Monday, December 12, 2011

Gingrich and Science Fiction

As my 1996 paper "Understanding Newt Gingrich" points out, the former speaker has long had an interest in science fiction. (Also see Raymond Smock's HNN article on Asimov's influence on Gingrich.)

Michelle Quinn writes at Politico:

Some of his futuristic predictions were — and still are — far out. On Saturday, Mitt Romney pointed to one of Gingrich’s Jetsonian ideas to underscore their differences: “We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon.”

Gingrich earned the Star Wars-era nickname in the 1980s and '90s — back when his high-tech, futuristic proselytizing landed his face, bathed in electric lime, on the cover of Wired. He was often compared to Al Gore as an Internet evangelist; he enlisted Alvin Toffler, author of "Future Shock," as his tech adviser; and he held conferences through a think tank with the likes of John Perry Barlow and Esther Dyson.

Gingrich is still seen by some as a visionary on tech issues. Those geek credentials may help in his assault on Romney, who so far has cornered the market on key Republican names in Silicon Valley — such as HP CEO Meg Whitman and Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy.

“Newt is brilliant,” said Tim Draper, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley who helped to raise money this week for Romney. “He has a deep understanding of many technologies, but more importantly, he studied Silicon Valley and I believe he has a good understanding of why it works.”

William Broad writes at The New York Times:

In debates and speeches, interviews and a popular book, he is ringing alarm bells over what experts call the electromagnetic pulse, or EMP — a poorly understood phenomenon of the nuclear age.

The idea is that if a nuclear weapon, lofted by a missile, were detonated in outer space high above the American heartland, it would set off a huge and crippling shockwave of electricity. Mr. Gingrich warns that it would fry electrical circuits from coast to coast, knocking out computers, electrical power and cellphones. Everything from cars to hospitals would be knocked out.

“Millions would die in the first week alone,” he wrote in the foreword to a science-fiction thriller published in 2009 that describes an imaginary EMP attack on the United States. A number of scientists say they consider Mr. Gingrich’s alarms far-fetched.

Alexis Levinson writes at The Daily Caller:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich‘s hobby, he says, is studying “dinosaurs and other fossils.” He openly mourned the death of Knut the polar bear.Gingrich believes it is a “false dichotomy” to group policies according to whether they deal with the country’s economic problems or protect the environment. Instead, he thinks government can incentivize the production of new energy technologies, which would consequently help the environment and the economy by making the country less dependent on foreign oil.

And he is not short on ideas of how to do it. “One generation’s science fiction is the next generation’s practical reality,” wrote Gingrich in “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less,” a book he co-authored in 2008 with Vince Haley.

Here’s a sampling of some of Gingrich’s more interesting environmental ideas:

1) Build “a large array of mirrors [that] could affect the earth’s climate,” to extend farmers’ growing season. He outlined this proposal in his book “A Contract with the Earth.”

2) “A billion-dollar tax-free prize for a hydrogen engine that can be produced at a commercially available price. I think that we should have a substantial prize for developing the first engine that can be mass-produced that gets 100 miles or more to the gallon of fuel. I think that we should have a substantial research program under way for dramatically better ethanol products than corn or cane sugar,” he told Salon.com in an interview in 2007.