dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Make Most Stoplights Part-Time

December 17th, 2021 by dk
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Somebody asked me recently what would drive me away from Eugene. What would say that things have moved too far in the wrong direction? At the risk of making it easy for those who wish I would leave, my answer was simple. When they replace the stop signs at Broadway and Willamette with a traffic light, I’ll feel like my time here is done.

Stop signs are the apex of civilization, at least until we all learn how to navigate Glenwood’s traffic circles. In both cases, you cannot forget that there are other drivers on the road, and that they aren’t all going where you’re going. You may be required to make eye contact with them, discern their intentions, and communicate yours.

This is civilization at its best. 

Traffic lights and freeways have done their best to eliminate that awareness of other people with differing agendas. I’m proud that Eugene marks its centerpoint by requiring us to look at each other — and bicyclists and pedestrians and dogs and skateboards — before proceeding with our lives. We need more such acknowledgements, not fewer of them.

This was top-of-mind last week when I drove my son to the airport in the wee early hours. If you’ve ever driven across town in the middle of the night, you’ve seen what I saw. A simple policy shift could shorten drive times and reduce energy consumption.

We weren’t in a particular hurry but approaching airports produces a Pavlovian punctuality panic. Every minute counts, even if it doesn’t. So I noticed every single time a lone driver triggered a stoplight along the route.

Thanks to pavement sensors, stoplights don’t engage until a stopped car is present on most side streets. This removes the frustration of the stopped driver, but it prevents thoroughfare drivers from maintaining a steady speed. Because arterial roads’ lights cannot be timed, every traffic light intersection poses a potential delay. There’s nothing any driver can do about it.

We could change that. It wouldn’t be difficult or expensive and it would send a powerful message. Eugene should reprogram almost all of its stoplights to simply blink red on side streets and blink yellow on major arteries, except during those hours when a stoplight is necessary for safety and traffic flow.

There’s nothing wrong with stoplights, except that we don’t know how to undo them. They are like speed bumps. The city literally has no procedure for removing one — only for installing more. Stoplights are literal lifesavers around schools, but some are unnecessary except during school hours. 

The rest of the time, a stop sign should suffice. It might take a little more time and attention to turn left across traffic from a side street, but most drivers would experience steadier traffic flow.

If Eugene pioneered part-time traffic lights, driving habits would change. Drivers on major thoroughfares would maintain a steady speed, reducing fuel consumption. Jack rabbit starts would become unnecessary and counterproductive.

Eugene can grow bigger without becoming more complicated. A four-way stop at the center of town is sometimes all you’ll ever need.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Isle of Man’s Democracy Recipe

December 16th, 2021 by dk
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Isle of Man was not among the 110 nations invited to President Biden’s Summit for Democracy last week. Isle of Man is not quite an independent nation, but it was still a mistake. What could the United States possibly learn from IOM’s Tynwald, which has met annually since 979 AD? A lot.

Isle of Man’s legislators control most of the regulations that control daily life, but they rely on Great Britain for all military decisions and many monetary ones. Isle of Man is roughly analogous to the U.S. Virgin Islands — autonomous, but protected. It’s a country but not a nation.

Still, maintaining a representative parliament for more than a millennia would have brought to the summit valuable lessons on resiliency. Lesson No. 1 would have been that maintaining a military is sometimes not worth the trouble. (Costa Rica and other smallish countries would no doubt agree.)

Isle of Man exerts its influence around the globe in other ways. Following its Norse heritage as a favorite island for burying treasure, IOM is one of those places where modern moguls hide their cash. Downtown Douglas has more banks than restaurants.

It helps to be surrounded by water. There are no populists on the island promising residents a better life by building a wall at its border to keep foreigners out. Ferries and flights are easier to control.

Isle of Man’s tiny size provides its largest benefit. The country is roughly the size of the Eugene metro area, but with a third the population. Approximately 85,000 people (65,000 eligible voters) are represented by 25 House of Keys members. Do the math.

Each member represents a few thousand citizens. Most are elected with fewer than 2,000 votes. (You may have more Facebook friends than that.) Retiring Rep. Peter DeFazio represents over 750,000 of us, receiving 240,000 votes in his last election. Most of those voters have never shaken his hand.

It’s difficult to stay connected to your government when everything you know about it is conveyed through television or social media, where your attention is monetized by and for advertisers. It’s better when people are connected to their decision-makers.

