Saturday, February 05, 2005

FutureWorld for Dummies

Surfing blearily the other night, I came across a link to an article that will probably be unavailable soon and really should be read, from Daniel Snyder of the Mercury News:

Last week the National Intelligence Council, the CIA's think tank, released a 119-page report pondering the world the United States might face in 2020. In a reflection of the myopia of our times, the Washington Post's front page story focused almost entirely on the CIA's prediction that Islamic terrorism would still be with us 15 years from now.

Left for bare mention was the far more stunning vision that was the main focus of the intelligence report. By 2020, the document forecasts, the United States will have to share global domination with the rising Asian powers of China and India.

Now, since I've been studying Chinese partly on the grounds that should my present so-called career in Los Angeles crash and burn, I'd best have a back-up, this notion definitely caught my attention. After a quick Google, I went on over to the CIA's website and downloaded the report (available as a pdf file here).

Y'know, I always figured intelligence work was serious stuff. Existential, "Spy Who Came in From the Cold" kind of stuff, full of angst and betrayal and conflicts between loyalty and personal integrity. Okay, maybe I should have taken the hint from operations like Castro's exploding cigar that the CIA did not consist entirely of gray, dedicated men. Because now that I've skimmed through "Mapping the Global Future," I'm here to tell you that some significant portion of the CIA's analysts would really like to be in Hollywood. I mean, this report is slick. And purposefully entertaining, like one of those TV show tie-in books that features photo spreads of what's in some beloved character's closet. "Mapping the Global Future" has a mocked-up letter from the head of the Global Economic Forum to a former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman written from the perspective of the year 2020. It has selections from a "private diary" of a former U.N. Secretary General. There's also a missive from Osama Bin Laden's grandson, who complains to his followers that the establishment of the Caliphate did not deliver the Muslim world from the Crusaders as hoped. All this is done with snappy graphics, pretend stationary, diary pages, even "paper-clipped" post-it notes with "lessons learned" and "take-away points" scrawled across the top in sharpie font.

In the most seriously whacked-out section, two arms dealers conduct a conversation solely through text messages - meaning we get three pages with graphics of different colored phones talking to each other, messages on their screens, with occasional helpful explanatory notes from our CIA analysts done in blue blocks between the talking phones. To wit:

Green Phone: well better not, but I don't believe what those guys claim about protecting privacy. Too much has happened, martial law. Talk of preemption, special measures. Those operations last year wrapped up a big chain.

Gold Phone: You can't trust the Americans, and they have friends in the world to help them.

Green Phone: But maybe not as many as they think, if you know what I mean.

Helpful CIA analyst: Dealer A (in green) looks on the bright side. With the world slipping into a recession because of the terrorist attacks and the severe clampdown, he thinks he can get legitimate businesses to look the other way.

I appreciate the Helpful Analyst's explanations, because I don't think I necessarily would have picked all that up from the quoted conversation. Guys, I like what you're trying to do. Really. I think it has a lot of heart and smarts, some great characters, strong, built-in conflicts. But the dialog could use some work...

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