Archive for the ‘infrastructure’ Category

Got Education?

September 16, 2019

You’ll have to smarten up to find a productive place in today’s economy.

The old 20th-century way of doing things that my baby boomer generation grew up in has gone the way of the buffalo.

You already know this, right?

I came across an instigating article on Seeking Alpha a few days ago. As I read John N. Mason’s piece about the “New” corporation, it struck me that he had put together some pretty important observations and statistics about this 21st-century economy and where we are headed with it.

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4290762-amazon-needs-workers-new-modern-corporation?

My take on his presentation is that he is, obviously, writing about a 21st-century work environment in which using your brain will be more important than ever before, more important than acquiring the old hands-on skills that enabled folks to get ahead in times past.

Oh, the developing digital work of our present work scenario is still “hands-on.” But it seems the hands will be mostly on keyboards that electronically deliver commands and programs that will run, automatically, the nuts and bolts, the widgets and equipment that will perform most of the tasks that we humans used to do, back in the day.

This whole progression got seriously cranked up about 170 years ago with the Industrial Revolution. There was a time, for instance, when a man could get on a horse, start riding westward, and eventually make it from Boston to San Francisco.

Then along came the railroads and changed all that.

Then along came the automobiles and changed all that even more.

And then there was a time when a person would mail a letter from Boston to San Francisco. The Pony Express or Wells Fargo or somesuch would deliver the letter cross-country, and yes it would get to the west coast, but it took a while.

A long while.

Then along came the trains, to make that delivery happen in just a week or so.

Then came the planes to make the airmail delivery in a day or two.

Now the message, or an order, is delivered with the push of a few buttons on your computer, or a scan on barcode, along the way.

You know that’s a “hands-on” technology that is fundamentally, quicker, easier and better than the old way of many different sets of hands that set themselves to crank up machinery and maintain it and oil it and fuel it and guide it all the way to some faraway delivery point.

As those technology changes revolutionized transportation, so shall the coming tech changes revolutionize manufacturing and wholesaling and retailing and every other industry or business you can think of, including knowledge itself.

So if you want to prosper in this 21st-century, if you want to find a place in the scheme of things, if you want to “get ahead”. . .

Get with the program.

Literally, the programming.

And this is what, in my opinion, John Mason is hitting on when he elucidates the workings of intellectual capital, which is a high-falootin’ way of saying:

Education is, and will be, worth more than ever before. Get one. Learn how to think outside the old box.

Smarts

If not, hey, we’ll always need somebody to clean up the place, flip the burgers, run the cash registers  while everybody else is booting up the world.

Back in the day we used to say money makes the world go around.

Not so any more. Now electrons make our developed world go around. Learn how to direct them, how to make them do whatever has to be done for profit, or for improving the world we inhabit.

Don’t just vegetate as a consumer. . . eating, drinking, watching shows, fake news and social media.

Be a producer. Make things happen for you and for those you love. Get out there and do it, make things happen. Life will be better.

Glass half-Full

From Wealth of Nations to Wealth of Data

September 2, 2019

Our Declaration of Independence is not the only hallmark document of the year 1776.

There was another one: Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which Wikipedia refers to as a magnum opus.

Magnum opus means pretty doggone important idea, as the multilectic development of our dialectical ideas shape  history.

Smith’s groundbreaking insights propelled our modernizing world into the age of Economics, a new time when the effects of money and industrial productivity began to channel human culture in ways that outweighed traditional institutions.

The Church, the Royals, such ancient paths of power were, in the long run of history, outmoded by the power of the buck.

Freedom to gather wealth was being distributed widely among new, rising enterprisers in society, instead of being controlled by the purse of the Popes or the money of the Monarchs.

Now the tide is turning again, in a major way.

But it’s turning back the other way.

Oh, not back to the Church or the King, but back to another select group—the data mining Social Media.

Now Wealth of Nations morphs to Wealth of Data.

And it seems it happened in the blinking of an eye, so to speak.

All our data that we generate through ubiquitous universal social media gets scooped up and recycled as fodder to generate future wealth, for somebody.

For Whom? Who is gathering the new Wealth of Nations through our electronic and wifi conduits of the Wealth of Data?

Robber barons, monopolists, capitalists, opportunists, daytraders, speculators, hedgefunders, algorithmists, hackers, gamblers, midnight ramblers?

Future wealth, for somebody. . . for whomever is using the data as a field for harvest —to skim new wealth, through  their privileged knowledge of out trendy, predictable human habits. . . our fashions, fetishes, foibles and infamous freedoms.

Freedom to spend, mostly. Especially with all the cardswiping that you see in every spending venue these days.

It’s so easy to spend money nowadays.

Even if you don’t have any!

Using the data streams to  anticipate where the “markets” are headed, where the money’s going . . .those watchful, AI-wielding movers and shakers behind the scenes can know exactly when and where to lower their clickbait nets, and scoop up a big mess of digital debits or financial fish.

