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April 20th, 2008:

Technology Growth: Are We Preparing Today’s Students?

There is a fascinating op-ed in today’s Chron. It’s about the exponential growth of technology and how that will impact future energy options (the example given is solar which is very encouraging), medicine, life expectancy and prosperity.

The life expectancy thing is interesting:

The point is this: Now that we can model, simulate and reprogram biology just like we can a computer, it will be subject to the law of accelerating returns, a doubling of capability in less than a year. These technologies will be more than a thousand times more capable in a decade, more than a million times more capable in two decades. We are adding three months every year to human life expectancy, but given the exponential growth of our ability to reprogram biology, this will soon go into high gear. According to my models, 15 years from now we’ll be adding more than a year each year to our remaining life expectancy. This is not a guarantee of living forever, but it means the sands of time will start pouring in rather than only pouring out.

As is the stuff on prosperity:

What’s more, this exponential progression of information technology will affect our prosperity as well. The World Bank has reported, for example, that poverty in Asia has been cut in half over the past decade due to information technologies and that at current rates it will be cut by another 90 percent over the next decade. That phenomenon will spread around the globe.

If, in the very near future, people world-wide will live longer and be more prosperous, what does that say for economic models, retirement, business, education, politics, the environment, etc., etc., etc.

We need some very smart people getting ready to deal with a fast changing world. In the meantime, fifth and eighth graders are getting ready to take the Science TAKS test on May 1st. Is this getting them ready to make wise decisions that will guide our future? Maybe. Those Science TEKS objectives sure force a more scientific thinking process model on science education. And, kids have to think conceptually to do well on the TAKS test. All is not lost with the accountability testing, but we need to do better, considering the world is not going to slow down and wait for us to figure out how to prepare students for fast technology growth.

(cross posted from musings)

Maybe the z-word isn’t so dirty after all

You can always count on the Houston Area Survey for some provocative data.

Most Harris County residents would support zoning or other land-use planning tools to guide growth, protect neighborhoods and curb suburban sprawl, the 2008 Houston Area Survey shows.

Almost two-thirds of those responding to this year’s survey thought more land-use planning would benefit Houston, three-quarters said redeveloping older urban areas was the best way to absorb population growth, and more than half said they would support zoning.

As neighborhood leaders push for stronger protections against development they consider unsuitable, political analysts and potential candidates said the survey results send a message that will resonate powerfully in the 2009 city election campaign.

“There is a clear perception that there needs to be a system to guide growth,” said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982 and will present this year’s results to the Greater Houston Partnership on Wednesday. “There’s a pretty powerful consensus there.”

Somewhere, Wendell Cox and Randall O’Toole are wailing and gnashing their teeth. Oh, the humanity!

It’s uncertain, however, whether these public attitudes will lead to new policies.

Klineberg and others cautioned that the survey gauges support only for general concepts. Details of a zoning ordinance or other planning initiatives might get a different reaction, they said.

Shortly before Houston’s last zoning referendum in 1993, surveys showed a majority favored a zoning ordinance. But the election failed after voters saw maps showing how the new rules might affect their own property, said Kendall Miller, the president of Houstonians for Responsible Growth. The organization, led by real estate professionals, lobbies against additional regulations on development in Houston.

“Giving up control of their own property and handing it over to city government is part of the process of land-use restrictions,” Miller said. “When people understand that, they generally reject it.”

The print edition showed that the approval rate for “zoning” was a bit less than it was for the 1999 survey. This is a little like those “do you plan to vote for a Republican or a Democrat this year” polls. The generic result may look favorable for your side, but once a specific candidate – or in this case, a specific proposal – is in place, there will be specific things to criticize about it, and people who might like the idea in the abstract will see themselves as losing if it passes. This is not to say that another zoning referendum would be doomed to fail, just that having a majority in favor of the concept now means little.

One last thing:

Houston’s business, political and neighborhood leaders have debated growth and development issues for decades. These discussions have intensified in recent years as people flocked back to older neighborhoods inside Loop 610, land values rose and developers started replacing bungalows with townhomes or high-rise buildings.

Again according to the print edition, 76% of respondents said that growth in Harris County is best done by redeveloping older areas, rather than expanding to the outer edges. That’s a fine and responsible thing, and I’d give the same response. But it does bring up the matter of traffic congestion on surface roads again, and it highlights the urgent need to address those issues now while it’s still possible to do so. I’ve got more to say on this shortly, but for now I just want to note the point.

More K-Mart suits dismissed

This story needs a wee bit more detail.

Several civil rights lawsuits from a 2002 botched street racing raid were dismissed Friday in Houston federal court.

The resolution comes days after the more than 100 plaintiffs in the remaining 10 cases settled their lawsuits with the city of Houston.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas issued an order Friday dismissing the combined cases unless the settlements aren’t resolved by July 18.

Okay, so is this saying that these dismissals are all part of the settlement agreements, or that there are some cases which aren’t a part of that which have now been tossed? I believe it’s the former, but it could have been made a lot clearer.

Three plaintiffs who had not come to agreements with the city or had not been located earlier this week have been reached and also settled.

Well, that answers that question. Barring a collapse in the settlement negotiations, it looks like July 18 is the end of the line for this saga.

More on the Ibarras’ request to withdraw settlement agreement

When the news broke about the Ibarra brothers wanting to cancel the settlement agreement in their lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office, I wondered if it was because the county was paying for the appeal two lawyers who had been barred from their case were pursuing over sanctions given them by Judge Hoyt. That would appear to be the case.

The county is obligated by law to provide legal counsel for attorneys Frank Sanders and Mary Baker because they are county employees, even though they were not defendants in the lawsuit, said John Barnhill, first assistant of the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

Sanders and Baker are appealing sanctions levied against them by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, who disqualified them three years ago from defending the county in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Sean Carlos Ibarra and Erik Adam Ibarra — two Houston brothers who claim they were wrongfully arrested after one of them photographed an officer during a drug raid.

In his 2005 sanctions order, Hoyt concluded Sanders and Baker tried to deny the Ibarra brothers a fair trial and violated Sean Ibarra’s constitutional right to privacy when they improperly obtained his medical records from the Harris County Hospital District. The judge ordered Sanders, Baker and the county to pay a $10,000 fine.

But the Ibarras are seeking to return the $1.7 million settlement they received from the county earlier this month and want to go back to trial, alleging the appeal by Sanders and Baker violates the agreement that resolved their lawsuit.

The brothers’ attorney, Lloyd Kelley, said paying for the appeal with county funds is illegal unless the Harris County Commissioners Court has approved such an expenditure.

Barnhill said Commissioners Court previously approved spending county money to defend Sanders and Baker.

As I said before, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the county to pay the legal fees for their employees in a matter like this. There is a case to be made against that, given that their actions cost the county money as well, but that would seem to be an issue for their supervisors to deal with. I certainly understand where the Ibarras are coming from here, but I don’t think they’ve been wronged by this.

No mention in this story about the dispute over Lloyd Kelly’s fee demands, by the way. I’m pretty sure that issue isn’t going away.

Your moment of Zen for the weekend

Why Sesame Street was so much better in the 70s than it is now, in one three-minute video clip:

For those of you who were born after, oh, 1980 or so, that strange-looking black object the aliens are trying to communicate is a telephone. No, really.

By the way, if you go here you can find more clips in the same vein. Enjoy!