#189 The Problem with Predictions

In the 1950s, a statistician named William Edwards Deming who had been successful in improving American production methods during WWII, tried to convince American manufacturing executives that consumers could recognize quality and would naturally gravitate to the best quality products in a global market. American executives blew Deming off as a quack and continued to direct their companies toward shoddier products and higher costs. Deming took his math and his methods to Japan with McArthur, where he became a national hero and where his analysis tools allowed Japan to leapfrog past US manufacturing capabilities. While most Americans reflexively prefer Japanese manufactured products over American-made versions, most Americans have not come to grips with the fact that Deming predicted this preference and the economic impact it would have on American manufacturing more than 50 years ago.

Minneapolis FBI agents repeatedly tried to warn Washington that Arab operatives were up to something major. In 1997, right wing author Tom Clancy wrote a book about a future when "the President, Congress, and Supreme Court are obliterated when a Japanese terrorist lands a 747 on the Capitol." The Clinton Administration kept its eye on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's activities because they were certain that those characters were planning significant terrorist activity in the US. When the planes struck on 9/11, the fools in the Bush Administration all brayed "nobody imagined something like this" could occur. Nobody without an imagination imagined it, I guess.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote a book called "The Population Bomb." Ehrlich famously predicted "in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death." He was wrong, although a few "hundreds of millions of people" have starved to death since the 1970s. Ehrlich also predicted a dramatic increase in fatal plagues, although HIV/AIDS had yet to be discovered when he wrote his book. In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS. The disadvantage those starved and sick millions had was that they were not in the US or Europe. Most of them were in Africa, South America, and Asia, where Faux News is rarely interested unless the military industrial complex tells them to be interested. The rightwingnuts have often cited Ehrlich as a "liberal" doomsayer whose "failed" dire predictions prove that the world's resources and human ingenuity are limitless. I guess this is an example of the political theory that states if A≠B then B≥∞?

In 1980, Ehrlich and Julian Simon made a bet that the price of metals would rise (Simon bet against that proposition) during the 80s due to shortages and cost of production. Ehrlich lost the bet and paid up. If the terms of the bet had made it to the late 1990's, Ehrlich would be the winner. If it were renegotiated today, Ehrlich would be winning consistently, possibly, for the rest of human existence. The prediction was accurate, the timing was not.

In 2006, 852 million people went "hungry," according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In 2006, more than 9 1/2 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. Everyday, about 16,000 children die from starvation. Since they aren't starving in the US, we figure they don't matter.

Ehrlich's I = P × A × T (Environmental Impact, Population, Affluence, Technology) formula is proving to be true in an unexpected place, though; global warming. Maybe it will turn out that human population's cultural impact will go unnoticed as it is overwhelmed by massive global impact. The IPAT formula is simplistic and probably needs some exponential components to be accurate, but it's a start.

Dr. M. King Hubbert predicted, in 1956, that the United States would reach peak oil production in the late 1960s and that the world would reach peak oil production in the first decade of this century. He was right on the money with his first prediction and close enough for practical purposes in his second. Many people have dismissed the importance of Hubbert's predictions because while oil has become exponentially expensive in the last few years, it is still more-or-less affordable. However, world starvation is rising along with energy prices and it may be the real "end of oil" realization will come from the food shortages that result from high energy costs.

A little research would find hundreds of accurate, dire warnings that have been issued by clever people investigating everything from energy to finance to education. Usually, those predictions come true but they rarely come true as accurately as Hubbert's calculations. Hubbert had the advantage of working in a field with no practical alternatives. Oil is the "bear in the closet." McSame can whimper that nuclear energy is the only workable alternative to our oil addiction, but the byproducts of fission nuclear energy are still an unsolved problem. We have no current alternative to fission nuclear power, so ramping up nuclear energy production guarantees a collection of future environmental catastrophes. Since we are still ignoring the result of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it will be easy to ignore the warnings of nuclear catastrophe until disaster strikes and our "leaders" can whine that "nobody told us."

