The Infinite Suburb Is An Academic Joke

Sustainable Development, aka Technocracy, is an unworkable economic model that will self-destruct as its proponents foolishly worship at the alter of Utopia. I cannot find a single legitimate economist who has done a deep analysis on Technocracy and concluded that Utopia has finally arrived. It has not, will not, cannot.  TN Editor

The elite graduate schools of urban planning have yet another new vision of the future. Lately, they see a new-and-improved suburbia—based on self-driving electric cars, deliveries by “drones deliveries at your doorstep,” and “teardrop-shaped one-way roads” (otherwise known as cul-de-sacs)—as the coming sure thing. It sounds suspiciously like yesterday’s tomorrow, the George Jetson utopia that has been the stock-in-trade of half-baked futurism for decades. It may be obvious that for some time now we have lived in a reality-optional culture, and it’s vividly on display in the cavalcade of techno-narcissism that passes for thinking these days in academia.

Exhibit A is an essay that appeared last month in The New York Times Magazinetitled “The Suburb of the Future is Almost Here,” by Alan M. Berger of the MIT urban design faculty and author of the book Infinite Suburbia—on the face of it a perfectly inane notion. The subtitle of his Times Magazine piece argued that “Millennials want a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient, and sustainable.”

Note the trio of clichés at the end, borrowed from the lexicon of the advertising industry. “Smart” is a meaningless anodyne that replaces the worn out tropes “deluxe,” “super,” “limited edition,” and so on. It’s simply meant to tweak the reader’s status consciousness. Who wants to be dumb?

“Efficient” and “sustainable” are actually at odds. The combo ought to ring an alarm bell for anyone tasked with designing human habitats. Do you know what “efficient” gets you in terms of ecology? Monocultures, such as GMO corn grown on sterile soil mediums jacked with petroleum-based fertilizers, herbicides, and fast-depleting fossil aquifer water. It’s a method that is very efficient for producing corn flakes and Cheez Doodles, but has poor prospects for continuing further into this century—as does conventional suburban sprawl, as we’ve known it. Efficiency in ecological terms beats a path straight to entropy and death.

Real successful ecologies, on the other hand, are the opposite of efficient. They are deeply redundant. They are rich in diverse species and functions, many of which overlap and duplicate, so that a problem with one failed part or one function doesn’t defeat the whole system. This redundancy is what makes them resilient and sustainable. Swamps, prairies, and hardwood forests are rich and sustainable ecologies. Monocultures, such as agri-biz style corn crops and “big box” retail monopolies are not sustainable and they’re certainly not even ecologies, just temporary artifacts of finance and engineering. What would America do if Walmart went out of business? (And don’t underestimate the possibility as geopolitical tension and conflict undermine global supply lines.)

Suburbia of the American type is composed of monocultures: residential, commercial, industrial, connected by the circulatory system of cars. Suburbia is not a sustainable human ecology. Among other weaknesses, it is fatally prone to Liebig’s “law of the minimum,” which states that the overall health of a system depends on the amount of the scarcest of the essential resources that is available to it. This ought to be self-evident to an urbanist, who must ipso facto be a kind of ecologist.

Yet techno-narcissists such as MIT’s Berger take it as axiomatic that innovation of-and-by itself can overcome all natural limits on a planet with finite resources. They assume the new-and-improved suburbs will continue to run on cars, only now they will be driverless and electric, and everything in their paradigm follows from that.

I don’t think so. Like it or not, the human race has not yet found a replacement for fossil fuels, especially oil, which has been the foundation of techno-industrial economies for a hundred years, and it is getting a little late in the game to imagine an orderly segue to some as-yet-undiscovered energy regime.

By the way, electricity is not an energy source. It is just a carrier of energy generated in power plants. We have produced large quantities of it at the grand scale using fossil fuels, hydropower, and nuclear fission (which is dependent on fossil fuels to operate). And, by the way, all of our nuclear power plants are nearing the end of their design life, with no plans or prospects for them to be replaced by new ones. We have maxed out on potential hydroelectric sites and the existing big ones are silting up, which will take them out of service inside of this century.

Electricity can also be produced by solar cells and wind turbines, but at nowhere near the scale necessary, on their own, for running contemporary American life. The conceit that we can power suburbia, the interstate highway system, truck-based distribution networks, commercial aviation, the U.S. military, and Walt Disney World on anything besides fossil fuels is going to leave a lot of people very disappointed.

