Thoughts on Unity (the principle, not the games engine)

I am musing about the concept of unity.

I never really thought about Irish unity until recently. The Republic of Ireland has always been a foreign land, somewhere to visit, somewhere to holiday, but not home. It is a land populated by friends and good memories.

From what I can tell the province of Ulster has always been people apart. Reading the Ulster Cycle it was clear our myths and legends diverged.

The concept of Irish unity therefore needs to be on multiple fronts; cultural, economic, social and national.

The first issue is that as an outsider I see the Republic of Ireland as united. There may be issues with the haves and the have-nots, there may even be issues between the city folk and the rural folk, the people of the west and those in the east but they are one people, secure in their identity.

It’s not the same in Ulster. We have three cultures at war – nationalists, unionists and everyone else; corresponding roughly to the discrete identities of "Irish", "British" and "why does it matter?"

Our economies could not be more different. Ireland is a sovereign nation prepared to do what’s necessary. Northern Ireland is a province of subjects, beholden to London for any creature comforts.

There are other differences; the Irish are hungry for business, buoyant in their humour, liberal in their attitudes and optimistic in their outlook. The subjects of Ulster are self-deprecating, suspicious of outsiders, conservative, risk-averse, and pessimistic about the future.

Ireland is not haunted by the constitutional question. Beyond a few, the attitude of the Irish to a United Ireland seems to be "Aye, grand"

Northern Ireland is haunted constantly by this. We are categorised by either being for or against. Our media refuses to recognise the rest of us who ultimately could care less. And it’s holding up progress, it’s causing poverty, division and violence.

Could we build a future without fossil fuels?

Thanks to @JoanneJacobs for putting this into my tweet stream. Thanks to @aeonmag for posting it.

Given the dwindling reserves of crude oil left in the world, it could be argued that the most wasteful use for this limited resource is to simply burn it. We should be carefully preserving what’s left for the vital repertoire of valuable organic compounds it offers.

it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that a progressing society could construct electrical generators and couple them to simple windmills and waterwheels, later progressing to wind turbines and hydroelectric dams.

The rest of the article revolves around a scenario where we do not have energy abundance. But, that’s not reality. We live in an energy-abundant (relative to us) universe. Our failure to harvest it, our failure to take advantage of the energy surrounding us allows us to rely on “ancient energy concentrates” like fossil fuels.

This is one of the reasons I’m not fussed on hybrid cars. I see them as the modern day equivalent of the “faster horse”. It’s a hand-aid when the solution is to amputate.

The biggest, and perhaps the only, opposition to electric vehicles I have heard from self-confessed petrol heads is that the whine made by electric cars doesn’t compare to the roar of a V8.

Maybe we should play the phut-phut sound of the first internal combustion engines and see hither that is music to their ears. We’ve grown up with the roar of engines, it’s going to take a while for people to rid themselves of that affectation.

The article is most correct in that the worst thing we can do with our oil is burn it. We also need to stop subsidising the production of fossil fuels and put that investment into our own energy security. A nation that is dependent on others for energy is not secure.

I’m not advocating for a second we return to an agrarian lifestyle. I like the Internet and travel – but there are better ways and it’s not always cutting edge science that can deliver for us.

So can we rebuild our modern society in an energy-secure fashion, relying on sustainable fuels and renewable energy? Of course we can; but more importantly, it is necessary that we must.

Somebody had to move first…

If you read nothing else today, read this by Kameron Hurley. It will take you a while so get a warm drink or a sugary lozenge and buckle up.

I remember being on the train in Chicago in a car with about a dozen other people. On the other side of the car, a man suddenly fell off his seat. Just… toppled over into the aisle. He started convulsing. There were three people between me and him. But nobody said anything. Nobody did anything.

I stood up, “Sir?” I said, and started toward him.

The entire article is about how we have a common and distasteful narrative of our lives and we struggle through sheer inertia and laziness to break out of it. It affects more than half the population in very negative ways. As we accept the normal narrative, we reinforce it. How a parent or mentor accepts these tropes has a direct effect on children and apprentices. It becomes necessary for us to upset these toxic memes and develop a new narrative that can be accepted. In this new narrative, any human can express themselves, any human can excel and position is based on merit. It works for all of us too as in the new narrative, the tyrants of the old narrative are forgiven.

It makes me wonder again how to write the stories I want to write. How I have struggled to write good narrative for my far-future heroine, Kesho Mbaye in my FRONTIER game. I struggle because I want to get it right; Kesho deserves more than a sidelining or to be the spoils of any male-pride display. She becomes an adult in a world that has been made free of the social tyranny of before and where the robber barons have been punished. Her life is hard but she knows she has the power to make the world a better place.

Kesho, a Zambian-born farmers daughter, rebuilds education in a post-apocalytpic Earth, scratching words in the sand and founding a series of international schools. She is mentioned first in helping her father as he tills the fields but as soon as she is able to cast off the shackles of societal duty, she does. And then she flies.