The problem with predictions is that human adaptability and gullibility make it difficult to figure out how a catastrophe will play out. In 1968, Ehrlich probably didn't imagine either our willingness to sacrifice future generations by decimating agricultural land for current production or the inventiveness of petroleum engineers and their ability to apply toxic chemicals as "fertilizers." I suspect he is a little baffled at the world media's willingness and ability to ignore the starvation in developing nations, too.

The hysteresis in human activities is unpredictable. Who would have thought that our phony banking system could have propped up its fake walls this long. Most economic observers figured the housing house of cards would come crashing down in the 1990's. Our corporations have been paying millions for non-performing executives for thirty years. What keeps this incompetent system of incompetents in place? Our economy has been slipping toward socialism and an abundance of unearned entitlements since the Johnson Administration. We are quickly approaching the point where more people work for local, state, and federal governments than work for product-producing, productivity-enhancing businesses. Including the military-industrial complex, federal and state contractors, retired government workers, and current government employees, a significant portion of the country's "gross national product" is a closed loop money stream. None of this makes any sense, but hysteresis keeps it all spinning long beyond when it should tip over and collapse on its own.

I've worked in a couple of companies like that. Initially, the products were good, the service was excellent, and management was, at least, not in the way. For several years, the company's success was understandable but not overwhelming. After a few years, the reputation exceeds the performance but humans are slow to change and we aren't nearly as bright as we like to think. After a certain amount of economic momentum, it takes extremely talented management to break the connection between customers and products. The products have to go from good to awful before some customers will start looking for an alternative. Sometimes, management has to engage in blatant abusive behavior before customer realize they've been buying crap.

So it goes with stupid behaviors on a macro scale. There appears to be no significant political or media figure willing to admit (in public) that our addiction to oil is so selfish that we are willing to search out and burn up every drop without a second's consideration of the next generation's needs. We are so concerned with our current markets that we'll pack the world to standing-room-only before we limit our population growth, even with the obvious knowledge of what that will do to future generations. Making accurate predictions requires some really clever estimates of the effects of cultural hysteresis and that will require a lot better understanding of human behavior and, more importantly, misbehavior.

September 2008



Debate One and McCain's Inexperience

Probably more than any other defect in McCain's personality and knowledgebase, I think his almost perfect lack of experience as an American makes him worthless as a Presidential candidate.

According to his own published biography, McCain was born at the "Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone . . . Both McCain´s father and paternal grandfather, John Sidney McCain, Sr., were four-star admirals and his father rose to command all the U.S. naval forces in the Pacific. . .

"McCain spent his childhood and adolescent years moving between naval bases in America and abroad . . .

"McCain graduated (fifth from the bottom of his class) from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1958. . .

"His introduction to politics came in 1976, when he was assigned as the Navy´s liaison to the U.S. Senate. In 1981, after marrying his second wife, Cindy Hensley, McCain retired from the Navy, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. While working in public relations for his father-in-law´s beer distribution business, he began establishing connections in politics. . .

"McCain was first elected to political office on November 2, 1982, easily winning a seat in the House of Representatives after his well-known war record helped overcome doubts about his “carpetbagger” status. "

So, from birth to senility, John McCain has either been provided for by the US taxpayer as a military dependent or a member of the military or was cared for by his rich father-in-law. He has never had to wrestle with health care, social security, paying taxes, finding the money to put his kids through school, managing an unsubstidized career, unemployment, or any other problem that "real people" deal with. He is, in fact, totally inexperienced and unfamiliar with the life led by the majority of the American public. He might know a little about life at the top of the economic heap, but he is of no use to those of us who work for a living.

John McCain thinks that pouring money into the corrupt and inefficient health insurance system will "fix" the sorry state of health care that most Americans suffer from. He knows, personally, most of the executives who have corrupted the health care system, so he has deluded himself into thinking he knows something about Americans and their problems. John, most of us don't earn 8 figure incomes. Trust me on this. Almost none of us get golden parachutes and pensions when we retire. Instead, we get to fight with Social Security for our tiny check and we decide between eating dog food and Top Ramen or getting a few of our prescriptions filled for the month. You should meet some real Americans, someday. If you can remember the experience, I'm sure you'll be moved by it.

