Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wall Street Is Next

by Richard Crews
The picture we hold of the economic aspects of community life has propelled civilization to new heights. What new heights? Communication, transportation, and trade have become worldwide and facile. Science and technology have enormously expanded our understanding and manipulation of the natural world. Human rights have become enhanced, and their abuses more subject to scrutiny and outrage. Civilization has indeed advanced to new heights in recent years, and its advance continues.

What are the modern economic aspects of community life on which the advance of civilization depends?

Many people who labor--who till their fields, or build or transport or otherwise expend their life energies for the shared benefit of others--largely consume their rewards: they and their families eat, live in, wear, or otherwise dispose of the benefits that accrue from their life activities.

But as communities have become larger and more complex, they have developed communication and protection mechanisms that enable people to labor in increasingly varied and specialized ways, thereby multiplying their productivity or "reward ratios," that is, increasing the amount of value they reap for the efforts they expend. Thus many people have become wealthier.

As people become wealthier, what lies beyond survival and maintenance? Savings (and increased safety, for example protection against a poor harvest or ill health), comfort (and luxury), and expanded influence (that is, power); beyond these also lie expanded identification with aesthetic and humanitarian values (manifested economically as patronage and philanthropy).

Some institutions of society function explicitly to leverage wealth. For example, people put money in banks so it can be pooled and loaned out to others. Similarly, when people buy stocks, they essentially lend their money to entrepreneurs so those entrepreneurs can expand the scope and cleverness of their activities on society's and investors' behalf.

The custodians and administrators of institutions that leverage wealth must earn our trust. But, just like us, they are human beings, so they are subject to greed (and other distortions of their activities from self-interest) and complacency (boredom, and short-cutting for convenience). Therefore, their activities on our behalf must be transparent, that is, these individuals must keep clear track of what they do (by using standardized accounting procedures) and be responsible (or "accountable") to empowered regulatory authorities who are independent (in other words, who do not have the same conflicts of interests as the people and institutions they oversee).

Leading up to the financial debacle of late 2008, several of these basic principles were ignored or violated. Accounting (for example, of credit default swaps and of derivatives of derivatives) was not clear and available for regulatory scrutiny. Regulatory (including rating) agencies had conflicts of interests--in some cases they were supervised by the very people and organizations they oversaw; in some cases their fees depended on the decisions they made. Moreover, they were under-staffed and under-empowered, and in pursuing their responsibilities, they were under-aggressive; people wanted to believe that markets self-regulate (for the convenience of complacency); optimism and denial reigned.

In July 2009 the Obama administration proposed a series of corrective regulations--increased transparency of accounting; increased staffing, empowerment, and autonomy of rating and regulatory agencies; requirements for increased capitalization and decreased leverage; etc. However, over the ensuing five months there were two significant developments--Congress became preoccupied with health-care legislation (which Obama at first insisted they complete before leaving for their August break), and the financial sector recovered--even boomed--following federal bailouts and hand-holding.

As a result no substantial financial regulatory legislation was passed, and now that return to the problem is imminent, banks and other financial institutions are in a reawakened, restrengthened position to resist any significant reform. Moreover, now that the 2010 elections are on the horizon, Congress is increasingly susceptible to campaign-finance arm-twisting.

This problem--that is, passing legislation to provide expanded financial regulations--will present an interesting and severe next challenge for the Obama administration.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Health-Care Reform--Light and Dark Sides

by Richard Crews
Health-care reform legislation (now in conference to reconcile the House and Senate bills) is a great step forward. Although we do not know the final details, it appears--

(1) It will be illegal to deny Americans health-insurance coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
(2) There will a cap on an individual's out-of-pocket health-care expenses.
(3) Small businesses will be able to buy health-care insurance from a national exchange, giving them increased buying power.
(4) A new benefit will allow workers to buy into a plan that will provide them a cash benefit if they become disabled and need in-home care.
(5) Access to Medicaid will be increased to people making 130% (or perhaps 150%--the two bills differ) of the poverty level.
(6) There will be limits on insurance company profits, requiring that 85% of revenues be spent on delivering health care; if insurance companies exceed these limits and more than 15% goes to administrative expenses, advertising, lobbying, profit, etc., the companies would be required to pay rebates to those they insure.
(7) The Senate bill requires that insurers cover preventive health services such as immunizations, colonoscopies, and HIV testing.
(8) Insurers would not be allowed to rescind a policy because someone gets expensively sick.
(9) State and federal regulators would review any and all rate increases and determine if they are justified.

These requirements represent a robust set of health-care insurance reforms. But there are some problems in the two bills:

(1) Most importantly the Senate version contains no public option which is an important key to establishing competition between insurance companies (to provide greater choice and lower premium costs). The final version will not have a public option, although it will have important (though watered-down) substitutes.

(2) Both bills require most people to get health insurance (which assures better continuity of ongoing care and takes enormous pressure and cost off of emergency services) but even with the subsidies that are proposed, some of the poorest families might be required to pay up to 20% of their income. The availability of government subsidies for the poor should be fixed.

(3) Both versions impose archaic restrictions on women's health care. This has been a long battle--since the Middle Ages really, but coming into acute focus in First World countries over the past few decades. Childbirth is still the number one cause of death in both mothers and children around the world, and large "families" (with not 2 or 3, but with 6 or 8 or 10 children) is the main cause of hunger, the malnutrition diseases (the greatest causes of death in childhood), and persistent inculturated poverty (including lack of education, career opportunities, and even-handed justice).

(4) For extra funds, the Senate version taxes super-fancy health plans; the House version imposes a small income tax surcharge on the very wealthy. I believe both approaches should be employed.

(5) Insurance companies--for curious historical reasons (plus expensive lobbying)--are still exempt from anti-trust laws that protect against monopolies and price-gouging. The House bill finally fixes this; the Senate bill does not.

It will be interesting to see the final health-care reform package that emerges from the House-Senate compromise negotiations over the next few weeks.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Executive Discretion

by Richard Crews
Because of the partisan paralysis of the legislature--which is a polite way of saying the misrepresentations and obstructionism by the Republicans, particularly in the Senate--the executive branch has had to assume expanded power in order to get the work of governing the country done. For example, in the absence of responsible climate legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared that carbon dioxide is a health hazard and therefore falls under its jurisdiction--no new legislation is needed to set pollution standards for internal combustion vehicles (cars and trucks) and smokestack industries.

The executive branch--that is, the president--actually has enormous independent power. As President Andrew Jackson once said after the Supreme Court had ruled against his abusing the civil rights and treaties of Native Americans, "Marshall [the Chief Justice] has made his decision--now let him enforce it!"

Obama has moved furtively in many areas; he has responsibly courted legislative guidance and support. But failing any responsible checks and balances of the executive branch by the legislative branch, Obama actually has considerable flexibility and prerogatives in implementing legislation that he has in hand and that gets passed through to him.

It will be very interesting, for example, to see what the elaborate and complex health-care reform bill looks like when the president is done with "signing statements" and other implementation procedures. Happily these will be hard to follow--they will largely be done away from the glare of partisan political rhetoric. (Even the invaluable intrusion of investigative journalism has been greatly reduced in recent years by the shift from paper to electronic news.)

The partisan paralysis and excessive special-interest lobbying power in Washington have to be fixed. But fortunately the federal government is structured so that it can function (as a defacto benevolent dictatorship) in the meantime. It is not a perfect solution--it certainly is not "the American way"--but I guess that in the absence of responsible "loyal opposition," it will have to do. We are fortunate to have Obama rather than a Jackson (or a Bush) in the White House.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


by Richard Crews
Although we often think of memory as a single mental process, there are clearly many different aspects or parts--the processes, for example, we call "remembering," "recognizing," "memorizing," and "recalling."

Psychologists differentiate three kinds of memory. The quickest is "sensory memory." It happens inadvertently and lasts a fraction of a second. We are all familiar with it. For example, there is an explosive sound; instantly we seem to listen to it again: "What direction did it come from?" "How far away was it?" "Was it a gun shot? The backfire of a car? A clap of thunder?" This is sensory memory in action.

"Short-term memory" lasts a little longer--up to a few minutes. It enables us, for example, to carry on a conversation. But we have to focus our minds on the sensory input in a certain way--we have to "pay attention"--in order to gather the onward-marching parade of experiences into short-term memories.

Finally, psychologists speak of "long-term memory." This consists of stories and images that have special emotional weight or that we have practiced a lot. We may be able to recall them for days, weeks, or months--perhaps even for a lifetime.

What are the memory difficulties of old age? (At 72 this is the question that particularly concerns me.)

Laying in long-term memories is surely more difficult. I can recite a poem I learned in high school, remember principles of chemistry I learned in college, but learning comparable material now so that I can recall it days or weeks later is much harder. I learn lines for a play by going over them a hundred times; when I was 20 or 30, a few repetitions would have sufficed. There are mnemonic tricks I can use such as finding rhymes or obscene associations, but even with all the help I can give myself, it takes much longer these days to file something into long-term memory so that I can recall it days or weeks later. (Periodic practice recalling the material at intervals of days and weeks is important, but it always was.)

Short-term memory seems, perhaps, to be affected less than long-term. I can confidently remember, nearly as well as I ever could, a shopping list of six or eight items as I head out the door (without writing them down), or a name or telephone number for a few minutes. I am confident that a scheduled event a few hours or a few days away will pop into my head when needed, though I am careful to put extra effort into getting it--and keeping it--on my mental calendar.

