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Friday, March 4, 2011

A Modest Proposal

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The report below was leaked to me from a City Hall insider. I here publish it for the edification of my readers.

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The Way Forward: A Proposal to the Mayor and Council of the City of Toronto for Increasing City Revenues without Increasing Taxes or Reducing Services

Prepared jointly by:

The Committee on Resources, Allocation, and Planning

The Committee on Oversight, Commercialization, and Knowledge Services


The Challenge:
It is common knowledge that Toronto faces a budget challenge, even if there is disagreement about the exact nature of this challenge. The city either spends too much money or takes in too little revenue, or both. The mayor has asked for increased funding from the provincial government. On the assumption that such funding is unlikely to be forthcoming, we submit the following report, which outlines a proposed method of generating revenue without cutting city services or increasing taxes.

A Unique Strategic Asset:
Many Torontonians are unaware of the fact that their city has for some time now been making limited use of a proprietary technology that, if marketed, could revolutionize human societies around the world and generate untold sums for the city’s treasury. This technology consists of a device that has the ability to produce highly localized bends or warps in the space-time continuum. It is in reality a kind of time travel machine, though not quite as outlandish or impressive as the one H. G. Wells envisioned ― at least not yet.

How It Works:
As any of its operators will tell you, the device referred to is very complicated, and each operator has a different explanation of precisely how it works.  However, they all agree in calling it “transit”, an advanced technology by means of which bodies are shifted from one spatio-temporal location to another. But as this report will outline, “transit” is an inadequate descriptor of this technology’s true potentialities.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, we should provide an explanation of what precisely the device does. When someone, call her Alice, enters this machine (in reality, it is more a system of interlinked machines) at, say, time A, she will reach her appointed spatial destination at time B. However, if she were to leave at time A minus10 minutes, she would arrive at her spatial destination at time B plus 15 minutes.

An example will make this clearer. One user, call him Bob, reports that the machine has opened one particular portal through the space-time continuum that extends from his home to his place of work. Thanks to this portal, if Bob enters the machine at 7:10am, he will arrive at work at 8:15am. But ― and this is the important part ― if he enters the machine at 7:00am, he will arrive at work at 8:30am. In other words, with the assistance of this unique device, the earlier Bob sets out on his journey, the later he arrives at his destination.

It sounds like science fiction. People will naturally be led to ask, “What is this device called?” Those who are familiar with it call it “TTC”. This is an acronym for “Toronto Transit Commission”. In reality, TTC has existed for many decades, but its time-warping capability has only been developed relatively recently. TTC was originally designed for mundane surface or below-surface travel only, with the time dimension constrained as a direct function of distance, in a strictly linear fashion. However, at some point during the 1990s TTC researchers discovered that these two dimensions, time and distance, could be uncoupled, allowing for the amazing feats accomplished by TTC on a now daily basis. Humankind need no longer be slaves to linear time. A person can now leave early to arrive late, an achievement that was never contemplated by our primitive ancestors.

So the question at the heart of this report is: Can we not sell this amazing technology to other cities or organizations, and thereby increase the flow of revenue into the city’s coffers? We believe the city is sitting on a potential gold mine.

Some Obstacles:
Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles to be overcome before we can begin to leverage this unique strategic asset and aggressively market TTC.

First, TTC has thus far been unsuccessful in attempts to create portals that work the other way around from the one described above. What is still required is a type of portal in which the earlier one enters it, the earlier one arrives at one’s destination. Optimally, TTC researchers hope for the day when Bob can leave for work 10 minutes early, and arrive 10 or even 15 minutes early. At present, this is only a dream. But it is precisely this kind of portal for which there is greatest demand. Experts tell us that it will be years before TTC has this capability. But research continues apace. (At the moment, this research is being done by hired consultants. These intrepid researchers work night and day, sequestered in weekend retreats, or participating in frequent spa-based brainstorming sessions).

Another obstacle is that regular users of TTC have noticed some anomalies in its functioning. Some report that, over the years, the curvatures of the time warps created by TTC portals have been increasing. For example, at the current rate of curvature increase, using his home-to-work portal, in 2013 it is estimated that if Bob enters TTC at 7:00am, he can expect to arrive at work at 8:40am, and if he enters at 6:45am, he can expect to arrive at 9:00am. This will be problematic, since he must be at work at 8:30am. The good news is that if he were to leave much later, at say 7:30, he will be able to make it to work on time. Even more promising, if this curvature continues to increase at its present rate, Bob can look forward to being able to leave for work after the time at which he is supposed to arrive, while still getting there on time. H. G. Wells’ vision would finally be reality. However, such a development is still at least a decade away.

