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Uncreative minds are at it again, riding that ancient saw telling us innovation will put us all permanently out of a job. Admittedly, automation and innovation will eliminate certain jobs, and at times it can appear hopeless, but the computer revolution is but the fart of a gnat when compared to the industrial revolution. We've weathered far more drastic revolutions of labor and capital in the past, for the better, and this time isn't different.

In the 1700's, a group of people called Luddites, decided that the power loom was the very end of their livelihood, and that the best course of action was to destroy the looms and return to weaving cloth by hand. What they didn't realize was that people were perfectly happy to spend the same amount of money on clothing and fabric, but buy ten outfits instead of one. If the Luddites had kept their way, you could count on a shirt or pair of pants costing upwards of a thousand dollars apiece.

Every step of the way, from the days when 97% of us were subsistence farmers, til today, when 97% of us have never worked a day on a farm, people have tried to stand in the way of progress in hopes of preserving their existing job, never seeing the greater opportunity on the other side. Mankind discovered wants (sometimes calling them needs), that had never before existed. Electricity, while it put a few windmill-builders out of business, created ten thousand other industries and occupations in its place. Engines, while they put the horse-breeders out of work, created a hundred-thousand fields of work for the first time. If the farmers of the 19th and 20th century found ways to repurpose 97% of the work force, no doubt we can find a place for the few percent that are made obsolete by computer programs, robots and automation.

Far from a sea change, of the type we experienced when muscle power was replaced by machine, the computer represents a small, incremental improvement in efficiency. Jobs that used to take 4 people might take one, while a single 200 horsepower electric motor replaces the entire day's effort of 1800 people, working as hard as they can. The effect of the computer is perhaps one tenth or one hundredth the effect of the fossil-fueled engine or electric motor.

Consider an email, versus a hand-delivered letter. An email is basically free, while a letter costs 50 cents to deliver. The computer replaced 50 cents of labor in all of its glorious power. Compared to the impact that engines and airplanes have on mail delivery (imagine what it would cost to mail a letter using horsedrawn carriage), the computer is scarcely noticeable.

The cost-saving effect of the computer on giving a presentation is negligible, as drawing slides by hand isn't terribly more time consuming than drawing them in Powerpoint. The effect on information distribution is large, but when compared to the effect of mass printing, the effect is once again a drop the in bucket. 25 years ago, a person still had access to more information than they could possibly consume, and this is still the case today but to a larger extent. Handwritten books would cost $10,000 to pay for the labor, while printed books cost $10, and electronic books might cost a dollar or two. While the first industrial revolution brought us a factor of 1000 in cost reduction, the computer revolution brings us only a factor of five or ten.

Automation might enable each labor hour to produce five times as many cell phones, five times as many cars, five times as many tires. As was the case with the industrial revolution before, this will result in people using five times as many cell phones, five times as many cars, and five times as many tires. This may seem implausible, but as the cost of goods is reduced by the multiplied power of human labor, people will drive for the first time, use cell phones for the first time, and people now dressed in rags will wear fine clothing for the first time. In a world where billions cannot afford clean drinking water, there is certainly room for several more factors of ten before we can even begin to believe that there is a decreasing demand for labor and production. In spite of all the improvements we have made so far, life's necessities remain out of reach for a large fraction of humanity.

Already, in the last 200 years, every occupation has been made obsolete, and somehow all of this labor has been repurposed in order to create modern life. To imagine that the relatively negligible effect of computerization will bring society to its knees is uncreative at best. Surely, the robots will leave some people out of a job, as the combine left cotton pickers by the wayside, and the power loom left the Luddites without customers for their costly handwoven cloth. But, the people of the future will laugh at our concern, the way that we laugh at the Luddites today. No one wishes today that clothing were so unaffordable that each of us owned a single suit of clothes, no one wishes today for the production of food to consume every waking hour of nearly every person. Likewise, the people enjoying the cheaper, better products of the future will not yearn for the costlier, more labor intensive methods of the past.

We can depend on humanity to consume every shred of surplus that results from improved methods, and continue to search for better, faster means of producing and consuming. The robots are only a temporary stepping stone to an easier, better life for everyone that people today can scarcely imagine, much less appreciate. Looking back to where we began, this latest development of computer automation seems barely noteworthy by comparison to the revolutions we have already weathered so well.

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Even as I write, a ship is steaming directly to Amsterdam from the hot zone of the worst Ebola epidemic of all time. It's an ordinary cargo ship, and in a week or two, its crew will be downing beers and visiting the local talent of one of Europe's biggest port cities. The worst part is, it's not the only one.

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A flotilla of cargo ships leave from Europe each month to visit a variety of West African ports. The last of these ports, terrifyingly, are in each of the Ebola-stricken countries. As if it were perfectly intentional, these ships return straight away to Hamburg or Amsterdam for more cargo.