The encroaching deficit of sensory memory is subtle. I notice it most in a phenomenon I have experienced more and more in recent years, a phenomenon I call "absurd associations" or "false recognitions." Perhaps you have noticed this too. For example, as I am driving, I pass a sign that seems to say (in the glance I get), "Slats." In the first instant I am satisfied with this, but then immediately puzzled (and perhaps amused): it is unreasonable that a sign should read "Slats." If I can, I look back to study the sign more closely--it says "Stable." I believe this mis-reading results from a deficit of sensory memory. A few years ago I would have had half or three-quarters of a second to replay the glance I got and compare it with an array of imagined possibilities, that is, to measure it against a series of words (and contexts) and select a more reasonable reading. Now I do not seem to have enough time; perhaps the length of time allowed for sensory recall is briefer, or perhaps the evaluative associations are slower--I don't know.

Are there "cures" (or at least "treatments") for the memory deficits of advancing years? Yes and no. First and foremost is acknowledgment of the problem--recognition and acceptance that cognitive decline and other mental and physical changes in old age are inevitable. But with this, one should accept or appreciate that old age is an honorable state: after decades of competitive hustle one has earned the right to sit on the mountaintop and enjoy the view.

On the other hand it can be useful to know that the brain is plastic and adaptable throughout life. Further, that one tends to lose mental skills one does not practice: practicing memorizing or problem solving can preserve--even enhance--ones abilities.

In addition to practicing mental skills, particularly in social or emotionally stimulating situations, there is an "attitude" one can practice that minimizes memory and other cognitive deficits. I call it "hyper-vigilance." In younger years we learned that when we had to drive a car under the influence of alcohol, we should be extra careful, extra attentive--extra vigilant. And one can practice using that same mental state in daily life to counteract some of the effects of mental aging. Another analogy (to the driving-while-tipsy experience) occurs to me since I am presently Christmasing with family near Lake Tahoe. The hyper-vigilance of which I speak is like the extra care and attention one takes when walking on ice or hard-packed snow. One can practice using this mental attitude all the time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Has Obama Disapointed Us?

by Richard Crews
When President Barack Obama came into office a year ago, he came with heavy billing. He was clearly one of the most intellectually brilliant men who had ever held the office--belonging in the first ranks with Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Woodrow Wilson, and Bill Clinton. His lionesque charisma and rhetorical acrobatics had brought the Democratic Party and then the American voting populace to their knees. He had an unprecedentedly cosmopolitan background--bred from interracial stock, raised here and there around the world, self-elevated from poverty and obscurity. He had an impossible constellation of training and experience--he had been editor of the Harvard Law Review and spent ten years teaching constitutional law; he had both grassroots experience as a community organizer and skill in riding the exploding technological crest of the Internet. And finally just as important--though perhaps more subtle--he seemed to have a strong moral compass: the sorts of humanitarian social values that are supposed to pervade our American perspective seemed to lie firmly behind his every word.

Heavy billing indeed!

And when he took his seat at the desk in the Oval Office, his in-basket was full: He inherited two wars, a worldwide economic meltdown, impending global ecological disaster, and a dysfunctional--nigh paralyzed--national legislature.

Truly a bursting in-basket!

He went hard to work. He created a world-class team of advisers--several teams, in fact, in different specialty areas. He uncorked a storm of federal spending--some very unpalatable but essential like bailing out the national (and by contagion, international) financial system; some artfully remedial like beginning to rebuild the country's decrepit infrastructure; some shamelessly progressive like jump-starting a green-energy economy. In the international arena, he reopened diplomatic doors that circumstances and prior administrations had slammed shut.

A year has passed. Obama has accomplished a great deal--and attempted even more. There are some reasons to feel disappointed: Wars rage on--nation-building attempts appear unavoidable but frustrating; Civil rights abuses persist--apparently we still hold in miserable confinement Afghan shepherds who will never be brought to trial and never be set free; Paralyzed legislative entrenchment continues--Democratic Party fringes must be bought by pork while Republican misrepresentation and obstructionism has congealed and hardened; And the economic recovery is jobless.

The overall assessment? History is slow. Politics is intractable. Public opinion is near-sighted. We are very fortunate to have Barack Obama at the helm of our leaky boat in these stormy seas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Multiplying Big Numbers in Your Head

by Richard Crews
In response to a storm of inquiries* I hereby reveal my best discovery for multiplying two 2-digit numbers in your head.

First step: it's relatively easy to square a 2-digit number, right? Like 40 squared is 1600 and 70 squared is 4900, but also 35 squared is 30 squared (900) plus 5 squared (25) plus two times 30 x 5 (2 x 150 = 300) so 35 squared is 900 + 25 + 300 which = 1225.

So squaring any 2-digit number in your head isn't that hard if you practice it a little.

Now, suppose the starting numbers are different--we're not just squaring some number. If both the starting numbers are odd (or both are even) they "surround" some number, that is they are the same distance from it. Like 35 and 45 surround 40--they are each 5 away from it.

But 39 x 41 comes out to one less than 40-squared.
And 38 x 42 comes out to 4 less than 40-squared.
And 37 x 43 comes out to 9 less than 40-squared..
And 36 x 44 comes out to 16 less.
And so on--it's always the square of the distance from the number surrounded.

So to multiply 35 x 45 you square 40, the number they surround (which is easy, it's 1600) and subtract 5-square which is 25 (which is also easy: 1600 - 25 = 1575).

Voila! 35 x 45 is 1575.

It gets a little harder if the number that is surrounded is not so easy to square. Like take 29 x 41. They surround 35 (each is 6 away from 35). So 35 squared is 1225 (as above) and then minus 6-squared (which is 36)--so 1225 minus 36 is 1189.

Et voila! 29 x 41 is 1189.

Some people might not find it easy to subtract 36 from 1225 in your head, but since 36 is just 11 more than 25, all you really need to do is subtract 11 from 1200.

It gets a little harder (it might take 20 or 30 seconds) when the two starting numbers are not close to one another, and when one is odd and the other is even. But it's doable, in fact, there are some other tricks you can use.

When it comes to multiplying larger numbers (like 4123 x 7809), you just do them as smaller sets (a problem like this might take 2 or 3 minutes)--
4100 x 7800 (in other words, 41 x 78 and then followed by 4 zeroes, that's 31980000), plus
23 x 7800 (that's 23 x 78 followed by 2 zeroes, 179400), plus
4100 x 9 (with 2 zeroes, 36900), and plus
23 x 9 (with no zeroes, 207).

So 4123 x 7809 = 31980000 + 179400 + 36900 + 207 = 32196507

The hard part is remembering the intermediate results as you go along so that you can add them up when you get to the end of the problem. That's where my mnemonic system comes in. Ask me about it if you care.

I like to check my results as I go along using check-sums or "casting out nines." That's an interesting process too.


* OK, so no one actually asked me--so sue me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama Defines Our Path

by Richard Crews
Sometimes things that are all around us are too close or too big for us to see clearly. Sometimes, although we see them and know they are important, they are too new and too diffuse for us to bring onto sharp focus. Sometimes the difficulty with our vision--with our ability to frame these important patterns and questions in ways that convey their true weight--is that we are missing the philosophical breadth, the practiced cognitive skills, or the verbal artistry to encompass them, sort them out, and package them meaningfully. And finally, sometimes--even if all three of these difficult challenges can be overcome--no single, heroic individual comes forward who has the personal dignity and weight of authority to herald our attention.

On the historic occasions when all four of these vectors come together, humanity has a chance to catch its breath; to see revealed, looking back, its footsteps and the path it has been on; to view the landscape around it; and to cast its sights forward--knowing, anew, which way IS forward--having, anew, an accurate map, a true compass, and restrengthened souls fit for the journey ahead.

Such is our moment if we see it and seize it.

Over the past several years, as Barack Obama has come into public focus and made his way to the presidency of the U.S., he has provided a series of epochal formulations: refocusing our vision and re-framing the key questions of our day--the ones, in fact, on which our magnificent but teetering and fragile civilization will stand or fall--the ones, in fact, on which the habitability of the world our children and grandchildren will inherit depends.

I am referring to his speeches on--

politics (democratic governance and populist participation),

race (with its magnificent potential and terrible dangers),

peace (with, nonetheless, strength and determination to act when necessary),

global ecology (and the dark clouds of nuclear annihilation and industrial pollution that hang over it),


We live at a time of profound and rapid technological changes coupled with worldwide population overflow. To deal with these effectively, we will need more than the vast scientific data we are accumulating. We will even need more than the powerful knowledge that can be extracted from these data. We will need three higher derivatives--the wisdom to enfold this knowledge in clear and accurate historical perspective, the leadership to show us the way, and the strength and determination to act individually and in concert.

Can we do it? The future of humanity and of the planet we inhabit--the physical, emotional, and spiritual habitability of the world we leave our children--depend on it.

It was said of Gandhi, although many could not see it at the time, that "future generations will stand in awe that such a man walked among us." I believe the same is true of Barack Obama.

Friday, November 27, 2009


by Richard Crews
In a typical "Western" movie, the cowboy hero is whacked on the head with a pistol butt and falls unconscious. In a few minutes, as soon as it is dramatically appropriate, he recovers consciousness and immediately resumes his pursuit of the bad guys.

There are several things wrong with this picture. First, our hero has no post-concussive amnesia--immediately on awakening he recalls all the events leading up to the injury such as the appearance of the guy who hit him and the sounds of the attack. In real life, the memory banks of the concussed person are wiped clean for the minute or two prior to the concussion; someone, for example, driving down the street who is involved in a concussive head injury does not recall the last few blocks of driving before the accident.