“Markets” being the main concentrations of consumer and business wealth that are being spent every day as we live and breathe and spend.

A lot of people are starting to figure this out, about now.

Some have been noticing the profit potentialities for awhile. Others have known from the beginning. They are the ones who have been establishing data-mining as the latest phase of capitalism.

I learned something about this, this morning, when I read Karin Petersson’s report about it on the Social Europe site.

   https://www.socialeurope.eu/politics-in-the-age-of-data

Karin’s opening statement got my attention in a big way.

“It’s impossible to change the world if you don’t understand the forces shaping it.”

That is so true, Karin.

I went on to read her concise treatise, which consisted of an insightful cautionary statement about the three main problems of this data-mining development. I will list those three here, while recommending that you read her article in order to get her thoughts from her article—not mine.

Karin’s list of the three problems:

~~Rage machine

~~Winner takes all

~~Survival of Democracy?

She is calling into question the survivability of democracy in these new social media conditions that have overtaken our way of life.

You should read it.  https://www.socialeurope.eu/politics-in-the-age-of-data

Now I do have something to say about her opening statement:

“It’s impossible to change the world if you don’t understand the forces shaping it.”

So true.

But I confess that my free-thinking mind dropped the KM bomb on me. That is. . . Karl Marx.

. . . not that Karin is a Marxist or anything like that.

My point is that even if you DO understand the forces shaping the world . . . odds are you still can’t change it!

Oh yes, maybe you can make some beneficial contributions, maybe some helpful new ideas, but convincing yourself that you can change the world based on what you know or understand about it . . . that is a dream that will never come true.

Take the Karl himself, and his idea: The factories and businesses of industrial production are owned by a few rich people.  If the regular working people—the proletariat— could take over that means of production and do a fairer job of running it— then society could distribute the wealth in an equitable way. Everybody would have a piece of the pie and we could all live then in an egalitarian commune.

Happily ever after, as they say.

Certainly I am oversimplifying this scenario, but I do it for the sake of simply making this point: You can’t change the world, even if youdo  understand the forces that are shaping it.

My layman’s reading, for instance, of Marx/Engels Communist Manifesto led me to the conclusion that their analysis of capitalism as it was developing in the mid-19th century was, for the most part, accurate!

They predicted, for instance, the alienation that would indeed later take hold of many workers as a result of having to perfoem repetitive production tasks.

So Marx, Engels and others later went on to prescribe a fix for the problem: dictatorship of the proletariat.

When Lenin, Trotsky and others got a hold of this concept they acted on it.

But look what happened. Things got bloody. By the time Stalin got hold of the new development, the formerly fresh thrust of worldwide communism turned into prison gulag.

And it did not recover until the time of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, etc.

That’s one small idea for a man . . . and one giant, very hard lesson learned for mankind.

You can’t change the world, even if you do understand the forces that are changing it.

In the present context of data mining, this principle would perhaps translate to: find a way to regulate the data-miners, but don’t try to take the whole damned machine away from them. This is merely capitalism in its emerging 21st-century form.

DataMining

Neither the technocrats in Brussels, nor the bureaucrats in Washington can stem the tides of history. You just have to regulate those who control the Wealth of Data, insofar as it is Constitutionally  possible, and leave the rest to each individual citizen’s free will and judgement.

The same principle applies, btw, for Climate Change.

Education, for whosoever is willing to learn, is the remedy. Not control. We all need to be convinced to to the right thing.

Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness must be assured for all, in spite of all the data-miners  who lurk behind our keypads, sucking the hot air out of our collective social media balloon.

Glass half-Full

The Tower of Signals

August 17, 2019

Thousands of years ago, we built a legendary tower, the shadow of which has seemed to darken our human history even unto today.

According to a certain well-known historical source, the Bible . . . the tower of Babel was erected in some location east of the Euphrates River. The region therein has been known since that ancient time by various names:  Chaldea, Shinar, Babylon, and a few other identities, such as the current one, Iraq.

So an ancient tale about the tower of Babel, especially its fall, has been passed down to us through the ages.   The biblical account says that The Tower of Babel’s undoing happened because the people were unable to communicate. So they were not able to get the thing built.

In our modern reflection upon that archaic project, I think what Will Rogers or Mark Twain or Yogi Berra, or some such sage  said, applies:

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

It’s an old story, but true.

Nevertheless, I’m here to tell ya that in spite of ourselves we people of the earth have managed to erect some pretty impressive towers here and there throughout the ages.

For instance, notice this  classic religious tower in San Francisco, which happens to be a double.

Spires2Chrch

This structure represents that spirit of religion that dominated our Western culture for a couple of thousand years.

Here’s a Spanish project representing a more contemporary creative impulse toward the divine.

Sagrada

Very impressive. But the era of God-inspired basilica-building has been overtaken by more humanistic projects. Since the so-called Enlightenment in the 18th-century, people have aspired to ideals even loftier than mere religion. This modern emphasis has wrought even higher and higher feats of skyscraping.

