Archive for June, 2010

How to start a crime wave

June 30, 2010

Lincoln Steffens, who flourished around the turn of the last century, was possibly the greatest American investigative reporter who ever lived. His Autobiography is still relevant to understanding how American politics and government worked. In one chapter he told how he and his chief competitor, Jacob Riis, started a crime wave when Theodore Roosevelt was chairman of the New York City Police Commission.

It seems that Steffens was taking a nap in one summer afternoon in the basement of police headquarters, where the detectives like to play poker because it was cool. Because they thought he was asleep, they told a story about how a naive young policeman helped some men load up a wagon because their stuff was cluttering the street, and the men turned out to be burglars who had cleaned out the house of a Wall Street broker.

He wrote up the story for the New York Post. His main competitor, Jacob Riis of The Evening Sun, was reprimanded by his editors for being scooped, and he then came up with a crime story that Steffens’ didn’t have.  Both redoubled their efforts, and soon the New York newspapers were full of crime stories.  This was embarrassing to Roosevelt, because he was supposed to be a reformer.

Roosevelt called the two reporters into his office.  Riis confessed that he had unauthorized access to police reports because they were pigeonholed in a certain desk. Steffens told about his naps. They called a truce, and the “crime wave” ceased.

Perception about crime is still different from reality.  Many people think crime is on the increase in the United States, but it actually is declining.  Many people think illegal immigration has created a serious crime problem in Arizona and the southwest border generally, but the crime rates in Arizona and in major southwest border cities also are declining. An analysis by Ron Unz in The American Conservative magazine indicates that Hispanics as a group are as law-abiding as non-Hispanic whites.

The United States is making good progress in reducing crime.  We have a right to feel good about this accomplishment.  We don’t need to scare ourselves with reports of an illegal Hispanic immigrant crime wave.

The good life

June 30, 2010

Earlier this month I heard a talk by a philosophy professor who said that, as a way of getting to know his students, he had them write an essay on the first day of class on “The Good Life.”  To his consternation, about 25 of his class of 30 wrote that the good life was what they expected to be able to enjoy when they retired at age 62 or 65.  The intervening 35 or 40 years presumably were just a waiting period to be endured.

I’m as bothered by that as he is.  But it is understandable.  When I graduated from college in 1956, I had the freedom to decide what I wanted to do with my life – what I was good at, what I liked to do, what I could feel proud of.  If I graduated today, I would not have that freedom. My first thought would have to be what can I do that will earn the maximum income to pay off my student loans and get out of indentured servitude.

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Did the Soviet Union win the Cold War?

June 30, 2010

One of the things I once worried about, along with overpopulation, the persistence of racism and the threat of nuclear war, was whether the United States could successfully win the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union.

I never doubted the superiority of the United States as a free and democratic nation over the Soviet Union in its ability to provide a good life for its people.  But I doubted was whether a free and democratic nation had the staying power to withstand a totalitarian dictatorship’s unrelenting military and diplomatic pressure. We might be too concerned about our material comfort to wage what President Kennedy called the long twilight struggle.

My fears about this, as with the other things I mentioned, did not come true.  U.S. administrations through Reagan, despite missteps and mistakes, remained steadfast to the policy laid down by the Truman administration, to resist Soviet and Communist expansion by means short of general war. They were vindicated when the Soviet Union collapsed due to the unworkability of its political and economic system.

Now I see our situation as the exact opposite of what I thought it was back then. Rather than devote ourselves to peace and prosperity, we as a nation seek world power at the expense of peace and prosperity.  It is as if we are so used to having a global enemy to struggle against that we can’t get along without one.

The United States has continued to maintain as huge a military, diplomatic and covert intelligence establishment as if we faced an enemy capable of threatening our existence.  Rather than sacrificing our military power to our quality of life, we sacrifice our quality of life to military power.

