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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When "Failure is Not an Option"

When "Failure is Not an Option"

This declaration has two contexts. The one where is it a motivational motto for military men to take the hill and for football players to break through the defense and make the touchdown, it is a truly inspiring war cry. The phrase has a nobler genesis with Gene Franz, Mission Director for the Apollo moon missions in the 1960s after Jim Lovell issued his understated but undying words, "Houston, we have a problem." But the other context leads to the Principle of Imminent Collapse. Where failure is declared to not be an option, there is and need to bury the truth about a manifest failure and to sequester the bearer of the bad news. In the Roman times, the messenger of bad news was killed, not because the recipient was angry, but because he did not want that bad news being leaked to the troops or enemy. The messenger might have become aware of the nature of his message and passed it along out of the chain of command that is essential in a military context.

Many corporate leaders have picked up on the value of those immortal words but diminish them by their invocation for less than worthy circumstances. All too often, a zealous manager or executive uses "failure is not an option" as a shield to protect his turf and to advertise that his enterprise is doing everything possible to succeed. He is trying to convince himself and his contemporaries and detractors alike that everything was being done to succeed.

A colleague, Joyce Callahan, approached me one day with a sign that she had made up on her computer that said, "If Failure is Not an Option… How Can We Learn From Our Mistakes?" It was then that I understood the imminent collapse context of that famous phrase. No body wants to admit a mistake. Mistakes make us look bad and makes the people around us look bad. Many times, we don't get the opportunity to remain in a job after a particularly unpopular decision or action that resulted in a huge embarrassment or public outrage. Refer to Marv Alpert on page 102.

Unless a person is so incorrigible that he refuses to learn from mistakes, the best person to fill a position is one who has already been through the mill on a particular situation. I would trust a person who got caught up in a mistake not to do it again over one who had never experienced that situation. Dishonest people are yet another aspect of that scenario. Trying to decide which type a particular person is, is the essential task at hand.

The human heart is one of those organs that benefits from small incomplete blood flow blockages. After a series of not lethal blockages, the circulation paths become redundant thereby saving the person from a much more serious heart attack later in life. The younger a person is when the first heart attack happens, the more likely that person is to die from that attack. Count those initial partial blockages as "mistakes" and one can see that we can "learn" from them.

But when failure is not an option in the second context, one cannot admit to the failure and therefore gains no beneficial results from it. Resources must be diverted to covering up the failure and assuring that the news doesn't get out. Deceit becomes institutionalized. Stress levels increase. Productivity wanes.

Commanding results and declaring failure to not be an option is the hallmark of an enterprise in crisis. It is one about to meet at a crossroad with the Principle of Imminent Collapse. When the Apollo mission was in jeopardy and Gene Kranz announced that failure was not an option, he also marshaled every available resource and set them to the task of solving the problem. The mission was no longer to get to the Moon, but to get home safely.

In my travels to numerous cities to meet with public transportation managers and operations, I hear a lot of comments from drivers and mechanics, dispatchers and supervisors, that relate to this concept of failure not being an option. In one focus group of bus drivers, they related the scenario that when they already had a standing room only crowd on the bus and there was a customer waiting to board who is sitting in a wheelchair, they are regularly told by the radio dispatcher to get that person on the bus even if they have to get everyone off first to accomplish that boarding. Failure is declared not an option. This is crisis mode. There is no Plan B. Not having a Plan B also leads to the Principle of Imminent Collapse.

Bus drivers are regularly instructed to use the bus that is assigned to them irrespective of whether that vehicle is appropriate to the route, works correctly, or will ultimately be able to complete the run without a breakdown. Crisis mode. Get the vehicle out there now and solve the breakdown later. Failure to make a full schedule rollout is not an option.

Many years ago the Soviet method of industrial production was explained to me as such. Theirs was a command economy. A Central Committee directive said that the People need a production level of 1,000 refrigerators per month from a particular plant, and failure was not an option. Heads could literally roll if 1,000 units did not ship each month. So a truck breaks down while delivering compressors to the plant and only 900 compressors actually get delivered that month. The measure of performance is the commanded shipment of 1,000 refrigerators, so 1,000 units are actually shipped. Failure was averted. But what of the 100 compressor deficit? 900 refrigerators are shipped that actually work and 100 that don't. They get "fixed" in the post-sale period after the customer calls that the refrigerator is broken already. No failures. At least none that anyone is willing to talk about. This leads to the periodic after-market remedies that must be performed every time a truck load of compressors doesn't arrive on time. No one is ever held accountable for the delivery of compressors, because no one ever lets the Central Committee know about it; because failures don't happen.