Catholic scholars call it “subsidiarity.” James Madison called it “enumeration.” Isle of man calls it “normal.” A central authority should perform only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.

Madison’s original Bill of Rights contained 13 amendments. Only one has not yet been woven into our form of government and it was drafted as his first. Madison proposed that each Representative would never have more than 30,000 constituents.

Madison believed running for Congress should be as open to door-knockers as running for Eugene’s city council. The Manx model make it more like being an elected officer for your local neighborhood association. Democracy’s decline requires us to consider Isle of Man’s longevity. It’s time we looked carefully at Madison’s first First Amendment.

To those who ask how Washington, DC would operate with 11,000 members of Congress, I would pose this question in response: Do you want what’s practical or do you want what works?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Democracies’ Inauspicious Summit

December 12th, 2021 by dk
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President Biden this week convened 110 nations for a two-day “Summit for Democracy.” It’s an inauspicious time for such a summit. Some believe Biden is closing the barn after the animals have escaped, both at home and abroad.

Don’t take my word for it. Pope Francis had this to say in Greece, visiting the birthplace of democracy: “We cannot avoid noting with concern how today … we are witnessing a retreat from democracy. Democracy requires participation and involvement on the part of all. It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory and populism’s easy answers appear attractive.”

Francis described the western world as being “trapped [in a] frenzy of a thousand earthly concerns and the insatiable greed of a depersonalizing consumerism.” He asked for a move from “partisanship to participation” that focuses on “the weaker strata of society.” He called for a renewal of “the art of the common good.”

The Pope’s audience was worldwide. He visited asylum-seekers twice who are kept in cages, noting how fear is rising and charity is falling. The art of the common good is being lost, possibly irrevocably. (I visited Isle of Man a few years ago, where they have been practicing democracy continuously since 979 AD, for similar inspiration. I’ll tell you what I learned there another time.)

Meanwhile, the situation at home is no better. Barton Gellman’s lead article in the current issue of The Atlantic starts like this: “The prospect of democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already. Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try.” Gellman continues for 14,000 words, but you can see where he’s going.

As democracies go, the United States has been considered Too Big to Fail since WWII. But current and recent Congresses seem determined to show that we are Too Big to Succeed. Gellman spells out in excruciating detail how we’re facing a clear and present danger, but doing almost nothing to protect ourselves.

Populism and authoritarianism seem like opposites, but they are two heads attached to the same monster, promising simple solutions and asking little from the people. Populist campaigns promise people what they want and authoritarian mechanisms deliver what’s been promised.

Our American system of checks and balances was built to cleave those two. Political campaigns will always stir up popular fervor, but governing has been designed to require compromise and the consent of the minority. These foundations are eroding, but no one seems to know what we can do about it.

Take the government’s handling of the Omicron variant as an example. Vaccine mandates are seen as authoritarian, but reaching herd immunity through populist persuasion is opposed by Biden’s political opponents. “The art of the common good” has been replaced with winning at any cost.

“Omicron is cause for concern, but not for panic,” President Biden said. Unfortunately, panic is what sells. Biden (and Omicron) will be ignored, or provoke panic. There’s nothing currently in between.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Oregon is Perfectly Positioned for NIL Era

December 10th, 2021 by dk
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Mario Cristobal is going home. He’s leaving Eugene to become head football coach at his alma mater and to be close to his ailing mother and his only brother. Like Willie Taggart four years ago, Cristobal left for Florida before the Ducks’ postseason bowl game.

Cristobal’s contract would have paid him and extra $1 million if he had delayed his departure announcement until January 15, 2022. Apparently, flipping some of the Ducks’ top recruits before the early signing period commences next week was worth that kind of money to Cristobal or his Florida patrons.

Almost everyone wishes Cristobal well in Miami. It’s hard to deny anyone a homecoming, especially to be near an ailing mother. But not everyone is sorry to see him go. He embarrassed the Ducks on national television when he refused to switch quarterbacks in the second half of either defeat against Utah.

This preserved the redshirt status of our top freshman quarterback, but it also showed an unwillingness to do what’s necessary to win. It may not have changed the outcome, but that stubborn refusal to adapt to circumstances was not a good look. Cristobal held his Maginot Line logic that everything will be determined at the line of scrimmage.

Quick history refresher: the French wanted to show strength against the Germans after World War I so they built a concrete bunker with fixed machine guns that ran 280 miles along their border. The Nazis invaded France in World War II through Belgium instead.