Second, there are typically post-concussive symptoms of disorientation, confusion, and forgetfulness. The typical victim appears dazed; cannot identify the time, date, or place; and cannot respond appropriately to simple commands (such as "hold up two fingers"). General headache as well as pain associated with the local trauma (the painful lump on the head) are always present.

Third, there are usually symptoms of cognitive impairment hours to days after the injury. Even after the person is no longer confused or disoriented, the individual typically has headaches and experiences difficulty concentrating, learning, and solving simple problems for many hours, even days. (The memory loss is permanent--the lost memories for the events immediately preceding the head trauma are never recovered.)

Another important result of concussion which is missing from the typical cowboy picture is that the individual has increased susceptibility to receiving another concussion--the so-called "second-impact syndrome." This can persist for days--even weeks--during which even a milder blow to the head can cause a significant concussion.

It has also appeared in recent years that athletes who suffer repeated head trauma, for example in boxing or football, have an increased likelihood of brain deterioration later in life--for example, of Parkinson's Disease (like the boxer Muhammad Ali) or Alzheimer's (for example, the football Hall-of-Famer, Mike Webster)--even if there was apparent complete recovery from the original trauma.

Changes in equipment design, especially helmets, and in laws requiring their use have helped reduce traumatic brain injuries in athletes in recent years. There have also been useful changes in professional football rules--such as penalties against "spearing" or helmet-to-helmet contact. In boxing, the worldwide outrage at the violence (boxing is the only professional sport in which the official goal is to inflict injury) have spawned efforts to make boxing illegal, efforts that have been ongoing for decades, though they are met with considerable fan objections and monetary incentives for the boxers. Since there is now a law in the U.S. requiring that a doctor be present at every professional boxing match, the last best hope for outlawing the sport would be that all sports physicians agree to boycott boxing matches, perhaps under threat from medical associations of losing their medical licenses.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Modern Agriculture

by Richard Crews
In recent years there has been a "return" to some long-lost farming practices such as "no-till farming."

Tilling is used to remove weeds, mix in soil amendments like fertilizers, shape the soil into rows for crop plants and furrows for irrigation, and prepare the surface for seeding. This can lead to unfavorable effects, like soil compaction; loss of organic matter; degradation of soil aggregates; death or disruption of soil organisms including mycorrhiza, arthropods, and earthworms; and soil erosion where topsoil is blown or washed away.

Throughout the world not only numerous small farms but also vast agricultural tracts have been converted to no-till farming in the past couple of decades. It requires less financial input than tilling, can maintain profits, and reduces the strain and drain on the ecosystems in which the farming is embedded.

Beyond no-till farming is "conservation agriculture." Conservation agriculture has three general approaches:

The first is practicing minimum mechanical soil disturbance (no tilling) which is essential to maintaining minerals and diverse organisms within the soil and limiting water loss.

The second involves managing the topsoil to create a permanent organic soil-cover mulch that can allow for growth of organisms within the soil structure. This layer of organic matter prevents soil erosion, stabilizes moisture and temperature levels, and acts as a fertilizer for the soil surface.

The third is the practice of crop rotation (with more than two crops). This prevents insect and weed pests from getting established in a rotation with specific crops. Thus it acts as a natural insecticide against destructive pests, and herbicide against specific weeds. Crop rotation can also help build up the soil's infrastructure and the build up of rooting zones which allow for better water infiltration.

A fourth practice that follows naturally from these three general approaches is the use of minimal or no chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These are expensive and unnecessary. But more than that they distort natural ecological processes and balances, and they run off fields to contaminate waterways.

Finally, in conjunction with no-till and conservation agriculture seed selection from year to year can produce increasing yields and increasingly drought- and pest-resistant strains. This has also been practiced for thousands of years since the dawn of agriculture, but modern knowledge of genetics and seed-incubation practices can enhance the effectiveness of selective breeding enormously.

Regarding GM: The process of genetic modification of seed stock has come into public focus in recent years. Lay pundits fear inadvertent poisoning and new waves of allergies, industrial market manipulations (e.g., by Monsanto) have distorted economic practices, and--until recently--there has been little good news to show for the expensive scientific efforts. I say "until recently" because of new reports that soybeans have been genetically altered to produce poly-unsaturated fatty acids. These are essential nutrients in the human diet and have previously only been available from fish oils--salmon have particularly taken a severe threat-of-extinction hit. GM is a new science; it has produced careless and overenthusiastic technologies. And GM has not thus far produced the miracles predicted for it, but with care and patience it may well make significant contributions to agriculture and to feeding the hungry of our increasingly overpopulated and farming-exhausted world.

Afghanistan--What's To Become of Us?

by Richard Crews
We can't put more troops into Afghanistan--the Afghans won't stand for it and the U.S. populace doesn't like it either. On the other hand we can't not do it, either. At least we can't let the country disintegrate into anarchy; that would be both a humanitarian disaster and an international political disaster.

The Afghans would be able to muster the soldiers and police--and the patriotic will--to provide for their own welfare and civil defense if they had access to training and equipment. So maybe that's what we should provide. But the widespread political corruption would make that very difficult to manage. We would have to accept the necessity of putting as much money and effort into administration and accounting for the training and equipment as into the people and goods themselves.

Afghanistan has significant untapped natural resources--gold, silver, copper, zinc, and iron ore in the Southeast; precious and semi-precious stones (such as lapis, emerald, and azure) in the Northeast; and potentially significant petroleum and natural gas reserves in the North. The country also has uranium, coal, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, and salt. Although the primitive political structure, the endemic corruption, and the frequent dangerous security issues make developing these resources difficult, helping the Afghans develop some of these with careful selectivity as to location and project type could be useful.

Finally, Afghanistan is not geographically a uniform problem. Some parts of the country are relatively accessible and tamable; some parts will surely remain wild and primitive despite any efforts.

If we withdraw our focus from some areas, providing the Taliban with safe havens for world-wide terrorism would not be a significant problem as I understand it. They simply cannot realistically be routed out of the harsh mountainous regions anyway, plus they already have safe havens in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa and Asia.

Providing the Taliban additional funding from expanded opium trade has also been a concern. But apparently that isn't a significant problem either. Efforts have been made to eradicate opium poppies and to substitute cultivation of rubber, tea, and deciduous fruit trees (apples, pears, apricots, peaches, and persimmons); in some areas the development of factories and mines has also been significant. With suitable government and NGO assistance a typical rural family can increase their annual income by a factor of 10x when they give up illicit opium growing.

Ultimately, the problem of illicit opium cultivation should be handled by undermining the criminalization of demand. This could be done by making opiates (including heroin) legal for use (though probably not for trade and transport) worldwide. In countries where this has been tried, it has generally led to both decreased criminal activity and decreased (not increased) drug use and related health issues.

So the gist of the solution to the problem of "what is the U.S. to do about Afghanistan?" seems to be:
(1) focusing not on providing U.S. military forces but on training and equipping indigenous security forces
(2) recognizing that different parts of the country are amenable to different levels of administrative support (some can be tamed; some must be left wild)
(3) selecting through careful analysis specific infrastructure resource development (e.g., certain mining, factory production, and cultivation of substitute crops)
(4) providing heavy administrative and accounting support wherever we put resources in including requiring reduction of corruption in the Afghan government
(5) revising our anti-narcotic laws to decriminalize non-prescription personal use of opiates in the U.S. and encouraging this worldwide.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

That Obama Quotation

by Richard Crews
Since someone asked me, here is my analysis of that Obama quote I sent around a few days ago.

Here's the original clip (sorry about the 15-second advertisement--I don't know how to get it out of there).

Here is my analysis.

In the clip the interviewer (performing his "of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings" role, i.e., "news" is whatever gets people to tune in to my channel) turns from genocide or some global disaster to ask, "What do you think about Sarah Palin's criticism that your administration rates a 'four' ?"

Now, Sarah Palin has proven herself to be a deliciously sexy (which is her main appeal to men), quick-spoken (which I think may be her main appeal to women), poorly informed cartoon character. Rating something as complex and important as Obama's activities "as 4 on a scale of 10" is a third-grader's "Ring around the Rosy." But the interviewer has dutifully tossed it into the air and invited Obama to take a swing at it.

There are many things Obama could have said. One common approach would be to not answer the question at all, e.g., some variant of "I'm most concerned about the situation in the Middle East." Or even, ostensibly staying relevant to the question, "Palin [or "you"] should not distract us from...." But--point one--Obama actually answers the question.

Point two--there would be so many ways to be childish or patronizing; and it's free--the media would pick it up, etc. But he doesn't choose that route.

Point three--first he laughs--warmly, lightly, spontaneously. Utterly charming.

Point four (and more--I'll stop counting)--then he makes three points; all three are true and all are said in a grown-up way. "She's out selling books right now [so stirring a little blood in the water is par for the course]" and "I think [not "I hope" or "unfortunately," etc.] she'll do well at it." But "her 'political philosophy' [I'll come back to that phrase] is very different from my own so that I don't look to her for [useful] criticism."