We have come to accept as normal the practices which one defined the differences between ourselves and our totalitarian enemies – torture, government assassinations, arrests without charges or trials. Being opposed to torture is actually a controversial position.

We use Orwellian lingo – “coercive interrogation,” “preventive detention,” “preventive war,” “Homeland Security” – and these practices continue to grow under Presidents as outwardly different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  We fool ourselves into thinking that what can be done to people with dark skins, foreign accents and funny names can’t be done to anybody.

So maybe the United States didn’t really win the Cold War.  We defeated the Soviet Union politically and economically, but maybe they defeated us morally and spiritually.

Money down the drain

June 28, 2010

The Democrat and Chronicle this morning had an excellent article on how the aging Rochester, N.Y., water distribution system allows 24 percent of the treated water to leak out before it reaches customers.  The corresponding figure for the Monroe County Water Authority, which serves the Rochester suburbs, is 15 percent. This range is not unusual for cities in the Northeast.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to start work on repairing these deteriorating stuctures?  Since this work is going to have to be done somehow sometime, why not now, when our country needs to create jobs to keep our recession from becoming a full-blown depression?

The financially strapped City of Rochester and Monroe County governments aren’t in a position now to start big infrastructure projects. The pressure on them is to do the reverse – to defer maintenance.  The American Recovery Act of 2009 did provide some funds for infrastructure improvements, mainly of roads and bridges, but there is much more to be done.

And, yes, since we’re in the middle of a recession, the federal government would have to borrow to provide funds to help repair municipal water systems. But we, the taxpayers, would get a return on this investment, in the form of a more efficient and less costly water supply.  And the longer the wait in making these repairs, the more costly they’ll be.

Reality vs. political reality

June 28, 2010

The problem with American government today is that the minimum that needs to be done exceeds the maximum our leaders think is politically possible.  I hope they are wrong, because we the people can’t afford to wait until political reality is overtaken by real reality.

King Dick’s Opinion

June 27, 2010

The best army officers are intelligent and lazy.
The second best are intelligent and industrious.
The less good are thick-witted and lazy.
The most dangerous are thick-witted and industrious

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Soccer fans and Tea Party supporters

June 26, 2010

Soccer fans and Tea Party activists both represent possibly 20 percent of Americans (estimates vary).

They both enjoy dressing up in costumes and rallying for their causes.

Click on this gallery of photos to see if you can tell which is which.

[Added 7/4/10]

I seem to get a good many views of this post, but hardly any of them click on the link to the colorful pictures of soccer fans and Tea Partiers, which was the point of the post.

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Those inscrutable Chinese

June 26, 2010

I once had a grade school teacher who liked to say the Chinese were the most intelligent people in the world.

As evidence, she cited two things. One was the alleged Chinese practice of paying doctors only when you were healthy, not when you were sick. The other was the alleged custom of Chinese warlords who, before risking actual fighting, would line up their armies to see which was the largest, so that the warlord with the clearly weaker force could retire without having to get anybody killed.  Back in the 1940s, Americans tended to assume, without thinking about it, that there was something about Chineseness that meant that China would always be divided and under the rule of warlords.

A lot has changed in the past 60-some years, but, despite globalization, China is still a very different and very interesting culture.

Click on this to see 16 things you can buy at a Chinese Walmart.

Click on this to read about a unique kind of job offering in China. (I thank my friend Anne Tanner for this link.)

An all-time great news lede

June 26, 2010

In newspaper lingo, the first paragraph of a news article is the “lede.”  It is supposed to stimulate the reader’s interest while telling the essential facts.  It is spelled “lede” rather than “lead,” because a lead (pronounced “led”) was a thin strip of metal used for spacing between lines of type metal.  I’m not sure how to even explain this in an era where printers no longer use actual type.

This lede from Reuters is one of the greatest of all time.

A German student created a major traffic jam in Bavaria after making a rude gesture at a group of Hells Angels motorcycle gang members, hurling a puppy at them and then escaping on a stolen bulldozer

Click on this for the full news item.  It concludes by noting that “the puppy was now in safe hands.”

