Fundamentals

February 17th, 2012  |  Published in commentary

In 2008, the US economy crashed, bringing much of the world economy with it. The bulk of the crash was blamed on the housing markets, but really, it was about concentration of wealth. If incomes for the majority of the population remain stagnant for thirty years, but the median cost of a house increased tenfold and health care costs have gone through the roof, then is it any surprise that the economy crashed?

What is worrying is that nothing fundamental has changed about our economy. There are no new safeguards for consumers and wealth is still percolating to the top. Still people are starting to talk about recovery. But a recovery based on what? The idea that things will get better without some sort of fundamental change is naive at best. If you want to see what it looks like when you try to force things to get better without actually fixing the problem, I suggest you look towards Greece.

I don’t like it, but the more I pay attention to the news, the more I think that John Robb may be right, perhaps we are turning into a hollow state, after all. If you’r wondering what all of this has to do with writing, this is the sort of thing that is on my mind when I write things like Uprising and Soapbox (which I will start adding to again later in the month).

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Soapbox Part 19

December 16th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 19 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

No one had an answer, and for the next fifteen minutes the conversation skittered from topic to topic as they made their way to the Bazaar. When they arrived they found the entire alleyway cleared. Or at least that was how it looked to Ethan. It had been less than an hour since they had received the alert, the alleyway was almost certainly under residual surveillance.

“So what now?” Ethan asked.

“In about five hours, it will be rush hour and we can make it to Alternate C,” Bridget said.

“Until then?” Ethan asked.

“We need to lie low, you can come over to our place and get cleaned up, or you can head to your own place and we can meet up later,” David said.

“If it’s not too much trouble, I’ll come with you,” Ethan said.

The apartment was not what Ethan expected. Apparently, when David had said ‘our’ he had meant his, Jess’s, and Bridget’s. The apartment had two bedrooms and a common area with a semi-detached kitchen. Other than that, it looked remarkably like Ethan’s apartment: there was a large couch that faced a TV on the wall, bookshelves loaded with books and other random items, and several tablets all vying for outlet space.

“Give me a minute to find you a towel, then the shower’s yours,” David said.

The shower felt incredibly good, and it was only the knowledge that three other people were waiting on him to finish that got Ethan out in a reasonably short time. When he emerged, the common area was noticeably cleaner, although it hadn’t been very dirty to start with.

“How–” Ethan began.

Bridget cut him off. “Jess is a graphic designer. Between that and unemployment we make it work.”

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Soapbox Part 18

December 14th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 18 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

“Six hours, we’re just supposed to wait this out?” Ethan asked. The idea of doing nothing seemed antithetical to everything he had experienced of the Bazaar.

“No, that message is sent out so that people don’t feel obligated to join a confrontation with security forces,” Jess said, standing up from the table. The others followed suit. “That doesn’t mean that we need to stay away completely, however, just that we need to be careful.”

“Do you want to come with?” Bridget asked.

“Yes,” Ethan said without hesitation. He wondered how much of his motivation was due to actually wanting to help and how much was because a cute woman had asked. Either way, he was going. He got up from the table, and the four of them started to leave the bar.

Before they reached the door, David told them to wait for a minute and ran back to the bar. When he returned, he said, “Sorry about that, I just wanted to warn Bill about what was going on.”

“Good idea,” Bridget said.

With that, the four of them climbed the concrete steps out onto the sidewalk, squinting under the midday sun, and started to make their way towards the Bazaar. As they walked, Ethan was torn between watching the sky for swarms of drones and telling himself that people weren’t staring at them, that it was just paranoia on his part.

“I know it’s kind of a strange question,” he said. “But what are we going to do when we get there?”

Sorry about the delay, but my head hurts like hell right now, getting the words out at all was tough. I’ll add this bit to the story page in the afternoon.

Update 1:45 – My head is feeling better and part 18 has been added to the Soapbox page.

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Soapbox Part 17

December 12th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 17 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

“I think–” Jess said, but cut herself off as her phone started to vibrate against the glass.