Man's Failure To Understand How Things Work

Man's Failure To Understand How Things Work

Many of these situations cannot fully be divorced from the Natural Systems because many of these situations are predicated on Man's lack of understanding of how things work. By declaring forest fires evil, he must marshal his resources to fight this evil even to the point where he creates a new problem. The 100% suppression policy has created forests that perpetually are on the verge of collapse due to the accumulation of natural litter and small trees that are easily ignited and proceed to big burns of the grand older trees that last for weeks.

When we spread fertilizers and insecticides on our crop fields to enhance the quantity and quality of the yields, we get improvement on one side of the equation and degradation on the other.

We have burned fossil fuels for hundreds of years. Before that we burned surface carbon that circulated in the environment on annual or maybe decade-long balanced equations. The failure to understand that there is an equation, and that anything done on one side of the equation affects the other side leads to the Principle of Imminent Collapse. In earlier times it was reasonable to assume that the trees, plants, phytoplankton in the oceans and the water itself could absorb all the carbon we could liberate. However the high rate at which we are introducing of these components into the biosphere is surpassing the biosphere's ability to sequester or otherwise neutralize these destabilizing effects. We cannot dump 8 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year without expecting some movement on the other side of the equal sign. Something will happen as a result. Based upon our state of knowledge of the relatively new sciences of complex systems and ecology, we now understand how even small fluctuations in the concentration of these powerfully controlling constituents can lead to a disastrous cascade of disruptive events in our biosphere which, once started, cannot be stabilized or recalled.

A new question that has been asked is: what does all that carbon in ocean water do to the ability of aquatic life to thrive or even exist?

Wood has roughly ½ the carbon content of anthracite coal and therefore has a lower BTU energy content. However, wood is produced over a very short period of time as compared to coal and therefore cycles the carbon over a much shorter time interval. From the standpoint of maintaining stability in the complex chemical and biochemical processes in the biosphere, taking the carbon out of the environment and putting it back within, say, the 20 years for a tree to grow, is a far better method -- no matter what tonnage you use -- because the net carbon change in the atmosphere over the time period is Zero.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mortgage Foreclosure Survey

Just Three Questions:
When? Where did you move?
Your Zipcode?
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

one picture

This is a scene from the bridge over the curve in Relay, Maryland. The tracks split and head north into Baltimore and south to Laurel, MD.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Domino Model

Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.
The Domino Model and the Principle of Imminent Collapse
This principle is not the same as the statement that everything put together sooner or later falls apart. Nor is it a principle of entropy wherein everything is moving inexorably from a higher state of order to a lesser state of order, or a higher level of energy to a lesser level of energy. Although many collapses stem directly from the involvement of Man, the principle incorporates the opportunity for humans to intervene and alter the outcome if they first observe the precursor conditions, recognize the approaching failure, then act to circumvent the deterministic outcome. Moreover, the extraordinary ability of the human mind to anticipate future events and outcomes, is sometimes lost in the pursuit of gains that will only become the nudge that brings down his endeavors.

Unlike the stacking of Dominoes in complex patterns that are designed to execute from the first nudge and ultimately bring down ALL the tiles, the Principle of Imminent Collapse acts to topple a less than universal set of randomly oriented tiles placed in an area of finite size. Once one tile is toppled, the affect is short lived and the destruction is contained within an event horizon. Tiles placed in a region of the area remote from the ones that fall may never even realize that a toppling event has taken place. They may stand through several nudges that bring down a large number of tiles. 

Similarly, one toppling event that takes down, say 10% of the tiles, may insulate a region from the affects of toppling events on the far side of the already toppled tiles. Man may act to re-erect some or all of the toppled tiles thereby not allowing the condition where every tile is toppled and the end-game condition is reached. A major event may disrupt a great many of the tiles and create an aftermath that takes a long time to recover from. Real worlds analogues are the Great War (to end all wars) and WWII (another war to end all wars.)

In order to further model real life events, let us make the tiles have a varying height, width, depth, shape and weight. By this modification, a sturdy tile might withstand the nudge of an adjacent tile by virtue of its mass or its resistance to overturning because of its large base area relative to its height.

The purpose to describing this model it to show that many variables act to make a system stable or unstable. Becoming too homogeneous or too highly aligned in ANY direction is a cause for alarm and is an invitation to the Principle of Imminent Collapse. We see such homogeneity in the thoroughbred species of dogs, cats, horses, etc. When the DNA is not diverse enough, a single virulent organism is capable of decimating the population and defects in muscle and bone can be propagated and destroy the usefulness of the breed.

Too many Republicans or Democrats in one or both houses of Congress; the FAA seeing eye-to-eye with the airlines; the FDA being ever-ready to approve a new drug; the FCC being controlled by a far right conservative Administration; All of your soldiers lined up in a row wearing red uniforms and with muzzle loading muskets; these are all examples of the dangers of the homogeneity of a system. They are all easy pickings for the PIC.
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Honey Bees and the Principle of Imminent Collapse

Honey Bees and the Principle of Imminent Collapse




Bees all over the Earth have been buzzing around doing what they do for thousands of years. So what is it that they do? They build a hive. They make and tend their Queen. She produces all the eggs. The workers fly out into the sunlight and collect pollen on their legs. This pollen is converted into food for the hive members, the queen and all the larva that will continue the population of the hive. This food is quite tasty and sweet and we love it as Honey. The bees make lots of it. We collect it and they make more.

