/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Friday, May 8, 2015

Letters from Saudi Arabia - II

My Dear Western Friends,

Many of you have read my previous letter, dated May 4, 2015, and responded by email. Thank you.

I think we still have a little problem: Your replies have been much too U.S.-centric.  Unfortunately,  the world today is far too interlinked, in good part because of the U.S. policies over the last 35 years, and all problems are global.  Please parse the last sentence again and try to understand that you can no longer get away with being over there and ignoring what is happening here and everywhere else.  The cheap clothing and industrial products you buy in the U.S. come at a very high price to all other parts of the world.  High price means environmental and social deterioration.

Since hardly anyone cares about the environment until they can't breath, have no water to drink, food to eat, drown in floods or mudslides; or alternatively fall sick with cancer, Ebola, cholera, AIDS or Hepatitis, let's focus on the social deterioration and project it onto the U.S.  Then, I hope, what I say might interest you.

Among other things, I am an expert on foams.  Foams are collections of gas bubbles of different sizes immersed in a liquid, say water with a surfactant.  A long time ago, I wrote a beautiful but difficult paper, "Self-similar collapse of stationary bulk foams," that very few people ever read and even fewer cited.  Please look at Figure 2 for a nice 3D picture of a foam, but do not try to read this paper. You'd only get a headache from all these math equations.

Almost all foam bubbles collapse because of a universal phenomenon, called "Ostwald ripening," (a 30s movie) and water being drained by gravity from the bubble walls. In short, the smallest bubbles disappear and transfer their gas to the larger bubbles, while the bubble walls are getting ever thinner.  This process goes on until very few very large bubbles remain, or the entire foam catastrophically collapses, which is more likely.  You can look for a few seconds at a foam in your beer or champagne glass to see what I mean. Some foams can be made rigid and long-lasting with an appropriate surfactant or polymer that prevents or slows down gas inside each bubble from crossing the bubble walls.

Let's translate this understanding of bulk foams at rest into the stationary society foams made of people with different amounts of resources.  The small bubbles in this model are the poor people, the intermediate size bubbles are the middle class, the larger bubbles are the rich, and the few largest bubbles are the super-rich.  Each class of bubbles has a bubble size distribution.  In other words, different people in each bubble category have different amounts of resources. The polymer on the bubble walls that slows down or prevents foam collapse is the pristine environment, plentiful resources, good education for all, a stable happy society, good labor laws, health insurance for everyone, good governance, etc.

Now let's globalize these social foams, that is let's remove most of the polymers and put all foams into a single huge container, so all foams (countries) can contact each other directly.  Ostwald ripening will then happen everywhere, and only the super rich will remain with almost all of the global resources, or the world will go down in flames.  The U.N. today is one of the few global institutions trying to inject some polymer here and there, but their resources are woefully inadequate, because we, the Bubble People, don't care.  We eat organic food, fly to meetings, go to concerts, and think that nothing can ever happen to us.

But you are not interested in anything outside of the U.S., are you?  So, let's look at the social foam in the U.S.  With the stabilizing polymer missing increasingly since 1980, the small bubbles disappear first, then the intermediate bubbles.  In other words, by now, most of the poor have become completely destitute and the middle class almost disappeared.

We, the Bigger Bubble People, have been gaining from the disappeared poor and our bubbles have been growing nicely at their expense.  So we felt good over the last 30 years, not suspecting that it is our turn now to succumb to the merciless logic of Ostwald ripening with almost all polymer removed by the friends of globalization.  Therefore, only now, the inevitable progression of social foam collapse in the U.S. is getting interesting to us, as we, my friends, have been really quite the upper middle class.  Well, we must disappear as well, given a sufficiently long time, and only the super-rich will remain holding all power and resources, or the entire foam collapses and the U.S. society goes down in flames.
The super-rich already control all politics in the U.S. Source: Sunday Review, New York Times, 5/10/2015.

In case you haven't noticed, the super-rich already hold all power in the U.S., but they still do not own all resources, just 80 percent of them. Will they inject some stabilizing polymer to hold our much smaller bubbles intact for a while?

