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society

Replaceable

The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.

— Elbert Hubbard, 1907, per Quote Investigator: 21 November 2011: “The Graveyards are Full of Indispensable Men”

In this time of upheaval over various sexual deviances of the rich and famous, including legislators, presidents, actors, comedians, journalists, and so forth, it is important to remember. Part of the slant against accusers has to do with the lofty positions that folks are falling from, and how comfortable they are in many lives.

We invite into our brains these characters to help guide us through the daily jungles of a hyperactive world, and like tourists in a real jungle, feel afraid to venture forth without their guiding hands and sharp machetes cutting the path.

But they are not our sacred cows. Even the greatest orators have speechwriters. Even the most spirited leaders have staffs.

Some worry about what is lost. That great art might perish under the association with a scoundrel. Let it. Food spoils, why not art? We can always have it remade, as Hollywood seems apt to do of any old film and not especially those made by power abusers. Or not, let the art endure with a sticker pointing out the misdeeds of the artist.

But whether it is on the issue of sexual misconduct or other abuses of power or just plain imbecility, we must remember that these people are replaceable in their roles. We should be glad to replace them.

As the GOP moves to pass their equivalent of comfort food, to snack away their pain in dealing with bad leadership, we must all remember their mistakes are replaceable too. The tax code can be fixed, and it will be fixed as the deficit rises and the debt with it. It is injurious and gluttonous to be sure, and it is a sick parody of something like Simpson-Bowles or any other even-handed attempt to reform the tax code, but after the drunken reverie wears off, even some Republicans will be lending a hand to fix their own mess.

We are only 49 weeks from the midterm elections.

Categories
society

Future of Transport as much Why as Where

When looking at how transit will change in the future we tend to think of self-driving cars (soon to be just called cars) or bullet trains (or maybe a few of us still harbor dreams of jet propulsion sneakers). But the reality isn’t as clear as these simple technology stories seem.

These stories go something like:

Cool technology struggles to become practical, gain acceptance, and then takes over the world.

But the future of moving around is as much about why you want to go somewhere as where you want to go. For example, if you’re only going because you need to buy groceries, at some point it becomes easier to just bring the groceries to you. Or if you need to meet a friend or business associate, it may be more viable to either hold a teleconversation or to meet-in-the-middle.

Of course, we already do meet halfway, and Skype and similar systems are already widely used. But in the future you might be having that conversation while you’re going somewhere else. Or you might meet your friend who is already on the train by side-boarding without the train stopping.

All of this will make destinations and journeys start to blur a bit. Where you are stops mattering as much. Unlike commutes of today, where time to destination is so important, tomorrow it won’t matter as much if you take your sweet time to get somewhere. Being late won’t hold the same sort of stigma, because being somewhere becomes less a matter of physical presence.

Being there in the decades to come will be about awareness, and thus physical presence will be increasingly devalued. That’s not to say people won’t make the trip. It’s just where they go will be more about the why. Instead of being at the meeting, they’ll go to their kid’s game (which might be a video game). They can catch the meeting on the way.

That is, the why of meeting is shared awareness, not shared breathing space. In these early days of technology, physical presence often helps ensure awareness (more or less). But in the long view, attention can be held without sitting around a conference table. The why is more important than the where.

How will it work practically? Will you get in a cab and say, “take me to the Fùchūn Teahouse?” Or will you say, “take me to a Chinese restaurant with at least 70% rating?” Or maybe you won’t get in a cab, but you’ll order food. Nah, you’re in the mood for a dining experience. But maybe you’ll order food, delivered to a dining area that doesn’t actually have food prep. Maybe it will specialize in ambiance, the experience of a shared space, and the food is your responsibility. After all, maybe you want to eat Sugar Orbs cereal in a Chinese dining atmosphere. That’s your choice.

Categories
society

Practicality Takes Time

Image of sharp and smoothed stones.
Image of sharp and smoothed stones. Original photographs by Jim Barton and Des Colhoun under CC-BY-SA-2.0 licenses.

We often see amazing scientific discoveries and readers lament, “but how long until I, in my kitchen, can smash an atom with it?” But practicality takes time.

Look at the automobile. Been around for over 100 years, and we’re still trying to get rid of some of the downsides to it, like deaths from crashes. We overhauled our entire road system for it, built more bridges and roads than ever before, and the whole thing remains a work in progress.

Electronic cigarettes are a similar story. Patents and designs for various models go back 50 years, but the modern ecig only has its origins about ten years back. And the current state-of-the-art devices are really rooted in the past five years of development. And even then, they stand to be further improved.

My go-to metaphor for this sort of thing is a sharp stone being worn down until it is smooth. Society thrives off of the process of smoothing stones out, until they fit our hands and do not cut us.

A couple of things are involved in why an advancement is not instantly realized. One is economies of scale, the notion that for a new process to be cheap enough for widespread distribution requires enough units to be produced. This is likely the bulk of the time-to-practicality issue. It encompasses several related issues:

  • Price-per-unit
  • Knowledge of the advancement
  • Adaptability of the advancement to many different products
  • Generational product planning

It needs to be cheap enough not just to justify the switchover, but to cover the cost of switching in some reasonable timeframe. The option to use the new thing has to reach a wide enough audience. It has to be adjustable to the individual products that can use it.

And it needs generational support. The new-and-expensive of today needs top tier customers, while the older-and-cheap needs lower tier customers. The consumers need to be proportioned in what is roughly a pyramid shape.

