Sunday, January 27, 2008

Our World Facing Hundreds of Tipping Points by Louis Evan Palmer

Quoting Malcolm Gladwell, a "tipping point" is "the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass." It also refers to the point when a spinning object like a top or a planet stops spinning in a stable manner and starts to wobble and fall over. Or when that type of phenomenon occurs in society. As well, it is reminiscent of the quantum mechanics postulate - "the butterfly effect" - regarding the non-linear cumulative effects of actions and things; and "critical mass" as it applies to the moment when a nuclear reaction becomes self-sustaining.

Unfortunately, our world is facing hundreds of potential tipping points and while a tipping point can be positive or negative, the necessary focus is on the negative because almost all of them involve our survival as a species.

Such as, nuclear bombs and depleted uranium shells in their ten of thousands as missles and millions as shells and tons as radioactive dust and waste; and, as micro and mini nukes anywhere. Weapons programs gone awry all over the world spewing our their deadly possibilities in the form of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, plans, attacks, accidents and disasters; programs, likely illegal, delving into areas best not touched like weather modification and the manipulation of earth energies to facilitate or produce earth and sea quakes.

So-called technological advances like nano-technology and genetic modification speeding like runaway trains towards the inevitable canyon with its bridge out. Pollution fouling our air and water and soil, the oceans with huge dead swaths and frightening drops in key species. Coral reefs withering. Our atmosphere under seige, increases in cosmic radiation, increases in sunspot and other solar activity. Our surprisingly thin layer of topsoil being blown away and paved over though poor agricultural practices and unbridled urban development.

Resurgent diseases like tuberculosis, smallpox and leprosy becoming resistant to our drugs, and exotic ones like ebola and others not previously seen, ready to sweep like a wraith across the globe scything its victims down like fields of grass.

Climate change and disruptive weather endangering lives and food & water supplies. Our flora and fauna disappearing and sickening - bees, amphibians, numerous sea species, butterflies. Destruction of our biodiversity and seed supplies through monoculture and companies like Monsanto with their terminator seeds.

Collisions or too-close pass-bys with comets or asteroids.

Collapsing infrastructures and our over-reliance on them which sees our power, water, food, transportation, storage and distribution systems hanging by the proverbial threads. Wars, social unrest, oppression, tyranny.

Revolutionary contacts with unfriendly non-terrestial beings.

It seems that given the array of things that can go wrong, it's only a matter of time before they do and we're engulfed in a mammoth catastrophe from which there is no escape. It may be that our salvation lies in one or more of the positive tipping points. If so, we must uncover them and communicate them. We must not allow secrets and their covetous, self-righteous custodians to keep our planet from getting out of a reckoning we're not likely to survive. Zero-point energy, friendly advanced aliens, whatever good there is, we need it, we need help.

Our World Facing Hundreds of Tipping Points, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2007 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Democracy anyone? by Louis Evan Palmer

The misleading debate over Pakistan.

Some may insist that the ideal of democracy is fixed and absolute but it is evident that the definition and understanding of it moves with the times. The understanding of a person in medieval England of what the word "democracy" means would differ substantially from that of a person in 21st century France or 25th century Canada. When other cultures and religions are thrown into the mix, any potential consensus would mutatate further.

Given the complexity of any society and its institutions, is it right or fair to have outside parties deciding whether a given country is "democratic" (or "democratic enough"), and based on that to decide to unilaterally intervene in that nation's affairs? Not only might the analysis be invalid, one country's destination, priorities & values can legitimately differ from another's - it may consciously want to evolve at a slower pace and/or in a different direction.

There's been an interventionist bent in the ongoing world debate for some time now. It was called aggression during the Nuremberg trials when it was the German Reich doing it but it received a more sympathetic hearing now that America and its cowed allies have used it to justify invading Afghanistan and Iraq. It is again being used in a cynically manipulative manner to lay down the groundwork for possible action against one of (perhaps all of) Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

The case against Pakistan involves an argument that its democracy is fractured or non-existent and that this allows for the United States to act in self-defence - in one scenario, to secure the 60-some nuclear weapons on Pakistani soil. Somehow these are a bigger threat than the tens of thousands that the US and Russia have between themselves. Or the tons of toxic DU (depleted uranium) dust fouling Iraq and via global air currents the rest of the world.

Previously, having nuclear weapons was the way to keep the United States from attacking your country. Now, if you don't tend them to America's liking, you may trigger a surreptious invasion. Of course, in this case, any intervention is a recklessly dangerous course of action because trying to assume control of another country's main defense system is an act of war and we are talking about nuclear weapons.

Democracy in Pakistan
Given that the state of a given country's democracy is not a just cause for aggression (overt or covert), is it even accurate to say that Pakistan is falling apart?

Let us begin by looking at Rawalpindi, the former interim capital and the city where Benazir Bhutto's assassination took place. It took over 11 years, from 1959 to 1970, to build the new capital of Pakistan at Islamabad. During that time, Rawalpindi, which takes its name from an ancient village of Yogis called Rawals, served as the capital. This city of over 3 million on the Potwar Plateau also serves as the General Head Quarters for the Pakistan Army and Air Force which is a continuation of its function as the key garrison city of the British Raj.

