Category politics

Next geopolitical hack… weather modding

The pairing of human control and weather systems isn’t new. Every year we get better at forecasting; we tune algorithms to hone our knowledge related to when and where rain will fall… but we still have to be reactive to the rain event itself.


Or do we?

I remember reading that the Chinese hacked their weather during the Beijing Olympics. They fired 1,100 rockets filled with silver iodide into the clouds. The result was that clouds let their precipitation fall before they arrived in Beijing. How do you improve the odds for dry weather connected to an event important? You take things into your own hands, there is even a government office for this, the Beijing Weather Modification Office.

Of course the U.S. is into this area as well, cloud seeding has been experimented with for a decade. Other experiments connected to weather mods literally go back a century.

This is one of those subjects that sounds small until you fathom how it could be used to streamline and focus access to natural resources. Of course it will be used to drive economic returns (crop yields, water table replenishment, access to clean water, etc). It might even be used to address the massive amount of energy used to move water (an estimated 19% of California’s energy used to move water). It could also be used to force one region to comply with another region’s geopolitical preferences.

The simple truth is that it’s hard to tell where this will go but the road ahead is bound to be (sorry) slippery.


America’s best idea is National Parks

I’ve heard it argued that baseball is America’s best idea. That makes sense, it’s a great game with a fair amount of history and color… but in my opinion it’s not America’s best idea.

I’ve also heard people make the case that Jazz is our best idea. Of course Jazz isn’t really Jazz without including the Blues. The argument for this being a better idea than baseball makes sense to me. Blues and Jazz have provided a taproot for so much of what we’ve come to love as modern music… meaning ALL music from the last 100 years. Baseball is a bit more of a stand-alone node on the sports network.

One could also suggest that the Internet (and the web) is our best idea. Again, this argument would be a notable one. It has delivered entirely new platforms for cultures to form; it has streamlined communications and transactions of all kinds. It has, in short, created a net new world for us to explore, settle and farm.

But none of these is our BEST idea because America’s best idea is National Parks.

Our best idea is the wisdom to understand the majesty and priceless land in front of us and to protect that land in perpetuity for generations to come.

The Greeks get the nod for inventing democracy 500 years before Christ walked the earth and they left quite a legacy for introducing that idea into the world.

The United States invented National Parks and I believe it’s our best idea to date.

Pour yourself a cup of tea and settle in to watch this.

John Adams, generational succession and globalization

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
– John Adams

I love this quote. It gives a hint to where our forefather’s heads were when they were alive but it goes further than that. This offers a brilliant blueprint for what they saw coming after them. Since they were the founders, the instigators, of a number of ideas they were hyper aware of the generational view of history. They were actively involved in planning their legacy, even within their own family tree.

Henry Adams, John Adams great-grandson understood this flow and followed it. He fell into that last layer and studied various forms of the arts.

As a father whose daughter is about to head to college I see this kind of thinking among many of my peers. Elements of what John Adams shared are present today and as is the case with everything… there are pros and cons.

My parents grew up as first generation Americans. In addition my parents were born after the Great Depression. Like all others shaped by that era they operate with a razor sharp focus on practicality. They chose careers that would deliver them from the challenges their parents lived through in the post stock market crash of the 1930s. The key phrase in that last sentence might be as simple as “they chose careers” (places they could work for 40 years, they didn’t look for a job).

They gave birth to the generation of baby boomers. This next generation, even though they were raised within the structure of practicality, has many characteristics that are quite different than their parents. In my opinion one overarching characteristic is being more self-centered. This generation is widely associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values, they think of themselves as being special. Further, one could argue that the very option to work at a single place for 40 years was killed by this generation.

The boomers created the generation coming up today. This group is much more informed due to instant access of massive amounts of information via the Internet. They are also much less pragmatic and practical. In the spirit of the Adams quote, this generation is much more likely to study (and potentially get a degree in) audio engineering or film. Part of the shift is due to a media landscape shifting dramatically (access to professional level media tools are in the hands of everyone) but part of the shift is related to what Henry Adams did as a great-grandson of John Adams. Henry Adams had more options than John Adams; our kids have more options than our parents.

Or do they?

The thread tracing this process through time doesn’t connect.

It doesn’t connect due to the fact that if you start with John Adams generation and successively move on to future generations you do NOT get a smooth line or even a unidirectional vector. If you did our parents would have studied something far less rigorous than what they did. Richard Florida’s Creative Class would have been invented well over a hundred years ago.

The reason the thread through time doesn’t connect is because of unplanned, large-scale disruptions.

Various forces caused re-starts. In the case of our parents generation it was the Great Depression and wars. In today’s case it’s globalization and technology.

Historically speaking, it’s quite hard to operate without being strongly influenced by the scale of disruptions we’re talking about here.

A person may have wanted to become an accountant or a painter as World War 2 kicked into gear but being drafted may have taken those opportunities away.