But supporting technologies are also needed. We have decent designs for hydrogen-based electric generation, but we’re still developing production and storage. In theory we will rely on hydrogen instead of batteries for anything that requires a large capacity of electric power, while traditional batteries will remain for low-power scenarios.

But it could turn out that once we have hydrogen storage down to an art, it will be easier to move hydrogen than use batteries, so where the line of high and low capacity will be drawn will take some shaking out.

And that’s the norm for competing technologies. And it’s healthy if you don’t have the sort of economic leverages that block real competition. In the case of renewables versus carbon fuels, you have those anti-capitalist behaviors blocking price competition in favor of carbon.

What these anti-capitalist practices amount to is a lag to practicality for their competitors. In extreme cases, the lag can be as long as it takes for some tectonic shift in the economic and political landscape.

There is another side to the maturation of technologies, which is a burst of overuse once a technology is sufficiently mature to be very inexpensive. We’re already seeing this with some technologies like Bluetooth, but we will likely see another wave of this as the Internet of Things becomes more mature.

Categories
society

Teaching Protests

The events of late in Ferguson, Missouri give a lot to think about. Not so much about who was right or wrong, either in the initial incident, nor in the response, but in how to change the responses for the next time humans butt heads in our society. That is inevitable, at least at present.

Foremost, we do have an education problem. We do not train people how to protest. And our training for how the police respond to protests is inadequate. We should have both.

Teaching protests could begin in grade school with some exercises tied in with already common activities. Classes often walk in lines when the class migrates around the school campus, for example. That could be used in a lesson for protesting. The act of marching to the protest site in a line could help trigger pre-protest discipline, getting protesters in the mindset of advocacy as public performance.

Proper protesting is a very disciplined activity. Being led off-point adds danger to protest, and also weakens the message of the demonstration. It gives opponents (both those generally opposed to dissent and those specifically opposed to the activists’ views) ways to distract from the message both at the time and in the media afterward.

Protesters should all be assigned roles. Some should be tasked with first aid or other assistance. Others should be responsible for leading lines or chants. Still others should act as spotters, alerting the group to media, counter-protests, police, and other changes in the environment. And so forth. The use of assigned roles allows for the further development of group discipline and helps avoid distraction.

At the grade school level there is little effort to teach these roles, but pupils often seek them out anyway. During recess, for example. The merry-go-round offers the chance for one student to lead the effort of spinning the apparatus, coordinating the efforts of the others. Swings may also offer organizational development, if the group wishes to have the swings either line up or alternate.

During later years, especially in high school, students could participate in bona fide protests. They could be tasked with selecting a cause, organizing, and executing a protest at the local level over an important community issue. Some high school students already may do this, but it is organic and only reaches those who are awakened to the need for activation at a young age.

With the obvious need for public dissent, and the general lack of education of how to proceed, it is clear that future generations can benefit from public education that includes instruction in activism.

Categories
unAmerican

Winning versus Politics

We are stuck in the spin cycle of politics. Our political laundry almost never leaves the machine, but just spins and spins. We throw up, repeatedly, and are simply fed motion sickness pills like candy to try to neutralize the effects. We have bruises on all sides from being tossed endlessly about.

Yet the occasional left sock does escape. Like the man who stuck his head and arms outside of the carnival ride, the sock only escapes partially. It is decapitated! We find its head over by the snowcone concessions. But its body remains trapped in the machine, spilling its guts and innards around making the nausea even worse.

One such escapee looks to be marriage equality. It is rapidly making its way out of the machine, yet for the right wing it will continue to act as a source of discomfort and discombobulation for at least the next few cycles. Another issue, which hasn’t escaped, is firearm access for the disturbed. But it still agitates the people trapped in the machine, continually popping off high-powered rounds giving the people much fear.

And yet while the whole broken machine spins out of control, we find ourselves fighting over winning. Winning means we dictate the direction of the spinning. Clockwise or anticlockwise. We don’t control the speed directly, and if we had balance the machine would stop spinning, but we’ve been Stockholmed by the spinning, thinking this machine must spin. We’re the fish that don’t know they live in a water vortex, or the blind ants following one another in a spiral of death called an ant mill.

When the direction reverses, the spinning does stop briefly. That tiny moment of relief stays with us, thinking that we’re still in it, that the effects of the spinning will finally wear off if we can hold this direction for just another few years.

Why does the machine spin? Most of us just get tossed around, but some of us believe fervently that it should always spin one way. They are hamsters in this machine of ours, running to spin the machine in their direction. Over time there are shifts in the spinners. Some of them fall down, die, others change sides or take a break.

But the spinmeisters and spin doctors have a side bet going, in the form of large corporate interests, about which way the machine spins. They want it to spin faster and faster in the way that wins them their little bets. They don’t know or care they could make more money if the machine just stopped spinning. Because, again, they’ve been entranced by the spin. The whirring machine is a Siren’s song, the vibration of the belt’s friction against the drum is like a car engine puttering their infantile minds to sleep at night.

Kids grow up running the direction of their parents, sometimes switching sides to oppose their parents, or follow their religion’s rotational values, or they like a pet idea or two of one direction over another. But the directions have nothing to do with any of that. A socialist society could pay less taxes than a libertarian society. A conservative society could lower military spending versus a liberal one.

Like with smoking, where people smoke for the psychoactives and die from the particulates, our society is spinning for decisions that could be achieved without the spinning.