Various pundits claim that this is a city where the Pakistan Armed Forces exert almost total control and in which nothing can happen that they do not want to happen. Following this logic, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the rear gate of Liaquat Bagh Park on December 27, 2007 was permitted or facilitated by the Pakistan military. Not sure if they are presumed to have been involved fixty-six years earlier in the same park in 1951 at the front entrance, when the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated. Also in Rawalpindi in 1979, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged at the instigation of General Zia who in turn was blown up in a airplane in August 1988.

Over its short history, Pakistan has been under military rule for more than 23 years. Arguably, if the United States wants to secure nuclear weapons, it would be just as happy with military rule as with a stable democracy. However, now-former General Musharaf is not immune from attack either - he has suffered 9 assassination attempts in the last 7 years - most of that time while his country was under military rule.

However, as violent as this summary appears, how does this type of record compare to other nations?

Democracy in the Rest of the World
In 1975 & again in 1981, the then president of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) was assassinated. In India, the three Gandhis were all assassinated. In the United States, there have been 19 assassination attempts on the president of which 4 were successful. In the 1970s alone, there were 5 assassination attempts on the US president - 2 attempts on Gerald Ford were within a couple of weeks of each other. When Charles de Gaulle was France's president there were some 30 assassination attempts on him. Should this have made any or all of these countries candidates for a foreign intervention?

The Future
In a universe where "free will" prevails (whether we believe it or not) then democracy or something like it must be the ideal governing framework. But the future may consist more of a self-governing individualistic mode of government where the community-giving infrastructure is the key design and everything flows from that. Perhaps a time when the larger weapons can be easily and quickly destroyed and where armies are useless and therefore obsolete. These pretentious debates about whether country-A has the right to invade country-B will be meaningless because there will be no country as such, no army, no reason to fight. "Democracy" will be so embedded everywhere as to be invisible - like the air we breath.

Democracy anyone?, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2007 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

When a Group Decision is the Answer by Louis Evan Palmer

Asking the right question is often more important than providing the right answer. When the right answer doesn't help us or improve the situation or provide insight or inspiration then we can, with some confidence, deduce that we've asked the wrong question - plain wrong, or wrongly focused or with an improper context or inaccurate supporting information.

In addition, who should address a given question or how it is to be answered should also be subject to some analysis. The PROs and CONs of group decisions typically conclude with an assertation that its utility depends on the circumstances (the acolytes of the "lone genius" or "teamism" not withstanding).

Breakthrough ideas or products are often the result of a single person or the efforts of individuals in concert or sequence. The oft-observed fact that a revolutionary idea will frequently pop up in two or more places at around the same time demonstrates the influence of the social and intellectual environment but the typically solitary nature of the analysis and insight is clear. It is likely that the intense concentration & long time frames required preclude more than a single person staying involved. Albert Einstein stated that he had deeply pondered light, quantum mechanics & relativity for ten years before his epochal theses of 1905.

A point to be made is that what we are looking at is actually several different phenomena - in one case, it's a research & development paradigm; in another case, it's a canvass of a larger population for ideas or insights or feedback; in other instances, it's a sequence of individuals each building on the previous one in a series of smaller or apparently unrelated insights or pure theorizing.

Democracy can be viewed as a group decision about the evaluation & action plans of a given person or political party or movement and what support, if any, we will give them.

In a vote, the issues are defined by the candidates based on their ideology (& morality) and bolstered by polling and surveys. Usually, there are some issues upon which the candidate is firm and others upon which they may be swayed or are uncommitted. All things being equal, the more in tune with the electorate a candidate is, the more likely they are to win given that the candidates can get their message out and that their supporters are able & willing to vote and additionally, that their supporters can make it to the correct polling station, can vote in an acceptably easy, secure and quick manner, and can have their votes fairly counted.

To subvert the voting process, a given malefactor would interfere with their opponents and some or all of these various facets: with fund-raising, with political rallies, with distribution of campaign material, with supporters, with media placement & effectiveness, with election lists, with validity of votes, with location of polling stations, with how votes are counted and recorded, with audit trails, etc. There are many links in the chain which unfortunately offers many opportunities to subvert the process.

But if we could make use of new technologies and the mindsets that are emboldened by them, we might be able to generate a continuous polling-cum-voting process by which "the people" and various designated & self-selected experts including experts in the process of analysis & evaluation could decide on courses of action. This new technique, if successfully implemented, could be used elsewhere where appropriate. Most likely areas of application would be the main group-think arenas now - general elections, juries, the "markets". Like Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds" but better. Not design by committee but using knowledge wisely. The main thrust by one or two insightful persons, the rapid incremental improvements by the well-connected "crowd".

While the danger of Maslow's phrase "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" comes to mind, we would proceed with this venture knowing that it is only suitable for certain classes and types of problems. The telling forays into the virtual commons of problems & solutions will resonate with enough perceving individuals to provide the "proof" that the answer is valid.

It will work. What is be guarded against are those (read intelligence services and their ilk) who would subvert any tool like this that is too empowering and revealing. If we thwart them then we all can prosper.

When a Group Decision is the Answer, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be,
Copyright 2008 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.