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2016 Nov 09



The presidential election, 8 November 2016


THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHANGE AND PROGRESS — The Underlying Causes of the Split in the National Electorate


The supporters of Donald Trump, exactly one half of the electorate, stated that "change" is the most important criterion on their agenda. They view Mr. Trump as their agent of change.


When examined closely, however, the change of which they speak is a desire to return to a more slowly changing world. One in which there is adequate long-term employment, adequate pay to support a family, and a popular standard of  social values which they can use to judge the behavior of themselves and others. They chose Trump because he promised to return these factors to their lives, and he did it in terms to which they could relate.


The world in which we live, however, has not been kind to the status quo: employment, pay, and social values are determined globally, not locally, and are not subject to national boundaries in an  interconnected world.


Our standard of living is determined by the price we must pay for goods and services. The lower the price, the  more and better goods and services we can afford on a given income. If those same goods and services can be produced at a lower cost outside the United States, then we will choose to buy those. This is an economic fact of life.


Progress is the realization of goods and services that are better than those that were available in the past. We  continually choose progress over the status quo with regard to goods and services because it is to our economic advantage. Manufacturing jobs in the United States are  lost to other regions of the world, where goods and services can be produced at lower cost, because we will ultimately pay less for them. We would be foolhardy to behave otherwise. To be economically viable as a country, we must figure out ways to produce goods and services that people need or want, at a cost competitive with that of other countries.


Placing tariffs on steel to keep Ohio steel workers on the job in dilapidated, outmoded facilities will only force builders to pay higher prices for steel than that which is available on the world market. Putting coal miners in West Virginia back  in the mines by reducing air quality regulations on coal-fired electrical generating plants to make them competitive with alternate fuels or technologies, is not the answer either. There is no escaping the fact that we must pay to maintain our quality of life.


There are a number of reasons why wages have not risen - especially in manufacturing jobs - over the past half century. In the past 50 years there has been a steady outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to  other regions of the world, where manufacturing technology has caught up to that of the United States, or has even been provided by the United States itself: in Mexico for example. Large U.S. corporations have slowly taken advantage of cheaper labor elsewhere, and have been able to subsidize the cost of paying higher wages to their employees remaining in the United States, by using the benefits of lower wages being paid elsewhere. Even foreign corporations take advantage of the labor force in the United States, perhaps at slightly higher wages and benefits than those paid in their home countries, by building manufacturing plants in the United States. This allows them to eliminate export costs and import taxes, and simultaneously increase local market share. It obviously works for a number of Japanese car manufacturers. And the Chinese, who own so many American dollars based on our insatiable appetite for imported goods, have recently gotten into the game.


Adequate pay from a job provider's point of view, is the lowest wage they can continue to offer to attract and hold qualified workers. And there have always been a surfeit of qualified workers who will accept entry level wages. Jobs requiring only a high school education are the easiest to fill and turn over.  And this in itself is a damning criticism of the approach,  pricing, and distribution of our education system, which "graduates" a significant proportion of its students prepared only to fill these low paying, uncreative jobs.


Trump has no plan to change the reality of the job market or its wages and benefits; it is not under his control and it is not within the purview of local, state, or federal government to do so. As you can see from the realities of the situation, we must continually adapt, innovate, and educate just to hold our own in a global economy. We are also losing a substantial number of jobs, and will continue to do so, to robotic technology. That will become  an important factor in the jobs picture. The workforce would do well to learn how to build manufacturing robots for all sectors of the economy. Meanwhile we currently do nothing as a nation, on a large enough scale, to recognize and retrain workers affected by this transition.


Finally, some of the biggest changes that people need to adapt to, and don't, are largely social in nature. At the beginning of WWII, people of color in this country were treated by the majority of whites as second class citizens, or much worse. A casual reading of the treatment of blacks in the military during that war,  illustrates many of inequalities and separate treatments to which they were subjected. And not just in this country. For example, Australia had national laws prohibiting the immigration of people of color into that country. They even objected to the stationing of black United States military on their soil, even though Australia  was being threatened by the imminent invasion of Japanese troops. Accepting people of color into the mainstream of American life has been our biggest problem since the founding of this country almost 250 years ago. And although significant progress has been made over the years, problems remain. There are still many people that would perpetuate them. From some deeply ingrained sense of insecurity they fail to accept people of color as their equals in all aspects of life: also failing to realize that we are all people of color, descended from a species originating in Africa some 200,000 years ago.


