Beyond the Cusp

November 15, 2014

Future and Hope for the Western World

 

The future is determined just as much by the nurturing and education provided for the next generation during their youth, formative years and on through their years of education and initial introduction into the workforce as it is by their genetic makeup which is still provided by the natural selection that leads to determining who their parents are. Where we may be on the cusp of great breakthroughs in genetic engineering and closing in on providing parents with choices for genetically altering their future child’s DNA makeup and thus provide for what are called designer children, we have yet to get beyond the cusp and make such opportunities acceptable to the general public. I am sure that should the time come and we are able to literally design a child, leaving only the most minor possibilities of any unseen crisis, and produce a next generation of geniuses, but thus far we are not quite beyond the cusp and stepping into what may be a very strange new world. Once we arrive at the point where the first designer child is produced successfully and a healthy, intelligent, beautiful and handsome wonder-child is born, I suspect rather than being met with cheers and adulation of being the first child in a new era of humanity, we will instead face mobs of protesters demanding this kind of monstrous building of abomination of nature be immediately outlawed and only naturally conceived children be permitted. Of course these demonstrators will eventually tire of their objections, or at least making a public display of those objections, and designer children will be as common as are naturally selected children of today. The problem would be when only designer children or minimally selected pairing of best case DNA from the natural parents for children will be required in a means of aiding natural selection and optimizing the next generations.

 

No matter how close to what is deemed perfect human children biological research may permit society to produce, all of that is worthless if the education system they are given is not up to the optimum level that might be possible. This is apparently a subject of great debate amongst two different generations, the parents of young children through college age young adults and their grandparents whose educational rigors did not grant the wide array of course selection nor did it have the advantages of computers, the internet, social media, and all the other advantages, difficulties, challenges and new educational theories such as the currently very seriously debated and in many cases rejected system known mostly as Common Core. All of that debate aside, the objection appears to be most prevalent amongst the grandparents who look at some of the signs they have observed and the sometimes unbelievable ignorance revealed by numerous interviews and test results given to children in elementary education through to college and university students even those studying for advanced degrees such as Masters and Doctoral programs.

 

One of the glaring recent examples was the interviews of random students at Harvard about current politics and historical questions mostly pertaining to American history. Only a minority could identify Vice President being currently Joe Biden. An even smaller percentage identified John Roberts as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Where I would forgive the average High School student not knowing who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, these were students at Harvard and whom will be the leaders and shapers of the future of the nation and many of whom will become the lawyers and judges, possible even Supreme Court Judges even to the high position of Chief Justice. These were presumably the crème de la crème of American education; these were students at Harvard. As disturbing as those results may have been, there have been numerous tests performed on students from middle school, there cannot be anything named junior as in junior high school as junior gives of a connotation of inferior and might damage sensitive psyches, high school and through all levels of college which have produced similar indications that the education system is not up to par or students are simply not retaining anything about civics, government or history. The levels displayed often appear like they could use these youths as the stars for a sequel to the movie, and I am reluctant to even let it be known to the world I even have viewed this movie, Idiocracy.

 

Perhaps some examples of questions which stymied so many students, and granted that some of these interviews were handpicked to make the point that there is something amiss in the American, and very likely across the Western World, education systems are in order. When students cannot identify who was the President of the United States during the Civil War as President Lincoln, and I would have even taken President Jefferson Davis assuming the student was from Alabama, Georgia or any of the other southern states which made up the Confederacy, or they cannot name which country from which the United States fought to gain their independence and name Britain or England there is a problem with the education system. Students were unable to name the three branches of the United Stated Federal Government as the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. These are not trick questions setup to fool or mislead the students; they were straight forward and elementary questions. I almost understand when people attending an anti-nuke rally or other ecological rally against pollution or some other similarly themed action are willing to sign a petition to restrict one of the worst greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere named dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) as they are likely to simply take for granted the petition seekers are representing an actual cause celeb and are not pranking them so they do not fully ingest the question and are just signing to support a similarly themed petition, or so they think. In reality, water vapor in the atmosphere is the greatest of the greenhouse gasses but is also so vital to our existence and the existence of virtually every land animal and plant that we accept its presence as vitally necessary so the petition is not false, simply misleading as no such cause has arisen. Asking who the allied powers were in World War II and against whom they were fighting is not a question which should be as great a challenge for the student population in high school or college. Naming the date that we celebrate the United States gaining its independence as the fourth of July is not that difficult. Probably the worst display was on a late night show where they were giving examples of the dumbest of the dumbest set of answers found from archives to history and civics questions from random universities (and I know these were extremely handpicked but with this question that should have been impossible for anybody to miss the answer) and they could not name what nation the United States fought in the Spanish American War. I am at a loss for words to explain how utterly unbelievable it is that there actually were students who guessed at the answer. Some of the examples were, France, the southern states (they did not even call it the Confederacy), Europe (at least they got the right continent even if they missed the actual nation), the Soviet Union, and of course now we get Britain and England. Most of us have heard these questions and answer combinations which would usually be considered outtakes except they were the exact kind of answers they were seeking. I am aware that it probably took quite a number of interviews of students rushing between classes, but still some of these questions are way to basic to have been missed by anyone.

