Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Those Who Fund Violence Should Forfeit Their Wealth

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Petrodollars have placed Middle Eastern factionalism on the world’s center stage, and have resurrected an ascendant Persian empire in opposition. These two Middle Eastern regional forces are bombing each other for dominance in several factional and sectarian uprisings that have spread into Africa. The rest of the world is bankrolling this conflict by enriching the bankers of violence. No military action can stop this process in an of itself.

One way to reduce conflict in the Middle East and Africa therefore is to turn down its throttle — to systematically over time reduce the oligarchic concentration of wealth that is fueling the conflict. This reduction involves minimizing the flow of the world’s dollars to the bad actors.

Those who fund violence should pay a heavy financial price–the loss of their wealth–for doing so.

It’s time for the rest of the world to ride a bike, buy a hybrid, or take the bus, and for the petrodollar-funded financial sponsors of regional conflicts to be publicly identified and denied resources through every means of economic differentiation and penalty available, from consumer boycotts even to the point of having their wealth seized or embargoed by the international community. The international information economy could help realize such a strategy.

Such a strategy may not reduce the will to violence, but may reduce its means.

The fuel of violence must be made the most costly fuel of all.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Implications of the Weapons from The Day the Earth Stood Still

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Reports over the past years have tracked the progress of non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons, which can disable most electronic components within a given area, reminiscent of the classic 1951 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Here’s a recent update on the development of one such EMP weapon.

Such weapons have both offensive and defensive capabilities. A city hit by such a weapon would immediately be cast into the 1940s pre-transistor age, but without having access to the analogue technology of the 1940s. Not only would communications and vehicles not work, but neither would hospital equipment, furnaces and refrigerators built with modern digital components, nor would the utilities supplying electricity, nor would in some cases water and natural gas utilities function properly. The maintenance of human subsistence in such areas would decline rapidly. Supply chains of food and medicine would dry up. Police and public safety officers would not be able to communicate with one another, and the web of human care which has been so advanced by electronic technology would revert to verbal, paper, and the most basic forms of communications. Google and Facebook and cell phones would be worthless, transactions would revert to cash and barter, and it may be difficult after such an attack for a city to even effectively signal its own surrender.

I can imagine a scenario in which a nation constantly besieged by terror attacks would keep a permanent EMP zone around itself, to prevent coordination of terror attacks or the use of any but the most basic weapons against itself. I can also imagine a more strategic scenario in which an entire country could be kept in a permanent 1940s state by repeated EMP attacks, and be forced to remain totally dependent on other countries for technology and goods and services. The use of such EMP weapons will change warfare forever.

Preparations for civil defense against such weapons are just about non-existent. I remember what life was like without our present technology, and as a person who studies planning and systems, I shudder to imagine what society would become if the use of such weapons against cities became widespread.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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What the Race Between Education and Technology Means for Higher Education

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Recently I learned of a university faculty search in the area of women and gender studies that drew over 800 applications, which is not surprising considering the growing number of PhDs earned in this area and in those claiming connections to it.

However, what is not generally known is that some university departments of gender studies are not sustained by the tuition from the relatively small number of undergraduates majoring in this area, but are subsidized by other funds from within their universities. Undergraduate students are already voting with their feet against majoring in gender studies at some universities. But because of faculty and upper-level graduate student interest in gender studies as an untouchable or “hold-harmless” university interest, some such departments are propped up by their universities–sometimes with the tuition dollars paid by students studying in other areas. As a result, there are many more PhDs in the area of gender studies than could ever hope to earn a full-time university job teaching solely in this area. You may have noticed highly-educated baristas, retail clerks, and others in the service industries as a consequence.

In their important 2008 book, The Race Between Education and Technology, Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz outline the relationship between education in technological areas and the general welfare of the middle class. In their multi-generational analysis, Goldin and Katz found that when education produced more students expert in technology, the middle class thrived. Goldin and Katz thus explain the decline in middle-class welfare since 1980 in terms of technological competence and competitiveness, and point to a solution for middle class advancement in terms of technological mastery.

It is thus high time for technological fields at universities to be “held harmless” and subsidized, rather than the me-centric, “navel-studies” fields popular from the student days of faculty graduating in the 1960s and 1970s.

Only when educational institutions truly meet the needs of the many can they then afford to subsidize the interests of the few on a wide scale. To concentrate on the few, without serving the many effectively, leads to a growing erosion of human capital in society, and to doom for higher education that does not meet the general need.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism L

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

In the spirit of putting dreams into action, we went to the Moon.

Then we asked, If we can go to the Moon, why can’t we resolve war, or poverty, or education?

Then we tried to resolve war, and poverty, and education, and didn’t.