The truth is that we have been running all this stuff on an extravagant ramp-up of debt for at least a decade to compensate for the troubles that exist in the oil industry, oil being the primary and indispensable resource for our way of life. These troubles are often lumped under the rubric peak oil, but the core of the trouble must be seen a little differently: namely, a steep decline in the Energy Return on Investment (EROI) across the oil industry. The phrase might seem abstruse on the face of it. It means simply that it is becoming uneconomical to extract oil from the ground, even with the so-called miracle of “fracking” shale oil deposits. It doesn’t pay for itself, and the EROI is still headed further down.

In the 1930s, the oil industry could get 100 barrels of oil for every barrel of oil in energy they put into production. Drilling on the Texas prairie was like slipping a straw in a milkshake and the oil gushed out of the ground under its own pressure. Today, those old wells are far into depletion and we’re left with unconventional oil. Horizontal drilling and fracking into shale is enormously more expensive to carry out, and offshore deepwater drilling that requires a $100 million floating oil platform is nothing like slipping a straw into a milkshake. They have to go down a mile or more beneath the surface and then another mile into the undersea rock. It’s very expensive and dangerous. (Remember the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout of 2010?)

The aggregate ratio of oil-out-for-energy-in these days is 17 to 1, and for shale oil it’s more like 5 to 1. You cannot run industrial civilizations at those EROI ratios. Thirty to one is probably the minimum. And you can’t run renewable alternative energy systems without an underlying support platform of fossil fuels. The implacable reality of this dynamic has yet to sink in at the graduate-school fantasy factories.

The world’s major oil companies are cannibalizing themselves to stay in business, with balance sheets cratering, and next-to-zero new oil fields being discovered. The shale oil producers haven’t made a net dime since the project got ramped up around 2005. Their activities have been financed on junk lending made possible by arbitrages on the near-zero Fed fund rate, itself an historical abnormality. The shale-oil drillers are producing all out to service their loans, and have thus driven down oil prices, negating their profit. Low oil prices are not the sign of a healthy industry but of a failing industrial economy, the latter currently expressing itself in a sinking middle class and the election of Donald Trump.

All the techno-grandiose wishful thinking in the world does not alter this reality. The intelligent conclusion from all this ought to be obvious: Restructuring the American living arrangement to something other than “infinite” suburban sprawl based on limitless car dependency.

As it happens, the New Urbanist movement recognized this dynamic beginning in the early 1990s and proposed a return to traditional walkable neighborhoods, towns, and cities as the remedy. It has been a fairly successful reform effort, with hundreds of municipal land-use codes rewritten to avert the inevitable suburban sprawl mandates of the old codes. The movement also produced hundreds of new town projects all over the country to demonstrate that good urbanism was possible in new construction, as well as downtown makeovers in places earlier left for dead like Providence, Rhode Island, and Newburgh, New York.

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With User Permission, iPhone Apps Can Take Secret Pictures And Videos

Whenever you give iPhone apps permission to access your camera, the app can surreptitiously take pictures and videos of you as long as the app is in the foreground, a security researcher warned on Wednesday.

Felix Krause, who recently warned of the danger of malicious iPhone password popups, wrote a blog post as a sort of PSA for iPhone users. To be clear, this is not a bug, but likely intended behavior.

What this means is that even if you don’t see the camera “open” in the form of an on-screen viewfinder, an app can still take photos and videos. It is unknown how many apps currently do this, but Krause created a test app as a proof-of-concept.

This behavior is what enables certain “spy” apps like Stealth Cam and Easy Calc – Camera Eye to exist. But even if this behavior is well-known among iOS developers and hardcore users, it’s worth remembering that all apps that have camera permission can technically take photos in this way.

“It’s something most people have no idea about, as they think the camera is only being used if they see the camera content or a LED is blinking,” Krause told Motherboard in a chat over Twitter direct message. Krause currently works at Google, but performed and published this research independently of his work there.

What’s worse is that, unlike on Mac computers—which show a solid green light when the camera is active—the iPhone has no mechanism to indicate to a user that the camera is on.

“You can get full access to both cameras without indicating that to the user,” Krause told me.

To test this functionality, Krause created a custom app called “watch.user” and shared it with me. I installed it on my iPhone and verified that, indeed, the app took pictures of me while I was simply scrolling through it, and it was even running a hidden facial recognition engine.