John still believes in Reagan's delusional "magic of the market." The market magic is what caused the current economic crisis, but John's friends on Wall Street are still waving their wands around his pointy head and they are doing just fine with the buyout millions they gave themselves as they walked out the door of the failed corporations they mismanaged. The Wild West was a perfect example of market magic. It was every man for himself until a few men gained enough power to lord over their area like kings; vicious kings. The market is filled with corrupt people with sociopathic personalities and vicious tendancies. Corporations are not democratic and they are not interested in existing in a democratic society. In fact, they are in many ways very similar to the military, including the traits that allow crap to float to the top.

One look at John's picture and you can see that he's a little confused. Sometimes, he proudly imitates G.W. Bush's smug little smirk, but usually McCain is confused. He simply knows absolutely nothing about the lives of the people he wants to "lead." He knows perfectly the well the people he represents, though. Like every Republican candidate since Ike, John McCain represents the ruling elite. He is one of them, so who else would he represent? He's the representative of the 1% who own 99% of the nation's assets. He's the candidate of the military-industrial-complex. He is the man who will perserve and protect the status quo until he's left playing the violin as Washington burns. He'll give us more corporate power, more military spending, more national debt, less protection from government and corporate abuses and he'll be proud to do it.

This is one of the few times when being offered "the lessor of two evils" is so clear. John McCain is perfectly inexperienced at any aspect of life for the majority of citizens in this country. He couldn't manage a household budget, find a job, drive a nail or a car, raise a family, put up with an incompetent boss, or stay married to anyone who didn't inherit billions to save his own life. Like the moron before him, John McCain is completely unsuited for the Presidency so he is the perfect Republican Candidate.


#187 Watch Out for the Elites

Elites, what are they? It seems easy to figure out, but the Midwest has a terrible time defining the word in a rational manner. Barack Obama seems to have hit a nerve with his comments about small town bitterness, "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

I've been hearing people say exactly the same thing for most of my life. Most of the people who say those things are educated, have a sense of humor, have skills and careers, and take religion on an individual basis, rather than swallowing crap whole from fundamentalist evangelists. I'm beginning to think the definition of elite people who "are educated, have a sense of humor, have skills and careers, and take religion on an individual basis, rather than swallowing crap whole from fundamentalist evangelists."

The actual definition, per Webster's is: "1 asingular or plural in construction : the choice part : cream bsingular or plural in construction : the best of a class csingular or plural in construction : the socially superior part of society d: a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence e: a member of such an elite —usually used in plural 2: a typewriter type providing 12 characters to the linear inch"

So, the rednecks and right-wingnuts are throwing the word around as an insult, when what it means is "the best of a class?" Damn, that's terrible. We've been "led" by the worst of a class for the last 8 years and, off and on, for the last 45 years: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and, now, Little George were all class idiots and academic failures. The radical right would like to attach the tag of a "socially superior part of society" on anyone they think might cost them money and power. As long as Americans want to elect morons, this tactic will work. The question is, why do we want to elect people we know are near the bottom of the class?

I first wondered about this when Richard Nixon was elected in 1968. Contrary to the weird interpretation the media promoted during the debates, Nixon lost the debates because he turned every question into an opportunity to pontificate rather than answer the questions. Kennedy's answers were direct, clear, and to the point. If you listen to the debates, I think you will still come away believing Kennedy won. Obviously, interpreting Nixon's body language on the tube adds to that impression. At his heart, Nixon was a corrupt fool put in place by the California political power structure and there was no more to him than what there appeared to be at that moment. U.S. voters were so intent on electing an idiot at that time, they elected Nixon and Agnew to a second term when it was clear that they would be criminally impeached almost immediately after the election.