I think his use of the phrase "political philosophy" is fascinating and problematic. She doesn't really have a "political philosophy" any more than any third-grader does. The Republicans do--sort of--"loyal opposition" converted to irrational obstructionism; it is in fact a functional activity in the "political" (with a small "p") arena and thus deserves the title "political philosophy" (using "philosophy"--perhaps also with a small "p"--to mean "an explanatory conceptual plan"). But puppies that pad along wagging their tails behind the Republican wagon train cannot be credited with even this small-p's level of intention. So Obama is mis-speaking to credit Palin with a "political philosophy" even on this trivial level.

Or is he? No! He is, rather, saying that Palin's shenanigans are on a level with the Republicans' "political philosophy." Again, true--but also sophisticated and even subtle. It is a comment, not on her, but on the Republicans.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

John McCain's Legacy (Palin)

by Richard Crews
John McCain is an honorable man--"a true American hero"--who has been courageous in the Senate, even at times defying party orthodoxy and political "wisdom" in favor of principled stands.

In the 1980s he shot himself in the foot by his participation in the Keating-Five Scandal. Many thought he had killed any serious political aspirations. But like Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, John McCain, serving in the Senate, patiently and diligently climbed the mountain of dignity and moral stature to achieve a venerable place in U.S. history.

On the negative side his judgment sometimes seemed impetuous and his policy decisions poorly thought out (as in his response to the financial crisis during his presidential campaign) and his administrative and organizational skills were not of the highest order (viz the stops and starts of his presidential campaign).

But in my judgment his most terrible political/historical sin--one that has forever damned John McCain from an enduring place of honor in U.S. history--is his dredging Sarah Palin out of anonymity ("from the putrid tundra of Alaska") and foisting her--apparently tenaciously--onto the national political scene.

Please see (even if only briefly)--

Friday, November 13, 2009

Darwin's Interlude

by Richard Crews
A few years ago I read about three stages in the development of life on our planet. The first, called "abiogenesis" or "chemical evolution," was the fortuitous gathering together (perhaps with lightening sparking interactions) of more and more complex molecules, especially carbon molecules. This occupied the first couple of billion years of the Earth's existence.

By the end of that period the developing carbon chemistry had become complex enough to be called "organic" and, with the curious advent of self-replicating carbon compounds, "biologic."

The following few billion years (until about 10,000 years ago) can be called the "Darwinian Interlude." During that period biological systems (that's us) developed--or we can legitimately say "evolved"--according to Darwin's profound insight: through natural variation and natural selection. (Darwin's breakthrough concept has been called "the most important idea anyone ever had.") Spencer provided the term "survival of the fittest"; Mendel, the necessary statistical mechanisms of "genetics"; Gould, the broken flow refinement of "punctuated equilibrium." All in all, the theory of "evolution" seems to explain neatly how the complex living world we see around us arose from that primordial organic soup.

That is, until about 10,000 years ago. At that time a new force began to sweep across the planet, increasingly diverting and overwhelming natural evolutionary processes: modern humans appeared on the scene with their hunting, agriculture, animal husbandry, and general determination to bend the environment (including the biological environment) to their wishes. (I pause here for a round of applause.)

Granted, shifting the patterns of the Earth is like turning a battleship--it occurs slowly. For many centuries the Grand Old Lady, Earth, continued to "Darwin" along on its way. But there was a rising tide (or perhaps I should say, "a gathering storm"). The use of land (and sea and air) were increasingly determined by totally unnatural variations and unnatural selections made by human beings.

These days our species rules the Earth. We decide which other species live (and which few flourish) and which ones die. We decide what land is to grow certain plants for our pleasure, and what land is to lie fallow or die from subversion of its water and exhaustion of its nutrients.

This is a heavy responsibility. Are we up to it? Are we mature enough to manage our sweet mother planet wisely? The jury is still out on this question, but leaks from the jury room suggest that the verdict will be "no."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suicide by Train

by Richard Crews
On Tuesday (Nov. 10, 2009) Robert Enke, a German soccer goalie (widely acknowledged to be one of the best in the world), committed suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train.

It was a terrible tragedy, and I do not take it lightly. But I am intrigued by the psycho-dynamics of the event. The man must have spent his entire athletic career waiting to throw himself in front of (to try to stop) a soccer ball hurdling toward him. His every mental and physical reflex was honed to that instant. He must have gone to bed at night re-living in despair the ones that had gotten by him and calculating endlessly how he could have done a better job getting in front of them. He must have reveled in triumph at the feeling of that missile crashing into his body.

Very few people choose to commit suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train--but he did. After all, it was consistent with the mental and physical discipline he had trained in himself all his life.

The psycho-dynamics of death are not always so stark, but they are always there--and always strong--and always determinant. In fact, each of us is more than "flirting" with death, we are actively courting it. If we overeat or under-exercise or play "chicken" with known health and safety threats, we can acknowledge the craziness clearly, although the underlying psycho-dynamic struggles may be far from clear--they are deeply hidden in the recesses of our minds; they grow in tangled ways from past fears and frustrations.

There is a joke that you can tell a French firing squad because the riflemen stand in a circle with the condemned prisoner in the middle.

Psycho-dynamic "reasons" are like that: they seemed to make sense at one time (perhaps when we were very young or blinded by passion) but looked at with clear and reasonable adult vision, they are stupid and self-defeating.


Note: I learned today that Dr. Edwin Shneidman died a couple of months ago at the age of 91. He was the founding genius of a field called "suicidology." As a psychiatric resident in training 45 years ago, I attended a lecture he delivered on "Sub-Intentioned Death." His influence has stayed with me ever since.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Second Coming (of Civilization)

by Richard Crews
The point is sometimes made that even if civilization crumbles under the weight of the impending global food, water, and energy catastrophes--even if "we" are set back a thousand years or more--surely our descendants will rise again. It would just be a matter of time.

But the rise of civilization over the past 10,000 years--with its accompanying plodding advance of justice and human dignity, and at last even reverence for life and respect for our mothering Earth and its ecosystems--has depended on readily available natural resources. The oil, iron, and copper that lay on the surface were essential in advancing our forebears from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age and then the Iron Age. It was only with the development of further technologies which these readily available resources allowed that our ancestors learned to dig and drill for more of them.

These have been used up--along with phosphates, radioactive ores, and a dozen other commodities that are essential for advancing technologies. If and when our civilization is driven back into barbarism (where looting ones neighbors was a major source of wealth) and slavery (which was a major pre-industrial source of energy), our descendants will not have access to many of the raw materials that were essential for our ancestors to advance.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pale-Green Jobs

by Richard Crews
Do you know the difference between a "recession" and a "depression"? A "recession" is when your neighbor is out of work; but when you lose your job, that's a "depression."

The present economic downturn (charmingly dubbed the "Great Recession") is reshuffling the business deck in interesting--subtle but profound--ways. As previous downturns have up-turned, factories reopen, workers are rehired, and things get back to "normal."

Not so this time. The massive but sometimes gradual shift to high-tech services of the past few decades has been accelerated dramatically by the current, in many ways unprecedented, bubble cycle. A lot of the "old jobs" simply won't be returning. Yes, some factories can be retooled, for example from SUVs to hybrids; some occupations can be reoriented, for example from new construction to energy-efficient retrofitting; some financial and big-business strategies can evolve, for example from excesses and amoral greed to pan-regulation. But a lot of the "old ways" are fading and, in the current economic turmoil, fading fast.

We are in the throes of a social (occupational, educational--even cultural, philosophical, and--yes--political) upheaval. The "Good Old Days" simply won't be coming back--some would say "thank heavens!" The 2020s are going to look and feel very different from the 1980s and '90s.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Evolution of Consciousness

by Richard Crews
Have you seen how computer programs can evolve? For example, one can take a program that draws a stick figure on a screen and then redraws it several times a second. This does not require a particularly long and complicated program--perhaps a few hundred lines of code. Someone skilled in the programming arts could write this program in a couple of hours.

Then you write a program that throws a small error into the first program and runs the new, screwed-up version for one minute. And you arrange for this process to be repeated over and over again. For each run the computer goes back to the starting program and inserts a random error. Usually the error (we'll call it a "mutation") simply "kills" the starting program--it just won't run at all. But now and then the mutation causes the stick figure to jiggle or jump.

Every hour or so you choose a few of the "best" mutations--the ones that have caused some interesting twitch or movement in the figure it draws (one that looks a little like walking)--and you use each of those as a new starting point. Then you go through this process over and over again; actually you write another control program so the computer will make the choices and re-runs and re-re-runs by itself and you go have dinner and go to a movie or something.

The next morning if you have told the computer to pick twitches and jumps that look more and more like walking, when you get to your lab and look in on the process, the computer is drawing one figure after another that walks across the screen. Overnight it has gone through hundreds of trial runs and gradually selected programs that look more and more like real, live walking.

You can look in on this process at--

It is fun to watch "evolution" and "survival of the fittest" in action like this. In fact, it's more than fun--it's downright mindboggling.

One of the ways one can boggle ones mind is to speculate that in the biological world primitive people-like creatures might evolve quite complex predator-evasion skills (like watching out, running for it, hiding, and climbing trees) or skills for hunting, foraging, resting, procreating, etc. in only a few hundred generations of "evolution."

I like to imagine that solving problems--especially complicated human problems such as when to eat, fight, or run away--might be done by drawing up in ones mind a series of little scenarios as to what events might take place and what the outcome of each might be, and then choosing among them to decide on a course of action. Moreover, why couldn't one evolve a process like this for solving daily problems, that is, for dealing with the variations of daily life? Of course one would have to imagine oneself in the scene, getting clawed or getting food, etc.