I doubt it.  And that's because the super-rich always think that their huge bubbles are untouchable.  That's how they always acted throughout human history.  With the exception of the few of you, my friends, most Americans know no history, so they will have to take my word for it. 
The Jungle, a homeless encampment of tents and shacks in San Jose, Calif., was cleared in December of last year. Jim Wilson/The New York Times
That's where we are now.  Our personal bubbles are under stress, even when we don't see homeless in the Silicon Valley or around our wealthy neighborhhods:
One notorious example took place in 2013, when Greg Gopman, then the chief executive of AngelHack, a code start-up, lamented on Facebook, “why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue.” (He later deleted the post.)  Source: The Shaky Moral Compass of Silicon Valley, The New York Times, May 6, 2015.
Here is the punch line:  
  1. The border and social policies implemented, for example, in the U.S., E.U., and Israel, prevent us from contacting the smallest external bubbles (the illegal emigrants), while removing the polymer from the insides of our national containers and pumping gas (resources) through the walls.  This means that our societies will undergo an accelerated Ostwald ripening, while the rich will feel safer in their fast growing bubbles.  That feeling of safety is of course erroneous, because now the internal poor and displaced (the internal disappeared resource bubbles) will stir the national foams with ever fewer bubbles and accelerate their collapse.
  2. An ample, renewable supply of small bubbles (immigrants) is good for the social foam stability against sloshing (big external upsets).  The small bubbles dampen sloshing and stabilize the society. But for security reasons we forgot about this physical requirement of regenerating our societal foams.
  3. The U.S. super-rich remain in direct contact with other huge bubbles elsewhere, which may exist in more rigid foams.  Thus, some of our biggest bubbles may also be sucked out into oblivion.
In summary, the outcomes of the inevitable Ostwald ripening or social rearrangement in the U.S. are far from certain.  Such is the ever-surprising wealth diffusion in the global economy.

Wishing you a little more happiness in our disappearing bubbles, Tad

P.S. Since a theory of self-similar collapse of social foams could be developed, I challenge a graduate student of economics or a similar discipline to contact me to jointly develop such a theory.  The capillary suction due to gravity could represent job and capital flight abroad and/or loss of tax revenue from the corporations and individuals, who have been paying off politicians in exchange for tax avoidance.

P.S.P.S. 08/18/2015 And here is how Ostwald ripening works for the top employees of top-ranked firms (and universities), but then for the firms themselves, as all are sucked out down to the last winners and then pop!

P.S.P.S.P.S. 08/25/2015.  Do you see now what I meant by the globalized social foam?  The suction causing social foam collapse is now present literally everywhere.  It is truly scary for me that my own conceptual model of global economy has been so successfully tested by the global market collapse. "Tumult leaves analysts seeking explanations," shouts the New York Times.  Wow!  This tumult was a predictable instability of the global foam and $3 trillion worth of bubbles just disappeared by collapse, not Ostwald ripening. Collapse is worse, because the entire foam may disappear in the end.

And here is Roger Cohen: "This is a season of radical discontent. People believe the system is rigged. They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor. Increasingly unequal societies have spawned anger, an unsurprising development. The anger is diffuse, in search of somebody to articulate it, preferably in short declarative sentences."

How about this? It is the ever faster drainage and collapse of the global society foam, stupid!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Letters from Saudi Arabia - I

My Dear Western Friends,

As one of the old classics said, and I paraphrase, "Where you look, defines your outlook."  By email, you asked me several questions. Below are some of my answers. As links in green, I picked two of my old blogs and kept on adding several articles from the New York Times that were published in the last few days.  I am not the only person who is morally troubled.

On the fracking revolution

It used to be that massive environmental destruction happened in the God forsaken foreign countries or the poor empty parts of our motherlands.  Not anymore.  Now heavy industrial activities come to where we live and work, and environmental damage happens in the ecosystems we actually care about.  That's the reality of resource exhaustion paired with the ever-growing appetite for these resources from us, the Bubble People.

