The Northern Spy — The Future of the Present

The Northern Spy

Last Month’s chat ended with

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are no doubt laughing at the North Americans who must seem to them bent on destroying the very democracy we once touted as superior to their brutal and genocidal dictatorships. Surely they can now go to war, annex their neighbours (and eventually us) into a totalitarianism that brooks not a whisper of dissent from the glorious leader’s agenda, and expect the west to remain supine as it is swallowed whole. Such events illustrate that there is no fix, technological or otherwise, for human stupidity or depravity.

It was inevitable

given obvious preparations and the increasingly strident threats from Vlad the Greedy that Ukraine would soon be invaded. The Spy expected a swift takeover of that country, with Kyiv falling within the first few hours and the usual empty, insipid, and impotent rhetoric from Western democracies. This was surely the most cynically calculated and most thoroughly telegraphed invasion in history. 

But mayhap neither so quick to victory on the one hand nor so spineless on the other. Ukrainians fighting for their families, their homes, their livelihoods, and their land have not proven to be as much a pushover as Vlad the Bloodthirsty may have expected. Meanwhile, the response of Western nations has been much less tepid this time. Perhaps the lesson learned from the blatant theft of Crimea and the two “independent” Ukrainian provinces already ruled over by Russian army “volunteers” was to show less cowardice and tepid appeasement than Vlad the Tzar expects this inevitable next time. Allow a tyrant to seize a province or two and it only whets his appetite for a country, then a continent–or two.

Moreover, some reports suggest the Russian forces, far from being seasoned veterans, have many recent conscripts who had no expectation that the “military exercises” for which they had been dispatched to Belarus were mere thinly veiled theatre for an actual war theatre. At any rate, the investiture of the Ukrainian capital has proven more of a slog than a sprint, the Ukrainian president a serious hero rather than a comic when pressed, the women and children anxious to flee (in the millions before long), and the men just as ready to fight. Even if Vlad the Glutton swallows his neighbour’s territory whole, his people prey may prove impossible to digest. Prototypes: Holland and Norway under Nazi occupation. It might prove possible to maraud through a capital city executing the leaders and influencers, and declare a puppet regime, but far harder to hold it when every remaining person old enough to hold a gun vows to continue using it.

As the Spy’s reader well knows, one of his academic interests is the ethical and social implications of technology adoption and deployment, so that his alternate history SF novels play on such themes by positing differing paths at certain nexus points of history, where the decisions, actions, and inventions of one or a very few players cast a long and dramatic shadow over subsequent history.

Think of a version of Cain who repented, of a Babylon that did not grow corrupt and fall to Cyrus, of a Pilate that did not wash his hands, of a Brian Boru who survived Clontarf to establish a strong an enduring kingdom that today rules a world-wide empire, of an Industrial and Scientific revolution that began in the twelfth century, of a Confederacy that followed up on Bull Run and took Washington, of an England that lost the Battle of Britain and today speaks German, of a Japan that never attacked Pearl Harbor, so fatally drawing the U.S. into WWII, or on a more monetary note of an HP that did buy out Jobs and Woz so there never was an Apple ][, PC, or Mac–or perhaps a way to imagine one or more of these happening much earlier or later in history.

For instance, the Spy’s evocatively titled novel “Rae’s Blood” or “Navy Girl” places the battle of Trafalgar between Ireland and combined Spanish and French navies in 1439 and that of the Battle of Mont Sainte Jean near Waterloo between Ireland and Spain’s puppet King of France in the next year and adds a Battle of Seville to put the finishing touches on Ireland’s world wide supremacy in 1441. It helps that Rae’s tall ships have sonar, lasers, radios, and by the end, penetrating exploding shells. 

It was clear even before the invasion started that Vlad the Bully’s actions will create such a historical nexus point. If he gets away with this nation theft, the Baltics will be next, and after them, Romania, Moldova, Albania, Bulgaria, the Czek Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the “Stans”. At that point, what could prevent a supine Western Europe from being ingested whole into Vlad the Tyrant’s maw? Would China’s leaders then hesitate to destroy the independent nation of Taiwan? Would North Korea be deterred from invading the South? How many more fledging democracies would fall to the likes of Myanmar’s brutal military dictators. Even here in North America there is no shortage of like-minded would-be despots. Or has nothing been learned from the history lessons of Napoleon and Hitler who likewise subdued much of Europe for a time?