BuildSkysc

The long epoch of God-inspired tower-building has been overtaken by a New Age of Man.

CityPhild

And yet, our rising human spirit has morphed itself beyond mere commercial, citified projections. Check out an Olympic objet d’art that the Barcelonans fashioned for the 1992 Olympics:

BarcOlymp

This fluidic rising structure embodies a humanic zeitgeist; it aspires to inspire ascension to world peace—a peace wrought through zealous sports competition instead of bloody wars fought with destructive weapons on muddy battlefields.

Pretty damned impresseve, huh?!

Higher and higher we strive; higher and higher we arrive.

Now in 21st-century AI, We find ourselves in the upper regions of human accomplishment.

Physical upbuilding has now taken a back seat to the loftiness of our ideals.

So we’ve built a stupendous net of ideas, an electronic network that ceaselessly transmits gigabytes of presciently important data around the world. It is a web as ethereal as the sun itself . . . as surreal as a Dali . . .  as real as a Warhol.

And towards this end, we’ve built towers of a different—a new and different—kind:

The Tower

Towers such as this one–structures of ascending human perfectibility– are slavishly repeating signals all day and all night for the benefit of all mankind!

For the benefit of Mr. Kite, ever and ever onward to greater heights!

We hold these spires to be self-evident—that our updated tower-driven secretions will project a worldwide web of human achievement to rise higher than  the Tower of Babel ever did!

Good luck with that.

Glass Chimera

The Parkway Cometh

June 22, 2019

In 1937, the following scene probably happened somewhere near where we live in the Blue Ridge, North Carolina:

“What does it say?”

Jake handed the letter to his father. “There’s a lot of gobble-dy-gook there, Pa, but it says the land stopped bein’ ours when they posted it down at the courthouse.”

“Posted what?”

“The map of all the land they need to take.”

Jeremiah turned around slightly. Casting an eye on his nearby rocker, he carefully took aim and seated himself. Looking up again at his boy, “Well they ain’t paid us for it yit.”

“That needs to be decided yet, Pa.” Jake shook his head slowly. “It’s lookin’ like this is gonna drag on fer awhile.”

“We told that inspector fella we’d take forty.”

“It ain’t that simple, Pa. Them lawyers down in Raleigh gonna pay us whatever they say it’s worth.”

“Damn, son! What is this? Damn communists!”

Jake set the letter down on the side-cabinet. He had managed to glance through it and get the gist. “Shit, pa, it ain’t that bad. They’re just tryin’ to build that road real nice and scenic so’s people’ll come drivin’ up here and spend their money.”

“Well I guess that’s all well ‘n good, son. But I ain’t been down to the courthouse to see what they posted. Don’t seem right that we ain’t got payment, and we don’t even know how much we’re gonna git!”

“It’ll all work out, Pa. At least they’re only takin’ one side of our land. Watsons and Purlears got their places split up. And from what I’ve heard from Miller up in Ashe, them that got their land split up won’t be able to even drive from one side t’other. So be thankful for what you got. Ain’t  that what the Book says?” Jake looked his father in the eye. “Be thankful we’ll still be able to drive the tractor from one side all the way across the field to the other side.”

“Yeah, what’s left of it,” Jeremiah mumbled as he commenced to rocking. He looked out the window, through the porch at the front yard. “Hell, I don’t know what this world’s coming to.

Jake was reading another letter, silently. His attention riveted there, he said nothing, just nodded his head, looking down at the script on a letter from his aunt Polly in Foscoe.

“New Deal, I guess,” his father continued while Jake folded Polly’s letter and picked up another piece of mail.

“Yeah, Pa, I reckon it’s the New Deal. Did Sally say what time they’d be back?

“’bout four, I think she said.”

Pa had been pondering. “Son, did you know they posted that map at the courthouse?

Jake sighed. “Yeah, Pa, I knew about it. I went and looked at it on Friday when I was in town. Roby Watson told me about it while I was in Goodnight’s pickin’ up feed.”

“I guess you didn’t wanna tell me, huh?”

“Nah, pa, I just forgot about it.” Jake sat down in his easy chair. Now he was reading something else.

“You forgot about it.”

“Yeah, Pa.” Jake nodded his head slowly, preoccupied with his bank statement.

Jeremiah was rocking steadily now, as if he were relaxed and maybe resigning himself to whatever it was that was about to happen that would change the shape of the 67 acres he had inherited from his father back in 1910. “Seems a little strange to me, boy, you could forget about something as important as losing a quarter of our land.” No judgement in his voice. Just sayin’. Pa had calmed down from his earlier rant.

“I mean,” Jake looked up at his father again, smiling slightly. “I mean, I didn’t forget about it; I just forgot to tell you about it.”

“Uh huh.”

Jake’s expression morphed slowly  from concentration in his letter-reading, to a mild amusement. “Shootfire, Pa, there’s somethin’ else I forgot to tell you.

