May 08, 2021

Bibliography and Index to publications of David E. Nye

After the American Century

                               Joseph Pennel, Sunset from Williamsburg Bridge

To help my readers find their way into my publications, I have created a comprehensive bibliography and index. 

The bibliography lists everything, including book reviews, encyclopedia articles, introductions written for collections of essays, translations of my work into other languages, and textbooks.  None of these items are indexed.

The index is restricted to 14 books and 101 articles and book chapters - all of which have been peer-reviewed. Taken together, this is about 5,500 published pages. I have learned from occasional contacts with my readers that it can be difficult to track down where I have written about many topics. I hope this will make the work more accessible.

This document can be downloaded free from the University of Minnesota, Digital Conservancy, using the link below.

Technology’s Contexts: Bibliography and Index to the works of David E. Nye

February 24, 2021

The Lone Star will not always shine if disconnected from the national grid

After the American Century

The Texas Blackout reveals the state's ambivalence toward the rest of the US. 

Texas liked to think of itself as a separate place, almost a country in itself. It is called the "lone start state" suggesting it can and will stand alone. Historically speaking, Texas was briefly a country that declared its independence of Mexico and then joined the US. It is the only state that ever came into the union in that way. 

These facts are related to the electrical blackout that it is now recovering from. Because Texas has been the only state to reject being a part of the national electrical grid. Instead, Texas electricity is regulated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Joining would mean that Texas would begin to buy and sell electricity across state lines, for example with Oklahoma or New Mexico. As soon as one engages in such interstate commerce, one becomes subject to regulation from Washington. As the Constitution puts it in Article 1, section 8, Congress has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states."   

Why did Texas wish to escape regulation? Because regulation means that profits cease to be the only consideration for energy companies. The production and transmission of energy is costly in itself, but Federal regulations demand that the technologies involved meet a high standard. Take Texas gas lines as an example. There are gas lines all over the United States, and those that are federally regulated must be well-insulated and meet other quality control standards. Texas state regulators knew that their gas lines could freeze and cease to function if it got cold enough, and indeed they were told about the problem in 2011 when they did seize up under a shorter cold snap. Windmills in Minnesota or Massachusetts seldom freeze up in the winter, but they did in Texas because it was cheaper not to weatherize them.

Why multiply examples? Texas energy companies did not need to invest in the best available technologies, because state regulators put profits ahead of performance safety.  And because the energy market in Texas is competitive, it would be startling if one or another company spent more money than legally necessary to produce and transmit electricity or gas, because that would put them at a disadvantage in the marketplace. 

Imagine if the same thing were true for automobiles. If Texas automobiles cost less because they had brakes that did not work well in cold weather, would that be a good idea? 

So what happens now? The citizens of Texas are suffering cold, water shortages from broken pipes, and much else. Fortunately, the Texas energy companies have saved up several billion dollars over the years and they are going to pay for all the damages. Wrong. They have not saved, and suddenly Texas feels it is definitely a part of the United States. They have asked for, and received a Federal bailout.  President Biden is sending 60 electricity generators, food, water, blankets, and meals to Texas. 

Strictly speaking, however, it would be only fair if Texas were told that no Federal funds would be handed out unless its utilities agreed to bring their technologies up to the national standard, and to have systems of reserve production like the rest of the country. Then Texas blackouts would be less frequent and less severe. But of course, this would be an inhumane thing to do, with 13 million Texans lacking water. So, Texas just became a big-time recipient of welfare. (So much for all the blustering and posturing about state's rights. The fact of the matter is that the so-called Red states, including Texas receive enormous sums every year from the Federal government, while the Blue states pay more in taxes than they get back. But that is the subject for another blog.)

There is a reason the US has a national gird - because like the states, energy systems are stronger if they work together. An electrical grid allows companies to trade electricity extremely quickly, because it moves at about the speed of light. If Chicago or Philadelphia needs more electricity, it can buy it from other systems on the same grid. If Houston or Dallas lacks power, however, they can only get it from within Texas. The Lone Star will not always shine, given the lack of a grid. 

