Holiday reading

by Henry Farrell on August 15, 2003

One of my favorite silly science fiction novels from the 1960s, Fred Hoyle’s _Ossian’s Ride_, has long descriptions of the remote part of Ireland where I’m staying. Hoyle was Britain’s Astronomer Royal, and the main proponent of the now unfashionable Steady State theory of the universe’s origins (or, more precisely, lack of origins). He also wrote a few bad sf novels; _Ossian’s Ride_ is probably the worst of them. However, it’s interesting for what it says about attitudes to Ireland in the period when it was written.

_Ossian’s Ride_ presents an Ireland which has been transformed by a new industrial revolution. Irish firms have suddenly and mysteriously started to manufacture new super-light, super-strong materials, and the world wants to know how they’re doing it. But Irish authorities have declared large parts of the countryside off limits to foreigners. The hero of the novel (who’s British, if I remember correctly), goes through a series of sub-39 Steps adventures before finding his way to the Ring of Kerry, where he discovers that aliens have landed beside Caragh Lake, and have been giving the locals a helping hand.

For all of the novel’s hokey plotting, it’s fun to read if you know the places that Hoyle is writing about – he gets the geography right, so I imagine that he took a few holidays around here himself. And it’s interesting to note that a 1960’s UK scientist thought that a tech-savvy Ireland was a suitably outrageous starting point for a sf thriller. And that he presumed that the Irish would need help from space aliens to do anything about it. Ireland was then regarded (with some justification) as a bucolic, pre-industrial backwater. Of course, Ireland has since developed a world-class technology manufacturing and software sector, skipping past the industrial revolution without any alien intervention worth talking about (unless Bill Gates is from outer space).

Insert alien manufactory here

Darkness on the Edge of Town

by Jon Mandle on August 15, 2003

In my neighborhood, power was out for less than an hour. A few blocks away, it didn’t go out at all. In parts of New York City, it’s still not back. This morning, New York governor George Pataki said: “If you have power now, in addition to looking out for your neighbors, making sure everyone is OK, conserve energy. Don’t turn on the dishwasher, don’t use the air conditioner unless it’s absolutely essential.”

Now I’m all in favor of conserving energy, and pitching in to do one’s share is certainly a good thing, especially during a crisis. But I can’t help feeling some resentment, here. After all, we’ve decided to rely on market mechanisms and profit-making corporations to supply electricity. I’m not necessarily opposed to deregulation – frankly, I don’t know enough to say either way. But once that decision has been made, I do resent being told that my civic duty requires certain market behavior. After all, in this case, it’s the power companies that are not living up to their end of the bargain, not the consumers. It’s not that they are now making a windfall profit from the blackout – they’ve already done that by sticking with an “old and antiquated” infrastructure and not investing in the necessary upgrades that would have prevented this in the first place.

Instead of admonishing consumers to modify their behavior, why not force the power companies to adopt a market-based solution? When the power companies are unable to meet demand, force them to offer consumers an incentive to conserve – say, a voucher for each kilowatt hour they use below their average that can be redeemed for free power when the crisis is over. Otherwise, appeals to one’s civic duty smack of being just another marketing ploy.

Varieties of egalitarianism

by Henry Farrell on August 15, 2003

I’m on holiday in Kerry in South West Ireland, where the official history of a local golf club tells us that

bq. [xxxx Golf Club] has a proud history of equality, with Lady Gordon a full Captain in 1921 …