Every time I've passed a television set today, someone's been doing a featurette about "Back to the Future" Day. Today - October 21st 2015 - chances to be the actual date of the fictional future into which the stars of Back to the Future II were propelled, thirty years ago. Nothing the movie predicted back in the Eighties has come to pass - no flying cars, no hoverboards. The most exciting development of the past quarter-century has been the transformation of the telephone into a miniature typewriter that also plays pop songs.
I don't fault the makers of Back to the Future II for predicting all that high-tech stuff that never came to pass. Well, actually, come to think of it, I do. It was already obvious in 1985 that the western world was slowing down. In a certain profound sense, our civilization has given up on the future - which is why, if you were really to propel someone forward from thirty years ago, they'd mainly be amazed that Central Europe is now a Muslim refugee camp and Communist China is a dominant economic power.
But putting all that to one side, what happened to innovation? As is often said, the chief invention of the 19th century was invention: Our Victorian forebears transformed the rhythms of life that had prevailed for most of human history. The internal combustion engine conquered distance, the electric light bulb conquered night. The first half of the 20th century unleashed that transformative potential.
And in the second half? My bestselling book After America (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore, he plugs desperately) has a whole section on this, using not a flying DeLorean but something closer to H G Wells' original time-travel apparatus:
In the book I quote Bruce Charlton, Professor of Theoretical Medicine at the University of Buckingham in England:
The personal computer is, of course, an important exception to the above thesis. Except that to the more ambitious governments around the world smartphone technology is a 24/7 electronic ankle bracelet with a complimentary Justin Bieber download. Paul Rahe:
So there are no flying cars. But the earthbound ones now come equipped with technology that will permit governments to keep a record of everywhere you go.
And, if Obama or Cameron or Hollande or Merkel or Malcolm Turnbull or - drumroll, please! - Justin Trudeau were to propose activating that technology in the interests of reducing your carbon footprint, most citizens of western nations would nod approvingly in the cause of "saving the planet".
from Topical Take, October 21, 2015
Ninety years ago today - October 13th 1925 - Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in Grantham, an English market town in the East Midlands. Raised in a flat above her father's grocery shop, she grew up to become a research chemist, a barrister, and finally a politician - and one of the rare consequential ones, those who shape events as opposed just to stringing along with them...
The birth of a brand new out-of-copyright song
This column comes by way of request from several readers, ever since the demise of Cecil the Lion hit the front pages. Here is the story of the biggest hit ever to come out of Africa - and why its author never reaped the benefits: In the jungle, the mighty jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight... A third of a century ago, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" got to Number One in Britain for Tight Fit. Can't quite place Tight Fit? It sounds like a vaguely parodic name for a boy band, but in fact they were a coed ...
President Obama has wrapped up his tour of Africa. It was notable, insofar as that word can be applied to the trip, for his somewhat condescending and neo-colonial lecture to his hosts on the need to ease up on the old homophobia...
Via Ed Driscoll I see that it's half-a-century since Bob Dylan recorded "Like A Rolling Stone". Here's what I had to say about the great man upon the occasion of his 60th birthday back in May 2001. Re the Dean Martin reference below, note that Dylan's big new release this Sinatra centenary year is his album of Frank covers, the very cleverly named Shadows In The Night. The piece below is anthologized in my book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, personally autographed copies of which are ...
The effusions of the US media's court eunuchs over Mrs Clinton's ability to pass as an "everyday American" and actually visit a Chipotle suggest this is going to be a very long 18 months...
The news that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will not contest the next election and has decided to ride that lonesome trail into the sunset of lobbying and consulting naturally reminded me of the great man's finest hour...
A year later, officialdom catches up with Steyn's assessment of an American deserter
Mark continues to be clobbered by ill health. So we thought readers might enjoy this column from 2008, arising from a Dutch novelist's plaintive plea that "Islam must learn to laugh at itself". Seven years later, on the streets of Paris and elsewhere, we're seeing how well that's worked out...
The Continent seems to have developed a certain psychological ease with the routine murder of Jews
Here's what I wrote when the Cartagena hooker scandal broke back in 2012...
It has taken a mere 17 years for Tony Blair's devolution proposals to bring Scotland to the brink of secession. Here's what I wrote at the time in The Sunday Telegraph on July 27th 1997...
The severed head is the message
To all our American readers, Happy Independence Day!
I mentioned this 2002 column of mine last week in connection with the Saudi Ambassador's idiosyncratic response to it. But it seems appropriate to give it a full-blown rerun...
Bowe Bergdahl and John Walker Lindh bookend a war
The penises go missing in Burkina Faso...
Is Godzilla a metaphor for a world without metaphor?
The lies of Benghazi are worse than Watergate
The IRS advances to "pre-auditing"
"You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem..."
Strange how the monarchical urge persists even in a republic two-and-a-third centuries old...
From Jeremy Irons to Phil Robertson
From 2011: Steyn vs Detroit
Steyn's Greatest Hits
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