Clever coaches have taken advantage of Cristobal’s inflexibility. Utah expected Oregon to do everything possible to stop their rushing attack in last week’s rematch. So they passed the ball instead, until they built a comfortable lead. Machine guns set in concrete were ineffective against an aerial attack.

So now what? Hiring from within doesn’t look likely. Pulling from the national coaching carousel isn’t very appealing either, given our recent history.

I won’t suggest any names, except to say that Willie Taggart peaked too early. What could a coach with Slick Willie’s showmanship accomplish in this new NIL age of college football? Now that players can be compensated for their Name, Image and Likeness, the coach no longer holds their only (literal) meal ticket.

Basketball star Sabrina Ionescu is Nike’s Chief Athlete Officer for a new project. Division Street will coordinate and maximize Oregon players’ NIL earnings. Did you know you can rent a Noah Sewell-themed Airbnb, filled with the linebacker’s jerseys and shoes and other ephemera for $300+ per night? The NIL era has just begun. Creative opportunities abound.

Phil Knight and Nike can build Oregon into a NIL powerhouse for its athletes, combining a national brand with a rabid local fan base. Oregon can offer athletes a payday that may outstrip what some earn in the NFL. Players may compete in Eugene as long as their eligibility allows, just to build their brand.

We’re losing a coach who was determined to win from the trenches, even after his mentors moved on to more creative strategies. Who will lead college football into the NIL era? Oregon is positioned perfectly.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Algorithms can be Stacked Against us

December 3rd, 2021 by dk
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New York City passed a bill last month that will ban employers from using automated hiring tools unless a yearly bias audit can show that their algorithms won’t discriminate based on an applicant’s race or gender. It’s our nation’s first attempt to regulate those invisible snippets of code that are beginning to rule our lives.

Meanwhile, Oregon in August became the first state to ban so-called “love letters” from prospective homebuyers. Letters from buyers help a seller choose between multiple offers in a hot real estate market. But they also could violate fair housing laws by revealing a buyer’s race, religion, sexual orientation or marital status.

New York wants to preserve humans making hiring decisions. Oregon wants to limit human factors in life-changing financial decisions. Should an employer consider how a hire will fit with co-workers? Should a home seller favor a buyer who is more likely to match the neighborhood? These difficult questions pervade society, just barely beneath the surface.

They became personally relevant last week, as my son and his wife were in the maternity ward at Riverbend Hospital. They were told they could leave with their new little bundle of joy, but things would go easier if “bundle of joy” had a name first.

They had narrowed their choices to about a dozen over the months. They asked friends to offer their opinions or to add more names. They insisted that the child himself should somehow participate in the process, so they purposely delayed their decision until after he appeared to cast his vote. Until last Tuesday, they knew his sex and his kicking ability, but little else.

As an eviction from the hospital became imminent, they chose the name “River.” The name flows easily with no hard stops. It’s an unusual name, but not unheard of. The name would be easy to say around the house or during play dates. They would enjoy having a River around for the next couple of decades.

That lasted about five minutes. (This is important.) Even though “River” had always been included on their Baby Name Bingo card, it wasn’t until they gave the name to the child that they considered how it would shape him. It sounds like a stage name. They began to imagine his first job application or career opportunity. “River” could hurt him.

They switched his name to “Calvin” instead. It sounded more serious. Being named after a philosopher who shaped the American imagination isn’t so bad, whether it was a dour French theologian or a mischievous character from the comics page.

How will it go for Calvin in a world that’s dominated by algorithms? He will grow into his name because the world will make assumptions about him. They’ll often know his name before they meet him. That might not be the fairest way to design a world, but it’s the only world we’ve got. Make the most of it, Calvin! I’m sure you will.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com. Kahle owned the Comic News for ten years, so a progeny named after a cartoon character isn’t much of a surprise.

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Fun With Numbers: COVID Will Win, Unless…

December 2nd, 2021 by dk
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The latest coronavirus variant reminds us that we’re losing the race to adapt. This strain might not prove to be resistant to our vaccines. It may not be as virulent as the delta variant. It may not be the deadliest version of COVID-19. But a future variant will be all three, gravely endangering humanity, unless something changes soon.

As long as the virus finds humans as hospitable hosts, it will mutate and multiply in the direction that allows it to continue. Natural selection will favor versions of the virus that inhabits humans because genetic adaptation through mutation is its only survival strategy. If we continue battling on the same basis, the odds against us are daunting.

