Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of Politics

I feel compelled to say something about the State of the Union. Not the speech but the state of the country. It sort of sucks. But it could have sucked worse. We could have been in the deepest depression of our history if not for the often unpopular actions taken by our still new president. But bailouts, even when they work, are as he phrased it, "about as popular as a root canal." They do stop the pain. But they don't make teeth aches any more popular. We all still hate the banks.

And we all still hate politics as usual. And it looks like the political races are beginning early. What used to be called the silly season in Washington seems constant. We don't elect our representatives to run for office. We supposedly elect them to govern and serve. And yet increasingly they seem to serve only special interests and govern very little - not even their morals much - and constantly run to get re-elected.

When President Obama talked about a freeze on spending I began figuring in my head just what it was we could save if we cut out all congressional positions. First their salaries. Then their Cadillac health care, and travel expenses back and forth to their districts where they ignore us, then the salaries of their staffs and their health care and their travel expenses. And without them running for office there would be no matching public funds for their campaigns.

Then there are some possible ways to bring in income from the empty Senate and House Office buildings. We could lease them to lobbyists since they are there all the time anyway but with nobody to lobby they may move on to other jobs (would that increase the unemployment rate which we have already increased with the unemployed legislators and their staffs?). Maybe the banks and investment companies will want to rent office space.

Then of course there is the Capital building itself. Won't need it for sessions of congress. Might make a nice convention center which could be rented out. A wedding in the rotunda would be quite an affair. We could keep one or two of those congressional limousines to rent for those weddings and sell the rest of them off.

Financially there is much to be said for a benign dictatorship. So as we approach, all too rapidly, the midterm elections I urge all my fellow Americans to just say NO. As in no more politics as usual. Let us have some governing for a change. If any of those elected representatives had actually represented us instead of themselves we might not be in this mess to begin with.

I propose a whole new approach to voting in elections.

Vote for the candidate that spends the least amount of money to win your vote. Vote for the also rans. Those that got into the race because they wanted to change things not fly to Bermuda for political junkets. That should put a hitch in their get-a-long as my uncle used to say.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disaster Response

My blogs of late have focused on cultures and their ability to survive: can a country which did not produce its technology continue to develop it?

Now I am going to take what would seem to be a diversion and focus on a culture's response to disaster. It can and does vary widely. And could be an indicator of its survival as a viable culture.

Where I live we are having a very dry winter and that means we could well have a summer of forest fires. I have survived one of these and was totally amazed at the change in my community. Everyone helped everyone. The spirit of concern and cooperation was amazing. And neighboring mountain towns out of the path of the fire offered places to stay, fields for our livestock, clothing and food.

A dear friend lived through the force five hurricane on the island of Kauai. She has almost romantic memories of her island community in the days after the storm passed. Restaurants threw open their larders and cooked food for the homeless. The residents banded together informally to remove rubble and clear roads. Pooled resources pulled from the wreckage of buildings. While on the mainland survivors of hurricane Andrew, which happened in the same week, waited for relief workers to do all that for them, and whined to cameras that they were being neglected. There was no ice water.

Stories are coming out of Haiti following the earthquake that are deterring the deployment of relief workers. The Red Cross is holding off sending in workers until they know the streets are safe. Doctors without borders at one time withdrew its medical personnel for their own safety while the CNN cameras rolled. There are reports of looting and gangs running around with machetes. But when Kyoto, Japan suffered an earthquake its citizens established camps in the streets, away from falling buildings, and pooled all their meager resources. And began the rescue of people trapped in the debris.

What makes the difference in how a community or culture responds to a disaster? Why do some erect idols and just pray for deliverance, while others immediately set to work helping themselves? Kyoto and Kauai would lead one to believe that island people don't expect rescue and ergo set out to rescue themselves. But then Haiti is an island. And the New Mexico mountain communities threatened by forest fire are not. But it has been my experience they immediately start setting up plans for not only their survival but the rescue of their neighbors.

Is it the presence of camera? Anthropologists believe that when a culture is studied it changes. The StarTrek show and movies always emphasized that they should not reveal themselves to cultures of lower development.  There were news crews in Florida within hours of hurricane Andrew but not on Kauai after Inki. CNN was on the ground in Haiti within hours of the aftershock. But it took the world almost a week to know about the earthquake damage in Kyoto. Most of the United States does not know New Mexico is one of the 50 states. News people showed up for the Los Alamos fire but not the Hondo fire I watched for 22 days.

Is it the glare of the lights? A cultural development? Or is our response to disaster genetic? What is the basic nature of your community? And where do you fall in your response to disaster? This goes beyond having a survival kit to load into the SUV.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sorry About That Teachers

The previous blog was not about failures in teaching.

Everyone missed the point on the previous blog (well, not everyone). But the teachers in my reading audience (can anyone but teachers and my generation actually read anymore?) took offense thinking I was accusing them of the sad state of our culture of use and toss, and outsource everything.

It is hard probably to point a finger at anyone cog in this degradation of our work ethic. Certainly the GW Bush policies were all about turning American in to an outsourcing think tank which unfortunately could not think beyond pyramid schemes that brought down our economy. It didn't hit me until last year how bad this had become. Parker Bros. no longer makes toys. They are a group of cubicle people that hire China to make toys. Toys which unfortunately again contain lead based paint. But that is another blog.

I blame parents (or the economy that forced both parents to work or the culture that made so many single parent households - again another blog) and the time they do not spend with their kids. Well, except for the ferrying them from place to place in the SUV.