This is not just a recipe, but the recipe for disaster.

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Almost nothing could be more efficient in spreading the disease than a fleet of express steamers running from the hot zone into Europe's largest ports, starting with Hamburg and Amsterdam before going on to Tilbury, Antwerp and Bilbao.

For instance, the Grande Atlantico returns to Amsterdam from Freetown, Sierra Leone on October 10th. It leaves today.

The Grande Africa returns to Hamburg from Monrovia, Liberia on October 7th.

Likewise for the Grande Francis, the Grande Sierra Leone, Grande Nigeria, and Grande Brasile. Each ship has an almost identical trip planned for the following months as well, and each of these ships make their final stop in the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic before returning to the major port cities in Europe two weeks later.

Each of these ships has a crew of approximately twenty people, meaning over 100 Ebola candidates a month are stopping in the largest port cities in Europe, one after the other. All this, fourteen days after potentially being exposed to the disease, when people are, naturally, most contagious.

It is spectacularly careless that this trade route continues, since an epidemic amongst merchant seamen starting in Hamburg would all but ensure the disease would be scattered to the wind and land in practically every country in the world.

 

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I'm pretty down on government officials, elected or otherwise, I make no secret of it. But, I do love to watch a good game, and I can appreciate a master when I see one. While Vladimir Putin is a despot extraordinaire, he is awfully good at what he does.

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Truth be told, Michael Jordan wasn't paid millions in sponsorships and salary because he could put a ball through a net. He was paid his megamillions because he was fun to watch. If he put people to sleep while playing, no one would know his name. It was his miraculous dunks, his whirling fakeouts and electrifying play that made him a star. Admittedly, missing a dunk makes you look like a stooge, and his success was part of his allure, but his gamesmanship was what defined him. He was fast, he was smooth, and he always made the right moves.

Same with Vladimir Putin. Like an ex-KGB Wilt Chamberlain, Putin is dribbling circles around the international community and dunking on the gangly, aging centers representing pretty much everyone else. He is currently the most talented living politician, and though he plays for crooked fascists, he sure can dunk.

He scored an op-ed trashtalking Obama in the New York Times. Name the last Russian premier that landed an article excoriating a sitting US president in the country's largest newspaper. Day after day, newspapers around the world print Putin's every word as he drops cruel, subtle jabs against the US. Amidst the taupe backdrop of carefully crafted political messaging, Putin stands alone in his trashtalking skill.

He invaded and annexed Crimea without even admitting having done so. Not even Hitler thought to invade a country, then deny it was even happening as the tanks rolled in. Only a political genius, with a flair for the sociopathic would ever think that he could invade a country in full view of a huge constellation of US spy satellites, then roundly deny anything was going on. The worst part is that his denials seem to be stalling the awkward UN/EU/US attempts at scolding Putin for being a very bad boy. It is a lie so fabulous, a song and dance so preposterous that no one would ever think to attempt it in the 21st century. Putin did.

Putin has made a game of endearing himself to the third world by embarrassing US government representatives. Putin's team looked especially ace when Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister refused to take John Kerry's phone calls during a North Korean missile flap. Having "better things to do" than talk to the US Secretary of State (it's not even the first time, Lavrov gave Hillary Clinton the switch in 2012) is a calculated move, and an awfully good one at that. Vladimir Putin was similarly three hours late for a meeting with John Kerry. One can picture Putin and friends laughing at closed circuit TV footage of Kerry fuming in a Kremlin waiting room, crossing and uncrossing his legs, trying to read Pravda while checking his watch.

Putin has managed to make a mockery of the United States with his numerous international talks and "negotiations", mostly regarding his noninvasion of the Ukraine. By gladly speaking with the United States, and then refusing to make the slightest concession, he's managed to make the US team look useless and ineffective, as they've returned again and again from the negotiating table with nothing. Putin knows this, and will give the Obama team as many faux negotiation sessions as they can stomach. Maybe the US will catch on eventually, but in the meantime the Russians have been happy to bring John Kerry's bloviating gas-baggery into sharp focus.

In dealing with Edward Snowden, Putin leapt at the opportunity to embarrass the United States and offer himself as an enlightened ruler that stands up for liberty and the rights of the downtrodden. Putin, before any other despot, recognized and seized the opportunity to simultaneously endear himself to the international community, mask his own extensive crimes against human rights, and gain exclusive access to a valuable intelligence asset.