Electricity has become too important to pretend that a state can go it alone without incurring massive problems. Hospitals need to keep those electrons flowing. Factories cannot function without it. Families, churches, pretty much everyone and everything needs electricity. When the lights go out, it is a universal crisis.

For a social history of blackouts, have a look at When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts 

February 14, 2021

Trump: Guilty but not Impeached

After the American Century

For more than two centuries, impeachment of a US president has never proven possible, due to the demand that two-thirds of the Senate must vote to impeach. This leads to absurd results. The leaders of both the Republicans and Democrats consider Trump to be responsible for the attack on the Houses of Congress. All the Democratic Senators and seven Republicans voted "guilty" but their 57 votes were nullified by the votes of 43 Republicans who said Trump was not-guilty. 

There would seem to be two solutions to the problem. One is to lower the percentage of the Senators who must vote for an impeachment. The percentage should not be lowered to a simple majority, for then the power could be abused by whoever won an election to cast out prominent members of the other party. Perhaps the law might be changed to a demand that 60% of the Senators vote to impeach, and that such a vote cannot consist entirely of members of a single party.

The other alternative would be to abolish impeachment, because in practice it has proven to be an unworkable mechanism for removing knaves from power. 

The chief effect of these impeachment proceedings seems to be on the Republican Party, which remains deeply divided. The US needs two fair-minded and internally democratic parties if it is to remain a functioning democracy. 

The Republicans rapidly have evolved toward authoritarianism during the last five years, and the failure of impeachment proceedings suggests their journey into a lawless wilderness of intimidation is not yet over. 

February 07, 2021

Intelligence briefings for Donald Trump?

After the American Century

   President Biden said two days ago that he did not think it wise to continue providing intelligence briefings to Mr. Trump, now that he is no longer president. Since it is well known that Trump did not regularly read those briefings when he was president, this seems wise. Look at the benefits:

     - it will save paper, which is good for the environment

    - an expert will not waste time shortening and simplifying reports down to Trump's level.

    - Trump's name will not be juxtaposed with "intelligence." This is the guy who, asked what books he would recommend, declared, ""The Bible blows them away. There's nothing like it, the Bible."

    - Trump will not accidentally or intentionally disclose sensitive information, such as his cures for  COVID-19 or his advice on wearing a mask

    - Trump can speak freely if he is not encumbered with facts. This will ensure that talk show hosts and stand-up comedians continue to receive fresh material.

    - Trump will not be able to use top secret information when investing in the stock market. Insider trading has become something of a Republican speciality. However, they should not be spoon fed insider information, but forced to find it for themselves. 

   - Trump cannot share information with his friends overseas (no names please! but some of them live in North Korea, Moscow, and Brazil.)

    - Trump can stay inside his bubble, where the crowds at his inauguration will always be the biggest in history, where his cures for COVID 19 will remain effective, where his presidency was really, really great, and where his bankruptcies and scandals do not exist. If he gets no briefings,then his self-delusions will remain unspoiled, and he will be a happier man.

Trump has always preferred his own facts to anyone else's, so why disturb him with expert opinions? 

February 02, 2021

The Deep Roots of the Divisions in 2021 America

After the American Century

The year 2020 was one of explosive tensions in the United States. An already polarized society confronted the COVID-19 pandemic, the massive unemployment that came with it, and widespread social protest in response to violence against unarmed Black men and women. It also was an election year, where billions of dollars were spent on advertising, much of it negative. What kind of America has emerged from this turbulence? 

To answer this question, I have written a book divided into three parts. The first three chapters examine different ways in which the United States is divided. I begin by examining the historical experience of the six generations of Americans alive in 2020. Each has faced different childhoods, defining moments, economic conditions, and international tensions. Those who grew up with the Cold War have a different perspective from those born before or  afterwards. People who listened to Frank Sinatra when young are not the same as those who grew up with the Beatles or with rap music.  