Bees have developed a symbiotic relationship with the plants that produce the pollen that bees take home for dinner. The plants which are rooted in one place for life cannot go out and about looking for genetic diversity to propagate their species. To overcome this handicap (not to be confused with a disability) the plants have developed some ingenious tactics in order to transmit their DNA from plant to plant across vast distances.

Some plants shed their pollen to the wind in hopes that it will land on a suitably receptive female plant organ. Other plants make sticky pollen that is carried around by ants, the hairs of mammals, butterflies and moths, birds and even the industrious bee. The plants secrete chemicals that attract the insect or other transporter and they give food to them in exchange for their services as a DNA messenger.

In the case of the bees, they are highly mobile, highly efficient transporters. Consider that every kernel of corn on a cob has a silk tube that extends out of the husk into the sunlight and in order for it to grow, a bee must deposit a bit of corn pollen on the tip. This pollination process is repeated every year across the agricultural belt of North America and the other continents of the globe. Truly a global enterprise.

Other crops: wheat, barley, clover, and dozens more all need the services of the pollinators. The crops thrive and the bees thrive. They are locked in a relationship that neither side dislikes. The equilibrium has been maintained for these thousands of years.

But what happens when that balance is lost? The bees have performed the practice of biodiversity that has made certain crops stronger and resistant to disease, climate variables, and the plants’ own tendencies toward narrower breeding conditions. The same cannot be said of the bees themselves. They are extremely narrow in their own reproductive practices. There is no DNA exchange between hives. Only the DNA of the Queen is used and she is provided male DNA from a select few hive-produced males who have not been very diverse in their own DNA.

The result of this practice is like the Domino Model mentioned in another section. Too little variation is present in the DNA of the entire hive and from hive to hive they are all sisters. When a disease or other environmental impact comes along, all the bees in all the hives are susceptible to that change. The bees will probably not become extinct over some disease, chemical agent, climatic change or and combination of them. The reduction in bee populations will probably reach a new equilibrium and they will go on for thousands of years more. From the bee point of view, that is natural and perfectly acceptable. It has happened over and over many times in the lineage of bees. What is not acceptable is the level of pollination that results from a large-scale loss of bee populations.

Humans have staked their lives on the lowly honeybee. We have grown our population on the supposition that crop pollination would continue uninterrupted, unabated as we continued to produce yet another billion of our numbers. We forged ahead without regard to sustainability (a future topic) of our civilizations.

In the USA we borrow money indiscriminately without regard to our ability to pay back our debts. We sprawl our urban areas without regard to fueling our personal automobiles. Our population continues to grow older without preparations for how we will afford to pay for food, shelter, fuel, transportation, taxes, medical services and our debt. And we are not alone in this shortsightedness.

China continues to grow its population in Quarter Billion Person Annual Increments. They must build 4 NYC-Equivalent Cities every year just to keep up with their population growth. They must also fuel and feed that growth PLUS the increased expectations of the existing Billion-Plus population that is also growing older just as we are. At least we have a semblance of a retirement financial system, i.e. Social Security, while they do not.

India. See the previous paragraph.

The Principle of Imminent Collapse states that everything is on the verge of collapse and it only takes a nudge to make it fail. What is the Nudge that will cascade through the global markets and lead to either extinction or a new equilibrium? What about bee population die-offs? What about one too many summers of draught? What about one too many mild winters where the snow pack is too light to make the Rocky Mountain rivers run full all year? What about 1 degree of average global temperature?

A “New Equilibrium” is a pleasant euphemism, is it not? It may sound rosy, warm and fuzzy, but it means millions of dead humans. It means mass starvation. It means Resource Wars where no one is exempt. And most of all it means that we did it to ourselves. Not that we can control the weather or even positively impact the climate, but we can plan for what we will do when the nudge happens.

The bees are already dying. Some beekeepers have lost all their colonies. Others, just most of them. The cause is yet unknown. The cost in Dollars, estimable. But the cost in food reduction and future losses of bees and food production is not. Is the bee colony die-off just a short term anomaly or is it a foreshadowing of the Nudge? What are we doing to make the bee population loss have a minimal impact on our food supply and food prices?

Most of all, do we have the intelligence to find an alternative or are we mere beasts that are allowed to live at the pleasure of nature? Relax. Everything is well in hand. We have plenty of time to solve this problem. If collapse comes it will not be for many decades. Go shopping.
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