The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) genome is a single strand of RNA. The coronavirus inhabits healthy human cells and hijacks the cell’s mechanisms to reproduce. The virus multiplies its genetic material with a viral “copy machine” called a polymerase. One virus-infected cell can produce hundreds to thousands of viruses. One infectious human hosts somewhere between a billion and a trillion copies of the virus.

Without precautions, one person can lead to a thousand people getting infected in a month, a million in two months, and the entire human population in less than four months. We’re looking at more than a quintillion (a billion billion) copies. Each copy offers the possibility of a mutation that makes it deadlier for humans.

Meanwhile, humans have a genetic code that is infinitely more complex than a single RNA strand. We reproduce at a much slower rate, to say the least. Approximately 140 million human babies were born on the planet in the past year. Combining these factors, the virus can adapt in a week what will take humanity at least several centuries.

If we’re in a genetic adaptation footrace with the virus and all its variants, we’re going to lose. But that has been true for millennia. Humanity rose to the top of the heap with an entirely different survival strategy. We don’t alter our genetic code. We change our behavior with shared intent and collective action. We cooperate.

Put another way, if our goal is to preserve individuals’ lives and habits, we’re doomed. The numbers above show that’s a virtual certainty. But if our goal is saving our species (which will requires multiple adaptations on the part of individuals), we got this! Herd immunity uses numbers to our advantage. If the virus can’t replicate, it will disappear or find a non-human host that does us no harm.

We simply cannot succeed individually. We gain advantage only collectively. Our collective success will last longer than the individual changes required.

I wondered how long a single SARS-CoV-2 strand can survive inside a human body. Every answer (14-37 days) I found referred to its collective presence, but never one single infected cell. We’re thinking about the virus collectively and humanity individually. We have to flip that script.

It’s genes versus memes, math versus meaning, the parts versus the whole. Which side we put ourselves on will determine the outcome.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Honor System Assumes Honor

November 28th, 2021 by dk
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More Americans have died from COVID-19 this year than last. Despite vaccines, masks, and other available precautions, Americans are dying faster. It’s not just the pandemic. Vigilanteism is rising. Violence is seeping into formerly safe places — jogging through a Georgia neighborhood, cheering the Boston Marathon, voting in Congress, clubbing in Florida, parading in Wisconsin.

Society has been fraying for decades, but it’s no longer at the edges. When grandkids can’t safely watch a holiday parade from the curb, it’s time to recalibrate. Our former president openly embraces authoritarian solutions. Republicans can’t resist it and Democrats can’t stop it.

Strongmen see America’s end as well underway. They were sure a multi-cultural country devoted to open information and fair elections couldn’t last. They’re only amazed that we kept things controlled for as long as we did.

Democracies under threat have never been so high, according to a report by Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). “More countries than ever are suffering from ‘democratic erosion’” and “backsliding.” The report blames populist politics, COVID restrictions, and disinformation campaigns.

We’ve wrestled with gun violence for generations. Drug and alcohol abuse has shortened many lives. We consider addiction an illness, protecting us from having to confront it ourselves. But now it’s not safe at a parade? How do we get the toothpaste back in the tube?

I stopped for gas near Lebanon last week. The convenience store posted signs that masks are required, but every customer except me was ignoring it. Worse, a couple of those customers looked askance at me, like I was a weakling or a traitor for following the rules. They don’t disregard the governor’s order; they disdain it (and her).

I’ve written this before. We can’t expect law to preserve order. We need order first, leaving law to correct disorder. But we can’t have order if we don’t respect and even trust one another. A street curb was a boundary every motorist agreed to. Election results could be disputed, but eventually were considered final. Win or lose, we moved on, together.

Why do governors have the authority to tell convenience store customers to cover their faces? Because we’ve given them that power. They have the consent of the governed. Our system will collapse quickly without it.

Pandemic deaths are higher where masking is ignored and vaccination rates are low. That’s not politics. It’s barely math. It’s more like arithmetic. Add protections or subtract lives.

When the pandemic first started, I assured friends that the vaccine would fix the problem. People might want to argue about masking and school closures, but logic would prevail once the life-or-death decision was theirs to make for themselves and their family. I was wrong. 

And there’s nothing we can do about it. Enforcing mandates more stringently smacks of authoritarianism. Persuading skeptics requires trust and respect that’s fraying around and now through us.

