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02 June 2009


Russ Steele


In the mid 1990s Caltrans and UC Davis Intelligent Vehicle Design Center build an automated machine to detect and fill pot holes on the freeway while in motion, but the Caltran's Union nixed the purchase of these machines. They would put too many road repair people out of work. A local company developed an automated systems for running sewer and water processing plants, instrumenting the pumps and flow pressures. The when the pumps and motors were approaching a failure mode they sent an e-mail to a regional central control facility. One facility could monitor plants for multiple communities. You can guess what the government unions had to say about that, and the company could not sell enough units, so they went into another business. When GM installed robots, the displaced workers went to work in the break room to eat their ice cream cones, waiting all day for the for the robots to fail. Then they came in the next day, the next week and the next year to collect their paychecks, but do no productive work.

John S

It all boils down to this: The unions have protected the workers right out of business, wages and benifits are too high, we can no longer afford them.
They are not quite dead yet because our President is in the process of saving their butts with YOUR money. Ultimately it will not work, and the unions will not budge. So, like California, we will have to hit bottom before they understand.
We aren't there yet. Give it a year or two.

George Rebane

[I've also gotten some emails on this post. One questioned Stratfor's claim on the relative size of US industrial production. There may be a follow-up on this. With permission, I'm posting the following email from James Dickenson, author and former Washington Post political editor. gjr]

Good piece George. On target, very cogent.

I read the link on agriculture with great interest. Coming from western Kansas wheat farmers, it struck me how technology is coming to labor-intensive crops--orchards, vegetables--just as it did to us in the last century. The internal combustion engine destroyed the small town culture I was born and raised in. I think I've told you how the largest farmer in the northwest corner of the state, whose farm is just a mile out of my home town, runs his 25,000 acres--owned, not rented--with five people--himself, his son, his wife, his daughter-in-law, and a full time farm hand. The women operate the computer system.

In addition to the engine, we use computers and sensors to a fare-thee-well. We take soil samples in fields and then use sensors and computer chips on corn planters and wheat drills to deliver the proper doses of needed chemicals--nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, etc.--in the various areas where they're needed. I devote a chapter to the technology in Home on the Range which to me was the most interesting aspect of the book. It's more than 10 years old now but still pertinent.

Cheers, Dick

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