Then we stopped going to the Moon.

Now we couldn’t go to the Moon any time soon, even if we wanted to do so.

(I thank one of my sons for the last line).

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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High speed rail as the icon and panacea of naive futurism

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

High speed rail is to 21st Century America what the monorail was to the 20th, the icon and panacea of naive futurism, realized mostly in theme parks and in visualizations.

In the post-9/11 world, the overlay of security that would be necessary to make high speed rail safe in the US would add much not only to the time and expense of construction and maintenance of such infrastructure, but also to the cost of and the time consumed by each trip, thereby reducing egalitarian availability.

While actual time spent on the high speed train between one city and another may be 20 minutes, an hour or more of security screening may have to be added to the trip. While multiple airlines subsidize the infrastructure of an airport, no such clustering of public and private resources is likely for high speed rail, unless high speed rail depots are also are located at airports.

Institutions such as cities and universities which shape their present institutional strategy around the assumed imminence of high speed rail may be sacrificing present opportunities for an uncertain future that may never come, and that may be limited in access only to the elite even if it does.

9/11 has changed the high speed rail equation. Such a change implies the following public investment strategies:

1. Better to plan a future utilizing the continued expansion of telecommunications and its capacity to bring people face to face instantly. This technology is getting cheaper, better, more useful–and more used–every day.

2. The increased costs associated with post-9/11 high speed rail imply the placement of other public infrastructure where it will be most near to those populations who will actually make use of it without the unnecessary expenditure of time or resources.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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On taking lawyers against a sea of troubles

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico – BP oil disaster provides the best argument for why the United States government needs more graduates of state universities–where engineering and the practical sciences are integrated into the culture of everyday learning–at the very top.

Forces of nature are unimpressed by briefs wielded by Ivy League lawyers and their public relations shills both inside and outside government, no matter how clever, and no matter how persuasive is their 20-20 hindsight. Forces of nature must be timely met by engineering and scientific solutions while they can still make a difference.

Technologies exist which can abate the disastrous spread of crude oil in the Gulf. That the world’s best engineering solutions to capture the oil were not marshaled earlier is governmental incompetence of the first order, and the people of the Gulf, indeed the hemisphere, will pay for this incompetence for generations to come, no matter how creatively this disaster may be politicked.

When downtown Chicago flooded in 1992, the politicians shut up, stepped aside, and let the engineers take over. That’s one part of the Chicago Way today’s Beltway bunch still hasn’t learned.

(We should note, however, that Chicago’s City Hall did thereafter stick local businesses with the bill for the flood for years).

The problem in the Gulf is fundamentally a science and engineering problem, to which the US government is applying farcical political and lawyerly solutions. The government can layer over the problem with escrows and demand kowtowing apologies and money–but they will not be doing the three things that will really solve the problem–(1) stop the oil flow, (2) capture as much of the oil as possible at sea, and (3) clean up the rest when it hits shore.

An avalanche of political theater cannot make up for administrative inadequacy. One cannot address a physical problem, a disaster, simply with a metaphysical solution, of assigning blame.

Our government has worsened the situation by promising the impossible–to prevent, by regulation, disasters from ever happening again. Such a promise lasts only until the next station break.

Physical disasters do happen and will happen again with regularity throughout the globe. It is up to us to respond creatively to disasters, using and improvising tools to suit the purpose at hand–something we used to call “good old American know-how,” a phrase that was in use before little kids decided to be (political) change-agents instead of (scientific) problem-solvers.

Let our leaders strike as many tough poses as they may, let our un-respected Congress hold hearings in which they parade equally un-respected BP to the evening news guillotine (perhaps they deserve each other), it will avail nothing but a brief distracting edification for political true believers and a mirror for media pundits to gaze upon themselves. It does not solve the problem. Until the oil flow is stopped, until most of the oil is captured at sea, and until the rest is cleaned up, our government has failed.

Send in the engineers. . .

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Earthquake-Safe Homes for the Poor

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

The June 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine has a great two-page article on “safe houses,” on inexpensive technologies to make even the most simple home more earthquake-resistant–

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/big-idea/10/earthquakes

Such improvements in the homes of the poor have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives annually worldwide. Prof. Marcial Blondet, an engineer of the Catholic University of Peru, Lima, has been working on these earthquake-ready construction technologies for the poor since 1970–

Source: api.ning.com

Blondet participates in an ongoing conversation on such “earthquake-safe” technologies for Haiti, at–

http://haitirewired.wired.com/profile/MarcialBlondet

Several Spanish language videos of Prof. Blondet are available. Here are links for an August, 2007 Spanish language interview, and a 2010 Spanish language lecture.

