We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fastest Train Lines in the World

In the spirit of the previous pro-infrastructure article, lets take a look at the best high speed train systems in the world. We'll go by the widely used definition of high speed as at least 200 kph/125 mph. The "best" is determined here by a combination of:

A) Average speed in between terminating points since the faster the distance covered, the more a train system cuts into air industry's profits. This in turn pushes airplane makers to conceptualize cheap travel by hypersonic passenger aircraft which in turn benefits humanity.

B) The distance that the high speed line covers since the longer the line, the bigger the project in terms of resources and parts and the more economies of scale are utilized. A society's commitment to triggering economies of scale for heavy industry shows its determination to improving the welfare of its citizens. Ultimately, going as big as possible with infrastructure projects (see Erie, Panama, Suez Canals and Transcontinental/Trans-Siberian railroads) is not just cheaper but creates mass employment (during transition to post-scarcity mechanization), rapidly stimulates real physical economy, and gives a super boost in wealth creation.

As such, these 3 lines satisfy the criteria for greatness:

1) Wuhan-Guangzhou High Speed Line (China)
(922 kilometers and longest in the world)

Fastest rail line in the world going an average of 194 miles per hour(313 km/h)! Think of the inefficiency and time spent going to/from airports. The waiting to get on the planes and scanned/handled like cattle or being stuck in car traffic interrupted by a maximum speed limit of 55 miles per hour. The Wuhan-Guangzhou line uses two trains: CRH2 and CRH3. It opened for business just a couple months ago so you're looking at the cutting edge conventional non-magnetic land transport in the world.

2) Paris/Lyon-Marselle/St Charles TGV High Speed Line (France)
(750 kilometers long)
(Average speed between end points is 250 km/h or 155 mph!)

France hasn't been idle. They have beat the Chinese in test run speed records (even if now recently second place in average speeds for daily use) and seem determined to become European leader in train infrastructure. They are definitely in a good geographically central position to link up Spain's and Germany's growing networks. All their investment in nuclear power (close to 80% of France is nuclear powered) only helped with these energy intensive projects.

3) Shin-Osaka - Hakata Line (Japan)
(554 kilometers long)
(Average speed between end points: 242 kph/150 mph!)

Japan's Nozomi Shinkansen continues to deliver with a respectable third place. Japan was one of the world's earliest innovators in high speed train technology and is now in the process of moving on to large scale MagLev. This society's territory is one of the best networked in the world and yes, the are heavy into nuclear power as only fission today can deliver the power for true citizen comfort and land travel affordability.

Most of the world's homo sapiens have seen trains like these in science fiction movies and it is hard to wrap one's head around the sheer speeds these land rockets bring. It was really mind blowing to find out that some Chinese airlines cut their fares up to 80% to compete with the newest lines. Looking at these heavy industry marvels (operating on just standard rail gauge!) gladdens the heart and shows that macro scale technological and social progress continues at least in some regions of the planet. Japanese and the French are edged out of the top rank for now since Chinese started building their networks later and thus had newer tech in mind and on hand. We can ignore the magnetic levitation trains at the moment because they are still used on relatively short routes from airports and such.

China now has the world's longest high speed train network at 3,300 kilometers of high speed track as a sum of a number of prominent lines. Japan (2,459 km), France (1,700 km), Germany (1,290 km ) and Spain (1,270 km) follow behind. If one looks at populations of these countries however, France dominates with about 38,000 citizens per kilometer of high speed line while China lags far behind with 400,000 citizens per kilometer. France if of course helped in this since it has the highest % of its energy derived from a modern indigenous nuclear power plant system (it is no wonder why neutral Switzerland and France's neighbor was chosen as the site for the world's biggest and most energy intensive supercollider). Nuclear power infrastructure always goes hand in hand with next generation transport systems.

Shockingly, India, Russia, Brazil, and United States do not have any high speed lines at all as one would expect from countries of such geographic and economic size. We can expect a massive wealth outflow from them in the near future as they try to catch up by buying foreign technical help and/or fleets of trains. Of course it is still rather silly to see engineering marvels on dingy normal rail.

It makes a lot more sense for societies that lag in high speed networks to go straight into MagLev and go into it big. Here is a glimpse of the future spanning entire continents (and yes freight train MagLev will make deliveries of heavy industry parts more efficient than ever):

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Real Economy is Physical

Economics is an engineering challenge. In its current form, economics can't be salvaged from its total failure and pseudo-science status and should be replaced by engineering to prevent near future starvation for large swaths of humanity. Also a 5 point plan to save the planet ;)

The Wall Street vs Main Street dichotomy has been so overused in the news that it is sickening. It is time to replace this loaded married couple terminology with another. The first reason for this is that WS vs MS split has now become a political slogan and a heuristic and thus does not promote thoughtfulness. The second more important reason is that it obscures the reality of what the real economy is.

