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Communications technology has rocketed forward in my lifetime.
Your reading this is evidence of that.
There is more computing power in my Droid phone than, well, virtually anything in 1960, 51 years ago.
I can watch movies on my phone, whenever I want. Tens of thousands of people will read this essay.
The events in the Libyan revolution are coming at me in a Twitter stream. More reliable than any other source.
You can look things up on Wikipedia, even correct errors you find if you’d like to.
What is true for communication and information is not true for transportation.
I live in LA. It takes longer for me to get from the front step of my home to standing in New York’s Times Square than it did in 1960.
We won’t even talk about how much longer it takes to get around in LA.
In 1960, we got virtually all of our oil from domestic sources. Now, 58 to 63% of it, depending on whom you ask, comes from foreign wells.
In a nutshell, our ability to communicate has exploded and our ability to move around has stagnated.
DC-8 and 707 jetliners were linking the globe in 1960, and today’s newest airliner, the 787, isn’t one MPH faster. Add congestion to and from airports, parking, and (expletive deleted) security lines, and we have actually gotten slower in our continental travel.
There is less train travel available today than there was in 1960. And it isn’t any faster. Most of the stretches, on rusting rails, are slower.
In a nutshell, it takes me longer to get around town and longer to get to other cities in North America.
Truth is, we still get around on 1960 technology: paved freeways, gasoline-run cars and trucks, and 1960-era jetliners (which are really just WW2 B-29 bombers with jet engines).
The communication equivalent would be rotary dial phones and telegrams.
Here are some bad ideas:
- Build more freeways and add freeway lanes.
- Put the whole world in gasoline cars (1 billion in China, 1 billion in India, and hundreds of millions in Africa).
- Build more airports.
- Increase airport security.
- Build more busses. Trains can fly over or under traffic. Busses are stuck in it. Time to retire the “loser cruiser.”
Here are some good ideas, but only upgrades of what we have:
- Find cleaner fuel
- Generate cleaner energy
- High speed rail to regional destinations. (e.g. LA to Las Vegas, Chicago to St. Louis, etc.). North America is too big for high speed rail all the way across the country, we can already go three times as fast (600 mph) in the air vs. 200mph on TGV rails. It only works for medium sized trips, where it is, in total, faster than flying.
- Invest in urban public transportation. Go to Europe, Japan, or Hong Kong. You will never disagree with this again. I guarantee it.
- Increase bicycle usage in milder climates.
Here are some problems we need to solve:
- We need to become energy independent, at least as a North American continent.
- We need to find cheaper, cleaner sources of local and small-unit power (for cars, homes, laptops, flashlights, etc.)
- We need to find a breakthrough in distance travel (i.e. to New York from LA)
- We need to start building our housing developments around people (villages) and not around cars (lifeless, boring, isolating tract housing). Human scale. This also aids public transportation.
- We need to find an alternative to the gasoline car for China and India that will allow personal mobility.
- Figure out inexpensive continental overland freight transport. Semi-trucks are profoundly inefficient and require huge public highway subsidies.
Cheap, safe, fast transportation (of goods and people) is good for any society. It increases commerce and upgrades the ability to add value with others. Imagine a small business with 7 employees spread out over the whole country that could easily have lunch together every Thursday.
You see, speed of transportation took giant leaps between 1840 (it was about the same speed then as in Bible times) and 1960. That’s when progress stopped.
There will need to be cooperation between private and public sectors to make it work. It’s not an either-or. Private enterprise did not build the Roman Roads, and it took government direction to build the Interstates and to put astronauts on the moon.
But we are America. We can accomplish these things.
Of course, you could say that we are thousands of years old (from the date the first human set foot on Alaskan soil) or 234 since the Declaration of Independence. But I prefer 1607, the day people started speaking English and living here (Jamestown). That’s when America as we know it started to take shape.
I am hopelessly patriotic. Not sure where that comes from, because I never set out to be that way. And my patriotism is not comparative. I don’t think in terms of “better” than other nations. Having traveled extensively, I can easily see why Italians and Ethiopians are also patriotic.
So, let’s talk about America for a few paragraphs, since we’ve taken another trip around the sun together. Some random thoughts:
1) Patriots can question America and point out faults. Family can do that.
2) Americans need to respect their political opponents more. I am so tired of conservatives and liberals bashing each other.