As the US consulate continues to shoot its foot off, one toe at a time, in the Ukraine, it seems more and more likely that the whole debacle was planned in the Kremlin from start to finish. Putin likely could have seen the admonishing finger-wagging coming, the sanctions and the UN saber-rattling coming long before he ever set into motion his gradual annexation of Crimea. Putin may have seen the value in Crimea not only in terms of land and treasure, but also as an international whipping post for the United States public image. Putin can take his time offending the UN, enraging the US and teasing the EU, and will likely drag out the annexation of Ukraine over many years to exaggerate his benefit. By showing that the West's most strident threats can be ignored without consequence, he reduces the West to a distant, barking dog. He could only have done so by invading a patch of land so inconsequential to Western interests that no one could credibly commit lives and billions to preventing it, and Crimea was just this place.

Putin is a master of doing precisely what he wants while embarrassing those that oppose him. Knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em is the essence of statecraft, and unfortunately this skill seems to elude most everyone in the political realm today.

 

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A just war, or a morally justifiable war, should look like a morally (and legally) justifiable killing. The reasoning behind a just war should be quick to explain, with an obvious motive like self defense. It should be nearly impossible to find fault with a just war.

By comparison, the longwinded articles that I'm reading on the Wall Street Journal reference Neville Chamberlain, Henry Kissinger, soft power, appeasement and isolationism while trying, and trying hard, to get people to sign the dotted line for another war.

It got me to wondering: because the pro-war articles are long, is that all anyone needs to know? If you can't explain why thousands of people's children need to die for a cause in 25 words or less, is it possible that the cause isn't especially worthy?
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To take the extreme example, if the Canadians were lining up thousands of American civilians in front of firing squads, storming down the Mississippi River, destroying all in their path, would there be need for a foreign policy debate, and careful crafting of arguments in favor of military intervention? I think I wouldn't be alone in supporting a war if there were Maple Leaf death squads patrolling Louisville, even without a thoughtful op-ed by a think-tanker.

Sending America's youth off to die is, although recent history might make you think otherwise, a really big deal. Therefore, it should be trivial to explain exactly why we are sending our children to get shot. If it requires considerable thought, and significant filtering of information to craft a decent argument, drawing on historical precedent, lawyerly rhetoric and a dash of jingoism to get people fired up for war, a war must not be all that valid to begin with.

If there were a situation so uncontroversial as repelling a genocidal foreign invasion, there would be no need for op-eds beating the war drums. So, does it stand to reason that a pro-war op-ed's very existence denies its validity? Widely circulating newspapers publish op-eds that spark debate; to wit, an article opining that parents ought to feed their children wouldn't get much attention. Controversy sells, and a just war is uncontroversial.

All in all, if a war doesn't receive enough unanimity to escape the op-ed section, then it isn't worth fighting. Likewise, the only just war is so simply explained that there can be no interesting debate over whether or not to fight it.

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The official party line, offered by the World Health Organization, is that the Ebola virus spreading across Africa (and likely other parts of the world), is that it is spread by "direct contact" with infected body fluids.

"Infection occurs from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people. Infection can also occur if broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person come into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles."

I don't believe this, and neither should you. Ebola is behaving like an airborne disease, apparently infecting those who have taken reasonable precautions based on the old information still offered by the WHO. 

The number of people being monitored, and the number people under suspicion of infection as a result of a single person traveling to Port Harcourt, Nigeria tells of an airborne disease. In a period of less than a month, over 200 people are suspected to have been exposed, with 60 of them considered to be high risk. It is unlikely that the "patient zero" to Port Harcourt and his contacts had quite so many other contacts with broken skin and blood involved. The disease is wildly contagious.

The number of physicians who have known they were treating an Ebola patient, but have become infected nonetheless, tells us that the WHO is off the mark. It is relatively trivial for a properly trained physician to avoid getting infected body fluids in his or her open wounds and mucous membranes, as surgeons routinely perform surgery on AIDS patients without getting infected themselves. That basic care has resulted in hundreds of dead health workers suggests that Ebola is spreading by as-yet unidentified routes, most likely by airborne droplets.

The sheer number of people becoming infected at a time when most are well aware of the epidemic tells a different story than the WHO. In previous epidemics, quarantine of infected people and standard protective equipment were enough to contain fatalities to a few hundred. These measures appear to be ineffective, and the disease is behaving more like the flu than other Ebola epidemics.

The WHO, and other organizations, will continue to claim that Ebola is caused by direct contact until it becomes obvious that other routes of infection are also in action. Until this time comes, the epidemic will continue to worsen as people act with a false sense of security amidst serious risk of infection. 

Because the WHO doesn't know what is going on, or won't admit that its information may be wrong, people living in the affected zones should take proactive measures, like wearing face masks to avoid inhaling infectious aerosols being coughed or sneezed out by infected persons. Depending on a central authority for information is risky, because the WHO has a reputation to consider before raising the level of alarm. People in affected zones, however, have their own lives to consider before accepting the WHO party line as fact. 

Ebola, in the ongoing epidemic, appears to be acting airborne. How little it would cost everyone to behave as if this were the case.

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