Another reason to end the filibuster

June 25, 2010

Long-term unemployment is the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking long-term unemployment.  Even under the optimistic projections of economic growth, it will be years before the job market gets back to 2007 levels.

And that doesn’t count the so-called “under-employed” – people like friends of mine with computer and engineering degrees who’ve scraped by as substitute school bus drivers or night managers in homeless shelters.

Yet 40 Republican Senators and one Blue Dog Democrat have the power to block the 57 Senators who want to extend unemployment compensation benefits.  Unless the Democrats make an issue of the filibuster, the opposition will have the power to (1) block anything they try to do and (2) blame them for failing to do anything.

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General Petraeus as a project manager

June 24, 2010

A wise friend of mine once said that if you want to advance in a big corporation, you should never turn down the change to take charge of an important project, no matter how unrealistic and budget or the timetable.

Once the project is underway, he said, you can always lobby for more money or more time. But if you turn down the opportunity, it will be given to somebody else – maybe somebody who sees things the same way as you.

I wonder whether that was what was going on when Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal told President Obama that, with 40,000 more troops, they could so improve the situation in Afghanistan that it would be possible to start drawing down troops 18 months later.  It is possible that they sincerely believed this. It is possible that President Obama believed them.  It is even possible that they are right; I don’t think so, but I’m no expert.

But what I wonder if Petraeus and McChrystal were playing the same kind of game as the cynical corporate project manager. I wonder if they realized that it was impossible to turn around the situation in so short a time, but figured that once President Obama committed to the war, he wouldn’t back out of it.

I thought of this when I read this paragraph in Michael Hastings’ Rolling stone article.

Even those closest to McChrystal know the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big. Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

But what if President Obama is playing his own game? What if he figures that once he gives the military all it has asked for, and gets their promise of success, they will have no excuse to back out from the withdrawal timetable? We’ll see.

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Loose lips sink careers

June 24, 2010

General Douglas MacArthur was fired for trying to undermine President Truman’s policy.  General George B. McClellan was fired for lack of aggressiveness against the enemy. General Stanley McChrystal was guilty of neither of these things. He supported President Obama’s announced goals and was unstinting in his effort to carry them out.

He was fired for a different offense – his inability to hold his tongue and make his staff hold their tongues in the presence of a reporter.  If you read the Rolling Stone article, you’ll see that almost all the controversial remarks were made by unnamed aides of General McChrystal, almost were about McChrystal’s political foes and bureaucratic rivals within the government rather than Obama and almost all were off-the-cuff and not in the context of a formal interview.  Nor did McChrystal or any of his staff write the sub-headline about “the wimps in the White House.”

If there is a justification for firing McChrystal, it is that the newspaper article has made him a political embarrassment and also made it impossible for him to work with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and National Security Adviser Jim Jones.

Why didn’t General McChrystal tell his staff to curb their tongues?  Probably Michael Hastings, like many good reporters, had the knack of blending in so that people forgot he was around, and spoke as if he weren’t there.  More importantly, McChrystal and his staff were probably used to dealing with beat reporters who dealt with them on a continuing basis and didn’t want to burn their bridges.

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The problem with counterinsurgency

June 24, 2010

It was only after President Obama announced the firing of General Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan that I got around to reading the Rolling Stone article that provoked all the furor.

The article by Michael Hastings was an excellent portrait of General McChrystal as an eccentric but highly capable and dedicated professional who, in the writer’s opinion, is attempting the impossible and not succeeding.

If I hadn’t known anything about the controversy, I would not have regarded the snarky comments by McChrystal aides about McChrystal’s bureaucratic rivals and critics as particularly important. The most disturbing thing about the article was Hastings report on the unpopularity of the Petraeus-McChrystal counterinsurgency strategy among the troops.