If, on the other hand, Vlad impales himself on his own petard because for once the people over who he has made himself lord and master refuse his rule, the Ukrainians resist sufficiently, his armies fail him or become mired in a new Afghanistan, and the West imposes something much more than financial and moral pain, Eastern Europeans may yet live to prosper in non-corrupt free states. ‘Course, on the third hand, if he does employ the nuclear option he has threatened, he might not go down in history as Vlad the Mad, because there would be no light left to write history by, no one left on this mortal earth to do the writing or read it, and no one in heaven who would desire or need to. As for the other destination…

What role history (if any) will report that technology played to shape these events is uncertain. Vlad the Butcher’s army has more and certainly bigger and more sophisticated guns, tanks, bombers, and missiles than the prey for which he lusts, but do his soldiers on the ground have the will and the skill to commit sufficient atrocities for him to seize a nation he denies exists? Is he really willing to play the nuclear card as he claims? Will his cyberattacks on the West overwhelm the latter’s cyber defences, or vice-versa? Who has the more, the better, the badder hackers, the more and better defended systems? How well can the Russian economy survive and his people remain willing to serve him once they are cut off from the rest of the world’s money, goods, food, markets, and technology? Even Russia has long since become integrated with the rest of the world. Cut off, the rouble sinking, food and medicine scarce, banks unreliable, financing business impossible, all the world made enemies, they impoverished, will Russia’s citizens still consent to be ruled by Count Vlad?

There are early indications that the instant communication and rapid organization enabled by social media networks has played a large role in shaping popular opinion into a weapon that has provoked leaders of nations, sports federations, banks, business, and assorted other arenas to listen to their constituents and impose somewhat meaningful sanctions on Vlad the Barbarian and his minions. But, does he even know of the millions who have signed petitions and taken to the streets in his own country, or have said minions become so accustomed to feeding him solely  what he considers “good news” (lest the messengers be executed) that he is blissfully ignorant any opposition in his own fiefdom exists?

Yes, we find ourselves situated at a nexus point of history, and the technology, whether of the pursuit of war, or of the enablement of peaceful living, will, as always, play a significant, likely a defining role in shaping or erasing our next decades.

And one more thing– 

it seems also that His once and (if he gets his way) possibly future  majesty the putative King of America is a great admirer of Vlad the Ruthless’ methods. How much would he imitate him should he regain power? Would he jail his political opponents till there’s no one left to run against him? Nothing worse, after all, than losing an election and not being able to sell a single one of over sixty judges on the lie that those pesky Canadian-made voting machines were rigged. (Why would we care?) Better to make sure one can’t lose because nobody dares to or is able to oppose.

And, speaking of the frozen north and Himself’s disdain for the government that (albeit clumsily) invoked emergency measures to remove its own Confederate-flag-waving capital city occupiers, if Vlad the Thief succeeds, would King T invade us to “pacify” Canada? Or if Vlad fails would his acolyte be deterred from trying to occupy a country where only a small fraction of the people trumpet for or bend the knee to him? But then again, we do have a very large Ukrainian population already and are likely to take in many of their relatives between now and the next election. Will that make us a juicier target for our neighbour to the north or for the one from the south? Or will it make us more determined to resist if (when?) our turn comes? We live in perilous times. 

On misc. matters of much less import (or export)

the Spy’s class is going well, the technology working acceptably, except when the camera that’s supposed to follow him around the room decides to unfriend him, or his lapel microphone falls on the floor. Given that there are always 10-20% of the students away sick, recording classes has become both necessary and routine. Who’d a thunk so a couple of years ago? Education ain’t what it usta be, that’s for sure.

He has a peeve though (minor compared to those ranted about in the section above). Why is it that the makers of accounting software (a) provide their business services in the cloud, thereby gaining access to customers’ data and thus rendering it insecure and (b) do not make provision for fund accounting except by clumsy workarounds? It’s not that hard folks. The Spy’s own Excel macros written in VBA (wash his mouth out with soap) do a better job (faster, easier, less clumsy, and with secure local-only data storage) for a church treasurer like hizownself than any commercial software he has thus far investigated. or even heard tell of.

COVID rapid tests seem to work. At least they live up to their name. The Spy had some symptoms this morning he would in other years have written off as spring allergies (the grass has riz, the pollen is fallen, and the nose blows.) So he trotted out his (free, this guy is really old) box of five rapid COVID tests and gave one a go, Negative as expected, but perhaps he should postpone the next walk in the woods till the skunk cabbage is done. Yes, there is such a thing as Spring up here in the frozen north. There is even summer–if we don’t have permanent winter first.

If the present does have a future, see you next month.

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He completed his fifty-first year as a high school and university teacher in 2021. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He was co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (dead tree and online formats), since the early 1980s, and he’s been a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. from 1972 to 2021, where he now continues alone, depending heavily on family to manage. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

The Northern Spy Home Page:

opundo :

Sheaves Christian Resources :

WebNameHost :

WebNameSource :

nameman :

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books: 

Author Site:

Publisher’s Site:

The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ):

Other URLs of relevant interest: 

BC Government COVID site:


Please follow and like us:

About the Author

Rick Sutcliffe

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.