Kesha’s spiritual successor in the story is Masira Ba, another woman whose impact was to give humanity the first steps off the ruined earth and into futuristic space habitats. At no point do I mention her husband or the male influences of her life, I do mention the success of her sisters.

I want to make the default different. It’s hard to find an action movie without the hero being white or male or both. Even when the protagonist is female, there are often compromises and the writers forget they are dealing with humans and not just archetypes. Those of us who remember how awesome it was to see Ripley save the day in Aliens for the first time probably witnessed a sea change in the media. Yes, it took science fiction to do it but in the straight horror genre, she would have continued as the Lost Girl/Lady Survivor archetype. But give that archetype a machine-gun duct-taped to a flamethrower and you’ve just changed the narrative.

Thanks to @AngieMcKeown for pointing out the article to me.

Augmented Humans…

Jemima Kiss writes at the Guardian:

What if a bionic leg is so good that someone chooses to amputate?

This raises some intensely challenging issues about whether we will see a far more profound human digital divide, already hinted at in sci-fi countless times: the augmented, and the unaugmented.

Those of us who have been following sci-fi have seen this before. Witness the hero of Cyberpunk 2013, Johnny Silverhand:


Would you be happier with a bionic eye that had zoom, camera, night vision and a pico projector? Would you want rewired reflexes? Would you want a port in your temple for uploading books and content or downloading memories that you don’t think you need right now?

Would you want a second heart? A lung that could remove toxins? Maybe even a gland that helps you regulate your body fat?

(Link via @ultramegajones)

2015 Elections

When you don’t want to vote for a sectarian party in Northern Ireland, you’ve always been limited. When I was growing up, the only realistic choice was the Alliance Party because it was the party of people who were just not happy with the “situation”. It was a safe harbour but it never really got anywhere and their fortunes have waned as participation in voting has decreased.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good Friday Agreement showed that the people do care. There were 200,000 people who voted Yes who then never voted again. They cared enough to turn out and vote but they were totally turned off by voting for our local parties. Could it be that the choices were just bad and ugly? You could vote for the same old crap, the same old crap or the same old crap. And it ushered in a whole new series of complaints, corruption and, possibly worst of all, the Petition of Concern. That weapon has been used to inflict the worst travesties of injustice I have ever seen.

Left, Right, Left

Obviously last year a group of mostly lefty lunatics banded together to create NI21 in the hope it could give more choice, no, a better choice for everyone. It was easily conceived, attracted more than its fair share of criticism from the media and was endlessly attacked by political rivals (especially those who were from non-sectarian parties). But for those of us who helped, it cemented some friendships but really it showed us that we, the disaffected, were not alone. But we were quickly leaderless and while that Titanic mess was sinking, the senior members of the party were bailing out with thimbles.

All Things Are Not Created Equally

I feel we have been let down most of all by some of the non-sectarian parties in our midst. Those who would quickly remind us they have heaps of LGBT members (and even some politicians), have failed multiple times to whip their elected members into supporting the Marriage Equality bills that have been considered by the Assembly. At the last count, Alliance (the part of equality) managed to field only 50% of their MLAs with a Yes vote and even that was whipped by their leader (the party whip was conspicuous in his absence from the vote).

The Grass is Always Greener

Thankfully things are a little better now. In North Down (where I live), we have managed to carve out a bastion of anti-sectarian politics in the form of the Green Party. It’s clear that I’m not going to agree with all of their policies*, especially the anti-science policies.

  • The Green Party would increase funding into the research of holistic medicine, oppose regulation of complementary and alternative medicine. Why not regulate?
  • The Green Party would oppose GMO foods because they are unquantifable, rather than increasing research to it. What?
  • The Green Party are opposed to Stem Cell research. Full stop. Because of unknown consequences. What?

And many of their economic policies like their EU stance and their party policy on taxing goods from outside Britain. Which is fine if we’re going to return to a mostly agrarian economy. And their ideas on a wealth tax, although welcome, are completely out of touch with reality; they could be well served to look at France in that respect.

I can’t vote for the SNP in Northern Ireland. I had hope, last year, we would see the creation of a new country in Europe which would usher in a new exemplar to follow. I’ve been incredibly impressed with Estonia and Croatia in ways that Northern Ireland could have emulated. But even with a £10Bn annual gift, Northern Ireland couldn’t pull itself out of poverty.

  • I’ll be voting for aggressive investment in renewable energy to establish energy security for the UK and reduce our dependence on nuclear energy and remove our need to get involved in Middle East turf wars.
  • I’ll be voting for better legislation for Electric Vehicle adoption and introduction of legislation for personal electric vehicles (which interestingly enough was a manifesto point of the current coalition – something they failed to address while selling off the NHS.)
  • I’ll be voting for Steven Agnew, not for the Green Party.