“Oh yeah?” His father allowed a mild chuckle. Mr. Roosevelt gonna bring us a hog or two as a consolation prize?

“Actually, it is kinda like that . . . maybe a peace offering. Uncle Skip told Roby he’d give me a job running one of them road graders.”

“On the new road?” Jeremiah’s voice acquired an even more amused tone.

“Yep.”

Jake’s father laughed. “Well, ain’t that a cat’s whisker! I seen it all now. The Parkway giveth and the Parkway taketh away,” he declared, playing upon some ancient proverb. Now he set the rocker into a steady pace. “And when’s that gonna start?”

“Coupla weeks, or something like that,” Jake replied. “They gotta finish that little bit of blasting over there near the highway. Then, Skip says, they’ll pretty much be ready to grade from Deep Gap all the way to Aho.”

“Well, I guess that’s good news for Uncle Sam, but it’ll blast the hell out of our peace and quiet around here with all that machinery and whatnot takin’ over this country.”

“Not takin’ over, Pa, just makin’ it easy for folks to come up here and spend money, after they lay the asphalt to it.”

“I reckon it will be easier for them rich folks down the mountain to come up here and ride around in their Cadillacs, like over in Blowin’ Rock.”

BlueRdgView

Yep. Coulda happened. . . maybe, maybe not. Long time ago . . . but we haven’t  yet totally obliterated our consciousness of the past with our contemporary obsession in social media and and political side-show antics. Not yet.

Blue 

Corals and Us

May 21, 2019

Corals build:  secreting  calcium carbonate aragonite structural coenosteum through living coenosarc tissue situated between corallite cups, to form coral reef.

Shore

In this way, the coral grows and grows, and grows . . .

(Thank you Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral 

We build too: We stack stones arrange rocks mix mud mix mortar concoct concrete lay block lay brick blah blah blah

ShoreBuild

We walk out from our built structures. Corals do not; they remain in their little aragonite colony that they have built.

Corals stay while we stroll.

From a distance, them corals don’t look like anything alive. They just look like rocks.

But they are colonies of living critters,

Coral

and they help other living critters to stay alive.

Including us. Corals break up the wave action so we can build our stuff on the beach. Even more than that, they can, over long periods of time, build whole islands for us to dwell upon and enjoy.

When the ocean recedes from corals, they dry up and die. It is only then when we can walk around on them and live on their vast skeleton structure islands.

So we understand that when corals die, they leave that coral colony structure as their legacy—their gift to us and to the rest of the world.

And they don’t even know it.

When we die, we also leave a legacy.

The coral ought to be part of our legacy. We ought to leave the coral for our kids. Don’t step on it; don’t poison it. Let it grow.

Think of that sign you may see while riding on the highway. Referring to the workman who build and improve our roads, it says:

Let ‘em work. Let ‘em live.

Because even though the corals don’t look like it, the corals are alive and working all the time, building habitat for their fellow ocean inhabitants— the fishes and all them other water creatures— and building reefs to protect our islands, and building a fascinating shore world for us to gaze up while strolling on the beach.

Them corals . . . you gotta love ‘em. They just keep quietly doing their thing. Not like us who get all hot ’n bothered about stuff.

Glass half-Full

Baby Boomers’ Labor Lament

February 5, 2019

Here’s a little ditty of a rhyme to be sung to the tune of . . .

Oh Home on the Range,

a song from back in the days of Davy Crockett, Howdy Doody, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans . . .

Oh give me a loan

so I can buy a home

where our kids and their friends can play,

where seldom is heard

a contentious word

and the mortgage is paid before my dying day.

Oh give me a job

so I won’t have to rob

from  Pete to pay Paul,

and so I’ll pay no interest on the cards;

and never shall we fall

on  bad times at all,

And I won’t have to work too damn hard.

BuildingUp

Oh give me job security

by the time I reach maturity

so our competence is not made obsolete,

and the skills we were taught

don’t get replaced by a bot;

and my dignity doesn’t just lapse in defeat.

Oh give me a timely upgrade

so my life’s work doesn’t fade

on the trash heap of obsolescence.

Oh please let me try

to outsmart the AI,

so my time’s not spent out in the dread convalescence.

King of Soul

Where to now, Homo Developus?

January 16, 2019

Everybody knows that a few years ago we had a big economic breakdown. There were many reasons to explain  what happened in 2008.

Let’s step back in time a little and consider what has taken place on Planet Earth.

During the 1800’s and 1900’s our developed nations undertook a vast, worldwide surge of industrial development, which was accompanied by a universal expansion of business and corporate prosperity. This hyper-expansive phase of human development required very large-scale extractions of natural resources, which were then transformed into mega-stocks of consumer goods.

An abundance of consumer goods brought forth an abundance of consumers.

Consuming.

Consuming the goods, consuming the planet.

The end of the 20th century brought a vast slowdown. It happened in the fall of 2008, and regardless of what the bullish analysts and stimulus-chasers declare, we are still mired in that big slowdown of ’08.