After surveying the generations, I turn to the gaps between social classes, which have widened since c. 1974. For 35 years before then. from 1939 until 1974) both the middle class and the working class experienced rising real incomes. This meant that more people owned houses, which increased in value, and these homes were filled with an ever wider range of consumer goods.  But after that wages at best barely managed to keep up with inflation, which housing prices soared.   

The rising inequality was not evenly distributed. Some cities, notably Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington DC, have boomed, while other cities have struggled, as their industries declined. Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, and many other cities lost jobs and population. In regional terms, the Pacific Coast, the South and Southwest grew, while much of the Middle West and the Northeast stagnated or declined. In all of the regions, moreover, rural areas lost population, and drifted toward the right-wing of the Republican Party, while urban areas became more Democratic. By 2016, this meant that Hillary Clinton won almost every urban county, while Donald Trump won in almost every rural county.

At the same time, tensions between races increased, because Black and Brown Americans were not willing to remain second-class citizens. Nor were gays willing to accept being defined as deviants or mentally ill. Through the courts they successfully fought for the right to be married and enjoy all the privileges that come with officially recognized family status, such as pensions and the rights of inheritance. Women likewise fought to gain full equality. All of these struggles upset conservative Americans who wanted to retain the racial and gender roles they knew from their childhood, and which they felt were the natural order of society. Evangelicals in particular resisted new gender roles, equality for racial minorities, and a multicultural society. These religious groups, as well as those who felt the pinch of economic inequality, embraced Donald Trump as their savior. 

The second section looks at the ways Americans traditionally have been united, notably through business, the media, religion, and civil religion. Yet all of these institutions have been weakened or riven with conflict in recent decades, undermining consensus. In the old industrial economy, steel mills, automobile plants, and oil companies remained dominant for most of the twentieth century. But by the 1990s this economy began to give way to an emerging digital economy. From c. 1920 until 2000 the largest corporations supplied oil, built automobiles, made home appliances, etc. But these companies stagnated or declined compared to Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, and biotech firms. The old analogue economy still exists, but the smart money is not invested in oil, steel, gasoline cars, or anything merely physical like coal, sand, cement, or wood. In the new economy, capital is invested in knowledge, as embodied in computer chips, software, data, algorithms, security codes, cyber currency, new drugs, vaccines, patented DNA, formulas, virtual reality and other almost intangible goods. Apple is worth more than General Motors; Amazon is bigger than any oil compnay. This new digital economy bewilders many older Americans but seems natural to the young. Moreover, this new economy only works for those with education beyond high school. There are fewer jobs on assembly lines and more behind computer screens. As late as the 1970s the semiskilled could earn a good living, but their wages declined after that. 

Religious differences are also pronounced in the United States. On the one side are the highly educated; on the other side are Americans whose ideas seem to be from c. 1875. Polls reveal that a majority of Americans believe in miracles (73%), in the virgin birth of Jesus (57%) and in the existence of the Devil (58%). Less than half believe in the theory of evolution (47%). Indeed, Darwin’s theory seems to have even less support than this number suggests, because only three in ten Americans definitely reject the idea that God created men and women in their present form, as described in the Bible. This belief in “creationism” is often accompanied by the idea that the earth is only 10,000 years old. No less than 69% of Americans say they either believe in creationism or they are “not sure.” These are people ready to vote for a populist like Donald Trump.

The polarization of Americans is just as evident in American civil religion.  Americans long had an honor-roll of sacred texts, battlefields, natural sites, and buildings that represented the nation. Some of these, such as the Statue of Liberty still play this role. But increasingly Americans cannot agree about which statues should stand in public squares or what texts should be honored. 

Likewise, some Americans, many of them in the South, cherish the Confederate flag carried by the rebels in the Civil War. After defeat, that flag of rebellion was seldom flown in public. However, it was revived and became a symbol of resistance to racial integration during the Civil Rights Movement. In South Carolina, the Confederate flag was raised over the state capitol in 1961 to commemorate the centennial of the first battle of the Civil War, which began in Charleston. It remained in use until 2000, when it was ceremoniously moved to a monument for Confederate soldiers. 