The advantage of guerrilla fighters such as the Taliban and Viet Cong is that they don’t wear uniforms and can blend in with the civilian population.  Foreign occupiers cannot tell friend from foe, and wind up killing more civilians than enemy fighters – which makes the civilians more supportive of the enemy fights and more inclined to become enemy fighters themselves.

The Petraeus-McChrystal counterinsurgency strategy attempts to counter this by making transforming the military into a kind of armed Peace Corps. They are supposed to simultaneously fight the enemy and win the hearts and minds of the people. The key to this is what McChrystal in the article called “courageous restraint” – the willingness to suffer casualties and let the enemy escape rather than risk the lives of innocent civilians.

This is asking a lot of American and allied soldiers – maybe more than is possible for the vast majority of human beings. You not only ask people in jeopardy of being killed, you ask them to refrain from defending themselves and their comrades except when circumstances are right. And with an enemy as well-entrenched as the Taliban, you might not be able to root out the enemy anyway. You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

And whether or not the policy is feasible, Hastings’ reporting indicates that it is not understood and not being implemented as Generals Petraeus and McChrystal wish it to be.

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Why I don’t hate BP

June 23, 2010

I don’t hate BP or any other oil company. Neither do I defend BP.  An oil company is not a person. It is an organizational structure through which people operate.

I drive a car, and I need gasoline to make my car run.  The hard-working men and women of BP, ExxonMobil and the other oil companies extract oil in remote parts of the world and distribute and refine it in an incredibly complicated process. Thanks to them, I can drive up to the pump whenever I want, and fill my tank with gasoline. I am grateful to them.

There are people in BP’s chain of command whose decisions resulted in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which resulted in 11 deaths and the destruction of the property and livelihoods of untold thousands along the Gulf coast.  I loathe and despise these individuals, even though I will never know who most of them are, and I know they will escape any serious consequence of their decision.

Some of these same BP executives ordered the survivors of the Deepwater Horizon rig held incommunicado until they signed waivers of liability, and their henchmen are acting like little tin dictators in the Gulf. I loathe and despise these individuals as well.

But the fact is that we the people, for all the talk about “ending our addiction” to oil, are going to need oil for the foreseeable future, and we will have to rely on the knowledge, experience and effort of oil company workers. What’s wanted is not to destroy the corporate structure, but to put responsible people in charge of the structure, and subject them to reasonable regulation.

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Should public libraries be allowed?

June 22, 2010

Having just checked out some books from the Rochester Public Library, I thought how strange it is that an institution like a public library is allowed to exist.

Public libraries are socialistic. Rich people pay taxes in order that the children of poor people can read books for free, which by the lights of Ayn Rand, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement is impermissible tyranny.

Public libraries defy current notions of intellectual property rights.  I intend to read some books which maybe dozens or even hundreds of people have read before me, and yet the publisher does not get a dime for any of us except for the original price of the book. Isn’t this the kind of file-sharing that the Millennium Copyright Act was intended to prevent?

Then, too, books can contain dangerous ideas. Who knows what dangerous ideas the public library is allowing to circulate?

I’m sure that if public libraries did not exist, the creation of such institutions would not be allowed today. 🙂

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Obama’s Katrina?

June 22, 2010

Hurricane Katrina was a predictable natural disaster which the federal government failed to avert and to prepare for.

Deepwater Horizon was a preventable human-caused disaster which the federal government failed to avert and to prepare for.

The Bush administration failed to provide funds to repair and maintain the dams and levees surrounding New Orleans, despite warnings they were inadequate. The Bush administration then appointed political hacks to manage the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies, which then predictably failed to do their jobs.

The Obama administration has so far failed to change things back.  The Minerals Management Service continued to fail to enforce regulations requiring oil drillers in the Gulf to maintain best practices. Without absolving BP management of responsibility, it is predictable that when regulations are not enforced, somebody is going to ignore them.  And when there is a competitive economic advantage to be gained by cutting corners, eventually everybody is going to do it.

