JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 154 : 28 May 2004

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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More thoughts on Scarcity and Abundance

We have been discussing scarcity & abundance in the last couple of eNews issues. As you dig deeper into the examples (hunger vs. obesity, travel vs. traffic-jams, email vs. spam) you quickly realize that there are basic human factors involved - the instinct for self-improvement and advantage which unbalances other equations, causes societal shifts. Here are some further philosophical thoughts that may interest you.

There are two views about the natural distribution of wealth. One assumes that wealth is boundless, and man must merely discover new combinations to derive the benefits. The other presumes that means to generate material wealth and happiness are available to all, and the role of man is to distribute that wealth in an equitable manner.

It quickly comes down to: Who defines what is equitable? How much should be shared? How much is enough?

It turns out that societies that have the culture of sharing quickly get penalized. In Hawaii, the indigenous population felt it was honorable to share their homes and land with visitors. But they were quickly enslaved by new rules of dominance. During a vacation, I met one intelligent Hawaiian who was working as a waiter in a large hotel. He was working simply to earn enough money to pay taxes on the small plot of land he had remaining. His family had shared (given away) their vast properties, till they became virtually enslaved by the rules of the new society.

Materialism, or the preoccupation with the acquisition of money, is an outgrowth of the philosophy of scarcity. Societies which endorse the idea of scarcity, or limited wealth, tend to be rigid and structured. They are typically ruled by leaders who feel it is their job to create and implement wealth redistribution formulas that assure adequate food, shelter and warmth to members of their own group. If the supply of internal wealth is inadequate, warriors emerge - their role is to raid other groups and forcefully extract goods to bring back home. When they do this, they are heroes to their own people.

There is a natural tendency for warriors to achieve positions of dominance. When not at war, they preside over the wealth redistribution process at home. This usually means inserting rules and regulations, governing not only property but all manner of dealings between individuals. The basic premise is one of scarcity, which presumes that for one person to have enough, another must starve. Hence rule by force (of law) is necessary - the stronger will take from the weaker unless restrained.

In a civilized society where blatant aggression is frowned upon, it masquerades as "common good". The CEO does well for his company, so he must be rewarded highly. Well, who is to decide how much is enough? When does "too much" become "greed"? Was Koslowski of Tyco greedy? The law may decide he was not.

When the dotcoms promised new technological abundance, their stocks were worth billions. When the promised abundance turned out to be an illusion, the dotcoms crashed - but only after some CEOs has already cashed in to build palaces of luxury. In retrospect, how much is enough? Force (law) decides.

When oil is scarce, it becomes expensive. Was Saudi Arabia doing us a favor to "support" an increase in OPEC production to reduce the price of gasoline in the US? Must the US depend on their "goodwill" to distribute the oil equitably? Is it not reasonable (lawful) for OPEC to reduce production to raise prices? How much artificially determined scarcity is enough? At what stage would it be permissible for warriors to extract cheaper oil by force?

China, with 4 times the population of the US, has now become the second-largest oil-consumer (after the US) If their oil usage per-capita approaches that of the US, will that be fair?

Clearly, the old rules of scarcity and abundance are tenuous in the global environment. If the world was truly democratic, the Chinese (or Indians) would outvote other nations. Clearly Democracy operates only within narrow, national boundaries. And who will dictate those boundaries to the separatist Kurds and the Shiites in Iraq? Well, that is another subject....

Click Ben Barker - Abundance & Scarcity

Click The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity

Click Turning Scarcity Into Abundance

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Elections in the world's largest Democracy

The Congress party opposition swept to a surprise victory in India's recent general elections, finishing well ahead of the governing BJP-led alliance of Prime Minister Vajpayee. On national TV, Mr. Vajpayee accepted the verdict as a demonstration of India's strong democratic roots.

Vajpayee called the elections early amid an economic boom and peace moves with Pakistan. But the huge, "silent majority" of Indians, who have no electricity, poor sanitation and filthy water, were not impressed - they rallied around the old Congress Party, harkening back to the days of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and then Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. Now the Congress party, which ruled India virtually uninterrupted for the first 40 years of independence will soon be back in power after eight years.

The party was led by Rajiv Gandhi's wife, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi. She has lived in India for over 35 years and speaks Hindi fluently. But her mother-in-law and husband were both assassinated, which perhaps contributed to her decision to decline the position of Prime Minister.

