Archive | October, 2013

Dr. Takeshi Utsumi: Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming

31 Oct

David Hays introduced me to Takeshi Utsumi sometime back in the 1980s. Both of them were members of an on-going seminar convened at Columbia University by Seth Neugroschel on the topic of Computers, Man, and Society. This was one in a series of seminars that Columbia has run since the middle of the 20th Century. The seminars are housed at and funded by Columbia University, but are open to participation by the general public.

Neugroschel’s seminar featured wide-ranging discussions of the social impact of computing technology. I often timed my visits to Hays so that I could attend the seminar. Those visits came to an end in the mid-1990s when Hays died. But I reconnected with Neugroschel’s seminar when I moved to Jersey City in late 1997 or 98.

Utsumi was born in Japan in, I believe, in the mid-1920s and immigrated to the United States in the mid-1950s. For the past several decades he has been traveling in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to meet with people and groups seeking funding for projects in distance learning, telemedicine and the like. He then directs them to an appropriate place in the Japanese government where they can obtain funding for their work.

All this is in service of his idea of a Global University System (GUS), “a worldwide initiative to create advanced telecom infrastructure for accessing educational resources around the world. The aim is to achieve ‘education and healthcare for all,’ anywhere, anytime and at any pace.” You can find a 2004 interview with Utsumi HERE.

He is particularly interested in peace gaming, and has included an essay on it in the collection, Global Peace Through The Global University System. Here is an abstract of and link to his contribution.

Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming
(A Personal Recollection on Its Inception and Development)

Abstract: As a computer simulationist, I conceived in 1972 an idea of establishing a Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming (GCEPG) with a globally distributed computer simulation system through a global grid computer network, with a focus on the issue of environment and sustainable development in developing countries. This is a computerized gaming/simulation to help decision makers construct a globally distributed decision-support system for positive sum/win-win alternatives to conflict and war. It can also be used to train would-be decision makers in crisis management, conflict resolution, and negotiation techniques. This gaming approach is to devise a way for conflict resolution with rational analysis and critical thinking basing on “facts and figures.”

Over the past three decades I played a major pioneering role in extending U.S. data communication networks to other countries, particularly to Japan, and deregulating Japanese telecommunication policies for the use of Internet e-mail. I also contributed by conducting innovative distance teaching trials with “Global Lecture Hall (GLH)”tm videoconferences using hybrid delivery technologies, which spanned from Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Finland, Italy, France, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, etc. 


Using this background, we are now creating a Global University System (GUS) with colleagues in major regions of the world, which will be interconnected with Global Broadband Internet (GBI). The GCEPG is one of the proposed ways to utilize the GUS and GBI in integrative fashion. A similar scheme with globally distributed computer simulation system can be applied to various subjects as creating a new paradigm of joint research and development on a global scale. This will foster not only wisdom by collaborative interaction on knowledge but also true friendship among people around the world with mutual understanding and lasting peace. 

This paper briefly describes the history of the GCEPG project since its inception in 1972 and its future direction. It is a companion to the opening chapter “Creating Global University System” of the book “Global Peace Through The Global University System.”

Jersey City Future: the Twilight Zone

25 Oct

I’ve been feeling that there’s something afoot in Jersey City, but I don’t know quite what. For example, here’s an empty block in Lafayette as it was two years ago (August 10, 2011):

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Here’s the same block earlier this year (September 14, 2013):

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Quite a difference.

Two years ago the block was deserted and derelict. This year it’s blooming with plants, art, and people.

What’s Going On?

In the small, that’s easy. Liz Perry and UMMI (Unified Mothers & Men Initiative) got the lot into Jersey City’s Adopt A Lot program in 2012. That summer a few people put plots into the lot and grew some stuff. The lot looked a bit better, but still rather thin.

This summer, UMMI’s Living Village Community Garden really took off. The City fenced it off, more people took plots, and the artists, poets, musicians, and other creatives moved in, the children, too. The garden won a prize for Seed Sowing, and the seeds are just plant seeds. We’re talking about life and friendship and getting along and getting up in the neighborhood.

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That’s one neighborhood, and I could name a lot more people here.

But I’ve got the impression that this sort of thing is jumping off all over the city. The most obvious indicator is all the street art. Some of that is City funded, but most is not. There seem to be a lot of Liz Perrys in Jersey City, a lot of UMMIs, and they’re building neighborhoods.

What’s driving that?

