The site uses cookies that you may not want. Continued use means acceptance. For more information see our privacy policy.

Inertia: Chains You Can Believe In

Things don’t need to change overnight. But we do need change, not chains, and if Obama wants to be that leader, he needs to start standing up for the cause and be honest about it, not just spit another can’t in the face of the world.

President Obama recently said, in discussing the alleged leaking of marked-protected documents by Pfc. Bradley Manning:

People can have philosophical views about [these things].  But look, I can’t conduct diplomacy on an Open Source [basis].  That’s not how, you know, the world works.

He went on to discuss more directly the law with regard to such disclosures.  But I’m not writing today about the law or the allegations against Manning or his treatment while in detention.

This post is about the inertia that Barack Obama has chained himself to in the time since he took office.  It hasn’t been wholesale.  Progress has been made on some fronts.  But on major fronts, the status quo keeps on pulling us down.

The biggest areas are the following:

  1. Foreign policy
  2. Energy policy
  3. Fiscal policy
  4. Social Health policy

In these four key areas (though there are others that are less obvious, and all of these have overlap too) we haven’t seen the change that’s needed.  In these areas there are entrenched interests that preclude the change that’s needed.

Obama says, rightly, that diplomacy isn’t conducted in the light of day.  But he gets it wrong saying that he can’t change that.  He can’t change it by not changing it, but if he moves to change it, it will change.

All systems seek equilibrium, and by changing any aspect of any system you introduce further changes toward that equilibrium.  If you can’t swim, and you’re alone in deep water, you’ll drown.  But if you introduce a floatation device, like a life preserver, then the equilibrium shifts, and you won’t drown.

What should happen in this situation, if Obama does want change, is to speak up about that.  “I would like to have a higher burden of the health care system be carried by Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, and the like, to lower costs and increase access, but the current system’s inertia makes that hard to enact.”  And then he would have those classes of workers (RNs and NPs) on his side to help push for the change.  He would have patients that want better care and better pricing saying, “Yes, I know a few nurses and they could handle more responsibility.”

Open Source Diplomacy would mean that everyone has the same information, and therefore, there’s no strategic advantage to lying or subterfuge.  It would mean that if a Middle East leader can’t stomach telling his people what he’s doing, he shouldn’t be doing it.  It would mean that we wouldn’t find ourselves in wars without a cause.  If the world can’t work that way, then I don’t see why the hell we’d bother at all.  But of course it can work that way.

It works that way all the time.  Just not in the circles that Presidents and Congresscritters run in.  Every day the software that powers the internet is developed in that way.  The stack that the likes of Obama and all of these other chained leaders are depending on to improve their productivity isn’t created in secret, behind closed doors.  Their own computers may be running the equivalent of a closed door, but the servers are overwhelmingly running software that anyone in the world can download, compile, and hack on.

People that go to school aren’t told, “you aren’t allowed to apply this knowledge without prior written permission,” and then forced to get their Algebra teacher to sign off when they need to do a calculation.  Learning in such an environment would be impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a right and wrong way to handle the open sourcing of diplomacy, and as I’ve indicated with the nursing example, there’s a good way to mitigate inertial effects when seeking change.  Things don’t need to change overnight.  But we do need change, not chains, and if Obama wants to be that leader, he needs to start standing up for the cause and be honest about it, not just spit another can’t in the face of the world.

Ideas: Oil conflict, parking, manufacturing

Three ideas to ponder: does OPEC have a reason to bait the US military? would moving parking away from everything be good? can the Midwest become the modular construction capital of the world?

The case for conflict

From the perspective of a country like Iraq or Iran (OPEC generally) there is actually a very good reason to desire ongoing conflict, be it regional or worldwide.  They make a lot of money from oil, and the largest stingle consumer of oil is the United States Department of Defense.  If you can increase the amount of oil needed by the DOD, you can effectively raise demand worldwide, and thereby make more money.

I’d be very surprised if this hasn’t been raised before, but I hadn’t personally encountered it.

Zoning for parking

One way to begin to reduce sprawl and increase exercise is to simply require new parking lots be built a sizable walk away from any structure and to disallow new structures to be built near the lots.  The tricky problem here is the accommodation of disabled persons that drive themselves, but that shouldn’t be too difficult if such a regulation allowed a few spots to be near the structure and fines for using them were increased.

I swear that it can’t be much of an exaggeration to claim that most suburban businesses and institutional buildings I can think of spend half of their land (plus or minus 10%) on parking.  It gets really bad when you’ve got two such buildings next to one another, with their parking lots separating them.  Simply relegating parking to a distance from anything would mean the actual buildings would be closer together, and it would allow for denser land use that would accommodate public transit in time.

Turn the Midwest into the Modular Construction Capital

One thing that’s ever-clear is that the US economy cannot forever depend on automobiles, and that we should begin to transition to other manufacturing.  The best way to do that is to plan for denser cities by growing a modular building industry.  Properly designed, building modules could be easily moved and reassembled.  If over a generation we replaced demolished buildings with module-based ones, we would soon find ourselves in a much more adaptable environment.  Density changes would be much less expensive, and efficiency improvements would be much easier to assimilate into existing structures.

There are already more cars than licensed drivers, we need to diversify the manufacturing centers in the Midwest, as well as the smattering of automobile factories spread throughout the rest of the nation.  Building small doesn’t get us the right balance of old economy and new, so we need to be building bigger things like trains and modules.

Recycling Oil

Recycling becomes more attractive as the price of oil rises.

Lots of stories lately about how manufacturing costs are going up as a result of the rising price of a bucket of oil. To recap those in short:

Oil is in damn near everything. From dildos to dvds, skyscrapers to backscratchers. They make up a lot of packaging even when they aren’t in products themselves. That new thing you bought last week was nestled in an mold specially made for it. And since all this crap is made out of or with oil, their prices go up. Since they have to be transported from the manufacturer to the distributor to the store to your house, the price goes up.

Enter: recycling…


Sun shining down at a low angle breaking across the street with house shadows long. Dew on the grass. A trashcan sits next to a driveway. We HEAR light, whimsical music gradually increasing in pace.

We HEAR the ROAR of a truck MIXED with an increased FERVOR in the music.

A recycling truck enters the frame. We HEAR: “DUN DUN DUUUNNNNN” and music HALTS.

As the price of oil rises, we will find it more and more desirable to reclaim oil that was used to make packaging and other products and recycle them. We’ll also see recycling become available in more places and of more types. Currently, for instance, the company that collects my recyclables does not recycle most of the types of plastic. That will likely change as they become more valuable and as recycling methods are streamlined.

That is all.