Even vaccine passports won’t work, as they have elsewhere. Forgeries are too easy. Enforcement falls to the lowly paid. We’d rather believe in an honor system, except without the honor.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Renaming Oregon’s Rivalry Game

November 26th, 2021 by dk
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The Oregon Ducks host the Oregon State Beavers this weekend for their 125th rivalry football game. Both university presidents agreed to stop calling it the Civil War — a moniker not suitable for a friendly tete-a-tete between scholarly neighbors.

The game is currently referred to as the Oregon Classic (as it was known until 1937), Oregon’s rivalry game, or the football game previously known as the Civil War. I thought we could do better, so I asked around. Facebook friends and I came up with 75 alternatives. You can add more.

Civil War Redux – Some crafted correlatives to the Civil War, pointing forward and back at the same time. For instance: Oregon War, The Latest Indiscretion, The Polite Discourse, Kill or Be Killed, The Tribal Bowl, Research and Destroy, The Uncivil War. 

Generic Names – In the end, this is a branding battle. (Hey, that would be a good name!) Can Oregon’s best branding brains work with one of these? The Good Game, The State Game, The Oregon Bowl, Us vs. Them, Sports Ball Showdown, Pigskin Pickle, The Oregon Prickle, Clash & Dash, Left Overs, The Turkey Bowl, Kerfuffle, Concussion Conclave, A Confederacy of Dunces, The It’s Just a Game Game.

History and Culture – Most sportscasters (except Bill Walton) don’t know our history and culture. Why not make them learn some? Try these: Hemp Bowl, The Oregon Biggie, FurtherDome, The Tie-Dye To Do, Nike Corp vs. Knockoffs, Loggers vs. Farmers, The Burgerville BlackBerry Shake Bowl, Rich Kid Rendezvous, The Toilet Bowl. (Remember 1983? That game has its own Wikipedia page.)

Location, Location, Location – Most national TV viewers have never been here. A good name could tell them what to expect. Samples: The Hwy 99 Bowl, I-5 Itch, The Valley Stomp, Willamette River Rivalry, The Willamette Valley Tacklefest, The Willamette Melee, Willamette River Wingding, Rye Grass Rumble, The Turf War, Blackberry Brouhaha, Crab Cup, The Upper Left Bowl, The Specific Pacific Game, Riparian Rip, Subduction Zone Sweepstakes.

Climate Clarions – We’ve traditionally used our climate to repel visitors. Here are names that Tom McCall would have loved: The Muddle in the Puddle, The Allergy Bowl, Boss of the Moss, Fescue Fracas, The Better Wetter Game, Best of the Wets, Slugfest, The Reign in the Rain, The RainBowl. (Climate activist Shawn Boles suggested the CO2Bowl, acknowledging that football won’t be around much longer.)

Messing with Mascots – The most popular category played on our whimsical mascots. Some are disarmingly direct: Interspecies Bowl, Fowl vs. Rodents, Castor vs. Canard, The Anatidae Castor Fray, Duck Duck Goose, Tail Off, Quack & Chew, Quack Chuck Fracas.

Other mascot-inspired names require extra thought: Waddle vs. Whittle, The Slap-Waddle Bowl, The DamWaddle Cup, Battle of the Paddle, The Platypus Cup, Platypus Bowl, Extreme Platypus Action, Who’s More Platypussy?, Feathers & Fur, Fur’n’Fowl Growl, A Quack in the Dam.

And the Winners are … – I like Rainbowl best if we can spell it “Rainbow’ll,” painting our November sky with an optimistic future. Turf War fits us, but we’re avoiding militarism. My first choice is Slugfest because outsiders picture a battle, but we hear it as a celebration.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Quantum Quandaries Emerging

November 22nd, 2021 by dk
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The challenges and opportunities ahead as computers become ever more powerful are coming more clearly into view. Count me among those who are not surprised at how well novelist and humorist Douglas Adams anticipated them. Artists and comic often speak the truth before anyone else.

The bandwagon is getting fuller by the day. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has partnered with Henry Kissinger to author a book about the challenges. Kissinger is 98 years old. He’s strategizing the coming clash with Artificial Intelligence as if it will be the last war any of us will ever wage. He might be right.

I’ve written almost every year about how we are leaving behind the Age of Enlightenment, without any confidence about what will replace it. Kissinger, Schmidt, Elon Musk and others are warning us that AI will sneak up on us if we’re not careful, rewriting the rules for civilization without our consent.

