editorial archive

This web page is where we store old editorials.

 

There's that Vision Thing, again!     (12-18-2000)

In a recent tongue-in-cheek article by Ann McFeatters, "Some fatherly advice, from one president to another", Ms. McFeatters (playing the role of "W's" father, George H.W. Bush) tells George W. that he has "the platitude thing down real well ... . But, like me, you've got a problem with that vision thing."

One is reminded of a quote from the Bible, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."  - Proverbs, 29:18 

Whether the new president will be a good leader or a mediocre one may depend entirely upon his vision of the kind of country we ought to have. The "vision" will not be supplied by his advisors, his political managers, or his spinmeisters. It is more rooted in his "world view" as defined and explained by James David Barber in his The Presidential Character [see Reviews of Political Books web page] and in the depth of his personality.

The transitional character of the new world order reminds one of an old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

 

As a political leader; student, commercial, industrial, educational or professional politician; what is your vision?

 

[For more on "Vision" and other leadership characteristics, see the webpage, Student Government Operations, "Leadership Characteristics, A 17". Click on the link immediately below,

Student Government Operations to get there.

 

 

Editorial: The recent election fiasco in Florida illustrates, in several counties, the range of views held by public officials, especially judges. In Volusia County, one Michael McDermott, a County Judge, moved forcefully and without relying upon legal counsel to execute a recount with deliberate speed. In Palm Beach County, one Charles Burton, also a County Judge, waited for several opinions before starting a recount. The result was that one recount was completed, handily, while the other, having been delayed, dragged on.

The actions of these two bureaucrats reminds one of the two diverse views of governance:

"The Prussian view that 'All is forbidden that is not permitted.' and the French view that 'All is permitted that is not forbidden.'" 

The American system of governance leans toward the French view. But, not always. Actions depend, mainly, upon the view of governance by the bureaucrat.

In a third situation, a state judge decided that although the Palm Beach "butterfly" ballot was seriously flawed, he did not have the authority to correct it by ordering a revote. To order a revote would have been precedent-setting and based on the concept of "equity" ... "what is right". [There also would have been a refuge in the "equal protection" provisions of the U.S. Constitution.]

 That would have been a courageous decision and one is reminded of the Earl Warren discovery that his African-American driver had slept in his limousine because he could not find lodging due to the color of his skin. There was, at that time, a great body of law, common (precedents) and legislative, which supported segregation. Warren and his colleagues on the Supreme Court applied the equity concept as a basis for interpreting the Constitution and ruling "what is right".   -   hcl (12-2000)

 

 

Editorial: There is an issue, now moving into the Supreme Court, that challenges the environmental laws on the basis of cost.

 Business interests argue that costs of anti-pollution measures should be part of the discussion. The legislation has not contained any attention to the cost aspects.

As a former project engineer in an oil refinery, this writer was closely associated with anti-pollution measures and was aware of the political and environmental landscape at that time, in the 1960's. There are two costs, mainly, to business: (1) the capital cost of the installation of anti-pollution equipment and (2) the added cost of operating the new processes. Overlooked in the analysis is that there may be savings effected and further, in many cases, saving so large that the anti-pollution gear actually generates an excellent return on investment.

That part of the argument should appeal to business interests.

 In one of the more obnoxious industrial processes, that of plating metals, the E.P.A. and many state agencies have forced the metal platers to install recovery systems for their spent solutions. (Most spent or used-up plating solutions were dumped into the sewer or the nearest river.) The result of the new recovery equipment was that a recovery rate was so high, the investment produced an 11% return on investment.

There are two subtle lessons here: (1) the platers were unaware of the technical economics of their process and (2) the environmental authorities had overlooked the the educational and persuasion aspects of their role.

These are short terms aspects of environmental investment.

The long term cost is a blighted landscape and poisoned water sources: wells and rivers. It has been estimated that parts of the Hudson River cannot produce edible fish for several hundred years. [See review of The Riverkeepers, below.]

There are wells in Door County, Wisconsin that have been tainted with arsenic from fruit tree spraying. 

A farmer in middle Wisconsin took, in storage on his land from a local manufacturer, containers of tainted trichlorethylene. The containers leaked and the drinking water well, on that land, is fouled. It is likely that other, nearby wells will also to so effected.