Voila! The evolution of consciousness, including self-awareness.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Long Odds

by Richard Crews
Consider the curious statistical significance of the first game of the World Series. In over 100 years (including 20 sweeps), no team has ever swept the World Series after losing the first game.

Some statistical "anomalies" like that are amusing; their errors are obvious. But suppose you test positive for a rare disease, one that affects only one person in every 10,000. And the test the doctor used is highly accurate, that is, it gives the correct answer 99% of the time.

Is it time to panic? No. The odds are still 99% that you DON'T have the disease. If 10,000 people were given the test, 100 of them would test positive, but only one of these would actually have the disease.

Similarly, if vast data banks of DNA now being collected are matched against the DNA from a crime scene--say from blood, saliva, or semen--and a match can be found, should that person be arrested? No, not on the basis of that evidence alone. The DNA sample may match only one person in a million, but if the data bank contains 100 million people, then there can be expected to be 100 people from that data bank who match the crime-scene DNA.

There are law-enforcement programs to sort DNA evidence from hundreds of unsloved crimes against vast DNA data banks. And there are epidemiological studies to test populations of tens of thousands for rare diseases. Such efforts are ripe for false positive findings.

The privacy of personal data is not a trivial matter. In this age of lightening fast computers sifting through vast arrays of data, the emotional and social pain erroneously inflicted may far outweigh the benefits.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Water, Food, Lebensraum, and Pollution

by Richard Crews
The world's major ills or dangers can be grouped under four headings: water, food, Lebensraum, and pollution. I would like to take a stab at summarizing each of those. That is on the "physical" level.

Before I take that on, I would like to discuss briefly a profound and subtle "meta-physical" problem. One that has significant implications for the future of humanity and planet Earth.

Throughout history there has been a tension between, on the one hand, the greed, lust, competitiveness, and self-interest that are probably derived from our animal heritage--evolution, competition among (and within) species, survival of the fittest, ecological-niche selection and domination, etc.--and, on the other hand, "the better angels of our nature" [Abraham Lincoln]. It is reassuring to recognize that the rule of law tempered with mercy, social tolerance, and inter-community cooperation (at every level up to international) have wider purchase today than they did 100 or 500 or 1,000 years ago. There does indeed seem to be "a long arc of history that bends toward justice" [Martin Luther King].

But despite those "better angels" and that "long arc," there persist in the world today widespread ethnic violence including genocides, and the disparate distribution of food and wealth so that some (like us) live in obscene profligacy while billions live in desperate poverty and misery. Moreover, torture and mayhem are endemic in some societies and occasionally seem to raise their ugly heads even in the best of circles.

There is no quick cure for this problem, but there are several factors that can help gradually bend the arc. One is awareness of the problem--to keep the tension between our animal heritage and our better angels always in mind, both philosophically, long-term and also day-by-day (even hour- and minute-by-minute) in orchestrating our words and actions. Another is the willingness to take a stand whenever the opportunity arises against cruelty and bullying, whether it is in the punishing of a child; unnecessary, unfair, and ineffective penal code and practices; predatory business and banking; or simply the ebb and flow of slights in daily life (which people, when they are subjected to them, multiply and pass on).

Water: Each day a billion people don't find safe drinking water. Worldwide underground water tables are sinking--some places where a well once needed to be only 15 or 20 feet deep now cannot reach water hundreds of feet below the surface. And the hydrological cycle (evaporation, cloud formation, rain, river run-off, etc.) that once supplied humanity and the dry earth with bountiful clean, fresh water is being increasingly disrupted and distressed by wasteful irrigation, deforestation, desertification, civil waste, etc.

The "cure" for this problem is to recognize in law and cultural practices that clean, fresh water is not "free." People should be charged for its use and penalized for its misuse (such as in watering lawns, spraying farm fields, dumping contaminants into clean water, etc.). Of course, paying appropriately for water is a general concept change; implementing it would have many specific implications and local variations.

And, yes, agriculture, like many other activities, is a business, that is, a conduit from which the businessperson makes a living by chipping off part of the passing wealth for passing it along effectively. The true cost of water should be passed on to the ultimate consumer, in agriculture and in other activities that use water ("use" in the sense of reducing available clean, fresh water by contamination, dispersion, evaporation, etc.).

Food: More than a billion people in the world are hungry--day after day they fight starvation, malnutrition, and a hundred diseases made worse by lack of nourishment. Buckminster Fuller alerted us decades ago that there was enough food in the world; the problem causing scarcity was poor distribution (in other words, predatory business practices). Designing equitable distribution needs to be part of the solution to the worldwide hunger crisis.

But production needs to be "fixed" too. Norman Borlaug and the "Green Revolution" turned Mexico, India, and elsewhere from net grain consumers to net grain exporters. But the chemically stimulated monoculture he espoused are not ultimately ecologically friendly or sustainable. Now that the killer corporation Monsanto owns (and enforces) patents on the grain seeds of life, and big-tractor economics makes small farms uneconomical, an enormous revolution--in farming practices; seed, fertilizer, and water use; genetic modification and adaptation of food plants; and patterns of meat consumption--needs to find its way around the world.

Lebensraum: This term, meaning "room to live" in German, raises horrible historical associations of Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. And in using it here, those are exactly the associations I wish to invoke. There are scores of places around the world where huge populations (often numbering in the millions) have been displaced from their homelands. They are refugees, Many live in crowded tent camps at the mercy of NGOs and the international community; many, in urban squalor; many, in more or less awkward integration with other populations.

This is a complicated, many faceted problem in search of solutions--through education, health care, family planning, immigration reform, and so much more. Ethnic violence, genocide, and refugee-ism are not "solutions" we can live with. On the one hand, they are morally reprehensible, and on the other, left under appreciated and untreated they will not heal and go away, they will fester and grow.

Pollution: Of the land, atmosphere, oceans--by a myriad of chemicals that are designed for their potent biological (and chemical and physical) properties, some in vast quantities (millions, even billions of tons), well beyond the capacity of the Earth to decompose, dilute, disperse, or otherwise "handle" them. We have seen the warnings of "Silent Spring," acid rain, the ozone hole, Chernobyl, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, global warming, etc. The Earth's systems were once so much more vast than any puny human activities, that we could not destroy our Mother. Now our human efforts threaten to overwhelm the Earth's bounty and equilibrium mechanisms.

This is also a complicated, many faceted problem in search of solutions. Ultimately, the only answer may be sophisticated and comprehensive regulation by agencies like the FDA and EPA to curtail and correct malevolent (or unwitting) business and cultural practices.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tort Reform

by Richard Crews

On September 10, 2009 the Heritage Foundation reported, "There are credible estimates that serious tort reform could save the country between $100 and $200 billion annually in wasteful spending, as doctors practice defensive medicine to preempt lawsuits."

I do not understand why tort reform--especially capping damage amounts for medical malpractice--is not part of the health-insurance debate. Hospitals, doctors, health-equipment manufacturers, and other medical providers pay enormous insurance fees to protect themselves from the possibility that a mistreated patient will sue for multimillions. For example, some doctors in particularly susceptible specialties (such as anesthesiology) pay a hundred thousand dollars or more a year for malpractice insurance. This adds to the cost of medical services to cover the insurance premiums and also encourages "defensive medicine" with extra medical tests and unnecessary treatments.

There are criminal laws (threatening fines and incarceration) and professional reviews (threatening censure and loss of medical license) that can protect patients' safety and rights.

Tort reform has been historically favored by Republicans (as encouraging business innovation and development) and opposed by Democrats (as limiting civil rights and protections).

I believe substantial tort reform could constrain unnecessary costs in health care and also provide a political lever for encouraging bipartisan participation in developing universal health-care legislation.

[See for a fuller discussion of this complicated issue.]


I wrote--"I do not understand why tort reform--especially capping damage amounts for medical malpractice--is not part of the health-care debate."

A friend wrote, "The answer to your question is that the tort bar is one of the major contributors to the Democratic Party. The chairman of the Party, (Dr.) Howard Dean, answered a reporter's question, the same as yours, by saying that they could not take on the lawyers if they wanted health reform."

In other words, while doctors and other medical providers may incur expensive burdens (that they pass on to patients) from the current medical tort law, lawyers do not--they get enormous fees. So tort lawyers lobby to prevent laws capping penalties.

President Obama has said, "I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative."

Some people are skeptical: "That would be Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, whose resume includes eight years as director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association. So Obama has chosen a former industry lobbyist to run tort reform."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lorenzo (or "Penal Rehab Doesn't Work")

by Richard Crews

After I retired in 2000, I spent three years living alone in a used mobile home in very wild Texas back country. When I first moved there, the property--20 acres--was covered with thickly tangled, thorny shrubs five feet high with tangled vines; a 7-acre section was a thick woods, deeply gullied, also with thick, tangled vines. One could not walk onto the property, much less across it. There was no access to water, sewage, or electricity. The nearest neighbors were a half-mile away down a dirt road; they were a pair of ex-felons who lived with one of their girl friends and a baby, plus various other people who came and went. They all lived (crowded) in another broken-down, used mobile home.

When I first arrived, I rented a cabin several miles away. Each morning I drove over and spent the day with clippers and chain saw--later with a small garden/mowing tractor--clearing my way onto the property. In a few weeks I had enough area cleared so I could have a small, second-hand mobile home hauled in. Then I spent my time clearing more of the land, planting a garden and some fruit trees, building fences and a shed so that I could have chickens and a couple of goats, cutting paths through the woods. I built a shed, put up a windmill and solar pannels, and set up a system of gutters and barels for rain-water catchement. I drove 20 miles into town most every day to get my mail, and to shop at the grocery, hardware, and lumber stores.