The federal government has responded massively to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but reports from the Gulf say that federal, state and local efforts are poorly-coordinated – in other words, the FEMA is still not doing its job.

Even after President Obama announced a moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf, the MMS continued to approve new drilling applications, and without doing any more checking than it did with BP.  Maybe some of these other oil companies are more responsible than BP, but there is no way to know if they are.

Ken Salazar, Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, was quickly confirmed by the Senate because he was acceptable to the oil and gas industry.  If President Obama had nominated somebody who really would have cracked down on the oil industry, he would have faced a big floor fight and maybe a Republican filibuster.  In retrospect, he would have done better, even from the standpoint of political expediency, to have made that fight.

I blame George W. Bush and Barack Obama for the government’s failures in the Gulf because the alternative is to admit that it is impossible for the government to do its job. If this is so, then U.S. decline is inevitable and irreversible.

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Racism in my lifetime

June 21, 2010

I’m 73.  I’m old enough to remember the 1940s and 1950s, where there were whole sections of the United States where not only were black American citizens segregated by law and denied the right to vote, but where white people could murder black people with impunity.

I always had faith that the American commitment to democracy and freedom would win out in the end.  But I never expected to live long enough to see an African-American elected President of the United States.

I can remember when it was taken for granted that not only could no African American be elected President of the United States, but neither could a Catholic, a Jew, a Southern white person or a woman of any background. In other words, prejudice barred a majority of American citizens from the nation’s highest office.

Barack Obama’s accomplishment in winning the Presidency was a remarkable one, apart from his victory over racial prejudice. He had to defeat the Clintons, leaders of the most powerful faction within the Democratic Party, and then John McCain, the most popular figure in the Republican Party. But Obama is not an outlier. The presence of people of color in American life is taken for granted to a degree I would not have thought possible 50 and 60 years ago.

Nobody is bothered by the fact that David Patterson, the Democratic Governor of New York state, is both black and legally blind.  Nobody thinks it remarkable that brown-skinned Bobby Jindal, the Republican Governor of Louisiana, is the son of immigrants from India, or that Nikki Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, has a good chance of being elected Governor of South Carolina on the Republican ticket.

Some members of the Tea Party movement have been given to racist and sexist outbursts, but Tea Partiers mostly support the Hispanic Marco Rubio for Senator from Florida over Charlie Crist, a non-Hispanic white. I imagine most Tea Party members would be just as happy to see Clarence Thomas as Chief Justice of the United States as Sarah Palin as President.

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My dad was a soccer star

June 20, 2010

My father was a soccer star – not for an internationally renowned team, but for Williamsport (Md.) High School team in the early 1920s.  Soccer, not American football, was the high school team sport in Maryland during the first half of the 20th century and before. Unlike my dad, I was never on a team, but soccer was the sport we played during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

There were good reasons for this.  High school soccer was a fairly civilized sport in my day, but it was pretty rough in the early days of the previous century.  It was said that if you took an X-ray of the shin bones of the really tough soccer player, it would look as ragged as the teeth of a saw.  I heard there were even soccer riots; when the home team lost, the fans tore down the opposing team’s goal posts. If that is how Maryland farm boys of that era played soccer, you can imagine how they would have played football. And of course, in those days, schools had no money for fads such as helmets, shoulder pads or other protective gear.

The high school didn’t compromise its academic program for the sake of sports. Team members practiced after school hours and on Saturdays, not during class hours.  My dad and others of his generation participated in sports for the love of the sport and the desire to win, not for any material reward.

During my father’s time, people tended to stay in the place they were born more than they do today, or in my time.  My father encountered men he played soccer against all his life, and would sum them up based on their style of play – “[So-and-so] played dirty, but at least he never complained when I gave him a taste of his own medicine.”