I hope the next epoch is organized around empathy, a decidedly human trait that’s beyond the ken of calculations. As futurists become realists, it’s beginning to look like emergent properties may be the frontier we’re entering. It’s very like what Adams anticipated in his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in 1978.

Leave aside Artificial Intelligence for a moment . Consider the consequences of quantum computing. IBM announced this week it has built a quantum computer that couldn’t be matched with a conventional computer unless that computer was larger than our planet.

Although Adams anticipated that factoid quite accurately, it’s not the interesting part. According to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, this super-duper-computer is not adept at computations in the traditional sense. That would be too easy. This quantum computer won’t calculate as much as ruminate.

We’ve used computers to solve problems but not to wonder how a problem could be solved. Big difference!

To review, Adams’s characters asked the most powerful computer to give them “the answer to life, the universe, and everything.” The answer was “42.” Understanding the question was exponentially more complicated, keeping his characters busy for three more volumes.

Kissinger and Schmidt posit that computers soon will give us answers before we understand the questions. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin before anyone understood how microbes and cells operate inside the human body. We learned what works before we learned why.

With that in mind, mysteries abound. How do starlings execute their mesmerizing murmurations, flying like a three-dimensional marching band producing an amazing halftime show, but without a conductor? How can humans reverse or adapt to global warming? And everything in between.

Finding answers to unimaginably complex problems will be the easy part. Thoroughly understanding the questions being posed will be new. If quantum computing fulfills its promise, we may soon send it searching for the emergent properties behind self-organizing cities, coordinated starling flight patterns, and human consciousness.

Each is beyond the scope of calculations. The results emerge — as if by magic. The whole is literally greater than the sum of its (calculated) parts. We may soon be envisioning the most hopeful future for our planet since 1650 — and terrifyingly so.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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“Housing First” Requires More From Us

November 19th, 2021 by dk
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I almost never return quickly to a topic I’ve covered. Word limits don’t allow much depth. A weekly slot is built for breadth. So many issues impact our lives and conversations. I try to touch as many as I can. But rules are made to be broken, so I’m back for a second bite from the proverbial apple.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that we will never solve homelessness if we view that population as a monolith. I divided them into seven groups. To sum up that essay in a single paragraph, here are my suggested (constantly shifting and overlapping) categories: mentally ill, addicted, distressed, opportunists, confused, predators, and sympathizers. (If you didn’t read the original column, we’ll add a link at the end.)

Readers offered me more than the usual amount of feedback, which I always appreciate. Since crudely lumping people into overly simplistic subsets seems to be the order of the day, responses fell into one of three themes.

The first group thanked me for that slicing and dicing, because it gave them permission to be fractionally less upset when they passed by the tents under bridges and along thoroughfares. Each felt sympathy was appropriate for some but not for others.

A second group wanted to roll up their sleeves, but wondered how best to proceed. Many liked prioritizing veterans, especially if assessment strategies could then be replicated in the larger unhoused population. They noted that assessments this nuanced and continuous will be very expensive. Prioritizing veterans could prevent social services from getting overextended, at least until funding can be substantially increased.

The third group of readers likewise asserted that assessments will be exorbitantly expensive, but they also saw them as unnecessary. Giving priority to any portion of those in need is demeaning to the rest. Other nations (where some of these readers live) have found it cheaper to put a roof over every head than to assess the population as intensively as the problem requires.

I’m bringing the responses into public view to make it a discussion. A fortnight ago, I argued that the varied causes of homelessness defy any single solution. Today I’m noting that our responses to the problem are similarly variegated. Comic strip Pogo’s wisdom endures: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.”

Experts determined decades ago that “housing first” is the most cost-effective way to end homelessness. Life on the street induces its own trauma. That becomes intertwined with the originating cause or causes. Remove this complicating factor by adding a locked door and some reliable warmth, and things settle down. Those seven categories I proposed become much less fluid. Assessments remain necessary, but they can be less intensive/expensive.

This is the point where we have to look in the mirror. Are we willing to give opportunists and predators a pass because it’s cheaper to house them than to isolate them by assessment? Is our resentment of that possibility more than we can handle? Then the problem will remain unsolved. And we’ll know why.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com. Read Kahle’s earlier column on this topic at http://www.dksez.com/homeless-assess/ 

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