"Wall Street" has come to symbolize just meaningless paper shuffling gambling that is the financial sector. "Main Street" apparently includes everything else such as telemarketing, McDonalds service, prostitution, web design, and of course industrial production. Politicians tend to lump service industry like catering (and other demeaning unpleasant tasks that poor people are forced into to not die of starvation or exposure) and actual industry like engine part manufacture together. Since financial sector is a service sector (smart people overworking in mind numbing meaningless tasks to make the rich richer) we see how WS vs MS is not a real dichotomy at all due to the enormous overlap in classification.

Will the real economy please stand up?

I have written how the field of economics the way we know it today is so wasteful and separated from real empirical investigation as to require the term stupid. Any Western Economics 101 course will still dutifully inform that it is a study on how to deal with allocation of finite resources. In that, economists not only failed but have made the global situation much worse. Western economists are not only as ideological as Soviet economists were but have now devolved to the level of historians who study past moves made by powerful/wealthy people. When they are not busy defending themselves as real scientists through utilization of advanced statistics (to study decisions made by oligarchs as if they were orbits of planets) they are cheerleaders and cautious financial planners for rich people who don't like to think. An analogy can be made with French generals confident that the Maginot line will hold against the tried and true offensive methods. It is no surprise that in the latest crisis of capitalism, most people regardless of their class have lost money. Economics today is not only failing the poor but a large portion of the very rich as well (who then find themselves one day with only the grand stories of their parents).

The term economics has been tainted to such a degree that it may be too late to reclaim it. Lets look at the definition of another word and see if it has any application to dealing in a world of finite material and human resources.

"Engineering - The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property."

Now we're getting somewhere. It appears that economists have wanted to be engineers all along but at some point wandered off into the land of the stupid in an effort to create some ideological justification for the Cold War (follow the money trail of rich people or their puppet government organs funding the research of these brave "scientists"). Of course after a couple of generations (of economics being a creative attempt to demonstrate to the world why Western oligarchy should continue) this mutated pseudo-science has become entrenched. Youngsters on the scene either would not be hired to teach if they disagreed with the pseudo-science faculty or wanted to demonstrate how much of the nonsense they understand and thus left their brain at the door to please the older generations of these so called academics.

Most people assume that the point of economic advice would be to make everybody better off materially in the end. This means make everybody in either one nation, region, or the whole world have more access and control over resources which in turn would make the average human being on the planet healthier, more educated, happier, and better able to make use of his or her physiological talents for self-actualization or profit.

Only engineering can do that. Humanity's only way of dealing with finite resources is to better utilize these resources. This requires ever rising level of energy available to humanity to operate machines. The process is very simple:

1) Always develop new ways to make construction of power plants faster and cheaper. One assumes mass scale production of parts to make power plants. The goal is to pop them out like one does a supercomputer with periodic retooling as better machines to make parts are invented (Japanese lead the way currently in replacing even the cheapest of human assembly line workers so factories can run almost full time).

2) Keep increasing production of ever more efficient and powerful power plants.

3) Utilize ever rising levels of energy to extract, refine/recycle, and put into use ever rising quantity of natural resources for mass construction of high tech farms throughout the world. With enough energy and materials enclosed farming with artificial sunshine/weather control is more than possible from the Sahara desert to the frozen tundras. Keep increasing numbers and quality of these farms until vast majority of people spend almost no caloric energy and productive time working to feed themselves. Keep in mind that organic chemical free food in these farms is only a question of cheap energy and materials. There is absolutely no need to send food thousands of miles across the planet and stuff it full of preservatives so this mummified food survives the journey.

4) Utilize same rising level of energy and labor freed from farming to build ever rising number of high tech places of learning throughout the world. Keep improving the efficiency of these places of learning as one does the farms. One assumes a type of modular construction so parts of the places of learning and the high tech farms can be recycled every few years and replaced with newer systems.

5) Utilize the mind power of billions of newly educated people to build better systems of power plant part production to keep churning out more energy generating sources and to reorganize socioeconomics to that end.

Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat until the solar system is colonized and humanity is in a post-scarcity transhuman world. Keep constructing better energy sources beyond this point as well naturally.

All human politics should be directed towards power generation. This means more engineers and scientists in government instead of lawyer playboys. Chinese leadership is full of engineers and this is reflected in China's growth rate. Current batch of economists should be driven out of government policy decision making as one would drive out the clergy giving advise to the government. Every government should have an engineering ministry and we should hear of "president's engineering advisers" instead of economic advisers. This is the only way to prevent large scale starvation for a large part of humanity in the relatively near future (not even mentioning maintaining living standards).