My mother did not work. Dad spent weekends with us and not the golf course. We had a garden and helped plant and tend. Mom taught me to knit and Dad taught me basic woodwork and tool use. We all helped him build a rock wall around our patio. I can remember him taking apart our bicycles once a year and completely cleaning and lubing them. They were expensive enough we had to make them last. They were not bought and tossed. But watching him take out all the wheels and gears and cogs and put them back in the correct order made me hungry for how things worked. I was not as lucky the first time I took apart and tried to get back together the alarm clock. But I fixed my sister's doll. The one that stopped saying MaMa after she gave it a bath.

That hunger for knowing how things worked and how to make them continued all my life. I was one of the hippie generation that was into self-subsistence . I was a huge fan of the Foxfire series of books. I was living in Washington, DC at the time I found them. I spent every weekend I could in the Appalachians especially attending the little county fairs. A woman of almost 80 taught me to spin wool on a wheel. And her younger sister taught me to use a drop spindle and card. Later I sought out the knowledge of how to weave and sheared my own goats by hand.

I can tan a hide, build a trap for fish and small animals, change a tire, survive in the wilderness, can my own fruits and vegetables, and not whine when triple A is out of cell phone range and my sister and I have gotten the jeep stuck in a huge mud puddle.

What can this generation of youth do? Pass a No Child Left Behind test? Hack into Itunes? They can manipulate computers but could they make them. Bill Gates and his friends made the first ones in a garage not far from where I grew up. Who is to blame for this sorry state of affairs? I am not really sure. Nor are we the first culture to be in such a place. The fall of the Egyptians and the Mayan civilizations is theorized to be because they were cultures that had only the answers and never the questions. They had no firm footing upon which to expand their knowledge because they did not arrive at it themselves. See Cargo Cults.

More about all that in future blogs.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Emperor's New Financial Statement.

I have friends that are taking Mandarin Chinese lessons because they say the handwriting is on the wall: China will own the world. There are so many levels to reject this on. First being that no nation owns the world; A few rich mega billionaires do. We are just allowed feudal occupancy at the foot of the castle walls. You know? Where they dump the slops.

And then there is economics. Sure, it looks as if they have all the bank statements in their favor. We alone owe them trillions. But frankly it is a bad debt. If they called it due at this minute they would only get mere pennies on the yen. And they know that so they just lend us more. World economy is a house of cards. It all rests on the premise that the participants will not say it is all false. Like in the story The Emperor's New Clothes.

And frankly, there is China. So very much could go wrong there: Bird flu, People's Revolution, Mega Earthquakes, massive deaths because of the pollution like what happened in London with the burning of coal. Katrina did not help our economy at all and I doubt seriously another major earthquake or epidemic would help China.

But I seem to be in the minority about my thoughts on China. I wondered, frankly, if I was merely in denial. Then came this wonderful article by the man, James S. Chanos, who heralded the fall of Enron. Remember them? New York Times in its article Contrarian Investor Sees Economic Crash in China, states that Mr. Chanos is warning that China's hyper-stimulated economy is headed for a crash, rather than the sustained boom that most economists predict. He even suspects that Beijing is cooking its books, faking, among other things, its eye-popping growth rates of more than 8 percent. "Bubbles are best identified by credit excesses, not valuation excesses," Chanos said in a recent appearance on CNBC. "And there's no bigger credit excess than in China."

One of the things that caught us off guard at the onset of WWII was the lack of munition factories. We even purchased our gun sights from Germany, a practice we continued through part of that war. We had to manically convert auto plants to make tanks and airplanes. It is a credit to the American people that we could do that so quickly. But that was another generation. What do we make for ourselves now? What do we even have the knowledge to make for ourselves?

If the house of cards, that is China, falls what will we have to learn to live without? Anyone for a class on spinning yarn? Or lighting one match fires? Opps, no match fires?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Making the Desert Cool?

One of the multitude of subjects talked about around the table New Year's eve was water. Clean, drinkable water is going to be a major concern in the United States within the very near future. It is already a serious problem in cities like Las Vegas, Nevada, Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The major problems is nobody that lives there seems to know it.

Phoenix is a town in a desert which gets only 8 inches of rain in a good year and more often just 6 or less. It has, at last count, more than 150 golf courses. Residents like their water features such as outdoor swimming pools and cool misting systems that make the desert heat tolerable. Swimming pools require chillers (not heaters) to remain usable. Clearly with technology we have come a long way from the Bedouin Tents. But should we have?

The nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins makes sense. It leaves a very small footprint upon the sands. The were light weight loose clothing rather than slaver their skin with sun screens. And they confine their major activities to the cool of the mornings and evenings rather than drill wells deep into the earth to spray precious water to evaporate into the dry desert air. It would not be so bad if Phoenix used only its water to waste on sprinkler and misting systems and water features. But no, they take water from the Colorado river via a huge canal and thereby deprive Mexico of the benefits of being downstream. The water originates in the high snow-capped Rocky Mountains and is trapped in reservoirs like Lake Powell so it can be managed to produce electricity for Los Angeles.

Here in the mountain west we consider that water precious. It is a resource that should be conserved and managed. And yet we watch it be wasted by energy generation companies and pleasure seekers living where they were not meant to live as they do.

New Mexico has fought over water rights it the past. Texas is finding out its huge aquifer is not as exhaustive as once thought. Santa Fe has put a curb on new housing because of the limitations of water. Las Vegas is trying to buy up water from areas north of the Great Basin and approaching the Canadian border to prime its fountains, misters and fill swimming pools. It will not be long before residents of Phoenix and Las Vegas and Tucson fight over the last few drops out of their taps. A deed on property in Phoenix once contained a clause guaranteeing the purchaser at least 100 years of water. Some experts say they cannot now guarantee ten years. And with all the new ways they are "using it" maybe not one.

Anyone want websites for Bedouin tents? You can get a good deal on a slightly used subdivision outside Phoenix. Sorry, no misters or pools possible. The wells went dry.

Oh, and sorry but no golf course either.