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Criminalization Of Cash: Driving Toward Cashless Society

SB1241, authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is another step toward eradication of cash. Technocrats must remove cash from society in order to force everyone to be part of their socially engineered system.  TN Editor

A new bill seeks to track your money and assets incessantly, will enjoin any business with government ties to act as a de facto arm of DHS, and would steal all of your assets — including Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — should you fail to report funds when traveling with over $10,000.

Under the guise of combating money laundering, Senate Bill 1241, “Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017,” ramps up regulation of digital currency and other autocratic financial controls in an attempt to ensure none of your assets can escape one of the State’s most nefarious, despised powers: civil asset forfeiture.

All of this under the farcically broad umbrella of fighting terrorism.

Civil forfeiture grants the government robbery writ large: your cash, property, and assets can be stolen completely sans due process, your guilt — frequently pertaining to drug ‘crimes’ — matters not.

A court verdict of not guilty doesn’t even guarantee the return of State-thefted property.

Civil forfeiture grants the government robbery writ large: your cash, property, and assets can be stolen completely sans due process, your guilt — frequently pertaining to drug ‘crimes’ — matters not.

A court verdict of not guilty doesn’t even guarantee the return of State-thefted property.

In fact, the government can seize virtually whatever it wants if it so much as suspects some of your assets might have been acquired through or used in the commission of even lesser crimes.

For some time, a war on cash has been brewing behind the closed doors of government, and — although officials prefer to claim counterfeiting, terrorism, and money laundering as the impetus for asset tracking — in actuality, physical currency facilitates black market and untaxed transactions, and, most imperatively to the U.S., cannot be thefted under civil asset forfeiture laws as easily as money exchanged digitally.

Characterized as an effort to “to improve the prohibitions on money laundering, and for other purposes,” the bill severely curtails the right to travel freely, without undue hindrance, as travelers with more than $10,000 in assets — including those held digitally, like Bitcoin — must file a report with the U.S. government.

Noncompliance with the tyrannical law — including failing to fill out the aforementioned form — would incur penalties befitting a fascist dictatorship: an individual could find the entirety of their assets seized, not just those unreported, and could be locked in a prison cage for up to ten years.

To be clear, the State wants to write a permission slip to seize all of your assets — bank accounts, including, specifically, “safety deposit boxes,” prepaid cards, gift cards, prepaid phones, prepaid coupons, cryptocurrencies, all of it — even for being remiss in reporting what you’re traveling with.

Considering one’s digital assets veritably follow wherever that travel takes them, a cryptocurrency portfolio would theoretically have to be reported each time that person travels outside the confines of the U.S.

Of course, the legislation in actuality just amends laws pertaining to assets and travel already considered dictatorial — right now, failure to fill out the form carries not just the penalty of seizure, but a sentence of up to five years behind bars.

“And if that weren’t enough, this bill also gives them with new authority to engage in surveillance and wiretapping (including phone, email, etc.) if they have even a hint of suspicion that you might be transporting excess ‘monetary instruments,’” Simon Black of SovereignMan.com reports.

“Usually wiretapping authority is reserved for major crimes like kidnapping, human trafficking, felony fraud, etc.

“Now we can add cash to that list.”

But it wouldn’t just be the government hawkishly surveilling your every transaction, as, essentially, all retailers would be roped into becoming State spies — any business selling gift or prepaid cards would be required to report those, too.

Worse — and in defiance of current structures pertaining to digital currency — the government wishes to somehow require issuers of cryptocurrencies into its abhorrent, ostensive money-laundering police spy ring.

According to the legislation, reports Smaulgold.com, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection must, within 18 months of the legislation’s passage, devise a “border protection strategy to interdict and detect prepaid access devices, digital currencies, or other similar instruments, at border crossings and other ports of entry for the United States, including an assessment of infrastructure needed [emphasis added] to carry out the strategy […]

“The obligation to declare amounts in any form over $10,000 exists, irrespective of whether custom officials have a way of detecting such holdings. Since digital currencies technically travel with the holder [wherever] the holder goes, one would have to declare one’s entire crypto portfolio each time the holder entered the U.S.”

Travelers possessing assets, precious metals, and accounts in excess of $10,000 held outside the United States, however, would not be required to declare those to the government — perhaps leaving an albeit sketchy option for those wary of unscrupulous authorities.

While the government insists ‘If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear,’ the Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017 proves you might not be able to hide anything from its greedy clutches — and if you try, you could wind up thrown in a cage for a decade, penniless upon release.

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