After I had been living in the mobile home for a few weeks, a character named Lorenzo showed up at my door one day looking for work. Over the next two-and-a-half years, he came by often to work with me. He became a good friend--my "best friend," I would say--and he is the subject of this morality play--which is entirely true, by the way.

Lorenzo was a short, wiry man of dark complexion. He was in his late 30s when I knew him, very bright and energetic (enhanced by the fact that he was usually high on cocaine or methadrine). He was always smiling, laughing, joking--but he was also quick to take offense and savage with his fists or a knife or any weapon that was handy if he felt he had been cheated or threatened. He had served several terms in the state penitentiary and in county and local penal facilities, mostly for dealing drugs but also for various crimes of robbery and assault. As we got to know one another, we developed a mutual trust and respect; I came to rely on his judgment and help in a work task; he was always honest and completely "up front" with me (as far as I knew).

Two examples to illustrate Lorenzo's personality: One evening I looked out into the dusk and saw a wiry figure carrying something, running from my shed out to a waiting car. I knew it was Lorenzo (Lorenzo ran everywhere he went), and I chastised myself for leaving the shed unlocked. When I saw him a couple of days later, I asked him about the episode. He replied that he had borrowed the angle-grinder, and had since put it back, and--by the way--had cleaned it and greased the bearings while he had it.

Another example: After he had worked with me on some job for a few hours, I would drive him home (he lived in a small, doorless, broken-down camper in the woods on a corner of his father's property). Along the way he would have me stop at one or more places he knew of until he could "score" some cocaine or speed to turn the $20 or $30 he had earned into a day or two high. At one stop, I saw him running back towards the car, along a driveway, over a chain-link fence, and diagonally across a back yard, when suddenly--to my alarm--I saw that he had invaded the territory of a guard dog, a 70 or 80-pound Rottweiler, who was chasing him full-tilt and about to catch him from behind. I shouted to Lorenzo to "look out," and he turned and saw the dog just before it hit him. When Lorenzo turned and saw the dog, he did not run to escape or crouch to defend himself--he attacked the dog, rushing at it, ready to do battle--unarmed except for his tremendous energy and ferocious will. The dog hauled to a stop in surprise--no, in terror--and ran as fast as it could to escape. I feel sure that Lorenzo would have killed it if he had caught it--killed it with his bare hands.

Lorenzo was an expert welder--he had learned that during one of his stints in the State Pen. He also was an excellent auto mechanic--another skill gleaned in prison. And hairdresser. What other talents or skills he had I do not know, though he could always mend or fix anything that was broken around my property--even if he had to go off on his own for a couple of hours to steal the parts he needed.

Lorenzo had no fear of going back to jail. In fact, if the winter storms were particularly harsh, he would go downtown, into a bar, pick a fight, and get arrested--and have few days or weeks of three meals a day and a warm dry place to sleep. When he was ready to get out of jail, he would cut a deal--he would "burn" two or three small drug dealers in our neighborhood, and be released in compensation.

The moral of this story is that Lorenzo, as far as I could tell, was utterly and totally unrehabilitable. He could have gotten a job any time he wanted one (and he did, from time to time) welding, fixing cars, or flexing any of several other significant skills. He had a "social support system"--he had grown up in the area, his father and grown brother lived there--worked in construction and housing development. During the time I knew him, he met and fell in love with and married an enormously fat girl (he liked them the fatter the better), and even had a child with her--a child who was removed from the "home" within a few months after birth by the local Social Service (Child Protective) agency.

I have not seen or heard from Lorenzo since I left Texas to return to California five years ago. I suspect that he is either dead or in jail, or if not, that he is living a life very much like the one I knew--one that he had been living for a couple of decades before we met. I doubt very much that he has "gone straight" or "been rehabilitated" despite the state's best efforts, despite his remarkable abilities and skills, and despite the social network in which he had grown up and that was available to him.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lost Children

by Richard Crews

Dal is one of the million-or-so homeless and abandoned children in the world. She lives in Manila in the Philippines--but there are thousands in every major city in the world (and thousands more in non-urban areas). She is seven. She also cares for her four-year-old brother since their mother died several months ago. (The young woman they called "mother" was not really their mother, she was their older sister; she cared for them for about two years and died of unknown disease, certainly including malnutrition. She was twelve when she died. Neither of them remembers their real mother.)

The two children sleep under a concrete abutment down by the harbor. Each day they walk several blocks to streets where there are business people and tourists, and they beg for coins. When they have gotten a few, they take them to the back door of a bakery where, uncounted (neither of the children can count) they are exchanged for a piece of bread. In the afternoon they beg in a small park nearby. The coins they get there they take to the back of a restaurant where they are traded for a bowl of soup. If they happen to have gathered several coins that day, the soup may have a small piece of fish or meat in it. They are also allowed to go through the garbage at the back of the restaurant to look for food as long as they do not make a mess.

Their entire world of several city blocks is dirty and crowded. Anything they get to eat, they eat right away or it will be stolen from them--sometimes with a beating. They have no possessions beyond the few thin rags of clothes they wear.

Every few months, particularly during tourist season or when there have been an inordinate number of citizen complaints, the police round up as many homeless and abandoned children as they can catch and stick them into crowded and dirty jail cells for a few days. There they get thin soup and bread to eat; there are a few open toilets, and no sleeping, warmth, or other amenities. After a few days when several of the children have died, creating a nuisance, the police let them go. (In Rio de Janero, for years the police rounded up several hundred children every few months and drove them in trucks out to the garbage dumps at the edge of the city and shot them; civil rights groups report that this has not been done in the past couple of years.)

The world we Americans live in is, at times, hard and complex; for some it is sparse and harsh. We often see pictures on our TVs of dirty, crowded refugee camps in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and elsewhere. But we rarely see or hear about the million-or-so homeless and abandoned children in the world.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In War and Peace

by Richard Crews

On the battlefield people kill one another legally, they take and hold prisoners without due cause or due process, they confiscate and destroy property without any legal proceedings whatsoever, they interrogate captives with minimal constraints.... Such are the "Laws of War."

But the Laws of War were born and bred in different times from our own--times when uniformed soldiers carried non-concealed weapons into battle--into battles which were easy to distinguish from non-battles.

Now the term "war" has been redefined--not just to include a "war on drugs" and a "war on poverty" but, equally ambiguously, a "war on terror"--there are no battles that come and go, no uniformed troops, and--most significantly--no distinguishable endpoint.

Soldiers captured in "normal" battle could be held for months--even a year or two--until the war was over. People taken prisoner in the war on terror can, apparently--since there is no endpoint--be held for the rest of their lives. Without due cause. Without due process. They cannot be brought to trial, apparently, because the "evidence" against them was not gathered or held in a responsible way (for example, the people who identified them originally are long gone; their "confessions" were obtained under torture and therefore cannot be considered as legal evidence).

One of the worst failings of the Obama administration is that he has not developed--by Executive orders and Congressional actions--any legal code and procedures for handling the unfortunates caught in this terrible limbo between civil rights and uncivil wrongs.

There is* an Afghan goat herder who prior to his capture (he was pointed out by neighboring villagers who got $50 for "turning him in") had never heard of most of what he has been accused of--what, under torture, he has admitted to. He has been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay for over seven years, mostly in solitary confinement, often shackled, sleep-deprived, left at times to sit in his own urine and feces. He shall, apparently, spend the rest of his life in prison. Without trial; without charges.

Where are our "American values" in this? Where is "the long arc of history that bends towards justice"?


* When I say "there is" I mean "there could be"--we do not know for sure. There are quite a few prisoners who could be in (or close to) this category. Isn't that appalling?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Baby Steps in Mandarin and Arabic

by Richard Crews

"The parting with my wife and poor children has often been to pulling the flesh from my bones. Often brought to my mind are the many hardships, miseries, and needs that my poor family were likely to meet with...especially my poor blind child who, I must confess, lay nearer to my heart than all the others. Oh, the thoughts of the hardship my poor blind one might undergo would break my heart to pieces. Poor child, what sorrows are you likely to have for your portion in this world! You must be beaten, must beg, suffer cold, hunger, nakedness, and a thousand calamities though I cannot now endure that the wind should blow upon thee." (John Bunyan, 1666)

Every parent wants the best for their child. We want to start them in life with a strong emotional foundation so that they feel deeply safe and secure no matter what tribulations--even disasters--life may throw at them. We want them to have a healthy body and be armed with knowledge and habits that will assure their physical well-being across decades of development and devolution. And we want them to have the foundational mental skills--in perception, memory, and reasoning--that will enable them to build a complete and functional, pragmatic but inspired personality, character, and world view.

Parenting is one of the most difficult and important challenges that each of us takes on in life, but it is usually done essentially from an "amateur" position. We learned it mostly from our parents and other amateurs, and we never fully confront the intricacies and the breath of the challenges.

There is one area in particular in which most child-rearing "systems" (i.e., the behavioral patterns that govern a particular household) are deficient. That is in the development of language. Every child learns a native language, and also a rich, metaphor- and homonym-ridden para-language--a slang--that goes along with the native language and varies with the particular locale and cultural group of the family home. Since there are more than 5,000 languages spoken in the world today--and many, many more that died out in centuries past--it is clear that the number of different mental-equipment systems a child may inherit from language-cultural roots is truly vast.