 

Then there is the final point which recently hit the news and was not so much of a surprise as it was the depth and near universality of the criminal deceits that a university would go to simply to have a stronger and more talented football or basketball teams. One of, if not the, best commentaries on the scandal that broke from the University of North Carolina (UNC) was Phantom courses disservice to black students by Walter Williams. In my ‘innocent youth’ I remember the jokes that at some universities there were student athletes taking courses such as Advanced Basket Weaving and other inane and ridiculous courses but never did we imagine phantom courses where students were given grades sufficient to have them retain player status and not be prevented from taking the field due to academic deficiencies. What makes these crimes even worse is that professors received payment for teaching a class that did not exist in reality. These courses were placed within the school for specific social science curriculum and the student’s grade was determined by what was required for their academic qualifications to play their sport as was the number of these courses each student athlete was assigned to raise their averages. These courses and the inflated grades also gave the university the required diversity representation within the student body to qualify for certain Federal Government grant programs which means that these courses were a part of intentionally defrauding the Federal Government and the tax payers of the United States. These frauds, which can be expected, or something similar, to exist in many a university which fields competitive football and basketball teams, are likely to be revealed elsewhere should this investigation be broadened, as it deserves to be, to other universities where such courses may exist. I am sure that other sports programs are likely to be scrutinized and such scrutiny will produce even more and similar problems and frauds.

 

This fraud and any others existing in the American university systems also uncover another even more serious problem, the lack of quality educational opportunity within the public school system as a whole and with particular problems within the schools which serve those troubled neighborhoods which allows certain students to disrupt the education of the entirety of the classes offered. When students are given a passing grade for the reasoning of social promotion both the student and society are being cheated. A major component of this problem is the Federal Government and its various programs and minimal requirements for schools to receive full funding and not be classified as a troubled, problematic or whatever title might be used to classify a school as substandard which places the teachers and administrators of such schools under focus and scrutiny. Needless to point out that such scrutiny due such a rating is anything but friendly and their demands go beyond the schoolroom and into the main office and often will force changed at the top thus great pressure is placed on teachers to assure that every student passes the testing. This produces what is often referred to as teaching to the test where the class becomes practiced in answering the actual questions on the test potentially without having ever studied or been exposed to anything outside of the test regimens. Additionally, over the past couple of decades there has been a litany of schools where cheating on the qualifying tests have been revealed. These deceptions range from teachers prompting the students while they are testing to changing students’ answers to allow for them receiving a higher rating and preventing the school from losing its standing academically.

 

These practices of altering test answers, teaching solely to the test, social progressions through the school system without failing, giving the students answers for the test while they are taking the test and so many other defrauding of students and society has other ramifications such as graduates from high schools not having the ability to read, write and perform elementary mathematical skills. Some of these student athletes learn very early on that they will be exempted from academic requirements and will receive special attention and reprieves which allow them to pass and continue their academic ratings such that they remain eligible for playing their sport. One has to wonder what future many of these athletes will have when they graduate from college still unable to read, write or do elementary arithmetic, not even mathematics, not even the very basics. Providing the student athlete who was granted grades which were not a true accounting of their abilities or actual learning manages to be accepted to a college because of their false grade point average (GPA) and are unable to make the team in their sport or even other less money generating sport, how can they ever pass an actual course when the first time they are being pressed to actually display learned knowledge and retention. In some cases such students may not even be able to write their name beyond block capital letters? They have a high school diploma which they are incapable of reading and will likely have failed and been academically dismissed from college and now need to find work and they realize they have no skill or capabilities that qualify them for employment except menial labors or, if they are fortunate, some trade, operating equipment or performing a specialized skill such as welding or were taken on to apprentice for such a skill such as carpentry or plumbing. The problems arise when there are nowhere near sufficient jobs which require largely physical strength and stamina and then many of such educationally-challenged students who are incapable of filling out an application to receive their paycheck or the required W-2 tax form are unable even to get those jobs. Even more distressing is that the level of knowledge which students taking the required classes to receive a teaching license will also have received an education which potentially will leave them with inadequate levels of knowledge to be fully capable of teaching most courses. This in turn hurts any student who was assigned to have the under-qualified teacher and the cycle begins anew. The areas which have the highest numbers of unqualified or under-qualified teachers are the sciences and mathematics. These particular courses to be qualified as a teacher of mathematics or the sciences are far more rigorous and require numerous hours in higher level mathematics and whatever science one would choose such as biology, physics, chemistry and the numerous others. Since there is a dearth of teachers who become qualified to teach mathematics or the many sciences, the result is that teachers with a general teaching degree end up covering teaching mathematics or some science class despite potentially never having seen that level or even having taken related courses and still be put in a place where they must show proficiency. This begs the question of what would be the advantage of designing students with astronomical IQs if the education system is so broken that it can only provide one with a sub-prime level of education and knowledge. Perhaps the near future we will have a society of brilliantly ignorant young adults holding graduation certificates that hopefully they can actually read. If there exists one school which does not prepare their students with a decent and complete education then as a society we have failed a good number of children which is something which should be eliminated. Our greatest legacies for the most of us are our children and grandchildren and the generation beyond, we must not fail them from the very start with a failing school system; we must not simply trust the education system and should teach them as best we are able. As for any disruptive students who make an education near to impossible we must have a school which deals solely with such students with provisions to take them to those classes thus allowing the rest of the students who are seeking knowledge to receive their lessons without disruption and even intimidations which make learning impossible and murders their future in the process.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

