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View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

Date: May 18, 2018

Shifting Population

The immigration issue is complex, much more complex than simply calculating how many people have visas, those that do not, and those that want to travel over borders worldwide. No, what is complicating the whole issue is that at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, 65% of the working population of America – yes, even during that industrial boom – was involved in agriculture and fishing. Farms, farm suppliers, produce shippers, cattlemen, fishermen, all the way to milk deliverymen and women – 65% of the working population earned their living and worked in the food business. That is not counting bars, eateries, cafeterias, delis, and the like.

So, if you worked in the food supply business, then as now, you lived outside of the cities. As agriculture and cattle ranching and fisheries all have become massive in size, requiring fewer people to maintain that productivity – and as delivery systems have become massive in size (40% of all food takes the train - most a mile or longer in length traveling from California to NY) – the whole business of food has downsized labor needs in favor of new technology. Yes, there are exceptions, especially on a seasonal basis – bringing migrant workers in from Mexico, Haiti and other lands – but these people are not part of the census of residents.

And here's the thing: This is happening all around the world as we all shift to a more technologically-dependent way of life. The benefits of the new digital world for people's lives are enormous, but 'winner-takes-all' dynamics in the digital economy creates a widening of income inequalities. The poor get poorer and move to cities to eke out a living where the land (they don't own and the mechanization of farms) offers none. A great migration of humanity into cities is under way -- with millions drawn from rural communities to urban areas for the promise of a better or any life. The calculation is that 2/3rds of the world's population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Yes, 2/3rds; 2 out of every 3 people will live in or very near cities.

And the land they leave behind? Agri-business is gobbling up acres across the planet. However, already city governments have begun to realize that forests and land are a critical part of the solution to the unprecedented demand for water and energy that these cities will face. Cities like New Delhi and even Madrid have said they will begin to buy and claim rural land left behind, land they need to maintain sustainable water collection, land they need for infrastructure expansion (sewage and power).

And the numbers of the increase of city dwellers is staggering. By 2050, another 2,500,000,000 people will move from the country to the city. Want to know what that rapid influx looks like? Have a look at Rio, Mexico City or Nairobi – all with depressing slums without water or electricity. Okay, most of the influx will be in just a few countries, namely India, China, and Nigeria. At the UN, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million. By 2028, the Indian capital, New Delhi, is projected to become the most populous city on the planet. Currently, Tokyo is the world's largest, with an agglomeration of 37 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi (29 million), and Shanghai (26 million). Mexico City and São Paulo, come next; each with around 22 million inhabitants.

So, as you watch for the shift, remember that Mark Twain had it right all along...land is the only thing they're not making any more of. Land is the indispensable commodity.

Date: May 7, 2018

The Problem With Morality

People use the words "tribalism" and "opposite sides" to describe American moral ethos these days and I feel they are labeling the outcome, not the cause. If we do not understand the cause, the core reasons for people's decisions, for their seemingly intractable immoral positions, then they will never have any reason for listening, for reevaluating their position in the coming years. Whole civilizations have faltered in these divisive circumstances before.

Date: May 4, 2018

Copyright and Patent Issues Facing the USA

Basically, copyright and patent protection is a way to give the little person a fair chance to make their mark in business, art, and society. How do these protections work? When filed with the proper office, you get a piece of paper that says your invention (whether it be words on the page or a description of a mechanical device or a design) is indeed yours and the clock starts ticking. What clock? Again, very basically, you have a limited time to profit on your sole control of your invention and anyone who "knocks you off" (copies you) is wrong and can be stopped, either in a court of law or by international police action (such as customs people seizing fake Luis Vuitton imported handbags).

Date: April 27, 2018

New Govt Strategy: Space Is Only GOP Business

Hidden in the background noise of world affairs leaking and being generated from the White House was the appointment and swearing in of Congressman Jim Bridenstine as new head of NASA, who said, "NASA represents what is best about the United States of America: We lead, we discover, we pioneer, and we inspire."

Date:  April 20, 2018

New Careers In Space

A young person asked me the other day about careers in space. There’s always exploration – astronaut training as mission specialists all the way up the capability level to actual commander of a space craft. But what struck me was that the possibilities for millions of jobs are quickly forming in fields that no-one previously ever thought could possibly interest anyone except technocrats.

Currently there are five companies building and strategizing rocket systems to go and mine the asteroid belt. Anything bigger than a tennis court that they dislodge – that could fall out of orbit and impact the Earth – would take out a large city. Anything the size of a NASCAR oval could spell the end of life on Earth as we know it. And to mine the minerals and resources on these asteroids they need to move them close to Earth.

Now, why should you care? It's good free-enterprise commerce, no? Well, perhaps, but as we all know, until regulations are put into place, new experimental procedures – good commerce or not – cause disasters. The Titanic comes to mind. As does the Hindenburg. As do hundreds of people trapped in sub-standard buildings that pancaked down when an earthquake hit.

Date: March 29, 2018

New World Requires New Controls

We invented the Internet. It is about time we controlled the beast we created. We have to face facts: the world today cannot continue without the Internet, without the sharing of ideas (communication), control of industrial processes (commercial utility), and, perhaps above all, the cross platform reach into every aspect of our lives and commerce – from television, telephone, manufacturing machines, shipping, construction, transportation, politics, appliances, exploration, science, and office productivity.

Date: March 21, 2018

Physics and a Bigger Car

When Henry Ford was asked about the Model T, one of the first things he spoke of was how far it drove on a tank of gas: up to 500 miles at 31 miles per gallon! It was small, light, go-anywhere, carried 1,000 pounds and, most of all, was affordable. How far we've come. In the search for a faster, bigger, more bulletproof car, for all the car manufacturers it's now a case of "Beat the Joneses" or "Mine's Bigger Than Yours." Some of these so-called personal vehicles have exceeded the axle limit for trucks in the 50's. I remember the size and weight of some of the cars then, when gas was 35 cents a gallon: Big fins, big engines (everyone wanted a V8 under the long hood), exemplified by the Cadillac of 1959 with the pop up taillights to reveal the gas cap.