Ford was very much a national laughing stock outside of his group of cronies and proved to be no more than that when he pardoned Nixon and 408 other criminals. His justification for the Nixon pardon was so lame that few accept it for anything more than spin. Ford was the nation's first football scholarship President, which saved him from having to learn anything from college classes.

Reagan, another football-playing, classroom-avoiding politician, set new low standards for Presidential expectations, and lowered the bar for White House intellectual achievement so that an ant could step over the pole without stretching. Reagan is the cynic who said, "Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." And followed that by increasing the size and government exponentially. When Reagan took office, the national debt was $1 trillion. When he left, it was $2.6 trillion (more than 200%). " . . . .For every dollar a Democratic President has raised the national debt in the past 30 years, Republican presidents have raised the debt by $2.52."Conservative" Reagan reversed every Carter imitative to make the nation energy independent, in his first term of office.

The two Bushes kept blowing cash like a hooker with a stolen credit card, only mildly interrupted by 8 years of Clinton's actual conservative economic policies. Bush has taken what could have been a balanced budget in 2001 and turned it into massive debt, which will plague the nation for generations. The damage this character has done to the nation's technological base, the education system, and national security is immeasurable.

Still, many voters are desperately looking for a fool of equal character to replace Little George. The fact that Sarah Palin hasn't been laughed off of the national stage is solid evidence that voters are ready and willing to dip further into the muck of our gene pool for their next "leader." No, we aren't likely to vote for elites until the economic and social system is damaged beyond repair. Like lemmings heading for a watery death, we're hell bent to elect a moron and a senile has-been to lead the nation into bankruptcy. If that sounds elitist, you don't know me very well.

September 2008


Life in Loony Tunes

I just got back from a trip to Nova Scotia. Friends and aquaintances had been advising me to eat all the sea food I could choke down while I was visiiting the east coast, so I planned to do just that. However, I discovered that, mostly, I was about a decade too late. The spectre of off-shore drilling has a lot of east coast fishermen convinced that we're seeing the beginning of the end of life in the Atlantic Ocean. Human over-population and over-exploitation of the ocean has done a pretty good job of wiping out life on the right coast. Oil dereks and their associated pollution and physical damage will finish the job. While I was in Canada, I heard a radio science program describing that the typical ocean bed derek destroys practically all life within a 5-10 mile radius of the oil well and does significant damage well beyond that range. If you like sea food and oxygen, you're not gonna like the result of the kind of massive off shore drilling the Republicrats are about to sign off on. And all because we want to drain every drop of that resource in a single generation, leaving ever suceeding generation to despise the greedy bastards of the 20th and 21st Century.

On a lighter note, television and radio broadcast the Alaskan ceremony celebrating the shipping out of the Alaska National Guard to Iraq. The nation's next Vice-Dingbat, book-banning religious nut Caribou Barbie, is shipping her son, Track, off with the rest of the sacrificial lambs to . . . believe it or not . . . the tune of John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell." When life really wants to imitate comedy, it goes all out. For those of you from my generation, Liberty Bell was the Monty Python Flying Circus theme song. I almost choked to death listening to the serious boob tube and right wing radio announcers jabbering their take on this strange moment while acoumpanied by the Python's theme music. Freaky stuff.

The more I know about Palin, the stranger this story gets. You'd think that the righ wingnuts would be a little nervous about her husband, an employee of British Petroleum; the company that mismanages the Alaska pipeline and is obviously not an American company. I guess any corporation is good enough for them. The so-called right-to-lifers seem to be unswayed by her attempt to knock off her unborn Down's Syndrome child, Trig. In her last days of pregnancy, she flew to Texas to lecture to and take payola from oil executives. When her water broke, she finished her lecture and decided to gamble on the plane flight back to Alaska finishing the job. Didn't work. Trig was born and she, somehow, turned that into a bonus. Republicans are weird. Her anti-sex education stance has resulted in her 18-year old daughter's unwed, unplanned pregnancy and will, apparently, also result in a shotgun wedding. Crazier and crazier. Palin ought to be called Daisy Mae, she's not sophisticated enough to be Barbie.