Another difficulty is that clients who have used TTC extensively note that it seems to have opened some highly unstable portals, ones in which there is no direct relationship at all between time and distance. These are portals where on some occasions the earlier Bob leaves, the later he arrives, while on other occasions the later he leaves, the later he arrives. It is speculated that this is caused by fluctuating convexity and concavity in the portal-induced time-space warps.

Even more unsatisfactory, one now hears frequently of portals where one enters TTC and simply doesn’t arrive at all. Worse still, these portals shift around, so that one cannot tell beforehand whether one is entering one’s regular portal or one of these black holes, known colloquially as “portals of the disappeared”, or PODs for short (the technical name for them among TTC researchers is “service disruptions”). Since nobody really knows what causes them, when PODs  or “service disruptions” occur, even experienced operators of TTC have little information to convey to those travelers who get sucked into them. Those who can escape must walk the rest of their journey, while others who aren’t so lucky must simply wait in the dark until they are spit out at some indeterminate location many hours later. TTC researchers have reportedly been working on “shuttle” technology to create temporary patches in TTC during these POD episodes, but the existence of these “shuttles” has yet to be verified by the authors of this report, while TTC researchers are declining to comment.

Since these problems are highly technical in nature, and since we are not highly expert in this field, those who work closely with TTC technology have thus far been unable to provide the Committee members with intelligible explanations of their causes. However, they assure us that with more funding these problems are soluble.

On the other hand, other parties have advised Committee members of a further problem arising from TTC technology that gives us cause to be less optimistic. It seems that another unintended effect of TTC technology is the development of an inverse relationship between funding and performance. Just as entering TTC earlier means leaving it later, so the more funding it receives, the less efficiently it performs. In other words, there has been a decoupling of the relationship between resource input and performance output. It is speculated that TTC has begun opening portals in the laws of economics, as well as in the space-time continuum. At present there is no solution for this emergent problem. On the other hand, as will be outlined below, we believe that this otherwise troubling phenomenon can be turned to the city’s advantage.

An Ideal Opportunity:
Due to the obstacles outlined above, it is our belief that it will be some time before TTC can be successfully applied in a civilian setting. However, we believe that TTC currently has very promising military applications that are worth exploring. For example, we are convinced that TTC could be very useful in disrupting or even completely paralyzing an enemy’s industrial and economic base, while leaving buildings and other strategic assets largely intact. Once it is integrated into an enemy city’s infrastructure, it is conjectured that TTC would create mounting costs and inefficiencies, until eventually urban settlement is rendered non-viable and is abandoned entirely.

Enemy civilians under TTC attack will flee to those remaining outlying areas where it is still possible to travel using stable car-based portals, and where time is still coupled with distance in the older linear way. Put simply, used militarily, TTC would have the ultimate effect of reverting an enemy’s standard of living to mid-20th century levels. Furthermore, since such car-based portals make less efficient use of fossil fuel resources, the enemy’s war-making capability would be constrained by the need to make a choice between whether to deploy its limited petroleum supplies for military or civilian purposes.

Based on the above considerations, the Committees submit to the mayor and council the following recommendations.

Recommendation 1:
That TTC be renamed “Slow Hypertemporal Interstitial Transit” (SHIT).

Recommendation 2:
Moving forward, as part of the city’s strategic plan, it is recommended that the mayor and council offer, for a substantial fee, to license the use of TTC technology to the Department of National Defence.

Recommendation 3:
In aid of recommendation 2, it is further recommended that, for an additional surcharge, the services of experienced TTC personnel be offered as an added inducement to such a sale. Their expertise is indispensable, as they are literally the only agents in existence for whom the arcane workings of TTC seem to make any rational sense. Furthermore, it is anticipated that their fierce and aggressive manner will prove useful in intimidating the enemy, whatever theatre of war they are deployed in.

Recommendation 4:
In the long term, it is recommended that a committee be struck to explore possible ways in which TTC technology can be further developed with a view to civilian application.

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