There are several aspects of native language that one should note. For one thing, the structure (particularly the grammar) and also the vocabulary (what can and can't be readily symbolized in a language) are very important in the child's developing thought patterns. Furthermore, languages vary widely in the mental tools they bequeath to a child (and therefore to the adult that child becomes). Benjamin Lee Whorf, a leading scholar in the field of linguistics during the first half of the twentieth century, went so far as to say that the world we experience--our reality--varies depending on the native language we learned in our earliest, thought-forming years.

It is easiest to acquire a deep, "native" familiarity with a language during the first few years of life. One can only imagine how important--how powerful--it must be to acquire the mental tools of more than one language during those formative years. Yet very few households are structured to facilitate the young child being submerged in more than one language--of having a growing child's mental possibilities expanded to include those provided by more than one "native" language. For a child who has a safe, loving, perceptually rich home to grow up in, the most important gift a parent can give is to provide the mental tools available from multiple language exposures.

There are some further advantages. It is clearly advantageous to a young adult to be fluent in one or more foreign languages; it expands social possibilities, as well as opportunities for travel and cross-cultural experiences. Moreover, any person who has native-level fluency in more than one language, can rely on that as a vocational, economic asset throughout life. When jobs are hard to come by, they are much more readily available to someone who is fluent in multiple languages.

In addition, further foreign languages are easier to learn if they are related to a language one already knows. For example, someone who knows English, already knows a lot about the grammatical structure and vocabulary of any other Indo-European language such as German, French, Russian, Italian, one of the Scandinavian languages, etc.

The question arises what particular languages one might best expose a young child to. English is an obvious choice: it is more widely spoken either as native language or as a second language than any other language in the world. There are about 350 million native speakers of English, but there are at least two billion more who know English in addition to their native language. It is, more than any other, the international language of commerce, science, and intercultural relations. It has a fairly complete Indo-European grammar, and an extensive vocabulary from which cognates in other Indo-European languages may be drawn.

Mandarin (specifically, "Standard Mandarin" or "Standard Chinese")is the second language of choice. It is of the Sino-Tibetan language family--very different from Indo-European--and is spoken natively by over one billion people throughout the world. This is more than any other language and, although it is predominantly found in Asia, especially China, it is also widely dispersed geographically.

The third choice is Arabic (specifically, "Modern Standard Arabic"), a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic family--very different from an Indo-European or a Sino-Tibetan language. It is spoken natively by over 400 million people, predominantly in the Middle-East but also widely throughout the world.

So there you have it in broad strokes. The best upbringing advantages you can give your baby, in addition to providing a safe, loving, perceptually stimulating home, is to expose a child--from about six months of age at least to age 8 or 10 years--to native speakers of Mandarin and Arabic, as nannies or baby sitters, as household friends, and through travel and exposure to foreign-language TV, movies, voice recordings, language training, and other programs. You will not only, thereby, expand your child's mental tools and social possibilities, you will be providing a rich aesthetic and vocational resource that will continue to serve throughout life. Moreover, you will be making it easier for the child (and adult) to learn additional languages later on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Obama Update

by Richard Crews

It has been 214 days since Obama's inauguration. How's he doing?

The financial meltdown seems to have been averted; the Second Great Depression seems to have bottomed out. Moreover, he used those economic crises to launch revolutionary initiatives in infrastructure repair, green energy, and revitalized education. He has reintroduced international diplomacy and initiated a rebirth of civil rights and of scientism and intelligent, open discourse in public affairs.

Some libertarians object that he has moved too slowly on restoring civil liberties.

Some naturalists object that he has moved too slowly on green matters--on counteracting pollution and on restoring the protection of our parks and wild places, and of endangered species.

His most aggressive and impressive initiative has been toward cleaning up and rebuilding our health-care system.

His most striking failure has been in the lack of bipartisan cooperation. The Republican (conservative) philosophy has some potentially useful perspectives: that changes should be careful and gradual, and spending should be limited. Unfortunately no sensible Republican leadership has emerged (please, if you know of any, name them); moreover the catastrophic effects of deregulation and the historical failure of trickle-down economic stimulation have become evident. The Republicans have reduced themselves to obstructionism--including distortion and deceit. They have simply read themselves out of the governing equation.

I believe Obama has gotten off to a strong start on--
(1) building his team(s) based on brains and pragmatism
(2) initial rescue from inherited economic and diplomatic debacles
(3) laying foundations for infrastructure and education reconstruction
(4) expending his honeymoon gloss to break the health-care log jam

I believe he has honed his Washington political-manipulation skills (having carefully studied Lincoln's, Teddy Roosevelt's, FDR's, Reagan's, and Clinton's strengths and errors). He has added to his community-organizing and rhetorical skills--plus his experience as a Constitutional scholar and then a struggling worker-bee-drone in the Senate--toward development of a Washington leadership style--
(1) get the best academic and scientific advice available
(2) make a show of consulting all stake-holding power brokers--early and loudly
(3) but--and he has only just learned this through getting burned a bit on the health-care thing--design and shepherd specific legislative initiatives through Congress (almost LBJ-like, but hopefully never that savage)

The philosophic visions that have become evident are wonderful--
(1) grabbing the technology tiger by the tail (Twitter- and nano-power)
(2) rebuilding social conscience--widespread (though we see it mainly domestically) and popular (though we see it initially in the bourgeoisie)
(3) green-ness, wisely tempered by scientism and political pragmatism
(4) Constitutional and civil-libertarian values
(5) good, old fashioned international diplomacy, frustrating and reptilian as it may be

And his sense of pace is inspiring--
(1) economic salvage work must be done immediately, but developing effective re-regulation of the financial industries will take years
(2) one can chip away at wealth redistribution--taxes on the superwealthy, curbing exorbitant pay and bonuses, etc.--but this, too, is a change in the social structure that must evolve over many years
(3) reconstruction of infrastructure, education, energy, internationalism (political and economic), green-ness, etc. will take decades, but one must get the first shovel into the ground.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Healthcare--Some Ideas

by Richard Crews

The U.S. healthcare system is a vast and complicated patchwork of ideas and principles; of individual careers and social patterns; of clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, educational programs, service and philanthropic groups--of schemes and dreams--that has grown up over many decades. It is expansive and expensive--it involves nearly one-sixth of the national economy. It is painfully personal and epically tragic--it interacts with our deepest emotional aches and existential fears.

And it is not particularly efficient nor effective. Several First-World countries provide their citizens better healthcare--by every measure from longevity and chronic disease statistics to waiting-room annoyances--than the U.S. does, and with less cost and social discontent.

Some say the U.S. healthcare system is in need of reform because of this fragmentation, socio-cultural dissonance, and disparity with other First-World systems. Alternatively, some say we need to fix it because science and medicine are progressing so fast that--like Lewis Carrol's famous metaphor--we have to run as hard as we can just to stay in the same place. But all knowledgeable analysts agree that healthcare costs are increasing, over a period of years and decades, faster than inflation and the growth of the U.S. economy (of GDP); in other words, if we do nothing but sit back and watch, healthcare costs will bankrupt our country--and hence our civilization and our way of life--over the next couple of decades.

That being said, we can set aside the political dilemma that has paralyzed healthcare reform up to now. Yes, there are entrenched interests--resistances from big business, from religion, from social and political powers. Yes, there is tremendous inertia--the healthcare system has been pieced together from bits and pieces that worked and didn't work over many decades. Yes, there is a disparity of views--for every good idea about what should be done, there are strong, reasonable counter-views as to why that particular idea should not be implemented. But we can set all this aside in our considerations, not because it is easy to overcome, but because--given the economic and historic handwriting on the wall--it MUST be overcome.

So here are some ideas--some of them "good ideas"--about what can, and must, be done in overhauling the U.S. healthcare system. (I plan to expand, with specifics, each of these broad "idea" areas.)

(1) Waste, inefficiencies, and economic inequities must be weeded out of the system.

(2) Greed and absurd proprietary profits must yield to proper competition and regulation.

(3) A strong thrust of education, disease prevention, and personal responsibility for health must be built into our lifestyle patterns.

(4) And perhaps most difficult and subtle, yet most important--religious views and idealized human rights notwithstanding--a shift to a sort of cultural realism regarding healing, maturation, aging, and death must find its way into and throughout our national self-image and cultural expectations.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Goat's Milk vs. Cow's Milk

by Richard Crews, M.D.

There are two significant nutritional differences between goat's milk and cow's milk: (1) goat's milk tends to be less allergenic than cow's milk (discussed below), and (2) goat's milk is less generative of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure) than cow's milk (also discussed below).

There are two false problems that worry some people: (3) goat's milk tends to be more expensive commercially than cow's milk (discussed below), and (4) goat's milk may have a bad taste compared with cow's milk (also discussed below).

In general, milk from goats is very similar to milk from cows. Culturally, goat's milk is used more widely around the world than cow's milk; and historically, goat's milk has been used many centuries longer and in more widely diverse environmental settings than cow's milk.

The high protein content and excellent nutritional value of goat's milk is closely comparable to cow's milk. They have similar caloric loads (which means the number of calories that must be ingested to get comparable protein, vitamin, and mineral nutritional value). Unfortunately, they also both have the milk-sugar "lactose" to which some people are intolerant (and get digestive upsets from).