And will continue to be. This is going to morph into a vast leveling out. The industrial age is over. Our planet will not tolerate another 200-year extraction expansion.

Now we have entered into the Age of Sustainable Technology and Appropriate Industry.

And herein a question arises.

Who will run the world?

Is there a cartel of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison and JPMorgan-types out there who will forge a new system to transform the old Industrial Infrastructure into the new Sustainable Society?

As the next surge—the post-industrial phase— is being initiated by a new breed of Industrialist . . . the Gates, the Jobs, the Bezos and Buffets . . . the industrialized Civilization stumbles into a new Electronified Zone.

A digitized twilight zone, as it were.

In the wake of the great ’08 Slowdown, we encounter a host of questions that define the logistical problem of where to go from here.

During the Investment Segment’s breakdown of ’08, a lot of very complicated financial engineering became unwound.

One financial analyst, John M. Mason, recently offered an explanation that includes this analysis of what happened in the financial world during the decline of our industrializing phase:

But, in the developed world, the presence of lots and lots of liquidity means very little in the way of corporate capital investment. The environment of credit inflation, built up over the last fifty years of so, has created a culture of financial engineering in the business community and, consequently, corporations act differently now than they did when most of the current economic models were constructed. Government stimulus gets built into greater risk taking, greater financial leverage, and financial investment, like stock buybacks.

   (https://seekingalpha.com/article/4233178-supply-side-world-europe-well-united-states?ifp=0&app=1.)

So it seems to me that the financial guys—the wallstreet wheelers and dealers, etc—having running out of real new industrial infrastructure to invest in, turned to MBS schemes and CDO games in order to keep their game going. Instead of their oversized financial whirligig running on old Industrial Growth stimulants, they rigged it to run on the fumes thereof.

Now in a post-industrial age, we find ourselves as a species, Homo Developus, scratching our heads and wondering where do we go from here?

It just so happens that, in the wake of the Great Industrial Expansion of Planet Earth, there emerges a vast bureaucracy of Smart People—number crunchers, economic theorizers, technocrats, academics, programmers, bureaucrats, not to mention the mysterious ghosts of AI —who propose to reconstruct the detritus of the industrial age into a systemic quasi-social Union that will make sure everybody is taken care of.

And so I’m wondering, what’s the best way to administrate such a civilization?

What’s the best system for governing a federation of post-industrial nations?

What’s the the most effective strategy for managing a cushy, highly-developed Society?

What’s the most humane political structure to assure income and health for all citizens?

Should Europeans, for instance, appoint multiple layers of bureaucracy to enforce labor laws so that every person has a guaranteed income?

Should the State take control of business so that everybody gets a minimal piece of the pie?

And these philosophical, or sociological questions arise:

What motivation compels some individuals to seek opportunity and then develop that opportunity into abundance and prosperity?

What drives the go-getters to excel in economic pursuits? What motivates them to acquire work, money, property, resources, and then manipulate those assets into an overflow of wealth?

What incentive impels them to take care of themselves and their families?

On the other hand, what compels some other people to, instead,  take charge of bureaucratic agencies in order to administrate a Society that assures everyone a minimum of economic assistance?

What drives some analytical people to write laws and devise policies for systematically managing governmental bureaus to assure that everyone is taken care of?

Who is in charge here?

Who is going to run the world?

Will it be the go-getters, the pioneers, movers and shakers, developers, entrepreneurs, rule-breakers, industrialists, business mavens?

Or will it be the wonks who manage the world—the academics, the specialists, bureaucrats, rule-makers, policy-crafters, the tweakers of governmental largesse?

EURomeHdq

Consider Esther Lynch’s observations:

The ETUC has watched the rise in precarious working conditions in Europe—platform working, zero-hours contracts, bogus self-employment and so on—with deep concern. Research in the UK found that young people on zero-hours contracts, for example, were far more likely to report mental and physical health problems than their counterparts in stable jobs. A study by the University of Limerick in Ireland warned that people on non-guaranteed hours could become ‘trapped in a cycle of poverty which strengthens employers’ control’, generating a fear of being penalised if they raised grievances about working conditions. In response, the Irish government has taken steps to prohibit the use of zero-hours contracts, unless the employer can show a genuine business need. Guaranteeing transparent and predictable working conditions would have wide-ranging benefits, in terms of workers’ health, work-life balance and employee retention.

  (https://www.socialeurope.eu/tackling-insecure-work-in-europe)

What does the peaceful development of Civilization require? Management by one, or the other, of these two types? Or Both/and?

Is Civilization founded upon a principle of every man/woman for hmrself?

Or will it settle into BigBrotherSister administering a vast Guarantee for All?

Or something in between.

Keep your eyes open to watch what develops.

Smoke

The European Project

September 19, 2018

The Beginning of the End of the Royals running Europe started with an upstart French officer named Napolean and a musician from the German outback named Beethoven.

The End of the Beginning of the End came when Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, the event that ignited the First Big War.