The side effects of such energy driven policy would of course be the possibility of other engineering marvels in the aid of construction of the power plants and places of learning. Some examples are frictionless magnetic levitation transport methods. Even today, high speed trains are already cutting into airline profits as seen by 80% drop in airfares in parts of China. To make full circle, the goal of economics should always have been to allow humans to spend next to zero caloric energy on travel, food, education, safe/pleasant shelter, etc. Instead humanity saw a worsening of their situation where even people in the Western oligarchies spend a lot of their caloric energy to get paper to exchange for traveling from point A to point B. If this continues only the rich will be able to have relatively pleasant transcontinental travel (with the poor being crammed into large slow moving ships like in the 19th century if they scrape enough for a ticket).

The goal of all governments historically is to constantly raise the minimum level of material comfort for their citizenry. This means an energy driven policy. Governments that fail in this goal are always replaced sooner or later. The transition period from today to tomorrow will require all efforts towards nuclear power. Even the American oligarchs understand the precariousness of their position as shown by president Obama's adoption of McCain's nuclear energy policy in his state of the union speech. Yes, solar has to be pursued but only as a bell and whistle to the nuclear power plant production. If one looks at how much land area is needed for wind/solar (and power needed to extract resources to then make parts for the wind/solar machines) to make as much energy one modern power plant, there is no contest. Green tech today is but another bubble for Wall Street and is a dead end economically and environmentally (solar for instance requires enormous amount of water that could be used to produce nutrient rich food).

Nuclear energy power plants provide the most energy bang for the energy buck. Building them is better/cleaner for the planet and the only chance humanity has to live until fusion reactors and space based power supplies are constructed and are operational. It is no wonder that British oligarchy are completely against them as they want to promote "conservation" rather than expansion and thus preservation of the current nasty neo-feudal world order. Americans in the 1950s understood the possibilities of nuclear power and that is why they thought we'd be in a drastically different place today as a species. If we stop listening to economists and expose them as the charlatans that they are, it is still possible. The only main street is material industrial production with energy generation as primary focus.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ukrainian Presidential Election

Hillary Clinton's hysterical spirit seems to have taken over Yulia Tymoshenko in the last few weeks. And a word on Yuschenko's Czechoslovakian solution

Does Viktor Yuschenko now want a Czechoslovakia style split up of his country? What would be the next logical step for an ideologue after beating all records for the worst incumbent electoral showing (a jaw dropping 5% of the vote)? The past month demonstrated that perhaps he'd rather burn down the house if it will not be governed by his idealized notions of what Western reform means. Somebody as ideologically inflexible and stubborn against all odds or appeals to end human suffering (notice Ukraine's second depression in just 2 decades due to Yuschenko's damn the torpedoes insistence on Bush style market reforms) does not go away into the night easily. But more on that in a moment.

Hillary Clinton's hysterical ghost seems to have taken over Yulia Tymoshenko in the last few weeks. Tymoshenko has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Yanukovych who was wise enough to not fall for her bait. There is now evidence to believe a kitchen sink equivalent will now be thrown if her opponent wins. Yulia has projected her own desire for electoral fraud (her people briefly controlled a ballot printing plant before being removed by a judge) on Yanukovych to such a degree that a lot of her supporters now expect her to challenge the results regardless of the loss margin.

Hillary Clinton was not one of the richest oligarchs in the country (Tymoshenko made enormous wealth in energy industry during Kuchma's era) or already holding a powerful political position that could be used to destabilize the country in case of a loss (Hillary's damage was largely contained within the democratic party). Although Yanukovych has a 10% lead, it is likely to be a close win. Ukrainians are too demoralized to stage a second Maidan but that wont stop Yulia from trying to destabilize the country again. After all it worked for her twice in the past and she has the financial resources and government megaphone to attempt mass strikes and rallies. Such mass protests in Western provinces are especially troubling in that they could spiral out of control and result in retreat of Kiev's power. Since many in the Western provinces only view her as a lesser evil (Tymoshenko just learned Ukrainian in 2000 to be able to thrive in politics), it is also possible she may lose control over her own creation if she sets it in motion.

