My Daddy can Beat your Daddy

That was one of the taunts I heard as a child growing up in New York City.  Physical strength was revered over any other “manly” quality and certainly over grace, charm, and integrity.  It was all about who could win in a fist to fist competition.  Doesn’t that sound a bit childish to everyone?

Well, so does tit for tat threats rather than diplomacy and a sense of community on this blue marble we all live on together.  One of the latest that reminds me of the nuclear escalation games we played decades ago is now cyber warfare.  Take a look for yourself. Read this New York Times article.

So, rather than discussing our differences and agreeing that the well being of our world depends upon a sense of community and caring, we now see digital warfare escalation.  Can’t everyone see that this bravado does little to dissuade anyone from doing the wrong thing and actually invites would be small players to strike the first blow?

I don’t know how many of you remember the movie War Games, but the premise was that human compassion would threaten our nuclear readiness so the decision about missile launch would be left to a computer system called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response.)  A kid hacking into the network accidentally triggers it into a world war countdown which gets aborted at the last minute when this kid is taken to the command center and teaches the computer system to consider the outcome.  When he succeeds, the computer says something we should all consider.

“Strange game”  “The only winning move appears to be not to play the game at all.”


Incrementalism vs Strategic Change

Our modern decision making process promotes incremental thinking: how much better can I make something and what will that cost.  The assumption is that you should stop investing when the incremental payback exceeds the total cost of capital.  If life were nothing more than an investment portfolio, thinking like this might make sense.  But, there is a perverse element at work with incrementalism … the very nature of the declining return on investment can keep you from achieving the “end state” necessary to compete in the market. 

We have an emotional reaction to things like this: “just bite the bullet” or define the ultimate strategy and using the low cost higher return opportunity to help get this approved.

The recent Wall Street Journal article on autonomous vehicles really drives the point home.  As some of the easiest and most valuable features of autonomous vehicles come into widespread use, they then become the “base case” for further automation and improvements.  Consider the analogies here as you read from this WSJ article:

“Many tech entrepreneurs have argued that fleets of robo-taxis would convince us to abandon personal car ownership in favor of “transportation as a service.” Some of them have predicted these robot cars will start populating U.S. roads within the next two years.  But the paradox of how this evolution is playing out is that technology developed to give us driver-less vehicles from the likes of Tesla Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo could actually delay their adoption.

 When car makers put these incremental tech advances in human-driven cars, they pre-empt one of the fully self-driving car’s supposed advantages: safety. These new systems marry the best machines capabilities—360-degree sensing and millisecond reflexes—with the best of the human brain, such as our ability to come up with novel solutions to unique problems.”

Strategy matters a lot.  If you don’t have one, you are doomed to incrementalism and will ultimately lose to those who choose the right strategy.

Not a drop to drink

This is the second in the blog sequence on water and as I mentioned in the prior blog, Atlanta is on the list of endangered cities.

We do need to be careful where we build and how we use water, but once again the news media fails to truly present the whole story. In the west, there are huge water users that have effectively drained the rivers … because they acquired the rights to this water at no or little cost way back when no one seemed to care or thought about it. Now, this is coming home to roost.  Water is a society’s most disruptive source for life … we can’t go very far or very long without safe drinking water.

Read the full story here.

Notice that it indicated Miami’s problem is in part due to global warming because saltwater is intruding into fresh water aquifers. Well, is it rising sea levels or land subsidence?  Yes, in any event, the saltwater intrusion is a problem, but studying the cause can point to who should change or fix something.

Read this from Research Gate.

So, when you get to the bottom line of this issue, the same abusers whose effluents are the cause of the red tides are associated with the disturbance to the Everglades ecosystem.

And, you get to the same bottom line problem: people who have been doing the wrong things for years and profiting from it are loath to own up … they just point fingers at the others and hope they can get to the back of the line when fixes need to be paid for.

Water water everywhere?

We have all been watching the severe and significant water situation in the Western states, but this one in Upstate New York that made it to the Wall Street Journal caught my eye.   Here is a link to the local newspaper that offers some interesting insights.

The question we should all consider is “who has the rights” to what water we do have and what should everyone pay for access to this water.  Sure, you can dig your own well, but most will not, so water is a public service and therefore should be regulated.  But even when you have the right, do you have the right to use whatever you want or say you need?

Power companies in Europe reversed this years ago when customers built new buildings and needed electricity.  The local power company sized the transformers to limit the power the building could use and thereby forced customers to consider energy efficiency and load management (thermal storage) in their designs.  That certainly is one way to limit situations.

But, water availability can be highly variable because it is often a direct result of the local weather.  Here in Atlanta, we have had periods of drought.  And, sure enough, during one of them an unwitting person released too much water from our water supply (Lake Lanier) to manage downstream water levels for navigation.  Nobody was terribly inconvenienced.  Yes, lawn watering was controlled.  But, everyone had plenty of water to drink and perform daily functions.

But, the key question remains: do you have the right to use as much as you say you need?  Making string cheese for sale to others around the country seems a bit beyond local need.  Shouldn’t the plant using that much water have been required to seek a permit to do this?  Where are we going in the future if we are not careful.

I certainly don’t want to have my life disrupted just because Kraft Cheese can sell more string cheese!  Do you??