Archduk4

The End of the Royals running Europe came when the appointed Generals, elected Presidents and Prime Ministers of a war-crippled Europe assembled in Versailles, France, in 1919.  The secular Leaders began trying to pull the pieces of Europe back together again, to reset Euro Civilization on a new Democratic/Republican game-plan.

StreetValncia

Since that time, the Europeans have had a rough time of pulling themselves together as a political entity. To begin with, the rubble-heaps of post-WWII Europe ended up  in a new polarity of two distant controlling hegemonies—the US and the USSR. These two emergent political empires  were centered  far outside of the fanciful entity we know as Old Europe, which existed in previous history as a continental area governed mostly from these ancient Capitols:  Athens, Rome, Madrid, Paris, London, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and—a most honorable mention—Geneva.

I call Geneva  honorable  because it is the City  on that grand network most associated with a very important concept: Peace.

The Peace of Europe had been, for 1900 years, an elusive State of Affairs, which somehow managed to survive as a glimmer of hope in the Heart and Soul of a quasi-mythical Europa.

Europe is very old, but contemporary Europeans have taken on a venerable Project to form a European Union. Exactly what that is, is a matter of political evolution, politics, compromise, and of course, Money.

This EU is a logical step forward, because the formerly long-hoped-for Peace of Europe has been flourishing since Allied victory was won at great cost of blood sweat and tears, in 1945. By the grace of God and Man, Europe has been at peace with itself since that time, 73 years.

But the next step beyond the Peace of Europe– European Union– is a prospect as elusive as finding the Holy Grail, or Valhalla, or Arcadia, or Elysian Fields of Camelot or Heaven itself.

But its political success is nowhere as easy as the Prospect for Unity that we Americans had back in the day. We had a vast, undeveloped continent as a frontier, which was populated originally by primitive tribes who were unorganized and unprepared to deal with our transplanted European development Mindset.

Most of us Americans had ancestors who wandered via Ships across the Atlantic to—as it turned out— find and construct a New World. Our forebears were confronted only by those undeveloped tribes who were already here, and a bunch of competing, mostly-poor immigrants like ourselves from different mostly-Euro traditions.

We certainly had some problems along the way, getting it all together as the United States of America. We even had a goddam Civil War trying to get it all worked out but we managed to get through that and keep the Union going, and expanding all the way to the Pacific shore.

Yes, we certainly had some problems getting it together, but our USA has been, relatively speaking, a light-duty Project compared to what the Europeans have been dealing with since the Collapse of the Old Roman Empire.

We New Worlders had advantages. We did not have, you see, all that  2000-year-old institutionalized sociological, economic and ethnic baggage that the Europeans have had and still have that keeps them caught up in differing National Purposes and Visions.

Presently, between the Teutonic bean-counters and the Mediterranean lay-backs, Europe just cannot get it together to decide how all the Expenses of governance and economic maintenance can be Paid-off.

Now we Americans don’t necessarily pay our Public Deficits either, but at least we are United in our rhetorical affirmation of equality and justice and Credit for All.  So we just keep running up the Tab and nobody gives a dam, because we have been, for a awhile, the, you know, new kid on the block and king of the hill and all that and we can get away with it.

Whereas the Euros are presently arguing about Who is going to pay the bills—the Teutonic bean-counters or the Mediterranean lay-backs.

We Americans cast a trans-Atlantic glance at them and express our deepest concern and well-wishes for a continuing Progress toward the elusive European Union and we say wholeheartedly:

Good Luck with that!

Now here’s the good news.There is a bright lining that envelopes this present Cloud of Complex Cooperation in Europa.

French President Emmanuel Macron has now proposed a new plan whereby the burdens of EU Debt, Expense, Governance and Administration of the EU are Dealt-With according to (as my American online ignoramus self-satisfied cyber-awareness would understand it) gradations of Participation, Responsibility and WhothehellCares-Responsibility in the EntitiesUnited of Europa.

These levels of Participation will be most heavily taken Seriously and Attended-To by those State/entities that are closest to the Center of Power and Influence. The peripheral Nations/States will be garnished according to their relative positions in the  outgoing Concentric Circles of Europe.

These Circles are most likely actually Parabolas. Because the actual Working Center of Europe consists not of one Point, but rather, Two Points, where the real Movers and Shakers (Bankers) of Europe run their Industrial/Financial Empires.

The Two Points are Berlin and Paris. There is a Third Centric point between them: Brussels, which is the errand by for Paris and London.

So we see that, with  Monsieur Macron’s proposed plan for the widening Circles of Influence, Europe has great Hope for the Future.

It may be a plan worthy of implementation. The Europeans have achieved Success in the Development of an essential condition: Peace.

Now it’s just the Money that’s hanging them up.

This American believes that the pesky Arguing about Who pays the Bills is actually Progress, because it is qualitatively better than Bombing each other! So they must have gotten something right, beginning back in ’45.  They have indeed  come a long way since Sarajevo in 1914.