(1) As to how and why goat's milk tends to be hypoallergenic (it almost never causes allergic reactions), there has been considerable scientific exploration and speculation about this phenomenon, but the final answer is not entirely understood. Apparently it is because the proteins of the two kinds of milk are different and the protein fragments of goat's milk after digestion seem to trigger human allergic reactions much less frequently than cow's milk. In a cultural setting where drinking cow's milk is the norm, goat's milk can provide a valuable, nutritionally equivalent alternative for people who develop an allergic reaction to cow's milk.

(2) With regard to goat's milk being less conducive than cow's milk to the absorption of cholesterol (which causes hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure), this has been well established. It is because the fats of goat's milk are significantly different from those of cow's milk. Basic biological fats are called "triglycerides"; they consist of long-chain carbon compounds (chemically, in the form of "fatty acids") attached to the three hydroxyl groups of glycerol (or "glycerin"). But with cow's milk, these tend to be longer carbon chains, especially myristic acid (14 carbons long), palmitic acid (16 carbons long) and stearic acid (18 carbons long). The dominant fatty acids of goat's milk are caproic acid (6 carbons long), capryllic acid (8 carbons long), and capric acid (10 carbons long). (It is interesting to notice that the three words "caproic," "capryllic," and "capric" are all derived from the Latin word "caper" meaning "goat.") Longer fatty acids facilitate the absorption and metabolic integration of cholesterol more than shorter fatty acids do. Cow's milk therefore contributes significantly more than goat's milk to the formation of cholesterol-based atherosclerotic plaques in arteries and, therefore, to high blood pressure.

The shorter fatty acids of goat's milk have another interesting effect: they make the fats of goat's milk mix more easily with the water phase of the milk. This is why goat's milk tends to be naturally "homogenized" and not require special processing to keep the fats (that is, the cream) from separating.

(3) The reason goat's milk tends to be more expensive than cow's milk is that commercial production of cow's milk is routinely done in a factory-like way with cows held by the hundreds in tiny stalls, unable to move about, standing throughout their lives in their own manure, fed grains and cheap bulk foods at one end and drained of milk at the other end. Goats simply will not tolerate this kind of inhumane treatment--they rebel, they have aberrant behavioral outbursts, and they die. They are more intelligent and emotionally sensitive than cows and cannot be "factory-ized." Hence they are more expensive to tend, to feed, and to milk.

In recent years as factory-like handling of cow-milk production has become the commercial norm, the term "organic" has come to apply to cows that are treated humanely--they are allowed to range around a bit, to graze, and generally to live more normal cow-like lives. They are also not loaded with antibiotics to counteract the infections that run rampant in crowded, manure-contaminated cage quarters; such infections do not occur much in a freer range environment, and when they do, they are handled by the animal's normal immune system. Furthermore, the milk production of "organic" cows is not boosted artificially by hormone injections as is done routinely with factory-handled cows. Both antibiotics and hormones can be carried through as contaminants in non-organic cow's milk.

(4) As to the reputation that goat's milk has that is tastes bad, this is due to two factors. First, although goats are fastidious and picky in what they are willing to eat, their digestive systems are more hardy and versitile than cows; goats can digest a wide variety of food sources, both fresh and foul. If goats are hungry, they can and will eat garbage, and the bad tastes and smells of the garbage they eat can be carried through to the milk they produce. Second, male goats (called "billies") emit a pungent, musty, goaty smell. If the males and females are allowed to hang around together (other than for a week or two once or twice a year so they can mate), the pungent, musty, goaty smell is carried through to the milk. To prevent this, billy goats are commonly kept in separate pastures and allowed access to the females only for mating purposes.

In summary, goat's milk is a healthy, delicious, hypoallergenic, non-atherosclerosis producing alternative to cow's milk. It is commonly more expensive than cow's milk because of the streamlined but inhumane, factory-style production methods to which cows are subjected, but since it has significant nutritional advantages to cow's milk, perhaps this is a price premium we should be willing to pay.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obamania--The Metamorphosis of Social Conscience

by Richard Crews

When I first happened to see Barack Obama in 2004 (when he delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention), I was thunderstruck. I have long held Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the most perfect piece of English language rhetoric I knew. I used it in classes; I analyzed it in gross and in detail, hungry for insight and instruction into the deepest currents and manipulations of the language. I recited it--sometimes even to myself--desperately trying to parse how it could possibly exist--so perfect from its broadest vision to its smallest details--how any human mind could have gathered it together just so.

I have looked through the utterances of such great rhetoricians as Kennedy, Roosevelt, Churchill, Disraeli, and Macaulay for such perfection. The closest I have come is in some of the fugues of Bach and some of the poetry of Robinson, Yeats, and Pope. (There are a few other stretches of prose by Lincoln that reach this level--such as the Bixby letter.) My quest has born little fruit. Then suddenly here was a man, confident and calm, marching syllable by syllable through perfectly sculpted metaphors, perfectly framed and tinted images, to a consummate purpose and resolution. Without rancor, without the slightest taint of prejudice; with firm and sturdy intellect; with comfortable vocabulary and unflinching grammar. I was thunderstruck.

When I was recently asked on a meaningless questionnaire to state my political affiliation, I wrote "Obamania." That moment in 2004 was when--although I did not know it at the time--my Obamania was conceived. It gestated over several years as I became aware how perfectly his thoughts were organized--how unfailingly his words fell into line with what words ought to say.

That is a curious phrase, "what words ought to say." It depends on a perfect alignment of brilliant intellect, a vast expanse and deeply informed fund of knowledge, and careful and conscientious consideration of social (and philosophical, even spiritual) issues. Every other business, religious, and political leader I know slips up somewhere in bringing that amazing constellation of personal attributes together.

I could rhapsodize about how Obama favors pragmatism (but, that is ETHICAL pragmatism) over ideology; about how he is willing to bring together the most brilliant minds and able to bring out their disparate ideas, and to use all their considerations to congeal a strategy and decide on a plan of action--healing all their hurt passions to his final view--and then to move on. I could enthuse about his organizational and leadership skills. I could admit my admiration for his endless calm and unruffled poise, his balance of humility with willingness to lead, his artful negotiation skills.

But those are not my primary aim in writing this. Rather, I want to understand and to convey his impact on me and in addition, finally, the implications of that for the evolution of our broader social conscience.

As I listened to Obama through his presidential campaign, I came to realize that he never slipped. And I came to believe that his "performance" had (or could have) two implications for me personally. One was that he thought through thoroughly his philosophical and spiritual foundation--again and again and again. In other words, he seemed to have practiced and learned an approach--a set of mental mechanisms (as I had found in Lincoln)--for seeking out, over and over again, the deepest implications of whatever problem he was attacking, whatever topic he was addressing. I saw this strikingly, for example, in his "race speech" but, in truth, again and again, whenever he spoke.

The second was that he never let himself descend from his rooftop rhetoric, even while always keeping in mind his foundation and relating what he was saying to his spiritual and philosophical roots. He never let himself be glib or frivolous, never even hurried--certainly never inconsiderate.

Seeing, again and again, his mastery of those abilities, I have felt inspired to work harder on them for myself.

Moreover, I believe I have seen many other people--both in the U.S. and around the world--similarly inspired. I do not think that many people understand or experience it the same way I do, but I do believe that Obama's coming on the world stage--and so frequently on our TVs--with his endlessly calm, considered sensibleness has caused--and will increasingly cause--a metamorphosis in many individuals and, in fact, in our collective social conscience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Future Earth

by Richard Crews

Here is my picture of future Earth and future human habitation, evolving gradually over the time period of 50 to 500 years from now.

The coastlines shift quite a bit as the oceans rise a couple of feet, and the temperate agricultural zones migrate away from the equator, closer to the poles. But after a century or so global warming has been halted and turned back as emission of greenhouse gases has been curtailed and the shifting albedo (reflectivity) of the diminishing polar regions has been managed through global ecological engineering. The human population stabilizes at around 10 to 12 billion with almost all people living in urban centers--I would call them "cities" except that they are very different from our present concept of "cities": they are green, open places with airy buildings a mile and more high, layered with living, working, manufacturing, trading, and recreational spaces, and surrounded by miles and miles of park-like fields and forests.

Also, billions of people live in floating "Aquarian" ocean colonies. These are spawned from a few dozen equatorial shoreline sites suitable for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Each floating colony grows from a single OTEC with associated mariculture and a few hundred acres of fields and forests, orchards and parks around a central city hub which grows more upward (and with its manufacturing and industrial sections growing downward below the surface of the ocean) than outward. Each starts as a colony, culturally and industrially related to a nearby city or mature ocean colony, growing over a century or more from as few as 25,000 people up to 100 million or more before branching off colonies of its own; each starting with a single OTEC and gradually adding several more, along with the development of solar, wind, tidal, and nuclear energy; and each with extensive agricultural resources (farmed with a production density of 50- to 100-times present-day norms), and with extensive maricultural farms nourished by the waters raised from the deep for the OTECs.

The principle large construction materials are plasticized concretes made from mariculture products reinforced by magnesium alloys extracted from ingredients in sea water.

The fundamental social-political organization is democratic socialism (made functionally transparent by evolved information technology), but the cultural personalities of different colony-cities vary widely, as do their patterns of predominant industry, art, recreation, entertainment, etc. There is, of course, a rich flow of trade among the city-colonies and also of migration as people seek out colony cultural personalities that suit them.

The larger, more developed city-colonies also initiate and service space stations, at first in orbit around the Earth but later including bases on the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. These outposts also grow in size and self-reliance, and spawn further space city-colonies, ultimately including massive, continent-size space "ships" (constructed largely from asteroids) that head off, out of the Solar System, to colonize nearby stars.