The new Prime Minister is Dr. Manmohan Singh (72) who was Finance Minister in a previous government (1991-96), as is generally considered to have put India on the path of globalization.

India has an electorate of more than 668 million, with 543 parliamentary constituencies. This year's elections brought the usual riots and squabbling - when I telephoned my sister in Bangalore, our conversation was drowned out by the cacophony of political loudspeakers patrolling the neighborhood.

But, returning to our theme of electronic voting - a million electronic voting machines (EVMs) were used in this election. In many villages, people used the machines quite happily. Overall turnout was 50-55%, compared to just under 60% in 1999. And most people seem to agree that those EVMs were an improvement over any alternatives.

Click Election Time in the World's Largest Democracy

Click How India's elections were won and lost

Click Gearing up for India's electronic election

Click World's biggest vote goes all-electronic

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Anti-Spam standards are coming

This morning, and every morning, I turn on my email to find literally hundreds of spam messages. When you have a website, the spammers send their spiders to find the embedded email addresses. And when you do a lot of emailing as I do (to some 7,000 eNews sign-ups) it simply multiplies the spam. Some of it masquerades as email from friends and associates, cunningly crafted to get past my complex barriers of spam filters, heuristic mechanisms and Bayesian filters.

Because I don't want to delete important emails (which will make my email ineffective) I have all the spam directed to a folder, for review when I have a chance. I've got to tell you - sometimes I do find a good email (perhaps 1 in 100) but I have to wade through a whole bunch of garbage to get to it. Every day I spend too much time dealing with this plague.

Most people agree that spam is the most serious problem with today's email. There are many proprietary, non-interoperable anti-spam technologies - solutions that often change the problem, rather than correct it. There are lots of anti-spam software providers, but no standard mechanisms of deployment. Many people keep pushing for the creation of an anti-spam standard through which all e-mail servers can interoperate at the message transfer level.

The three big gorillas of email are working on solutions. Yahoo's DomainKeys and Microsoft's CallerID could be the mechanisms that will effectively end spam. AOL is still testing their Sender Policy Framework (SPF). If these development are interoperable, and freely available to all (including competitors) they will, at long last, have a chance of being effective.

I wait, and hope! In the meantime, if you send me an email and I don't respond (I always respond) please send it again. But, change the subject line, or something, so that it won't be dumped in my spam box again. Or, oh heck, call me....

Click One small step against spam. One giant step for Yahoo and Microsoft

Click Gates forecasts victory over spam

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Geek Pride Day

Dick Morley, the ultimate geek, is once again organizing his (Fourth) Annual Geek Pride Day - June 24, 2004 at the Morley barn in the woods of Mason, New Hampshire.

On view will be:

  • A modern steam powered registered automobile
  • Several of the original people movers for Morgantown, WV
  • A neighboring house truly "off the grid"
  • Another home on the grid, but environmentally considerate
  • Morley's barn and some gadgets
  • And some horse rides
And some informal talks:
  • The description of the "off the grid" home
  • The history of Andover Controls for building control
  • The history of the Morgantown WV people mover
  • The future of the Chinese permanent magnet people mover
Geek Pride Day will be informal, with a glorious BBQ - the traditional pig roast with all the fixin's. All good geeks gather will gather around to swap stories no one else seems to understand; non geek intercourse is strongly discouraged. Only the first 75 geeks will be admitted.

The cost for this event is $75 (with a $5 savings if you pay in advance) which you can mail to:

Click Visit Dick Morley's Barn

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InTech weekly Pinto's Points

Each week, ISA's InTech publishes my e-column in their eNews, which goes out to 55,000 ISA members. I thought you might like to review some recent subjects, which might induce you to follow up with clicks to the column on the ISA website.
  • Pseudoscientific constants
  • Technology laws
  • The cyberspace atlas
  • Exporting jobs to stay competitive
  • Peter Drucker's latest wisdom
  • The coming oil crisis
  • Automate, emigrate, or evaporate
  • Energy management - similar technologies, different markets
  • Industrial marketing or real marketing? Your choice
  • When autos come alive
  • Buying and selling time
I'll appreciate your comments and feedback!

Click Index of InTech Pinto's Points

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Mathieu van den Bergh [mathieu-van-den-bergh@cox.net] comments on oil prices and energy alternatives:
    "As you probably know, European gas prices have averaged about $3.50 to $4.00 per gallon for the last 5 years, and the countries still carry on, with living standards about the same as the US. In Japan prices are even higher yet.