TrainBarc

One more thing, very important. This American notices that, in spite of all the different member nations with different languages and politics and values, their system of Trains and Metros puts ours to shame. With just a mention given to their impressive High-Speed, Efficiency and Clockwork Precision, the most endearing characteristic of the Euro rail is Ease and Comfort. Taking a Euro train trip from one city to another is a much easier and far more comfortable Prospect than doing the yankee airport runaround, with sardine-contortion seating and  limited passage in the aisles when you may have to pee. Most important of all–the train seats are comfortable, roomy, easy to get in- and out-of, and less pricey than planes.

Maybe we can teach them something about Debts Pretension, while they teach us something about Running the Trains.

EuroTrain

Smoke 

New Robber Barons?

March 24, 2018

Somewhere back there, way back in time, we humans discovered how to make use of fire.

By ’n by, another great development happened. Somebody somewhere started using wheels to transport stuff.

The centuries, the millennia, of time rolled and rolled on and on, passing the past, penetrating the present and ultimately forming our future.

In 1439, Johann Gutenberg’s printing press changed, forever, the development of human writing and literacy.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the undeveloped Western continents that we now call America.

In 1781, James Watt’s steam engine changed forever the development of industry and technology.

But those advances were only the beginning. They set the stage for further developments.

We Americans got hold of these emerging technologies to convert a 4000-mile-wide continent into a New World. And we did it in a magnitude, and on a quickened time-scale, unprecedented in human history.

In the 1800’s, we Americans found ourselves in the right place at the right time to accomplish the largest expansion of commerce and industry in the history of the world.

As it developed, our Revolution morphed into something far more significant than the merely political implications of our Constitution could indicate.

We grabbed hold of Mr. Watt’s steam engine and proceeded to energize an entire continent. As the great zeitgeist thrust of our westward expansion reached full-steam, pioneers reached dizzying heights of exploration and accomplishment.

But a funny thing happened on our way to unprecedented Progress.

A few very smart guys took charge.  Our great, broad-based 19th-century industrial leap was eventually commandeered by a few very smart, very powerful business leaders.

You’ve probably heard their names: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan.

John D. Rockefeller was the “baron” of Railroads

Andrew Carnegie, baron of Steel

Cornelius Vanderbilt, baron of shipping

J. P. Morgan, finance

~ These men were smart enough to identify strategic developments in the expanding industries of their time period.

~ They then acquired manufacturing and/or distribution facilities that ultimately enabled them to assume control of vast swathes of the emerging industries.

~ They were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, recognize their advantageous positions, and develop those positions into incredible accomplishments.

These tycoons, through their respective working lives, assembled huge industrial assets by which they ultimately consolidated emerging industries into vast swathes of economic power.

Others followed. From the “inventor” category we find these names that you have probably heard:

~ Edison, electricity

~ Bell, telephone

~ Ford, automobile assembly line

By ’n by, as 20th-century civilization powered its way into history, other pioneers, not quite so high-profile as those already mentioned, blazed new trails of invention and progressive consolidation.

In the areas of merging electricity and telephony, new pioneers built upon the legacy of Edison and Bell. Marconi is the name we associate with radio’s transmission.  On the old Continent, German physicists Eccles and Lillienfeld developed the triode vacuum tube which further enabled emerging electronic communications.

By the 1940’s, scientists Shockley, Bardeen, Brattain at Bell Labs developed the transistor, which enabled solid-state circuitry.

Nanotechnology, Fairchild, Lucent, Intel—brought forth the computer and the IT revolution of latter 20th-century digitized lifestyle . . . which is now morphed into . . .

Eface

Cell phones, tablets, pads, pods, all kinds of miniaturizing, convenience-enabling “devices.”

Social Media.

And as we look back . . . not as far back as the consolidators of the industrializing 19th-century, not quite as far back as those old-time “barons”, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan . . .

As we look back at the in-our-lifetime pioneers of IT, who have now become the “barons” of Social Media . . .

Gates, Jobs & Wozniak, Zuckerberg, Page & Brin, Bezos . . .

we find that these men are human, just as we are, human and in some ways faulty, possibly unable to comprehend or anticipate the full consequences of their incredible accomplishments, perhaps culpable in matters of ethical ambiguity, maybe even “guilty” of . . .

“manipulating” people’s profiles, and thus

manipulating people’s lives?

Shall we now accuse them of being power-trippers? Will we judge them as predatory opportunists? Will we call into question their integrity, will we revise our hind-sighted historical assessments of them, as some have judged the barons of a former Era to be “robber barons?”

Zuckerberg a robber baron? I don’t think so.

Give the man a break. He has apologized.

He has done all you guys a favor! by presenting your pretty face to the the runways of this world. Everybody gets their fifteen minutes . . .

or fifteen likes, or 1500 likes, whatevuh

As for me, I don’t do Facebook . . .   well maybe every now and then.