Take "shale revolution" as an example: 10,000 tons of clean, round, well-sorted fracking sand per well, or one hundred 100 ton railroad cars (really big ones), or one very long train of sand per well x thousands of wells per year = environmental destruction, damage to watersheds, permanent changes of ground water distribution and levels, obliteration of farmland in Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc., silica dust inhalation, damaged communities, and so on.

For economists these are merely externalities (or lives made unbearable by the sacred ritual of environmental destruction to make money; please look at China), but for me it is just one of the many reasons for the across-the-board decline of the U.S. And the Fed-created, bank-abetted “shale revolution” bubble popped regardless. ("Fed" means the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank.) This shale bubble, however, was the only real economic growth in the U.S. economy in the last 5 years.

Each next “revolution” of this kind will leave even bigger wounds on the Earth’s thin skin and will harm us more. But it does not matter anymore: the progressing harm has been irreversible for quite some time. We, as a species, are on the final stretch of our “economic growth curve” before a major physical collapse, and nothing can prevent this collapse, no matter how much we discuss and explain the all-encompassing human myopia among ourselves and our government watchers. The popping of the bubble in which we reside will be most unpleasant and we will finally comprehend what is happening to the countless millions of desperate people, who today are on the other side. I reside uncomfortably close to that other side, so I see things a little differently than when I was bubbling away in Berkeley, California, or Austin, Texas.

On a positive note, there are still many mountains to blow up in West Virginia, Kentucky, and the rest of the world. There are still countless trees to be cut or burned. There are mangrove forests left to be converted to beach resorts or shrimp ponds that will help in killing the oceans. There are aquifers to be sucked out or polluted. And then there is air to be made unbreathable for millions.
But the victorious global free market must continue to march on unimpeded by human heart, conscience, and imagination. 

What’s your solution? (A typical American question)

The issue of global inequality is extremely serious and solution almost impossible to arrive at and implement. I guess a good starting point would be to admit publicly and for a sufficiently long time, so that the customarily deaf and blind public registers, the past wrongs. This list is very long. It is easier to start from the U.S., because of its short history, which was nevertheless filled with the almost complete genocide of Native Americans, and the absolutely brutal treatment of the human cotton-picking machines, i.e., young, fit Negro slaves. This treatment was protected by U.S. Congress for many decades and led to the Civil War because of economic reasons (the deal was simply too good for the rich plantation owners in the U.S.'s South to exchange it for human rights). Some of this old treatment of black Americans is still well and alive in many of the city halls, police departments, jails, and prisons. We should add to this list the U.S.’s nefarious behavior in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. Again, millions perished and untold damage has been done for us, the Bubble People.

Think of the U.S. and Europe as of the huge entropy-generating machines. We keep order and cleanliness inside and spew our wastes everywhere around the world. Thermodynamically, this cannot continue. With too many devastated exterior countries, entropy must eventually be generated inside of our clean motherlands. In my mind, this internal disorder has already started in earnest.

Click on the image to enjoy it in full size. Nice. My wife on the left and I thoroughly enjoy the green plants and the blue ocean. All the plants you see in this picture of a wealthy San Diego neighborhood are irrigated.
This letter to the Editor of the New York Times, nicely reflects the sentiment of my letter: Re “Drought Frames Economic Divide of Californians” (“The Parched West” series, front page, April 27): 
Recently I walked in the wealthy San Diego suburb of Coronado, where many residents are not conserving water. I saw a guy power-washing his fence before painting it. If he really were conserving, he could have used a bucket and a rag. Then there’s the green golf course and park, and the water left on the sidewalks from night watering of the green lawns. The wealthy can afford water at any cost. They are not conserving and will not conserve. They feel that they are above the law and do not have to abide by social norms. Forget shaming them.