The Confederate flag came to symbolize states’ rights, resistance to the Federal government, and White supremacy. It was often sewn on clothing and worn as a badge of honor. It was prominently displayed by right-wing organizations, and it was seen at stock car races until 2020, when it was banned. Those who display the Confederate flag in 2020 are usually Trump supporters, and it was even raised again in South Carolina’s capital. Trump defended flying that flag as a form of free speech, saying that it represents not White supremacy but love for the South. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, strongly disagreed, arguing that the Confederate States of America “were not part of us and this is not the time to keep demonstrating who they were and what they were back then.” Powell, who is Black, concluded, “We have one flag and one flag only.” But when a mob attacked the Congress of the United States in January, 2021, many of them carried Confederate flags.

The third section of the book examines the institutional problems of the American political system, the divisive election of 2020, and the state of the nation in 2021. 

For more on the topics discussed in this column, see 

January 28, 2021

The Greatest Generation

After the American Century

Today there are six generations alive in the United States, and they have had quite different historical experiences. The oldest were born before 1927 and in their later years they came to be called the Greatest Generation. My parents, aunts, uncles, and many teachers were part of this cohort, the dominant generation of the American Century. They were shaped by the contrasts between the Roaring Twenties when they were born, the Great Depression of their youth, and World War II, which engulfed them as young adults. The first president they were old enough to hear on the radio was Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), and his New Deal continued to shape the politics of the US long after his passing. 

The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
an unforgettable moment for the Greatest Generation

This generation knew exactly where they were when they heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and their lives were never the same afterwards. They helped in the immense war mobilization, fought in the Pacific and in Europe, and celebrated D-Day and the defeat of Hitler. They were stunned by the concentration camps of the Nazis and stunned again by the sudden surrender of Japan after the US dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

They feared that after the war the US might slide back into a 1930s-style economic depression. But prosperity followed victory. American industry had not been bombed, and it rapidly retooled to produce new cars, the new televisions, appliances, and a wide range of other consumer goods. Some returning soldiers found work building suburban houses and highways. Millions of other veterans went to university. By the 1950s this generation was enjoying a standard of living well above anything they knew in their childhood. It seemed that prosperity was possible for all, and that the United States was leading the Free World into a better life. By the 1960s, they were in their 40s, and most of them owned their own homes. While they knew the US had some problems, they believed the nation was on course to form a more perfect union.

The end of World War II also brought with it a new dominant role in world affairs. The Greatest Generation provided all the presidents of the Cold War, from 1946 until 1993: Harry Truman (1945–1953), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969), Richard Nixon (1969–1975), Gerald Ford (1975–1977), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and George Bush (1989-1993). These leaders had learned that the world was so interconnected that the isolationism the United States had embraced in the 1920s and 1930s was no longer possible. War had disciplined them to make sacrifices for the greater good, and the Greatest Generation supported the establishment of the United Nations, the expensive Marshall Plan that helped Europe recover from World War II, and the creation of a new military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

Indeed, it seemed that they had little choice but to play a major role in world affairs, because both the British and the French empires were in rapid decline, creating a power vacuum. They soon found themselves in a Cold War that took place on every continent, and took the form of foreign aid, military assistance, and exchange programs. In some places a shooting war also broke out, notably in Korea and Vietnam. In their experience, from the 1940s until they retired, the US was always at the center of an international struggle, and they believed they were defending democracy against its enemies on the right and on the left. Many had trouble understanding why younger Americans did not support the Vietnam War. 

In 2021 the Greatest Generation is over 90. They are frail and rapidly passing away, but all Americans have known some of them. Once they danced to Big Band Jazz and listened to Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Judy Garland and a young crooner named Frank Sinatra. They first heard Bing Crosby sing White Christmas in 1942. They enjoyed movie stars like Jimmy Stuart in It’s a Wonderful Life and Humphrey Boggart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. They read new novels by Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Norman Mailer. In the theater, they saw Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and they enjoyed musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Oklahoma. Most of the Greatest Generation had retired by the time the older Bush left the White House in 1993. By 2020 the world they were born into had all but disappeared. Yet, it was not forgotten, and many in the five younger generations who are alive today recall them and their times with nostalgia.