February 21, 2013

Where in the World is Everything Going?

Talk with ten different supposed authorities or futurists about where the world is headed and you will get at a minimum thirty or more scenarios. One of the reasons behind this odd little phenomenon is that many of them will answer claiming the world will be either ‘A’ or possibly ‘B’ while others will simply claim it will be ‘A’ unless such and such otherwise it will be ‘not A’ just to assure that their answers are complete and guaranteed to be more accurate. Unfortunately we will likely not be much different because there are a small number of factors which will decide both the eventual near future and the pace at which an inevitable future will arrive. First off let us discuss the eventual path mankind will take with the sole proviso being that man does not self-destruct in the mean time. One of the principle observations which stand as a driving force behind the predictions from numerous futurists is Moore’s Law which noted that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. There is an obvious limiting factor which will eventually cause reality to conflict with this postulate, namely that molecules and atoms of silicon and germanium, the two elements currently utilized to manufacture the wafers for ICs, have a set size and nothing will ever be made smaller than this size. Thus we know that there eventually will be an end point beyond which progress will depend on some new dimension. This point is still well into the future, so we will continue to have the capability to produce more complex, faster, more energy efficient integrated circuits which will further expand the scope and capabilities of the hardware engineers and programmers will have at their disposal and also the price and size of memory modules and devices will also continue to shrink in size while increasing in capabilities. This allows the limit of the capabilities of our systems, be they robotic, calculative, measuring, artificial intelligence or any other performance oriented components or units to similarly increase in capability limited solely by the development of software to drive them. When one also includes the possible advances in Physics, Chemistry, and to an extent also discoveries in biology, especially bioengineering, then there may even be other hard to imagine, let alone measurable, advances made. One such example would be the introduction of a truly functioning and easily programmable quantum computer. All of this simply provides a backdrop with which to measure the full extent to which progress can expand and develop in order for there to be related advances in our societies and affect our way of life.

 

One way of measuring the advancement of mankind over the ages is to formulate a chart which maps the speed it would take for somebody to go from New York to Paris and then on to Rome. In 1700 one would be talking about close to a whole year to make such a voyage. In 1800 the same voyage would take a matter of many months. By 1900 we would shorten that voyage to around six to ten weeks depending on variables. Go to 1950 and the same trip, trip now and not voyage as even the terminology would have changed, would take merely days and not even a whole week. It would be possible with some planning to complete this trip in less than two full days. Now go on this trip in 2000 and the whole thing would take a matter of hours. And today that trip is not that much quicker than it was twelve years ago but the jet aircraft we would be taking carry more people further and slightly faster on less fuel and the number of choices one has to choose from would make covering this exact trip something that could be done in hours even if one had not made plans and found such a trip required on no notice. And if we were actually measuring the fastest possible available way of covering this trip, if all one must do is cover these distances then the astronauts in the ISS (International Space Station) have been making this trip in a very short, likely under an hour, multiple times every single day for the last few years. The real point of this demonstration is that the same or a similar equation also represents the number of people who can be fed per acre of farmland. Without the advances in crops and animal raising for food such as bioengineered crops and cattle and modern fertilizers, irrigation, and just managing all the individual needs of the farm tailoring everything on an as needed basis as revealed via scans made by UAVs (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) with cameras and other high-tech sensors has increased yields even further as well as allowed herd management and tracking and finding any stray cattle which also helps to minimize losses. Without many of these advances we would have actually had much of the world starving exactly as was predicted to occur in the early seventies where it was supposed to strike us by the late seventies. Obviously, if you have been to a modern supermarket, we have sufficient food to feed the world with the only real problem being distribution and poverty. Hopefully these are problems which will soon be unpleasant memories and not problems still faced anywhere in our future world.