A look at the colorful electoral map of this 2016  presidential election, county by county, shows that most of the counties are colored red: indicating that the majority of voters in these counties voted for Trump (see map below). Relatively few blue areas show on the map: these are largely cities where supporters of Hillary Clinton reside. Even New York state is largely a "red state" when considered county by county. I can only surmise that the social values of rural areas are much different than those in urban areas. City dwellers are subject to much more change and disruption in their lives than are a state's rural inhabitants. Perhaps it is the need to adapt to change on a daily basis that makes them more flexible with regard to ideas that challenge the very notions of their place in the world. Cities are more diverse: a walk along the downtown streets of New York city is an eye and ear opener with regard to diversity. Because people in cities need to cooperate with a more diverse population, exposure to new and sometimes disruptive ideas requires one to quickly learn new behaviors. They must do this in order to accomplish tasks related to their jobs, to make new friends, and, in general, to make intelligent decisions. They are what you might call "streetwise."


People who live in more rural areas, or even homogeneous suburbs, have had no such exposure. Their lives are much more scripted and mundane; their values much more inflexible as a result of not having them challenged by unfamiliar ideas and races of people. But the cities are forcing them to change because the people of the cities cannot accept the status quo and survive. The rural and suburban cultures, on the other hand, believe that retaining the status quo is the very key to survival. Therein lies the conflict between the two groups. There are a couple of older generations living in these rural areas and suburbs, who grew up under the influence of the status quo, and whose votes drove the current election results. People who dwell in rural areas are even more self sufficient in some ways than city dwellers, and eschew interaction with people in their decision making. These are the hardest people to convince that cooperation is the key to the survival of this democracy if not the human species.  Government - a necessity where two or more people live together in the same space - requires cooperation and compromise, notwithstanding the fact that precisely half the population of this country is red, and the other, blue.


The nature of this situation precludes Trump from delivering on his promises. He has neither the means nor the shared  values among both populations to do so. His failure will be met by a very unhappy group of people who will insist he failed to deliver. All we need to do is sit back and watch this situation unfold. At the same time all of us must make a concerted effort to help our younger generations - consisting of a rainbow of colors - learn the values of  diversity and tolerance in the pursuit of progress for everyone. Education holds the keys that will help them develop their  intellectual, emotional and social intelligence. Let's make sure that we provide all of them with the equal opportunity to do so. The benefits will far outweigh the costs for generations to come.






2015 Mar 28




YEW WANT TO BE KING — On the Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew


Singapore: what business person wouldn't like a country modeled after a corporation?  A corporation where the chairman of the board, the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, the director of marketing, the company ombudsman, and the head of security, were all one and the same person — self-appointed for life.


Singapore has a long history of human rights' violations. This history has been conveniently ignored by Mr. Orville Schell in his recent article in Wall Street Journal "Lee Kuan Yew, the Man Who Remade Asia" (March 28, 2015).  


This article ought to have been titled "Yew Want To Be King." Singapore is a miniature China. Mr. Lee's success, if you can call it that, has been due largely to businesses choosing to ignore human rights' violations for the sake of financial gain, and the easy exploitation of a labor force cajoled into submissive behavior.


Lee was no dummy. Long ago (mid twentieth century) he eschewed violent reprisals in favor of absolute debasement of his rivals and critics. He accomplished this using the power of his government's, and I do mean HIS government's, court system. It worked — the policy of fining men penniless, putting them in jail for not being able to pay the kangaroo-court imposed fines,  reducing them to homelessness, and refusing to allow them to leave the country, has been extremely effective in suppressing dissent. This policy has kept Lee out of the limelight reserved for the physical torture of one's opponents.


