team has ever won shit through prayer.  Dumb luck, yes.  Ignorant foolish unfair luck never sleeps.  But when your team relies on its resident skeptic to talk to the Creator, then you know that you have already dug yourself a considerable grave.


On the subject of prayer:  I've read about studies that have tried to test the concept, studies generating data and using statistical methods to examine the data.  In particular, researchers have tried to determine if sickly people can be helped with nothing but a few well-practiced chants.

Guess what.  You can’t help them.

What I recall from one paper is that the only possible relationship, and this was very slight, was that more prayer was tied to a slightly reduced chance of survival.  In agnostic eyes that means big-hearted people know the patient is miserably sick, and they liked the old gal, and that’s why they throw in an extra dose or three of self-reported magic.

And my point in this?

I don’t believe in God’s existence.  But being agnostic, I have no taste for God’s nonexistence either.  Agnostics and atheists are different beasts.  We have separate meetings, different secret handshakes.  Atheists are The Faithful of a different sort, while agnostics have very few opinions about Cosmic politics. Personally I have nearly zero faith in every kind of magic.  A philosophy that has always hamstrung me as a fantasy writer, but the same sensibility has made a better, more furious SF writer.

As a rule, I don’t believe in optimism serving as a tonic for what ails you.  But being human, I’m capable of making wishes.  I wish for things that I can imagine, using a voice even less sophisticated than the voice used during prayer.  Sunshine after a long dreary patch of rain.
Who doesn’t imagine that?  Strong knees.  Everybody wants strong, stable knees. Everybody envisions professional successes, and if that happens, we greedily want more success.  And more than any other father in this universe, I wish my daughter finds enough happiness to carry her over life’s random disasters.

Being an SF writer, I also wish for truly big things.

A video transmission from aliens, for instance.

One lush plateau in the Amazon crowded with dinosaurs.

And I want an event that would seem utterly miserable should it occur.  But the misery brings humanity to its senses, which would a blessing beyond value.

I imagine the sudden release of melt water from the West Antarctic ice sheet.  That’s what I want for Christmas.  The seas rise a credible distance and in a frighteningly brief period of time.  I want people leaving Miami Beach and complaining to the cameras about their losses. Unfortunately I’m also hoping that a million strangers in Bangladesh drown or die as refugees.  A one-foot rise in one impossible year:  That would force the world to look hard at itself and make the easy necessary changes.

But being a charitable nonbeliever, I also wish that the collapsing glaciers manage to cool the southern seas enough to stop the melt for ten years, give or take.  Until we’re complacent again, and then another wave of destruction, and our resolve rises with the waves.


Modest Biblical floods aren’t among the most likely futures.  Data and the computer models show that three giant glacial masses are melting today.  Greenland and the two pieces of Antarctica.  They’ll undoubtedly melt faster in the future, but they probably won't peel away from the crust and ocean floor tomorrow, as in Hollywood spectacular-style.  Unless of course the models are wrong.  Which does happen now and again. So there's that hope, praise the Lord.

I won’t pretend optimism anywhere.  I don’t imagine any sudden fever of reason washing across the world.  Nations and entire cultures aren’t going to do the simple blunt and very workable act of taxing carbon.  Moral people can and will do minimal actions according to their own sensibilities.  I can lower my thermostat.  If my wife is at work, I can lower it even more.  I can also compost my banana peels and coffee grounds.  But those are tropical indulgences brought north at a respectable cost to the environment, and I still demand bananas and coffee in my life, and aren't I a shit?

The collective decency of smug people doesn’t change the grand equations. Certainly not in the time allotted.  The world is getting warmer.  There will be droughts and blistering summers punctuated with awful storms.  Nations will fail, and some of the collapses will have climate as a recognized agent.  There could even be patches of ground where summers grow too hot for too long.  Electrical systems will crash, air conditioners will crash, and wet-bulb temperatures best left in the lab will suffocate thousands and millions of praying souls.

No, I won’t pretend optimism here.

But I don’t believe in pure pessimism either.  And why is that?  Because I have a robust sense of human adaptability.

The average person will die younger than she “should”.  But barring other global disasters, lifespans in this century will remain long.  Certainly better than the mortality rates stood five centuries ago. And it's worth wagering that in every period of history, many people were absolutely convinced that they were content, if not outright happy.