 

The future becoming a place of abundance and free from want is an eventuality which will come to be. Those who are pushing for it to come immediately may have their hearts in the right place, but the immediate problem is more due to politics, people, hatreds, fears, and other items from mankind’s darker side. These are the types of hurdles which will most affect whether or not our societies develop into something more altruistic and benevolent or whether malevolence, hatred and violence will continue to plague much of mankind. One of my barometers as to how the world is coping and advancing beyond its darker and more limiting inclinations is to look to Europe and gauge the level of trust, interdependency, mutual reliance, interscene violence, and general moods. Before World War I the levels of cooperation, unity, interdependence, and peace were virtually nonexistent. The common state was one of aggression, violence, distrust, and lacking in most areas of cooperation. After World War I Europe entered a brief period of relative calm with one troublesome situation which was of their own designs. The imposition of overly harsh punishments placed on Germany was the eventual cause of the nationalistic militarism which came with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. This led directly to World War II and all the great conflagrations from Europe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Granted, all of the violence did not directly result from Germany and a large portion was caused by Japan, but the Eurocentric violence was caused fairly directly by Germany. Since World War II and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and their satellite governments, Europe has attempted and succeeded until recently in generating large amounts of cooperation between most of the European nations. Due to some nations’ internal political structures and cultures having a more expansive societal security net which allowed for what was a heavily dependent citizenry by comparison with the countries with a stronger work ethic and laws with less generous benefits offered governmental economic stabilities radically differed under pressure. This has led to recent problems as these differences were magnified by the recent worldwide economic problems. This now stands ready to tear at most of the cooperative financial agreements which are the skeletal structure that supports the body of the European Union. If the world economy does not pick up steam and become more vigorous, then it is more likely that these problems between the separate nations of the European Union will only grow worse and eventually destroy the EU. Once that eventuality takes place we can expect Europe to return to the natural tendencies which have plagued Europe for centuries. The then almost unavoidable and inevitable conflagration will begin with strong nationalist themes forming amongst the unemployed and least wealthy who will be unable to afford a decent standard of living and likely find their families hungry and under threats caused by fiscal problems resulting from high inflation making the currencies worthless. This will be the result of these countries being expelled from the EU and no longer allowed to use the Euro as their currency and their former currency will lose value against the Euro until it reaches a stable level of worth. This will isolate each of these countries as their currency will be so devalued against the Euro that they will be unable to afford anything imported and will be completely reliant on domestic goods. The other side of the problem is the domestic goods will garner a higher price if exported rather than sold domestically and the outside world will be able to buy virtually anything and everything produced within the newly EU outcast nations. Eventually such trade will bring these countries’ economies back to health provided that none of them decide that war would be a faster route to recover their lost economic stability. European history has shown that during economic upheavals the populations tend to turn xenophobic and nationalistic while also favoring militarism. This had kept Europe in a near constant state of wars for centuries and the world may see this return. If that occurs, then who knows what will result.

 

The other threat to a promising future of technical genius and great developments will be the less developed nations who are now at the cusp of nuclear abilities.  Almost any nation which wishes to invest in the development of nuclear weaponry will have the technical ability to do so and would only be limited by lack of natural resources. Obviously, lack of natural resources is simply a matter of purchasing power and the wherewithal to open clandestine trading to acquire the uranium or other fissile materials. If North Korea can find the available resources necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon under the sanctions and embargoes placed on them, then any nation has the capability of gathering the tools, expertise, and other materials to do the same. The development of a sufficient ability in rocket development to design a relatively efficient and able rocket delivery system would also not pose an insurmountable problem. Such a spread of nuclear weapons giving a number of countries possession of deliverable nuclear weapons stores and their not having the relative inhibitions, which almost if not all the current nuclear powers possess against using such weapons, then without such cautions they might be tempted more easily into their use. Such a situation could very easily escalate and eventually cause widespread devastation on a scale never before witnessed. This is another scenario which would at best delay a technical age of plenty and permanent lack of want which could lead to an end of mankind’s violence against his fellow men. That is the race we face, which comes first, all of mankind attaining a level of technical advances and improvements which remove any areas of serious want and mankind entering a new era or mankind falling prey to our evil and darker side and causing an end to any society, not just our advanced society. This race is one where the first nations who cross the line which divides human society from their warlike past into a pacifistic future cannot simply continue on as if everything is just fine waiting for the rest of the world to reach a similar point of development. Upon attaining such advancement they would be best served to do whatever was necessary in order to speed the rest of mankind enabling them to also reach such a point. Unfortunately, changing their societal norms will take far more than simple technological advancement, it will take sociological advancement, something almost as intangible as a wisp of smoke and just as easily brushed aside by the slightest waves of violence. So, which will win? Sorry, you are going to have to tell me as I have my fears and hopes but no knowledge which will triumph in the end.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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