My dad never was a soccer fan. He followed football and baseball. I’m not a sports fan at all.  If I was a soccer fan, I’d be content to have American soccer be as it is, something people play and watch for the love of the game, and not make it into a so-called major sport, where the athletic competition is subordinated to advertising, entertainment and money-making.

First Rule of Holes

June 20, 2010

When you’re in one, stop digging.

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Human rights in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan

June 19, 2010

Why Do I Care? (6/15/10)

My morning newspaper on Page 5A has an article about a massacre of Uzbek people in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. It has lesser play than an article above it about the killing of an Israeli officer by Palestinian gunmen. Ordinarily I would scan the article, sigh, and think about something else.

The reason I don’t is that I have a friend who was born in Uzbekistan and immigrated to this country from Russia more than 10 years ago. She phoned me yesterday, very distrait, and told me about e-mails from Uzbek friends telling of old people being slaughtered, little girls being raped and a university, built by Uzbek people out of their own contributions, being razed to the ground.  The AP article in my newspaper tells of hundreds of people being killed and 100,000 people being turned back at the border of Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyztan and Uzbekistan are two majority-Muslim countries in central Asia formerly part of the old Soviet Union. It is hard for me as an American to imagine what differences Kyrgyz and Uzbeks could have that would motivate one of them to engage in large-scale killing of the other.

Uzbekistan is ruled by a cruel dictator, Islam Karimov, whose specialty is having his political opponents boiled alive. Uzbeks make up about 15 percent of the population of Kyrgyztan and about half the population in the southern part of the country. Most of them supported the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April. The interim government has accused him of instigating the riots, but he denies it.

It is something that is much worse than what Israelis and Palestinians are doing to each other at the moment, and there are many other situations in the world, for example in Africa, that are just as bad or worse. I think of them much less than I do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because I don’t feel personally connected to those countries. But this seems real to me because I only have two degrees of separation from the victims.

My friend asked me to post something on my web log, which I am doing even though I don’t see how I can help the situation.  The United States and the Russian Federation both have military bases in Kyrgyzstan, and they are important to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. The United States is sending humanitarian aid; this doesn’t really address the situation, but I don’t see what else to do. I make annual donations to Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders, but this doesn’t really address the situation either.

Why do I care? (6/19/10)

People in the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan are different from me.  They speak a different language.  They dress differently. They have a different religion. The very word “Uzbek” has a funny sound to American ears.

The only thing is, they are human beings.  They have as much inherent dignity and worth as I do.  They have as much right to live peacefully in this world as I do.  The killing of an innocent person in Uzbekistan is as great a tragedy in the cosmic scheme of things as my death or the death of someone I love.

Recently I read news accounts of a massacre of Uzbeks in the neighboring central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. It is one of many horrible things going on all over the world, but I happen to have a good friend who was born in that part of the world. She has been in touch with what’s going on by text message and cell-phone. She tells of terrible stories of old people being murdered, young girls behind raped, people being driven out of their homes. News accounts (as of June 19, 2010) tell of 400,000 people being made refugees and more than 2,000 people murdered. My friend Oidin said the number is much higher.

She says this is the latest in a series of killings instigated by the Kyrgyz government, much like the pogroms against Jews under the Tsars of Russia. She blames the present Kyrgyz government’s Russian advisers and also the Obama administration; both the Russian Federation and the United States have strategically important bases in Kyrgyzstan.

Click on the following links for continuously updated information on central Asia.

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Amazing wildlife

June 19, 2010

Click on this and this for some amazing photographs of American wildlife by a photographer named Joel Sartore.

All the pictures are of members of endangered species, which are something I tend not to care about unless the species are beautiful, cute or the subject of Disney movies.  Sartore’s beautiful photographs help raise my awareness of this issue, but they are worth looking at just for aesthetic reasons.

Click on this for a news report about the world’s largest known beaver dam.

Where Americans are moving

June 18, 2010

Forbes magazine has an interesting on-line utility.  It is a map of the United States showing all the counties. Click on a county and you can see how many people came there in 2008 and what county they came from, and how many people left in 2008 and what county they moved to.