If you stood on a street corner in Singapore and gave a public speech to more than five persons, you were required to have a permit from the local office of police. If you published articles decidedly opposed to the policies of the existing junta, you were subject to fines, imprisonment, and the loss of your government-built housing. If you sided with the junta's policies, you were allowed to treat immigrant workers under your hire more like slaves than as men and women of choice. But the "crime" that until very recently was simply not tolerated — landing you in prison quite quickly — was trying to establish an opposition party.


I would encourage you to examine the history of Singapore through the eyes of one Dr Chee Soon Juan, who has written and spoken extensively about the human rights' violations of which I have only hinted. In addition, Dr Chee has suffered first-hand the consequences of dissent with Singapore's dictatorship. Start by reading Dr Chee's "A Nation Cheated." Then tell me if Singapore should be held up as a model of government and business for all of Southeast Asia.


And for an absurdist's view of Singapore's kangaroo court system, read my play "Dr Chee — The War of the Words," which is based on an actual trial of Dr Chee, and can be found at



2015 Jan 12



See the Wall Street Journal Article of of 11 January 2015 "Western Officials Agree to Tighten Security In Wake of Attacks"


We Need To Act Rather Than React: World War III Is In Progress


Whether we are willing to admit it or not, by any definition, World War III is in progress. Radical Islam’s goal is nothing less than the destruction of all societies that do not adhere to their violent beliefs. The worst posture that we and other governments can take under these circumstances is to continue to implement a policy of containment. It is not working. Islam extremists throughout the world will continue to kill and maim helpless citizens in the name of their “religion,” encouraged by the successful acts of violence that we are witnessing in France, in Nigeria, in Iraq, in Syria, in Canada, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Great Britain, and in these United States. It is highly probable that we will soon witness attempts to explode a nuclear device in our midst in the name of Allah. If you have any doubts that this could be accomplished by a small, determined group of people, read John McPhee’s “The Curve of Binding Energy.” Do we really want to bear witness to another Pearl Harbor of this magnitude before we take definitive action? It is time to make a formal declaration of war against these people. And to deal with them on a scale and with the effectiveness that we brought against the Nazis during World War II.



2014 July 24




An Emphasis On Teaching Obviates the Opportunities for Learning


The author of this article - Elizabeth Green - has missed the most important point about the educational process: it's about learning, not teaching. Most of our schooling , from pre-K through college (but not Ph.D. programs for the most part) exhibit this same error. Learning at its best takes place when the student asks the questions, and provides their own answers, and then has their answers corroborated by substantive evidence. That's learning.


We all learn this way, except when we are faced with typical classroom teaching. The key to learning is self motivation. If the student has a need to know, they will pursue the answer by whatever means available to them. It is the "teacher's" responsibility to make those means available, or point the student in the direction of those means, if asked. A primary requisite to this approach is to allow the student to define the problem in their own words (it's half the solution), and then to discover the resources they will need to solve it. (And certainly not be handed a textbook in the process!) That's the way real problems are solved. When faced with problems  at work, at home, or at play - that is the approach we ourselves use to solve them.


Schooling is an opportunity to introduce students to the kinds of problems they will face when they leave school. After enthusiastic introductions at home or at school to problem areas, let the students choose the problems that they are interested in solving. Do this from day one of their formal educations and the acquisition of problem-solving skills will proceed internally and naturally. The other requirement is for schools to provide the opportunity for students to work at their own pace. Teachers in their proper roles as mentors and facilitators can help students master needed problem-solving skills each step of the way.


Elizabeth: it's not just math - schools today don't do any of these things in any subject area - the Common Core, or any other imposed, top-down approach is strictly irrelevant to acquiring imaginative problem-solving skills. And please don't confuse mathematics with arithmetic: use calculators to do arithmetic operations (it's much less error prone); use mathematics to formulate problem statements. Help students learn the language of mathematics so that they will be able to express mathematical problems in a meaningful, solvable way.