Prof. John van de Lindt of Colorado State University has likewise developed a series of technologies to allow small frame apartment buildings to be earthquake resistant, as demonstrated in this National Science Foundation video.

Also of great relevance is the work of California engineer Darcey Donovan, who has worked on earthquake-resistant technologies appropriate to Pakistan. Darcey Donovan is the founder of PAKSBAB, which advances these appropriate, earthquake-safe technologies in Pakistan–

http://www.paksbab.org/index.php

Sadly, only a few thousand homes have been built to date worldwide using any of the above innovative and affordable technologies. Both public and private resources should be systematically devoted to increase the number of earthquake-safe dwellings for the poor, who each year from the thousands to the millions suffer injury or homelessness from earthquakes. These injuries and displacement are in many cases preventable.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism XI

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Corrupt and self-seeking government peddles identity politics to hoodwink political clients into supporting their faction, using technology to capture interests within their orbit.

In what is both tragedy and farce, corrupt government invites vicarious participation in perceived important events, and thereby seeks to weaken other authority and competence–be it personal, familial, scientific, religious, or commercial–in order to churn all events into political events, and to turn all participants into political clients.

The triumph of corrupt government is therefore the reduction of mediating associations, entities, and institutions.

The adage, “The personal is political,” has enslaved rather than empowered, because it has reduced the power and integrity of the personal in the name of empowerment.

Similarly, corrupt enterprise seeks to alter the structure of basic human bonding and commitment in order to hawk what is unnecessary to those who don’t know they don’t need it. This deception applies whether the product is an illegal drug, a high fashion, gang membership, or a political ideology.

For corrupt enterprise to succeed, the voice that says, “You don’t really need this,” must be first silenced, shouted down, misdirected, or obscured. Corruption silences the trusted personal voice.

In a culture of false transparency, privacy is freedom, private association is power.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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A “Way” Overview on the Ecology of Migration in the US Southwest

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Sometimes it pays to get an overview of a conflictual situation in order to put it into perspective and to seek more enduring solutions.

In the case of the controversy about Latin American migration to the US Southwest, such a vexing matter requires an overview that is way over, that is, from outer space. As a planner, I’m used to asking, “How is a given problem reflected in physical, spatial, or geospatial terms?”

Please study the 2001 satellite images contained in the following two links from NASA, and also carefully read NASA’s accompanying commentary–

Colorado River Delta; Source: NASA, 2001

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=1288

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=1291

Please note the statement from the NASA website: “The bluish purple river that appears to be flowing from the Gulf of California to the north is actually an inlet that formed in the bed of the Colorado River after it receded.”

Now, were a neighboring country today to propose to consume about 90% (the 2001 number) of the water from a major river before the river passed into a second country which at one time contained an ecologically rich and thriving delta for that river, such a proposal would be rejected both by the second country and by the international community.

But such consumption of the vast majority of the water from the Colorado River by the US prior to its reaching Mexico is a historic fact of now almost a century in duration.

Imagine how thriving a geographic area in Mexico might the Colorado River delta be were a much greater portion of the river to flow through it once more.

Vast migrations of human populations are caused by proportionately-sized changes in human welfare of regional or international scope. Put simply, big migrations are due to big reasons.

Yes, US jobs are an attractive magnet for migration. True, drug wars in Latin America are a repulsive magnet driving human flight. But in a very fundamental sense, the retention of water by the US Southwest–and the lack of it in sections of Mexico–are both much more primordial drivers–having global power and scope–of human movement. Put simply, human populations “follow the water.” Put simply, economic development is impossible without it.

Until more water goes to Mexico, there will not be a long-term solution to the problem of Latin American migration to the US Southwest. Water must be part of any such solution.

Making water more abundant in the Southwest is one of the Holy Grails of civil engineering. Finding such an engineering solution would be an historic humanitarian contribution. The prospects for a political solution are bleak indeed.

Further background on the ecology of the Colorado River and its delta is at–

http://www.geo.arizona.edu/ceam/EnvironmentNewsService.html

Some of the engineering history of the Colorado River, along with an account of an early 20th Century water engineering disaster including the Colorado River, is at–

http://earthshots.usgs.gov/Imperial/Imperial

A scientific paper on the Colorado Delta from 2006–

http://www.biol.wwu.edu/trent/alles/TheDelta.pdf

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism VII

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

We continue to build roads, transportation systems, and buildings as if telecommuting never existed. It must be easier to build like we always did, no matter how expensive, than to figure out how to build new work relationships.

When it is more valuable to build new work relationships than it is to build things the old way, telecommuting will become more widespread.

The inertia of old familiar ways carries far into the time of the new. . .

For a scientific study of telework, see–
http://www.teleworkexchange.com/nsfstudy/

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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