Glass Chimera

Solar Tech–what needs to happen

January 24, 2018

When I was a young man, idealistic and foolhardy, I attempted to start a newspaper.

I was in Asheville, a progressive southern town that was collectively trying to morph itself into a sort of Santa Fe of the South.

The year was 1977, and the gas-rationing effect of the so-called Arab oil embargo was still fresh in American minds. We, the generation who had convinced the gov. of the US to get the hell out of Vietnam, were convinced that we could also make a constructive impact on the way business and industry was conducted here in the USA.

Solar tech was a rising star in everybody’s minds, or so we thought at the time. With leadership from Mother Earth News and other early sustainability advocates, many of us free-thinking boomers thought we could shift American Big Business interests from dependency on costly oil to a widespread earth-changing acceptance of Solar, Geothermal and Wind technology.

Solari

So the fledgeling “newspaper” that we were promoting did a center-spread on Solar Energy and Solar Collectors. One of our fellows was a fellow named Jim Samsel; he was from Oregon, or had lived there, and seemed to know more about the subject than most us. He included some diagrams that, as I remember, helped us and the readers to get a visual on what solar collectors looked like and how they were supposed to work. We felt good about our tentative thrust into progressive energy conservation.

That was 41 years ago. Since that time, my life has shifted toward more down-to-earth activities such as loving my wife, raising the children, educating them and living as a Christian family. So my interests drifted away from quasi-experimental pastimes such as dreaming of solar tech, which was known to be expensive to install and maintain.

Since that time, my wife and I have purchased and lived in three houses. On none of them have we installed solar collectors. The expenses of of life and a growing family overtook my nascent interest in alternative, home-based, power installations such as solar.

Now we live in Boone, which is home to Appalachian State University.  Here at ASU, the alt-tech professors and students have put together a noteworthy Sustainability curriculum, with appropriate technology workshops and experimental projects that I occasionally hear about. I haven’t been keeping up with it, but I do know there’s a lot going on out there pertaining of improvements of solar collectors and storage cells.

And that is good. I say more power to them. I hope they can make a big  earth-friendly dent in the massive oil-based infrastructure that has for so long held us all in hydrocarbon bondage.

Solar1

Over the years,  I have occasionally pondered the plight of solar pioneers who have stayed with it, and I formed a little scenario in my mind that posits what needs to happen for solar to really get a significant foothold in our American infrastructure, by way of John Doe’s household and Jane Smith’s homestead.

My scenario starts with a fantasy: a widespread societal/economic attitude shift that inspires homeowners to install solar-panels on a massive scale—millions of homeowners thinking (believing) they can actually save money on their electrical bills by gathering energy from the sun on their very own rooftops. Makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And the scenario works something like this:

Joe Blow has a few extra hundred bucks in his paycheck this week, so on Saturday he decides to go to the local Lowe’s or Costco or Sam’sClub and pickup another collector or two. He hauls them to the house and mounts them on the roof with a hardware system that has been patently engineered for simplicity of design and installation. The electrical connections below—hooking up to the panel and thereby the household electrical system—have previously been done by his electrician friends Wayne and Bryan.

Solarj

Then, after the connections and installation of the new panels have been accomplished in a half-day or so, he settles into an evening of relaxation with the surety that next month’s electric bill will be lower a a result of his incremental investments up on the roof. As time goes by, Joe uses a few extra bucks here and there to consistently repeat these simple periodic installations and thereby save $ by lowering his household’s power consumption.

Now what would it take for such a scenario to be reality instead of my tech-fantasy?

Starting with a look  back into history, back in the day, over a hundred years ago . . .

Henry Ford figured out how to actuate a new idea called mass production. Within a few decades, a Ford “in every garage” began to be a reality in American development and life. Every Joe Blow now understands that the reason this could happen was because Ford’s mass production assembly line enabled the company (and ultimately the wider automotive industry) to get the unit cost down to an affordable number that Joe and Jane Sixpack could actually spend to purchase a a car or truck for their family.

Now this is what we need for the solar industry in America–mass production and mass-market.

Who will take up the mantle? Who will heave the solartech excalibur out the stone of oil-dominance?

Tesla? GE? Some as-yet-unknown Startup in Phoenix, Detroit, Boone or Montgomery?

That remains to be seen, when and if it ever happens.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .in a brand new 2018. . .

Now suddenly appears an Omen that  perhaps the previously-thought-to-be-conspiracy Industrial Establishment has finally gotten a hold of the Solar vision! The next new expansion manufacturing industry!

What omen is that? The President announces a 30% tariff on foreign-manufactured solar collectors (and washing machines.)

Does this protectionism portend a willingness of American Industry to, at last, leap into solar production because they can now, with a little gov. help, compete with the Chinese and South Korea?

Or, more cynically, does it indicate the continuing Establishment denial of Solar development on a large scale for the sake of continuing oil hegemony?

We shall see in the days ahead what the effects of this tariff will be on our still-nascent Solar industry in America.

SolarStLuke

  Glass half-Full