Viktor Yanukovych has remained remarkably calm in the face of preemptive provocations. This is understandable in that if he reacts with similar hysteria, bloodshed really is possible in months to come. European Union and United States intelligence services should be careful in how much they crank the propaganda levels in support of Tymoshenko in the next few weeks considering E.U. already has enough on its plate with Greece and Spain. Washington DC's intelligence has still not recovered from humiliation in Georgia and Iran in recent years. A European country of over 40 million people that is in the middle of a severe depression and that is more ethnically/emotionally polarized than ever before is not the same toy to play with as it was in 2004. Of course we can't expect British media to not try to stir world opinion against Russia even if E.U./US propaganda machines do not go into same high gear as with Iran last summer or with Ukraine in last presidential elections.

Preemptive attempts at destabilization have not been limited to Tymoshenko. There are a few factors to suggest that Yuschenko may want to split the country now that the dream is dead (bringing Ukraine into EU to eventually create a tangible "new Europe" block along with still prometheist Poland and the Baltic states to begin to wrestle power away from Germany/France within the proportionally represented EU parliament):

1) Actually achieved success in the past when his duties were compatible with area of his knowledge (aping of Baltic economic shock therapy rather than governing)
2) Tasted actual popularity and the thrill of insurgent politics (the fact that Western intelligence services backed him financially and in the info war realm does not take away from the thrill he must have felt in being the figurehead of an eventually triumphant alliance)
3) Appears rather emotionally callous and unempathic even for a politician (he knew fully well that a huge multi-ethnic federal country with an artificial and unconsolidated nationality will not respond to economic shock therapy as well as a small relatively homogeneous country like Lithuania)
4) Tasted not only actual political power but the international support of the United States leadership along with briefly becoming a propaganda darling in deeply ideological Western media (who manage to turn entire countries into Potemkin villages at times)

In light of these, his going away decision (to make a former insurgent and Nazi-collaborator Stepan Bandera into a national hero) strikes an ominous tone. Considering that Ukrainians have now been living in Weimar republic style economic and political difficulty ever since Soviet collapse, all moves should have been made to take steps that ease tensions and potential for violence. Instead, Yuschenko has publicly equated Soviet Union's rule with Nazi rule and glorified a secessionist hero at a time when western Ukrainian provinces see a spike in popularity of hyper nationalist and often gleefully ethnic centered fascist parties (such as All Ukranian Union-Svoboda party and crypto fascists that are readily allowed to be within the ruling coalition such as Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists).

[note: One must not use words like these lightly. The nationalism advocated by the fringe factions within the decaying corpse of the orange revolution is the primordial tribe rooted nationalism we saw in early 20th century Germany. This can be contrasted with the types of nationalisms (or perhaps more accurately supranationalisms) seen in USA, Russia, India, or China that officially emphasize a type of Lingua Franca melting pot unity for all regardless of racial or linguistic background). The primordial type stems from relatively recent acquisition of a nation state following a long period of weakness and political fragmentation of linguistically homogeneous people. Best examples of course are the experiences of Italian, German, and Polish people in 1850-1950 periods who emphasized unity of tongue for their new nations and a retroactively glorified semi-artificial past. Racial purity is not even a factor for recently unified people who lived on plains rather than well defended mountain heights.]

Some may argue that a people must first go through this linguistic phase of rabid nationalistic consolidation before they can move on to the more accepting supranational consolidation. Considering that many ethnic groups in India/China/Russia effectively skipped the former period, the more proper argument perhaps should be that people strong and/or violent enough to have won a nation state should pass this consolidating period rapidly before moving on. In this case, the experience of Ukraine qualitatively differs from experience of successful language based secessionists in the Baltic states and yet aspiring secessionist groups like Kurds. The separation of Ukrainian party bosses from Soviet Union in early 1990s was most definitely not the type of violent mono-linguistic secessionism Bandera engaged in. Besides their acceptance of 2 languages and active participation of many Ukrainian Russian speakers, it can effectively be argued that the separation was a reactionary move by regional conservatives to be less effected by liberalizing influences from Moscow. Periphery regions like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Texas, and Alaska tend to be a decade or two behind the socioeconomic developments of the older federal capitals. There was constant lag for things like industrialization, urbanization, perestroika when they arrived in Ukraine after their arrival in Russia. As Texas is showing us, there is also lag in resistance from political leadership who gain from preservation of the older order. Separatism is one form of such resistance and party bosses of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan used it effectively. Linguistic purity of their regions was the furthest thing from their minds and was just used as a cynical political tool.

Kiev today is thus Moscow in 1990s. Orange revolution was dead on arrival the way Medvedev would have been if he magically replaced Putin in 2000 (and as foreigner brought proportional representation was in Iraq after toppling of Saddam Hussein's government). A strongman is coming to Ukraine and it remains to be seen whether there will be one or more of them and whether there will be one or more Ukraines in years to come.

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