No Direction Home

Desertec Initiative

By David Glenn Cox

Did you know? In Ireland, Trump means a fart and Mickey means penis. It just makes the whole image of the Mickey Mouse Club that much funnier. “Let’s all go watch Dick Mouse! Did you just Trump?” Anyway back when gasoline still had lead in it there was a book by Alvin Toffler called, “Future Shock.” Forecasts and predictions of now from way back then. Like most forecasts of the future the predictions are generally right and specifically wrong. But one of the things Toffler had right was the speed of change. The new shopping center and the decaying city center rather then fix problems we just move away from them. But it is the speed of change which confounds us.

As with most things in Murphy’s universe when the weather changed so did my apartment heater from functioning to non-functioning. I picked up the computer and dialed in the management. {Invalid Password} Did you forget your password for that website you go on once a year? Send e-mail for a new password. Set your new password, no, you can’t use that one. It has to have a number and punctuation. Nope, that one doesn’t work either. Sorry, the passwords don’t match. I walked six hundred yards on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to the office stuck my head in the door and said, “My heater is broke.”

Why should I let this machine agitate the shit out of me for something so mundane? Literally more trouble than it is worth. The invention of the telephone multiplied human communication a hundredfold and the invention of the answering machine and voicemail have largely defeated that advance. I recently called about a hospital bill. Five phone prompts before it asked me to spell my name. “Hi, you have reached the voicemail of…” Really? Are we going to do this dance? Who knew that you could sell auto maintenance plans over the phone? If you call a billion people three times a day, the sales just roll in!

When I was young there was no phone spam you might get a prank caller occasionally, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can, is your refrigerator running?” The telephone sat quietly in the corner; it wasn’t the center of life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s me. I’m an analog man in a digital world. I don’t expect the world to go back to the good old days of vacuum tubes I’m just trying to make the same point that Toffler was trying to make. Do we know where were going? The Internet, Amazon and the pandemic. Shopping Malls as ghost towns and retail on life support. I needed a power cord and went to Worst Buy. They had one, count em, one on the shelf for $75.00. Will retail become the last resort when you absolutely need it now? Overpriced to keep the doors open because it is so much cheaper to sell online.

What exactly is the future of the restaurant business? After a year maybe two of social distancing, will the fabric of Americans eating out return and mend itself? Could take away become the dominant mode of eating out? Sadly, in Murphy’s universe the restaurants most likely to survive are the ones least needed. But even some of the big boys are in trouble. The problem right now for investors in commercial Real Estate is you just can’t find a building tall enough to throw yourself off of. Anybody want to buy a mall? A shopping mall in California that cost $135 million to build just sold for $35 million. The Mall of America is for sale. I’ll get you a good price, if you’re interested.

One of Toffler’s bright spots was “The Third Wave” that technology learned in the first world would allow third-world countries to avoid the hard lessons learned by the first world. It was like the Green New Deal, a chance for the third-world to leapfrog ahead. The book written in the post 1960s optimism forgot that the hand of Capitalism is at play. Ethiopia is building a dam on the Blue Nile River and Egypt doesn’t like it. “Whiskeys for drinking and water is for fighting over.”- Mark Twain. The Egyptians fear they will be starved of water while Ethiopia fills its reservoir. A huge project with billions at stake and negotiations have been going on since the 1970s. President Elmer Fudd suggested that maybe Egypt should just blow up the dam! Then all the sane people got angry, and US ambassadors were forced to make apologies to foreign governments for President Fudd’s remarks.

The two assets which Ethiopia is over endowed are sunshine and deserts. A big hydro-electric project right out of the 1950s Reader’s Digest will help the country with its water shortage. It might destabilize the region and make the water crisis worse as the surface area of the reservoir leads to increased evaporation. Then the environmental hazard to the river itself and the people who live on the river who are usually the first casualty. A solar power plant would turn desalination pumps getting you all the fresh water you want for less money and less maintenance. Unlike the dam the solar array is expandable bringing in hard currency revenues from hungry Egyptians trying to charge their phones.

The pace of change will not stop making it hard to anticipate the correct path. The hydro-electric dam functionally obsolete before completion and the computer obsolete in the box. The Three Gorges Dam in China is one of the largest hydro-electric dams in the world. It gets its water from glaciers high in the Himalayas. Glaciers forecast to be gone in twenty years because of climate change. The point is, when the Chinese first proposed the project it made perfect sense it was a great idea and a monumental task. But the world changed and is changing so fast that a good idea today might be a bad idea next week.

The idea of the curious simian sitting on a hillside making tools building forges and microscopes and microwave relays. Satellite dishes and artificial hearts, space stations only to confound himself with an artificial environment that grows faster than we can keep up with. Supplanting us, leaving us behind as stragglers on the information superhighway, without a clear destination of a world to live in.

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