San Diego
When Mr. Roger Newell talks about the rich who will not conserve, he speaks for almost all of us, the Bubble People.
Click on the image to see it in full size, remembering that it is huge. In the city of San Diego the green areas are powered by fossil water from the North pumped with lots of electricity from the imported natural gas and from coal.  Do you see the almost horizontal line near the bottom (south)?  This is the US-Mexico border.  Below the line, irrigation stops and the land is a lot more like here near Jeddah: a parched savannah or desert. The peninsula on the west, pointing south is a nice, mostly rich, and green area where my daughter's wedding was. All green plants there are irrigated, just like here. Image source: NASA, 1280px-San_Diego_NASA_World_Wind_Globe.jpg.

In Europe, the bloody history is much longer and even more complex, but it follows the same path of general genocide, brutal abuse of the poor, and repeated killings of local populations in most countries, including home countries. World War I and II were among the crowning European achievements, but they face stiff competition from the earlier valiant attempts at murder and mayhem.

Once we fully admit that the rich democracies today have been built on the thick, albeit somewhat fluid foundation of the torrents of human blood, suffering and injustice, and brutal coercion to corruption in the poor countries, we may start taking corrective actions and reach out to the poor in our countries and elsewhere in the world.  But you can see that this is not going to happen with us, the Bubble People.
I don’t want this letter to become a lengthy diatribe and invite you to propose your own human solutions, not just escapist jokes designed to protect your bubbles. 
The second step would be to admit that the Europeans and Americans stole over $1 trillion from the poor Africa over the last decade or so, while aiding and abetting corruption, arms sales, proxy wars, mass murder, and ethnic conflicts. Nigeria alone saw over $200 billion disappearing from its soil and into the Western banks.

Do you know that some 5 million people perished in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the recent decade or two?  And all that for our control of their minerals and other riches. This achievement is almost as impressive as Hitler's final solution, but literally no one knows and cares about it.  Just as no one cared about Rwanda and Burundi. We, the Bubble People, eat organic food instead.

If they had any recollection of these multiple tragedies, the good Europeans would perhaps recognize their own culpability in the recent tragic events and see humans behind the black and brown faces at the steps of their fortress. The same goes for the Americans, for whom it was so easy to reject the children fleeing from death in Honduras, into where we deported our local Honduran drug gangs from Los Angeles and broke the country. I still can picture that monster space alien Republican senator proclaiming on TV that “we must love these children with tough love and deport them immediately.” Obviously, the senator was speaking to his faithful constituents, the Bubble People.
Where is Doctor Who when we need him to save Planet Earth from alien space invaders?
Space aliens, the Deleks, apparently the extraterrestrial Republicans, are trying to exterminate the Earthlings. But not to worry!  Dr. Who will come to the rescue. Source BBC: Dr. Who
While I am at it, do you have any suggestions for atoning for other U.S. crimes in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Cuba, Haiti, and so on?

Eh, maybe not.  Instead, let's intone together: "U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!...." And why? Because we are the Bubble People.

What did you learn by living in the Middle East?

From my vintage point in the Middle East, the sum total of misery caused by the failed states here and in Africa is so overwhelming that I often gasp for air to breath. I see faces of all these dying and dead children, starving women, and drowned in the sea barefooted men. They all hope to reach and be inside of our bubble, and do so with such tenacity and desperation that we will not be able to shut ourselves away from their misery, to which we have richly contributed for a long, long time. It does not matter what Ms. Le Pen says, or German neo-fascists and white American policemen do. And Arizonians will not protect their border from the desperate Mexicans, fleeing from the very drug lords we have created and sustained in exchange for the drugs we devour in such quantities. Yes, we, the happy Americans, who have been eating the entire world from the inside of our luminous bubble.  We sell them our superior weapons and movies in return and they eat this stuff.

Our bubble is bursting now. And, no, there is no such thing as a slow and gentle tearing of a bubble. There is a firm mathematical theory for the speed of the burst once it starts. The game today is to hide away all recognizable needles that might prick our bubble and pretend that the bubble cannot be popped. But what about the needles we and our government watchers have missed?

Wishing you a little more of a happy life in your personal bubbles, Tad