2014 July 08



A few days ago I wrote an essay that appeared here [Facebook] regarding the use of Lake Ontario water for industrial cooling purposes. In the essay I cautioned that although the use of this resource seemed like a no-brainer—especially to those people extracting and benefitting financially from the activity—we ought to consider the larger systems which such an activity would influence in the process. Three people commented favorably on my essay, two of whom were close and supportive relatives; the other comment had nothing to do with the thesis of the essay. This, however, is a better response than the author of the original article received. David Riley wrote that article "Big Chill Could Fuel Industry" for the Democrat and Chronicle, which appeared on July 1, 2014. And although it was the front page Headline article, he got only two comments—one of which was mine.

In my essay I wrote that we "should place as much effort in examining the effects of this activity, as are being put forth to make it technologically feasible... Many human endeavors whether the systems involved be natural (geosystems) or uniquely human (socio-economic), or a combination thereof, require a thorough understanding of all the system components and their interactions, before we can truly understand and make predictions about the outcome of these activities."

Unfortunately this is rarely ever a priority for corporate America with their myopic focus on short-term profiteering. Corporations must be dragged though the environmental impact process kicking, and screaming the whole way about too much government (that’s you and me) regulation.

As if to support my thesis, today’s Wall Street Journal features an article describing the dangers inherent in shipping and refining oil, which has been obtained by fracking from the Bakken Shale oil fields in North Dakota—the same oil that killed 47 people in Quebec when the train tank cars carrying the oil exploded—the same mile-long tank car trains that are passing through towns daily in this country on their way to refineries.Turns out that even though the oil was recognized as highly explosive from the get-go, corporate interests in North Dakota opted not to install the necessary equipment, which would have made the oil safer to ship, either by tank car or pipeline. It’s still that way today.

2014 July 06



I sat spellbound throughout the film "Gravity," taken in completely by the acting and special effects. But the scene that really got my attention was Sandra Bullock clawing her way up a sandy beach surrounded by life-supporting oxygen and green plants. The quick juxtaposition of the hostile environment of space, and the friendly environment of earth, elicited a strong emotional reaction from me. I fell in love with earth (Sandra Bullock notwithstanding) all over again.

Therefore, it was with great disappointment that I read the headline "Big Chill Could Fuel Industry" in the Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 edition of the Democrat and Chronicle—a prime example of yet another exploitation of the natural resources of this planet without first considering the total environmental impact. I was disappointed because the discussion focused almost entirely on the benefits and extraction technology with only a passing attempt at looking at the downsides. Yes, the resource seems boundless and there for the taking. But that is exactly what is said every time we commence the depletion of a resource, and the destruction of the environment from which we extract it.

Just examine the "pure" streams of Colorado mountain water polluted by heavy metals from mine tailings. Look at the results of overfishing (many species no longer having commercially viable populations) off the Atlantic coast, and the fishing technique of dragging the ocean bottom that has destroyed the habitat and breeding grounds of many of those same species of fish. So we raise the temperature of Lake Ontario a few degrees, so what? So we raise the temperature of the world’s oceans a few degrees and all hell has broken loose in terms of its impact on world climate, and the number of marine organisms affected, not to mention the threat of completely rerouting the undersea ocean currents that are responsible for regulating earth’s temperatures. Suppose every community along the lake and those farther inland decided to use lake water for cooling purposes, or irrigation, or for town water supplies, especially after fracking has destroyed the local aquifers?

Don’t misinterpret my remarks. I am as dependent on the use of natural resources for my own lifestyle as anyone else. I use public utilities to supply my water and electricity. But I have a profound sense of responsibility to use these resources in a sustainable fashion. I spent many years developing simulation models that predicted the sustainability of Vermont forests under logging pressure to produce fuel for wood-fired electrical generating plants, and for other commercial purposes such as furniture production. At the same time I produced models that a logger could use to predict his costs when logging to a given silviculture prescription. So I worked as they say "on both sides of the aisle," without prejudice.

