Conditions: Partly cloudy and 8° C.

Coordinates: unless.gain.books

The story so far… I was originally going to use the week’s edition of Five Futures to begin considering some of the trickier aspects of the notion of “growth”, and why I think that proponents of a “zero growth” world are proposing something significantly more radical than most of them actually realize.

But then the federal government here in the U.S. went into shutdown, and some observations seem warranted.

The first is, of course, that a government shutdown doesn’t mean that everything stops, even at the federal level. The military’s still out there doing it’s thing, Social Security checks still get cut, Robert Mueller will continue his investigation. But while a set of “essential” services continue, the bureaucratic neural tissue of the government has now been largely anesthetized, with the result that the beast will now shamble on like a slowly decaying, half-alive zombie until a deal between the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is reached. For most folks this is just political theater right now, but if the process of resolving the current impasse lasts much more than a few days then people are going to start to notice that something’s actually up. After a few weeks things will really start to fall apart.

But I don’t think that the current “impasse” will last all that long, and the reason for this is also the reason I think this little bit of local news is worth commenting on.

Just this past weekend, I remember talking to my mother and worrying out loud that the Democratic Party was beginning to evolve in a similar way as the Republican Party during the Obama Administration – basically, becoming a Party that was defined not by a set of ideas, or even interest groups, but rather purely in opposition to the (current) President. This was a strategy that seemed to work well for Republicans at the time, but has served them poorly once they regained power: Without an enemy to rally against, party discipline broke down and we learned that the better part of a decade without ideas beyond “whatever the opposite is of the black guy in the Oval Office” has effectively pithed the intellectual capacity of the GOP. Once back in power, the Republican Party has proven itself essentially incapable of actual governance. The Democrats have likewise begun to play the role of the “Party of No” during the first year of the Trump Administration, not that it’s mattered much until recently, as Republican ineptitude has left them with very little to do at the federal level.

The proximate cause of the current crisis is President Trump’s cancellation of the Obama-era DACA program that shielded people who had been brought to the U.S. as children without going through the proper channels from deportation. DACA was always a bit of a band-aid, and so everyone seemed to agree that Congress needed to come up with an immigration bill that would actually fix the situation DACA was intended to address. The only problem is that in the months since Trump canceled DACA have been filled with an almost Herculean level of goal-post moving that means that nobody is quite sure what Trump is actually willing to sign into law. This has lead Democrats to insist that some sort of immigration deal needs to be part of the present budget bill, which the Republicans aren’t willing to give them, probably because it’s a contentious internal issue for them with an unclear payoff, and they don’t have the party discipline anymore to actually line up the votes on.

Instead, the Republicans have offered a budget bill that includes re-authorization for a different program the Democrats favor, CHIP, which provides health care for poor children. Now, keeping the federal government running is pretty important, and I’d honestly expect people to vote on any budget bill that kept the lights on so long as it didn’t have some kind of absolutely terrible rider on it. So in my mind the expectation is that the Democrats (hell, everyone) should vote for the current “continuing resolution” even is the only thing it did was keep the federal government’s lights on, and the fact that the Republicans were nervous enough to give Democrats one of their priorities as part of the deal should be considered a free win.

Instead, we have a federal government shutdown, as far as I can tell for the sole reason that Democrats can hold the Republicans’ collective feet to the fire right now, and have thus decided that they must do so, and damn the consequences.

Which is why I don’t think this impasse will last that long: The Democrats don’t have a good reason not to vote for this bill, and I expect that there will be enough defectors (or threats of defection) to get a short-term spending bill passed by the end of the week at the latest, and probably by the end of the weekend. I would be very surprised if there’s anything extracted beyond a “promise” to consider immigration legislation in the near future.

(Of course, Trump could come out with some kind of inflammatory statement that makes everyone feel like they have to dig in their heels, but I’m really hoping that he’s too focused on golfing right now.)

Even if the current shutdown doesn’t last very long, it strikes me as an important milestone in hollowing out of the Democratic Party into a tribal “anti-Republican” vehicle, similar to how the Republican Party was hollowed out during the Obama era. That I happen to largely agree with the Democratic Party’s priorities gives me little solace here, as ultimately the reason that governments and societies continue to function has more to do with the strength of their institutions rather than the relative merits of their ideas. Should the Democratic Party truly become a mirror-image of the modern Republican Party, I fear the worst when it comes to the fate of the Republic.


The Deep Past

The Near Past

  • 20% of trees in the modern Amazon rain forest appear to be the result of human domestication.

  • There are (vertical!) windmills in Nashtifan, Iran that were built over a thousand years ago, and are still used to grind grain today. The windmills have been maintained by generations of custodians, but the last custodian has been unable to find an apprentice, leaving the future of the windmills in doubt.

  • The New Yorker reviews a suite of new books that suggests that question the benefits of modern agriculture and ask if we can recapture the egalitarian spirit that seems to allow some cultures to live a life of “affluence without abundance”. The answer is a tentative “yes”, but suggests that doing this would require a significant social shift in how we construct hierarchies. But perhaps we are already seeing the beginnings of such a change?

The Present

The Near Future

The Deep Future


Current projects… Got knocked out by some kind of weird not-a-flu this week, and consequently basically spent my time keeping my head above water rather than advancing project goals. Though I’m going to try to make some progress on the final phase of KLONDIKE right after I fire off this week’s missive. Wish me luck!

  • EPIPHYTE: A hardware infrastructure project.
  • DRAGOON: A corporate foresight project.
  • MANTA: A “bread-and-butter” documentation project.
  • KLONDIKE: A cloud infrastructure project.
  • MEMENTO: An ongoing writing project.
  • QUANTUM: A cloud infrastructure project.
  • CORONA: An ongoing public education project.
  • DELPHI: An as-yet-unspecified future venture.

Outro… A city becomes poetry.