Conservatives who don’t think liberals are right about anything (and vice versa) lack perspective. I am a family-values free-market guy. But I actually listen to my political opponents, value them, and learn from them. Demonizing Bush or Obama (depending on your flavor) closes your mind. Keep it open.
3) The immigration issue has degenerated into sound bites and posturing. Where are the real solutions that would actually work?
Politicians stir up xenophobia in order to pander for votes, and then they present no real plans to solve the issue. The result is hypocrisy (let them in but say we won’t tolerate it).
Like him or hate him, the last one to present a real solution was W. And his own party shouted him down. Since then it’s been useless pundit-pulpiteering.
4) America needs to re-embrace having children.
Listen to people talk about having kids or being pregnant. Trust me, they will usually imply that children are a liability.
This, not politics, is at the heart of our abortion statistics. Children should be seen as a blessing, not a curse.
And economically, we aren’t having enough of them to pay for our retirement. And then we wonder why we need so many immigrants to keep the country running.
We think that having children will get in the way of our development, but all of us with children know that NOTHING develops and matures us like having them!
And children with more siblings tend to be healthier and have better social skills.
5) America needs to go on a diet.
This is the main problem behind our soaring health care costs. I struggle with it as everyone else does.
6) America needs a big project or a frontier.
We lack vision as a nation. Haven’t done anything cool together since Project Apollo.
7) America needs to embrace the Open Source revolution.
This will most affect education. Stacking kids in huge buildings and talking at them is no longer the best way to maximize learning. We need much smaller schools which encourage friendship building and teamwork. Children need to be evaluated for aptitudes and these skills need to be brought out in teams. We need to re-visit job skills (whatever happened to vo-tech schools?), apprenticeships, and stop implying that everyone needs to go to the university. Children should learn how they are wired up and be motivated to develop those gifts.
8. America needs to solve her energy problem.
The gulf oil spill is a painful reminder that, economically, environmentally, politically, and otherwise, running our national engine on gasoline and diesel is not sustainable for the rest of the century.
Which of you is going to be the new Edison? Time for major breakthroughs.
9) America needs to redesign her cities around people, not cars.
The way we have built suburban tract housing has isolated our children and created a sedentary generation. Most Americans now live in a setting where there is nothing meaningful to which we can walk. It’s all designed around cars.
After many years in tract-land, we moved into a real (old school) neighborhood 8 years ago. I can easily walk to: library, bank, drugstore, post office, UPS, the beach, schools, and 25 places to eat.
Is your neighborhood designed around human beings or cars?
10) America needs to embrace local food and urban gardening.
You don’t want to watch massive food factories at work, especially with animals.
11) Our children need to be given more social free time.
We are over-supervising and over-scheduling their lives. As a result, they are no longer developing leadership skills.
12) It’s time to revisit our spirituality.
American faith is potent and vital. Its taproot is in the slave songs of the cotton fields. It is empowerment-based and transformative.
Listen to gospel music on a regular basis. It’s one of America’s greatest cultural gifts to the world. And develop a live relationship with a live preacher. Having a “rabbi” and a faith community is deeply enriching. There is a little “indie” church near where you live that could use your presence. They are doing a lot of good–join them.
13) We need to withdraw our military from the Eastern Hemisphere. Our future is in teamwork with Canada and Latin America. All North Americans should learn some Spanish. All Latin Americans should learn some English. We need to build a 21st century railroad to South America. We need to send out brightest and best north and south, not east and west.
Our over-involvement with the Old World has caused nothing but trouble and heartache. Most all of our war casualties (since 1865) have soaked the battlefields of the Eastern Hemisphere with their blood, and we don’t have a ton to show for it. The founding fathers saw this ahead of time and warned us against “entangling alliances.” We are obsessed with virtually impossible blood feuds in the Middle East, which they are going to have to solve on their own, and we all saw how this bit us on 9-11. Badly.
We could easily protect the Western Hemisphere, with about half of our military budget. Dream a little. What if we sent all of our young adults on a one-year sojourn to Canada or Latin America (instead of straight to college) to work and learn and build contacts?
In the broadest sense, everyone in the New World is an American too.
All that being said, I love living in this country. I love being American. We can rise to prevail over all of these challenges. I feel blest every time I wake up here.
God bless you all and God bless the United States of America on her birthday.
Please pass the link to this essay on to everyone you know. Thanks! Short version: http://wp.me/pGQxY-b0