My first theory is that it’s the recent election. A young upstart, Steve Fulop, defeated a two-term incumbent, Jerramiah Healy. It’s not simply that Healy was a two-termer, but he was a member of the Democratic machine that’s run Jersey City for a half to three-quarters of a century. Continue reading

Anger Growing Among Allies Over U.S. Surveillance – NYTimes.com

24 Oct

You know, there’s a sense in which “WE” all knew that this was going on. But it’s one thing to strongly suspect – in a sophisticated, knowing – way that this is going on. It’s something else to put it out there. You know that old story about the Emperor’s new clothes? Imagine the moment when the Emperor struts out on the street, showing off his new finery, which is completely imaginary. Everyone can see he’s naked, but no one says anything until the boy blurts it out. Well, these days that little boy’s busy telling Truth to Power, and Power doesn’t like it, not one bit.

Ms. Merkel’s angry call to President Obama was the second time in 48 hours – after a similar furor in France prompted Mr. Obama to call President François Hollande — that the president found himself on the phone with a close European ally to argue that continuing revelations of invasive U.S. intelligence gathering should not undermine decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust.Both episodes illustrated the diplomatic challenge to the United States posed by the cache of documents that Mr. Snowden handed to the journalist Glenn Greenwald. Last week, Mr. Greenwald concluded a deal with the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to build a new media platform that aims in part to publicize other revelations from the data Mr. Greenwald now possesses.

The damage to core American relationships continues to mount. Last month, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil postponed a state visit to the United States after Brazilian news media reports — fed by material from Mr. Greenwald — that the N.S.A. had intercepted messages from Ms. Rousseff, her aides and the state oil company, Petrobras. Recently, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which has said it has a stack of Snowden documents, suggested that United States intelligence had gained access to communications to and from President Felipe Calderón of Mexico while he was still in office.

via Anger Growing Among Allies Over U.S. Surveillance – NYTimes.com.

Does Jersey City have more Creative Potential than NYC?

21 Oct

Can Mana Contemporary make the transition from NYCArt in Jersey City to scene weaver?

It’s time to revisit a question I posed a couple of months ago in the wake of Steven Fulop’s ground-breaking election as Mayor of Jersey City: is Jersey City a 21st Century Florence?

A Time for New Institutions

First let’s once again review a crude little story I’ve been telling for years. It goes like this:

In the Medieval West the Catholic Church was the institutional center of intellectual life. Then the West underwent a massive cultural change, the Renaissance, and new life ways and new institutions emerged. A new system of colleges and universities supplanted the church as the central institution of intellectual life. That system served us well up through the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century.

But the world is once again changing. And this time it’s not the West alone that’s undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s the whole world, kicking and screaming.

So, just what are the possibilities for new institutions? Are any emerging?

On the latter question, sure, I guess. But the basic institutions of life in the West, if not the rest, have been inherited from the 19Century and before. This is overlaid by large international corporations and various international treaties, pacts, and NGOs. And the web has emerged in the last 20 years as a vehicle of communication and dissemination, and it’s certainly changing the institutions of higher education.

But the deepest kind cultural work needs to be done face-to-face. What are the prospects there?

Well, of course, I don’t know. But let’s think about the three institutions I’ve been examining recently: Mana Contemporary, the MacArthur Fellows Program, and the SUNY Buffalo Department of English for roughly a decade or so in the 1970s. Can we make something new out of that? What? How? Continue reading

Civics 101: The Basis of Democracy

20 Oct

We all know these words, from the opening of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Let’s be clear about what’s being said in that second sentence. “Governments are instituted among Men” in order to secure the rights enumerated in the first sentence. And those government get “just powers from the consent of the governed.” That is, they get their powers from we the people, on behalf of whom they are to exercise those powers. Ultimately we rule them on the basis of “unalienable Rights” endowed to us by our mutual Creator.

And we all know this picture, Michaelangelo’s well-known painting of God (on the right) creating Adam (on the left)

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Here’s a detail of the hands: Continue reading

Virtual Feudalism is Here: the 1% vs. the 99%

16 Oct

Over at Crooked Timber they’re having a discussion of the software SNAFU that’s occurred in the rollout of Obamacare. As anyone in the software biz knows, that’s just how it is with large software projects. The thread title suggests something more interesting and far more sinister: Neo-Liberalism as Feudalism.

That title reminded me of the work of Abbe Mowshowitz, whom I met when I was on the faculty at The Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute back in the previous century. He was interested in how the deployment of computer technology was creating virtual organizations that, he believed, would lead to a virtual feudalism:

Absent a sense of loyalty to persons or places, virtual organizations distance themselves—both geographically and psychologically—from the regions and countries in which they operate. This process is undermining the nation-state, which cannot continue indefinitely to control virtual organizations. A new feudal system is in the making, in which power and authority are vested in private hands but which is based on globally distributed resources rather than on possession of land. The evolution of this new political economy will determine how we do business in the future.