Wealth is going to suffer.  Not that there won’t be rich people or fertile societies.  And for that matter, certain industries and professions will prosper during the coming decades.  We can hope that private militias aren’t the growth industry of 2051.  My suspicion is that some of my neighbors will make fortunes growing milo, that lowly grain that says “fuck you” to drought and heat. And anyone who builds compelling games and other virtual reality playgrounds...well, they'll be eating bananas at Starbucks long after the rest of us are dreaming of milo stew.

On the matter of imperiled nations:

Certain countries look risky on paper.  Drought and heat as well as political trouble could spell the end for Egypt.  And probably Texas too.  But Pakistan is perched near the top of my worry-list.  A mostly young population in a society with minimal infrastructures, a failing education system, and a government that won’t rid itself of corruption.  Plus uranium.  Pakistan has U-235 in abundance.  Which is the added spice for a cauldron that will probably simmer for the rest of this century, if not out and out explode.

And yet.

Put two hundred million Americans into today's Pakistan, and nothing good would happen.  We’d battle each other for power outlets.  We’d sit in the dark, weeping about lost comforts.  As long as we think like Americans, we would be useless to ourselves and our future. But miserable Pakistan has shown enough backbone to survive until now, which is an amazing, mostly unheralded accomplishment.

And then there’s India.  The larger, not-so-different brother of Pakistan certainly deserves concern.  Its bombs aren’t uranium-based, but plutonium, which is harder to steal and far harder to handle. And India seems enjoys more education and prosperity, a farther reaching bureaucracy, as well as a diverse and somewhat united population--if only in comparison to its neighbors.  But India also has too many people and too little potable water, and while the British left behind cricket and the iron-backed civil servant, they also left a fondness for burning coal and dreaming big.  Shifting monsoons and great droughts could ravage entire regions.  The heat alone might kill cities.  Or Pakistan dies, either in a regional war or from a succession of human-inspired disasters.  And living next to a radioactive failed state is the kind of nightmare that should put an Indian politician in the mood for making peace and building good lasting bonds.

Of course I’m not Indian.

Set me down in Mumbai, and I am as lost as a right-fielder with a toy glove.

Yet that spirit of deep ignorance makes me hopeful about the situation in southern Asia.

India and Pakistan have to come to terms.  Because the only choices besides accommodation are so very miserable, or unlikely, or just daft.

Will Pakistan ever have the power to remove its neighbor from the equation?


And even if India could win a blunt war, or avoid war with a dying Pakistan, what would remain?  A stateless neighbor, heavily armed and profoundly angry.  With U-235 sitting inside its file drawers.

With humans, at some point history and hate will mean less than a person's immediate survival.  And that’s the heart of what I wish for.

The idea is growing inside all of us, telling us that our survival is at stake.


I'm asking. Out of all the things people do with their days and nights, what is the most fundamental human activity? What can we do inside one long weekend, taking pleasure and then coming away telling ourselves, “Now that’s about as fundamental as you can get, all things considered.”

A weekend of dancing, some are thinking.

I hate dancing.

Drinking colorful cocktails.

Well, there certainly is that opinion.

Three days and nights of sex parties.

Really?  You’re thinking that?

What I’m suggesting here is an activity that cuts to the core of our species.  That reaches back to our very beginning.  Which communes with our forefathers in ways nothing else can.

I’m talking about L.L. Bean.

I am thinking about colorful tents and smoky fires, food eighty steps removed from grilled mammoth...and yet wild food nonetheless.


What I wish for is some event, vast and obvious, that leaves our world ready to camp.  I’m not imagining every stomach surviving on the paleo diet, which would be pretty much a nightmare for meat everywhere.  Or even everybody inside a tent.  No, I'm just hoping for a sequence of events that convinces us to take a little trip, building a new kind of home and new routines while living inside that more minimal existence.  Plane flights are rare.  When you travel, buses and self-piloted electric cars are the norm.  (I have little faith in American abilities to build continent-spanning train lines.)  By “camping”, I don’t mean misery.  I don’t even mean a standard of living that hearkens back to the 1880s.  I just want us to be fancy refugees on a world that is trying to take everything from us, and in order to free up resources for the great fight, we go camping for the next hundred years.

Al Gore loves the frog-in-the-warming-water story.

Lift the temperature gradually, and the frog doesn’t realize that he’s being cooked.

But let’s take the frog in a new direction.

Scare him.

Down he goes, diving deep into the cool depths of the pond, holding his breath until the danger vanishes.

That’s what I wish for.

People ready to make the dive.

But I won’t pray for it, no.  If God can’t fix a fucking softball game, She sure as hell can’t fix this inevitable mess.