Next to it, Davids phone was doing the same, and Ethan could feel his phone going off in his pocket. A second later Bridget’s phone began ringing. Ethan didn’t know what was going on, but judging by the looks on the others’ faces, it wasn’t good. They all checked their phones, and Ethan found a notification waiting for him when he woke his up.

Drones massing in area, attack on Bazaar imminent. Remove SD card and meet at Alternate C in six hours. Everyone else was already popping out their SD cards or prying off their battery covers, Ethan did the same.

“What just happened?” he asked when he had finally gotten his battery out and removed the SD card tucked underneath.

“Before an attack comes on the Bazaar they like to scout it with drones, so when we detect them massing nearby, we assume the worst,” Bridget said.

“Will everyone be alright?” Ethan asked.

“Probably, we usually get out in time. We lose a lot of our stuff when this happens, but we can usually be up and running again in a few days,” Bridget answered.

“Sometimes they manage to change it up so that we don’t detect it in time, but not often,” David added.

Ethan didn’t need to ask what that meant. He thought back to the man speaking at the impromptu rally less than a week ago, about the drone that had silenced him. He felt a shadow of that same helplessness, but when he looked around the table, none of his new friends seemed to feel the same way. It was as though the mere presence of a plan and the knowledge that they would simply pick up and start again immunized them against defeat.

Well, I’ve finally done enough setup, now things actually start to happen.

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Soapbox Part 16

December 9th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 16 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

After they had all decided, Bridget went over to the bar to order while the rest of them searched for a place to sit. They eventually settled on two Pac-man arcade tables that had been pulled together. With the game demo going on underneath the beer glasses, it looked like Pac man was trying to eat power pellets that were ten times his size and the ghosts were merely guards chasing him around.

“So what did you think of working in the garden?” Jess asked from across the table.

“I didn’t think that I’d like it, but it wasn’t bad,” Ethan said. “Beats not working.” He had been thinking about it as they had walked to the bar. At first he thought that maybe it just felt good to be useful, to be doing something, anything. But then he had flashed back to memories of his last job, working as seasonal holiday help in a big electronics store. Working in the garden was better, much better.

“Glad to hear it,” Bridget said.

“I do have a question, though,” he said. “I was under the impression that the Bazaars were trying to decouple themselves from the global economy, but here we are, drinking beer in a pub. Is the pub part of the system, or what?”

Jess answered. “You’re right about trying to decouple from the global economy, but it’s not something that can happen overnight. A few years ago, the Bazaars were mostly people selling handmade illegal or semi-legal technology, anti-surveillance stuff. Now we grow enough food to feed a thousand people or so, and there’s exciting stuff coming with 3D printers and cheap CNC machines. It’s a process.”

“There’s more to it than that,” Bridget said. “Really, what we’re trying to do is get rid of our reliance on the global economy. Ultimately, we still want to be part of it, but we want it to work for us and not the other way around. As for the pub, the owner has similar thinking, but he isn’t part of the Bazaar. He does accept bitcoins, though, because of his semi-legal status.”

“That helps, thanks,” Ethan said.

“There’s more about it on the BazOS, if you’re interested,” David said.

“I get the feeling that I’ll be hearing that a lot,” Ethan said.

I feel bad that I haven’t mentioned CNC (Computer Numerical Control machines are things that can take a set of digital plans and mill or machine a piece of wood, plastic, or metal into the shape described) or 3D printing yet, as these technologies look like they will be hugely disruptive, and probably to the benefit of the people rather than the corporations.

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Soapbox Part 15

December 7th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 15 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

“You’re right on that point, and a lot of us agree with you,” David said. “But my take on it is that there is a value in cities, despite their faults. There are places that would be easier, or are already closer to where we want to be, but the point of this isn’t to do the easy thing.”

“Are you two about done over there?” Jess called from the other side of the roof.

“Yeah, just give us a few minutes,” David called back.

Ethan took the cue and went back to work. Within a few minutes they were finished and met Bridget and Jess back at the stairwell after they had locked up their tools.

“Anyone up for a beer?” Bridget asked. Jess and David both accepted, so Ethan did too. It was just after lunchtime, he had nothing better to do.