This column is adapted from the opening pages of The United (and Divided) States, now available from Akademisk Forlag.  The chapter continues by describing the quite different experiences of the Silent Generation, The Boomers, Generation X, The Millennials, and Generation Z.  These differences have long-term cultural and political consequences. 

And in case you want to know, Joe Biden is the first, and probably will be the only president born into the Silent Generation.

January 27, 2021

Three possible results of the Trump Impeachment Process

After the American Century

"Intolerance," by Maurice Sterne, 1941 
US Department of Justice, Main Library, Washington
Photo: Carol Highsmith

The Law: The Constitution dictates that only if two-thirds of the Senate find a person guilty can they be convicted of an impeachable offense. The Senate cannot fine or imprison a guilty party. The only penalty it can impose is a ban from holding public office. Other punishment is left to the courts.

Scenario 1: All the Democrats and at least 17 Republicans vote against Trump, making him the first president ever to be found guilty by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned rather than face such a vote. Andrew Johnson was almost impeached and convicted by a Republican dominated Senate in 1868. There were 35 votes against Johnson (guilty) and 19 for him (not guilty). The Republicans needed just one more vote, but did not get it. Historically speaking, a president has never been convicted. The founding fathers intentionally made it difficult, requiring not a mere majority but a very large majority, in order to avoid impeachment becoming a matter of mere partisanship. 
    For Trump to be convicted, additional evidence will need to be presented during the trial, evidence so damning that it would force Republicans to repudiate him. Given the several week delay in starting the proceedings, it seems possible that Democrats might find such a smoking gun. For example, there might be a phone call or an email that links Trump directly to those who invaded the Houses of Congress. Conviction would divide the Republican Party into two irreconcilable camps, in the short term, but as happened after they repudiation of Nixon, the GOP would be in a position to revive and move on. This is a bitter pill for Republicans, but it the best option for them in the long run, and also for the nation.

Scenario 2: A majority of the Senate votes to convict Trump, but that majority falls short of 67 votes.  Instead, he could be taken to court on related charges and found guilty. For example, he might be charged with incitement to riot and being an accessory to the murder of one or more of the people who died in the attack on Congress. In addition, there are other court cases awaiting Trump, notably in New York State. A court conviction of any kind would weaken Trump and keep Republicans in turmoil, and might lengthen the struggle for control of their party until the 2024 elections. Normally, the party in power loses some seats to years after winning the presidency, but if the Republicans are internally at war, the Democrats would have a chance to win additional power the 2022 Congressional elections. 

Scenario 3: Trump is neither convicted by the Senate nor convicted of any crime in court. He could present himself as a victim of left-wing conspiracy. His supporters would feel righteously justified, and his control of a majority of the Republican Party would continue. The result, Trump will re-energize his base, while the country remains deeply split.

Which possibility is most likely? 
Scenario 1 is not very plausible, but it is Plan A for both Democrats and few Republicans who want to escape Trumpism. However, there are not 17 Republican Senators who look likely to convict Trump. Unless dramatic new evidence is presented to the Senate.

Scenario 2 is the most likely. In that case, Trump will only lose some support because of the impeachment trial and lose a bit more after being convicted of economic crimes, such as fraud, tax fraud, or money laundering. (There are apparently many other possibilities, too.) This would keep Republicans split and be good for the Democrats in 2022.  
Note added 15 Feb: This is indeed what happened.

Scenario 3 is possible, but not likely. Democratic Party leaders have a good idea of what court cases Trump will face after his trial in the Senate.  It seems exceedingly likely that he will face prosecution, and for that reason, the Democrats can take the high ground and demand an impeachment trial before the Senate, knowing Trump will soon be tied up in more litigation afterwards.

Whatever happens, the punishment of Donald Trump has, in all likelihood, only just begun,