Monroe County, N.Y., which is where I live, showed a lot of heavy red lines, showing people moving out, and not too many black lines, showing people moving in.

Click on this to see it.

Douglas Adams on the Gulf oil spill

June 18, 2010


The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.

Douglas Adams, who died in 2001, wrote this in one of his Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy stories.

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The Cafe Vas and the Luna Piena Bistro

June 18, 2010

[12/3/10] If you’re interested in information about the Luna Piena Bistro, click on Democrat and Chronicle reviewIf you’re interested in my rambling thoughts about neighborhood restaurants, read on.

[6/18/10] For the past four or so years, my neighborhood has had a nice little place called the Cafe Vas.  In nice weather, I could sit outdoors on a patio in nice weather, sip iced tea and munch on one of their specialty sandwiches. They also served gourmet coffee, but I’m not much of a one for that.  It was about a 5- or 10-minute walk from my house, and I was sorry to see it close.

The other day I saw a big banner across the front of the building – Luna Piena Bistro – Opening Soon!

It reminded me of an article I read years ago – it may have been by John Kenneth Galbraith when he was alive – about the New England resort hotel industry.  Galbraith said that most people who go into the resort hotel business don’t know what they’re doing and fail, but each time they sell at a loss, they make it easier for the next person who takes over the premises. Eventually someone is smart enough and lucky enough to succeed, in part because of the sunk costs and sweat equity put into the property by the previous owners.

I don’t know whether that kind of cycle exists in Rochester or, for that matter, in New England, but I like the Galbraith’s notion because it is the way the capitalistic free enterprise system should work.  The entrepreneur bears all the risks of failure, but both the public and the entrepreneur benefit from the entrepreneur’s success.

It is just the opposite of executives of a big bank or big oil company who take chances with the financial system or the environment and suffer no consequences from failure except maybe having to walk away from the game.

[Update 8/6/10]  I walked by the Luna Piena Bistro this afternoon and saw a sign saying it is open for lunch and brunch.  It is located at 564 Merchants Road, Rochester, NY 14609, at the corner of Wyand Crescent where Wyand continues as Wisconsin Street.

[Update 8/9/10]  I walked over to Luna Piena at 11:15 this morning.  It was closed, and there was no open for lunch and brunch sign, just their Opening Soon sign.

[Update 8/13/10]  I had supper at Luna Piena this evening.  It is a bit different from the Cafe Vas – not so much a neighborhood hangout where I’d sit on the patio, munch a sandwich and read as a place a family or a couple of friends would go for lunch or dinner if they wanted a really nice (though moderately priced) meal with wine.  I had a gourmet pizza – very tasty, with a nice thin crust.

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The population bomb that fizzled

June 17, 2010

When I feel most pessimistic about the state of the nation, I remind myself of all the things I worried about in the past that never came to pass.

In the 1960s, I read books such as Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and William and Paul Paddock’s Famine – 1975! warning of imminent mass starvation because of world population growth. These two books weren’t unique; they are the ones I remember most vividly.  Ehrlich described very graphically the horrors that lay ahead, and warned of the futility of trying feed the teeming masses, because they would only reproduce and create a larger starving population. I recall the expression “dieback” to describe how nature would bring population and resources into balance.

Later on there was something called “liferaft ethics,” which said that the Earth is like a liferaft that can carry only a limited number of people, and that if you are on the liferaft (i.e., a citizen of a fortune country such as the United States), you are justified in pushing away someone drowning in the water to save yourself. Norman Borlaug’s efforts to introduce high-yield crops in India and elsewhere met with active hostility from the population warriors.

Now nations such as China and India, which were thought to be doomed, are successfully raising their material standard of living. If their populations are poor by American standards, they aren’t starving. Where starvation still exists, as in North Korea, it is the result of oppressive government and a failed economic system, not overpopulation.

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