Here’s an essay I ghosted in Abbe’s name back in ’97 but which, alas, never got published. The ideas are his, the prose mine.

* * * * *

The New World Order of Virtual Feudalism

One might imagine that, in 2020 a person could be brought to trial on criminal charges in a court convened by a private corporation under provisions granted by the United Nations. What is perhaps more difficult to imagine is a world in which such an institutional arrangement is the solution to a pressing problem, and that a wide range of individual and corporate actors would agree to such an arrangement. At the moment we live in a world where criminal prosecution is primarily a power of nation-state authorities, with the United Nations being an organization created by states and having no direct power in the private sector. This imaginary trial thus violates fundamental distinctions governing our political life.

Yet I believe that such arrangements are not only possible, they are inevitable. New actors — most noticeably, large multinational corporations — have come to dominate the world’s advanced economies. Increasingly these organizations are operating in a seamless global marketplace. Ironically, as the marketplace becomes global, the great nation states and empires are fragmenting into smaller and smaller units. Large companies have more wealth and power than small states. These developments conjure up visions of the brave old world of medieval feudalism, in which the role of the nobility will be played by corporate executives assisted by employee-vassals who rule over legions of latter day serfs.

Day by day the emerging new world order looks like a virtual feudalism. In thus talking of feudalism I am not, however, asserting that our immediate future holds a regression to the distant past, though there may well be regressive elements. Rather, I think that we are increasingly living in a world which exhibits patterns of social organization and action characteristic of feudal societies, such as fragmented authority, private security arrangements, and a highly permeable boundary between private and public activity. This feudalism is “virtual” because these patterns reflect non-territorial organizational arrangements made possible by information technology rather than being rooted in the customs of land ownership and tenancy which existed in medieval Europe.

To get a feel for this future let us consider the life of three different individuals who are born in the current world and move into middle-age as virtual feudalism unfolds. Continue reading

The Hunt for Genius, Part 5: Three Elite Schools

15 Oct

I grew up in western Pennsylvania in a suburb of Johnstown, a small steel-making city. My father was from Baltimore and he worked with Bethlehem Mines, the mining subsidiary of the now-defunct Bethlehem Steel Corporation. My mother was a native of Johnstown, had been there for the 1937 flood, and was a full-time housewife and mother. That was typical for the time, the 1950s and into the 60s.

Mother loved gardening and she was an excellent cook and seamstress. Father was more intellectual than most engineers. In addition to playing golf, collecting stamps, and woodworking, he liked to read, both fiction and nonfiction. Both parents played the piano a bit and enjoyed playing contract bridge.

I spent many hours happily immersed in books from my father’s library (which contained many books from his father’s library): Arthur Conan Doyle, Rafael Sabatini, Rider Haggard, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain among them. I went to school in Richland Township. The schools were above average, but not special. They did not regularly send students to elite schools.

I’d applied to three Ivies, Harvard and Yale, which turned me down, and Princeton, which wait-listed me. I’d also applied to The Johns Hopkins University, my father’s alma mater. They accepted me. That my father had gone there no doubt weighed in the decision.

A classmate of mine, quarterback of the football team, was accepted to Princeton. I believe he was the first student from the school to go to an Ivy League school. I don’t think he was very happy there.

I can’t say that I was happy at Hopkins either. But then I didn’t go there for happiness. I went there to get an education, which I did.

The Johns Hopkins University

Hopkins is probably the most distinguished of the elite schools I’ve been associated with. I did my undergraduate work there between 1965 and ’69 and then completed a Master’s degree in Humanities between 1969 and ’72 while at the same time working in the Chaplain’s Office as an assistant. This was at the tail end of the Vietnam War era and I was a Conscientious Objector to military service. I thus had to perform civilian service instead of being drafted into the military. That’s why I worked in the Chaplain’s Office.

After a so-so high school outside a small city in western Pennsylvania the intellectual life at Hopkins came as a welcome revelation to me. Ideas seemed important. Well, sorta’. Continue reading

Cultural Factors in the Hunt for Genius

12 Oct

Here’s the main point of my previous post on The MacArthur Fellows Program: It is strongly biased by the social network in which it is situated. The simplest thing it can do to blunt that bias and thereby name more interesting and challenging classes of fellows is to stop giving awards to people on staff at elite institutions. Those institutions are too deeply rooted in the past to serve the future well.

