25 June 2013

Accelerating the Float

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:45 am

[In light of ongoing blog discussions of Accelerationism, I thought I’d post the chapter that I’ve been editing this morning. It’s one of several “news reports from the future” interspersed through the novel. Suggested augmentations are welcome.]

TAHITI – The first three of fourteen floating tax-free islands being built in the South Pacific are ready for occupancy. Some two thousand of the wealthiest individuals and families in the world have commissioned the construction of the artificial archipelago as a residential and financial paradise. Together the islands will comprise a new nation-corporation, with citizenship granted to anyone paying one billion dollars into the archipelago’s development trust. According to domestic and international law, the floating nation will constitute a tax-free haven for the global earnings of each citizen.

The floating islands, located in the open sea twelve hundred miles east of Tahiti, represent a significant advance in large-scale artificial land technology. Each island is assembled from enormous modules that are themselves being constructed at a Peruvian offshore assembly facility and towed into position. Layered with topsoil, the artificial surface can support most varieties of the lush plant life and exotic bird species native to the South Seas habitat. The islands are convex, a hundred feet above sea level at the center and sloping gradually toward the ocean, where a layer of sand will be maintained as an artificial beach. Each citizen is deeded a wedge of property extending from the island’s apex to the shore. Residences, constructed from strong ultralight material, are limited to a single storey and will be built at least forty feet above sea level as protection against tropical storms and the high waves they can generate. Citizens are also permitted to erect beachside cabanas. An area of each island will be set aside for establishing a small village of sturdy, attractive huts that will be assigned to servants and nannies and other personnel supporting the citizens’ households.

Automobiles are prohibited, so residents will use bicycles and motorboats to get around. A limited number of cafés and small shops will be built on the islands. Groceries, clothing, and other bulkier commodities will be sold from ships that travel from island to island, ferrying customers back and forth from their homes. A small, fully outfitted cruise ship will house’s the archipelago’s schools. Teachers, support staff, and boarded students will live in the luxurious on-board suites, while day pupils take the hydroplane “bus” to and from school. Electricians, plumbers, police, and other maintenance personnel will make “house calls” to the islands from their motorboats. The service marina will thus comprise another sort of floating community within the perimeter of the artificial archipelago. A decommissioned aircraft carrier will function as the local airport, with commercial flights scheduled to and from Tahiti and Pago Pago. Citizens will also have the opportunity to purchase private craft hangar space on the carrier.

The islands are kept afloat by enormous bulkheads that sink half a mile beneath the surface. The bulkheads are automatically maintained at the optimal level of inflation by computerized pumps and pipelines mounted on low, subtly-landscaped platforms positioned a mile offshore of each island. Instead of being anchored to the seafloor, the islands are stabilized by means of a network of enormous underwater buoys submerged at varying, precisely calibrated depths. The buoys are automatically raised or lowered to adjust for variations in tides, currents, and temperature. On the surface, the islands are buffered against trade winds and waves by a circular system of levees, also anchored to underwater stabilizers, that completely surround the archipelago.

Collectively, the fourteen islands and their citizen-owners will comprise the floating nation-corporation. It is anticipated that, once formed, the archipelago’s government will rapidly establish the country as a tax-free, unregulated offshore financial center. It has been proposed that multinational corporations and partnerships of which island citizens own at least twenty percent will be granted tax-free status by the archipelago. Not surprisingly, financial institutions, shipping firms, and other companies desirous of taking advantage of the islands’ attractive business climate have begun wooing potential citizen-investors by means of designer low-price stock offerings, limited-liability partnerships, and hedge funds.

If the floating nation-corporation proves successful, the owner-citizens may consider expanding the territory, constructing additional islands within the protected perimeter or even extending territorial boundaries farther into the open seas. While citizenship presently costs a cool billion dollars, the sticker price might well go up in future offerings. Other wealthy consortia are forming to explore the possibility of launching their own start-up floating nations that would demand less up-front outlay.

The wealthiest one percent of the world’s population controls more than sixty percent of the world’s wealth; soon most of that wealth might be sailing out to sea. Traditional land-based countries, watching their tax revenues floating away, are rapidly lowering their tax rates in order to compete.

16 June 2013

Dark Flavors

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 10:24 am

Usually in the summertime I prefer light tastes: sherbet to ice cream, chicken to beef, lettuce to eggplant. This week, though it was hot outside, my cooking seemed to gravitate toward the dark side of the palate.

Granola. Lately the store-brand oatmeal has been tasting too earthy when prepared in the traditional way, so the other morning I turned it into granola. Heat some butter and peanut oil in a big skillet; dump in the oats with some raisins and broken-up pecans; season with cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg; near the end add a little brown sugar and maple syrup. The complex toasty aroma filled the house, reminding me of something I couldn’t quite place. I left the granola in the pan to cool, so it kept cooking for awhile unattended. It was delicious of course, but also darker in color and in flavor than when I’d turned off the stove, and darker certainly than the usual store-bought version. Not quite scorched, but with a subtle back note of bitterness joining the grainy nutty sweetness — sort of like Guinness.

Dinner. The night before last I thawed a chicken breast, as usual expecting that by dinnertime I’d figure out something to do with it. In the cupboard that afternoon I spotted a jar of artichoke hearts, which got me thinking about cooler-weather flavors. I sliced mushrooms, strips of red bell pepper, purple onion, and garlic, sautéing them with walnut pieces and plenty of black pepper in some of the duck fat I had reserved from the duck breasts I’d cooked at Christmas. Later I added half of the artichoke hearts with a splash of the liquid, capers, and some infused oil from a container of olives and garlic I’d gotten at the deli counter. In another pan I cooked some asparagus in butter and beef broth with a little salt and sugar. When both vegetable dishes were done I put them in a warm oven while I made myself a mint julep: mint leaves fresh from the garden muddled in the glass with sugar and whiskey and topped with crushed ice. I set a pot of water on to boil for some flat noodles, then I sliced and seasoned the chicken breast and sautéed it in butter. The cooked chicken I topped with grated parmesan and swiss, placing it in the warm oven where the cheese melted without bubbling. The sauce: pan drippings, homemade chicken stock, cream, dry sherry, white wine, fresh sage, thyme, and oregano. The chicken, the mixed veggies, and the noodles fill the plate, blurring into each other a bit; across the top the asparagus spears recline, bisecting the plate; sauce is poured generously over the noodles and the chicken. It’s an elegant, somewhat casual presentation, reminding K of a fashion model slouching along a runway. It is served with chardonnay, although if I’d remembered the bottle of dry French rosé in the fridge it would have been perfect. The aftertastes are subtly of black pepper and sherry.

Tiramisù. I’d made this dish recently, but on request I reprised it last night. Espresso, dark rum, grated unsweetened chocolate…

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