A couple of blocks from the building was a pub in a basement space. The only indication of it from the street was a small bronze plaque embossed with the letters PVP. Inside, there were only a couple of tables, most of the space was taken up by arcade games and pinball machines, the older ones flashing primary colors, the newer ones glowing with the bluish white of LCD screens. The sounds of the games made the place feel pleasantly full, even though it was almost empty on account of the hour.

“How have I never heard about this place?” Ethan asked.

“They don’t advertise much,” David said.

“Probably on account of them not actually being a legitimate business establishment,” Jess said.

“I see.”

“What do you want? I’ll buy,” Bridget said.

Not much here, technologically speaking, but I do think that the point about picking your fight is important. If you look at Canada, they have a lot of things that we might view favorably (health care or election seasons that are limited to about a month rather than over a year, for example) but if everyone who wanted those things just moved there instead of trying to improve where they live now, things wouldn’t get any better here, and might well get worse there (I believe that having nice things takes work and sacrifice, and if you get them for free you don’t necessarily understand how they came about and might not be properly equipped to protect them).

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Soapbox Part 13

December 2nd, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 13 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

“I’m getting there,” David said. “My point was that communities are a function of necessity. And in order for a community to function you need manners. Manners are basically protocols for how to act around someone who you may dislike or disagree with but may have to rely upon in the future.

“One of the goals with the Bazaar is to build a community, and part of that is taken care of by our collapsing infrastructure, we all need each other in ways that we haven’t in generations. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for all of the forgotten etiquette to figure itself out, we don’t want to be stuck in the middle of pointless internecine conflict as the world falls down around our ears.

“Which is where the obsession with handshakes comes in. If you look at manners as a protocol similar to the ones that run computer networks, then you can codify it. Furthermore, you can treat it as an open source protocol, all you have to do is try a behaviour for a while with the people you meet, and document the results. The great thing is that you don’t even need the other person to agree with you or know what you’re doing.”

“Does that mean that you’re going to go and post that I’m a bit weirded out by all of the handshaking, then?” Ethan asked.

“That was the first issue that we ran into when we posted the handshaking protocol,” David said. “Right now the debate is about whether it’s genuinely weird or just unfamiliar to people, and what benefits it might have.”

“You’ve really spent a whole lot of time on this whole etiquette thing, haven’t you.”

“We are, and I’m also part of the working group that deals with it, but really the credit goes to a science fiction writer a while back who started the ball rolling on this whole thing.”

The ideas here owe just about all of their credit to Karl Schroeder, specifically his fantastic essay on Rewilding Ettiquette, which you should go and read now, if you haven’t already. While I’m talking about him, I also want to say that you should check out his books Sun of Suns and its sequels were some of the best books that I’ve read in the last year, Steampunkish without the romanticization of the Victorian era. The rest of his blog posts are excellent reading, as well.

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Soapbox Part 12

November 30th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 12 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to know what’s going on, this is a serialized story that I’m posting as I write, 250 or so words at a time added each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

They worked side by side in silence for a while after that, both lost in the rhythm of work until Ethan spoke up.

“I know this is a weird question, but . . .” he began.

“Don’t worry about it,” David said.

“What’s with all of the handshaking? It feels like a cross between a cult and a leadership seminar,” Ethan said. He had hoped that the translation of his thoughts into spoken words might make them less awkward, but David didn’t have an immediate answer and the words just hung between them.

“You mean you differentiate between the two?” David said with a laugh. Ethan let out the breath that he hadn’t realized he had been holding. “Good question, though. Think about it this way, as a society we no longer form communities, just networks.”

“Wait, what? What’s the difference?” Ethan asked.

“A network is a group of people who all agree with each other, a community is a group of people brought together by the common good,” David said. “We no longer associate with people that we don’t agree with. When was the last time you heard about someone asking their neighbor for a cup of sugar? We no longer need our neighbors, we just run to the convenience store and buy some rather than risking interaction with the people who we should know.”

“OK, but I don’t see how that fits in with handshakes,” Ethan said.

I’m going to save my notes for this one for Friday’s post, as they will make more sense at that point.