Pollution control is short- and medium-term (in terms of cost). Pollution effects are long-term (in terms of costs).

If the Supreme Court accepts the industry-cost argument and overlooks long-term costs, we are in grave trouble, as a society.                           -  hcl

Epilog (2-28-01): Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision, has upheld the authority of the E.P.A. to set standards and to do so without regard to cost considerations. That is welcome news for those of us who prefer to breath clean air and drink safe water. Justice Anthony Scalia wrote that the agency can "identify the maximum airborne concentration of a pollutant that the public health can tolerate, decrease the concentration to provide an 'adequate' margin of safety, and set the standard at that level." Scalia further wrote, "Nowhere are the costs of achieving such a standard made part of that initial calculation." and that The Clean Air Act "unambiguously bars cost consideration."  -  hcl

 

Editorial:     Public Policy, Mathematics, and the Airbus A380

A recent article (1-29-2001) in the New York Times by Matthew L. Wald captioned "Jumbo jetliner expected to make successful landing at airports" tells us that a lot of airports are going to require considerable rebuilding to handle this behemoth. Public policy may evolve to provide bigger airports, wider and heavier runways and taxiways, and more parking and luggage handling facilities. And the taxpayers and passengers will pay for all of this.

One Richard J. Louis, manager of operations at Kennedy International Airport, claimed that the A380 would ease congestion at the airport. Mr. Louis stated, "It's beneficial to us to move as many people per flight as possible." The article goes on to say that "an obvious solution is bigger airplanes."

This writer would like to see the mathematics of this scenario. Bigger airplanes may not solve the congestion problem and, in fact, may make it worse.

Let us turn, for a moment, to mathematics as taught in the business schools and colleges of engineering.  Calculus is now required. Very few engineers* and even less business-types use calculus in their day-to-day work. Why, then do we require calculus as an academic requirement?

Calculus is one of those courses, necessary or not, that is used to "wash out" those unfit for advanced study. That is understandable. However, the calculus requirement is also useful as preparation for study in mathematical modeling.

Math modeling is the use of formulary to model, on paper or in a computer, how a system can be expected  to work. If the physical measurements are comprehensive and accurate and the formulary is representative of reality, the math model will provide good predictive performance.

An anecdote: In the mid-1930's, General Motors brought out the multiple unit diesel-electric locomotive. Some of the consists included "crew-less locomotives". These "crew-less locomotives" allowed very long freight trains to be assembled with a crew of just two men: an engineer and a fireman. Soon 100, then 150 ... 200 ... 250 car trains appeared.  Railroad executives rejoiced as labor costs fell. One railroad even tried to run a 480 car train but control problems and coupler strength doomed that experiment. Finally, in the early 1990's The Wall Street Journal reported that the Santa Fe Railroad was reducing train length. Someone had noticed that the system through-put of freight did not continue to rise with the increasing length of trains. Through-put, a measure of productivity, was falling. Examination revealed that the tie-up of classification facilities (read: "freight yards") and time required to make up trains was excessive.

Keep in mind that this discovery was made 55 years after the introduction of the multiple-unit-control, crew-less locomotive. Well-entrenched practices are hard to stop.

The introduction of those advanced technology locomotives was in an era before the acceptance of operations research and math modeling. Today, we no longer labor under these constraints of ignorance.

Adapting our air transport system will be a multibillion dollar affair. Tens of billions, maybe hundreds of billions are at stake.

Will public policy makers listen to the clamor of airport officials, whom have not done their homework, or will they seek counsel from the "folks in the math biz"?

This topic reeks of opportunities for PhD dissertations in logistics, transportation, management science, industrial engineering, and in economics.

The A380 may make a successful landing, in the physical and aeronautical sense, but will it land successfully, in a public policy sense?

Grad school profs: please note.                   - hcl (1-29-2001)

 

*A disclaimer: Calculus and differential equations are widely applied by chemical engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, chemists, etc. to, mainly, advanced problems. It is also worth noting that a survey of working industrial engineers (a total of fifty engineers with a sum of over 500 person-years of job experience) found that not one of these industrial engineers had ever used calculus!

July 05