A journalism student may have written newsletters when they were seven, become Editor of the college newspaper but a job at a regional newspaper may simply no longer exist.

The inverse to fretting about globalization and technology is seeking to understand them deeply… even embracing them.

I believe that is the best strategy at this point in time. I believe this is even more valid for our offspring. If they are going to have anything even remotely close to an easier live or a life with more options we must prepare our kids to compete with kids from Bangalore. We should encourage them to study meaningful languages that they’ll use in the years to come because the job waiting for them might very well be in another country. We should push them to experience, even live, in places well outside the boundaries of this country.

John Adams was a first generation explorer of a new world.

So are we.

More :

John Adams by David McCullough

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Jefferson, France and the formation of America

I grew up in the Midwest, spent an ample amount of time on the east coast, have lived in New York, Chicago and San Francisco/Silicon Valley. For the last two decades I’ve resided in Southern California.

I share this to set up the following statement.

I truly did not start to understand America’s place in the world until I left its shores.

It’s hard to grasp something if you’re inside its bubble.

The more I travel the more I understand how much we’ve borrowed from other cultures. The deeper one looks the more they find that America is the result of our collective experiences and our historical roots in other countries.

When we think of technologies and innovation we think of Silicon Valley and perhaps emerging hubs in Bangalore and Beijing. Yet the roots of innovation, whether we segregate that to technology, or take a larger view, point back to places like Paris.

The literal foundations of this country were built on the technological advancements from other countries. For example, to understand the significance of the Brooklyn Bridge is to understand the role of Paris as a hub for creativity and engineering during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Another way to say that is no Paris, no Brooklyn Bridge.

But this goes well past technology and engineering. EVERY element of the New York art scene (museums, galleries, performance halls, bands, art and architecture schools) originated somewhere else and most have roots pointing directly back to Paris. One can make the same argument for medical schools, hospitals, culinary schools, etc. The list is long.

An umbrella metaphor for this is Thomas Jefferson’s time spent in Paris.

Before he ascended to Secretary of State and eventually to the Presidency he occupied the role of Minister to France for four years. When I think of the experiences and cultures he drew on for his last two positions and his legacy after… when I think of his love of architecture, agricultural techniques, writing and culinary exploration… I find myself pointing back to his time in Europe. It all points back Paris.

True, Monticello was started before Jefferson went to Paris but it was a shell. It was while he was in Paris that he integrated the ideas of the central dome, natural light via skylights and even indoor toilets.

Jefferson is celebrated as somewhat of a quintessential American due to his varied interests, overarching optimism and stirring rhetoric captured in iconic documents like the Declaration of Independence. Since he’s one of our founding fathers it’s important to understand where his inspiration came from.

I see Jefferson as a quintessential American BECAUSE he reached past what was available here, sought out the best of what was available elsewhere and brought the best back. In my opinion that is what being an American has come to mean.

America is a global mashup.

All of our roots point to other places. Our family trees have sampled the soil of alternative forms of government and reacted to those with the bedrock documents of this nation: the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. More than three hundred years later we continue to attract people who risk their lives to get here because they believe the opportunity here is greatest.

Sure, America invented baseball, national parks, jazz and the internet. I’m sure others can extend that list. We should also recognize that a large percent of what “America is” hails from somewhere else.

If you want to go deeper, I recommend two books. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis and The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough.



Compromise is not a four letter word

I listened to President Obama last night and then I listened to House Speaker Boehner. As they finished their speeches I turned off the radio and thought about some of the word choices they made and themes they spoke of.

The single largest word that I heard either directly or indirectly was “compromise.” It was talked about as if it was a bad thing. I get that, compromise can be bad… but is it always bad?

Which of us goes a day without compromising? Can any of us go an hour without compromising?

As I drove to work this morning I thought about this word and felt myself compromising as I thought of it. I wanted to drive 90MPH but didn’t. I compromised and drove 78MPH. The essence of that simple act stayed with me. Driving requires awareness of others, adherence to driving standards and reaction to others actions. Driving requires compromise.

The word compromise, like so many in Washington, has been spun to mean something else entirely. That, by itself, isn’t a bad thing. But when the spin starts to risk our children’s future such spinning becomes reckless.

Very. very, very few things in life are so absolute that we get 100% of what we want 100% of the time. Marriage involves compromise. Working with and for others involves compromise. Raising children involves compromise. Etc.

Democracies involve compromise.

Or to put it another way… the form of government with no compromise is called a dictatorship.

The ongoing posturing from both sides is disheartening. Sure we can chalk up a large percent of it as partisan pandering and media grandstanding. But at some point my patience runs out.

Politicians are put in office to represent the populous and the interests of this country. As the world seems to be waking up to the value of democracy and representational government the United States’ flavor of democracy seems to be running on empty. Literally.