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Soapbox Part 11

November 28th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 11 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to read the whole story, you can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Enjoy.

“Let me show you around,” David said, and began leading Ethan around, narrating as he went.

The roof had been covered with soil formed into long rows. They were growing everything from spinach and lettuce to potatoes to garlic and onions. The northern edge of the roof had a row of short trees and bushes planted in large makeshift pots, most of which appeared to have been cut from 55-gallon plastic drums. Stacks of white boxes were sitting in front of the trees, and it took Ethan a moment to recognize them as bee hives. Near the stairwell was a series of cubical compost bins.

“This looks like a lot of work,” Ethan said.

“Not really, with everything in rows and well spaced, three of us can usually go through it in an hour or two with the hoes,” David said and pointed to where Jess and Bridget were already halfway through the rows that they had started.

“What about the rest of the time then?” Ethan asked. “Why the four hour shift?”

“After that, we harvest and pack up anything that’s ready to head to the Bazaar, and do other maintenance things, like turning the compost and maintaining the tools,” David said. “Ready to get started?”

“Sure,” Ethan said.

David retrieved two long handled hoes from the tool bin, and after a brief tutorial on its use, Ethan was able to spare enough of his attention to talk as he worked.

“This isn’t so bad,” he said. “I had pictured it as spending all day on my knees pulling weeds out under the hot sun.”

“I know, its like people have been farming for ten thousand years, right?”

“When you put it that way,” Ethan said, feeling like an idiot.

“Don’t worry,” David said. “All you ever see on TV is people planting everything so tight that they have to do things the hard way.”

“Why do they do it that way, then?”

“With intensive gardening, you can get a lot more food out of a smaller space, but it just doesn’t scale. It makes sense for a three hundred square foot garden, just not here.” David waved his free hand to indicate the entirety of the roof area. Ethan did a quick mental calculation and realized that the roof was probably 10,000 square feet.

“Wow,” Ethan said, and turned his attention back to his work, questions temporarily exhausted. David did the same.

I hope the gardening stuff didn’t bore you to tears, but I felt it necessary to explore in order for the Bazaars to be believable. The idea of using a row system rather than raised beds came directly from Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, which also happens to be my favorite gardening book for Washington State. If you didn’t like this section, though, don’t worry, I will be going back to talking about culture and technology on Wednesday.

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Soapbox Part 10

November 25th, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here’s part 10 of Soapbox (unedited, as usual). If you are new here and want to read the whole story, you can skip back to part one, or read the entire thing as one page. Since I’m not posting this live, I won’t be adding this bit to the story page until Monday or Tuesday next week. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and that you don’t have to work today.

Bridget had been right, the garden that he had been assigned to was only a few blocks from his apartment. He hadn’t even finished his coffee when his phone beeped at him through his headphones. The screen read ‘Roof 8341′. He hesitated outside. It was an apartment building with a locked door between him and the lobby. He looked at his phone again, then pressed 8341* on the keypad. The door buzzed and he went inside.

He took the elevator to the top floor, and then found the door that said ‘ROOF – RESTRICTED ACCESS’. It was unlocked. A short flight of stairs later he was standing under an open sky hemmed in by mostly empty office buildings, their purpose having fled overseas. Three people were standing around a plastic storage box that was being used as a table. One of them peeled off to meet him halfway.

“Ethan, glad you made it!” Bridget said. She tapped the screen of her phone and pocketed the device.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said.

“I”m not stalking you, I swear,” she said. “Come on.”

She led him over to the box/table and introduced him to David and Jess, complete with the usual handshakes. David offered him a big mason jar of orange juice, but Ethan declined, holding up his travel mug.

Jess offered him a donut, which he took. “See, donuts are what the people want,” she said to David.

“You just wait, OJ will win out in the end,” David replied, eyes narrowed in exaggerated hostility. They both laughed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring anything,” Ethan said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Bridget said. “It’s probably for the best, these two can get a bit competitive.”

“Really?” Ethan said. After the laughter subsided, he asked “So what are we going to be doing today?”

And yes, there was an Invader Zim reference in there.

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