    "If you drive 15,000 miles per year, the difference between a gas miser at 30 MPG and the biggest SUV guzzler at 15 MPG, calculates out to either 500 gallons or 1000 gallons of fuel. The net difference - even at $2 per gallon - therefore is $ 1000 per year more for the person who opted for a big SUV instead of a Saturn (or a Civic or Corolla). The fact is that the average driver sees no more than about $200 in total cost difference per year for gas at $ 2.00 a gallon vs. $ 1.60 a gallon. I'm absolutely sure the average driver spends considerably more on junk food every year !!

    "By the way, you don't hear the SUV owners complain too much about gas prices - they ALL simply acknowledge that their decision has a cost consequence at the pump. The simple reason; They can do the math - and it's not that big a deal to them.

    "So, who are the big alarmist about gas prices? Certainly not the SUV drivers that pay most. Note: SUV's are still growing in popularity.

    "Of course there is the "media" - because gas prices can be made into a popular topic. Do you ever hear the media say that all other developed countries charge (tax) their people twice as much for gas as we do - even with today's high prices and the favorable Euro and Yen exchange rate? Noooooo - that would be factional reporting, and is not sensationalist enough.

    "Secondly, there are the politicians who believe they can spin yarn from the story. If they tell the average driver that it would be no more than about $ 200 in total cost difference per year, that would not find too much interest. Note also that about 1/4 of that goes to our government in the form of taxes.

    "Don't get this wrong. This nation needs more energy independence, but right now the oil exporting countries are more dependent on their customers than the customers depend on OPEC! None of the big oil exporters has managed to build any other type of industry or commerce that can sustain their living standards as oil depletes.

    "We, in the US and Canada, have several hundred years of energy stocks in coal and shale oil. At about $ 40 a barrel, synthetic oil from coal is profitable in large scale plants with environmentally sound, but very large and ugly processing installations. If a small and relatively poor nation like South Africa managed to build a very successful SASOL within 10 years, and largely achieve oil independence, it should be a piece of cake to do the same here."

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Frank Williams [actionio@cox.net] commented on the eerie similarities between people in power:
    "In your article "The March of Folly From Troy to Vietnam" I couldn't help but see the similarities between government and corporate behavior. As I perused your verbiage all I had to do was substitute the word 'corporate' every time I saw the word 'government' and the same observations seem to fit.

    "Something happens to people placed (elected, appointed or hired) in powerful positions. It seems they forget why and how they obtained their power.

    "Although I don't have any thought-provoking answers, it's shameful that we can't point or write about more successes in this area."

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Bob Holland [bobholland@charter.net] wrote on the continuous cycles of Abundance and Scarcity:
    "I want to remind you that the scarcity/technology/abundance cycle is only one of such cycles, and certainly not the most significant one either.

    "In natural systems there are hundreds of examples of an abundance of one factor/reduction of other factors/disease and death, leading to scarcity cycle. An example is the change in the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park wrought by the reintroduction of a small number of wolves. As wolves were eliminated from the park, the population of elk grew to 20,000. The biomass of woody plants was reduced to a very low level, killed by elk grazing. Today the elk population has been cut in half by sixteen wolf packs. The overhanging small trees and shrubs are stabilizing stream banks, bringing back the fish. The population of songbirds is on the rise as they find nesting and feeding in the restored plant communities. Eagles, bears, foxes, magpies, vultures and other species have benefited from scavenging wolf-killed elk carcasses.

    "Humans use technology to reduce scarcity and access resources. It's plain that technology cannot keep on providing more and more forever. For instance Oil, which has fueled huge growth in human populations, is becoming scarce as consumption exceed new resources. Perhaps technology will pull us through this crisis, but the alternatives present obstacles which we may not be able to overcome, especially if population continues its headlong growth. No one knows when the great crash in human population will come, but it's a safe bet that it will be during this new millennium.

    "Edward Abbey observed that "the deer fear the wolf, but the mountain fears the deer". What should we fear? Your collection of Tuchman quotes indicates that we should fear our own irrationality. perhaps human nature will not evolve fast enough to save us from our current selves. A time of scarcity in human population will return, just as it has for the elk in Yellowstone."

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