What I am strongly urging in the case of using Lake Ontario waters for cooling, is that as much effort be placed in examining the effects of this activity, as are being put forth to make it technologically feasible. This is not a simple cause-and-effect problem as we are so often led to believe. Many human endeavors whether the systems involved be natural (geosystems) or uniquely human (socio-economic), or a combination thereof, require a thorough understanding of all the system components and their interactions, before we can truly understand and make predictions about the outcome of these activities. Using Lake Ontario water for cooling is one of those endeavors. Let’s make sure the evidence—or at least the probability—of doing no harm is as strong as we can possibly ascertain.

2014 May 19




The problems start in our educational system at a very early age: pre-K to be exact. The stated goal of our newly minted Common Core approach to education is "readiness" for college or a job. Of interest is the fact that these goals were penned by the same corporate giants who designed and developed Common Core. And interestingly enough, about 99% of parents and educators buy into this nonsense without question — even in states that have or are rejecting Common Core. The other 1% of parents and educators raise their kids in private schools and elite colleges to run the corporations, which in turn control wages, the economy, and our government institutions. As a result, our current public school education system is designed to produce fodder for the work-a-day corporate world, turning out trainees in vocational education programs, or tuition-paying college students. Note that very few businesses provide direct financial support to students. Because of the way our educational  system is structured, however, businesses are guaranteed a supply of employees at little or no expense to themselves. For potential employees, it's like playing in the minor leagues of a sport at your very own expense!


Is this what we want? Should this outcome be the primary goal of our very expensive and time-consuming public school and college education systems? Your answer needs to be a resounding No! for the following reasons. Kids coming out of the education pipeline need to possess the  knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow them to support themselves and possibly others for the foreseeable future. We, the parents and educators, should be offering them the opportunity — over the entire course of their schooling — to examine the panoply of ever-changing opportunities in the world, and allowing students to actively participate in the process of acquiring an education. Today, students from pre-K through college have almost no say in determining their individual educational programs. In order for graduates to be able to think and act for themselves, and to take the initiative in creating jobs for themselves, they must be allowed to take responsibility for their own educations through self-selection of subjects and training. We can't expect students to begin thinking and acting independently at graduation when they have been denied those opportunities throughout their educations. And we can't afford a system that wastes human potential: one whose primary goal is catering to the financial greed of corporations and colleges.


We need to allow students to develop their own sense of responsibility to the point where each of them is prepared to offer society a person of high value — a person in demand and in control of their own future. Given the opportunity, they will no longer have to beg society to support them after they exit the educational system, but will be ready to fulfill their own needs and the needs of society, whatever form that takes.




2014 APRIL 14






With all due respect for the intentions of Messrs. Cohen and Sullivan, the question of how best to educate children was  completely ignored when they led the development of the pre-Common Core standards in New York State. Any top-down approach to education makes the assumption that there is a body of knowledge and skills  that must be learned in order for the learner to be successful in their future endeavors —  especially because these select objectives (as the premise goes) are absolutely necessary for the purpose of seeking advanced educational and employment opportunities. (Apparently omniscience has always been a personal characteristic of those involved in designing top-down approaches to elementary and secondary curricula.) Furthermore, the process compels that these teachings be continually assessed in order to assure that these compulsory educational objectives are being met. The motivation for the learner is primarily the stick —  resulting in serious consequences for both the students and educators if they are not.


[pause for reflection] 


A more Orwellian approach to life and learning could hardly be more imaginable. The imposition of educational standards of an all-encompassing nature flies in the face of human nature, totally ignoring  the fact that human beings are curious creatures, and, if given the opportunity, will enthusiastically seek to understand the world around themselves employing whatever resources are available. We keep forgetting that. And we assume (wrongly) that "directed schooling" is the only way that children and young adults will learn. But we know full well that forcing anyone to do anything in which they have absolutely no interest or motivation is a sure-fire way to promote sullen resistance, if not willful ignorance. A much better use of educational resources by Cohen and Sullivan would have been to focus on ways to motivate children and young adults to engage in the educational process of their own accord, in ways best suited to their own interests, while using  their own unique blends of cognitive, emotional, and social intelligence.