First, while the search for genius, as conducted by the MacArthur Fellows Program for example, is conceptualized as a search for attributes of individuals, even an essence, that’s not how it works out in fact and in our world. If our world were culturally uniform and static, then, yes, the search for genius might properly be conceptualized as a search for essence. But that’s only because every individual would be surrounded by the same culture and thus the possibilities for a ‘fit’ between individual capabilities and accomplishments would be the same for all.

But that’s not the world we live in. In the first place, it is not culturally uniform. Culture varies by class, geographical region, and by ethnicity and religion. In such a world a search for genius will almost inevitably be biased by the interests and understanding for those conducting the search. In such a world the ONLY way to escape bias is to recognize the problem and take explicit steps to correct for it.

Just what those steps would be, I don’t know. Two obvious suggestions: 1) Make sure the selection process includes people from all sectors of society. 2) Conceive each class of awardees as a sampling of the cultural space.

And in the second place, our world is not culturally static. It’s changing rapidly for various reasons. Globalization is driving workforce changes that affect educational requirements and skillset distribution and needs. Computer technology has changed the media world and is itself making many jobs obsolete while creating new classes of jobs. Ideas in every sphere are changing and new expressive forms are emerging in the arts. And globalization is moving large numbers of people from one country to another. Continue reading

The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management – Forbes

10 Oct

Sounds like animal husbandry:

Slave owners were able to collect data on their workforce in ways that other business owners couldn’t because they had complete control over their workers. They didn’t have to worry about turnover or recruiting new workers, and they could experiment with different tactics—moving workers around and demanding higher levels of output, even monitoring what they ate and how long new mothers breastfed their babies. And the slaves had no recourse.

“If you tried to do this with a northern laborer,” Rosenthal says, “they’d just quit.

”The widespread adoption of these accounting techniques is partly due to a Mississippi planter and accountant named Thomas Affleck, who developed account books for plantation owners that allowed them to make sophisticated calculations and measure productivity in a standardized way.

via The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management – Forbes.

MacArthur Fellowships: Let the Geniuses Free

9 Oct

I’ve been following the MacArthur Fellowship program from the beginning. Like many, I’ve thought it too conservative in its pick of fellows. I long ago decided that the foundation could improve matters by adopting a simple rule: don’t award fellowships to anyone who has stable employment at an elite institution.

My reasoning was simple: if they’ve got an elite job, they can eat and they can work. Depending on the job, they may not have as much time for creative work as they’d like to have. But they’ve got more time than they’d have if they had to wait tables, do temp word-processing, or teach five adjunct courses a term spread across three different schools. They can function creatively.

That puts them ahead those who are so busy scratching for a living that they cannot function creatively at all.

When I set out to write this post, that’s all I had in mind. I’d reiterate the standard complaint about MacArthur’s programmatic constipation, with appropriate links here and there, and then offer up my one simple suggestion. I figured it for a thousand or maybe fifteen hundred words.

But then things started getting interesting, and more complex. So I’ve had to write a much longer post. I’ve not given up on that simple idea, nor have I augmented it. But I have a richer and more interesting rationale for it. That’s what this post is about.

The Genius Grants

I don’t know when I first heard that the newly formed Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation would “be looking for gifted but impecunious poets, promising young composers, research scientists in midcareer and other ‘exceptionally talented people’”, as The New York Times put it in 1980, but, like many creative people, I thought to myself: At last, a foundation that’s looking for (people like) me. The article went on to say:

Many foundation programs have sought to assist scholars and artists…but most have required that the would-be fellows already have achieved some public recognition. Unlike most others, the new fellowships will permit the recipients to choose entirely new fields of interest, with no requirement that the fellowship lead to the completion of a project, publication, or even a progress report.

Just what I need, thought I to myself, just what I need. It would allow me to blow this pop stand and get some real work done.

As Roderick MacArthur, son of the foundation’s benefactor, John D. MacArthur, would put it in 1981:

“This program,” Mr. MacArthur said, “is probably the best reflection of the rugged individualism exemplified by my father – the risky betting on individual explorers while everybody else is playing it safe on another track.”

“If only a handful produce something of importance – whether it be a work of art or a major breakthrough in the sciences – it will have been worth the risk.”

My name wasn’t on that list or on any subsequent list.

Nor, I tentatively decided in that first year, was the foundation deeply interested in people like me, people whose work did not fit into conventional categories and thus would be ineligible for conventional foundation largesse. Rather, given the foundation’s actual practice, it is clear that the MacArthur Fellows Program has been funding pretty much the same people funded by every other foundation and government agency. Continue reading